Reinventing the Wheel

I read a lot of Jane Austen. (Confession… I mean an exorbitant amount.)  I love the feeling of being transported to a time when people celebrate one’s coming of age with a ball and tea is a time of day not to be messed with; traveling to the next town over is a big event and dowries mean everything.  A close second to my love of reading Austen novels is watching the film adaptations of her stories.  In one of my favorite movie versions of “Mansfield Park” the director did an amazing job of showing the two worlds the protagonist, Fanny Price, straddles – the rundown lower class world of her biological parents and the high-brow sophisticated world of her maternal aunts who married much wealthier gentleman.  On her first journey between the two, we see Ms. Price traveling in a carriage for what seems like days from her drab childhood home to the beautiful estate at Mansfield Park.  You know what struck me as I watched this sequence of events?  The wheels.  The wheels on the carriage were wooden and frail and vulnerable to rocks and potholes and the like.  What must it have been like to ride in a carriage with wooden wheels?!

Jane Austen Wheels

Wooden discs served as some of the earliest wheels in 3500BCE.  Fifteen hundred years later spoked-wooden wheels were used on war chariots to make them lighter and more efficient and  many, many centuries later in the 1700s, metal wheels were introduced because wooden wheels could not handle the strain of carrying heavy artillery. The locomotive wheel was invented in the early 1800s and in 1802 wire spokes were patented.  Pneumatic tires, that we are probably most familiar with today with their air filled compartments, were improved upon and finally patented in the mid-1800s.  With each new incarnation of the wheel, transportation became more efficient, more productive, and more resilient.  Thinking about ancient wheels and the wooden contraptions that were ubiquitous in Austen’s time, makes me appreciate just how far we’ve come.

ENVE Wheels

On Sunday, August 24th I competed in Ironman Louisville.  I exited the water as the 9th female pro and by mile 22 of the 112 mile bike leg I was up to 4th place.  Everything clicked.  My Argon 18 E-118 was humming and my ENVE Composite 8.9 clinchers were absolute perfection. Since starting out in this sport in late 2008, I have ridden more wheels than I can remember; I couldn’t even name them if I tried.  I don’t know the science behind what goes into making the perfect wheel but I know what an amazing ride feels like and I’m ecstatic to say ENVE Composites has made that attainable. I had the fastest female bike split among finishers at Ironman Louisville; I attribute much of that to endless hours of training, power intervals, and a long history in aerobic sports.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the role my ENVE wheels had on my bike split.  Simply put the wheels are aero, durable, attractive, and, most importantly, FAST.  I have never felt more confident on a set of wheels.  I am truly honored to ride these wheels and to call ENVE a sponsor.

Ride IMLOU

Every once in a while as I’m riding along on my 8.9 clinchers, I wonder what those wooden wheels of “Mansfield Park” would have felt like.  I’m not sure, but I do know that Jane Austen would be jealous. Ride on.

Thank you to ENVE Composites and all of my incredible bike sponsors including Argon 18, VO2 Multisport, Cobb Cycling, and Maverick Multisport.

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Ironman France: Mapped Out

On June 29th I competed in Ironman France.  Rain, lots of climbing, and scary descents made for an interesting day.  I finished in 10:17 as the 10th pro female, besting my previous time on this course by over an hour.  Here is my race recap…

IM France Swim

IM France Bike

IM France Run

Thank you Maverick Multisport, Argon 18, ENVE Composites, VO2 Multisport, Rotor Bike Components, Occupational Kinetics, Swiftwick Socks, Cobb Cycling, TYR, Champion Systems, 110% Play Harder, Infinit Nutrition, Primal Sport Mud, Smith Optics, TriBike Transport, and Vittoria.

 

 

 

 

Getting back up…

Sometimes when you go to a race expo in a foreign country things look a little bit different.  The vendors are unfamiliar, the language is incomprehensible, and the general scale is smaller than what you might see in the United States.  This was certainly the case in Los Cabos, but the expo for the Ironman did have something I hadn’t yet seen from WTC – inspirational posters.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I enjoy reading motivational quotes, so to say I liked walking around the expo would be an understatement.  One of the posters featured the Vince Lombardi quote, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”  Considering the race I had a few days later, this inspirational poster seemed particularly prescient.
#MotivationalMonday?  Try #MotivationalSunday!

#MotivationalMonday? Try #MotivationalSunday!

Sunday 3/30 – Race Day
My swim was great, there was just far too much of it.  When I went for a guide buoy that had drifted out of line on the long outbound leg, I lost the pack I was swimming with.  (You read that correctly, I was swimming with a pack.  I was swimming well; I was in the thick of things and I was loving it!)  Then… I had to be a hero and go for the buoy that had gone rogue and I lost them.  Crushing.  Adding insult to injury, the last leg of the “rectangular” course wasn’t exactly geometrically accurate.  The yellow buoys were all over the place and it was very difficult to reconcile the actual course with the athlete guide picture I had in my head.  It was not my best sighting day and I swam way more than 2.4 miles. When I looked down at my watch as I entered T1 I was disappointed with my time but looking forward to gaining some ground back on the ride.  Little did I know the Baja Pensisula wasn’t done messing with me yet…
I had no idea what Cabo had in store for me...

I had no idea what Cabo had in store for me…

Once we got on the bike in Los Cabos we had to climb a hill out of T1 and then get on the Transpeninsular Highway.  The problem with that?  The asphalt on the highway and the asphalt on the entrance ramp were laid at different times and there was a large bump demarcating the two. When I made the jump up to the next level of asphalt, my aero bottle went flying as did my bike computer which was attached to it.  I thought about leaving my now empty aero bottle behind, but my $500 bike computer had to be rescued.  Stop. Unclip. Go. Backwards. On. The. Course. And retrieve my lonely bike computer.  When my bottle went flying so too did the contraption that holds the computer in place.  So I had a computer with very helpful heart rate, cadence, power, and distance metrics and I had no way of putting them on display. The computer sat in my pocket… for 112 miles.  As I completed the first of three laps I focused on settling in and making up for the fact that I had lost a valuable nutrition bottle so early in the race.  All went well until about mile 40 when I felt a change in the way my bike was handling as I sped down a hill at 30 miles per hour.  When I looked down… catastrophe.  I had a flat.  Luckily I was approaching an aid station with some lovely gentlemen who came running when I called for mechanical.  All told, the stop probably took 6 or 7 minutes.  When I got back on the bike I was eager to make up lost ground, but I was also nervous about more road hazards that could sideline me again – especially now that my spare tube was gone.
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At this point I just started to laugh.  Could anything else go wrong?  The whole race up until this point had been a comedy of errors and I started to consider DNFing.  Was it too late to sign up for Ironman Texas?  Could I get myself out of this ridiculous hole I was in or should I just throw in the towel and try again another day?  Cue inspirational poster and James Earl Jones (who has a voice I imagine is something quite close to God’s) speaking Vince Lombardi’s words.  So what if  I get knocked down?  (Over and over again…) It’s the getting back up that matters.  IT’S THE GETTING BACK UP THAT MATTERS!  So… I rode on – despite being way behind the eight ball, despite the scary road conditions, despite it all.  I had 100 miles left and I was going to make them count.  Not only did I get back the people who flew by me during the flat tire ordeal, I was even able to pick off a few pros before T2.
Working my way back up on my sweet Argon 18 and ENVE Composites.

Working my way back up on my sweet Argon 18 and ENVE Composites.

Coming off the bike in an Ironman is always difficult but the blazing sun made T2 in Los Cabos especially hard.  I didn’t want to leave the changing tent.  After applying a new layer of sunscreen and some serious coddling by the awesome volunteers I tore myself away.  The run was a three loop course featuring a few short hills, one dirt/sand trail, five different dog legs and lots of sunshine.  In other words… It was hard.  It was fairly uneventful; almost comically so.  Leading up to race day my teammates and I joked about the goofy things we would do as we passed each other on the run course, but when the hour was upon us, pirouettes and herkies were nowhere to be found.  We barely had the energy to give a slight nod of the head.  “Heeeey,” she said as if she were an angsty teenager who couldn’t be bothered with niceties like salutations.  “Heeeeey,” he responded, sounding equally unenthused.  So inspiring.  In the end I picked off more girls as I ticked off 26.2 miles and came across the line as the 10th Pro woman – extremely happy to be done, but secretly wanting another chance.

Sun, sun all around and not an inch of shade.

Monday 3/31
The day after an Ironman I am always the best kind of sore.   I am so spent that waddling hurts and the thought of stairs makes me want to cry.  As I sat there looking at the Pacific replaying the race in my mind, one thought kept forcing its way in.  I want a do-over.  It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.
Posing on the stairs?  Not quite.  More like taking a break...

Posing on the stairs? Not quite. More like taking a break…

Thanks to Jeff and Matt for inspiring me on race day.  Thanks to Niki for being the ultimate travel companion, race day photographer, and “sista from another mista”.  Thanks to Debi for her wisdom, advice, and words of encouragement.  Thank you to Cyrus, Mary, and my whole family for their support and love.  And of course none of this would be possible without my incredible sponsors.  Thank you Maverick Multisport, Argon 18, ENVE Composites, VO2 Multisport, Rotor Bike Components, Occupational Kinetics, Swiftwick Socks, Cobb Cycling, TYR, Champion Systems, 110% Play Harder, Infinit Nutrition, Primal Sport Mud, Smith Optics, TriBike Transport, and Vittoria.

Small Fish

In his new book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that sometimes conditions traditionally perceived as disadvantageous can actually be advantageous.  At first glance a fight between David and Goliath is a no-brainer.  Goliath is a giant who can crush the tiny shepherd with nary a thought, right?  Maybe not.   We initially fail to consider David’s speed, agility, and resourcefulness.  The small shepherd used the disparity in size to his advantage – to fight Goliath on his own terms, not the giant’s.  The book goes on to ponder the good that can come out of other less than desirable circumstances like large class size, dyslexia, being the underdog going into a game, and even losing a parent.  All of Gladwell’s chapters present fascinating data in a new light, but one chapter in particular stayed with me.  In this chapter, Gladwell tells the story of a woman, who while growing up, wanted a career in the sciences.  Through grade school, middle school, and high school she excelled in math and science, but when college rolled around something interesting happened.  She floundered.  She registered, attended, and studied for college-level science courses and she could not hold her own.  After a few semesters she completely changed her track, dropped the science classes, and ultimately majored and obtained a degree in a completely different field.  Why the change?  This woman who wanted to be a scientist for as long as she can remember, who admittedly still dreams of what could have been had she stayed the course, succeeded in the field she loves until she got to college and then everything fell apart.  The reason for the change, Gladwell theorizes, is this woman’s choice of college.  Instead of choosing a large state school, she chose to attend an Ivy League university.  And with that choice she went from being a very big (successful) fish in a small pond, to a very small fish in a very big pond.  Was she still smart and driven?  Sure, but no more so than everyone else around her.  She didn’t stand out at Brown or have the feelings of success or accomplishment that she would have enjoyed had she attended a school with a less prestigious student body.  When she looked around her organic chemistry class she felt inferior for the first time in her life.  Would she be a scientist today if she went to the University of Maryland instead of Brown?  Probably.  In her case, attending an Ivy League school, something almost all of us think of as being an advantage, turned out to be a disadvantage.

This season, I, like the woman Gladwell introduced to us, went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a very very big pond.  This change was not lost on me.  Going into the 2013 season I was quite worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle the stress or the expectations of racing as an elite athlete.  My first race as a professional triathlete, the women’s pro field included Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae, ITU superstars, and past Ironman champions.  Not only was I worried about my race, I was worried about my performance compared to these women’s performances.  I was worried about my swim, my bike, my run, and my ego.  Going into 2013, I thought it would be fun to race as a professional for a year – experience the perks, rub shoulders with the big dogs, check the box, and move on with life.  Not surprisingly I found myself toward the middle or bottom of many race results.  Surprisingly, even though my ego took a hit, my spirit wasn’t dampened.  Unlike the woman in Gladwell’s book, as the season went on, I became more emboldened, more motivated.  I might have been a small fish, but I was a small fish with big dreams.  After competing in nine half ironman distance races and qualifying for Worlds 70.3, I decided to add one more race to the 2013 calendar – Ironman Florida.  The last time I did an Ironman I was burnt literally and figuratively.  Soon after the race I told my coach that the full distance wasn’t for me and I would never toe the line at one of these races again.  But racing my heart out this season as a small fish changed something. I wasn’t going to let anything intimidate me – not a pro start list, not a hurtful comment, not one bad race, and certainly not a race distance.  The result?  A huge PR.  In Florida I covered 140.6 miles in nine hours and thirty-eight minutes.  (I am happy with the time but never ever satisfied.)

Changing ponds can be pretty amazing… And this small fish?  She’s gettin’ bigger.

My good side... Bringing it home.

My good side…
Bringing it home in Panama City.

Panic and Pacing

There is a scene in Blackfish, a documentary about the effects of captivity on killer whales, that will stay with you long after the credits have stopped rolling. In it Kenneth Peters, a trainer at Sea World San Diego jumps into one of the marine park’s huge tanks to perform the finale of one of the day’s Shamu shows with Kasatka, a twenty-something female killer whale. As soon as Peters jumps into the water, the killer whale grabs the trainer by the foot and drags him down to the bottom of the deep tank. Luckily, the narrator of Blackfish notes, not only does Peters have experience with animals, he is also an accomplished diver. When the killer whale brings the trainer back to the surface, Peters doesn’t scream or panic or flail about. He simply pats the killer whale as if to say, “It’s okay” and he starts breathing very methodically in an effort to pack his lungs with more air in the likely event that he would be dragged down again. Sure enough, a few moments later Kasatka takes him back down to the bottom of the tank and holds him there for what seems like an eternity. The whale finally pulls Peters back up and the trainer shows the same forethought that he did before, even though the situation is becoming more dire. Over the course of the next few minutes the killer whale continues her routine of burying and resurfacing. She eventually lets the trainer go only to grab his other foot and continue the dangerous cycle. Toward the end of the clip, the trainer’s expression becomes more and more desperate; the audience can tell simply by looking at his face that Peters knows he is going to die. Thankfully after almost fifteen minutes, Peters was able to escape with the help of a momentary lapse of focus on the whale’s part, a large net, and his incredibly fast swimming (given the little air and two broken feet he was working with). The most incredible part of this story, aside from the fact that Peters survived, is the forethought and sense of calm the trainer had throughout the entire incident. That of course got me thinking about triathlon… (Thankfully training and racing are nowhere near as dangerous as Peters’ ordeal.)

During a race we all have those little moments of panic when we wonder if we paced ourselves correctly. Did I go too hard on the first part of the bike? Did I burn too many matches on that hill? What if I get off the bike and I can’t run? I hope my legs can carry me through the back half of this marathon. In triathlon the opportunities for over-pacing, impatience, and self-doubt are endless. With a background in endurance sports I think I’ve always known this, but my last two triathlons made this fact abundantly clear. This year SavageMan 70.0, undoubtedly one of the most difficult triathlons around, was held on September 15th, one week after the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. I decided to do both. The uncertainty leading up to my second long distance triathlon in eight days was unlike anything I had experienced before. Several days after Worlds, my body was still feeling the effects of the race. Luckily toward the end of the week my bike and run legs had returned just in time to drive to Deep Creek Lake, Maryland for SavageMan. I knew that if I wanted to do well, I had to follow my pace and nutrition plans to the letter. During a race when things are moving so fast I find it easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on around me. My swim was so slow, maybe I’ll push it a little harder on the bike. I can’t let her pass me… I hate these road conditions. Getting caught in the moment like that could cause me to sacrifice the latter stages of the race because I’ve let panic, lack of focus and self-doubt seduce me away from my plan. “Bike for show; run for dough.” “Bike how you should, not how you could.” These sayings are everywhere but the truth in them is undeniable. Without forethought and proper pacing early on, an entire race could be sacrificed. During SavageMan I had a lot (and I mean a lot) of time to think about this on the bike. Cyclists who were having faster, better, more powerful days than me rode past, one after another (after another). I wanted to follow, but pursuing them at their pace wasn’t an option. I had to hold back, race within myself and trust in my training. Like Peters who relied on his experience with diving and animals to stay composed, endurance athletes must rely on their pace and nutrition plans to execute their races correctly. A little focus and forethought go a long (long) way.

There’s only one finish line and it’s at the finish. Happy training!

Finishing the run at SavageMan.  First pro and fastest run of the day.

Finishing the run at SavageMan 70.0.  First female pro and fastest run split of the day.

Auditions

I recently saw a show on PBS that drew me in for multiple episodes called “Broadway or Bust”.  (I couldn’t resist.  Once upon a time I fancied myself an actress and I have a degree in theatre from Barnard.  “What does one do with a degree in theatre?” you ask.  Well… That individual becomes a professional triathlete, of course.) Back to the show…  “Broadway or Bust” follows sixty teenagers who have all won their respective regional musical theater competitions and consequently have received an invite to New York City for a week of dorm-style living and musical theatre boot camp.  During this grueling week the kids practice their solos, learn group numbers, get critiqued by producers and directors, and are coached by actors and choreographers all in service to one huge show on the last day of “camp”.  On that final day, the teens take over the Minskoff Theater (usually home to the “Lion King”), put on their production, and effectively audition one last time to win the Jimmy Award for best actor or actress.

What’s great about “Broadway or Bust” is that you get to go behind the scenes.  Not only do you see what life is like backstage, you get to see the most confident kids struggle with their nerves and even more intriguingly, you get a rare glimpse into the audition process.  The show lets you in on the closed door sessions where theatre bigwigs come together to whittle down this enormous pool of talent to a very few and then again to just two.  Your heart almost breaks when you see the director of the program cavalierly remove headshot after headshot from the row of kids still in the running to win the big prize.  Not so much because you liked this kid or that kid, but because you know that these teens will see this episode and will relive that terrible moment when they got cast aside.  It was at this point in the show that a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, who was on the judging panel, spoke to the TV audience about rejection.  In summary he said rejection is a way of life for people in this industry.  It happens every day to thousands of wonderful, very talented people.  Not getting selected just means you weren’t the most perfect fit for that role on that day.  Should you stop auditioning?  No way.  Should you give up acting?  Hell no.  You go out tomorrow and you try again.  For if you dwell on the rejection, he contends, you will never succeed.

After hearing some harrowing stories from St. Croix 70.3 and Ironman Texas, I could not help but draw a parallel between racing and theatre.  Race day is like one big audition.  You rehearse and practice and rehearse and practice (and rehearse and practice some more).  Then you and a hundred of your closest friends all vie for the same spot and only one of you will get it. Only one of you will have everything come together just right, on that day, on that course.  And what if you don’t get the part?  Will you hang your head and retire your running shoes?  Avoid certain races?  Avoid certain distances?  I don’t think so.  The best athletes will learn from the experience and use what they now know to become better athletes.  There is no use dwelling on the negative for that is only a reflection of one teeny tiny day.  Keep fighting.

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