Gang Signs

Last Saturday I thought my 10 year old was flashing gang signs from the starting blocks of the 9-10 50m breaststroke event. He had his arms crossed at the wrist with his right hand open and his left hand closed with his index finger pointing. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing so I just gave him a thumbs up. I knew the two boys on either side of him had faster seed times, and I didn’t want him to feel intimidated.

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I don’t have a picture of the gang sign, so you will have to use your imagination

He started the race well and all three boys were together through the first 25m. They turned together and were neck and neck until about 10m to go. Then Josh started to pull ahead ever so slightly, putting in a fierce finishing effort to clinch the win. He gave a little fist pump before shaking hands with his competitors.

Turns out that what I had thought was some sort of gang sign was actually him trying to tell me that both boys had 51 second seed times. He knew his seed time was 54. But what I had mistaken for intimidation was actually his determination to take them down.

At 10 years old, he knows how to do something that has taken me 4 times as long to figure out: how to outrace a faster racer. He knew he wasn’t the fastest swimmer there by a long shot. But he was prepared to work the hardest, because he really wanted that win. And he knew that if he could stay with the faster swimmers, his strong finish would help him.

I don’t know how, at 10, he knows how to pace a race perfectly and then outkick at the right moment. How he knows how to psych himself up just the right amount to not lose it all by going out too fast, or be too intimidated to think he can beat faster competitors. He is the consummate competitor. I am so proud. And when I stand on that start line of the elite field at Sunday’s Maryland Olympic Duathlon, I won’t let the speedy women around me intimidate me. I will flash my gang sign and give it my all.

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Clearly, this isn’t a picture of the event either!

 

 

Run for Another with Janji

These days, I have to decline most product review requests. While I love reviewing products and providing honest criticism, my full-time-and-some job, as well as my hefty triathlon training schedule (my coach is doing a countdown to my ITU World Championships race, while I prefer to live in oblivion about how few weeks I have left), has left me little time to even write a post, let alone conduct a thorough product review.

But when Janji contacted me, and I took a look at their Web site, I had to accept. Janji makes the most beautiful running apparel (I actually wanted to buy a pair of their Kenya shorts at Santa Barbara Running Company over a year ago, but they didn’t have my size), with a twist. Founded by former collegiate runners Dave Spandorfer and Mike Burnstein, Janji is a running apparel company with a conscience. And by purchasing from Janji you are supporting the fight against the global food and water crisis.  

How do they do it? I learned from an infographic (a great tool to provide information visually, by the way) that Janji selects organizations that provide innovative, sustainable solutions to the crisis, and supports these organizations’ efforts through the sales of their apparel. What I like about Janji is that I know exactly how much help my purchase is providing. For instance, I know that each purchase I make of Janji’s Haiti apparel provides 8 packets of nutritional medicine to a child in Haiti, while also creating jobs and supporting local farmers…

The Hispaniolan Trogan, Haiti’s national bird...Janji's #1 selling item!

The Hispaniolan Trogan, Haiti’s national bird…Janji’s #1 selling item!

…while a purchase from the Kenya line provides a growing season’s worth of water for a family in that country, through a partnership with KickStart.

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Kenya Elephant Shirt

The ability to choose where and how to donate is, I think, a more satisfying experience than a donation where you have no idea how and to what degree it is helping. With Janji, you can select from seven countries, including the United States, for your donation. Sales of the United States collection provide meals to Americans who need them through a partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank. (Janji is headquartered at mile 23.4 of the Boston Marathon route.)

Janji sent me their women’s logo short sleeve, a purchase of which provides 8 meals to a family in need in the Greater Boston area. I immediately fell in love with the softness of this tee. I wore it several days in a row until I started getting strange looks from my neighbors.

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Next time you’re looking for some new performance apparel, check out Janji, and run for another. AND, through August 2014, get 20% off your order using the code GITTELMAN. 

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I am hopeless at this selfie thing…

 

Crash and Burn (St. Michaels Half)

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This doesn’t hurt at all…really

To be honest, my racing was getting kinda boring. All these PRs and pulling out performances of a lifetime on not much training were getting old. I think people actually stopped reading my blog because my race reports were becoming so predictable. There’s not much fun in reading about everything going right. After all, drama and catastrophe are what make the headlines.

So I present to you in glorious technicolor my juicy tale of the time I crashed and burned quite spectacularly. Because I don’t believe in doing anything half-baked.

It was St. Michael’s Half Marathon, a race at which I got a 3 minute PR last year (boring) and barely broke a sweat (annoying). Picture perfect race, passed lots of people, felt great, blah blah blah. Who wants to read about THAT??!!

This time, I felt like roadkill from the start. I was toast at mile 1. I dragged my rotting carcass across the finish line in a time over 4 minutes slower than last year. I only beat Boston Marathon RD Dave McGillivray because he had pulled a hamstring.

But let’s start from the beginning and savor the 13.1 miles of excruciating agony. Like last year, I started out a little too fast, trying to control the legs and stay relaxed. But this year, the legs said “No way, we are not doing this.” And I don’t mean “We’re not doing this pace,” I mean, “We’re not doing this running thing.” It would have been funny if…well, it was actually funny. And I, of course, stubborn as usual, just ignored the legs. And ran a 6:58 first mile. That’ll show them who’s boss.

But the legs kept complaining. And then they started hurting. At mile 2, my right hip flexor joined in. Shut up, legs. I kept running. 7:10 mile 2. Slower, because that 6:58 did freak me out a bit, but not much slower because, well, slowing down would actually make sense. Shut up, legs. 7:06 mile 3. Hmmm, if this were a 5K it would be almost over. 10.1 miles to go.

I’m thinking, wow, if this hurts now, it’s really going to hurt in a few miles. People are passing me. I am slowly turning into roadkill. I will become a human carcass on the side of the road, like all those bloody lumps I had to circumnavigate on my ride last week – May is roadkill month for some reason. I stagger on.

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BIG AL’S….which I didn’t notice, probably because I appear to have my eyes closed in some sort of vain attempt to make it all go away…

The middle miles of the race are a blur of pain and suffering, during which I barely manage to ingest a GU, choke on every sip of water, and keep clinging to some hope that I will just keel over and pass out, thus putting an end to this self-inflicted torture. Good thing I am wearing my Road ID. I make bargains with myself – run 7:15 pace…and then a little later – OK, don’t run over 7:30…and then later still – 7:45? Stick a fork in me.

At this point I am trying to think of other events equally or more painful…childbirth (23 hrs sure trumps a mere 1:37…), Boston Marathon (both times, the last 5 miles were gut-wrenching misery of epic proportions), running cross-country in Oxford in a hailstorm on a broken ankle (I was insane even at 19).

With a mile to go I decide to pick up the pace because, well, when it hurts that bad what’s a little more pain? Plus, I can see Dave McGillivray up ahead and think it would be nice if we were in the same shot when they take the race picture at the covered bridge (my favorite shot from last year…), so I shuffle towards him a little faster. I reach him with 0.5 to go and tell him “just half a mile!” That’s when he tells me he’s pulled his hamstring. I feel like saying, “No shit, I’ve felt like human bait since mile 1 but I am still passing you” but just grunt and move on…slowly, because that picture is coming up.

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Dave and me…good times

Shortly after this point there’s a turn at which you can see the finish line. And there is nothing quite like a finish line to take away all the pain. Actually, that’s bollocks. It hurt all the way through the line, and I staggered around for quite some time after. But when all is said and done, and now that the pain has (mostly) subsided, I can honestly say that, um, well…bloody hell that HURT.

Official time: 1:37:49

Place: 30th overall, 1st in Women 40-44

Oh just one more thing: These photos were taken by Chessie Photo. As you can see they take far better pictures than much of the rubbish that you get. They even managed to make me look halfway decent. If I see a good race pic I am more than willing to purchase it, and Chessie is giving 20% off St. Michael’s race pics thru Saturday with the code QUICK20. And even when I forgot to use said code they applied it to my purchase when I e-mailed and asked them to. Great service!

Your Racing Toolbox

Last week, during an easy run, I noted to my training partner that, while she kicks my butt in training, I have the edge over her in racing.
282511_232954893391695_2732703_nI was, in effect, trying to say that she trains too hard and races too easy. She responded that I’m just a good racer. I suppose there’s something to that. I can never, ever, replicate my race pace even in race-pace training. The mental part of racing just isn’t there for me until race day.

But I wasn’t always a decent racer. In fact, I used to downright suck at it. I recall my early cross-country running days, jogging around the course, telling myself I didn’t feel good and didn’t really belong there. And it didn’t stop at negative self-talk. I wasn’t prepared to push myself through the hurt, backing off at the first sign of discomfort. I let every external factor – the weather, my competitors, the spectators – affect me. In short, I lacked Resilience, Adaptability, Confidence, and Experience – the keys to racing well.

Gradually, I learned how to develop these essential skills, and now I don’t come to a race without them.  Here’s how.

Resilience

The first step in being a resilient racer is accepting that there are things that are out of your control. The weather and your competition are factors you can’t do anything about. Remember, though, that it’s a level playing field. The weather and the competition are the same for everyone else.  And if you train in all types of weather (i.e., you didn’t skip your workout because it was raining), then you can race in all types of weather.

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Resilience is preventing factors you can’t control from affecting your race. It helps to think of yourself as Teflon. Nothing sticks. This also goes for having a bad night’s sleep before a race. I’ve had plenty of pre-race sleepless nights. I don’t believe it has any effect on performance. Your poor sleeping habits in general are what will affect you on race day. Get a good night’s sleep the rest of the time, and the night before the race doesn’t matter. I once raced a Half Ironman on 2 hours’ sleep…and got a 40 minute PR.

Resilience also enables you to push through the hurt. Good racers know that, at some point during the race, it’s going to hurt. Resilience is what separates the racers who back off when they feel discomfort and those who push harder. An experienced racer once told me that picking up the pace when you start to feel uncomfortable can actually help. It’s the change that has the positive effect, like switching gears. Of course, you have to fight your brain, which will be telling you to do the opposite. Resilience is what gets you through these tough moments.

 

Adaptability

Be prepared for anything to happen. Race delays, traffic issues, flat tires…what are you going to do when these things happen?

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If you’re adaptable, race day glitches won’t affect you as much. Granted, race delays suck, especially when they throw off your pre-race nutrition, but what sucks more is not being able to roll with it. Key to adaptability is planning for the worst. I’ll admit – and others will concur – that I’m a basket case if I don’t arrive at a race with plenty of time to spare. So I plan extra time into my schedule. At the same time, I know – because I’ve told myself – that I will be fine if I don’t have as much time as I’d like. I’m adaptable.

Being adaptable goes hand in hand with resilience. When you start to feel discomfort in a race sooner than expected, your resilience, backed up by your adaptability, enables you to cope. At the 2013 Boston Marathon I started experiencing hip flexor pain at mile 10. (My notoriously tight hip flexors had a hard time dealing with the steep downhill in the first few miles at Boston.) I accepted that I was going to hurt for longer than planned – adaptability – and toughed it out for the next 16 miles.

Confidence

283184_231989570154894_3507562_nNo-one won a race by telling themselves they couldn’t. Confidence is an essential element in racing well. You have to constantly remind yourself of your ability. If you start second guessing yourself, or tell yourself that those around you are better racers than you, then you’ve already lost. I recall a 5K in which I convinced myself in the last mile that I couldn’t catch the girl ahead of me. I didn’t. A month later, racing a half-marathon and faced with a similar situation, I told myself I could catch the girl ahead in the closing stages. I passed her with 0.1 to go. Confidence isn’t cockiness, it’s self-assuredness, and it empowers you to tell yourself “I can” when your body is screaming “I can’t.”

Experience

981905_567927993227715_1691264677_oObviously you can’t gain experience if you don’t race. I used to fear racing. The build up gave me so much anxiety I was a wreck. I would put so much on the line that racing became an unpleasant experience that I started avoiding. I decided the only way to get over this was by racing more frequently, effectively callousing myself to everything that made me a nervous wreck. I raced often, and with mixed results, but it got me over that hump and I started to enjoy racing more, especially as being experienced meant I was, quite simply, better at it. Start treating racing as a learning curve, not an exam, and you’ll find yourself gaining the experience you need to become a better racer.

Wish You Were Here….

Sometimes it’s hard to work full time and train for triathlon. Other times, my job makes it easy…

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Greetings from Laguna Beach! Now, back to work…

Bia Sport GPS Watch Review – 6 Pros, 6 Cons

IMG_0961Several people have asked if I am going to post a review of my Bia Sport GPS watch. Obviously, there’s interest in this gadget but skepticism that it can’t replace Garmin, which has become (perhaps too much of) an additional appendage for so many of us.

I’ll admit, I like my Garmin. I backed Bia when they were looking for funding on Kickstarter, because I saw the potential in their offering, not because I was looking to replace my Garmin. Although Bia is compared visually to the Garmin on Bia’s web site, Bia’s founders aren’t looking to try to convert Garmin users, according to DC Rainmaker’s review. They aren’t planning on offering all the features of Garmin.  But what they do offer is something quite unique, and definitely worth a look.

I’m not interested in gimmicks or good looks. I want features and function. I use a Garmin 310XT because, as a triathlete as well as a runner, I need the multisport option. I need a watch I can wear to swim, bike, and run. I don’t care that the Garmin is big…and looks bigger on my admittedly small wrist. It works for me. As a result, I’ll be honest that I’ve only worn my Bia for a handful of runs. (I haven’t worn it on my bike because there’s no cadence sensor…and cadence is something I need to work on, according to the coach.) That being said, I’ve tested it out sufficiently to write an honest review that I hope helps some of you make an informed decision.

IMG_0962Worth noting: Bia Sport has sent out regular, numerous, detailed product updates e-mails for those who backed them, and I’m guessing for anyone who has since ordered one. These updates have been informative as well as amusing. The failures and missteps, disasters and setbacks, along with the successes, have all been shared. Cheryl Kellond and her dedicated team have given us a no-holds-barred-behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to create and roll out this product. I’ve been reading through the updates as I put together this review, and finding things I didn’t notice the first time around. I’ve included relevant info from these updates in my review.

Bear in mind that this is still very much Bia Beta. Many planned features are not yet functional, such as the connection to a heart rate monitor (although that should be available in mid-late May, according to an amazingly fast reply Rebecca just sent to my query about this), and “coming soon” appears when I select features such as “swim” or “triathlon.” Upgrades are sent to the unit automatically; Bia lets you know on their web site when they plan to roll out the additional features. Therefore, I will avoid commenting on features that aren’t yet operational and instead focus on what Bia currently offers.

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Pros

Let’s start with the good stuff. After all, there’s plenty to like about the Bia Sport.

1. SOS feature. This is far and away the #1 reason for getting a Bia, in my opinion. Setting up the SOS feature just takes a couple of minutes and involves entering the cell phone numbers of the individuals you want contacted in case of an emergency. If said emergency occurs, you simply press and hold the button (there’s only one) on the unit and the SOS message along with your exact location is sent to the number. Bia has the same GSM chipset as a cell phone, enabling live streaming of your exact location. It was with this feature in mind that I took my Bia with me on a solo run at Manassas Battlefield last Sunday. I rarely run at the Battlefield alone, but I was in need of a trail fix and some alone time, the weather was perfect, and I just couldn’t resist. Knowing that a push of a button would send out an SOS signal gave me peace of mind.

2. Live data uploads. Because of the GSM chip mentioned above, your workouts are automatically updated – no synching or pairing required. Currently Bia uploads to Strava and Map My Fitness as well as to your account at Bia-Sport. This upload includes a detailed map of your route; here’s a run I did in Laguna Beach (business travel is so rough…can’t wait to try it out there again next week…) in March:

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3. Size. Bia is small and light. It has an easy-to-adjust velcro strap. If you find Garmin or other GPS watches bulky, you will like the slimness of Bia.

4. Waterproof. Both the watch and the GoStick (The GPS part) are waterproof. The GoStick can even survive the washing machine. Handy for those (of us) who don’t check pockets.

5. Ease of use. There’s not much to Bia. Choose your sport (currently run or bike) from the menu, press the button, and go. Press the button to finish the workout. Select to save or delete the workout. Get on with your day. I won’t tell anyone you didn’t wash your hair…heck, sometimes I don’t…

6. Feedback. Oh yeah. Garmin gives you feedback on your workout. When was the last time your Garmin called you a badass?

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Cons

1. There’s no backlight. This is a problem when you’re running in the dark. See Laguna Beach picture above; this run was at 6:15am and it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything on the Bia, in fact, I wasn’t even sure I had started it! (From Bia product update #48: The backlight got cut in the final round of changes. To fit it back in would have required circuit board and mechanical changes that our fledgling company just couldn’t absorb. This was *the* most painful tradeoff we had to make in development and one of the top features we are committed to bringing back for the next version. We are working right now on optimizing user interface and readability in as many other ways as we can. This one hurts, and we feel it.)

2. Bia is designed to fit around that awkward bone on your wrist that, apparently, is an issue for many Garmin users. And this works just great if you wear your watch on your left wrist. But I wear mine on my right wrist. I know, I’m difficult like that. Which means that Bia bangs right into that bone unless I wear it higher up on my wrist.

3. When I run, the fields that display are: time (as in stopwatch), distance, and pace. In that order. The time of day also displays in the bottom left corner. In the bottom right is a visual of how much battery life the Go Stick has left. I can’t change the fields or how they appear. There’s no auto lap feature, which is something I use on my Garmin so I can see my pace per mile.

4. The Go Stick only lasts 6 hours. There’s a planned upgrade to 17 hours which should be rolled out in mid-late May. I haven’t yet got into the habit of plugging in the Go Stick like I do my Garmin, and so it always seems to need charging. Last time I ran Bia did give me a helpful warning that was something like, “make it quick, your Go Stick only has 2 hours left!”

5. I have to remember two things – the watch and the Go Stick. I try to keep them together, but they tend to drift apart, much as my heart rate monitor drifts apart from my Garmin. It’s one more thing to lose/forget. Wearing the Go Stick isn’t a big deal, although I didn’t clip it on well on one run and it did go flying off mid-stride. Thankfully, I heard it hit the ground.

6. It’s ridiculously quiet. There’s an almost imperceptible beep when I touch the on-screen buttons. (From Bia product update #48: The “beep” from the watch is not as loud as we wanted. I’d rate it a “good enough” not “excellent”. )

IMG_0973Look, it’s not perfect. Many features are yet to come. I am anxiously awaiting the heart rate and triathlon features to become available. What’s nice is that upgrades will automatically appear on my Bia, just like they do on your smartphone. If Bia can truly deliver on these and other promised features, then, for those who asked, yes, I think Bia will offer you everything you currently use Garmin for. Because, let’s be honest, how many of us really use all the Garmin functions? Heck, I don’t know what half of them are.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for simplicity and style and don’t need a whole lot of bells and whistles, but like the idea of SOS capability and automatic workout uploads, check out Bia.

Bia Web site: http://bia-sport.com/
Bia on twitter: https://twitter.com/biasport
racingtales on twitter: https://twitter.com/racingtales
racingtales on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/racingtales

 

#BostonStrong

As I lay on a bench to try to relax and focus before last year’s Boston Marathon, I took this picture:

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To me it symbolized all that was to come.

Run fast, my friends. High five the kids and thank the crowds who cheer for hours. Make friends with other runners. Enjoy every moment.

Know the Rules

My oldest son plays basketball. There are, obviously, rules in basketball, many of which I’m still learning. I understand traveling and fouls and recently learned about back court defense, but I’ll admit that on occasion, when the ref blows the whistle, I turn to the parent next to me to find out what just happened. My younger son plays baseball. That sport, of course, has rules, too.

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Can’t believe what a great arm my 9 year old has!

Triathlon has a ton of rules. From transition set-up to helmet strapping to drafting and passing on the bike, there are a lot of rules to be aware of. They’re so complicated that it’s best to have someone explain them to you. Failure to follow the rules leads to time penalties and even disqualification.

Running doesn’t have many rules. At least on the road. Physical contact is ok, stopping dead in your tracks in front of another runner, while incredibly rude, doesn’t come with any penalties. You can spit and blow snot rockets, start way up front even if you don’t belong, etc.

Running on a track, however, is different. And it’s apparent that most people don’t know the rules of track, commonly known as “track etiquette.”  And I think that, because road running doesn’t really have rules, people don’t realize that running on a track is different.

Generally, I run on my local track alone or with a running group. Everyone in my group is familiar with track etiquette and follows the rules. There might be the occasional runner who seems oblivious to the traffic flow or the importance of looking before crossing the track, not stopping dead in lane 1, etc., but they rarely cause a problem. However, I do think I have a responsibility to point out the most important rules, for everyone’s safety, and have no problem doing so. I don’t blame people for not knowing and do try to be patient, as this track etiquette page suggests!

So when I encountered a group of kids doing a workout Wednesday evening, standing around in lane 1, being held on the start line across all 6 lanes making it impossible for me to run around them, stopping in lane 1 as soon as they crossed the line, I figured I needed to point out a couple of rules to their coach. I started with, “It’s great that these kids are running during spring break!” to try to ease any tension, then moved in to, “it would be great if you could teach them basic track etiquette too, such as not standing in lane 1.” Unfortunately, when this coach passed on the message to the head coach, it got lost in translation and relayed as “keep the kids out of lane 1.” So as I’m finishing up a 400 I see the head coach walking towards me, quickly realize that the message got garbled, and explain that I am not trying to prevent them from running in lane 1, just standing around in it. He points out that they are doing a track workout (no kidding, and all the more reason these kids should know track etiquette!) and that they have permission to use the track. Hmmm…not my point at all. I make one last effort by demonstrating, as I get ready to start my next 400, how I look to see if anyone is coming before I step into lane 1. But he clearly isn’t interested. And that’s a shame. Because by not conveying this important information to this group of kids, he prevents them from learning the rules of track, which will become important if they decide to run in High School.

I finished my workout, dodging kids, and during my cool down thought about how this coach tried to turn my discussion of the rules of track into a debate about who had a right to use it. Do people just not like being told they don’t know something? I am happy to admit I don’t know all the rules of basketball, but of course I’m not coaching the game.

Anyway, time to move on…I feel like I’m beating a dead horse sometimes. :)

Monday is the Boston Marathon. I’m not running it this year. I felt fine when I made that decision, but I’ll admit that it’s been harder to deal with in the last week, with lots of friends running and all the media attention. I really enjoyed watching the NBC special on the progress some of the bombing victims have made and their plans for this year’s Boston. It will be an emotional event but it will also show the strength and resilience of Boston and its people as well as the running community in general. Also want to give a shout out to a woman I’ve never met, Stephanie Galvani, who lives in Natick and found my water belt after I unceremoniously dumped it around mile 10 last year. She and her husband Jeff contacted me and graciously returned the belt along with some lovely artwork from their son. This, year, Stephanie is running Boston (her first marathon!) and raising money for the Newton 9-11 Memorial Committee. To understand why she chose this charity, read the story. Good luck Stephanie and all the other runners!

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Run Like Hell: Executing my Cherry Blossom 10 mile Plan

I seem to be making a habit of comeback racing, where I race on low mileage and zero speedwork due to just having come back from an injury. This time, it was the jammed talus bone that turned into an achilles injury that kept me off my feet for the better part of two months. I’d go for short little test runs only to have my ankle render itself completely inflexible part-way through the run. The next day, my achilles would be hurting. After going back and forth like this for a few weeks, like some demented yo-yo, I took some time off, biked a lot, and hoped I’d be ready for Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 mile (CUCB).

Things started looking up a few weeks before CUCB, and I was able to get my long run up to 8 miles. Yep, that was my longest run going into a 10 mile race. The week before CUCB, Spring finally arrived, and so did my allergies. All of a sudden I was tired and lethargic. I didn’t even attempt the workouts scheduled for the week before the race, I just did a couple of slogs (slow jogs), although given my high heart race you’d have thought they were tempo runs. I started to wonder if I would even be able to run 10 miles, considering I felt like molasses. Thursday before the race I got my pre-race massage where my therapist noted that my connective tissue was sticky, even though I was hydrating well. We put it down to the allergy meds. On Friday I had an appointment with my chiropractor. Unfortunately the only time he was available was during one of my weekly conference calls, so there I was getting adjusted while listening to a call and hoping I wouldn’t need to say much. All of a sudden, while my chiro was working on my troublesome leg, there was a crack and a pop, which made me turn around in amazement. Chiro has a big smile on his face and tells me he finally got my knee realigned! Then he moves to my foot, and again there’s an amazing pop. He says, “I’ve been trying to get your foot to do that for weeks! You’ll have to be on a conference call every visit!” I suggested that it was the massage the day before that may have helped, but he was sticking with the conference call theory. Perhaps because I was distracted.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I’ve got myself down to Washington, DC and found a great parking space with no problems. I’ve avoided the crowds and found a back route to the starting line that goes past the staging area for the 5K, where there’s a row of portapotties that no-one’s using. (I guess I’ve  now shot myself in the foot for next year…) After a nice, easy warmup, I head over to the start line. On my way I notice a huge line for one of the Park Service bathrooms, so I decide to pay it forward and announce to the line that there’s a row of portapotties just around the corner that aren’t being used. :) A few people get out of line to go investigate. People in DC aren’t the most trusting.

I’ve decided to wear an Ink’n’Burn Cherry Blossom skirt just for the heck of it. Since that’s quite enough pink for me, I’ve painted my nails black, and I’m glad my =PR= race team singlet is black. As I head to the start line I notice that behind the elite area is another penned area in front of the first corral. This area is for seeded runners. My time at St. Michael’s Half Marathon last May was just fast enough to get me seeded runner status, and since this meant not having to enter the lottery, I jumped at the chance.

So there I am in this little penned area, feeling rather conspicuous. I make friends with the few other ladies in this area, and then some familiar faces start arriving. Before long the little pen is feeling a lot cramped, with fellow =PR= race team runners and many others. After the elite women start, 15 minutes before the rest of the field, the elite men enter the area in front of us. Then the barrier behind us is removed and everyone else from the yellow corral joins us. This is now feeling more familiar. Lots of bodies pressed together in a small space. Soon I’m feeling nice and warm. And hoping no-one nearby has BO or gas.

So, standing there on the start line, do I even have a plan? Sure I do. Run Like Hell. It seems to be working pretty well these days.

Actually, what tends to happen is that I run the first mile, trying to stay relaxed and get into a rhythm, and then I try to hold whatever pace that first mile turns out to be. Looking at my Garmin, I’m seeing a pace in the high 6’s which I’m pretty sure I can’t hold for 10 miles. The first mile is a 7:01. I figure I’ll slow down once I settle in. Mile 2 is a 6:58. So I gain a little confidence. Mile 3 is a 6:55. Of course either my Garmin is a little off or I’m doing a terrible job running tangents (likely), because, according to RaceJoy, the fabulous little race app CUCB is using, my pace at 5 miles is 7:07.

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Checking the Garmin….again. But at least I’m not running with my eyes closed. ;) Photo courtesy of Cheryl Young.

Anyway, the miles click away and, although I think perhaps I should back off a little, it’s actually quite hard to do because I’m in a comfortably uncomfortable zone and really don’t want to back out of it. I go through 10K in just over 44:00 (7:06 pace according to RaceJoy…wish it had a better name…) and feel good about the last 4 miles. Just Hains Point to conquer. I actually like Hains Point. You don’t get the support from the crowds because it’s hard for spectators to get to, but I enjoy the quiet. Trouble is, there’s a woman behind me being coached and it is driving me nuts. Her coach is blah blah blah, your heart rate is blah blah, your time is blah blah, do this, don’t do that, blah blah. I move to the other side of the road to try to create some distance, but coach dashes in front of me to get water, and then dashes back across to his runner. Gah. Focus.

I know the last 3 miles are going to be painful. They always are. I prepare for it as best I can. Between miles 8 and 9 we get a little headwind and of course I’m not close enough to anyone to tuck in. I start trying to bridge the gap between myself and the group in front. It takes a while but I finally make it and hang on. Garmin is now reading in the 7’s which I’m not happy about but really can’t dig any deeper. At the same time, I don’t want to lose all that hard work, so I keep pushing as hard as I can. I try not to think about the hill before the end. In the last 400m (which of course is the longest 400 in history) there’s a rise and then a short fall to the finish. The rise is a killer. You try to prepare for it but it sucks everything from you. There’s a dad urging along his son, and I try to use this to my advantage, listening to him telling his son that he’s almost there, that – look – you can see the finish line. It’s tough. And then I crest the hill and try to make my dead legs move faster for the downhill to the finish.

Official finish time: 1:11:17. A 3 second PR, previously set at Army 10 Miler in 2011, for which I was much better prepared. I’ll take it.

 

 

 

Shit Just Got Real: ITU World Championships

It’s less than seven months away. I realized this when I climbed on my bike at 5:15 this morning for my indoor trainer ride. I actually don’t mind getting up at 5 to train when it involves staying inside where it’s warm and I can watch a movie. Sure, I have to pay attention to my heart rate and cadence, and follow the workout my coach has prescribed, but I enjoy the time to myself before the rest of the house wakes up.

But today I realized that the ITU World Championships, the race for which I’m primarily training for, is less than seven months away. That may seem like a long time, but I have a lot of work to do!

For one thing, aside from a dip in the ocean in November, a hotel pool swim last month, and a 1 hr workout a couple of weeks ago, I haven’t been swimming. That will change next week when I start a new Master’s swim program. The coach has a reputation for getting in the water to analyze swimmer’s from beneath them. Much as I hate this, I know I need it.

I jammed my talus bone in my foot a couple of weeks ago while running an indoor track race that I shouldn’t have been running, because my ankle was sore from 10 miles of icy trail running the week before. What can I say? At least once a year I do something idiotic. Lesson learned. I am not a track runner. So the bone is a lot less painful than it was and I finally have enough range of motion to run again, but of course I have to start over. I balked at the mere 20 minute run my coach assigned me for yesterday, as it was a balmy 30 degrees and I was dying to run for much longer after being cooped up with snow and ice, but I stuck to the plan. One idiotic move a year is enough.

Today I started strength training with my coach again. This actually felt good because I have kept some modicum of strength training going over the off season, in addition to planking for 5 minutes a day. He was the one suffering during the mere 3 minute plank at the end of today’s workout!

My new mantra is focus.

And I have a few things to remind me.

Map of the Sprint Course (loving the trail run and it looks like the swim is in a pond!):

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I am #11 in the roster for women 40-45:

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I get to wear some cool Team USA gear:

Team USA

AND….

On Tuesday I took the U.S. Citizenship test. I don’t have to be a U.S. Citizen to compete on Team USA as I’m a Resident, but it somehow feels right:

Citizenship test

 Seven Months to go.

 

Will Alan Webb compete at Reston Triathlon?

Runner’s World reported on their Newswire on Wednesday that Alan Webb is retiring from the track and may be looking to a career in triathlon. Webb, who became a sensation in 2001 when he ran 3:53.43 to break Jim Ryun’s U.S. high school mile record, has not had the glittering running career that performance predicted. He failed to qualify for the final in the 1500 at the 2004 Olympics, revived his career briefly in 2007 when he set a new American mile record of 3:46.91, then came undone at the world championships, finishing 8th in the 1500 final.

Alan Webb
I recall watching Webb as a high schooler at the Foot Locker cross-country championships, racing against (and losing to) Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritz has had his own struggles, failing to gain a slot on the US Olympic Marathon Team at the trials in 2012. Webb always seemed to be in a hurry. Maybe it’s a miler thing. He went to college but quit to pursue his professional running career. He made multiple coaching changes, even going back to his high school coach for a spell. He had injuries. He was always trying to “get back.” At the end of 2013, Nike announced they wouldn’t be renewing his shoe contract.

And so, according to his wife Julia, he’s looking at triathlon for 2014.. Apparently, he was an age-group swimmer at South Lakes High School in Reston. What better place for him to start his triathlon career than his home town? Reston Triathlon is a popular event but I just checked the site and registration is still open. The mile swim is in Lake Audubon, a fetid swamp full of goose poop, but that shouldn’t bother him. I’m not sure if he’s much of a biker but with those miler legs I’m sure he could do a great job on the 3 loops. And then there’s the run. 10K on trails in Alan’s back yard. He probably knows that route better than anyone else.

I’ve always been a fan of Alan Webb. Our local running hero, we’d often see him training at South Lakes track. Sure, he’s made mistakes, but he admits that. I’ve read some comments that he’s a sore loser, that when things aren’t working out he always makes a change. Well, maybe it’s time for a change. It’s been 13 years since he broke that high school record, 7 since he set the American mile record. He knows he can’t get back to those days. He just turned 31. He’s a realist, not a dreamer. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring to triathlon.

Me vs. My 9-year old vs. The Mile

PVTC Indoor Track Meet, Thomas Jefferson Community Center
Arlington VA
Sunday, January 12, 2014

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What I learned at my first indoor track meet:

– The surface is hard. Brutally hard. My achilles doesn’t like me very much right now.
– Running indoors makes your mouth dry. After just 90 seconds I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
– There are a lot of turns on a 200m track.
– It hurts.
– My 9 year old is a rock star. I knew our times would be close. I knew he might beat me. And I’m so flipping proud I really don’t mind.

PVTC from Alison Gittelman on Vimeo.

 

 

 

 

An Ocean Apart: Last Race of 2013, First Race of 2014

First Race of 2014

In the end, all that was driving me forward was my desperate desire to stay ahead of a ten year old girl. (Mind you, she is the speedy daughter of my friend Aaron Church, an elite local runner.) Having gone out way too fast in my first race of 2014, the Potomac River Running New Year’s Day 5K, I felt my lungs burn before the first mile and let a woman in my age group pass me in the last mile without even attempting a counterattack.

Definitely a grimace, not a smile...

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

You could say my first 5K of 2014 didn’t go exactly to plan. Mind you, I can’t really say there was a plan. Having flown in from London 36 hours earlier, and coughing up a lung, I shouldn’t have expected much. But I don’t like to make excuses and so I lined up with the same goal I have in every race: to PR.

And PR I did. Well, for a non-triathlon 5K. I happen to have a faster 5K PR in a triathlon (of course at the time I was chasing my dream to make the US Triathlon team); I think it has something to do with the nice long warm up.

So I do have a shiny new PR of 21:00 for a 5K that doesn’t follow a swim and a bike. And of course I plan to break that in my next 5K.

Last Race of 2013

On Christmas Day, I joined my sister for Parkrun Cheltenham, a free 5K held every Saturday (and special occasions like Christmas Day) in Pittville park in Cheltenham, England. Parkrun is a massive and impressive organization that holds free 5Ks all around the world, most of them in the UK. The organizers of each local parkrun are volunteers, and participants are expected to volunteer a couple of times a year. There are no awards, but t-shirts are awarded to runners who complete 50 parkruns.

157 runners showed up for the Christmas Day Parkrun. At the pre-race briefing we were informed we’d be running 4 times around the lake, cutting out the football field section that’s usually part of the course. The race organizer, dressed as Santa, asked who’d traveled the furthest. One runner announced he’d come all the way from Hull, in Northern England. The crowed cheered. My sister pushed me forward. The organizer asked me where I’d come from. “Washington, DC, ” I announced. The crowed erupted into cheers. That was kinda fun. People joked that I’d come all this way just for the race.

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I was planning on taking it easy, but then the start gun went off and I just couldn’t help but go into race mode. The first lap felt easy (my Garmin was having trouble finding satellites in the UK so I didn’t know my pace) and I spotted just one woman ahead of me. But after the second lap I started to feel the effects of lack of sleep due to jet lag, and the fact that I’d only woken up 30 minutes before the race start, when my sister knocked on my door and asked if I was planning to run!

My Garmin had finally found a satellite and indicated I was running around a 7 minute mile, slow for a 5K. I decided to stop trying to chase the woman in front and just enjoy the experience. By lap 3, we were lapping runners, and as I looked across the lake, I could see a stream of people, many in costume. Everyone running for their own time, their own goal.

After finishing (in 22:06) I was given a little piece of plastic with a barcode on it. I took this over to an official who scanned it, along with my own personal barcode, which I’d received when registering. This would pair my information with my result. It’s a unique and effective system that avoids the need for lengthy pre-race signup/chip distribution. My sister often shows up for these events about 5 minutes before they start!

Race results appeared on the site the same day, and I also received an e-mail that read:

Congratulations on completing your 1st parkrun and your 1st at Cheltenham today. You finished in 17th place and were the 2nd lady out of a field of 157 parkrunners and you came 1st in your age category VW40-44. You achieved an age-graded score of 69.61%.

Not bad for a free race, and my last of 2013!

With my sister, wearing shirts our sister-in-law gave us for Christmas!

With my sister, wearing shirts our sister-in-law gave us for Christmas!

Happy New Year!

 

Running with Santa and My Work/Run Partners

Several business trips in the last few weeks have forced me to develop more flexible running habits. I may have to run at unusual times, in unfamiliar locations. I may have running partners who don’t run my pace; I may get lost (it happens a lot).

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Pre-work run by the White House!

But I have learned so much from these experiences. I’ve learned that once I get sand in a pair of shoes, it isn’t coming out. I’ve learned that Central Park is a running mecca and possibly one of the safest places to be at 6am in New York City. And I’ve learned that it’s always humid in Florida. ;)

My coworkers have learned that I always pack running gear and no matter how late we stay up, I will be ready to run at 6.

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Two of my coworkers and running partners in a rare non-running, non-working moment!

I’ve learned that, short of someone who runs in the area, Map My Run is the best way to find a running route. In Tampa last month I pulled up a 5 mile route that showed me sights I may have otherwise missed, including the beautiful Moorish building that used to be a hotel but now belongs to the University of Tampa,  and a number of stunningly beautiful homes set back on wide streets lined with enormous, gnarled trees.

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In Irvine, CA last week I ran in shorts for the last time this year. No pics, I was in a rush. ;)

Last Sunday I ran the Run with Santa 5K in Reston Town Center. The weather turned seasonal for the occasion, with sleet starting around 7am and turning to snow just in time for the 8:30am race start.

We were warned multiple times about the potentially hazardous conditions pre-race, but it was the hazardous runners in the first quarter mile that were the real danger. I have no idea why people have to weave so much, forcing other runners to brake and swerve. This is annoying under normal conditions, but on this occasion it was scary, as runners were trying to avoid wiping out. I may or may not have shoved Santa as I got boxed in while passing him. Well, he really shouldn’t start at the front.

I had forgotten how hilly Reston is. And the 5K course that Potomac River Running uses for this event isn’t even particularly hilly by Reston standards. The problem was that I was sliding backwards on the uphills, and having to exercise more caution than I’d like on the downhills. Any paint on the road was slick, so I had to avoid stepping on that, too. I reminded myself that the conditions were the same for everyone else, so it really was a level playing field, unless one had been training in Alaska.

I was wearing a brand new pair of Brooks Pure Drifts (the name may be appropriate for the conditions but they certainly don’t have any extra traction, being a minimalist race shoe) because I like to throw caution to the wind and try new stuff on race day.  Speaking of caution, about halfway through the race I asked myself if I really needed to be this careful as I was slowing down drastically on the turns and running extra distance to keep away from potentially slick spots. I decided if I was going to go down, I’d do it spectacularly. I went through both miles 1 and 2 in 6:37, which was slower than PR pace but I knew it wasn’t going to be a PR day. The last mile was rough. I was having trouble breathing from the cold air, and the finish couldn’t come soon enough. Then, in the finishing straight, my youngest son appeared and sprinted alongside me, yelling the motivational words, “Come on, you’re not going to let your son beat you, are you?” Next time I’ll make him run the whole way.

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I may or may not have beaten my son in the finishing sprint. But I did beat Santa.

Elite Treatment at .US National Road Racing Championships

Those who were following my tweets and FB posts this morning know I was just a bit psyched about the USATF Masters 12K Championship in Alexandria. It was my first time competing as a Masters (over 40) athlete in a national road racing event and I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to get special treatment, including being invited to hang out with the elite runners in their special pre-race area, where we were also able to leave our bags, which were then transported to the VIP tent at the finish. Getting older has its benefits. ;)

Dot US Elite tent

When I signed up for this event some time over the summer, I’m not sure if there even was a Masters Championship, as that was added to the event later. I simply signed up because it was a National event in my local area. Then the Masters Champs were added, and prize money included, and then somehow the Masters organizers wrangled the runners a sweet spot on the start line with the elite men. Although we had to stand behind them. No big deal, since I had no plans to try to hang with them.

There was a Masters technical meeting the day before the event, which I attended, having never done this type of thing before. The organizers went over the rules – no headphones, no cutting the course, must wear number on front, age division bib on back – and then describe the race course in excruciating detail: turn here, this is an incline, where the distance markers and timing mats are, etc. People asked questions, such as “how wide is the start line?” that I would never think to ask. It was 28 feet wide.

And I started to get a little psyched about this race.

When I got to the start area (ridiculously early as usual) I was the first athlete in the elite/masters tent. I was soon joined by a large group of elite women, including Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle. The masters arrived a bit later, including Bryan Glass, whom I’d met the day before and who went on to win the Master’s Championship (super nice guy, asked me after the race if I had jumped in the Potomac for a post-race swim, since I’d told him I’m a triathlete), and Al Rider, whom I’ve known for about 15 years through running with Reston Runners. The group was serious but friendly. Everyone lined up nicely for the porta potties (which didn’t smell nearly as bad as the regular ones!) and shared the same space for going through our drills and strides.

The elite women started at 7:15, while we were starting at 7:25 with the elite men and “community” runners. When we went to line up we were directed to our special Masters spot right behind the elite men. One of the things we’d been told the day before was that all awards would be based on gun – not chip – time, and so everyone wanted a spot closest to the front. I tucked in right behind Perry Shoemaker, who runs on Potomac River Running’s elite team, and another woman in my age group. The gun went off and everyone took off at an incredibly fast pace. When I looked down at my Garmin and saw I was running a 6 minute/mile pace I knew I had to back off, as my 10K pace was about 6:55. I backed down to about a 6:30, reluctantly letting a couple of women in my age group go past me.

The course was fast. There were a couple of hills but they were short and not steep. The course had a number of turns, and I focused hard on running the tangents and not taking the turns too tight, which causes me to slow down. I settled in to a 6:45 pace for the next few miles, which felt comfortable, although I wasn’t sure I would be able to maintain that for 7.4 miles. I went through 5K in 21:05, which until this year was my PR for that distance.

I passed back one of the 40-44 women in the first few miles, and the other by about mile 5, which made me work hard to maintain my pace as I didn’t want them to catch me back, and now I felt like a target. I went through 10K in about 42:25, a new PR. :) By this point I was feeling very confident. I still felt strong, wasn’t hurting at all, and was able to keep pushing the pace. The nice thing was that the course was downhill after about 10K. I hammered the last 1.2 miles as hard as I could, and crossed the line in 50:45.

My husband captured this on the livestream of the event

My husband captured this on the livestream of the event

As soon as I finished, a race volunteer came over and asked if she could bring me my race bag. I said “sure,” and she went off to retrieve it. She came back empty-handed, however, and told me it had been moved to the VIP tent at the finish. Sweet. I wandered over to the VIP tent where my bag was handed to me. Not sure if I was supposed to stay but no-one kicked me out so I hung out with the elite runners, got some coffee and snacks, and had my pic taken with Molly and Shalane.

DOT US Molly

After a while I decided to leave the comfort of the VIP tent and ventured over to the results tent. They had computers set up where you could enter your number and get instant results. I was pleased with my time, and I guess a little disappointed to be 4th in my age group (awards are given to the top 3 – there’s a reason they call 4th place first loser!), but psyched that I was 6th overall for female Masters! Stands to reason that the fastest runners would be in my age group!

Dot US Masters results

While waiting for the Masters awards we were treated to a race between the Washington Nationals mascots – presidents George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy. Teddy – always the underdog – won, while Tom took a fall halfway.

Dot US Teddy

He wasn’t the only one taking a tumble. Abdi was sporting a nice cut on his face and had ice on his hand after some unwanted contact with the road during the race. With all the turns on the course, and the damp air, there were a couple of very slick spots on the course, especially on the bridge over Route 1 near the end. But for the most part the course was great, giving us a nice tour of Alexandria, and the spectators were fabulous. At one point just after 10K I heard my name – not sure who it was but thank you! – and several times I heard “Go PR!” which is always nice.

I hope USATF brings this event to Alexandria again next year, but wherever it is, I definitely plan to run again!