Blogs tagged with "biking"

2015 ended with some new art and five straight days of swimming (which might be a record for consecutive days of swimming since 1987). 2016 began with a moment of insanity.

The art: I finally got around to executing and printing two collagraphs that were planned sometime in November. The first one is a stalk of grass that I picked up on one of my runs in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here are the print and the plate:

Winter Grass, (unsigned) collagraph print, December 2015

Un-inked plate for above print.
The second print is more of an experiment, or, perhaps, it's more of a conceptual piece. I want to print water, but that's impossible, so I tried to print water's effect on sand. I put an acrylic plate in a bin water and then added sand, swirled it around, removed the plate and let it dry. Once it was dry, I sprayed it with clear matte spray which sort of acted like an adhesive. I couldn't paint it with acrylic gloss medium because that would have disrupted the sand on the plate. I'm going to try some other methods on larger plates in the future. I think this could be something really awesome... eventually. Or maybe it's already awesome as a sort of conceptual dada piece. Well.. whatever, here are the print and the plate.
Sand and Water, (unsigned) collagraph print

Un-inked plate for above print

The insanity: a bike ride with my great friend Sam in 30 degrees with 20mph headwind followed by a "polar plunge" in Lake Erie. It's been quite balmy on the north coast this winter - not the frozen tundra of years past - so we have no right to complain. Here's the video.

2015 ended with some new art and five straight days of swimming (which might be a record for consecutive days of swimming since 1987). 2016 began with a moment of insanity.

Post race team festivities with beer and Pringles

The athletic world as I see it shifted slightly from its axis this weekend. No, it has nothing to do with the Cleveland Indians (who, in classic fashion, have shown signs of brilliance and signs of not-so-brilliance, as is expected in the life of a Cleveland sports fan). Instead, it has everything to do with a new group of training friends (in fact, my new team), the

With teammates Jen (with poster) and Mark (yes, that's a kilt)

All I can say is... Wow. By the time we found the Aarons, my appreciation for trail running was in full swing, and my mind's view of running had been permanently altered. We ran through rivers. We ran through rivers of MUD. I slipped. I tripped. I fell. I got covered with mud. I had scrapes and bruises. My shoes were soaked through. By the time we finished, there was mud in places that I never saw mud before (like, how did it get caked INSIDE my socks?). I had nearly vomited at the top of the steepest hill (because someone challenged me to RUN up it while everyone else walked). And I had also reached a new level of appreciation for beer and Pringles. My only regret is we didn't take a picture of our "after" and how much mud had latched onto us. In Krol's words: "I never saw clothes come out of the washer as dirty as they went in."

But most of all... the biggest pleasure came from knowing I had helped my teammates finish this grueling event. I was there to be their foot guide, their voice of motivation when their own inner voices betrayed them. And I understand now what it is to be part of a team (something I only ever experienced once before, in high school track). Although they were saying the thank-yous for saving them, I couldn't thank them enough - for saving ME.

And, as if that weren't enough, the next day, I learned what it was like to have training partners to get ME through a grueling day.. my first 100-mile bike ride since September 2012. Unlike Saturday, Sunday was somewhat ugly for anyone on two wheels. The wind was brutal and I certainly would have packed it in early if it hadn't been for Krol and teammate Anne Callahan. They met me about 25 miles into my ride and pulled me through wind that almost knocked me off my bike. By the time I was alone again, I only had about 35 miles to go - only about 13 of it into the wind. It was easily do-able, and even though I would have been happy with 90 miles, I managed the whole 100 because I was in such good spirits. It was my fastest ever first-100-of-the-year (surprising considering the wind). My favorite part of the ride was when another rider passed us, and we let him go... then I told Krol I wanted to catch the guy, and he responded the way any training partner would after trashing his legs fighting wind for 50 miles - he kicked it into high gear and dragged me at some ungodly speed until we caught and decisively overtook the guy.

And so I say it again.. Wow. It looks like 2014 is gonna be a great year - if it doesn't make me a faster biker and produce podium finishes, it certainly will be fun trying. And isn't that really what it's all about?

I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George. A month ago, I posted a blog comparing last year's CompuTrainer data to this year's data for the Ironman St. George real course video. I rode the simulated course several times last year to prepare for race day, and each time, I saw improvement. This year, I've done the same thing, but now that I've actually ridden the "real" course and know what to expect and what I'm capable of, I've been comparing this year's data to last year's data to get an even better idea of my preparedness.

Besides a slight increase in power over the course this year, what I've found after a few data comparisons is that I'm comfortably riding at a higher heart rate. I have yet to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It's mostly just a confusing thing. Because I don't FEEL like I'm riding with an elevated heart rate. Yet, on the average, it's several beats-per-minute higher than my course rides last year. Is it possible for a person's max heart rate to increase (instead of decrease) with age?
What I DO know is that in my best races, I've gone on "feel" (perceived effort) and not on measurement. So unless I learn something new in the next few weeks, I'll be going with the only thing I know - my own perception.
On with the data. The following charts are comparisons of my power, speed, heart rate, and cadence on the CompuTrainer IM St. George course. The red line is from March 31, the blue line is from March 3, and the gray dotted line is from April 3, 2011 (last year's last course ride). And the bottom plot is not my implosion, it's the IMSG course profile:
Ideally, I wanted the red line (the most recent ride) to have the highest average power and speed and lowest heart rate and cadence. Although it's not overly obvious on the plots, I succeeded on three out of four of those counts - when I checked the averages, my power and speed were about 4% higher.

I was somewhat surprised to see my cadence had an obvious drop on the most recent ride. I say "somewhat" because I've been working at this but I don't usually see such blatant effect in such a short time. The reason I was working at it is because I've learned my heart rate is more affected by cadence than any other variable. I've noticed on the trainer that I naturally gravitate toward a very high cadence - somewhere in the high 90s to just over 100 (I guess that means, in technical terms, I'm a spinner not a masher?). But this year I've been working to reduce it - to push a higher gear at a slightly lower cadence, say between 90-95 rpm. In combing the internet for information I saw the following quote and couldn't help but laugh: When asked if it was better technique to mash a big gear or spin a small gear, Eddy Merckx thought for a moment and said "Its better to spin a big gear." I guess THAT, in a nutshell, is my ultimate goal. (Isn't it everybody's?)
In the end, the only thing left to do is give credit where credit is due. My power increase has been, once again, the direct result of working my butt off on the CompuTrainer in a 12-week program devised by a fellow athlete named Mark Gorris. Mark created what's known in local circles as the "CompuTrainer Challenge." Starting in January, he generously and tirelessly sends out weekly workouts to a local email list. I noticed last year that the Challenge appeared to be a competition for bragging rights as the list engaged in some amusing smack talk. But as the newbie and not-so-secure-in-my-abilities cyclist, I sat on the sidelines and just did the work. And, well, the simple fact is this: if you do the workouts, you get stronger and faster. It worked last year before St. George, and I'm hoping the above charts indicate that it worked again this year.
What I do with this is information is now the most important thing. Along with the long distance stuff and the biking strength, this year I've also been working at my running speed, my swimming strength, and my nutrition strategy. And, as a self-coached triathlete, I've been reading a LOT about Ironman racing and race-day strategy. It's boils down to another very simple fact: if you race stupid on race day, all the work you put in beforehand is completely worthless.
I have four weeks left to ram home the this fact. Because, as the Disaster Magnet, I have always been aware that, along with natural disasters, nothing can derail my race quicker than stupid [mental] mistakes made on race day.

I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George.

The view from our vacation

This month, I was "forced" to use a few days of work vacation carried over from last year. It's weird to actually get vacation time, and I wasn't aware I even HAD it until late December. At that point, it was too late to use it. Besides, I was ridiculously busy at work during the December holidays (isn't everyone?). Using vacation time has not always been easy for me, and because I only received three days per year for the past five years, the time I DID take off was either to race or get out of town for a couple days. Faced with three days of use-or-lose time, I had NO idea what to do with it - indecision was compounded by the fact I was in the last two months of Ironman training.

My husband Jim and I tossed around many ideas - London, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Arizona. We finally decided that where we went had to meet the following criteria: (1) somewhere warm, (2) close enough to drive to bring my bike, and (3) there had to be a place to swim. Despite my pleading to Jim that Cape Cod in March would be AMAZING (not based on my own experience but on my reading of Henry Beston's The Outermost House), we opted for a place we could both enjoy for the first time: the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Cape Cod or Outer Banks?

The Outer Banks would afford me my "Cape Cod fix" - they're both strips of land with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a bay on the other, mostly covered with sand and dunes. It would afford my aeronautical engineer husband a visit to the birthplace of aviation - Kill Devil Hills - where the Wright Brothers changed the world. Jim could fly his stunt kites (after all, the WIND is THE reason the Wright Brothers chose the area), and I could bike, run AND swim. This time, we also chose to "take a [real] vacation" by traveling during one of my recovery weeks - eliminating my need to be up by 5:00 am every day or feel guilty about spending the whole time trying to fit my workouts in.

Soon to be shark bait

Thus, it seems, when I don't worry about my workouts, I actually enjoy them. Or maybe it was just the change of scenery. When we woke up on Friday, the first athletic thing I HAD to do (and an obligation as a fish in a former life) was swim in the Atlantic Ocean. After almost freaking myself out by Googling "Outer Banks" and "sharks," (don't do it), my love of the Atlantic still won out - and besides, I felt the need to test my ability to persevere on May 5 in the frigid waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir in St. George. I donned my wetsuit - AND neoprene cap AND neoprene socks - and jumped in the extremely cold water. This resulted in instant disaster: two failed attempts to keep my face in the icy water for more than a minute, and I gave up. It was painfully cold - achy cold. Jim took out his phone and looked up the water temperature online - I assumed he would tell me it was in the 40s.

And that was the day I learned my temperature sensors were in desperate need of recalibration. Just up the coast, at Kitty Hawk, the ocean was 56 degrees F. Realizing it was time to "face" the facts, I reluctantly turned around and forced myself back in the water. About five minutes of swimming in that water gave me some new information - the aching pain in my face DID, indeed, go away. It was replaced by numbness.

The most bothersome effect of the cold, though, was losing control over my fingers. Numbness in my hands resulted in the inability to keep them in a paddle shape after 30 minutes. I decided to call it a day. Based on this swim, I predict that I COULD survive in St. George if the water were 56 degrees on race day (a very real possibility). However, just in case, I have resorted to prayer - for a six-week heatwave to hit southern Utah.

My second athletic endeavor was to run on the beach - one of my all-time favorite things to do. The only thing I did wrong was forget to bring sunscreen. And not wear my hat. My forehead and shoulders were therefore burnt to a crisp, which was advantageous in the greater scheme of things because they now matched the colors on my neck from my wetsuit chafing (yeah, that's from also forgetting to bring Body Glide).

No explanation necessary

By Saturday, the only athletic thing left to do was ride my bike, and since it was my "easy" week, I had only planned a three-hour workout. I got up early to avoid greatly impacting our vacation, and by the time I finished, I figured it would be just about time for breakfast. Before I left, I looked at the forecast to note the wind was from the south - and since there are only two direction options in the Outer Banks - either north or south, I (obviously) chose "into the wind." It would give me an opportunity to see Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the early morning light and hopefully get a glimpse - and photo - of one of its famous lighthouses along the way. Our tourist guide noted that the ride is "good for riders of all abilities" because there was only one hill, and it was man-made - the bridge.

Bodie Island lighthouse

It seemed like a match made in heaven: me, my bike, and two of my favorite things - bridges and lighthouses. I set out that morning with the excitement of a kid on an adventure. Seriously, after many months of tedious ironman training, it surprised me that I was still able to get "up" for a ride. It must mean that deep down I enjoy it, right?

My first observation was this: you know you're in trouble when the plants and grasses along your route are so badly windswept that they have been permanently bent in the direction opposite to the one in which you're riding. With only one quarter of the ride finished, my nerves were almost completely fried from non-stop fighting with the wind. The ridiculously flat road was beckoning for speed - it was taunting me! But the wind had other plans. Reaching a decent speed on the bike (I managed to hit 21 mph, big whoop) meant I had to force myself to remain the aero position. Don't get me wrong, this was excellent aero training for Ironman. But not so good for sightseeing - and yes, I DO enjoy looking at sand dunes.

You should also realize that the wind will be a factor in a place where all the telephone poles have to be anchored with guy-wires. And yet, when I think back to it, the most annoying thing of all was that the wind, at 8-10 mph, wasn't even blowing that hard! I stopped a couple times to take photos, but for the most part, the first half of my ride was basically 30 miles into the wind averaging a dismal pace of less than 19 mph. I KNEW the ride back would have to be somewhat faster - ok, I HOPED it would be faster because I didn't want to spend the rest of my (our) day sulking in my slowness.

The one hill on route 12

I decided to turn around when I reached 30 miles, just before reaching the town of Rodanthe, about an hour and forty minutes after I started.

That's when everything changed. The next one hour and twenty minutes of my life served to eradicate the memories of all those agonizing battles with the wind when it changed direction with me on the Erie lakefront. I was no longer in the midwest and I was finally able to truly experience the exhilaration that is a direct tailwind. In just a few seconds after turning my bike around, I hit 25 mph. I rode that wind all the way back, comfortably in the aero position, averaging 22-23 mph with a max speed on the flat road of 28.5 mph. It was with very little effort at all. 
On my return, I mused about this ride - it was absolutely devoid of potholes and angry drivers. The biggest hazards for bikers (and drivers) along the Outer Banks is blatantly listed on road signs: "Caution Sand on Road," "Caution High Crosswinds [on the bridge]," and "Caution Coastal Flooding." What I wouldn't give to see two of those signs on a regular basis. You can guess which one I would happily do without.

The rest of our vacation was spent watching the Ohio State Buckeyes make it to the NCAA Basketball Final Four and enjoying local food and brews. All-in-all, it was not only a respite from work and working out hard, but it also renewed my faith that I still love my chosen sport(s). Now all I need to do is remind myself of that - on race day.

The Wright Brothers proved anything is possible.

Me and Steve (does this man look like
a miscreant? read on...)

Last week, after my disappointing performance at the USAT Age Group National Championship, I felt a need to get in some hard long mileage. It was partly driven by the desire to punish myself (old destructive habits die hard). But seriously, I figure if I'm going to specialize in long distance racing, it's about time I accepted it -- and got on with it.

Last week, I also experienced a whole new level of frustration in driving into and out of Cleveland during rush hour when I started my new job at The Cleveland Museum of Art. On a good day (i.e. ONCE last week), I can make it to work in 25 minutes. But the rest of the time, I found myself behind the wheel for more than an hour each way. I suspect I will be searching for places to swim and run near the museum so that I have more time to train and my travel times don't coincide with everyone else who works downtown. But despite losing two hours per day in traffic, I was able to get in some good running, biking and swimming last week with two long sessions on the weekend: a long brick (bike 100+ mi, run 4 mi) on Saturday and a long run (20 mi) on Sunday.

Saturday's brick included my longest ride since Ironman Lake Placid on July 24. I even managed to get my butt out of bed early (6:30 a.m.) to finish in time to clean the house for a dinner party Saturday night. But even with the early wake-up, poor planning delayed my start when I found myself in the driveway at 8 a.m. switching out my race/travel configuration -- i.e., swapping out Zipp wheels, desperately searching for my saddle bag, and re-installing the down-tube bottle cage. By 8:30, I was on my way, determined to cover a familiar 100-mile course faster than ever.

The beginning of the course took me northwest through the hills of Cleveland Metroparks to Rocky River. After that, I continued west on mostly flat terrain along the lakeshore to Lorain County. By the time I reached Rocky River (36 miles), I was surprised to find my average speed was just over 19 mph - the fastest I had ever gone from my house to that point. I contemplated whether I should stay out for six hours or for 100 miles then decided to turn around at 2:45 -- I was sure to slow down on the way back because of the hills near the end. At 2:45, my odometer read 54 miles, and I had been riding well over 20 mph for an hour. When I turned around, the realization hit me of why I was going so fast.

Despite my certainty that the wind was from the north (based on waving flags), I turned around only to find that it definitely wasn't. The wind was from the northEAST -- not a normal occurence -- no doubt because of Hurricane Irene on the eastern seaboard. The return trip along the lake would therefore be a constant struggle to maintain an average speed above 19 mph.

My luck changed when I got back on the parkway and one of my very own BAFF teammates - Steve Thompson - went flying by me. Upon realizing he didn't recognize me, I chased him down. This was no easy feat because he was in the middle of a two-hour ride at half-ironman race-pace -- for him, this meant pushing 280 watts and 23-24 mph. I didn't think I could hang with him, but he pulled me through the next 20 miles at a ridiculously fast pace. Did I mention that he would be finished with his ride before we got to the hilly part of my route?

We were only a few miles from Steve's finish when he would become the latest victim of the Disaster Magnet. As you may recall, the last time I rode with team members in the park, I ended up in a ditch with a broken rib. This time, it was a whole 'nuther type of disaster. And it would be a first for any cyclists I know. Steve and I came upon a four-way stop along the parkway in Strongsville. After the last car had gone through, Steve did a quick check to make sure it was clear and rolled right through the stop sign. I may or may not have yelled "clear!" But that didn't matter.

We were, indeed, breaking the law.

And neither one of us looked back to see the park ranger vehicle behind us.

When I heard the siren, it never once occurred to me that Steve and I were the ones being "pulled over." And dear blog readers, before you get all self-righteous on me, stop and think of how many times you've done the same thing on a bike. Most of us do it. And most of us do it SAFELY. (Which is exactly why we yell things like "[all] clear!")

So yes, Steve and I were pulled over by a ranger -- and he needed his PA because we didn't realize "he was talking to us." And, as Steve noted later, we would rather have been pulled over for speeding.

But we ran a stop sign.

The ranger began by asking me if I knew what "that octogon sign was for" (no, I am NOT making this up). He proceeded to tell us what we already knew, that cyclists need to follow the rules of the road. He enumerated them for us:

  • Stop at stop signs
  • Obey traffic signals
  • Do not ride along the side to get to the front in a line of traffic (!)
  • etc...
Then came the unbelievable part. He proceeded to blame us for the large number of angry drivers in the park. (Seriously, I'm really NOT making this up.) "People like [Steve and me] were responsible for drivers pulling up alongside cyclists and harassing them." Then came my favorite quote of the day - he noted that Steve "was a big guy so he probably didn't get harassed very often." By that time, my mouth was surely hanging open in disbelief. This ranger had a LOT to say to us. I got the distinct impression he didn't appreciate the situation between cyclists and drivers in the park. And in his mind, it was very likely the fault of the cyclists (NOT the angry drivers) for not obeying the rules of the road (which, according to him, was precisely what MADE the drivers angry).

I may be going out on a limb here, but when I've been riding my bike and someone throws a beer can (or empty whipped cream container) at me or tries to grab me or yell obscenities at me or flip me off (yes, all of those things really happened)... it never occurred to me that it was because I rolled through a stop sign or disobeyed a traffic light. Could I have been wrong all this time? Could it really be MY fault there are so many pissed-off drivers in the world? Maybe that's why that guy hit me with his truck in 2003 - he was angry because I was running the... um.. GREEN light? All I have to say is: BULLSH*T!

I also must mention the expression on Steve's face (was it horror or hilarity?) when the ranger accused us of "going through a stop sign when there was a cop car behind you" -- and my response was: "well.. we didn't KNOW there was a cop car behind us, or ..." You can guess what Steve was expecting me to say. But I decided not to finish the sentence.
We were notified that we COULD have been given tickets. But instead, we were given written warnings -- the ranger took our names and contact info. Sadly, we were given nothing to sign and no white, yellow or pink slips to take home to pin to our bulletin boards (or post on a blog). It begs the question: did it actually even happen? He did tell us this: the information would not be on our "permanent records," but it WILL be entered into a database.

Just in case we decide to break the law again.

And just like that, the disaster magnet has returned in full outlaw force. Steve finished his ride and I continued on to finish mine, on the hills. I didn't enjoy climbing hills after having stopped for so long, but the laughter and disbelief kept me going strong to the end. I finished all 108 miles in 5:25 (the first 100 in P.R. time).
When I got home, I transitioned to run and dragged my husband Jim along on his bike so I could tell him the story of how Steve and I broke the law that day. Because I was talking and laughing, my four-mile run went by lightning-fast, and with plenty of daylight left, I was done with one of my hardest bricks this year.

On Sunday, I woke up late after too much wine with dinner and friends the night before. By mid-afternoon, after spending all morning checking the Ironman Canada tracker to keep tabs on my friend Ron (Punk Rock Tri Guy - who, I might add, did a major ironman PR!) I forced myself out the door for a 20-mile run. Surprisingly, I was able to hold better than a 7:30 mile pace right up until mile 18 -- then my legs started screaming at me and it was all I could do to finish in 2:32.

And I can now say I feel like an endurance athlete once again. A DEVIANT endurance athlete, but an endurance athlete nonetheless.

Coming into finish sporting my
new BAFF team uni

The Muncie Endurathon is a race I've always wanted to do but was never smart enough to enter early and it usually sold out by the time I was planning my season (i.e., in May or June and never the year before). So imagine my surprise when three weeks ago I was able to register for its next incarnation - the Affresh Ironman 70.3 Muncie - while desperately searching for a drive-able half-ironman in July after DNS-ing the Mooseman 70.3 because of my broken rib.

After a four hour drive, my husband Jim and I rolled into Muncie, Indiana, on Friday afternoon, the day before the race, and we were immediately impressed with the super-fast registration process for this particular 70.3. The volunteers were obviously well versed in this process (or very well trained), and no one stood around wondering what to do. We were out the door in about five minutes and on our way to check out the race site at Prairie Creek Reservoir and check into our hotel.

The whole day/night before this race was a blur to me - I was still recovering from a week of late nights, and Jim was still jet-lagged from a week-long work conference in Honolulu. Neither one of us had the energy to do more than eat dinner at the hotel restaurant (which was quite good - the Randolph Grille in Winchester, IN) and go to sleep. At dinner, I expressed my doubt about this race: was it a stupid idea born of haste? Was I ready to tackle a 1.2 mile swim on my meager yardage since my accident? Was I even mentally prepared for this race?

When I registered for Muncie, my goal was a slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. But on Friday, with high levels of mental and physical fatigue and seeing previous year's results, I decided to change that goal. Muncie would have to be a training race. If I had a good day, the Vegas goal might be attainable. The bike course was notoriously fast and my bike legs are notoriously slow. Then upon seeing the predicted high temperature near 90 degrees F, I was further discouraged. I told Jim everything would depend on how I felt on race morning - either I would feel surprisingly good, or the race would be a struggle from beginning to end. But at the very least, I would use the experience as a data point for racing in the heat.

Back at the hotel, we prepped my bike and race nutrition and decided we were too tired to stay up past 9:30. The 8 a.m. race start would give us a little extra sleep, but my usual pre-race anxiety was a non-issue. Several loud hotel occupants were not even able to shake me up during the night. We were up at 4:30 a.m. and out the door by 5:30 (there was a sprint race at 6:30 so we wanted to get there early to avoid a parking nightmare).

We arrived at the race site around 6 a.m. and were directed to park in a field along the main road to the reservoir. As we were walking to the start, we realized there were many parking spaces still available much closer to the start so Jim went back and moved the car while I proceeded to the transition to set up my bike. Everything went smoothly in set-up, and yes, I even remembered to put my bike in a low gear, check to make sure the bike computer was working properly and zero it out (this is not an extraneous detail - it will make a reappearance).

Wave 4 start

I met up with Jim, made a quick pitstop at a porta-john and went to find a place to sit down. It was just after 7 a.m. and we had gobs of time that would normally be spent getting my wetsuit on and doing a swim warm-up. But because the water was close to 80 degrees, wetsuits were disallowed. I was very thankful for this because my rib was not 100% healed, and it meant I wouldn't have to deal with getting the top of my DeSoto T1 wetsuit off (which would definitely be a problem with a broken rib).

At 7:30, I did a quick warm-up swim that felt much better than I expected. After my last swim at the pool was marred by fatigue and slowness, Saturday morning I felt surprisingly good in the water. I got out, stretched and waited for my start in the fourth wave at 8:10 a.m. with women in age groups 18-24, 40-44 and 45-49.

Surprised at my time, I had to do a double-take with my watch
when I exited the water.

The 1.2-mile swim was a long counter-clockwise rectangle. Jim urged me to start up front with the following statement: "even your slow swim will be faster than most." I decided to start in the front but to the outside left just in case he was wrong (this way I wouldn't impede too many people with my slowness). The water was very warm and unbelievably calm, and amazingly, I only had to tread water once to spot buoys on the way back when the sun was in our eyes. My swim went better than expected and I came out of the water in under 32 minutes, fifth in my wave with only one woman in my age group in front of me. The swim finish included an uphill run which put my time over 32 minutes as I entered T1.

My transition went faster than usual (no wetsuit!), and I was almost on my bike when I noticed something wasn't right. While running to "bike out," my bike computer (remember I checked it?) still had "00:00:00" as a time readout. After crossing the mount line, I did some exploring only to find that the wireless sensor had moved since I racked my bike, and I had to fiddle with it a bit. I don't think I lost too much valuable time, but it certainly caught me off-guard. When I finally mounted my bike, I rushed to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

I was expecting Muncie's 56-mile bike course to be be mostly flat for two reasons: (1) when we drive to Chicago from Cleveland, we always laugh about the fact that Indiana is actually flatter than northwest Ohio - something that seems next-to-impossible until you see it, and (2) last year's bike times were incredibly fast (the top age-group women averaged over 23 mph). And it was. Mostly flat.

In the first 10 miles of the bike leg, I passed at least three women and ended up completely alone for many miles. By the time I saw another biker, I think I told him how relieved I was because I had begun to believe I had veered off course. On the longer out-and-back part of the course, there was a gradual uphill into the wind (wind speed was about 10-15 mph) during which I struggled to get my speed much higher than 19-20 mph, and I expected to be passed by a horde of riders at any moment. Instead, I rode by myself the whole time, and when I was finally "with" the wind on the way back, I reached speeds in excess of 25 mph. But still, I expected to be passed at any moment. It never happened.

During the last ten miles of the bike leg, I started to prep mentally and physically for the run. I made sure I hydrated well because it had gotten very hot. I knew if I was winning my age group off the bike, all I had to do was run smart. I kept repeating to myself: "don't do anything stupid on the run" (such as go out too fast).

T2 exit - I'm still wondering where everyone is

After five final miles against the wind, I was surprised to find  a grand total of three people had passed me - and none of them were women. My bike time was 2:33 (my fastest ever for 56 miles). When I reached transition, the first person I saw was Jim. I heard him say "great ride!" and it was then I realized I was, indeed, having a good race. Now all I had to do was keep it together on the run and manage a pace between 7-7:30 per mile. As I ran to rack my bike, I kept thinking "keep it together, go out easy" as I put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my gel and hat and took off. Jim gave me the thumbs up and I turned onto the run course.

The Muncie 13.1-mile run course is nothing like the bike course. It's HILLY and rolling. My first thought was: "am I still in Indiana?" But despite the hills, in classic Disaster Magnet style, I did the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I had been telling myself. When I got to the first mile marker, I looked at my watch only to see the following time: 6:04. ARGH!!! I slowed WAY down to a 7:30 second mile.

For the next 11 miles, my splits were all over the map. Like on the bike, I was completely alone for the entire run with no one to chase, and I was finding it next-to-impossible to remain mentally engaged in the race. There was very little shade, and the only relief from the near-90 degree heat was to pour ice water over myself at every aid station. I found myself lollygagging through three of them because I kept forgetting to take out my electrolyte capsules (Sportquest Direct's Thermolytes) until I was grabbing a cup from a volunteer. But the volunteers were fantastic and made sure runners had everything they needed. They even poured ice water on me when I asked them to.

In the last few miles I caught the first woman in the 55-59 age group (the legendary Laura Sophiea) and managed to pass two pros before finding my way to the finish with a run time of 1:34. I wasn't thrilled with it or the fact that I disengaged mentally during the run, but it was good enough to get me a finish time of 4:44, an age group win, 12th female overall and that coveted slot for Las Vegas in September.

In retrospect, Ironman 70.3 Muncie gave me some new information. I learned that I could get a good night's sleep before racing. I learned more about how to race in the heat. I found out I'm much faster on the bike than last year - having a comparison on a flat course gives me even more confidence in my speed. Biking will probably never be my best leg, but my splits are now a little closer to the fastest age-groupers than they were last year. And coming off the bike without a huge deficit to make up on the run will give me an advantage in the future because of my tendency to do stupid things like take the run out too fast to make up the difference as quickly as possible. (Jim put it more bluntly in the best quote of the day: "You won your age group despite the fact that you f***ed up the run.") Knowing I have to make up five minutes on the run is an infinitely easier mental task than being in a state of desperation of knowing I have to make up ten.

But most important of all, I learned that attitude is everything, and it would seem that my race day can be whatever I make it.

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.

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