Outdoor Divas – Sprint Triathlon

I received a green light from the foot Doctor to participate in the Outdoor Divas Sprint Triathlon but lingering foot achiness and two weeks of NO running introduced serious risk, angst, and stress in achieving my season goal of making it to the podium at Divas.  It may sound silly but that really was the BIG goal for this triathlon season.  In fact, Heather R, Erin and I had all made that our goal for 2012.  Except then Erin decided to have a baby so that took her out of the podium line-up for this year but still Heather and I were driven to get on that darn raised box setup.

For the two weeks prior to the race since I had been told DO NOT run, I had ramped up my swim and bike to compensate and to focus on retaining my endurance threshold.  I biked hard and swam like a nutcase, all the while hoping that this would keep my running abilities (or lack thereof) from crushing my podium quest.

Now for those not familiar with Outdoor Divas, it is a women’s only Sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 12.5 mile bike, 5K run) with a reasonable cap of participants–approximately 575 athletes registered for the 2012 event.  Participants include a blend of athletic abilities ranging from über competitive Elite folks to first timers.  I was somewhere in the über competitive, 2nd season rookie, non-Elite, sorta old, triathlon freak category.

In the few days leading up to the race I was SO psyched up; jazzed for the race with nerves and adrenaline.   As race weekend arrived, I was happy that most of my original group of friends that registered remained committed to participating in the event.

Pre-race dinner was a fun pasta night with guys #1 & #2 plus our friends the Bests.  Carb loading and laughs were certainly on the menu.  Race morning for me arrived earlier than planned at around 3:15 a.m.; that was NOT the time I set my alarm, but still that was the time by body said “let’s GO!”  I was too excited to sleep.

Full of nervous energy we all headed into transition and given that we were among the first to arrive we had our choice of where to rack our bikes.  We debated for several minutes on what was the best spot and finally I consulted with some competitive Elite looking gals who informed me…pick a spot with the shortest distance required to run with your bike.  Great advice, we picked a prime spot right next to bike start and bike finish.  Off on a warm up ride and run and then into Union Reservoir for a short swim.

The race directors held a pre-race meeting right before getting the event underway which included a fun little addition—the Colorado Fire Fighters calendar guys would be manning the aid station.  That certainly got a round of cheers.

I was in the 50-54 age group which placed me in the last swim wave.  I was determined to try to “race” each leg of the TRI and most certainly NOT to walk any of the run.    Soon the 1 minute notice was given for my wave and then 30 seconds, 15 seconds, finally a horn blast started my race.  I pushed myself on the swim but felt smooth and confident as I rounded the various buoys…heading into the last 250 meters the swim became a bit of an obstacle course of slower swimmers from the prior waves.  I bumped into a couple of gals but nothing close to a “water polo” type clash.  Soon I was out of the water, struggling to pull off my Helix and running into Transition I heard my time.  I felt pleased with an 11:42 for a 750 meter swim.

T1 as typical seemed to take an eternity and the run with Zen Boy (a/k/a my Giant Avail Advanced) out to the bike course was a bit of a stressful situation with a bottleneck of gals strolling their bikes out of transition and onto the ride.  To minimize time, I picked up Zen and ran with him out to the road and then as quickly as possible got to the bike mount location.  After almost skidding out on some gravel, within the first 20 feet of the bike course, I was off and running (or in this case biking) around the first of 3 loops of a 4 mile course.  Rules for the bike require you to ride on the right and pass on the left.  Now, I have a pretty nice bike and I have these big (formerly fat) strong legs and although I’m not an experienced cyclist I am pretty fast.  So since I was in the last group there were a ton of women in front of me, riding on the right wasn’t going to work much of the time as I was fortunate in that I was passing most of the women in front of me.   The bike course was quite flat which is nice if you’re opposed to hills, but on the flip side you don’t get the speed that comes with the downhill portion.  So I watched my Cat Eye biking calculator and as the bike portion progressed my average speed increased to an average of a 21.7 mph pace at the conclusion of the bike leg.

T2 went by without event and I was onto the run course which was an out and back 5K.  As I ran along I could feel my heart rate hitting the anaerobic zone meaning that I had reached my limit from an endurance capacity perspective.  Thoughts of walking “just a little bit” started to enter my head.  Then began a private and thankfully “silent” conversation with myself.   For all those early 4:45 a.m. mornings and for all those hideous, painful threshold runs that @CoachCary put on my calendar, I would NOT let myself down and I would NOT walk.  As I approached the ad station which I was happy to note occurred twice given the course being out and back.  These fabulous bare-chested specimens of manliness were handing out cold water and Gatorade.  Very nice…I certainly wasn’t going to look like a wimpy girl and walk through THAT aid station although it would have been nice to linger and look (gawk).  Did I walk?  NOPE, not this time!  As I was heading into the last stretch of the run, I saw my friend Heather B, up ahead.  We pretty much ran the last portion of the race course together.  Crossing the finish line at an all out sprint felt great and after downing a couple of bottles of water and a brief walk to recover I was no worse for wear.  Also, I thankfully didn’t get called a “Penguin” on this run.

AND…I was thrilled when I saw the result sheets.  With a time of 1:17:35, I had made it to the podium with a 2nd place finish in my age group and 30th place finish overall!  Heather also made it to the podium with a 3rd place finish in her age group!  And, Heather B and Christine also achieved PRs.  Woo Hoo!!

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.

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!

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.