Tri AC

Atlantic City’s neon skyline lights up the predawn sky across the back bay. The buoys are out for the swim course on the black water. There was no need for headlamps with the the huge spotlights flooding Bader Field. I easily found my racked bike and started setting up transition, keeping an eye on the time so I could check on my athletes racing today as well. Phil’s bike was next to mine on the rack as he set up for his first Olympic distance event.

At 6am, I met up with my athletes at the bike out for a quick picture, but one of them wasn’t there after waiting for a bit. I hoped he would make it in time for the race (he did, I checked his bike before leaving transition). Even though I’ve done many of these events, I’m always nervous before the swim start: I want to see what’s below, and I don’t want to see what’s in the water, all at the same time, so I tend to focus on eating my pre-race bagel with jelly and chatting with my athletes to see how they’re doing.

I timed the line for the port-o-potty to fill up the last thirty minutes prior to swimming. John Kenny of French Creek Racing was there with Christina, whom I met for the first time. We discussed the swim and the incoming tide, the water temp, the usual swim stuff. Soon, I went back to where Phil was waiting, gave Kathy a big hug before her swim start for the sprint race, and went to find Jamie and Margaret again so we can start swimming at the same time. Megan spotted me, and we talked for a bit before she went to find the rest of her Philadelphia Triathlon Club teammates. It was then that Geoff stopped by to stretch and warm up for the swim. The triathlon community is one big family, which is why I love the sport so much.

It was time to line up for the swim; Phil went to his swim wave and put on his cap and goggles. Jamie and Margaret were there as we made the slow walk to the swim start. Five athletes went into the water at a time off the boat launch to spread out the swim and bike course. Our turn came quickly, but we let the other two athletes in our group of five go ahead, and the three of us entered the water and started the swim. With a temperature at 81.5 degrees F, no wetsuit was needed. The saltwater instantly pickled my mouth, but it was smooth and calm. I passed lots of swimmers, and a few passed me, but I found my rhythm and had space to settle in.

Out of the water, I ran to my bike, quickly donning my gear. The wind was strong on the way out of Bader Field and on the Atlantic City Expressway to exit 5, but I hunkered down in aero and kept going. I got off at exit 5 and flew down the Expressway back to Atlantic City with the tailwind pushing me along. I kept up the pace for the second loop, trading places with Anne Marie from time to time. Christina passed by me and cheered me on. I kept waiting for Phil to pass me on the bike, but he didn’t catch me, and I didn’t see him until the run.

Into T2, I flew off the bike, racked it, and was on my way on the run. Police held back traffic for athletes on the way to the Boardwalk for the 10K. The boards were soft and springy on the run, until I hit the sand. Then, my legs felt like lead. There is always sand on the run at a DelMo Event. I ran with a few other athletes on course, one who was doing his first Olympic distance race.

I enjoyed every moment of the race, and I know my athletes did too. One got 2nd place in his division, another conquered fears of the swim, and others did their first tri ever. Phil isn’t new to the sport, but he did his first Olympic distance race! All of them finished strong, and I couldn’t be happier. I was on my way to getting a PR at that race, but with the shortened swim, it doesn’t count as a PR even though my pace per 100 was seven seconds faster than the last time I swam it. My bike time was three minutes faster too. I would love to do this race again, maybe next year?

Then and Now and Onward

I’m not one to do weight loss posts or befores and afters because I think those posts promote a sense that your past self is somehow bad, while your new self is better, and that’s just not true. Posts like that promote self-loathing and the idea that your body is never good enough when its capable of doing amazing things.

In light of that, during Ironman training in 2018, I found myself at the proverbial crossroads. My periods were getting to the point that I couldn’t do anything for about three days during each cycle. I won’t bore you with the details or gross you out, but I basically found myself on the sofa doubled over in pain for those days each month. I made an appointment with my OBGYN who recommended a number of options for relief: one of which was surgery. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly do anything about that while training for Ironman Maryland, so I sucked it up on the bad days and took way too many aspirin for relief, scheduling surgery for late 2019.

Ironman Maryland training gave me time to think. A lot. Especially with the long rides on Thursdays and long runs that followed. One thing that my doctor mentioned that stuck with me was cutting back on sugar for relief. When she mentioned it, I laughed and said, “I’m not here to experiment for months in order to find relief.” No way. I did nothing about my diet other than cutting back on chocolate chips for snacks and hot cocoa (see, even coaches have bad habits).

I did the Ironman and fell back into routine training of 8-11 hours per week, all while keeping the changes I made to my diet. Still, the scale kept going up for my weight. What the hell? How can someone like me who eats a salad with tons of protein for one meal and exercises up to 11 hours a week keep on gaining weight? Is it because I’m in my early 40s, smack dab in the middle of middle age? Is it perimenopause? Is it still the occasional Starbucks or those damn chocolate chips in the house? And for the love of God, is it cereal?

During training for Maryland, my weight dropped to 145 lbs at 5’4″. Not bad. Now, in February of 2019, I’m back up to 152 lbs? Seriously? Something has to be done.

I found myself frustrated and scrolling through the Women for Tri Facebook group instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, and I stumbled upon a thread about weight loss. Whatever. No, I read through it, and some of the members recommended Stronger U.

I checked it out online and consulted Dr. Google, you know, the usual suspects, and figured out that Stronger U is a macro counting system customized for your current activity level, age, etc., etc. I’m a sucker and signed up for a weight loss program for the first time in my life, downloaded My Fitness Pal, and got started with a nutrition coach. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try out the program for three months, so I did.

But it turned out to be more than neurotically counting macros on the app, over time, I realized that my snacks made up half of my daily food intake. HALF. I like to eat like a baby: small portions throughout the day or every 2-3 hours. I am always snacking, but what I was snacking on totally sucked. Those chocolate chips? Yeah, I had three small 1/4 cup servings per day for ONE SNACK. Hot cocoa? Two to three cups (after lunch, afternoon, after dinner). Starbucks runs? Almost daily. Yikes! My main meals were healthy with vegetables, protein, and all of that goodness, but clearly the two bowls of hot cereal I was eating before bedtime wasn’t helping my body in any way.

So, did I lose weight with Stronger U? Inches? Of course I did. But I learned so much more about how to properly eat to avoid my hypoglycemic highs and lows that left me so shaky or jittery that I had to eat something slowly until the cold sweat and heart palpitations subsided. Yeah, my body used to spike and crash. It doesn’t anymore. Even if I feel hungry before I eat, I have yet to experience that sugar low. I’m also following up with my doctor because I think surgery is no longer necessary, and I would like her opinion. You see, I cut sugar down to under 60 g per day by counting macros.

Because of all of this, my past self wasn’t bad at all, and my present self is still learning. I’m not going to post the macros I use because everyone is different, and this is not my area of expertise. Nor will I post a “before” and “after” picture because those are lame, and there never really is an “after”. But, I will post data of my progress that took well over a year that is still “in progress” now. What this data does not show is my resting heart rate went down from 63 bpm to 57 bpm, my zone 2 pace for running is down a minute per mile from last summer, and I recover faster from racing that I previously did. There are no perfect numbers that I’m aiming for, but these numbers represent work over time: just like training for any event.

And, yes, it was the cereal. And the chocolate. And the hot cocoa. But mostly it was cereal’s fault.

Philly Women’s Tri

This race report is long overdue with the Philly Women’s Triathlon on July 8, 2019, but that doesn’t mean I forgot about it. In its second year, the Women’s Tri is a highly organized event from start to finish, has great crowd support, and boasts a pool swim and a closed course for the bike and run. It’s the perfect race for beginners and experienced athletes alike.

The swim takes place in Kelly Pool near the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park close to the heart of downtown Philadelphia. DelMo Sports’ drone buzzes overhead to record all of the cheers and waves from the athletes waiting at the swim start. I decided to start in the third heat, or the 5:00-5:30 min heat for a 300 meter swim. My time should be right in the middle, but it ended up a little slower since I had to pass a few athletes while doing the serpentine swim. I ducked under the lane line to pass one athlete, misjudged the pool depth and scraped my knee. I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

Once out of the pool, I ran as fast as I could in bare feet on concrete and then grass to my bike. I sat down, wiped my feet, and saw BLOOD. Lots of blood was dripping down my leg from that tiny scrape on my knee from the pool. No matter, I threw on my shoes and helmet, and then I was off! I chose my road bike to bring to this race since I needed to get new shoes for my TT bike, but it wasn’t a big deal. I can ride my used $500 aluminum frame roadie as well as anyone, and FAST! After all, it is my Ironman bike, my mini-van of a bike, and the bike that I can have afternoon tea on with real China bike. I can ride that bike all day long.

Blood continued to drip down my leg and into my shoes, so I ignored it. I thought it would stop bleeding eventually and might make me look like a beast for the race photos (too bad you can’t see the blood in the photo below). I continued to pass athletes on the bike, and a few passed me on their TT bikes too. The bike course wasn’t crowded and there were no cars to worry about.

As soon as I started to make my way up the hill to transition, I noticed another athlete in front of me on a hybrid, and all I could think of is that I needed to spin my legs fast enough to catch her on that hill. And, I did.

Into T2, I racked my biked and traded the helmet and bike shoes for running shoes and a hat: I was on my way. Transitions this year for me got faster too. Boom! Done in a few minutes max.

For the first half mile or so of the run, I couldn’t feel my legs. Typical. It was hot and humid by now too, and I don’t do well in the heat. So, I made it my goal to keep running no matter what and sip on the Tailwind in my bottle. That’s exactly what I did. I ran by the sculptures, Shofuso House, up and down little hills, and saved enough for the final kick to the finish line.

I highly recommend this race to anyone who is new to the sport or wants to race in Philadelphia with the cancellation of the Philly Escape Triathlon in late June. Lots of my friends will be there next year and so will my daughter! Come and race with us! 300 meter pool swim, 9 mile bike, and 5K run. And best of all–you’ll get a medal the size of a dinner plate, good food, free photos, race tank top, and lots of other swag.

Swimskins, Wetsuits, and Tri Suits

Swimskins are fairly new to the sport of triathlon, but are they worth the price tag? Before we dive into what swimskins are and what they can do, let’s review the basic gear for a triathlete when it comes to swimming.

The most basic of gear is a tri suit, which is a one or two piece kit that you can wear comfortably for all three disciplines without adding more layers. Tri suits can be sleeveless or have sleeves like a bike jersey. If the water temperature is at 78 degrees F or above, you’ll need to wear a tri suit if you want to be considered for age-group awards. Tri suits range in price from $80-$250 each, depending on the brand, style, and materials used in making the kit. In reality, a tri suit is not necessary to compete–you can always wear a training swimsuit, throw on a pair of running or cycling shorts and t-shirt for the bike and run. No tri suit needed and no money wasted when you’re getting involved in a new sport; save your cash for the bike because it’s a machine that you throw money at anyway.

Next up in a triathlete’s swimming stash is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and sizes from full legs and sleeves to a shorti wetsuit. If the water is cooler, you would wear your wetsuit over your tri suit for the swim. Wetsuits are fairly easy to put on and take off with practice and have a drawstring attached to the zipper to close the suit and to unzip it as you run towards transition. Wetsuits range in price from $80-$500 and up, so it can be an expensive addition.

The advantage of wearing a wetsuit is the added buoyancy neoprene provides, helping to correct dropped legs and other types of poor swim form and body positioning. Many triathletes swim a few minutes faster for the entire swim segment of the race, but if you’re already a fast swimmer with good form, you might not notice much of a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’m about the same speed with or without a wetsuit, but a wetsuit will keep me warm when the water temps are in the low 60s or upper 50s F.

Now enter the swimskin. A swimskin compresses your body with hydrophobic material to make you cut through the water faster. Swimskins are also worn over the tri suit like a wetsuit and can be worn when the water temp is at 78 degrees F or above. Fast swimmers and pros who swim at 1:20 per 100 meters or faster, save an average of 2-6 seconds per 100 meters, which adds up quickly for an Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles or 4,224 yards. However, the swimskin offers no extra buoyancy like the wetsuit and does little in the way of correcting poor form. It will reduce drag caused by form and your body line, but if you are an average swimmer, or if swimming is the weaker of the three sports, then it won’t help much in the way of decreasing fatigue caused by form and body position in the water.

So, should you get a swimskin? I wouldn’t. Most age-group athletes won’t actually benefit from wearing one on race day. Sorry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200-$400 for one. Instead, I would spend more time in the pool since swimming is the neglected sport of most triathletes. If you do spend money on swimming, spend it on joining a masters team, get some new fins, a snorkel, pull buoy, new practice suits, open water goggles, fun swim caps, or a workout book for swimming. The point is: get better at swimming first before making another big gear investment in a swimskin that you’ll use a handful of times in practice and possibly for the wetsuit illegal race. And for the love of all that is holy, do an actual swim workout in the pool, learn how to do flip turns or efficient open turns, do all of the competitive strokes, and use the clock provided because you don’t need a watch for swimming, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Visualization and the Athlete

Lake Erie from Edgewater Park in Cleveland, OH during USAT Nationals on August 9, 2018

Lake Erie in Cleveland is known for its fickle ways, changing from smooth as glass to a washing machine of waves in a short amount of time, bringing with it sudden changes in weather. Any local will tell you to watch out for its rip currents. So, how do you prepare for something like that as an athlete?

USAT Nationals will be held in Cleveland, OH again this year at Edgewater Park, and, yes, you do have to prepare for the unexpected. Last year, I watched the Lake go from smooth to choppy, with waves over three feet high, in the course of thirty minutes, making it difficult for athletes to sight. Many of them swam for 1.2 miles instead of the 1500 meters of an Olympic distance event.

As an athlete, you practice the swim, bike, and run often in your training, eat the right things (mostly), and carve out time for rest in your busy day, but if you’re not practicing visualization and positive self-talk, you’re missing out.

Here’s why.

  1. See it: Practice visualizing how the race will unfold. Look up photos of the area where you’ll be racing so it will be familiar to you. Think of how you’ll set up transition, practice your race day plan and working with your gear in a mock transition to further reinforce your daily visualizations, and see yourself moving through the different segments of the race. Most of all, see yourself crossing that finish line, one step at a time.
  2. Plan it: Because you’ve spent time thinking about how your race will go, there is nothing new. However, if something new does come up, you can think about how you’ll work through those difficulties with a plan of action–dropping a bottle on the bike, getting a flat, dealing with a crowded swim field, handling heat or cold on the bike or run. Besides having a plan for the unexpected, have an overall race day plan of what you’ll eat and drink and when. Know how you will pace the race based on the course and terrain. All of this will help with your anxiety levels.
  3. Practice it: In addition to thinking through the unknown, develop a ritual before the race, practice your transition with all of you gear, and then visualize how it will all happen. A good ritual to have is: set up your gear, eat the same thing you normally do right before the swim, and find a quiet area or sit for a moment in transition to focus on your breathing (maybe even listen to music or headphones). When you’re ready to get in line for the swim start, focus on being calm in the crowd by breathing and visualizing your swim. In addition, practice the skills you’ll need such as changing your tire, setting up transition, eating and drinking on the bike and run, etc. It’s also a good idea to train for the swim, bike, and run in places with terrain that resembles your goal race.
  4. Win: No, everything won’t go according to plan all the time, but more often than not, you’ll be successful. Looking on the positive side will also help you learn from your mistakes so you can move on and become a better athlete.

See. Plan. Practice. Win.

Why Using “Sherpa” is Cultural Appropriation

Ever since I got into the sport of triathlon, I’ve heard other athletes ask me if I plan to have a “Sherpa” for my first Ironman, and if so what that “Sherpa” would do. This has always rattled me because it reeks of cultural appropriation. How can I possibly call my husband and family my “Sherpas”? It’s insensitive and inappropriate.

If someone is a Sherpa, they are part of an ethnic group of people, mainly from Nepal, and in addition to being their own distinct cultural group, they have helped many climbers summit the highest peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. But what they are first is an ethnic group of people–not a brand name for sports clothing and certainly not a name you give your support crew–they are people.

To me, calling your support crew “Sherpas” is just wrong. It’s no different than naming sports teams after Native Americans, donning feathers, and attending a baseball game while beating a drum and mimicking Native American Dances. It’s like calling your support crew your “slaves” for the day. Would you do that? I don’t think so.

Why not go with simply: crew? Or race crew? Race support? When Phil assisted me with all of my gear at the end of Ironman Maryland, he told me he would like to be called “Iron Mule” (wait here, hold my gear) because of the play on words. I motion that race support for endurance triathlon events be called “crew” or “IronMule”, depending on your support crew’s sense of humor.

IronMule (noun): person who waits all day long while their athlete does an Ironman, tries to track and find them on course to cheer for them for a matter of seconds, and then collects all of the gear at the end of the day while the athlete tries to eat normal food for the first time. It’s a thankless job, really, being someone’s crew, but the athlete wouldn’t be anywhere without all of the support of family and friends and especially the IronMule.

On Recovery and Rest

A chill hangs in the morning air like the cherry trees heavy with blossoms. I still have my puffy winter coat zipped up to my chin, hands buried in my pockets, and my swimming backpack, laden with wet towels and gear, rides low on my back. My hair is still wet from the swim, but it won’t freeze on my way to the car.

To prepare for the upcoming triathlon season, I’ve gradually increased my workout load and was consistent until I received a call that no parent ever wants to get from the gym: “Your daughter fell off the beam, and we think her arm is broken.” After I hung up the phone, I put my cycling bag down and quickly changed back into regular clothes to go and pick her up from the gym and head straight to urgent care for x-rays.

X-rays clearly showed a broken radial bone, close to the elbow. The nurses splinted her arm, gave her some Motrin, and we left with instructions to make an appointment for orthopedics to have her arm placed in a cast. I called first thing in the morning, but no appointments were available until a few days later, so a trip to the hospital was our only option. I packed for a full day of waiting in the ER, thinking we were going to be there for about four to six hours before she got a cast and we could go home.

We didn’t go home that day.

The orthopedic doctor requested a CT scan. Hours went by where she couldn’t eat due to talk of surgery in the evening. I didn’t eat either because I couldn’t eat in front of her, nor did I want to leave her alone in the ER. Once the CT scan was analyzed, six hours later, surgery was in scheduled to fix her elbow and radial bone that broke in two places near the growth plate.

Surgery is just the beginning of her long recovery with no gymnastics until October, so my big kid will swim laps and run with me this summer to start getting her strength back once her cast if off. I’m happy to have her as a workout buddy, and I’ll go a little bit slower until she catches up and passes me, which she already does on the run. Stinker.

Because of her injury, I took a whole week off from training, which never happens. I mean NEVER. But it’s all worth it. I spent some time with her doing puzzles, watching movie marathons, and supervising our renovation project. I also found time to take my bike to the shop for a tune-up and organized all of my gear. Now, she’s back at school with her giant full arm cast, and I’m back to training after a short break.

On cold mornings like this with the cherry blossoms near full bloom, I’m grateful that she got the best care, we all got a short break from our routine, and can now come back stronger than before. Because rest and recovery are all part of training, no matter what sport you’re in.

Speed Swim Workout

If you have a need for speed in the pool, then this workout is for you. When I swam competitively, my favorite events included the 50 and 100 free after suffering through the 500 free at swim meets during my entire first season. Unlike my swimming buddies, I’m still learning to love distance and am getting better at it. Here’s the sprint workout, so let me know how it goes for you:

Warm Up:

400 as swim 75/drill 25

6×50 kick–choice (with or without fins)

200 IM (Individual Medley)

300 pull 3/5/3/2

200 stroke (NO FREE)

Main Set: 

12x25s variable sprints on :25/:30/:35 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. slow/fast
  2. fast/slow
  3. tempo
  4. FAP (fast as possible)

12x50s on :50/1:00/1:10 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. DPS (distance per stroke)
  2. Build
  3. Tempo
  4. FAP

200 @ Race Pace with 1 min rest

4×50 DESD on 1:00

2x100s ALL OUT!  Rest 40s after each

Cool Down: 

100 Easy–choice

3000 yards total

 

What are you waiting for? Go and swim! Comment below with your favorite strokes, places to swim, or what you love about swimming.

Be Kind

My shoes did get muddy from the trail…

I planned on going for a solitary run around my favorite trail. With the recent rains, I thought it would be muddy and considered taking another route when I noticed a guy running down my street towards me. “He’s a runner,” I thought. I’ll ask him about the trail.

“Hey, how are you? Did you just come from the loop?” I said to the random running stranger in the gray sweatshirt. I talk to everybody. All. The. Time. In reality, I’m introverted, so I need a break from all the people sometimes. Still, I talk to everyone.

“Actually, I’m heading there now.” He smiled. Good thing he’s a talker too and doesn’t think I’m some weirdo waiting for strangers to go running with on the street corner.

“Well, are you going to the main road? Because there’s a way with less traffic that’s safer to get to the trail.”

“Yeah, I was heading there. I didn’t know there was a different way to get to the trail.”

“I’ll show you, especially since you live around here. You don’t want to run on that busy road; you’ll get hit by a car.”

The first thing he said was that he was a slow runner, but I reassured him that I would run his pace to the trail. After all, I’m warming up, and I can pick up the pace later on if I feel like it. I already swam and lifted, so my legs weren’t exactly fresh.

Turns out, he can keep a conversation going in addition to running faster with me than he would have alone since he’s just getting back into running. Plus, I also met one of my neighbors who’s a runner. Bonus! I know I’ll see him at one of my Meet Ups or on the trail soon. Keep running!

Team Store Coming Soon!

Are you excited? Because I’m super excited! Own Way Apparel is in the process of designing triathlon kits for V Formation Multisport that will be ready to go in the spring and just in time for triathlon season.

The store will have the following triathlon gear:

  • Sleeveless Tri Kits in one and two pieces
  • Sleeved Tri Kits in one and two pieces
  • Cycling Kits
  • Running Shirts

Here’s a sneak peak of the one-piece sleeved tri kit:

If you’re interested, I already have hats and t-shirts ready to go! Soon, there will be visors added to the mix too. Here’s what they look like:

Comment below or send me a PM if you’re interested in any gear before the store goes live!