Monday, July 25, 2011

Mistake Fixed

I didn't know wetsuits could do that.

After a successful one-on-one with my swim coach, treading water while in a wetsuit is no longer an issue for me. She showed me how to pull myself upright and just hang out in the deep stuff. Easy. I wish I had spent the money on a wetsuit years ago.

Regarding One Little Mistake, where I described why treading water was something I sorely needed to learn, I had a comment from Roy and Christine of the Pedal Pushers regarding this post.
"I am not sure I understand the Intricacies of the swimming part. My friends just talk about getting kicked or jabbed...."

Your friends forgot to mention getting swum over, pushed down and rolled over.

Here are a couple of different types of triathlon swim starts. They put the "MA!!" in Mass Starts;

Point-to-Point Start
This means you start at some pre-determined point in the water and swim to another point (hopefully somewhere near the shoreline).
This is the start of the Pros at the Ironman World Champsionships in 2009.

To be honest, you could put your thumb on the screen and cover as many women as will be in my next point-to-point start. This just looks so much more awesome.

Beach Start
You start at the beach and swim to another point along the shore, either out and back around a line of buoys or along the shoreline.

The theory: You start near the front and run like an animal into the surf. Once you're about knee-to-quad deep, you dive in head first. Do 3 dolphin kicks, keep your head down and drive for about 20-25 hard strokes. Come up for air using the breaststroke, pick a spot on the horizon that you can watch to keep yourself swimming in a straight line, and start your swim stroke of choice. It should feel like the Filene's Basement Running of the Brides.

The reality: Figuring you've been plowed over enough at these starts, you start in the middle to back of the mob and walk in like you're waiting for a popular ride at an amusement park. You might start swimming while others are just about ready to make their turnaround. This traffic jam is why treading water could be important. Sinking is a bad thing but even more so when no one knows you've gone under and anyone in a wetsuit won't be able to dive down and grab you.

This is the beach start for 2009 Ironman Florida.

It's these kinds of starts that inspired this iconic Clif Bar ad:

Oh, and if you are unfamiliar with the "Running of the Brides" - here's the video. It is currently on hiatus in Boston but I believe New York is carrying the torch right now.

The mentality is the same but with less sand and water.
Friday, July 22, 2011

One Little Mistake

When I was at work Thursday morning, my friend/swim coach came in to get ready for her classes and the following conversation transpired:

Me: I think I figured out this morning what my problem has been through all of these triathlons.

Her: What?

Me: I suck at treading water.

You do?

Me: I realized that I panic when I have to tread because I can't.

Her: You shouldn't have a problem with that in a wetsuit.

Me: I didn't even give the wetsuit a chance to fail me.

Her: ... and you're too tall to work on that at this pool. (The deep end of the pool is only 5'7" and I'm 5'9". I can literally stand in the deep end and not drown.)

Me: So I work on it at the clubhouse and the lake but I can never get it right.

Her: ... and you sink.

Me: and I sink.

Her: That's pretty scary.

Me: 'Scary' is a good word.

Her: It's actually pretty terrifying.

Me: I wouldn't disagree with that assessment. There's nothing like flipping out four feet away from the side of a pool. I must have watched 10 "how-to" videos but I'm just not getting it. It's weird that I can swim all over the deep end and not worry about it unless I have to stop. Then I'm scrambling for the sides or shallows and just trying to talk myself down.

Her: So we'll work on that on Sunday.

I don't know why it took so long to put the pieces together. Perhaps it's because I know how to swim and just getting from one end of the pool to other is no big deal to me but it's one of those "must-have" skills that I don't have and it rears its ugly head in the mass starts of these triathlons with their urban "Stop and Go" traffic crushes.

Not being able to tread water is like not being able to unclip at a stoplight or going hiking in Alaska with a camera, bug spray, and zero knowledge of how to handle the encounter you're having with that Grizzly bear 100 feet away from you. These are things that need to be figured out before-hand and I didn't do it.

We may think we're planning for every contingency but planning and reality will clash in the most unpredictable ways. You can see this in every pro sports team when they get to the highest levels - when matching skill-set to skill-set, weaknesses are exacerbated and exploited. No one is immune. Some are just more well-rounded than others.

This is one jagged edge that I have to smooth out soon.
Monday, July 18, 2011

Eau de Plateau

After a less than stellar week, I jumped on what calls a "Category 5" climb to work some hill repeats on Saturday morning. They rate any climb "over 500 meters and with an average grade of 3%" with Category 5 being the easiest. I have to think that this is a flawed measurement though because the so-called Cat 5 that I was climbing had a listed average grade of 2.4%.

The other flaw in the plan was that I decided to go out at about 6:30 in the morning in order to avoid traffic. The flaw was the location. The primary street is only 1/4-mile from a golf course which meant all of those crazies trying to make their tee time were whizzing past me.

Yes, I know I called the golfers, "crazies," but don't hate on me. You see, my father was a more than avid golf nut who practiced year 'round in Chicago. He even set up a tee and screen in the garage to practice in sub-zero weather. Somewhere in an old scrap book is a picture of him on the driving range in the middle of a snowy winter. A local photographer caught him and it was printed in the paper. He was practicing for a tourney called, "The Eskimo Open." My husband is a golfer as well. I know these people and I know how they drive when the greens are calling.

I was worried that I might be in over my head on this climb when I saw a local race club going down the hill and they nodded, smiled, and waved at me... a sign of respect? Now I'm nervous.

No need for nerves. The climb wasn't any harder than the repeat I did a couple of weeks ago, just longer. There was one short section that let me practice my climbing-while-standing skills. The descent was actually more unnerving as my glasses kept fogging and clearing at 25mph. Fogged glasses, tee times... oh, those weren't in the plan. I made it back and forth three times and then rode home and did a 30-minute walk/run interval session.

Sunday brought an easy 50-mile bike ride. I know that I'm supposed to rest after a hill repeat workout but it was Sunday... SUNDAY!!
I turned it into a recovery ride, knowing that Monday was bringing the threat of thunderstorms (that means rain for those that may not remember that weather phenomenon) and I would treat that as a rest/errand day. That it was an easier ride than the 35 miles I did earlier in the week means I'm either breaking past the plateau I've been riding at lately or the humidity is the real enemy during these hotter rides. I'm thinking it's a little of both because I have no tightness the day after these two exercises but did feel it immediately after the ride which is my personal signal for dehydration even though I was taking in electrolytes every 10 minutes.

Today (Monday) at work also brought a comment from my friend/swim coach (who, besides earning a living as a swim instructor, is also a triathlete coach, an Ironman finisher and former Team-in-Training coach). She mentioned that she did a half-mile swim at the beach in Hopkinton over the weekend. Knowing that she held an open-water swim clinic at that same beach, that's what I affectionately call a, "gauntlet soft-toss."

We are planning a swim/ride brick some time in the next two weeks in preparation for the Title 9 triathlon in Hopkinton in September. She is bound and determined that I will finish the swim/tri this year. I am bound and determined to finish just so I don't ruin her stellar reputation. She's a great coach, I'm just a lousy student so I have to adjust my schedule to fit in some more swim time to be sure and make her proud... and get out of the water so I can kick her butt on the bike.
Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week of Meh

While this past week should have been a week to ramp up my mileage, I instead wound up dealing with new issues pertaining to my Piece O'Crap car. The car actually failed it's yearly state inspection and I was off to deal with a parking brake repair. For those outside of Massachusetts, if your car fails, you have 60 days to make repairs and get it re-inspected before they revoke your registration so I had some time to get it done. I rarely use the parking brake so I had no idea that it no longer worked. I was told that the cables were original to the car so it was definitely time for replacements.

Unfortunately, there were no new cables to be found in the region and the garage had to order them directly from Dodge but they never bothered to tell me this. When I dropped it off on Saturday, I was told that it would be ready by 2PM. After not hearing from them by 5:30, my husband gave them a call (so we could avoid the old, "We won't give the man the same runaround that we would give a woman." trick) at which time he was told the car would not be ready until Monday. MONDAY?!?!? Have they ever heard of a courtesy call?

Seeing as how I needed the car to get to work by 4:00 AM on Monday, we made them put the car back together and I picked it up Sunday afternoon. That was my weekend.

Monday morning brought a call from the garage that the cables might be in on Tuesday so I took the opportunity to squeeze in a 35 mile bike ride. I wanted to go longer but it was so hot and sticky that I could barely peel myself off the bike at 35 miles. I was not feeling very encouraged by how the heat was affecting me but kept telling myself that it would not be so humid in Texas and I still had time to get stronger and lighter. I showered when I returned home and went over to the clubhouse for a nice, easy swim just to clear my head.

Tuesday brought a different kind of endurance test. Right after I got out of work, I received a call that the brake cables had arrived. I stopped off at home, grabbed a magazine and then spent the next 3.5 hours in the waiting room at National Tire and Battery while they put in the new cables. $750 later, I finally have a legal car... I hope.

Friday was my next opportunity to ride but only managed 20 miles. The one positive I can take from this is that I was working it as a strength ride - pushing heavier gears - and I have noticed that my average speed per hour is slowly creeping up while the numbers on my heart rate monitor have remained steady, indicating that my overall efficiency is increasing. Now I just have to extend that efficiency on longer rides and get it done soon.

I'm just hoping that the car passes inspection so I don't have to deal with this again this year.
Thursday, July 7, 2011

Almost Hot Out There

Yesterday's high 90 degree weather was an opportunity for a ride in the heat that I just couldn't pass up since I know that's about as cool as the day will get during the Hotter 'n Hell 100. I wound up lasting only 50 miles so I'm seriously disappointed but at the same time, I have to admit that when I get out after work, I'm usually just fighting to stay awake and I usually fail. I've never gotten used to getting up at 4:00 AM.

I used the Blackstone Valley Bikeway because I could park the car at one end and use it as my "rest stop." - trying to simulate as closely as possible what I would be facing during the HHH. I started at around 11:00 AM.

My plan was as follows: Get as comfortable as I could in the saddle and let my legs do the work.

I started easy as I know with 12,000+ riders in the event, there isn't room for a fast pace through until that first rest stop at the 10 mile mark where most families turn off for the shorter course. My time splits on the 3 laps weren't spectacular but I would up cutting 5 minutes off the last lap as compared to the first.

Still, projecting out the time splits, while adequate to get me to Hell's Gate at the 60+ mile mark before it closes, would have been too long when I factor in the rest time. I'm hoping that if I can get in another 600 miles before I leave for Texas that this will improve. I just hope there are more hot days to come because by the end of the ride, I felt like I had earned every inch of the 52.2 miles that I logged.

I also decided to simulate the snacks that would be available at the rest stops. My thoughts on those are as follows:
  • Oranges are fantastic. I inhaled an orange like I was eating jelly beans.
  • Bananas work but aren't refreshing.
  • Pretzels taste like I'm eating flour.
  • Powerade and Gatorade are the most disgusting things ever promoted by the soda companies.
I have started using NUUN tablets almost exclusively for electrolyte replacement and I swear that Powerade just sucked the energy right out of me. It's bad enough that I use Powerbar Energy Gels because things like that (GU, etc.) bave a tendency to hit my system hard and make me jittery. I usually shake off more energy than I'm using. Unfortunately, my latest shipment of NUUN hasn't arrived so I went with watered-down Powerade in one of my water bottles as I know it will be available at the rest stops.

I also usually eat a homemade energy bar but I wanted to see what the other snacks would do for me (or do to me). I am trying to find a balance between the faster-acting gels and solid food that will keep me from ordering a pizza while on the route a la Dean Karnazes.

So all in all, it was a great litmus test to show me that I'm not ready for a 100 miler in 100 degree heat but at least I have still have time to improve.

Natural Encounters on the Ride
  • A couple of hawks circling low - probably looking at the delicious chipmunk smörgåsbord.
  • A deer in the path who took off faster than the two I saw last weekend.
  • A turkey with its brood in tow decided to get out of the path for me.
  • A duck took off from a pond and flew right in front me at (in duck hunter's terms) point blank range. Who knew bicycles were such good hunting dogs?
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nature Calls

In spite of missing my long ride last Sunday, I did manage to eek out 150 miles last week. These rides haven't been without incident. You'd think a bike path would be a nice, easy trip, but now that the temperatures have heated up, Mother Nature has been throwing new sliders into the mix and because the path sometimes winds through protected areas, the number of people-critter encounters has escalated recently.

Runaway Chuck
My first encounter was a rodent encounter. This one was a woodchuck crossing the path. I kept thinking of the Geico ad "Hey, you dang woodchucks!" and wondered how much wood they could actually chuck. The next thing I always think of when I see wildlife is "rabies" and the intrigue of gazing at nature is over just like that.

Suicidal Munk
The next rodent encounter was the inevitable chipmunk kill. It had been a busy day for Alvin and the crew and I had done my best to dodge around the chipmunks that darted in front of my wheel. The one I didn't miss tried to run between my front and rear wheel. Boy, that poor little thing flattened under me so fast and I felt horrible. I don't know if something or someone else came along and pushed it into the bushes but I looked for it on my return and found nothing... except the rider lawnmower guy. Ack! My husband has a picture that he took years ago of me on a camping trip getting a chipmunk to beg for peanuts and now... this. Two weeks later and it still haunts me.

Gaggle Me
There is a family of geese nesting near the path. On this particular day, they decided that the path was a better place to hang instead of the grass. There was a slight through-way that I could take but it put me between the parents and the goslings. To ride or not to ride? Ultimately, it was the hesitation that doomed me. I eventually decided to stop for them but forgot to tell my feet. Still clipped in, I weebled, I wobbled, and I managed to unclip before I fell down but not before my front wheel whip-lashed and the bike began sliding out from under me. I saved the bike before it hit the ground but I've got some nasty bruises on my shins for my save. As I finally rode past, one of the parents hissed at me.

Two for the Road
The most recent encounter came during my first hill workout. There is a plot of land still undeveloped on Route 106 and I was hearing some very noisy squirrel activity the first two times I rode past. The third time up, I saw two deer standing in the middle of the road, staring at me like I was nuts. I am nuts but that's beside the point. I noticed that they were close to the top of the hill and if a motorist was coming over, they probably wouldn't have enough time to stop before hitting one.

Inching my way up, I started waving at the deer and whispering, "Move over!" but they just stood there. Yeah, I'm climbing this hill and waving my hands (why am I whispering?) and these deer are staring at me like my ANSI yellow shirt is giving them the "headlight effect." My slow-poke pace told them I was no threat and I would get within 20 feet of these deer before they went back into the thick brush. The next thing I thought of was "Lyme Disease," and that was probably a contributing factor to not trying to push for a fourth lap. At least they made it back safely that time.

Boy, I can't wait to jump back into the lake.
Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th!

It's getting late here but I wanted to just say that I hope everyone had a fabulous and safe 4th of July and to say, "Thank You!" to all of those servicemen and women who have always been there for us and to thank all of the families who endure the sacrifice right along with them.

A special note for a gentleman I had the privilege of working for 10 years ago. His oldest son died in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan in late 2009 and I just wanted him to know that he and his family are still in our thoughts and prayers. I'm avoiding last names as the family has tried to avoid the spotlight as much as possible and I don't want this post to become a target for political soapboxes or dirt-digging reporters.

Kyle - Thank you. We miss you and we'll never forget you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Today was supposed to be about doing my first century ride (and my first ride ever) with the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen.

While following along with the updates that are emailed from their Yahoo! group this week, I realized that this was going to be a ride that included challenging climbs. Did I really want to ride 100 miles on my first club ride without knowing exactly what challenging meant to these guys?

Hmmm... maybe I'll just do the 75 mile route. Wait - there's another email here that says the worst hills are after mile 50 so I should just do the 50-miler. Wait - what if I really suck at this? I guess I'll just do the 33-miler. Okay now, I'm going to drive for over an hour to get to the starting point just to ride my bike 30 miles? Meh. I guess I'll just skip it.

Now that the climbs had scared me off of my original objective, the obvious "ride of choice" would have to be some sort of other, more manageable hill work. It's easy enough to find a hill in my neighborhood. That "Uphill both ways" quote nicely describes most of the rolling climbs around here. The one known as, "Watery Hill," is a favorite for the local running club. The name of the street (East Bacon) has nothing to do with the nickname. All I know about it is that I will not take my minivan down that hill in the winter. It is a short but steep twister and hitting any patch of ice could doom me.

A friend of mine who is an accomplished runner (a marathoner - she likes to run five miles before she teaches her spin classes - oh, good grief,) once told me that "other" hill, which is straight up Route 106, while not as steep, is actually a longer climb. She found it more of a challenge to ride up 106 than Watery Hill. I decided to take on the Route 106 climb because the road itself has a wider shoulder and obviously a less technical descent which gave me more room for error.

It should also be noted that on the Fuji Monterey that I was riding last year, neither of these two hills was within my ability. To say that I was more than a little hesitant to attempt this would be a gross understatement.

The day started overcast so I skipped the cycling jersey and went with an old ANSI yellow wicking t-shirt. I also turned on my new taillight (Bell is Swell). It was early Sunday morning so I knew traffic would be negligible which meant a safer road for me and fewer people to laugh at me if I screwed up and fell over.

I warmed up for about 10 minutes on a couple of side roads that had small slopes - slopes that would have been slightly challenging in the past. I got into the mindset of trying to stay in the saddle as long as possible before having to stand up because a) It's more of a challenge to remain seated and b) I still squirrel about like I'm about to fall over when I stand on my pedals - I just don't have that skill down yet.

Somehow, through all of that Darth Vader lung-sucking noise I was making that scared the local wildlife, I managed to make the climb in the saddle 3 times and decided that was enough for my first hill workout. In the end, I am happy to have finally been able to make a climb that was beyond my abilities last year, I set the table for more workouts in the future (including a CAT 5 rated climb a couple of miles down the road,) and had enough energy left to do a 2-mile shuffle/jog on my return - logging much the same bike/run mileage as the Sudbury triathlon I did in early May.

I'm also very happy I decided to skip that club ride, too. That might have been one hot mess.