Escape from Alcatraz Race Report

NOTE: This post has been a work in progress! I’ve had so much to say and couldn’t finish it in one sitting, so it’s been updated in pieces. Needless to say – that’s why it’s 3 months late!!

On Friday, June 5th, Brian and flew out to San Francisco. We arrived early (~11AM west coast time), which gave us most of Friday to explore San Fran a bit. We stayed at the Hotel Majestic, which was located in Pacific Heights – about 2 miles from the race site in Marina Green.  After grabbing brunch at a delicious local spot called Sweet Maple, we walked over to Marina Green (little did we know how much that walk would bother our calves and feet – holy hills!!). The race crew was setting up for Sunday’s race and to be honest, there was so much energy in the air (in anticipation).

EFA Friday Bay View
In 2 days I will be swimming in this! 

EFA Friday Runway
Previewing the finishing chute 

We decided it would be best to stay on east coast time.  Transition will open at 4AM, which essentially is 7AM EST. 7AM won’t result in crazy sleep deprivation. We sacrificed eating at yummy San Fran restaurants by eating from Whole Foods’ salad bar both Friday and Saturday nights – at 4PM.

Since the bike course was only 18 miles and super technical with intense climbs, descents and sharp turns, it didn’t make sense to ship my Tri bike to San Fran. It’s really pricy and it’s not like I’d be in the aero position for very long. I decided to just rent a road bike from a local bike shop, City Cycle.

Let me tell you that they were AMAZING and super helpful. We swung by first thing Saturday AM to pick up our bikes. For $100, I got to race on a sweet Trek Madone 4.7 – it was so smooth and lightweight. They set me up on the bike and added my pedals and saddle.

After picking up our bikes we rode over to the Marina Green park to pick up our race numbers and swag. There was a LONG line, so we went directly over to the race merchandise tent. Since I was so excited about the race, I went a little overboard! I bought a hat, visor, t-shirt, towel, coffee mug and a sweatshirt (ha!).

EFA Sat Hat Podium
Sporting my new Escape hat 

Afterwards, the line to get our race stuff took about an hour or so. It was mainly b/c you have to sign your life away in forms. Luckily, the folks at Normatec had their recovery boots out for use, so I took advantage of it after getting my packet. That 15-20 minutes helped my legs immensely, particularly after walking so much around the San Francisco hills.  I really, really want to buy some, but the price is just too much.

After that, the pros were holding a meet and greet session, so I walked over to meet some of the most inspiring pros and had them sign an EFA poster for me. It was surreal!

EFA Pro Poster

Ok, so on to the race! Sunday morning, we woke up around 3:45/4AM and got our stuff together. We rode our bike to the race site, which was interesting due to some crazy straight-up (what felt like) 90 degree hills. It was super fun to ride the streets of San Fran with no cars, though. We got to transition around 4:30. Right away, I saw Andy Potts setting up. He was focused and in the zone – so cool.

EFA Race Morning Bike In Out
You can feel the excitement in transition 

I found my way over to my transition spot and got set up.

EFA My Transition

Around 5:30AM, Brian and I boarded a bus, which took us over to Pier 3 by the Ferry Building (near the Oakland Bay Bridge). I waited to eat my breakfast (refrigerated Whole Foods oatmeal and hard boiled eggs) while on the bus.

The “Hornblower” boat was waiting for all 2,000 of us to board. It wasn’t taking off until 6:30, so we had some time to hang out – mainly wait in the Porto-Potty line. I had packed my wetsuit, 2 swim caps, Blue Seventy booties to keep my feet warm, googles, water and a banana for a snack. I went ahead and put on the bottom part of my wetsuit, but left the top off to keep cool. We left our “warm” clothes in a bag that we’d retrieve after the race.

They started calling for everyone to board the boat around 6:15-6:20, so we got on. It was already incredibly packed with racers. There were 2 floors within the boat swarmed with athletes.

EFA Boat

Brian and I went upstairs and found some open space in the stairwell. We had to calm our nerves and chill out for the hour boat ride over to Alcatraz Island. The only excitement we experienced was one of the volunteers by the stairwell who had to constantly tell people they couldn’t go upstairs to use the 3rd floor bathroom – VIPs only! A few snuck in and it was a great distraction from nerves.

All of a sudden the countdown was upon us – 10 minutes until go time! Brian and I made our way down to the first floor packed full of athletes. I think someone sang/played the national anthem. A race director also gave a little speech, but I can’t remember it for the life of me! Nerves! I do remember, though, that they told us the water temperature was a balmy 60 degrees. We all rejoiced because 60 degress was SO much better than the mid to low 50s that we were expecting.

All of a sudden felt a little panicked. I wasn’t sure where to sight! Would I get lost? Luckily, someone had a print out (left on the floor) that explicitly told you were to sight, so I studied that.

The pros were lined up on the deck ready to jump at 7:30AM. Shortly after they jumped, the crowd of athletes started moving towards 1 of 2 doors to jump. It was hard to believe that within 6-8 minutes, all 2,000 of us athletes would have jumped off of the boat. Brian and I decided to go out the door to the left of the boat and shortly discovered we were among the last to jump somehow. Others must have been more aggressive about pushing towards the front.

As we got closer, I started to get really excited. It was that edging-up-the-roller-coaster feeling. I could hear the beeps from the timing mat get louder and louder as I got closer. My swim cap was on. My goggles were on my head. My booties were securely under my wetsuit. My timing chip was fastened around my left ankle. My Garmin was set on “triathlon” and I had acquired my GPS satellites. I was ready.

The person in front of me jumped and then it was my turn! Oh the excitment! Brian and I jumped off the boat at the same time. There’s no going back now! I plunged into the water.

EFA Swim Jump! Copy
*&%#!!!! Ice Cold!! Holy slap to the face of cold pain.

The platform on the boat was about 5 feet above the water, so once I jumped, I went under pretty far. I started to worry that someone was going to jump on top of me, but I was safe. After collecting myself for a few seconds, I started to swim. It was a shock to the system. I had not swam in salt water in who knows how many years. It tasted disgusting! The water felt so cold that I was having a hard time swimming and breathing. I popped my head up and saw Brian. He made me float on my back for a minute and take in the scenery. Alcatraz Island was right beside us. It was gorgeous in all of its criminal glory. I quickly remembered how lucky I was to be able to “escape” by swimming across the San Fran bay. Not many will do it.

EFA Alcatraz View

So, onward I went. I located Fort Mason and sighted against it. The current was SO strong. As much as I swam, I felt like I made no progress to get closer to shore. I would look up to sight and would have to redirect myself back to Fort Story. As I swam, I started to warm up and didn’t feel the ice cold water on my face and hands anymore. It felt refreshing instead. At one point, I came across a guy waving/yelling for help (b/c of a cramp), so some other racers and I tried to help him by yelling as well. I got closer to the kayak and told him to go get the guy (good deed of the day).

I kept swimming, sighting and redirecting. I tried to keep my stroke smooth and steady. They warned against breathing on your right side because of the wake possibly hitting your face; however, I didn’t have any problems with it. I’m just not comfortable breathing on my left side.

My goggles were foggy and when I looked around me, I felt alone – I couldn’t see anyone nearby. I started to get a little negative thinking that I was among the last and would be pulled in by a boat b/c of the time limit. After a while, I decided to lift my goggles when I was swimming to look around (since I couldn’t see). Sure enough – there were plenty of people around me. Yay! I wasn’t lost at sea. 🙂

EFA Swimmers

I again reminded myself of how cool this was – to be swimming in the Bay, knowing there were sharks below me hanging out. I tried to savor every minute of it as it would be over before I knew it.

Sure enough, it was! I eventually saw the beach and sighted/swam towards it. I got to the beach and the announcer said to look behind me and see everyone who was still swimming. Looking at my time online (~45 minutes), I was among the back 1/3, but that’s ok! I made it. 🙂

EFA Swim Exit
Not me – Just a good pic of what the swim exit looked like 

There was a mini-transition area right around the bend from the beach, where you could put on shoes to run the 3/4 of a mile up to the main transition area. I decided to forego this in favor of running in my booties (basically barefoot). It saved about 4-5 minutes I think. I ran up the hill and it really wasn’t bad. I realized that I run on the balls of my feet when running barefoot on concrete b/c otherwise it would be too much impact to my body if I ran flat-footed. Interesting observation! There were SO many people cheering everywhere – it was so energizing.

As I was running into transition, I heard the announcer say Mattie Reed’s race ended due to a blown tire out on the bike. Bummer for him. I quickly raced to my transition area and took off the rest of my wetsuit. It was a struggle, likely because I had dried off quite a bit during the run. I tried to quickly put on my warm socks (it was ~60ish degrees outside), bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses and ran with my bike towards the mount line. Luckily my transition spot was near the bike in/out, so I didn’t have to run too long.

Heading out on the Bike

I took off on the bike. Normally I feel a little rocky because I’m still getting my feet from the swim; however, the 3/4 mile run to transition helped shake off those cobwebs. I felt pretty good and ready to go. The first 2 miles were flat, which was a welcome sight. Then, we made a sharp turn and went up into the Presidio. Granny gear was in place! Unfortunately, Brian and I didn’t drive the race course (mainly because we didn’t rent a car), so I had no idea what to expect next.

EFA Bike 1

There was a LOT of climbing! My bike felt smooth, so I just kept my legs spinning. One of the coolest things about the race was seeing the pros coming back in on the bike. They were going up a fairly steep hill, so it looked like they were riding about the pace of us age groupers. 😉 It was definitely motivational.

For the rest of the bike course, there was a pretty steady climb up until ~mile 5-6 when we entered Lincoln Park. We descended pretty dramatically – I had to hit the breaks quite a bit b/c the roads were quite curvy  and a bit scary. It then evened out heading into Golden Gate Park. The elevation map shows the climbing resuming coming out of the park, but I don’t remember it being anything too major. I really tried to make up some speed here – it was actually quite fun!

Descending in Fog

The BIGGEST climb of the day was right at mile 12. It was one of those San Fran hills. I managed to pedal up the first part until it evened out, but then came the shocker, crazy grade of a hill. It was short and punchy, but totally intimidating. At first glance, I decided I would just walk it. Save the legs for later! I honestly didn’t mind because I was also nervous that I might not make forward progress. I hadn’t practiced on a hill that steep before.

EFA elevationgraph2015

After that, things evened out and we continued back towards Marina Green. Around this point, I saw Brian heading out and told him he was in for some recovery for a few miles. We climbed a bit more and then finally, I could coast back down towards town. I managed to pick up some speed at the end. Over the course of the ride, I got more comfortable on my bike, which definitely helped. Oh and it’s probably worth noting that I hate 2 PowerBar gels along the ride. Also, I’m sure it would have been a beautiful, scenic ride, but the fog was still rather dense, so you couldn’t see anything over towards the water.

EFA Bike 2

You could feel the energy of the crowd coming back into transition. There is nothing like it! I dismounted my bike and ran back towards my transition area. I quickly put on my run shoes, belt, visor, gels and headed out.

I’m not a huge fan of running – particularly not in the hot and humid weather – and I just have to say that this run was BY FAR my most favorite run leg of a race ever. It felt perfect and my legs felt great – likely because I couldn’t really hammer it on the bike (I only averaged around 14 mph, crazy!!). By now, the fog had lifted and the views were spectacular! We ran on a trail towards Golden Gate Bridge. It was SO fun.

EFA Run 1

After passing the bridge, we started to run uphill a bit heading towards Baker Beach. There were quite a bit of stairs – possibly 2-3 different sets and uphill road climbs. Once we approached Baker Beach, there was a swift descend down into the beach. I let my legs rip! It was probably not great for my legs or knees, but I was flying down that hill. Baker Beach was incredible – sooo pretty! We had to run through pretty dense sand until you got closer to the water where it was packed down. We ran to the left until we came across an aid station at the turn-around where I took a gel.

I steadily ran back towards the other side of the beach where I approached the infamous sand ladder. It was as tough as they said it was, yet really fun. I grabbed a hold of the rope and climbed up step by step. My legs BURNED about half way up and I had to take quickly little breaks here and there. From what I remember the sand ladder was about 400 feet of climbing. A TV station was broadcasting from the top half of the ladder, so we got to say hello as we went.

AG Sand Ladder 2 copy

At the top, I regrouped and got the feeling back in my legs and started to run again. It was a nice downhill from here on out.

EFA Sand Ladder
Made it to the top of the Sand Ladder! 

We ran back down all of those stairs that we previously climbed. At that point, I came across Brian who was just starting off on his run. He tried to get me to stop and hang out, but I didn’t want to for 2 reasons: I was feeling GREAT and having a great race – I had to keep going. I was also in a single file line going down the stairs and I would mess people behind me up.

I kept cruising back towards the finish line. I felt great and was actually smiling through most of the run (that never happens). I ran past Golden Gate Bridge and onto the trail through Crissy Field. My pace was still consistent and good.

EFA Run 3

I eventually rounded the bend to come into finish shoot (which was amazing BTW). The crowd was cheering loud and eventually I made it in. I felt GREAT!

EFA DONE!jpg

I averaged around a 10:40 pace, which accounts for all of those stairs and the sand ladder – I was quite happy with my run. Overall, my final time was ~3 hours and 30 minutes, which was MUCH better than I had estimated. I had officially “escaped from Alcatraz” and had the medal to prove it. 😉

EFA Medal!

My friend Tricia, who now lives in San Fran, came to the finish line to cheer me in – she’s the best!! I met up with her and her husband right after I finished.

EFA Tricia

Overall, it was one of the best experiences ever. I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I didn’t want to do other races or take other vacations instead.

EFA A & B Medals

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A-Not-So-Great-Race, Race Reflections

Today was the first triathlon race of the 2015 season. The Smithfield Sprint located in (you named it) Smithfield, VA. Despite our crazy, cold VA weather this winter, I was feeling pretty confident about my race today. I had 2 great time trials (bike and run) under my belt from the week before and knew that my fitness was in a good place.

Normally the weather for this race is nice and cool. Today it was HOT and full on sun. The race started off well – I was extremely happy with my swim split (results are not posted yet, so can’t 100% confirm). I passed 5 people and never got held up. I felt strong, smooth and steady.

After I finished the swim, everything else quickly went downhill. In the spirit of living and learning, I wanted to document some race reflections while they were fresh on my mind…

Disable “energy saving mode” on my Garmin before a race.

  • I was super pumped to race with my new Garmin 920 and try out the triathlon feature. Little did I know that, while I was overwhelmed with nerves right before the swim, my Garmin switched back to the watch mode. No swim or T1 was recorded and I had to fool with a bit on the bike to start recording data.

Pool swims are not fun if you can’t start in the top 10%.

  • VTS/MTS used some sort of weird bell-curve swim seeding, which everyone complained about. I will admit I am pretty spoiled by typically being able to start towards the front. The hour and a half wait threw me off quite a bit.

A 10AM race start time is usually a solid play for a cool, April race, but not so cool when we get a heat wave. Holy hotness!

Starting the race at lunch time made me want to eat lunch.

  • Given the above 2 bullets, starting at 11:30 confused my hunger signals. We had to be there by 9 to get our packet and get set up in transition before it closed. I tried to gradually eat my breakfast on the ride down, but frankly I think my body knew it was time for lunch (and hungry again).

Study the bike route.

  • Even if I’ve raced the course before, still study it. With my Garmin debauchery, I was distracted from racing and missed (the not very well marked I must add) first turn on the course. While I thought it was VERY odd I didn’t see anyone in front of or behind me for a few miles, I kept plugging along b/c people were coming back in the opposite direction. It wasn’t until I saw Brian who started his swim 3 minutes back, that I realized I messed up.

Hot, sunny, non-shaded races are not my thing – nor will they ever be.

Bricks are good, very good.

  • I did very little leading up this race. It would’ve helped.

Negative thoughts won the day!

  • Particularly, after my race blew up. Multiple negative thoughts stayed with me throughout the whole run, which likely contributed to a very disappointing run split. I had high hopes that I would’ve gotten a run PR given my recent run focus. Sigh.

Here’s to hoping the next race goes down a bit smoother!

Fighting a Funk

I’m not sure how often this happens to others, if at all, but I definitely fall victim to the funk. A funk that not only happens with life in general, but more specifically, also with getting my butt out of bed to workout.

It’s the kind of funk that’s brought on by a lack of immediate races or goals. I completed my half marathon back in November, and ever since, it’s been way too easy to talk myself out of a workout. Rationalizations include: it doesn’t really matter, I deserve a break, I need to get stuff done, I’m want to eat NOW, etc. It also doesn’t help that it’s FREEZING outside and daylight is hard to come by. Thanks Seasonal Affective Disorder – way to be a double whammy. Come to think about it, my body was used to being outside a LOT in the Spring through Fall. There was no chance of a vitamin D deficiency. Now, I’m cooped up inside all day and hardly see the light of day.

I see other athletes’ statuses on social media and envy their go-getter-always-get-my-workout-in-plus-some attitude. How do they stay motivated in the winter? Do their bodies not reject this weather and lack of daylight? Are they way more into this hobby than I will ever be (and I feel like I’m into it)?

REV3 Finisher Photo
Happy, Motivated Times! 

Seriously though, today is yet another day of a skipped workout. I’m laying in bed typing this. What’s even more concerning is that I don’t care that I haven’t been diligent about working out. Is this a natural off season malady or is it just me? It’s perplexing because I want to kick ass in 2015. I want to continue to improve and get more competitive. At the same time, it just doesn’t feel real right now. It’s so far away – heck, another year away.

This issue makes me think about a book I read, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It’s a book about behavioral economics and why are brains toy with us in strange ways (a recommended read BTW). Chapter 7 is called “the problem of procrastination and self-control – why we can’t make ourselves do what we want to do.” Immediate gratification almost always wins against our plans for dieting, saving money, exercising, etc.

I bet I could apply some of the principles in this book to overcoming my bad behavior; however, perhaps it’s OK to have a few weeks of slacking off. Perhaps in January I will feel super refreshed and will want to come back and kick each workout’s ass. One can only hope!

I’m curious to learn more about how others cope with this issue. How do your fight your workout funk? If you know of any blogs or articles that speak to this issue specifically, please let me know. I’d love to read them!

“Break on through to the Other Side”

During our team (Endorphin Fitness) banquet back in winter, I was awarded the “2013 Breakthrough Athlete for Group Coaching” award. To be honest, I was completely caught off guard when the coach called my name.

Breakthrough Award

Here’s a little back story…Many other athletes had incredible years – some placing in every single race. I, on the other hand, had traditionally been more of a mid-packer. When I started training with the group, I was fine with that. I had come to terms with the fact that I was slow and likely will always be slow. I had always been more of a “fast twitch” athlete – one who excels with hand-eye coordination, quick agility, ability to think and react on the spot, etc. Endurance had NEVER been my thing. I was always the first to get winded when playing basketball. I ran cross country one season as a way to help build endurance… of course, I was one of the slowest runners!

In fact, I had no real motivation to train for triathlons other than I was trying to lose weight and get toned. Signing up for a race gave me a goal to keep going. I was completely satisfied with that. I didn’t need any special equipment (other than my Garmin 910XT) because I didn’t think I’d ever be able to compete.

Then, over the course of the 2013 triathlon season, my mindset started to change. Seeing my teammates podium in their age group seemed to slowly wear off on me. It made me want to try harder and do better.

I had one of my worst races ever at the RTC Sprint Triathlon that year (mid April). I became incredibly winded on the swim and just couldn’t seem to catch my breath during the rest of the race. My cycling speed was incredibly slow. Racers kept passing me – saying the sympathetic “good job!” When I finished that race, I felt like a flame had ignited. My performance was so lackluster that I never wanted to experience that again.

With my first Olympic (REV3 Williamsburg) quickly approaching, I knew I had to kick my training up a gear or two.  I made a point to attend as many practices as possible with my work schedule. I stuck to my weekend workouts as best as I could. When the race was upon me, I felt ready.

My mom and sister came down to cheer me on and their energy helped tremendously! The swim was extra rough that morning, but I made it through swimmingly (pun intended!). I felt incredible on the bike. I was expecting a time of ~1:30 and I finished up in ~1:17. I did OK on the run – finished in little over an hour – but to be honest, the run just isn’t my strong suit. I finished and completed my first Olympic! And… I knew I wanted to do another one.

REV3 Pic

My next race was a local “women only” sprint triathlon here in Richmond 2 months down the road. I felt like I had a good shot of doing well with the way my training was going. I remember approaching my coach and asking for tips on how to improve and get a faster time. My mindset had shifted – I wanted to compete. The competitive team sport athlete in me had emerged. It was actually quite empowering. When you move away from exercising just to lose weight (to only be continuously frustrated when it doesn’t happen) to exercising for progress, it becomes SO much more fun and exciting.

I ended up placing in the top 20 at the Pink Power Sprint. Unfortunately, I was 4th in my age group, BUT I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I had my mind set on getting a podium in 2014.

Fam Pink Power
W
ith my mom and sister who also completed the Pink Power 

Fam 2 Pink Power
P
ost race celebrations!

Circling back to the “Breakthrough Athlete” award … while I was incredibly surprised when Coach Kyle called me name, I was also very honored. I didn’t have the podiums or the credentials, but he recognized the pretty dramatic shift that occurred within me that year. He called it a “breakthrough of the mind.” This award gave me extra motivation to train harder and prove myself worthy of it.

Musselman 70.3 Race Report

musselman_hero

Brace yourself – this is a long post! 

The Trip

The Musselman Triathlon is located in quaint town of Geneva, NY, which is nestled in the Finger Lakes region. Brian and I drove up on the Friday before the race and made fairly decent time (~8 hours). We realized we were close when we started to pass winery after winery. That region was FULL of them! Secretly, I was a little bummed I couldn’t partake due to racing in two days. The region was absolutely gorgeous and super cute. You got that friendly, small town feel right off of the bat.

We decided to stay with teammates in a dorm apartment on the campus of Hobart and Wiliam Smith Colleges (aka the “athlete village”), which is about 4 miles from the race site. The sleeping arrangement was not ideal (single bed, no AC), but we made due.

The Day Before

On Saturday, I decided to get in a quick bike ride to spin the legs a little.The American Legion Post was serving a pancake breakfast, so part of my ride included riding to it. The breakfast was really nice (hardly any athletes were there – odd), but I didn’t get the memo about needing to pay in cash. I did an IOU and they let me slide.

After that, I decided to ride into town. There was a sprint race going on that morning and I thought I could catch some friends racing and spectating. On the way, I got a flat tire and fortunately, I was near the Geneva Bicycle Shop. I figured it would be less stressful to let them fix it vs. me tinkering with getting on a new tire for 30 minutes. It was the best decision I made that day. The Mechanic was incredibly helpful. While I was there, I kept thinking of various bike issues to ask him about and he helped me with them all (adjusted my rear tire to help prevent my brake from rubbing, replaced my missing cadence sensor, fixed the flat, told me how to clean my bike, etc.).

After my visit with the mechanic, I tagged along with my teammates to preview the bike course. The course didn’t seem quite as daunting as it ended up being. I probably should have paid better attention and taken better notes on the false flats and slow climbs.

After that, we attended the mandatory, yet very entertaining pre-race briefing. Then, we all walked over to the Mussel Wall and painted our names on the wall.

Musselman Wall

After that, it was a bit of a blur. I went by packet pick up to get my race numbers and swag. Musselman is known for giving out really nice swag (shampoo, conditioner, a cool shirt, etc.). Unfortunately, they were no longer giving out the little stuffed mussel guy for some reason. I was bummed! That was the main thing I was looking forward to, so I can take pictures with him in different places (like Niagara falls below) as other fellow Mussel racers do. I ended up buying him for $10 anyways. 😉

Niagara Falls Mussel

We had a early-ish team dinner at a yummy local restaurant (Emile’s Restaurant) who accommodated our strange triathlete requests (e.g. plain grilled chicken and a plain baked potato).

Then, I set off to get my race gear in order, make breakfast for the morning and go to bed early.

The Morning Of

The morning of was pretty straightforward as far as races go. I woke up, grabbed my breakfast, got dressed and headed out to the race site. Brian was my race Sherpa thankfully, so he dropped me off fairly close to transition. I quickly set up my gear and was reminded to “be euphoric today” – a cute tradition of the Musselman.

Be Euphoric Today

Race Set-up

I was really nervous about swimming in my wet suit. I had only swam in it once and it felt too big but yet constricting (like I couldn’t breathe normally). I really wanted to swim without it, but most urged against that. Two of my teammates helped me adjust it, so it actually fit really well. I had room in my neck and arms and feel like I could swim (yay!).

I did a quick pre-swim warm-up and quickly got in my corral to start. A storm was on its way towards us, so the water was fairly choppy – not a good sign.

2

The Swim

It was a walk out start, which was helpful to get a good position among the pack. Since my age group was so large, we got our own wave.

3

6

Luckily the water was pretty shallow until we got to the first buoy. That helped immensely because the water was so choppy from the storm. We had to fight against the swells and it was refreshing to know I could put my feet down and dolphin dive if needed.

My wet suit felt great and was a non-issue. The only thing that bothered me was where it rubbed the back of my neck – likely from having to lift my head so high to see above the waves. I got my first wet suit hickey as a result! 😛

Once I was able to get into a steady rhythm, I just tried to focus on my form, breathing, sighting and trying to cruise along. The rough water made it more difficult, but I was able to manage I had to do some breaststroke here and there just to see over the swells. I found a girl that was about my pace to draft; however, she was directionally challenged and didn’t sight well. I would continue straight ahead and she would bump into me when she over-corrected.

The first 2/3 of the swim was fairly difficult because of how choppy the water was; however, once we got into the last third, we hit the canal by the marina. SO much better – the current actually pulled us along a little bit. I eventually made it to the end (woohoo!) with a time of 43:22.

8

The Bike

I was happy with my swim despite the conditions and was looking forward to the bike (my favorite leg). I rode out of transition and started pedaling with excitement.

19

That excitement quickly ended once I realized how SLOW I was moving.  When my Garmin lapped at the 5 mile mark, it said I was moving ~14MPH and my heart rate was remained pretty high (zone 5 high). My goal was to keep it around 130 (zone 3/4) during the first half of the leg to conserve my energy and my legs.

Negative thoughts started going through my head – Something must be wrong. I had never been that slow in training for such an extended period of time. Maybe it was my rear brake. It was rubbing before. Maybe that bike mechanic didn’t actually fix it properly. Maybe my tire moved when transporting it and it’s now rubbing. Crap! I wish I looked at it in transition. Dummy. Do that next time!!

I told myself I’d keep going to see if it gets any better. Nope. Around mile 10 I was still averaging between 14 and 15 MPH. I was ticked! I decided it must be my brake. I thought I would wait until I saw the first SAG but then I was worried that by waiting, I was wasting my leg muscles. I needed my legs to be as fresh and ready for the run as they could be. This is not going to plan.

With that, I impulsively jumped off my bike on the grassy shoulder of the road. It was not the best idea as I could have been a hazard to racers behind me if they weren’t paying attention. For the most part, everyone was really nice – asking if I was ok. One person cursed at me b/c she wasn’t really watching where she was going and I must have scared her.

I tried spinning my wheel to see if the brake was rubbing and in the process of doing so, my chain hit the long grass nearby and proceeded to come off. Crap! Tears started forming as I saw all of the racers pass me. This was supposed to be my strong leg! I was going to kill it. I was ready. Now, I’m going to get a horrible time because I’m wasting it here fiddling with my bike, my legs will be exhausted from working hard against a rubbing brake and I will be moving super slow.

I couldn’t get the chain back on, so I picked up my bike and placed it over my shoulder and was able to manually put it back on the gears – grease everywhere, though! I spun my tire and it seemed OK. I decided just to jump back on and see how it goes. I think I wasted about 5 minutes in total – who knows!

What I didn’t realize is that first 10 miles was pretty much all uphill (no down hills or flats really). I probably should have studied the map more closely and set realistic expectations with myself. In addition, the incoming storm was causing a horrific head wind. I was fighting gravity and the wind with every pedal stroke.

Around mile 15, I finally found a decent descent. My MPH increased and my heart rate came back to my goal zone. I realized maybe it wasn’t my brake. I averaged 19 MPH during that next 5 miles and a crazy 22.9 MPH the 5 miles after that. I had never sustained that high of a speed in training – I was ecstatic! It was SO much fun riding it too, even if it was pouring rain.

Mussleman Bike Pic

OK, so I was feeling more confident. As I just mentioned, it was also pouring rain in addition to strong winds. The rain didn’t really faze me – I actually quite enjoyed it. The only time I worried was when the wind would pick up and my bike would skid a little due to the rain. Over the course of riding, I had about 5 scares where I thought the wind was going to push me over and get some kind of scary and painful road rash.

This was also my first time ever trying to change out water bottles. It was definitely tricky. I often wanted both water and food and it was difficult to manage. There is a skill involved with keeping your bike upright while slowly riding by and grabbing a bottle. I luckily managed OK at each stop – phew! No spills there.

For nutrition, I carried 3 Feed Zone Portable PB&Js and 3 gels. I figured that had to be enough food. I also had my Powerbar electrolyte calorie drink plus water. Everyone told me to drink a lot of water whenever I eat to help with digestion, so I did. My Profile Design speed fill bottle was full of water when I started and I picked up 4 additional water bottles along the way. This was the first bike ride where I felt like I had to pee immediately after I was done. Crap! Maybe I went overboard on the hydration. I ate my Portables early on (during the first half of the ride) and then my gels after. I remember thinking I was hungry towards the end and was trying to find some food at the stops, but couldn’t swing it with the water bottles. When I finished the bike, I remember feeling incredibly hungry – like I could eat a full meal right then.

By the end of the bike, I was feeling better about my race. I felt like I made up some time and enjoyed some of the beautiful Finger Lakes country along the way. My time was 3:20:26 (thinking I would’ve been around 3:15 had I not jumped off my bike).

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The (f*#%ng) Run

The run. Ah yes, my Achilles Heel of triathlon. Well, let’s just say my run was disappointing as I sort of knew it would be. I started off feeling optimistic – I was running about a 10:30 mile and in search of a port-o-potty. There was essentially one at every SAG, which was nice. I stopped at Mile 1 and afterwards got some water. (Talk about having a hard time pulling your tri kit back on, though! Ugh.)

I made sure I stopped at each SAG to take a mental break, hydrate and take some nutrition. Since I was notably hungry, I decided it would be good to eat part of a banana. It made my stomach whirl, so I walked a little to allow it to digest a bit.

The run course was incredibly hilly. The elevation basically goes up for the first half of the course and then comes down for the last half. Normally that’s ideal, but the first half pretty much crushed my soul and spirit. There were a ton of supporters along the course, which was fantastic. For one of the first big hills, you could choose whether to climb up a house’s grass lawn or walk up the stairs. I chose the stairs – no sense messing with that! At the top they had a little band playing and supporters cheering everyone who made it up there. One of my teammates who was pulled from the swim was up there cheering as well. I was SO happy to see her. I also passed another teammate who is super-fast and enabled this picture to be taken.

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As the miles continued, the harder it became to continue to run. My legs just didn’t want to. I felt miserable. I had to play the mental game of “just get to the next SAG” or “make it to that street sign.” A lot of racers passed me on the run and I mean a LOT. That was incredibly humbling. That’s one of my least favorite things about racing triathlons. I do so well at the swim and bike and am lose any competitive ground on the run. I wanted to “stay strong” (as a faster few teammates yelled at me when we passed in opposite directions) but I just couldn’t. Quite a few times I considered DNF-ing, so I could be done with this madness, but I knew I wanted to finish.

I tried eating and drinking more to see if that helped. Luckily, it didn’t result in any GI issues – likely because I wasn’t really exerting my heart rate. In reality, I was likely well beyond the point of glycogen depletion. All I could really do was continue to put one foot in front of the other and run as often as I could. I walked up all of the major hills to conserve energy – particularly the never ending large hill through a winery. I didn’t care. Forward progress.

I remember getting close to 1 mile left and it felt like the longest mile ever. I wanted to run the whole thing, but couldn’t. I set more goals for myself – get to this landmark and then walk or only walk until that landmark and run again. My run was a small shuffle.

The finish line was in sight and I was almost there! Most of my teammates finished before me and many were cheering. It was great to see them, but I couldn’t appreciate it because I just wanted to be done and sit down. I felt miserable! I couldn’t believe I paid to do this to myself. I also didn’t understand what athletes are thinking when they do these types of races for fun!

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In the end, my time was ~6:51 and my run was a whopping 2:41 of that time. My half marathon time was a good 25 minutes slower than my half marathon last year. Going in, I was hopeful I could break 6:30. Because of the conditions, most racers’ times were worse than expected, so that made me feel a little better.

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Forcing a smile after I was done.

 

The Aftermath

After I cooled down, ate and started to feel more normal, the happy emotion started to surface. I was proud of myself for finishing and the desire to improve on the next one also surfaced. I learned a lot about nutrition. I decided I likely slacked too much on my long runs and could improve there. Maybe I wasn’t ruling out any long course races in my future after all.

Why on Earth do you do THIS?!?!!

That’s the question every non-triathlete asks when I tell him or her about how I’m training X amount of hours in order to compete in triathlons. Or my favorite: “You rode 50 miles?!??? In one day??? On a bike?? You are crazy!!” 

Garmin

 However, it is one of those questions you kind of shove in the back of your mind and don’t really think about (kind of like my 5 year career plan – more on that later). Hey, I’m just doing it – do I have to have a reason why?

 It IS an important question to answer, though. Being able to answer it can help fuel your passion even more.

I have been pushing myself A LOT this past season. I signed up for my first Half-Iron distance race (the Mussleman 70.3 in Geneva, NY) and knew that an intense volume of workouts was to come. As I’ve stayed the course and completed as many workouts as possible, I’ve started to notice a change in my triathlon mentality.

I have started to actually enjoy the workouts. Not that I didn’t before – they just often felt like an obligation and sometimes a hassle (particularly when I was swamped at work or tired). I am improving and showing progress. My motivation has moved beyond just doing this to stay fit and *lose weight. I actually feel like I may be able to compete.

I’ve started to feel optimistic – I am not destined to always be a mid-packer. I am physically able to push my limits, improve and compete.

 Reflection is an amazing thing – I need to make a point to do it more often!

My Triathlon Story – Everyone’s Got One, Right?!

I decided to start training to compete in a triathlon was for a very typical reason – to make myself exercise in order to lose weight. Very cliché, right?

Over time, I learned that I needed structure and a goal in order to exercise consistently. I grew tired of going to the gym and methodically circling the elliptical or taking another sweaty spin class – bore. The sessions served no purpose. They were just a means to an end. Hey, work out for 45 minutes because … you should.

Back in 2009 the ad agency I worked at offered to pay for our entry into a local 10K race, the Monument Avenue 10K. On a whim, I signed up. The YMCA offered a training team for this race, and I figured what better way to be kept accountable, than to join a training team.

It was torture.

To me, running was like pulling a Band-Aid or getting a strep test at the doctor’s office… painful, annoying and anxiety-ridden. My lungs burned. My legs felt heavy. My fat jiggled with every step. Hills were my enemy. I was slow. However, I was able to complete the race and that felt pretty darn good.

At one of the pre-race expos two years later, I saw a bunch of local triathlon clubs and team booths. It piqued my interest. I used to swim in the summers as a kid and did pretty well. I used to LOVE riding my bike around the neighborhood as a kid. Maybe training for a triathlon would be JUST the ticket given my love-hate relationship with running.

That summer, I bought a cheap hybrid bike and signed up with a local triathlon club, Endorphin Fitness. I contemplated doing a free online training program; however, I knew nothing about triathlons and really, riding a legit road bike. I needed help and some coaching!

Long story, short – I was hooked. I never lost any weight, but it was incredibly fun while being completely intimidating at the same time. That whole summer, I kept thinking that I would never be in good enough shape to complete a sprint triathlon, but I did! I raced in the Pink Power Triathlon – a perfect race for first timers. It was a blast. I was a TRI-ATH-A-LETE (as local announcer likes to say to first timers who finish the race). What an accomplishment. I had SO much anxiety about getting through the race and when I was finished, all I could think about is how I want to carve off minutes from my time in the next one.

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Pre-Race Jitters – Getting ready for the swim.

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Mounting my trusty hybrid bike
 
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Almost Done!!

Training for and completing that race gave me a renewed personal goal and purpose, for which I’m incredibly thankful.