Triathlon #4 Done and Done

This past Sunday I competed in TriFitness All Women’s Triathlon in Norwalk, CT. This was my 4th triathlon of the season (this being my first season of competing.) It was a great day with warmish water and a flat course. I crushed it, finishing 3rd in my age group with a time of 1:15:18 and 21st overall (13th percentile.) And that kind of surprised me. I felt like my mind wasn’t “in the game” the entire week. Self doubt and fatigue crept in like a little mouse and wouldn’t leave until race day.

The day before my family had a huge clambake full of friends, family, beer and butter. All my high school friends came down and it was a blast. But of course I had a race the next day and couldn’t play beer pong or gorge myself on cake and ice cream. Sad. But I had a blast. And I went to bed at a semi-decent time before the race.

Race Day

The race was scheduled to start at 6:30 am, I woke up at 4:20 am. I’m pretty sure the earliest I have ever woken up for a race so far. I made myself my classic race day breakfast of Kashi oatmeal with banana and a glass of water. I forgot my foam roller at my apartment and rolled out on one of my sisters softballs (it worked but hurt a little more.) My dad grabbed my bike and gear and we were off.

We arrived to the parking lot at 5:20 am. Super early. It was pitch black and of course I didn’t think to bring a flashlight. I made do with the light of my iPhone. I managed to get to the transition area where there were bike boxes to place your bike on instead of a bar. I thought that was kind of fancy, I set up my bike at the end of a row. I like being at the end because it’s easy access and you have more room to set up your gear. (I also think it’s a mental thing. Whenever I go to yoga or sit in the classroom I always pick a spot next to the wall, never in the middle.)

It was just my dad with me this time. We were sitting at a picnic table by the beach and he had a moment of realization. “Where are the men?” I replied, “Oh, it’s an all women’s triathlon. I thought I told you.” He laughed as he realized there were only a few other men standing around. He immediately told me that my mother should be with me.

6:00 am I wiggled into my wet suit. I pulled up my sleeves as high as I could to make sure there was as little pressure on my zipper. (Last time my zipper ripped open.) I was zipped in and ready to go. I walked down to the water and you might be thinking I’m walking on soft, fluffy sand, not in New England. In New England we walk on rocks. A good 1/3rd of the beach was rocks and stones. Everyone trying to get into the water looked like we had ants in our pants. It hurt. I managed to slowly get to the waters edge and jumped in. Surprisingly the Long Island Sound wasn’t freezing! Last time I was in that water I could hardly keep my head down because it was so shockingly cold. It was nice, and for the first time ever I felt really comfortable and calm in the water. I really think that open water swim session I did the week before helped me a lot.

6:30 am the race director, a tiny fit French woman who clearly does triathlons based on her 0% body fat, explained that they were waiting for police to shut down some roads. We stood around a while until the national anthem. I gave my dad a goodbye hug and walked over to the start. I was calm and ready, even though the buoys lined up out in the water seemed really far apart. I ignored the fact and told myself to keep a steady pace.

On your marks, get set, GO! 

The horn went off and we were in the water. I followed a pack to the first buoy and then turned the corner. The pack separated a little and I had a decent amount of space to swim at my own pace. I had difficulty swimming in a straight line. I pulled to the right constantly and often found that I was swimming with no one around me. So I swam back to the pack and then did it again, pulling out to the right. My swim was just a big zigzag course, which I’m sure added on some time but it was my best swim to date. I was calm and found myself breathing on both sides (usually I just breath on my right). For the most part I swam freestyle, I only stopped to take a few strokes of breast stroke to get myself going in the right direction. (A huge accomplishment!)

I made my way over the rocks (ouch) and into the transition area. I whipped off my wet suit threw on my bike shoes and helmet and was off. (1:40 sec transition.) The bike was two loops of 5.5 miles. For the most part it was pretty flat with some baby hills, nothing major. I like the bike because this is the part where I can pick off my competition. Whoever I pass or passes me I glance down at their age. Ticking off my competition in my head. I managed to pass a lot of 20-24 year olds which gave me a confidence boost. I was targeting 20mph for the entire ride and I managed to keep it, speeding up at some parts and slowing down at others.

During the bike and run, I like to either (a) chase people or (b) pace with people. I found a 43 year old woman who was cycling at around the same pace as I was. I chose to pace with her. I stayed behind her for the first loop of the ride and then I passed her on the second loop. I found a second woman to pace with. A 50 year old on an awesome tri bike. I stayed behind her and then the 43 year old caught up with us. It was the 3 of us in a pack riding the rest of the second loop together at about 21mph. These women were awesome and I just hope one day when I’m their age I’m as strong as them.

I made it to the transition area where I could here my dad yelling “Go Maria!” I took of my bike shoes and threw on my running shoes, grabbed my water bottle, visor and took off. (0:45 second transition, my fastest ever!) It’s a funny feeling when I take off for the run. My legs feel weightless and kind of good. I just run as fast as my bouncy legs can take me before they come back down to earth. For the first half mile I was running 6:45 min/mi. Super fast for me. I knew it was going to be a struggle to keep that pace, and I was right. I lost about 45 seconds each mile ending at a 8:00 min/mi pace. Still, not bad but I should have aimed to get negative splits not positive.

I managed to keep my pace until I saw the finish line, which was on the beach. I sprinted for it, passing a bunch of women. The beach part of the sprint was interesting, I must have looked like a clumsy giraffe trying to push through the sand. I looked up and saw the clock, 1:15! That was my goal time I had in my head and I did it! I beat my first sprint time (on practically the same course) by 6 minutes! It felt great. The 43 year old women on the bike tapped me on the shoulder. “All I can say is thank you! You paced me for that run and it was great.” I smiled back, “Well you paced me for the bike! You did awesome.”

Done and Done. 

I found my dad and gave him a big hug. I was smiling from ear to ear. We waited around for the preliminary results where I saw my name! 3rd place in my division. I was ecstatic. The race results were announced and I got a little Douney and Burke bag for 3rd place prize. Yay! Now it’s time to buckle down and tackle some off season training.

Pictures coming soon!

-Train Hard. Tri Harder.



How I Use Self-Hypnosis to Win

This weekend I will be racing in my 4th triathlon of my first season ever. It’s a sprint triathlon hosted by TriFitness and it’s all women. As the days get closer I am realizing I am getting a little bit intimidated that this triathlon is all women. Why? Because I am thinking there is a lot more competition in my age group. And I’m starting to doubt myself, a commonality almost every beginner triathlete goes through. Which is frustrating to say the least. The negative thoughts creep in like “You aren’t ready.” “Your body is too tired.” “That swim is going to suck.” I am a firm believer that your mind controls your body, and if your mind is thinking negatively your performance is going to suffer. How do you change a negative mindset?

One of the tools I rely on to change my mindset is meditation or hypnosis. Back when I was a competitive rider in the sport of eventing (three disciplines crammed into one day: dressage, show jumping and cross country), I was a nervous wreak at shows. I wouldn’t eat a single thing the entire day, I was tense on my horse who could sense my nerves and I clammed up in front of judges. My mother recognized my struggle to control my nerves and sent me to a hypnotist who specialized in sports hypnotism. What happens is she sends you into a deep conscious sleep and talks to you about your competition, giving you visual clues and things to focus on. Basically, it’s a visualization exercise in a conscious sleep or meditative state. Tiger Woods has been known to use hypnotism to visualize every movement and outcome on the course, and look at his performance. She took me through each stage of my competition asking me to visualize what I was doing and how my horse was reacting. The most important part was she asked me to visualize myself winning. Something I have never done before with my half crazy horse.

I went to the hypnotist a week before my competition. The day of the competition I was still nervous to the point where I couldn’t eat anything. But something different happened. I had the lowest dressage score, no jumping penalties and my cross country was excellent. I won that competition and guaranteed a spot in regionals. I firmly believe that hypnotism contributed to my success. Proving the point that your mind controls your performance.

Ever since that competition I have been using self-hypnosis to visualize my triathlon races. I haven’t won my past three races, but I have placed 2/3 times in my age group. Not bad for my first season competing in triathlons.

My schedule leading up to race day is to use self-hypnosis once per day for 3 days. So if my race is on Sunday I self-hypnotize myself Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Just writing “Self-hypnotize” seems a little weird. But it’s not. It’s very simple and easy to do. I lie down, close my eyes and count backwards from 10. I tell myself at each number my eyelids are getting heavy, my breathing is deep and to let any sound or unnecessary thought pass by. Once I get to 1 I visualize my race. What the water feels like, what the transition area looks like etc. and then I start my race. At each step I think of what I am doing, how I am feeling and what my goal time is. The entire time I am thinking positive thoughts to encourage a positive outcome of the race. I see myself passing my competition on the swim, bike, run and crossing that finish line strong.

I am excited for my race this weekend. And I trust that if I dedicate enough time to visualizing my race I will change my thinking into a positive one and see some success.

– Train Hard. Tri Harder.


Conquering my First Open water swim and bike session

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I completed my first open water swim and bike session this past weekend. My only swim sessions I have done has mainly consisted of doing some laps in the pool. The only other time I have swam in open water is during race day. Here’s what happened.

The new coach I just started working with asked if I wanted to join a free swim and bike session she conducts down at a local lake. I of course agreed. Thrilled that I would have an opportunity to work with her and meet other triathletes. The session started at 11:00am and I had to bike to meet up with the group at Porter Square at 10:30 am. Now I don’t bike in Boston, like at all. I am scared to ride on these streets with clipless pedals. The thought sends shivers down my spine. But if I want to get into this sport I need to man up and get on my bike (who I have named Missy because she’s a diva, just look at her design. It screams diva.) This session was a perfect excuse to get on my bike and ride.

According to Google maps biking to Porter Square from my place would take 25-30 minutes (4-5 miles). Well knowing my luck and lack of cycling experience it would take my 45 minutes, so I left an hour before the designated meeting time. Enough cushion time just in case I get a flat, loose my balance and fall over or get knocked off my bike by a car. All worst case scenarios but nevertheless I like to plan for the unexpected.

I got my bike ready and packed my bag. Another new experience I had to tackle was carrying a drawstring bag full of my swim gear, wet suit and recovery snacks which made me slightly apprehensive, thinking I would definitely have difficulties keeping that thing on my back. I kissed my half-asleep, half-hungover boyfriend goodbye and told him to wish me luck. He mumbled something back and I was out the door.

I hopped on my bike and I was on my own now. The only guidance I had was my GPS attached to a broken LifeProof bike stand. I have to wrap a rubber band around the top to make sure my entire phone doesn’t pop off the stand. I knew the general direction of where I had to go and my GPS proved handy. I was able to navigate through some pretty quite streets of Boston with ease. (Now I know the best time to ride a bike is a Sunday for that reason.) I arrived to the meeting place with 30 minutes to spare! Success! I locked up my bike outside of a bagel shop and waited inside to beat the heat.

There were a few more riders who showed up and I went outside to introduce myself. We waited for the coach and headed our way down the Minute Man Bike path to Winchester, where the lake was located. It was a really nice easy ride to the lake all of us chatting along the way. When we got to the lake we met up with a few more triathletes and hit the beach.

I brought my wetsuit to test out, because last time I wore it the zipper busted on me….during a race! It was 80 degrees out so I felt a bit silly trying to pull my wet suit on but there were others who had theirs too. But they got into their wet suits A LOT faster than I did. Fail. Finally pulling up my sleeve and zipping myself in I was ready to go.

Now I have never done an open water swim session before. I assumed she would have us start at the beach and we swim back and forth. Something like that. Nope. We had to swim out to a buoy located on the OTHER side of the lake, a good half a mile swim just to get to where we were working out! Great. Did I mention I hate fish. I had never really stuck my head in the water to swim because I do not want to see what’s lurking in that water.

We all got into the water and started swimming away from the beach where it was safe. I got my head in the water and told myself that I am bigger than any of these fish and not to panic. I tried to stay close to the others but they were more experienced, faster swimmers so it ended up being just myself swimming to the buoy. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I just thought about happy things in my head to fight my fear of lake fish.

I made it to the buoy, not dead last luckily. I was a little breathless but ok, and my wet suit remained in tact! Thank god. I have no clue what I would have done if it busted in the middle of the lake with absolutely no kayak, platform or flotation device to hang on to.

Now the real work began. What was supposed to happen was an interval swim with minimal rest in between buoys. We would start floating on our stomachs then swim as hard as we could to the next buoy, rest 20 seconds, do it again for a total of 8 lengths. Ok so not what I did. I took it as swim as hard as I could to the next buoy, sing my ABC’s (about 45 second – 1 minute rest) then swim easy to the next buoy. I targeted 5-6 lengths of alternating between hard and easy intervals. It was hard. Particularly because we had to tread water in between sets, I was literally in the middle of the lake.

After 6 lengths I called it a day, but oh wait, I had to swim half a mile back to the beach by myself. I can safely say the ENTIRE swim session was a workout for me. Which was good I really need to prove to myself I could swim in a lake practically on my own.

I reached the beach and stripped off my wet suit, chugged some chocolate milk and threw on my bike shoes. The bike workout was a similar set up to the swim. We rode on a 6 mile loop doing intervals. So it looked like: 1min race pace, 2min rest, 2min race pace, 2min rest, 3min race pace, 2 min rest, repeat. We were supposed to do this for 36 minutes.

I had my bike computer but it only reads MPH right now because my rear wheel magnet fell off on a race so I have no cadence. I figured my race pace would be somewhere around 20 mph. Fair guess. I ended up tailoring the intervals a bit. I did 1min race pace, 2min rest, 2 min race pace, 2 min rest, 3 min race pace, 4 min rest. I doubled my rest time at the end of the set of intervals. It was a great bike session and even though I was pretty sure I was the slowest I stuck to my work out. I finished at 34 minutes, my legs were a bit wobbly. But my day wasn’t over, now for the bike back home (about 8 miles.) I was struggling just to keep up with everyone else who was probably going 15 mph, really slow. My legs were just so tired.

I managed to get myself home. I was thirsty, tired and starving. I worked out from 9:30am – 2 pm, one of my longest work out days I have done. Looking back at the day I managed pretty well considering I have no experience in any of these disciplines. I conquered my open water, fishy lake fear AND gained confidence on Missy biking through the streets of Boston. Overall a great day. And on top of that the work out gave me an inside glimpse into how real triathletes train. I need to step up my game if I want to get serious and start winning some races!

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Missy!! She’s too pretty for a bike.

– Train Hard. Tri Harder.


Motivational Words from The Grind

I stumbled upon this amazing video from another blogger. The visuals and words are so powerful I wanted to transcribe it. It gives me chills every time I watch this video and read these words.


Rise and shine

6am and your hand can’t make it to the alarm clock before the voices in your head start telling you it’s too early, too dark and too cold to get out of bed. Aching muscles lie still in rebellion pretending not to hear your brain commanding them to move. A legion of voices are giving you permission to hit the snooze button and go back to dream land.

But you didn’t ask their opinion.

The voice you chose to listen to is one of defiance. A voice that says there was a reason why you set that alarm in the first place. So sit up, put your feet on the floor and don’t look back because we’ve got work to do. Welcome to the grind.

For what is each day but a series of conflicts between the right way and the easy way. 10,000 streams span out like a river delta before you each one promising the path of least resistance. The thing is you’re headed upstream. And when you make that choice and you decide to turn your back on whats comfortable, safe, and what some would call common sense, well that’s day 1. From there it only gets tougher. So just make sure this is something you want because the easy way out will always be there ready to wash you away. All you have to do is pick up your feet.

But you aren’t going to are you? With each step comes the decision to take another. You are on your way now but this is no time to dwell on how far you have come. You are in a fight against an opponent you cant see but oh you can feel them on your heels can’t you, feel them breathing down your neck. You know who that is? That’s you. Your fears, doubts and insecurities lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out of the sky. But don’t loose heart. While they aren’t easily defeated they are far from invincible. Remember this is the grind. The battle royal between you and your mind, your body and the devil on your shoulder who is telling you this is just a game, this is just a waste of time, your opponent are stronger than you.

Drown out the voice of uncertainty with the sound of your own heart beat. Burn away your self doubt with the fire underneath you. Remember what we are fighting for and never forget momentum is a cruel mistress. She can turn on the dime with the smallest mistake. She is always searching for the weak place in your armor; the one little thing you forgot to prepare for.

So as long as the devil is hiding the details, the question remains is that all you got? Are you sure? And when answer is yes and you have done all you can to prepare yourself for battle then it’t time to go forth and boldly face your enemy. The enemy within.

Only now you must take that fight into the open, into hostile territory. You are a lion in a field of lions all hunting the same elusive pray with a desperate starvation that says victory is the only thing that can keep you alive. So believe that voice that says you can run a little faster, you can run a little harder, and that to you the laws of physics are merely a suggestion.

“Nobody can judge effort. Because effort is between you and you.Everyday is a new day. And every moment is a new moment. So now you got to show them you are a different creature than you were five minutes ago.”

So rise and shine.

– Train Hard. Tri Harder.


My Guilty Pleasure: ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss

I admit it…I love watching ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss with Chris Powell. I can’t get enough of the show! I have never been overweight, I have some family members who are, but I have never experienced a journey like some of the contestants on the show. I’m curious of who these people are, where they come from and how they got to where they are today. It really has changed my perspective on people. Each one of us has a different story, battling different issues and all fighting our own uphill battle. It’s more of watching the psychological changes of all these people who have to overcome struggles and fight their demons. And we all have demons.

I absolutely love the moment when one of the contestants realizes they have nothing to fear. They can conquer so much. I also love Chris Powell. He is one pretty amazing guy who knows his stuff. If I could work out with him for a day and pick his brain I would be the happiest girl alive. Watching these people overcome their struggles is relatable to what I am doing becoming a triathlete. There are struggles I face, fears to overcome and demons to fight off in order to be the person I want to be. The show definitely emphasizes the idea of your mind controls your body. And seeing that makes me realize if these people can achieve such a great accomplishment (more than weight loss) then I can too. Cheesy, I know but this show is awesome and inspiring.

– Train Hard. Tri Harder.


The Truth about Carbohydrates

I know a girl who refuses to eat a banana because it has too many carbs. A banana…..seriously? I was once scared to touch carbohydrates as well but never a banana. I think many people, athletes included, have a preconceived notion that carbohydrates are bad for you. I certainly thought they were when I started to change my diet. But then I read Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. (Highly recommended.)

“Carbohydrates are fattening”

This is not true. Excess calories are fattening, not carbohydrates; in particular excess calories from fats are fattening. People are often scared to touch foods that contain carbohydrates (like a banana) because they have been brainwashed into thinking carbohydrates are bad. Look at the break down: there are 4 calories in 1g of carbohydrate, 4 calories in 1g protein, 7 calories in 1g of alcohol and 9 calories in 1g fat. So when you look at the caloric break down carbohydrates and proteins are equal. Yet protein gets all of the good press now a days and not carbohydrates. What gives?

You need carbohydrates to fuel muscles. According to Nancy Clark, a well known sports nutritionist, “Carbohydrates are necessary in any athletes diet to provide the energy needed for muscles to perform.” Glycogen is a key component for endurance athletes as it provides energy for the body. Clark explains, “The carbohydrate in the muscles is used during exercise. The carbohydrate in the liver gets released into the bloodstream to maintain a normal blood glucose level and feed the brain (as well as muscles.) These limited carbohydrate stores influence how long you can enjoy exercising. When glycogen stores get too low, you hit the wall. In a research study, cyclists with depleted glycogen stores were able to exercise only 55 minutes to fatigue, as compared with more than twice as long (120 minutes) when they were carbohydrate loaded. Food works!”

All carbohydrates are not created equal 

I’m not saying go binge on pizza because it contains 500g carbs. The carbohydrates you find in a pizza are completely different from the carbohydrates you find in vegetables. The absolute best option for carbohydrates would come from whole foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes. When you look at some options:

– 1 banana has 23g = 92 calories from carbs

– 1 cup of black beans has 40g = 160 calories from carbs

– 1 cup broccoli has 6g carbs = 24 calories from carbs

The next best option would be whole grain foods like whole grain rice, bread, pasta. The last option would be the processed grains like white bread, white rice and white pasta because these foods have been stripped of their nutrients essentially leaving you with very fast releasing sugars (which is good in some cases like race day nutrition.)

Carbohydrates in your diet 

Clark recommends athletes should consume 60% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. If you are on the Paleo diet (which I have tried before) or don’t really like eating processed carbs then your diet should consist of mainly fruits and vegetables, and a lot of them. If you like legumes include them too! Beans are a great way to get protein and carbohydrates into your diet. If you can accept the fact that whole grain bread and pasta are good in any diet (of course in moderation) then maybe include a couple meals a week with whole grain foods like a sandwich or pasta dinner. (Be careful of added sugar in these types of products.) Bottom line, eat your fruits (including bananas!), veggies and legumes with some whole grain foods and you should be good to go.

Resources: Nancy Clark MS, RD, Sports Nutrition Guidebook4th edition

My legs are mad at me

“I hate you!”

That’s what I can imagine my legs telling right about now. And it’s most likely what other triathletes in training can imagine their legs telling them. I’m learning that as I’m increasing training my legs aren’t very happy. But that’s a good thing right?

I just went home to Connecticut to get on my bike! I haven’t really attempted riding in Boston because it seems too daunting. Boston is great city, according to it’s also a great biking city. I don’t feel that way. There are too many cars when I need to ride (which is usually during rush hour) and not enough bike paths, not to mention I’m clipped into my pedals, which is scary to me. So if a pedestrian were to jump out suddenly I would surely topple over trying to avoid a head on collision.

Anyways, my point is I go home to ride my bike. Which isn’t very often. This past weekend I managed to fit in enough biking and strength work to fry my legs. This is what my weekend looked like:

Strength class am (1 hour)
– The class consisted of high intensity training full of sprinting, lunging, kettlebell swings and single leg work. I was thinking I could totally handle a bike ride in the pm but I was wrong. I could feel my entire central nervous system shutting down as the day went by. I took a nap instead. No biking for me.

Strength class am (1 hour)
Biking pm (1 hour) 20mi 
– I usually don’t do strength sessions back to back but my mother insisted I meet her personal trainer Shaun who is the personal trainer and physical therapist for big hockey and football teams in the New England area (like NFL status). I totally do not regret going! I absolutely loved the session. What I do regret is the pm cycling session with my dad. My legs were fried from 2 awesomely challenging strength sessions and I thought to push it for a bike ride. I asked for flat roads (which is hard to find in CT) and easy pace. I was super slow in the first 30min. My legs were burning! I couldn’t even keep up with my dad who was going 17-19mph. I was at a 15-16mph pace, snail pace. It just really hurt. By the time we hit some down hills my legs felt better, but by the end when I hopped off of my bike I couldn’t walk. Ouch.

Time trials (1 hour) 20k 
– This was my first 20k time trial ever and I wasn’t riding on fresh legs. My legs were definitely talking to me but I felt better than yesterday. The time trial consisted of 13 laps of 1 mile loops by the beach. It was a beautiful day and relatively quite early in the am. My first lap I completed in 1:03, by my last lap I was closer to 3:03. Big difference. My legs were tired and by the time I finished I was just dead. I could hardly push my pedals to get myself home (like 10mph tops! If that.) It just hurt so bad.

My 3 day training session proved to be challenging both mentally and physically. If you could see me now I can hardly sit down or stand up without getting a sharp pain in my hamstrings. I’m just sore. But I do realize I need to increase my volume and intensity at some point if I ever want to get better. So why not start now.

 – Train Hard. Tri Harder.