Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Different Kind of Cycling

I don't love cycling.  Sometimes I hate it.  I have always loved running, and learned to love swimming (thank you AA Masters and Coach Don!), but I haven't yet gotten there with cycling.  When I was training for my Ironman last year, I remember thinking that my "perfect" training week would be 3 swims, 3 runs, and cycling only for commuting and leisure.  No training rides.  I still feel that way.  Road rides for speed are pretty much all work for me, and no fun.  Maybe it's because I'm not "good" at it compared to the people I tend to ride with, but I don't really think that's it.

So I bought a bike.

A steel bike.  A heavier bike than the one I was riding.  Technically, a "cyclocross bike", but most people, including me, buy it to use for "light touring".

The very first day I bought it, I took it camping.  I rode with a group (on mostly dirt roads) about 30 miles to the campsite, with all my gear on the back.  We camped overnight, and then packed up and rode home in the morning.  It was awesome.  The bike came with 700cx 28mm randonneur tires, which were a bit narrow and lightly treaded for all the dirt roads, but definitely way better than my road bike.  I ordered some 32mm knobbier ones for the future.  With all the weight I had loaded on the back end, and the narrow tires (pumped too high too!), and the dirt roads, I definitely had my some skidding issues and had to be cautious with turns.

I had a really good time and definitely want to do it again.  With the dirt roads, hills, and all the weight on the back my speed wasn't very high, but it was definitely a lot of work.  I was sore for a few days after.  I think that doing this type of riding will still translate to speed on the bike at triathlons.  I'll be used to carrying more weight and fighting more resistance, so riding my lighter bike at a race should feel easier, and my legs should eventually get stronger.

Since getting my new bike I've also started commuting to work a lot more.  The steel frame absorbs the road vibrations a lot better than my still aluminum road bike, and makes traveling on Michigan potholed roads and sidewalks a lot more enjoyable.  It's only 4-6 miles to get there (depending which way I go), so ~10 miles round trip 3-5 days a week really adds up my biking mileage.  I usually have a hard time getting bike mileage in since I don't really enjoy it, so I'm hoping these little stints will improve my cycling fitness gradually.  Some of the rides are quite leisurely, but pretty much any hill involves work.  I'm trying to get Justin to get a bike so we can do some leisure rides together.  Until then, I let him ride my new bike (it has flat pedals on one side, so he doesn't need cleated shoes), while I ride my road bike, and we can go on mini-adventures together.  So far, one picnic is in the bag.  Hopefully, many more to follow.

 I also road my new bike to a Memorial Day picnic on Monday.  Complete with 6 cans of hard cider, marshmallows, graham crackers, and a bottle of relish on the rack in the back.  :)  I like cycling way better this way.  I see much more touring, commuting, and camping in my future, and much less pace line and speed-oriented road cycling with those people in the snazzy cycling outfits and all the gadgets.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Flip Turn Frustrations

I got super freaking pissed at swim practice this morning.

You may recall that after the swim meet two weeks ago, one of my goals for the year was to switch to primarily flip turns at practices (and hence also at meets) instead of my current practice of open turns.

I didn't really think this would be a very difficult goal to achieve since I currently CAN flip turn, I just choose not to.  I just had to get in the habit and get used to it.  I opted for open turns because I tended to get winded staying under for so long on a flip, and also sometimes would end up with water in my goggles.  But any time I wanted to do one (at a moderate pace at least) I could.

So Thursday at masters swim I figured I'd just take my swim pace a little easier than usual and just start doing flip turns at every turn.  No big.  Except it was.  Suddenly I couldn't do it anymore.  Suddenly every flip ended up like the one at the meet where I got all cockeyed and disoriented.  I have no idea what happened.  I literally couldn't do a single one.  I don't know if it's some kind of psychological trauma or what.  So anyway, I solicited Coach Don's help at the end of Thursday morning's practice, and he had me do some drills and practice turns and finally, after what felt like a thousand failed attempts, I managed one good turn.  (Which should not be that big of a deal because I've done a bunch before with no issue whatsoever!)  It actually felt really great.  Smooth and effortless.  A little taste of what might be possible in the future.

So in my head, between Thursday and today, I'm kind of fantasizing about swimming.  I have this smooth, powerful, effortless stroke and can do these beautiful, efficient flip turns without batting an eye.  (In my head....this is NOT real life).  I'm getting excited for Saturday (today's) practice when I can implement my new found swimming prowess.  I start swimming this morning and my core connection and body position and stroke were feeling great, so I was pumped about the improvements there, but when I went in for the flip: FAIL.  No big deal, try try again.  FAIL.  FAIL.  FAIL.  FAIL.  And every time I fail I lose time and get behind the people in my lane and either have to bust ass to catch up, or sit out a lap and hop on the next one.

I was getting REALLY frustrated.  (understatement.)  I really wanted to get it though so I kept trying for a little too long, and it was ruining my mood and ruining an otherwise perfectly good swim.  So finally I stopped.  It was such a relief.  To just swim and not think about the turns.  The ease and power of getting a good square push-off the wall with my legs on the open turns.  The lack of stress and effort to keep up in the lane.  *sigh*   But I want that, with the flip turn.  I need to practice, but practicing bad turns with zero success was just drilling bad habits into my brain and muscle memory, or at least that was my impression.  I think I'll take a few days or a week off of trying to flip, let my body and brain forget whatever bad juju it picked up, and then try again.

On the bright side, our masters team moves to a 50 m outdoor pool in about a month, instead of our current 25 yd indoor pool, so that will be 50% less turning!  Yay!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ironman Recap Part 2, The SWIM

(Important note: there are several great videos in this post - if they are not showing up in your feed reader or email, you may want to go to my blog directly to read this post to see the videos:  )

Also, make sure to read part 1 first if you missed it! 

I was very glad when it was time to wake up race morning.  Of course there was very little sleep and I mostly just wanted to get it over with rather than lying there tossing and turning.  I woke up and had my breakfast of wheat toast with peanut butter, banana, and honey, and a cup of coffee.  (A pretty normal breakfast for me, so hopefully a "safe" choice).  One of Justin's hobbies is taking pictures of me on race morning before I get ready.  This one is good: 

I walked over to the transition area by myself, shortly after it opened and before most of the athletes had arrived.  Because the house I was staying at was basically a stone's throw from transition, I decided to go set up my transition and get body marked early, then come back to the house to stay warm and have access to the bathroom and everything, and then walk back to the start at the "last minute" before the race started, since everything was already done.  This was awesome because it was a cold morning, in the high 30's at that time, and standing around in that waiting to jump in to 60 degree water would have been less than ideal.

Of course my bike and most of my bags had been dropped off the day before, but I think the bike special needs and run special needs were dropped off race morning (my memory is getting fuzzy!) , and I still had some things to set up in my bike gear bag.  Most importantly, I wanted to activate hand/toe warmers and put them inside my bike shoes and jacket pockets so that my hands and feet could warm up when I got on the bike.  I knew I'd be cold getting out of the water, and my feet/toes freeze easily on the bike on a cold day, even when I start warm and dry! There is nothing worse than being cold on the bike, so I erred on the side of caution packing lots of warm gear.  Easy enough to toss it later.  I dropped off my remaining bags, pre-warmed my bike stuff, checked the air in my tires (I carried a pump with me from the house that morning), got body marked, and then headed back to the house to "relax" (and poop) and get ready before the start of the race.  
Rocking my new neoprene sleeves. 
Justin got this picture of me and my dad walking toward the start. 
Very close to the expected start time (maybe 10-15 minutes), I finally headed back out toward the start line.  As I approached, I hear the announcer say " will be an Ironman, this is still your day" like something was going on.  I didn't know what.  As I got closer, I learned that they had delayed the swim start, and cut the distance in HALF to 1.2 miles.  I started crying shortly after that.  Because of my achilles injury, I had done a ton of extra swim training to make up for what I couldn't run or bike.  So at the time of the race, I felt the swim was my strongest event.  A 1.2 mile open water swim wasn't even what I was used to doing on a normal workout day.  They said it was because of the chop and wind and there was a "small craft advisory" so the kayaks and safety crews could get to where they needed to be.  I don't know.  I didn't care.  The water looked fine to me, and I knew I could handle it even if it was bad, and I just wanted to do the whole damn event.  It's not like it was an ocean swim with "real" waves.  So I got grumpy.  And I waited.  Not very patiently.

Me and Justin.  Not happy.  
Me, not happy, and my dad, scoping out the crowd.  

At least I found a warm place to sit...I warmed my hands and feet on the exhaust pipe of an ambulance.   Toasty.  
Eventually, they decided to extend the course back out to 3000m (about 1/2 mile short of the usual 2.4 miles) instead of the super reduced 1.2 miles.  I was a little happier about that, but didn't really understand why we couldn't do 2.4 miles if we could do 1.9 miles.  At that point I think it was more about timing and getting the race done.  They were still moving the course marking buoys as we were lining up to start, so we didn't even get a course preview.  The announcer said basically to just follow the person in front of you, and the course buoys would be in place by the time we needed them.   Great.  It was basically a two loop course, or some kind of modified two loops.  Part of what went wrong with the swim was that last year, people complained because the water was too shallow so people were able to walk during some parts of it.  To remedy that, this year they moved the course further out away from shore, which meant it was no longer as protected in a little inlet like it was last year.  This allowed the water to be more susceptible to wind and currents (the swim was in the Choptank River, right as it empties into the Chesapeake bay).  I believe that if they would have kept the course the same as the previous year, shallow but protected by land, we would have been able to do the full swim unmodified.  Personally I couldn't care less if people choose to walk during the swim.  Walking in water is slow as shit.  I can outswim anybody on foot in the water. That's why I keep swimming (and passing the walkers/runners) as I approach the swim exit until the last possible second when I can no longer swim without my hands touching the bottom.  

Lots of cold feet.
Anyway, we were finally allowed to start.  I was ready.  I didn't really have a strategy or thoughts for the swim.  I planned to go a little faster than I maybe normally would since it was shorter, and also since the water was so cold.  My main goal was to stay calm and roll with the literal punches.  :)  

 Super thankful for Justin and my dad for getting all these great photos and videos.  

 When I finally got in, the water was cold, but not as bad as I expected.  I tolerate the cold water pretty well in general.  I have noticed in the past that I'm fine without a wetsuit in open water in the early and late season when most people are wearing them.  I started swimming.  In addition to my first-time wearing of the neoprene sleeves, I also wore earplugs and two swim caps for the first time.  The two swim caps were based on advice to wear one cap over your goggles so that if you get smacked in the face/head you don't completely lose your goggles.  Also I figured it would keep my head warmed.  The ear plugs were also because of the cold water.  I hadn't ever swum that long in water that cold, and people had said the cold water in your ears causes the most trouble.  So I bought some.  Lots of race day firsts!  Luckily, none of the changes (2 caps, neoprene sleeves, earplugs) bothered me during the swim.  I can't say for sure if they helped or not because I don't have anything to compare to.  I do think the neoprene sleeves probably kept me a lot warmer, especially when pulling my arms out of the water into the cold air on each stroke.  I felt very relaxed and smooth and didn't have many issues on the first half of the swim.  I passed a lot of people.  I noticed when I got out that I had a cut on my foot that was bleeding, so I must've had a run in with somebody's fingernails or toenails at some point, but I didn't notice it.  On the last section of the swim I definitely noticed some waves and chop that sometimes made turning my head to breathe a little trickier than usual, but it wasn't bad at all.  I definitely would have rather swum the full 2.4 miles, but unfortunately I didn't have a say in the matter.

 As I completed the swim,  I swam until my hands were hitting the bottom and then stood up to run out.  There was pretty big incline to get out of the water, and people there holding their hands out and saying "watch your step getting out of the water".  I realized why when I totally wiped out on my exit.  Of course there's video of that in my official finisher video.  Also my outer cap was most of the way off my head making it look like a rooster's comb, so that's classy.  I guess the two cap strategy didn't work so great after all.  They also totally butchered my name at the swim exit, as they would again at my final/run finish.  (spoiler alert: I finished ;)

My official Ironman video.  You can see me bite it on the swim exit at about 0:28.  It has clips from the bike and run portion too, so just don't watch those yet!  :) 

 My final split time for the swim was 55:58 for 3000m.  That's 1:42 per 100 yds, if that is in fact the distance we actually swam.  Who knows.  That put me at #22 out of 65 actual starters in the female 30-34 age group.  It ended up being my highest ranking of the day.  Who woulda thunk that the swim would end up being my strongest event??

I'm glad I waited to write these posts.  Reliving the race through these photos and videos is making me want to do another one.  (Not gonna lie, I teared up a little. )

Next up....transition 1 and the bike!

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