Sunday, March 27, 2016

From Runner to Triathlete - Transformation Almost Complete

In the movie A League of Their Own, there's a dialogue between two characters (Tom Hanks and Gina Davis) that resonated with me long ago and frequently comes to mind. The film is about the All-Women Baseball league that formed during World War II, and Dottie (played by Gina Davis) was one of the star athletes, and Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) was the coach. Dottie decided to (try and) walk away from the sport when her wounded husband returned from battle.  To her coach she says, "It just got too hard." Jimmy (Tom) replies with one of my favorite movie lines, "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great."  

Triathlon training is full of epic workouts. Workouts that are meant to push the body beyond comfort, beyond expectation, beyond current fitness.  Big workouts that simulate race stress and conditions. Workouts that not everyone can do. Great ... Hard workouts.  When I look over my weekly schedule, the epic ones stand out. Just reading the description about the set increases my heart rate. If I have to ask the question, "Can I do this?", I know it's an epic one. I'm not training to complete, I'm training to compete and I know how much it hurts in the middle of the race. I don't want to back off when the pain hits. It will be these epic workouts that carry me through with power and energy, and will get me to the finish line ahead of my competitors. Within these workouts I will learn what I'm capable of and how to give myself a chance to accomplish something ... great.

Over the past 4-6 months, I've been working hard to transition from runner to triathlete. There are many reasons why this has been a very difficult task and I still struggle with letting go of certain strengths and advantages in order to gain other strengths and advantages that will make me (hopefully) a great triathlete. But I've had expert advice to rely on and incredible support and understanding when it comes to my headstrong grip on running. Epic triathlon specific workouts have been the key. As I swing high above the ground afraid to let go of the vine called Running in order to reach out and grab the vine called Triathlon, fearing I may fall completely, a transformation has been occurring. I am about to fully embrace the sport of triathlon.

Here are 3 transformational steps I've taken:

  1. Data Gadgets - My bike is equipped with an awesome power meter and I regularly train with a heart rate monitor now. It has been hard for me to learn how to pace myself on the bike and I have too many times erred on the "too easy of a pace" side of things and have had to learn how to ride hard and understand how long I can hold a given pace.  Along with the addition of the power meter, Fred has had me do Functional Power Threshold tests to determine how hard I can ride maxed out for an hour. This forms my base for training paces and this step alone has made a huge difference. The heart rate monitor is less of a tool for me than it is an interesting indicator. Through almost 40 years of training as a runner I've learned to know my body and my run paces based on feel but the monitor helps me on the bike and I can see how bike efforts and run efforts match and differ. 
  2. Equipment - I want to be clear regarding how I feel about gaining time or advantage because of equipment. This has been one of my sticking points in the past. I didn't want the aero-helmet or special race wheels, or even an aero bike frame. I wanted my time and performance to be pure and based on physical training, ability and mental strength. Over the years I have grown aggravated that I would end up realistically racing with many noted disadvantages. I'd line up with women of similar ability and get beat, not because they were better or stronger, but because they had the stupid equipment. I resisted for a long while, much because I raced with a runner's mentality (which means I am a minimalist when it comes to equipment). I have more recently decided that I no longer want to race with all these disadvantages. I have equipped myself with an aero-helmet, and recently found a great set of used race wheels on Ebay. This of course is more evidence that I've morphed to some extent into a triathlete and while I still feel that training, ability and mental strength are the real keys, at least I am able to compete on a level playing field again. 
    Zipp Wheelset with cool green decals.
  3. The accomplishment of epic workouts that are getting more epic each week! In preparation for the two Ironman 70.3 races (the first of which is in May), I have done several 4 - 5 hour workouts (bike/run combos). To help me with these workouts, I've also had incredible training partners. Here's something else that has been a huge key. I have a coach, Fred Maggiore, who not only writes these workouts but often does them with me. I really haven't got enough words of thanks and gratitude to express how much it has meant to me to have these experiences with other athletes. A few weeks ago we did a 70+ mile ride (around Lake Casitas starting out toward Ventura first, then coming back on the 150 - which I consider to be "Around the lake in reverse direction"), followed by a 30 minute run at tempo pace. Dr. Greg Gaitan weathered that ride with me (high winds that day) and Fred also joined for a solid portion of the ride. A week ago we increased bike mileage by doing a 75 mile ride around Lake Casitas but also looped around Ojai. This ride was then accompanied by a 40 minute hard run off the bike which ended up totaling over 5 hours. Mike Desmond and Fred did this workout (the bike portion) with me. I flatted on this one, making me even more grateful that I hadn't had to do it solo. 
    Photo credit to Mike Desmond who was obsessed with capturing this awesome telephone pole.
    And this weekend we rode Figueroa Mountain and Happy Canyon in Santa Ynez amidst lush green fields and wild flowers. The ride wasn't as long (this is the recovery week) but had 4700 feet of climbing. Riding buddies on this one again included Mike Desmond and Fred, and also James Kantrim. 
    Happy Canyon en route to Fig Mountain

    The view from the top of Fig Mountain

As final proof to myself that I am close to fully morphed, I decided to forego the upcoming Carlsbad 5000 which I was planning to race. It interferes with the big epic workout planned for this weekend so I decided to omit the race and make sure and hit that planned Double Brick instead. The 5000 meter race would have fed my competitive nature but would be of little value in preparing for a 5 hour triathlon. The Double Brick however will be a key workout in which I will simulate race effort over 4.5 hours and will allow me to test myself, push my fitness and endurance to a new level and provide the opportunity to again test my nutrition plan for the race. This brick will be comprised of a 30 mile bike ride followed by a 6 mile run (both hilly), followed by another 30 mile bike ride and then another 6 mile run (both hilly). This will be a little over 3 hours of cycling and 1 1/2 hours of running - similar to the race time/distances. A workout that will push me physically, mentally and nutritionally. And this one will be done solo. I believe this signifies the letting go of the Running vine and grabbing hold of the Triathlon vine, and in the transition ... I didn't fall to the ground. 

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gemina and Beef Jerky

What the heck kind of title is that for a blog?  I'm sitting here writing, using my unpublished novel, tucked away in a folder, as my mousepad.  It is day 3 of daylight savings time.  I'm pretty sure I am somehow sleep deprived because of it - let's not get started on how I hate changing the clock in the Spring, and how it has health implications for everyone.  The point is Gemina and Beef Jerky.  Here they are:

Gemina with beef jerky
Gemina is a stuffed replica of "the crooked-necked giraffe" who lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo until her death in 2008.  I can never remember her name and am not sure the proper pronunciation so I renamed her Jemima.  Like Aunt Jemima.  She comes to track practice most weeks and sits just inside the first lane on the curve.  She is our team Kenyan and good luck charm.  She watches us - kind of from a sideways slanted view, and sends us fast vibes and helps us dream of pancakes with lots and lots of syrup.

Jemima is pictured today with a package of Beef Jerky.  Why?  I have no idea.  Probably something having to do with her inner conflict - am I a vegetarian, am I a carnivore, omnivore, vegan????  Not really.  The common denominator is simply that these are both gifts to me from a dear friend and teammate.  She gave me the giraffe many moons ago and from there Jemima became the team mascot.  And today she gave me the beef jerky.  Our teammate quietly gives gifts 100% of the time.  It could be a physical gift such as these. Sometimes it's a secret gift as she slips away to "use the restroom" during a team dinner at Eurekas, and then Boom, miraculously the waitress lets us know our bill has been taken care of.  Sometimes it's a gift of words and encouragement.  Sometimes it's a promise to be there when we need her.  I arrived at the track extra early this morning because my workout required more time to warm up.  I started doing my laps in the Westmont darkness (I remind you it is now DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME) by myself and every time I went around the far corner, the darkest corner which borders the scary forest, I thought of the Mountain Lion sightings they had right in that area the year before.  My teammate told me - "next time you have to do an early warm up, you call me and I will be there with you, no matter how early." That's just who she is.

That is the theme of today's blog - the giving nature of the wonderful people around me. Here's a couple of them right here:
Nash and Desa.  Photo credit: Lynelle Paulick
I had a challenging workout assigned to me today.  It was a tempo interval workout that would require me to do repeats of 1.5 miles. I had a pace in mind that I needed to hit (of course a bit faster than coach prescribed).  John (hubby and #1 Wonderful, giving person in my life) ran the first three intervals with me and we fell beautifully into the correct pace together. The rhythm of our feet in unison, John's very loud breathing (which makes it hard to hear my quiet breathing, so that works nicely), looping past our other teamies (they did a different workout so this in no way implies we were lapping them), was the creation of a magical workout.  After a few sets, my mind no longer focused on the work we were doing, but rather the art in it.  Nash joined me for (most of) interval #4 and allowed me to continue with this experience.  It was a sacrifice for him to do this because he had already completed his speed workout. He tacked this extra interval on because I asked for help.  In the end, it was a 12.5 mile workout done completely on the track. I am certain I've never run that many miles on a track before but not only is that what happened today, I loved it.  I loved it because it was done with wonderful, giving, positive people.  Half asleep from DLS imposed sleep deprivation, yes. Trying not to run into each in the dark, yes. Thank goodness for those white lines on the track.

On a side note - the beef jerky was a fun little gift because we had a lot of discussion this week about diet. I have a background in Nutrition, with a Bachelor's degree from Nevada (UNR). And I work for FDN Inc. (which stands for Functional Diagnostic Nutrition®). I usually don't assert my nutritional opinions on others but if asked I'm happy to tell you my take on nutrition, and happy to explain the principles I follow regarding my own diet. I also will provide unsolicited advice if I am concerned about someone I care about. So our dietary discussion this week focused on the importance of meat in the diet, especially an athlete's diet. Here's my opinion about meat (definition of meat = the flesh of any animal): eat it. Well let me just put it this way, because I know there is a growing trend of meatless diets, and I don't mean to step on any of those toes. I eat meat (you don't have to if you don't want to, but I do. I won't judge you if you don't, and you won't judge me because I do) - just like in the old, old days when we learned to eat a balanced meal, I have that chunk of meat on my plate along with the other representatives of the Macro-nutrients. I also make sure I consume meat before a long bike ride (usually salmon or sardines). Because of my type of metabolism (fast oxidizer for those who are familiar with Metabolic Typing®), protein is very important in keeping me fueled. I ultimately consume less Calories overall (the correct amount of Calories) on my high protein diet because I feel full with less food. Protein also helps by body repair and recover and gives me an overall feeling of health and wellness. I take in my protein via food, not supplements, shakes, mixes or powders (except when I take in food during training or competition when real food isn't practical). The best source of protein is meat, not only because it contains all of the essential amino acids, but also because there are many other nutrients contained therein. I am sure there are countless revelations yet to be uncovered regarding nutrients in food, and the combination of nutrients in their naturally occurring state and how they affect processes in the body. To be healthy, the rule is everything in moderation, not "some things in over-abundance and some things completely restricted" (except in cases where there is an allergy or sensitivity/intolerance of course, and probably donuts and carbonated beverage should be completely restricted). Dietary trends come and go and they are not harmless. Eat wisely, use logic, don't let someone else choose for you or influence you, educate yourself, and most importantly, eat to win.  To be clear, I don't follow any specifically labeled diet (such as Paleo). I simply eat without putting too much thought into it.

So that's the story behind the beef jerky.

Gemina (Jemima) = wonderful giving people
Beef jerky = Eat meat

Have a great week and good luck adjusting to the time change. I clearly haven't yet.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

USATF Masters National 8K Road Championships - Brea, CA 2/28/16

During our course preview the day before the race, I had a profound thought.  I shared it with my teammate Lynelle as we coasted into the Brea Mall parking lot.  "Lynelle, there are two ways we could feel at the end of the race.  We could finish, feeling empowered and in control of our own destiny, or we can finish feeling defeated, without a care about our destiny, focused only on crossing the line so we can just be done.  The key to how we feel at the end will be based on how smart we run at the beginning."  

It occurred to me that I had experienced both on this very course.  In 2014 I was in top condition physically and mentally and settled on a pacing strategy that would prove to work out perfectly.  I went out 10 seconds slower than my intended overall pace and was able to make it up in the last two miles.  With a tangible clarity I still recall how I felt in the closing miles, picking off runners, dropping my time down enough to finish with a 5:30 mile, I had everything in control.  I wasn't challenged by any females at the end but I knew if I had been, I would have had one more gear if I needed it.  So that was that year.

Last year, 2015, was entirely the opposite.  I was mending from an injury, lacking confidence, unsure of my game plan because I just didn't know what pace I could realistically hold.  I went out too fast, struggled in the middle miles, and just didn't have much for the finish. That year I did have females to race against at the end and I remember, again with tangible clarity, feeling like I didn't care if they beat me, I didn't care how fast I was going, I just didn't care about anything except crossing the line so I could finally stop running.  I had no control over myself, no extra gear.  

Same course, same me, two completely different finishes.  I wondered how it would go this year.  It was good that this thought happened upon me the day before the race, and good that I verbalized it to Lynelle because it reminded me how important it is to run smart, set the right expectations, and hold to the right pace.  I didn't want to finish this one feeling like I did last year.

The Brea 8K has been host to the USATF Masters 8K Road Championships for the past 3 years and with any luck, they will agree to allow the SoCal Association to bid for another 3 years.  I have my fingers crossed.  Being that this might be the last time this national championship happens so close to home and on such a perfect course, we simply would not have missed it for the world.  We formed a women's 40+ team (me, Desa Mandarino, Jen Brown and Lynelle Paulick), and a men's 50+ team (John Abrami, Jim Adams, Richard Konoske) and we had three individual runners, Nash Jimenez, Ricky Ho and Larry Brooks. The team competition is fierce against the many LA teams, so also against teams that travel many miles to compete.  Our ladies were hopeful that we'd podium but felt it was a long shot to even hope for 1st or 2nd (which were the $ places).  But even when you feel there is no hope, there always is.

Here's how it all played out.  The whole group stayed at a hotel located right at the race start (same place we have stayed the previous years).  Race time on Sunday was 7:30 am, so we gathered (most of us anyway) at 6:15 am to go for our warm up. The air was thick with fog and getting foggier, but the temperature was clean and crisp and no wind.  The chill and moisture was refreshing and mixed with my nerves to energize me.  I don'the recall feeling extremely nervous but what I do know is that I was looking forward to running hard.  That is NEVER something I look forward to.  What was in that fog anyway?  We had a nice 3 mile warm up and arrived back to the hotel in time to change into our Rabbit uniforms and racing flats.  I packed a few things in a small backpack intending to place it near the start so I had it handy post-race.

One by one, we all made our way to the starting area to do our pre-race drills and strides. By now the 200+ masters runners littered the area, everyone doing everything they could to get their bodies ready to run hard.  This is the time when nerves begin to set in.  It doesn't help that a few things went wrong at this point.  Our 4 woman team looked for the uniform check in at the start (where they said it would be) but no one was checking teams at the starting line.  I learned that the other three ladies were waiting for me at the USATF tent as that apparently is where the check actually was. By the time I ran over there, the check in person had left and we were then told to go to the starting line to check in.  We were just a few minutes before start and were desperately just trying to check in and the stress level rose just a bit.  On our scamper back up to the starting line, John informed me that my little backpack had been confiscated by security as it was considered suspicious.  The police had been called and somehow or another my little backpack was put in jail. I get it.  I know why that happened but it was just another unsettling thing to add to our "check in" difficulty.  In the end, we never did find the person with whom to check in and had to let that go.  It was a frustrating distraction.  

The National Anthem was performed live and we settled into our spot a few layers in behind the finish line.  Heart pounding, eyes wide.  The fog remained heavy and I put my sunglasses up on my head, hoping to use them later.  At some point the horn sounded unexpectedly.  I missed the "runners to your mark" part.  So reaction time was a little slow but I realized it took everyone by surprise, sigh.  Old people.

My game plan was once again to go out 10 seconds slower than my intended race pace which meant going through the first mile in around 6:15.  The first mile was nice and smooth. Oddly there were some runners breathing so hard I wondered if they were going to make it 800 meters.  I am certain they didn't bother warming up and went out way too fast for their fitness level.  Both are huge mistakes and I wondered how seasoned masters runners could be so foolish. The fact that I was mentally analyzing these things meant that I was relaxed and in a comfortable place.  I spent time analyzing everyone around me. I looked up the road to see who was ahead of me and saw Nash. He tends to go out faster than me so this was a good situation and I locked eyes on him.  I listened to the breathing around me, and I listened to my own breathing.  I scanned my body from top to bottom to take inventory of everything.  I felt great.  I had energy, I was running off my toes, feeling power in my stride and was very comfortable with the pace.  I came through the first mile in 6:08 which was faster than I planned but considering how I felt, I was elated.  I kept my eyes locked on Nash and I tried to settle my pace a bit.  Being that the course is always fluctuating up and down, has a long hill in the middle but a lot of downhill in the final two miles, it is very difficult to get the pace right at first.  I didn't have an expectation of where I should be at each mile but I knew I needed to remain conservative and trust by body to have it at the end.  The second mile, which sloped down and then sloped up, felt great to me but I noted that Nash was a little farther ahead.  This mile had slowed to 6:23 and in my mind that was fine because that evened it out to the 6:15 pace I had intended.  The third mile is where the hill is and is the slowest mile.  It was in this mile that I spotted a blond runner in a pink uniform.  This was Tania from the Janes Elite team and she represented the opportunity to begin to dream just a little bit.  She is the first runner on the Janes Elite team which was the defending champions.  She also is in my age group and tends to run extremely tough.  Having her in my sights going into the third mile was both surprising and exhilarating.  She was still many yards ahead of me but I had a target.  When I hit a hill, I really want it to be over as soon as possible so on this one I tried to increase the exertion a bit and passed a few women (and men) in the process.  I fully expected to pass several women as I went out conservatively, so it felt good to already begin picking them off.  But blond/pink was still up ahead, although I had picked up some time on her.  At the top of the hill, I moved my glasses in place (the fog was dissipating), took several strides to get my breathing and effort level back under control and was stilling picking up time on her.  We passed the 5K mark and turned the corner to head back down the hill. I no longer paid any attention to my time or my watch.  I'm pretty sure I didn't look at it again and that was because it didn't matter.  All that mattered was that I catch my girl and give our team a chance to accomplish something great and unexpected.  We had less than two miles to go and I went into tactical mode (similar to how I ran the recent XC race - if you missed that race report, read about it HERE).  It was at this point that I somehow got one leg on the wrong side of the "caution tape" that lined the course.  How did that happen?  I was running while straddling this yellow tape wondering how I was going to get this straightened out.  I had to almost stop to swing my leg back over and lost some ground, and was just a bit frazzled.  I had to quickly regroup and refocus, pick up the pace and continue with the pursuit. Shortly thereafter, I caught blond/pink but I spent some time on her heels before I decided to pass her. I knew she would surge as I passed so I wanted to be sure I had an answer. I made the pass, she made an audible noise of frustration and tried to surge. I also surged and made a definitive pass and kept my pace strong. It occurred to me that today I am in control of the outcome of this race. We had just over a mile to go and now I focused again on Nash who was a few yards ahead of me. 

Many things entered my mind in this last mile.  First, I began to fantasize about the possibility of beating this unbeatable team.  I wondered if there was any other woman in my age group ahead of me. I had just passed the defending champion.  I had no other goals ahead of me. It mattered not to me if I caught Nash (I figure if I repeat this to myself enough I'll finally believe it).  I figured we both must be having outstanding races. Was he winning his age group?  I thoroughly enjoyed that last mile. I felt good. There was no way I was going to be caught. I thought of my teammates and how they were doing, and where they were in reference to the other Janes Elite team runners.  I passed a few struggling men, came around the few final turns and ran the final stretch. The only, I mean ONLY disappointment I felt that day was the time on the clock as I approached. With all that I'd just experienced I figured my time would be decent and within my expectation. It wasn't. It was (in my mind) slow. I crossed the line feeling like I had more in the tank but having accomplished all I really needed to.  It is not like me to finish with more to give. I quickly tucked this away to be pondered later.  Just a few seconds after I finished, Jen, having run a remarkable race, came across the line, also beating blond/pink.  My mind began to race, processing all of this.  Two of us finished before Janes Elite's top runner finished.  Jen and I (and Nash) high five'd or hugged or something (I can't really remember) and Nash began yelling for Desa.  Desa was coming in and without even being aware of it, everything was resting on her shoulders. Desa finished ahead of Jane's third runner and as we huddled in fatigue, the possibility begin to bloom in our minds. Did we just win this thing?  We yelled for our remaining runners, Lynelle and the guys.  I felt so many emotions at this point.  Elation mixed with disappointment.  Elation quickly won over.  The Janes girls grouped together and it seemed they were figuring it out pretty quick.  With an occasional glance our way, they realized they might have just got beat by some Rabbits.  

We made our way over to the expo and to the results.  I found out there was another in my age group ahead of me so I was second. Another slight disappointment but why dwell? Nash was also second but to someone he highly respected. He seemed okay with the outcome which allowed me to feel the same.  Lynelle also podiumed with a third.  She had a superb race and well deserved.  Larry Brooks also secured a second place age group finish. Santa Barbara just made a statement. However, there were no team results posted so we simply didn't know how we placed.  As we cooled down we hoped, we dreamed, we anticipated.

Team results were finally posted and it was official.  Santa Barbara Running and Racing women's 40+ team won.  Janes Elite Racing was second.  Cal Coast A team was third.  I tried to remain mature in my reaction but I felt like I was in high school again, the day we eeked out our 4th straight state championship title.  I felt giddy and excited. And I said it out loud.  We are National Champions.  Oh that felt so good.

Well wouldn't you know it that somewhere between the posting of the team results and the awards ceremony, things got messed up.  When the winners were announced they had Jane's in third, Santa Barbara in second (what?) and Cal Coast in first.  Seriously?  We sat there in our chairs, unable to rise to the podium because we were utterly confused.  They proceeded to hand out the first and third place awards.  Janes collected the first place award and Cal Coast the third place award (because they at least figured out that everything was announced wrong) but we remained seated.  I was waiting to speak with the official as soon as they were done.  It did end up getting corrected and everyone was exceedingly gracious. The Janes representative handed us the first place award and collected their second place stuff.  Coach Nash spoke directly to the race director to make sure the official results were correct, etc... We are assuming all of that will be officially corrected as there was (a little) money earned. So we didn't get that wonderful pleasure of going before the crowd to get the recognition but no matter.  Everyone was wonderful and we held many conversations of congratulations, and got our team photos taken.

Thank you Desa, Jen and Lynelle for doing so well, running with your heart, forming a bond that will always exist. This was a true team experience and you all mean everything to me.  I have tremendous respect for you and your courage to believe.  Many people count themselves out of something this big before ever giving it a shot. You are not like that.

Thank you John for encouraging me, training with me, doing these wonderful things together. Without you it would be meaningless.   Thank you Nash for pulling great people together and putting so much of who you are into us.  You are the greatest runner I've ever met. You have taught me so much. I thought I knew it all but I didn't.  And you race with us. Thank you Fred for the training plan that although aimed at some big triathlons, is giving me the fitness and confidence I need. I feel so blessed by every one of you and am truly grateful. Congratulations Ricky on your first Master's competition. You have now discovered that masters runners remain strong and fast.  These days no one concedes to age and science.  We continue to prove you can still run fast after 40.

Next up is Carlsbad 5000 in April and then from there, the Ironman 70.3 in St. George in May.