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Building on my 2012 Successes

I just got home from my last run of the year. There’s something very satisfying about closing out the year with a run, even if it is cold and windy — I passed at least a couple dozen people, so clearly I’m not the only one who thinks that. As I close out my 2012 training calendar, it’s time to reflect on the year gone by and set goals for the year to come.

Reflections on 2012

This is a year I’m very proud of. I’ve pushed myself in all sorts of new ways. First, some statistics for the year. I cycled 2246.83 miles, ran 483.8 miles, swam about 45 miles (I can’t measure my open water swim distance quite as precise!), did 78 crossfit WODs (workouts), 25 hours on the rowing machine, 1.5 hours of yoga, and half an hour of ice skating!

This year was the first time I ever started training for a race that I didn’t know if I could finish. I’ve set time goals before that I wasn’t sure I could meet, but I’ve always known that I could finish the race at least. If I had to, I could have finished a marathon on the first day I started training for my first marathon. It would have been painful and I would have walked a lot. But I could have finished it. When I started training for the Ironman, I could not have finished it. It wouldn’t be until late in the year that I would reach the point where I could. Looking back on that journey is really exciting for me.

The biggest obstacle for me, of course, was the swim. It’s hard to believe that back in January, I couldn’t do more than a length of the pool without stopping to catch my breath. It was a long, slow progression of taking swim classes, then working on swim technique and endurance in the pool, and then finally in open water. It really wasn’t until a couple months before the race that I was at the point that I knew I should be able to finish the race distance in the time required. But even then, I always knew my swim time would be close enough to the time cutoff that I was going to have to push myself. I had a solid base in the bike and the run, so those were more about building my endurance further and developing nutrition strategies that would keep my energy levels up for the race. Easier than the swim, but still no walk in the park.

I will definitely look back on the summer and fall of 2012 fondly, remembering all the time spent training with my teammates. All the times we met early on Sunday morning for a long bike ride. All the times we cursed together about how hot it was in the summer, or how cold it was in the late fall. All the long open water swims together at Ohio Street Beach. All the track work, and the squat holds that we often did there. All the times we did crossfit WODs together.

Besides the Ironman, some other athletic highlights stand out from the year. I was happy to get in a few long bike rides with my dad in California. The century bike ride we did together in the mountains near Palo Alto was amazing. It made me miss living somewhere that I could regularly cycle up mountains like that. My dad says at his annual physical, his doctor said he needs to keep up the cycling, it’s good for him. So maybe we’ll do another century ride together in 2013.

It’s hard to keep track of all the crossfit workouts. But some of the more epic ones do stand out. On Memorial Day, crossfit gyms everywhere do “Murph:” 1 mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, 1 mile run. I was at my parent’s house in San Francisco at the time, so I found a park with a pullup bar that was just over a mile from their house. I ran to the park, did the core of the workout, and ran back to their house. It took me 51 minutes. There’s something exhilarating about doing a workout like that alone in a park. My birthday WOD also stands out: 500 meter row, 29 reps (95 pound bar) ground to overhead, kettle bell swings, shoulder to overhead, situps, squat cleans, lateral bar jumps, bar facing burpees, then 500 meter row. And the first of the crossfit games WOD’s really stands out: 7 minutes, as many burpees as possible. Such a simple movement, but so difficult to keep doing it!

My longest swim of the year was the Big Shoulders 5k swim on September 8th. It took me 2 hours 48 minutes. I was one of the very last to finish it, but I finished. The distance alone would have been impressive, but there were two foot waves in Lake Michigan that day, making it even tougher!

My longest bike was 120 miles, around the island of Oahu. Every corner brought another stunning view. Incredible. Even though I had been out on my bike in the sun all day and climbed around 5000 feet, I felt great at the end of that ride. I wish every ride could include such breath taking views of oceans, beaches, mountains, and valleys. And what a great way to wrap in training and vacation!

My longest run was 29.5 miles to the south end of the lake front path (in Chicago) and back home. I was originally hoping to do the whole lake front path (would have been 36 miles total), but my body wasn’t having it. At least I’ve run to the far north of the path before, so I’ve now done the whole path. I had a lot of fun on that run, even if the cold was taking a lot more out of my body than expected. But I also realized ultra distance running like that is probably not for me. I’ll stick to my marathons.

2013 Goals

My primary goal for 2013 is a PR (personal record) at the Chicago Marathon in October. I want to finish in 3:30 or faster! My present marathon PR is 4:25, set in San Francisco in 2010. But after this past year of training, I know I would be a lot faster.

My second goal is a PR at the Half Ironman distance. I’ll try to do that at either Racine or Steelhead, mid-summer races that are both a couple hours drive from Chicago.

Besides those goals, I want to have fun! I want to keep improving my swimming technique. I might try to do another century bike ride with my dad. I want to keep working on my crossfit skills. And I’m sure other challenges will come along.

Here’s to another great year!

My Pre-Race Checklist and Gear

I’ve written extensively about my training and races themselves. But there’s a lot of preparation in the week ahead of the race to make sure I’m ready for race day. This post is about the gear I use and the steps I take to get ready. It’s written specifically to the Ironman, but a lot of it is similar for all races.

A week before the race, before even leaving Chicago, I got a deep tissue massage. I can’t afford this for all (or even most) of my races, but for the Ironman, it was worth it. I’m jealous of people that can afford these as a regular part of their training regimen! For the deep tissue massage to work right, it needs to be at least 5 or 6 days before the race. The massage promotes recovery and rebuilding of the muscle, but in the short term it puts a lot of stress on the muscles, so you don’t want to be racing the next day. Normally I also do light workouts most days in the week leading up to a race. I don’t want to stress my muscles too much, but do want to keep them fresh. The week leading up to the Ironman I felt warning signs of getting sick, so I skipped all workouts (fortunately I was completely healthy by the time I was in Arizona for race weekend). But I did do a swim and bike the day before the race — I always like to do a light workout the day before a race, because otherwise my muscles feel sluggish on race morning.

I also became more careful about my diet in the week leading up to the race. For some athletes, this could mean a major change in diet. Because I’m normally pretty good about my diet, it just means making sure I don’t have any “cheat days,” emphasizing water even more than usual, sprinkling salt on all my food, and letting myself eat a bit more (good) carbs than normal (e.g., fruit, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, rice).

There are other logistical details to take care of in that final week. Do I have directions to the course and hotel? How am I getting there? How is my bike getting there? What food/drink will be offered at aid stations on the course, and do I need to bring any food with me if I want something else? When and where is race check-in and packet pickup? Do I have my USA Triathlon card for packet pickup? Is my Garmin GPS watch fully charged for race morning? Where am I eating my final pre-race dinner? Can I get the kind of food I want / need there? Did I set an alarm on my phone and a hotel wake-up call before going to bed?

100_5798But now let’s turn to the main point of this post: my gear. The first time I did a triathlon, back in 2008, I think the only triathlon specific gear I bought was a pair of tri shorts. Even that was not really necessary. I definitely strongly believe in the “start with what you have” mantra for gear. But when you do embrace triathlon as a sport, it’s amazing how quickly the gear can multiply. And I spent only a small fraction of what some people spend on gear!

There is one key distinction between an Ironman and most triathlons for setting up our gear. For most triathlons, I would bring a large backpack (or triathlon bag) with all my gear in it. I would set up my bike on the bike racks (some races assign spots on the racks, others are first-come first-serve) and set up my run, bike, and any other gear on the ground next to my bike. For the Ironman, they gave us the five plastic bags pictured at left for our gear: bike gear, bike special needs, run gear, run special needs, and morning clothes. Each of these bags was about 12 x 18″. After the swim, a 100_5792volunteer would bring our bike gear bag. We would take our bike gear out of it and deposit our wetsuit and swim gear in it. After the bike, we would get our run gear bag, likewise taking out our run gear and depositing our bike gear. We would get the special needs bags half-way through the respective events. And the morning clothes bag we could pick up after the race (helpful for dry clothes, cell phones, etc). Overall this meant for less stress. But it did mean I could not use the same item (e.g., body glide) in both swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions.

My “base layers” for the triathlon (pictured at right) typically include De Soto bike bib shorts, a 2XU compression triathlon singlet, heart rate monitor chest strap, timing chip strap with chip, and compression calf sleeves. I put all of this on in the morning before leaving my hotel and wear it under my wetsuit on the swim. For most triathlons, I would wear this gear on the bike and run as well. But the Ironman gives us a chance to fully change between events (they have a changing tent). I did still wear this gear beneath my wetsuit for the Ironman, but I would fully change for the run. I also ended up not wearing my compression sleeves during the swim and instead putting on full compression socks for the bike and then changing into the compression sleeves for just the run.

100_5791For the swim, I have a triathlon wetsuit, two pairs of goggles, suit juice, swim cap (always race provided), and neoprene booties. The triathlon wetsuit is thinner than a diving wetsuit, particularly in the shoulders, for swim flexibility. in addition to warmth (the water was 64 degrees!), it provides buoyancy. I typically wear the tinted goggles in a race (especially Arizona, where we swim towards the rising sun). But I bring my pool goggles as backup in case the tinted goggles break. The Ironman was the first time I used booties in a race. They are only legal if the water is 65 degrees or colder. So glad I got these. They meant that my feet were not numb and frozen all day after the swim!

100_5794My bike gear includes computer (left on the bike itself), socks (rolled up to easily pull onto wet feet), bike shoes, race number and belt, chamois cream (to avoid skin chafing), heart rate monitor, sunglasses, bike gloves, and helmet. Elites don’t take the time to pull cycling gloves on, but the extra cushioning and better grip is worth the extra 30 seconds for me! In some races, we only have to wear our number on the run (our number is prominent on our helmet and taped to our bikes already), but in the Ironman we need to wear it on the bike and run. By putting the number on an elastic belt, it is easy to pull on and move it from my back to my front when I transition bike to run. My bike shoes tighten with a dial on the side, making it easy to tighten them quickly when I first pull them on and even adjust while sitting on the bike if I have to! As previously noted, I ended up using my calf-length compression socks on the bike instead of the socks pictured here.

100_5705My saddle bag (pictured with contents at left) would be on my bike itself, right under my saddle. It has a spare tube, tire levers, CO2 cartridges (for fast inflation of tires), CO2 inflator, spare screws for my cleats (I’ve had cleat problems in the past), and a patch kit (doubt I would ever actually use that in a race). For the Ironman, I ended up adding a third CO2 cartridge to what’s pictured here and duct-taping a second spare tube to my bike frame. Fortunately, I did not need any of it during the race. (I always say that if I am way over-prepared, I won’t need it.)

100_5795For the run (gear pictured at right), I always have my running shoes, patella knee braces, GPS watch, and hat (not pictured). For the Ironman, I also had fresh shorts, tri jersey, socks, and nutrition. My shoes are Brooks Pure Cadence. I love them. Light weight and only 4 mm heel-to-toe drop (designed to encourage a mid foot strike instead of a heel strike) but with enough cushioning for a long run. I have elastic shoe laces on them that let me just pull the shoes on and go — I haven’t adjusted the laces at all in months. I put the second pair of socks pictured here in my run special needs bag so that I could change socks mid-way through the run.

100_5797There is food and water/drinks on course at aid stations, but anything specific I want I need to bring. The odd shaped “profile design” bottle in the photo goes between my handlebars and is the primary bottle I drink out of while on the bike. It has a mesh top that lets me drain a water bottle into it without getting off the bike. The salt stick (white capsules in the plastic baggie) and Fizz (tablets that dissolve in water) both have salt, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals that I lose in my sweat. I put the cookies in my special needs bags for little on-course pick-me-ups. And I used the honey stinger for energy on the run. In Ironman (and half Ironman) races, at the bike aid stations they give us disposable plastic sports water bottles (like the kind you would get at the grocery store), so I only put one of my bike water bottles on my bike with my carb-protein sports drink (and a second bottle of that drink waiting in my bike special needs bag) so that I had an empty water bottle cage on my bike for the fresh water.

Learning to change gear between events is a skill unto itself. I’ve done my best this year, but my transitions are still slow. The professionals do these transitions in no more than a couple minutes each. Definitely something I can continue to work on as I continue with triathlon.

34 days since Ironman Arizona.

Stay Hungry

For the first week post-Ironman, I was content to just relax (happily timed with Thanksgiving week). But slowly, and predictably, my hunger to train and compete returned. After months of long training rides, runs, and swims every weekend with the same teammates, it’s weird to suddenly have weekends free. Part of me definitely misses those long weekly training rides, every Sunday.

My husband knew this about me. He knew I would be hungry for the next challenge. For months before the Ironman, he would ask “what’s next?” Yes, there are longer events out there. No, I am not interested in training for them. I’d love to do another Ironman sometime in the future, but I’m not even interested in training for that next year. For now, I’m enjoying a couple months of unfocused training. Staying in shape and still working out hard, but without a set training schedule, just working out when I feel like it. Even when I pick it up next year, it will not be to the same volume as this year. I might try to set a personal record in the marathon next year, improve my swimming, or maybe even do my first sprint triathlon (yes, I jumped right to the long-distance triathlon). All of those will push my limits in new ways without requiring the same volume of workout time.

My first serious workout post-IMAZ was on my birthday. I got to do a birthday WOD (workout-of-the-day) at my crossfit gym. Or I should say, everyone at my gym got to do my birthday WOD that day. The workout? For time: 500 meter row, then 29 reps each (bar at 95/65 pounds for men/women) of ground-to-overhead, kettle bell swings, shoulder-to-overhead, situps, squat cleans, lateral bar jumps, bar facing burpees, then 500 meter row. The kind of long intense workout I love. Most people told me they struggled with the squat cleans, but that was where I felt like I really hit my rhythm. I guess all of my squat holds over summer and fall paid off. I finished in just under 30 minutes, exhausted but happy. What a great way to spend my birthday! At the gym holiday party the next day, a few people teased, “Oh, so I have you to thank for that workout!”

A couple days later I decided to go for a long run. And ran 13.1 miles (half marathon) in 1:54:19. I had no real target pace or distance when I started. Just kind of let my legs take me. I did not expect to hold the pace I did! Good to see I could still easily finish a sub 2 hour half marathon, and have a blast doing it. I realized I had really increased my run speed and endurance pretty substantially this past year.

After that, I began toying with the idea of doing a really long run. One of Jeremy’s friends had been talking to me about training for ultramarathons. I was intrigued but skeptical. I love running marathons and find the idea of ultra distance running intriguing, but I’m not sure I would ever want to actually train for ultra distances. I figured this was the perfect time to give it a try: I still have most of Ironman endurance (that will slowly fade over winter as I take a break from the long endurance workouts), and I’m not interfering with any sort of training schedule right now. But my time window was short. I had to do it before it got too cold. I’ll run outdoors through the middle of winter, but as it gets colder, it’s harder to keep my hands, fingers, and face warm enough. I get to the point where after an hour run, I get home and have a hard time turning the key in the lock because my fingers are numb. I can handle that for an hour, but not for longer.

So yesterday I set out to try to run the entire distance of the lakefront path. I live right along the path, about 3.5 miles from the north end of it. It continues south another 14.5 miles. I’ve run to the far north of the path many times, but never all the way south. I was out the door by 9:30, camelbak for water and pockets loaded with honey stinger chomps. The weather forecast had turned a bit worse, mid 30s in the morning with a chance of flurries, but supposed to clear up and be partially sunny by 1:00. Fortunately with handwarmers in my gloves, I was doing fine. My pace was slower than hoped, but consistent and my energy felt good. As I ran past 13.1 miles away from home, I knew I was committing to my longest run ever. When I reached the far south of the path at 14.8 miles, I was still feeling good, but the run was beginning to take its toll. My muscles and energy levels actually still felt okay, but my hips and ankles were hurting more than usual.

By mile 18 it was becoming pretty clear I was probably going to just run home and not go to the north end of the path as well. I started a pattern of run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute. I was tempted to increase my walking time, but I held that ratio all the way home (well, once I exited the path, I did walk that last .4 miles back home). It’s pretty cool to say I’ve now run the entire distance of the path (even if not all at once) and that my long run is now longer than a marathon (29.5 miles in 5:40:13). But I confirmed that ultra running is probably not for me. I had a lot of fun yesterday, but my body needs too long to recover from a run that long. Besides, I have more fun being out on my bike all day.

I’m still figuring out exactly what my goals are for next year. But whatever they are, I know this: I’m going to stay hungry.

31 days since Ironman Arizona!

Ironman Arizona: Race Report

I’m finally getting around to writing my race report, before I forget too many of the details of the day! This post will probably be long, but only because I have so many interesting stories to share from such a long race. The short version of the day: Amazing beyond belief. I don’t even have words for how incredible it is to cross that finish line. And I pretty much nailed my goals. 2:03:24 on the swim, 6:56:48 on the bike, and 5:00:31 on the run. If you don’t read this whole post, be sure to check out the end for my “lessons learned.”

PRE-RACE

I didn’t get in bed the night before the race until after 10 pm, and barely got any sleep at all, tossing and turning with nerves and anticipation. Fortunately I felt wide awake and ready to race when my alarm went off at 3:50 AM. I had a breakfast of bananas, bagels, and peanut butter along with a couple cups of coffee (less for the caffeine, more to make sure I had to use the restroom before the race to clear everything out!). By 4:40 AM, I made my way to my coach’s hotel room for our team pow-wow. We listened to music and jumped on the beds. Our coach told us how proud she was of us and how ready we were. And our coach and her husband slipped notes to us into our bike special needs’ bags, telling us to read them during the race (more on that later). Adrenaline already pumping, we piled into the hotel van to get to the race course at 5:00 AM.

0257_362180257_00705We had to check in our bikes and transition gear the day before the race, so that was all waiting for us on site. But in the morning we still had to put water and food on our bikes, double check tire inflation, and any other last-minute pre-race things. We also had to use the restroom and drop off our special needs’ bags and our morning clothes’ bags (where we could put dry clothes, cell phones, and anything else we would want after the race). Fortunately my team managed to find each other after taking care of all that, so that we could make our way to the swim start together. [Final pre-race photo of us, around 6:30 AM, at left] Getting 2700 athletes into the water takes a while, and we had about a 1/4 mile swim from the swim entry to the actual start line. So we made sure to be near the front of the pack getting ready to enter the water to give ourselves maximum time to get used to the water and decide where we wanted to be in the start pack. Around 6:40, they let us get into the water [photo at right]. We gave each other our final high fives right before jumping into the water. At that point we were all on our own.

THE SWIM

0257_008540257_19880The swim start was definitely chaotic. 2700 athletes, all treading water, trying to find where they want to be in the pack for the start [photo at left, yellow buoy marks actual start line]. I decided to start in under the bridge in the middle of the pack, avoiding the bunches along the wall and along the buoy lines. Starting there, I wouldn’t actually cross the start line until a couple minutes after the start gun, but I would avoid the worse of the jostling of the faster swimmers trying to get in front. I did have someone swim right into me before the start, but fortunately I was able to stay calm. Around 6:55 AM, they sang the star spangled banner on shore. You can’t exactly stop what you’re doing when you’re treading water! And then at 7:00 AM, the start gun went off. And 2700 athletes were underway [photo at right]. I managed to find a pocket of water that wasn’t too crowded, relax, and just swim my race. I was amazed at how calm I was. The swim is an out-and-back course. The first leg is facing the rising sun (sun rise was at 7:02, just after the start), but it wasn’t until the end of that first leg that the sun was really in my eyes. Fortunately I read enough reviews to know to wear tinted goggles!

0257_38196After the turn-around, on my way back to the swim finish, I did panic a few times when I noticed how the number of athletes left around me was thinning out. I wanted to make sure I finished before the swim cut-off! After a few frantic strokes each time, I managed to calm down and remind myself to just swim my race. I was going to be faster that way anyways. I finished the swim in 2:03:24, 17 minutes to spare to the swim cut-off! The volunteer who helped me out of the water asked how I was doing, and I grinned and said “great!” She said keep up that attitude all day. [Photo at left] I was definitely glad that I had invested in neoprene booties. In my practice swims in cold water, my feet were numb and frozen for hours later. But on race day, in neoprene booties, my feet were fine right out of the water. My swim target time was 2 hours, so I was right on target. But, critically, I felt like I had barely exerted myself on the swim. I was going into the bike full of energy. With more swim training, I could definitely finish faster at the same effort, but this was better than I expected to do for where I was on race day.

 

 

 

THE BIKE

0257_47168It took me 13:03 in my swim-to-bike transition. I knew I wasn’t competing for the podium, so I didn’t worry too much about transition time. I was wearing my bike clothes under my wetsuit, but I took the time to pull on my compression socks — difficult on dry skin, very difficult on wet skin. But for long rides they make me much more comfortable. Still, I can’t help but think that I could have shaved a few minutes off of that transition and still been comfortable. I felt great as I set off on the bike [photo at right]. The bike course was three out-and-back laps of about 37 miles each. The first 10 miles of the way out was relatively flat, but the last 6.5 was uphill at a 2-3% grade. Not that bad, but enough to slow you a little. As I started the first lap, I decided to follow my coach’s advice and take the bike slower than I thought I could go. I had a long day ahead. I just relaxed and let myself enjoy as I settled into the ride. I also saw my coach going the other way, near the start of her second lap. She shouted out “good job Jeff,” and I could hear the relief in her voice to see me on the bike.

0257_10155Even though the bike is the longest event, it passes the quickest in my memory. I held a consistent effort and just enjoyed. The desert can actual be quite beautiful, and the straight course made it easy to stay down in aero [see photo at left]. I relied mostly on liquid nutrition on the bike. I had a bottle of spiz (carb/protein drink) that would last me three hours, supplemented with almonds. Every 10 miles there was an aid station, where I took a fresh bottle of water and used it to fill the aero bottle between my handlebars (see photo). Aid stations were about 75 feet long, on the side of the road, and designed for us to cycle through. Volunteers held out water, sports drink, gu, energy bars, and bananas for us to grab. I got water at the beginning of the aid station, and by the end of the aid station had emptied the bottle on to my bike and could throw it out. I also added electrolyte tablets to my water, and took a salt stick tablet every 45 minutes.

Right after I turned around at the mid-way point of the second lap, another rider, Gerry, said to me “and now comes the fun part.” We both laughed and agreed. The down hill was much better than the uphill! Me and Gerry played leap frog for the rest of that lap, and continued to talk whenever one of us passed the other, encouraging each other on. Around mile 66, we finally got our special needs bags. Before the race, we loaded these with whatever we were going to want half way through the bike. When we pulled up to the special needs station on race day, a volunteer grabbed our bag for us and held it open while we grabbed our gear. I had a second bottle of spiz to replace my empty one, more almonds, a spare tube (which I thankfully didn’t need), a couple sugar cookies with Ironman logos on them (thanks to a friend!), a “Stay Aero” bumper sticker as a reminder to myself, and the notes from my coaches. I chowed down on the cookies while loading the other gear on my bike and reading the notes from my coaches, thanked the volunteer, and was back off on my way.

0257_17666As I started the third lap, I was beginning to feel the wear of the day [photo at right, not sure if that’s start of the second or third lap]. I wasn’t struggling yet, and I had a lot of energy left, but I definitely wasn’t fresh anymore either. I did push my pace a little more over the the third lap, but not much. I needed to stay fresh for the run. A few miles into the third lap, I stopped to use the restroom. That was when I noticed my jersey streaked with salt! I didn’t realize just how much I had been sweating. The air was so dry that I never felt my jersey and skin wet, the way I’m used to in Chicago. It was a good thing I had been taking in so much salt already. If I hadn’t, I would be in trouble by now.

During that third lap, my thoughts often turned to where Jeremy was. He was supposed to land at noon in Phoenix. It was now around 2 in the afternoon, so I knew he should be near by. And then with less than a mile to go to the end of the bike, I saw my family. I first spotted my mom and dad and shouted out to them. And then I saw Jeremy back behind them, too far to say hi to, but close enough I could see his grin. I was past them before it even fully registered. But I knew they were here. And tears of joy began unexpectedly streaming down my face. I was completely overcome with emotion as I entered the bike-to-run transition. As a volunteer took my bike from me, she asked how I was. “Great” I managed to get out, past the tears. My overall bike time was 6:56:48, 16.12 mph average (my target was 16-18 mph). I don’t want to second-guess my bike time too much. The course was hillier than expected based on our computrainer, and I had a lot of energy left for the run. Still, I know my heart rate was really low for the whole bike ride, and I can’t help but wonder if I could have pushed just a little faster and still had the same energy for the run.

THE RUN

My spirits remained high as I entered bike-to-run transition. I took the time for a full costume change: fresh tri jersey, running shorts, compression sleeves instead of compression socks (the socks give me blisters on the soles of my feet if I run in them), fresh socks, fresh shoes, and a running hat. I also put fresh body glide on the soles of my feet (skin lubricant to help prevent blisters and chafing). If I were to do it again, I would have to decide if it was really worth the time to change from compression socks into sleeves, that took a long time (14:47 overall for transition). But for my first Ironman, I’m happy with that. As I was changing, Gerry came into the changing tent. He said “you made it!” We gave each other high five and chatted while we both changed.

Before leaving transition, I had a volunteer apply sunscreen for me. I was relieved when she told me that I hadn’t burned yet, and the soreness on my neck was chafing from my wetsuit, not sunburn! Chafing is also not fun, and I had a bruise for several days there, but a lot better than sun burn. Like the bike, the run course was also three laps, about 8.7 miles each. Meaning we would run past the finish-line turn-off at the start of each lap! The run was sort of a modified figure eight around Tempe Town Lake, going back and forth over the bridges. This meant it was very spectator friendly, as we would pass the same spots several times. And the crowd support was amazing!

I felt slow as I set off on the run, but my gps watch told me I was running at a 7:30 mile pace. Oops. I had to force myself to slow way down, knowing I need to be closer to a 10:00 pace. It was about an hour until sunset when I started the run. Depressing, but at least it meant that it would finally begin to cool off. By a mile into the run I had managed to settle into a better pace. My race plan was to walk through the aid stations (about every mile) and run the rest at a 9:30-10:30 mile pace. There was very light crowd support for the first three miles of each lap, but then crowds picked up a lot (there was one other dead spot between miles five and seven). By the time I made it to those crowds on the first lap, I felt amazing. My legs were sore, but I had lots of energy, and felt like I was at a consistent manageable pace. I smiled at spectators, gave high-fives to the little kids, talked to people when I could, and just enjoyed myself. I didn’t see my family on the first lap, but I just assumed they must be getting dinner (probably accurate).

As I started the second lap, I got a boost of adrenaline from passing the thick crowds in the transition area. My legs felt more sore, but I still felt like I was at a manageable pace. I was working a little to hold my pace, but I wasn’t struggling too much. I was, admittedly, probably walking an extra 10-15 seconds at aid stations. The crowds definitely helped more on that second lap. I really ate up the energy. When I smiled and talked to people, it was really to take my mind off what I was doing. Half way through the second lap, I got my run special needs bag. I had another cookie, another bottle of spiz, more honey stinger chomps, and fresh socks and body glide. Nutrition is a challenge for me on long runs: the wrong types of food wreck havoc with my GI tract. Before the race, I had never done spiz on a run, only on the bike. But I was very glad I decided to go with it. I was switching off spiz and honey stinger chomps every 20 minutes, and it was working well for my stomach. I took water from the aid stations, but otherwise most of the stuff there was not appealing. I also had more salt stick for the run.

For a mile leading up to the run special needs station, I was debating what I was going to take. Did I want to eat that cookie? Yes. Was I going to stick with the spiz? Yes. But the key question: was I going to take the time to change socks and apply fresh body glide? I decided yes. I’m a heavy sweater, so on long runs I’m prone to blisters on the bottom of my feet. At that point in the race, my feet didn’t feel that bad. It was dry enough in Arizona that they weren’t wet with sweat, like they would be in Chicago. But I still had half a marathon to go. I erred on the side of caution. As I changed my socks, I saw the guy next to me had fresh shoes!

I was happy to see my mom about 50 yards from the start of the third lap. I stopped and gave her a hug (she later told me I was really wet). She pointed to the rest of my family, standing across the course, about 20 feet back. I almost ran back to them, but couldn’t bring myself to go back. I’ll see them later in this lap I told myself. I told my mom I was starting my last lap, almost done. Unfortunately, my mom didn’t realize the laps were 8.7 miles long. She thought I meant that I had one more of the electric check-points left. There were six of these checkpoints in every lap, allowing them to live-update our results on the internet, about every 1.5 miles. So my family headed right over to the finish line to see me. I meant that I had 8.7 miles left, but they thought I meant that I had 1.5 miles left.

That third lap was all mental. I was really beginning to hurt now. My pace had slowed to closer to 11:00-11:30 running pace, and walking a little longer through aid stations. But I never stopped walking at aid stations, and never walked outside of aid stations. The crowds helped a lot more on this last lap. I needed the support. And I could hear in their voices when I passed that I looked better than most of the people still out there — I was still running, and maybe sore, but holding it together! Some of the best signs I saw while on the run: “High five if you still like running” (I gave her five). “Smile if you peed in your wetsuit.” “Chuck Norris never did an Ironman.” “Shut up legs.” “Hurry up, our beer is getting warm.” I especially enjoyed passing little kids. They were so enthusiastic and loved giving and getting high five. It made me smile.

A couple miles in to the third lap, as I approached a short hill, I saw Damon, a friend from Chicago who was also doing the race. I called out to him as I was approaching from behind. We chatted very briefly, wished each other good luck, and he said he’d see me at the finish line. After the race I learned that he had run most of the run, but had started walking more just before I saw him. A couple miles later, I saw Paul, Damon’s boyfriend. I said hi and told him Damon was right behind me.

The last five miles were really difficult. The right side of my stomach was cramping up. I kept thinking “it’s okay if you walk just a little, you won’t be that much slower.” But every time that thought ran through my head, I remembered the line we heard in a video at the pre-race athlete dinner: “If you stop, nobody will care, but you will always know.” I was so close. I could push on. I could finish that run out the right way. And I pushed on. If the cramping got bad enough, I would have to walk, but for now I could push through it. Even when I faced the one long hill around mile 5.5 of the last lap, I kept running. Nobody else around me was running up the hill, but I pushed on.

A mile and a half from the finish line, I saw my grandparents walking back to their hotel. They were on a bridge over me, so we couldn’t talk. But we shouted and waved. (I later learned my grandma was freezing and needed a jacket.) By now my side cramp was clearing up. And as I entered the final mile, I found some extra energy. As I approached the finish-line turn off, it must have been obvious I was close. I know I had the biggest grin over that final stretch. And all the spectators told me “you’re there, 400 yards left, turn just ahead!” They didn’t even need to ask if I was on my final lap. They could see it on my face.

THE FINISH LINE

That finish line chute is the most amazing thing. For the last 100 yards, thick crowds of spectators line the sides of the course. There’s only about 8 feet for the course, meaning spectators are close on both sides. I saw Paul again about 100 yards from the finish! I gave him high five, and continued giving high fives to tons of strangers as I ran down the chute for the next 50 feet. And then I moved more towards the center of the course, arms up over head, overcome with emotion. I did slow down just a little to let the person ahead of me clear the finish line, so that we both crossed alone. Several of us were within 10 seconds of each other, so the announcer called out our names in succession, and then the famous “You are an Ironman!”

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I finished the marathon in 5:00:31, almost a full six minutes faster than my first marathon! Overall, I finished in 14:28:33 (meaning it was now 9:28 PM, and I had been racing since 7:00 AM). My run pace was faster than most people with similar finish times to me. I’m way at the slow end of the swim and at the slower end on the bike (partially to make sure I have enough energy for the swim), so most people who finished around me were faster on the swim or bike and slower on the run. I’m happy that my coach’s race plan helped me make sure I paced myself well throughout the day, so that I still had a smile on my face at the finish line. Of course, in retrospect it’s easy for me to wonder: could I have pushed myself just a little harder on that last lap of the run? Could I have held my orinal pace for all three laps? And did I really need to stop to change socks? Couldn’t I have continued on? Maybe I could have cut some time off, but I don’t want to second guess my race too much. I had as close to a perfect race as I have ever had. For where I was on race day, that was as good or better as anything I expected. Sure, there’s enough potential left to make me think about a next time. But I am very happy with my race.

0257_53684I can’t even describe my emotions crossing that finish line. So much more intense than any marathon I’ve ever done. Sheer joy and amazement. Tears of joy were at the corners of my eyes and a delirious grin on my face. Right past the finish, a volunteer “catcher” grabs you, puts a foil blanket around you (body temperature drops quickly), and keeps you walking. They make sure you’re not injured and don’t need medical attention. My coach and a teammate quickly found me and took over from the volunteer. They walked me over to get my finisher photo [right]. And then they told me to sit down in a chair for a little bit to recover. Once I was ready, the team was going to meet up for a post-race photo. I grabbed some chocolate milk and sat.

Five minutes later, I got up to grab some of the post-race finisher food, and that was when I saw Jeremy, waiting for me at the far end of the finisher area. I grinned when I saw him. I was so happy to see him there. I went right over and gave him a big hug. I found out he had waited for me while everyone else went back to the hotel to get sweatshirts. Awww, so sweet. He called my parents and they came and found us. After talking for a little bit, I told them I needed to get some food and find my team for a group photo. I told them to meet me on the other side of the post-race area (that area was athlete only).

It was at least 45 minutes after I crossed the finish line before I finally left the race site with my family. My stomach was still a little topsy-turvy, but I decided I better get dinner (I had already had some food at the post-race area). I didn’t feel especially hungry right then, but I knew my body needed the energy! And even though I didn’t feel so hungry, I was able to eat a good meal at Chili’s, along with dessert. I finally got back to my hotel room around midnight that night, just as the last finishers should be crossing the finish line. Thankfully, the hotel had a bag of ice waiting for me! I was physically exhausted, but knew I couldn’t sleep yet anyways. So I took an ice bath. My legs would thank me for that in the morning. And then I finally got into bed, satisfied with a very long day.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Try to follow the drafting rules on the bike if you can, but don’t stress too much about them. Technically, the rule is that you have to leave 7 meters between you and the cyclist in front of you. Once you enter that zone, you have to pass and have to finish the pass in 20 seconds. If you don’t pass in that time, you can get a time penalty. Before the race, the refs announce the rule in a way to intimidate you. But in practice, as long as you’re trying to follow the rules, you’re very unlikely to get a penalty. The refs realize that it’s difficult to follow that rule when you’re going uphill, in thick crowds, near aid stations, or other situations.
  • SMILE. The. Whole. Time. Enjoy the race. I’m so happy I did this.
  • Train and race with a team, if you can. It made the training better. And it made race day so much easier. It really calmed my nerves to go to the course together and know my teammates were out there with me. And now we can all relive it together.
  • Do talk to fellow athletes. This goes with the enjoy the race. It’s a lot more pleasant that way, and you encourage each other on.
  • Do high five everyone. Especially the little kids. They love it, and it gives you more energy. The crowds are great and their energy can lift you up, if you let it.
  • Do put something sweet in your special needs bags. You might end up not wanting or needing it, but it’s really good to have it there waiting for you if you do want it.
  • If you see your family and want to stop for them, do. You might not see them again. I wish I ran back that 20 feet to hug my husband and the rest of my family at the end of lap two on the run. I was sure I would see them again in the middle of lap three, but I didn’t. (After the race, I saw all the photos on my camera of my family, and saw how much they had walked around the course. I was again overwhelmed with emotion. We only managed to see each other twice on race day, but they were there the whole time.)

14 Days Since Ironman Arizona!

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Sometimes The Stars Seem To Align

Sometimes the stars seem to align. They certainly did several times during my race last Sunday. It might be as close as I’ve ever come to perfect in a race. Sure, there were things I could have done a little better, things I will improve for next time (whether next time is an Olympic distance or full Ironman). But I had an amazing race on Sunday, and I’m very happy with how I did. I’ll still do a full race report soon (with more reflection on some of those things that I maybe could improve on for next time), but for now I want to mention those moments when the stars aligned. And ponder the question facing every newly minted Ironman athlete: Do I want an M-Dot tattoo? And where?

By far the most important of these moments was in the last mile of the bike course. My husband was landing in Phoenix at noon, so I spent much of the ride wondering how he was doing. As I closed in on the bike-to-run transition around 3:45 PM, I spotted the green “Team Rowfit” shirts my family was wearing. “Mom, dad” I shouted. As they looked up, I saw Jeremy back behind them, grinning back at me. And then I was gone before it even fully registered. But as I rode into transition, tears of joy started rolling down my face. Jeremy was here for me. Seeing him there made me happier than I can even describe. I was completely and unexpectedly overcome with emotion. That emotion stayed with me as I changed in T1 with the biggest grin on my face. And the tears didn’t dry up until I was a half-mile into the run. [At left, the photo my grandpa got of me as I passed them at mile 111.5 on the bike]

The morning started off right getting out of bed. Sometimes, when you wake up for a race, you just feel “on.” I felt very “on” for this race. My energy levels were way up, my stomach felt great, my muscles felt fully rested and strong. At our 4:40 AM pre-race pow wow in my coach’s hotel room, things just felt right. This was my race, today was my day. And my team managed to stick together through the chaos of getting to the course and setting up our gear in pre-race transition. We gave each other final high fives moments before we all jumped into the water to swim to the start line. IMAZ started on the right note.

The stars definitely aligned on my swim. I had goggle issues on our practice swim, so I was a little worried going into the swim. But my goggles were perfect on race day. No fogging and no filling with water. Even though someone swam right into me before the start, my goggles were fine, and I didn’t need to adjust them once. More details on the swim to come in my full race write-up, but for now I’ll just say that my confidence for the whole day went way up as I became more confident with every stroke. For me to go from needing to rest after every length of the pool in January to finishing an Ironman swim in 2:03 in November is simply incredible.

The stars aligned again in my swim-to-bike transition. As I ran towards my bike, I saw Paul standing there, waiting for me. Paul, who first got me into marathons and triathlons so many years ago. Paul, who went for open water training swims at Ohio Street Beach with me whenever he could. Paul, who did the Big Shoulders 5k swim with me. We hugged, and he told me I looked good. And I had a little more strength as I ran into the T1 changing tent. I would see Paul again in my third lap of the run (when I told him that I had just passed his boyfriend a couple miles ago, so Damon was close behind me), and I would see Paul again with 200 yards to go to the finish line as I was on my way to becoming an Ironman.

Even though the bike takes the most time, it passes the quickest in my memory. I love cycling, and this race was no exception. But a couple moments still stand out when things were just going right. A couple miles into my first lap, I saw my coach going the other direction, almost done with her first lap. She shouted out to me, and I could hear the relief in her voice to see me on the bike. Her voice reminded me what I already knew: once I was on the bike, the hardest part was over for me. It might take me all day, but I would finish. I grinned and cycled on. I would also see most of my other teammates during the ride, and every time I passed one of them I smiled, knowing I was not out there alone.

I also got in my “good karma” moment of the day on the bike. In the second lap of the bike, I stopped for the restroom. As I got off my bike, I overheard someone asking “do you have any ibuprofen?” His friend didn’t, but I did and volunteered “I have a couple if you need them.” I knew my most likely point to need them was right after I finished the swim, so by now I was comfortable giving away a couple. And it made me feel good to be able to help someone else.

The stars aligned again as my nutrition worked perfect on the run. I had trained mostly with gu, because it was most readily available at the store and because it was on course. But I slightly preferred the taste and feel of honey stinger chomps. So in the days leading up to the Ironman, I decided to use honey stingers. I ran out of time to get them before leaving Chicago, but after a lot of searching found them in Arizona. By halfway through the run, most of the stuff at the aid stations sounded kind of gross. I couldn’t even think about stomaching the gu. I was very happy to be taking just water from the aid stations and using my own honey stingers (along with my protein-carb drink mix and salt stick).

After the finish, I saw Jeremy waiting for me at the far-end of the finisher chute. I was again overcome with emotion. I was so happy to see him there. More than anyone else in the world, he was who I wanted to see. He called my parents and we talked for five minutes before they got there. I eventually made my way over to get food and find my team for a post-race team photo. I later learned that my Aunt Mary, in Los Angeles, saw me finish on the streaming live Ironman webcast. She had happened to turn the webcast on and there I was! Wow. [Photo: me immediately post-race talking to my dad.]

 

 

 

And the stars aligned one more time the day after the race. While blogging about my preparation for this race, I “met” Beth, the “Iron Turtle.” On the bike course, I saw a sign her teammate said “Go Beth! Iron Turtle!” I smiled and thought “I know who that is,” and planned to tell her about it later online. So imagine my surprise to meet her in person. Monday after the race, I returned to the race site with my family to pick up my special needs bags and stop by the Ironman merchandise store. The store line was long, so I left my grandparents in line while I went to get my special needs bags. They were talking about the race and Beth, who happened to be in line right behind them, heard them mention Chicago. She asked, “your grandson did this race and he’s from Chicago? What’s his name?” “Jeff.” Oh my god, I’ve “met” your grandson via his blog. When I came back with my special needs bags, I was introduced. And so after reading each other’s blogs this past year, we had a chance to meet each other and chat after the race. Out of 2700 athletes there, we happened to stand next to Beth in line. Congratulations Beth! Turtles CAN fly! The stars align.

More to come in my full race write up. For now, suffice to say that it was a very good race.

6 days since Ironman Arizona.

Tomorrow is My Race, But I Don’t Really Race Alone

Less than 24 hours until the cannon goes off to start Ironman Arizona. My bike is already racked in transition, my bike gear and run gear bags already checked in. The practice swim is done. Tonight I will join my teammates for a final dinner, return to my hotel room to finalize my bike special needs and run special needs bag, and try to get some sleep. And tomorrow is my race. No matter what else happens on race day, it is my race. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. This is about doing what I can do.

But I don’t race alone. Nobody reaches the start line of an Ironman alone. I could not be here without all the support from family, teammates, and friends. And as I do my final preparations, I want to thank those that have helped me along the way.

Most important, thanks to my loving husband, Jeremy. Admittedly, he has not always been thrilled with how much time I’ve spent training. I know he’s been more frustrated with it than he lets on. But he’s put up with me. He’s tried to be understanding because he knows how important this race is to me. He’s let me borrow his car to drive to early morning training rides and races, when he would much rather me be home in bed with him. He’s been excited to hear about my races and asked if I won, even though he would rather be spending the day together. And he will be there waiting for me at the finish line (and he’s promised to bring brownies for me), and that will keep me going through those long run miles. And I promise him, after the race I am ready for some down time from training so we can spend some quality time together. Jeremy, I love you, and I can’t wait to see you at the finish line!

Next a huge thank you to my coach and teammates at Rowfit! Without you, my Ironman dream would still be just a dream. My coach, Nell, inspired me to dream big, convinced me that I could learn to swim in a year, and told me that it would all be worth it. She has put in so much time and care in designing our training plan. She has helped us with nutrition concerns, with injury prevention and treatment, with technique issues, and with race plans. She has pushed me when I need to go faster, but perhaps more important told me to scale back when I push too hard. And my teammates have been just as critical. They have been the people I can share my concerns, victories, and goals with. Without Nell, Eric, Morgan, Doug, and Dan, all of those long hours biking on the trainers, biking outside, running on the track, swimming at Ohio Street Beach, and racing would have been unbearable. We will all conquer this race tomorrow, together. Go Team Rowfit!

Another huge thank you to my family coming out to see me race. My parents are driving in from San Francisco and my grandparents are driving in from Las Vegas. After years as an athlete, this is only the second race they are able to see me in (the other was Head of the Charles when I rowed in undergrad). It means a lot to have them there for me. I can’t wait to see their faces as I run around that course, again and again. I am so glad this course is so spectator friendly (three laps on the bike and run — meaning multiple viewing opportunities). My dad even asked if I want to get breakfast together on race morning, even though he knew breakfast would be at 4 am and he doesn’t expect to be in Tempe until 11 pm tonight (I politely declined — I’ll be eating breakfast in my room as I race around getting ready for the day!).

Thank you to everyone who has donated to support my fundraising efforts. Together we raised $650 for Ironman Foundation and $567 for Challenged Athletes Foundation! Wow! My smile will be that much brighter as I cross that finish line, knowing I’m doing it not just for myself, but for other incredible athletes. I had a chance to stop by the CAF tent at the Ironman Expo and learn about some of the athletes with physical disabilities who will be in Ironman Arizona. It humbles me to be able to support these athletes.

And finally, thank you to all the friends who have encouraged me along the way. You have listened as I talk on and on about races and training. You have asked about my training and races. You have wished me good luck. You have understood when I missed dinner plans, parties, and other events because of my training. And your excitement makes a huge difference to me.

Tomorrow. I. Will. Be. An. Ironman. IMAZ 2012. Here. I. Come.

15 Hours Till Ironman Arizona.

Pre-Race Training Totals

So all year long I’ve kept a detailed training log over at beginnertriathlete.com. This log includes the obvious: workout distances, speed, time, heart rate data, route data, and other notes on workouts. But it also includes tons more. My morning resting heart rate every day, my weight every morning, how much I slept, how fatigued and how sore I felt, what I ate, whether I was injured or sick, and any other relevant notes.

Obviously the main goal of all this data tracking is so I can see how different workouts, nutrition, and other factors affect my body. But it means now I also have all sorts of fun data on my year. So far: I have biked 2079 miles; I have run 350 miles; I have swam 74,335 yards (about 42 miles); I have done 69 crossfit WODs; I have done 7 olympic lifting classes; and I have done 90 minutes of yoga, 13 hours of rowing, and 45 minutes of ice skating! Those numbers might sound really high, but relative to most Ironman training plans, they’re actually very low. But what those numbers don’t capture is the intensity of those miles. Many of those miles were part of hard interval workouts. A workout might have called for six 400 meter sprints. Even adding in a mile warmup and a mile cooldown, that’s only 3.5 miles run. But that 3.5 miles is a lot harder than just going out and running steady the same distance.

Which is all to remind me that my year-to-date mileage dwarfs my race distance on Sunday. Getting to the start line is over half the battle. And I am ready to be at the start line. I am well trained and ready. And now I just need to rest and make sure my body is really ready for the race ahead.

Having this data helps in other ways as well. I now have a treasure-trove of data on what nutrition does and does not work for me in long workouts. I have detailed notes on what, how much, and when I ate and drank during every single long workout and race this year. I know how I paced myself during all my long workouts, and how I felt after. I can review how my diet in the days leading up to a big race may have impacted the race. I don’t have time to read through my whole log of course, but I do plan to review my notes on past key workouts and races. I already have a pretty good idea of my pacing and nutrition strategies for Ironman Arizona, most of which I’ve tested many times over. But reviewing my data one more time will help me do the final fine-tuning on my strategies.

So excited!

5 days till Ironman Arizona!!

Help me raise money for Challenged Athletes Foundation!

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, I have spent the past year training for Ironman Arizona — I race on November 18! It’s been an incredible journey, both personally and athletically. I’ve been an endurance athlete for years, but until recently an Ironman seemed like a distant dream. It was something I knew I’d love to do someday, but actually doing it seemed daunting and overwhelming. An Ironman involves 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike, and 26.2 miles run, all in a single day. Getting from a distant dream to a soon-to-be reality has involved countless hours of swimming, biking, and running, including going from barely finishing a single length of the pool in January to now being able to swim three miles open water in Lake Michigan. Along the way I have learned a lot about my inner strength and self-reliance, pushing my goals beyond where I thought I could. For more on my training, see my training blog (the blog you’re at now!).
I registered for a charity entry to the race, and I was very enthusiastic about that when I first registered last November. Then with the training, that fell by the wayside. Now with race day three weeks away, I’m renewing my commitment to that charity entry. That’s where you come in. I’m writing to ask for a donation in support of my training efforts. I’m first trying to raise my $650 commitment to the Ironman Foundation. The Ironman Foundation supports community organizations in the cities and communities where Ironman races are held. I know a lot of major races “swoop” in on a city and don’t necessarily support the community. So I think it’s really cool to actually help support the community.
But my real goal is to continue raising money after that to donate to Challenged Athletes Foundation. Challenged Athletes Foundation supports athletes with physical disabilities. This includes work through clinics, mentorship, and grants for adaptive equipment. I know what a big difference athletics has made in all areas of my life, and I think the work CAF does is incredible in bringing that gift of athletics to people that would not otherwise have it. I count my blessings that I am able-bodied enough to be able to train for an event like the Ironman, and reap the immense personal, social, and psychological benefits, and I want to use my race to help bring some of those same benefits to others.
I’m also organizing a bar night to help with my fundraising efforts. The bar night will be on Saturday, November 10, at The Call (1547 W Bryn Mawr). If you’re in Chicago, I’d love to see you there. Ask me for more details. I’m organizing a raffle as part of that bar night, and have already obtained some prize donations.
Please donate whatever you are able. Every donation helps. To donate, click here!
Thanks for your support! Help me cross the finish line on November 18!
Jeff

BIA Retest… Much Better!

Last week I wrote about how I went to get my body fat measured, and was surprised to instead learn I was a little dehydrated. So I followed my coach’s advice. Over the past week, I’ve been sprinkling salt on my food again. And especially, during long workouts, I’ve made sure to take in electrolytes.

Tonight, I redid the body fat analysis. This time my intracellular hydration was in the target range. Still at the low end of the target (in the spring, when I first did this, it was higher), but in the target. And my body fat was 9.5%. A bit higher than hoped for, but very much in the range I expected.

So tonight’s results tell me two things. First, I can still take in more salt. Although once I start tapering, that will be easier — fewer long workouts will mean a lot less salt lost to sweat. Second, I can definitely lose 4 or 5 pounds without losing muscle mass. As my coach said, I’m at a level that it’s not critical for me to lose weight. She agreed losing 4 or 5 pounds would help me if I can do it, but said I shouldn’t worry too much about it. There are other things that will impact my race a lot more than that weight. I’ll try to lose a few pounds, but if I don’t, no big worries.

25 days till Ironman Arizona!!

Unexpected Results: Dehydrated?

Back in February and March, I had my body composition tested as part of a nutrition program at my gym. I had 10.4% body fat the first time, and even lower, around 8% the second time. Really good numbers. Not quite as low as elite male athletes, but lower than most recreational male athletes, and far lower than the general male population.

I decided to get this test done again now, in the final run up to the Ironman. I want to lose 5-8 pounds before the Ironman. Before I get too aggressive about losing weight though, I want to see where my body fat is. Losing weight by losing a lot of muscle is not good! Being lighter weight means less weight to carry around the course. And for the run, that’s a really big deal. When I set my marathon PR in 2010 (in San Francisco of all places), I weighed 155 pounds — about 12 pounds lighter than now!

I was expecting my body fat to be around the same. My eating patterns have stayed fairly consistent, extremely healthy. I’ve put on a few pounds, but probably mostly muscle. I did not expect the results I got: 13% body fat! Now, 13% is considered very healthy by average male standards. But given my earlier results, it was not expected. But, my coach pointed out my intracellular fluid was down. My target should be 60+% intracellular fluid. In the beginning of the year, I had around 66%. This time, 58%. And dehydration can impact the test, skewing the results. Okay, so that body fat reading might be a little off, and make more sense.

But how could I be dehydrated? I am constantly drinking water. I use the restroom every hour or two. And I knew hydration was important for this test, so I had especially thought about drinking water in the days right before the test. I did have a long bike ride on Sunday, and did the test on Tuesday, but I thought I had fully rehydrated.

And then my coach hit on the problem. Salt. Without replacing enough salt, all that water passes through me. I knew this, of course, for proper water absorption, you need electrolytes. This is why marathoners who drink just plain water can have major problems. In endurance workouts, I think about electrolyte replacements. But I don’t think about it otherwise. I wasn’t trying to avoid salt in my diet. But I also wasn’t thinking much about adding it to my food. And I prepare a lot of my food fresh. And often with very minimal, if any, seasoning. Sure, I have things like canned beans and such that give me salt. But all my fresh veggies don’t.

I went in to the test expecting to learn how aggressively I could try to lose weight. I went out of the test with the surprising lesson that I need to be thinking about having enough salt in my food over the next month. My intracellular fluid levels will do a lot more for my Ironman performance than 5-8 pounds of body weight! Fortunately, that’s an easy enough fix. No major diet changes, just start sprinkling salt on my veggies and other dishes I prepare at home.

32 Days till Ironman Arizona!!