Monday, June 25, 2012

Triathlon is more than swim, bike, run

+ T?

The sport of triathlon is known to consist of three separate events: swimming, cycling and running. However, any triathlon veteran is likely to agree that the sport would be more aptly named a quadathlon, since “transitioning” plays an important and often pivotal role in the race.

It has been said that a triathlon cannot be won in the swim, but it can be lost there. The same holds true for the transition area, a designated “secure” area that all triathletes move through twice during a race. While I regularly train for the swim, bike and run legs, I don’t spend nearly enough time perfecting my transitions and, as a result, have given up more than one podium spot due to inefficiencies in this area.

The first transition, or “T1,” takes place after the swim, when athletes ditch caps, goggles and sometimes wetsuits in favor of helmets, sunglasses and bikes. The second transition, “T2,” occurs after the bike leg when helmets and bike shoes are exchanged for visors and running flats and bikes are returned to the rack.  
In fact, the transition area plays such a key role in the sport of triathlon that entire workshops are devoted to detailing all that is required and recommended in T1 and T2. I recently spoke with a woman who is preparing for her first triathlon and she said she wasn’t nervous about her upcoming race until after the workshop, which she described as “overwhelming,” a common sentiment expressed by newcomers to multisport.

However, transitioning eventually becomes just another part of the routine. Athletes learn from experience what is necessary, such as goggles and fluids, and what is extraneous, such as socks or watches, as well as what is required, such as helmets and race numbers and what is prohibited, such as iPods and pacers.
Once the basics are mastered, it’s perfecting the technique that is important; practice is the key. If you’ve never worn a wetsuit before, it’s advisable to try removing it a few times before race day as the clingy neoprene is surprisingly difficult to peel off. And, as with any sport, never experiment with anything new on race day. If you’re used to riding with cycling gloves, wear them; the handlebars and brakes may feel unusually slippery without them.  

To shave seconds off transition time, some triathletes start cycling without shoes, opting to slip into them while on the move. Similarly, what has been referred to as a “flying dismount” is sometimes seen at triathlons, where athletes remove their feet from their shoes prior to the transition area and leap off their still-moving bike sans footwear. After five years of competing in triathlons, I have yet to master this stunt. As it is, I’m incredibly wobbly and uncoordinated on and off the bike; the last thing I need to do is crash while attempting this acrobatic feat. 

In triathlon, as in life, every person must experiment with what works, what doesn’t, and what is worth the risk.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The South Carroll Sprint Triathlon

South Carroll Sprint Triathlon 
2012 Race Recap:

My first naked race!

Funny Naked Streaking Photos

Caution: Full, complete, boring details and speculation ahead. Proceed at your own risk. 

The Morning:

The alarm went off at O’dark thirty. I hadn’t slept at all; had simply lain there for five hours with my eyes closed. Thankfully I’d had a good night’s sleep the day before.

Put down some oatmeal and indulged in a little “Peanut Butter Jelly Time,” which is on its way to becoming a new pre-race ritual.

At 5:30 AM, large cuppa joe in hand, we hit the road for the short drive to the race venue, Hot Sauce Committee part two serving as the audio backdrop to our journey.

It was a tad chilly in the AM, but shaping up to be a beautiful day.

Me, my husband and my father-in-law in the transition area pre-race, as the sun rises on the venue

With my transition area set and ready to go, it was off to body marking, chip pick up and potty check. The small, local race of 278 competitors lends itself to an easy, stress-free morning.

And then, I tried something new on race day!

Though I’ve competed in twenty-some triathlons over the past five years, I’ve never warmed up before a race. Never. I’ve hopped around, busted out a few knee raises, heel kicks and arm swings, and even indulged in the occasional sun salutation, but I’ve never been one of those athletes you see on race morning sprinting or cycling around the venue. But, on this day, I decided to give it a try. So, after I finished all my pre-race preparations, I slipped on my running shoes and ran a lap. No biggie. It did get the blood flowing but I don’t think it really made much difference.

I also decided to swim a few laps before the race in hopes of avoiding the dreaded “lead arms” that typically kick in around the 50-100 meter mark. My husband, a former college swimmer, swears by this, as do most swimmers. The difference is, fast as he is in the water, he’s almost always one of the first people to start. So he can warm up in the water moments before his race begins while the rest of us peons are left to sit, soaking wet, for up to an hour while we wait for our turn. I’ve always assumed that any benefit I’d gain by swimming before a race would be gone by the time I got in the water, not to mention that I’d spend the intervening time trying to keep warm and keep my goggles from fogging up.

But this year I came prepared. Armed with a towel and jacket, I shivered as I stripped down to my bathing suit at 6:50 AM. The race was scheduled to start at 7 AM and I was in the 7:12 wave, so my drippy wet wait would be less than 30 minutes.

Nah. At the last minute I decided against it.

 I looked at the other swimmers already in the water (the few, the proud) and was certain that the minute I jumped in they would clear the pool. What good would 50 meters do? I put my warm layers back on and settled for a few push ups.

After the playing of the national anthem, my husband was the first in the water and the first out. He posted the second fastest swim time of the day and had the lead escort throughout the entire bike leg. He was eventually passed in the first mile of the run. Ultimately, he finished 1st in his division and 5th overall.

Husband accepting his 2nd place divisional award
As my 7:12 start time approached, I paid one last visit to the rest room, sucked down a gel, and took my place in line. I was happy to get a middle lane in the pool this year as opposed to swimming alongside the wall as I’d done the year before. This was to be my 6th consecutive start at the South Carroll Sprint Triathlon.

The Swim:

The water was warmer than I’d anticipated and the dreadful “lead arms” never fully materialized, but I was never able to find my rhythm. I felt like a boat that’s been pushed to full throttle and is initially unable to plane out. In a sprint triathlon there isn’t enough time or distance to “plane out” in the swim, so I’m usually left thrashing around and gasping for air. I actually choked a little on the swim and went 10 seconds slower than the year before, which was both unexpected and disappointing given the times I’d logged in training.


If you’ve read Chrissie Wellington’s book, A Life Without Limits, she refers to herself as “Muppet” when she makes stupid mistakes. I need to find a similar word for myself as I definitely have my fair share of Muppet Moments. This race was no exception. Though I’d spent time focusing on and visualizing my transitions, especially after giving up a first place finish in my last race for running the wrong way out of transition, I still managed to run past my bike rack on the way to T1. Total. Duh. I got to the end of the row and realized “That’s not my bike!” Yep. I’d run right past it. That was probably another 10 seconds I gave up in this race.

Once I located my bike, I moved on to the next new thing I was trying on race day:

A naked race!

Well, not literally, but it felt like it. In an effort to trim the fat from my transitions and eliminate distractions, I raced sans socks, gloves, visor, nutrition and timing devices. The lack of a watch made me the most nervous as I’d have no idea what my time or pace was on the course. I worried this would be a distinct disadvantage on the run.

So, in T1, all I had to do was put on my bike shoes, sunglasses and helmet. I haven’t yet mastered the art of getting into and out of my bike shoes while on the bike. Doing so is a Muppet Moment just waiting to happen.  

But, despite all the paring down, T1 was 7 seconds slower for me this year than last.  Probably due to my inability to locate my bike!

The Bike:

I worked hard. Huffed and puffed the whole way and rarely found moments in which I could suck down water instead of air. The result was that I only drank about half of the water in my front-loader, or about 10 oz, during the bike. Luckily, it wasn’t very hot or humid so excess fluids weren’t a necessity. I passed several people and only got passed twice, by guys on super tricked-out bikes. I never got to a point on the course where I could catch my breath.

I finished the bike 39 seconds slower than last year. Of course, I had no idea until after the race. This was another surprising and disappointing discovery, especially given the effort, or at least my own PRE.


Finally, an improvement! 11 seconds faster here. After re-racking my bike and ditching the helmet, all I had to do was swap bike shoes for running shoes and grab my race belt with my number, which I planned to hook while I was running.

As I shoved my feet into my shoes, the shoe liner bunched. Ditto for the other foot and no time to waste fixing it. It felt awful. I have to run like this for 3 miles?? Maybe, I hoped, it would distract me from the things that were sure to feel worse, like burning lungs and aching legs.  

The Run:

The course starts out on grass, the uneven clumps threatening to turn ankles and make rubbery knees and legs buckle. It was a minor relief to get to the gravel road that finally angled slightly downhill. Except, I kicked a rock the size of a billiard ball and the harder surface made me more aware of the crumpled liners in my shoes. When I finally hit pavement, the course turned uphill. Utter agony. Last year I ran surprisingly well; one of my fastest 5K times to date. To better my run this time seemed unlikely. Nearly impossible. I’d pondered this during the bike as my hamstrings tightened and my quads began to scream. As I ran, I lost my race belt. I didn’t stop. I tried to go into a zone. I aimed for little bursts of speed. When I hit the turnaround point, two things happened: 

First, I realized there were no women gunning for me and I was relieved. The run felt a little better after that. Who knows if I ran slower or faster afterward? All I know is that it didn’t hurt as much, at least not until the final uphill stretch to the finish.

Second, a guy behind me had picked up the belt I’d dropped and handed it to me when I passed. I tried to put it on, but the clip was broken so I had to hold it in my hands. 

I saw several familiar faces heading out for the bike and run; cheering each other on lifted my spirits. I was only passed two or three times on the run, by gazelles. I mean, men. This was an unusual experience for me because the run is often my weakest link and I’m used to being passed by entire herds.

With the final push into the finish chute I resisted the urge to vomit. My chest and legs burned. There was no race clock at the finish line (technical difficulties?) and I didn’t wear a watch. I also didn’t know exactly what time I entered the water. Bottom line: I had absolutely no clue how I’d done. I only knew that I'd given it everything I had that day and, with the exception of the snafu in T1, ran a pretty clean race.

In the end, my run was 8 seconds faster than last year; a PR for me at the 5K distance!

The Result:

There were two women in the race with the chops to be amateur elites. I knew the two would be battling to the finish. I was hoping the one in my age group would be the overall winner, thereby taking her out of the age group awards and removing my biggest competitor in the division. (I use the word “competitor” loosely. I was no threat to her whatsoever.) Anyway, she lost to the other woman by 45 seconds. So, here’s where I landed in the end:  

2nd place in my division (out of 19)
6th woman overall (out of 134)
41st overall (out of 278)

Accepting my award for 2nd place in my division

The aftermath:

While I was very happy with the outcome, I later learned that, overall, I was 30 seconds slower this year than last, though the effort seemed so much harder this time. I literally went “all out” for the entire race, as is required in the sprint distance, and it hurt like hell. I worked up enough lactic acid, from the anaerobic effort, to give me "heartburn" for the rest of the day. Tums, my go-to during my pregnancies, couldn’t quell the fire. And, the lack of socks, paired with the scrunched up liners, left two of my toes rubbed raw. But that was the worst of it, physically.

My husband insists that we’d trained harder last year than this year (his overall time was 10 seconds slower) since our first race last season was an Olympic-distance instead of a sprint. This may be true, but all I can say is that I’ve felt exhausted these past few months. Maybe the quantity wasn’t there in training, but it still felt like the quality was.

I once pondered in a column how much more I can reasonably expect to improve. At some point, I realize, I’m just not going to get any faster. That could happen next week, or not for another decade. Who knows? But one thing is certain: if I plotted my age on a line graph along with my race performance, the two lines would eventually intersect as the age line continues to rise and the performance line plateaus or declines.

Have I reached that point? I don’t think so, but the day will come. If my father-in-law is any indication, that day is still decades away. (My FIL, at age 66, placed 1st in his division of 8 men age 60 & up.)

So, until then, I will continue to train hard and train smart but, most of all, I will have fun challenging myself, pushing my limits and pursuing this sport that I love.  

Husband and I post-race

Next up:

A week off. And I don’t mean a “recovery week,” I mean, completely OFF! I don’t think I’m going to do anything except maybe take a few walks, do some yoga and stretch. Some major re-charging is in order, and I started the week by logging nine hours of sleep and getting a massage. So far, so good. 

Training resumes next week and a new countdown begins: 7 weeks until the next race, an Olympic that we’ve never done and are looking forward to trying. 

Me & my husband with our 2nd and 1st place awards 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Five things I'm loving right now!

At the suggestion of a fellow fitness blogger, I'm sharing the love.

These are five things I'm loving right now:

1) My new running shoes in this wild citron/green color:

People will see me coming for miles in these kicks! My oldest daughter (whose fav color is lime green) was delighted by my choice.

2) Cherries and Beets:

It would seem that bright colors are calling to me at the moment, but I've been craving beets since my local CSA started offering them up and I found the most delish recipe for these root veggies. ((Basically, peel, dice, toss with olive oil, pepper and garlic cloves and roast until tender. Toss with goat cheese when cool.) I love them even more since Outside magazine reported beets as "offering the same boost that performance enhancers do." What's not to like about that?

As for cherries, I've always loved 'em. I can down an entire bowl in one sitting. However, since June of 2005, they've held an even more special place in my heart. Seven years ago this month, and nine months along with my third child, I sat indulging in a huge bowl of this yummy fruit when my water broke. Whoa. That had never happened before. Now I can never eat cherries without remembering that moment!

3) Swimming outside:

                                           SCSC Competition/Lap Pool

This is not the best picture, but this is where I swim in the summer. I love the YMCA, my home away from home from September through May, but after nine months of swimming indoors, in water hovering around 83 degrees, it is pure bliss to head outside in this tranquil and bucolic setting. There are actually horses romping around on the surrounding farms. Today was my first day of the season in this pool and I loved it--the crisp water, clear blue skies and bright sunshine--though switching from yards to meters always throws me off my game the first few times.

4) A life without limits:

                                              A Life Without Limits: Chrissie Wellington, The Autobiography

I own this book. In fact, I have a signed copy of it. I was fortunate to get to meet this amazing woman in person when she was in my area for a book signing. Listening to her talk, to tell her story, was captivating. It's hard to believe that this sweet, friendly, humble, visually non-threatening person is such a beast on the course. Chrissie is not only an amazing athlete, but an amazing person as well and such a positive role model for women and girls.

                                                  Profile Picture

5) Running on the Sun

                                                      Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135 Poster

Watch this movie and you'll never whine again. Well, you might whine, but if you do, you'll feel guilty as hell doing it! These people are insane. The kind of people that make me go "Ha!" to the people who call me crazy for some of my athletic pursuits. The idea of running 135 miles (5 marathons!) is enough to make me curl up in a corner and whimper. My knees hurt just thinking about it. But that's not enough for these 40 runners. Oh no. They're not just going to run 135 miles in less than 60 hours (Yes, 60 hours. Of running!), but they're going to do it in one of the hottest, most unforgiving deserts in the world. And, climb up to 5,000 feet once or twice too. Sheesh. Now when I go out running and start feeling hot or tired, I think of these people running The Badwater 135 and I feel ridiculously lame, so I get a grip and keep on running.

So, that's my five. What are your five? Right now! Don't think about it too much, just go with the first five things that come to mind. Post a comment and share your five things . . . share the love!