28 December 2013

2013 Off Season in Review

Every year it's pretty typical to do a look-back critique of the past season, see what you did right, what you did not-so-right, and what you can improve on for the following year.

This is not that post.

This is much more important. As Training Peaks workout reminders have started flooding my inbox (and I'm actually welcoming the influx), the off-season is coming to a close. Time to look back and see what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I can do to improve my off-season experience for the next time around.

Pool? What is a pool? I did not swim AT ALL during the month of November. I think I voluntarily got in the pool once in early December, before Training Peaks told me to, and paddled around for about 1,000 yds and then I got out. It was a much needed break. And even though I feel pretty slow in the water right now, I'm also not burnt out and that's going to be key for having a successful 2014 season.

The FDA has altered its food pyramid and it is now filled with chocolate. Lindt chocolate, peppermint bark, chocolate buttercream frosting, chocolate ganache, chocolate macarons. Let's also throw some gingersnap cookies in there, marshmallows, hot chocolate (we are currently on the hunt for the type of chocolate that makes the best hot chocolate - Cadbury is the frontrunner).

Try something new. I think one of the best parts of the off-season (besides the unabashed consumption of chocolate) was not having a schedule to stick to. There was nothing I HAD to do - I was free to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and try new things. I gave Pilates a go a couple of times at the Athlete's Studio in Dupont Circle. I never realized how many different exercises you could do as part of Pilates. AND there is a trampoline involved. Did you know that your feet can feel EXHAUSTED and sore after using the Pilates trampoline? They can. I've also been going mountain biking - it's great to get off the road and try out some trails and not be a slave to my Garmin.

Misplaced Training Equipment and Forgetting Your Training Peaks Login. Speaking of my Garmin, I know where my watch is but it's a mystery where my heart rate monitor strap went. Part of me never wants to find it because I detest that thing (it is responsible for 95% of the chafing I experience during training/races). I have ideas on where it could be, but I haven't bothered to look too hard. And it took me a few minutes to remember my Training Peaks login when I went to log my first workout into the system.

Go up a pants size. There's a reason why my winter pants are a size bigger than my summer clothes. Not to toot my own horn, but I ate 4lbs of M&Ms the week before Thanksgiving this year.

Bake so much you cannot stand to look your KitchenAid mixer in the eye. There was one weekend this month that was filled to the brim with holiday parties, brunches, etc. I baked until 2am on a Thursday night in prep for the parties. Macarons, gingersnap smores, homemade marshmallow, meringues. It was awesome until about midnight and then I'd about had it. I couldn't look at my mixer for a week. We also went through 5 boxes of butter the week of Christmas, between the Christmas Eve seafood chowder, the Christmas Bread, the cookies, the BUTTERCREAM FOR THE BUCHE DE NOEL.
Gingerbread cake rolled in eggnog buttercream, topped with chocolate buttercream and decorated with meringues.
All in all, it was a good 1.5-2 months. Exactly what I needed. Success!

17 December 2013

That Holiday Tradition You Love and Hate (But Actually Really Love)

I give you... The Holiday Chicken.

I practically need shades when looking directly at the blinged-out chicken beak.
Especially when bathed in the soft glow of electric sex. 
 What has turned into one of our family's greatest (and most obnoxious/most fun - depending on if you are the receiver or the sender) holiday traditions was born out of a friendly holiday cornhole game back in 2007. That year, Mr. Sweetie and I went to World Market (the mecca for ridiculously useless housewares) and found a chicken on the stick. This would be the prize that the cornhole winner would get to take home with them. Needless to say, we all tried to lose. That year, the chicken ended up staying in California and each time we came out to visit, we'd see the chicken laying around the house somewhere and crack a few jokes about it.

Then the chicken made it's way to our house. Mr. Sweetie's parent's were sneaky and left it behind in the guest room after they visited. They made sure to hide it just enough so we wouldn't find it until after they were safely on their plane home. Sneaky.

So we got them back and tried to one-up the sneakiness. Mr. Sweetie arranged a handoff to the person who housesat while the whole family was up in northern CA for Christmas one year. He instructed her to place the chicken on the island in the kitchen, snap a photo, and send it to him. I think we then posted it on Facebook or something and tagged everyone. Or maybe Mr. Sweetie just showed the photo to everyone at the dinner table. Either way, the level of sneakiness had escalated.

During another trip, Allie snuck it into Mr. Sweetie's golf bag, texting us a picture of the chicken next to a sign taped to the golf bag "Off To DC I Go..." We sent the chicken to live at the beach with Jackie. I think it eventually made its way to the Arizona desert to Stephanie's apartment. And then, just a few weeks ago, it made a reappearance to DC. This time with a blinged out beak (have you ever seen something so flashy?), tail feathers, and a santa suit. 

Watch out West Coast Family - we are plotting revenge! 
(though, we will admit, the chicken makes a jolly addition next to the leg lamp)

Don't worry, chicken. We'll be sending you back to CA with a bathing suit and beach umbrella.

10 December 2013

Worst Bike Commute in Bike Commuting History

OK, maybe the title is a little dramatic (I suppose the worst bike commute would be the one where you are run over by a car), but this morning's bike commute in was pure MISERY. For the past few days, meteorologists had been forecasting SNOW for DC during the Tuesday AM commute. They alluded to the fact that, with the timing, it had the potential to become another Commutageddon. Metro is crap on a regular day, so I figured I'd play it safe and take my mountain bike out for a snowy commute to work instead. Faster, more reliable, etc. I woke up this morning and the ground was dry so I rushed to the pool, arriving just after it opened and squeezed in the swim that I wasn't able to do yesterday due to the weather-related late opening. By the time I left the pool, sleet was coming down hard. This isn't going to be pleasant to bike in, but at least I won't have to worry about traffic and egotistical drivers causing traffic jams I thought to myself. By the time I got home and had a quick breakfast, the sleet had turned to big, fat snowflakes. I instantly pictured what my commute in would be like - sure, it may be a little wet on the bike trail from the initial coating of sleet, but besides that, I would be riding my bike in a swirling confection of snow, the only sounds being my tires crunching softly over the coating of snowflakes.

Reality couldn't have been more different.

When will I learn that snow in DC is NOT the pretty, dry, swirling snow you see in movies and in places where it normally snows actual snow, not sleet? The snow here is wet slop that soaks your jacket, drenches your butt from all the tire kickup, and sucks the joy from your soul. Instead of a coating of snowflakes, I rode through puddles. By the time my feet were frozen blocks of wet ice, it was too late for me to bother turning around. And the kicker was that the roads were completely free and clear of anything but puddles - including ice and traffic. Never thought I'd utter these words but gosh I wish I had metro'd today. My feet were the kind of cold where, when you take a lukewarm shower, they tingle and itch as the feeling slowly comes back to them. I looked like a miserable drowned rat when I arrived at the office. I also used the excuse that I didn't want to put wet bike clothes back on to ride home to rope Mr. Sweetie into picking me up from work.

There has never been a day where I wished I wasn't riding my bike. Until today. I get shivers of cold just thinking about my morning. Bleck. I don't care if it is wimpy, but I am never going to willingly ride my bike in borderline freezing weather with precipitation. If it is going to be cold, it must be SUNNY and cold. Or at least dry and cold. DC needs to get with the program when it comes to delivering the proper type of snow.

01 December 2013

A Kid, Cancer, and How to Help One Family

On Wednesday of last week, Mr. Sweetie and I were congratulating ourselves on getting a jump start on our Thanksgiving holiday, making it out to Pittsburgh without having to fight any traffic. We enjoyed a fantastic Thanksgiving-eve dinner of Indian food with his aunt, uncle and three cousins. We were thrilled to be with family, on a mini-vaca, and on the cusp of the holiday season, which is simply the most wonderful time of the year.

At about that same time that Mr. Sweetie and I were sitting down for dinner, my co-worker and friend, Melissa, and her family were receiving devastating news. Their youngest son - two-year old Christopher - was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Wednesday evening. Melissa had taken him in to the pediatrician to get a fever checked out that afternoon, with no reason to think it was more than just a bug that needed to be nipped in the bud before the holiday. Seven hours later, her and her husband were being told the grim diagnosis by doctors and they settled in for an extended hospital stay.

Melissa was one of the first people I worked with when I started working at my company back in 2009. Her patience, knowledge, and willingness to help me were some of the main reasons I found success on one of the more complex projects I was assigned to. She has been an incredible mentor on every project I've worked on with her and she is someone I hold in very high esteem. In addition to being a great colleague and friend, she is a wonderful mom to her two boys and her and her husband are truly a parental dream team. Remembering what a crummy big sister I was growing up and the sheer mass of sibling rivalry that existed between my brother and I, whenever I talked to Melissa I always asked how her boys were doing and if her older son still loved being a big brother. He did, he absolutely adored his little brother to pieces from day one, and still thinks he is the bomb.com 2.5 years later. They are an extremely close family and Melissa and her husband have done a bang-up job instilling strong values and love in their two kids. The cancer diagnosis is something they will overcome as a family, but boy I wish this was a storm they did not have to weather.

According to a number of medical websites, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia has a survival rate of at least 90%, which is great news. But I still can't fathom how scary this whole experience must be for Melissa and her family. Their lives are changed forever - no sniffle, fever, or bruise will ever be looked at the same again and there will always be that quiet fear, just below the surface, of a relapse, even well-past the 5 year timeframe when the cancer is considered "cured." This isn't going to be an easy or quick journey to a cure and it will be one filled with uncertainty.

I was hoping people who read this could keep Melissa and her family - especially two-year old Christopher - in their thoughts. They are lucky in that they have many wonderful family and friends to be a support system. They also have health insurance, which is great, but unfortunately don't cover everything and there will be some hefty co-pays coming down the pipeline. If you're interested in lessening the financial burden, please feel free to visit the fundraising website that has been set up (you can also see from the photos on the site what a fabulous little kid Christopher is). Any little bit helps and it would be an incredible gift to take away any financial concerns so they can be free to focus completely on Christopher's health.

Cheers to Christopher and his family; cheers to his ability to smile through the treatments; may his recovery be fast AND may the hospital cafeteria rain cups of vanilla ice cream down on him whenever he feels well enough to eat!

29 November 2013

Race Report: 2013 Pittsburgh PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5 miler

We kept our turkey trot streak alive this year by running the 5 mile race at the Pittsburgh PNC YMCA turkey trot. This was, by far, the biggest turkey trot I've ever done. Back in 2010, when we were last in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving and ran the 5k option, I don't remember it being nearly this big. There was a 1 mile fun run, 5k, and a 5 miler - in the 5 miler alone, there were 1,542 finishers. But it was so well run (I found a porto-potty with ZERO line) and had plenty of parking that I had no idea there were that many people until I looked at the results online.

I've been lazy over the past month with my running (as in I would go for a 2 to 3 mile run once, maybeeeeeee twice per week, with a couple weeks having zero running). Part of it was sheer laziness coupled with a bit of I-Could-Care-Less-About-Running burnout, and part of it was to let the leg/groin muscles that I felt like I had strained back in October heal up. Admittedly, I probably took the take it easy so my leg feels better to the extreme by barely running at all, but it has been quite nice to feel guilt-free this off-season about not running. If I'm not in the mood, I don't make myself run. Just in the past week I've started to feel little twinges of hmmm, I think I actually feel like going for a run or I won't throw my computer out of my window if I get an email from Training Peaks. I'm going to start next season rested, not burnt out, and my leg feels 100% better. Off-season goals achieved.

That was a long way of saying I had no expectations for yesterday's turkey trot. Each time I've gone out for a run, it has felt like a slow slog and it seems like I'm huffing along at a 9:00 pace that feels like it should be a 6:30 pace given the amount of effort I'm putting forth. Mr. Sweetie was running the 5 mile race as well (he's the type where he can get back into running and within 3 weeks his easy pace is in the mid-7s. I kind of hate him for it). I felt like it would be a reasonable goal to try to hold a 7:30 pace for the race, especially given how sloggy I've been feeling in my run shoes lately. Mr. Sweetie and I decided we would run together and I had a few thoughts of maybe we should just jog this for fun, why does everything always have to be a race, etc. I was feeling slow, out of shape, and thought what is the point? Then we got to the start line, the gun went off, and it was definitely a race - point or no point, slow or not slow.

We started towards the front, but far enough back that the first half mile was spent dodging around people and trying to find open road. By the time we made a loop around the stadium, the crowds had thinned out considerably and we had plenty of space to run our race. I felt like the effort was easy (a bunch easier than my warmup jog from the car to the start line) but the first mile went by in 6:56, which was a nice surprise. I felt fine as we looped by the start/finish area and made it a goal to try and keep my pace consistent for the remaining four miles. We went over a bridge and into downtown for mile 2, passing by the 5k runners on the other side of the road who had started 30 minutes before us - it was a nice distraction seeing the other runners. Mile 2 clicked by in 6:55 and when I made it to 2.5 miles, I reminded myself that I was halfway done and I can do anything for 2.5 more miles. Just past the halfway mark was the turnaround point and I started seeing the leaders pass by on the other side of the road. There were still a number of girls ahead of me and once in awhile I would catch up to one and I tried to look strong when I made my pass so that maybe they would be tempted not to try and follow. I finished mile 3 in 7:02 and by this point, Mr. Sweetie was pulling ahead and I let him go - it was starting to be a struggle to hold my current pace and I was afraid if I tried to go with him, I would implode before the finish. Mile 4 felt like the longest mile ever and I was surprised to see a 6:57 flash on my Garmin. We ran by the start/finish area again to make a half-loop around the stadium for a final time. It was flat but windy and I was on the lookout for the turnaround. Mr. Sweetie slapped me five when he passed me going the other way after the turnaround and in the last half mile I finally got within striking distance of a girl wearing a florescent jacket that I'd been slowly reeling in for almost two miles. In the last quarter mile, I decided to go for it and make the pass, I knew I'd be mad at myself post-race if I didn't at least try. After I went by her, I tried so hard to keep the same pace all the way to the finish. I wanted the race over... NOW. As a result, mile 5 was my fastest in 6:37. I finished in 34:47, with a 6:57 average pace. 2nd in AG out of 150; 9th girl out of 819; and 74th overall.

It was so cold outside, even with the sun shining, that we immediately walked back to the car to warm up and go home. Mr. Sweetie's uncle had a great race in the 5k and he had the car all warmed up by the time we finished. We earned our turkey-stuffing-potatoe-crescent roll-apple pie-pumpkin pie dinners, which is my favorite thing about a turkey trot.

24 November 2013

Offseason 2013

I've been in the midst of the offseason for, ohhhh about 4ish weeks now, and I have to say - it agrees with me. M&Ms for breakfast here and there with no shame. My only workouts during the week have been my 20 mile round trip bike commute. For the first couple weekends post-B2B I was doing some trail races but that ceased when Jen reminded me that taking the offseason seriously is IMPORTANT. So last Saturday I did nothing but bake cupcakes and eat icing and homemade fondant.

Every year I enjoy the offseason more and more (not that I've ever been the sort of person who doesn't embrace the off-season in all its lazy chocolate-consuming glory), and every year I worry that maybe I'm enjoying myself so much that I will find it impossible to start up again when the break is over. That hasn't happened yet and I always feel refreshed and happy to be on a schedule again once I'm back in the swing of things. So - fingers crossed that will be the case now (I will say there has been progress - the thought of a Training Peaks email no longer makes me want to fling my iPhone out of a 10th story window).

I've had no problem keeping busy with stuff over the past few weeks, even if "stuff" is actually just going to the store to buy 1lb bags of M&Ms. Or buying large chocolate bars and making them disappear.

Mountain Biking. Sadly there wasn't any cyclocross this year, but there HAS been some mountain biking. Going down to Charlottesville to try those trails this summer was stupid, they were far too technical for me and I had ZERO desire to ride my new mountain bike in the months that followed - suddenly mountain biking no longer seemed like a good idea (maybe getting too old and rational?) Turns out mountain biking can be quite fun on trails that are on par with one's skill level. I'm also lucky enough to have Karen for a friend and she's taken me out and shown me the ropes. It also gives us a chance to catch up. Yesterday we went mountain biking at Lake Fairfax park - SO FUN. The trails weren't terribly technical, with just one section that had some tricky rocks and roots and rollers. I watched Karen go down a particularly skeevy looking section and paid attention to the line she took and successfully mimicked my way down the hill. It was a big boost to the confidence. I also caught myself telling my brain to shut up when it would register that we were coming up on a tricky looking set of roots or rocks so instead of slowing down, tipping over, not trying at all, freaking out, or all of the above - I'd literally say out loud that momentum is your friend, just keep pedaling, this is not that hard. And 99% of the time I'd make it through the tricky section just fine (I did manage to tip over once, but that's also a good lesson in learning how to fall and land properly. Always a lesson in everything). There were a few sections that felt like you were slalom skiing your way through the woods, it was exhilarating. Each time we did the loop, I felt more confident in my bike handling skills and would take the hills a little faster, the corners a little sharper, and roll over bigger rocks and roots without instinctively tapping on my brakes. It also helped that my bike feels as big as a tank that could roll over anything, given enough momentum. Compared to this summer, I feel about a million times better about mountain biking and my ability to make it down a hill without crashing on every root, rock, and tree.

Baking. I know my mom was the one who passed down a love for baking to me. But it pretty much lay dormant in my DNA until about 2-3 years ago when I started trying to make things from scratch and discovered it was pretty satisfying when something tasty resulted from my efforts. And last year my in-laws gave me a KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas and it has rocked my baking world. As a kid, much to my mom's chagrin, I wanted zero to do with the kitchen. And I think I only used our oven to reheat pizza in college. Post-college it was oreo balls (and that is not technically baking, no oven required just a food processor). But even though it takes more effort to make brownies or cupcakes from scratch rather than a box, I think it's more fun. And when the cold weather comes around, that's when I really want to hole up in the kitchen. Sadly I'm not adventurous enough to experiment and make up my own recipes yet - maybe someday - so for now I follow what's already been written down. I've baked a fair share of apple pies and cupcakes and cookies this fall and now I'm trying to branch out into some different desserts. I've given French macarons a go twice so far. The first time I thought I had already screwed up the recipe partway through so I didn't bother to follow the rest of the directions (turns out it really is important to let the batter set for an hour before sticking it in the oven), the cookies were edible and the ones that actually ended up sitting before baking turned out correctly. I tried them again this weekend, let them sit, and they almost looked like proper macarons. La Duree, watch out! Kidding, of course. I still have alot of work to do - next I want to try to make flavored shells that are pretty colors and branch out from chocolate for my choice of filling.

First attempt back at the end of October. Messy feet.

Second attempt yesterday. Much better feet. Though they do look like little hamburgers, don't they?
I made cupcakes last weekend with pink icing and I tried my hand at homemade fondant (most of the fondant recipes had some scary sounding ingredients, but I found one that just used confectioners sugar, vanilla, and sweetened condensed milk. I think there was a good cup of sugar in each cupcake between the frosting, fondant, and cake itself. So sweet.

Last weekend I told Mr. Sweetie that I would make him whatever dessert he wanted. He chose homemade s'mores. So I made marshmallows (orange-flavored from the Gran Marnier), homemade graham crackers (so.much.butter), and chocolate ganache (I feel like I should just keep a big vat of that stuff in the fridge because I use it for everything). It was all surprisingly easy to make, even though I used a too-small saucepan for the mallow sauce and practically ruined our stovetop when it overflowed. Awesome. This weekend I made salted caramel marshmallows for our hot chocolate.

Homemade s'more!
Eating. Alot of chocolate. The only green things I've eaten lately are green M&Ms and this past week I've been having them as dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I sort of wish I was kidding but I'm not). I think I finally OD'd on them yesterday because today is my first M&M-free day (I am considering making those signs that they have in warehouses - __ Days Since I Last Consumed M&Ms. I've also been eating all the things I listed above that I baked. And good bread (Mr. Sweetie has found his way back to bread-baking, hallelujah) with fatty fromage. There is always next week for fruit and kale. Always next week. Earlier this week I also had veggie quesadillas with a huge side of Trader Joe's stuffing. Stuffing is the best part about Thanksgiving. Even better than the pie. Mr. Sweetie has been making me hot chocolate with the espresso machine (steamed milk!) and pouring it over melted chocolate ganache. Liquid awesomeness.
Hot chocolate with the homemade marshmallow drenched in confectioners sugar

Stay Out Late, Drink Champagne, and Wear a Little Black Dress. Last night I went out to a party that my friends Courtney and Ron, from DC Tri/Snapple, had at their house. It was a swanky hat and little black dress party and it was SO MUCH FUN to see everyone dressed up, wearing heels, swanky hats, vests, suspenders, and fancy party dresses. I even used my hair dryer on my hair last night, it was THAT special of an occasion. I did a few double-takes when I saw some friends, almost not recognizing them all fancy-shmancy instead of in swim goggles. On the invite, it said the party went until 1am and I remember thinking to myself I will be lucky to make it to 11. Haha, I didn't leave until after 1am, and even then it felt like I was leaving a bit early! It was so great catching up with so many friends!

NO bike jerseys allowed!

Jason, Julie, me and Kendra

We found a puppy!
Doing Anything But SwimBikeRun. I've been biking to work and that's about it. I've taken a long break from running (aside from those two trail races) since my last race. My groin muscle and knee were a bit sore immediately following Beach2Battleship and I really wanted to give things a chance to heal up and get back to normal so I've taken a substantial amount of time away from running regularly. I did go out for two miles yesterday and not only did it feel hard, my shorts were tight. I think I need to reassess the M&M diet. Next week. Last weekend I didn't touch my bike once - instead, Mr. Sweetie and I took Miles on a hike through Great Falls and picked out bathroom paint color from Home Depot. Fingers crossed we pick out a halfway decent color this time around. We've haphazardly thrown the sample paint on one wall and for the past week we'll stare at it and scratch our chins. Who knew it was so hard to make a decision #firstworldproblems. 

If he could have his way, he'd be cliff jumping into the Potomac right about now.

YOU GUYS IT'S A HUGE POOL OF WATER. THIS MEANS SWIMMING. We're big meanies for not letting him .
Other than bike commuting and the occasional 2 mile jaunt down the road, I've not been doing much at all. And I've already twice pushed the start-back-up date further into the future. We're looking at the beginning of the second week of December. Maybe by that point I will want to hear from Training Peaks. Hopefully I will remember my login. And hopefully I will be able to find my pool punchcard, running shorts that fit, and the pain cave once more. That's the sign of a good off-season, when you can't find any of the crap you used to use on a daily basis. Well, I'm off to break my hours-old no M&M streak, goodnight.

12 November 2013

Ode to the Last First Date

If it's cheesy to still celebrate your dating anniversary after you're married, then I'd like a whole wheel of triple cream brie. Mr. Sweetie and I had our first date nine years ago today, back in 2004. We were young when we met - early 20s - and while at the time I felt like I was so mature and knew everything in life and exactly what I wanted, I've realized over the past nine years that I was pretty much a kid when it came to "knowing it all" and thank goodness Mr. Sweetie has always been wise beyond his years AND willing to put up with my growing pains as I figured out my goals in life much later than he did and grew into a person who is much different at 32 than she was at 23 when we had that first date.

Happy Together!
And I do have to say, our first date was one of the best first dates out there, which easily led to really great second and third dates which eventually led to an engagement and a fulfilling marriage. Even in just those first few weeks, I knew he was a keeper.

He called when he said he would. This was a big one. There were no games and he never kept me waiting by the phone, wondering if he would actually follow through. Right from the start, he always called when he said he would and that continues to this day. There is nothing overrated about security and reliability like that. I never had to wonder if I mattered enough to warrant a phone call - he has always made me feel like I am worth it.

He asked me on a second date, even though (looking back) my choice of outfit was horrendous. Flared, shiny corduroys paired with a jean jacket. And ridiculous blond highlights. Sometimes I wish I could go slap some fashion sense into my early 20s self. Thank goodness he didn't hold this flaw against me.

 The man cooks! Real food! ALL THE TIME! Stuffed peppers, lentil soup, seafood, pasta with homemade sauce. This was about a billion steps up from the nightly dinners I cooked for myself (cereal and toast all day every day). Not only that, he really enjoyed cooking and creating new dishes. It was pretty neat to be with someone who showed me the value of a well-cooked meal. Now I don't think I could ever go back to cereal and toast dinners if I had to fend for myself.

He loves his family. He had photos of his parents and sisters around his apartment and talked to them regularly, and always always always had great things to say about his mom, dad, and three sisters. He always credits his mom and dad for making him into the person he is today. I think that, in most cases, you can tell alot about a person from the relationship they have with their family and I loved how close he was with his.

Just being around him made me want to be a better person. Mr. Sweetie is, hands down, one of the best people I know. And I felt that way about him immediately. His kind words and gestures that he has always shown me every day, right from our first date, have not only made me feel happy and secure and loved but they make me want to do the same for him. He deserves the very best and while I know I'm not perfect, he makes me want to try to be my best self.

I never realized how young we looked until now. Does this mean I'm old? 
Even after nine years together, sometimes I still want to pinch myself that this life we've built together is real and that I have been fortunate enough to end up with someone as great as Mr. Sweetie. I remember thinking, when we first crossed paths at work, that he was WAAAYYY out of my league - kind, handsome, well-mannered, intelligent, driven, secure, and happy. I have memories of being a teenager and having a talk with my dad and him telling me that he feels like my mom is out of his league and wonders how he got so lucky to snag her. And my mom would always say the same thing about him. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing - instead, it shows just how high in esteem we should hold our significant other. They really should be the best person we know.

11 November 2013

Race Report - Wakefield Backyard Burn 5 Miler Trail Race

EX2 Adventures hosts a fantastic fall trail race series each fall - the Backyard Burn, with trail races across northern Virginia - 5 mile and 10 mile options. I've managed to sign up early enough for the Wakefield race to get a spot each year for the past few years. It's one of my favorite races on the circuit - less than a 20 minute drive from home, fun trails, and I always see alot of friends out there. Plus - this year they have added POST RACE BURRITOS to the menu. Win!

I don't think it would've been possible to have a more gorgeous fall morning for a race. Clear blue skies, crisp cool air that warmed up to shorts-and-tshirt-for-a-race as soon as the sun rose high enough. The type of day that you want to bottle up so you can remind yourself of perfection during both the steamy hot summer months or the cold dark winter ones. I was going to race in arm warmers but decided on just tshirt and shorts because it was just warm enough not to need them. The race course was just a tad longer this year than previous ones due to construction - 5.65 miles instead of 5.5. It started on pavement for about the first quarter mile before funneling into the trails, providing an adequate amount of time for the racers to string out and not be on top of each other. I felt like this race was bigger than in years past, at least the female field was in the 5 miler - the ladies packet pickup for the 5 miler was so big it was split into two lines. There were over 60 women in the 30-39 AG alone. I love how popular these races have gotten - and FAST!

So the race starts and I go off near the front. I've been doing a terrible job at negative splitting races lately and Sunday's was no exception. There was one girl in front of me as we neared the end of the paved section and I passed her as we were going up a hill, but that lasted a hot 30 seconds before she passed me back, and then another girl passed me and then another. I was also running an unsustainable pace and check myself before I wrecked myself (I had that phrase running through my head the ENTIRE race, ha!). The three girls ahead of me pulled away and were just far enough ahead that it would take an act of God to get me close enough to overtake any of them without blowing up. So I resigned myself to just running at a pace that felt hard but sustainable. I guess it's kind of hard to figure out exactly what that pace is - and it's dynamic because several times during the race I felt like I was going to fall apart, only to feel worlds better about 30 seconds later and pick up the pace just a bit and the cycle continued. RIP to my pretty pink shoes - I finally ran through a creek with them (no choice!) during mile 2. I will say this - those drainage holes at the bottom of the K-Swiss shoes definitely work - no squishiness! We headed into some single track and I could see the 3rd place girl ahead of me by less than 50yds and she stayed that distance from me for pretty much the remainder of the race, except for the very end when she got even further away. I was lucky that I didn't get bogged down by anyone during the single track, everyone was running at a good clip and I kept my pace up by trying not to let the guys in front of me get too far ahead. We had a few climbs, but this was a mostly flat and fast course that wasn't too technical overall. It was pretty neat how the course snaked its way through the woods and, because many of the leaves were down, you could see people running all over the place - some ahead of you, some behind. Somewhere around Mile 3 I felt like I found my right pace and a second wind. I passed a couple people and would make it my goal to continue my pace so I wouldn't get passed back. I had no idea where the 5th place girl was but I ran like she was right behind me. Once I hit the One-Mile-To-Go mark, I really had to do some self pep talk, especially as I hoofed my way up the final hill. Once I made it up that, I knew I was home free, with a downhill and a flat section to the finish being all that was left. I saw some great Team Zrs cheering at the final left turn to the finish line field and I was so, so happy to cross the line (and so, so happy I had NOT signed up for the 10 miler and two loops of that stuff).

I ended up 4th overall female and 2nd in the 30-39 age group with a 43:20 and brought home another pint glass (Mr. Sweetie just shook his head). I spent post-race talking Pies with Bob and catching up with Kelly Green, who is one of the nicest girls out there. I'm not signed up for any more Backyard Burns, so it was extra nice I ran into some of my favorite people and had awesome weather at this race!

09 November 2013

Everyone Needs a "Karen" in Their Life!

Confession. Until today I had not touched my mountain bike (last weekend's failed attempt does not count) since August. This whole mountain biking thing is pretty far outside of my comfort zone and as you get older and more sensible (who thought going down a root-infested trail with a giant log at the end was a good idea), it can be a little harder to travel outside that comfort zone and bomb your way down trails. And road riding really does absolutely zero to prepare you for trail riding. I owned a mountain bike back in 2005-2008 and when Mr. Sweetie and I went on a mountain biking kick, I rode it pretty regularly and felt confident on two wheels. Then I took a long break and I'm currently a complete beginner again.

Today I had a chance to go mountain biking with my close friend Karen. She and I used to race triathlon together before she moved over to concentrate more fully on all things bike - road racing, cross racing, mtb racing. Our speeds were pretty similar in the swim, she was a bit faster than me on the bike, and then it was a tossup as to who would have the better run. It wasn't a rivalry, even though we were definitely competing against each other and trying to go faster than the other, but more of a mutually beneficial friendship on the race course that resulted in faster times for both of us. I think every athlete needs to find their "Karen" - the person who pushes them to race harder, but if there was anyone that was going to cross that finish line first, you are glad it is her.

Racing our way onto the podium at Savageman 2009
Karen is an awesome mountain biker. But you know what I learned today? She is an even more awesome (and patient) teacher on the trails. We biked out at Wakefield (Rosaryville was closed, boo) and did a long warmup on the flat, easy, completely non-technical trails that wound their way under Braddock Road and towards the powerlines. Not going to lie, a part of me sort of hoped that we would stick strictly to these super easy trails. I think Charlottesville really did a number on my psyche and I feel a bit of anxiety every time a see a giant cluster of roots or a creek crossing. After a few miles, our warmup was over and we moved over to the singletrack in the woods. Before heading into the trails, Karen gave me some sound advice - elbows out, butt off the seat when not pedaling/going downhill/getting over an obstacle, pedals at 9 and 3 when not pedaling, ride DYNAMICALLY. My first foray into slightly harder stuff was not dynamic. We got to a slightly tricky downhill that, with confidence I should've been able to do, but instead I got off my bike and walked. Karen waited for me patiently and took me over to a flatter loop that ended up being the perfect mix of speed, small obstacles like roots and rocks, mini downhills and mini uphills. Karen humored me and we ended up doing that loop four times and each time I felt more confident, excited, and got a little faster and more daring - taking turns a little quicker and by the fourth loop I no longer had a terrified look on my face. This was just what I needed - I was able to get a better feel for how it felt to ride over roots and rocks (my 29er is a tank and, it appears, can roll over just about anything given enough momentum), understand that speed was my friend, and realize just how much fun this sport can be. I felt ready to try some other trails. We went over logs - we'd get to one and I'd practice going over it a few times. We went on some twisty, turny, hilly stuff (I did tip over on that one, very low speed, but I was still stuck to my bike when I landed, which made clipping out a little more difficult), we did some rock gardens, did some hills, and I found myself having a really, really good time on the downhills, just barely tapping the brakes and taking the downhills with confidence and more speed. By the end of the ride, I felt so much better and more excited about this mountain biking thing. Getting out of my comfort zone is hard, but I feel like the more great rides I have, with patient, knowledgeable friends, the easier it will be to tackle each challenge on the trail. Hopefully someday I won't be terrified by the wall of rocks at Wakefield and ride up it with ease. One of these days.

Thank you Karen for a really great ride - I am so, so grateful to have a friend like you who let today be all about getting me comfortable on the trails and patiently gave me tips on how to tackle logs, rock gardens, mildly technical downhills. You never left me in the dust AND made me feel like I was doing a great job and never made it seem like I was taking the easy way out if I walked or chose not to try out an obstacle. You are an awesome friend and mountain bike guru! Already counting down to the next ride!

07 November 2013

Who's the Brightest of them All?

I know, this title makes it sound like I'm going to talk about being (or not being) the brightest bulb in the box. Which I can do - tangent story here. Lately I keep finding chocolate underneath my chin and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how I was getting chocolate there. It happened again last night and Mr. Sweetie noticed it and he hits the nail on the head - you've been licking your ice cream bowl again, haven't you? I don't know if I'm more embarrassed that I lick my ice cream bowl when the spoon is no longer useful, or that it took me so long to figure out why I kept finding chocolate under my chin.

Moving on. What I'm ACTUALLY talking about is my first winter evening bike commute. I finally have proper lights this year and I was quite excited to take them out for an inaugural spin this evening on my ride home from the office. My sheer laziness in the morning is a pretty big hinderance to getting into the office at an early hour and given how early it gets dark, I think I'll be riding my bike post-sunset quite a bit. In the sunlight the roads are filled with foolish drivers who will think nothing of running over a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and I'd imagine the dark makes this problem even worse - I want to be as visible as possible. Think: Griswold Family Christmas House on a Bike. Last week I popped over to Tri360 to check out their selection of bike lights. They had some great stuff!

I ended up with the Light & Motion Urban Commuter 400 Lumen light for the front (it easily detaches from your bike so you can charge it in your office so it doesn't run out of battery power on your ride home) and the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo red light for the rear (this one attaches to your backpack or your bike). You can also attach the front light to your helmet but it kind of freaks me out when I see, emerging from the darkness on the bike path, a person with a light on both their helmet and their bike, makes me think of a cyclops monster and it just creeps me out. So I'll be keeping just one forward-facing light on my bike. I'm happy to report that the lights made a big difference. I still hate biking through the city at rush hour surrounded by cars (part of me wishes that we could go back to that part of the government shutdown where they closed the Mall to vehicular traffic), but my light was bright enough (and adjustable in that I could lower the brightness and save battery power OR make it blink to annoy the other riders around me) that I had no problem seeing what was ahead of me. Unfortunately, the light lost power when I was about two miles from home - it died a slow, blinky death. This was due to the fact that my brain short-circuited this morning when packing my bag for work - my light charges with a USB cord... my iPhone charges with a USB cord... SAME THING. Haha, not really. So I'll be charging my light tonight.

Tonight's bike commute home was chilly, windy, and VERY quiet, it was lovely. While I will miss biking straight from the pool to/from work in a swimsuit and tri shorts and not having to layer my clothes, having the bike trail almost to myself will more than make up for it. I saw a pretty, pretty sunset on my way home, was in zero rush, and it was a great way to end the day. I'm looking forward to many more cold weather, dark commutes!

06 November 2013

Race Report - Rev3 Fall Foliage 11k Trail Race

Rev3 Adventure launched a new race series in the NoVa area in 2013 with trail run options, mountain bike options OR both. If I wasn't an idiot, this would be a race report for both a trail race AND a mountain bike race, but I managed to discover a tiny wrinkle in my race day plan a bit too late on race morning to fix it. You see, back in August when I had my terrifying mountain biking experience in Charlottesville (please read if you'd like a good laugh), I managed to lose a bike cleat in the mud. I haven't made time to ride my mountain bike since then and didn't purchase a new set of cleats until Thursday night when I stopped by Hudson Trail Outfitters. Saturday, in my flurry to get ready to head to Sarah's for an afternoon of eating grilled cheese and watching Honey I Shrunk the Kids (arguably one of the best 80s movies ever - 20 years later I still know far too much of the dialogue), I grabbed my bike shoes out of the front closet and shrugged when a piece of metal fell out of one of them, kicking it into the closet before shutting the door. Turns out that piece of metal was kind of an essential component for attaching the cleat to my bike shoe. Too bad I didn't figure this out until 8am Sunday morning while I was stuffing my face with pancakes in Sarah's kitchen and trying to put the new cleats on my shoes. Mr. Sweetie would've driven them out there to me, but that really wouldn't have been fair of me to ask, given that it's a bit of a drive and he had other things he needed to do. So, no mountain bike race. I've also established a rule that I must get out and PRACTICE riding my mountain bike at least 5 times before I am allowed to sign up for a future mountain bike race.

Tri360 is da bomb. Thanks for all the support this season you guys! And for making super comfy race shirts!
So. The race report. The Rev3 Fall Foliage trail race venue was literally just a few miles from Sarah's house and when we signed up awhile ago, we decided to make it an extra fun weekend and throw in a sleepover. You are never too old to have a sleepover with one of your favorite friends. The lazy afternoon on the couch watching cable tv and eating grilled cheese and tomato soup was pretty much the best thing ever and exactly what I wanted and needed to do. We also had ice cream because that is my lucky pre-race ritual. The race didn't start until 10am on Sunday AND we had the time change Saturday night, so we went to bed a bit later than normal but I still slept like the dead (and still managed to have Walking Dead dreams). We had a lazy breakfast of pancakes, hemmed and hawed over what to wear (it looked chilly outside!) and headed over to the race site.

The race was small and they had the 6k and 11k racers start together. The two distances would split off about 1.5 miles into the race. The first half mile was on pavement before it turned into a field for the next two miles. My pace was just below 7 min/mile for those first three miles and I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to keep that pace, ESPECIALLY once we hit any harder trail stuff, and I definitely wouldn't be negative-splitting this race. But I figured I'd try to keep that pace as long as I could and the heck with negative splitting because taking a bit of a risk is what these off season, fun races are for. Around mile 3 we hit a more narrow trail with some rocks and roots and it started to feel like true trail racing. There was a guy about 25 meters ahead of me the whole race and I never quite closed the gap on him. And as we finished running through the first field, I looked back and saw a girl about 25 meters behind me and ran the rest of the race convinced she was going to catch me. We ran across another field before bombing down a steep hill and taking a sharp right into the woods. There were a couple times where I slightly turned an ankle or lost my footing as we ran through the woods, but the trail was super well marked and I had no problem staying on course, even when I couldn't see any other runners. I also hate to get my pink shoes dirty (so vain!) if it can be avoided so I slowed down at any muddy points to try and pick my way around them. We had some good hills to go up and rocks and roots to avoid so I stopped obsessively looking at my pace on the watch and only really checked when it beeped. Goodbye sub-7 minute miles. I even had one or two 8+ minute miles sneak in. Right around mile 5 was when I started doing the pep talk of you're more than halfway done. Just two miles to go (or thereabouts, 11k - I've never been good with conversion from the metric system). It was also right around this point that I was trying to figure out where the trail would dump us out - would we have to run back through the field from the beginning with all the tall grass? How about that half mile on pavement? Turns out it dropped us out right onto the pavement and I could see that the finish was just around the bend. Being back on flat, paved ground left little room for excuses and I picked up the pace through the finish, crossing the line in 52:34. I also ended up being first girl across the line - there were only 9 of us in the whole race, but whatever, when you end up first as rarely as I do, a W is a W regardless of how many people were there.

I had a whole cheering section come out for the race. My very favorite Aunt Karen and Uncle Charlie were in town for the weekend at my very favorite Aunt Amy's and they all came out, kiddos in tow. Xander and Lilly had a great time cheering on the runners and slurping down marshmallows from the hot chocolate.

I had the BEST weekend with Sarah and capping it off with the low-key race couldn't have been more perfect. Oh wait - it did get more perfect - HOMEMADE DOUGHNUT BITES. Melt in your mouth amazing.
LOOK at that doughy deliciousness! Covered in cinnamon and sugar and washed down with hot chocolate!
The offseason, fall, doughnut bites, hot chocolate, sleepovers when you're in your 30s, cool-as-heck aunts, uncles, and cousins. My weekend had it all. Thank you Sarah for a super fun weekend and carting me around everywhere! And thank you Aunt Amy, Aunt Karen, and Uncle Charlie for getting me lunch after the race!

03 November 2013

2013 Marine Corps Marathon Spectathlete Report

I have zero clue where this last week went. I blinked and suddenly the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was well back in the rearview mirror. Cheering at the Marine Corps Marathon is basically about a billion times better than running it. This is especially true if your cheer partner is dressed as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and you are dressed as the Christmas Story Leg Lamp (I know, re-used costume, will have to think of something more original for next year).

At Mile 16. We take our mission to make runners smile very seriously
Beth's costume pretty much took the cake - I did get some cheers and "Fra-Gee-Lay" yells from the runners, but Beth was mobbed by runners that looked like they walked straight out of Duck Dynasty, children were scared of her, and a number of runners thought she was the Pillsbury Dough Boy, judging by how many poked her in the abdomen region and squealed "hee-hee" as they ran off down the course. It was awesome. The best part was that her costume could inflate and deflate on command so we were able to ride our bikes around with my friend Jason and cheer on our favorite runners in Rosslyn, Georgetown (this was particularly fun because we staked out a spot by the Paul bakery and ate obscene amounts of French pastries and cheered on the runners while covered in powdered sugar), Mile 16 near the Lincoln Memorial, then we biked over to Mile 21 at the end of the 14th Street Bridge, and then booked it over to Mile 25 on Route 110. Our favorite runners - Dawn, Julie, and Nick - were so kind as to time their running so it was perfectly in synch with our cheering pace and we were able to catch all three of them in almost every spot. It was a perfect day for a marathon in every way - perfect temps, happy runners, I ran into lots of friends who were spectating or running the race, it was like a giant party in a little-big town where it seems like everybody knows your name. Washington, DC may be a large city, but the running/triathlon community seems close-knit and small in every good way possible. Congrats to ALL of my friends who had simply amazing days out there! I will say, even though I stated that cheering for the MCM is a billion times better than running it, I think I may need to trade my costume for running shoes sometime in the next few years.

Sadly, by the time we pulled back up into Rosslyn on our bikes, my leg lamp costume was on its last legs, fringe coming un-superglued, wiring becoming sharp and pointy and sticking to my fishnet stockings. I said a fond farewell to the lamp as I stuffed it into a garbage can a few blocks north of Rosslyn. It served me well. Time to find an even better costume for next year. 

Luckily, even though the race was over, the fun was not. Beth and Nick stayed with us for a night before heading back home to Florida. I've been reading Beth's blog for ages and it was so nice to have a chance to sit down, catch up, and even go for a run. She was also super sweet with Miles and I think if he were small enough to fit in a carryon, he'd be living in Florida with her right now, heehee!

27 October 2013

Race Report - 2013 Beach2Battleship Half Ironman!

My awesome Ignite Endurance teammates Melanie and Brian!
Yesterday I had my final triathlon of the season - the Beach2Battleship Half Ironman in Wilmington, NC. I have very fond memories of this race venue, as it was where I did my first full iron distance triathlon back in 2008. I remember standing at the tip of Wrightsville Beach as the sun was coming up over the horizon and we plunged into the water as soon as it was light enough. At that moment there were so many unknowns - I'd never ever raced such a long distance and I could not wrap my head around doing all of the distances in one day. The race was a success and the next morning I had the most amazing (and gigantic) brunch and I've always wanted to return to race here again. I will say this - I was SO glad yesterday that I was only doing the half. I struggled to keep myself mentally plugged in over the past week. I was looking forward to racing, but at the same time, I was ready for it to get here and get done so I could get on with eating cupcakes already. I thought about cupcakes alot during the last few miles of the race.

I traveled down to the race on Friday with my teammate Brian and we stayed with our teammate Melanie and her lovely family, right near the race start. Mel's mom cooked up some awesome pasta and sauce and we had lucky ice cream for dessert (Ben and Jerry's Peanut Butter Cup and Red Velvet Cake - all in the same bowl, of course). A huge thank you to Mel and her family for opening up their home to us, cheering, and driving us everywhere we needed to go - you guys truly spoiled us! Getting up early to get a head start on the drive down made 8pm feel like 10pm so I had no problem getting to bed and going to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Pre Race: My alarm went off at 5:45pm and I took a leisurely hour eating my bagels and fretting about how COLD it was going to be at the race start (37 degrees, gross!). We left for T1 at 7am - the benefits of being so close to T1 AND having your wave go off at 9am. The logistics for this race were a bit tricky - T1 is 1.2 miles away from the swim start and there was no bag dropoff at the swim start so I ended up leaving my flip flops in my T1 bag and nearly froze my toes off walking to the trolley that took me to the swim start. Fortunately, the water was almost 70 degrees and thawed them out. I was still freezing cold and the thought of getting in the water when I was already shivering while wearing my full sleeve wetsuit underneath my throw-away hoodie was just so unappealing. Fortunately, this turned out to be the coldest, most unpleasant part of the day - once I got in the water and on with my race, things were fine.

The Swim: 33:55
The swim at this venue can be hit or miss - some years the swim times are ridiculously fast due to assistance from the current (case in point: when I did the full iron-distance race in 2008, my swim time was 59:59, which was a good 15 minutes faster than my subsequent Ironman distance swims). And some years there isn't a whole lot of assistance. This seemed to be one of those off years, which is fine, and my swim time was right around what I would usually swim. It was an in-water start and the water was a balmy 70 degrees, which was a good 25-30 degrees warmer than the air temperature. I had no problem finding clear water and a decent pair of feet to draft off of. I felt a little sluggish at first, but by the time we hit the left turn buoy, I felt like I got into a rhythm and was getting more out of my stroke. The course was really simple and it was easy to stay on track. I ended up with some really unfortunate chafing on my neck and my back thanks to my wetsuit (I rarely wear my full-sleeve wetsuit and I probably should've slathered myself in Aquaphor to avoid the chafing necklace I am now sporting. I'm going to be wearing alot of turtlenecks the next few days, the triathlete equivalent of a teenager with a hickey I suppose). I caught up to some of the waves ahead of me after I made the lefthand turn, but I had no idea how many purple caps were in front of me by the time I exited the swim.

T1: 7:51
Even if we had a current-assisted swim, any advantage would've been cancelled out by my award-winning slowest transition time ever. I got stuck in my wetsuit and then I put on multiple layers of clothing (I wore a jacket, I was that worried about freezing on the bike) and then realized my biking jacket had no easily accessible back pockets and I had to jigsaw puzzle all of my extra nutrition into my sports bra since my bento box was already full.

The Bike: 2:50:46
For much of the bike ride I was glad I had on my armwarmers, jacket, gloves, and cycling headband - I wasn't cold but wasn't too warm. The course was rather crowded at first, with the half Ironman and full distance racers sharing the same roads for the first 30 miles. People were courteous and I didn't have any trouble getting around people. I ended up taking in nutrition every 15 minutes for the first 90 minutes of the ride and taking in water + Skratch at 15 minute intervals for the whole ride and a salt table every 30 minutes. I went through just under two bottles of fluid, it was chilly and I just wasn't sweating that much. I ate a gel or two, a Clif MoJo bar, and most of two Feed Zone French Toast cakes (I spit half of one out when I just couldn't stand the idea of more food). We had a pretty decent headwind for the first 35 miles on the bike, it let up at times, but it was relatively consistent. Melanie zoomed by me around mile 28 and having a familiar face was exactly what I needed to focus and try to keep her in sight and we traded places back and forth until she zoomed by me for the final time with ten miles to go. My speed was consistently getting a little faster throughout the race and it certainly helped that we had a tailwind for the last ten miles of the race. I saw just a few girls out there in the half and had no idea where I was in the race, so it was helpful to have Melanie out there because trying to keep up with her forced me to really focus, work, and dig deeper than I would have if I was off in la-la land. While it would have been nice to have a bike PR on this course since it's one of the flatter ones around, the wind was a bit of an added challenge and it's just hard to compare times from race to race (even the same race from year to year can be drastically different). I like to focus more on racing the other girls out there, as we're all facing the same conditions and the times will fall where they will, as dictated by the race day conditions. PRs are great, but so is doing well in your age group and the rest of the field. As I came in from the bike course, I passed by the first half mile of the run course and saw a fair number of girls out there and knew I'd have to have a strong run if I was going to meet my goal of being in the top 10 overall or even place in my age group.

T2: 2:45
The transition area was inside the big convention center and I almost did a comical feet-fly-out-from-under-me slip and fall as I ran in my bike shoes on the concrete floor to get my bag. I caught myself just in time. I ditched my jacket and arm warmers, kept the same socks on (advantage of not peeing on the bike - that and my bike shoes don't stink), put on my shoes and headed out the door, a few minutes after Melanie. I had the plastic bag with salt tabs and a gel in one hand and my last smooshed French Toast cake in the other hand. Who knows what I was going to want to eat on the run, it's best to be prepared for anything.

The Run: 1:39:28
Let me start off by saying that I don't think I've ever gone sub-1:45 in a half Ironman run and it has always been a seemingly far-off goal of mine to break 1:40 in the half Ironman run. It has bugged me that my half Ironman run time is a good 12+ minutes slower than my standalone half time. And until yesterday, I just haven't had that breakthrough on the run.
The run was the wildcard going into the race yesterday. Some muscles in my left leg and knee had been bothering me since my long brick and long run extravaganza a few weeks ago and I didn't listen to the warning signs of my body in the days following those workouts and just tried to keep up with the level of activity listed out in Training Peaks. Things were feeling worse and worse and I finally said "uncle" about two weeks ago and completely ceased running. This was absolutely the right decision, as my leg felt substantially better with all the rest, but I still felt twinges all the way up until Friday and I just wanted to get through the run pain-free and not do any additional damage. But it wasn't any use fretting about this because it was going to be what it will be, I just needed to be smart and back off it things flared up.
As I headed out on the run, I immediately felt myself retreat inside my mind and just focus on the here and now, doing periodic mental checks of how I was feeling. Often I wave or cheer for others on the course (ask anyone at IMLP this year) and I don't retreat into my head until late in the race when things get really painful. And it wasn't that the start of this run was super painful, I actually felt really good, but I was also focused and I wasn't thinking much of anything besides just run and do nothing else. Maybe this is the key to better running? The first mile ticked by in 7:30, which was far faster than I've ever run that first mile in a half ironman. I felt good, but told myself to slow it down to 7:45s, as that would probably be more sustainable. But then there was another voice in my head that said - you've done decent training for this pace, it may hurt ALOT ten miles from now, but go with it and see what you can do. I had no idea where I was in my age group, and with my swim and bike, I knew a half Ironman PR was probably not within the realm of possibility, but I wanted to have a strong run if my left leg/knee held up. Mile 2 ticked by in 7:11, which I did not expect because I really thought I slowed it down. We went up a small hill and then down a slight downhill for the next mile, helping me put Mile 3 behind me in 7:10. Now I was getting a bit concerned because those numbers were not going to be sustainable for the full 13.1 miles. I was taking in water at every other aid station, but my stomach was feeling a little bloated and the thought of food made me gag, so I didn't try to eat anything. I figured maybe I'd want something by the halfway point, but I wasn't going to force it. Mile 4 went by in 7:26, which was much more reasonable. This was about the time that I really started to retreat inside my head. I was still feeling strong, but every once in awhile I'd feel the wind start to go out of my sails or a little nauseous and I found that if I focused on my breathing, the feeling would pass and my pace didn't slip that much. I saw my teammate Brian sail by, on his way to the finish. He was HAULING - he only started 10 minutes ahead of me and was a good 7 miles ahead of me by this point - amazing! The volunteers along the course were AWESOME, I cannot say enough good things about them. Mile 5 went by in 7:34 and this is when I started to occupy my mind with some mental math - only 8 miles to go, that's like running out to Tri360 and back on the bike path just to make the distance seem more manageable. I started to see a few girls trickle by on their way back towards the finish, but I eventually stopped trying to count them because it was taking too much mental energy to try and figure out who was an Age Grouper, who was in my age group, and who was in a relay - her hair looks too perfect to have gone for a swim and a bike ride before this run. I got to Mile 6 in another 7:37 and started looking for the turnaround point before figuring out that it was going to probably be past Mile 7, womp womp. I was still feeling decent at this point and started to let myself believe in the possibility of sustaining sub-8 miles for the remaining miles of the race. Mile 7 ticked by in 7:45 and I made it to the turnaround point, thank goodness. Now it became a self-pep talk session - you're past the halfway point, you have less to run than you've already done, JUST KEEP IT TOGETHER! I saw Melanie and she was looking strong. Right before the turnaround, I passed a girl in my age group from FeXY and she was super sweet and encouraging. I ran without looking back but with the mindset that she was hot on my heels and this helped me dig deeper and not slack off. Mile 8 went by in 7:48 and while I clearly was not going to negative split this run, I didn't really care because things were still sub-8, which I could hardly believe. I still hadn't eaten anything at this point and with 5 miles to go and my stomach REALLY not wanting anything, I didn't dare take a gel or a bite of my french toast cake. Mile 9 was a 7:48 as well and at this point I was breaking the run down into two mile segments - in two miles you will be at mile 11 and then you will only have two more miles and you can do anything for two miles. My leg/knee were still holding up fine, which was such a happy surprise. Mile 10 went by in a 7:57 and it was right about this point that I could feel my pace slipping. My legs suddenly felt a million times heavier and a 5k seemed like FOREVER to go. As I went through aid stations and by cheering spectators, the only acknowledgement I could manage to give was a shake of my head. I was in the zone, focused on doing as much damage control and positive self-talk and mental math that I could, anything to keep moving forward. Mile 11 was an 8:27 and the wheels were coming OFF. A woman passed me and the amount of relief I felt when I saw she was a relay runner cannot be described. I could not have answered her pace, not even close. Mile 11-12 were on a slight incline and I just focused on getting up to the top of the hill. I knew once I got to the top, I'd have a nice downhill and then flat finish, I just needed to make it to the top and I'd be home free. Mile 12 was an 8:36. At this point, I was also rejoicing to myself that this was the LAST mile of my LAST race of the season and BRING ON THE CUPCAKES, THE CHOCOLATE CHIPS, AND FORGET ABOUT EARLY MORNING SWIMS AND RUNNING IN THE DARK AND SITTING ON MY DAMN BIKE. I love racing, don't get me wrong, but I also love the end of the season when I can happily give my body a bit of a break. It's refreshing. The cheering spectators, including Melanie's sister Michele and her mom, carried me to the finish line. About 25 yards from the finish, a guy started to pass me and I tried to stick with him and outsprint him, but he was too quick. Mile 13.1 went by at an 8:09 pace.

Final Time: 5:14:43, 9th OA and 3rd AG.

Very honored to be on the podium! Awards were made from the teak wood from the Battleship North Carolina!

Post-Race Thoughts: I knew I'd had a strong run, based on the fact that I'd never seen those paces before during a half Ironman run. I have no idea where I pulled the 1:39 from and I didn't believe my Garmin was telling me the truth until I saw it etched in pixels on the race results site. Rest is NOT underrated. And today my leg is still feeling good, better than it has in 2 weeks, which makes me so, so happy. I'm really grateful that my last race, while not a PR, gave me the run that I've always dreamed about having but really didn't believe was possible this season. A huge thanks to Tri360 for ALL of their support this season and to Jen for her top notch coaching and wisdom. She is the best. And of course thanks to Mr. Sweetie for being an award-winning husband!

SO much congrats to my wonderful teammates Brian and Melanie! They both podium'd and had absolutely incredible races! Thank you to Melanie's family for hosting me this race weekend - it was so great of them to open up their home!

And now I have two awesome cupcakes waiting for me to eat them for dessert! Hooray off-season!

23 October 2013

Fuel Up!

One of my favorite parts of endurance racing - who am I kidding - one of my all-time favorite parts of LIVING is eating. I've loved it ever since I was a two year old toddler sitting in the bleachers of the Holy Cross football field with my dad and his college buddies and scarfed down a hot dog and bun in .02 seconds (ask my dad about it sometime, I'd say it's one of his favorite stories to tell, right up there with the time he smushed my face in my tuna sandwich to break me of the habit of sniffing my food before eating it - it worked, BTW).

Anyway, the fourth discipline of endurance racing is eating. This is, by far, the best part - until it isn't (otherwise known as a nutrition FAIL, manifesting itself in feeling like death personified during the run portion of the race). It has taken me YEARS to figure out a nutrition plan that works for me, entire seasons of trial and error. And what works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for the next person, so take my nutrition planning with a grain of salt. I've found that for sprints and olympic distance triathlons, nutrition isn't a huge component - they are short enough races that less is more - as long as I show up well-hydrated, top off my carbs with a morning bagel or two, and then eat a gel or two on the bike and have one in my pocket for the run (just in case), I am golden.

The longer distance races are a bit more complicated and, besides practicing my race day nutrition in all of my long training sessions, the actual eating preparation starts days in advance of race day.

Eat Until You Never Want To See Pasta (or Pancakes) Ever Again. And You LOVE Pasta and Pancakes. I have a ritual, starting 3-4 days before my Ironman/Half Ironman, where I try to see how many pancakes I can eat for breakfast every day. My record has been somewhere in the teens (these were not ginormous pancakes, but still, I needed at least three hands to count them all). By that last day I am no longer looking forward to breakfast and pancakes. During prep for Ironman Lake Placid this year, I ate large plates of bland pasta, with either pesto or red sauce, for dinner four nights in a row. By that last night I had to force down the pasta and it was not due to race day nerves. I feel absolutely disgusting and full by the end of this process, but since I've been doing it, I feel like it has been a huge help in keeping my energy up on race day, and that makes OD'ing on pasta and pancakes totally worth it.

If Gas Station Cheez-Wiz Crackers Work For You, Go With It. Everyone is different - there are some athletes out there who do entire Ironmans on only liquid nutrition (gross and BORING in my opinion). I drink an average amount of fluid during a race, but I'd have to drink a TON more if I was going to try to take in the calories needed to sustain myself for a long day of racing and my gut just cannot handle that amount of liquid. Been there, tried that, it was an epic fail (this is why I'm missing practically all of my race reports from 2010, it was not a gold star year). Then there was the year or two that I went with all gels. Eighteen gels on the bike. No wonder I can't eat lots of gels anymore. And when I first started Ironman racing, I was all about the gas station cheez wiz crackers and Teddy Grahams (does anyone else remember the Teddy Grahams Elvis impersonation commercials from the 1980s?). I didn't feel AWESOME on the run while eating that crap on the bike, but I didn't feel terrible. This year I've found encouraging success with using the Feed Zone real food recipes, and I'm a big fan of the French Toast Cakes. They worked wonders for me during IMLP this year and I truly think real food was a major key to my success this year. I also eat Clif MoJo bars on the bike as well as a gel or two. It's like magic.

Variety is the Spice of Life. And Your Ironman. In 2012 I practiced my nutrition, spending a fortune on Hammer Gels and Gu during Ironman season (I was dropping money bombs like clockwork at REI on Friday nights) and eating gel after gel during my training. It seemed to be going well, very little GI issues. And then race day came and by mile 5 on the bike, my stomach was OVER gels. Too bad I still had 107 miles left to go. I had packed a couple PowerBars in my Bento Box and I went for those and spent the rest of the ride trying to force down gels. And after that I vowed - never again! I make it a point to now carry a number of different things in my bento box and pockets in case I simply cannot stand the thought of another gel or Clif MoJo bar. I'll have a variety of gels in different flavors, a PowerBar, various flavors of Clif MoJo bars, and French Toast Cakes. And when I'm on the run, I take advantage of the numerous offerings at the aid stations - Ironman was all about listening to my body. If it said it wanted bananas on the run, by gosh I was going to give it bananas, even though I didn't train with them. Sometimes the body is smarter than the mind and it's good to just go with it.

You May Never Be On Time in Other Aspects of Life, but Be On Time With Your Nutrition. Falling behind on nutrition is the kiss of DNF. I slightly frontload my caloric intake during the bike portion of both Ironman and half ironmans, taking in a gel or a bite of a bar/French Toast Cake every fifteen minutes for the first half of the ride (so first ~3 hours of an Ironman bike and first ~1.5 hours of a half Ironman). Then I back it off to every 20 minutes until the end of the ride. Sometimes I back it off to 20 minutes a little earlier OR if I am feeling overly full, I will actually skip a feeding, I know it's time to do that if I gag while trying to eat or if the mere though of food turns my stomach sour. Usually a short break is just what I needed and I can resume my eating schedule without a problem. The real issues arise when I forget to eat for 30-40 minutes because I'm too distracted and then I get behind and it's simply a poor life decision to try and cram an hour's worth of nutrition down your throat at once. Trust me. I now have a system set up where I eat every 15-20 minutes, take a salt tab every 30 (if it's hot, if it's not then just at the top of the hour), and take a sip or two of water/Skratch every 10 minutes. This makes the bike ride fly by because I am constantly throwing something down my gullet.

So that's it. Hydration is a whole different beast. But in the spirit of keeping it simple, if you need two hands to count how many times you peed on your bike during Ironman, your hydration plan was a success.

22 October 2013

Blue Seventy Brick Bag - You Need This.

I'm sure I must've written about the awesomeness of the Blue Seventy Brick Bag at some point on my blog, but I am too lazy to hunt through all of my previous posts AND this bag is totally worth any additional blog postings. And while, yes, my Tri Team Ignite is currently sponsored by Blue Seventy, I bought this bag back in 2012 from Tri360 (who is still carrying the it) before our sponsorship AND it is one of my favorite/most used pieces of gear that I have ever purchased.

In fact, after this weekend, I'm tempted to change the name to the Brunch Bag, as I wore it during my bike workouts and then straight out to brunch afterwards (is it sad that it took me a few months to put 2+2 together and realize why they call it a "Brick Bag" - because you can carry your run shoes in it while you're biking and then do your brick run without having to go home and grab your shoes. I swear one of these days I will become less dense).

So the bag - it is small enough to not feel bulky or bounce around while you are wearing it (the padded and adjustable strap around your waist and the adjustable strap around your chest certainly help) but it's kind of like that magic purse Hermione carries around in those last Harry Potter books where she stores a tent, changes of clothes, books, etc in a seemingly innocuous, small bag. Case in point: this weekend I used the bag to commute to the pool and easily fit my goggles, swim cap, paddles, the (dreaded) band, towel, keys, my ID, my swim punch card, and my heavy-duty U-Lock bike lock (thanks idiot bike thief for making me smarten up from using a cable) and then to brunch (U-Lock, shoes, sweatshirt, unnecessary arm warmers). This is also my go-to bag for run commuting. There was a stretch this season where I had a swim + 45 minute run on my schedule on a weekly basis, which is the perfect set of workouts for swimming at Washington-Lee high school in the morning and then running the 48 minutes from the pool to my office in downtown DC. I managed to fit all of my work clothes (excluding shoes - my filing cabinet at work holds no files, just piles of shoes), swimsuit, towel, goggles, cap, toiletries, comb, and my LUNCH (and you know how much I eat for lunch) comfortably into that bag and run into work no problem. I have also used this bag for brick workouts, easily fitting my run shoes and such into the bag. 

Blue Seventy has thoughtfully put a clasp on the waist strap so you can fold up the excess strap as you tighten it so it isn't swinging around like an extra appendage. You can also adjust the height of the chest strap to where it is most comfortable and the bag has an exterior pocket that's easily accessible where I store my iPhone, ID, metrocard (because I am too lazy to run home at night), iPhone charger, keys, and my work badge when I remember it.

You'll have to see pictures of the bag on the internet, as I cannot figure out how to steal and post the photos to this blog. This would be the perfect opportunity to stage the bag next to my now-sparkly, newly scrubbed baseboards and show both items off simultaneously (It has been two days and I'm still oddly self-satisfied with the results of my 6+ hours of scrubbing every baseboard in the house) but I left my camera/phone cord at work. Le sigh.


16 October 2013

The Land of Salted Nut Rolls

I spent this past weekend on my first visit to Minnesota (beautiful fall weather, too!) to catch up with some really wonderful girlfriends - Julia, Sarah (when are you starting your blog, Sarah!), and Liz!

And then there were four

Minnesota, I learned, has an abundance of the best candy ever (I would say these rank right up there with Mini Eggs) - Salted Nut Rolls. Nougat, caramel and peanuts. And, this almost sounds like blasphemy but it is true - the plain kind are more tasty than the chocolate kind. Julia is the sweetest and has sent me care packages of Salted Nut Rolls before Ironman because I can't find them out East AND these have become my bento box treat on the bike. 

LOOK at them all!
Julia, Sarah, and I are all Tucson tri camp buddies from years past and we picked a great weekend for a reunion. The weather was great AND it was Kona race weekend, which meant we spent the majority of Saturday with the race playing on an iPad in the background while we tracked our friends racing and  steamrolled through packages of cheese, crackers, bagels, veggies, apple pie and, of course, Salted Nut Rolls. 

Pre-run group shot - with some fall foliage in the background!
We got a run in on Saturday morning, and Sarah and I managed to turn the 5 mile loop into 9 miles as we both got lost (not together and not in the same direction). Poor Julia had to drive around to find us, haha. During the Kona bike portion, we took a break from race watching and headed into town to meet Julia's parents, stop by Lululemon, and make a grocery store run (you can never have too much cheese). St. Paul is a really cute town, a nice downtown with an eclectic mix of shops, coffeeshops, restaurants, and tree-lined streets with beautifully maintained older homes - it just needs to be a thousand miles south and located in an area that gets minimal snow. I've become a weather wimp since moving to Virginia!

After we got back to Julia's, her friend Angela stopped by to help us drink wine, eat cheese and watch the race (I've read Angela's blog for awhile and love that she worked "cream cheese frosting" into the blog address - now THAT is something I am interested in!). And what would a weekend with triathletes be without a visit to the pool for some laps. We did that Sunday morning to earn our coffee and bagels. Unfortunately, Sunday was a travel home day for me. But I really enjoyed spending a weekend with Julia, Sarah, and Liz where the onlys thing on the agenda were to chat, eat, and do some running and swimming in between watching Kona. I'm the youngest of the group and everyone else has done alot more than me, experienced so much more, both in sport and in life, and I feel really lucky to have such great women in my life to be role models and give me advice. Thank you guys for a really great weekend!

And if you are wondering if I brought Salted Nut Rolls home - I did. But they did not make it past Monday. Sads.