Represent Women

I find numbers fascinating. One number that sticks in my head is 37. It’s not the answer to life, the universe, and everything like 42, but it’s the percent of female athletes in the sport of triathlon.

Thirty-seven percent. Women make up fifty-one percent of the population and have begun to dominate the running world, slowly at forty-four percent for the marathon distance; however, women make up for what they lack in numbers as seen in the recent New York City Marathon where American women performed better than expected with four U.S. women placing in the top ten. Shalane Flanagan placed third and got on the podium once again (last year, she placed first), which is a huge feat.

So, why only thirty-seven percent in triathlon? Gwen Jorgenson won gold in Rio in 2016 for triathlon, but didn’t seem to inspire lots of women to join the sport. As for cycling, women make up about 25% of riders, and for open water swimming women only make up 37%, the same as it is for the sport of triathlon. I can’t bear to look at the numbers for African Americans in triathlon: it’s .5% in case you’re wondering. POINT 5%. But that’s another post.

In the U.S., Title IX didn’t allow for girls’ teams until 1972, which kept my mom and the women who came before me from participating in organized sports–we had few role models because adult women we knew weren’t on any teams of any kind, didn’t run in road races, etc. Because of Title IX, I was on my high school’s first girls’ soccer team in 1992 when I was a junior in high school. We had swimming, track, and other sports, but soccer was late to the game even though we had a boys’s team prior to 1992. I’d like to say we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go, especially in the sport of triathlon with only 37% participation for women.

What keeps women out of the sport? Intimidation? Time? Money? Work and family obligations? A bigger problem is that women currently in the sport don’t give themselves enough credit: women apologize before they even begin group rides or runs even though the guys don’t care.

This has to stop, and I know I’m guilty of this too. I often apologize for the few group rides I go on, not expecting anyone to wait for me. I let other swimmers go ahead of me in a lane even though I may be faster. I pick up the rear in runs when I want to give up. I plan to change these attitudes about the three disciplines with myself, and I would love to see other women stop apologizing, get some more friends, and get into the sport so that we represent ourselves properly. Maybe then that 37% will go up to 51% like it should.

Surry Century Ride

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The Surry Century Ride on September 8 was my second century ride of the summer while training for Ironman Chattanooga. My friend, Catrina, suggested the ride because it was perfect timing in our training schedules–she’s training for Ironman Maryland the day before Ironman Chattanooga.

This ride is in it’s 26th year in rural Surry, Virginia on rolling country roads through lush farmland. Compared to my last century on July 28, I would have to say that this one was a success: I didn’t get hit by a car, I didn’t get lost, and I didn’t get a flat. And I finished all 102.41 miles of the three loop course.

The three loops for the full century was an ingenious idea compared to one incredibly large 100 mile loop because after each loop, I could return to my car to get anything else I might need, fill up on more food, or refill my water bottles. The first loop was 50 miles, the second was 28 miles, and the last loop was 23, which made tackling all 100 miles mentally manageable. The long 50 mile loop had three rest stops, and the two shorter loops had one rest stop half way through the ride. All of the stops were well-stocked with homemade and store-bought goodies: the banana pudding was a favorite.

My goal for the ride was to keep my heart rate in check. Sure, I could have gone faster, but for the Ironman, I must be in zones 1-2, and that’s exactly what I did. I averaged 14.7 mph for the full century– all despite the hills, a headache that began around the three hour mark and intensified, menstrual cramps that made me want to double over the on bike, and hot and humid conditions. Even though I kept getting blasted by bursts of hot wind over the fields, my heart rate stayed within the required zones. I’ll call that a win! My speed for zones 1-2 used to be in the 12-13 mph range, but now I’m close to 15mph for a century in the heat and humidity with some hills thrown in. Let’s just say that I am pleased. I could have easily gone the 14 miles more that are in Ironman Chattanooga’s bike course, and I would still have time to enjoy the full marathon run afterwards. Because I can run on tired legs for pretty much forever.

I made sure that I fully enjoyed this ride: I rode with five guys riding in a pace line, maintaining 17 mph and weaving in between the tires, I rode slowly with some single riders needing a boost, and near the end I made sure to ride in aero to cut through the relentless wind while going uphill without a care in the world for my speed.

Thank you to those pace guys who let me join them for awhile and were confident that I could keep up–the Star Trek jersey one of you wore was perfect. Thank you to Arnett who was a pink beacon of hope in the distance when I saw absolutely no one else on the second loop through Chippokes Plantation State Park and thought a bear and her cubs would come lumbering out of the woods; I’m glad I caught up to you! Thank you to one of the ride organizers who rode me into the finish and chatted the whole time.  Thank you to Michael who could read the cue sheet expertly while riding and made sure we were on course. A BIG thank you to Catrina for recommending the ride and for keeping me on the right track at the very beginning  (you rocked those hills and rode FAST). And, thank you to Phil and Sophia who support me through all of this crazy Ironman training. No one does anything alone. Ever.

USAT Nationals

 

Cleveland is my home town, so when USAT decided to hold Nationals for 2018 there, I was beyond thrilled. Two of my athletes were also competing as well, which meant that a trip to Cleveland was in order.

If I’m not participating, I love to be a spectator for these events. The weather leading up to Nationals looked iffy at best with thunderstorms in the forecast, but by race day the skies cleared, and the Lake was deemed safe for swimming after high bacteria levels from storms forced beach closures on Tuesday.

At 7am on race morning, the water was calm like glass. That quickly changed–winds picked up and hacked at the smooth surface, creating greater than two foot choppy conditions far away from shore where athletes cut through the water. Sighting with water slamming your face from every direction is nearly impossible, yet the swim went on for over two hours with staggered heats to prevent bike traffic and congestion on course.

I set up the app to track my athletes, got coffee, and sat down on the rocks near the Lake to watch the swim. From the rocks, I could see where the bike and run courses seemed to overlap from the Shoreway to the trails below, which made this event very spectator-friendly. The Lake was clear from my vantage point revealing the rocks hidden below. But don’t let the calmness fool you–Lake Erie is one of the most treacherous of all the Great Lakes with an average depth of 55 feet and a max of 210 feet combined with a nasty undertow that has pulled many swimmers offshore and has swallowed numerous ships en route to interior ports. One man from Oklahoma died during the race and was found floating at the surface, rendering CPR useless. He was pulled out by the US Coast Guard who did their best to resuscitate him. (I didn’t find out about this until after I got home since I was already waiting for one of my athletes to exit the water).

Because of the location at Edgewater Beach, I was able to see each of my athletes finish the swim and locate them on the bike and run course. This was a challenging race with one of the hardest swims I’ve ever seen combined with hills on the bike and run. Athletes who competed in this event are tough, just like the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland is the kind of town that gets up when it’s knocked down, and this event is part of the revitalization of this rust-belt city.  I hope that all of the athletes enjoyed Nationals, despite its challenges and tragedy, and will come back to visit the city to appreciate its museums, especially the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the restaurants, the West Side Market, Playhouse Square, and much more. If you are an athlete visiting the city of Cleveland, bring your gear! Cleveland has hundreds of miles of trails and roads through the Cleveland Metroparks and along the Towpath for the Ohio and Erie Canal. I’m happy that USAT chose Cleveland to host Nationals, and I’m proud to be born and raised in this great city.

Congratulations to my athletes for competing in a tough race with the best in the nation!

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Basic Triathlon Terms

When I first started the sport of triathlon, I had little knowledge of triathlon terminology. I asked what some of these terms meant if I didn’t know, or I requested an explanation in conversation. Below is a list of basic triathlon lingo and definitions. There are many more, so if you have a favorite, please leave a comment below.

T1: The transition between the swim and the bike. Transition is where all of your gear is stored during the race; you will have a designated spot, or you’ll find a spot. Rack your bike by the saddle or handlebars and place your gear at the front tire. You have about 12 inches of space in width off of your tire.

T2: The transition between the bike and the run.

Pro: A professional athlete

Age Grouper: Amateur athlete–most athletes fall in this category.

Athena: Division for women 165 lbs. or more. These athletes can still be age groupers if they choose.

Clydesdale: Division for men 200 lbs. or more. These athletes can also be age groupers.

Aero: Riding with your arms on the aero bars. It makes your body smaller and more aerodynamic so you can ride faster.

Clipless Pedals: Triangular clip on the bottom of a road shoe. If you are attached to the bike by the pedals, you can push and pull through each pedal stroke, making you a more efficient cyclist than simply riding on platform pedals (flat pedals that come with most bikes).

Road shoes: Usually have a triangular clip on the bottom of the shoe and have more support for long rides. Adding special inserts are a good idea to keep your arch from collapsing, causing toe numbness and/or lower back pain.

Triathlon Shoes: Similar to road shoes, but there is a loop on the back of the shoe for flying mounts. These shoes are more breathable, but may be less comfortable for really long rides.

Hybrid Bike: heavy and multipurpose bike for the road or trails. Some new triathletes will have this bike. Great for commuting.

TT Bike: The geometry is a bit different from the road bike, with a steeper seat tube angle that forces the rider over the handlebars for a more aero position. Great for fast and flat courses or spring or Olympic triathlons. Shifting is in aero, but brakes are on the hoods.

Triathlon Bike: A road bike with aero bars that came with the bike. More comfortable than a TT bike. Shifting and brakes are on the hood with a ram horn handlebar setup.

Road Bike: Similar to the triathlon bike, but no aero bars (can be added later if you get a different fit for the bike). Has a ram horn handlebar, shifting and brakes are on the hoods.

Cockpit: The whole front area of the bike where all of your stuff is located.

Bento: Bag for food and fuel (original word is from Japanese and refers to a packed meal).

Saddle: The bike seat. There are TT saddles and road saddles. Find one that is right for you. If you go numb, get a new saddle.

Bar ends: Caps for the end of your handlebars. If you don’t have these, officials won’t let you race.

Draft Legal: Refers to cycling close to other cyclists to save energy, especially when windy. If a race is draft legal, you can draft off of other cyclists. Most triathlons are not draft legal, so you need to leave three bike lengths in between you and the next cyclist. If you enter this zone, you have 15 seconds to pass or you may receive a time penalty from the officials.

Drafting: Drafting is legal in swimming. You can draft off the hip of a slightly faster swimmer or at their feet and swim in the bubbles coming off of their feet. You may swim any stroke in a triathlon, so be careful if the swimmer you are drafting off of starts doing breaststroke! You might just get kicked in the chest or lose your goggles.

Sighting: Bringing your eyes to the surface to look for buoys on the swim course.

Kayak: Lifeguards in kayaks. If you run into trouble, swim over to a kayak or signal for one, rest and/or get assistance. You cannot make forward progress with a kayak or paddle board, but you are allowed to rest.

Duathlon: A race where you run, bike, run.

Aquabike: A race where you swim and bike, and then you’re finished! No running. These races are great for athletes who can’t run, are injured, etc.

Aquathon: A race where you swim and run.

Tri Kit: A one or two-piece suit to wear for all three sports.

Wetsuit: Worn over the tri kit if the water is cold. Wetsuit legal is below 78 degrees F for age groupers and below 68 degrees F for pros.

If you have anything else you would like to add to the list, comment below!

Do What You Gotta Do

Streetlights lit the rain slick roads before sunrise. The headache that started on Friday throbbed above my right eye, making it droop with the weight of pain. Ikaiku was already waiting on the trainer with six water bottles lined up and muffins wrapped tightly on the ironing board near the charging iPad in preparation for a five hour trainer ride. I planned to binge watch episodes of The Crown and check in with athletes racing in Lake Placid.

But, this wasn’t how everything was supposed to go. I was scheduled to ride outside for six hours on a hilly course, meeting a local group ride in the middle of my long ride that was to be followed by a one hour run. I was signed up for the NJ State Triathlon on Sunday too. But, I’m still in recovery mode from over-training. And, then the rain rolled in and spiraled around a low pressure system overnight and with that–all of my plans flew away. Plus, Phil had Navy Reserves all weekend, which left me alone with the kid and the weather. Should I have gone early at 6am and rode on wet roads up to 45 miles away from home before the rain came back? Who would come and get me if I got a flat? What if I slipped off the wet roads while going downhill?

All of these thoughts stressed me out. I don’t mind riding in the rain, but I like to have backup at home–someone to call and pick me up if necessary. So, I did what many triathletes do: I rode on the trainer for five hours in the basement, starting at 5am to minimize the time suck on the day. Because I still have a kid at home. Because I am a mom. Because Phil was gone for the weekend. Because I still had laundry to do later, the house to straighten up, and dinner to make, the kid to check on from time to time, and a movie to go see. Because like most Ironmen before me, I am not a professional athlete and need to find the time for training in my schedule and balance a life outside of the sport. I marked the hours with each episode of The Crown and moved one finished water bottle at a time from the desk to the ironing board each hour. I ate a muffin, cranberries, or a banana every forty-five minutes to keep from bonking. There are plenty of worse things to be doing for five hours straight than riding my bike on the trainer–driving a car because I fall asleep at the wheel, being stuck on a plane on the tarmac for mechanical difficulties (two hours), spring cleaning the house, packing or unpacking for a move, waiting at the DMV for any length of time…

So, even though the rain held off until late in the evening on Sunday, the roads were dry by mid-morning, and all of my other plans fell through: I did what I had to do despite the long list of “buts” filling my head because I got it done instead of not doing it at all. That’s what makes an Ironman: getting it done as best as you can.

Searching for the Light

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While wandering through the darkness, trying to find the light, my toes catch the side of the dresser; the bed stabs my knee. All I want to do is find that light switch to see everything in the room clearly, find my phone, and set my alarm for morning. But that switch is not where I thought it was on the wall, so I sit down in the middle of the room that is so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I see nothing.

This is where I am in training for my Ironman in September–trapped in the darkest room during the time of year with the most light. Ironic. I am sitting on the floor with my eyes closed waiting. Waiting and recovering from the deep fatigue that has set in as evident by too high of heart rates on charts in Training Peaks–all of the analysis and science pointing to the same conclusion. Waiting to make a move and hop back on the bike or to go for another run. I can’t do any of that now, until I find the light. I’ve been jabbed and hit too many times by all of the obstacles around me. So now, I wait and visualize what the room looks like before coming out of the dark.

I’ll get out of the darkness, eventually–out maneuver the what ifs and possibilities of a DNF.  I am better than that and can already go the distance necessary. I know that. I can swim 2.5 miles easily (.1 miles longer than the Ironman), and I can run a marathon on tired legs–I’ve done that five times. When I ran Chicago three weeks out from the half Ironman, I wanted to quit at the 5K. I didn’t and kept going. I’ve been on my bike for almost five hours, so what’s a few more?

I know what I am capable of. So right now, I’ll rest and recover. I’ll enjoy the midsummer free time to garden, to read, to paint, and to do all the things I was too tired to do a week ago. Because in the darkness, I can see the layout, and I’ll follow the plan.

Philly Women’s Triathlon

The Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon with Delmo Sports had a 400 meter swim in Kelly Pool, a nine mile ride, and a 5K run through Fairmount Park. I couldn’t have asked for a better day: low humidity and a beautiful setting.

The pool swim began with two swimmers side by side and sent off five seconds apart, which made it more like a free for all open water swim, but in a pool. I noticed a few swimmers bottlenecking at the turns, which meant that flip turns were out, and some swimmers thought they could swim faster and went in an earlier heat, but slowed down after 50 meters.

After observing the first heat, it was time for my heat. I knew I couldn’t do flip turns under the lane lines with all of those swimmers in the way, and I planned to pass people who were slower. That’s just what I did. I kept pace with a woman I was talking to before the race, and we flew by the slower swimmers ahead of us; at one point I passed in between two swimmers, and she passed on the far left. Boom!  When I could, I drafted right at her feet because she was a tiny bit faster than I am. When I got out of the pool, I ran the longer than usual distance to my bike in transition.

My T1 was quick, and I was off on the downhill of the bike course in no time. MLK Drive still had potholes, and I’m getting used to aero on my new bike, so I stayed upright the whole time. I passed a bunch of cyclists, and only three people passed me. I felt strong on the bike, despite my high heart rate, enjoyed the scenery, and then rode up the big hill to transition after the short nine mile ride.

T2 took even less time than T1. Soon after I started, a new triathlete caught up to me and asked if she could run with me for a bit. Her goal was to not walk at all during the 5K, and she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with my pace. I thought she could maintain the pace I was running, and she stayed with me throughout the whole 5K. We ran by Shofuso House, sculptures in the garden, and a beautiful fountain before making our way back to the finish, talking throughout the run. She kept saying she wasn’t a good runner, but I reminded her that she was indeed running and running well for her first triathlon.

About a half mile from the finish, I told her that we need to pick up the pace and take bigger strides. Being six feet tall, she had no problem with that. I took faster little steps to match her big stride, and we finished strong. Best of all, she didn’t walk for the entire 5K and met her goal.

Could I have run faster? Maybe. But that’s not what this sport is about. Congratulations, Anastasia! I hope you’re celebrating with friends and family tonight! Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Philly Women’s Triathlon! I plan to race again, especially for that medal the size of a small plate! Congratulations to the athletes who train with me at the Y and raced today! You know who you are and you all ROCK!

Firecracker Kids’ Triathlon

This little gymnast did her second triathlon over the Independence Day holiday in Cambridge, MD, where Ironman Maryland is held, with her BFF from Norfolk, VA. She’s done more than her fair share of 5Ks, and even though triathlon is not her main sport, she can still hold her own in a race with swift kicking on the swim, an easy transition to the bike, and then nailing the run. She’s strong and determined to succeed.

The kid already has her eye on my road bike with the aero bars to replace her current hybrid so she can ride faster. Maybe when I upgrade my roadie, she’ll get my old one? She already hops on it while it’s on the trainer even though her feet barely reach the pedals with the road shoes attached. Her eyes are aglow when gazing at my time trial bike that she refers to as my “Ferrari”. She can’t have that one though.

She’ll have to wait on a new bike until she outgrows her old one. In the mean time, she’s still fast on her hybrid and is learning about the support from other athletes on the course, especially from her BFF.  In one of the photos, her friend took off her shoes since she finished earlier, but she wanted to run her friend in, which is exactly what she did–barefoot.

Triathlon is always more fun with friends who are willing to go on this crazy journey with you. I hope that these two will do many more races together and have a sport they can grow into.

Philadelphia Escape Triathlon

It took me awhile to get to this post because even though I was looking forward to my first triathlon of the season, I felt broken going into race day, mentally and physically. I was fighting chronic fatigue: getting sick once a month, too high of heart rates in training, and all of my muscles seemed to revolt and refuse to move. I knew I was overtrained, but didn’t comment on any of my workouts in Training Peaks for my coach to assess since I am so focused on Ironman Chattanooga, not wanting to miss a single workout.

This is also the time in the training cycle when things get tough–long, lonely rides and runs, early morning swims, not keeping up with the Meet Up group I started–all of that shook my confidence.

I raced anyway. The swim went well. The water temperature was 74 degrees, and even though everyone and their grandma had on wetsuits, I left mine on the shore with gear check: I knew I would get too hot. The cold water only felt cold for the first 100 meters–I flew by the buoys marking every 100 meters, fought the swirling current at times and made it to the swim finish in a respectable time. But, my nagging headache from the day before was still there, I had menstrual cramps, so I drank a bottle of Tailwind in T1 to keep dehydration away because today was going to be HOT and humid as the day went on.

I set off on my bike and almost crashed within the first ten minutes while messing around with my bike bento. I’m glad no one was around me at the time. I climbed the first hill of the ride, which made me want to quit. My legs burned so much that I wasn’t sure if I could possibly do another hill let alone eight total on the course followed by a run. No matter how my legs felt, I pushed through the bike, rode by athletes walking their bikes uphill, and clung desperately to my brakes on steep downhills that totally scared the crap out of me on my new bike. I am not used to going that fast since my road bike is much heavier.

As soon as I racked my bike, I set out on the run. The course was shaded for the first quarter mile, but then it was in full sun. My cramping returned, and my headache worsened. I thought I was going to pass out more than once. I walked a bit to prevent going to medical and finished the run and the race.

But, I was pissed off. I trained hard, too hard, and I paid for it. I don’t even want to discuss my finish time or place because it just plain sucked. I could have done better. I know I could do better.

I talked to my coach and ran with her while she was passing through Philadelphia. I cried on that short run because I felt like such a failure. She understood.

So, I’m taking about two weeks to recover. The workouts are less demanding, I have more time to think, read, write, paint, garden, and do all the things I usually don’t have time for in the middle of triathlon training, especially during Ironman training. I saw my friends over Independence Day and made plans to meet for some of those long and lonely five to six hour rides rides to make them a bit less lonely and a little more fun. I also went to a sports massage therapist to help with my sloping shoulders–I plan to go back once or twice more before the Ironman. In other words, I plan to use these two weeks to remind myself why I do this and why I should take care of myself first.

This race will be a reminder of what I am capable of because it was one of the hardest races I’ve done. I am looking forward to the Philly Womens’ Triathlon this weekend, rested and ready. And as for Ironman Chattanooga, I’m coming for you.

Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit. So, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!