Relax, Don’t Do It

Because I deal with anxiety, telling me to “relax” pretty much makes my head explode, but that’s just the thing to help with training, particularly in the off-season.

I’ll put it another way: stop caring so much about your performance on every single workout or for every single race. The moment I stopped caring and changing my perspective is precisely when things got better: the quality of sleep, what I ate, and my overall performance did improve as well.

I stopped caring what my run pace was during group runs, I stopped worrying about keeping up in the fast women’s lane in masters’ practice, and I stopped thinking about people passing me on the bike trail. And, I stopped caring if I broke personal records from previous races. Because: shhhhh… no one cares (but you).

You know what? Some days I keep up with the fast ladies in my running group and surprise myself on 100 repeats in the pool. I’ve even been on the bike trail a few times: no one has passed me yet. For upcoming races, I plan to have a conversation with my running buddy, Marianne, and take photos of the places we’re going to pass during the Philly Half Marathon. I will race side by side with my daughter in the Philly Women’s Triathlon this July because a new PR in that race is meaningless compared to showing her how awesome triathlon is. And, my friend, Lori, will hold my hand as I jump off the back of the ferry for Escape the Cape this June because I will need it or someone is going to have to push me off! I even plan to do a Fork to Fondo of 82 miles with Marianne. She has a new bike, so why not ride it through Amish Country and eat really good food?

Slow down. Enjoy the ride. Do it because you can, and take a few people with you on your journey. I bet your overall performance will improve as a side bonus.

Trek Women’s Advocate

I almost don’t even know where to begin. I applied to the Trek Women’s Advocate Program because I love to get more women on bikes and more women in triathlon and simply outside. If I applied, I would have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded women to grow the sport, get more kids and families on bikes, and maybe even snag a few women into the sport of triathlon, which also has low female participation like cycling–stuck at 30%, for now, but that’s not what the future holds. The future is female, and with more women on bikes, more kids and families will enjoy a lifetime of cycling for sport, leisure, commuting, and quality time. Plus, on a bike, the world looks fresh because you are out in it instead of behind the windshield of a car.

I am truly humbled and grateful to be part of this Dream Team of women, and oftentimes feel like I don’t belong, or I got into the program by mistake. Many of the advocates have been with the program for two or more years, yet there was about 1/3 of us who were brand new. Not to worry because those women and the wonderful people at Trek Headquarters in Waterloo, WI are full of ideas, share them, and support all of us newbies.

During the summit, we learned all about how to host fantastic rides, had social events where I rode a mountain bike for the first time (and I rode a bike off road on a CX course). I can’t wait to see what the year holds! I’m busy planning events at Trek Ardmore because cycling is for everyone. Stop by the shop to pick up a Halloween Scavenger Hunt or come to the Definitely Donuts Ride this Sunday at 7:15am at Betzwood. There are more fun events coming up! So get out from behind the windshield and ride!

AC 70.3

This post is so long overdue with the triathlon season wrap up! I mean, where did August go with warm water temperatures and long hot days? Here we are in October, almost the off-season, and I’m looking ahead to prepping some athletes for fall half marathons or full Ironmans for 2020.

For the Atlantic City 70.3, a few were first-time 70.3ers, and one, Dan the Ironman, capped off his finish by ranking first place in the world for men, ages 75-79. Go Dan! He’s #1!!!

All I can say is that I am incredibly proud of all of my athletes. I know that sounds trite, but I really am. One athlete went from zero to a 70.3 in six months and finished the race strong, despite persistent lower back pain that forced her to walk/run on the half marathon. She’s a powerhouse who will be a force to reckon with at next year’s 70.3 judging by her performance in this one. I know she’s going to smoke the competition on the bike for sure!

Another is new to the sport after hanging up his professional jersey. He researched bikes, got one built just for him, battled nagging injuries, and still managed to light up Training Peaks with “green” workouts almost every week. That takes dedication. For this race, he shattered his goal of finishing in under 6 hours with a 5:29:10 finish time running in his signature basketball shorts.

Last of all, is Dan the Ironman, #1 in the world for the 70.3 distance. In addition to that, he qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona held last weekend. Although he didn’t meet the time cut-off for the bike and officially got a DNF, his dream was to qualify and race there, which is exactly what he did. Dan, you are a world champion, and I love your competitive spirit. Keep living your dream while holding your loved ones close. All of them are with you on every swim, bike, and run.

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.