Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I am a "Calming Agent"

Anyone who's known me for any length of time (generally five minutes will do) would not use "calm" as the first word to describe me. Perhaps as the second word, when preceeded by "not" or "never". Generally people describe me as the "skinny hyper chick" or the "tall talkative one" or "For the love of God - don't give her coffee!!!!"

Calm, cool, collected ... not usually words used to describe me!

Years ago when I was working with "A Coworker So Annoying" (injoke, I'll explain over a beer sometime) I realized I have a way of dealing with people in a panic. The annoying coworker ("ACSA") would rant and rave and freak out over things beyond her or my control and expect everyone in her orbit (the world did revolve around her) to stop and panic too. Interestingly, the more wound up ACSA would get the calmer I would get. Her voice would hit octaves so high as to be nearly inaudible and mine would drop. She'd start talking at 78rpm and running around in circles and I'd descend to super slow mo. This drove ACSA nuts, which I'll admit was an encouragement to continue!

I left the job and haven't seen ACSA since but I've often used that method of dealing with people. My first year running Flower Bowl, a 47 team ultimate tournament, I had the eight captains of the elite womens teams yelling at me on Sunday morning because their playoffs went straight to semis and they wanted quarter finals. Sexism! Unfair treatment! They demanded the right to play more games!

I went into ACSA-management mode. Eight team pools are easy to manipulate so I erased the schedule on the white board and started to rewrite it to give them quarter finals. As soon as I did this the Seattle captain realized that if they didn't play quarter finals she could get home in time to do laundry and clean the house. The Portland captain thought about her seven hour drive home and decided this was a great idea, convinced the Calgary captain, etc. While this discussion was going on I sat at the white board, pen in one hand and eraser in the other, and waited for them to make up their minds. My mother was helping out at the tournament and stood by totally agog at my composure - her daughter, who'd fly into a screaming rage when she couldn't find her house keys, was dealing with this insane coven of elite captains as if it were a book club discussion on a particularly dull story from "Chicken Soup for The Tournament Director's Soul".

It all worked out in the end, everyone was happy with the schedule (they went for the semis/finals no quarters option), and I moved on to the next crisis.

My tournament director days are long behind me but apparently I still have this skill. Before races or open water swims, when club mates are having panic attacks I tend to go into calm mode. Luckily they're much nicer to deal with than ACSA or offended elite ultimat team captains. The more wound up they get the more I tend to go the opposite way. This helps to calm down my friends but it also helps me out - really a win-win situation for all involved. (Funny that I can calm myself down for someone else's benefit where if I was on my own I'd quite likely be in a state that would give ACSA a run for her money!)

This all comes up as this evening Marni, a club member with some serious open water issues*, expressed her happiness that I will be doing the Oliver Half as I'm her "calming agent." Colleen immediately piped up that, no, I was her calming agent. I had no idea I had that effect, or that I was that in demand!

Okay, here I have to admit that the other part of being a calming agent for a triathlete is to be able to say, with absolute conviction, that the person will do fantastically well in their race. As Marni and Colleen are both kick @$$ athletes this is very easy to do. So it isn't all skill.

I'm looking forward to this weekend for the race itself, for the visit with my sister & nephews and for the experience of participating with my good friends from my club. The fact that I can help out a couple of my friends and get a reward from doing it is just the icing on the cake.

Alison - Agent of Calm

* Marni is my hero - she had such intense fear of water but took up the sport of triathlon, got herself into pools and lakes and completed tri's with open water swims. I think that's pretty darned cool!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Race Report

Not from me but from the coach.

Very cool (and awe inspiring) report of his open water race in Hawaii on his blog.

Well done Alan!

Friday, May 25, 2007

3 Mile Time Trial

Last night's run workout was time trials at the track.

My legs were pretty dead from the previous night so my expectations were low, I knew I wouldn't hit my previous TT time (23:01) but hoped to at least maintain 2min/lap.

The warm up run proved just how sore my legs were, they only really started to hurt once I started jogging. I loosened up a bit over the easy run and the rest of the warmup (A's, B's & C's and strides) but as soon as we started the TT my legs felt like lead. Much like last time, I felt like I was going to die for most of it. At six laps I seriously considered quitting at 2 miles. I was still considering it at 9 laps!*

For the first two miles I managed to keep my pace at 2min. Something wierd happened in the last four laps as I sped up considerably and my splits ended up as follows:

Mile 1: 8:01
Mile 2: 7:59
Mile 3: 7:32

A few weeks ago I read a really interesting post on the slowtwitch forum about running form and was thinking about this in my last mile. Something really clicked when I read it and trying to follow the advice (make your feet go in circles) has seemed to improve my stride. Alan had been trying to get me to drive with my knees and, for whatever reason, changing the focus to my feet helped with that. Hmm, I don't think I'm being terribly clear, suffice it to say that the post by Barry P seems to have helped my running.

*8 laps is 2 miles

Sasamat Lake

Thanks to Teresa for this very cool map of Sasamat Lake.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Whole Lotta Hours

At the end of last night's evil TT/Brick workout I was trying to figure out why I bonked so badly.

Let's see - ride half an hour to the theTT start (all the while knowing my bike seat was slowly slipping ever downwards), then do a 2hour brick workout. I can't figure out why I was exhausted, can you?

The bike time trial was 48km (3 loops of the TT route) and I was supposed to do it at my half Iron pace. I struggled the whole way and hated it, feeling sluggish and slow, but actually went at a faster pace than I did at Cultus. This is good as I went at a good clip, but mostly bad as I obviously ignored the dictates of the workout and went way too fast.

The run was hell, which was a good thing. It was the first time my legs felt really, really dead after the bike and didn't recover quickly. I was actaully happy about this as that's what I'm going to be feeling, except significantly worse, at IMC so I want to experience it now in training and get used to it. Just, maybe, don't make me do it again any time terribly soon!

I didn't think to bring any food for after the workout and Joanne saved my life by giving me half a banana - I must have looked as bad as I felt. Leah kept up the life saving theme by driving me home, riding for half an hour after that workout probably would have done me in.

Oh yeah, my TT time was 1:38:11. Forgot to get splits but I'm pretty sure I slowed down as I went.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Revisionist History

I did up a big long post about yesterday's ride, how it reflected on me, the world of training, anger management, fatigue, etc., etc. but on rereading it I realized it was just a flowery account of a temper tantrum. Despite my stunning use of vocabulary (ubiquitous & epiphany!), the fact that I had a hissy fit over a lost piece of my bike computer (replacable for $26) really isn't that interesting. So the original post is gone.

What is interesting, however, is that last night was my first ride on my newly refitted bike. I spent the weekend regaling my (patient and long-suffering) non-tri friends with tales of the bike fit, gushed about my bike even looking faster, laughed about bike shops being p.o.'d about my request for 36cm handlebars, explained angles 1, 2 and 3 and was generally really annoying. My friends are very good people!

After having talked about the machine all weekend, last night I finally got on the bike and rode.

My seat felt way too high to start with but, just as Larry said, I adjusted pretty quickly. I didn't notice my pedal stroke feeling easier but we'll see how I feel after tonight's time trial and this weekend's longer ride. The lower handlebars are going to take a bit of getting used to, I felt some tension across my shoulders but I'm hoping I'll adjust quickly, however the tri bars felt way better than my old ones. I didn't notice better handling (from the readjusted stem) but I think not noticing handling at all might be a good thing.

Sadly my hissy fit did distract me a bit, but all in all it was a good ride and I'm happy with the fit. Looking forward to tonight's time trial!

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Bike Fit For an Alison!

I finally made it in to see Larry Zimich for a bike fit on Saturday. He's a pro cyclist (a roadie, but we'll forgive him as he's a nice guy) who does bike fits on the side. He's fit at least four people in our club so far, sentences starting with "Larry said ..." are frequently heard at our workouts.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, the last pro athletes I'd known were ex-NHL'ers I'd worked with who were nice guys but, um, what's a polite way of saying very crude? Ah, never mind.

Larry turned out to be a great guy, very personable and put me at my ease right away. We started with how I felt on my bike and any injuries, aches, pains, etc. I was feeling starting at the toes and working up from there (I went from numb toes to achy knees and got in trouble - we had to go back to ankles [tight achilles]). From there I got on the bike and did some pedalling so he could see what was going on.

The whole process was quite interesting, especially as there were some things that were very wrong with my bike set up. My seat was 13mm too low (for every 1mm in the first 10mm that your seat is too low you lose 10% efficiency. After 10mm you lose even more) so that was the first change. My seat is also old and nearing the end of it's life - it was bent to the left and Larry redjusted it but if it bends again I'll need to replace it. My handlebars were too high so Larry reversed the stem, which made my handlebars too far away so I had to replace that. Having the stem parallel to the ground, as opposed to angled up like it was, will supposedly make the bike handle better. My cleats needed adjusting (they also needed installation as I didn't have time to put them on my shoes). My tribars, which I've never liked, were pronounced unfit for me and had to go. The handlebars themselves were also too wide, which I expected. Having to replace the 40cm handlebars with 36cm ones was unexpected. No one stocks 36cm handlebars so that will take some time to replace.

I can away with my head full of way more info than I could fully absorb and some homework:

  1. replace my 110mm stem with a 90mm one
  2. replace my 40cm handlebars with 36cm ones
  3. get new tribars, preferably S-Bend

I managed two out of three on the weekend, West Point had the stem in stock but not the handlebars. Pacific Multisport had what I though were right tribars but I put them on myself and they don't seem to be narrow enough. I'm hoping the problem with the tribars is my installation but I have a feeling the quest for the perfect tribars is going to take a long time!

My bike now looks faster, I can't wait to get on it tonight and take it for a spin.

B is for Bonk*

*(That would be the endurance athlete's definition)

Saturday was one of those days I had planned to minute - leave for my 4 hour ride at 7:30 and be home and done by 12:30. Do my run immediately after and still have time to pick up tri bars, clean my bike, eat, shower, stretch, and drive to the North Shore for my bike fit appointment at 3:30.

There were, however, a couple of things I didn't take into account:

  1. A four hour ride does not take four hours to do. A four hour ride takes at least 4 and a half hours, if not more.
  2. I assumed I would be running 40-60 minutes and didn't check my schedule until my ride was over. The schedule called for a 1:30hr.
  3. I had no idea how long it takes to get to the North Shore.

I had a great ride with Teresa through Richmond, cutting across New West and then through Burnaby up to SFU and then back. Great ride, especially the ride down from SFU, and I would definitely do it again. My riding time (as in wheels turning) was 4:15 but the actual time for the ride was close to five hours.

I got home, got my run gear on, then checked my scheduled and uttered some fairly loud profanity as I saw a 1:30 run. I had 1:20 until I had to pick up the car! I planned my route so I would end up at the car and could drive it home.

In the end I got with just enough time to make a lame attempt at stretching, run through the shower, stuff a PB&J sandwich down my gullet, grab a banana and run for the car.

I got to Larry Zimich's on the dot of 3:30, and managed to look organized and like I knew what I was doing. The bike fit (details to follow in another post) was awesome, but by the time it was done I was drooping. I'd had my post-workout food but should have then had lunch or at least been munching on something at Larry's.

I got home at 6:00 and was shaking with fatigue. I attempted to have a conversation with a friend to arrange meeting up on Sunday and had difficulty getting out coherent sentences. When I went to bed I was so tired my head was ringing and I couldn't sleep.

Not a well planned day.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cultus Lake Race Report

My first Olympic for the season is done. I don’t think any other race this year will have as much rumour and anticipation/dread going with it.

Executive Summary:
Cold, windy, drafting, PRs???, lots of fun.

The Long Version:
The big issue was the temperature of the lake. There were rumours that the swim would be cancelled, that it would be cut short, that the race would be turned into a duathlon, etc. Scuttlebutt had the lake temperature at 10C (50F) earlier in the week – anything below 14C is supposedly too cold to swim in. Lower Mainland swim stores sold out of neoprene swim caps (except the unlucky retailer whose supplier will be delivering them today) and quite a few people just didn’t show up.

The moment of truth came for me on Saturday when Mary and I suited up and went for a swim to test the waters. I have two wetsuits so I opted to do the Saturday swim in my sleeveless wetsuit (a.k.a. the “Why Did I Buy This?” suit) so that on race day I wouldn’t be getting into a wet wetsuit. Yeah, I'm a princess, whatcha gonna do about it? The lake was definitely very cold but once I got in and got over the shock of having cold water flood the suit I was okay. Not much different from swimming in the ocean. Getting my face in took a few tries but in the end my arms were the only part of me that were unbearably cold, which was fine as on race day I’d be wearing a full sleeved suit.

One major hurdle out of the way!

We also did a short ride, Mary wanted to ride the hill just outside of transition a couple of times as that was the only climb on the course. The traffic on the narrow road was nuts and not terribly bike friendly. Add to this the gravel, potholes and broken bottles on the shoulder and we had a pretty uncomfortable ride. I was starting to dread race day as I couldn’t see how this volume of traffic that was so oblivious to bikes could co-exist with a race without some sort of terrible accident.

The pre-race meeting showed two things:
1) they were seriously understaffed for volunteers
2) they were super organized and we had nothing to worry about!

Okay – enough background – you want race details. Getting to the race was largely uneventful, the only morning blip was a nosebleed. I used to have this kind all the time as a kid (I was staying at my parents, maybe I was regressing?) and they’d come back throughout the day so I was a little worried it would come back during the race. Not exactly something I wanted to deal with on the bike or the run. Luckily it was a one-off event.

We got to transition early, in fact we had to wait to get in as we were there about 40 minutes before it opened up (they were short on volunteers so it opened late). I got body marked, picked up my timing chip, set up transition and went for my warm up ride and run on my own and got into a good mellow headspace. Then I got into my good wetsuit (yay sleeves!) and headed down to the lake, which was a balmy 16C (61F). Most of the athletes were standing on the lakeshore in their wetsuits staring at the water in trepidation, at that point only one person that I could see was in the water. I waded in and scooped water into my suit and then hyperventilated briefly at the shock of the cold. I took a long time getting in, did some breaststroke and head-up front crawl to get a feel for the water and gradually got my face in and did about 5 minutes of free. I joked with a few swimmers that the cold would mean that if you got kicked in the face you wouldn’t feel it –you don’t get that benefit in a warm swim!

Mum actually managed to spot me - for a moment I thought she could really pick out her daughter then I realized she'd gone by my race number on my head! She managed to get some pictures of me in my sexy neoprene swim cap.

By the time they were lining up the Olympic racers to start I was at one with the water and ready for a calm but strong swim. I minced my way across the rocky “beach” to line up at the start in knee deep water. The gun went off and so did my heart rate. Suddenly I was in panic mode, and this was while I was waiting for the racers in front of me to get their act together and get swimming (no way I was going to dive in and end up getting kicked in the face by the guy in front, regardless of what I joke about earlier!) so I hadn’t even started racing and my HR was through the roof. The first 300m was a gong show. I was trying to get back my pre-race zen state but swimmers around me were all over the map so there was chaos. The first turn was a mosh pit, I instinctively sought clear water and ended up swimming way off course – too bad for the people following me!

In the straight section after the first turn I began to get back in the groove. Trying to draft was a waste of time as swimmers all around were panicking and either stopping outright or switching to breast stroke or back stroke and no one was keeping a steady pace. The second loop of the swim I had mostly clear water and finally felt I had a smooth and strong stroke. I tried to swim in as close as possible to the finish to save my feet – the beach was pretty rocky. Trying to stand at the end of a long swim when the beach is slippery with pointy rocks, you’re wobbly from the swim and your feet are mostly numb is an interesting experience. I worked my way through my repertoire of four letter words (quietly though) as I tried to get out.

The 300m between the swim exit and transition was a bit rough and had lots of pinecones – the upside of this was that I could tell the feeling was coming back to my feet. At this point no one was running to T1, more walking with the grim determination of people who’ve survived a terrible ordeal, so I felt no pressure to hurry.

Had a great chat in transition with women at my rack – not the fastest or most intense T1 ever but we were all just happy to have made it through the swim! Got my gear on – smiled for the camera as Mum snapped photos, which slowed me down as I didn't want photograpic evidence that I was drying between my toes (promise not to tell my coach?).

I had a somewhat embarrassing moment as I got across the mount line then just didn’t go anywhere. Ever tried to clip when your feet are shaking uncontrollably? Not terribly easy. My Mum said everyone was doing this so I guess it’s not so bad.

Getting on the bike felt great. I managed to put on my game face for the official race photographer and passed a few people on the hill out of transition. About 8km later I saw Dad ready with his camera and yelled and waved and grinned like an idiot (NOT my game face!).

The ride consisted of a sharp hill out of transition with a sharp descent but just as you get comfortably into a fast pace you have to slow for a sharp left. That was the only real hill of the course (we’d do it on the return) – from there it was about 6km of gently rolling hills then out into the flat, flat, flat floodplain. I leaped frogged back and forth with a few people then either dropped them or they dropped me and I was alone at the start of the flat. About 5 minutes in a bunch of people passed me and eventually formed a loose peleton of 10-12 people. As this was a long flat road with no trees or obstacles, even though I was well behind them I had the opportunity to watch these drafters for a good 20 minutes. I was struggling into a headwind and watching them flout the rules really burned me up. I think it may have helped my race (although not as much as a good draft would have!) as I focused on the cheaters rather than allowing myself to be miserable about riding into a headwind.

Oddly, a number of people passed me when we were riding into the headwind or crosswind but as soon as we hit a tailwind I started reeling people in.

The hill back to transition was fun as prior to the hill another racer and I had been passing and repassing each other so I spent the whole hill trying to catch her. She didn’t push through the crest so I passed her at the top and dropped her on the descent (my bike loves going downhill). She left me in her dust on the run and probably beat me by about 5 minutes but I won the hill darn it!

T2 was significantly faster – no shivering made getting in and out of shoes easier. I felt good going out on the run and focused on all the form issues – head up, shoulders back, engage the abs and drive with the knees. The knees is a new one so I was running thinking (but hopefully not saying aloud) “knees-knees-knees”. I had a side cramp kick in about ten minutes in but managed to run through it.

There were lots of out and backs on the run so I got to see almost everyone from LETC who was racing, which was fun. I finished the first loop in 24 minutes and change, which was shockingly fast for me and this gave me a kick for the second loop as I’ve never broken 50min in a 10km.The second loop was fantastic for the first 3km. Then the side cramp came back. I knew if I stopped running I could walk it off but there was no way I was going to miss that sub-50 so I kept running. The cramp never let go but I thought I was doing okay, photographic evidence, however, proves otherwise. Mum took a picture of me nearing the finish and I look like I’d just been shot.

So, my times:
Swim: 25:02 – PR (previous best 30:42)*
Bike: 1:23:39 – 1 min off my best time
Run: 47:02 – PR (previous best 50:10)*
Overall: 2:42:40

*My swim and run times are pretty unbelievable. So much so that I’m sure the course was short. Everyone had an amazing PR on the swim, this is an early season race so either all 153 of us have been training exceptionally well and made fantastic gains early on or else the swim course was short. A couple people had their high tech gadgets on for the run course and pegged the distance at about 9 km, which makes sense to me as although I felt good on the run I didn’t feel “smash my PR by 3 min” good. I didn’t even feel “match my PR” good.

So, despite cold water, strong winds, drafting and some course irregularities, it was a great race. This was the first year and they’ll figure out the course issues for next year. They’ll have more volunteers next year and can have more people on course to deal with drafting. The organizers had to deal with the legacy left by the last person to [dis]organize a race in the area and locals were justifiably wary of getting involved. What they did with a skeleton crew beat what pretty much any other race I’ve been to manages!

Next stop – Oliver Half Iron on June 3.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cultus Lake Tri

Swim: 25:02 – PR (previous best 30:42)*
Bike: 1:23:39 – 1 min off my best time
Run: 47:02 – PR (previous best 50:10)*
Overall: 2:42:40

* Swim and run courses were short. Waaaaay short.

Full report to follow. In the meantime, here's one of Mum's photos from the race:

Notice how at least half the swimmers have their head up? It was very cold and no one wanted to freeze their face.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The last two days have been all about pacing. And surviving fatigue!

Wednesday's swim was 200m negative splits - aiming to have the second 100m 5 seconds faster than the first.

My splits were:

1st 200m: -2.5sec
2nd 200m: even
3rd 200m: +2.5sec

I didn't succeed in the aims of the workout but there is a reason! Unfortunately not a terribly good one.

I've finally found someone my speed in my masters swim, or I guess I've improved enough to keep pace with someone who's always been faster. We started 5 seconds apart and the first 200m she was on my toes the whole way so I had a goad to get me to speed up. The second 200m she led and I ended up drafting the whole way, I couldn't pass as we were so evenly matched and there were four other people crowding a narrow lane so it was hard to gradually build up speed at my own pace. The third time the coach made us start 10 seconds apart ("You two are all over each other!") instead of 5. It was my turn to take the lead and, instead of focusing on the purpose of the workout or technique or anything useful, all that was going through my mind was "I've got to keep away from Karmen!" and I took off like a rocket right from the get go.

Normally I do actually know how to pace myself!

That night was an evil bike/run session where we went up Spanish Banks Hill as fast as we could then transitioned to running and took off back down the hill and repeated this three times. I'm a big fan of going up a hill once and then moving on.

On my ride home from the workout a spectacular storm blew up, seemingly from nowhere - the rain came on like someone had just cranked a faucet on full blast and I was soaked in minutes. This was highly unpleasant but when I saw lightning I was even less happy. We don't do lightning in Vancouver, we have long soggy stretches where static electricity is completely impossible, none of this lightning business, that's for ill-behaved, tempermental prairie weather. Out here on the coast we have civilized weather, where it takes weeks to go from mildly wet and cold to not quite so wet and somewhat warmer.

The worst part of the storm, however, was that I got part of a song stuck in my head and can't figure out what it is: "Thunder! Lightning! (something something something) was frightning." I still can't get it out of my head, if anyone can identify it that might help me exorcise this earworm.

Last night's track session was 4 x 1km at race pace. For the first three repeats I thought I was going way too fast but it turned out I was perfectly on pace - I'd forgotten what my ave 10km time was. Luckily other people in the club know my times.

This week wasn't my most brilliant. I managed to get seriously sleep deprived (I blame Connie Willis), which made me cranky and completely forgetful. I went far beyond "training brain" and deep into the realms of exercise-induced Alzheimer’s. My goal for next week - go to bed! And from now on I'm only reading midly interesting books, not completely engrossing ones that keep me up all night.