Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The most competitive race of my life: Age Group Nationals - Olympic distance

A few months ago I watched a video clip of Darren Campbell, an Olympic 100 meter sprinter. He said that if everything went well in a race he’d remember two things: 1) the gun going off, 2) crossing the finish line. You can checkout the video here: . Even though my races take much longer than the 9-10 seconds that his took him, I can fully understand the statement. I think I used to be better at writing race reports because I used to let the race dictate my performance. Now, the gun goes off and I trust my training to help me find the finish line. So if this seems boring, it’s because I really didn’t think about much. I just raced.

I drove to Chicago on Thursday with fellow competitor, Andy, and my wonderful hubby and race sherpa, Tim. After a quick stop and a restful nights sleep at my in-laws, we hit the road again for Milwaukee. Travel, as can be expected, was a bear, but I ate tried and true foods on the road, foam rolled at rest stops and hydrated well.  

The race venue was awesome and the volunteers were smiling and very helpful. It was hard not to get REALLY excited at packet pick up. We got jackets and bags from TYR, compression socks from ec3d, and a running hat from Sweatvac. Yay swag!

From the expo it was back to the car to sticker our bikes and then rack them in transition. It's always hard to say good bye to Bumblebee (my yellow Felt TT bike), but I was looking forward to our reunion in the morning.

Back at the hotel, I enjoyed the evening ritual of packing my transition bag and laying out the items I’d need in the morning. The excitement was building! I slept horribly and we learned that I should not be allowed to pick out future hotels (this one was NO GOOD… just think prostitutes, mold, and a barely functioning air-conditioner!! Eeek!)

I was up at 5:15am, showered, braided my hair, proudly pulled on my Valor triathlon project kit and sat down for breakfast: 4 of those little dishes of applesauce, a picky bar (because I forgot my whey protein) and 3 rice cakes. We were on the road a little after 6am and made it easily to transition to quickly set everything up. I selected my gear to begin in on the bike and left things awaiting my T1 arrival.  

At 8:30 I enjoyed another picky bar as I sat in the shade watching athletes come and go. At 8:40 I did an easy 10 minute jog, some leg swings, high knees, butt kicks and some quick turnover drills. My neuromuscular system felt sluggish in the beginning, but the light warm up woke everything right up.  

At 9am I donned my wetsuit and made my way to the swim start. Before long it was time to take my gel, last bit of water and start my swim warm up. I opted to go with an non-caffeinated gel as I felt like the caffeinated one got my HR a little too high at Cayuga the week before. We got into the water and were on the cusp of starting our race when the water had to be cleared for an emergency in the previous wave. After about a 25 minute delay we were on our way! 

Swim - 25:16, 1:32/100 yards 51st AG, 371st Female

I went out hard and was surprised to find open water pretty quickly despite still being in a pretty big pack. After a few hundred yards, there was a faster group off the front, a big group a little behind them and then me WITH OTHER SWIMMERS! I tried to stay on feet and surged when I needed to in order to catch up and draft. Some times when I draft, I feel like I’m just sitting on them not doing anything, but this time I was working hard to keep up so it was a good position to be in! About half way through the swim I wondered if I’d gone out too fast… everything was getting tired. I made sure to NOT burry my head and kept pulling hard. I was surprised when I excited the water and Tim told me I was 51st… I thought I’d be mid pack at best. I was happy and excited to continue hammering the course!

This has been a theme this year, but it feels amazing to get into the water and start racing from the gun… not to make it through the water and start racing once I’m on the bike. That has really made the world of difference on so many levels. 

Bike - 1:04:24, 23.2 mph, 5th AG, 28th Female

I got on the bike smoothly and went out hard. I noted that for Sunday’s race I may want to try a slightly bigger gear, as I was spinning right away making it a little tough navigating the competition and getting my feet into my shoes and trying to shift. It all panned out fine, but it was noted. From there I just road. I did a little passing and then I got passed. There was a particular woman that I started to key off of in the beginning which kept me riding aggressive. About 2.5 miles in, there was a slight climb in which I made a technical error of not dropping into my small chain ring… again, noted for day two. We turned around at mile 3 and then I spent the next 12 miles going back and forth with 3 other women while passing quite a few more. By the second turnaround, I decided to hammer for a bit as I’d burned more than a few matches trying to keep things legal. For better or worse, I needed open road and there was no way in hell that I was going to settle for the open road behind these women. I surged on some gentle uphill rollers, nothing crazy… I stayed aero, kept my cadence around 85-88. I felt good and worked to keep pace for the rest of the ride.  

I averaged 168 bpm on the bike… higher than the 160 goal, but I just used that as a challenge… Prove that I can still run! 

Run - 41:55, 6:44/mile, 9th AG, 56th Female

I felt AMAZING coming off the bike! So amazing that my first two miles were SUB 6:30 pace! It was tough, I came off the bike and made a quick pass and then got passed… twice. I tried to go with them, but knew that the pace wasn’t one that I could hold so I tried to settle. There was a turnaround at mile 1 and I could see all of my competition gunning for me. To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t get me! By mile 3 I was hurting. I just set my sights on the final out and knew that once I got to it I’d only have 2.2 miles left. I slowed WAY down at the mile 4 aid station and then quickly refocused and talked myself through the last 2.2 miles. It. Was. Ugly. I focused on the 10x800 I’d just done a few weeks ago and decided on 3 minutes hard (800ish meters) and 1 minute easy. I wouldn’t call the 1 minute easy, but I did back off the pace for 30 seconds or so. Then it was back to pushing the pace. I was breaking things down into chunks as best as I could… hard to the tree… catch that person before you get to that cone… it all hurt, but it was over soon enough!  

Surprisingly, I averaged 176 bpm on the run… 8 beats higher than the bike, just like I was supposed to. Once I saw that, I was more confident in my decision to push the bike a little. 
Totals for the day - 2:14:57, 4th AG, 44th Female and a spot on Team USA for the 2015 World Championships!!

I snagged a water and quickly got some sun screen on and a picky bar in my tummy. My mind was instantly on Sunday’s Sprint. We got out of the sun, kept the legs loose and cleared out of transition as soon as possible. It was back to the hotel for showers and then off to Panera for food, where I devoured:

A full chicken cobb salad with THREE hard boiled eggs and a whole bowl of black bean soup – carbs and protein galore! I also enjoyed some coffee and lots of water.
Then it was back to the hotel to switch out race numbers and return to re-rack the bikes. From there we headed over to the awards ceremony where I awkwardly, and mind you was the only one in over 200 athletes, got on the wrong podium! Oh, wait I’m not 5th??? I’m 4th???? Are you sure??? Apparently the 3rd place women received a drafting penalty dropping her from 3rd to 5th and me from 5th to 4th.

Between the race and bed time, I had to really manipulate how I felt – I tried to be silly, high energy, but not too high and VERY positive about how I felt. I knew if I let myself crash and believe that I was tired and sore, by body would lock up and I’d have a hard time getting going the next day. 

Dinner was late, but we kept it simple. I had deli roast beef on rice cakes with applesauce and some fruit salad. Or maybe that was a lot of fruit salad… J

Bed before 10pm…

Until the next tale,


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To grasp the hand of another: Age Group National Championships – Part 1

This has been one hell of a season for me. You may not be able to tell from this particular space on the internet, as I’ve found myself too busy to write about it. But I’ve enjoyed writing about my triathlon adventures in the past and am thankful to have them stowed away so that I can relive those adventures.

There’ll be a Part 2 and Part 3 to this and I’ll write all about racing the “Double” at AG National, digging deep, leaning into pain, and snagging spots on Team USA for AG Worlds in 2015.

Here, today, I want to share a story from the weekend that impacted me more than my personal achievements.  It’s a story of sisterhood. It’s a story of my tri family.

My favorite memory of the weekend was just prior to the start of my swim wave on Saturday for the Olympic distance. My age group had already waited over two hours to get started. We’d all lined up to head down to the water for our warm up, when the swim start arch deflated, blocking the way. You could tell right away that this was a group of positive women. The jokes started – “It’s lucky to have to walk around the arch instead of under it.” “Our egos must not be big enough to inflate it.” “We’re the only ones smart enough to know where the swim start is without a huge sign!”

We proceeded to the warm up and before long we were all called to the swim start with a minute to go. You could certainly feel the tension in the air – these women were here to race. We would soon be pinned against each other, hunting, catching, and dusting those we could.

Then the announcer told us to stand down. Our start was delayed. We all remain tense, treading water, ready to go from 0-60 at a moment’s notice. The announcer then tells us it might be a while. We anxiously ask how long. We’re directed to swim back to the pier. This might take a while.

Well this pier is over 2 feet above the surface of the water… we could barely reach it. A few women struggled up – strangers gave them shoves on the butt, supported their feet so they could “beach whale” onto the pier. Once there were a small handful of women on top of the pier, they began lifted those in the water straight up and onto the pier. Once you grasped a hand and were pulled up, you turned and offered a hand to those still in the water.

I was in a crowd of women I hoped to annihilate and I’m sure they had much of the same aspirations. And yet there we stood lifting each other up. We graciously excepted help in a feat that we were too weak to conquer ourselves and humbly offered help to those who needed it. It was beautiful.

Simple, but beautiful.

Thank you women of AG 30-34, you are strong and caring. I am proud to have raced with you all.

Until the next tale,


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thoughts on Food

When I was in first grade I ate three apples a day. That was it. I remember clear as day sitting folded on the floor with my legs under me, chest against my thighs... I liked the way my ribs felt against them. I could feel them flex and move with every breath.

I also remember getting in trouble after my annual check up. Between the ages of 6 and 7 I had lost weight and yet grown taller. My mom was embarrassed, "She's just a picky eater." "She just isn't ever hungry."

To be honest, I don't remember being hungry. I just liked apples... and the feel of my ribs.

My obsession with food and body has grown since those early memories. Sometimes, in very self destructive ways and other times in very healing ways.

At 29 years of age, I can say that I love food and my body - though I still find myself in conflict with both. Truly, I am in awe of both. My journey has lead me to learn a great deal about food and I want to share a thought that I'm trying to internalize.

Over the years I've come to the opinion that the things I eat should have a good life before they become my food. From there I had to learn what it meant for my food to have a good life. My research lead to learning about grass fed verses grain fed animals. After 2 years as a vegan (long ago at this point), I learned that I just love beef and I feel better when I eat beef. But what does it mean for a cow to live a good life. What is natural for a cow.

Believe it or not, it is the cow that has taught me the most. If I'm going to eat a cow, it should come from near by, it should be pastured with other cows (but not too many), it should be feed grass, and the end of it's life should come by a hand that loves and cherishes the beast.

Initially, I thought, "Oh, good for the cow!"

Later, I learned, "Oh, good for me!"

As it turns out, an organic grass fed cow is leaner and has significantly more omega-3-fatty acids than a grain fed cow. Omega-3's are the mac-daddy of the essential fatty acids.

Check out these sources for more info:

Recently, I became an aunt, which of course means that my hubby and I have spent far to many conversations talking about and critiquing something of which we know nearly nothing about. One such topic was alcohol consumption while breastfeeding. I have friends that were told "absolutely not!" and others that were given guide lines and yet others that were told "Go for it! Alcohol doesn't pass into the milk!"

My husbands argument was that the beef we eat and the milk we drink is altered by the diet of the cow, then surely the milk of a mother is altered by what she eats and drinks. Wow. Totally makes sense!

I am no mother, but like a cow my flesh is made from the building blocks provided to it through what I eat. Humans are resilient beasts and can eat nearly anything, but I wonder what if I were "grass fed." How would my fat composition change. How would my bones, muscles, and even my brain respond? Why can I so easily commit to buying beef that has been feed and treated optimally and yet I can not feed and treat myself as such?

My lesson to internalize: It matters what you put into your body, because it will become your body!

Now the challenge: Wading through the mountains of research to discover what is truly best for the human body - and I have a feeling it's not beer and chocolate!

Until the next tale,


Friday, November 29, 2013

A Race Day of Firsts

A race day of firsts and not the kind you're thinking of - I did not finish first. However, I think everything except my finish place was a first...

First Turkey Trot!
First goal race in the SNOW
First time eating butternut squash as a pre-run breakfast
First time starting a warmup somewhere other than the race venue (left from home)
First time running with a Garmin (I got the 910XT!!!!)
First time running with a heart rate monitor
First time NOT knowing the staring line had been moved!
First time MISSING the start of the race
First time zig-zagging through 800 runners (see above)
First time I've been ANGRY at mile 1 during a race (see above)
First time not getting past by a single person
First time finishing (last 100 or so meters) on a sheet of ice
First time winning a PIE (it was pumpkin!!)

Gun time/results: 20:46, 5th OA female, 2nd AG
Chip time/results: 19:53, 2nd OA female, 1st AG

My string of firsts taught me a lot, of which I am truly thankful for.

For a more indepth (and better!) recap, checkout Jenelle's, my training/racing partners, race  report!

Did you "Trot" on Thursday?

Until the next tale,



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mental Prep

Yesterday I rolled out of bed and got in a snowy, easy 6 miler. I've been tapering for over 2 weeks and my body feels fresh, ready to perform. A morning 6 miler is not the time to do so. Constantly having to dial back the effort and keeping my eager legs in check meant that I spent the entirety of my run thinking about the reason I could not run free. A Thursday morning Thanksgiving 5K - The Pie and Glove - is what I'm saving up for. Since I could not push my body, I opted to push my mind... or at least prepare my mind.

Much of the mental prep for a race happens hand in hand with the physical prep. Every rep, interval, tempo, mile I pushed through affected my body as well as my mind. Most times one was strong while the other wavered, on occassion they both showed up and revealed that I was no longer the athlete I thought I was - I was now stronger. As my easy morning miles prepared my body to be fresh and sharp on race day, here is what went through my mind to ensure it, too, was fresh and sharp on race day.

1) Pain. This year, like last year, my goal for this end of the year race is to find the pain cave and conqure it. I like to think of it as racing out side of myself, or beyond what is known to me. I want to confront a new level of discomfort so that I can uncover a faster, baver me. Often times on race day, my body is only doing what it can already do... I've just set it up to have a high chance of sucess. This time, I want to flirt with danger. I want to push to the breaking point (in as smart of a way as possible)and see what happens. With the right amount of mental endurance, I'll discover something new about myself. Something that in the past has been too risky to find. I will embrace the pain.

2) Relax. June of 2012, I learned the difference between running hard and running well. It was in a race... I was straining for second and first was up the road. I knew that at my current effort, things would not end well. So I relaxed. I let my arms swing easily. I stopped pounding the ground and begain rolling over it. I leaned forward and let gravity speed me. I did slow, but just barely. After a few minutes the pace became comfortable so I ran a bit faster, still relaxed, still rolling over the earth. I continued building speed, without straining, until it was time to kick. Running well and running hard are definitely two different things. In the long run, running well is faster. On Thursday, I will run relaxed, I will run well.

3) Experience. The weather forecast for Thursday is bleak. Winds, ice, and cold temperatures do not make for the best race conditions. While I have a lofty (for me) time goal (break 19:00, which would be a 45 sec PR) I realize that there is far more that can be achieved from this experience than a PR or a sub 19:00 5K. Obviously, I hope to learn while in the pain cave, but I also gain just from toeing the start line with my competitors. When postured towards learning, it is hard to find a finish line that doesn't come with lessons. I want to be receptive to my mind and body, to the 5K distance, to my competitors, to the volunteers, to the spectators, to the roads, ice, winds, and freezing temperatures. I want to embody the experience and learn from it... I want to be changed by it.

Until the next tale,


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Running Times: Training block 2

I'm beginning to think that my "off season" is far too long, but on the other hand I have no idea how people train and race triathlon 11 months of the year! I think my main problem is that I still consider triathlon to be swimming + biking + running = triathlon. I think in reality triathlon = triathlon. What do you think?

November seems to be my "doubting" time of year. I always seem to convince myself that I've wasted another year of training by doing everything wrong and therefore am hopelessly behind for the year to come.

Sorry, no closure to that statement, just rambling.

I bet you're super on board with hearing about my second training block since my goal race back in July - since I've just declared I feel like a bit of a failure. Promise I'll include what I've LEARNED as well as what I've done. In fact, I'll start with two things I've learned.

1) Training blocks definitely work! In my last post, I gave this overview of training blocks: The general premise is to spend a 4-6 week block focusing on one of the three events while maintaining the other two events. To focus on an event means 5-6 days/week training that event, as that is generally how many days/week required to experience significant gains in skills, speed, strength, and endurance (assuming you’re working all of those systems). In order to maintain previous gains in an event, you need only two session/week. I saw significant improvements in my cycling, in what seemed like a short period of time. That sounds smart, right?! Absolutely! I think there are some things I could have done better, but I chalk up my first training block as a sucess.

2) Training blocks only work if you do them right. And you say, well duh, Ericka. Well... this leads me into my second training block: running... read onward to learn what not to do:

I am on the verge of completing a 11 week running block - which is likely too long of a training block, especially since running is my strongest discipline. Six of the 11 weeks have been spent hitting 65 miles per week, with two weeks of build and 3 weeks of taper. Here is an example of my weekly training:

Sunday: Long run – 16.0 miles
Monday: Easy run 10.0 miles
Tuesday: Tempo (10x4min at tempo with 1 min jog recovery) 10.0 miles total
Wednesday: Intervals (6x1200 meters with 200 meters jog recovery) 10.0 miles total
Thursday: Off or optional recovery workout
Friday: Hills (14x 250 meter hill repeats with jog back recovery) 9.0 miles total
Saturday: Easy run 10.0 miles
week's total: 65 miles

Let me tell you, this is a solid running week... it will make you a faster runner. In fact, I know that I'm a faster runner than I was last year and running wise, I'll finish November as the best runner I've ever been.

That's exciting, right?! ...Sure, if you're a runner... notice anything, well, missing from all of those running miles? Like non-running miles. Like in a pool or on a bike...?

In eleven weeks I have spent less than 2 hours in the pool. Shame, shame. Thanks to a few nagging injuries I've spent a little more time on the bike... maybe 10 hours total. But if I could run, I did run. In this training block I have sacrificed my triathlon fitness for run fitness. My cycling block is all but lost to me and my approaching swim block will have to start from square one when it could have started at square four (or something like that).

Training blocks work... but only if you do them right. Lesson learned... hopefully!!

Until the next tale,


Friday, September 27, 2013

Training after a goal race

From January 1st through July 14th, I trained with focus and gusto. I had one goal in mind: Be fast at Musselman 70.3. Considering a 5 month foot injury that lasted from November through March, I’d say I meet my goal. It feels good to meet goals. Often the accomplishment of one goal leads to more aggressive, future goals. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to make future goal that are pretty far off… as in a year away.

I’d say one of the keys to a successful season is defined off season goals. I have failed at this. My goal of get faster in each discipline is far from defined, though my plan is quit detailed. Something for me to work on!

Last January, I learned about training blocks as tools for improving triathlon skills. The general premise is to spend a 4-6 week block focusing on one of the three events while maintaining the other two events. To focus on an event means 5-6 days/week training that event, as that is generally how many days/week required to experience significant gains in skills, speed, strength, and endurance (assuming you’re working all of those systems). In order to maintain previous gains in an event, you need only two session/week.

I recently finished a 6 week bike training block and I have definitely seen some significant improvements in my cycling – including the bike split at Willow Creek Triathlon, after which I told my husband “But I can’t ride 23.7 miles per hour!” Wisely he responded, “Well you just did.” After only two weeks of bike focused tempo sets, painful intervals, and heart racing power sessions, I had greatly improved my cycling ability. I will add that building cycling muscles has slowed my running a little, but I’ll get that back in my next training block – such is the life of a triathlete!

What has my cycling training block consisted of? After hitting a training peak of over 20 hours while preparing for Musselman, I have no desire to spend hours on the bike. I needed a break from the endurance side of cycling. I’ve tried to keep my workouts to an hour of high quality work – it’s kept me sane!

An example week:

95 minute long runThe Machine: a 1.8 mile run, 10 mile bike, 1.8 mile run, 10 mile bike, 1.8 mile run all at tempoAM Swim Bike: 5 min wu, 10 min single leg work, 7x 30sec sprint from stop (10 sec standing, 10 sec seated) 4:30 min tempo, 10min cd.AM Run: Speed session AM Swim3 hour bike ride + 15 minute tempo run

PM Bike: 10min wu, 40 min ride w 10-15 sec jumps (high effort and high cadence) every 5 minutes, 10 min cdPM Bike: 10 min wu, 7x3min speed interval w 3 min recovery spin, 10 min cd

How do you approach your off season?

Until the next tale,