Limbo

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I’m doing the post-Ironman limbo lately. This is always a weird time for me. On one hand, I look forward to the time off from scheduled workouts and the routine of training each day. On the other hand, I sort of lose my mind without that structure.

In the past few weeks, I have done the following (in no particular order):

  • gone to Masters swim for the first time in almost one year – it was fun. I’m coming back this week.
  • raced a sprint tri – this experience led to me attending Masters swim because I am so tired of getting outswam.
  • run 20 miles just for “fun” – turned out to be not-quite-so-fun since I neglected to fuel and hydrate properly.
  • gone on a hike exploring the local trails with the kids – awesome.
  • done some pro bono legal work for the flood relief effort.
  • lifted weights for the first time in I don’t know how long – abs hurt for days afterwards so I haven’t been back yet.
  • read a book – “Blessings” by Anna Quindlen – good read.
  • sat around
  • started some organizing around the house that has been neglected for an embarrassingly long time – ok, I haven’t really started it an a concrete way, but I have thought about it a lot.

I realized that I am feeling more “off” than usual after this past race because this fall is the first time I haven’t trained for an Ironman since I started the sport in 2010. So it’s the first fall since ’09 with no Ironman. We have some of our best weather of the year in the fall (biblical floods notwithstanding) and the kids are back in school. It’s a great time to be training. I have thought about a late season 70.3 or maybe duathlon nationals in Tucson in October, but I haven’t made any plans yet because I am getting ready to shake things up.

I’ve decided that I’m sick of training the same way with the same results. It’s time to make serious progress on my swim and bike. As much as I want to get out and train and race again, I know in my heart that I want to reinvent myself before I face a tri start line again. It’s like I always tell people (well, mostly I just say this to Mark who is as big of a creature of habit as there is), “you can’t expect to train the same way and get different results.” In order to get different results, you have to do something differently.

I am getting ready to do some things differently. That’s probably what some of the list above is about. Trying new things to see if I like them and if they might fit into my routine once I am back at it. In the meantime, while I’m figuring it all out and deciding what 2014 will look like, I will probably continue to do things that I didn’t make time for while I have trained for Ironman (after Ironman, after Ironman).

Hopefully by the time I am ready to be “back”, my house will be organized and I will be on the way to a faster swim split.

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IMAZ Course Recon Trip

I tell the kids all the time – it’s ok to make mistakes, everybody does it, the important thing is to learn from them.  With that in mind, I joined Mark in Phoenix this past weekend to do some training on the IMAZ course. He actually was down there to attend a conference, so it was not solely an Ironman recon trip, but that was certainly the focus. I was eager to avoid a repeat of my IMStG experience where I didn’t preview the bike or run course before the race and the whole thing was a big, mostly unpleasant, surprise.

The weekend was a big eye opener, and although I am probably more nervous about the course than I was before, it is much better for planning to have seen what we’re going to be faced with in less than two weeks.

Briefly got to enjoy the “adults only” pool on Saturday

Swim course

The swim looks…unappealing. That’s the most polite thing I can say about it. I thought of two positives though: (1) it will not be wavy, (2) it’s one loop which is better for avoiding congestion. The downsides are that the water is every bit as murky and dirty-looking as I had heard. It’s also going to be cold, which I am not a huge fan of. So, that’s the swim. I am planning to practice swimming with my eyes closed in the pool between now and the race to prepare.

Bike course

On Sunday we parked our car at a casino on McKellips and road over to the Beeline Hwy to the turnaround. We did that route twice for a little over 50 miles. I specifically chose this race in part because of it’s reputation for having a flat bike course, so I was a little surprised to discover that the part on the Beeline is not exactly flat. It is a slight uphill and into the wind. We got a great tailwind on the way back down, but it is going to take some mental discipline to not get discouraged by the speeds on race day if it is a windier day. People crab about the fact that it is three loops and it’s boring, but I am not really bothered by that. I am never taking in the scenery much anyway, so the loops don’t bother me. But, it’s true that there isn’t a whole lot to look at.

View from the Beeline Hwy

It’s possible – depending on winds – that the bike course will be slower than IMCoz on the day I raced there which was a relatively calm wind day. That was an eye opener.

We wised up and rented a mini van for race weekend so we don’t have to tool around like this

Run course

On Saturday, we headed out in the afternoon to run one lap of the run course. I won’t lie. It sucked. Two major revelations about the run course – it is not as flat as I expected, and it is almost all on concrete. In retrospect, of the five IMs I have done, IMCdA has had the nicest run course. Sure, there’s that one hill that you have to run twice. But the rest is pretty flat and it is very scenic. The IMAZ run course is not scenic, although I am hoping it looks a little nicer on race day than it did this past weekend with spectators replacing some of the unsavory characters who were hanging around.

I didn’t actually run the biggest hill on the AZ course (which we will run three times), but I am very glad I saw it and know what to expect. It is nothing like the hills in my neighborhood, but it is going to feel large at mile 23 of the marathon. I’m sure of that. More than actual ability, the run course is going to require a lot of mental toughness.

After focusing on some of the more negative things about the course when we were down there, I also came up with some positives. The weather and climate are similar to our area and the area near my parents’ house near Palm Springs where we have done quite a bit of training. I’ve always thought that it would be an advantage to race an Ironman in a climate similar to where you live and I am hoping this holds true on race day. We’re also in the same time zone. That’s always a plus.

For the remaining days until the race, my goal is to focus solely on what I can control and try to prepare for the different challenges that may come up on race day. There is no point in worrying about how hot, cold, windy or hard the course might be on that day. All I can control is how I pace myself, my nutrition and – most importantly – my attitude. I have resolved that regardless of what happens, I will try to remain positive until I cross the line and not give up on myself.

I had big goals for this race and whether or not I attain them remains to be seen, but on November 18th, I am going to head to the start knowing that I trained hard and I am going to give it my best. That’s my promise to myself.

A big thanks to Tran Creative for creating my I AM poster. It’s fun and free. Check them out on Facebook!

The Non-Race Report

Today is an interesting day.  It’s a non-race, race day.

First, I was planning to be here:

Then I decided I was going to go here:

Instead, I am here:

It’s not a bad place to be

I went to one of my favorite places this morning – Waterton Canyon – and did one of my favorite things – running. It was a gorgeous, warm, bluebird sky morning, and I honestly had the thought when I was out there “there is no place I would rather be than right here, doing this.”

Someday I hope to tackle both of these races, but this year just didn’t seem like the time for either one. I have always wanted to race IMWI. I grew up going to a summer camp in Wisconsin, so the area has a familiar feel. I spectated the race in 2003 when Mark did his first IM and got to experience the course and the town. It was a fun venue and I hope to experience that course from the racing side someday. Hopefully when “someday” comes around, I will be more of the cyclist that I need to be for the IMWI course.

Vegas, well, I was a bit more scared of that race. I knew its reputation for having a non-wetsuit legal swim, a super hard, hilly bike and a hot and hilly run. Since I spent the summer being a bit more relaxed, I didn’t want to go there and have a bad race and shake my confidence for IMAZ later this fall. I have too much respect for World Championship races to just show up and hope for the best and that’s what I would have been doing in Vegas today. I hope to race this event, but I would really like it to be something that Mark and I do together. Maybe next year…

Instead of racing, I am several weeks back into training hard for IMAZ. Our friend and tri-mentor, Kevin Koncazk, agreed to take me on as a coaching client for my IMAZ build and I am super happy to have placed my training into his capable hands. As much as I enjoyed doing my own thing over the summer, I felt like I needed some outside guidance to make the most of my time in the 3 months before IMAZ. I knew I wanted someone local who was familiar with my training terrain and could see me swim, bike and run in person every once in a while. I wanted someone who specializes in IM athletes and particularly people who are trying to KQ. Kevin coached Mark for IMCdA in 2010, and while Mark proved himself to be largely uncoachable due to his overwhelming need to do exactly what he wants in training rather than take someone else’s advice, we both trust Kevin’s judgment and experience. When I was scared out of my mind in Kona last year, Kevin took the time to call me and go through a lot of aspects of the race and the course. He has followed my race results for the past two years and knows my strengths and weaknesses. It seemed to make sense to trust him with my training this fall and I have been really happy with the decision so far.

I am doing a few things differently than I’ve done before. It’s been fun and interesting to train in some different ways and I’m finding that it feels fresh rather than the same old thing I have done for the past 5 IMs.

Congrats to everyone who got out there this weekend and put themselves on the line. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to find out what you’re made of in the world of triathlon and I have so much admiration for those who get out there and give it their all and for those who were getting out there for the first time. I enjoyed virtually cheering everyone on and being inspired by their determination.

Changes and a brief race report – Vail Pass TT

It’s been a few weeks of big changes around here. The kids finished first grade last week and we are transitioning to the summer schedule. For me that means 6 a.m. swims at the local pool several days a week and cobbling together a schedule that allows us to enjoy fun summer activities while also trying to figure out how to get my training in for the two 70.3s and two full Ironmans I have planned for this season.

The other big change is that Sonja and I have parted ways. This has been a big adjustment for me, and frankly, it is feeling like a loss in my life. Sonja and I had communicated on an almost daily basis for the past 14 months and we tried to get together to train a few times per month. I didn’t seek Sonja out as a coach to start. Really, I think I was looking for a friend and training partner. She was much more than just a tri coach to me and I am pretty sure I haven’t given her the credit she deserved for turning me into a triathlete. Much more than the physiological changes, she helped give me confidence by believing in me and probably more than anything, I learned by her example. She is an amazing athlete and an even more amazing person, and I am hopeful we will remain friends.

I have decided to go forward self coached. Well, sort of. Self coached with a lot of input from my husband, who has been a tri mentor to me for two years and is my most frequent training partner. He knows our daily commitments, the local weather, my training routes and my current fitness on any given day. I did my first two Ironmans without a coach, so it’s a place I’ve been before. More than anything, I am enjoying the freedom that comes from deciding my own schedule. I have never been an athlete who needs someone else writing me a schedule to motivate me. I believe the motivation is best if it is self-generated. There is no one else to turn to if the results aren’t what you were hoping for. It is just you.

On to the race report:

I did my second ever bike race yesterday. I had originally thought it was my first ever bike race, but I was apparently suppressing the memory of the Bear Creek TT series race I did in 2010. This was a little different. It was the same TT course the pros road in the US Pro Cycling Challenge last year. A route I have ridden countless times. I figured I was ready to give it everything I had and see what I was made of.

The start was a little nerve-wracking. Everyone went off at 30 second intervals off a ramp, sort of like at a pro race. There was a countdown and a few spectators watching. I was mostly concerned with making sure I was in the right gear since there was a steep uphill right after the start.

Excuse the lousy quality iPhone pic

I was a little intimidated by the crowd, but that’s typical for me. A lot of girls had TT bikes, but some had road bikes with clip-ons. Almost everyone had race wheels. Most people were wearing regular bike kits, but there were some speed suits, aero helmets and shoe covers. I had debated riding my road bike rather than the Illicito, but the first few miles of the course are flat and I wanted to take advantage of that. I also wanted to collect power data, even though that wheel is heavier than a regular training wheel. (Ooops! Now I’m making excuses).

I’ll make my actual report brief: I gave it a good effort, but it was hard. It was sort of like the 5K race I did a few weeks ago, except it lasted twice as long. Like that race, I was afraid I might lose control of my bodily functions. I had to reassure myself that even though my heart rate monitor was showing a scarily high number, I was not going to die out there. This effort level is scary for me and definitely outside my comfort zone.

I am easy to find in the results because I was almost last in my division. But, as Mark had to remind me, the point wasn’t to place well. It was to test myself on a route that I can easily repeat throughout the summer to measure my progress. Data was collected and lessons were learned.

A huge thanks to the Vail Teva Mountain Games for a fun weekend. We hadn’t been to this event in a number of years and we couldn’t believe the number of events and the great organization. There is truly something for everyone. Mark did the Vail Pass Half Marathon on Saturday and the kids did their first mountain bike race, which was no joke – the course was steep!

Kids could choose to do 1 or 2 laps of the course. This kid chose two.

We had a fun time watching some of the kayaking events, slack line competition and the kids’ personal favorite, Dock Dogs, a contest where dogs take a flying leap into a pool and are judged on the distance of the jumps.

We’ll definitely be back next year.

R.I.P. Treadmill

Sad day here yesterday. I broke our (second) True treadmill. Instead of rushing out to replace or fix it, I am thinking of…..running outside!  I am not big on running outside during the winter. It was much easier for me to hop on the treadmill at any hour of the day (or evening) and crank out my workout all while entertaining myself with most of Bravo’s line-up mixed with some occasional “news” like the Today Show or The View. Yes, I watch all of that crap, but only when working out or folding laundry, which makes it ok in my mind.

We have owned a treadmill for a long time. About a year and a half ago, Mark was doing a rare interval session on our old treadmill when it gave out on him. The repairs were going to be expensive, so we instead decided to buy a comparable machine from Craigslist. Machine two was not quite as nice as machine one, but it was very serviceable.

Yesterday was not a great day for outdoor running for a fair weather runner like me, so I decided to do my longish run on the treadmill. Halfway between Real Housewives of Orange County and Tabitha’s Salon Takeover, I had a bad feeling about the ‘mill. Something clearly wasn’t quite right with the belt and I was running on borrowed time, so to speak.

I kept plugging away with the run and 1:15 into it, I cranked up the speed for the tempo portion. This is where the situation became more serious. The belt was definitely not right, and I knew the inevitable was coming. The treadmill and I held on for 15 minutes of tempo and then I shut it off and inspected the damage.

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It also appeared that the basement was filled with smoke. Or maybe it was fumes?

So that was our last run together and it was a pretty good one. Thanks True 550 for the memories and all of the miles we logged together. Now it’s time for me to hit the open road, and not a minute too soon since racing season is upon us.

See you on the roads!

A Long-Awaited Running Breakthrough

I came to triathlon two years ago from a running background. Not a formal running background, but a steady diet of two marathons per year for about 13 years. I did lots of different races (except 5Ks, which I hate), but my true love was the marathon. I loved that it was a serious enough distance that you usually could not wing it, but had to put in a few months of training. I loved the way the event unfolded. You might think you were in for a rough day, but it might feel easy (relatively speaking) the whole time. Or you might think the day was going to go great, and it turns out to have some unanticipated challenges.

When I hired Sonja to coach me for Ironman Canada in March 2011, I immediately realized that the run training she was having me do was a little different from what I was used to. Namely, we were slowing down – a lot. I was used to hitting the track once a week for anything from 800s to 2-mile repeats and doing my long runs at sub-8:00 pace with a few miles at goal race pace or under at the end. That plan had seemed to work for me as I had run three marathons in 2009-2010 at 3:10 or better. Now, with Sonja as my coach, I was still going to the track on occasion, but it was for a workout of an entirely different type – usually a “MAF Test.” Coined by Dr. Philip Maffetone, “MAF” stands for “maximum aerobic function,” and refers to a heart rate roughly equivalent to 180 minus your age. We do quite a bit of training either at this heart rate or using it as a marker, i.e., recovering at “10 beats below MAF.” I’m generalizing quite a bit here, but the basic premise is that you can judge your aerobic fitness by running or cycling at this pace and gauging any improvement. The test itself involves going to the track, warming up for a couple of miles and then running a set number of miles at MAF heart rate.

The first time I did a MAF test, it was discouraging. First of all, I discovered that my heart rate tends to be freakishly high when I first start running, even when I’m trotting along at a pedestrian pace. So I learned that I usually have to run at least 2 miles or around 20 minutes to get an accurate reading. Then the pace itself was a bit of a revelation. My starting MAF pace was around 8:10. This seemed like an easy run pace for me, not a pace that I would race at. After that first test, I’m sure I sent Sonja a barrage of emails asking what it meant, how long it might take for the pace to come down, and trying to convince her that I was a freak of nature high heart rate person and that my MAF heart rate was probably higher than she thought.

We repeated this test periodically for the whole season. Usually, I was right around an 8 minute pace, but sometimes I had a “bad” test and the pace was more like 8:10-8:20. I just looked back at my Training Peaks, and my second to last MAF test before Kona was a pretty good one – I averaged 7:55 pace.

Today I got my first chance since Kona to do a MAF test on the track. It was a gorgeous day – high 50s, sunny. I came prepared with Yak Trax, but it turned out that someone had shoveled the snow off of lane 1, which was a treat. Everything was going well and when I hit the lap button on my Garmin after the first mile, I almost couldn’t believe it – 7:34!!! Had I miscounted a lap? I couldn’t believe it because the pace felt so easy, slow even. Mile 2 was a little slower – 7:40, and the subsequent miles were a few seconds slower still, but I stayed solidly under 8:00 minute pace. It was like magic, and I hope the new MAF running pace is here to stay.

Jeffco track

It was ironic that on the day of a running breakthrough, a surprise was waiting for me at home tonight. Mark had taken my collection of old race shirts that I never wore and had them made into a super-cool quilt for me! I had planned to do this with the shirts but they had been sitting in a bag on the floor of our closet for at least two years. That is typical Mark and I really love the quilt and that he took the time to have it made.

So many of the shirts on the quilt hold memories for me of special races: there’s the Frozen Ass 20-miler shirt from the year that I was the women’s champion (2001!). Right next to it is the shirt from my marathon PR race – Tucson 2009. Above Tucson is my shirt from the NYC Marathon in 2007, when I returned to the site of my first marathon back in 1996 and knocked out a 3:20, which was my goal for that day. Next to NYCM is a shirt from Hanson’s Running Store in Michigan, where we used to buy our shoes before everyone in the running world knew what Hanson’s was. Third from the top on the left is the promo shirt I designed for the Denver Marathon in 2009 when I was the coordinator of that race. We loved the way it turned out, but the Bolder Boulder people sent us a cease and desist letter claiming they had trademarked the phrase “Run With Altitude.” The rest of those shirts are probably still in a warehouse somewhere.

There are several shirts from the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon, which is my favorite Colorado running race. There’s my recent shirt from Ironman Canada, which I deemed too ugly to wear, but love having as part of my quilt. There are a couple of Vail Half Marathon shirts, which is the only trail race I do because I love Vail Mountain in the summertime and think it’s pretty special to run to the top to enjoy the view. There’s my shirt from the Steamboat Marathon in 2006, my first marathon after the kids were born, where I ran a somewhat pedestrian time but managed to finish in third place. I’m so happy I didn’t just donate these shirts and now have a cool quilt of memories.

No off-season for the weary

Lately, I have been getting a lot of “what are you training for?” when people see me swimbikerunning.

The answer is – next season. I am training to become a better athlete next season. And to achieve my goals, I have decided that there will be no “off season” or extended period of rest.

When pros or top age groupers describe the “secret” to their success in triathlon, a common theme recurs. Consistency. They are not taking a few months off after an event and then re-building their base and starting from scratch. Nope. They’re at it 12 months a year, usually day in and day out.

We used to do this differently. I watched my husband race one Ironman per year, usually in the summer, followed by a winter of taking it easy. Each spring, he would struggle to lose the winter weight and re-develop his base fitness. Then, a couple of years ago, he decided to start training year round, and not coincidentally in my mind, a lot of PRs have been set in the meantime.

Some people claim it is hard for them to keep the focus when their goal event is months away. I don’t feel that way. I always have the clock and my Garmin to tell me how things are going. The numbers never lie, and they are there every day to let me know how I am doing, if I am coming closer to those goals for 2012.

So, for me at least, there will be no true “off season” this year. Here are my off season S/B/R goals:

• get my 100 time into the 1:30s
• find 10 more watts on the bike at MAF HR
• break 1:30 for the half marathon in California in Feb

See you on the roads or at the pool!

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