Sunday, December 10, 2006


I'm back into training now following a 12 week Winter Maintenance Training Program for Advanced Triathletes from D3 Multisports. Just completed week one but I'm headed to the Big Island of Hawaii this week and will have to do some my training on the Kona Ironman course itself. I know, life is tough ...

Should be back before Christmas, unfortunately.

Monday, November 20, 2006

November is Fun Month

It's been a couple weeks now since Ironman Florida and I'm still enjoying NOT training.

What??? Shirley not busting her butt for some big goal? Surely, you jest!

Ha, Ha ... Nope. I'm taking an official break. No miles or hours being logged right now. No rhyme or reason to what I do, or not. In December I'll start doing some off-season training to maintain fitness and work on my weaknesses. But for now, I'm just playing.

OMG, what has happened the old Shirley we know?

Nothing. It's just time for a break, mostly a mental one.

For the past year, I've been climbing a huge learning curve: learning to swim, getting comfortable riding a road bike, figuring out my nutrition needs, then putting everything together in preparation for an ironman. Before that, I was focused on 21 Run Salute, a nationwide campaign in which I ran 21 marathons in 9 months with the goal to raise $21K for charity (the latter, IMO, more challenging than the running). And prior to that, I was training for my second degree black belt, running marathons and teaching several fitness classes a week.

So, time to rest, refresh and regroup!

In the pool, I will not count strokes or laps. Maybe I'll do anything but freestyle instead, say, breastroke or float on my back and listen to the SwiMP3 I got from Simply Stu (thanks Stu!).

I'll continue to go on weekend bike rides with my husband, doing things his way rather than mine. I must admit that it's a blast to go fast without having to think about running afterwards.

I'll run mostly short distances (no more than 5-6 miles) but occasionally join my friend Chris who is running long in training for her first marathon. Coaching her and seeing her progress is actually more enjoyable than running for myself right now.

And I'll continue to help out at my local running store, Track Shack, signing up people who want to race or join a training program. This is one of those jobs that is so fun for me that I feel that I should be paying them to do it!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Beauties of Going Long

5ks and sprint tris are great for some people but here's why I prefer longer races:

  • Less risk of injury - I've been injured twice while running short, hard and fast but never while running long. The most dangerous tri I've done was my one and only sprint tri. Not only did I underestimate the difficulty of swimming a 1/4 mile, some jerk nearly hit me on the bike course while trying to squeeze past on the right (he was trying to pass both me and another guy who was passing me on the left). Longer races motivate me to train more seriously and those who do longer races usually know the basic race rules.
  • Longer training cycles - I enjoy training more than racing.
  • I'm more competitive - Endurance is my strength. The longer the race, the better I usually do relative to others.
  • They're more interesting - There are many more variables involved in just finishing a long race versus a short race, and finishing strong is yet another matter. So there's lots to work on besides improving one's physical speed. I love the mental aspects of racing long.
  • Good excuse to travel - I can't justify traveling far to do a race that lasts an hour or less. But a nice weekend getaway, or even a weeklong vacation depending on the destination, sounds reasonable for a long race. And I often see more while sightseeing during a race than I would any other way.
  • Your perspective of "long" changes - A 2000 yard swim, 50-60 mile bike ride and/or a 12-13 mile run do not seem long any more!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

3 Things I Love About Tris

I work part-time down at my local running store helping out with their races. Everyone knows that I've run a lot of marathons and that I've been struggling with swimming in my first year of tris. After my DNF at IMFL, which is my first-ever DNF, many have asked why I'm planning to continue doing tris rather than focus on running, which is clearly my better sport.

The answer is simple: I'm now hooked on tris !!!

Don't get me wrong. I still love to run. But honestly, the challenge of running a marathon has diminshed after four years and 38 marathons. I could work on running marathons faster or start doing some shorter races, but I don't like running high mileage or doing intense speedwork (the only times I've gotten frustrating running injuries is while doing short intervals and after running my one and only 5K). I'd much rather run only 3-4 times a week, run relatively easy-paced marathons (and much more than 1-2 a year), and still have time to do other things.

Like triathlons!

Firstly, tris have been terrific for my marriage. My husband used to do them back in the 80's before he blew out his knees and shoulders. He can still ride a bike, however, and has rediscovered his love of cycling since I got a road bike. So now we go out together for nice long rides nearly every weekend. When we travel, one of our must-dos is to check out various bike/tri stores, where we act like kids in a candy store. When I race, my husband now brings his bike so he can get a ride in and pop up along the course to cheer me on instead of just sitting/standing around for hours waiting for me to finish.

Secondly, tris have made me a smarter runner. Before, I was stupidly stubborn and used to always try to run every step of the way, even if it meant passing up getting a drink or drinking enough. This strategy wasn't a problem on cold days but I paid the price on hot days. Ironman training forced me to come up with a better way of dealing with the heat. I experimented with taking regular walk breaks (a big no-no for many hardcore runners but acceptable to many hardcore triathletes) and hydrating more. I discovered how much better I ran, even after biking. So now I know what to do to run strong when the temperature rises.

Thirdly, tris are very challenging to me. Like martial arts, they involve doing different things (tris: swim, bike, run; MA: katas, sparring, weapons) so the variety in training never gets old. Some things have come easier than others; swimming and sparring have been particularly difficult for me. Both required overcoming fears, learning efficient techniques, practicing good control and balance, and the ability to adapt when conditions were different from what I was used to when practicing. In fact, as I struggled with swimming I often thought: déjà vu!

But doing "hard" things is very rewarding to me. It's exciting to see how far I've come and how much more room there is for improvement, how much I've grown as a person as well as an athlete. If I ever get to the point where I am satisfied or bored, I'd probably move on to do something else more challenging. Meanwhile, I think it's safe to say that I'll be doing tris for a while.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

22 More States Left!

I just realized that somehow I miscounted (!) how many marathons I had left to run in my 50 states marathon quest. I have actually only 22 left to run, not 23 as I thought before. To keep better track, here's my list of states/races done and states still needed.

States Done (28 states, 38 marathons total)
1. AK - Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon 2003
2. AL - Rocket City Marathon 2003
3. AZ - Valley of the Sun Marathon 2005
4. CA - Nike 26.2 2004**, Carlsbad/San DiegoMarathon 2005
5. FL - Disney Marathon 2003 & 2006, Space Coast Marathon 2003, Jacksonville Marathon 2004
6. GA - Museum of Aviation Marathon 2004, Tybee Island Marathon 2005
7. HI - Big Island Int'l Marathon 2004
8. ID - Mesa Falls Marathon 2006
9. IL - Quad Cities Marathon 2004
10. LA - Mardi Gras Marathon 2005
11. MA - Boston Marathon 2003 & 2005
12. MD - B&A Trail Marathon 2006*
13. MI - Bayshore Marathon 2005
14. MO - St Louis Marathon 2005
15. MS - Mississippi Coast Marathon 2004
16. NC - Camp Lejeune Marathon 2004
17. NE - National Guard Marathon 2005
18. NV or UT - Tri-State Marathon 2005
19. NY - Buffalo Marathon 2004, Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon 2004
20. OH - Air Force Marathon 2003
21. OR - Portland Marathon 2003
22. PA - Erie Presque Isle Marathon 2004
23. SC - Myrtle Beach Marathon 2005
24. SD - Leading Ladies Marathon 2006
25. TN - St. Jude Memphis Marathon 2004
26. TX - Motorola Marathon 2004, Texas Marathon 2005
27. VA - Richmond Marathon 2004, Marine Corps Marathon 2004 & 2005
28. WA - Capital City Marathon 2005

* PR 3:27
** PW 4:04

States Needed (22 total)
West (5) - CO, MT, NM, NV or UT, WY
Midwest (6) - IA, IN, KS, MN, ND, WI
Northeast (7) - CT, DE, ME, NH, NJ, RI, VT
South (4) - AR, KY, OK, WV

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lessons Learned From IMFL06 Swim

Here are some specific things I learned from training for and doing the IMFL06 swim. Though I will not be training for another ironman for a while, I’m noting them for the future and perhaps they will help some other “weak” swimmers who are planning to do IMFL07.

  • Being able to swim 4000 yards in a pool at IM pace in 2:00-2:10 is too slow. Shoot to be able to swim the distance at IM pace in 1:50 or less to allow for rough conditions or other unanticipated delays. Occasionally practice swimming for 10-20 minutes longer to make sure you can easily do so if required on race day.
  • Practice swimming in the ocean or other large bodies of water to get used to dealing with chop and swells. Bilateral breathing and low, close to the head, hand entry into the water (which I learned from Total Immersion lessons) does not work well in rough conditions. Wait to sight on crests of swells. I would guesstimate that the swells at IMFL06 were somewhere between 3-4 feet on my first lap and 4-5 feet on my second lap. Whatever they were, my husband saw red flags flying along the beach.
  • Prepare for seasickness. This year I heard that a lot of swimmers got seasick from the rough conditions. I’m actually very prone to motion sickness so I took steps to avoid it beforehand, namely, wore ear plugs and took both ginger pills and Bonine, which makes me less drowsy than Dramamine. Though I swallowed a fair amount of seawater, I never felt sick during the swim.
  • Slow swimmers should start in the back and towards the outside of the swim course so you have an "out" if you need it. Some faster swimmers choose to swim on the inside of the course since all that matters is rounding the 2 outermost buoys. The mass swim start is very chaotic but the pack will spread out a lot along the first stretch. Since it's a 2-lap course, faster swimmers will likely overtake slower swimmers so slower swimmers should avoid being close to the buoys along the return leg where they may get swum over. On the second lap, slower swimmers will have the course to themselves.
  • Practice swimming in a wetsuit. With a full wetsuit, the added rubber around my shoulders and arms made them fatigue more quickly. The added buoyancy of the wetsuit also made my kick come out of the water easily. If I’d worn my wetsuit more often, I probably would have been more used to the added resistance and keeping a tighter kick and been able to swim a bit faster.
  • Learn to read the water currents. Besides stronger wind conditions during the second hour, I think my second lap was much slower than my first lap because I headed back out on the course on a diagonal path to the left of the first buoy, as we were supposed to do, instead of closer to where I started the race, which was considerably right of the first buoy. Due to the longshore current, which caused many swimmers to drift to the left early in the course, the smart thing (in hindsight) would have been to run along the sand further before reentering the water for the second lap. Beware that the current direction may be different next time.
  • Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Don’t believe anyone who says you can’t drown while wearing a wetsuit or that wearing one will make swimming easy. Don’t shy away from practicing in less-than-ideal water conditions (just be sure someone is available to help you if you need it). Don’t count on support along the IMFL06 swim course.

Monday, November 06, 2006

So What’s Next?

With 23 22 (corrected 11/14) marathons left to complete in the next 5 years for my 50-states marathon quest, I have decided to focus on finishing those remaining marathons and doing half ironmans, which demand much less training time, rather than training for another ironman.

As I mentioned before, I signed up for IMFL 2006 because the timing was good. I was ahead in my marathon quest and wanted to take a break to train for an ironman for my 45th birthday. But now I must get back to my original long term goal of running marathons in all 50 states before age 50.

But doing half ironman tris and running 4-5 marathons a year should give me a solid base for ramping up to do another ironman within a year when the time is right again, even when I'm 50+. So there'll be another ironman for me in the future and I'll be better prepared for next time. Looking forward to it!!!

Short Race Day

Well, I knew that the two-lap 2.4 mile IMFL swim segment would be the biggest challenge for me having only about a year of serious swimming experience under my belt. I’d practiced swimming the distance in a pool many times before but was very slow (usually took me about 2:00-2:10 to swim 4000 yards) and had NO experience swimming in really rough water conditions. I just hoped race day would not be too bad.

No such luck!

Mother Nature produced a very cold race day morning with temperatures dipping into the 40’s and winds starting out around 12-13 mph. From the shore, the water did not look too bad because the off-shore wind flattened the waves out. But further out, and particularly after rounding the first buoy marker, the water conditions were the worst I could have imagined: heavy chop, large swells and a strong current.

I completed the first lap in 1:07 and thought hard about whether I should head out again. I’d swallowed much more seawater than I should have and had a lot of difficulty sighting and staying on course on the first lap. The water was too rough to resort to much breaststroking or backstroking if I got tired doing freestyle. The forecast was for the winds to get even stronger in the second hour and, for some reason, I didn’t see many water craft out there to help swimmers who might get into trouble -- not good.

On the bright side, I still felt pretty fresh after the first lap and had no seasickness symptoms (earplugs, ginger and motion sickness pills really help!). I also felt like I’d sort of figured out how to deal with the rough conditions (breathing to the side opposite the waves instead of the usual bilateral breathing, timing my sighting with crests and, above all, not panicking). No faster swimmers would be overtaking me on my second lap so I didn’t have to worry about trying to stay out of their way. There was a chance I could meet the 2:20 cut-off.

So I decided to go for it. Before getting to the first buoy, I saw one guy turn back (hmm, perhaps he was smart?). I later noticed that some of the buoys had appeared to have moved off line from the rectangular course. After rounding the first turn buoy for the second time, I was relieved to see a few kayakers out there watching over us slower swimmers.

On the final stretch home, I saw a couple jellyfish swimming below me but none got close enough to sting me, fortunately. About 400 yards from the finish, a guy on a jet ski came by to tell me I’d better hurry if I wanted to make the cut-off. I told him I was going as fast as I could and he gave me a thumbs up. Truthfully, I just wanted to make it back safely at that point; making the cut-off was totally secondary.

I finally came onto shore around 2:26 and shortly afterwards a guy took my timing chip. I should have been very disappointed that my race was over but I wasn’t. I had just swam 2.4 miles in very rough conditions, a huge accomplishment for someone who could barely swim a ¼ mile a year ago.

A total of 23 people did not complete the swim segment in time. My husband saw a person drop out after the first lap. I saw one turn back. He also saw some others hauled back in by the jet ski and, unfortunately, one person brought back in by the boat on a stretcher (Barney Rice died a few days later, very sad.). Five people, including me, were too slow to make the cut-off.

No, I was happy ... happy to have gotten my first full-fledged rough water swim experience, happy to have trained for this race and gotten into the best shape of my life, happy to have toed the start line and met many wonderful people along the way, happy to have gone out for the second lap to see if I could make the cut-off, and happy to have survived to tri again in the future.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Motivational Video

My sister Joyce created a cute little video to motivate me for the big event. I just LOVED it and wanted to share it with other family members and friends. It will play in a new browser window and may take a little while to load so please be patient ...

Note that the bike shown is NOT the one I'll be riding at IMFL. That photo was taken during my first-ever sprint tri where I rode my old mountain bike with (gasp) aerobars on it. Just one of many reminders as to how far I've come this past year.


PS - That old TV theme song is still one of my favorites!

Ironman Florida Goals

For the record, here they are:

#1 Goal - Toe the line and give it my best shot.

Worst case scenario ... Mother Nature, Mr. Murphy and The Wall all unite against me on race day. I don't have much rough water swimming experience so if Mother Nature serves up some strong chop and swells, I will get out there and try my best to just survive the swim. If Mr. Murphy rides along with me on the bike segment, I will fix flats, pick myself up after falls and just try to keep going. If I run into The Wall during the marathon, I'll just do my best to go around it or over it. Once I've hit The Wall, I know there is no going through it.

#2 Goal - Finish the race.

Medium case scenario ... some things go right and some things go wrong. With the exception of swimming long in really rough conditions, I've had my fair share of experiences dealing with good and bad weather conditions, luck, training days and races. If I manage to finish the swim, don't go out too fast on the bike/run segments, and handle my nutrition well, I will hopefully finish the race within the allowed time limits.

#3 Goal - Finish within 15 hours.

Best case scenario ... if most everything goes right, and that's a big IF. I hope to finish the swim in around 2 hours, the bike in around 7 hours and the run in around 5 hours. Adding in time for transitions, that comes out to about a 14-15 hour race time.

If anyone is interested in tracking me on race day at, my bib number is #2417.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Don't Overdo It

My mother always discouraged me from being too active outdoors. She was raised in a different culture and doesn’t understand why anyone would run marathons or do triathlons for fun. She thinks it’s dangerous, and she is right.

But that hasn’t stopped me ...... from talking to her about what I do, I mean. It used to be that I’d try to tell her everything about swimming, biking and running, the good and the bad, but then I realized that she only heard the bad. So I found that balance was important when talking to her, just as it is in my training, and some things are best left unsaid.

“So, you still running alone a lot? You know you shouldn’t. There are bad men who might try to get you while out running.”

“Yes, mom ... but I’m as careful as I can be. I carry pepper spray and a cell phone when I run. I only run during daylight hours and know how to defend myself. I even have a little rear view mirror on my sunglasses so I can see people coming up behind me."

What I don’t tell her is that I've been nearly attacked twice in the past. About 10 years ago, I was chased by a guy who jumped out of his car naked. I escaped unhurt but the incident prompted me learn self defense to prepare for next time, which was a couple months ago. This time a guy tried to sneak up on me from behind but I heard his footsteps, turned around with my pepper spray ready to fire, and he ran away. No sense in making her worry about people she nor I can control. I love to run alone and I'm not giving it up.

“You guys don’t ride your bikes on the roads, do you? I heard about a cyclist who was hit by a car.”

“Well, at the speeds we ride at, it’s actually safer to ride on the roads than it is on sidewalks or bike paths, mom. But whenever possible, we ride in bike lanes and on roads where there aren’t many cars. We also wear very bright colored clothing so drivers can see us easily.”

I don't mention to her that my husband, also my riding partner, was recently hit by an SUV that somehow didn’t see his fluorescent orange jersey and crossed into the bike lane he was in. Fortunately, at 220 lbs and built like a linebacker, all he got was a sore shoulder from breaking off the car's side view mirror. She also doesn’t need to know about the beer bottle that was thrown at me from a passing car. After all, it missed hitting me and I didn’t even get a flat from the broken glass.

“You only swim in a pool, right? People who swim in oceans and lakes have gotten killed by sharks and alligators.”

“Mom, the chances of getting killed by sharks and alligators are very slim. People are more likely to die in a car accident. Besides, going to the pool can be dangerous too. I broke my nose the other day.”

"WHAAAAT? How'd that happen?"

“Well, I was in a hotel room getting my things ready to go to the pool. I forgot there was a partial wall directly to my left so I turned to leave and smacked right into it face first, hard. Hurts to wear my goggles right now.”

Oh no, that’s terrible! You’d better stop swimming then.”

“No, I can’t, mom. I’m training for an ironman triathlon.”

“Ironman tri -- what? What’s that?”

“Oh, just a marathon with some swimming and biking done first. Should be fun.”

“Well, don’t overdo it.”

“Okay, mom. Gotta run. Talk to you later.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Special Sponsor

Day before yesterday I submitted my Team raceAthlete sponsorship application. My husband, who was across the country on a business trip, asked me to email him a copy of the essay. Huh? That's odd, I thought. I talk about my training and racing WAY too much already. I know he has many more important things to do than read 1000 words he's heard a 100 times before.

He also asked if there was a way he could get automatically notified of updates to this new blog of mine. I told him I think it’s possible but I’ll have to figure it out. Wait a minute … is he wanting to make sure I’m not blogging about some hot guy I met while he’s been gone ???

Well, he has been traveling a lot, gone nearly every week recently. Many of the simple things we used to do often – go to the grocery store, eat dinner together, stay home and watch a video – are now just occasional treats. He does usually come home on the weekends though so we can go for a bike ride together, which is nice.

Though he has not been around much, my husband’s email reply made me realize how very lucky I am right now, at home, by myself, whether or not I get any company sponsorships.

He wrote, “Congratulations! You are the winner of the 'Hunny Endurance' sponsorship. The sponsorship is good for whatever you want.”

I replied back, “Oh Yipee! Hmm, but don’t I nearly always get whatever I want already?” Which is sort of true, because I think he tries to make up for being away so much, but I try, really try, not to take advantage of it.

Then he wrote back, “It’s the annual renewal.”

Thank you, Dave. Your support really means more to me than anything else. I love you. See you soon.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ironman Training Race: Mental Focus

After 9 months of serious training, I identified three things that I still really needed to work on: swimming, pacing and nutrition. I know that the second and third ones are inversely related (e.g., the faster I go, the less calories my body can absorb) so I decided to use a local Olympic distance tri to focus on my ironman pacing strategies. The race would also give me more open water swim experience, which is very much needed. Since finishing would not be much of an issue for me, I knew I was in for a truly different workout. This would not at all be about keeping myself going, which I have a lot of practice doing, but rather holding myself back. To get the most out of it, I decided to go ahead and equip myself for an IM as well. At the race start, my transition backpack was easily the biggest one there. Those who saw how much stuff I brought undoubtedly thought I was either nuts or a newbie. Truth be told, this was only my third triathlon so they were right on both counts.

I only really have one swim speed, slow, so I swam my normal speed and finished in 47:16, not far from the 2 hour pace I expect to finish my IM swim. It was my first swim in saltwater, but I didn’t notice anything different except for the taste (no wetsuits were allowed). Upon exiting the water, I happily started jogging towards the transition area but then realized I should be walking, so I walked. Since I’m such a slow swimmer, it’s always easy for me to find my bike. I was, however, very surprised to see a fit-looking guy in T1. I heard him say “anything can happen in a race” to one of the volunteers so I guess something did. I headed onto the bike course with 72 oz of water in my Camelbak, a bike bottle containing my high-cal sports drink concoction, and a Clif Bar. With the exception of all the water, I’d try to consume everything else, just as I would during the first 1-2 hours of my IM bike segment.

Several times in the first few miles I caught myself going 18-20 mph with seemingly little effort. I had to slow down to 16-17 mph, which would put me at my target of 7 hours on the IM bike segment. I realized that I’m a very poor judge of bike effort when I’m fresh so I had to stay quite focused on my speed. A HR monitor would have been useful but I’d lent mine to a friend recently. Eating and drinking regularly helped me go slower but when the Olympic bike course split from the sprint tri bike course, I found I was able to maintain my slow pace easier (headwind and fewer cyclists). Later, I noticed a motorcycle behind me and waited for him to pass but he never did. After a while, I realized he was the guy that is supposed to follow the last person on the course. OMG, that was me! At that point, it occurred to me that perhaps I might not make the race cut-off, whatever it was. I hadn’t read about any cut-offs in the race instructions but did some quick calculations and figured that I’d be finishing in around 3:30. That was faster than some race times I’d seen from last year’s results so I stayed slow, which caused the competitive side of me to throw up her hands in defeat, a good thing.

When the Olympic tri bike course rejoined the sprint tri bike course, I actually passed two slower sprint tri participants who had gotten flats and could not fix them (note to self: practice fixing flats more). The last part of the bike course was up and over a causeway, just like the IMFL bike course, which was a nice touch. My speedometer said I’d averaged 17.1 mph but the distance traveled said just over 27 miles so perhaps the course was little long. The important thing was that I stuck to my IM race plan well. I'll check the accuracy of the bike computer later for I know I zeroed it in T1. In T2, I switched shoes AND socks, and also my sunglasses for a clean pair. I slurped down a gel with some water, put on my 4-bottle Fuel Belt, headed onto the run course and then straight for the porta-potties. Yup, I had hydrated well on the bike.

Being a marathoner, I was so psyched to be finally doing my favorite triathlon segment. I’ve run many marathons every step of the way but never after having swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles. To better my chances of finishing, my IM plan is to break up the distance into 25 one-mile jogs with a 1 minute walk break during which I will eat and drink. If everything goes right, I hope to run a 4 to 5 hour marathon, so I set out to run at about a10 min/mile pace. After a couple miles, I actually began to pass some folks. which caused a whole lot of whooping and hollering inside me but I resisted the temptation to pick up the pace. I ate a gel while walking at mile 3 but somehow missed seeing mile markers 4 and 5 so I used my watch to schedule my walk breaks. Around mile 5, a guy said “you’re almost there!” as if to encourage me to keep running instead of taking a walk break. I smiled and said “I’m sticking to my ironman plan” and he looked at me weird. At mile 6, I finally let myself go and ran hard to the finish. As I flew past one guy on the final stretch, I sort of felt like I had cheated by holding back so much earlier. My 10K time was 1:00:29, a 9:45 min/mile average pace, acceptably close to my 10:00 goal pace. My net race time was 3:30:59.

What I learned is that it took a LOT of mental strength to hold myself back during this race. In the past, I've tried to “make up” for my slow swimming by pushing hard on the bike and run segments. But in an ironman, I know that will lead to failure. In hindsight, I realize going too fast on the bike segment and not having a good nutrition plan are largely why I “hit the wall” during my half ironman run segment (I was also ill on race day). At IMFL, I've got to stay focused on going slow and steady, just like I did at this race. In fact, I’m going to make it my IM mantra. Slow and steady, Slow and steady, Slow and steady ...

Whatever happens, I’m ecstatic about my progress to date. So, again, if there were a belt ranking system in triathlons, I would say I'm now an Orange Belt.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why Am I Doing an Ironman?

This is a question that will undoubtedly come up sometime during everyone's ironman race and I remember Paula Newby-Fraser telling us at the IMFL Training Camp that we had better be able to answer it. There is no right or wrong. All that matters is that you have an answer.

Well, I certainly can't say that an ironman something that I've been working towards for a long time. With less than a year of training and only two tris completed to date, I know I haven't paid my dues to the sport. OTOH, it's not like I just got off a couch one day and decided I'd like to do an ironman. Training 15-25 hours a week for physically and mentally grueling endurance events is nothing new to me. I'd seen IMFL 2004 and 2005 in person and knew pretty much what to expect.

The truth of the matter is I chose to do an ironman because I know I LOVE doing activities at an (easy) aerobic pace for very long periods of time. Though I had no significant swimming experience since I was a small child, deep down, I WANTED something to motivate me to become a strong swimmer, not necessarily fast but able to go long. I WANTED to go on long bike rides with my husband who loves cycling and had done centuries. I WANTED to keep running marathons and also do more triathlons. To me, training for an ironman seemed logical.

So being that IMFL 2006 is a few days before my 45th birthday, I've made it my 45th birthday present to myself. It's a chance to celebrate my health and be thankful for all the things I can do. It's NOT a test of my limits but rather a test to see how far I've come. Whatever the race day brings, I will do my best. I have never felt completely ready for any karate test I've taken because each one could vary so much from a previous test. So it is with ironman.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Yellow Belt

If there were a belt ranking system in triathlons, I would say that I am now a Yellow Belt. That is, I've learned and had a chance to practice, not master, most of the basic triathlon skills.

In May 2006, I completed my second triathlon, a half ironman. The conditions were relatively good (calm water, low wind) except for 90+ degree temperatures late in the race and the fact that I was ill on race day. My only real goal was to finish, which I did in 6:39:51, though it wasn't pretty (I was coming down with the flu during race week, unable to carbo load properly or eat/drink much during the bike, hit the wall early on during the run). Like my Yellow Belt karate test, it gave me some confidence in my abilities but it also humbled me, revealing many areas that needed much further work, not to mention my inexperience.

So now I'm in my second phase of ironman training and things are much more serious. Unlike a half ironman, an ironman is significantly longer than any other event I've ever done before. I cannot rely simply on my endurance and determination to get through it.

No. I've gone back to working on some fundamentals, spending more time on my swimming and cycling form to hopefully become more efficient at doing both. I'm only running 25-30 MPW now (quite low compared to when I'm training for marathons) and doing short, relatively easy "transition runs" after my long bike rides as opposed to bricks which usually involve much harder effort running after riding. I'm also continuing to work on refining my race day nutrition plan.

I have 6.5 weeks left until IMFL ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ironman Florida Training Camp

What a great weekend! I can't articulate all the benefits I got from training on the actual Ironman Florida (IMFL) race course, mingling with others who are doing the race, and receiving personal coaching from some experts in the sport (Paula Newby-Fraser, Paul Huddle, Roch Frey, Jimmy Riccitello and others). I will try though to pass on the main points I took home from the camp. They may be nothing new to ironman veterans but perhaps they will help others newbies like myself.

  • The hard part about ironman triathlons is mastering the nutrition and mental aspects of the race. The physical training requirements are relatively straight forward. Ironman workouts and guidelines for tapering can be found in various sources (samples given). It is better to be 10% under-trained than 1% over-trained. Those who focus only on swimming, biking and running will find themselves unprepared for ironman.

  • You need to have a well-defined nutrition plan that is an integral part of your race plan. Nutrition needs are highly individual but as a starting point, an average a 150# male can absorb in the neighborhood of 250-275 cal/hr (scale down/up if you are smaller/bigger). Many are able to train their body to absorb more calories but beware of the fine line between consuming too much and consuming too little. In order to fuel and hydrate yourself properly, you need to know your fluid loss and calorie absorbancy rates and also what form (liquid, solid, gel) and specific types of fuel will work for you. These will vary according to weather conditions, level of exertion and the activity. Take in some nutrition (75-150 cal) after the swim ASAP; this may be shortly after getting on the bike if you've ingested much water during the swim. If feeling nauseous, do not try to suppress vomiting; better to go ahead and try to get back on track. Absorption while running tends to be only 50% of that while cycling so strive to consume the majority of calories in the first 3/4 of the bike and in small, steady increments (say, every 15-20 minutes). Consider trying CarboPro, a tasteless powder that can be mixed with water to provide a large number of calories in liquid form. Loss of salt due to sweat can be substantial for some athletes, ranging from 1 gm/hr to 4-5 gm/hr, and some may find the need to take salt supplements in addition to consuming sports drinks and foods containing salt. Experiment and practice during your training but be prepared to make changes on race day in case your tried-and-true favorites don't work. Put extra types of food/drink in your special needs bag and make salt tablets available to you in the transitions, on your bike and during your run (not provided at aid stations).

  • You need to know how to stay "within yourself" during a race. Regardless of Mother Nature or what others do, you need to find and maintain your own pace. Practice keeping your mind focused and occupied for long periods of time ALONE (Mile XX ... How am I feeling? How much have I eaten? Is it time for me to eat? When's the last time I drank? Am I breathing easy? How is my form? Etc.) If you always train with a group, train long by yourself occasionally so you know what it's like. If you usually listen to MP3 players while training, start leaving them at home (they're not allowed during a race). During ironman, you will likely have to fight off anxiety before/early in the race and other various demons later in your race. The key to overcoming them is letting go of your expectations and just doing the best you can under the conditions the day presents.

  • Give up 15 minutes on the bike and gain up to 45 minutes on the run. Many athletes, particularly those who consider cycling to be their strongest sport, ride too fast and then pay for it dearly during the run. Not only do they begin running on more tired legs, they rob themselves of the opportunity to fuel/hydrate more effectively before the run. The bike segment should feel easy throughout. A good strategy is to start out 1-2 mph slower than your goal pace and then hit your goal pace in the second half.

  • Do not let weather be an excuse, especially cold weather. Too much time/money has been invested not to consider simply packing extra things in one's T-bag or special needs bags. Don't fixate on having to wear a specific race outfit. Arm warmers during a cold, wet race day are virtually useless; wear a shell instead. A large plastic garbage bag worn over your running gear is a great way to stay warm/dry and easily discarded if not needed later. Check the forecast but be prepared for worse.

  • The IMFL course can be deceptively difficult. The water temperature is usually between 75-78 degrees so wetsuits are usually allowed, but the swim is in open ocean (Gulf of Mexico) so surf and currents can be an issue, and minor jellyfish stings are not uncommon. The bike course is very flat, except for a causeway early/late in the course, and pretty boring after turning inland from the beach. Get used to riding in the aero-position (if available) and pedaling at constant effort for very long stretches. There is about a 10-mile stretch of rough road around mile 90 that will require extra focus. A headwind on the final stretch back to T2 is common as are flat tires within first and last 6-7 miles due to all the construction zones. The double loop run course is also very flat and very tedious, winding through quiet residential areas and a state park. Spectator support can be sparse except at aid stations, the start/finish/halfway and turnaround points. Make sure to pick up your feet when going over the residential area speed humps.

More details about the training camp can be found at, if interested. There are weekend camps for IM Arizona, IM Coeur d'Alene, IM USA-Lake Placid, IM Wisconsin as well as other non-race-specific camps. IMO, the camp was well worth the time and money.

White Belt

In triathlons, I'm a beginner. My marathoning and martial arts (MA) background help me with the physical and mental side of training but they do NOT make me a triathlete. A triathlete needs to be able to swim, bike and THEN run. An ironman triathlete needs to be able to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and THEN run a full marathon (26.2 miles). What good am I if I cannot do the first two?

I remember the times when new students who had earned black belts from other schools joined our dojo. They were given a choice: stand in the front wearing their black belt or stand in the back with the other white belts wearing a new white belt. The best new students were usually the ones who traded their hard-earned black belts for a new white belt.

So around the start of 2006, I emptied my cup. I took swimming lessons, bought a tri bike and began my ironman training in earnest. Swimming has been very difficult for me, but at least I no longer worry as much about drowning. Cycling has been easier, except I sometimes fall because I can't snap my bike shoes out of the pedals, but at least I'm no longer terrified of riding on the roads with cars whizzing by me.

The training has been pretty challenging so far but I've been able to apply many of the same principles I learned from my MA training (courage, perseverance, balance, patience, respect, indomitable spirit, etc.). Indeed, it seems that this road is very similar to the one I was on 9 years ago when I was a White Belt.