confessions from an olympic tri…

Today was the first Olympic distance triathlon of the season for me (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike and a 10k run) – it’s a little late in the training program (I think technically it was supposed to be last week or the week before to fit ‘perfectly’, but c’est la vie!) I’ve covered the distances in training, obviously, but today was truth time. So, confession time. What did we learn? How did it go?

1) First and foremost, I must confess that I was not really excited about this race. My hubby was also supposed to do the race and he had to work so I was on my own and I was really tempted to bail on the race also. It was a 3+hour drive away and an overnight stay because there was no packet pickup this morning. In some sense of the word, it was a victory for me that I even showed up!

the calm before the storm…

2) The swim was pretty rough, choppy and at times almost violent, which is NOT something I remember from this race last time. I puzzled over this throughout the rest of the race – I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve aged up to the next age group. Last time I did the race, I was 29 – in the first wave of the Olympic distance with only the half ironman-ers in front by about 15 minutes. This year, at the ripe old age of 31, I had to wait for everyone in the half-iron group (still well ahead of us, but I did pass a few struggling stragglers towards the end of the .93 miles) AND I had all of my wave PLUS the first wave to fight through. The water was choppy. People were all over the place and there was seemingly no end to watching out for feet, elbows and fists. This is not something that I snobby ex-pool-only swimmer likes to see. Whether being in a different age group made the different or not, I added a couple – 2 or 3- minutes to my swim time from 2010, which I was bummed about because, ironically, I’ve been swimming a heck of a lot more this year than back then. Confession: I was/am(?) a little concerned that I’ve been swimming and somehow gotten s-l-o-w-e-r.

(trying to) swim in the crowd

3) As you may have gathered from #2, I’m a front of the middle pack or maybe back to middle of of the front pack swimmer, depending on the crowd. What’s the confession here? It’s this: the benefit of being good in the water is not really not a benefit at all – you get to hop on your bike early and be passed by people who say well-intentioned but ultimately funny and demoralizing things like “Good swim…” and leave the “too bad you’re not a better biker” hanging in the air. I know, I think so too. I even heard a guy in the water before the start talking about how he never worked on his swim because he just didn’t see it as an advantage. Now now. You may blow by me in a few minutes, but I’ll put money on the fact that I’m probably less frazzled and winded from the first leg. But I digress.

C’mon climbers!

4) Ok, this is maybe the confession that concerns me the most with a 70.3 looming: Sadly, my climbers are not what they should be on the bike. Biking is definitely my weakest link and while I’m slowlybecoming a better biker with time and practice, I find I don’t push myself as hard as I do when I’m running or swimming. I think it has to do with the fact that I associate biking with casual rides around the neighborhood as a kid. You know, relaxed. Carefree. Not grimacing, sweating, legs and lungs burning kind of biking. Nothing quite like race day to make you put the pedal to the metal, really push yourself to try to compete with the fools that are flying past you like you’re standing still (even though your bike computer insists you’re moving at what you feel is a respectable clip). Fortunately for me, today’s course was rolly, but not hilly. Twenty-five miles of really pushing it and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little concerned about how well I’d hold up and how much gas I’d have when I hit the run. Plus, my knees have been hurting on higher cadence rides and I definitely noticed it today when I climbed off. But fortunately once I was on the ground it went away. (Note to self – probably oughta get that straightened out, wouldn’t you say?)

5) I forced myself to eat and fuel all day. Forced is the operative word here. I hate eating in the morning, but I had a banana and a bar and a bunch of water before I swam, three gels on the bike and one on the run. Lots and lots and lots of water. Other than the gross queasy feeling I had before the swim (which could definitely be attributed to the fact that my stomach deemed it too early to be accepting food and also to the fact that I was ready to just get this thing going already), and a brief moment around mile 18 on the bike where my stomach reminded me how hard it is to digest folded over bike handlebars (I spent a few minutes sitting upright), I felt good. Hm. No confession here, I suppose.

6) Last time I did this race, I thought I was going to die of heat exhaustion. I’m not gonna lie – this was really a big concern of mine for this year as well. To combat this, even though I really didn’t want to, I carried a water bottle with me and every water stop (there were 4 or 5, I believe), a cup of water went on my head and neck and I drank or filled my bottle with the other. In between stops, I made sure I was keeping my head cool and drinking a lot. I felt a lot better about the run this year than I did last time, that’s for sure. And I think I was able to shave a few seconds off of my last run time for the course as well.

7) Lastly, triathlons continually remind me to be humble. I try to be supportive, talk it up on the race course and encourage people. But in every race there is someone, maybe a few someones who (in a moment of judgy-ness or jealousy or poor sportsmanship or whatever you want to call it) “have no business being in front of me”. I’m not proud of it. Yet, there they are. And they’re there, in front of you for a reason. Maybe they’ve put in more work. Maybe they’re more determined because they’ve seen more adversity and overcome more so they’re stronger. Maybe this is their life’s dream and for you its simply a training run. Maybe they are there to motivate you to stick with it or kick it in at the end. Still others may be there to remind you to be gracious and thankful for the skills and abilities you have. Or maybe they’re there to remind you to be inspired by the people around you.

Today, around mile 5, maybe closer to 5 1/2, a gentleman who I knew had been with me for a while finally picked up his pace, ran up beside me and said “Hello, how are you doing?” I said “I”m great, beautiful day” or something to that extent. He smiled, commented on what a nice pace I have (he should know, he’d been hanging out in it for a while), and then sped off, beating me to the finish line by more than a handful of seconds. And as he ran off, I noticed the numbers on his calf read: 6-8. Man. Sixty-eight years old and still rockin’. I just smiled and shook my head, I picked up my pace but I wasn’t going to catch him. Mr. 68, you are my hero for the day. You reminded me to smile and be happy with the day and to be inspired by the journey that others are on. I can only hope that 37 years from now I’m still able to do this with a smile on my face.

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eating in a food desert…

I eat constantly. I’ll admit it. And it’s even more pronounced when I’m training (at least then I have a good reason!). I’ll admit I never thought much about the concept of a “food desert” until I started working 35 miles “out of town” at the end of 2011, in the heart of rural America. Food deserts, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a low-income community without ready access to healthy and affordable food, have gotten some attention recently. Ironically, despite the fact that the food we eat is often grown in rural America, many rural towns lack access to healthy and affordable food.

Sure, there’s a grocery store where I work – right across the street even. But the healthy options are not prolific. The produce leaves a little something to be desired. The quick options consist of fried stuff (chicken, French fries and Jo Jos) and of course you can always grab a box of donuts. And there are always lots and lots of processed foods to choose from. Beyond the grocery store, there are a couple of greasy spoon diners and 1 fast food restaurant. Gag. Fried food reigns supreme, with scarce options for healthy choices. For someone like me, that won’t cut it.

Every night before I go to bed, I pack breakfast, lunch and snacks to get me through the work day and the mid-day workout. Which is usually fine. Except that I may have mentioned that training takes up So. Much. Time. And it makes me too lazy to go grocery shopping. Which means that too often, my refrigerator is E-M-P-T-Y, save for some tortillas, and a maybe a couple of beers. And some salad dressings. Enough for a wrap style version of what was once my little brother’s favorite: condiment sandwiches. Gross then. Gross now. (Love you Mikey!)

So yesterday, I got back from a long, hot run,grabbed some water and stuck my lunch in the microwave. Excellent – this is really going to hit the spot, I thought to myself. And then I dropped it. All over the floor. WHAAAAAAAAAT?! Way to go. Lunch went from almost fulfilling to a tease. Four measly bites instead of 12. Or 24. We’ll never know. And that was all I had with me. Even the snacks I usually stash were depleted. It was a long, hungry afternoon. Yes, woe is me.

But it was just the kick in the behind that I needed to restock things on the home front and last night, after my bike ride, I hit the grocery store even though it was late and I was stinky and sweaty and in desperate need of a shower. I filled my basket with produce, ah produce – fruits for smoothies and snacks, veggies for salads and stir-frys – hopefully enough to get me through the weekend even. Apparently, these days, a cart full of produce will get you a comment from the clerk, “Healthy living!” indeed! And today, I packed wayyyy too much healthy food for the day, over planned, if you will, determined not to be hungry after today’s lunchtime swim workout, should I happen to develop butterfingers again!

hip, hip, hooray!

(Quick side note here: I live “in town”, I have a safe and reliable method of transportation, and every day I pass no less than a dozen grocery stores well stocked with health options. Twice- on my way to work and again on my way home.  I recognize that I am fortunate to have infinitely more options than those who live in rural America or elsewhere in the world – all I need to do is plan ahead. I’m well aware that I don’t have an actual problem here, unlike many who live in food deserts who actually do face a significant challenge to eating healthy.

Food deserts are an interesting concept. The lack of healthy and affordable food is certainly an obstacle to health, especially when you add to the fact that fried, unhealthy food is usually cheap and oh-so-very-convenient, making it an appealing option for many across the country, not just rural residents. And let’s face it, a lack of access to healthy and affordable foods, or even just choosing fried anything-and-everything day after day commonly leads to and later compounds problems with obesity and diabetes. Many communities, including the one where I work, are working to find solutions and attempting to reverse the trend by forming fresh food coalitions and community gardens, encouraging physical activity, and hard working to educate folks on the realities of the health problems that are directly linked to the lack of healthy foods and made worse from a lack of physical activity. Hopefully progress is on the horizon, but change is often slow.) 

on heat and hydration…

I have such a love-hate relationship with July. And mid to late summer events, for that matter. There’s no doubt that the start of actual summer-like weather makes training and triathlons easier in a lot of ways. It’s a pretty safe bet that from now until October, I will probably not have to worry about planning a training workout around rain or otherwise foul weather (I did say probably…).

Here in the Inland Northwest, we generally have 2-4 weeks of really, truly HOT weather. The number of times we break 100 degrees can usually be counted on one hand. But our hot weather has come early this year – a week ago, we jumped straight from 70 to 95 in a matter of two days and haven’t dipped below the mid 90s since. Not that I should complain. I’ve been more than ready for sunshine and blue skies for MONTHS. But I digress.

Most reasonable people spend these scorching days submerged in water – floating lazily in an inner tube down one of our rivers or on one of the many lakes. Me, I have the distinct (mis?)fortune of being in the midst of training for a summertime 70.3 Those of you doing the same or something similar know that when these hot days come, we must spend the time acclimating ourselves. Because lord knows, come race day, it’ll be 95 degrees out and we’ll have no choice but to deal with it. Better to give our bodies the chance to get used to it.

Saturday was a scorcher and that is an understatement. Seriously. And from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. I was out in it. During the nearly 3 hours I spent on the bike, I was thankful that I had remembered to apply sunscreen on my arms and face. But I still got a mild sunburn on the side of my thighs, adding to my rockin’ bike shorts tan lines. Note to self: remember to apply sunscreen before the race and stash at transition area for “just in case”.

I’m working on fine tuning my on-the-bike nutrition and always have to make a conscious effort to eat, eat, eat when I’m on the bike. Note to self: make sure that whatever you bring to refuel is tolerable when it’s warmed up! Some gels are really pretty gross when they’re warmed to 90 degrees… but some are ok – apple cinnamon flavored Hammer Gels taste like warm apple pie! And espresso flavored GUs also seem pretty normal at 90 degrees… I guess because coffee is often served warm so the temperature matches the flavor. Or something.

Bicycle water bottle

Bicycle water bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then of course there’s the issue of hydration. As you all know, the hotter it is, the more you sweat, the more you need to replenish – both fluids and electrolytes. On hot training days, I really have to make sure I’m carrying enough water. Or that I have a plan for refilling often enough. I drink quite a bit cause I’m a big sweater… so I need to have quite a bit of water on hand or a lot of planned water stops. The problem with carrying it all is, of course, making sure you have enough water bottle holders on your bike (or you could carry a Camelbak or some sort of hydration pack) and also that the water will heat up the longer that you’re out. The other day when I was out, I was definitely drinking really warm water, which makes me not really want to drink it. Race day is generally a different story with water stations, but it’s definitely something to think about. Note to self – try this: freeze some water bottles the night before the race. Stash them at transition and pull them out at T1 and T2 (depending on how hot and how long the race is).  And also, find some better insulated water bottles. Pronto.

photo from: guysandgoodhealth.com

Post bike/post run, basically as soon as I stopped moving, sweat just poured off of me. How the heck was I going to cool down? The last late July race I did, I jumped back into the lake following the run and sat until I could get my core temperature back to normal. Fortunately, there was a river alongside the trail I was riding and running on, so immediately after I finished running, off came the shoes, the tunes and the sunglasses and into the river I went. I sat and I floated and I cooled off. No better way in the world to do it. Note to self: pack a cooler with a post workout water bottle! And only work out near cool rivers and lakes!

Just a few things to think about…after this weekend and also after today’s toasty midday run, I’m reminded that hydration issues can definitely derail my race day. So as much as I’d prefer to skip the midday 90+ degree workouts, practicing and adjusting my race day strategies and hydration has to be part of the training plan. For a few more weeks, anyway.Do you have any special tricks for dealing with the summer heat?

on eating and training and eating and racing

Today’s workout was a 3:30 bike ride. I was starting to get just a smidge hungry and I knew that it was going to be a long ride, so  I packed up some energy gels, some bars and a whole bunch of water and hit the road. Everything was good, munched on a few bars, sucked down a couple of gels en route and cruised.

Until mile 36.

I thought I was keeping up on staying hydrated and refueling electrolytes, carbs, etc. And then I totally, totally bonked. It was a good reminder to practice more – that is, practice eating and hydrating while on the move to replace what I’m burning and sweating out. You, too, should incorporate refueling into your training program. And here’s why:

  • The cardinal rule of race day? Don’t try anything new. This goes for food and drink. If you’re planning to take advantage of the food and drinks provided on the course, and especially if you’re planning on relying solely on them, you should try them out  in advance.
  • How does it taste? Do you like the flavor? For gels and chews: What’s the consistency like? Do you like it? If you don’t like it, this is good to know ahead of time. Race day, you’ll need to consume the gel and obviously this is easier to do if it doesn’t prompt a gag reflex. If you plan on And how do you manage when the gel or fluid is warm?
  • Then there is actually practicing the act of opening and eating – for example, if you’re on your bike – can you open the package it comes in without falling or crashing? Can you eat on the run (or bike)? If not, pre-open the packages. If you’re eating chomps or chews or bars, are they too big for you to chew and keep moving? Cut them in advance so they’re more manageable on race day.
  • How does your stomach feel? It can be a delicate balance. You don’t want to eat too much because your body can only digest so much while you’re on the move. And while biking, hunched over, this can be a challenge. But you also need make sure you get enough to keep fueled.
  • How are you planning on carrying everything? Do you have the right gear? A bento box for your bike? Some kind of race belt for the run? Are you used to carrying it?

If you’re looking for more:

Competitor Magazine has an article on race day fueling here: http://running.competitor.com/2012/03/nutrition/race-fueling-made-simple_8633/1

Active.com also has a useful article here: http://www.active.com/running/Articles/Fueling_for_peak_marathon_performance.htm

And of course, Runners’ World has a whole slew of articles on hydration and refueling here: http://www.runnersworld.com/topic/0,7122,s6-242-302-0-0,00.html

 

Happy training and here’s to no more bonking!