Wednesday, March 29, 2017

From last to fast

I've been struggling in the pool lately. I've been tired and sore and haven't been able to hit any of my normal paces.

This has been going on for weeks. It's been so tough that I surrendered my lane leader role and told the lane that I can't go by pace. I'll give the best effort (sound familiar?) I can and take whatever rest is scheduled. 

The struggle is real. It's hard, and it can really frustrating.

I knew, I KNEW, if I kept at it....kept giving everything I could even though my paces weren't there.....eventually I'd have a breakthrough swim.

Days went by. Weeks went by. I had nothing to show for it, except a growing frustration.

I showed up for masters swim yesterday and looked at the schedule. Great. USRPT (ultra short race pace training) was the training for the day. AWESOME. Another day of of struggling.

At the end of the workout, we had to do 15 x 75's.

My Coach came over to me and said, "Tea, I want these done in 1:00".

I stood there in disbelief. My PR at the 75 was 1:08. That was for ONE interval, and I haven't been able to hit that for a couple of months.

I rolled my eyes and replied, "You realize that my PB is 1:08, right"?

Coach (who is not in the least intimidated by my eye roll) says, "Trust your body. You can do this".

My mind was filled with "but this....and that....and but.....but....I'm tired.....but....I haven't been able to hit any paces in weeks".

I kept my mouth shut.

I turned to my lanemates.  They said, "You're leading. There's no way we can hit that time".

Rather than argue with Coach and my lanemates, I said, "Ok. Interval time 1:20. We'll do the best we can. If anyone misses the interval (thinking it would be me), the next in line takes the lead and the person who misses skips the next one".  (This is how the workout is structured. If you miss your goal time, you sit out an interval, swim an easy 25 to get back with the group. The extra rest is meant, so you can hit your goal for the next intervals).

Let's do this. On the top.

As soon as I took off, I felt different than I have in months. Every stroke was powerful. My kick timing was right on with my stroke.

When I'm swimming inefficiently and wrong, I can feel it, but I can't figure out how to fix it.

Yesterday, I was swimming as well as I could, and I felt it.

I hit the wall in 1:02.

That was a :06 PB at the 75. Of course, I thought, "One and done. There's no way I can do that again".

Then BAM. It happened again. BAM. Again. Over and over, I kept coming in exactly at 1:02, 1:01.....even 3 in 1:00.

The rest of the lane slowed down a chose a slower pace. My friend said, "I can't do this. I don't know what's wrong with me". I told her, "You'll get there. Come in every day and give what you can. You'll get through this".

At the end of the intervals, Coach came over and asked if I hit the intervals. I said, "Yes. I did."

A smile spread across his face as he could see my disbelief.

I have never been so excited about any race or any PR as I was about this PB in the pool yesterday.

It's because I have NO swimming background. I taught myself how to swim using videos.

At my first sprint race, I don't believe I was the last swimmer to exit the water, but I had a canoe escort bring me in (which is what they do with the last swimmers).

At the time, I was swimming about a 3:00 per 100 pace. Yesterday, my time came anywhere between 1:20 and 1:22, which was PB in the 100. My previous best was 1:25.

But, the part that really gets me excited is how this will translate to open water. Last year, I was swimming 1:35's in the pool and 1:20's in open water.

I finished the swim and practically rushed to get out of the pool. I wanted to tell Liz. When I started with her, I was swimming 1:50's. I've now shaved off about :30 per 100.

When it's comes to swimming, there are few people who really understand how much dedicated work it takes to become a better swimmer. Even Mr. Tea. He see's me come out of the water, but he doesn't really get 1:20 per 100, etc. That's because open water swimming has a number of issues: currents, water temps, sun, etc. All of those factors can dramatically change a pace.

So, I sat in my car. I'm sure I had the biggest smile I've ever had.

I'm so excited.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Shaken confidence

I wasn't going to write about this because it seems like a small issue. Then I thought, maybe it was one of those things that every person has to deal with at some time.

Saturday, my confidence was completely shaken.

My races this year have very difficult bike courses. I did this intentionally. The olympic course of Nationals has one climb that we hit twice. Now, this hill isn't substantial for someone who lives and trains on hills.

But, I have a bigger goal on my radar. 

In order to reach that goal, I chose a race schedule that is filled with hills.

In order to race well, we have been doing all new types of bike training.

I saw Saturday's workout. I set it up in Zwift. I looked it over and thought, "a 1 hour and 15 min workout. Ok. I can do that". 

A short workout means there will be some serious intensity. I had 4 intervals to get through.  This is my bread and butter. This is the stuff I love. I don't cringe when I see these workouts. I look forward to them.

When I was 2 minutes into the first interval, I started thinking, "I'm not going to make it through this workout". 

During the recovery, I thought, "WHAT IS THIS WORKOUT"?

WHY is it so hard?

The second interval hit. I check my power. I check my HR. Everything is where it needs to be, but I feel like I'm going to pass out.

There has to be something wrong with me. I can't keep going like this. I need to drop power.

Just keeping pushing. Keep pedaling.

For the last 2 intervals, I used every single mental strategy I had to get through. I was counting down intervals. I was saying, "You can do anything for 7 minutes...anything for 6 minutes. Only 5 minutes left. Chase down that guy".

I was repeating, "You've got this".

On the last interval, my legs were burning like they never burned before. With every rotation, the voice in the back of my head was there saying, "This shouldn't hurt so bad. There's something wrong with you".

At the end of the last one, I collapsed on my aerobars, unable to even spin the pedals. My legs were shaking. My arms were shaking, and I had sweat running off my face like a river.

As I recovered and started my cooldown, I started analyzing the ride. Why was it so hard? What am I going to tell Liz? "I did it, but I didn't do it well".

I stared at the treadmill. For the first time I can remember, Liz gave me an out, "OPTIONAL OFF THE BIKE RUN".

I sat there and debated skipping it.

For no reason, except that I was so tired, so very tired. I couldn't even think of attempting to run.

I sat on the edge of the treadmill.

I remembered something. Back in 2008, I was training for Ironman CDA.  There was a day that I wanted to give up. I was on the trainer for hours upon hours. JMan came down to check on me. I told him that I was thinking of quitting.

He replied, "So. Are you just going to quit? Are you going to do that in your race, too? Just get off the bike and walk back"?

That day, I kept going.

I sat on the edge of the treadmill and started getting my shoes on. I started running.

I thought of something that Liz said to me years before, "Your legs won't feel like they are there, but they are. You have to trust your body".

Step by step, I kept going. My legs never felt good; in fact, they felt about as bad as they could feel. I never felt "energized", but my pace and heart rate were right where they needed to be.

I could only think of one thing, "If you don't fight for this now, you are giving yourself permission to quit down the road".

I finished the run. I laid on the couch and thought about the workout. No sense of satisfaction. No feeling like a bad ass fighter. No sense of a job well done; just the feeling of being thankful that I was done.

A few hours later, and after I ate and recovered, I typed up my notes to Liz, telling her everything that went through my head.

The very first thing she said was, "tea, this is an extremely difficult workout". She explained how it was going to help at my races.

There was a lot going on in my head on Saturday. I pulled from every single mental strategy I had to get through the workout.

But this is what I want YOU to know, when you think you are at wit's end; when you think you have absolutely nothing left to give........You ALWAYS have more to give.

Training won't always be pretty. Some days, it will be downright ugly, but ugly counts.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The end of an era

The end of an era and a new beginning.

As I look back over my time in triathlon, I can see where (for lack of a better word) one chapter ended and another began.

It's not that all those times were monumental. They represented change or a new outlook or something like that.

I think I'm heading into my next new beginning. There are things I'd like to accomplish that I wasn't ready to tackle until now. It's simply because of growth. We all have goals. But reaching those goals takes a plan and steps along the way.

You can't be a podium finisher with the mindset of a middle of the pack athlete. You can't be a World Champion with the mindset of a podium finisher. With each level that we go for, we change. We become better.

It's a long process.

Some of the goals that I've set for myself for this year are things that weren't really on my radar even last year. That's because I wasn't ready for them.

"You aren't given a wish without also the ability to make it true".

That means, as we grow, our dreams can change.

While my big goals are out there on the horizon, I'm taking my smaller goals and making them bigger.

Liz has helped me get to a new level.

When it's my turn, I will shine.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

From here to there

Back in Nov, Liz made a comment about the difference between triathletes and runners (or triathletes with a strong/competitive running background).

I'm sure the comment was an off the cuff observation that she's seen over years of coaching.

That little OTC (off the cuff) comment has stayed with me. Even though it might not be earth shattering for a lot of people, it was something that I'd never thought of before. Honestly, I didn't really think there was a difference. After all, triathletes are runners, right?

For months, I have been working on moving from "here to there". It's a bit of a mindset change. 

Change doesn't happen overnight. It's the result of a bunch of little steps put together. Some days, I think, YES...I'm almost there. Other days, I head back to the drawing board. 
Remove the word "sacrifice" and replace it with "investment".

I know it's up to me to figure out how to get there in my day to day training. 

Three and half years with her, and she still says things that make me stop to think.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


This is me.

These are my goals

I struggled with goals for a long time. It wasn't setting goals that was difficult. It was the implementation. I would set a finish time goal and always be disappointed when I didn't hit it.

One day, Liz asked me what my goals were. Bear with me, this is a little complicated in my head. In order to make Team USA at the standard distance and sprint distance, athletes have to place in a certain position at the National Championship. 

SO. Liz told me to look up the finish times of athletes who finished in X place. 

THAT finish time became my goals for Nationals this year.

I have repeatedly said, "Don't have time goals for races. It's all about effort and attitude". 

That is 100% true. Don't think about the other athletes and their abilities. Don't think about them as your competition because that's false. That is your excuse to fail.

We don't accept excuses here in the Land of Ch.

Can you tell these are conversations I've had with myself over the years?

How do I make sense of all this?

That's where Liz came in. I told her the times. She asked, "What do YOU need to do in each event to make that a reality"?

This also requires a realistic assessment of my own ability. At this time, a 2:15 oly finish is WAY too aggressive. In fact, my goal of 2:35 is going to be hard enough to hit. 

I need to be realistic and aggressive. I have to find that balance. It's not realistic for me to say that I'm going to run a 45 min 10k off the bike when I JUST did a standalone 10k in 59 minutes. An aggressive goal at the Olympic is truly an aggressive goal because of the pain involved. For me, that is what makes this a very tough race. At a 70.3 and Ironman, I could walk the aid stations. (Obviously, I doubt the pro's do that, but I suspect most age groupers DO walk the aid stations). That's not an option at the oly, especially not for me since I will be doing everything I can to hold off the runners breathing down my neck.

I sat down and I scribbled out what times I need to have in order to hit that time goal.

My swim time plus transitions are X.

My bike time is Y.

My run time is Z.

Add them all up, and you have my goal time.

That's what we are training to. 

This isn't just Nationals. I took several other races that I'm doing this year and did the exact same thing.

Now, this is important.....anything can happen on race day. That's why effort and attitude are the most important things to bring to the table. A race can be unexpectedly hot or cold or rainy or snowy or windy or......for a race I've never done.....the course can be unexpectedly difficult. 

Because I primarily do short distances, I can race a lot. I can race 1 to 2 times per month. Although these races are practice races, they are all out efforts to see where I am in the process. 

This is why it's also very important to have a race plan, developed hand in hand with your Coach.

What will you do if you lose your fuel on the course?
What will you do if it is unbelievably hot?
How will you handle rough currents?
How will you pace each event?
What will you do if the aid stations run out of water, food, gels, etc?

What will you do the morning of the race if your race start is delayed?
How will you eat in the morning?
What will you eat the night before?

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

These things might seem like small details, but you need a plan.
This is how I come up with my goals and the plan to get me there. 

I have many races coming up. I needed something to get me back on track and focused on my upcoming races. 

I wrote down my goals for a few races. I picked the first 2 races on my calendar and Nationals. My thought was that I'd get through my first sprint and oly of the year and reassess at that time. Not reassess my goals. Those races will show me where I was strong and what I need to work on. My goals remain constant. I will continue to train for those goals. We all know that every race brings it's own challenges. The more I race, the more I learn about myself and what I need to do to accomplish my goals. 

During the year, this is my thought process. This is how I have been setting and hitting my goals.

Of course, I'm leaving out the single most important piece. 

That's heart.

When you're out there racing, you've gotta do whatever the fuck it takes.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Pinch me

It was a regular evening. Mr. Tea and I were hanging out.

I don't know why, but I picked up my phone and thought I should check my email.....which I NEVER do in the evening.

An email caught my eye. It was from USA Triathlon, but not a generic USA Triathlon. It was from a PERSON at USA Triathlon.

I read it again.

I started shaking.

I made some weird noise, and Mr. Tea turned around quickly and asked, "What's wrong"?

I had tears in my eyes. I handed him my phone.

I stared at him, waiting for him to tell me that I misread the email.

Slowly, he said, "Oh my god. YOU DID IT"!

I just sat there crying and shaking.

I started triathlon in 2006. From 2006 to 2010, I couldn't commit to it. It was more of a hobby, a way of exercising. I had two sons, Mr. Tea, and we had started a company. In 2010, this were settling down. I decided that in 2011, I was going to really commit to triathlon. I had a dream. I wanted to race as part of Team USA. I didn't tell anyone. At the time, I was a back of the pack triathlete. I'd never even qualified for the National Championship.

To qualify for Team USA there are two layers of qualifications:
1.) You have to qualify for the National Championship.
2.) At the National Championship, you can qualify for Team USA.

I never put on any airs about my abilities. I knew exactly who I was. I always believed, and I've said here so many times.....I always believed I was faster than what my times showed. 

I didn't know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be.

For the next couple of years, I worked my ass off with no significant gains. I was still a middle pack triathlete with big dreams. That's all I was. 

I listened to people insult my running.  I listened to "well meaning" advice.

People made jokes about my abilities. There was a group of people who called me the "one legged runner" because I ran so slowly. 

At masters, there was a group of gossipy stay at home moms who were out to make my life miserable. I routinely walked in on their conversations about me.

 I had a friend (at the time) that I thought I could trust. I found out that person didn't respect me as an athlete.

Even now, just typing this hurts.

I listened to it all. I smiled, nodded my head and tucked it away. When I trained, I remembered those comments. When I ran on the treadmill, I visualized racing at the World Championship. I experienced the emotions of being part of the parade. I sometimes ran with tears running down my face because I wanted it so badly.

Every morning, I got up and went to work again. 

In December 2013, I left my old coach. I left the masters team. I cut out every single toxic person in my life. At the same time, a brick hit me when I lost my best friend. All of a sudden, the person I would text several times a day was gone. For months afterward, first thing in the morning, I would reach for my phone.....and then it would hit me. 

I was at rock bottom. I felt alone and lost.

That's when I found Liz.

I was truly starting from scratch.  I started working with Coach Elizabeth Waterstraat. I joined a new masters and found a wonderful swim coach. Over time, I met new athletes. 

Liz had her hands full with me. I was an emotional mess. She took me back to square one. We started with very basic workouts. She explained why my old workouts didn't work for me. She explained how we were going to change how I trained. She taught me what it means to be an athlete at the top of your game and also be a class act. She taught me how to race. She coaches newbies, middle packers, pro's and top age groupers, and she treats every single person like they are the most important athlete she has.   That year, 2014, 6 months after starting with her, I got my first 1st place age group. Two months later, I found out that I qualified for Nationals. 

For the first time, I was with a Coach who wanted to help me develop into the athlete I always believed I could be. 

I started seeing that those crazy dreams could become a reality.

I had a plan to get to Nationals in 5 years.  

In my first year with Liz, I qualified for Nationals at every race I did. I stood atop the podium, most of the time, in shock.

You'd be surprised at how success starts to bring out the worst in people. I had cut out all the toxic people in my life. Yet, here we were again:

You're obsessed. You're too hard on yourself. You could be so much more if you just fixed your running. That podium doesn't mean anything. It's all about who shows up on race day. The list goes on and on.

By now, I was used to it. I realized that people will always try to tear you down in order to build themselves up.

What they didn't realize is that confidence comes from reaching your goals. And I was knocking my goals out of the ball park. 

"When voices inside are quiet. The voices outside can do you no harm".

And I went back to work. Liz pushed me harder than she's ever pushed me. She demanded my best, and I did everything I could to be my best. 

Mr. Tea and I built this company together. We've been through very tough times and very good times. We've had the most heated arguments about the company or steps we need to take. It's because we have a passion for what we do. Arguments come out of passion. At the end of the argument, the company and "we" are better for it.

Coaching/athlete relationships are the same way. I think there's a misunderstanding that your relationship with your coach has to be sunshine and roses. It's not. Liz and I have disagreed. Liz and I have been frustrated with each other. It's because we are passionate about what we do. At the end of the day, I'm a better athlete for it.

Last year, I decided to share most of my big goals with Liz. We set on a plan to achieve those goals.

So yesterday, when I read the email, all those horrible things people said and did to me came rushing back. All those years of feeling like I wasn't respected as an athlete....they came rushing back to me.


I sat on the couch and cried. I hugged Mr. Tea, and I cried more. I emailed Liz. I texted JMan and Googs. I texted the people closest to me. I realized that my circle was far bigger than I realized. I took to Facebook to thank everyone.

This was the first of my really big goals. The people who have been there for me and who have never once questioned me or ability were the ones I wanted to celebrate with.

There are a number of you, who have been with me for so many years. We've had our own share of disagreement and "passionate" discussions. I think that's why we've made it so long together.  There are some of you, who I've only known a short time, but you've managed to touch me in some way or another. There's no possible way for me to reach out to you all individually. 

I continue to be humbled by this sport. I'm incredibly proud to be able to represent the USA, but I'm humbled by the sheer number of athletes out there in the world. Working for years on a goal, only to accomplish's overwhelming. I still feel like an underdog when I show up to race. I don't think that will ever go away. I don't think I want it to either.

I want you to know, you are an important part of this journey.

And, we're only just getting started.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Race perception

Are you disappointed with races that don't end in a PR or podium?

What types of things do you say to yourself when you racing and training?

Do you refer to yourself as fat or slow?

Do you see yourself as a failure? Your race as a failure?

This weekend, many people raced. There were races from 5Ks to 50Ks to Ironman. I raced, too.

The overwhelming comments that I saw made me realize that "we", in general terms, have become a population that isn't happy or satisfied unless we PR or make a podium regardless of what our training was; regardless of what was going on in our lives; regardless of race conditions.

Let me tell you about my weekend race. I had a 5k. The 5k came after 3 weeks of 12 hour training weeks. I had run for 4 days prior to the race. I hadn't had a day off in a month. In addition to that, I was dealing with some other hormonal issues that strike women as they get older. It is an overwhelming fatigue that makes getting out of bed difficult. Fortunately for me, this usually only lasts one day a month. Sometimes, it ends up being on race day. The weather was brutal. It was so so cold with 40 mph sustained winds, with gusts that were supposed to hit 60 mph.

At the start line, the RD mentioned that going out was going to be great with the tailwind, but OH THE RETURN. The race runs along a dam road. It is fully exposed to the elements.

The second I started running, I could feel the fatigue in my legs. I told myself to fight through it. The race will be over quickly. My legs felt like boulders were attached to them. I was cold. The sun started going behind the clouds.

I was running with the front group. During the first 1.55 miles, the group started thinning out. I wasn't passed once during the first 1.55 miles.

When I hit the turnaround, the wind was so much worse than I could have imagined. My plan was to not worry about pace. I had a goal of making sure not one single person passed me on the second half. Historically, I get passed. I took the opportunity to think of the wind like my hill repeats. Keep up the effort. Effort and attitude are the only things I can control.

I looked straight ahead. I was slowing down, but I was gaining on people ahead of me. One by one, I started passing them.

When I crossed the finish line, I have never been so happy to finish a 5k.

I didn't PR. I had no idea what my finish time was, but I knew I gave it everything I had for the day.

I was happy with my effort. Every race I do is the next step toward my big goals. How I perform during those minor races is more important than my time, a pr or a podium.

Last year, I had a race. In the last half a mile, I was passed by another woman. I came in 2nd that day. I was really angry. I wasn't angry at getting second. I even PRd the course. I was mad because I didn't give my best. I didn't race to best of my ability. I don't mind being beat by better athletes. But I don't like being beat because of something I did....or in this case....didn't do.

Back to my race yesterday, I went to look at the results. I came in 4th place out of 71. My time was 27:57.  This was over a minute slower than my normal 5k time.  Last year in perfect conditions, I came in 7th.

I gave everything I could yesterday. I passed people who started to slow down. I wasn't passed once.

I was happy with my results. My race wasn't going to be on any team highlight reels.

Still, to me, my race was a success. No one can take that away from me.

Yet, I repeatedly saw people talking about their races from the weekend as "failures". "Not my best effort" has come to mean "I didn't PR". Guess what? We aren't going to PR every race. WE aren't going to podium every race.

That's why setting up a race schedule is so important.

That's why it's so important to not just throw races into your schedule.

I have 2 big races planned this year. All other races, leading up to those races, are my practice sessions.

My practice sessions might be A races for other people. Those people will be fully tapered and ready to race. I will be in the middle of a build period. Likewise, my A races might be practice sessions for other athletes.

When you line up for your big race(s) of the year, you need to go into it knowing what your best effort feels like. External factors will always be at play.

You go out there and give your absolute best effort. When you start racing to effort, understanding that finish times are affected by too many factors, you will always be happy with your results regardless of time.

The only time you won't be happy is when you don't give your best.

Isn't that better than giving it everything you had but feeling like a failure simply because you missed a PR? Or a podium?

Yes. Yes, it is.