Monday, June 28, 2010

Iron Goddess Tri

This weekend, I ran in the Iron Goddess, an all-woman triathlon at Waterloo Recreation Area.

This was not the triathlon I planned to do this weekend. When I was looking over the race calendars this spring, I noticed this tri and the Kensington tri were scheduled for the same weekend, and I signed up for Kensington. Although I love races at Waterloo, the Kensington tri had a longer bike course (good for me), and, in all honesty, the idea of an all-woman tri had no appeal to me. It didn't seem like an empowering concept to me - it seemed actually quite the opposite, as if us delicate women-folk needed to be kept away from the big, scary, (sometimes) faster men on the race course. Or something. Not that I am a cut-throat competitor by any means, but I thought this race would be likely to annoy me.

A few weeks ago, the race company hosting the Kensington tri had to cancel the event due to poor swim conditions at the beach. My money was refunded, but I suddenly was without a tri to do in June, so I decided to sign up for the Iron Goddess. It seemed better than not racing at all this month.

As race day approached, my worries increased that this was going to be a weird event. In the pre-race information e-mail, the race directors reminded participants that even though it was fun to chat with your friend while biking, that riding two abreast is against tri rules, and remember, this is a race after all. I groaned reading this to my husband, wondering if this was going to be a race or a socializing event.

Sunday, we showed up for the race and it was business as usual. Pick up my number and chip, rack my bike and set up my transition area, get my body marked, make sure I am familiar with the flow of the race - where to run/bike in and out, etc. Then head down to the beach for a warm-up swim.

In tris, wetsuits are legal if water temps are below 78 degrees. This morning, the water was 77.9. My wetsuit does make me a faster swimmer, but I was a little concerned about being too warm. After much deliberation, and a taking a short dip, I decided to forego the wetsuit this time.

The race was a bit delayed, but finally we got started and I was to start in the fourth wave. I hit the water strong. My goggles were adjusted perfectly, I was having no problem sighting the buoys, and I was up near the front of the pack, just a bit off from the lead swimmers. As we rounded the first set of buoys, however, one of the kayaks had pulled across the course to stop us. Thunderstorms had entered the county, and the sheriff's department was having the race directors pull everyone out of the water until they passed. The earlier waves had already rounded halfway, so they continued on, but we needed to turn and head back to shore.

During the half-hour delay for the weather to pass, the race directors made the reasonable decision to shorten the swim to 400 meters instead of 800 for the interrupted waves. Some racers were apparently concerned about tiring on the swim since they had already done about half of it. I figured that if you trained appropriately, the extra distance shouldn't take it out of you that bad, but I understand not wanting to mess with safety on the swim. Realizing that people had different goals, the director offered us the option of still doing the full swim if we wanted to. It would be a timing headache for them figuring out placements, etc., but they were willing to offer two different race lengths to try to keep everyone happy. I opted to still swim the full 800, since that is what I came there to do.

So, we filed into the water and took off again. And this time my trusty race goggles immediately filled with water. I tried to adjust them between strokes, but could not get a good seal. Any time I put my face flat into the water, they filled up again. If I kept my head at a slight tilt, they did OK, but having a higher head when you swim makes your legs sink, increases drag, and slows you down. I regretted not wearing my wetsuit, which would have compensated for this somewhat. I made it out of the water feeling strong but frustrated, with a pretty crappy swim time well off my usual pace.

With no wetsuit to wriggle out of, I made it through transition quickly, and was out on the bike. The bike is my strongest event by far and my favorite. There are few things I find as fun as flying along a country road on my tri bike. For me, my race is really largely done on the bike. I try to get as much advantage as I can there, then hope I can run strong enough to hold people off. I decided to lay it all out on the bike course this time, and just see what was left in me for the run.

Came back into transition, switched to my running shoes, and started off on my least favorite part of the tri - the run. The first half was on park roads, and then it ended on trail. I knew if I just stuck it out for the road portion, which I find more difficult mentally, that I always do better once I get on trail. After the bike effort I put in, I expected to be feeling dead on the run, but to my surprise I found myself passing several people. At the trail entrance, I pulled in behind a runner who was going at a good clip. I could keep up with her though, so I decided to stick to her for a while. After a ways, I decided to pull ahead, thinking that having her behind me would push me harder, and perhaps I could pull her along as well.

We kept up that pace together, each motivating each other to keep it up. About a quarter mile from the finish, we started to close in on a woman in my age group. She was holding her distance ahead of us, but at an uphill in the trail, I heard her groan about the climb. Figuring that was a sign that she was near exhaustion and wouldn't be able to challenge me back, I kicked up the pace enough to overtake her on the climb. I pulled ahead then into the finish line chute exhausted but knowing that I had left it all on the race course.

In the end, I was three minutes faster than my goal time, even with the crappy swim. I came in sixth in my age group, with the third fastest bike split and fifth fastest run split in the group, which amazed me. My run time still has me baffled. I don't think I've ever run a straight 5K at that pace, so I'm wondering if the course was measured short. On the other hand, I have been working a lot on my running this year, and I know that I was pushing very hard. It isn't an impossible time, and I hope it is a sign that my run is actually improving.

For all my negativity leading up to the race, I had to admit I had a great time. Interestingly, due to the two separate swim length options, you could no longer tell who you were in direct competition with, since you didn't know which swim they had done. So, you really just had to run your own race, do the best you could, and see how it came out in the end.

It was perhaps an odd tri experience, but nonetheless a fun and rewarding one. I'm glad that I eventually shed my negativity and stereotypes and just enjoyed what was actually a very positive, well-run, and challenging event.

Most Awesome Swim Bouys Ever

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Double Box Fun

Since Cadence's jumpwork and flatwork exercises have been going well, I decided the other day to try him out on little pieces of some Greg Derrett double box exercises, to see how well he did with some short sequencing. I was very proud of the little man. I broke the exercise into very small sequences for now, and the video is actually a couple separate sessions over the course of the evening. I was proud of the baby dog - he had his thinking cap on that night. Even in spite of the train in the distance, the UM Survival Flight helicopter passing overhead, the neighbors using their staple gun . . . the video makes it sound like we live in the middle of a construction zone!

Of course, I also get to watch myself fumble with my toy a few times, have some crappy timing, etc. but he was pretty forgiving.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dog Paddling

This was a quiet and hot weekend, so we took the opportunity to wheel the kayak down the road to the pond and paddle around for a couple hours.

All the dogs like kayak rides, so we were sure to choose one with plenty of room for a canine passenger. Jade enjoys them perhaps too much. He is too water-crazed, and constantly wants to jump out to swim. His one trip in the kayak I spent clinging to him as he repeatedly tried to dive in, while Lowell paddled the boat by himself. Tristan and Maebe ride nicely enough, but are constantly wondering what is supposed to happen next, moving from one side of the boat to another repeatedly, and occasionally trying to climb up front to see what I'm doing in the bow. Cade, well Cade hasn't been granted the opportunity yet, because I suspect he is likely to follow Jade's example. It will be a training opportunity for this summer, and one likely to provide much entertainment and to possibly require swimsuits.

As for Django, he sits peacefully in the middle of the boat, watching the birds, the shoreline, and the other passing boaters. I look over my shoulder and see his relaxed eyes and doggy grin, lightly panting in the sun. Occasionally he rests his chin on my shoulder for a moment, and his tail will wag softly. He may bob for a passing lily pad or just curl up on the bottom of the boat for a siesta.

One of these dogs gets to go on a lot more boat rides than the others.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Multisport Weekend

At some point in the last month, it has become fairly common for us to get up at 4:30AM. Saturday this weekend was no different, as Lowell was entered in the Flirt with Dirt 5K race at Novi's Lakeshore Park. I was coming along as a spectator. I find 5K's brutal. Give me a couple-hour long triathlon any day over a 5K, which I find to be an all-out pain fest. I do them from time to time, but I was happy to be the support staff this weekend.

I decided to bring Cadence along to help round out the cheering section. Primarily, I just like hanging out with my dogs, but I also wanted to work on attention and focus in an environment that was higher than our neighborhood park but lower than an agility class on the Stimulation and Distraction scale. I figured 600+ running people and several spectating dogs would provide distraction, but create less arousal than running, barking agility dogs.

Cade did great with the race environment. He was calm and attentive the entire time. He got to socialize with several people, and made fast friends with a quiet teenage boy and sat with him thoughout most of Lowell's race. Which was interesting - Cade is friendly with people, but he rarely seeks out extra attention from people besides Lowell and me (and his Aunt Cari at agility). I also had my clicker with me, so we played a variation on Karen Pryor's game, which I termed "50 things to do with a stump." I received a few compliments on how well behaved and well trained he was. I assured them all that he definitely has his moments, but he was conducting himself like a perfect gentleman Saturday and I was very pleased.

Oh, and Lowell kicked ass at the race. Came in first in his age group and 20th overall! Cade and I were very proud.

Because we are Border Collie-type personalities anyway, we headed home, then straight to an annual vet visit for the cats and Cade (everyone remains in great health - yay!), then out to my Mom's house for a bike ride and dinner. Came home in time to pack for the next day's agility trial, and crash into bed.

Sunday we "slept in" until 5:30, then headed to Bloomer Park for our second AKC trial with Django and Maebe. Maebe had two nice runs, but Lowell missed that she popped out of the weaves early in the Jumpers class, and she missed her teeter contact in Standard, which happens sometimes when she is put on a new teeter for the first time. Her other contacts were great, and she was jumping nicely and keeping all her bars up.

Django had a perfect Jumpers run and got first place. Now he only needs one more leg for his first AKC title! Our Standard run also went great. He really was the most focused he has been in the last few trials, he followed my handling well, and we felt like a really good team. Unfortunately, he stepped on the broad jump three obstacles from the end, which is what happens sometimes when your mom has not brought out a broad jump since April to work you on. So, we NQ'ed, but it was still one of my all-time favorite runs with Django. He was running fast and confidently and very connected with me. We both were having a lot of fun together.

Cadence did well at the trial also. He was able to watch both rings (from a fairly big distance) and still keep his cool. We also worked on his crate barking, this time bringing along a Manners Minder to help reinforce calm in the crate even when he can see motion outside of it. Though not perfect, we did make progress. Any barking episodes were generally short protests of indignation, rather than ongoing temper tantrums about the injustices of being confined when there are running dogs to herd. Hopefully we are getting there.

The weird thing about AKC trials is you have two runs and can call it a day, so we were packing up by about noon. Which in some way was a bummer because we entered the Bloomer trial so that we could also watch the track bikes on the Velodrome there, but we were finished before the cyclists even arrived. Oh well. We were exhuasted so were happy to head for home rather than wait.

Overall, this was the type of perfect weekend we were hoping for this summer - being able to balance our human sports with our dog sports, while also just having time to all hang out together. Taking the next weekend off from competition to rest and to unbury our flower beds from the scary amount of weeds that have taken up residency. Guess it can't be all fun and games all the time!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Catching Up

Haven't blogged in a few weeks - originally because I was so busy, and now because I'm not even sure what to write about to catch up. We've been having a lovely spring with lots of fun adventures lately. Since mid-May, we've:

-Taken a long road/camping trip to Kissimmee, Florida and back, with stops in Mammoth Cave National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Maebe and Django came to compete at CPE Agility Nationals in Kissimmee, while Cade came along for the ride. They all made great driving, hiking, and campfire buddies, although Maebe was looking into nearby hotels hoping for more posh accomodations. Apparently my pillow was the only suitable sleeping area in the camper, so she had to settle for that.

-Competed in CPE Nationals, and watched Maebe and her dad kick some serious agility ass there. So proud of both of them. Maebe came home with four first place ribbons, two seconds, one fourth, and a plaque for Reserve High in Standard. Django had a mixed weekend - some brilliance, some "what on earth made him decide to turn around and go back up the dogwalk in the other direction?" moments - but as always we had a lot of fun running together, he made me proud, and he even came home with a plaque for fourth place veteran in the games (non-standard) classes.

-I competed in my first triathlon for the season, and was pleased with my finish, especially given how early in the season it was. They are truly just a lot of fun, and I can't wait for the next one at the end of the month. In the end, I came in seventh in my age group, but would have placed in every other women's age group. The field was just pretty good at my age - lucky me!

-Have done a couple more local agility trials, and even Tristan got to come out and run a few courses. He was very happy. I can't believe just a year ago he was running so great at Nationals. I think his vision is definitely affecting his jumping now, so we moved him to the "Specialist" category so he only has to jump 12-inches, and we don't ask him to do contact obstacles anymore. He has held up fine with these runs, so hopefully we can continue to bring him out to play a little during this summer's trials.

-Continued to train Cade to be a good little Noodle. He is doing great on the agility obstacles at home. He is now doing 2-on/2-off stops on the contacts, I have him jumping 16" jumps on the jump grids, and think he is now old enough that I will start him on 2x2 weaves very soon. His focus and drive keep getting better. At home. Class has been an increasing challenge in recent weeks with the temper tantrums when other dogs are running. He'd been doing pretty good, but then met the one dog that I have ever seen him actively dislike - an adolescent, exuberant male Beardie in the class. This poor dog sends Noodle up the wall. The beardie is young and excited like Cade, and Cade thinks it his Border Collie duty to take him down a few notches to maintain order in the world. So, the impulse control and attention work continues. . . which means a lot of standing at the back of class doing heelwork and eye contact. He is going to be well worth it though. While he has his squirrely moments, he's just a teenager really, and he is just a delight overall. I do adore the little goofball.

-Oh, and we signed up our first road trip for 2011 already! The British trainer Kay Laurence, who we saw at ClickerExpo this year, is holding a three-day "Learning about Border Collies" seminar at a dairy farm in Missouri in April. Kay is one of the most fascinating dog trainers we've ever seen speak, and the site was described as "Border Collie heaven." We immediately sent in our registration, so plan on taking Cadence and Tristan next spring. We can hardly wait.

In between all that, there have been lots of peaceful drinks on the patio, lovely walks along the pond at sunrise, and just generally enjoying the start of summer, which seemed to arrive while we were off on our camping trip. Feeling very grateful for the many great things that have happened in the last several weeks, and excited for everything still to come in the next couple months.

Some pics from recent adventures: