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Monthly Archives: September 2013

I’ve been so happy to be back in my old Masters Swim class at Supreme. I really enjoy swimming with Coach Mike and my classmates, Randi, Darcy, and Janice.

But since I’ve gone back to this class that pushes me and challenges me, I’ve become more aware of something that I think I always knew was true.

See, this whole summer, swimming in Middleton Masters, I was kind of on my own. The coaches provided workouts for us, but it was up to me how hard I was going to push myself. And really, I did not push myself all that hard. I did the distance, for sure. More distance than I had ever swum in a week before. I still remember the astonishment I felt when I realized I swam 2 miles. Two miles! That’s like the distance from… somewhere to… somewhere else. Look — it’s a long way to swim, okay?

But, I didn’t push the speed this summer. Ever. Sometimes I’d try to “sprint,” but I don’t think I ever went all out.

Back in my current, more hands-on class, when an interval is described on the whiteboard as “all out,” I’m expected to go all out, and I’m having a difficult time determining what that is. I have a definite trend of starting slow and only really pushing the speed on the last 25 meters. On the one hand, how wonderful to always have a negative split, but on the other hand, I could do so much more if I weren’t so afraid to.

Another example:

In the recent WOCA Whisper 5K that Josh and I competed in, I was able to hold off a group of three women challenging me for the last mile, and near the end when one of them passed me, I was able to dig down to sprint past her right before the finish line. Granted, I was battling a sinus infection and hadn’t really planned to push the pace, but the reality is that the thoughts going through my mind when those women were on my heels the entire end of the race was, “I let this happen.” I spent the first mile and a half, practically the first half of the race, jogging along and having a very nice leisurely conversation with a woman I met on the race course. We were talking about triathlon goals and training and she was telling me all about the triathlon group she trains with. It was really pleasant and an informative talk, but was I pushing myself? No.

Do I ever push myself?

Which leaves me wondering. Have I ever tried as hard as I can? I really don’t think I have. Why not?

Fear.

I’m afraid of so many things that I couldn’t even begin to make a list here, but probably the most applicable fear in this case is that somehow I’m going to try so hard athletically that I’m going to die. When I first started swimming, I remember that feeling of running out of breath in the water and it really does feel like the end.

I know this isn’t going to happen. If I were in dire straits in the water, all I need to do is put my feet down or, if it’s too deep to do so, roll onto my back and float. I can do this. But I am still afraid. If I’m biking or running and I have pushed to the limit, I can pull over to the side of the road and get off my bike. I can sit down on the ground. But I am still afraid.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that another fear was embarrassment. What if I were in the middle of a swim meet and everyone was watching and I spent all my energy in the first lap of an event and had to stop because I’d pushed to the limit? What if I didn’t finish a triathlon or had to walk during a running event?

The obvious answer is: “So what?” We’ve all seen other athletes do this, and I don’t think any of us judge them for it. Concern would be a more likely response.

The other obvious answer to me is, “Maybe this is why you should push harder during training, so you know what your current limits are and how to pace yourself for them.”

According to this article discussing how hard to push during a race, women seem to have a different natural mode of racing than men: “Women tend to be more naturally suited to endurance events and maintain a more even pace, but they often find they reach the finish line with energy to spare.” That sounds like me, at least so far, but it’s certainly not my whole story.

And the whole story is?

I believe I’ve mentioned on this blog before that when I was in the Peace Corps, I was the victim of a violent crime. I’d love to say that hasn’t changed my life, but that would be a big fat lie. This was three and a half years ago, and I do think I’m mostly back to normal. But the thing about thinking you are going to die is that, for me anyway, it makes me really, really not want to die. Like, all the time, I’m thinking, “I would love not to die.”

And this is part of why learning to swim and competing in triathlons means so damn much to me. It’s a scary thing that could kill me (even though probably not — don’t worry Mom and Dad), but I can do it. I’m not running away from it. I’m scared of it and I love it and it pushes me and it’s hard and it’s rewarding, and I’m not hiding.

The truth is that I’m not putting 100% of myself into it. That is my confession. I’m not pushing all the way. I’m not going all out. But I keep coming back. And I want to go faster, longer, harder, and better. And if I keep trying and keep looking towards my goals, maybe I’ll figure out how to push through the pain and, more significantly, how to push through the fear to discover what I am truly capable of.

Ironman Wisconsin spectating:

I woke up early on 9/8/13 to go watch the start of the Ironman. I had always wanted to see it, but it just always seemed so gosh darn early in the morning to wake up and get in gear.

The bikes set up the night before.

The bikes set up the night before.

I arrived at the Monona Terrace about ten minutes before the cannon went off to start the pro’s. And yes, it was an actual cannon. My parents live within a mile of the race start, and when I told my mom about the cannon, she said, “Oh, so that’s why it wakes us up every year.”

At the start of the pro race, about 40 wet-suited men and women sprang from where they were treading water and instantaneously formed a perfect snaking line through the water, everyone drafting off of everyone else, no misdirection or lost distance between buoys. The last competitor in line was towing a raft which held his brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

Then, ten minutes later, the second cannon boomed and the rest of the crowd took off. This was more than 2,500 men and women in bright green and pink swim caps, and the chaos was massive, even watching from shore. People swam in every direction. The buoys were not on anyone’s right or left, but went under the crowd. Ten athletes immediately swam towards the center of the lake and were chased down by kayaks. One man, swimming quite well, I will add, came directly towards the cheering crowd. After about 25 strokes he looked up to sight, realized he was almost back to shore, and had to turn around.

They looked like a school of fish.

They looked like a school of fish.

In what felt like no time, the pros (and one age-grouper from Middleton!) were out of the water, running up the helix to transition, and off on the bikes. The whole atmosphere was so positive and hyped up. The crowd was huge and everyone was cheering like mad. That experience, combined with watching some of the finishes on the live web feed, has me re-thinking my vow to never do an Ironman.

The beginning of 112 miles of Wisconsin hills.

The beginning of 112 miles of Wisconsin hills.

Allergies:

My last tri was on 9/1/13. Three weeks later, I was still congested from the exposure to the lake algae. Seriously congested. So I finally went to the doctor and it turns out that my initial allergic reaction from sticking my face into the algae-laden water, topped up by watching Ironman Wisconsin next to the lake for hours, topped up by riding my bike around Lake Monona, had blossomed into a massive sinus infection. It’s finally starting to abate, but this doubles down on the fact that I need to come up with a strategy to manage my allergies next year. It’s probably as simple as taking an anti-histamine the entire summer or maybe even just for race weeks. Are there any other triathletes out there who are allergic to lakes? How do you manage to swim in training or races without imploding your sinuses?

Swimming:

I’m thrilled to be back at my Master’s Swim class, swimming three times a week and working on all four strokes. For the first time ever, I think I actually am starting to sort of get the butterfly. Breast-stroke, though, is still a conundrum.

Biking:

I received a bike computer for my birthday, so I spent about an hour one day installing it. I’ve been trying to do as much bike maintenance on my own as I can. I want to be more comfortable working with and understanding my bike and hate the feeling of not being able to take care of my own gear. Anyway, the bike computer installation was pretty straight-forward, and now I can see how fast I’m going at any time. I’m pleased to report that I was officially speeding through a 15 mph zone. On my bike, the speed limit signs seem more like a challenge than a guideline.

Note the cat toy on the ground under the bike.

Note the cat toy on the ground under the bike.

Running:

I cut my triathlon laces off of my running shoes, and although it was a sad moment, at least I got to put my neon laces back on to replace them.

Once again, cat toys everywhere.

Once again, cat toys everywhere. And a few copies of my thesis.

Josh and I are going to run the 10K at the Berbee Derby this year. This is one of my favorite races, which bills itself as “Like a Thanksgiving Day Parade, only faster.” Believe it or not, I’ve never run any race longer than a 5K, so this is something to look forward to and work towards.

In the meantime, we ran in a 5K this past weekend (sinus infection and all) which was a fund-raiser to fight ovarian cancer, and both won our age groups. Josh finished second overall and first in his age group with a PR of 20:05. I finished third out of the women and first in my age group with a time of 25:28. I still find it kind of funny that my fastest 5K time came at the end of the hottest triathlon I did this summer. Also, ovarian cancer is a bastard and you should go read about the facts and symptoms here.

Going to the race, I thought I was forgetting, well, everything. All I needed to bring was what I was wearing: no bucket full of gear, no bike, no wetsuit. What a simple thing running is!

Josh with his first place keychain.

Josh with his first place keychain.

Distraction:

I read somewhere (excellent citation, me!) that for a lot of people, triathlon is a distraction from the things they really need to do. That’s certainly true of me, as well, as I’ve spent the summer since graduation neglecting my novel in favor of geeking out and training. With fall, though, it’s time to get more disciplined about both. All last fall/winter, I was training while finishing my thesis (novel draft) at the same time, so I know it can be done. To that end, creativity in action:

use

And, finally, some gratuitous pictures of cats:

photo-82

photo-83

Here it is, folks, the last race report of the season. The Sugar River Triathlon markets itself as “a sweet little tri,” and it was.

Before this race, I had been thinking about my first two events this year, and how I had exceeded my expectations in each (other than the part of me that always expects to win, of course). I thought about how I was going to keep getting faster and faster, and then it struckĀ  me that sooner or later, I was going to have a race that was not faster than the one before.

It turns out Sugar River was that race.

The lead up:

A few days before the race, the organizers sent out an e-mail to all participants giving us a head’s up that due to high temperatures and low rain, the lake had unusually high levels of algae, and the swim might have to be canceled for safety. If it were canceled, it would be replaced by a 2 mile run, so the event would be 2 mile run, 16 mile bike, and then a 5K run. The final decision would depend on a water test, but we weren’t told when that test would be or when we’d be told whether the race would be a triathlon or a duathlon.

So, the morning of, I brought all my swim gear but tried to mentally prepare for extra running, as well. On the way to the race, we were surprised to come across a BRIDGE OUT and ROAD CLOSED sign on the road to Belleville. After some initial panic and wailing about the time, the combination of GPS on the phone and posted detour signs got us to the race site with minimal delays.

As Jenny and I were walking out bikes to the transition area, Josh and Adam helping carry our buckets full of gear, we heard the announcer talking about where the swim start was located and when we had to be there — so with no real announcement or drama, we knew the swim was on.

While we were setting up, the water temperature was announced (sort of): “The finger test shows the lake is pretty warm!” The announcer indicated there was no rule about wetsuits, but that we should take that piece of information into consideration when deciding whether to use one or not. I agonized for a few minutes, but ended up deciding to wear my new used wetsuit. I was eager to try it out, I knew I’d swim faster with it on, and I figured that the likelihood of overheating in a 1/4 mile swim was pretty low.

The swim:

This was a pretty small race, so there were only five waves of athletes. The first wave was Relays, Clydesdales and Athenas, and Elites. They were followed by Novices, then a wave of men under 40, then a wave of men over 40, and finally our wave of all the age-group women. I was worried this would lead to a very crowded start for our final wave, but it turns out we weren’t that large of a group.

12 points if you can find me.

12 points if you can find me.

I was really not in good racing spirits before the race, despite a ton of support. My parents were there, Jenny’s family was there, Adam and Josh were cheering us on, and Jenny was right next to me while we were waiting to get in the water. But all I could think about was the other swims I’d had this summer, and I was dreading that feeling of breathlessness and panic, and the moment I was going to think I’d never breathe easily again and would have to flip onto my back.

I positioned myself near the back on the right-hand side (we were turning left on this race). I’d been in the back during my first race and collided with people as I passed them. I put myself in the front row on my second race and collided with people as they passed me. This time I just felt in a funk and not excited, so I went back to the back, figuring at least I was in control of the collisions when I was the one doing the passing.

The gun went off, people jumped in, and I stood there for a minute, sort of dazed. I woke up and realized I should probably get into the water, so I did, about 10 seconds behind the crowd. I immediately swam up Jenny’s legs (sorry!) two or three times (seriously, sorry about that), then angled myself on the outside and tried to avoid everyone.

The water was warm and super green and my wetsuit was delightfully buoyant. I kept swimming freestyle and realized I actually felt pretty awesome. I had been practicing sighting in the pool, so I tried to follow a pattern of six strokes (two breaths) and then lifting up my head to sight. This kept me more or less on track, with only a few instances of being off-course. When I rounded the first buoy, I realized that I felt great. I smiled into the water, coating my teeth with algae, and kept swimming. For a while I was between two women, so I felt like I didn’t even have to sight, just looked at each of them as I breathed to each side. But I passed them, and I passed more people, and I kept passing, and when I came out of the water, the only caps I saw near me were silver ones from the previous wave. There was one woman who finished about the time I did, but she must have walked to transition because I didn’t see any females in transition while I was there. I passed Jenny’s mom on the way out of the water, and her cheers gave me a lift.

The best swim I have ever had. I actually had fun -- and I want to do it again!

The best swim I have ever had. I actually had fun — and I want to do it again!

I finished the swim in 7:03, almost a minute faster than last time. (This, after I said, “I don’t think my swim is ever going to get any faster.”) I did freestyle the whole time, I was calm, and I had fun. No panic!

T1:

The wetsuit came off super easily and I quickly dried my feet and got my socks on. Then I sort of sat on my bucket for a few moments, zoned out, before mentally slapping myself and saying (out loud), “What are you doing? Go!”

I finished T1 in 1:34 seconds, all slowness attributable to a weird zoning out in my brain.

The bike:

I was able to clip in a lot easier and less embarrassingly than last time. After all my moaning about the possible high temperatures, the race morning was actually really nice. It was overcast and cool, although humid. Still, I tried to start getting water in as soon as I could on the bike, not wanting to repeat last race’s mistake of dehydration. The bike started in the town of Belleville, but quickly switched to country roads, corn, fields, and cows on either side. As we proceeded out of town, I couldn’t help but notice (I am REAL observant like this) that we seemed to be continuously going uphill. But surely it would end soon.

We turned a corner. We were still going uphill, but steeper now.

We crested a hill. There was another hill behind it.

I seriously do not know how a lollypop bike course managed this, but I swear the bike was uphill the entire way.

That’s not true. But it almost was. I don’t have a bike computer yet, so I can’t tell you exactly how many miles the uphill was, but it was the entire way to the loop, and most of the loop itself. It was a lot of uphill is what I’m saying. I spent more time in granny gear than I have in a long time. The loop was a weird combination of extremely slow climbs followed by rushing, speeding descents, only to immediately turn into another slow climb.

I was passed by a few women on the bike course. The body marking for this race had our race numbers on our arms and hands and our ages on our legs; however, it was difficult to see the ages of the women who passedĀ  me because they were drawn on the left leg and they were passing me on the left. I also passed some women, who I assumed were from the Athena and novice group. I played leapfrog with one man probably twenty times before we got to the start of the loop and he left me behind.

I really need to work on my biking for next year. This is my weakest of the three skills, and the one that comprises the most miles on the race. I’m looking at aero bars for next season, and also very much want/need to get a good fit on my bike.

There were some very aggressive trucks on the bike course, which was sort of scary, but as far as I know, nothing bad happened.

I finished the bike in 55:45, enjoying the downhill (finally!) on the way back to transition.

T2:

Once again, I found myself zoned out in transition, staring at my feet, saying, “Go!” to myself. My T2 was 1:05.

 

The run:

The run was an out and back in the streets of Belleville. For the first time ever, I didn’t have heavy legs coming off the bike. I felt pretty great running, other than some cramping. I decided not to wear a watch (it just seemed too hard – I don’t know) and skipped the hat, too, as it was cloudy and not that hot. I didn’t really start hurting until the last mile of the run, when a woman in my age group passed me. I wasn’t about to let that stand, but I didn’t have the energy to pass her back, so I stayed five feet behind her and wouldn’t let her pull away.

When we were about half a mile from the finish line, a volunteer saw us and cheered us on. She told us we were doing great, and when we were passing, she looked at our legs and saw that we were in the same age group. She then yelled at me, “What are you doing? Pass her?”

I yelled back, “I’m trying!” and I was, but she did motivate me and I managed to turn it up a notch and make my move. I passed her and managed to put some distance between us by the end.

Shortly after I made the pass.

Shortly after I made the pass.

I finished the run in 25:54 — which was a PR for me this spring. The fact that I’ve now bested that run time by more than a minute gives me great confidence about the strides I’ve made this summer.

My total time was 1:31:19, which put me sixth in my age group. I was sort of confused about this at first, as I hadn’t seen that many women ahead of me coming out of the water or passing me on the bike (and I passed back a few people on the run), but then I realized that the elites, who started 15 minutes before us, were folded into the age group times, so there’s no way I would have known where they were on the course (other than ahead of me).

This was five minutes slower than my last race at this distance, but given the hills on the bike, the two courses were definitely not equivalent. I’m starting to learn this about races. It doesn’t matter what your times in the past were or how you ranked amongst the competition in previous races. It’s all about who shows up to the race the day you do, and what that particular course happens to be. Look at me, learning stuff and all that.

I felt great after the race (not like death as I did last time), which shows a few things. (1) I hate hot weather and it really affects me. (Solution – train more in hot weather and be better prepared for it). (2) I could have pushed myself more in this race. But it’s okay. It was a nice, happy race to finish out the season, and although I was in a funk for about half an hour afterwards because I had wanted to place and I didn’t, on the whole it was a good race for me. I am super proud of my swim time and actually enjoyed it, I had fun on the bike despite the constant uphill, and I didn’t have any heavy legs on the run.

The volunteers at this race were superb. Very supportive, cheering, encouraging, and good at letting us know where we needed to go. Thank you Sugar River volunteers!

This is where the fish live.

This is where the fish live.

I competed in the Sugar River Triathlon on Sunday, my last tri of this calendar year. It was a really good race for me, though not the fastest, and I’ll post a race report soon. I was glad to have the extra (holiday) day to recover, but I found myself really sad about the end of the triathlon season. This was my first year racing tris and I fell in love with the sport. I feel like I wasted so much time between my first and second race and like there was so much more I could have done. That being said, I swam in open water three times (four if you count my one and only practice in a lake), I upgraded my bike and my average mph, and I PRed a 5k at the end of a triathlon. I placed in my first race and I am pretty proud of how I came onto the racing scene.

But the idea that it is all over until next June is kind of sad. And the high algae levels at the Sugar River Tri had my allergies acting up so much that the entire left side of my head (eye, nose, ear) were completely saturated with congestion. The weather here turned drastically overnight, as if to put the nail in the coffin of summer, and we went from very hot to what feels like bonafide fall.

The only solution was cupcakes.

I wanted to bid farewell to a summer that has been truly fantastic for me, so I chose strawberry. Strawberry Balsamic Cupcakes, to be exact.

Josh and I recently started watching Breaking Bad from the beginning, and I commented during an episode tonight that I feel the same way about baking that Walt does about cooking meth. I like the process of it and I like the chemistry of it.

I stood for about three straight hours making 12 cupcakes, and didn’t even notice until the end how sore my legs were from the race yesterday. The concentration it took to measure every component perfectly, to blend and coax the ingredients together, to make a balsamic reduction for the glaze while simultaneously checking the doneness of the cupcakes while at the same time whisking egg whites and sugar over heat for a Swiss buttercream was like Zen for me, and although I could tell you how many cups of strawberries I meticulously diced (3 cups), I won’t (oops).

I took the recipe from my favorite baking blog: Annie’s Eats. I would estimate that probably 97% of my cake and cupcake recipes come from this blog. For cookies and brownies, I do branch out a little bit. Living on the wild side and all.

The only modification I made to Annie’s recipe was to halve it, since we really didn’t need 24 cupcakes between the two of us. (Debatable.) One of my goals for next year’s racing season is to learn more about racing and nutrition. I flew by the seat of my pants for this year, marveling at how much more food I needed, learning the importance of bananas and chocolate milk, and starting to use Gu and Nuun, the former sparingly (can’t get over how much it grosses me out) and the latter on all long bike rides. I am not trying to lose weight and I’m not doing triathlons solely for the fitness, although I do and always have liked working out. But I do want to be fast, and I know nutrition plays into that. I also like making fancy pastry and learning about awesome beer from my husband. Maybe this is the Wisconsinite triathlete balance.

There were four components to the cupcakes: cake, frosting, topping, and balsamic glaze. This meant a lot of measuring. I have several sets of measuring cups, but I have this thing about mixing and matching them. What if the 1/2 cup measure in the white set isn’t the same as the 1/2 cup measure in the red set?

Tell me those don't look slightly different to you.

Tell me those don’t look slightly different to you.

That means I spend a fair amount of time rinsing, washing, and drying. The cake was the easiest part of this to assemble — the only thing I found slightly tricky was the first instruction to melt the butter and then cook it until it was a deep golden brown. I don’t think I let this go quite long enough, but the terror of the smoke detector (have I mentioned how afraid I am of the smoke detector? It’s ridiculous, seriously) had me taking the butter of the burner sooner than I probably should have. As a result (possibly?) I wasn’t able to get the creaming of the melted butter and sugars to be quite smooth.

Smooth and creamy it is not.

Smooth and creamy it is not.

But it worked out okay, and the cake turned out just fine. Moist and springy and all those good things.

The strawberry buttercream, I’m afraid, didn’t fare so well. I have tried Swiss buttercreams about 7 times now. I’ve gotten it right once. And yet I keep going for it because that one time was the most magical, delicious, glorious frosting I have ever made. Infinitely superior to an American buttercream. My crime this time was two-fold. The first fold? Both my candy thermometers are somehow broken. That made it difficult to tell when the mixture of egg whites and sugar had reached 160 degrees.

I bet you can't tell by sight what temperature we are either. Honestly, what good are you?

I bet you can’t tell by sight what temperature we are either. Honestly, what good are you?

The second fold happened after I thought everything was going to still turn out okay. The egg white and sugar mixture whipped up into perfect white peaks and the butter mixed in okay. But as soon as I added the macerated strawberries, everything looked curdled. I knew what to do to save it — just keep beating. But then, I don’t know why, I just stopped.

The kiss of death.

The kiss of death.

The result? Oh well. But making them made me feel a lot better and a lot less sad about the end of the triathlon racing season. As for the congestion, I was pleased to see the Sugar River Tri organizers had noticed the high algae levels and gave us three free samples of Advil Cold and Sinus in each race bag instead of the usual one.

We're here to help!

We’re here to help!

My husband Josh and I started this blog together, and at the beginning we were both writing posts. But as I’ve become more and more obsessed with triathlons and his professional beer blogging has taken off, we’ve both decided that this blog is “mine.” So, just to avoid confusion, I’ve gone back and labeled his previous posts “Guest posts” and if/when he contributes from here on out, they’ll be labeled as such.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for awesome beer info, check out his blog over here: The Greatest Beer Blog Ever (in his wife’s opinion).