Know the Rules

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Run Like Hell: Executing my Cherry Blossom 10 mile Plan


Picture courtesy of Cheryl Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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




Shit Just Got Real: ITU World Championships

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

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

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

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

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

My new mantra is focus.

And I have a few things to remind me.

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

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

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I get to wear some cool Team USA gear:

Team USA


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

Citizenship test

 Seven Months to go.


Will Alan Webb compete at Reston Triathlon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 11.01.15 AM

What I learned at my first indoor track meet:

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

PVTC from Alison Gittelman on Vimeo.





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

First Race of 2014

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

Definitely a grimace, not a smile...

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

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

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

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

Last Race of 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!


Running with Santa and My Work/Run Partners

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


Pre-work run by the White House!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Elite Treatment at .US National Road Racing Championships

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

Dot US Elite tent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My husband captured this on the livestream of the event

My husband captured this on the livestream of the event

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

DOT US Molly

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

Dot US Masters results

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

Dot US Teddy

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

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


Swimming in the Ocean

Thursday evening I completed my first ever ocean swim. It was short. I was scared…of being swept out to sea, of jellyfish, of sharks…just like Nemo’s dad.

But it turned out to be an exhilarating experience that I can’t wait to repeat.

Of course, I’ve been in the ocean. But I’ve never donned cap and goggles and actually gone swimming. Why? Well, up until 4 years ago I wasn’t a swimmer. And I don’t like salt water. And the ocean is big and scary.

But when the President of your company, with whom you’re in Ft. Lauderdale on business, suggests a run to the ocean and a swim, well, how could you refuse? ;) The 2.5 mile run to the beach gave us a great opportunity to chat and for me to get to know more about the company I joined 3 weeks ago, and of course for me to make a good impression. Turns out James is an avid swimmer and completed Nations triathlon in September. So we also talked triathlon.

When we got to the beach we stashed our run gear under a lifeguard stand (I noticed with some regret it was unmanned) and hopped into the ocean. The cold water felt great after running in the sticky South Florida air. But the waves were kinda big. James deftly dove into a wave while I, well, waited…and waited…and realized I just had to bite the bullet.

Of course what I actually did was swallow a huge mouthful of salt water. But then I start swimming. And I realized how fun it was to be lifted up by the waves. Of course, timing the breathing is essential, but it actually was quite easy. We swam parallel to the shore, and I watched the hotels pass by on one side, the brightly-lit ships on the other. When James got too far ahead of me he’d backstroke to keep an eye on me and let me catch up.

It was hard to swim in a straight line and so I just tried to follow him. I was definitely afraid I’d start swimming out to sea. The water was murky, but at one point I thought I saw a jellyfish, although it could have been a plastic bag… It started getting dark quickly so we decided to call it a day. As we walked back along the beach to our starting point, James pointed out a dead jellyfish on the beach. I said it was a good thing we hadn’t seen that before our swim, because I wouldn’t have gone in the water.


What the jellyfish looked like in my mind…


…What the jellyfish really looked like.

Although I probably would. Because, after all, if the President of your company says swim, you swim, right? ;)


Shiny New 10K PR


What: Parks 10K

Where: Washington, DC (West Potomac Park/Hains Point)

Time: 42:40

Previous PR: 43:05

To say I’m happy with a new 10K PR is an understatement. It was totally unexpected. I am nowhere near 100% in terms of training. I ran this race completely by feel, and, except for the last mile which is always a sufferfest anyway, very comfortably. I’m not saying I could have run it any faster. I certainly gave it 100%, but with more focused training I think I can cut off even more time.

Last time I ran a 10K at Hains Point was on a freezing, blustery day in January, and I think I ran 44:15. Conditions were much better yesterday, although it was still windy. Is it ever NOT windy at Hains Point?!!

Anyway, full race report forthcoming…



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


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!


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:

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 7.52.15 PM

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 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!



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…


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.


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.


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.