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When my alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. on race day, I woke to the sound of rain dripping down the hotel gutters. Darn it, my Twitter chant of “Rain rain go away, I have a tri in Mission Bay” did not work! I made oatmeal with hot water from the hotel coffee maker, then made actual coffee with the coffee maker. I had about half an hour to eat, get in my tri kit, and get out the door. Transition opened at 5 a.m. and I wanted to be there on time. I managed to be about 20th in line as we waited in the drizzle for transition to open, which it finally did around 15 or 20 minutes late.

I hustled to find the two long bike racks designated for wave 9, and snagged one of the prime spots at the end of the rack. I hooked the nose of my bike seat on the rack as directed, then set up my bright pink towel to the left, carefully laying out my bike shoes, sunglasses, and running shoes under the plastic SheROX expo bag so they wouldn’t get wet. Then I set about walking the routes I would take through T1 and T2. Wave 9 did not have a prime location but I had no trouble navigating transition and again this year I was impressed with how well the organizers set it up. Satisfied that I had the drill down, I drove back to the hotel to pick up my cheering section. My three girls were none too happy to be up at 6 a.m., but they were troopers as always, ready and waiting in their bright pink SWIM, BIKE, and RUN t-shirts. Unfortunately, the hotel cafe was not open at that hour like it was last year, so the troops had to get by on leftover California rolls and the Luna bars we’d snagged at the expo. Oops. Plea to race organizers: invite some food trucks to come to the race — my family loved the food truck at Nautica Malibu!

We high-tailed it back to the race start, just in time before the parking closed at 6:30. I had plenty of time to get to the race start and chat with a few nice women who had questions about the swim course or needed help zipping up a wetsuit. I think triathletes in general are a friendly, helpful bunch of people, and yet the vibe is even more welcoming at an all-women event like SheROX. Really perfect for beginners. That’s not to say that the ladies aren’t competitive. Just like last year, several of the women in my wave “drifted” several feet out past the starting line. Last year I didn’t say anything because those ladies were only harming themselves. This year it took everything I had to restrain myself from yelling at the women who “drifted” right out in front of me. So not cool.

Starting line at SheROX swim

That’s me, third to the left of the white buoy, trying desperately not to yell at the cheater cheater pumpkin eaters.

Still, I love an in-water start, and the start went well for me. The rain had stopped and the saltwater in Mission Bay looked as smooth as glass. If anything, I went out too strong and paid for it later. By the end of the swim, my lips looked blue from hyperventilating. When I practice swimming in the pool, I breathe every three strokes. Out in open water, I need to breathe every two. Obviously what I need to do is practice breathing every two strokes in the pool, as well as get in more open water swims in training. Still, I was pleased with the results:

2011 1500m swim: 14:44
2012 1500m swim: 14:24 (-20 seconds)

T1 went smoothly. I skipped putting on socks to save time and I didn’t miss them on the bike or run. No sunscreen, no drink of electrolytes. Just in, out, boom.

2011 T1: 3:22
2012 T1: 2:18 (-1:04) (my best T1 out of 4 races to date!)

As I’ve said, the bike is my favorite part of any triathlon and SheROX was no exception.

SheROX bike course

As always, smiling on the bike (in spite of whatever weird thing was going on with my bike helmet strap)

The bike course seemed more crowded than the year before and I later learned there were 684 competitors, nearly 90 more athletes this year than last. Not particularly large for a race, but noticeable for me when I’m passing people on the bike (and they are passing me on the run!) It started to drizzle again as I made my second loop on the bike course. The road had never dried up from the morning anyway, and the rain did not bother me, but I am not willing to risk life or limb, so I took it a little slower in the turns on the course.

2011 20K bike: 37:55 (19.67 mph)
2012 20K bike: 38:26 (+ 31 seconds)

Transition two was fine. Part of the reason T1 was faster this year was that I saved putting on my race belt until T2. That doesn’t account for all the difference though.

2011 T2: 1:21
2012 T2: 2:18 (+ 57 seconds)

The run was tough for me. I had hoped to improve on my run time by a lot, given all the half marathon and marathon training I’d done in the past year. But of course, running 20 miles three days before for my current training, and not tapering for this race, meant my legs just didn’t have it in them.

SheROX run course

Still happy to be on the run

2011 5K run: 26:38
2012 5K run: 29:04 (+2:26)

I was happy to finish, and happy to see my family at the finish line. They, starving at this point, were happy to see my race finish line treats — muffins and juice box and banana and orange.

SheROX finish

Not sure I even accomplished the goal of getting a better finish line photo. I tried to finish strong and not do anything goofy, but I pretty much look like I want to punch someone.

2011 sprint tri final results: 1:23:57
2012 sprint tri final results: 1:25:53 (+1:56)

So, faster on the swim and T1, slower on the bike, T2 and the run. It’s the run that bums me out. You know, before I started training for the marathon, I had already signed up for Nautica Malibu and SheROX. I asked a more experienced runner if I should bow out of the triathlons, and she said yes. She said I should just write off those triathlons and focus on the goal race. Now I have to grudgingly admit, she was right. It’s possible that overtraining for the triathlons and the marathon led to the plantar fasciitis and groin injury I’ve been battling. And it’s clear that running 20 miles and not tapering before the triathlon results in less than optimal performance. It helps me to go through the race and analyze what happened (not making excuses, but learning from the experience). After getting over the initial disappointment of not getting a PR, I am pleased overall and more than ready to focus all my attention now on these last three weeks of marathon training. Santa Barbara International Marathon, here I come!

Did you race SheROX or elsewhere this weekend? How did it go?

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As I prepare myself to race SheROX San Diego 2012 this coming Sunday, I’m looking back at my journal account of my first triathlon, SheROX San Diego 2011. Kudos to SheROX for putting on a great race for beginners and experienced athletes alike! Good luck to all the ladies out there this weekend! I’ll be the one grinning like a kid on the bike! 😉

I didn’t have too much trouble going to sleep around 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, but I did wake up around 3:30 a.m. and had trouble going back to sleep. The excitement of race day kicked in early! I got up and used the coffee maker to brew one cup of coffee and heat one cup of water for oatmeal. The coffee tasted great but the oatmeal I had to choke down. I was still pretty nervous but also thrilled that race day was finally happening!

I headed out in the car around 5 a.m. and arrived to find transition open (it wasn’t supposed to open til 5:15). I managed to snag a prized spot on the end of a rack for my wave, #8. It was strange to be out there at 5:15 in the dark, but there was a nice energy under the lights. I was all set up by 5:45 and even took my bike to the free bike service booth for the guy to pump my tires and check my gears/shifting and have him put it in the right gear for me to get started on the bike in the race. I re-racked my bike and was all set.

My SheROX volunteer mentor Megan had looked me up on Facebook and she approached me to say hello and answer any last minute questions. I had her talk me through where the Run In, Bike Out, Bike In, Run Out locations were and brainstorm how I could best get around the transition area quickly. She helped ease my mind a lot.

I hustled back to the hotel to pick up Mike and the girls. It was hard for them to get up early but they did it with the promise of food. We got back to the race area at 6:30 right before the officials closed the roads. I could have parked and walked but it was nice that we made it before we had to do that. I had gotten in my wetsuit in the hotel. It helped to wear my wetsuit for 45 minutes before the race because I got it adjusted properly and got used to it and got rid of the choking feeling it gives me.

Once I was all set up in transition and in my swim gear and at the proper place with the other athletes, I felt less anxious. Still a little nervous but just enough to be good for me for the race. The race officials went over the water course, which was a little different than the diagram that had been on the web. Thank goodness there were huge orange buoys to mark the sprint course, and yellow buoys for the super sprint.

We all stood at attention for the national anthem. Then the waves started going, starting with the two elite athletes. It helped to watch those waves go to know best how to position myself and get to the start line. It was an in-water start at Mission Bay. Go over the timing mat, down the ramp, and then swim out to the green start buoys and tread water. Some of the waves walked as far as they could instead of swimming, and that meant that when the starting horn sounded a minute or so later, they weren’t at the start line! I made sure I was out front and ready to go. It annoyed little rule-follower-me that some of the other women in my wave got 5-10 feet in front of the start line. I didn’t say anything though. This race was me vs. me and I didn’t need to worry about them.

SheROX swim

I love an in-water start as opposed to a shore start.

I knew when the announcer said, “Racers on your mark” that it would only be a few seconds until the horn blew so I was totally ready to go and was one of the first to take a stroke when the horn sounded. That helped me get out early and avoid some of the crush. I breathed every two strokes in the beginning and that helped me overcome the trouble I’d had in the past with feeling out of air on the start of an open water swim. In fact I did less breaststroke on this swim than any of my practice open water swims — I only did breaststroke to sight the buoys and that was just enough to get me some extra air. One girl bumped into me (or I bumped into her — who knows) and I veered a bit left (but on course for the first buoy) to get away from her thrashing. I was pretty free to swim until I started catching some of the stragglers from the previous waves. I ended up finishing with some yellow and green caps from the previous two waves. My swim time was excellent when you account for having to sight for the buoys and avoid the other swimmers. Once or twice I felt held back by people blocking me (not on purpose).

Swim time: 14:44
T1: 3:22

My T1 transition time stunk. Partly I chalk my time up to not having tri gear. It would have saved time to have a tri suit instead of a swim suit and bike shorts and shirt. I could have gone without my socks (but I like them for biking and running). I definitely shouldn’t have put on sunscreen because it was so overcast. I took an extra sip of Gatorade too and I should have just waited until I was on the bike.

I had a little trouble getting my bike shoes locked in the clipless pedals at the mount line. Partly I hadn’t anticipated the race officials yelling at me to keep pedaling. I’m not sure whether they were trying to be encouraging or telling me to get out of the way. Either way it didn’t help. But soon I was off and having a blast on the bike. The ride was so much fun.

SheROX bike

Loving the ride! Look at that smile on my face!

Best part of the race! I booked it and felt great and passed at least a hundred people. I wasn’t counting but I was constantly passing people and could tell that I was catching people from earlier waves because I could see their wave numbers on their calves. Someone in wave 9 behind me passed me and cheered me on, but then I passed her back and she cheered me some more. 🙂 I never saw her again. At one point she was holding me back and I realized it and decided I shouldn’t let her pace me — I should set the pace. I kept it at 20 mph (although I had no idea at the time – I don’t have a bike computer) and really gave it my all. I knew I wouldn’t be as good as most people on the run and this was my chance to get some time on those people.

Bike: 37:55 (19.67 mph)
T2: 1:21

I did great in T2 I think and that was a very good time for me. I tried to grab water from the aid stations on the run but found it was hard to drink from a cup rather than a sports bottle. My legs felt okay and the limiting factor on the run was my lungs more than my legs. I went as fast as I could without exceeding my aerobic capacity, right up until the final stretch when I pushed it harder. I had a secret goal of finishing the 5K in under 30 minutes. When I was on the course I didn’t think I would make it. I felt tired and had no idea how fast or slow I was going.

SheROX run

Giving it my all at the finish.

It turned out though that I was running at 7 mph and scored a PR with a time of 26:38! I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and my arms raised in triumph. I heard the announcer say my name and hometown and that felt great!

I grabbed a muffin, banana, orange and a bottle of water. The girls ate most of the food (my three-year-old ate the whole banana!) but I got whatever I could tolerate eating and just basked in the glow of finishing the race and not having any major glitches. I didn’t know my times but we got in line to get a printout. I’m amazed by the technology. I knew right away that I was 22nd out of 121 in my age group and 106 out of 582 overall [those are the unofficial rankings but the official ones are close to that — all in the top 18th and 19th percentiles for finishers]. My total time was 1:23:57 and I’d blown away my secret goal of beating 1:30.

The officials only let athletes back in transition so I told Mike I’d meet him and the girls back at the car but I didn’t know where they’d parked. I was too focused on the race to even remember which lot it was. I found them easily enough though. I changed in the car and we headed back to the hotel to pack up and check out. By the time we got smoothies and pizza for lunch, I was exceptionally hungry.

I drove the 2 hours home and it was pretty funny because Mike and two of the three girls slept. I was the one who needed a nap!

At home I purposely stayed awake so a nap wouldn’t keep me up at night. By 8 p.m. I could hardly keep my eyes open and by 8:30 I was asleep.

Overall I am extremely happy with how it went. I exceeded my goals, didn’t have anything go really wrong, and learned a lot. I don’t know how I’m feeling about doing another race. On the one hand, I met my goal with this one and it went SO well. What if the next one didn’t go as well? [Spoiler: It went well too!] And I did not enjoy the nerves before the race. It would be better next time (my mentor assures me) aside from the usual race day excitement. If I do another, should I bump up to Olympic distance? [Spoiler: I did, for HITS Palm Springs 2011 and Nautica Malibu 2012.] That’s what intrigues me. But am I willing to train for that, and what would be the fallout? I don’t want to do something I won’t keep up after the race. I feel like right now I could do the 1-mile swim and the 24.8 mile bike ride. I’ve never done a 10K run and would need to train for that and of course train for doing all three distances in a row.

Fun to look back at that first race and my thoughts throughout! I’d never run a 10K, but later went on to race 8K, 10K, a half marathon, and now here I am training for my first marathon!

Have you raced SheROX? What was your first triathlon like?

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I just finished reading A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey and I could hardly wait to tell you about it. I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiography by four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington and I recommend it not only to triathletes but anyone who enjoys a compelling story.

The book is honest, interesting, funny and exciting. It touches on an unexpected variety of topics that includes eating disorders, philanthropy, travel and world development (social and economic change). Chrissie does triathlon a favor by sharing her enthusiasm and insight into the sport. Even when you already know how a particular race will turn out, she takes you on the journey and makes it thrilling.

I have read several sports-related books lately (you can see the list at the Store page) and this is one of my favorites. I’d go so far as to say that if you’re interested in the ironman distance race and you had to choose one book between the recent releases A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey and You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon, I’d choose A Life Without Limits as the clear first choice. Not only is Chrissie Wellington an accomplished endurance athlete, she’s an accomplished writer as well.

One last note about Chrissie Wellington. You might recall how I raced the Nautica Malibu Triathlon recently. I did Saturday’s Olympic distance race and enjoyed it very much, but had a tiny pang of regret when I heard the next day that Chrissie participated in a relay for Sunday’s Classic distance race. As you will read in the book, she so generously stays at the finish line after each of the races she participates in and she hands out medals to the remaining finishers. How cool would that have been to receive my hard-earned medal from Chrissie?!

Have you read A Life Without Limits? Have you met Chrissie Wellington or seen her race? What book have you read lately that you recommend?

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Call me crazy, but I love getting up early on a Saturday morning to knock out two hours of running before my family wakes up. I like to call my husband minutes after he and the girls have rolled out of bed so I can gloat, I mean, so I can amaze him with the fact that I’ve just run 13 miles while he slept. He’s an excellent sport and he strokes my ego with the appropriate murmurings of how I’m insane (in a good way).

It did seem a little insane even to me when I left the house at 5:45 a.m. and the skyline looked like this:

palms outlined in the dark

Silhouettes of the palm trees at crazy-early-o’clock

I drove out to the Santa Ana River Trail and by the time I got out there, the sky had lightened considerably:

The Santa Ana River Trail, looking east at only slightly-crazy-early-o’clock

Saturday’s scheduled long run called for 12 miles at a 9:51 pace. The last time I ran 12 miles on the Santa Ana River Trail, our half marathon training group celebrated that group milestone with a post-run potluck breakfast. There would be no such feast after this run, but I was lucky enough to have something just as fun to look forward to. My former half marathon coach and now friend Stephanie generously offered to meet me at mile six to refuel me with a sports drink and some wonderful company for the last six miles of the run. Right on time, she met me on the trail and I didn’t even have to break stride as she helped me refill my sports bottle. What’s more, she offered a choice of homemade organic juice sports drink, or Gatorade! Give me organic homemade any day!

Wait a minute, let me interrupt, the training plan called for 12 miles at 9:51, but the title of this post says “13 Miles of Running Fun.” Yes, I had such fun chatting away with Stephanie that I forgot to keep track of the mileage. Good thing Stephanie spoke up or we could have ended up at the beach! (Not quite, but I felt so good I’d like to think I could have run all the way to Huntington). I also felt so great that I pushed the pace and finished the 13 miles at an average pace of 9:23 in just over 2 hours. Stephanie is a good sport to run an extra mile and faster than advertised. Plus she let me pick her running coach brain on the latest thoughts about dynamic warmups and ways to maintain good posture and form on the run. Who knew that the ladies can remind themselves to tighten their core by doing a few secretive Kegel exercises on the run?! I need all the posture and form reminders I can get. By the end of a race I am quite the hunchback. I might think my core is tight, my head is up, my shoulders are back and down, and my chin is in line with my chest, but the finish line photos prove otherwise!

The hunchback gives the thumbs-up at the finish of the OC Half Marathon

The most valuable thing I got out of this run, though, was the encouragement from someone I respect. If Stephanie thinks I look good at this point in my marathon training, I believe her and that makes me all the more excited about increasing the mileage over the coming weeks. So, Stephanie, about that 18-miler coming up…. I promise I won’t make it 19 if you’ll meet me for another 6! 😉

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Here’s a little running humor to start your week off right:

After three pregnancies, my regular shoe size went up half a size to 9.5. When I bought my first pair of running shoes, they were a size 10.5. Then the manufacturer changed the model for the new year and I needed a — gasp — 11. As I trained for my first triathlons and half marathon, I lost 17 pounds and with those, lost one full bra cup size! Ladies, can any of you relate?

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