Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unleashing the Marathoner

Two blogs ago, I discussed my version of those lingering questions that fall out at the end of one athletic season and the beginning of the next. Question number two in that list is one that plagues me to no end: "How do I reconcile my passion to run marathons with my desire to race well in triathlons?" After the question, I included the following parenthetical thought: "Whether you call it a need or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it's something I MUST do."

What the hell does that mean? Will I die if I resist running marathons? Probably not. But I don't really want to find out. A month ago, when I realized I'll be in Orlando the weekend of the Walt Disney World Marathon (January 9), I registered immediately. I gave it very little thought -- it didn't even occur to me that I had not run over 13 miles since October.

The thing is, I sometimes do believe I have a basic NEED to run. If I don't run, I get crazy and I can't think straight. No other sport has this effect on me (i.e., avoids making me crazy and helps me think straight). There may have been a time I didn't run, but I don't remember it. Even in elementary school -- it may not have been organized running, and some people may have called it "playing" -- I ran. I was restless if I didn't. My athletic "career" probably started with being the fastest 50-yard-dash runner in my elementary school. Yes, I even beat the boys. I'm sure my girlfriends were mortified and it probably eliminated my chances of having a "boyfriend." But I was 10. I still had places to go (and run to).

That day I became a competitor. And a "runner." At only one other moment in my life did I become acutely aware of the importance of running. I was a senior in high school. I was having a very bad day. "Bad" is relative when you're in high school -- this particular bad day, embarrassingly enough, may have been due to a "B" on an exam. After mentally beating myself up at track practice, my track coach, the incomparable John Klarman, kicked me off the track and sent me off on a three-mile run. ALONE. I had never run ALONE before (I was a quarter-miler, for cryin' out loud, we LIVED in a group on the track). As I pounded the pavement, ALONE, my mind cleared. Upon returning to the track, I didn't (and still can't) remember exactly what had sent me into such a bad state that day.

From that day on, running has become the antidote. All the people close to me have discovered it: when Jeanne is having a bad day, send her out running. My room-mates in college did it. My friends do it. My husband does it. Like a Hyde-Jekyll transformation, I usually come back a different person from when I left.

Unfortunately, as a triathlete with a running problem, I still want to run (and excel) at marathoning. I used to think it would be difficult because of the required time commitment -- just for running and not including the other two sports. But if 2010 has taught me anything, it's that it may be possible to have both. In Detroit in October, I learned I can actually perform somewhat respectably (3:06) at the marathon distance with as little as 35-40 miles of running per week. In Pittsburgh in May, I also learned, to my own shock and disbelief, that I possess the ability to run a marathon "for fun." (Although, it's only fair to note that my attitude in Pittsburgh may have been additionally influenced by the rewards: breakfast at Piper's Pub and a trip to IKEA on the way home.)

Heading into 2011, then, will require me finding a balance. Racing marathons while training for triathlons IS possible, with a slight adjustment of goals and a constant reminder to myself why it is that I run in the first place. Running is the reason, the mentality. Racing is just the icing on the cake. I'll can still go on eating the cake...

...wait, that was a bad analogy. I like the icing better (sometimes I only want the icing and NOT the cake)...

...Let's try again. Running is the basic need, the way of life. Racing marathons is just another data point. It proves to others that you do it, but it's not really necessary for survival. My ultimate goal must lie elsewhere until I stand, once more, at that beach on Ali'i Drive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

That Bike Thing: Avoiding Future Bike Disasters

The struggle in Clearwater
In my last blog, I promised to address the lingering (read: mind-boggling) questions from my 2010 season, one by one. The first one on the list, and most important because it continues to plague me relentlessly year after year no matter what I do, and it's approaching the point where I'm ready to tear my hair out and re-dedicate myself to just marathon-running, is: "how do I get faster on the bike?"

I look at the question and think everyone is staring right back at me with accusations, thinly veiled as questions: "how can you be so stupid that you can't figure out how to train on the bike?" and "do you even ride your bike?"

So, yes, I feel like an idiot when it comes to biking -- because I DO ride. I ride hills. I do long rides. I do trainer intervals with a heart-rate monitor. I ride a LOT. During the season, I ride three or four times a week with at least one week-day ride after work exceeding two hours. And during my Ironman build-up, I ride at least six long rides of 100-110 miles. People I've ridden with have even told me I'm strong biker (after which, unfortunately, I have to scrutinize them for signs of insanity).

Yet, I never improve. I don't get any faster. In fact, I got slower this season. My training log says there's no way that could have happened (my training log even reached out to strangle me more than once this year while screaming "what the hell is wrong with you?"). I logged more miles and harder miles than ever before, and my race speed has not changed. And what's worse, I reach speeds in training that are faster than I ever do in a race (on similar terrain). The day before my final 70.3 in Clearwater this year, I went out for a short easy spin and my legs felt better and I rode faster than I did on race day. And the question resurfaces: "what the hell is wrong with me?"

How is it that, for me, the laws of training and racing (i.e., hard work equals improved performance) do not seem to apply to biking. Even at my advanced age, it still works for swimming. It still even works for running. But not for biking. Is biking that much different? Does it take years to see improvement? Are my biking muscles deceptive in their behavior? Do they hate me? Am I not working hard enough when my legs are burning and I'm sweating buckets on the trainer only to get off and feel like jello for the rest of the day?

I buy books with training plans in them. Last year I bought a book called Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. The book has an eight-week muscular endurance program for the bike that I followed religiously. Based on my performance on the bike this season, it didn't seem to have any effect at all. Yet, every other piece of advice in the book was good.

So now what? What can I do different? I talk to other "bikers" (i.e., people that seem to have figured out this biking thing, or, pretty much every triathlete on the planet). Besides recommending things I already do, their answers boil down to the following:

  1. Add strength training with weights
  2. Ride with a group of faster bikers
  3. Train with a power meter
  4. Get a CompuTrainer
After exploring these possibilities, I have deduced that yes, indeed, triathletes, in general, make much more money than I do (i.e., recommendations 3 and 4 are well above my income level even when eBay is selling them). I have also deduced that weight training is something I need to add. I will HAVE to figure out a way to fit it in around my work and training schedule. Riding with other bikers will take care of itself this year because I now have a team to train with -- I think I mentioned them in my previous blog, the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport team.

Because I've heard and read such amazing things about it, a CompuTrainer would also be high on my list of training tools. There's always hope for a miracle windfall or some other way to scrape up $1600+ -- not to mention, being a Mac devotee, I'll have to come up with another $3-500 for a Windows PC.

Whatever happens, you can be sure I'll chronicle it here and let you know what the results are... or give you the disaster fallout details.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seasons End

I usually write a "yearly recommitment" blog in January or February to jumpstart my training and remind myself why I race and what I love about my sport(s). This year, as we head into the holidays, I'm recommitting little early because, non-thinking person that I am, I registered for a race in May and my serious training must now commence, albeit in the midst of a five-day snowstorm in Cleveland.

I'm struggling with a less-than-stellar 2010 season and it's causing my recommitment to take on a certain reassessment-like tone. To my dismay, I'm still searching for answers to the same old questions:
  • How do I finally get faster on the bike? (I thought I figured this one out last year, but, alas, it didn't work)
  • How do I reconcile my passion to run marathons with my desire to race well in triathlons? (Whether you call it a need or an obsessive-compulsive behavior, it's something I MUST do.)
  • Where on earth will I scavenge up the cash to pay for ever-increasing race entry fees, gear (including necessities like running shoes, nutrition and supplements) and travel expenses? ...and still have something left to eke out a living or, *gasp*, take our yearly trip to the UK [to see Turin Brakes and our ever-expanding number of wonderful English friends].
  • How do I mentally deal with the age-related slowdown? (or the other age-related disasters like throwing out my back the day before my biggest race)
  • How do I let go of past disasters so I can race (or blog) without a bad attitude? (or so SOME people think)
  • What can be done for my newest ailment, allergy-induced asthma, a.k.a. "being allergic to spring," "not being able to go outside in the spring" and "ripping my hair out on the indoor trainer while everyone else is finally going outside in the spring"
  • How do I finally get command of those two age-old bugaboos, nutrition and sleep?

In the coming months, I will try (note: TRY) to address each of the above questions calmly (note: CALMLY) in a blog, with high hopes that some of my readers can help me find solutions.

For today, I'll just tackle the recommitment part. Why do I run (, bike, and swim)? I do it because, unlike my job and relationships, it is the one thing I do that depends entirely on me. Performance is directly related to the amount of effort I put in both physically and mentally. It does not depend on who likes me or who I schmooze or how good I am at marketing myself or spinning the truth. It's governed by a (sort of) golden rule that I always believed in: hard work pays off. In the case of the Disaster Magnet, a little luck sometimes helps, but... you get the point.

I'm fortunate to have new friends and an expanded support network heading into next season. I look forward to racing as a new member of a team -- the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport Team. In turn, I plan to give back that support and (hopefully) a little age-related wisdom to my friends and the local triathlon and running community.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tripping Down Memory Lane: Madison Turkey Trot Race Report

On Thanksgiving, I did something I haven't done in almost nine years. I ran a five-mile race. Not just any five-mile race, but the Madison Turkey Trot at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Connecticut. There was another race that day in Connecticut that you might have heard of -- the Manchester Road Race. People who know me well may wonder why I chose to do a "small" race at the beach instead of running with an international 15,000-participant field. I have no good answer, except my age-related illness known as "fear" compounded with a bit of nostalgia.

The last time I ran five miles in competition, I was in my 30s. The last time I ran five miles in competition, I was capable of traversing the distance in much less than 30 minutes (at times less than 29). The last time I ran five miles in competition, I won the race. This time, I was well into my mid-40s and I was no longer capable of a mile pace even close to six minutes. Fear of slowness and embarrassment may have steered my decision to take on a "Turkey Trot" instead of the much more prestigious 4.7-miler in Manchester.

But before you pass judgment on me, know that fear wasn't the only thing influencing my decision to run the Madison Turkey Trot. Something even heavier pushed me south toward the Connecticut shoreline. Call it nostalgia or the need to reminisce, the older I get, the more I yearn for the places of my youth. And Hammonasset Beach is where many ghosts of my past reside.

Hammonasset was THE beach of my summers. My family camped there. There were friendships I renewed there every summer. And when I learned to drive, Hammonasset was the first "far away" place I drove on my own. I even went there on a date once. And when the high school girls track team got in trouble with our coach for "sapping our energy" in the sun before an important track meet, it was done at Hammonasset Beach. It seems the only thing I had never done at Hammonasset was run a race.

That changed on November 25. After a nine-hour drive to Connecticut and a relatively decent night's sleep, my mom, my husband Jim, and I got up and made the drive to the beach on Thanksgiving morning. The weather was windy and overcast and in the low 30s. Just as I was about to complain about the cold, I overheard another runner say "at least it's not raining like last year." So much for complaining.

Mom checks out an explanation about beach erosion.
After registering and getting my number, I did some reminiscing with my mom. We took a walk and snapped some photos of the main beach (see photos below) -- a place I hadn't seen in over 20 years. Everything looked so small. The sensation was compounded by the fact that erosion had reduced the beach to a tiny strip of sand. In the cold dawn, I could barely conjure up images of summers past. Even the boardwalk -- the site of all that walking and all those splinters -- looked small and insignificant.

When I lost all feeling in my fingers, mom and I went back to the car to warm up. Jim just laughed at our need to see the beach in this weather. When I could feel my hands again, I got out of the car and went for a pre-race jog around the campgrounds. Again, everything seemed so much smaller than I remember and I was surprised to find it took me only 10 minutes to cover ground that seemed to take a whole day on my very first bike (the one with the banana seat that started out with training wheels).

A reason to wear my Punk Rock Racing beanie!
The race started at 10 a.m. In the starting queue, I found myself standing next to two triathletes. One of them had finished Ironman Hawaii this year. One had done it in 1984 (!). I smiled and added my accomplishment: "2002." One of them said "It's like we're a family." Needless to say, it WAS an unusual coincidence.

The first two miles were a flat out-and-back loop followed by a flatter and bigger loop that went to Meigs Point and back. Meigs Point had always been the "forbidden zone" of my youth. It was too far away for me to go "alone." I never knew why -- maybe shady characters hung out there? Several years ago, a woman was murdered there (the case remains unsolved to this day). At any rate, my brothers and I were not allowed to go there on our own although my brothers used to brag about doing it all the time behind my parents' backs. But on Thursday, I finally got to go there. And, as if in defiance, I did it right in front of my mom! Heck, it wasn't even really that far -- only a short run away. I'm sure my mom wasn't worried about my safety, though, as I was with more than 2000 other people.

The race itself began as an enigma. I had no idea how fast to go out. The last time I did a running-only race, it was a marathon. And after my last race -- Ironman 70.3 Clearwater on November 13 -- I took a week off. I was in no shape to attempt running a race. My body was in no shape for any speed whatsoever. My lungs were aching by the first mile. But surprisingly, I looked down and saw 6:20 on my watch. Not as slow as I expected. (Not fast either. But still, not slow.) Even more surprisingly, I was able to speed up and hold onto a 6:10-11 pace for the next three miles. By mile four, I even saw the leaders coming into sight.

I've seen better days (and better finish sprints).
Inevitably, disaster struck. (Did you expect something different?) As I passed mile marker 4, I felt like I ran smack into a wall. The last mile was a death march (I can't believe I just wrote "death march" in describing a five miler). I was in slow motion as I watched the women in front of me pull away. At that point, my brain turned off and I just ran it in. In my younger days, I would have fought to the very end. But on Thursday, I decided that I am now older and wiser. And I can choose to run it in.

My last mile was so slow, I refuse to mention it here. It was so slow, I may have been running backwards. It was so slow, I wondered if the course was long. It wasn't.

I "ran it in" to finish 66th overall, 5th among the women and first in the women 45-49 (i.e., old) age group. Mom, Jim, and I hung around long enough for the sun to come out, get some post race refreshments, and pick up my award (a neat little mesh bag). When they announced my age group and my time as 32:00, a guy in the crowd said to me: "that's a GREAT time." I added "for an old lady."

Older and wiser.

Here are some photos of the beach of my youth:

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Just a Matter of Time: Triathlon Inevitables

2010 has been a year of many firsts for me. But after receiving my first drafting penalty at Ironman 70.3 Clearwater -- after many years of "clean" racing behavior -- I've come to realize the longer I'm in this sport of triathlon, the more likely it becomes that everything I never thought WOULD happen, CAN and WILL happen. No matter how prepared I am. No matter how tough I am.

Thus I thought back to all the "natural" and "man-made" mishaps I've dealt with to come up with a list of things (read: Disasters) that are inevitable for triathletes the longer we continue to toe the line. These are things that when I tell someone else, 90 percent of them will say "OMG! That happened to me once!" This list is by no means exhaustive or conclusive -- it's just based on whatever I could remember. And face it, my memory is not what it used to be, so feel free to add your own "race inevitables" to my list. Hopefully we can have a little fun with it and maybe I'll have new disasters to look out for heading into 2011.

It starts with a statement. Sooner or later, this WILL happen to you during a triathlon race:
  1. You'll get a drafting penalty (take it from me).
  2. You will need to make a pitstop at the porta-john -- if you're lucky, you'll find a real bathroom -- I won't tell you what happens if you're unlucky (and I'm talking "number 2" because we all know "number 1" follows its own rules).
  3. You'll have a "mechanical" -- a flat tire, blown spoke, or thrown chain (in the case of the last one, I hope that Alberto Contador is not right behind you).
  4. The race course will be reconfigured due to natural disasters or inclement weather.
  5. The swim will be cancelled due to natural disasters or inclement weather.
  6. The RACE will be cancelled due to natural disasters or inclement weather. (Yes, 4, 5, AND 6 have happened to me.)
  7. You'll have to do the entire race in the rain (or snow).
  8. You will crash (even though I've not experienced this, almost everyone I know has).
  9. You'll launch your water bottles (and it will be the ones with your critical race nutrition in them).
  10. You'll have to serve yourself at an aid station or water stop (because, there are only a finite number of volunteers in the world).
  11. You'll get lost on the course.
  12. You'll DNF.
  13. You'll DNS (even the phenomenal Chrissie Wellington couldn't avoid this one).
It seems almost appropriate that I came up with 13 things.

Your turn.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Great Drafting Disaster of 2010: Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

Little did I know, the proof is in the shirt.
My 2010 triathlon season ended Saturday in Clearwater, Florida, at the Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship. And surprisingly enough, I didn't go out in flames (as is the usual case for the Disaster Magnet). But I also didn't have the "Race of My Life" (R.O.M.L.). The positive thing about not having the R.O.M.L. is that it keeps me hungry for the future and the hope that I will someday HAVE the R.O.M.L. The unfortunate thing about it is that I would have liked to have had the R.O.M.L. in the "World Championship" (read: WTC Mdot 70.3 Championship). Despite this, my second showing in Clearwater was respectable but not without its few near-disasters threatening to derail my race.

I should have known something bad was coming because for the first time ever, packing and traveling to a race destination went completely without incident. Even getting our rental car -- a complete disaster last year due to overbooking of cars -- went smoothly and without having to wait in a queue. And race registration and picking up my bike from Tri-Bike Transport also went without incident or long waits.

Fast-forward to ten hours of sleep on Thursday night, a great warm-up spin and run on Friday morning and... you could almost FEEL the disaster brewing on the horizon. And that's when it happened. Sometime around 10 a.m., I bent a certain way in the hotel room and wammo! Something in my lower back gave out when I stood up. It wasn't excruciating, but the pain was enough to make it difficult to... well... stand up. I stretched maniacally and had my husband Jim mash at it for a bit. It wouldn't be perfect, but it was far from being bad enough to keep me out of the race.

Then came "Back Pain, Part II" (isn't getting old a bitch?). After breakfast, we went down to Clearwater Beach to scope out the start and go for a short warm-up swim (or freeze-up swim as the case was in 64-degree water). After about ten minutes in the water, I stood up and stretched my arms a bit only to be struck with a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. This can NOT be HAPPENING! It was the kind of pain that sometimes compromises getting a lungful of air. I stretched. I bitched. I started to panic. Why is this happening today, of ALL days? I got back in the water to make sure I could swim with my newest ailment.

I could -- and I WOULD -- start the race. Pain or no pain. We went to a drug store and stocked up on air-activated heat pads and I downed 800 mg of Ibuprofen.

Bike and gear bag check-in
I packed my transition bags, and we went down to the race site to rack my bike, see the transition zone, and drop off my bags. The weather was beautiful -- sunny, dry and not ridiculously warm. My bike would be very easy to find on race day -- it was racked in the second row along the last aisle at the end of the entire transition zone. I would therefore only have to run a few steps with my bike. I couldn't ask for anything better. I walked through the transition with a race volunteer who explained the set up. He was not from Clearwater. An older gentleman, he and his wife were there on vacation -- they do it every year, and he volunteers at the race. (As usual, these race volunteers never cease to amaze me.)

Jim and I relaxed the rest of the day in the hotel room and then went to dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant called Villa Gallace in Indian Rocks Beach. The reason I mention this is because their specialty, homemade gnocchi, is THE best gnocchi I've had this side of Italy. It was so good that Jim and I couldn't bear to let the leftovers go to waste and took them back to the hotel (something we rarely do when out of town).

After a fitful night -- Jim said I dozed but I don't think I caught any Z's whatsoever -- race day was upon us. I got up at 3:35, downed my usual breakfast (Hammergel, protein powder, banana, orange juice and coffee), and took a hot shower to help loosen up my back. The great thing about staying in a hotel five minutes away from the start is that you can go back to the room and relax before the start. And that's exactly what we did. We walked to the start, got body-marked, set up my transition and went back to our hotel room. For the first time EVER, I didn't have to stand in porta-john lines (and neither did Jim!).

Pre-race, post warm-up
The race started at 6:45 -- the male and female pro waves would go first followed by the age groupers. I would start in wave 3, the first non-pro wave, women 45+. After a short swim warm-up, I made my way to the corrals to await my start. I took Jim's recommendation to start up front because I'm usually one of the faster female swimmers (assuming my back was not an issue).

The Clearwater swim is a very long rectangle -- it's almost just an "out-and-back." I was alone for most of the swim. It was a bit rough on the way out, but when we reached the turn buoys, it got much worse. On the way back in, it was hard to spot buoys because we were looking directly into the sun and the waves were choppy. I stopped to get my orientation and found a building on the horizon that lined up directly with the orange buoys. It helped immensely -- spotting individual buoys in rough water with a bad back would have cost me much more time in the end. When I finally reached the shore and checked my watch, I was very disappointed at my time -- well over 31 minutes. But all the swim times were slow. And the reason I couldn't find any feet to draft off was because I was actually fifth out of the water in my wave.

Watch check out of the water
My swim-to-bike transition, T1, went much faster than usual because I had concentrated on making it faster in the days leading up to the race. The wetsuit strippers were efficient as usual, and I found my bag quickly. Because my shoes were clipped onto the bike, all I had to do was retrieve helmet, number belt and sunglasses, all of which I donned WHILE running to my bike (note: new concept for me, old news for everyone else).

The bike leg was where my race really started to fall apart. From the very start of the ride, my legs felt BAD. Not "I-need-to-get-my-land-legs-back-after-the-swim" bad, but really fatigued and, dare I say, painful. And they were NOT coming around. The Clearwater course is ridiculously fast, and after 15 miles of the 56, I still had not hit speeds anywhere near my pre-race plan of 23 mph.

Swim-to-bike transition
Somewhere between miles 15 and 25, the next disaster struck. I was riding by myself and was overtaken by a pack of both male and female riders. Knowing how bad the drafting is on this course and the stated "crack-down" by officials, I tried to drop back to get out of this pack's drafting zone. I never made it. The next thing I knew, I was looking smack into the red card of a race official (who was also yelling at me: "DRAFTING! Go to the next penalty tent!"). Wha? You MUST be JOKING? I never even got a chance to drop back. I wonder if the referee noticed when my jaw hit my aero bar. He didn't stop to pick it up. He was too busy red-carding three more women in the pack -- now well in front of me.

It was my first drafting penalty in all my years of racing. I lost focus. I was upset, angry -- even sad. My bike leg was already suffering and now I would lose four additional minutes for the penalty. I decided to drop out of the race. The only question was where on the course to do it. In the penalty box? At an aid station? At the bike finish? Should I just lollygag to T2 and call it a day?

PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER JEANNE! I stopped at the 25-mile penalty tent to serve my four minutes. I got a black slash on my bib number, helmet number and bike number. The other women there were as agape as I was with their infractions. (Mind you, I'm ALL FOR cracking down on drafting.) And then, as if that weren't enough, when my time was up, I was held back to allow another huge pack of riders to pass.

But when I got back out there, the other feeling remained -- my biking muscles were still toast. Face it, I was riding slow, with or without a drafting penalty. I still made sure to follow my nutrition routine (250 calories and about 20 ounces water per hour using First Endurance E.F.S. Liquid Shot and drink mix, and Sportquest Direct Carbo-Pro with Thermolytes). By the time two hours on the bike had passed, I was beginning to mentally re-engage, and my legs loosened up just enough for me to actually consider taking on the 13.1-mile run. What could it hurt? You never know what will happen in front of you, right? And if things kept spiraling for me, I could always pack it in after the first loop.

A sight for sore eyes
(and sore legs)
I rode into T2, a dismal 2:41 split on my watch and a dumbfounded Jim on the sidelines. He didn't know my position overall in my age group, but he knew it wasn't favorable for me to make a stab at the top three. My body was stiffer than usual getting off the bike, but I was determined to give it a go at least from the bike to the transition tent. When my feet shockingly slipped right into my shoes, I figured it was a sign. My bike-to-run transition went pretty fast, mainly because, again, I focused on getting out of the tent with "stuff in hand." I put my hat on and gel and electrolytes in my pockets AS I made my way to the run exit.

It all starts here...
My run started with Jim's voice "relax - you can catch 'em." Even though I had no clue where THEY were. I just ran. I would assess the situation at Mile 1. At Mile 1, my watch said: 6:45. Thank the MAKER! I felt like crap, but I was on a sub-seven-minute pace! Even the first hill (i.e., bridge) didn't send my mile time over seven minutes.

The only mishap on the run was dropping my Roctane and electrolytes after pulling my number belt down below my pockets, creating the same "nutrition launcher" that plagued me at my last half. (Maybe it's time for new racing shorts?) I drank water and Powerbar Perform alternately at the aid stations, and I stopped once to down two extra Thermolyte capsules when I started to feel that old familiar nausea. The temperature had risen to the high 70s, maybe low 80s, and the heat was starting to take its toll. But, still, it wasn't unbearable.

My pace slowed a bit during the second loop, but I had already run down several women in my age group by Mile 6. It got confusing after that. On the second loop, some of them had just started the run, and some, like me, were on their second loop. I figured I had to run down anyone who had a "4-something" on the back of her calf. At the apex of the bridge with about 1.5 miles to go, I passed the woman who was second in my age group (although I didn't know it at the time). Coming into the finish about a quarter mile away, I saw Jim and he informed me I was "third but could still catch the leaders!" He had been getting text updates from our friend Nick via the online Athlete Tracker (the three of us were still unaware I had already passed the woman in second).

I had one thought: afterburners ON! I maxed-out my effort as I passed the transition zone and headed for the finish chute. As soon as I saw the finish line, I saw the woman who just crossed it. She had a "48" on her calf. I ran out of road. The race was over.

My black mark.
I finished in second place by 12 seconds. Devastating? Sort of... but not really. While we were sitting down after the race and I was telling Jim how angry I was about my drafting penalty, he said: "Look at your watch." I did. He said, "you have 20 minutes to complain about the drafting penalty and then you're done." At that moment, I was completely aware of how lucky I am to have Jim. He truly understood what I was going through and acknowledged my dumb luck that day. He felt I deserved an opportunity to bitch about it. But, in the end, all he really wanted was for me to enjoy what I did accomplish.

I ran myself from 21st off the bike to 2nd in my age group and recorded one of the fastest female age-group runs of the day (1:30:36). Overall, it could have gone better. But I learned a LOT about myself on Saturday. I learned a LOT about how to race on Saturday. I learned a LOT about how to avoid a nutrition disaster. I learned a LOT about how much pain my body can endure. And I learned a LOT about how to enjoy the experience even if it's not going the way I want or expect. Now I can't WAIT until next year. And that, really, is what it's all about.

But getting on the podium was awesome too.

Top 5, W45-49
L-R: Jocelyn Saunders, Gabriele Pauer, Bonnie Karas, me, Lauren Smith

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tapering, Bike Speed, and Fashion Statements in Eight Days

And then the shark eats you (post race, 2009 Clearwater 70.3)
It's eight days to game day -- the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. I'm betting everything on this race, and my hope is that if I don't go out in style, I better go out in flames. Because, if I can't have a success story, it better be a worthy disaster story. I'm hoping the former is true. This season is ready to be over (even if I'm not ready for it to be over).

I'm far from an expert on tapering for a half-ironman. It's the one race distance I rarely taper for because it's usually not an "A" race for me. Last year, I didn't take Clearwater seriously because I took a long non-swimming, non-biking vacation less than two months before the race. As a result, I didn't panic until the night before. There were two disasters that day: one was natural, the other was man-made.

The natural disaster was weather-related: high winds sent the swim into the harbor side of Clearwater and we were forced into a time-trial start with no warm-up. The man-made disaster was another one of my bathroom disasters during the run, most likely caused by lack of sleep (note the panic statement above). But, despite the lack of training and a so-so taper (I mean, can you really taper when you don't have much mileage to start with?), I still did my fastest half in seven years.

This year, I'm using my best judgment for taper mileage/yardage based on the three-week 75-50-25% rule that always works for marathons. And, I hate to say this out loud, but I have already made commitments to myself and there's at least one person (you know who you are) predicting outcomes, but I will not mention them here for fear of inviting the disaster gods to come down and thwack me good. All I will say is this: despite my attempts to sabotage myself in the water (i.e., swimming only two times a week), my swimming seems to have made some sort of breakthrough. With my luck, the reason for this is more likely that they've shortened my local pool.

I only have two things left to decide for race day: how fast to ride 56 miles and still have something left for the run and my all-important fashion statement.

I'll tackle the bike question first... Because it's cold in Cleveland at this time of year and Florida terrain is flat, I've been riding indoors and doing speed intervals (those max-effort things that you only read about) on my trainer for many weeks now. I'll know in eight days if my efforts pay off with increased speed in Clearwater. Last year, my bike time wasn't even in the top half for women even though it was my fastest 56-mile ride EVER. The thing I'm struggling with is how hard or fast to go out. The Clearwater bike course is as flat as can be, but I want to have something left in my quads for the run, because, despite also being very flat, the run course has four short bridge-hills. After you've torn up your quads on a fast bike course, this can be deadly.

I'd like to say my plan is to ride fast but relaxed and try to push the second 28 miles in hopes that many athletes make the mistake of pushing too hard the first 28. Could this be the one time I succeed in a race plan?

The second decision... what to wear... and it's not really about fashion, it's more about what will be most comfortable and fast during the race. I just bought a new TYR race top -- do I really want to debut it in my most important race of the year? I also need to decide which wetsuit to wear. Now that I have a new Quintana Roo wetsuit, it seems like a no-brainer because it has that breakaway zipper. But there's a reason I wear my old wetsuit, the two-piece DeSoto T1 -- it's FAST. I bought it because it doesn't bind my shoulders and it has very little drag. However, I always wonder if I cancel out the time I gained in the water with the time it takes to get it off. Thank heavens for wetsuit peelers. If I do wear the T1, I just hope they don't send me on a wild goose chase this year to retrieve the top.

One fashion statement decision has been made. If, by some miracle, I make it to the age-group podium, I will be wearing my Punk Rock Racing tri shirt. That's a sure thing. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Pre- Post-season Rant Blog

yep, my finish photo, I'm way over on the right
I try not to use my blog as a place to rant about the stupid petty things or policies that bother me before, during and after my races. Instead, I try to focus on how I train and how I race and the things I have control over. But recently, a couple things really got under my skin, and I just feel like getting them out. And people reading: feel free to disagree with me on these matters because I actually do see both sides of the story, even when I'm angry.

The first of the two things was the prize money (or my lack thereof) at the Detroit Marathon. The cash awards were determined based on "clock time," not chip time. This normally wouldn't upset me if everyone in the race started at the same time. But in Detroit, that wasn't the case.

Upon registration, I filled out a form that requested my fastest marathon time in the last two years and my predicted finish time. I typed 3:09 and 3:10, respectively. I was being conservative: if I had a bad race, it would be 3:15 and if I had a great race, it might be closer to 3:00. Upon picking up my bib number, I noticed my start was in the second wave -- it was my fault for assuming wave meant "corral." I had never run a marathon with a wave start until Detroit. Like in triathlons, wave start means: "groups will start two minutes apart."

Ok, that's cool. They have their reasons. (And they're good reasons. The wave start is expected to alleviate congestion on the Detroit-Windsor Bridge.) And besides, they have electronic timing, right? You know, the thing that registers when you cross the starting line and when you cross the finish line. That thing that tells them exactly how long it took you to complete 26.2 miles.

What they don't tell you at registration, unless you read the awards page, is that cash awards (top three, top three masters, etc.) are based on "clock time" not "chip time." So, in effect, the wave start gives first wave runners a two minute head start on us "second wave"-ers. Had I known this before the race, I might have asked race officials to put me in the first wave (if it were even possible for them to make that change).

At least two runners were adversely affected by the wave start: the woman who finished the course in the third-fastest time and the woman who finished the course in the third fastest masters time (me) lost out on prize money because we started in the second wave -- those two minutes actually gave us fourth place "clock times" in our respective categories. Why even have electronic timing? Or better, how hard is it to subtract the wave start times? Oh well. I could have put that $200 to good use. But it doesn't change the fact that I had a good race.

Detroit Marathon awards rant over.

My new wetsuit, direct from Quintana Roo
The second rant also has to do with an award. You may remember my race report from the FIRMMan half-ironman in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The FIRMMan awards include a big table of grab-bag prizes donated by sponsors. As one of the overall winners, I had an early choice and went for one of the more expensive prizes -- a Quintana Roo wetsuit. While making my choice, I noticed the wetsuit gift certificate required that I pick up my "prize" at V3 Multisport in Arlington, Massachusetts. Residing in Cleveland, this would be next-to-impossible, so I put the award back down on the table, only to be told by one of the race directors that she would have them mail it to me (it was a thoughtful favor, since I was the overall women's winner).

She was not in a position to grant that favor, unfortunately. And although I did not witness the interchange that took place, I know that when she asked V3 Multisport to take care of it, they refused. After about three weeks of very little communication, I received an email from a Quintana Roo representative explaining what had happened. Then, she made me a very generous offer from Quintana Roo: because they were out of stock of the prescribed wetsuit (their low end model), they would upgrade me to the next model for 75% of the difference that it sold in retail. In effect, she offered me a $400 wetsuit for $130. This was a no brainer and thanks to Quintana Roo, I now have an awesome new wetsuit.

A week later, I got an email from V3 Multisport with the following text:

"Jeanne, I would like to accommodate your request to mail you the wetsuit that you won. Unfortunately, it is not our policy to send out the prizes. Each winner must come to our store to claim their prize. I understand that you live in Ohio but it still does not change our policy. Rules apply to everyone the same across the board. If I make an exception for you, shouldn't everyone else be afforded the same? The idea is to get people into the store to claim their prize and hopefully spend some additional money. What I can do is if you want to upgrade your wetsuit and apply our cost of the suit you won to the cost of the upgraded suit, I can do that. Let me know."

Now, as a "marketing" person, I totally understand this. I "get" the idea of having people come into the store and spend spend spend. And, I would have, as they have cool stuff -- I had already bought merchandise from them at the race expo. The point was that I would have chosen something completely different off that prize table had the offer not been made. AND, I'm not the one who asked for the favor, so why make me feel bad with your condescending email? AND why, then, offer to upgrade me? (in effect, saying you WILL change the rules if I spend more money)

What happened is this: I will now never shop at V3 Multisport and will say negative things about them any chance I get. And, had they made this generous offer in the first place, they wouldn't have lost the deal to Quintana Roo. I'll laugh about it every time I wear my new wetsuit.

V3 Multisport rant over.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Angels and Demons in the Motor City: Detroit Marathon Race Report

Yesterday, October 17, I finished my second marathon of 2010. The first one was in Pittsburgh in May, a warm-up for Ironman Lake Placid, and it would not be an all-out race. This one was in Detroit, an alternative plan for not making it to Ironman Hawaii, and it WOULD be a race. They were both supposed to be "fun." But Pittsburgh didn't hurt. Detroit would.

I entered the Detroit Marathon because Columbus, my choice race, was sold out. A friend convinced me it was the equal of Columbus without the stress (in his words, it wasn't a local race "where the streets know my name"). He was absolutely right -- the Detroit Marathon is a mostly flat and fast course. And the weather was near perfect -- in the low 60s by the finish.

The other reason I decided to run the Detroit Marathon was a reunion with my former student and good friend Jess (her blog). After being sidelined by injury and taking time off to have her first child, Jess was finally ready to tackle her goal of running a marathon this year. Knowing how badly she wanted to run a marathon and how excited she was to be healthy and at the starting line, I would enjoy seeing her finish as much as having a good race myself.

In the two weeks leading up to the marathon, I tapered my running mileage while keeping my swimming and biking volume up. Although I wanted to have a good marathon, my goal race of the season was still Ironman 70.3 Clearwater in November. It may not have been the best way to approach it, but I had already worked too hard to sacrifice my ultimate goal. Throughout last week, I never felt fully rested and my running legs continued to feel fatigued even with low easy mileage. I constantly complained to my husband Jim about "how crappy I felt." His answer? He wished he had recorded it every time in the past that I complained during my taper. That way he could play it back to remind me that I sounded like "a broken record." So I tried not to worry. Even when my legs felt wasted on my jog the day before.

Cold and dark, I dreaded taking off my sweats
Sunday, race day, began in the upper 40s. We met Jess and her husband Chris (who was running the half-marathon) at 5:30 a.m. in the hotel lobby to take Detroit's People Mover to the starting line. I was bundled in sweats, a beanie, a long sleeve shirt and a t-shirt over my race shorts and top and was still cold. But somehow they got by with only short sleeves and shorts. We hung out on the street as a record-crowd showed up -- over 19,000 runners in four events: the marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon, and 5K.

Runners at the start were divided into corrals which would be started as waves -- waves would be separated by two-minute intervals. Based on my predicted finish (an optimistic 3:10), I was designated to start in the second wave. I had never seen waves in a running race. The wave start was expected to alleviate congestion on the Detroit-Windsor bridge.

This brings me to my next point. The Detroit Marathon is mostly in Detroit, Michigan, but features a few miles in Windsor, Canada. At registration, all runners are required to provide their passports or international ID's, and runners and bib numbers are scrutinized as they cross the border(s). And on the way back into the U.S., every runner does an "underwater mile" -- complete with certificate and mile split -- through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. How cool is that?

The race began at 7 a.m., just before the crack of dawn. Before I started, I made one race vow to Jim: I would not do anything to jeopardize my race in Clearwater, even if it meant dropping out. This is NOT the best attitude with which to approach a marathon. Within the first mile, I was already feeling heaviness in my legs. As I approached the 5K marker near the apex of the bridge to Canada (and the only real hill on the course), I was very concerned that I would have to end my race when I got back into the U.S.

By mile 6, I had settled into an uncomfortable seven-minute mile pace as a new problem arose. I needed a porta-john. And I needed one soon. This could not be taken care of, as they say, "on the run." The first opportunity was a line of porta-johns at the first relay exchange. I passed it up because of the wait lines, remembering there were porta-johns at every water stop. And... there was a water stop just ahead. Did I say "just ahead"? I meant "right now"! The water stop and the relay exchange were one and the same, and yes, you guessed it, those WERE the only toilets. As I continued on, I prayed that I wouldn't have to ask someone in Canada where their nearest toilet was.

As we headed into the tunnel at mile 7, conditions changed from the 40s and cold (outside) to near-stifling (underwater). The short climb out was a great relief, as was mile marker 8 and the expectation of another "bathroom break" opportunity. At the water stop, I grabbed a cup of water and carried it until I saw the great plastic answer to my prayers. I was at such a point of desperation, I didn't know if I'd even get the door open in time. And at that particular moment in time, I can say, without a doubt, that I didn't care how much time I lost. However, upon regaining my composure, I did manage to maximize my "down time" by multitasking -- consuming a Gu Roctane and the aforementioned cup of water.

I estimated I lost about two minutes for the stop, but once I was back on my feet, I felt much better. And lighter. I knew from experience that trying to make up the time I lost was a bad idea, so I settled back into my "uncomfortable" seven-minute-mile pace. Feeling so fatigued so early, I didn't think I could hold that pace for the entire marathon. In fact, it was around mile 10 that I started to have thoughts of dropping out. My mind started asking those tough questions: "Can I live with myself if I don't finish?" and "Is it better to DNF than to embarrass myself with a really slow time?" Yes, my legs were tired. But not once did I consider dropping out because I would hurt myself and/or ruin my race in Clearwater.

And, in a nutshell, that was it. I made one vow. I would only drop out to save my race in Clearwater. A slow marathon would NOT sacrifice my race in Clearwater, it would only hurt my mental state. Time to suck it up. I began the wrestling match with my demons.

I look like I'm going faster than I am
I went through the half at 1:35. To finish in my predicted (read: acceptable) time, I would have to negative split this marathon, something I've only ever done once (without a bathroom break). At mile 13, I consumed  another Gu, and, to my surprise, by mile 16 I felt like I was gaining stamina even though I still seemed to be running on the edge of anaerobic. I knew that around mile 19 or 20, the race headed out to Belle Isle and would almost certainly lose crowd support until we were back on the mainland at mile 23. The demons fought back. I wrestled them down.

And at mile 17, along came my race savior, an angel by the name of Laura. For two miles, I chased her down, only to find that she wasn't IN the race at all. She was one of a group of high school runners who were running seven miles of the marathon course as a workout. Her coach told her not to take any aid or hinder runners. And Laura did quite the opposite. She ran my pace and she made me laugh. She told me she "loved to run" and wanted to be an ultra-marathoner someday. I don't know who was pushing who, but by the time we hit mile 23 and her workout ended, I was mentally energized and ready to tear up my final 5K. The only thing threatening to stop me was the onset of a sharp pain in my left hip at mile 20 that was steadily increasing in intensity.

The last thing Laura said to me was "Do it for me, Jeanne!" and I took off. I don't know how many people I chased down in that final 5K, but I do remember the ones who had passed me earlier in the race. My pace was slowing, but to my surprise, I managed to get through mile 24 in seven minutes.

From Belle Isle back to downtown, the Detroit Marathon is one of the prettiest urban courses I've run. It travels along the waterfront on something called the "Detroit Riverwalk" (I think) while heading to the finish line. And you can tell how close you are by spotting the towers of the Renaissance Center just up ahead. For me, the last mile and a half was agony as my hip decayed further. I just tried to maintain my stride and hoped it wouldn't give out. The only thing worth fighting for was to close the gap on two women in front of me, but I ran out of road. When I saw the finish chute, I finally looked at the total time on my watch. I would, indeed, finish in under 3:10 - in 3:06 - 87th overall, ninth woman, third master and first in my age group (45-49). And I wrestled the demons into submission -- for now.

But Detroit wasn't a disaster-free race. I met Jim shortly after the race and we found Chris after he finished the half-marathon. While we were deciding what to do next, Chris got a phone call. It was Jess. She developed a severe I-T band problem and had to drop out at mile 16, unable to take another step. My heart sank. I knew what she was going through. I know what she will GO through in getting to the next marathon start line. But Jess has one thing going for her. She's a bona fide angel. I knew it the moment I met her -- she was an angel in my devil's classroom. And, therefore, she has the one thing she needs -- the ability to fight those demons. All the way to the finish line.

Here's a 17-second video of my start if anyone is interested:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

You Can Never Take the Track out of the Runner

It may get yellower, but not mellower, with age
It doesn't matter how many years separate me from my high school track-running roots, when I step foot on one of those quarter-mile ovals, I become the complete antithesis of an endurance athlete. It's like a wild animal, a kind of repressed urge for speed that I shove down into the depths of my soul and keep leashed up. Oh, it gets unleashed every now and then, like when I desperately want to chase down the leaders in an Olympic-distance triathlon. But for the most part, the speed demon stays locked up so I can embrace my marathon training and racing distances.

But yesterday, there was no controlled unleashing. Yesterday, it FOUND the key: the 400-meter track oval. I have always avoided track workouts for this very reason -- because I have absolutely NO control of the demon. My quarter-miler mentality turns every inch of a track into an all-out sprint.

What was I doing on a track, you ask? I was completing the Cleveland Metroparks' (my employer's) "Physical Fitness Standards Test" to get reimbursed for the cost of my health club membership. You may have heard of this -- organizations give their employees incentives to get healthier by paying for their gyms if they complete some kind of fitness assessment. The first time I heard about such a thing was at Ironman Mooseman 70.3 when a finisher was trying to retrieve concrete evidence of his time to take back to his employer to get reimbursed. I remember listening to his plea and saying to my husband Jim: "I wish Cleveland Metroparks did that!"

Be careful what you wish for. This year, Cleveland Metroparks Human Resources department has created a voluntary program for employees to meet physical fitness standards, the same standards required for the park rangers. The standards consist of sit-ups, push-ups and a 1.5-mile run, and requirements are age and gender based. Each standard yields a $100 health club reimbursement (up to $300 total for all three). And they're making it easier this year - participants only have to meet the requirements for the next-older age-group.

It's a no-brainer for someone like me, right? The phone calls and questions started: "are you doing the fitness test?" and "how fast do you think you can run a mile-and-a-half in?" Then came the first batch of results: "I ran mine in 9:30," and "I was running pretty fast and then this other guy went blowing by me and finished in 8:20." No one seemed to care about the sit-ups and push-ups. It was the run that mattered.

I wasn't worried about the run. I was worried about the push-ups. I never do push-ups or bench presses or anything resembling that motion (for the record, swimming doesn't resemble that motion).

I showed up for my fitness evaluation yesterday morning at Ranger Headquarters. This fitness test was an official gig. They made us sign forms. They lined us up. They looked at us sternly and showed us what was expected. No one smiled. I felt like I was about to enter boot camp.

Sit-ups were first and were no problem. I did 49 in a minute (the requirement was 17). Then came push-ups. For my age group, the requirement was 11 push-ups in a minute. But I only had to pass for the next-older age group, which was 13 modified (note: "girly") push-ups. I had to make a decision -- go for the sure thing and be a pansy or just go for it? The rangers egged me on: "GO FOR IT, JEANNE!" ... well maybe YOU can say no to that, but I'm a sucker. They even egged me on AFTER I reached 11, and to my utter surprise, I managed to get off 20 push-ups in about 35 seconds before collapsing. The other guy in the room did about 50. Today, my upper body is paying for my overzealousness.

Then came the run. We congregated in the hall beforehand. And that's when it happened. You KNEW it would. Someone HAD to go and make the statement: "the fastest time so far in the 1.5-mile run is 8:47 (note: not 8:20)." The animal stirred.

I got in my car and called Jim before I drove up to the track. "The fastest time is 8:47! Do you think I can beat that? what mile pace do I have to do?" I always ask Jim the math questions because my brain can't do calculations under pressure. We decided a 5:50 pace would do it. If it were 10 years ago, or I had been adequately "tapered," I would have said that was no problem. But at age 45 and many years of long slow Ironman training including running eight miles the day before... let's just say it was "not likely."

But something else happened to fire up the animal. When we got to the track, several of my female work cohorts asked me the question: "do you think you can beat that?" and followed it with "wouldn't it be great if a woman had the fastest time?" All of a sudden, I was part of a team again. I would give it my best shot. For us.

There were timers at each half lap (I told you it was "official-like"). We lined up... and we were off. Two guys took the first corner like bats out of hell. I could no longer hold back the animal. It was out of its cage and it chased them down. When I went through the first lap in 1:27, I felt like I had already blown this "race." My lungs were on fire and I was not sure I could hold the pace. It seemed slow, but I was obviously in no shape to be running this fast. I counted down..."can I do five (four, three) more laps at this pace?" At mile one, the timer shouted "5:53!" -- not fast enough. The "race" was over. I was maxed out, about to lose bladder control, and there was no way I would finish any faster than I had already gone. Until I got to the backstretch and thought: "hey, I only have a lap and a half to go.." The animal got angry. It went into "do or die" mode. I've been there before -- in October 2002, I spent 26.2 miles in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in "do or die" mode.

With one half-lap to go, I heard the news: "8:05." To get that record, I had to run a 200 meters in about 40 seconds. Was that even possible? The animal saw the finish line.

I don't know exactly how I did it, and I still wonder if the timer pulled a George Hooper (George Hooper was my college swim coach we used to call the "wish timer" because he always hit the stop button before you hit the wall), but the results were in: "8:46." I don't even know the guy who previously held it, but I managed to get his "record" by one second. And I won't downplay how much it hurt or the role my fellow women played in making me want it. This was for "us."

The animal sleeps. For now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marathon Decision-Making and Running Underwater

Detroit's "Underwater Mile" is International
After the Columbus Marathon registration disaster, I thought long and hard on two questions:
  1. Which marathon should I run on October 17, Detroit or Toronto?
  2. Was the Columbus Marathon rejection a message from God that I should not run a marathon this fall?
The answers to these questions were more questions:
  1. Which marathon is better, Detroit or Toronto?
  2. Why would God have any power over my OCD running behavior?
I had to come up with answers:
  1. Detroit was better for four reasons: it's closer than Toronto, one of my good friends is running her first marathon there, a well-respected running friend (Tim Budic) convinced me it was just as good as Columbus without the stress, and the kicker: it's got an "underwater mile" (surely, that's reason in and of itself to do it).
  2. I am the Disaster Magnet and I'm running a marathon whether God wants me to or not.
Now comes the biggest question: with a marathon less than two weeks away and my goal race, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, less than six weeks away, how should I taper? Will the taper screw up my half-ironman plans? I gave it some long hard thought.

I looked in my past for evidence of good race performances without much recovery between races. In 2008, I raced two half-ironman triathlons separated by eight days. The second one was not only harder, but I did it faster. And, not just faster, but five minutes faster on the run. In 2000, I ran two marathons five weeks apart. The second one was faster. Only a minute faster, but they were the third (2:50) and second (2:49) fastest marathons of my life.

Knowing that I only have to run 13.1 miles in the half-ironman, I've convinced myself that doing a hard marathon four weeks before will not sacrifice that, my most important race of the year. In fact, I hope that all the marathon training will do just the opposite and give me the boost I need to tear up the run course in Clearwater.

Because of my late decision to race, my taper won't be a full three-week affair that I usually afford my marathons. But then again, my running mileage is hardly where it was when I was just a marathoner. I guess it's an experiment, really. I've been running hard and long mileage but in only three or four sessions per week. Therefore, if I think about it, my "running" recovery is done in the water and on the bike, even though I put in up to ten hours weekly in those sports, including hard training.

Thus, my marathon taper will only be this week and next week and will mostly involve dropping my running mileage, but not intensity. I plan to continue to swim hard throughout the taper and probably drop my bike mileage around the middle of next week just to rest my legs. Three or four days of good rest will probably be all I can mentally handle anyway. I suspect I'll be bouncing off the walls by the end of next week.

Then I'll work on race strategy and pacing next week with all that extra time and energy. But I may still have to cut down on my daily Starbucks.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To Be or Not to Run: a Pre-marathon Disaster

Yep, I'm in there, the only person looking at the camera
For ten years, all I did was run. And all I wanted to do was run marathons. I ran myself into five stress fractures because I didn't know when to STOP running. But when I realized that no matter how much I ran, I wasn't going to get any faster, I reached a turning point. I needed a new challenge and I became a triathlete.

But the truth is, I never stopped being a "runner." I still act like a runner. When I'm at my wits end about work and life stresses, I go running. Not biking. Not swimming. I've needed to run ever since my high school track coach, John Klarman, taught me that it clears my mind better than any drug out there. And today, I'm in need of a good mind clearing -- to erase the disappointments of this year -- the stupid mistakes, the missed opportunities, the betrayals, the ridiculous bad luck, and most of all, the almost-perfect-race-turned-utter-failure in Lake Placid. It hurts especially bad today as I read about others' preparations for Ironman Hawaii only a week away.

So I've decided to focus on a marathon. Yes, I still have Ironman 70.3 Clearwater in November, but I need a marathon. It keeps me sane. In fact, the most fun I've had in a race this year was in the Pittsburgh Marathon in May. And it had nothing to do with the post-race meal at Piper's Pub.

I didn't originally want to run a big scary marathon. I had settled on running the low-key, small-town Towpath Marathon in Peninsula, Ohio (where?). Heck, it's right down the road. I could sleep in my own bed. And it's one of my regular training routes -- the crushed-limestone surface of the Erie Canal tow-path. There would be no expectations. It would just be a "run." Then, through a friend's suggestion, I considered the Columbus Marathon. Columbus would definitely be a "race." It's a flat, paved course. It would require an overnight stay. In a big city. I would know a LOT of people in it. And there would be.. um.. spectators! Watching! And I would probably know a LOT of them. Talk about stress.

But I'll never be ready for Clearwater if I don't reach outside my comfort zone. And my comfort zone since Lake Placid has been to avoid further disappointment by not taking any race completely seriously. Despite this attitude, I've had several race wins, but I can't go to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship without mental engagement. I need to remember how to go into a big race with a competitive attitude AND have fun.

And like clockwork, once I had made up my mind, disaster struck. I started the registration process, filled out the entire form and what happens? Upon hitting the submit button, the page came back with the following message: "registration limit reached" and that was that. I went back to the registration page and indeed, it said "Marathon FULL."  My exact thoughts were: you MUST be kidding! How could I miss getting in by a matter of minutes?!?!? This could ONLY happen to me. I wrote to the race director. The race was, indeed, sold out. He was sorry.

I can't say I wasn't angry. Angry at myself for waiting. Angry at my bad luck. Angry at the Columbus Marathon for capping race entries (when did Columbus get so popular anyway?) Today I started looking for a different race. Because, now that my brain is switched over to race mentality, I can't go back to "just run the Towpath Marathon" mentality. From what I can tell, my best choices are Detroit Free Press and Toronto. One is close. One is far. But both are driveable. Maybe I'll flip a coin. Heck, my luck has to turn sooner or later, right?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stronger But Not Faster

Getting to be a better cyclist seems to evade me. For some reason, and it might just be me, cycling speed doesn't follow the same rule as swimming and running. And it's such a simple rule: work hard, get faster.

Except, on the bike, I work hard but I don't get faster. I've been working hard all year. I ride hills. I ride tempo and speed intervals on my trainer. I strap on a heart rate monitor and it "says" I'm riding hard (as if I can't already tell from the screaming burn in my quads). I even feel stronger -- like, I can ride hills in a higher gear. And yet, "faster" doesn't happen. Is it me? My methods? Something mechanical? Technical? Why would it work in all other endurance training but not on the bike? Then I wonder, is it something mental?!?! But how could it be?

At this point, I'm nearing a state of desperation. The thing I fear most is having a fast swim split in November in the Clearwater 70.3 only to get on the bike and feel that familiar ache in my legs at the start of the bike leg and realize I can't ride faster than 21 mph all out on the flattest road imaginable. (Have you seen the roads in Clearwater?)

I do have a plan for training, but I'm not holding out much hope (maybe it IS mental). For the next seven weeks, I will assume I have a good enough base to concentrate on short speed intervals twice a week on the trainer while getting at least one long ride per week outside.

Then, if that doesn't work, I'll have the whole winter to figure out why. Or consider an alternate approach. One so-called alternate approach involves teaching myself discipline to be on the bike for seven or eight hours at a time. Because if I can't figure out the speed issue the easy way, I might as well do it the "hard way" by applying what accidentally worked in the early days of my running career.

It's what happened when I started running marathons. I used to race a one-mile relay leg at work every spring and fall. One spring, my all-out mile time was 6:05. I desperately wanted to break six minutes, so I did many weeks of track work targeting a six-minute mile pace. That fall, my all out-mile was 6:00. Frustrated I gave up that dream and started training for a spring marathon, my first. That spring.. you guessed it, my mile time? 5:33.

Long slow distance equals faster mile times? Not bad. Perhaps the same thing will work on the bike. But it's a heck of a price to pay in terms of training -- the time commitment is mind-boggling. Thus, I beg you, O gods of cycling, please shine a light on my humble bike intervals. Let the law of hard work pay off in Clearwater so I don't end up losing my mind over the winter.

Oh, and while you're at it, help me do all those other things right this time. You know, nutrition, pacing, sleep, etc. Because it doesn't matter how hard I work if I'm just going to go out there and act like a disaster magnet.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Being a Punk. What could be Better?

The two things I love most in the world -- besides my husband and my cat -- are music and run/tri training. If I find something out there that combines those two things, what could possibly be better? Not much.

So when I found that something, it seems to be the ultimate irony that its primary product is something I really DON'T get excited about: clothing (no, seriously). Basically, for me to get excited about clothing, it has to be way cooler or way more functional than anything I already have. And that goes doubly if it's a t-shirt. Because I have more t-shirts than you can shake a stick at. And I have given away more t-shirts than you can shake a stick at (where does that expression come from anyway?). I have boxes of t-shirts that have never been worn. And here's the deal: I don't WANT any more.

Until I saw my new t-shirt. To understand why I had to have it, I have to tell you about my first obsession. This is the obsession that came before all the other ones. The one that came before my college obsession with being a fast swimmer. The one that preceded my marathon running OCD of the 1990s. And yes, this is the one before Turin Brakes (the band I yearly fly across the Atlantic to see and my current musical obsession).

The obsession was with a band called Cheap Trick. I was 13 and in my proverbial teeny-bopper years. Or year. Cheap Trick was the second-ever "rock concert" I attended. Although I can't remember, I'm sure I begged my mother (on my knees and hysterically crying) to let me go. Somehow, I won that battle, and it turned out to be the "greatest thing that ever happened to me!!" Seriously. During the concert, the singer, Robin Zander, tossed a Kiss album cover out into the audience, and who caught it? ME! that's right. I was the one who waved it around, the envy of every teen girl in the audience (which was pretty much everyone IN the audience). Yep, that was me. The smug one. If I could go back in time, I would clobber me for that behavior. That year - that ONE year - I would acquire four - that's FOUR (4) - Cheap Trick t-shirts. And I bragged about the fact that I actually HAD four Cheap Trick t-shirts. One for almost every day of the high school week. One of them had the band logo done in glitter. Yes, I said GLITTER. I don't know where those t-shirts are now, but I wish I still had them. They would be "totally retro."

Thank heavens for the internet. Because I found something even better. One day while surfing the blogosphere, I found what is perhaps the funniest athlete blog I've ever read. (Stay with me here.) The blog is "Punk Rock Tri Guy" and it's written by Ron. Ron does marathons, ironmans, you name it -- if it's an endurance event, he'll eventually do it -- and blog about it. And he's a brilliant writer who makes everything sound fun and funny. I routinely laugh (yes, out loud) at his articles (remember the way you USED to laugh at early Seinfeld episodes?).

But before I read a single word of Punk Rock Tri Guy's blog, I was hooked instantly by the t-shirt he was wearing in a photo. It was my Cheap Trick t-shirt! Except, no, wait! It was the iconic Cheap Trick logo with the band name replaced by the word "Runner." In another photo, he was wearing the t-shirt of another past favorite band of mine, the Ramones. I think the first or second comment I ever wrote on his blog was something about having the "same Ramones shirt" he had. Except... again, it WASN'T a Ramones t-shirt!! it was the Ramones logo with the "Johnny Joey Dee Dee" replaced with "Swim Bike Run" -- a triathlon shirt masquerading as the coolest punk band of all time.

That's when I saw it: Ron was the founder of a clothing company called "Punk Rock Racing" (duh, that's why he's "Punk Rock Tri Guy"), and they have even more cool t-shirts, not to mention other stuff. I may be only one person, but I will bring the "athletes disguised as punk rockers" revolution to Cleveland, the "birthplace of rock and roll." And, then I'll take on a new cause. Like, if the Ramones can make it into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, why not Cheap Trick?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where's the Personal in Personal Training?

What is a "personal trainer" anyway? Most of the people I know who have personal trainers describe them the way I would describe my high school sports coaches (back when coaches were bad-asses and we dreaded their wrath). A trainer's job should be more than just to whip the asses of people who lack motivation. Hell, many people can get that at their daily jobs. Why pay for it?

I don't know about you, but I can kick my own ass worse than any trainer can. Most of MY coaches spent their time trying to get me to back off and avoid injuring myself. When I say I don't need motivation, I know what I'm talking about. And when I tell a trainer what I need as an athlete, I also know what I'm talking about. If I hired a personal trainer, I would want him/her to understand my goals as an athlete and help me put together a plan to accomplish them.

My new gym membership came with a "free" session with a personal trainer. What they don't tell you is that "free" really means "you have no choice and we won't give you the option of turning it down." Ok, no problem, it's free, right? And I don't have to pay for it, right? Ok. I made the appointment. My trainer asked me what my goals were. I told him: "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk."  My trainer replied: "I'll do some research on that before we meet." And YES, I DID believe him - I always start by giving people the benefit of the doubt.

My training session began with a questionnaire that my trainer filled out while asking me the questions. The first question (again): "What do you want to get out of personal training?" I replied (again): "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk."

The second question (and I am NOT making this up): "Can you be more specific?" Umm, how much more specific CAN I BE?!?! My trainer looked at me expecting me to (actually) narrow down my answer. I said (for the third time): "strength training for triathlon and endurance events - and I don't want to add muscle bulk." He looked down and started writing.

I mentally checked out. I don't know what he wrote. I don't care what he wrote. I came to a quick conclusion: personal training with this person will do nothing for me. The rest of my session involved exercises with balls, chairs, weights and one machine. My trainer rarely made eye contact with me (people who know me will tell you this is one of my major pet peeves). After he mumbled instructions, I had to ask him several times to repeat himself. After giving me exercises, I had to ask him several times how many reps (there's that word again...). While doing exercises, I had to ask him several times "in which muscles should I be feeling this?" He never once asked me about my triathlon training and racing.

We ran out of time but he told me the last part of the workout was supposed to be "bike intervals." Bike intervals? Seriously? Then he asked me if I've ever done bike intervals. Seriously?!?? At the very least, he could have looked up "triathlon" in the dictionary.

Maybe it should be called "impersonal training." Or maybe they should send these people to "personable training." During my session, my trainer spent more time showing me what HE could do in exercises I could BARELY do. Is that the trick? They convince you you need a personal trainer by showing you things you can't possibly hope to do (the first time)? Sounds like job security to me.

And it's a good gig if you can get it. At the end of my "session" I found out personal trainers make a LOT of money. Even with the special "half price deal for signing up within 10 days of my membership." My "trainer" took me in a little glass-enclosed room and told me I needed 12 sessions. Really? What does that cover, 12 months? No. "Six weeks." You've GOT to be kidding. I gave the excuse: "I can't afford it" (this was more than partially true). The next step: "Well, what CAN you afford?" Think fast, Jeanne! "I can't make any financial decisions without talking to my husband."

Whew! Made it out of that one, mostly unscathed. I was not given an option to NOT make a second appointment - "to assess the first session and do the bike intervals." Then I suppose I'll give my final "no." God only knows what excuse I'll come up with then. Whatever it is, I'll have to live with it every time I walk in the door. And I know myself - I'll feel embarrassed and guilty every time I see him. Yes, even though I shouldn't. Which makes me wonder: does personal training extend to the mental realm? Because THAT'S the personal training I could really use.