Calling All Athletes

Anyone who’s been around the fitness industry knows that before and after pictures are powerful advertising tools, as in, look how great Brittany looks since she’s lost weight, or look at Bill who now has six-pack abs! Well isn’t that fantastic? Yeah, but (you knew there was a huge but coming, referring to the conjunction, but not a big ass), what about the athletes who alter their nutrition, train, and do awesome things, but are essentially the same afterwards and don’t fit the definition of what most people think an athlete should look like? Where does that leave them? And what about the Brittanys and Bills before they lost weight or started training? Does that mean they were somehow not as good as their new and improved selves?

Look. Training and proper nutrition doesn’t “fix” people. In fact, most people don’t need “fixing” because we’re all on this journey called life (insert eye roll here), and everyone is simply doing the best that they can do with what they have right now. Consistent training and eating properly does provide overall better health and sleep, but it’s not going to “fix” an athlete. That work is done in your brain and by you.

The story I want to hear right now is the story of the busy mom who runs every day but never races, the IRONMAN rocking a dad bod who skips a long ride to be with his kids, the cyclist who rides an e-bike to and from work every day and gets others to ride too, and all the athletes who don’t seem to fit inside that athlete box because some arbitrary expectations say they don’t look the part.

That’s the story I want to hear right now. Because it’s my story too. If you are training for events, training for a healthier life, training because that’s how you make friends, but you’re essentially the same lovable you at the end of the day, spreading the joy, I want to hear from you.

Email me your story to be included as a series in this blog about how you got to be where you are today. Here are some guiding questions to consider (thanks, Jamie!):

  1. How did you get started in triathlon?
  2. How has triathlon contributed to you life?
  3. What has been your experience as a triathlete in regards to performance and self image?
  4. How can the sport of triathlon be more inclusive to all athletes of all backgrounds?
  5. What motivates you to get up before dawn and do a workout?
  6. Which of the three sports is your favorite and why? Don’t forget the WHY.

Here are the details:

  • 1000-2000 words, or enough for a “chapter” (or the standard 500 words is OK too)
  • Names are changed to protect others’ privacy, but the story is true.
  • I have your permission to publish the story on my blog and edit for grammar, spelling, or clarity. You’ll see the final copy before publication on the blog.
  • I also reserve the right to not share the story on my blog if it’s inappropriate.
  • If you have a totally awesome story, I’ll send you some swag. I have shirts and hats, and in a year with very little racing, free stuff is the BEST!
  • Please email your story me at laurie@vformationmultisport.com

Pool Etiquette and Unsolicited Advice

This is a 50 meter, long course pool or Olympic Pool

With pools opening back up, here are some useful reminders about pool etiquette in case you didn’t know. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Many triathletes come to the sport by way of running or cycling, and there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to the pool with most triathletes who generally train alone. Here’s some swimming etiquette if you haven’t had the benefit of ever swimming on a team or didn’t grow up around a pool.

As a triathlete, the pool is a chance to recover from the long days on the bike or run, so first things first: know the pool size. Most pools in the States are 25 yards long, one way, or short course yards (SCY), but some are 25 meters (SCM), and others are a whopping 50 meters long, otherwise known as an Olympic pool or long course meters (LCM). Your swim activity app on your watch should have a option for you to select the pool size for proper counting. If you’re not sure if the pool is 25 yards or meters, just ask.

That leads me to another issue: the definition of “lap” as it refers to swimming. Some swimmers say a “lap” is two lengths of the pool for “there and back”, others will argue that it’s one length of the pool. Avoid all debate and just say “length” instead of “lap”. Problem solved.

Lane lines are important too. Lane lines are solid 5 meters out from the wall (flags are placed above where the solid color ends and the broken colors begin). This is so you know how far you are from the wall while doing backstroke since you count your strokes to the wall before turning. When breathing to the side for freestyle, you’ll also know that the wall is coming up is you see a solid color. There is also a red colored marker on all lane lines 15 yards out from the wall, which is an long as you can legally stay under water after pushing off the wall. Everyone swims faster under water and good swimmers use this to their advantage, so streamline and get that free speed off the wall.

We haven’t gotten our toes wet, but before entering a lane to swim in, get permission from the swimmers already there. Hopping in and assuming they will see you is not a good idea because more than likely another swimmer won’t see you until they swim into you. Not a good day in the pool. If there are only two of you, decide if you will circle swim or split the lane. If you split the lane, you will stay to one side of the lane at all times. There is no need for a collision resulting in a concussion.

When circle swimming, swim counter-clockwise, keeping to the right of the black line. If you need to pass, tap the swimmer’s feet. Once at the wall, the swimmer you are passing will move to the far right to let you turn and keep swimming. Do not pass up the middle since the swimmer you are passing might not see you, and if you both get to the wall at the same time, that’s not OK. If you are doing the same workout and leaving the wall at the same time, give the swimmer in front of you space. Wait until their feet are past the solid color on the lane line to provide for adequate spacing while swimming.

When swimming in a masters group, talk to the coach and find out what the swimmers are doing, what the sets are, and where they are in the set. Take turns leading and give a few seconds in between swimmers to prevent swimming at their feet the whole time. The lead swimmer should know the sets, times to leave, etc. If you switch leaders in a lane, the new leader should understand all of this. When arriving late or leaving early, talk to the coach and the other swimmers in your lane so everyone knows what’s going on.

Wall know-how: if turning or finishing at the wall, move over to the far left to leave room for other swimmers to turn and push off and stay clear of the T on the wall. Lead swimmers start on the right and enter the swimming lane on the right of the line. All other swimmers will follow the lead swimmer and enter from the right of the lane.

If possible, swim with swimmers who are close to your speed, leave enough distance between you and other swimmers, and make sure you talk to everyone to ensure smooth swimming. In other words, know your pace per 100 yards–the pace you can swim for a long time. If you’re in a meter pool, add 5-10 seconds to that time, and in a 50 meter pool, add a few more seconds. So, if you are swimming at 1:30 per 100 yards, but the swimmers are at 2:00 per 100 yards, it will be tricky to circle swim with them. Find swimmers closer to 1:40 or 1:20 per 100 yards or +/- 10 seconds from your pace.

You’ve made it this far, so here’s some unsolicited advice for ALL TRIATHLETES:

  1. Do flip turns. They strengthen your core, keep your swimming speed up with less resting which translates well for open water swimming when you don’t get a big breath of air on the wall because there are no walls. Flips turns also help with getting you under the wake you just created from swimming to the wall (free speed!), they will keep your HR steady since you didn’t just gulp a huge breath of air for an open turn, they will enforce a better breathing pattern, and, best of all, you’ll shave 4-8 seconds off of each 100. Just shut up and do them.
  2. Learn all the strokes. Breaststroke is good for sighting in super choppy water, backstroke works your shoulder flexibility and actually makes you a better freestyle swimmer, and butterfly is unmatched for upper body strength needed for open water. Do all four competitive strokes, please, but build them in gradually and do them properly. Join masters swimming while you’re at it too. You will swim faster, get used to swimming with other people, and get coaching on your form. And if you do bust out the butterfly in a triathlon, I want to see that.
  3. Sure, keep track of your swim with your watch, but use the pace clock. For example, if you are doing 6x100s on 2:00, you will leave on the top of an analog clock or on the :00 of a digital clock. Finish each 100 in 1:50 for 10s rest. If you’re doing 100s on 1:45, you will leave on the :00, then the :45, :30, :15, etc. Use the clock, not your watch.
  4. Don’t just swim forever in the pool. You’ll just get better at swimming at a stupid slow speed. Do a workout. Print it and stick it in a baggie. Or take the paper and stick it to a wet kickboard. Just clean up the pool toys when you’re done.
  5. And for the love of all things swimming, KICK. It will help you maintain good swimming form. Do a two-beat kick to keep those legs up. You’re not fooling anyone by not kicking when you say you’re saving your legs for the bike and run because you’re only wearing yourself out more by dragging those legs in your wetsuit and all. Kick, kick, kick.

Consistency

There are times when things need to be cleared from the calendar, and the pandemic has certainly seen to that, turning everything upside down. But the one thing you can do is to be consistent through it all.

The problem with that is if you are stressed out with stay at home orders, whether or not school will happen for the kids, whether or not you’ll be working full time, etc., consistency is hard. With the athletes I coach, the ones who are most consistent have the biggest payoffs. Yes, there are days I tell them to take the time off after looking back at heart rate data, training intensity, and other times I’ll adjust the intensity or duration of the workout or both. However, most of the time, if they just start the workout, they end up doing the whole thing anyway.

That’s consistency. Making the time to do the training the right way. Even if time is limited, just doing most of the scheduled workout is beneficial. If you find that you’re taking too many rest days, or you’re too tired to train on most days, then I would start looking at the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting and whether or not your fully hydrated (I’m not saying to drink tons of water so that you’re peeing every 15 minutes, but drink enough so that you’re not thirsty).

Consistency is often boring. Be boring when it comes to your workouts, and you’ll thank yourself later. So that’s my mundane thought for the day: be consistent with your training and save the lack of a plan for later.

Music to Ride By

Threshold repeats are hell. I know I can crank them out at a low cadence because of all the hills in my area, so I tend to alternate low cadence with the higher cadence I’m continually striving towards with each repeat to break up the workout. If I have 5×5 min at zone 4 power, I’ll do the odd numbered repeats at 90-95 rpm and the evens on 65-70 rpm. Yes, getting comfortable with uncomfortable will make me faster. And, yes, my heart rate is higher with a higher cadence, which is why I like low cadence work any day. Hey. No one is perfect. I like my 85 rpm average, thank you. I know that I can do the work. I know that on most days, I just don’t want to ride that hard.

For most hard workouts like today’s threshold repeats, I usually blast rap music in my earbuds to drown out all the cursing I’m doing on the bike when I’m able to breathe. However, I opted for alternative music for my workout that totally fit the current situation we’re all in. So, what song did I listen to on repeat for the duration of my hour workout? “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M.

Sure, it’s enough to drive most people insane, but I’m already there. Endurance sports aren’t for the faint of heart, and you must be OK with your inner crazy, your demons, whatever, and you need to tell them to shut up so you can get the hard work done. Did I feel like Sisyphus on my trainer? Yes. Did I try to sing along with R.E.M? Of course. And, I was off-key with the headphones and, you know, the hard workout because of the difficulty breathing.

I don’t have any advice or wise words of wisdom to offer like “we’re lucky that we get to do this” or “we have our health”, etc. Because some workouts just plain suck. Some workouts make you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over for nothing but exhaustion. Some workouts you’re just glad they’re over. That was today’s workout. I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad I did it. And, I’m looking forward to my easy run after dinner tonight because this is what I get to do while “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”. Chin up, people. We’ll be fine in good time because sometimes the end of the world as we know it is actually a good thing.

What are your favorite songs on the run or ride? Share them below, and if I like them, I’ll add them to my playlist.

IRONMAN Certified Coach

Since I began competing in triathlon, the IRONMAN distance was a goal that seemed too lofty after completing my first sprint triathlon at Breezy Point on Naval Station Norfolk. The swim started from a boat launch in the Willoughby Bay, which averages 7-12 feet in depth, and sometimes it was no more than 4 feet deep. I had no idea. All I knew was that it was choppy and windy enough to blow the swim buoys off course, and I knew I was terrified.

The brackish water made it impossible to see farther than my submerged hand on the catch. I made the mistake of starting in the middle of the mass swim start for my first ever triathlon. I was kicked and swum over. It was also only the third open water swim I have ever done and the first OWS in a race. I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was going to drown out there and sink to the bottom. I worried about marine life, especially jellyfish. I swam panicked for 800 meters, or more because I swam so wide and off course, and was still in shock for the first three miles on the bike after T1.

So, to think of even completing an IRONMAN race seemed out of the realm of possibility after that swim where I thought I was going to die, after the unrelenting headwinds on the bike, and the sun burning my back on the run. Would I run another marathon? Sure. No problem. But running a marathon AFTER swimming 2.4 miles in open water and cycling 112 miles on my road bike, well that seemed impossible. But, impossible is what I like to do. After all, I ran a marathon a few short years after my first 5K road race.

Three years after that first triathlon in Breezy Point, I finished IRONMAN Maryland, standing up, healthy, and happy. Mike Reilly called my name and said what I had waited to hear all day long, “You are an IRONMAN!” I somehow ran through the finish chute to my family waiting for me on the other side. I was transformed during that race because I not only realized that the impossible is possible, but I also know that anything takes consistency and commitment, the support of family and friends, my daughter riding her bike alongside with me for 20 mile runs at age 10, and the help of a good coach. Mary Kelley coached me through my 70.3 and IMMD, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

Now, I can help other athletes know that the impossible is within reach. I’m looking forward to what we can all accomplish together.

Swimming is BACK! And in a BIG Way

Indoor pools may still be closed in our area, most races are postponed, or simply won’t happen, BUT open water swimming season is BACK (as well as some outdoor pool swimming)! Here are some places you can go right now in the Philadelphia area:

ETA Coaching in Medford Lake, NJ has five or ten swim passes that you can purchase here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-eta-coach-ows-passes-tickets-107366255360

Once you buy your passes, an email is sent out every Monday at noon for you to select the days and times you want to swim. This way, social distancing can be maintained on the small beach at Camp O. ETA offers swims on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

For open water racing, check out French Creek Racing’s series here: https://www.facebook.com/FrenchCreekTriathlon/?__tn__=kC-R&eid=ARA3OQfJMv_M3EVswNSBxrdm9ab_y6LNSVBwX32NLps9EsUxprJS6h2ON9wQmZ5boxmM6cEGlyCe59Qi&hc_ref=ARR1gxg2Zp3wmNc1xULb71ld6L6g2XJSVx4g5pCv5r3P0wuhwVUOLLOumv3TrZAVxm8&fref=nf

This is a link to French Creek Racing’s Facebook page where you’ll find information on open water training swims, open water racing, and pool swims. For pool swimming, French Creek Racing has practices on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the Upper Merion Township Pool, which is an awesome 50 meter LCM pool. It’s outside, and you can watch the sunset while you swim. That’s a perfect evening to me! Preregistration is required and will be limited to six swimmers per lane.

Mid Atlantic Multisport has a waiting list for a season pass. You must have a season pass to swim at Marsh Creek Lake; swims are on Wednesdays 5-7pm (no Saturdays this year):
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mid-atlantic-multisport-open-water-swim-series-2020-training-swims-registration-83554739475

All of the open water venues have a marked course with lifeguards. Swim on, people!

Hey, White Triathletes…

Why isn’t more being said about how the sport of triathlon is so incredibly silent when it comes to addressing the inequities and lack of diversity? Worldwide, BIPOC make up almost 1% of the sport of triathlon. The burden is not on BIPOC to join the sport, but the burden is on the sport of triathlon itself to figure out how it can adapt and attract more diverse athletes.

The sport of triathlon is uniquely American, getting its start in Mission Bay in San Diego in 1974. John and Judy Collins, who moved from California to Hawai’i, wanted to create a competition for endurance athletes. In 1978, the Around the Island Triathlon took place, and the race was 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running with the winner called the Iron Man. IRONMAN gained even more popularity in 1980 when the Wide World of Sports filmed the event. Since that time, the sport of triathlon has grown, but it is still mostly wealthy, older, white men.

I am in a minority in this sport and as a coach since I’m female. Some of my athletes are too, but we’re all still white and participate in much greater numbers than BIPOC. Female participation is at 30% for triathlon and 37% for cycling.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are organizations for Black athletes, but there are only a few of them. For most women, one of the largest groups is Women for Tri, sponsored by IRONMAN, and it’s the one I’m having the most issues with right now because the moderators are actively silencing posts about Black Lives Matter and other political posts, citing the rules that it’s not “triathlon related”.

Excuse me? How is being a black athlete NOT triathlon related? Black athletes face a whole bunch of issues I don’t even have to think about when I go for a solo run or ride. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while on a run. Black athletes who train solo are not first assumed to be training, but to be up to no good or running away from something. Really. I know athletes who won’t run alone because they have been stopped on their run and asked what they are doing with the white person who stopped them threatening to call the cops. For real. So, to say that being black is NOT triathlon related is racist, and Women for Tri can do so much better than that. But, no. They aren’t. I recently checked in on the group’s page to see a post about “what is the best way to carry a firearm while cycling” (seriously, wtf?). Another post about “how do I look in my swimsuit” (again, how does this advance women’s rights?). Whatever.

The admin just updated to clarify that political posts are not acceptable (or hashing out political discussion will be deleted), which is subtext for: don’t post anything about race or Black Lives Matter. But, carry on about complaining about “Runners’ World” articles and how women are treated in them (how is this not political?). Carry on about which tri kit to purchase (how does this not promote a business?). Carry on about how beautiful your open water swim was (bragging when some of us are still on stay at home orders). But, when you carry on like that you’re leaving behind so many people. You are leaving behind BIPOC athletes, and I’m done with that.

That being said, “Triathlete” Magazine did post an article about how you can help: https://www.triathlete.com/culture/heres-how-you-and-we-can-help-right-now/

That’s a start. I’ve got work to do as a white female athlete and coach. And so do you because if you’re reading this, you’re probably a white person. Let’s change this sport from the inside out.

If you feel the need to get moving as I do because I can’t sit still when there is so much work to do, here’s another way you can support Black Lives Matter by donating $1 for every mile you run, ride, or walk to the NAACP here: https://runsignup.com/Race/AL/Anniston/1MillionMilesforJustice?fbclid=IwAR08SLairNfX_4SUrtjyWyPf_NUbi5NBn9ruX130XckYuQY5NgSXHmOfV8A&remMeAttempt=

I put my money where my mouth is and will be donating miles to the NAACP through the Civil Rights Race Series posted above. I am also running a virtual 5K to support LGBTQ+ youth. We need more diversity in triathlon with BIPOC athletes and more LGBTQ+ athletes too. Because only together, we are strong. That’s what the V Formation means. And that’s what I stand for. Always.

On Justice

I’ve been struggling to find the words to express my outrage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, but words fail me. For so long, the black community has been ignored and treated as second class citizens. For those who are shocked or surprised at the recent protests, you haven’t been listening. I hope you can hear their voices now.

Listen up. Advocate. Take action. Use your privilege to affect change. Because if you’re in the sport of triathlon, you are privileged indeed. Include more people in your endeavors and make them feel like they are part of the community. Black athletes only make up .5% of triathletes (women make up 30% for reference). Why? Because of a legacy of racial injustice from the historical lack of access to swimming pools to institutionalized racism and the poverty that comes with it.

So, will there ever be justice for George Floyd? For Ahmaud Arbery? For Breonna Taylor? Can we all do enough to affect change? What can we do to make things better when it all seems hopeless? You are responsible for your actions and how you interact and treat other people. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Injustice stops with you. It stops with me too.

You can start by supporting black athlete organizations and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s something small you can do to make a difference:
https://www.blacktriathlete.org/about/

For Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB):
https://www.blackgirlsdobike.com/
–I personally know some of the Sheroes who are leaders in this group. And they will get you riding in no time.

If you know of more organizations, please list them in the comments. Let’s bring more people together because no one does anything alone.

#Go By Bike

We went by bike to explore new hiking trails and safe routes in our neighborhood.

If you want to do something to make the world a better place right now. Like NOW. Then, it’s as easy as riding a bike.

Think of all the little trips to local spots near your home and in your neighborhood and how you get there. Sometimes, you might walk, but oftentimes, you may hop in your car to shorten the distance between your home and your destination. With a little bit of planning though, you could be going more places by bike instead.

Here’s what you’ll get when you choose to go by bike.

  1. You’ll see your neighborhood in a whole new way.
  2. You’ll see your neighbors from a distance and wave.
  3. You’ll notice the flowers along your route and shade from the trees.
  4. You might hear someone’s wind chimes in the breeze.
  5. You’ll pass small businesses in between the big box stores.
  6. You’ll ride on streets you’ve never driven down.
  7. You might find some neat artwork or a mural.
  8. You will certainly get some exercise and reduce your carbon footprint.

Going by bike is an adventure, powered by you. For more information about the #GoByBike movement, safe places to ride, how to ride with your kids, and all about bike safety, visit: https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/gobybike/

To join the Go By Bike Movement is simple:

  1. Choose your bike over your car at least once a week.
  2. Take a picture with a caption and #GoByBike
  3. Invite others to join by tagging them.

For those of you local to Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia is a fantastic resource for safe routes in our area and so much more. Consider joining the Coalition or making a donation to them so that they can advocate for more bike lanes, bike paths, and bike infrastructure in the Greater Philadelphia Area to make riding a bike safer for all. Check out their website here: https://bicyclecoalition.org/

If you live near Montgomery County, PA, here is yet another great resource: https://www.montcopa.org/BikeMontco

For news and more information for Lower Merion, check out: https://www.facebook.com/LMSafeCycling/

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

I know, I know, starting off a blog post with a reference to a David Bowie song is kind of lame because using a lyric from well know songs was a trick I used to begin one of my many college essays for British Literature or for Crime and Punishment in U.S. History when I couldn’t think of anything better to write for the first sentence of my introductory paragraph. It was a place holder of sorts to allow my brain to begin the writing process. I always intended to go back and change the opening lines of those many essays so many years ago, but I never did.

In this case, the title is appropriate and requires no editing. Change can be tricky even if you’re like me and are used to the uncertainty that comes with it. Because with change, there is a choice: the choice to maintain the status quo and stay comfortable with what is known, or there’s the other option of the unknown that could bring total failure with lessons learned or prove more beneficial while falling flat a few times. One thing is certain when making these choices: if the choice is to not change, then nothing will change.

I like change. When given the option, I do it.

These past few weeks have brought about many changes. The first of which is the overhaul of my website, aided by my awesome friend, Emma, who moved the whole thing from WordPress hosting to Go Daddy in a matter of days. Google threw up some road blocks, which took a few days to correct, a few hours or more on Google support, causing the site to go down and having me wonder if I should have just kept everything as it was. But, like I said: change is good. The site is now fully functional and better.

The second huge change was switching software platforms for my athletes, which made me feel as if I was pulling the rug out from under them during the switch combined with race cancellations, even though switching platforms was only a brief blip for many of them and more of an adjustment for me. Instead of using Training Peaks for athletes’ plans, I’m using TriDot, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the change. TriDot uses predictive analytics to pave the road ahead for my athletes so that the plan is totally optimized for each one of them. It’s the only program out there that uses artificial intelligence to tweak an athlete’s plan based on their performance from one workout to another. As a coach, I can still make changes and monitor the plan to best suit my athlete’s needs, certainly making it the right choice for the best gains for my athletes come race day.

Because of the switch to TriDot, I have more opportunities to actually coach my athletes one-on-one, follow up with all of them more often, do more frequent swim form analyses, more bike-handling skills sessions on hills and flats and roads, and more time to plan for race day with a more detailed nutrition plan and pacing strategy. Basically, I can do more of everything and offer more services to my athletes. And, that makes for one happy coach. If you would like me to coach you for your next triathlon, send me a message, and I’ll get you all set up.

Ch-ch-ch-ch changes may sputter about at first, but change is worth it. Face the strange (yes, I went there, quoting more lyrics from that song). So jump off that dock and into the murky depths and swim because you can, even if you can’t see anything ahead or below you, and seaweed wraps around your goggles, invisible jellyfish bubble up from the depths, popping off your fingertips, and the deep water swells toss your stomach to and fro. Because when you come out of that water, you’ll know what you are capable of.