Saturday, March 30, 2013

Early Season Experimentation

The Race
As a native San Diegan, I've had the city of Oceanside on my radar for a long time- it's only about a 40 minute drive from where I grew up.  My family took frequent trips up to the harbor when I was a girl to enjoy the beach, stroll through the cute shops, and generally just take a little break. When I took up triathlon and learned there was a race that began in the harbor, it immediately went on my "to-do" list.  The bike course even goes through the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, where one set of my grandparents met.  Last summer I noticed that the 2013 race would fall at the end of UW's spring break week- at last the timing was right, and I signed up.

As luck would have it, over winter break I developed an ulcer on the cornea of my right eye, a problem I also had once in high school.  I have been a contact wearer since 8th grade and switched to daily contacts after the first problem.  This time, after treatment and evaluation the doctor concluded that my eyes were having too much of an allergic reaction to the contacts, and that I would always be prone to problems while wearing them.  Essentially he put his foot down: I needed to be in glasses full time, or have vision correction surgery.  My lifestyle as a triathlete is definitely NOT conducive to glasses, so surgery it would be.  The scarring on my right eye from the past ulcers meant that Lasik was not safe on that eye, and even the alternative procedure (PRK) was a bit trickier than normal.  I trust my San Diego ophthalmologist completely- he is one of best in the US and helped me through my previous problems, knew my history.  I wouldn't want the procedure to be done by anyone else.  So we formed a new plan: since I would be out in CA in March anyway for the race, I would now arrive a little bit earlier, have the surgery immediately, and leave a safe cushion of a few days between healing and racing.

ready for some quality laser time
All in all, my preparation so far this year has not quite been ideal.  My fitness, particularly my swim fitness, took a bit of a hit over winter break with the eye problem, again last month with a bad flu, then with some "forced taper" due to the eye surgery.  Still, I have had a few good workouts this spring, particularly run workouts, and put in some quality time on the trainer. At this point, my left eye has fully recovered, at least.  Vision in my right eye is still a bit blurry (though not as bad as pre-surgery) so I'll have to be patient with that one and I was cleared to race in a temporary contact to "balance me out" better.  With everything that's been going on lately, it's hard to know what to expect from this race.  This is the longest one I've done this early in the year, and it's a bit scary for me to pick a half as my first race of the season.

Race "Goals"
Since I'm not quite sure where I stand right now, my race plan tomorrow is basically to be flexible(!).  If nothing else, this race will be a fun chance to race by my hometown and get in a solid long workout.  Because it's close, a lot of family will be able to be there to watch.  It definitely helps a ton to see friendly faces during a race! Hopefully it will be a good way for me to clear out the cobwebs and burn off some nerves before I line up in Tempe at Collegiate Nationals in 2 weeks.  Every year I definitely get a bit rusty on my transitions, etc. during the winter months, and it's already been valuable to spend time practicing race skills like bike dismounts in prep for this race.

Taking my BlueSeventy out for a practice swim!

Tomorrow will also be my first race representing Team Rev3! Our 2013 kits won't debut until Knoxville, but my teammate Holly generously lent me her 2012 kit for the weekend.  If you'll be in the area, look for me rocking the awesome blue and green Pearl Izumi Rev3 kit!

Friday, March 1, 2013

It's the little victories...

This is the time of year (at least up north!) when it is easy to start getting frustrated.  Most athletes have been training for the new season for a few months.  Athlete or not, many people's favorite activities are getting continually pushed aside by the cold, wet weather.  Everyone seems to be sick.  Spring is close, yet at times seems so far.  Work and training drag on.

When I took the time in the fall to write out some and areas I could improve for 2013, bike handling was one item that popped off the page.  Early this year I'll be competing at a number of races that require good handling skills.  These include the draft-legal race at USAT Collegiate Nats in April and the hilly course I've been hearing about at Rev3 Knoxville in May.  On technical courses, it's easy to lose a lot of time if your cornering skills aren't up to snuff.  And in draft-legal races, poor handling can result in ending up on the pavement, or putting other people there.  Either way, not good.  One of the ways I planned to work on my handling was riding on rollers.  I'd never done it, but knew it would be good for me.

4laps = 4 180's.  Probably in a pack.
For those of you not intimately acquainted with cycling equipment, rollers are metal cylinders, about a foot long, that are attached to rails.  When you ride a bike on top, the turning wheels spin the metal rolls so that you can ride in place, inside. Since the bike isn't attached to the rollers in any way, starting and stopping take some skill.  Just riding requires concentration.  If the bike tips, so do you.  Drift too far to either side, and you ride off of the metal roll and crash.  The whole process is an exercise in balance.
silvery rolls of death

Anyway, the end of February rolls around and I have not mustered the courage to hop on. As many of you know, I am not the world's most graceful person.  I hurt myself often enough to have stopped paying much attention to it.  From early on I've gravitated to sports that require strength and fitness, rather than coordination and skill.  I'm also the type of person who cherishes a sense of control.  To many people, hopping on rollers is not a giant deal.  But to me, the prospect of trying to balance on them was terrifying.  With races looming, it was time to bite the bullet.

The standard advice for learning how to ride rollers is to set them up in a hallway, so that you can hang on to the walls as needed to start, or catch yourself from falling far.  Wanting all the help I could get, I did this, grabbed my helmet for good measure, and trekked upstairs with my tri bike.  Luckily Coach Bill was around to give pointers.  I was reminded of my first time trying to clip into bike pedals outside-- it had taken 20 minutes of pep talk from friends while I freaked out before I took off and did it.  This was a similar experience.  Freaking out, nervous giggling, check.  How do I clip in my second shoe?  Which hand do I want on the wall while I start to ride?  How can I transfer that hand to the bars without falling over?  What's the best way to save myself if I go down?

After about 10 minutes of alternately riding slowly with one hand on the wall, flinching, catching myself, and trying not to hyperventilate, I pinpointed the largest source of my terror.  It wasn't so much me that I was concerned about injuring... it was my pretty carbon bike.  I had visions dancing through my head of punching a hole in the down tube with a cleat as I fell, and my nerves were not helping the learning process.  So I rolled away my pretty bike in favor of my pal Fred the Commuter.  He's red and metal and has simple pedals and only goes one speed.  He's virtually indestructible.  Perfect.

Armed with confidence, I worked my hand down the wall as I rode... then experimented with lifting it off the wall slightly and balancing... then moved it to the bars with my other hand.  Honestly, it felt momentous. The joy was a bit like learning how to ride a bike for the first time.  I was doing it.  A couple minutes at a time, a little break, then a few more.  I got comfortable enough to adjust my hands on the bars, my position in the saddle, my cadence, etc.  It was kind of... fun.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the things that try your patience and make you look like a giant dork in order to take steps forward.

Case in point.  This was not meant to be a photo op.  Sneaky coach.
I may look dumb, but at least I'm not in a heap on the ground with a hole in my tri bike.  And now that I know I can handle the rollers on my commuter, I can graduate to my tri bike the next time.  I WILL get the hang of this.

This is a great time of year to finish fixing the little things we claim we are going to work on in the off season, before spring racing arrives.  So the next time you find yourself frustrated, in a rut, bored with your winter routine, or sidelined from one of the activities you'd rather be doing, try picking something small to master.  Maybe something new.  Maybe something that seems trivial.  Practice taking off your wetsuit in the shower.  Practice flying dismounts at your neighborhood park.  Embrace the baby steps!

What little things are you doing now to get better?