Friday, September 30, 2016

A road of relentless effort and perseverance. A road of overcoming rejection and adversity on multiple levels.

My racing season has come to an end on a high note. I finished 12th (out of 35 qualified women in my category) at the 2016 ITU long course World Championships in Oklahoma City.

I am not completely satisfied but reflecting back over the years, and seeing all the difficulties I had to overcome in order to get where I am at, I can say I am happy to close up the season and plan for the future. 

Let me tell you a little story to give you a perspective.

When I was in elementary school, back in the early '90s in Greece, there was a two-day camp to select "talented" kids for the newly formed track and field team of the city. I was very keen and active at the time and I wanted with all of my heart to be in that team. I did my very best and tried with all the power of my soul to perform in the tests. But, I did not make the cut-offs and I did not get selected. I was told I was not good enough. 

When I moved on to high-school, I was a very good student, but I was not good enough. My parents believed that all I was good at was riding my bike and nothing else. They believed I was not exceptional in sciences, I was not good at maths. 

When I entered the University and tried to major in Maths, my parents believed I wouldn't finish the program. I was not good enough. 

While in college, I joined a cycling club and started training more systematically. I raced all National and some International events (road and track) for four years. My coaches thought I was ok but not good enough to make the National team. I had asthma, I was anemic. I do not know what "talent" and what "good enough" really means. 

But I can tell you this: I never stopped trying.

I graduated with a degree in Maths finishing 3rd in my class with honors. I got a dual scholarship from the University of Bath in England (the 3rd best UK school in engineering at the time) to get my MPhil in Applied Maths. I got a dual scholarship from Georgia Tech (5th best school in the US and top8 in the world) to get my PhD in Biology. Since then, and after only three years, I have completed ten publications in peer-reviewed journals and I have one patent. In triathlons, I finished 4th overall in the open category of the USAT collegiate Nationals in 2012, I won the 2014 and 2015 Regional Duathlon Championships, and the 2015 Regional Xterra Championships. I finished 12th at the 2016 ITU long course World Championships (my first ever attempt on a long distance).

If this is not good enough then what is?

The road was not smooth. I had to battle with family rejection both academically and in sports. I had to overcome bad relationships with mentors, coaches and professors that were solely thinking of their own success. I had to survive academic political games. I had to fight with injuries. I had to overcome a chronic, debilitating running pain in my abdominal muscles that took me nearly two years to find out what it was and almost 10 months to get it finally resolved.

And I believe I am not done yet. In fact I am just in the beginning.

And I will never stop trying. I will never give up on my dreams. 

And I will never adopt the attitude of "good enough" for any of my efforts.

Thank you so much for being there to support me on this bumpy road of dreams!

Let's just never reject anyone who is not "good enough"!

Let's just never settle on anything that is just "good enough"!

See you out there trying!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Racing: how often, how hard and the art of tapering

I have heard controversial approaches about the age-group athlete and the approach to racing. Some believe that amateur athletes should really focus and taper for one race a year, others believe that athletes should rest plenty before every single race. Similarly, some coaches do not chose to race the athlete a lot, others believe that this approach takes away the fun and they chose to race the athlete as much as the athlete wants.

There is no right or wrong approach to that but there are some physiological parameters that are true and there is also a fundamental question that needs to be addressed to the athlete before any decision made: "How long is your goal race? How much and how well do you want to perform at that one race? Are you ok with a good performance or you want to be at your absolute best?"

I find that a lot of my fellow athletes are racing by wanting to do well at every single race. And this is great and if that satisfies them it is even greater! This approach however has a lot of pitfalls. At one race the training and rest may be at the right place and they race well. At another race something goes south and the result is not that good. Physiologically, the body can perform at its very best once or maybe twice a year. This of course does not mean that an athlete needs to race once or twice only!

The art of what distance, how much and how often an athlete should race depends on the athlete's and coach's approach to training and racing, on the actual distance of the goal race and of course, on the level of the individual athlete. Usually, the longer is the goal race the less frequently an athlete needs to race during the preparation. We believe that every single race in the calendar should be chosen for a reason that reason should be the ultimate goal race(s). This however, does not take away the fun or the frequency of the races - it is more of a realization that the body will not perform at its best at every single race. Period.

In my case this year, we really set up the training calendar in May. With so many ups and downs (especially at the beginning of the season) last year, Dave wanted to be 100% sure that I was starting healthy. This year, I do have a single goal race, and I am healthy. ITU World Championships, September 26. It is a long-distance race (very close to the Ironman distance: 4000m swim/86mi bike/30km run) and putting-in longer training days will give me more benefit rather than racing too often. So, one race every month for me and racing with fatigue till September!

I can't wait to race and ...

This year, you will find me at:

1. 2016 Southeast Regional Triathlon Championships(Chattanooga waterfront) -June
2. 2016 Georgia Games Open Water Swim Championships - July
3. 2016 Toughman Alabama (half-distance triathlon) - August
4. 2016 ITU Long Distance World Championships - September

Happy training, Happy racing!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Power Tap in the face of the emerging technological advances

There is no question that in the past 10 years or so, engineering and scientific advances have been applied to the sports industry with great success. These advances not only elevate the technological status of sports equipment to the level of achieving performance enhancement at the elite level but they also reduce the cost of production and provide immediate availability to the recreational or elite amateur athlete. This is really exciting for the scientific and engineering environment, the industry world and the sports community alike.

However, as it often comes with excitement – especially within the industry and marketing world – also come exploiting opportunities without reference to a general plan or without the necessary infrastructure or knowledge background that the engineering and science requires. Newer or well-established companies may enter the booming market and take advantage of the opportunities for increasing their sales. This could initially be beneficial for the consumer and athlete, as the industry competition could push the boundaries of even better technology and cheaper product but it could also work to their disadvantage. This is because, in some cases, the wealth of options and prices could lower the quality (in order to provide higher profit for some companies) and could make the athlete’s decision of selecting the right product tricky and mistake-prone.

Measuring power output in physical activities – and primarily in cycling – is a prime example. The first bike power meter (crankset) was developed in the late 80s but it wasn’t really up until the late 90s when MIT engineers introduced the first portable, mainstream, less expensive, and incredibly accurate power hub. This was a new era for the industry and sports community, because opportunities to conduct performance tests in the field became a reality that was not only available to a few, elite athletes but also to any athlete of any ability or level. The Power Tap company made this industry evolve and prosper so successfully that nowadays, power meters show up on the bike in multiple places including the hub, crank, pedal and even the handlebar - for wind resistance calculations. SRM, Stages, Quarq, Polar and Garmin Vector are some of the follow-up companies. Some of these power meters are more expensive than others, some have variable accuracy, some only measure from one side of the bike or leg, while others can measure both sides of your unique pedal stroke. Some power meters have more complex systems, require more energy, and battery consumption, and some are lighter than others.
For many athletes, who are not experienced engineers on this field, the decision to purchase the best product for their budget and their individual needs has already become challenging. How accurate do I need to be, how much will it cost me, how complicated the installation is, how long it will last, how often do I have to change the battery, what is the long-term maintenance and what is the customer-support of the company like?

Power Tap has simplified the decision-making process to these parameters:

Accuracy. Simplicity. Value.

History/Tradition and Accuracy: With their tag-line of Tested-Trusted-True, PowerTap aims to identify the importance of the company’s history, experience and well-establishment in the field of power meters. Power Tap products (hubs,pedals,cranks) have been tested thoroughly - since the beginning of their production – to provide measurements within the gold-standard accuracy of +/-1.5. Power Tap really invented the market and did not simply take advantage of it. The company carries a lot of history and it is synonymous to quality and accuracy.

Simplicity and Value: All of the Power Tap products consist of simple designs to include sophisticated mechanisms that are light, accurately tested, of high-quality and of reasonable pricing. Power Tap delivered the power meter to every athlete (without sacrificing quality and accuracy). And this is what they continue to do.

Customer support: Where many companies sell their product and disappear, Power Tap not only has a life-long customer support, it is actively involved in technological, engineering and scientific education of the athlete through their manuals, videos and articles that are freely available to anyone. So that power meter products can be utilized correctly and provide the maximum benefit to the athlete. 

I believe that Power Tap surpasses every company out there when one takes into account all these parameters combined.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Getting to know Kali Protectives

Kali Protectives - science, innovation, safety, quality and great looks!

Not too many other things to talk about this mountain-bike oriented helmet company that made its debut in road helmets a few years ago. Some months back, I got to know the company through Jason Aven, the territory manager of the East Coast, and fell in love with it.

Kali Phenom comes with a rain shell!
The people behind Kali are very knowledgeable, super friendly, extremely helpful, passionate and eager to help Kali Protectives expand and grow! You can find this culture in a lot of companies. However, what sets Kali apart from other companies, is the science behind the product design and production, the additional time spent to produce each individual helmet, and the effort put to listen to the athletes and customers feedback to make a better helmet!

Supervents and room for a ponytail!
On the science part, Kali's foundation is the Composite Fusion. This helmet-making process, involves bonding low-density EPS foam directly to the outer shell and removing all gaps between the shell and the foam. This way, both the shell and the foam work together rather than at separate times. What that means is that there is a reduction in impact energy to someone's head!

Kali started making full-face helmets in 2007 and the road line appeared in 2012 with the Maraka model. The Phenom and the Loka showed up in in 2014 and the revolutionary aero road helmet Tava made its introduction in the fall of 2015.

What is really impressive about the technology of all Kali helmets is that they do not need to compress the foam around the openings in order to maintain a low-weight and high-ventilated lid - found in most high-end, high-expensive helmets in the market. By doing so, Kali's foam density at no more than 80 grams per cubic liter within their Composite Fusion technology and their Supervents, allows the crash impact energy to de-centralize and spread over a large area. So that the helmet absorbs most of the impact and not your brain!

De-centralization and larger spread of the crash-impact energy within the helmet

Kali's Composite Fusion Plus, found in Maraka, Phenom and Loka, extended the Supervent, low-density de-centralization ability of Composite Fusion not just in the external but also in the internal part of the lid. And they call this technology, Conehead (love these names!)

The novelty of these technologies has made Kali Protectives surpass all of the safety helmet protocols out there!
Kali Maraka has it all: safety, ventilation, fit and looks! It also comes in XS for smaller noggins!

Kali engineers have managed to create a crash-energy mouse-trap in their helmets, make a super-ventilated lid that fits well without giving a headache or hotspots, without increasing the helmet volume and without making a bucket-like, ugly-looking helmet.

I can't wait to see what's coming next. New features that are coming include additional reduction of rotational forces (Tava helmet) and new BOA-based retention systems. Kali is constantly improving every month and every year!

I can't wait to see this company grow. They deserve it in any sense.

Safety first. Fit, ventilation, and looks are just extra bonuses that make the cherry of the pie!

Get out! Be safe!



Sunday, January 17, 2016

The 2016 Pinarello GAN RS review

The Pinarello brand has a unique character in the bike business.

From the engineers to Fausto Pinarello himself, the company focuses on the bike. Pinarello does not make low-end bikes. It does not go after massive marketing strategies. It does not need to produce accessories and parts.

Instead, the entire production team of Pinarello DOES focus on their bikes. They DO make high-quality, scientifically sound, detail-oriented and breathtakingly beautiful boutique bikes. And they DO care about their customers.

After riding for over ten years on multiple bikes, from non-branded steel frames, to the over-sized aluminum Cannondale (the R800!), the carbon Trek Madonne, and the race-oriented Specialized Amira, I jumped into the Pinarello entry-level Razha last year.

The Razha was different than anything I had ridden before.

The entry-level, reliable Razha

It was a solid training machine. Not super-light but very stiff, quite responsive and very stable on the pavement. The only thing I had to do was to pick-up a line and go! I could climb better and, for my petite size, believe it or not, I could even descent like a bullet! I was truly happy to claim the Razha as my best training partner. Unfortunately, in less than a year of training on it, an unexpected mechanical issue forced me to start the painful process of saying goodbye to my Razha.

The 2016 Pinarello GanRS
More aggressive race geometry, lighter, stiffer, more aero, more beautiful!

My replacement frame took unexpectedly long time to arrive. Because of that, the people at the Pinarello North America headquarters took action, and sent me in replacement, the amazing, new, 2016 Pinarello GanRS frameset.

Now, the Pinarello GanRS is a completely different ball game!

New Onda fork
All-over aero rear end
I have been riding the "LaRossa" (The Red One) for about 5 months now with nearly 2,000 miles in. Completely different feeling than the Razha. First off, the Pinarello GanRS is lighter, stiffer, more responsive, a lot more aero and a whole lot more beautiful! Pinarello made a leap of faith jump from the traditional design to a more time-trial/aero-race geometry. This is obvious on the shape of the tubes, the forehead, the seatpost, the chainstays and the rear triangle at the back. Their unique, assymetrical design (standard in all of their frames) means that whatever plane you chose to "slice off" the geometry of the frame, one plane will never look symmetrical to the other. This gives the bike a unique blend of stability, rigidity and responsiveness. Additionally, the new "onda" fork is designed to be even more aero by minimizing the space between fork and frame and by creating a solid bike made to ride as a one-piece machine. This entire new era pushes the materials and the design to new frontiers. The Pinarello and the GanRS have entered a whole new world!

Assymetric, super-stiff T900 carbon fiber frameset. Aero tubes. Aero forehead.

The new T900 carbon frame/fork material is derived directly from the top-of-the-line Dogma with slightly less extreme features in rigidity and asymmetry. The GanRS is a highly responsive bike that accelerates and takes corners faster than the more traditional Razha without losing the stability and soft-ride feel that made the Pinarello brand famous in the bike industry. I have my GanRS dressed up with the new mechanical 11speed Shimano Ultegra that gives a light, butter-smooth gear changing without breaking completely my bank. However, the bike is designed to accommodate both mechanical and battery-operated gearing, in case I change my mind.

Riding the 2016 GanRS is a real joy

A couple of other nice touches to the frame include a much lower positioning of the water-bottle cage in the vertical tube so that smaller frames can accommodate up to a 25oz water bottle (hurray!). Also, the carbon seatpost accepts now aluminum, titanium or carbon rail saddles without any extra adjustment (nice!).

All in all,

The Pinarello GanRS has it all. Literally.

It is super stable and forgiving during the long, steady rides. Extremely light, stiff and nervously responsive during the quick sprint-outs. Fast in the climbs, faster in the descends.
More aero. More beautiful.


Beautiful and powerful Italian design

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Socks for different sports - why?

Triathlon is my hobby. A very serious hobby. I love to swim, bike and run so much that training and racing has turned into a lifestyle during the past four years.

My primary profession, which I also enjoy to the core, involves hours of bioinformatics medical data mining and interpretation, therefore, I feel I am a data driven and detail oriented individual.

Now if you combine passion for triathlon and science, you get an interesting combination of an athlete, who pays attention to details.

You may wonder how could this be related to socks?

This is how: details make the difference. For the past years, I have been running with my cycling socks thinking: socks are just socks right? I never gave it a second thought as I couldn't bother to get into that extra little expense and have a second pile-up of running socks. 

The past few days, I had the chance to try out the Defeet Run series and that made me give my initial thought a second thought. Details make a difference. 

How a running sock by Defeet can give you a SHOCKING feeling?

(click to expand)
I truly support Defeet because it is the most innovative industry out here, making products by utilizing local resources with extremely high quality and competitive prices. Defeet has developed a cult around the most interesting, athletic and unique individuals that never stop thinking-out-of-the-box. I love that! Their running socks are now part of this cult and they do make a stand-out difference in the sport and in the sports inducstry. 

First off. The Defeet running shocs are slightly thicker than the traditional cycling socks but they are slightly thicker in strategic points, exactly where your feet make contact with the ground. The gait cycle and the sole pressure points are obviously different between cycling and running, so the extra cushion in the running socks around the toes and the metatarsal area is highly appreciated. Extra points go to the different design between the left and the right sock: your pressure points mirror each other on opposite feet right? Second, they have a lower cut than cycling socks, (beautiful legs can show off). More importantly, they are cut in a way that follows the bone-ligament-muscle line so that there are no hot spots whatsoever. Check this out: higher around the shoe tongue, lower around the ankle bone, and higher again around the Achilles tendon. SWEET! Lastly, a nice touch includes arch compression material, smooth, no-seam feel construction and the famous Aireator mesh material. 

You may think that this is just another marketing gimmick but trust me: you will give it a second thought when you put them on your feet. The details are totally worth the few extra bucks!   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

USAT Long Course National Championships ~ my qualification for the World Championships

All it takes is a lot of patience, practice, smart preparation, a good strategy, a good nutrition plan, an intelligent coach and an athlete who listens and executes.

Patience: 3 1/2 years since I completed a major race (4th at the Collegiate Nationals in 2012) without any pain in my abdominal muscles (see: New 2015 season. Shaping up, building up and racing pain-free

Practice: I never stopped working out during the past 3 years. I couldn't run for two years but I biked a lot and worked religiously on my swim!

Smart preparation: We only had 8 weeks. I lacked running volume and we increased the mileage very slowly but steadily up to one week before the race. Because we did not do any running intervals, all the intensities (endurance threshold, aerobic/anaerobic and VO2 max workouts) were done in the water (swimming). 

Good strategy: My racing plan was very specific: do your best in the swim, take it out a little slower and negative split on the bike. Save for the run and maintain a steady pace.

Good nutrition plan: I had tried all of my nutrition on the long training days. I knew what works and what doesn't. I stuck with simple foods two days before the race: I was eating oatmeal for breakfast and rice with chicken or tuna or turkey and a little broccoli for lunch/dinner. I stayed away from heavy dairy and fiber-rich foods and fruit. Banana is the DIVINE food. For my race, I relied on First Endurance EFS Pro with EFS pre-race powder, EFS liquid shot and water. Supreme quality, simple and efficient.

Intelligent coach: My husband, Dave Williams is also my coach. This man, not only has he studied human performance and served as a pro-triathlete for over a decade but he has also a proven record of XC and swimming All-Americans, World Champs and Olympians. The most important thing: He pays attention to the training plan and the athlete's mood, reactions, feelings and adaptations. 
He is THE MAN behind everything.

Athlete who listens and executes: I do not always agree with what Dave believes we should do. In fact, I may have to argue at times. But I learned to respect and follow the plan without major disagreements. Simply because it works.  I am a proud cyclist and during the race, it was SO HEARTBREAKING to let so many girls zip-through me during the first half ~ but I had to remind myself to stick to the plan: HOLD BACK during the first half so I can finish the run strong!

Final Thoughts: I finished in 5hrs and 31min. Not bad for a first half distance tri but certainly not my best time. I bonked at the last half a mile of the run and stopped for 4min without being able to even walk. Dehydration due to extreme heat (and some nutritional pitfalls on the correct caloric concentration per liter) made my stomach upset. I eventually jogged to the finish line but I had lost nearly 4 positions. I finished 14th and got the qualification for the 2016 ITU long course national championships. My goal was to execute the plan without any abdominal pain and get the qualification without any expectations of the placing. I completed everything and achieved the goals!

Stocked by the results so far and grateful to:

Coach and husband Dave Williams, the best nutritional company on earth First Endurance, CycleOps and PowerTap that have me as a grassroots athlete this year, all of my supporters, Peachtree Bikes, Rudy Project, Defeet, Finis and Altra running.

The season has just begun! 

Races coming up: Powerman Alabama and Powerman USA Championships!