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.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tour de Grafton

In honor of the Tour de France starting today Mike and I did a 28 mile bike ride from my parents house in Wynantskill, NY up to Grafton Lakes State Park.

It was a big climb on way out to Grafton - 1745 feet. We relaxed at the lake for a couple minutes - had a Bearded Guy and a Rise bar - then headed back for a very rewarding downhill.