Do It Yourself Triathlon Training Camp

Winter hiking with John & Pace, Appalachian Trail, off the Bennington, VT trailhead.

John, my husband, is fond of saying, “Triathlon is a winter sport that is played in the summer.”

Indeed. Most of us spend a good deal of time training through the winter months, working on limiters, building strength, setting the foundation for when the racing season begins in warmer climes.

But, let’s face it: it’s now February, and for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve been pushing through a few months of the colder temperatures, freezing rain, and piles of snow. It gets old.

Am I right?

Some lucky endurance sport enthusiasts will take time out for a training camp in warmer climates: Arizona, Florida, Southern Texas, to name a few of the popular spots. These training camps come complete with experienced coaches, professional triathletes, and a group of like-minded comrades, willing to work their bodies for anywhere from a few days to a week (or more!).

Sounds great, right?

Sure, but then you look at the price tag of the camp (without even paying to get there), or you realize the timing of the camp doesn’t fit with your life, or maybe the intimidation factor of a camp is too much, or maybe you just like to train solo (guilty!). Regardless of the reason, you can’t find a camp that will give you exactly what you want or need.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a training camp – you just need to improvise.

A few weeks back, I kicked my own arse for a week in a do-it-yourself style training camp, as part of my overall preparation for the Florida Double Anvil (a double-iron distance race), which will be held on March 18-19, 2016, at Lake Louisa, in Clermont, Florida.

No, there weren’t fancy coaches. Just me.

No, there wasn’t a big group of athletes pushing each other day in, day out. Although, I was lucky to have a friend or two join me on a few of the sessions!

What there was in my DIY camp: a fantastic week of training, without the need to balance life, work and everything else.

The idea for this solo training camp came about when I realized two things:

  1. Winter time is cold New Jersey, and not conducive to outdoor riding. Okay, I didn’t “realize” this – I already knew it, but let’s say I processed it fully as part of setting up my ATP leading into the 2016 season.
  2. There is a new course for the Florida Double this year, and it’s in Clermont, Florida. Having raced in Clermont back in 2014, I remembered one thing about the area: hills, some of which can be aggressive–shockingly so considering impressions of Florida as mostly flat. While the group discussion on Facebook about the Florida Double Anvil indicated there weren’t any aggressive elevation changes, I craved some certainty so that I could structure my at-home training more specifically to the new course.

What follows are some tips from my experience in the event that you’d like to DIY a personal training camp of your own.

Read the rest of this entry »

Impossible is Nothing

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Right before the start of the swim at the 2015 Florida Double Anvil. The 2016 race has been moved, so the swim will be in Lake Louisa, Clermont, FL.

It was Christmas Eve morning, at dark:thirty. I had scheduled a 4800 yard Swim for myself.

Let me be clear: Coach Maria is an asshole.

After all, I/she hadn’t simply scheduled a nice steady endurance swim. Nope. It was a hard one. In fact, it was a session that I had done last year going into the 2015 Florida double. But last year, I didn’t quite hit the marks I had set for myself. 

When I scheduled this one again for this year, I was clearly looking for a little revenge training. I was determined to hit those marks.

But, as I stood on the pool deck, I felt just that small twinge of doubt. As I looked at the paper I had printed with the workout details, I thought about last year. I’m not going to lie: I felt like this workout might just be a bit too impossible for me.

Maybe my targets are too aggressive? I thought. Well, I’m not going to hit them thinking that way. Get going!

The beginning of the warm up didn’t help improve my confidence. Everything felt tight, sluggish, slow, slappy. You know those days in the pool when you wonder if you actually know how to swim? Yeah, sorta like that. 

The voices were threatening: Eh, don’t worry about it. They tried to lull me. Maybe today just isn’t the day. The voices love a quitter. 

But, I don’t love quitting. I wasn’t ready or willing to give in to those thoughts–I mean, at this point, I was only about 500 yards into the swim. That was hardly enough time to get my old engine to idle, let alone revved up.

So, I ignored those thoughts. I realized that my body needed a little more time, so I extended the warm up, in the hopes of finding a grove. There’s no rush here. I added a few 100s of backstroke to stretch myself out, to loosen up.

My originally-planned 1200 yard warm up had turned into 1700 yards. I could stall no longer. It was either time to start the main sets, or slap my way through to 4800 yards. I wasn’t in the mood for slapping. 

The main portion of the workout included alternating sets of 300 yards, one hard, one steady, one hard, one steady – and so on for 3600 yards (6 x 300 hard, 300 steady).

I hit the lap button, and told myself: I have to try!

The first hard set felt much harder than it should have for the pace. Ugh – is that it?! I looked at the split pace on my watch. I was in the target range, but it just felt unsustainable for 5 more sets!

STOP IT! I knew I had to get a hold of myself–of my HEAD–or this session was going to break me again.

No. JUST NO.

I gave myself a pep talk during the first steady set: Just find your rhythm. Just one lap at a time. Catch. Pull. Catch. Pull. Stop fighting it, just flow.

Somewhere through that first steady set, I felt something click. And, I watched my splits come down. In fact, this steady set was almost as fast as the hard set – but it felt a lot easier.

The power of the mind is an amazing thing indeed.

With the next hard effort, I pushed a little more, and I felt good. Could I descend each hard set, and each steady set across the 6 sets? And, with that thought, the game was on. 

I’ve been putting a lot of time into my swim this year. Last year, I lost a lot of speed doing most of my training for the Florida Double at an easy to steady effort, mostly because the volume of swimming was beyond anything I had every done before. This year, that’s not the case. So, I’m pushing limits to regain my old speed (well, speed for a triathlete swimmer, anyway). And, in the past two weeks, I’ve been happy to see it’s starting to come back. It’s not where it used to be, but I’m chipping away at it. 

Before I began this workout, I thought briefly that the targets I wanted to hit might be impossible. But they weren’t. I hit – and exceeded – my targets. My body could do it all along – after all, the targets were based on my threshold test.  So, it was my mind that I had to get on board. 

Not every workout is an impossibility-breaker – and nor should it be. But we have to open ourselves – mind and body – to the chance that it could be. We can’t let the voices in our heads shut us down before we even get started. 

Every time we push ourselves in training to achieve the impossible, we make the realm of what is possible that much bigger.

Muhammad Ali had it straight.

Muhammad Ali had it straight. Impossible is nothing.

Thoughts from an FTP Test

FTP also stands for: F**k This Pain.

FTP also stands for: F**k This Pain. Image from http://www.slideshare.net/TrainingPeaks/power-terminology-1.

Forgive me, data junkies, for I have been an FTP slacker. It has been just shy of 2 years since my last FTP (functional threshold power) test. Yes, 2 years.

I’m not a fan of frequent testing, not only because I don’t like them (which I do not), but also because they require a re-organization of the training schedule. In my training and coaching, I prefer to use prep races and key weekly sessions to gauge improvement and to set “A” race targets. But, even still, some baseline and ongoing testing is needed from time to time.

My time had come.

I’ve begun my “official” training for the Florida Double Anvil (March 18-19, Lake Louisa State Park, Clermont, Florida). Trouble is, I’ve spent a scant few hours on the bike since most of my focus through the summer and fall was on running (see the Javelina Jundred race report by clicking here).

As I’ve been re-introducing myself to the velo over the past few weeks, I tried to convince myself of two things: 1) Cycling is not all that poopy, and 2) I can totally figure my zones out just by doing some steadier state rides.

The first stage is denial.

But, as a coach and an athlete, I knew I had to do a threshold effort in order to round out the data I have. While the steady state rides give me important information – they don’t tell me everything I want to know.

So, I scheduled the FTP assessment in my calendar for December 8th. And, then there was acceptance. Sort of. 

Even into the warm up for this session, I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to do it. The voices were chattering.

C’mon Coach, is this really necessary? whined the emotional brain.

You know that it is. Suck it up buttercup, barked the hardass brain.

There were quite a few gems of observations and chatter from the various parts of my brain before during and after this process. People often ask me what I’m thinking when I train. Welcome to the inside… Read the rest of this entry »

Yanking Chains Podcast: Episodes 1-5

A few weeks back, I introduced the new Yanking Chains Podcast (and videocast) I’ve been co-hosting with Vince Matteo and Matt Momont. We are now up to Episode 5! Wow :)

All episodes can be seen on YouTube, at the following playlist.

We continue to tweak with the form and experiment. Eventually, we’ll transfer over to iTunes, but we are still experimenting for now.

The episode airs live on Google Hangouts every two weeks, Friday mornings at 9 a.m. EST and 6 a.m. PST (time zone conflicts make this the only time we can do it!). If you watch live (from your bike trainer perhaps?!), you can live tweet (to @maslife) or Facebook questions. If you want to watch the archives, click the playlist above or use the MP3 downloads below.

If you’d prefer to have the MP3 version of these episodes here the links:

Episode 1: Ironman Wisconsin & Labor Pain 12 Hour Run Race Reports & Sticking to Your Race Plan

Episode 2: Mental Training & Toughness

Episode 3: Interview with John Jenkins, Double IM Champ (our most listened to cast so far!)

Episode 4: Javelina Jundred Race Recap

Episode 5: The “Off” Season

Thanks for listening & watching! Comments are appreciated :)

So you want to qualify for Kona? Consider these 5 key principles

Bee riding a bike

Image from http://therapyworksltd.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/bee-bicycling-72dpi.jpg.

For many triathletes, the Ironman World Championship race in Kailua-Kona represents the crown jewel, the mecca, the peak, the main event, the…–oh let’s face it, it’s perceived as the ultimate set of bee’s knees for long course triathletes.

While not everyone wants to race there, most long-course athletes will speak wistfully of what it would be like (or what it was like) to race

K. O. N. A.

Four years ago, I announced on this blog that I wanted to qualify for Kona. At that time, I had a very vague (and quite naive) idea of what it would take to find myself on the big island.

What I learned was more than I could have even imagined–and some things I didn’t want to imagine.

Given my route from the back/middle of the pack to the slot, I receive emails from athletes, who find themselves in a context similar to mine, with the explicit or implicit question:

What does it take to qualify for Kona?

For example, one email I received a few weeks ago began:

I wanted to ask you about the journey from BOP to Kona – what advice you’d give as someone who did it. I figured you’d be the one person who wouldn’t laugh me out of the room for even having these delusions.”

Nope. No, I won’t laugh at anyone who sets big dreams.

This emailer also suggested that they might be “bothering” me, but that’s not the case at all. I don’t mind offering my advice – even though as you read this post, you may not like some of it. As my father used to say, “Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.”

The journey to qualify requires a considerable re-organization of your life, a single-minded focus to decision-making, and a willingness to sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term goals. At least that’s how it worked for someone like me – who wasn’t exactly Kona material when she first started. (And, I still question whether I’m Kona material. A roll-down slot is not the same thing as a qualifying slot. The impostor syndrome is strong in this one.)

While it’s hard for me to speak to a specific person’s individual chances of nabbing a Kona slot, in this post I lay out 5 basic principles that guided my life (and continue to do so) during the years it took me to get to the big island. Your chances may be better than mine, and in those cases, the journey will be different. Read the rest of this entry »

Attitude of Gratitude: 2015 Javelina Jundred Race Report

[This post is my 2015 Javelina Jundred race report which is the narrative of my experience for this race. If you are looking for a detailed course overview that will be posted separately.]

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”

~ Eckhart Tolle

Gratitude.

If I only had one word, that would be the one to summarize my first 100 mile race.

I’ve raced many times, and had many great experiences. Even still, there are a precious few races that have made me feel the way I feel now.

Grateful. Joyful. Peaceful.

I have a hum in my body and mind that speaks of the possibilities of life. It feels and sounds sort of like this:

Of course, given that I just ran 100 miles, there’s significantly less hopping around in my version of this musical gem. Is it a coincidence that her character’s name is also Maria? I should think not.

Prior to starting the 2015 Javelina Jundred, I had an inkling that running 100 miles would be just my sort of challenge + fun. I watched John race 100 miles several times, and each time I crewed for him, I craved the day we’d swap places.

Finally, it was my turn.

I was somewhere around mile 45 of the race when I realized the truth of my assumption about running 100 miles. While I still had a long way to go at that point, I knew – I absolutely knew in every single fiber of my aching muscles – that this was a special experience and I had better make the most of every moment.

In short: I am happy. I am grateful for the amazing experience of running 100 miles.

In long: you’ll need to read on.

2015 Javelina Jundred Race Report

Less than 4 minutes before the start of the 2015 Javelina Jundred. Look closely – that’s fear mixed with excitement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing Yanking Chains: A multi-sport life podcast

For the past two months, I’ve been working with my former coach Vince Matteo, of Junk Miles, and one of his athletes Matt Momont on a podcast-germ of an idea, which has evolved into Yanking Chains, a podcast about multi-sport life. We are mixing a side of snark with discussions about all things multi-sport. Our goal is share information, have fun, and grow as students, ambassadors and coaches of the sport.

Now, we are far from professional podcasters, and we need to work on our intro and editing. But we decided we’d float a pilot of a first episode to see what you all think about the content and direction of the show. What follows below is the first of the episodes we’ll be releasing in the next week. Right now, these are available on YouTube (as we used Google Handouts On Air to record). We will be offering these on iTunes, once we’ve edited them, added an intro and otherwise cleaned them up.

I hope you enjoy Episode 1 – in which we discuss:

  • Matt’s post race blues (or lack thereof) and Maria’s emotions
  • Race reports: Ironman Wisconsin race reports from Matt & Vince (including the inside scoop on Vince’s romantic finish), Labor Pains (with, of course, more details on sharting)
  • Asthma
  • Training & Racing plans – and following them

For those of you who would prefer an MP3 of this podcast, you can find it by clicking this link for Yanking Chains Episode 1: Is that part of the plan? 

Thanks for listening. Feedback is appreciated – either in the comments here, on YouTube, or contact me. 

I can’t get no satisfaction: Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run Race Report

I am rarely, if ever, completely satisfied by a race result–or training session. Even for the races that seem to go pretty well, it usually only takes me a good night’s sleep to start picking apart what I need to do better, how I can improve, and what I did “wrong.”

The Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run was no different than any other race in this regard.

Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail run

Pace giving me a race pep talk.

I selected this race as my primary prep race for the Javelina Jundred, which will be my first 100 mile race on October 31, 2015. G.U.L.P.

My plan was to approach this race as a test of my Javelina-specific strategy, including the nutrition plan, gear, and pacing.  In each of these ways, I learned some VERY important lessons (mostly in the form of what-not-to-do for my first journey of 100 miles.)

Beyond testing my strategy, I had some goals for this race. My basic goal was to get to 50 miles. In my mind, if I ran 50 miles, I’d feel mentally prepared for the 100 mile race.

But, I didn’t stop at my basic goal, as I also had a more aggressive goal: run 55 miles. Then, I had my super secret goal. You know, the one you really really really want, but it will be a definite stretch? Yup. That one.

My training for Javelina has included some of the most aggressive strength-based training I’ve done since I rowed crew in high school. I lifted weights. I abused my core. I dragged tires around my home town (which always brings with it some of the funniest reactions from the passerby). I repeated bridges. I summited mountains. I bounded hills. I repeated all of these, week after week after week throughout the late spring and summer months.

I threw pretty much everything I could at my legs to make them harder, stronger, better – but maybe not faster. That additional muscular strength has come with a bit of a price for my overall road-speed – at least for now. But, that’s a trade off that’s worth it. Labor Pain served as a good test of the value of this strength work.

The race course is a 5 mile loop through trails in Reading, PA. (For those of you looking for details on the course itself, you’ll find them after this narrative under the header “Course Notes”.)

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: loops? Over and Over? It’s not so bad – truly.

I enjoy the rhythm of a loop course. Five miles is plenty long enough, and the route itself was varied enough, so I never felt bored. A key value of a loop course is that it gives you a chance to come by your crew (in my case John) very frequently throughout the day. It’s easy to stock up on hydration, fuel and other supplies across relatively short intervals.

Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail run

Pace holding down the fort at headquarters. Notice the bike trainer in the background. John rode the bike trainer while I raced. Who’s crazier? I vote him.

I came through the first 4 laps of the course (20 miles) feeling excellent–especially leg-wise. I didn’t have any fatigue in my legs, and they were handling the terrain really well.

John asked: “How do you feel?”

“I feel so good. If I felt any better, I’d have to bottle it.” And, as far as my legs were concerned this was 100% true. They were like strong-like-midget-tank.

What I wasn’t telling him was a little secret: my heart rate was much too high for a 12 hour run. I was having trouble getting it under control pretty much from the second the race started. For the first loop or two, I wasn’t that concerned. In previous races, I’ve had an elevated HR but then it’s settled. Read the rest of this entry »

Process or Outcome? 7 Ways to Tell if Someone is a Serious Athlete

The now-iconic image of the finishing chute at the Ironman World Championships has become synonymous with “serious” athletes. I mistakenly thought that when I crossed this finish line I would finally be a “good” athlete. But, it was never about this outcome. It was always about the process on the way to this moment.

Many of us have in our minds a picture of what a “serious” athlete looks like, or an idea of what a “good” athlete does. Usually, these pictures and ideas have something to do with chiseled muscles, and speedy movements.

*Cue the montage of olympic-esque figures and movements*

However, the look or the speed of a person is not the only way (and many times not the best way) to determine the seriousness with which that person approaches the sport. “Seriousness” can be (and should be) defined by more than one’s speed or appearance. “Good” can be evaluated and interpreted in multiple ways.

In the past month or so, I have had conversations with a few different clients I coach, each of whom tried to discount their achievements in one way or another.

For example, athlete ABC (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent ;)) sent me an email while I was in Lake Placid, volunteering and cheering on two of my clients who were racing Ironman Lake Placid.  ABC wrote, “I’m sorry to take time away from your serious athletes. So, take your time answering this question.”

Um. No.

This very same week, athlete XYC commented that their Olympic distance effort was “wimpy” compared to my “good athletes” who do Ironman.

Double oh-hell-no.

Ironman is such a limelight whore, isn’t it? Of course, racing an Ironman is a big accomplishment, but why should that accomplishment cast a shadow over the achievements of others, who are competing in their own races of strength, endurance, and perseverance? Ironman does not own the rights to cancel out all of the things.

In case you want to discount what you’ve accomplished as “less than” or “not as good as” something or someone else, let me tell you something: every race brings its own challenges. Every race, when taken seriously, will bring us to our limits. If we are good, we will challenge our limits and find out how extraordinary our bodies can be. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Do It

Nike had it straight when they came up with this gem:

just-do-it-hed-2013

By now, this tagline is cliche. But, think about it this line as if it were fresh, and recognize how powerful the sentiment is.

You have a goal that requires hard work. Sometimes, you might not want to do this work. Other times, the work might seem too hard – too far outside your comfort zone. In another moment, there might be fear or anxiety about the uncertainty that comes with training and racing toward bigger and bigger dreams.

Think about those moments in light of this line.

Now, just do it.

While this tagline captures a simple idea, it is not always easy to execute in practice, is it? We have excuses that will get in the way, such as:

No one has the time. They make the time for what is important.

No one has the time. They make the time for what is important.

I’m too busy. 

I’m too tired. 

I don’t know how. 

It’s too hard. 

I can’t do that. 

I’m scared to do that. 

[Insert your favorite variation here…]

I know I struggle with these voices that try to counter the call to Just Do It.

I work a full-time job, and I run a growing business. I have a full family and social life. I want to cry when the workout seems harder than what I’ve got inside to handle it. I like to sleep and have considerable distaste for anything that takes away from my sleep. Really: don’t mess with my sleep. Ever.

But, time and again, I remind myself of my goals, my big dreams, and what I care about. And, time and time again, I find a way to make the training work. Why? I actually do enjoy the training, and my dreams are important to me.

At some point, we all come to that moment when we have to make a choice. Read the rest of this entry »

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