Blogs tagged with "age"

Ah, Pittsburgh. What can I say? I feared my sixth attempt to defy the "age" odds at the annual Pittsburgh Triathlon - my favorite Olympic Distance race - would not go as well as it had in the past. In four out of the five times I've done the Pittsburgh Tri, I've been able to run down the leader(s) for the overall win. In fact, in this race, because of my lack of skill and prowess on the bike, I fully expect to fall behind in the quad-burning mountain-climb of a bike leg.

And I've always had my run speed. I was always determined to go down fighting on the run in this event. I would make the massively-quadded bikers who crushed me have to earn that win by running scared when they saw me at the three-mile turn-around.

That all ended on Sunday. To my dismay, I didn't go down fighting. In fact, if you were listening Sunday morning, I think I went out with a whimper. And now I sit in front of my computer trying to fight off the demons of Pittsburgh that are trying to kill my spirit of the comeback.

After all, it was the Pittsburgh Tri (and win) that marked my return to racing in 2003, just two months after being hospitalized as a trauma case. It was the Pittsburgh Tri that got me back on my feet after a four year mental layoff from said accident. And it was the Pittsburgh Tri that I registered for as soon as I made my decision to go to the ITU World Championship in London this year. It's a barometer. I can usually tell exactly where I'm at based on my performance in Pittsburgh.

And now - let's just say I'm having a hard time putting things in perspective.

My husband Jim says I need to be patient. That I'm expecting too much. He has a point. After several months of very little running, I've started the hardest part of my build-up (in all three disciplines) for London. I did a 40K time-trial in training last week. I also had my first run of longer than 50 minutes the next day. And I'm in a desperate struggle with my physical therapist to make my both my legs work - with strength and without pain - by September 14.

The problem is that we're in the midst of triathlon racing season and I'm running out of opportunities to have the proverbial something-to-hang-my-hat-on if (when?) all goes awry in London. Every year older I get, the more I wonder if this is my last chance to really feel strong. Or "fast." Or just "good."

There it goes - the snowball...

To back up a bit, to before the race... I was, indeed, feeling upbeat about my progress last week. Especially in physical therapy. As of last weekend, I could run - regularly - without a cast and without fear of "scary" pain in my right tibia. However, an attempt to run fast reduced me to hobbling from pain in my left hip (this was probably the thing that did me in last year - and the thing that caused my stress fracture).

The next day, I had to have my hip seriously worked on by my physical therapist. He was able to "put more space" in the joint, and, miraculously, I was able to run on Thursday with a freedom of movement (and lack of pain) I hadn't experienced in a long time (maybe years). I'm not sure why what he did worked this time, but it did.

With this new-found pain-free hip-movement, I apparently expected immediately results. No. Patience is NOT my middle name.

Swim start, last wave: women 40+ and relays, and my
right "high" elbow.

So, there I was, at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Triathlon - the defending champ. And before the gun, last year's runner-up approached me to tell me she suffered a broken pelvis two weeks after the race last year. Then she commented on my running speed - last-year. I related my current stress-fracture woes - my running was non-existent this year. Although I secretly thought (hoped?) I could pull something fast out on the run.

Race day started out cloudy and rainy - the transition area was all but under water - but the Allegheny River was strangely unaffected. In fact, the current was almost non-existent. The 1500m swim of the Pittsburgh Tri starts upstream, and besides a short swim upstream, it is mostly with the (said) current and parallel to the shoreline. It's great for spectators because they can watch their athletes during the entire swim (Jim managed to capture on camera my swim and all its idiosyncrasies - especially my asymmetric stroke). When we got in the water, I found it odd that I lacked the familiar adrenaline rush at the start. With no warm-up, it took me about half the swim to "find" my stroke, but by the time I reached the swim finish, I got a mental boost by catching several of the relay swimmers who went out much faster than I did.

The "low" (read: nonexistent) elbow.

After the swim, athletes have to run up a concrete ramp to transition which is in a small grassy area on the river's north shore between Heinz Stadium (home of the Steelers) and PNC Park (home of the Pirates). It was not a wetsuit-legal race, which made the long run to transition much easier. I took a split when I crossed the timing mat - it read about 20 minutes (almost the same as last year's time). I didn't chase anyone, I jogged to my bike, got out of my speed suit quickly - which wasn't easy with the spongy wet footing - and got out of there.

Swim exit: no, I can't walk and chew gum at the same time

The bike leg is basically a two-loop hill. It's in the HOV lane of I-279 so there are no cars to contend with, but it's just one giant hill. Last year was my best time on this course, and this year, I swore I would be faster because... well, because I'm faster on the bike.

Or so I thought. I rode hard and felt great through the bike leg, but when all was said and done, I got my butt kicked on the downhills. Which begs the question, after I was flying by people on the uphills, how does EVERYONE ride faster than me on the downhill? My aero position is good (I checked my shadow when the sun came out). My bike is supposedly one of the fastest (Cervelo P3). And yet, I end up losing all my gains on the downhills. And yes, I am pedaling, not just coasting.

Bike photos - at least I was smiling in my slowness:

Oh well. So I rolled into transition at around 1:08 for the 40K bike course. I didn't need Jim to tell me how far behind I was. I knew it was over six minutes at best. I racked my bike, jumped into my shoes and grabbed my hat and sunglasses. I knew immediately there would be a problem with my shoes. In an attempt to refine my horrible bike-to-run transition, I adjusted my running shoes too lose this time. The ground was puddles, the grass was squishy, my shoes were flopping all over the place. This has injury written all over it. So I stopped and tried to adjust.

Not once, but twice.

No, I was not focused on my run. I'm not sure what I was focusing on. But it wasn't running. I heard Jim yell not to chase anyone.

As though I would. Or could.

Maybe I do look a little distressed.

I think I gave up early. Right around the one-mile marker, I realized I just didn't have the killer instinct. I thought my run would be faster than the week before, but when I looked down at my watch, it showed a 7:40 first mile. That's when the negative talk started. What the hell was wrong with me? I feel good. My legs are working better than they have in years. My form is good. What then?

Who knows. I ran hard, but not hard enough to even work my way into second place. I finished third overall, five minutes slower than last year, with a very disappointing 44-minute 10K, and a lot of questions.

A little better? Starting to smile
because it was almost over.

When I got up on the podium, the winner (the girl I talked to at the starting line) said "I saw you out there running. You looked like you were in a LOT of pain." Really? This threw me for a loop. I didn't remember feeling much pain. Until I saw my splits, I actually felt balanced and strong on the run - and certainly not limping along in pain. Hmmm.... Jim said my form looked good.

Was he telling the truth? Is my perception of my situation different than what's actually happening? Am I expecting too much? Seriously, have I reached that age when I can no longer make big improvements in short periods? More importantly, do I care anymore? Could it be more mental than physical? Is this what it feels like to be washed up? And - omg, the horror - should I find another sport? Something more along the lines of shuffleboard? (I always thought curling might be fun.)

Lots of questions. And no answers. I hope they're out there. Because I'm (literally) running out of time.

What cross country REALLY means

Early this week, I made the decision to throw out my pride and run (not race) in a Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot." I was planning on doing a workout that morning anyway. Why not do it by running (not racing) with others and supporting the greater Cleveland running community in the process?

Once that decision had been made, my next big decision was: "which race?" There are gobs - no pun intended - of Turkey Trots all over northeast Ohio - in Cleveland, Akron, Warren, Lorain, etc. There were races 15 minutes away or over an hour. Race distances were 5K, 4 miles, 5 miles, 10K - you name it! (ok, so no marathons in there, but you get my point).

The decision wasn't a no-brainer, but it was relatively easy. I knew I did NOT want to run in downtown Cleveland - especially since I would be driving there by myself - I gave my husband Jim the day off from support crew. I would have to find parking. The car would inevitably be far away, and Jim would not be there to hold my stuff while I ran (not raced). And, selfishly, I wanted to avoid discomfort, and the Cleveland Turkey Trot boasts thousands of runners. This meant I would have to wait in long bathroom lines. Instead, I chose the "LCCC Turkey Trot" - a cross-country 10K at Lorain County Community College.

The ease of the decision came in that I had run the LCCC race once before - way back in the 1990s before I knew triathlons existed. I remember it was fun. I remember it was a nice soft-surface course. And I remember it wasn't "huge," but it had good competition and a great reputation among many local elite runners.

Mark liked my Punk Rock Racing threads.

I knew I had "lucked out" with my race choice when I walked into the registration area only to bump into two of my good friends (and runners), Mark Breudigam and Lou Karl (who would be turkey-trotting with his dog). As the crowd of runners increased, more people I knew showed up, including a large contingency from two of the local multisport teams, Spin/Second Sole and Snakebite Racing. I briefly felt guilty for choosing this race knowing one of my sponsors, Fleet Feet, supported the Cleveland Turkey Trot. But then I remembered why I was here - to do a fun run (not a race).

After some quick socializing and before long, runners were on their way to the starting line - which was situated in a field. The last time I ran this race, I was told the course was always muddy with one huge hill (that you run up twice), and at one point, we would have to wade up to our knees through a river. Of course, the year I ran it, the course was mostly dry and the "river" was barely a stream - we just lept over it.

The dogs are out in force at LCCC,
Lou and Molly before the mud. 

But not this year. THIS year, even though the weather was sunny and in the 40s (balmy for Cleveland in late November), the course description came back to haunt me tenfold.

We had to "wade" out to the starting line. I'm not exaggerating. By the time I was standing in that field, my socks and shoes had been completely submerged in water and mud, and I had given up trying to keep them dry. The race director stood in front of us and shouted instructions. He pointed to the sky: "Do you see that big yellow thing? THAT is the SUN! Something we haven't seen at this race in a long time." Next, he explained the rules of cross-country (white poles, red poles, run on grass not the road, etc). Then, he explained some changes on the course, which many were familiar with because it's also the LCCC Men's X-C course. He said (and I quote): "The course is a MESS," and proceeded to explain changes that were made in areas that were deemed impassable. And with that, we were off.

Even with all the warnings, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. In the first 100 yards, my only thought was how thankful I was for wearing my trail shoes, even though it didn't help much. Before the first mile was over, I was covered with mud from both my kicking it up and the people in front of me kicking it back. After announcing to my friends at the starting line that I "got nuthin'" because I had just started quad-killing bike trainer workouts and I was here only for a workout (and not to race), I started out very easy and IN the pack.

And yet, within the first mile, I found myself passing most of the women (and girls) and people jogging with dogs who went out sprinting. Mile 1 is at the top of the aforementioned hill. Just before it, I passed Lou and Molly (who tried to give me the slip but she was on a leash and had to haul Lou's butt up that hill). On the way up, I stupidly ran on the mud instead of the grass and was passed by almost everyone just behind me. On the steep (and muddy) downhill, my only goal became to not break one of my ankles.

Before Mile 2, I found myself chasing down the "runner in pink" (a.k.a. the women's leader). In doing this, I had to run for almost a half-mile through ankle-deep water on top of thick mud and grass. Every single step felt like I was wearing ankle weights. I decided to hang behind her, but just before Mile 2, she slowed a bit. With a comfortable pace going, I decided to pass her.

I wondered if that was a mistake. By Mile 3, my tired bike-burnt quads started their screaming. And then came my lungs (also screaming). What was I THINKING!! This was supposed to be a fun run. With my friends! With their dogs!

And now that I was leading, the competitive me started a conversation with the me that went there to NOT race. I was hurting, but could I hold on? Did I want to? Would I be embarrassed to lose my lead?

Um.... yep. I would.

A return to analog racing.

I buckled down and decided I would, in fact, RACE those last three-point-two miles. Despite the distress, I chased down everyone I could - only one guy passed me, and it was on that confounded hill! I plowed through the water, the mud, the woodsy terrain, and ran hard to the finish where I was handed my finisher's card. Yes, folks, this is old-style, no number-bib, analog racing at its best. It had the number 22 on it.

Shortly thereafter, the girl in pink finished. We immediately struck up a conversation. Her name was Katie - she's a 29-year-old mom of three whose goal is to break three hours in the marathon. Listening to her attempts, I have no doubt she will do it. What was wonderful about meeting her was that I found myself playing a sort-of mentor role for the first time. We talked marathons - she was even interested in my history. I was beyond honored to hear she "didn't feel so bad being beaten by a former Olympic Trials marathoner." (I did remind her that I am, in fact, 46, but she took it well.)

In all the excitement, I never hit my watch at the finish, so I am relying on the accuracy of the race timer to tell me how fast (or slow) I ran. And I still have not looked for the official results online. Or the results of my post-race interview.

I learned afterwards that I had, indeed, been beaten by my good friend Rich Oldrieve. Now, mind you, I don't have an objection to being beaten by Rich. In his storied past, Rich has run a sub-2:30 marathon - in Boston, of all places. I met him after he turned 40 - when he was not only the fastest local masters runner, but always took home masters money at national- and international-level marathons. In local (longer distance) races, he often won outright. So yeah, Rich can bury me in any race, even now in his mid-50s. What I objected to on Thanksgiving was that Rich Oldrieve not only slaughtered me in the race, but he did it in cotton sweats, tube socks, wearing a fanny pack, and running with his dog! (I'm only slightly exaggerating, but I was happy to hear that "Hamlet" probably beat Rich across the finish line.)

Old friends Randy and Toby
And, all I have say about that is (a common thread in my blogs lately), the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And thank heavens for that! Because the greatest thing about running (not racing) this Thanksgiving was that I reconnected with people I have not seen in many, MANY years. After the race, I met up with some long-lost running and racing companions: Randy Barkacs (a.k.a. the fastest guy never to have run a sub-3-hour marathon, who just turned 60 and doesn't look a day over 40), Dave Wendell (a well-under-3-hour marathoner who I beat Thursday for the first time ever), Rick Ventura (another outstanding masters runner now in his late-50s - one who could sometimes beat Rich Oldrieve), and the almost-always-smiling-but-not-today-until-it-was-over Kevin Krol (one of the first people I ever knew and admired in the multi-sport universe).

I had the opportunity to hang out with my not-long-lost friends: Lou (and mud-covered Molly, my newest Facebook friend), Nancy Desmond (an outstanding local cyclist who ran with her own mud-covered Maddie), and Mark (one of the best friends I ever met through running). They invited me to partake of the communal flask of B&B (way cool), and I was given my own plastic Solo cup of Guinness (which kicks chocolate milk's arse as a recovery drink).

Lou, Molly, B&B, Mike, Nancy, Maddie

I met the incomparable Mike Twigg who had the quote of the day: "The older you get, the better you used to be." I was told this expression was directly intended for "Old Like Lou" Karl who, I think, was a legend before he was even born. And I suspect it's been trademarked, so make sure you give credit if you borrow it.

For my friends out there with the goal of breaking four hours in the marathon, this was a tough group at LCCC on Thanksgiving. Catching up after the race, I told Rich Oldrieve that I ran the New York City Marathon four weeks after Ironman Kona. He asked how I did in NY. I said: "not great" (considering that Rich's standards for me are similar to my own, having trained with me during my sub-2:50 days). He asked my time. My reply: "Three fifteen." Rich's reaction? "Yeah, three fifty? That's not very good." (Note, this was in a totally matter-of-fact manner.) I countered: "No, three FIFTEEN." His tone changed to one slightly less critical: "That's not bad."

Molly has eyes for my first place trophy

[Again, my apologies to all the over-3:50 marathoners out there. The views expressed are not my own. But in his defense, Rich is a very logical and scientific elite runner, and I have him to thank for teaching me how to disassociate my emotions from running. He was one of the biggest influences on my fastest marathon performances.]

The final thing I found out at the LCCC Turkey Trot was that many of the local runners thought I had left town or gotten seriously injured because I dropped out of "running" circulation in 2003 - this was right after I was hit by a car training for triathlon. I had often assumed everyone knew about my accident. I didn't race again until 2008, almost completely missing out on my early masters years. Who knew people were paying attention? Who knew I had fallen into the "whatever-happened-to" file? It was actually a good feeling - I guess you have to be someone in order to be someone that people wonder what happened to.

I waited for the awards to cheer for both my old and new friends. In the meantime, there was a raffle during which they gave away things like plastic containers of sticky buns and issues of Men's Health magazine (yes, I won that) in addition to cool gift certificates. It's fun, but I was told to stick around, to not miss the most hilarious thing. AFTER the awards ceremony, they give away the final raffle prize - a TURKEY.

My question: "What is the winner going to do with a turkey NOW? [as opposed to yesterday]"

Rich Oldrieve's response? "THAT'S why it's so funny!"

Enjoying the third day of the off-season surfing in Maui

It's been a while since I had a real off-season, but the planets have aligned this year to provide me with a little post-season, holiday, do-nothing block of time. Even though I ran the New York City Marathon two weeks ago, my post season off-time began the day after Ironman Kona. It started with a trip to Maui and ends right about now, in my kitchen, in front of my computer.

Why now, you ask? Because six weeks is enough! I've realized that there is still nothing interesting to watch on TV. I've fallen victim to the Halloween-candy-at-the-office five-pound weight gain (which, at my advanced age's metabolic slowdown, will no doubt take the next six months to eradicate). And I'm ready to stop looking at the past and now look at the future - a.k.a., my 2012 triathlon season.

To go forward, though, I feel the need to contemplate the past so that I can learn from it. The first mistake I ALWAYS make in reviewing the past is the one I'm going to try to avoid this time: remembering only the failures. In looking at years past, I usually only remember the things I want to change, like my poor performances. That's all well and good if I logically analyze what caused the poor performances. But I always forget to review what went right.

Why do we do that? Maybe the question should be: am I the only one who does that? Why does the negative emotional impact of my bad races outweigh the positive impact of my good ones? In other words: why do we dwell?

I don't have the answer to that. (All the psychologists of the world just breathed a collective sigh of relief.)

So, to focus on a positive review of last season, I will not mention the disasters that were two of my biggest races of the year: the USAT National Championship and Ironman Hawaii. Instead, I will review what went right:

  • I won my age group in Ironman St. George by more than an hour, came in tenth overall and fifth amateur. (Who cares if it was with an embarrassingly-slow marathon?)
  • I won my age group and set the age group course record in Ironman Lake Placid.
  • I won my age group in Ironman 70.3 Muncie.
  • I became the 2011 world champ in my age group at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas.
  • I ran two marathons - Walt Disney World and New York City - just for fun, both with respectable times (and won my age group at Disney).
Punks, me and Ron in Vegas
Unlike last year, I am able to make that list this year because one of the other great things that happened in 2011 was to develop a great friendship with Ron, aka Punk Rock Tri Guy and @PunkRockRunner, who felt compelled to write me a motivational list before Kona - to remind me of the things I should remember about myself. He has been on a mission to turn my thinking around from dwelling on the disasters. Between Ron and my husband Jim (who has been on that same mission since I began running marathons in 1991), it might finally be setting in.
In addition to athletic endeavors, there were other positives in my life this year. I was able to get out of a dead-end job where I lived daily with fear and stress - and started a new job at a world-class institution, The Cleveland Museum of Art, doing something I love (web application development). It's amazing to me that a simple change has done so much for my attitude. I am now surrounded by positive and hard-working people who understand my training (many of whom have athletic lifestyles - and even run marathons). Several of the technical gurus I work for and with are women that I have developed a deep admiration for. Most importantly, people's eyes no longer glaze over when I go all technical (i.e., "geeky"). My favorite conversation of the last week was with our designers who were trying to create a model of our floor based on the terminology from Star Trek. Yep. Geeks. My people.
Elking around in up-state New York
Working at the museum also re-exposed me to the art world, something I didn't realize I missed until I was back in it. I was even bold enough to enter one of my prints in the staff art show. (This is huge if you know that every time in the past I had "chickened out" at the last minute - even after I had framed my art and had it all ready to go.) It appears I am letting go of some of my insecurities. I hope to be working more on my art in the near future because of the daily inspiration I get at work.
Thus, with a new mental foundation, and some successes in 2011, I am inspired to work hard(er) next year to build on the positive attitude and be able to capitalize in big races. If I'm fortunate enough to get another Kona slot, I will take what I have learned this year and apply it throughout training to eliminate more chances of something going wrong again.
Here are the things I've learned from my 2011 season, in no particular order: 
  • Training with power is what works for my biking (thanks to the CompuTrainer). I don't think I can afford a power meter on the bike, so I will stick with the trainer for power workouts, and work hard during the winter months when I can't ride outside.
  • I still need to figure out what is going on with my nutrition in the heat. Apparently, more sodium isn't enough and maybe it should be "lots more, even more than you think after you've taken more" sodium. I will be consulting a trusted nutritionist. I will also look into having these things (like sweat rate and sweat composition) tested. This is where I think my money will be best spent.
  • My swim training this year reached a sort of plateau, but I'm confident I can get through this one because I managed to do the same time in my three Ironman races this year no matter how hard or how easy I trained for the swim. I broke a rib and lost two weeks leading up to Lake Placid and still did a 1:02. I trained mostly two days a week, sometimes three - so, if I consistently get that third day in, I have high hopes to break that one-hour barrier again. I know I'm capable of going well under it, but so much depends on what happens in the race (i.e., if I get clobbered).
  • If I want to race well in short distances, I should not train for Ironman. ('nuff said.)
  • Sleeping the night before a race fully depends on how confident I am that I can sleep before a race. It has nothing to do with how confident I am in my training. (I am NOT making this up.)
  • More on nutrition: the paleo diet works (and I don't even follow it religiously)
  • Even more on nutrition: despite what the guy from Infinit Nutrition told me in Kona, I do believe that protein is detrimental for me during a race. Once I switched to products without a complete protein ( Closing the book on 2011, in Kona
    I'm sure there are many more lessons I will dig up in the next few months as I review my training from last year to revamp my training for this year. I still have not been able to justify getting a coach because of the expense and also because I feel like I know myself very well and I've been able to coach myself pretty well. I am considering it now because my one issue is knowing when enough is enough and learning to take it easy to let the hard work pay off. I read a great article about self coaching in Lava Magazine recently: The Self Coaching Conundrum featuring recommendations from pro triathletes Amanda Lovato and James Cunnama.
    Thus, there is a lot to consider. But first things first. Get back into training. Build that base. Avoid the pitfalls of eating too much at Thanksgiving. Yikes, that's THIS WEEK! Y'all have a great one!
the spare-bedroom bike-training facility

I got a new toy for Christmas this year and I've been avoiding writing about it because at the moment, it stills scares the living daylights out of me. What is it? It's a RacerMate CompuTrainer. It was an extremely generous gift from my husband Jim, courtesy of a team discount from Bike Authority in Broadview Heights, OH. Like last year, I think Jim is tired of watching me sweat for hours on my trainer only to hear me cry over and over again about how I work so hard on the bike and get nothing out of it.

So this year, instead of books about how to train, his gift came with a "Performance Improvement Guarantee" -- I am NOT making this up. If I don't get faster, he gets his money back. That's what's so scary. As far as training tools go, improvement only happens if you use them properly. I know how to use a treadmill to run faster. I know how to use hand paddles to get stronger (and faster) in the water. But, a bike trainer is a bike trainer, right? If I haven't been able to figure out how to use a fluid resistance trainer to get faster on the bike (even with a heart rate monitor), how is this going to change? The answer appears to be the one detail missing from my bike training: power. I have no clue how much power I'm generating. This CompuTrainer thing is supposed to help with that. But HOW? Just knowing my power output isn't going to make me more powerful.

After two days of looking at the box, Jim and I - well, mostly Jim - spent time last Thursday setting up the bike on the CompuTrainer. We then hooked it up to the refurbished Dell PC he also bought me for Christmas (specifically to run the software) after I installed the software. The first thing you have do is calibrate the trainer. Oh great! More things to worry about. Luckily, you can do this as a warm up. And guess what, it's not hard at all!

But what else can I do with it? The anxiety starts...

You can do so much with the CompuTrainer, it boggles my mind. I worry I will never fully know how to digest, analyze, and use all the information. But that doesn't change the fact I now think it's one of the most awesome training tools I have. And that's good because I live in Cleveland, and I will probably spend most of my bike training for Ironman St. George indoors.

I already have one advantage. The CompuTrainer came with a free "Real Course Video" ... Jim chose (obviously) Ironman St. George. I can ride the course and the trainer will automatically adjust resistance based on terrain while showing you the exact video of the course -- not a 3-D rendering, mind you, but someone actually DROVE the course and videotaped it.

And yesterday, New Year's Day, that's exactly what I did -- I rode the virtual Ironman St. George bike course (while simutaneously watching the great Christmas classic "Die Hard" on my television).

I know there are a multitude of things I have to learn in order to use the CompuTrainer effectively. Right now my fear is based on the old cliche: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." It's overwhelming for my ancient brain to fathom -- I'm afraid there's too much to learn and not enough time to figure it out by May. But the bottom line is that I need to increase my power on the bike, and everyone says the way to do that is to: "get a CompuTrainer." Am I allowed to mention they're all a LOT younger than me?

If I put aside my anxiety for a moment, my starting impression of the CompuTrainer is that it IS one of the coolest, and most fun, gadgets I ever trained on. Hopefully it will do exactly what it is "guaranteed" to do. At the very least, I will be better prepared for Ironman St. George than those who have never seen the course before. I may even be tempted to buy the Ironman Lake Placid course just to relive the horror...  I mean for the beautiful scenery.

And, if anyone has favorite references on what they did or the best way to use the CompuTrainer for increasing power on the bike, please point me to them. I do know I will be doing a test this week to find my "FTP" (Functional Threshold Power). It all starts here.

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

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

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.

It's been five weeks since Ironman Lake Placid and I'm still unable to shake the funk. Sure, I've had some successes in local races, but those felt more like desperation maneuvers on my part -- attempts to pull something positive from all the work I did before Ironman -- you know, so I don't have to look back at a wasted season.
I had an interesting conversation with one of my biking partners this past weekend. It involved my lack of improvement on the bike even with the massive amount of hard training leading up to the Ironman. I seem to have reached a biking plateau despite working my butt off. And I'm not going to lie -- I was very disappointed with my performance on the bike in Lake Placid. In 2009, I rode a much harder course at Ironman Coeur d'Alene but my time was only a few minutes slower there. Was I was holding back? Or did I really have no improvement whatsoever after a year of harder training? I'm still evaluating and coming to grips with it. At Lake Placid, I planned to go "easy" on the bike, but I still expected my time to be, at the very least, ten minutes faster. In actuality, it was about three minutes faster. It's hard to get psyched to do more work on the bike when there are no gains.
The improvements, instead, were in the two sports I spent the least time in. How does THAT happen? My swim time in Lake Placid was even faster than expected. Although, sometimes I think my swim is governed by some unknown force in the universe because despite spending very little time in the water, I often pull a fast swim out of nowhere. I've just never been able to justify swimming more than three workouts per week knowing it's less than one tenth of the total race time.
So, in preparation for Clearwater 70.3 in November, I've concentrated on speed work in all three sports, and, as usual, my swimming and running are the only places I've seen any obvious improvement. As a former competitive swimmer, I know how to "whip" myself into shape -- it's easy to do by imagining my swim coach's face screaming at me. In three weeks, I've managed to get my 100-yard pool intervals down to a time I've not seen since college days. Maybe I'm reading the clock wrong. Or maybe it's my vision. (There's that age thing again, as I recently needed my first pair of reading glasses.) But, even so, I do "feel" faster in the water.
My hill run repeats have also shown surprising improvement, unless age-related memory loss has also been plaguing me. Maybe I'm choosing different start and finish points from week to week. Or maybe I'm reading my watch wrong (there's that vision thing again). But even if that were the case, I can still convince myself that I feel better each week even after increasing the number of repeats.
Yet, I feel like I'm stuck in a post-Ironman-depression funk, and I'm worried it's related to bike speed. I'm beginning to dread that bike leg of the 70.3 -- you know, the one that "should be the fastest of my life" because of the ridiculously flat course? You know, the one that, last year, was my fastest 56-mile ride ever? It's the same one that turned out to be slower than 50% of the people I was racing against. These thoughts are now occupying my brain on a daily basis. They're sharing time with the fear that I've made a terrible mistake signing up for another Ironman in May of next year.
And now one more thought is creeping in: it's going to be a long winter.
It's been five weeks since Ironman Lake Placid and I'm still unable to shake the funk.
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