Wednesday, January 2, 2019

FTP Test, Being ‘Outspoken’, and Advice from Pro Triathletes

I started writing this post on my flight home from Tempe, AZ, where I attended (and spoke at) the Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit last month. But then I got sidetracked aka I flew to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico with my family for an early Christmas / Birthday celebration. By the time I got back .. well... I just didn't feel like writing....
...because my mind was stuck here!!
And I kept reliving moments with my brother...
Missing my Mom and the night we celebrated my birthday....
...and thinking about conversations I had with my Dad.
But then I received a message via Messenger from someone I'd never met. She just happened to find my blog through a google search - "Black Women Triathletes" - and found inspiration in my journey. She is now registered for her first triathlon. The ironic thing is that her story inspires me! Married, 3 kids, full time labor & delivery nurse ... the people I've been able to connect with through my writing and blogging is priceless. So here I am. Back to blogging. 2019 New Year's Resolution: blog more!!

I wasn't sure where to start first... the Summit, training, sponsorship.... So I'll begin with what I like talking about least: THE BIKE

FTP Test (Functional Threshold Power)
In layman terms: the highest average power you can sustain riding for an hour (in watts). Would you believe my coach had me do this the day before I flew to Mexico? Even had the nerve to label the workout "So you deserve your vacation"! Well I was nervous. I treated it like a race. I carbo loaded and everything haha. The last time I did an FTP test was in early 2017 and my results were horrendous - 137 watts. I figured anything would be better than that. 

An INTERVIEW I did with regarding my progress using TrainerRoad.
Result: 185 watts. It's embarrassing to admit that I was actually ecstatic with this result. An FTP of 185 is NOT good. And I'm sure if there are any strong cyclists out there reading this, they are thinking "she doesn't stand a chance in hell at qualifying for her pro card." But hear me out. My previous test result was 137. If you compare my watts in 2017 (bottom light blue line) to 2018 (top dark blue line) I have improved markedly. 

Bike PRs last year versus this year. Courtesy of TrainerRoad.
I'm not naive. I will never be an exceptional cyclist, but as long as I'm making progress I'm a happy camper! Plus, I'm not too shabby on the run ;-)

Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit
Sometimes this journey feels surreal. Not in a million years did I think doing a sprint triathlon for fun a few years ago would lead me here. That, not only would I meet Julie Moss (one of the most inspiring and influential people in the sport of triathlon) but that I'd actually be speaking at the same conference as her!
Getting a signed copy of her book Crawl of Fame.
I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far.
Or that I'd be speaking on the same panel as Rachel Joyce. I mean .. Rachel freakin Joyce. She's been on the podium 3 times at the IRONMAN World Championships. Heck, the woman won 2 Ironmans less than a year after giving birth to her son.
"Where We Are Now" Panel with Rachel Joyce, Diana Bertsch, and moderated by Triathlete Magazine's Erin Beresini
I've been asked at least one hundred times "How was the Summit?" Overall I would say it was a success! It brought together women from all over the country who share a similar passion (triathlon) and want to make a difference in the sport – whether that’s bringing more women into the sport, having more women in leadership positions, starting businesses, becoming race directors, seeing more diversity and inclusion, etc. The audience ranged from pro triathletes (Meredith Kessler, Rachel McBride, Hillary Biscay, Rachel Joyce, Haley Chura, Kelly O'Mara) to representatives from organizations within the sport (USAT, IRONMAN, Women For Tri), age groupers, coaches, owners (Anne Hed), a doctor that specialized in female anatomy and nutrition, and of course pioneers in the sport like Julie Moss and Sally Edwards - did you know that Sally started Fleet Feet? A female pro triathlete started Fleet Feet.. who knew?

I feel like they did an excellent job of exploring almost every subject you could think of with the panels they organized. There were also great networking opportunities in the evening and EVERYONE was super approachable.

Then there’s the other side of the conference – from my view as an African American female in the sport – that I would like to see change moving forward....
My girls!! Jamila and Shaunna <3
... DIVERSITY!! I’d love to see a more diverse representation of women in the audience. Jamila Gale-Agans (Ironman finisher and owner/head coach of Sherpa Fitness & Endurance), Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold (IRONMAN 70.3 triathlete, swim coach / instructor and Founder of SHEro Athletics), and myself were the only African American women there. But we are not the only ones in the sport! I know quite a few fast, talented, smart, athletic women that I think could bring a wealth of knowledge to this Summit. (I plan to hound them next year!)

I thought the weekend as a whole was excellent. Thank you Dr. Sara Gross and Dr. Lisa Ingarfield for making your vision a reality...and for including me. Here are a few of my personal highlights:
See these HED wheels I race on?
I met Anne Hed!! #boss
Spending the weekend with truly exceptional women
I don't have a pic with her unfortunately, but I got to meet one of my favorite writers, Kelly O'Mara. She writes for Triathlete Magazine and I'm hooked on her weekly newsletter If We Were Riding. This woman keeps it real. She's unapologetic, blunt, honest ... there were a few times over the weekend when she spoke and I thought to myself "Oh my lawd I can't believe she just said that out loud." She's not afraid to talk about the things that most people shy away from like getting so nervous before a race that she gets sick (she's a pro triathlete by the way) or how she feels about women that qualify for their pro card over and over again but continue to race as amateurs (link).

Advice from Pro Triathletes
From a selfish standpoint, I would say that the advice I received from pros made the whole conference worth it! Something I REALLY struggled with over the past year was fatigue... to the point where I honestly thought something was wrong with me. (Side note: I got my blood checked. Results were good.) Turns out, it's just hard swimming/biking/running all the time, while working a full time job, and having extra hobbies on the side. Rachel Joyce told me that when she was working full time as a lawyer and training for Ironmans that she could literally sleep half the day away on Sundays. THIS made me feel more human.

Things I learned...
 - Listen to your body. If you need sleep, SLEEP! I don't know why, but I always feel guilty about sleeping in the middle of the day. I feel like the weekends are meant for getting things done, not 'wasting the day away' in bed. But sleep/rest = recovery.
- Pros get nervous too! "I start having breakdowns two weeks before a big race. I cry and everything. Totally normal." ~Kelly O'Mara.... I'm not alone :-) I think this is a good thing??
- It's ok to say "no" to some things. I had incredible opportunities this year, from speaking at the  ERSL Conference at Florida International University and at the official announcement for Hampton University / USAT partnership, to being on the Conversation P.A.C.E. show in NYC. Without a doubt I'd do all of these things again in a heartbeat. It's opened the door for a lot of things in 2019 that I unfortunately had to say no to. Each time I felt this overwhelming sense of guilt. But my goals this year are very much performance based so that is my focus!

Trying not to be awkward!

What's next
I'm doing a 5K next weekend. Help!!! I haven't done anything that short in literally a year. Then I'll do a few more road races and a half marathon in March. And then it's on to the big stuff: IRONMAN 70.3 Texas, IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman, and IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta. I'll sprinkle in a few sprint and olympic distance triathlons, but for the most part Eagleman and Augusta are my "A" races.

Oh and I'll be racing in a new custom kit this year. Can't wait! A huge THANK YOU to Zoot Sports for partnering with me in 2019.

Happy New Year <3

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Day in History

Hampton University becomes first HBCU to add women's triathlon
Photo Credit: Hampton University - University Relations
Of course I meant to update this blog WEEKS ago. As usual, life got in the way. But the great thing about blogging is that there are no deadlines. I write when I can. Often times in one sitting and click publish. I read somewhere that "blogging is not writing, it's graffiti with punctuation." Totally agree. Where else can I begin sentences with "And" and "But", use words like "sorta", and add transitional sentences that have nothing to do with the paragraph before....

About the pic above
It happened ~3 weeks ago. Hampton University officially became the first historically black university to add a women's varsity triathlon team. And somehow I got to be part of that day (more on this later). Did I see it coming? Well sorta. So if you follow my blog, I wrote back on June 12: "just the other week I spoke with students from Texas A&M who were at the USOC training center. Their project is to establish the first NCAA Women's Triathlon Team at an HBCU. How cool would that be if it were to come to fruition?" I still remember the conversation. In fact, I was kind of pessimistic about the idea of the program because of: funding, lack of HBCUs with a swimming program (they have disappeared over the years), and wondered if there would even be an HBCU willing to take it on.

Well.... Hampton University decided to add the program to their roster and USA Triathlon donated $225,000 to the program. I think it's going to take a lot of work to get the program up and running (and lasting), but no matter what, when it comes to diversifying the sport I think this is a huge step in the right direction. I'm a huge believer in the power of image. You achieve to be what you see...
Photo Credit: Hampton University - University Relations
When I gave my speech at the announcement I mentioned that I often get asked 'what can be done to open the sport to more minorities'. I think this is a good start. I can't help but wonder how different my development as an athlete would have been if this initiative existed when I was a 17 year old college freshman. I swam all four years of high school, and ran track in college, but this type of opportunity did not exist when I was a collegiate athlete. But who knows...maybe I'm just supposed to be right where I am, at this moment, blogging about this announcement, while working on getting my butt across the finish line at IRONMAN 70.3 Texas in April. Anyhoot ... I am excited that the next generation of triathletes will have this amazing opportunity to develop their talents.
With BTA Members (and my friends): Sabrina Bri Hamilton Adams, Shelia Redd, and Howard Price
One other cool thing from that day... I met USA Triathlon CEO Rocky Harris. He couldn't be more down to earth. I thought I might pass out from nerves. He said "don't worry, I'm speaking first and I'll mess up...the good news is that they edit out the mistakes and print the good stuff." Side note: he didn't mess up, but it did help ease my nerves ;-)

To read more on my thoughts and the official press release click the links below...
- My interview with the Washington Post: here
- Interview with Channel 13 News: here
- USA Triathlon's official press release: here

On it goes. Let me tell you, I wish I had appreciated my down time after IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City!! Being a bum was so wonderful at first. Then it sucked! I didn't know what to do with myself with all that free time. After a couple of weeks my coach began to gradually incorporate running back into my routine with some easy swims. Then I went to Baltimore for the NBMA Summit and ran the Baltimore Half Marathon for "fun". That course was NOT easy. Hills on hills on hills. I crossed the finish line in 1:27:38. Not super fast but for an off season fun run I was satisfied.
Baltimore Half Marathon: 9th Female / 4,348 Women
I'm pretty much back in the swing of things - swimming, biking, and running everyday, adding volume, ramping up the intensity...wishing I could go back to those first few weeks post IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City when I was a bum ;-) But when you have goals you just have to keep on truckin.

I did a local road race the week before Thanksgiving - the 757 7-Miler. It was cold, I wanted to hibernate, and ... well... I just couldn't really push myself. You know how some days you're in the zone and willing to embrace the "hurt"? This day wasn't one of them :-( 6:30s felt comfortable. So I ran ...6:30s for every.single.mile. I shouldn't even be admitting this, but I kept looking around to see where the other women were and thinking "pleaseeeee don't let this turn into a race".
Thank you fellow Point 2 / Flat Out Ambassador Amber Kuszak for the pic and cheers.
But you know what? I finished. I won. I set a female course record....because it was an inaugural race haha!!

And I got to represent my new sponsor In and Out Express Care - a healthcare provider with multiple urgent care locations in Hampton Roads. They also specialize in sports injuries.

I am so grateful for their support and I look forward to representing them in the upcoming triathlon season. For a list of their current athletes and our bios click on the logo below.

Next on the agenda:
I will be in Tempe, AZ this weekend for the Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit. I'll be on a panel discussing the 'current state of women in triathlon'. Speaking of ... being a woman, an African American woman, in triathlon I have had my fair share of instances when I wonder if it would have been different if I was a man:
 - Example a) This year at my local triathlon I ran out of transition zone onto the run course and a male volunteered shouted out to me “make sure you pace yourself”. For a split second I thought to myself "wait, am I going too fast, maybe I should slow down". Keep in mind that I have the run course record.
 - Example b) At IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman I was on the run leg and the guy next to me asked if I was doing a relay (I beat him to the finish line 😉)
 - Example c) At the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships last year I was asked if I was a freakin volunteer!! I raced the previous day.

Obviously none of them meant any harm, but it will be interesting to explore topics like this further at the Summit this weekend.

I'll update my blog once I'm back in town. Hopefully it won't take another month!! You can stay in the loop by following me at:
Instagram: @Sikahenry
Twitter: @Sika_henry
Facebook: @Sika.henry

Happy Holidays <3