Book Review: The Jade Rabbit by Mark Matthews

At the center of The Jade Rabbit is a girl who runs. Fast. She defines herself – and is defined – by her Chinese heritage, the birth mother she never knew, the sub-3 hour marathon she seeks, and the “ghost” children of Moonlight.

I was sent this book by the author, Mark Matthews, who thought I might like it. I had no idea what it was about before I started reading, but was instantly drawn to the character of Janice, not just because she’s a runner, but because of the psychological, emotional, and, to a degree, spiritual benefit she seeks from running. She deals with her challenging job as director of a shelter for runaway and neglected youth and her own feelings of abandonment through running. For Janice, her marathon training runs strip the issues, baring their bones and enabling her to find solutions…but not always.

The book itself is like a marathon. It’s a little slow to start, holding back, as we’re supposed to run at the start of a 26.2 mile race, and then it picks up as the story builds. Just as you’re becoming intrigued, however, the chapter ends and a new one begins on a completely different track. I was annoyed when this initially happened but then got caught up in the next element of the story…until it happened again. Matthews knows how to build suspense.

Although, the direction that the story appears to be taking from the start turns out to be a mere distraction, as the character disappears from Janice’s grasp and therefore from the story, only to be referred to in later chapters. The character who replaces her comes and goes for a while, and I thought that she, too, might disappear, but Janice is able to keep her close and not lose her, although her fear of abandonment is a constant.

Janice often does her training runs late at night, in downtown Detroit, to and from the center. I’ve never been to Detroit but I imagine this is not a safe place for a woman – or anyone, for that matter – to run, especially at night. I wonder if this was an oversight by Matthews as a male author writing as a female protagonist, or if it were deliberate; her way of showing she has no fear. Janice’s training runs are interwoven with the story of her clients, her husband, and the questions that still remain about her birth mother.

Matthew’s style is choppy, at times messy, adding to the pathos of a story that takes several turns, speeds up, slows down, endures suffering, and, finally, prevails. An evocative read.

About the Author

Mark Matthews is a therapist who has worked in the behavioral health field for nearly 20 years. His first novel, STRAY, is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. His second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of a Chinese adoptee who runs marathons to cope with her history of trauma and her struggles to save youth in a Detroit area runaway shelter. The author is an avid runner and has completed 12 marathons, including 5 Detroit Free Press Marathons, the 2010 Boston Marathon, and is training to run the Ann Arbor Marathon and New York City Marathon in 2012. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a licensed professional counselor, and lives near Detroit with his wife and 2 daughters. The author and his family have a personal interest in Chinese adoption and donate monthly to the Half The Sky Foundation.

Why I won’t be running 2014 Boston Marathon

Boston Finish line

It hasn’t been an easy decision. My initial reaction after the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon was that I definitely wanted to return in 2014, to make my statement that I won’t be frightened away from a race I love by cowards whose sole intent was to instill fear. I thought that I needed to go back so show my support. And I wanted to be there. In some ways, I still do.

But there were also other factors on my mind. My desire to do other races, my need to take a break from marathon training, the cost of running Boston, the time away from my family. And those factors combined have led to my decision not to run Boston Marathon next year.

I want to thank Tia from Arkansas Runner Mom, whose post about her reasons for not running Boston in 2014 encouraged me to write about mine. Most people know that I’m not someone who discusses my thoughts and feelings very often. In fact, I’ve been nicknamed The Ice Queen, Stone Cold, and even called callous for my “take no prisoners” attitude to racing. But deep down I do have a heart (really!) and coming to this decision wasn’t easy. But I think it’s the right thing to do. For all the right reasons.

Other races

Running Boston this year meant that I missed out on Cherry Blossom 10 miler, one of my favorite races and a local event for me. I couldn’t run it in 2013 because it was just a week before Boston. Next year it’s two weeks prior, but I still don’t like to race that close to a marathon.

I also missed out on Strasburg Duathlon, which was just two days before Boston. I won this event in its inaugural year three years ago. It was my first duathlon and my feet froze so badly on the bike I couldn’t feel them on the second 5K, but I was 1st woman by 5 minutes nevertheless! I’d love to go back and see if I can regain my title.

Training for a marathon inevitably means that I don’t get to run shorter races. I’ve only run one 5K this year, and that was a couple of weeks after Boston. I’d really like to do some more 10Ks, too.

In addition to all that, on Monday I’ll sit down with my triathlon coach to discuss my training for the next year, leading up to the ITU World Championships in Edmonton at the end of August. I know it’s almost a year away, but I want to plan my whole year with this race in mind. And a marathon may not fit well into that schedule.

Taking a break from marathon training

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that my body isn’t well designed for marathon training. It tends to break down quickly under the stress of the additional mileage, and because I have a tendency to push too hard without realizing it. So a little niggle in my calf turns into a major issue, and before I know it I’m out for a week. When I’m not marathon training I have none of these issues. Post-Boston I had an entire season of PR races, from a 3 minute PR in the Half Marathon to a 40 minute PR in the Half Ironman, in addition to PRs in all my triathlons, with no injury woes. Then I started training for Marine Corps Marathon, and once I hit high mileage, the problems returned. I’ll still run MCM, but after that I think it’s time to take a break and focus on some shorter distances.

The cost of running Boston

Marathoning aint cheap. Sure, it’s not the $700 that an Ironman costs, but the entry fee for Boston is now $175. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you factor in the flight and at least two nights in a $300/night hotel, you’re looking at a grand, easy. That’s money I need to put towards even more expensive flights to Edmonton, because the whole family wants to come see me represent Team USA!

The time away from my family

Last but not least, running Boston takes time away from the family. And with the race on a Monday, it’s not like I’m just away for the weekend. I’m gone until Tuesday. This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for all the other races I like to do that take me out of town. And while my husband and sons are very supportive of my racing, I know when it becomes a strain.

Clearly, I will feel a little sense of sadness when everyone heads off to Hopkinton and I’m not there. But I will certainly be thinking about Boston 2013 and the events that turned a day of celebration into one of tragedy…and, more importantly, the hope, support, and determination shown by so many.

We love Boston

Getting in touch with my girly side (or not) at IronGirl Rocky Gap

I don’t have a lucky number. If asked I’ll say it’s 13, just to be contrary. But the honest truth is I don’t believe in lucky numbers or rabbits feet or anything like that. In triathlon, lucky means getting placed in an early swim wave, having a spot on the end of the bike rack, preferably near bike-out so I don’t have to run far with the bike, or not getting a flat. I don’t have a lucky towel (for IronGirl I picked an Ironman – the character, not the race – towel just for fun) or a mantra or a certain order in which I do things. There are things I always do: I wear the same outfit, ride the same bike, run in the same stinky pair of running shoes that have blood stains on them from my last two triathlons, because that’s what works for me. I eat a GU 20 mins before I swim, wear my goggles under my swim cap in open water, and always put my timing chip on my left ankle, not because that’s where you’re supposed to wear it (you risk catching it on your bike chain if you wear it on the right), but because I have a 4 inch scar on my right ankle that is incredibly sensitive and feels uncomfortable if I strap a band around it.

So when I got number 777 for IronGirl Rocky Gap last Sunday, I thought it was cool to have three numbers the same, and mentioned to the number pickup person that it was easy to remember, but not for a minute did I think it was lucky.

Irongirl 777

In fact, I had such a raging headache at that point, I was feeling decidedly unlucky. Rocky Gap is in the mountains of Western Maryland, near Cumberland. It’s about as far west as you can go in that state before you reach West Virginia, and as far north before hitting Pennsylvania. My ears would not stop popping on the drive through the mountains, and I think the pressure from that, added to my allergies that hit hard last week, resulted in a humdinger of a headache that wouldn’t budge.

And I was annoyed that packet pickup was 7 (there’s that number again!) miles further west than Rocky Gap, so I had to drive past the park, go pick up my packet, and come back. Packet pickup was at the YMCA (more on why it wasn’t at Rocky Gap later) in Cumberland, a nice enough location, just 7 miles too far. Now, when you’ve driven for 2.5 hours and are hydrating for a race and therefore obviously need the bathroom, it’s a little frustrating to find that it’s closed for cleaning. And kinda funny that the YMCA would think it a good idea to clean the ladies’ room during packet pickup for a women’s race! By the time I left, the poor custodian was standing outside the bathroom as a stream of women had decided to follow my lead of ignoring the CLOSED FOR CLEANING sign. ;)

I eventually made my way back to Rocky Gap and put my bike in transition before driving over to the hotel.  For a minute I thought I was at the wrong place, then I realized that the “lodge” is now a “Casino Resort.” Yep, a hotel full of triathletes and gamblers. Interesting mix. And the hotel clearly didn’t want us there. They jacked up the rate by $40, refused to give anyone a checkout later than the 11am standard, and made it clear that they were in no way affiliated with the race. That answered my pondering about why packet pickup wasn’t there. Still, I think it would have been just fine to hold it in the pavilion at Rocky Gap, but maybe since there was also an expo with stuff for sale, that wasn’t allowed.

After checking in I met up with a great group of ladies from Ellicott City – friends of Miss Zippy, who wasn’t able to race but had kindly put me in touch with them as all my triathlete friends were racing much closer to home at Nations or Reston triathlons. The ladies were great, sharing stories and asking me questions over dinner, but I was feeling rough and I guess it showed because they kept asking if I was ok. When I couldn’t eat and started feeling like I was going to throw up I finally excused myself and went straight to my room and to bed. It was 8:30pm. I never go to bed early on race nights, for fear I won’t fall asleep. Thankfully falling asleep wasn’t a problem this time.

I woke up a few hours later feeling much better, and by the time my alarm went off at 5:30am I was positively chipper. Which was a good thing because I’d felt so lousy the night before, I had nothing ready. My room-mate, Janelle, was very relaxed and easy-going, which helped. We got ready and left the room at 6. I headed straight to transition because I was a little antsy about having enough time to get air in my tires, while she waited for the other ladies. No-one had cell phone reception so it was hard to get in touch with anyone.

I got into transition, found a pump to borrow right away, and inflated my tires. That felt much better as there was a huge long line of people waiting for Princeton Sports, the bike support, to inflate their tires. Unless I have a problem getting air in my back wheel, which has a funky valve because of the depth of the rim, I actually prefer to do it myself. I do recommend learning how to inflate your tires if you don’t, including knowing what PSI they should be. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

After setting up the rest of my gear I walked through the bike out area to find the bike mount line. It’s important to know where these things are pre-race. But there were no markings on the ground. I asked a race crew guy but he didn’t know. Later, during the race, I found out why: there was no bike mount line. Once over the mat and on the tarmac, racers could mount wherever. This is a bad decision race-wise because the area gets congested, and because most races have a bike mount line, so I think it would have been better to stick to the same format.

I double-checked my transition area one last time before leaving transition. The bikes were racked very close to one another, so space was at a premium, and racers had buckets and all sorts of unnecessary junk filling up the aisles. If I could give one piece of advice to (first-time) racers, it would be reduce, reduce, reduce. I actually walked back to my hotel with my warm-up gear and other extras I didn’t need, although I could have shoved it by the fence. Having an uncluttered transition area is one of the keys to fast transitions.

Close quarters...and this is before everyone added their stuff! Note huge tire to the right of my bike...I know I should have...

Close quarters…and this is before everyone added their stuff! Note huge wheel to the right of my bike…I know I should have…

Then I headed over to the swim area. The first wave was in the water. There were two people in this wave: one pro, one elite amateur. I breathed a sigh of relief: I’d debated racing as an elite amateur so I could be in the first wave and not in the 7th (40 – 44 women) but had chickened out. At this point I was glad because I’d hate to be in such a small wave, especially as swimming is my weakness so I’d be waaaay at the back. Mind you, later on, during the bike, I started wishing I had been braver…

After the National Anthem the first wave went off, then it was hurry up and wait time. I wandered away from the crowds to put my wet suit on in peace. I’d say half the competitors had wet suits. This was the cause of (too) much debate the day before, because the water temp was 75 (76 by race day), which some consider too warm for a wet suit. My thought is, if it’s wet suit legal, I’m wearing a wet suit. I swim faster in a wet suit. I actually like wearing it. And I can take it off pretty quickly so I don’t lose much time in transition. But obviously the good swimmers went without. One day I hope to be one of those swimmers, but for now I’ll take every advantage I can get in the swim.

Finally it was my turn to get in the water. Lake Habeeb is a gorgeous lake and you can actually see all the way to the bottom. I enjoyed looking at the underwater vegetation during my brief warm-up, but once everyone got in the water, all the dirt got kicked up and I could no longer see. Probably just as well, because I’m not used to that so I could imagine myself getting mesmerized by it or freaked out if I saw a fish or something.

I sighted well to the first bouy, but after the turn I was swimming alone, which had me a little concerned. I could see a bunch of caps up ahead, so I knew I was going in the right direction (well, unless they were heading toward me…), but there was no-one close by. The bouys marking the course were a little off to my left, but I wasn’t sure if I needed to swim closer to them. In hindsight I probably should have, as I tend to pull right when I swim, so I think I was going a little off course. It didn’t help that a kayak monitoring the swim decided to park directly in my line of vision, so I couldn’t see the orange turn bouy. Eventually I got to that bouy and turned for the final stretch. Right into the sun. I’d noted that the final leg would be into the sun when I was checking out the swim, and debated the mirrored goggles, but they tend to make everything really dark and it was a cloudy day, so I went with the tinted. And so I was swimming blind. If I held my head up for a few seconds my eyes would adjust and I could see the finish inflatable, but that was slowing me down so I just swam as straight as I could and hoped for the best. Eventually I could see sand beneath me and knew I’d made it. I kept swimming until my hands hit the sand, then stood up and started the hard task of trying to run in water. Never as easy as it looks.

T1 was pretty fast, got the wetsuit off and threw it under my bike since there was no other room. While I was bent over I got whacked in the head by a giant wheel as the participant on the other side of my rack pulled her bike out. Not her fault, just the close quarters. Then I made a huge rookie mistake, which I’ll blame on being hit in the head. I pulled my bike out before donning my sunglasses and helmet. So then I had to lean the bike against my body while I put them on. Dumb. Eventually got myself out of transition and off to bike out. Mounted at the non-existent mount line and was off.

I had a fantastic bike ride. I knew it was going to be hilly. I knew it would be hard. But it was only 16 miles and I was determined to make them as fast as possible. From the get-go I was flying past the other riders. Granted, most of them were on big, heavy bikes and here I was on my 18 pound tri bike, wearing an aero helmet, but my speed fired me up. I pretty much yelled “on your left” the whole way. The hills were steep but they were short, which I prefer over long and gradual, which tends to fatigue me more. My legs would go lactic but then I had the downhill to recover. And those downhills were awesome.

The bike course was simple: 8 miles out, turn around, 8 miles back. Except that turnaround came at the bottom of a hill. And it was tight. We’d all been warned to slow way down on the approach to the turn, but the problem with telling inexperienced riders to slow down is that they tend to slow down too much. So coming into the turn, I got stuck behind a rider with no way to pass. She went wide on the turn and I went to her inside to make a tighter turn. And then she wiped out right on the turn. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to unclip one shoe, so I was able to put my foot down and then move out of the way. Of course this meant that I was at a dead stop at the bottom of a hill, which sucked.

8 miles and several hills later I arrived back in transition. But not before almost spectacularly wiping out on my dismount. The stretch into dismount was downhill, and I really didn’t want to lose too much of my 19.4mph average by slowing a lot. So I blasted into the final straight, having already removed my shoes, swung my leg over the bike, realized I’d done that too early so coasted some more, didn’t brake enough, and when I jumped off I flipped my bike. I managed to save it but at the expense of jamming my right foot into the ground. As I ran into transition I looked down at my throbbing foot, saw blood all over my toes and what looked like a broken toenail, and tried not to think about the pain. I jammed on my shoes and headed out on the run.

And that’s when I realized that jamming my foot had really buggered my sensitive calf. And it was bad. The good news was that stopped me from thinking about the foot, although I couldn’t stop myself from looking down to see if the blood was seeping through my shoe yet. I was able to maintain a sub-7 pace despite the calf, but it felt as if it would blow up any minute. Thankfully the run was only 2.5 miles and, after getting through 2 miles unscathed, I decided to just hammer the last 0.5. I knew I was running after prize money at this point and would be horribly disappointed if I lost it on the run.

I could barely put my foot down on the final straight. No kidding, it was supremely ugly. After finishing I bolted over to the medical tent to get some ice and, since they weren’t busy, got my foot taken care of. Turned out just to be a few scrapes and a broken toenail.

I went straight back to my hotel after seeing a couple of the ladies from Ellicott City, as I wanted to change and get my stuff packed up before the 11am curfew. That taken care of, I headed over to the results board:

Irongirl results

I was SO excited to see that I was 5th, because top 5 got a share of the prize purse! Sure, my share was the smallest at $399 but it’s the most I’ve ever won from a race. Of course, once I defray the entry fee ($150 I think) and the hotel room (half of an exorbitant $250…only Boston marathon hotel rooms cost more) and pay taxes I don’t think there’ll be much left, but it’s nice to get something. I was so excited I didn’t even realize that was my room mate in 3rd place! And no, our room number didn’t have a 7 in it.

I found Janelle back at our room and congratulated her before collecting my award (couldn’t get that until results were confirmed at 11) and heading out. There was no point in sticking around. TriColumbia/IronGirl (not sure who’s decision this was) has made the strange decision not to hold an awards ceremony, which I don’t understand. Here we are, celebrating achievements of every kind, from showing up to crossing the finish line to getting a PR, and there is no formal presentation of awards. In fact, the whole thing was kind of weird because the race announcer read the award winners’ names aloud as finishers were still coming across the line. So he’d have to stop announcing award winners every now and then to say, “and here come’s another finisher. Sally Rider, you are an Irongirl! And 3rd place in the 50-59 age group…” It was very strange.

And I’m not sure what the message is here. Is it that IronGirl doesn’t want to acknowledge award winners? Is their message that we are all successful as a collective (like the Borg or communism) and individuals shouldn’t be recognized for their achievements? Of course, if you’ve overcome adversity then you’re recognized, but if you win the race or place in your age group, forget it.

I had debated entering another IronGirl because I just don’t go for touchy feely events. I know that many women like IronGirl because it’s a less-intimidating environment than a co-ed race. I happen to like co-ed races and find men to be useful pacers (!) but I realize that IronGirl isn’t designed to be hugely competitive and is a race designed for first timers. I still don’t understand why “The bathrooms have Charmin!” might be important to some, but I realize that my feelings about IronGirl are not shared by many and that’s fine. And I knew what I was getting into. I entered purely for a shot at winning some money. It was a well-organized event with fantastic support and I would recommend it. There’s just this underlying tone that women need events like this because they’re less capable, that they’re more concerned about their appearance than their performance. Much of the “talk” around IronGirl does suggest triumph in the face of adversity, as if being female somehow puts us at a disadvantage. And I guess I dislike that suggestion because I’ve never felt disadvantaged. I race against women, not men. I know I’m not doing the best job explaining this. I’ll leave it to a girl I bumped into when I stopped for gas on the way home. Noticing she had race numbers on her arm, I asked what she thought about the race. She mentioned it was her first IronGirl, and there was a slight grimace that indicated to me she may feel the same way as I did. When I said it was a bit “touchy feely for me” she said “Yes! It’s like….’Congratulations on overcoming being a woman!

So there you have it. I came. I raced. I won some money. And I have finally overcome being a woman. Feels pretty good. ;)

New York, IronGirl, and The Fog

Yankee stadium

Despite the title of this post, this story actually starts back in Toledo, Ohio, where we celebrated my husband’s 47th birthday. I mean, wouldn’t you want to go to Toledo for your birthday?

Of course, we were on our way back from our road trip to Milwaukee for USAT Age Group Nationals, and had stopped in Toledo for the night, since I refused to suggested that we not stop in Howe, Indiana again, as we had on the way to Milwaukee. Not that there’s anything wrong with Howe. It’s just that there’s not anything. As in, there’s a hotel on the side of the road, , which I named “Grandma’s” because it smelled musty like Grandparents’ homes tend to, and a chinese restaurant and that’s it. Oh and around the back of the hotel parking lot is a house. Yes, someone lives behind the hotel. They have a driveway off the parking lot with a basketball hoop and everything. Right off the Indiana Toll Road. Granted, it’s only a couple of miles down the road to civilization in the form of quaint Sturgis, Michigan, but still.

Anyway, I digress. So we drove to Toledo, where we stayed in a much nicer hotel that didn’t smell like the one in Howe. And in the morning I gave Stuart his birthday gift: Baseball tickets. To a Yankees/Orioles game. Stuart is a huge Yankees fan. We live near Baltimore. So I guess he assumed the tickets were for Camden Yards because he looked at them for a minute before saying, “This game is at Yankee Stadium!” Yes sir. Indeed they are. I thought the pics of Yankees players (I only recognized Derek Jeter but I’m sure he knew them all) on the tickets would be a dead giveaway, but I guess not!

New York

So last Friday we packed up the kids and the car and drove to NYC. We stayed in Midtown and visited Central Park before taking the subway from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium.

NY Central park

That’s a pic of the boys and Stuart in Central Park, obviously. I didn’t want to look like a tourist so did not take pics on the subway. It wasn’t scary or dirty. It was a little hot down there in the tunnels under the city, but the train was clean and had A/C. I highly recommend the subway if you’re in NYC. Who wants to sit in a cab in all that traffic, anyway?! Travel like a local!

The game was awesome. We had good seats with a great view, and for one night I allowed hot dogs and soda and cotton candy. The kids (all 3) must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.

Yankees CC

 As if that wasn’t good enough, it was bobblehead night (there are just four of these all season) and so we all received a Yogi Berra bobblehead. I believe they’re going for about $40 on eBay right now. Even better, in my opinion, was when my tweet appeared on the jumbotron:

Yankees tweet

To cap the night, the Yankees won (yay) and the boys went straight to bed when we got back to our hotel. A few minutes after we turned out the lights, my younger son asked, “when will all the beeping stop?” Uh, this be New York City, son, so, um, never! Although they’ve been in the city before, our boys have never stayed overnight and just couldn’t get used to the traffic and noise. When we drove out of the city the next day, my older son said, “I’m so happy to see trees!” which was ridiculously funny because a) we had been to Central Park the day before! and b) he spends his life hooked to Minecraft and video game trees don’t count.

So NY was a success! And because I am mother of the year, I scheduled our trip so we’d miss back-to-school night, 4th grade open house for the younger son, and the first day of his first baseball tournament of the season. Yep, I do stuff like that.

And now the kids are finally back in school after the longest summer ever, which was 15 mins longer than scheduled because son #1′s bus was late. Way to start the first day of middle school.

IronGirl Rocky Gap

Moving on. Sunday is my LAST triathlon of the season. I swear I have raced more multisport events this year than ever before. I don’t even know how many I’ve done but it feels like a billion. Let’s count ‘em:

- Ironman 70.3 Raleigh

- Infinitive Sprint

- Maryland Olympic Du

- USAT Sprint Nationals

- South Riding Triathlon

Wow, is it really only five? Feels like a lot more. So Athleta IronGirl Rocky Gap is my last triathlon this year. I really need to focus on Marine Corps Marathon training, which, to tell the truth, I have been focusing on, hence the reason my run is so strong and my bike and swim suck. But there’s not really too much I can do about that now. The bike at Rocky Gap is super hilly and it’s a bit late for me to go work on hills now, but I did pretty well on the hills at the Maryland Olympic Du, and this is only 16 miles versus 26 for the du, so maybe I can pull off a good effort. Unfortunately the run is only 2.5 miles so not much time to catch up there.

The swim is half a mile in Lake Habeeb, which, as of right now, is 75 degrees and therefore WETSUIT LEGAL!!! Now just watch that temp climb over the next few days… If it’s not wetsuit legal I plan to wear my speed suit, which will probably help me drop 5 seconds…all of which I’ll gain back taking the damn thing off. I’m in wave 7 of 11 (so it could be worse) and get to wear a “dayglo pink” swim cap. My least favorite color. Oh well, can’t choose everything.

The Fog

So I have this goal to swim more this year, given my crap swims at Nationals and South Riding and the impending (but still a year away thank goodness) ITU World Championship, where I don’t want to look like an idiot. With that in mind, on Monday I dragged the family to the pool so I could swim laps while pretending we were having quality family time. Granted, both sons jumped in my lane at some point and challenged me to a couple of 25m races, which I lost, so there was some family time in there. But for the most part I swam back and forth for an hour, pretending I really didn’t want to sit on the side and chat with the other parents, and reminding myself what an awesome tan I was getting on my back.

And then that night I started sneezing a lot. And I felt congested and my head hurt. And I thought it must be from the pool. But then Stuart started feeling the same way, and since we have the same allergies (weird, huh) we realized that’s what it was. So this morning I woke up in a total fog. My head felt awful. But I had a 10 mile run to do. And not just 10 miles but 10 “pace miles” where I run marathon pace, which for me is a slightly frightening 7:45 – 8:00. So off I went, fully expecting this to be a total sufferfest. And what I found was that the fog was just from the neck up. That my legs were bouncy like a little…oh, I don’t know, pony? and 7:45 pace felt like no big deal. It was the weirdest feeling, like my legs weren’t attached to my body. My head stayed in the fog and at times I didn’t even know where I was, but my legs were happy as could be. It was just about the oddest sensation I’ve ever had. The only thing weirder is having a c-section, where you can feel hands routing around inside your body but it doesn’t hurt and, similarly, there’s that odd sensation of detachment.

So my legs ran 10 miles in 1:18 while my head floated around in a fog. Hopefully the allergies will be better by Sunday because biking in this fog can’t possibly be safe and swimming, even in a wetsuit, would be worse.

 

USA Triathlon Sprint Nationals Race Recap

USAT Sprint Nationals were not originally on my 2013 race calendar. After finding out that they would be in Milwaukee, WI, looking up Milwaukee on the map and realizing it was almost 800 miles from my home, I decided I would not be participating. Last year we drove to Burlington, VT for Nationals, which was 10 hours each way; Milwaukee would be 13. And flights were expensive and indirect. I’d basically end up flying to Chicago and driving the rest of the way. And if I flew I’d have to ship my bike, which would be around $300. All for a sprint. I decided it wasn’t worth it.

[Why the sprint and not the olympic? Last year I raced the olympic in Vermont and placed 57th in my age group, nowhere near the top 18 needed to qualify for the US Team. The day after the race I met a woman who'd raced the sprint and was very excited to have qualified for Team USA. Since she was in my age group, I looked up her results and realized that these were times I could do. That if I had raced the sprint I may well have qualified. Because even though I had a decent bike and a very good run in the olympic, my swim is just too slow for that distance. I needed the shorter swim distance of the sprint, which wouldn't put me so far behind. ]

And then my Half Ironman in Raleigh went better than I expected. I had a 40 minute PR, placed 3rd in my age group and qualified for the 70.3 World Championships. And three weeks after that I had a good sprint race, placing 1st female and 3rd overall. And I started thinking. Which is always dangerous. I started thinking that I should race Nationals after all, because my goal was to make Team USA for the 2014 ITU World Championships, and I figured I had a better chance of qualifying while I was racing well.

So I discussed with my husband the possibility of us driving to Milwaukee. He thought it was a crazy great idea. If we could get someone to watch the kids, we could leave on Friday, arrive in Milwaukee on Saturday, race Sunday, and be home on Monday. Thankfully our niece and my husband’s sister were able to cover the four days, and so we booked our hotel in Milwaukee (really lucked out here as the host hotel, the Hilton, was available Saturday night) and started planning.

Milwaukee is a very cool city. I decided I’d like to live there. Except in Winter. I don’t fancy all the lake effect snow. But Milwaukee in summer is great. Lake Michigan is beautiful, and there’s a river running through the city with lots of riverfront restaurants. We ate at one, Water Buffalo, Saturday night. Great food and so nice to be able to sit outside. Milwaukee has preserved much of its Art Deco architecture, which I really love. Even our hotel was classic art deco, having been built in 1927. I loved the fact that the hotel had preserved the mail chute by the elevators! Another nice touch was all the water stations that were provided for the triathletes. There were plenty of us staying there, as evidenced by bikes everywhere.

milwaukee-hotel-reservation

Imagine this beautiful foyer littered with bikes and smelly triathletes!

We pretty much arrived as people were returning from racing the olympic event. We got the scoop on the course from a couple of the athletes (great swim, easy bike, flat run) and found out that it was an easy walk from the hotel down to the race venue. So we checked in, parked the car, and walked down with our bikes. The race venue was easy to find. Right by the beautiful Art Museum.

Milwaukee expo

Milwaukee art museum

Since it was too early to check our bikes, we went for a short ride on the course. The bike course was easy, out and back one way on Lakeshore Drive, then out and back the other way, including riding over a bridge. We couldn’t practice ride over the bridge because it’s, um, a highway. So no practicing biking uphill with big cracks in the road and a side wind…probably just as well I didn’t know that was coming… We also wandered over to look at the swim course as we always like to have a good visual of that. Two things were a little scary to us. One was the fact that the swim went under a bridge which was very narrow, and we wondered about congestion here; the other was that the ramp to get out of the water was incredibly steep. We were told by people who had raced the olympic that volunteers would line the ramp and literally pull us up. I always figure there’s no point in worrying unnecessarily, but I was glad I knew about the ramp in advance.

When transition opened we racked our bikes…always hard leaving your bike somewhere overnight…I said a little goodbye and took a picture of the red dragon:

Milwaukee transition

 

I slept great the night before the race. Unusual for me. But again, our hotel was nice and quiet, even though there were several wedding parties Saturday night! Yay for 1920s buildings with their thick walls. We were up on the 23rd of 24 floors and all the way down the end of the hall, which may have helped. Anyway, we got up around 5:15 as I wanted to get into transition at 6:00. My wave was the 2nd wave (I was really glad about this as in Vermont I was in the 2nd to last wave, which sucked) and was due to start at 7:37. On our walk down to transition I ate a Nutella sandwich and drank my usual Kona Cola Nuun. I don’t drink coffee before races any more – I find that keeps me out of the bathroom and the Nuun provides enough caffeine to wake me up. After setting up all my transition gear and double checking everything, I wandered over to the swim area. Time seemed to be going by super fast and before I knew it I was pulling on my wetsuit and putting on my cap and goggles. Which fogged up instantly. I’d selected to wear my mirrored goggles when I saw the sun peeking out, but now it had gone back behind the clouds and the darker goggles were making visibility difficult. I debated running back to bag check for my non-mirrored goggles, but I hate making last-minute game changes and decided I’d be ok. I had to spit in my goggles several times while doing my warm up swim, but they finally cleared.

The water was cold. I heard 69 degrees but it felt more like 65. I like cold water but it was definitely a good thing that I got in early and got acclimated. I climbed out for a short while for the National Anthem before the first wave started, then got right back in. We were to start to the left of the bouy. What was interesting was that everyone in my wave (about 70 of us) was really spread out. There was a little cluster right next to the bouy, and another cluster further down, but right in the middle was wide open. Which was odd. I don’t usually go for the middle spot as it’s prime get-clobbered-from-both-directions territory, but it was open so I went for it. When the gun/siren went off I had a nice open spot to swim. I only felt hands on my feet once. I was sighting well for the first bouy and didn’t get bumped or swum over. Going under the bridge was actually fine – and kinda cool, because I could hear everyone yelling from the bridge. This swim was perfect for spectators as they could walk along the bank and see the whole event. Past a couple more bouys after the bridge and then the turnaround. Back under the bridge with no incidents and I was still sighting well and swimming close to the bouys. I knew I needed to be on the right of the last bouy for the turn to swim out and the dreaded ramp. Which was actually fine. The volunteers pulled me up and one shouted, “lean forward if you can!” so I did. Nothing to it.

Miwaukee swim

I was on dry land and pulling off my wetsuit and running. And running. My feet started hurting and I’m thinking, “this is a long run!” The turn into transition finally came and then I had to run all the way down almost to the end of rack A for my bike. As I pulled off my wetsuit (I wish they had wetsuit strippers like at Ironman events) I accidentally pulled off my timing chip, so had to reattach that real quick. Just took a couple of seconds so no biggie. Donned sunglasses and helmet, grabbed the red dragon, and I was outta transition and on the bike.

Milwaukee bike

My bike can be summed up in one word: sluggish. I never really felt good during the 12.4 miles. I felt like I was pushing way too hard for the speed I was going. The first incline was right before the first turnaround; it wasn’t overly steep but it was long enough that I had to go into the small ring and stand up. After that I thought I’d get some speed from the downhill but it never really came. I tried going into an easier gear to get a faster cadence, then a harder gear to get more power, but nothing seemed to help. I passed four or five women but nowhere near as many as I’d hoped, and a couple passed me. The bridge was long. I dropped to 14mph and saw my 21mph average slipping away. I tried to maximize my speed on the downhills but had to be careful as mats had been placed over the joints in the bridge and I didn’t want to be in aero going over those in case I lost control. Just before the turn into transition I was catching one more rider but didn’t want to try a pass on the turn and was also busy taking off my shoes. I followed her to the dismount line and had a good dismount, which received a couple of cheers!

Into transition, this one faster than the last. Knowing I just had the run ahead of me was a great feeling. I figured I could catch some women here and was planning on running 6:30 pace. One thing that I have gained from working with Coach Hadley of Maximum Performance Running over the last six weeks is confidence. I am holding back less and pushing harder earlier, knowing I have the ability to maintain pace and even speed up. The first mile of the run was an out and back, which enabled me to count how many women were ahead of me. I got a little nervous when I realized I was in 26th place. I needed to pass 8 women to get up to 18th and a spot on the US Team. But the good news was they were in groups and not that far ahead of me. I just started picking them off. At 2 miles I had passed 7 women and could see the 8th up ahead. After passing her I didn’t let up at all but maintained my 6:30 pace. I saw one more woman up ahead just before the turn for the finish. I didn’t think I’d catch her before the line but I guess she was slowing down and I surged past her right before the line. Her name was actually called before mine, I passed so late. Felt a little guilty for passing so close to the end but then it was a sprint and we were racing for places.

And then I realized I was in 17th place and had secured a spot on Team USA. I was shaking with relief. I got my results and went over to find my husband who was still waiting for his swim wave to start, since he was in the 2nd to last wave. He was chatting with Hector Picard, a double arm amputee triathlete who is unbelievably inspirational. Check out the video that shows how he races…it’s incredible.

Later on I discovered that I had moved into 15th place as two women who had finished ahead of me were assessed 2 minute penalties for drafting on the bike. Triathlon rules are tough.

I’m so relieved to make Team USA, grateful that I got to race, and thankful to my niece and sister-in-law for watching the kids so Stuart and I could go to Milwaukee. It really is a dream come true and I can’t wait to go to Edmonton next year!

 

Qualifying for Team USA OR Why I Drove 1600 Miles for a Sprint Triathlon

Just a quick post; longer version will be up shortly…

Last weekend my husband and I drove 800 miles (each way!) from Virginia to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to race in the USAT Age Group Sprint Nationals. My goal? To place in the top 18 in my age group and secure a spot on the US Team for the 2014 ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Alberta.

And since suspense is overrated and time is short, I’ll let you know right now that I DID IT!

I was the 17th woman to cross the line, but after two women received 2 minute penalties for drafting on the bike, I bumped up to 15th place. Finding out that I’d qualified was a dream come true.

To cap it all, my husband and I had the BEST weekend away we’ve had in a long time. With no kids, there was time to talk, listen to 80s music on the radio, go out and eat where WE wanted to eat, have a beer after the race while overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan, and much more. :)

Here are some pics my husband took of me racing. I could hear him yelling when I came out of the water and in both transitions! Oh yeah, and when I started the run I was in 26th place…you do the math. ;)

Miwaukee swim

 

Milwaukee bike

The DQ that Was and the Race that Wasn’t

Last Saturday was one heck of a long day. It started at 6:55am with my younger son’s swim team warming up for their last regular season meet and ended at 9:20pm when my race was cancelled for lightning. I could be bummed about that but actually saw a silver lining in that I didn’t really feel race-ready by the time the evening rolled around.

That could have just been in my head, or it could have been caused by events earlier in the day. In the 8U boys’ breaststroke event, two of our swimmers false started and were disqualified. One of the swimmers dove before the buzzer, and another followed him. As team rep for the swim team, I bring any disqualification protests to the attention of the Referee. In this instance, one of the coaches and I thought there was a rule that a swimmer who false starts based on the movement of another swimmer is not disqualified. But when I looked in the rule book I couldn’t find anything about that under disqualification. So the DQ stood.

Then, the second swimmer’s father approached me and showed me the rule I had been looking for. Turns out it was under “starts,” not “disqualification.” And the rule clearly stated that movement by a swimmer causing another swimmer to false start was NOT grounds for disqualification. So I had to bring this to the attention of the Referee. Which was awkward. Because the swimmer in question was my son. Of course I would have done this for any swimmer, but the fact that it was my kid made things a bit difficult. Anyway, long story short, my son was reinstated but given a stern warning by the coach to listen for the buzzer, not follow other kids into the water. Point taken. I think they both learned something.

Clearly not discussing how to avoid a DQ...

Clearly not discussing how to avoid a DQ…

I sat around for the rest of the day because I had a night race: Rockville Rotary Twilight 8K. Why, oh why, do I keep signing up for this race? I hate night races. All day I am a mess of what to eat, what to do, am I drinking enough, am I resting enough, etc. I took a nap. Watched a movie. Whiled away the time until I drove the 45 mins to Rockville. Paid $2 to park in the scary lot where you have to walk where the cars are driving because the elevators are out of commission. Picked up my number. Decided not to go back to the scary lot to put my goodie bag back in my car, but checked it at bag drop instead. This meant I did not have my pre-race GU. Didn’t really care. Can you see I wasn’t really in racing mode?

Went for a warm-up. Almost got lost. Tried to do some strides, couldn’t really pick up much speed. Used the stifling porta-potty. Drank some water. And then, at 8:30, 15 minutes before race time, there was a flash in the sky. Lightning. And then a couple more. The race was delayed for 30 mins. As the lightning continued we were told to go undercover. I didn’t want to stand in the parking garage with the masses so I went in the grocery store and wandered around there. But I started getting too cold so ventured back outside. Conveniently positioned myself near a group of race officials and heard that they had taken down the speakers but planned to put them back up by 9:15 to make an announcement. At this point (after 9) I was pretty confident the race would be cancelled as the lightning continued, but stuck around chatting to some new friends. Around 9:20 the announcement came: race cancelled. I grabbed some food from the table and got my bag from bag check before it got too crazy. Drove back home. Ate 3 granola bars on the way home…I guess waiting around made me hungry!

Sunday morning I got up early and got in 10 miles before 7:30. That made me feel much better. I am debating whether I’ll sign up for this race in the future. I’ve run it 3 times before without any delays or problems, but I hate spending all that time hanging around and not actually racing. Obviously weather is a factor that can’t be controlled, and runner safety is important, so I don’t fault the organizers at all in their decision, but this is a factor I have to consider when signing up for a race.

Not that my race calendar isn’t full already! I have USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals coming up August 11th, South Riding Triathlon August 25th, and IronGirl Rocky Gap September 8th. And training for Marine Corps Marathon is in full swing!

Ever had a race cancelled?

Ever been disqualified?

Vitafusion Gummy Vitamin Review OR How I Learned to Take My Vitamins

The following post is sponsored by FitFluential LLC on behalf of Vitafusion.

I have a confession: I haven’t been taking my vitamins. For about a year.

I have another confession: I’ve been stealing my kids’ gummy vitamins. They are so much better than the horse-pills I’ve been avoiding.

I used to be really good about taking my vitamins, all of them. I even took these humungous glucosamine pills that were pretty tough to swallow. I took all my vitamins at night with a big glass of water. For years. And then, a couple of years ago, the problems started. First it was the glucosamine pills that started to make me feel sick, so I stopped taking those. But eventually, even the regular size pills were causing a gag reflex. I switched to a different multivitamin brand. But I still had problems. So I stopped taking the pills at night and started taking them in the morning.

Giant glucosamine horse pill...quarter for size reference

Giant glucosamine horse pill…quarter for size reference

One morning I must have stared at that little package of fairly innocuous pills for half an hour, as if they were some instrument of torture. And that’s when I knew I couldn’t take it/them any more. So I started taking my kids’ gummy vites.

Can't take it/them any more...

Can’t take it/them any more…

And I found that they were delicious. But of course kids’ vitamins are formulated for kids and I’m a 40 year old female, so I was a bit worried they weren’t right for me. One day, while wandering through Costco, I came across vitafusion Calcium Gummies. I was told about 10 years ago to start taking calcium, and I’d been taking them on and off but had completely stopped taking the pills. I don’t like the taste of those chocolate chews, either. But gummies are another matter. I actually have to be very disciplined in only taking two of these, they taste so good.

So when FitFluential contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing Vitafusion MultiVites, I jumped at the chance. Turns out the MultiVites are very similar to my kids’ gummy vites, but I think they actually taste a little better. One thing I really like is that the colors and flavors are natural – they use annatto extract and blueberry and carrot concentrates.

Vitafusion 2

In a word...tasty

But do the gummies provide all my vitamin needs? Well, according to Vitafusion, Multivites:

- Are a complete multivitamin with 200% of the Daily Value (DV) for Vitamin D3 (as much as 3oz of salmon)

- Support energy metabolism

- Contain antioxidant vitamins C and E

- Support immune health

- Are an excellent source of vitamins B12 and B6, folic acid and pantothenic acid

- Contain as much vitamin A as one cup of broccoli

- Contain as much vitamin C as one tangerine

They really do make nutrition taste good! Not only are they much easier to take than pills or capsules, but, since there’s no need for water, they’re convenient, too. And they’re made in the USA.

Vitafusion gummy vitamins are available at drug and grocery stores nationwide including: Costco, Walmart, Target and CVS. You can find more info at www.gummyvites.com.

Do you have trouble taking vitamins? Ever eaten your kids’ gummy vites? Ever swallowed a quarter? ;)

 

Everyone’s a Winner! FRS Giveaway and Infinitive Triathlon Results

Sorry for the delay in posting the winner of my FRS Giveaway. Congrats to Paige, who wins an FRS trial pack with a retail value of $30! Paige, drop me an e-mail when you get a chance.

Moving on to my exciting weekend! On Sunday I raced the Infinitive Sprint Triathlon in Ashburn, VA. This small, low-key triathlon is one of my favorites. The 400m swim is in a 50 meter pool so there’s less of the ping-pong off the wall effect, the bike is a double loop with a couple of killer hills, and the run is an out and back on rolling trails which I’ve found to be a sufferfest on the two previous occasions I’ve raced here. In addition, I always know a lot of people at this race so it’s great to be able to cheer for them and have them cheer for me on the bike and run.

I’ve come in 2nd female in this event the last two years. This year, I had my eye on 1st. It helped that my friend and rival, Leanne, who beat me the previous two times (but only by 9 seconds last year!) wasn’t racing, but of course there’s always the potential for other competition I don’t know about.

Pre-Race Drama

The night before the race my husband and I went out for dinner. My latest thing is fish the night before a race. I had salmon before St. Michael’s Half Marathon and sea bass before Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, and since both of those races were PRs, I figured I’d stick with this pre-race meal plan. So we went to our local fish place where I had red snapper, which reminded me of our trip to Key West many moons ago when I discovered that fish and ate it almost every day!

When we got home, my husband took the babysitter home while I went to put my bike in my car. Which was when I discovered that my rear tire, which was inflated when I left, was completely flat. When my husband got home I had him look at the tire and, when he took out the inner tube, we found that the valve was separating from the rubber and the tube itself was in very bad shape. I was so lucky to get through Raleigh without incident!

So he replaced the dead tube with a nice new one which made me feel much better. Nothing like a little drama the night before a race to get your heart going!

The Morning

I arrived at transition ridiculously early and so got the primo bike spot at the end of the rack. It’s the little things that make me happy. I had so much time I posted a couple of facebook status updates, chatted to friends, and went to the bathroom 63 times. And then it was GO time.

Infinitive bike

Lovely rack spot!

The Swim

I had an interesting swim this year. Started out feeling strong but before I’d gone even 100m I was getting tapped from behind. Stopped to let two guys pass, then got right behind the 2nd guy to take the draft. That only lasted 50 meters before I had to pass the guy in front, and then again 50 meters after that I passed the guy in front of him. It seems that a lot of swimmers blast out those first 100m and then die… I didn’t want to have to stop again so I cranked hard in the last 200m. It wasn’t the best swim but my time was decent: 8:02, putting me in 8th place.

The Bike

There’s a fairly long run from the swim to the bike, as racers are required to run the length of transition, but I moved as fast as I could and had the fastest T1: 1:41. So the bike course is a bit hilly. And of course you do it twice so, after the first loop, you know what’s coming. Oh, and just as I got on the bike, it started to rain. Not the best conditions, but I went all out as hard as I could. My hamstrings and adductors were seriously on fire on the hills of the second loop, but I think the Half Ironman training was paying off as riding 12 miles felt like small change compared to 56. I ended up with a bike time of 33:55, 21.4mph average, which was the fastest female bike split and bettered my time from last year by almost a minute. Just because I always like a little dismount drama, I braked too hard coming to the mount line and so when I jumped off my bike, we both almost went flying. I managed a last-minute save, much to the amusement of everyone watching.

The Run

I darted in and out of transition in 54 seconds: fastest female T2 time. (I pride myself on being fast in the 4th sport of triathlon!) In the past, the run has been hot, hilly, and felt way more than 3.1 miles. I was determined to hammer this run like I never have before. I was glad it was raining and not sunny, and when I looked at my pace and saw I was running in the 6:40s, I was happy because I really didn’t feel like I was overreaching. Just before the halfway point I saw the one girl that I knew (from someone yelling at me in transition) was in front of me. I had hoped she was a relay runner (and I think it turned out she was) but she didn’t have an “R” under her number so I didn’t think she was. However, she was #51 which means she was the first swimmer in the water and so had started before me, so I didn’t think I really had to worry. Still, I noticed she wasn’t moving all that fast and figured I would make it my goal pass her. It actually took me longer to do that than I thought. I was past 2 miles and had been running behind the same guy for a few minutes when we passed her. Having cleared #51, I decided it was time to pick it up and see how fast I could go for the last mile. I decided to enlist the help of the guy I was running alongside. I told him I was trying to win and asked him if he’d help me. He said he wasn’t having a good run, I suggested he make it a better run by helping me out…oh and I’d be his friend forever. Seriously. The things I say when I’m desperate. Nevertheless, he obliged and dropped the pace to a 6:30. It was great. I just had to let him drag me home. Which he did. Turns out his name is Michael Johnson and he came in 3rd male. Thanks Mike. It was painful but not beyond my ability and I’m glad I was able to push hard right at the end. Run: 21:06, 6:49 pace. Last year I ran 7:05 pace.

Result

My overall time was 1:05:35, almost 2 minutes faster than my time last year! I was 1st female AND 3rd overall! And I won the women’s division by almost 6 minutes, which I still can’t believe. I feel that, the finish time aside, the best aspect of the race was my ability to keep my head in the game, push through the pain, and maintain the intensity that a sprint demands! I won a sweet Boston shirt (the race was a fundraiser for the OneBoston fund), a $30 gift card to Transition Triathlon (great triathlon shop in Leesburg) and a nice plaque that I’ve put next to my two 2nd place awards!

Infinitive winners

Male and Female winners! Male winner Daniel McAllister is the son of Leanne, who has beaten me twice at this race!

After the race I talked with my husband about the possibility of going to Wisconsin in August and racing USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals. This has been on my mind since I raced well in Raleigh, and with another good race under my belt, I feel this is my best opportunity to try to make the US Team! So it looks like we may be taking a road trip to Milwaukee and both racing the sprint this time. Can’t wait for that! In the meantime, I have a duathlon in Maryland in two weeks that I need to focus on…

 

Aquaphor Healing Ointment Review and Giveaway

I’ve been using Aquaphor healing ointment for several years, mainly in the winter months when my skin gets very dry, especially on my hands, where it’s not unusual for it to crack and bleed if I forget to use the ointment for a couple of days. I started keeping it beside my bed so I’d remember to put it on just before going to sleep, rather than right before washing my hands, which is what tends to happen during the day! The people at Aquaphor recently asked me to provide a review of their healing ointment, along with some tips on summer use. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t sure about how to use it during the summer. Sure, I swim year round and do experience dry skin from chlorine, but nowhere near as badly as in the winter.

Aquaphor

And then the pools opened in our community and my youngest son spent several happy hours there on the first day, playing on deck and in the pool. At the end of the day the soles of his feet were red, raw, and swollen, from the deck or the bottom of the pool I’m not sure, but it was definitely painful. I was looking around for something to put on his feet when I remembered the Aquaphor. I put it on his feet while he was watching TV and then put his feet in plastic bags so he wouldn’t rub it off all over the couch… In a day or two, his feet were completely healed, which was a huge relief as he’s on the swim team and I was worried the foot pain would bother him at swim practice. Aquaphor contains petrolatum to soothe and protect, plus moisturizing ingredients like panthenol and glycerin. It’s dermatologist-trusted and not only helps to relieve cracked skin but also cuts, scrapes, and minor burns.

And…I recently learned that it’s great for triathletes, too! You can use it to create a protective barrier against friction caused by clothing or skin rubbing. Try it anywhere skin gets red, chafed or raw.

I love the fact that it doesn’t smell and comes in a big container for home as well as a flip cap tube for travel. I now keep one in my bag at all times.

Aquaphor was kind enough to provide me with several full-size samples, a CamelBak water bottle, and $50 VISA gift card, and is offering the same to one of my readers. Just enter via Rafflecopter below. The giveaway is only open to US Residents who are 18 years of age or older. Winner will be selected at midnight on July 20th.

Aquaphor provided me with the products listed above in return for a review. The opinions stated in this review are my own.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Week with FRS: Review and Giveaway

The following post is sponsored by FitFluential LLC on behalf of FRS.

It’s interesting how many products used by athletes were originally designed for medical use. Take, for example, the ubiquitous compression sock, now standard attire at every marathon. Compression socks were originally designed to promote bloodflow in diabetes patients. I recall working in a pharmacy as a teenager and selling a lot of compression hose. Then Paula Radcliffe started sporting flesh colored compression socks and, IMO, that’s how it all got started.

Similarly, FRS was developed to deliver sustained energy to chemotherapy patients while supporting their immune systems. Packed with vitamins and green tea extracts, FRS contains the powerful antioxidant quercetin, which is found in the skins of blueberries, apples and grapes and has been shown in clinical trials to provide sustained energy, increased endurance and immune system support. Some bright spark realized that this would also be beneficial for anyone looking for natural, healthy, sustained energy without the crash, particularly athletes.

FRS 3

My free sample package of FRS conveniently arrived right after my Half Ironman in Raleigh. I say conveniently because post-race tends to be a time when my immune system is at its lowest. Also, while I took a couple of days off any type of workout and an entire week off running, I needed to keep training as I still have several races coming up. Plus, believe it or not, it’s almost time to start Fall marathon training, and I needed to start rebuilding my mileage base for that.

So I was intrigued to see if FRS could give me the energy boost I knew I’d need to recover from one race and keep training for the others.

The products I tried were:

- Chews – very tasty, pomegranate blueberry flavor, disappeared immediately

Chews on the right

Chews on the right and yes, that is a pumpkin. We are a little out of season at our house.

- Ready-to-drink beverages – variety of flavors, all of which I liked, although I did find the apricot nectarine a tad sweet. Just poured it over ice to water it down. My favorite flavor was citrus pomegranate. Got some jealous looks when I pulled that out at swim team meeting, while everyone else sipped on their sodas! Note that most of these drinks are low cal, with just 20 calories and 2 grams of sugar.

FRS 4

- Powdered drink mix – I think these are my favorite. They come in single servings which are easy to add to my water bottle. The orange flavor tastes great and I found myself reaching for this more than the other products.

FRS

So, how did I feel? Well, I had no trouble getting up at 5:20am three times last week – twice to run and once to swim – and, given that I usually struggle to do this once a week, I think that was a good sign. I was just doing easy runs since I was increasing mileage, but my 32 mile week after a series of weeks in the 20s didn’t feel hard, I definitely had more energy in the evenings, and slept better, too.

FRS is available at GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Kroeger, Whole Foods, Rite Aid, Meijer, Walgreens, Harris Teeter and FRS.com, where you can sign up for a free 10 day supply. You can also download a coupon for $1 off 2 cans or bottles of FRS.

I’m also giving away an FRS trial pack with a retail value of $30! Just visit FRS.com and tell me in your comment which product you would like to try! I’ll randomly select a winner on Monday, June 24th.

 

 

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh – The Perfect Race

Gear:
2XU Compression Trisuit
Garmin Forerunner 310XT
Swim: Xterra Vortex wetsuit, Speedo Vanquisher goggles
Bike: Felt B2, Hed Jet wheels, Giro Advantage 2 aero helmet, Rudy Project sunglasses, Bontrager RXL Hilo tri shoes
Run: Brooks Racer ST5

Nutrition:
Pre-race: Nutella sandwich, Picky Bar, Kona Cola Nuun, Espresso Love GU
Bike: Infinit Custom Nutrition
Run: Vanilla bean GU, Pineapple Roctane GU, water

PRERACE JITTERS

When the alarm went off at 4am Sunday morning my first thought was, “How on earth am I going to race a Half Ironman today?” I figured I’d had about 2 hrs sleep, due in part to an incredibly noisy, old hotel where I could hear someone lift the toilet seat in the next room, and because I never sleep well the night before a race. Because I never sleep well pre-race, I don’t usually worry, but I hadn’t slept well Friday night, either. There was a concert in downtown Raleigh Friday night and the crowd noise kept me awake, then voices in the hallway in the middle of the night woke me up. And of course there was the damn toilet seat next door.

Nevertheless, I got up, took a shower, and got ready to race for what I imagined would be close to 6 hours…5:30 if I had a good day.

At 5am my teammate Donna and I headed off to T2, just down the street, where a bus would take us to Lake Jordan for the start of our race. We were pleased to see plenty of buses and no lines. I get antsy when there are lines. We jumped on a bus and headed to the lake in the dark. Arriving at the lake we saw long porta-potty lines. Already. Groan. Since I’d been drinking Nuun the entire 40 minute ride, I jumped right into a line prior to dropping off my transition gear. It was while in line, listening to pre-race announcements (or trying to, since we couldn’t quite make them out), that we heard loud cheers. Donna said she thought she’d heard that the race WAS wetsuit legal. YES!!! Given that the water temp had been steadily climbing all week, and had apparently hit 78 on Saturday, I hadn’t held out any hope for a wetsuit race. (76.1 is the max water temp for a wetsuit legal race. You can wear a wetsuit if the water temp is over 76.1 and under 84, but you have to start in the last wave and aren’t eligible for awards.) Good sign #1.

But of course I had brought my wetsuit with me, just in case. Apparently a number of triathletes, assuming the temperature would climb, not fall, had left theirs at home. Ugh. That sucks. Always bring yer wetsuit! Well, unless it’s a pool swim. That would be silly.

Post-bathroom visit, Donna and I got body marked (why do I always get a body marker who writes small numbers, even when I request they write BIG?!) and headed into transition to set up. We hadn’t brought a bike pump so we had to beg, borrow, and, as a last resort, steal. (I’m not above that when it comes to racing…) Some people are really nice when it comes to lending their stuff. “Red shirt guy” near me was like that. Unfortunately, because he was nice we just kept passing the pump around, saying, “it belongs to that guy in the red shirt over there…” I hope he got it back. I have an odd valve for my rear race wheel and red shirt guy’s pump wouldn’t fit on it. So I accosted a girl and borrowed hers, which worked like a charm. But when Donna tried to use it, the girl said she was leaving transition and needed to take it with her. So I scoped around our area and saw a couple of pumps, which we commandeered. But we just couldn’t get air in Donna’s tires. With 10 minutes left before transition was set to close, and Donna’s tires now mostly deflated thanks to yours truly’s failed attempts at getting a pump to fit, I sent her over to the race mechanic. Thankfully she came back a couple of minutes later with fully inflated tires. We finished filling our water bottles and positioning our shoes (more about that later) and helmets, and headed out of transition just before it closed.

We still had almost an hour before our swim wave so Donna decided to hit the porta-potties again. The lines were insane but even worse was the third-world slum aroma emanating from the porta-pots. I decided to don my wetsuit and go sit in the grass…sorry, wear shoes if you walk in the grass pre-race; I guarantee I wasn’t the only one peeing in their suit. From my viewing spot I got to see the pro’s start the swim, which was cool. Donna joined me and we had a pre-race picture taken:

Raleigh pre race

I just peed in my suit…

Ha, we might look relaxed but we were nervous! I am not a fan of open water swim starts. At Ironman 70.3 Austin, I stupidly positioned myself front and center in the swim and ended up getting crushed for the first 5 minutes as the faster swimmers ploughed through me. This time, I planned to be more sensible and start near the back. And then, because I was trying to relax and not freak out, we almost missed our swim start.

We had this picture taken at 7:30. I know because I posted it on Facebook. Then we headed to bag drop. Our swim wave, #12, was due to start at 7:42, so we really should have been lined up by then. I realized how late we were when I saw the sign being held up for wave #20. Crap. We had to squeeze our way through 8 waves of people to get to our wave, which by this point was on the beach. We still hadn’t zipped up our suits. We stood off to the side to zip each other up, and then rejoined the group. Then Donna realized we had joined wave #13, and our wave was in the water! Crap again. We scooted around wave #13 and got in the water. The temperature felt perfect. We had 4 minutes to start. And the wave was very small, so even though I was near the back, there were only a couple of rows of people in front of me. Perfect. Good sign #2.

THE SWIM – NO MOSH PIT

When the gun/cannon/siren/whatever went off I started swimming hard to get a good spot. I didn’t have to worry. A great spot opened up to my right, close to the buoys. At first I was hesitant to take it, because I had planned to swim a little wide of the markers, since it tends to be a mosh pit near them, but the area was clear and given that my wave was small, I went for it. That turned out to be a great decision. I had room to swim, visibility was great for sighting, and nobody was in my way. Before I knew it, I was swimming through some of the slower swimmers in the previous wave, which gave me a boost. I took a kick to the goggle while trying to navigate around a breaststroker, but even that didn’t bother me. I was like Dory…just keep swimming…I actually had to remind myself to pull hard because I was zoning out. Perhaps I took a nap. I don’t know. The time went by really fast. It was the most relaxing open water swim I’ve ever had!

And then the end came in sight and I started to kick fast to ready my legs for the bike. Of course it took forever to get to the dock but I finally made it and hauled myself out of the water. Swim time = 41:45

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The volunteers were yelling that the wetsuit strippers were on the left on the way to transition. Wetsuit strippers are awesome. Never try to remove your wetsuit yourself if there are strippers available. By the time I reached them I had the top of the suit down. I made eye contact with a couple of ladies, one of whom yelled, “sit down! Lift your butt up!” Yeah, it’s unladylike but it’s worth it because they rip that thing off in a second. As I took my suit from them I told them how awesome they were. Then I ran into transition.

THE BIKE – WILL MY GOOD LUCK LAST?

Backing up for just a second…bear with me. When we attended the “athlete briefing” on the Friday before the race, someone asked if we were allowed to lay our stuff out in T1 or if it had to stay in the gear bag. (Some races, like Austin, have “clean” transition areas, which means you can’t lay your shit out and potentially mess up the place. Of course it looks nice and you don’t lose stuff, but it takes extra time to get your stuff, so athletes hate it.) The guy running the briefing said that you could put your stuff on the ground. Then he said something that shocked me. He said that we could NOT put our bike shoes on the pedals. As someone who has learned to put my bike shoes on while riding, to avoid the hazards of running in something that has metal cleats on the bottom, I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. So I raised my hand. Shortly he called on me and I said, “Can you confirm that bike shoes are NOT allowed on pedals?” And he confirmed that we had to leave them on the ground. I was not happy to hear this. I did not want to run in my bike shoes. I prefer to run in bare feet. Of course, I had the option to hold them while running to the bike exit, and put them on there, but then I’d be holding my bike and that would be a nightmare.

Fortunately, the transition gods must have been looking out for me because on Saturday, when we went to rack our bikes in T1, I discovered that my spot was on the second to last rack, right by bike out. Sweet. Good sign #3.

Raleigh T1

That’s my red Felt B2 on the left

So I breezed through transition, donned sunglasses, helmet, and shoes, grabbed my bike, ran toward the bike out, almost careened into a woman who slowed to have sunscreen applied, ran to the bike mount and got on my bike. It was a long, continuous climb out of the lake area to the first turn, and I took it easy, not worrying about my speed or the other riders, just wanting to get comfortable and conserve energy. As I had practiced at USA Triathlon Nationals in Vermont, I drank only water for the first 20 minutes, to allow my stomach to settle from the swim. After that, I started drinking my Infinit, a custom complete nutrition drink that prevents me from having to eat, which I find causes me stomach issues in the aero position. I kept an eye on my Garmin and noted that I was riding around 20mph, which surprised me as I didn’t feel that I was pushing the pace at all. I figured it was flat and some hills would soon appear to slow me down.

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But by mile 20 I was still averaging 20mph. And it was the same at mile 30. And 40. With about 10 miles to go on the bike, I was getting a cramp in my side that had me worried for the run, as I didn’t run well at Austin due to a cramping stomach. I had to pee, and planned to wait until run transition, but realized that needing to pee may be causing the stomach cramp. So I decided now was the time to finally master peeing on my bike.

Around the time I decided this, a monster downhill appeared, which provided the perfect opportunity. I felt bad for the guys behind me but that made sure they kept their distance. I recall reading in Chrissie Wellington’s book that if anyone tried to draft off her on the bike, she would let off a “warning shot” to keep them away. So having issued a “warning shot,” I sat back down in my seat and felt very relieved (pun intended) as the stomach cramp started to subside almost immediately.

Although I was having a good ride, the last 10 miles did start to drag. First of all, after 40 miles the course was no longer coned, and traffic was getting dangerously close. I had a couple of close calls with cars, and started to worry that my good luck was about to run out. Fortunately I made it through unscathed. I took my feet out of my shoes a bit early as I didn’t know exactly where the bike ended (rookie mistake: Donna and I did not look at the end of the bike course), but that actually turned out to be a good idea as the bike ended on an uphill, and had I not taken my shoes off before this, I probably would have wiped out. I made a decent dismount and ran my bike into transition as fast as I could. Bike time = 2:45:43

THE RUN – DON’T FAIL NOW

All I had left now was the run. The run is my strength, but I had failed to capitalize on this in Austin. Suffering from stomach cramps in that race, I took 2 hrs to run the 13.1 miles. This time, my stomach was feeling fine. As I started the run I glanced at my Garmin and saw I was running in the low 7:00s. Too fast. I tried to slow myself down but I still had my bike legs, i.e., they were spinning fast. I even stopped at a porta potty and still continued hammering the pace. If I had been running a 10K I would have kept it up, but I knew I’d be in trouble if I tried to maintain this pace for a half marathon. Eventually I managed to slow myself down, aided in part by the gradual incline over the first 4 miles. Miles 4 – 9 were on a paved trail. I had hoped the trail would provide some shade, but unfortunately it was fully exposed to the midday sun. And hilly. Relentlessly hilly. The brief respite from every downhill was met by another grueling uphill.

Raleigh run

The trail…you can see why I thought it was shaded. It wasn’t.

I managed to maintain an 8:30 pace on the trail but was painfully slow on the uphills. Race support was fantastic. Ice, water, sponges, etc. at every mile, with plenty of volunteers to hand stuff out. And there were kids on the course with water guns as well as sprinklers and hoses, which was awesome. I ended up as wet as I was after the swim. We had to run two loops at the top of the trail, which wasn’t much fun, but I reminded myself over and over that it would eventually end. Finally, I was out of the park with just 4 miles to go, most of it downhill. I started to try to crank up the pace, although my body was in full protest at that point. With a couple of miles to go I saw a girl with a “42″ on her calf (my age group), and focused on passing her.

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Soon we were making the final turn and I could see the finish line with about 800m to go. There is no other feeling like running down that finish chute. The crowd noise is deafening and you feel like you’re on air. All the pain goes away for those last few steps. And then the line is there. And it’s over. Run time = 1:44:59

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Total race time = 5:15:59

I placed 3rd in the 40 – 44 age group and was offered a spot at Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Which I turned down. I don’t like Vegas. ;) Maybe Mont Tremblant will tempt me in 2014, assuming I do another of these, and do it well.

Prior to this race I said this was my last Half Ironman, that I wanted to focus on duathlon (which I still do) and running. Now, I’m not so sure. Funny how a race change change your perspective.

HUGE Thank You to my sponsors: Potomac River Running, Brooks, GU, Infinit, and Nuun.

If you made it this far: thanks for reading; I know this was long!

St. Michael’s Half Marathon Recap OR When a “B” race becomes an “A” race

In the next couple of days I’ll probably have a conversation with my triathlon coach about St. Michael’s Half Marathon, which I ran on Saturday. I’m expecting it to go something like this:

Me (all excited): I ran a 3 minute PR for the half marathon!

Coach: I heard that. Congrats. What happened to that being a “B” race?

Me: I said it would be a B+/A- race, never actually said “B” race.

Coach: I see. So when did you decide to make it an “A” race?

Me: It just kinda happened. I felt great and the first mile was fast and I thought I’d see if I could hang on to that pace. (Thinking: I totally rock!)

Coach: Right. So what about the Half Ironman you have in 2 weeks? Is that now a “B” race?

Me: Um, no, still an “A” race.

Coach: They can’t both be “A” races. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

Me: Hmpffff…

I’m not good at this whole “A” race “B” race thing. I like to race hard. I don’t want to stand on the start line thinking I have to hold back, and I don’t enjoy crossing the finish line if I haven’t given a race 100%. But if I want to race frequently, then I realize this is what I have to do. I have clients who like to race frequently and I tell them the same thing. They are better listeners than I am.

On Saturday, I clearly made a decision that the half marathon would be my “A” race. To be honest, I didn’t sign up for a “B” race. I signed up for the race because I looked at last year’s results and knew I had a shot at placing. I didn’t go there just to run it. Truthfully, I didn’t have a well thought out plan for the race. Given that it was pancake flat, I knew I could run a more or less even pace and wouldn’t really pay later for going out hard earlier, unless I went out too hard. But what was too hard? Honestly, I didn’t know, so it was a bit of a crapshoot.

I didn’t taper for this race. I biked 3 hrs on hills Sunday, ran 8 miles Monday, did an abbreviated track workout on Tuesday that my tri coach actually laughed at, biked and swam for an hour each on Wednesday, then biked for 2 hrs and ran 3 tempo miles on Thursday. My body ached so much Thursday night/Friday morning that I had doubts I would be able to run well. But I had a relaxing day, with a pleasant drive to Oxford, MD with my friend and training partner Bridget. Bridget’s parents live in Oxford and kindly let me stay with them. We had a fabulous pre-race pasta and salmon dinner cooked by Bridget’s mom, who is also a runner and had signed up to run the 10K, and I had a great night’s sleep.

We got up at 5am and left the house at 5:30 for the drive to St. Michael’s. We’d been warned that, with only one road in and out of the town, traffic could get backed up. But we had left plenty early and breezed into a parking spot at 6:00am. Bridget was disgusted that we had a 90 minute wait; she typically likes to arrive at a race 10 minutes before the gun. I, on the other hand, like having time to ponder, check out the porta potty (and alternatives) situation, and generally get my brain in order.

St. Michaels Half Marathon

Bridget and me pre-race

One thing I did differently: I did not drink coffee. I drink coffee every morning including race day, because I don’t like to break with my routine. For some reason I declined coffee Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t have to make nearly as many pre-race bathroom trips as usual, and not having the coffee clearly didn’t impede my performance. I drank my favorite flavor Nuun – Kona Cola, which has caffeine, and 20 mins before the race start I had a Vanilla Bean GU, which is also caffeinated. (I also had an Espresso Love GU and a Roctane GU on the course, both of which have extra caffeine.) So I think I got my fix without the drawbacks…

Mind you, I still had to pee before the race and of course the porta potty lines were ridiculously long and I do not like to wait. Typically I just go and find some alternative. So Bridget and I went off on our warm up jog and I tried to scope out a good spot. Found a great place near the water with a couple of bushes but a guy was hanging out there with his dog. Bridget struck up a conversation with him and they started walking away from the prime location. I walked with them for a minute then jogged back. Unfortunately, just as I got back to the spot, a homeowner came out with a mallet and started banging her “Yard Sale” sign into the ground. Darn. So off I went in search of another location. And then – BINGO! – a house was under construction. Where there’s construction, there’s always a porta potty!

Situation resolved, off we headed to the start line. On our way there we ran into Miss Zippy. We last saw each other at last year’s Rockville Twilighter, and we’re racing IronGirl Rocky Gap together in September. It was great to catch up with her. While we were standing on the start line I saw a face I recognized from Boston! While running Boston Marathon, I heard a voice behind me say, “Are you Racingtales?” How amazingly cool that someone would recognize me! She introduced herself as Melissa. When I posted on Facebook that I was running St. Michael’s, Melissa mentioned that she was, too! I was so glad she found me. She had on a Boston shirt and her nails were painted yellow, totally cool. Melissa, I hope you had a great race!

So the gun went off and I tried to settle in to some sort of comfortable pace. Garmin was fluctuating around a 6:30 which I knew was too fast, so I tried to slow it down just a bit, not too much. Miss Zippy asked what pace we were running and, although I was still bouncing around the high 6′s, I told her we were at a 7:00. Eventually I was able to find a good pace that didn’t feel like overreaching and went through the first mile in 7:06.

Now what? I decided then and there that my pace would be 7:06, or as close to it as I could get. I slowed a little in mile 2 (7:13) but I think that was where the 18′ elevation was on the course. ;) The next couple of miles were right on pace, and my pace fluctuated by only a few seconds for the next 11 miles. In the early miles there were a couple of ladies in front of me but I could tell I was closing in. To make my passes convincing and ensure they wouldn’t try to go with me, I pulled up alongside them for a few seconds, then surged ahead. I wasn’t trying to be mean, just strategic.

Just before the turnaround at 8 miles I saw runners coming the other way. I started looking for women. I saw two girls and then my friend Ashley. I yelled at her that she was in 3rd. I was hoping I was 4th but saw two other girls. So I was 6th. After the turnaround I realized we had been running with a tailwind and now were running into a headwind. No matter, I just had to push a bit harder to maintain pace, which isn’t so hard when you only have 5 miles to go. I had a thought that I’d try to run the last 5 at sub-7, and did manage a 6:57 mile 8, but the wind (and probably my own fatigue) put a stop to that. I caught the 5th place woman fairly easily. As I passed her she told me she was dying, I responded, “No, you’re strong, keep at it.” Mile 11 was the slowest (7:12) and probably the hardest mile, with the winds swirling and me caught in no-man’s-land.

There were a handful of guys ahead, some of whom I caught and tried to draft off, but had to pass to maintain my pace. I had my eye on a guy up ahead, however, who I thought might be able to help me as he was running strong and I was closing in slowly. As I caught him I tried to draft off him as I had the others, but my pace was slowing. However, as I pulled up alongside him he gestured to two guys up ahead and said, “Think we can catch them?” I responded, “We can try…” Now I love a challenge but these guys were a good bit ahead and I really didn’t think we could catch them. We both surged and started pushing each other. In the last mile or so of the race there are several turns. I hate making turns when I’m tired because it hurts and I lose speed. My running buddy was getting away. I pushed to keep up with him as we passed the two guys.

We turned on to a trail with less than a mile to go. That’s when I saw the girl in 4th place up ahead. My first thought was, “I can’t catch her” and then I stopped myself. I decided I would try. I started to push harder. My running buddy went with me. It was great to have someone helping me. As we got closer I tried to decide if I should pass her now or wait until nearer the finish, when she couldn’t pass back. In the end it just happened organically, right around mile 13. We were running in the 6′s and my legs were about to fall off. Of course, after passing her I was worried she would make a late move, so I pushed the pace as hard as I could all the way through the line.

I finished in 1:33:08, a 3 minute PR for me, and couldn’t have been happier. My pace? 7:07. :) My running buddy congratulated me on beating him (!), I congratulated Ashley who’d hung on for 3rd place just 30 seconds ahead of me, and then went back out on to the course to cheer on the other runners.

The post-race awards ceremony was held near St. Michael’s Winery, so after picking up our awards (I placed 1st in the 40 – 44 age group while Bridget’s mom placed 1st in the over 70 age group!) we stopped by the winery for a little tasting. I’m not much of a beer drinker (unless it’s Guinness) so this was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Wine and Awards

Wine and Awards

AOL 4th Annual 5K Race Recap: Relearning How to Focus

AOL Cinco5K used to be my favorite distance. Back when I was a lazy runner, it was easy to train for, over with quickly, and relatively painless because I slowed down as soon as it started to hurt. These days I look at a 5K like ripping off a bandaid; it’ll hurt, but it’ll hurt less the faster I run. After training for a marathon for (what felt like) forever, I decided I needed to remind my legs what it’s like to race a much shorter distance. I knew racing a 5K just three weeks after Boston Marathon would be a shock to my system. I didn’t realize just how much of a shock it would be…

To be honest, I find 5ks a huge time suck as I like to get to a race an hour before it starts so I can warm up and spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at my watch, when I’m not running back and forth to the bathroom. Then I run for just over 20 minutes and spend another hour hanging around waiting for awards. Granted, I usually bump into someone I know and spend some time catching up, as I did last Sunday, but when I get home and realize I only ran 4 miles (3.1 of racing, plus warm up) I feel that it’s a bit of a waste. So my plan, when I finished Sunday’s race, was to keep running for a few more miles until the awards were presented. I ran 3 more miles until I got worried I was going to miss the awards and headed back to the finish area only to find they were about the start the kids fun run, bumped into a friend and chatted for a while before we both decided to go back to our cars and get our jackets. Of course, then I almost did miss the awards because we were halfway to our cars when they started making the announcements…

Anyway, the race, in a nutshell, went reasonably well. I realized on the start line that there were no fast guys, only a few girls who looked fast. When the gun went off, four girls took off (with a couple of guys in tow) and I quickly realized I shouldn’t try to give chase. My plan was to run a 6:45 first mile and then drop the pace for the 2nd and 3rd miles. I had trouble finding the pace at first; I was either too fast or too slow. Then I noticed there were four guys just ahead of me so I caught up with them to see if they could pull me. Mile 1: 6:46. I soon passed a couple of the guys and then just had two ahead of me. In mile 2 I was about to pass another guy when the wind picked up on an uphill stretch, so I tucked in behind him so he could block the wind for me. Unfortunately he started to slow, so I reluctantly passed him. Mile 2: 6:39.

Just one more guy to catch. I needed to pick up the pace, although I knew there was one more hill. I tried to stop my mind from wandering and focus on my cadence and form. Having spent the last several months allowing my mind to wander in order to deal with the mind-numbing mileage, I was now having trouble keeping it from wandering! Focus, focus, I reminded myself. I passed the last guy. Mile 3: 6:36.

I could hear the crowd at the finish and I knew how close it was. I was telling my legs to kick but they had other ideas. Funny thing was, they felt great, but my lungs were on fire. And of course my legs weren’t used to the speed and were fighting it. Still, I managed 6:04 for the last 0.1, or 0.18 on my Garmin. Guess I didn’t do too great a job running the tangents. I remember having a hard time working out which side of the road would be shorter, my brain was so fried!

AOL 5K

But when I finished, my legs still had plenty of pep, so off I went on my 3 mile jaunt….

I ended up winning my age group (40-49) and was 5th female overall. AOL did a great job, offering indoor bathrooms and a place to stay warm pre-race. They also offered mustache painting, in which I decided to partake, but of course wiped off my mustache during the race! Parking was easy and well-marked, the race route was easy to follow and offered some short but challenging hills, and there was plenty of race support. I plan to go back next year!

My Boston Marathon: Plan the Run, Run the Plan

We love BostonA few years ago a seasoned marathoner and training partner of mine said these words to me: “Plan the run, run the plan.” We were discussing marathons and how so many people (including me) go out too hard and blow up. Phil’s philosophy was simple: if you have a reachable plan, and you follow that plan, you will run well.

Easier said than done. In every marathon, the adrenaline and people around me would get to me, I’d go out too hard for the first 5 miles and pay for it in the last 5. After discussing the Boston Marathon course at length with my coach, and reading this article, particularly the discussion on conserving energy during the initial downhill miles, I created my race plan as follows:

Miles 0 – 10: 8:30s

Miles 11 – 21: 8:20s

Miles 21 – 26.2: 8:00 or better

This would get me close to my goal of 3:40 without blowing up or reinjuring my calf. I realized I’d have to put up with a lot of people passing me in the first 10 miles, but was confident I’d be passing them back in the last 5.

And that’s exactly what happened. I started out conservatively for the first 10 miles: 8:36, 8:27, 8:27, 8:28, 8:33, 8:32, 8:28, 8:48 (pit stop), 8:20, 8:29

My mantra was “run the plan.” I didn’t think about much else those first few miles. Well, actually, I thought plenty about how I needed to pee but didn’t want to stop to wait for a porta potty. I finally found an open one at mile 8. It cost me a few seconds but was worth it.

“Run the plan” became even more important when I had to pick up the pace at mile 11, which was right around the time my hip flexors started to complain. “Kinda early to be hurting,” I thought, but I didn’t let it get to me, and I didn’t allow myself to think about running 16 miles in pain. I just focused on the plan. Pain in a marathon is inevitable. You have to prepare for it. Granted, I didn’t expect to be dealing with it this early on, but the game plan didn’t change because of it. In a way, it may have been good that the pain started early because I could stop wondering when it would start to hurt. I did not slow down. I focused on the fact that people were tracking me. I didn’t want to let my coach down, and, most of all, I didn’t want to let myself down. I had a little phrase – “DNF” – which stood for Do Not Fail.

Miles 11 – 21: 8:19, 8:21, 8:18, 8:18, 8:23, 8:19, 8:31 (start of the hills), 8:27, 8:19, 8:31, 8:49 (heartbreak hill)

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There are three hills from miles 17 – 21, although it felt like there were twelve. But the crowds were with me on every one of them. My friends and family tracking me were with me. And thousands of other runners were with me. Early on in the hills one of my sister’s friends from college, Laura, found me. We both knew the other was running, and she knew what I’d be wearing, but it was still incredible that she found me! We exchanged a few words. I distinctly remember her asking me how I felt and I answered, “Great, really good.” Yes, that was a total lie. But I felt that actually voicing my pain would make it worse. Instead, I buried it deep down inside me as Laura and I passed back and forth on the hills. I found myself looking for her, which was a good distraction.

Finally, the hills were over and it was just the downhill stretch to the finish. I felt confident that I could pick up the pace, and I did. Mile 22 was an 8:07. What I hadn’t factored in was the difficulty I’d have in getting around people while maintaining this pace. A lot of people were walking. A lot of people were slowing. And I was trying to speed up. Just getting around all the bodies was hard. And of course I wanted to keep running the tangents, which I’d been working on the whole way.

Miles 22 – 26.2: 8:07, 8:16, 8:26, 8:13, 8:11, 7:30

I was really thirsty, too, so I wanted to get water at every mile. But the Gatorade always came first, so I’d have to skirt along near the tables and dart in when it switched to water, so as not to miss it. I think I shoved a few people out of the way to get to the water…

So the last 5 miles didn’t exactly go according to plan, but not for lack of trying. I believe that I left 100% out there on that course in Boston. I negative split, going through 13.1 in 1:52:20 and finishing in 3:44.

Finally, I ran the plan. Thanks, Phil.

If you would like to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, please donate to The One Fund, set up by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino. 

Boston One Fund