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?
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.
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.
I 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.
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…
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
BIKE total calories per hour
Total calories needed
Bonk Buster Bar Blueberry Oat
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.
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.
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:
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.
There is a fine line between being tenacious and knowing when your health is in jeopardy.
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.
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.