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.