Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday - Ironman Florida: The Final Report

You're probably pretty done with hearing me talk about Ironman Florida 2014 (Pre-race report: here; Race report: here), but I wanted to do one last wrap-up to address the question that gets posed to me most often:

Do I feel like I have unfinished business with Ironman since the swim was cancelled and I didn't get to do the "whole" thing?

I can answer that with at a resounding: NO.

I mean, yes.


But kinda, yes.

I think you get the picture.

Would I do another Ironman? Yes. If the opportunity arose and it worked with my family's schedule and it was what I wanted to put a couple hundred of my unspoken-for hours towards? Yes. I would do the race again just so I could get the swim in with it.

But do I feel like I need to do another Ironman race in order to "really" call myself an Ironman? No. I am an Ironman. I would like to perhaps do a full 140.6 someday (hopefully with my friend Megan who started this adventure with me, but was able to race due to injury), but doing that would not make me any more of an Ironman.

The way I see it, I have completed an Ironman, but not 140.6. And for me, honestly, that's enough.

And just FYI, God forbid you try to tell someone who raced IMFL 2014 that they are not a "full" Ironman. We will cut you. True story. Coming up with witty/snarky responses to those who would dare say we are not Ironman has become a favorite past time for some racers.

For me? Whatever. There's validity to both arguments. I still desperately wish I could've done the swim. But honestly, right now there are other things more important in my life than to even consider training for another IM. Like, getting my family relocated to Germany in January (Woot!) or concentrating on my writing feats (Primal Instinct was nominated for a huge award!).

So here it is, my final random collection of thoughts about Ironman in hopes it will help someone else who is considering/training for one:

1. I felt really crappy when I made it back to our rental house after the race. Dizzy, nauseous, exhausted yet not tired... It was ugly -- like having the flu. I tried to eat something (a piece of bread? I can't even remember), took a shower and got in bed. Three hours later I was wide awake, starving. I ate some rice and felt better.  I woke up at 6am (on my own) and made my way to IM Village to buy a finisher's shirt.
2.  I trained WAY TOO HARD for someone whose goal was to just finish. I started specific tri-training 36 weeks before the race. Too much, people! If I was doing it again with the same goals in mind, I would find a 12-16 week plan (but please note, this is NOT a couch-to-Ironman plan. You already need to have base fitness)

3. Yes you can do 95% of your bike training on an indoor trainer. I did, and would do it again. I don't like riding where cars may hit me, so I did most of my training in my living room (but also please note, I also did some specific bike-handling rides where I practiced: turns, opening stuff one-handed, grabbing water bottles from volunteers, etc. Things I would need to do in the race)

4. Doing it over, I would choose a race that was in the spring, not the fall. That would allow me to do most of my bulk training over the winter. I am a cold-weather gal, not hot, when it comes to training. So doing long runs over the summer, near about killed me. Something, ahem... say, around June 28th in Austria would be perfect. (2016... who's in?)

5. I am not one prone towards depression, but I got pretty hard-core depressed for a few days after IM (like sit-in-my-PJs-all-day-and-read-Sherlock-fanfiction depressed). Part of that was because this big event was over, part of it was because we didn't get to do the swim and part of it was because I sold my bike and all my triathlon gear coming home from IMFL.

True story. I posted my "triathlon starter kit" (bike, trainer, garmin, all of it) on a Tri website and some really nice lady (who was training for her first ever Half in Augusta!) bought it. She drove out from Charleston to meet us on I-95, on our way home from Florida. So there I was all sore and mentally exhausted from the race and halfway home I look over in our minivan and MY BIKE IS GONE. I needed to sell it because of our move overseas, and I'm happy that someone was so excited to get it all, but it was pretty jarring for it to be there one minute and gone the next. I think that contributed to my depression.

6. My body was in pretty poor shape for a while after the race -- more than I expected. From that damn bike section, I tell you! IT-band issue that manifested itself on the outside of my knee. Truly painful and lasted so long I thought I was going to have to see a doctor. It finally eased up about three weeks after the race.

So that's it. All my thoughts. If anyone has any questions, I'd be glad to answer them as best I can (post below or go to my full website's contact page to email me). Most of all, I want to encourage the people who are on the fence: Yes, YOU can do this. It's not easy, and for huge chunks of the training it's not even fun. But you can do it.

And so, yeah, I suspect some day I will cross a 140.6 finish line and be like: Okay, now I'm done. But if I don't, I'm fine with that too.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday - Ironman Florida Race Report Part 2 - The Storm During the Storm

(continued from Part One: Here)

RACE DAY - Saturday 11/1/14
I woke up around 3:30 Saturday morning to the wind HOWLING outside. I took a peek outside just to make sure… Yep, those trees are bent in half from the wind. Oh, goody.

I hadn’t slept very well, but I never sleep well the night before a race so I didn’t worry about that (It’s the night before the night before a race that counts with sleep. Little sleep the night of the race? No problem.)

I refused to freak out about the wind (what could I do about it anyway?), and had my pre-race breakfast: bagel, banana with peanut butter, and a Boost drink. 

Made this post on Facebook which really did sum up how I felt:
This is it. I can't control the winds howling outside or the cold. But I can control how I will respond. And today I will choose to rise up to the challenge that is before me. And adapt as I need to. One stroke at a time. One pedal at a time. One step at a time. Until the finish. #‎IronmanFlorida2014
It was time.
Rob, Meg and my wetsuit/leather pants
I went ahead and put on my wetsuit. Usually, I wait until right before I get in the water before putting on my wetsuit in order to avoid over-heating. No possibility of that happening on this day. Slapped on the bright-as-the-sun yellow socks, throw away sandals, and my coat, and got a ride to as close as we could find parking (the Club La Vela lot, about .25 miles away from the start) around 5:15am.   Dropped off the special needs bags as we were walking in.

Cold & soon to be sad

Checked the air in my tires, got my nutrition on my bike, then stood around trying to find a way to keep warm. Finally found a building where I could go inside and wait with my friends Megan and Rob because it was that cold.  At 6:30am we headed out towards the beach with everyone else to get ready for the swim start.

You could feel the excitement as the wetsuit-clad masses made their way from the transition area down to the beach. We all knew the water would be at least 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature and we were looking forward to it. Plus, the sun was starting to peek over the horizon.

Somehow, everything seems more possible once the sun comes up.

I was trying to focus on what was ahead, and uh, drink my Red Bull (all plans –bad and good—begin with Red Bull) when the announcement came over the speakers at about 6:40am.

"Due to a dangerous rip tide and water conditions, causing the water safety team to be unable to keep themselves or the swimmers safe, the swim from Ironman Florida has been cancelled."

There were other parts to the announcement too: bike would start via time trial method at 8am, the race would still be considered an Ironman, life would go on, etc.

My reaction to the news:
 Joaquin Phoenix signs

Ya’ll, there are no words. 

Seriously, a tiny piece of me died when I heard the swim had been cancelled. And although I didn’t say anything, I immediately understood the ramifications.

No matter what, I wasn’t going to be completing a full Ironman. All my training, all my planning, all my physical and emotional focus were not going to get me to 140.6 today. Despite ten months of training, my goal became an impossibility with one sentence.

It was a huge mental setback. But I didn’t dwell on it right then, because to do so would just make me not want to do the race at all. And I had spent too much time and money to be there and not do the race at all (and believe me, there were people who made the choice, once the swim was cancelled, to just call it a day).

Rescuers needed rescuing
I finally really looked out at the water. The Ironman officials had obviously made the right call, it wasn’t even questionable. The rescue kayaks were having to rescue each other after constant tipping, or were getting blown so far off course that a jet ski was needed to pull them back.

There was no way they could’ve gotten to swimmers in distress. And as much as I hated that my race was not going to be what I had hoped, no race is worth someone’s life. This is Ironman, not Stupidman.

But just for the record: if the officials had told us that they strongly suggested we skip the swim due to the dangerous conditions, but we could swim if we really wanted to: I. Would. Have. Swum. 


Whatever. I would have done it. But we didn’t have that option. 

So we moved on, and like I mentioned, I didn’t dwell on it right then. We had nearly an hour and a half before the start, and we were freezing, so we grabbed our (now-defunct) T1 bags and headed back to the car then the house.

Only needed a few thousand more laps...
Because I use humor to deal with just about every situation, and heck since I still had on my wetsuit, I jumped into the tiny pool at our rental house and swam a few laps. If I could’ve just gotten in about 7000 more I could’ve called it the 2.4 miles.  But at least now I could say I had done a triathlon.
Got changed into my cycling clothes, used the restroom (much nicer than the porta potties!), and we headed back to the start around 7:45. 

And then we waited. 

And waited. 

It was just one of those situations. Nobody was at fault (except maybe mother nature). The Ironman staff and volunteers were working the problem as best they could. It just takes a long time to get nearly 3000 people out one small bike chute at one time rather than staggered as they come through from the swim. 

The bigger problem was, it was 40 degrees outside and we were all sitting around in bike shorts, and at most, a jersey and wind-breaker. We were freezing. 

I thought since I wasn’t swimming, I didn’t need to worry about expending calories before I got on the bike. I vastly underestimated how many calories I was using up shivering convulsively for 1.5 hours. 

So when it was my turn to head toward the bike chute around 9:15am (30-45 minutes later than I estimated I would have if the swim hadn’t been cancelled), my stomach was growling from hunger. Starving is not what you want to be as you are BEGINNING a 112-mile bike ride under pretty terrible weather conditions.

Nutrition had been something I had meticulously planned for my Ironman (see that craziness here if you dare). To be off my plan before the race really even started was a bit terrifying for me. I had a couple of emergency Gu’s in the Bento bag (not part of the nutrition I planned to use) on my bike, so I consumed those as I was taking the last steps towards the start line where I would get on my bike.  Those caught me up to being enough on my nutrition schedule that I wasn’t too far in the hole.

Finally, I was off! I had no feeling in my toes and had a kitchen sized trash bag wrapped around my torso under my jersey to keep warm (never took that sucker off the whole ride), but at least I was moving! 

Um, but not very fast.

I came closer to quitting in the first 20 miles of the bike ride than I did the entire race. Part of it was just the difficulty of going from zero to full effort with no real warm up. 

But more it was because for most of those miles I was pedaling as hard as I could, my heart rate was in the stratosphere, and when I would look at my speed I was going around 10 mph.

I’m not a fast cyclist even on my best days, but I knew there was no way I was going to finish the race if I was putting in this much effort and getting this little result.  Plus, I knew that even under the best conditions I was going to be toying with the cut off times on the bike.  Now, I had started later than I thought I would have, plus was cycling under adverse conditions.

That wind was a #$%^&@%  $*%#&.

And there was a lot of stress: 

Stress #1: Fear of releasing my death grip on the handle bars and being blown into traffic or another rider by the 22 mph constant wind with occasional “fun gusts” of up to 35mph.

Stress #2: I worried I would not make the 88-mile cut off by 3:45pm, or the full bike cut off by 5:30 (although I found out later it had been extended due to how late some people started the race).

Stress #3: I’m riding 112 miles, and then still have to run a marathon.Uhhh...

Let’s just call the bike ride what it was: not fun. 

Yeah, I smiled for the camera guys in the bushes, but that was more of an I’m-paying-to-do-this-so-I-should-try-not-to-look-miserable smile. 

There were things more difficult than expected, such as opening my ziplock baggies (containing food) with gloves on. Hadn’t practiced that one. 

And that lie about Florida being flat? Um, no. There are lots of low grade inclines in the Florida panhandle. Which wouldn’t have been a problem ‘cept for they always seemed accompanied by a headwind.

What I tried to hold on to, to get me through it all, was that the bike course was a loop. If we had such hideous headwinds going out, surely we would have tailwinds going back. 

Nope. Not headwinds going back, mind you, but not tail winds either. Really just cross winds. So although they didn’t slow progress, they didn’t provide the extra push in miles 85+ that I had been hoping for during miles 1-84.

I tried to stop as little as possible.  Two porta-potty stops were necessary (which I knew was good, meant I was staying hydrated). Stopped at Special Needs. Ate half of a ham sandwich, and drank an energy drink mixture, and changed my nutrition bottle on my bike while some teenage boy held my bag open for me to get whatever I needed. Would’ve put on more chamois cream, but was afraid I might scar that young man for life, so didn’t. Then was on my way. Stopped one last time at one of the last aid stations to stretch my back because I knew I was going to make the time cut offs.

Not all of it was bad. I got LOTS of compliments about my Rosie the Riveter bike jersey. Maybe half
a dozen people recognized me because of it and shouted out that they read my blog. 

Shouted it out as they passed me, but hey, it was nice nonetheless.

Was also playing leap-frog with this one lady for about 30 miles on the bike. She was faster than me, but would stop at more aid stations so we kept going back and forth. We would talk and encourage each other every time. Finally we ended up stopped at the same aid station at the same time. I gave her my name and she laughed. She was my online friend Anne! We had been talking to each other daily for weeks, but had never met. And now we had.

Coming in the last few miles, I tried to take stock of how my body was doing.  I didn’t have any of the girlie-parts issues I had in Ironman Augusta 70.3, thank goodness. My back and neck were hurting from my 7-hour death grip on steering. 

My knees were what hurt the most. Especially my left one. (Found out later that it was actually my IT-band going from the outside of my hip down through the outside of my knee. Even now, nearly a week later, that area is still bothering me.)  I was concerned about how it would affect the run.

Finally I made it off the bike and into transition. Some nice volunteer took my bike to rack it for me, another grabbed my T2 Run gear bag and showed me the way to the changing area.

I got in the changing area and promptly started sobbing. 

I know the poor women in the room –volunteers, other racers—were concerned. One thought I was hurt and upset because I couldn’t continue the race.  All of them were very nice as I blubbered through, changing clothes and crying at the same time.

I knew why I was crying: relief to be off the bike, knowledge that I still had over 7 hours to complete the marathon and there was NO WAY that wasn’t going to happen, the stress I had carried for 112 miles finally easing back. 

I felt much better after my little sob-fest. Ready to continue. Happy to continue. I didn’t linger long in the crying or transition (about 10 minutes), there was a marathon to be run.

Heading out of the changing room, I realized I had forgotten my Garmin watch/computer. I ran back thinking it was in my Run gear bag, but then remembered it was still on my bike. A super nice volunteer sprinted out to my bike rack, got the Garmin, and brought it back to me. I hugged her and was off. 

Actual real smiles
There’s not so much to say about the run. It was great. Flat. Well-supported. Lots of cheering all the way through the 2-loop course. And by then the wind had either died down or we were sheltered from it, but I never felt it.

And running is what I do. 

My legs, my brain, my whole body: “Oh, you want us to run? That’s no problem.” Whereas on the bike I had to focus every second, now I could just let my body do what it knew how to do. Muscle memory.

I was very happy with my run splits. Although they weren’t fast (around 12 min/mile), they were consistent for all 26 miles (at mile 13 I stopped to get my Run Special Needs bag – changed socks, changed arm warmers [um, that were also socks with the toes cut out of them], drank an energy drink mixture, took massive amounts of Ibuprofen). 

Another huge factor in making the run so great for me was having my family there. My husband and oldest daughter and my grandparents. I got to see them four times as I ran and they cheered me on like I was some sort of hero. Made all the difference.

And I met up with my friend Anne again. We ran a few miles together until we got separated stopping to talk to family.

It all went pretty quickly. I never hit the wall (um, that’s because of how many times I’d already hit it on the bike), never felt like I needed to stop. My knees hurt, but nothing unbearable. 

As for nutrition I was using First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, plus anything at the aid stations that seemed good at the time (chips, grapes, pretzels, coke, orange slices, warm chicken broth).  As the night wore on my choices became more questionable…a grape chased by chicken broth… but hey, whatever works.

And before I knew it, I was on the last couple of miles. I could hear the announcer proclaiming athletes as Ironmans and I knew it would be my turn soon. Invigorating.

And then I was done. I ran down the finishers chute. They called my name: Janie Crouch you are an Ironman.

At that point, after all we’d been through in that crazy wind on the bike, the lack of a swim was not even part of my thought process. The race hadn’t been what I’d been expecting, but it was the one I’d been given, and I’d finished it. 

I was an Ironman. 

(Read my final thoughts and wrap-up here)

PS - My overall stats, for what they're worth. It does help to know that I would've made it in under 17 hours, even with the swim.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday - Ironman Florida Race Report Part 1 - The Storm Before the Storm

I'm splitting this up into two parts since it's so long. And, because what happened to me the days leading up to the race definitely affected race day itself.

Ironman Florida wasn’t the race I was expecting or hoping for, but it was the one I was given, so it was the one I raced.

Wednesday 10/29/14
The packing. The lists.
Due to life, I was rushed packing Tuesday and Wednesday morning for my Florida trip.  (Not my race day items, mind you, because I had very meticulously packed those things a few days before based on my checklists, but everything else.) Because somehow it had escaped me that I would need more than just the items I would wear/use for the race itself. Plus, the weather forecast kept changing. 

So Tuesday and Wednesday morning were pretty chaotic. Did not leave me in a very low stress level.

PCB map I made for family coming in town
I arrived at our vrbo.com rental house in Panama City Beach (about a mile from resort where all the IM hoopla was taking place) late after a 13 hour drive from Virginia on Wednesday night. I was pretty stressed about the house and what it would be like, but it was fine.  I was tired from my drive, so just dragged a few items inside and got ready for bed. I was supposed to meet people for a Gulf swim near the official swim start the next morning, so wanted to get good sleep. 

Thursday 10/30/14
Woke up 1.5 hours before the scheduled 7am swim, but somehow that STILL wasn’t enough time for me to get myself together. I was very nervous and stressed about EVERYTHING Thursday morning. The house, the race, the practice swim.

And, again, although my race stuff was meticulously packed, nothing else was. So I couldn’t find everything I needed for the swim. Heck, I couldn't find just about anything I needed for that swim. Couldn’t find my bathing suit, so I put on a tri kit for under my wet suit, then found my bathing suit so took off the tri kit and put on my bathing suit, then realized I had forgotten a swim cap from home (knowing IM would give me one for the race).  

Rushing back and forth. Finally got in the car. Remembered I had left my towel inside. Ran back to get that. The rental property already looked like a tornado had hit it.

Finally, made it out the door to drive down to the swim start (where is it? where do I park?) only to realize I had left my goggles back at the house

At this point I was so frustrated with myself I just blew a gasket. Seriously, threw a full-on fit. It involved me screaming at myself (inside my minivan):

I have a Ph.D., am a mom of four kids, and have written four novels in the last nine months. WHY COULD I NOT GET MY SH*T TOGETHER FOR ONE SHORT SWIM???

The last week had been so incredibly stressful: me travelling out of town for a few days, then my parents coming into town, then my husband getting big news about a relocation happening for us in January, then me getting a huge curveball thrown at me with my writing career… 

And did I mention I was about to do the hardest physical endeavor I’d ever attempted? I. Was. Freaking. Out.

And... scene.

Yeah, check out that calm water.
This hissy fit marked the turning point for me. Work-the-problem Janie showed up and punched hysterical-fit-throwing Janie in the face, and took over. And not a moment too soon. Because I could not have kept up that level of emotional intensity. Too exhausting.

From that morning, for the rest of week, up through and including the race itself, I was calm and focused.

Finally, the calm before the storm. Literally. And figuratively.

Swim ended up being great (I borrowed a swim cap and drove back to the house and grabbed my goggles). Did about 1.5 miles. Of course, if I had known that would be my only swim for the whole week, I would’ve enjoyed it more.

Spent the rest of Thursday picking up my race packet, attending the athlete briefing, and just generally hanging out. Did not either ride or run, although saw multiple people who did.

Friday 10/31/14
IM provided us a nice backpack
Spent the morning packing my bike (T1) and run (T2) bags into the official IM bags. Ironman gives you five separate bags for a race: Bike gear, Bike special needs, Run gear, Run special needs and morning clothes bag. I, being the obsessive
list-maker that I am, had a check list for each.

(As an aside, for anyone doing an IM: seriously, you need lists. The story of the swim emotional breakdown above is what happens if you don't have lists. With a race this long and this involved, there's too much to try to keep track of in your head)

Got my bike down to Transition around 1pm. It was crazy. Unlike IM Augusta 70.3, your gear was not set under your bike. The bikes were racked very close together and the bags were sent to other locations in the transition area.

3000 bikes in one parking lot.

Transition area from one of the hotel rooms

Run bags for T2 - this is why a ribbon or colorful tape on your bag is a good idea
Spent the rest of the day relaxing, having dinner with my grandparents who came down from Atlanta to see me race, and checking the weather every few minutes. 

The weather was already forecasting 20-22mph winds (with gusts up to 35 mph) and colder temps (lows in the 40s). I knew Saturday wasn’t going to be an optimal racing day. 

Finished packing my bike and run special needs bag and called it a night around 9pm. I could already hear the winds picking up but still hoped for the best. 

My hopes were not to be realized. Continued here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: Closing Thoughts and Mantras

(It's Triathlon Tuesday, my chronicles of training for Ironman Florida Triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run. Follow along by clicking on the "Journey to Ironman" Series link to the right.)

So this is it: the week before the race. I leave tomorrow to drive down to Panama City Beach. Capt Awesome will be joining me on Friday night (after, much to his delight, I've already gone to sleep so he doesn't have to deal with my night-before-a-race insanity).


Right now I'm doing okay. I can feel the hysteria bubbling up, but am still capable of tamping it down. I've done all my hard training, all my nutrition is figured out, most of my bags are packed.

I'm ready.

Or, if I'm not ready, there's nothing I can do about it now. Unless I can pick it up at a Walmart while driving down I-95.

There's been a lot of talk about mantras on the various Ironman groups over the last couple of weeks. After all, it's a 15 hour race with no music or headphones allowed at any time. That gives a person lots of time to think, or as you get towards the end, mutter the same thing over and over.

This is the mantra I'd like to have going through my mind as I race:

But seriously, it'll probably be more like this:

Some people put pictures of their children on the handle bars of their bike to remind them of their
precious angels waiting for them at the finish line. Well, 3/4 of my "precious angels" decided not to come to Florida because they'd have to travel on October 31 and would miss out on Halloween. Love them.

Mantras on the handle bars of my bike
Plus, considering exercise has always been my time to get AWAY from my kids, putting a picture of them on my handle bars doesn't really work for me. My eldest daughter suggested I find a way of hanging a picture of them over my shoulder: I'd ride faster if they were "chasing" me. Hmmm...

I do have three simple mantra's on my tri-bars:
1. Fight for it. (my overall motto for the whole race)
2. Till I collapse (after the Eminem song; because the only way I'm stopping is because I cross the finish line or I collapse)
3. One. Time. (I don't have to do 140 miles forever. Just once. I can do anything once.)

I'm also wearing some my mantras. My bike jersey:
Ironman rosie the riveter
 The front and back of my running shirt:
Ironman She believed she could so she did

And a final RANDOM collection of thoughts:
1. When the going gets tough during the race, I want to remember to be thankful. Yes, this has all been hard. And it has consumed way too much of my time (and money). But I am able to do this because I have a husband and family who have accepted that I’m crazy support me and have worked beside me to make this happen.

2. Maybe after Saturday I’ll stop crying every time I see EVERY. SINGLE. IRONMAN. VIDEO. Really, the tears are out of control.  (This one, for example)

3. IRONMAN is 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure, 50% pain and 100% reason to remember the name. Oh wait. No sorry, that’s a song. Not Ironman. Whatever.

4. If I vomit because of nervousness Saturday morning, it’s going to totally mess up my ridiculously planned out nutrition for the race (check out that madness here).

5. 16:59:59 is still an Ironman. All I have to do is keep moving forward.

6. At least part of the reason I do endurance races is to justify listening to Ke$ha, Ludacris and Flo Rida for hours at a time. Yeah, that's probably a sickness.

7. At some point Saturday this is really going to suck. It may be at hour one, it may be at hour fifteen. It may be hours 1-15. Learn to embrace the suck.

But most importantly: 
I will be the same person I am after this race as I am before this race, just with 140 more miles under my belt. A race does not change who I am. And ultimately, it’s infinitely less important than who I am as a mother, wife, friend, and human being.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cover Reveal: COUNTERMEASURES (Aka: You Win Some, You Lose Some)

So, perhaps I’ve mentioned that I have a four book series coming out with Harlequin Intrigue in 2015 (actually the first one, INFILTRATION, hits shelves in late December, and is available for pre-order, ahem, here).

The books officially come out January/February and then June/July 2015. They’re called the Omega Sector Series, but they’re also books based on the four Branson siblings: Cameron, Sawyer, Juliet and Dylan.

I talked a couple of weeks ago about the angst that comes along with seeing a cover for the first time, since I have no control over the cover. The cover for Book 1 INFILTRATION was pretty great:
Infiltration Omega Sector Series

I got the cover for COUNTERMEASURES (Book 2) last week:
Countermeasure Omega Sector Series
When I saw this cover, my heart sank. Not because the cover was bad as a cover (although the guy isn't my personal type), but because the cover looked NOTHING like the characters I describe in the book.

Here are the heroine’s thoughts about the hero when she first meets him (taken directly from the book): 
If it wasn’t for the scar on his chin and slightly crooked nose —it looked like it had been broken at some point in his life— Agent Branson definitely could’ve made a living in front of the camera. Black hair, cut short and stylish, a perpetual five o’clock shadow, gorgeous green eyes. Megan put a hand up to her chin just to make sure she wasn’t accidentally drooling.
And the heroine? Described as having brown curly hair framing her face and shoulders and big brown eyes, with glasses.

So… yeah.  Um, that cover doesn’t look anything like my characters. Hello, blondie.  (And, for the record, I do complete an Art Fact Sheet providing detailed information about the characters and settings in each book)

I immediately put in an email to my editor: Was it possible to change the cover? If not, was it possible to change the text in the book so I could describe the characters to look more like the cover? She checked with the art and marketing department, but alas, no.

It was too late.

I have to admit, I was pretty devastated. After all, this was Sawyer and Megan’s story, and my favorite book I had written to date. When I think of a Sawyer, I think of:
(Although, looking at this picture, I'm beginning to understand where the art department was trying to go with the hero on Countermeasures. Maybe they're Lost fans too.)
And when I think of Megan, I of course think of: my BFF Megan:
Who wouldn't model a character after her?
So anyway, I was upset about the cover. But nothing could be done. In an online chat room I asked some of fellow Intrigue authors (who have been writing for years – some for decades) if anything like this had ever happened to them.

Trust me when I say, their stories both reassured me and had me in stitches on the floor.

For example, someone pointed out (international best seller multiple times over) Suzanne Brockmann’s book Get Lucky:
That dude looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy! Rumor has it, Suzanne Brockmann  handed out smiley stickers to put over his face when the book came out. I remember reading that book. Brockmann has been one of my favorite authors over the years.

And speaking of RUMOR HAS IT, may I present:
Cindi is one of my friends, and also writes for Intrigue. A hugely talented and very kind lady. But what the heck is happening on that cover???  That can’t be anatomically correct, right?

Ultimately, their point was: Regardless of whether the details are correct, as long as the cover is good overall, then don’t worry about it. There will be some readers who comment that the coloring of the characters isn’t correct –because hey, it’s not— but it shouldn’t affect sales too much over all.

More importantly, I think the art/promo department really got the back cover copy right for COUNTERMEASURES:
The clock was ticking, the enemy was watching.

At first it looked like a glorified babysitting job: safeguard a scientist while she created a countermeasure to neutralize a dangerous weapon that had fallen into the wrong hands. But when Dr. Megan Fuller's life was threatened, undercover agent Sawyer Branson knew the enemy was closing in. Sticking by Megan 24/7 wasn't something he took lightly, even if Megan didn't seem to appreciate his constant presence.

For a man used to getting any woman he wanted, Megan was a challenge he was coming to enjoy. Because beneath her boxy lab coat and pinned-back hair lay a brilliant and beautiful warrior. And before long, Sawyer's determination to save the world was matched only by the sudden need to make Megan his.
SEXY! I love it!

So although the cover for COUNTERMEASURES was not what I had hoped it would be, in the end I think it’s going to be just fine.
Countermeasures Janie Crouch

And if you want to take a marker and color her hair curly brown on your copy, that’s perfectly okay with me.

Pre-order the Omega Sector Series now:
Book 3 & 4 - available June & July 2015; links coming soon!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Triathlon (almost) Tuesday: My IM Nutrition Plan

A no-frills post today. This will probably only be interesting to someone training for an Ironman. Ironman nutrition is just as important (if not more so) than your physical fitness. I’m pretty much a control freak/obsessive planner, so I’ve spent a lot of time working out my nutrition.

Bike – I try to get between 350-400 calories in an hour
Run – I try to get in 200-250 calories an hour

I prefer to drink most of my calories on the bike (just easier for me). I’ve found two products that let me do that:

1) A combo of EFS Liquid Shot and EFS Drink, OR
2) Hammer Perpetuem

EFS vs. Perpetuem

Basically I make a super strong concentrated bottle. With the Hammer Perpetuem I was able to use 6 scoops (800 calories). With the EFS combo I used 2.5 Liquid Shot bottles (1000 calories) and 2 scoops EFS drink (200 calories) for a total of 1200 calories per bottle. All are mixed with water to the top of my bottle.

EFS vs. Perpetuem
4-hour bottle
My bottle is marked and I make sure I am at the end of each line by the end of each hour. That way I know I am getting the 200 calories per hour with Perpetuem or 300 calories per hour with EFS.
Perpeteum has protein and EFS has amino acids (what the protein breaks down into) which is needed for longer (3+ hour) workouts. But EFS also includes electrolytes, so I don’t have to worry about any salt pills or electrolyte pills when using EFS.

Honestly, I’ve liked both. I like the taste of the Perpetuem more. But like the electrolytes in EFS, so I will using EFS in IMFL (EFS costs more than Hammer’s Perpetuem, if that’s a factor for you). And just so you know, you are filling these bottles about 2/3 full with powder/gooey stuff, then just adding whatever room is left for water. It is very strong tasting, and gives you no hydration value whatsoever.

EFS vs. Perpetuem
I know exactly how many calories are in each bag
The liquid nutrition bottles get me either 200 (Perpetuem) or 300 (EFS) calories/hour. To get the other calories I need, I bring along food broken up into portions. I’ve used: Stinger Waffles, pretzels, Combos pretzels, BBQ chips and pieces of a Payday bar. I have four snack baggies with the items that give me the exact calories I’m looking for each hour. I carry them in my back jersey pockets. (Btw, those baggies are snack size, cut in half and then taped down the open side. Zipper part still works great)

So if my EFS bottle gives me 300 calories per hour, I want to get another 50-100 calories. In one baggie I would have: ¼ Payday bar (60 calories), and 3 Combos Pretzels (36 calories). So if I eat all that, I know I am getting nearly another 100 calories.  For the Perpetuem bottle, I need 150-200 calories worth of food per baggie. 

My Garmin alarm is set for every 15 minutes. I don’t always take a sip or eat something that exact moment, but it just keeps me from zoning out and missing an hour of nutrition.

For IMFL I've decided to use EFS. It gets me the electrolytes and seems to be gentler on my stomach.  But I also think I would be fine on the Perpetuem

At Bike Special Needs I have:
1) Another pre-mixed nutrition bottle (in a gallon zip lock bag between two frozen water bottles to help keep it cold)
2) Half a ham sandwich (in my practices I’ve only taken a bite or two of it)
3) Red Bull (took a few sips for caffeine)
4) Four more baggies of my food supplements

I used to eat Shot Bloks on my runs. That has worked well for me for a number of years. They give me gas a little, but no big deal. I can do gels too, especially the salted caramel flavor (YUM!!) or any Hammer gels.

But the last few long runs I’ve carried an EFS Liquid Shot flask rather than gels or chews. It’s done well for me so far: no GI issues.  I’ll be using that in IMFL. One sip every 15 minutes or at the top of each mile (every 11-12 minutes) if needed. I’ll also take other nutrition from the course. Basically, anything that looks good.

1) I’m cutting out all caffeine 10-14 days before the race. That way, when I have caffeine on the race (and oh, I plan to have COPIOUS amounts of caffeine on the race) it will do its job better: help me absorb nutrients, plus help me feel less like death.

2) From former IMer: “The race really doesn't start until mile 70 of the bike. If you haven't done nutrition properly to that point you are in trouble.....so practice exactly what you're going to do on the bike in your training and force yourself to eat and hydrate even if you don't feel like it. Once you get to the run (especially the 2nd half) do what your body tells you. I was eating everything in my sight after mile 15 and it made my body feel good (cookies, pretzels, chicken broth, coke)”

3) Goes with what is said above: You can’t make good, logical decisions after a certain number of hours of constant physical exertion. For me, that’s about 6 hours. Therefore I’m trying to have a plan, so I don’t have to make decisions when my logic is failing me. I just need to hear my alarm and know it’s time to take in more nutrition and/or hydration or whatever.

4) If I’m feeling really low (“OMG there’s no way I can finish this race”) that is a low blood sugar issue. I need to get calories in my body, and those feelings will go away.

5) Concentrate on the mile you’re in.

Nutrition update after Ironman Florida 2014:
I ended up with too much nutrition for both the bike and run (although I'd much rather have too much than not enough). For the first half of the bike, I pretty much followed EFS/baggies plan above (so about 400 calories an hour). I traded everything out at special needs (new bottle, new baggies -- remember there is no water at Special Needs, so pre-mix ahead of time). For the last three hours of the bike, I couldn't be bothered to open my baggies (also more difficult because I was wearing gloves), so just used the EFS drink mix. I never felt hungry, but I never felt slushy either.  I didn't use any of the nutrition from the course on the bike, just water.

For the run, I had a EFS Liquid Shot (400 calories) in my run belt and another one in Special Needs. I did totally finish one, and grabbed the one from SN, but didn't finish that one. On the course I took in whatever looked good at the time, but was careful never to eat more than a bite or two at each aid station. (At any given time I partook in: grapes, pretzels, chips, chicken broth, coke). Neither had any digestion problems or emergency trips to the porta-potty. I would definitely use EFS again in an Ironman.

I wished I had more Advil and/or Tylenol throughout the race. I had two (alternating) of each waiting at SN needs/transition, but I wish I'd had double that. At least. An aid station at mile 18 had ibuprofen. Saved me from a very painful last six miles.

Full race report is here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: The Last Big Week

So I’m little less than three weeks out from Ironman Florida.

Shane West
I have to admit, I’ve been working most on my biking for the past few weeks. That’s my biggest weakness/fear/challenge/pain-inducer.  I named my bike Shane West (although he’s not allowed to be discussed at our house), because if you’re going to spend that much time riding something, you might as well throw a fantasy in there.

And Shane West
But yeah, the bike leg in the race is 112 miles. I do my last long ride this  Friday and I’m aiming for 110 miles.  Just so we’re clear, that will take me about 7 ½ hours. And actually, the most important thing for me now is not so much fitness as it is making sure I've got my nutrition/hydration plan down to a science on the bike. Not getting fuel will kill your race long before exhaustion overtakes you.

But before I even get to the bike, I have to survive the 2.4 mile swim. It's in the Gulf with a couple thousand of my closest strangers. 

Here's what the 2012 IMFL swim start looked like:
Now see, that picture actually gets me a little excited. I KNOW I can swim 2.5+ miles. I've done it before, multiple times, even with no wetsuit to help with buoyancy/speed. In a pool it takes me about 1hour and 22 minutes to swim the full IM distance. I'm also pretty comfortable in open water and ocean water (I was raised in South Florida, after all).

But here's what the 2013 IMFL swim start looked like (the whole video is here if you would like to revel in that madness for a bit):
Of course, I have no doubt that's what the swim start will be for me on November 1. And even without the waves, a mass start at IM is pretty much a full-contact sport. Who needs tackle football?

But, there are ways to train for taking the blows in such swimming. Such as:
Believe me, at this point in my training, Captain Awesome would be happy to hire people to beat me with sticks as I do anything ("You mean you haven't cooked/cleaned/gone grocery shopping/done laundry again because of IM training?"). That video kills me. I love it.

But this is my last week of big training before I start my 2-week taper. A lot of athletes hate the taper, but not me. I'm like: THANK GOODNESS. No more 6-8 hour workouts. No more exercising more in one week than most fit people do in a month. Or to put it a little less delicately:

(I'm sure that baby has been on a bike too and said the exact same thing. I know I have.) Fortunately, we're close enough to the race that the I can keep focused on why I'm doing this. 

But it's not easy. None of it is easy. But it's almost done.

The last big week.