Monday, August 31, 2009

I Did It!!!

I did it! I finished my 2nd Ironman (1st time Canada). It wasn't pretty, and it was waaaay harder than my first (more on that later) but I got it done. Again, the Ironman tested me to the core of my soul. It was a fantastic journey. Full race report coming soon...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Parting Words...

Well, here I go again. It's been a crazy week trying to get everything done in time. I finally feel like I have all my ducks in a row. I finished up with a fun, short ride on Pandora on the bike path, a simple yet very enjoyable 15-mile ride. My final ride in the U.S. before my Ironman. I can leave the country tomorrow, satisfied that any loose errands I couldn't tie up will be waiting when I return...hopefully as a 2-time Ironman.

I will be able to say to myself as I line up on the start line that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, else I could have done in my training to prepare for this race. That will comfort me on race day and calm my nerves.

On the downside, it looks like, as God always has planned for me, my Ironman will, again, be very hot. Every day the forecast goes up another degree. Right now, the forecast for Sunday is 93 degrees. Ugh. Sound familiar? This is eerily reminscent of my first Ironman, last April in Arizona where temps were in the upper 90s. Someone today said, "At least it's a dry heat." I cringed. That's what they said about Arizona. It was insufferable. Quite frankly, my first Ironman was held in the 7th ring of hell. Now, is my 2nd Ironman going to have the same conditions as the first, except with lots of hills? Oh well. If it's hard for me, it will be hard for everyone else too. At least I've had some experience with heat! (Not to mention some heat training as well, compared to nil last time around). If it's brutally hot, I'll survive; I'll just be a lot slower. I wonder how fast I could go in an Ironman in favorable conditions? Does that ever happen?

I leave you with some photos I found today. I call it "Ironman Training: Before & After". I couldn't believe how different I look between April and August. It just goes to show that the training really does work!

Before (CA 70.3 April 6, 2009)

(Bike--Camp Pendleton Sprint, August 8, 2009; and 10 lbs lighter)

Before (CA 70.3; 4/6/09)

Run After (CP Sprint; 8/8/09)
Note muscle definition in legs!

See you on the other side!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Separation Anxiety

I completed my final ride in the United States on Torch Friday. I lovingly cleaned him up, lubed his chain, and attached a clearly marked label to his handlebars before dropping him off at Nytro for TriBike Transport. I got chills when I entered the shop. The bike guys were very nice; I'm sure they had been dealing with hyperventilating-nervous-type-A-triathletes-tapering-for-their-Ironman all day. I'm having major separation anxiety. It didn't help that other people were dropping off their bikes to be shipped to Louisville for Ironman Kentucky on the same day. Because IM Kentucky is the same day as IM Canada. Ack!!!!! Please tell me Torch will be in Penticton next Thursday, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and NOT in Louisville (or anywhere else for that matter).

My taper is going as predicted. I'm in the sluggish, blah phase, where sleeping a lot and doing little is very appealing. I've slogged through most of my taper workouts (and skipped some too). Unlike last week (when I felt fresh and speedy), this week, I feel apathatic and unable to produce any speed, although I can sustain base pace forever without getting tired. This is good, or so I'm told. I have a ton of other life things going on as well, all exciting and good, but stressful, nonetheless. More on all of that in the next month....AFTER my Ironman. Right now, I need to focus on focusing on one thing and one thing only: Ironman Canada.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Science Wednesday--Exercise Doesn't Cause Weight Loss? Huh?

It's been drummed into our heads that diet and exercise are necessary to lose weight. Right? Well, Cloud questions this in his controversial article in Time: "Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin". In the article, Cloud questions the efficacy of exercise in weight loss, arguing that because exercise stimulates hunger, people that exercise overeat and end up losing 0 pounds or actually gaining weight.

The conventional wisdom that exercise is essential for shedding pounds is actually fairly new. But the past few years of obesity research show that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated.

The article goes on to cite a study where four groups of women were assigned to different durations of exercise per week for 6 months. On average, everyone lost weight (even the control group, who may have lost weight because of becoming self conscious when filling out the health forms); however, the women who exercised the most did not lose the most weight. Unfortunately, the article grossly misinterprets and misrepresents the data. The authors of the study even explicitly state that the experiment was not designed to examine weight loss:

Our findings should not be interpreted as suggesting that lower doses of exercise are more effective in producing weight loss than higher doses. We emphasize that DREW was not a weight loss study and it was not designed to examine the nuances of exercise induced weight loss.

One expert quoted in the Time piece, Dr. Timothy Church, said his professional opinions were misrepresented. Dr. Church declared unequivocally to the LA Times that Time Magazine misunderstood his professional opinion. What he actually believed was that virtually all people who lose weight and keep it off are exercising.

Dr. Martinez from Coastal Sports and Wellness picks apart the Time article and all its errors in detail in his blog response, "Does Reading Time Magazine Make You Dumb?"

The author did a poor job of factual reporting for a junior high school paper, much less a major news magazine...The reality of this exercise study is that the researchers found that all three exercise groups lost weight. Interestingly, the group that exercised the most, did not lose weight at the researchers’ predicted rate – however, that group still lost weight.

Malia Frey from the Minneapolis Fitness Examiner weighs in:

If Cloud mistakenly believed that 30 minutes on the treadmill allows him to sit on the couch all day, eat burgers and malts and still expect to lose weight, that is unfortunate, but I'm not sure that it warrants a cover story in Time magazine.

So does Shari Roan from the LA Times:

However, most research suggests that exercise and dieting are both important for weight loss and that exercise is critical for weight maintenance. It's difficult, but not impossible. Research not cited by the Time article shows that people who have maintained a significant weight loss over a sustained period of time largely rely on exercise to do so. This effort, studies suggest, can eventually retrain the body to respond appropriately to food and activity. Moreover, these people also carefully watch what they eat. In other words, they know that eating a blueberry muffin after their workout will undermine their goals. This evidence was detailed in a 2008 story in the Los Angeles Times' special Health section on weight loss.

Finally, the America College of Sports & Medicine released a statement last week saying it takes "strong exception" to the Time story's conclusions. According to John Jakicic, Ph.D., FACSM (whose own research, published in 2008, showed a high dose of physical activity contributed to the greatest amount of weight loss):

There is strong evidence from the majority of the scientific literature that physical activity is an important component for initial weight loss...The statement ‘in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless’ is not supported by the scientific evidence when there is adherence to a sufficient dose of physical activity in overweight and obese adults. Again, it is clear in this regard that physical activity is one of the most important behavioral factors in enhancing weight loss maintenance and improving long-term weight loss outcomes.

My 2 Cents?
Although I'm sure he has a point in some cases, I am highly skeptical overall. First, exercise makes you healthier. It extends lifespan and prevents a myriad of diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer's to cancer. Not to mention the antidepressant, mood elevating effects (particularly of vigorous) exercise.

Personally, I have found high volumes of exercise (marathon or Ironman training) disproportionately spike your hunger, which can lead to weight gain if diet is not carefully monitored. But exercise AND diet are both crucial parts of the weight loss equation. In the end, the calories out must be more than calories in to cause the needle on the scale to fall. That's it. Simple as that. So if you calculate what you're burning (exericise) and document what you're eating (diet), subtract--that number should be negative to meet your weight loss goal. I have found that the initial spike in hunger caused by high volumes of exercise dissipates after ~6 months. (Also, intense exercise like running actually suppresses appetite while gentle exercise like walking or swimming stimulates it). The body adapts. It's been much easier to maintain my weight in training for my 2nd Ironman than it was for the first one. Keeping a food journal helped too. Because, duh, what I was eating mattered. A lot. And guess what? I've lost 9 pounds this time around, not that I needed to.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ironman Race Day Nutrition Plan

There are a million different Ironman nutrition plans out there. Each one has to be carefully customized to meet each athlete's individual needs. And then practiced and experimented with diligently in training. I have a very sensitive GI system. For last year's Ironman, I went to a nutritionist who specializes in endurance sports, Kim Mueller (who's the best). She really knows her stuff and took the guesswork out of my plan. On race day, she totally saved me. I knew just what to do. I'm using this plan for Ironman Canada.

Race Day Breakfast:
  • 2 hours before
  • 400-500 calories
  • avoid too much fiber
  • Examples:
  • peanut butter whole grain bagel and banana
  • Autumn Wheat cereal (or oatmeal) with skim milk and banana
  • Drink 1/2 cup coffee, 12 ounces water
  • 1 hour before
  • 100 calories
  • sip on low-fat chocolate milk
  • if can get it down, nibble on Cliff Nectar bar (yummy!)
  • ~100-200 calories
  • will replenish on bike (quicker transition)
  • will start out depleted from swim
  • drink water and InfinIT sports drink to rehydrate
  • try to supplement with something solid (Cliff MoJo bar or 1/2 PB&J)
  • ~250 calories/hour (2 scoops InfinIT)
  • 3 1/2 scoops (orange) InfinIT (complete sports drink with electrolytes, carbs, amino acids) in each of 4 bottles (2 on bike and 2 special needs)
  • drink shot (mouthful) of InfinIT every 10 minutes chased by couple sips of water (front aero bottle)
  • refill water at aid stations (every 1-2 aid stations)
  • goal is to have 1st 2 bottles gone by special needs and 2nd 2 bottles gone by end of bike
  • (a little more than 1/2 bottle an hour)
  • Back Up:
  • drinking only liquid calories feels yucky on tummy after awhile
  • may reduce liquids and substitute for solids (e.g. Cliff Blocks--Strawberry (non caffeinated) or Orange (caffeinated--if tummy feels good), Cliff MoJo bars)
  • 2 PB&Js cut into 4 squares (1 at beginning and 1 at special needs)
  • if hotter than 85, supplement with Thermolyte tablets (electrolytes); take 1 every 20 minutes chased with copious amount of water
  • if tummy acts up:
  • try Tums 1st (if helps, chase with Pepcid because longer lasting)
  • then Gas-X (or Bean O)
  • for cramping (last resort)--Immodium (try 1/2 tablet at a time)
  • 200 calories/hour (1.5 scoops InfinIT)
  • 1.5 scoops in each of 4 FuelBelt bottles
  • goal is to drink 1 bottle per hour
  • at each aid station, take shot of (lemon-lime) InfinIT from FuelBelt, chased by 8-12 ounces water from Dixie cup
  • Back Up:
  • can supplement/substitute with Cliff Blocks (Lemon Lime for non-caffeinated and Orange for caffeinated)
  • aid stations have yummy food too! (pretzels, flat Coke, chicken broth)
  • see above for GI problems or extreme heat

This plan is based off my age (31), gender (F), and weight (130). It also takes into account my speed and effort (the faster you go, the more fuel you need) e.g. 1.5 hr swim, 7 hr bike, 4 hr run. Obviously, if conditions are extremely hot (or hilly), I need to adjust accordingly.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

America's Finest City Half Marathon

Taper Week 1 is in the bag. I feel pretty good. One thing I've decided though is that spring cleaning and deep house cleaning is NOT a recovery workout. Friday was a complete rest day and I spent it cleaning the house, inside and out; spring cleaning and all; I even dusted the garage! Call it the taper twitch. I thought it would be a good way to work out the mental angst. Except that when I woke up on Saturday for my long ride (50 wonderful, fast miles with friends), I didn't feel well rested at all. All I can say is that the 50-mile ride was waaaaay easier than cleaning the house! Must be the principle of specificity).

My training plan called for a 10-mile run on Sunday, the same day as (America's Finest City Half Marathon). Taper workouts are supposed to include some speed workouts and high intensity bursts. Plus aid stations, running buddies, and people cheering for you the whole way? It was a no brainer.

Except that I came down with a cold Saturday. Are you kidding me? Ugh. Must be the taper cold. After tossing and turning all night in bed, unable to breathe, I woke up at 2:45, only 15 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to go off (the one thing I hate about this race; you have to get there SO early to take the bus over to the start; it's a point-to-point run). Well, I minize well run this thing. Better lying on my ass in bed, not being able to sleep. My body felt fine; my legs felt fresh; I just couldn't breathe. Minor details.

I got out of bed and stumbled around, trying to put my contacts in. I used this new, cheap contact solution, not realizing the ingredients were different. I rinsed out my left eye with the solution to "clean" the eye before inserting the contact. My eye instantly started burning. I thought it was going to melt out of my head. It was like I had poured acid in it. I instantly started rinsing it with copious amounts of cold water. My eye was bright red; it looked like I was stoned. I read the label on the bottle more carefully. Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide?!?!?!?! I had just poured hydrogen peroxide in my eye. Great way to start the day. At least I was wide awake.

We got a great parking spot and were shuttled to the start in record time. Great. Now I had 90 minutes to shiver in the dark, cold morning on the curb. I was rocking back and forth in the fetal position, teeth chattering, doing the whole body shiver, in a futile attempt to keep warm. Garbage bag! I had forgotten a garbage bag. By the time we lined up for the start, I was very stiff and unhappy. At that point, my goal was to use the run to kill the cold. That's it. I didn't care how fast I went.

The gun went off, and I seeded myself with several buddies from my running group. Their goal was to break 2 hours. I was pleasantly surprised with how good my legs felt. My sinuses opened up, my legs unstiffened, and I loosened up. I felt good. Great, in fact, since I could breathe freely for the first time in over 24 hours. Ah, the wonders of running. I was greatful I could pace with my running buddies; they had started fasted than I normally do. It always takes me forever to warm up, and I enjoyed the opportunity for a kick start into my goal pace.

The first several miles flew by as we chatted easily. The course was downhill for the first 5 miles, and we took advantage, zipping down the descents at a sub-8 pace. My new goal was to stay with my running buddies and break 2 hours with them. Cold? What cold? I felt great.

We hit the long, flat section that winds around the airport, around Harbor Island, and back through the rental car parking lot before heading downtown. It's long, it's flat, and it's very boooooring. However, most years, it's also stifingly hot. This year, we had spectacular weather. Cloud cover the whole way, low humidity, and 70s. So luxurious. Brent had taken off earlier, and I desperately wanted to catch him. My running buds wanted a more conservative pace. I felt spectacular so I took off. I was holding 8:30s for a long time. I was breathing soft and rhythmic, and my legs felt fresh.

I saw Brent up ahead, not that far. I shot him the snake-eye look. I tried to control myself. Tried to be okay with letting him go. My new goal was to catch him. My pace started sneaking back to 8:00s. Around mile 8, my pace slowed unwittingly. My muscles felt fine. I wasn't breathing hard. This was my neuromuscular system speaking. It's just not used to firing that hard for that long. My brain was having a hard time telling my legs to turn over. It took a great amount of mental focus but I found I could will my legs back to 8:30s-8:45s without much of a problem. Then, I would think about catching Brent, and my pace would drop to 8:10. Let him go, I told myself sternly, forcing my pace to slow again. My pace was all over the place. Very unlike me.

I caught one of my fast running buddies as we turned towards downtown at mile 10. His knees were giving him a great deal of pain, allowing us to run together. It was wonderful to have a running buddy again. We had fun chatting and my pace became more steady. I realized the end of the race was drawing near. Already? When had a half marathon become so short? We reached the big, mile-long hill at mile 11. A homeless guy cheered us on from the sidewalk, "It'll get better in a minute!" Hmmm. I realized he was right. Pain is only temporary. My friend and I paced with each other up the hill. Since he's a better runner, I tried to mimic his movements, and match his pace, keeping my footsteps light and quick, leaning into the hill slightly. My breathing became heavy and rapid; I was working hard now.
"We got this!" he yelled.
"We're awesome!" I retorted. We continued our positivity drills up the hill. It made it more fun and the hill seemed less evil.

We made the turn across the bridge into Balboa Park. The finish line was near. I started salivating. My pace dropped to 7:50s. Then, I saw Brent. He was only a hundred yards ahead. And I still had a kick. I picked up the pace. Breathing like a freight train, I caught him.
"I could hear you coming from a mile away," he laughed.
"C'mon, let's go! Almost there!" I rallied. I took off, surging with the other runners for the final kick. Brent didn't respond, although he was very close behind. I sprinted over the finish line, feeling victorious. I had achieved all my "goals" for the race! I averaged 8:40, finishing in 1:54. Plus, I got to see all my running friends and have a great time doing it. And, my cold is going away! Nothing works better. I feel very, very satisfied.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Insurance Cookies

I've been swearing off sweets but last night was an exception. I can be a bit, er, demanding (to put it lightly) when dropping off Torch for my Ironman tune-up. Last year, I brought them homemade brownies as a peace offering. This year? After dropping off Torch with a laundry list of (mostly needless) things to do to him, I went home and started baking. (The guys at B&L were able to convince me that it was ridiculous to take off 2 perfectly good $100 tubulars and replace them for fear of not being able to get them off on race day. Solution? Pocket knife!) I realize I get a little weird during my taper. Today, when I went to pick up Torch, I delievered, much to their delight, two batches of chocolate chip cookies! I received many hugs. I call them my Ironman Insurance cookies! And, yes, I succumbed and ate a few last night. It would have been bad luck not to, right?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Taper Time

Is it that time again? Already? Wow, that snuck up fast. Taper does crazy things to a person. Last year, for my first Ironman (Ironman Arizona), I did the standard 3-week taper, which was almost not enough. After my "final push" block of training, I was extremely fatigued and had a hard time with reducing my volume by only 25% that first week. I ended up feeling sluggish on the start line. This year, I'm trying something different. A little experiment (gulp). I hope it works! After my crazy, 3-week "final push" (I only did a 2-week final push for Arizona), I took a (gasp) recovery week. That's right! A full recovery week. And I'm SO glad I did! I took several off days and did a lot of whining, sleeping, and eating. I finished out the week with a hard-effort workout (Camp Pendleton Sprint Tri--see post below), perfect for revving the body in preparation for the official taper. I feel absolutely wonderful this week and ready to tackle my taper with gusto.

Now, I am officially beginning my 3-week taper:
Week 1 (this week)--reduce volume 25% from my average highest volume block (about 16 hours so 25% reduction is 10-12 hours)
Specifics--pretty much a standard training week without extra bikes or runs (each sport 3x plus weights 2x; volume of each workout somewhat reduced, especially long Saturday ride (50 miles; but still including rolling hills at a hard effort), and Sunday run (America's Finest City half marathon--13.1 miles at race pace. Yippee!!! One complete rest day (Boo).)
Week 2--reduce volume 50% (6-8 hours)
Specifics--(bike 3x and swim 3x but run only 2x to allow legs to heal; long bike is 30-40 miles (pretty flat but hard intensity); long run is only 6-8; only 1 weights; 1-2 complete rest days (or 1 rest and 1 active recovery)
Week 3 (race week)--reduce volume 75% (3-4 hours before race day)
Specifics--everything is very short this week; goal of each workout is to keep legs feeling fresh, prevent stiffness and sleep well at night (nerves, mental well-being). Only 1 run, 2 very short bikes (~30 minutes each), 2-3 swims (also short: ~30 minutes each). 3 complete rest day with Saturday (day before race day) as one of those (mandatory rest day)

The goal is to rest...but not too much! This is my opportunity to put the final icing on the cake. I'm adding some high-intensity bursts to each workout, especially since the volume of each workout is reduced. Some track workouts, sprints on the bike (especially on the trainer), 100 m sprints in the pool--just enough to feel good and fast and stoke the anaerobic engine. It's about time! At the same time, I'm making sure I feel well-rested and eager to tackle each workout. If I don't, no worries; I'll skip it. If there was ever a time to be a slacker, this is it. However, the high levels of anxiety (I'm driving Brent crazy with my full-on, "spring"-cleaning-the-house-project) and restlesness I'm feeling indicate that the taper workouts will do me good. Plus, it helps me sleep soundly at night! In addition, I'm eating really, really healthy. No sweets until after race day! This is helping my IBS immensely and prevented unwanted pounds from creeping on now that my volume is reduced. Lots of healthy carbs though (cereal, rice, pasta, whole-grain bread, fruits, and veggies).

Comparison to Ironman Arizona (April 2008):
How does my preparation for Ironman Canada stack up against Ironman Arizona last year? Let's look at the data:

Everything is increased (mostly because my training period for Ironman Canada is quite longer--starting in December with a long, gradual build-up) but what's most striking is how much the run jumped up this year. Almost a 200 mile increase! Whoo hoo! My swim increased from 72 miles to 97 miles...also nice. And my bike increased from 2014 to 2475, almost a 500-mile increase! I wish I recorded elevations on my bikes because I feel like I've trained more on hills this year (since Ironman Canada is significantly more hilly than Arizona).

Let's take a closer look:
To make the comparison easier to evaluate, I lopped off the first 5 weeks of prep from Ironman Canada (I pretty much had 2 prep periods anyway this year). Now my Ironman Canada training is 25 weeks, whereas Ironman Arizona is 20.

My Ironman Canada training is all over the place between the Prep and final 8 weeks of training, probably owing to a few winter illnesses (including the sinus infection from hell weeks 16-17). However, I maintained my base throughout and during the final 8 weeks, blew my training out of the water. I trained harder than I ever have before, and it's evident. My volume during this period is unsurpassed.

Here's a closer look, dissecting the swim, bike, and run for Ironman Arizona (cool colors) and Ironman Canada (warm colors). My swim for both is about the same. My bike for Canada Prep really takes off the last 8 weeks. And my run for Canada Prep is consistently the same or much higher.

All-in-all, it looks like I have bigger peaks and valleys in my Ironman Canada training than for Arizona. I guess when you train harder, you have to recover harder. I know I feel as fit as ever. I feel I prepared as hard as I could have. When I got sick or injured, I rested. When I got tired, I rested. I did what my body told me and pushed when I could. I just have to taper well now, keep my fingers crossed, and hope that what I did was enough.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Camp Pendleton Sprint Triathlon 2009 Race Report

I took a hard recovery week last week. I was annihilated after my grueling 3-week "Final Push" block. Of course, in addition to resting, I was starving and exhausted, causing me to eat and sleep constantly. And, I was having the PMS week from hell. It was "the Perfect Storm". On Wednesday, I tried in vain to do masters swim. I got there late (unable to wake up on time) and feeling the size of a runty mouse. Overwhelmed by the 9, aggressive guys in lane 2 that I normally swim in, I slipped into the slow lane since there was only 1 other girl there, and started swimming. I wanted to swim with Brent, but he had been moved to an even faster lane. Which further deflated me. I forced my groggy arms to turn over in the water. I kicked my sluggish legs. After 1,000 meters, I'll feel better, I told myself. Like I always do. But I didn't. I felt worse and worse. And worse. After 2,000 meters, I got out. Sickie came over and asked what I was doing.
"I feel like crap."
"That's weird."
"It's a recovery week. I'm coming off a big-volume week."
"Normally, you feel better the farther you swim."
"Not today. I feel worse the farther I swim."
"Huh. That's weird."
Panic rose in my throat. Great. That made me feel a lot better. As if sensing my unease, Sickie reassured me, "Don't worry. You'll recover by race day." I ran off to the locker room and once nestled safely inside, found a private shower stall, locked myself inside, and started sobbing. Brent later asked Sickie if he had seen me.
"She got out early. She didn't feel well."
"I'll have to give her crap about that,"Brent teased.
Sickie, normally always joking and poking fun, just shook his head, " I wouldn't do that....not a good idea." Thanks, Sickie! Nice to know someone's got my back.
That pretty much is a perfect example of how I felt all week. A basketcase. Ranting, raving, crying, depressed, hungry, tired, exhausted. Partly because I was so tired from all the training and partly because I couldn't work out as much. I didn't have my outlet. Whenever my training dips below 8-10 hours a week, watch out! I become a bear.

After complaining to Brent that I sucked and was slow and worthless and should just quit the sport of triathlon all together, I packed my gear bag and put on Torch's race wheels to prepare for the Camp Pendleton Sprint Triathlon. In the back of my head, I perked up. Maybe this was just the confidence booster I needed. I was well rested and needed something fun and easy to tackle. I had done this race at the end of the season last year, burnt out and without heart. In actuality, I had just wanted to sleep in that day. It would be fun to do it this year full of enthusiasm. I hadn't raced since California 70.3 in April; I was raring to go.

I found a great spot in transition, unpacked, met up with Brent and some other buddies and walked down to the beach for a practice swim. I felt calm, relaxed, and excited. Such a nice change from years prior where I was so nervous, I thought I would throw up! I chattered nonstop to my friends.
"I'm really fast on this course," I babbled, full of confidence, a complete 180 from the day before. Everyone looked at me with amusement. "Is that so?" they replied. I hushed up, feeling embarrassed. Now, I'd have to work even harder so as not to eat my cocky words.

As we swam out for the practice swim, I was rudely reminded of how choppy and violent the waves are on Camp Pendleton. This would not be easy, I thought to myself. We watched the first waves go; it took them a looong time to swim to the first buoy. Oh well. At least I won't be upset when I have a slow swim, I told myself. Everyone will!

Brent's wave left, and I plopped down on the beach to wait. I still had 30 minutes before my wave! Ugh! The worst part is the waiting! Can I go now? Now? How 'bout now? Finally, someone from my wave recognized me, and we started chatting. We're both talkers and, unfortunately, I was ill-prepared when the gun went off. I wish I had been more focused!

The Swim:
I surged into the waves and dove into the water....way too early. Everyone else was still standing. It was difficult to swim in the shallow water and manuever around all the other legs. A giant wave pounded over me, and I came up coughing and sputtering. Dammit! At least I won't need any extra electrolytes! I had been soundly humbled by the great majestic goddess, the Ocean. I started diving under wave after wave, swimming water-polo style out past the breakers....which took F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Then, finally, I started swimming, still gasping for breath, after working violently to fight the waves. The right side of my goggles was full of water. Ugh! Believe it or not, that's the first time that's ever happened to me! Feeling very protective of my contacts, I tried, futilely, to adjust my goggles. No good. They still leaked. Stupid goggles! Luckily, I swim equally well to both sides. I swam to the left side and focused on reaching the buoy. After much jostling, kicking, bumping, and dirty looks (sorry, gals, I didn't mean to!), I turned past the first buoy, sighted and started swimming the shortest distance (a straight line) to the 2nd buoy. I wanted to draft sooo badly but all the other gals were swimming high. I had to decide: swim farther with a draft, or swim shorter without a draft. Maybe I should have opted for the former but I'm not the best at drafting so I opted for the latter. I turned past the 2nd buoy and began swimming in. After getting pummeled by that first wave, I was very cautious, overly so, and swam each stroke while looking back over my shoulder to make sure I didn't get blindsided by a giant wave. The water got shallow very quickly, and I stood. It was still too deep to run efficiently, however, so I dolphin-dived into the next wave and body-surfed onto the beach. Way more fun! I then made my way to transition but not before being forced to run through deep sand for a 1/4 mile. Ugh!!! Huffing and puffing like a fat, out-of-shape smoker, I forced myself to do a pathetic jog into T1. I glanced at my watch. WTF? My swim was SO SLOW!!! Almost 15 minutes!!! I've never swam a 500 so slow in my life!!! (Later, after consulting with Brent and others, they all described similar times and experiences, making me feel a whole lot better).

I couldn't find my bike. This has never happened to me before. I can't believe I made such a rookie mistake! I was soundly humbled, yet again. I had erroneously relied on an orange cone by my rack as a marker but it had been moved!!! And some of the signs that labeled the racks had come down!!! I stood in the wrong rack, looking frantically around, thinking, Oh, my God. Someone stole my bike! I was about to have a hissy fit! Then, I looked 2 racks over and saw Torch, safely nestled among the other bike. I made my way over to him and shook my head in frustration as I put on my helmet, sunglasses, and shoes. I was very pissed at myself. On the bright side, my bike was one of the first out of my rack!

I felt awesome. I hadn't ridden all week, and my legs felt fresh. Hmmm. So this is what it feels like to have glycogen in your muscles. Since I had been one of the last waves to go, I enjoyed passing bike after bike on the course. Such a confidence boost! I worked very hard on the uphills and into the headwind, thoroughly enjoying how the aero helmet and race wheels sliced through the wind. Ahhhh, I've missed that. Time to take off the training wheels! After training on them for 6 months, it's absolute heaven to switch to such light, aerodynamic wheels. And I feel so speedy! I reached the turn-around and cruised in the tailwind coming back momentarily. Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! Three girls passed me. WTF? I guess I'd been daydreaming. Snapping back into it, I burned the engines and caught up to them. I need to focus more on the downhills and tailwinds on the bike! I work like a demon when it gets tough and then cruise on the easy parts. I trick myself into thinking, "This is fast enough. I'm going 20." And that's when I get passed. I got caught in a pack of girls and had a hard time getting around so as not to draft. We were all giving each other dirty looks; I know each of us was mad at the other for "drafting." It's so hard on a crowded course! Thankfully, a short, steep uphill loomed up ahead. Using all my hill training, I sprinted up the hill and surged ahead of the group. I wasn't bothered by them again. Another gal in compression tights zipped by; I let her go but kept her in my sights. She was a very good cyclist. I observed how she conserved her energy on the hills and then let loose near the top, instead of powering down (like I do when I hit it too hard at the beginning of the hill). I cruised into T2 right behind her. My average was 18.8, faster than last year! I felt terrific.

The Run:
After a quick T2, I toiled up the long (only 1/4 mile) hill out of transition. A hill right off the bat? How cruel! I tried to settle in and let the jelly feeling work itself out of my legs. I knew it would get easier after the hill. Thankfully, by the top, my legs were feeling better and better. I picked up the tempo, grabbed a cup of water, gulped it down, and began accelerating. I was amazed at how good my legs were feeling all of a sudden. Must be all the 5K cross-country "races" I've been doing lately. My feet were light and quick; my legs springy. I passed tons of people, including the amazing cyclist I had tailed on the bike! My confidence, regained, I surged ahead. I focused on running just hard enough to make myself have to work; my breath was quick but still rhythmic, my legs quick and springy. When I would push too hard, my breath would become raspy and my legs would feel like noodles. I'd pull back a little, recover, and surge forward again. Oh, yeah. I love this part! It was actually a lot of fun. Running is my favorite. I surged down the finishing chute with as much kick as I could muster (not much), and then let the marines take my chip off (I knew if I bent over I would puke and pass out). According to my watch, I managed sub-8:00s (still waiting for the official splits).

Total Time: 1:43:34

All in all, I had a FANTASTIC time. This was just what I needed to boost my confidence and get me back on track. Later, I found out I placed 4th in my AG! If I had been 1:06 faster, I could have medaled!!! I've never been so close to medaling before in San Diego. I'm super stoked! I know I could have gone a little over a minute faster! Last year, even though I was burnt out and didn't care, my time was :20 faster. I need to be more focused at the start and more efficient in transitions. I guess I've let this slip because I keep telling myself transitions don't matter in an Ironman but it all counts! This race was just about having fun, and I did that. However, if I'd worked just a little harder, I could have medaled! I want to try just a little bit harder next time. Be a little more focused. I think I could have earned that minute with a better swim and T1 and T2. I know it!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Combating GI Distress

Because I suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), it comes to no surprise that I commonly deal with GI distress when racing or training, in particular, on the run. Turns, out I'm not alone. Over 63% of athletes share this problem. Because I've had to deal with it on almost a daily basis, my stomach and I are much better prepared (trained?) on race day. Here are some tips:

Before Race Day:
Search for the Perfect Sports Drink
Gatorade is often a bad recipe for people with sensitive tummies. Search for a sports drink with maltodextrin instead of simple sugars. Avoid drinks with fructose as this has been proven to cause stomach upset. It seems that when you mix different chain length carbohydrates in the sports drink, you can absorb a higher concentration without GI upset (probably because there are more receptors available for the different sugars, as opposed to saturating a single receptor with only 1 sugar). Some people like Carbo Pro. I really love Infinit ( because you can customize the drink to your needs (# of calories, strength of taste, amino acids, protein, electrolytes, etc.).
Train Your Stomach During Training
You're not just training your muscles and heart; you're training your GI system as well. To toughen up to the jostling while continuing to absorb and digest food with less blood. Practice what you will eat and drink on race day. Practice the amount and frequency. Then, once you have it dialed in, all you have to do is repeat what you know works in training on race day. If you do have GI upset during training, keep going. It will give you really good practice for how to handle it on race day.
Eat Healthy Meals 48 Hours Prior to Race Day
Be very conscious about what you're putting in your bellies. That means no roadside Joe's Taco Shop stands. Avoid foods high in fiber and fat. Go for things high in carbohydrates (although be aware that too much of this can cause bloating). Things I like are chicken, fish, lean beef, white rice, cantaloupe, cereal, bread, nonfat yogurt, bananas, and other easily digestable foods. Go with foods you know have worked for you in the past. Eat light, frequent meals. Don't try to "carbo load" only 1-2 days in advance (proper carbo loading takes 1-2 weeks and doesn't involve over-eating).
Eat Breakfast (but not too big)
It's important to replace our glycogen stores that are used up while we sleep. However, a 300 calorie meal will suffice. Avoid the pancakes, bacon and eggs. Go for easily digestable foods like cereal with skim milk, bananas, or a bagel with peanut butter. If you're still having a hard time getting it down (most people with sensitive stomachs have a hard time with breakfast in the wee morning hours before a race--this is often due to excess acid), try liquid calories. If you're still having a hard time, pop an antacid like Pepcid or Tums to see if that helps.

During the Race:
Eat/Drink Little and Often
It's easier to absorb small amounts of liquids and foods frequently. Try to drink every 10 minutes or so. Most importantly, follow the plan you worked out in training.
Mix Solids with Liquids
In an Ironman, my stomach has a hard time with liquids all day. I feel better ingesting some solid foods at some point during race day. Sounds counterintuitive but it works. I think the solids (e.g. PB&J) help sop up the acid produced in the gut. For some, the opposite is true and they do better with only solids. You need to practice and experiment in training to get it all nailed down.
Always Drink Lots of Water with Solids and Salt
You need water to digest food. Popping a GU or salt tab without chasing it with 8 ounces of water is a recipe for stomach upset.
Keep Water Separate from Calories
GI distress can be a sign of dehydration. The last thing I want to do when my stomach hurts is drink nasty sports drink. I always keep my sports drink in a more concentrated form and chase it with a shot of water (in my aero bottle--I refill at aid stations). On the run, my cocentrated sports drink is in my fuel bottle and I chase it with a cup of water at aid stations. That way, I can customize as I go. If my tummy gets too full, I cut back on the sports drink and up the water. Or vice versa. But I'm never "forced" to drink sports drink when I really want water.
Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine is known to cause stomach upset. I normally drink coffee but not before a race because it overstimulates my gut. If it's late in the day on a long race and my tummy feels go, I might take some in the form of Cliff Blocks (since 1 block of Orange = 1/3 a cup of coffee so it's more easily regulated).

When Your Stomach Acts Up:
Take care of it earlier, rather than later. Mild symptoms will become worse and are much harder to reverse when the GI distress has progressed from yellow to red.
Pop Some Pills
Practice in training so you know how you respond. However, don't be afraid to down 2-4 Tums or Gas-X. Do it earlier, rather than later. Remember, you will have to wait 15-20 minutes for a benefit (luckily it should take effect sooner since our blood is flowing and our heart rates are up). Other meds that have been heaven-sent for me include Bean-O, Pepcid, and Immodium. Avoid Advil or Ibuprofen--this is really hard on the stomach.
Slow Down
The blood is shunted to your muscles and away from your gut when running, making it more difficult to digest food. If there is stuff in your gut (i.e. GUs, gels, etc.), this makes it difficult to digest. First thing to do when your tummy begins to rumble is slow down. Sometimes it just needs a little time to process the GU you just slammed. Also, when we race, we often go faster then in training. Often, this causes a surprise GI upset. Just be aware if your stomach starts complaining on race day but was quiet in training, it may be because of your adrenaline-spiked speed.
Drink and Eat More
Sounds counterintuitive but GI upset is the first sign of dehydration. I force down some water and liquid calories at the first sign of a rumble and wait 5 minutes. If I feel worse, I try something else. 9 times out of 10, however, my stomach feels better.
Go to the Bathroom
Much better to get it over with and out of your system and go on with your race than to hold it and suffer for hours on end. Often, once relieved, your stomach will settle down.

Overall, I have to say that triathlon and exercise have improved my IBS symptoms on a day-to-day basis. And, my stomach has gotten "tougher" in training and in races because I'm so used to dealing with it. I can recognize the early signs and correct them before it gets out of hand. This may actually be an advantage for me in really hard conditions, like heat, where everyone comes down with GI problems. Other athletes who've never had stomach upset don't know what to do. I, however, knew what to do 30 miles ago. Sometimes, I think it's my body's way of signaling to me that something is amiss (like with my pace or nutrition). Some people get calf cramps; I get GI distress.

Links on Running and GI Distress:

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ending with the Train Run

This final week of training has been exhausting. The most difficult. The most tiring. Not because it, in of itself, was so hard but because all the weeks leading up to it had dug me in a whole. All as planned. After my big bike ride last weekend (Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge), this weekend was all about the run, a final 20-miler. I had mixed emotions. 1. I was tired--how was I ever going to muster up the energy to do this? 2. I was nervous--would I be able to do it? Would it be enough? Was that truly all I needed to prepare me for race day. 3. I was excited--race day is just around the corner. I get to taper now? But I've been training for sooo long! Am I really ready? The 20-mile run, my key workout of the week, loomed in front of me like Mt. Everest. Would I be able to reach the summit?

2.5 mile swim
But just doing a 20-miler was not enough of a challenge. I wanted to simulate the fatigue I would feel on race day. So I kicked off the weekend with a 2.5-mile ocean swim on Friday night. Even though the water was a balmy 72, I donned my wetsuit, albeit reluctantly. The first lap to the 1/2 mile buoy was a warm one; I almost stripped it off for the 2nd lap. However, knowing my body temp drops at the 60-minute point when my blood sugar drops, I resisted. On the 2nd lap to the 1/2 mile buoy, I felt comfortably cool; thank God I had kept the wetsuit on! I could feel my left armpit chafing; had I forgotten BodyGlide there? Ugh. I had to mentally push aside the constant sandpaper feeling with each stroke, telling myself a little chafing was not a big deal. On the final lap to the 1/4 mile buoy, I started to get hungry. Luckily, it was high tide and the overwhelming taste and smell of bird shit from the nearby nesting cormorants and pelicans kept my appetite at bay. As I reached the mouth of the cove, I could smell the burgers grilling from the park in the grass above. My mouth was watering. I sprinted for shore, motivated by my primal urge to eat, shaving 2-minutes off my final lap. Score! I stumbled up the stairs, found Brent, and gasped, "Food!" He asked how my swim went but I was already stuffing my face with the plate full of watermelon, burgers, cookies, and brownies that he had prepared for me as I swam. That was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me!

70-Mile Hilly Bike--The Sleeping Indian Ride
On Saturday, I organized a 70-mile ride that was supposed to only have gentle, rolling hills. Actually, it was only supposed to be 63-miles but I lied about that too. I didn't just lie to everyone else; I lied to myself as well! Most of my riding buddies didn't show, having wisened up to my "only rolling hills" declarations in the past. Even Brent, still beat up after the mountains from last weekend wouldn't go. He wanted flat and fast ("I don't want to see a single hill right now," he told me). My plan was to ride fast but to include a few rollers. As we headed east on Palomar Airport Road, I hit it hard, redlining up the small but very distinct hills along the way. We continued east on Lilac, reaching some prominent hills. I was prepared, believing these would be the worst batch of hills on the ride. I'll get them over with and have a relaxing 2nd half of the ride, I told myself. It was not to be. First mistake--my newly planned route ended up turning into dirt roads (thanks!), forcing us to turn back (hence the extra miles) and return a different way. Not really a big deal, except the way back was all uphill. Doh! Luckily, all the other riders remained in positive spirits and seemed to think of the extra hills as bonus training opportunities. I was thankful for their good attitudes. Olive Hill Road and Sleeping Indian was a lot HILLIER than I remembered. Every time we reached a steep ascent, one of the riders would mutter, "Another "rolling" hill." However, with each steep ascent, we were rewarded with a steep descent (isn't that a roller?). I reached 48 mph at one point! I caught up to one of the lead riders and relayed this information to him.
He looked at me wide-eyed, "I only went 44," he said.
"How's that?" I asked.
"I used the brakes," he replied.
"Oh, you're supposed to use those?"
We hit the headwind on the San Luis River Rey bike path and motored home. Since I had been mentally prepared, it wasn't a big deal. If my goal was to tire out my legs, I think I took a pretty good shot at them! The ride had been way hillier than I expected, I rode hard, and even got in extra miles. Bonus!

20-Mile Run--The Train Run
Okay, now the good part. The key workout of the week. Final big workout in my Ironman Canada training plan. What you've all been waiting for. I needed to make the run exciting and fun. Otherwise, running 20-miles can be a very tedious task indeed. I tried to round up my running buddies, even for a few miles, but I got no takers. I was to do my final 20-mile run solo. Unsupported. In a way, this was perfect because, in the end, you're totally alone and self-reliant on race day. The only person that was going to take my legs 20 miles was me. I decided on the Train Run, a one-way run from Oceanside to Solana Beach (16-miles--I would then addd on the final 4-miles on the bike path in Solana Beach). I purchased an 1-way Amtrak ticket to Oceanside for 10 bucks. Then, I would run back, following the coastline. No excuses. No backing out. 100% commitment. The only way to get back home is to run back. Plus, running along the coast is beautiful. There are many beach bathrooms to stop and refill water along the way. And there are a few mellow hills to make it challenging but the route is mostly flat (similar to Ironman Canada's run course).

I bought my ticket and boarded the train, making small talk with a few cyclists headed up to Irvine (who would then ride back--also a lot of fun). We started talking about the Death Ride(16,000 feet of climbing, 130 miles, 3 Sierra Nevada mountain passes), and I had to make them stop. It was making me tired, and I still had a 20-mile run looming in front of me! The landscape blurred past me out the window as the train sped down the tracks at 70 mph. I was on the train for a long time. When I finally exited in Oceanside, I was worried. Was I really going to be able to run the whole way back with my 2 little legs?

I started running. One mile at a time, I told myself. I settled into an easy rhythm, maintaining a conservative pace. I took in the sights as I ran through Oceanside. The early Sunday morning scene was subdued and depressed as a few homeless men sat wearily on benches, and some older surfers with potbellies stripped off their wetsuits after a first-light surf. Some young girls ran past me in the opposite direction. I smiled at them. Hope.

I reached Carlsbad in 3 short little miles. Had 3 miles already gone by? Even though it wasn't yet 9:00 am, the diners lining the 101 were packed. I drank in the tantalizing aromas of pancakes and bacon. Not fair! I was joined with a myriad of other runners, walkers, and strollers with their dogs, baby joggers, or hand-in-hand with their partner. I tried to maintain my pace as I weaved in and out of the crowd. I, personally, prefer quiet trails to busy streets where I can lose myself in my thoughts and go at my own pace. Soon, I was running with the other "serious" runners in the bike lane where I could maintain my focus. Today, I was all business.

Carlsbad took forever to run through and presented the largest challenge since it had the most hills (and the longest ones). I diligently worked my way up them. In a way, I was grateful. On the flats, my thoughts would distract me. How do I feel? My stomach hurts. How much longer. This is going to take a long time. Am I tired? Do I need to eat more? Drink more? The four-year old voice in my head was exhausting. All was quiet when I ran uphill. The hill consumed me as I concentrated 100% on reaching the top. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else hurt, and I could feel nothing but my beating heart and heavy breathing of my lungs. It was a wonderful, all-encompassing feeling.

I weaved my way through a beach campground to keep things interesting. The campground was lined with RVs. Towels hung to dry on lines like a rainbow tapestry. Kids pedaled on their bikes up and down the parking lot. Older kids carried ice and water back to the camper. The smell of sausage and bacon on the grill was overwhelming and delightful. Even though the highway was separated only by a thin line of trees, the campground seemed like a different universe. Time slowed down. Everything was more peaceful.

Then, my stomach started hurting. Ah, I've been expecting you. I noticed my pace slowed instinctively. I popped an Immodium and kept on going. Within 15-minutes, my stomach had surrendered, and I didn't miss a beat in getting all the fluids and calories into it. I finally reached the end of Carlsbad. God, that took forever! Now, I was entering Leucadia, land of fish tacos; at least that's how it always smells. I skirted up a steep (very steep) but short hill to run down Neptune, a side street along the ocean with some very expensive and beautiful homes. I always pretend I'm a millionaire looking for a home when I run down this street. I evaluate the homes and gardens along the way. If I'm really tired, I'll even pick up fliers on the houses for sale. Not today. My stomach had been subdued, and my legs were feeling better and better. Neptune flew by in a flash.

I reached Moonlight Beach in Encinitas at mile 12 and did a water check. I had stopped once already to refill and already gone through 6 bottles. I had enough to reach the next beach; gotta love running along the coast! My hunger and thirst were mounting but I continued to gobble down the Blocks and gulp water (I had already gone through my Infinit). Funny how I start out forcing down the liquid and calories at the beginning of each run and how the hunger and thirst just build and build and build as I tack on miles. Somehow, telling myself I only had 8 miles left to go was comforting. I was in the single digits now!

I climbed up the nasty, steep hill out of Moonlight Beach and resumed my pace. I was very pleased. My pace was dropping steadily. I was going to negative split this baby! A cyclist recognized me as I was heading out of Encinitas and rode back to give me a few encouraging words. Even though I ran alone, he made me realize I had a ton of people supporting me along the way. Now, I was heading downhill on a pedestrian path into Cardiff. My legs carried me easily forward. I knew I was going to make it.

Up the final hill back into Solana Beach. I was feeling fantastic at mile 16. I passed the train station and headed to the south end of Solana. Only 4 miles left to go! I was thirsty and out of water but at this point, I had taken in enough to get me through. I glanced down at my GPS. I was cranking out 8:30s! At mile 18, I recognized a little boy in an orange shirt on his bike up ahead. It was Brent and Alec! They had come to run me in the final 2 miles. Brent told me how great I looked and fell in behind me. "You're going too fast!" he said (he had already gotten his run in). They're guest appearance just fueled my fire, and I sped onwards. Alec rode beside me on the Solana Beach bike path and gave me his best Yoda impressions. See? That's what I'm talking about! Just what I need at mile 18 of a 20-mile run!

I hit mile 20 and threw up my arms. I had done it! Not only that, but dare I say, the 20-mile runs are getting...easier? I felt fantastic. I had negative split the run and gotten it done 5-minutes under my goal time. I was ecstatic. Having Brent and Alec run me in at the end made the whole experience every so special. We headed up the street to Beach Grass Cafe where I scarfed down a delicious, juicy hamburger.

It's finally time for the taper.