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“The Bike”

“The bike” is by far the longest part of any triathlon, with about 50% of your time being spent cycling. Being prone to crashing while clipped in, it is not my favorite 50%. And I know I have spoken about my hate for the trainer in the past. Over these last two years however, I have developed more of a love-hate relationship with the bike than a pure hatred. The bike can make or break you. If you have the proper training and equipment you can easily gain ground; if not, you can find yourself totally miserable and falling behind with each passing mile.

The first time I rode my hybrid bike at a sprint triathlon I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I am sure that my tires were not filled to the recommended PSI, the bike was not properly fitted, and the back brake did not work at all. Not to mention my lack of cycling shoes. Two years, three bikes (I would soon like to make it four), and numerous races later (from sprint to 140.6 distances), I think I finally have a better understanding of how to be successful on “the bike.”

The right equipment is clutch. Riding 40 miles on a hybrid is not fast, comfortable, or even sane (I have been there and do not recommend it). Start with the basics. A road bike or a tri bike is a great start. Perhaps the biggest advantage however, is the addition of cycling shoes. Cycling shoes allow you to pedal more efficiently. Being able to both push down and pull up generates more power than just pushing down as with traditional pedals and athletic shoes. While clipped in, you are also able to use both your hamstrings and gluteus maximus which together are powerful muscles. The stiff design of the shoe allows you to transfer power to the pedals and provides extra support to help prevent cramping during long rides. Having mastered the task of clipping in and out, one can easily increase speed by 1 mph or more.

With more than a few crashes under my belt, I consider myself a crash expert, and recommend practicing a few times before hitting the open road. I do not recommend the over-the-handle-bars wipeout; it hurts. Although accustomed to many types of falls, I first experienced this type of wipe out this past weekend—partly my fault, but mostly the fault of the asshole who almost hit me. I was cycling at my normal snail’s pace of about 17 mph minding my own business, and acutely aware of my surroundings as construction was consuming the entire stretch of highway on which I was riding. Suddenly, an older gentleman pulls out to make a left hand turn. I slammed on the brakes, forgetting that I was clipped in and that I recently changed my tires to racing tires with no tread whatsoever. With this, I flew forward over the handlebars while my feet remained securely in my pedals, and down I went. Not the best feeling. Luckily I walked away this time with only a small scratch on my knee and a moderately-bruised pride. My bike however always seems to suffer a bit more.

Cycling is definitely rapidly growing on me. With each new tri season I fall more in love. This love may be consummated later this spring with the purchase of a new Blue steed to carry me to T2. And the addition of quality cycling shoes has certainly stepped up my game. If only I can remember to unclip at the first hint that a crash may be heading my way!

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The Swim

Pulling into the transition area at 4:55am, the air is still crisp and the sun is just coming up over the mountains.  Frantically, I rack my bike, pump up my tires, and lay out my towel, socks, and shoes. My area is perfectly arranged, down to the last safety pin. I spray myself from head to toe in TriSlide and anxiously struggle to squeeze into my wetsuit. I grab my cap and goggles and, as race time approaches, I stroll down to the water. My toes hit the water and with overwhelming anxiety and the sudden urge to pee, I crack a small smile. It is time to swim!

For most people the swim is the most daunting part of a triathlon. If the bike is all about the equipment and the run is all about endurance and proper planning, then the swim depends primarily on technique. It is a discipline that most of us did not master as children, and requires a certain amount of skill to survive. Proper body alignment, stroke count, and pull are just the tip of the iceberg in “the swim.”

Once you think you have mastered keeping your head down and your ass up in the pool, it’s race day, and you enter the open water—which is an entirely new ballgame. Suddenly, you are in the middle of an open body of water with hundreds of other people all with one goal in mind: survival. Now you have one mission—to finish with only minor injuries and less water in your lungs than in the pond/lake/ocean you are swimming in. Avoiding kicks to the face and abdomen, and people that will literally swim over you, you must somehow manage to swim in a straight line in between the buoys with no lane lines to keep you in check. At this point it is more about self-defense than swimming. All the techniques you have been practicing during the off-season go out the window as you now use your arms to protect yourself like a kung fu master from sustaining solid organ injury from the feet of the guy fiercely kicking just in front of you.

So how do you achieve both good technique and survival? As we learned as children, practice makes perfect. Of course the first open water swim I did was during my first race, and the first time I decided to use a wetsuit was during a race—probably not the smartest idea in retrospect. Over the past few years however, I’ve learned what to expect, and have begun to prepare like most other normal (none of us are really “normal”) triathletes. In the pool I count strokes (which is still entirely too many per 25 yards), and I train with fins, a pull buoy, and a pair of agility paddles. I had my triathlon coach pick apart every piece of my swim stroke. As soon as the water temperature creeps above 50º I will have my wetsuit on and be in the ocean practicing dodging the waves and swimming against the current.

When it comes to the swim, it’s not just about proper technique, it’s also about good defense and practice. As the sun comes up on race day morning and you hop into the water to begin your warm up, you know it is going to be the start of a beautiful day…as long as you can manage to swim in a straight line and properly execute your knife-hand block to avoid major injuries!

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Nine miles into a long run, and I am unable to figure out why I am so beat.  I am not running particularly fast, I’m in fantastic shape, I’m not hungover, and there is no wind or hills, so 9 miles in I should feel like a rock star, not like death.  Then it occurs to me that I have not eaten nor drank anything with the exception of a cup of coffee since last night.  The more I get involved in the sport of triathlon and the more ultra-distance triathlons I prepare for, the clearer it becomes…it is all about nutrition.

Like most things in triathlon, adequate nutrition requires proper planning and practice.  What works for your friend may not work for you.  The first time that this became apparent to me was during Timberman 70.3.  This is, no doubt, a tough course.  The elevation gain on the bike is ridiculous, and still haunts me every time I go for a ride.  The fact that the most training I did for this race was my daily 5 mile run, did not help me nor did I even have a plan for nutrition.  My friends asked what my nutrition plan was; I went with my usual “I didn’t think about that.”  This was followed by, “I figured I would wing it.  I have a water bottle, and they will have stuff along the way.”  This is fairly typical of how I live life…little planning.  Yes, usually I get away with that method, but every once in a while it bites me in the ass.  Timberman was one of these times.

Taking my friend’s advice, I brought a ton of energy gels with me on the bike…and finished all of them.   Coming off the bike I was no doubt tired, but ready to conquer the run.  I found my friends and off we went.  Things were going great until mile 4, at which point my GI tract decided to pay me back for force feeding it nothing but pure sugar and caffeine for 3 hours on the bike.  Bloating was just the beginning, only to be followed by the inevitable diarrhea and vomiting.  The next 9 miles were torturous.  I stopped just about every 1.5 miles to vomit.  I finally crossed the finish line and promptly sat on the toilet for the next hour.

I blame my lackluster performance during Timberman solely on improper nutrition.  Not doing the research prior to the race and “winging it” definitely did not do me any favors.  Since that day, I’ve learned to avoid energy gels or any product that resembles it.  They seem to work well for some athletes, but definitely do not agree with me.  I’ve also learned there is value in doing more planning before a long race or training.  I have found products that have the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and electrolytes that are easier on my GI tract.  I find that for shorter workouts, when I need pure electrolytes and hydration, that Nuun tablets are light and not too sweet.  For my longer workouts/races, the Infinit products provide just  the right balance of carbohydrates, electrolytes, and protein to help me avoid the mid-run “bonk”.

At the end of the day, your nutritional status can make or break you.  Only consuming coffee prior to your long run is probably not ideal, and can lead to poor performance and much unwanted time on the toilet.  Proper hydration plus carbohydrate, protein, and electrolyte balance are essential to successful training and racing…all of which should be trialed before race day!

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“Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!” ~Robin Williams

The mercury in the thermometer has at last inched its way up to almost consistently stay above 32°, the snow on the boardwalk is a memory, the layer of ice on the lake has melted, and the smell of fresh dog crap fills the air at the local park.  All are signs that after a brutally cold winter, spring has just about made its long-awaited appearance.  Most importantly however, it means the start of race season has finally arrived and tri season is trailing close behind!

The kick-off for me began with the DC Rock n’ Roll half marathon earlier this month.  The day began in a way that has become very familiar lately—and similar to the way the entire winter has been—cold and wet.  I woke up for this event with pretty low expectations since I have been nursing some sort of bilateral Achilles injury. But nonetheless, I showed up as the race was beginning, ready to run.

With goose bumps pretty much head to toe, the first 6 miles were pretty uneventful. Realizing early on that this was not going to be a race that I was even going to attempt to PR at, I did not mind running well below race pace at what I would almost consider more of a brisk walk.  The race was over-crowded and, being the incredibly graceful person that I am, I found myself tripping over every person that got in my way…I’m sure I looked more like I wanted to tackle and take them out rather then just pass them.

As I ran through Rock Creek Park somewhere around mile 6 or 7, I heard the all too familiar noise of full-out wheezing and respiratory distress.  I looked to my left and there was some dumbass trying to continue running during a full-blown asthma attack (can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing).  I reached in my pocket looking for my inhaler to give her, but then realized she was already holding one.  So I do what every good medical professional would do, and I said to myself “Clearly she has this under control so I should definitely keep going.”  With that, my good-hearted friend stopped to help her.  Sabotage.  So I roll my eyes and stop too.  Now I know there is no hope for redemption.  We finally got her to a poor excuse for an ambulance and continued on our way through the least desirable parts of DC.

The race finally drew to an anti-climactic end with me nearing hypothermic shock, smelling like wet dog and cursing the “asthma chick.”  I managed to still keep my time under 2 hours, but nowhere near my best effort.  Damn “asthma chick.”  As I shivered the entire way home on the Metro, all I could think was “F***!  It’s St. Patty’s day weekend and it is still freezing…”


Now mid-March, I know that warmer weather is right around the corner.  Although the kick-off to race season was a bit nippily, warmer weather is around the corner… I even saw tulips breaking through the grass the other day.  Time to get out of the pool and into the open water, ditch the trainer for the road, and shed the layers of winter clothes—tri season is a month away!

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“The Cause”

As a single woman in my mid thirties, I face many of the same unique challenges that my fellow female triathletes face. Being able to balance the demands of a full-time job, a family, and training can be intimidating to others. I was recently reading a thread on the Ironman Singles Facebook Page discussing the insecurities of men who date successful women. This got me thinking. Why is it that some men are unable to handle a woman who has her shit together? Did the historical lack of women’s rights create this fear of the over-achieving, independent, successful

I have never been the type of person who “supports the cause.” Typically, I find months dedicated to a specific matter such as “Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month” or “National Rosacea Awareness Month” kind of obnoxious. Now, that is not to say that there are not people that I love that have been affected by these conditions, it just never occurred to me to become particularly active and show support. I guess that is because I have never had something that I felt passionate about…until of course now.

As a partner in a women-owned business, I now am beginning to realize the importance of such celebrations. There is an understated significance in our victories and accomplishments. We need to look at the past to see how far we have come, and gaze into the future to understand where we are going. Only now do I truly grasp the importance of dedicating an entire month to a specific cause.

Over the past century, women in America have made huge strides in becoming equal to our male counterparts. This started, of course, with the 19th Amendment giving us the right to vote in 1920. In the world of triathlon, women are gaining ground quickly, starting with Lyn Lemaire who became the first Ironwoman in 1979. Although female participation in triathlon is up 27% from 2000, we still make up only about 36.5% of USAT members, which is still a far cry from half. That is why supporting “Women’s History Month” in the month of March—especially as women triathletes—is so essential.

Women-specific triathlon product lines are growing rapidly, but still lag behind products designed for men. Take, for example, triathlon bikes. There are hundreds on the market with a few brands dominating the playing field. Typically, only one bike per brand is specially designed to fit the unique frame of women, often making it hard for women to get that “perfect fit” on the bike.

Recently, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across an article highlighting bikes at Challenge Dubai. The article showcased 21 bikes belonging to pros at the race. Of these 21 bikes, less than half were those of pro female triathletes. In an effort to promote women in the sport, Ironman™ has launched its “Women for Tri” initiative to increase awareness and interest. The initiative will provide content and training resources specific to women triathletes, as well as a forum for women to communicate and network.

Over the past 115 years, we have made great strides toward equality with men. It’s imperative that we continue to celebrate our past while keeping our eyes focused on a better future.  Initiatives like “Women for Tri” and the celebration of “Women’s History Month” help us achieve this goal.  Now, the next step may be to transition to a month other than March.  I mean, how can we compete with National Potato Chip Day (March 14) and Zombie Awareness Month?? (Oh, wait. That’s in May. Whew!)

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I am beginning to think I live in a frozen tundra. Driving to work this morning the thermometer in my car read -1 degree with a wind chill of -17 degrees–and I live in the southern part of the state. I find myself hugging the electric radiator in my office just to prevent hypothermia. Just about everyone is fed up with the winter, and there is, of course, more snow in the forecast. Warmer weather, longer days, and race season seem so far away still and cannot come fast enough.

At this point in the year, my skin has become pasty and white with little pigment; it is dry and ashy. I am covered in goose bumps from head to toe and my nipples could surely cut glass (although I may be giving them too much credit). Nevertheless, here in the Northeast it is mid-February and feels like the Arctic Circle. Most training is being done indoors…which totally sucks and is immensely mind-numbing. So when you get a day that is upwards of 50 degrees you jump all over that like white on rice, and that is just what I did…

As an obsessive checker of the weather, I knew Sunday was going to be the best day of the week; high of 46 with very little wind…perfect for taking my bike off the trainer and getting some fresh air. Since the trainer is my arch enemy and my brother changed the Netflix password on me AGAIN, I was left with no choice but to do my entire scheduled brick outside. I was told it may still be a little cold for that without the proper cold weather cycling gear but that did not stop me; I layered up, dusted off my helmet, pumped up my tires and was off.

I planned to do a relatively short ride–about 20 miles–figuring it would take me about an hour. That would be just about all I could stand of the wind. I was interested to see if the trainer had benefited me at all, since prior to the last tri season I had only used it once…for 15 minutes. Okay, I really just put my bike on it. I also had to rectify my last ride when I clipped a curb avoiding a car and nearly killed myself. After the first few miles, I got into it and was feeling good. It was warm, my new ISM seat was doing its job, and I was taken to that better place in my mind–spring. Hitting the 10 mile mark, I had a grin from ear to ear; all was right with the world.

Pure bliss can only last so long before reality slaps you in the face. As I approached the 15 mile mark I was keeping a below race, but decent pace of 20mph and I was being extra cautious of the various debris still lingering on the road from the last few snow storms. Next thing I knew–BAM! I was lying on the ground and still clipped in. “JESUS CHRIST. MOTHER F*****!” were the next words out of my mouth. I unclipped my foot and looked at my bike: blow out. For some reason I did not think it was necessary to carry a tire repair kit or an inner tube with me when I had racing tires on, and there were rocks and salt all over the road. Fairly typical. I called my friend to pick me up. There was no way in hell I was going to walk the few miles home. My pride was hurt, and I was defeated by the winter once again. My friend arrived, teasing me “You know there are better ways to convince everyone you need a new bike.”

It has been in the 20’s every day since then–winter laughing in my face telling me not to push for spring. A few lessons learned from that day: like most people I should carry extra inner tubes and a tire repair kit; avoid the shit in the road; and I definitely need a new bike. Two crashes = a bad bike. Ten weeks, 5 days and 18 hours until my first race of the season. Spring, warmer weather, and outdoor training cannot come fast enough! There is a reason the trainer was invented…

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The “I” in Triathlon

In today’s world, social media has been infused into everything we see and know. Most of us have at least a Facebook account, belong to numerous groups, have more than one page, “like” just about any comment or picture we are mildly interested in, and have multiple “friends” that we do not know yet share common interests with. I, personally belong to at least 4 or 5 triathlon interest groups. Being a so-called “member” of these groups, reading what others post, and following their stories has lead me to one very important conclusion: For such a small group of people, triathletes are a strange cast of characters. With that common thread in mind, I have recently nailed down a few of the habits that all triathletes share.

​We love to talk about ourselves. I see this in myself all the time; I mean I write a blog about mainly…me. Outsiders do not understand. At first glance, it may seem like we are only into ourselves, rattling things off like our athletic accomplishments, how many miles we ran over the weekend, our PR at any given race, our “A” race next season, or the new bike equipment that we just purchased. But in actuality—wait, who am I kidding? What else is there to talk about really? I guess when we are talking to each other we get the narcissism that accompanies just about every triathlete I know.​We love to exceed. We aim to surpass the goals that we have set for ourselves (and then of course talk about it). We obsess over seconds–to beat our PR by just one second is a major accomplishment in my book. We look at last year’s race times, over-analyzing every split, figuring out a way to shave seconds or even minutes off the swim, bike, run or either transition. We compare races, trying to comprehend why in one swim we were 2 seconds slower/100 yards when we felt perfectly awesome on race day. To outdo oneself, after all, is the greatest victory.

​We memorize every turn on a course. I never thought I was guilty of that…but it turns out I am just as guilty as the next triathlete. In speaking with a few others recently, I found myself talking about the turn-by-turn specifics of Syracuse Ironman™ 70.3. I knew exactly when and where she was talking about. We find comfort in speaking with athletes that know “the hill at mile 9” or “the turn by the church before you go up the hill.”

​As I observed people around the room at my local tri club’s annual dinner, this was never more clear. The obsession with triathlon was in the air, and all of the triathletes had a few things on their mind: themselves, their goals and their accomplishments. I even saw at least one person flash their Ironman™ tattoo (and it was not me…come on, mine is in plain sight). Sometimes I sit at my desk at work pondering the question: “How can a group of people be so self-involved?” But then the picture of me accepting my 1st place award at the podium catches my eye, and I think: “Hmmm. I bet if I got one of those cool Speedfil hydration systems, I could shave 5 minutes off my bike split.” And I am immediately on-line searching for next-year’s destination race.