Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Swimming 140.6?

At the Koala Hospital

Waking from a 20-hour nap.

Lunch time!

If the torrential rains continue, it may just come to swimming 140.6! It has been dumping down rain since we arrived in Port Macquarie, mixed with howling winds for good measure. Thank goodness the swim course is in a fairly protected river, because the ocean swell is something to behold! MJ was quite amused when I asked whether this was monsoon season in Australia.

There have been breaks in the storm, and during those times I’ve had a chance to view the incredible beauty of this area. It reminds me of a mix of three places I absolutely love: Hawaii, Idaho and the Big Sur coast. It’s truly stunning and the views on the bike course will do wonders to tamper the frustration of the rain, if it does remain.

One very sad note from our crew: Mike has determined that his injury will prevent him from racing, so he’s returning home today. We’ll certainly miss him, but there’s no doubt he’s made the right decision – and there will be many more successful race days in his future once he’s properly healed.

We had the pleasure of visiting the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie yesterday, where we saw a handful of little cuties being nursed back to health from various injuries and illnesses. The animals wind up in the hospital for a variety of reasons and the volunteer caregivers do everything possible to rehab them for release back to the wild.

I’ll have more to report about the Koala Hospital and other features of the town of Port Macquarie in an upcoming article in Triathlete’s print magazine. I’ll also be blogging more throughout race week - but now it’s time to prep for one more training ride. Wish me luck and dry skies!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Turning Back

A much better way to say "exit."

Mike in a happy travel haze.

Girls giddy from travel.

HPP & MJ - mmmm, meat pies!

Watch for roos!

5:00 am OZ time and I can’t stay in bed any longer. I am, however, feeling much more rested after a rock-solid sleep following the long day of travel. The flight over was reasonably comfortable, plus I had a chance to catch up with friends Tim and Nicole DeBoom en route. Tim looks phenomenally fit and I’m guessing he’ll have a brilliant race. Nicole is bubbly and kind as ever, and will accompany me later this week to the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie to check out one of the unique local attractions. She’ll also serve as cheerleader extraordinaire for all of us, and her smile will be a welcome sight during the race.

Once in Sydney I connected with MJ, HPP and Mike and spent several hours lugging bags about, sampling yummy food and drink (the airport food is actually good here!) and waiting for our next flight. The tiny plane that took us onward to Port Mac was miraculously able to fit all of our bikes, so sighs of relief were widespread. I was seated in back next to the uber-sweet Chrissie Wellington, so we had a fun chat and I enjoyed getting to know her a bit more. She and MJ met for the first time in the boarding area, and immediately gave each other a warm hug – which I thought was particularly classy and a genuine representation of the soul behind our sport.

Immediately upon exiting the rental car lot (and no, I was not driving, but rather slightly panicking at being on the “wrong” side of the road) I saw my first kangaroo crossing sign. No sight of an actual kanga yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Once “home” to our apartment at the Flynns Beach Resort, we went to work taking care of the bare necessities. The guys built up all the bikes (thanks guys!) while MJ and I went shopping for supplies. We also searched in vain for a bike shop that was open on Sunday afternoon, since all four of us neglected to pack a pump. MJ and I drove around town asking anyone we could find for a shop; one gentleman was particularly kind and gave us detailed directions – only problem was that he heard my American “bike shop” as “bait shop” and therefore exuberantly described the best place in town to purchase fish. We didn’t bother correcting him; as MJ put it, he was extremely helpful, just not terribly useful.

Rather than ride on soft tires, we all headed out for a short shake-off-the-travel run. I have to say I’ve never in my life felt worse running. I mean it was pure hell. Immediately my lungs started burning and I was wheezing as though in the grips of an asthma attack. That passed after about five minutes, and after I slowed to a barely moving jog. MJ and HPP trotted on ahead, and poor Mike turned back after just a few steps. He’s dealing with an undetermined injury which hopefully is only a shin splint and won’t prevent him from racing – but his first attempt to run in over a week proved quite discouraging.

I ran (if you can call it that) for 30 minutes, losing confidence with every step. I felt heavy, bloated, sluggish and sore (my Achilles has been nagging me for some time, and it was particularly irritated yesterday). I didn’t expect to feel great, following on the heels of international travel, but I certainly didn’t expect to feel that awful. But on the bright side, it can truly only get better from here!

The rest of the evening was spent in a groggy haze. MJ and I cooked dinner and everyone tried to stay awake long enough to synch into a normal routine, but I was the first to climb into bed at 8:00pm. I feel much improved this morning, and imagine that after our morning swim, afternoon ride and one more thick night’s sleep I’ll be perfectly adjusted to the Aussie clock, and my fitness and confidence will emerge from hiding.

Did I mention that it’s raining? Dumping, pouring rain in fact. The 10-day forecast looks pretty gloomy, and we can only hope that the storms pass prior to Sunday. But ultimately, whatever the day brings, we’ll all be out in it together. What will be, will be!

Up and Away

I’m writing this seven hours into my flight to OZ. After sleeping lightly through the night, I was inspired to roust myself with a cup of really poor coffee. It’s dark outside and it seems we may be flying through the black of night for most of the entire fourteen hours, as we land in Sydney at 7:00am local time. I only wish my coffee could be so dark.

I am kept awake more by the excitement of the journey. After much anticipation, the time has finally arrived, and I am ready to relax, relish the moments and enjoy every aspect. I am amused by the number of people who, when told I am traveling to Australia for vacation and to race an Ironman, can’t fathom the connection between the two events. This is definitely my kind of vacation – one which involves international travel, time spent with dear friends and –oh yeah – one helluva long workout in the mix. I learned from my first Ironman experience (New Zealand 2005) that it’s well worth encompassing the race into a grander plan of travel and adventure. Whatever happens on race day becomes slightly less important, given that there are so many aspects to the trip to add to the enjoyment and allure.

I may sound a bit nonchalant at the moment, but don’t get me wrong – I do have a dream goal in mind for the race, and of course I would love to have a brilliant day on the course. But the challenge for the next week is to try my best not to focus on time splits and rankings and to simply enjoy every drop of this experience. It’s far too easy to get caught up in tri-talk about past PR’s and future goals, and to become attached to a projected outcome for the race. If I think of all the people I know who’ve ever raced Ironman events, and how rarely their exact expectations have come to fruition, it’s a small number indeed.

It’s also far too easy to second-guess my fitness at this point – to wonder if I should have spent more time in the pool, more time focused on my cycling cadence, more time in the weight room. And where are those six-pack abs I promised myself? The fact is, given the demands of an adult life, it’s near impossible to fit in every hour of training that I would embrace if I had the luxury of absolute free time. But I don’t, and that’s ok. I’ve done all that I possibly could have, I’ve trained harder and more specifically than I have for races in the past, and I now have the fitness that I will have on race day, for better or for worse. There’s nothing I can do physically in the final week to enhance this fitness aside from rest up in a big way.

Mentally, however, I still have some training to do. Now is the time to really hone in on what it takes to stay focused for an all-day event. It’s a chance to visualize the course, from the heart-thumping mass swim start, through the post-swim-shakiness of T1, over three laps and three rather significant climbs on the bike, through the flurry and relief of T2, three laps again on the run-course and ultimately those emotional final strides down the finish chute. And more than anything, it’s time to practice throwing my time goals out the window, getting the numbers out of my head and focusing on this goal above all else – to listen to my body on race day; to trust it to take me places far and fast and strong; to push harder than I ever have, balanced against pace and distance; to give it my all, revel in it all, enjoy it all. I mean why else would I do this?

Test vs. Truth - Week 13

Now we’re talking taper. Finally I am able to reap the rewards of all the hard work and pretty much chill out. Of course, it’s always a challenge to sit on my duff and feel my fitness fade away (refer back to this post for more on my disdain for tapering), but I know it’s merely a false sense of softness, my body taking advantage of this phase in training to quiet down, rest and prepare for the big day. Plus, there has been so much else to do to get ready for this trip – bags to pack, work to complete, logistics to sort out, loose ends to tie up, doggie care to coordinate – that in some ways its been more exhausting than a full week of training. MJ knew I would be heading into this final week fairly run-down and overwhelmed – which is why she nixed one additional swim workout and strongly suggested a full day of rest. I was about to query her with the same suggestion, so I was thrilled and relieved to know we were on the same page.

Looking back at the past several weeks, I’m pleased to note that I’ve followed coach MJ’s instructions exactly. Here’s what happened in week #13:

Swim workouts – masters x 2

Bike workouts – 1:30, :60 (easy spin on trainer), 2:00

Run workouts – :60 (intervals), :60

Plus one luxurious complete day off!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Test vs. Truth - Week 12

The email from MJ containing my final few weeks’ training plan led with the subject “ALMOST DONE.” And it’s true, the long hard miles are behind me, and now is the time to finish up, fine tune, stay healthy and revel in all that I’ve accomplished thus far. I do believe that getting to the start line of an Ironman is possibly the hardest part - and I’m almost there. It’s particularly cool, in a weird way, when a four-hour workout feels short.

Swim workouts – masters x 4

Bike workouts – 2:00, 1:30, 3:30 + :30 T-run, :60 (easy spin on trainer)

Run workouts – :70 (intervals), :40, :60, 1:45

Hopes, Dreams, Desires – Goals?

When you train for an Ironman, everyone and their mother asks your projected goal time. The thing is, one of the greatest challenges about the whole training and racing process is to try NOT to get attached to a specific outcome. One out of my three previous Ironman races was slightly less enjoyable than the others, and I know it’s because I was too focused on my time. When I got out of the water after a particularly cold & challenging swim, I was cranky because my perfect plan for the day was already shot. Let me tell you, that is no way to feel only one hour into a twelve hour event! When I talked to MJ after the race, she said she always laughs when people pinpoint their projected time – because it’s an Ironman and so much of anything can happen to derail that perfect plan. MJ embraces the attitude that in an Ironman, the goal is to finish - anything else is pure bonus. This, from one of the most accomplished and competitive triathletes the sport will ever know.

So instead of posting a time goal, I’m going to share my hopes, dreams and desires for this race, and for any Ironman that I ever undertake. In no specific order, here they are:

• Get to the start.
• Get to the finish.
• Better my own best time.
• Set a new swim PR – I promised Nick and Natalie from CTS that I’d bake them a huge batch of cookies, should I improve my swim time using the technique tips they taught me. I haven’t baked in years, so that would be fun!
• Smile for the camera – just one decent finish line photo would be nice!
• Smile more than I wince throughout the day.
• Run a kickass marathon. Unlike most triathletes, I look forward to the final leg of the race – so I hope to feel strong when I get there and enjoy every stride.
• Remember the words of support, motivation and humor from my friends, family & fellow athletes when I need them most – it’s amazing how those little phrases pop into my head, mantra-like, during the long hours.
• Have the strength to push beyond my expectations during the high points and to pull myself out of the low points of the guaranteed roller coaster of race day.
• Remain coherent enough to continue thanking the volunteers throughout the day, even/especially through the last miles of the run.
• Make the top-five podium in my age group in an Ironman race. That, I think, would be way cool.
• Someday, some way, gain entry into Kona. I don’t care if it’s through qualification, lottery selection or some other divine act – I just want to do that race once.
• Forget about all these goals during the race and simply swim, bike and run my heart out, to the best of my ability on that particular day.
• Make MJ proud.

Of course, I know that MJ is proud of me already – for all the training and hard work I’ve done - and she’ll be prouder still when, if all goes well, I reach the finish in Port Mac. But I feel a certain extra drive this time around, which I’m sure is a very common component of any athlete/coach relationship. I want to show her how much she has helped me improve.

MJ has helped me in so many ways this year, only a portion of which relates to triathlon. She’s been an incredible friend, support, confidante, travel buddy, home-away-from-home, shoulder to cry on, fashion consultant, girlfriend to LOL with - a BFF in every way. And of course her training and racing mentorship has been invaluable. I can’t wait to get out there and test myself, and also to race at the same time as MJ, crossing paths on the 3-lap bike and run course and sharing words of encouragement – hopefully giving back to her some of the same support she’s provided. It’s stacking up to be an exciting day, with a competitive women’s field and MJ as the home-country favorite. I’ll be cheering like mad for my coach and friend. Go MJ!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Test vs. Truth – Week 11

This week I’ve started to get a wee little bit stressed out. I’m feeling the load of a massive to-do list. Work, final training, travel prep and general life responsibilities are making my mind whirl and my sleep less than solid. I’m not feeling as rested as I would like, and thus everything I attempt has an added degree of challenge. It’s no wonder that my self-confidence is slightly cracking. Am I really ready for this? Have I trained hard enough, long enough, fast enough, specifically enough? What will race day bring? Will I feel energized and strong on Sunday the 5th? Will I successfully embrace the highs and combat the lows? Will I remember to have fun?

I know that somehow everything will come together smoothly, and that race day will bring what it brings. And I know that whatever it does bring, I’ll be thrilled to be there in the thick of things. Right now I just have to continue focusing on my to-do list and counting the days until I board that plane.

Swim workouts – masters x 3

Bike workouts – :60 (trainer spin), 2:00, 1:30, 4:00 + :60 T-run

Run workouts – :60, 2:00 (remember, I also had an additional 2:30/:30 double run, bumped from last Sunday to Monday due to last Saturday’s mini-Ironman)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Bad Case of PD

I’ve got it bad – an unfortunate condition I refer to as Packing Disorder. PD is characterized by a complete and utter inability to pack light for any sort of trip. You’d think, with the amount that I travel, I’d have my bag streamlined down to a simple carry-on, a collection of mix-and-match apparel and tiny toiletries. But this is most definitely not the case! Instead, I find myself pulling out the scale prior to every flight, making sure my bag is just below the 50-lb standard limit. Without fail, it weighs in at 49.5.

I oftentimes wonder what is wrong with me. Why do I struggle so profoundly with the most minor of challenges: choosing what to take and, more importantly, what to omit? You see, I like to have options. I mean is it honestly reasonable to expect me to know, today, what I’m going to feel like wearing this weekend? There are far too many variables at work. The weather, of course, is unpredictable. My plans might shift, and I could end up in a dive bar rather than seated for a four-course meal. I always need a selection of cozy clothes for lounging in the hotel or a friend’s house, plus I can’t forget my workout gear – that alone sometimes requires an entire suitcase. And the greatest variable of all – how will a specific outfit look and feel on any given day?

Don’t pretend you can’t relate – I know I’m not alone in thinking that my body, and therefore the way my clothes fit on my body, changes almost daily. As does my mood, my fashion sense, my not-so-signature style. I swear, if there was ever a fire in my house, I’d wind up a burned effigy in front of the closet door, stuck trying to decide between flap-pocket-boot-cut-jeans or low-rise capris for my dramatic escape.

The point being, I’m beginning to get a little bit stressed about the impending pack job for my journey down under. With weight restrictions for our in-country flight, I need to pare it down to one checked bag plus my bike. Normally I would take two bags – one full of swim-bike-run training, race and recovery gear; the other filled with fashion apparel. And shoes – oh god, my shoes! I already have to allocate valuable space to bike and run footwear. Where on earth will I fit my mules, wedges and flip-flops?

There is a part of me, however, that is weirdly excited to step up to the challenge of minimizing my load. After all, what’s really wrong with wearing the same jeans to every occasion? Two or three tops, a pair of shorts, a bikini (ok, maybe two bikinis) and a warm hoodie and I should be just fine. I’m sure they have laundry facilities in Australia. I’ll also be traveling with two women (MJ and twin Gabby) who would gladly lend me anything I’m missing – however the fact that they are half my size and twice my height makes sharing near impossible. Of course, in the back of my mind I’m also holding tight to a bit of insight that MJ gave me: the less I bring, the more I can buy. That touches on another of my afflictions, compulsive shopping – but I’ll let that one lie for the time being!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Test vs. Truth – Week 10

Chris, Lance, Tracy, Nick and me

Tri-camp final dinner: John, Gale, Warren, Natalie, Tracy, me, Nick

A well-earned (and shared) dessert.

Proof positive that I broke down my own bike!

Last week was a bit of a departure from my regular training routine, due to being at camp.
However, all told the workouts were a fairly close approximation to what I would have done on my own.

The sum total Monday through Thursday:

Swim workouts – 1x easy, 1x stroke drill workout, 1x distance workout with field test

Bike workouts – 2:30 with field test, 1:30 recovery, 3:00 with 2x bike/run speed bricks

Run workouts – 1:00 with field test, :45 recovery

Weight training – I’m done with weights until after Ironman, though I’ll try my best to schedule time for ab work and stretching.

Friday was a complete day off. I was tempted to swim, but was swiftly shut down by MJ, who had the foresight to suggest that I would need to rest up for Saturday. MJ never tells me outright not to do something; she simply says, “I would rather you ______,” kindly conveying the fact that I’d be an idiot not to listen. There is much to be said for the wisdom of experience and the guidance of a caring friend.

I stayed in Tucson on Saturday in order to complete my final monster workout in the dry desert warmth. It looked a little something like this:

4k swim, followed by 5:00 bike (much of it at race pace), followed by 1:00 T-run. Pretty much an Iron-mini-man!

Not surprisingly, Sunday was an additional day of rest and an opportunity to travel back home, unpack, wash a week’s worth of laundry and gear up for Monday morning’s pre-work run. The run was 2:30, and thanks to Daylight Savings I spent the entire first hour in the dark, a Mini Maglite brightening the way. The final kicker was a second :30 run in the afternoon.

All in all, a pretty wonderful week!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Swimming Downhill

I was asked by a reader to provide some of the swim tips to help raise one’s hips in the water, so here they are. Remember, I’m no expert – just passing along a few of the tidbits I learned at camp.

1) Look straight down at the bottom of the pool. Many people swim with their heads too high out of the water, but if you look down, the rear of your body tends to lift up.
2) Imagine that you’re pressing your chest toward the bottom of the pool. Same result as above.
3) Tilt your pelvis slightly forward. Again, it gets that booty up in the air.
4) Imagine pressing your belly button toward your spine. This also helps to engage your abs.
5) Tighten your bottom – and feel it rise up.
6) And my favorite, imagine yourself “swimming downhill.” Just thinking about it makes me swim faster. Thanks to Coach Natalie for this one.

Now obviously, if you tried to do all of these simultaneously, you’d likely stop swimming altogether due to over-concentration! And most certainly not all of these tips will make sense to you. So pick one or two that do resonate, and give it a try – your butt will be breaching in no time!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I’m Sinking!

The two things I learned from my swim stroke video analysis are:

1) I swim like a windmill – meaning I do not bend my arms at the elbows whatsoever when I’m pulling through the water.
2) My hips sink when I swim. My entire body is pretty much at a 45 degree angle with the surface of the water.

For those of you who are not swimmers, let me clarify: neither of these is a good thing! In fact, they both impede smooth and swift forward progress. It’s amazing to have spent years swimming and never had these two significant flaws brought to me attention. There’s really only so much one can see from above water, but the underwater video tells all. I can easily understand why some people watch their videos and proclaim, “That’s not me!” But there I was, in my unmistakable black and pink TYR suit, going nowhere fast.

The good news is that Coach Nick says if I can improve just those two things, I will swim noticeably faster. We’re headed to the pool this afternoon for a workout, so I’m eager to apply my new knowledge and crush my previous PR!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Not Exactly Cheating…

Prepping the bikes at CTS Tucson.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a Carmichael Training Systems triathlon camp in Tucson this week. So with MJ’s blessing, I packed my gear and headed to the desert to learn a thing or two from the CTS coaches. Don’t get me wrong – MJ is still my main gal. But a chance like this is not to be missed. And if MJ has taught me anything thus far, it’s that opening my “veteran” triathlon mind to new experiences and new methods of learning and training is critical to improvement.

I’m writing this from beautiful, hot and DRY Tucson, a training Mecca for endurance athletes. Yesterday morning at camp we focused on cycling, with a PowerTap accompanied field test to help determine our training zones. The afternoon was spent in the pool, learning a variety of drills to enhance our performance and being individually video taped to analyze our stroke mechanics. We’ll go over the results of these tests today in individual meetings with the coaches, following our morning endurance run and field test. I have always wanted to see my stroke on video, as it’s the weakest link in my multi-sport trifecta. I’ve had some great feedback already this season from Hux, the masters coach in San Diego, and I’ve tried to incorporate his suggestions into my swim. But without seeing myself in action, it’s difficult to know what I’m truly doing both above and below the water.

Just for the sake of humor, Coach Nick also videotaped a length of my butterfly stroke. I think that when done properly, fly is a thing of beauty to behold – rippling muscles slicing through the water with dolphin-smooth power and grace - and I’ve always been curious to see how far off I am from that beauty mark! Nick’s immediate comment when I emerged at the far end of the lane, breathless from my effort? “I’ve seen worse.” Perhaps there is hope for me after all!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Test vs. Truth - Week 9

The view from my ride.

Last weekend brought a much needed break in the rain, and I followed suit by taking a break from Berkeley. I slipped out of town and down to Santa Cruz for a weekend of training in my old stomping grounds. It was such a pleasure to ride up and down the California coast that I barely noticed the 6.5 hours I spent in the saddle. In fact, my entire week was a success, as I completed all of my training according to plan.

The week ahead also promises some inspirational new scenery. I traveled today to a top secret training location in the desert – top secret, that is, until I blog all about it in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Swim workouts – masters 2x

Bike workouts – 2:00 intervals, 1:30, 6:30

Run workouts – :60am / :30pm, :40, 2:00am / :30pm

Weight training – 2x

I'm Shrinking!

Of course you would never know it based on how much I eat. The other day I was in Trader Joe’s, and I noticed an obviously single guy (frozen pizza, six-pack, gallon of whole milk) giving me a flirtatious glance. That is, until his glance scanned the length of my grocery cart, overflowing with cereal, bread, broccoli, fruit, turkey, cheese, legumes, juice, eggs, peanut butter, pasta, yogurt - enough food for a family of five, which was most certainly a turnoff to the grocery-aisle-Casanova.

I’m at the point in my training where I tangibly notice my body burning its fuel. Where the effort I exert makes a direct connection with the calories I consume. Where every hour I’m ready for another snack. My metabolism is charged, my fridge is full and I feel fit!