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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

Learning at the OTC

This past week, I spent 4 days at USA Triathlon’s Endurance Coach certification program in Colorado Springs.  I wanted to share some of the highlights of my experience.

usoc

Like you, when I hear “Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs” I imagine a state of the art training facility nestled into the majestic Rockies.  Instead, you drive by what from the outside looks like a gated compound amidst a busy urban intersection of auto parts stores, Taco Bells and gas stations.

Scenic it is not!

But look closer and you see the Olympic rings adorning multiple buildings that house Wrestling.  Weightlifting, The swimming hall.  The shooting center.  Walkways lined with flags.  Pictures of past medalists.  Motivational quotes.  It’s hard to walk through the OTC without feeling inspired.

Day one started with a talk by Alicia, one of the USOC sports dieticians.  Alicia’s message was simple and evidence-based.  In her words, always go back to the basics.  Start by thinking about the function of food (energy, recovery, repair, growth, thermoregulation, reproduction).  Then, think about using fuel for optimal performance by way of proper energy availability, hydration, supporting energy metabolism, improving muscle strength, maintaining bone density, supporting immune system integrity.  When it comes to teaching athletes, she said it’s best to use visuals – not numbers.  Telling an athlete to eat a serving a protein is less effective then showing them.

hard-training-race-day-plate

Alicia talked about the role of glycogen and how in endurance sports, glycogen is the limiting factor.  In discussing carbohydrates, she stated they are the most efficient form of energy.  And if your performance goal is not performance, limit carbohydrate (read that again, folks).  She emphasized the importance of restocking glycogen in the recovery window.  As for recovery nutrition, she prefers real food to get in 20g of protein plus 1 gram of carbohydrate for every 1 kg of body weight.  Being endurance athletes with multiple workouts a day, she stated the importance of recovering after every workout to promote better eating overall.  She also defined the recovery window as “ASAP” versus the traditional 30 minute post-workout (in her words, if you tell an athlete they have 30 minutes, they will wait 30 minutes and then eat).

Alicia then talked about supplements.  The first thing she asks with a supplement:  is it safe?  Remember, the FDA does not regulate supplements.  If it works, there’s plenty of research about it and behind it.  But rather than use supplements, she reiterated the importance of eating well.  In her view, you need to earn the right to use supplements; performance enhancement starts with a proper diet.

Alicia reviewed proper hydration – how most athletes are dehydrated and do not realize its impact.  With as little as 2% loss, performance will be compromised.  Hydration is critical for delivery and recovery (by way of excretion).  She gave us her secret tip for how to improve athlete hydration.  Let’s just say I’m excited to launch my own trial with the 2017 Ironman Wisconsin Training Program at Well-Fit!

Next up was Bobby McGee’s presentation on run training and pacing in long course.  Bobby is the run advisor to many Olympians (including Gwen!).  His presentations are always full of interesting information as well as nuggets from his own experience.

  • The run is a very internal conversation. You cannot compare or look at others around you.
  • Many doing long course will disconnect how they feel and what they need to do.
  • Most athletes will be either centrally (engine) limited or peripherally (form) limited.
  • No one negative splits a marathon; go out at an even pace.
  • You need to train how to fast walk; many cramp while walking in an IM because they are not prepared.
  • Look at your fatigue index (how much do you slow down when doubling the distance; elites typically slow down by 3% – ie., double their 5K time & compare to actual 10K time, it will be < 3%).
  • Most women are power limited. Most men are heat management & energy limited.
  • Power is critical for long course racing (not just endurance).
  • Training goal is to make the cardiovascular system efficient but also must be able to resist fatigue & prepare fascia of the legs to withstand stress.
  • If someone is “engine”-limited; work a variety of paces.
  • If someone is “form”-limited; work at a slower pace to prepare the connective tissue.
  • Our relationship with food/fuel during a race changes how it acts in the body (research supports this)
  • Pros are obsessed with going fast. Age groupers are obsessed with how they look.  (think about that!)
  • Better to overdo your taper than underdo it.
  • When selecting pace capability, remember: expectation vs reality
  • Know your open run abilities & how fast you CAN run by doing open run races (5K, 10K, 10 miler, ½ mary)
  • At 65 degrees, climactic influences on pace are significant.
  • Don’t base goals on your “mythical or once former self.”
  • Quality run training is still important in long course racing (pertains to placement of long run & type of running you’ll do).
  • If you want to improve your run, you cannot always run fatigued, you must run fresh.
  • Learn to adapt proactively to conditions (look at weather forecast & be brave enough to say “today is not a PR day”).
  • Most run injuries are caused by biking (make sure you have a proper fit, shoe, pedal system & cleat placement).

Later in the afternoon, we heard from one of the USOC sports psychologists, Peter Haberl.  This one really connected with me (and reminded me of many of the principles put forth by Garret Kramer in one of my favorite books, Stillpower).  Having heard Haberl before, his talks are filled with powerful and supporting quotes from athletes.  In this talk, Haberl dug into Bradley Wiggins mindset leading up to the individual pursuit, sprinkling in plenty of quotes from Wiggins’ book.

wiggins

Here are some points that he shared:

To get to that next level or to master your performance in sport, it all starts in ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness can be practiced every time you swim, bike & run.

Many athletes have ideas on how they want to feel & don’t want to feel at their goal event. What they don’t realize is that the best athletes, the Olympic gold medalists have the same self-doubts & negative feelings as the rest of us.

The difference is they don’t let these thoughts influence their performance. They don’t chase a feeling of being calm, cool & collected – that feeling doesn’t exist for most athletes.

Remember, you cannot control your thoughts and feelings.  And, in turn, your thoughts and feelings do not have the power to control you.  This is critical for learning to perform well at long course racing where you often subject to yourself, your thoughts and your feelings for up to 17 hours!

He talked about ‘psychological flexibility’ or the ability to put your attention to the task at hand or ‘being present.’ Attention is the currency of performance, not thinking. We all have thoughts that float in & out of our head. Some are negative, some are positive – neither matter. What matters is your ability to bring back your attention to something that matters. What matters? The moment.

Think about your best race and your worst race. Ask yourself about your worst race, “was I focused on appropriate points of attention or did I get lost in the story of my head?

The best athletes can to return to their anchor points of attention. They don’t waste energy battling their own thoughts. They bring their attention back to where it matters. It’s the ability to say “can I put my mind where it needs to be.” Coming back to an anchor point that you can control. You CANNOT control thoughts or feelings. You can control attention, on being present, on being open to the right here, right now.

On the third day, we went to the Sports Science lab housed inside of the beautiful strength and conditioning facility – compete with an indoor track, a few sprinting lanes, an incline walk, weights, machines, ropes, ladders – wow!  The lab itself was even more impressive.  Imagine a room for your workouts where you could change the temperature, elevation and humidity?

One of the USOC’s sports physiologists took us into the lab to talk about testing.  She talked us through the different tests used but emphasized this point – at some point, the workouts become testing.  Most of the athletes only test in the lab every 6 months.  Beyond that, their workouts and races become the tests.  Another important point that she made was that the more elite or experienced you are, the less your FTP is likely to change.  This goes along with something I often have to remind athletes about progress is not always linear nor infinite!  She described how many of the top elites don’t improve their FTP.  Instead, they improve their ability to hold it longer.  She also walked us through how to interpret an athlete’s workout or season based on some of the charts available.  For example, looking at a mean max power curve over the course of the season – what can it tell us?  How can we used things such as kilojoules burned to design workouts that meet race demands or improve our ability to run?

Later that day, Kris Swarthout presented on the swimming, strength training and, my favorite one, the business of coaching.  There were 11 other coaches taking the course.  And since I was first certified (Level I back in 2007!), the field of coaching has changed.  Now when I look around the room, I see a much more diverse mix of ages and abilities.  Each coach had a business but how they ran their business and their target audience was entirely different.  One worked mostly with a corporate wellness triathlon program.  Another had a fierce slogan for their athletes – do your job!  Another was a pro triathlete with his own coaching business.  A young guy.  A woman who had been on the podium at Kona.  A dietician to celebrities.  There were coaches who set their athlete limit at 15 athletes per season, some at 40, some at 90 and one coach who billed 180 athletes each season!  What was clear was that each had their niche.  And this is important to note.  To become successful at coaching, you have to be yourself!  Don’t aspire to be like another coach or take on someone else’s business model.  If you don’t like working with beginners, it’s not your niche, it doesn’t have to be.  If you aren’t a fluffy cheerleader, don’t worry!  Be YOU.  People who will work well with you, will come to you.  Those who won’t will move on to one of the 200+ Level II coaches out there (and one of the – yikes – 1000+ Level I coaches).

In between the spaces of classroom learning and lectures was where the real value was found in these experiences – the informal conversations, connections and observations.  In one evening, I had the opportunity to formally meet and talk with an athlete who I have “known” in the sport for years – Blake Becker.  Like myself, Blake has been around triathlon a long time!  He’s also competed at the pro level for many years.  He willingly let me ‘pick his brain’ on his experiences in working with Brett Sutton, Cliff English, Bobby McGee, Siri Lindley, Gordo Byrn.  As many of us know, the “what” that all of us coaches is doing is not much different.  It’s the “how” we do it that sets us apart.  For some athletes, our “how” (whether our psychological how, physiological how or a combination of both) clicks with them and delivers them to that next performance level.  Our conversation reinforced what I’ve felt for a long time – our best resource is learning from and reaching out to each other.

One my final evening at the OTC, I was running around the indoor track, simply watching.  What struck me first was the different body types.  A huskier young woman walking the treadmill at an incline.  Another woman who appeared half my size squatting at the rack.  The skinny guy on his wind trainer in the corner of the track spinning out sprints.  Weightlifters, boxers, judo athletes, fencers – pushing plates, doing bands, foam rolling.  Here it was almost 7 pm in the evening.  All day these athletes had been doing just this – being athletes.  That was their job.  They were simply doing it.  And they were still doing it this late into the evening.

cycling-quote

Remember a few months ago – that little race called the Olympics?  Shouldn’t they be on some sort of mandated break eating ice cream and watching bad movies?  Off seasoning?

You realize that when you’re at this level of performance, there is no off seasoning.  There’s no cake.  No ice cream.  It’s a day in, day out commitment.  24 hours a day.  365 days a year.  4 years until the next Olympics.  Day one of training started the day after you DNF’ed, did not qualify or, in the case of the rare few, stepped off of a medal podium.  You’re THAT committed.

Now, 99.9% of us will never get to that Olympic level.  But we can apply the same mindset.  We can go all in.  We can do more than just talk the talk but back it up with our beliefs and actions.  It goes back to what Jamie Turner, coach to Gwen, said a few weeks ago – it’s was a series of decisions she made every day for 4 years.  Your race might be in 4 months – what can you do today to get yourself closer to that goal

I have not yet decided what my next “adventure in learning” will be (or where it will be) but I valued this trip and appreciated the support and flexibility my family gave me to make it happen.  Though a lot of what I learned I already knew, a wise coach once told me that if you can walk away from these experiences with one new thing to apply to your coaching approach, you’ve succeeded.

 

 

Notes from the Art & Science Symposium

This past weekend, I traveled to Atlanta for the USA Triathlon Art & Science of Coaching Symposium.  Over 200 coaches were in attendance to listen through two days of assorted lectures from some of the biggest names in triathlon.

Friday started with Neal Henderson (coach to Olympian Flora Duffy) speaking on how to develop triathlon specific cycling fitness.  In his words, “it’s not just about watts or watts/kg.”  Instead of talking us through secret sauce bike workouts, TSS and power, Neal focused on the basics: you cannot generate power (and performance) on your bike until you know how to ride it.  A refreshingly simple thought but also timely as so many focusing on pushing up FTP through smart trainers indoors and wonder why performance isn’t matched outdoors.  It’s important to create training situations where you practice basic cycling skills; cornering, steering, posture.  Some other key points:

  • Your performance is influenced by your capacity to perform (training, rest, genetics), your execution and tactics.
  • Use data as information – allow it to inform you on the athlete, then translate that to the athlete to transform their performance
  • Understand the demands of the competition & design training to meet those demands (terrain, weather, course design, effort)

Favorite takeaway:  Focus is important, refocus is critical.

Next up, strength training with Carwyn Sharp, a strong proponent of lifting heavy for endurance athletes.  Carwyn cited several studies showing the benefit of resistance training for cycling and running (results with swimming were less clear).  Resistance training through heavier lifting engages the Type II (fast twitch) fibers which are recruited once the Type 1 (slow twitch) fibers become fatigued.  The biggest benefits of resistance training for triathletes:

  • Improves neuromuscular capacity (getting things to fire in the correct sequence)
  • Improves anaerobic power & capacity
  • Improves movement efficiency and economy
  • Improves rate of force development

Progressive overload is required to get an effective and safe adaptation; start with bodyweight exercises and eventually progress to heavy lifting.  Incorporate plyometrics along the way.  Ultimately, power lifting is the goal because power is the goal.  Carwyn advised that strength should be periodized through the season and always take place after your swim/bike/run sessions.  Of course, proper form is critical when starting any strength program.  Meet with a skilled personal trainer who can observe and correct proper form within each set.

Favorite takeaway:  Muscular endurance comes from swimming, biking and running; use the gym to gain power.

Jesse Kropelnicki spoke on using data with athletes.  Jesse has been coach to many top pros including Angela Naeth, Linsey Corbin and Cait Snow.  He’s known for his engineering-influenced approach of protocols, formulas and calculators in training.  Jesse talked through some of this approaches to using data in training at the micro and macro level.  He reminded us that the purpose of utilizing data and analytics is to produce results.  You can have perfect charts and graphs but if those numbers don’t produce results they aren’t meaningful.  He admitted that he has learned, the hard way, about the drawbacks of relying too heavily on data and numbers.

Favorite takeaway:  There’s a level of detail that you may apply to a human that doesn’t lead to performance.

Next, registered dietician Lauren Antonucci covered best practices in nutrition.  Lauren communicated a very straight up, practical view on sports nutrition.  A few tidbits:

  • Focus on energy balance (the combination of energy intake and energy expended) – in her experience, many endurance athletes get this equation wrong (eating too little for the energy they expend)
  • Remember, the gut always wins (you can be highly trained but if your nutrition plan doesn’t work, you won’t perform well)
  • The average sweat rate is 1 liter (33 oz) per hour
  • Avoid starting a race with an empty stomach (better digestion with a little something in stomach)
  • Avoid fructose in sports food (hard to digest)
  • Consider chicken soup race morning or the night before

A great follow up to Lauren was listening to Alan Lim, founder of Skratch Labs, speak on hydration. Alan boiled down a highly technical topic into a fun presentation with hand drawn pictures and practical suggestions.  Some of notable points:

  • For every 100 calories burned, 78 are lost to heat (we are not very efficient & this is also why pacing is important – higher intensity/more calories burned = more heat created that must be dissipated)
  • Keeping cool is the focus; allows more blood to flow to working muscle
  • Increased aerobic fitness leads to increased ability to dissipate heat
  • Most of what we sweat is salt
  • Precompensate for loss of salt by drinking a saline solution prior to racing (similar to chicken soup suggestion above)
  • The goal is not to replace everything lost (this will maintain hydration but not sodium & can still lead to hyponatremia)
  • Sodium is the only electrolyte you need to replace when exercising
  • Average sodium loss is 1000 mg/liter
  • When you’re drinking but keep on urinating, especially late in exercise, you need more salt (not more water)
  • GI distress occurs when stomach empties faster than small intestine can absorb
  • Pace your calories going in (consistent trickle of energy)
  • Acclimate for hot conditions & stay as cool as possible in competition through use of cooling techniques

Favorite takeaway:  Find your individual formula of how much water and sodium you need to minimize performance loss due to dehydration

Saturday kicked off with a high performance panel.  A very informative look into the college recruitment linksprogram, how USA Triathlon identifies and develops talent.  While there are many performance-related benchmarks these athletes must reach, it was legendary coach Bobby McGee who explained the importance of mental skills and mindset.  Of particular interest was this slide on the “links of the chain” that must be present in a high performing athlete.

Ian Murray gave an engaging talk on the business of coaching, in other words the business of people.  He gave simple suggestions on subtle things you can do to improve your service and connection to athletes to acquire and retain athletes.

Favorite takeaway:  It’s communication, it’s empathy, it’s understanding – it’s the human interaction.

High performance coach (and Olympian) Barb Lindquist put together a very informative presentation on the art of writing engaging swim workouts.  In her words, she’s an artist and the swim is her tapestry.  Science is the foundation (she uses the ASCA/USMS zones & terms for swimming) but it’s the art of applying that science into creative and challenging swim workouts that makes a difference.  Here are a few takeaways:

  • Technique is important (especially high elbow for catch)
  • Frequency is critical for the non-swimmer; more “touches” on the water matter (even 15-20 minute sessions are high value)
  • Learn to use the clock as a training partner (no Garmins; athlete should know how fast they swim every repeat & how to read the pace clock)
  • Balance masters and solo workouts
  • Swim open water no more than once a week (not a sub for pool swimming, too much can make you slower)
  • Mix in IM (all 4 strokes) to improve strength & teach you how to find rhythm in your stroke (similar to how you need to find your rhythm in open water after disruptions)
  • Practice race simulation sets (work on “get out” speed as well as race pace)
  • Open water skills can be practiced anywhere (surges, drafting, sighting, getting touched/touching)

Favorite takeaway:  Creativity counts; how you give workouts is an expression of who you are as a coach.

Finally, what was perhaps the most valuable session of the weekend – Jamie Turner, coach to Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgenson.  Turner was refreshingly down to earth, funny and humble with a quiet ferocity and passion for coaching.  He engagingly told his story about becoming a coach and the story of Gwen becoming a gold medalist.  I’ll do my best to capture what he shared.

How did he get into elite coaching?  A series of odd jobs: you do the work & opportunities present themselves.

What is coaching?  Coaching is a commitment, first & foremost.  It is a ruthless pursuit of excellence.  Athletes want to know: will you work for them?  A coach is objective, an expert, believe in your athletes.

How do athletes come to get coached by you in the squad environment?  It’s about performance, not training.  It’s about setting up a performance focused environment. 

What does process mean?  To have an ability to do your shit when other shit is going on around you.    Athletes must invest in the process.

How did you work with other “experts” when coaching Gwen?  Surround yourself with those who will live and die by the athlete’s performance.  Then, give them ownership of that part of the process.  If you want someone to do something well for you, here’s what you say – “I believe in you.”  These people are part of her ‘footprints of success.’

How did Gwen stay healthy with so much racing this year?  Focus on body composition.  She needed “bulletproofing” to sustain her health and the racing.  She needed to gain mass (muscle).  She works with a nutritionist who would make suggestions (ie., make your oats with milk).   

 Talk about Gwen’s path:  Success isn’t that linear path that you think it is.  Gwen DNF’ed her first race after joining the squad.

On building self-esteem and confidence:  Gwen journals every day, ‘things I did well’ and ‘things I could do better.’  After a particularly tough race, she felt she had lost her ruthlessness and willingness to win.  She wanted to talk with a sports psychologist.  Sometimes the answer is already there.  The athlete needs prompting to go search for the answer that is already there internally rather than seeking answers externally. 

Gwen’s traits:  Gwen trained ferociously for the OlympicsThese are the traits that focused Gwen on becoming an Olympic champion:

  • Consistency is king
  • Get the most of the least
  • 99% right is 100% wrong
  • Process builds confidence
  • Competition raises the bar
  • Investments not sacrifices
  • She doesn’t want to do stuff that won’t make her better
  • Self-aware/be in the moment
  • Be diligent
  • Wants to know the why, the rationale
  • Turn up every day & do what you do can
  • Don’t have to have great days, good every day is better
  • At the Olympics, just had to do what she’s done before

How did you prepare for Rio?  Sought the advice of the great Craig Walton (who coached Emma Snowsill) and asked how to prepare Gwen 200 days out, 100 days and 50 days.  At 50 days, Walton said her main goals were to stay composed and stay with her winning process. 

When was the moment he believed Gwen could win the goal medal?  WTS in London, Gwen raced with an upper respiratory infection (approved by her doctors).  Snot dripping from nose yet she was still able to execute the process under stress & deliver a performance.

What’s the best thing Gwen’s parents did for her?  Teach your child to have good habitsDon’t give your child the answers, teach them to find solutions to problems.  To make his point, Jamie held up an empty roll of toilet paper.  He explained that when your child sees that, they have a choice.  And it’s up to the parent to teach them what to do.  He said he doubted that you would have seen an empty roll of toilet in Gwen’s house growing up.  This example might seem silly but it demonstrates how champions have mastered the simple things which come from a foundation of setting good habits and making good choices every single day.

How did Gwen prepare for the Rio course, specifically the bike?  Nothing magic ever happens in the comfort zone.  Gwen needed to expand her vocabulary of speed, broaden her understanding of velocity, she rode on the back of a motorcycle at high speed down twisty roads to prepare for downhills at Rio.

On preparing for the Olympics:  Olympics is about excellence every day for 4 years, not excellence for 1 day in 4 years.   

My final thoughts on the symposium:  Ten years ago, I set out on the path of full-time coaching.  In that time, our sport has changed.  There are more races, more tools, more athletes.  Coaching has also changed.  No longer is the coach simply providing workouts to shape fitness.  Athletes want a well-rounded coach able to advise on equipment, sports nutrition, mental preparation, race planning, course selection, strength training, injury prevention, recovery modalities, etc.  It is easy for the coach to become overwhelmed by (and with) a lot of stuff. 

But does that stuff matter?

We are also now in a world as coaches where you can seemingly measure everything.  Every week I see a new product or service testing something else; your blood, your sweat rate, your vertical oscillation, your swim stroke rate.  However, as many presenters warned, it’s important to focus on what really matters: the human interaction, the athlete.

We, as athletes, are more than FTPs, formulas and TSS scores.  While data, graphs and numbers can help us understand trends and make loose predictions, ultimately we are coaching a person.  A dynamic person with physiological and psychological strengths and weaknesses, fears and needs, comforts and discomforts.  A person who sometimes rather than being told what percentage of FTP to hold in their next race simply needs to hear I believe in you.

While data, calculators and formulas can often make us feel like magicians (especially when it all comes together!), the real magic comes from how we work with our athletes and how that work inspires and supports them to be at their best.  Therefore – in each talk from some of the biggest names in triathlon, it was apparent that while science can support the art of coaching, it will never replace it.  The wise coach knows the science but also knows that the art of coaching – of bringing out an athlete’s best through training, preparation, the process – is what ultimately paves the way for the possibility of optimal performance.

Race Report: J-Hawk Late Bird Triathlon

We are now within a few days of the 2016 Ironman World Championship.

Before you get too caught up in the media, blogs and predictions about that race, let’s talk about the race that really matters:

The J-Hawk Late Bird Sprint Triathlon

Otherwise known as the Wisconsin Indoor Pool Sprint World Triathlon Championship.

Coming up on 12 weeks post-partum, it was time to race.  I’ve been “training” as much as my body and schedule will permit.  On days that I am tired, I go easy.  On days that I am tired but decide to ignore that by way of stubbornness or too much coffee, I go a little harder than easy.  My paces are getting faster little by little, my power is going up and my heart rate is going down.  Measured day to day, progress is never quick enough.  But when I look back at the past few weeks and when I look back after my return after the other two kids, I am assured that it’s a slow, unpredictable and tedious process to gain fitness.  But one day, when I need it, it will be there ready to use.

Two weekends ago, we drove up to Whitewater, Wisconsin to race.  Chris, fresh off of a 4 week break of beer, sloth and donuts every Saturday, chose the Olympic distance.  In his words, he could suffer longer at a slower pace.  Myself, fresh off of baby #3, I chose the sprint.  I would rather suffer shorter at a slower pace.

We loaded up the van with bikes and bags and a baby.  Yes, the baby.  But we had a plan.  If we timed this just right (meaning, Chris had to finish his race as x:xx time), we would have just a few minutes to hand off the baby before my race started.

Like any other race, I woke up at 3:30 am.  Pumped and then fed Mason.  Drove 2 hours north.  While Chris got ready for his race, I pumped again in the car and again fed Mason.  He eats every 3-4 hours and I am still on the schedule of pumping every 3-4 hours to supply the milk as well as build up a supply of milk.  At this point, I’ve frozen over 350 bags.  As a mom of a preemie, there were so many weeks where I felt helpless and disconnected as his mother.  The storing of milk because the one thing I could do for him.  To all of the moms who have exclusively pumped – big pat on the back.  It isn’t easy!

While Chris was out racing, I took Mason with me to set up my transition area.  Luckily, this was a very low key race where a baby carseat was not only permitted in transition but welcome!  I received a lot of interesting questions but mostly support for being out of the house and fully clothed with a 12 week old baby.

As my race start time approached, I pumped one last time before sitting on the pool deck with Mason.  And, within 2 minutes of my race starting, Chris came through the door (he ended up winning the Olympic race) and took over with Mason.   The timer called me to my lane.

Now J-Hawk is a small race.  Unsanctioned.  A 500 yard swim in a pool.  Doesn’t exactly draw stiff competition.  And part of the reason I chose this race was for its laid back, ease back into it, dust off the cobwebs feeling.  That is, until I scanned the start list a few days earlier only to realize that the current F30-34 Sprint National Champion would be racing.

I spent the next few days lamenting to my friends.  Wah …. now I actually have to race!  Not only that but I had to race her in the same lane.  Imagine my surprise when in scanning the start list, I also realized that my darling husband (who had taken care of our registration) seeded me with a 500 time of 6 minutes.  Pretty fast, eh?  Only problem is that only once in my life and only aided by paddles, pull buoy and the awesome draft of Timmy, have I gone sub 6 on a 500.   Right now, I would be grateful to crack 7:30!

There I was, in a lane with the Sprint National Champion who legitimately could swim 6 minutes, ready to race.  We split the lane.  The gun went off and I swam as hard as I could.  The effort was there but after baby you feel disconnected, sloppy, like you need to spend the next 3 months in plank position to tighten things up.  Needless to say, she had a minute on me by the time we exited the swim.  It was time to chase.

Running through transition.  Remember this?  Remember this feeling?  That feeling of – I signed up for this?  Paid good money?  Chose this over laying in bed and then going for coffee?  I WANNA QUIT NOW!  Those feelings are how you know you are at the proper effort level in a sprint race.

On to the bike.  Chris and Jennifer (who also won the Olympic race!) were shouting that my competition was 1 minute ahead.  Go chase!  It has been nearly one year since my time trial bike wheels have touched pavement.  The last time we danced together was on the Queen K!  This time around, I was going much harder, seeing heart rates I haven’t visited in a very long time.  It was a warm day but warm in September means windy.  I pushed through the wind and realized at the turnaround I had put a little time into my competition.

I CAN STILL DO THIS!

I rolled into transition and headed out for the run.  A slow transition cost me some time but I was ready to chase.  The J-Hawk run course is challenging – entirely off road, hilly, mud, packed dirt, bridges, trails, grass.  I ran as hard as I could, huffing and puffing through the trails.  I remember thinking – I’m racing.  Here, now, I love this feeling.  I love the chase.  To get completely lost in the moment of what you’re doing with nothing but putting one foot painfully and quickly in front of the other – the simplicity of that over 3.3 miles was a welcome respite from the chaos of my every day.  It made me realize that in 2017 I want to race more often.

j-hawk-silver

In the end, I finished about 2 minutes behind the overall woman.  SILVER MEDAL!  2nd PLACE WORLD SPRINT WISCONSIN CHAMPION!

And then I spent the rest of the day feeling like I raced an Ironman (normal new mom feeling, honestly).

Now you can get back to your world championship coverage.  This year, Multisport Mastery has 4 athletes on the Big Island.  I’ve lived vicariously through their pictures of Dig Me Beach, the Queen K and sunsets.  All four of them are the result of long term vision, commitment and dedication.  Which, in my coach opinion, counts more than talent, V02 max, training volume or equipment when your goal is to race the Ironman World Championship.

As for me – time to get back to some training, enjoy the fall season, make sure I have 3 kids in my possession at all times (hey, it’s hard to lose count at times!) and plotting out my 2017 season.

MSM September 2016 Featured Athlete

Multisport Mastery is pleased to announced the September 2016 Featured Athlete:

Anna M. from Deerfield, Illinois

Anna is your typical hard-working, high aspiring triathlete.  Like many of you, as a mother (of 5 children!), a wife, a full-time worker, she juggles multiple roles and responsibilities which can be a challenge when chasing big athletic goals!  This past season, Anna had a big breakthrough despite dealing with one of the biggest challenges she’s ever faced.  I’ll turn it over to Anna now to tell the story in her own words:

As I’m staring down at the black line in front of me, I’m thinking about a question my coach, Liz Waterstraat, wrote to me many months ago……

“Anna, how badly do you want it?”

“Are you willing to do what it takes to be better?”

These are the questions Liz asked of me when I emailed her saying I wanted more this year. I wanted better racing times. I wanted to get on the podium more.

I wanted more of myself as a triathlete.

This was my third season with Liz. And I had already seen major improvements in my training and racing.

So in January of this year, I was telling her that I wanted to see even more improved outcomes.

My goals had changed. I thought, “I’m not getting any younger.”  And at this point in my life, I wanted to push myself to see what I could do. How far I could go.

Fast forward four months to May of this year.

My husband, Tim, is diagnosed with Lymphoma. An athlete practically his whole life and a triathlete since the 80’s, endurance training is a lifestyle.  How could this happen?  We eat well.  We exercise.  We drink moderately and we watch our sugar intake.  This can’t be real.

I will never forget that day. We got the call as we were walking into our bank. We were sitting in the parking lot when Dr. Leonetti called. I knew it wasn’t good news when my husband said, “Can I put you on speaker? I need my wife to hear this…..”

From that moment, and very quickly, my priorities chaim.

We were in complete shock.  He had a tumor removed from his parotid gland, that “90% chance it’s a benign parotid tumor,” said the Head and Neck surgeon at Loyola. Instead we found out it is Lymphoma.

We spent days crying, worrying. Tim couldn’t speak, he couldn’t make the phone calls.  So I called our parents, told our kids, and called countless extended family and friends. Phone calls you never want to make.

I sprung into “move quickly” mode in looking for the best Lymphoma doc. We set up consultations and started with scans and bloodwork appointments.

In the blink of an eye, all my thoughts about and concerns about performing better as a triathlete, went out the window.

Now I was only concerned about how soon I could get my husband in to see the doctor.

It took everything in me to run intervals or to perform the FTP trainer rides. I just didn’t have the heart. I lost my mojo.

I remember saying to Tim during this tumultuous time, “I think I’m going to drop out of triathlons this year.  I just don’t feel like it. I need to let Liz know….”

To which my husband said, “What? What are you talking about? You have to race. You’re the only one who can. You have to do it for me.”

And so, once again, very quickly, my priorities changed. Again. So I shifted my mental gears.  And all of a sudden it was no longer about the podium. It wasn’t about personal best’s. It wasn’t about ME anymore.  But about working hard and nailing my workouts because my husband could not.  Now, instead of the two of us together riding our trainers on a long ride, it was me on the trainer, and Tim lying on the couch.

So I continued on with training.

Tim came with me to all my races this summer. And instead of racing he became the photographer. I think having something else to do on race day helped him with his anxiety about not racing.  (Photography is his second love. He got so into it that he started taking pictures of not just me but other triathletes and sending them great shots of them in the race. The athletes loved it!)

And my mental attitude with racing shifted big time. I had always felt like the athlete that would never attain that “elite” status. I would obsess and get upset about it.  I knew I didn’t have talent, and, although I work very hard, the numbers just wouldn’t show up on race day.

But through this family health crisis, I finally stopped comparing myself to others and started enjoying the moment and the triathlon atmosphere in a new way. Rather than thinking “Oh, that will never be me….” I started thinking, “Why not? Why can’t it be me?” I started to be kinder to myself in my thinking and really, really started to be grateful for the opportunity to be in this great sport, around these amazing athletes. I just started to take it all in.

And you know what happened? I raced well. Very well. For me, at least.

I did achieve a personal best at the 70.3 distance.  At Ohio 70.3, I placed 3rd in my age group and qualified for the 2017 70.3 World Championship.

It was as if I needed to find annamy priorities; my perspective.

I’m happy to be going to World’s next September. It may never happen again. So I will take it all in and appreciate the opportunity to be amongst some great athletes.

So, back to coach Liz’s question to me last January, “how bad do I want it?”

I want it. I want it very much.

But I need everything else to be in place in my life. I need to be – no, I must be surrounded by health and loving family and friends. To be able to laugh and be silly and have authentic happiness. To be content.

Then, when all of that is in place, doing well in the sport that I love so much is just the icing on the cake. And do I love icing!

So here’s to many icing’s on cakes. And to many more years in the sport I love.

 

M is for Mason

That’s right, we’re skipping right over L.  L was supposed to be for Late Pregnancy.  The post in which I told you about how pregnancy was ticking along smoothly.  How mid to late pregnancy workouts were slow but enjoyable.

Alas, M is for Mason.  At 32 weeks and 6 days, Mason Thomas decided to make his entrance albeit it a bit early!

Something changed at 30 weeks.  I felt different.  Not the usual oppressive heaviness and fatigue that starts around week 32 – I just felt noticeably different.  Of course, I had just returned from 7 days in Disney with 8 of my in-laws and 6 children.  In the thick heat and humidity.  I wrote it off – I’m tired, delayed onset Disney fatigue.  But I distinctly remember thinking if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that I was about to have this baby.

At 32 weeks, I went to the OB/GYN to begin my weekly nonstress tests.  If my last 2 pregnancies were advanced maternal age, now that I was over 40 and having a baby – they considered me high risk and extremely geriatric!  Thus more monitoring.  I passed my first test as did baby.  They asked me if the baby was moving often and I noted – yes, but considerably less in the past week.  Something I had also told my husband who, like the nurse, shrugged it off – he’s getting bigger, less room for moving.

On July 6th, I went to bed.  But I didn’t go to sleep.  By morning, I had slept 2 hours, up the rest of the night in excruciating pain.  As embarrassing as this is to write, I have historically spared no journalistic shame!  The source of my pain?  Hemorrhoids!  Being pregnant and an Ironman athlete, I had dealt with these on and off through the years.  But now it was the weight of a baby, placenta and stress sitting on top of me – angry, inflamed and hurting oh so bad!

I moaned all night.  I felt nauseous.  I cried.  I considered going to the emergency room but then spooked myself by reading too many horror stories of impromptu emergency room hemorrhoid surgeries.  Because what else do you do up all night in pain – you read online forums!

The next morning, I called a local surgeon.  At first they said they had no appointments.  At this point tired, disagreeable and very pregnant, I said, if you don’t see me today, I am going to the emergency room.  And just like that they squeezed me in within the next 30 minutes.

There I sat waiting in the examining room for the doctor.  For whatever reason, I stood up – probably out of boredom! – and immediately felt something.  A gush of blood ripped through my shorts and down my leg.  Having gone through IVF, I was familiar with early pregnancy gushes of blood (many!) but never this late.  I called my OB/GYN who told me to go directly to labor and delivery.  Luckily, I was just around the corner from the hospital.  By the time I pulled up to the emergency room, my car looked like a crime scene!  I apologized to the valet and took a wheelchair ride to labor and delivery, at this point slightly freaking out and CRYING!

Once at triage, I could tell my water had broken and I was still bleeding everywhere.  The good news is that the baby’s heart rate was stable.  You’re experiencing contractions, do you feel those?  NO.  All I can feel is the damn pain in my rear end.  (this would be a recurring theme for the next few days!)

My doctor arrived within 20 minutes.  Her exam was foiled by copious amounts of blood.  She looked up and said to me, get anesthesia in here, this baby is coming out.  As she walked towards the door she said, where’s hubby?

(gulp) On his way.

Within 30 minutes I had been anesthetized and prepped for surgery.  Chris suited up for the operating room and moments later, Mason Thomas was born.  He weighed 4 lbs and 10 oz.  The doctor immediately commented that he was a good size.  And then followed up with – I’m no technician but there is a blood clot behind your placenta.  My placenta has ruptured – acutely.

It took a few days before we realized the high risk of the situation.  Placenta ruptures happen to one in every 100 pregnancies.  There are risk factors but most don’t even apply to me – I don’t smoke, drink excessively or do cocaine.  I wasn’t in a car accident nor did I experience a blow to my stomach.  However, I was over 35, on my third c-section and had a hormonally assisted pregnancy.  Those factors can put you at higher risk.   Nonetheless, this was an acute “freak” incident that could have ended very badly – in most cases, women don’t realize what is happening and the baby is deprived of oxygen.  Mason could have been stillborn, I could have hemorrhaged to death.  To think of what could have happened overshadowed the blessing of what did happen – we both made it.

Over the next few days, I went through typical c-section recovery. But it all moved much quicker.  Perhaps because I knew what to anticipate or muscle memory – I was walking by the next day, showered and fully dressed in normal Liz clothing, refusing pain medicine.  At one point, a nurse came into my room and said where’s the patient?  I’m here.  And you’re walking?  Clearly you do not know me!  By the end of my stay, I think I had convinced every nurse to get a Fit Bit and go shopping at Lululemon.

I’m not a fan of hospitals but honestly – I enjoyed my lovely 4 day stay in the hospital.  Seriously, folks, after spending the past 6 years caring for my two children it was a treat to be taken care of by other people!  The hardest part, though, was being apart from Mason.  Every few hours, I walked to the NICU, into a room of tubes to find an isolette with my newborn in it.  For the first week, this sight brought tears of unknown fear into my eyes.  I found myself emotionally overwhelmed with the complexity of the situation.  Not to mention the hormones of just having a baby!

After a few days, I went home and Mason stayed.  Over the next 5 weeks, I went to the hospital every day, sometimes twice a day.  I made it a point to get to know each nurse – to learn as much as possible about them and what was going on with my baby.  The NICU nurses were an amazingly caring and knowledgeable team.  They were a trusting mother to my child when I couldn’t be there, all hours of the day.  Each visit was a mixed bag of emotions, hand washings, wires and machines beeping or buzzing.  In the early days, I would be there to just put my hand into the isolette to hold his foot.  To deliver the milk I was pumping every 3 hours of the night and day (and – a tip here for new moms – RENT THE HOSPITAL GRADE PUMP!), to simply look at my son, longing to bring him home and being a mother to him.  Each day also brought with it the unknown of doctor updates, new medicines and procedures.  It became a waiting game of how much weight did he lose?  Gain?  What did his test results say?  But then there were the positive milestones – the day he was taken out of the isolette, the day the tubes were removed, his first bottle feeding, his first bath.

Having a baby in the NICU shakes up your life in so many ways.  Here I was, on my third child, thinking to myself I got this, I know what to do!  Now, I was being taught how to feed my baby by nurses.  After breastfeeding my other 2 children with no difficulty, I had a lactation consultant visit every few days.  I learned terms that no parent should ever need to know – what defines an “episode”, how to read the monitor when he “de-sats”, what is an NG tube.  I met with physical therapists, speech pathologists, neonatologists.  I thought I knew how to have a baby!  Just when you think you know everything, life intervenes to prove to you there is still so much more to learn.  Especially when it comes to patience.

Each day Mason thrived, grew and got closer to coming home.  The only thing holding him back was learning how to eat!  Who knew that babies didn’t develop the suck, swallow, breathe reflex until 36 weeks.  And even then, it’s touch and go.  Sometimes while eating they forget to breathe!  Until Mason had 4 days straight of no “episodes” (forgetting the breathe), he couldn’t come home.  Finally, after 5 weeks, he came home and he is doing what babies do best: eat, poop, sleep, repeat every 3 hours of the night and day.

As for me?  Recovery was much quicker this time around.  Perhaps muscles really do have memory.  After 17 days (yes, I counted them), I returned to swimming, biking and running.  Until then, there was lots and lots of walking.  I used what I learned from recovering after my other 2 pregnancies (and c-sections) to ease back into shape.  Swimming has felt great – I am back swimming in my old lane (though my old intervals are a little tighter than when I was in peak shape!).  I did a lot biking on my trainer when pregnant – even doing “structured” workouts through the end.  Getting back into biking has felt better than in past pregnancies.  I’ve started to incorporate some short intensity again.  The run?  Last time around I learned the value of patience with running.  After Mackenzie, I ran too hard too soon.  This time around I’m taking it slower.  The summer heat and humidity has me going so slow anyways!

A little over 7 weeks after baby, I participated in the sprint leg of a relay at the Chicago Triathlon.  Was I ready?  After a few weeks of panic training – sure, we’ll call that ready!  As I suited up in my wetsuit, looking at the cold, blue water of Lake Michigan, I got a little panicked – would I remember how to race?  Would I even want to race?  Where will I go when it gets hard and uncomfortable?  Will I settle?  Or out of fear will I just freeze?  As I got into the water, I put myself on autopilot and did what I would do in any other race – went to the front of the line, quieted my mind and waited.  The gun went off.  And just like any other race, anxious thoughts about the water, the intensity and my fitness started to infiltrate the moment.  But then something happened:  the competitive switch flipped and I got the urge to race.  To really go after it.  To sit on the edge of redline and settle, to hear myself breathing and get uncomfortable again.  I felt, if anything besides scared, ready to throw up and burning, relieved – because after a year I had found it again.  The desire to compete.  It was still in there.

And now the real race begins: life with 3 children!

 

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