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

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

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What I learned at my first indoor track meet:

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

PVTC from Alison Gittelman on Vimeo.





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

First Race of 2014

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

Definitely a grimace, not a smile...

Definitely a grimace, not a smile…

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

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

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

Last Race of 2013

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

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


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:

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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 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. 

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.