2019 USAT Duathlon Nationals in Greenville, SC: Race Report

Luke, Caroline, Dolores, Ben, Erin, our friend Laura, and Sarah

Rocksport Training’s first official group trip took place in Greenville, SC, after several of our members elected to compete in this early season race. We booked an AirBnB, and traveled down from Lexington, KY (and Louisville) with plans to race Sunday.

We all arrived Friday afternoon to a beautiful house in a peaceful and wooded neighborhood less than ten minutes from the venue. The house slept ten, and we filled all ten of those spots with two of us having to utilize the sleeper sofa (thanks Caroline and Matthew!) Several of us headed to White Duck Taco for a casual, outdoor bite while waiting on others to arrive later that evening.

Greenville is a lovely venue, and we had time to do some exploring Saturday despite intermittent rain (which would be par for the course over the weekend.) We started off the morning with a planned shakeout ride through the neighborhood. On the second mile, we came around the corner and suddenly faced one of the steepest hills I have ever seen! In fact, I worried about our riders running out of gears before reaching the top. Fortunately no one toppled over, and we were able to re-route and do an out and back into town.

We followed that adventure with a quick drive to packet pickup. The draft-legal races had just finished up, and we were impressed with the venue. Being a USAT Nationals event, everything was top notch. It had all the bells and whistles of the Triathlon Nationals, with the huge finish line, bleachers, transition area, etc. Volunteers were everywhere and there appeared to be millions of cones marking the course. No one would be getting lost! The expo was small with only a couple vendors but packet pickup was painless and super fast.

After packet pickup. we headed to Sidewall Pizza with our other friend Sally and her mom, and then walked down to check out Falls on the Reedy park. The sun had miraculously appeared, and the flowers were in full bloom. The waterfalls were spectacular, and everything was so walkable, Kids, dogs, couples and athletes were all milling about. What a great destination!

At 6am on race morning, we made the long journey (about 5 minutes) to transition. It was humid and it was also a little rainy, which would continue all morning. Transition spots were numbered, so it was easy to get set up. And the best thing about this race? With only a few hundred competitors, port o potty lines were non existent!

Everyone from our group was racing the standard, non-drafting race with a distance of 5.25 mile run, 25 mile bike and a 2.85 mile finishing run. We were all in different age groups, but I would be starting in the women 50 and under wave along with two of my athletes, Caroline and Sarah. (Sarah would also do the sprint later that afternoon in stormy weather.) After a short warm up, we had to duck for cover for a few minutes due to a torrential downpour. Thankfully, it lightened as we headed to the start.

The starting line was impressive! They had a wonderful announcer, who was introducing some of the strongest competitors and reading their race resumes. I heard the words “Champion” and “All-American” a lot. One thing about this race, the athletes were in it to win it. They had flown in from places like Texas, California and Oregon. I felt very humbled to be standing up there with such dominant women athletes.

When the gun went off, this group of women took off like a bat out of hell. It was hard not to get swept away with the crowd, so I aimed to hold back along with my athlete Caroline. I knew our run speed would be similar, so we had elected to go out together. The first quarter mile was straight up a hill in humidity that we were not ready for, so our heart rates were surging early.

Once we found a rhythm we started to pick off a few of the girls who had overexerted themselves early. We held a high 6:40’s pace most of the way, and backed off a bit the final mile to regroup a bit before the bike.

I lost a few seconds in transition, as I was more careful due to the rain/ wet conditions. Jumping on the bike, we were met with about a half mile of twisty and winding curves through the parking lot, so it was not super easy to get the shoes adjusted. But once we left the park that was the end of the technical portion.

The bike course was not easy. It didn’t have any particularly steep or challenging hills, but it seems to be a constant battle against high wind (especially crosswinds) and long grinders. I never did find my rhythm. The only thing that kept it interesting was that I played cat and mouse with a strong cyclist who was in the age group ahead of me. She was on a road bike, and was killing it. Any time I would get too comfortable, she would pass me, and then it would be a challenge to keep her in sight.

25 miles later we re-entered transition. Again, I rode into the park at a very conservative pace being careful of the wet, twisty roads. I made it through transition with a less-than-impressive time.

For our second run, it was back up the steep hill. I passed a couple girls on the hill, and then settled into some kind of rhythm. This was my first duathlon in years, and despite preparing well, I had forgotten how heavy-legged you feel on race day!

My second run was less than stellar, but I seemed to be holding my own and continued to pass a few folks. About half a mile in I passed the girl I had cat and moused with on the bike. She was looking strong. I managed to hold about 7:00 pace but just couldn’t find that extra gear. The bike course had been more fatiguing than I expected.

With a half mile to go, I started chatting with a local guy and we stuck together for most of the homestretch. The downhill finish was awesome, and the announcer was great about calling us each by name as we crossed the finish line!

After grabbing some water, I was able to watch our other athletes come in. Caroline came in just about a minute ahead of Sarah. Dolores finished strong, and so did Luke. Ben had an impressive race as well! Between our group, we had three podiums and all of us were invited to compete for Team USA in the Netherlands.

As far as my race, I was in a very tough age group. Despite being 7th overall with a 2:08, I could only swing third in the women’s 40-44 age group. I was pretty consistent across the three legs, with my bike being slightly better than my runs as usual.

Next year this race moves to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and I am already putting it on the calendar. It is later in the season- May 31, so we will have to get ready for a heat wave!

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Four Can’t-Live-Without Brands in Multisport

When it comes to training and racing tri’s, there are obviously some brands that make our lives simpler. We have Cervelo, Hoka, Body Glide, Swiftwick and GU. Most of us could not live without our Garmins. But there also tend to be some brands that fall under the radar. Through many years of triathlon, I have finally narrowed it down to my fab four underrated favorites.

 

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Amrita:  I am in love with these protein bars! The founder of the company, Arshad Bahl, developed these healthy, organic and raw bars after dealing with his son’s food allergies.  So these bars are free of dairy, gluten, nuts, soy, oil and preservatives.  But they taste phenomenal! The dark chocolate quinoa and the chocolate chip coconut are hand’s down my two favorites. They are great for quick breakfasts, and long bike rides. A while back, I had to cut back on them, as I was eating 4-5 a day (don’t judge,) and even though they are reasonably priced, that adds up on the pocketbook! So now I am a two-a-day girl. If you haven’t tried these packages of goodness yet, you are missing out! Click here to visit Amrita.

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Zwift: I am a full fledged addict. If you are looking to take your cycling to the next level, look no further. Paired with a smart trainer, this is what I attribute to my biggest gains as a cyclist in almost a decade of riding. Set up your trainer, connect to a monitor in front of a bike, and guide your customized avatar through the streets of London, NYC and even a magical island called Watopia. You can do group rides (with realistic drafting,) workouts and race against others! It makes indoor riding exciting and very realistic. You might even find yourself praying for rain so that you can ride inside.  Click here to visit Zwift.

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Roka: you can’t beat their goggles and wetsuits. I have tried probably 50 pairs of goggles over the years, and only two don’t leak. One is the Aqua Sphere Vista Mask (which makes you look like an awkward scuba diver/ swimmer) and the other is the Roka X1. They are comfortable with good visibility, and fog less than others. I am crazy about the amber lens! Click here to visit Roka.

Headsweats: For years, I have been obsessed with Headsweats visors. For us heavy sweaters, the sweatband prevents sweat from pouring down our faces. They are cute, comfortable and I feel naked without one. Ask anyone who knows me, and they can attest that I am never seen running without one. I had applied for years to represent this company, and 2019 finally brings my dream of being a Headaweats ambassador!  Click here to visit Headsweats. (Also, check out the $5 grab bags available from their website- receiving them is as exciting as Christmas morning!) Use code Erinrockrun25 for 25% off.

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How to Own Your Indoor FTP Test

“FTP Test.”  That phrase alone is enough to bring the heart rate up to a mid-Zone 4, and turn my palms into clammy seal fins.  For those of you who are still blissfully unaware, FTP stands for “Functional Threshold Power.”  In the cycling world, it means the maximum power (in watts) that you can theoretically hold in a one hour time trial.  But rather than forcing us riders to kill ourselves for a whole hour, the typical testing protocol involves inducing some fatigue through a series of shorter intervals before sending us on a ride-or-die, torturous twenty minutes of hell.

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As a USA Triathlon coach, I have had plenty of experience with FTP tests among both my athletes and myself over the years.  I have made numerous mistakes, some of which still cause me to cringe.  However, last night I executed the textbook FTP test. My average watts remained unchanged from the first minute to the twentieth minute, making it as consistent as it gets.  It resulted in an FTP only three points off my all-time best (despite that this is off-season and it should not have been that high,) and failed to send me into a gagging, crumpled heap upon finishing.   Afterwards, I reflected on the factors that set this particular test up for success, and decided to share these tips and tricks.

1.  Use the Fan as a Training Tool.  For the few weeks going into this test, I trained without my fan.  Yes, I know what you heavy sweaters are thinking… that you will have a puddle the size of a Great Dane’s piss pool under your bike.  Well throw a bath towel over your handlebars and endure cleaning that nastiness for a couple weeks.  Suck it up.  On testing day, bring that fan back into action and set it on full-in-the-face-blast.  You’ll get the same effect as training in summer heat and then racing on that first chilly, fall day.  Free speed!

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2.  Develop a Fueling Plan.  This time of year, people are targeting weight loss resolutions and cutting calories.  In the day or two before your test, don’t do this.  If you are intermittent fasting, revert to hearty breakfasts.  Oatmeal with almond butter, protein powder and a banana did it for me.  Eat at least two hours out.  I also aim for a Huma gel just before my ride, and another gel during the six minute recovery spin just before the time trial.  Make sure you’ve been hydrating all day.  Have both water options and sports drink or electrolyte drink options within reach.

3.  Change up your Music.  I love my Alice in Chains and Rage Against Machine during hard workouts, but I have too many memories of crashing and burning to “Man in the Box.”  Change it up on test day.  Try something new.  I am not normally into dance music, but on test day my bike room was hoppin’ like a gay nightclub straight outta the 90’s. Pandora was on Sandstorm radio, and I had a healthy dose of La Bouche, Faithless and CeCe Penniston to see me through this battle.  I dare you to even think about throwing in the towel when “The Rhythm of the Night” is blasting in your ears.  Techno not your thing?  Take it gangsta style and throw in some Warren G and NWA.  Or go with a hair band theme with Def Leppard and Warrant.  Just change it up.

people dancing inside building

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4.  Dress Right.  And that is usually as near-naked as possible.  My go-to outfit is a retired pair of thin tri shorts (too see-through for the road,) a sports bra and a Headsweats visor because that is the only thing that will keep the sweat from rushing down my face.  Don’t wear anything that may be a problem.  Bib shorts can sometimes get too heavy and water-logged feeling.  No need for a shirt obviously.

5.  The Warm Up Sprints Might Feel Awful.  And that’s OK.  More often than not, I think about giving in during the warm up intervals because they feel brutally hard.  It’s because we are not warmed up yet, and our mental focus is not yet ready.  Hang in there.  Things will improve.

6.  Trust Your Instincts.  If you’ve done a few of these tests already, you should be a decent judge of what you can and cannot hold.  Start out about 5% easier than you think you’re capable of, and adjust after that first minute if needed.  Once you find your rhythm, aim for consistency.  Don’t surge.  Focus on your movement pattern, and keep those watts as steady as possible.

There you have it.  When done right, FTP tests are not as painful as they need to be.  (Think getting run over by a Corolla vs getting run over by an Escalade.)  Good luck in you next attempt, and ride on!

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Veestro: My Introduction to Meal Delivery

(Note: I am not sponsored by Veestro, and they never asked me to write a review.  This is unbiased.)

Several weeks ago, I was thumbing through the latest issue of Veg News magazine when something caught my eye.  It was my name, as first prize winner of a giveaway!  My award would be 30 days of free meal delivery from Veestro, a plant-based company out of Vernon, California.

I had heard about meal delivery services such as Blue Apron and Plated for a while now, but had never learned the details.  I had low expectations, thinking I would be getting frozen dinners comparable to Amy’s or Healthy Choice, both found at my local Kroger.

After a wonderful welcome email from the co-founder of Veestro, Monica Klausner. I learned that my shipments would be arriving every Friday over the next four weeks.

The first order arrived exactly when it was due, and it came in a huge box packed expertly with dry ice. I wondered how I would ever fit everything in my freezer!  As Damien and I unpacked, we were like two kids on Christmas morning.  These meals were clearly restaurant quality, and looked incredible!  Plus, there was enough food to feed an army!

Since I do have an Irish husband, we quickly chose the sheperdless pie as our first dinner.  We took it out of it’s tray, and threw it in the oven for the instructed time.  It did take slightly longer than the directions listed, but I’m sure this depends on your oven.

When we took it out, we had two dinners that looked like something you’d be served in a gourmet restaurant.  And the taste did not disappoint!  As we came down to the last few bites, we both slowed down because neither of us wanted it to end!

Since then, we have tried a few others: Thai chick’n stew, breakfast burritos and the Beluga lentil braise.  They are all delicious and I would give them all five out of five stars. The portions are decent-sized too, even for us endurance athletes. It would be hard to pick a favorite.  We have others to look forward to as well:

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As you can see, these meals were picked from the weight loss plan, which means they are among their healthier options.  They do have a chef’s choice plan, which includes some more splurge-worthy meals like pizzas and baked mac and cheez.

With many people wanting to dial in their nutrition for the New Year, winter is a perfect time to get on board.  The prices are reasonable too, with meals in the $10 to $12 range.  Plus, they often have big discounts like this one:

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After playing around on the website, we learned you can customize everything to your preferences.  There are some meals I am looking forward to trying later this month, like the country fried chick’n dinner and the Tuscan calzone.

Overall, I am so impressed with the logistics of Veestro.  This would be a perfect system for a busy professional who works late, or someone who wants to cut down their time in the kitchen.  My husband and I both love to cook, but it has been wonderful taking a break and having everything ready to go!

I had never dreamed of using a meal delivery service before, but after my month runs out, we have already decided that we will use this again during busier months over the upcoming year.

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Intermittent Fasting: It’s Not a Diet

There has been a lot of buzz in the fitness industry about intermittent fasting. As a fitness professional, I am always skeptical about new trends. But IF (intermittent fasting) is far from a trend.

If you haven’t heard the phrase before, let me offer a brief explanation. IF is not a diet, but an eating schedule. Typically, it is eating according to a daily, eating window. The most common ratio is an eight hour daily eating window, typically 11am to 7pm, or noon to 8pm. This means that for 16 hours of the day, your body is in a “fasted” state.

Now that we’ve established that, how does it work? First of all, it is a very simple way to cut calories. The key to weight loss is a caloric deficit, and this achieves that by basically cutting breakfast, and eliminating late-night snacking. And secondly, when we are in the fasted state, our bodies have to tap into our fat stores for energy. Thus, we burn more fat.

I began fasting about five months ago. Being used to hearty breakfasts, I did have hunger cravings the first week. Ever since then, it has been easy. Like many others, I feel less bloated and experience more clarity in the mornings. It is easier to focus. After some initial weight loss, it has been easy to maintain my goal weight. As an endurance athlete, I stick to six days a week because I do like to fuel on my 3-5 hour long bike morning.

Many highly-respected nutritionists, strength-coaches and athletes swear by IF. About half of my clients do it, and all have seen results.  Unlike other trends such as low-carb, Atkins, paleo, etc. this is NOT a diet and that is why it works. It does not involve religiously counting calories, logging info into food journals or weighing your meals. And it can work for anyone, whether you are an athlete or sedentary.  However, if you truly want to get the most bang for your buck, fasted cardio will give you an edge. Biking, running, rowing or any other cardio (even walking) at the end of that fasting window will turn you into a fat-burning machine!

If you’re interested in giving this a try, I suggest printing out the guide and calendar template from Nerd Fitness. They also discuss some other options (such as a shorter eating window and a weekly 24 hour fast) but for the sake of simplicity I suggest starting with the eight hour feeding window.  Here is a link to the download https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.nerdfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Intermittent-Fasting.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwj2vongsuXeAhWjSt8KHcsQDCsQFjABegQIBxAB&usg=AOvVaw3edO__WYtVYJ2a3jI2o9EJ&cshid=1542800314385

So let me offer you a challenge. Let’s start on Thanksgiving and finish on Christmas. Log results on the provided template daily. Who is with me?

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Eight Traits of Highly Successful Athletes

It’s hard to believe I am entering my fifth year as a multisport coach.  Time has flown by, and I continue to learn something every day.

During this time, I’ve observed that the most successful of athletes seem to share many similar traits.  No, it’s not that they are 21 years old, post-collegiate athletes and have all the time in the world to train.  In fact, some of these may be surprising.  Drum roll please…

1.  They are consistent.  This is the mother load.  The more they stick to the workouts, the more likely they are to succeed in reaching their goals.  When I post a set of workouts, I expect that an athlete will hit 85% of their workouts.  That has been the historical average.  Sure, life happens and a missed workout every couple weeks isn’t going to hurt.  But if I notice it becoming a trend, it might be time to rethink goals.  On the other hand, I have several athletes in the 95% range and sometimes 100%.  When one runner asked if, after hitting every workout for three months straight, she could cut a workout ten minutes short due to an appointment I knew she would be golden!

2.  They are not afraid to go easy on easy days.  I spend an ungodly amount of time reprimanding folks for hitting too ambitious of paces on recovery days.  Yesterday, I wrote a “thank you” text to a client for nailing this.  One of my fastest athletes logged a recovery run in the 10:00 pace ballpark.  She could have run the same workout at 7:00 pace without much discomfort.  The famous coach and author Hal Higdon has touched on this subject in his books, explaining that even the Kenyans will go at a pedestrian pace on recovery days.  This is how we grow and improve!

3.  They are not afraid of hills.  In the past, I have had athletes seek out the flattest terrain for every single workout.  Unless it is specified in the instructions, there is no reason to avoid hills.  And here in Lexington, Kentucky there is no shortage!  Hills are our friends.  They activate our important posterior chain muscles (often lacking in runners) and build strength, which is vital to keeping injuries at bay.

rear view of man on mountain road against sky

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4.  They are more likely to be Type A personalities.  The athlete who runs circles around their car to avoid the dreaded 9.93 miles on their Garmin is probably going to be more likely to hit their goal than the athlete who stops on an odd number.  I’ve also observed athletes cool down a little longer to hit 45:00 rather than the 43:37 that was on their watch when the workout officially ended.  These athletes send me spreadsheets of their race goals, have a highly organized scheduler and probably don’t sleep well enough.  That said, I have some Type B athletes who can crush it!

5.  They are in touch with their nutrition.  Most of my successful athletes have a good idea of their racing weight, and stay on top of their eating after learning what works for them.  Many are careful.  I have numerous vegetarians/ vegans, a few gluten-free and a few with food allergies.  However, these folks are not afraid to indulge in the occasional dessert or cocktail.  Eating healthy 80% of the time is a sign that you have a healthy relationship with food.

6.  They hit the gym regularly.  Even though I don’t program much strength-training onto their calendars, they realize how important this is.  They all have memorized Nike Coach Jay Johnson’s Myrtl Routine (short hip mobility workout.)  They also strength-train or participate in classes; some teach classes (we have yoga and spin class teachers) and a couple have backgrounds in body-building.  If you are thinking of strength training, check out The New Rules of Lifting, by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  That book really simplifies the program and is doable for all levels.

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7.  They have crazy schedules.  My typical athletes are doctors, lawyers, accountants, or moms and dads with a LOT on their plates.  They are able to fit in their workouts and sleep by only the most strategic of planning.  One prime example jumps to mind.  Last year at Ironman Louisville, one of my athletes (we’ll call him Cheung) was a full-time student and worker.  He finished his 12 hour night shift and headed straight to the starting line, getting into his wetsuit with just minutes to spare.

8.  They are pet owners.  This one has been a surprise to me, but almost every single successful athlete who I have coached is a pet owner or past pet owner- dogs, cats, horses; you name it.  I have a triathlete in Egypt who always does her cool downs with her dog.  Another triathlete competes in canine biathlons.  I have a runner in California who recently discovered the joys of running with a dog, to the extent that we looked into “canicross.”  This new sport involves racing with the assistance of a pulling dog.  Unfortunately, they haven’t developed anything similar for my successful feline owners.  Anyway, my theory here is that owning pets is a huge responsibility and you have to stay on top of it daily- just like training for these races.  Responsible people make disciplined athletes.

Which of these traits do you possess?

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S.M.A.R.T. Goals Are the New Resolutions

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As a personal trainer, I both love and hate this time of year.  At about the stroke of midnight on January 1st, the gym door opens and a swarm of buzzing motivation infiltrates the place.  With their not-yet-washed Lululemon tights and open-backed Athleta tanks, the new girls flock to the elliptical machines and stairmasters.  The boys arrive in their Beats earbuds and weight belts, heading straight to the bench press and bicep curl stations.

Every year, the newbies exceed my expectations.  I expect them to last the month of January, but the majority of them last into mid February or even March.  But sadly and  inevitably, the swarm gathers and departs.  The gym doors close and calmness prevails, with the same core group of retirees and neighborhood gym rats who have been here for numerous years now.

So why are the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions unsuccessful?  The short answer is that they are too vague.  “I’m going to get in better shape,” is not going to set you up for success.

There are New Year’s resolutions, and then there are S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.  A typical resolution might be “I’m going to exercise more.” A S.M.A.R.T. goal would be “I’m going to drop five pounds by May 1st by running 8 miles per week minimum and cutting milk and pasta out of my diet.”

Once you have decided upon a S.M.A.R.T. goal, your best recipe for success is to voice it through social media, a journal or in conversation with friends.  Accountability is a huge key to success.

That said, I am going to announce my S.M.A.R.T. goals for 2018:

  • Do a set of twelve dead-hang, parallel-grip pull ups by Jan 31
  • Hex bar deadlift 250 pounds for at least two reps by Feb 28
  • Improve my 2000 meter row time of 8:24 by March 31
  • Decrease my body fat by 2% by March 31
  • Improve my cycling FTP by 15 points from January to March 31
  • PR in a 10K race or time trial (I have rarely raced a 10K so this should be cake)
  • Break 5 hours at Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga in May
  • Read 8 books in 2018

So that is my list.  Fortunately, I am part of a small group working on similar fitness goals so we will have plenty of accountability.  Some of the other goals include a one minute plank, 20 push ups, one pull up, dropping five pounds, etc.

What are your S.M.A.R.T. goals for 2018???

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December Challengers

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HATS= Habits And Tasks to Self-Improvement

This challenge is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  It is for everyone- men, women, students, grandparents, the fit, the not-so49632d5c-cdba-4cf0-b08e-8f0a0821c8e7-fit, etc.  My goal is to improve YOU, by bettering both your physical and mental health.

That was our opening paragraph from all the way back in January.  Over these last eleven months, our small but tough and dedicated group has taken on challenge after challenge, and stuck with it.  That, in itself, is huge.

And so we’ve reached our final destination; the most magical month of them all- December.  As we approach month number twelve, we’ll take the opportunity to look back at what we’ve accomplished.

Habit:  Pick any of the habits we’ve done.  Leave a comment with your choice.  They are all easily reviewed in the blog, but as a reminder:                                                                          Jan: Declutter (one item a day)  Feb: Define two daily intentions March: Brush teeth with non-dominant hand April: Read a classic book for 5:00 daily May: Fresh flowers daily June: Hydrate July: Organize 5:00 daily August: Acts of kindness Sept: Apple a day Oct: Sleep tight Nov: Stay healthy

Task #1:  Secret Santa  Leave a goodie bag as a surprise for someone of your choice.  The goodie bag does not have to be much- a fruit basket, winter hat, small gift card, etc.  Get creative.  Think of your neighbors, cab drivers, cashiers, the homeless- the choices are vast!

Task #2:  Write two New Year’s Resolutions. These two resolutions should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.)  An example would be:  I will paint my bathroom sage green by March 1, or I will to run the St Paddy’s Day 5K on March 17 at a pace of 10 minutes per mile.  Some examples of resolutions that are not SMART: I will be more creative, or I will do more running.  State your resolutions in the comments.

I’m excited to see some of these choices! Don’t forget to record your results: Spreadsheet

 

 

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November Challengers

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We are into the homestretch!  It is the eve of that magical month, and November is pretty special on it’s own. October flew by.  I had a lot of fun with that month. The “Me Day” was a hit, and I treated myself to a big, fu-fu hazelnut latte from Starbuck’s.  The poems were fun.  I love that Dawn Marie memorized some of her own children’s writing- way to get creative!  As for myself, I chose the old classic :”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and my husband went with the extremely ambitious “The Red Wheelbarrow,” hahaha.  We both failed massively in the sleep department, and that is something that we all need to work on year-round.  Onto November…

 

Habit:  Stay Healthy! It is prime time for colds and flu.  Let’s choose one of the following options to keep our immune systems strong: echinacea every day, daily vitamin C, a shot of emergenC every morning, an orange juice a day (or slices of orange,) or 20 minutes of fresh air every single day.

Task #1Hand write and deliver a thank you note.  The handwritten letter is a lost art, so let’s bring it back.  This thank you note does not have to be traditional either.  We could leave a note for a helpful grocery clerk, write a letter to thank someone for touching or inspiring our life, write to someone famous/ newsworthy, or send something to a family member.  Anything goes, and I think the results will be extremely satisfying!

Task #2:  Document in a Photo the First Christmas Lights You See. This one pays tribute to the beginning of the holiday season, and will make finding those first lights extra fun.  We can get competitive on this one- who will spot the first lights?

Enjoy!!!

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Ironman Louisville: Taste of Sweet Redemption (And Sewage)

Three weeks ago, I faced the devastation of DNFing my first full Ironman (Chattanooga.)  I’d started training in May, along with my close friend Dolores Hall, and one of the athletes I coach, Luke Roesler.  Training went picture-perfect.  Having done about eight Half Ironman’s (including some division awards/ qualifying for Worlds) I felt fully confident in myself.  An overall win at our local sprint tri two weeks out was the icing on the cake.  I was as excited as I’d ever been.

Unfortunately, one small mistake set off a vicious chain of events.  I guzzled 32 oz. of coconut water at the swim start, overhydrating and leading to heartburn/ nausea that would prevent me from taking in any calories or drink after mile 50.  I attempted to walk the run course, but about halfway through I was struggling to remain upright and had to call it a day.  Dolores went on to have a wonderful race, becoming an Ironman.  However, Luke succumbed to back spasms on the bike and also withdrew.

The next few days I was living in limbo.  I felt so out of sorts, depressed and didn’t know how to get over this.  My whole year had been aimed toward doing this Ironman thing.

During that time, about three friends texted me (You know who you are) along the lines of “Ironman Louisville is still open.  Just sayin.” I messaged Luke, and he was all for it.  We were going to grab the bull by the horns, and take what we were owed.

As a coach, I’d always felt a little more pressure when it came to my racing.  I coach Ironman athletes, and although I’m not big on long-course endurance, I wanted to experience this for them.  I wanted to know what they would go through, and be able to help them.  So finishing this was something that HAD to happen.

With Chattanooga, all my friends and family blew up Facebook and spent the day tracking me.  I’m so, so lucky to have that kind of support in my life, but I wanted Louisville to be a secret mission.  That way, it felt like there was less pressure to perform. So I ended up telling just a handful of friends beforehand.

Anyway, Louisville is only a little over an hour from where I live (Lexington, KY.)  In hindsight, this should have been a no brainer for my first full Ironman, but there was one reason I didn’t pick it. The Ohio River was a deal breaker.

That river is one of the dirtiest, slimiest, stinkiest bodies of water out there.  Fecal bacteria has been a problem over the years, and the fact that it is a main shipping channel means that there is a layer of diesel that you can smell.  Then you have your dead bodies, garbage and gars.  If you don’t know what a gar is, this picture is for you.

IMLou-gar

I told myself to suck it up Buttercup, and squeezed my eyes shut as I hit “register.”

The next three weeks I felt completely unsettled.  I trained hard until ten days out, and then went right back into taper.  My poor husband Damien (a multi-talented athlete plagued by a knee injury for 2+ years) had more than he bargained for during that time.  Sorry Damo!

Athlete check-in opened on Thursday, and I drove to Louisville and back during an extended lunch break.  It seemed so weird to be in and out, while everyone else was flying in, and checking in to their hotels.  I met Luke at Ironman Village, and it seemed like a ghost town compared to Chattanooga.  We were the only ones in the check-in tent, and the volunteers were amazing (as they would be throughout the weekend.)  Luke asked if I wanted to walk down to the swim start.  Well, it suddenly became real, and I was horrified.  We walked half a mile or so up to it.  There was plenty of garbage and floaters, but fortunately we didn’t see this guy, like someone in our Ironman Louisville Facebook group did.

IMLou-catfish

Friday was very strange.  I was back at work in Lexington, training fitness clients, while concealing my “Ironman” wristband with long sleeves the whole time.  I still didn’t want to spill the beans.

Saturday after work, Damien and I packed our stuff and drove to bike check in.  Luke’s super wonderful girlfriend Molly had generously offered up her home, and we were so lucky to be staying just a few miles from the heart of the race rather than spending an arm and a leg on a downtown hotel room.  Plus, our dogs got to join us.

It worked out perfectly, because rather than fighting the restaurant crowds, we brought food from home and ate nothing out of the ordinary.  Boca “chick’n” patties on a bun and sweet potatoes it would be.

Race morning I set the alarm for 4:45am and had a wonderful peanut butter and banana sandwich.  We let the dogs out, and that was when our smaller dog Lulu found something absolutely repulsive to roll in.  I’m not sure if it was poo or a dead animal, but it may have been the worst smell I’ve ever encountered.

She came in, and it was all I could do not to gag.  Fortunately, Damien has a stronger stomach, so he got to deal with all that.  I was so stressed because I couldn’t finish my breakfast now, he was stressed because he didn’t know what to do with her and of course that led to an argument, for which I take full blame!  Finally, we locked her in the bathroom while he dropped me off, and he got to come back and clean her (with one of his own shirts, because we couldn’t do that to Molly’s towels!)  What a start to the morning.

At transition I couldn’t find any friends.  Luke is a stellar swimmer, and swimming is my crutch, so he had lined up fairly far ahead.  I lined up with the 1:20 group, and made my way slowly to the start.  Fortunately, the weather was warm at that point, so I was comfortable.

Louisville is a time trial start.  There are two lines that end with several athletes jumping off one of two docks every few seconds.  The closer one got to the water, the stronger the stench of urine permeated the air.  That is because many athletes nonchalantly pee in their wetsuits, and it tricked out onto the sidewalk and docks.  Thank you $3 Goodwill water shoes that someone suggested on Facebook!  They got me all the way to jump off.

Before I knew it, it was my turn to jump.  I grabbed my goggles and took a deep breath, before entering the putrid pool of filth.  My original plan was to focus on form, and the mantra that a great swim coach taught me: “Long and strong, all day long.”  Instead, I thought of catfish, gars, dead bodies, and my mantra became “Just don’t swallow.”

The beginning of the swim is in an isolated cove behind Toehead Island, so there was a little congestion.  I took a few kicks and blows to the head, but nothing particularly violent, and nothing that drew blood.

Once we rounded the island, we were spewed out into the main shipping channel toward the middle of the river.  We also attained the assistance of the current.  However, the ominous skies brought along some wind, and the calm river water morphed into a chop that was more oceanic in nature.

IMLou-swim

Once the chop emerged, it became harder to avoid tasting the sewage/ diesel.  I was also dealing with some anxiety, as swimming is not my forte and I do not have experience with anything but calm water.  Thankfully, I only managed a few swallows.  The bigger problem was that I had neglected to use anti-fog on my goggles, and it caused me to stop every few minutes and spit on them.

After what seemed like eternity, but was really more like three and a half Seinfeld episodes (without commercials,) we swam under the last bridge and headed in.  I thanked God for not letting me encounter any corpses, and let the volunteers pull me up the stairs.  What a relief!  Total swim time= 1:17

I grabbed my bike gear and headed to the changing tent, not even fazed by all the sheer nakedness everywhere.  I stayed in my tri suit, so it was a pretty easy transition.  I hit the port-o-potty on the way out.  That is one of many reasons I will never make an extremely adept long-course triathlete- I don’t pee on the bike, and I don’t pee in the water.

I jumped on the bike and was so much happier to be in my element.  We headed away from town with a bit of a tailwind, cloud cover and temperatures just right.  It was hard to keep the pace easy, because I felt so good.

Somewhere around mile 19 something bad happened.  I was heading from a downhill to a sharp uphill, and went to switch gears.  Nothing happened but the clicking of a shifter.  I realized my rear cable had suddenly snapped.  And of course I was stuck in my hardest gear behind and had no chance to make the uphill without momentum, so I had to rapidly unclip before toppling over.

I walked my bike up the hill before it leveled out enough to get back on.  This knocked the wind out of my sails, but it was far from a deal breaker.  At this point, I had two gears- little ring/ smallest cog, and big ring/ smallest cog.  With enough momentum, the hills on this course would certainly be doable with the latter gear.

Things went fine for the next fifteen minutes or so.  At that point, any time I would attempt to change between big and little ring, the chain would drop.  That unappealing little ring/ small cog combo had probably caused some movement to prevent any more gear changes.  After getting off to fix a dropped chain for about the eighth time, I chose to remain in the small/ small for the rest of the course, since that was the only one that would allow climbing.  So for the remaining ninety miles I would basically be riding a fixie!

IMLou-cable

I had gotten a tune up earlier, and asked to replace cables if needed.  In retrospect, I should have insisted that cables be changed.  That’s on me, and from now on I will replace cables at the beginning of every season.  Lesson learned.

My attitude about the setback slowly changed from aggravation to fascination. It was definitely entertaining riding the course on a single gear, and I had fun tucking in on all the downhills and getting as aero as possible, since there was zero resistance with which to pedal.  On the uphills, I absolutely mashed those pedals at about a cadence of 10, and must’ve looked to anyone out there like an ignorant novice.  However, I was absolutely flying past people on the uphills, which made it fun!  Who cares that the legs would be screwed for the run; I’d just be happy to make it back.

Once I made it past the hills of Ballard Road the second time (without having to unclip) I knew I was in the clear.  There were two moments where I almost capsized, but had just enough gas to out-muscle the crest of the hill.

During the last thirty miles, the weather changed from beating-down-sun to foreboding and gale force, cold winds.  Turning for home, we were hit with a head and cross wind that turned knuckles white.  I knew I could keep my bike upright, but it was crazy to feel the winds try to knock it out from under you, and see all the debris blowing everywhere.  I definitely felt like the wicked witch at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz.

wind

Around that time, myself and several other rides got stuck behind a slow-moving car for about fifteen minutes.  All we could do was sit there and laugh and chat, because it was too dangerous to pass.  That was the most frustrating time.

Once that car turned, we were into the homestretch.  Those last dozen miles my legs felt fresh as daisies and I was passing people like they were standing still.  I was shocked, as I had expected to have zero legs after all that mashing.  Oddly, those were some of my fastest miles, and I was singing the whole way.  When I saw transition my thoughts were, “Damn, I wish we had more of this bike course left.”  Official bike time= 6:07.  I feel it would’ve easily been sub 5:50 if things had gone smooth.

Nutrition had went well, with Generation UCAN, a few Stinger waffles and a bonk breaker.  I did have to hit the Port-O-Potty one more time.

Beginning the run I felt like I was on top of the world.  I tried to go out at 8:30 pace, but my first mile was closer to 7:30.  Second mile I reeled it in.  At mile 4, an intense side stitch occurred and that did slow me down significantly.

Around mile 5, I was suddenly hit with a wave of heartburn/ nausea.  It was similar to Chattanooga, but to a lesser degree.  This one was tolerable and I just hoped it would go away.  It never did, and would slowly progress throughout the run.  It was frustrating, because my legs wanted to knock it out of the park, but the rest of me could not.

So at mile 6 or so, I came to the Bluegrass Triathlon Aid Station.  I knew it would be there, but had no idea to expect.  It was absolutely hopping, and filled with all my tri friends from Lexington!  They had loud music, and on the microphone I heard, “Here comes a Bluegrass Tri Member- Erin Rock coming to the aid station!” Wow, talk about feeling like a celebrity.  Seeing all my friends was one of the best parts of the day!

Shortly after that was the turnaround, and we got to cruise by that aid station again.  Around that point, I came upon another local triathlete, Phillip Cullen.  It was awesome to see a familiar face going through the same kind of torture that I was, so we got to have a brief chat.

The best part of the run course was getting to see my husband Damien, and Dolores, who had driven all the way from Lexington just to see Luke and I.  She was running back and forth in dress boots, and the cheers from those two put the biggest smile on my face!  There were a lot of hugs between the three of us and I had fun stopping to talk to them.

About midway through the run I saw Luke coming from the other direction.  I was so relieved to see him.  Luke had come straight to the start line after working a 12 hour night shift, and I don’t know how he did it, but he was out there and he was having a pretty solid day.  I also saw his girlfriend Molly, who is one of the best supporters in the world!

By now, the temps had dropped and a lot of people were going down with hypothermia.  It had been 81 at one point on the bike, and now was in the low 50’s.  Barricades were blowing over, and volunteers were tying down port-o-potties.  I had a long sleeved shirt at special needs, and the thought of that is what got me to mile 14.  It did not disappoint, and I felt like I was wrapping myself in hugs from Jesus.

I hadn’t been able to eat or drink much on the run, and that trend continued. A little water was manageable, and I had a potato chip and a gel.  Once in a while I would try a sip of coke or gatorade, but that was a bad idea.

I was a little leery of this second loop. One of my pro triathlete friends had told me “You’re going to see all kinds of disgusting stuff on the run course.”  I had terrible visions, and I knew it wouldn’t take much to worsen the queasiness.  I had heard a pro male cyclist do something gross on the bike.  But other than that, I am happy to report that I did not witness or hear ANY bodily fluids/ noises at any point whatsoever in that entire race.  However, there were unpleasant smells a time or two.

I remember being very excited to see my aid station that last time, but by then I was a little out of it and the details are foggy.  I knew I had only five miles or so to go, and there was light at the end of the tunnel.

At mile 24 I saw Damien and Dolores for the last time.  We exchanged hugs, and they said “If you get to the finish first, wait for us.”  Those words made me realize just how close I was to becoming an Ironman.

The last two miles were slow.  I was too nauseous to move any faster, and took my time.  Suddenly, I came around the corner and THERE IT ALL WAS!

IMLou-finisharea

One thing I’ve always heard is that you can not beat the Ironman Louisville finish line at Fourth Street Live.  It was absolutely magical- the energy, the lights, the music, the announcer!  I’ve never experienced that in my life and never will again.  How could anyone top that?

At the top of the red carpet, I wrapped my long sleeved shirt around my waist for a better picture.  Once I tied the knot, I took it all in and felt like my feet were floating all the way to the line.  Over all that crowd, I could hear Damien and Dolores.  I crossed the line with the biggest sense of relief and gratitude imaginable.  And just past the finish line was a sea of tri friends, including the legendary Susan Bradley Cox herself.

23914751338_106d808d19_o Credit: Francis Buckley

 

The angel of a volunteer wrapped me in a blanket, put the medal around my neck, and then sent me off with Damien and Dolores.  My legs were fine, but I was so queasy I could barely stand.  We went to the curb and it felt like heaven to sit down.  Standing back up would feel like hell.  I just couldn’t believe it was all over.  Run= 4:22, Total= 12:02

I wanted to stay and watch Luke come in, but I didn’t feel well enough.  He would meet us at Molly’s house after finishing with a surge those last few miles. Here’s a pic of the two of them before the torture all began.

luke

In retrospect, having a DNF at Chattanooga was a blessing in disguise.  I’ve coached athletes through DNF’s, and now I can empathize with them and know what it feels like.  I also know taste of redemption, and it makes it all that much sweeter.

Thank you a million to Dolores Hall.  She has the heart of gold and is a tremendous athlete and even better friend who would give you the shirt off her back if you needed one.  We were in this together from day one, and though we didn’t finish at the same time, we still shared that whole experience together.  It is something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives, and every time I see a blue butterfly (our good luck charm) I will think of her.

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Thanks to everyone who supported me on this journey.  The athletes I coach, the Bluegrass Tri Club, my clients at the gym- they were all part of it and they all inspired me in their own ways.  Luke Roesler is at the top of that list.  What a dedicated athlete and true friend. My family and friends on Facebook showed such heartfelt support, and my in-laws were a huge part of it.  Debbie Rock was encouraging from the get go and played a big part in my making the decision to pick up the pieces where I left off,

Speaking of Rocks, I couldn’t have done it without this guy.  I know it kills him to not be able to participate due to his injury, but you’d never know.  He was my Rock throughout this whole journey. That doesn’t mean he gets a medal though, haha.

IMLou-Damo

So for now, so long Ironman.  That distance sure made me realize how much I love HALF Ironman races.  Never say never, but I’m going to say a very adamant “Probably not doing that again.”

 

 

 

 

 

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