Category Archives: triathlon

The Tag-Along

I’ve dubbed myself the Tag-Along, and I am proud to say that I do a good job.

This week, Best Training Buddy (BTB) and I held it down with her training plan and I stuck to her side like glue for nearly all of her shenanigans (except the swims, of course. No thanks, not yet).  Track work? I was up and at ’em at 5am so I could be at the track on time to meet her. Easy ride? Heck yeah, and even sounds more fun than “cheesy ride.” Yesterday, we went out for a 4 hour interval bike-o-rama and a brick run, and although I am not training for anything related to triathlon, I thought it sounded fun and even encouraged her to pick a hilly route. It all sounds fun. Bring it on! Pile on the miles. Who wants to run 10miles at the track, anyway? Well, I DO!

Seriously.

I do.

OK, so what sounds fun about all this? To me, it’s fun to finally again be training with purpose. Right now, my purpose is to be the best training partner that BTB can have, and to build up my strengths. I know what you’re thinking; what’s the purpose when there’s no race on the schedule and no “end” in sight for me? While I really truly do not know what my next triathlon will be or when it will be, I know it will come, and when it does, I will be oh-so-ready. All my training friends have signed up for Ironman Couer d’Alene and I am throwing down as the IronSherpa (which is totally 100% ok with me!). And of course, I could sign up; I even think registration is still open! But I am not going to. I made a decision, and that decision was no. Plus, BTB is doing it, and its her first one, which I think would be super cool if I can tag along for the ride and be there to cheer and hoot and holler.

Is my purpose to be the best tag-along in the universe? Maybe. Of course, my purpose is to become a better athlete, and the way I get there is by finding people whom I can connect with and who I can train well with. I think that being a better athlete takes some serious tag-along-time, and also some serious build time. Being a better athlete takes some serious training relationships, and also some serious inner meditation. I have loads of time to do all of these things, and while it feels like I became a lesser athlete overnight, becoming a stronger athlete isn’t going to happen quite as fast.

So, on with it! Giddy up.

The Endurance Meg Holiday Wish-List

The holidays are coming! Eek! My list hasn’t even been tackled yet. Double eek!

If you are like me, you already know what to get your significant other who 1) likes to ride his bike, 2) is in grad school and 3) lives in a snowy, cold place. Ok, so I have this one a little easy. But other than buying him a case or two of Pamela’s lemon shortbread cookies and a 5lb bag of Snowshoe Brew, I might be at a little bit of a loss. Endurance athletes aren’t really all that hard to shop for, if you have a billion dollars to spend on them. I thought I’d make it a little easy for those quirky endurance athletes on Santa’s list this year, no matter what your budget.

$5-35

  • Energy-o-rama: A nice variety of energy treats will bring a smile to their face. It will also give them an opportunity to restock their supply for the upcoming season or give them something new to try. I bought Baberaham a grab-bag of energy foods a few years back that had all sorts of awesome stuff, and it gave him an opportunity to try new things that he otherwise may never have tried before. My pics: Kona Kola Nuun, a flask of First Endurance Liquid Shot, a Larabar or two (coconut cream pie and pb&j, perhaps?), and some Honey Stinger chews.

  • Gift cards! Good places include:
    • All3Sports so they can put it towards some new tri gear
    • iTunes so they can jazz up their music collection
    • or Road Runner Sports so they can get a fresh pair of kicks or a new outfit.

Now if only Active.com had gift cards, too…

  • Chamois cream – whether they use it already and have a favorite, or they haven’t yet dabbled in the down-under cream, a new tube or tub might get them rolling. If you don’t know where to start, check out my chamois cream review from a few months ago to narrow down some options. Want to give them comfort without getting too personal with their privates? You could get them a can of TriSlide or a few bottles of the TriSwim shampoo and body wash.
  • Snapfish their season! My mom makes me really awesome collages every year. This year, after Rev3 Cedar Point, she made me the collest race recap ever. It had photos from their day as spectators, the course, and me on the run and at the finish.  You can make all sorts of cool things with Snapfish, like calendars and stationary. Think about a two-in-one type of present: make them a calendar that they can use to log their training!

$35-50

  • New headphones– If they are like me, they go through headphones faster than they go through swim suits. OK, maybe that is because I don’t swim as much as I should… but I digress. H2O Audio has a pair of waterproof headphones for $45, and there’s these new tri-geek-gadget headphone covers called Yurbuds that lots of people talk about. The warranty of the Yurbuds is 90days which is longer than some headphones last…
  • Underwear– No, not underwear like your mom gets you at Christmas. How about: a new sports bra? or windproof briefs? or a pair of compression shorts? Seriously, serious underwear. And if you think its weird to give your Secret Santa who also does marathons a pair of windproof briefs, then you obviously don’t know him that well… unless you live in Florida.
  • Cross training gear– Get a medicine ball, Bosu ball, or a yoga mat. I’ve always wanted one of those at-home pull-up bars because I never can predict when the mood will strike and I’ll want to do Feats of Strength. It could be in the middle of eating pasta (but it’s usually NEVER in the middle of eating ice cream).
  • A nice bottle of whiskey– I know I’m not the only endurance athlete that likes whiskey. Right? Right?!? Phew, at least I know Maggs does. My recommendation? Well, I have a lot of recommendations in this price range. But, particularly, I *love* Eagle Rare for a bourbon, Macallan 10yr Fine Oak if you like single-malt, and I’d personally love to try Hirsch 10yr in honor of my new coach, even though he’s not from Canada.

$50-100

  • New bike shorts– Who doesn’t need new bike shorts, anyway? Or tri shorts? or running shorts? Heck, it’s cold now; get ’em a pair of tights, like these ones from Louis Garneau.
  • Miscellaneous gear– Do they have a nice bike pump? How about an at-home fix-it kit? Baberaham helped me put one together before I moved since we’d no longer be sharing gear. It included: a multitool, several new tubes, Bontrager tire levers, CO2 containers, a 3-4-5mm Y-type allen wrench, and all sorts of other useful stuff. Trigger Point is a sure-win for endurance athletes, since they are tools to aid recovery. Go to their Individual TP Products tab on the left to see the Quadballer (if you are gonna get one thing from Trigger Point, it should probably be this). If they are more run focused, get them gear to keep them running safe after dark, like a nice headlamp, a decent runnable reflective vest, and a hat/gloves designed for running.
  • Sweet clothes– Whether its running clothes or every-day normal clothes, which for some reason endurance athletes don’t usually have a lot of, it’s safe to say that most everyone will appreciate the finer stuff. Take merino wool, for example. It’s warm, but very fashionable. Check out Icebreaker for some extraordinary active wear (that will seriously keep you warm with less layers and weight than polyester) and also for some stylish stuff, too.
  • A few good cookbooks and some cooking tools– Get them started off on the right foot for 2011 with a few healthy-eating cookbooks and some new utensils they probably don’t have. There’s plenty of cookbooks to choose from, but make sure your choice is personal. If they are new to following a gluten free diet, get them something like Gluten Free Gourmet Cooks … series by Bette Hagman might be nice. I personally love the Comfort Foods book, but Baberaham isn’t such a soulful food person. And, if they don’t already have one, get them something nice for their kitchen to cook food in. I love my new Calphalon stainless steel multi-purpose saute pan. It has a lid, which is one giant step up from what my last saute pan had. Also check out their knife collection; everyone should hvae three good knives in their kitchen: a santoku or chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife.

  • A different bottle of whiskey? This is probably the best bourbon I’ve ever had:

$100 or more

  • While this is more the special person(s) [eg significant other, son/daughter, or kiss up to your boss because you majorly screwed off this year] gift, it’s still one that is difficult to tackle for most people. In fact, I can think of a million things to get my running buddies, but we can’t spend this much moolah on each other (if we spend anything at all, because- alas – we are either all or recently recoverying grad students). So, if your special person(s)’s an endurance junkie like me, here’s a few gifts they might just eek about in glee.
  • New kicks ($100-150)- This is something that I know I can always get great use and appreciation out of. If you go this route, get ’em a new pair of their ol’ standbys. Don’t change it up, and if they aren’t happy with their current shoe, don’t make the decision for them. Instead, offer to take them to their favorite running shop and buy their new pair of shoes after trying them on.
  • A new bike trainer ($150-1200)– Even for people who can train outside year-round, having a bike trainer gives an athlete the freedom to train when they want to, whether its 5 in the morning or 9 at night. I have become very fond of using the trainer, because I don’t have to worry about bundling up, being seen by cars, or even wearing a shirt (yes, I wear a sports bra… sheeeesh). CycleOps is *the* name when it comes to quality bike trainers, and they make such a wide range that it can fit almost any budget. Now if only I could get my hands on a Powerbeam Pro…

  • GPS watch ($150-300)- If they don’t already have one (which I’m 99.8% certain most dedicated endurance athletes do at this point), upgrade their Ironman Timex watch to a shiny new Garmin 305.
  • TYR Torque swimskin ($250)- For those tri-geeks out there- Got a significant other that aspires to qualify for Kona, or is doing any southern, warm season triathlons in 2011? This swimskin is WTC and USAT legal, and it has a wee-bit of compression to help keep things tucked in and streamlined. I had a few close-calls in triathlon over the last two seasons, where I wasn’t sure if the water would be cool enough for my wetsuit. It wouldn’t otherwise be a big deal, but my two-piece tri kit can act like a chute in the water. Plus, I hope to do some warmer-weather races in 2011, and having a swimskin would help me in my weakest of the three sports.
  • Cover (some or all of) a race entry fee ($80-600)- Nothing says “I love you” than encouragement, and what better way to encourage your special person than by being an enabler?! I love enablers. They make me happy because they are just listening to the person they care about and helping them get to where they need to go a little easier.
    • Want something a little better than just covering their race entry fee? Register for two people; make it a special day! Of course, that other person is you. Not only will you be showing your support of your favorite endurance athlete, but you’ll also be saying “I’m with you on this one!” And, if you reallllly care about that person… make it a Rev3 race. 😉

Of course, there’s lots of things you can get for an endurance geek. I’d like to think we’re the easiest people to shop for. But if you’re stuck, hopefully this list of ideas will help. You could also try to win a box of LARABARS for whoever is on your list, and I won’t tell… Hurry tho, the contest ends on Monday.

To be or not to be (coached): Is that the question?

I’ve been chatting with some friends recently, on twitter and in person, about the pros and cons of hiring a coach. For years I’ve been on my own, and I’ve been really psyched about it. I have a fairly solid background in developing and executing the right kind of training, or so at least I think. I also have a graduate degree in exercise science, and my education in physiology (and general interest in the matter) seems to help. Plus, my background in collegiate running has given me an exceptional gift: I was part of the building and assembly of training plans, I learned how to properly prepare for peaks, how to taper right, and how to execute a focused season (or not). And I did this twice a year, for four years in a row. It was like a religion. This, and my history of training marathons over the last few years, has really helped me to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what is just a waste of time. Even still, the question continues to linger about whether or not a coach would help make life a little easier (and me a little faster).

Here’s where I’m coming from:

Collegiate running: I was on a team that was coached by two different coaches (not at the same time, of course) who had completely different theories about running. My first collegiate coach, who I had during my freshman and sophomore seasons, was a Yooper with a strategy to get his athletes fast. Trouble was, sometimes his strategy backfired, resulting in burnouts and out-of-phase peaks. I remember the day I peaked during my sophomore cross-country season. It’s like it was yesterday… out there on Lahti Road doing 800m hill repeats. I was the fastest on the day, and I even grabbed the Lahti Road record! But it was training, and the rest of my season was shit. And we were still two weeks out from the conference meet. Needless to say, I learned that peaking during a late season training session, not at an “A” race, is not that awesome.

My second coach, who came along after our first coach resigned, was more educated in endurance physiology, and he was a fan of Jack Daniels (the PhD, not the whiskey). His training philosophy brought me to a 5K PR, made me a stronger and more efficient runner, and taught me the benefits of going long even if the race was relatively short. He encouraged his athletes to read, to educate themselves on the running and training philosophies, so we could better understand where his 2-a-days and 3.5hr runs were coming from. Terms like “LT” and “VO2Max” made sense long after I took classes on the subject, because who really pays attention in exercise physiology at an engineering school anyway?

Anyway, once I graduated and moved on, I wanted to continue racing (after a brief break sabbatical, that is). From what I had learned from my former (2nd) coach’s training strategies, I developed my own training plans. Each week looked something like this:

  • One long day (Sunday)
  • One threshold day (usually Thursday)
  • 2-3 recovery days (Wed/Fri)
  • a race, max-effort, or general intensity day (Tues or Saturday)

I also used two-a-days, both to get me in shape fast and to boost my aerobic fitness (LT), and before I knew it I was deep into training for my first marathon. I trained through the winter in Montana, but I did it all indoors. I’d hit the treadmill 6 days a week, somedays twice, running anywhere between 30minutes easy to 22miles while watching America’s Next Top Model. Sundays were my long runs, Mondays were almost always full recovery (off), Tuesdays and Thursdays would be a nice hour run in the morning with harder stuff in the afternoon. Wednesday and Fridays were recovery days, and Saturdays were either easy or longer intervals. That was my week, every week, from December to March, treadmill mashing and iPod tuning. Until, of course, I ran 26.2 miles for the first time outside in Napa Valley, California. And I was very satisfied with my finish of 3:22.

From there, it was all in some direction over a hill towards who knows what. I move back to Michigan and got back to training with some of my former teammates. I trained mostly outdoors from then on, but I kept my training schedule roughly the same. I squeezed in a few more marathons while working my butt off at school, and eventually got into a good rhythm. And with that rhythm came more challenges, including my introduction to triathlon. Instead of running every day, I swapped out biking and swimming. The key run workouts (the long run, the track intervals) would stay, but biking would take the place of the recovery and easy days. Swimming- well, that was something I forced myself to do once or twice a week instead of a recovery run or bike. And it rarely was fun (ok, endless relays were pretty fun).

With the planning of my first Ironman distance triathlon, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing key running workouts, so my first training plan as a triathlete actually used a marathon-specific run plan. I based my training on a book by Pete Pfitzinger, which may not have helped my Ironman run but actually helped my post-IM marathon five weeks later (where I ran a marathon PR of 3:19). Anyway, I was a little more knowledgeable after season #1 of triathlon, thanks to trial-and-error, not to mention just having experience under my belt, and my second season in triathlon was more successful. I was more diligent about my training plan; I kept an electronic spreadsheet so I could update it and kept track of weekly training hours. I watched my season progress, and the ups and downs of my weekly hours fluctuate somewhat sinusoidally (thanks to my planned training cycles).

This season, though, I had more doubts about my training than ever. I was racing better, but I was also having a more difficult time planning my training. I know how to handle one sport, but how could I deal with three and still try to do well? I had a hard time answering questions like: When should I do my long runs and rides? When am I supposed to do my hard swim workouts? Do I swim hard on the same day as a hard track workout? Or do I swim hard on my run/bike off day? Or do I bike hard on my run recovery day? These were questions that I couldn’t answer yes or no to unless I just did it, but I was afraid and hesitant that I would make the wrong decision and make my season go south real fast. I also had problems with accountability. One poor decision that I made on my own was my post-A-race recovery; or lack thereof. I basically didn’t do anything for two weeks after Rev3 Full, and the three weeks leading up to my fall marathon were full of sitting around eating candy, drinking bourbon, processing words, and being stressed out. In hindsight, active recovery may have been more beneficial than the “recovery” I was doing- which was more or less just being sedentary.

I don’t even have enough fingers to count the number of times I questioned getting a coach. I asked friends who had coaches, and we talked about their relationships. I talked to friends that didn’t have coaches, and we discussed the pros and cons of hiring someone to tell me what I thought I already knew. I talked to friends that were coaches, and got some great, rewarding feedback there, too.  I feel like I am in a tricky situation, because I know enough about training to know what might be a good idea or a bad idea, and this makes it really difficult to wrap my head around the possibility of having a coach who could have different views and opinions about things than me.

There’s also something so rewarding in designing your own plan, laying down the tracks that can bring you to having a great performance. Knowing that I was able to race fast this season, on my own, by doing the work that I put in- the work that I developed- well, anyway, this idea tends to linger in my mind. Over the past several months, whenever I would consider getting a coach, I’d ask myself: Would a coach help, or would a coach tell me something I didn’t want to hear? And not to mention, can I even afford it?

Now, I understand that not everyone can design their own training plan, let alone stick to it. I definitely didn’t stick to mine like I probably should have. There are weeks in my training plan that are sparsely sprinkled with completed workouts. This season, the only accountability I had was myself, and that was better sometimes than others. But regardless, having a coach is not essential to the triathlete. There, I said it. Now all my friends who are coaches are going to stop talking to me.

But they shouldn’t, because there really does come a point when having a coach is beneficial. For example, beginners rarely know where to even begin, let alone figure out how they are going to fit in training in their already-busy schedule known as The Real World. Because, let’s be honest, who can hire a coach if you don’t have a job?

And even for the “experienced” athlete- there comes a point when someone who thinks they know everything (points at myself) might need some insight. There comes a point when ya gotta say: “OK, do I want to get faster with the help of someone else, or am I OK with rolling the dice?” I sat down and thought about it, I thought really hard. And seriously. I considered all aspects. How much will a coach cost, and how much can I afford? What will they offer me that I don’t already have at my fingertips, including a boyfriend that bikes, a kickass group of cycling buddies, and a running partner that runs the shit out of everything (ok, maybe that’s not what I meant)?

Most importantly, though, and this is the real deal: If I hire a coach, am I confident that I can put aside what I know think I know and trust what this other person tells me as true? Can I say: “Oh, I feel like I should be running for 5 hours if I want to do well in a HIM” and they tell me- “No, you’re flippin’ cheesefried nuts.” That’s the biggest step: getting over what you think you know. Of course, if we look hard enough, we can usually find what we’re looking for. It’s like those people that go to the doctor to get the diagnosis that they want to hear. Sure, some would call them hypochondriacs, but if the fifteenth doctor they see tells them they have a rare disease that no one else has ever heard of and will get them special attention, than its the fifteenth doctor they are going to trust.

Ok, maybe finding the right coach is not really that extreme. But hopefully, you get my point. It’s not just “hearing what you want to hear”, though. It’s also hearing what is right to you. Finding the right coach is finding the right pairing of personalities; it’s finding the person that you can relate with, and the person that is willing to work with you. And when you know, chances are you will really know. And hopefully for your wallet’s sake, that person isn’t Dave Scott at $600/month. Of course, I say that, because I am a measly grad student making $20K a year. I am sure there are triathletes out there that eat $600 for breakfast.

Recap: 2010 "Sophomore" Season

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my 2010 season is wrapped up.  I’ve even had two weeks of my post-season do-whatever-I-want awesomeness, [which really hasn’t been that awesome].

Racing this year has been a blast! In my second season as a triathlete, I raced more and improved from last year. And, I felt strong in the run of practically every race, which made me happy. I set some lofty goals at the beginning of the season, and although I didn’t make them all, I’m happy with the level I’ve risen.

Anyway, it’s time to reflect on what racing in 2010 brought me:

  • Two more marathons are checked off my 50×50 list (Utah and Michigan)- I BQ’d in both of these, too. Although I didn’t reach one of my goals (another marathon PR), I am still incredibly satisfied with where my run has made it. In fact, although I didn’t PR in the open marathon, I broke my marathon PR in the 140.6 distance by over 30 minutes. And, I also shaved off a minute from my previous best time in the 10-mile.
  • I ran the farthest I’ve ever run before, in a training run no-less. Although I was registered for my first ultra, I bailed because of sub-optimal health/stress levels. The ultra world is still there, and I’m striving to make it a to-do for 2011.
  • I broke 11hrs in the long course tri at Rev3 Cedar Point! This was one of my more major, loftier goals, one I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to accomplish. But, dare I say? I crushed it! I even got lost on the bike, which added a good 2 miles to my bike leg, and still cruised to a sub 3:40 marathon. And had fun!
  • I raced more in 2010 than I did in ’09, and I traveled a lot more for races, too. I even flew to a triathlon, which was something I had never done before. Special thanks to The Bike Shop and Bicycle Works for helping me out at Quassy!
  • I directed a half-iron distance triathlon, the Kuparisaari Tri, and got to meet some incredible people along the way. It was a lot of work (that’s an understatement), and the race could not have happened without the help of the KCRA, Bear Belly Bar and Grill (and the Lac La Belle Lodge), the volunteers, and the LLB community! I hope the race will continue, especially so that some day, I can race it!

So, what does that mean for 2011?

There are lots of things I want to do. There are lots of things that I don’t know if I can do. But I won’t know unless I push the boundaries of what I am capable of doing.

For me, 2011 is going to include more focused sessions, aiming to improve my swim, bike, and run. My specific goals are:

  • Faster swim!    I’d like to hit 32-34min in the 1.2mi distance, and 1:10 in the 2.4mi distance… or faster!
  • Stronger bike! In 2011, I want to get on the bike and enjoy the ride the whole time. I know that’s impractical, because some days just suck. But, this season, I struggled a little in races and training. I just didn’t have the fun that I thought I should be having. I did, however, get a little out of my comfort zone in the second half of the season, and hope to bring that back in 2011. One thing I plan to do in 2011 is use benchmarks to track my cycling progress.
  • Blazin’ run! I am a runner. I have it in me. And I love it, all the time. So I am going to work on my running strengths in 2011 to get me there. I think that the longer runs in the early season really boosted my endurance for the rest of the year, so I plan to build a solid base of long runs. And, I want to race a half marathon! I’ve never finished an open road half marathon!
  • Keep peeling off time and running down places in the HIM distance races. It was blatently obvious to me this year that you really can’t compare race to race. To put it in writing that I want to go 4:45 at Quassy is insane. Plus, courses can change year to year and its hard to have  standard. So, I’d like to just keep pushing to get better in this length, because its so fun!
  • Race a (legit) Oly. Last year, I did my one and only Olympic race at Rev3 Knoxville. This race was seriously legit; the only problem was, I wasn’t. And I didn’t race another Oly all season. I’d like to race at least two this year, and race them to the best of my ability. I’m really interested in what I will be able to do in this distance, especially when my run will be faster than that it is in the HIM.

Although I haven’t completely figured out my 2011 schedule, I am planning on doing the following races:

  • Ragnar Relay Florida Keys – all-women ultra team (Jan)
  • Rev3 Knoxville Olympic – May
  • Rev3 Quassy Half – June

Good luck to my faves this weekend! #imkona #fb

Good luck tomorrow, Kona triathletes!  Rock it at World Champs!

A special HOORAH for:

 

@erikhemstad

 

 

@gosonja, me, and @michellefordp6

 

I’m sendin’ out my super-go-fast vibes to you! Good luck in your first go at KONA!

Rev it up in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Rev3 just announced the newest edition to their series: Rev3 South Carolina!

I love the Blue Ridge Mountains. This race is the perfect location for triathletes east of the Mississippi- it’s only a 2hr drive from Atlanta. The first thing I did when I found out was google-map the distance from my soon-to-be home to the race locale: For me, it’ll be about a quick 11hr drive. Luckily, flying will be much cheaper when I move, too, so maybe I will fly!?

Any guesses as to where I’m movin’?

Beginner Triathletes: How to pick the best bike for you

My Facebook News Feed is full of friends talking about how they’re setting up transition/pumping their tires/putting on their wetsuit for the last time of 2010. The end of the racing season is upon us, and although I have one more race left on my calendar this year, I’m pretty much ready to put my feet up (with a glass of scotch in hand) and relax for a while.

One of my friends is particularly interested in the end-of-the-season deals that she can get from her local bike shop. See, she doesn’t have a bike, but she’s been itching for one for a while. Right now is probably the best time to buy a new bike, because of course, bike shops are looking to dump their extra stock of 2010 bikes so that when spring rolls around they have a full room of flashy 2011 models. And dump they will. My LBS is having a sale this weekend, and all their bikes are on sale for one amazing discount or another.

Anyway, her questions about what bike is best for her got me thinking about how I got into cycling, why I chose the bike(s) I did, and why it was important (for good and bad reasons). So, I thought I’d put together a little help list of different things to consider when purchasing a new bike:

What different kinds of bikes are there?

I’m going to first establish four different categories of bikes, but I’m definitely aware that there are bikes that overlap some of these categories. For simplicity sake, we have:

Road
Mountain
Triathlon
Cruiser

For the sake of focusing on an athlete interested in racing road triathlons (not XTerra, off-road triathlons), I’m going to focus on Road and Triathlon specific bikes.

Which one should I get?

Road bikes are great if you want to go for long fitness rides with friends, rally for a fast pace lines, and ride for a long time. Triathlon bikes are great for people who like to (obviously) race triathlons in races where drafting is illegal, and for those that like to ride their bike for a long time (say, 100 miles?) by themselves.

Ok, but really, which one should I get?

Really, it depends on what you want to do. Want to do century rides with your friends? I’d recommend a road bike. Want to race an Ironman? You might want to invest in a triathlon bike.

Ok, so I want to get into triathlons, but I don’t have a bike. Which kind of bike should I get?

This is an easy question to ask, with a complicated answer.

Point 1: Bike companies make triathlon bikes for a reason. Technically, many of the fancy schmancy bikes you see pro athletes riding are time trial (TT) bikes. The TT geometry is different than the regular road bike geometry- the angle of the seat post on a TT bike is steeper, the weight of the rider is more forward, and the control is a little different. The TT bike allows the cyclist to apply more consistent power over a longer distance. The farther forward you are, the more power you can generate (in general; there are “extremes” to every example). Reduced frontal area, from using the aerobars, promotes better aerodynamics (o rly? nooo way!). Integrated aerobars are going to make a bike faster than if it had the clip-on kind, but essentially, reducing that frontal area can help take up to 4minutes of a 40km time trial (or more?).

Counterpoint 1: Just because there are TT bikes, does not mean you have to have one in order to race triathlon. In fact, it may not be practical to have a TT bike in many of the shorter triathlons. If the triathlon is draft-legal (ITU races usually are), then having a TT bike is pointless. Plus, if the course is hilly, (depending on your riding style and comfort on the bike), a road bike might give you a faster split. The forward geometry of a TT bike makes climbing more difficult than the upright position of a road bike.

Point 2: Having a TT bike can make training on your own a bit easier. If you don’t have anyone’s wheel to hang on to for a long ride, then a TT bike can help make it less painful and make the ride go by faster because you will likely be going faster. On a TT bike, you’re aerodynamic, you’re more forward, and you are (likely) not a huge sail for the wind to grab.

Counterpoint 2: If you do have people to train with, then having a TT bike when you first start out is often a terribly stressful experience, for you and the people you ride with. Not only are TT bikes more difficult to control than road bikes, they can also be quite intimidating. If you ride with others in a paceline, having TT bike can be absolute disaster if you ride in aero position. And, if you are going to ride on the pursuit bars the whole time, why even have a TT bike? Even if you don’t have anyone to train with, the first several rides can be full of anxiety on a TT bike; remember, its not the Huffy you learned on.

Point 3: TT bikes look really bad ass. I mean, seriously, look at this photo:

Amanda Lovato's new Kestrel 4000LTD

Seriously. Bad. Ass.

Counterpoint 3: Ok, do you really have $6,000 to drop on your first bike? Maybe. But probably not. And to be fair, you could spend the same amount of money on a road bike as you do on a TT bike. And, you can find cheap TT bikes out there, but you can usually find cheap(er) road bikes.

Point 4: The forward position of a TT bike makes for an easier transition to the run in triathlon, partly because it encourages your hips to open up more than if you were in a similar position on your road bike. If you were to try the same position on a road bike, that has a less-steep seat tube angle, you might end up hitting your knees to your chest or pinching off the blood supply to your legs.

Counterpoint 4: Riding with other people, on road bikes, can help to improve bike handling skills. Playing the green sign game* is more fun when you are not alone, and a road bike is more suitable for such a game. Road bikes typically offer more get-up-and-go mobility, making it easier to start a dead-sprint than if you were on a TT bike. Road bikes are also more responsive in cornering and braking, making them a bit safer for the beginner than the TT bike.

So, when it comes to getting a TT bike or a road bike, it really depends on what you’re looking to do- what you are hoping to get out of the bike (and the sport).  Is there anything wrong with riding a road bike in an Ironman? Absolutely not. I got passed at IMoo by a dude on a road bike. Are you going to win the Tour de France with only a TT bike? Have fun on Alpe d’Huez with that one.

If you are a beginner and have rarely ridden a road bike before (or have only ever had limited amounts of rides on a friend’s bike), then it is in your best interest to start with a road bike. Not only will it help make you more comfortable on the roads, it will also be beneficial to have in the long run. Most elite triathletes will tell you that having only one bike is nonsense. Plus, having a road bike can encourage you to try more daring things that you might be more hesitant to try if you only had a TT bike (like, say, climb up and over a mountain pass!).

If you are looking to get a faster bike, you could upgrade to either a race-geometry road bike or a TT bike. If you don’t want to invest a lot of money in a brand-new setup, upgrade components. Move your saddle forward, add some clip-ons, get lighter/stiffer parts (crankset, deraillers). If you find that you are riding all the time in your clip-ons, then you might as well…

Go all in. Get a TT bike. Just don’t live up to the triathlete stereotype: work on your bike handling skills!

No matter who you are, though, you should:

  • Have your bike professionally fitted (not just “adjusted” by the shop you bought it from; really, technically, professionally fitted by a FIST certified professional).
  • Learn basic bike maintenance (like how to lube your chain, for example, or fix a flat)
  • Have fun!

from Pinkbike: something you really shouldn't do with a road or TT bike

*The green sign game is my least favorite cycling game, where the first person to see a green road sign springs ahead and then everyone else has to chase them; first person to pass the sign “wins”- what, exactly, i am not sure – and then you do it all over again the next time you see a green sign.

Cedar Point FullRev Race Report

I was thinking about this post when I was finishing up the bike leg of the FullRev. I was thinking, around mile 95, of excuses I could make to tell you about why I got off the bike in T2 and never left with my running shoes on. I was construing various stories that left you with the feeling of “Oh, I get it” and “If that were me, I’d do the same damned thing.”

But before I tell you these stories, I should tell you the first one.

I considered not traveling to Cedar Point at all.

I got it in my head that leaving work for five days (weekend included), in the thicket of dissertation writing, and with two campus visits coming up (one in New York City, and the other in St Louis), I just couldn’t go. I needed to work on my slides for a lecture at Hospital for Special Surgery. I needed to go through Chapter One with a fine toothed comb so I could send it to my advisor for editing. I needed to write a manuscript on stuff I did this spring, finish a manuscript for stuff I’ve been working on for nearly two years, and work on the transitions between chapters 3-8 of my dissertation. It just didn’t make sense to leave right now. Not like this.

But Baberaham wondered why I would do that. My friend AJ was going down with me, and if I didn’t go, what would he do? It would be a long drive by himself, not to mention that we were planning on staying at my parents for two nights. And my Trakkers teammates would be there, my parents could watch me race not-so-far-away, and I’d get a break for my brain.

So I went. AJ and I drove down on Thursday afternoon, headed to Cedar Point on Friday, and dinked around Sandusky for less than 48 hours before our race. We did the practice swim, we road our bikes on a crappy road with a strong headwind, and we took naps. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the race, but I was as ready as I was going to be. Nothing I could do now, just race and see.

Race morning was pretty low key. I set the alarm for 4:15, got out of bed at 4:30, had a cup of coffee and a cup of Panda Puffs and packed up the car. Our bikes were already checked in, thanks to Rev3’s awesome pre-race bike check-in (so convenient!) and I just needed to fill bottles and my nutrition pouch. My stay-with-me bottle had four scoops of Orange EFS and 4oz of Liquid Shot mixed with water, and I affixed a Nathan Sports Propeller carry between my aero bars for a Liquid Shot flask (fits perfect, by the way). I was a little slower than anticipated, mostly because I hadn’t planned on needing to be weighed pre-race (not sure why I didn’t think about that…), but I got it all set up to go and headed to the swim start. I sipped on PreRace and Nuun on the walk over.

Lake Erie looks eerily calm

Swim: I sprayed my ankles and wrists with TriSlide and slipped into my wetsuit. The water was cold, which was amazing. I expected the water temperatures to be high and wetsuits to be illegal because the summer temps had been so high. Before the race, I was getting nervous and excited. The pros were delayed 10 minutes, which only extended the nervousness a little more. I was looking forward to the swim, though, because I’ve been working on it lately. And to be honest, I’ve never felt better, more in control, than I felt on today’s swim. I was smooth and fluid, I found feet, and I felt fast. Granted, my time wasn’t fast, but I think that had a little to do with the chop (especially on the second loop). I am not sure if the in-and-out-and-back-in swim course made times slower, either, but I definitely felt faster than I did last year at IMWI, even though my time was the same. However, Madison was a clusterf* of people, and there were times where I didn’t have to actually swim and I was moving as fast as everyone else. The thinner crowd at the Rev3 race might have made things a little slower in that reason alone. Not that I’m complaining though, I’d rather not get punched in the head or stomach…

2.4 mile swim: 1:14
T1: 1:31

T1 was fast for me, since I didn’t grab my gear bag and just headed straight for my bike. I actually thought it would be faster, but I think the chip mat to T1 exit was a little of a long run.  I ripped off my suit, and it came off like butter thanks to TriSlide. I threw it in the box next to my bike, slipped on my shoes and helmet and Trakker device, and off I went. No armwarmers for me today, because even though the water was cold, the air really was not.

Bike: The bike is what I like to call the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The first ten miles or so were rough, which I expected and didn’t really care about because we had a slight tailwind and, well, I rode it the day before. And, it was the beginning of the ride. Once I got out onto the open roads, I could go a bit faster, and averaged anywhere from 15-26mph.

The good: We cruised through the town of Edison, which was cool and somewhat Tour-de-France-esque, and popped out onto one road that was absolutely amazing. Smooth as glass and a tailwind to boot, and cruising at 26mph was easy with a 54 chainring. But, turn the corner fifteen miles later and the road turns to chipseal. Aid stations were plentiful, miles were marked every 10, which was awesome, and draft marshals were out in full effect. Traffic on the course was minimal as well! My nutrition was spot on, and not having an aero drink bottle was worthwhile. I missed a few bottles of water at the aid stations but they weren’t essential. I always had a bottle of water in one cage and a bottle to sip from that had EFS and Liquid Shot in it. The Nathan Propeller carrier was perfect, too, and the flask and EFS bottle stayed with me the whole way.

I yo-yo’d with a woman on the bike for both laps. She caught me on the rough stuff and barreled ahead of me until she was out of sight. Then, I would I blow by her thanks to my extra toothed chainring on the flat, tail-wind-assisted roads, and not see her in my wake. I have no idea how she could catch me, and she probably had no idea how I could find her again. The last time she passed me, on the chipseal of the second lap, I stopped to turn my wheel around (I got paranoid that running it the other way would propagate the small gash in my tire I got a few weeks before), and I never saw her again in the saddle.

The bad: The chipseal wasn’t so bad, in reality, but the wind was. It was demoralizing. You wanted to go 22mph, you knew you could (the road looked flat, right?), but you couldn’t. Or at least I couldn’t. I sat at 15-17mph and just grumbled my way through it. And to be honest, I don’t know what is worse: hills or headwinds. Obviously, both are awful, and having them together is a death wish, but hills are at least gaugeable. They end when you get to the top and you get a break on the way down. A headwind is just a battle the whole way, until you turn off the road or throw your bike into a cornfield. Which I considered doing.

My left leg started getting sore about twenty miles into the bike, and it stayed sore until about mile fifty. I had a hard time shaking it, and the only thing that would relieve it was adjusting my position in the saddle to stretch out my IT band. However, by doing so hurt my crotch even more.

My stomach hurt, too, and at first it was because I was so hungry when I started riding. I ate a Snickers bar about twenty minutes in and that held off the hunger pangs, but my intestines did not want to move anything through for another hour or so. I should have sat up to let things settle, but I didn’t want to sit up going into the headwinds. Eventually, it settled.

Oh, and from the time I got onto the bike to the time I got off, I had to pee.

The ugly: One sweet part of the race was the choice of doing the FullRev or the HalfRev. I liked having the halfers out there on the course, because it split things up, took my mind off what I was doing, and put more people on the course. Not that I like more people, but there were plenty of times where I was completely by myself. One example of this was not intentional though. I was passing a halfer up a hill around mile 95, so I took to the left of the lane and passed. Only, I passed him at an intersection where people were standing. I was looking for cops, but I didn’t see any, so I continued through. I heard someone yell something about bikers, but just continued on. There was a guy ahead of me before the intersection that I’d keep my sights on, but with the rolling hills I couldn’t see farther than 200yards ahead. Eventually, I could see farther out, but I couldn’t see him. Could he have got so far ahead of me in that short of time? Hmm. Kept going, until I got to an intersection with lots of cars, no police, and no signs. What? The? Heck! I took a wrong turn somewhere. No later did I say this to myself than do I see a minivan pull up behind me to yell “You gotta come back! You’re off course!” I shook my head, tears welled in my eyes, and I wanted to be done. I missed the paint markings on the road, since the halfer I was passing at the time was riding over them. And I didn’t see the turn sign because it was probably in line with the halfer as well. Or it got knocked down from of the wind. Whatever the excuse is that I come up with, I ended up adding 2.5 miles (and 8 minutes) unnecessarily to my bike. And I was soooo over being on the bike.

I wanted to ask the minivan guy if I could put my bike in his car and get a ride back to transition. I wanted to be done. I was done with chip seal, I was done with wind. And when I eventually got to Huron and had to ride through the town, I was done with that, too. A little, fuzzy, football-sized brown and black lump of fur scurried out from a bush and nearly ran between my spokes, and I was thinking that would really make me done for the day. What the eff was that? I said to myself. Out loud. I might have even yelled it. It looked like a porcupine cat. Or a porcupine Pomeranian. For whatever reason, the fuzzy unknown being stopped before running into me, and scurried back into the bush. Eff.

The bumps, the wind, the bumps, ugggh. I told myself on the way back to the park, on the eight miles of road that was bumpy, jarring, and painful in the crotchal region, that if I wasn’t having fun, I shouldn’t be doing it. And I was NOT having fun. I started making excuses to give you, my dear readers, about why I didn’t leave T2 with my chip and running shoes on. I wanted to just rack my bike and stand next to my mom and cheer for the other, more tough, more deserving athletes. The last six miles were knocking me around, the crosswinds made me want to cry some more. Eventually, I saw the turn into the park and knew there was not much left. I could not wait to be done.

I dismounted and ran into T2, handing my bike over to an amazing volunteer.

112 mile bike: 5:49
T2: 2:11

“Want me to rack it?” I asked.
“Uh, no! Go run!” He said.
And I wanted to run.

I didn’t even notice it. It was almost as if the last twenty miles hadn’t happened. I ran along the black runway without even thinking. Grabbed my transition bag without even thinking. Ran into the changing tent and dumped my bag upside down.

Two women in transition asked me if I needed any help. I told them that I did.

“What shoes should I wear?” I asked. They looked at me puzzled. “Seriously. This is an important decision.”

My Saucony Guide 3s sat next to my Fastwitch 4s. The green of the Fastwitches looked so good with my kit. The Guides felt heavy in my hands. The women wouldn’t answer me.

“It’s up to you!” They’d say.

I put the green shoes on without thinking any more about it, and one of the women asked why I wasn’t wearing socks. “You crazy athletes, not wearing socks. I can’t believe you can run a marathon without socks.” I shrugged. I should have worn socks.

I ran out of transition quickly. My feet were turning over faster than I thought they could. I felt how I feel after riding 56 miles, not 114. I tried to slow them, but they just didn’t want to. They were having a mind of their own, those legs. I swear it had everything to do with my fast shoes. They had been racing fast all season, why would they ever stop now?

I hit mile 1 a little sooner than I expected. 8:02. No way. That seems too fast. I shouldn’t feel so good after biking so long, right? I hit mile 2 soon after. 7:25. Seriously? Slow down. The Go Fast shoes wanted to go, though.

I sipped on EFS and liquid shot from my Nathan handheld flask and moved through aid stations with ease. No stopping, no walking, just moving. I didn’t take any aid, I just moved through. I felt strong, holding steady at sub 8min/mile pace. I saw AJ’s bright kit and his wicked hair as I passed mile 5, taking a mental note of where he was on the course. I held strong, focused on my form, and ticked off the miles. I passed the point where I remembered seeing AJ and realized he was two miles ahead. The math in my brain was still working, maybe I wasn’t running hard enough. If I could run 1min/mile faster than him, I could catch him. That would be hard to do, he looked strong. But there was nothing I could do about his race, I could only focus on mine. So I did.

I came through the first loop on pace for a 3:30 marathon. That just seemed too fast, but I wasn’t worried about it. My legs would take me where they wanted to take me. I shouldn’t even be running, I should be standing by the side, cheering for others, done with my day. But my legs had other plans. They were showing me they weren’t ready to quit just yet. I held steady. Strong.

I couldn’t see any other amateur women ahead of me. I saw the pros, both Kathleen and Jacqui rocking the vibrant green Trakkers kits like me. I saw some of my Trakkers teammates and gave them high fives. I should have been in the pain cave, but I felt like giving high fives.

Around mile 14 I started drinking cola at the aid stations, mixing it half and half with water in my flask so it would go flat. My quads wanted to seize up around mile 15, and I drank a cup of Cerasport. Amazingly, that kept the cramps at bay. I kept drinking it at every aid station. Ice went down my top on purpose. Cola and water filled my flask and was emptied before the next aid station.

The liners on my shoes started to fold under my toes, and I couldn’t tell if it was just that or if my feet were cramping. My toes weren’t cramping. I started a mantra in my head. No cramping, no cramping. Stretch it out. As if I could will myself away from cramping.

The run course had a lot of turns, and it was hard to see who was in front of you more than a half mile ahead. But the amazing thing about a race this long is that you can pass (or get passed) by people you were separated with by miles off the bike. And that’s exactly what happened. I passed people I remembered on the bike. People who blew by me and must have started the run a half hour before me. An hour before me.  At mile 20, I told myself that a 60min 10K would get me under 11 hours. And then I was counting down the miles.

It started to hurt, whatever “it” was. I got tired, my legs got tired. My legs lost their pep. My feet hurt, my hips sank, my shoulders scrunched up around my ears. I felt sloppy and slow. But I kept moving. Two miles to go. One mile to go. My smile turned to a grimace and I ached to be done. And then I thought about the finish. My mom. My dad. Amy. Owie. They’re all there. They’re all watching. Owie was getting ready to run with me. I turned the corner and there he stood.

I grabbed his hand and we ran down the chute together. Sure, some dude passed me in the chute, but I didn’t care. I was running holding hands with a 3-yr-old across the finish line of my second ultra-distance triathlon. The volunteers at the finish lowered the tape, I felt everything from the day just float off my shoulders. I looked down at Owen’s smiling face and couldn’t help but feel like we just spent a day playing in the park. As I crossed the line, I didn’t have the emotional crash that I had at my first ultra distance triathlon (last year at IMoo). I didn’t feel like I just did what I actually just did. If that makes any sense. I did have tunnel vision, and I saw the volunteer inching toward me with the medal and I asked them to put it around Owen’s neck instead. They draped him with a foil blanket and he danced around. It was euphoric, watching him. It was almost an out of body experience. 26.2 mile Run: 3:39:20

Soon after, AJ crossed the line, and I convinced one of the volunteers to help me take off my shoes. My shoes were bloody, and I didn’t think I would be capable of taking them off myself. It was like a band-aid, and I encouraged the volunteer to treat it as such. Sure enough, my foot was anhiliated from a popped blister. I realized about three miles into the run that I had forgotten to spray the inside of my shoes with TriSlide. I have no idea how I forgot to do that, but I think my entire pre-race prep that included not thinking about the race influenced that incredibly poor foresight. I’ve raced all season with amazing results, and atmy “A” race I forget one of the most important things related to damage control. That was dumb!

Regardless, I cannot put into words how grateful I am to have continued through T2 with my running shoes on. To see my mom and dad, Owen and Amy, standing there, cheering, taking photos… it made all of the anxiety of the bike disappear. To feel the way I felt on the run is indescribable. My legs just wanted to go. To be honest, I don’t know what happened. I was convinced that, on the bike, I was done with the day. But my legs had other plans, and they ran me to a 2nd place overall finish for amateur women, with a time of 10:46.

I learned a lot about long course racing at Cedar Point that I didn’t learn before. My independent training really paid off, because I rode a lot of the bike without anyone else in sight. My carefree attitude going into (and throughout) the race paid off, too.  Perhaps there is something about the long course race that makes it easier for someone a little more easy-going. One bad thing can ruin your day, and in a shorter race, like an Olympic or a half, it does. But in the long, ultradistance races, you can shrug it off and continue, perhaps even pretend like it didn’t happen. There’s not always time to fix things when bad things happen, but the day is usually long enough to work through a problem, or at least stick it out.

And I am so glad that I did stick it out. Seeing the smiling faces of my favorite support crew was the best feeling this girl could have.

I love you, Mom and Dad! I love you Owie and Amy, too. Thank you for sharing this special day with me, and for helping me after the race. Your support means so much to me!

And thank you to my sponsors, especially Team Trakkers and Rev3. Being a part of this team has really opened my horizons in the sport of triathlon and has encouraged me to try new things, push new limits, and reach new heights. Being a part of Team Trakkers has brought so much to my life in the last year! Rev3 puts on the best races, awesome for athletes as well as their families. I have never had a better race experience than what I’ve had with all three Rev3 races I’ve done this season.

And as usual, my nutrition was spot on with First Endurance, Nuun, and Honey Stinger, and awesomely accessible with cool gear from Nathan Performance Sports. My feet were fast in their FastShoes, the Saucony Fastwitch 4s. My bike was a rocketship thanks to the awesome guys at The Bike Shop.

Trak me online for the FullRev at Cedar Point! #fb

Tomorrow, I’m racing the FullRev at Cedar Point. At 7:05am EST, I start swimming 2.4 miles! Then, I’m off on the beautiful roads of Erie County, Ohio, for 112 miles of biking, and then slip on my Saucony shoes for a quick 26.2 miles of running. Wanna join me?

Because (virtually), you can!

Trak me in real-time with the Trakkers device! You can trak me here: Trakkers Live. I’ll be wearing the device as soon as I’m done with the swim.

You can also follow me on the Rev3Tri site, which will have periodic updates (as I cross mats at various places along the course), and my number is 411. Word!

Distracting myself before Rev3 Cedar Point

It’s 10:31pm and I’m assessing the situation. I have my duffle bag, filled with clothes that I literally threw from across the room. I have a cloth grocery bag, filled with my race day nutrition, water bottles and race belt. I have a messenger bag, sitting in the back seat of my car from my last trip (interview in Wisconsin), just sitting there. And an iPod shuffle, battery dead, sitting in my cupholder.

My gas tank is on empty and my running shoes are somewhere in my car. I don’t know what shoes I am going to wear on race day, what chamois cream I am going to use, or what hotel I’m staying at (off the top of my head).

Life has been busy, simply put. I am not sure if its a good thing or a bad thing, because its kept my mind off the race and I haven’t even thought about writing out a race-day play-by-play. I am going into it blind, but not as blind as last year. I know what I am getting myself into, but I am excited about the prospect that I don’t have a plan.

I usually race poorly with a plan. Does that make sense? No. But if I have a plan, I usually push the limits of said plan, instead of diligently sticking to it. Want to run a 70min 10mile? Gotta run 7min miles. But last year, when I did the Canal Run (a local 10mile race), and my goal was to break 1:10, I went out at a 6:40 mile. Oops. That oops didn’t get me across the line in 70minutes.

Sure, I have goals in the back of my head that I’d love to hit. I’m sure most athletes out there on Sunday will. But truth be told, I can’t compare what I did at Ironman Wisconsin last year to what I can do this year at Rev3 Cedar Point. This season, my training has been different, the Rev3 race course is different than IMWI, and the weather in Sandusky is most likely going to be different than it was last year in Madison. I am just going to do my best to push it (just a little) in the swim, stay comfortably steady on the bike, and get it done on the run. The run is my favorite part.

But in the mean time, I am focusing on other things. I’m writing my dissertation, doing experiments in the lab, and consulting with local physicians. I’m trying to write manuscripts, I’m interviewing for post-doc positions, and I’m traveling like a maniac. Maybe these distractions will keep my mind busy and away from focusing on must-dotime restraints on Sunday. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.