Mental Toughness

As important as your athletic training is your Mental Toughness.  There’s considerable debate and discussion surrounding this topic, but the term is one that I can really connect with.

A study from Penn State University resulted in the following definition:  Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:  Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer.  Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure.

Here are a few links to other perspectives on Mental Toughness:

The NAVY Way:  http://www.mentalgamecoach.com/articles/MentalToughnessTheNavyWay.html

Penn State:  http://www.mascsa.psu.edu/dave/Mental-Toughness.pdf

Livestrong: http://www.livestrong.com/article/152407-mental-toughness-secrets/

Off Season Focus

Once training resumed I did as @CoachCary suggested.  I focused on two things:

1)      Becoming STRONGER with the help of my new strength trainer Barrie at FORZA fitness and performance center.  Barrie is USAT TRI Coach and Iron distance triathlete who also specializes in strength training for triathletes.

2)      Becoming faster, specifically RUNNING faster – this required focus on dynamic stretching prior to running, refining my running technique, hill intervals and speed intervals or Fartleks.

Previously I had not given strength training the attention that it needed.  While I lifted weights I did not put the energy into my strength training that I did into my Swim, Bike, Run.  That needed to change and I started to strength train “like I meant it”.  The dividends paid back pretty quickly.  With Barrie’s workouts and coaching I quickly started to notice an improvement in not only my strength but also my balance, my coordination and my muscle definition.

My running program included a higher percentage of my “training pie” allocated to the run.  Prior to each training session I logged time doing dynamic stretches which are basically moving stretches things like “soldier legs”, “butt kicks”, “high knees”, “skipping” etc.  All intended to get your muscles loosened up prior to starting the actual run.

Over the next few months my allocation of training time spent on running was 35% and strength training/cross-training was 20% — 55% of my total training was dedicated to those two elements with remainder obviously assigned to swim and bike.

I also competed in a few of road races over the off season to keep be comfortable with race events.  These included:

The Stride – a 10K fund raiser for Littleton Public Schools.  A fun family oriented event with guys #1 & #2 running in the 5K and me running with my friends Nico and Erin in the 10K.  This was my first time running any race longer than a 5K.  Nico being a runner and ultra marathon pacer did me the favor being my pacer; having a pacer helps SO much!

Christmas Carole Classic – this fund raiser 5K in December included several of my TRI buddies.  It was a fun event in that we all went out for brunch afterwards but the run itself was brutal.  Running “fast” when it’s below freezing outside does NOT feel good.  Actually it feels pretty darn horrible and I decided NOT to do that again.

Runnin’ of the Green – this 7K St Patty’s Day event also included some friends and training buddies.  This event is huge…as in TOO many people (~5,000) done and off the list for future events.

Cherry Creek Sneak – 2012 was the 30th anniversary of the Cherry Creek Sneak but the inaugural for the 10 mile.  This was the first time I had raced in a longer distance running event.  This run was also important in that it was a gauge of my ability to run 13.1, which coincidentally is the distance for the run distance of a 70.3 long course event.

Nico and Heather ran the ten miles with me with Nico pacing us and taking photos…it was great!

Reflection Time

After the completion of Harvest Moon relay, it was time to reflect on my first Triathlon “season” and contemplate what I wanted to pursue going forward.

Also, I was ready for a break.  I’d trained hard since registering for the Ft Collins Club Sprint event which meant 9 months of focused triathlon training.  Now, the amount of time I committed to training on a weekly basis, generally 10-12 hours, didn’t come close to what Ironman level athletes deliver week after week.  But, in my own humble way I had put considerable time and effort into my swim, bike, run.  I didn’t want to burn out and…more importantly I didn’t want to lose the support of my personal fan club (guys #1 (Husband) and #2 (Son)).  Striving for a reasonable balance between training-family-work is tough!

In 2012, I would “age up” and coincententially become eligible for AARPaaargh!  That really conjures up a visual that is SO contrary to Triathlon.   Yes, I would be competing in the 50-54 age group… OUCH!  But on the bright side, I would be the youngest in that age-group and hopefully being youngest would provide at least some small advantage.

Reviewing my 2011 season results highlighted a glaring weak spot and an opportunity for improvement.  My area of focus during the off season…would be my run.  To highlight how weak my run was in comparison to swim and bike, my results included:

  • SheRox (out of ~300 participants) – Swim (8%), Bike (5%), Run (38%)
  • TRI for the Cure (out of ~2500 participants) – Swim (6%), Bike (2%), Run (31%)

Also Lance Armstrong has been heard to say “Ride for Show, Run for Dough”, my Run wasn’t gonna win me any dough.  Yes, there was a clear area of focus for my winter training.  It would be running.

But, before embarking on more training, @CoachCary recommended I take a break from structured training and focus on flexible “workouts”.  For about a month my www.TrainingPeaks.com training calendar was left blank.  Going back to just “working-out” was an adjustment.  I had become so use to living by my training calendar.  While I missed the structure in my life that the training calendar provided, I also felt that my body (and mind) and family were benefiting from my resting.  Cary assured me that I’d come back better and stronger…and hopefully faster if I took a break.  So I followed my coach’s guidance.  Rest was at the top of my training plan!

Harvest Moon – Long Course Relay

Three personal triathlon events was my limit for 2011, my inaugural triathlon season.  But, I was able to convince two friends to join me in a relay at the Harvest Moon long course event in early September.  While not an Ironman branded event, Harvest Moon is the equivalent distance to a 70.3 Ironman race.  Brock swam, I rode and Chrissy ran.

Leaving everything on the road, so-to-speak, I could barely stand up at the completion of the 56 mile windy course of rolling hills out on The Plains of Colorado.  Also, I realized that I foolishly had not taken nutrition into consideration and had not eaten anything during my 3 hour bike ride.  As many say, nutrition is the 4th discipline in triathlon and it was one that I had completely ignored other than my pre-race breakfast. I will not make that mistake again!  It was a fun day and tee-d up the idea of possibly completing Harvest Moon in 2012 as an individual competitor.

 

TRI for the Cure – Sprint Triathlon

Next up was TRI for the Cure a Sprint distance triathlon held each August in Cherry Creek reservoir.  Three friends registered for TRI for the Cure and for all three this was their 1st triathlon experience.  Anne, Heather and Christine joined me in training for the event and all three finished, proud and strong…well done ladies!

As you may be aware, TRI for the Cure is dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer programs.  It is a big event with approximately 2,500 registrants and it is exceptionally well-organized.

My training and race prep continued but my persisting leg injury hampered by ability to focus on the running aspect of my training and race.  The dreaded up hill run on the Cherry Creek dam road was tough.  Still I was pleased with my results and finished in the top 5% overall.  In 2012, I plan on supporting the event as a volunteer “swim buddy”.

 

SheRox – Sprint Triathlon

My 2nd triathlon, SheRox was in early July. This Sprint distance event included a ½ mile open water swim in the fresh, clear waters of Aurora Reservoir.  Erin and Heather also competed in that event with their boyfriends and family cheering them on just like my guys #1 and #2 did for me.  While I was working through a bit of a tweaked leg which resulted in a less than lightening fast run split, but my time overall was respectable putting me at 6th place in my age group (out of 34 women).

Training Buddies

One of the things I immediately found compelling about triathlon was the camaraderie that comes with the TRI community and the friendships that can form around common training, events and goals.  No doubt that training and completing events with friends makes it that much more fun!

I was fortunate in that I had a number of friends that trained with me and some that also opted into events.  Special call outs to @KirkMac for your support, encouragement and training advance.  Bernie for “going breathless” at CAC spin classes.  Anne, Beth and Erin for joining me on those early morning runs and Heather for open water swim practices and later season training.

Erin and her sister Heather are natural born athletes who have competed in triathlon for several years.  Training with folks that are experienced, younger, stronger and faster than you is a great way to take your game to the next level.   Also, at least for me, creating a core group of committed training partners helps ensure that you stick to your training calendar.

Training and participating in events as a “lone ranger” may work for some but I enjoy traveling the road with other like minded athletes (still feels weird calling myself that).

Open Water Swimming

My first triathlon season, the summer of 2011, included two other Sprint distance events:  SheRox and TRI for the Cure as well as the bike leg of a long course event called Harvest Moon.

The swim portion of SheRox and TRI for the Cure both include ½ mile of open water swimming.  This introduced a new, and unfamiliar, element to my triathlon training and racing.  By this point, I was becoming increasingly comfortable with my reconnection with swimming, in a pool.  Lane ropes, chlorine, 25 yards/meters with nicely defined markings on the bottom and clear water so you can see where you’re going. I could do that.  Open water swimming, was not in my wheelhouse (yet).

Open water swimming also introduced the need (or want) of another expenditure, a wetsuit.  I’ve heard stats that wearing a wetsuit makes you 10% faster.  Perfect, I’ll take that, but more importantly it allows you not to get hypothermia while swimming in a lake.  Of course, you can find a wetsuit at various prices.  Last year’s model, rental suit sales and formerly owned suits are all an option.  There are also different levels of wetsuits available which also directly influence the price point. I did my research, discussed with my coach and spoke to #1 guy (Keith).  The question was how many wetsuits do I expect to purchase?  The answer was, ONE.  Guy #1 then said get what you think is the best…Thank You, I was sold!  The suit I wanted was a BlueSeventy http://blueseventy.com/ Helix.  The Helix was flexible, fast, cool looking and…expensive.  It seemed, based upon my “in-depth” (not really) research that real swimmers wore BlueSeventy more than the other brands.  Cha-ching, hear that sound?  It’s the cash register ringing up with the purchase of one BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit. Done!

 

Getting familiar with the technique of swimming and racing in a lake (maybe in the future even in the ocean) was something I need to wrap my head around.  I signed up for an open water swim clinic lead by Melissa Mantak, 2010 USAT National Coach of the Year held at Grant Lake in Littleton, Colorado.

It was absolutely time and money well spent.  She talked about a whole gamut of helpful topics including:  how to put on the wetsuit, taking off the wetsuit quickly in T1, the importance of sighting while swimming so you don’t go off course, where to position yourself in a wave start and much more.  Then we got in the water and swam a half mile course.  This clinic immediately allowed me to improve my confidence with open water swimming and feel much more comfortable with the idea of racing in a wetsuit.  I, or rather Cary, then added open water training to training calendar.

Bucket List or More?

When I made the decision to embrace the challenge of pursuing my first triathlon, I didn’t know if it would be a bucket list thing, a lifestyle thing or something that I was just darn glad was over and done with.  Frankly, I was surprised maybe even a little shocked by how I physically felt when I crossed that finish line.  It was seriously nothing short of AMAZING.  I was exhausted, elated, proud and relieved.  I truly felt connected to my physical self—alive, vital, strong.  Maybe this is the healthy version of how meth or heroin addicts feel but I knew then that I wanted more of that feeling and that my 1st TRI would not be my last.  And, so began my pursuit and passion for training, competing and connecting into the triathlon experience.  With Ryan calling “Triathlon Momma“.

Race Day! 1st Triathlon

The day of my first triathlon had arrived, it was May 15, 2011.

@CoachCary had also previously given me input on what and when to eat on the morning of the race.  This is what I did, the key being DO NOT eat anything new on race day.  Only eat those things you know your body likes that do not cause bloating.  Alarm set for 4:00 a.m., I got up at 3:45 a.m., no alarm needed. I drank about a liter of a blend of Gatorade and Electrolyte enhanced water.  I ate Oatmeal with bananas and toast with peanut butter and honey.  In all, I ate about 700 calories.  I stopped eating no less than 2 hours before the start of the race.  I allowed enough time to go potty; that is important.  You do not want to deal with an endurance race if you haven’t had your morning bathroom routine; if you know what I mean.  I stopped drinking volumes of liquid 1 hour before the start of the race.

It was drizzling and cold.  I packed variations of gear, all of which I had tested before as the rule is NEVER test anything new on race day.  I was prepared.

The transition area opened at 5:30 a.m., I was there.  I picked my spot, racked my bike and setup my stuff.  I then mentally, walked through the different parts of the race such as exit door from Pool into transition area, Bike Start, Bike Finish, Run Start, Finish!

Cary had suggested I do a warm-up swim.  As always, I followed the advice of my coach.  I swam about 150 yards in the warm-up pool.  We then lined up based upon our estimated swim time which we provided at the time of registration.  And, one-by-one swimmers were started about 5 seconds apart to begin the snake swim in the EPIC pool.  Getting close to my turn I was excited, I was nervous but I knew I was ready.  The starter asked, “Are you ready?”  Yes! 3-2-1 GO!

As I swam through my 450 yards, I did as Cary suggested if had doubt…and, sure enough about 200 yards into my swim.  Thoughts like “I’m tired already”, “how can I do this?” etc. started to bombard me.  And I used those words from Cary’s pre-race email; in a conversation with myself, in my head, “you’ve trained hard, you’re ready, you WILL do well”.  And, guess what, it made a different!  It erased that lingering doubt and I swam full force to the end of the swim portion.  Adrenaline was pouring through me at full force! Scary photos are proof of this fact: 

Exiting the pool the outdoor temp was 37 degrees.  I pulled on my bike jacket, put on my helmet, bike gloves and ran with my bike toward the Bike Start…oops, forgot my race number and back I went to collect that key item.  Once on the road I realized that while it was wet it wasn’t icy.  Still being a rookie cyclist I was cautious as was necessary.  I remembered the tips from Joe V at Giant cycles.  I soon realized that I was passing more people than people passing me.  Three laps of the circuit would complete the 12 mile bike leg.  Seeing my guys and hearing them cheer me on with each completed loop with little guy yelling “Go Momma, Go!” (hence the name of my website being Triathlon Momma) was a thrill and it did make me go faster, I think.  Off of the bike and running Zen into T2. After I re-racked Zen then helmet off, bike shoes off, bike gloves off, running shoes on, bike jacket off, running jacket on, running hat on.

I was off and running!  Running after biking feels weird, especially after a longer ride, which is for a later post, but even after a 12 mile bike ride you are not running on “fresh legs”.   Your feet and legs are not moving in fluid motion but after about 5 minutes or so things start to loosen up.  Each mile is marked, and I swear that the first mile is actually 2-3 times further than that.  It seriously seems that the first mile takes FOREVER, mile two and three seem better.  My run was uneventful and while I was exhausted by the time that I saw the finish line ahead, I was thrilled.  As I pressed forward and crossed the finish and timer chip was removed.  I saw my guys and heard my time.  My goal from Cary was 1:30 and I had finished with a time of 1:21.  My goal of finishing, finishing strong and finishing fast was achieved.  The fast part is all relative, but for a former FAT girl, first time age-grouper triathlete in her late forties my time was good as it earned me a 2nd place.

Pre-race Prep

The day before the race, we all attended a pre-race meeting at Ft Collins Club, they handed out our timing chips, walked through the logistics of the event, the rules.  They outlined where the transition area would be set up, the snake swim, the aid stations and post race gathering and awards.  Rules, which as is typical included: bike helmet required, no music during the event, meaning keep those plugs out of your ears or you will be disqualified; pass only on the left during the bike portion and announce “on your left” to the person you’re passing.  They also mentioned that the event would only proceed if they felt the weather allowed for a safe event, which at that point was a big unknown.

The night before the race my little group of aspiring triathletes gathered for dinner…guess what we ate?  Pasta, yep, pasta the carbs were in full force. 

It was a cozy and happy little gathering but the conversation also turned to the weather.  Snow, freezing rain was in forecast.  We worried about if the event would be cancelled.  And, if not cancelled would it be safe for us novice triathletes to continue on?

That night I also got a final good luck email from Coach Cary where she gave me final tips and words of encouragement.  She had said, if you have self-doubt during the race just remember this and tell yourself, “you trained hard, you are ready, you will do well.”  Nice!

Taper Week

Time marches on quite quickly when the starting line is staring you in the face and before you know it we were in early May 2011.

Heading into the week of the race was “taper” time or winding down the intensity and duration of the training to allow for recovery.  This is a little difficult as by this time you’re fully amped up on training endorphins and taking what seems like a break is uncomfortable.  You wonder: Will it make you slower? Will you lose your endurance?  Will you lose your mind?  True, you become ingrained in and dependent upon the routine of burning serious energy and how that makes you feel.  Also, your nutrition leading into the race is slightly different, higher in carbs and higher in fluids.  The term carb loading is maybe over used but the carbs, or grains do provide fuel that takes longer to burn and is beneficial for endurance racing.  It just isn’t carb loading meaning the meal before the race.

Denver area weather, is as its reputation, includes severe weather fluctuations.  Mid May you’d think sunny, blue skies etc..  Yes, that was true early in the week of the race but as the week wore on it became clear that Sunday, May 15th would not be an idyllic spring day.