Sunday, April 27, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: Richmond Tri Club Sprint - Race Report

A training workshop originally scheduled for earlier in April got rescheduled to April 26, the same day as the Richmond Tri Club Sprint Triathlon, so I decided to go ahead and sign up for the race. It was a spring: 400m swim, 13-mile bike, 5k run

This isn't a race I'd normally do since Richmond is a couple hours away, but since I was already going to be there... Plus, the race started at 7:00, which would give me time to race, shower, change and still make my workshop by 10:00am.

But it did mean I had to leave my house by 3:30am in order to make it there, pick up my packet, and get everything situated in transition. Since I knew I would be leaving my house in something akin to a coma, I laid everything out the night before, then packed it up and had it ready in the car.

Sigh. Remember the good ol' days of footraces where all I had to remember was my bib number and to throw some clothes on? Those days are long past.

I arrived (it was cold!!) and set everything out in transition, determined to remember to face the right way on the bucket when I sat down this time so I wouldn't have to keep stretching behind me to reach stuff.  Yeah, I still didn't do very well in transition.

The Swim (400 meters)

This is a very unique swim in that it is an "open water style pool swim." It was a 50-meter pool (twice the length of the normal size pool), seven foot deep everywhere, that had buoys. They had us start in groups of 10 (based on estimated swim time). Nobody was allowed to kick off the walls as we started or as you zig-zagged up and down the pool around the buoy.

It gave me a nice taste of an open water swim without the dark cold water.  It was choppy and we were all swimming all over each other.

I loved it.

Admittedly, I couldn't go as fast as I wanted because I couldn't figure out how to get around the couple of guys in front of me for a long while. But compared to my sprint tri a couple of weeks ago, I felt so much better in the water.

For one thing, I didn't wear my heart monitor and (sorry guys, overshare) I loosened the hook on my running bra before the swim. This way I had nothing that felt like it was constricting my chest. I also was able to warm up for about 10 minutes in the smaller (25 yd) warm-up pool about 45 minutes before the race started. I'm not sure that actually did any good, but I felt like it did.

I was glad I have been working on breathing out of both sides, because I got next to someone for at least 25 yards who was splashing like a maniac on my right side, forcing me to breathe to my left. It wasn't my preference, but I was able to handle it no problem.

Everything got a little jammed up at the end trying to get out of the pool. I should've just jumped up on the wall rather than waiting to use the ladder.

Total Time: 9:04 

Evidently transitions are just not my thing. It took me even longer in this transition than in my race a couple of weeks ago! Unbelievable.

I am proud to say I faced the correct way on the bucket this time, so I wasn't reaching around behind me trying to find my stuff. My fingers weren't working too well because of the cold (low 50s, and I was soaking wet) and I ended up hardly getting my feet dried off at all. But -- helmet and sunglasses on, socks and bike shoes on and I was ready to go.

My real problem began when I noticed my HR monitor belt laying over my handle bars as I was running (in my bike shoes -- not fun) through transition. I had made it about 100 yards when I saw the HR monitor (which I had decided earlier not to use in this race because it gave me fits last time; plus, it's a sprint -- who cares about HR?). I knew I had to do something with it; I couldn't just keep it laying over my handle bars.

Sitting here at my computer, all nice and dry and warm with no pressure, I can clearly and easily figure out multiple things I could've done with the HR belt:
  • Put it around my waist as a belt
  • Looped it around my arm multiple times -- annoying, but not problematic
  • Handed it to a volunteer and asked them to stash it at the transition tent
  • Put it in the small pouch I have attached to Shane West designed to carry nutrition or, say, a HR monitor belt that is in my way
But instead of doing any of these things, I ran (with Shane West in tow of course) ALL THE WAY BACK TO MY BUCKET, threw the HR monitor in with my stuff than ran all the way back out of transition.


A friend suggested leaving my helmet upside down on the bike with my sunglasses inside to shave a few seconds off my transition time. I will definitely do that next time, although I'm thinking a post-swim lobotomy might actually do me more good.

Total time: 2:59

Bike (13 miles)
Course was just over 20k at 13 miles. Although I couldn't feel my feet because of my cold/wet socks, I had a pretty good time on the bike except for the hills. I need more hill training, not necessarily for IMFL but for my half-iron in Augusta in September. I just don't know how to get the training around here in super flat Virginia Beach.

I knew I needed more hill work when I got to a big hill, kept shifting to an easier and easier gear until I ran out of gears. Then what was I supposed to do? Fortunately I was at the top of that hill by the time the time I bottomed out of gears, because what was my next step?  (Btw, this is a real question, if anybody had suggestions I would love to hear them. I'll take anything)

Besides the hills, felt pretty good. What goes up, usually comes down after all.

Total time: 44:27

A little bit better (not that it could be worse than T1). It was a big transition area and I had a while to run in my bike shoes, which seems so slow to me. But once I got my bike racked, I calmly put on my shoes and running hat. No problems.

Total time: 1:58

Run (3.1 miles)
Run felt pretty great for me once I made it through the first mile. My Garmin was all screwed up (had been all day) so I had no idea how fast I was going or how far I had gone. I just kept running.

Once again, I ran with my iPhone in my hand listening to music through its stereo. I had the volume pretty low so I don't think anyone could've heard it without being right next to me (although who wouldn't want to hear some FloRida while in a triathlon??)

No issues or problems in the run. It was a great pace for me. Shaved nearly 2 minutes off my race a couple weeks ago.

Total time: 28:44

Overall Race Time: 1:27:10

Overall Thoughts:
My ranking was much lower in this race than the last (89/162 women compared to last race's 101/203) which discouraged me a bit. But really my bike and run times were a little faster so I shouldn't feel that way.

Nutrition was pretty basic: drank an Ensure in the morning during the drive, along with a couple cups of coffee. Also ate a banana and peanut butter as well as some crackers. Had a Hammer gel on the bike and a couple of shot bloks on the run.

I'm glad I did this race, if only for the swim part. It was a confidence builder I needed. The rest of my Tri's will be in open water (although my next race is not scheduled until July, this was my "May" tri and June is just crazy for me with travel). Looking forward to that next challenge.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Primal Instinct: Gone But Not Forgotten - Things I Learned

My mom called me, quite sad, a couple of days ago. She had gone to Walmart to purchase a copy of my book for one of her friends, but it wasn't there. Thinking they had just sold out, she headed to another store where they were in the process of packing up any of the remaining April Harlequin Intrigues and putting out the May books.

My mom, of course, threw herself on top of the books in protest. But she couldn't stop the inevitable.

That's right, Primal Instinct, my first novel, is gone forever from the shelves.  Such is the nature of category romances: they're only around for a month. It's sad, because I can't go visit my book at the bookstore six months from now just to see it. (Although it will always be available on Amazon)

But the fact that six more new Intrigues just hit the shelves is the reason I'm a published author in the first place. Category romances are short and inexpensive. Many readers still buy all six every month straight from Harlequin as subscribers. Publishing 72 books a year (and that's just in the Intrigue line) means a lot more new authors get a chance to publish.

Some of the most famous names in romance got their start in categories: Nora Robers, Linda Howard, Elizabeth Lowell, Suzanne Brockmann. Maybe someday someone will include my name in a similar list.

But now that it's gone, I just wanted to point out some discoveries I made in the last month as my book came out. These are in no particular order or of any particular relevance. Just my observations.

1. Primal Instinct is also the name of an Australian tanning lotion. Evidently I searched Primal Instinct enough that the interwebs decided I was desperately searching for tanning lotions because they showed up in every ad space for a while.

2. If you ask for reviewers on Goodreads (where all the reading people hang out) as I did, and mail them a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review, only about 20% will actually leave a review. The rest will sell your book on Amazon or Ebay.

3. It was exciting to see how Primal Instinct looked all over the world.

It was part of a Mother's Day "box set" in Australia:

It was available in India, and didn't even have my cover:

And for the U.K. Mills & Boon release, they used just a picture of hunky Agent Perigo:

4. The Atlanta, Tampa and Indianapolis areas were the places where the largest numbers of my book sold.

At this point (almost exactly one month after Primal Instinct's release), I know I have sold over 9,000 copies (not including books sold at non-tradition bookstores such as Walmart, etc). But I don't get too excited about that considering I make less than $.50 per copy. As soon as I have more solid numbers, I will be sure to do a post entitled "How Selling A Romance Novel Will NOT Make You a Millionaire..."

5. I gave the Virginia Beach public library two copies of my book so they could put them in circulation. But they refused because they don't keep category romances on the shelves. Even for local authors. <sad face> Even when I showed them the Romantic Times Top Pick review! <super sad face>

6. Now that you're a published author, a lot of friends will want your advice or input on their writing or want to know if you've got any sort of "in" for them with any editor or agent (which, unless you write category romantic suspense, I don't). Because you care about these people you don't want to say "I don't really know anything about the non-fiction/angels vs. demons/biography/Christian/superhero/etc." markets. So you read their stuff, provide advice and hope you're steering them in the right direction. But you're probably not and one day they'll hate you for it.

Good times.

Oh, and that look on the PTA president's face when she realizes the newsletter, now written by the published author, is still just a crappy ol' newsletter? Priceless. (I tried to fit a couple of FBI agents and a serial killer in there, but alas...)

6. Last, but most importantly, I learned that I have crazy supportive friends and family. They stepped up and sent me the greatest pictures from all over the country!

No matter how many copies of Primal Instinct sold, whether it exceeded Harlequin's expectations or not (I don't know the answer to that. I wish I did), I consider the release of this first novel a success. I'll never have another first and it will always be special to me. (Plus, I got some good news about doing the follow-ups to Primal Instinct recently, so hopefully I'll have an official announcement about that soon.)

But now, I've got to get back to writing the four other books for which I've been contracted. Because this release process happens all over again for my next book beginning in December 2014!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Professional Shot to the Head

I mean, shot OF the head. Not to the head.  Professional headshots.

So, I've got this book that just came out... (seriously, even I'm tired of hearing myself talk about this). No discussion about Primal Instinct today, promise!

But one of the things I was told by Harlequin last month is that I needed a better photograph than the one I have been using on in order for them to be able to officially utilize it for promotional purposes.  The one I have been using is a great picture of me -- from the Romance Writers of America convention (the Harlequin Party, if fact) in Atlanta last summer (2013): my hair was so long and I was just so excited about having sold my first book.

But unfortunately it's out of focus and there are people wandering in the background.

I am a terrible picture-taker. I always feel awkward and stilted. But I decided while I had my hair and make-up done for my release party last week I would get a professional headshot done. I found a photographer who was 1) a woman, which I hoped would make me a little more comfortable , and 2) had a website with a feel I really liked: Melissa Blue.

Poor Melissa. I was doing a one-outfit shoot, but I brought almost every outfit I owned because I wasn't sure. About anything.  I wasn't sure about colors, textures, patterns, jewelry, tones, styles... I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to these things

I just wanted a picture that was natural and not-stiff, but professional, friendly and yet glamorous, and made me look young, hip and fabulous. No problem, right?  I was thinking maybe one of these...

Really, I liked either pose: classy, comfortable, casual.  You know, but fun!

Sigh. Basically those are how I felt for the entire photo shoot. Basically how I feel for any formal photo. 

Melissa, God bless her, worked very patiently with me. I felt like I was wearing a TON of make-up (the opposite of my usual), and that I was stiff and awkward. The poses she asked for (shoulders down, chin out, elongate the neck, then chin down) were to help me look the best I could for the camera. But honestly, every once in a while Melissa would have to say, "Yes, that's the perfect pose. Just don't make that face." I imagine I looked something like this:

Fortunately, Melissa stuck with me and I ended up with some great shots. She sent an entire gallery worth of good photographs (nary a mullet in the bunch). I was able to choose three with the package I got, so these were my choices.

I'm thankful it's all over, but most of all I'm thankful to have some good shots. I'll be changing all my social media over to the new shots this week.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: Smithfield Sprint Triathlon - Race Report

As part of my preparation for Ironman Florida, I registered for the first local (southeastern Virginia) triathlon of the season: the Smithfield Sprint Tri.

My first triathlon! (Yeah, those are pigs on the shirt)

It was a baby tri, even in the Sprint world: 300meter swim (in a pool), 10-mile bike, and 5k (3.1 mile) run. I do more than this amount on any given day of training for my Ironman. But I wanted to practice stuff like swimming and biking around people, and transitions. Turns out, I needed it.

It was a beautiful day for a tri -- sunny and mid-60s. I arrived at the race to get my bike racked in the transition area by 9:30am. Taking some good advice, I used a 5-gallon bucket to carry my gear in (so it could be flipped & used to sit on while putting on bike/running shoes).

My transition area
I tried to set everything out the way I would need them as I came in to the transition area both times. In front: hand towel, bike shoes (with socks in them), sunglasses on top. Helmet sat on my handle bars. In back: Running shoes, favorite running cap, running belt with running number.

Number 281
I headed off to get myself all marked up: race number on both arms and the front of both legs. (That wasn't so bad, I've gone to Tough Mudder races where they write your number across your forehead because it's the only place it won't come off).

But seriously, I'm getting to the age where that little number on the back of my calf is bugging me just a little. Sigh.

Because it was a pool swim, they started people every 15 seconds (based on submitted swim times). I was starter #281, which meant I began my swim at 11:24am. So, a couple hours of sitting around, but not too bad.

The Swim
So, it was a 300m swim. Basically, up one length of the pool, then back down, then duck under the rope and do the same thing on the next lane, for six lanes. It was a giant zig-zag. Pretty well organized for 500 people and one medium-sized pool.

I knew the swim wasn't going to be awesome for me. It normally takes 300 yards of SHEER MISERY for me to get warmed up in my swim. I am convinced I am going to drown in the first 300 yards every time I hit the pool, but by 500 yards I hit my stride and have no problem for the rest of 2500-3000 yards.

Today was no different with the misery. But had a couple of extra problems to boot: swimming in my tri-suit (and sports bra) and with my HR Monitor on for the first time.

You know that old adage about never doing anything new on race day? There's a reason for that.

Stupid, I know.  I KNOW.

Problem was the restriction I felt my sports bra and HR Monitor put on my chest -- I really felt like I was having difficulty breathing during the swim. It could've all been in my mind, but it was still not fun.

Anyway, made it through water, up and out of the pool and into the transition area.

Total time: 6:36 (Ranked 89/203 women)

Okay, so evidently all my preparation, still didn't help me too much. I sat down the wrong way on my bucket, so everything was behind me. (Somehow couldn't figure out just to spin around, so kept reaching backwards. Duh.)

I still had my swim cap and goggles perched on my head, so I didn't put the sunglasses on right away. Instead I threw them in my small bag, which later meant I had to hunt for them, costing me probably 30 seconds.

Dried off my feet, got my socks and bike shoes on. Helmet on and immediately clicked (no DQ for me!!). Finally found my sunglasses and I was off, awkwardly running my way through transition in my bike shoes.

Total time: 2:46 (Ranked 162/203 women -- wth?? I've got to work on my transition skills)

VERY HAPPY WITH MY BIKE RIDE!! I do not have much experience riding around other people, or in any sort of hills or turns. This was just the sort of experience I needed. Not too crowded, but enough to make me really be aware.

Hills were challenging and fun -- I actually had to change gears (compared to oh-so-FLAT Virginia Beach)!!! At the end of 10-miles, I would've gladly done it the course again, possibly two more times.

And I proudly did not fall off my bike when coming back into transition. Repeated my dismount mantra in my head: "Butt off seat, unclip bent leg". (I say that ever since I couldn't quite get my feet unclipped a couple of weeks ago and took a tumble)

Total time: 36:49 (Ranked 90/203 women)

Got the bike on the rack, bike shoes off and running shoes on. Sat down on the bucket the wrong way again. Sigh.

Spent at least 20 second trying to decide if I should clip my iPod shuffle to my running cap. I knew it was illegal, but didn't care. I decided not to, but regretted that decision a mile or so later.

Total time: 2:15 (Frakkin' 180/203 -- what the heck was I doing? How long can it take to change shoes for goodness sakes?)

Run was okay. Coming off the bike, I felt like I was going slow. But really, for me, I wasn't doing too badly -- averaging around 9:40 min/miles. Wished like heck I had my iPod. I finally pulled out my phone and got some music going. I was just listening out of the phone speakers -- no headphones. It was like a little tiny boombox.

Course was out and back, a few hills, but nothing unmanageable. Whole run was pretty uneventful.

Total time: 30:33 (Ranked 111/203 women)

Overall total time: 1:19:02 (Ranked 101/203 women)

What I learned:
1) I've done lots and lots of races in my time, but not triathlons. I can't just show up for a tri like I do a running race. Transitions for tri's take practice and organization. I need to think that through more. And get faster in transitions!

The dreaded tri-suit
2) Ahem, don't try anything new on race day. Nuff said.

3) I thought there was nothing less flattering for "normal sized" women athletes than running clothes. I was wrong: tri-suits are worse.

4) Nutrition: I'm still experimenting. I used a Generation UCan drink 30 minutes before the race. I felt fine in the swim and bike, but felt hungry during the run. Ended up eating a couple shot bloks. The UCan should've held me for the entire race -- not sure if that's a physical or mental thing.

5) I should try to do some sort of a warm up before a swim. 100 jumping jacks or running in place. Something that gets the heart pumping and breathing harder BEFORE getting into the water.

But I did it. I'll admit after this tiny race I feel woefully unprepared for my Ironman in November, even knowing I still have 7 months to train. But I am one step closer today than I was yesterday. Today, I am officially a TRIATHLETE. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Primal Instinct Release Party!

We had the Primal Instinct book release party yesterday (4/3/14) -- thrown for me by my fabulous parents and hubby. Had a wonderful time with my local friends and family. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves!!

My Momma -- unloading books for me to sign