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Track Tuesdays

12 Nov

Track Tuesdays are not pleasant. Right now, they rank as the most nerve-wracking experience in my average week. Which says a lot as both my job and Crossfit often throw some crazy stuff my way.

Then again, an easy track workout isn’t really a track workout. And Track Tuesdays are as much about learning proper pacing and how to pace by feel as they are about going fast. Painfully fast.

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I run 800m repeats (about half a mile) with a friend. We have a time to hit each repeat in and we tend to – within 2-3 seconds on either end. If I were doing this alone, I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t finish. That my 800m would become 400m which just seems like a happier distance to me. It’s only the friendly peer pressure and competitive streak that propel me forward.

Often I find myself dwelling on the factors why Track Tuesdays are rough (this usually happens on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings as I begin anticipating the pain to come).

Weather. For some reason, Tuesdays are not a good day in Boston.  Three weeks ago, it was pouring rain and 20 mph winds.  Two weeks ago, it was so cold that I could barely move my fingers to start the stop watch for each repeat. Today it is raining and soon that will change to snow flurrying.  But since I only run outside and have no idea the conditions for our December race, its probably good to be practicing in cold, snowy, windy weather.

– Mid Week Evenings. Let’s be honest, Tuesday nights are not conducive to running fast. Any rest I gained over the weekend is usually spent up by Monday night.  By Tuesday night, I’m tired, the time change means its especially dark out, we are running during prime dinner time and the single abiding image in my head is “sweats and my couch.”

– The Pain Cave. At some point in the run, it becomes less about a speed workout and more about survival.  This typically happens after we’ve run around the track once (400m) and kicks into gear around 600m (if I’m lucky) and lasts until the 750m-800m sprint.  The breakdown goes something like this:

  • 0-400m.  This is hard but manageable. Focus on breathing. Focus on a good turnover and a strong core.  1/4 done.  Keep breathing, force yourself to slow it down.  1/2 way done.
  • 400-600m.  This is not fun. I can’t breathe, I kinda want to stop.  No, I really want to stop. I wish I could stop. How much further do we have to go? How can we still be this far away?  This is the worst 3 minutes of my life and we have to do it how many more times?
  • 600-700m.  I stop thinking at this point.  I’ve entered the pain cave.  My only thought is to somehow keep breathing and moving my legs until mercifully I cross the finish line and can resume normal griping.
  • 700-800m.  Glance at my watch.  Crap!  We have to pick up the pace and sprint at the end to maintain our time. Maybe if I don’t look over at my running partner, she won’t realize and we can just keep up this horribly fast pace.  Nope, she’s giving me the look, it’s time to push deep, lengthen the stride and get this over with.

Followed by a 400m fast walk or slow jog to recover.  Then we start the cycle all over again.  Honestly, I know that my legs and lungs are capable of the pace when I am hydrated and healthy. But its the mental energy needed to finish strong that makes it incredibly hard.

Our first week, there was a gorgeous double rainbow in the sky. I hoped it was God’s promise to me that I would never have to do another track workout.  It wasn’t.

Last week, I failed.  I know, I know, I failed at something that I have set myself to do – its not like I’m on a track team and these workouts really matter in the greater scheme. For me, they are a means to an end (a faster half marathon).  We did 5 800m and I only managed 3 of them.  I did: 800m, 800m, 400m, 400m, 800m.  Between an incredibly taxing weekend and a bad cold and cough, I reached the pain cave too soon, followed by the “I’m starting to feel dizzy and seeing spots” lack of oxygen high, followed by the sweet release of stopping and violently coughing until I could breathe again.

I had an excuse but it still grates on my nerves to fail at something. Particularly when my friend finished all her 800m repeats (and the 2 without me were her fastest ones!).  The life of a runner involves lots of things that life teaches us whether we run or not: sometimes we will fail.  We have to learn when to push harder and dig deeper and when to back off because our body can’t handle it.  We have to learn to fail with dignity, and then get back up and try again later. We have to learn to cheer for others who are going faster and stronger than we can sustain and we have to do this without jealousy or envy. And we have to learn to not let our past failures keep us from future victory.

With that in mind, I’m drinking my water and nervously watching the sky, preparing for our latest track workout tonight.  I’m hopeful, scared but hopeful, that I can complete all six 800m repeats. Because my shower + my sweats + my sofa are so much more inviting after I succeed.

Race Recap: The Smuttynose Marathon

28 Oct
October 6th dawned dark and gloomy.  In fact, it really didn’t dawn at all.  Or, if it did, I missed it because I was huddled in my brother-in-law’s car trying to stay warm and texting my Mom across the country to see if she would think any less of me if I ditched the race.

I know, I know. Pathetic.

But sometimes all the arguments of “I trained hard for this and put the miles in” fail you when you’re really cold and wet.  And all you can think of is the sleep you are missing out of.  Honestly, and this is horribly honest, probably the only reasons I actually ran were 1) I had a friend running her first half marathon and I wanted to not wimp out on being there and 2) I had a friend running the marathon that I could run with and misery loves company…even damp company and 3) carb loading.  I had to justify the Flatbread Company pizza I ate the night before, right?  And 4) I’m annoyingly stubborn.  So there’s that.

Fast forward 4 1/2 hours and I was back in the car…even more wet, even more cold, but with a marathon medal and a very empty stomach.  Also a reflective piece of marathon foil (which really does nothing when you’re soaking wet and there is no sun). I turned up the car heat to the highest it goes…and kept it like that for the 15 minute drive to my sister’s house.

And I could leave the marathon story like that. Because it’s all true.

But I could also talk about the rest of it. Which was fun and rewarding and reminded me why I love running.  And that part is all true, too.

I ran with a good friend who also completed the same half Ironman that I did. But of course you can’t really hang out with someone during a triathlon (that is, even if i could keep up with her in the water…which I clearly could not) in the same way that you can during a marathon.  I figured that worst case scenario was I quit the race at the half marathon cutoff. I’m not sure why I was so adverse to running alone…since I like running alone.  Maybe I remembered how long 26.2 miles can seem when you run without any musical distraction and much as I love New Hampshire, I recognize that Hampton Beach isn’t a particularly scenic marathon route.  20 of the miles are run around cul-de-sac neighborhoods.

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So we started together.  And we finished together.  And I felt like we had been running for 2 hours when we finished but not more than double that. I felt good – injury free, happy lungs, cold enough to leave my arm warmers on for most of the race but not uncomfortably cold other than miles 11-13 when the wind and the rain picked up and we were running along the ocean and my hands wouldn’t bend.

We thanked all the race volunteers with words and smiles both.  We ran up the one beastly hill twice (even faster the second time around – which impressed the volunteers).  I fueled properly and laughed and we entertained the other racers around us. Here’s what I didn’t do – I didn’t PR.  There came a moment where I could choose to try for a PR or I could continue to hang out with my friend and push her to a PR.  I chose the latter. And no, it wasn’t all selflessness. I am a pretty good person but a lot of factors went into not making this an A race.   Maybe I could have PRed, maybe I couldn’t.  I’ll never know.  It was a flat race but conditions weren’t perfect. I PRed at my 5k and half marathon distance this summer so maybe I was ready to run faster…or maybe I was overtrained and tired.  I could come up with lots of excuses for not PRing and lots of reasons why I would have succeeded.

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But, I honestly don’t care in the least. After the other races this summer, I was grateful to be outside and running, with a friend, without any discomfort (other than the knowledge that I had run too much in my shoes and needed to) and without any time pressure. There will be more marathons in my future. There will be a race time PR.

But this race included:

– a PR in fueling well

– a PR in “undertraining” for a marathon in less than 8 weeks and feeling better than when I follow a full 16 week schedule

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I referred to myself as the “uninvited pacer” as I basically chatted my friend to the finish line. I’m pretty sure she was running faster than her normal pace not only because she’s in better shape than she thinks and because sometimes you need a slightly faster runner to push you out of your comfort zone but also because she wanted a break from my incessant chatter. I mean, I don’t listen to music on marathons so I come across as that person who wants to commune with nature and hear each painful footfall and heavy breathing and really live in the moment.  And then I become the person who talks and talks and talks and comes up for air only to ask about our pace and time (God forbid I wear a watch) and to realize I’ve missed 4 mile markers and we’re much further along than I thought.

I ran my other marathons alone (except for the partial marathon I ran with a friend where my entire role was to distract her and pretend that my IT band hadn’t allowed me to only run 2 miles and now I was attempting to run 10 times that…)  I guess I treated this marathon more like a long training run.  Maybe I should have capitalized on that and done another marathon or ultramarathon shortly after.  Or maybe I just needed to lie to myself “this is not a marathon, this is just a friendly training run and you can stop whenever you want and go home.”  Lies, all lies.

I was no less proud of this race, my Personal Slowest, than I have been of any other marathon. Since I’m not a competitive racer, although I can be a competitive runner sometimes, I think that makes sense. What’s the point of growing older and wiser if that doesn’t include learning to cut ourselves some slack, to enjoy the memories, to relish the 25 minute hot water shower we take afterwards (sorry about your hot water bill, Debs!) regardless of what goals we met or did not meet.  I started, I ran, I finished. In a respectable amount of time. I smiled, I thanked people, I laughed at myself, I didn’t throw up any Gu, my friend’s husband was waiting at the finish to cheer us for those last pesky yards…then I went home to a hot shower (sorry again) and an afternoon of puzzles and football and Indian food in the crockpot…because the best part of visiting family is that you are separated from your to do list and can do nothing but relax in your sweats (especially after a marathon). What more could one ask for?

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Race Recap: Timberman Triathlon (Part 2)

27 Aug

Morning Of the Race – Transition SetUp

Catching the bus at Gunstock and taking it down to Ellacoya State Park was a breeze. Not only that, but we pulled into the parking lot fairly early, and as we parked, another car pulled in next to us. I looked over and realized it was my training partner A and her husband.  How fun is that?  Of the hundreds of triathletes, I got to park next to the one person I knew well and sit with her on the bus ride.  Misery loves company…so do nervous triathletes pre-race.

We had plenty of transition time…well over an hour before we were supposed to exit the transition area. Unfortunately, it ended up not being nearly enough time for me. First, I had to deal with the girl next to me who said “Do you have to put your stuff there?” as if  I had any other choice than using the few inches allotted to me under my bike. I hate to call people names but if you’re thinking of one right now that starts with “B” that was her. She actually went and got race volunteers to come and yell at the girl on the other side of her because her bike was not exactly in the  middle of the race sticker where it belonged.  The guys on the other side of me were much nicer, although I did wonder if I was in the wrong place when I realized I was mostly in the “guys” transition area.  Then I realized we were lined up by age group and being a Z, I was the last girl in my age group before the guys in my age group.  They were helpful with figuring out the route from the swim to our bikes and from the bike racks to the run.

Second, I laid out my biking and running gear and then headed to the portapotty line with A.  We had 40 minutes left to setup our transition time.  After we had reached the front of our line and done our business, we had 3 minutes left.  Really, that was not cool. Even after we picked a line that mainly had men in it.  Next year, I plan on setting up transition with everything I need, handing my wetsuit and swim gear to my family, and then waiting in the dreaded line.  When you don’t start swimming until 7:29 but have to exit the transition area at 6:45, it doesn’t make sense to waste transition time in a long bathroom line.

So I spent my 3 minutes: grabbing my wetsuit and swimcap and goggles and Morning Bag (in which to leave my sweatpants and sweatshirt) and ripping open my Honey Stinger Waffles and putting them all in a baggy together for the bike. I had already taped 2 Gu packets to the top tube on my bike.

Timberman – Swim

A and I met up with my parents and my Dad dropped off my Morning Bag to the tent where they were keeping them after I downed some pre-race fuel.  Then we waded thru some freezing cold water to line up with our Swim group (#9 out of 20).  At this point, I realized I was wearing my Nike FuelBand…which isn’t waterproof. Ugh.  So I waded back thru the freezing water to find my parents (and failed). With timing running out. I went to the Morning Bag drop and tried to find my bag (and failed). They were all organized numerically….except for mine. I ended up taking my fuelband off, telling my race number to the teenage girl working there, and asking her to find my bag and put it in there. I figured my odds were: 10% of finishing the race and seeing my fuelband again versus 100% chance of it being destroyed during a 1.2 mile swim.  Then I waded thru the freezing water again.

The only good part about this unexpected interruption was that I had less time to stand around on the beach getting nervous about the swim. I am way too short and muscular to be a good swimmer.  Fact.  The very things that make me able to bench press more than my body weight and power thru Crossfit workouts are the very things that make me inelegant in the water.  Not to mention that swimming straight, not hyperventilating when people swim on top of me, and remembering to breathe are not skills of mine.

We headed into the water, I had about 60 seconds in which to panic and decide that it would be less embarrassing to quit now than drown, and then we were off. And…it was awful.  I would say that the first 5-10 minutes of the swim were the worst part of my entire race. People kicking me, hitting me, swimming over me, not to mention choppy water and my whole “10 strokes and then sight one of the buoys” turned out to not be enough to keep me swimming straight.  We swam straight out…and out…and out.  I made a game of counting the buoys (I pretended there were 20 even though there actually ended up only being 15) and telling myself to stay calm and slow and steady.  We had a short swim out, a long swim parallel to shore (which was very far away), and then a short swim back to shore. The middle section was actually the easiest for me. I caught up to a number of swimmers from the group before us and that felt good. I only panicked and thought “I’m the last swimmer in my age group!” once every 15 seconds.  The last part of the swim, even though I knew I was swimming to shore, was the worst.  My wetsuit zipper was pushing on the most painful part of my aching neck and I felt like passing out a few times. It made moving my head very difficult and I knew the shooting pain wasn’t a good sign. I also started getting passed by all the swimmers who started after us. And they were ruthless.  A bunch of them grabbed me as they passed by and literally pushed me away.  This does not happen on the bike…this does not happen on the run. No wonder I hate the swim so much.

44 minutes later, and in the bottom 10% of my age group (94 out of 104, I believe), I finished.

The wetsuit strippers were easily my favorite part. They were yelling “get it down over your hips” as I approached but one of the guys sized me up (being petite has some perks) and told me to get down and ripped off the suit in one smooth move, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up (I think I weighed less than he thought as I went flying about 7 inches off the ground before I landed), threw the wetsuit in my arm and pushed me to the transition area.  Either I lucked out with the wetsuit stripping champion or he saw my swim cap, realized I was the last one in my age group and wanted to help me shave a few seconds off.

Timberman – Bike

Not only had I forgotten to take my FuelBand off during the transition setup, but I had forgotten to put a sports bra on under my tri suit. Tri suits are made for skinny women with no curves. The short run up the beach had proved to me that the tri suit alone was not supportive enough for my run.  But I figured it would be fine for biking and I would deal with it later…56 miles on a bike is plenty of time to make a plan.

Threw on my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet, realized that my plan to loosen my bike helmet in advance had actually resulted in me tightening it, fixed my helmet and headed for the transition (Clearly I’m not very organized and prepared when it comes to these things…but I also am unflappable and don’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go smoothly). Raced out of there as fast as I could and began the first awful ascent of the ride.

Between mile 1 and 2, while climbing uphill, I saw a horrific sight – two guys bloody and unconscious at the side of the road.  Medical personnel was shooing us over, away from the shoulder, and I instinctively knew that the accident had not just happened so the fact that the guys were still unconscious was probably not a good sign.  Regardless of that, I managed to not get nervous about bike accidents.  And having previewed the course was very helpful as I knew when to prepare for the badass hills, when to prepare for some nice descents, when to fuel. I got passed.  A lot. But I also exchanged pleasantries with a number of cyclists and the weather was ideal.  I reached the 30 mile mark having averaged over 17 mph which is not good for a professional but is very good for me.  Sadly, the last 26 miles were brutal: the worst hills, wind against me, bathroom stop mid-hill at the first unoccupied portapotty I saw.

There wasn’t much time to think on the bike, I told someone recently.  Really?  3 and a half hours wasn’t enough time. But its hard to explain…I was thinking…about hills and fuel and how I was going faster than I expected and how I couldn’t turn my neck and guessing what the tattoos on the guy in front of me stood for…and how I went 45 miles needing the bathroom before I stopped…and how after seeing the 7th cyclist repairing a wheel I began praying that my bike would make it without any repairs…and how I only stopped at the first (of 4) fuels stations and how the women were pretty timid on the descents but I slammed down the final downhill at 47 mph and the guy who came after me pulled up alongside with a huge grin on his face and said “That was the best part of today – that was incredible” and I felt the same. I get a feeling of sheer terror biking that fast but I also feel incredibly energized and alive doing terrifying things like that.

I owned the last 5 miles of uphill.  Not sure why but my fuel stores were starting to kick in and I passed 27 people, mostly guys, in the last 5 miles.  The harder the uphill got, the faster I pedaled.  I was in the homestretch and although slow, I was going to finish without any walking or even standing up in my saddle.  Thanks to the neck pain, I hadn’t even had time to worry about my hands going numb (happens if I don’t switch position often enough) or my groin hurting (always in tri shorts) or how everyone else had fancy aero bars. I saw A up ahead, finishing the “no pass zone” on the bike and speeding back into transition. She had predicted that I would “pass her at the end of the bike leg” but she was wrong. I was mostly happy that we had both finished without accidents and well within the time frame we had expected.

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Honestly, it was a slow bike ride but I am a slow biker. I biked faster than expected, was able to hold down more fuel than I had hoped for, and finished in good spirits.  I was 95th out of 104 in my age group but I knew my secret weapon was next – I can run.

Timberman – Run

I was ready to rip off my tri top, throw on a sports bra I dug out of the bottom of my race bag which was under the race bag of the guy next to me, and head out. But I remembered the whole “no nudity” rule and the fact that spectators (including my parents) might be able to see me so I headed to the portapotty next to the run course and did a quick costume addition there.

Having run all of my marathons without headphones, I was prepared for this. What I was not prepared for was having age stations every 3/4 mile apart (lots of fun to look at but also disconcerting when you prefer them spaced every 1-2 miles apart) and the fact that my legs didn’t feel bad at all (I should have biked faster).  I had A and two coworkers S and P to look for and cheer on and that motivated me. Not to mention I had downed some caffeinated Gu towards the end of my bike and I never drink caffeine…which means I was high on energy. My goal was to enjoy the first 6.6 loop and slog thru the second one. I ran the first loop so fast that I don’t remember enjoying it but I also don’t remember hating it either. It just was. And there was Andy Potts, the winner, cheering us on as we started our second loop.

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The second loop was slower.  My hips hurt and my IT band started aching and I needed a bathroom stop.  But it was also a fun run. There were so many spectators lining the course…the aid stations were a nice distraction…I had people to search for…I had lots of fun chats with people on their first leg of the run and I was excited to get to the Finisher: This Way sign at the end. Without my watch, I hadn’t a clue what time it was so I kept asking people, then attempting to do math in my head, then realizing I was running really fast and that spurred me on to move faster. My finish time was 1:44, putting me 8th in my age group!

Funny to compare this with a half marathon – where everyone gets cheered on for the last mile or so. In this race, having already been competing for many hours, we needed cheers for every mile of the race. The atmosphere was festive, very festive. As if the run was just icing on the cake, the race was already over.

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I got my finisher’s hat and my medalsome water and immediately found my parents by the finish line so I could wait for and cheer A. Finishing felt good, watching other people finish with huge smiles on their faces and being handed their medals by a dimpled Andy Potts felt even better. Every single person who ran had a personal story of victory and triumph, stories I will never know, but stories that matter nonetheless.

I’m not super into finishing times and competing against others.  I compete against myself, often against courses and weather and pain and other things that could slow me down.  But I post these results just to prove that people can finish and finish happy regardless of their placing, regardless of how much body fat they have, regardless of whether they have aero bars and expensive clothing and sponsors.

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Race Recap: Timberman Triathlon (Part 1)

26 Aug

Not everyone loves race recaps. I completely understand that. So here is the short version for those who wish they cared but truly don’t: There were some obstacles and issues that I encountered but I finished. Shortly afterwards (2 days later) I learned that I was DQed – disqualified – due to a timing chip issue which meant some of my race splits weren’t recorded and some were recorded at places other than the timing mat. Not sure how that happened. My results are now blanked out on the Timberman website but can still be seen at Athlinks and other race-result websites.  Although the DQ was a disappointment and very frustrating, it was also completely out of my control, so I’m taking everyone’s advice to heart (that I know and my friends and family know that I finished) and not worrying about the officially-scary-looking DQ next to my name.

Preparation could have gone better for this race, I won’t lie. And that’s not an excuse.  After my PR in July at the Old Port Half Marathon and my sprint triathlon 5K run PR a week later, I suddenly lost all desire to run. Add that to my lack of motivation to swim for the entire month of July (when you are on a jury trial far away from your swimming pool, and you’re not the most keen swimmer to begin with, that happens) and my frustration at how slowly I bike, and it wasn’t the greatest training season ever.  Also, I was starting to set PRs at Crossfit in my 1 rep maxes and I was finding it fun – so fun that it was hard to focus on the cardio required for this triathlon.

Also, and maybe this was just my issue because I followed a very bare bones training plan, I succumbed to a lot of stressful guilt about training.  It’s hard enough to juggle work, exercise, social life, sleep, chores, etc.  Now I found myself juggling swimming, running and biking.  I had a really good week swimming and biking, felt guilty about my less than stellar running. Next week, I had a great swimming and running week, felt guilty about my lack of biking.  And so on. Ironic that those of us who exercise don’t sit around feeling guilty about not exercising but we can still fall into a trap of guilt over not doing enough exercise.

Enter: Random encounter at the gym with a girl wearing a triathlon t-shirt. We start talking and realize we are both doing Timberman, both about the same biking speed, and we both have some long bike rides ahead of us. It was one of the best random encounters I’ve had. Having a training partner made all the difference.  We rode 50 miles around Arlington and Concord one week, we biked 40+ miles of the Timberman course the next week, we got in a nice swim at Walden Pond + biking brick during our taper.  I would not have entered the Timberman as prepared if it were not for her.  Best summer surprise.

Week Before the Taper
This went surprisingly well. I didn’t experience any of the anxiety and stress and nervous energy that I usually do.  That might be because I was busy in a 4 1/2 hour job interview and working on my handstand push-ups and preparing for my busy season at work and trying to figure out how to pack for 4 days camping and a half Ironman.

Thursday night, I got to my parents house after a fun date with my Dad and some car trouble, went to bed, woke up unable to move my neck.  Shooting pain in my upper back, shoulders and neck.  No idea where it came from although I had spent a significant number of hours holding heavy babies on Tues, Wed, and Thur. And I spent a month sitting in an uncomfortable jury chair. And my sports masseuse is convinced that the stress of the summer finally caught up to me during the taper (which doesn’t entirely surprise me – you are most susceptible to colds and other illness during the taper weeks – and it is often when I go home to NH that my body relaxes and gets sick).

But I muscled through it with some pain reliever. Spent part of Friday testing out my wet suit at a friend’s lake and playing with her kids. I was shocked that I actually liked the wet suit. The one I had tested before was more expensive, rated better, and I hated it. Hated it. Felt so confined in it that I was ready to DNS (Did Not Start) the triathlon solely because of the wet suit. This one I like. It’s about as flattering as a wetsuit can be, it fits perfectly without being too tight or too loose and I don’t even notice it once I’m swimming.

Packet Pickup
There were two fun parts of packet pickup: being with my Mom and meeting up with my friend A and finally meeting her husband.  The packet pickup went smoothly, dropping off my bike was easy and a little scary (this is really happening…) and the race info session was helpful. 

There were a few not so fun parts of packet pickup: like how incredibly fit and lean and intimidating everyone looked.  I knew going into this that I would not do well in the swim and the bike.  I had read the race results from the previous years and knew that this was not an “average person” event but the cream of the crop of triathlon racing.  That didn’t discourage me so much as prepare me for the inevitable – being passed a lot on the bike. I had no idea how I would fare on the run because I hadn’t been running a lot (other than weekend long runs and a lot of short sprints at Crossfit) and I certainly hadn’t been doing many bricks (I think I followed up a bike ride with a run once…or maybe twice).  My philosophy was: don’t drown, don’t bonk on the biking, you can muscle thru the run.

It helps to know that someone else is doing this as well – someone else is signing up for what might be a great experience or a horrific one. And I figured if my neck was going to hurt and I was going to spend my days rubbing Bengay into it, I may as well do something more painful in a vain attempt to forget about my neck (it actually kinda worked).

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Forcing myself to eat extra carbs – unsalted pretzels and hummus with an unhealthy dose of Goldfish crackers thrown in – and extra liquid –  Powerade Zero wasn’t as awful as it has been in the past. I typically get excited at the thought of eating extra carbs and lounging around….then the days before the race, I lose all my appetite and force myself to eat delicious things without even tasting them. This happens after the race, too.  Beforehand, I think “I can eat whatever I want after the race!” and spend many long runs imagining what I will indulge in.  Then, after the race, I lose my appetite and think “You have to make yourself eat” and I can’t.

Informing my parents of our 4:30 AM departure time wasn’t fun, either. Because nothing screams self-centeredness like “Want to come spend 8+ hours in the sun in a crowded venue cheering for me?” with the added incentive of “And we need to leave by 4:30 AM?”  I console myself at times like this with two thoughts: 1) my parents didn’t have to to do a lot of cheering for me in my childhood and no one is forcing them to now and 2) I will probably be blessed/cursed with children that expect the same out of me. Possibly even a husband who races.  Karma and all that.

I slept about 3 hours before the race which is normal for me. What isn’t normal is that I also slept 2-3 hours (because of my neck) on Thursday and Friday nights. I yawned the entire drive up to Gunstock on Sunday morning.  That may or may not have been an omen that this race wasn’t going to go as planned…thank goodness I hadn’t spent a lot of time making plans!

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Race Recap: IronGirl Sprint Triathlon

12 Aug

In the midst of my jury trial in July, I decided to do a sprint triathlon. I have no sprint capabilities whatsoever but I knew I wanted to practice before the half Ironman (this upcoming weekend).

My goals were pretty specific:

– Practice swim to bike and bike to run transitions.
– Test out my tri suit and gear.
– Get over my fear of open water swimming surrounded by lots of kicking bodies. If I couldn’t survive a 0.5 mile swim, I knew I couldn’t handle a 1.2 mile swim.
– Get over my fear of biking up and down hills surrounded by lots of other bikes.
– Survive accident free.

Please note there were absolutely no speed goals whatsoever. I had no idea how I would do, never having done one before, and there wasn’t much prep time since I was focusing on a longer endurance race and trying to keep my life together during the trial.

The sprint was long on the swim and a little short on the bike: 0.5 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run. I had to get up at 3:30 AM to head out for the drive to Webster, MA. It was gorgeous watching the sun rise and I had plenty of time to set up my transition area and eat breakfast.

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The water was bathwater warm (nearly 80 degrees) and we all splashed around/waded in for the half hour beforehand. I talked to a few other women and began to feel calmer. I’m not fast, I knew I wasn’t going to place, so at a certain point you realize there’s no reason to be nervous. Try to have fun. It was fun to cheer each age group as they set off on the swim. Each age group has a different colored swim cap so it was cool to see the different sections of color bobbing up and down in the water, swimming around the course.

Swim: 19:22 (2:25/100 m pace)
Overall Place: 274 out of 632

Age Group Place: 36 out of 77 (smack in the middle)

My swim was rough but I didn’t get plowed over or kicked in the face so my goal was accomplished. I finished knowing that I can do the 1.2 mile swim in my half Ironman, even if I’m terribly slow. I probably swam a lot further than 0.5 miles because I had a hard time swimming straight. I didn’t look up often enough, scout the various buoys, and swim straight towards them. Lesson learned.

At one point, I felt pretty discouraged, that I was the last one in my group to finish. A lot of “orange caps” (girls 1-5 years younger than me) caught up and were passing quickly. At the same time, I was rapidly passing older women towards the end of my swim. In retrospect, I was probably smack between the fast swimmers and the slow swimmers in the light blue swim cap section which is why I didn’t see any other light blue swim caps (I really had myself convinced that I was last).

Swim to Bike Transition: 3:14
Overall Place: 145 out of 632
Age Group Place: 24 out of 77 (not bad)

This didn’t go too badly. It was a long transition but it was a long run up the beach, jumping into a kiddie pool for a second to wash the mud and sand off. Didn’t dry my feet off, just threw on my bike socks and shoes, grabbed my bike helmet, and started running with my bike to the bike route. A traffic jam at the place where you can get on your bike slowed me down a bit but then we were off.

Bike: 46:49 (15.4 mph)
Overall Place: 204 out of 632
Age Group Place: 26 out of 77

I am not a fast biker. Not at all. This was actually a decent speed for me. Could I have raced faster? Yes. But I was pretty happy with my pace considering I have a hard time eating/drinking on the bike. I didn’t really see any others in my age group but I must have passed some since I moved from 36th place to 26th during the biking. I think my one strength was that I biked the hills – including the 3 mile one that just kept going up, turning a corner, going up again. I’d say 85% were walking their bike within a mile but I kept plugging away. It felt good to be passing so many people. According to the results, I passed at least 70 people during this ride and that sounds about right (and yes, there were plenty of people who sped past me).

The route was pretty. I liked seeing the lake for a lot of the time. There were no points where I worried about running into another biker, getting lost, not following the regulations on passing. The last couple of miles were fun but a little scary as there were runners running out on the course and runners running back along the course to avoid.

Bike to Run Transition: 2:38
Overall Place: 448 out of 632
Age Group Place: 60 out of 77 (bad!)

I was the only one who didn’t know to buy a race belt with my race bib attached to it. So while others grabbed their race bib, changed their shoes, and ran, I had to pull off my tri top, throw on a singlet (with the race bib already attached) and change my shoes. It took me a long time. Lesson learned. Buy a race belt.

Run: 22:31 (7:31 min/miles)
Overall Place: 10 out of 632
Age Group Place: 2 out of 77 (I PRed on my run!!!)

I felt so sluggish, as you do after biking. It was hard to run, hard to settle into a rhythm. But fun to see the runners finishing and the bikers biking. The first 1/4 mile was on a trail and of course I tripped over a root and nearly sprained my ankle but I jumped up and kept running.

I don’t know what happened. I guess I was excited to be done soon and enjoyed seeing everyone else running. Because I PRed. I PRed on my run after swimming and biking. It’s enough to make me scratch my head and wonder why I never run this fast on a 5K. I think the answer is that I don’t warm up. I don’t run a few miles to prepare myself (because I think it will make me tired). I’m guessing the biking warmed up my body and I was ready to sprint.

2nd place in my age group is incredible. But 10th out of 632 runners? That might be the best I ever do in a race. I should probably tattoo this on my skin. I thought “Wow! Too bad this race doesn’t care much about just the run, I won’t win a prize for coming in 2nd on the run.” Duh. That’s the point of a triathlon. You have to do well in all 3 events. I need to learn to swim.

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Total Time: 1:34:34
Overall Place: 99 out of 632
Division Place: 12 out of 77

I’m happy. I felt I placed very well considering that I didn’t train for this and was going thru a pretty emotional trial and had PRed in my half marathon exactly 7 days beforehand.

I PRed in a half marathon and a 5K within 7 days. For 7 days, I felt like a pretty great runner.

Don’t worry, I’ve come down from my runner’s high and am prepared and sobered for this weekend where I will finish in the bottom 10%. I will be racing the cutoff rather than any other triathletes. And that’s not me being humble and polite, that’s the truth. Out of 100+ runners in my age group last year, I have a prayer of beating 7 of them. My body shape isn’t built for swim speed or running speed and I haven’t put in the training time to bike fast.

When I finish, I will just care that I finished. And I will look down at my “10 out of 632” tattoo (just kidding) and be proud of July – my PR month. You can’t PR every race. But you can finish happy.

Race Recap: Old Port Half Marathon

2 Aug

This race was nothing like I expected.

I know, I know, a New England half marathon in July. What a foolish notion. But having lived in Portland, Maine for two years, I was confident that it would be cool and there would be a nice ocean breeze. Wrong on both counts. I don’t ever remember it getting unbearably hot in the summer but it only took a mile of running for me to be sweating like crazy.  There was no shade.  And there was no wind.  Well, there was about a mile worth of a breeze but it didn’t cool me down, only made me gag on its fishy essence. And there were 3 underpasses we ran under, maybe for 3-5 seconds each that were shaded?  And we got to run past the Portland Sewage Plant twice.  Because there is nothing prettier at mile 8ish and again at 11ish than to see hundreds of gallons of churning poop.  Had anyone been able to keep Gu down at that point, it would all have come back up.

I may sound a bit bitter about this race but actually, I’m not. I PRed on a hot windless extremely hilly race (do not trust the race reports, this is not flat) where the winner of both the half marathon and the 5k were 5-10 minutes off their target pace. I repeat: the winners struggled with the heat and the hills and ran slower than expected.  I ran a lot faster than expected.  What’s not to love about that?

Having said that, I wouldn’t do it again.

I loved the local feeling and seeing people I knew. I loved knowing my Dad and brother in law were running the 5k (both finished 5th in their age groups!) but sad that I never got to see them run. I was happy that I finished fast and strong but sad that my family wasn’t at the finish line yet (because I was about 15 minutes faster than expected). The finish line food was the best I’ve ever seen but I could only chew on a frozen Greek yogurt popsicle and guzzle water.

I’m not sure why I ran so fast.  And by “so fast” I mean, fast for me. It might have been all the Crossfit training I’ve been doing.  The hill runs and the stadium step workouts. The fact that I’ve been running less but running with a purpose. It could have been that I was so miserable and wanted the race to finish sooner.  I was looking forward to celebrating my sister’s birthday and seeing my cousins once it was done. I was also relieved to be outside after my first long week of jury duty.  Maybe freedom had something to do with it.

My Stats:

Official Time: 1:41:08
Pace per mile: 7:43
Overall Place: 77/1824 (top 4.2%)
Age Group Place: 4/208 (top 1.9%)

In case I never run this fast again, I’m going to enjoy how good it felt to finish at the front of the pack. Not to mention, despite the weather conditions and the sewage plant and the baked bean plant and the other little things I don’t miss about Portland, I did love to be back in the place I once called home. I’m happier in Boston, much happier. I wish the girl in Portland could have known how much better her job/life/friendships/racing would be in the future. But I’m proud of Portland for being the first place I fell in love with long distance running and triathlons…the place I could always run along the ocean when I needed to chill out and be alone…the place that challenged me in ways I didn’t want to be challenged but am now grateful for in retrospect.

I’ll be back to visit…once there are ocean breezes and cool temperatures again!

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(Half) Iron or (Half) Man?

10 Jul

“So,” he’d say, leaning casually against the door frame, “how does this half Ironman thing work? Are you Iron or man after you finish it? Or half iron and half man on half your body?”  It was his never-ending tease, the boy who loved to do full Ironmans.

Memories of him have become frequent lately. Unbidden but not entirely unwelcome.

I hang a new race metal on my rack and think of the metal that isn’t there – the half Ironman metal from a horrific 90-degree day and a race that lost its license shortly after for letting us compete in such hot conditions. The metal that is tucked in a casket, nestled in a graveyard in Philly.

I swim my laps, 1.2 miles of them, and concentrate on a different aspect of the stroke each time. I laugh to recall the only time I beat him in a training swim – pulling myself up on the edge afterwards, drinking water and basking in my apparent speed while he finished his laps…only to watch him stagger out of the pool and vomit in the trash can when he finished. I can win things…when all of my opponents have the flu!

I remember him while cruising up and down NH roads on my bike – each uphill producing a downhill, or another uphill, never anything straight and flat. He would have loved this. In fact, he did love this. I recall now his stories of when we lived in Portland, Maine and the biking he did there. I regret not having a racing bike then…not joining in on these roller coaster rides.

He would have grinned at this: the girl who hated hills now running Summit Ave and Harvard stadium steps and signing up for challenging hilly races. He would be excited that this weekend, I will finally run a race in Portland, the place where we met and I got serious about endurance sports.

And he’d talk me off the ledge when I start getting frustrated about Crossfit.  3 months in and I still cannot do hand stand pushups or good double-unders or walk on my hands or do 5 strict pull-ups or muscle-ups or lift the prescribed weights during the Olympic lifts. When I read an article that stated that “your first 2 years at Crossfit, you should expect to PR every single day” and I realized that I’m not sure I PR at something even once a week, he would have reasoned with me: maybe the article is referring to individuals who come in with no athletic background? Either way, he would have told me I’m being silly. To keep doing my best and things will fall into place. Anything worth conquering takes longer than 3 months to conquer…

When I rub against my side, and remember the stitches that were there, nearly a year ago, this he would have loved the best: his best friend suturing me up on the side of a road race without any pain meds just so I could finish a half marathon. And then immediately biking from Providence to the Cape…where I was forced into the ocean water to clean my wound and freeze my sore bones. And me, after running + biking nearly 100 miles, asking “Do you guys think I could have some ibuprofen now?”  He would have retold that story over and over again sometimes making me look heroic, other times foolish.

And he would have cried with me about the Boston Marathon. About how I finally read some articles about it in my running magazine and found myself choking up…in the jury herding pen…particularly when other runner authors voiced my same feelings: if you wanted to bomb a race, couldn’t you at least have gone after the runners?  Not innocent bystanders cheering us on? I can’t think about that day without remembering watching Henry V as a child…and then reading it as a teenager…when the French sneak behind English lines and kill all the innocent page boys, waiting with the baggage in the English camp. There is bad and wrong and evil but then there is also vile and despicable and cowardly.

I’m certainly not half-man. And I don’t feel half-Iron, either. I feel very painfully human and not just when I’m biking uphill and my legs scream to stop. But since an IronMan can’t possibly experience pain and sadness and grief, or hope and joy and satisfaction, quite like a frail human can, today I’m glad to just be me.