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Here's a Toast to what was an EPIC 2014!

There is no way to describe 2014 other than “NON-STOP!” In all, 2014 involved...

  • moving to five different houses/apartments,
  • racing four Ironmans,
  • winning two overall Ironman amateur titles,
  • finishing second at the toughest triathlon in the world,
  • placing # sixteen in my very first professional race,
  • moving 1200 miles half-way across the country,
  • taking on three different jobs at my company and
  • adopting one precious and precocious black lab mix.

While it was still a whirlwind stop that took all of December (and finally staying in one place for more than 2 weeks at a time) to recover from, I can't say I regret a moment of it!

If you couldn’t tell, my blog has been quieter this past year than most and this entire post kind of captures why! 

January

Ran the 3M Marathon to set a new 13.1 PR in 1:31! And re-stocked all of my office supplies for the new year while at it. Everything else was enjoying my first full and only mild Austin winter (well, aside from that one time it baby-snowed).

January
January

February

Adopted my lovely Lucy on Valentine’s Day and couldn't stop raving about her for the next few months (oh, wait... I still am). Ran my 4th half-marathon with a slightly sub-par race at the Austin half-marathon but a good way to celebrate my one-year anniversary of getting hit by a car. Then closed out the rest of the month by driving clear across ALLLL of big ol' Texas with Dawn to join the rest of Team HPB at Smash Camp in Tucson, Arizona. From 110x100 yard swims (helloooo, lightning) to the most epic summit of Mt Lemmon ever (ft. snow at the top and getting stranded at the cookie cabin) to train runs through the desert and just awesome biking all around, it was the best of best #smashfests.

February
February

March

Just one week after returning back home from SmashFest, I entered a local Texas duathlon on two days notice and won overall female—the prize was a bag of walnuts! By the end of month it was already feeling like summer—with a Friday post-work ride finishing at Sonic for a little fruit slush ending! (one of the big things I miss about Austin—warmer weather!) Lucy and I became dog park regulars and she learned how to swim with the biggest of labs. And then it turned into gorgeous bluebonnet season, my rides featuring seas of blue.

March
March

April

April was good to me! Most of all—I was first overall amateur at New Orleans 70.3! The perks of a hometown race included pre-race bike rides with the #OCDSherpa and post-race beignets. But before that, I kicked off the half-ironman season early Tri Tyler Half Ironman, doing half-decent on one of the hardest courses I had done up to that point! (IMCDA and Norseman would soon change that, however). Oh yeah, despite a slow start, Lucy also graduated from Puppy School :)

April
April

May

Ended up spending most of my May shuttling between New Orleans, Asheville and Austin. Two weeks of Asheville hill training sandwiched the Rev3 Knoxville AG Championships where I ended up 3rd overall in their funky hybrid Olympic/Half distance, second to HPB teammate and fellow baby pro Leslie! There was also a pre-Knox moment of panic where I couldn't find my bib but got a little creative with things... Sadly there was never a race report about Knox since all of May was pretty hectic and depressing as it was spent saying goodbye to my grandmother. On the brighter side, both Lucy and I fell in love with Asheville and decided to make it our mission to move there as soon as possible. I rode every hill I could find, including a trip or two up Mt Mitchell and soaked up the Asheville love and wilderness until it was time to head back to beyond bearably-hot Austin.

May
May

June

June was ALL about Coeur d'Alene, where I won my FIRST AMATEUR IRONMAN TITLE! Of course, this also meant a podium with teammate Laura and sealed the deal for a return ticket to Kona World Championships! Of course, I was ecstatic! But I went into this skeptical after a few weeks of sub-par training. Lots of driving, lots of tortured training in the Austin heat (but, oh, the sunflowers!) and lots of distractions—including a new family member (welcome nephew Lex!) and a family reunion in New Orleans, that featured a trainer ride in a stuffy hotel room while all my cousins were out partying in the french quarter and a few 5am runs down (still-beer-drenched) Bourbon Street and along my favorite streetcar tracks.

June
June

July

Less than 20-hours after winning Ironman Coeur d'Alene I had to forget about that high since I was back in Austin and frantically packing and painting my apartment—my move to Asheville was OFFICIAL! Lucy and I drove a stuffed car 1200 to then settle into our temporary new home, a cabin in the woods with amazing views. I had less than 4 weeks to officially prep for Norseman and crammed accordingly. No lie, thistrainingwasbeyondtough. My new whip, a BLUE Triad (aka #bluecrusch) arrived and I got to set breaking her in. From there, it was off to Norway, the land of fjords, ferries, trolls, historic sea towns and churches and battle sites, beautiful views and overpriced, well, EVERYTHING! But I was here and my dream was coming true... it was time to conquer Norseman!

July
July

August

In the race and experience of a life-time, I finished second at Norseman. Beyond that, I slowly got back into training and life was nothing but puppies and gorgeous sunsets.

AUgust
AUgust

September

To be honest, all of September I was in a bit of a funk. Looking back, I barely remembering it because it was a mix of kind of quiet and kind of hectic and juggling work and training and some other oddities. I moved into a cute little house, then quickly  moved out for safety purposes/it was falling apart. Training was all about Kona: in prep I rode with friendsElizabeth and Jared and Corey and Meghan through some killer hills in South Carolina, climbed Mt Mitchell on numerous occasions (if you ever need a fun, long route - let me know!) and got in my solo Birthday swim one weekday morning before work (set if you're interested here).

September
September

October

All about the KONA Ironman World Championships! Leading up to it, I was on local television in a segment for being a "game changer", featured in a SELF Magazine post about the "Top Inspirational Women in the Ironman World Championships" and featured in the local newspaper with Elizabeth! In Kona, we swam the course with all of Team HPB, rode on the queen K and just in general questioned whether it would be feasible to move to Hawaii ;) Race day wasn't what I wanted but raced hard on a tough day and ended the run in an all-out duel with new friend Erin for a well-earned medal and lei—what would I have given to be able to bring the flowers back to the mainland to dry an frame somehow. To think, next time I race IM KONA, it will be in the pro race—just give me a few years, just you wait!! While the legs were still de-puffing post-race, I traveled straight from Kona to San Fran for Dreamforce, where I spoke at one of the sessions on platform adoption. While there, I also got in a few good trolley rides, got to see Bruno Mars in concert and snuck in a run in along one of my favorite routes in the world!

October
October

November

We woke up to nearly six inches of snow on November 1st! Lucy's first snow and a shock to me as well! Along with a few other athletes, we braved the snowy day taking place in a photo shoot with First Bourn, including some of the awesome people I got to meet and ride with a few weeks before when I was introduced to this awesome venture kicking off right here in Asheville! With a quick bounce back from Kona and onto Arizona, I raced my first professional race at Ironman Arizona!

Nov
Nov

December

Much like it was a struggle bouncing back after Norseman, I spent the next few weeks after IMAZ slowly easing into things. Lucy and I used the down-time to finally make our new home cozy, both inside and out. There was the epic proposal ride where I was the secret photog for Duran and Laura and some hilarious puppy sitting that followed. I started the project of trying to become a serioustrailrunneremphasis on "trying". :) And to cap off all of amazing 2015 in a poetically fitting way (with a full post to surely follow shortly), I headed down to Atlanta for New Year's Eve and swam FIFTEEN KILOMETERS with the Dynamo Masters Crew. Nothing short of epic.

Dec
Dec

What's Next?

Who knows, but I'm excited to create it! Oh, yeah, and I ended up featured in 220 Triathlon's yearly calendar insert for their magazine—check out August! :)

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 6.37.43 PM
Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 6.37.43 PM

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Drive, Passion, Suffering

This weekend featured lots of training and suffering and with that came bonus recovery time on the couch, during which I happened to catch two documentaries about life as an athlete worth sharing. The first is "Crash Reel", the story of former professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce. It chronicles his rise to snowboarding fame leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics and battles with Shaun White as they redefine the limits of the half-pipe. It goes on to capture his 2009 crash just weeks before the Vancouver Olympics, resulting traumatic brain injury and the day-to-day of how he copes with those life-altering changes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry through a good portion of the movie. It's not online but I think HBO may be re-airing soon. I'd keep your eye on for this one—definitely worth watching. Plus, the soundtrack is killer and the cinematography reminiscent of a Warren Miller video.

The faint of heart should be careful in the final few moments though, as the director takes you through a super-cut of essentially the worst crashes in extreme sports history, questioning the fuzzy limits of extreme sports—and what are we risking by trying to expand those boundaries? Having suffered enough flashbacks of my own bike crash, I actually closed my eyes through most of this, after cringing through the first few shots. Don't worry though, the preview is (mostly) safe:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho9WCHAviyc]

The second is the story of Dirk Bockel leading up to last year's Kona race. Excellent storytelling, killer soundtrack as well. Similar to the KP documentary, it shows how consuming a life-long goal can be for certain athletes. For Kevin, it was the Vancouver Olympics. For Dirk, it was Kona.

Maybe I was tainted from watching the KP documentary but I found the contrast between the two athletes and how they approached the task at hand to be intriguing. Most noticeably, just months after being in a coma and dealing with TBI, Kevin was itching to get back onto the board and back into professional snowboarding—despite the grief of his family, including (in a particularly poignant moment) his older brother who has Down Syndrome who begs him not to re-attempt the trick that nearly killed him. For Dirk, slipping off the podium at the Abu Dhabi triathlon during the run or dealing with a broken hand at last year's Kona was an almost a welcome 'excuse' for him to take the gas off the pedal. Both (somewhat) misguided, but fascinating nonetheless.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/72841394]

 

Both documentaries feature the intertwined ideas of passion and suffering and how these athletes think, train and live. Overall, these two documentaries provide interesting insight into the troubled minds of two high caliber athletes as they attempt to out-train, outperform and out-innovate their competitors.

As Shaun White describes in "Crash Reel",

“I don’t sometimes like what I’m doing. I do it because I need the satisfaction and the fulfillment to make me feel better about myself, like I’ve achieved some new level that I never dreamed of. We make cars faster. We make trains faster. We innovate. We do that. It’s just what we do.”

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Treat Yo Self: Tri Bike Transport

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Treat Yo Self: Tri Bike Transport

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One of the best decisions I made for Mont Tremblant was using Tri Bike Transport. I had heard great things about the company and service but for some reason was always somewhat hesitant to sign up and try it. The number one reason I decided to try them this race was that I just finished getting my bike fit re-dialed and didn't want to risk messing it up. Second reason was the pure convenience of it all.

In addition to not having to break down my bike for travel, I didn't have to lug it to and from the airport—which is always a big pain when you're dealing with 6am flights and 4am cabs to the airport. Plus, when your checked bag looks like a small body bag, the last thing you want to do is check yet another bag...

IMG_4565

Am I the only one who refuses to flat out claim that it's a bike unless they ask point blank? "Ummmmm... it's gear and some wetsuits...." usually works for me but then I feel so guilty about circumventing the system and potentially racking up bad karma, no matter how annoying the excessive bike charges.

And when you think about it, if you are flying anyone other than Frontier or Virgin, you're bound to rack up obscene bike fees while flying that might cost you just as much, if not more, as the relatively reasonable $300 charge that Tri Bike has for their service.

As for logistics, about a week before the event, I dropped my bike off at the local bike shop and all I had to do for prep-work was remove the pedals. In fact, I could have let Jack and Adams remove them but I had a pedal wrench so went ahead and did it myself. From there, I got an email notification when the bike had been picked up and was en route.

My bike also happened to be on the same pick-up as another athlete's ride, "Wilson", who was tweeting funny back and forths with TBT about the journey up to Canada. On that note, I absolutely love TBT's sense of humor:

twitter

On the Friday before the race, same day I arrived in Mont Tremblant, I was able to pick up my bike from the little corrals they had set up close to transition. Technically you could pick up the same day as bike drop-off and roll it over to transition and never have to deal with your bike but I picked mine up a day early  to ensure I had enough free time for my pre-race spin and making sure all the parts were tightened and at 100%.

IMG_4623 In addition to showing your ID to pick-up your bike, they also put a sticker on each ride with info about the owner and pick-up shop. Normally I'm hesitant to put my new bike in someone else's hands (especially after the stolen bike drama from earlier this year) but this was never a concern. The entire process was entirely seamless and I couldn't (and still can't) stop raving about how awesome of an experience it was using TBT instead of flying with my bike for a change.

No really... could not stop raving. I probably told the poor folks working TBT twenty times that this was the best. experience. ever. when traveling to a race. Could not be happier from start to finish.

When I went to drop off my bike for the return trip, a few hours after finishing, after I had showered and was going back to spectate at the finish line, I made the decision that I was 100% going to use TBT for my next race in Kona! One less thing to worry about and they will even get the bike there by the time I arrive on October 5th, a whole week early!

They also had hat and visor freebies so I loaded up on my new post-swim hat, which I tested out over wet hair tonight after my swim:

IMG_4787

The only drawback to TBT is that they don't support the Rev3 races!! Since I moved further away from most of my favorite races and can't drive as often, I'm still stuck flying with my bike to most venues. Maybe as they grow in popularity (which is bound to happen once more people test them out...), we'll see the schedule open up as well. The only other thing is that there is a week-and-a-half window on either side of race day to transport the bikes. Before I bought my roadie, this might have been a teeny bit of an issue but since I have my back-up bike, I'm completely fine in the days leading up to and after race day. Plus, getting away from my powermeter in these key recovery days also makes coach happy : )

I would highly recommend Tri Bike Transport for your next A race or if you really just want an easy and seamless race travel experience.

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Sweet Dreams: Sleep App Reviews

Everyone talks about using the off-season to cross your "T"s and dot your "I"s. While my coach is loading me up on technique- and drill-heavy sessions, I'm trying to figure out how to balance the non-triathlon side of life—namely, rest, recovery and fueling. The biggest thing for me, and I'm sure for lots of other triathletes juggling a 9-to-5 (or as is often the case in my life, a 8am-7pm) job, is getting enough sleep. As a result, all of my off-season non-training training has been dedicated to becoming more efficient, figuring out how to plan/pack/cook ahead, etc. all in the name of more pillow time.

To track progress, I wanted to test out a sleep-monitoring device. Turns out the Zeo that everyone raves about is a little out of my price range, so I thought I'd test out one of the handful of iPhone apps that claim to measure your sleep duration and quality. After some searching, I narrowed down my top three to the following:

  • Sleep On It
  • Sleep Cycle
  • Sleep Time

And they all work in a slightly similar way: you open up the app right before bedtime, select your morning alarm and then hit some sort of start-button before lying the phone face down on your mattress, a few inches away from your pillow.

Then, using the iPhone's built in accelerometer, the app tracks any movement to determine whether you are awake, in light sleep or in deep sleep. All three also allow you to set an alarm window, which will then wake you up at what it determines to be the "peak" waking time within that window based on your light and deep sleep patterns.

The Verdict:

To start with, I was initially very skeptical about how effective a phone would be in tracking movement, and then translating that movement into periods of light and deep sleep. To test this, I ran a lot of the sleep apps at the same time using my old iPhone4 and my new iPhone 5, comparing the results of each. I would turn on both apps at the same time, set the alarms for the same time windows and then place them on approximately the same location on my mattress.

To my surprise, the graphs matched up. Here, you can see that Sleep Cycle (on the left) and Sleep Time (on the right) displayed relatively similar patterns of activities:

Okay, it's confirmed that the measuring itself was consistent across the apps, how about alarm times? Sleep Cycle and Sleep Time were the only apps that had the "smart alarm" so I set the two alarm windows for the same time. Again, across a few nights, I found that the alarms tended to sound within 1-5 minutes of each other. My guess is that they use similar software in determining when is "best" to wake up.

In the end, all it really came down to was 1) what metrics/features are available on each of the apps? and 2) how easy to use is the interface?

Sleep On It

I have to admit, I ruled this one out pretty quickly. Compared to the other two, it does not have a smart alarm feature and does not break the night down into periods of heavy/light/awake. Instead, using "Going to Bed" and "I'm Awake" buttons, it simply maps hours slept as a bar graph shaded in green/yellow/red to indicate the spectrum of green/good to red/bad [photo below, left]

Next, it looks like the app might do a good job of showing trends across time, but performs poorly when it comes to evaluating an individual night of sleep. "Sleep on It" displayed some interesting average/min/max stats, but in the end this really wasn't different than features provided by the other two. [photo below, center]

The one thing I did think was somewhat useful was the option to add any notes about the night or day before to your nightly sleep entry, but I know that's something I would never prioritize enough to do when first waking up. [photo below, right]

Final Thoughts: Basic, easy to use interface but lack of additional features and detailed reporting makes it hard to track any meaningful data.

iTunes link: Sleep On It

Price: Free

iTunes Grade: ★★★

My Grade: C+

Sleep Cycle

For starters, Sleep Cycle is very easy to use and has great tracking details. The alarm feature [photo below, left] was the easiest to use of the three, and made the alarm window extremely clear and easy to set. The nightly data output [photo below, right] was an easy-to-read graph and displayed general levels of activities. The only part of the nightly graph that I disliked was that it was not always clear how long these periods lasted for and I can only deduce that the plateau on the right image means a period of being awake.

That being said, not a lot is left to be desired with the cumulative output of that tracking. I found some of the data points a little meaningless (e.g. "Best Night", "Worst Night") and hard to toggle between individual days on the overall performance charts. To be honest, I probably could have done a much more thorough review of Sleep Cycle—particularly because several of the graphs required 5 days of data—but I ended up being much much happier with Sleep Time (see below) and cut my Sleep Cycle part of the experiment short.

Final Thoughts: Good nightly data, excellent alarm feature—but if you're trying to get a larger picture of sleep habits, not very helpful.

iTunes link: Sleep Cycle

Price: $0.99

iTunes Grade: ★★★★★

My Grade: B

Sleep Time

Like mentioned above, I fell for Sleep Time very quickly and have been using it nightly for almost the past ten days. The app won me over with its ease of use, larger number of additional features and superior data output.

Some of my favorite features are the simple add-ons that you would not expect. For example, when you first set your alarm, the app displays a countdown "time until alarm." [photo below, left]. This is great for people who might usually workout in the morning but may want to decide to push the workout to the P.M. if it would otherwise cut too much into their overall sleep hours.

Also appreciated is the "hold to wake" feature, great for people who might otherwise snooze and then go back to bed. In order to turn off the morning alarm, you actually have to hold down the button for three seconds before shutting off [photo below, center]. The only drawback to their hold versus snooze system is that it considers flipping the phone over to mean "snooze", which has led me to over-snooze on two occasions—but I'm pretty sure this is something you can change in the settings.

In the end, the biggest draw (or at least what I find most interesting to review when I wake up) was the depiction of light versus deep sleep shown in the nightly summary graph, paired with a breakdown of awake, light, deep+REM sleep. On the whole, it's a lot easier to use this app to infer sleep stages compared to the other two. In addition, the app then uses this data to calculate an "efficiency" score for the night. [photo below, right]. For example, I'm seeing pretty consistently that I am waking around the 3-4am time frame on a nightly basis and that I actually do have a better night's sleep (i.e. more cycles through REM, less 3am wake-ups) when I get more hours overall.

The one slightly deceiving thing to warn users about, however, is that a higher efficiency score does not always equal a better night sleep. For example, I have seen some 8-hour nights with an efficiency score in the 70%-range, while other 6-hour nights have scored up around 91%. From what I can tell, the efficiency score doesn't take into account overall hours—only what percent of X hours were you getting "quality" sleep.

There's also a "Soundscape" feature where you can set background noise on a timer (think waves, crickets, etc.) that looks interesting, if you appreciate ambient noise while falling asleep. You can also set it to any of your iTunes playlists if you prefer not to fall asleep to "A night in the Amazon forest with birds and crickets."

Finally, for kicks, I ran the app after Thanksgiving dinner, with lots of food/drinking/sweets. Dead as a doornail, in a food coma:

Final Thoughts: If you're going to track sleep, this gives you the best overall snapshot of each individual night, as well as the cumulative effects. The highlighting of total duration, wake-up time and the efficiency score make it more about a challenge to get a better night's sleep than just recording data—though it does a pretty stellar job at that as well. 

iTunes link: Sleep Time

Price: $0.99

iTunes Grade: ★★★★ 1/2

My Grade: A

Conclusion

Bottom line: the fact that I've stuck to Sleep Time for the longest (and still going...) is the biggest indicator of how simple and worthwhile it is to use for every-night tracking. Already I think using a tracking device like this has worked almost like a food log—just seeing how poorly I'm sleeping is enough to make me want to push a little harder to get in bed a few minutes earlier.

I would love to hear what everyone else thinks of these app or any others in the market (including Zeo). Do you think it's worthwhile to track sleep, or is it just another excessive data point?

Sweet dreams!

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