Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dirty Duathlon...There's no crying on trails...

It is good to sometimes do things that scare us.
We all know this to be true, but it is easier said than done.

This past weekend, I decided very last minute and very decisively that I would do the Dirty Du here in Austin, put on by Jack and Adams. It was out in Smithville, which is about 45 minutes east of Austin. It had been raining most of Friday and Saturday, but Derick and I decided to head out to camp and race on Sunday despite the (high) possibility of substantial mud. We arrived at about 6:00, with some Little Ceasers pizzas for all (supporting good friend Pat Evoe a bit) and just in time for the bike toss contest. Yes, a bike toss. Everyone takes turns throwing a mountain bike as far as they can. Jack Murray has always been the champ of this, but I believe he may have gotten shown up on Saturday night...yes, by Chris Vasiottis, with a throw of 29 feet 12 inches. A heavy mountain bike! Imagine. I however was saving my energy for the 5k run, 12 mile mountain bike and 5k run on Sunday. And, I was enjoying drinking Dales Pale Ale and watching the festivities.

We hit up the little local bar at the campsite (see pictures above, I made a little friend there!) and were off to bed at about 10:30, in my opinion, pretty darn early for camping but that is comparing camping to what we did in Colorado with our wild and crazy friends where most nights of camping ended with a bottle of whiskey being passed around. I slept great and was up at at'em by 7:30 am for coffee, oatmeal, and some mountain bike shifting practice as I had not been on it since about February.

To make a long story short and to put it mildly, I don't know WHAT I was thinking by jumping into this race! The mud was unreal, and it ended up taking me (brace yourself) 2.5 HOURS to mountain bike (or rather, hop on/hop off) 12 miles. It was mostly single track and there were many water (stream) crossings, but 12 miles?! In 2.5 hours? It was probably the longest I had ever been on (or off) a mountain bike, but it sure did feel good to run the 5k on either end. The 5k run was on a different course, which had it's own fair share of steep, muddy hills as well. There were at least a few times I found myself pushing my bike up a very steep muddy slope, while battling sliding back down a few times. I did not cry; I whimpered a few times, and twice (to be exact) I almost cried. But, I didn't. The pedals whacked my right leg quite a few times as well, as evidenced by the scratches and bruises on my leg, and the tendon behind my right knee is not only bruised but sore to the touch (imagine throwing one leg over and back off of your bike probably every 5 minutes for 2.5 hours!). But, I am alive, I am in one piece and well, I have to think that my mountain bike skills got at least a smidge better after Sunday!

Point being... it was fun, despite the fear, despite the getting passed by most people out there. I was able to get extremely muddy, which is very fun, and I learned it is easier to pedal through large bodies of water and piles of mud than to get off and run the bike. The nerves were similar to when I did a rope swing with Derick back in September. We climbed up the rock, and I realized that once up there, the only way down was grab the rope and hang on (and let go) for dear life. (I did ok, minus a slight bit of whiplash). I committed to the Dirty Du and I was going to complete it, even if I did suck! Once I fully get over the soreness then I think I'll realize truly how much I loved it. I think. And that it will be a long time until I do another mountain bike event. At least, until I can ride it a few times.

Someone once said "Do something every day that scares you." We may not be able to do this EVERY day, but it is wise advice to adhere to, every so often. Out of the fear comes growth and this can only make us stronger. And who doesn't like to feel strong?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Clearwater 70.3 Worlds...A Steady Improvement!

Photo from

Clearwater 70.3 World Championships. I have done this race 4 times, all 4 times they have held it (2006-2009). I am on a steady progression of improvement, but at this rate, it will take me 6 more years to win the event! My past finishes have been:

2006 - 4:36 (18th)
2007 - 4:26 (16th)
2008 - 4:24 (14th)
2009 - 4:19 (you guessed it...12th)

I went into this event coming off of a great season, excited to compete, and ready to make a jump in my finishes. I was hungry for a Top 10 finish (ideally, Top 6) and I felt prepared to put up this performance. Unfortunately, the desired place was not in the cards, however as the race unfolded and I reflect upon it, I have nothing to be disappointed about.

I went with my parents (which is tradition, this trip gets them out of the Indiana November gloom!) and my husband Derick, and we all arrived Thursday and settled in. Friday was the typical pre-race meeting, transition bag preparations, bike racking and as much rest as possible. It was very convenient that we stayed in a small local motel which had a kitchen, so we enjoyed a pre-race dinner of spaghetti, salad and bread all in the comfort of the balcony off of our room. Good meal, small glass of wine, and relaxing evening, and I felt ready to roll the next morning.

I woke up on Saturday a bit sluggish; but, no worries. This is fairly common and not often a prediction of what will happen on race day. I arrived to the transition area (which was a 5 minute walk) with plenty of time to spare and the buzz of excitement got me ready to go. The swim had been diverted from the ocean to a small bay, due to choppy water conditions. I was actually pleased with this, as I tend to get pummeled a bit in the ocean. I suited up in my Zoot long-sleeved wetsuit and was ready for our 6:45 swim start; a short swim warmup and I felt ready to go. Beautiful morning! The sun came up just as the gun went off. Unfortunately, my speed did not go off quite as readily. I fell into the second swim pack, but never quite felt strong and relaxed. Small mistake on my part, the water was about 70-F and I wore a full sleeve suit. I get warm very quickly, and I think I would have been better off in my sleeveless suit. I used the full sleeves because I have been told they are 'faster', however, I think comfort is very important, and I may have been better off keeping my core body temp a bit lower. In any case, I tried not to let it get to me, but upon exiting the swim up the short ramp, I actually felt quite tired and a bit dizzy. I ran through and grabbed my T1 bag, but got to the change tent and realized I had the wrong bag! Probably only cost me about 20 seconds, but still frustrating. Good thing was, it lit a bit of a fire under me to hurry it up and keep my head in the game.

I got out onto the bike and knew that I had my work cut out for me. I was not sure how far ahead the lead women were, but I expected it was a couple of minutes based on how the swim felt. It took a few miles to feel my heart rate settle down, but I did relax and got into a good rhythm. At first, I thought I may have to write this off as 'one of those days' where nothing felt easy and the result would not be good. But, the legs seemed to come around and I started to feel stronger. I stuck to my regular nutrition plan, about 6 gels over the course of the 56 miles, and tried to keep my distance from the swarms of professional men that cycled by me early in the ride. The majority of the ride, I was alone, which was alright with me as it kept me out of the 'packs' that form on this course. Despite still being quite a ways behind the lead women, I finished the bike feeling strong and ready to see what my running legs had in store.

The transitions at this event are great. Volunteers grabbed my Orbea Ordu upon entering T2 and racked it for me, while I just bolted to my T2 bag and headed to the change tent. I quickly threw on my Jack and Adams visor, Zoot Ultra TT shoes, and Gu flask and bolted out of there for the 13 miles left of my season.

The run in Clearwater is, in my opinion, deceivingly tough. You run flat for about 2 miles then head up a long bridge, and run down the other side, to continue through about mile 4, when you head back up the bridge towards transition for the second loop. While most of the run is flat, this bridge gives you 4 pretty long hills and can really sneak up to zap your energy mid- to late-run. I started out at what felt like a strong yet controlled pace, still not feeling 'snappy' as I would have liked, but trying to just stay positive and focus on running some women down. I did not check too many mile splits, as I moreso wanted to find a smooth rhythm and a strong pace to settle into. From my perspective, a half-ironman run is really a "controlled hard" pace. It is right at the point where I feel if I pushed much harder, I may blow up, but a pace that seems sustainable for at least 6 miles; at which point, I'll try to pick up if I can. I came through the first loop having caught a few women, and I believe being told I was in 12th place about 6.5 miles in. Not where I wanted to be, but little I could do other than keep on running. I believe I came through the first half in about 41 minutes or so. Not quite the pace I was hoping for, but again, doing what the body was giving me on the day.

The second loop was pretty uneventful. I think I caught one or two more women but the next one up ahead was Kelly Couch, who was having a very solid day up ahead of me. I could tell I was putting time on her, but I was likely going to run out of real estate. At the 12 mile mark, I gave it absolutely everything I had left, looking at my watch and aiming to run the fastest possible last mile. I did not see the 13 mile mark, but I came to the finish line in just over 6 minutes, so that last mile really was dropping all that was left in me. Kelly had about 15 seconds on me at the finish, but I knew that I had left it all out there.

It was great to be greeted by my parents and Derick. The day was gorgeous, the race was solid and given how I felt, the result was good. I ended up 12th, which given my past finishes, I should not have been surprised! I wanted to be in the Top 10 (solid in the Top 10) but on this day, 12th was the best in me. The time was 4:19, just a minute off of what I did in Augusta but on a very legit course (fast swim in Augusta). Given this fact, I'd say this was PR for the distance, and was a 5 minute improvement on past Clearwater races.

I am sure you may be wondering about the 'drafting' out there. This is something I am so tired of thinking about, but to touch on it, yes, I know that it went on and I also know that I was nowhere near any of it. Maybe I just did not have the 'chance' to be up there mixed in, since my swim was mediocre today (about 90-seconds back from the top pack). But had I of been up there, I will say I would have had a hard time getting pulled along to a ridiculously fast bike split, something which I know I could not ever do on my own. I finished the bike in 2:25, the best I have done on this course, and I ran a 1:23, also a PR run for this course, on yes, tired legs (as they should be). Unfortunately this is what the event has come to; you are either up in the mix, or you are not. I was not. However, I cannot walk away upset at my finish, because I know that it was my finish, my race and my effort. Either the event will change (hillier course, more strict rule enforcement) or it will remain a fast albeit drafting event.

Needless to say, the weekend was a great one, and I have so much to be proud of. I feel I have finished my most successful season of my 8-year career as a professional, and I am excited at what 2010 has to hold. I have the most supportive network of people around me, from my sponsors (Zoot, Jack and Adams, Hill Country Running, 3 Cosas, Orbea, Gu, Suunto, Go with the Flo, Alcis, Advanced Rehabilitation, and Katalyst Multisport) to my incredible parents to my husband Derick to my amazing friends. The day in Clearwater did not feel as 'easy' as I would have liked, but that is the beauty of sport. You prepare your best, you do all you can in your power to be 110% on the day it matters, and despite how you feel, you get out there and throw it all on the line. You take the good days and run with them, but you get stronger from the days when it does not come easy. This event made clear what I need to focus on for 2010, but first in order is some down time, rest and recovery and focusing a little bit on my life outside of triathlon. And, of course, some reflection on what a great season '09 had been and excitement at what 2010 has in store.

As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Stop to appreciate all the good in your life.
And, jump into the local Turkey Trot. It makes the food and drink taste that much better.

Take care ~ Kelly

Monday, November 9, 2009

Off Season = Play Season

It's about that time for many of us. The end of the season is here or is right around the corner. In Austin, the end of the season never seems "finite" as it is not marked by the start of ski season as it was in Colorado. Here, many people take the "off-season" to train running or even to focus on a marathon. It's a great shift of focus, but not quite the same as truly taking some downtime and maintaining fitness by getting away from the swimming, cycling and running routine. That being said, I think it is so important to do something different during the off-season. Break from the routine. Explore some other activities. Back in 2006, when we moved to Austin, I got into climbing. Derick bought me some climbing shoes, a harness and all the basics that I needed. I got a local gym membership and for a month, I spent my evenings scrambling around the rocks, looking for the biggest holds and feeling pretty cool (until I realized there were 'real' climbers there who actually knew what they were doing). I finally got outside on real rock with our friend John a few months later, and boy did I suck. I recall getting to one spot and just standing there, trying to reach up for another hold with my leg quivering. To my credit, it was wet and very slippery so maybe I did not suck that bad, but it was pretty humbling. I guess the gym fooled me into believing I actually knew what I was doing. I was also doing some Bikram Yoga at the time, and I simply noticed that my body felt different (read: lean, dehydrated, water-loss- lighter). But, it was kind of cool to take a month or two in the winter here to explore some other activities. I was still running, cycling and swimming but much less and really just enough to make me feel good. You know, sane amounts of exercise.

Last winter, Derick and I got into mountain biking. Well, I got into mountain biking. Kind of. We ventured over to Jack and Adams, and they helped set me up with a beautiful, fancy and very bouncy Felt Virtue (2? 3?) full-suspension mountain bike. We took it out to Reimers Ranch a few times, about 45 minutes west of Austin, and we cruised around the endless trails. The terrain was perfect for a beginner like me (not like Intemann Trail in Colorado Springs that Derick took me on my first time on a mountain bike, when we were both carrying them the first 10 minutes because it was so technical, and I popped over my handlebars soon after, which yes, resulted in me... crying...) and we even went back a few times throughout the winter. Enough to get use out of my expensive bike? Of course not; but that is what THIS off-season is for!

Another thing I am going to explore in the coming weeks is Pilates, as in full on pilates classes with an instuctor and the 'machines'. I have done a handful of mat classes (to any Austin-ites out there, RAMSAY at PURE AUSTIN kicks ass for basic mat classes) but with my scoliosis, I tend to have frequent upper back pain which feels better upon doing solid regular core work. Pilates seems to go far beyond 'core work' in that it engages very deep muscles and seems to work entirely around posture and alignment.

So, you ask yourself, what can I DO in the off season? If you are blessed to have mountains within driving distance, SKI! Downhill, cross-country, whatever suites you most. Be careful, but realize that if you plan to be a triathlete for the next 10-20 years like many of us do, do you really want to never experience alpine skiing for fear of an injury? Not me. Again, just be smart, know your limits. If you happen to be in a mountain-less state as we are in Austin, get creative. Thus far I have experimented with climbing (albeit in a gym), Bikram Yoga classes, mountain biking and soon to come, Pilates. But remember, you do not have to completely ignore the basic 3 sports. I did train for my first ever marathon in the winter of 2007-2008, and as long as you can stay healthy in the off-season, this can be a nice change of pace while allowing you to maintain incredible fitness (or rather improve your fitness) while also training significantly less (time-wise).

Whatever you do, get away from your regular routine, relax a bit more and realize that when you do kick off your training for a goal event, the season is long. So even during the season, allow yourself some slack sometimes. Consistency is the key to improving but balance is the key to living!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Something to Sleep On

Life is interesting when we slow down a bit to enjoy what we are doing. Last night, I headed over to Stacy Pool, a small local (free) outdoor pool that is 33.3 yds long. It is heated in the winter, so it is currently about 80-degrees. With the time change, it was already starting to get dark at 5:45 pm, so a 6:00 swim was beautiful because when I started it was light and mid-way through my swim, night closed in. I was there to do a short 3K swim workout to complete a rather hard training day (short track workout in the morning, intervals on the bike mid-day and then a quality swim). Right when I got in, I felt spectacular. The water felt warm yet the cool air made it very comfortable. I felt like I almost 'floated' through a 1K warmup, to then start my set of 12x100s on 1:30 (goal being fast). I got through about 8 of them, feeling great and putting up very solid times, with only about 3 or 4 other people in the pool. I took a brief stop with 4 to go and I had noticed a very good swimmer had hopped into my lane. Derek Yorek, a fellow triathlete here in Austin and phenomenal runner, was in the lane next to us, so I 'invited' Derek and Bruce (my lane mate) to hop into the last 4x100s. We clipped them off, and since I swim solo all of the time, I realized how nice the company was on this beautiful evening.

I rested after the set, enjoying the leisurely pace of my workout and chatted with Bruce for awhile. What an interesting person he turned out to be! He was a swimmer in college, so we had that in common, but he went on to tell me that he has a PhD from University of Texas where he studied human biology, kinesiology and brain wave activity. This is something I was very interested in at University of Illinois, what they called 'psychophysiology'. He works for a company called "Intellibed", which at first may sound gimmick-ey, but essentially he and his partners in the business are trying to get the customer the best sleep possible via their product. Check out the site and product. When you that the company is backed by educated, knowledgable people it makes the product much more valid. I guess what I found interesting is that I met him, just a day after Derick had put an article on Durata's site regarding the importance of sleep.

I left the pool at around 7:00, feeling refreshed and invigorated. Not only because I had completed a quality, satisfying swim, but I realized how interesting people can be. It is so easy to rush through our day, complete our tasks and simply want to get through it all. But, every so often, it's good to slow down and enjoy what you are doing; talk to a 'stranger'. You never know what you may learn! Now, I think it's time for a short nap... just 20-30 minutes, of course. :)