Sunday, May 25, 2014

So You Think You Can Climb

Even though I've lived in DC for over 10 years (!), I still consider myself a west coaster at heart. I prefer In & Out to Five Guys, natural beaches to boardwalks, and will never get used to watching the Superbowl at night. This also means I'm a mountain snob. For example:
These are mountains.

These are not.

Do I appreciate the beauty of Shenandoah National Park? Of course. But there are trees at the top, and I don't have to backpack to get there.

So when I heard about the "Mountains of Misery" century ride in southwestern Virginia,  I figured it would be a fun training day. How miserable could some hills be? Also, when the ride's registration opened in February, Memorial Day weekend seemed far enough on the horizon that I was extra confident in my ability to defy gravity.

As training progressed, I actually did start to get better at hills. How?
  • Step 1: Move into a house at the top of a hill. Decide you want to go home occasionally.
  • Step 2: Tell yourself that you're good at hills. Suddenly, training rides are an opportunity to attack some climbs (woo!) rather than grumpily mash some gears. 
  • Step 3: Reconsider gearing. For Ironman Tahoe, I upgraded to a 10-32 cassette with special derailleur. This means I have some extra easy gears when the climbing gets steep. 
  • Step 4: Learn how to descend, preferably without melting a wheel (yes, that happened). Some cyclists, such as Elliott and Cat, can naturally whiz down a mountain without a care in the world. I, on the other hand, am afraid of plummeting to my death. The biggest ah-ha moments in my descend-ucation:
    • Count out loud. To scrub speed, pull on the brakes for a count of four, then release for four. Counting not only distracts you from the whole careening off a cliff thing, but also no other cyclist will want to be near Count Brakeula and will give you a wide berth.
    • The harder you push, the more stable you'll feel. On a turn, push down HARD with the outside leg; when descending straight down, keep your feet at 9:00 and 3:00 on the pedals and push your knees into the top bar. Voila, stability!
    • Hands and feet work together. As you push down with your outside leg, also push down on the handlebar with your outside hand. This will get you around the corner safely and cleanly. Think of the hokie pokie if that helps.
    • Look where you want to go...with all three eyes. #3 is your bellybutton. I challenge you to think about your bellybutton on a descent and not crack a smile. 

Thinking about my belly button.

So, how did it go? It was definitely not the Seagull Century, where you can stay in one gear the whole time. In fact, I think I used all of my gears today. But the one constant was the smile plastered on my face. Such a fun ride! Beautiful scenery, well marked course, (mostly) good roads, enthusiastic volunteers... oh, and a four mile uphill finish with 12-16% incline. To boot, I got to hang out with my awesome coach, Kerri, and some Bike Rack Racing teammates at the top.
Optical illusion: We are actually the same height; the hill is just that steep!

Am I reformed mountain snob? Let's just say I appreciate the fact that the east coast offers plenty of challenging cycling that does not require packing an oxygen tank. But the moment United starts offering a direct flight from DC to Tahoe, you'll know where to find me!
Where you can find me now.
As always, huge shout-outs to my support crew: Elliott, my family, DC Tri and Bike Rack teammates, and Rose PT for keeping me injury free!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Maritime Olympic Triathlon: The Day the Data Lied

Pop quiz: which of the following happened today?
  • This year's race had an exceptionally large turnout, with nearly 90 people in my age group.
  • I was the first woman to finish the 1500m swim.
  • The 10K run course was actually 6.7 miles.
  • Despite this longer course, I managed to average 7:06/mile.
  • None of the above, leaving me annoyingly dissatisfied with what was actually a not-terrible race.
Since you've all read the title of this blog post (or are hurriedly rereading it now that I called you out), you know the answer to this quiz. But here's the rest of the story.

I signed up for the Maritime International Triathlon (aka "Olympic distance," albeit non-drafting) on the advice of my coach, who said it would be a good opportunity to practice some speed to gear up for Long Course Nationals (half iron distance) next month. I hadn't raced the Olympic distance since October 2012, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Surprise #1 came a week before the race, when my coach noticed that my name wasn't on the participant list. Cue the frantic search for a confirmation email, followed by the even more frantic search for a record of the transaction on my credit card. No luck. Thankfully, there was still room in the event so I could (re)register. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that while all the waiver and payment pages had the cancel button on the left and confirm button the right, they were reversed on the final confirmation page. Therefore, I probably canceled my entry in the first round. Sigh. Web design, anyone?

Maritime is located in Easton, Maryland, about 90 minutes east of DC (without traffic; you couldn't pay me enough to attempt the drive on a Friday night in the summer). As with most of the races hosted by Setup Events, this one was small/medium sized with easy parking, packet pickup, etc. I overheard from one of the organizers that participation had doubled this year versus last, to over 400. (My friend Trevor has an excellent recap of last year's race, including some very important safety pins.) As I hopped in the water with my wave, one of the other women remarked that our age group had nearly 90 participants. Wow! That's a large chunk of the overall total, but the wave was big...and it's a popular age group... and it was still early in the morning and I did not have the energy to count that high. The swim started with the ubiquitous air horn and I started to sprint (I think the reaction is now Pavlovian, even on land). My philosophy on the swim is that first out of the water is for suckers; it's far better to draft off #1 and exit the water second with fresh legs. However, I must not have followed my own advice because as I ran up the dock and into T1, the announcer called me as the first woman. Awesome!

Most of the first leg of the bike, my mind was going over what it meant to be riding in the lead. Wasn't I supposed to get a motorcycle escort? Dude, where's my chopper?! What if I can keep the lead and wind up winning? Will there be a tape for me to break and hold up above my head? How far behind is everyone else? Answer: not very. I got passed by another woman about eight miles into the 24 mile course. And then saw another woman ahead of me at the turnaround. What?! (No motorcycle either, for what it's worth.) I tried to catch up but was wary about burning myself out. Normally I try to stay in high zone 3 (185-190 watts) for 56 miles and while I was pushing harder on the shorter course, I haven't done much hour+ training above 200 watts and wasn't sure what that would do to my run.

Answer: I couldn't feel my feet. The entire time. But no worries, according to my trusty Garmin, I was smoking it - sub 7:00/miles for the first two, and then around 7:06 for the remainder. So what if I felt like crap? So what if a few more women flew past me? Look at us speed demons! The run was a double out and back but rather than being boring, it meant I could see and high five/smile/thumbs up/nod/grunt/blink at Elliott, my teammates, and colleagues as we encountered each other. (Communication deteriorated as the race progressed.) As an added bonus, I also saw my coach, Kerri Robbins, in hot pursuit and I was determined not to let her catch me. My favorite moment was when I was running right behind my teammate, Emerson, on the final stretch. Elliott was running in the opposite direction, starting his second loop, and shouted, "I love you, darling! Kick it home!" Emerson, unaware that I was right behind him, mumbled a confused "thanks?" "That was directed at me!" I said as I ran past. It was a fun way to finish, and unlike Panama, no medical tent = always a plus. Kerri finished a few minutes after me and we compared notes on the race - the headwind from *every* direction on the bike, the gravelly run, and the 6.7 mile 10 K. We checked results and detected a theme -- Kerri got 2nd Masters (women 40+), and I got 2nd 30-34 age group, with a time of 2:22 and a nearly 22 minute PR (according to my post-race mental math). Not bad! Elliott finished shortly afterward, 3rd Clydesdale, making us both 4 for 4 on podiums, and in his case, 4 races in 4 weeks.

Which brings us back to the pop quiz, and the reason I'm writing this blog post. It's not to brag about my results, or to provide a course description for future racers. It's to remind us (or me, at least) not to overthink things. Announcers can't count. Or discern gender. Websites have confusing layouts, causing people to think there are 90 competitors in every age group. Garmins fail to pick up satellites and rely on footpod readings, leading to perceived longer distances and faster splits. But none of that matters. The point of racing is to have fun and see what we can do. And we are the only ones in charge of that.

And on that note, I'll be seeing what I can do next week at the menacingly named Mountains of Misery bike ride. Let's just say it sounded like a good idea when I signed up in February. Many thanks to Elliott, my DC Tri Club teammates, Coach Kerri, Smashfest Queen's smashing visor, and Rose PT for improving my run form--next time the 7:06/mile splits will be real!

Apparently first and third places didn't want to attend this Podium Party.