Half Moon Bay Triathlon

Half Moon Bay Triathlon
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In the heat of Ironman training last year, I made a pact with myself that the following season I’d take it easy and stick to the Olympic distance.

How cute. Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean it’s easy!

In truth, the last time I completed an Oly tri was in 2013, my “rookie” triathlon year. I did two that year, both under less than ideal circumstances. (Details; more details.)

So in a way, my first race of 2017 at Half Moon Bay Triathlons felt like my first Olympic distance race ever. I had no idea what to expect.

Half Moon Bay is a sweet little fisherman’s village and harbor on the Northern California coast, just 20 or so miles south of San Francisco. It has beautiful scenery and with no chop on that side of the bay, an ocean swim that’s as “calm” as it gets. But at this time of year, the water is freezing and strong winds and temps in the low 50s usually make for chilly bike and run conditions.

The cold kept me away from this race for its first two years, and last year it was scheduled too close to the Boston Marathon. This year, I decided to give it a try.

HALF MOON BAY TRI COVER

So here I was, setting my alarm for 3:45 a.m. on April 23. Oddly, I didn’t mind getting up at this ridiculous hour. It had been so long since my last race that I was actually excited!

The drive to Half Moon Bay in the pitch black night is scary as poo, with the unending, twisty, hilly turns of Hwy 92. I was that car driving 20 mph in the 25 mph zone — which is kind of funny when you consider that later that day, I’d end up riding my bike faster.

Luckily, I arrived without accident, and right on time, around 5:30 a.m. I found some friends in transition, set up my stuff, and had just enough time to do a little 2-mile warmup run, as instructed by Coach. Winning already!

The warmup gave me a good idea of the run course, which was all by the ocean and fairly flat: but already quite windy. I guess that comes with the territory!

At 6:30 a.m., we were rushed out of Transition and headed to the beach, about a third of a mile away, to get ready to swim.

Swim

Knowing that the water would be in the (high) 50s, I came prepared with a neoprene skull cap to wear under my race swim cap, neoprene socks, and swim gloves to keep my hands warm. They had warming stations on the way to the swim start/ finish (i.e. inflatable little pools filled with hot water), and were hosing hot water down people’s backs, into their wetsuits, to provide an extra warm layer. That felt so good!

I dropped an extra pair of shoes in that area, too, for the somewhat long run back to T1.

Swim waves were three minutes apart, separated by age in 10-year increments, men and women mixed together. I’m not crazy about a setup like that, because some men simply seem to swim too aggressively and the risk of getting smacked on the head is high, but that’s triathlon.

Photo by USA Productions.
All race photos courtesy of USA Productions.

Our wave took off at 7:06 and I immediately noticed three things:

  1. The water was so cold that my face – the only part of my body with exposed skin – went numb right away.
  2. My goggles were leaking.
  3. My gloves were too big for my hands – why did I never try them on before the race? They ballooned up with air and water and pulling felt harder, as if I was swimming with paddles, but I didn’t seem to be getting a paddle benefit.

This was going to be a long, long swim.

It literally was a long swim: my Garmin showed 2014 yards as I exited the water, and later on I saw that almost everyone on my Strava flyby list had 2000+ yards as well. FYI, 2014 yards is 1841.6 meters, which is much closer to the 1900-meter length of a half Iron-distance swim than the 1500 meters of an Olympic course swim. But I get ahead of myself.

The good news was that I got used to the water temperature fairly quickly. I deeply regretted the choice to wear gloves, but couldn’t get them off at this point. I thought about stopping at a water safety volunteer’s kayak and handing them off, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed. So on I went, pulling and pushing back that water like I meant it. (My arms and back were sore in all the places after this race, even my biceps. It was like I’d been pumping iron all day!)

This was also one of the most crowded swims I’ve ever been in. It seemed like the crowd hardly spread out after the swim start – maybe because before we even had the chance to find some space, swimmers from the wave after us caught up, and then we caught up to people from the wave before us. I stopped five or six times to empty out my goggles and was promptly run over every time.

When I finally reached the end of that swim, stood up and looked at my watch, I was in shock – and not in a good way. It had taken me 38 freaking minutes. What?

I have been working harder than ever on my swimming and my times in the pool are improving, so I was disappointed. But I didn’t really notice the longer distance at the time and thought this was simply a result of swimming with gloves.

Not the swim I envisioned or trained for, but you've got to work with what you get on race day.
Not the swim I envisioned or trained for, but you’ve got to work with what you get on race day.

Well, I had a nearly 0.4-mile long run to transition to process and get over the disappointment. Sh%t happens, best to not dwell on it and let it ruin the rest of the race.

I took off the stupid gloves, slipped off my socks, put on shoes and booked it, running as hard as I could to transition. It was a good way to warm up, too!

The timing mats for the swim-out were at the transition area entrance, so my official swim time was even worse:

Swim time: 41:34

T1

The good news was, by the time I was ready for the bike, the sun had come up and it was actually warm. I had heard many stories from people who had done Half Moon Bay about being cold the entire race, so I had gloves and a cycling bolero, which I ultimately didn’t need. Just the helmet, glasses, socks and shoes, and on to circle the entire transition area to Bike Out in my cleats. (That was awkward, but no: I am not even one bit mentally ready to try a flying mount yet.)

T1 time: 2:49

Bike

Beautiful bike course! Ocean on one side almost the entire way, mostly flat with a few gentle rollers on the way back. It was windy, but in an out-and-back course, what we lost to the wind in one direction, we gained in the other. I was feeling good, pushing pedals, passing people, and every so often getting passed by the zip-zip of deep race wheels.

Sprint distance athletes already on the run this early in the race? Possible!
Sprint distance athletes already on the run this early in the race? Possible!

Things got a bit more crowded once we merged with the sprint distance athletes on my way back. OK, to be honest, it felt like the freaking Tour de France. Packs of people riding two- or three-abreast, and drafting galore. I was doing my best to pass as quickly as I can and find space to keep riding.

I don’t ride with power, so I have no idea what kind of watts I was pushing – but kept my effort high the entire ride; this is not a smile:

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I rolled back into transition and saw a whole bunch of bikes still missing from the racks. People were still out there riding and I was done!

Bike time: 1:13:33 (20.31 mph)

T2

This was a quick helmet off-hat on, cleats off-running shoes on thing. I also realized I forgot to leave a gel out for the run, so I grabbed one from my tri bag. And off to run a 10K.

T2 time: 2:34

Run

I took off at a pace that felt good and sustainable, so it was a bit of a surprise when I looked at my Garmin and saw 6:50 pace. Oops, I most definitely can’t hold that for six miles, let’s dial it down.

Then I looked at the gel in my left hand, and another “oops” moment: it was a Vanilla Bean flavor GU. I never buy GU gels (Honey Stinger for this gal!). But I did win a box of them in a raffle at the Pro Athlete meeting at Vineman 70.3… back in 2014. So basically, my nutrition for this run was going to be three years old. Great!

I decided I would only take the GU if I felt an absolute need for calories and carried on.

The first two miles felt good. It was hard, but not impossible to run a low 7-min pace. I guess I was going too fast for the race photographers, because this is the only photo I could find of “me” on the run:

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Mile 3 had some minor climbs – over a bridge, nothing noticeable really – but I was already feeling myself slowing down. Well, they do say that most people run out too fast and here I was. I was hoping I could at least keep a 7:30 pace to the end, which would still get me a nice little 10K PR.

But once we passed the turnaround point and were now running in the opposite direction, it hit me. The wind! It felt crazy, crazy strong. I’ve had to do a few of my training tempo runs and fartleks in strong headwind, so I know what running with massive resistance feels like, but this felt doubly hard because I had already been going faster than I should have.

Three-year-old GU to the rescue! I squeezed it into my mouth, swallowed it, and of course from then on all I could think about was how it was sitting in my stomach, wondering if it’s going to make me throw up or worse. Nothing of the kind happened, but the thought was there.

At the next aid station, I asked for water. Then for some reason the hand-off didn’t quite happen, so I stopped and ran a couple of steps back to the volunteer to get it. I was hoping it would dissolve the GU in my stomach, so in my mind, it was worth the loss of two or three seconds. This actually worked, because from then on, the GU didn’t bug me that much and I ran on.

It felt very, very hard. At one point, my pace fell down to 8 min/ mile and I blamed the wind – but by then, my everything was tired, too. Legs, body, brain. Then one last mental test, as we ran right past the finish line, but had to circle around the road, make a U-turn and run back through the chute.

Mind you, the course was a bit short, so I really had no idea how long this “looping away from the finish so we can run back to it” would last.

The run was 6.1 miles according to my watch, so I’m taking my official pace with a grain of salt.

Run time: 45:25 (07:19 min/mi)

No official race photos of me crossing the finish either (did I run through too fast, too?), but I have this little gem of a facial expression immediately after:

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I actually like this terribly unflattering photo. It captures exactly how I feel at the end of every darn race.

And then this one, no more than a minute later, with my friend who was hanging out at the finish already:

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The bipolar nature of triathlon, ladies and gentlemen: suffering one minute, beaming with happiness the next.

We then checked the results and I was quite happy to find out that I did manage to bike and run my way up to the age group podium, after all:

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The rest of the morning was fun, hanging out with my training group friends and Betty Squad sisters. Three Bettys raced that day, and three podium-ed. Rockin’!

A post shared by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on


Half Moon Bay Triathlon
Olympic Distance
Overall: 101 of 516
Gender: 15 of 148
AG: 3 of 28
Swim 41:34 (02:46 /100m)
T1 2:49
Bike 1:13:33 (20.31 mph)
T2 2:34
Run 45:25 (07:19 min/mi)
Elapsed 2:45:57

Step Up Your Game with These Four Marathon Training Strategies

Step Up Your Game with These Four Marathon Training Strategies
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Q: How do you know someone is training for a marathon?
A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

The runner who is training for a marathon will probably talk about their long run — because everyone knows that the long run is key to marathon training.

They might also talk about their weekly mileage, because let’s face it, saying something like, “I ran 45 miles this week” tends to impress.

{This is where the conversation partner might respond, “45 MILES? I don’t even like to drive that far!”}

When you’re training for your first marathon, worrying about the long run getting longer and the weekly miles piling up is enough. But when you move onto your second, third, fourth marathon and beyond, and begin chasing those alphabet-soup goals – PR, BQ – you’ll have to step up your game.

Here are four workouts — or rather, marathon training principles — that enable runners to take their training up a notch.

STEP UP YOUR GAME

1. Run the day after a long run

Back-to-back long runs are a staple in the training of ultra runners and those preparing for multiple-day races such as Disney Running’s Dopey Challenge. But you don’t have to be training for a 50K (or longer), or running a 5K-10K-13.1-26.2 on four consecutive days to take advantage of the benefits of running the day after your long run. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Recovery. Moving (vs sitting on the couch all day) is said to cause increased blood flow to the extremities, which facilitates easier delivery of nutrients to the muscles, which aids in recovery. Boom.
  • Mental toughness. Chances are, the last thing you want to do the day after a 16- or 20-miler is get out and run some more. This is especially true for those who are not used to it. So, do it anyway. Prove to yourself that you can, and in the last four miles of that marathon, remember all those times when you did!
  • Endurance. Imagine your leg muscles as a piece of stretchy fabric. On your long run day, you stretch and release, stretch and release, and stretch and release this fabric for several hours, creating multiple tiny tears in it. But not to worry, it is a magical, self-repairing fabric – it just needs a few days of lighter stretching or rest and it’ll be good as new, even stronger. What happens if you run the day after your long run? You will still stretch and release your magical fabric, but because many of its fibers will still be torn, you will have to use additional ones for that particular job. By running on the day after a long run, you teach your brain to recruit muscle fibers that were not used in your long run. Specifically, it can now work on recruiting intermediate fast-twitch fibers, or Type IIa fibers, to pitch in and help do the work of slow-twitch or Type I muscle fibers during long-distance events. Those come in handy in the last miles of a marathon!

How to do it:
On the day after your long run, get out for anywhere between three and six super-easy paced recovery miles.

2. Run two-a-days

The benefits of two-a-days are similar to those of running after your long run: added endurance, mental strength, and not least – it’s a way to add more time on feet as you work on building your total mileage.

How to do it:
The first run, preferably in the morning and typically 40 to 60 minutes long (but could be longer, depending on total weekly mileage), is a structured progression or negative-split run. Put your legs through the paces, starting at an easy warmup pace for 15 minutes, then pick it up each 10-15 minutes, running the last block at a pace that feels hard. The second run, at least several hours later and preferably in the evening, is a super easy-pace short run. Just get out there and run on dead legs. Alternatively, run a fartlek in the morning and a shorter, easy recovery run in the evening. The first run is usually harder, but not as hard a workout as, say, mile repeats on the track or a tempo run.

3. Throw some intervals into your long run

Assuming that you are going out to run a distance that you have built up to already – i.e. if you have a 16-mile run on your schedule, this is not your first time in a training cycle running 16 miles – add some short fast-pace intervals in the beginning and towards the end of the run. Benefits include recruiting different and more muscle fibers, working on mental toughness, and emulating what the last few miles of a marathon feel like.

How to do it:
Break up your long run into four parts. The first is a two or three-mile warmup at an easy pace. The second part is four to five intervals of five minutes running at threshold pace (a pace you could sustain in training for 20-30 minutes, but hardly longer), with two-to-three minutes of easy pace in between. The third part is even-pace running at your typical long-run pace, and the fourth part is another block at four to five times threshold intervals with recovery. The last recovery interval can be longer, 10 to 15 minutes, and you’re done. Assuming you do this on runs of 16 miles or longer, you better believe that the second threshold intervals block will feel similar to miles 22 to 26 of your marathon!

Alternatively, instead of fast and short threshold intervals, add some two- to three-mile blocks at or slightly below race pace, with a mile recovery at easy pace in between. It’s a way to practice race pace in a safer way than doing it in 10-mile or longer chunks of your long run, which might challenge you too much and compromise recovery.

4. Never neglect the good old boring easy run.

There is nothing special or complicated about the easy run, yet many people neglect it and run all or most of their runs harder than they should. So it is worth saying this time and again: running easy will not slow you down! On the contrary, slowing down might just make you faster, because it will give you more adequate time to recover. This way, you can put in the hard work where it matters: the long run, the tempo run, the progression run, the hill repeats. In between these workouts, run slow and easy, keep that blood circulating round your legs, but don’t beat them up — you’ll need them later.

And that’s about it: four marathon training principles that can help you step up your game. Train with purpose, race with heart – and go get that PR!

Why Can’t I Run Faster?

Why Can’t I Run Faster?
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For runners, PR-chasing creatures that we are, getting faster is a common goal.

  • I want to get better at running. Therefore, I want to be able to run faster.
  • I finished my marathon in X:XX:XX. I want to finish the next one in less than that.
  • I want to run as fast as, or faster than my friend/ sibling/ spouse/ running partner.

So let’s talk about getting faster, and specifically, about the misconceptions surrounding it. Because what is the point of pursing a goal if you’re going about it the wrong way?

Run Faster

Here are the three most common myths about becoming a faster runner that I’ve come across over the years. They are holding many runners back, diverting their focus from things that could actually bring results. (We’ll talk about those, too.)

1. MYTH: My running form is bad.

I get these emails so often:

“Hello. I’m looking to hire a running coach. [Gives some background about his or her running history, talks about wanting to get faster, finish a certain race under a certain time, etc.] But I think my running form is really bad and I need a coach to see me run and tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

To which I wish I could reply:

“Hi! When you run, are you putting your left foot in front of the right? Are you then putting the right foot in front of the left? Do you then repeat that all the way to the finish line? If the answer is yes, you are doing it right.”

Saying that would be rude, of course. So I try to explain that “bad running form” often gets a bad rap — and why. We blame a lot more than we should on bad running form: injuries, inability to run faster, even hitting the wall in a marathon. But in the vast majority of cases, that’s an excuse. It’s a myth that has been so generously profitable for the running shoe industry, that many millions of marketing dollars go into keeping it ablaze.

The truth is, you are not a slower runner because you are heel-striking or pronating. You will not get faster as a result of simply changing your stride. But, your form will improve as a result of getting faster, as the body will naturally find the most efficient way of running from start to finish line. That’s how our brains are programmed to work.

This doesn’t apply for those competing at an elite level or professionally, of course. (I don’t think professional or elite runners would waste their time with this blog, anyway.) If you’re in this category, you have your team of experts who analyze your stride, and coaches who work with you on even the slightest tweaks in form. At the professional level, these things matter.

As for those of us who run for our health and race in the back, middle, or even relative front of the pack: we have a lot more to gain from just getting out there to train, consistently. And if running like Phoebe makes you feel happy and free: go for it every once in a while!


 

2. MYTH: I’m in the wrong running shoes.

Were you fitted for your shoes in a specialty running store? Did an employee see you run and recommend several options based on your stride and running volume? Did you you pick the pair that felt most comfortable? Then chances are, your shoes are not the reason you are not running as fast as you’d like to run.

The same goes for all of running gadgets and gear. A special sports bra with a built-in heart rate monitor or a $600 running watch will not make anyone run faster. Running shorts that leave you a bloody chafed mess at the end of a marathon are not the reason you slowed down and didn’t meet your goal. They were a contributing factor, but the truth is, somewhere out on that course, someone else was also a chafed bloody mess and they were able to push through the pain.

Running gear that fits your body and needs is a huge plus and we are blessed to be living at a time when so much is available to make our running comfortable. But not having the best of the best, or having something that you think is not the best for you, is not what is holding you back.

3. MYTH: I’m not running fast enough in my training.

This is a potentially dangerous way of thinking, as running too hard all the time would most certainly have the exact opposite effect of making you a faster runner. (Read more about slowing down to go fast here.)

Yes, if you are running at a 10 min/ mile pace in all of your training runs, chances are you will not be able to run a half marathon at an 8 min/ mile pace. But this doesn’t mean pushing yourself to run an 8:30 min/ mile in every single run. Before your body adapts to the faster pace, there is a good chance that it would break down with an injury or out of sheer fatigue. Worst case, you’d be looking at needing weeks or months to recover from overtraining syndrome.

So, you’ve read this far (thanks for sticking with me!), and you probably want to know: what, then, is the way to get faster? Well, here it is:

The Secret to Becoming a Faster Runner…

… is simple.

It is a combination of time, consistency, persistence, smart training and proper recovery. That is all!

There are no shortcuts – no gear or tweaks to your running form – that would make you faster. But with hard work, the right kind of work and over time, you will improve. In my training, I always follow these five principles:

Don’t run too hard all the time. Structure your training to incorporate easy days surrounding your hard-work days.

Don’t race too much, or train hard all year long. Take a few weeks or even a couple of months off after a big race. Stay active, but do things for fun. It’s important to have an offseason and de-train a little. You’ll come back refreshed, rested and ready to get after it and become even stronger – and faster – for the new season.

Be consistent. Don’t be one of those people who hang up their running shoes for three months after finishing a marathon, and only get back into “training” 16 weeks out of their next big race. If you’re training for marathons or ultra marathons, chances are you love running. So turn running into a lifestyle.

Be patient. Time is on your side, so give yourself time. Maybe you won’t go from a 4:20 marathon to a 3:40 marathon in one season. But can you can go from 4:20 to 3:50, to 3:35 (!) over the course of two years? Set realistic goals, smash them and celebrate your success!

Enjoy the process. None of the above would be doable unless you really love running. Running is hard, running fast is hard work. If running feels like a chore, or worse, you don’t enjoy it and look forward to lacing up those running shoes… then maybe it’s time to find another hobby.