Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Night Hillz

Waiting in our cars until the last minute
No matter how many times I ride with my Tuesday night hill group, I always get nervous. A wave of anxiety comes whenever I think about it…just there it did and I had to get up, walk around, and take deep breaths. By Tuesday afternoon, my productivity at work begins to plummet and I need to stop at the bathroom every 15 minutes. I’m constantly wondering “Did I eat enough lunch? Did I eat too much? Will I be dressed properly? What if my light goes out? What if I get dropped? Will I get frostbite?...and on and on.”

I started riding with a group of roadies last winter and they lured me into joining their Tuesday Night Hill group. We meet on a weekly basis from January to July and ride ~2 hours covering 30-40 miles with anywhere from 2500-3500 feet of climbing. During the first few months of the year, there isn’t much to say about these rides except that other than being cold, wet, and scary, they are hard, intimidating, and often windy.

At first we had a pretty even number of men and women so I’d ride with the girls, do my share of pulling, and work the hills, typically reaching the top first. (I’m not trying to brag – my weight to power ratio and climbing abilities are a product of my Russian hockey player sized quads, terrible for buying skinny jeans, but great for tackling hills.) The group has dwindled and this year I am one of two girls who show up on a regular basis, which means there is no “slower group,” just a bunch of fast guys.

But even in the dark, cold rain, I love (in a sick way) these rides because I know they make me stronger, faster, and tougher. Mike, who picks the routes and organizes the rides, compared them to a cold, rainy soccer practice – it’s definitely not why you play the sport, but it’s an important part of improving. So I think that’s what it comes down to: you have to go beyond your comfort zone and often take the harder, scarier route in order to improve. It’s like Jordon Rapp said after winning Ironman Canada in 2011, “Nobody gets together over a beer and recounts war stories like, ‘hey, remember that time we ran a 5k in totally perfect conditions?’ Adversity is one of those things that truly implants a memory in our brain.” I’m not saying finishing a Tuesday Night Hill ride is anything like winning an Ironman or even finishing an Ironman, but it is something that challenges me weekly on mental and physical levels unlike any trainer workout.

Random sampling of Tuesday night weather. It snowed on us tonight - sub-optimal. :(

My fitness has improved tremendously over the past three years and it's mostly from working with a coach who has helped me train correctly and efficiently and has also encouraged me to get outside my comfort zone. When I first started training with Coach Kainoa, it was my first time swimming with a Masters group. I didn’t know flip turns or anyone in my lane. But I stuck with it, got faster, and I now swim with that group (now a faster lane) 3 times a week. She introduced me to more experienced cyclists so that I would ride with them. At first, I was nervous in my abilities to keep up and scared of getting dropped. But before I knew it, I was taking pulls on the bike and getting stronger. And on the run, she gives me a pace goal for speed workouts and although it is anything from comfortable, my marathon times have improved incredibly.

So whether it’s trying to keep up with faster swimmers, riding the scary hills with a bunch of guys, or head popping tempo runs, the important part is to get outside your comfort zone and push your limits of adversity. You'll come out a stronger athlete (and person) with new limits to keep pushing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

IMSG Training Camp - Party of 1

Warning: this post is a lot like looking into my training journal and may be a bit boring. And mentioning my journal makes me think of the part in the movie Bridesmaids when Annie says, “You read my diary?” And the roommate says, “At first I did not know it was your diary... I thought it was a very sad handwritten book.” Anyway, below is the recap from my St. George Training Camp.
When I first decided to race Ironman St. George it was somewhat upon my coach’s recommendation. I was debating over Ironman Texas and IMSG and Coach K urged me to do St. George because it would be a better course for me – referring to the hilly bike course. Since I’m trying to do whatever I can to make this year’s races better than ever, I knew I wanted to make the trip to Southern Utah to check out the Ironman course prior to race day. After a couple lame attempts to convince friends and training partners to join me, I found myself making the trip solo. IMSG Training Camp – party of 1. My friend Aaron from my Hood to Coast team (superfast 2:22 marathoner and winner of the St. George marathon) lives in St. George, so he promised me a running partner and a free place to stay. Done and done.
Day 1 – (travel day - fly from Seattle to Vegas and drive to St. George); 13 mile run and easy swim. I had no problems making the trip and the drive from Vegas to St. G is actually quite scenic. I went for a quick swim at the Sand Hallow Aquatic Center before meeting at Aaron’s house. He showed me the Ironman run course. It’s a 8.5-ish mile route with 4 out and backs that athletes will do three times. The run course has changed this year from the previous two years due to construction. I know the new course isn’t as tough as the old one, but it is by no means “easy,” not that an Ironman run ever will be. The 4 out and backs will be nice to see the other athletes, but it is also 4 gradual down hills and 4 gradual up hills x3. Fun. I actually think it will be comparable to Coeur d’Alene’s run course, so not my biggest worry on race day.
Day 2 – Ride the full Ironman course I started my ride around 9:30 and it was gray, drizzling, and kind of cold (not typical for southern Utah this time of year). Part of the bike course is under construction (it will be finished by race day), so I couldn’t do the full course. I planned to do the Gunlock loop twice, leaving from town and then add on to round out 112 miles. By the time I was 10 miles in I had be rained on and pelleted with hail. But then the sun came out and it was just kind of windy.
My goal for the ride was to check out the course and not worry about speed, so I set my Garmin to hide average speed. I think I was too distracted by the constant climbing and gorgeous views to realize just how slow I was riding. All I know was that it was tough. As the elevation went up and up, my bike confidence went down and down. I definitely had feelings of “Why did I sign up for this race? Maybe going pro isn’t in the cards? I’m going to suck…blah, blah, negative self-talk, blah…” After my second loop, I had covered 93 miles and called it a day. This is very unlike me; I never, NEVER cut a workout short (I’ll circle city blocks and parking lots to get to my planned mileage or workout time). But I was deflated. So I finally looked at my average speed, realized it was my slowest ride in probably 3 years, and called it a day. There was no sense in beating myself up anymore.
Day 3 – 75 mile bike, 1 hour run The bike was so much better on my second try. My quads, glutes, calves, and brain weren’t surprised by all the climbing. I ended up having a much speedier ride on tired muscles, meanwhile keeping my HR around the same pace as the day before. And even better, I was starting to enjoy the course and visualize myself riding it in a more positive light. I hopped off the bike and ran 8 miles at a 7:20 clip, feeling pretty good. That night I was back at the aquatic center for a recovery swim.
Day 4 – 100 mile ride Riding on day 4 felt a lot like riding on day 3. I knew where to attack a hill, when I could recover, and when I had to grind it out for miles and miles over a long, steady climb. By day 4 my body was really feeling it though, so I was happy that I didn’t have a run off the bike. Again, I stopped at the pool for an easy swim that evening.
Day 5 – 50 mile bike, 6 mile run (and travel back to Seattle) I rode the Gunlock loop and then around a couple city blocks in town to round out 50 miles. My speed on day 5 was about like day 3 and day 4, but my HR was really low. I think my body just needed a break and my sore muscles acted as a governor to prevent me from riding above 130bpm. At least I know on race day, I’ll have some added speed from fresh, tapered legs that will push me into anaerobic thresholds. As I started my run, I kept negotiating with myself, “okay only 30 minutes, you still have to pack up your bike. Okay, only 4 miles, okay fine, finish it.” My run started pretty crappy, but I was able to average 7:30s to round out 5 hard workout days. I disassembled my bike, said goodbye to Aaron, and was on the road for the airport.
I’m really glad that I was able to make this trip and check out the bike course. I now know what to expect, how hard I need to work over the next couple months, and a fire in my belly to make that bike course my b**ch (or at least put together a respectable bike split) on race day. I had 5 days filled with sunshine and fresh air. Yes it would have been nice to have training partners on my rides, but sometimes getting out there by yourself and kicking your own butt is just what you need. A lot of people have advised me that if I ever race as a pro, you can expect it to be a very lonely day. So, if I ever do pull the trigger and apply for my pro card, I like to think the past few days were good practice. Also, I think my first day of riding the course taught me a few things about not getting down when things are harder than expected or after getting decked on the first tough ride of the year.
After telling a friend about how crappy I rode and what I was thinking after the first day of biking, she sent me the recent article posted by Chrissie Wellington on CNN.com. In it, Chrissie quotes Mohammed Ali: "Success is not achieved by winning all the time. Real success comes when we rise after we fall. Some mountains are higher than others. Some roads steeper than the next. There are hardships and setbacks but you cannot let them stop you. Even on the steepest road you must not turn back." I thought it was very fitting and timely and a good reminder to press on (in life and in sport) when things start to get tough.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Take this Broken Wing

Awesome swim cap from Sydnie
I heart swimming! 

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am happy to announce that I have fallen in love with swimming. Take this with a grain of (Kailua Bay sea) salt. While I don’t believe swimming will ever be my passion or my strongest discipline, I am over the moon for it at the moment. It’s the best thing that I wake up to several mornings a week. I want to shout this love from the rooftops, kiss my goggles on New Year’s Eve, and take my workouts home to meet my parents.

I had a fall on my mountain bike in November that caused a shoulder strain and impingement that kept me away from normal swim workouts for nearly 2 months. I realize that many athletes are plagued with much longer recovery periods for far more serious injuries, but this break from swimming put me in the dumps. While my friends and teammates were pumping out yardage one holiday themed workout after another, I was putting in a measly 30 minutes of kicking here and there.

Heart cookies for morning Masters
The “off-season” was going to be the time when I could really focus on my swim, move up a lane, and put in yardage of 20k+ a week. I had dreams of Ironman swims closer to an hour (and maybe someday, SOMEDAY! under an hour) and the comments about my poor swim times made by insensitive stronger swimmers would quickly fade away. (For the record, I do get a lot of comments about my swim times, and yes, I realize the writing has been on the wall for some time. But if I was a middle of the pack biker or runner, would anyone give me crap about being a middle of the pack swimmer?? I digress.) As my dreams felt crushed over those two months, I kept the glimmer of hope that things would be okay. During my break from swimming I emailed my friend Sydnie apologizing for being a crankster at the pool and here is her response:

“Being a crankster is perfectly normal!  If you weren’t then something would be wrong with you or you should just give up the sport… It sounds funny, but remember this feeling and how awful/terrible it is and how you would do anything to be normal and healthy again, because it’ll help you get through the 8 days of swimming you will have on your schedule, when you stink of chlorine, your hair is green, your arms are about to fall off and are tired and don’t want to get up in the morning.”
It was like swimming and I had gone through an unexplainable break-up. I’d find myself going through old pictures: my friends and me in our wetsuits, the swim-start at Ironman, and days at the beach. I’d also linger in the hot tub and ask about workouts, just to see what it was up to. And just like Sydnie has consoled through break-ups, bad work days, and sad news, my friend talked me through this one. Sydnie was right and it took me a little time away to realize how much I wanted to get back together with my swimsuit, goggles, and over chlorinated, dismally-lit pool.

While I still have a lot of work to do in the water and although my shoulder still isn't 100%, swimming and I are back together and life is looking a whole lot better. I even moved up a lane at Masters! Some Mr. Mister helped me get through the hard months (not really, but I would get this song in my head everytime I had to explain why I wasn't doing a full workout). Take these broken wings. And learn to fly again. Learn to live so free. When we hear the voices sing, the book of love will open up and let us in. Take this broken wing…and shove it.

Happy Valentine's Day to you all! I hope you spend it doing something you LOVE. I'm spending it with a morning swim, an evening ride up and down some of my favorite hills, and dinner with a few of the other Seattle tri babes. I think the guys from my Tuesday Night Hill ride group are still laughing at how quickly I responded when they asked if I wanted to ride on Valentine's Day. Honestly, I can't think of anything better.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New Bike

Just kidding – new bike fit. But I think this will help improve my bike splits this year.
I have been riding a Cervelo P2C since my first Ironman in 2008. It’s been a great bike and I will shed some tears the day it has to retire. The three-way romance between me, geometry, and aerodynamics have worked (pretty friggin hard) together to put down some respectable bike splits. But since I wanted to up my game this year, I knew it was time to consider making adjustments to become more aggressive on the bike.
One of my friends told me, “Your bike is missing one of the sexiest things of all about tri bikes...drop!”  So I decided to get a proper fitting.
Here is where I was when I started:
Sniff - I miss my tan arms from last summer. Also, my denim burqa was really holding me back.

And here’s where I ended up:

We lowered the stem and moved the seat forward. Lowering the front end caused problems because at the top of my pedal stroke my thigh was basically punching me in the stomach. So to remedy that, I switched out a 170 crank to a 165. It’s a lot more comfortable and has changed my hip angle. I also changed out the seat. For years I prided myself on the fact that I could ride any ole saddle and kept the factory seat on my bikes. But with a new aggressive position, I needed a new saddle, which ended up making a big difference. It now has a more respectable 10cm drop, which in my opinion, makes me look like a more legitimate triathlete.
I debated looking at other bikes this year, but I’m honestly not sure what I want and am happy with my current bike.
Also, fun fact: Tom, who did my bike fit, told me that I have a very “Lance Armstrong type body” referring to the hunchback I have on the bike. Considering Lance’s performance at Panama 70.3 this morning and his 7 TdF titles, that might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Hunchback? Sexy. Awesome.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Busy Season is Getting Real

God Bless you, Seattle
for a weekend of perfect weather.
When I wrote my race report after Coeur d’Alene last summer I quoted Greg LeMond who said, "It never gets easier, you just go faster." I then went on to say, 

“I believe this is true, but I also think it gets a lot harder. Part of me would like to go back to my days of being new to the sport with the delusional naiveté of what it takes to train hard and race well. My workouts this year were much tougher than a year ago, but it’s been really fun to see the improvement and I’m excited to see where I can go from here. It also takes an emotional toll. I feel like I put more heart and guts into every race I do.”

This sentiment lasted through winter and I’m currently finding myself back to 20+ hour training weeks, long bricks, and little social life. Ignore any griping, I’m happy to be back! Ironman St. George is less than 3 months away and like I’ve said nearly a dozen times over the past week - $h!t is getting real. It sure is.

Over the past four years my training began ramping up in March to prepare for a June Ironman. This year the volume increases began in January, which made me start thinking about “busy season,” the 4 months during the fiscal year at a public accounting firm when I rarely saw the light of day. To give a little background, during my senior year at Gonzaga, a doe-eyed, naïve 21-year-old with really bad taste in business wear, began the interview process at public accounting firms. Anyone who has gone through this recruitment process knows that they brainwash you in the form of happy hours, fancy hotel stays, flights into big cities, gourmet meals, and a guaranteed J-O-B when you graduate.

From 2005-2009, I spent 5 busy seasons with a Big 4 firm, KPMG LLP, in Seattle. Although it taught me a lot about time management and professional skills (and some accounting stuff), I’m more than happy to be away from suffocating audit rooms, 10K’s (the SEC financial kind), 60-70+ hour work weeks, and bending over backwards for any client or Partner request (“sure, I’d love to clear your comments all day Sunday”). In 2008 and 2009 when I began training for the longer stuff (i.e. Ironman), busy season was even harder and unhealthy. I’d be at the gym when it opened and when it closed and I’d be eating dinner while doing work from home at 10pm. I was disobeying almost every rule of fueling and recovery. Besides that, I was a total zombie.

Now that I work in a more manageable 40 hour/week accounting gig and my time constraints are a product of Ironman training, I am a much happier and healthier person. Still, I couldn’t help but notice some of the parallels between public accounting and Ironman training:
  • Pen marks on my hands, arms, and face have been replaced with bike grease.
  • The office supplies that I’d lug around in my car during my audit days were swapped out for bike shoes, a bike pump, swimming caps, goggles, swimsuits, fins, a pull buoy, and extra workout clothes just in case.
  • Leaving home at 5:30am and not getting home until 9pm (or later). At least now I leave a workout by 8:30 or 9 rather than an office. And I can promptly tuck myself into bed when I get home.
  • Only spending time with work friends (public accounting)…only spending time with workout friends (Ironman training).
  • In the same week you can eat dinner at the nicest restaurant in town or from a vending machine. Yeah right; this only applies to public accounting. During Ironman training I pretty much eat the same simple meals with an occasional trip to the hot bar at Whole Foods.
  • Your appearance is a downward spiral from Monday to the end of the week. On Monday I apply make-up and sometimes even blow dry my hair. In my public accounting days, I was certainly pushing the limits of business casual by Friday. And now, Sunday after a long workout I’m in sweatpants and an old race t-shirt gearing up for the next week.
  • You plan your wardrobe by what is in the dryer, since it must be clean.
  • Rather than an eye twitch from too much caffeine and not enough sleep, I’ll get a muscle twitch from a good weight session.
  • During Ironman training, I geek out on data files. During busy season I'd geek out (actually more than geek out) on excel files.   
  • I can’t read more than a couple pages at night before passing out.
  • I still speak in acronyms, but instead of AICPA, SEC, PCAOB, I use, DPS, FTP, HR, and IM.
  • I always want to sleep (accounting). I always want to sleep (IM training).
  • I eat at weird hours. I eat at weird hours.
So although I no longer call my mom in tears from working too much, I feel like I’m just a little more emotional (see heart and guts above) than I was a month ago. Even with the running shoes and workout clothes piling up and the bike trainer in my living room, it’s all very exciting. I’m happy I have a lifestyle that allows me to leave work at work and put more energy into other hopes and dreams. I found a quote from Thoreau that said, "Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it." Think about it – do you believe this is true? I really hope that it is.

Happy Trails!