Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ironman Princeton 70.3 - Race Report

I woke up on Monday September 22nd and there was no training schedule in my inbox from Coach Laurie for the week ahead.  Ironman Princeton 70.3 was done.  I did it.

I looked down at my wrist which had two thin, gold, Mantra band bracelets that Mike and the kids gave me for finishing the race.  One read, "You are my sunshine" - the song I sing to my kids in good times and bad (they sing it to me now too in their little delicious cherub voices).  The second reads, "She believed she could, so she did."  My husband is really perfection.  I couldn't ask for a more supportive, inspirational, caring partner who totally knows what to say when I've returned from a hard/great/crappy/easy workout and has dinner waiting after swim practice.  He was more nervous than me the morning of the race, which was one of those moments in life that you realize you need to thank God every day for leading you to the perfect person for you.

I didn't sign up for this race on a whim.  I had done a couple sprints the summer before and really enjoyed them - way more than I expected to.  I had been thinking about the 70.3 distance since the end of the 2013 season, but could I really find the time to do it?  Work, 2 kids, house, family out of state, teaching yoga......  Maybe the first question should have been, how much time is really required to do it?  I even sent an email to one of my best friends in December to see if she would bite.  No luck.

Then, the world shifted.  I got a call on Christmas Day that my 27 year old colleague Jenny Sedney passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm.  Jenny and I started at Vynamic together in May of 2012.  We 1st met at a party Vynamic sponsored after the Broad Street Run the day before our 1st official day at our new job.  I remember driving home from that party and talking to Mike about how impressed we were with Jenny's confidence and poise; how she was at such an awesome part of life - old enough to know what she was doing at work, young enough to enjoy all the crazy fun that comes with moving to a new city.  I grew more impressed with Jenny over the rest of the time I knew her - she worked hard, was committed to her health, and had fun too.  Her death shook me to the core of me being and made me question my values.  This young, beautiful, vibrant young woman was gone.


I made some changes after Jenny died.  I had to start living NOW.  I made time to visit my friends who lived far way.  I called my family more.  I stopped working long hours and started to think about ways to spend more time with Mike and my kids.  Started thing about why, instead of why not.  I signed up for the Half Ironman.  

There is allot of alone time in the hours training for a long distance event.  I cried some tears on the road, trail, and water thinking about Jenny - how her death seemed so unfair.  She inspired me when I was aching and cranky about doing a workout.  NOW was the time.  I welled up before the race when I pinned a ribbon from Jenny's memorial service to my bike.  This race was for her.  For her family and close friends that miss her every day.

Jenny's cousins created an incredible Foundation in her honor called The Bee Foundation, whose mission is to reduce the number of deaths caused by brain aneurysms through awareness, research and education.  The Saturday before my race in Princeton they held the Inaugural Honeybash in Philadelphia.  I'm sure this is the first of many successes for this organization and I look forward to watching it grow.

Taper week was harder mentally than I expected.  I knew that I had to trust the plan and that my body was resting and rejuvenating in preparation for Sunday, but I just was itching to do more.  I tried to get extra sleep and enjoy the wealth of time I suddenly had.  I got my emails out to friends, family and co-workers with tracking instructions and loved getting all of the "Good luck" responses.   My amazing co-worker and friend Michele had completed Ironman Lake Placid last July and I think I texted her everyday with a new question - Do you pee in your wet suit?  Do you stop at the bike aid stations? How exactly does the wet suit stripper work?  Michele's excitement and positive attitude were contagious and I decided my strategy at that point was to smile during the race, even if I was dying inside.

I kept Mary home from pre-school on Friday.  I like having her around.  She keeps things fresh.  The kids weren't coming to the race so I thought this was a cool way for her to see the venue.  We arrived at Mercer Park in Princeton and went through the Registration process.  She was telling all the athletes in line with us that a triathlon is, "First, a swim.  Then, a bike.  Then, a run.  Then, you're done!"  She picked out a teddy bear for her and Michael and we headed to the athletes briefing. We made it about 30 minutes into the briefing with Mary treating my body as a jungle gym before she declared this to be the, "Most boring thing ever!"  We bailed on the briefing and drove to the swim start and bike transition area.  She grabbed my face with her little hands, looked me in the eyes and said, "Mommy, you will do great."  I knew it was smart to have her around that day.  

That night I finished packing.  Packing for a triathlon is more stressful than the actual event.  I am not proud of my attitude during the packing process (sorry family).  I have a checklist and after doing it a couple times am confident that I have the right "stuff".
Saturday after my parents arrived and we went to 2 soccer games, Mike and I left for Princeton.  We went to the village to catch the rest of the athletes briefing that I had missed on Friday.  When the voice of Ironman told us about bike support he was joking about the hand pumps for fixing flats - "Who uses those anymore?"  (Um, me.  Cringe.)  Mike was as entertained with the briefing as Mary was.... I was hanging on every word like some morsel of knowledge was going to change my whole race.

We checked out the Village and got some more swag.  I saw the test your speed to fix a flat booth and internally panicked - especially when I saw the record time being under 2 minutes.  This was an area I knew I was not prepared for.  Not only did I have my antiquated mountain bike hand pump, I hadn't done more than attend a fix a flat clinic the spring before.  I figured I would get a flat at some point during training and be forced to fix the flat (using You Tube) on the side of the road.  That training flat never happened and I never practiced at home.  I'll admit it - bike stuff intimidates me.  All the lingo, the expensive components, bike obsessed people.  I had a clearance model REI road bike with aero bars and an extra water bottle cage attached.  I slinked by the booth and resolved that if I got a flat I would start on it and wait for bike support to come around to finish it off.

At this point we needed to get the bike racked.  I headed out for a short workout and then met mike at the Bike transition area.  I got my tires filled by the bike support team and they also fixed my rear brake which he said was essentially not working.  Oops.  I think I convinced the bike kid to re-join the swim team at school so I figure that was my gift to him that he will be grateful for 10 years later (in the short term I gave him a $10 tip).  I lifted my chin and confidently walked my bike into transition (on numerous occasions during training rides I thought my bike needed a name but I never came up with one that felt right).  Wow did I have bike envy.  Cannondale, Cervelo, Specialized, Felt, Fuji, Trek.  It was impressive.  I remembered what my bike fitter told me when I got my bike adjusted last spring - "The machine that powers the bike is more important than any brand name."  That remained to be seen....  I racked my bike and walked out of transition.

Mike and I walked down to the swim start and took in the view.  We talked to a couple young guys who were down there and a bit panicky about the swim.  I told them the best thing you can do in the swim is to stay calm and we were in a nice calm lake for this swim.  Mike had some unhelpful swimming comments that were funny and I think those 2 guys really needed a laugh (he always knows what to say).  It was sunset and a really beautiful time at that lake.  It was starting to feel real at a new level now.

 Mike and I grabbed dinner and then headed to the hotel which was about 20 mins from the course.  I laid everything out exactly as I needed it for the next morning.  Multiple alarms were set and I closed my eyes at 10pm with a 5am wake up call planned.          
Race morning
I woke up at 4:55 and silenced my alarms.  I closed my eyes again and stayed with the stillness of the early morning, warmth of the covers on top of me and soft bed underneath me for a few more minutes.  I did my 20 breaths meditation exercise. I knew once my feet touched the floor the day would unfold powered by a body that was physically prepared and a mind that had walked through this days events more times than I could count.

I have a tough stomach and that morning it was queasy.  I knew it was my body picking up on my nerves and had to calm down.  I had a breakfast of half an avocado, half a bagel, water and a couple sips of coffee.  My start time wasn't until after 8 so I knew I had time to digest.  I got my tri suit and sweats on, packed up and we were off.  I was uplifted by the perfect temps as we walked through the parking lot to our car.  There were dozens of other athletes heading over to the course  with us with a variety of expressions on their faces.  We were all smiles.

As we pulled into the park we joined a line of cars.  We walked over to transition which was abuzz. The energy was pulsing through the crowd.  The lines at the porta potties were long, but Ironman had more than enough setup to accommodate the number of people.  I went into transition and setup my transition.  Every item in my bag had a purpose and place on Mary's lucky pink Tinkerbell towel that reads, "Just Be Yourself".  Bike shoes, with socks in them and a hand towel laid on top of them.  Helmet on aero bars with 3 Gu packs in it and sunglasses on tap.  Sneakers untied with race belt and bib on top.

I was lucky that I had a space next to me on the racks so it wasn't as tight for me.  The women next to me arrived and was very upset that someone had turned her bike.  I assured her that I did not touch her bike but would be happy to help her anyway possible.  Being calm and courteous is contagious. She settled down.  She had a serious bike with all the fixings.

It was time to walk to the swim start.  I grabbed my cap, goggles, wet suit and bag to hand off to Mike.  I started walking out and very deliberately took some deep breaths.  Mike joined up with me and we got a great position to watch the Pros start.  Mike commented on how calm I seemed.  I was surprised myself at how calm I felt.  The announcer told us the water temp was 70 degrees in Mercer Lake.  The sky was overcast and there was a mist on the lake.

The pros went off exactly at 7am and the age groups started every 4 minutes thereafter.  I knew I had awhile so we just watched the athletes start their journey.  This was definitely a highlight of my race.  Husband, wives, daughters, sons, grandfathers, sizes big and small were waving to their families and fans, giving last minute hugs and well wishes.  I knew what each of these people had put into the past months preparing for this moment.  It was emotional.  I welled up a number of times.

Racers were streaming in and out of the warm up area.  My plan was to wait until 7:45 to warm up since my start was scheduled for 8:14.  At 7:25 they announced that all athletes had to clear the warm up area at 7:30.  WHAT?!  I didn't even have my wet suit on.  I was disappointed, but didn't dwell on it since we had an in water start and I knew I could use the swim out to the starting lane.  I also did some different warm up exercises on land instead.  Heck, getting on my wet suit was practically a warm up.  At 7:50 I got glided up and put my wet suit on.  I handed Mike my bag, and he whispered our son Michael's favorite song in my ear, "Don't you worry, don't you worry child.  See heaven's got a plan for you."  (Listen to that link , you won't regret it).  I laughed out loud and responded with, "Dom-i-nation", which is what we say to the kids before soccer.  The tension had been broken and I had my theme song and mantra for the race.      

I got in line with the other 87 yellow capped clad women aged 35-39 and we discussed how much we were looking forward to wet suit stripping.  I smiled allot and made small talk. I wished my fellow racers luck in the race and I meant it.  It was powerful to look at a big group of strong women.  We stepped into the corral and now it was our turn to wave to our families.  I gave Mike one last hug and went down to the water.

We stood for a minute looking out to the water before they released us to get in and head to the starting buoys.  I confirmed to a swimmer next to me that it was a rectangle swim with 10 yellow buoys on the way down, turn left at the red buoy, and left again at the next red buoy before swimming back for 6 orange buoys and then go right at the red buoy to finish the swim.  The swim is my strongest leg so I felt confident.  The woman next to me had some trouble swimming straight and subsequently was pushing me over.  I figured it was a good time to warm up my arms and did some high turnover strokes to get the blood flowing and my wet suit adjusted.  Once we got the start we had a couple minutes to tread.  I got my Suunto watch setup in Tri mode and was ready to hit start a few seconds before the official start.  The mood at the start was positive.  There was a sense of detachment from the crowd we had left behind.

The announcer gave us the one minute warning, told us to take our marks and then the start blasted through the air.  We were off!

The water churned around us and we were negotiating for a clear space.  I got a hard kick to my left rib off the start, but shook it off because I was expecting something.  I quickly pulled away and started to get into a rhythm:  One, two, three, breathe left; one two three, breath right; one, two, three, sight.  I had a partner for awhile to my left for awhile, but she fell off after about the fifth buoy.  I was starting to bump into the more challenged swimmers and needed to navigate around them, which I also expected, but this annoyed me.  I was feeling really strong and also reminding myself to not take it all out here.

I got to the red buoy and turned left.  I was halfway there.  Holy crap I was doing it.  I started to think about the 56+ mile bike that was coming up and then quickly pushed it out of my mind. I rounded the next red buoy and was in the home stretch.  7 buoys left, 6, 5, 4....  My wet suit was now starting to aggravate me.  My arms were feeling heavy.  I wasn't expecting that.  I gave myself a mini pep talk, "You are 3 buoys away from finishing this swim.  No negativity.  No excuses.  Domination."  This race is a mental game.  My body had it, the only thing that would hold me back in this water was my mind.  3 buoys left, 2, 1, red buoy turn.  I saw a yellow cap next to me.  Sorry yellow cap, but you are NOT getting out of this body of water before me.  I turned on my legs and reached the shore before her, but she popped up wet suit free and sprinted out ahead of me.

I saw Mike smiling and waving at me as I moved from horizontal to vertical.  It was as if I was in a movie and the sound was turned off.  I targeted the biggest of the wet suit strippers, zipped my suit halfway down, and flopped on my back so he could get my suit off.  I breathlessly whispered thank you, grabbed my suit and jogged into bike transition.  I looked at my watch - 35 minutes.  Right on target.

I took off my cap as I approached my bike.  There were quite a few bikes still racked around me.  I toweled off quickly, dried off my feet, got on my socks and shoes.  Put my sunglasses on, stored my Gu in my suit, and put my helmet on.  I was a bit dizzy during transition, so took a moment and a big breath.  I grabbed my bike and headed to the bike start with a slow jog to wake up my legs.    

T1: Swim-to-bike00:03:39
Cycling is the newest of the 3 sports to me, so it's not as natural to me as swimming and running.  I got on my bike carefully and clipped in.  I had ridden this course in August so there was a mental boost in the knowledge of what lied ahead.  I knew the course was flat with lots of turns, bumpy at the start and there were a couple hills worth keeping in mind.  I wanted to stay steady on the bike.   This was not where I would win or lose this race - I just had to keep pedaling and stay focused. Domination.

I took a look down at my watch to see my speed and realized that something had screwed up and I wasn't seeing my pace (confirmed later to be User Error - again).  My heart sunk.  I was okay with this on the bike, but it was going to suck on the run.  I trust my body, but really push when I see my pace.  I decided that I would leave it alone and let the clock run.  I could do the pace calculations in my head and that would give me something to keep my mind occupied.        

I knew that I would see Michele at the first bike aid station at mile 18 and that was what the next milestone I was looking forward to.  I didn't expect to see a new friend Schuy and her daughter Avery.  Schuy owns a fantastic store in Chestnut Hill, PA called Indigo Schuy where I bought my Coer Tri suit.  Schuy and Avery are inspirational to me - I dream of racing with my kids someday.  They looked great and I was happy to see them together.

I passed the 10 mile mark and figured my pace was right around 20 MPH.  That is fast for me and I felt excited.  I figured I either had the calculation wrong or was just going out strong.  There were already a couple flats before I got to the first aid station.  I saw Michele and yelled her name.  She saw me and cheered back.  I don't know what it is, but seeing people you know on the course is majorly uplifting.  Seeing Michele put a genuine smile on my face and I felt good about where I was at.

I took in the landscape and noticed how much it had changed in a month,  The corn fields had transitioned and the green fields had turned golden.  I couldn't believe how many flats I was seeing.  I didn't know if this was normal, but I just prayed that my sturdy REI bike would hold up for me.  Being a strong swimmer means that many people passed me on the bike.  I was prepared for that. Since my wave was so late I was able to pass more people that I expected on the bike too.  I smiled at the photographers who were out on the course.  The volunteer and police support were incredibly impressive.  The course was really well marked and staffed.

I got through the few hills on the course and after the last one felt majorly relieved.  I was following my nutrition plan even though I wasn't feeling it.  I took a sip of Skratch to replenish my electrolytes and had 2 Blackberry GUs and a couple Cliff Blocks on the top of each hour.  As we got toward the end of the course I started to think about the run ahead.  I was close to 3 hours which was where I wanted to be.

As I got into the town and crossed the train tracks I felt ever bump to my bone.  Up until that point I felt like I could keep going on the bike.  Turning into the park was awesome.  I switched gears and started to get my legs spinning in the small chain to prepare them for the run.  There was a digital speed sign up and it said 18MPH as I passed.  The bike finish was in the same place as the start and I started to slow down as I got closer.  I was looking scanning the crowd for Mike as I got closer.  I dismounted the bike and started to jog through transition.  Mike was at the transition and I was so excited to see him I flung my hands in the air and dropped my bike. Oops!  It felt good to laugh.

I had finished the bike faster than I hoped.  While it may not be that impressive in the tri world it was good for me and an area I know I can continue to improve in.

I racked my bike.  Ditched my helmet and replaced it with a visor.  I switched my bike shoes for my Altra Ones.  My fingers were completely not working and it took me quite awhile to get my laces tied.  I took one more swig of my drink and then grabbed my belt as I headed toward the run course.
T2: Bike-to-run00:03:41
I hit the  button to transition to the next sport on my watch and it read lap 3, which was odd to me.  I didn't want to exert too much energy trying to figure it out so just took a mental picture of the time and would again calculate my pace - or so I thought.  I hadn't previewed the run course so I didn't have that mental edge.  I knew there were aid stations about every mile on the course so I could asses
s how things were going there.  My legs felt like they do every time I start running after a long bike - like they're slogging through a mud pit.  My initial 1.8 miles were a 7:18 pace and the next 1.8 were a 10:57 pace.

I was amazed by how many people were walking.  I didn't expect that at all.  My strategy was to run and then walk through the aid stations if I needed to, which I did for the most part.  I was really hungry.  I got orange slices at the first three aid stations and then a Bonk Breaker.  It was getting hot so when I could get a cup of ice I dumped it into my top.  Hallelujah.

As I was turning the corner to start the second lap I saw my coach Laurie and then Mike.  Again, it's such a mental boost to see people you know on the course.  I was still smiling, even though it was starting to feel tough.  There was definitely comfort in knowing the end was getting close.  I was at 58 minutes and knew if I kept up what I was doing I was going to be close to reaching my goal of finishing in 6 hours.

During the 2nd lap I was losing some steam.  I was so happy to see an aid station and in hindsight probably walked too slowly though a few of them.  Toward the middle of the 2nd lap I started walking in a small trail section and an older woman next to me encourage me to start running,   She said, "You are strong.  I can tell.  You're almost there.  Get running."  What do you do when someone says that to you?  You start running!  At this point I started looking at my watch allot more.  I had to get serious if I wanted to finish in 6 hours.

I passed through the last aid station and knew this was it.  I was tired, but happy.  Just one foot in front of the other.  Don't you worry, don't you worry child.  I saw Laurie and flashed a smile as she yelled to me.  Then Mike saw me and started running along me encouraging me to speed up and I could break 6.  I was almost out of gas which was good because if I had any left I may have run up and strangled him!  We exchanged some words and he was off to meet me at the Finish Line.  I dug deep and felt a surge of emotion as I heard and saw the crowd at the Finish.  I threw my arms in the air and gladly accepted the medal around my neck.

I thought I had a better sense of my pace, but this proved to me how dependent I was on my watch.  I was all over the place.  So much for trying to calculate my pace!  I expected to do better on the run, but overall am pleased with my time.

It's over!

Mike greeted me at the finish and I saw Michele too.  I felt great.  It was a surreal feeling to be finished.  All the training and time was worth it to achieve such a big goal, test my limits and embrace being alive!  Overall I did well finishing in the top 20 in my age group.

Lessons Learned:
1. I'm not a "crier", but I will cry before, during and after an Ironman.
2. If there is a swim warm up find out what time it will close so I don't miss out.  
3. Put Body Glide on armpits.  Wherever you don't have Glide on will chafe.  I learned this one the hard way.
4. If possible, preview as many legs of the course as possible. My run would have benefited from knowing the course better.
5. I need to figure out what wet suit works best for me.  Maybe go sleeveless or spend more time training in my sleeves.
6. I need to get more experience in open water.  I'm a confident swimmer, but not a very straight one when I'm out of the lane lines!
7. The engine truly is more important than the bike.  But, maybe I want a Tri bike......
8. I hate cowbells and screaming teenagers.  They do not motivate me.
9. Nutrition during training for everyday performance will be part of my focus next season.
10. I need to be 100% confident in how my watch works in Tri mode.  This messed with me, but I didn't let it totally derail me.
11. Having an experienced coach was worth every penny.  I highly doubt I would have been as successful and recovered as quickly without Laurie's guidance.
12. Having a supportive and understanding partner is really important to enjoying the training and race experience.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Smack Down and the Ego Bruise of Finishing Last

Ahhh, the ego. The source of so much worry, anxiety, and suffering.  As a yoga teacher I utter the words, "Check your ego at the door" or "Let go of your ego and get present".  Easier said than done.  The ego thrives on taking you out of the moment, bringing you into the past and projecting 'what-ifs" into the future.  Eckhart Tolle explains the ego this way:

 "It can turn up in feelings of inferiority or self-hatred because ego is any image 
you have of yourself that gives you a sense of identity—and that identity derives 
from the things you tell yourself and the things other people have been saying 
about you that you've decided to accept as truth."  

Well, that helps make sense of the internal dialog I was having last night - "I don't finish last!  This is crazy!  I'm a hard working,competitive, fast, mamma athlete warrior."   

Last night was the "Smack Down" at GAAC Masters swim practice and in addition to putting my legs, arms and lungs to the test, it also put my ego to the test.  It was a race of 2 loops of a 1.5 mile trail run followed by 750 yards swimming (total = ~3.85 miles).  There were about 10 of us competing - 3 of which were women so I still podium-ed (ha).
Relief and smiles at the finish
My tri coach Laurie, who is also our Masters Coach said it was a fast group (placating my last place finish)?  The top male time was 39:55 and top 3 female times were 47:24, 51:12 (although she did extra running after getting lots of the run course) and then me at 51:35.  My average run pace was 8.11 which I'm happy with.  I definitely noticed that I push way harder when I'm chasing.  It was tempting to take an easier pace when there was no one around on the 2nd lap.     
Running data from Smack down - gap is when I'm swimming
I consistently feel nervous heading to swim practice because I know it's going to be a hard workout - even in the slow lane.  It was a bit intimidating being in a group of people who were so fast, but it was also good.    I pushed myself harder and there was no way I wasn't putting in a solid effort.  I may have been last but I wasn't going to be far behind.  Not gonna lie, it bruised my ego to come in last.  I will use that 'bruised ego' to use that to fuel my training for the next 7 weeks before the Princeton Half Ironman.   

Lessons Learned after reflecting and thinking about teachings from yoga and mindfulness:
1. Make a choice to let go of the crap.  When I feel afraid I turn my back on confidence and the ego takes over.  The first part is noticing that and bringing my mind back to the task at hand vs the fear/anxiety that's fueling my thoughts.  The mind is like a puppy on a leash.  It walks along, gets distracted, starts sniffing around wandering in another direction.  You have to gently nudge it back to the path ahead - over and over and over.    
2. Stop 'Telling Stories'.  When I complain and focus on the negative and say it out loud I bring legitimacy to a story, not the reality.  
3. Be grateful.  Find gratitude in the process - that I'm out there running and swimming, that I have health, that I'm strong in mind and body, that I live in a place with beautiful trails to run on and a big pool to swim in, that I have the guts to put myself in the pool with the faster people.   
4.  I need a running partner to fuel some fast workouts and push my comfort zones.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Setbacks Schmetbacks

I signed up for the Princeton Half Ironman in January.  It was a fast decision, but one I'd had in my subconscious since doing a couple sprints the summer before.  I was filled with excitement, a healthy dose of fear, and a very clear objective to find a coach to help me prepare for a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13 mile run.  Many of my friends told me I didn't need a coach, but I knew I did for the accountability and to make me a proper plan to really push myself.

I ran the Chicago marathon in 2004.  My preparation for the marathon was laughable, but my body was strong, I was a youthful 26 and I was determined to finish.  I no longer have youth on my side - thankfully, still the same strong-will.  Now I have a reverence and respect for my body that carried 2 babies and logged many miles on the road and trail since that marathon.  I hopefully will have the privilege to live in this body for the next 1/2 century and to be blunt, I don't do stupid things with it anymore.  I wanted to do this right and maybe even do well vs. just finish.

So with this perspective in mind, I found a great coach in Laurie Hug who in addition to being a triathlon coach, is is a pro triathlete, high school and masters swim coach.  With the exception of high school sports, I've never worked with a coach and none of them were the caliber of Laurie.  I was going to do every workout she prescribed, hang on every piece of advice she gave me and make training a top non-negotiable priority.

Maybe some of that naivety from youth was still me when I made that mantra to myself.  Things like work, kids being sick, and most unexpectedly my own ailments, have made my commitment to sticking like glue to Laurie's plan more challenging in reality than I ever dreamt.  Pink eye, strep throat, stomach bugs, skin infections, a sprained ankle, allergic reactions and esophagitis all have been in my life since last April.

It's extremely frustrating when your mind says, GO! and your body says, STOP!  I prayed in church, lit candles, said Hail Mary's, cried, said mantras, meditated, complained, blamed everyone around me for giving me their germs, laughed, and then finally just accepted that it is what it is, and it will be OK.  If I miss a race, don't make every workout and don't reach my goals, that's all OK.  Racing is a privilege and sometimes the perspective we get from things not going our way has much more impact than any PR or goal achieved.

As this was all going on Laurie was a steadfast and calm presence - exactly what I'd hoped for in a coach.  She reassured me that things were fine, sympathized, adjusted my workouts, and made me realize this happens to everyone at one point or another.  Below are some words she wrote on setbacks that shows her experience and wisdom in triathlon and in life.        
Triathletes tend to be type A personalities and, as such, like to follow a regimented plan.  There is comfort in following a routine and making steady progress towards a goal.  Sometimes, however, life throws a wrench in our plans.  It may be sickness or work or family issues that disrupt our plans.  And it is easy to panic and maybe try to make up for lost time by doubling up on workouts if we miss some training.

If one has built a strong base then small setbacks shouldn't be of major concern.  A few days or even a week+ off really won’t make THAT much of a difference in the long run if one has been training consistently. The time off may even be beneficial, especially for those who tend to do a bit too much.  There is no need to try to make up these missed workouts; just get back on track as soon as possible and back into a consistent routine.

For those with ongoing setbacks however, it may be time to reevaluate the goals. It doesn't necessarily mean giving up on doing a certain race but may require readjusting expectations.  Maybe you are hoping to break 5 hours for a half IM but have not been able to complete several key workouts due to sicknesses throughout the season.  Instead change the goal to getting to the start line healthy and enjoying the day. If you break or come close to breaking that 5 hour barrier, that becomes a bonus.

Maybe you are training for your first ironman and end up having to travel for 2 weeks during a key training period and can only run.  An adjustment to the original training plan may be all that is needed to get back on track. You could do a swim/bike focus upon return while working on the run during the trip. 
Maybe you break an arm while preparing for a big event and, as a result, will no longer be able to participate. This is tough break for sure!  One way to deal with it is to still go to the event and volunteer or cheer on your friends then plan on doing it next year.  For some though, it can actually be harder to watch others racing than it would have been by doing the race on less than ideal training.  You were ready to go and now will mentally have to deal with the disappointment.  So that is something to keep in mind.  You could use it as a way to spend more time with family and friends or work on a project you have been wanting to do but haven’t had time to start due to training demands.

In the end, we are ultimately doing this for fun. We are lucky to be able to race and it is adult play. If setbacks occur we may need to look at the big picture and realize the training we have been doing has been helping us stay healthy and given us some purpose and a goal.  Goals are just that, and sometimes we don’t meet the ones we set. It is awesome when we do but when life gets in the way, we usually are still better off having gone through the process than had we not started training for an event in the first place.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Open Water Swim - Never Say Never

This evening I did something I swore that I would never do, I swam in the Schuylkill River.
Race course

Tonight was the 4th race in the Upper Merion Open Water Swim Series.  The race was 800 meters out and back.  My time was14:08 and I came in 14th out of 39 swimmers.  I went a bit off course after the initial pass under the bridge, but straightened out after that.  My coach Laurie Hug was there and she finished first with a time of 10:38!    
This is my Suunto data from the race
About to take the plunge
Mike was there with M&M spectating and snagged this photo before the race started.  The water was 78 degrees so I opted out of wearing my wetsuit.  Water visibility was super murky - which in a way worked for me since there were no creatures for me to imagine.

It was great to get open water practice for sighting and confidence building.  The ice cream stop on the way home was the kids favorite part (although they knew to say the were very proud of me)!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ragnar Trail Appalachians West Virginia – Race Report

What makes the Ragnar Trail different from all other races I've done over the past 20 years?  Aside from it being a 24 hour relay on trails with running at night among bears, it gives you a chance to hang out with your friends and relax!  Relax?  For a typical race, we are up about 2 hours before race time which tends to be in the wee hours of the morning.  We rush to the race, run the race as fast as we can, grab a banana and chug a water, maybe get breakfast on the way home (if we have a free sitter) and then come home to play with our kids for the rest of the day because it’s the weekend and we want to spend time with them after working all week.  At Ragnar our kids were in the capable hands of my amazing niece for the entire long weekend and we knew they were having more fun than if we were there. 

Our Team
We were the Unrelated Trailblazers which makes sense to those of you who have seen the movie Deliverance.  Our running experience ranged from some of us running as far back as high school track, others starting running in our 20s battling corporate job pounds, one climbing all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks and a few who had started running in the past year.  Some of us are more casual runners with a couple races under our belts while others are more experienced with a half marathon, full marathon, and half and full ironman on their summer training plan.  Chelle and Bleech did the Adirondack Ragnar before as well as some other road relays, but none of had done the Trail Relay.  All that experience or lack of experience aside, this was a new adventure for everyone and we had great chemistry bringing really positive attitudes to the race – especially knowing rain was in the forecast.   
We were a hodge podge of connections  -  Dino came with his wife Megan who was spectating - he and my husband Mike are childhood friends from PA;

Jessie and Bryan are married and my good friends from high school in Troy, NY;

Bleech and Sarah are high school friends from NY; and Chelle and Bleech are a couple that we met at a race in Saratoga, NY .

Prep for the Ragnar
I was the team captain.  My day job is as a project manager.  As hard as I try to go with the flow and be spontaneous my PM tendencies always creep in and we ended up with a multi-tab spreadsheet that laid out our pack list, estimated pace and finish times, menu and …..  You could call it my security blanket.  

We had a conference call in April to talk through our plans.  Yes, a conference call.  We had a Facebook page to communicate plans and got a custom t-shirt designed and printed locally in Troy, NY at Troy Cloth and Paper.

All of us committed to training on trails before the Ragnar if we weren't already.  Upstate NY and the suburbs of Philadelphia had plentiful terrain for trail running.   Jessie, Bryan, and Chelle had trails in their backyard and did power line trails with big hills in Wynantskill and Troy, NY.   Dino, Mike and I did a number of runs together in PA on the trails in Valley Green, which were a good comparison to the Yellow and Red trails in WV.  Mike and I also did the Green Ribbon trail often near our house which was comparable to the Green loop.  Our teammate Sarah in FL had to be more creative running sand dunes and bridges! It felt really fun prepping and training for this race.  I’m not sure that I ever looked forward to a race more.

Arriving at Ragnar
We had a 4 hour drive from Philadelphia to Big Bear Lake in Bruceton Mills, WV.  Is started raining about 20 minutes into our ride and proceeded to rain for most of our ride there.  Luckily, it majestically stopped when we arrived.  The rest of the team was already there and had scoped out a great camping spot for us.  

We got our tents up before nightfall and checked out the Ragnar Village – which was pretty quiet at that point.  There was definitely an air of excitement and our team was pretty pumped to finally be there 9 months after signing up.  We celebrated Jessie’s birthday that night with homemade Orange peel camp cupcakes which were awesome!  Talk about camp counselor experience at its finest! 

Friday morning we made two key foods – bacon and coffee.  The best 2 smells in a campsite aside from a campfire.  We checked in our team, got our swag, and attended the safety briefing where they told us about trail markers, tips for running in the dark, what to do if injured, and race delays – more on that to come.    

The Race
I’ve mentally broken the race into three parts – before the rain delay, night, and last loops.

Part 1 - Our team started in the 11:30 wave with Chelle leading us off on the Green loop.  The sun was shining and we were ready to go!  

Dino ran Yellow, Jessie ran Red and Bleech ran Green without incident.  Everyone came back with insights on the terrain, stories of slips and falls, and tips on navigating tricky spots.  

I had my yellow band on and waiting at the Transition area for Bleech to come in with our race belt all the while keeping an eye to the ever growing cloud cover and murmur of storms approaching.  The Yellow loop was 4.68 miles and moderately hilly as you can see from the Elevation chart below.   

It started raining about 10 minutes into my 49 minute run and by the end it was pouring, thundering and lightening.  The Yellow trail was beautiful – I imagine even more so in the rain.  There were huge pines and a soft pillow of pine needles to run on for much of the loop.  I was soaked but was somewhat sheltered by the forest.  As an unexpected bonus I finally got a good “action” shot of me running after 20 years of running and I was glad I was wearing my Wear Blue: Run to Remember shirt.       

When I arrived in the transition area I noticed there was a large crowd and Bryan was waiting there for me with a sweatshirt.  I hadn't realized the temp dropped as much as I was running.  The race was delayed and we were told to return in an hour.  I had tripped over a rock 20 minutes in at mile 2 and badly bruised my index toe on my right foot.  The medical tent was pretty much under water at this point, but managed to dry off my foot and tape my toe before sending me off with well wishes.  Wow, did that toe hurt and look pretty gnarly all fat and marbled blue and purple.  

I was so happy to return to our little camp where my teammates looked just as traumatized all huddled under the easy up tent!  All situations can be improved with Doritos.  We headed to the free hot dinner that Ragnar provided and were grateful for the shelter of the big food tent. 

Part 2 – After the 2.5 hour rain delay completed the race started again with Sarah running Yellow at 6:55pm.  The course was completely new now that it was muddy.  Bryan and Mike had the option of skipping their legs, but opted to run un-timed.  Chelle and Bryan started Red shortly after 8pm and got about half of it in before it got dark. 

Dino and Mike headed out on green for the first full run in the dark and weren't shy about telling us how tough it was.  Dino famously told Jessie that if he had the choice of never running again or having to run that loop over he would choose never running again!

Jessie finished yellow and took this great video of the bridge lit up by torches.  It was pretty cool to run over the bridge and see everyone at base camp below cheering you in.

 Bleech ran red before handing off to me to do the green loop. I went down way too early to wait for Bleech as we all had underestimated how challenging Red was in the dark and mud.  The Village was pretty cool at night - especially watching the movie Unbreakable: The Western States 100 which follows the four lead men on the 2010 Western States 100-mile endurance run.

I started green at 2:15 am with my headlamp in my hand.  I quickly switched to put it on my head after realizing that I needed both hands for balancing on the very slippery trail.  I passed a couple runners and then found a couple who looked like they were setting a nice pace.  The man in front was pacing his girlfriend behind him.  She was exactly what I envision what a stereotypical runner looks like – super tall and lean with muscular legs that went on forever.  So, I glued myself behind them and followed every step they made.  I walked when they walked and ran hard when they went for it.  However, about a mile in she started whining and no amount of help on the trail was worth listening to that!  I sped off ahead of them at the next opportunity and finished the Green loop without any falls in 47 minutes.  There was lots of walking as you can see from my Pace chart below.  

I was relieved to be finished and happy I didn't have a longer loop to run at night.  I passed off to Bryan for his yellow loop and then Mike did the red loop.  I was pretty nervous for those guys being on the harder trails in the dark and mud – especially since I felt like the green loops was significantly less technical than the yellow loop that I had ran earlier in the day.  Needless to say I was relieved to hear Mike come back at 6:05am.  He was a bit weathered, but in true Mike fashion downplayed the difficulty of the red loop. Sarah finished off our team’s 2nd loop.

Part 3 – We were happy to see the daylight.  At this point, our team was 5.5 hours behind our estimated finish time.  Oops.  With the exception of a couple runners, our team’s pace got faster in the daylight, even with stiffness and fatigue.  Our sleep time varied from a 2 hours to 8 hours. 
Chelle, Dino, and Jessie  finished their final loops.  

I was leading a couple yoga sessions in the morning which was great to stretch and work out some kinks from the trails and sleeping in tents!  

The timing couldn't have been more perfect with me finishing yoga, Bleech coming in from his loop and then I started the red loop right before noon.  

I didn't have a chance to get nervous until I remembered Mike coming in to the tent the night and telling me, “That red loop was crazy.  I will never forget that.”  The ‘Mother of Crack’ lived up to her name with many parts of the trail that required stepping down through jagged rock formations or squeezing through a narrow passage way.  

My legs were fatigued and I felt like I was running in sand.  I knew this was going to be technical with many ups and downs and rocks, but that combined with the mud made it really hard.  I walked more than I thought I would need to.   I stopped to help a woman retrieve her shoe that had come off in the mud. After helping her I proceeded to step into one of the “cracks” and while I moved forward, my right ankle stayed put wedged between the 2 rocks.  I yelled a profanity really loud that caught the attention of a guy bounding really fast through the trail.  I grumbled that I was OK, extracted my bloody ankle and started running again.

I knew it wasn't broken and stopping to inspect further was not going to help at that point.  I finally found a guy to run with who was an ex-military back for about a year.  He told me stories about Iraq and Afghanistan and all of the sudden I started looking around at the beautiful surroundings and feeling grateful that I had the opportunity to run this race – that I had my health and lived in a country where I had the freedom to be with my friends and explore the beautiful with safety and carefreeness.  I finished the red loop in 1:27 which was much faster than I thought.  Mike took me right over to the medic tent again and they cleaned up my ankle.  I realized that point that it was sprained, but didn't do all the things I would have done at home like ice and wrap.  Advil was in no short supply though! 

We setup some chairs at on the trail where all three loops have come together before heading up the bridge to cheer on runners as they were finishing.  The sun was shining and you couldn't ask for a nicer afternoon to hang out with friends and see people finish this big race. 
 True to form, Bryan finished green with a smile!
Mike finished yellow shirts optional which was a highlight of the race for me.  He’s pretty modest, but got talked into it.  Ragnar brings out things in each of us that we probably didn't think were possible before.
Sarah finished our team with a strong kick at the end sprinting all the way in.
Mike gave me a piggy back over the bridge and we celebrated our accomplishment together finishing in 21 hours 51 minutes and 29 seconds.     

After we finished we relaxed, compared wounds (some very impressive blisters) and made a great dinner with burgers, sausages and veggies.  After that we piled into my car and took a very refreshing swim in Big Bear Lake, which did wonders for our disposition to get the mud and grime off from our bodies.  We were all really tired so it wasn't too late of a night for us.  We packed up Sunday morning before heading back to civilization.  You will find us back at Ragnar next year – looks like we will have two teams!  Also, a major shout of to Jessie who took all of these incredible photos!  

Here are some things we learned at the race that we want to remember for next year.  In addition to the pack list that Ragnar suggests, these are the things we were especially happy to have with us:   
  1.    Easy –up with bug screen
  2. Tarps for underneath tent
  3.     Flip flops
  4.    Compression socks
  5.    Stove (for bacon and coffee)
  6.    Wipes
  7.     Rug for easy up (even when wet – it was better than mud
  8.     LED candles
  9.    An outfit for each loop
  10.    Warm clothes
  11.    Lantern for camp
Things that really weren’t necessary:
  1.  Way too much food (Chelle told us this, but we didn’t listen)
  2.  Magazines
  3. Portable picnic table
Things we didn't pack, but should have:
  1.  Imodium! 
  2.  Rain boots
  3. Portable charger for phones since the charging station was packed
Lesson Learned:
  1.  Forget your times.  Trails in dark and mud and rain.  Just forget it.
  2. Have a very good sense of humor. 
  3. Bring rain gear – including rain boots.  This will greatly improve your experience.
  4. Pack for all sorts of weather. 
  5. Stay and extra day – especially when you have a long travel time home.