The search begins

The search begins here. I tested the first road bike this week. Last weekend I visited a bunch of bike shops around town including J&A, Bicycle Sport Shop and Austin Tri Bike (or something) with Coach A. So I knew what I was going to get within my budget. Earlier I also stopped by at Mellow Johnny’s (Lance Armstrong’s store) and saw that they had a beginner Trek for about $729. What little I understand and quite intuitively, the better the components, the more expensive the bike. So aluminum frame and component bundles with various numbers creating various gears/speeds are what differentiate bikes. Whenever I asked the question, given how much I ride. what’s good for me, everyone looked at me askance and said, ‘it depends’. So without any better idea than when I started I decided to trust the store rather than the brand (according to marketing research I’m not alone).

So I went to J&A and tested out this bike (I think). They fit the bike to my size and I brought it home. On Tuesday morning I went for a test ride with my tri-buddy Sangy. Sangy’s done a few triathlons and is just getting back into the season. So we met over at Anderson & Shoal Creek to do a simple, flat 6 mile ride (2 3-mile loops). What Sangy said to me was interesting and got me thinking. She said, it’s not the bike, it’s you. If you’re a good rider, the bike, while being important, will not add the boost you’re looking for i.e. ease of going uphill or biking faster. Those you get by riding more, speed workouts and spinning. So before I started the ride, I was already thinking.

Contessa below did not disappoint at all. She was smooth though not as light as I was expecting. I was comfortable on her. Midway we ran into Tenille, one of Austin’s pro-triathletes who came to give us a pep talk during Ironchicks. She was doing her morning run. She’s really sweet. Fixed my helmet even and mentioned she was doing a ‘few’ 70.3’s this season. We wished her luck and rode on.

I thought about it a lot – while Contessa was the cheapest it was not cheap (to me) at $850 and that’s without the pedals/taxes etc. First of all, like a car or a spouse, you expect to feel the spark immediately. Let’s say I thought Contessa had a ‘great personality'(what my friend Dinesh used to say when he didn’t think a woman looked great). But the (tri)-oomph factor that I was expecting to feel as I straddled her, was missing. I spoke about it to my good biker friends Grao and Sandeep. They agreed that I should (1) keep looking (2) wait it out a bit. Meanwhile for the Couples Triathlon I will probably rent a road bike or borrow someone’s bike because I’m less inclined to deal with Scarlett’s chain issues on Decker’s hills.

With a somewhat mixed feeling I took Contessa back to J&A today. The store sales guy, Drew understood when I told him I didn’t feel the connection. I also told him that I’d be traveling some this year so not riding as much after August. He recommended I come back. I think I might go try the Felt at some point that’s the same price as the Scott Contessa. It may feel the same, better or change my mind on Contessa. We shall see. Until then, my lonely legs keep looking :).

Is it time yet to buy a road bike?

I’ve been wondering if it’s time yet to commit to a bike of my own (a road one of course) and the clips. So I went out on a couple of group training rides in town (free ones of course). One was the Mamma Jamma ride and today went out to Steiner Ranch for the Jack & Adams shop ride that they have in the north once a month. After the MJ ride I thought I felt comfortable to handle a group ride again. I was late of course, and one of the last to start (and last to finish). The ride was not necessarily beginner friendly. I mean it was well supported with sweeps (riders who stay behind to pick up stragglers like me) and group leaders but it was bloody hard. Rolling hills, with each incline beating the other and steady gradual inclines – that’s what the ride was like. It is by far the hardest ride I have ever done, beating Decker especially since it’s also the longest at 22 miles that I’ve ever done. Even did the ‘walk of shame’ as one of the sweep riders put it as I panted and walked up the last bit of a hill to which I turned around and told him, “Screw you!”. He began laughing and said, ‘yeah that’s the spirit’ or something. Anyway, because he was the sweep he was stuck with me or I was stuck with him rather. And he didn’t let me forget I was the last one. Kept pushing me to pedal harder, faster. “Now pedal your ass away”, he said, “because you’re LAST”! In the beginning, I was miffed. I wondered how dare he say that. Then I thought. You know, this is not Ironchicks or Danskin. If I want to keep riding with these groups I either have to pick up speed or sometimes tolerate these taunts. On the ride back to Steiner, we had a head wind of some 11-15 mi per hour (felt like 50 if you ask me). I felt like I was on a spin bike. I pedaled as hard as I could but wasn’t moving very fast. Meanwhile the road bikes overtook me one by one. Either they are super fit, or their bikes are super fast or both. I don’t know what it was, but I just couldn’t keep up. One of the bike leaders said “Can’t you go faster? Keep up! It’s easier to keep up than to catch up!”. Thanks wise guy. No I like to play catchup, it’s a personal preference. Soon George the mean sweep caught up with me. And he didn’t let me relax a bit. First he began confusing me about the gears. I still don’t know what he was saying. And then he kept pushing me to pedal harder, faster, move here to the right, move there to the left, stand up and bike (which I did by the way!). He was like a hard coach. No mollycoddling and oddly enough, I began to appreciate him. I was DEAD tired. My legs felt like jello. But somehow, as I biked up the last hill to the Steiner Steakhouse, I called out to him and said thank you.

So all this propelled me to really consider a new bike. I tried a road bike the first time when we went to CA 2 weeks ago and biked in Palm Desert with friends. The ride was hot and the bike didn’t fit me well  but it felt so light and easy and fast, it was amazing that it made such a big difference. The gears clicked easy, the weight was so little. The hybrid, good as it has been to me during my beginner days, just isn’t good on the hills. I signed up to do the Couples Triathlon in 2 weeks with Debbie a friend of Lorrie’s (my running coach from Rogue). I do not look forward to the proposition of biking Decker Lake road on that hybrid again. So went with Coach A and his lovely wife, Radz, who’s also considering a new bike to J&A, Austin Tri Store and Bicycle Sports Shops. Got a sticker shock at seeing the ‘beginner’ road bike prices. I was thinking maybe $700 would be a good budget but looks like it might stretch a hundred bucks more.  Checked out beginner bikes by Felt, Trek and Scott. I didn’t have the time to try any but got measurements taken at J&A. Next step is to actually go and get fitted, try out a few bikes. I thought of buying second hand but I’m always uncertain about buying from craigslist. Let’s see. Taking husband along next time but he’s going to be more sticky about the sticker shock. Bleh! Sitting on the couch cost a lot less!

Back on trail-track!

So my love affair with running on trails is quite an on-and-off thing. One of the reasons is that I don’t know the trails well so I can’t really go and run on my own. In general I find it hard these days to motivate myself to do that. It’s always hot and I feel unmotivated to run on the roads because my knees always ache after. Went on two fun trail runs this week. One was with this recreational trail group (i.e. it’s not a training group but the runners are far from recreational) called Hill Country Trail Running group (HCTR). We did Walnut Creek, a loop of 5 miles off Parmer and Lamar. And then Savi and I went out to Bastrop State Park on Saturday for a proposed 7 mile run that became a 3.5 mile run instead. Why? Well, we got there later than we expected – started to run only around 7.30 am. It got hot pretty quickly and soon I was sweating like a pig. And we didn’t have much time to run as I had to get to work that day. So we cut it short. A surprisingly good incident happened – which could have been really bad if not for an angel! I dropped my wallet while entering the park (left it on top of the car) and a kind biker actually followed us up to find us at the parking area and returned it! Everything intact. Glad to see some kindness and goodness unexpectedly touching you!

I really really like running on the trails. Feels cooler than asphalt, kinder on your legs and you feel much calmer. Easier to get into the high. Desperately need trail shoes though – nearly sprained my ankle on a root in Walnut Creek (and got wet from the Creek!). I’d thought of doing a trail race this running season but with Brazil, not so sure. Need to find a group or something there because it’s not something you can do on your own – or at least its not safe especially if trails are not marked or you’re too dumb to read maps (like me), easily can get lost. So for now, I am in this mode of trying everything, recreationally. No serious training for me now. Going to capitalize on all the free runs/rides/workouts around town as much as I can!

Bad workout comes in two! Boo!!

Went and did the J&A Splash and Dash today – it’s a monthly event at Quarry lake with a 750 swim and a 3k run. I was tired. I hate these evening workouts after I’ve been slouching all day over a desk, started hydrating only at 2 pm and it was 98 F out there today..or something that felt like it. Plus I wasn’t psyched about it like I usually need to get before a race. It’s not really a race but it is. Its full of these intense triathletes who are trying to be well, intense. Anyway. I reached late. I was pissed off because of traffic and getting lost a bit. Not making excuses just trying to figure out my mental state. Anyway. The place (Pure Austin Fitness) owns the lake. I forgot to fill my bottle and also forgot to bring my sunglasses (woke up late, argh I was lost 9 hours before the race started!). So I ran to fill my bottle at the nearest water stop and barely made it to the start of the race. And what more, I was tired, sweaty and dehydrated. I knew this race was going to feel like shit.
So the swim was ok. I mean I finished it, but I was slow. There was only one wave each for men and women. I probably finished one of the last in the wave. Maybe not. I didn’t look behind to check. Probably should have to cement some confidence which was pretty much ankle high at the time. I didn’t feel great during the swim. I know my stroke is inefficient and it kept bothering me, I felt tired. The run felt worse. It’s 3 loops of the perimeter of the lake. I was mentally done at the end of loop 1. Amit finished his 3k at that time. I finished the second loop which felt worse. I was behind these two ladies and they stopped at the finish. Suddenly my mind hit a wall and I also turned around. So I didn’t finish. That’s a first.
Not sure this training by myself is going anywhere. I mean I’m out there doing stuff but it’s not focused. I went to the spin on Thursday night, Mamma Jamma ride over the weekend, did a short run with Bharath on Monday and a 300 swim at Mansfield Dam with Deb. But my guess is tri training needs to be more focused. Even then, I enjoy the training I’m doing. Committing to anything more is pointless at this point since I’m going away in August and I’m not in the mood, at least this season to shell out dollars and time to train seriously. So maybe I just stop looking around at what anyone else is doing and enjoy what I can. That’s my goal for the rest of the tri season.

Effort (and success) comes in three!

I couldn’t ask for a better first race experience today.  Given the weather conditions and the amount (or the lack thereof) of training I had under my belt, the incredible amount of support I had in the form of a buddy doing the race with me (Charanya), all my Ironchicks buddies, equally nervous; an awesome cheering squad in the form of Coach A, Sharanya, Arvind, Gayatri Rao and supremely supportive Bharath and an incredily supportive race environment, I had a BLAST! Till I got the the run at least by which time I was mentally done with the race and it was brutally hot and humid.

Race day began with a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I took lots of rest on Saturday. I was up and ready to go by 5am. Bharath was more excited than I was! There were many things I didn’t know what to expect. For instance, for a change, I felt comfortable about the swim. But I was nervous about the bike and the run – the bike cos the course is hard and the run because it’s after 2 bricks which would take a lot out of me in terms of endurance. Moreover, I haven’t had the real experience of putting it together. I had no idea what to expect when I put it all together at once!

But this wasn’t about timing or competition for me. It was the experience of a triathlon! Getting into transition as it opened was the best advice among many that I got from Coach A. Getting early means we also got to park at Decker Lake instead of a mile away at the Expo which really matters once you’re done with the race and don’t have to lug your stuff. We first got into T and went to get body marked. Then I set up my T area, got to the restroom, pumped my bike, got sunscreen on and got ready to meet my cheering squad. We went over by the swim entrance and the first thing I wanted to do was to get into the water (per Coach A’s strategy for race day panic). I felt great in the water, swam a little and there was no panic whatsoever.

We got into our waves (I almost went to Wave # 1 of the blue caps of older women). Mine was wave 9 and Cha’s was wave 10. Bharath was there right until I got into the water taking pictures. I was nervous at this time but far calmer than I would have expected. As Ma would say, I thought about my guruji, dedicated the swim to him and asked for all forms of divine help I could at that time. The race start was pumped! The announcer was saying lots of encouraging things but I really just wanted to begin already! Then the gun went off.

It was way better than I’d expected. The wave being small I didn’t get pummelled by the swimmers. I started with breast stroke till I could get away from the crowds a bit and then began my freestyle stroke. I did a fantastic job of sighting both freestyle and breast stroking. But I realized that the breast stroke is far from ideal for distance swimming. Soon my legs began to tire and I actually defaulted to freestyle to move faster and more efficiently. Not to say that I didn’t do breast stroke at all – I did it every time I thought I felt tired and needed to keep my head out of the water. I didn’t ever feel the need to stop and hold onto a noodle. Something told me this was going to be the best part of my race and I should keep swimming. Eventually the next wave’s faster swimmers caught up with me but I felt great about catching up with the earlier wave’s slower swimmers as well. I like to be in the middle. Not too good but not too shabby either :).

Got out of the water and spotted my smiling husband first thing! I yelled for my slippers and ran to T1. I wanted to go pee but decided against it. Cha came quickly behind. I made the mistake of wearing my race belt first. Should always, always wear helmet first. Get the darn bulky thing out of the way but its best practice for security reasons too. Met Cha who said I better pee first. Bharath claimed he was watching me make an action-move with the bike but suddenly I dropped it and ran to the next port-a-potty. I wasn’t sorry about it one bit!

Started on the bike with Cha but she took off pretty soon. I decided to stop and take a GU gel at that point and drink some water. Kept thinking about advice about hydrating on the bike which helps for the run. Oh well, if anything I over-hydrated! The hills on Decker Lake Rd. were easy. Not bad at all. It took a while to settle into the rhythm of the pedal. Most of the hills on the bike course were following a downhill so I pedalled as fast as I could to gain momentum. The crazy hill after the stop sign though was more than I bargained for. I biked the whole thing almost to the top and suddenly I just had to stop to drink water. It’s what I did. And then got back on and pedalled. Walking that hill is harder than pedalling for sure!

And so the hills continued, up and down. I caught up with Cha at the sole water stop. There were ladies of all ages, sizes, experience and bikes! One lady forgot to carry her water bottle so I lent her mine so she could drink at the water stop. In that 90F heat and humidity factor how can you possibly forget water?? It’s life threatening if you ask me! My chain came off twice during the bike ride and both times I had a volunteer to help but I lost at least 8-10 minutes there. As I turned on the last hill, the chain gave way for the second time and I felt mad! I said, come on Scarlett don’t let me down! Turning into the last teeny hill to the finish line I saw Cha on her way to the run. She yelled out for me! Bikers kept saying ‘Go Runners’ at this point and vice versa. I was still proud of the fact that I didn’t walk any of the hills.

Yet the thing that went through my mind mostly was that I need to train a lot more. Ironchicks was light on training especially the bricks were easy, but I definitely need to bike longer distances, bike harder and build stamina on the bike. My bike ride was no better or worse than what I expected. But I realized that while I could do the ride, I needed to get better, faster to be able to do it with less effort and more endurance. Nothing but training more can give you that.

I biked to the finish line and saw Sha and Arv and felt so happy to see their smiling faces. Sha was standing with the fantastic poster she put together the night before at 12.30 AM and it made me feel a bit woozy with emotion! I racked my bike as fast as I could, grabbed my running bottle (I called it Nathu, as it’s Nathan brand) and began the run. Saw Coach A and Bharath urging me on. This is where the race got awful. It was horribly hot and the new elastic laces made my shoes super tight. My toes were falling asleep and foot was cramping. I kept saying, I got this, it’s a 5K, think of it as the loop I do near home. But I was mentally tired. Many of the women there were walking and that didn’t help. I kept walking away the cramps and downed lots of water thinking it was because of dehydration perhaps. Big mistake. I was over-hydrated meaning I felt like a jug full of water. My tummy started cramping as I tried to run, it felt like running on a full stomach. Two ladies walking behind were discussing about the fine line between hydrating and belly cramps. I told them I was at the belly cramps. Finally at mile 2 I decided, it’s one more mile and I gotta figure some strategy out. Thought back to Coach A – when your body feels like taking it easy, give it a finite time to do it. So I did the last workout at Rogue on Wed. 1 minute run, 1 minute easy walk/run. I set my watch to timer and began. Every odd minute was a run and every even was a recovery – mostly a walk. I met Sha and Cha’s friend Deb on the way and told her I wanted to train with her this summer. She was so awesome.

Finally about 300 yards from the finish, Sha was waiting for me. She kept saying, the finish line is here and you have to give it everything you got. And I did. I love finish lines and I love sprinting to the finish. I sprinted and felt all the more better about it. But when I saw Bharath I almost  started crying. I was so bloody disappointed with how awful the run felt. I kept thinking, I am a freaking runner. But no, now I’m also a triathlete and while I can run long distance, I need to train different and have a different game plan. I went into this race not knowing what to expect about anything except what I had heard. This was a great experience. On my next tri, which is hopefully soon, I need to get a plan together and figure out how to overcome the obstacles. Which are as follows:

  • I need to get faster on the bike. I’m signing up for spin class this week at UT so hopefully that will help a bit. And get out on the road more often.
  • Work on the stroke technique, especially arms. I kicked too hard as well on the swim which tired me. Gotta try the fins this time (thanks RMK).
  • Gotta do more bricks of run and bike. Do medium distance bike rides and minimum 3-5 mile runs and run a lot more. I completely ignored the running on this training schedule.
  • So do more track workouts and also try to run more in the heat, gotta get used to it. Its TX after all.
Maybe this is a lot for a first time triathlete (I did only begin 8 weeks ago) but these are longer term goals. I know where I need to put in some work. I need to break it down to smaller pieces like I did on the swim and the run. Interval training is the best.
And finally, ending on a positive note – I am EXTREMELY grateful for the new friends I’ve made in my new city. Everyone needs a set of friends to push them to be better than who they have been. I can completely, 100% dedicate my new self to my new friends – Cha, Sha, GRao, Vish, Coach A, Iti, Jairam, Sandeep among others who have inspired, encouraged and supported me all the way. My husband, Bharath who’s reactions have always changed from being aghast to extremely supportive and proud and finally my in-laws and parents and sister, who may not always understand why I do what I do – but they’re always so proud.
They ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Plan, Prepare, Hydrate and Rest!

And it’s the day before race day again! I love, love the day before race day. One gets to go to packet pick-up, hang out at the expo, listen to some experts speak and buy some awesome gear on sale (or not!).

For me the day before race day is a lot of activity in the morning with slow winding down as the day progresses. Charanya, my good tri-buddy who was instrumental in getting me to sign up for a triathlon and one of the founders of Tri-Oomph! and I went to the packet pick up for Danskin triathlon. The Ironchicks training was geared towards Danskin and since I was so nervous about the swim, she signed up to swim with me! She’s a seasoned tri-athlete having finished several tri’s over the last 5 years. She is beginning to train for a relay half-ironman distance with her hubby Vish. Now Cha hasn’t trained for a while. So she’s going to do this race with me after having done 1 training swim at Barton Springs with me (see comments to the previous post), 1 training bike ride and 1 training run, all in the week before the race. Now that’s what I call confidence and trust in muscle memory! I am confident she will do great and really, really happy she’s going to be out there with me! Additionally, Amit, our star Coach A is going to be a volunteer at the swim exit. Boy will I be glad to see him when I get out of the water!

So today we went to the Travis County Expo Center to pick up our race packets. My bib number is 800 and Cha’s is 834. My swim wave is the 9th one scheduled to begin at 7.29 AM tomorrow. Cha is in the next one, scheduled to start at 7.33 AM. We’ve decided that I will hang back and she will hang front so that we can swim together! I’ve also inscribed my race swim cap with the letters SIR-CHA at the back so hopefully she can spot me. We picked up our goody bag which has a great running tee, a swim cap and a tote bag, which Bharath has promptly appropriated. It says Danskin on it, so I guess people will know he got it from his wife!

Danskin also has us rack our bikes at transition 1 day prior to the race. So that’s what we did after packet pick up. My good friend Karen, from work advised me to rack the bike near the subdivision X so that at least on one side there won’t be another bike, or at least some distance away. We had to put the bib number on the bike before racking. My rack is the last one facing the lake, 4 sections from a tree and right across 3 port-a-potties! Got the mental snap in my head. I just hope no one moves it but that cannot be helped. Cha’s bike is on the next set of racks. We then walked down to the swim exit and I stood in the water a bit. I think it was great for Bharath to come with me to pick up so he could see for himself what I’d be doing. Vish explained to us where we would be entering and exiting for T1 and T2 so that was super helpful.

Cha was reminiscing about her first Danskin when she was single and had no friends in town to cheer. I’m so glad she is doing this with me, training or not! She is a bit nervous about the bike ride because she has the clips and has morbid fear of flats. Luckily this race is famous for being extremely supportive and beginner friendly so I hope there will be folks around to help if that happens. We will also have our friend Sharanya come out to cheer so it’s super exciting!

After a nice, heavy lunch of Italian pizza and pasta at Mandola’s with Vish and Cha, I came home and had to snooze because it was so hot outside. Besides I figured I won’t be sleeping much at night so I might as well rest when I can. Then I woke up and planned the transition stuff (keeping in mind Coach A will be coming to inspect). Coach A was kind to lend me his fluorescent green transition mat, claiming I will be ‘nice’ not to take up too much space as other rookies do and it will be easy to find it.

Here’s a pic of my transition items as I planned it out and then packed it neatly into my bag. 

Here’s a list of the stuff I am taking

  • Helmet with Bib # stuck on it
  • Bike gloves
  • Running shoes with elastic laces from J&A bike shop @ $5.95
  • Ankle length pair of socks to avoid timing chip chafe (advisable to get chip strip but I’m too cheap to pay $10 for something like that).
  • Swim cap with SIR-CHA inscribed
  • Goggles (2 pairs – 1 from Coach A for back-up)
  • SPI belt with race number attached (got 2 lace locks and elastic string to convert SPI belt into excellent race belt for $2.25)
  • Sunglasses inside SPI belt
  • Timing chip inside SPI belt (better remember to wear it before the swim!)
  • Nutrition including GU gels, Kashi bars etc.
  • Sundry lotions such as sunblock, bug spray, chafing stick (thanks to Coach A), moisturizing lotion etc.
  • Water bottles (currently in the freezer so that the bottles have chilled water as the day progresses) – 1 for bike, 1 for run (with holder and GU packed in) and 1 general/back-up.
  • 1 small bike pump.
  • My bike has a couple of CO2 cartridges and flat repair kit though god knows what  I will do with it if a flat happens
  • Danskin tee for change of clothes
  • 1 pair of shorts for change of clothes
  • Towel (bright yellow)
  • Bright green T mat
  • 1 pair of flip flops (which I will wear to there)

It’s all neatly packed into my bag right now. I don’t know if I will need anything more but we will find out after this first race!
Dinner will be light – lentils pasta (worked wonders during my first half marathon so will stick to the recipe – sauteed onions, garlic, mixed with boiled whole masoor and pasta. I might add a bit of cheese too. Salt and pepper!).

I’m ready to get out there and Tri-Oomph!