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I’ve been very lax in my blogging updates, and the further behind I get, the more insurmountable it feels to start again. So instead of doing full race reports for the summer’s races, I’m going to do top highlights and memories of the summer’s races in this monster combo blog. We’ll say monster in honor of the haunting month of October. Why not?

Verona Triterium Olympic Distance:

This was my first Olympic distance race and I have to admit I was quite nervous going into it. I didn’t really have a great idea of what goal times to shoot for, so I decided to just say under three hours was my main goal because it seemed like a round number and a reasonable timeframe.

The highlights:

Bathroom milestones:

About a year ago I was reading a 70.3 race report and mentioned to Josh that this woman had a great idea: if you sit down on the grass during transition to put your shoes on, you can go to the bathroom without having to waste time in the portapotty. He said, “I will never do a sport where I need to intentionally soil myself.” He is a wise man.

Me, on the other hand, not so much. I’ve never needed to use the bathroom during the race, and Verona was no different, but before the race was a different story. There were literally 7 portapotties at this venue (there were 433 participants total in the sprint and olympic races, plus relay teams). I had to go to the bathroom after I’d set up the transition area and the portapotty I went into was so disgusting by that point that I spend most of the time retching and trying to hurry up and finish.

Mine was the very last wave to leave, and it was an in-water start. When faced with the decision of whether to try to use the portapotty again or wait to relieve myself in the water before the start, I chose the latter and I don’t regret that decision.

Seven portapotties, and the line continues behind this truck

Seven portapotties, and the line continues behind this truck

Timing malfunction:

Unfortunately, I was so focused on doing what I needed to do that I forgot to start my watch before the race. Verona’s Olympic-distance swim is three loops of the quarry. In between each loop you have to get out of the water and run around a tree on the beach. I started my watch the first time I ran around the tree, but forgot about this fact later in the race so I thought I was doing about 9 minutes better than I actually was.

Looped swim:

As I said, my wave was the very last to leave, and the swim was three loops. This meant I had a lot of people to swim through and around as I passed the slower folks in the waves before me. There were three women who took off way in the front of my wave and I was a part of the chase pack of about 6-8 women. On the plus side, it kept things interesting, as there was plenty of maneuvering to be done.

I loved the swim. I felt calm and smooth the whole time and I feel like I made up a lot of ground on the earlier waves.

Holy hills:

I knew the bike course was hilly. I rode it a week or two before the race and was suitably impressed. This race has one of those “king of the mountain” hills (Observatory Hill, in this case), where there’s a timing mat at the bottom and at the top and the fastest bike splits get prizes. I knew I had no chance of being in the running for that. Originally, the course had you doing two loops, so you’d go up the hill twice. Due to road construction, they had to change the course at the last minute to be sort of a pronged out and back. This meant you still had to go up Observatory twice, but now those two rides were immediately one after the other. So you went up to the south, rode down, turned around, and went right back up again to the north. It was an exciting feeling in the legs, to try to put a positive spin on it.

Not unexpectedly, I was passed by lots of men on the bike and some women. I took solace in the fact that anyone passing me was someone I had to have beaten in the swim, given that my wave had left last. There were a lot of men passing me on the bike, so at least I out-swam them!

Run:

I love the 10k distance for straight up running races. I was nervous about doing it after the leg pounding of the bike, but it was actually fairly comfortable. I had a stomach cramp most of the way but nothing too bad. I think I took things a bit too easy on myself, though. For the first time at this distance, it’s understandable, but I think I could have gone faster. I was running about 8:45 pace, but I was straight up strolling through the aid stations. In the future, I’ll walk if I need to so I can make sure I get in the hydration, but a power walk with some purpose would be more appropriate. I really wanted to finish the 10k in under an hour (my PR for a 10k when I’m only running, not triathloning, is 53:30). I came in at about 58:xx, so I was happy with that.

Overall:

Swim (1500 meters): 28:20
T1: 2:18 (the run from the swim out mat to transition is pretty long, to be fair)
Bike (22.1 miles): 1:26:35.
T2: 1:31
Run (10k): 58:44
Total: 2:57:26

6th in my age group and 38th female overall.

I finally did a decent finish line pose!

I finally did a decent finish line pose!

USAT Age Group Nationals Sprint:

My next race was a return to USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee for another crack at the sprint race. I was definitely excited about this because I felt like I’d been working a lot on my running (specifically doing quite a bit of speed work with the Fleet Feet SpeedPlay group) and had improved my bike since last year.

Pre-race:

Again, my wave was towards the back of the race. I got my stuff set up in transition early and then waited three hours until my wave took off. My friend Leslie is one year older than me so was in the 35-39 age group, which was the second wave to take off. So I got to see her swim, her T1 and T2, and then got myself suited up and ready to go. She ran up behind me right before the swim start, having just finished her race, so it was awesome to see my partner in crime before heading out.

Swim:

The swim was in Lake Michigan, and it was COLD. Like, take your breath away cold. I was nervous about it, and although I had enough time to get my breathing under control and loosen up that clenching in your chest that you get when you jump into cold water, the wait for the horn to go off was long enough for my feet to really start to feel it. This year, we all had to have a hand on the dock before starting the swim which was different than last year when we were treading water. I get why they did it (people were creeping up like crazy), but it did make for some close quarters with everyone crammed in together. It was nice to chat a bit with the women in my wave before we took off, though.

Once the horn went off, adrenaline kicked in and I was plenty warm within about 45 seconds. I felt like I was pushing the pace a bit. I knew I wasn’t in the front of the group, but I felt like we were all pretty much one big pack and I was in line about where I’d expect.

The best part about the nationals course in Milwaukee is swimming underneath the little footbridge. You can hear the crowd cheering, which you normally don’t get to experience during a swim, and it’s just cool and echo-y under there. I was happy that I was noticing these things and enjoying the experience. The second best part is that when you get out of the water, you go up a steep and slippery ramp, and there’s a line of volunteers who grab onto your hands and pull you up.

T1:

The transition area at Nationals is huge, but all the rows are marked by letters, so you can keep track of which row you need to run down. Last year I was between I and J, so I remembered that by saying “I Jive” when running around. This year, I was between H and I, so I went with the perhaps less fun but more straightforward “Hi!”

When running out of transition, I was booking it. There was a little plywood ramp set up leading out of transition and onto the sidewalk, and I was running a little too fast and trying to pass a woman at the same time, so my bike wheel bounced sideways off the ramp and my bike almost fell over (would probably have taken me along with it). I caught it mid-air in a semi-ninja fashion and kept running. I heard a guy in the crowd yell “Nice recovery!” and took off with a smile.

My sweet T1 setup - photographed before the race, not during.

My sweet T1 setup – photographed before the race, not during.

Bike:

Not shockingly, I was passed by a lot of women on the bike. However, my speed looked good on my bike computer (in the low 20s) and I felt really good. I was able to stay in aero for most of the time. At nationals there are always a lot of bike marshals on the course so I was careful when passing and being passed to fall back quickly and pass quickly.

The third coolest thing about nationals is that you get to ride your bike on the interstate. They shut down part of I-794 and you ride up the entrance ramp and across a bridge over the water. It’s actually a pretty painful ride, as it’s really bumpy and there are a lot of cracks that shake you around, but it’s so cool to be in forbidden territory that it’s totally worth it.

As I was climbing up the surprisingly steep entrance to the interstate, a huge pack of the 24 and under men passed me. They were the last wave of the day and the only one behind my wave. There were probably 30 of them in this pack and they were all riding so close together, drafting like crazy. There was absolutely nothing I could do to ride legally in this situation, and right as this was happening, a motorcycle drove up and stayed with the group as the official on the back furiously wrote down race numbers. I was really frustrated and just hoping I wasn’t going to get penalized, but there was nothing I could do about it other than come to a dead halt, so I just kept riding and they moved on soon enough.

Run:

I knew I wasn’t in contention at this race and had no illusions that I would be, but I was excited to have a good run. My legs felt as good as you could expect and the weather was perfect. I don’t remember much all that significant on the run, but I felt like I was keeping a good pace and was enjoying soaking up the race atmosphere. It’s hard to compete with the excitement and atmosphere of nationals.

Overall:

Swim (750 m): 14:31
T1: 1:46
Bike (12.4 miles): 39:54. I was happy to see that I didn’t get a penalty on the bike. Out of curiosity, I looked at the 24 and under men’s group, and there were a huge number of penalties given out to them, which felt fair.
T2: 1:24
Run (5k): 26:30

Total: 1:25:02
45th in my age group, 190th female

I was pretty disappointed with my performance in this race. My swim was slower than last year (which is weird), my bike was only very slightly faster, and my run was not as good as I had expected given all the work I’d put into it. Plus, my rank dropped within my age group, although that always depends on who shows up.

So, to make myself feel better, I found a small community triathlon being held just two weeks alter, and signed up. Coming up in part two of the monster recap I’ll let you know how that turned out, so stay tuned!

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I have another race tomorrow morning, so I should really get off my butt and write this race report for my first tri of the summer. This is the third year in a row that I’ve raced Capitol View (fka Couples Triathlon fka Capitol View). In 2013, it was my first ever triathlon, and I raced it in a rented wetsuit and on my old mountain bike. In 2014, I did the sprint again. And this year, I raced with a friend, as part of a “couple.” A couples triathlon is not a relay, where different team members complete different parts of the triathlon (one person swims, one person bikes, one person runs). Rather, with a couples race, both participants complete the entire triathlon and then they add the times together. Each individual is still eligible for age group awards. I was racing with a friend and former co-worker, Leslie.

Pre-race:

When Leslie and I got to packet pickup the day before the race, there was no record of our registration. I’d chalk it up to a random mistake, except the same thing happened to me last year. Maybe it’s because both times I/we registered quite early to get the cheaper prices, but it just seems weird. It’s not a big deal in that they didn’t make us pay again – we just had to fill out another form. We had originally signed up in the “Just Friends” category of couples (there were divisions for married couples, dating, relatives, etc.), but that category was getting real weird every time I saw it. On the website it said something along the lines of “ready to compete together, but not ready to be in a relationship,” which implies it’s meant to be somewhat of a romantic pairing. When we were filling out the new registration form at packet pickup, we also noticed that the Just Friends category said “M/F” after it, while other categories said “M/F, F/F, M/F.” Well, we didn’t want to be competing against men, so we switched to the watercooler division, meant for co-workers. We became friends when we worked together and spent a couple years in the office together, so it seemed legit. Plus, it was really the only option we saw for two females who were not related biologically or romantically involved.

My other plan during the packet pickup was to win the Blue Seventy wetsuit they were raffling away because i need a new one and I don’t want to spend the money on it. That plan did not come to fruition, oddly, so I went with old holey for the race.

Pre-race:

Although we were both competing against other individual women in our age group, Leslie and I started in a wave with other couples. In fact, we were the very last wave to start the race. So, I did my usual pre-race ritual of setting up transition, going to the bathroom 400 times, putting my wetsuit on and off. It’s a fun drill. I was wearing my new Betty Designs trisuit for the first time. The suit is amazing – it feels great and it looks awesome and it somehow makes me look good in it (not that I don’t think I can look good, but I mean we’re talking about a spandex onesie). After the warmup swim, I was so disappointed to see that the stitching was coming apart underneath the zipper even though I had hardly used it. I contacted Betty Designs after the race to let them know what had happened, and they sent me a brand new replacement suit immediately, no questions asked. I’m super impressed with the customer service and I would totally recommend their stuff. It’s just so cool and I found it very functional.

Also, like the amazing teammate that she is, Leslie found a secret bathroom that no one else seemed to know about. It was in a little standalone building and was incredibly clean, spacious, and had a door that locked. Much better than the portapotties, and no, I won’t ever reveal its location.

The Swim:

Our wave was pretty small compared to the age group waves, which is a plus, but it also involved quite a few men, which I consider a minus. No offense to men in general, but I have personally found women to be more gracious competitors in a mass swim start. I wish i could remember which blog I read this on so I could give credit, but I read a race report once where a woman wondered what makes a man turn from someone who holds a door open for a woman to someone who thinks “Ima punch a woman in the face” when the starting horn goes off.

Anyway, our wave was small enough that I felt justified starting in the front and that worked out just fine. I got horizontal during the countdown and noticed no one else around me was, so I figured I’d have a jumpstart on everyone. And I did. The whole time I was swimming to the first buoy, I was putting distance into the people around me who were walking/wading through the waist deep water. The Capitol View swim is very shallow on the way out to the first buoy and the way back from the last buoy, and you can walk those entire lengths of the rectangle. When you’re going parallel to shore, it is deep enough that you have to swim.

The swim was mostly uneventful. The water was the calmest I’ve ever seen Lake Mendota, in my entire life. It was cold, but not too cold. After 30 seconds of swimming the cold was not noticeable. I had one guy pawing at my feet for awhile, but after I kicked with a bit more force just once, he backed off. I couldn’t find anyone to draft off of.

I caught the wave before me at the buoy where we turn back towards shore, which took some maneuvering to get around. The rest of the swim back to shore was mostly weaving in and out of folks walking in the waist- and then knee-deep water. I swam all the way to the exit – I promise, it’s much faster to swim than it is to walk – and ran up to transition.

Swim: 7:04 for 400 meters. This includes the run to transition. This was a good 45 seconds or so faster than last year, and a minute and a half or so faster than my first time when I did backstroke the whole way.

T-1:

I remember nothing about T1 except running very hard and running a long way in bike shoes. I still haven’t gotten back on the bike horse of putting my shoes on while I’m on the bike (still scarred by my embarrassing mishap at Verona last year when I managed to fling my shoes all over the mount line while everyone stared at me). My transition spot was right by the swim in/run out, so I had to run the entire length of transition in my bike shoes to get to bike out.

Still, though, not a bad time at 1:20.

Bike:

I really like this bike course. It has a few good hills but lots of opportunities to hunker down in aero and pound away. Being in the last wave, I had a lot of people to pass which kept things interesting. I was passed a few times, too, but not very many (I didn’t keep count). There are a few notable hills, one of which starts ascending right after a 90 degree turn, so you don’t really have much speed going into it.

The volunteers on this race are all really great, but I especially liked the bike volunteers. This wasn’t a closed course (meaning that cars could drive on the streets), but I could see the volunteers speaking in to a walkie talkie as riders approached so that police at an intersection could manage stopping and starting cars. I had one close call where a very large SUV was passing me at the same time I was passing a girl, so there were two bikes on the right side of the road and an SUV trying to pass us. I don’t know if drivers realize that it’s very difficult for us to hear their motors, especially when we’re racing – when I’m going fast, I make a lot of wind sounds myself (insert fart joke here) so I can’t hear a car until it’s right up on me. This SUV passed me close enough that I could have touched it if I reached out four inches. I didn’t do that, although I very much wanted to slap the car. Instead, I held my line and yelled something creative like “asshole.” In retrospect, I just hope the girl I was passing didn’t think I was saying that to her.

I was really pushing on the bike – I’ve been working hard on it, and I wanted to make some gains. My time was 35:40, with an average of 16.8 mph. This turned out to be the fourth fastest bike split of the day among age group (non-elite, that is) women.

T-2:

As I ran into T2 towards my transition spot, I saw someone sitting right in the place I needed to rack my bike, and there were no open rack spots. In triathlon, you should rack your bike in the same place you unracked it. Capitol View doesn’t have assigned transition spots, but the racks are assigned. That is, there are 20 people for each rack, and it’s up to whoever gets there first to get a spot. I was on the very end of my rack, and when I returned from my bike ride, there was no room to put my bike back.

As I ran up to my spot, I yelled to the person blocking my way, “Dude, you have to move your bike!” The person turned around, but didn’t move herself or her bike. I ran up and pushed her bike to the side (moved it down the rack) and said, “I don’t want to hit you with my bike” (which I would have if I had just racked it without her moving). She said something along the lines of “don’t worry about it,” but did move about an inch. I squeezed my bike in and looked down – my running shoes and socks (sorry – still working on going sock free, and by working on, I mean I haven’t done anything about this except think about it) were scattered all over the aisle. Someone had clearly come in like a wrecking ball and didn’t bother to put my stuff back where it had been. Not cool.

I gathered my stuff and put on my shoes, socks, and race belt (not even remotely in that order). Time: 59 seconds.

Run:

It was on the run that I noticed it was suddenly incredibly humid. Like, unbreathably humid. Capitol View has a very nice trail run through some shaded woods for the first half, and then a prairie/grass run for the second half. The trails in the woods were very muddy, and despite me noticing this, commenting to another woman that “this is really slippery,” I did end up wiping out by tripping on a tree root, face-planting, and skinning both knees within the first mile. Maybe this explains why my first mile was exceptionally slow (over 10 min), although I thought I got up pretty quickly.

I’m not really sure what to say about the run, honestly. My legs were really heavy and I was making some creepy wheezy noises as I breathed. The end result was a 29:30 5K, 5 minutes slower than my PR. It must have been a tough run for most, though, because I saw the fastest female age group run time was 24:27, which is slower than I would normally expect for the fastest split.

Total: 

Overall, I finished in 1:14:35, taking over three minutes off my time from last year. This was good enough for 2nd in my age group and sixth age group woman overall, which I’m pretty thrilled with. If you add in the elite women, I was the tenth overall female finisher for the sprint. Even better, Leslie and i won our watercooler division!

Capitol View is a fun race. The race day itself is very well organized and well run, with excellent volunteer support. I don’t know how much steam the couples format is getting, though. There seemed to be minimal participants, and even the volunteers and staff don’t seem to prioritize the couple races much. For example, the couple results aren’t posted with the rest of the results, either online or at the event.

Next up:

Well, tomorrow morning, I’m racing my first Olympic distance tri at Verona. I rode the bike course last week and… it was very challenging. It’s super hilly. Like, really, really hilly. At one point, a bunny rabbit was running up the hill faster than I was riding (this is not a joke – this really happened). I’m nervous and excited, and can’t wait to see how I do at the longer distance.

It’s been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed running. The last time I can really remember is before I hurt my knee in September of 2013. Ever since then, it’s been a long and painful process to get back to being able to run a competent 5K or 10K, but it’s always at least sort of painful and involves some level of dread. I kept putting in the work because I wanted to finish triathlons, but I rarely actually enjoyed a run.

Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve found the joy again, and I think I have the Fleet Feet SpeedPLAY group to thank for it. I’ve attended three sessions so far. I was originally so afraid and intimidated to join, mostly because whenever I’ve tried to run intervals on my own, I ran the first one very quickly and then felt terrible the rest of the workout. And then never did it again. My impression or prediction of what the group would entail was a lot of feeling like I wanted to barf while skinny people ran laps around me and my hair fell out. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but most fears really don’t.

But I’ve learned from swimming that interval training absolutely works, and I would really like to drop a couple of minutes from my 5K time to be a bit more competitive at the sprint distance, so I signed up and I even managed to attend all three weeks. The first week, the pressure was low as the coach emphasized repeatedly that the point of the session was just for him to get a sense of how we ran. We were doing 800 m repeats with 1 minute of rest. It was hard, but it was totally achievable. And with a warm up run to start and a cool down run with pickups to finish, it was surprising how easily my body was tricked into running 5 miles without realizing it.

The second week we did hill repeats, and I went into hunker down mode without realizing it and was able to crank through 8 repeats while feeling generally okay.

Last week, I was introduced to fartleks, which other than being the most hilarious word in sports is apparently also something I didn’t know I love. Fartleks, I learned, actually mean “speed play” in Swedish. Based on what we did, I would define them as intervals without actually stopping in between. We did 1200 meters running hard followed by 600 meters running easy, x4. Our coach encouraged us to make the first one the slowest of the day, so I intentionally took it out easy. We were supposed to go between 10k pace and half marathon pace. Well, I’ve never run a half marathon, but my best 10k is 54:xx, so I aimed for that. I finished my first 1200 in 6:45, about 9 minute mile pace. I knew I could do better, so aimed to pick it up a bit. I ended up knocking ten seconds off each one, finishing the subsequent ones in 6:35, 6:25, and 6:15. And you know what? I felt strong, powerful, and pretty great, even though it was windy as hell and actually snowing (yay, spring!). Great enough that two days later, on my rest day, I was texting Josh and asking if it was crazy that I really, really wanted to go for a run.

My next running race is the Twilight 10K on May 23 and I can’t wait to see if I can take it down a notch.

Current triathlon struggle:

I’ve been working really hard on my biking this winter, in spin class at the gym and on the trainer in our living room, but for some reason I’m having a hard time getting motivated to get out in the REAL WORLD on my bike even when the weather is beautiful. Today it was in the 60s and sunny and I was slated for an 80 minute ride. I moaned and whined for a bit until I finally just got dressed and got out there. I’ve been having a hard time this spring getting on the aero bars. I was starting to get kind of concerned that I’m somehow now afraid of riding in aero, but was trying to rationalize that the real issue was that it’s been an incredibly windy spring and that I was actually just showing good judgement by not riding aero when I was at risk of being blown over. Well, today it was calm and sunny and I still had to talk myself into getting down in the bars. By the second half of the ride I seemed to be more comfortable in aero and was even taking some turns down on the bars. Did I suddenly develop a phobia of riding in aero? For the sake of my wrists, I hope not. My bike is fitted for me to ride in aero and riding on the hoods puts a lot of pressure on my wrists. (Although, *TMI alert* riding in aero puts a lot of pressure on the, ahem, “soft tissue.”)

Hot triathlon tip:

I swim with a woman who’s done iron-distance and 70.3 distance triathlons, and she mentioned last week that the way she keeps on top of her nutrition is to test herself while she’s biking or running to make sure she can do simple math. If she can’t add up the numbers on a mailbox within a reasonable amount of time, she knows it’s time to eat or drink more.

Weeks until first tri of the season:

7

Wisconsin State SCY Master Swim Meet:

It’s become somewhat of an annual tradition for my Masters Swim class to descend en masse on the Wisconsin State SCY Master Swim meet. For many of the group, it’s the only meet of the year that’s attended, and it’s a nice chance to see how we’ve progressed over the past year and get some experience pushing ourselves as hard as we can. For those of you who aren’t in with the swimming lingo, SCY, as I recently learned, stands for Short Course Yards. Swim meets are generally divided by short course, a 25-meter or 25-yard pool, versus long-course, a 50-meter pool. And then, of course, there’s the distinction of meters versus yards. Given that the pool we train in is 20 meters long, I guess we train on a short, short course.

This year our group was a little smaller than usual, due to some scheduling quirks, so only three of us made the trek to Brown Deer, WI, for the meet. I had initially been pretty excited about doing the 400 and 100 IM (individual medley, in which one person swims all four strokes). However, at the last minute, my coach talked me into signing up for the 200 butterfly. I actually like butterfly and I do it well compared to the other students in our Master Swim group, but 200 yards of it sounded like total barf city. But in a moment of weakness, I signed up for it and spent the next week dreading the 200 yards of pain.

Of course, the 200 fly was my last event of the day, so in what I can only explain as preemptive self-defense, I immediately told anyone who could listen that I was going to scratch the 200 fly so that I could focus only on the events that I actually wanted to do. The 400 IM was up first, and I was really looking forward to it. I love swimming IM because you get to do something different each time you start getting tired of one stroke. It’s sort of like triathlon, where as soon as I am tired of swimming, I get to bike, and then often before I’m tired of biking it’s time to run. The 400 IM consists of 100 yds of fly, then 100 of back, 100 breast, and 100 free. I felt strong during the entire race, and was shocked to see that I had finished in 6:17. My coach had seeded me at 6:30, which I thought was relatively optimistic, and I was thrilled to have beaten that seed time by 13 seconds. Best of all, I placed third overall (of women), and won my age group. Granted, not a lot of people like to sign up for the 400 IM, but hey, part of placing is convincing yourself to sign up, right?

My other races were good, if unremarkable. I swam the 50 fly, 50 free, and 100 IM, and had a pretty good time doing them. Meanwhile, my classmates were killing it, knocking down PBs in their various events. We found a fourth to join us for a medley relay, and without even thinking about how much fly I was already on the hook for, I volunteered to swim fly. We finished in fine, albeit non-competitive form, and immediately after the medley relays was the 200 fly. The meet director announced a 5 minute break before the 200 fly would start, and at the very last minute I decided, “Oh crap, I might as well just swim it.” After all, if I want to compete an Ironman some day, I should at least be able to stand being extremely uncomfortable for 3 and a half minutes.

See, the problem with swimming butterfly is that it’s exhausting. And as soon as you (or I, I guess) start getting tired, your legs drop, which increases drag and makes everything that much more difficult. I went in with a conservative plan to execute some pretty slow turns to take the time to grab some extra air and bit of rest. And… I just went for it! I only consciously hesitated on two turns to get my breath back, and although during the last 75 yards my legs were begging to fall and my muscles were burning, I held on to my stroke and even managed to speed up slightly in the last 25, finishing the 200 in 3:05. I was thrilled. And just like with the 400 IM, the fact that I managed to show up and race the event put me in third overall and won my age group.

10k PR:

I was happy this year to be able to run the 10K at the Shamrock Shuffle, after spending last year watching Josh take off while I was still side-lined with a knee injury. I was even happier that this year it was a balmy 50 degrees and sunny, which was a huge relief after last year’s 5 degrees and windy. So cold, in fact, that as soon as Josh was out of view, I hunkered down in a coffee shop, hoping my estimates of his time would get me to the finish line in time to see him cross.

This was only my second official 10K, the first being at last Thanksgiving’s Berbee Derby, where I finished in 56:47. I felt awesome after that race, which made me think that I could take it out a little faster in this effort. This was also my first race since being diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, and it’s astonishing how much of a difference it makes to be able to actually breathe while I’m running.

This year’s race involved a bonus hill, as muddy conditions on the Lakeshore Path had the course rerouted to ascend the very steep Observatory Hill not once, but twice – first at mile 1 and again at mile 5.5 when, you know, you just really want to climb the steepest hill in the city. A few representatives of the UW Marching Band were there, though, to help us up the hill with the power of music.

I was very pleased with my time, finishing up in 54:45, which had me coming in at under 9 minute miles! I guess that when you only have one other race to compare your time against, it’s easy to PR, but overall I’m really liking the 10K distance. I feel like I can actually think during the race and don’t need to spend the whole time running as fast as I can.

Running Intervals: 

As I mentioned previously, I signed up for Fleet Feet Madison’s SpeedPLAY training, which focuses on running intervals. I’ve sort of vaguely tried to run intervals on my own before, but it’s so incredibly hard to force myself to run them alone. I truly believe that interval training works, as it’s improved my swim times dramatically, but running intervals are somehow even more painful than swimming. I signed up for this training program in the hopes that it would be easier to force myself to actually run intervals, counting on my own competitiveness and the proven power of peer pressure.

Our first session was last week, and although the coach cautioned that this would be our easiest one, as he wanted to get a sense of where all our speeds fell and how we were doing to start with, I came away feeling confident and excited about the next seven weeks. I wasn’t the fastest person (oh Lordy, not even close), but I wasn’t the slowest, and who cares even if I were? In swimming, there’s a saying that “if you’re the fastest person in your lane, you’re in the wrong lane.” Which is to say, if you have no competition, you’re never going to get better.

We started out by running 800 m repeats at faster than 10k pace, with 1 minute of rest. I felt strong and out of breath and tired and competent. I’m excited to see where this training takes me.

Random bonus:

I can’t explain it, but despite the recent spring weather, I’ve just had no desire to get out there and start training for the 2015 triathlon season. Well, I figured out what I needed, and it turns out it’s two things: the smell of sunscreen and a ride on my bike outside. The first was easy enough – I’m pretty militant about sunscreen and as soon as spring started to think about emerging, I bought my cadre of tubes for the summer. The first day I put some on to work out outside, I immediately was transported by the smell back to last summer and I got excited to get out there.

Then, last Saturday I finally unhooked my bike from the trainer, changed out the tire, somehow put the back wheel back on correctly, and went for an actual ride in the actual outdoors. Ahhhh… this is why I love my bike. Inertia solved.

I haven’t yet taken another shot at the Tarte Tatin, but that’s no reason to avoid writing a new blog post. Things that are reasons:

  • Not feeling like I have anything to say
  • Not having the time

I’ve had more than a few people (think: a few plus one or two) ask me what my racing plans are for this upcoming triathlon season, though, so that seems like a reasonable enough post to write. Despite my previous assertions to the contrary, I guess I have to confess that I’ve been bitten by the Ironman bug and I am slowly working my way up to attempting an Ironman within the next five years.

On my way towards that goal, I ran my first 10K this past fall, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the distance more than I had expected. It was refreshing to not feel like I had to run all out the entire time, and although I had been hoping to finish in under 9 minute mile pace, I was pleased to at least come in under an hour. This year’s plan calls for a few more races at that distance, including my first Olympic tri.

Here’s the schedule:

March:

10k at the Shamrock Shuffle. Last year, I spectated as Josh ran this race, as I was still rehabbing my knee injury. It was exceptionally cold on race day morning, thanks to our polar vortex winter. This year, the extended forecast predicts a high of 52 degrees, which sounds infinitely more appealing.

In March, I’ll also be competing at the Wisconsin State SCY Champs, the state Master Swim meet. This has been a great meet for me in the past. This was where I participated in my first ever swim meet two years ago, and the Master Swim experience continues to help me grow my swimming confidence, watch my times improve (sometimes), and have something to work towards. I really think that most triathletes, especially those who are nervous or uncomfortable in the swim, could get a lot out of a Master Swim meet. It’s a very welcoming atmosphere, and after you realize that you can dive off starting blocks, swim as fast as you can, and make it to the end, the start of a tri suddenly seems a lot less intimidating.

June:

For the third year in a row, I’ll be back at the Capitol View Triathlon (fka the Summit Credit Union Couples Triathlon, even more fka the Capitol View Triathlon – it all comes back around), once again starting the tri season with a sprint tri there. I like this race a lot. It’s well run, easy to get to, and offers a nice short start to the season. This year I’ll be competing as part of a “couple” with a friend of mine. Last year, we both finished in the top ten of our age group, so I’m feeling like we’ll have a decent chance of placing as a team.

At the end of June, I’ll be tackling my first Olympic distance at the Verona Triterium Triathlon. This is the race I watched a friend compete in several years ago that originally planted the seed for me to want to try a race of my own some day, so it feels appropriate that I’m coming back to try the exact same race and distance that she inspired me with. I did the sprint distance of this race last year, and am hoping to redeem my horrifying putting my shoes on while mounting the bike situation that I found myself in. Seriously, one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, made bearable only by the fact that I had swim head after coming out of the water and felt too much in a daze to realize what a fool I looked like. The Olympic distance is kind of unique here, as you actually have to do more than one lap in the water. To keep track of this, you come out of the water and run around a tree before getting back in. Also, the Olympic bike course includes two rides up Observatory Hill. Wisconsin Indoor Cycling sponsors the “King of the Mountain” competition and gives out gift cards to the men and women who ride up the hill the fastest. There’s also an award for the “middle of the pack” male and female. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but if it’s the person whose time going up the very steep hill puts them exactly in the median position, I think that’s awesome. I tentatively plan to strive for that honor.

July:

If the timing works out, I’d love to do the Big Swell Swim again. Last year, I did the 1.2 miles open water swim, and I’d like to try the 2.4 mile this year to see how I fare.

August:

I’d like to take another crack at USAT Age Group Nationals, especially because it’s back in Milwaukee. I had such a good experience there last year, although it was certainly eye opening as to my place in the field. I’d like to see if I can improve upon my finish time and rank (although as I learned last year, the time is really all you can control – who knows who’s going to show up any given year?), especially because my knee is so much better now than it was last year, and I have a few more resources at my disposal to deal with allergies/asthma. Last year, my all out effort and last minute sprint to the finish left me in the medical tent for a few minutes, unable to breathe. The medic asked me if I had asthma. When I said no, he said, “Yeah, right.” Well, he was smarter than me, and it’s astonishing how much easier it is to swim, bike, and run fast now that I can actually breathe while I’m doing it.

September:

I finally signed up for the Devil’s Challenge tri. This is another sprint, and is a race I’ve been wanting to do for years. Devil’s Lake is so beautiful – both the lake itself and the surrounding area.

October:

On my way towards my first 70.3 (tentatively scheduled for 2016), I signed up for a half marathon in October, at the Haunted Hustle. Right now, the idea of running 13.1 miles feels insane and unachievable to me, but if there’s one thing that learning how to swim and participating in triathlons has taught me, it’s that I am capable of a whole lot more than I give myself credit for. I’ve been continually surprised at what I can actually do if I put in the work and show up on race day.

I’m excited to see how increasing the distances goes. I’ve been working hard on my biking this off-season, both on a trainer at home and at spinning classes at the gym. As usual, Master Swim has my swimming improving leaps and bounds. I haven’t been running much at all lately, both because it’s hard to find time (even harder to find time when it’s not dark outside) and because I’ve been focusing on other things. One woman I talked to the last time I was buying running shoes told me that the best thing a triathlete can do to improve running performance is to bike a lot. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I like the idea of it. I am also planning to join a speed running group in the spring, even though the idea of it fills me with visions of vomiting and dread. I know that interval training has improved my swim speeds drastically, and I absolutely believe it will improve my running speeds. I also know that I’m just not going to do it on my own, and I need to force myself to show up with a group and use the powers of social pressure to make myself do it. I can’t pretend I’m looking forward to it, but I am excited about getting faster. I don’t think I’ll ever be in the 19 minute 5K territory, but I’d like to see if I can get down to about 21 or 22 minutes. I think I could be fairly competitive at triathlons if I can get there. Right now, my 5K PR is 24:38.

That about wraps it up. What are your 2015 racing and training plans? Have you ever done running speed work? Tell the truth: did you vomit?

Bonne année chers lecteurs! Apron cat is back again, and is starting the new year out right with a failed, but highly tasty, rendition of the latest in the apron cake series: Tarte Tatin.

Je vais les manger tout

Je vais les manger tout

One of the left-most desserts on the apron, this was something I wasn’t familiar with, but looked like an apple tart to me. No problem! Er, excusez-moi: pas de problème!

Take note of how all of those apples are nicely tucked into place

Take note of how all of those apples are nicely tucked into place

A tarte tatin, I found out from some Wikipedia and New York Times research taught me that a tarte tatin (this is going to be a super annoying blog post because Word Press keeps auto-correcting this to “taste satin”) is sort of the apple tart equivalent of a pineapple upside-down cake. The basic recipe from the various sites I looked at seems to start with caramelizing apples in a cast iron skillet, throwing either pie crust, pastry dough, or puff pastry on top, baking the whole thing in the oven, and then dramatically flipping it over onto a plate so that the apples are on top, magically held together in a big clump.

Cool.

I found a lot of recipes for this, but ended up going with this one because I preferred a pie crust to a puff pastry. I’ve used recipes from the Food Network website before, but this is the first time I’ve used it for a pastry or dessert. I have learned my lesson and will stick to my tried and true pastry sites from now on.

I have a few issues with this recipe. The instructions were pretty imprecise. What exactly do you mean by a baking dish? It sound to me like a pyrex dish, but you can’t put that “over a medium heat.” (You’ll notice, if you happen to visit the recipe, that the baking dish text is a hyperlink. If you click the link, it takes you to a general “food encyclopedia,” helpfully queued up to the letter C, and there is no entry for “baking dish.”) The other recipes I’d seen called for a skillet, so I chose to use that. (Also, who has a 10″ pyrex?) Another imprecise moment – I would expect that the thickness/shape of the apple slices would be slightly important. That affects how long they’ll cook, as well as how the whole deal holds together. This recipe said to halve the apples, remove the cores, and then cut “them” into 4 big pieces. Is “them” each apple? Each half of an apple? I went with the latter and chopped each half into fourths. Also, the entire beginning claims to be done in a mixer (making the pie crust), but the instructions sound like it’s trying to talk about a food processor. “Pulse” the butter for 2 seconds. How do you pulse something in a mixer?

I dunno. I did this.

I dunno. I did this.

The recipe was very concerned about the speed at which I made the dough and cautioned against over mixing. So I didn’t over mix, and I came up with this:

Huh.

Huh.

I formed it into a ball and put it in the fridge for an hour. I then spent that hour chopping apples. (Note the recipe’s prep time of 30 minutes.)

Steps 1, 2, and 3. Not 30 minutes.

Steps 1, 2, and 3. Not 30 minutes.

IMG_1687 IMG_1690

When I took the dough out, I was pretty furious to notice that there were chunks of unmixed butter throughout. Okay, furious is a lie. I was more annoyed and just kind of resigned at that point.

Anyway, in the meantime, I had to caramelize sugar, one of my most stressful kitchen tasks. I cannot explain why, but I am so afraid of setting off smoke alarms. Maybe this is because I live in an apartment building and I’m concerned about upsetting the neighbors. Maybe because I think that the smoke alarm automatically calls the fire department (I don’t know if this is true). Maybe it’s because it’s a stressful noise. Maybe because one apartment building I lived in had a fire in the apartment directly below mine, and I wasn’t home when it happened, and the firefighters wouldn’t let me go in and check on my cat (she was fine – it was a minor fire). Maybe it all goes back to the recurring nightmares I would have when I was 5-9, after every visit by the firefighters to my elementary school.

There are a lot of possibilities, but the end result is that cooking sugar, butter, and water in a skillet on a stovetop is pretty stressful for me. But it didn’t burn, and because this recipe gave me no guidance about when it was done, I used an old trick from Annie’s Eats and dripped drops of the sugar/butter/water mixture onto a white plate to check its color periodically. When it turned amber (in my assessment) I pulled it off the heat and tossed in the apples. I might not have waited long enough, because I do tend to be conservative when it comes to burning butter or sugar.

Shockingly, I don’t own a “heat diffuser,” (seriously, Food Network?) so I simmered the apples in the “caramel” for 15 minutes over medium-low heat. It seemed to be working, because the caramel did bubble up through the apples as the recipe indicated. And it smelled pretty awesome.

The next mystery to me was how to follow the instructions about the pastry. I was able to roll it out and place it over the apples as instructed, but it was really not clear to me how to fold it “in at the edges.” Did this mean to fold it in towards the center of the pan? Surely it couldn’t mean to fold it over the edges of the skillet, right? The end goal here was to turn the entire deal upsidedown, so I did my best to tuck the pastry up in between the hot apples and the edges of the hot skillet.

I also put these awesome slits into the dough, but you don't hear me bragging about it.

I also put these awesome slits into the dough, but you don’t hear me bragging about it.

The whole skillet went into the oven for 20 stressful minutes (zOMG sugar water in the oven watch the smoke detector OMG) and then cooled on the counter for the prescribed 15 minutes. We might have been running a little bit late to get this to its destined dinner engagement, so I didn’t let it cool any longer than 15 minutes.

It looked and smelled done, though. More than this picture would indicate.

It looked and smelled done, though. More than this picture would indicate.

And then, the moment of truth. When it came time to flip this thing, I went at it with the same gusto I used the first time I tried to dive off the starting blocks into a pool, or the first time I clipped into bike pedals. If you’re going to go for it, go for it:

Oh.

Oh.

The result? Sugar water everywhere. Grey apples. It didn’t even remotely hold together. The beautiful amber color appeared only on the Food Network website. After cleaning the kitchen counter, cabinets, floors, and cutting board, I scooped the apples into the pie plate and settled for an open top apple pie. And you know what? It actually tasted pretty effing amazing.

That being said, this one is getting a retry. The NYT has what it describes as a “fool-proof” recipe, and my mom has a Julia Child recipe, so between the two of them I have to give this another go.

In the meantime, the Food Network can stick to entertaining me with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen and leave the pastry recipes to sources I trust.

(For the record, if you need good pastry recipes, I highly recommend Annie’s Eats. Epicurious is usually also reliable. Julia Child knows what’s up.)

Obligatory intro – long time no post life busy blah blah blah.

So this past Thursday (also known as Thanksgiving), Josh and I ran the 11th annual Berbee Derby. This is one of my favorite races for a whole lot of reasons. It’s awesome to start out Thanksgiving morning with some activity and excitement. There are so many people racing (6,700 this year) that you always have someone to pass so it’s motivating. And, as the Derby organizers themselves say, “It’s like a Thanksgiving Day parade, only faster.” People wear costumes and turkey hats, everyone’s in a good mood, and it’s just all around a good time.

This year’s race was bitterly cold and pretty icy. It was about 18 degrees and windy at race time and the parts of the course that weren’t in direct sunlight were pretty slick. And it was in the middle of one of those stretches, along the Capital City bike trail, that I found myself stuck behind a bunch of runners who were going a little slower than I wanted to go, with ice on the bike path and snow on the edges of the path. And that’s when, as I do in almost every running race, I started thinking about Mario Kart. I haven’t even played in quite a while, but in my heyday I was pretty tough to beat, especially when I was driving Koopa Troopa on the Blue Falcon.

Sure, I could stay tucked in behind the folks in front of me, but is that what Koopa Troopa would do? No way. So, without further awkward introduction, here are three lessons from Mario Kart Wii that I genuinely apply to my own racing.

Move through a crowd
I might not be the fastest runner (spoiler alert: I’m not), but I can work my way through congestion. Playing Mario Kart taught me to shove my way into the smallest opening. In the game, as in real life, people don’t like to be crowded and they tend to open up a path for you to squeeze through.

I made this diagram with Clip Art and PowerPoint. Living the dream.

I made this diagram with Clip Art and PowerPoint. Living the dream.

Obviously anyone can say just to go wherever you see an opening, but I saw a lot of people who weren’t going for it. My hot tip: If you’re not feeling comfortable working your way through a crowd, pretend that you’re drafting off the kart (read: person) in front of you. Especially in a race like the Berbee Derby where there are so many people running, if you wait long enough, someone faster will come by, and you can follow the path they carve through the crowd.

Take the shortest line

This one can be summed up by another hot PowerPoint diagram:

How many roads must Michelle run down. Before she can run the shortest distance on them?

How many roads must Michelle run down. Before she can run the shortest distance on them?

I can’t tell you how many people I see running along the right hand lane of a course instead of taking the shortest line between two points. Obviously when you’re working with lots of congestion, you shouldn’t cut in front of people. But on the Berbee Derby course, once you’re off the bike path and onto the suburban streets, there’s plenty of room. Time you take running around corners is time wasted (and extra distance!). Playing Mario Kart, I learned to see the shortest line at a glance and not be afraid of driving in the gutter to take it. Driving on grass just slows you down, though, so pay attention to surface, too.

Know the course

Almost every course in Mario Kart gets easier the more you play it. Knowing where and when to turn, when to use your mushrooms, and what you can expect only speeds you up. If you don’t drive your bike and run courses before a race, you’re just asking for unpleasant surprises. Granted, sometimes it’s not great to know that you have a hill to run up between miles five and six (Berbee Derby, I’m looking at you), but wouldn’t you rather be prepared for it than have to react on the fly?

Pretend this is a hill.

Pretend this is a hill.

There is something to be said for the surprise of a course. Sometimes I purposefully don’t familiarize myself with a course ahead of time so that there are “interesting” surprises waiting for me. But I never perform my best when I do this. So I wouldn’t really advise it on a race you want to do well on. Also, honestly, it’s pretty unsafe, especially when you’re talking about a bike course. I’m thinking about the Couples Triathlon (fka Capital View) where there’s a 90-degree right hand turn at the bottom of a steep downhill. If you don’t know that’s coming and you don’t take the “Slow Down” signs seriously, there’s no doubt you’d crash, and probably take out a few other people with you.

Before I leave you, one more bonus tip. You know that level of Mario Kart where there are all the penguins and when you hit them they spin around? Well, it took me a while to master that one because every time you brake on the ice, your kart skids around like crazy and it takes a while to accelerate again. Well, if you find yourself running outside in, say, the Berbee Derby and you’re planting your foot on a sheet of ice on a bike trail, maybe don’t try to brake. It won’t end well for anyone. And don’t hit any penguins, either.