Monday, September 10, 2012

Brush Your Shoulders Off...YOU DID IT!

Welp, that's a wrap, folks. You did it! Congratulations! If this was your first triathlon, you have my permission to walk tall for the rest of the week. If this was just another flash in the pan during your season of races, a round of applause equally. That was a tough course! Weird how a place so beautiful can be so unforgiving...

Mike Wollinger and Noelle McKay,
after finishing the afternoon race, in quite the daze.
We had a gorgeous morning for the first race, and come second race the clouds were compassionate by blocking out the worst of the sun's rays.  Overall a total of 89 triathletes registered, making the event a success for Mainstay and Housing Assistance. In first place for the Advanced Triathlon overall was John Henis with a time of 1:45:08. Second place was Karen Masson close behind at 1:49:07, and third place was first-time triathlete, Clayton Sanders, with a time of 1:55:36.  For the Novice Triathlon, the top three were Scott Laffin came in first with a time of 58:23, Ed Lilly came in second at 1:02:41, and Brian Augustine was a cool 5 minutes behind him at 1:07:20. 

Me crossing the finish line!
My experience was strenuous but ultimately so rewarding. 100 meters into the swim I was ready to give up. Everyone was splashing around me, people zipping past me like they were shooting for gold, no shores to be seen, and the vast, open sky above me made me feel exceptionally abandoned. But after flopping around for 50 strokes or so, I made it to the bridge and then it was gravy.  Enclosed in the channel, it became much easier for me to forge ahead to the next buoy, and then the next, and then the next, until I had passed two swimmers from the first wave and left two swimmers from my own wave in my wake. That ego boost was equivalent to a whole box of energy gels. I finished the race in 2:40, winning in the Athena category for the Advanced race. (Athena = women >150lbs. I may have been one of two who had the guts to put their actual weight down on registration. Eh, I'll take it.) 

Volunteers and participants enjoy Terry Foxworth's delicious
bar-b-q and Sierra Nevada's generous donation of beer.

Bikers coming out of the 10K bike course
Rodney Robinson was the (evil?) mastermind behind the bike course. For those of who you were more technical mountain bikers, I heard it was a terrific ride, with all the narrow turns and bits of tree trunk to navigate around. Funny, that wasn't what it felt like from a novice perspective.. Still, many thanks to him for marking the trails and working with the organizations to come up with the best routes.  And to the volunteer lifeguard and kayakers out there on the water with us, your presence was most definitely a beacon of refuge for many panicked swimmers at one point or another - or maybe I'm just speaking for myself. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped set up the day before and who stayed after both races were over to clean up. You were ultimately responsible for alleviating worries of all parties involved, participants, organizers, and spectators alike. We can't thank you enough. 

To everyone who kept up with my blog during these last 7 weeks, I hope there was at least one nugget of advice from here that you took with you to Lake Summit.  It was great getting a chance to meet a few of you out there who were in the same boat as I, being totally new to this experience. I had the fortunate opportunity to be interviewed by someone from the Hendersonville Times who also kept up with my blog. Gotta say, that was icing on the cake. :-) Unfortunately/fortunately Housing Assistance nor Mainstay are organizations who put on triathlons on the regular, so this is it for for that subject. However, we hope you will continue following Housing Assistance's blog that will keep you up to date on all the happenings of our sweet organization. We'll be adding volunteer opportunities, DIY tips on basic home maintenance, and other pertinent information related to housing in Henderson County. Definitely check back every now and then, as we thrive on your attention (seriously, I've been refreshing the stats page of Google Analytics since the moment I started this blog. I crave your attention, people.)

Stefanie Kompathoum of HAC and Mainstay Executive Director,
Tanya Blackford, are soooo happy the race is finally over.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Just 4 days till the Mountain Medley Triathlon, and I've already had a nightmare about not being prepared enough: losing my goggles, having to do the swim in a 25 m lap pool and being made to share a lane with a large man who kept hitting me in the face with every stroke, needing someone to drive me through the run because I couldn't use my legs anymore... You know, all the usual mishaps that could happen to anyone during a race. Sure.
So if any of you are suffering silently in anticipation for this weekend, or are battling similar worries that my subconscious apparently has, this post is all about how to get yourself prepared, mentally and physically, during these next four days. Also included are more details about the course and tips for how you can prepare for this particular location.

For the Advanced triathlon-goers, the swim starts at the Camp Mondamin docks and goes for .5 miles under the bridge through the channel, and lets out at the entry spot for the Novice triathlon race.  The Novice swim is a .25 mile-loop around the lake opening near the transition area which comes back around to where you began.  (The pictures for the running courses show the channel and opening where the green marker is labeled.)

The Advanced bike course is a 10K (6.2 miles) over terrain that will elevate you upwards of 700 ft, all throughout Camp Green Cove's trails.  The .5 miles of this course is an up-hill climb, so heed the experts' advice and take it easy.  That hill won't even cover all of the elevation you will have to climb throughout the course, so don't expend all your energy thinking you will help yourself in the long-run by getting ahead of the pack right away. Perfect way to k-e-e-l over.
The Novice bike course is a 5K (3.23 miles) with a total incline of about 500 feet. This course overlaps with parts of the Advanced course, so both races will be facing a mix of gravel and dirt roads, as well as single and double track stretches.  As it says on the website, there will be bike rentals available in the transition area for those who need a mountain bike for this portion of the tri.

5K Run through Camp Green Cove
The runs, outlined in the images, are pretty self-explanatory. The morning Advanced run will be going through Mondamin, and the Novice run in the afternoon will remain in Green Cove. And both runs end on a down-hill, so rejoice in that small miracle! Lord knows you'll be wanting those...
10K Run through Mondamin and Camp Green Cove

It will help to know beforehand what the experience will physically feel like come race day.  Speaking as someone who has only recently practiced in open water for the first time, I can strongly recommend you practice in as close to race conditions as possible as much as possible before Saturday. Any anxieties you have now about the race will be greatly reduced when you can sample what the experience will feel like.

This week, your main focus is on preparing your mind; it is not to fit in those missed intense hill-interval workouts that you didn't have time for last week. Keep your body loose by doing plyometrics for a bit every day. Jog an easy 3 miles; do a leisurely swim for a 45 minutes; power through a few hills on the bike and then coast for a few miles. Do enough to keep your body in constant remembrance of what it will be expected to do soon, but there's no need to overwork it. Also, remember to check your equipment!! Make sure bike tires are pumped and seat/handlebar heights are appropriately adjusted. Are your goggles in working condition? Are your shoelaces going to make it till this weekend? Checking and double checking before the race will be one less thing to stress about come Saturday.

***Helpful hint: Here you'll find a suggested packing list and a recommended nutrition regimen for the day before and day of the race.  Take note of what time your race starts, be it in the AM or PM. If AM, take in just enough carbohydrates to replenish your body's energy supply. If PM, go ahead and eat a big breakfast - if you don't, you'll surely hit a wall that will be near impossible to get over once the race is in motion.

The worst thing you could POSSIBLY do during this taper time before the race is freak out. (I know, I need to eat my own words...) Those of us who are doing this for the first time, we need to remember that we trained hard thus far - now all we have to do is race how we trained. reiterates what I've been saying this last month: "Remind yourself how well prepared you are, do positive self talk everyday leading into race day, and simply draw strength and confidence from your hard work. This mental preparation is as important as the physical preparation!"
A great mental exercise to help your mind accept what your body is about to do in a few days is visualization. Take fifteen minutes before you start your practice, or do it during your post-workout stretching, close your eyes, and imagine the whole day as it will play out:

  • Imagine how you're getting to the race. Visually list all the items you will need to have with you.
  • Walk yourself through what the initial set-up will be like: arranging your bike and shoes in the transition area, taking in the faces of racers bustling around you. Feel the temperature and energy others are giving off soak into your skin (prepare for a wet day). 
  • Feel your heartbeat rise as you envision plunging into the lake alongside 50+ other individuals, who are just as prepared yet just as nerve-wracked as you. Go through the race in your head. Imagine you are calm, making strong and intentional strokes with your arms, your breath is heightened but not spastic, the water is carrying you forward. Take deep breaths during this part of the visualization, so you associate calm breathing with the visuals of chaotic motion. 
  • Go through the steps of getting to your bike, being mindful of others around you, and pushing your hardest up that first hill. 
  • Imagine you've completed two out of the three legs of the race, and now you're dropping your bike off to complete the last and most taxing portion.  Envision yourself starting and ending strong, with a tall spine and a tall spirit. Think about how you will boost your confidence during the race in case your morale drops low.  Will you have a gel on hand? Is there a mantra you've memorized to replenish your confidence? Is there someone waiting for you at the finish line who you want to finish for? Imagine the finish line, think of everyone who will be cheering around you, think about all the incredible effort you put into your training to get you to where you are. 

Open your eyes. Take a deep breath. Smile, why don'tcha?  You gotta be excited for this! Get ready for the adrenaline to blast off when you eventually hear those gut-wrenching words, "On your mark...get set.....GO!!"

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Reasons to Tri

Last Friday a friend and I stood outside the REI in Asheville for three hours dressed in full triathlon-garb, trying to reign people with our attractive spandex and knee-high socks.  It worked...sort of. One volunteer and a handful of "Yeah, I'll check that out".  At least we looked good, though!...right?

With the triathlon only 9 days away, here at the Housing Assistance and Mainstay, our efforts to get people to register have doubled.  As have our stress levels. Yesterday we had another grueling meeting tackling all sides of logistics (who knew there were so many facets to consider when organizing a triathlon?)  But as we sort through all the necessary kinks to make this event run as smoothly as possible and all loose ends are tied, we sometimes forget our own bottom line: raising money so we may continue serving our community efficiently.  I want to take a breather from the training tips and turn the spotlight on the organizations that are making all this happen. We get so caught up in the physical preparation (which is, don't misunderstand me, extremely necessary) that we forget about who is really benefiting from our participation.

The Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) is a private, non-profit organization committed to providing safe and affordable housing for persons of limited income, serving those living in Henderson County and surrounding areas. Their programs include Self-Help housing, a sweat-equity building scheme where neighbors help each other build their own home; a home-repair program for people who may be physically or financially unable to maintain the condition of their homes; a credit counseling program to ease people into home-ownership; as well as developing beautiful multi-family complexes for low-income individuals. The development of Oak Haven, a low-income senior living community, was just completed this month. One resident says of the apartments, "They're more like mainstream apartments than traditional handicap places." "I don't feel like I'm being put into an ugly, utilitarian place. These are beautiful." The grand opening will be held at Oak Haven Apartments on Old Spartanburg Hghw September 21 - open to the public!

In Henderson County, based on projected in come and population growth, an estimated 482 units of affordable rental housing and 138 units of single family housing will be needed each year for the next ten years.  However, current development plans project annual construction of only 30 units of affordable rental units and 20 units of single family housing[1]. Therefore it is imperative that a region deeply rooted in agriculture and rural neighborhoods has access to the affordable housing accommodations that HAC provides.  

This triathlon is HAC's biggest fundraising event of the year. This year will also be the organization's 25th anniversary.  Help them ring in their silver anniversary by showing your support.  Because they "believe every human being deserves the opportunity to live in a decent home."

Mainstay is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and is best known to the public for its shelter for battered women and their children. One of the largest in Western North Carolina, their facility has twenty-three beds and six cribs. While the shelter is, without a doubt, a critical part of the agency's programming, Mainstay is more than a shelter as they offer a variety of services to the community. Programs include a 24-hour response telephone line and 34 bed emergency shelter, individual counseling for adult victims and their children, case management, court advocacy and support groups.  These groups emphasize anger management skills and encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions. Outreach services are available to the community through their Family Services Center.

In 2011, 120 shelter beds were offered to women, 92 beds to children; the average length of time spent at the shelter was 34 nights; 200 individuals participated in the Family Violence class.
Mainstay is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A broad range of services, provided by a small paid staff and over 100 dedicated volunteers, are available to the individuals and families that we serve. Mainstay continues to rely on the generosity of the community for donations of money, time, and goods for our shelter, store, and other programs.

 Over time, Mainstay has evolved from a strictly crisis-driven agency to one striving to develop longer-term services addressing community needs such as low-income housing and the unavailability of medical, mental health and substance abuse resources, especially for the uninsured. An additional concern is the risk to children who are homeless due to domestic violence or poverty.

This is Mainstay's 7th triathlon that they are hosting. By supporting the triathlon you are also helping to sustain the persistent and efficient care Mainstay provides to the whole community of Hendersonville, NC. 

So this next week, as you are preparing your minid for what is promised to be a fulfilling and fun event, keep these two organizations in your thoughts as well. If completing the race isn't enough for yourself, then do it for the Housing Assistance Corp and Mainstay! 

[1] Asheville Regional Housing Consortium Housing Needs Assessment and Market Study, November 2009.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tri Spotlight: Running

And the countdown begins: 16 days till Mountain Medley. Are you pumped? Are you freaking out? Are you sore already? 

In case you're too macho to admit it, I'll ease your pride by sharing how ABSOLUTELY NERVOUS I AM for this triathlon to happen. The anxiety has materialized itself into belching at random and often (it's called "eructation," or swallowing air. Happens for a variety of reasons, but in my case, it's my body's signal informing me that mentally, I need to work out some things. It's kind of neat in that regard.), feeling defeated in the middle of workouts if I start feeling too tired to give it my all, and thinking I will be the last person to cross the finish line.  I could either let these thoughts cripple my drive to push forward, or acknowledge them as mental workouts, just as necessary to my training as hill intervals are. 

Don't freak out!!
Imagine on race day, you're 300 meters into the swim and you inhale a mouthful of water instead of oxygen - the easiest thing to do in that moment would be to accept defeat and succumb to the demon's voice in your head nagging you, You have to stop to catch your breath. You lost momentum. You still have an entire race to complete and you're already feeling weak. The pack is rushing past you. You might as well quit now because your form will be compromised from hereon in. 

These thoughts are debilitating. And what's more, even if you do see the pack moving ahead of you as you stop to catch your breath or regain composure, that moment of pause holds no meaning whatsoever in the grand scheme of the race. As long as you come back into the present and remember the extraordinary power your training has given you to progress to where you are now, you will go on

Alright, that completes my pep talk for the week. On to business. 

So, running. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn't it?  Wear some comfortable shoes, move a foot in front of the other really, really fast, over and over again, remember to breathe, etc. It occurred to me that I was subconsciously putting this entry off because I didn't know how to write about something that seems so intrinsic to the Homo sapien. What could I possibly share that you all didn't know already?  But considering different lengths of a race, different experience levels, different body structures, and the likes, there is much to understand when optimizing your efficiency while running any distance. 

You're looking at either a 10K run or a 5K run, depending on which triathlon you registered for.  Both are quite substantial distances, especially if this is your first triathlon, or first race for that matter. No matter which distance you will be doing, it is important to maintain integrity of your form (remember rule two?) to prevent needless injury. These tips offered below will hopefully help keep you mindful about what your body's inclination is to do and what you should be directing your body to do to achieve maximum efficiency during the race.  Remember, the running portion is last - you gotta have enough energy to finish with a bang!

The most important component to understand when optimizing your running practice is the foot. It is the only part of your body that has direct contact with ground, so subsequently it is the cause of almost all the problems that can occur in the rest of your body when running.  Depending on your foot type (normal, flat, or high arches), the way your foot hits the ground can be the direct cause of injury or discomfort in joints or leg muscles. This is called "pronation," or "foot strike": indicates the part of the foot that will receive the most impact of your stride, be it on the heel or the ball of your foot.  Runner's World shows an easy way of finding out your arch size, and then lists the outcomes of what could happen to each type if not compensated for appropriately. 

*Helpful hint: It is crucial to understand the structure of your foot before you buy a new pair of running shoes; this way you can know what types of shoe to look for that will help offset any potential problems that might occur with your type of foot. 

I'm not suggesting you throw out your current running shoes with tomorrow's garbage, but in case you are looking to buy a new pair of running shoes, keep the following suggestions in mind as they are recommended to cater to each respective foot type. 
For the underpronated foot, or for those with high arches, you want a shoe that provides cushioning to counteract your body's natural inclination to absorb shock. Asics Gel-Nimbus Gel 14 has a silicone-gel in the forefront of the shoe to soften blows (11 oz, retail $140).  A cheaper option is the Mizuno Wave Rider 13, recommended for its ability to disperse impact like a "wave" between the midsole units to allow the foot to glide through to the next stride (8.5-10 oz, retail $114). You can find more suggestions here
For the overpronated foot, or those who have relatively flat feet, you want a shoe that will stop your ankle from rolling too far inward when it hits the ground.  Saucony is recommended as a manufacturer that offers motion-control shoes with its "grid" technology, like the Grid Stabil (11 oz, retail $120).  For beginner runners or those who aren't looking to throw loose change at a brand new pair of shoes, New Balance is known for their economical shoe and their motion- and stability-control technology found in almost all their models.  The suggested model is either the MR 1011 for men (retail, $120) or the WR992 for women (amazon, $120) More suggestions found here
For the average foot, my recommendation would be the lighter the better. I run in Brooks' PureConnect Road Running shoes (13 oz, retail $90) because of its mesh-upper's breathability and because of how lightweight it is.  When in doubt, go to RW's shoefinder, log in your specs, and see what they recommend. (Really, when in doubt of anything, go to Runner' They're they masters at everything.)

Hopefully as you're reading this you can recall what your running practices have been like thus far. If you have no running training thus far to recollect, then we have more problems than not knowing how your arch lays. Or maybe you're a super pliable, super scientific person who's doing an experiment to see how you'd fare without training before a race. Let me know how that goes. 

For everyone else, by now you may have noticed what your average pace is on medium-long distance runs.  Knowing where your body settles into a comfortable run will help on race day when you need to slow down or amp up your pace.  It is suggested that you should start off your race pace a little slower than you are normally used to, so that you have an ample supply of energy at the end to finish strong. It's called a "negative split."  But it can't hurt to work on bringing that average pace up in the meantime.

Since we have just over two weeks to go, training yourself to increase your speed with short bursts of 1-2 minute sprints thrown into your weekly runs.  Or dedicate one day each week to solely working on enduring faster speeds at longer times.  When you level out in the middle of your run (as you inevitably and definitely should), you'll feel stronger and able to go longer at your average pace. Also interchange maximum effort practices with moderate, easier-going practices. Use the "talk" test to monitor your efforts: if you can manage to talk during your run, then you're going at a moderate pace. And always try to go longer than your previous week's total distance. The longer your body is used to running, the easier the race will feel. (And the quicker it will be over!)
Hey, keep your chin up.
Steven Prefontaine
Like I've said before a million, trillion times: Don't beat yourself up.  Everyone is going to have some ugly days, where it feels as though you're a second closer to crying with each step you make.  Those are normal, though. A successful end to a race is the sum of all the good, bad, and ugly practice days you had proceeding.  So keep your chin up, your body loose, and your feet cushioned, and you'll be fiiiine. 

The best tip I can leave you with are the words of the famous American middle-distance runner, Steve Prefontaine: "Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started."  Just gotta make sure you get there in one piece.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tri Spotlight: Cycling

ONLY A MONTH TO GO, PEOPLE!!! There are four more weekends left till we all meet on the shores of Lake Summit at Camp Green Cove.  If you haven't registered for the triathlon yet, you gotta get on that.  $85 for the advanced morning tri, $80 for the novice afternoon tri, $130 for both.  We really need to see more numbers on our registration list, so if you're already registered, convince your athletic friends and family to take the plunge and do the team relay with you! You could only do the activity you feel most comfortable with if you wanted! The team relay is $125.

So now that the marketing pitch is taken care of, on to training tips. This week's area of concentration is on the cycling component of the triathlon.  Mountain Medley's advanced race is a unique triathlon in that it combines Sprint distances with Olympic distances in that the swimming portion is a sprint distance (800 m), the running portion is an olympic distance (10 km), but the cycling distance is much shorter than that of the typical triathlon you see in competitive races (roughly 10 km)*. Right away most regular cyclists have an advantage with the quick interlude between being in the water and being on their feet.  For some beginner triathletes, though, 6 miles on a mountain bike can still sound intimidating.  Here we'll cover basic safety tips and considerations when racing on an off-road trail, as well as pertinent exercises that will whip your butt into bicycling shape.


First, you want to be prepared for the terrain of the trail.  Camp Green Cove claims 800 acres of trails that range from easy to difficult riding.  Road bikes and single-speeds (or "fixies") are typically not conducive for these kinds of trails because the tires on these bikes don't have a width that covers enough surface area to grip the ground efficiently.  However, you could easily switch out your road tires for mountain tires, depending on the size of your frame.  Your local bike shop can help you make these adjustments if you wish to add them.

♀*Helpful hint:  If you're buying a bike for this race you could look for a lighter frame to cut back on drag. But in general you can cut a lot more weight with tires. You can maybe save a pound or two with a different frame. You can save at least that with good tires, which are way cheaper.
Important to note: If you do not own a mountain bike, or cannot get one before the race, there will be rentals available on the day of the race for a nominal fee.

Pedals are another important component to your cycling experience. There are three basic types of pedals to consider: basic, cages (or clips), clipless.  There are benefits and cons to all the above, so I'll break it down as best as I can. 
Basic, flat on both sides, makes a great transition for those who want to hop right off their bike and onto the trail to start running in the same shoes they rode in.  Pro is that it is convenient and low-maintenance. Con is that you are solely pushing down with your feet to propel the bike, so it is not the most efficient option.  
Cage pedals
Cage pedals are exactly as they sound: rider slips her foot into straps or toe clips attached to the pedal to allow for pulling up with the thighs on steeper grades.  This is a cheaper alternative to clipless pedals, so you don't have to go out and spend extra money on both new pedals and cleats.  It also alleviates the amount of work your hamstrings are doing, as your quadriceps are helping you pull through.  
Clipless pedal
Clipless pedals are what is most recommended by avid triathletes, however they're the most cumbersome choice in a triathlon.  A "clipless system," as it's known as,  is a misnomer since the rider actually does clip into the pedal with special cleats that have a latch installed on the bottom of the shoe.  It allows the rider to use the whole leg to push and pull the pedal through each stride and conserves energy this way.  However, the con for both the clipless and the cage pedal is that there is the likelihood of falling over with your feet still latched into the pedal; believe me, it's a very real likelihood, and yes, it is as embarrassing as you think it would be when it happens to you. When- not if. 
Again, the people at your local bike shop would have the best advice for you since they can take into consideration size, price, and what you already have to work with.  

Another helpful hint: If you are renting a mountain bike during the race, they will more than likely only have basic pedals available.  If you prefer to ride in cleats or a clip system, you should bring both the shoes and the pedals with you to change them out.    

If you're like me, you started training for this triathlon a month and a half in advance and are dedicating every minute you can find to fit training sessions in between a full-time job and your mandatory beauty-sleep regimen. (Ahh, who are we kidding; beauty's for the birds.)  So when time is of the essence, those 1-, 1.5-hour long practices are golden and really all you need to keep yourself alive during the 6-mile loop.
Along with integrating hill work-outs into your bicycle training sessions, it is important to incorporate high-intensity intervals throughout each practice to build endurance. Focus on the following strengths individually for one hour straight, all while bringing in hills and power-surges every now and again:

- Power: your intensity
- Endurance: how long you can sustain your intensity
- Threshold: how fast you're going
- Strength: building your muscle mass to endure hills and to increase your power throughout the ride.

Begin and end each of your workouts with a 5-10 minute cool-down so you limit your chances of injury.  If you're spinning in-doors, focusing on each of these concentrations for a solid hour should be easy to monitor as you can set the workout to a desired resistance. But don't lean too heavily on those spinning classes to get you prepared for September. Your body needs to know how to respond to the jagged topography of a trail; just as you shouldn't rely solely on a pool to prepare you for open water, make sure you hop on a bike and cruise around nearby trails once or twice a week.  As we get closer to the day of the race, I'll brow-beat you more to make sure you're getting outside in preparation.

First and foremost: WEAR YOUR HELMET every time you train outside. Helmets will be mandatory on race day, so it's good practice and just common sense.
Secondly, this might also seem like common sense, but it's a factor that most (ahem, yours truly) overlook when amp'd to get out and practice: make sure you're comfortable.  Remember that nightmare scenario from last week about "crothitis" and "saddle sores?" Yeah, they're real things. Very, very real, and very very miserable. These conditions can come about when riding with a maladjusted seat or when the frame is too tiny.  If you're too close to the frame, you're putting more weight directly on your seat; when you're too high up, injuries to your knees occur since you're overreaching to get the full efficiency in each stride.  If you have any doubts about the measurements of your bike, take it to a bike shop and they'll set you straight.

That's all I have for now. Amp up your workouts if you feel sluggish! And if you're feeling at all downtrodden about next month, thinking that you won't be ready in time, just pick yourself up anyway and get out there. There will be no self-fulfilling prophecy of "I can't do this" while I'm around. If you're looking for comraderie and support from your fellow triathletes, visit our Facebook group, Mountain Medley Triathlon, to post questions or concerns or words of encouragement.

And if you know of anyone who is thinking they miiiight want to sign up, tell them about our Lite Tri! Half the distance and cheaper! Or they could even make their own relay team and do one of the three sports.  It's for a great cause, and it's going to be a great time. Spread the word! And as always, happy trainin'. :-)

*Standard distances for a sprint triathlon and olympic triathlon taken from Sunrise Cyclery's "Triathlon FAQ" page on their website. This page also has great advice for the beginner triathlete looking for equipment tips.
♀* Tip was given by Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching. Great resource for tips on how to train by very competent and experienced trainers. Contact him today for advice!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tri Spotlight: Swimming

This is the beginning of Week 3 in the training regimen - with only 5 more weeks left to go before Mountain Medley, we're packing heat now!

Emergency: Padded spandex
needed ASAP!!
...But the view was totally worth it.
Last week I talked about pacing yourself through each activity, and being comfortable and appreciative of every accomplishment you've made thus far in your training. Since then I ran a 10K to see how it felt (terrific!) and did the 4-mile up-hill bike ride to Jump Off Rock (okay!). If you were to tell me "crotchitis" was a real affliction that happened to bikers before this weekend, I would have laaaughed and laughed...
But not now. Now I'll be damned if I ever forget that term. Ladies, you'll do right to heed my advice and read up on how to prevent saddle sores and the likes here. (Just get ready for some "Ew.") I will be going more in depth on how to safely practice biking in next week's post, so stay tuned for more tips in this department.

Last week was also the week I decided to "get serious" about swimming, and went to the pool twice in one week! Woo-ha, look at that progress right there! After my second pair of loaner goggles from the Y snapped on me (literally), I stomped on over to an overpriced sporting goods store and bought me some bona fide swimmer's gear.
No shame, no gain! 
For those of you allergic to latex, the silicone swim cap is the preferred alternative. The silicone also allows your scalp to breathe better which is always nice. If you haven't purchased any accessories yet, I would recommend looking online first rather than going to a sporting goods store. Swim Outlet has great deals, and as long as you know the length of your hair or diameter of your head, you shouldn't have any problems with the fit. Though I will say, the snugness of silicone around my brain was a bit alarming at first. I thought my head would implode if I went too deep beneath the surface. Beginner's anxiety, I suppose.

As for goggles, the Aqua Sphere Kaiman Goggles are recommended for open-water triathletes because the eye-piece is wider, allowing more visibility of the depth of the water and of the other competitors lashing wildly next to you. I went with the basic Speedo variety, mainly because it was the only kind available at this shop, and also because, well I didn't do my homework until I sat down to write this post. Really, it's whatever you're comfortable with. Some like adjustable straps, others scoff at the thought of it. Many prefer the color blue to match the optimistic color of the sky, others won't take a stroke unless their eye-wear is black. Up to you what you prefer.

To further prove my gung-ho attitude, I signed up along with my supervisor for a 3-day swim clinic, taught by triathlete and highly acclaimed Carmichael Training Systems coach, Steve Brandes.  In our first class, I stood unsure of myself in my unshapely onesy next to my supervisor, her two friends, the Director of Membership at the YMCA, and two confident 7th-graders. I was nervous of being shown up by the latter two participants until Brandes opened up the first session with the line, "Swimming is supposed to be comfortable."  Hmm, last time I checked, inhaling chlorine instead of oxygen, and one-pieces, as a rule, are not items one would list as "comfortable." But he went on to explain that once you master efficiency of form and the propulsion of your movement, the task should become inherently easy. Being told that I shouldn't be struggling in the water was being given permission to take it easy.  

To a former varsity rower, the word "train" connotes fatigue, despair, an unfounded moral compulsion to always ache at every moment of every day. But when you're still figuring out the basic form of swimming, an extremely technical sport, you can't afford to miss any opportunity to slow down and concentrate on how you are performing each action.  So that's what we did: we took things at a slow pace and concentrated on generating power through the basic motions.  Here I will walk you through some drills he taught us that should definitely help guide you to have a better pool experience before you hit open water.

Before doing anything though, warm up in the pool with 4 laps of 25m or 50m (depending on the length of your pool), resting 10 seconds or so in between. This is just to get the muscle memory warmed up and ready to be molded. Every time you jump in the water, start with this leisurely warm-up. No use in tuckering yourself out after the first ten minutes of practice.

The following two drills are helpful to practice power in your stroke:

Drill One: Sculling hands
Start by standing in the shallow end, and move your arms in a figure-eight motion under the water and around your waist, as fast as you can. (Video demonstration) Fingers are closed and your palms are slightly facing each other as they are pulled in, and slightly facing away from each other as your push them out. Do this for 1 minute to get the feel of it.  You should feel the muscles in your forearm tighten as that is where most of the pressure is coming from.  
After the minute is up, lie on your back and do the same sculling motion around your hips as fast as you can to propel yourself across the length of the pool. Try not to kick during this drill - you want to rely solely on the power of your forearms.  Once you reach the end, free-style back. Do this set (1st lap sculling + 2nd lap free-style = 1 set) 3-4 times. 

Drill Two: Fist Free-style
For the first 6 strokes use only your fists to pull you through the free-style stroke, then alternate with a regular palm for another 6 full strokes. Concentrate on how your elbow bends at the "catch," or when you pull your arm back. Here is a good video that shows how the arm should not be pulled directly underneath your body but rather as close to your side as possible. Do a full set 3-4 times. 

After these we worked on breathing.  If this is your first triathlon, not only do you have beginner's adrenaline (read: anxiety) to quell, you have everyone else's physical and mental energy to sift through. Therefore, Brandes recommended that beginners practice taking a breath every stroke on your strong arm. 
Another great tip we learned from the clinic was to slightly rotate your body in order to turn your head to the side to breathe.  Brandes demonstrated that when you pick your head up out of the water to breathe, your hips react by dipping lower, off-setting your horizontal position. And when your horizontal position is compromised, you are just creating more surface area to pull through the water. Your goal is also to bring only half of your face out of the water to breathe. 

Drill Three: Side kicking
A good drill to practice the half-face breathing as well as keeping your hips level is a kicking drill (video here). Kick off the wall and swim on your side, one arm leading your stroke for 6-8 kicks. Turn your head to the side every 6 kicks, again with half your face turned out of the water. Rotate and lead with your other arm while kicking 6-10 times. Do this 4-6 lengths of the pool. 

Pool buoys, like many things in life,
come in all shapes and sizes.
The last item we worked on was managing our physical effort.  Towards the end of a practice when you're beginning to tire out, and your arms and flailing and your form is failing, that is an ideal time to whip out the pool buoys.  Pool buoys are foam blocks that you stick in between your legs (yep, aaall the way up there) to control your buoyancy. This allows you to focus on your arm and breathing techniques without spending all your energy keeping your hips afloat. Finish your pool practice with 4-6 lengths of the pool of free-style using the pool buoys.  Concentrate on your form with every stroke you take.  

It can't be reiterated enough: swimming is purely technique. Once you manage the "efficiency" and "propulsion" of your strokes, then you start experiencing what Steve Brandes said about swimming: comfort. Then you can work on getting faster and going further. Patience, patience, practice, patience, practice patience. 

What drills have worked for you thus far? How is your training progressing? Tell us all about it in the comment box or on our Facebook group page, Mountain Medley Triathlon.

Also, if anyone is interested, there is still space in the "Ready to Tri?" Clinic! Our next session is August 19th at Leila Patterson Center in Fletcher, NC.  Contact Ellen Seagle at 828-674-6087 for more information. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Week 2 of Training

One week has passed since I've begun my training for the Mountain Medley Triathlon.  In that time I've run a total of 12 miles, biked a total of 25 miles, and swam for a total of 200 meters. (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)

I want to share with you a few amateur tidbits I've picked up over the last week through my meager training experience thus far. Please don't read any of this information as the final word on triathlon training because I'm not a professional trainer, and I'm most certainly not a professional triathlete. But those of you who are beginners and are desperately looking to an equally lost, equally sadistic soul for guidance, I think you can trust my words. At least to give you some sanity and some peace of mind in your process. So without further ado, my instinctual, sage wisdom -- for free!
 Keep these three rules in mind
and you'll be winning races in no time!

Rule One: Remember what you're getting yourself into!! Really, though, I'm not trying to insult your intelligence, obviously you know that this full triathlon is a 800m swim, a 6-mile bike-ride, and 10K run. It's on the website, on the pamphlets - you get it. You might be able to bike 10 miles, no-hoh sweat. You might even be able to run 6 miles, no sweat! Both of those activities, for me anyway, might take an hour each to finish. But when it comes to putting them together, you cannot be so egotistical. You forget that you have to put them all together. At least... it slipped my mind, anyway.
So yesterday I practiced, as I do, and I did some hills on the bike. Five times up a hill, back down, and then back again. Five times. And it was brutal. But just to see how it felt, I took off my cleats, put on my running shoes and took off on a relatively flat grade. Oh. My word. That was the moment I doubted my decision to sign up for this event. Immediately I thought, "I need to tell Noelle right now that I need to do the mini triathlon because there is NO way I'll be able to handle all this at once." I had only biked but a mile, but the minute my leg muscles readjusted to standing, I thought my legs were going to throw in the towel without warning - it was a worthless effort. Why was I even attempting to move them?? I should have been walking. I should have been sitting, honestly.
But I kept going, just to see how it felt. And it's funny how much your body can adapt. A few yards out I fell into a pace. Not a fast one. But it was a pace. And it was comfortable. And I was able to keep going a little bit further, keeping the pace. And then after a mile I turned up a hill to go back home, and at that point, it truly was time to turn in. Humility learned.

Rule Two: Show up in one piece. After all, you paid for the race - might as well be able to see it through, right? This entails stretching at least 5 minutes before and after you do any practice.  Also, when you're training to put these activities together, whether you're biking after swimming, or running after biking, or any combination of the above, remember to keep your form. Don't flail your arms, don't let your feet clobber the ground beneath you. You'll hurt your knees that way. Make sure you're maintaining bodily integrity throughout the duration of your training. What I mean by that is, have control over your body. It helps you stay present throughout the duration of your training, and it'll be easier to monitor your progress when the form stays the same.

Rule Three (and this is the most important one): At the end of the day, after you train, regardless of how long you were out, or far you went, or how much effort you felt you put in, be so proud of your accomplishments. You have the confidence to do this. And you have the will-power to do it. Clearly you do, you're training for it after all! Don't put yourself down ever - be thankful and be grateful for any amount of energy you put forth. Because if you really want it, you'll do it. That's how it goes. Don't worry too much about meeting a personal record, or worry that you might be at the tail end of the pack come Race Day. Show up feeling positive and the rest will sort itself out as you go.

In summation, yesterday was great. Even though the biking was brutal, and that the third hill felt more like the third ring of Hell, and the running looked more like limping, it was great. I went inside dripping with sweat, bright red, and looked at the clock: 7:06. I remembered I had only left at 6:20. Meaning that was only 40 minutes worth of work. And I'm looking at a race that might take up to three hours to finish. Crrrrraaap.