Friday, December 21, 2007

On the Journey To Swimming's Holy Grail

You might recall that I've been working on swimming's "Holy Grail", the high-elbow catch. Recently we all showed up for Master's swim practice in the morning and the pool was closed for repairs. Our coach took the opportunity to show me an exercise you can do in the gym (or at home with exercise bands) that allows you to build the muscle memory and strength into your arms to accomplish this maneuver. The idea is to keep your upper arm flat and elbow high when you start the catch, and you can verify that you're doing this with a mirror while you perform this exercise.

I'm sorry for the crack in the mirror right in the middle of my arm in these photos, but hopefully you can see what I'm talking about.

Reaching forward like your hand has just entered the water.

Make sure as you pull your hand toward you that your upper arm stays parallel to the floor and your elbow remains high. You can repeat just this part of the catch over and over until it feels natural to your muscles.

If you want, you can rotate your hips to the other side and follow through with the rest of the stroke. I like to do five catches, then a full stroke, and repeat that. You can add weight or thicker bands for resistance.

And yes, that's me as the Black Knight above (you Python fans will know from whence this scene hails. One of my 365 Days of self portraits.

It's just a flesh wound. I'm invincible!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recipe Makeover: Yummy Holiday Cookies

I took the following recipe (which is scrumptious in its own right) and made a few substitutions to make some reasonably healthy cookies that everyone in the family loved.

First off, I substituted coconut oil for half the butter. Since the cookies are coconut anyways, I think it actually enhances the taste. I doubled the eggs (because I often do when I use more whole-grain flours - it helps bind them together more and helps them rise more). For 1/4 cup of the flour, I substituted flax seed meal, and used whole-grain flour (Spelt/Wheat mix) for the rest. I upped the coconut from 1 1/2 cups to 2 1/4 cup. And I substituted xylitol for half the sugar.

Here's the original:

Coconut-Cranberry Chews


About 1½ cups (¾ lb.) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
3¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups dried cranberries
1½ cups sweetened flaked dried coconut


1. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat 1½ cups butter, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in egg, until well blended.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture, stir to mix, then beat on low speed until dough comes together, about 5 minutes (see notes). Mix in cranberries and coconut.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on buttered 12" x 15" baking sheets.

4. Bake in a 350°F regular or convection oven until cookie edges just begin to brown, 11 to 15 minutes (shorter baking time will yield a chewier cookie; longer baking time will yield a crispier cookie). If baking two sheets at once in one oven, switch their positions halfway through baking. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then use a wide spatula to transfer to racks to cool completely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Leaping Into the Unknown

This is looking like it might just be a Lite Tri year. Yes, Lite as in Lite beer, as in Not Too Much Of. I'm spectacularly unmotivated right now to do any kind of wintertime tri training. I have worked back up to running four miles, so that's feeling a bit more okay. Swimming is, well, there. It's always there, though, so that doesn't count for much. Bicycling - there have been some days lately where I'd love to be outside on my bicycle, even in the cold. But it seems like the amount of stuff I have to get done in those same daylight hours (the hours when, unfortunately, businesses are open and such) has been overwhelming me and I haven't made it outside. So it's grudging trainer miles on the bike. Not Much Fun. In the last few years, I've had some pretty big goals to keep me moving through the winter - marathons, Half-Irons, Iron, trying for a personal best in the Half-Iron.

I've kind of run out. Of goals, of time to accomplish them, of impetus to make new goals. I think this year will be the Year of Fun. I might do some sprints, I might do some Oly's. I might not. I might play lots more volleyball and concentrate on Karate - I played two hours of volleyball this morning after a hard karate workout yesterday (40 jumping squats - aiiiiyah) and I'm sure it's keeping me in good shape still. I know we'll be doing lots of cycling with the kids, getting ready for our big touring vacation in September.

I'll be busy with Team in Training, helping others accomplish their triathlon goals in the new year, and I'll be training with them along the way. It feels weird to read everyone's blogs with their races already penciled in for next year. Normally, I'd be doing that. But I guess I'll just have to wait and see what shakes out for me in '08.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A First On My Blogs

For the first time ever, I'm going to duplicate a post across all three of my blogs. Usually, I keep them pretty separate, figuring that athletes might not be all that interested in my vegetable-growing and chicken-farming adventures. Or that people interested in my family's unschooling days might not care what kind of swim workout I'm using these days. But this one post cuts across all lines of interest in my life. It's about homeschooling my kids and the amazing things we get to do, it's about alternative energy, and it's about teamwork and fostering a positive approach to competition. And I'm so proud, I'm not just going to post a link, I'm putting the whole thing right here as well:

So, my kids' robotics team, the Solar Dragons, went to the regional tournament last weekend. I knew that they were very well prepared, their robot was solid, they had put in a lot of time perfecting their programs, their runs on the challenge table, their research project and presentation, and I knew that they were operating as an exceptional team with respect for each other and for the other teams. What I didn't even imagine in my wildest dreams is that they would WIN THE WHOLE TOURNAMENT! Yep, that's it. They really did it!

First of all, their runs on the robot table went very well. They practiced their approach so many times that there was no fumbling or nervousness at the table, just a smooth running of all the things they needed to do (remove and replace attachments, add cargo, aim robot, select program, run robot). They had decided that they would all run their programs at the table, but according to Lego competition rules, only two of them could be at the table at any given time, so they took a tag-team approach. They helped each other out, and as each kid was done with their turn, they tagged the next.

They also faced three panels of judges. One teamwork panel that asked them questions about how they worked as a team (my favorite moments, when they asked things like "who is your team leader" and the kids said "we operate by consensus", LOL.) One panel was technical judging, where they had the kids run their programs and asked them about their programs and robot design, and a third panel evaluated their research project (they had five minutes to do a presentation, and another five minutes of Q&A - they actually knew their stuff so well, the panel ran out of questions to ask them!). When we saw the research projects of some of the other groups of kids, I knew that our kids would do really well. Many kids from school teams had used their classrooms or part of their school building for the energy audit. While this was probably technically admissible, I think the real goal from Lego FIRST League in setting this as a project for this year was to get the kids out and interacting with the community. Since our team really did choose a big and complex public building to audit, and researched extensively on alternative energy solutions, I knew they'd wow the judges (and they did!).

I am proudest of the fact that they scored a perfect 100 on teamwork. I know they're a great group of kids and they have worked so well together and have had so much fun together, it really showed. Whenever they've made a team decision, it has almost always been unamimous. I think it also really speaks volumes that we have two pairs of siblings on the team (not always the easiest to work with your own family members!) and that the kids come from different educational venues (two different schools plus some homeschoolers). They also got the highest score on their research presentation, something they've put so much time and effort into (see my previous post for a description of what they did). The got the 2nd highest score on the robot table as well, garnering 195 points with their seven mission programs.

So without further ado, here's some pics of these magnificent kids in action!

Here's the table setup in the main competition hall. Two teams compete against each other in timed table runs.

Their first run at the table, Claire and Asa work together to send the robot out on a mission to plant trees.

Time for their technical presentation. Whoops, I forgot to bring the folder with printouts of their programming. Good thing I'm a trained runner!

Waiting for their turn.

Mackenzie and Daniel get the power lines in place, the rest of the team waits behind for their turn to be tagged.

Waiting outside the presentation judging room. It was cold enough to snow and the poor kids were shivering. They're holding the photos for their research presentation.

Presenting to the panel of judges.

We were all so impressed with this kid, Thomas. His entire team backed out, but he came and competed all by himself!

We can't believe it, we won the whole thing!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recipe for Thankfulness

First of all, happy American Thanksgiving from my family to yours! If you want to feel truly thankful on Thanksgiving, try getting really really really sick the week before. It puts all else into blinding perspective. You come to appreciate the little things - walking up a flight of steps without feeling so weak you're afraid you're going to totter right over, eating food and having it stay in your stomach, being able to keep up with your kids, let alone do simple things like prepare them a meal. This Thanksiving, I was grateful just to be able to eat a tiny bit of the lovely food and sit there with my family talking about the things we are most thankful for.

In general, I think I am a pretty grateful person. Many times as I go about my day, I smile and feel thankful for the life I am incredibly lucky to lead - for the beauty that surrounds me, my loving husband and healthy happy kids, my strong and fit body. But this little brush with incapacitation taught me about all the small things that go unnoticed, how I take my body and its capabilities largely for granted. I'm not talking about the ability to run fifteen miles either, that's easy to be thankful for because it really does seem like a miracle to someone who can still remember not being able to run one. But on a daily basis, my body performs a thousand small and seemingly inconsequential miracles, things like moving me from the chair to the counter to pour a cup of tea, or swallowing that tea and digesting it around in my stomach instead of staging a mini-revolution and sending it back where it came from, things like breathing easily and moving without pain. This week I've had cause to examine all of those privileges and realize how easily they can disappear. How quickly you can go from vibrant good health to can't get out of bed.

I've been reading a book called The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World , which is really a fascinating book if you have any interest in epidemiology, cartography, the history of cities, and many other related subjects. But it wasn't the best book to finish shortly before being struck down with a mystery virus. The book is all about a dreadful cholera epidemic that literally took 1 out of every 10 people in the 1800's London neighborhoods it visited. As I suffered through my little bout of stomach flu, I thought of those people who went to bed one night healthy and woke up the next morning knowing that they'd be the next corpse tossed on the loaded carts that made their rounds through the streets. We go through our lives thinking the next day will be just like this one, that all the things we can do today we will be able to do tomorrow, and some days this just isn't true at all.

I'm still nowhere near 100% after this illness took my feet out from under me this week. I'm reduced to eating the BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) and even my usual mug of mate' sits uneasily on me these days. I've lost about 6 pounds, but sadly my high tech scale says my body fat has gone up (now that is just blatantly unfair, isn't it!!) I went thrift-store shopping with my good friend the week before taking ill, and all of my new cute jeans that I bought now hang a bit baggily in all the wrong places. Still, I did get in the pool this weekend and tagged behind my lane of guys for aboue half the usual workout. I know it will come back quickly and for that I am grateful, as well as for everything else I am vowing not to take for granted anymore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From Good to Bad, Bad to Worse

First the good - my son and I competed in our first ever karate competition this weekend. We had a fun time, he took a second place in his category in sword sparring (with foam swords, thank heavens!) and I am especially proud of myself for entering the sparring competition (which scares the bejeezus out of me, but I did it!) and taking 3rd in my division. I actually beat someone sparring, which is impressive given that I have a hard time not closing my eyes when someone is throwing punches and kicks at me.

Entering this competition reminded me of how much I have learned in sports over the years. I watch my son, who is such a perfectionist and so very hard on himself fret and fuss over how he thought he was doing and I remember being exactly like that as a kid. I hated to lose. In fact, I was much worse than he is, because while he does tend to get down on himself he takes full responsibility for his performance. I used to invent reasons that I hadn't performed as well as I thought I should - I hurt my leg or I was getting a cold, or whatever I could come up with to soothe my ego. I am so impressed by his ability to be comfortable with himself. He said something very profound afterwards: "Even if I was the only one there and I got a first place ribbon, I'd be proud because after all I showed up and lots of people don't!" It only took me about twenty years in sports to learn what he knows already - you're a winner if you show up and do your best.

Unfortunately, my good mood at having faced my fears and entered this competition evaporated yesterday as I began to feel sicker and sicker and sicker. At first, I thought I was just sore from the karate competition. But then it became more than just muscle soreness and descended into that horrible achey feeling that precedes an ugly illness. I hardly ever get sick, so it really blindsides me when I do, and I begin to wonder if I'm dying or something because I'm so unused to feeling this way (and yes, I do feel grateful that I don't have to face this more often!). I haven't thrown up in about a decade, but spent last night hanging out in the bathroom and losing my lunch, then my dinner, then anything else. So I'm about to head back to bed and re-bury myself under the covers, vowing to not take for granted my good health, vitality, and the wonderful thing that is being healthy most of the time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Good News!

It looks like I will be the new triathlon coach for Team in Training for our area. This will be a pretty big commitment for me, and I think my summer race schedule next year till be pretty light, but I am really excited!

I've been running in my toe shoes a lot, as running on the street was still giving me nausea and headaches. But the other day on the trail, I came across this amazing sight and ran a mile or so back to the car for my camera then lugged it back to the lake to snap this photo of the spiderweb covered in sparkles and the fall colors. Definitely worth it!

In other news I'm close to being able to run on the street again. A couple of trail runs in my toe shoes that were really pleasant and it looks like I've mostly got the strange physical running aversion licked. I had a nice run home from our volleyball game last night and am hopeful that this will last!

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I was out riding with the kids today and overheard this argument..

"You're tailgating!"
"No, I'm drafting"
"You're tailgating!"
"Drafter, like the Tour de France guys!"

And so it goes, LOL. But, what a nice day to go out and run through some leaf piles!

Going For the Holy Grail

My swim coach has been talking lately about "The Holy Grail of Swimming" aka the catch phase of the stroke and getting your shoulder rotated so that you can start your stroke keeping your elbow high and your hand and forearm lower. It feels a bit strange and different, and I can tell that if I do it too long at one time right now I will end up with very sore muscles. But I can also tell that it's a powerful move that communicates more force to the water than my previous stroke, in which I wasn't rotating my shoulder so that when my elbow bent, my hand came further underneath my body than it does with the new catch. So the other night at the pool when I was swimming by myself, I tried to throw in one 25 of this new stroke into every 200 yards. It was immediately noticeable when I went back to my old stroke how much power I'm losing with my old way of catching the water. That leaves me hopeful that if I can train up my muscles to adapt to this new stroke, I might be able to get some speed back into my swim (largely I've been going for distance over the last few years of HIM and Ironman training and have lost some of my snap in the sprints.)

If you want to see the catch I'm talking about, check out this video of Ian Thorpe from the front. You can actually see the shoulder rotation in play in the slow motion:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vibram Five Fingers: Trail Report

Despite not having much luck with running in the last few weeks, I took the toe shoes out to the trails to give them a try. The best news is that they seemed to break my streak of miserable runs, and I had a lovely autumn run on paths through the woods. Here's my full report:

Bark running trail: These shoes are the business! I love the way I feel like I'm running totally barefoot, and yet not getting splinters. They have plenty of arch support, and I definitely can feel that my running stride is much more natural than it is in regular running shoes. It's really a joy to run in them. I did notice that while I thought I was doing a good job at holding my ChiRunning style, I don't really do it for very long at a time. These shoes will remind you any time you revert to a lazy, heel-striking or flat-footed running style. So it's almost like doing a constant drill when you start out with them. Unless your running form is excellent, I'd recommend planning on a few twenty-minute runs in them and work up from there. I did find it a bit exhausting as my muscles obviously aren't used to running like this all the time.

Gravel Running Trail: Part of the woodland trail I was on was 1/4 inch crushed gravel, and the rest of it was very finely crushed gravel. Some of it was covered in leaves and some not. On the finely crushed gravel, the shoes were fine. When I got to the 1/4 inch crushed gravel though, especially the part that was covered in leaves (so I couldn't see the pointy rocks), I kept getting poked in the bottom of the foot. The shoes do protect you to a certain extent, it's certainly not like really running on gravel would be, but any rock that is pointing upwards will definitely be felt in the bottom of your foot, and I didn't find that part of the path very pleasant to run on. On rocky paths or gravel paths where you can see the path, it's easier to avoid the pointy rocks, but it does take a lot more attention, so it's a different feeling from the kind of running where you can look around or let your mind roam. Also, I noticed on the downhill segments you can't descend heels first like I usually do. I had to adopt a completely new downhill running style, and I started to feel it in my shins. Again, I'd give these shoes a wearing-in period of shorter runs and don't do too many hills off the bat until you get used to the different foot positions that you use in them.

Terrific, I can run on the grass when it's wet, muddy, or the trees are dropping sticks and spiky seedd pods all over the place. These shoes have reasonable traction to them, so the wetter portions of the grass weren't a problem either.

Pavement: Wouldn't do it. Even the short sections of pavement between the grass and the trail were not very comfortable.

In general, these shoes are wonderfully comfortable. I'm a barefoot kind of gal anyways, and they make me wish to have a pair just for knocking around town in. When these are too worn out to run in, I'm sure that's what I'll use them for!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Swim Coach Sez.... Straighten Up!

How many times have you been in the open water, heading towards where you think the next buoy is, when you look up to sight and find you're twenty degrees off course in just seven or eight strokes? Here's a drill I had my swimmers do last night:

Pick an empty lane of the pool - this might be tough, but if you do an early or late swim you might be able to find an empty lane for just a length or two. Swim straight down the black line. Close your eyes for as many strokes as you feel brave enough to try. I had my swimmers start with four strokes. Open your eyes and see where you're at.

Many of us have subtle imbalances to our swimming strokes. We might pull harder with one hand, or cross over our center line with the hand on the side we breathe to. Our mind uses visual cues to keep re-straightening us out when we're in a pool. But get in the open water and those little imbalances can add up to a zig-zagging swim that adds hundreds of yards to your race distance. Additionally, any subtle course-correcting we do in the pool can lead to "fishtailing" where you have a wiggle to your stroke. Drag caused by eddies or vortices from these small fishtails have a large effect on your overall drag coefficient, so eliminating this effect is beneficial to speed and endurance.

When we close our eyes in the pool, we can concentrate on swimming straight, then open our eyes and see how we did. If we notice which side we're turning to, we can think about what we're doing and try to correct it. Anyone who competes in the open water could stand to do this drill as often as possible until they can successfuly swim an entire length of the pool straight without opening their eyes.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Cheesecake Effect

When I was about seven, I had a piece of cheesecake at a holiday party. I remember everyone telling me how good it was and how much I would like it, but it was way too rich for my stomach to take and several minutes later I politely asked where the bathroom was and promptly threw it up. I couldn't eat cheesecake for over a decade after that little incident and even today cheesecake is probably my least favorite dessert.

After this week's running efforts, I'm starting to wonder if The Cheesecake Effect isn't in operation with regards to my body. Ever since the Half-Ironman where I bonked so bad on the run, whenever I run I feel shaky, queasy, and develop an instant headache. If I stop running, even for a minute or two at a traffic light, it all miraculously goes away. I think my body is remembering how bad it felt during that last race and the body memory is somehow wrapped up with running. I was talking with a runner friend of mine at a party this evening and he said he has had the same thing happen to him a few years ago. He said it took awhile before he had a good run and essentially replaced the bad one in his body's memory.

Bodily memory is an interesting thing in and of itself. In working with swimmers, I've noticed that I can demonstrate a technique and some people can instantly translate that into motion with their own body, and some people simply cannot. Most folks are somewhere in between and will eventually get a technique with several repetions and demonstrations. I wonder if having a strong body memory or ability to translate vision into action can set you up for this kind of recall effect where one action triggers a set of sensations or other actions.

I know my own body remembers actions strongly, visual cues slightly less strongly, and auditory input not at all. I'm hopeless with people's names, and can rarely remember lines from movies. I have noticed that if I watch a movie with subtitles on (which I frequently do while cycling on the trainer), then I remember a lot more of the dialogue. Definitely visual. If I want to remember someone's phone number, I will dial it in mid-air on an imaginary phone keypad and the muscle-memory helps me remember it even better than writing it down.

So I know my body has a strong memory for actions, and I think right now that's to the detriment of my running. Still, if there's one thing that last year's recovery from the foot injury taught me it's that I can easily take a couple of months off from running with no harm done. I actually posted my fastest running splits this year after not running for much of last winter. So if it takes a few weeks to let the bad memory fade away and start enjoying the run again, I know I can give it that time. Let's just hope it doesn't take ten years!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meet My New Running Toe Shoes

 I remember getting toe socks when I was about twelve. They were all the rage for a year or two, knee high and brightly striped. Well, the new Vibram Five Fingers don't come in stripes, and they only had my size in one available color so there wasn't much choice there either, but they definitely have toes! I've been doing a fair bit of barefoot running on grass this summer and have really enjoyed it and thought that it helped my running form out. But in the rainy winters here, grass turns to mud, so I was looking for something I could trail run in and these seemed to be the best option. I wanted to make sure they would work well before taking them outside, so I tried them out yesterday on the indoor track and treadmill at the gym. I ran a total of two miles, so here's my short review:

Overall: The fit is comfortable, the toes don't feel as weird as I thought they might. I fell right between two sizes and the smaller size was the only one available so I bought those. They actually fit pretty well. My only complaint so far is that the top strap has the scratchy side of the velcro facing your foot, so you have to really make sure it is matched up well or you'll rub a raw spot on the top of your foot. I'm not sure why they didn't sew the velcro the other way around, the way most sandals do. The arch support is quite nice, one thing I was worried about since I have high arches.

On the Treadmill:
Very comfortable to run in. Normally I can feel the beginnings of shin splints within five minutes on the treadmill (so I never run on treadmills), I had none of that with the FiveFingers shoes.

On the Indoor Track: Not so comfortable. Our track is concrete and I don't think I'd want to run very long on concrete in these shoes. One thing I noticed immediately is that the shoes really prevent you from heel striking, because the feedback is pretty immediate. So I was definitely forced into a more mid-foot-to-toe area for landing.

Today I'm going to try to take them to one of our local bark running trails and see how they work out there. I'll let you know!

My other posts on Vibram Five Fingers:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Few Good Reasons to Swim With the Masters

It's well into fall now and I'm back to swimming with my Saturday morning Master's group. As I was tagging along on some very fast 100's this morning (I love the turns you get to take at the back of the line, especially because you don't have to count or keep track of anything and can let your mind wander), I was thinking of all the benefits to swimming with a Master's group. Since I don't get the chance to do it all that often in the summer months, I really have come to appreciate the opportunity when I take it back up again in the fall.

So, in no particular order, here are the benefits to swimming with a Master's group that I was thinking of this morning:

- You get the opportunity to swim faster than you normally could, for longer than you normally could hold onto that pace. This morning we did a set of sixteen 100's at a faster-than-1:20 pace. None of us could've swum that fast for that long on our own, but by each leading for four of those 100's, we maintained it for the whole set. This can push you to be able to swim at that faster pace on your own.

- Camaraderie. You can't beat the opportunity to whine and moan to others about the hard workout the coach just put up. When it's just you in the pool and you're making up your own workout, you can hardly complain to yourself about it. The guys I swim with are Master Bitchers and can work up a good head of steam about a tough set. It always makes me smile.

- You have to do things you would never make yourself do. Our coach is very fond of underwater yards and breath-holders. I would never in a million years make myself do those. And he adds in a lot of drills, which I also get lazy about doing on my own.

- The yards go by fast. 4,000 yards by yourself is a chore. 4,000 yards with a group flies by a lot quicker

- You push yourself to keep up with others. We often do sprint sets and I know for a fact that I would never swim that fast if I wasn't trying to keep up with the guys.

- You get to hang out with fun, friendly people. As one guy pointed out in our hot tub post-swim yak session, swimmers are usually just a fun bunch of people. It's a thinking person's sport, and swimmers always seem to be an opinionated yet good natured bunch.

- You learn how to draft, a very useful skill for a triathlete.

I'm sure there's even more reasons, but those are the few that came to my oxygen-starved brain and managed to stick there.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Our karate dojo has a "theme of the month" that all of the senseis spend time discusssing during class. This month, the theme is "conditioning". Now my kids are groaning because their sensei took that to heart and had them do two-hundred jumping jacks, and one-hundred squats and crunches for warmups. But my sensei took the opportunity to speak about conditioning in a more wholistic way than I have heard the word used before.

Normally, when we think of conditioning we think of our lungs, our heart, our legs. We think of building a base of time and distance and getting our body used to a level of exercise that will allow us to be healthy, or perhaps allow us to pursue a specific athletic goal. I have to admit that when it comes to conditioning in karate, my goal is just to get to the point where my legs won't quiver after three minutes spent in shiko dachi (a deep squat with feet and knees turned out that is a common stance in karate). But this time, our sensei was reading a selection from Coach Wootten, a basketball legend. He talked about the importance of "moral, spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional" conditioning.

Sports can be a very self-centered thing at times. This can bring a real benefit to our lives - it can allow us time to be "self-centered" in the most positive aspect of that phrase, as in centering ourselves. The time spent in thought on a long run or ride can give us the ability to bring serenity and peace to our interactions throughout the rest of the day. It can give us time to think, to reflect, and to plan our actions instead of simply reacting to events that occur. But self-centered also can have negative connotations. A recent thread at disussed guilt and a feeling that in spending the majority of one's time and money in training for triathlons, one might be in fact disconnecting from the real world, from problems and issues that face many people. It might be a way to escape from issues that demand our attention, a way to avert our eyes inward from problems that need addressing.

When we look at our conditioning as not just physical however, we have an opportunity to address those issues. When we make it a goal to condition not only our body but our moral, mental, and spiritual selves, we can set aside time and money for activities that help others, bring spiritual enlightenment, or promote mental awareness. So this winter, I'm making it a goal to not just condition my legs, lungs, and heart, but to build a "base" of mental, moral, spiritual, and physical health. Anyone feel like joining me? What are your "conditioning" goals this year?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When You're Going Right and God Tells You to Go Left

For this entire season I've been so excited about the Nationals being here in Oregon again next year, finding a qualifying race, and snagging a slot to go. They're usually in June, when a lot of other good races get going, so I called USAT to find out exactly which weekend in June they would be. They're not, in June that is. They'll be in September next year, mid-September. Mid-September as in right smack in the middle of a family vacation that we've been planning for six months already. Not that I'm complaining really, we're planning on taking the kids on a one-month cycling tour of Italy and that trumps the Nationals any day. But still, it's really disappointing to find out that after all that, I won't be able to go after all.

So it seemed rather serendipitous that the same day I found out about the Nationals date change, I got an email in my inbox saying that the local Team in Training chapter is looking for a triathlon coach. It's something I talked to them about doing a couple of years ago, but at the time they didn't have a local group doing triathlons, just running events. It's a reasonable time commitment, but one I might have a hard time fitting in if I was going to have a serious triathlon season on my hands, and also they're aiming to take a team to the Pacific Crest race, which would've fallen right when I thought Nationals was going to be. So it seems as if maybe I'm being shown a different path for this upcoming season. Maybe one that involves less tri-ing for me, and more tri-ing for other people. I've coached people on and off through the last fifteen years, but not in any large-group format, so this would be an interesting stretch.

To top it off, my neighbor died of cancer last night, she is probably only a decade and change older than I am. It's sobering to think of how quickly all that we take for granted here on earth can be gone. This summer she was riding her bike up our hill with a smile, and now she is somewhere else entirely. It seems like a good time to be giving back for me, so keep your fingers crossed that this opportunity works out!

Monday, October 08, 2007

White Girlz Can Jump

The best thing about the volleyball game last night was facing off across the net with this 6'+ young guy. He goes up to spike, I leap into the air. My hang time is just perfect and I block it and then tip it up and over his head. Hah! I used to have a 30" vertical leap, and it's definitely not there anymore, but for one brief second it all came back. More plyometrics are probably in order this winter, and more of it might reappear. Of course this morning, my back feels like someone stomped on it, but it was worth it.

Ah, the Off Season

One thing I like about doing a big long race late in the fall, like I've done the last few years is that by the time you're done with building, peaking, tapering, and racing all those miles, you're so ready to do something different. It almost feels like a vacation to "just" train an hour or two a day, or to put some different sports and activities back into your life. Heck, housework can feel like a vacation when you've just finished a half-Ironman.

So this fall, hubby and I are on a volleyball team. We subbed last year, but this year we're playing every week and it's a ton of fun. I played League Volleyball in my early 20's and really enjoyed it, and I'm remembering what I good time I had. Plus, it's fun to watch my hubby almost knock himself unconscious diving for balls (if you think I have a competitive streak, it's nothing compared to him when he gets into a game. The man had to quit playing raquetball before he killed himself).

Hubby, kids, and I have also added in a sparring class in karate and this week I'm going to check out the Bo staff/weapons class (though I don't think as accident-prone as I am that I will ever try out the nunchaku - can't you see me knocking myself unconscious?). So last week we had volleyball on Sunday night and then karate Monday morning, karate sparring class Monday afternoon and I swam Monday night. Wait, this is supposed to be the off season? I woke up the next morning and could hardly move. Obviously, my fast-twitch muscles have gotten lazy with all of this distance training, and all of this leaping, diving, plyometrics (that's what they consider "warmups" in sparring class), and punching have taken their toll.

And yes, I did get on my bike this week and have taken a couple of runs and swam once for oh, about 700 yards. Here's to the off season!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Black Diamond Half-Iron Race Report: Nutrition Lessons

Black Diamond Half-Iron Distance: First up, the good news: I set a PKPR (post-kids PR) for this distance at 5:39:42, and an all-time PR at this distance on the bike course at 2:52:11. I also had the 2nd fastest women's swim split. Given that I had very low expectations going in, with only two bike rides over 50 miles this summer, and one long run of 12 miles or over, I am extremely happy with my overall performance. I'm especially excited about my continued improvement on the bike in every race this year. The bad news: other than my lack of training, I was really held back by poor race day execution (transitions and details) which led to a nutritional crisis and almost my first DNF ever. You would think after 21 years in the sport, I'd be above these stupid little mistakes, but you would be wrong on that one.

So, on to the race. It was very cold on race day morning. I had expected it to be cold, but somehow it felt a lot colder to me than I had even expected. So after heading out on the bike to warm up before the race, I second-guessed my original plan of wearing my cycling jersey and arm warmers and instead decided to wear a jacket. I don't have any really good tight-fitting cycling jackets, so this was a painful decision for me, knowing I was sacrificing aerodynamics for comfort. I definitely think I need to get some cold-weather gear if I'm going to race longer distances this late in the season again, especially in the fickle Northwest. This jacket decision had consequences that rippled out later in the day. Since I was wearing a jacket and not my jersey on the bike, I decided to pin my race number onto my running shirt and not wear the race belt to hold my number. I've always raced with a race belt, so this was a departure for me (mistake #1). It would also mean I'd have to grab some gels for the run and hold them in my hand instead of having them in my belt. I made sure to put them by my running shoes so I wouldn't forget them.

I was worried about the swim being too cold, as the lake was 61 degrees on race morning. That turned out to be a non-issue though, and my new Blue70 long-sleeved wetsuit worked like a charm. I added a neoprene cap and was toasty and felt smooth and fast. With only one woman out ahead of me, I wove through the slower men from the preceding heat to a very nice swim split. It was slower than I estimated (30:47, when I predicted :28), but since everyone's splits were slow I think that was a swim course issue and not my personal speed. I was the 2nd woman and 13th overall swimmer.

On to the transition. Pulling on my jacket proved to be ridiculously difficult. Should've practiced it with wet arms, I had practiced arm warmers over and over, but again it was a last-minute decision to change. This left me with a very slow T1 of 3:37. On the other hand, I felt toasty warm and comfortable on the bike, even if I looked ridiculous in floppy jacket and aero helmet. However, the helmet kept my ears nice and warm as I had hoped. The bike course was really lovely. Smooth roads over most of the course, and the rolling hills that make me feel right at home. I felt powerful and kept a nice steady pace, rolling into a 2:52 bike split, which was 3 minutes faster than my estimated time. My nutrition felt spot on, and I was well hydrated and (here comes some TMI) even managed to pee on the bike, eliminating the bothersome porta-potty stops that slowed down my Ironman and last HIM bike splits.

T2 was not especially fast as I did change socks, but 2:11 was reasonable given the distance through the transition area that I had to run my bike. It was worth it to have comfortable feet on the run. I started out the run by keeping to my goal pace of 9:30. I didn't overamp the first couple of miles like I did last time at this distance, and was very happy with how my run course was going. There were some short, steep hills that were definitely a bitch, but I felt okay. At 30 minutes into the run however, I reached for my first gel and realized I forgot to grab them and I wasn't wearing a belt. There were no gels on the run course at the aid stations, only Heed (made by Hammer) and water. I decided to walk through the aid stations and try and drink more Heed than I normally would to keep my carbs up and blood sugar stable. This worked really well through mile 8, and I was having a pretty nice run. My first 6 miles was spot on a 9:30 pace at 57:03. After mile 8 however, the aid station (you pass it multiple times on this course) ran out of Heed and only had water. I still had almost 50 minutes to go and this worried me. Mile 9 went okay, but by mile 10 I was feeling slightly queasy and shaky. After that, I could definitely feel the low blood sugar taking hold and I hit the wall hard. I felt so shaky and my heart was hammering very hard, so I walked for awhile and tried to determine whether or not it was healthy to keep on or whether I should quit.

I've never DNF'd in a triathlon once in over two decades. But my pounding heartbeat and headache worried me. Passing out after the Ironman last year with such low blood pressure and dehydration had given me a good scare and worried me that I was able to push on for so long in that race with my body obviously failing. This is what was going through my mind on the Half-Iron course. Should I go on? I finally came to the conclusion that I was experiencing low blood sugar and not dehydration or anything life-threatening. So I started running again. Although the last two miles were very scenic, ending up on a lovely trail around the lake, they seemed to stretch out in a sort of miserable haze. I passed a couple of people who were experiencing very similar things and were walking, so I know I wasn't the only one caught by surprise when the aid stations ran out of carb drink.

In the end, I finished with a run split (2:10:56) only a bit faster than my last HIM run (2:12). I know I'm faster overall now, so this was pretty disappointing, and although I didn't have a lot of mileage under my belt, I think I could've done better if I hadn't messed up my nutrition. It's a good lesson to re-learn though, don't change things up on race day. If you remember nothing else, keeping your nutrition going in a long race is paramount.

Overall, I'm happy with my race. As always, the longer courses teach you a lot about racing, the importance of strong strategy and consistancy, and how tough you can really be. This one hurt worse than it should've, and I know I won't forget those lessons anytime soon! But on the bright side, I'm faster at 41 than I was at 38 and that's nothing to sneeze at. I'm also only a few minutes away from my all-time PR at this distance that I set at age 25. Maybe next time...

A Reasonably Fast Dork

It looked much funnier with my thick jacket on. It's easy to look fast sitting still!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Fastest Dork Wins

Leave it to the folks at Trifuel to come up with a saying to put everything in perspective. I was sitting her stewing over my recent purchase of an aero helmet and wondering whether I dare to even put the dorky thing on to take it for a test ride down the bike path, let alone wear it in a race, when I do a search to see what the folks on the Trifuel forums had to say on effectiveness of aero helmets and come up with this gem of a quote: Fastest Dork Wins. That about sums it up, doesn't it?

And with the weather looking worse by the minute for this half-Ironman in Washington state this weekend, my decision to wear or not wear the Helmet of Ultimate Dorkitude may have more to do with the fact that it covers my ears nicely from the cold wind than with whether or not it will shave 18 seconds from my bike split. It might be worth looking totally foolish just in order to not have my eardrums feel like someone is driving railroad spikes into them for 56 miles. Besides, any time savings from the helmet might be made up for by the quilted down jacket I'm planning on wearing on the bike course. I knew there was a reason I moved down here from Washington - fifteen degrees colder up there and raining! I miss having all the lakes to swim in during the summer, and oh yeah having a local triathlon to go to almost every weekend, I miss that too. But the weather is right up there with the Seattle traffic in my book, and I don't miss either.

But back to the all-important helmet decision... I wonder how fast you have to go to not look silly in one of those things. 20 mph? 22? 24? 30? I am reminded of the tragic story of a friend of mine who borrowed an aero helmet for a big race last summer, then got a bad foot pain on the bike course that wouldn't go away, ended up pedaling almost one-footed for the entire race, averaging about 16 mph and having everyone passing her sneering at the helmet. It makes me worry I'll jinx myself just by getting this thing out of its (ridiculously long) box. On the other hand, my bike splits have been improving steadily over the last few years, and I haven't gotten any real technological updates during this time. My frame is not very aero, but it's comfortable. I'm not in an extreme riding position, but my knees and back are still untouched by surgery, so I guess that's a positive, right? My race wheels are pretty low-end and I've never used a disc, but I've managed to pass more than a couple of people riding with them. So maybe it's time for The Helmet (and then maybe one of those faux-disc wheel covers next year...and then maybe a new frame.... well I won't get too carried away.

So if I decide to use the helmet, I'll let you all know if I see any super speedy effects on my bike split, if I simply feel really ridiculous, or if I'm just happy that my ears are warm.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Case For Bike Commuting

I just looked at all of my bike stats over the last four months and came up with the following:

Tri Bike: 86.5 hours
Tandem (with kids): 26 hours
Commuter Bike: 19 hours
Total Commuter/Tandem: 45 hours
Total hours: 131.5

About a third of my hours on the bike have been on my commuter bike or commuting places with one or both kids on the tandem. Granted, I'm not usually going the same speed or cadence as I am on my tri bike, but I'm usually pulling a lot more weight (can you say "strength training"???). I think this is the reason that, although my training volume this year has been very low (I've only put in one week with over 10 hours of tri-specific training all summer), I set a bike PR last month at an Olympic distance race. I am hoping this carries through and I have a reasonable bike course at the Black Diamond Half-Iron next week, despite very few long rides under my belt.

All in all, I think this makes a great case for using a bicycle for transportation if you're training (of course, those of you who read my sustainability blog will know that I'm a huge advocate of bike commuting for reasons related to fuel consumption and global warming as well!) but even if you just look at the training aspect of it, using a bicycle for transportation is a great way to get in more hours for very little extra time spent.

For those with longer commutes, like my husband's, it makes even more sense. He's got 11 miles one way, which takes about 25 minutes in the car (with stoplights and such), but only 40 minutes on the bike. So for 15 extra minutes out of his day each way, he gets 40 minutes worth of exercise! Now that's a great deal. For those who aren't able to commit to commuting both ways, another possibility is to drive in with the bike on the car one day and ride home, then ride to work the next day and drive home. I used to do this when I had a longer commute after having my first kid, when I didn't have the time to commute both ways.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Into the Dark

It's been unusually hot here this week. I know many people live where it is really hot in the summer, but around here it's usually 83 with a breeze, so almost-100 is pretty shocking. So I went for a run at about 8:30 in the relatively cool darkness (though it was still 80 Degrees at 9:15). The local running trail was packed! Some of it is lighted and some is not, so all of us refugees from the heat were stumbling along trying not to run into each other in the dark.

I guess my workouts this week are turning to the dark side, because the pool where I swim has a "moonlight swim" at 8:00 Monday night with just the pool lights underwater still on and all the pool room lights turned off. Except that this time the underwater lights weren't on, so everyone swimming was suddenly plunged into darkness. It reminded me a bit of when I used to SCUBA dive at night. There's something about the darkness in water that is very peaceful, once you can get used to the feeling that things might be sneaking up on you (fortunately not likely in a swimming pool). In Seattle, some of the best stuff comes out at night underwater: octopus, squid, shrimp. Sometimes you can see bioluminescence in the water, which is like tiny underwater fireworks going off all around you. But here in the lap pool, there's not much to see in the dark so I called the night manager to come get some lights on and got back in. Once my eyes adjusted, I was hoping they'd take awhile to show up because I could manage to swim laps and even turn without knocking myself out, and it was almost like sensory-deprivation swimming. I think I could do that for awhile and really enjoy myself (freed from the slavery of the interval clock at least!)

It's all a big metaphor anyways for this last week of Half-Ironman training. Up until now, I was regretting not doing an Ironman this year, reading all the cool race reports from bloggers and the folks at Trifuel and remembering last year's fun. But then I finally got a really good week of hard training in for the Half-Iron (and yes, I know that one good week of training isn't really enough to tide me over, but it will have to do!) and I remembered how hard it is, how tiring, how you can never eat enough to not feel hungry, never sleep enough to not feel tired, never have enough time with kids and family and the housework goes to hell and.... well let's just say I think I'll be happy with my Half-Iron this year (especially if I manage to wobble across that finish line after my meager training schedule) and wait a few more years before Iron Fever strikes again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Faves and Raves

Favorite Food to Fuel a Workout: My "Not Empty" Pancakes

After a recent triathlon when they were serving a pancake breakfast, my son commented that the pancakes "tasted empty". They were traditional white flour and buttermilk variety pancakes, but he's used to mine. I usually put almond or hazelnut meal, flax seed meal, hemp seeds, and other high-protein stuff in mine, so they're really dense and nutty. They're great for fueling a morning workout, and don't leave me feeling empty and carbed out like fluffier fare. Here's the recipe.

Music to Run To: When Love Comes To Town - Live version by U2 and BB King. I took my hubby to see BB King last year for his birthday and even though the guy can't stand up on stage anymore he still just rocks and is a total entertainer. I was lucky to be standing right next to the stage fifteen years ago at Bumbershoot and see him live, not too long after he cut this song with U2 and he performed it at that concert. Awesome musician.

Favorite Workout:

We camped at Waldo Lake this week, which is one of the clearest lakes in the world. At over 6,000' elevation though it's also very very cold. Usually much too cold to swim in. This year for some reason however, it was warm enough to go in in a bathing suit! I had an absolutely amazing, mind-blowing swim over water so clear it was like floating on glass. Visibility there was recently measured at 150 feet. You get vertigo swimming and looking down, but once you get used to it, it is incredible. That's something you don't get to experience every day.

Least Favorite Workout:
My hubby has been gone a lot this summer for work, so I've had to schedule babysitters for some of my longer workouts, and it's not always easy to find them at the times I would like (like early in the morning on hot days, for one thing!). So I got to do a three hour ride on the hottest day of August, starting at 2:00 in the afternoon! Ugh, double-ugh, and triple-ugh... Ninety-five in the shade and I did 56 miles of heat and hills. Not to mention, I drove to a starting point of a longer ride so I could get out a way from the city for awhile, and I dropped one of my socks on the way to the car. So I had to do the whole ride with one sock, and one totally sweaty foot. I changed the sock over to the other foot at the halfway point to avoid blisters. I'll ride without socks in a sprint, but I usually don't go half-Iron distance without them!
But, even after all that, I averaged 18.2!!! And no nutrition or hydration problems. So that left me feeling pretty happy about my biking at least in the upcoming HIM which should be signifigantly cooler.

Quote for the Week "I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my pursuit after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things." -Gandhi

I think this can apply to training as well as life in general. I've tried and discarded many training, race, and nutrition options over the years, and what works at one stage or for one distance may not work for another. Always good to be flexible.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Keep Your Fingers Crossed

So, in the Reality Show of my life (maybe titled "What's Wrong With Me Now"), I have come down with a case of poison oak. In case you have never been afflicted by poison oak or poison ivy, or are one of those people who gets a small itchy rash when you come in contact with these evil plants, I can't even begin to describe the misery that is me when I manage to come within 10 yards or so of a poison oak leaf. When I get poison oak, I end up looking like a villain in a comic book, shortly after he's been doused with flesh-eating acid and just before he gets his evil mask to cover up his hideousness. Let's put it this way: the last time I got poison oak, I had scars for a year. I won't even show you pictures, it's too horrifying.

So on this week's camping trip, twelve of us went on a hike through the forest. It was a pretty green forest (lots of moisture) and fairly high elevation, so poison oak was a dim possibility at best. Still, I scoured the vegetation at every step of the way for the Evil Three Leaves. Never saw it (and as you might guess, I'm pretty good at spotting the stuff). No one else on the trip got it. I did.

So when I get poison oak, it is really difficult to exercise because (warning: gross description ahead) it gets scabby and oozes and my flesh melts off in big sheets and it basically really hurts and clothing sticks to it. But remember, I've got a half-Ironman in less than a month? And I'm already behind on my training? So now I can't swim, fortunately that's the least of my worries in a race. I haven't been running this week, I've been biking on my trainer in the basement in my underwear. I'll spare you a photo of that one too. At least I discovered I could do this the last time I got the poison oak affliction, and maybe it will help me through this race.

Today I finally did get to go run, and actually had a very nice pleasant evening of it. I put big non-stick pads over all of my remaining patches and wore some long running shorts and nobody stared at me so I guess I covered it up pretty well. I went for 1:45 at a slightly sub-10:00 pace, so I'm feeling pretty happy about that. I think my early-season plan of keeping my long runs at 1:30 even through training for shorter races has saved my bacon here.

In the meantime, please keep your fingers crossed for me that toads don't rain down out of heaven on me or something between now and my race day.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Discouraged, Maybe

So, I've got this half-Ironman coming up in (gulp) four weeks, and I thought I'd really be trained up by about now. Turns out that hasn't happened. Due to a combination of circumstances including a husband that was out of town for most of the summer, a busy schedule, and just lately a very unusual (for me) summer cold, I'm way way way behind. Like I just did my first 50-mile bike ride of the summer this weekend. And I haven't run more than nine miles yet. And we all know the last week of training doesn't count if you actually taper instead of trying to stuff in more mileage. So that leaves me with three weeks. To train for a half-Ironman. Can you say "This is going to hurt?"

On the positive news front, my legs felt great after my fifty mile ride. My back and neck hurt like the dickens, but my legs felt like they could run a half-marathon. So that's a good thing, right? I think it's because I've been biking around town more than ever. With the addition of our Bike Friday tandems this year, and our Burley tag-a-long, I've been able to bike with the kids almost anywhere. Some weeks I've put in as many as four or five additional hours of biking just on the tandem and my town bike. I think that's why my legs feel fresh but my back doesn't (no aerobars on the tandem of course!). So if I can just get up to the point where my back isn't hurting, I might just survive. I was really hoping to post a faster half-Iron time this year, but not sure if that will happen or not. Maybe my new-found running speed will carry over to the longer distance, or maybe I'll just die a horrifying death out there. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Going Postal

I've never done a Postal Swim before, but our Master's swimming club has gotten very active this year and they had a sign-up to do it. Ours was for a half-hour Postal Swim, though I guess there are also hour-long options. The half hour was surprisingly difficult as it was though! The idea is to swim as many laps as possible in the thirty minutes. Normally, as a triathlete, I'm not swimming at my top distance speed, since swimming is just the first event. So it felt really different to be swimming as fast as possible for that half hour. By comparison, a tri swim start will now feel downright leisurely!

We had all July to complete the swim (whenever you wanted to, on the honor system), but our pool has been way too hot lately (as high as 84 degrees - ugh!) and the first couple of times I tried it, I just overheated and had to stop. Third try was a charm though and I managed to fit in 85 lengths of our club's 25 yard pool in half an hour, for 2,125 yards. I think this is a great workout for a triathlete because it really pushes you past the normal comfort zone. Give it a try - go postal!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You Go (Seven Year Old) Girl!

Along with me doing a triathlon last weekend, our daughter did her first tri as well! It was a 50 y swim, 3 mile bike, and a 1 mile run and she was great!!

That's her coming out of the water in the pink top. By the way, she has the best natural swim stroke - like a chip off the old block I tell ya'... She swam 250 yards in the pool the first time she ever went lap swimming with me (which was a few weeks before the triathlon) and no swim lessons either! Of course, the kids' triathlon was more of a dash through the water than anything...

Transition time. You go girl!

Crossing the finish line with my exhausted and sweaty hubby behind her - he ran with her the whole way, even while she biked, so she could feel safe (the bike course went out on the roads.) She had a great time and wants to train for another one next year!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Must Title This: I Qualified For Nationals, Woohoo!

Since Nationals will be in Oregon next year, I've been really hoping to qualify. I missed by one slot in a tri earlier this year, as I mentioned in May. Having my local triathlon get cancelled was maybe a bit of a blessing in disguise, since it allowed me to get to the NW Regional Championships instead. The Regionals qualify top 5 or top 33% in each age group, which is a bit easier to hit than the number 1 spot (or so I thought), so it was a great opportunity to try.

Though I felt a bit unprepared for this race, I had a really good time. I had trained for a bit longer race (the Tri-America series), so I hadn't trained for as much speed as I would've for an Olympic distance, and with a week of camping just before leaving for Washington, I was a bit behind the eight-ball going in (especially since, due to traffic, the drive up to Washington took us 7 1/2 hours!!! ugh). But race morning promised perfect Robin Triathlon weather (overcast, slightly cool, no rain) and the race was well organized and very friendly and fun.

When I got to the transition area, that was my first clue that qualifying might be a bit tough. No mountain bikes or scruffy road bikes here, all the bikes looked serious and the athletes equally so. Apparently this race was also a direct qualifier for Worlds, not just Nationals and some of the athletes were aiming for that . Wow, no wonder they looked so fast! Trying not to be intimidated, I got my gear out and saw plenty of familiar faces from other Northwest races. I had decided to wear my new Helix wetsuit (so new, I haven't even blogged about it yet - I just got it last week). I had been having some trouble with arm fatigue in the two times I managed to get in the lake with it last week, so I was a bit worried but decided to give it a go in a race. A woman in the transition area with the same suit gave me a good tip on how to get the shoulders aligned and that seemed to help a lot, my arms felt fine after the swim.

It's a good thing my suit felt fine as the swim was longer than usual by about five minutes (or nearly a quarter mile). This is always in my favor, so I don't mind if I look out and see the buoys looking unusually far in the distance. Unfortunately, they started the men's wave first and then the women, so after the second buoy I was swimming through the swarms of slower males, like an aquatic obstacle course, but the water was calm and I felt happy to be out there gliding along. I had great transition times at 1:11 for T1 and :43 for T2. For once, I didn't feel like I was fumbling with anything, and the full-sleeved suit came off easier than I had hoped (love that upside-down zipper!).

The bike course in this race was....welll...interesting, for lack of a better word. A four-lap course, which was a new one on me in the world of Olympic distance, and I was a bit worried about the course getting crowded after the first loop. As it turns out, that wasn't the hardest thing about this course. I guess when the race description says things like "the course meanders to 28th street", what that really means is lots of turns. I think I counted fourteen turns (as in 90-degree turns) per lap, for a record-breaking 48 - 50 turns over the entire bike course. Wow! So when you add in the little up-and-down rolling hills, it was kind of a technical course. Ordinarily, this isn't to my benefit, since as I've posted earlier I am a bit of a cornering scaredy-cat. But I discovered that this kind of course takes a lot of strength as you keep decelerating for the turns and then you have to quickly accelerate to speed again. Athletes with good endurance but little power were really suffering by the last couple of laps because there were no sections where you could get your speed up to a steady pace and keep it there. It didn't look that tough in terms of the hill profile, but it was a bit of a punishing course leg-wise for this reason. Still, I pulled in a 1:08 for the bike course which is a PKPR (post-kids PR, that is) for me! Also, although there were a lot of cyclists on the course, due to the multiple laps, the USAT officials kept everyone separated nicely, and I saw them many times on the course (and thanked them afterwards). The multiple loops also gave everyone a chance to see everyone else, and I cheered on all the triathletes I passed, which is my little race-day custom if I'm not too winded!

On to the run, those little up-and-downish hills all of a sudden loomed a bit larger. Hills are especially punishing to this athena-class runner, and I knew that I already had at least two, maybe three people from my age group in front of me (two of the three women who passed me on the bike were in my age group - wah!). Fortunately, the bike course was the same as the run course for the first mile, and all those cyclists I had cheered on earlier were now cheering me. The instant karma and good wishes buoyed me up and my second running lap was even faster than my first. All of the hard work I've been putting into my run this season paid off with a 10k time of :50, another PKPR by five minutes! And a good thing too, because a couple more F40-44 ladies passed me on the run and I ended up snagging the last qualifying spot for Nationals in my age group. Whew!

Overall, my finish time was 1:27:06. That doesn't seem too fast for an Oly time for me, but when I take into account that my normal swim time is :21 - :22 and this one was almost :27 (and I checked, all the athlete's swim times were about 5 minutes slow, so it wasn't just me or my new wetsuit!), that puts me into more into the pace for a 1:22 Oly in the future some time. Maybe at Nationals, if I'm lucky.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Humbled By Harry Potter and a Hamburger

I went to the track yesterday for my last tough running session before my triathlon next weekend, expecting to knock off some reasonably paced mile repeats and get some confidence in my running going into this race (especially after my breakthrough the last time I did this mile repeat workout). Instead, I was strongly reminded that it's not just what's in your legs that counts when you run, it's also what's in the rest of your body (or in this case, also what isn't). What wasn't there was enough sleep: I spent the night before at the Harry Potter book release party with my kids, dressed as a witch named Tonks (for those of you who have read the book, that explains the pink hair!). What was in my body was also a hamburger I ate two hours before running. I normally eat a little something before exercise, but that ended up being a little something too much. My miles were thirty seconds slower than the last time I attempted this, and I felt like crap.

But no workout is wasted, and this one was a good reminder that factors other than your physical fitness can signifigantly affect your abilities. When it comes to race day, I won't be staying up late (even though I haven't finished Harry Potter 7 yet) and I certainly won't have a hamburger for breakfast! Hopefully I'll approach race day feeling a bit better than I did at the track.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Another Door Opens

Taking the ol' lemons and making lemonade is the theme of the day today. While I'm still bummed that my exciting, LOCAL, new-distance, never-been-done-before triathlon has been cancelled, I found a nice-looking race just the weekend afterwards and will be traveling to that instead. It's the Federal Escape triathlon in Federal Way, Washington. It's one I've never done before and looks intriguing, an Olympic distance race. And best of all, it also has a kids' race, so my daughter (who was really looking forward to doing the kid's race here) is not disappointed.

She has been training and looking forward to this, and I have to say I'm busting at the seams a little bit with pride here. She came to swim laps with me and dang if the girl isn't just a total natural. She's never swam laps before, but we play in the pool a lot, making it a family priority to go at least once a week. She knocked off fifty yards in no time, with pretty dang good form, side-breathing and everything! I gave her a few pointers and she swam some more laps, doing 250 yards in all. Not bad for a 7 year old in her first time out.

Sometimes, you see yourself in your children so strongly that it really moves you. My parents couldn't drag me out of any body of water with a tow line when I was a kid, and my daughter has always been the same. When she was four months old, we took a family vacation to Hawaii. I got her this teeny tiny little swimsuit that was beyond adorable and took her in the pool on our first day there. After that, any time we even walked by the pool (which was on our way to everywhere else in the hotel), she would hold her chubby little baby arms out toward the water and just squeal. There's something in both of us that is always reaching for the water.

Today, I went for a bike ride myself, then came home and grabbed her and her bike and I went running while she biked. She went three miles (the distance in the kids' tri, along with a 50 yard swim and a one mile run) and then we went to a track and ran some laps together. It's such a joy to share this time with her. She's a real go-getter and did four laps before we called it a day. I can't wait to see her race (and get to race myself too).

Addendum: just looking at these two photos, taken over seven years apart, makes me get all sniffly. I think on our relationship when she was just a baby, and how much it has grown and changed. How much fun she is to hang out with, what a funny, cool, tough, intelligent little girl she is (not to mention my son as well!). I'm pretty dang lucky.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Cancelled. Disappointed.

So I got this email: "The TriAmerica National Series Tour announces the cancellation of the event originally scheduled for July 21-22, 2007. The cancellation is the result of low advance registration numbers.

It is with great disappointment....blahdey blah blah blah..."

So, the race I've been training toward, with a distance of 1.2 m S, 38 m B, 9 m R has been cancelled. Of course, I can just go out and find another race with comparable distances within driving distance of my house to go out and do in a little over a week, right? Right? Thanks a lot, TriAmerica.


Makes me wonder what would've happened if the first Ironman was cancelled due to "low registration numbers". Fifteen people stood on the beach at the first Ironman, and now they sell out 2,500 slots for each race in a day.

Did I say F____?? And me, having some kids and a husband and a job and other responsibilities and a summer that's all planned out with kids' activities and camps and vacations and trips, well it's not so easy to just find another race that's A) not full, B) is the distance I want to be doing and C) fits in with everything else I've got going on right now.

Did I say F____?? F_____!

Monday, July 09, 2007

When the Spirit Moves You

I've tried to write this post several times, but it never comes out right. Trying to describe an incredible, larger-than-life experience is always difficult. The moment is so meaningful, so vivid, but when I try to capture it in words, it turns to cardboard and sawdust on my fingertips. If I try to transcribe it directly out of my journal, it sounds hokey and overblown, yet those were my exact emotions at the time. But at the same time, it was so important to me in the moment that I grabbed my journal the second I got back from a run and wrote furiously until it was all there on paper. And try as I might, I can't turn my back on it so here I am trying to put it into words once more.

It helps to understand that I'm not a very religious person. Spiritual, yes, deeply so. But the insides of churches have very rarely felt to me to be full of the spirit of God. Instead, God seems to descend on me at odd moments and I can feel as full of spirit on a sidewalk bandaging my child's skinned knee and wiping tears as I can in the most glorious cathedral with choirs singing like angels. God always seems to take me unawares, like he's sneaking up on me as an ambushing cat, ready to take my feet out from under me and my breath away. That's certainly how it felt this last week when I was camping with some friends. My kids hung out at the campsite with them and I decided to take a little run up a trail that ran along the river. The elevation was over 3,500 feet, and the trail went uphill first before I'd turn around and come back. So I anticipated that the run might be difficult (as a lifelong anemic, elevation is particularly taxing for me)

I wasn't really prepared for a God Moment as I started out. True, the river is beautiful. Perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. And as the trail wound beside it, the sparkling white of the foaming rapids and the ice-cold blue that lay just under the surface began to take me out of my body to a wondrous place. Here is what I wrote when I tore back into our campsite:

The trail is downhill in both directions. It's not rational, but it's the only explanation for how fast my feet are flying along. I'm not normally a runner but a plodder, a mid-pack shuffler whose all-out sprints don't approach a true marathoner's average mile pace. But today I am flying down the trail like a wild galloping mustang, like a cheetah in full stretch, like Jackie Joyner-Kersee pounding down the track, my feet flying behind me in giant fluid strides. The path winds over roots and rocks, twists and turns, ascends and descends, but my feet never falter. They are as sticky as the pads of mountain goats' hooves, as sure, as steady. On my left is the Mackenzie river, a fern-wrapped flow of turquise-iced water of such astonishing beauty and power that we named our firstborn child after it.

At the start of my little jog, I stopped to gaze at the roar of a falls, the water foaming away beneath me into dells so greened with moss that you couldn't paint such a scene without it looking unbelievably garish. My heart was struck with a joy so overwhelming that tears sprang outwards from my eyes. I am sobbing. "My God, my God, my God", the only words my lips could form. And then, as if called, the Spirit infused my body and I began to truly run. Run in a way I have never run in my life. So fast, so fluidly, as if the rules of gravity and motion no longer applied to my body. Thogh I had been panting as I jogged along before in the thin air of 3,500' of elevation, now my lungs fill easily and completely with no audible sound. My feet effortlessy form to the rocky contours of the trail. A hymn flows full-force into my ears: "And he will lift you up on eagle's wings" and the words make total and complete sense. I am being lifted, borne on a tide of spirit I have only rarely experienced. I close my eyes and continue to run, down the rock-tumbled trail, and I know I will not fall. I cannot explain it in any other way: I am surrounded and filled and borne up by God.

I've meant to go for a short run on this trail. I have meant to turn around at twenty minutes and head back to camp. On an impulse, I open my eyes and look at my watch: forty-three minutes have passed. I realize I have no idea if I have been running this whole time, or whether I stood sobbing by the waterfall for longer than I thought, or whether the entire space-time continuum has ceased to apply to me. All of a sudden, I worry that my friends will wonder where I am - I will be gone double the amount of time I told them if it takes me the same amount of time to get back. Reluctantly, afraid that the feeling will stop, I turn around and head back the way I came. But I am still this amazing spirit-person hybrid. I fly back down the trail, remembering that many times running in my hometown (otherwise known as Track Town USA) I have watched Olympic hopefulls and record-setters blast by me on the trail and wish that just for a moment I could know what it feels like to run like them. To run as if running is what your body is meant to do. It's how I feel when I swim at times, as if I was especially designed to do this one perfect action. And now I do know. Now my body is the best running machine in the world. I'm all legs and stride and rhythm and it's simply beautiful.

I slow as I approach camp. For once in my life, I know I could keep on running for hours. I would never tire, I could keep this feeling going, prolong the moment. But I veer off of the trail toward our campsite. Above all else, I am a mother, and worrying my kids is not worth even a moment of utter perfection such as this. Once I see them playing happily in the forest, I grab my journal and begin to write. I don't want to forget any of this, how it felt in the moment. I am afraid it will fade away from me and I will even begin to doubt its truth.

So that is what I wrote. I would have doubted that I had run so fast but for the fact that the next day I had incredible soreness in all-new muscles in my legs. The backs of my hamstrings were very tight as if I had been running with a full-stride like after a day of sprints. So I have no doubts that for that hour or more on the trail, I was for once a runner in every sense of the word. For a few days afterwards, my legs retained some of the memory of that run. I was faster, more fluid, running came easier. But it has faded away, and I have returned to what I always am: a middle-pack shuffler doing my best out there. Like Charlie in the book Flowers for Algernon, I have only vague memories of what it felt like.

Just for a moment though, my legs were filled with spirit and I ran in the most magical place in earth.