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.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: Ironman - There and Back (and There) Again

Me trying to get into IMFL
Eleven months ago, November 2013, I was one of the lucky (although that word should probably be in quotation marks) people who got a spot for the 2014 Ironman Florida race.  It’s one of the most popular Ironman Races and is held in Panama City Beach, Florida. The race sold out in about an hour.

I signed up because I wanted to do something HARD in 2014. Something challenging. Something I wasn’t sure I was even capable of doing and would push me outside my comfort zone.

If I had known how hard 2014 would be all on its own, how far out of my comfort zone I would be living on a daily basis, I would’ve given my lucky spot to someone else. 

Seriously, not five days after I signed up for the race that would take 10-15 hours of training each week, I got a call from Harlequin. They wanted to buy four more books from me. GREAT! But, I would need to write all four books in nine months to get them in on time.  

And then a couple of months after that, my eldest kid decided she was going to become a teenager and go bat-crazy and require 2-3 hours of my undivided attention a day for a couple of months (heaven save me from middle school girls). Thankfully that eased up after a while – she’s a good kid and just needed to find her footing – but it pretty much dominated much of my winter.

And THEN we got life-changing (the good kind) news this summer dealing with my husband’s job, about a transfer that would probably take place in late 2014. (We’re not quite ready to make an official public announcement yet, but let’s just call it “Take 2” if that gives you any hints, for those of you who know me)

So doing a race –not just a race but a 2.4 mile swim, 140 mile bike, 26.2 mile run race that takes a person like me about 15-17 hours— just because it would provide a challenge? By August, the idea was pretty absurd to me. Honestly, I’m surprised it took that long.

So I was ready to quit. It was only that I was doing the race with one of my best friends that I continued training at all. I didn’t want to let her down and quit.

M's broken arm gave me my excuse
Then she broke her arm.

I don’t want to say I was happy when I got that news and found out she wouldn’t be able to do Ironman Florida …

But I’d be lying. It was the out I needed and I was pretty quick to take it. 

I was tired. Ironman was hard. Insert Janie pitiful sad-face here.

I kept training because I had the Augusta Half Ironman coming up at the end of September. But by mid-September I pretty much told whoever cared (not many) that I had decided not to do the full Ironman. Most were relieved. Nobody tried to talk me back into doing it. 

Of course you heard all my sad story, right? My hardships and stressors. How could anyone dare try to talk me back into doing it? Insert Janie pitiful sad-face #2 here.

I was a quitter and I was okay with that. Seriously. 


Regardless, there was no way I was going to be able to pack my family of six up and move us to Germany in the middle of November get ready for our life-changing event and still train for the full Ironman. There just weren’t enough hours in the day.

Everybody knows where I’m going with this story by now, so I don’t know why I’m even telling it.

But anyway, I wrote last week about my quite positive experience at the Augusta Half Ironman 70.3 race on September 28. I did the whole thing in just under 7 hours. And honestly, felt pretty good afterwards. Or at least not like I was going to die.

I was pretty thankful the race was over, the training was over, that I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Ironman, you little taunting bee-yatch.
Except that in the back of my mind I could still hear the Full Ironman taunting me. 

But what could I do? There weren’t enough hours to get everything done. Except then we got word that the big top-secret life-changing move had been pushed back to December or possibly even later.

It was the perfect storm of Full-On-Stupid temptation: I was coming off the Augusta Half-Ironman and felt like the Full Ironman was within my grasp, the real-life events that had been crowding out my training time had been removed, and there was a little over one month left (the perfect amount of time to buckle down and work hard to prepare).

Once Capt Awesome gave me his blessing (my mom was not so understanding, calling me “a bovine, clodpated, citified moron”), it was a done deal.

So I’m back in, baby! Ironman Florida – Panama City Beach, FL – November 1. 

2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run.

Full-on Stupid. The most challenging thing I've ever done.  Really, really hard.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Cover Reveal - My Newest Intrigue Novel: INFILTRATION

There are a lot of things I like about writing for Harlequin Intrigue. The biggest are probably that: 1) They pay me and 2) They take care of all the things involved in writing a book beyond just the writing part.

They take care of: content editing (overall big edits: does the story make sense? do the characters
Seriously, my editors love me.
act/speak consistently through the entire book?), copy editing (flow, clarity, did you use the word “well-preserved” in this paragraph and two paragraphs ago?) and line editing (basic grammar, punctuation, peek vs. peak vs. pique…)

Beyond editing, Harlequin also takes care of cover design, titles (with some input from me), back cover copy, distribution, basic promotion and all things unicorns and rainbows.

There are lots of arguments about traditional vs. indie routes in the publishing world. I have no doubt I will do both before it’s all over. A writer can (theoretically) make a lot more money publishing independently, but then you’re in charge of all the unicorn and rainbow stuff yourself. That’s not something I’m wanting to take on yet.

But despite the fact that I am appreciative of what Harlequin does for me, some of it is nerve-wracking. Particularly when it comes to covers of the book. Generally, I am sent the cover art three months before the book is available at bookstores. The cover is a total surprise (I get no hints as to what it will look like) and set in stone by the time I get it.

I understand why Harlequin does that. Because these are series/category romances (meaning a new set comes out every month) they do not have time to discuss every detail about the cover with a committee (Although to quote Princess Leia: "I am not a committee!" -- but alas...) I complete what is called an Art Fact Sheet (basic features and characteristics about the hero, heroine and theme of the story) and can offer suggestions, but beyond that I just cross my fingers and hope for best.

I lucked out when I got the cover of PRIMAL INSTINCT:
Harlequin Intrigue
Seriously, I love that cover. I couldn’t have designed it much better if I had worked with the designers myself. (And I love that Harlequin gave me a giant poster! --thanks to fellow Intrigue author Barb Han for mailing it to me after it was used at the Romantic Times convention)

So I was very nervous about getting the covers of my upcoming 4-book Omega Sector Series. Well, last week I got the cover for Book 1: INFILTRATION that will be available in stores mid-December. It’s the first story of the four Branson siblings, Cameron, and how he falls in love with Sophia Reardon while saving the world, of course:
Harlequin Intrigue Infiltration
Front only
Harlequin Intrigue Infiltration
Front & Back
I like it! It reflects what the book is about: He’s been undercover a long time and lines are getting blurred. She’s a little damaged and was having a bad day even before being kidnapped by her ex-boyfriend. 

So I would say I’m 2 for 2 when it comes to the covers of my books! And I have another cover coming this month for my book COUNTERMEASURES (out mid-January), so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that one. 

Be sure to support your favorite almost starving author and pre-order The Omega Series, Book 1: INFILTRATION at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or look for it in stores from mid-December to mid-January.