Patriots’ Triathlon Festival

Cathy is the reason I do this sport. When I lived in Norfolk, VA, I was talking to my friend Amy because I was looking for a running group to meet up with in the early hours of the morning. She immediately recommended the Hampton Roads Runners 6@6 group that ran six miles at six in the morning. I didn’t really want to go because I’m not a fast runner, and I was worried that this group would leave me behind as I watched the lights from their bobbing headlamps get smaller and smaller.

It’s a good thing that wasn’t the case. Cathy ran slow with me to show me the route, and there were a few other runners there that were my speed so I wasn’t alone in the darkness. Some days, Mira and I kept up with the speedier runners, and we finished the route in under an hour. During this time, Cathy’s girls and my kid became good friends, so we started hanging out when we weren’t running.

One day, I happened to mention that I used to swim in high school, and Cathy’s first thought was to invite me to swim in the indoor 50 meter pool on base. A 50 meter heated indoor pool? I’m in! I haven’t yet found a good place to swim other than the Y downtown, and it was just OK. We always swam a minimum of 1600 meters for the swimming gods, and I kept getting faster. Cathy suggested I do triathlon, helped me get my first road bike and drove with me to do open water swims in the Chesapeake Bay and in Lake James.

Through this sport, I have met so many people who have helped me along the way and are now good friends like Cathy. Even though military moves have come and gone, we still try to meet for a race like the Patriots’ Triathlon Festival in Williamsburg, VA. It’s a “local” race to Norfolk that I have never done, even though I ran up the same finish line twice for the Colonial 200 Relay, so why not make a girls’ weekend out of it?

That’s just what we did. I’m glad we had the chance to catch up, race on a beautiful day, and still make it back in time for the birthday party at her house. Cathy took first place in her age group for the 70.3, and I managed to hang on for the run in the Olympic distance as old injuries flared up even though the rest of the race went well.

Dealing with Anxiety in Triathlon

The mental side of triathlon is often overlooked and brushed aside with the advice that if you just practiced more, your anxiety will fade, and you’ll be a better athlete. Although more practice certainly helps, there are more strategies you can use to help deal with race day anxiety, open water swim anxiety, and the panic that arises on the bike when going downhill fast. I know that’s not parallel structure, and the English teacher inside me cringes, but I’m moving on because I got an open water swim to go to tonight that I’m already anxious about.

You heard me. I swim in open water often, but each time I’m faced with the same fears: what if I have a heart attack and drown? Who will find me on the bottom of the lake? I imagine the lifeguards abandoning their canoes and kayaks to form a search line to see if they can dredge my body up from the bottom. What if I run into that mysterious abandoned buoy that looks like something died? What if a fish nibbles at my toes? What if I get stung by a jellyfish again? What if that sea grass slaps me in the face when I’m least expecting it? What if something pulls me down, down, into the deep? What if someone swims over me or punches or kicks me? Let’s not even talk about sharks… I’ve seen all three Jaws movies, and I know a thing or two about bull sharks swimming way, way upstream in freshwater.

On the bike, my main fears are: descending too fast and hitting a pothole that will cause me to fly over my handlebars, getting a flat on a fast downhill, getting a bee caught in my kit or helmet and getting stung, not turning in time and hitting a tree, a driver looking down at their phone and not seeing me in time, or running over a squirrel or other creature (I did actually run over a squirrel, and thankfully, the poor thing didn’t get caught in my spokes, but that’s another story).

These fears seem ridiculous when written down in that haphazard list, but these are all thoughts that enter my mind, silly or not. Because the first thing I do when dealing with anxiety is to write down all the things I’m afraid of so that they are laid bare. The second thing is just admitting that I have anxiety, which seems like a no-brainer, but it’s an important step to take before you can actually move on to the strategies and putting those strategies to good use. It’s so important (there’s that word again) because you don’t know when you’re going to have a panic attack, but when it does happen, you can say to yourself, “Wait, this is a panic attack. I’m physically OK, but I have to deal with this.”

Once you see what you’re afraid of and can recognize a panic attack from an actual physical issue, you can move on to the strategies. Here are a few that have worked for me, but if you deal with anxiety or depression all the time, get help from your doctor, see a social worker or psychiatrist, and learn more about yourself. Counseling can do wonders.

Strategy #1: Give your brain something to do after you have identified that’s it’s anxiety and not something physically wrong. I like to count my exhale and/or sing my favorite songs in my head. When I exhale, I say “relax” in my head too.

Strategy #2: Turn the volume down on your fears. That list of fears that you made? Yeah, those will pop into your head often. Turn the volume on those fears down by employing strategy #1 so that your inner monologue is louder than your fears.

Strategy #3: Visualization. See yourself being successful. If you’re swimming in open water, when you arrive on site, look around, note the buoys, where lifeguards will be, study the course, and as you warm up, see yourself swimming effortlessly through the water. This is something to practice all the time.

Strategy #4: Go through all the steps and have a routine: get in, get your face wet and exhale under water a few times prior to swimming, start swimming slowly at first and then build your speed, sighting to stay on course. If needed, recover on your back to settle your breathing, adjust your goggles, etc. Give yourself a limit here before you begin to swim again: “I’m going to take two more breaths and then flip over to my right, and then ease back into the swim.”

The bike is a bit different, but the same strategies apply: make a list of what you fear on the bike, visualize yourself taking on the downhills, low on the hoods a first, and then in the drops, have a safety plan in place if you do fall–my Garmin will alert my emergency contacts and call for an ambulance if I crash, which gives me some peace of mind. Practice outside in a safe environment–low traffic roads or trails are ideal, slowly building your speed over time. Focus on your mental game: following your breath, giving your brain something to do on the ride helps as well.

Lastly, know that you are not alone and that all of this takes time, lots of time. Many athletes deal with anxiety during training and on race day. When I’m out there and feel alone, I think about all of my family and friends who support me as an athlete and coach, and I take their positive thoughts with me too. My head is full of them when I’m swimming in a lake as dark as coffee.

If you have some strategies, add them below in the comments. Thank you!

Ohio 70.3

I loved racing the Ohio 70.3 last weekend. It’s my first real race since 2019, and why not go bigger with a 70.3? No need to do a full IRONMAN again just yet. Since I started doing this sport, I always wanted to do a triathlon in my home state, and besides being in Ohio, this race checked all of my favorite things about racing: within driving distance from home, small college town, a lake swim, mostly flat bike course with some rollers near the end, and a hilly run course that had some shade with a nice long descent.

The lake swim was in Delaware State Park, and is a reservoir, which is similar to where I do most of my practice swims in PA and NJ. Murky brown green water that you’re lucky to see your hand in front of your face is what I’m used to. In fact, on race day, I almost swam over another athlete because I couldn’t see his legs that were right in front of me. Thunderstorms churned up some of the water and left a nice chop with a few swells, but nothing like the ocean or the pull of the tides. I swam the course wide and checked on a few athletes who were struggling in the beginning of the swim–I’ve been there. However, my choice to swim the course wide along with the added time waiting at the start after walking under the arch added a few minutes to my projected time. Good thing I didn’t care. For the first race back, I just wanted to find my swimming groove.

I kept transition short since I was anxious to start the bike to see what my new Trek Domane SLR 7 with tubeless 32c tires could do. This bike is not a TT or triathlon bike, and I’m usually one of the few athletes racing a roadie on the course. All I wanted was a comfortable ride without having to deal with bottle cages behind the saddle or an aero bottle. I’ve used those before and know I can no longer ride in aero due to an injury. So, roadie it is! And thank goodness! About 10 miles or more of this bike course was chip sealed–not ideal for a TT bike. That surface is rough. It was no problem for my Domane though–I flew through that section of chip sealed road and onto the rollers, leaving TT bikes in my dust. One rider, who eventually did catch up to me because I’m not super fast, said, “I’ve been trying to catch you for the last 10 miles. You’re fast on those hills!” Thank, you total stranger athlete. I’ll carry those words with me for awhile because that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten while racing.

T2 was even faster than T1, but hot, hot, hot. It was on the track and turf at Ohio Wesleyan University, and the heat just swirled around my head in the full sun. Gone were the clouds and threatening rain from the swim and bike course. It’s HOT. 85-90 degrees F with high humidity. Gosh, I suck at running in the heat, and the headache that started around mile 40 on the bike course was a full blown migraine now. I racked my bike and had to own the mistake of opting for the on course nutrition on the run, which meant I had nothing left from the ride. The nearest aid station was a mile away in the heat of the full sun. I ran, I walked, I wanted to quit. I told myself that if I ran slow and added some walk intervals and made it safe and sound to the first aid station, that I would wait until the next aid station to see how I felt and then decide if I was going to walk off the course and turn in my timing chip.

At the first aid station, I grabbed three cups: Gatorade, Coke, water. I needed the caffeine to see if it would get rid of the headache or at least make it manageable. I drank all three in that order, took a banana. Ate that. Took another cup of Gatorade. Drank that. And last of all, I grabbed two cups of ice: one for my back side and one down the front–my tri kit would keep the ice in place and cool me as it melted. This all worked. By the 2nd aid station, I used the port-o-potty because I remembered I had to pee and then I went back for more snacks. At mile 4, I felt like a million bucks and was totally thrilled that I could count the miles left on two hands. No more double digit miles for the first time today!

By mile 9, I came to regret the Gatorade and Coke, but I held on, ran to each aid station and only walked when I went through the aid stations. The last three aid stations kept me going to the finish line where I did my best to look thrilled when all I wanted to do was to sit down with the after race food and see if my stomach settled. It didn’t. I could hardly eat anything, so I walked to the car with my family, sat in the air conditioning, and proceeded to pick apart a blueberry muffin in small, edible chunks while sipping on water to try and get some calories in. Phil went to pick up my bike and gear because I couldn’t.

On the way back to the hotel, I got a smoothie of 700 calories and sipped it for the next hour or so. I felt much better after that and a shower. Then, I started thinking about when I would do my next race.

Busy, Busy and Ohio 70.3

School is out, racing is back, and the long days lend themselves well to getting stuff done. Trying to juggle triathlon training with all the things can be a challenge, and I often feel like a bee buzzing from one flower to another. That reminds me to weed my garden that I included pictures of (above) with the busy, busy bees and echinacea.

In any case, I had an easy ride that I moved from Saturday to Monday (not ideal, and I don’t tend to stack workouts for my athletes because I know better, but I don’t know better for myself), which left little time to do everything I needed to do with swimming and strength training on the schedule. But, that didn’t matter with the early sunrise and my trusty aluminum roadie. So, strapped my Garmin to the handlebars and headed out for an easy ride with all of my swim gear on my back. I needed to be in the pool at 5:00 AM. Little did I know that at 4:30 AM, it was still dark. Really, really dark. Heck, the bees weren’t even up yet. I turned on my lights to high beam and navigated my way through the dark streets. No one was up.

Part of my route went through a park that I had never been through before. As I approached the trail, I noticed it was paved, but the black wall of trees looked impenetrable, like some primordial forest. I zoomed in on my Garmin and decided to ride around the park for fear of getting skunked. The last thing I wanted to encounter was that or a raccoon, or to find out that the paved trail turned to dirt at some point (it did).

Success! My route took me directly to the main road where I had to ride on the sidewalk on City Ave with my road bike like a goober. There is no chance in hell I was going to be in the road on that road with the early commuters thinking it’s the Indy 500. I saw it as a chance to work on my road bike handling skills with a big backpack on. I made it to swim, managed an easy paced ride, and still had time for my strength session. I call that “winning” and the chance to get to do it all over tomorrow! Yay! Because there are only 5 weeks to go until the Ohio 70.3, and I need to make the most of my time to be ready.

Bear Triathlon Prep and Results

I just have to brag about this athlete, Ben. Ben started working with me to complete an Olympic distance triathlon. For his first Oly, he finished feeling like he could have done the race again. But, at the Bear Triathlon this year, he not only finished the race, but knocked 20 minutes off his previous finish time. This was his first race in cold water with a wetsuit as well.

In order to prepare for the cold water swim in a new wetsuit, we did what every athlete should do: practice. A week prior to race day, we headed out to Medford Lakes, NJ where the water temp was a chilly 60 degrees that froze your face and numbed your feet. It was so cold that my teeth hurt during the whole swim. After starting out too fast, Ben caught his breath and continued to swim for 2000 yards in that freezing lake because he knew what to do to get comfortable swimming in water that cold.

Congratulations, Ben! You never cease to amaze me! He finished his swim fast, held 18+ mph on the bike, and ran a fantastic 10K after having knee surgery earlier this year. I can’t wait to see what else the season holds for you!

Pockets, pockets, pockets

I had a chance to ride with Phil and test out my new kit from Coeur Sports as part of The Collective Beat, a team of women in triathlon supporting and encouraging all athletes. If you’re interested in being part of The Collective Beat team, which I highly recommend, here’s the link to do that: https://www.coeursports.com/collections/collective-beat

But, this post is a clothing review, so more on The Collective Beat in a future post. Since I started triathlon, I’ve worn lots of different clothing brands in the search for something that fits well and is comfortable without chaffing on long rides or runs. My favorites are Terry, Bontrager, Santini, and Coeur Sports. All of my tri kits, two of my bib shorts, triathlon shorts, and a few of my cycling jerseys are from Coeur, and here’s why: they are soft like butter, stay in place, and are comfortable for all day wear.

The bib shorts keep everything in place for long rides and were so comfortable, I bought two after getting tired of washing them immediately after every ride because that’s all I wore. The bib shorts also have pockets like the running shorts and are big enough to stash a phone and other goodies, one pocket on each leg. The cycling jersey didn’t bunch up or ride up above my waist and has three pockets as well as a zippered pocket for valuables. As for tri kits, Coeur is the best. I wear the one-piece sleeved kit for all of my races because it feels like I’m not wearing anything at all. It’s like being naked, but supported in all the right places. And, it has pockets!

Everything Coeur makes has pockets! Pockets in the bib shorts, three pockets in the back of the tri kit, two pockets on running shorts big enough for a phone, yet it doesn’t weigh down the shorts as I run. The tri shorts have tiny pockets for gels and paired with a cycling jersey, you have pockets, pockets, pockets! Pockets for all my friends!

It’s no surprise that Coeur Sports is one of my favorite brands: it’s also a triathlon clothing company run by women for women. And women know that women want pockets for all the things. Check out their site for swim, bike, run, and triathlon clothes for women of all shapes and sizes because everyone should look awesome while training and competing. https://www.coeursports.com/

Birthday Ride

The best birthday gift is warm weather in March and a ride with Phil. We headed out after a leisurely breakfast and made our way down to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before heading to Manayunk for coffee at Volo. This is an easy ride to do with Martin Luther King Drive closed to cars for the time being. Usually, it’s only closed May-October on weekends for cyclists and runners, allowing more room than the Schuylkill River Trail on Kelly Drive that tends to be filled with people.

With temps in the mid 50s, on a Wednesday, it wasn’t too crowded. Recent snow melt and rain filled the Schuylkill and there was the usual headwind throughout the ride. The sun was shining, and it’s always a good day when you’re on a bike.

If you’re interested in rethinking MLK Drive in Philadelphia, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia’s post and sign the petition at the bottom:

https://bicyclecoalition.org/the-future-of-mlk-drive-your-questions-answered/

Before Morning Coffee

I started running in 2010 when we moved back from Japan, even though I dabbled in the sport while doing run/walk intervals along the Odakyu Line that stretched out from the center of Tokyo to Kamakura. It was the only flat road, and I would go back and forth from our house to the local playground. Phil would run with me when we started, offering encouragement, even though I ran/walked super slow. If he ran ahead for a mile or so, he would come back to check on me before heading father once again. By the time we moved back to Florida, I ran my first ever 5K race without walking.

Since then I’ve added triathlon when my friend, Cathy, found out I used to swim in high school. She wanted someone to go to the pool with her because she knew that if she made plans to meet me there, she would show up without fail. It was a 50 meter indoor pool, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim there, being a much better swimmer than runner. We would go twice a week and swim 1600 meters for the swimming gods before hopping out. I also ran with her every day at 6:00 AM and the whole 6@6 group, and after many runs, she convinced me to get a road bike since I was already swimming and running–why not add the third sport of cycling?

And, that’s just what I did. I bought a used road bike for $500. I then went on my first road ride with Cathy and Gene to the Norfolk International Airport and back and just about died trying to keep up. Within a week, I got myself a pair of road shoes, clipped in, and proceeded to fall a few times while practicing in the apron of our driveway. The kid came out and drew chalk outlines of everywhere I fell so that our driveway looked like a crime scene.

I’ve managed to stay on my bike more often than not, and have kept up with swimming and running, but it’s way easier to get out there when you have friends waiting for you in the cold, pre-dawn hours. Marianne is that friend. We typically run at 5:00 AM to beat the traffic, the heat of summer, or crowded streets during COVID, and she’ll ride with me for miles in winter as we chase the sunrise to the city and back. One thing we always do is get coffee afterwards, which makes all of that hard work in the cold, the dark, the windy, the rainy, the snowy, totally worth it. We’ve talked about just meeting for coffee at 5:00 AM, but I’m still asleep at that hour because it’s the running or the cycling that wakes me up so I can really enjoy the coffee.

Throughout my time in this sport, meeting my friends in person or virtually has helped me get out of bed when I would rather hit snooze. Because most days, I’m not motivated to be getting up at 4:30 AM, and there are many times I hope to see a text from Marianne before 4:30, saying she can’t make it. I often stare at my messages with one eye open, hoping to see that cancellation text that will never come. So I shut off my alarm and get up for the run or ride before coffee.

Garmin Varia Radar

The road calls–the wind in your face, the long downhill to the river, the curling country road winding through trees. My wheel traces the line to the left of the shoulder on smooth tarmac. This is why I love riding. It’s mediation in motion.

But, at the forefront of my mind is when will a driver approach me, how fast, how close? Will the driver be distracted on the phone? Are they speeding? Do they hate cyclists? I checked my lights before leaving, so I know I’m seen if a driver is looking. I got my wallet, my keys, and my phone for emergencies, a fully stocked saddlebag, and my helmet is secure. I also have incredible hearing–just ask my former students about how I knew they dropped the f-bomb on the other side of the room during group work time. Yes, I heard it. Yes, I will acknowledge it and let you know. Yes, I’m emailing your parents about your language in the classroom.

Even with all of this, it’s really hard to hear if a driver in any vehicle is approaching me from behind until that driver is right there, whizzing by me too close, the slipstream nearly pushing me off the road. Yikes. That’s happened too many times to count and almost gives me a heart attack every time. Too many of my friends have been hit by drivers who say “the cyclist came out of nowhere!” Umm… we’re on the roads. A bike is a vehicle. I have lights. I signal where I’m going. I follow all traffic laws. And yes, I ride in the lane, three feet over from the shoulder line to avoid all kinds of debris and rough pavement in the shoulder.

The newest device I’ve added for extra safety is the Garmin Varia Radar. It won’t prevent a car from passing too close, or heaven forbid, from hitting me, but it alerts me that a driver is coming fast or slow before I can even hear or see that vehicle. Seriously. If the car is moving at a normal speed, I will see an orange ball of light move closer to me (I’m the light at the top of the display) until the driver passes me, and then the light will go green. If the driver is speeding like a bat out of Hades, the ball of light flashes red, so I can move my ass over to feel better about it and pray they’re not distracted.

I decided to purchase the radar and display even though I have a compatible bike computer (Garmin Edge), so that when Phil rides with me, he will use the display, and I can use my bike computer for one radar that’s on the back on my bike. The radar only picks up Phil or another rider if they are really close behind me and riding fast. If I ride next to Phil or he’s ahead of me, my radar will alert both devices so I don’t have to call out “car” all the time because he gets an alert too.

Always ride with lights (the rechargeable ones so they are bright), helmet, a stocked saddlebag, phone and emergency information, and add the Garmin Varia Radar for even more safety. I won’t ride on the road without it. Ride on.

Here’s a link to the Garmin Varia Radar, which just so happens to be on sale. It doesn’t include the display, but if you have a compatible bike computer, you don’t need it anyway. I bought mine from Bike Closet, and got the radar and display for $200, regular price is $300 for both the display and the radar.

https://www.amazon.com/Garmin-RTL510-Cycling-Rear-Approaching-Vehicles/dp/B07C9PKSCK/ref=asc_df_B07C9PKSCK/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=241970631835&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=17535552648306564026&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9007245&hvtargid=pla-571923818875&th=1

Transition Set Up

A few of my athletes are racing some smaller triathlons that weren’t canceled in 2020, but transitions are always good to practice because transition time is free time.

Make sure your area is neat and organized at the wheel of your front bike tire and always rack your bike by the nose of the saddle. Take no more than a foot of space and use a bright towel to place your gear on. See the video for how to set up your stuff:

  1. Walk through the transition area from the swim to your bike, from your bike on the rack to the “bike out”, from the “bike in” to your spot on the rack, and from the rack to the “run out”. Know where your gear is inside transition at all times.
  2. Preview the courses whenever possible. Most bike courses are open to traffic, so knowing where road hazards and intersections are located is a good thing.
  3. Study the swim course and know where you will start if it’s a mass or wave start, or where you will seed yourself if a few swimmers enter the water at a time.
  4. Make sure all your gear is in good working order and that you get to transition early.
  5. All of your nutrition for the bike should be placed on your bike when it’s racked.
  6. Practice putting on your gear and taking it off. I like to tell athletes to get dressed from toes to head or head to toes so that nothing in forgotten.

That’s about it! I hope you enjoyed the video with the cheesy paneling and the view from the floor. I’m mostly off to the side, which is where I like to be.