Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What a (Triathlete) Girl Wants

Triathlon can be an extremely expensive sport, especially if you're the type who always has to have the latest and greatest products available. Luckily I am NOT that type of consumer, because I couldn't afford to be anyway! If you want to read about the hot new gear to put on your Christmas list, you are in the wrong spot. If you are interested in seeing how someone can tri on the cheap, settle in and get comfy. :)

My first basic strategy this past summer to get me to and through my first race was to buy only what I absolutely NEEDED, and to buy used whenever possible. I got a used hybrid bike off Craigslist, and kept the rest of my gear to a bare minimum. As I continue in the sport, I still will try to buy used items whenever possible, and I will spread out my purchases over time. I'm going to focus on budgeting for whatever I need the most at the moment, and postpone buying anything else. Really this is the way I approach buying just about anything else in my life as well (clothes, shoes, etc.) -- it's just the lifestyle of the broke and frugal. :)

Now my birthday and Christmas are rapidly approaching, so instead of slipping a wishlist to my husband, I'm putting it here so you can give me advice if you want, offer me used items if you have them, and follow along if I end up with any interesting stories to share about great secondhand finds, super sales, or random product reviews.

STUFF TO GET SOON
For Swim:
-new swimsuit (my current one is falling apart)
-new swim cap (mine is reeeeeeally worn)
-pull buoy (for drills)
For Bike:
-cycling gloves
-pedal straps
-padded shorts
-new helmet (apparently mine is too old...)
-second cage and water bottle to go in it
-reflective vest and lights for my bike (for riding in the dark)
For Run:
-Road ID
For Energy:
-bulk supply of Salted Caramel GU (my fave! yummy!)
-lots of other gels and chews to sample
-other stuff to try such as Nuun tablets, Honey Stinger Waffles, etc.
Miscellaneous:
-Swim Bike Mom's book (Triathlon for the Every Woman)
-foam roller

STUFF TO GET EVENTUALLY
For Swim:
-wetsuit & lube
-better pool bag
-paddles for my hands (for drills)
For Bike:
-road bike (I plan to upgrade when I move up to the Oly distance)
-clipless pedals & cycling shoes
-aero bars
-cycling jerseys
-maintenance stuff: flat kit, spare tubes, tire pressure gauge, portable pump, multi-tool, etc. (I also need to learn how to use all this stuff...)
-bike rack for my car
-cold weather cycling clothes
-bike trainer
For Run:
-Garmin or other GPS watch
-more technical shirts & running pants
-elastic laces for running shoes
-more microfiber socks
-more sports bras
-fuel belt for long runs
-cold weather running clothes
For Transition:
-transition mat
-transition bag
Miscellaneous:
-lots of books about triathlon
-Swim Bike Mom merchandise
-Iron Girl car sticker or magnet (hope to get one at the expo next summer since shipping on the website is too expensive!)

If you have any tips, please share! Santa might need help knowing where to shop. ;-)

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Super Secret List, Part III

I started out meaningful, and then I went a little random, and now here is where I go completely off the rails. :)

PART III: General Categories, Types, Brands, or Distances of Races I Want to Do

1. Marine Corps: You may have noticed that I really enjoyed running the MCM 10K in 2010 and this year. As luck would have it, the Marines run a whole series of races throughout the year, including a half marathon, a mud run, and a sprint triathlon! I would love to try as many of their events as I possibly can. Marines rule.

2. Run under Christmas lights: I know of at least one park here in Maryland that does one of these, but I assume there are others as well. I love Christmas lights, so this sounds like a TON of fun to me.

3. Other Christmas-themed races: I don't just love the lights....I love ALL of Christmas! Reindeer run? Jingle Bell run? I will be there with bells on -- LITERALLY! :)

4. Some half marathon: It just makes sense to work my way up to this distance. In the beginning, the races are like little stepping stones: from 5K it's just three more miles to 10K, and then just four more miles to a 10 miler, and then just three more miles to the half marathon. After THAT it gets crazy, so the "half mary" seems like a good END goal. :)

5. Some trail race: Generally I tend to think trails are for hiking and paved roads/paths are for running. But I've run on a trail once and it was quite lovely. A trail race could be something fun to experience once.

6. Some random distance races: for automatic PR's. :)

7. Some Disney race: If I can ever afford to take my kids to Disney, I might as well combine it with a race. The scenery is impressive, as is the bling. Luckily they have a variety of themes and distances from which to choose, so I can find one that suits me best.

8. Some race on or overlooking a beach: I love the beach. 'Nuff said.

9. Some mud/obstacle race: These things look like fun. They might be the type of fun I only want to have once and then never ever again. But I have to at least try.

10. Race on vacation: What a great way to explore an unfamiliar area, or spend time with someone I'm visiting! Of course, I can only do this if I actually GO on a vacation at some point. Oh, and the Disney race doesn't count for this one.

11. Winter race (Jan. or Feb.): I discovered last winter that I really love running in the cold. I know it's good to take some time off from racing in the off-season, but at least once I will make an exception in order to run a very very cold race.

12. Long bike race or charity ride: I'm thinking I'll wait until I have a road bike for this one. :)

13. Race where I raise money for charity, either alone or as part of a team: This will probably be combined with another event on one of these lists. I'm just giving it its own entry so I remember to plan for it. I might even do this sort of thing more than once. Who knows?

14. All Iron Girl events? Maybe? It seems like a nice idea. I loved Iron Girl Columbia so much that it just makes sense to try other Iron Girl branded events. There are not so many that it's impossible; however, they are spread out all over the country, with a few international events thrown in for good measure, so I have no idea if I could possibly travel to and complete them all. And with my luck they will probably add more races over the years, so every time I get close to checking off the whole list, it will just get longer. Still, it's a nice idea.

15. Race in another country: Canada counts. And I have family in Canada. This is totally doable.

16. LOTS of sprint tri's. TONS. ZILLIONS.

17. A triathlon with an ocean swim: Preferably without sharks.

18. An off-road tri (with mountain bike and trail run): I'll probably fall and break my neck on the bike portion, but I'll find a way to drag myself to the finish anyway.

19. A relay other than Ragnar (like a marathon or triathlon relay): I never got to play team sports growing up, so I long to experience that team dynamic whenever possible.

20. A race on my birthday: I thought it was really cool that my friend Sherene just ran a marathon on her birthday. I'd like to mark my birthday with a race someday too -- what better way to celebrate being alive????

So, yeah....this list is sort of all over the place, but then again, so am I! It's good to have goals, right? (Even if they don't all make sense...?) I just love running and triathlon and want to keep racing as long as I am physically able. Over the years I'd love to see improvement in my speed, strength, and endurance, but what I want more than anything is just to ENJOY the experience of being active. I think my goals are well-suited to that aim. Next week I will wrap up the Super Secret List with Part IV, which will be completely different in theme from the first three. I'm sure you will be on the edge of your seats until then. :)

Monday, November 3, 2014

#RunWithTheMarines -- The 10K Race Report!

10/26/2014 Marine Corps Marathon 10K
Official Time: 1:23:12
Pace: 13:23/mile
Place out of Females Age 35-39: 555/675
Goal Accomplished: REACH! I ran the whole way. :)

SATURDAY

The Marine Corps Marathon Health & Fitness Expo is a great event! Unfortunately it's also a HUGE event, since the races are likewise huge, and my 3-year-old son and I had to wait an hour in a line that stretched all the way around the building in order to go through security and get inside. The kiddo handled the wait well, but it was really sort of ridiculous. I hope they find a way to streamline the security process in the future.

ANYWAY, once we survived the super long line and security checkpoint, I picked up my bib from a very polite Marine (is there any other kind?) and then headed back upstairs to SHOP! I picked up some fun headbands, one of which I wore in the race (I know, I know! Nothing new on race day! I just love breaking that rule. Hahaha). I also got a few running and triathlon stickers which I may or may not put on my car, as well as some flavors of GU that I hadn't seen at REI. We sampled water flavored with Nuun, and also some Clif products. My son got a cowbell and a piece of candy from the Wounded Warrior Project booth, and was very excited to hug the MCM mascot and pose for a picture. :)



All in all, we had a great time at the expo, though I worried that all the walking had given me a blister!! I was very careful of my left big toe for the rest of the day, and thankfully a full blister never developed then or during the race. WHEW!!

My perfect plan included getting to sleep early that night, but we got home late from a Halloween event with the kids and had to get them all to bed, and then I needed to make signs in support of my friends running the marathon, and finish frosting the cupcakes I'd made for my friend Sherene. She brought me cupcakes after Iron Girl, and I wanted to return the favor when she crossed the MCM finish line, on her birthday no less! Fortunately, any other prep for a running race is minimal compared to a triathlon, so I was not overwhelmed with other tasks to do. Still, I got to bed later than I'd hoped.

SUNDAY

I started off the day on the wrong foot by completely oversleeping. My alarm went off, and I heard it, and I turned it off....and didn't get up. Already two of my plans for getting my friend's cupcakes to the finish line (since I couldn't very well run with them!) had already fallen through, so I was depending on getting up early enough to drive to Crystal City and park there. That way I could take the post-race shuttle to my car and retrieve the cupcakes, then cheer on my friends on the marathon course, and easily shuttle back to the finish line. However, I HAD to leave early enough to have plenty of time to find parking and then metro into DC to the 10K start line. I had no back-up plan if I couldn't find parking, and I knew it would fill up early. Oversleeping meant the Crystal City plan was too risky, so I had to scrap it and just drive to the metro nearest me to go into DC. (My final back-up cupcake plan involved my husband bringing them to me at the finish line sometime in the early afternoon...yeah, that didn't happen either. :-( So now I still owe Sherene some cupcakes!!)

Let me say right now -- the mishaps were only JUST beginning. Luckily I had done some Metro research the night before and happened to notice a note that the station closest to my house was closed for the weekend, so I'd have to drive to the next one up. I got to this other station and found that I was on the wrong side of the tracks from the actual parking lot and had no idea how to get to the other side. My choices were to drive around looking for a way and potentially wasting time, or parking in the "kiss and ride" section and hope that they don't ticket on the weekends. I don't use Metro much anymore, so I'm no longer familiar with all those details. I did notice another group of runners a few cars over, and decided if they were going to risk parking there, I would too.

My next struggle was with the farecard machines. My husband's old SmarTrip card was no longer working, and the machines from which you could buy new ones were likewise not working. I had no choice but to buy a paper farecard, which would make my trips cost more. So frustrating! But finally I had a useable farecard and was through the gates. I hopped on the escalator up to the tracks....and it stopped when I was about halfway up! Yes, okay, I'm a runner, and a triathlete, and in good enough shape to run a 10K, so walking up the rest of the way was not going to kill me. Still, it seemed like an eerily bad omen. LOL

Once I was finally on the train and on my way, I was able to take a deep breath and calm myself from the craziness of the morning. I knew I was going to make it to the start in plenty of time, and had nothing left to focus on at that moment but my race and the experience. Just like in 2010, the train full of runners had a festive energy that I soaked up and thoroughly enjoyed. That energy carried me from the train to the mall, where I quickly got through the security checkpoint (note to those who plan to do this race: I got off the Metro at Archives/Navy Memorial rather than switch lines, and it was a great decision, because the security line on our side of the mall was short and fast. The throngs coming from the Smithsonian stop on the other side of the mall had huuuuuuge long lines to wait in!). I passed by the starting line and had to snap a pic of the Marine color guard.



I took some time to get my bearings and take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of race day. Being in such an iconic part of our Nation's Capital, I figured a selfie was in order, so I grabbed a shot with the Washington Monument in the background. Before long, I realized that nearly every racer I saw was also taking a monument selfie. It would be funny if we could all post those pics in the same place somewhere! Next I noticed that the porta potty lines were pretty long, so I joined one. By the time I was done with that, it was time to really get ready. I ditched my official race t-shirt, and put on my awesome new "Semper Fi" headband I'd bought at the expo, along with my SPI belt with race bib attached. After I checked my bag to the UPS folks, I snapped a few more pics, including one more monument selfie with my "game face" on, and then a shot looking off into the distance to where the race would eventually end. Rosslyn looked soooooo far away!


Why does my game face look like I'm trying not to laugh??

See these those tiny buildings waaaaaaay in the distance? Yikes!

You know my goals for the race, but I haven't told you my plan for achieving them. I actually came up with this plan a month ago or so, and tried to use it in my long training runs, but could never stayed focused long enough. The plan was to dedicate each of the 6 miles to someone in my family, starting with my husband and working my way down through the kids. The last .2, straight uphill to the finish, would be just for me.

The start of the race was fairly uneventful, since I knew what to expect having done the race before: big crowd, slow progress from the back corrals to the actual start line, lots of walkers to dodge early on, etc. The course had changed slightly since 2010, giving us more time in DC before heading over the 14th Street bridge, and that was cool. We ran toward the Capitol a ways, then crossed the Mall and ran back towards the Washington Monument. At the second turn, there was a huge group of Marines lined up along the left side, giving high-fives to all the racers who went past. I saw what was happening and darted across from the right side of the street to the left -- no way was I going to miss out on Marine high-five action! :)

My dedication strategy worked perfectly right from the start. Each mile, I kept the person in mind, thinking of all the things I love about him or her and praying for all of them as well. I tried to imagine what that person might say if he/she could see me at that moment, and during the rough spots I summoned their spirits to keep me going. I was sad that my family couldn't actually be at the race with me, but by dedicating my run to them, I really felt like they WERE with me the whole way!

In general, I can't say enough good things about this race. The course is not too hilly (except for the finish, of course) and has plenty of great scenery and some crowd support. The atmosphere out on the course is jovial and encouraging and overwhelmingly positive. As I ran, I thought about not just my family but also the last time I did this race and what it felt like, physically and mentally, and how far I have come since then. I felt strong and confident most of the time; my rough moments did come, but not when/where I expected them! I thought about walking a few times, but I was afraid that my knees would start to hurt, making it nearly impossible to start running again. I decided that my safest bet was to keep running the whole way and not walk until the race was done, and that's exactly what I did!

I was inspired by many of the other runners, but especially a man who passed me in the final mile, running on not one but TWO prosthetic legs. Holy cow -- if he could keep going, I sure had no excuse to stop! The last mile was also extra meaningful for me because it was the mile I ran for my daughter, which made me think a lot about the body image issues she'll face in her life and how I long to help her grow up confident in who she is, with little concern for how others perceive her appearance. I want her to learn from my active lifestyle that women can be strong, and strong is beautiful, but also that no matter how conventionally beautiful she might be, that's still one of the absolute least important parts of her identity. I want to teach her to love her body for what it can do, not hate it for not meeting some arbitrary standards society has for how it should look -- and the best way to teach her this is to model it myself. And above all, I want her to love herself enough to focus on being kind and brave and smart and strong and all the positive traits that matter so much more than physical beauty. With that in mind, I finished the 6th mile strong and headed to the dreaded hill.

Running just for me -- for who I am, and for who I am trying to become...for what I've been through and for what lies ahead...for all that is inside me and for all that I am trying to put out into the world -- I leaned in and killed the hill, and crossed the finish line feeling amazing!

And tired. I also felt tired. For fun, I thought I'd get a selfie to show y'all how I look after running six point two. I almost look like I ran TWENTY-six point two. Heh heh.


I call this my "game OVER face."

Last time I ran this race, I was in such a daze at the finish that I wandered around for a while and totally passed by the medals. It wasn't until I saw other runners wearing theirs that I realized I'd missed them and went back to find them. This time I was DETERMINED not to miss my medal, so I carefully followed the crowds right to the chutes, pausing to admire the Iwo Jima Memorial in the background.



As I posted on Facebook after the race, having a Marine put a medal on me was an awesome experience, making it a beautiful moment mixed with both pride and humility. And my Marine was particularly awesome, posing for pics with several of us and being patient when my first 2 attempts at a photo didn't work. :)


Oh, and he was pretty cute too.

For some reason, I didn't feel like posing for one of the official "finisher photos" in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial, but then at the last minute I tried to snap a selfie before I left the area.


You can...kinda....see....the flag???

The rest of the day can best be described as a "hot mess." I made my way through the Finisher Festival, snagging as many freebies as possible. (One of my favorites was the free watermelon...they were giving away containers of it, and the sweet, cool, juicy fruit tasted A-M-A-Z-I-N-G after the race!!) Then I collected my "Mission Accomplished" jacket, which kept me warm while I wandered to the UPS trucks to get my checked bag.

Finally I was ready to head to Crystal City to cheer on my friends in the marathon, but pretty much nothing else went according to plan after that. Though I was getting text updates about where my friends were on the course, I still managed to miss them in the throngs of runners passing by, so they never got to see the signs I'd made for them. My cow bell kept malfunctioning. I had a raging headache (probably from the lack of caffeine...my coffee pot had broken the day before and oversleeping meant there was no time in my hectic morning to stop and buy a cup!), and I grew hungrier by the minute despite having eaten some of the free food right after the race. I took the shuttle back to the finish line to try to meet up with my friends there, but my phone battery had died and for some reason would not cooperate at the free charging station provided by USAA.

I did get to see one of my friends briefly, but then ran into trouble trying to go home because the lines for both the metro and the shuttle buses had grown exponentially throughout the day. I had done a ton of walking already and my feet were toast, so I couldn't bear the thought of standing in a line. Basically, I bonked, and I bonked hard. I was too hungry and tired and headachy and foot achy to function at all, and I felt weirdly disconnected from the world since my phone was dead. I sat down on a step in front of a building for a long time and tried just to relax and clear my thoughts. Finally I got the idea to walk to the metro station at Arlington National Cemetery. It probably took the same amount of time as I would have spent in line at Rosslyn, but at least I was moving forward. Plus the route took me past the finish line and end of the race course again, so I could watch some of the later marathon finishers. I felt very inspired by the people finishing in 6+ hours, because that's probably how long it would take me if I ever attempted a marathon, and I admire anyone who can push through the pain for that many hours!!!

Once I was on the train heading home, I could relax and start to shake off all the mishaps and foibles of the day, and focus on what was great about it. My race felt amazing, and I'm very happy with my time. It was a little over 6 minutes slower than last time, but was actually faster than I expected! My average pace was better than it has been in any of my long training runs. I don't think I could have asked for a better run that day. Plus the Marines really put on a fantastic race, and I've thoroughly enjoyed my experience twice now. I plan to run the 10K again next year, and hopefully this time my husband will be running with me! (There, I put it into writing...he has no choice but to make it happen now! Hahaha!)

I'll leave you with what seemed to be the motto for this year's race, which was plastered on everything, including our little boxes of free post-race food:


Not the hashtag...the other thing. ;-)

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Super Secret List, Part II

Last week I shared my super meaningful race goals. Now it's time to shake things up with less meaning and more randomness. I'll try to explain them as best I can, but I honestly don't have good reasons for wanting to do most of these races. I just wanna. :)

Part II: Specific Races I Want to Do for Vague or Random Reasons

1. Baltimore Running Festival (Marathon, Half Marathon, Relay, 5K): I'm no fan of the city of Baltimore, especially since my experience in January. Still, I've heard great things about this event, and plus you get an Under Armour shirt. I'll probably do the 5K, though it would be cool to be part of a relay team.

2. Casey Cares Foundation & Orioles 5K: Though I don't care much for Baltimore in general, I do like the O's and I love Oriole Park at Camden Yards, so finishing a race there seems pretty awesome. Running + Baseball = Bliss!

3. Clyde's 10K: I've heard this race is worth running just for the food afterwards. I love food. Sold!

4. Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta (10K): I have no idea why I want to do this race. It's in July in Hotlanta. Gross. I think maybe it's stuck in my head because it's the second race I ever knew about when I was young. I think some of my siblings ran it once, or something. Anyway, I want to do it someday. I think.

5. Cherry Blossom 10 Miler: Now that I have run 7 miles, tacking on 3 more seems doable, with the proper amount of training, of course. I don't know of a lot of 10-mile races, but I've heard of this one and it seems pretty popular, so I might as well go for it someday.

6. Army 10 Miler: And this would be the only other 10-mile race I currently know of, so it might as well be on the list too.

7. Ragnar Relay (Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC): I know a few people who have done Ragnar relays, and they're absolutely INSANE! (The races, that is, not the people....though one could argue that someone would HAVE to be crazy to do one of these things!) You run with a team of 12 people, each taking 3 legs of a roughly 200-mile race, while the rest of the team follows along in a van. You even run overnight -- seriously, it's crazy. But it also sounds crazy FUN, if you do it with fun people, and that's exactly what I hope to do someday.

8. Columbia Triathlon (Olympic distance): Although I plan to stick with sprint distance races for next season at least, I do plan to move up eventually to Olympic distance triathlons, and it just seems natural that I should do this one. It's a challenging course, but some of it is the same as Iron Girl (same lake, same run course plus some extra). I don't know if this will end up being my first Oly distance race, but it's on the list.

9. Nation's Triathlon (Oly distance): Swimming in the Potomac sounds like a really bad idea and therefore I must do it.

10. NYC Triathlon (Oly distance): I watched this one on TV and decided that it looked fun.

11. Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon ("modified International distance"): This race is crazy, and hard, and also crazy hard. It might be many years before I'll be in good enough shape to complete it, and who knows how long before I'd get lucky enough to win a spot through the lottery. I don't really know why I want to do it, other than just being drawn to insanity. It's like this: once you embrace the insanity of triathlon itself, suddenly all kinds of things that normal people deem "crazy" seem perfectly normal and in fact desirable. So, I want to do this crazy hard thing. Lord help me.

If you've done one of these races and have any helpful advice for me, please share it! If you'd like to join me on one or more of these, please share that too! If you just think I'm completely nuts at this point...well, you're welcome to share that also, but it's not like you're telling me something I don't already know. ;-)

And if you thought this list was random, just wait until you see Part III...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Headstrong (I Hope)

Consider this post a preview of this Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon 10K. I'd like to get into the habit of writing a short preview of each race, listing my goals and any concerns I have going into the event. Of course, for Iron Girl, I had a whole WEEK of preview posts, but that's just because my first triathlon was such a big deal!! In the future, most preview posts will be just a day or two before the race. This time, I know I'm going to be super busy and exhausted on Saturday, and tomorrow I want to post Part II of my Super Secret List, so you get this preview a little early!

Up until yesterday, I was feeling pretty confident about this race. I've run 6 miles twice and 7 miles once during training, so getting through 6.2 this weekend seemed to be a no-brainer. And then I rattled my brain. Literally.

As I darted to my car in the rain, head ducked low to keep the drops out of my eyes, I opened my car door hard and fast...right into my forehead. It hit with such force that it made a loud noise (as did I), and I staggered around for a second trying to process what had just happened.

Once I regained my composure, I hopped in the car and drove on to work, sneaking peeks in the mirror at my growing wound along the way. There was a small cut, and all around it grew a rather large bump. Naturally there was pain right at the site of the bump, but also a headache gradually spread across my whole head.

You may now pause and laugh at my klutziness. It's okay -- I laughed about it quite a bit myself. :)

So I fought the pain with good ol' OTC meds yesterday and went to bed hoping today the pain would be mostly gone. No such luck. The bump is just as large and the headache has been even worse today!! I was scheduled to do an easy 30-minute run this morning, but I opted out due to the pain. I was planning to run today and then have two days of rest before the race. Now I'm not sure whether to squeeze the easy run in tomorrow or just skip it entirely. If my head hurts at all in the morning, I won't run. If it doesn't hurt, then I guess I have to decide whether to risk it or to play it safe.

Chances are, my head will be just fine by Sunday morning. I mean, there might still be a sore, bruised area at the surface, but any internal pain should be long gone. Still, I'm revising my race goals slightly just in case my head gives me any trouble. It was difficult coming up with goals for this race because I don't have anything in particular to prove this time around, and I know I can't achieve a PR right now because I run so much slower than I did four years ago. Mostly I just want to enjoy every bit of the experience, run the best race I possibly can at this moment in time, and finish strong.

To that end, here are my goals:
Reach: Run the whole thing, no walking
Realistic: Walk 5 minutes or less (3 or less if there is no head pain)
Easy: Run as much as possible (if there is head pain)

Expo and packet pick-up are Saturday (squeezed between my kids' sports and a Halloween event) and then the race is Sunday morning. I hope to get a race report written early next week. Until then, think of me as I run with the Marines! Semper Fi!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Super Secret List, Part I

Not too long ago, I hinted at a Super Secret List of races I want to do, and mentioned that I might share that list with you eventually. I'm finally going to do that! I'm breaking the list into 4 categories, each of which will get its own post. That way, I can explain some of them in further detail. My plan at the moment is to post another section of the list each Friday, but we'll see if I can stick to that.

Part 1: Specific Races I Want to Do for Specific Reasons

1. Arlington 9/11 5K: This was my first-ever 5K, but the experience left something to be desired. It's a great event, and I'd love to support it every year that it fits into my schedule. First of all though, I am seeking redemption. My first time back to the race, I want to enjoy it, whether it goes well physically or not. I want to savor the experience, fight through any moments that are tough mentally, and finish strong. Then eventually I would like to run the whole thing, as was my goal the first time I attempted the race. Ideally I could accomplish all of this in one shot, but if not, I'll take the mental victory first and the physical one later.

2. LARS Turkey Trot: This is another race I have run before and want to take another stab at, but not because I need any kind of redemption. I just think getting out and running a race on Thanksgiving morning is a lot of fun -- I can see why Turkey Trot runs are so popular! This race is local, passing through some of my favorite parts of my town, and it benefits a great local charity. I hope to make this a family tradition every year we're in town for the holiday! Oh, and I'm already registered for this year. ;-)

3. Marine Corps Marathon 10K: I loved this race when I did it in 2010, and like the previous two, I'd like to start doing it every year that it doesn't conflict with something else. The Marines really know how to put on a race! The course is great and being part of the marathon event is exciting and inspirational. I'm registered to participate this year, in just a little over a week! Yay!!

4. Baltimore St. Patrick's Day 5K: Now we're moving on to races that I haven't done, and that's precisely why this one is on the list. I registered for it in 2010, right before I succumbed to the pain, went to the doctor, and was diagnosed with a stress fracture. I spent the month of March limping around in a removable cast instead of running for green beer. It was frustrating to lose the money, but even more frustrating to miss the experience of my first race when I felt so ready for it. I'd like to run this race someday, for fun and to complete my unfinished business. And, of course, for the beer. :)

5. Cooper River Bridge Run (10K): I've been saying I'm going to do this race for years, and someday I must make good on that promise! But I'm motivated by more than just that. I grew up in Charleston, SC, and had a lifelong fear of the bridges that once stood over the Cooper River. I was so afraid of those bridges that I had recurring nightmares about them -- actually I still do from time to time! I did the Bridge Walk (which used to be separate from the Run but part of the same event) once while I was in college, and it was terrifying. The bridges were just so tall, and narrow, and rickety. The new bridge is wide and sturdy and safe, but still very very tall. The thought of running across it is not appealing to me at all, and yet I feel compelled to do it. I honestly don't know why. I doubt that running the bridge will conquer my fear of it any more than walking it did so many years ago. It's just something I have to do. Someday.

6. Iron Girl Rocky Gap (sprint tri): This was the triathlon Candice and I were first planning on doing. Even though I switched to Columbia for good reasons, and ended up finishing my first tri even sooner than I would have if I'd done Rocky Gap, this still feels like unfinished business because it had been in my mind for so long. The timing is challenging because it's right after school starts, which is always a chaotic time of year, but hopefully someday I can make it work. Maybe I can even get Candice to do it with me!

7. Iron Girl Columbia (sprint tri): My first triathlon will always hold a special place in my heart, and it's just a wonderful event that I'd love to participate in every year that I can. In 2015, though, my goal is specifically to beat my time. The first time around, my goal was just to finish alive and preferably in an upright position. I wasn't concerned about time at all (as evidenced by my 10 minutes in T1...LOL) and was perfectly satisfied finishing in just under three and a half hours. But I know I can do better! There is plenty of room for me to improve in all three sports (and transitions!! hahaha), and by next August I should be able to obliterate my old time. I can't wait to give it a tri!!

Each of the above races has emotional and/or psychological significance to me, and will be very gratifying to complete. Though they aren't necessarily the most important goals on my horizon, they are good for keeping me motivated to train and improve while I ponder and select other goals to pursue as well. I look forward to reporting on another satisfactory MCM 10K experience soon!

Meanwhile, stayed tuned for The Super Secret List, Part II: Specific Races I Want to Do for Vague or Random Reasons....coming soon....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Daily Lunar Eclipses -- Is That Too Much to Ask?

Mornings are killing me.

Sunrise is getting later and later, which is making it harder for me to get out and back before my window of opportunity closes and I have to be home to help with school prep and drop-off.

The problem is that 5:30am is D-A-R-K now, and often chilly as well. Even the days when I'm not overtired, and actually feel motivated to do the day's workout, I have trouble tearing myself out of my warm, cozy bed before the sun has approached the horizon. My brain seems hardwired not to want to get out of bed in the dark.

Here is my thought process every morning when the alarm goes off: "Outside is dark and cold. My bed is warm and soft. I want more sleeeeeeeep." And that's it. I give in nearly every single morning.

The one morning when I actually managed to get up WITH my alarm and get my butt out of bed was the day we had a full lunar eclipse just before dawn. As the moon darkened, it had a reddish hue, earning it the name "Blood Moon," which was pretty cool. For the first half of my run, I watched the eclipse happen, and then in the second half, I watched a bright, beautiful sunrise. It was a great run! If only I had something that spectacular to watch EVERY day, instead of the dark dark dark that keeps me in bed...

My running progress hasn't suffered too much, miraculously. Somehow, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to finish my 10K in less than 2 weeks, just from running twice a week lately. I completed a 7-mile run this past Sunday --the farthest I've ever run in my life -- and I didn't die, so I ought to be able to complete 6.2 without dying even if I only run 2 or 3 more times before then. But just barely getting through my next event isn't enough for me. I want more.

I need to get back in the pool and on the bike. Right now I feel like a fraud for still considering myself a triathlete, since I'm not really upholding the "tri" portion of the term. I'm not so much doing the "swim bike run" thing; rather, I'm doing the "run...sometimes" thing. And the truth is I actually miss swimming and biking! I had come to love all three sports and was enjoying them, so it's sort of absurd to me that I can't seem to make myself do two of them now!

What is it going to take to motivate me in the mornings? What will get me out of bed in the cold and dark on all the days when the moon is just the moon and the sun doesn't appear until my workout is nearly done? Until they invent a bed that literally launches you onto your feet when your alarm goes off, I am stuck fighting this battle with myself, inside my head, all alone. I need to turn the lazy monologue into a dialogue and argue myself out of bed. I need to come up with things to tell myself that will remind me why I do this stuff at all. I have quite a few mantras I play on repeat in my head when my workouts get rough and I feel the urge to quit. I need something similar for mornings. Any suggestions???

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Out with the Old...

This week I hit another milestone on my fitness journey -- I retired my very first pair of "real" running shoes.

"WHAT??" you say? "You've been running for over 4 years and you're just now retiring your first pair of shoes????"

Why yes, I am. This is what happens when you start running, and then stop to have a baby, and start again, and then stop to have another baby, and then take forever starting again. The number of miles you can get out of a pair of shoes varies according to your weight, your gait, and which expert's advice you're reading. Most sources I've seen recommend a range of 300-600 miles.

I bought my Asics GT-2150's in June of 2010, and just now have about 350 miles on them. I've only logged running miles, not walking miles, though I'm not sure that makes a difference. I'm sticking with the lower end of the recommended mile range because these shoes have had a lot of pounds slamming down onto them, and there are visible signs of wear on the inside and outside.


These shoes will always be special to me. They're the first shoes I bought in a running store, and the miles we've logged together have been memorable. I wore them in my first disastrous 5K, my second, much-improved 5K, my first (and unexpectedly awesome) 10K, and my 4th race/3rd 5K.


Then, after some time off and some false starts and more time off, they carried me through the training for and completion of my very first triathlon!!! I'm not sure if any other pair of shoes I own will carry me through quite as many significant events! In fact, I hope they won't, because I hope to wear the rest of them out much more quickly from now on! ;-)

Can you tell which ones are the new ones? Nah....

My new shoes are....exactly the same as the old ones. I bought an extra pair when I saw them on sale at a department store. I figured it couldn't hurt to have a back-up pair waiting in the wings, and I was right, because Asics doesn't make the GT-2150 any more! When I wear out THIS pair, I'll go back to a running store for another fitting, and see whether I should get another Asics stability shoe, or something else entirely. For now, I ordered another pair of Superfeet inserts just like I had before, and hope that the shoe/insert combination that has gotten me this far will continue to work.

Funny, I never knew my shoes came with such a snazzy looking insole...because the guy at Fleet Feet took them out when he put in my Superfeet! I paused and admired the pretty before I did likewise.

I was all set to trim the inserts to match the exact shape of the insoles, but they already matched. I could have sworn the Fleet Feet guy trimmed them, but it was a long time ago...


Yesterday I took the new shoes, complete with new inserts, out for a spin, an easy recovery run of about 40 minutes. To be perfectly honest, they didn't feel that different from the old shoes, except with a little more support around my arches and heels. Maybe the old ones still have some life in them, but I'm not taking any chances on possible injury from running in worn-out shoes. The new ones might give me a boost psychologically at least, if not physically!

It feels like there should be some sort of ritual or ceremony to retire a pair of shoes, especially one that played such an important role in my journey. Oh well, I guess I'll just toss them on the pile with the other sneakers that I wear for non-running activities. If the pile gets too big someday, I'll look into donating my used shoes. For now, Pair #1 is done, and Pair #2 is on the job. I wonder where they will take me??

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Putting the "OFF" in "Off-Season"

Isn't it cute how I mapped out a whole plan for my triathlon off-season? Yeah...I am following approximately NONE of that plan right now. None at all.

At first I was at least keeping up with the running, but even that has fallen by the wayside! I had a great 5-mile run on Sunday, Sept. 7th. My next attempt at running was two days later, and I quit after 15 minutes. I just wasn't feeling it that day. I have not been able to force myself out of the bed in the morning for a run since then.

I don't really know what's going on. It could be any number of things, really.

TIMING

We're back in the school year routine, which requires me to be back from my workouts in time to help get three crazy little boys dressed and out the door on time to get to school. Sometimes the little ones ride along, but most days I stay home with them while my husband drives the others. So if I don't hit the ground running the minute my alarm goes off, I pretty much miss my window in which to get a workout completed. Maybe later in the year, the kids will get better at staying on task in the morning and my help won't be needed as much, but for now this is a daily obstacle that can only be overcome by getting out of bed on time. And right now bed is winning every.single.day.

STRESS

The start of a new school year is always stressful just because there is so much newness for everyone to get accustomed to, and also just so very many things to do! This year that stress has been compounded by all kinds of things going wrong -- things that I fully expected to go RIGHT, so I've been caught off guard. I expected to be incredibly BUSY this month, but I had no idea I'd be extra busy trying to solve all kinds of problems that I didn't see coming. Of course, working out would help me cope with the stress, and missing the workouts is making me feel even MORE stressed...and yet somehow I can't seem to make myself get moving. It's like I'm stuck in a spiral stress vortex that won't allow me to do the very things that could help relieve the stress. UGH!

PAIN

Ever since my 5-mile run, I've been having pain in my left knee. It's in a spot where there wasn't pain previously, and it feels different than the knee pain I usually have. It's a little better this week, but it was pretty bad all last week and over the weekend. I don't know if it will be any worse when I run, but that's not stopping me from using it as a convenient excuse not to try. Maybe I do need to rest it, but I won't know if running makes it worse if I don't get out there and just see how it feels!

FUNK

My head is in a weird place right now. This is probably a by-product of the stress, I think. I just don't feel motivated to work out, or do much of anything, really. I've been sad and grumpy and moody and blah, sometimes all at once! Just like with the stress, exercise could help with these feelings, and maybe clear my head a little, but I'm in too much of a funk to force myself to get out there. Blah blah blah. Blah.

So there you have it. I'm a little lost and searching for the right motivation to get moving again. I desperately NEED to get moving again. Would anyone like to come to my house and literally drag me out of bed at 5:30am tomorrow? Pretty please???

Friday, August 29, 2014

My First Off-Season

Several people have asked me the question that I'm sure is on everyone's minds: "What's next -- will there be more races?"

As you can probably deduce from the title of this post, the answer is a resounding "YES!" After all, I can't have an off-season unless I have another "on" season in the future, right?

When I first got the idea to do a triathlon, I expected it to be a one-shot deal, an item to check off the bucket list before moving on to the next thing. It was supposed to happen at the end of my weight loss journey, when I'd be thin and fit enough to be successful. Well, absolutely none of that went as planned! I did the tri without losing weight, and got completely hooked! For the bucket list -- now I have a Super Secret List of races I want to do instead. Well, I guess it's still a bucket list of sorts, but it's entirely fitness-focused. For now, most of the specific races on it are running events, simply because I am more aware of them. I'm still very new to triathlon, so I didn't know too many specific events to list. Also on the list are many types, categories, or distances of races, or certain circumstances under which I'd like to compete in various races. I realize this all sounds very vague, but it will make more sense whenever I decide to share the Super Secret List with you.

My goals for next season, so far:
1. Sprint tri with Candice in the spring (she has one in mind but we haven't committed yet)
2. Iron Girl Columbia sprint tri again in the summer, to attempt a better time

Time, circumstances, and finances permitting, I may throw another sprint tri in there somewhere, as well as some running races. To prepare for next season, I have a lot of work to do in several areas.

SWIM

1. Research better swim technique for triathlon.
2. Learn/practice better swim technique for triathlon.
3. Re-learn how to do flip turns in the pool.
4. Swim 2x per week until training resumes.

I want to get faster in the water, and the very first thing I need to do in order to accomplish that is work on my stroke. Better form will make a HUGE difference, I'm sure.

BIKE

1. Keep building my base of endurance.
2. Get toe clips or straps for my pedals (I'm not going to switch to clipless pedals until I upgrade to a road bike...eventually)
3. Ride hills, hills, and more hills.
4. Figure out a way to get through the icy/snowy months (spin class? find a cheap, used spin bike or bike trainer for the house?)
5. Ride 1-2x per week until training resumes.

STRENGTH TRAINING

1. Do ab/core challenges.
2. Do some yoga at home for strength AND flexibility.
3. Research strength training strategies for triathlon.

WEIGHT LOSS

1. Mindful eating.
2. Take it one small goal at a time.

This hasn't been on my radar in months. My focus was on training for Iron Girl, and that's it. Now that I've accomplished my goal, I care even LESS about the number on the scale. Do you know why? Because it's the same. I started triathlon training at about 225 pounds, and I finished it at right around 225 pounds. My body has changed in that time, though, and I've discovered that I can be a lot more fit at this size than I ever realized I could! To be honest, I'm really only revisiting my weight loss efforts for 2 reasons: (1) I have a lot of clothes a few sizes smaller, and I like them, and I want to wear them again. Also, I'm still too cheap to buy a whole new wardrobe at my current size. (2) My knees hate me. I don't recall having too much trouble with my knees when I got into running in 2010. This time around, I've had a lot of knee pain on my run days, to the point where I basically stopped using stairs whenever possible, stopped wearing heels entirely, and started chowing my way through a large bottle of ibuprofen. I really don't think I am injured, per se. My knees just need a little less weight pounding on them. So now that my brain is on hiatus from the mental focus required for triathlon training, I'm going to direct that focus instead to trying to lose a few pounds. I don't have any huge goals...just going to take it maybe 5 pounds at a time and see where that gets me.

RUN

I saved this for last because technically it's not "off-season" for running yet. In fact, my next race goal is in less than two months, the Marine Corps Marathon 10K on October 26th. You may recall that this event was my first-ever 10K back in 2010, and I enjoyed it so much that I knew I'd want to do it again someday! So I've shifted gears into a 10K training program with this race in mind. I haven't registered yet, but I should probably get on that soon, since it might sell out. I will probably run a 5K also sometime this fall, but nothing has been decided yet. Once I cross the finish line of the MCM 10K (and hopefully avoid another post-race slump), I will sketch out my off-season and long-term goals for running.

I'm excited about all that is ahead of me. The finish line of Iron Girl was merely the starting line of the rest of my active life!

Oh, and if you want to know what all is on the Super Secret List, you'll have to stay tuned....:)


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slumping It Up

The Post-Race Slump is a thing, y'all. The struggle is real.

I'm so glad I started googling these sorts of articles, because I've spent much of the past week and a half wondering if I was losing my mind. I was expecting to be on a huge high from the moment I crossed the finish line until....well, I wasn't sure how long it would last, but I was counting on a few DAYS at least! Instead, the slump hit me almost immediately. The day after the race, I sat in the Target parking lot and cried after shopping for school supplies for my kids (this is normally my FAVORITE shopping trip of the year, no lie.) Why was I crying?? I have no idea! Because I'd missed all the good sales and was behind on back-to-school prep, because I couldn't find everything on my list, because I was wearing my Iron Girl shirt but no one in the whole store noticed or cared (What? The world doesn't revolve around ME???)...who knows? I was just a hot mess!

If I had known to expect a day-after-Christmas-like letdown, I might have been able to roll with the punches a little better, instead of feeling so lost and questioning my whole existence. I seriously did not know how to handle the re-entry into normal life. It was ROUGH. And that is why it took me so long to write my race report, and why I've had trouble getting my butt in gear with all the other stuff I have going on in my life.

On the bright side, going through the slump forced me to do some more soul-searching, which led to some conclusions I really like.

1. The race really is the victory lap.
2. The feelings of accomplishment and confidence might be difficult to recognize.

THE VICTORY LAP

I've heard it said of marathons that the true accomplishment is getting through the training, and the race itself is really a celebration of what you've already done. I think the same can be said of any race that is challenging for the person running it. A sprint triathlon might be easy to many, but to me it required intense focus and discipline, and pushing myself past what I thought were my mental and physical limits. I expected to cross the finish line and feel like I had conquered the race, but what I didn't realize was that I really conquered the race the week before.

My self-doubt reached its pinnacle when I attempted the run course, and basically failed. I felt so completely lost that day...but the next morning I got up early and dragged myself out to try the bike course, despite still feeling completely lost. By the time I FINISHED the bike course that had terrified me, I was found. Starting the bike course, refusing to quit the bike course, and completing the bike course (and then throwing in a quick mile run for good measure!)...that was me conquering the race. When I showed up a week later to swim, bike, and run all in one morning, I was really doing my victory lap -- I just didn't know it.

What I did know was that I'd passed the point of wanting to quit. Only something insurmountable like actual drowning or a horrific bike crash could keep me from finishing the race. I was going to cross that finish line come hell or high water -- because mentally I had already conquered the race. Even though I didn't expressly think of it as my victory lap, I made it a point to take it all in and enjoy the race, even the difficult parts, so maybe subconsciously I did know the truth. :)

THE FEELINGS

There were a few moments this summer, after powering through particularly tough workouts, or after having little epiphanies where I realized I was really doing this, when I felt a surge of positive energy. I felt confidence coursing through my veins in a way I hadn't felt it in many years. I felt competent and capable, like I could do anything I put my mind to. Somehow, I expected these feelings to be exponentially more intense after I finished the race. I expected to feel like I could conquer the world.

Instead, I felt tired.

I was really happy -- don't get me wrong. And I was proud of myself. But I was also really tired, and a little confused as to why there was no palpable rush of endorphins after I crossed the finish line. I guess my endorphins were just as worn out as the rest of me! hahaha This was when the slump set in...since I didn't feel as "up" as I expected, I immediately felt really really down.

What I figured out over the past week or so is that there wasn't a surge of self-confidence after the race because it had been building up all along! I felt little surges along the way as I built up my base of confidence, much like I was building my base of endurance. I know what I'm capable of now not because I finished the race but because I finished the training AND the race...the finish line was just the final piece of a large puzzle. The confidence is THERE now...it's just quiet and strong and present. This is not to say that I'm not still plagued by self-doubt at times -- it will take more than one big accomplishment to rid me of those demons for good! Just now the self-doubt is no longer the default. Self-confidence doesn't feel like I expected it to, but now that I recognize it, it feels really really good.

In conclusion, I don't know if any of this makes sense outside of my mess of a head. Maybe it's just the ramblings of a clawing-my-way-out-of-post-race-slump woman. Still, I figured I owed it to you to share where I'm at right now.

And if you're wondering what is next for me, now that the slump is subsiding, stay tuned...that's my next post. ;-)


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Improbable Dream Come True

Race Report: Iron Girl Columbia Sprint Triathlon
Date: August 17, 2014
Location: Centennial Park, Columbia, MD
Swim: 0.62 miles (1000m)
Bike: 16 miles
Run: 3.4 miles

I dreamed a dream in time gone by...4.5 years ago, to be more precise. The dream became a goal just 3 months ago. And nearly one week ago, the dream was fulfilled, the goal achieved: I completed a triathlon!

Here's how it all went down:

FRIDAY
There's a lot of moving pieces in triathlon, and the logistics can be overwhelming at times. We had a busy weekend planned beyond just my race, and very little went as planned, but somehow the necessary stuff got done.

After working all day and attending Holy Day mass with my family, I went to pick up my race packet, which felt real, and yet also surreal at the same time. Then I went to a local bike shop to get my bike and helmet inspected. I felt just as awkward and out of place there as I did at the shop where I first looked at bikes. Someday...SOMEDAY I will walk into a bike shop and feel like I belong!!!! Friday was not that day, but at least Trinity the Tri Trek passed the inspection and that was one more task I could check off my to-do list.

SATURDAY

I started off the day not feeling well, then had to run some errands and go to a birthday party, and finally it was time to attend the course info meeting and shop at the expo. The meeting was funny and informative, and actually made me tear up a little when the race director was describing what the finish would be like. My excitement was mounting! I snagged an Iron Girl visor and a purple-zippered race belt at the expo, then headed over to the park to rack Trinity. They had an awesome bike racking concierge service, where someone walked me to my space in transition, and not only showed me the proper way to rack a bike, but actually did it for me. This was an awesome service to provide at an event with numerous first-timers like me!


Looking cool in my visor; Trinity racked and ready for morning


I could only get half of the huge transition area in a photo at a time! Big race! So many bikes!

I said goodnight to Trinity and headed home to help get the rugrats to bed. I wish I could have gone to bed too, but I still needed to quickly practice setting up my gear and going through the transitions, and then pack my bag. Somehow this took me way too long and I went to bed way too late. Story of my life. Also, I discovered while getting everything together that my watch was missing. This briefly sent me into panic mode, as I always ride and run with my watch on. It's just an ordinary sports watch, but I'm used to it and the thought of going without it was freaking me out a little bit. Finally I convinced myself that I didn't need it -- I could use my phone to make sure I headed over to the swim start on time, and after that, time didn't matter. Since my goal was just to finish the race, I really didn't need to know what time it was or how long it was taking me to do anything. Still, I'd gotten myself worked up enough that sleep did not come easily.

SUNDAY

The 4:00am wake-up call was painful. Thank God for my husband, who'd set the coffee pot the night before! I ate a bowl of Cheerios, got dressed, threw the last few things in my bag, and headed out the door with two travel mugs full of piping hot java. Race traffic wasn't too backed up yet when I arrived, and I managed to get a great parking spot inside the park, so I didn't have to take a shuttle from somewhere else. Yay! I finished my first coffee and headed over to transition.


What I look like at 4:00am; What I look like still way too early but after lots of coffee!

Getting set up was easy -- almost too easy, in fact. Naturally, I second-guessed myself and wondered whether I was doing it "right." Meanwhile, I went to get bodymarked. The volunteer who wrote my bib number and age on me was enthusiastic and funny. Really, I can't say enough good things about ALL of the volunteers for this race -- UCF puts on a great event! Next, I walked the route from swim in to bike out, then bike in to run out, to get comfortable with my location so I wouldn't get lost in the transitions. By the time I finished that, the racers whose bikes were on either side of mine had arrived, and we got to know each other a little. Two of us were first-timers, and much to my relief, the experienced triathlete told me it looked like I had my gear all set up well. Whew! I could stop second-guessing then. :) I was so glad to meet these awesome ladies, because until that point I had been feeling a little lonely. It seemed like most of the other women there so far knew at least one other person in the race. Suddenly the sky started getting light, and my rackmate who was also a newbie and I decided to head over to the swim start.


My transition set up; My cheesiness -- I painted my nails to match my swim cap!

SWIM

After the National Anthem and the announcement that the course was ready for us to begin, my rackmate and I congregated with our fellow navy-swim-cap-wearing Athenas and awaited our turn to enter the water. I was still pretty nervous about the swim, despite my practice at the beach. I was expecting the water to be really gross, and just didn't know how I would handle it. My rackmate was nervous about the swim too, so we encouraged each other as we paired up for the time trial start. I'm really glad my first triathlon had this type of start, where the racers enter the water two at a time, a few seconds apart, because it really cuts down on the wild thrashing around and kicks to the face that can happen with the typical wave start. As we entered the lake, we had room to spread out and get comfortable in the water and settle into our stroke without running into many other swimmers.


I might be in this picture somewhere. I was in the water when it was taken. Somewhere, out there...

My first impression of the lake water was that it was a very comfortable temperature, and next I noticed that it wasn't quite as gross as I'd feared. I mean, it was murky, and I knew it wasn't exactly super clean, but the area where we entered was decent enough. Still, I was hesitant to put my face in too much, and thus it took me a long time to really settle into a normal front crawl swim stroke. Once I finally relaxed a little, the swim became fun! However, it was also LONG. So, so long. That's a big lake. Breathing was a bit of an issue, so I took periodic breaks from front crawl to dog paddle a bit, or do a bit of sidestroke or backstroke...whatever it took to catch my breath. I got passed by a lot of ladies also in navy caps, but it wasn't too long before I spotted green caps going past as well. I ended up getting passed a lot more on the swim than I expected, so I wasn't too surprised later to find out that my swim time was significantly slower than I thought it would be. It was a great experience though -- it was a beautiful morning for a swim, and I never felt scared or panicky. I did feel tired, but I knew I would make it to the end. As we got closer to the final turn of the swim course, the water got noticeably grosser -- it started to stink, and stray pieces of lake grass started brushing my arms and legs and got caught on my goggles. Luckily, once we made that last turn, the exit point was just ahead! Even though I'd enjoyed the swim, I was thrilled to get out of the water! My rackmate and starting partner actually exited the water at the same time as I did, and we high-fived each other with congratulations for surviving the swim.

Swim Time: 00:36:46

I took my time walking to transition. It seemed like everyone around me was scurrying up the hill, but I was in no hurry. I just wanted to catch my breath and scan the crowd for my family and Candice. And suddenly, there they were, cheering me on and taking pictures! Yay!! At this point, my day was complete and my heart was full. I'd made it through the lake without panicking and drowning, so now only a catastrophic bike accident could stop me from completing this race. It was time to take it all in, soak up as much of the experience as possible. I was enjoying myself in transition, dancing to the peppy music that was playing as I ate some shot bloks, chugged some water, and put on my fanny pack (as always, shut up). When I finally sat down to dry my feet and put on my running shoes, even my kids noticed that everyone else was moving at a faster speed than I was, and they shouted at me to hurry up! Ha! Finally I unracked Trinity and headed off to begin my weakest leg.

T1 Time: 9:05


Slowest transition in history; Trinity and I starting the bike leg

BIKE

Okay, this is where things got weird. From the very start, despite being tired from the swim, I felt really good on the bike. I wasn't afraid of the hills or stressed at the prospect of having to walk. I wasn't nervous about the traffic zipping by (it was not a closed course, but the police and volunteers did a great job of keeping us safe!). Because I'd ridden the course the week before, I felt comfortable and prepared. As such, I was able to enjoy most of the ride, even the parts that hurt. And somehow, I rode stronger and faster than I had before! I only got off and walked 5 times, compared to 10+ the previous week! I was surprising myself over and over as I powered through rough spots. It didn't even bother me that I was getting passed constantly -- I expected that to happen, but I even managed to pass a few people myself. I spent most of the race behind a 61-year-old woman, and she inspired me to push harder than ever before. There were several hills where I was tempted to get off my bike, but I kept hammering away because she was, and if she could do it, so could I!

I did make one mistake on the bike course: at the aid station, I was surprised that they were handing out whole bottles of water, but I grabbed one anyway. I probably didn't even need it, since I had a bottle in the cage on my bike, plus a bottle of gatorade in my fanny pack (I said shut up!). So there I was with this giant bottle of water, and I didn't want to waste it, but I was afraid of getting penalized for littering if I tossed it too far away from the aid station, so I just started chugging it like crazy! I think I took in too much water too fast, and my stomach was not pleased. The stress of not knowing what to do with the bottle only worsened the nausea, so I spent my favorite part of the course uncomfortable and unhappy. I finally realized I HAD to get rid of the bottle in order to ride safely, so I half accidentally and half purposely dropped it. The stress subsided but my stomach took a little longer to calm down; thankfully it finally started to feel normal again. I felt amazing on the homestretch of the ride. It had been so much fun, and the support and encouragement of my fellow racers had really added to the experience. You can't talk to people much while swimming, but a lot of people interacted quite a bit on the bike and run. I don't think I ever struggled up a hill without at least one (stronger, faster) racer encouraging me. This is an awesome race. :)

Bike time: 01:36:07



I still wasn't in a huge rush in transition, but I did take a minute to try to stretch my quads a little, as they were hurting something fierce after that ride! Then I swapped my helmet for my snazzy new visor and my fanny pack (sh----) for my awesome new race belt (yes, I totally broke the rule of "Nothing new on race day"), grabbed a bottle of water, and headed off to run. On the way out, I got high-fives from two awesome volunteers, including the one who had done my body marking, and the race director urged me to enjoy my run. I was grinning from ear to ear, knowing that all I had left to do was keep moving forward for 3.4 more miles, and (personal) victory would be mine!

T2 Time: 2:00 (estimate due to technical difficulties. might have been a little longer, making my bike time even shorter.)

RUN

I'm going to be honest here -- I didn't have a lot left in the tank at this point. Though I'd hydrated well (so well that I kinda needed to pee, but didn't want to use one of the two porta potties by transition) and fueled throughout, I was tired, especially my lungs. It was difficult to keep lifting my feet up, but it was nearly impossible not to wheeze like a pack-a-day smoker. I took frequent walk breaks, not because I was hurting but because I simply couldn't catch my breath. I was still happy and enjoying myself, but I wasn't attacking the run with nearly as much gusto as I had the bike. In retrospect, I think it's good that I'd had my disastrous test run on this course, because after that, I had no illusions that I'd be able to run the whole thing on race day. I expected it to kick my butt, so I was completely unphased when it did. There was no mental breakdown this time around. This is why theatre folks don't mind the bad dress rehearsal -- it makes for a better show!

The best part of my run was on the most annoying part of the course. Most of the time, you run along a lovely wooded path along the water. But then they make you run up "Gatorade Hill" to another part of the park, where you literally run through a parking lot part of the time, and then you have to go BACK UP the stupid evil hill AGAIN. There's a reason they hand out Gatorade up there, for real. Anyway, before looping around to hit the hill the second time, I noticed the two ladies ahead of me veering off the course. I wondered where they were going, and then noticed that the building they were entering was a restroom! I followed, thrilled at the chance to use a real bathroom. I had to pee pretty badly at this point, and was not looking forward to having to hit up the porta potties immediately after crossing the finish line. The potty break added a few minutes to my run time, but it was totally worth it. Totally.

The last mile of the run is less hilly, but you lose the shade from trees as you run around the edge of the lake. It was sunny and hot at this point, and I was prepared to walk much of that last stretch. But then I saw Candice heading my way, snapping pictures and encouraging me to keep going. She ran along with me for a while, which was fun. I was so excited to have her there, since I wouldn't have been there that day if it weren't for her!!


Look! A lake! I swam in this lake!; Extreeeeeme Close-up

After a little bit, Candice darted on ahead to try to catch me at the finish, and I entered the last little stretch of the race, where the crowds were building and the support invigorating. Spectators called out our numbers as we ran by, cheering us on and encouraging us to finish strong. I dug down deep and used whatever strength I had left to run through that chute to the finish line. Towards the end I saw my friend Sherene on the side, and I high-fived her as I passed. Then, just before I crossed the line, I heard the announcer say my name and those magic words: "You are an Iron Girl!"


Oh sure, take a picture of my cheesy thumbs-up but miss my arms raised in triumph just seconds later. LOL

Run Time: 00:54:07
Total Time: 03:18:05

Something special about this race is that the volunteers giving us our medals were all cancer survivors or people currently fighting cancer. So that moment of triumph for us was also humbling compared to the greater battles being fought all around us every day. I will think of that every time I look at my medal.


A beautiful moment I will remember forever

I collected my ice cold chocolate milk (YUM!) from one of the race sponsors, and went to greet my family and friends. There were many hugs, despite how badly my lake-watery, sweaty self smelled. These people must really love me. :)


Smelly hugs; Me with the people I love most in this world

I have to mention how grateful I was to have friends there. My family is sort of my fan club by default (especially the kids...it's not like they had any choice in whether to come! hahaha), but my friends came because they wanted to, and I sincerely appreciate their support. Sherene, the uber runner and marathoner, even brought cupcakes because she's always wished someone would bring her some after a race. I hope I can repay the favor soon, because that was indeed the perfect post-race treat! :) I forgot to take a picture with Sherene though...my brain just wasn't functioning properly. I did get a picture with Candice, and the only thing wrong with it is that she's not wearing a medal too -- next year, my friend!! You can do this, and you will, and no one will cheer for you louder than I will! :)


From two silly girls giggling over padded bike shorts, to this. :)

Everything got really hazy after this. It was a lot like I felt after my first 10K, when I was actually in so much of a daze at the finish that I totally walked past the medals and wandered around aimlessly for a bit before I found them! This time I had my medal, but I couldn't seem to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was hungry, but the food tent seemed so far away. My kids were hot and tired and bored. I still needed to pack up all my gear and clear it and Trinity from transition before it closed. Literally everything was uphill from where we were, and I couldn't wrap my head around the concept of going up another hill just yet. They announced that the final racer was on the run course, and I wanted to be there to cheer for her when she finished, but I didn't want to make my family wait with me, and I also didn't want to just sit there. Finally I bid farewell to my fans, and trudged back to transition to get my stuff.

It didn't take long to stuff everything in the bag, but the next challenge was hoofing it up the hill, pushing a bike, to my car. It seemed almost cruel to make us go up one more steep hill at that point. Maybe next year they could put in some sort of elevator system, just to use AFTER the race, when our poor legs are spent. Just an idea, UCF. Think about it. ;-)

By the time I made it to my car, I was hot, ravenous, and exhausted. I'd thought about going back to cheer on the last finisher, but couldn't bear the thought of walking all that way again. So I got in my car, cranked up the A/C, and headed home. The rest of my day was a blur...I never did refuel properly after the race so I wasn't thinking clearly and my body was confused. I got home, got all my stuff put away, and took a shower, but after that I just drifted in and out of consciousness for most of the day. I did go to church with my family, but I barely remember it. Learn from me, people -- it's important to refuel with more than just a chocolate milk and a cupcake after such a strenuous race! You should definitely eat at least TWO cupcakes. Or something.

Over the past week, I've had some emotional ups and downs, and TONS of introspective thoughts as I've processed what I accomplished. I hope to blog about some of those thoughts in the days to come. For now, I just want to leave you with my thanks for your support, and this picture, which you've probably already seen on my Facebook page:


Triathlete. For real. And forever.

Friday, August 15, 2014

She Has a Name!

Thanks to everyone for your wonderful name suggestions! I loved them all, and I appreciate that you took some time to think of such meaningful and clever names.

Ultimately, the name that I chose is the one with the most multi-layered meaning, while also appealing to my fondness for alliteration. And that name is....

...drumroll...

Trinity the Tri Trek!

What is a triathlon but a trinity of sports? I love the parallel: God in three Persons, race in three disciplines. I will be praying for my safety through the race, and now I have the idea to structure my prayers around the Holy Trinity: during the swim I will pray to God the Father, during the bike it will be Jesus, His Son, and during the run I will be begging the Holy Spirit to help me get to the finish line alive! :)

The name Trinity was submitted by Candice, who has now been mentioned on my blog nearly as much as my family! Okay, just kidding, but she's definitely a popular figure around here since she's the reason I'm about to do what I'm about to do the day after tomorrow. I did not pick her name suggestion just because of her part in this story, but I do think it's really special that she's the one who came up with the name I ended up liking the most.

From now on, when I talk about my good buddy, the bike, I will call her Trinity (and hope that no one thinks it means I'm a fan of The Matrix movies, because I am not, at all! hahaha)

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the contest!

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

In less than 48 hours (I hope), I will be basking in the glow of accomplishment, with some awesome new bling around my neck.

Right now, I'm shaking in my boots. Except I'm barefoot at the moment, so I'm just shaking in my skin. Whatever...the bottom line is I'm thinking about the race and getting scared. In order to conquer my fears, I think I need to identify exactly what I am and am not afraid of happening. So here goes!

THINGS I DO NOT FEAR:
1. Being slow. I just am slow. I've made my peace with it.
2. Coming in last. This sort of goes with #1. If all goes well, I don't think I'll be in very last place, but you never know what can happen on race day! As long as I finish, I honestly don't care if I'm dead last...just as long as I'm not dead.
3. Looking ridiculous. (There is one narrow exception to this, which I will cover in the next section.) I know I look rough when I run, and I'm pretty sure I make a bunch of odd, pained faces on the bike. Some of these ridiculous expressions might be photographed for posterity. Such is life.
4. Taking breaks. I took breaks during my open water swim practice, so I'm prepared to do it in the race also. And obviously I'm going to need some breaks on the bike, and I've accepted the fact that I will have to walk parts of the run as well. Whatever it takes to get to the finish line...I will slow down to catch my breath, but I will keep moving forward.
5. Drowning. If I can swim in the Bay, I can swim in the lake. It might be unpleasant, but I'm pretty sure I can survive it. Probably.

THINGS I DO FEAR:
1. Crashing on my bike -- into another bike, into a car, or just all by myself. Bike accidents can be serious and I don't have a whole lot of experience yet, so this scares me.
2. Wardrobe malfunction -- my tri shorts are tiiiiight. I know they're supposed to be tight, but on me that spandex is working overtime, if you know what I'm saying. And you're not supposed to wear underwear in a race because they'd get wet during the swim and then not dry. So my fear is that I will move the wrong way, and the spandex will cry "Uncle!" and I'll end up with a gaping hole in my shorts that introduces the general public to way more of me than anyone ever needs to see. This is the exception to #3 above, and if it happens, I may have to live as a hermit for the rest of my life.
3. Forgetting something -- I will rack my bike tomorrow, and then bring the rest of my gear Sunday morning. I will make lists and practice transitions and check my bag a zillion times. I will still forget something. I just hope it's not something super necessary, like my timing chip. Or running shoes. Or helmet. Or MIND.
4. Panic -- I have some very specific fears, and then I'm also trying to mentally prepare myself for any number of other things that could go wrong. I want to stay relaxed and roll with the punches, but I'm afraid that something completely unexpected will happen, and it will throw me off my mental game and I just won't be able to cope. Unfortunately I'm not a very laid-back person, and I'm rather inclined to panic. This could easily be my undoing.
5. Vomit -- I hate to vomit. I'd rather keep the feelings of nausea for hours on end than vomit and feel better. I've always been this way. I'm a little nervous that race day jitters + physical exertion could = vomit. Scary.
6. Getting disqualified -- There are a lot of rules in this race, especially for the bike portion. I've read over them a few times and tried to commit them to memory, but I'm afraid I will accidentally do something stupid and end up DQ'd. I hope they are generally pretty patient with first-timers!!!

I think that about sums it up. At least I'm not afraid of everything, right?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm Not Fat -- I'm Just Big-Brained!

Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom. According to Wikipedia, she was also the goddess of "courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill" as well as being the "patron goddess of heroic endeavor." In other words, she was pretty much the goddess of AWESOMENESS.

In the world of triathlon, Athena is a division in which women who weigh more than 165 pounds can compete instead of competing in their age group. It's always optional -- they don't force us big girls into a separate group against our will, to separate the fatties from the real athletes. Instead it's a choice some women can make to compete against "our own kind," so to speak. Many women who qualify for Athena still choose to race in their age group; some of them are still competitive despite their size, and some simply want no part of publicly acknowledging what they weigh. I've read that for some races, you have to weigh in at check-in to verify that you meet the weight requirement for Athena, and many women are very uncomfortable with people seeing what they actually weigh.

If you've followed my blog in the past, you know that I have no qualms about Owning My Number. I know I can't compete with the fitter women in my age group (and honestly I'm probably slower than most of the big girls too!), so I figured I might as well race with my fellow Athenas! We have our own wave for the swim start, and maybe some of us will stay close to each other throughout the course. Solidarity, ladies! I will step on a scale proudly this weekend if I need to prove that I weigh over 165 pounds, though it ought to be obvious just by looking at me.

Just thinking about all this tempts me to go on a rant about our society's crazy obsession with weight rather than fitness. I currently weigh about 225, the same as when I started training for this triathlon. This means my BMI is the same as well. But my BODY is not the same. My FITNESS level is not the same. My HEALTH is not the same. I have more muscle mass than I had a few months ago. I am stronger -- muscles, heart, lungs, etc. I still want to lose weight, because the heavier I am, the greater the strain on my joints when I'm active. But other than that, my weight is just a number, not the main indicator of my health and certainly not the source of my self-worth. I'm a few days away from completing a triathlon, and I'm thrilled to be doing it as an ATHENA, goddess of wisdom and all that other awesomeness!!

Of course, there are some other drawbacks to being tall, large-framed, and heavy. For instance, shopping for my triathlon attire was no picnic. Luckily I had done my research, and I knew going in that there was a good chance I'd have to try the men's suits in order to find a size that fit me. I was a little nervous about shopping in the men's section, but fortunately the tri clothes were all on clearance and grouped together at REI the day I went. I tried a few items, both men's and women's sizes.

A men's one-piece suit. I liked the way it felt but wasn't wild about how it looked.

Split decision: women's shorts, men's top. I liked the look of this outfit, and decided to go with two pieces because it would make bathroom breaks easier.

So on Sunday I will be an Athena in a Clydesdale (the men's equivalent of Athena, for those 220 pounds or more) shirt. Works for me!