Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today you WILL become an Iron Girl!

It wasn't the best day for a triathlon. The skies were overcast and it had begun to lightly drizzle. I was okay with that because this year I wasn't competing. I was there as my team's race photographer and to cheer on all the wonderful women who had trained so hard for this day...for this moment...when they would become IRON GIRLS - some for the very first time!

The first few swim waves went off seemingly without a hitch. 5...4...3...2...1....AFLAC!!! (insert loud horn blow!). It was exciting to be on the cheering end of the race this year! With each blow of the horn I got excited for these women because I know the feeling they have way down deep in the pit of their stomach. It's that nervous feeling that releases the endorphins you need to make it through the race. It was their time...their moment. They had trained for a long time and now it was their time to SHINE!

Next in line for the swim wave start were the ladies with the blue caps. I had a few friends in this wave so I made them smile for the camera and yelled words of encouragement to them. Then all of a sudden something seemed a little odd. What was going on right in front of me?

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Was this actually happening? Did a woman decide to quit the triathlon within minutes of her race? What happened to her? Did she somehow get injured during the swim? Had someone kicked her in the head and given her a concussion? I knew that could have been a real possibility. I had so many questions about what I was seeing and I was very curious about what was going on. Wait! There's my friend Laura and she is talking to her. Maybe they know each other. Maybe Laura will turn around and yell for a medic...but she's not. They are just talking. Okay, Laura must know her because now she is giving the woman a hug. Number 858 looks petrified! I really wish I could hear what was being said. Oh, wait, there she goes. She has started swimming again. WHAT JUST HAPPENED????

For the remainder of the race I was perplexed. I knew I had to find Laura as soon as she crossed the finish line to calm my curiosity, but unfortunately I never saw her.

That evening I sat down on my computer and typed a note to Laura asking her about the situation and the story she told me brought tears to my eyes. You see, Laura didn't know this woman at all. Number 858 had started her swim and then decided she couldn't do it and started heading back to the start line to quit the race. Laura stopped her and gently reminded her that she had trained hard for this race and today she was going to become an IRON GIRL! Laura then proceeded to give her a big hug and briefly talked about the different strokes she could do to get to the finish. She pointed out the closest kayak which was there for safety and she encouraged the girl to just go do it! Number 858 turned around and began swimming freestyle. Of course, everyone that heard this story was interested in whether she had completed the race or not and, sure enough, she completed the race that day (in pretty good time) and became an IRON GIRL!

I am always amazed by the quality of people that I have met throughout my life and, in particular, the quality of people in my favorite sport of triathlon. Yes, it was a great accomplishment for number 858 to become an Iron Girl but I am so full of joy when I think of the compassion Laura had for this woman. When I think of an Iron Girl I think of someone that is more than a triathlete. I think of someone, like Laura and so many other female triathletes I know, who have a heart and a passion for this sport, their teammates, and other women competing against them. Yes, it's great to be able to stand at the finish line with a trophy in your hand, but just as important are times like this that make me so proud to be part of this community.

Thank you, Laura, for reminding me what this sport is all about and thank you for helping one more girl reach her goals. You are truly the definition of an Iron Girl!

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Off-season Triathlon Training!

Okay, I know it's not time for off-season training just yet but I've been inspired to write about it because I recently realized just how important it is.

It was last fall when I began training with my amazing coach - Laurie Bickart - and she got to see me at my best...right at the end of marathon training! YIKES! At the time I thought I was doing pretty well training on my own. Besides, I had been training on my own since 2002 so why would having a coach be any different? Well, I quickly found out just how different it was...and it was great!

After the marathon, I figured I was done for the triathlon season. I mean, the marathon wasn't even part of my tri plan so, in my mind, I was pretty much done before that. And, in Virginia just how many triathlons am I going to find in the middle of the winter? None. Nada! So, tri training was over.

What happened next threw me for a loop. I signed up for a CompuTrainer class over the winter. At first it wasn't fun for me because I was slower than EVERYONE on the bike. So, I was eating everyone's "virtual dust" all winter long. I went home every day a little bummed about how slow I was but during the workouts I would push it as hard as I possibly could...JUST TO KEEP UP with these speedy folks! I never got fast enough to "pass" them during the workouts but what I didn't realize was that with every workout I was getting stronger and stronger. Of course, my strength didn't show up until I was able to go outside to ride and climb hills that once were extremely hard for me and go distances I had never gone before. My average pace for 20 miles went from about 16 mph to about 19 mph and it all happened because I trained throughout the winter. If I had decided my training was over until the spring I would have been starting all over again and my pace probably would have been closer to 15 mph.

Running was my next big "ah ha" moment. I had always trained through the winter when I trained on my own but training with a coach was very different! Now, no matter what the temperature or weather, I was outside training and getting stronger moment by moment. I know all my improvement in running isn't just from off-season training but getting that extra "push" out the door was very beneficial. There were days it was so cold I could barely stand to be outside but my coach would always remind me that I was strong and this was just helping make me stronger. And, you know what? It did make me stronger. My previous 5k PR was 31:01 and this past July I ran a 5k in 29:08.

My swimming improved over the winter as well. I was able to drop my 100 yd swim time from 2:05 - 2:10 to 1:45 - 1:50. I KNOW my swim time would have suffered at the beginning of race season had I not trained throughout the winter. I notice a difference in my time if I don't swim for a week or two. I lose the endurance and the ability to breathe correctly! LOL

I don't say all of this to brag about my improvements because I surely have a long way to go but I mention this all to say how important I feel off-season training is. Ditch that name - it's "off-season RACING" I'm not racing during the winter but I sure am training. And, I feel by continuing on this path of training (when some athletes decide it's time to rest) puts me at a much bigger advantage for my next racing season!

This winter my focus is going to be about getting stronger. My coach leads some Crossfit/strength training classes and I need to push myself to be at every one of them. When I was routinely going to these classes I noticed a really good change happening to my body but, because my schedule has been conflicting with the classes recently I've had to miss many of them and my body sure does show it! So, Crossfit classes, Computrainer classes, swimming 2x/week like I have been, and running in the freezing cold weather will be on my agenda for this coming winter. And I'm hoping the improvements I make this year will be just as big as the ones I made last year because now I am "gently" being "guided" to never register in the Athena division again so Age Group here I come!!!