Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The day before the race felt like Christmas morning:  the anticipation was huge.  I'd like to think my attitude was endearingly exuberant, but Paul might beg to differ.  We each had taken Friday off from work, but I had told him we didn't have to leave until 10am.  I awoke at 7am in a hurricane of activity:
  • Went to the park to practice my transitions one last time
  • Mounted the bike on top of the car
  • Showered
  • Finished packing
  • Ate breakfast (with coffee)
  • Re-watched the relevant portion of the webinar on bodymarking and equipment stickers (I had watched the whole thing earlier in the week along with the full recording of the bike course - what can I say, I like to be prepared.  It paid off:  no fewer than 3 teammates asked me about the location of the race numbers)
  • Decided that we needed an audio book for the drive
  • Scoured the internet for a book and the car for our FM transmitter dongle (no, our car does not have one of those fancy audio-in ports)
  • Decided we were better off with a book on CD
  • Looked up bookstores on our route
  • Called our local bookstore to discover that they were both open AND had an ample supply of books on CD
  • Giddily greeted Paul and offered to go to the bookstore to pick one up before our 10 am departure.
I thought my phone was on its last leg in March when the ear speaker died, but I've soldiered on with it on speaker phone or using headphones.  Last week various portions of the screen became non-responsive, leaving it far less functional than I would have liked.  Standing in the store and trying to look up Amazon reviews for these audio books with a keyboard that would interpret "It's murder, my son" as "Is mrdr m sn" (which even google can't decipher) was the last straw.  I cursed myself for not replacing the phone the day before and vowed to replace it on my return to Boston.  I grabbed a book based solely on its cover and price (always sure signs of quality), and returned home to get Paul at 9:45.  Only to discover that he had already read that book.  So back to the bookstore to exchange for another book.  A book we discovered when we went to play the first disk was 21 hours long.  An inauspicious start, but from there things became much less fraught.

As we neared Burlington, Paul asked me about my goals.  I told him I wanted to execute the plan.  Although I've adopted the practice of writing the relevant power and HR numbers on my gel flasks for races, this one included, I had inadvertently committed this race's plan to memory.  I recited it for Paul.  He pushed back, "Yeah, but what time do you want."  I really didn't have a goal number.  I wanted to break 2:40, I wanted to PR, but anything less than 2:40 would make me happy, particularly if I felt like the race itself had gone well.

Panoramic shot of the swim course

Pre-race with my honey
We made a quick stop at the expo, where Paul scoped out the goods while I waited in line for my packet.  Then got the heck out of there to limit the race hubbub's intrusion on my pre-race calm.  We headed up to the beach for a quick swim, bike and run to refresh the muscle memory.  I'm so glad, I got in the water.  It was choppy, reminiscent of swimming in the ocean north of Brisbane.  Walden just can't prepare you for this.  I convinced myself that because the actual swim was in a protected bay, that this would be worst that I could expect from the actual race.

The only real error in planning on Friday was going to the fabulous Farmhouse Tap and Grill for dinner.  It's just cruel to go to a place with 30 beers on tap and local cheese plates on offer the day before a race.  We returned there Saturday night to fully enjoy their menu.

Race morning, we arrived at transition to sunny skies and WINDY conditions.  There were white caps even within the protected area.  We watched many waves go off and adjusted my sighting plan to account for getting blown around by the wind.  Once in the water, I found feet quickly to follow.  Out to about the halfway point, I was on those feet.  I did my best to find another set, but at some point, I was just out there either by myself or passing men from the wave ahead of me.  But I felt strong.  I came out of the water and hit my watch through my wetsuit (I keep it under my sleeve so I can get the wetsuit off easily), I wouldn't find out the final time until after the race.
GPS of my swim

26:59 (1:39 pace, 1:37 faster than last year)
Rank in AG: 37 / 95

The bike was all about being in the moment, hitting my power and heart rate numbers, and not gunning it over the rollers, so I still had legs left for the run.  My coach had admonished me not to get competitive with others in the race to the detriment of my overall time, focus on my plan an execute.  As I got passed by girls in my age group, it occurred to me, I must've had a pretty good swim.  In many races, I narrate the ride to myself:  I'm already writing my race report in my head.  In this bike, there was no chatter, there were numbers to hit, and that water to drink and sometimes gel to take but otherwise, my head was blissfully quiet.  It's the most being-into-a-race that I've ever been, and it was awesome.

In the second half of the bike, I had a little trouble stepping the bike up to a harder effort because of the rolling terrain.  I also had the signal on my power meter go out a few times (I'm thinking a loose wire is the cause, and I'm not thrilled about having to replace it.), but it didn't faze me during the race.  I've done workouts where my power meter's battery has died, and I've still gotten them done.  A little less data wasn't going to impact this race.

1:17:56 (19.1mph and 4 seconds slower than last year)
Rank in AG: 66 / 95

Run course elevation
On the way out to the run
This run course starts with a beast of a hill, then is mostly a gentle downhill to the finish.  I had expected that no matter what I did my heart rate would sky rocket on that hill, then I'd need to focus on getting things back under control.  Although it did increase dramatically, it didn't get into the red zone.  I thought, maybe I'm not pushing hard enough on this hill, but this feels like the speed I should be running.  Cresting the top of the hill, I fell into a really comfortable pace and cadence.  I kept thinking about staying relaxed and swinging my arms.  I felt great.  I checked in with my heart rate, and it looked good.  My first mile was my slowest and also the only one over an 8 min mile.

As I fatigued, I had to work really hard to keep my cadence up.  When I hit the mile 5 marker, I switched into my last gear, and brought that mile home in 7:27 (my second fastest mile of the run).  I saw the finish line and I sprinted, passing people left and right.  Final time was 46:45.  This is my fastest 10K on record, stand-alone or as part of a tri.  And it beat my time at Quassy when I had such a slow bike and really put everything I had into that run.

Sprinting to the finish

46:45 (7:32 pace, 5:34 better than last year!)
Rank in AG: 49 / 95

I crossed the finish line 6:11 faster than last year, and though clearly most of that time came from the run, I think I've made improvements on the bike as well.  I pushed the same time as last year but at a more conservative effort, allowing me to run on legs that weren't completely thrashed.

Last year, when I came to this race, I was plagued with doubts.  Did I really belong at the National Champs?  This year, I was confident.  Not that I was going to win or make the national team, but that I was going to have a great race.  I thought going in that I was going to let the best in the country spur me on to a PR.  In the end though, I was immune to the competition, focused on my race and my plan.

Post race with my honey
Finally, I can't take all the credit for this improvement.  I get great support, and not just from my team, and from A and R.  My fiance Paul forgives me when I wake him up in the morning to train, is understanding of my absence for half of the weekend as I get in my long runs and rides, and schleps both me and my gear to and from races.  I started training with Coach Alan almost exactly a year ago.  I went through a pretty structured process of researching, shortlisting and interviewing coaches.  I wanted to find some one who would take the guesswork out of my training and who cared about my races (almost) as much as I do.  I found these qualities in Coach Alan.  To say that my training programs have been detailed almost misses the point:  they have been perfectly tailored to meet my goals.

I took a look back at the goals I sent to Alan on Sept 5 of last year:

  • Be injury-free-  Ok, this took some work considering I had already injured my leg (which became the stress fracture) when we started training together
  • PR at Newton Chilly Half-  DONE 1:40:02 a 6 minute PR
  • 6 mos: Increase power on the bike- DONE. 2011 AGN = 133W, 2012 AGN = 152W
  • Qualified and race at AGN- obviously DONE
  • Place in the top half for my age group at AGN-  Close.  57th percentile for my AG (an improvement from 68th last year), needed to shave a little more than 1 more minute off to break into the top half.
  • Set a PR for an Oly under 2:35-  I almost wanna give myself a pass on 10 seconds, but I've still got one more oly of the season to go, so I'm not gonna close the book on this one yet.
Thank you, Alan.  Thank you, Paul.  I couldn't have done it without you.

Friday, August 10, 2012


One week from tomorrow, I'll be racing for the second time at the US Age Group Nationals Olympic Distance Race.  But somehow, I'm just not really focused on it.  Perhaps it's because a month from now I'll be married.

Though most of the pieces are falling into place for the wedding, there's still a general wedding-hum in the back of my brain that doesn't really allow for other thoughts to be fully realized.  There are still open questions though, like cake.  Will we have cake?  If so, must we do a cake tasting?  People seem to get very excited about tasting a bunch of free cake.  I like cake, but frankly, it just seems like another chore to be done before the big day. Will any one care if I just order a few dozen, untasted cupcakes and call it a day?  I think not.

Amidst this cake-infused buzz, race day anxiety is getting drowned out.  I'm sorta wondering if that's a good thing.  Last year I was fretting.  I went through a stressful complete overall of my bike just a month before the race (not recommended).   I don't feel under-prepared (I've already put together my packing list and listened to the pre-race briefing), I just don't feel that anxious about the race.  I know what I'm getting into.

The only time I've really lost my cool was Monday night.  I went for my swim, got a little over a thousand yards in and had a pinchy pain in my left deltoid.  I massaged it, swam a lap, and it still hurt.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The battle between the panicking inner monologue and the zen inner monologue waged:

"OMG, this is just like how you rolled your ankle last year three weeks before nationals and remember how that became a stress fracture that benched you for ELEVEN weeks this winter!!!" 
"It's just one swim, stop swimming, let it rest, you rode 60 miles in aero yesterday, the muscles are probably just fatigued."  
"But you've been working so hard for the last year to go to this race, what if this shoulder ruins everything just 10 days before the big day."
I called my coach from the pool door and told him about the swim and that the panicking inner monologue was winning.  He reminded me that the swim is 95% technique.  That's technique that I wouldn't lose over the next 10 days even if I didn't touch the water between now and the race.  I started a regimin of twice daily aleve and ice.  I took Wednesday off from swimming and went back to the pool this morning for an easy 1000 yards to test it out.  It passed with no pain, so yay.  Heading to Walden tomorrow morning for a race practice.

Goals for this race:
  • Keep the anxiety in check - so far, so good.
  • Follow the race plan and don't get competitive when you get passed, cause you will get passed.
  • Find that balance of pushing on the bike, while still having the reserves for an awesome 10K.
  • Also, no coasting.
  • 2:3X:XX
Live updates on the race will be here: http://www.usatriathlon.org/AGNC12olycoverage

My wave goes off at 8:52am.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A love letter to Garmin

I've been threatening to write this post for a while.  Those who know me, know I'm a little data obsessed.  Pair that with a remote coach whose 8-page monthly plans specify minute-by-minute desired heart rate down to a 4 beat range, and you've got a love affair with a $450 watch.

Disclaimer:  I do a fair bit of heart rate based training in the Mark Allen/ Phil Maffetone/ Joe Friel schools of thought.  I also have workouts that are power, pace, or perceived effort based.  I know many people have strong feelings on the best way to train.  Personally, I'm very pleased with the progress I've made over the last year of training this way (see a virtual 10 minute improvement over last year's Mass State).  Regardless of your philosophy, I believe that the Garmin can accomodate your training well.

The hardware:

I train with the Garmin 910XT.  It is their top-of-the-line triathlon watch.  I had some concerns last year that I wasn't "triathlete enough" for this watch's predecessor the 310XT.  I was also a little put off by the expense and the bulk, the thing looks like a TI-85 strapped to my wrist, but in the end it's swim functionality won out, and I shelled out the cash.

Prior to the 910XT, I had the 405CX.  I liked this watch fine.  In fact much of how I use the 910XT was how I used the 405.  The touch bezel, which is the biggest complaint about the old watch didn't give me much trouble.  My bigger concern was that it just wasn't very practical for a tri.  I couldn't swim with it on, so it added one more thing to deal with in transition.

One thing the 405CX didn't prepare me for is that the 910XT doesn't have a "sleep" mode where it just operates as a watch.  I guess Garmin determined that this is not the watch you wear out to dinner and thus having that "sleep" mode was unnecessary.  I turn the watch on just before a workout and turn it off when I'm done.  It does keep track of the time (always available from the menu pages), but that's not really why you bought it.

In addition to the watch itself, I have the heart rate strap (just the hard plastic one that comes with it, not the more expensive soft version), the foot pod for tracking run cadence and treadmill distance, and the bike sensor for cadence and speed.  The one element of technology that does not play well with my Garmin is the SRM power meter on the bike.  I have an older version that is not ANT+ compatible (the standard protocol for wireless transmission that Garmin uses/owns).  So my SRM tracks speed, cadence, power and heart rate (if I wear my polar HR strap), and Garmin track all of those things minus power.  This is an area for improvement when I win the lottery.

The software:

I use both Garmin Connect and Training Peaks.   Garmin Connect's interface is prettier, but slower and has less analysis than TP.  That said, it offers much better visuals for swimming.  GC is also free and comes with your Garmin purchase.  TP is what I use to communicate my workout metrics back to my coach and what he uses to provide feedback to me on those workouts.  There is a free version of TP, but it doesn't give the same metrics and analysis a paid membership gets, so I have the paid version.

Resting heart rate:

I've posted more in depth on this before, but putting on my Garmin strap is the first thing I do every morning.  I record my resting heart rate, while I'm still in bed.  I record in "other" mode.  You tell the 910XT what activity you're doing (swim, bike run or other).  I also turn the GPS off when I'm recording this cause 1) I'm not moving and 2) it drains the battery more quickly.  I record for 5 minutes while I check my email/surf the web on my phone.  Then I set about the rest of my morning routine.  Check out that other post for the gory details of how I find my minimum heart rate over a minute.


There are two basic modes that I use for running:  HR and time alerts for my long slow run, and workouts for higher intensity brick runs.

The first is pretty straight forward.  Once in Run mode, under the Training menu, you'll find Run Alerts.  Select HR alerts from here and enter your desired upper and lower limit.  If you're using GC and you've entered your zones there, you can just select the desired zone.  If you have message tones turned on (meaning the volume is on for alerts, under Settings > System > Tones and Vibration), then each time you enter or exit your zone, the watch will alert you.  If you're HR is too low it sings a little "Doo-do-Doo-do-do" song.  If it's too high, it's the same tune, but an octave higher "Dee-da-Dee-da-dee".  The screen also flashes a message to let you know these things as well, but I find the audio cue the most useful.  I don't have to look at the screen to know how I'm doing.  It has also had the unintended effect that I don't listen to music when I run any more.  Originally, I tried just listening in one ear, but now I'm completely broken of the ipod, and I sorta like it.

The watch also has a vibration mode to alert you.  I like this as well and will frequently use it on the bike as sometimes it's hard to hear the tones.  But it doesn't give you the extra auditory information of the little tune.  With the vibration it's really just the watch saying "look at me!"

On the long slow runs, I also use the time alert to remind me when it's time to eat.  I have one of those big hydration belts that carries 32oz of water, and I add a gel flask.  Every twenty minutes I take some gel, when the Garmin reminds me to do so.  With the water, I just drink when I'm thirsty and take note if I come back home with a lot of water.

So, that's the long slow run.  Two types of alerts with the volume on.  My brick runs, I program in.  I use the GC interface to do this.  From the Plan menu, choose Workouts.  Here you can enter intervals of a time based workout.  Let's say I have 5 minutes of warm up, followed by 5x1 mile at a set pace, with a minute and a half of recovery in between, followed by a cool down.  I can enter all of that into a workout, choosing whether I want the intervals to be time or distance (or on lap button) based, I can save that workout, and I can download that workout to my watch.  (Note in Garmin Connect, you select the type of interval it is "Warm Up," "Recovery," etc, but on the watch it doesn't actually display that information).

To do the workout, I go into Training > Workouts > Custom, select the workout and hit do workout.  If you have message tones set to on, it will again beep at you when you change intervals or when you are outside of the desired metric for that interval.  In addition to the too high and too low tunes, it also chirps when you're in zone.  I wish it did this with the regular alerts.

Although the 910XT offers many screens of data to scroll through (or auto-scroll through) during your workout, I typically just stick with one screen.  I have that screen set up to display instant pace, total time, instant HR and instant cadence.  I find that given the types of workouts I do, that's the most relevant data.  I keep total distance on the next page.  If you use a custom workout, the watch will create a special workout page, but you can still just scroll through to your normal pages as well.

One note on instant pace:  I have my watch set up to do one-second recording not "smart" recording which records less frequently if data is unchanged from the last recording.  I find that one-second recording is more accurate for instant pace, but that the 910's instant pace is still not as good as the 405's was, sometimes varying by up to a minute in either direction.  Thus is a bug that Garmin is aware of, but has yet to put out the proper fix.  I hope they will do this in the near future as it is incredibly frustrating, but since most of my workouts are primarily HR based, it is not a major issue for me.


This is much simpler than running.  If I'm on the trainer, I don't use the Garmin.  Since I can get all the data I need from the SRM, I just use it.  When I'm out on the road though, I use the Garmin for HR and GPS info.  TP does a pretty good job of merging the two files together.

On my long slow bikes, I use the Garmin similar to the long slow runs:  I set up bike alerts for HR and use time alerts for fueling reminders.  If I wanted to be most efficient, I would probably use a workout for these long slow rides because they usually have some sort of higher HR effort at the end, which the Garmin not-so-helpfully reminds me that I'm exceeding my HR.  Holding a constant anything (speed, HR, power) on the bike is challenging due to the ever-changing terrain.  If any one out there has suggestions on who to improve this, I'm all ears, I certainly haven't mastered it.

As for my home screen on the bike, I choose instant speed, total time, instant cadence and instant HR.  Again, distance gets the short shrift because my workouts tend to be time-based.


I love this watch for swimming.  I love that it counts my laps and my strokes.  I love that if I get a little lost in the workout (and who doesn't) Garmin knows exactly where I'm at.  I love that I can see my splits by 25s even when I haven't been hitting the lap button.

It's not 100%.  It does occasionally miss a lap or add a lap.  It has most of its trouble when I'm not "swimming" but rather "drilling."  And I can't really blame it.  It's hard to count strokes when I'm only stroking with the other arm.  I wish that the 910XT had the "drill mode" that the Garmin swim watch has, where it just operates as a timer but doesn't try to guess what stroke your doing.

Multi-sport mode:

This is, after all, why you by a multi-sport watch.  I get my Garmin all set in Multi-sport mode (Mode > Training > Multisport).  You can choose if you want to keep track of transitions separately.  The answer here is YES.  Why would you ever want to add your transition time to your other disciplines?  Hitting the lap button switches between disciplines.  If I'm wearing the sleeved wetsuit, I get it all set and ready to go, all but the start button to press, then put the suit on overtop.  I start the watch through the suit (no visible screen), that way the wetsuit doesn't get stuck on the watch during transition.  And, like the workouts, you can easily scroll to your pre-set discipline pages.  I practice with my Garmin when I do transition work to keep the button pushing fresh in my memory.

Before any race I make sure to turn off the HR alerts in biking and running as I don't want to be operating in that low of a zone during a race.  I keep my time alerts on though to remind me to eat throughout.


And that's pretty much it.  Happy to take questions.  If you want even more details and much prettier pictures, check out DCRainmaker's blog.

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