4.23.2012

Weekend Training

Week's Training - Now With Funky Tan Lines
Did you know that next week we will be leaving on a plane to St. Croix?? Whoa! We've had this trip planned for so long it seems like it would never get here. After Oceanside, I told my coach I wanted to hammer myself as hard as I could in preparation for the brutal race conditions of the St. Croix 70.3. My body, however, seems to have other plans. Like rest. And more rest. And some more rest.

Two weeks ago I was plagued by a deep ache in my hip. It was as if someone pulled my femur out of my hip socket, rubbed sand all over it, and jammed it back in the socket. Knots in my piriformis, tension in my hamstrings and pain in my sciatic nerve served as a swift reminder to chill out, stretch and take it easy. Fortunately it eased up a bit after a long massage and several rounds with the at home percussion massager we got from our local CVS pharmacy. By the end of last week I was feeling on the mend even though it meant shortening my workouts a bit. I was amped to get back into my workouts but I woke up Friday with a sweet stomach flu that kept me on a short leash from the bathroom. Determined to hit this past weekend hard, I kept shoveling in hydration and nutrition hoping some of it would stick for the weekend.

Luckily I woke up Saturday ready to go! It was going to be a hot one out, so I made sure to wait for the heat to get started a little bit. St. Croix is hot and humid, and I don't do so well in the heat. The more I can acclimate to hot now, the easier it will be then. My plan for the day had a easy paced 25mi ride with 3 repeats of Modjeska grade. If you're not familiar with Modjeska, it's a 1 mile section with an average 10% grade and sections up to 20%. It's no joke! Previously, I've only done it once per ride, and I was a little unsure of how I would do three back to back repeats. It took some mental fortitude, that's for sure. It's easier when other people are out there with you, but when you're alone, you have to be accountable to yourself. I was reminded of something Jason at Cook Train Eat Race wrote in his post, Mental Toughness Thursdays about taking it easy when you're training alone. Those thoughts creep in, "Who would know if I stop? If I don't do all three repeats? If I take a little breather?" and his answer, same as mine, is that I WOULD KNOW. I would only be cheating myself. So up I went, again and again and again!
OUCH
What came after the ride was a character building 5 mile transition run. From Canyon View park, it's a slight uphill incline that changes into a steeper incline for the first 2.5 miles. I had 1 easy pace mile and then had to turn up the speed as I started mile 2. It was hot. It was difficult. And I pushed as hard as I could. Before, in training, I've struggled with this run, so it meant a lot to me to give it all I could in hopes that this time I would nail it. I knew that the way back was downhill and I clung to that thought as hard as I could. I also knew that my coach and teammates were suffering in 98' weather at The Rage half ironman in NV. I knew I had it in me, and I let all five miles have it. Saturday left me with a huge feeling of accomplishment!

I really have no idea what's in store for me in St. Croix, but based off race reports from years past the swim will most likely be choppy with a current (and not going in the direction I want), the bike may or may not be rainy, the Beast rises up at mile 20 with an average grade of 14% for 7/8 of a mile and a max kicker of 26%. I know that the rest of the ride is comprised of heat, humidity, hills and lots of wind. The run will be hot, exposed and humid and hilly. I'm pretty sure it's going to be the hardest race yet, but I'm committed to showing up and putting one foot in front of the other until I cross that finish line!

4.17.2012

So Are You Vegan Now, or What?


I'm a work in progress, but I think the changes are evident in this photo over only  6 months.
This is a question I’m asked frequently, and I decided to answer it in a blog. It’s a bit personal, but if I can shed some light on issues that anyone else is having, it’s worth sharing. First, I don’t judge. Your diet and habits are personal choices and there is one person uniquely qualified to best make those choices: you. I have no interest in convincing anyone to eat a certain way or give up the things they like. Some people are sensitive to wheat, others to dairy, still others nothing at all. Personally, I found that cleaning up my diet has cleaned up my life and enriched my everyday experience. Our diet is currently about 90% vegan. I still eat eggs, and if I feel like it, I eat fish. If the wind blows just right I might even eat bacon! Also, though I don’t by-and-large drink alcohol, if I feel like having a beer or a glass of wine, I will. What began as a reaction to a health matter evolved into a lifestyle change that encompasses my overall wellness, that of the environment and its entire resident species, and a conscious decision to vote with my wallet.

At the beginning of 2010, I had picked smoking back up (after a few years off), was drinking regularly, and was happily immersed in all kinds of culinary tinkering resulting in exceptionally rich handmade foods. Despite regular visits for cardio and/or weights at the gym, I was gaining weight and not very satisfied with my life. On a lark, I signed up for a sprint triathlon and began to make incremental changes in my life. I started a new cycle of being healthy all weekdays and then I'd let loose on the weekends. While I was smoking less and drinking less, I felt worse and worse.

One evening I came home from a hard workout, ate some hummus and veggies, showered, relaxed, had a glass of wine, and promptly vomited. I remember wondering, “What the hell is going on here?” Hangovers became debilitating, and these two aspects of my life (healthy vs. unhealthy) weren’t fitting together. The physical stress of this conflict was evident.
*TMI alert*
For a few years prior, I noticed small amounts of blood in my stool after nights out drinking or eating rich food. There were no accompanying red-flag symptoms, so I dismissed it and continued telling myself I’d go to the doctor soon.  As time went on, I started passing a bit more blood and became genuinely concerned. I negotiated further with myself, cutting down the alcohol and slashing the cigarettes except for vacations and on very rare occasions. Those few random times resulted in hangovers SO grueling and I got SO wasted SO fast I couldn't believe it. The rich food I used to eat became painful to digest. Every night when I lay down to sleep my stomach hurt – I was constantly painfully bloated and uncomfortable. It seemed like the healthier I became, the fewer my options were, and the less “fun” I could have.

I finally went to a gastroenterologist in January of 2011 and he did a ton of tests and nothing was conclusive. My insurance wouldn't pay the $2500 for a colonoscopy, so I asked him to run everything else he could to make sure I didn't have cancer. Fortunately, I came back cancer and disease-free, and the doctor didn’t have anything to offer me other than more tests and prescription drugs to ease my symptoms. I was frustrated with the medical community and their lack of answers so I began an elimination diet (taking things out of my diet to find what caused the issues). I have all the symptoms of someone with IBS (and have my whole life, it's only gotten worse) and Crohn's disease (for which there is no conclusive test). I began to research what might be causing my problems and discovered the most common issues are dairy, alcohol, caffeine, refined foods (processed breads, foods, etc.), high protein diets, fatty meat, fried food, and chocolate.

It was time for me to be honest with myself. I already knew dairy was a problem for me, and I suspected the alcohol wasn’t helping (since it's a blood thinner). I knew anything rich (cream sauce, fatty food, fatty meat) was a definite problem. I was pretty bummed to say goodbye to cheese and alcohol. I spent most of my adult life drinking two glasses (or more) a night and thinking that was pretty normal. I mean, everyone has a few glasses of wine after work, right? But to be honest, it was more like 3-4 glasses of wine a night. And honestly I didn’t really ever go a day without drinking. By this time, I was beginning to realize that it really, really, really wasn’t normal and I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have an alcohol dependency problem.  Adam had gone through phases of non-drinking before so I figured I’d give it a go. I had also signed up for the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon and was starting to be more serious about training. I knew it would be a big change, but I had no idea how significant, or how hard it would be for me.

Out went the dairy, and the alcohol, and the fatty foods, and almost all of the meat. We always ate some vegetarian meals, so we mixed in seafood, fish, and increased our vegetable intake. We played with different grains like quinoa, wheat berries, and millet. It came as no surprise that after a week or two I felt amazing. Gone were the painful bloating, the bleeding and discomfort. I felt light and energized instead of cramping and sluggish. I slept better, I woke up before my alarm and I felt better during and after my increasing workouts. On rare occasions I’d get the urge to “treat myself” to a glass of wine or something on my “avoid” food list, and the punishment would be swift and severe. When you’re no longer drinking on a regular basis, two glasses of wine makes for an all-day hangover. My stomach would hurt, reminding me that those foods were not meant for me, either.  Some of us are slow learners.

I had to retrain my brain. The things I had considered rewards were now punishing me, and the cleaner my body became, the more I realized they had always punished me. Alcohol was always hurting me: Slowing down mind and keeping me beneath my potential each day, keeping me tied to an addictive cycle while adding countless useless calories, stripping my body of needed energy and preventing me from having a strong immune system, and increasing my chances of making bad decisions. Sure, some people can have a drink or two here and there and be fine. I’m not one of those people and while I told myself for years (decades even) that I didn’t have an alcohol problem, the further I stepped away from the barstool, the more I realized I had been lying to myself. My entire life immediately snapped into focus. Once-lofty goals became reachable. Getting drawn into personal conflict became easily avoidable. My priorities shifted as I became in control of my emotions and could finally steer my life in a direction I wanted. To me, there is no real benefit that comes from drinking; I feel really good all the time - without repercussions. Drinking is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It might stop the bleeding for a little bit, but it's an ineffective solution. When I realized I felt really healthy and really alive every day, I didn't need to find another way to make myself feel better.

Rich food was no longer a reward. And that was a bit more insidious of a habit. As a dedicated omnivore and part time at-home chef, I found myself confused about my diet. I began to look at the foods that were causing me issues and realized that they probably weren’t the best choices from a general health standpoint either.  Cheese is super high in fat, and who the heck eats just one serving? A serving is the size of a pair of dice. There’s no question about the dietary implications of those delicious fried foods. Fatty meat I could understand as meat’s never been a huge draw for me, and I could see the negatives of the fat and cholesterol. But what about chicken? Fish? Shellfish? Poultry? Buffalo?

I began to be choosier with my food sources. After my own research and watching a handful of documentaries of the Food Inc. genre, I began to understand the importance of buying food that I could believe in. Organic, sustainably-farmed, fair-trade grown, pasture-raised, grass-fed, non-GMO, real and if possible locally grown/raised food. I began to dig deeper as I realized that a lot of labels don’t tell the truth. Cage-free eggs aren’t necessarily pasture-raised. Natural chicken doesn’t mean organic, which, in turn, doesn’t mean cruelty-free. Grass-fed cattle are often “finished” in a feedlot standing piles of their own shit. Buying sustainable seafood is a nightmare and virtually impossible.  More and more I began to question what I was putting into my body.

As I dove into half Ironman training, I began to look for more tools to enhance my new healthy body and triathlete lifestyle. I picked up a book I bought and forgot about called Thrive, by endurance athlete Brendan Brazier. In the book, Brazier discusses his philosophy of plant-based eating as a means of energy conservation. Your body only has so much energy available to do a multitude of tasks – physical labor, brain functions, healing, immune system functions, etc… We begin the energy cycle via food we eat and our body breaks that food down into units of energy that we can then use. Breaking food down into useable energy requires energy so it makes sense to eat foods that require the least amount of energy to digest. These foods are high net gain foods that translate into energy and nutrients with minimal effort: Unprocessed, fresh, real, organic plant products: grains, legumes, sprouts, greens, fruits, roots, nuts and seeds.

All the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are available from well-balanced plant-based diet. ALL of them. Every single essential amino acid. All your protein. All your vitamins and minerals. Essential fats. Fiber. EVERYTHING. All without wreaking havoc on your insides, taxing your energy resources, damaging the environment, paying money to agribusiness, and without taking life to sustain your own. When we realized this, we shifted heavily towards a plant-based diet. I want my physical energy spent strengthening my body and I want to live a life making choices that put my money where my mouth and my mind are.

The end result is phenomenal. My body composition shifted entirely. I feel healthy, light, energetic, and motivated. I know where my food comes from and don’t feel like I’m paying some corporate conglomerate to raise livestock in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, then slaughter them on my behalf. I know that I’m making a difference in the environment by making eco-friendly food choices. I know that my body heals and recovers faster than it ever has, and I almost never get sick. I recovered 100% in 3 days from a half-ironman I recently did. I don't believe in saying, "I'll never eat _____" or "I'll never drink another glass of ______ again", but I can attest to the powerful and positive changes that have occurred as a result of what I do and don’t put in my body. My body feels light, healthy, and energetic, I perform at a higher level physically, and right now I'm watching lifelong dreams rush towards me from the realm of the previously impossible because I have more time and energy to devote to them.



4.04.2012

Speedfil Standard Aero Bottle [Gear Review]

Speedfil standard set up on my new Felt DA4W = AWESOMESAUCE!
Please note: This review is based on my personal experience on an item I purchased myself. I was not contacted by the manufacturer or paid for this product.

In every triathlon, the bike is where you spend the most time. Whether it's 25 miles in an Olympic, 56 miles in a Half-Ironman or the full 112 in the Ironman - it's a lot of riding. This time is your best opportunity to refuel and re-hydrate from the swim and get ready for the run. Depending on the distance you're riding you may also require consistent intake of nutrition and that's not always easy in a race. Racing presents different obstacles to nutrition/hydration intake than training such as: nerves, increased speeds, more cycling traffic, and possibly unfamiliar routes or rough roads. Having a solid timing strategy for hydration and dependable equipment can make or break your race.

The most common setups I see are: 
  • Bottle cages on frame
  • Bottle cages on rear of bike under saddle
  • Standard Speedfil setup as shown above
  • A2 Speedfil or similar bottle between aero bars + back up bottles
First, I would like to point out that while I see the point of rear mounted bottle cages (or saddle mount) I wonder if all ya'll get tired of losing your bottles all over the road on race day and creating high speed obstacles for everyone else? Ejecting your full bottles at 20mph into whoever's behind you sucks for you (you're out of hydration) and it sucks for those behind you (now they've got a roving grenade to try to dodge while also trying to avoid other cyclists).

Now, I do plan on checking out some rear bottle cages so I can carry more liquid on long rides for Ironman training later this year. But in a race scenario, I use my Speedfil only. It carries all the liquid I need (and a little more) to get me from aid station to aid station. It takes TWO seconds to fill. It allows me to hydrate while keeping both hands on my bike and comfortably tucked in aero position. It does not create litter nor accident causing situations. I know every single time I go for my water, it's where it belongs and it fits neatly on my bike. 

Checking out the galleries from last weekend's races IM Texas 70.3 and IM California 70.3 and you'll note that not only a huge array of age groupers are using the standard Speedfil but a growing number of professionals. If you're looking for a solution for long rides and races, this is an absolute MUST HAVE.

Pros:
  • Not fussing with bottles
  • Easy to fill (just squeeze into the top and go)
  • Doesn't splash out!
  • No causing accidents or pissing those off behind you with your ejected bottles
  • No losing your hydration
  • Aerodynamic design
Cons: 
  • Envious looks on long rides as people screw around with their bottles or watching their little hands go back to their rear mount bottles and grasping at (doh!) nothing as their bottles are gone.
Note: 
If you know any GOOD rear mount bottle cages, let me know! I watched a guy lose his bottle four times on the way to transition before the race. Each time, he nestled it back in the cage and I chuckled as he ejected it time and time again. I'm willing to bet that bottle was gone in 5 minutes on the race. 

4.03.2012

Oceanside 70.3 Race Recap

The first race of the season was a success! There were things I could have done better and there were things I'm quite happy with. Overall I'm pleased with my performance and I have a clear view of what I need to work on. My main goal going into this race was to not hammer the bike so hard that I couldn't run. After Orangeman last year, I realized just how long and horrendous of a suffer-fest 13.1 miles could be and I didn't want to repeat that death march. Maybe death march sounds extreme, but I can tell you I came off the bike in Orangeman feeling like a hero and promptly turned to dog poo within the first mile of the run. It sucked and I vowed never again.

We arrived just right on time - too early and I'm standing around freezing and getting hyper. Too late and I'm rushed and forgetting stuff. We had just enough time to set up, say hello to people, go to the bathroom and get ready. I was really happy to see so many teammates there (racing and cheering), a few good friends, our coach and of course, Adam! Even though I have always tended to be a solo person, race day (and long workouts) are easier when the strength of many is pooled together. The race itself is made up of a network of other athletes, volunteers, friends, support, and human togetherness, even in the times when you are completely alone. It's that group that can float you through the hard parts and pull you upward, forward, and onward. I was particularly happy to see my old skydiving buddy Leon who I haven't seen in ages! It's such a trip that I've become reconnected with two friends from skydiving in triathlon! Small world!!

Adam + I pre-race

The Swim (1.2mi - 0:42:52 ugh! slow!)
This was my first swim-start race and I wasn't sure what to expect. Since Jilli and I swim about the same pace, I lined up with her towards the middle-front. When the horn sounded, we took off. I was expecting a lot of contact, but not for so long. It felt like the group stayed together in a frenzy of kicking and slapping for a long, long time. Every time I tried to surge, I hit someone else and people were swimming on top of me as well. I think in the future I will start off to the side and swim faster and a little further to break free from the melee a little bit then cut in around the side. I knew I wasn't swimming as fast as I needed to hit my goal time and finally just settled into a steady rhythm for the rest of the swim. Once we got out of the harbor there were some big rollers. I was a bit surprised, but there were enough feet to follow and the buoys were really easy to spot so I didn't let it bother me too much. I had no clue where I was in the pack of girls, so I swam in harder to the exit ramp. I was happy to see my buddy Ray (volunteer) the minute I got out but super bummed with my time. My average pace was 2:15/100y which absolutely bums me out since my recent open water swims have been more in the 2:00/100y range. 

Lessons Learned: Next time I will try a different starting position and maybe really practice swimming hard for the first 500 yards or so to get away from the pack. I also want to practice running out of the water so that transitions runs aren't so disorienting. 

T1 (0:05:26)
There was a short run and STILL this ended up being over FIVE minutes? What the heck was I doing?! I saw that Jillian was behind me by a minute or so and wanted to get out of T1 right behind her. Then I got to my stuff and...time slowed down. I put my arm warmers on since it was drizzly, I ate half a gel since I was starving and I hustled to throw all my stuff in the swim bag. I saw Jillian take off and knew my chance of staying with her was gone! Super disappointed. 

Lessons Learned: I don't need arm warmers. I don't get cold in races. I need to minimize the choices I have in transition. No gloves, no arm warmers, just bike, helmet, shoes, glasses. 

The Bike (03:18:18)
The hardest thing I did in this race was to let everyone ride past me in the first 30 miles. My race plan had heart rate guidelines and in order to stay in tempo I had to get my heart rate down first. I like to hammer the bike but I knew (and my coach knew) that would mean a bad run. So I settled in, tuned everyone else out and convinced myself I was just warming up for the run. I was a little worried about the first steep hill on my new tri bike, but it went just fine! After that I knew the rest of the bike was a walk in the park and I picked it up a bit. The new bike felt great. The roads were pretty slick due to the drizzle and fog, but all the downhills were on pretty good roads so there wasn't a lot to avoid. I came in to T2 and new I was going to miss my 6:00:00 best case scenario finish. My average speed was pretty low for me, but I was focused on the run, not the bike. I know I can ride my bike fast (and particularly my new bike) but I kept the run as my goal and didn't let it get me down.

Lessons Learned: I think I could have gone harder than I did and still had a good run. I was a bit nervous on my new bike and had never run off riding it, so I took it a little easy. All in all it meant a good run, but I know I could have hit it harder than I did without sacrificing the run.


T2 (0:03:53)
SO awesome that they take your bike and handle all your stuff for you in transition! This was my first Ironman race and they really do take care of you for the money you spend. Since I knew I missed my big "aim for the stars" goal, I took the time to be comfortable and go pee. 

Lessons Learned: Learn to pee on the bike. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Seriously. I feel like a bad triathlete!



The Run (02:08:23)
I knew from the moment my feet hit the pavement that I was GOOD to go. My coach had told me I could bump up my speed a little bit if it felt too slow, which turned out to be good advice. I kept slowing down and slowing down until I felt like I was shuffling. I was still running just under a 10:00/mi so I tried to hold it there. Again, I watched hordes of people run past me and took a deep breath and relaxed and let them go by. This was my race and my run, not theirs. Once I came back by the Team FC cheering section around mile 6.5 I knew I had the run. I felt like I could have kept running 9:50-10:00 forever. It was the first time in my life in a race that I've felt this way and I couldn't believe it was at the end of a half ironman. I picked up the pace from there and kept pushing as much as I could. The last mile and a half were a little bit difficult as my feet were sore from the concrete, but I kept pushing myself as much as I could and happily crossed the finish line. My average pace was 9:48/mi which makes me REALLY happy. A few years ago, my goal was to run a half-marathon in 10:00/mi average pace, doing so at the end of a half ironman was really cool.

Lessons Learned: Having a good run was well worth a slower bike! Many of the people that hustled past me in miles 1-3 were walking the rest of the way. Some of the people that hammered the bike walked up every single hill and I jogged by them, knowing their pain (and also chuckling, suckers). Nothing is better for me than a good run and I feel like I finally nailed it. I never, ever, ever want to have to walk /suffer on the run again!

Total Time: 6:19:25
Yes, about 19:25 over my best case scenario goal, but I'm still happy. I had a good run, a safe bike and I know I can swim harder than that. For my second race, I'm still learning and I'm proud of my results.

All in all, racing is such an amazing experience. From the crowds, volunteers, teammates, strangers, there's something 100% wonderful about the whole thing.  I feel so fortunate to have so many supportive people in my life. I'm not sure how I got so lucky, but I'm grateful every day! Seeing everyone on the course racing and friends cheering made the day really special. I've got one more month to go until St. Croix (which will hand my ass to me), but I'm ready to attack the next month of training and give it all I've got! On a side note, the race itself was GREAT, I'll definitely register again.