Monday, November 11, 2013

Spark Healthy Holiday Lifestyle Challenge

First Place will receive a certificate for 60 minute massage and a 60 minute personal training session
Second Place will receive a 60 minute personal training session
Third Place will receive gift bag of healthy goodies

All participants will receive coaching throughout and feel great all holiday season!
Not a current Spark client but want to participate?  Purchase any personal training, coaching or training plan for duration of contest and you are in!

-Coach A

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


OMG, tri season is a wrap here in the Midwest!  Read on for ways to handle your new found free time......

FIND A NEW HOBBY- I know, I know, it is hard to give up that triathlon obsession even when it is not racing season.  But in the Midwest it is also hard to feed the triathlon beast in the dead of winter. Every fall, in addition to the cooler days, I look forward to college football, my fantasy team and traveling.   Three things that make me excited that triathlon season is over and the next chapter of my year is about to begin.  Instead of training on the weekends, I get my short workouts out of the way in the morning before football starts and the spend the day cozy at my house with my family and big screen.  I always have a few trips planned for the latter half of the year, outside summer when I need to be training, and in the fall so I can look forward to them.  

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK (SOMETIMES)-  I have this rule from September- December:  If life gets in the way or I REALLY don't feel like working out, I won't.   Now mind you, I am addicted to working out so this usually doesn't happen more than a couple times per month, but I give in to the urge this fall season.  Because it just feel so good to be lazy sometimes.  The rest of the year I don't give myself that luxury, it is not even an option.   I also have this game I play at home if I can't drag myself to the gym during workout time- I give myself the choice to clean one floor of my house or workout.   I often do decide to clean and you know what?  There is no guilt after.  I made my home spic and span and actually moved my body a little doing it!

MIX THOSE WORKOUTS UP-  Sometimes I just don't feel like running, biking or swimming.  But in season you still have to.  This time of year you don't.  So I like to lift weights, take a class, do yoga, go for a long walk or just ride my bike to 5 different client's houses to get my workout in.  Taking a mental and physical break from triathlon makes it more exciting to pick up that sport again later.  

DO WHAT YOU LOVE, ABANDON WHAT YOU DON'T-  For some reason I never get sick of running.  I think it is the simplicity of tying your shoes and getting out the door.  Swimming is fun once you get in, but after 25 years of swim training, diving into the pool can be torturous.  And I am always happy to retire my bike for a while in the fall.  So you know what?  For the next couple months I will continue to run, sign up for a few local races, swim when I can coax myself into the water and forget about the bike.  Because come January the Computrainer and I have a lot of dates, and my Computrainer does not like to be stood up.  

SLEEP IN, EAT WHAT YOU WANT, BE LAZY- Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration but I am firm believer that you cannot be on your A game, in your best shape, at your racing weight all year round.  Part of what feels good each autumn is not setting that alarm, eating some junk when I go to a football tailgate on Saturday (and not worrying how it is going to effect my Sunday workout), and laying on the couch all day Sunday watching my fantasy points (after a short workout in the morning). These are luxuries I am willing to give up all spring/summer because after a while they lose their appeal.   And training and racing and giving up junk food and working out several hours a day becomes that much more appealing.  Don't make the mistake of putting on more than a few lbs, but don't lose any sleep over those few lbs that will inevitably creep back on, either.    Enjoy and make the most of your down time and you will be that much more motivated to train when it counts.

Alright, people, watch some TV late into the night and sleep in in the morning- you deserve it!
-Coach A

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

IMWI 2013: Hot or Not

When you compete in a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, it is not uncommon to have a race where you feel like you totally nailed it.  Your training was solid, you felt strong and fast throughout, and that confidence carries you through to the finish line.  An Ironman is a totally different beast altogether. Even the fastest professionals go through cycles of high points and low points throughout the day.  The trick to conquering the IM is to ride the highs as long as possible and dig yourself out of the low points quickly.   Below, in a hot or not format, are some of the things that affected me throughout my race on Sunday.

HOT:  The weather.  I mean, seriously, when was the last time you saw a cloudy, 70 degree day sandwiched between two 95 degree sunny days?  That's what I thought.   Never.  Someone was looking out for us.
NOT:  The wind.  It was a bitch.   Especially on miles 96-102.  Those were definitely the worst part of the bike for me.

HOT: The volunteers.   Unbelievable.  Their smiles, motivation and enthusiasm were so fantastic I almost wanted to hug each one I encountered.  I accidentally threw water and/or Perform on more than one of them and they all laughed it off.  To the girl in T1 who rubbed sunscreen on my back to the one in T2 who changed my socks- you all rule.
NOT: The triathlete who called one of the volunteers an asshole because he wouldn't give him his gear.   This athlete did not have his participant bracelet or pickup ticket, which was a rule stated from the very beginning.  Poor volunteer was just doing his job and this guy was giving us all a bad name. Too bad it was after the race- he should have been disqualified in my eyes.

HOT:  The spectators.   From the guys in the pink speedos to the tutu'd ladies to the man who looked me in the eye at mile 10 and said "You look like you are having a great race."  The spectators made this race a memory to last a lifetime.  Thank you for coming out.
NOT:  Miles 18-25 on the run when the sun was setting and the spectators were calling it a day.  These are what I call "the dark miles."  When you need to dig deep and figure out what you are made of. Reflect on how far you have come and where you are going.  The pain was bad, I remember that, but already becoming a distant memory.

HOT:  A breakdown free bike ride (for me).  No mechanical issues with my newish electronic shifters, no flat tires, no ejected water bottles.   Nothing to throw me off my game.
NOT:  The poor guy I saw looking at his bike on the side of the road with a BROKEN CHAIN.  Broken chain?!  Yikes!  I can only hope race support was able to help him and get him back on the road.

HOT: Any section of the race on State Street.  There are two portions on each loop so four times altogether you get to run past the bars and the crowds and they will motivate you like none other.
NOT: Who decided it would be great to make miles 6 and 19 mostly uphill? And a steep one at that. Even walking at mile 19, uphill was killer.   You try to tell yourself only 7 more miles but then realize that is over and hour and it is depleting.

HOT:  The deliciously salty goodness of the chicken broth I chugged at mile 20. I was sticking to Perform and water prior to then, but all bets were off the last 6 miles.  So yummy.
NOT: The sticky sweet taste in the back of my mouth and throat for a majority of the marathon.  Ten hours of Roctane, GUs, Chomps and Perform will do that to you.  I am on energy supplement detox for a while.  

HOT: The last few hundred meters of the race with the spotlights pointed towards you, the roaring crowd and that final boost of adrenaline.
NOT: Ten minutes after the race when I realized I needed to lay down or I was going to keel over.   When I laid down right there on the sidewalk my mother immediately walked me to the medical tent.  I managed to avoid an IV by laying down for a bit and drinking a can of Sprite in front of the doctor.

HOT: Taking a warm bath at the hotel after the race, falling into bed, and blissfully falling into a deep slumber.
NOT:  Being awake in a full blown panic almost all night Saturday before the race.

HOT:  Every time over the past 48 hours that I remember that I just finished an Ironman.
NOT: When I realize that I might never be in this great of shape again in my life!  Aaah!

BTW, the picture on the top of this post? That is the tattoo I am finally going to get next week.  It has been a five year decision process and I am ready to make it happen!
-Coach A

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ironman Wisconsin 2013 Race Recap

What a weekend.  I can finally cross IMWI off my bucket list.  We have attended for years and I have always known I wanted to race it, but I honestly didn't think it would happen so soon.  What a difference a couple of years make.  And how quickly the last year passed.

Starting about five days before the race, basically after the Labor Day weekend,  I entered full IM focus mode.  Which should be a good thing, but it wasn't.  Thinking about the race was greatly affecting my sleep.  I have never encountered anything like this before and it was horrendous.  I had two nights with five hours of sleep, Thursday night I downed some Nyquil and managed eight, Friday five and the night before  got ONE hour of sleep.  ONE.  And it was not even good sleep.  It was halfway there, fitful, not very restful nap sleep.  I was honestly awake at 3 am in tears wondering if I should still even race.  Then the alarm went off at 4:30.

I have never had so little sleep in one week in my life.  Those of you who know me well know that I take my sleep very seriously.  I spent many of my awake hours googling "no sleep week before Ironman."  I found a lot of posts about people only getting a few hours the night before, but nothing like my succession of sleepless nights.  But the human body is an absolutely amazing thing.  Despite all my fears about not being able to complete the race or turning in an embarrassing time, the only place I noticed my sleepiness throughout was in my eyes.  They just felt heavy.

Then, there it was, race morning.  I met Elisabeth in the hotel lobby at 5:15 and we headed down to drop off our Special Needs bag, headed over to stock our bikes with water bottles, pump up our tires and get body marked.  Before I knew it we were wetsuiting up and heading to get into the water.  At 6:45 we gave each other a teary hug, jumped in the water and made our way out to the start line.  I felt unbelievably calm and overwhelmed at the same time.   After a year of planning, five months of training and a night of no sleep, it was time to go.

The first 500 yards of the swim was intense.  I was getting clawed, kicked and swam over by men all around me.  I kept thinking they should have some sympathy on the poor girl who ended up in their pack (they knew I was female by my pink cap) but to no avail.  Once we hit the first turn the pack thinned a bit and I found my groove at the hip of a guy for quite some time.  After the second turn we hit the long straightaway (1700 meters) that was directly into the wind and waves (waviest I had seen on Lake Monona).  They were no whitecaps, like Racine, but harrowing nonetheless.  I just tried to maintain a strong comfortable pace and before I knew it we were hitting the last turn. 

I figured the waves were going to add 4-5 minutes to my goal time of an hour so I was happy to see that I was out 1:03.   I was happier later to find out that that time place me 3rd in my age group and 21st overall female.  Running out I was getting some great cheers from strangers and people I knew and I just tried to enjoy every minute of it.   The run to T1 up the parking ramp helix is unforgettable- totally lined with people cheering you on, while you are trying not to go to fast and wear yourself out. Once I made into the Terrace the volunteers grabbed my bag and helped me transition to my bike gear in a few minutes.  

And onto the bike.  112 long ass, hilly, twisty, and WINDY miles.  We were blessed with cool weather on Sunday but paid for it with the 15-20 mile per hour wind from the east.  So, the first 16 miles the wind was to our back and it felt fantastic.  Then came the start of the first loop.  The loop I have practiced on so many times this summer and know every turn and hill.   I felt prepared and just tried to keep it easy for the first 25 miles or so until the first of the succession of three killer hills. 

I was excited about the hills- I have never cheered there but have always heard that it was lined with spectators who will keep you pumped up.  I was not disappointed.  I saw friends, strangers, a clown walk out of the corn, and men dressed in women's swimsuits.  I was proposed too, run with, called Pinky, and creepily complimented on my pigtails by many a drunken man.  It was a hoot and I hardly noticed my pain on the first loop.  The second loop was a different story.    

Once I managed to get through the two loops I was actually still on track for my original goal of 6:30 (before they forecasted high winds) and thought I might just break it.  Then I turned off to head back to the city.  HOME STRETCH!  Or so I thought.  When I made that left turn, smack, that wind hit me like a ton of bricks.   And the first few miles included rolling hills, mostly an uphill battle.   With a marathon in my not so distant future I decided it was best to conserve energy, slow down and take in some calories.  With the cool weather I had not made it through all my bottles of Roctane, so I ate a bag of GU chomps during that last hour, wrestled with the wind and made it back in 6:37.   

The bike catchers grabbed me and I hobbled into the Terrace to T2.  Changed socks, put on visor, grabbed my race belt and I was outta there.  Now all I had to depend on was me.  I trust myself.  It was a good feeling.

I tried to go out very slowly knowing the IM marathon is a sneaky sucker that is going to get you no matter how hard you pace.  After the first two miles under 9:00 I settled into a ten minute mile for the next 8 miles or so.  I felt good and strong and finally got to exchange some words with my family and give Alex a kiss around mile 10.  She asked if I was finished with my Ironman and I think I said almost. But not quite. Only the 16 hardest miles of the race left.  

Things were good until about mile 14 when the side ache crept in, I started getting some serious acid reflux (so weird, never had that in my life except when I was pregnant) and the blisters were killing.   At mile ten I had promised my family I was going to beat my Arizona time of 12:53, and come hell or high water, I was getting it done.   I needed to keep those mile under 12 minutes and I only allowed myself to walk every other aid station and these two crazy hill that would fry your legs so bad they were not even worth the effort.  I managed to keep most miles under 11 and with 3 miles to go I knew it was going to happen.  

Miles 23-25.5 are long, dark and sparse of spectators.  So close, yet so far away.  Then you hit State Street and that is what this race is all about.  Music bumping, beer flowing the crowd shouting you up the hill towards the capitol.  I teared up a little turning that corner.  It had been a long week and I had my moments doubting whether I would make it here or not.   I looked around, picked up my turnover a bit and soaked it all in.  

The final turn when you see the finish line is so wonderful.  After 12 hrs and 44 minutes it finally felt good again to move forward and you almost want that moment to last forever.  ALMOST.  Because crossing that finish line and falling into a catchers arms and letting your legs stop moving actually feels better.   They hang that medal over your neck, give you your finisher gear and regale you with praise.  Your fans are yelling at you from the side and Mike Reilly has just announced that you are an Ironman.  For those of you think I'm insane (its ok, I am not offended), this is one of the biggest reasons I do this.   For the moment when I become an Ironman.

This post is too long already but stay tuned tomorrow for Hot List: Highs and Lows of IMWI 2013
-Coach A

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Ironman Thank You

An Ironman is a very selfish act.  The training you need to do to prepare.  The sleep you need to do the training.  The times you can't go out so you can sleep.  The food you need to eat to train.  It's all about you.  

No one will get nearly as much joy out of me crossing that finish line on Sunday as I will, but it sure as hell took a lot of people to get me there.  So now, I would like to thank them.  In no particular order:

The Running Institute of Chicago.  I came to you in January with a lingering foot pain.  Thanks for steering me in the right direction. 

NovaCare at DePaul.  Athena and Will grastoned? the heck out of my foot and got me out of a walking boot and running faster than I thought possible.  

Running Away.  For your gear and support and George and Anne and everyone for getting me set up fast on my sweet ride. 

Hot Tubes Custom Painting.  For giving me the coolest paint job I have seen on any bike, ever (in my opinion). 

My babysitters.   Parents, nieces, friends, and anyone else who took care of Alex so I could train.  Gene, sorry, I don't think Dads count as babysitters.  

My spectators.  I have a big crew coming up Sunday specifically for me and I can't wait to see them. I also know there will be other friends I see and strangers who yell my name and for that I am thankful.  

My training partners.  If I ran, rode or swam with you this summer you are part of this group.  You got me through a workout and one step closer to the finish line. 

My clients.  For listening to me talk, complain, boast (not sure what that was) and making me feel like a badass.  You guys are the best.  

Tavia.  For mostly just being you but also for creating the Spark brand.  I will be so proud representing my brand in your creation Sunday, seeing others out there in it, and getting a tattoo that you designed;)

My parents. For everything you do for us and for going above and beyond this summer to allow Gene and I to ride.  And for giving me the priceless gift of knowing Alex is always taken care of. 

Elisabeth.  For being client/friend/training partner extraordinaire.  I'm so proud of how far you have come and could not have made it through this summer without you.    

Alex. I love, love, love you more than you will ever know.  Thanks for always being up for an adventure and the sweetest baby girl a mommy could ask for.  I can't wait to cuddle with you after the race. 

Gene.  My hubby, tech support, equipment manager and best friend.  There really are no words to thank you enough for all you do for me.  I could not possibly have done this without you.  I love you so much.  

See you at the finish line!!!
-Coach A

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Hot List - 2013 Chicago Tri

It has been a while since I have spent the entire day at Chicago Tri solely coaching and cheering (since I was pregnant in 2009 to be exact).  I had so much fun with friends and athletes, it almost makes me want to skip the race and do it again next year.  Here were some highlights from my day:

1.  When one of my athletes (whose name shall remain undisclosed) swam past me and said "Don't hate me" as she breaststroked by.  I have never had an athlete talk to me during the swim!

2.  When this same athlete's fiance declared that he was "definitely in" for participating in the race in 2014.  I love how inspiring triathlons are! 

3.  Seeing Hunter Kemper pass Alicia Kaye in the last seconds of the race for the win.  I had never seen a race with an equalizer before and it was exciting!

4.  Cooling off in the VIP tent with lunch and a 312 after several hours of serious spectating.

5.  Setting up the Spark tent for the first time (but definitely not the last!!) and having athletes I have met from over the years stop by to catch up.

6.  Seeing a few of my athletes who found the Olympic swim to be completely daunting just a few weeks earlier, nail it like they had been swimming their entire lives.  

7.  Cheering the pro that had been staying with us all week,  Matt Chrabot, to a 4th place finish in the men's race.  That is the top finish for pros hosted by the Park's.  Way to go, Matt!

8.  Cheering one of my athletes to a colossal PR, 3rd group age group finish and an age group nationals qualifying race.  And the teary hug that came after she crossed the finish line.  

9. Hanging out with the friends and family of Spark Multisport for 8 straight hours on a beautiful Sunday in the city.   And still being home by 2:30 pm.   So great!

I love my job.  Thanks to all you triathletes out there for making my career possible and congrats on a great race!
-Coach A

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chicago Tri- PLAN DON'T CRAM!

Hello Chicago- we are six days away from the annually anticipated Chicago Triathlon.  The one with thousands of racers and that insanely early start time.  This is the race that tons of Chicagoans register for in the dead of winter to secure their spot and then somehow forget to train until suddenly they realize, "OMG!  It's August!"

Of course, the race is not sneaking up on everyone.  There are plenty of people who have been training diligently to have a great race.   But being a Tri Coach and a swim instructor, every single year I get people looking me up these last few weeks before the race for swim lessons, a training plan, you name it.   Once you hit August it is too late to cram the training in, but not too late to plan.  Read on for my advice on how to have your best race this weekend, even if your training was not quite up to par.

1. Work your strength- Ok, you are a 20 minute 5K runner, but you suck at the swim.  And you never made it to those group lessons you registered for.  If you need to do breaststroke the whole way, do it.  Cruise through the bike, and nail the run.  If you are just wanting to finish this tri, use as little energy as possible on your weak stroke and go for it on your strength.    

2.  Practice your transition- Transitions are the fourth discipline and they are the only part of this race that it is not too late to prepare for.  Watch some YouTube videos, read some blog posts on transitions and practice.  You will feel much more confident going in if you have a plan for T1 and T2.  

3. Go to bed early on Friday- Ok, you are going to have to get up by 4 am on Sunday so Saturday night is basically a wash when it comes to sleep.  Don't think you can head out for a night on the town on Friday and be okay come race day.  You will be paying for it if you do.  Do yourself a favor on Friday and hit the sack by 10 pm.  Then wake at an earlyish time Saturday so you can crawl into bed before midnight on the eve of the race.  

4.  Ask for help- Chicago Tri is crawling with beginner triathletes, but is also chock full of experienced racers.  If you arrive there Sunday and are about to have a panic attack when you see the spandex clad, aero helmeted, IM tattooed racer next to you setting up his transition area, just take a deep breath.  He could be a wealth of information!  If you have questions about where to put your bike, or where the run out is, just ask him.  I have never met a triathlete who does not like to share his knowledge of the sport.

Good luck racers!  I cannot wait to cheer each and every one of you on this weekend!
-Coach A

Monday, August 12, 2013

Age Group Nationals- Is it 2014 Yet?

I spent this past weekend in Wisconsin doing all things triathlon.  The weekend went a little like this: train, eat, shower, eat, sleep, volunteer, eat, spectate, eat, sleep, eat, spectate, train, eat.  You get the picture.  Thankfully Wisconsin is a spectacular place for training, racing, eating and just having fun!  ( I am a Wisconsin girl so no one paid me to say that :)

From the venue, to the weather, to the sleepy little city, Milwaukee was a great place for USAT Age Group Nationals.  We stayed downtown and were able to walk everywhere except for the aid station where we volunteered, which was a few miles out on the run/bike course (pictured above).  That was just a short ride away and we found free street parking no problem.  The weather on Saturday for the Olympic distance was crisp and clear, until the clouds rolled in for the later waves, which made it even better racing weather.

I spent the morning handing out Gatorade to athletes aged 15-89.  There is something so inspiring about seeing all these athletes out there racing knowing all of them do it as a hobby.  These are the best age groupers in the nation and many of them are wicked fast.  But they are fast athletes who also likely work full time, raise a family and have to fit their training around an already packed schedule.  They do it for personal fulfillment, not a paycheck.

Sunday morning we walked down to the expo and watched the sprint for a bit.  I felt nervous for these athletes as they hustled out of the water and onto the bike.  Watching these adrenaline filled participants try to clip into their bikes within feet of each other is a nerve inducing experience.  We saw more than one near collision.

I know for myself the sprint nationals will be one of my top goal races for 2014, and I will have some athletes competing that weekend as well.  These past few days were a great opportunity to check out the scene and give me the motivation I need to not only get through the last few weeks of IM training, but help me to focus on what will be a very different, and very exciting 2014.   I ran into many old friends at the race, and made some new ones.   Bike course Captain Ryan- are you reading this?!  It is truly amazing to be part of this multisport lifestyle.   And as on of my clients jokingly stated this weekend "I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't do triathlons."  Although an exaggeration, I know where she's coming from.  The physical and mental fulfillment I get from this sport truly makes me complete!

Thank you triathlon!
-Coach A

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Whatever you do - DON'T BONK!

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, I am right smack in the middle of the hardest two weeks of training for IM Wisconsin.  This morning I headed out on my 18 miler with a pouch full of gels, endurolytes and a good attitude.  I was ready to check this workout off.  

I have done an Ironman, a few marathons and have run 18 miles at least 15-20 times before.  Never during any of those have I bonked.  Until today.  For those of you who don't what bonking is, it is sudden exhaustion or loss of energy when the glycogen stores in the muscles is depleted.  It can cause people to act a little loopy, get lightheaded, cry or just sit down on the side of the road.  As an endurance athlete you definitely want to avoid this.  Avoidance can be achieved by properly fueling throughout the workout. 

Around mile 13 I took my last gel and it just tasted awful.  I could not choke it down.  What I did ingest sat in the top of my stomach for the next two miles and made me want to yak (sorry for bluntness but really best description).  I had been craving Gatorade for a couple miles already and by mile 16 I NEEDED it.  My training partner, Elisabeth, and I were approaching a food hut on the lake and had already established we had no cash on us. I wondered if I could just give the vendor my credit card number in exchange for an ice cold Gatorade.  I tried to recite my credit card number in my head and I could not get it straight.  Hold up.  I  KNOW my credit card number.  But I could not get the numbers right in my head.  Ummm, this was bad.  

I told Elisabeth and we cut off the path and headed straight for Seven Eleven, about a half mile away.   All I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other and not falling flat onto my face. I ran in and slammed a fruit punch Gatorade while she ran home to grab some cash.   My super hero in her Spark gear was back in 5 minutes with a twenty and by then my head was on straight.   I ran my last 1.3 miles with my tail between my legs and a spark in my step after that yummy, sugary drink.

The good news is that we train to avoid these situations on race day, so here is what I took away from today:

1) Two gels is my max per run.  After that I need to switch to a chomp or drink or something that is a different consistency.  I actually knew that already, but pushed my luck today.

2) Don't skip dinner. It has been a busy week here.  Gene is traveling and between work, training and mommyhood I did not have a lot of time for dinner last night.  A bowl of Cheerios at 7:30 pm is not gonna cut it the night before an 18 miler.

3) Always bring cash on a training run. I typically do but since I was running with Elisabeth today just did not think about it.  If I had gotten that Gatorade at mile 14 I could have completely avoided this situation.

4) Running with a partner is good.  No matter how much you plan, when you start to run long distances, it is really great to have someone there to have your back.  Thanks, E!

Hopefully that is it for setbacks for a while!  Happy training/racing weekend, it is going to be a good one in the Midwest!
-Coach A

Monday, August 5, 2013

Ironman Training Blues

"How's training going?"  When you are five weeks out from an Ironman and work in the fitness industry that is the first question anyone you have not seen in the past 24 hours will ask you.   Guaranteed.  Up until a couple weeks ago I would answer with a smile and say "Great, awesome, I am really enjoying it."  And I meant it.

Then I saw the light of the Racine taper.  And I raced Racine.  And didn't do quite as well as I would have liked.  And had to amp up my training again.   And just felt blah.  That has been me for the past two weeks, just feeling blah.

I am a triathlon coach- I am coaching athletes for Ironman races all the time and even right now for Ironman Wisconsin.  I work them through this time and now am living it myself.  Here are the steps I am going to take to turn from blah to beast mode in the next couple weeks.  If you are training for an upcoming IM race feel free to test them out.

1.  Stop moping around.   Okay, I doubt anyone would describe me as mopey, but when people ask how training is going, I plan to start fakin' it til I make it.   You know how they say smiling when you are feeling down will cheer you up?  Well, it can also change your perspective on your training.  Act like the badass that you are when people ask how your Ironman training is going.  

2. Embrace how my body feels.   I feel good right now.  Lean, strong, and ready.  It is a good feeling that comes after a summer of great training.

3. Start visualizing every day.  Just pulling up this finish line picture gave me butterflies.  If I can take a few minutes each day to picture myself on that course on September 8th, it will give me the extra boost I need to power through.

4. Be thankful and appreciate every mile left of training.  I knew training was going to be tough with my work schedule and family duties.  Each week since May has been a complicated series of logistics that leaves my poor husband's head spinning, but I have made it happen as much as I can.  Have I had as many rides out of the city as I would have liked?  No way.  But all the more reason to enjoy the last two or three I have remaining.  

5. Remember why I am doing this.  I love this sport and last year was taken up in the excitement of the day.  I wanted to be a part of IMWI in 2013 and have it recorded here.  Remembering the race last year and the time I felt the last time I crossed an Ironman finish line are more than enough to help me get my butt in gear.

So this is where my head is going for the next couple weeks.  By then I will be over the training hump and focusing on the big day.  Keep it up all you IM trainees who will be racing in the next month or so.  You can do it!

-Coach A

Monday, July 29, 2013

My First 70.3- Kate W.

My name is Kate.
I did my first ever 70.3 in Racine this July.
What an amazing experience crossing the that finish line. 
I don't need to be first, I already won.  I am a Finisher.
My training and commitment paid off.
Now for next year :o)!

-Kate W. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

My First 70.3- Kevin's Story

This past Sunday I completed my first half Ironman race in Racine Wisconsin and proudly did so representing Spark Multisport Coaching. I am training for the full Ironman in Madison Wisconsin in September of this year, and like many, Racine is part of that journey. While it is a measure and marker of one’s progress and provides a chance to prepare and practice for the big day it is also an accomplishment in its own right.

For me it was my first race of the season and a culmination of training that started on January 1st of this year and a commitment made last September when I volunteered at Madison IM so I could get a guaranteed spot for this year’s race.  Looking further back it is the culmination of a journey and preparation that goes back several years; learning to run and quitting smoking at age 42, joining a masters swim team at age 46 in order to learn to swim so that I could compete in triathlons, buying a "proper" road bike that same year to start developing my cycling, spending the past three seasons competing in short course triathlons. I had set a goal of doing a full ironman by the time I turned 50 and here I am at 49 realizing that goal.

I was very nervous and anxious in the days leading up to Racine. So many things to coordinate and worry about; making sure you have all of your equipment, that your bike is tuned, all your nutrition is in place, did you taper properly, are you hydrating enough, are you eating the right things for loading your glycogen stores, are you getting the proper rest? Saturday morning I went down to the lake for one last open-water swim before I left. As I swam I felt strong and knew I was ready. I left for Racine shortly after packing all my things into the car and all the nervousness and anxiety was now replaced with confidence and excitement.

Sunday morning the alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. – race day is here. After getting ready I make my way to the race site to set up for the day. I love race mornings, the pre-dawn quiet as the athletes start to gather; even the volunteers are caught up in the anticipation and hopefulness of the day that has finally arrived. As I walk toward the site I can see the lake, yesterday's concerns about water temperatures are replaced with how rough the water is looking. I set about preparing my transition zone, chatting with fellow athletes as we stand in line for one last visit to the port-potty’s before heading to the swim start.

I do a warm up, jump in the water for a brief swim and suddenly it is time for my group to line up. I am calm and focused as we wait for the horn to go off and then it’s begun. It’s a run in start through the crashing waves, some are dolphin diving but it’s an awkward depth so I choose to run as far as I can. Normally the chaos of a mass start doesn’t rattle me but today swimming against the waves combined with all the arms and legs thrashing I find it difficult to find a rhythm and feel the anxiety building. I end up using a water polo stroke with my head above water. Once around the first buoy you are no longer swimming into the waves but are now parallel to the shore and I’m finally able to find my stroke but the waves still make for a challenging swim but I feel like I am making good progress. I spot a change in the color of the buoys and wonder if the turn is ahead meaning I’m near the end. It turns out it was just a change in color and probably only marked the halfway point. I settle in and focus on long steady strokes. Eventually I see the turn and am so happy to see the exit on the shore.

On exiting the water I’m happy that I was able to keep my wits about me and persevere through the adversity of the swim. Running up the beach through the sand toward the transition I trip and jam my toe, and it hurts, but I pick myself up and press forward. Running up the chute there are volunteers there to help you strip off your wetsuits. I haven’t done this before, it’s not something they do in short course races, but I decide to give it a go and exuberantly thank the volunteers who help me with mine – totally worth it. I make my way to the bike and it looks like I made the swim in less than 45 minutes and am pleasantly surprised given the conditions.

It feels good to be on the bike, the course feels flat and fast and BUMPY. Freeze cracks give a constant thump-thump; thump-thump that toward the end start to wear on you. The weather is perfect for riding – a little windy in places – but nothing bad. The 56 miles seem to go by quickly and err on the side of saving my legs for the run but still manage a 2:47.

Back to transition and out the gate for the run. I focus on a quick cadence to get my legs to make the transition from bike to run. The run portion of the triathlon in a challenge for me, both physically and mentally. Running is something that I consider to be my strength but after the swim and the bike it becomes something else altogether. It’s unfamiliar territory; even at the end of a marathon do my legs feel quite like this. I engage all my mental training to focus on keeping form and not spiral into negative thinking. And it’s hot, not as hot as it might have been but plenty hot. I douse myself with water and at each aid station and pour ice cubes down my tri top.

The run is a two loop course and I get to see others; Coach Angela calls out my name as we pass and I’m spurred on, Larissa shouts my name from the sidelines, I see Gene and A.J as we pass each other. On my second loop I am coming up on a runner with a Sargento branded kit, the day before while waiting in line I get into a conversation with a young man who is from Sheboygan, both our first 70.3 race, and sure enough it is him on his first lap. I come up beside him and say hello, he decides to match my pace. We run side by side, talking some, but mostly encouraging each other to press forward, a little bit of grace to goad me on those last four miles and for him to run at a faster pace. At the turn around I thank him and he tells me he will cheer for me in Madison as that is where is he going to school. And there in front of me is the chute for the finish line; I’ve done it, I high five the spectators and the announcer calls out my name as I cross the line.

Some people wonder why we do these things, why we put our bodies through these arduous endurance events. For me it so many things; there is the camaraderie and community that develops, the friendships that are forged, the satisfaction of becoming physically fit, the discipline and training towards a goal, discovering what your capabilities are and how you respond to adversity. All of these things bleed into every aspect of your life and make it better. While it is very individual it is also a shared experience, the fellow athletes, the volunteers, the spectators all coming together, so many opportunities for grace and kindness.

And there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you cross that finish line.

-Kevin P.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Racine 70.3 Race Recap

What a crazy weekend!  Two late nights at pretty awesome concerts, with a little 70.3 thrown in for good measure.  I knew back in the winter when I was buying tickets and registering for the race that it was going to be a heck of a few days, and they did not disappoint.  This was one weekend I will never forget- hopefully I will forget the exhaustion that went along with it.  

But let's talk about the race.  After a week of crazy hot temps in the Midwest we were given a huge break when the Sunday forecast was upper 70's.  You really can't ask for much better in July and with the cool lake breeze, it was going to be a pretty pleasant day.   

Oh yeah, and the cool lake.  For the second time when I have raced Racine the lake "flipped" a few days before the race and the water temp plummeted almost twenty degrees!  This is some sort of phenomenon where the shallow beach water is pulled out into the lake and the cold, deep water replaces it.  I am not particularly fond of this phenomenon.  However, by start time it had crept back into the mid- 60's and was a very manageable temperature.   

While we may have gotten lucky with temps, we paid for it with the waves.  This was definitely not the choppiest swim I have endured but it was constant turbulence for 1.2 miles.  The first 200 meters or so out to the buoy was near impossible as we were diving over whitecaps and getting pushed back towards shore.  After the first turn things were a little easier but still hard to sight to the next buoy as waves were blocking most looks.  Finally after the last turn it was smooth sailing, as the current rolled me onto the beach.

Just before I had started the swim they announced that the first pro men had just finished in 25 minutes. Once I heard that number I knew I had to adjust my goal of 30 minutes, so I was not surprised when my watch read 33 as I trudged (quickly) through the sand to T1.   A dropped chain and some greasy hands later, I was up the hill and on the bike.   
Not too much exciting happened on those 56 miles.  It did feel windy in all directions except heading west.  And, wow, those roads were bumpy!  My first 30 miles were pretty strong, at my goal of over 20 mph, but by mile 40 I was totally over the constant bump, bump, bump.  My head was hurting and my pace slowed.    I was not particularly please with my bike split, but was so happy to be off the bike it did not matter.

So starts the run.  The first few miles felt great and then fatigue starts to set in.   I have not yet broken that two hour mark at the end of a half ironman, although I feel I am completely capable.  Today was no exception.  The first loop was right on pace but starting that second loop, so clearly not going to get my PR of 5:23 on this course, I just couldn't keep it at that 9 mile pace.  My splits climbed and I climbed up to 9:30s, and even a couple of 10's.

But just when you think you have spent every ounce of energy, you are almost there.  The last 1/4 mile of this course is downhill to the finish line and lined with spectators.  This is why you race.  For that feeling of accomplishment and knowing that you gave it your all.  Once I hit that hill a smile spread across my face and I just tried to take in everything around me.  That was the only part of the race that went by too quickly.

Five hours and thirty nine minutes- way off my goal time, but the course seemed a bit slow in general. It is really hard to give that much of yourself and come away disappointed, so I am embracing the feeling of accomplishment that comes with racing long again.  I really had forgotten how much these long ones hurt (and am already starting to forget as researching destination 70.3's).

Congrats also to Elisabeth, Kate and Kevin for finishing their first 70.3's and my husband Gene for running the entire run on his second.  Love you all and as Jay-Z would say "On to the next one, on to the next one."
September 8th in Madison, that is.  

-Coach A

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Elkhart Lake Triathlon: Race Recap- Out of The Comfort Zone

When I crossed the finish line of the Chicago Tri last year I came to the realization that I was ready to race long course again.  Three years of sprints after Alex was born and I could predict my time within a minute and almost guarantee (hopefully!) a medal of some sort.   It was fast, it was fun, but it was getting boring.  

I didn't realize that I was going to register for Ironman WI two weeks later, but here I am, exactly three months away from my second 140.6.  And today was my first race of the season, in Elkhart Lake, WI. I did this race last year for the first time and fell in love with the venue.   So easy, so fun for the fam- I had to come back for more.  

So, to gear up for the big race in September and to get out of my sprint rut, I raced Olympic distance.  My first Olympic distance in FIVE years!  It seems crazy that that much time could have passed but it was 2008 when I last raced longer than sprint.  I knew I was in for a challenge with this hilly course, but it was time to get out of my comfort zone.  

The swim- should be piece of cake, right?  Well, I believe I swam at least 100 yds off course (never a good sign when you are by yourself, don't fool yourself into thinking you are the fastest ) and I hauled ass to get back on track.  I exited the water a little winded and a lot annoyed.  

The bike- pretty hilly but I've been training hard on the computrainer so I actually felt pretty good.  This course has some crazy turns but I managed to turn in decent splits except for a few super hilly miles.  There was almost no wind today, so it made for fast straightaways.  It was fun to pass guys on my new bubble gum pink bike- I've been looking forward to it:)

The run- killed me last year and I was back for revenge.  I have adequately trained hills this year and it paid off.  Don't get me wrong, two of the giant hills were ball busters, but I ran all the way up them and actually felt ok.  The run turned out decent, nothing amazing, but felt good to "handle" those hills.  

So, 2 hours and 47 minutes later, I crossed the finish line.  It got me 7th in my age group and 16th overall.  Am I happy with that? Eh, not especially, but its ok.  I think it's safe to say there will be NO medal for me this year.  With a half and full ironman being all that's left for the year I am out of contention.  The longer the race, the less the swim matters and the worse for me.   But you know what I am happy with?  That I'm racing out of my comfort zone.   This is not the easiest path for me, and there is something to be said for that.  

A special shout out to Elisabeth S who killed it her first time at this race and got 4th in her age group! Woot!  And thanks to all those CAC'ers who cheered me in. And to my hubby for toting a 3 year old around for 4 hours.    Despite the fact I felt like I was going to throw up pre race, the feeling I have now is why I love this sport.  The people, the pushing yourself, and the pride.  Congrats to all Elkhart Lake racers!  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Setting Race Goals

Before you head to the start line of your next race, be sure you have goals set!  Whether you are newbie or defending age group champ- it is important to know what you are trying to do when you compete.  Before all of my client's race, I have them send me their A, B and C goals as described below:

C Goal- One that you should pretty easily be able to achieve, barring any unforeseen circumstances.  You will be happy if you achieve this.  (ie- finish the race- for a beginner)

B Goal- A challenging goal that is possible, but things will need to go well and it might be tough.  You will be really excited if you reach this goal.  (ie- finish the entire race without walking)

A Goal-  A "better than you really think you can do, but if you do you will be super-duper ecstatic goal!"  Everything will need to fall perfectly into place- weather, nutrition, sleep, etc to achieve this.  (ie- run the entire race and break 30 minutes for my first 5K)

Follow this practice the next time you race, and start knocking out those goals!

-Coach A

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ready, set, train!!!

Nope, that is not a postcard, that is a pic from my balcony where I just spent the past two weeks of my life. Cancun, Mexico. Amazing scenery, weather, hospitality and fun. I have been going there the first part of April for the past 18 (yikes!) years of my life. It is my home away from home, something I look forward to every year and I feel some serious sadness when I leave. But the sadness doesn't last too long- when I return it is "usually" spring in Chicago and time to get busy.

Yes, waking up the morning after my Cancun trip in my own bed is my signal that training season is here. When I was in high school it marked the start of the long course summer season. A time of outdoor practices, warm summer nights and swim meets all over the Midwest. Once I turned into a triathlete it meant outdoor rides, the start of my training plan and switching my brain into summer mode; more clients and less excuses.

This year is even more special as I build my own business and embark on my training for Ironman Wisconsin. I have built a pretty amazing clientele, each with their own individual goals and aspirations for the summer. I want nothing more than to help them achieve these. I also have my own goals, my biggest one being to train the heck out of this season and have a great race on September 8th.

It's pretty easy to get motivated after two weeks of overindulging and visualizing getting into the best shape of your life. Right now I am ready to go. I won't be giving a play by play of my workouts ( unless I fall off the treadmill and smack my face:) but I will post about the highs and lows of Ironman training.

Get ready, people, it's going to be a great season!

-Coach A

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston XOXO

Maybe it just seems like it, or maybe the world is really getting worse.  Whichever it is, it's sad to say that watching events such as yesterday's in Boston is becoming all too commonplace.   I will admit that some events don't even effect me and politely ignoring them is the way I cope.  However, yesterday's events have effected me.  Hard.  I can think of dozens of reasons why, and to make myself feel better, I will write.  Writing it down gives me clarity, helps me feel better and helps me to move on.

Maybe this is so upsetting because at 2:03 pm in Chicago yesterday I received a text from a dear client and friend who was at the finish line in Boston.  It read "oh my god explosions."

Maybe it is because finish lines are one of my happiest places to be.

Maybe it is because another client and friend had finished the marathon and I waited 30 long minutes after the explosions to hear from her.

Maybe it is because she ran her best marathon time by 6 minutes and no one even cares anymore.

It could be because I lived a few blocks from that site for two years of my life. 

It could be because I have cheered for marathon finishers in that exact spot.

It could be because I have been a spectator at countless events over the years.

It could be because I have dragged THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN MY LIFE to come watch me race.

Perhaps it is because the lowest moment of my life was at MGH, where many people are probably experiencing that feeling right now, tenfold.

Perhaps it is the mere thought of walking into the lobby of MGH that makes my heart race.

But I really think it is because this is MY world.  OUR world.  Any athlete understands what I mean.  Day in and day out I train for, prepare people for, talk people into and cheer people along their path to a finish line.  This is my life.  Our life.  And it has been invaded by someone or some people who are clearly so opposite of yesterday's participants and spectators.

They are not going to stop us.  We will continue to train towards finish lines, and now they have made them that much sweeter to cross.  And if there is anything I have learned over the years from tragedy, it is that those who come out of it are stronger, closer and tougher than you could ever imagine.

-Coach A