St. Michael’s Half Marathon #SMRF and other 2014 Races

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Nearing the finish at #SMRF in May

I’ve started putting together my race schedule for 2014. I’m pretty excited about it. There are some new races, such as the ITU World Championships in Edmonton (psyched!) and there are a few races I’ve run before, like Shamrock Half Marathon (last ran that in 2006!), Cherry Blossom 10 mile, which I’ve run four times, and St. Michael’s Half Marathon, which I ran earlier this year and can’t wait to go back to. I got a 3 minute PR at this totally pancake flat out-and-back race. You can read my race recap here. I highly recommend this event, which includes a 10K and 5K. St. Michaels is a picturesque town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s a great place to visit as well as race. The event itself is well organized, with great support along the route and a fantastic finish along a trail. Spectators gather on the trail and bring you home with loud cheers. The post-race festivities take place at a local brewery; every racer receives a free beer while waiting for the awards ceremony. And if beer isn’t your thing, St. Michael’s winery is right next door, which is where I ended up after the race!

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Anyway, if you’re interested in signing up for the 5K, 10K, or half, you might want to do that soon as prices go up on Nov. 4th:

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But I can get you a better deal than that. I’m a #SMRF ambassador and so if you use the code AMBALISONGI  you’ll get 10% off any race. Just go to stmichaelsrunningfestival.com to register.

What races do you have planned for 2014?

 

Newport Marathon Race Recap

I received the BEST news last Sunday! One of my clients, Dominique, finished her first marathon in an awesome 4:27:18! That alone is great news but even more impressive is the fact that she’d never raced more than 10 miles. A former college track runner, I don’t think Dominique will mind my disclosure that she goes out way too fast in races. She hears that gun, thinks she’s on the track, and just books it. As a result, her first mile is always her fastest. In racing and in training. It took a long time and a lot of reminders to get her to slow down. I’ve always felt that you can get away with starting out too fast up to the half marathon. After that, you’re asking for trouble.

So we worked on that. A lot. Because I was very concerned that she’d blow up in the marathon. Did she go out faster than I told her to? Of course. But I knew she would, so I gave her an overly conservative pace. Of greater concern, however, was what she was going to eat during the race. Dominique doesn’t like to eat when running or even before running. Everything bothers her sensitive stomach. I listed numerous options, consulted running friends (thanks for all your suggestions!) and finally hit the jackpot when I suggested Honey Stinger Waffles. Except she decided to wait until the day before the marathon to try them! Thankfully they agreed with her.

Two days after the race she sent me a very detailed race report. Actually, she sends me detailed reports for every race which is great, because it gives me great insight into her race psyche and what affects her. I learned from her first race that other racers can really affect her, that she runs with music (I hadn’t thought to ask), that she can blow up her race with negative thoughts. We worked on that one a lot, as I’m a huge proponent of positive thinking. What impressed me the most in her race report was how she didn’t let in any negative thoughts, even when things got really tough. As anyone who’s run a marathon knows, it’s hard work keeping the negativity at bay.

Anyway, I asked Dominique if she’d allow me to post her report because it provides such a great insight into a typical first marathon experience. I think I should hire her to write my blog. :) She agreed and so here is the complete recap of Dominique’s first marathon. Watch for the confession near the end that had me horrified!

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dominique

Okay…I think I am ready to talk about it….I worked from home the last two days, stairs weren’t happening.  Here is my marathon story:

We pulled into the parking lot designated for marathon participants and boarded the school bus that would be shuttling us to the start line (which also served as the half-marathon finish, mid-point for the marathon, and finish line for the marathon).  My dad (drinking a Pepsi at 6:30AM), John and I proceeded to exchange looks and smirks listening to some intense passengers boast about how many marathons they’ve run over the last month and how many miles they’ve put in at a very high volume, glancing around to make sure the entire bus heard them.  Once at the start, we found some shelter and John and my dad held down fort while I jumped back and forth between stretching and hitting up the porta-potty in an attempt to make some magic happen pre-race.

The horrible thing about porta-potties is not even the smell or the fear that it may tip over with you in it, but that moment when you first enter the porta-potty. Naturally your eyes drop to inspect the seat to make sure that there is no pee on it, so you can’t help but look at the hole.  Once your eyes are at the hole, there is no way to stop yourself from seeing someone else’s poop starting back out at you from the darkness.  You just don’t come back from that moment of absolute disgust of seeing a complete stranger’s filth.  From there you just tense up, and suddenly the smell is so much more intense, your senses are heightened because you are alarmed, and afraid, and disturbed…and its just awful.  But I digress…

At 7:30AM I am starting to feel impatient as to why there has not been a final call to get on the start line.  I stop a passing official to ask them what the hold up is and find out that the race start is actually 8:00AM.  Pardon me, sir? Did I hear you correctly?  I could have sworn the website said 7:30AM…

…30 minutes later, the crowd is making its way to the start line.  I did not realize that the half-marathon and the marathon would start together?  I glanced to my left and see one of my former college teammates.  She was with her father and they were running the half-marathon together.  Finally the horn goes off and it takes a little while to get to the start.  And I’m off!!!

I kept it slow, kept it slow….I thought anyway.  I really stayed very very relaxed.  There really isn’t much to say about the first half, really.  I just casually ran. When I felt myself putting in any kind of effort, I slowed down.  I tried not to let any half-ers carry me because I knew they would be running a faster pace since they only had half as far as me to go.  Around mile 8 I ate my first waffle.  The great thing about the waffles is because of their flat shape, I can stuff them in between my sports bra and upper back and not notice they are there.  I have tried fanny packs, fuel belts, etc with no luck.  I am hourglass shaped…awesome for clothes and cute dresses, not so good for fuel belts.  They always want to pop up and its super uncomfortable…no matter how tight i adjust them.  So the waffles not only taste great, have a great texture, but also can be stored very convientently in the back of my sports bra.

So the first half was pretty straight forward.  Newport is so beautiful and it was great that the course went around the mansions.  I crossed the half around 1:56. About 200 meters later, I met up with my dad and John who handed me off one wrapped waffle and one unwrapped waffle. I was baffled by the unwrapped waffle and told them they were the worst supporters ever while they laughed.  I would find out later that they had quite a few adventures throughout the day themselves.  Boys.  So about 800 meters later I realized that the waffle in my hand would get sweaty so I just ate it since saving it was not an option.

I felt UH-MAZING.  No shortness of breath, no dead legs…just glorious.  I couldn’t help but smile that I may just finish this marathon in 4 hours. BAM!!!! Mile 15 hit me like a freaking bus!  I have never, ever in my years of running ever hit the wall like that ever.  There were no signs, no indications that it was going to happen, it just happened.  Seriously.  One second I am fine, the next second my body rigs from the hip flexors down to the tip of my toes.  My quads, my hammies, my knees, my hip flexors, EVERYTHING seized up.

By mile 16 I am starting to find Jesus.  I am just praying for salvation.  I am in pain.  By mile 17 I am telling myself just make it to mile 20 and then it is easy from there, just the last 6 to go.  For the next three miles I am running so slow and kind of walking in between.  I notice everyone around me is doing the same, people are just crumbling and breaking down around me.  IT.IS.SO.SCARY.PERIOD.

Just as I make the decision to just pee my pants and deal with it during mile 18, I spot a porta-potty in a parking lot to my left.  I keep my watch going as I jog across the parking lot to relieve my bladder and jump back on the course.

Mile 20, oh my god.  Please please let me find something within myself.  It is getting so dark.  I am so scared.  I may die and collapse into a sand dune or a bush and no one will find me.  I will never see John again, never get married, never get to tour one of those mansions as a possible wedding venue.  I will never see my dad again…my dogs!  My innocent Shih Tzus will never see their mother again.  The thought of Nelson and Daisy’s confused faces as John tells them their mother died on the marathon course and the body was never found is the worst.  Okay, let’s try some tricks.  It is only 6 more miles.  I have to live to see another day.  My legs are breaking off, but I can still live a full life.  I’ve still got my arms and my head.  During the last half of mile 20, there is a Golden Retriever laying in his driveway watching us run by.  He has a tennis ball and looks so relaxed, so I smiled at him.  And I felt a little better.  Okay, smile.  Let’s get optimistic…a smile can turn the world around.

Smiling worked for about a mile and a half and then the glow wore off.  So I am walking, and running, and jogging, and crying.  By mile 24 I am counting to 100 running, counting to 20 walking.  It seems to be working to keep me going. During one of my walking breaks a woman runs up beside me and walks with me.  She says “I wish we were at the finish.”  In my head “no shit Sherlock,” out loud “we will get there, don’t worry,” in my head “but seriously I really don’t know were I am finding the strength to give you words of encouragement right now,” out loud “we just need to keep going.”  So I start running again and leave her behind.

It is the last mile and I feel frantic.  I know the finish line is coming, where the hell is it?!?! I can’t hear anyone, I can’t smile at anyone, no hurrahs, I have nothing to give anyone.  All I have is the finish line, and I just need to make it there.  I cross the line, am handled a medal and a bottle of water.  Two steps later my dad is standing there laughing and taking a picture and I just fall into his arms and cry.  John comes running up a moment later and I am so happy to see him.

I have to admit, I felt like one of those brides on Say Yes To The Dress that complain when they don’t cry when they find the dress.  I didn’t feel accomplished or euphoric.  I felt like my legs were broken, my spirits were broken, and I just wanted to sob until my eyes were broken.  I made sure to roll my legs, have plenty of protein and elevate my legs while I slept on Sunday night.  Monday morning I couldn’t really walk.  I ended up working from home. Protein, elevation, rolling out my legs.  Tuesday and I just feel normal sore.  I think I will be A-okay by tomorrow.  Protein, elevation and rolling were very essential in making my recovery very speedy.

Today, I feel accomplished and kind of like a bad-ass for running a marathon.  I will definitely be doing another one next Spring!  All in all I do not think 4:27.18 was too bad for my first marathon ever.

Confession: I forgot to drink water and gatorade during the race.  Which is probably why my muscles completely seized up on me so early at mile 15.  It did not even occur to me to drink something until mile 21 when I happened to be taking a walk past one of the gatorade stations and decided to have a cup since I was walking anyway.  I think failure to hydrate cost me a lot of time.

Wow.  I ran a marathon…

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

The Stones were right.

On the surface of things, it may seem that 2013 pretty much went my way. But in truth, I struggled to accept that I wasn’t always going to get what I wanted, no matter how hard I tried, or how much I wanted it.

I struggled to get to Boston uninjured, after my torn calf escapade at the end of 2012. A relapse in February had me reeling from my own stupidity – I decided to race in a team relay after a 13-mile run, because I wanted to. I didn’t need to run the relay and it certainly had no benefit for me physically. I just wanted to win. And my team did. But I paid the price.

I managed to rehab and get through Boston, but my unprepared body fought me the entire way. After some time off I did have a series of successful races, with a 3 minute PR in the Half Marathon, followed by a 40 minute PR in the Half Ironman, and a series of successful sprint triathlons. It seemed, for a while, that I could get what I wanted.

And of course the icing on the cake was qualifying to compete on Team USA at the 2014 ITU World Championships in Edmonton.

USAT swim bag

At least I get to tote this to the pool…

BUT.

There’s always a price to pay. And when I pulled out of Marine Corps Marathon last week, finally admitting that I just couldn’t push my body to do the training I need it to, I realized that I can’t always get what I want. That in many ways I’m holding on too tight to this goal and have to let it go. That I don’t want to be injured repeatedly because I push too hard, want too much. There has to be a middle ground.

I’m often asked if I’m a runner or a triathlete. Both, I answer. And of course I want to run marathons and 5Ks and race half ironmans and sprints. But the result is that I do some of these well and others not so well. And I want to do everything well. The reality is that something has to give.

This year I requalified for Boston, qualified for the Ironman World Championships, and qualified for the ITU World Championships.

I’m only racing one of those events next year. Because I’ve finally come to the realization that, while I can’t always get what I want, by letting go of some of my goals, I just might find I get what I need.

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

 

 

Gainful Employment = Increased Productivity + Decreased Procrastination

I’ve been a bit busy of late. With a new full-time job (I am no longer a full-time athlete!) I am squeezing in at either end of the day the things I used to do pretty much whenever I felt like it. Workouts. Facebook posts. Catching up on e-mail. Playing words with friends. (I had 18 games going when I last checked, although I think about 12 of those are with my Dad…) These are all things that I used to have tons of time for, but that now take place either at 5am or 10pm.

The benefit, however, is that I’m finding I can be productive. I no longer have time to procrastinate. I get up at 5am and get the workout done so I can go and sit in traffic for 45 minutes get to work by 8:30. When I get home around 6 I have a plan for dinner and other family things that need to get done, such as signing reams of paper that come home from school every day, checking homework, etc. (Thankfully my husband gets home before I do and takes care of after school sports!) I usually throw in a load of laundry and then I get to e-mail and blogging and such.

Then there’s my other job. I don’t have an official title but I guess I can call myself “social media maven” of Photo Finish Frames. My friend and fellow triathlete Dan, who owns the company, approached me and asked me if I’d write his blog and do Facebook and Twitter stuff. I told him of course I would, and more. Because I think Dan makes an exceptional product: a handcrafted frame for your race photo, bib, and medal, that you can easily put together yourself.

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One of Dan’s beautiful frames

Seriously, these frames are beautiful and yet ridiculously easy to put together. I am hopeless at crafts – even the Rainbow Loom stumps me – but I put one of these frames together no problem. And I didn’t even read the directions. (Don’t tell Dan).

So check out his site when you get a chance.

Also, check out the blog because that’s where I’ve been holding court of late, with posts about how to stay active in a desk job (how appropriate!) and my bedtime reading material. Speaking of which, I think it’s about that time…finally!

Book Review: The Runner’s World Cookbook


I’m not much of a planner when it comes to cooking. The closest I get to anything resembling a plan is taking some fish or chicken out of the freezer the night before I plan to cook it. I have a set of staple recipes I use over and over. Occasionally I might try something new from Joy of Cooking or Epicurious, but that’s as interesting as it gets in my kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike cooking. Actually, I enjoy it. I just don’t like planning. And I like simple recipes with few ingredients and even fewer steps, probably because I don’t plan.

So when Laura from Runner’s World asked me if I’d review The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down–While Enjoying Every Bite, I really wasn’t expecting to be bowled over. I hoped to find some quick, easy, healthy recipes that I could add to my limited repertoire and that would possibly help me clean out the veggie drawer. But this cookbook is clearly so much more than that. Let me take you on a tour of my new favorite cookbook.

The foreword is written by Deena Kastor. By the look of Kastor you’d think she doesn’t eat anything, but it quickly becomes clear that she enjoys food: “training makes us better athletes, but not without also eating good food that strengthens our bodies…” Kastor started running at age 11, which is the same age I was when I ran my first race. Clearly, I have not lived up to my potential. ;)

The introduction, “How to eat like a runner,” is divided into the following steps:

1. Eat a rainbow of produce every day. Yeah, so we’ve all heard this many times over. The difference is that The RW Cookbook lists foods under each color grouping, such as beets under red and eggplant under purple, and then explains why and how these foods benefit us. Did you know, for example, that “nitrates in beets may make your muscles work more efficiently during exercise by reducing the amount of oxygen they need”?

2. Choose the right carbohydrates. Here, whole grains are listed and explained.

3. Get the right fats. This step explains healthy vs. unhealthy fats and provides a list and descriptions of healthy oils.

4. Meet your protein needs. “Runners’ protein needs are higher than the average person’s.” This step is accompanied by lists of vegetarian, meat and poultry, and seafood protein sources.

The recipes in The RW Cookbook are grouped into categories much like you’d find in any other cookbook, but that’s where the similarities end. Because each individual recipe is accompanied by any of the following color-coded lables: Prerun, Recovery, Fast, Vegetarian, Vegan, Low-Calorie, Gluten-Free.  This makes it easy to quickly glance at a recipe and see which needs it meets.

recipe

But that’s not all. A description provides information on the benefits of certain ingredients, helping runners understand why they should be including these foods in their diets. In the recipe above, turmeric is mentioned as it has anti-inflammatory properties. I added a little extra turmeric when I made the curried coconut-squash soup, just for good measure, and because I happen to have a massive container of it, which I bought after reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, where he also mentioned the spice’s benefits.

squash soup ingredients

In the recipe for chickpea and spinach stir-fry I learned that chickpeas “are loaded with a range of vital nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, protein, carbs, and fiber.” They’re also very filling. And did you know that shrimp “provides the mineral selenium, which may help reduce join inflammation…”?

I really enjoyed hearing that runners should be eating egg yolks. I always felt that the egg got a bad rap when people starting blaming it for their high cholesterol. That’s more likely to come from the bacon and other fried foods that people like to eat with their eggs. Eggs have so many benefits: one egg provides 6 grams of protein and the yolk “contains vital nutrients that protect your eyes and promote brain health.”

The first recipe I made was the Curried coconut-squash soup. I just happened to have a butternut squash from the farm that delivers my veggies every week. I often stare at these veggies wondering how I’m going to eat them all. I think this book is going to help. The recipe was very straightforward and there weren’t a billion ingredients. First I had to peel and chop the squash and microwave it.

butternut squash

It was so pretty I had to take a picture. Next, I threw the squash, coconut milk, curry powder, (extra turmeric), and chicken broth in the blender, and then once that was all blended, poured it in a saucepan and heated it up.

soup in pan

I thought it looked  a bit watery so I pureed some extra squash that I’d microwaved, since I’m not good at following directions and so had cooked the entire squash rather than the 3 cups specified. But I was glad I did because that made it much better.

soup finished

Yum. And looks like I’ll be making more because another squash arrived in the veggie delivery the day I made this.

Bouyed by my success with the soup, but still focused on the drawer full of veggies from the farm, I decided to try the More-vegetable-than-egg frittata. I used to make frittata a lot during the 7 years I was a vegetarian, but haven’t made it much since converting back to carnivorism 10 years ago. This recipe was different from the one I used to make. As the title states, it’s heavy on the veg, light on the egg. In fact, it called for 6 cups of veggies. True to form, I never actually measured out six cups but just chopped a load of summer squash, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. Heated some oil in my trusty cast iron skillet and threw in the veg.

fritatta veggies

So pretty. Because I used mushrooms and tomatoes I had to cook the veg for a while until all the liquid was reduced (the recipe told me that, don’t think I know stuff like this) before adding the eggs and parm cheese and letting the thing set for 10 mins.

fritatta cooking

I actually let it set for 13 mins because I forgot to set the timer and lost track of time. Then I put it under the broiler for a few mins (kept a close eye on this part due to prior mishaps with the frittata I used to make) to brown the top.

fritatta final

Wow. If only I had smellablog because it smelled amazing. I inhaled half that thing before I found my decorum and offered my husband a taste. He said it was good too, once he’d added some tabasco to it. What can I say? He likes to spice things up, especially since he knows I generally forget to even add salt when cooking.

Flipping through the book, I’ve gained some other ideas, such as adding steel cut oats to smoothies (“steel cut oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which can help slash LDL.”) and to burgers, which I plan to make tomorrow. Took the ground beef out of the freezer already!

burger and steel cut oats

I highly recommend adding The Runner’s World Cookbook to your repertoire. With a wide variety of healthy recipes – from snacks and smoothies to fish, vegetarian, and meat entrees, and of course not forgetting dessert (I’ll be finding an excuse to make the Sticky toffee figgy cupcakes soon…oh, already found one: “Dried figs are surprisingly rich in minerals, including iron, calcium, manganese, and potassium.” Winning!), this may very well be the only recipe book you need.

I was provided with a free copy of The Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down–While Enjoying Every Bite by Runner’s World in return for a review. The opinions stated within this post are my own and Runner’s World was not guaranteed a positive review, especially since I am not a very good cook. 

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