Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"The tide will take it out" - IMMD 2016

In October of 2014 I sent Jack (my coach) an email saying that while I had fun racing for the sake of racing, I wanted to pick a goal race, then build my schedule accordingly.  I said I liked the longer races, and thought I did better on flat courses.

He wrote back acknowledging a few things; 1) Agreement that Long-Course was a good distance for me, 2) I need a race where I can lock in and find a rhythm, 3) I do not have great bike handling skills - he tempered this by saying many triathletes don't, and 4) the following excerpt:

 "I am not sure if you have looked into this or even would want to go after it, but we are entering the level of fitness and ability where taking a run at a Kona qualifying spot is a realistic goal. Of course it would not be easy and it would take us picking the right course for your strengths, but I do believe it is something we can seriously discuss if you would want to eventually go after it."

After some back and forth, we decided that the goal race was Ironman Maryland 2015.  I never acknowledged Kona in my email back to him, simply that I wanted a sub-6 bike ride and a sub-4 marathon.  At IMMD 2015 I did just that, I fared well in the shortened swim (8th in AG), 5:56:52 on the bike (10th in AG) and 3:55:41 (9th in AG).  Ending 9th in AG was enough for me to believe that Kona could be a real goal.  But how could I get there?  The AG winner rode a 5:10 (UNREAL!) and ran a 3:39 marathon (IMPOSSIBLE!).

Shortly after the race in November of 2015 I wrote the following to Jack on that original email thread (yeah, yeah, I save all of the emails that mean something to me):

Sub-10:30 and Kona spot
Pro du card
And that's it. I absolutely believe that with enough work I can get those accomplished this year."

My first earnest attempt at a KQ was at Ironman Texas in May 2016...that race got its own painful blog post (see previous).  Though I didn't achieve my goal, I'd made big strides, especially in training, that kept me believing in the dream.  I achieved my duathlon pro-card two weeks after Texas.  A week later decided I had one more 2016 KQ run in me and signed up for IMMD 2016.

Here, in too much detail, is how it all played out...

Pre-race:  Thursday morning I decided to finally check the weather.  The back half of the course was already a foot underwater and the Choptank River was white-capping.  I declare to my friend Emily that they will probably cancel the swim and I'd be shocked if they don't move or cancel the race.  Maybe it was a bit negative, and she tried her damnedest to stay positive for me, but I had just had a feeling.  Gaby (Emily's husband who also raced Texas) and Bill (who raced IMMD 2015) arrived early to Cambridge and declared that there was a little water on the back of the course, but that town was dry and spirits were high.  Mark and I arrived later to mostly the same conditions with exception of flooding at the Check-In area.  At this point I heard a phrase that will forever haunt me, "Don't worry about that water, the tide will take it out."
"But what about the flooding on the back of the course?"
"Tide will take it out."
"I'm actually setting my Bike and Run bags down in this giant puddle!?"
"Yeah, tide will take that all out, don't worry."
"The bags too?"
All hail the almighty tide.

It rained on and off Friday, and by Friday night we get word that the bike course would be altered (8 miles short) due to flooding and the run may also be altered as Water Street is, well, underwater. 

Race Morning:  I wake up ready to rock.  I feel good, strong.  Eat breakfast, have some coffee and we drive the 1.6 miles from our AirBnB to T1.  Shockingly, the path to our bikes is underwater...but fear not!  A volunteer declares, "The tide will take it out by the time you get done the swim."  Sigh.

Photo from IMMD FB Page: Credit Mindy Randall

We get our wetsuits on, line-up according to time (I'm at the front of the 1:00 group).  Swim delayed...30 minutes later, swim cancelled.  Fine.  I was prepared for this.  We're going to do a time trial start according to number.  I quickly try to figure out what numbers mark my Age Group's start and end.  I find my friend Annie and my husband (who was a swim course volunteer and is now milling around transition).  I'm amazingly happy and positive, especially as I watch girls in my AG cry, grab their bikes, and abandon the race.  Who cares that last year the swim was my highest AG ranking and I've only gotten faster?  Who cares that I race well in choppy water when others don't?  But as I said to my husband after the announcement, "I don't care, I'm an (expletive) pro duathlete."  Yeah, the chips were safely on my shoulder. 

Bike:  I have time to pack extra nutrition, do a final bike check and get in line.  They're sending us every two seconds.  I pass 6 girls in the first 200 feet.  Great, 18 more to go.  At some point I lose count, but no one is passing me.  I feel comfortable, I'm cruising, power is great.  A little rain slows me down, but I'm still killing it.

Then at Mile 57 this girl flies by me like I'm a pylon.  The pass happens directly in front of her husband and two children who are cheering wildly in front of the high school, "GO LAURA!"  Laura, I've raced against her, she's on my list of girls to watch for, we go to the same chiropractor and are affiliated with Philly Pro Tri, but we don't actually know each other.  We're halfway through the bike and she's just blown my doors off.  I stay calm, stick to my power.  In fact, I do what Jack instructed and bring the power up for the second half, despite the wind costing me some speed.  My mantra on the second half is "believe in the power."  My last big bike workout of the build was 6.5 hours, with 4 x 90 minute intervals holding this power, done on the trainer, alone, in my basement.  It took more mental strength than I believed I had, and it was paying dividends now, I had to just keep believing.

When I finally got back into town, I was flying.  My lower back was a little locked up from being in aero so it was nice to be sitting up around the corners.  I looked down and realized we'd not yet gone 100 miles.  Unsure if I was going right to T2 or back out on the course, I was very cautious.  As I saw them directing us down the chute (which hilariously had dried out - hey thanks, tide) I got my feet out of my shoes, nailed my dismount, took off for my rack.   Off the bike in 4:44, 21 mph average for 100 miles.

As a result of the flooding in Great Marsh Park, the transition area had to be moved from the grass to the cement and not all of the bikes fit.  About 600 of us were on racks outside of transition.  It was great because I was easily able to dump my bike on totally empty racks and keep going.  Running on jagged cement was less than fun though.  I was in and out of the change tent in seconds (thanks, volunteers!) and out on the run.

Run:  While I claim no likeness to her, the goal of this race was to "Rinny the run."  Meaning, find those girls ahead of me off the bike and start catching them.  My "math" had me in 5th in AG coming off the bike.  This was based on being number 624, how many girls I passed, how many passed me.  Turns out I was right. As a result of having a time trial start, I had no way to know what was happening in the race from here, especially with regard to overall placing.

I started the run a little fast and made a conscious effort over the first ten miles to bring the pace up to right around 8:00.  I held around 8:05 for the next six.  I passed a lot of girls, but only one appeared to be in my AG.  The lead bike was with a girl who was not in my AG based on her bib number and by the time I started to pay attention to where people were, it was impossible. Emily was stationed at the far end of the run so I saw her twice on both trips out there, despite not acknowledging her the second trip, I'm so happy to know I had support in a lonely stretch of the course.

The fun of this race really started around Mile 18 though.  I was running at 8:10 pace at this point, I make the sharp left to go around transition and notice that it has started to flood - same as it was in the morning.  Turns out the tide can also bring back all that it took out.  At this point it's a few (2-4) inches of water and though I slow down for 50-60 feet, I am able to jog through it.  I get to the back side of transition to where Emily (a different Emily) and Coach Matt have been stationed all day.  Matt yells at me, "Stay positive, stay focused."  And that's my mantra for the rest of the run.  I make it out onto Water Street which has also now begun to flood.  It too is around 2-4 inches deep and I run through it, only slowing to 10 minute pace for less than a tenth of a mile.  A mile later when I come back down Water Street it's 4-6 inches.  I slow to 15:00 pace for the now expanding puddle.  Back to transition again, it's 4-6 inches deep and rising, the second time through I decide to walk/stomp as my quads are on fire and I'm afraid of falling.

The final trip down Water Street and water is up over my shins!  I lost the most time there, but thankful I walked it as my mental lights were starting to flicker and it was Mile 25.  My lower back was on aching and I could feel my posture getting worse and worse.  I just needed to get to the finish line.  My feet had slid around so badly in my shoes that each step on the uneven bricks was excruciating.  I'm typically so excited for the finish that I smile, wave, pick up the pace a bit, zip the kit up - none of these things happened.  I crossed the line, apparently high-fived some kids (video evidence) and then started screaming at the nice volunteer trying to help me that my husband was supposed to be my catcher, not her (yes, I apologized).  Mark was right there, got me all of my finishers gear, water, and medal.  I ran a 3:33, a BQ at the end of an Ironman, in flooded streets, and faster than last year's winner.

A short time later someone came up and mentioned I was the 5th female.  I assumed they meant AG and went with it, just hoping that enough time was passing that none of the girls who started behind me would knock me off the AG podium.

At some point Emily tells me I'm second overall, I laugh at her and promptly forget the conversation.  A short time after that, my friend Jeff texts me and says I'm second in AG but there's a girl named McKenzie who had a late bib number who is still out on course.  By the time I leave the finish area it looks like I have 2nd place AG locked up.  Gaby, Emily, and I have a beer and wander over to T1 to collect our stuff.  Jack sends me a text saying I'm 2nd Overall.  WHAT!?  Jack must have had too many High Lifes.  A few minutes later I meet Lisa, the overall winner.  She says something about 1, 2 AG and 1, 2 Overall; we high five.  I'm confused...could it actually be?  We go back to the house, results seem to be holding.  I don't care though, I'm having drinks and hanging with my friends.

The next morning I wake up and the results are still the same.  I go through each AG to count number of participants to see if F34-39 will get 1 or 2 Kona spots.  I have to would be my luck to come in 2nd Overall and not grab a ticket to Kona.  Looks like we should have 2, but you never know.  At the awards ceremony I'm walking off the stage and Lisa says to me, "I'm not taking my spot so you're good no matter what."  I assume that Laura (who has finished 3rd) has heard her.  She saw me pass on the run but I totally missed it.  Turns out our AG gets two spots and rolls to 3!

To say I'm over the moon barely does it justice.  I've had a hard time grasping it all.  I cannot find the words to express how meaningful it is to have someone believe in my abilities the way my friends and family have.  To have a coach who knows just what to say and do, and who took a girl who was a consistent back of the packer that couldn't run a single sub-8:00 mile and mold her into a Kona Qualifier.  To walk up there, here my name and "You're going to Kona!" hardly seems real.  It was even better that I had my closest friends there with me to celebrate.  I'm still wearing my race wristband, I can't seem to cut it off.

Now that both of my 2016 goals are achieved - what happens in 2017?  How do I get faster?  What's the next step?  On some level, that's not up to me, I just have to keep trusting in my coach, committing to the process and believing.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Report

Sorry for the length, there was a lot happening here.  This was my 5th Iron-distance race and easily the most eventful…

Pre-Race:  My body is the definition of inertia – so when the object in motion stops; bad things happen.  On Thursday, May 5th (10 days out from the race) I wandered into Urgent Care with a 102 degree fever, sinus infection, and ear infection.  Luckily some strong antibiotics did the trick to get me to the start line feeling mostly ok.  The following Thursday (two days before the race) my body decided that this time of the month was a surprisingly fitting to be “that time of the month.”  Sorry if that’s TMI for you fellas, but when I hear guys complain about how a hangnail on their pinky finger impacted their ability to perform their best, I need to remind them that many of the female competitors are handling an extra, giant, miserable race-day complication. 

In addition to a slightly uncooperative body; on the pre-race shakeout ride I realized that each time I hit my brakes they locked up on the wheels and wouldn’t spring back open.  After leaving the bike with the race mechanics all afternoon, I was told there was nothing more that could be done - the springs were rusted, I needed new brakes, they had opened them as far as they would go, and lubed them as much as they could.  The best advice they could give was to not use the back brake, (just the front one, which was less sticky), and lean over the handlebars to “pop” open the brake if it locked during the race.

Add to that the insane, last-minute bike course and a sudden change to T1 due to high bacteria in the water.  (HUGE props to IM for moving an entire transition area and creating a new swim start less than 48 hours from the gun going off!)

With all the insanity, I did only what I could…adapt and move forward.

Race Morning:  I try, when possible, to stay in an AirBnB for races so that I know I can have the foods I prefer, a good cup of coffee, and a nice quiet morning to think about the task at hand.  Saturday however, I woke up, looked at my phone and saw that Joe Maloy was headed to Rio!  As I exited the bedroom, Gaby was already making coffee and yelled, “Did you see?  Joe did it!”  Instead of a quiet morning we started off with lots of excitement and positive vibes – we knew it was our turn now!

Swim:  Got right up to the front and went out strong.  Tried to find a draft pack but had no luck.  Despite the many announcements, slower people still insisted on getting near the front for the extra time.  I finally settled in and felt like I was swimming well.  Somewhere around the far turn buoy however, someone tightly grabbed my calf and pulled me down.  I stopped, turned around, screamed, and nearly punched the guy in the face; lots of wasted energy, but it was such a dangerous move that I couldn’t let it go – proud that I didn’t come completely unglued and get DQ'd.  Got my nerves back in check, finished the swim certain that I had hit my plan of 1:05 and was floored to see that I was 1:13.  Many people have said since that the swim was “slow.”  It sure felt fast, which was really disappointing.
16/104 in AG for the swim.

T1:  I chose to put my shoes on my bike so that I could get out of transition as quickly as possible.  Slipped on arm coolers, helmet, glasses and took off; couldn’t have spent more than 30 seconds in the tent.  As I approached my bike I realized an NBCSports camera man was standing a few feet past my bike, camera pointed right my bike and then at me.  I approached the rack, grabbed my bike, caught my shoe on the support pole, dropped my chain, nearly took down the entire rack of bikes, and then tripped trying to run away.  Smooth…soooooo smooth.  I played it cool, ran past the camera man, made sure he wasn’t still filming, got my chain back on and ran out of T1.  Executed the mount without much issue and was off.

Bike: I was in a big group out of T1 and the pace was FAST.  I looked down a few times to see I was holding 175 watts and going 23-24 mph.  Insane.  While #turnapolooza wasn’t so awesome with only partially working front brakes, I had no issue with the course.  It was a ton of fun and very fast.  Luckily, I didn’t see many bike issues as a result of the many turns, but I did see two pretty major car accidents – one of which pushed a car into the bike lane and one that cut directly across the bike course – sorry Texas, but I’m putting you in front of Massachusetts for worst drivers.  Thankfully, as far as I know neither of these incidents involved cyclists! 

The many driveways and intersections did make it a bit scary at times, but I handled my bike well, only having to “un-pop” my brakes twice.  On the one very tight U-turn I instinctively grabbed my back brakes but was able to loosen them without dismounting.  It is safe to say my bike handling skills have improved greatly over the past few years!

I nailed my nutrition and hydration plan and made it through each aid station with ease.  The course was slightly shorter than reported and I missed my opportunity to do a flying dismount and was stuck running through T2 in my bike shoes.
17/104 in AG for the ride. 

T2: Had another very fast T2 and was out on the run!

Run: My shoulder had started to really bother me towards the end of the ride (I suspect from being up and down in the aerobars turning so much) and I was happy to be on the run.  Running is like “my thing” now; I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and this is where I was going to start finding those girls who were in front of me and catch the one in my AG that passed me on the bike. 

Miles 1-2 were sub-8 pace which was a little faster than plan, so I slowed down.  Earlier in the week, Gaby, Mark, and I had done a shakeout run at 8:10 and it felt really relaxed so I knew if I could get to that pace, I’d be in good shape to bring it down later on.  I quickly passed two girls in my AG but was very much alone on the first loop. 

Fun break in the action: Siri Lindley was the only spectator I saw during the first 4 miles.  She was on her bike to cheer on Rebekah Keat but was super sweet to those of us out there all by ourselves.  She cheered me on at a few different points and told me my pace and form looked great, which was pretty cool.  Around Mile 3, Alicia Kaye caught up to me; she was clearly slowing down as we ran about a half a mile shoulder to shoulder.  We exchanged encouraging words and pleasantries before she took off – even in her suffering (she was about to be overtaken by Keat), she was exceptionally nice!

Back to the hell: As I approached the aid station near Mile 5 I became dizzy from the heat.  Not the dizzy like, I need food and I’ll be okay, but the kind of dizzy that says, stop and lay down.  I walked the aid station, poured ice and water all over myself multiple times and got back to running.  What had just been comfortable was now agonizing.  I’m good about hitting a dark place and repeating “left, right, repeat” or some other “go” mantra but nothing seemed to help, I could not get the pace to drop.  The energy coming back into town (Mile 6) is unreal!  People in Speedos dancing around with beer, rival DJ booths; a huge party atmosphere!  I would typically smile, high-five people, and grab some good juju but I couldn’t.  My heart sank to my shoes at the thought of having to run two more laps…how could I?!  I don’t really remember anything notable about the second lap, I had completely shut down by that point.  

As I reentered town for the end of lap 2 and start of lap 3, I searched for Gaby.  I had seen him directly across the river from me when I hit the Mile 6 marker, so I assumed I would see him in advance of that point.  I got really sad when I didn’t.  A few miles later on a turn around, I saw him only a half mile or so ahead of me and knew I had to catch up.  When I caught him, I didn’t say anything, or stop, I just tapped him on the shoulder and knew we were in for another CAC sufferfest. 

Amazingly we were keeping an ok pace for the third lap…I suspect my “running” pace wasn’t all that bad, just lots of slow walking at the aid stations.  Then, right around Mile 20, the sky opened up and all hell broke loose.  Thunder, lighting, torrential rain, high winds, and hail.  As we neared Mile 21 there were 5-10 athletes that had already been stopped by a volunteer.  We were told the race was neutralized and to pause our Garmins.  The weather continued to disintegrate and the mass of people got larger.  After 15 minutes or so, the great volunteers ran from their tent (about 200 yds away) and brought us trash bags, chips, oranges, grapes, soda, and water.  As I ripped a hole in the trash bag and put it on my shaking, freezing body, tears welled up in my eyes.  I turned to look at Gaby, who I suspected was feeling the same, and instead of bursting into a crying fit; we just started laughing.  That wild, uncontrollable laughter that happens when your second grade teacher tells you to be quiet after someone farts - the kind of laughter that leaves you doubled over, and gasping for air. This…was…RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!  Others around us started laughing too and soon guys were turning their trash bags into dresses, placing their race numbers over top of them and modeling for the group.   

For anyone who reads this that was in that front group, thank you.  The levity we were able to find in those moments is what gave me energy for those last five miles – also, I now know why my abs are sore.

They finally restarted the race and a huge mass of people started “running” again.  After being stopped for 48 minutes, we looked like a mass of drunken penguins waddling down an iceberg.  Those final miles are a painful blur.  Gaby and I stumbled across the finish line, look a few photos, waited for Mark to finish (who because of the delay was right behind us now), had a burrito, a Shiner Bock, and went back to the house.

When the times are adjusted, I will land in 8th for the run and 12th overall for AG.

Final thoughts: 
-Going into this race Jack had laid out a really great plan.  Had I executed that plan I would have landed in 5th maybe even 4th place.  My AG rolled down to 5th, so I have confidence that my goals are not unattainable.  The competition here was really tough; I was the #7 American in AG – half of the Top Ten coming from outside of the US.

-My pre-race discussion with Jack the night before the race included lots of talk about not making excuses for the situation or using tough conditions as a crutch.  The thought was that everyone else had already lined up lots of reasons as to why this race wouldn’t be their best - I wouldn't be one of them.  A popular phrase at my last job (where class attendance for the students was mandatory) was that there are not excused absences, but there are explained ones.  Making this distinction is important.  I make no excuse for not executing my race plan.  Can it be explained by the fact that it was hot and I live in a colder climate?  Maybe.  Could it be that the rest of the field was just that much faster?  Sure.  But on Saturday, I raced the absolute best I could physically handle on that day.  I’m unsure that I’ve battled as hard as I did to just keep moving forward and not walk off the course and quit.  Good old Webster says that an excuse is “a reason put forth to defend a fault.”  There is no fault to defend here; I did all I could on this day.  

-For those who know me personally, you know I’m pretty easy going once a stressor is placed in the “out of my control” bucket.  Prior to that however, I’ll damn near kill myself finding a way to take that “out of control” thing and gain control over it.  This race required great patience and rolling with the punches; something I executed perfectly and am very proud of.  At no point did I lose my emotions or try to control what I knew I couldn’t and there’s some big personal growth in that.

-Not sure yet what’s next.  I know this: I love this distance, I love racing, and I haven’t yet hit my potential.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Lessons Learned

Anytime that I travel for work and the subject of iron-distance racing comes up, it’s always a little awkward.  First the questions about the distance, order of events, then listening to stories of friends and family members who have done a “mini Ironman.”  Once people realize what you’re actually doing and begin to believe that you’re completely nuts, they seemingly always ask “Why?”  Other than being able to say that you went 140.6 miles in one day, why would one do this?  Well, I for one firmly believe that there are lessons about you that can only be learned from being pushed to the edge.  Some of us are lucky enough to be pushed to the edge by our own volition.  Others are forced so without their consent due to illness, injury, or tragedy.  And for some it’s both…you often find those who’ve gone through great personal adversity competing at endurance events – I believe that they’ve recognized the value and just want to do it in an environment that is mostly in their control. 
So when I’m asked the question of why, I could give the standard speech of, “Blah, hard work, blah, determination, perseverance, yadda, yadda.” And while all of those lessons are true and learned, the two that resound most strongly to me are honesty and trust.  And I’m unsure that I could learn these two lessons in any other environment.

Honesty:  “You can’t fake an Ironman.”  There are things you can get away with not training for, including a marathon, maybe even a half-Ironman.  It might hurt, you might be near the end of the pack, but you’ll more than likely finish, even if you walk the whole thing.  An iron-distance race is different.  I have known way too many very fit people who find themselves scrambling to make the 17 hour cut-off, despite even the best of training regimens, forget it without doing the work.  Being this open and honest, is hard.  It leaves you vulnerable and exposed in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise need to, or have to experience.   This year I had more than a few conversations with the Cadence coaches that went like this:

“Are you ok?”

Responsive grunt of “Fine” or “Sure.”

“Are you lying to me?”

Responses here are typically (though not always verbalized as such): “Yes, I’m fine, I just need a little validation and attention.”  “Yes, I’m fine, just miserable and whiny.” “No, I’m injured but refuse to admit weakness.” “No, I just don’t have it today.”  

Each of those responses requires a giant gulp of pride and exposure.  Granted, when you’ve got snot, tears, and sweat running down your face, can it really be uglier?  Those moments though, where you have to make a decision with yourself, are far more powerful than you can imagine. 

One of my mother’s favorite childhood stories about me is when students from Carnegie Mellon University asked her if I had been exposed to computers before.  I was in the 4th grade and my single working mother laughed hysterically and said, “No.”  At that time no one had a computer, certainly not us.  When she inquired why, they explained that they had come to my classroom to do a study of how long it took children to learn to type a sentence.  We were instructed to type the same sentence 5 times.  They were hoping to see how long it took us to learn where the keys were.  Despite being told to only touch the keyboard, I used the mouse to investigate the navigational bar.  I knew the words copy and paste and so I typed the sentence, then copied and pasted it a few more times.  Not only I had I completely skewed their results, but learned about efficiency, and effectiveness.  I’ve spent most of my life finding a better, shorter, easier way to do things.  Well, in endurance events, there’s no such thing, and if there is, well, I want nothing to do with it.  I finally, at 34 years old, have learned to embrace the long work, have patience, and be honest, even if it’s ugly, it’s far better than taking a shortcut. 

Trust:  I’m slow to trust.  I’m calculated and generally don’t like risk.  So when presented this year with the opportunity to do my first ever drop-in off of a 20 ft cornice at 13,000 feet of elevation, I had to learn to trust.  First, I had to trust that Emily and Gaby knew my abilities enough to take me up this chair lift, and then up a climb.  I had to trust that it could be done when Emily dropped in “woo-ing” the whole time.  And then I had to trust Gaby when he said I could do it, if I trusted myself.  And there’s the hard part.  Had I not trusted my abilities, I could have easily toppled end over end down the mountain.  I had to believe that my friends wouldn’t lead me astray and would be completely honest with me.  And so, I dropped in, and successfully made it down the hill.  That sense of accomplishment cannot be gained in many other circumstances. 

A few years ago, I put a whole lot of blind trust in a 20-something with a mohawk in hopes that I could cross the finish line of my first Ironman.  Three years later, and iron-distance race #4, I still have full faith in Jack’s ability.  He’s one hell of a triathlete and an even better coach.  For those who don’t know, the #CadenceGirls range in age from mid-20s to mid-50s.  We are a fierce group who wants each other to achieve their goals as badly, if not more so, than to achieve their own.  We’re competitive and supportive, we believe in each other and our coaches.  We’re also completely insane.  We have high powered jobs, and demanding families.  We’re type-A to the max, over-stressed, and neurotic.  These are my best friends and sometimes I’m overwhelmed.  How Jack and coaching partner Matt handled this crew and all of their nuances, is remarkable to me and no task I would ever undertake. 

Like any good coach, Jack says semi-cliched, nonsensical phrases that don’t make sense…until they do.  A favorite this year is in relation to chips and shoulders.  It sparked a bit of debate among the group: Is it one chip, or many chips?  One athlete remarked, “I feel like that’s a bad thing, sort of like, ‘You’re a big jerk.’”   And what kind of chips?  Poker? Potato?  As Emily and Gaby witnessed, I’m far better at putting a Family Size Bag of Lays on my thighs instead of my shoulders!  

As it turns out, the origin of the phrase relates to a dare, as in daring someone to knock the chip (or wooden beam as it were) off of one’s shoulder.  This resounded a bit with me.  I can be damn belligerent, competitive, and my need to be right even gets on my own nerves.  But what were my chips?  I dare you to knock me off of the top of the podium, which I’ve never been on?  I dare you to question my naturally athletic ability?  I’ve come to realize that everyone has different chips. 

Mine are: 
Hard work. I rarely miss a workout.  I stopped thinking I knew everything and listened to those that came before me, and “sometimes” even my coach.
My ability.  I would have told you that I had some success in spite of my ability, but I have worked hard so that I can have belief and confidence in my progress.
My support system.  I have the strongest friends out there.  If I can’t do it myself, I know that the Cadence girls and guys (#3rdRowForLife) will pull me through.

The winds at Maryland are going to be tough.  The Choptank may push me around and try to knock those chips off, but I know that no matter what, even if I fail, I have earned the right to own those chips, put them on my shoulder, and I dare anyone, or any course, to try to knock them off.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

St. Anthony's Race Report

Searching for an article for my dissertation, I found this Race Report which I wrote on the plane on the way home from Florida but never published.  Enjoy.

St. Anthony’s Triathlon Race Report - April 26, 2015

Since I started racing triathlon, the first race of the year has been like Christmas, a day when all of my good behavior, or greens in Training Peaks, will be rewarded.  I typically spend time the day before being excited about packet pick-up, planning what I’ll wear, where I’ll park, and having every race day logistic planned to a tee.  When I learned that I would be travelling for nearly three weeks straight and that I would be in St. Petersburg, FL the last weekend of April, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to race St. Anthony’s Tri.  I had been to the race as a spectator and it seemed like a fun excuse to learn to travel with my bike.

In addition to heavy travel, I’m also in the throes of marathon training and while having a 19 mile run the Thursday before a Sunday race wasn’t ideal, it would be a nice break from the long winter.  
Unfortunately, my 19 mile run led to a pretty horrendous sunburn and by the time Saturday’s packet pick-up rolled around I wanted nothing to do with the race.  I was tired of being on the road, tired of the heat and sun; I was sore, blistered, peeling, and generally not excited to do what I’ve been most happy doing in the past 4 years.  As I got in line for pick-up, that dread intensified.  I had the most awful bike, body, and ability insecurity imaginable.  When did EVERYONE in my age group get a tri bike and disk wheel?  Do all tan people have six packs?  Does being tan make you actually faster, or just look faster?  I was already doubting myself and seeing Tri-Barbie at every turn didn’t help. 

I got back in the car after racking my bike and started sobbing; I wanted to go home.  I texted with my husband who told me to just take it as a training day, and I talked with my friend Emily who has the same mental demon taking up space in her head too.  Luckily he only lives in one brain or the other so we can usually talk each other off the ledge.  I contemplated emailing my coach and asking him to just give me a nice Sunday workout. And then I decided, I would do nothing, I would go to bed early, sleep in, and deal with the consequences the next day…until I remembered that I’d have to go back to St. Pete’s and get my bike.  Then as I watched the news that night I saw sadness and grief in Nepal then anger and confusion as Baltimore burned.  I decided that I needed to stop being selfish and take my friend Roy’s advice and simply be filled with gratitude.
So at 1am, I climbed out of bed and decided to pack for the race.

Happily when the alarm went off at 4am I felt good and ready to go, and really, who sleeps in on Christmas?  Having done such nonsense races as Challenge AC in its inaugural year and Philly Tri the year it got so hot that they shut down the race, I’m always hesitant to complain about heat or wind…that said, the winds were howling as I hopped in my rental car and the humidity was already at 86%. 

The quick drive from downtown Tampa to St. Pete’s was easy at 5am.  I followed some cars and luckily found a spot to park since I’d done no prior research.  I met some really nice people from Tampa who walked with me to transition.  It’s a terribly isolating experience to race totally alone, no one to cheer for you, calm your nerves, talk with to get rid of that nervous energy.  I looked at each face and bike that I walked pass, hoping that I’d see a familiar face.  Finally I did.  I saw a mutual friend from Philly who now lives in Naples, Mike Egan.  A quick hello and well-wishes and I was alone again.  I got transition situated and started the long walk to the swim start.  Thankfully I ran into two people I’d met at the expo the day before, Jeff and Kate.  I met them during the expo as I hunted for a shrug to cover my blistered shoulders; they brainstormed with me and even offered to bring me something to wear.  Kate wasn’t racing because she is 8+ months pregnant (and since she was having contractions at the start of the race, I’m guessing is a new mom by now!).  Jeff was racing the Olympic distance for the first time and scared to death that he’d be a dad by the time he finished the swim.  I was so happy they recognized me and let me stand at the start with them.  A few moments later the group that I had walked to the start with approached Jeff and Kate, it turns out they are all in the same training group.  And that’s the great thing about triathlon, the support.  I was happily no longer alone, and the race was about to start.

The swim was really great for the first third, then a ninety degree left turn and the waves picked up.  I found a few feet to hold on to but the waves made it nearly impossible to follow for any length of time.  When I hit land I felt great and took off running, I was floored to see the number of bikes still in transition when I got there. 

Swim time:  31:03, T1:  1:37, AG rank: 9th

The bike is where I started to feel the fatigue in my legs.  The “out” of the first out and back was a gradual uphill, right into a headwind.  I decided that I’d already come this far, so it was time to make myself small and just keep fighting.  Those who know me well know I’m not great at bike handling, so maintaining nearly 20 mph on a very technical course was a huge win for me.  I did make one huge error however…in my total lack of planning for this, I never thought to verify how long the course was and decided that it was 29 miles when it was only 24.  I should have been hammering at the end but instead I let myself get lazy.  I will say that T2 was quite a surprise when I got there! 

Bike time: 1:47:52, T2: 2:04, AG rank: 9th

There’s nothing to say about conditions on the run, other than it was HOT.  Heat index turned out to be in the 90s, temps in the high 80s, and humidity around 86%.  I was certain my first mile was 10:00 pace.  When my watch buzzed, it was 7:48.  At the turn around I had guessed that I was about 4 back from the leader.  At mile 5 I passed two girls in my age group.  In the last 200 yards those two girls plus one more would sprint past me.  They would beat me by 13 seconds, 10 seconds, and 8 seconds respectively.  I can only boost my ego to convince myself that they were in a pack and plotted to take me down.  When they passed me they were three abreast but slowly spread out.  I begged my legs to go with them, but they just wouldn’t.  By my fuzzy triathlon math I was in 6th or 7th at the finish.  Luckily, one of the girls that passed me just happened to be in the Athena category and I ended up taking 5th place in my age group, missing 3rd by 13 seconds.   Even luckier for me, St. Anthony’s goes five deep. 

A great moment happened at the finish, the girl who beat me by 8 seconds stopped to congratulate me, we hugged and went on to congratulate the girl that kicked both of our asses.  As we were doing so we ended up photo bombing her post-race portrait.  It was such a nice moment and an awesome experience to be hanging with the fast kids.

Run time: 49:09, AG rank: 3

When people ask me what my best event is in triathlon I immediately blurt out, swimming.  While I don’t look like a runner, or a cyclist, my shoulders are broad enough to convince people I have some ability in the water, but who knew a girl from up north could take 3rd in a hot Florida run?!  I found wonderful people willing to take my photo as I received an award for which I am SO grateful.

I saw my new friend Jeff as he successfully finished his first oly; they were right off to the hospital!  I can only hope and pray that they had an easy delivery and health baby!  While racing alone isn’t ideal, I met wonderful people, remembered again that I am lucky enough to do this sport, and over the moon about the result. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

My Marathon Playlist

Those who know me, know that music is a huge part of my athletic endeavors.  I have a training playlist, a pre-race playlist, and then a specific playlist for each race.  Usually it's just music that I enjoy listening to, or music that gets me excited.  This race is different...I'm preparing to put myself in a place that I'm not sure that I've ever been.  I figure the only way I'll be able to do that is to completely distract myself from the task at hand and think of all of you.  So for the Poconos Marathon I've put together songs that remind me of a place, time, or friend from the past year or so.  Since these moments and songs mean so much to me, I wanted to share with all of you. I'll be using some good advice from Jill and only using this play list from miles 19-26.2.   Enjoy!

Go - Avalanche City - Okay, this song just makes me really happy.

Levels - Avicii  - The song that was playing when I almost killed Anna and I trying to find pasta in New Jersey.  #Hangry

Sail- AWOLNATION - Always one of my favorites but two weeks ago Coach Matt decided to not kill us at Cadence with "power ballads" and this was the first song on the newly chosen Pandora station.

Wagon Wheel- Darius Rucker, Ketch Secor & Bob Dylan - Steve and Amanda's wedding.  The one song the whole wedding got on the dance floor for. I haven't seen my mom and her fake knees dance like that in years. And of course my favorite gal from North Carolina.

Tervaskanto - Korpiklaani - Heading to the Islanders/Rangers game with Dave Starr.  This might be the only song we ever agree upon.

Bailando (English Version) [feat. Sean Paul, Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona] - This song played in every restaurant and store I went into in Barcelona.  Since I was mostly alone and didn't have anyone to talk to, I tried to learn some Spanish by downloading the English version and trying to figure it out.

Blank Space - Taylor Swift - The song that haunted me at Florida Tri Camp. It was on the radio in Jack and Alyssa's car every time we had to go somewhere.  When I thought I was going to die at Mile 11 of the Naples Half Marathon the damn thing was playing at the Aid Station, that laugh got me through the last two miles.

This Is How We Roll  - Florida Georgia Line (feat. Luke Bryan) - From a great Pittsburgh spin in March with Jim Needles.  Jim is the spin instructor at the YMCA.  When I decided I should get back in shape post college, I walked into the Y and took my first spin class.  Jim convinced me I needed fancy cycling shoes, and then pedals on my old Schwinn.  It started a snowball to say the least.

I Need Your Love (feat. Mohombi, Faydee & Costi) - Because Shaggy.

Roar  - Katy Perry - Emily and Gaby's basement.  Struggling through 8 miles on their treadmill while everyone else drank beer and waxed skis.  This song came on more than once and it's one of Emily's favorites.  This song will also remind me of my badass running friend Jamie who created the Eye of the Tiger award which is proudly in my possession for this race.

Animals - Martin Garrix - Pittsburgh Penguins pre-game warm-up.

See You Again (feat. Charlie Puth) - Wiz Khalifa - Wiz almost cost me my job when I brought him to perform at Point Park University before the national release of Black and Yellow.  He was such a young punk, but a nice one.

Renegades - X Ambassadors - I drive a jeep and well, "Go forth and have no fear."

Shake It Off - Taylor Swift - Kristy. She can suffer like none other and still sing Shake It Off.  Also shout out to Jack Brac for playing some Shake It Off Radio for the two of us on Tuesday morning.

Where Is My Mind? - Pixies - Maxence Cyrin's version of this played nearly every week at Cadence Yoga.  That version is too slow for a running race, but this song will always remind me of Julie and the original Cadence yoga class in a building that will soon no longer be our training home.

Prayer In C (Robin Schulz Radio Edit) - The only other song that we heard in Florida.  And I believe the song that was playing when Sue Downing announced, "I like this" and proceeded to beat the hell out of everyone on the final 400.

Hey Brother - Avicii - Not sure when, but Anna started singing this constantly about a year ago, it's still my favorite song to run to.

One Day- Matisyahu - #DNationPhilly.  Every single one of you.  I love you.

Wavin' Flag - K'naan - Dan Lavelle and I at the DNation conference in Chicago in 2012.  This and Velobeats have helped me struggle through some hard work

 He's a Pirate - Pirates of the Carribean - Klaus Badelt - The most fun marathon I've ever run was with Jill in Disney.  We drank margaritas through the finishers chute and rode rollercoasters.  At the start of the race we ran by the Pirates display and this song was blasting.

Ai Se Eu Te Pego - Michel Tel√≥ - Sitting at cafe alone, sipping dry rose in Barcelona a street musician came to the table and started singing this.  I seemed to be the only one who didn't know the words so when the others started dancing, I had no choice but to join, one of the best moments I've had in 2015.

Westfall - Okkervil River - The only song Mark and I have ever been able to agree on to play on long car trips.  As this is our friend Dan's band it also reminds me of sitting in the ATO "hot tub" during senior week, drinking frozen drinks and listening to some good tunes.

Calvin Harris - Outside - Inexplicably fell in love with this song during the New York Islander's pregame warm-up as I was lucky enough to see a game in the Coliseum's last year.

Boondock Saints Theme  - I shouldn't have to explain this to anyone who is reading this.

Fight Song - Rachel Platten - See link below. These are the most inspirational people I know. I'll be channeling their strength in the final miles.

Wicked Wonderland - Martin Tungevaag - Emily and I dancing under the bright blue sun and gorgeous Colorado skis at Breckenridge, drinking beers, and rocking to this song.

So there it is, what will help carry me through some hot, humid miles tomorrow. I love you all so very much and wouldn't be doing these crazy events without bringing you along! Thank you.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Return of the Blog

As I'm currently in the middle of writing my comps (aka Comprehensive Exams) so that I can finally call myself "a doctoral candidate" and be ABD, it may seem an insane time to resurrect this blog, and it probably is.  But so was planning a wedding, living simultaneously in three different places, and working two jobs while writing my Master's Thesis; this is just par for the course.  This blog started as, and still is, a place for me.  You are all welcome to follow along and join in my adventures, but this is my place to write down my stories, race reports, and random thoughts; mostly so that they can live somewhere other than my already overly-cluttered brain.  This practice leaves a clear space for the tough writing...of which there will be much to come.

The other purpose for this blog was to publicly share my goals as a means to keep myself accountable.  For the whole of 2014, this blog was non-existent.  It's not that I didn't achieve things.  I did.  Lots of amazing things.  However, working a job that required 60+ hours in an office plus being on-call 24/7 (including weekends and holidays), then sitting in class 6 and a half hours every other Tuesday, left little time or energy for blogging.  Consequently, not having this space to write, left a head filled with too many disjointed thoughts, and lots of lost memories.  So for the purpose of my sanity, I'm blogging again.

As is customary for the first post of the new year, I've got some goals to share, BIG ones.  There's an internet quote that floats around that says, "If you're dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough."  Well, it's safe to say that 2015 is nothing short of terrifying.  This is less a list of goals than it is a list of to-dos.  These things are going to happen, I just need to believe and execute.  Since amazingly, I can't determine if racing Iron-distance triathlon or finishing my doctorate means more to me (yes, I'm serious), these are listed chronologically.

So big scary 2015, here's what we're doing:

1. Finishing written comps
2. Successfully defending oral comps
3. Skiing out west
4. Going for a Boston Qualifier during the Poconos Marathon on May 17
5. Going to lots of weddings of wonderful friends and family (invite list at 8 so far)
6. Racing USAT Olympic-distance Nationals in Milwaukee on August 9
7. Getting a top AG finish at Ironman Maryland
8. Finishing my dissertation
9. Successfully defending my dissertation
10. Having one hell of a party to celebrate

2015 has been pretty good so far:  I have a wonderful new job that requires 40 hours in an office plus some out-of-office time, but nothing that involves calling a student's parent at 3am.  I commute now, which has left time for catching up on podcasts that I love, mostly triathlon and endurance sports related, but also those related to higher education and my current job.  I spent the second week of the year at a tri-camp in Ft. Myers, Florida where I ran faster on a track than I ever have, "won" the swim workout, and went out of my comfort zone on the bike, all of which will be beneficial as this year goes on.  I've rediscovered my love of skiing, something that I'd only had the chance to do once in the previous 6 years, after being a weekend warrior most of my teens and 20s.  And most recently, work took me to the fabulous city of Barcelona, Spain, where I better understood what my role is in my new company and was able to see and eat my way around a fabulous part of the world.

Stay scared friends.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Life as a Bucco Fan

No matter what happens tonight, I'm going to enjoy something I haven't had the pleasure of doing in a long time, watch my Pittsburgh Pirates compete in a playoff game.  This blog will read like so many others you've read the past few months, yinzers thrilled for .500, then a winning season, and now this, playoffs!  While all of us were impacted differently by the unfortunate events of October 14th, 1992, I argue that those of us born in the early 80s took it the hardest.
My friends and I were 11 years old in 1992.  We were old enough to know and love baseball.  We knew the back of our favorite players' baseball cards better than we knew our phone numbers.  We could tell you batting averages, ERAs, and confidently fill out the scorecard that came in our game day program. We knew what pride meant, especially in The City of Champions.  But we were also young.  We weren't yet jaded by speculation of steroid use, or betting on the game.  We didn't know what kind of income pro athletes earned as our parents scrounged together the money to take us to dollar-dog night.  We had no idea that there were issues in the locker room.  These guys were just our baseball heroes.

I was born a Bucco fan.  My earliest photos are of me wearing a Pirate onesie.  I can't remember much being on our television growing up other than baseball.  Though my family is from Pittsburgh, I was technically born outside of Lexington, Kentucky.  Though it killed my mom to be away from home, she always said she could tolerate the tv in that part of the world because we got TBS, so she could see the Bucs when they played the Braves, we were close enough to Cincy to get the feed when they played the Reds, as well as any nationally televised games.

We moved back to Pittsburgh when I was 6 and my mom went to work for a wonderful woman named Maria, who happened to have Pirate season tickets.  Knowing my newly working and single mother didn't have endless fun money laying around, she would give up her seats nearly every Sunday so my mom could take me to the ballgame.  Her seats, by the way, were 9 rows back from first base!  And so my love affair with the Pirates began.  I had started playing baseball when I was 7, but wasn't good enough for the infield and bored out of mind in the outfield.  I complained to my grandfather (the biggest of Bucco fans).  He had a suggestion, do what he had done, become a catcher.  As he said, "You'll get to play every inning and be where the action is."  And so for the next ten years, I played catcher. Spanky LaValliere became my favorite player and 12 became my number.  I've worn number 12 in every sport I've ever played since.  I also started collecting autographs.  We would come to the ballpark early for batting practice and I used my tiny t-ball glove to start collecting signatures.  At present, there is only one notable 1991 & 1992 player missing from that glove...Andy Van Slyke.  The circumstances involving that are a different blog post, however.

My 9th birthday party was held at Three Rivers Stadium during a Pirate game.  That year I had determined that Van Slyke was my new favorite player.  No offense to Spanky, but AVS was slightly better looking.  My mom's friend Maria bought me my first, real sports jersey, #18.  I slept in it that night and so many others.  My mom once accidentally ironed the polyester sleeve, causing a part of it to burn, leading to the biggest fashion meltdown I can remember ever having.  The attachment to that jersey is unreal.
Then came the 1992 playoffs.  I won't rehash what happened, as we all already know.  But as Sid was called safe, I ran upstairs, tore off the Van Slyke jersey and cried myself to sleep.  Again, we were old enough to understand, but far too young to keep our emotions in check.  I believe I also vowed to never watch another Pirate game again.  The next year would bring a disappointing end to what I still contend is the best Penguins roster on record.  And by the time the Steelers lost to the Cowboys in 1995, we understood sports were a series of ebbs and flows.  Sadly, the Bucs never came back up, we just kept on "rebuilding."

I stuck with them though.  I used my job in Student Activities at Point Park University to purchase opening day tickets every year, even when I had to beg students to attend.  My friend Nate and I sat through all 9 innings in 2004 or 2005(?) when it was freezing rain.  I attended 7 straight opening days, praying for the Pirates to just be .500.  I once took verbal abuse from a 8 year-old in old Yankee Stadium while wearing my Sanchez jersey.  As he shouted, "The Pirates are losers!" I had no retort, we were.  We'd been losing for longer than this kid had been alive...twice as long actually.  I joined the Lady Bucs Club, which was an attempt to pair wine tasting with baseball to generate ticket sales.  I proudly sported my "Go Freddy Go" sign in the freezing cold (with many other excited fans) as Freddy Sanchez's run at the batting title brought one of the few bright spots of the past 20 years.
But I never stopped believing that we would someday be rebuilt.

And so here we are, with a playoff game this evening.  Someone asked where I would be watching the game.  I responded, "On my couch, wine in hand, Van Slyke jersey on (yes, it still fits), with a box of Kleenex nearby, for happy tears...and the endless replays of 1992 they are sure to show."

LET'S GO BUCS!  Raise It.