Monday, October 12, 2015

Branching Out

As you can see from my last post, I'm testing out alternative blogging platforms to Blogger. Don't get me wrong--I appreciate that blogger is free...but it's very basic. I also can't figure out how to make the hyperlinks a useful color (currently the color is "invisible") or a background image that doesn't look like a Computer Science 101 class. The previous post was via Storehouse, which is great for story-based posts but also private by default = no discoverability. So now I'm trying Medium. What do you think? (And if you couldn't see the link just there, try this: https://medium.com/@kttobin 

Friday, September 25, 2015

And Now For Something A Little Different

Most of these blog posts are about triathlon, either how train, how to race, or how I did (or didn't) race. But there's more to life than swimming, biking, and running, right? (Rhetorical question.)

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Rhode Island to attend a training seminar in human-centered design at RISD. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet really impressive designers and public policy wonks...and also see some wildlife.

See what I mean. 

Teaser: for the actual animal photos, click the link above. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Triathlon Basics...in 5+ pages

This past weekend, I led a clinic for the DC LUNA Chix group focused on triathlon logistics. While the clinic was tailored for this weekend's sprint in Frederick, most of the information is applicable to other races. Let me know what you think! (And thank you to my friends who contributed advice and questions!)

  • Almost There: Training and Taper
    • At this point, the “hay is in the barn,” so to speak. You won’t gain a lot of fitness over the next few weeks, nor will you lose a lot of fitness if life gets in the way. Just try to keep up with your regular training schedule as much as possible and include a few swim-bike or bike-run bricks to practice logistics.
    • If you are tapering (i.e. reducing training volume to prep for the race) and your workouts feel terrible, that means you’re doing it right!
    • Even if your training volume or pace isn’t what you had hoped for, do not despair! Unless you’re trying to do an Ironman, you’ll probably be just fine. Listen to your body and take it down a notch on race day, if needed, but you’ll be so proud of yourself for going for it. There is no need to panic train!
    • Practice eating and especially drinking while you train. Can you grab a water bottle while biking in a straight line? For eating on the go, it’s easier to prepare your food ahead of time so it’s easy to eat. For example, partially tear open a gel wrapper so it won’t spill but also is super easy to open while you bike.
    • Understand triathlon rules. There are a lot of them! But some basic things to remember are not to interfere with anyone’s stuff, wear your helmet, stay at least three bike lengths away from others, and don’t litter. Here are the most commonly violated rules.
  • Getting comfortable with the course
    • Read the athlete guide and race website! There’s a lot of logistical information in there. Read it multiple times if necessary. Pay special attention to things like when packet pickup opens/closes, when transition (the place where you put your bike and gear) opens/closes, any road closures or detours, shuttle buses, where to park, restrictions on when you can leave after the race, what you need to bring to the race, etc.
    • If time allows, try to drive (or better yet, bike) the bike course and bike (or run) the run course. Look for things like sharp turns, loose gravel, potholes, and landmarks. Pick a spot and give it a fun association, e.g. a street name that reminds you of a friend; it will give you a smile mid-race.
    • If possible, try to preview the swim. What is the water temp? Will you start in the water or dive/jump off the side? How do you get from the pool to the transition area?
  • What to wear
    • Wetsuit: Not necessary for this race! We are swimming in a pool. If you try to use a wetsuit, you will cook. Avoid.
    • Cap and goggles: You’ll probably be given a cap at check in, color coded to indicate which starting wave you’re in. However, unless the water is super warm, I recommend wearing a cap sandwich: put on your swim cap from home, then your goggles, then the race-issued cap. This way, your goggles are less likely to come off but you also won’t tear your hair out when removing everything after the swim.
Overdressed for a pool swim, but sticking cap and goggles under your shoulder straps ensures you don't forget to take them to swim start.

    • Flippie floppies: Once you have set your running and biking shoes in the transition area, you’ll still need to wear something as you make your way down to the swim area. Sometimes, this route is rocky or long, so you’ll be thankful for the sandals.
    • Tri kit: One or two pieces. The LUNA team kit this year is two pieces with (alas) no pockets. But no pockets = more aerodynamic! Practice in the kit before you race in it; does it chafe? What is a good bra to pair with it? While it might be tempting to wear cycling shorts + shirt, remember that larger chamois pad = more drag on the swim, big wet diaper, and hard to run in. Ditto for cycling jerseys. (Also, since the race is not wetsuit legal, you can’t have any fabric beyond your shoulders or your knees on the swim = no sleeved jerseys or compression socks.)
    • Helmet: This is key! Do not forget your helmet! On race day, wear it whenever you are touching your bike. Even riding your bike in the parking lot beforehand can get you disqualified! Make sure the buckle is easy to use, since you’ll be buckling/unbuckling quickly during the race.
Protect your noggin. 

    • Sunglasses: If you are used to wearing these on the bike and/or run, bring them. They are handy for blocking the sun, wind, dust, etc. (If you have sensitive eyes, bring an extra pair for the time between setting up your equipment in transition, and the actual race start. Give the extra pair to a friend or stash them with your extra shoes.)
    • Socks and Shoes: Some people wear running shoes on the bike and keep them on for the run. Some people wear bike shoes and then switch to running shoes. Some people hop on their bike barefoot and slip into their shoes while pedaling. These are all totally legit; just practice your plan ahead of time!
      • Bungee laces: These are elastic shoe laces that allow you to easily slip on your running shoes. If you will be biking in running shoes, the bungee laces are also useful because there’s no chance of getting a lace caught in the crank!
    • Race Belt: This is an elastic belt with quick buckle to which you attach your race number bib. Usually, you just wear it on the run, but some races require it on the bike (facing backward). Wearing a race bib means you don’t have to put pins in your shirt and can just grab it in transition and attach it as you run out.
    • Lube: If you usually wear chamois cream while biking, be sure to put some on *before* getting into a wetsuit! Also, smear it on extra thick, since you’ll be in the water first. It’s also handy to use something like Tri Slide to lube up a bit on other places where you sometimes chafe, such as armpits and inner thighs.
    • Sunscreen: Remember this!!! Make sure you are using something that is waterproof (nothing is perfect, but some are better than others) and doesn’t run into your eyes. I’m a big fan of Zealios, since it’s mineral-based.
    • Hair Tie: Bring an extra tie if you have long hair. During your training, test out hair styles that stay put and don't need adjustments for multiple sports. A lot of women use double braids. I usually go for a low ponytail.
  • What to do race morning
    • Double check weather. Know that whatever the weather, everyone will be experiencing it together.
    • Get excited. Nerves are good; they mean that you care about the event.
  • Food
    • Pre race: Start focusing on simple carbs and away from salads/high fiber foods in the 1-2 days before the race. Hydrate well. Eat a breakfast that you’ve had before your big training days in the past. Note the time; you’ll probably be getting up several hours before the race, so you’ll probably need a snack between breakfast and race start.
    • During race
      • For a sprint, you probably won’t need to eat much (if anything) during the race. You’re probably ok with a sports drink that has calories in it (e.g. the Clif electrolyte shot mix). If you do eat, you want it to be something that can be absorbed quickly, like a gel or shot blok.
      • Where to store the food? Lots of options. You can use a bento box, tape something to your frame (though this might rip off the paint and there’s nowhere to put the trash), or store the food on you. For example, grab a gel from your pile of stuff in the swim-bike transition and shove it down your bra or stash it in a pocket (alas, our LUNA kits don’t have any).
Probably too much for a sprint.

    • Post race
      • PROTEIN. Get some. It will help your muscles recover and repair themselves quickly. Chocolate milk or the Clif recovery mix are great here (if cold). Also, hydrate. You probably sweat more than you think. It’s perfectly normal to be ravenous...or not hungry at all. Or to switch between the two every 10 minutes. Be sure to eat something, though.
  • Hydration
    • This is important, even for a short race--doubly so if it’s hot or humid outside. Drink up before the race.
    • In general, you’ll want to go through one bottle of liquid per hour. If you are a salty sweater (e.g. your skin is crusty white and sand papery after a hard workout), you’ll need to work extra hard to replace electrolytes. You can do this through ensuring your drink mix is full strength (though test this first!) or taking salt tabs. These are pills with sodium and magnesium. For a short race, take the recommended dosage before the race and you should be fine. Some even have caffeine--bonus! 
  • Transitions: Make these speedy! Practice at home. Time yourself.
    • Setting up your transition area: Give yourself plenty of time to get set up. Put your bike on the rack so the front wheel is down, hanging the bike by the front of the seat or the handlebars. Adjacent bikes should alternate which direction they face. Then, place your stuff under the front wheel. (Yes, it would be more logical to put it under the back wheel, where this is more space, but those are the rules!) It’s helpful to have a small towel to place your gear on. Bright towel = easy to find spot. Set up everything so it’s easy to grab when you’re in a hurry. Roll up your socks like condoms so they are easy to put on your wet feet. Adding some lube to your shoes or socks will also help them slide on faster. Fill up your water bottles, place your food, make sure your tires are inflated (there are usually pumps, and often a mechanic or two), and your bike is in an easy gear. Practice finding your bike from both the “swim in” and “bike in” directions, as well as how to get to “bike out” and “run out.” They will be labeled but you’ll be tired later! Look for things like flags, banners, or trash cans to help you find your rack. If it’s a large transition area, feel free to write this info in sharpie on your forearm
    • During the race: You want to get in and out as fast as possible. Practice the sequence of events so you don't have to make any decisions during the race. For example: spot bike, arrive, sunglasses, helmet, left sock, left shoe, right sock, right shoe, grab bike, run. Things you don't need to do in transition (if you practice): sit down, towel off, adjust your hair, eat, or drink. Try it!
  • Swim: Know your comfort level on the swim. Try to get in a good warmup, if it’s allowed. If not, do lots of arm swings, jog in place, etc. to get your heart rate up. Also, try to get used to the water temp by wading in or splashing yourself. During the swim, you can take a break if you get tired (e.g. rest on the walls or touch the bottom). Just don’t use something else to move you forward, such as pulling on a lane line or your lane neighbor! Once you get out of the pool, you might feel dizzy, but that will pass. (Earplugs will help.) You’ll be excited and there will be crowds, but it’s probably an uphill run to transition so pace yourself!
  • Bike: As you run out of transition, look for a line across the road. You must cross this line on foot before hopping on your bike; likewise, you must get off your bike before the line on the way back. There will be volunteers pointing at it; you can’t miss it. Once on your bike, let yourself settle in for at least 10 minutes before trying to eat, drink, or pay much attention to your heart rate. Now is the time to go steady and not worry if people pass you; either they are faster athletes or you’ll pass them on the run because they wore themselves out on the bike. Stay to the right unless you’re passing someone, and call “passing left” or similar when you pass someone. As you finish the bike, be sure to slow down with plenty of time to dismount safely before the line.
  • Run: Hooray, the run! Just you and your feet, carrying you to the finish line! Your legs will feel like poo when you first get off the bike. This is normal! Don’t worry about it. Spend the first mile getting your legs under you. Then execute your race plan. If you have heart rate or pace goals, great. If not, just go by feel and try to make the second half faster than the first. If you are tired, it’s perfectly fine to walk-run. For example, walk the aid stations, or run for 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat.
  • Finish: Enjoy the finish chute! There will likely be photos, so if you want to wait until you have it to yourself, that’s totally acceptable. Make sure your race bib is facing forward, so they can announce your name. Finish with a smile! Afterward, the volunteers will remove your race chip, hand you a finisher medal, and send you on your way. If you need medical assistance, there is usually a med tent nearby. A volunteer will escort you.

Enjoy the fruits (chocolates) of your labors.

  • What Next?
    • A first triathlon often generates one of two reactions: 1) This is amazing! I want to do this again! Maybe an Ironman? 2) This is horrible! Can I go throw my bike into the lake now? Do not act on either of these thoughts right away. (Or for the sake of the lake, find an alternative to thought #2.) Give yourself at least a week to gain some distance from the event before making any future plans.
    • Training groups: if you decide to pursue the sport, you'll need to continue training. Finding a fun group of fellow triathletes is a great way to learn some skills and benefit from camaraderie. If you're in DC, check out DC Triathlon Club, especially the masters swim program (I'm one of the coaches, so clearly not biased!). If you're in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, or in another major city (and female), look into LUNA Chix.
    • Injury prevention: It's a running joke that you aren't officially a triathlete until you've had your first injury. This doesn't have to be true! I plan on dedicating a full post to this topic, but two things you can do right now to stay injury free: 1) schedule an injury screening to understand if you are a ticking time bomb for injuries due to weaknesses or imbalances in your muscles. (If you are near DC, Rose Physical Therapy has hour-long 1:1 sessions with physical therapists who focus on athletes.) 2) start doing some preventative exercises, such as these.

We may race as individuals, but it's really a team sport. Photo credit: Sarah Wassner Flynn

Monday, August 31, 2015

Trolls, Witches, and Ancient Ice

Warning: this is not a race report. It's not even about triathlon. But it's short, and has pretty pictures.

What to do after competing in the ITU Long Distance World Championships in Sweden? Bid adieu to my bike and Elliott (who had to return to work) and travel with my parents to the land of fjords, mountains, and $12 Big Macs, of course! Prior to this trip, I had been to Sweden a few times already--first while an exchange student to Finland, and again to visit a Swedish friend I met in Switzerland (yes, those are two different countries). But Norway was new ground. (Fun side note: I had first attempted to visit Norway in 2000 but fell asleep on the train from Stockholm, missed the connection, and woke up in Göteborg. Oops.)

Making friends with the locals.

First stop: Oslo, where we explored the city on the Osloian (Osloeese?) version of Capital Bikeshare, City Bikes. I also got to catch up with my AFS exchange student mentee, who is now a producer for a Norwegian reality TV show; I supplied her with some potential plotlines, so if you ever catch an episode that involves Norwegian D-list celebrities pre-gaming with Jon and/or Kate + 8, you're welcome.

Shall we start drafting our Emmy acceptance speech?

From there, we headed north and west for what seemed like forever (European countries are small, right?) but was really just a blip on the map. Destination: Solvorn, on the Lustrafjorden. Haven't heard of it? Neither have a lot of Norwegians, but it's a beautiful, peaceful, not heavily touristed place.

Definitely not in DC any more. 


It was also a great jumping off point for a kayak-hike-trek day trip to the Nigardsbreen glacier, described as "appropriate for ages 10 and up." When the guide started handing out ice axes and created a rope line (in case someone fell into a crevasse), I realized this was a bit more hard core than anticipated. Major props to my 60-something parents for being up to the challenge! (Though my mom will be quick to point out she was also misled by the "fun for all ages" description.)

ICE.

Small town Norway has some advantages: quiet forests, amazing views, friendly locals, and few tourists. It does, however, require some attention to detail. To wit, the only restaurant in Solvorn is open until 9:00...but stops taking orders at 8:00. And the ferry across the fjord to the Stave church at Ornes starts at 7:00...but the church doesn't accept visitors until 10:00.

Worth the wait.

For the drive to Bergen, we could either take the longest tunnel in the world or the much longer-only open in summer-don't look down route. We opted for the latter, which still had snow banks as high as the car. In June.

And this is when my mom pelted me with a snowball. 

It also had the weirdest rest station attraction I have ever seen. Plus side: now I can say I saw a bear in Norway.

It was in a cave. Since I guess that makes sense.

Eventually, we left the mountains and entered the bustling metropolis of Bergen. It was strange to see other tourists again. Plus, lots of cod. You see, back in the day, Bergen was a German trade town and cod was king. (Seriously.)

Its fish-focused history lives on as aprons and tablecloths.

While many people approach Bergen from the sea, we decided to take the funicular up the hill to get an bird's eye view. Two key takeaways: 1) Bergen is known for being cloudy and rainy, which is not ideal for said bird's eye view. 2) Birds are not the only creatures flying around the city.


If you insist.
All in all, a fun adventure!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

In the Land of IKEA


Continuing my trend of "retro" blog postings (8+ weeks behind), here's what went down in Motala-town...

Pre-game


Elliott, my parents, and I arrived in Stockholm a few days early and stayed in an apartment my parents had arranged via house swap. Not only was this place free, we got to pretend to be yuppie Swedes in the Södermalm district, riding bikes everywhere, shopping at corner grocery stores, and drinking the local beer. (Full disclosure: we got lost pretty much every bike trip, and it took me two weeks to realize that the beer sold in grocery stores has low ABV and one must go to the "systembolaget" for the real stuff.) 

Here's looking at you, Stockholm!



They always say that you learn as much about yourself as the destination when you travel. I learned that I dislike museums. Especially when the entire museum is about a ship. That sank. Within 15 minutes of departing the harbor. I did learn, however, that I like free wifi, so I was able to entertain myself.

Back at the ship museum.
Making friends with the locals.


After a few days, Elliott and I met up with the Team USA group for a city tour and bus ride to Motala. Much to my joy, the city tour included *another* tour of the ship museum, so I kept myself busy doing other things.   Normally I avoid traveling with a group, but the Team USA package was pretty useful. They reserved several floors of a hotel on the main town square of Motala, just a five minute talk to the transition area. The USA Triathlon team also included a mechanic, doctor, masseuse, coach, and a few other people who helped handle logistics. Each of them was so incredibly helpful as all of the fun pre-race mini-crises unfolded: my bike didn't want to be rebuilt, my foot had a gnarly blister, the long plane ride had done a number on my back, and let's not forget the daily drama of whether the swim would be canceled due to the cold. Cue the ominous music. 

They must have known I'd be pushing the WATTS.

But first: a little background. Why was I in Sweden? What makes this race so special? And why on earth was it in Motala? As I've mentioned before on this blog, I won my age group at the long distance national championships in 2014, earning me a spot on Team USA in 2015. Unlike the Ironman world championships, people at this race compete as part of their national team. Therefore, rather than wearing my usual LUNA Chix kit, I had a Team USA onesie with TOBIN on the stomach and butt and my awesome sponsors, LUNA bars and Rose Physical Therapy, displayed on the front. As for why it was held in Motala, here's a fun bit of trivia for you: Motala is host to the world's largest bike ride each year, with over 23,000 participants. It also has a (very cold) lake and scenic paths for running. 

Thankfully, Sweden is not known as an earthquake hotspot.

Let the games begin!    


First off: All the athletes got to walk through the town square as a parade of nations, including flag bearers, cheering crowds, and an opening ceremony. It was an incredible experience, and felt like an "It Gets Better" ad to my 15 year old self, churning out the laps in the pool. 

I'm in a parade!

Race day was unusual. First of all, it wasn't pouring, for a change. Also, the race didn't start until 9, so I actually had a leisurely start to the morning. So strange. The official word was that the water was very, very cold--too cold for the planned 4000 meter swim--but warm enough to have us hop in the lake for 1500m before climbing onto our bikes for 120 km (approximately 74 miles). The swim is my strongest leg of the race, so I was bummed to miss the extra distance...until I waded into the water and lost track of my toes. Well then. The rest of the swim was pretty rough and aggressive, but I remembered all the times I shared a pool with the Aqua Zumba class and felt right at home (minus the Rhianna music). I exited the water, plodded on frozen feet through transition, hopped on my bike, and saw...

Stars, stripes, and a smile!

Yes, those cheering folks are my mom and Elliott, but they weren't the surprise. Sneaky sherpas, they had arranged for not one, not two, but THREE banners to greet me, one at each loop of the course. It was such a thrill, and the #sponsorlove gave me an extra boost up the hill. (Pics of the other two banners are at the bottom of this post.) The bike leg was 120 KM, nearly 75 miles. It was scenic, well marked, well paved, and well winded (how's that for spin?). Let's just say I was very glad to be done with that ride, especially after dropping a chain on the second loop. (Fun fact: LUNA bars still taste good when one's fingers are covered in bike lube. Mmm bike lube!)


The run comprised 3 x 10 KM loops, about half of which was on wooded trails. The scenery was beautiful, the aid stations frequent, the weather perfect...I think I would have absolutely loved the run if I weren't already so tired. At this point, I also started having some GI issues and faced a trade off: slow down, keep the gut happy, and finish, or run at the planned pace and risk exposing some bodily fluids and DNFing. I decided that I had already come so far, both traveling to the race and nearly 80 miles that day, so I played it safe. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Finally, the finish line. I looked behind me (coast = clear), grabbed an American flag from my mom and another flag from the Team USA coach, and ran through the finish chute, a huge grin on my face...until two other women in my age group sprinted past me. Sigh.  

So happy to be almost done!

Still, it was a good experience overall. 17th in the world in my age group isn't what I was hoping to do that day, but better than the 101st I placed at Ironman 70.3 worlds last year. I certainly wouldn't have been able to participate at all if it weren't from the support of Elliott, my family, friends, and fantastic sponsors, LUNA bars and Rose Physical Therapy. Onward!

And now, a few more gratuitous photos:

Total lie, but appreciated.

Rose Physical Therapy brings DC spirit to Sweden!


One of my competitors. I think he's still out there...
"Sir Taste-a-Lot"--alas, not really.

Picture 120 KM of more or less this view. There are worse ways to spend a day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Challenge Poconos Race Report

Guess what guess what guess what: I got to wash my hair today. What does that have to do with Challenge Poconos? More than you'd think. The reason why I was so excited to wash my hair today is because it's the first time I've been able to do so in over two weeks. Because I had, according to the Ear-Nose-Throat doctor, "not the worst ear infection I've ever seen, but close." And that's why this race report is so short (and timely, for a change).

Ear protection for the shower

In case you're planning on also coming down with a nasty case of swimmer's ear (or, even better, wish to avoid it), here's how it went down: combine a lot of swimming with ignoring early symptoms due to being out of town for work, add a dash of pre-existing waxy ears and small ear canals, and then visit urgent care, where the doctor doesn't have the proper equipment to diagnose you and actually makes things worse by trying to flush chemicals into your ear. Let's just say that prescription-strength pain relievers are a wonderful thing. 

So what about Poconos? The awesome folks at Challenge USA let me defer to next year, so I hope to write a real race report in 2016. I also delayed the end of my tri season, adding Giant Acorn in September and USAT Aquathlon Nationals in October. Good thing I'll be cleared to swim again later this week!

As always, thanks to Rose Physical Therapy for making the *rest* of me feel good, and to LUNA bars for keeping me nourished even when chewing is difficult.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sticking A Fork In It

As I mentioned in my last post, the countdown is on until my big race in Sweden. I've had this race on my calendar for over a year now, since I qualified at USAT Long Course Nationals in Grand Rapids last June. The days in between have since been filled with hours of staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool, biking around Hains Point (and on the trainer...oh the trainer), and running routes that confirm beyond a doubt why my neighborhood is called Hillcrest. But other than the fact it's almost June 27 and I'd better be ready, there are some other telltale signs.

  • I complain about the taper. After a long build of 15-18 hour weeks, dropping down to just 9 hours should feel like I'm on vacation. But yet I still find myself waking up at 4:30 for a 90 minute brick before work. What gives? (Granted, I don't also have a workout after work, but still...)
  • Phantom pains. Everywhere. Did my knee just pop? What's going on with my shoulder? Are these shoes giving me blisters? I know they aren't real but they still get me every. Single. Time. Luckily, I have a (not so) secret weapon...
  • Therapy. I don't mean a shrink and a couch. Before every race, I have an appointment at Rose Physical Therapy for Active Release Technique (ART). Unlike a massage, where you just lie there and the masseuse rubs oil on your back, ART works to identify and treat areas where the muscle tissue is impacting proper range of motion or causing pain--in other words, why my shoulders feel like they have pebbles in them. The therapist uses her hands to evaluate the texture, tightness, and (lack of) movement in my muscles, fascia, tendons, and ligaments. Then, we work together to get things running smoothly again. For example, the PT may put her fingers on my rotator cuff and ask me to stretch out my arm and give the thumbs up sign. Easy, right? And wow does it work! Because the therapists at Rose are also athletes (Holli and Sydney are triathletes, in fact), they know to target exactly where I need it. Plus, it's a great opportunity for me to spend an hour talking about the race and getting psyched up for it! 
  • Social Life! Well, somewhat. I try to use the extra time in my schedule to catch up with friends whom I don't always see during the long training weeks. Did you know that there's more to life than swimming, biking, running, and consuming enormous quantities of food? Plus, this serves as a nice distraction from the phantom taper pains. And speaking of distractions...
  • Voices in my head. Actually, this is a good thing. Starting with my first half Ironman in 2012, I've asked friends and family to keep me company during long races. This will be no exception. Please take a minute to fill out this form, in which you include your name, choose a mile of my race (trust me, there will be plenty), and give me a fun distraction or thought to share with you. I'll be happy to return the favor! 
So that's me. How do you know you're ready to race?

As always, thanks to Rose Physical Therapy and LUNA Bars for getting me race ready, as well as my family and friends for all the support. And beer. And ice cream. 

Ready to race!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Perfect Is the Enemy of Good

Since my last update in February, I have written some fantastic blog posts: how to ride the bike trainer at 5 AM on a dark Tuesday and not feel too sorry for yourself, great running routes in DC, how to [not] race a half ironman in April when the weather is 50 degrees warmer than you've been training in, etc. But I wrote them all in my head and never had the proper time or energy to capture them here. So rather than having a series of awesome blog posts to amuse and inspire my worldwide fan base extended network parents, I have a blank space and a lot of guilt. (No golf clubs were harmed, however.) 

So let's try something different: a quickie. Here's the 90 second version of the past few months. 

  • Winter. Yikes. Thank goodness for Trainer Road + Wahoo Kickr (create a workout ahead of time and the trainer adjusts the resistance so I just pedal mindlessly until my legs fall off). Calculating 95% of FTP for 1:30 intervals is just not going to happen at 5 AM. Also, I'm lucky enough to have similarly crazy friends who are also training at that hour, so we entertained each other by texting animated animal gifs and recommending shows on Netflix. 
Welcome to my winter.

  • DC Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon: Why did I ever think this was a good idea? 40s. Pouring. My timing chip fell off so I somehow did a 5k in 45 minutes but a 10k in 25 (total). Careful, runners--there seems to be a space-time vortex somewhere on the Rock Creek Parkway. On the plus side, a hot shower after suffering mild hypothermia is pretty incredible. 
  • Spring #1: I got to escape DC's never-ending winter at the end of March for the LUNA Chix Summit in Berkeley. For three days, the entire extended LUNA family--from professional triathletes and mountain bikers to sponsored amateurs (including myself) to the running/cycling/triathlon clubs across the country--all gathered near the Clif bar headquarters to eat, run, bike, learn...and eat some more. I think I came home with at least 50 Clif and LUNA bars stuffed into my suitcase. That weekend deserves its own post so stay tuned.
I made some in California.
  • Summer #1: DC may have still been trying to hang on to winter, but it was early April and therefore time to start my race season. In Florida. Sigh. "At least it's not Panama in February" was my spurious logic when I signed up in the fall. I think this race can best be summarized by the following numbers:
    • 50: The difference in temperature, in degrees fahrenheit, between DC and Florida
    • 46: The one-way distance, in miles, between Orlando (where I thought the race was/where my extended family lives) and where the race was actually located (Haines City)
    • 10: The number of gears my borrowed race wheels were designed to hold
    • 0: The number of gears present on the wheels when I picked them up (lesson learned: the cyclist is expected to add their own cassette to borrowed wheels)
    • 882: Number of watts my power meter said I pushed on the bike course. This is incorrect.
    • 0: Number of beats per minute my heart rate strap said I was expending on the bike course. This is also incorrect. 
    • 60 and 4: Respectively, the number of minutes and adults required to disassemble and pack my bike after the race.
    • 0: Desire I have to do that race again. 
Not pictured: all the seagrass, salt, and mud that accumulated during the race

  • Spring #2: DC finally flirted with spring in May. It was nice. 
This happened.
  • Summer #2: And then DC decided that sweltering heat and humidity are more fun. Yay. 
And that leads us to today, where it was "feels like 90" for my 80 minute run at 8 AM. However, I'm not long for this town or this weather. In under a week, I'll be en route to Sweden for the ITU Long Distance World Championships

Me dress fancy one day.

As always, thanks to my fantastic family and friends, as well as sponsors Rose Physical Therapy and LUNA Bars

Thanks to Florida, I now have a Rose PT temp tattoo tanline!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Diving In

Welcome back, future triathletes/fence sitters/bots/family members. Now that you have your big, hairy, audacious goal in mind, where to start? Since this is a triathlon-focused blog (and alphabetical order is over-rated), let's start with the swim. Not only is it the first leg of the triathlon, it's the one that tends to freak people out the most. But never fear, this blog post will turn you all into Olympic-caliber swimmers give you a solid introduction help you procrastinate for five more minutes.

Location, location, location. If you're in the DC area, you have a lot of pools at your (pruny) fingertips. DC residents can swim at any public pool for free, including the Olympic sized Wilson pool by the Tenleytown metro, complete with a hot tub big enough that you don't have to actually make eye contact with anyone. Each pool has different operating hours and lane configurations ranging from 20 yards-50 meters, so check the Parks & Rec website. My favorite is the newly opened Barry Farm pool, which is 25 meters, located across the street from the Anacostia metro, and features a ridable (fake) alligator. If you're in Arlington, the pools are in good condition but can get crowded, especially Washington & Lee. I've had better luck at Wakefield, especially if you arrive just as a swim team leaves. I haven't personally visited any Maryland pools yet, but hear the Prince Georges Sports & Learning Complex by FedEx Field is quite nice, as is the Kennedy Shriver Center. I mean, if it's called an "aquatic complex" it must have something going for it. A few gyms also have pools. The YMCA has a 25 meter pool in downtown DC or a 25 yard pool on 14th and W, NW. (A word of caution: the pipes in the ceiling above the pool do not exactly align with the lanes, so if you use them for guidance when swimming backstroke, you'll hit the wall after about 20 yards.) Many other gym pools are <25 yards or just two or three lanes, which can be frustrating for training.

What Not to Wear: Now that you know where to go, what should you wear? Definitely a swim suit, to start. I don't know of any clothing-optional pools around here, nor would I like to. For triathlon training, ditch the board shorts and halter top bikinis. Most men wear "jammers" (a speedo that provides more coverage than the name implies) and women wear a one piece or workout bikini. If you aren't particular about designs, Swim Outlet has great deals where you specify the size and brand and they send you a suit.
Though sometimes there is a reason why that style was so cheap...

You'll also want goggles (like these, not these), and probably a cap. Not only will a cap help you swim faster, you're far less likely to rip out your hair when removing your goggles. Silicone caps last far longer than latex, often for years (unless you let them get moldy in the bottom of your swim bag, oops). Also useful: flip flops because the pool deck and showers can be icky, a lock for your locker, a towel, and a spray or shampoo to remove the chlorine afterward. By now, if you've opened the Swim Outlet website, read an issue of Triathlete magazine, or visited a pool deck, you'll know there are a lot of options for pool toys. Fins! Pull buoy! Paddles! Metronome! Snorkel! Tether! Swim watch! The options are limitless. Your bank account is not. (Or if it is, hello there!) Therefore, I recommend sticking to the basics until you...

Talk to a professional. Not necessarily a professional swimmer (though Katie Ledecky does train at Wilson sometimes), but rather a coach. Depending on your needs, schedule, and budget, you can hire a coach for (semi) private lessons, take a clinic, or join a masters team. ("Masters" simply means "not a child," not like Masters for golf or something.) I've been a coach for DC Tri Masters since 2012, so I'm a bit biased, but I strongly recommend working with a coach at least once. They can help you avoid injury, improve your technique, and motivate you to work harder than you probably would on your own. The DC Tri Club program also offers weekend clinics, semi-private lessons, open water-focused sessions, and underwater taping. If you live on the moon and don't have access to a coach (but do have a pool, hmmm), Swim Smooth is a great online resource. (Hundreds of terrible online resources are just a google search away, so tread carefully.) Also, if you experience pain while swimming, talk to someone ASAP. Rose PT offers clinics for swimmers, including using a biofeedback machine to check that people were activating the right muscles during a (simulated) stroke. Spoiler alert: bad form --> wrong muscles --> shoulder pain --> no swimming --> sadness.

Get out of the pool! Yes, you read that right. Pool training is useful for the majority of a triathlete's training volume, but unless all your races are indoors, you'll need to practice in a real body of water. But I'll save that for another chapter. This one is getting long, and don't you have a swim workout to do?

So many swim toys, so little time... 


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

That Wonderful Feeling

You know how it goes. You find your next big challenge, something that seems so daunting, so exhilarating, so necessary, that you know you won't be able to live with yourself if you don't at least try. And then you want to throw up. Congratulations. You have a goal. It doesn't matter whether that goal is finishing a 5k, racing an Ironman, or taking your pro card, if it doesn't scare you a bit, you aren't being bold enough.

You know you want to.


Maybe because it's the new year, or some of my friends and family are approaching milestone birthdays, or they are just awesome, but several people have asked me lately about how to take the leap into swimming, biking, and/or running. With these next few blog posts, I hope to answer some questions, solicit additional tips from my awesome athlete readers (hi, Dad!), and maybe inspire a few more people to smile and then run for a trash can.

First things first: if your BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) involves physical activity, make sure you're up for it. This isn't just a legal disclaimer about talking to your doctor, but really think about all aspects of your life. Are you trying to train for an Ironman while working full time, moving cross country, and finding the love of your life? It's possible but tread carefully. When you consider a workout plan, remember it's not like you can go for a long bike ride or run and then go about your day; you also need to prep for the training (bike maintenance, gathering an obscene amount of nutrition bars, gels, drinks, etc.), and recover from it (food, sleep, and oh so much laundry). So magically, a six hour training session takes 10 hours out of your day. The math still applies to shorter events: add around 25% to your expected training schedule and plan accordingly. The upshot is you'll discover how efficient you can become with other aspects of your life, prioritize what really matters to you, and appreciate the value of a good calendar.

This could be you!


Ok, so you've decided that you are physically and mentally up to the task. Next: specify your goal. Maybe it's completing a particular race, hitting a time or distance, or reaching the podium. But you need to be brave enough to write it down and, in the case of a race, put your entry fee where your mouth is. Get that sucker on your calendar so you don't forget, and don't let it sell out while you waffle. Some people like to shout their goals from the social media rooftops and some prefer to stay on the down low. Still, it's worth telling at least one person so you have a cheerleader in your corner. If you're into writing, the Believe journal is excellent; each week it prompts you to think about your goals and record your progress.

Think process. This is especially true if your BHAG is somewhat out of your control, like achieving a certain time (what if it's windy?) or placement (what if faster people show up?). You should also create process-related goals that you alone can control, such as completing at least 90% of scheduled workouts in a month, hydrating properly, or participating in an open water practice swim. This post from QT2 (free login) explains this concept well. These seem less glamorous but really make the difference between achieving your BHAG and getting discouraged and distracted.

Solo or group? Do you want to train alone, with a buddy, or a group? Do you need a training plan? A private coach? The magic answer is... "it depends" (yeah, boooo, sorry). You'll learn a lot about yourself during this process. Does training with a group push or intimidate you? Do you need ultimate flexibility or structure? Can you hold yourself accountable or do you need to pay someone to keep tabs on you? Or you can try all of the above and see what works. For example, you could download a training plan (e.g. from Training Peaks or there are plenty of plans of varying quality floating around the Interwebs), do some workouts with a masters group or run club (more on these in future posts), and share your workouts via Strava to receive kudos from friends.

Have a support system. Check in regularly with family, friends, co-workers, teammates, randos on the bus, etc. and share your progress, your frustrations, your awkward questions about chafing. People who have been around the track a few times are always happy to offer advice (says the author of a blog post on the topic) because back in our day, when we were biking uphill in the snow, we also had questions about pacing, or nutrition, or snot rockets. My friend (and Rose PT therapist) Holli and I still nerd out over articles on heart rate zones and core exercises. Athletes are amazingly supportive of each other. Case in point: twitter is hopping at 5 AM as triathletes are biking on their indoor trainers. Join us!

Prepare to fail...just a little. No one is perfect. But what makes all the difference is your ability to not get derailed when things go off track. How to do this? Start planning to fail now. From the comfort of your couch, metro seat, boring meeting, etc. make a list of obstacles you may face and how you will deal with them. For example, "If I'm supposed to go for a bike ride and it's pouring rain, I'll take a spin class instead." or "If I work late and don't have time for a run, I'll power walk down the hallway for 15 minutes." By deciding ahead of time how you'll make good decisions, you're far more likely to follow through than if you're working late, it's cold and rainy, and the latest episode of Parks and Rec is on. Channel your inner Tim Gunn and make it work.

Things didn't go according to plan?


So. Now are you excited to start making swim/bike/run magic? Excellent. Tune in next time...

Oh the places you'll go...