Friday, May 24, 2013
So imagine my amazement and delight as, over the years, I've become simply "Coach" to many of my swimmers and athletes. In my race Sunday, which had several out-and-back sections where you could see your fellow competitors, my swimmers hollered out "Way to go, Coach" and other words of encouragement as we passed. At the outdoor pool that just opened this week, I swam with the group - just as another swimmer, not on deck with a workout. Yet still they greeted me with "Hey Coach" and parted with "Goodbye Coach".
To me, this is probably the greatest honor anyone has ever said to me in my life. It means more than any award, ribbon, or plaque ever could. If I go to my grave having passed on a fraction of the encouragement, thoughtfulness, and mentoring that my coaches, senseis, and sifu have given to me in my life, I will be extremely happy.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Whether you're a first-time triathlete, or an experienced veteran, nothing says "Not Having Fun" more than letting some little overlooked detail ruin a race for you. As reigning Queen of Obsessive Race Preppers, I therefore bequeath you this Guide to Becoming Race Ready, and ensuring that a lost shoe or broken goggle strap does not derail your day.
Step 1: What Will You Wear? (Determine 1 - 4 weeks pre-race)
Each race has its own characteristics that may influence what you'll be likely to wear on race day. These include: length, temperature on race day, pool swim or lake swim, and your own personal preferences. For myself, I alternate between a one-piece triathlon suit (all pool-swim triathlons, and most sprint and Olympic distance races) and a pair of tri shorts plus a women's tri top. If the race is very long (half Iron, Iron) I may throw on a t-shirt for the run to fend off sunburn and chafing. For some races, especially in the spring and fall, I may add arm warmers or even a windproof vest.
Regardless, you will want to practice swimming, biking, and running with what you'll be wearing on race day.
The longer the race, the more time you need to take to determine the optimum apparel. A little chafing from a bad pair of shorts won't kill you in a Sprint, but it may make you want to kill yourself by mile 112 of the Ironman bike. For longer races, experiment with your clothing choices until you have the optimal outfit. You don't have to be as obsessive as I am (anyone else have an Excel spreadsheet where they rank their clothing choices?), but some thought and consideration can go a long way toward making race day comfortable.
Avoid these mistakes:
- Wearing the race shirt that comes in your packet: It might be washed in detergent that will give you hives, it might chafe, it might ride up in an unflattering or uncomfortable manner, it might be all-cotton which is a big no-no. Save it to put on afterwards and impress your friends.
- Over-dressing: Sure, it may be a bit chilly on race morning, but a lot of new triathletes drastically over-dress, which leaves them out on the bike course with big coats tied around their waist, flapping in the wind. Figure you'll warm up a fair bit once you get going, and dress appropriately.
- Underdressing: Yes, let's face it peeps. That too-skimpy singlet might look fine on the pros, but it's not made for all of us. Let's keep the egregious wardrobe malfunctions for the MTV music awards shows.
- Wearing bicycle shorts with thick pads: Unless you're in a race like the Ironman, which has changing tents, you'll be wearing those shorts to swim, bike, and run in. Which means that your thick biking pad will first feel like a giant soggy diaper after the swim, and later like a giant pillow between your legs that you have to run with. Invest in some triathlon shorts and make yourself happy. It will take awhile to get used to riding with them, but in the long run most people find them far more comfortable.
Step 2: What Will You Eat? (Determine 2 - 6 weeks pre-race). Except for a sprint triathlon, most races will require you to eat and drink something on the course besides water. Everyone's stomach differs in what they can tolerate, and discovering what works for you will take some trial and error. Make sure that comes on practice days and not on race day. Trying different bars, gels, gel blocks, sport beans, and drink mixes in various combinations while going approximately the same effort level as you will on race day will tell you what your particular stomach can handle. Find out what will be served on the course, and practice using that. If you find it doesn't agree with you, you'll need to figure out how to carry whatever you need to supplement it with.
Rule of Thumb:
Again, the longer the race, the more time you need to figure this out. In races lasting longer than 5 hours, you can expect some degree of stomach shut-down. This means you have to be careful not just about ingesting too little, but of ingesting too much over time. It's a delicate balance and may take weeks or months to work out. In shorter races, you may be going at a more aggressive pace, which may mean that you can't take in any solid food. For myself, I like to use Infinit drink mix, because I can change the protein ratio in my custom mix for different race lengths. With enough protein, I don't need to eat any solid food for quite a few hours, which makes it easier to go without bringing bars along on the course.
Avoid these mistakes:
- Drinking only water: This is not only a bad idea, it can be fatal due to a condition known as hyponatremia. Also, the lack of sugar can cause the dreaded "bonk" where you flat out run out of energy. Make sure you're taking in some calories in the form of simple sugars, and electrolytes.
- Using something new on race day: I once had a friend convince me to use her organic drink mix, telling me that the artificially flavored and sugared version popular with athletes were just downright bad for you. Let's just say that fructose-based drink mixes do not sit well with me (nor most people, I have realized). This was the only time I experienced that level of gastric distress in a short race, a mistake I won't repeat. If you haven't used it in practice, don't use it on race day. For Ironman athletes, this includes other things on the course like chicken broth, de-fizzed coke, and pretzels. For my Ironman race prep, I filled thermoses with these liquids and set them on a 1-mile loop. At each mile of my long run, I came by my "aid station" and practiced drinking defizzed cola and warm chicken broth. No surprises on race day.
- Packing too much along. I see competitors in sprint and Olympic races with 60 ounce camelbacks full of water. Or competitors with more packaged food hanging off of their bike than a 7-11. Unless your sweat rate is simply enormous, you probably won't need more than a couple of water bottles in a short race, and if you are going to need to eat that much, you should probably get used to the foods served at an aid station. Many athletes overeat by a large amount. You cannot digest much more than 200 - 300 calories an hour. That includes the calories coming from your drink mix. As you can see, you can't eat a ton of solid foods and keep within that limit.
- Undereating/Overeating: Again, avoid the dreaded bonk or the roadside barf session and figure out how many calories you need to personally take in per hour - take in that, no more and no less.
Step 3: What Gear Will You Use? (1 - 4 weeks)
Same as above goes for gear: helmet, sunglasses, wheels, tires, goggles, sunscreen, glide, bottles on your bike, running shoes, laces, hat, etc. Make sure you test it out ahead of time. Yes, even if it makes you look like a dork biking down the bike path with your race wheels on and your Pointy Helmet of Speed. It's especially impressive if you do this during your taper week when you're biking pretty mellow and all of the roadies can pass you laughing at the silly triathlete who thinks she's fast by wearing all the fancy stuff. Oh well, stuff your ego and just make sure all your gear works.
Rule of Thumb:
Nothing New on Race Day. Practice your race rehearsal a few days out. For instance, my first race of the season this year, I put my race wheels on a few days early, only to discover that when the bike shop tuned up my bike, they tightened the brakes to the point where I couldn't get my wheels on. Lucky I didn't find that out on race morning. I had plenty of time to troubleshoot the problem and get it sorted out.
Avoid these mistakes:
Doing Anything New on Race Day! 'Nuff said
Step 4: Practice Transitions (3 - 5 days before the race)
If you've been doing Brick workouts, you may have gotten some transition practice in already. But during race week, take an hour or so and use the specific gear you'll be using in this specific race and practice your transitions. I like to do a workout where I go three repititions of a 10 - 15 minute bike ride and 5 - 10 minute run. Just going over smooth transitions and working out any gear issues.
Step 5: Packing It All Up (1 - 7 days before the race)
I like to use a checklist (Here's my basic one) to make sure I have everything I need for race day. I pull it out a few days before, just to make sure there's nothing I need to buy. Have all my gear assembled, cleaned, dried, and ready to roll. Make sure I have food, drink mix, glide, goggle straps, all the little details in place.
For longer distance races, especially Ironman, or races you travel to, you may need to pack and ship your gear, or place it in transition bags a day or more ahead of time. Planning everything out in advance can save you those moments in the hotel room where you panic about what you will need and when.
Rule of Thumb:
Don't wait until the last minute. Get your gear together, make sure everything's working right.
Avoid these mistakes:
- Not being organized: I was at a triathlon once where a man was running up and down the transition area yelling "Does anyone have a Left Size 9 Running Shoe?". Apparently he had multiple pairs of shoes, and packed two right shoes. Laying out your gear ahead of time, inspecting it, and packing it carefully will help you avoid race day nightmares like this one.
- Not checking over your gear while packing. Look for pieces of glass in your tires, rips in your wetsuit, goggle straps on the verge of breaking. Bring extras if possible, especially of small stuff.
This might seem like a lot to think about. For your first triathlon, perhaps a bit overwhelming. The big take-away I think is that a bit of time spent in planning and prep can make your race day go smoothly and allow you to have fun, the best reward of all. Taking the stress and putting it up front reduces the amount you have to feel on race day, so you can just go out and do your best.
Posted by Robin at 12:01 PM
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
I feel like I'm surrounded by people who each have an incredible story to tell, who have each triumphed over numerous small and large obstacles in their path. The more I get to know them, the more I am impressed by what they have faced to get where they are today. I got the opportunity to do a wonderful ride this weekend with a group of friends (more on that in another post), but what I took away from it was just what a journey it is for each of them.
For me, the week has been an accumulation of small victories. Nothing big or important. Not even big enough to merit a Facebook post for the most part. Just little things that give me faith in my own journey. In my Wing Chun class, I was able, for the first time, to complete 1,000 straight punches without having to stop and rest my arms. That means two things: one is that my conditioning is better, and two, that I have been able to hold better technique and punch from my core instead of my arms or shoulders. Although I am still very much a newbie in this martial art, it has, for the first time, started to give me glimmers of fluidity. One drill feels a little bit easier here, another technique flows better there. Once in awhile, our instructor walks by and just nods instead of coming over to correct. Just little glimpses, but it's a start.
On another day, I rode my bike up a hill I tackle regularly, and only realized at the top that I had never had to stand up out of my saddle. That's a first, for that hill. Nothing big, but perhaps significant (especially considering how much climbing I'll face in the epic Leadman Triathlon at the end of the summer). At swim practices, I've been able to move up the lane in some sets, not always following, sometimes leading. After several years of injuries, I'm feeling my full fitness return and it feels great.
Whether the sport brings a big triumph or a small moment, it's almost always a benefit to my life. Sometimes on the Paleo or Crossfit blogs, I read about how much endurance training tears you down, wears you out, weakens you. But it's been almost 30 years of this kind of training for me, and it still energizes me, brings me joy. That's a victory in itself.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
A bunch of my fellow AquaDucks headed up to Beaver (OSU) country to do the race, we had a really fun group going, even though it meant getting up at the crack of dawn, something I'm not particularly good at.
As with all of the early-season sprints in the PacNW, this one has a pool swim. Luckily for me, it's a 750m instead of 500m like some of the early season races. More swimming is always better for this Duck. My swim time put me in the fastest lane, along with two guys who figured they were going to go sub-10's. I had a bit of a verbal altercation in the transition area with a young man who thought it would be fine to stick a crate to sit on right in the middle of my transition area. I asked him to please keep it off of my stuff and out of my area, he seemed to figure that I wouldn't be out of the pool anywhere near his awesome self so it wouldn't matter if he was all over my stuff. Grrrrrr.
I've started doing long and longer warmups before sprint races, and this time we were there with plenty of time to spare so I took the bike out and also got some running strides in. We got plenty of time in between heats to warm up in my lane of the pool, which was a bonus. Then we were off, the first race of the season. I was sandwiched between two pretty fast swimmers, both young men. The one behind me thought it would be fine to swim right over the top of me instead of passing at the wall, and he banged up my bad arm in the process. Not cool. Then did a fast flip turn and crashed right into me. I wonder if he was the same guy with the crate in the transition area. In any case, the timing mats outside the pool clocked me at 10:02. Although the swim didn't feel great, that's nice and fast for a 750m for me.
When I got to the transition area, crate boy was in my space. Grrrrrr again. He got up and unracked his bike, leaving the crate sitting in my way. I kicked it out of the way, probably a little angrier than I should've been, maybe from getting swum over. Other than that, the race went off without a hitch. The bike course was hillier than I remembered, not rolling hills but little sharp up-and-downies that kind of kicked my butt. Haven't done enough hills yet this year, for sure! Two women passed me on the bike, and one of them was really smoking fast. Since I was pretty sure I clocked the fastest women's swim time, that left me in 3rd place, at least in my wave.
When I got to the run, I really felt great though, and I got a good turnover going and just felt strong. This was welcome news for me after the winter of not running much at all due to my knee injury, I was happy to be running on pavement and still feeling fine. I turned in a fairly respectable (for me) 25:30, two minutes faster than the 5k I ran in a sprint triathlon at this time last year. With as little running as I have done, that made me happy! I kept looking behind me, expecting some runners to come up and pass, but other than a couple of guys, no women passed me on the run. That's always a good thing for me.
As it came out, I ended up 4th in the women's overall, and as I head into my 48th year, I've got to be pretty darned happy about that. They had a terrific swag bag for the overall winners and also for the overall Masters winners, so I got to take home all kinds of lovely Kind bars (my favorite!) and Muscle Milk. There was a little scare after I crossed the finish line as Crate Boy's mom actually filed a complaint against me! His mom, really? Dude, when you're in college, maybe you ought not to let your mom fight your battles for you. In 27 years of triathlon, I have never gotten a penalty or a complaint, so that was pretty frustrating, but I explained to the race officials what had happened with the crate, and all was fine. Best of all, this Duck beat the entire women's Beaver triathlon team, all of whom have to be 25 - 30 years younger than me. YES. Okay, so that's a petty little collegiate competition, but I can't help myself but be happy about it.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Acupuncture Made Me Levitate and Grow A Third Eye (Oh Yeah, and Cured My Headache and Healed My Knee)
Two weeks ago I was levitating on an acupuncture table, taking in the entire universe through a giant new purple rotating third eye in my forehead, and this weekend I was racing a triathlon faster than I should've been able to.
I was going to start the blog off this week by writing up a race report about the Heart of the Valley Sprint Tri (short story: I had a great race!) but I think leading up to it, I need to tell you about some pretty interesting things that happened in my quest to arrive at the starting line healthy and whole.
You all know about my knee injury leading from the bike problems in my build-up to Ironman Coeur d'Alene last year, how I didn't run for two months before the race, and then was unable to do any other triathlons last year. Since then I have done everything under the sun to rehab my knee: physical therapy, taking months off of running, pool running and elliptical machines, and finally a cautious return to soft-surface trails only. Eventually, I had worked up to running 15 - 18 miles a week, but anytime I pushed the pace, the mileage, or ran too much on pavement, the knee started to hurt again.
I had two treatments on my Groupon, and so I figured with the first triathlon of the season coming up, I would be running hard and running on pavement. It's time to get this knee up to full health. So I booked an appointment with Yumiko Freeman at Eugene Family Acupuncture. Going into the appointment, I had something unusual happen: I got a headache. This is rare for me and usually limited to the occasional spring allergy attack. But this one had lasted for three days (unheard of), and was radiating up from my neck and nowhere near my sinuses. I decided to ask if she could do something about that as well.
The first treatment was pretty straightforward. She did a long Q&A and I really felt like she listened to and understood the problems I was having with my knee, and also the headache. One cool thing is that, like my experience with the acu-stim previously, I could literally feel the energy unlocking when she put the needles in. Some had no effect, but some set forth these wild electric currents coursing up and down my leg. Cool. Except then I started to cry - not like wracking sobs or anything, but like the kind of tearing-up thing that happens when you watch a movie like Marley and Me. Just overcome with emotion, spilling over. Okay, that was weird, but it passed within a couple of minutes and was gone. Eventually she took the needles out and I went home. No levitating. No third eye. That came later.
That night, I woke up with wracking pain in my knee and a sinking feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. It hurt so stinking bad. I just lay there calling myself a dummy and promising Never Again. But then when I woke up in the morning, the pain was gone and hey, my knee felt great. A little tender, but okay. My 3-day headache was gone too, just vanished. The lack of pain was refreshing. Through the week, my knee felt better and better. By Sunday, I decided to try a little experiment - a 5K at the track. The last time I tried to pick up my running pace past an easy jog, I got some pretty big jolts of knee pain, so this would be the acid test.
The result: a 25:28 5K. That's faster than any of the 5Ks I ran at the track last year. Last year, when I was doing all that interval training? And this year when I haven't done anything more than some slow jogging? I'm faster. Whoa. Okay. I'll take that. And even better: no knee pain. What? Yeah, you heard me.
So, needless to say, I kept my second appointment with the acupuncturist.
And that was when things got weird.
I have to admit right now, what I'm going to tell you is going to sound really out there. You're going to think I'm a real whack-a-doodle, if you don't already. And I was actually too confused and maybe even embarrassed at the time to talk to the acupuncturist about this and ask if this ever happens to other people. Like how do you even start that conversation: "Um, when your clients are getting acupuncture, do they ever have out-of-body experiences or feel a giant purple third eye blooming in the middle of their head?" I would sound like I was high or something. Which is about how I felt, but I digress.
Same as last time, she stuck some needles in me - knee, back, neck, head. I was lying face down on the table. She left the room for awhile so I could just hang out with my needles and let my energy unblock or whatever. But by now with the miracle 5K behind me, I was a believer. Heck, if it would make me run faster, I'd get needles poked in me every day!
So I'm lying there face-down on the table like a human pincushion. My eyes are closed. This is when I see inside my head a giant purple third eye opening in the middle of my forehead. It's pulsating and vibrating and looks a bit like Sauron's eyeball, except with purple flowy lightning instead of orange flames. Yeah, I know you're thinking exactly WHAT did I smoke before going to see the acupuncturist but my answer is nothing! This is just happened. And then the eye started opening and closing, and it was like it was my eye but it wasn't. Everytime it opened, it's like I could see the whole universe in one shot, and the whole universe was getting sucked into my giant purple eyeball. Then I would close it and just take it in. Open. Close. Open. Close. Suck in the Universe. Relax. Suck in the Universe. Relax. I was just tripping on this completely.
Then after maybe five minutes or eternity, I don't know, the eyeball just closed.
And I was unbearably sad. Come back giant purple eyeball, come back! Come back! I wanted to cry again.
But I didn't have too much time to feel sad, because this is about when I started levitating out of my body. Every time I took in a breath, I would float up out of my body. I could literally feel myself leaving it, leaving all sensation of my body behind. All of a sudden, I couldn't feel my fingers, my toes, my stomach pressing down on the table. I was just spirit, nothing else, hovering a foot or so above my body, insubstantial as a wisp. Then, when I would breathe out, I would re-incorporate, sinking down into my flesh, regaining the sensations of my body instantly. Breathe in. Breathe out. Spirit. Body. Spirit. Body. I have no idea how long this went on either, but finally I settled back into my body for good and didn't leave it again.
Yumiko came back in, removed the needles, and I went home. Dazed and confused. What the heck just happened to me? I used to take yoga and my instructor would talk about weird stuff like third eyeballs but I always thought that was too Hindu metaphysical for me.
And then I googled Third Eye on the internet, something I've never done before. And all of these images I found are all PURPLE and SWIRLY, just like my own very real third eye.
Honestly, I don't know what to make of ANY of this. Except that I think that any experience that opens yourself up to other ways of seeing the world is good. I have always believed that there is more around us - more energy, more spirit, more ways of seeing - than we know. Unlocking the ability to see and experience that, even if it only happens once, even if it's transitory, that's an unbelievably cool thing.
And on top of that, I ran a 25:33 in the 5K at my triathlon last weekend. After not running most of the last 12 months. After not doing any speed work, or track work, or much of anything really.
In my sprint triathlon last year in the same week in April, I ran a 27:30 on a similar flat course. After 20 weeks of sprints and fartleks and tempo runs and pacing work.
Let me repeat that: Tons of running work = 27:30. No running work + 3rd eyeball floaty acupuncture experience = 25:33. What the heckity-heck is going on here???
Bottom line: Acupuncture good, roll on Third Eye. Race Report to follow.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Today though, the prayers from this runner were for other runners and their friends and family, those struck by tragedy at the Boston Marathon. These are times when people of faith struggle with trying to understand evil and the desire to harm others. We struggle to have compassion for our enemies, when those enemies could do something as heartless as create a device that kills an eight year old child standing and cheering at the side of a finish line. My kids came to watch me run a marathon. They were six and nine. Thinking about your own kids being in the path of this kind of evil just socks you in the gut.
For athletes, this kind of tragedy hurts in another way. It may not be personal for us in the sense of knowing a victim, but almost all of us knew someone who was there today, or we might've been there ourselves, or have always longed to qualify to go there. This horrible act by some unknown person(s) becomes personal because it strikes at our sport, our passion, our camaraderie, the root of much that is good in our lives. For some of us, running has saved us from our own frailties and flaws - from obesity or drug abuse or smoking or character flaws that seem to go away (or at least be mitigated) after we hit mile a few miles out.
I had to take myself out of the house yesterday because I was so cranky and worked up and tense that I was about to go postal on my family, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong but were irritating me nonetheless. It was raining, cold, and miserable. I didn't want to lace up those shoes, but I knew it's what I needed to be sane, to be kind, to be a good mom and wife for the rest of the day. Sure enough, a few miles in and a few prayers along the way, my running remedy began to work. I came home renewed in spirit, if tired in body.
Maybe if the person who built this bomb could've gone out for a run, they would've felt differently about pressing the detonator. Maybe if when they ran, they saw God's presence in the drops of rain on the leaves, on the face of the old lady walking her old dog, in the kids running around the soccer fields, in the golden edges of the rainclouds, maybe then the pain or hatred in their lives wouldn't drive them to such depths of hell that they could do something like this.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
My left knee, by the way, is my "good knee", not the one I injured last year. The fact that it was hurting was maybe not such a good sign. But it was rare, and mild, and.... well, I just kept putting it off. But then hubby got a terrific bike fit from our local bike store, Collin's Cycle Shop and it made a big difference for him and so I finally found the time to fit it in.
Wow. So glad I did. For one thing Jay, my fit technician, could show me on the video exactly why my left knee was hurting. It wasn't tracking straight (the right one was). He got that fixed, and in the meantime adjusted my saddle, stem, cleats on my shoes, aerobar angle and position, and many other things. All along the way he measured me, my flexibility, the bike, my positioning, and explained what he was doing and why. It took a good 2 hours or more, and when I came out I felt much better on the bike.
So this last week I've been taking the new fit for a spin. Let's just say I loved my "Pinkalicious" bike before, but now it's like I got married to it. After a couple of shake-out rides, I set out with some friends on Tuesday to the local time trial course. I only did a 20 minute TT, about half of the 15 mile course, but I managed to average over 21 mph (without my aero helmet, wheels, or anything) and felt great. I felt like I was able to deliver more power to the pedals with less effort than ever before.
So, bottom line: Bike Fit Matters. It matters for comfort, speed, injury prevention, biomechanics, and just pure enjoyment of your ride. It's not cheap - a good bike fit usually costs $200 - $350. But considering how much we bike nuts usually invest in other doodads for our two-wheeled loves, it's an investment well worth making.