Sunday, May 31, 2015

Race Report: Over The Mountain 2015

Sometimes things just go right.  And that's what happened this weekend.  I started having a good feeling about racing at Over The Mountain about 1-2 weeks ago....a feeling like I knew I was going to do well and I believed that if I had a good day I could win the race.  I've always loved racing at OTM and it is definitely my favorite course of the NCTS series.  The bike course is beautiful, challenging, and just pure fun!  The day before we left, I was tuning up my bike and grabbed a rag to get some of the grease off my chain.  As I was almost done I turned the rag right-side-out and noticed that I had just so happened to be using the 2013 OTM t-shirt!  I felt like this was definitely a sign and a good omen since I won the race back in 2013 :)

On the way to Kings Mountain I felt nervous but it wasn't because of the race.  The awesome folks at Beet Performer had arranged for me to do a live TV interview with WBtv in Charlotte on Friday evening to talk about fueling for triathlons.  I have done a few interviews but they've always been with a reporter who has his/her own camera and we've been able to do multiple takes if need be.  I've never done a live interview and I had no idea what questions they were going to ask me.  When we got to the tv studio I got even more nervous because everything looked so legit like you see on tv!

Despite my nerves the interview went really well!  The anchor & I had good rapport and I even got him to taste beet juice on air!  Thanks to Kurt for coming with me because when I was talking to the anchor and I looked over and saw Kurt smiling it made me feel relaxed and a lot more comfortable on camera - thanks for your support Kurt!!!  Here's a link to the video clip!  After the interview was over it was later than I'd have liked, but I felt calm because now all I had to do was race!

Race morning came early and because OTM is a point to point race there are a few more logistics involved than a typical triathlon.  We picked up packets at swim finish and oh hello!  My bib number was #1.  That's never happened before and I felt like it was another sign that I was going to come in first :)  Swim finish/T1 is on the other side of the lake than swim start and T2 is down town.  So after you set up both transitions you hop on a bus and they take you to swim start.  It sounds complicated, but this race has been going on for so long, it's all really smooth and easy.  On the way to the start, Kurt & I reminisced about the race - OTM was our first triathlon that we ever did back in 2008!

OTM Swim Start 2008
OTM Swim Start 2015

The Swim - 1500m - 26:40 (1:38/100 yds)
Every year that I've done this race it's been wetsuit legal.  But there's always a first time for everything and this year the water temp was 82 or 83.  No wetsuits!  Thankfully, on a whim I had tossed my speed suit into my bag so I decided to wear that over my tri kit.  The swim is in in-water start and as we were waiting for the gun to go off someone said, "So who's going to lead this swim?  Who are the fast swimmers?"  No one responded.  I knew I wouldn't be leading the swim and tried to line up behind a couple people so I could get some draft.  The swim started out well, but early on I found myself with no one to draft off of :(  I later realized that a few women were drafting off of me! Overall I felt good during this swim, but was a little bummed when my watch beeped for the 3rd time signaling I had swam 1500m and I was still in the water.  My Garmin said I did about 1634 yds so I guess I could stand to swim a little straighter next time, though the graph on Garmin connect didn't look terrible!

T1 - 2:14
I almost fell over getting out of the water because the surface was  little bumpy, but swim exit was pretty cool and exciting because there were 4 or 5 of us women who all got out of the water, ran up that GINORMOUS hill, and into T1 at the same time!  It felt like we were in an ITU race!  We all got out on the bikes and you could see everyone spaced out but together on the course.

The Bike - 1:26:46 (19.3 mph)
The bike is why you should do this race!  I can't say enough about how beautiful it is and how much fun it is to ride through Kings Mountain State Park!  This was the first time this year I've felt like I've been in a race on the bike.  The 4 or 5 of us kept passing and re-passing each other throughout the first half of the course.  Unfortunately, at the beginning I felt like I was getting passed more than I was passing other people.  But then, the climbs started to hit and my legs felt good.  I was spinning up them and felt like all that riding into the wind in Wilmington was paying off.  On the descents I dropped it into my hardest gear and pedaled down.  A few times I felt a little nervous because I got up to 40 mph, but I reminded myself of how many times I've ridden this course and all the descending I used to do in Greensboro.  As the course went on I got more and more confident.  I passed the lead woman at about 20 miles into the bike, though I thought at the time there was still one woman ahead of me.

T2 - ?
When I came into T2 they said I was in the lead for the women!  I still wasn't sure that there wasn't one more lady in front of me though.

The Run - 42:45 (6:53 min/mi)
The run starts off down hill and my first mile was 6:35.  I felt decent and I wanted to catch up to the woman ahead of me.  However, people on course kept cheering me on saying I was in first!  I finally believed it when I hit the turnaround without having seen any other ladies ahead of me.  I felt excited to be in the lead, but I also lost a little motivation to keep running as hard as I was.  Two years ago I got my 10K PR (39:21) on this course because I was chasing someone down and didn't pass her until the final miles.   It's hard to believe I ran that fast on this course because it was a lot hillier than I remembered.  But that probably has to do with the fact that I used to live in Greensboro which is hilly, I trained about 10 hours more per week, and I was a dedicated fruitarian.  Anyhow, on the way back I started feeling really fatigued and it was getting more than a little toasty out.  I just kept it moving and tried to keep it under 7:00 miles.  I ran up the finish chute and they announced my name as the female winner and I was stoked to be done and stoked to clench the victory!!

Total Time - 2:38:24 (1st female)
It feels good to win a triathlon again :)  I feel like everything came together on race day and it couldn't have gone much better!  I met up with Kurt at the finish area and turns out he had finished 2nd place in the Aquabike division!  Way to go Kurt!!!  We chowed down on some delicious local watermelon & cantaloupe.  And of course they had the traditional smoked BBQ chicken for all the meat eaters.  Seriously, the town of Kings Mountain goes all out for this race and that is part of what makes this such a special race!

So now I have about 2 months before I do another race.  I don't really like the thought of waiting that long to race again.  I've got a training camp planned with my coach in Greensboro early June and I can't wait to get back to the hills.  Then in August I've got Lake Logan Half, which will be a real good test to see where I'm at before IM Chattanooga.  So for now, it's time to put all the excuses away and put in some consistent training.  In other words it's time to #GTWD.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Saddle Battle

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, but I've been waiting to find that magical saddle that solves all of my problems.  Unfortunately if I keep waiting for that, this post might never get written.

Why does it have to be so hard to find the right saddle????  Shouldn't we be able to ride in comfort?  Shouldn't the muscular fatigue in our legs or the burning of oxygen debt in our lungs be the limiting factor to how far and how fast we can ride?  I know I'm not the only one who has been slowed down in a race or long training ride due to the discomfort in the nether regions.   Here's what some of my female friends have had to say about these issues:

"After a long ride I don't want my husband to touch me for a week."

"I've been to the doctor and had a few boils lanced."

"I have persistent hard nodules that flair up after each ride.  It takes a few days for them to subside."

"I get bruising after any ride over 2 hours."

"I just feel sorry for that entire area down there."

Does all that really have to be a part of riding?   I took to the internet to look for answers and I didn't find anything super encouraging.  One blogger said that she keeps her pubic hair "trimmed to about 1/4 inch which helps prevent chaffing."  Um, I live at the beach and I want my friends to continue to swim with me, so not keeping up with the landscaping is not an option.  On another site I found a woman who had had labiaplasty to reduce the amount of soft tissue in the troublesome area, however it didn't completely resolve all of her issues.  Plus the 6-month recovery process sounds painful and is a lot of time off of the bike.

At the moment, I'm on my 4th saddle and I think I'm going to have to settle.  Here's some info on all the saddles I've tried since getting my new Felt IA and then I want to give some tips of things that I have found that actually improve comfort on the ride.

Shimano PRO AeroFuel TT Saddle
Weight:  259 g
Rails:  Titanium
Material:  Carbon reinforced base w/ anti-slide cover

On my previous TT bike I used an Adamo saddle.  However, I always disliked how wide the nose of the saddle was because it gave me chaffing on the insides of my legs.  So when I saw this saddle I though, wow!  This could be perfect!  It has a similar shape to the Adamo, but the nose is considerably thinner.  At first I thought it would work because I didn't get chaffing on my legs and it didn't put pressure on sensitive areas.  In the end the deal breaker was that it is hard as a rock.  Now, I like a stiff saddle, but this one has zero give.  My body never got used to it and it never softened up a bit.
ISM Adamo Attack
Weight:  300-320 grams
Rails:  Titanium Alloy
Material:  Foam/gel padding
My next step was to test out my coworkers Adamo Attack Saddle.  He was curious about the AeroFuel Pro so we swapped saddles for a week.  At first the Adamo felt great because it relieved the problems I was having with the AeroFuel.  Plus, this model is also a little bit narrower than the ISM Racing saddle that I had on my previous bike so I thought it could be the solution.  However, it still caused the same ol' problem of chaffing on the insides of my legs.  If you've ever shaved your bikini line and then ridden this saddle you know the pain and unsightliness that I'm talking about.  After the week was up, my coworker was tired of riding between a rock and a hard place.  And I was still motivated and hopeful in continuing my search for the perfect saddle.

Selle SMP Etxra
Weight:  395 g
Rails:  Tubular Steel
Material:  Synthetic
The next saddle I tried was the Selle SMP Extra.  This is the saddle that I have on my Felt F75 road bike and it is actually very comfortable.  I didn't want to try it on my tri bike at first because it looks clunky, but after the AeroFuel Pro I didn't care, I just wanted to be comfortable.  This saddle has a lot more padding and is softer than the AeroFuel.  When I'm riding the road bike I usually sit back on the saddle, rather than on the downward tilting nose.  On the tri bike, I am positioned more towards the front of the saddle and it didn't offer the same level of comfort.  I was kept sliding forward and the real kicker was that my skin was getting pinched between the saddle and my legs.  Ouch!!!!

Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow 
Weight:  185 g
Rails:  Titanium
Material: Foam cushion w/ synthetic cover
I was extremely excited when I found the Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow saddle!  It had a shape that I had never seen nor tried before.  I truly thought this could be the answer!  And as with the others, at first I thought it was.  But just like the others, while it relieved the previous problems I was having, it came with it's own set of issues.  This saddle is the perfect stiffness and it is INCREDIBLY light!!!  It looked fast on my bike and I liked that :)  I sat on this saddle just back from the nose where the cutout starts.  It was a pretty good position because it relieved pressure on soft tissue but it was also still very narrow - no leg chaffing!!  The problem with the saddle though, is that because the area that contacted my body was so thin, it put a lot of pressure basically right in the crease of where your leg meets your body.  After a bunch of long rides that pressure turned into blistering and swollen lymph nodes.  Soooo, sadly, I concluded this wasn't the miracle I was hoping for and my days of riding this saddle were over.

After trailing 4 saddles and putting over 200 miles on each, I'm left kind of dejected because as one of my friends put it, I feel like I'm "searching for a unicorn."  I decided to order my own Adamo Attack and deal with the least troublesome of all the problems I've experienced in the last 5 months.   Here are my pointers for optimizing your saddle comfort:

1.  Do not skimp on cycling shorts.  I have found that when it comes to bike shorts you get what you pay for.  The pricier shorts are often constructed with more panels and the seams are in better places for a more comfortable fit.  Two sub-points under cycling shorts:

     A.  Make sure you have a good fit.  If you have excess material in your shorts, that means more material that can shift around and cause you chafing during the ride.  If you're not sure about the fit, go to a reputable tri shop with employees who have ridden thousands of miles and ask for their opinion.  I have found that when in doubt, go for the smaller size.

     B.  Sometimes less is more.  This holds true for saddles and chamoix (who knew chamoix is the plural of chamois!).  A super padded saddle may seem more comfortable at first, but what your arse really needs is some support.  As your sit bones sink down into the padding of a cushy saddle, your discomfort will increase over long rides.  With the shorts, sometimes I have found that riding in tri shorts is actually more comfortable for me because there is less material there to get in the way.

2.  Lube up.  I've been using TriSlide for a while because it is extremely slippery and more hygienic since it's a spray, but whether your preference be Body Glide, DZ Nuts, Chamois Butter, or anything else, this stuff helps prevent chaffing and is made specifically for your undercarriage.

3.  Hibicleanse.  One of my friends told me about this stuff and I'm kind of addicted to it now.  Hibicleanse is an antibacterial wash that sometimes medical professionals will clean their hands with before contacting patients.  I use this after riding to wash the insides of my legs where the Adamo causes me chaffing and I find that it helps reduce irritation and prevent any potential bacterial infection.  Word of warning:  it is for external use only and should always be kept away from the eyes because it can cause blindness.

4.  Laser Hair Removal.  I haven't done this personally but it's on my "to-do" list.  One of my friends had laser hair removal around the bikini area and said that it has dramatically reduced the number of in-grown hairs and irritation due to chaffing.  I think this could really help my issues with the Adamo and is a better solution than "let hair grow to 1/4 inch."  A related point to this is don't shave before riding; that will just increase irritation and chances of bacteria/sweat/dirt/grime getting into hair follicles.

5.  Troubleshooting:

A.  Central nerve pain --> choose a saddle with a cutout to avoid sitting on the clitoris

B.  Bruising --> your saddle could be too hard or body contact points to small; choose a saddle with more padding and/or one that gives you more body contact points

C.  Leg chaffing --> saddle nose is too wide; choose a saddle with a narrower nose and/or use more lube

D.  Labia skin pinching --> saddle could be too narrow or cutout not wide enough; look for a wider nose and/or wider cutout

E.  Blistering/skin tearing --> this indicates there is a lot of pressure on the area where this is occurring; try altering the position of your saddle (i.e. tilt, height, forward/backward) or try a different saddle that does not put as much pressure in the same area

F.  It's always a good idea to go to an experienced bike fitter to help put you in the best position.  Bike fitters are accustomed to speaking with people about all sorts of saddle problems in a professional manner, so don't be embarrassed about talking about the specifics of what you are experiencing.  The more specific you are about your problems, the more the fitter can do to help you relieve those problems.

Lastly, here's an interesting article from Cobb Cycling.  I think there is definitely merit to differences in female anatomy contributing to different saddle issues.  However, I'm not convinced that enough research has been done to determine which saddles are best for which hoohas.

What I am convinced of is that a comfortable rider is a fast rider.  Good luck in your search for the unicorn!  I hope you have better luck than me!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Race Report: White Lake Spring Half 2015

Last Saturday I did my first half iron distance triathlon in 2 years!  I was excited for it, but also nervous about the sheer length of the race.  After feeling heavy in my last race at Arlington Place (~10 lbs over marathon race weight), I knew I wanted to drop some weight before trying to race a half.  I cleaned up my diet and only ate whole plant foods for 3 weeks.  I knew it wasn't enough time to make a huge difference but I did drop a few lbs and a percent of body fat!  I also knew that I wouldn't be as fast as the last time I did this race, but I thought I could go under 5:30 and if I had a good day under 5:10.

I met up with Mr. Tony Newlywed Reyes at 4:40 am on race morning and we made the drive to White Lake.  About half way there, I unfortunately ran over a bunny and I really hoped that it wasn't an omen about how the day would unfold!  However, once we arrived at race location, packet pickup, setting up transition, body marking, and bathroom breaks all went smoothly!  I saw a bunch of friendly faces and started getting pumped up for the day!

The Swim (1.2 miles) - 33:58 (1:36/100 yds)
The lake was perfect - smooth, inviting, and a toasty 66 degrees.  Compared to 2013 when the lake was 54 degrees, every swim I do now seems warm :)  I did a short warm up during which I managed to swim head on into someone else; whatever, probably was his fault.  I lined up at the back of the open pack and tried to keep up with the initial sprint once the horn went off.  I couldn't believe it because there were people around me almost the entire way to the first buoy!  This meant I wasn't going that slow!  I was able to do a good amount of drafting until I wasn't able to keep up anymore, which was around the first turn.  I could still see the pack ahead of me though and used them for sighting purposes - this paid off as well because after looking at my Garmin file I pretty much swam a straight line!  I started to get tired around the second turn buoy and I couldn't see too many people in front of me anymore.  At that point I alternating taking 12 strokes to each side and sighting in between just to get me back to shore.  When I climbed the ladder and looked at the clock I was kind of surprised by my time - not too shabby!

T1 - 2:44
I tried something new in T1.  I have been wondering how I'm going to carry all my nutrition during my Ironman and TrySports Charlie gave me the idea of putting all my food in a jersey and then putting that jersey on in T1.  So I ended up swimming in my tri shorts + sports bra.  And actually I felt like my wetsuit fit me better, but that may have been more due to the weight loss rather than lack of a tri top.  Anyhow, I had the jersey hanging on my bike in T1 and was easily able to put it on and zip it up before heading out on the bike.  It worked great cause I had all my food and knew which gels were in which pockets :)

The Bike (56 miles) - 2:55:09 (19.2 mph)
Somehow I always forget the true pain of this bike course.  About 10 miles in, I wanted to quit ... the sport.  My saddle was giving me so much discomfort and it was amplified by all the cracks in the road.  About every meter there are horizontal cracks in the pavement which have been filled over with some sort of asphalt or tar.   Every time I went over one it felt like someone was lifting me up off of my bike and then throwing me back down on my uncomfortable saddle.  I also took a wrong turn, which is ridiculous considering I have done this course at least 3 times before and there are only about 2 total turns, haha!  It didn't cost me that much time though and was the least of my worries given the saddle issues going on.  Once I made the first actual turn of the course, the road smoothed out a little bit and we seemed to catch a tailwind.  I was averaging about 20 mph and I thought I could have pushed it more, but I wanted to stay comfortable because I knew what lied ahead:  53.  Once we made that final right turn it was 20 miles of suffering.  The bumps in the road were relentless and there was also a headwind.  I tried to ride to the right of the white line but that pavement surface was rougher and it was littered with random potholes.  Riding on the white line or directly to the left of it didn't help any either.  I did a lot of cursing during this section and I was only going about 17 mph, but I FINALLY made it to the end!  Oh and I forgot to say that probably 50 people passed me on the bike and I passed no one.

T2 - 1:17
I was extremely happy to reach T2 and my spirits were lifted when I saw a bunch of familiar faces cheering!  Thanks guys!  I swapped my jersey for a running singlet and was on my way.

The Run (13.1 miles) - 1:32:46 (7:05/mi)
I didn't feel too good starting this run.  I think I had expended a lot of energy on the last 20 miles of the bike and I felt like I was paying for it.  My first couple miles were around 7:20 pace.  I kept it moving though and started to pass a few people for the first time in the race!  I started to feel better and better as the race went on and I started passing more and more people.  I've always liked this run course too!  It's nice and flat and fast.  Some people think it's hot, but I was kind of chilly on the bike and it felt great to me.  Around mile 5 the run course paralleled the finish of the bike course for the olympic distance racers and it was cool to see them cruising it in on their bikes and see more Wilmington peeps!  I don't know why I only put 2 gels in my race belt, so around mile 8 I had to ask for a Hammergel - apple pie ... yum.  I kept feeling better and better though and whereas in the past the last 3-4 miles of this course have hurt the worst, this year I felt the best.  My last 3 miles were 6:55, 6:50, and 6:40.  By the end of it, I had closed the gap down to 1 minute behind the second place female and turned in a respectable 1:32 run split.  Not a bad way to end the day!

Total Time:  5:05:52 - 3rd overall woman
I finished in 3rd place and was pretty psyched about my time.  I was 15 minutes slower than 2 years ago, but hey, for only training since January I feel good about it!!!  I'm happy that my swim is improving and that I felt my endurance base on the run kick in.  I'm going to keep working on the bike and hopefully can produce a better bike time in my next half in August.

Next up is my all-time favorite race in the Set-Up series:  Over The Mountain.  It's soooo pretty and has the most scenic bike course!  The terrain will be a challenge for sure, but I'm looking forward to it :)  Congrats to all White Lake finishers last weekend - we did it!!!