9/11/15

Perfect Cooling Towel review



A few weeks ago I was contacted by Smack Media to see if I would be interested in trying some free products from Perfect Fitness in return for a free product review. 
I browsed the website and came across the Perfect Cooling Towel. 

With the hot and humid summer temps in Greenville and training for an October Ironman, anything to keep me "cool" sounded appealing. 

I received the Perfect Cooling Towel and followed the instructions to completely soak the towel and then wring excess water. 

The towel is like a soft chamois when soft (like a board when dry), similar to what divers use when they exit the water after a dive. I remember using towels of this texture when I was swimming competitively in high school between events. 

Although reviews for cooling towels have not supported the hype, I wanted to provide my unbiased feedback on the cooling towel from an endurance triathlete perspective. 



After a long ride, I took a little extra time in my transition before the run to get my cooling towel ready in the kitchen sink.  I gave the towel a twist to remove extra water and then I rolled up my towel and put it around my neck. I tucked in the edges of the towel under my short sleeve Canari tri suit. 


For the purpose of this review, this towel did what it needed to do in that it helped keep me cool.
Although the towel was a little heavy around my neck at first, I just loved having the towel to squeeze every time I felt hot. Because I carry my Clif Hydration in my two flasks in my Nathan hydration belt, this leaves me with no extra water to cool my head and neck when I train.

On race day (like in Kona) I can use water and ice and sponges at aid stations but in training, it's a priority to me to carry sport nutrition in my flask but I often wish I had just a bottle of water to use for cooling.
The cooling towel came to the rescue!!

The towel really held a lot of water and although I only ran for 40 minutes off the bike, I had water in the towel for the entire run (and a little squeeze for post run). For athletes who race in hot conditions with limited aid stations, this towel may be beneficial as it can help keep the neck/head cool with the help of water at the aid stations. And in training, with the help of water stops, this towel may come to the rescue for athletes who just want to feel "cool" when running.

Another great thing about this towel is that it doesn't drip water so despite it holding a lot of water, you don't "feel" wet.  Therefore, a great use for the cooling towel would be spectating. I know how hot it can be to stand on the sidelines for hours and hours and this cooling towel can do the trick when you just need a little water to cool down the skin but you don't want to soak yourself with water. Also great for our furry children (like Campy) who need a little cooling on the back when spectating. 

As endurance athletes, it is important that we not only focus on executing our workouts but also keeping our body in good health as we train to perform. 

Although the cooling towel may not take your performance to the next level, I firmly believe in the power of feeling cooler when training in hot conditions. So many workouts are cut short simply because an athlete "feels" too hot. And above all, we don't want to just be carrying water for cooling/sipping when we can carry our sport nutrition to meet our electrolyte, fluid and energy needs. Having the ability to cool yourself is a great thing when you are out training, unsupported. I have ran several Kon-prep brick runs with the cooling towel and with our hot temps, I was more than happy to try this out..over and over again. 

To get your own cooling towel: 



9/10/15

Life with your training partner



I can't believe that it was just one year ago yesterday, that Karel and I raced Ironman Wisconsin and we each earned our ticket to Kona. We spent a year training and racing with this one race in mind and we were both able to execute when it mattered the most.....
On the same course and on the same day.
Same age group placing.
One hour apart from each other, to the minute. 

Karel: 9:44, 3rd AG (35-39), 9th overall male amateur.
Marni: 10:44, 3rd AG (30-34), 6th overall female amateur. 


With exactly 30 days until the 2015 Ironman World Championship, we are about to close this chapter of our life by crossing the same 140.6 mile finish line in Kona. 



But you see, this triathlon lifestyle that we share hasn't always been this way. Nine years ago when Karel and I were set-up on a blind-date (we met before a group ride - dressed in athletic gear), Karel was a cyclist. Quickly after we met in May 2006, Karel upgraded to Cat 1 and raced well at this  level.

For the next 6 years, I was a triathlete and Karel was a cyclist. The only times we would train together would be in Karel's off season when he would occasionally run a few miles or do a few (and I mean a few) laps (mostly breaststroke) in the pool and a few rides together (I was very slow and inexperienced with very poor cycling skills).

I never asked Karel to be a triathlete because his passion was for cycling. We both shared a similar active lifestyle with a great competitive spirit for racing but we each had our own sport to enjoy.

The best part about sharing this lifestyle with your significant other is being there in the good times and in the bad times. I spent many weekend's at cycling races (including USA Crits Speed Week and watching Karel in the Athens Twilight Crit) and he was also at many of my triathlon races.
The fun part about watching someone you love race is feeling the same emotions - nerves, anxiety, excitement - as your partner. I think this is true even for friends and training partners for it's exhilarating to watch another human body in motion as that body races from a start to finish line. 

As an insider, you can't explain it and as an outsider, it's hard to understand it. 

This is often what we feel as triathletes when we talk about our love for our sport to our friends and family. Even if an outsider is extremely supportive, it's really difficult to find the right words why we love to do what we do with our body. The training, waking up early, feeling fatigued, pushing our limits, racing for many hours on one day.....until you do it, it's the unknown that keeps a person wondering why we have so much fun training and racing.
Of course, this applies to any sport - people would often ask Karel why he loves crit racing. I know why he loves it - the adrenaline rush, the speed, the risks, the deep hurt in your legs and lungs - but that's hard to explain to someone who doesn't train and race in the same sport. I'll never know how bad it hurts to race a crit but what I do know is that for many years, Karel loved it and I was there on the sidelines to support him. 


Karel (and my parents) watched me race in my very first Ironman, at the age of 24, where I qualified for my first Kona by winning the 18-24 age group. Karel was my boyfriend at the time but I knew that he was a keeper for he "understood" me and my lifestyle and was supportive of my training and racing goals. 


Between November 2006 and September 2010, I went on to race in another Ironman in 2009 (IMKY) and finished Kona in 2007. There were many low moments between 2006-2010 and it was a tough time for me as a dealt with a lot of injuries and decided to go back to school for my RD credential. Karel and I moved to Jacksonville where he started to work as the GM of the Trek Store and we were adjusting to life as a married couple.....with a new furry child, Campy.
When you live with your training partner, you share the highs and the lows and sometimes, the low moments really test you as a couple. Through it all, Karel has always been there for me.

When I qualified for Kona the second time around at IMWI in 2010, Karel was also there with me on the sidelines. It was an amazing day and I was so happy to share all the high moments with Karel.



And for my second Kona, Karel was there to keep me going. It was a tough day for me with a lot of low moments on the run but somehow he kept me going so that I could earn my finisher medal.

I suppose life is a bit different when you live with your training partner. Ever since Karel started racing triathlons in 2012, we have shared the same swim, bike, run lifestyle. And what makes our relationship even more interesting is that since 2014, we work together too. We are practically together, every minute of every day.

Training with your spouse has it's perks but certainly there are tough times (ex. injuries).
We both have our "me" time when we train alone but there are some perks to living with your training partner. 



Personal fitness development
I remember this moment - Karel's first "swim practice." He didn't make it very far as he was struggling to breath and kept the lifeguards very alert. Karel has made so much progress over the past few years and he continues to make huge improvements. Whereas I come from a swimming background and jump for joy over a few seconds that I can drop in a race, Karel drops minutes at his races and is constantly seeing improvements in the pool.
Karel has also witnessed me turn into a stronger and more skillful  cyclist. I owe a lot of this to Karel's patience in helping me become "one" with my bike. There was a time when I couldn't stay on Karel's wheel when he was riding in a steady effort and now over the past two years or so, I have accepted the challenge of staying on Karel's wheel for many long workouts. Karel still rides away from me and circles around to get me but at least we can now ride together and Karel can still have a quality workout.
A pro of living with your training partner is seeing, first hand, these personal fitness developments. We all have weaknesses as athletes and it is really special to watch your loved one improve in an area that was once an uncomfortable struggle. 




Celebrating success
It goes without saying that we all want to see our loved ones succeed. Sharing the success together is extra special.
I've said it several times before but my favorite part of racing with Karel is sharing the "war stories" about the race, when we finish. I always say that the real race result is told by the athlete and not by a finishing time and that's what I love about racing with Karel. Being incredibly sore together and talking about the insider race details. 
We all define success differently, whether it's finishing what you started, having a PR at a race or placing on the podium. A perk of racing with your loved one is being there to celebrate the other person's success. Whether you are racing or are on the sidelines. it's extra special to see hard work be put to good use on race day.



Built-in motivation and accountability
When your training partner gets up early or doesn't miss a workout, it's hard not to want to join in the "fun". Karel and I are two different athletes and we both function differently. Karel takes a little longer in the morning to get himself ready to train and I have no trouble jumping in a pool early in the morning or in the afternoon. We both love to strength train but we need each other to hold each other accountable of all the "little things" that we should be doing to stay healthy and injury free.
When one of us has a good workout and the  other one is feeling tired, there is no bitterness but instead, happiness for the other athlete. Sometimes we are both "on" at the same time and sometimes we are both tired at the same time.
It's great to keep each other motivated, regardless if two athletes living under one roof, have different styles of training.
We all need that extra push to get out the door so that little bit of accountability is extra helpful at times. 



Race-cations!!
One of the downsides of living with your training partner is double the cost for everything. Two race fees and double the gear. But when you have the opportunity to race in a new location together, it's all worth it. In some cases, a race-cation may happen when one athlete races and the other is not racing but I think no matter who is racing, it is so much fun to travel to a new location together.
Planning the race calendar and sharing a similar love of traveling is definitely a perk of living with your training partner. Luckily, Karel and I both prefer similar courses in that we love hilly and tough race courses which often means traveling to areas that include mountains.  



Finding the right words
One of the toughest parts about living with your training partner is finding the right words to support your training partner during tough times. Injuries really test us as athletes and when you are injured, it doesn't just affect you (the athlete) but those around you who care about you and love you.
It's really hard to put on a happy face when you are injured and suddenly can not do what you love to do with your body. When you live with your training partner, it's not like you only see this person once in a while and all of a sudden they are out of your life for a few weeks or months because of an injury. Nope, you are with this athlete day in and day out, through the thick and the thin of everything that encompasses being an athlete.
Sometimes you can't ever say the right thing and that is a tough. Sometimes you say what your training partner/loved one needs to hear but doesn't want to hear. Sometimes they listen and sometimes they make decisions on their own (sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't).
One thing we must remember as athletes is that we are breakable. We are not perfect and getting injured is a risk that we take when we want to stretch our limits and step outside our comfort zone. But the beautiful thing is that when you live with your training partner, you also get to be part of their comeback story. You get to see all the work, patience and discipline that goes into recovering, rehabing and then training again, after an injury. As much as injuries suck (to put it nicely), the special part is having your partner back again after he/she recovers and having a stronger appreciation of what you get to do together, when you are healthy. 



We all need a training partner
Whether you live with your training partner, you are married (or dating) or training partner or you are good friends with your training partner, it really pays to have a training partner. Perhaps it is for the accountability, extra push or motivation or simply because it is just more fun to train with someone else, than to train alone,
If there is someone special in your life who you enjoy training with, be sure to thank them for always being there for you.
In the good times and in the bad, cheers to many more awesome workouts together, overcoming obstacles, early wake-up calls and crossing finishing lines and sharing the stories afterward with your favorite training partner. 

9/9/15

Racing under pressure tips



It may seem like common sense to resist trying/buying food on a whim at your race venue, to write down your thoughts on a piece of paper for a better night sleep in the 48 hours before your race or to remove yourself from energy suckers on race week but you'd be surprised how many athletes become someone else on race week......especially when this anxious and nervous athlete arrives to the race venue and begins to doubt their own fitness and preparation. 

I see it and I hear about it all the time - the athlete who has a fine-tuned race and nutrition plan and then changes everything on race day for no good reason other than "Someone else suggested that I should do this instead" or "I don't know what I was thinking."

It is important that you not only have a plan when it comes to minimizing pre-race jitters, anxieties and nerves but that you trust your plan. With self-doubt that your plan may fail on race day, you may find yourself "trusting" what another athlete is doing and essentially, "racing' another athlete's pre-race and race day plan.

For many athletes, the pressure to succeed or to perform well on race day is so intense that performance is negatively affected before the race even starts.

Have you eve experienced a pre-race fever or sickness that comes and goes in 24 hours or less?

Emotions can run a gamut of position to negative, sometimes swinging both ways in a single second. 
Your thought process is likely a mix of irrational and rational thoughts relating to your goals and expectations for race day.
At worst, when racing anticipation peaks, straight up fear of failure can crop up - stemming from uncertainties, doubts and worries.

Although pre-race jitters are normal, they are commonly associating with disturbing symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, elevated heart rate and nausea.
The way you deal with pressure on race week  is extremely important to your health and overall race performance and experience. 


In this article, from Ironman.com, I discuss some helpful ways to reduce pre-race anxiety and to feel more at ease when racing under pressure. 






9/6/15

Kona countdown 34 days: Every choice matters


We have approached the "less than 5 week" countdown until Kona!!! 

After we returned from Boulder, I mentioned that I was overly exhausted after our 9-day train-cation in Boulder. After taking several days to recover, I was able to get back to my planned training but I did have to make some modifications. 

With so much climbing and hard efforts in Boulder, I came back with a body that was not very happy. Nothing new to me with many years of back issues but with less than 6 weeks left until Kona (at the time), I did not want to take any chances for a tight back to turn into a back injury to turn into a hip injury (which I have had much experience with in the past - 6+ years to be exact from 2007-2013).

My right scapula was so tight/inflamed that I was barely able to swim last week. Additionally, because of the tightness in my upper back, it was tugging on my lower back and hip area and my right leg felt very weak (again, nothing new to me from past hip issues). I also felt calf and ankle issues...all relating to my back. Pretty much - my right side was totally out of whack. 

Rather than trying to treat myself (I never use our foam roller or Trigger Point set- even though we have both), I made an appointment with the best massage therapist in Greenville (I saw him last year before IMWI - my last massage was September 2014!) and simply modified my training. 

I had to back off with the intensity and yards in the pool and I lowered the intensity on the run/bike.  With every workout, I was constantly aware of my back and listened to my body. 

Every day, I found myself feeling better and better and after my massage (last Thursday) I felt so much relief in my hips, neck, back, calf and ankle.
I have always had back issues (which came from years of swimming and then turned into hip issues) so this is just something that I have to constantly be aware of and be proactive with as an endurance triathlete. I do a lot of strength and mobility work to help with my back but I should get more massages than I do to help with all the tension I carry in my upper back. 

Both Karel and I had massages on Thursday evening and decided to take Friday completely off from working out. It was SO needed. 

This Saturday (1.5 weeks after we came home from Boulder), Karel and I rode together on a beautiful country-road route with lots of rolling hills for a very nice, 3 hour low-stress ride. We loved seeing so much wildlife on our ride too. 

After the ride, we went for a 4 mile run (with two walk breaks) and kept the run low stress.
Amazingly, we both felt so good and for the first time in over a week, my back felt almost normal again and I finally felt more comfortable running again. 

I'm so thankful that I was able to make smart decisions with my body since returning home from Boulder and throughout this season. My body is not perfect and I always have to stay on top of it. For the past two years I have remained injury free and it's all from listening to my body and being smart when it speaks to me. It's always hard when you are an athlete and you are nearing a race - accomplishing workouts is often the number one goal. But I want more than simply checking off workouts - I want to be consistent and have quality workouts that will better prepare me for race day. And if I can't have a quality workout, then I want to do whatever I can to help my body stay healthy so that I can have the best performance possible on race day with the fitness I have accumulated over the past season. 

These choices are often tough as athletes but we have to make them if we care about our race day performance. Sure, it feels great to workout and it sucks to miss a workout....but what sucks even more is being injured, sick or burn out. Then you can't do anything with your body in training......or on race day. And on race day, that is when you want to have your best performance - not in training. 

With 5 weeks left until Kona, I did my last long run before the race. But more than my last long run, I was able to properly execute in one of my most favorite Ironman race-prep workouts:

2 hour bike + 2 hour run

I have done this workout several times before when gearing up for an Ironman and I just love this workout. I love the specificity of the workout as well as an opportunity to test nutrition before and during (bike/run) and to work on pacing. It is a great confidence booster and I love the mental test of knowing that I will be running my longest run after a 2 hour bike. 

Here's how the workout went down:
(all pain free - yay for being smart last week!)

2 hour bike
40 minute warm-up spin
MS:
2 x 30 minutes (10 min IM effort, 10 min faster than IM effort, 10 min strong effort)
10 min EZ spin in between
EZ spin home

2 hour run
5 x 3 mile IM effort w/ 1 min walk in between each 3 mile segment
I was able to hold 7:45-8:10 min/mile for the entire run and for the first time, I felt steady and strong with this pace.
(extra stops to refill flasks - it was hot running from 11:30-1:30pm!)

Total workout: 
2 hour bike
2:10 run, 15 miles (my longest run since IMWI last September and this will be my longest run until Kona)
Average pace on run (with walks): 8:15 min/mile

So my question to you is, are you making good choices?

Since every choice matters......

Do you listen to your body or push through pain?
Do you fuel/hydrate before/during/after workouts or are you just getting by?
Do you give yourself time to warm-up before you start your workout or do you hope that you will loosen out when you get going?
Do you recognize that you gain fitness through consistency or do you just focus on getting-by?
Do you focus more on your body composition that you neglect proper fuel and nourishment or do you focus on performance and keeping your body in good health?
Do you make time for recovery or do you tell yourself that you will recover better tomorrow?
Do you prioritize restful sleep or do you feel like you can just get by with little sleep so long as you don't miss a workout?
Are you flexible with your workout or do you struggle to modify when needed?
Do you get stuck in the moment rather than thinking about the big picture? 

I've spent many years training for a 140.6 mile race and I have learned through many mistakes that every choice matters. When we make choices, we have to think about the best decision in the moment that will make for a better next-day workout.
 Performance gains are built from many, many training sessions. With every training session, we have to make smart choices. 

When it comes to your next training session - make a good choice when it comes to how you warm-up, how you fuel and hydrate, how you pace yourself, how you choose to execute and how you recover. 

If you keep making good choices, you will make good progress. And with good progress, THAT is when you experience performance gains to feel ready for your upcoming race.