Finish Line 70.3

Finish Line 70.3
Finish Line 70.3

70.3 Finisher!

70.3 Finisher!
70.3 Finisher

Monday, August 30, 2010

One week 'til race day

And I'm not really ready.

Ok, I'm ready physically. I am running well, I'm sorta acclimated to the heat, my swim times are decreasing (yay!) and it's not an A race for me. I want to do well, by being better than last year if the heat and conditions allow me, but I don't need to win the darned thing or blow out my knee or mind trying to do something silly like that.

But I'm not quite ready on the bike.

I have a new, wonderful bike that I adore, but I've only been on it for about 30 miles total since I bought it. So I'm not really used to it yet, and the gears are different and the shifting is different and the areobars are different. It's a terrific bike but I need to get warm and fuzzy with it. And before this race, I am just not going to have the time to do that (unless I quit working, which would not help me pay for that marvy new bike toy). I found out this weekend on a fairly short ride over a part of the course that I needed to downshift to my smaller chain on the Killer Hills which I didn't need to do on my old Trek because I had a granny gear ring installed. So I have to get comfy with the chain shifting from big to small and then back to big, and at the right times. I messed up on Saturday going up the first Killer Hill and didn't get my rings shifted in time (clicked the shifter incorrectly) and nearly toppled myself over trying to muscle up that 5.5% grade in a high gear.

Still, even with all that stuff to deal with in my head I know I can ride those hills because I've done them so many times before (they are 3 miles from my house!). I don't relish the thought of doing them FOUR times (it's a two loop course) but hey, I can own those hills, or at least rent them for a little while.

There's also a changed run course for this year, and the last 3/4 mile is pretty much uphill. But as the Patient Spouse tells me, that's a GOOD thing. We'll leave all the pokes behind!

Mentally preparing for an event is tough when you expect a tough course (as this one can be, especially the bike route), but it's important that you remember that your training is solid and will carry you through. At one week before race day, the hard part is over, and all you have to do is hit the GO button on your body. And remind yourself that all of those miles of swimming, running and biking are going to get you across the finish line easily and without strain. The physical part is already done. All that remains is mentally reminding yourself that you are in great position to do your best on a race.

A shout out to Kristin Codish of Texas Triple Threat who did her first IM this weekend in Louisville in 14:26. Kristin does my VO2 testing and her spouse Todd does my bike fittings. Great job!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hooray for 87!

It only got up to 87 degrees yesterday! I know people in like, Washington State, are snickering at the idea that us Dallas-ites run out and celebrate when the temp maxes out at 87 (we consider that a cold front, and start shopping for sweaters and hats). But after facing days of 100 plus degrees, including Monday's delightful bath of 110 degrees, 87 was a gift.

It ain't gonna last; they are predicting temps to climb slowly back to the upper 90s (98) by the day of my sprint tri. But love it while you have it.

I went for a short easy 40 min run last night OUTSIDE and loved it. I had to really put on the brake pads to keep from running faster as the coach mandated EASY run (I saw her zipping around on her bike at the lake--seems like everyone was out last night pretending it was fall--and SHE wasn't going easy :-))so I threw in a couple of small climbs since I've been running fairly flat the last 2 months because of the hamstring. Good news, the hammy didn't squeak at all. It was a slow run--around 11:45 min mile--but I felt strong and easy and kept my pace at a steady rate as much as possible. I actually thought I ran faster than the Garmin said, but it was pretty humid still out there and I did try to post some uphills without changing stride too much (lean forward, quick feet but shorter steps, breathe easy). I ran without the iPod because I had forgotten to charge it, but I didn't seem to need or want it, which is unusual for me.

And the temp felt great. It is so awesome to run or bike (or walk or skate) again without having to wonder if you are breathing in molten steel. Fall is my favorite time of year--cooler weather, football season, hunting season, water and electric bills go down, mowing chores start to taper off. People smile more. The lake was crowded with everyone trying to soak in the delicious weather before it got hot again. And everyone looked so happy!

I hope the weather starts to make you smile soon. I hope the Louisville IM this weekend cools off a bit--I have a friend running there for her first IM.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

13 days until race day!

I got up this morning and went OMG! 13 days until my first tri of the season, a sprint. It's of course been in the back of my mind (and my wallet since I already entered it) but not at the forefront until now. Something about a 2 week countdown that makes me start to THINK HARD.

It's a little early for a major taper for just a sprint distance but my coach has started to ease off a hair on me this week (or so she says--2100 yard swim last night that posted my toasties, tell you what). Next week will be defeinitely light so my body can recover and be fresh for race day (Labor Day). Anything you do two weeks before a race doesn't really help you build up anything, and can really hurt you instead if you overdo it. It's so hard to back off from the training when you are seeing visions of the start line in your head, but it's the right thing to do 14 days pre race, any distance. The longer the race distance, the higher the back off.

So what I do 14 days pre race, along with some reduced working out, is start to visualize the race, in detail. Yeah, that sounds like mumbo jumbo gumbo, but it really does help me come race day because you see, I've done this before in my head.

I actually DID do this race last year--my first tri ever--and did a terrible job on it in the heat (it's a late start race, because there is a kid's tri before it, so you don't even get on the run course until around 11 a.m.--on Labor Day in Texas--yeah, baby) and want to improve all my times in all my areas. So I've set forth some goals for every area, with what I call a happy goal and a pie in the sky goal, and hope I fall somewhere in the middle of those. I've also got a new bike I'm not totally used to, so I am taking that into account, although weather permitting, I will be out this weekend cruising around on it trying for God's sake not to lay it down the first week I have it.

First thoughts were what to wear and how to get there and what to pack. I'm going to wear my longer tri shorts (the shorter ones are for when there is no one else around to see my flabby thighs), a white sports bra, and my bike jersey (it's white, and my true tri jersey is black, and it's gonna be a hot you can see why the bike jersey is making the cut), and no socks. Therefore will powder up my bike shoes and Bodyglide and powder my running shoes for easy slip on post bike. I wear socks only for longer distance races. Too much trouble to pull them on sweaty or wet feet. I will wear some old topsiders on my feet. I will Bodyglide under my arms and around my thighs before I dress in the morning. Not going to need to wear an overjacket on this one! Strap on the sports watch the day before to remind me what's coming up tomorrow.

We've decided to drive to the course (only 4 miles from our house, but we don't want to be riding in the pre dawn on a busy road). So we'll load up our bikes, helmets, a bike pump, our backpacks each full of our gear for the day (our bike shoes, run shoes, water bottles, Gu gels--yes I take one in on a sprint near the end of the bike, I am a slow sprinter, okay--transition towels, goggles, sunglasses, swim caps, water, Gatorade, sunscreen -- to be put on after body marking, because if you put it on before you will smear the marker, not that mine doesn't smear anyway--bandaids --emergencies happen--a snack or two--banana or bagel--and my Garmin for the run portion), and our race T shirts to put over our sweaty bodies post race. This race starts later so we should not need a flashlight or forehead light to light our way or see how to pump our tires.

I'll be up at 6 a.m. to eat a pre race breakfast of a full bagel and peanut butter. We'll leave the house at 7 and arrive at 7:15.

When we arrive, we'll unload the bikes, pump up the tires, fill our bike bottles (if not already filled), grab out backpacks and helmets, and push our bikes to the body marking area, get marked, and then find a spot in transition. Hopefully by 7:45 we will be able to get set up and ready. We'll lay down or towels, put our equipment out (sunglasses and helmet on the bike bars, Gu in my shoe, bike shoes out, run shoes out with Garmin ON and inside, swim cap and goggles in my little hands), put on sunscreen and wander around to watch the kids' race which starts at 7:30. Visiting the port a pot is essential, so walking around helps a lot in that regard! Memorize walking to my area from the swim exit and bike entrance to put it into my muscle memory. Set the bike gear on fairly low for the start. I'll eat a banana or a Luna bar around 8 a.m. to jump start my system, drink water constantly, and then go inside for our mandatory pre race meeting at 8:30a.m. Leave my topsiders in the backpack and take my goggles and swim cap, and I'm all ready to rock.

Last year we had a very late starting number but this year may be a wee bit better since our swim times have improved drastically and they seed by speed (some people lie. It's unfortunate). I am estimating I will start my swim around 9:20 or so, maybe 9:30. I'll get in the water about 10 minutes before my start to warm up, swimming about 200 yards easy and slow and then a fast 25 to wake up my body, and a cool down of another 100. Then out to the start line with me!

Last year I made the mistake of diving into the water from the side and I lost my goggles. This year I intend to just slide in feet first and get a good push off from the wall. I may lose 2-3 seconds this way but I will save 20 seconds by not having to put my goggles back on. Push off, stroke once and then breathe, and swim steady at about my 2:35 per 100 pace, breathing two, thinking "reach and pull, easy does it." At each turn I intend to first glance up to see who may be in my way on the next 50 meters (and there will be several people in my way, some of them who were the unfortunate wrong guessers on their swim times), plan my route around them, and then push off HARD from the wall underneath the ropes, staying down and kicking for a few beats, and back to the surface with my stroke. Dodge slower swimmers, stay focused and strong, don't over swim or get out of breath.

300 meters will go fast. My happy goal for the 300 meters is 8:15, my pie in the sky goal is 7:30.

Strong up the ladder! Last year I politely waited for a slower swimmer to go in front of me, who decided it was a good idea to rest halfway up. I figure that ladder will be big enough for two of us if that happens again. Then trot firmly out to transition (a long way, and of course uphill) while snatching off the cap and goggles. Think about the bike and the bike course (hilly. hard. windy. but fun. right? right). Remember where your transition spot is, get there, drop the goggles and cap, on with the helmet and sunglasses first, stuff the Gu in my pocket, stick my feet into the shoes and fasten, grab the bike and go trotting to the bike exit. Hop on when they tell me to and pedal hard to get my legs moving. T1 goal is 1:30 minutes at most (and most of that will be the long trot from the pool to the bike).

The bike is two loops of 7.6 miles each, with two giant killer eat your lunch hills and about four medium hills. Very little flat although there is one area that is about a mile's worth of flat, which is where I intend to ingest my gel on the second loop. Four times up those killer hills will be hard in the heat so I have to stay focused on not burning up too much the first loop, while not making it a Sunday stroll ride because this IS a sprint, and you can make up more time on the bike than in any other place. Goal is to average 15 mph the first loop and maybe 15.5 the second loop if I have enough gas in the tank from the second round of hills. I need to also focus on fast corners (there are several) and never coming off my bars except when I am unwrapping my gel. I know this ride; I live right by it and ride those hills a lot. I can own this ride. I'm hoping there isn't a terrible south wind but you have to expect it here. Plan to hydrate by sipping every mile on the dot. If it's really, really hot will change that to every half mile. Slurp up a good amount the last mile because a very hot run is coming. The bike mantra is "I am a powerful bike rider and I own these hills."

Hopefully will have enough gas to power up the last hill before transition (everything here ends on a bloody hill!) and coast the last 20 yards to the dismount area. Unclip (I don't intend to try taking off my shoes while riding, especially with that last medium uphill to handle), jump off the bike, and trot to transition and try to convince my legs how much fun it will be to go for a run now at 11 a.m. in the early September heat.

My happy goal for the bike is one hour (a little over 15 mph average) and my pie in the sky goal is 53 minutes.

Into T2 I will trot, placing the bike carefully on the rack (don't want it to fall down and cause a giant domino effect), THEN off with the helmet and shoes and push my feet into my run shoes (I have practiced pulling on my shoes--which have laceloks so no need to tie them--one legged while standing. It does take practice. Trust me). Grab the Garmin and punch "start" and start running toward the run exit, knowing it's an extra quarter mile added to get totally out of transition so my Garmin will show 3.3 something rather than 3.1 at the finish.

I tend to go out post bike too fast on a run so my goal is to slow myself DOWN to around an 11:40 pace the first mile, or if it's brutally hot, a 12 min pace. That won't be easy for my legs as they seem to want to run fast at first and then get unhappy about it later. Negative splits are my goal and those are just hard work to make happen for me. Try to breathe easy and sing to myself, chant "I am a strong and easy runner" as my mantra.

Grab a water at the first mile rest stop but don't stop running, take a sip and pour the rest on my head and keep going. Now I can increase my speed to an 11:20 mile and if it's hot, an 11:40 mile. This part is a wee bit downhill so take advantage and keep the speed constant but easy.

At the second mile stop take water and walk for 15-20 seconds and drink up. Then back running with you, now it's going to start a long, slow, uphill for most of the rest of the race so lean forward and concentrate on fast feet turnover. Looking to increase pace to 11 min mile here or if it's too hot, 11:20 mile. I can run 3 miles in 10:15 but not with a bike-swim before it and not in 97 degree heat either. So I'm looking to average 11:30 mile and if I feel good enough to beat that, I'll beat it the last two miles of the race. Until I know the heat conditions, I can't quite plan my speed.

At the crest of that last stupid hill, turn right and there is the finish line. Hoo rah! My happy run goal is (obviously) 34:40 and my pie in the sky goal is 31 (I've done a sprint tri 3.1 mile run in 30 minutes before, but that was in October and it was blessedly cool).

So there is what is spinning 'round in my head. Now I have to just go implement it!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Toys R Us

Well, I went crazy over the weekend and bought a new bike.

I'm so excited about it, and I think it's a great buy (I got a 2008 Specialized Tarmac SL2 carbon fiber with carbon fiber race wheels for a great price, totally new) and I needed a new bike badly. I've been happy with my old Trek 2300 and it was an excellent starter road bike (which is now for sale, minus the wheels) with Ultegra components and it was very forgiving and stable. A hard bike to make topple over (although I did do that). A great bike when you are first starting out, white knuckled as all get out when you are zooming down a big hill or riding in a crowd. I've loved it for the last 4 years but it was time to upgrade. The Trek was not carbon, and I wanted a bit more comfort for those long, long rides that are upcoming in preparation for my 70.3. In addition, I also didn't mind the thought of gaining a wee bit of more speed (even though at my level, the wee is very wee).

However, I dithered around before I bought the new bike wondering if I was spending more money than I was worth. I don't mean as a person, but as a bike rider. I'm pretty slow (14-16 average speed), I am no great shakes on big hills, and I still sometimes have to chant to myself "you are all right; you are all right" when I hit 29-34 mph going down a big hill on my areobars. Great bikes are for great riders, right? Within reason, of course. Otherwise, I would be doomed to a banana seat bike with a flowered basket up front.

Yet I really, really wanted an upgraded bike. Biking is my weakest sport, and anything that was going to make me more comfortable and happy was going to make me go out and ride more often and ride further. I looked on line a lot, and ended up buying this one new at a great price (thanks to my bike guru, Todd, at Texas Triple Threat) after only a little bit of internal wrestling.

It's simply an awesome looking machine! So light I can lift it with two fingers (no more asking Patient Spouse to put my bike up on the hook for me). I've only had time to ride it once, about 12 easy miles 'round the hood, and it is like riding air it's so comfortable. I'm not even fitted on it yet (hopefully this week) and have not put on the areobars yet either, but I can tell this baby is going to a lot of fun. I had to get used to three things: the lightness makes it a bit more "twitchy"--I simply think left and I'm turning already!--, the gears are different than what I am used to (double click to take it into an easier gear), and finally, my old Trek had a 'granny gear' ring that was a bit easier (hey, I started out on this bike, okay? I was definitely doing granny for a long time. Now I've moved into auntie gear). This one has a standard ring set and so finding my "sweet spots" on certain roadways has to change a little bit.

Still, my first ride was a lot faster than I thought (I haven't put on the bike computer yet). I thought I was going really slowly, trying to learn the bike and the gears and for heaven's sake trying not to lay it down on the first ride out, but the Patient Spouse's computer says we did 14.7 average pace and I thought I was simply crawling along around 13 average at most. It's going to be like driving a fast and new model car--you THINK you are going slow and then the nice policeman tells you otherwise.

The only thing I'm going to change out is the seat (not comfortable, even though it's a nice one) and the handlebar wrap. The wrap is white. Come on. How many times do you get on your bike with clean, unsweaty hands or gloves? Already I've gotten the wrap dirty (the brake hoods are white, too, but I may have to live with those). I've already put on my pedals, bottle cage, and lights.

So did I buy a bike more than I am worth? I don't think so. If I love it, and I will ride it a long time, why should I worry if it's a type of bike the Big Boys and Girls also ride? When I wheel into transition, I may even scare them a bit (until they see me start my swim, that is).

I'm looking forward to some long, long rides this fall on my new toy. Assuming it cools down here--it's supposed to be 106 today. I love Texas in August.

Buying toys is fun! Using them is even more so!

Monday, August 16, 2010

She's a Brick (House)

Brick, n. (def): something hard that hurts when it falls on you.

Everyone who intends to do a triathlon of any distance must endure the fun and frivolity of doing a brick workout on occassion. A "brick" is a bike ride followed immediately by a run (the word "immediately" has lots of definitions in and of itself, depending on whether I am asking the Patient Spouse to take out the garbage or whether the doctor will see you immediately...but we generally mean as soon as you can change your shoes and dump your bike helmet).

The term brick comes from somewhere, no one is sure where, and means either "bike-run-in combination (the "k" being an extra letter which I am sure stands for Kicks Your Rear)" or "bike-run-ICK!" Or maybe something else. Wherever it came from, triathletes know what it means.

You can also do a swim-bike brick (which cannot possibly stand for bike-run, but for some reason, it's still a brick) or even a reverse brick (run-bike, or bike-swim), or even a swim-run, or run-swim, or for goodness sakes, throw in a tennis game in the middle if you want and call it a trick. Biking right after a swim is for some reason not as obnoxious to the body as running right after a bike. Although I will suggest you try some brief running right after swimming because you will be doing exactly that on your way to transition, and the sudden change in atmosphere from horizontal water baby to standing up running person can create vertigo, along with weird sounds coming out of your mouth as you try to balance.

What a brick does is teach your body to start running immediately after it's been pedaling in circles while you have been sitting down. For some reason, your legs will tell that this is not an acceptable thing. They got used to spinning around and being weightless, and now you are asking them to carry the load up a hill and around some corners, and they won't be happy with the request.

Jef Mallet, a funny writer for Triathlete magazine, who has also published a funny book on triathlons (I recommend it), calls doing bricks a needed exercise to make your body go from saying "what the heck is this?" to "oh, this again." Your body needs to learn to adjust from biking to running by storing the feeling in muscle memory so that you don't immediately plant your face on the concrete at your first tri. Because your legs will totally feel like Gumby parts when you start off after a bike ride, and you have to convince them that you really mean it when you say you are going to run now.

It takes a few minutes to get your legs accustomed to the run. How long depends on many factors, including how long your bike was, how hard your bike was, how much training you have done, and whether you remembered to take off your bike shoes and put on your running shoes. Seriously, when you reach the dismount area for the bike (and there will be signs and volunteers yelling at you to "GET OFF YOUR BIKE HERE!") you will have to run with your bike to your transition spot, so it's a good chance to wake up your legs right then and tell them the running is going to start. Even if all you can do is a shuffle jog while wheeling your bike next to you, it's a good wake up call.

I find for me that I tend to go out way too fast on the run (a lot of triathletes have the opposite problem) because my legs were used to turning over fast on the bike, and they want to turn over fast on the run. Not a bad thing except for a longer run I will wear out quickly at that pace. I have to force myself to slow down and take it easy until I get the running rhythm down. Usually, that takes me about 1/4-1/2 mile.

One hint that a lot of articles propose is to start spinning your legs in an easy gear on the bike about a mile before your dismount, or to unclip them and shake them out one by one to get the blood flowing. I've not been too successful with this as every tri I have ever done has had the last mile of the bike on an incredibly steep uphill, so spinning easy is just not going to happen, and if I unclipped during an uphill I will be on the concrete face plant issue well before I start the run. But if you have a flat or downhill finish, this is a good thought.

Bricks are not meant to be done every week, although I have read that it's never a bad idea to run about one minute after every bike ride (unless you bring a shoe change, this is a clunky run, keep in mind) to keep your body aware of this possibility.

Last night the Patient Spouse and I headed out for a brick in the 102 (I checked two different thermometers) degree heat. The 15 mile, one hour bike wasn't so bad. But once we got off and started running in the now 101 degree heat at 7:40 p.m., it was miserable. There was no breeze and the heat index was 109. I wanted to run a full 3 miles but after 1.5 miles I decided that if God had intended me to run in this kind of weather he would have made us with portable, internal, air conditioning systems that could be switched to "high." So we stopped after 1.5 miles (around 11:20 min mile) and I dove directly into the pool without stopping go (I did remove my shoes and socks first). I griped a lot about the cost of putting in that pool 3 years ago, but last night it was worth every single penny.

Tonight is a fairly short swim, but I see my coach has me up to doing intervals on both bike and run the next couple of days. It's supposed to cool off to only 100 degrees this week so hey, I'm up for it!

Friday, August 13, 2010


I'm constantly asked by others (and myself) WHY I do all this exercise/workout/training/racing stuff. It sure takes up a LOT of time. Time I could use instead to sleep (yeah, baby), eat, sleep, watch TV, talk to friends, play games, sleep, clean the house, do laundry, and sleep some more. Plus it costs money--despite what everyone assures you, you just can't put on a pair of gym shorts and cheap Keds and go out for a 10 mile run one day. And let's face it, it HURTS sometimes. Many times. A lot of times.

So why?

Well, the first couple of answers are obvious: one, because it's good for my health. I stay relatively fit (I ain't gonna ever be Nastia Lukiun, my up the block neighbor--believe me when you see her house and mine you will know why I say UP the block), it's good for my bones, my heart, and all those other things. Exercise really makes a huge difference in your health. Second, because it's fun. I like being competitive (although at my speeds, I'm competitive basically with myself and the turtle who lives in my back yard) and I love getting outside in the fresh air and doing stuff outdoors.

The third reason, though, is the most important.

It keeps me sane and makes me feel good (those sound like two reasons, but they really do go together).

You cannot--you simply CANNOT go out and run or bike or swim for a while, hard, and come back not feeling the buzz afterwards (yeah, okay, most of the buzz is afterwards and not during, but you can't fault a buzz at any time). That stuff lasts for a while, too. I myself love a glass or two of wine at times, but this post workout high really beats that (mostly). It's a clean, happy feeling that your mind and your body take on, tired as the latter might be.

And again--you simply CANNOT be running or biking or swimming (or playing tennis or rowing or climbing a rock wall) and be thinking 100 percent about your problems of the day. Work, family, money, car troubles--they don't necessarily go away, but they all go down to a quiet hum in the background as your heart and lungs and legs work on getting to a higher, faster, stronger level. Sometimes, when you are done, you realize how trivial some of these worries really are, or you come up with a solution that you didn't see before.

I can understand how working out and training can easily become addicting, like a sort of drug, because the sensation is really and truly narcotic in its own way. Those of us who exercise and train regularly get grumpy and out of sorts when forced to take a break or a rest (you know you have reached that level when your spouse says, "honey, you're apparently stressed. Why don't you --" (NO, not take a hot bath, have a glass of wine, go shopping) "--go for a RUN?" To ensure you don't fall into that addiction trap, I think it's important that you have other things in your life that are unrelated to simply sleeping, eating, working, and working out. Maybe gardening or traveling or reading or cooking or coaching Little League. Me, I like to train, show and work with my dogs, cook, read and go dancing with the Patient Spouse. As Lance wisely said, it ain't all about the bike (he might have meant that differently than I do, but it works).

So this is why. It makes me feel Tony the Tiger great. If I can get up and run 8 miles, I can do anything. Yowza.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Well, maybe the heart is a PIA hunter, because when you are dealing with Mr. Heart Monitor (why do I name all the difficult things Mr. ... hmmmm....), you can go straight to the looney bin without passing go as you learn how it works for you.

Heart rate is important. It's one of nature's ways of calibrating the difference between "this is fun" and "you are gonna die soon." In case your body isn't already telling you that, which it probably is, but not in a way you can easily decipher. Therefore, we have created the device that tells you what speed you should be running or biking vis a vis what the little numbers say.

EVERYONE has a different heart rate, both resting and active, and it's not always true that the bestest athlete has the lowest resting heart rate (one of those urban myths). The little monitor thingies on the gym equipment are based on an average rate of the average person of average weight in the average city on an average day (your heart rate will change from day to day, depending on your stress, rest, heat, exertion and what you did yesterday). Therefore, they are useless. Subtracting your age from 220 only works your brain as a math exercise. It may be no where near your actual number.

There are a couple of ways to truly calibrate your heart rate, but the easiest way is to find someone to do a full oxygen test on you--this is where they strap on that Top Gun mask and force you to run and/or bike faster for a little while until you reach what we call the point of "gonna die soon." Based on your heart rate and oxygen flow together, the technician will determine your heart rate limits for easy, medium (just below lactate threshold), hard (right at lactate threshold) and redline (above lactate threshold). You should be able to run or bike all day on the easy limits (well, not all day of course---but you know what I'm saying here), run or bike for a couple of hours on the medium limits, run or bike for several minutes at the hard threshold, and run or bike at redline for only a few seconds.

Once you have your numbers in hand--and they will be different for the bike and the run, so you have to test both separately--you will then have to start training by using your heart rate as a guide. By the way, heart monitors don't work for phooey in the water (some of them are engineered to get wet okay--so you don't have to put them on after a swim and before a bike--but the water itself just doesn't allow the mechanics of the devices to work well).

I can tell you from experience--and I am sure Coach Claire will chime in with a laugh--that I nearly lost my most excellent sense of humor during my initial heart rate training. I had been running for four years and had completed 4 half marathons, all around an 11:20 mile pace. When I first started heart rate training, in order to run in the "easy" zone, I had to run about a 13 min mile for maybe four minutes before my numbers zoomed up to Pluto (which isn't even a planet anymore) and then would have to walk a minute or so to get the derned thing down. I kept complaining that I was runner SLOWER and SHORTER than I knew I could, but Claire kept insisting my heart would start to become more efficient eventually, and I would be back at my old paces or even faster, and with much more endurance and capability. I scoffed. Again and again I would head out for a run thinking I was going easy, only to look down at the monitor and realize I was up over the moon. That went to show me that you may THINK you know easy, medium, hard and redline by feel, but you really don't--only the heart knows for sure.

One day I was shocked--I managed to run an entire 45 minutes within my easy zone without having to walk. I was so excited, even though I was still posting about a 12:45 min mile pace during this run. Then slowly--very slowly--my "easy" level continued to let me increase my pace without the added space shuttle trip to the high numbers. Now I'm back to running 45 minutes between an 11 and 12 minute mile (depending on my day) and I'm so much better at being able to run very long distances without stopping. I can do up to 7 miles at a heart rate easy pace without stopping, which I never could before.

The monitor lets me and my coach determine pace for these long easy runs, and also for faster intervals or tempo runs, as well as the bike pace (I find it easier to keep the danged thing under control on the bike, as I've always been a slow biker). I'm not wed to it, and there are days I run without it because I just need to get out there and go run. But it's been a great tool in my endurance chest and I highly recommend getting one, and getting tested properly for your levels.

My spouse just started running with his monitor after being tested and he has been going through the gripe phase. Monday night he finally managed to break through and run a full 3.25 miles without the monitor going into the "bad boy!" zone and he could see he had really been going too fast before, and therefore using up all his go juice too soon. The griping may be over.

You can buy good monitors at any running store or sports store. I like Polar, because they make a sports bra where the monitor snaps right onto the front so I don't have to wear the chest strap (which to me looks like something Kirk Douglas would wear in Spartacus). But there are other good ones out there, including Garmin, which can coordinate with your Garmin GPS so you aren't Dick Tracey with seven watches on your wrist when you run, like I am. Setting them up can be a pain, and you need to read the instructions carefully. My spouse loves the calorie burner on his, and he really grooved that the watch showed him a cake with candles on his birthday. It's the little things.

A heart monitor can also alert you to overtraining. If your resting heart rate is high after a couple of hard work out days, it's telling you that you need a rest day.

Be heart smart in your training.

Last night was a 45 min easy run--and I ran slower than last week, because my heart rate kept jumping so I had to keep around a 12 minute mile. I figured this was a result of a hard day at work plus I had dealt with a rather exhausting weekend so my body is apparently still in a little bit of fatigue state. Tonight is a short, but interval specific, bike in the 103 degree heat. Remind me not to whine in February when I'm cold....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pebbles of Wisdom

I would have loved to title this "Pearls of Wisdom" but let us all face facts: I'm an older, slower, tireder athlete and my advice tends to fall somewhere between what your mom told you when you were busy running with those scissors and the stuff found in cheap fortune cookies.

Nonetheless, I've gleaned a lot of smart stuff my standard way, being Terry's Hard Way (always), which sometimes don't show up in books and blogs and articles that are geared to those folk who finish races about 45 hours before I even get off the bike.

So, with this definitely skewed to those of us who just want to finish a race without vomiting or face planting on the concrete, instead of wanting to stand on the podium, here's my personal Pebbles of Wisdom:


1. Don't kick so hard. It took me months to figure this out, but long distance swimmers kick very easy (triathletes use a 2 beat kick), and sometimes not even at all. A friend of mine gave me this advice when I was whining that I could not swim more than 100 yards without becoming totally exhausted. I never read it anywhere either (although I'm sure it's out there somewhere). We were all taught as kids to kick like mad during our freestyle. Well, the legs are the biggest muscles in our bodies and using them hard will wear us out really fast. You'll need to kick SOME, as you cannot have your legs drag down in the water, but slow it down and watch your swim endurance soar.

2. Spit on it. Nothing de fogs your goggles better than your own spit. Seriously. As a scuba diver, I've tried all those de fogging solutions and none of them, NONE of them work like good ol' human saliva. I really wonder why, too--what's in our stuff that de fogs? Here's what works best for me--spit hard into each goggle lens (sometimes that is difficult pre race because your nerves will eat up all your mouth moisture!), run the stuff around with the tip of your finger, into each corner, then rinse quickly (NOT thoroughly) into the pool or with your water bottle if it's an open water swim (do not trust your eyes to lake/ocean bacteria). Then I spit again on my finger and lightly rub a little inside once more for insurance. I've not had my goggles fog up yet. Fall off, yes (see item 3). But not fog.

3. If you are going to start your swim aggressively, whether pool or open water, consider the goggles before you do. My first tri was a pool swim and I gleefully dove head first into the water with a fine racing dive, which caused my goggles to slide loose and I lost a full minute or two dumping the water out of them and putting them back on. On my practice open water swim I tried to "dolphin dive" and ended up knocking them loose again. A lot of swimmers wear their goggle straps under their swim caps to help keep them anchored. I have tried it and found it uncomfortable to have the strap flush against my head and ears, but it's not a bad idea if you can tolerate it. Also--learn to put your goggles on while treading water. Just in case.

4. If you put something in your back shirt pocket before a pool swim (no wetsuit) it might fall out during the swim if the pocket doesn't have a velcro closure. Why yes, it happened to me. Lost a gel that way and when I reached for it during the bike, surprise!

5. Lightly baby powder your swim cap about every fourth swim. It won't tug your hair and will glide into place.


1. Every five minutes or so stand UP in your pedals for a few seconds to let the blood flow back into the nether regions. If you wait until your bum is numb to do this, it's going to be too late.

2. Yes, the articles all say in a sprint tri you shouldn't have to take in anything but water or maybe a sports drink. These articles are written for those that finish sprint tris in about 90 minutes or less. Those of us out there for two hours or more may need an extra boost with a gel or bar or banana. The place to take in nutrition is on the bike, not the run (well, and not the swim, but you would think that would be obvious--but I guess you could tread water and eat a soggy PB&J--certainly no one would stop you). Buy a little bento box for the front tube and stash your yummies in there or stick them in your back jersey pocket (see item 4 on the swim pebbles). I leave a gel in my bike shoe at transition and when I get to transition post swim I stick it in my back pocket.

3. Learn to change a flat tire. Hoping it won't happen to you is plain silly, because it will. If you can't change a tire, your race is over.

4. Signal turns and call out "to your left" when passing another person. It's not just polite, it may save your life. People are notorious for not looking behind them. Ask my partner Matt about that, as it relates to his wife and their car and the closed garage door.

5. READ THE RULES. Don't get penalized or DQ'd because you didn't know something. Did you know that if you litter off the bike--drop a water bottle or throw a wrapper on the ground-that's a penalty in a USAT tri race? If you drop something, stop and pick it up. There's a safety reason for this rule. No biker behind you wants to skid out on your fallen banana peel. Have a plan for where you intend to stash your wrappers or empty gel packs on the bike. Side note: gels are messy. Be prepared to rinse your hands with water from your water bottle. No matter how careful I am with them, I get them on my hands somehow and then can't stand the sticky feel.

6. Alternate going up difficult hills by standing up in the pedals to pump for a while, or sitting down to spin up it, working both sets of muscles rather than just one. If you're going below 10 mph up a hill, and you are down on your areobars, you might just sit up to give yourself more power to spin to the top.


1. Do NOT assume the race water stops will have anything but water, even if they advertise they will. Carry your own gel, salt tabs, pretzels, or gummy bears in your pocket. For longer races, carry your own sports drink in a fuel belt. The race stops may run out of things, or forget to stock them.

2. If you wear cotton during your run, you are going to get what you deserve. Cotton is for the post race food tent.

3. Use bodyglide or similar product (NOT vaseline) on areas that will rub against each other or against clothing. You'll thank me later.

4. Change your shoes every 500 miles or every six months. The old ones make great run around town shoes or walking the dog shoes. Or donate them to charity.

5. Change your running route often. Not only does it keep you from getting bored, your muscles will start to memorize your ups, downs and turns on the same route. You need to wake them up a bit at times.


1. Thank your spouse and kids and family for putting up with your craziness. More than once.

2. Enter at least one event per year. Even if you intend to walk the whole thing.

3. Volunteer to help at one event per year. A view from the other side makes a lotta difference.

4. Eat, drink and pee whenever you get the chance. You never know when you will get another one.

Happy training! I'm off for a 45 min run tonight.

5. If you insist on running a run event in a costume, do not smirk when you pass those of us who cannot keep up with you even though you are in a full Hulk Hogan suit, including the mask.

Monday, August 9, 2010

4 weeks to race day!

I woke up today and realized that --eeks!--I am 28 days out from my first sprint tri of the season, on Labor Day. It's not going to be an A race for me--just too hot on Labor Day in Texas (can get up to 110!) to make anything good happen and this race starts late morning since they have a kid's race first, so by the time you get to your bike and run it's broiling out there.

Still, I believe in sometimes entering "B" races to practice things you cannot really re-create anywhere else. Race day fever, of course, whether it's an A or B or C race, always creeps up on you. Practicing taper, nutrition, transitions--ESPECIALLY transitions; I know I can do much better at those--and this bike route is really killer hilly. I like that the website for the race says "course is hilly and fast." Ummm, don't you have to pick one of those? I can tell you that it's hilly, and I can tell you that it's NOT fast. At least for me.

The other reason to do this race is that it is literally five minutes from my front door. It's hard to skip a tri if one is that close to home. I hate the heat, and I hate starting later in the morning, but I tell myself to use this as a training event and not get too hepped up about anything else.

Sure. I will stand on the start block (it's a pool swim, 350 meters) and my mind will be going "go fast! get a podium placement! hammer the bike! own the swim! dig out the run!" I know my competitive nature very well, and it doesn't listen when I tell it to chill out for a race day.

So four weeks and now I'm starting to think about getting ready, or think about thinking about gettting ready. This means visualizing how we arrive (Patient Spouse will do this one with me)--do we drive 2 miles with our gear, or just ride our bikes there that morning? Bad news about riding the bike there is riding back on busy streets at noon time in the 100 degree plus heat. Also, you can't carry a lot of gear with you. Good news is that you don't have to deal with parking, putting on the bike rack, and you will save one leaf on a tree by not using car gas. Also you will get a good warm up (there are two killer hills on the way there). I'm thinking bike to the event.

It also means visualizing what equipment I will use for this sprint and what nutrition and hydration I will take with me (gonna be HOT). As well as visualizing the route of the bike and run, and how I plan to do each segment, and how I will better my times from last year (did I say this was a B race? I keep forgetting). How to survive the heat blast of the run at 11 a.m. on the concrete which has zero shade in any part of it. Can I improve the 15 mile killer hill bike ride pace from last year?

My training level has been sufficient to get me through a sprint tri without collapsing so I don't intend to change my training routine, although I will do a brief 2 day taper beforehand, and I may try some different sports drink to see if it makes a difference.

I've already entered, and now I'm starting to plan. Four weeks will go by fast. I will get excited before the race, and I will want to do well, no matter what I tell myself about it being a training race. I hope the weather behaves (today it's 104 degrees here--I'm praying for a little break in this madness by Labor Day). I hope my bike behaves. I want to run that 5K with some smoke, heat or not.

I think it's important to enter races (at least 2 a year, if not a lot more) to get that feel of the butterflies the day before, and the great feeling of pride and excitement as you get ready for the start line. Training is all well and good, but nothing gets your blood up like the real thing.

Tonight is a 2000 yard easy swim. I love the word 'easy.' Until recently, I had only ONE pace in the pool: easy. Then I graduated to two words: easy and not easy. I would laugh when my coach would say: swim 50 hard, 50 easy and 50 moderate. To me, I had easy and not easy. Lately, I really do find I have three speeds in the pool. But when I see the word "easy" for a workout, I cheer inside. I love an easy swim!

Stay cool!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Have a good ride

Last night I rode my bike 20 miles in 100 degree heat (with only 15 mph winds, thank goodness), blinking the sweat outta my eyes and trying to sip enough Gatorade to keep me from falling over kerplunk. I didn't get started until about 6:45 which took me until just about sunset to finish up 90 minutes. It wasn't a bad ride, although with the heat I was expecting misery. I even managed to glance at the sunset and the lapping waters of the lake a few times.

When I cruised into the parking lot post ride, I noticed a guy (in an OU shirt, but I'll forgive him that--maybe he found it in a dumpster) putting his bike away as well. I said, "boy, it's hot, isn't it?" as I rolled toward my vehicle. He smiled at me and said, "yeah. Did you have a good ride?"

I stopped and thought before I answered. He must have thought I was either deaf or rude, because I really DID think before I answered. I pondered and said, "yes. Actually, I did. Thanks for asking!"

I really had never thought about it before he asked, but it actually WAS a good ride. Nothing hurt too badly (my bike fittings are working, I have one more tonight), although it was hot, it wasn't terribly windy, although the paths were extremely crowded, I only had one HEY BUD ARE YOU LOOKING? moment, and my pace wasn't terribly slow and I wasn't terribly wasted. The sunset was awesome, the sailboats had been out on the lake in full regalia, and it was a nice (hot) summer evening.

So many--no, most--of my rides, runs and swims are NOT "good rides" because I am so focused on my time/heart rate/distance/ability/tiredness that it's more of a chore than an enjoyment. That. Is. Wrong. There is no doubt that hard workouts involve pushing yourself and some misery, okay. But seriously, not all of them should. If you ain't having fun, what's the point here?

And last night was really a nice ride. I didn't check the bike computer very much on my speed (it was supposed to be an easy ride so I decided not to care), I did check my heart rate at times to be sure I wasn't going over my prescribed limit, and I was amazed at how FAST the ride seemed to go. Last Friday, I did the exact same route, and it seemed to take freaking forever. I maintained the exact same speed as last Friday, but the effort was less and the enjoyment so much more.

So I've decided that once a month, at least one bike, one run and one swim is going to be one that when I stop, I will be able to say, "this was a good ride." It may mean tossing all the electronics out the window, it may mean stopping halfway to eat a snack and watch the geese fly south overhead, or it may mean singing out loud. Who knows.

Yeah, thanks dude. It was a good ride.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


"Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure." (Anonymous)

Defining success is like the 1964 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart comment on pornography: "I know it when I see it." Everyone has a different take on what success is, or can be, or should be, and hopefully, you know it when you see it and it doesn't take a 2 X 4 across your forehead to acknowledge it.

Success in training, or racing, comes in different shapes and sizes and colors. I've learned, again through Terry's Ultimate Hard Way, that I must define and create my own version of success. I can't base it on programs, other people's triumphs, books, or schedules. I have to come up with my own. I can use the other things for points of reference, but at the end of the day, I have to find my own way above the plateaus, at my own speed and own time.

I've been swimming various drills and intervals and sets now for--let's see, 7 months now. I started out as a pretty solid 3 minute 100 yard swimmer--which is pretty solidly slow, as swimming goes. In my three tris, I've actually gone a bit faster than that, but that is pure race day zoomies. On short 25 yard sprints I can grunt out a 30 second pace, but I can't hold that pace for more than 50 yards before I collapse and drown.

I kept on swimming the drills the last 7 months, and never really saw an improvement in my swim times. Sometimes, that got discouraging. I finally decided that I was just born to be a slow swimmer (but a steady one, okay?).

Friday night, I swam a 3 X 500 set and was shocked that I did the first 500 in 14.01 minutes. I actually thought my watch had malfunctioned. The second 500, I did in 14:10. This was LESS than my usual 3 minute per 100 pace, and I wasn't racing those 500's (I wasn't slouching through them either, but there was no sprinting involved). I was so excited. I HAD GOTTEN FASTER. Something worked! (Thanks Coach Claire!).

Now, this doesn't mean I will always be faster, but it does mean that I have broken a personal barrier and I have succeeded in one of my goals--getting faster on the swim. Not much faster, I'll grant you, but I may not be done yet either. Stay tuned.

In addition, I managed to run a full 5.4 miles last night and added in one minute fartleks (see my post on that if you don't know what it is) per each quarter mile--throughout the entire 60 minutes without flagging too badly. My body is getting more efficient at running. I can see success there too. It's slow, and it's taken a lonnnggg time, but it's there. I hope I'm not done with it.

I think we are so used to instant gratification in today's world--punch a button, get a meal, hit a switch, the house gets cool--that we forget that some things take time and determination and plain old slogging through days and weeks of work before a glimmer of success shows up. We no longer have to wait through months of frost and spring rains to enjoy fresh vegetables on our table; we no longer have to nuture and grow a calf before we can have our burger at dinner. But when it comes to physical strength and endurance, the rules haven't changed all that much over the eons. Work and sweat hard for a long, long, LONG time (especially if you are an older and less fit athlete--then you can add three more longs to that), and then you will see the benefits--eventually.

Patience is a virtue that I got shorted on at birth, but this stuff is teaching me the value of it.

Yowza. It's 105 degrees today and I'm planning a little bike jaunt. I keep reminding myself that this terrible heat wave is temporary, and in--oh two months or so--the weather will be simply delightful. Raining, but delightful.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My First Olympic Tri: Race Report

Since it's so stupid hot out there, I thought I'd post my race report from my first Oly tri which I did back in May of this year. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, and I'm so glad I did it.

MAY 16, 2010

I woke up well before the alarm went off at 4 a.m., knowing this was D day, the day I had selected to do my very first Olympic distance triathlon event. I was excited, nervous and ready to just get it on. So much planning and preparation and now I was eager to see how it all came together in a race.

I had actually entered another Olympic triathlon 4 weeks earlier in Galveston, Texas, and had trained and tapered for that event. We drove down to Galveston on the Thursday before the event (the Oly distance was held on Saturday) in order to pick up my packet and go to a mandatory pre race meeting on Friday. I had never seen the course until that day, although I had a general idea of the layout from the maps and from the fact that I was born and raised in Galveston until I was about 12 years old. Things have changed there, but not that much. I was worried about the bay swim (salt water) but determined to do this thing. I had done two sprint tris the previous year and now the Oly distance was my new goal. I was almost 53 years old and had never been an athlete or any kind of participant in athletic events until the age of 49, when I trained for and ran my first of three half marathons—very slowly. Now I was easing into triathlons, and was ready to up the ante to Oly distance.

I was terribly worried about the weather in Galveston that weekend, which had predicted storms, but we arrived at the event site at 6 a.m. on race day with only a light mist falling and very little wind. I thought it was a good sign. As I struggled into my wetsuit, trying to stop my teeth from chattering nervously, I noticed the wind building and the rain increasing. About 7:15 a.m., 15 minutes from the start of the first wave (I was in the 12th wave; this was not a small race), the wind shifted hard to the north and started blowing about 50 mph—hard enough that all the event signs, markers, and race water buoys blew completely away (including the finish line markers!). After about 30 minutes of no let up (the rain quit, but the wind continued to simply howl) the announcers said they would be canceling the swim –the bay was now a mass of huge waves and churning whitewater--and make the race a duathlon with only the bike and run.

I was so terribly disappointed! I had signed up to do a TRIATHLON, not a duathlon, and it didn’t feel right to cheat the water and then call myself an Oly distance triathlete. After much internal debate, I elected to just pack up my gear and walk away from the race and enter another one 4 weeks later nearer to Dallas, my hometown. Back to training I went.

So the morning of the May 16 race, I naturally ran straight to the computer at 4 a.m. and checked the weather report. Forecast: isolated thunderstorms. Hmmm. I hoped this was not to be a repeat of every tri I entered. Well, nothing to do but get on the road and see what happened.

The Patient Spouse woke up with me and made coffee while I washed my face, put in my contacts, brushed my hair (I asked myself why, but did it anyway), and dressed in my tri gear and Crocs. I was my usual race morning self--excited, nervous, hyper and acting on the outside like I had it all under control.

I then double checked the car (which I had loaded with my bike, my backpack full of gear, my bike pump and my wetsuit the night before, and triple checked already, but in my mind it never hurt to check once more), grabbed a big water bottle and a bagel smeared with peanut butter, and we were out the door into the humid darkness by 4:45 a.m., headed north for about an hour’s drive. I plugged my iPod into the car speaker system and turned on some motivational tunes (“I Believe I Can Fly” was a good start). I nibbled on my bagel and drank water and tried not to obsess on my fears. I was worried about it being hot that day. I really die in the heat. I hate the heat. I can’t stand running in the heat. This was May 16 in Texas. It was not going to NOT be hot.

I was also worried about the swim. I had done just one practice open water swim, about 400 yards worth of it, about six weeks earlier. The Oly swim was 1500 yards. I’d never done that distance other than in a pool. I was terrified that I would try to look out at the start line to see the first buoy and it would be so far away that it would not even be visible. I had agonized over the swim map several times, using a ruler and trying to calculate the distance on each of the three legs (out, across and then back), and how long each would take me. I had tried for weeks to look at buildings, trees, light poles in the distance to see how far 450 yards (what I estimated the "out" swim leg to be) really looked. The answer: really, really far.

Finally, I was worried about the bike. I had driven up to the race site and ridden the bike course once before, two weeks prior. That day was hot, windy and I simply and completely bonked on the hills and the wind snarling in my face. I ended up with a terribly slow bike time and so I was afraid the wind and the hills would suck me dry on the bike.

As we got closer to the race site, I started noticing lightning in the sky up to the north—where we were headed, naturally. OMG. Was this going to be a repeat of my last tri—or worse? Would there be waves and chop from wind? Would I get hit by lightning? Would they cancel the race?

OK, did I have enough to worry about here? I dialed up the iPod and tried to relax. I visualized my swim, bike and run as being smooth and successful. My heart was still hammering, but I started to calm down. I had trained for this. I could do this.

Fortunately, by the time we got to the state park, the lightning had moved off to the east and the sun was starting to rise in a clear sky. Great swimming weather. Lousy hot running weather. The other good news was, the wind seemed minimal. Great swimming weather again! And great biking weather! However, gonna be totally hot on that run. Well, the run was a long way away. I quit thinking about it. Or I quit constantly thinking about it, which was the next best thing.

I used the facilities when we arrived about 6:00 a.m. (the race started at 7), pumped up my bike tires, got body marked, and then set up my transition spot, choosing to be closer to the swim entrance than the bike and run exit (no real strategy to this in my mind). The Oly racks were designated as certain areas, and there were also sprint racks and 70.3 racks (all three events were happening at the same time; the sprint and 70.3 had the biggest entries). I set up next to an extremely young and very fit man who looked at me as if I were his mother---and I guess I certainly could have been. I set out my run and bike shoes, with a gel in each one (last tri I put a gel in my back shirt pocket and it somehow fell out on the swim), turned on my Garmin for the run portion, put my helmet, gloves and glasses on the bike bars, and my race belt on top of my run shoes. I also set out socks on top of my bike shoes. I had decided to wear socks on this tri although I had gone sockless in my first 2 sprint tris. I was concerned about 6.2 miles in the heat on my feet—blisters were not something I wanted to experience. I decided to put them on before the bike so they would already be there when I transitioned to the run.

I then rejoined Patient Spouse and we went to the little beach area to look at the swim start. There was a long narrow sandy beach with a bunch of serious looking folks on it in black, peering out into the rising sun. It took us a while to figure out where the swim areas were because they were just then setting out the marker buoys. Even then, no one announced which buoy marked which course, and although it seemed fairly obvious (the short ones would be the sprint, the medium ones the Oly, and those loonnng ones are the 70.3), I wanted to double check with someone about that. I asked several people and no one could really say; finally I found the race director who assured me that I was right and that the buoys were also white, yellow and orange colored for each different events Except there were two buoys that were to me obviously the wrong color--green--but I decided to give up worrying and just figure it out. This was going to be a beach start, and that first Oly buoy did look far, but you know what? Not impossibly far. I felt the stirring of hope and eagerness in my chest.

It was then time to squeeze my body into the wetsuit, being about 6:30 a.m. I applied the bodyglide all over and managed of course to smear my body markings into unreadable hieroglyphics when I did so. I put the wetsuit on and about that time this all became real in my head. I was going to swim, bike and run a total of 31.2 miles. I kept trying to drink water, and then I ate a banana about 6:45 a.m. I was quite scared, but also ready and determined.

The race start area was relaxed and friends and family were encouraged to come and stand with the athletes on the sand. The 70.3s were going off first, in two waves (men and women), then the Olys in two waves, and then the sprints. There were supposed to be about 20 minutes between starts. This meant that I would start around 7:30 a.m. and the sprint racers would start around 8:00 a.m. Plenty of time to get out of their way. So I thought. I ended up being wrong, but it was good not to know that at the start line. I was worried about being kicked in the face.

I waded in the water to warm up and tried not to gasp at the temperature; it really wasn’t all THAT cold, about 72 degrees, but it felt downright artic. I paddled around a bit in the shallows, trying to still my beating heart and remind myself that I could indeed do this swim. I cleaned and spit up my goggles, zipped up the back of my wetsuit, and checked my watch to be sure it was ready to hit “start.” I practiced swimming out and back about 50 or 60 yards and it felt okay. I could swim without gasping for breath, which seemed like a good omen.

About 7 a.m. we were asked to clear the water and a group consisting of a saxophonist and 2 trumpet players did a jazzy National Anthem. I was okay with the anthem, but I was starting to get antsy because let’s face it, our anthem is pretty long, and when they started a second verse of it in a jazz mode, I wondered if they ever intended to get done playing. These were local high school kids and this was a big deal to them, I know, but I was getting more nervous by the moment.

Around 7:10 the race director announced that the only parathlete entered would start first, followed by the men’s 70.3 wave. I guess a lot of people didn’t hear that, because when the gun went off, about 1/3 of the 70.3 men started into the water right with the parathlete. It was not possible to call them back, and after about 20seconds, every other 70.3 male started, now angry that their compadres got a 20 second head start.

Five minutes later, the 70.3 women were given their horn, and soon it was going to be the Oly turn. The director announced we had fifteen minutes (what happened to 20?), and I went and sat in the water for a second, trying to get acclimated and relaxed. The day was turning out to be warm and sunny; great weather for a little swim around the lake, very little current and hardly any chop. I told myself not to think past the swim. Actually, I told myself not to think past making it to the first turn buoy. That was my goal. It could be done. Let the future take care of itself after I made it to the first buoy.

Right on schedule, the male Olys started their swim and now us ladies were up next. I had five minutes to get mentally prepared and suddenly I realized I had forgotten to take Advil. I had sustained a bad bike fall about six weeks ago and managed a grade 2 separation of my right shoulder. I was better, but I really wanted the insurance of a pain reliever especially going into the bike. I asked my Patient Spouse if he thought he could get to our car and back in four minutes, and he said he thought that he could. He sprinted off down the sand to fetch Advil for his nervous wife. He didn’t realize he had signed up to do a sprint that day.

The race director started counting down the minutes until our start time, and when he got to one minute, I knew I was going to have to go Advil-less. I stayed high on the beach to one side and behind just in case the Patient Spouse ran up at the last second, but I had planned to do that anyway. When the horn went off, I tarried a bit (in retrospect, probably too much) to let the faster swimmers go and I finally waded in (so much for running in, like I had planned) and then belly flopped and started to stroke. AT LAST. Come heck or high water, here I go.

The swim portion wasn’t as bad as I feared, but it also wasn’t as easy as I hoped. I found that I had to stop and regroup several times during the first leg of the race out to sea, both to sight and to just calm myself down and remind myself that I really wasn’t coming even close to drowning. I didn’t have much company with me—everyone else had zoomed off and there were only a handful of us slow swimmers in the back. Every time I stopped to look and regroup, an over zealous rescue kayak would paddle over in front of me and ask if I needed help. The third time I said NO, I really meant it, although I did appreciate his concern. I could tell I needed more practice in sighting and swimming as I had difficulty seeing where I was headed. I had worn my tinted goggles, but the rising sun in my face and reflected on the water made seeing the markers difficult. However, when I wasn’t stopping to regroup, I swam freestyle the whole way. No breast stroking or doggy paddling, which I was thinking might happen. I was proud of my effort, slow as I was.

As I got to my first turn marker buoy, I heard the sprint race start horn go off. A glance at my watch told me they had sent the sprint males off about 10 minutes ahead of the promised schedule. Well, their marked course was shorter than mine, so I didn’t care. Other than I forgot the last leg of the swim--to the beach-- was going to be shared by all swimmers. Once again, it was good not to know that at the time.

I was so excited to get to my first swim turn that I stopped there a moment to catch my breath (I would NOT, no I would NOT look behind me to see how far out I was). There was an older plump guy holding onto the buoy with an Oly colored swim cap that looked pretty wasted. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he thought so, but just needed to rest. I got worried for him and looked and motioned a rescue kayak over to him as those buoys didn't look very stable. I didn’t see him again and I don’t know if he finished the swim, but I am afraid he might not have. I hope he did. The rescue kayaks were awesome and were paying close attention to us slowpokes at the end. I never worried about not being rescued if something went wrong.

Well, I made the first turn and then ran smack into Mr. Current on the long leg across. Mr. Current was not friendly. I kept swimming hard and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere, like Wile E. Coyote hanging in mid air pumping his legs. It seemed to take forever to reach the halfway mark, and then even longer to reach the second turn buoy. I would tell myself, 30 more strokes and you’re there, but after 30 strokes the turn buoy would look even farther than before. Finally, I managed to reach it. And at least I was now turned for shore.

When I first looked up on the final swim leg to sight the beach, I was totally horrified at how far away it was. But I put my head down with determination and kept swimming, now with no current to slow me down. About halfway through the last leg I ran—literally-- into the male sprint swimmers, each of whom seemed to have a personal need for my five feet of water. At first I was scared when they plowed into me, but then I actually got mad. I started kicking out at every little touch or splash and that seemed to help keep them away from me. I kept swimming. The beach was coming closer, but not as fast as I wanted it to.

100 years or so later, I felt the bottom under my hand and stood up. I hadn’t drowned! I was so excited that I almost forgot I had a lot more race to do. I staggered out, third to last of the Oly swimmers that finished that day. The nice man knee deep in water helped unzip my suit and the wetsuit strippers grabbed the rest of it and peeled me like a banana. During all this I kept babbling over to my Patient Spouse, who was taking photos, that I had survived the swim. He didn’t look all that impressed. However, I was extremely impressed with myself. So far. I knew I could do the rest of the race and not panic. I tried to start thinking about the bike, but couldn't get over how glad I was that I had completed the swim.

I tossed my wetsuit to the Patient Spouse and trotted up to transition, where most of the Oly bikes were already gone (mentally this is a tough sight. As a slower athlete, I have to learn to get over it). Quick into the helmet and sunglasses first. Then into the socks (wasn’t too hard to put them on, I was glad to see, and I could manage it standing on one leg like a stork) and the bike shoes, grab the gel and stuff it in the shirt pocket, and off I galumped with the bike to the mounting area. Leg went over the bar the first time, a good sign. Now I’m pedaling and out of the parking lot and onto the very road that ate my lunch 2 weeks before. I’m wet and cool and the morning is bright and sunny. I’m also seeing bikers coming back into transition already. Don’t think about it.

The bike ride went much better than my practice ride two weeks before and I posted a much faster time. The wind was not as much of factor on race day, and I was prepared for the roller hills and the areas of bad pavement already in my mind. I stayed down on the bars as much as my injured shoulder would permit (which wasn’t much) and tried to remember to drink my sports drink every 2 miles on the dot. Before I knew it, I had done 6 miles and was ¼ of the way through! I passed one Oly biker about mile 7 and was excited about that, but the rest of the bikes that I passed—and those were very, very few—were sprinters. The good news is, very few people passed me. Mostly because I was one of the last ones out on the bike.

About mile 15 I came upon what was the hardest part of the bike, where the road was pretty torn up and the hills were constantly up and down, but seemed primarily to be up. It was also getting really warmish out there already. I gobbled down a full gel at mile 16 and kept drinking and pedaling and wishing the bike were over with. My rear was starting to get numbish.

A lot sooner than I truly expected, I was making the turn back into the state park and coming up the last bike leg to the transition. I had passed several runners that had Oly numbers on them, but I tried not to think about that, either.

Into transition I bumped, and as I dismounted and ran to my spot, I heard the Patient Spouse yell at me: “Do you want to leave?”

I looked over the transition fence at him and simply was astonished. Okay, I was in like fourth to last place out of 225 Oly finishers, but I certainly wasn’t going to QUIT. He repeated “do you want to leave?” and this time he held out his hand as if to assist me over the fence and into, I suspect, a waiting ambulance.

Then I realized he was holding out two Aleve to me. He had been asking, “do you want an Aleve?” I laughed as I stripped off my helmet and bike shoes. I told him no, I wasn’t allowed to accept outside assistance once the race began, and said I’d see him after the run was done. I slid on my lightly bodyglided running shoes, snapped on my race belt, strapped on my Garmin and hit start, and started out of transition with a lot of determination. Running was my best sport of the three. I knew I could run six miles without stopping, at least without a bike and swim beforehand, so I planned to run most of the run portion, even if I had to walk a little bit of it.

My great plan was to run a mile and then walk for 3 minutes, run another mile and walk for 3 minutes, all up until mile 4, when I suspected I might need to walk a bit more often, maybe every three-quarters of a mile (but I was playing that by ear). However, I didn’t count on the heat. By the time I started my run, it was already pushing above 90 degrees and very still. And over half of the run was on sunbaked asphalt and pavement with no shade.

I trotted out comfortably at about an 11:30 pace and within three minutes was out into the full hot blazing sun. After about a half mile I knew my original plan was going to go out the window. I had to walk at a half mile and hated myself for doing it. I caught my breath for 3 minutes and started up again, a bit slower, and managed to hit the one mile mark where the first water station was. I asked for something besides water but water was all they had (next time, I’ll wear my fuel belt with sports drink stashed in it). Water in my mouth and water poured over my head and I ran to 1.5 miles where I walked a bit again. Then I ran to 2 miles, which was uphill and no shade, and now I’m starting to really feel the heat. Another water stop with only water offered. I sucked down another half gel (in reality, shoulda done that before the run started) and ran to 2.5 miles, almost halfway, and watched a 70.3 guy stop and throw up almost on my shoes. Oops. Glad I didn’t have that problem. Yet. Getting hotter. I managed to run to 3.1 miles and that station had water and gels, but I didn’t need a gel, I was hoping for something liquid with electrolytes in it, or something salty, but it wasn’t offered. Water again down the hatch and over the head. I ran it out to 3.5 miles – by this time the 70.3s were starting their second loop and nearly every one coming at me kept saying “good job, good job.” I was one of the last Olys still out there but these guys were nodding at me as if I had secured a podium place. It was awesome and inspiring. I picked up the idea and encouraged everyone else that was coming at me, and also the one guy I managed to pass (we duked it out back and forth for awhile, but I finally got past him at mile 5 and never saw him again).

I kept walking for three minutes and running half miles until mile 5.5, when I had to walk five minutes as it was all uphill about then. I could smell the finish line and I knew I would finish under my main time goal (which was four hours) but not my secondary time goal (3:45). I was getting a bit woozy in the heat and my stomach was growling and empty. The race site had promised gummy bears, pretzels and flat Coke at the aid stations, but I never saw any of that. I learned you best carry stuff with you if you want something besides water.

I started running again about 5.8 miles determined to take it to the finish line, which seemed a thousand miles away. I could hear the band and the announcer and yet the path kept winding on, with liars constantly telling me “almost there.” (Almost there, to me, means about 20 yards. Not half a mile). Finally, I came out of the last turn and saw the finish—and Patient Spouse-- up ahead. I had no sprint left in me but did stay upright and raise my arms as I came through. I had done it! 3:53 total time. 40 minute swim, 14.5 average bike pace, and a lousy 12 minute something average run portion. As I staggered into the arms of the Patient Spouse, I said, "that was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can survive that, I can survive ANYTHING."

I finished 223 out of 225 Oly entrants. That did not include any DNFs, which weren’t listed. I sported my medal, basked in post race pizza and Vitawater and rested for a while in the shade (it continued to get hotter!). It took a long time until results were posted, and when they were, I wasn’t even on the sheet (they didn’t list the late finishers). I had to go ask the timer for my official time, to be sure it matched my watch (it was within 2 seconds). My listing did show up on the internet posting the next day. I was dead last in my age group, but also the second oldest women to even finish the Oly (the oldest woman smoked me by about 15 minutes).

The Patient Spouse took all my gear as I handed it to him over the transition fence and we loaded up the car to head for a great barbecue lunch in town. As we drove out of the park, some of the last 70.3 bikers were just headed out for their 13.1 mile run in the shimmering noon heat. I said to him: “next year that’s gonna be me.”

What I learned from the race, and what I would do differently:

Start the swim more aggressively. No reason to hang back if you are slow; you will end up behind everyone anyway. I wouldn’t be up front, but I would be breathing down the wetsuited neck of the others in my rear position.

Swim a bit harder. It takes more energy to stop and tread water than it does to just keep swimming.

Work on sighting better beforehand.

Be more aggressive coming out of the water. Head fast to stripping and transition. Don't pat yourself on the back so long that you lose valuable time.

Get down more on the areobars during the bike.

Drink more often during the bike.

Take in more carbs on the bike. 2 gels rather than 1.

Push harder on the flats on the bike. This is not a Sunday stroll ride. Keep the cadence high.

Acclimate to running better in the heat prior to race day.

Carry my own sports drink, gummy bears, etc. in my fuel belt. Don’t rely on the break stations to have what I want or even what they advertise. Take in some electrolytes during the run.

Fuel up more for the run. Maybe a gel or some gummy bears at the start.

Push harder the last mile of the run. Who cares how bad you feel at the finish?

I’ll be there next year—in the 70.3!