Sunday, March 9, 2014

So you think you wanna go pro? Think again!

I’ve heard a lot of age groupers complain about the special treatment of the professional triathletes, but few have competed on both sides.


There are a lot of advantages to racing as a pro.

- Complimentary race entries at many large races
- Cool ‘Elite’ USAT Membership Card which always makes volunteers do a ‘double-take’
- Toe the line next to the BEST in the WORLD!
- Eat and hang out with the BEST in the WORLD!
- Get to know the BEST in the WORLD!
- Start races FIRST which avoids the chaos especially in large Ironman starts
- Get to wait until race morning to drop off your bike (at most large races)
- Get to wait until closer to the date of large events to register
- Homestays :)

Lots of folks have asked me why I went pro and my response was almost always, “Why not?” If I could, then why wouldn’t I take advantage of my fitness while I still can? Especially after seeing all the advantages! However, over the years I started questioning my decision - especially considering I work full time. Here’s my rationale:

- Get A$$ kicked by BEST in the WORLD!
- Have to pull results if I do not place overall in events that do not contain a pro field (so if you’re having a bad day you can’t just take a bad time, you essentially are considered DNF)
- Rarely place overall in a large event
- Get A$$ kicked by BEST in the WORLD some more!
- A LOT more pressure
- Colder wetsuit cutoff (68 for Olympic distance even if it’s cold outside too)
- Little to no one around you while racing = boring
- Harder to obtain sponsorship because harder to place
- Get A$$ kicked by BEST in the WORLD even more!

After almost a decade of racing as a pro, I decided to retire my card. It was a tough decision and, yes, I was very sad. Almost immediately after I decided, I emailed the teams I had applied to for sponsorship. Within a day, EVERY ONE OF THEM OFFERED ME SPONSORSHIP! For all these years I’ve been a pro, I struggled with the pressure and the rejection of sponsors. I had no idea placing as an age grouper carried more weight than being a professional – albeit a back-of-the-pack professional.

So, if you are considering going pro, I suggest either 1 – get sponsors BEFORE you go and HOPE they stick with you when you go; or 2 – go all the way and know that you really need to make it a full-time job to get good sponsors as a pro; or 3 – go anyway since YOU CAN.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

WANTED: Fast, non-judgmental training partner w/ tri-bike & open to travel

True Friends

Our friends’ influence us every day.  We often become like the people we associate with most.  With big dreams come tough challenges!  During these times we often discover how good our friends really are, or aren’t. 

When I was in college, I hated running.  I played 4 years of basketball and avoided long distance running like a plague… until I came across the Leukemia Society Team in Training opportunity to travel to Hawaii!  I always wanted to go to Hawaii and I figured if I could raise the money, then I could just walk the marathon.  When I told some of my friends, they told me I was crazy.  I listened.  Not only did I not make it to Hawaii, I didn’t even try! 

When I moved to Florida after college, I started gaining weight since I didn’t have basketball conditioning to fall back on.  I noticed a woman a few houses down from mine running a lot, so I started running with her… more like jog-walking barely able to make it 2 miles!  So maybe my friends were right, I must be crazy!  I stuck with it though – did a few 5ks and the run portion of sprint relays – always passing out in the car on the way home. 

Eventually, my friend helped me to complete my first sprint tri (non-relay). Of course, it decided to storm at day, but the race went on!  Unfortunately, my other ½ (at the time) decided not to show up so as I crossed the finish line I didn’t see him.  I kept looking…  no luck.  Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out. 

The next few years, my training friends helped me prep for my first ever half ironman.  It wasn’t pretty, but I did it all!  Over the years, my times were sliced-and-diced!  I went from a 6ish hour half Ironman to a sub-5 hour just about everywhere I went all while working full time and going to school.  The next other ½ (at the time) pushed me to get a lot faster until one race he thought I beat him.  At the finish, he told me I was moving out so I laughed… he didn’t.  And another one bites the dust!

I felt I had plateaued and wasn’t making improvements.  I was aching and was generally not having much fun in the sport anymore so I took a break.  In all my spare time working full time I completed a doctoral program in Biomedical Sciences – many told me I couldn’t do both.  So what do I do?  Both AND kept training for triathlons!  I did have to cut back and ended up taking off about 2 years from serious racing, but otherwise I learned a lot both in and out of school.  Like who would help support me in this challenging time especially when my new other half deployed to Afghanistan.  One friend in particular helped me more than any other!  What made it more important was that I didn’t have to ask for the help. 

Throughout his deployment, I quickly learned he would be there for me no matter what I decided to do.  He helped me study from Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was proud of me when I beat him in a race and I was proud of him when he beat me.  After a history of relationships that didn’t work out, I finally found the one!  Funny how it is during these challenging times in life that you often find out who your true friends are!  It makes me wonder what life would’ve been like if I was able to find such good friends that would support me through all the tough times and challenging goals earlier in life? 


Through triathlon, we meet a TON of wonderful people but it’s hard to keep in touch with all of them, let alone which ones to reach out to for training companionship no matter where we are in the world.  One app that can help you find great friends like these to be there when you are looking for a challenge is Activebudz.  Download it here:  Activebudz app  And if you’re ever curious of who your real friends are – see how they react to your next challenge!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

So Long Longhorn


Of course – we were in the middle of a drought in TX and I pick the one weekend it’s supposed to rain! It was Crazy HOT two years ago and Crazy COLD last year. Thank you Coach Karen for making me go out rain, or shine! Luckily it didn’t rain on the drive up to Austin. I stayed with my first homestay EVER! They were AWESOME! Mike works for Livestrong and Tori works in scientific publishing so we all had lots to chat about!

Mandatory Hair-E-Butts trip! HEB Plus!!! Oh yeah!


Onto the expo! It wasn’t too crazy when we got there so I picked up my packet and immediately ran into some fellow Team RWBers – Caroline Gaynor, Jared Rose and Fred… as well as Jeremy Brown – the Athlete and Apparel Director for Cobb Cycling! BTW, did you know the application is out for Team Cobb Mobb? We chatted so long I was almost late to the pro meeting… whoops! They take attendance now uh oh! In the pro meeting I met Sue Huse – it’s nice to meet other women who are competitive and approachable. By the end of the pro meeting, the expo was packed! The packet pickup line was almost out the door. I stopped and chatted with the Sugoi rep (down from Canada) supporting the local shop and day dreamed of IM Canada in Whistler and IM 70.3 World’s in Mont Tremblant. One of the many cool things about Sugoi, is the meaning of the word itself – “incredible, awesome”. On my way out I just had to try the Bonk Breakers – purely scientific purposes of course… lots of replicates and trials and controls to ensure accurate data… And Steve left without me… I got a little carried away…

Back to the house to set my race gear up and test everything out – including me – to make sure everything still works. Then dinner with Team RWB at Johnnie Carino’s Italian! We arrived early to meet with my coach and a couple other friends – Esteban and Amy. At the dinner I met Brad Williams, Jessica Jones Meyers and her family, and lots of other supporters of the Eagle! The food was great! The company was energetic! I was relaxed and loving the trip – surprising for the night before a big race.

After dinner we tucked in and passed out – or I did. Steve apparently tossed and turned, but I was out cold! I slept great until about 3am when I woke up and was ready to race! Way to freaking early! Then it started pouring… I was able to go back to sleep a little, but kept waking up thinking it was time to go. By the time the alarm went off at about 5:30am the rain had slowed to a drizzle! YEAH!!! It continued to sprinkle on us as we readied our gear in transition. We tip-toed to the swim start while trying to avoid the ‘Goat Heads’ (no relationship to Steve’s ‘The Goat’). The rain never started back up the rest of the day. Cloud cover = kept the morning temp warmer and the afternoon cooler and really, really humid! Just like Florida! Weeee!!! The swim went great – I know I have more in me to go faster and will really focus on strength and lots of swimming this winter. T1 was painful – I was still removing ‘Goat Heads’ on Monday and my bike felt a lot heavier carrying it to the mount line than I thought it would… funny how tired my arms are after a swim… who’d-a-thought… The bike was mostly good minus the big bump around mile 25 that apparently ejected my water bottle – the full one – so I had to refuel at one of the aid stations. My first attempt at refilling the ‘Fuselage’ on my Shiv while racing was a success! It was very easy!!! Then the frustration came as another pro female passed me drafting off one of the male age groupers. For as long as she was in sight, she was drafting. This is not the first time I’ve seen this and I’m sure most of you reading this are not surprised. Why do so many draft in this sport? Why not just race ITU if you want to draft? For those of us who want to do the right thing and race clean, we are significantly hurt by your actions. It’s even more frustrating when you openly admit to doing it online and/or get caught on video drafting. So much for positive role models… It’s disappointing to see my role models and fellow competitors cheating. Enough of that crap… onto T2 – T2 was also painful as the pavement was crazy rough and laden with loose gravel. I usually have pretty tough feet (considering the glass I had in my foot for months while still running). When Steve and Esteban asked how I felt all I could say was, “This sucks!” while pointing to my feet and the pavement. Onto the run, a 3 loop out and back course with some rolling hills – of course! It’s Hill Country!!! The cloud cover kept the temps nice, but made it crazy humid! The rain made the turn around point feel like an Xterra race! Jim, Matty P, and Jenky probably remember the long run through Conservation Park when our feet were loaded up with about 1-2 pounds of mud! That’s what it felt like! Laps 2 and 3 I learned where I should step to avoid a ton of mud! All this and I still held onto my run time from Augusta – which is a completely flat run! Thanks to Coach Karen, I continue to make gains on my run!

Although this was the last biggie of my season, I am looking forward to a little time off. I am anxious about planning my next season and finally making it into the gym. My husband Steve has been dying to get me into the gym for some off-season strength training. I’d almost rather do an Ironman than go through one of his workouts ;) I’m sure I’ll race several smaller races here and there in and around San Antonio as I start working on building my base – and of course support the Rock N Roll Marathon here in a few weeks. That and trying to avoid gaining 20 pounds this holiday season (as proved to Mike Connors in person on the scales at work)!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Transitions



Maybe not entirely about the ones you imagined based on the title, but still related…
As triathletes, we envision transitions as a rapid and chaotic change from one sport to the next.  When we first stand up after finishing the swim, we find ourselves dizzy and wobbly, but hopefully we manage to quickly adapt and find our way to the bike.  If it’s a wetsuit swim, we fumble around – often falling, cursing, and falling again while trying to strip off the constrictive device before grabbing our protective equipment and hopping onto our speed machine (bike).  Hopefully, we manage to escape T1 and execute a flying dismount without kicking off our water bottles, or hitting a cone (sorry Ben, I couldn’t help it!), or a face plant (as I did when I was flustered after not being able to get my wetsuit off).  It’s only a matter of time before our next transition… 
My T1 – Our lives mimic the transitions of a triathlon in many ways.  I recently completed my doctoral degree (a painful experience, every bit as difficult as an Ironman if not an Ultra!) and moved to the Lone Star State (really Steve and his Mom did all the moving, I just timed it so I wouldn’t have to lift a finger :).  Although the change was planned, finding employment on the other side was not as easy as expected.  I haven’t had to look for a job in about 13 years.  I found myself dizzy and disoriented but quickly adapted to the online application systems.  I quickly learned that it’s more about who you know, are able to reach on the phone, and if you can arrange face-to-face meetings with prospective employers.
Approaching T2 – you know it’s coming up.  You know what you need to do.  But what you need to do and what actually happens are not always synonymous.  I’ve forgotten to pull my feet completely out of my bike shoes before a flying dismount which resulted in an epic crash.  I did manage not to curse but may have chipped my teeth in my grimace of pain.  I’ve left my nutrition behind.  I’ve forgotten my race number.  I’ve nearly gotten lost in transition.  Name the mistake, I have probably made it!  It’s how I deal with and recover from those mistakes that determine my overall performance.  Even when I’ve made ridiculous mistakes, I have still managed to pull it all together if I kept a positive attitude.  I remember Jessica Jacobs telling me about one of her IMFL experiences when she flatted at least 3 times but kept going!  And another IMFL where she lost one of her aero pads = OUCH!!!  She still WON! 
My T2 – Selling our house in todays’ market is NOT fun! Especially while managing a move, trying to find a job, and completing a doctoral dissertation all at the same time.  I guess it’s better than dragging the stress out…  Even though the markets are tough, both job and house, we just kept each small step in mind as we prepared the house for sale and transitioned to San Antonio.  Just as in triathlon, visualizing and tackling the smaller steps – taking a deep breath – and trying to enjoy the process makes a stressful situation more manageable. 
We cannot always control change.  It is how we chose to deal with change – expected, or unexpected – that defines who we are (especially how we deal with it when no one is looking). 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

How much can I cram into…



WOW! What a busy month!  Since my last post I’ve managed to set a 70.3 personal best at NOLA 70.3; win a 5k on a very cold, rainy, and windy day (prize was a 3 day/2 night stay at a beach resort); successfully defend my dissertation; slog through a very HOT 70.3 after spending 2 full days at Universal Studios; AND pack up our house for our move to San Antonio!  Although this blog update is delayed (due mainly to the dissertation), here is my race report:

My hubby (Steve), his Dad (Dave), and I headed to New Orleans on the Friday before the race with enough time to have dinner at Coop’s Place (http://www.coopsplace.net/ whose rabbit and sausage jambalaya is AWESOME!) then beignets and café au lait at Café du Monde (http://www.cafedumonde.com/) – sounds like GREAT pre-race food, right?!?!  Of course Steve decided to let out a deep breath while strategically placed with a powdered sugar-covered beignet and doused my black pants with white powder (and his nose…that looked a little suspect).  Then back to the room for some rest-and-relaxation.  Saturday morning, it was off to the transition site to check out my equipment.  A short bike proved it to be VERY windy!  Then a short run followed by scoping out the swim start/finish and various transition entrances and exits.  The swim was “N” shaped so I was a little nervous that I might get head-butted if anyone swam off course…  The swim exit was a set of steps (similar to the Chattanooga Waterfront Tri) but my bike spot was PERFECT!  Front and center with no tight lanes to maneuver through :)    Right after, we headed to lunch at Mother’s (http://www.mothersrestaurant.net/) with Caroline Smith (www.igettodothis.blogspot.com) for a Shrimp Po-Boy (some more wonderful pre-race nutrition)! 



Definitely a fun group for lunch!  Slightly delayed as we forgot to hand our receipt to the waitress to bring our food… whoops…  Pleasantly stuffed, we headed back to the room to wait for the pro meeting, check in, and expo.  The expo was smaller than I expected, but it’s been a while since I’ve raced an Ironman-brand event, or any large tri for that matter (this was my 2nd ½ in about 3 years).  Then it was dinner time (yes I am always thinking about food) so we headed off to try Mulate’s.  I had catfish with etouffee on top (some more questionable pre-race food) and Steve had a bunch of gator.  It was ok…  nothing spectacular but very close to the hotel.  That night, I slept better than I ever have before a race.  It was wonderful!  I didn’t even think, “Why did I sign up for this” when I awoke!  I looked forward to racing!  It’s been a long time!  When we got to the transition, I quickly set up and warmed up with a jog over to the swim start.  They had the pros jump off the dock to go off as a group, but only one of us could jump in at a time since the dock was so narrow…  I did a cannon ball ;P  We didn’t get much of a warm-up in the water, but I had done some swim-specific dry-land warm-ups so I was happy.  Just before they started us, all the pro women started shifting to the right…  I asked if we were synchronized swimming then we were off!  The water was nice – comfortable temp and not too choppy.  When I got out and had my wetsuit stripped I decided to skip the arm warmers as it had warmed up enough.  I was already thinking about what I needed to do in transition.  It went much smoother than my last race (the one where I crashed coming out of transition and got glass in my foot)!  It was windy on the bike though…  It was all I could do to hold ~20 mph the entire first half.  I knew I’d have a tail wind on the way back though and I did!  It was GREAT flying back at ~28 mph at a fraction of the effort on the way out!  As I approached T2, I thought about what I needed to do to get ready for the run.  Again, it went much better than last time!  I even put socks on.  Without a watch, I went by perceived effort.  I felt fine and I saw a pro female ahead.  I didn’t want to push it hard just to catch her, but I noticed I was making up some time so I pressed-on!  I passed her pretty early and settled into a comfortable, but upbeat pace.  A few of the aid stations didn’t have cola, but I enjoyed it when they did!  There weren’t many people around, which is common when racing in the pro field.  You have to learn to push yourself when there’s no one around to feed off of.    Between miles 4-8 I felt like I was slogging along and slowing down so I tried to pick it up since I was over half-way.  My tummy started feeling questionable (which it rarely does) and I recalled the Catfish and etouffee dinner I had… won’t do that again.  I took an Endurolyte tablet with some Ironman Perform and a gel and hoped I wouldn’t cramp.  At about mile 10 I was ready to be done!  I was passed by a pro female and even told her I was ready to be done!  I hate how the last few miles always feel like FOREVER!  As I turned the corner I heard Steve before I saw him!  I knew I was sooooo close and managed to push it through the finish line, but I was done!  I knew I had given it all I had that day.  As we were sitting around after the race in the shade under a tree, my tummy and lower back started aching bad.  I knew I needed an ice bath (of course Steve kept dumping ice on me as I squealed).  Steve kept asking me what my personal best was and I kept telling him… I didn’t know why he kept asking me until I looked up and saw through the paper that had my times…  I had just improved my time, my best time by 10 minutes!!!  Without a watch!  I immediately texted my coach, Karen Meadows (www.coach-karen.com/).  Unfortunately, my tummy hurt worse throughout the evening so I didn’t get to eat at Rip’s on the Lake with Caroline :( 


A couple weeks later, my coach wanted me to do another test run to see if she needed to adjust my paces… just so happened it was POURING!  I texted her when my alarm went off to ask if I could do a different one later and her response was, “What if it rains on race day?”  CRAP!  Don’t confuse me with the facts!!! Bleh!  It was for a good cause – a new school – so I drug myself out of bed and Steve and I drove off in the rain to the Runway where the race was being held.  Felt like I was running through a hurricane!  I warmed up during the run; especially as my coach’s husband Jim pushed me to the finish, but I quickly cooled off to the point my hands were numb as we awaited the awards.  I was pleasantly surprised with a weekend stay at a resort on the beach and a nice trophy for first place female :) 

About a week later, I was to defend my dissertation… 4 years-worth of work boiled down to 1 hour in a room with my peers and committee members ready to determine my fate.  No pressure… I was definitely more nervous about this than my race!  However, once it started, I quickly fell into “race-mode” and my practice paid off.  That plus, the pep talk the Department Chair gave me a few hours before helped to ensure me that my committee wouldn’t let me get this far if they didn’t think I was ready.  After my talk, my committee sent me out of the room and deliberated about who knows what…  I guess about what they intended to ask me and probably telling jokes, etc.  When they asked me back in, they were talking about tar and feathers…  hmmmm…  I stood at the front of the room and they actually asked me to have a seat because I was making them nervous.  I had to laugh about me making them nervous!  I applied the advice the Dept Chair gave me regarding re-phrasing the question in my response and felt like the questions really made me think differently about some of my research, but that I still remained confident that my interpretation was correct.  They sent me out again and maybe 2 min later they asked me back in by saying, “Congratulations Dr. Phipps!”  I almost cried!!!  Afterwards, my major professor, Dr. Michael Blaber (http://www.mikeblaber.org/), took us out to San Miguel for some very yummy Mexican food!  I’ve had a huge grin on my face ever since!  When I got home, the house was all packed up ready to move.  I told Steve I conveniently timed my defense so I wouldn’t have to do anything for the packing!  HA!  I couldn’t sleep I was so excited.  So much going on – personal best set, won a 5k, earned my PhD, AND packed to move.  Next up, head to Universal Studios!

What perfect timing!  2 days to celebrate without the pressure of schoolwork.  While we were in the Orlando area I was supposed to do FL 70.3 as a training day.  Thank goodness it was just a training day!  We were exhausted after Steve and I frolicked around riding Rip Ride Rockit, Hulk, Dragon Challenge (used to be Dueling Dragons), Dr. Doom Fearfall (which I got a bruise on my calf after having the death grip on the seat – both arms and legs), and Revenge of the Mummy (which the power went off while we were on the ride and we had to be escorted off, but got a free ExpressPass), to name a few.  I knew better than to spend all this time on my feet before a race, but it was only a “training race” so how bad could it be, right?  My legs were screaming during the swim…  I tried to take in extra electrolytes on the bike and felt sick… then I just called it a day and only ran between each aid station/walked through every aid station.  It was fun chatting with so many people during a race though and the first aid station was AWESOME!  They were all decked out in superhero costumes!  Steve should’ve brought his Capt American outfit!  We actually got a pic with THE CAPT AMERICA at Islands of Adventure!!!



Despite my less than stellar race, I had a lot of fun at FL 70.3.  It was a great course and I got to catch up with some great people to include Jessica Jacobs and Ben Rausa!  Definitely a race you should put on your calendar if you don’t mind heat on the run. 




Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why is a GOOD Coach so important?


                Athletes and coaches come in all shapes and sizes!  Most of us enter triathlon without a coach but with a little trial-and-error and some good friends to guide us, we decide if we like the sport enough to formally pay a coach.  However, when you reach this milestone make sure to do your homework!  Not all coaches are created equal! 

                When I first decided I wanted a coach, my criteria was to find someone who was fast at the specific race distance I wanted to focus on.  However, I learned that this should NOT be the only criteria you consider when looking for a good coach.  You cannot solely rely on certification either.  Alternatively, just because a coach hasn’t raced the specific distance you are interested in doesn’t mean he/she is not a good coach for that distance.  Below are a few of the important criteria I’ve learned make a GOOD coach for me:

-          Train with them.  If they are not available for you to interview and/or observe in a group session when you are considering hiring them, then they may not be available for you after you hire them.

-          How do they interact with their athletes?  Assuming most coaches have multiple options for levels of support; do all athletes of a given level get the promised attention?  As a beginner, it is especially important for coaches to pay attention since the athlete is still learning a lot and may not know what to ask of a coach. 

-          How does the coach track/record your progress throughout the season, or do they?

-          Does your coach help analyze your specific strengths and weaknesses (e.g. I’ve had back issues so my coach gave me specific injury-prevention workouts to do along with my race-specific workouts). 

-          Does successful completion of your coach’s workouts make you feel more confident? 

-          Does your coach listen and modify workouts based on how you feel (e.g. worn down may mean still recovering from a harder effort) as to avoid overtraining and possible injury?

-          Do the athletes of the coach tend to stay injured?  Or healthy?

-          Will your coach tell you the truth even though it may not be what you want to hear?

-          Do the athletes of the coach set personal records (assuming they actually follow the prescribed workouts of the coach) or make little or no progress?

Here’s a specific example:

I trained with a group of friends, one of which is a coach, for a few months – we all started our long runs from the same location, but I was not formally coached.  This coach would share some knowledge with me since I was there, and I’d get to see how her athletes progressed.  I actually wasn’t even considering getting a coach at first, but I started getting injured (hamstring troubles) and wasn’t getting faster at my goal distance.  I knew I needed help and I saw her athletes getting faster without getting injured.  We met over dinner one night to discuss what I’ve been doing to train/race the last few years and what she could do for me as a coach.  I was floored!  I was so impressed!  She shared some examples of the resources she has access to and uses and how she planned to use them for me.  She took the time to learn about me personally to help better prepare me as an athlete (e.g. I get sooooo skeerd before races that I make other people uncomfortable).  She’s already making ground on lessening my pre-race anxiety!  In fact, at Albany Half Marathon, I remember her example of a race picture which showed a bunch of guys with serious faces all starring at their watches and a single guy with a relaxed grin.  This guy was the one who won!   On race day morning, I continually thought of my race plan – just stick to the plan.   I thought of my preparation leading up to the race – I’d run this fast already in training – I can do this!  A few girls ran past me early on, but I stuck to the plan.  I was happy regardless as long as I stuck to the plan.  Unexpectedly, I caught them in the back ½ of the race to earn 3rd overall female because I stuck to the plan!  My coach’s plan for my success!  She helps me to feel more confident about myself and there is an amazing camaraderie among all of her athletes – I truly feel I am part of a Team!