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.

T1 – Training

Transitions, now that’s an interesting thing to contemplate and practice.  Transitions or as otherwise known T1, which is your transition from swim to biking and T2 which is from biking to running, count toward your overall event time and so your goal is to minimize your transition times as much as possible.  The question is how to practice those unless you’ve been through a TRI before?  Well, nutty competitive folks like me might actually put out their transition towel which is intended to hold all the gadgets and gear you need for the second and third leg of your TRI. Namely, stuff like: bike helmet, bike shoes, socks, running shoes, sun glasses etc…on their bathroom floor, jump into the shower with their TRI suit on and once soaking wet jump out of the shower and attempt to race through as quickly as possible (while water is pouring onto your bathroom floor) your T1 process.  Yep, crazy but true.  Did it help my T1 time?  I’m not sure, but in my head I’d at least been through the routine before.

Gear!

Ask any Triathlete and they will tell you that triathlon is NOT an inexpensive sport.  I’m sure you can get by on a minimum budget.  But for folks that like gear, gear that is intended you make you look great and/or compete better or maybe, I suppose in some cases, both, you can drop some serious cash.  Tri suit, check, sun glasses, check, bike gloves, check, bike shoes, check, running shoes, check, running hat, check, sports nutrition, check.  Can’t you just hear that credit card machine churning out receipts?  It did and it still does…I am a self professed gear junkie.

credit card machine

Swim, Bike, Run

My first lap swim was interesting.  In my days as a swimmer I would compete in the 500 yard freestyle which is 20 lengths of the pool.  So I thought, I’ll just swim a nice easy 500, of note is the fact that the swim portion of my first TRI was  a 450 yard pool swim.  After two, yes 2 lengths of the pool I was completely winded and thought how on earth did I EVER race a 500 free.  I was concerned, if I couldn’t easily swim 50 yards how was I going to comfortably race 450 yards and then tack on a 12 mile bike ride and then run a 5K?  Hello friends at Swim Labs (www.swimlabs.com), one 30 minute lesson to tune up my breathing and stroke technique and I was off and running…or rather swimming.  Was I headed to the Olympic swim trials? Nope, but I could feel my groove again in the water.

Next challenge was running.  First time on the treadmill I could not run a quarter mile, approximately 3 minutes, without being anaerobic.  This isn’t just breathing hard but truly out of breath.  Really, how could I be fit and not handle a short run?  I soon realized that each of the different components of fitness and triathlon training require difference types of skill, technique and endurance.  After a running lesson with Cary, I started to improve my ability to run for longer periods of time without feeling like I needed “the bucket”.

On to the bike, enter Zen, or actually “Zen Boy”, (doesn’t everyone name their bike?) my beautiful Giant Avail Advanced road bike.  I shopped pretty extensively with the help and research efforts of #1 guy Keith.  I looked at Cannondale, Trek, Orbea, Specialized and Giant road bikes.  While I liked all the bikes, I fell in love with Giant.  Plus the guys at Giant Cycling (http://giantdenver.com/) were great!  Now this may sound stupid, but bikes have changed considerably since my old ten speed days so I needed help with the fundamentals.  Like how to shift, break, plus there was the small matter of bike shoes.  Talk about being patient, and thankfully NOT making me feel like a total doofus, Joe V at Giant Cycling coached me through shifting, breaking, clipping and unclipping on the in-store Cycleops trainer.  Thank you Joe V!

Becoming an Athlete

In January 2011 I decided that I would pursue completing a Sprint distance triathlon.  I also, which is not unusual for me, successfully convinced about 10 other friends and colleagues to complete their first TRI with me.  The event was selected, and again @KirkMac input was sought.  We chose the location of his first TRI pursued some 8 years earlier.   Ft Collins Club hosts a bi-annual Sprint distance triathlon, it’s well run, reasonable in size from a number of participants, beginner friendly and includes a ¼ mile indoor snake swim at the EPIC pool located in Ft Collins, a 12 mile bike ride and 3 mile run.  I registered and it was official.  On May 15th, 2011 former Fat Ali would become a triathlete. WOW!

Everyone says just focus on finishing.  Yes, that was certainly my goal, to finish and finish feeling strong and healthy.  Of course, the competitor in me wanted more…finish, finish feeling strong and healthy and finish fast.  By this point in time I had been on my fit and healthy path for a year so I was pretty darn fit.  But I certainly would not have considered myself an athlete.  I was focused on making that happen.  So I embarked upon a serious triathlon training program.  Would I sign-up with a free online triathlete training program?  Buy a book and follow that program?   Nope, not me! I signed up with a top triathlon coach.  Enter @CoachCary www.coachcary.com.  Cary Kinross-Wright is not only a top coach as part of the Endurance Performance Coaching (EPC) group, but also an amazing endurance athlete including  6 time Ironman finisher, Xterra (off road triathlon) elite competitor, ultra marathon racer and adventure race athlete.  You get the drift I didn’t sign-up with a novice coach, Cary is the real deal.

So Cary put together an individualized training plan for me.  This included tracking my daily training, notice the shift, I was no longer “working out” I was now “training”.  Interesting, but I believe there actually is a psychological difference.   Athletes ”train”, other people “workout”.  I purchased a heart rate monitor, and after several hours of frustration in getting the little devil to get set-up properly I began logging my training efforts and uploading the results to Training Peaks (www.trainingpeaks.com).  My training included the obvious elements of Triathlon swim, bike, run.  Never mind the fact that I hadn’t swum laps since my high school swimming career ended decades ago, didn’t own a road bike and hadn’t ever been a runner.  People sometimes think Sprint Triathlon equals Easy Triathlon, hmm; maybe I was originally one of those fools.  It absolutely does NOT mean easy!  Any distance triathlon requires commitment, focus, endurance and (I love this one) mental toughness, plus the ability to string together those three events, one after the other without taking a nice little rest in between.

2010 – Transformation from FAT to FIT

I was determined, that this time would be different.

This was not a diet, as diets have a defined end, and then what?  This was not focused on weight or size.  This was not focused on calories.  Simply it was focused on becoming fit and healthy— “mindful” healthy eating coupled with frequent vigorous exercise plus adequate rest.

Now, what does “mindful” eating mean?  It means (to me), that you do not deprive yourself, because that just makes you want (dream about, negotiate with yourself, pine for and eventually shovel in as quickly as possible) whatever you tell yourself that you cannot have.  Mindful eating is, being aware that if you have French fries, or cake or a cocktail or whatever makes your taste buds sing, that’s ok, you just can’t do that with every meal and you need to do so with reasonable portions.   Reasonable portions means just that, no need to measure, weigh etc. but a whole pie, or cake or sheet of brownies is not reasonable a single slice is just fine.

Workout and mean it.  Make regular vigorous exercise, meaning most days of the week, a high priority part of your life.  Is working out always fun?  No.  Can it sometimes be fun?  Yes.  Is it more fun after the first couple of tough break-in weeks?  Usually.

Adequate sleep is different for everyone.  Just make sure you get enough quality sleep to recover from your frequent exercise.

This is what I did.  I worked-out 5 days per week and worked-out hard.  I plugged music into my iPod that got me energized.  I joined a gym that was convenient to remove any obstacles meaning excuses.  I committed to myself that this was a priority, that this was important for my health, for my wellbeing, for…me.  OK, now that’s key.  I was doing it for ME, not anyone else!  I also posted an 8×10 copy of the original offending photo that I refer to as “Fat Ali” in a place that so I (not everyone that came to my house to visit) would frequently see it; to remember, how that felt and how I was on a path to change that feeling.

We went back to Hawaii for Spring Break 2010, five months after the infamous photo shoot previously mentioned.  New, better (not great) photos that were starting to reflect the transformation underway were taken.  A representative photo was posted (8×10) beside the original as would other periodic swim suit clad photos which eventually formed a wall of photos that visually tracked my progress.

I continued on this path throughout 2010.   Frequent vigorous workouts, mindful eating, rest—repeat.  I do need to give credit where due to my fabulous husband.  He has always supported me, my efforts and my whims.  In this case he, as the chef of the family, ensured that we had quality meals and fresh foods on hand.  He thinks he’s an OK cook, I think he’s great…I think I’m right, anyway…quality ingredients, lots of fish, lean meats, fresh veggies, fresh fruit—YUM!  At the end of 2010 I gave away the 2 largest sizes of clothes I owned (14 and 12) and packed away in storage 1 additional size (10) with the goal of reviewing in 12 months for future give away if I stayed the course.

In December 2010, @KirkMac asked me “What’s next?” stating his opinion that I needed to have a competition to keep me on track.  Hmmm, now that’s interesting, those that know me know that I’m competitive by nature and was a athlete through high school (yes, that was close to a thousand years ago, but so what!)  Kirk suggested…Triathlon. Now, that was really intriguing.

Who’s that Stranger in the Photo?

My family including my parents went on a lovely vacation to Maui, Hawaii in October 2009—a family favorite locale that we’ve enjoyed for many years.  After the trip, I was back home reviewing the holiday photos with the intention of selecting one for inclusion in my traditional photo calendar. Now, while I knew that I was chubby at this time…I was quite frankly shocked by the photos of myself on the beach.  To be clear, I am not a candidate for The Biggest Loser.  But my “chubbiness” or really fatness had transformed me into a woman that I didn’t know.

Looking at one photo after another I saw:

  • A woman that had bad posture
  • A mid-forties gal that looked at least 10 years older
  • I looked tired and frustrated

Reflection time…these photos reflected the image I was projecting to others, which was scary.  Not the typical high energy, can do, positive gal that I consider myself and am generally (I think) known to be.  The seeds were being sown for change.

Coincidentally my friend, colleague, mentor and former “fat guy”, @KirkMac, who, by the way, is now an 8 time (and counting) Ironman finisher, including Kona, mentioned a book that contributed to his personal transformation Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley @CrowleySpeaks www.youngernextyear.com  and Henry S. Lodge.  Being the supportive guy and fitness focused individual that Kirk is, he gave me a copy of the book for Christmas 2009.

Loved the book, if you haven’t read it I’d highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in optimizing health and fighting the general “decay” (yes, that term is used a ton in the book) that comes with the aging process.  In a nutshell, Younger Next Year speaks to the physiological benefits that result from vigorous exercise…not the “ho-hum am I done yet?” type of exercise that I mentioned earlier.  But, the kind of workout that gets your heart pumping and sweat pouring, the kind that taps into those endorphins that people love to talk about.

New Years resolution time…2010

As we all know, resolutions that tie into January 1st have a very low level probability of sustained success.  Still it was that time of year and an opportunity for me to jump into the deep end of personal transformation.

The Back Story…

A little background seems appropriate to set the stage.

As with many women, including my Mom, I have for much of my adult life struggled with weight and body image.  This resulted in several costly and sometimes painful outcomes:

  • Yo-yo weight fluctuations
  • The “scale” became either my friend or adversary depending on what was displayed
  • Diets and deprivation; food became both the “enemy” and the “reward”
  • Infrequent, obligation-based exercise—we’re talking ho, hum time-based “am I done yet?” type workouts
  • Self image and personal satisfaction with self-image became associated with which size pants I was wearing
  • Enough different sizes in my wardrobe to fill a small boutique
  • Feeling like the ugly step-sister, when on a weight upswing which was becoming more often than not

It was generally all or nothing.  Not a toe in the water, either all-in or all-out.  This cycle was based upon DIETING.  I personally hate that concept as it a fraud…for me it meant:  Diet and lose weight, stop dieting and gain weight, diet and lose weight, stop dieting and gain more weight.  A vicious and unhealthy cycle that I needed to stop for both my physical and emotional wellbeing.  A myopic focus on the numbers displayed on the scale…was a focus on the wrong thing.  I needed to shift my energy and focus to becoming FIT & HEALTHY.