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by Tzatzil LeMair on June 28th, 2017

Last weekend I took my family to ride the Southern Walnut Creek trail for the first time. This is a 7 mile stretch from Govalle Park to the Austin Tennis Center on Johnny Morris. We decided to ride north to south in the direction we will be heading on July 1st at our Tough Cookie Cycling 101 Clinic and Ride.

We picked the hottest time of the day with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees which was not a smart move. My riding partners that day were my husband and four boys ranging in ages from 9 to 18. The ride starts with a long mile and a half downhill that was just pure fun. My youngest son, Diego, was squealing with joy “We need to do this ride every weekend! Weeeeeeeee!” I, however, was more concerned with the fact that we would have to ride back up that hill at the end of the ride, and wondered if he would be able to make it...
tzatzil lemair, southern walnut creek trail
After the initial downhill, the path flattens and winds around following the natural path of Walnut Creek. About two miles into the ride we reached the YMCA trail access point which might be a more central starting point for some folks. As we continued our ride we were impressed by the wooded scenery to the point that it didn't seem we were in Austin anymore.

The rest of the 10 foot-wide concrete path was mostly flat with some rolling hills and only one road crossing. The boys particularly enjoyed all the little bridges and under passes that allow this ride to be virtually car-free by going over or under the roads.

​We eventually arrived at Govalle Park which featured a nice creek-side picnic area and playground. Here we took a little break on a picnic table and when the boys started horsing around and squirting water on each other I knew it was time to start our ride back up the trail.
southern walnut creek trail
On the way back, Diego started slowing down but was still in good spirits. This was Diego’s first solo ride, since he usually rides tandem with my husband. Although Diego rides his bike around the neighborhood regularly, he had never gone this far. The last two miles were long and hot and Diego started to struggle (see photo below). I was trying to find ways to encourage him to keep going and prevent him from having a negative experience on his first solo ride. I tried distracting him and we started talking about space. Diego wants to be an astronaut and go to Mars, so I told him how important learning to “endure” and pushing himself beyond his “comfort zone” was going to be in his career. This seemed to click, and continued to push and managed to complete the last uphill mile and a half.

During our entire ride, we only encountered two other cyclists on the path, I'm sure in part because it was the hottest time of day! The boys really enjoyed this trail and are looking forward to riding it again this summer. It was a nice, peaceful alternative to often crowded Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, or as I still like to call it Town Lake. I highly recommend you ride the Southern Walnut Creek Trail if you are looking for a traffic free, paved bike path, where you can focus on cycling and nature and not on watching out for cars. I’m looking forward to our Cycling 101 Clinic next weekend and to sharing this great new bike path with new cyclists!

Southern Walnut Creek Trail Map

by Tzatzil LeMair on June 15th, 2017

Last Monday we we hosted the first event of our Free Women-Only Triathlon Clinic Series in celebration of our 15th Anniversary. Our opening event, an Open Water Swim Clinic at Pure Austin Quarry Lake, exceeded our expectations in every way but also reminded us of how terrifying swimming in open water can be for many first timers. The event, which is part of USA Triathlon's Women's Initiative (WIN), featured a "brief lecture" prior to the swim session. My challenge was condensing 20 years of triathlon experience and "Lessons Learned" into a  20 minute talk. The result was this list of Top 3 Tips which, if you master it, can make all the difference in your open water swim experience.

The Goal

Your main goal during the swim should be to have the most efficient stroke technique so you can swim effortlessly, master sighting techniques so you can swim the shortest distance, and keep your heart rate down by staying relaxed and calm throughout the swim. If you can master these three skills, you should be able to come out of the water ready to rock the bike and run!

The Strategies

1) Maximize your efficiency

If you are new to triathlon and have never learned proper freestyle stroke, you need to invest in lessons or join a masters swim team. There is no point in spending hours training in the pool if all you are doing is reinforcing bad swimming form. Swimming is all about technique. Without proper body alignment and stroke technique you will be working twice as hard and you will come out of the water exhausted and not ready to bike and run.
  • Make yourself long and sleek through the water - think "fish-like”
  • Balance your body "on top" on the water perfectly parallel to the bottom of the lake - push your chest into the water if your hips and legs are sinking
  • Kick from the hips – Flutter kick generating small bubbles (like boiling water) and not a big splash - just enough to keep your lower body from sinking
  • Rotate your body to fully extend your leading arm as it begins to pull then roll back to the other side as your hand passes your hips
  • Utilize your “paddle” from your elbow bend to the tip of your fingers to pull through the water - Keep your hand relaxed and fingers in a natural position (do not cup your hands)
  • Complete the stroke - make sure you are not starting the next stroke too soon - you want to maximize the distance per stroke by taking long powerful strokes. Make every stroke count!

2) Swim the shortest distance possible

If this sounds like an obvious tip that's because it is. However, I am always surprised by how little time most triathletes spend practicing and mastering sighting techniques and by how few actually incorporate sighting into their technique. Mastering sighting technique - incorporating sighting into your freestyle stroke and sighting often - will enable you to swim the shortest distance between buoys and prevent having to correct your course and adding extra yardage to your swim.
  • Use "Hippo Eyes" when sighting. No need to lift your head out of the water, just peek with your "hippo eyes" between breaths to make sure there's a straight line between you and the next buoy at all times.
  • Sight often! Every 8-10 strokes, the more you do it the better you'll get at it.
  • Draft off of slightly faster swimmers. Don’t swim right behind them but to the side of them somewhere between their waist and feet.

3) Keep calm and swim on

Staying relaxed and calm during the swim is essential in having a successful swim. You can minimize physical contact with other swimmers by positioning yourself in the right place at the start of the swim. Swimming around a pack instead of through it might be worth the extra couple of strokes to avoid the “excitement” of physical contact and heart rate spike that goes along with it.
  • Position yourself to avoid getting stuck in a bad group, preferably on the outside of the wave. Swim wide around the buoys to avoid crowding then cut straight to the next buoy.
  • Protect your face – always have one arm in front at all times and replace it with your next stroke arm
  • Count strokes to keep your mind busy and stroke rate tempo constant
  • Focus on technique and not speed to stay calm and focused 
The more you practice these skills the better you'll get at it and the more comfortable you'll feel during the swim. Don't let the swim-start mayhem get the best of you! Keep your mind calm and your body relaxed by focusing on your technique instead. Before you know it, you'll be coming out of the water fully energized and ready to conquer the bike and run!

by Tzatzil LeMair on December 30th, 2016

​Lately, I’ve seen some articles circulating on social media on how training for Ironman or marathons “made people fat". These articles are not written by professional writers, registered dietitians or certified coaches, these “articles” are usually blog posts written by people who have experienced weight gain while training for endurance events. On the articles I read, the writers, feeling frustrated, give up their endurance training, start a completely new routine focusing on strength training and high intensity interval training, adopt a new clean diet with reduced carbohydrates start seeing results and immediately claim “marathon training was making me fat!” Um, no, marathon training was not making you fat, overeating while marathon training was making you fat.   

It's not (entirely) our fault

Overeating while marathon training is very common and very easy to do. I must admit; the running community doesn’t always help. Example; You just trained for and ran your first 5K. You did your research and carbo-loaded the day before, you consumed an energy gel and a sports drink the morning of, you ran a great race and as you make your way through the finish line chute you are immediately offered a myriad of post-race junk food; cookies, potato chips, cheese & peanut butter crackers, pizza, you name it! Yes, you may find bananas and if you are lucky, oranges too! But can they compete with a breakfast taco? And since you ran a race today, you might go celebrate with your friends and have pancakes ignoring the fact that running three miles burns approximately 300 calories, the equivalent of ONE medium size pancake with butter and syrup. And the longer the race the bigger the splurge.  Trust me, I know. Whenever I’m training for a marathon, I feel like a hero after every double-digit run and, for the rest of the day, I continue to eat as much as my teenage sons if I don’t stop myself.

​​“But I need to Carbo-load!”

What’s the deal with carbo-loading anyway? Yes, it’s true that carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy, but we hear that and immediately envision stacks and stacks of pancakes and enormous bowls of pasta and buttery garlic bread. The problem is that we tend overestimate calories burned and underestimate calories consumed. You can carbo-load by consuming a large sweet potato and fruit salad for dessert. But if you prefer pasta and pancakes that’s fine too, just watch the serving portions and make sure you are getting enough nutrients from other sources too.

"​I’m always starving!”

I hear this all the time! When my athletes tell me they are starving, I know they are not getting enough nutrients in their diet. If your diet is nutritionally lacking and doesn’t include enough nutrients (protein, fat, fruits and vegetable) you will feel hungry. It helps to track what you are eating to see what you’re missing in your diet.  There are many apps that can help you track not just calories but nutrients as well.

I always advise my athletes to take advantage of marathon training to adopt some new healthier eating habits such as tracking their food intake and focusing on food as “fuel” and strive for optimum nutrition. Ideally, avoid processed food, get enough protein, healthy fats and nuts, and strive to get most of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. Eliminating or minimizing processed food will help you sleep better, recover faster, and keep your calories in check. Remember you cannot outrun a bad diet.

Marathon training will provide you with numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, including the possibility of losing weight but only if you implement healthy eating habits too.  Training for endurance events such as marathons or Ironman races is NOT a free pass to eat whatever you want. And if losing weight is the sole reason you’ve chosen to jump on the endurance bandwagon, you might be in for a disappointment and totally missing out on all the other wonderful benefits of marathon training.

Happy Running!

by Tzatzil LeMair on March 25th, 2013

An offer I couldn't refuse

Last summer I was training for the ITU Sprint World Championships when my friend Lorena called me and begged me to register for Ironman Los Cabos with her. She made it sound like a great idea! The race was over spring break, it had a beautiful bike course, and more importantly I’d get to see my family in nearby La Paz. What a better way to celebrate my 15 years competing in triathlons than doing an Ironman, again. My last Ironman was in Florida in 2004. I had a great race from beginning to end, I never felt bad and finished in 12 hours and 40 minutes beating my best estimate of 13 hours. I quickly started trying to recruit training buddies. Misery loves company.

My training started the week after coming back from the World Championships in New Zealand. I enjoyed all my long rides even in the freezing rain thanks to my training buddies. I incorporated my Tough Cookie marathon training program into my training and did all my long runs with my team. The only thing I had to do on my own was swim.

I was not concerned about the race at all until about two weeks before the race when I started checking the weather and noticed it was very windy in Los Cabos. Our Tough Cookie Ironman team which consisted of Susan, Dawn, Donna and Carolina (Lorena had decided not to do it after all) had a meeting the week before our trip and Donna shared a course profile she had found on “Map my Ride”. There were several very long category 4 and 5 hills. The website described the bike course as challenging with rolling hills, "how bad could that be?"

The Trip

After spending three fabulous nights at Costa Baja Resort in La Paz visiting my relatives, eating amazing food and swimming with sea lions, it was time to face Los Cabos.

Race Morning

Race morning started like any other race morning, going through my ritual of waking up at an ungodly hour and layering my body first with sunscreen, then body glide and chamois cream to avoid chafing and lastly with my tri-shorts and tri-top.  I had already stuck my temporary tattoos with the number 400 on my arms and legs the night before, so I strapped on my timing chip to my ankle and was ready to go.
Marc had decided to wake up with me and join me for breakfast before sending me off on the shuttle to the swim start. I didn’t have my usual pre-race meal – a bagel with peanut butter and honey, a banana and coffee. I was at the Holiday Inn in Los Cabos, and bagels were nowhere to be found. Instead, I had pancakes, sausage and a few bites of papaya with yogurt. That was my last real meal for what would be a long time. I rushed to meet my fellow Tough Cookies Susan, Dawn and Donna (unfortunately, Carolina didn’t get her travel papers in time for the race.) Before leaving, Marc gave me his last words of wisdom “Be Safe, Smart, and Strong!” He repeated it a couple of times stressing the “SAFE” part.

The Swim 2.4mi. (3,862km)

The sunrise was gorgeous at the beach that morning. I was excited to be there! I put on my wetsuit, and with my swim cap and goggles in hand I went to turn in my bag. I took my phone out for one last picture of the four of us when I saw my dad had called. I decided to give him a quick call back and let him give me one last pep talk. He told me how proud everyone was of me and also stressed the “be safe and don't be a hero" part. I turned in my bag and was ready to roll. 

The Human Washing Machine

 The swim start was exactly how I remembered an Ironman “mass-start” being.  It is best known as the “Human Washing Machine” for its mélange of arms, legs, fists and feet thrashing all around you, hands slapping you, feet kicking your face, you turn your head to take a breath and instead you get a mouthful of salt water! I’ve been doing triathlons for 15 years and the start doesn’t get easier, you just get better at remaining calm through it all. However on Sunday, the unexpected happened, my throat suddenly felt constricted and I couldn’t breathe.  “Asthma attack? Please, not now!”  I panicked for a few seconds and moved to the side so I wouldn’t get swum over. I checked out the situation. I was maybe 200 meters from the shore, and I could see volunteers 50 meters from me who could come save me if I waved my arms. “Do I need saving?” I thought of my cousin Alvaro and how concerned he had been about the swim start… “I need to calm down!”  I took long breaths through my nose while treading water and got my heart rate to drop slowly. I tried taking deep breaths again through my mouth. It still felt tight, but there was enough air coming in now. ”I can do this!” I started swimming away from the crowd to give myself more space.  At that point I heard Marc’s voice in my head “Be Safe, Smart and Strong!”  “BE SAFE!” I decided to just take it easy and complete the distance like any other training day and settled into an easy comfortable stroke.
Just when the swim was feeling comfortable and relaxed, I started feeling little stings on my hands, face and feet! “Ah, yes! That must be the jelly fish everyone talked about the day before.” It felt like I swimming through a fire-ant hill and nothing I could do about it but keep swimming. Finally an hour and half later I made it back to the shore. I was safe back on firm ground.

Transition 1

Coming out of the water we had to run on the beach about half a mile uphill to the transition area. I started stripping my wetsuit as I ran and quickly put on my helmet and cycling shoes in the transition tent. I then ran for my bike. There was a 500 meter climb from the transition area to the main road, but if felt easy and I was happy to be out of the water and on my bike.

The Bike 112mi. (180km)

Immediately coming out of the Palmilla Hotel we made a left and faced our first hill climb. “Safe, Smart and Strong!” “Be SMART! Don’t get carried away by the excitement” I knew there were many more hills to come so I dropped to my lowest my gear and took it easy all the way up “Not bad! I can handle hills like this any day!” was my first thought. The first segment consisted of a 35 mile hilly but scenic loop from San Jose to Cabo San Lucas. The ocean sparkled and the view of El Arco de Cabo San Lucas was stunning. I was loving life at that moment! Literally yelling “I’m having so much fun!” and “I LOVE this sport!” I often do that during the bike portion of the race. But things were about to change. After completing the first segment and arriving back in San Jose we made a left turn into the only section of the course that I had not previewed or even thought about. On the map it looked like a harmless 20 mile loop on the toll road to the airport, but in reality it was the “Stairway to Hell”, at least that’s what I ended up calling it. 

The Stairway to Hell

 The Stairway to Hell was a ten mile climb into the mountainous desert. Gone were the beautiful scenic ocean view and tropical flowers, replaced now by giant peaks covered in jagged edges of red rocks and cacti that made me feel miniscule and weak. I looked down at my Garmin, it said I was going at a speed of 6 mph! “Really? When is this hill going to end?” I thought of my brother Ricardo’s last words to me comparing Ironman to mountaineering, “It is putting one foot in front of the other for endless hours feeling like shit!!” OK then, right, left, right left, right, left…When I got to the top I noticed the turnaround was not there! There were three steep down hills before the turn around. I freaked. That meant I had to climb back up those three steep hills, it was disheartening. I pushed through those three hill climbs, and when I got to the top I was amazed by the sight, the entire town of San Jose stretched out in below me and the gorgeous azure waters of the Sea of Cortes all around! Absolutely mesmerizing! By now my average speed had dropped from 18mph to just under 15mph, but energized by the view and the long downhill ahead I was still optimistic that I could recover my speed over the distance of my second loop.

The Corridor (Part Deux)

 I was really looking forward to riding the stretch from San Jose to Cabo San Lucas since it had been so much fun the first time, and I was looking forward to picking up some speed I had lost on the Stairway to Hell. However, something was not right. It felt a lot harder now, something had changed and it wasn’t just my tired muscles. Then I noticed the hotel flags flapping vigorously in all directions. The wind had picked up considerably over the last three hours and now it seemed like a different course! I pedaled hard and steady but the hills seemed steeper and longer. There was no cruising even on the downhill segments, if I stopped pedaling for two seconds I would immediately slow way down. I kept telling myself that as soon as I turned around the wind would be on my back and I would fly. Well, that didn’t happen. I had to work even harder on the way back. The angle of the cross-wind simply made everything harder. That’s when things got tough.

The Breaking Point

Around mile 80 my body started to really complain. My neck, shoulders and back started cramping first, then my inner thighs and calves, and lastly my toes, all of them at once. Each pedal stroke was excruciating because it involved applying a lot of pressure on my cramping feet and utilizing those same cramping muscles over and over again. At that point I was so uncomfortable and in so much pain and tired of fighting the wind that the mere thought of having to climb the Stairway to Hell a second time made me let out a cry “I don’t want to do this anymore! Waaahhh!”
I felt defeated and I thought of my family and friends.  I thought of my cousin Alvaro and his family in La Paz waiting to hear how it went.  I thought of my cousin Gloria who had been so impressed by the whole idea of the race.  I thought of my Tough Cookies at home cheering and tracking my progress. I thought of my boys, what would they learn from me if I quit? Then I thought of Marc, “Be Safe, Smart… STRONG! Be STRONG! I’ve got to pull myself together!” I popped two salt capsules and two Advil, downed it with some Gatorade and said “Pain is temporary, but quitting is forever!” and pushed again.

The Stairway to Hell (Part Deux)

At this point my average speed was a not important at all! Finishing the bike before the cut off time was my only goal. With my new goal in mind and knowing exactly what to expect of the Stairway to Hell, I made myself a deal. I would climb strong and steady up the most grueling part of the race but I would treat myself to a packet of chocolate hazelnut butter which tastes exactly like a Ferrero Rocher, my favorite chocolate. Gingerly, I made my way up the mountain enjoying the delicious taste in my mouth and the stunning desert views. Amazing what effect a little chocolate can have on a woman’s frame of mind! Before long I, was at the turn around. I knew I had three more steep climbs but that I would be rewarded by a final down-hill joy ride with sights of San Jose and the ocean behind it. And with that in mind I charged on. My muscles were twitching and cramping all over but I ignored them and focused on conquering each hill. Then finally there it was! The town of San Jose and the beautiful ocean below me. I had a huge smile on my face! “I did it!”

Transition 2

 Arriving downtown San Jose I saw Marc. I was so happy to see him! I was in great spirits! Getting off my bike was such a relief. All my aches and pains immediately disappeared! I ran through transition and changed into my running skirt. It felt great to be out of my triathlon shorts! I was in and out in 3 minutes. Marc was on the other side of the tent and started running with me. It was great having him running next to me. It had been many hours since I’d seen him and I had so much to tell him and wanted to hear how the boys were doing. We ran a few minutes together and then he let me go.

The Marathon 26.2mi. (42km)

I was so happy to be running! I felt great! The cramping was gone, my neck and back pain were gone, and the course was lined by smiling happy faces cheering me on! I heard someone say it was four thirty and thought “Hey! No pressure, I have 7 and a half hours to run a marathon! No problem!”  Within minutes I caught up with Susan. She had a phenomenal swim as usual and came out of the water first in her age group and 25 minutes ahead of me. I had seen her on the bike several times and noticed she didn’t look so good. At one point she had yelled at me either “I have a rash!” or “I crashed!” I wasn’t sure and it bugged me the entire bike ride. Now I finally could speak to her. It turns out she did crash and had some scrapes on her knees and face. She was also not feeling good and her stomach was hurting. I told her to take it easy and just walk as needed and to just keep moving forward.
 I didn’t see Marc or the kids on my first 9 mile loop and just kept looking everywhere for them.  It got very hot at one point and they were spraying us with water hoses. The volunteer support was great! They were constantly offering me something to eat or drink and at first I was being polite saying “No, thank you!” or “Yes, please!” But soon that turned into a nod or a shake of the head. Later even that was hard and I’d just grab it from them if I wanted it or ignore them completely. I didn’t want to be rude, but I needed every bit of energy to just keep moving forward. Near the end of the first loop I saw Susan again this time she said “I don’t think I’ll make the cut off time!” I yelled back “You have more than 6 hours still!!” I started getting very concerned about her…
The second 9 mile loop ended. I hadn’t seen my family yet, it had gotten dark. I entered the main road that passed in front of my hotel and started feeling sad that this was my last loop and I had not seen them, when suddenly “Mammaaaaaa!!” I turn to my right and there they were, the whole gang! And they were all running next to me. “Mamma, what took you soooo looong??” Diego asked. I just laughed. What a proud moment! Marc asked me what mile it was and I looked at my Garmin and it said 18.1 miles. I couldn’t believe it! I was so close to the end! “See you in a bit!” I said knowing I would see them again at mile 21 since this was an out and back section. I was uplifted by seeing my 4 boys and cranked it up. I saw Susan again, I asked about Dawn and Donna since I had not seen them on the run. She just said “They didn’t make it!” I felt terrible. I had seen them on the bike several times and the last time I saw them I was leaving the Stairway to Hell and they were on their way up. When I got back to the spot where I’d seen the boys they were sitting at a table outside having dinner. Here I was at mile 21 and they were eating! I yelled “Order me a pizza!” and “See you at the finish line!”
As I began my third and final loop, I saw Dawn cheering from the sidelines and she jumped in started running with me. “Hey coach! You are doing great!” She seemed fresh as a daisy. She was running too fast for me to keep up with and was talking easily. She was in such good spirits despite the fact that they had not allowed her to start the run because she had finished minutes past the bike cut off time. I told her to look for Susan and run her in because she didn’t look good.

The last loop through the estuary was pitch dark and gloomy. It had gotten very quiet. Everybody was walking very slowly or limping along. I felt great! I kept trying to cheer everyone on saying “We are almost done! Only four more miles!” But no one seemed happy to hear that, then it dawned on me that maybe not everyone was on their last loop like I was! 
The final countdown began. Three miles to go. Two miles to go. One mile to go!

The Finish Line

 Then I see the boys again. They all begin running next to me, there are so many of them! In all sizes! And I love them and missed them so much! “Where’s Papa?” “He’s at the finish line!” “OK, see you in a minute!” and I enter the finish line chute! I hear several comments from the Mexican announcer including something about me being good looking AND an Ironman! Then finally the "official" Ironman voice says “Tzatzil you are an Ironman!” I cross the finish line and I hear “Tzatziiiiiil!” it’s Marc! But he’s on the other side of the fence, I wave at him and signal that I’ll see him on the other side.

I was elated. I was almost two hours slower than my last Ironman, but it didn’t really matter at that moment, I had finished the hardest thing I’d ever done. Susan finished with Dawn and Donna by her side about 45 minutes later but was in bad shape and ended up in the medical tent with several bags of I.V. Later we found out that this race had the highest dropout rate of any Ironman race with less than 800 finishers out of 1500 participants. People always ask me why I would want to put myself through this kind of pain to finish an Ironman, and the only answer I can come up with is “Because I CAN!”