Ironman Vineman 70.3 Race Report

Forcing myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; being able to push my body to stay strong, flexible and aerobically fit as I enter a new age group and phase in my life. These are the reaons I’ve returned to race Ironman Vineman 70.3, my favorite triathlon for the 5th year in a row.

Add to the list, the selfish feeling of entitlement when police officers stop all traffic at the sight of me coming at full speed on my bike.

“Coming through! Wee!” VinemanFB4

I’ve also been chasing a PR at Vineman for the past 4 years. However, shortly after I registered to race, I knew it would not be my PR year. I had sustained one ankle sprain after another. I had a personal and work life that took priority. Still, I’d give it my best effort, seek small improvements and enjoy this wonderful experience.


I was determined to have a successful open water swim. Every year at this race, I get swum over by men in their 30’s (the wave which typically followed my start wave). I’d get my goggles and swim cap pulled away then inevitably lose my contacts. Last year, my wave start was especially crowded and I got kicked in the neck, just within a few yards of the start. For a brief second, I thought I’d DNF at the start of the race. Luckily I did not.

This year, I resolved to avoid the underwater smackdown. I traded swimming straight along the buoys for hugging the shoreline. This resulted in a 1.33 mile swim but I actually swam one of my fastest open water swim paces. I’ll work on swimming straighter for next year’s race, but for this day, I was happy to exit the river unscathed. And despite my goggles leaking, both contacts remained in my eyes. Halleluhah!



swim exit martin

bike out sign


My goal was to bike at a pace faster than the prior year’s. I was not conditioned to reach my PR pace but I would try to get close. Since my wave started late, the air temperature was warming up. The wind also started to pick up and I rode in headwind and crosswinds for most of course.

I decided to use UCAN bars for my nutrition. In the past I preferred liquid nutrition. I found liquid UCAN too pasty so I settled on the bars, which worked well during training. I thought it would be a good idea to keep the UCAN bars and electrolytes in two separate plastic sandwich bags placed in the back pocket of my tri kit. This turned out to be problematic. I was never adept at juggling for food or drinks with one hand on the handlebar. While I’d practice eating the bars on training rides, I could not manage everything I stuffed into one back pocket. A fellow Team Betty passed me and I could barely acknowledge her with a plastic bag dangling from my teeth. I was trying to get into the second plastic bag in my pocket. Thank goodness there are no photos of this. I was peddling slow during these moments. It was frustrating. I finally stopped twice for a total of 11 minutes according to my Garmin watch. Those precious 11 minutes were used to go to the bathroom, fill my bottles with electrolytes and eat my nutrition.

bike-ziplock vineman (1)
The Hunchback de Ziplock bags of nutrition is oh so very aero.

There was better traffic control this year however there seem to be a lot more cars on the roads. It is summer in Napa after all. For a few miles I got stuck with a three other athletes behind a slow moving car, unable to pass it. Another car almost took out two cyclists in front of me when they got confused and entered the wrong lane. I had to shout for the car to “stop” and we safely rode around it.

Despite all the wind, stopping and traffic, I managed to improve my pace from the prior year’s but my official bike time would record a slower pace than my actual moving time. In a similar way with my swim result, I was still pleased with my pace. I was able to negative split, felt strong throughout the ride and passed many athletes during the last 10 miles.


As I got off the bike, I had a feeling I might be dehydrated. While I was on the bike, someone driving by shouted to me what sounded like “you need to take salt.” I dismissed it. It’s hard to be certain what exactly the words were. Also how could the driver have possibly known that? Still it stuck in my head as I headed out of T2. I investigated my arms and noticed that I didn’t appear to be sweating much and I had a lot of salt on my skin. It was a windy day, so that could have dried up my sweat and my back did feel quite sweaty.

After the race, I realized I did not drink enough on the bike. I had lots of electrolytes still in the Ziplock bag I was carrying on the bike. Rookie mistake.


Ironically, my father had reminded me before the race to “drink, drink, drink” which he told me is the relic of a song sung by Mario Lanza (his favorite singer) from the movie “Student Prince”. “It might prevent cramps” dad said. I think he might have been right.


If I didn’t appear sweaty enough on the bike, I certainly made up for it on the run. The weather forecast was a high of 83F, which is relatively cool for this race. It felt much warmer to me. (Our car showed a temperature of 90F that afternoon.) I felt good for the first two miles and tried to stay hydrated, but both legs started to cramp up. I ran whenever my legs would allow me to and walked as fast as I could the other times. I traded encouragement and small talk with a few other athletes suffering on the run course with me. I carefully took in electrolytes, salt and nutrition and focused on trying to recover. I accepted that I could not run much but pleaded with my legs to at least allow me to run the last mile in.


The high-fives from friends, cheers from strangers and the energy from my dear friend Rhonda running with me for a few yards, transferred some mojo into my legs and I was able to run the last mile to the finish line.


I didn’t care so much about my time as I cared about finishing strong in front of the kids. I wanted to set a good example. What a tough day for them to get up at 5 am and be out there in the heat all day. I could hear the 11 year old cheering me from start to finish. I appreciated her energy and enthusiasm. I’m honored that the 13 year old sports enthusiast gave up on his search for Brett Favre (you know, THAT famous quarterback), to search for me. Favre’s wife was racing too. After I finished, the 15 year old told me he wanted to race a triathlon next year. My heart melted. He even offered to pace me at this race but I had to tell him it was not allowed, but he did find a lot of Pokeman all over Guerneville and Windsor.

I smiled to myself all day, grateful that my family was there cheering me on. I worried they’d be bored, hot and exhausted waiting for me to finish. I wanted to finish the race so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for me too long.


And I’m so grateful for this guy, for making sure I’d get my workouts in and being my biggest cheerleader. Thanks for all the support darling!


Shout out to my Team Betty. There were a dozen of us racing and I am also so grateful to be a part of an amazing group of women from all over the world. I would meet one of the Bettys on the run course. Later I would learn that it was Arianna and she had traveled from Ecuador to race. She graciously thanked me later for the “power hug” saying that it helped her. I told her a few miles back, another friend and SVTC teammate named Christina hugged me when I needed it. I told them both, that this sport is part training and part heart and soul.

There were a total of four Betty podiums. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendship between Audra and Jen (below). They stood on the podium together, in the same age group. Polly and Jordan also made the podium. A shout out to Jordan for placing 1st in her age group!

IMG_5122And happy birthday to Hannah, who was celebrating the anniversary of her 29th birthday in a badass way.


I finished with my 4th best effort out of 5, almost an hour over my PR. The small improvements (swim, transition, learning about nutrition) will all contribute to the bigger picture next year, as I seek to, once again, chase down my PR. For now, I’ll celebrate being able to say that I am among the many happy souls who are privileged to partake in this sort of thing.


  • Need to re-install a bento box if I’m going to continue to use bars for nutrition otherwise I need to go back to liquid calories.
  • Heed my father’s advice to “drink, drink, drink” (water that is, not booze).
  • Try out the latest anti-camping remedy. Yes cramping is part conditioning and part hydrations but for me, it’s also a part of my genetics. Even when I’m fully hydrated, I can get bad cramps. It impairs me physically AND mentally. I’m afraid to push too hard when I race because I’m scared of cramping. This article talks about what I’ve learned about cramping from a nutrition class I took at Stanford
  • Heed Coach Soren’s advice that if I really work on my swimming, I can get faster.
  • It’s a long-term goal. Coach Garry from SVTC reminded me that to really prepare properly, it’s a long-term goal.
  • I’m in a new age group and while it does get harder, it’s still possible to PR. I just need to work a lot harder at it.

It’s about the journey and for this race, I was smiling to myself on the course feeling loved and fortunate to have my family’s support. I am so grateful to be able to do this sort of thing.


Interested in the cool gear all the Bettys are wearing? You can get most of it here:


Inspirations for 2016: What It Means to Be “Badass is Beautiful”

Happy 2016!

It’s hard to believe this will be my 5th year indulging in the sport of triathlons and my 3rd year learning ultra running. When I decided to race my first triathlon in 2011, my primary motivation was to force myself to get comfortable swimming in open waters. And so it began … I signed up for my first triathlon, but not the sprint distance nor the Olympic distance. I signed up for a half distance. Go big or go home as they say! If I was going to do an open water swim, I was going to swim more than a mile. By later 2011, I accomplished that goal. One year later, in 2012, I completed my first ultra distance triathlon, Ironman Canada, swimming 2.4 miles. Only a couple years earlier, I never would have imagined I would do such a thing!

I also could never have imagined all of the amazing experiences and people I would meet as a result of being involved in ultra endurance sports. One of these amazing experiences is being a member Team Betty 2016! This is my second year as an ambassador for Betty Designs, a pretty rad line of stylish, functional and high quality cycling, swimming, running and athletic wear for women designed by a pretty cool athlete, mom, graphic artist and entrepreneur named Kristin Mayer. I love our mottos: “Badass is Beautiful” and “Do Epic Shit”.   I was fortunate to be invited by Kristen to join this team of 200+ inspiring and badass female athletes (mostly triathletes and ultra runners) from all over the world and who do epic shit.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of these inspiring teammates, Katherine Biziarek English, last year when I traveled to Arizona. I first met Katherine at True Food Kitchen, a restaurant she recommended. The menu is based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet. Over one of the most delicious and healthiest brunches I’ve ever had, we enjoyed sharing stories of how we discovered and fell in love with triathlons. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following Katherine’s journey and think you’ll enjoy hearing about how a school teacher went from being bored with running to qualifying for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals to be held in Omaha, Nebraska this year!

Katherine started training for her first triathlon in early 2008.   She had just completed a local half marathon and was bored with “just” running so she took swim lessons to figure out how to properly swim freestyle. I use to believe that most triathletes are long-time swimmers, who grew up swimming competitively. Like myself and many other triathletes, Katherine had to learn how “not to drown” and was intimidated with swimming in open waters. After beginning with a few duathlons she successfully completed her first open water triathlon in Flagstaff that summer! Although she felt she was slow, she was happy to have finished.

When I met Katherine for brunch, we chatted about our passion for food and commitment to healthy eating.

“Of course for years I thought I was in shape. I mean, I was a triathlete, right? I was by no means disciplined to a training schedule like I am now, never did two-a-day training, and my nutrition hadn’t changed one bit. I wasn’t fit, but in my mind, I was! I was probably 15-17 pounds heavier than I am now.”

In 2012, Katherine’s coach Frank Sole sat her down and talked to her about cleaning up her nutrition. They had already added strength training and Katherine was making gains. She focused on her diet, cut back on gluten, and started meal planning weekly. Within a year, Katherine was leaner and her overall energy had improved. Even her skin was clearer than ever. Katherine then connected with a local endurance dietitian, Brooke Schohl of Fuel to Finish. With the help of Brooke, they started looking at metabolic efficiency to tweak both training and racing nutrition, particularly since she began tackling 70.3’s (half distance triathlons). Katherine continued to lean out. With disciplined swim-bike-run and strength training and under the guidance of a new coach, Michellie Jones, who continues to support Katherine’s focus on good nutrition, Katherine started to increase speed and move up in her age group. And then it happened …

“I never EVER thought I would be on the podium and going to USAT Nationals. For years, I was satisfied with just finishing. I am a firm believer that nutrition is absolutely critical to athletic success. Of course, I still have my pizza or cupcake here and there, but overall, I am conscientious of what I eat daily, so I make smart choices. I know how certain foods impact my performance as well.”

Katherine’s husband Jon also benefitted from learning more about nutrition. Jon lost over 25 pounds mostly through nutritional changes. One of Katherine’s secrets to good nutrition is planning her meals weekly. As with any goal, whether it’s a race or overall health and fitness, you are more likely to achieve your goal with a good plan.

I was honored when Katherine reached out to me for suggestions on one of her weekly meal plans. This particular meal plan was special. Katherine was planning a healthy three course New Year’s Day brunch for her husband. To find out what I suggested, what Katherine made and recipes to a couple of the dishes, check out  “A Healthy Three Course New Year’s Breakfast” post.

Congratulations Katherine and Jon on your amazing journey and sharing your story!  Katherine, you are badass beautiful and I look forward to cheering you on at Nationals!   Maybe someday we can play Thelma & Louise and run a trail race together?

Katherine in 2015
Katherine in 2015
Katherine in 2011


Katherine and Jon 2015
Katherine and Jon 2015

My First Ultra Marathon – Northface Endurance Challenge 50K + 1 mile

I once said I’d never do a triathlon.  I am an Ironman.  I once said I’d never want to run more than 26.2 miles of a marathon.  I am now an ultrarunner.  YES I AM.  And I’m grateful for every opportunity to pursue these crazy things.  Before I continue with my race report, you should watch a video made by Gus Luong, who ran his first 50 miler the same day I ran my first 50K.  He graciously gave me permission to include his video, which shares his vantage of the amazingly beautiful and challenging North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50 mile course.

It was a tough year physically. I was anemic, fatigued and had other health issues to deal with.  I dropped out of the Wildflower Long Course triathlon in May as a result.  When my health improved, I had permission to do the Vineman 70.3 half Ironman triathlon.  It was my slowest of 3 appearances but I was thrilled to get through it.  Then I was lucky to be invited to be a part of a 12 member team and raced Hood to Coast (HTC), a 197 mile relay race across Oregon.  I was feeling better at HTC and my running was improving.  This helped me feel optimistic about my first ultramarathon, the Northface Challenge 50K in the Marin Headlands.

Training had been going well.  Although I was not feeling like myself, I was able to train at a low heart rate and had the endurance to go long. Then, 4 weeks prior to race day, I developed a neuroma in my foot. Every step felt like I was landing on broken glass with a continuous burning sensation that extended to the tip of my third and forth toe. Over the next few weeks and up until the day before the race, I debated whether I should withdraw. Fortunately, I had a lot of encouragement from my friends and the confidence I could finish under the 10 hour time limit.   When I arrived at the start, my friends greeted me with a warm welcome. I’m so lucky to have such good friends whom I met through the love of the sport. Being surrounded by them comforted me.

It was perfect weather for racing. At 7 am it was about 55F and overcast. Last year it was about 40F. It had rained heavily for several days prior to the race. One of the foot bridges had been washed away so the race course had to be modified at the last minute. The course ended up being 1 mile longer, 32 miles instead of 31. So I ending up running a 50K + 1 extra mile.

Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi
Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi


Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)


Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (50 miler)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)

My original goal was to complete the 50K in about 8 hours. I had to let go of my ego and be pleased that I’d complete it in less than 10 hours. I rarely take pain medicine before or during a race but on that day, I took an Aleve, an anti-inflamatory containing Naproxen. One pill lasts all day and I heard it was gentle on the stomach. My game plan was to start out slow, hike the hills and treat the first 6 miles like a warm-up. After 6 miles, I pretended my marathon race started. These are the type of mind games I’d play with myself.



Parts of the trail were slippery with mud.   The worst part was climbing up the Heather Cutoff Trail. It’s a single track, with switchbacks all the way up the mountain.

The rainfall had produced a stream of water running down it. The mud was thick. As I climbed up, the elite and fast 50 mile racers were headed towards me, in the opposite direction down the mountain. Some were sliding down and I just tried to keep out of their way.  My foot was burning at that point and the idea of dropping out did enter into my mind. I had a brief thought that I could catch a ride to the finish at the next aid station. Then I heard one of our former coaches and elite athlete, Erich, say hi to me. Perfect timing. Hearing my name and having to look up and talk to him briefly woke me up from my discomfort. I continued to trot up in the mud. If it had been a training day, there would be no way I’d be running in this mess. But once I got over the fear of doing a face plant, I just embraced it like a 10 year old playing in the mud. Runners coming down gave me a lot of encouragement and updates on the condition of the course ahead. It was a big relief to get to the top. I saw 2 good friends. My pal Summer stopped to check on me. Her smile was another positive distraction. Then Amalia stopped in her tracks, called out my name and extended her arms to give me a big bear hug. Thank you ladies. I read somewhere that giving high fives or a hug helps to release endorphins.

The Heather cut-off slip and slide was quite the ride up and back down.
The Heather Cutoff slip and slide was quite the ride up and back down.  Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Alvin Lubrino
Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)


Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)


Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Glenn Schiavo (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Matt Iijima (raced 50 miles)
Photo credit: Matt Iijima (raced 50 miles)

I finally made it to the Cardiac Hill aid station. I knew at this point I was going to make it to the finish line, so long as I didn’t kill myself sliding back down that same switchback. I also heard someone say that we only had about a half marathon left to run. I laughed to myself thinking how 13 miles didn’t seem like much once you’ve ran a marathon distance or more.

Photo credit: Michelle Sun
Photo credit: Michelle Sun (raced 50K)

With my spirits revived, I picked up the pace and trotted back down the sloppy switchbacks. I studied how some of the fast 50 milers maneuvered in the mud. I tried to follow behind them (although briefly) and mimicked their strides. I was reminded to stay on my toes and to use and see the whole trail in front of me: the rocks or mound of dirt I could push off of; the grassy spot to gain some speed; or just to simply plant my foot in a puddle. If I slid, I just embraced it and kept on going. The mud was as sticky as it was slippery. One gal had to run the rest of the race with a muddy, wet sock when the mud refused to let go of her running shoe. I passed by several runners with mud on their faces and a lady who had one nasty, bloody knee cap. I’m happy to report that I made it down without losing my front teeth.

The last 13 miles was also when I entered into the state of foggy brain. It’s the period of time when I could not run and do simple math at the same time. It took me 15 minutes to calculate what pace I should maintain in order to finish under 10 hours. I kept thinking 26 plus 5 equaled 32. Close enough. Besides, rounding down felt better.

My knees spoke to me for the first time during the last few descents.  I almost never experience any discomfort in my knees but on this day, jumping over puddles, sinking and sliding in mud and the slightest change in my gait due to my sore foot must have put a strain on my knees.

At mile 29, I decided to just grit my teeth and go for it. After all, I didn’t want to come in last place and I didn’t want to take any chances of disqualifying. It was fun to pass a few people during the last two miles. I’m sure those runners did not appreciate me doing that at the very end but having fresher legs was the reward for conserving my foot.

Rama surprised me by greeting me at the last mile. Knowing my foot was hurting he said to me “you know you can stop running now” since I would make it to the finish under 10 hours. I stopped running for a bit, but I didn’t want the runners I passed to pass me back with less than a mile to go, so I ran it in. Wow. What a day. After my friends congratulated me at the finish, they pointed me towards the medical tent. With a little nudging, I went in and was never happier to have my foot massaged. I think I thanked the guy at least 3 times.

Photo credit: Chad Su
Photo credit: Chad Su

The foot is still tender, about 4 days later but the legs are fine. I’m looking forward to doing this race again next year. It’s well organized, a gorgeous course and after climbing an elevation gain of about 6,700 feet, you feel like such a bass ass.

The real bad asses are my friends who raced the 50 miler that day.  I don’t have the speed nor strength to pursue 50 miles on that course but maybe someday I might.  Never say never!


  • Two 16 ounce water bottles were more than enough to get me to each aid station.
  • I should have carried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bar with protein with me. I had 4 gels and 3 cookies. It wasn’t enough. Because my pace was much slower due to my foot, it took me longer to get from aid station to aid station and I got hungry. I was lucky I did not bonk.
  • Carry an extra pair of dry socks if it’s raining or muddy. If it’s cold, you can wear the socks on your hands.
  • Do more weight training and leg strengthening early in the season.
  • Practice more fast hiking up hills. Because I’m a slow hiker, I am more comfortable jogging up slowly. While this works for me, I need to develop my hiking muscles.   This will help to so save my running muscles.
  • Don’t be afraid of the mud or puddles. Sometimes you just have to run right through it.
  • If ever I see someone suffering during the race, I’ll be sure to give them support. Sometimes that little bit of encouragement can go a long way.
  • That drink offered at the aid station that almost matched the color of my shirt is Mountain Dew.  It has a lot of caffeine in it and at mile 26, it’s my new favorite magical elixir.
  • Never give up on the things you love to do nor the people you love.
  • Never say never.
Photo credit: Kiyoko Ikeuchi


The North Face Endurance Challenge 2013 Marathon – First Trail Race Report

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter.  I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds there are many more hills to climb.”  – Nelson Mandela

Mandela passed away 2 days prior to my first trail race, The North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC), marathon distance.   His words were my mantra as I climbed the hills of the Marin Headlands.  My other inspiration came from my dear friend Kelly, a 10 time Ironman and 2 time 50 mile endurance runner who had to miss racing the 50K NFEC because her cancer had returned a few weeks before.   While I was sad she could not be out there on the course with me, seeing her the day before the race lifted my spirits.  She reminded me to enjoy my race; I reminded myself to be grateful.  A big “thank you” to NFEC for deferring Kelly’s registration to any NFEC race she wants to do next year.

I signed up for this race to console myself after my DNF at Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT).  A friend racing the 50K recommended it.  Since I was pulled from the IMLT course at mile 60+ on the bike, I still had some pent up energy brewing inside my body.  However, after a long training season, I was too mentally exhausted to do another Ironman right away.  Doing a trail marathon seemed like the perfect answer.  It was something new and challenging to focus my attention on.  I admit I was frightened when I discovered there was 4,500 feet of climbing.  I was also intimidated by the trails.  While I had trained for IMLT by running on some local trails, I am very new to trail running.  I am still learning how to navigate around the uneven and bumpy terrain.  My goal for the race was to survive it without doing a face plant or spraining my ankle.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 10.42.00 AM

The temperature was between 35-40F on the morning of the race.  Located in the Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge on the other side of San Francisco, the NFEC California is the “championship” of the series of NFEC races.  As a result, some of the world’s top endurance athletes were competing that morning.  A couple days prior to the race, I attended a panel discussion.  I inadvertently photo-bombed a photo shoot with the athletes’ sponsor, Salomon.  Oops.  Just call me Gump, Forest Gump.

My apologies to Salomon fo the photo bomb.  Some of the athletes here are: François D'haene, Michel Lanne, Cameron Clayton, Emelie Forsberg, Ryan Sandes, Kilian Jornet, Ricky Gates, Miguel Angel Heras and Anna Frost.
My apologies to Salomon fo the photo bomb. Some of the athletes here are: François D’haene, Michel Lanne, Cameron Clayton, Emelie Forsberg, Ryan Sandes, Kilian Jornet, Ricky Gates, Miguel Angel Heras and Anna Frost.

The 50 miler race began at 5 am!  Yes, it was dark and cold at that time.  Here’s a fun video of the elite male racers.  It’s challenging enough to run the trails in broad daylight, let alone in the dark with headlamps.

The 50K race began at 7 am and the marathon (my race) began at 9 am.  I arrived early to see my 50K friends at the start.  Since I had a couple hours before my start, we drove to Sausalito where I ate a big traditional bacon and eggs breakfast.  It was divine.

After being frozen at Ironman Lake Tahoe, I wasn’t taking any chances.  I wore two layers on top, a fleece headband and inserted hand warmers inside my gloves.


  • I carried too much food and too much water (2 liters) in my hydration backpack for the marathon distance.  I think I will carry just a handheld bottle or a smaller hydration pack in the future.  The aide stations were fully stocked with all the food I needed and were close enough for me to survive with less water.
  • Solid food worked well for me on a trail race.  Salted boiled potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels and oranges are my favorite.  I waited until mile 13 to start consuming coke and took only 1 gel the entire day at mile 20.
  • Power walking up the hills saved my legs.  I was successful in making up time on the flats however lost a lot of time on the descents.  I need to learn how to run faster downhill.  I know I will improve over time with practice.  For my next race, I will focus on running up some of the hills.  I ran this race very conservatively because I was afraid of dying out on the course from all the climbing.
  • Trail running is a much more laid back and supportive community.  There was much more encouragement and camaraderie from fellow racers than any other race I’ve ever been in.
  • Trail races offer the best free food for their athletes.  Unfortunately, as usual, I am unable to eat much after several hours of physical exertion.  It is important to consume some calories within 20 minutes so I came prepared with a frozen chocolate milk, my favorite recovery drink.  It was so cold that my chocolate milk was still a little slushy 10 hours later when I finally drank it.

I finished about 44 minutes over my estimated goal time.  My legs felt remarkably good 24-48 hours after the race.  My quads, hamstrings and hip flexors were tight but I have felt worse after a half marathon.  My feet were a bit tender but no worse than after any other marathon distance running.

It is absolutely gorgeous at The Marin Headlands, my new favorite place to run.  I had so much fun, I will be doing the 50K next year with my friend Kelly.  Did I really just say that?

I think my race report could have been summed up entirely with photos, taken on race day and on my training runs a few weeks prior.  I can’t wait to get back out there again.  Enjoy the photo journey.

Several heat lamps were provided to help keep athletes warm before the start of the race. I ended up making friends with some of these folks on the course.
I ran with a nice man “Sal” from Mexico. He’s ahead of me here in the photo. Running at a low heart rate and hiking up some steep climbs in the wilderness is conducive to making new friends.
Some of the descents are steep. I kept my eyes on the trail and only looked up when walking or when the trail was flat and clear. When I did take the time to look up, this is what I saw.
Ran into a friend here who was racing the 50K. She had made a wrong turn and ended up running 2 extra miles!


Yeh, that was fun!
Yeh, that was fun!
We had amazing weather every time we went to the Marin Headlands to train.
Nature’s stair master. After training on the Dipsea Trail the week prior, these stairs seemed tame.
Yes, the quads are burning just a bit and then you have to start running once you get to the top.
I’ve gotten so use to just putting my head down and doing all the climbing here in Northern California. When I make it to the top and survey the land below, I still get amazed at how high I’ve climbed.
Turns out I have some horse whispering skills. He came up to me as if to offer a ride. I declined. I enjoy running free out there as much as he does.

1397997_10153445120185453_1750832929_o 857094_10152159853485832_630789381_o-1 1402011_10153445114800453_2094061665_o 1397827_10153445118725453_701682861_o 1459273_10151999366949110_231116362_n IMG_2151 IMG_1993 IMG_1991 IMG_1989 IMG_1984 1393875_10200669125755745_2078701329_n 893585_10152159853775832_2018355018_o 903550_10152159853700832_504776760_o


Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 Race Report – The Soul of a Triathlon

“The only thing that matters in this world is the positive we do to make it a better world: helping others feel okay about where they are at, applauded for their courage, elevated by their accomplishments. That shared support and inclusiveness is … the soul of triathlon. That’s been true for me since that first day I dragged myself around that track, elevated by the cheers of ‘Go Team!’ ”

These are the words from Rick, a dear friend and fellow Ironman following the 2013 Ironman Lake Tahoe event.


I swear, I had no intentions of signing up for the coldest and most difficult Ironman.  Having biked and climbed 100 miles in Lake Tahoe in previous years, I was confident I had the physical strength and ability to complete this Ironman.  I even checked the historical weather data and water temperatures and determined that I would be able to perform in weather conditions that was typical for that time of year.

I prepared as best as I could for all of it.  From May through September, I had traveled to Lake Tahoe as often as I could to swim, bike and run at 6,000 – 7,000 ft altitude and to train for the 2 looped bike course with over 6,500 ft of climbing.

In addition, I made 2 equipment adjustments:

  • 12-32T cassette on my TT bike.  Many athletes also changed out their crank to a compact 50/34 with a 11-28T cassette or some other combination that would help them save their legs and spin up all the climbs.  Yes a 12-32T can fit on a TT (time trial/triathlon) bike.  It just needs a big ugly mountain bike derailleur.  UPDATE:  I’ve been following this year’s Facebook posts on the Ironman Lake Tahoe page.  Seems like many people are opting to change their cassette/crank.  I’ve taken a break this year but have been back to ride the course this year in 2014.  I spin out on the course in some sections so I am going to try the 11-32T cassette, maybe even experiment with an 11-34T.  Stay tuned!
  • Smaller, better fitting wetsuit.  It turns out that the wetsuit I’ve been wearing for the past 1 1/2 years was too big.  Water was passing through my wetsuit which cooled my body down too much.  I had cramped up in 72F water at Ironman Canada last year.  Now I know why.  The water temperature at Lake Tahoe was about 61F on race day.
I was grateful to have 2 friends who knew a lot about bikes help to figure out how to change my cassette out, Scott a former Cat2 cyclist and Charlie, who grew up working in a bike shop and had the opportunity to work on Greg LeMond's bike a while back.)
I was grateful to have 2 friends who knew a lot about bikes help to figure out how to change my cassette out: Scott a former Cat2 cyclist and Charlie, who grew up working in a bike shop and had the opportunity to work on Greg LeMond’s bike a while back.

I had traveled to Lake Tahoe a couple weeks before race day.  The weather changed dramatically during that time.  I had been training on location and while I knew the water temperature would be in the low 60’s I was not prepared for the storm that blew in 24-48 hours before.  Myself and several other athletes were scrambling to find, ship overnight or have friends or family bring additional cold weather bike gear and clothing to Lake Tahoe.

Two days prior to race day, the temperature had dropped from about 71F to low 50’s F.  A storm had moved in.  For the first time I saw white capped waves.

The day before race day, it snowed in some parts of Lake Tahoe and rained at King’s Beach, the location of the swim start.  I dropped off a small T1 bag that was double bagged inside water proof bags and decided to bring my clothing, gear and food the next day so it would not freeze over night in the rain.

Race rules prohibited athletes from covering up the entire bike so we did the best we could to cover up the bike seat and handle bars.  There was ice on the bikes in the morning.  Some electronic shifters failed during the race.  We were warned about being gentle with our bikes as the chain and other parts might be frozen.
Race rules prohibited athletes from covering up the entire bike so we did the best we could to cover up the bike seat and handle bars. There was ice on the bikes in the morning. Some electronic shifters failed during the race. We were warned to be gentle with our bikes as the chain and other parts might be frozen.
It's too bad no coverage from the freezing rain was provided for all of these expensive bikes.  At the minimum, perhaps the WTC would consider putting the transition bags inside a tent in the future.  Many bags of clothing and food were frozen on race day.
It’s too bad no coverage from the freezing rain was provided for all of these expensive bikes. At the minimum, perhaps the WTC would consider putting the transition bags inside a tent in the future. Many bags of clothing and food were frozen on race day.

The ambient temperature was 25F on morning of the inaugural of Ironman Lake Tahoe.  Normally Coach Tom goes over my race plan and gives me a pep talk before the race.  Instead, we spent the entire conversation preparing for freezing temperatures.  We verbally walked through T1, how I planned to stay warm before the swim and how I would warm up after the swim:

  • Bring all my food in the morning so it will not be frozen
  • Activate 6 hand & toes warmers in T1 bag in the morning to warm up clothes
  • Keep core temperature as warm as possible by remaining inside the community center building as long as possible
  • Wear gloves onto the beach with hand warmers, discarding them before the start of the swim.
  • Put Vaseline on my cheeks, nose and back of my hands to repel the cold water. (Tip from Dr. Amanda Stevens, professional triathlete I happen to meet on the beach that week.)
  • Pour warm water inside wetsuit before the start of the swim.
  • Change into completely dry bike gear after the swim
  • Take off wetsuit inside tent
  • Full winter bike gear with layers to be worn including toe warmers including thick bike gloves I borrowed
  • Drink warm Miso soup from a thermos in T1 to warm up core temperature
  • Pour warm water from a thermos onto my feet and hands in T1
  • Make sure I drank Ensure to get some calories in fast.  Coach Tom warned me that I won’t feel like drinking or eating when it’s very cold but to make sure that I do
  • Bike with hand and toe warmers placing 1 inside my sports bra and 1 inside my back bike Jersey pocket.
Pro Amanda "Doc" Stevens recommended putting Vaseline on the back of my hands and my face; and pour warm water down my wetsuit to stay warm for the open water swim.
Pro Amanda “Doc” Stevens recommended putting Vaseline on the back of my hands and my face; and pour warm water down my wetsuit to stay warm for the open water swim.


The swim was eerie, mystical and peaceful all at the same time.  It was beautiful to watch the sun rise with snow capped mountains in the backdrop.  Lake Tahoe is one of the cleanest and clearest bodies of water.  Low lying mist above the surface of the water resulted from a 30 degree difference between the water temperature (61F) and air temperature (25-27F).  This made it difficult to see the buoys.  I had to stop a few times to ask the life guards on paddle boards which direction to swim.  I watched three athletes in front of me turn prematurely and head off in the wrong direction.  The poor visibility above the water, contrasted with 45-85 feet of visibility below the water.  All the practice swims paid off.  I was comfortable swimming in cold water and at altitude.  I did not cramp up and had a good swim despite stopping a few times to figure out if I was swimming in the right direction.   In the future, I will take advantage of starting in an earlier swim wave to gain a few additional minutes of bike time.

The cleanest and clearest water I'll ever swim in.  Getting into the water wasn't the issue.   Getting out was the challenge.
The cleanest and clearest water I’ll ever swim in. Getting into the water wasn’t the issue. Getting out was the challenge.
Mist over the water made it impossible to see where the next buoy was.  A couple buoys had floated away and had to be towed back by a jet ski while the swim was in progress.
Mist over the water made it impossible to see where the next buoy was. A couple buoys had floated away and had to be towed back by a jet ski while the swim was in progress.

Image 8


T1 had been described as Dante’s Inferno of nakedness.  I was surprised that the T1 tent was one-third the size of the T1 tent at the 2012 Ironman Canada.  There were not enough chairs or room for all of the athletes.  Some athletes had to wait outside because there were too many athletes spending 20-45 minutes in the tent.  Once inside, some athletes lost socks or sunglasses as it was kicked or stepped on in a very crowded tent full of competitive, nervous type A personalities.  I was lucky to find a chair and had the good fortune of being assisted by a volunteer named Terry, a former professional triathlete.  I was shivering uncontrollably.  She helped me take my wetsuit off inside the tent.  There was no way I was taking my wetsuit off outside.  I drank warm Miso soup and poured warm water on my feet.  My hands were shaking.  The heaters in the heating tent ran out of fuel.  I had to rely on Terry to get me dressed as efficiently as possible.  She was amazing.  She politely asked me 3 times if I wanted to drink my bottle of Ensure.  I got the hint after she asked me the 3rd time.  She was encouraging me to drink it.  She also told me that she wanted me to get on the bike as soon as possible to warm up.  I thanked Terry, gave her a kiss and a hug, heeded her words and got out of T1 in 24 minutes.


The biggest issue wasn’t the actual air temperature but the rate at which the ambient temperature warmed up.  Hour by hour, it remained unusually cold and took much longer to reach a high of 57F.  My left quad had cramped up in T1.   I had trouble clipping into my bike pedal possibly due to ice on the bike.   I was dressed in full winter bike gear with tights, 3 layers, borrowed toe covers and borrowed winter bike gloves.  I had 6 hand and toe warmers placed inside my shoes, gloves, bike shirt pocket and sports bra.  I never felt the warmth of the activated warmers during the entire ride.  The first 10 miles was very slow and the most miserable I’ve ever been on a bike.  I tried to warm up slowly.  Eventually my left quad would loosen up.  The bike gloves were so thick, I had to stop the bike and remove my gloves to eat solid food.  I remained cold for the entire time I was on the bike.  I saw athletes being taken away in ambulances for hypothermia.  One athlete rode 40 miles in his wetsuit.

My plan was to warm up slowly then negative split the 2nd loop.  I felt strong after the longest climb up Brockway.  Once I descended, I started to push harder to make up time on the bike.  I felt strong and was pedaling strong as I passed the entrance to Squaw Valley at mile 60.  To my surprise, I am asked to stop.  At first I thought I was receiving a penalty.  It did not occur to me that I missed one of the intermediate bike time cut-offs.

I’m not going to lie.  It stung to DNF (did not finish).   I was stunned for a few minutes and watched, one by one, all the athletes behind me stopped, some of whom were my friends.  It was hard to see the stunned and disappointed look on their faces, let alone deal with my own disappointment.

My good friend and sherpa, Ted, happen to be there, cheering me on when I realized that it was over.  I looked for him in the crowd and mouthed the words “I didn’t make it”.  He came over and gave me a big hug.  I almost cried.  I told him and myself that I was ok.  I gave it my best effort that day and trained hard for 9 months.  I did as much as I could to prepare for the weather.

After gathering my thoughts I asked Ted for the time.  It was 2:05.  I had been standing there for a few minutes and later learned I missed the cut-off by 2 minutes.  There were 700 people who either did not start the race or were behind me on the bike.  Too bad.  I felt I would have made the 5:30 pm final bike cut-off time.  There were athletes who completed the bike course and decided to remove themselves from the race because they were still too cold after 112 miles.  Some of these people were experienced Ironman and coaches.

My mind played the “what-if” game and I thought about how I stopped too many times during the swim, to fix my booties, to figure out where I was going; how I stopped to fix the toe covers; how I stopped to take off my jacket and eat some food; how I stopped for special needs or to use the bathroom.

I don’t know how I would have felt if I could have made the overall bike cut-off.  Would I be able to run?  I like to believe that if I made it to T2 I would have been able to finish the run in time, however there is no way to know for sure what would have happened.  Several of my friends DNF’d the run either pulling themselves from the race due to hypothermia and dehydration or didn’t make the final 17 hour cut-off time.


The blow was softened by the fact that I had completed an Ironman Canada the year before.  The highlights of the day were the phone calls and a text messages from my dearest friends and family telling me how proud they were of me.


After getting something to eat and a long hot shower, I went to cheer on my friends and others crossing the finish line.  The excitement at the finish did help to cheer me up.  Although I wished for all of my friends to finish, there was one athlete in particular, named Tanja who raced Ironman Lake Tahoe in honor of her fiancé who lost his life to leukemia.  She spread his ashes in Lake Tahoe.  I am happy to report that Tanja finished strong.

Overall, it took the Pro’s about an hour longer to finish IMLT compared to other IM’s; 565 people decided not to race that morning and 20% of athletes DNF’d.  About half of the women in my age group DNF’d.  Weather was definitely a factor.  It was epic.

Bouncing Back & Life After IMLT

It is quite common for athletes to experience a withdrawal following an Ironman.  The withdrawal can be particularly hard if you DNF’d.  Everyone deals with it differently.  Some take care of unfinished business and sign up for the next earliest Ironman.  Some seek retribution the following year.  Others decided to take a break from the sport altogether.  As for me, I did not have the mental energy to prepare and compete in another Ironman right away.  As much as I wanted to attempt IMLT next year, my coach and I agree that maybe it’s best to swallow my ego and pride, and accept that similar cold temperatures are too much of a risk for someone of my build and weight.  At the suggestion of a friend, I naively signed up to do the North Face Challenge as my first trail marathon.  It’s not an Ironman, but the challenge of learning how to trail race turned out to be the perfect distraction and outlet to redirect all the energy still stored inside my Ironman conditioned body.

I realize how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy doing Ironmans or trail marathons.   I will be racing in less than 3 weeks and will be thinking of my friend Kelly who is suppose to race the 50K distance of the North Face Challenge.  She is currently in the hospital battling cancer for the 2nd time.   No doubt my multiple Ironman and ultra marathon friend will survive it again.  I will be thinking about her every step of the way on race day.


The takeaways from this experience are:

  1. Take advantage of a rolling, self-seated swim wave start.  You may gain the extra 2 minutes you need to make the bike cut-off.
  2. Prepare as best you can for the unexpected and just roll with it.  If it doesn’t work out, know that you did the best you could to prepare and lean on the support of good friends and your family.
  3. Enjoy and appreciate the entire journey.  The friendships and memories will last a lifetime.  Race day will go by too fast and be a big blur.
  4. Sometimes it is best to swallow your pride and ego and let it go.  Sometimes it is not healthy to compete with or compare yourself to others.  Sometimes it’s best to just do it for the fun of it.
  5. The only thing that matters in this world is the positive we do to make it a better world: helping others feel okay about where they are at, applauded for their courage, elevated by their accomplishments. That shared support and inclusiveness is … the soul of triathlon. That’s been true for me since that first day I dragged myself around that track, elevated by the cheers of ‘Go Team!’


One Year Ironman Anniversary: Celebration, Inspiration and Friendship

Yesterday was the anniversary of my first Ironman.  It was a day of celebration, inspiration and friendship.

I celebrated by biking 105 miles with over 6,100 ft of climbing.  I was suppose to ride the day before however was under the weather.  While I felt good enough  to tackle a big ride the following day, I was not feeling 100%.

Just before the start of the ride, I heard a familiar voice asking my friends if they were training for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  I turned around and it was my friend Jeff Schmidt getting ready to do his 100 mile ride too.  A big hug from Jeff perked me right up.  Jeff inspired me to sign up for my first Ironman after I watched him do a practice swim before he raced Ironman Canada two years ago.  Jeff is preparing to race the Ironman World Championships in Kona as a challenged, amputee athlete.  Thanks Jeff for popping into my life again at exactly the right moment to inspire me!

A surprise inspiration from Jeff Schmidt.

Here’s more about Jeff and why he inspires me:

I felt fatigued and had low energy, however made it through 105 miles with the support of two good friends, Ryan and Alex.  Ryan had just raced a 2 mile open water swim and finish 3rd on the podium.  Alex had already ridden over 100 miles the day before.  Both are very athletic.  Alex had qualified for and raced the Ironman World Champions in Kona a few times.  Needless to say, both guys are stronger riders but they rode with me, encouraged me, and made me laugh all the way.  I am very grateful for their friendship and support.

After the ride, I went home to watch 4 friends finish their Ironman, 3 at Ironman Canada Whistler, and 1 at Ironman Louisville, Kentucky.  Each of these friends have supported my journey:

  • Kelly, a cancer survivor, mom, friend and the woman who stood by my side to encourage me before the start of my first triathlon and my first Ironman.
  • Ron, Team in Training’s Iron Team coach and friend who has also encouraged me along the way giving me a push both physically and mentally.
  • Leah, the nutritionist consultant who I look forward to learning about endurance sports nutrition.
  • Rick, one of my training partners and one of the kindest and thoughtful people I know.  I wanted very much to travel to Whistler, Canada to watch Rick finish his first Ironman and to cheer on Kelly and Ron.  However, while we were running together at track, he says “Pim, I’ve been thinking.  You have a long bike ride scheduled on the weekend of my Ironman.  I think you should stay at home and focus on your own training.”  Thank you Rick for being so thoughtful and looking at my training schedule!

A big congratulations to all of you!  I cheered for and watched all of you cross the finish line from afar.

While watching the live video steam of all my friends crossing the finish line last night, I chatted with a friend who told me that “in thinking about which one I might do someday, one of the deciding factors will be the people I’m doing it with … in seeing all the folks train, encourage and enjoy the experience together makes it even more special for all you guys.  It’s all about the journey getting there!”  I cannot agree more.

My advice to Rick and others competing in their first Ironman is to enjoy the journey, every step of the way.  On race day, try to look up from your bike, take in all the scenery and smile back at all the people cheering for you.  It will be a long day, but the last few yards, as you run down the chute, will go by too quickly.  Take a mental snapshot so you can remember that you had one of the best times of your life.

Swimming at Altitude: Interview with Jeff Pearson Coach & National Open Water Swimming Champion

“At 6,000 feet, the race [Ironman Lake Tahoe] boasts the highest starting altitude of any Ironman with plenty of climbing, it may also earn the title of ‘toughest’ Ironman”

And I thought I was signing up for the pretty scenery and clean lake?  Shoot me now. Even Mark Allen, triathlon God, agreed.  Mark posted a comment on my Facebook wall about racing at Ironman Lake Tahoe.  He wrote, among other things, “DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPACT OF ALTITUDE ON YOUR RACE!” Why is this?  Here’s a great website with information about the physiological effects of altitude:

“Because of less oxygen available to the working muscles, exercise performance is decreased at high altitude. For example, it is impossible to run a mile at high altitude as fast as at low altitude. And this applies to any aerobic event, which is any muscle activity lasting more than two minutes. In addition one cannot expect to perform with the same intensity as at low altitude, and one’s pace has to be adjusted accordingly. This means running, cycling or walking a bit slower at high altitude, and taking more breaks and rest stops, to avoid exhaustion. For those who keep track of VO2 max, an overall measure of physical performance: VO2 max drops 3% per thousand feet of altitude gain, starting at around 5000 ft.”

“The body’s ability to utilize oxygen diminishes with increasing altitude. Even after acclimatization, this only improves a little bit and a person can never perform as well at altitude as they can at sea level. With increasing altitude, you need to take more air into your lungs, contributing to the breathless feeling that many athletes experience when first coming to altitude, and especially if trying to perform at the same intensity as at sea level. One of the processes in acclimatization important for athletes is the production of a hormone called EPO or erythropoietin. This hormone acts on the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Increasing these cells effectively increases the ‘oxygen carrying capacity’ in your blood. However, this process takes weeks. EPO is a big topic among competitive endurance athletes.”

So where do I begin to train for this race?  For me the logical answer was to go to Lake Tahoe to learn how my body responds to altitude and to learn how to race in altitude. In particular, Mark Allen stated that “one of the things that will not be so easy is the swim”.  Lucky for me, I had an opportunity to learn from one of the best open water swim coaches, Jeff Pearson, a professional swimming coach with 20 years experience, which includes, the USA National Team.  As a swimmer, Jeff was also a member of the USA Swimming National Team and won the USA Swimming National Championship in the 10K open water.  Jeff still holds the United States Masters Swimming 2 mile cable swim National record. Jeff, his wife Kristy and son Ian moved to Truckee last October after coaching USAS teams for 20 years in the Sacramento area.  Jeff and his wife have always loved the mountains and wanted their son to grow up in Lake Tahoe.   Jeff’s move was perfect timing to host open water swim clinics to help Ironman Lake Tahoe athletes prepare.  His clinics were attended by professional triathletes, Team Every Man Jack and every day athletes like me.  At my request, Jeff recently hosted a special clinic just for my club, the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club and Team in Training. This clinic proved to be invaluable.   We learned:

  • How to handle a mass swim start, and the new self seated wave start
  • How to enter and exit shallow water (when to run, how to run and porpoising)
  • Sighting
  • Breathing in altitude
  • Drafting
  • Pacing yourself for 2.4 miles

swimclinic owsclinic2

Practicing one technique of shallow water exiting: skipping.
Practicing one technique of shallow water exiting: skipping.
Kristy & future Olympian, Ian
Kristy & future Olympian, Ian

I also had a chance to interview Jeff and ask him for advice on open water swimming and preparing for Ironman Lake Tahoe: The Hungry Athlete: What carbo load meals do you enjoy or what you have learned from your past racing experience and during training?

Jeff:  I think the most important thing is to focus on eating “real” food and balancing carbs with high quality protein and healthy fats.  Eating a huge plate of spaghetti is just going to spike your insulin and make you crash. Also, because endurance athletes have such a high caloric demand they tend to overload on gels, bars and sports drinks. The trade off is they don’t have much in the way of nutrients.  During heavy training, I think it is good to use high glycemic fruits and vegetables as the major carb source.  Here in my house, we are obsessed with sweet potatoes and yams!  One of our favorite recipes is to cut up yams and grill them in a foil pan with red onions, olive oil and garlic salt. Yum!  Of course, gels, bars and sports drinks have their place during training and racing, but I encourage people to look for opportunities to substitute real food where they can.

The Hungry Athlete:  What do you recommend we eat before the swim, particularly because most of us cannot drink or eat during the 2.4 miles which for some of us, can mean as long as 2 hours swimming without nutrition or hydration. Jeff:  Eating lots of high quality foods and being well hydrated during the 3-4 days prior to the race is probably more important than the pre-race meal. You want to make sure your glycogen stores are topped off and then eat whatever you normally eat on race day (but maybe more of it). The day of the race is not the time to introduce new foods into your diet.

The Hungry Athlete:  Do you recommend carrying a GEL to take, without water, during the swim?

Jeff:  Nutrition during an IM swim is an interesting problem, especially for slower swimmers that are spending upwards of 2 hours in the water. Once again, having your glycogen topped off and being well hydrated before the start are critical.  I would also stick a gel or two in your suit.  The 10 seconds it takes to down a gel is well worth it if it saves you from bonking later in the day (please take your empty gel packet with you!). Unfortunately, there really isn’t a good way to hydrate during the swim, so you will need to catch up during T1 and the bike.  The amount of gel you can tolerate without water is highly individual, so it is important to experiment with this prior to race day.

The Hungry Athlete:  What are your tips for preparing to swim at altitude?

Jeff:  Unfortunately, nothing can take the place of living at altitude, but there is a fair amount of acclimatizing that takes place during the first 72 hours at altitude, so I recommend arriving by Wednesday for a Saturday race.  Also, coming up for training weekends where you spend 48 – 72 hours sleeping and training at altitude will help you acclimatize quicker and sort our your paces and heart rate zones for race day.

The Hungry Athlete:  What is one of your favorite healthy recipes?

Jeff:  Green Chili Turkey Burgers is one of our favorite recipe’s that we borrowed. I highly recommend this recipe.  It is delicious and healthy.

The recipe can be found here:

For more information about Jeff’s Boost Swimming Clinic, check out the links below.  I highly recommend Boost Swimming!

Vineman Half Ironman 70.3 Race Report 2013

The Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman is one of my favorite courses to race.   A qualifier for the Ironman World Championship 70.3, this triathlon attracts a competitive field.   It is also a very scenic course taking athletes on a tour by Sonoma’s picturesque vineyards and wineries.



I arrived early at the Russian River and felt relaxed.  The start was located in Guerneville, about 16 miles from the finish in Windsor, California.  It was overcast and air temperatures in the low 60’s F.  I felt cold standing in my wetsuit waiting to start.  I tried to warm up by jogging in place and doing jumping jacks on the beach.  Fortunately the water temperature was about 70-71F which was warmer than the air temperature.  It felt good to jump in.


I decided to swim to the far right this year to avoid getting trampled on by the 30 year old male triathletes in the waves behind me.  Last year, 2 guys swam right over me causing my swim cap and goggles to come off.  As a result, I lost 1 contact lens.  This made for an interesting bike ride last year.  Little did I know, I’d have another “interesting” bike ride this year.

For the first time during the swim, I looked back a few times to see if there were any swimmers right behind me.   This probably cost me a little time but it provided me with comfort.  No one swam over me this year.  For the second year during this race, I stood up and walked during the swim even though I promised myself that I would not waste energy trudging through the water.  The river is notoriously shallow in some parts.  The water level seemed even lower this year.  Once I felt my hands scrape the bottom of the river, I broke my promise and walked.

My overall swim time was almost exactly the same as last year, however I believe I’m a better swimmer this year.  I felt strong at the finish and kicked harder.  Had I not swam so wide, not looked back for swimmers behind me and walked less, I suspect that I would have had a faster swim time.


I stuffed my bike shoes with a sock in each; my heart rate monitor in the left shoe and my sunglasses inside my right shoe.  In the back of my mind I always worried about leaving my expensive Oakley sunglasses out in the open but dismissed that thought.  I naively believed there would be no reason for theft since each of the athletes would come prepared with their own gear.  I was wrong.  My sunglasses were missing from my neat little set up.  Nothing else was disturbed.  I looked all over wondering if it somehow got kicked around.  I’m not sure how that would happen without other items, like my bike shoes, being disturbed.  My heart rate monitor and socks were still tucked inside my shoes, just as I had left them.

Searching for sunglasses.
Searching for sunglasses.

I shouted out to a few friends volunteering and spectating to see if they had an extra pair of sunglasses for me to borrow.  No such luck.  A good friend volunteering that day ran back to T1 with me to help me look for them again.  I was hoping they were hidden in my T1 gear.  Unfortunately they were not.   I fretted for a minute thinking about what it was going to be like biking without my sunglasses.  I had already sustained an eye injury and scarred my cornea last year so I was extra cautious when it came to protecting my eyes.  No time to fret.  I grabbed my bike and got on it as quickly as possible.  My T1 time was over 11 minutes, twice the amount of time I had hoped for.


I am behind schedule and riding by myself for the first few miles.  Most of the field is ahead of me.  This helped me to relax and settle into my ride.  I then noticed that my Garmin was not displaying my average pace or the mileage.  It’s not picking up the satellite.  I didn’t want to turn it on and off in the middle of the race and hoped it would eventually pick up the satellite.  It does not.  I had to ask other athletes what mileage we were at along the way.  Fortunately, my heart rate monitor was working.  I relied strictly on heart rate and feel for the entire 56 miles.  To make the ride even more interesting, my chain jams a few times.  About 1/3rd of the way into the ride, my front derailleur is unable to move the chain out of the small ring.  Perhaps the jam threw the derailleur off.  My Vision shifters are also jammed.  Great!  Perhaps some bike mechanic skills would have helped here.  Other than changing a flat, I possessed no bike repair skills.  Stuck in the small ring, I continued to ride and hoped I’d make it up Chalk Hill without any major issues.

bike3I followed the strategy prescribed by my coach, which was to ride conservatively and not push myself until after Chalk Hill.  Chalk Hill felt like a mere bump in the road.  That’s good!  It was a sign that I did not push too hard or too soon.  With permission to ride more aggressively, I passed a few athletes post Chalk Hill.  I had been playing cat and mouse with three 30-something guys for the last half of the course.  One of the guys I chicked, passed me back however he could not maintain his pace.  I got stuck behind him on a road with a narrow shoulder.  There was a lot of car traffic preventing me from passing him back right away. I felt a little frustrated then finally found an opportunity to pass him back.  It took longer than I liked.

The last stretch into town was comfortable and flat.   I tried to make up some time but was still stuck in the small ring.  At least this allowed me to spin my legs and I was able to easily run with my bike to T2 as soon as I dismounted.


I overshot my T2 row which confused me for a moment.   I quickly realized where my running shoes were.  I took an extra minute in T2 to take some fluids and a Salt Stick.  It felt warm and I did not want to cramp.  Last year I grabbed everything and took salt and fluids while running which was a better strategy.  My T2 was a minute slower compared to last year.


My legs felt heavy on the run but I quickly found my pace.  I have chronic hip and glute pain which flared up the day before.  I had been dealing with this all year.  It’s a bit uncomfortable but I knew I would be able to run through it.  I saw Coach Tom during the first few miles of the run and again towards the last 3-4 miles.  He told me to keep on smiling.  It felt warmer compared to the prior year.  My wave was also later this year (3rd to last) so I am one of the last groups out on the road with fewer athletes to run with.  I dumped cold water on my head and put ice inside my sports bra at every water station.  Last year, I ran by a few aid stations without stopping.  This year I took my time and stopped at each one.

I caught up to some of the athletes who passed me on the bike.  I noticed one lady in particular, because of the triathlon kit she was wearing.  I recognized that she was a member of a team a good friend was a member of.  She was in my wave.  I also passed her back and forth on the bike and then I passed her on the run, twice, which surprised me as she never passed me back on the run course.  I made a mental note of her race number.  I wanted to see if she was missing time recorded by the timing mats on the run.  Sure enough, she confirmed my suspicion that she cheated.  She cut out a portion of the run that travels through a vineyard.  Shameful.

Coach Tom refused to give me a time goal this year.  He knew it would be hard for me to attain this based on all the training I was doing for Ironman Lake Tahoe.  Even though my legs felt heavy, I thought I achieved a negative split on the run.  I didn’t even come close.   I was able to run most of it, only walking at the aid station or up a hill.  Most of the people I passed were walking or running very slowly.  It wasn’t my best pace but I was pleased to be running and not cramping.

I finished the run with an average pace 30 seconds per mile slower than the prior year’s.  My overall race time was 19 minutes slower compared to last year.  My nutrition was spot on.  I did not feel beaten up at the end.  It was a good race.  I enjoyed it very much and look forward to doing it again next year.

finish line favorite - Version 2



I started my carb loading and hydration loading with Osmo Pre-Load 48 hours prior to the race.  I typically try to stay hydrated all season long.   I’ve been taking a Nutrition for Endurance Athletes class at Stanford and have incorporated the following into my Pre-Race nutrition and hydration routine:

  • Carb load 3 days prior to the race, consuming 2x the amount of carbs I normally do.  You can carb load 2 days prior.  I tend to under eat and cramp, so I like to carb load 3 days prior to ensure I had enough glycogen stores built up.
  • Extra calories should come from starches (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, yams, oatmeal, etc), however I consume the same total amount of protein, fat and vegetables as I normally eat in a day.
  •  Eat 2x as often, keeping the amount of carbs in any one meal the same as I normally eat.
  • Drink an extra 1-2 liters of water to hydrate the newly formed glycogen.
  • Try to eat the healthiest calories with less salad and vegetables than I normally consume to avoid excess fiber that can potentially cause GI distress.

For details and photos of what I actually ate, check out this link:

Wonder how the Hungry Athlete carbo loads? In preparation for my half Ironman this past weekend, I carb loaded…

Posted by The Hungry Athlete on Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Race Day, I ate a berry scone, banana, potato gnocchi and drank Osmo Pre-Load.  Since I had to wait almost an hour before my wave started, I ate a granola and cranberry bar and continued to sip Osmo Pre-Load while standing around in transition.

On the bike I planned to have at least 4 hours of nutrition on me.  I actually needed less than 3.5 hours of nutrition.

Total Time including stops 4 3.5
BIKE total calories per hour 250 250
Total calories needed 1000 875
Bonk Buster Bar Blueberry Oat 220 1 220 220 0.5 110
Carbo Pro 100 8 800 100 8 800
Osmo 35 4 140 35 4 140

I always want to get off the bike feeling full and ahead of my nutrition rather than behind.  On the run I consumed only gels, Salt Stick, water and drank coke starting the last 6 miles of the run. No GI issues and I felt I had enough calories in me.


1)  Hide your valuables (sunglasses, heart rate monitors, etc) under a towel or bag in transition.  In a panic and rush, your fellow triathletes may also trip over or kick your stuff around.

2)  Listen to your coach.  I posted the following on my coach’s Facebook page a few months ago.  He got a good chuckle out of it.


While I’m a pretty good student and take instruction well, I have to admit, even though coach told me I would not PR at Vineman due to my Ironman training, my ego still thought I might be able to pull it off or at least come close to last year’s time of 6:35.

3)  Periodization, tapering and recovery are just as important as the hard training.  Over-training can lead to poor results or injury.  This is particularly important at my age.  I want to make sure I stay healthy enough to continue to do triathlons as long as I want to.

4)  After the race, I had the Vision shifters replaced by Shimano Dura Ace which are much more reliable.  Tune up your bike before every race.  Perhaps I should learn some basic bicycle maintenance skills.

5)  Start out slow on the run.  Last year I was able to negative split the run by starting out conservatively.  I went out too fast on the run this year.

Wildflower Long Course 2013 Race Report

The Wildflower Long Course is one of the most beautiful and one of the most difficult 70.3 half Ironman (HIM) distances around.  Not only is it hilly, it can also be very hot with windy conditions.  This particular weekend was epic.  We endured scorching temperatures of over 100F on some parts of the course on Saturday (the day of my long course race), and a chilly 62F on Sunday (the day of the Olympic course race).

I’ll begin my race report with a fun video documenting our race experience:

The Wildflower Long Course was my 1st race of the season.  This was my 2nd year at Wildflower.  I was more experienced, felt better prepared and am physically stronger.  I was hoping to PR (set a personal record) on this course, improving my previous time by 30 minutes, possibly more.  Regardless of my goal time, I was confident I’d have a positive race experience.


I was in the 2nd to last wave start.   That meant that I would be waiting around for quite awhile before I started my race.  I had to plan my nutrition to account for the gap in time between when I last ate breakfast until the time I am on the bike.  I brought a Greek yogurt and a bottle of Ensure to transition.  Both provided additional calories and protein.  I also drank Osmo preload to stay extra hydrated and prepared for sweating in the heat.

The water temperature was 70F.  I had a good practice open water swim a few days earlier and was the calmest I’ve ever been before the start of a swim.  I am also lucky to be starting in the same wave group with 3 of my dearest friends.  We gave each other a “good luck” hug and we are off.   One minute after the start of my swim, dad posted on my Facebook “It’s 9:26”.  It was like he was with me at the start line and watched me dive into the water.

My left goggle filled up with water almost right away. I could make out the big orange buoys and tolerated the water moving around in my left goggle for the entire swim.  I purposely swam more aggressively than in the past, focusing on my form all the way.  I even practiced bilateral breathing and breathing on my non-dominant side.

The relay team wave caught up to me quickly and they are at my feet, bumping to my left and right.  Fortunately, no one swam on top of me.  I tried to swim wide to avoid them.   At the end of my swim, I was able to stand up easily with no cramping.  Horray!

I thought for sure I had PR’d my swim however official race results showed it was actually one of the worst swim times I’ve ever posted.  My swim pace was 13 secs/100 yards slower than last year.  I swam 20 secs/100 yards faster at another open water swim 3 days prior.  Unfortunately I lost all my Garmin data so I do not have any data other than the official race results.  Perhaps swimming further away from the buoys to avoid the relay team swimmers contributed to a slower swim time.

Several of my friends had unusually slower swim times as well.  There were complaints that the distance was longer and the official timing was off by 5-10 minutes for  some of the swim waves.   Tri California, the organizers of this race acknowledged the timing issue however as of today, nothing specific was confirmed.

For now I’ll assume I swam a bit further than 1.2 miles.  I did swim wide to avoid the relay swimmers. I was happy I did not lose my contact.  I was very comfortable in the water and felt more efficient.  It was a good swim for me.


For the first time, I am able to jog after a few steps out of the water to T1.  I reduced my prior year’s transition time by about 5 minutes!  My coach wanted me to reduce my T1 by half.  7:15 is far better than 12:19.


The Wildflower Long bike course is legendary with a section labeled on the official map as “Nasty Grade” at mile 41.5.

For 40 miles, I rode with good effort while continuing to keep my heart rate in check.  I am a stronger cyclist this year.  Three weeks prior, I easily rode with an average speed .7 mph faster on the entire course compared to the prior year.  I felt confident that on race day, with a little more effort, I’d achieve an average 1-1.5 mph faster than the prior year.  I was on target to achieve this.  I did feel a little sleepy.  Perhaps due to the heat?  I had caffeine in my Perpetuum which eventually perked me up.


The air temperature was anywhere from 93F-100F.  I was drinking water and taking in electrolytes diligently.  At mile 36 I grabbed 2 water bottles from the aid station and filled up my Speedfill.  I was consuming water at a very fast rate.  I learned later that the bottles I grabbed were most likely partially filled.  The race organization admitted to doing that however this was not their normal practice at earlier water stops or in previous years.  This aid station later ran out of bottles altogether.  A friend of mine had to turn around on her bike to retrieve the bottle she just tossed so she would have a bottle to fill water with.

I was out of water before the next aid station at mile 42.  I assumed I was drinking water at a very fast rate.  Now I wonder if partially filled bottles compounded the situation.

The aid station at mile 42 ran out of  drinkable water.  The water they had was undrinkable.  I didn’t understand what that meant but I was not about to drink water that was deemed “undrinkable”.  A volunteer offered to dump it on my head.   I accepted.  A volunteer told me they had contacted the race organizers twice about the water but no one knew if more water was on it’s way.  I started to feel a little worried.  I was quite thirsty.  I stretched my legs and tried to cool down.  I cautiously took a sip of my nutrition because I am unable to chase my protein and carbohydrates down with water .  Without water, I am unable to take any electrolytes.

I got back on my bike and climbed Nasty Grade as slow as possible to conserve energy.  As if having no water and 97F wasn’t bad enough, we had headwind climbing Nasty Grade.  Seriously?  My legs cramped up and I am feeling light headed.  My power and energy level dropped but I thought I was still going to make the bike cut-off time because I had “banked” some time with a faster bike pace prior to Nasty Grade.  I also thought I could make up some time on the fast descents coming up.    Unfortunately, there were strong crosswind gusts on the descents and I could not take the descents at over 40 mph like I normally do.  I was being blown around so much and had to take it slow.

Image 5

The last aid station at mile 47  had run out of water as well.  I am 9 miles from transition.  The most difficult part of the course are the rollers after Nasty Grade.   I decided to find a shade where I could get off my bike and I tried to cool my core temperature down one more time before I had to face those rollers.  After taking a few minutes to recharge, I got back on the saddle and tried to push a little more aggressively to finish. I felt a little demoralized, nauseas and had no energy but I shifted into my easiest gears and spun as fast as I could.  Unfortunately, it was not in time to make the cutoff.

For the waves/age groups who had no water at two aid stations, 26% of the women DNF’d.  In comparison, 8-11% of the men in the same age groups, who started the race earlier DNF’d.   The percentage of women in the same age groups who DNF’d in previous years is much lower.


I was disappointed but stayed focused.  I racked my bike and put my running shoes on.  I thought I’d make the most of my experience there and attempted to run the course anyway.  All around me were a few disappointed ladies.  One lady looked at me and said “I normally don’t cry over races.”  I told her, “C’mon.  Put your running shoes on and come run with my anyway.”  I tried to catch up on my hydration and took extra electrolytes (Endurolytes/Salt Stick).  I wonder if I took water in too quickly.  I still felt nauseas.  I could not hold it in.  I was frustrated because I had no idea if I had too much electrolytes or too much water.  I learned recently that you can cramp up from too much salt too.


After 7 miles, I started to feel too sick to continue.  I made a decision to run straight for the medical tent.


I asked the nutritionist who was teaching the nutrition for endurance athletes course at Stanford, what I could have done to recover from dehydration.  He told me, “go to the medical tent.”  I learned that sometimes if you are too dehydrated, you just need to stop and seek medical attention.  I felt worse at that moment than I did after Ironman Canada.

This experience was epic.   It was not a positive experience but a good experience.  I had a good swim, a good transition and a decent bike.  I was able to run for 7 miles.  Except for running out of water, I had my nutrition down.  I was able to ride a hilly course with my TT bike which was a boost of confidence for my upcoming Ironman Lake Tahoe which will have a lot more climbs.  Stopping to cool down for a few minutes did help me to recover a little but it is difficult to do it without water.

Tri California sent a personal note to myself and others with a sincere apology and some have received a complimentary entry for next year.

The takeaways from this experience are:

  1. Be more aware of how much water is handed to me.  Hopefully the race organizers will revisit their process and this will not be an issue in the future.
  2. There is a fine line between being tenacious and knowing when your health is in jeopardy.
  3. Thank all of the wonderful college students who volunteered to stand out in the heat all day.  At a couple of the run water stops, the volunteers cheered me on with so much enthusiasm.  I was surrounded by 10 college guys who gave me high 5’s and cheered for me as they dumped water on top of my head.  One of them told me they loved me.  It made my day.
  4. It’s ok to concede.  Weather, mechanical issues, illness and other factors out of your control can impact your race day.  It’s all good.  I am lucky to be able to do this.  I hope I’m healthy enough to return next year.
  5. I can survive racing in 100F.

Inspiration from Senior Ironman Athletes and Sister Madonna Buder

One of the highlights of competing in Ironman Canada 2012, was racing alongside 82 year old Sister Madonna Buder.  I passed her on the run and felt both guilty and relieved at the same time.  I witnessed up close what a fierce competitor she is.  Shortly after I gave her some words of encouragement and ran past her, she started running after me.  I could hear the determination in her breath.  She would go on to set another world record as the oldest Ironman finisher and complete her 46th and last Ironman distance, only 30 minutes behind me.

This famous “Iron Nun” began training at age 48 at the behest of Father John who told her it was a way of tweaking, “mind, body, and spirit” and for the relaxation and calmness it can bring an individual.  She completed her first triathlon at age 52 and first Ironman event at age 55.

On the way home from Penticton, I had the pleasure of meeting another inspiring senior athlete.  I was at the airport terminal looking at pictures from the race on my laptop.  A lovely lady sitting near me asked me if the pictures were from the Ironman.  I turned my laptop screen so she could see.  She complimented me on one of the photos.  She had traveled to support her grandson who had also competed.  “I told him not to do it.  He was not prepared to race” she said.  Unfortunately, her grandson had crashed badly on the bike course.  I would then learn that this grandmother had raced Ironman Canada 25 years ago.  She continues to participate in Gran Fondos, long distance organized cycling events.  Like Sister Madonna, she appeared quite fit.  My guess is that she was in her late 60’s.  A gold and diamond M-Dot pendant hung fashionably from her neck.  She spoke humbly however I could tell from the way her eyes lit up that she enjoyed sharing her story.  I introduced myself to her but am disappointed that I cannot recall her name.  I wondered if her grandson dismissed his grandmother’s advice not to race with the attitude, “how hard can it be after all, if grandama can do it, I can do it”.  If so, he probably should have listened to grandma.  I suspect she was and remains a well trained athlete.

While I always knew I’d remain active all my life, these ladies have inspired me to continue to pursue these types of endurance events for as long as I am able to.  Studies have shown that physical activity helps seniors to keep mentally and emotionally sharp.

Unfortunately, as we age, there is a tendency towards muscle loss.  Research tends to suggest older athletes may need to increase the amount of protein in their diet to support muscle development.  In addition, senior athletes should incorporate weight lifting into their training regime to build and maintain muscle strength.  At the suggestion of my coach, I had already started to incorporate some light weight lifting into my most recent ironman training.  We wondered if I had a possible muscle imbalance that may contribute to my cramping issues, so we focused on strengthening the weaker muscles.  I will continue to incorporate weight training and core exercises into my weekly workouts.

Lastly, I will need to make a conscious effort to ensure my diet supports my future athletic pursuits.  Not only do I need the right amount of carbohydrates, I need to ensure I am getting the right amount of protein.  See the “Protein” section of Recipes tab for some healthy protein rich recipes!

To read more about nutrition and the nutritional needs of aging athletes, check out this article: