2014 Lake Stevens 70.3 – An Evolution

I have written a blow by blow account of the race for Triathlon Magazine Canada and you can read it HERE. This race report is more about what has been different behind the scenes to create this race.  If you don’t feel like reading my other report and just want to know what happened the guts of it is that I put myself in a strong position to win the race with the fastest swim and bike, but finished it off with a strong run as well.  Liz Lyles, a very strong pro and a fabulous runner, was only able gain just over two minutes on me in the run which is easily my strongest run of the year.  It was a good day.

The background is that the race fell after a really successful block of three weeks where I really pushed my limits in training.  I had a solid week to recover to the race but I am excited to see what happens when that block really starts to settle in.  I have a lot of people to thank (well besides MC for putting up with like 95 hours of training in three weeks- I was a barrel of monkeys worth of fun I bet- love you baby! xx) and I would like to talk about some of them below.

First is in the swim.  I have had a banner year of swim development which is only right now starting to really show in my races.  I love the Blueseventy Helix which is why I asked to be a part of Blueseventy’s program, but I have also really benefitted from medium-small sizing.  Changing to a smaller wetsuit has been very, very good for my wetsuit swims.  I did have one swim where I wasn’t allowed in a swimskin and I believe my Champion System elite trisuit rocked it.  These suits are a great choice if you are planning ITU rules events or Canadian races that may not allow any swimskins.  

I have had a group of athletes in Victoria to swim with who are very dedicated.  The most frequent training group I swim with is Clint Lien’s- my training partners are Steven Kilshaw, James Cook, Sara Gross, Kate Button, sometimes Karen Thibodeau and in open water- Brent McMahon and Danelle Kabush.  In and outside of the swims I do with them, I have periodized the swim training I am doing overall in order to swim more, and then swim more quality.  Sometimes it just isn’t enough to mindlessly follow what the masters or even a triathlon swim squad is doing.  You have to be sure it fits in with what you are doing around the swimming – it doesn’t occur in a vacuum.  Each session, even a swim session, matters.  I think I have been much better at recognizing that and I am sure I am swimming better because of it.  So that is why my swims in races are getting better and I managed to be first out of the water twice.  Not all of them are great, but some of my bad swims were followed by an average race as well, so it can be a canary in a coal mine.

Second, my riding is improving because of a commitment to programming philosophy from the Pacific Cycling Center.  Houshang Amiri is a brilliant coach who has taught me a lot of things but the one thing you really can’t teach is patience.  Sometimes I would push too much intensity, too soon, when I wasn’t seeing the immediate benefit of aerobic endurance training.  Houshang is the master of creating aerobic monsters.  Svein Tuft is probably Houshang’s most famous athlete but I can honestly say that working with Houshang has made me better as an athlete and a coach.  I am self coached for triathlon but really, self coached athletes need to be smart about who they learn from in order to be good self-coachers.  You may want to consult www.pacificcyclingcenter.ca to see if any of his camps or programs work for you.  A winter of training with Houshang’s group followed by a block of incorporating his work into my program late season has been very effective for me.

Riding as part of the Trek Factory team is an inspiring and motivating experience.  I am lucky to ride the fastest machine outfitted with amazing Bontrager wheels with Powertap hubs, full Shimano Di2 components, the most aero helmet from Rudy Project and the latest and greatest saddles from Cobb Cycling.  I am very privileged in this regard and it makes me very proud to be a fast cyclist who has the equipment to be even faster. I am lucky to have a Trek Concept Store in Victoria. The Trek Procity Store is full of amazing and dynamic personalities and I love those guys/gals to bits. Thanks very much for being a part of my support team for many many years. I have five races with the fastest bike split so far this year.. and I am not finished yet.  I love being a fast rider but you can’t rely on your bike split to win the race.

Third and most important aspect of my racing to improve was my running.  In order to run faster I first had to start practicing my nutrition with my Powerbar products on the run.  This has made a difference.  Then I asked my friend Marilyn to show me HOW to run as a participant in her www.mindfulstrides.com course.  Huge benefit!  With a bit of technical ability, I just put my head down and ran a lot, lot more.  That is where Frontrunners Westshore comes in, helping me choose footwear that will keep me healthy and injury free.  With more running, I was leaning on Synergy Wellness where I meet Jamie Grimes for weekly chiropractic tuneups and I visit Markus Blumensaat at Leftcoast Health for regular massage and stretching sessions.  Without these two guys and Marilyn my hip would still be that of a 90 year old.  Thank you to all of you!  My last shoutout goes to Geoff McLaughlan, who has sadly (for me) moved to McGill to pursue his doctorate in math.  He was my solid as a rock run training partner all summer and he will be missed by me and the swim squad for sure while he is gone!

So I am hoping at this point I have learned some things that are going to help further my development because I am planning to race first at a world class level in the ranks of 70.3 for the remainder of this season and then hopefully make the leap to full Ironman in early 2015.  It is time but it certainly is not too late.  Jo Pavey is very inspirational to me – she didn’t win any major championship event in running despite a long, long career which started when she was a junior.  Recently, at 41 years of age, she won the Commonwealth Games 5km and then the Euro Champs in the 10km.  Ladies, it ain’t over until you say it’s over.Plus I have USANA products to keep my skin and body young as a 20 year old! 

 

So on that note of delayed retirement for an as yet undetermined period of time, I am a happy auntie and leader of Ironkids events.  I had a lot of fun with all of YOUR children while in Lake Stevens so take a peek at this if you want to have a little giggle about how adorable your children are.

 

 

Finding Flow In Racing

As published in the August 2014 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada

 

At the 1992 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan sank his sixth consecutive three pointer, looked at the announcer and described his dominant performance as: “It’s beyond me. It’s just happening by itself.” As a triathlete, it might be difficult to imagine that it’s possible to have complete dissociation with the discomfort of racing for hours at a time, but it can happen. Many athletes have felt themselves fall under a trance or experience a level of focus where nothing but the act of racing enters their mind while performing. In this state of flow, the body can actualize the training that’s been absorbed without interruption by distracting thoughts or extraneous actions.

Flow, a feeling of being carried by a current of water, of invincibility, of unshakeable focus and of effortless performance is a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi was fascinated by artists who became so lost in their work that they would neglect sleep, food and water for hours or days at a time. In his research he developed this theory of flow and found it applied it to many facets of life including sports, work, education, music and spirituality.

An athlete with confidence in the preparation and training leading up to race day will have confidence on the start line. Remembering a key session or a race where you had a breakthrough performance, can do wonders for motivation.

Olympian gold and silver medallist Simon Whitfield knows much about the optimal mental state. He says:

“For me it was all preparation. If I felt I had done everything possible to prepare then my ideal mental state followed. I was able to relax. I arrived at the start line of my best races thinking it was simply time to express myself, to express my fitness and the result would follow.”

Smart goal setting and planning will also create small victories with which confidence is built. A good training plan and periodization will result in good workouts to build confidence in skills and preparation.

Simon Whitfield racing the 2006 Corner Brook BG Triathlon World Cup. Credit: Delly Carr/ ITU

Simon Whitfield racing the 2006 Corner Brook BG Triathlon World Cup. Credit: Delly Carr/ ITU

Whitfield explains he could tell when a good performance was imminent:

“I had indications, I used to call the feeling ‘I’m rolling,’ where my coach and I would get a sense from my training that I was on a roll and session after session was going well. Even the sessions that didn’t go as well I was able to ‘roll’ past. When I was able to carry this feeling into races I performed at my best. I remember in 2000 running a final workout before the Olympics with Jasper Blake at Bond University on the Gold Coast, in Australia. We rolled through a perfectly executed workout, hit the paces we were targeting, not faster or slower, but precisely and one week later I had the race of my career.”

Similarly, confidence can be immediately gained from feedback within the race. An emotional boost from a good performance will help narrow the focus on continuing that good performance. A good race strategy builds this feeling of control and keeps thoughts focused on the task at hand. A sense of control happens within the race if events are unfolding according to the race plan.

The second element in flow is distraction control. To be completely absorbed, block all but the most immediate and important stimulus, and to lose sense of time, thoughts must be trained on execution. Practicing distraction control is beneficial to achieve this level of focus. Pain, discomfort, other athlete’s performances and other factors that are uncontrollable must be eliminated from consciousness in order to lose oneself in the performance.

Minimizing thoughts to action items leaves no time for reflection and thus no distracting thoughts about the outcome. Thoughts that are poisonous to performance are thoughts that reflect on the race outcome before it’s over and poor management of the pain of maximal effort. Some athletes feel the most difficult situation to control is performing through pain or enduring “suffering.” Hillary Stellingwerff, a Canadian 1,500 m track runner and Olympian, offers her advice on achieving a better mindset while performing through pain:

“For me it’s about reframing the negative connotation around pain; I associate my ability to run through the pain as performing to my max ability and running as fast as I possibly can. I know if I’m running through pain

Csikszentmihalyi and his fellow researchers identified the nine factors necessary to experience flow:

1. Challenge-skills balance
Where there is confidence that skills meet the task at hand.

2. Action-awareness merging
The state of being completely absorbed in an activity, with tunnel vision that shuts out everything else.

3. Clear goals
When one knows exactly what is required and what one desires to accomplish.

4. Unambiguous feedback
Constant, real-time feedback that allows adjustment of tactics to adapt (for example, splits in a race or relative placing during the event).

5. Concentration
Completely blocking all distraction with laser-beam focus.

6. Sense of control
When one feels that actions can affect the outcome of the challenge.

7. Loss of self-consciousness
When one is not constantly self-aware of success during the event.

8. Transformation of time
One loses track of time due to total focus on the moment.

9. Autotelic experience
When one feels internally driven to succeed even without outside rewards (doing it “because you love it”).

I’m running as hard as I can and getting the most out of myself and that’s all I can expect on any given race day. ” Her husband, Trent Stellingwerff, a runner turned exercise physiologist, run coach and sports nutritionist, also understands how to work through pain. “For me, I try to not think about pain – pain is a feeling that is out of your control. Instead, I try to think about severe discomfort. Discomfort is something (at least for me) that I can manage and control. I also think about the limits of physiology. The body has evolved to protect itself by shutting down before critical status is met. In other words, it is very, very difficult to actually physically put yourself in the hospital. I use this reverse “logic” that I always have more to give when my brain says stop.”

Both of these perspectives are excellent for reframing the experience of pain. Thinking that pain of “suffering” is bad or dangerous might reduce performance due to perceived safety risk. Making the experience of feeling pain a positive part of racing, as Hillary Stellingwerff does, and imagining this reflects a good performance, will be a powerful tool on race day.

For Danelle Kabush,  mental performance consultant and pro triathlete with the Luna Women’s Professional team, knowing how to find flow in races to perform and to endure pain is essential to success. Kabush suggests using the following questions to help focus your mental preparation for racing.

Danelle Kabush Credit: Xterra

Danelle Kabush Credit: Xterra

• What will be the most challenging part of the training/race for you? What will you focus on to stay present?

• How will you break down the training/racing into manageable segments?

• Where can you take some mental recovery (just relax)? • Where will require 100 per cent mental focus?
• What are the things that could most challenge your

best mental focus such as unexpected success or an event not going well? What about the challenge of a technical, tactical or mechanical error? How will you refocus if this happens?

Achieving flow is possible for all athletes. The key to racing “in the zone” is to love racing and have fun while performing. Focusing on positive, constructive thoughts and immediate needs allows one to maintain distraction control for the duration of the race. To “suffer” well, turn all the sensations of pain into positive reinforcement that a great performance is underway.

In the end, attitude is a big determinant of outcome. The more an athlete loves competing the better that athlete will perform. There is a choice in attitude just as there is a choice in how one prepares for a race. Hearing that an athlete was having “the time of their life” or having “so much fun” often goes along with a performance that would be described as “in the zone.” The pleasure of competing can usurp all other feelings and distractions and instantly create flow. Chrissie Wellington was famous for smiling furiously while setting world records over the Ironman distance. Her supreme athletic talent aside – maybe her smile hints at her secret mental strength.