Monday, October 19, 2015

Underdone...Getting to the Start Line Healthy

The question I get asked most often in my line of work is, 'with the amount of training you do, have you ever been injured'?  While the answer is yes, most of those injuries were due to trauma during my college soccer career or more recently the odd bike crash or uneven side walk ankle sprain.  There are a couple of key elements I rely on to stay injury free and to help keep my training on track.

One of the most important factors, which can not be overlooked, when training for an Ironman is arriving to the start line healthy and ready for the day.  I hear a lot of athletes concerned that they can't take time off because they'll miss there 100 mile ride or 18 mile run and it will set their training back.  Unfortunately, even if you do make it through that 100 mile ride or 18 mile run you're going to start developing compensation patterns, likely contributing to tissue breakdown and more pain at another point in your body (right foot hurts, continue to run, now left knee hurts type of thing).  Even still, if you manage to 'deal with it' and make it through and get yourself to the start line that small niggle you 'dealt with' may no be a small niggle after a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and X amount of running.  After all the training, time, money, sacrifices and emotional energy spent on getting to the start line you don't want to put yourself in a position of having to pull out of the Ironman marathon.

It's much better to be a little undertrained and healthy than over trained and battling injury when you toe the line before your 140.6 mile journey (or even your 70.3 or 5150 journey).  Below I've outlined some the key factors that have helped me stay healthy and ready to race on the big day.

As a lifelong athlete and trained physical therapist I understand I have a slight advantage here.  Become familiar with your body, learn to differentiate between muscle soreness and aches from and true injury pain.  Work to improve your mechanics in all 3 sports - have a functional analysis done so you can learn where your areas of weakness are.  If pain is presenting itself review when you've been doing to take care of your body that your asking so much from: have you been foam rolling? stretching? mobility routine? strength training?  If you feel confident in the ability to identify what may be bothering you try to address it yourself with the above mentioned techniques.  If you can't make improvements in 1-2 weeks see a qualified health professional for an assessment and to get you on the right track.

Post massage with coach Kim!
If the pain has been around for 2 weeks or more it's better to get in to see a professional sooner rather than later.  Our bodies our very adaptable and we will find ways to alter our gait, stroke or pedal stroke so that we can continue training.  This is when we develop compensation patterns, now the right calf pain that originally bothered you has turned into left knee pain.  If you aren't confident in identify your cause of injury seek help right away.  It may not take more than 1 or 2 visits to address if you catch it early enough.

Having a coach has helped me develop as an athlete far more than I could have ever imagined.  I was
sick just 3 weeks out from race day at IM Chattanooga - so sick I couldn't soft pedal for more than 45-50 minutes.  With the guidance from my coach we altered the plan and confidently attacked the new plan once I was healthy.  It worked out great and I had my best race to date.  Without her knowledge or guidance I may have continued to force my way through workouts, never fully recovering from the illness and not getting any stronger from the workouts.  Having a coach helps bring a fresh objective perspective to your training plan and can help keep you on track when things seem to be falling apart.

Throughout your season make sure to continue strength training 1-2x week.  Most triathletes will
benefit from hip stabilization and scapular stabilization exercises to help prevent injury.  Our small stabilizers are required for efficient and pain free movement patterns both in the upper and lower extremities.  A good and simple place to start is Dr. Metzl's Iron Strength routine.

When your plan calls for a recovery session, treat it as such!  Use your heart rate monitor or RPE scale to keep this session entirely in your recovery zone.  These sessions help keep tissue flexible and increase blood flow to tissues without taxing cardiovascular system.  Put your ego aside, slow down and enjoy.  The hard work will come soon enough.

Don't underestimate the benefits of a regular massage.  Massage can help with recovery and help prevent injury.  For most people massage also offers a mental benefit as well!  Find a good massage therapist in your area and try to get in at least 1x every month.

Enjoy you down time!
Give yourself an off-season.  Take a mental and physical break from the training.  An off-season allows your body to fully recover from a years worth of high volume training.  Tissues will regenerate and heal during this down time.   This off season will also allow you to feel more fresh mentally when you return to training.  Depending upon the amount of time you spent training this year you might benefit from 2-4 weeks completely off!  This time off will help you reach new levels in you next year so you can look forward to being stronger and faster!  For most people in the states we aren't trying to win a January championship so it's ok to get a little out of shape while you let your body heal and recover, and it will actually help you get in better shape once your training resumes.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

IM Chattanooga 2015 Race Report

After a textbook learning experience at Ironman Texas earlier this year I was eager to have another chance at 140.6 later in the year.  Lucky for me I was already registered for Chattanooga in late September.  Chattanooga was a great host city and all around awesome event.  The course was challenging and fun and the support was top notch.

THE SWIM - 1:07:01 - 2.4 Miles - 23rd AG

Cruising out of the Water
With the rain leading up to race day I was hopeful that we might be wetsuit legal (I'll take any help I can get on the swim!).  Unfortunately the water temp was 77.1, making it a wetsuit optional race (those wearing wetsuits are ineligible for awards or Kona slots).  This is the best river swim I've ever experienced, the water is clear enough to see feet and people next to you and there were no foul smells/tastes.  I pulled on my Xterra Speedsuit as the line began to rapidly move.  I was calm as we approached the swim start.  Once I crossed over the timing mat it was go time.  I jumped in and told
myself this is going to be a fast swim, keep working hard.  Thankfully the course is pretty easy to navigate and I was able to hang on to feet for a good portion of this race.  I felt good about this swim as I approached the swim exit.  We were told the current would be less than 2014 but I really wasn't sure how that would affect my swim time.  Turns out the current was less than 1/3 of 2014 and when measured from a boat clocked 0.1mph.  Overall this was a good swim for me, highest rank in my AG that I've come out of the water at an IM so there's that.

T1 - 4:03

There is a decent amount of running to get up to transition, but I felt strong exiting the water and had to pull out the 'on your left' just to get through transition quickly.  At the top of the ramp I was excited to see Adam and Mindy cheering their faces off.  Always good to get a boost before heading out for 116 miles of pedal pushing.

THE BIKE - 5:29:32 - 116 Miles - 1st AG

Going into this race one of my key goals for myself was to stick to the plan!  Holy cow, what a lesson in patience sticking to the plan was.  There were a lot of eager beavers going pretty hard in the first 20 miles of the bike course.  It was very strange for me to get passed by a lot of people on the bike.  There was one girl, in my age group, that would stand up and hammer every hill during those first 20 miles.  There were times where I wanted to go with her and in those moments I told myself I'd see her again on the bike course and this race is more than just a 116 mile bike ride.  We're saving some beats for a marathon!  I started catching/passing a lot of people around mile 35-40 which was a good confidence booster.  As I approached mile 50 I started hearing a rubbing sound from what I thought was my front wheel.  I began bargaining with my wheels, 'no flats, no flats...I swear I'll get really good at changing a flat this off season, I just don't want to deal with that right now.'  The front wheel didn't look low on air and it didn't feel low on air so I figured I'd keep riding and check it at special needs at mile 52.  Just about that time a guy I had passed rode up next to me,
"Bike problems"? he asked.
"Yeah, I think something is rubbing on my front wheel."
"No, I think it's your rear wheel."
Rolling out of T1
Ahhh, relief!  I knew right away it was the sticker I had used to cover the port to the valve stem.  I looked over my left shoulder and saw the sticker flapping in the wind.  I figured I'd pull it off when I stopped to grab my bottles at special needs.  Lucky for me it actually flew off prior to special needs, which was also a relief and made my special needs stop very quick.

Once through special needs it wasn't long until I started loop 2.  I knew the first part of the loop would be a tad slower than the 2nd part and just kept working the plan.  Shortly after starting loop 2 I had my friend Tom in my sights.  We had entered to water just about the same time and he swam about 7 minutes faster than me so I was hoping to catch him on the bike.  After exchanging some how are you's and how's your race going I was reeling in the others I had seen hammering at the beginning.  I rode through mile 85 feeling strong and confident.   I reeled in a couple more girls in my AG before the end of the loop and then made the turn to head back to Chattanooga.  There seemed to be a slight tailwind for the beginning of the trip north, awesome I'll take it!  This part of the ride was mostly uneventful, aside from the one intersection where 3 guys (clearly drafting) ahead of me basically stopped while cops let cars go through.  My heart sank a bit as I stopped pedaling for a second, but the cops were on it and had traffic stopped as I approached.  Aside from catching different small groups of people the last 30-40 miles of this ride were kind of lonely.  I approached the dismount line feeling great and excited to run a marathon! I slipped my feet out of my shoes about 1/4 mile from transition and executed a great flying dismount before handing my bike off to one of the awesome volunteers.

T2 - 2:00

Ran through grabbed my gear bag and into the far end of the change tent where the most light was.  I had 3 volunteers helping me.  One grabbed water while the others pulled stuff out of my gear bag.  Socks and shoes when on, helmet off, visor on and I was off.  The volunteers handed me my race belt as I stood up.  As I rounded the corner outside of the change tent I realized that I didn't take my handheld bottle of Osmo.  I considered turning around for it for a brief second, but decided to carry on and just hydrate from all aid stations.

THE RUN - 3:59:57 - 6th AG

Feeling strong on the Run
As I came out of the run I wasn't sure where exactly I was placement wise in my age group, through I knew I was probably toward the front.  I got a good boost from my personal cheering section of family members as I exited transition.  I settled into a sustainable pace as I got the legs going.  It wasn't long before I saw Adam and Mindy, again cheering their faces off, near mile 1.  I ran through the aid station take water and ice while on the move.  The first 5 miles or so aren't too scenic but made for a nice mostly flat section to really get into a rhythm.  I was feeling great and was able to keep getting in my planned nutrition without issue.  I remember passing one girl in my age group on that first section of the run, I was confident I wouldn't see her again.  Once done with the riverwalk
we made the turn to cross Veteran's Bridge and head to North Shore for some hills!  I got to see Coach Kim running as 3rd Pro on her 2nd loop.  She actually managed a slight thumbs up as we passed.  I felt super strong on the hills, got a nice boost seeing Rory and Kara as I made my way up the first hill.  The loop around the hilly North Shore went well and before I knew it I was headed back down that first hill towards Walnut St Bridge.  As I ran by Kara was an awesome cheerleader but I noticed my brother was missing.  Then his voice came over a megaphone, haha, I had no clue how he managed that one!  I tried to give a little fist pump to let him know I heard.  As I made my way past mile 12 and toward the halfway point of the marathon I was thinking wow this marathon thing is kind of fun (when do I ever think this, especially during an Ironman?).

Just before coming off Walnut St Bridge I got passed by the 1st Place Pro female and felt super awesome for about 5 seconds as I got to run behind her biker.  Just after the pass my mom and cousins were there cheering me on.  I made may way down the path to begin loop 2.   Just at the beginning of the loop I ran through special needs, unfortunately the volunteers misheard my number and pulled 979 instead of 579.  Frustrating as I had to slow down to wait for them to pull the correct bag, but luckily the young man who came running over with mine obliged when I said 'run with me' and dug my nutrition out of the bag.  The 2nd loop was great, more people on the course and more people out cheering further onto the course.  I stuck to my plan and tried to keep my rhythm as best I could.

I knew there was at least one strong athlete (Elyse) behind me by a few minutes when we started the run.  Having made it through miles 14, 15, 16...without seeing her I was feeling pretty confident.  At mile 17 I caught a glimpse of her as she ran up alongside me.  This was just around the time when I started debating whether or not a port-o-potty stop was going to be necessary.  Well, decision made, not necessary, ever.  Not when you're actually about to have to race the last 9 miles of an Ironman.  Luckily, with a competitive distraction my stomach didn't talk to me again.  Elyse slid in behind me as we ticked off 5 more miles.  I didn't look over my shoulder once, I just hoped she was falling off pace because there was nothing more I could give.  As we made our way over Veteran's Bridge for the 2nd time and neared mile marker 22 she took off like someone had lit a fire under her bum.  I knew that I had started the swim behind her which gave me a little cushion but I had no clue as to how much.  I tried to keep her in my sights, which worked slightly until mile 23ish.  My legs were not handling the hills nearly as well as they did the first time around and my pace was falling off a bit.  I made it through mile 24, luckily without vomiting when I was offered fried chicken and biscuits from a neighborhood kiddo.  At this point I was pulling out some mental tricks reminding myself the body does what the mind tells it to, the mind is not tired, the body is not tired, keep running!  I knew once I was through mile 25 that the adrenaline would help carry me through the last mile.  Adam was there to cheer me over Walnut St Bridge before making his way to capture a finishline video.  As I rounded the corner off the bridge I was disappointed to hear someone yell 1/2 mile downhill to the finish.  Whhhaatttttt, no it has to be closer, I've been running forever!

As I rounded the final turn I could see the crowds building and the red carpet that marked the finish line chute.  I was there, I had made it and I didn't dare check my watch.  At that point, the time didn't matter. What mattered was celebrating the great race I had put together and enjoying the moment.  This was one of the first times that I had the finish chute completely to myself.  I saw my mom and cousins, threw my arms up and made it under the arch after a completely awesome 144.6 mile journey.
FINISH TIME - 10:42:33 - 3rd AG, 15th Amateur

This was by far the best race I've put together, especially for a full distance.  This was the first time in a full that I got off the bike excited to run, ready to run, and felt completely in control of my run rather than suffering through and seeing how long I lasted.  I was able to successfully employ some mental strategies on the run, which no doubt helped me get that sub-4 I've been in the hunt for.  The biggest factor in getting that sub-4 is probably actually my competition, which pushed me harder and farther than I've ever been pushed in a race.  The greatest respect you can give an opponent is to show them your best.

Women's 25-29 Podium
After a few hours of recovery and finding food that would cooperate with my stomach I started to come back to life.  Adam and I were able to head down to cheer in some midnight finishers with friends from DC.  After a night of not too much sleep we made our way to awards and Kona allocation on Monday morning.

We knew it would be close and that it would probably take a roll down for me to be punching a ticket to Kona.  A roll down wasn't completely out of the question as we'd heard the first place finisher wan't quite sure if she was going to take it so I had some hope.  We also had to cross our fingers for 2 slots initially allocated to my age group.  There was some changing of slot allocation due to wetsuit and non-wetsuit competitors and we were happy to hear that we would have 2 slots!  First and second took there well earned slots, but we stuck around with the hope that there would perhaps be a reallocated slot from an older age group.  I knew this was a long shot, but thought since the other age groups had 3 slots already we *might* get a 3rd before any of them got a 4th.    You can see how the reallocation went in the video below...

A slight bummer, but overall I can't be disappointed with the performance I had.  I'm proud of the race I put together and am already looking forward to the next one.  I checked off all 3 outcome goals I had set for the year at Chatt so a very successful day on my part.  I did everything I could under my control and with that I can't get down.  Missing out on Kona by 3 minutes only adds fuel to the fire.

First off thank you to my coach, Kim of Fuel Your Passion, for everything.  It was awesome sharing the course with her in Chattanooga and celebrating a pair of 3rd's together (3rd place pro for her).  We've come a long way in the 18 or so months that I've been working with her and I'm excited to see what 2016 brings.

Thank you to my mom, Adam, Rory, Kara, Gary, Aunt Sue & Uncle Jerry, Cousin Jeff and Kara, Cousin Brandy, Danielle and Mackey, Cousin Jennifer, Vincent and Olivia and my friend and teammate Mindy for your amazing on course support, especially during the run.  It was a truly special day and you all played a major role in that!

Thank you to my sponsors Snapple Tri Team, DC Tri Club, Rose Physical Therapy Group, District Taco, Osmo Nutrition, Louis Garneau, Xterra Wetsuits, and TrainingPeaks for helping make 2015 an unforgettable year.