Thursday, December 8, 2011

Solutions for Snowy and Icy Running Paths

This is a reprise of a post from last December.  The slippery weather up here in Minneapolis has made it just as relevant today.  I've probably gotten more comments about the screws in the shoes than anything else I've written.  Here it is:

Couple cold weather, slippery paths, darkness and no race looming and you may just decide to skip that run.  I'm here to say don't do it!

This article will help you prepare for those snowy/icy slippery paths or roads.

I offer suggestions for 3 different levels of slipperyness and snow cover.  If the paths are generally clear  or have a thin layer of snow but you may encounter an occasional visible slick spot I suggest running in a pair of shoes designed for trail running.  These shoes often have a deeper tread and some measure of water resistance which helps keep toes dry and warm.  The deeper tread provides better grip in loose snow than your typical road shoes.The solution for the next level is a little screwy (sorry but sometimes I can't resist a pun, good or otherwise)

A few 1/4" or 3/8" provide great traction on hardpack or the spots that have melted and frozen again.  I find those refrozen areas to be the most treacherous.  I thought this solution was a bit out there but have used it with success.  It seems to have gone mainstream as there's an article in the January 2011 issue of Triathlete magazine - "Snow Chains for Your Running Shoes" by Aaron Hersh which suggests it.

The 3rd level is for complete ice with or without some snow cover.  It's a commercial solution and will cost you about $30.
I use the Yaktrax Pro and have been pretty happy with them.  I've found that they grip ice really well (even if it's hidden by a thin layer of snow).  They don't help much if there's 4 or more inches of snow on the ground (although they're still better in that situation than the screws or nothing).  When there's that much snow skis or snowshoes may be your best bet.  They won't hold up to a lot of running on bare pavement so some people complain about their durability.  I'm on my 2nd or 3rd winter with mine.  No, I'm not a paid shill for Yaktrax either, just a customer.

One caution with the Yaktrax - they do change the pressure points on your feet so you may experience some foot fatigue or blisters.  Get your feet used to them on shorter runs will help prevent blisters/foot issues.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Miamiman Race Report

Here's TFI athlete Katie proudly showing off her Miamiman bling after completing her first 70.3.

In addition to being a TFI athlete she's part of a far flung social group of athletes known as LTD - for "Livin' the Dream"

She put together this race report from Miami for the LTD blog

With her permission I've reproduced it here.  She has some nice things to say about her coach (I swear I didn't pay her to say any of it).

Race Report:
Eric asked me to write up my race report for the Miami Man Half Ironman. A disclaimer: unlike the rest of the speed demons on the LTD team, I am middle to back of packer depending the event. My goal for this race was just to finish and avoid the medical tent.
Back in the spring after a couple years of little racing, I decided to jump back into triathlon by signing up for a half iron distance race. At about the same time, I got a coach. I’ve been racing in triathlons since 2006, but muddling through on my own. I figured it was time to get professional help, particularly if I was tackling a long distance race. Coach Rich Van Sickle agreed to help me, which made a huge difference in both my ability and confidence coming into 70.3. More on that later.
I got to Miami late Friday and settled into the hotel. Saturday morning I got up early and spent a few easy minutes on the treadmill shaking out my legs. Then I headed over to the race site, which was in a state/city park in the middle of Miami. I had shipped my bike about a week prior and went over to the expo to pick it up. I discovered that one of the water bottle brackets had come loose and needed to be replaced. The guys from the shop could replace it, but not until after transition closed to the athletes. They promised to rack it in transition for me. I was a little nervous leaving it, but figured it would be better to have access to everything I needed during the race than risk losing something important due to breakage. I picked up the race packet and discovered that the gear for this race was pretty sweet, always a plus. There was a headsweats hat, tech tshirt, mug, water bottle, and a towel. The race directors also chose to give athletes tri tattoos instead of body marking everyone on race morning. I’d never used this method before, but I’m a fan. Anything that saves time on race morning is a win in my opinion.
Ted, my husband and volunteer race Sherpa, flew in later that afternoon. We headed out to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. Normally, this is not a favorite of mine, but I wanted to have a simple pasta pre-race and Cheesecake Factory is a known quantity. I had about a fourth of a plate of pasta (the servings are enormous!) with a side of steamed veggies. I’d been really diligent about staying hydrated during the day and polished off about 4 glasses of water at dinner.
I went to bed at around 930pm and was up at 430am. I didn’t sleep well, but I never do, pre race. We packed up and headed to the race course. I was pleased to discover that my bike was racked and all set. I set up my transition area and chatted with the other women near me. I made my way over to the start, panicking all the way. I pulled on my skinsuit, which is a thinner alternative to a wetsuit. I picked up the skinsuit on sale at Bonktown and it’s a big improvement over my full-length wetsuit. It doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic, but provides some buoyancy while leaving my arms free.
The Swim:
The swim was in a freshwater lake and the course was two .6 mile laps. I elected to go in the first wave in order to give myself an additional half an hour. The first wave was pro men and men 44-49. The gun went off and it was on. I waited about 10 seconds and then waded in. I figured if everything went well, I’d finish in about 45 minutes. I felt pretty good for the first lap. I’d been going to a masters swim and the coach corrected a few things in my stroke which helped me be more efficient. Also, Coach Rich had me do several 2500 yard continuous swims which made a huge difference mentally, even though there’s nothing more boring than staring at that long black line. According to my watch, the first lap took me 19:30. Honestly, I was surprised. I didn’t expect it to be that fast. However, the second lap was a complete mess. The rest of the waves had started and there were people absolutely everywhere. I saw one guy swimming on his back, kicking gently. It was nuts. Sighting was harder and I didn’t swim as well. I only got kicked a few times so that’s not too bad. Total time according to my watch, 39:40, race time, 40:15. Ave pace, 1:52/100yd or 1:54/100yd depending on whose time you use. My steady state swim pace in the pool is about 1:45/100yd so I only lost about 10 seconds/100yd. That is probably the best swim I’ve ever had in a triathlon.
When I got out of the water a bunch of people were cheering for me, I think because I was one of the first women to finish the swim, a side benefit of being in the first wave.
The Bike:
I hustled through transition and grabbed my bike. The bike was very, very flat. Lots of fields of…something. I’m not sure what. It was extremely tempting to hammer the bike. I felt as though I was spinning really easily and I would look down and see 18, 19, 20 mph. Fortunately, I held off, because at mile 28 the shit hit the fan in the form of vicious headwinds. From mile 28 to 56 there were 3-4 long straightaways with brutal headwinds. It sucked. My speed dropped to 13-14 mph. I saw one guy slow down, put one foot on the ground, and then topple over. He said he was fine, he was just, “taking a break”. Weird. Anyway, by mile 40, I was ready to get off the bike. By mile 50, I was really ready to get off the bike. The wind was picking up and I spent way more time in aero than I did when I was training on rollers in TN. That would come back to bite me in the run. I finished the bike in 3:13 with a 17.3 mph average, about 20 minutes faster than I anticipated.
I hit transition and despite the fact that historically, I’ve hated running, I was super glad to get off my bike. I took a few seconds to change my socks. This is a tip I picked up from Coach Rich and I would recommend it. It saves your feet from blistering quite as much on the run. Ted caught me on the way out of transition and slathered some sunblock on my shoulders, which was really helpful since the sun was beating down at that point.
The Run:
The run course was two 6.5 loops through the Miami Zoo. My plan was to walk the first 10 minutes of the run and then start my 5min on 1 off. Almost immediately when I got out of transition, I had piercing pain in my lower right back. I think it was caused from spending so much more time in the aero position than I was used to after riding the rollers in Western TN. I stopped and tried to stretch it out. No luck. I started running which actually helped, but after a couple of miles, the plantar fasciitis that had been developing in my right foot caught up to me in a big way. So walking equals pain in my back, running, pain in my right foot. Lose, lose. Ted caught up to me at about mile 4 or 5. He walked/jogged with me on and off for awhile. He was super chatty and I kind of wanted to kill him for talking so much, but it was still nice to have company, particularly since my run plan was disintegrating and that was discouraging. The zoo part of the run course wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. Honestly, I thought it would distract me, but at that point, I just wanted the race to be over and could have cared less about seeing elephants. I loaded up on ice at every aid station and ate a GU and salt tablets every hour. I got blisters on my feet from dumping water over my head to keep cool. I didn’t mind the first lap, but by mile 9, I was very ready to be done. Fortunately, I paid attention to Coach Rich’s very good advice which was to stay diligent and focused even when walking. Apparently, a lot of people slow way down when walking. I kept that in mind and walked as fast as I could.
I finished the run in 3:32, slower than my bike time. Sigh. It’s always the damn run that gets me. In this case, I actually think it was the difference in bike terrain that screwed up my run. If I hadn’t had the nasty pain in my lower back, I think I could have run the first lap at least.
Lessons Learned:
-Having a coach made a huge difference. The training plan I used was specific to me and Coach Rich shifted things around to accommodate the normal ups and downs in my training. I’d thought I’d plateaued in my swimming, but by mixing in long swims with my usual yardage, I saw real improvement. Also, I’m lazy by nature and I really appreciated the accountability that having a coach provided.
-I should have made a better effort to find an area to do some flat rides. I think the difference in terrain on the bike hurt me on the run.
What’s Next:
-I’m shifting gears to cold weather endurance racing ie, the Birkebiner , a nordic ski race! I’ll actually be racing the Kortelopet, which is 23K, half the distance of the Birkie. In order to do this, I have to buy skis and then learn how to ski. I should have a month between when I move to Minneapolis and have access to snow and race day. Plenty of time.
-While the half iron distance was a fun challenge and I wouldn’t rule out doing another one, long distance triathlon isn’t my favorite. In 2012, I plan to work towards a PR at the Olympic distance. I’ll also make sure to get one or two open water swim races in. Should be fun!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Enter the Dark - Why Base Building Doesn't Work

Look quick - you may not see it for quite a while.  Daylight savings time ends this weekend.  Sunset on Sunday is FOUR fifty five (4:55 pm).  Then it gets earlier for 6 weeks finally starting to get later on December 11.

Historically a lot of triathletes try to use the off season to build their base.  This means trying to increase their endurance through a lot of aerobic (low) effort.  Long slow runs, time in the saddle, chasing the black line back and forth in the pool.  Building your base IS a good thing.

But here's what often happens.  It's cold.  It's dark. It's boring.  It's the holidays.  I'll do it tomorrow (or the day after).  The base doesn't get built.  Weight goes up, performance goes down and we spend the first weeks of spring trying to undo the damage.

At Tri For It! the dark months are NOT spent with hours of low level base building.  At the end of the season Coach Rich sits down with each athlete and asks a few questions:

  • Who/What have you neglected due to your training?
  • What else do you like to do?
  • What limited your performance last season?
Triathlon is a demanding pursuit - it can gobble up time.  If we're not careful other areas of our lives can be short changed.  Now is a great time to take stock, check in with those you love (or who put food on your table) and make sure everything is o.k.

Maybe you have (gasp) other hobbies or interests.  Take advantage of the end of the season and pursue them.  Some other hobbies - skiing, cyclocross, mountain biking, snowshoeing, or hockey may actually provide benefits to your triathlon performance.

The last question is the most critical (for your coach).  Take a look at your performances - what worked and what needs work.  We'll focus on improving the things that need work and improving technique and efficiency.  The workouts will be shorter and focused.  You will go into next season faster, stronger, more efficient.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TFI Athlete Kris featured in YWCA Newsletter

tap tap tap - is this thing on?  Coach Rich has been a bad blogger (can you be a blogger if you're not blogging?)

TFI athlete Kris is featured in the YWCA eNewsletter.  She was one of the top 3 most improved this year at the Y's Women's Tri.  Without a midsummer automobile mishap I'm confident she would have been THE most improved.  Here's the article:

Way to go Kris!  You're right - triathlons are for everyone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

TFI Athlete Pete PRs at Chicago Oly

Want to know what a PR feels like?  Look at the grin on TFI athlete Pete (sporting his TFI hat and Chicago Oly bling).

It was Pete's first sub 3 hour Oly and given the tremendous size of the transition area no small accomplishment.  He even negative split the 10k.

Way to go Pete!  Enjoy today, tomorrow training continues for Texas 70.3.

Just in case, PR stands for personal record.

Coach Rich was the only other TFI athlete racing this weekend.  He apparently went head to head with this guy:

That's reigning World Champion Chris McCormack.  Macca was in town to race the TriStar111 event.  According to, after a bike issue he switched bikes and joined the Dare to Tri Sprint event along with Coach Rich.

"At the 1.5 mile mark on the run I heard somebody coming with a crazy fast turnover.  He flew by me.  I shouted 'Go Macca' - and he was gone."

The season is winding down in Minnesota.  Soon it will be time to start planning next year (and digging out the Yaktrax).  Enjoy every minute of it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

TFI Development Team Rocks Chisago Kids Tri

Sporting their podium bling.
TJ, Zach and Jenna were all racing at the storm delayed Chisago Lakes Kids Tri on Saturday.  Not even a 3 hour wait could keep them off the podium as the placed 3rd, 1st and 1st in their divisions.

Jenna high kicking out of T2.
Zach leading the charge up the beach.

Coach Rich with Zach and Jenna.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Podium Finishes for TFI Athletes

This weekend wasn't quite as busy last weekend for TFI athletes, but we did have two racers. 

Melissa was racing the short course at Heart of Lakes Tri in Annandale.  It was only her second triathlon ever and she finished 2nd in her age group.  We can't wait to hear the details.  Congrats Melissa!

Zach, on the development team, raced at the Miracle Kids Tri at Lake Nokomis.  The distances were a big jump for him, but he had a great race and wants to do it next year.  Here he is striding out T2. [Yeah it's not a great shot, but you try yelling encouragement and working 2 cameras]

Zach was coming off his win at Pewaukee last week.  He had a strong swim and was out of the water first, lost a few places in transition, came off the bike as the first 12 year old and then ran down the remaining 13 year old (who had started 1 minute in front).  Here he is with his bling.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Huge Race Weekend for Tri For It!

We've got several racers this weekend.

Pete is doing the Minneapolis Tri (aka Lifetime Tri)

Kristen is racing the Shawnee Mission Tri in Kansas

Coach Rich, Anne and Mike are all racing the Pewaukee Sprint.  In addition the Tri For It! Coaching Development Team (aka Zach) will be racing the kids tri at Pewaukee.

Best of luck to the whole TFI team - you've done the hard work - now get after it and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ask the Coach is Back

We're in the heart of race season in the Upper Midwest.  If you have any questions about your training as a race approaches, race strategy or course questions fire off an email to   I'm happy to provide guidance where I can.

If I answer your question in a blog post I'll mail you a Tri For It! running cap.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Coaches are People Too

There's an unwritten rule for coaches that if anyone asks how your training is going the answer is always great. "How did that race go?"  Exactly according to plan.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not true.  At least not for this coach.  I face the same struggles you, as an age grouper triathlete, face.

After completing two Ironmans (or is that Ironmen?) in two years, I took the off in off-season seriously this year.  I'm still paying for it.  Combine that with the crazy wet cold spring we had and I'm behind where I would like to be.

I get it when an athlete writes me that they just didn't have "it" for the prescribed workout.  It happens.  Hopefully not too often.  When that happens we look at what's going on in their life and training and see what we can do to help them get "it" back.  Sometimes it's a change of scenery, change of pace, signing up for a race or just revisiting their goals and motivation for their multisport pursuits.

The way I look at it, I'd rather be honest with my athletes about my own training struggles.  As an athlete would I want a coach who's been in my shoes?   I would.  Would you?

I'll be racing New Bri this weekend.  Looking forward to seeing you out there!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Saw the Signs . . . finally

Today, I finally saw signs that it really is spring up here in the Upper Midwest:

  1. It didn't snow today (yay!)
  2. Minneapolis has cleaned the streets in my neighborhood
  3. Tulips opened
  4. If it's warm it's windy, if it's cold it's windy
    It was a long winter, and a dreadfully slow spring but it's here.  Now get that bike out of the trainer, clean it up and get out there!

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Urban Tri Grand Opening!

    Check out the Twin Cities newest multisport shop - Urban Tri.  Located in South Minneapolis, their grand opening is today through Sunday.

    Urban Tri

    Say "Hi" to Todd and tell him Coach Rich sent you.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Racing to Breakout of a Rut

    I'd been struggling.  You may be thinking "whoah - you're a coach, how can you be struggling?"  It's true.  Coaches are people too.

    I've been making some changes to my running stride - changes that will make me a better, injury free runner in the long run.  In the short term every run is a mental battle which becomes a physical battle.  If you've worked on changing your running stride you know what I mean.  If you haven't but have worked to change your swim stroke it's the same lost feeling only drier.

    Thinking about an activity - mentally trying to engage your lower core and glutes actually raises your heartrate - with no increase in pace.  Thus each training run is more work than you think it should be.  That's where I've been for the past couple of weeks.

    Last Saturday I ran in the Team Ortho Get Lucky 7k.  I was running it with TFI athlete HK.  She's generally a little faster than me and with the way I've been running lately she's much faster.  Great - an opportunity to embarrass myself in front of an athlete I'm coaching.

    She (like all of us) tends to go out a little too fast.  We discussed running together for the first 2 miles so I could hold her back a bit (or a lot).  Then she could cut the strings and fly.

    Nearing the end of the 7k (photo courtesy of Steve Stenzel)
    At the start we seeded ourselves based upon our estimate pace and soon we were off.   Racing I didn't think about my stride, I just ran.  The first mile went by and we were ahead of the pace we discussed, but not by much.   I thought if I could hold that pace for the whole race I'd be happy.  The 2nd mile went by - same thing.  The 3rd mile was faster and at the 5k point, still running with HK, we cranked it up.  She outkicked me at the finish - "Go Girl!"

    We built our pace through the whole race and passed over 2000 people (which is a fun way to run a race).

    I ended up running 2 minutes faster than last year.  A time I thought I had no chance of repeating much less beating. 

    All this work on my stride is paying off and it's refreshing to find that out.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    The Benefits of A Training Partner

    Coach Rich and Rob at Chisago Lakes 2010 - a MUCH warmer day!
    Friday was the last day of my training week.  I was feeling pretty beat up from a new cross-training endeavor (racquetball).  It was C-O-L-D.  Around 3 degrees with a brisk 10-15 mile an hour wind out of the north.

    Earlier that week Rob and I had set up our usual Friday morning, kids are on the bus, meet up and run.  I hadn't really paid attention to the weather until Friday.

    No turning back now, I told Rob I'd meet him so that's what I did.  I grabbed extra layers, spread on some Warm Skin (a product I got some free samples of ), loaded up the dog and off we went.

    The first mile absolutely sucked.  Into the wind.  Hands turned to blocks of ice.  Neither of us were talking much (that usually doesn't happen until the end of a run).  Finally we turned away from the wind.  Hands warmed up.  Conversation, well, it didn't exactly flow, we're still guys.  But there was some conversation.  The miles went by.  Challenges were made.  "Top of the hill before we turn around."

    We finished the run, exhilarated by our time in the frigid air.

    Would I have headed outside Friday morning and done that run on my own?  I like to think I'm a disciplined trainer, a 2x Ironman finisher blah, blah, blah.  I don't like running when the wind chill is in the negatives.  I probably would have grabbed my ipod and headed to the gym.

    I probably would not have gone as far and I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed it so much.  Training partners (and coaches) can help us keep the commitments we've made to ourselves and make it fun along the way.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    A Workout Ate My Marriage?

    This morning on mytalk107.1 fm in the Twin Cities, Ian and Marjorie were talking about an article that had appeared in the Wall Street Journal entitled "A Workout Ate My Marriage" (You can torture me and I will swear up and down that that station was on only because my kids enjoy the Happy Boy joke segment)

    Here's the full article:

    A Workout Ate My Marriage

    Basically the article offers some anecdotal evidence of extreme endurance training causing marital discord.  One counselor even referred to "divorce by triathlon"

    The radio hosts talked up the addictive nature of working out and triathlon in particular.  Portraying the tri widow left behind with kids and the cleaning.  The one line of the article that got no mention was as follows:

    The effect of extreme exercise on divorce rates isn't clear. Even if research showed a higher rate of discord in homes where just one spouse is an endurance athlete, exercise could be a consequence, rather than a cause.

    Now I'm not going to argue that the time demands of triathlon and "extreme endurance" doesn't ever put stress on marriages.   I think it's probably even harder when only one spouse is engaging in an active lifestyle.

    Balance is really the key.  Most of my athletes use triathlon and training as part of a healthy lifestyle.  They race to keep them motivated to stay in shape and because they enjoy it.  Like me, a lot of them choose to make it part of their family lifestyle.

    I think you could plug hunting, fishing, golf, tennis, car racing, hockey, or even coin/stamp collecting into the article and find anecdotes where one spouse's hobby has created strain in the marriage.

    Participation in endurance events in general and triathlon in particular is skyrocketing.  At the same time our nation is getting more and more obese.  It seems to me that rather than looking for problems associated with exercise we should be figuring out how to get the other spouse off the couch.

    I contend that triathlon can strengthen a marriage.  I know I'm happier and a better husband than I was 40 pounds ago before I started exercising.  I certainly appreciate the support I've received from my wife and kids.

    Has your need to train strained your marriage?  Have you struggled to balance work, family and hobby?  One solution might be to train more efficiently. (WARNING - self serving plug to follow)  At TFI we can help you get the most out of your training time, so you can get back to your loved ones.

    Don't forget to thank the ones who allow you to pursue your passions!

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Winter Cycling Fitness

    I came across a really good article setting forth the pros and cons of the various techniques for developing/maintaining cycling fitness during the winter.  Here's the link:

    Winter Cycling

    There are 3 basic options:
    1. Spin Classes
    2. Indoor Trainer
    3. Ride Outside
    The author was from Texas so her recommendation to "suck it up buttercup" and ride outside is a little more practical there than here on the frozen tundra.  While I do see people riding even when it's below zero and the latest Alberta Clipper  has laid down 2 inches of greasy snow, that's not me.  I suspect that's not you either.

    My bike, our bedroom, can you say supportive spouse?
    That really leaves 2 options - spin classes and indoor trainers.  The indoor trainer is clearly the best option with one caveat.  It's boring and you're more likely to cut a workout short or skip it all together.

    Assuming you actually get on the trainer and complete the workout it is the best option.  You are on your bike which means you are working the muscles in the precise position they will be in on race day.  You're also practicing staying in the aero position.  If you're racing Half Iron or longer I recommend wearing your helmet for long rides on the trainer.  Yes, you look like a dork but you've got to get your neck muscles used to the added weight or you will really suffer on your first outdoor long rides.

    I typically recommend a mix of trainer rides and spin classes.  While most spin classes are less than ideal, the social interaction and thumping music break up the monotony of riding the trainer on your own.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Winter Hill Workouts (Indoors)

    If your reaction to the last article was - no way, I'm not putting on all the layers and drilling screws into my shoes, this article may be more your style.

    Just because you've taken your training indoors doesn't mean you are stuck pounding out hour after hour on the treadmill at a slow pace.  Those workouts will help you maintain aerobic endurance and help your body burn fat as fuel, but they will grind down your enthusiasm.

    One of the ways we change things up at TFI is to include some indoor hill work.  They're challenging but a heck of a lot safer than slipping and sliding down the ice covered sidewalk on your favorite hill.

    Warm up with some speed walking and jogging.  Crank up the incline and pick up the pace to your 10k pace and go for 1 minute.  Walk for 2 minutes and repeat 4-10 times.

    This will help you build strength and prepare you for the speedwork to come in the spring.

    One tip (and the inspiration for this post) - Do not, I repeat, DO NOT grab onto to the top of the treadmill display or grab bars and hold yourself up.  Unless you're working your back muscles to prepare for waterski season, I can't for the life of me understand what this accomplishes.  When was the last time you saw a tow rope on the run course?

    Lean into the hill, shorten your stride and use those arms to power your way through the interval (or to the top if you're outside).