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.