Monday, September 21, 2015

FS Series Rex Wellness Sprint Race Report

Almost two years ago, I participated in my very first triathlon. It was sort of a whim. I started running in April of 2013, then we purchased a bike in September. As much as I loved it, I wasn't comfortable at all - and started googling saddle discomfort which led me to Swim Bike Mom. After I digested the tips for saddle comfort, I thought - hmm. A triathlon, eh? Always wanted to do one of those. I remembered wanting to do one in high school - mostly because I loved riding my bike. My brother - in the throes of a "big brother sarcasm" moment - said, "those are for people who actually work out! They're not just something you do." Always gotta prove big brother wrong. ;-)

Well. Maybe I will try one "next year." (I am a Cubs fan. That's what we say.) Better start training, though. Someone on a Facebook forum referred me to a local triathlon that had a very easy pool swim. "You can do it now." And that's how I found my very first triathlon in 2013.

     After the FS Series Rex Wellness Knightdale 2013 finish.

I actually did alright for a first-timer. I was proud of every effort and ... I was hooked.

     My results from 2013.

Fast forward to yesterday, where I was excited to race along with my husband and several friends (who all received their "Three-Peat" medals for having completed all three sprint triathlons in the series).

Race Morning:

It's just not easy getting kids and two grown-up racers ready at 5AM. I woke up early and did my little routine. I still had my usual breakfast - oats and peanut butter with a cup of green tea. It's just my thing.

My friend Melissa and her daughter Katherine agreed to watch the kids while we raced, we were so thankful!! Shortly before I warmed up (ran a few strides), I ate a Honey Stinger waffle. Sipped water and headed to the pool.

My other friend Melissa was on the same rack and we briefly chatted before the swim. I also talked to my friend Alan about the mental games of triathlon. It's strangely comforting to know most triathletes feel the same way toward the end of a long season.

Swim: 250 yards, 00:06:03, 2:25min/100yd

While I was standing in line for the swim I started to space off. I was just staring at swimmers and the water, all I could think about was how I wish I had been swimming more often. I had a secret goal - I wanted to podium. Last year I finished in fourth place in my age group, I had even been in third for a bit before the 1st place 40-44AG finisher was bumped out of overall.

I felt confident if I swam strong, and never walked, I had a chance.

But something wasn't right in my head. If my coach had been there and could read my thoughts, he would have smacked me across the head - hard. "Worry about one thing, Heather. How your hands enter the water!"

When it was my turn to go, I had a nice long streamline and started steady, even strokes. Right before I touched the first wall, I felt someone touch my toes. Seriously?? I thought. Was I swimming THAT slowly?

This guy said something weird to me but didn't try to pass me at the wall (I paused for him), so rather than ask him "whuuuut????" I just took a breath and pushed off under the lane divider and kept swimming. I was really happy with all of my streamline push offs going under the dividers. Anyway, Michael Phelps passed me nearly immediately after our staring contest.

I only had one other person on my toes, but he declined to pass me when I offered. Derek saw the Michael Phelps guy and told me he passed several people after me, so I don't feel too badly. Clearly he didn't seed himself correctly.

I didn't swim well, I just didn't. It happens. That's all I have to say about it. When I saw 5:48 on my watch as I exited the pool, I muttered an f-bomb under my breath and just ran to my bike. Gotta keep going, ya know?

Bike: 12.5 miles, 00:42:42, 17.6 mph

This is a challenging little course. There is one substantial hill at the beginning, and a few other steady grades. My coach had given me one goal for the bike course: don't you dare stop pedaling. 

I was passed by one person, and that was it. She is a strong triathlete and does these races as a relay rider with her husband and son (an amazing high-functioning autistic child. She has organized several large fundraisers and golf outings over the years for autism awareness and research). I didn't mind getting passed by her!

I didn't stop pedaling. I pushed hard up every hill, shifted into big gears going down and pushed as hard as I could. I don't have a power meter, but when I felt myself letting up, I kicked it back up. I used a slightly easier gear the last block or so to the transition area, so I could spin faster and prepare my legs to run.

Nutrition on the bike: 3/4 bottle of water and three Quic Discs.

Run: 2 miles, 00:21:39, 10:49 min/mi

Coach had one goal - negative split the run. Sounds easy - just run faster the second half! Well, this is the elevation profile for the run:  

Well. Time to dig deeeeeeep. Don't walk, Heather. And don't look at your watch. Just run. Run. 

A few men who I passed on the bike, passed me on the run. But that was it. I never walked. And I was never passed by any of the women. I had a few licks of Base Salt and sips of water at the aid stations.

And I did negative split. If only by a few seconds!

Then I was all done. I truly felt like I ran exactly how I was supposed to in a sprint. Slowly but surely, I am trusting my coach and discovering what my body is really capable of doing as an athlete.

Race Time: 1:12:24, 107/268 OA, 26/105 F, 6/17 AG

The 6th place hurt a little. Frankly, I don't know that I can ever run as fast as the top four finishers in my age group. Never say never, though. Maybe someday I will crank out seven minute miles. LOL

My coach knew about my secret goal. And he was very honest with me. 

"Your training needs to reflect your secret goals."

I went into the post-70.3 sabotage the same time my son started kindergarten and year-round swim team. It's been rough. But training doesn't care about that. If I want podium finishes in my age group, my Training Peaks can't look like this:

Not for three weeks in a row.

But overall, I am pleased with my progress. And I am thrilled to have many awesome people and friends in my life from this sport. 

Always appreciate the journey!! Congratulations to my friends who completed the three peat, friends whose little ones raced yesterday and to everyone who pushed themselves out of that comfort zone this weekend.

FS Series hosted yet another wonderful race.

    This handsome guy did all three this year!!  Congrats, my sweet hubby!

And thanks to my coach - for everything.

Monday, September 14, 2015

FS Finish Strong Half Race Report

In case you haven't noticed, I like triathlon. ;-) It's changed my life, from adding wonderful friends to being more physically fit to introducing me to Andrea Peet and The Blazeman Foundation. The training process itself has been a lifesaver - I recharge during my solitary workouts, and I appreciate the camaraderie when I workout with friends. I have been trying to encourage both men and women to give it a shot - because there is nothing quite like crossing the finish line at a triathlon.

I wanted to sign up for the FS Series Half Iron with a few friends and was extremely happy when my friends Jennifer and Alesia agreed to join a relay team. I owe a ton to Jennifer - she invited me on my first group bike ride almost two years ago and introduced me to many local triathletes, runners and cyclists. Alesia is one of those triathletes.

My 5yo recently started kindergarten and also joined a local year-round swim team - they started the same week, and my daughter started preschool as well (it's a 30-minute drive from my son's school).  The swim team meets three times a week and meets near downtown Raleigh (but he JUST got into the closer site - YEAH!). The last two weeks have been all about figuring out how on EARTH I can make this all work. Needless to say, my workouts were shoved to "low priority." Lots of red Training Peaks boxes. 

Race Morning: 

Very early day - the race is at Vista Point at Jordan Lake. I have been trying to change up my diet but I went to my usual breakfast - oatmeal with a dollop of peanut butter and a glass of green tea. Intended to eat banana before riding, but I skipped that.

Made the drive, parked, pumped my tires (I brought my headlamp to this race! Really came in handy!) and rode my bike to the transition area. There were not a lot of people racing the half, nor the "odd" distance (.6 mile swim, 35-mile ride, and 6.2 mile run). I suspect it's because there were several other popular triathlons in the region this weekend - including Outer Banks and White Lake. Or maybe because this is one challenging race! Ha!

Met up with Jen and Alesia, also saw my friend Sara who was using the race as a practice run for Beach 2 Battleship 70.3 next month. My friend Kathleen was doing the Auqathon as a warm-up to Ironman Chattanooga, and my friend Ana was doing the Half Iron as an Ironman Louisville warm-up. Took pictures with Inside-Out Sports club members. Then it was time for Alesia to head down to the water to swim two laps of the .6 mile swim course.

Swim, 1.2 miles: 00:45:02

Alesia felt a little panicked at one point, but really pushed through. She had hoped for under 45 minutes and rocked it!

Bike, 56 miles:  3:23:15

This course is difficult. I posted on my tri-club's private Facebook group - "Can anyone tell me what the FS Finish Strong bike course is like?" A friend replied, "Yeah - hard as $#%&." He was not kidding. I had ridden the "Odd" distance with Sara and Caryn last weekend, but wasn't sure what to expect on the 56-mile course. It wasn't terribly hilly, but had several railroad tracks and chicken farms (OH the smell, ugh) along the route before connecting back to the shared course.

I didn't take enough nutrition and frankly have been having issues with Tailwind. I just get nauseous around 40-45 miles. I started out the first hour with 200 calories of Tailwind, then started eating my PB&J Rice Cake from the "Feedzone" cookbook. It's around 250-300 calories. Problem with a rice cake on the bike, rice likes to stick in your throat when it has peanut butter on it. Then you try to breathe through your mouth because your nose is snotty and well - you end up coughing and snotting and dropping bits of rice cake all over you. Not good - so I put it away.  Started drinking my second bottle of Tailwind and just felt so gross, so I stopped and just drank the plain water I had dumped into my aero bottle from the bottle hand-off on the course.

I also didn't bring salt. I sweat - kind of a lot. This was a mistake, as using Base Salt when I have long workouts has been magical. So yeah, Heather - just leave it at home. Fantastic idea and enjoy your ride to Idiotville.

Anyway - the course itself starts out with steady grades, both up and down, then has a few challenging rollers over the last ten miles. Very similar to the Ironman70.3 Raleigh course in concept - so I was careful not to blow out my legs until the very end. I honestly feel like I gave everything I had in me on that bike course - but I haven't felt 100% since my son started school and I started slacking off on my workouts. I have felt sluggish and soft. So, sluggish and soft Heather was able to crank out a 16.5mph pace on that course, and "A"-zone Heather could have probably knocked out 17.2. I need to work on that.

My coach wanted me to ride 19.2 on the course. I don't know how to feel about that. Does this mean he thinks I am stronger than I am? Or is that where I should be? Did I slack off? It's definitely a goal, and one I think can be attainable if I put in the work.  AND stick to my nutrition plan, both on and off the bike.

Run, 13.1 miles: 02:39:34

Jennifer had hoped to finish the run under 2:30, so she was a little disappointed in her time. I reminded her that being a relay runner on the long course is extremely challenging. Everything needs to be perfect - your rest, nutrition, warm-up, etc. It's very hard to guess when to do all that. The course is quite hilly - and might be hillier than any half marathon Jen has ever completed. I am extremely proud of her time and our overall time as a relay team!

Overall Time: 6:48:49, 2nd place Half Iron Relay Team

I really enjoyed being in a relay team - I would love to do at least one triathlon per season as a relay. It's a great way for swimmer friends to get out there if they can't (or don't want to) bike, and the same for runners. Yes - that's right, I really have no desire to do a relay as a swimmer or runner. LOL!

Also - the course is really beautiful and FS Series does a good job. If you want a challenging half-iron course next year, consider adding this to your bucket list. Very little hoopla during the race, bare bones support, but it gives you the chance to really dig deep and see what you can do without large crowds cheering you on. You just might surprise yourself!

Thursday, September 10, 2015


What a powerful, yet simple word. "Why." Every child's favorite word from 2-years-old until mostly-financially-independent-old. Every triathlete's question during, well, during every workout and race. A parent's plea when told their child has a serious illness or disorder.


I had been tossing around a blog post in my head that detailed out - with sources and data - why I think the way I do about political topics. I know sometimes my right-leaning friends roll their eyes, and perhaps not quite as often, my left-leaning friends do the same thing at other times. And of course - I am quite aware most people don't really care if I picked my nose and posted a picture of the boog. We are all a busy people. :-)

Yesterday Swim Bike Mom linked to a program that is featured in Runners World - We Finish Together. "All medals are donated by a community of runners, swimmers, singers, traithletes all across the US to be given with a handwritten ribbon message and handmade tag to someone who needs to know they have the support and care that they may need to get them through whatever challanges face them. No "need bar", other than keep the medal close, know that we are always holding your hand."

Just. Wow.

It may not make sense to a healthy person why "Running for a Cure," the Ice Bucket Challenge, War on ALS and so many other awareness programs are worthwhile - but to a patient fighting for their life, or the family members of that person - it makes all the difference in the world. Setting aside the important of raising money to fund research programs, it keeps alive the spirit. It says "I am thinking about you." "You are NOT alone." "Your loved one will NOT be forgotten."

Your illness is not fair, but you are loved. You are remembered. You are important.

Suddenly, my opinion on same-sex marriage (a truly important topic, but my thoughts don't really matter) seemed ridiculous to continue pondering. It's a blessing to be able to worry about such things, really. It means everything else is idling just fine. First world, as they say.

My own body is getting tired. I can't begin to tell you how busy we have been - my son is swimming with a local year-round swim team, he has started kindergarten and we spend well over an hour each day in carline. My daughter attends preschool 30 minutes away (I will find a different preschool for her next year). Adjustments have been a challenge for everyone. Growth spurts, lack of sleep, red training peaks boxes - I wonder how I will manage to train for a full Ironman next year. I am quickly realizing that the "free time" I had imagined I would have once the kids were both in school is eaten up by travel time, carpool, and never-ending errands. I really can't believe I thought stay-at-home-mom's had free time. It seems to fill in immediately with appointments and errands.

So, I asked myself "Why." Why? Why do I even want to try a full Ironman?

And it hit me like a 10-foot wave (which hopefully will not happen during any of my open water swims). Remembering Meredith Atwood running down the finish line chute of Beach 2 Battleship holding her kids' hands, the vision of sweet Andrea Peet's hair flowing behind her as she triked in the Blazeman Run 5K, seeing the paratriathlete ride up Optimist Farm Road with artificial legs during the Ironman70.3 Raleigh race in 2014.

I know why.

Because life.
I remember writing a song on the keyboard when I was a child, sixth grade or so. I played it for my mom and she cried. I thought "wow! I must have written a really good song!" :D Not really. (I mean, it was ok, but we aren't talking Beethoven).

She cried because it was raw, it was real. It was from my heart. It was life. These are the moments that make life.

No matter what it is, embrace the journey. Fiercely. Because life - and you just get the one.