Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Race the Chicago Tri

Inspired by what you saw this past weekend?  Here are the reasons you should go for it in 2012!!!

1)  If you live in Chicago, you don't have to get a hotel! 

2) If you are not from Chicago, you get to come spend a weekend in our amazing city.

3)  You can host a professional triathlete at your house and show them a good time.  Especially if they are not American!

4) It is one of most wonderful ways to experience the city- swim in the lake, bike on Lakeshore Dr and run on the path.  The views are awesome and the crowd is a blast!

5) There is free beer at the end.

6) Truly one of the best tri expos you will ever attend- but I guess you can go even if you aren't racing.

7) Stick around to watch the pros- it is worth it.  They are a sight to behold!

8) It is the world's largest triathlon, and though it may be a long day, it is very well organized.  Do it just to say you have.

9) You can order Chicago style pizza after and not feel guilty?

10)  The date is perfect to train all summer, finish it off with a bang and still have Labor Day weekend to get crazy.

-Coach A

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chicago Triathlon Recap

If you have never witnessed the Chicago Triathlon, it is quite an experience.  This year, almost 10,000 (!!) athletes participated in the event.   Beginning at 6 am, every 4 minutes until 10 am, over 100 athletes embark on their triathlon adventure.   What this equals is a constant flow of swimmers, bikers, runners and exuberant spectators throughout the morning.  It is one of my favorite days of the year.

My day began with the alarm going off at 4 am.  By 4:20 I was on my bike headed to transition.  A quick transition setup and then off to get myself together before my 6:20 am start.  I would have preferred a little later start but at least I did not have much time to let my nerves get the best of me.   After waiting in line for the port-a-potties (twice!) it was time to get my wetsuit on and go.

The forecast for the day was stellar- clear with a high of about 78 degrees.  What I was not prepared for was the wind.  Even with the swim taking place in a protected harbor, it was VERY choppy.  Sighting and breathing was difficult because of the waves and I ran into dozens of people over the course of the half mile swim.  I have never seen so many people treading and holding on to the wall, but these conditions were rough.  Finishing the swim was a huge relief, until I had to get out and run the quarter mile to transition and then UP a hill to my bike.  I had to catch my breath as I got my bike gear on, but I was feeling good.

The wind was coming from the North so our ride towards Foster on Lakeshore Drive was hard work.  I think everyone was thinking the same thing- "I can't wait to turn around!"   And turning around was glorious!  Everyone was flying back towards the city and the second half of the bike and the time zoomed by.  Before I knew it I was heading down the ramp and into T2.

As I was heading out for the run I knew I was doing pretty well and was hoping to break 23:00 for the 5K.  I heard my name lots of times (thanks spectators!) during that first mile and was eagerly awaiting the first mile marker to check my time.  However, I never saw it!  What?  I paid $172 for this race and there are no mile markers!?!  Not fair!  So, I just kept on going as fast as I could and finished with a final time of 1:22.05 ( and a 5K time just over 23).

A plus of starting in one of the first waves- no line for massage!  Yippee!  I got a little massage and chatted with an old friend and there was hardly anyone in the finishers area. By 8 am I had raced, had a massage and was headed back to the starting area to cheer on some other racers.  I spent some time cheering, got some snacks, went back to the finish for awards (2nd in age group, 5th overall!), got my bike out of transition, ate some more snacks, and before I knew it, it was 1:30 pm and I was cheering the male pro athletes across the finish line.  What a day!

Surprisingly, this year's race seemed to be significantly slower than last year's.  In 2010 it was a lot warmer, but I think the wind had a pretty profund effect on yesterday's times, especially the sprint times which were not effected so much by the heat last year.  In general, winning times were about 4 minutes slower in the sprint, and 7 minute in the olympic distance. 

I have a love/hate relationship with this race.  I go back and forth between thinking it is the best thing ever and a huge cluster that I should avoid.  Stay tuned this week for my Top 10 pros/cons of Chicago Tri.  Maybe it will help you decide if you should race next year!

Congrats to all of yesterday's finishers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Insider tips for the Chicago Tri.....

It is a big week here in Chicago with the city's triathlon (one of the world's largest!) coming up on Sunday.  I know dozens of athletes who are gearing up for the big day.  Here are my last minute words of wisdom for all those participating.

1)  Do not cram for the race.  Less is more this week!  You want to go into Sunday with fresh legs and lots of energy.

2)  The forecast is looking AMAZING, even chilly in the morning.  Be sure to wear a sweatshirt and dress accordingly.  Also, it will be pitch black when you get to the race.  There are lights in transition but not along the swim.  A flashlight can be very helpful.

3)  Remember, Friday night is your important night of sleep.   Your alarm is going to go off at 4 am on Sunday and there is a good chance you will have tossed and turned all night.  Don't let that get to you.  If you get a decent night sleep on Friday, adrenaline will fuel you through the race.

5)  Know your wave time.  You could be waiting 3-4 hours after transition closes before you begin.  Bring a blanket, some snacks and drinks and be prepared to chill before the race.  The logistics of going home and coming back will likely stress you out.

6)  Check the course map.  I know people who have exited on the sprint course (when registered for Olympic!), been shocked by the quarter mile run after the swim and who have spent 30 minutes trying to figure out where to rack their bike on race morning.  Don't be that person!

7)  Plan a meeting point with your fans.  With thousands of racers and the finish line being at least a half mile away from the start, there is a lot of ground to cover to find your loved ones.  Plan ahead.

8) Set your three goals.  Happy goal, thrilled goal and ecstatic goal.  Memorize them and keep them in mind throughout the race.

9)  Enjoy!  Find your fans along the wall while you are swimming, check out the skyline and beaches while you are riding on LSD, and enjoy how awesome Chicago is while you are running.  This is what it is all about!

Race fast!
-Coach A

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Running Form Pointers

I have somehow managed to coerce, er I mean, encourage many of my friends to pick up running in the past couple months.  It is wonderful!  They are coming to me with their questions, their stories and letting me know how good it feels to get out there and move.  A few of them have had concerns about their form.  Since I live away from them and don't get to see them while they are running, I thought I would summarize some of the important points of running form.

1)  Body Position- You want to have nice tall posture with your shoulder blades pulled back and your shoulders relaxed.  Your body should be slightly leaning forward with your chest out, but the bend is not at your hips.  Stand up right now and lean forward with your chest.  What happened?  You probably fell forward.  If you lean like that, sort of from your ankles, you body will naturally want to move forward.  Now you just have to get your feet to follow.

2)  Foot Strike-  Now that you have the mean lean down, everything should fall into place.  You never want to kick your foot out in front of your body.  If I were watching you run from the side, your chest would be winning.  You should be taking steps and landing on the middle to front of your foot.  If you do kick your foot out in front of your body, you would be likely to strike with your heel first.  This is a lot of jarring on your body and can lead to injuries.  So, try to keep those feet under you and land on the middle of your sole.

3) Cadence-You are not going to become a faster runner by leaping and bounding your way through the miles.  You will become a faster runner by consistently running and keeping a good cadence.  A good cadence is about 180 steps per minute.  You can test yours by running for 10 seconds and counting how many times your right foot hits the ground.  The right answer is about 15 times.  When you first start running or getting into higher mileage, it can be hard to keep this cadence for the entire run.   Work on it and maintain it for as long as you can and you will your speed increase.

4) Arm Position-  You will see people doing all sorts of crazy things with their arms but try to keep them fairly relaxed and don't let them cross your midline.  If you swing them across your body you will end up wasting a lot of energy twisting all over the place.  Think about driving your elbows straight back with each arm swing but keeping your hands and shoulders relaxed.

That is it!  Take this info with you on your next run and try some of these things out.  Stay tuned for a few run specific drills that will help you with this!

-Coach A

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chicago Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon Race Recap

After the events of this past week this race was an afterthought.  I had told myself earlier in the season that I would only run it if the forecast was decent (ie- under 90 degrees).   As of Thursday, I had completely forgotten about it until an old friend emailed reminding me that she and her husband were coming to town for the race.  At that point I was entertaining the idea again, and when the forecast for today had 74 as a high, I decided to go for it.   That was, until I endured the most painful, heart wrenching 24 hours of my life.

I cannot talk about this race until I summarize the events that led up to it.  Friday was the wake for my friend Ellen.  It was jam-packed (I waited 3.5 hours to see her and her family) and surreal.  There were so many people that I felt like I could not have my moment of closure with her.  Following the wake I went to a local bar with my friends for a night out that was paralleled with laughter and tears.  Jump to the funeral on Saturday.  A beautiful mass/tribute to her life took place at a Kenosha high school.  As her family and my friends shared memories and honored her life I could not help but sob- for almost four hours straight.  It was exhausting and painful.    Seeing her family and best friends mourn their loss and realizing that I will never see Ellen again sucked out every last ounce of my energy.  

After the funeral and reception I took the train back to Chicago.  My friends and family could not even believe that I would attempt to run today, and I almost surrendered to that feeling.  However, on the train ride home I knew that running this race would make me feel better.  I arrived home late, got fewer than six hours of sleep, and woke up with eyes still burning.  But I knew I would do the race.

This was not a typical day for me- I was not going for a PR, despite the amazing conditions.  In fact, I did not even wear a timing chip.  Instead I just went with it, keeping a comfortable stride and powering through the 13.1 miles.  And with every mile marker I hit,  I thought about one of my amazing friends who was effected by the loss of Ellen.   The first and last miles were dedicated to Ellen herself- I started and ended with her on my mind.  It gave me a purpose and kept me moving in a race where I did not feel particularly great.

So, this race review is not going to talk in detail about conditions, splits, course, etc.  Instead, it is about stepping back and taking it all in.  I ended up finishing in a respectable time- exactly the pace I need to go for the marathon.  But more importantly, I feel like I had my moment with Ellen, while I was running along the streets of Chicago.  And I realized, if there is anything positive I can take from all this sorrow, it is that my group of friends (who have been together for almost 20 years now) is going to be drawn closer by this past week's events.   We have had our share of rocky times, but always manage to pull out with our heads held high and an even stronger bond.   I know when I see the girls that I am in for laughter, honesty and a great time.  It may take a while to get back there, but it will come.   And for that, I am thankful.

Ellen, we miss you already and hope that all the vending machines in heaven are free! ; )
-Coach A

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Keeping it together when life knocks you down....

It has been a while since I posted but it has been a CRAZY week.  I look back at my post from last week and truly wish I could zip back there and have things turn out differently than they had.  I also wish life stayed as complicated as a crying toddler and a bad day at work.

While Spark embodies being physically strong and fit, this post is going to hit the emotional side.  This post is not going to be about exercising (much of it at least), triathlons, or losing weight.  It's not going to be about being an amazing athlete and heading outside and running 16 miles.  It's not going to be about a crazy, hurried life that makes you feel frustrated and crabby.  It's going to be about surviving when things really, really suck.

As many my friends know, we lost an amazing person yesterday.  I met Ellen when I was in 9th grade and she is someone I can truly say was one of a kind.  Ellen's attitude, spirit and energy over the years always made our adventures a little more exciting (chug-a-lug), my life a little more daring (green Polo sweatshirt), and events a little more entertaining (fall festival kegstands).  Ellen embodied many attributes that I will never have- a fearlessness and friendliness that was to be admired.

Which makes it all the harder to say goodbye.  I got the phone call early yesterday morning in Chicago and proceeded to make it through the day like a zombie- wandering from here to there with a muddled head and no direction.  Away from Kenosha where people are facing this head on, I am trying to make my way through   a normal day and process it in my own way.  Here is what I have figured out will help me, and maybe it will help some of my friends out there who are dealing as well.

- Take care of yourself.  Get enough sleep, don't use this is as an excuse to eat awful food that you wouldn't normally eat, and exercise.  Imagine how you feel on a normal day when you are overtired, eat crap and don't move.  Then pair it with a major trauma like this.   Don't let it happen.
- Forget about the little things for a while.  Life is people bitching and moaning about trivial things.  My post last week proves it.  If you need to take some time off work, not call your exhausting relative, and let the lawn grow weeds, just do it.  Sometimes we need to sit and think about the more important things and letting go of the details for a week can help.  Inevitably we will return back to our frazzled, fast paced lives soon enough.  Slow down and try to take it all in for a bit.
- Lean on your friends.  If you need to talk to someone, do it.  Call them, stop by, text them.  Whatever it takes to keep you going.  A conversation with friends or family will be a good reminder that you are going to get through it.
- Cry. There is something to be said for a good, long cry.  Pity yourself and your friends and everyone affected by this loss.  It is okay and it is healing.

My heart hurts for Ellen's family and for all my friends who are mourning her loss.  I love you all!
-Coach A

Monday, August 1, 2011

When you are having a bad day...

We all know that life can get crazy, hectic and at times, frustrating.  How we deal with those times can set us up for success or destine us for failure.  It is easy to do things right when everything is going your way.  Likewise, when things go poorly, you need to be ready to tackle them head on and deal!  Here is a true story about my day:

Monday morning- yuck.  I ran 16 miles yesterday in the blistering heat and could hardly get down the stairs when I woke up this morning.   And that was after a night of tossing and turning because our A/C was not working. My first client was 30 minutes late.  I coached a swim workout in a 100 degree pool area.  My daughter was screaming her head off when I brought her to her toddler music class.  By the time I sat down to tackle work I had 18 unanswered emails from this morning alone, 5 voicemails and a stack of paperwork at my desk.   It was hot in my office and the second I answered an email, two more showed up in my inbox.  After I dug myself out of my first pile of work I decided to treat myself to a cookie.  So, I walked to Starbucks and bought a huge cookie and iced coffee.  I am not one to shy away from sugar, but I was about to learn my lesson that turning to it during desperate times is not a good idea.

Once I scarfed down that cookie and my coffee I did not feel good.  At all.  I was jittery, my stomach ached and I was even crabbier than before.  You might think my body is not used to sugar, but I like my desserts.  A bowl of ice cream after dinner or a cupcake to celebrate a birthday- you will definitely find me partaking.  However, I think because I was using this cookie to try to make myself feel better,  it totally backfired.  It wasn't a special treat, it was a cry for help.  And what body really wants caffeine and sugar when it is under stress?

So, what did I do to finally feel better?  This is pretty predictable coming from a trainer, but I worked out.  I didn't have much time, my day was jammed.  But I got in a 30 minute sweatfest that made my heart beat and more importantly, cleared my head.  And when that was over I realized my life is pretty darn great, even if I did just get sick off a monster cookie.    So, if I had one awful Monday, its totally okay.  Because when I stick to my plan of staying active and treating my body right, I can deal with those bad days.

What is in your arsenal to ward off the blues?  Do you need to reevaluate what you can do to make yourself feel good?  Do whatever takes and treat that body right!
-Coach A