Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 reviewed

Mar CPC Half M Done!
Apr Rotterdam Marathon Done!
Apr 25--10K done!
May 2--anything you want Done!!!
May 8 Boretti Bike Tour Done!
May Royal 10K scratched
July travel DONE
August 21 Tri-Beach Challenge Done!
Sept 26 Middle distance UK 70.3 tri Done!
9/10 120 km ride Done! 132 km!
Oct 9 World Wild Festival of Races scratched.

Oct 17 -- Amsterdam 8k run for Peace Done!
Nov 21 - Seven Hills Done! 1:43
Nov 27 - Dune Run 25km
meijendellopen DONE! Great course. VERY cold.
Dec 18 - the Mackrel run Done!

Training (via Garmin):
running:  913 km
cycling: 1785,71 km
and a lot of swimming.

Wk2/16 on the road to Paris (99 days!)

Last run of 2010. 11 k, a distance which is accidentally a great opener for 2011. 

Into the fog. I asked myself the question, whom do I meet out here on the run. A tempo run with a fast (for me) target pace on the soft sand sucked. Until I changed my attitude. I decided if this training program is going to suck the joy out of running, I won't do it. I spent some time afterwards writing my way through the experience and came up with the idea that this training program comes out of my strength, not weakness - that it is my strength that will bring me through it, and that if I choose to increase my running strength, I will have to take myself outside my comfort zone. And knowing that it will be uncomfortable makes it tolerable. 

I started with a feeling of inadequacy and moved through all my feelings to a place of power. And the pace chart doesn't know that I rode for 90 minutes yesterday - after being off the bike for months - and felt fatigued. Nor does the pace chart have any idea I wanted to take Odie to the beach and it was high tide, which meant I ran in that wet squishy sand most of the time. The value is in the effort, not the goal. I met the relentless critic on the beach out there in the fog, and I tamed her. 

And I made a list of items within my control - getting enough sleep, choosing a helpful attitude toward the workout, adapting to my body's signals as a goal, rather than achieving a particular pace, taking care of what I eat and drink, attending to how I plan my training sessions (to allow enough recovery time & to avoid sucking the energy out of the one that follows by going too hard or long).  I can take  care of myself, thereby  enjoying the process of increasing my fitness even more.  Bye bye 2010.  It's been a good long run.

Onwards to Janathon!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

marathon training starts

I've registered for the Paris Marathon in April, motivated by the desire to stay off the couch during the dark winter in Holland.  I finished the 2010 racing season by cutting 20 minutes off my 2009 run of the Meeuwen Mackrel Loop. I felt really happy with the year as a whole.

Although this will be my second marathon, I'm following the novice marathon training program from FIRST. I think the volume and intensity of the program will take me out of my comfort zone. The "regular" program has more long distance running on the weekends, and I'm a little concerned that my knees will not like it.  

So this week, marathon training  began.  Ready or not.  So. Wednesday, I sat at the table while everyone ate dinner and then went out for a run. in the snow. in the dark. under a full moon. it was beautiful. And cold. and slippery and crunchy. at freezing temperatures, it's a challenge to regulate my body heat. But I did my best with 1600m intervals. freakishly long intervals. the total was 8 km. in about an hour.  Wednesday meant I had to go. Since I need three runs in by Sunday (tomorrow).

first I had to try to figure out why an audio book that I got for my son wouldn't sync with his iPod. black-hole on the clock. then I had to figure out the pace setting for 1600 meters in 10 minutes. criminy. 1600m/10min = x min/1km; solve for x. or find a running calculator on the web. guess which.

we tried all three ipods in the household before my son said, your run is more important. go run and I'll find something else to do. Then I remembered my phone plays the books just fine. so I gave him my phone.

then there was a car stuck in the mashed potato snow that is our street. I stopped to help and my neighbors came out to help too, while Odie barked at the spinning wheels. I ran back to get a shovel. we dug, rocked and pushed the car out of the stuck spot. (all day I saw cars getting stuck there - fancy ones - Audi's and Merc's. My Fiat runs just fine in the snow).

Then out to the dunes. Odie had a great time. He saw the fox and wanted to investigate. Fox was not interested. We saw Fox several times.

I didn't make my target paces, but I gave it my best shot. It's a little tough to run on packed snow. The places where cars have been were too slippery and icy. The sides or in between tire tracks were nice and crunchy. Running on hard-pack snow feels soft and sounds nice. The moon came out, making the field glow in silvery light. This is the field where the ponies graze in the summer.

Earlier in the day when I walked Odie, I saw migrating swans - at least a dozen. Such beautiful birds with their long necks. the day before, the sky was full of geese.

My goal with marathon training is to work the plan to the best of my ability. I really didn't think I had the energy to run Wednesday night. But I've learned that I always feel better afterwards and just getting started is the hardest part. I would feel disappointed if I started the first week with skips. I thought about skiing instead  (since the day had been consumed with shopping), but it's not the same as running intervals. 

So the plan is: Intervals, Tempo and Long run. Pace-based. Plus cross-training and weight lifting and stretching.

Yesterday, I ran 6km tempo, again on the hard-packed snow. The plan called for 9, but I was short on time. Had to take the kids SCUBA diving for Christmas. We had a blast. 

Today was 50 minutes x-country skiing on fresh snow with my older son.  A great way to spend Christmas.  Now, Christmas dinner is calling.


Friday, 3 December 2010

getting support for running

I wrote this little bit for my friend Becky about my experience with Jeff Galloway's e-coaching program.

Jeff offers "e-coaching" for 6 months for $60 through his website. The price is incredibly reasonable considering the cost of other coaches and Jeff's huge knowledge and experience.  He does this by email. If you look at the very earliest posts on my running blog you can see my coaching reports & his advice.

Jeff's  assistant Michelle, who is great, sends a questionnaire about your goals, overall health and experience running (for instance, the longest distance you've run in the last three weeks, etc.). Then based on your goal, he sets up a program along the model you can find on his website. Two mid-week runs & a longer run on the weekend. Then you send a weekly report after the weekend noting your assignment, and answering several questions - basically you tell him what distance/pace/walk breaks were assigned and how you did with the assignment. Then you add whether you've got questions, aches, pains, etc.

Jeff then replies to your email usually by Thursday with suggestions, encouragement.  He'll warn you in advance there are a couple weeks where he gets really busy. He travels a lot, teaches often and of course runs marathons.  I had the impression he's not the most technologically handy fellow. Michelle serves as a back up if you don't get a response from him. Over the course of a year, there were a couple weeks where we had these kinds of communication glitches.  But we worked through them.

I found that nearly all the time Jeff seemed really responsive to the content of my individual emails - he has a gentle tone, and had a lot of patience. especially with my stiff neck about wanting more speed etc. even though my body needed more time to adapt.  I liked having the support and personal attention. It kept me accountable to my goals and I learned a lot.  He took me from 10 km to a successful marathon. I have grown to really appreciate his gentle approach. A couple "on-line buddies" I have trained too hard for their marathons, trained through injuries and blew up during the race and didn't finish due to those injuries. Jeff's approach is running in health.

I definitely recommend his e-coaching. You also get one of his books, so it's really a bargain. If you're interested, I can describe the books that I picked out to help you choose one. (he's got so many of them....)

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Janathon 2011

Join the fun. Get or stay fit in January.  Maybe win something. Look here for details.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Seven Hills

The race organisers made this run simply a fabulous experience. Great communication, thoughtful planning, beautiful weather, fun course. I ran faster than planned, but kept my head attached. I've got a 25km tomorrow (less than a week later). 

I just had an outstanding day. Gorgeous weather, great course, wonderful execution by the race directors. My last three km were my fastest. I finished in 1:43, each five km was faster than the last. I broke a mental barrier, running 5:30 during the last couple km, thinking I can't run that fast, but I did.  

It was a bit of a challenge to pace myself in the beginning. The crowd was moving more quickly than I wanted to start out. I ran in my comfort zone, and kept an eye on my heart rate. Enough water. Well, one short pit stop, so maybe too much water! Good energy throughout. I like hammer gel a lot. And I feel really good. 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Really good advice from Jeff Galloway


Most of us know that if we want to improve, we must stress ourselves in some of our training sessions. Exercise stresses the muscles, stimulating them to grow stronger and work more efficiently. Without enough rest after the stress, however, the muscles are driven to exhaustion or injury. Stress must be balanced by rest in sufficient quantity and quality for adequate growth.
Hard or long runs must always be followed by several easy days in which the pace or distance is reduced. In addition, you must build rest weeks into your program: every second or third week, you should automatically reduce total mileage. This gives your muscles the extra time to "catch up."
Improvement is based upon the quality of your speedwork and the length of your long run. By taking a day off and then running easily between these two "quality days" you will recover, rebuild stronger and reduce the chance of injury. Common mistakes that lead to injury are
* Trying to attain a high mileage level week after week
* Running daily runs too fast
* Not enough rest
Jeff writes here

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Just gorgeous

So I just got back from the most gorgeous 16 k run - I picked the right pace and ran faster than targeted most of the time (between 7:30 & 7:45/km) 10 of the 16 were in this range. the other six included warm up, cool down and dressing/undressing for the weather. I started with my new cool wind-proof running hat I got at the marathon expo. I had been wanting one for a year, but they are so expensive for just a stupid hat. Well, the expo had a special. so I got one. I saw a friend on the beach who complimented the great hat. You know, that's the death knell for a precious possession. Well, I got too hot. So I took it off. And tucked it into my coat, between me and the coat. I ignored the angel who whispered in my ear to put it into one of the zippered pockets in my coat.

At some point, I pulled my arms out of the coat, again too hot and tied the coat around my waist, still zipped. I think I probably looked silly trying to Houdini out of the coat while still trying to run at pace. waddle waddle waddle.

Well, at 8 km these gorgeous leaden clouds opened up and pelted me with the juiciest rain drops ever. I scrambled to try to get back into my coat before getting soaked. It didn't work, and I'm quite sure at this point I dropped the hat without realising it. I had looped back to avoid one cloud burst and tried this trick again. And then realised my hat was gone. And I figured in my burst of get-out-of-this-cold-rain-quick energy that the hat must have fallen out when I had wiggled my arms out of the coat. Looking for the hat on the remainder of the run turned every piece of garbage into a potential find. I never found it. I imagine now it's far away at the turning point where I momentarily lost my mind in the excitement of the rain storm.

I hope someone finds the hat and that whoever finds it is a runner who appreciates this little number. (It is wind-proof and has a bright neon yellow stripe to tell other people not to run you over at night.) Losing it gave me the chance to live in joy - some things we have want new homes, so they find them. We only borrow them for a short while.

I just love running without those six pounds. It is so much easier. Plus I discovered if I lengthen my stride just a tiny little bit, my pace increases quite a bit without any perceptible increase in effort. I have a pretty quick stride, but i guess not a very long one! 

Friday, 5 November 2010

off season. Off the couch, that is.

I've been resting. Well, not really. I've been trying to run faster, following the FIRST method with a liberal dose of common sense.  And nursing my left hamstring, which has taken to raising objections to running faster. And preparing for the races later this month. And swimming at least once a week. And rowing at least once a week. Cycling. yep, at least once a week. Running x3. Lifting x2. And focusing on eliminating drag - that is, getting lean. Since August, I've dropped 10 lbs. Running feels easier already.  Though, without the carbs, I feel a little flat. Still. I will be at my goal weight by the Paris Marathon. I will.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

October 8k in Amsterdam

I've been teaching myself to run faster by, well, running faster. I am using the FIRST training plan cautiously to prepare for my upcoming 15k and 25k races next month. Three different kinds of runs each week - kick-my-a$$-pace-based training, plus 2-3 cross-training sessions (think bike, swim, row) and weight lifting.  I am having fun and I ran the Amsterdam 8k on Sunday with pleasure in 50 minutes.

I enjoyed walking around the expo the day before the race. I got some new racing flats and some new training shoes. I got the same Mizuno Wave Riders that I like so much and then the Ultima based on the recommendation for my weight range. When I ran 10k last night in the Ultimas my toes hurt a lot at the end of the run. Not good. I don't know whether it was the shoes or simply the intervals on brick.  Plus I got some thermal running tights and a proper waterproof jacket. And some of last year's running clothes at a great discount.

I tried to increase the race distance to a Half Marathon, since I like running that distance. But you can only drop down, not go up. Oh well.

Sunday was clear and quite cold. Eventually it was sunny too.  This was the shortest race I've run since junior high school when I used to run the 440 relay.  Not to state the obvious, but this one was done and dusted in  50 minutes.  I loved the new shoes. They have an incredibly comfortable toe box. I watched the winners of the marathon finish, setting a new course record. Just over two hours. Incredible.  

I found where the slow fat chicks like me run: shorter distances. I  sailed through the crowds.  I should have lined up in the first group, but I thought I was going to be pacing some of my colleagues. They dropped out. I noticed the mental affect of the finish line again. You get closer and your brain starts registering tired and almost done.  I had really good self talk. Day easy light relaxed cruising.  I ran by heart rate and perception of effort and didn't look at my pace very often. This was a bit of an experiment. My splits were very good and since it's an odd distance, I probably could have run a little faster, but I would have to practice the distance to see how it feels.  I was conservative in the beginning and kept pushing the pace up.  I had to wend my way around people which I really enjoyed.  I felt strong and capable.  There was huge congestion at the end. I had worked my way up to the preceding group and they were tightly packed-the business groups, running together

It was hard to find passing room once we were in the last kilometer.  It sure was fun to feel faster than those around me.  It's been tough on my spirit to run last in so many races.  

2010 Tri Training Assessment

I wrote this shortly after the race, when I was still feeling the sting of a DNF. Now I feel pretty good about the effort and proud of myself. I did the best I could. And that makes me a winner in my book.

Swim:   I registered for the Bustinskin Middle Distance race without having any idea how long it would take me to swim the race distance.  In April I did a timed swim session and discovered that I needed 40 minutes to cover 1000m.  If I had appreciated just how much I needed to improve, I might not have registered for this race.  So it’s good I didn’t know.   I identified the swim as a major limiter for me and focused on improving my knowledge and technique. I bought a couple Total Immersion swim videos and several books and taught myself how to swim differently.  I also regularly attended coached-swim practices and got constructive criticism.  

Generally speaking, I did not follow the practice exercises on the MAO training plan other than trying to get in the pool for at least three hours a week. Given my skill level, I decided it was more important for me to simply swim for an hour or so at a time, doing TI drills and/or the coached practice sessions with my club. Maybe next time I will have enough swimming skill to do the practices as prescribed.   

In the beginning, I focused on swimming laps and increasing my distance.  I did not feel like I was getting much better. In August, I changed what I was doing and started to do the TI drills step-by-step.   I didn’t get all the way through the exercises. I was torn between wanting to increase my distance and improve my form. On reflection, I think form comes first. The distance took care of itself. 

Some weeks, I had a difficult time getting to swim practice. Lap Swim Pool hours here in Holland are odd.  My club trains in the late evening on Tuesdays & Fridays, and going to bed late would make me very tired the next day (spoiling both training and paid-work). As a result, I skipped a lot of swim practices.  On Fridays, they switched from the pool to an earlier practice time at a lake and  later the sea. I preferred to hang with my family most Friday nights.

Many weeks, I swam only once during the week and found the North Sea too rough to swim on weekends.  As time wore on, I got better at planning when & where I could pool-swim – making appointments with myself to get to the pool during the times reserved for lap swimming.  

Several of my open water swim practices in the North Sea did not include many free-style strokes: either it was too cold to put my face in the water, or too rough. Etc.  I simply gave myself permission to become familiar with being in cold, rough water and play.  I think this strategy paid off since I raced in similar conditions.

While training one day, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to rescue two drowning children. That by itself makes all the effort worthwhile.   

My future plan is to continue swimming with the club once or twice a week during the winter - Friday nights have reverted to the late pool practice, so I can hang with my family early in the evening.  Sunday mornings, I will work deliberately through the TI techniques to develop my hip drive. I could feel during the race the points in technique that I had reached in my training.    I ordered the new self-coached CD and some “fist gloves”.  I will also make more use of the stroke rate timer that I bought but did not use very often. 

The Bike:  Considering the “me” factor and the unrelenting head winds, I think I pretty well.  The “me” factor is this: I live in The Netherlands and did not train on hills. I’ve been at a sedentary desk job for 25 years, raced several  sprint tri’s between six & seven years ago, etc., started running again in December 2008.  I am 46, stand 5’6” & weigh 170. I would like to lose 10-15 pounds, which would put my body fat under 20 percent.  It’s at about 26 percent now.  I did not drop weight while training (except for the five pounds I gained on vacation in July that I lost in August).  (I figured out the weight-loss & train trick too late – or maybe it was the fact I was doing speed intervals that tripped the metabolic switch.)

I followed the training plan very closely. I kept to my heart rate limits, stayed at the middle or near the top of the range and avoided going over. I rode more than 900 miles and more than 80 hours, at least twice and more often three times a week. I missed only two key practices while I was traveling in July. I did all the sessions in the last six weeks. And I enjoyed every ride.  

Did the way I train get me to the 55 km mark in the race? Yes, certainly. Would a different way of training (higher intensity, longer rides) have gotten me further?  That’s the question that I can’t answer.  Some alternatives: train as if for a longer course. That might have helped. On the other hand, I think I maxed out my capacity, given my starting point and other lifestyle issues (full time job, children, and so forth).   

During the race, I dropped out after riding 4 hours, which just slightly exceed the typical length of my long rides (usually between 3 and 3.5 hours). I wonder whether longer rides (5 hrs/90 km) would have kept me going longer on the race. 

The What If’s:  In hindsight, I wish I had asked more specific questions about bike racing and how to prepare for the hills.  I felt unprepared mentally for the sustained effort required for the long hills and short steep hills and the short steep hills that turned into long hills.  They were much harder than anything I did in training.  Rather late in the race, I noticed that the effort for hills was quite the same as doing leg presses. I could have used that strategy earlier!  Also, I didn’t practice standing out of the saddle during a climb.  That might have helped too. 

I also wish I had figured out how to add some hills to my training, even if it meant driving to Belgium for the day.   Here’s the conundrum: if I am training by staying within a specific heart rate limit, how do I also train on hills?  I had to slow for the (very small) hills in the Dunes where I ride. If I work the hell out of hills, how do lay the endurance foundation that I need?  I followed the weight lifting program pretty closely, only rarely missing a planned session.  And I worked intensively on the speed work sessions. 

I resolve this by taking the long view. I won’t be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done in the first half-year of my first HI tri-racing season.   There are no short-cuts, and it takes as long as it takes. High intensity training has a high risk of injury and burn out. 

Finally, it occurs to me that the will to train means little without the will to race.  I want to learn how to ride my bike fast (and safely) without feeling so afraid of cars and downhill screams.  (Maybe that's not possible! :>) )

Lessons learned:  Next time I will ask my coaches  more questions, especially to help me evaluate my training sessions and to plan specific strategies for the race.  I found that my questions got answered, but as a beginner, I don’t even know what questions I should be asking.  And mostly I was pretty content to follow the recipe and bump along.  When I shared my concerns about the swim, Mark gave me good suggestions that I used.  I wish I had focused your attention and mine on strategies for cycling training & racing for this course. It wasn’t enough for me to race with only the thought “stay within your heart rate.”  Then again, maybe it was, and I gave all I could considering me, the day, the course.   

Occasionally I read blogs by other athletes (and write one myself, which I have not done lately since I’ve been so busy training!). One athlete who has trained with MAO observed that he was changing trainers because he found the MAO coaching too passive for his needs - that you were not holding him accountable for missed sessions and forcing him to explain why, etc.  My immediate reaction is that he should grow up & take responsibility for himself and what he wants.  I think of myself as a fairly low-maintenance client, who is a self-starter and resourceful. Did I ask enough of my coaches? Did they ask enough of me? 

I went into the race with the hope that since I had followed the training plan, I had done enough to get across the finish line.   I liked the heart rate training because once I got used to the increased volume, the training felt comfortable & sustainable. But maybe I wasn't working hard enough.  I wish I had asked for some specific feedback.  I certainly felt like I was working to capacity time-wise, balancing all the other aspects of my life.

One question is whether I raced frequently enough (the answer is probably no) and whether I should have programed into my plan some “simulated” races.   Perhaps that would have helped me develop more speed and power.  
Perhaps I should have also asked for some more specific direction as to how to train for hills while living in a flat country. I looked back at our correspondence. I identified that need in the beginning but did not follow up with additional requests.  The website certainly identifies the need to train in race-like conditions. I think I had a beginner’s blind-spot and overlooked this in my training. (But that takes me back to the conundrum I discussed above - heart rate limits vs. intense intervals).  Maybe I just did the best I could, giving it what I could.
Maybe it’s just post-event blues, but I’m feeling a bit incomplete. Doing a Half Tri was "my goal" for the year, and I didn’t make it. That stings.  I always have finished what I started.  I don’t fail. And it feels a bit hollow to have to redefine the goal and the event.  I’m wondering if there was something more I could have done to make me faster and stronger. I guess everyone who wants to improves asks that question!  Of the three disciplines, I focused my time and attention on improving my swim technique. I found a lot of information that I applied in the race from the book that goes with the video Swimming Outside the Box.   I have some books on cycling that I simply did not have time to read. So, all things considered, I gave it my best throughout the training period and got myself as far as I could.
Nutrition: I will use the next four months to slim down. I’ve figured out how to do this while continuing to train. Being lighter will make racing easier. I will keep some records of how my speed changes with my weight, so I can confirm this notion.

There’s a poem that goes something like “love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one’s watching.” I have to add a line: race like you’ve never lost.

My friend Judy’s already registered for the IM next June in Nice.  My initial thought is that I don’t want to do the IM Nice since (a) it comes too early in the year given the weather where I live ( I don’t know how I could train for it during the winter here), and (b) it has a lot of hills (and as we know, I suck at hills).  On the other hand, I really enjoyed having a virtual training partner focused on the same race, and if not now, when.  I have held the desire to do a the IM since I did my first sprint tri six years ago.  I don’t know what kind of time commitment is required to train for the full distance, compared to what I just did - which I really enjoyed.  And I’ve thought that the time required to train means I ought to wait until my kids are older (and I am fitter/thinner/stronger, whatever else I lack).  (I thought the same thing after running my first marathon - that the training time required was too long, but I’ve registered for another one in April anyway).

: This year I joined The Hague tri club, but only swam with them (they also offer coached running and cycling training). And I did only one local tri (the Beach Challenge) - partly because of the language barrier - but now I am more familiar with the local calendars and how to find out about races. (I also balked at a June Oly distance tri in Amsterdam because of the time limit on the swim.)  I could do more local races next year.  For example, there are several local half and quarter distance races that I choose from (in July & August)(and then a half in Cologne, Germany in Sept. But it’s an ugly urban course).
I’ve mused that I could go back to Weymouth UK for a week in the summer to practice on the hills while camping with my family, and have a second go at the course in September 2011. That still gives me a bit of a fright.  :>) (My son suggested training for a full IM distance to prepare next time.)

In all, I want to keep racing. I now have all the gear (quite a thing in itself) and I have learned how to plan my time & training week to week - I do still have to figure out how to carry enough water and deal with eating on the bike.  I also need to resolve some stressors in my personal life and ensure solid finances.
I have several running races lined up between now and January - repeats of events I ran last year and a couple new ones.  (17 October: Amsterdam: 8k fundraiser; November - 15k hill run; 25k dune run; December 16k beach run).   I have to say that I don't really call what I do when I run “racing” - I’m usually bringing up the rear of the crowd, playing beat the clock. But that’s okay.

I’m also planning to teach myself how to use the TRX trainer, which I got this summer and used a couple times while traveling.  The club also trains on All-Terrain bikes in the winter. I might like to try that, but would need to buy a proper bike. 

So, there’s the good, the bad & the wishful thinking. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Bustinskin Middle Distance Weymouth, UK 26/09/2010

Hats off to race director Mark Steen and his fabulous crew. They put on a great race. This was my first attempt at a middle distance triathlon, returning to the sport after five years of idleness.  I had a great time and gave it my best shot. Life lesson from this race? I can try and fail and not feel like I failed.

After completing the 1.9km swim, I finished more than half the 90 km bike course before climbing in the van. The hills were more than I could do this time, and I threw in the towel after cycling 55 km. The long climbs were so tough for me that I walked some of them. The screaming down hills were unnerving. I reached a maximum speed of 55 km/hr several times.

What did me in finally however was the road traffic -too many speeding cars and caravans-plus a healthy fear of the very steep descent that awaited me near the end of the ride - 17 percent downhill, ending in a curve to the left. I stopped racing when I had had enough. (My friend Judy quipped, She who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.)

Before riding on a course like this again, I will have better bike handling skills and hill training. Navigating the course was made more difficult by the traffic traveling on the left side of the road. Sometimes I had to come to a complete stop at intersections because I just couldn't predict from which direction the cars would be coming.

The good news is that I did the whole 1.9 km swim and enjoyed it. I was not last out of the water. There were five behind me. I was really cold all day, even with the coat I borrowed. The wind chill factor put the air temperature at freezing (32 degrees F).

Clothes, equipment, nutrition all were good. I was nauseous on the end of the bike ride. But I feel really proud of my effort, particularly because I DID NOT vomit. Other competitors' race reports proclaim the course as amongst the most difficult ever. blah blah blah. They vomited. In the water, on the bike and on the run too.

I feel a mixture of pride and disappointment. However, reading other race reports, this course is considered among the most difficult in the world, and I give myself high marks for the willingness to take it on. The views of the Isle of Portland were memorable, and I did my very best on a tough course under tough conditions.

At the bed & breakfast I met a couple other competitors, which was simply great. Of the three of us, only one finished the whole course. I met a lot of other nice people during the day. There was another woman my age who climbed in the truck with me. She was very nice. And I followed the progress of a third woman who completed the bike course, but missed the time cut off for starting the run by three minutes. And a woman collapsed and lost consciousness on the run. She did not eat during the race and apparently ended up hypoglycemic.

My family also had a great time. The race was located at the Olympic Sailing Center in Weymouth. They rented a boat on Sunday while I was racing. And afterwards we visited a real pirate cemetery.  On the way home, we stopped at Stonehenge. The ferry from Holland to Harwick was great - and the chunnel a very interesting & efficient way to travel home. I particularly liked having a celebratory meal in Calais - French beef stew with chocolate crepes for dessert!  In all, a great weekend and a tough race to finish the season.

Thanks for reading this far. The long, maudlin version is below. 

Start where you are: I am a beginner, with a little experience in both triathlons and running. No experience in bike racing. The Weymouth course is reputed to be more difficult than most. The other folks I talked with were surprised that I had chosen this race for my first try at a middle distance race and shook their heads.  I am of two minds about this – having no prior experience, I had no way to evaluate whether it was a “reasonable” first choice.  Maybe this ignorance is what allows me to try something really big and difficult: fearlessness in its purest form.  If I don’t try something because I think I can’t finish it, then perhaps I’ve missed the point entirely.  

I count the race as a success because I got to the starting line healthy and fit, did my best, and raced injury-free.   On the other hand, it hardly needs saying that one of my goals was to finish. On reflection, my training plan served me well. I trained as much as I could absorb.  I've gathered my thoughts on what I learned. I'll post those next. But first, the gory details. 
The Swim. The race started before dawn.  The strong NW wind brought the temperature down to freezing.   It takes a leap of faith to enter the water in the dark and swim away from the safety of shore.   On the way out, the water “bounced” in the head wind.  The cold water made it difficult to breathe at first. Like many others, I stopped and sat up in the water to catch my breath.  When I stopped choking, I continued swimming and looked ahead for someone to draft behind.   This gave me a chance to collect my thoughts and find my stroke.   I saw someone ahead who had the worst swim form I’ve ever seen. That gave me confidence too, thinking to myself, “If he can do it, so can I.”   Unfortunately, he was too slow for me to continue drafting. I kept bumping his feet. And he wasn’t particularly good at sighting the turn buoy and was going off course.  So I passed him and swam by myself.   
Often I felt a little nervous because the kayaks often were quite distant from me and checking on other swimmers. I saw quite a few in distress.  But I just put my head down and kept going. Bilateral breathing was quite useful since on the way out, the chop made right-sided breathing impossible. At one point, I inhaled a wave and had a pretty good choking fit. But that passed and I kept swimming.

I followed Mark’s advice to count to four repeatedly. And I used my experience from the North Sea, which was rougher and colder, to just keep on going.  I was glad I trained in conditions similar to the race, that is, open water swims in the North Sea. This experience helped me quite a lot - I knew what to expect.  The water was very clear and after the sun rose, I could see the bottom. I took the time to enjoy the colours in the sky and to be present in the experience.  

On the way back, the waves cut across the course at an angle, making it possible to surf so long as you corrected for the drift right.   When I cleared the turn buoy, one of the kayak guys told me how much time had passed and how many swimmers were behind me.  He commented that my strokes were really looking pretty good - that gave me a boost.

“Out and back” made the distance seem shorter than the straight line along the coast that I swam in practice.  I finished within the one hour time limit and ahead of five others (out of about 85 swimmers).

The bike:  When I drove the course on Saturday, I saw that it was probably beyond my current abilities.  Apart from the distance, which I had never ridden in training, the hills were quite intense. I had the thought that there was no way I would be able to do the course within the five-hour time limit. Leading up to the race, I was confident (perhaps over-confident) that I could do the course. When I saw it though,  I felt like bolting. I said nothing about my doubts. When we talked after the race, my husband told me that he shared my view. He didn’t say anything before hand to avoid discouraging me. 
view from top of Isle of Portland
Anyway, I bravely mounted my steed and rode to do battle.  The first hill shot my heart rate through the roof, into the red zone, but I recovered and kept on. 

I am really proud of my effort and how far I got, particularly the next day when we drove around, covering parts of the course again - I couldn’t believe I had ridden it.  Photos of other people’s races can only be as tedious as looking at photos of other people’s grandchildren. But in case you’re curious, here.  Of course, the pictures can’t do justice to the elevation changes. But the look on the faces of the athletes says it all.
Bike Route Hill Profile
The race marshals played leap-frog with me. They had motorbikes and would wait for me to pass, check in with me, and then zoom ahead another five kilometers or so and wait. They were great, offering words of encouragement, big smiles and Thumbs Up!  

There was a cold headwind from the North throughout the race. I was very cold. My feet were numb.  My nose ran continuously, and my eyes watered from the wind.  As the day progressed, I felt fairly nauseous. On one downhill section, I nearly vomited.  I think it was from fear. I never went so fast on my bike before this day.    I drank and ate at the rate I had planned. I was so cold I never felt thirsty.  I think I’m happy with the nutrition - I used Hammer products from a German distributor.  I practiced some long rides with the endurance formula. I’m not sure I really like it.  But I think nearly any product would have upset my stomach on race day.  

Done. I left the course when I had had enough, about 20 minutes before the guys trailing me in the wagon were going to tell me time was up (at 13:00).  I debated with myself for a long time and used every trick I could think of to get up the hills and to handle the downhill sections with strength and courage. I counted fence posts, imagined the scooters pulling me uphill, thought of cyclists denied the opportunity to race because they had been killed training, thought of the suffering of young girls around the world. I yelled with each push. I thought about the fact that there’s always more even when the body’s telling the mind to stop. I reminded myself I wanted to finish, that I could do it, and then, I just didn’t want to be in the race anymore. And I stopped behind the truck when they pulled over to pick up another sign.

What wore me down finally was the amount and speed of the traffic on the course. With a large number of campers passing me, I was afraid I was going to get clipped, particularly because I was riding alone. I was also worried about my ability to handle the 17 percent descent that still lay ahead of me. The hill ended in a fairly sharp turn, making it even more difficult. I had practiced nothing like it.  

And I was simply tired of the hills - one more very long climb remained. Also, the cars traveling on the left side of the road in the UK increased the degree of difficulty for me. I didn’t have the instinctive confidence that I needed in order to cross intersections and make turns safely. It was hard to tell in a split second in which direction danger lay. So when I felt unsafe, I lost the will to continue.
The truck drove the remaining 30 km as they picked up the race signs and tailed the other stragglers.  Looking at the last hill I felt like I had made the right decision.  The medic made me a hot drink with black currant juice. The driver is training for the Ironman in Canada next August. We traded stories. I felt good.

The truck then picked up another woman my age. She was in great spirits and invited me to run together when we got back to the transition zone.  I was up for it, albeit reluctantly, since I had already adjusted my mind-set to being “Done.”  However, when we got caught in a traffic snarl, she hopped out of the truck to walk back.  When the traffic cleared, we passed her.  By the time we met up at the transition zone, we had both found our waiting families and our enthusiasm for heading out on a difficult run had cooled.
I turned in my chip and collected my stuff. I felt proud of the swim and disappointed with the ride, even though I gave it my best effort.  When the announcement came that the time limit had expired, my younger son said my stuff in the transition zone looked a little lonely with my shoes lined up waiting for me to return.  I had a hard time sitting in the cafeteria, watching all the finishers eating lunch. They  were sporting new hooded sweatshirts with the word Finisher across the chest in big orange letters.   (My appetite didn't return for several hours.)

Here is a link to what the bike looked like on my Garmin. The Zero Cadence marks the point where I climbed in the van. My watch kept running as we drove the remainder of the course.

The next installment will be lessons learned.  

Sunday, 19 September 2010

racing to save the world? to save myself?

I have been thinking about racing and competition, whether I could achieve  a podium finish. Wanting to win.  And thinking No Chance!  What's this about? When I think about wanting to win, instantly, in my mind's eye thoughts appear about what would keep me from winning, from being first across the finish line. These are fantasies that distract from the task at hand. A construction of my ego and my own assessment of what I think of as my limiting conditions. Age, weight, physical condition, personal history, mental state. Station in life.  Me against them. Me against me. Competition.  Only one winner.  Then I hit on a paradigm shift. What if it's Us Together, not Against. And we're all winners.

What if the race is about all of us who join up at the starting line to race together, trying to harness our individual power and sweep the course as one human race?   I can draw a circle  around all the entrants, from the first across the finish line to the last to cross. We're all winners in that sense. We will harness the power within ourselves at that moment and express it with grace and courage.  A team that converges at an appointed time and place to fan out over the course, striving to be our individual best.

What if my race day performance is simply an expression of my humanity at that moment, my readiness to exert myself and release the speed that I carry from within. I will race with heart. Unleashing the very best of myself at that moment. Within that bubble of competitors, moving as one group of winners, I add what I bring to the race.

Throughout my training, I have been in love with the practice sessions. I have felt joy every morning ride or run. I have felt excitement and determination in every swim. I have felt courage in the sea. I will take all these experiences with me to the race. Rather than fear of failure, of not "achieving" success or "beating" the other competitors, I will feel delight and celebrate, just as I would at a holiday meal that has required lots of advance preparation. When I celebrate Thanksgiving, I don't sit at the table with fear in mind. I have spent hours in preparation and have confidence that I have put together my best.  It is with pleasure that I dine. And it is with pleasure that I will race.

I read this morning about an athlete who raced the Ironman at Kona only five months after being diagnosed with ALS.  And I read about another Ironman triathlete who now races in a wheelchair  after he crashed his bike while training. He says, every setback is an opportunity to fight back. And that we can do more than we think we can.  So, I feel inspired to race with the field and contribute my best as part of this unique field. And to find the best of myself out there on the race course.

Total Immersion Swimming Freestyle Demo by Shinji Takeuchi

another nice demonstration.