Monday, August 30, 2010

Addendum to Know Your Course: Run Down Hills

If you're training for a hilly course, it's sometimes not the uphills that hurt, believe it or not it's the downhills! The worst after-race pain I've ever had is when I drew a downhill leg on a running relay that lost over a 1000 feet of elevation in a couple of miles. I could barely walk for a day or two afterwards.

Many athletes train using hill repeats, but when they do they run up the hill but walk back down. Downhill running uses different muscles than either flat or uphill running, and those muscles need training too. So if you're training for a hilly course, don't forget to run down hill!

As a side note, a couple of years ago we biked through Umbria and Tuscany in Italy with the kids. One of the things we loved were these signs "warning" us of hills ahead. As you can see, the signs were usually not necessary (could you actually miss the fact that there's a hill looming ahead of you?). We called these signs "boobs ahead" just because of the image on the sign and the kids got a kick out of spotting them. Since pretty much all of Tuscany is hilly, we saw them frequently (and grew to fear them at times when we were getting tired!)

Yesterday I ran almost 3 hours of hilly trails around town (our area resembles Tuscany in more ways than one - lots of hills, lots of wineries, ah if we only had more gelato) and am happy to report that I'm barely sore at all this morning. Hooray for hill training!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tri Coach: Know Your Course, Train For Your Course

How often have you been lounging around the food tables after a triathlon and heard the following:
"Wow, I couldn't believe the course was so hilly!"
"I didn't expect the swim to be so cold"
"Can you believe that one hill on the run? It was so steep!"
"The wind on the bike course was unbelievable."

Now, way back in the stone ages when I started doing triathlons, this was excusable. You see, there was no internet. Those of you who are younger can gasp now. I repeat: There Was No Internet. If we signed up for a triathlon, it was sight-unseen. There were no course profiles online, no Google Earth, no to give you an elevation profile. No Garmins, GPS, no blogs to read of other athletes who had done the course. If you didn't personally know someone who had done it, you went in blind. Sometimes, the race director would put a little blurb in the photocopied race brochure that described the course. Of course, these were always done in the most optimistic of ways (my favorite was a race brochure that described the bike course as a "mostly downhill circular course" - WTF? perhaps designed by MC Escher??.) Some courses, like the infamous Whisky Dick triathlon, became reknowned among triathletes for their challenging and difficult courses, but I went in to many races not knowing what to expect.

These days, there is no excuse for this. Which brings up to step one when you sign up for a triathlon and begin training for that specific race:

1) Read the Course Description

These are usually online on the race's website. Often they will give you a specific map, and even an elevation profile. Even if they only give you street directions, take that to, enter it in (or search on it first, chances are someone may have already done this work for you) and check the little box that allows you to see the elevation profile. Do a google search for "race reports" and the name of the triathlon and read what other people have said about the course. Is it typically windy? hot? cold? Sometimes the name of the race gives it away. In our neck of the woods, the early season "Duck Bill Chill" and "Beaver Freezer" triathlons are unlikely to be warm and balmy. There have been years when these races were run with snow falling. I once did a race in The Dalles, Oregon, a place that regularly holds world windsurfing championships. What do you think the odds are that the course would be windy (I watched a guy who unwisely used a disk wheel get picked up and blown halfway across the road).  Find out exactly what you're in for and your race day will go a whole lot smoother.

2) If Possible, Train on the Course

If it's a local enough race, go and train on the actual course a couple of times. Especially if it's hilly or technical, get an idea of where you can go fast, where you need to be cautious. Keep an eye out for 90-degree turns at the bottom of a steep hill, or areas that are exposed to the wind. For races that are too far away, this option may not be possible, although many of the IM courses are now available if you have a Computrainer at home (I only dream of this!)

3) Train in Similar Conditions

If the course is hilly, train on hills. If it's windy, train in wind. Hot? Train in the heat. If you can, train in harder or worse conditions. I did a half-Ironman once where the course description said there would be a hill with a 15% grade. So I looked online until I found a local hill steep enough to have a 15% grade, and I went on my bike and took a look at it. Holy Crap! Good thing the first time I saw a hill like that was not in the race! The bike course was a two-lap course, so I made it my business to set up a training course that hit my 15% hill three times in 45 miles. By the time I got to the race, I was, well... not exactly zooming up the hill. But it didn't kill me or intimidate me any more. I wasn't the one crying by the side of the road at least. Make sure you have met the course conditions before you get to the course and you will be more prepared than many triathletes.

4) Drive the Course

If you can get to the race venue at least the afternoon before the race, drive the course. Even if you've ridden the course, this is a good idea. Make sure you know where any turns are. Pick out landmarks that will warn  you of upcoming course turns ("I'll turn right after the big oak tree and the windmill"). You would be surprised how many athletes get lost on courses every season. Don't be one of them! Also look at the course for specific hazards - gravel or glass on the shoulder or on turns, bumpy pavement or holes in the pavement, signifigant roadkill, things like that. Make sure you know what you can expect to encounter on race day.

Now you're prepared to race the course, not just survive it. You won't be one of those athletes telling your friends how stunned you were by the challenges that the course presented, you'll be the one who met those challenges head on, aimed with your knowledge, planning, and training.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Olympic Tuesdays - All in an Ironmom Day

A few years back, I posted how on some days I was doing basically a sprint triathlon just in training, including biking the kids around on the tandem. All in an Ironmom Day. Now I realized that my Tuesdays have turned into an Olympic triathlon plus some when I add in my biking with the kids and bike commute to two different coaching/teaching jobs.

In the morning, I bike down to the pool, swim for about an hour or 3400 yards, then get out and swim coach on the deck for an hour. After a quick trip to the hot tub to re-warm up, I head out to the running trail that is right next to the pool and put in a warmup and some intervals, usually about 45 minutes to an hour. Bike home. By noon, it's time to bike down to the pool with Asa since she's in the water polo and swim team program there. Gone are my days of shlepping the kids around in bike trailers, tag-alongs, or the tandem for the most part (unless we need to go quite a distance or get someplace more quickly than kid speed). Both of my kids are bike independent now, with Asa asking if she can bike to the pool by herself next summer, and Mackenzie already biking down there with friends by himself (yes, I'm a big fan of having free-range kids who are transportation independent!). An intersection re-structuring near our house has made the kids' commute to the pool MUCH safer, and eased my mind about them biking in that direction (it used to be quite hazardous for bikes there).

After coming home from the pool, it's time to do some gardening and get dinner on. Then at 6:30 I'm off on my bike again for a 22-mile round trip to commute to the karate dojo where I teach kickboxing for an hour. I'm home by 9:30. Whew! Tuesdays are crazy. But somewhere in all that craziness is 2.5 hours of biking, and about an hour each of swimming and running, for about 4.5 hours total (not to mention the kickboxing, LOL). That's way more than my sprint-distance days of a few years ago, and to me really points out the power of incremental change. Our bodies are such amazing miraculous machines. They gradually adapt to all the stresses we can throw at them (physically) and become so much stronger and more able. Pretty soon we can do more than we imagined, and on a regular basis, without even noticing the extra effort.

Last Tuesday, Asa didn't have swim team, so Mackenzie and I took the kayaks to the lake and kayaked for an hour down these beautiful waterways through the wetlands. We spent a lot of time watching grebes, which I had never observed up close before. Then we took an hour hike. So my total day was more like six hours of exercise, plus gardening and housework. I feel so grateful to have a body at 44 years old that can absorb a day of activity like this as if it was nothing. THIS is really the payback for the training, to have a body that can do what you ask it, when you ask it. Even if you haven't held a kayak paddle in awhile, or hiked recently. You can just go and do it. Like it's nothing. At 44. I don't take that for granted AT ALL. It's a gift. All in an Ironmom day.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Note to self: Check water bottles that kids have used before filling them to take on ride. That way you won't be out on your bike, take a big ol' gulp only to discover someone had mixed chocolate milk in the water bottle, but not cleaned it thoroughly. Soured-milk flavored gatorade anyone???

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Meet the New Kickboxing Instructor ..... Um...... Me???

So I was asked to fill in as a sub for the kickboxing instructor at our dojo, and now it seems she is leaving for good and I'm the permanent kickboxing teacher! I love how I keep falling into these kinds of things. I guess the universe is trying to tell me that my future career lies in coaching/teaching.

So far it's been a real learning curve, but lots of fun. It's all heavy bag work, plus I'm incorporating some Crossfit-like metabolic conditioning routines and core work. And like everything you teach, you learn more than the students once you start trying to instruct someone else. I'm looking at different technique and teaching videos and trying to incorporate the best of what I find into the class, keep it challenging and interesting for everyone.

In other martial arts news, my arm is about 90% healed now and I can do almost everything in karate again. So I'll be re-joining the brown/black belt class and start earnestly working toward testing for my black belt again. Mackenzie will be testing for his brown belt in a couple of weeks, which means that he and I can start training together on the black belt test material. I am aiming for a June timeframe to hopefully be prepared to test. I have watched Mackenzie really grow in confidence and ability in karate and it's exciting to see him getting so close too!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What If???

What if I am training my ass off for this half-Ironman and hoping for a PR but I'm actually slower than last year? What if I'll never have a PR again? What if I've reached that age where all I have to look forward to is getting slower and slower? What if I've had my last top-10 overall finish ever? What if I'm just having a pity party?

I know, the world won't crack and come apart at the seams, I know the sky won't fall, birds won't stop singing, the planets won't stop rotating around the sun. But as an athlete, these are tough questions to face. Somewhere around age 45, we know that we have passed the zenith of our athletic abilities and, as the saying goes, it's all downhill from there. Many athletes start later in life, and are just beginning in triathlons at this age. For them, they may look forward to many years of increasing fitness and speed. Other athletes start young and by the time they're my age they're too injured or burnt out to continue. For me, this is my 24th year in the sport and so by now I know exactly what my body can do with what amount of training. Or do I? Will this September half-Iron be the bell that tolls for me?  What if?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Yarg. Four Hour Trainer Rides Stink But Good Conversation Rules

Biking home from kickboxing the other night, I stood up on the pedals to go up and over a bridge and whammo! I got a cramp on my instep that stopped me cold. It went away, thought nothing of it, but it's been plaguing me ever since. Damned aging body.

So the weekend long ride/long run was down the toilet. Can't run at all, foot hurts too much. Couldn't really ride as hills hurt too much and there are NO flat rides here. So yeah. Four hours on the trainer. Suckaroo! I don't know how people train for early season IMs by doing all their long rides indoors. Really, this is seppuku territory here.

Luckily, I watched In the Valley of Elah with Mackenzie while I was riding the second half. That was a damned fine movie with some very subtle themes that provided good discussion fodder. I've wanted to see it for quite awhile now. Having a very thoughtful and interesting almost-14 year old is pretty cool. He is very introspective and likes to think about how things work (not just mechanical or computery things, but plots, stories, people, etc.) which makes him an excellent movie-watching and discussion companion. We're also book buddies, currently both reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas right now and discussing. We've been delving pretty heavily into the Holocaust in recent months. I wondered when that might come up in our homeschooling, and apparently this is the appropriate age. But that's probably a whole book-length post for my homeschooling blog on another day!

As for me, I'll be darned happy if I can get off this trainer this week, and actually run as well. One of these years, I might have to give up these dangerous sports ;-)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tri-ing It Old School

I had the opportunity to do a little bit of time travel this last weekend, back into the days when triathlons were not so much about who had the best carbon fiber frame or multi-thousand-dollar wheels or 24-hour coach or whatever, but just about swimming, biking, running, hanging out with other athletes and having a great time. It was not serious, but it was tough and it was fun!

A local triathlete puts on a small race every year at a nearby lake nestled in a valley in the foothills of the coast range. The transition area is on a church lawn. There's a hand-painted finish sign, and some signs along the course to tell you where to go. The bike course is on local roads, the run course winds along a logging road that turns into a rutted dirt track and climbs a crazy grade. For a sprint tri, the course was quite challenging, with a big downhill out of T1 that portended a good climb at the end of the bike, and that up-and-over hill on the run course. You can see the logging road winding over the hill in the clearcut in this photo, that's where the run course goes!

The swim went by all too fast. Supposed to be 600 meters, but I think it can't have been more than about 450 as my swim time was 5:47. That would've been a truly smokin' 600 time, probably out of my league. Still, the lake was gorgeous and I felt like I was flying along. It was warm enough to wear my sleeveless wetsuit and it always feels like I swim WAY faster in that than in my full-sleeve. Out of the water in 1st place overall (from a very small field, LOL!) Onto the bike which followed the road away from the lake, mostly rolling hills and forests on either side, very pretty. Hitting 30 mph out of T1, I realized I'd have about a two mile hill coming back at the end of the bike course. It's weird, this race was so casual, I almost always drive the course if I'm racing, but I was flying blind, so that was actually kind of fun! The turnaround came up quickly, but not before Chad (the race director) flew past me on his bike.

I only got semi-lost once on the run course, when a fork in the logging road had a sign that was slightly ambiguous. I second-guessed myself as the road turned into more of a rutted track, and so I backtracked to check the sign. Yep, I was going in the right direction. After awhile, racer #2 Greg passed me, so at that point I figured I was probably on the right road. The run was a 3.6 mile, a little bit longer than the average sprint (great, a short swim and a long run, that is not to my advantage!). I calculated that I had a 4 minute head start going into the run on the next fastest female triathlete. I had no idea if it was going to be enough. A lot of triathletes can run a minute per mile faster than I can. But being a trail run helps as I'm strong on hills. As it turned out, she caught me a couple hundred yards from the finish and flew past. yep, she's a really fast runner (she confided after the race that she'd recently run a sub-20:00 5k - with her dog!!! at one of those dog-and-owner fun runs, yikes!) But all in good fun, it was nice to be out on a course with a bunch of other dedicated athletes having a great time at a beautiful location.

After the race it was time for a big post-race feast put on by Chad's family. Wow, talk about the royal treatment! Elk burgers and gorgeous fruit salad and oatmeal cookies. You KNOW no food on earth tastes as good as post-race food, but this was truly delicious.

Bottom line: Swim: 5:47, T1: 2:01, Bike: 38:18, T2: 1:05, Run: 33:09 Total: 1:20:18, plus one pair of VERY dusty shoes and a lot of fun! 

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Too Cool Not To Share

Vibram FiveFingers new website "You Are the Technology" is simply too cool not to share. Click on it and explore around, it's really pretty neat. Of course it doesn't hurt that I LOVE their shoes! These people just keep doing everything right.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Once More Unto the Beach Dear Friends

Two lake swims in one summer week? How do I sum up the joy?? Our regularly scheduled Master's lake swim was on Saturday and the morning was very misty with air was so still that any tiny sound was magnified as if in an amphitheater. From the surface of the lake, I could hear the river rushing far away and the tiniest breeze in the trees.

Then my mom came through town yesterday, and as she often does she had her kayak with her. So our Tuesday morning pool swim migrated to the lake while my mom and daughter kayaked around. Again the water was so smooth it was like glass. Trees and sky reflected like a mirror that I could see every time I took a breath, and pairs of osprey circled above and called to each other. Asa caught a small catfish in her hands, and followed around a larger trout just to see what it was doing. I spoke with a fisherman on Saturday who said he pulled a 28 pound salmon out of the lake!

Monday is my day of rest for the week, so Tuesday morning's swim always feels so much smoother and easier with my body well rested. Today I was gliding through the water as if it was air and I was flying, getting such an endorphin rush I was crying in my goggles (note: this makes them fog) and smiling with joy (note: this makes you swallow lake water).