Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Tri in the Books

I competed in my first triathlon this past Sunday.  I raced the inaugural Curt Gowdy Xterra. Xterra's are off-road triathlons, so unlike regular Tris, the bike and run are on trails.  The distances for Xterra's usually don't fit into the neat little categories like road triathlons; my race was in between a Sprint distance and an Olympic distance event.

My race went well I think for my first Tri.  Bottom line - I had a ton of fun and felt like I learned a lot.  I got 2nd in my age group.  I finished 99th out of a total of 201 racers; 24th out of 57 women.  My time was 3:06:37.

Here's the breakdown of my race:

1200 meter Open Water Swim (23:10): I feel pretty good about my first foray into open water competition. The water was COLD - about 60, but a nice little warm up before the race got me comfortable.  I started in the second wave, predominately based on my mountain biking skills and not my swimming prowess.  I was a bit anxious during the first lap, but I didn't freak out and I actually enjoyed the second 600 meter lap, once the butterflies were gone!  I swam into a few people and a few people swam into me, but no horrible encounters.  I even drafted for awhile!  I finished 29th out of the 57 women - 116th out of 201 total and feel I could push the swim more next time.  

That's me starting out the swim! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Swim-to-Bike Transition (3:01):  Three minutes, REALLY?!?! I certainly could have been faster on this transition.  The top women were all under or around 2 minutes.  And while a lot of racers had similar times to mine, I can be faster by simply practicing more (especially taking the wetsuit off quickly).

14.2 mile Bike (1:33:03): The bike section was fantastic and I really enjoyed it; I think I smiled the whole time!  The trail was hilly and technical/rocky with some fast swoopy and loose sections, which many a roadie turned weekend Xterra athlete was not happy about.  I saw several endos!   I finished 20th out of the 57 women and 89th out of the 201 total of men and women.  Although my bike was super solid, there are ways I can improve.   I had a bottle with fuel but couldn't find good places to grab it; either the trail was too technical to take a hand off the bar or if it was flat, I was gunning it to get past people or not be passed. It was mostly tight single track, so really tough to let your guard down.  Unlike the bike leg on a road Tri, the bike leg on an Xterra is NOT a place to relax and fuel I learned!  There were plenty of aid stations, but I ended up slugging large amounts of fluids at only a few times, vs. sipping my fluids and fuel over the hour and a half for the ride.  Next time I will wear a little camel bak type pack on the bike. 

 Enjoying the bike leg! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

Bike-to-Swim Transition (1:47): This was a decent transition and fairly close to the times for the fast girls.  

Bike-to-Run transition going smoothly (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

5.3 mile Run (1:05:38):  The run was F'ing BRUTAL.  It was very hot (over 90) with not much wind.  The first part of the run was mostly uphill for about 3 miles.  My legs were heavy and my stomach was not happy with the deluge of fluids from the aid stations on the bike leg (hence my thought to wear a hydration pack next time for the bike).  Once I got to the flat, rolly and downhill part of the run, life was much better, but I couldn't make up the lost time.  I finished the run 36th out of the 57 women (ouch!) and 126th out of the 201 total.  Not so good...

 Happy to be finishing the run! (photo cred Jesper Kristensen)

What Went Well:  I feel like my general planning was pretty good for my first time. My Tri shorts and top, while not the most flattering, were very comfortable for the entire race, as was my choice of socks and hat.  My pre-race breakfast sat well on my stomach.  Due to my anal-retentive attention to lists, I didn't forget a THING!  My bike, which I had cleaned and tuned prior to the race, worked like a charm.  I felt as prepared as possible for the swim, due to the many lessons I've had over the last year plus and to my recent open water practice. I followed good advice to keep things simple and I didn't throw in any new shit right before the race (like the brand new spiffy biking shoes I bought a few days before the race...).

I received many tips from triathlete friends and family, all of which were helpful.  One of the last tips was from a friend with loads of Triathlon experience (age group winner at Hawaii numerous times):
  • Focus on the Swim during the Swim
  • Focus on the Bike during the Bike, and 
  • Focus on the Finish Line during the Run
This was very helpful! I felt like I was in the moment during each leg (a perspective I have been known to lose in previous races).  Even if it didn't make me faster, this perspective made the race more enjoyable!  I had FUN almost the entire time (except for a couple/few miles of the run...).

Lessons Learned: Clearly my run is my weak link!  Who'd have thunk?!?!?  I need to do more bike-to-run sessions to get used to running on tired legs.  I need to run more fast, tempo sets (I get stuck in a rut running an easy pace with Strelka).  I should do more hills.  I could also lean up a bit without losing muscle mass to improve my running economy (just a few pounds would do the trick).

I can certainly improve my swim-to-bike transition with practice and familiarity. 

Although I had ridden the trails before, it had been years.  So, while I had a general familiarity with them, I didn't have intimate knowledge of them.  I think pre-riding the trails closer to the race date would help me shave off a few minutes from the bike.

On the fueling and hydrating side, I feel like I ate just enough - 6 Gu packets - and drank barely enough (if that).  If I wore a pack on the bike, I could bring in even more calories and fluids comfortably by drinking Endurox and be set up better for the run.

So, if I swim a minute or two faster, take off a minute from my swim-to-bike transition, bike a tad faster by wearing a pack and doing a real pre-ride, and knock off a few minutes from my run time, I should be able to do this race next year under 3 hours.  

I'm not disappointed about my race at all, but I have a goal for next time!!!  

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Training" Update

My "training" is going well this year.  As I mentioned in my last post, which sadly was months ago, I'm applying a flexible approach to preparing for my two Xterra races this summer.  Since I am racing in multi-sport events, I need to work out in all three race disciplines - swim, bike, run.  

Now to some people, that might sound like MORE effort than preparing to race in a single discipline race.  And maybe it is; but it is also more diverse and thus, to me, MORE fun!

The last two summers I did some big running events that had me focusing my work outs on one thing - running.  I LOVE running, but I also LOVE other things like swimming and biking.  Running almost exclusively for weeks on end got a little boring.  The best part about all the running was training last year with Jesper, but that wasn't the same as RIDING with him, which is more socially interactive. But I missed road and mountain biking with Jesper.  I missed the Thursday Night Gurlz Ride mountain bike group.  I missed the Redstone Tuesday Night mountain bike group.  I missed my swim classes.

Jesper is not planning to do any races this year.  I want to make sure my training includes getting out to have fun with him.  He's not running much now, so that means mountain biking and road riding with him and being available to do home improvement projects together on the weekends (yes - I think home improvement projects together are fun).  So, I run in the mornings with the dog before Jesper gets up. I swim over my lunch break during the week.  I ride my road bike to and from work once day a week. 

I'm leaving weekends and some after work days open for quality time with my honey.

 Quality Time in the Mountains with my Honey (photo cred. Jesper Kristensen)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking to the Future

With 2011 getting ready to sneak out the back and 2012 shoving its nose through the crack in the door, it's that time when I reflect on the past year and look toward the upcoming one. I don't really make resolutions so to speak, but I do like to make plans and set expectations. These are my 'sporting' aspirations.

In 2011 I learned a new 'sport'; swimming. Although I officially started swim lessons in December of 2010, my progression in swimming really took off in 2011. Learning something new is a theme for me and I try to do it every couple years; it works my brain, engages different muscle groups and produces a steep learning curve that reaps huge quantities of satisfaction. I went from barely being able to swim two lengths to being able to complete a hard, hour-long swim workout of up to 3000 meters. Pretty satisfying! I am proficient in freestyle and the back stroke and finally getting decent at the breast stroke. I still struggle with the fly, but who doesn't?

Photo cred Jesper Kristensen

More important than being good at it, I simply LOVE swimming. I am a little surprised how much I love it. I'm not really an indoor sport person, but being in the pool is different. I enjoy working hard in my Tuesday/Thursday Masters Classes, 'competing' with the other swimmers and pushing myself through the sets. I enjoy quiet swims by myself, often in the morning before work, where I work on my technique or endurance without feeling the need to compare myself to others. Regardless of the type of swim workout I do, I am usually WORKED afterward! That being said, swimming is a nice compliment to all the hard running and biking I do; it is not pounding on my joints and it stretches me out. Finally, I feel like I have added an activity to my 'quiver' that I will be able to do long into my old age. I plan to continue my swimming in 2012 and to add open water swimming and triathlons into the mix (more on that below).

2011 was also a year to learn of limitations; MY limitations to be specific. I got sick this June with pneumonia. It happened while I was training for an ultramarathon; a trail run of 50km (31 miles). I developed a chest cold that would not go away and I stupidly jumped back into training before fully recovering. It took two rounds of antibiotics, a round of steroids and an inhaler to get the illness under control. But even once the pneumonia was under control, I was less than 100% all through the summer and fall (I am almost there now).

At first it was frustrating to get winded doing things I had previously taken for granted. But after talking with my doctor and other people who've had pneumonia, I realized I was lucky things were not worse. I began to feel a deeper appreciation for my previous good health. I vowed NOT to make my condition worse or allow myself to get pneumonia again (as several friends did) by pushing things too hard while my lungs healed.

So, I stepped back and took things easy. When I ran, I did not push it. When I rode my bike, I dialed it back. I put swimming with my class on hold for a while, since its difficult to do the class without pushing hard. All to keep myself from irritating my lungs and coughing. I wanted my lungs to HEAL.

I'm almost back to 100% now and able to push myself hard again without gasping for breath. Although I am still competitive (I doubt THAT will ever change), over the summer and fall I learned that it's OK and even fun to take it easy some of the time.

Because of my pneumonia, I was unable to compete in the ultramarathon and in what was to have been my first triathlon. I was disappointed, but at least I got to cheer Jesper on to his first, very successful ultramarathon!

Now, with my healthy lungs back, I have signed up for two XTERRA triathlons for the summer of 2012! XTERRA triathlons are held off road, so the biking is with a mountain bike and on trails and the run is a trail run. Since I am pretty decent at trail running and mountain biking, XTERRA's seem like a good entry into triathlons.

The first race is in late June up in Curt Gowdy State Park in Wyoming. The XTERRA Curt Gowdy Triathlon features a 1200m swim (~3/4 mile) in Granite Reservoir. Then it's on to a 14 mile singletrack mountain bike over every type of terrain imaginable; aspen groves, open meadows, narrow evergreen trees, and even slick rock. I've ridden there before and it is fantastic and beautiful! To finish the race, the 5.5 mile run will cover many of the same singletrack trails.

The second race, held at the end of August, is just up the road at Horsetooth Reservoir. This event, called the XTERRA Lory Triathlon, features a 1/2 mile swim (~800 meters) in Horsetooth Reservoir; it's reportedly one of the most scenic swims in the state with canyon walls on both sides. Then it's on to a 12 mile singletrack mountain bike over rolling terrain. I'll get to finish things off with a fun and challenging 5 mile run on a steep and rocky singletrack trail, finishing the race on a Slip-N-Slide!

I might squeak in a trail half marathon in early June; the 12 mile version of the Dirty Thirty. In 2011, this was the only race I was able to complete, since it was before I got sick. I thoroughly enjoyed it and did pretty well, even though I did it as a training run. I like this distance, since it is easy to get enough miles in to be well prepared without dedicating my life to running.

To 'train' for these races, I will continue to take the twice weekly Masters Swim Classes at my club and then I will get my butt into Boulder Reservoir as soon as I can in the spring to practice open water swimming. I have a wetsuit and will be hitting up all my triathlon friends to give me pointers! I have been running and will continue through the winter to maintain a solid base. Then in the spring, when the snow goes away, I'll ramp up the running to incorporate hills, intervals and speed work. Finally, I'll throw biking into the mix, maybe even do some spin classes over the winter. As you can see, I don't really have a 'formal' training plan and may not ever develop one beyond what I've described, with the foremost goal to have fun! And the great thing about 'training' for multi-sport events is that I get to do a whole bunch of things, things I love to do anyway!

Photo cred Jesper Kristensen

Photo cred Jesper Kristensen

Photo cred Jesper Kristensen

I'm curious to see if I will like triathlons. Who knows, this may be the beginning of a new phase for me. Or, I may decide to try something else completely different in 2013.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Argentine Pass

It's 8:35 on Friday night; Jesper and I are in bed, ready to tun the lights out. Yes - we are party animals! The alarm beeps at 5:00 am the next morning. Gotta get to bed early if you wanna play in the mountains.

We load the bikes on the Durango and leave the sad-faced dog, promising to take her for a hike the next day. We are headed to Silver Plume to ride up through the glowing yellow aspens of autumn. Our goal, other than to see amazing fall foliage, is to reach 13,200 foot Argentine Pass, the highest pass on the Continental Divide in North America.

Way back in the summer of 2005, we first attempted to reach Argentine Pass on our bikes, but were denied by afternoon hail and thunderstorms; we turned around less than half a mile from the pass, disappointed but confident we were making the prudent choice. We knew we would be back.

This time around, it is October and we are not especially worried about the weather building up. Nevertheless, we arrive at the trail head early just in case. Besides, the early morning lighting is magical and certain to light up the aspens, which should be about at their peak. Starting at 9,200 feet, we ride up an old railroad grade used during Silver Plume's mining heyday. The road, reverted to single track in some wooded sections, climbs steadily and gradually for about 10 miles.

Jesper climbing in the early morning light

Other than the consistent ascent and the thin air, the riding is not challenging. This is good, since Jesper and I are both gawking at the brilliantly lit up trees, framed by a stunningly blue sky.

Jesper under clear blue skies

We stop a ridiculous number of times for Jesper to snap pictures. He has brought one of his big cameras and tries out all kinds of photographic techniques. The trees and I are willing subjects.

Surrounded by golden aspens (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

We stop at a historic building site, the old dance hall used by the miners to let off some steam. There, underneath the still standing chimney, we set up the timer on the camera and snap a few pics of us dancing.

Waltzing away in the old Dance Hall (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

It takes about two hours of riding for us to see any other people; a family on ATVs (it is a 'road' after all). On the way up, we will eventually see a few motos, a couple other bikers, several 4-wheel drive cars (most of which do not go to the top) and two hikers. Still, considering the brilliance of the aspens in this area, we are surprised not to see more people.

Fantastic fall foliage

At about the same time, we notice a buildup of clouds. WTF?!?!? According to the forecast, there is only a 20% chance of rain, but is is rapidly looking like the forecast was optimistic. Although we have brought extra layers, jackets, leg warmers and skull caps, we are not expecting cloud cover, let alone rain. However, as they often do, the mountains have other plans for the weather. It begins to rain; just a drizzle that doesn't dampen us too much. Clouds obscure the sun and we arrive at the old Waldorf Mine site, surrounded by the stark beauty of the alpine tundra.

Up above tree line near the Waldorf Mine site (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

We are at about 11,600 feet and have over 1,500 feet to climb in less than 2 miles to reach the pass. As we set off up the incredibly steep and loose trail to the top, it begins to snow a fine dry graupel. However, other than it being cloudy and snowing, the weather seems fine; it's October and we are not overly concerned about storms.

The steep slog up to the pass- (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

This last push up to the top is mostly hike-a-bike; super steep and loose rock, all between 11,600 and 13,200 feet. There is not much air. Jesper and I both 'try' to ride as much as we can; however, we manage only to travel short distances on wheels. So, we push our bikes most of the way, sweating in the increasing cold and wind. I am pleased that the last 50 feet or so to the top is rideable; it seems more gratifying to reach the top of the pass on the bike rather than pushing the bike.

Riding the last little bit to the top under ominous skies (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

I arrive at the top shortly after Jesper. The views are amazing! An immense valley falls beneath our feet on the other side of the pass. Grays and Torreys stand tall to the northwest. I can see sheets of snow coming at us from the north and west. We both begin to get very cold and start putting on more clothes. Then something weird happens; Jesper's helmet starts buzzing (WTF?); I pick my bike up for a summit photo op, Grays and Torreys in the background, and my bike is sizzling.

Jesper - my bike is sizzling!!! (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

BOOOM! We hear the thunder. Holy shit! We are at 13,200 feet, the highest point around and completely exposed in an emerging LIGHTENING STORM! We high-tail it off the pass as fast as we can safely ride on the loose steep rocks, ignoring our frozen hands that can barely hold onto the bars.

Hauling ass down from the top (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

Back down at the Waldorf Mine site, I am super duper cold, despite the fact that I'm wearing everything I have: short sleeved jersey, arm warmers, long sleeved jersey, jacket, skull cap, shorts, knee warmers and full fingered gloves. I wish my socks were taller so the 2 inches of skin between my knee warmers and the top of my socks was covered. But I am essentially completely covered from head to toe in one or more layers.

At this point, it looks a little bit like the weather is clearing. We have a secondary goal for this ride to go up another road that would take us to more impressive views of Grays and Torreys Peaks. We decide to give it a go; however, we don't make it very far before I hear thunder again. We decide not to push our luck and turn around for the bomber descent.

Usually, we don't stop often on the downhills to take pictures; we don't want to slow down and spoil the fun. But this time, we are interested in taking more photos of the amazing aspens. I'm still wearing all my clothes and must look odd to the hikers and cyclists coming up wearing shorts! We make it to the car just as another storm comes in.

Coming back down the way we came, it's still beautiful, just not as warm (courtesy Jesper Kristensen)

We end up riding almost 25 miles and climbing over 4,000 feet.

Once again, the mountains have shown us their might; being caught up high in an electrical storm is serious. We are super happy to have made it to the top of the pass, six years after being denied, and especially happy to have made it safely, albeit just barely. Had we not started so early, we would have been compelled to turn around before the top a second time!

Later that night after dinner and a beer, we soak in the hot tub and crawl into bed. It's 9:05 on a Saturday night. Yes - we are party animals!

Post Script: We did take the dog for a hike the next day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Waiting Game

Diagnosis - PNEUMONIA. Not good.

My condition is relatively "mild", if pneumonia can ever be mild. It's sometimes referred to as Walking Pneumonia, or maybe in my case, Running Pneumonia.

My Doctor prescribed antibiotics, which I dislike taking, an inhaler and a narcotic cough syrup that knocks me out like a rock at night. I've been on the meds for three days and feel a little better, especially in the mornings. But by mid-day I am super tired again and prone to fits of coughing. I still cannot take a full breath without coughing. Not the stellar improvement I was hoping for. However, my Doctor said I should not expect to know if the meds are going to take this down until tomorrow or the next day - five days of meds.

So, I am on hold for knowing if I will be able to race next Saturday. My Doctor said it is not out of the question if the meds get at what ails me. I give it a 50% 50% chance at this point.

I am not going to get worked up over this though. My goal in doing this race was the training part. The joy of running with Jesper. The pleasure in running long distances, getting far from the trail head on my own two feet. Seeing my fitness improve as I pushed my body further and further. Gaining satisfaction from sticking to a plan, even when that entailed getting up early and running in the rain.

I hope I am able to race, but if not, I will be there to cheer Jesper on, knowing that I have already succeeded!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Think I spoke too soon...

I thought I was OK, but I was wrong. I wasn't just tired from hard training. I was sick and all that high mileage running was preventing my immune system from bouncing back.

I caught a cold in early June while traveling for work. I took off from my training plan for a few days and then, feeling better but not great, jumped right back into my regularly scheduled runs. The cold dropped into my chest and then just hung out there as a low grade cough. I continued to ramp up my mileage, tipping over the 50 mile per week mark, which each Saturday comprised of a 20+ mile run. After three weeks of that, my little cough developed into shortness of breath and severe coughing.

I finally got smart this weekend when Jesper and I were at the race venue, Buffalo Creek, to do our last big run; a 25-miler. I started the run and promptly began hacking up yellow gunk. This is DUMB, I said out loud to no one but myself. My poor immune system would certainly not benefit from another long run. I stopped running at three miles and turned around for the car.

In retrospect, I think the training volume would have been OK but for my catching a cold. Because my training plan did not have a lot of wiggle room for achieving my top mileage, I stupidly jumped right back into to training. Instead, I should have allowed a week or two of "fluff" in my training. That way I could have taken a full week off from running and then eased back into my mileage and still have had time to reach my longest run distance before the race. It's all a learning process...

I am hopeful at this point that I have simply started my taper a bit earlier than planned, but within an acceptable time frame for this length of a race. However, after three days of complete rest, my cough is no better and may be worse. I am seeing the doctor tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The final push!

I am in the last couple weeks before my Ultramarathon and I am TIRED. Tired body and sleepy tired mind. This week will be the last of four 50-plus mile weeks. That's a 200 mile month - no wonder I'm tired!

I've decided to bail on all other forms of activity at least for this last big push. No swimming and no biking this week. Only running (and yoga).

Next week my running mileage will go down while I taper for the race. I am looking forward to the taper. I'm not accustomed to being so darn tired. I day dreaming about tapering! I cannot wait for the extra boost of energy I'll get from my reduced running volume. I look forward eagerly to my rest days; previously I hated them and only employed them because I'm supposed to. Friday, blissful Friday, is my next rest day.....

I think I'm OK though, and that this is exactly how I'm supposed to feel at this point in my training. My running feels pretty good - not super fast, but not too slow either. I am uninjured and amazingly un-sore. I am sleeping well (really well and a lot).

I hope to write a post soon that tells of how spaztic I am with all the energy from my taper. I have faith that my training program will deliver me rested and full of energy to my race!