29 August 2013

Cleaning up nutrition-wise

When I first got into running long, I was in college and would make one grocery store run per month (can you say stock up on non-perishables), and the double-wide dinner - mac n'cheese + chopped up hot dogs - as well as cheese quesadillas were my foods of choice. Quick, fast, and minimal mess. But not the healthiest. I wasn't super focused on my weight, but it was apparent in pictures from 1st semester (NOT training for anything but the beer olympics) compared to pictures from 2nd semester of my senior year (marathon training where every weekend brought my longest run ever) I slimmed down and toned up. The change was gradual and besides the addition of strenuous exercise and subtraction of weekend alcohol, I didn't change my living or eating habits at all, except I was eating larger quantities of said mac & cheese and burritos.

This all served me well post-college when I still kept up with my running enough to stave off any negative effects from my still-relatively poor diet. I was a middle-of-the-pack runner and I knew I was never going to be elite, I didn't own a scale and judged my weight by how my clothes fit and things seemed to be just fine so I didn't see any need to give up the double-wide dinner, processed foods, or limit my visits to the office candy bowl. The trend continued after I moved over to triathlon - again, middle of the pack racer, still learning how to swim, figuring out that being a stand-alone runner does not always translate into running success in the triathlon world, and also realizing that skirts were my friend now that biking had suddenly caused exponential thigh widening. I didn't have visions of being any type of elite racer - I just wanted to someday finish a half Ironman under 6 hours and cross an Ironman finish line in one piece. And if I was never going to be a contender for the podium, why would I sacrifice the food I enjoyed eating?

After working with Jen Harrison for a season or two, I started doing better in races; my swim wasn't such a liability anymore and I could run off the bike relatively well, as long as I didn't overcook myself pushing the pedals. She began reminding me that training can only take you so far - when you start competing for the podium, EVERYONE is doing the hard, long training - what starts to differentiate between athletes are the little things that add up:
- diet
- sleep
- focus
- mental prep

This is when Mac and Cheese and all the other processed junk started to lose their appeal. In 2011 I started racing closer to the front of my age group in triathlons and began to make eating right a priority in order to see how far I could go. Eating mainly whole foods and cutting out the unprocessed stuff has absolutely made a difference both in how I feel and how well I race. I also drink very little alcohol - I will have a glass of wine every few weeks and when I went out for restaurant week last Tuesday and had two margaritas, that was the most I've had to drink in a very long time.

I still love, love, love bagels but I'm trying to not eat them EVERY morning for breakfast and instead have yogurt with oats and fruit some days or oatmeal or an omelette with kale, onion, tomato, and whatever other vegetable we have lying around. We also do not buy cereal very often because 1) zero nutritional value; and 2) I'll eat a whole box for breakfast because cereal, devoid of nutritional value that it is, is also very, very tasty. 

I'm not a vegetarian anymore (I know, short-lived stint). Sometimes I crave meat, whether it's chicken or fish, and even once in awhile red meat, and I take that as a sign that my body needs something and so I'll eat it. But I don't eat meat every day or at every meal, I probably eat it about 3-4 times a week and usually in the form of fish, sometimes chicken. I had steak while on Cape Cod and that was the first time in ages I'd had red meat. Oh, and of course bacon mmmmmm. 

I DO try to fill my plate with healthy food and get my fill of fruits and vegetables each day with minimal processed filler. One of the best, most helpful and wonderful things in the world is the fact that Mr. Sweetie enjoys cooking and he's creative in the kitchen and always comes up with some great dishes, usually ones filled with fresh veggies. We get deliveries from Arlington's Green Grocer and make it a goal to eat all of the veggies and fruits that are delivered to us. Also, since using the Feed Zone cookbooks, I've discovered how tasty sticky rice is. Rice bowls have become a staple meal in our household.

I bring my lunch to work 95% of the time, typically in the form of leftovers from the night before (and that 5% that I don't is because I ate a big dinner and there were no leftovers, womp womp). This saves money and keeps me in control of what is on my plate and in my food. I don't really like going out to eat, I see eating at restaurants/buying lunch as a special occasion-type thing and not an everyday thing. There's also a grocery store near work, which is a good thing because there is no lunch box large enough to hold all of the snacks I eat at work during the day - always hungry. I try not to go snack shopping immediately after doing a run or bike ride because that is just asking for trouble (one time I went in for bagels and walked out with $50 worth of food, whoops). I focus on shopping around the perimeter of the store, picking up grapes, whatever berries are in season, bananas, sometimes a loaf of wheat bread for toast, peanut butter, and yogurt. My splurge is this chocolate and strawberry granola and I have zero self control when that stuff is in my filing cabinet.

We've started making our own snacks and workout fuel, thanks to the Feed Zone. We'll bring those snacks on long car trips and those French Toast Cakes were worth their weight in gold during IMLP by keeping me full and happy.

I still eat chocolate almost every day in some form or another. I have enough willpower to give it up completely for a short period of time, when there is a specific end date and goal race and I have a post-race chocolate party planned (IMLP, for example, I ate very cleanly for about 3 weeks leading up to the race). We keep chocolate chips in the house sometimes and I'll have a mini ramekin of chocolate chips to satisfy the craving. I'll also try to make myself eat an apple with cinnamon/sugar or a frozen fruit popsicle instead to see if that satisfies the craving. If it doesn't, chocolate it is! 

I do feel alot better eating this way, and the difference is especially noticeable when I revert back to processed foods or if I eat something fried. The difference in how I feel is more than enough motivation to keep eating well. I also really like the foods I'm eating and don't deprive myself of something if I really want it, so it's sustainable too. 

27 August 2013

Race Report: South Riding Sprint Triathlon

My aunt's neighborhood has a sprint triathlon every August and for years I've been meaning to do it. I finally remembered to sign up this year before registration closed AND Sarah signed up too and I was excited the two of us would get to race together. Another bonus - I got to spend the weekend at my aunt's house and getting to the race site was super easy because it was so close. She spoiled Sarah and I with homemade gnocchi and THREE pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream for dessert (extra, extra, extra good luck right there).

I was really excited to race - I haven't toed the line since IM Lake Placid and while these short races hurt they are also over quickly and don't require over the top prep in terms of nutrition, gear, pacing, etc. Basically - bring a bottle of water on the bike, stick a Gu under your bathing suit shoulder strap, swim, pedal, and run as hard as you can, and - THIS IS KEY - don't screw around in transition.

The swim: 400m pool snake swim - 6:24, 6th fastest female swim split:
The race organizers did a bang up job of setting up a smooth swim - everyone had to submit a swim time and they seeded you based on that. Over the summer they held a bunch of swim time trials at the pool and you could attend and they would base your time on that. Or you could submit a time from a previous race with a 400m swim. They sent swimmers into the water every 15 seconds and everyone had strict instructions to tap the foot of the person in front of them if they caught up and to pass at the wall and there were course marshals at the wall to help facilitate this. I swam completely unimpeded and was only passed by the guy behind me, though I almost caught back up to him by the end. I felt like it took about half the swim for me to get into a rhythm, but I felt much stronger in the water than I've felt lately. According to my watch, I finished just a hair under 6:40, but accidentally stopped by watch in T1 so I don't know what my true transition time was. But according to the results:

T1: 1:50 (seriously? in a sprint? this would come back to haunt me).
I think some of my swim time must've been added to my transition time. But I do remember drying my feet off before putting my bike shoes on. Really? I guess I forgot the whole mantra of "every second counts" in a sprint triathlon, even those seconds in transition.

The bike: 12 miles - 32:50, fastest female bike split
The bike course was mostly flat with just a few rollers. It went all through the wide, nicely-paved neighborhood streets and with it being 7:30am on a Sunday morning, those streets were pretty quiet too. I saw lots of neighbors out in front of their homes cheering on the races and my aunt had chalked up the road in front of her house with cheers for Sarah and I. Because of my predicted swim time, I had started towards the front of the group and it was pretty quiet on the bike course. I passed a few people early on but during the middle miles, didn't see a soul. Towards the end I caught up to a few more racers and even though the course was very well-marked and I drove it the night before, when I was in those middle miles and not seeing anyone, I was worried I had missed a turn (I hadn't). I didn't wear my HR monitor so I have no idea what HR zone I was in, but it felt like I was working hard the whole time. I stayed in aero for most of the time and focused on my pedal stroke. The ride went by quickly and besides taking in a few sips of water with Skratch, I had no other plan but to work as hard as I could.

T2: 1:02 - better, but not great. Every second counts.

The run: 3.1 miles - 20:29, 3rd fastest female run split
I didn't preview the run the day before the race because much of it was on bike trails and I didn't have time. It was a little hillier than I expected, just rolling, but nothing terrible. The sun was just starting to get warm when I started the run. My plan was to go as hard as I could, try to catch people in front of me, and hold off any fast runners that were on my heels. There weren't any mile markers on the run course so I was glad I had my Garmin, but even so, the miles did NOT tick by quickly. There was alot of mental talk going on inside my head - just another 2.5 miles, that's fine. You've already done 1.5 miles, halfway done. You only have a mile left, so you've already run double that, etc. For the first mile, I stayed on one guy's shoulder, it was taking awhile to catch my breath and I sounded like a wheezing steam train rolling down the trail. I found my stride in the second mile and was able to pick up the pace a little bit. It was around this time I saw the first girl looping back towards the finish. She had started a few minutes before me because her predicted swim time was faster, and I thought she still looked strong, so I felt like there was probably no way I'd catch up to her time. I didn't see Sarah on the course, as it does a lollipop loop and we probably passed each other then as she was heading back to the finish line. I didn't take in any water from the aid stations - it's just three miles and I wanted to get to the finish as quickly as possible and I felt like I was working too hard to take in any water anyway. I finally made it to the turn for the finish and there was someone right behind me in those final meters so I picked it up to hold him off, but I really didn't feel like I had much else left in the tank. I saw my aunt and Xander cheering from the sidelines as well as Sarah and Dan.

Final time: 1:02:34, 3rd OA.
So that whole bit about how every second counts? 52 seconds separated the top three places and I missed out on 2nd by 4 seconds. Both of those girls had transition times SO MUCH faster than me. I need to work on this. Next time I need to not screw around in T1 and T2 and just get a move in instead. Sarah had a great race, winning the 30-34 AG and coming in 4th overall. I got to catch up with a number of Team Zers which was really nice. They did the awards after the last person crossed the finish line, but it was worth the wait because I got a pint glass AND a $100 gift card. I would definitely do this race again, it was well organized and that gift card for 3rd place was a really nice surprise bonus to the day.
Thanks Tri360, Skratch Labs, and Blue Seventy for keeping my bike running well, for keeping me hydrated, and for the comfy goggles!

25 August 2013

The Budding Triathlete

I promise you that this will be the cutest story you will read on the Internet today. Seriously.

This past weekend I stayed out in Loudon County, VA at my aunt's house because I did their neighborhood sprint triathlon. My little cousin Xander, who is turning 3 this month, is ALL about sports and bikes and wearing his helmet (develop those good habits early!). Every time I've biked out to their house, he is intrigued by my bike and wants to wear my helmet and Garmin around the house  - or rather, he likes to sprint around the house wearing both and periodically check the watch to see his pace. It's adorable and funny all at once.

Xander and I post-race
So anyway, my aunt, uncle, Xander and Lilly came out to watch the race this morning and Xander was the enthusiastic little spectator, clapping and cheering up a storm, even though it was pretty early in the morning. He was pretty disappointed when the runners and bikers didn't always wave back (Mommy, I clap and they don't wave back at me - why??). He was enthralled with all the bikers as the whizzed around the corner to transition and he cheered for all the runners as they ran by. After I finished, I gave him and Lilly the finisher medal. Post-race, I had lunch at their house before heading back home.  Halfway home I get a call from my aunt Amy saying that Xander had been outside riding his bike and had everyone stand on the sidewalk and clap and cheer for him as he rode by. He then got off the bike and did a little run down the sidewalk, instructing the spectators (his mom, dad, and sister) to continue cheering for him. And when he finished, they put the medal around his neck, but Xander was very concerned about the fact that he neglected to do the swim.

Then right before dinner I get a FaceTime call from Xander, as he had many important questions to ask me about triathlon:
When you run, do you wear your helmet? No.
When you swim in the pool, why do you touch toes? It's not nice to touch toes. It's the polite way to tell someone in front of you that you need to pass them in the pool.
When you run, do you wear shoes? Yes.

This kid needs a race belt, swim goggles, and speed laces STAT - and sign him up for his first triathlon!

End of cute story. But I wanted to say a big THANK YOU to my aunt Amy for getting up early and shuttling me to the start line, making an awesome homemade gnocchi dinner for Sarah and I last night, and - most importantly - having THREE FLAVORS of Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the ready for dessert last night. You are the best Amy!!! Love you!

23 August 2013

Thank You Tri360 - And Happy Birthday!

Tri360's Kate and Blaine with some of us from Ignite Endurance
Over the past year, my tri team Ignite Endurance has been lucky enough to have a partnership with Tri360, the local triathlon shop that opened on Labor Day Weekend last year. Kate and Blaine have been super helpful with everything I've needed this year, from buying a mountain bike to finding awesome no-tie laces for my run shoes and everything in between. They've held a number of informative clinics covering things like bike maintenance to triathlon clothes to running form. It's a shop that caters to all triathletes but makes the extra effort to help new triathletes feel welcome in the sport and in the shop. Kate has also organized ladies nights at the shop, bringing in the brains (and the clothes) behind the Smashfest Queen triathlon/cycling line.

I've enjoyed being part of their weekly shop runs on Monday nights (they will be starting back up in September) and the Saturday group bike rides around Arlington (every Saturday starting at 8:30am - all paces, no-drop, super friendly group). They've given me a chance to meet other triathletes in the area, as well as catch up with friends I already knew.

Many of my teammates have had stellar seasons this year, with a number of them qualifying for Kona, going to the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas, and winning lots of pint glasses and bottles of wine or beer (consumable podium prizes are the best - perhaps next year they will give out pies as a way to change it up - I think Bob Young and I need to start lobbying for this. Or frosting in a can. I could get behind that, but besides Jenny Gephart, I'm probably the only one). This week we stopped by Tri360 with a cooler of beer in hand to say "Thank You" for a great year! I'm really glad you guys moved into town and I love that you are right off the W&OD. Looking forward to many more visits to the shop - I still need to get that hot pink Tri360 shirt! Thanks Tri360 for all of your cheers, support, encouragement, and enthusiasm over this past year!

My team at Hains Point.

22 August 2013

Bike commute, wineries, sister visit, DC summer bucket list, margaritas, and my dog.

Would you believe I took this photo while biking and didn't fall over? Aerobars are good for many things.
I had a very enjoyable bike commute home today. I ran into my friend Janine when we were both getting our bikes from the bike cage at the office and our commute is the same for a good 6 miles, so I was looking forward to her company. A little past Union Station, we ran into two other cyclist who inquired on how to get to the Mall. Janine and I were headed that way so we told them to tag along. As we made our way over to the Capitol, we learned that they had taken the train up to DC from Raleigh, NC, bikes in tow, and were going to bike back to Raleigh. The first leg of their journey was going to be from Union Station to the W&OD out to Leesburg. The trails can be a little confusing, so we were happy to help guide them out to the W&OD. We had a nice little paceline going, with a few stops to take pictures in front of the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Jefferson Memorial. Someday I'd love to do a bike trip like that (eh-em C&O Canal girls weekend trip in 2014?). They were both so nice and so enthusiastic about their travels and thanked Janine and I profusely for helping them out, and it was truly our pleasure. Days like today are perfect examples of why I feel like to have such a neat bike commute.

At Barrel Oak Winery
My sister (technically sister in law, but I don't like to make that distinction) came into town last week! She's going to be starting work as a nurse on the west coast next week, which is a total dream come true and she's worked so hard for it, I'm thrilled for her. As a last hurrah before the whirlwind of work begins, she visited and we did lots of wine tasting, cheese eating, a bit of shopping, pie baking, and down time reading and chatting. We went out to one of our favorite wineries in Virginia - Barrel Oak Winery. It is a picturesque dog friendly winery out in the hills with an outdoor tasting area, plenty of outdoor seating, and while you can purchase food there (mmmmm warm brie with crackers), you can also bring a picnic lunch. It was lovely and Miles had a good time too.

Miles taking in the sights and wishing he was a country dog.
I'm working on my DC Summer Bucket List. It's not very long and I've actually not done a great job at doing a ton of things, but I finally made it to Jazz in the Sculpture Garden last Friday. The weather was perfect (as in sunny, not too hot, and zero humidity), we had a nice big spot to spread out our picnic of wine, cheese (of course), a baguette, some salad, and CUPCAKES. And the music was the classic big-band style of our grandparents' generation. Even though I don't take advantage of it nearly enough, I love the fact that so many interesting, fun (and free) things exist in the city and there's always something to do if I so choose.

Sarah and I!
I also took advantage of Restaurant Week on Tuesday with Dawn, Mindy (who had the Best Race Ever at Ironman Mont Tremblant!), Sarah and Kendra - thanks for organizing Sarah! We went to Bandalero in Georgetown. I took the metro to Foggy Bottom and managed to get lost trying to make my way to Georgetown (it's typically a straight shot down the street, but ONLY if you pick the right street from the cluster that is the nearby traffic circle. I chose wrong. A few times). Thankfully I was on foot and not in a car. I had not one but TWO margaritas at dinner, it has been so long since I'd had one I kind of forgot how strong tequila tastes and the first few sips were a shock. The food was so good, and it was all a blur, they just kept bringing out plate after plate and we easily kept up, eating plate after plate and there was LITERALLY nothing left. And then we stayed an extra hour chatting.

You can tell Mindy just did an Ironman because that spoon is poised, ready to go to work on the ice cream dish!
Swimming - I AM BACK! I led my lane this week! I did so much fly my arms were deadweights by the end. And I had fun - that is the most important thing. The one part of swim practice that I don't like is the 30 seconds before you get in the pool and get all wet. You stand there on the deck, slowly putting on your swim cap, adjusting your goggles for the millionth time, hoping maybe you can get out of warming up if you wait just a little longer because it's just a matter of moments before Flanagan whistles for everyone else to cease and desist and come back to the wall for the workout. But as soon as you jump in the water and push off the wall and begin swimming, the chill of the water quickly forgotten, that feeling of not wanting to swim is forgotten.

And my running and biking - I'm feeling happy with both of them. I think I've finally shaken the residual fatigue from Ironman out of my legs. I've also done well with getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting up to get the workouts in hasn't been much of a problem. Technology has been banned from the upstairs, which has been helpful with the whole getting to bed on time. I'm currently reading Jacob Have I Loved. I saw it as I was flipping through the Kindle store and the name of the book sounded familiar, like something I had read before, and while the language isn't terribly childish, I feel like it was on the reading list for school in my middle school years (maybe high school? no idea). I downloaded a sample, and I don't remember reading it as a kid, so I downloaded the rest. I'm finally on a roll when it comes to reading - this is my third book in the past week. I'm nowhere near my goal of reading 60 books this year, so if I crack 20-30 I will need to be content with that.

18 August 2013

Bad, bad habits.

I have a few bad habits that are 1) hard to break; and 2) not helping with my triathlon training at all. The main culprit, from which all bad things stem, is my lack of self-control. The lack of self-control is especially prevalent after IMLP, it's a pattern every year. I establish and keep good habits in the weeks leading up to the race and then go hog wild post-race in terms of food (oreo cake anyone?), staying up far too late (1am suddenly becomes an acceptable bedtime, especially when immersed in a good book), and skipping workouts (who needs to swim anyway?). This is fine for the first two weeks, even encouraged (see: falling off training wagon and destroying said wagon in the process). But after that, especially if I have more races on my schedule, those habits are detrimental (and suddenly very hard to break, wow do those brownies look good for breakfast and who cares if it's seven am). So, in what areas of my life do I lack self control and what am I going to do about it, because really, things cannot go on as they are. Out. Of. Control.

1) The smartphone. I think Mr. Sweetie rues the day that he convinced me to buy a smartphone. I'd resisted getting a smartphone for awhile, content with my phone that had a keypad and made texting easier and faster, and saw no need for a smartphone since everyone around me had one so I could just use theirs to look up something. But now, I have my own and developed the terrible habit of picking it up literally before I've even gotten out of bed in the morning, just to check one thing and suddenly it is 30 minutes later and I've caught up with everyone's lives on FB and Twitter but hey, how is that morning workout coming along, oh right, it's not. Guess I'm running after work. Or how about this - in the evening I'm like a moth to a bright light as I lay in bed, lamps off, glued to the lit screen of my silly iPhone, scrolling through social media for no good reason except that I can't put it down. Suddenly it's midnight and I'm probably not going to wake up in time to make swim practice the next morning. Guess who is swimming after work. Or maybe not at all. Shame. There were a couple times in the past week that I went smartphone/computer/internet free for the evening when I arrived home and it was really refreshing and I suddenly had lots more free. Imagine that. I need to make an active decision to limit my use of technology, maybe even designate a few nights computer/smartphone-free.

2) The chocolate. Category not confined to chocolate chips. The tin of seasalt brownies sitting in our pantry count too (OK, there is only one brownie left, singular, the rest I had for breakfast). If I buy it, I will eat it. All. At once. Perfect example - in college, our family friend Karen sent me a care package that contained a big back of fun-sized Snickers bars. Instead of consuming them over a long period of time, I polished off the bag in a day. A calorie is a calorie and what difference does it make if I consume all the calories in one sitting vs. a couple weeks. Plus, this way they are out of sight faster. Poor logic. We try not to keep chocolate (or chips or goldfish or cereal) in the house because those are triggers for loss of self control. Some people eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and I often lose count of how many times I refill my bowl for breakfast. I really need to set my mind to it that I'm going to avoid unhealthy food and I need to consciously choose to pick up a fruit or vegetable vs something of low nutrition value. It's all about making an effort and sometimes I simply choose not to make the effort because it's easier and more tempting to just stick my hand in the cereal box instead. And once I choose to make better food choices, I can't allow myself to slip up because it's all or nothing and one mini egg leads to the consumption of a Costco-size bag. In the weeks leading up to an important race, I am good at setting my mind to keeping myself in check, usually because I really WANT to do well at whatever race it is. I can feel it click in my mind that I'm not going to slip up and I actually take pleasure in choosing the good-for-you-food. Now I just need to figure out how to make that click happen on demand.

3) The workout skipping. Completely acceptable the week after Ironman. Far less acceptable when you can no longer see your A race in the rearview mirror. Every season needs a break, obviously, it's healthy for body and mind. But there are breaks and there are excessive breaks peppered with excuse-making. I did manage to do just about all of my workouts this past week, but I've been less than thrilled with going to the pool and that is the first piece that has gone. Part of my problem is that I've been letting myself stay up far too late, making it difficult to wake up on time. The other part of the problem is that I don't commit to AM swim practice the night before. 10pm rolls around and I say well, it's a bit late for the 5:30am practice, but maybe I will do the 7am practice instead. But I don't fully commit (and sometimes I don't even pack my bag the night before, convinced I will have time to pull my stuff together the next morning - hahaha, joke is always on me). I've found that I'm most successful at making it to swim practice, especially early swim practice, when I commit to it the night before, pack my stuff, go to bed early, and don't let myself even think about going to the later practice or skipping it - I don't let myself consider those things options.

4) The loss of focus. I'll admit that I half-ass some of my workouts in those weeks getting back into the swing of things. I have a bit of a hard time transitioning from optional workouts - where the point is just to get out and move - to the harder stuff where I'm supposed to hit paces and where the purpose is more than to just get out and move. I've found that it helps to read the workout beforehand (as in the day before hand, not as I'm putting my shoes on to go out the door, or else it never fails that I'm in for a rude surprise when I realize Jen has put a butt-kicking workout on the schedule. It's how it always happens). This morning was a good example - I thought I just had my first long run in awhile. I didn't realize, until I'm dressed and heading out the door, taking a closer look at the Training Peaks email, that it called for things like faster-than-half-ironman pace (and really, the paces she was specifying were faster than my fastest half ironman pace. 10k pace anyone?). I had to gather my whits quickly and be mentally prepared to find the hurt locker during this run, and I'm not always able to find the hurt locker on such short notice. Fortunately it worked out, but today was a good reminder to BE AWARE of what's coming and prepare myself. Then I'm less likely to lose focus and make excuses.

I think the above about covers my training vices. The first step towards breaking bad habits is recognizing their existence. So there's that. Monday is a new day and a new week and I'm making it my intention, ACTIVELY COMMITTING to going to early swim practice tomorrow morning. Tonight I'm leaving the smartphone downstairs, along with the computer, and I WILL NOT eat that last chocolate brownie that's calling me from the pantry. Now if only there was a way to save me from my Kindle...

15 August 2013

Swimming and I are on the Road to Reconciliation

So lately I've been broken up with the Swim part of swimbikerun. It's like the two week hiatus I took post-IMLP caused me to completely forget how to swim. I am not joking. I got into the pool last Friday and was horrified. Suddenly it was taking me close to two minutes to do 100m, I was desperately trying to make the 1:55 interval we were on. My technique felt all wonky and it seemed like the harder I worked, the slower I went. Same thing on Monday, though it was slightly better. Didn't help that the girls I was sharing a lane with were high schoolers who should've been swimming in the 1:30 base lane, NOT the 1:55 base lane. Nothing like trying to chase the feet of kids literally half your age and watching them disappear into the blue abyss within seconds to make you feel pokey, old, and slow.

Jen was very nice and responded to all my moans and groans with You just did an Ironman, you're still tired from that. It is pretty amazing how tired a sporting event can make you. Wednesday morning's swim was actually good, a substantial improvement over Monday and Friday's sessions. It felt like I knew how to swim again, and I had a little extra oomph in my kick and stroke and when I pulled, I actually moved forward in the water. All good things. I will take any progress. And also, because efficiency and me so very rarely go together, I'm going to slow clap my accomplishment of doing swim practice, biking to the office, doing a 5 mile run (with a stop at grocery store tacked on at the end for essential snacks) and still making it to my desk by 8:45am. Unheard of.

I had a really great weekend, once the Great Charlottesville Mountain Biking Debacle concluded. Mr. Sweetie and Miles and I had date night down in Clarendon after Mass on Saturday night. And Sunday morning I biked down to Alexandria to meet up with my friend Lynn from home. I've known Lynn forever and actually did x-country in middle school and high school with her brother Alan. We caught up with each other as we ran along the Potomac and then enjoyed some croissants. It was so incredibly great to see her, and I love how she is one of my friends that I can pick right back up with from the last time we saw each other. Hopefully we'll get a chance to run together next time I'm up in New  Saturday afternoon my team, Ignite Endurance, met down at Hains Point to take a few photos of the members biking and running. We had perfect weather for it. It was hard to look all serious and aero on my bike so I think I'm waving and grinning in most photos I'm in. Then Sunday night Mindy, Sarah, and Kendra came over for dinner and even though none of us were in heavy IM training, we were all STARVING and demolished crackers, two containers of goat cheese, a baguette, dinner (no leftovers), a salad, a huge container of strawberries, and two large cartons of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Mr. Sweetie was sorely disappointed the next day when he discovered there was no ice cream left (that is called wishful thinking).

11 August 2013

Oh that Xterra? Yeah, Not Happening

Spoiler alert: Yesterday I quickly realized that my (lack of) mountain biking skills were NO match for the trails of Charlottesville. I feel like a wimp wussing out a race, especially since I just bought my new mountain bike (fortunately I hadn't signed up for the race yet), but I also think doing a race that is so far above my skill level would be irresponsible, especially given that I have 70.3 Worlds in just a few weeks, which is one race that I care ALOT about, and I wouldn't get to do that race if I did damage at the Xterra (and if you saw me trying to mountain bike yesterday, you would know that was definitely within the realm of possibilities).

So let's back up to yesterday morning when I woke up at 5:30am and strapped my mountain bike to the car and headed down to Charlottesville to attend a free XTerra clinic, blissfully unaware of of what the trails had in store for me. Actually, that's not completely true - I'd heard from several different people that these trails were some of the harder ones in the area, especially with all the roots, and that was a big reason why I was going down to Charlottesville in the first place before I even signed up for the race - to check out the trails and see if I felt I could handle the Xterra race (1500m swim, 14 mile mountain bike ride, 6 mile trail run) or if I should go with the shorter sprint race (750m swim, 6 mile mountain bike ride, 3 mile trail run).

I arrived at Walnut Creek Park a couple minutes after 9 and there was already a smallish group assembled. I was the only girl, but there were a few others there who were newbies to off-road racing. They explained the trails to us, how the Xterra race would do an extra two mile loop to start and then do two loops of the 6 mile course and the sprint would only do one six mile loop. Right from the start of the ride, I could tell the trails were no joke and I immediately felt like I was riding outside my comfort zone. I lucked out with the Jersey Devil race and going into that sight unseen - sure there was alot of sand, but the paths were relatively wide, relatively root-free, not ridiculously hilly, and I never felt out of control. At Walnut Creek, we entered a singletrack path and immediately started going down some steepish downhills with tight turns, rocks, roots, etc. In my mind, I know that I need momentum to roll easily over the rocks and roots (and with my 29-er wheels, I felt like I was driving a tank that should be able to roll over anything in its path), but gaining speed on the downhills freaked me out because I felt like I was losing control and disaster would be just around the corner from me if I went too fast. So I sat on my brakes. Alot. And I know this didn't do me any good. I'd lose momentum and tip over or get stuck on a rock and tip over or slide down a root and tip over. Within a mile of getting on  the trails, I had already thrown the "Do The Full Xterra Race Next Weekend" idea out the window, categorizing it as stupid foolish. It was about this time that I made it down a hill unscathed only to be faced with a sheer, slippery rock that I'm supposed to BIKE UP? This only confirmed my mental decision as I unclipped and scrambled up the rock with my bike. This would be the first of many unclip-and-scramble routines of the day.

Eventually the trail leveled out a bit and felt more manageable. Unfortunately, this was also about the time that I missed a turn and got lost and so I was no longer biking on the trails that would actually be used in the race. I also managed to get stung by a bee (ouch), something I haven't had happen to me in years. A foreshadowing of more fun to come? The group eventually found me and we wound our way out of the two-mile loop and onto the six mile loop. If I thought the two mile loop was crap, this next loop was even more out of my league. At this point, I was at the very back of the group, with the nice clinic leader sticking with me, giving me pointers and advice while simultaneously not letting me wuss out on some of the drops and downhills. At one point we came upon this creek crossing that was at the bottom of a short but steep drop. I already had it in my mind that I was going to walk it, but before I could even voice that, he said OK Caroline, you're going to do this and you have no choice. It sounded like something my mother would say. So I did it. I survived. And it wasn't that bad (though I didn't make it all the way across the creek, tipping over in the middle of it instead - but I DID make it down the drop unscathed).

I did end up walking significant portions, sometimes a downhill was intimidating because of the rocks, roots, twists and turns. Sometimes I fell down on an uphill because there were so many roots and I lost momentum. At one point, I actually tipped over backwards on the trail because I came to a standstill on an uphill, stuck on roots. Fortunately, I fell into a mess of leafy branches so no damage was done. It was during this six mile loop that I realized there was NO joy in what I was doing, I was not having a good time, and that perhaps even the sprint was a bad idea. There were moments where the trail evened out and I felt more confident, like I could do this and maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but then I'd get to the technical sections where I had no idea what to do and no confidence in my abilities, I'd ride the brakes, lose control, and circle back to the thought of this is a very bad idea with my nonexistent mountain biking skills. Towards the end of the loop, as the trail neared the lake and it seemed like we were getting close to the end (at least it felt like I should be close to the end because how long can six miles really last since it seemed like we'd been out there FOREVER), I looked up at the sky and it was this menacing so-gray-its-almost-blue color and I heard thunder. Great. I had literally just been thinking to myself things could be worse, it could be wet and muddy, making everything slick and that much more difficult. Within minutes, it was as though Mother Nature had stored up all the rain she usually throws down on me during my bike commutes and the skies opened and she just dumped 4 days worth of rain on me at once. The trail immediately turned into a river. The sweat that had dried on my face was now running into my eyes, stinging them with salt. The only upside to the trail turning into a river was that I could no longer see any of the rocks and roots blocking my way (and if you can't see something, you can't be scared of it) so I just rolled along down the trail, mostly making my way OK. At one point after a creek crossing I did have a good fall into a mudpit (but was told I fell the right way, tuck and roll), I was fine but quickly learned that I lost my cleat in the mud. MY BIKE CLEAT CAME UNSCREWED AND LOST ITSELF IN THE MUD. This was the last straw. Fortunately, we really were almost out of the woods and onto pavement and I pedaled the rest of the way to my car with only one foot clipped in. It also stopped raining as soon as I arrived at my car.

All the way home, I hemmed and hawed about what I should do. As I was leaving, the clinic leader (who was super helpful and I really appreciated his patience and advice) said don't let this defeat you. I hope to see you out here on race day. With those words ringing in my head, not signing up for the race made me feel like I let the trails win and I was completely wimping out. But at the same time, I felt like it would be irresponsible to try to race something that I KNOW is beyond my capabilities right now. I know how to do a triathlon, but road riding skills do not translate to mountain biking skills and I had zero confidence out there and I think you NEED to have confidence in your abilities in order to race a course as technical as Charlottesville. In fact, it almost seems like I would be disrespecting the sport if I were to give it a shot. I would do fine on the swim, probably coming out towards the front since my swimming is decent, and then I might as well just stand outside of T1 with my bike in hand and wait for everyone else to run out with their bikes because I know I would spend much of the race walking my bike over technical sections, walking it when I fell on an uphill and couldn't get clipped in, and pulling over to the side to let anyone faster than me (read: EVERYONE) get by me. That is not a race. That is foolishness. Also, if there is a bike cutoff, there is a very good chance I would miss it. It took me TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS to ride 8 miles yesterday. Not kidding but wish I was. I also have other races later this season that I really care about and want to do well at and if I get hurt during Charlottesville, So I didn't sign up and I don't plan to this year. Instead, I plan on taking my mountain bike out on trails, getting comfortable on it, getting used to it, and gradually ease my way into doing harder, more technical stuff once I master the easier trails.

07 August 2013

Facing a Fear - the HEAT

It's no secret that I've never been terribly good at racing in the heat. Most of my best race results come from those that take place in cooler weather. Give me a course with hills, no problem, I like hills. Give me a swim with rough water, I'm OK with that, it's kind of like a roller coaster ride without the heights. Oh gosh, but give me a run course with hot, hot, hot weather and I implode. Vegas 70.3 last year, perfect example. The near 90 temps at IMLP in 2012 would probably be another stellar illustration.

I need to fix this. I signed up for Ironman Texas 2014, taking place in May and apparently it is very hot in Texas in mid-May. I chose it, not really thinking about the heat, but more because it will be convenient to fly to, it's close to golf courses for Mr. Sweetie to enjoy, it's a different race venue than Lake Placid (and after three years, it was time for a change), it is flat (as much as I do enjoy hills, I'm rather excited to give a flatter course a go and see if a sub-6 bike split can be mine), and it sounds like it is in a fun area. I've visited Texas once, in March, when it wasn't that hot, so the heat never really crossed my mind.

I guess I should've read some race reports. Le sigh.

I've always wanted to do Coeur d'Alene, cooler temps, rolling hills, but it sounds like it's a bit of a pain in the neck to get to, so Texas it was. Sillyish reason, I know. But maybe this decision will be a good one. I'm obviously not gunning for a Kona slot or anything. And getting a PR would be nice, with this being a flatter course than Lake Placid. But learning how to properly race in the heat and not implode - now THAT would be priceless. Next month's attempt at Vegas will be a good test to some of the things I am thinking I should do (drink ALL THE TIME, load up my water bottles with Skratch Labs, pop a salt tab every 20 minutes). I like to think that last year's Vegas debacle was mostly a nutrition and hydration fail and if I pay close attention to my food, water, and salt intake, I'll be able to do well there this year in the heat (well for me, not gunning for any speed records or AG placements). It will be a good test and, if things go well, I'll feel a little less wary about Texas. Some people (I'm looking at you, KGo) are well-disposed to racing in the heat; in fact, they thrive in it. Is it their body composition? Are they simply smarter when it comes to nutrition/hydration? Are they actually camels in disguise with secret stashes of magic hydration mix? Tell me your secrets, I want to become a Jedi Master when it comes to racing in hot weather! Mother Nature is completely out of my control and the only thing I can do is simply prepare my body and mind for the worst. If anyone has any helpful tips or thoughts, I am all ears!

06 August 2013

Getting Back Into It. Sort of. Maybe Later.

After Ironman, I like to fall off the wagon when it comes to nutrition, training, the whole shebang. A mid-season break is exactly what is needed to recharge, regroup, and hopefully have a good second half of the racing season. A successful mid-season break is when all the wagon wheels come off, the Red Flyer loses its handle, you find yourself knee-deep in Four Seas hot fudge sundaes, and working your way through 3/4 of a pound of fudge at 9pm on a Tuesday night.

What have I done since Ironman? Not much. Not much at all. On Friday last week, I laced up my running shoes for a sloooow two mile slog to the beach and back. And then yesterday I rode my bike to and from work. And that. Is. It. Every morning I have shut my alarm off and hid it under the pillow (last night I didn't even bother setting my alarm). I think I still have residual tiredness from last week's events and I've not woken up in time for early morning swim practice at all this week. Maybe I will tomorrow. Or maybe not. That is the joy of the mid-season break.

After this week, it will truly be a back to reality check. I picked up a BRAND NEW FELT NINE 20 MOUNTAIN BIKE when I got back into town on Sunday afternoon! Huge thank you to Tri360 for ordering the bike and building it for me! I'm so, so, so excited to do some off-road riding. I've been waiting YEARS to get my very own mountain bike (I had a very inexpensive mountain bike that I bought back in 2005 and it was stolen in 2009 from my apartment garage) so I can do mountain biking and off-road triathlons at my leisure! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my friend Karen's wealth of knowledge and insight that she shared with me as I was trying to decide on which bike to get - she is the mountain biking guru and I really appreciated how patient she was with me as she explained the pros and cons of different bikes, what I should look for, things I should consider, etc. I'm planning to do the XTERRA Charlottesville race later this month and I'm a little wary of the mountain biking course, especially after hearing people say that it is one of the hardest mountain biking courses they have ever done AND they cried multiple times during a loop. XTERRA is hosting a free clinic at the race site this Saturday so my mountain bike and I will be up at the crack of dawn to attend the clinic, check out the course, and take stock of how many tears will be shed. Thought that I must keep in mind - there is NO SHAME in walking. I'd like to make it through the race in one piece because my season is not close to being over yet.

05 August 2013

Cape Cod Vacation

During the final part of the IMLP run, one of the thoughts that put a little extra spring in my step was knowing that in less than a day, I will be relaxing on Cape Cod. Last year, Mr. Sweetie and I figured out the RIGHT way to do Ironman - do the race and then take a week of vacation afterwards to recover from it all. 2013 was going to be no different. My Uncle Charlie and Aunt Karen are pretty much the most awesome aunt and uncle on the face of the earth. They live about a mile from the ocean, set wayyyy back from the road, with a big yard, a pool, and a house with a screened in porch, huge deck, and lots of comfy couches. As a kid, they would have the four cousins (me, my brother, and my cousins Worth and Charlotte) down for a week every summer - it was known as Camp Beggs and it was way better than any sort of organized sleepaway camp. Back then, they lived right on a lake, and right near a bike path, and our days were spent swimming out to the raft on the lake, taking the sailboat out, playing bocce ball, croquet, badminton, going to the ocean (after seeing Jaws, typical), and riding our bikes a mile down the bike path to the General Store to blow our money on penny candy. We were a high energy bunch and I really don't know how Charlie and Karen put up with us for an entire week every summer - probably because they knew they could return us to our parents within 7 days.

Someday I'm sure we'll get all four cousins back at Charlie and Karen's, but last week it was just me, Mr. Sweetie, our dog, and my parents who were down visiting. Very low key. I was still pretty wrecked from the race during those first few days, so most of my activity centered around walking from the porch to the pool and back. If my dog could tell his version of vacation, it would be I was awake at 5:30am every day, ready to swim and I made sure everyone around me KNEW that I was ready to get my swim on RIGHT NOW. I've never met a dog that likes to swim as much as he does. I think it is going to take the pool filter a long time to recover from all of Miles' dog hair. Most of the time he didn't even need the incentive of a ball to chase into the pool - I'd just say "Ready... GO!" and he'd jump right in. I have the video to prove it, but I have no clue how to post videos to my blog so you'll have to take my word for it.

Big Pool
Kiddie Pool
The end result of all that swimming.
The highlight of each of my days was double-fisting a bag of chocolate chips and a bag of Heath Bar toffee bits first thing in the morning as I shuffled out to the porch. They were leftovers from this behemoth of a dessert - Chocolate Trifle. Layers of chocolate cake, chocolate/Kahlua pudding, Cool Whip, chocolate and toffee chips, and repeat. I thought about this dessert during parts of the Ironman Marathon and made it on Tuesday because I could not get it out of my head.

Chocolate Trifle. Essential to proper Ironman Recovery
I had goals for my vacation. Every day needs goals, right? Some days it was stay in your bathing suit until dinner and only then you can shower (check); finish the chocolate trifle while still leaving room for a pound of chocolate covered cranberries (check); play mini golf and, if you are lucky, beat Mr. Sweetie (half-check, if we stopped on the 9th hole, I would've won, sadly I fell apart on the back nine); eat ice cream and hot fudge (check); go to the beach (check); watch Jaws (check); play croquet (nope, didn't make that happen); eat lobstah (check); eliminate the bike shorts tan lines (check - they are faded, but I think they are permanently there no matter how often I wear a bikini).

We made a couple of trips over to Centerville to visit my grandmother. She is 86, but seems so much younger than her age. She also still keeps chocolate in her house and I raided her candy bowl, just like I've done since I was a kid. Visiting her house is like going back in time, it looks the way it always has, with so many pictures of when I was a kid, to the old Celtics pennant and fan tacked to her wall, noting that they played in the Boston Garden. A few blocks down the street from Grandma's is the Catholic Church Our Lady of Victory, where Mr. Sweetie and I got married almost seven years ago. And right next door to that is the best ice cream shop in the world - Four Seas! Homemade ice cream and homemade hot fudge, you can't ask for anything more than that! Our first stop as a married couple was to get ice cream. Priorities.

He looks a little less enthusiastic about sharing his ice cream in 2013 than he did in 2006
We had the best, most relaxing vacation anyone could ever ask for. It was so nice to see my parents again (it was much easier after the 4th of July to return home, knowing that I would get to see them once more in just a few weeks). The menfolk (Mr. Sweetie, Charlie, and Dad) spent alot of time at the golf course and it would seem that Charlie has found a new hobby to occupy his time now that he has retired from his dock-building business. Mr. Sweetie was more than happy to help Charlie discover the wonders of golf. My mom and Karen and I ventured into Chatham one day to do some shopping - I walked away with almost a pound of fudge, what seemed like a pound of chocolate-covered cranberries, and lobster-shaped lollipops. We also did some browsing of various preppy clothing stores - when did Lilly Pulitzer suddenly become trendy and what happened to their classic clothes?

Thank you so, so much Charlie and Karen for having Mr. Sweetie, Miles, and I down for a visit! It was absolutely the highlight of our summer and we were so sad to get in our car and come back to the DC swamp yesterday morning. It took a fair amount of coaxing to get Miles into the car - he knew he was leaving doggy paradise and he was not happy about it! You two are the most awesome aunt and uncle EVER and we miss you both already! Love you!

03 August 2013

Afterthoughts - Ironman Lake Placid

It has been almost a week since this year's Ironman Lake Placid and I've had plenty of time to sit and think about the race, and how I feel, and what's next - in between eating large quantities of Four Seas ice cream and hot fudge and chocolate covered cranberries. Vacation is good for the soul :)

- Last year after Placid I was not excited about doing another Ironman. I was happy to know that I'd be in good company at the race with so many friends also signed up, but after a number of IM races not going according to plan and the run feeling like a death march, I was thinking that maybe it simply wasn't my distance.

- I know one good race doesn't automatically make me an expert or guarantee that future Ironman races will go as well as this past one did. However, I am excited to race another one next May in Texas (the heat will be the wildcard factor there). I'm also excited to try pushing my limits and really racing. I raced this past one, especially on the run, but I am curious how hard I can push the bike without ruining the run. Probably not much - I only went eight minutes slower on the bike this year compared to last year. Either way, I'd really like to someday become competitive at the Ironman distance.

- I like my race pictures from IMLP. Miracles do happen.

- I'm still on cloud nine from last weekend. Sometimes I still can't believe my race went so well. I know overcoming adversity and having a decent finish despite hitting some roadblocks during the course of a race makes completing the race that much more admirable and exciting, but it felt awfully good to have a perfect race too.

- I know I worked harder at IMLP this year compared to last year. Last summer I was tooling around Cape Cod on my bike less than 48 hours after crossing the finish line. This time around I have not touched my bike and only put my run shoes on for the first time Friday for a slow and painful 2 mile jog to the ocean and back. The mere thought of biking or running earlier this week was enough to make me cringe and that Ironman marathon was just as painful as an open marathon, which is something I've never said before.

- I've enjoyed my ice cream-hot fudge-chocolate covered cranberry-fueled week off from training, and I know I'll enjoy another week or so of light training consisting of doing what I feel like doing (probably swimming and bike commuting). It's a good mid-season break. I'm looking forward to having shorter training sessions and doing MORE racing since the shorter stuff takes less recovery time.

- In August I have a sprint and an Xterra (yes an Xterra requires a mountain bike and THAT is what I'm picking up from Tri360 this weekend, yee-haw!) and then in September I have 70.3 Worlds, maybe another half or maybe just an Oly, and then October will have Beach2Battleship half as well as at least an Oly, maybe another sprint if I can find one. The end of tri season will be here before I know it and I want to pack in as much racing as I can between now and then.

- I loved Ironman training, but I'm glad the long stuff is over and now my bike rides won't be longer than 3-4 hours at most and my running won't be much longer than 2 hours, if that. I will have my weekends back!