Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tri Santa Cruz

Last Sunday I lined up at a race in Santa Cruz. They were offering a small prize purse and I figured it was a great way to get in a good workout and hopefully win some prize money. Truth be told, the paycheck I wanted to earn was first place.

Swim Start. Luckily, they moved the fence out of the way.
They set the buoys and all of us watching from the beach knew the course was going to be a bit short.  We ran into the water and started swimming. I did not have the greatest first loop and felt a bit blah. I was just behind the first woman when we ran up on the beach. Honestly, I was surprised about that. It was one of those moments where I was sure I was way behind everyone. 

Dancing around the buoy on the beach. I almost bit it slipping on kelp.
Getting out, running on the beach, and then diving back in always makes my arms burn quite a bit. This feeling usually goes away relatively quickly so I kept telling myself it was going to stop shortly and continued swimming hard. 

My dad has captioned this picture "scary shoulders."
I exited the swim just behind the women's leader and caught up with her as we got to transition after running 1/3 of mile from the beach. When I take off my wetsuit I often get the left leg stuck around my ankle but I had made sure to put the timing chip under the wetsuit and it made removal much easier! Clasping my helmet strap proved to be a little more difficult and took me five tries but I got it done. I hopped on the bike and moved into first place determined to put time into those behind me. The course was a four loop course. It was flat and straight except for a few slightly technical turns as we rode along the coast on West Cliff Drive. 

4 loops on the bike meant some work on cornering. I still could use some improvement.
I came to a right turn on the far end of the course during the first loop and while I was fairly certain I was supposed to turn right I questioned myself as I approached the intersection. I looked at the cop standing there, slowed down a bit and asked if I was supposed to turn. She watched me go by and then screamed "it's not my job to tell you that." Ummm..okay, but you are standing there in an official capacity and have seen a few other dudes make the turn....

I stopped quickly, went back around the median and continued riding. I lost my lead for :10 while trying to get clipped in but then I got rolling again and moved back into the lead. I quickly forgot about this little mishap and was happy I realized my mistake and only lost a small amount of time. Plus, now I knew the course for the final three loops.

The course was pretty clear the second loop and then started to get more crowded the final two times around. I rode hard but was also conscious of what was going on around me. I did want to screw anyone else up or do something stupid and be unable to finish the race.

It is always nice to stand on the top step.
I made it to the run with a lead and ran out to the turnaround at a hard, but controlled, effort. I still had a lead so I continued with my pace and crossed the line in first place. I had a fun morning racing in Santa Cruz! It was truly an enjoyable way to get in a solid effort and earn a paycheck. Next up is Pacific Grove. A little (well, maybe a lot of) kelp and draft legal action--should be fun and challenging. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tri at the Grove---Year #3

For the last three years I have gone to Cottage Grove, Oregon to do the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove. It is a fun, low key and grass roots type event held in a beautiful location. Race day has you parking close to transition and hopping into a warm and calm lake for the swim, riding amongst the evergreens and winding along the lake for the ride and running next to the lake for an out and back run. Nothing is too crowded, everything is accessible and you can really focus on having a great experience whether it is your first triathlon or one of many you have raced.

Instead of words I will illustrate with pictures (and a few words):


The Pro panel before the race. We offer tips, answer questions and share our past experiences.


We talked about transitions and how to keep it simple.

The swim start for the Olympic distance race. There is a sprint distance as well that goes off first. Buoys are plentiful and sighting is stress free with the calm water.

My new Roka goggles were great for the sunny morning. We started at 8:31am. A perfect start time; not too early and not too late.

Finishing up the swim. Tip--make sure your PowerGel stays in your pocket when you pull your wetsuit on. I was looking for that gel during the run.

Heading back to transition after the bike. It is mostly flat with just a few rollers. 

The run is flat along the lake. It offers shade and some sunnier sections. There are blackberry bushes along the course as well. I did not stop to grab any although they would have been yummy.

Kate Bevilaqua and I have gone back and forth the past couple of years. It seems that I win in even years (12' and 14') and she has taken the odd years. We will see what happens next year!

I jumped back in the car after the race and headed back up to Portland for some time with family. That is the only reason I have the compression socks on---for the drive!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Vineman 70.3: Perspective and a bit of Frustration

Vineman is the closest thing I have to a hometown race. The race takes place one valley west in Sonoma County and the views, weather and terrain are all very similar to Napa. However, I heard we have better Cabernets in Napa County but that is besides the point.

I went to Windsor on Saturday afternoon for the pro meeting and to drop off my run gear in T2. I was feeling calm and not too nervous. After the meeting I headed back to the car, texted my homestay to say I was on my way and dug in my bags for my keys. They did not seem to be in there??? I took everything out, rummaged through the bag and found nothing. I turned around and searched by my shoes and in the auditorium for my keys. Nothing! Full on freak out mode commenced. Apparently, I had a bit more stress and anxiety than I thought I did. I called Andy, who was on his way to coach hockey, and basically flipped my lid to him on the phone. The keys were gone. They were not on the ground by the car or inside from what I could see when I peaked in the windows. My mind raced about getting prepared for the race, eating my dinner, relaxing and doing my series of rituals that keep me calm before the early AM start. I got off the phone with Andy (he was probably happy about that because I was being difficult) and searched my backpack one last time. Would you believe I found them in the side pocket I was sure I checked five times?!?!? I got to my homestay and was easily able to do all my preparations I was so concerned about before a very early dinner.

Out of the water in 3rd. Looking pissed and determined.
Photo courtesy of Endurapix.

Riding amongst the vines.
Photo courtesy of Endurapix.
 Instead of the play by play for the race I will give you the main bullet points:

*I had a mediocre swim start, get caught up with others, escaped and then swam all by myself the whole time. I felt good once I got going. I was only one minute behind Meredith and Laura which ticked me off a little bit. I would have hoped to lose less time---or none at all. Moving on...

*I don't like to see drafting by any of my fellow competitors on the bike. It makes me angry. I tried not to let this affect my race. I had never seen someone sitting up and riding DIRECTLY on a wheel like I did at the race.

*When you race some of the best in the sport you can often lose perspective on whether you are having a good race. I had times of frustration because I was convinced I was way behind. I rode my fastest split on the course.

*It was hotter on the run but I felt much better than last year. I pushed the pace in the middle when I got passed. This made the last couple of miles painful but that is racing.

*I finished with my best time on the course. However, I was still pissed off about the wheel sucker. What do you do? Yell at them? Call them out on twitter? Name them on your blog? Confront them after the race? Tell the official post race? None of this changes what happened. Does it help for the future?

Thoughts on this???

Photo courtesy of Endurapix.

On twitter Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara mentioned that professional triathletes seem to be lacking "chutzpah" at times. Maybe I did in this situation. Perhaps by saying nothing I am allowing the problem to persist. Or should I accept that people will probably always push the limits of the rules? That's kind of depressing...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My 8th Time at Escape from Alcatraz

I had been looking forward to Escape from Alcatraz 2014 since I failed to make it to the finish line in 2013. Alcatraz is my all time favorite race so having a "blemish" on my record was something that motivated me to return and redeem myself. It may seem like this could add some pressure but it actually kept me calm and allowed me to focus on what was most important--me and MY race. There were definitely plenty of distractions. For example, looking at the start list began to terrify me so I decided to quit looking. No matter how ready I am for a race I usually have a 20-60 minute period sometime during race week when I entertain thoughts of how badly I will be beaten, how I don't belong and just a general feeling of nauseousness and extreme anxiety. However, these feelings pass quickly and I tend to go back to feeling relatively relaxed and ready to execute my plan. I even had notes on the bike course to study since I spent quite a bit of time on the course before the race practicing the descents and other technical aspects of the 18 mile ride. This calmed me down and helped by giving me tasks to complete during the race. That way I did not get too ahead of myself and could stay in the moment.

Race week also included a fun diversion; filming a segment for KPIX 5 in San Francisco about the race. I was filmed riding the bike course, running up the sand ladder and doing some swimming at the Yacht Club. The clip aired for the first time on Friday morning and I think I was more nervous to see how it turned out than I was standing on the boat to start the race.

Taping a segment for KPIX 5 about the race. You can watch it here.
I slept well the night before the race and in fact, when I woke up I don't think I had moved all night. The morning was foggy and cool so I decided to forgo the visor on my new Rudy Project Wing57. I knew it could be even foggier over on the Great Highway and I did not want to risk being blinded with condensation on the visor. It was a bit of a bummer because I think the visor makes the helmet look even more badass!

I got everything set up in T1 and then I boarded the bus to head over to get on the boat. When I was sitting on the bus I got an awful sinking feeling like I had forgotten to do something when I set up my transition. I went over the steps in my head and realized I had put my shoes in transition with the toes facing out instead of the heel so you can just slip them on. I kept reminding myself that I would just have to pick up the shoe and put it on but I was panicked that I would end up putting the right shoe on the left foot so I kept reminding myself "the shoe on the left is for your right foot...DON'T FORGET." 

Swim Start
Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle
I got on the boat, hit the bathroom, did a short warm up with my stretch cords and pulled my wetsuit on. I decided to use the Roka Maverick Elite (vs. the Pro) for this race because of the cold water. The Elite has a bit of thicker neoprene in a few of the panels so I thought it would help keep me a little warmer without comprising my swimming ability. I also used my Roka neoprene hood with NO chin strap! It is so warm and comfy. 
Diving In
Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle
We lined up on the boat and I managed NOT to fall in which is my biggest fear when I climb over the railing. We dove off and like usual, the first few hundred yards were a bit frenzied. I got hit, kicked, bumped, dunked and drank an obscene amount of salt water. However, instead of making an escape from the fray by exiting stage right (or left or back) I stayed calm and allowed the storm to pass. Things eventually sorted themselves out and I ended up swimming next to Leanda for the remainder of the swim. I would like to say that I sighted on landmarks on the shore but in reality, I did not look at a thing. I kept the lead boat to the right and followed those around me. It was choppy in the middle and then smoothed back out as we got closer to shore. I took a good line onto the beach and exited the swim just ahead of Leanda.

Making it to the beach.
Photo from witsup.com
Photo: Rocky Arroyo, Endurapix.com
In an effort to build up some body heat I ran from the beach to my bike with my wetsuit pulled up all the way up. I hopped on my bike just behind Leanda and Laura Bennett and went about executing my bike plan. Basically, the plan was all about riding hard, maximizing my effort false flats and rollers and descending strongly.

Mixing it up on the bike.
Photo: Rocky Arroyo, Endurapix.com
I felt fairly strong on the bike and rode confidently and most importantly, without giving much thought to the women around me and their previous race results. I always try to remember that we race on the day and not on each other's past results. It would have been easy to get caught up in "well she has done this" chatter in my brain with the list of women on the start line but I ignored those thoughts and just raced. It was definitely fun out there. Surprisingly, I was not too cold either! I taped a plastic bag underneath my top like I did at Oceanside and this helped me stay warm on the descents. I focused on each climb/descent and before I knew it I was making my way down to Crissy Field and into T2. 

I remembered to put my shoes on the correct foot and headed out on the run. The legs were definitely feeling the ride but I felt pretty fairly strong running across Crissy Field. I hit the stairs up to the Golden Gate Bridge and no matter how good you feel these always spike the heart rate and make the legs burn. I steadily made my way up to the highest point on the course and then down to Baker Beach and up the infamous Sand Ladder. Getting to this part of the course is always tough but you know that once you make it to the top it is downhill or flat back to the finish line. Laura passed me just before the sand ladder and when I got onto Crissy Field I could still see her not too far ahead of me. I debated whether or not it was possible to reel her back in and I made a go at it but it became obvious pretty quickly that unless she fell apart (not likely, she is a good runner) I was probably not going to catch her. I kept pushing myself knowing that a best time on the course was a possiblity. I made it to the finish line in 2:25:52 which was a PR for the course and landed me in 7th place. Two years ago I was 4th and while that may look better on paper I think this was one of my strongest results to date. I was in the mix with some very talented women who I probably would not have been able to hang with a few years ago. 

Racing against these ladies is scary but a lot of fun.
Photo: Rocky Arroyo, Endurapix.com

My athlete Liz survived her first Escape. Now on to Coeur D'Alene.
Next up is some recovery and then Vineman 70.3. Keeping it fairly local this year---so many good races in my neck of the woods!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alcatraz: Then and Now

Escape from Alcatraz, my favorite race, is coming up this weekend. Given what happened to me last year I am excited to toe the line again this year. It will be my 8th time boarding the San Francisco Belle so I decided to take a look back at my history at this race.

The picture above is from my first Escape in 2006. I was living in Chicago and I had never seen hills like the ones on the bike and run courses. Everyone kept talking about the swim but I thought that was the easiest part of the day (aside from the cold). There are two ways to bike in Chicago; into the wind or with the wind. Technical descending is non-existent. Needless to say, I went backwards out of the water. However, the seed was planted and I wanted to come back. Finish time: 2:59.

2008 (I think).
In 2008 I returned and took 20+ minutes off my 2006 finish time. Finish time: 2:37 (ish).

I don't have any pictures from 2009 but I finished second overall amateur to earn my pro card from USA Triathlon. Finish time: 2:35-6 (ish). 

I think this is 2010 or 2011. I broke 2:30 that year and finished 7th. I was 8th in 2011 (no pictures).

2012 Swim Start
Making the pass for 4th 600m from the finish.
In 2012, I finished 4th in 2:26. Those off the boat before the horn shall remain nameless. But, if she was going so was I. I am in the pink cap next to the white cap on the right.

My only picture from the 2013 race (far left, bum to camera). I was terrified. The water "looked" so cold to me. And, it was. I ended up receiving heated saline IVs in Golden Gate park. I take some responsibility for this. I probably should have biked with my wetsuit on a'la Boise 70.3 a couple years back. 

Alcatraz 2014: Going Big for Ryder

When I was a freshman at Michigan we had graduate assistant coach, Jeanne Gibbons (now Brophy). She was an amazing coach and became a close friend. At Big Tens my freshman year I was completely freaking out before my preliminary heat of the 100 Breaststroke--I used to get so nervous I would cry! She put her hands on my shoulders, looked at me and said "set it up, first three strokes." She wanted me to believe in myself, execute my race and forget what was going on in the other lanes around me. If I set up my race she knew I would swim up to my potential because of all the hard work I had done that year. I will always remember that moment. Jeanne moved on to coach at Arizona but we always kept in touch and luckily, I would see her during the season at meets around the country. I watched her marry her husband Chris and build a family.

At Jeanne and Chris's wedding in Florida.
Jeanne and Chris Brophy.
 This past January Jeanne and Chris's seven month old son, Ryder, died unexpectedly. June 1 would have been his 1st birthday. I will be racing with thoughts of Jeanne, Chris, Ryder and her other children. Their motto is "go big for Ryder" so I will be doing that on Sunday. And, of course, I am going to set up my race with my first three strokes.

 For more information about Ryder please click this link. The Brophys want to help out a hospital that has given them so much.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Every year since I moved to California I have looked forward to Wildflower race weekend. TriCal does an amazing job of creating an awesome experience for everyone who comes to race and hang out at the lake. It is low key but serves up a killer course and lots of pain every year. Honestly, I think I forget how tough it is until I am on the course and then I wonder why the heck I like it so much. This year the Harris Creek ramp (photo below) started the suffering and it did not end until I crossed the finish line 4.5 hours later. However, once it's over I am already planning my return because with a course like that I don't think you ever really conquer it---you just try to come up with ways to deal with it more effectively the following year.

View from Cabin 12. Overlooking the "lake" and T1(b).
With the lake levels "low" (AKA non-existent) the swim was moved 2.2 miles away from the normal Lynch area transition. This definitely created a different dynamic to the race. For me, it met that I stirred up lots of lactic acid in my legs BEFORE jumping on my bike to climb up Beech Hill and then out of the park and this proved to be quite a challenge for me. 

The swim was WAY down there where you can see a little water. We ran through the dry lake bed to get to our bikes.
The ramp we had to run up after the swim. Ouch. My heart rate was a bit elevated at the top. (Photo from Laura Siddall)
 The swim went well for me. I felt great in the water. It was a perk to be following some guy named Doug (they told his name before we started) in a kayak. I took a peek behind me at a couple buoys to confirm no one was sitting on my feet and was motivated by the gap I had created. I came out of the water and threw on my shoes in T1(a) and started the run up the ramp. Since I was first out of the water there was quite a bit of cheering and lots of people getting ready to start their days. The energy was great but at this point my legs were not. However, it was right out of the swim so I took it one step at a time, tried not to over stride up the hill and then get a rhythm going on the rollers through the lake bed. I waffled with how hard to run...too hard and I would blow myself up and ride crappy at the beginning of the bike but not hard enough and everyone would catch me??? Well, as it turns out I should have just run super hard because my legs felt terrible anyway when I got on the bike. I mean, really, I don't know how much worse they could have felt.

Doing what I could on the bike. (Photo Credit: Eric Larson, Trilounge.com)
For all those who have not done Wildflower the bike is hilly most of the ride. Once you make a right turn onto Jolon Road at mile 19 you can get a good rhythm going and it is relatively "flat" but other than that section it is up and down. I was descending well but I had no pop in my legs. I tried to fake it but when your legs are flat and the course is not your ride definitely suffers. Each uphill was a huge challenge and it got to me physically, and mentally, during the ride. I focused on staying hydrated and eating my Powergels because I held out hope that a lackluster ride could yield a good run. It has happened in the past and since my belief in a turnaround with my bike legs faded with each passing mile I had to stay positive and believe a solid run was a possibility.  

The legs were average on the day so I got as aero as I could...minus the crooked helmet.  (Photo Credit: Eric Larson, Trilounge.com)
I fell to 5th during the bike leg after Carrie Lester passed me on Nasty Grade. I saw her behind me at mile 20 and was able to ride solidly on Jolon Rd. and on the rollers before the climb by getting as aerodynamic as possible. Unfortunately, once we started climbing she dropped me.

I started the run and truly believed I could salvage something on the day. However, a couple miles into it I began to lose hope. I gave myself nutrition and willed the legs to come around. I was starting to wonder if everyone in the field was going to pass me. I fell to 6th and then to 7th. I hit the huge uphill at mile 4-5 (6-7 when you add the first run) and wanted so badly to stop. The hill was stupid, I hated it and I cursed it for existing and I wondered why I was doing this to myself. There are a couple sections on the hill where it is faster to power hike, at least for me, and when I was hiking I said out loud to myself "get it together." I picked a spot where I was going to start running again and no matter what I was not going to walk again. I took 2 powergels with caffeine in less than a mile because I figured they would help, or, worst case scenario, I would get some stomach distress. At that point either option was preferable to the way I was feeling.

As I started to come back into the park and run through the campgrounds I saw the woman who passed me for 6th just ahead of me. She looked to be struggling slightly on a few uphills. I knew there was a longer uphill on the road through one of the campgrounds and I made it my plan to put in a surge there, make the pass and then create a gap. Much to my surprise, it worked! I was running next to a guy from the EMJ Triathlon Team so I breathlessly told him my name and suggested we help each other get to the finish line. He was game and we ran strong the rest of the way. When I was lagging he would keep the pace honest and provide encouragement and I did the same when he felt a little fatigued. I was still running scared from Sue (super strong runner) so having someone to help me stay focused was huge. I knew if I got to the top of the Lynch downhill with a gap I could probably hold on unless I face planted on the descent to the finish line.

I ended up 6th. At first, I was disappointed with my day but when I look back I made the best of a race when I had limited energy in my legs. I definitely had some low points that might have been more mental vs. physical so I need to work on improving that aspect of my racing. Either way, it was a hard effort and it made me stronger. It was a plus to finish the run strong as well.

Breakfast Burritos post race prepared by Charisa's father. (Photo from Laura Siddall
The one thing I really love about Wildflower is the fun before and after the race. We had a great cabin of people and enjoyed the weekend together. Fun times like that will bring me back every year. And Charisa's mom sent her up with Chocolate Peanut Butter cookies and her dad cheered for us and then made all of us breakfast (or lunch???) post race.

One of my all time favorites is next: Escape from Alcatraz. I think the water will be a touch warmer than last year!

Monday, April 7, 2014

It Begins...Oceanside 70.3

It has taken me a little longer to write this report than I had initially planned. The week after Oceanside was a tough week because I had to say goodbye to this guy...

Jaromir. August 2003-April 2, 2014.

In the midst of dealing with losing Jaro I got a call that my 102 year old grandma (I call her Ama) was in the hospital with pneumonia and was not responding to antibiotics. My mom rushed out to Portland and I anticipated flying up within a couple of days.

Amazingly, by the time my mom had got to Portland her fever had begun to go down and she perked up. The doctors called her a miracle and she was released from the hospital yesterday. It will still take some time to recover due to her age but my mother said "she is being bossy" so that definitely means she is feeling much better.

So, back to Oceanside---which seems like a long time ago!

Before Oceanside...Di2 was put on my bike thanks to Davis Wheelworks. A huge upgrade. It was a challenge and their tireless work and help was unbelievable. Truly an amazing shop. Thank you! 
In 2010 I swore this race off forever during the first 10 or so miles of the bike. The race starts early (6:43am), the beginning of the bike is fast (flats and downhills) and the sun is barely up. For me, this equals miserable and extremely challenging. I get cold snorkeling in the caribbean. After freezing in Branson last fall I made a decision to go back to Oceanside to figure out racing in the cold. My plan included putting on arm warmers and wool gloves in transition, having toe warmers and heated insoles for my shoes and taping a Ziploc gallon bag to my chest underneath my race top.

I swam relatively well but frustratingly got popped off Meredith's and Julie's feet around 1000m into the swim. This irritated me a bit but I stayed there longer than usual so I guess that is progress. I was able to see the stand up paddle boarder throughout the swim and made my way to swim finish without any problems. I really tried to run hard to my bike because I knew I was going to lose a bit of time fumbling around putting arm warmers on my wrists and slipping my gloves on. This took even longer because I heard the announcer saying who was getting out of the water and I was thinking "I gotta get the f*&^ out of here!!!" Note to self...focus on what you are doing and NOT the announcer.

Photo Credit: Nils Nilsen
 I jumped on my bike and promptly got passed by Heather (x2) and Rachel McBride. They were riding pretty fast. I tried to keep them in sight as long as I could but made sure to ease back on the throttle since the tough part of the ride comes once we get into Camp Pendleton.
Photo Credit: Tim Carlson for Slowtwitch
However, I still overdid the first part of the bike a bit. By the time I got to the climbs on the back half of the course I was starting to get a little annoyed at my power meter. The numbers were trending down slightly. I just kept making it hurt and paid attention to my hydration and nutrition. The one thing that annoyed me were the bottles from the aide stations...why did they not have sport tops? Did anyone else notice this? I was riding with an open bottle in my cage. I stayed warm throughout the ride and only peeled off my gloves at mile 50. I also ripped the plastic bag out at the last aide station.
Photo Credit: Dave Easa
The run was okay. I felt pretty crappy for about 5 miles and then rallied and felt a little better.

On twitter...@ENCkb. Thank you!
I finished in 4:35...a 19 minute improvement from 2010. It was definitely a solid start to the year. Next up is Wildflower. A bit different with the swim-run-bike-run format but it should be a good time like always.