29 May 2013

Getting Race Ready

Triathlon season has finally, FINALLY arrived. It's unfortunate that I'm Type A about dumb things -like how my shirts must be folded and the type of tupperware I like to use when carrying my lunch to work - but I'm not super organized or Type A when it comes to much of the rest of my life. Exhibit A: I scramble around in the mornings trying to pack my commute bag for swim practice and work in the 10 minutes I have between when I wake up and when Mr. Sweetie has threatened to pull out of the driveway. I remember getting ready for my first half Ironman (Mooseman 2008 - oh so long ago) and griping about how much preparation and stuff was required to get ready to swimbikerun 70.3 miles and OMG why can't I just go back to running because all I need to do is put on my shoessssssss.

I still dislike all the prep work (yes, sometimes I'll still leave my bike-cleaning and bike-packing for the very last minute thankyouverymuch), but I've realized just how important good preparaton is for having a successful race.

You have to write a race plan. Think through what you want to accomplish in each leg - what times you want to achieve - and how you're going to do it (draft like it's your job on the swim, bike like you stole something, and run like you're being chased). Think through your nutrition plan and whether or not eating 10 gels on the half Ironman bike is a bright idea (hint: it is not). Make realistic goals and plan to remember those goals when you feel like crap on the course because that will keep you going. And if you do the same races over and over again, you can just use last year's race plan you sent your coach and add a few tweaks for this year (is it a coincidence that my race schedule the past few years has looked the same, an illustration of my race plan drafting laziness?)

You have to eat alot of pancakes. I'm always thrilled when Training Peaks instructions tell me to eat alot of food, the more food the better, and the best kind of food is carbs. Long-course triathlon is a long way (duh) and 5+ hours is a long time to be racing, topping off the glycogen stores is key. And pancakes are magic in the 2-3 days leading up to the race.

Drink water and keep up your electrolytes. Summer has been on hiatus until NOW (of course the East Coast is experiencing a heat wave during race week, of course) and I think a hot day for race day will be a bit of a struggle in terms of acclimation. I'm trying to do everything I can to minimize the effect the heat will have on me by eating salty foods, drinking more fluids than I normally do, and adding electrolytes to my drinks (typically in the form of Skratch Labs hydration, but I forgot it at home today and settled for Gatorade post-sweaty run instead). I also have a Gatorade slushy percolating in my office freezer, which I'll probably eat tomorrow.

Visualize the race - visualize how you want everything to go on race day, how you plan to feel, what you plan to do during each leg. See yourself powering up the hills and fluidly running the downhills. And if you've raced on the course before, that should be especially helpful on the visualization exercises.

Get more sleep than normal, especially if your normal amount of sleep isn't adequate during a regular week, nevermind race week. Eat healthy, go easy on the chocolate chips and processed foods. And do the workouts you've been assigned at the designated level of effort- nothing more and nothing less. Nobody wins a workout.

Make sure you have all your stuff together BEFORE the day you leave for the race. It's never helpful when you discover at 6am, on your way out the door, that you don't have your favorite nutrition product and oh shucks the place where you usually buy it doesn't open until later that morning and you are out of luck. Never a fun feeling. I always try to drop my nutrition money bomb a few days in advance of race day and I try to have my tri bag mostly packed (or at least be aware that I have all the essentials) a good couples days before a race.

So those are a few things that I do to try and limit the haphazard way I used to approach race day and I do notice that I arrive at the race site more confident and calm, with my head in the right place to be ready to race well.

PS: I just noticed in my blog archives that I wrote my first post 5 years ago today on May 29, 2008, about my epiphany on why swimming is first and not last in a triathlon (because we would all die).

27 May 2013

Lots of Stuff

There are so many things I could write about.

Today is Memorial Day and while I've been lucky that all of my friends who have served in the military  have all been fine, but of course they still deserve recognition for the time away from their families and serving in dangerous parts of the world. So thank you to everyone who served, but especially Erin, Ashley, and Katie.

I could also write about how awesome it is to have a swim buddy. Since last fall, Kendra and I have been swimming together on a regular basis. We're very close to the same speed and while the social kick aspects of our swim practice is good for the soul, the competitive drive to touch the wall first is good for our swim progress. On Friday and Saturday, we swam so hard it felt like our legs and arms were going to fall off and we swam some of our fastest 100s to date. We hung on the wall, gasping for breath between sets, feeling like we were having a breakthrough of sorts with our swim. It was amazing. During the swim sets, we were swimming side by side, sometimes I'd pull ahead but then Kendra would come flying back with a great finishing kick and it was a race for the wall. We both made each other work much harder than we would've if we were swimming solo. And THAT is the benefit of a good swim buddy.

I could write about how Memorial Day weekend 2012 was my first training weekend with a group of girls who have since become some of the best friends/training buddies/partners-in-cupcake eating a girl could ask for! This weekend didn't involve bike riding on Skyline - instead we ate brownies, pie, and more brownies to christen Mindy's new backyard patio - but I am so grateful to have such great girlfriends in my life. I love Sarah's laughter as she tells a story; I miss Katie living just down the street, but her texts and emails never fail to crack me up; and I love that when Mindy brings dessert to a potluck, there is always a bite or two missing (taste-testing, heehee).

I could write about how I finally, finally, FINALLY got a sports massage this weekend. OMG it was amazing. AMAZING (well, a little painful, but the result was amazing). For months, my neck and left upper back have been stiff, sore, and cramped - I breathe to my right when I swim and that repetitive motion has scrunched up my muscle. I went to FitPro Massage and I'm now fully convinced I need to have a massage more regularly - my muscles felt so much better after they were worked on. I'm making an effort to put recovery at the top of my priority list and this is a good start.

22 May 2013

Ironman Training - Things Just Got Real

This past weekend's workouts were a kick-in-the-pants (or on-the-sitbones, ouch!) reminder that Ironman training has arrived and it means business. On paper, it didn't look terrifying. Five hour ride on Saturday, long-ish run on Sunday. On Saturday morning as I was filling my bento box and calculating the caloric needs for the ride by the hour, it dawned on me - oof, five hours means 90+ miles. That isn't a casual hop on your bike and ride for awhile. That's a make-sure-you-have-all-your-fuel-fill-ALL-of- your-bottle-cages-bring-money-for-more-food-because-your-bento-box-isn't-big-enough-and-bring-a- variety-of-fuel-because-5+ hours-of-gels-is-just-disgusting kind of ride. I haven't done a ride that long since the height of Ironman training last summer. And somehow the mind always forgets just how tired your body gets after the first ride of the season of that length. It kind of reminds me of the first time I trained for a marathon in college - I remember doing my long run on Saturday mornings and then spending a good portion of Saturday afternoons laying in my bed, feeling achy like I had the flu. But towards the end of training, my body didn't ache so much, as it had become acclimated to the distance. Same thing with Ironman training. That first long ride is always killer, but it gets better. I feel like I've done Ironman training for long enough now that I'm familiar with the cycle and it's comforting to know what to expect and that these feelings are completely normal and don't mean that I am terribly out of shape. It's just acclimation.

So the ride on Saturday was good, I rode out to Poolesville, tooled around on the hills, kept my fingers and toes crossed that I'd avoid the rain (mostly successful) and I ended up latching on the wheel of another cyclist for about 40ish miles who was out for a long ride too. It was nice to have company -Without it, I know I would've become surly about the drizzly weather and my less-than-stellar fueling (Combos as a gas station have never tasted so good. Mmmm fake cheese). As I got back on the bike path to make my way home from MacArthur Blvd, I considered doing a little out and back on the W&OD so I'd hit 100 miles, but I decided against it. 94 miles was more than enough thankyouverymuch. Plus I was running late in getting home, needed to have enough time to make Oreo Balls for my friend Kendra's event that evening (do you know how challenging it is to make sure enough oreos make it into the food processor instead of my mouth?)

I woke up Sunday morning feeling tired. And hungry, so hungry. I actually ate two bagels before my long run. My legs were stiff and sore when I set out and initially I thought I'd run down by the Pentagon, along the Mt. Vernon Trail and then back up through the Rosslyn/Courthouse/Clarendon hills but decided I didn't want to subject my legs to those hills, so I did an out and back from my house, past the Pentagon, down the Mall to the Washington Monument and then back.

Running routes like this will never ever get old. I always think of Forrest Gump on this path along the Reflecting Pool
I was cooked by the time I got home, my legs were tired and heavy and all I wanted was a billion popsicles - a sure sign that the warm and humid weather has arrived. We took Miles on a long walk that afternoon and he and I were lumps of pathetic-ness in the evening after dinner, both of us laying in the reading room, barely able to keep our eyes open.

This week I've had some swimming, a track workout, some biking, some strength training. I did track work yesterday and my legs are STILL sore. And I'm eating alot (more than usual). It's like I blinked and suddenly we're in the thick of the season. I think Ironman is about 10ish weeks away, so there is alot more fun in my immediate future!

Oh and I'm signed up for Ironman Texas 2014! Different (hot) race!

21 May 2013

In Reference to Yesterday's Bike Thievery

So yesterday I wrote a post on what happened when some guy tried to steal my bike from the bike cage in my office's basement. When I reacted by getting defensive, it was a gut reaction, without much thought put into it. Not just because he was trying to take a bike (though I love my bike, it is replaceable), but also because it is simply wrong to take what isn't yours and I wanted him to stop. I know that DC isn't New Hampshire (or Grenoble, France - site of my last purse-thief thwarting) and he was much bigger than the teenage French purse snatcher I tackled, and it is probably dumb but it didn't dawn on me that he would have a weapon or anything that could be dangerous. He wasn't being confrontational with me; in fact, it looked like he just wanted to get away from me, as he was clearly guilty (seeing as I caught him red-handed) and I'm pretty sure he was tired of hearing me shriek he's trying to steal my bike! he's trying to steal my bike! Should I have grabbed his arm and tried to pull him over to the security office. No - that was dumb. But, to be honest, I am glad that I called him out. You Don't Steal. It Is Wrong. And I don't think people like that should be able to simply get away with it. Had he been confrontational, it might've changed my reaction, because a bike is a possession and I can get a new one, and it isn't worth risking an injury. But he just looked shocked that 1) he got caught; and 2) I started yelling at him and making a scene. I didn't feel scared or threatened - just mad - it was broad daylight and there were lots of people around, so in that sense, luck was on my side.

Unfortunately, the security cameras didn't capture a good shot of his face (but it did confirm for me that I had a good memory of what he was wearing and his build). Hopefully he won't try to steal any more bikes out of the office bike cage. As my co-worker who witnessed the thief-thwarting remarked, maybe he will be too humiliated to come back. After all, he got chased away by a girl half his size. You win this round.

20 May 2013

I Pity The Fool Who Tries To Steal My Bike

Just last week I was thinking to myself as I bike commuted home - I should really write a post about how much I love my bike, I simply love, love, love my roadbike. There isn't anything super special about it, I've just had it for 5 years, ride it to work, home from dinner, to the tri shop, it's comfortable yet light, fast yet steady, and it was my first nice bike. I see the two of us growing old together.

And today some JERK tried to steal it. From the locked office cage in the parking garage at work. I've always felt complacent leaving my bike there - it's a bike cage with racks that only people from my company can access - you need a company badge to buzz in. I work with lots of nice people and maybe I am too trusting but I could never see any of them stealing my bike.

I left the office a little earlier than usual because I was leading the Tri360 group run at 6:30. I still had piles of work to keep me busy so if I wasn't leading the run, I would've stayed at the office a bit later (and I am SO thankful now that I was a run lead). I changed into my bike gear and running shoes and made my way down to the parking garage. As I came around the corner to the bike cage, I saw some JERK crouched over my bike, cutting away at my lock. I started yelling at him and ran into the cage. I will tell you this, he did NOT work at my nerdy (in a good way) company - he was wearing a toolbelt, tee-shirt, saggy jeans, ballcap, and his grammar was total crap.

He starts claiming that it was his bike, it was stolen, and he was just getting it back, that the security guy let him into the cage. Uh-huh. So he starts walking out of the cage (while stuffing away the lock clippers) and I am right next to him - OK, let's go see the security guy right now, he's right there. The guy starts walking faster and I start yelling and pointing He was trying to steal my bike, he was trying to steal my bike and the security guy was on the phone, just giving me a funny look. Meanwhile, the bike-thief kept saying It's my bike and I keep saying No it's not, it's mine. And we went back and forth like five year olds. The guy just kept walking when we got to the security office and that's when I grabbed his arm and tried to drag him back. He had a good 50+ pounds on me and shook me off like I was nothing and took off running. So I took off after him (and no, I wasn't wearing my bike shoes and helmet - that's what Mr. Sweetie pictured I was doing when I regaled him with my story), yelling to anyone who would listen That guy tried to steal my bike, that guy tried to steal my bike! And the guy is yelling over his shoulder, No, it's my bike! as he kept running. As I'm chasing him down the street, all I could think of was man, I'm going to be really late to the group run. This went on for about a block, the construction guys on the street were looking at me like I was nuts and some of my co-workers who saw me run after the guy in the parking garage started to give chase (turns out it was more to make sure I was fine, as they reminded me that you don't chase people in the city, you never know what they might be carrying. True).

I gave up the chase, what was I going to do when I caught him, jump on his back and wrestle him to the ground? Judging by the way he brushed me aside when I grabbed his arm, I was outmatched and probably wouldn't win that fight. On the bike ride home, it dawned on me that I should've tried to knee him where it counts when he was speedwalking out of the parking garage, but of course I didn't think of it at the time. I also should've thrown some zingers his way - Oh yeah, this is a WOMEN'S SPECIFIC ROADBIKE! You don't look like you have a VAGINA!

Even though none of my property was ACTUALLY stolen, I'm irritable that the guy got away. Not like there is a whole lot that he could be charged with - he'd end up with maybe a fine? And something tells me that someone who has no qualms about stealing a bike probably has no qualms about evading a fine. But boy, it would've been satisfying to tackle him/kick him in the junk/make sure he has second thoughts about stealing someone's bike ever again. And really, he can't be terribly bright - if you are going to steal a bike that someone commutes on, at least do it at the middle of the afternoon, NOT at 5:30pm when everyone is coming down to get their bikes. And also - he touched my bike shoes. That is just beyond disgusting. I always figured my bike shoes were safe to just leave out because nobody in their right mind would touch something that stunk to high heaven like that.

I bought a NEW lock (U-lock) from Tri360 tonight and an additional cable. Sadly, it looks like a locked bike cage doesn't mean a bike is safe from thieves.

14 May 2013

The Never-Ending Learning Process

Triathlon is like the sport equivalent of that terribly repetitive song from the kids show with the lamb - this is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend... I won't subject you to the entire refrain. And I don't mean this in a bad way, but triathlon is a constant learning process. It never ends. You would think that it doesn't take much to master swimbikerun and there should be an end to the learning process, a time in which you have mastered it all: staying upright, moving quickly, switching your bottles without wiping out, unclipping without falling over. Isn't there a point in which you've arrived?

No. There isn't.

This became obvious to me during my recent race at the Kinetic Half this past weekend. I achieved my best time to date, coming so close to the 5:00 barrier that breaking it someday actually seems like a feasible possibility.

But that will only happen if I continue to learn - how to push my limits on the bike, how to pace myself on the run to straddle that fine line of PR and BlowUpCity. As I wrote to Jen in a debriefing email post-race, during the run I noted that the faces of the 4 girls in front of me showed utter concentration and determination, expressions that I know for a fact I wasn't wearing. I was smiling and waving at friends on the race course, keeping my spirits high, but I didn't have a singular, laser-like focus like the other girls did, to CATCH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF ME. In fact, during much of the run, I was running through excuses in my head on why it was OK to just stay in 6th place and not worry about catching anyone in front of me. I know that I am generally competitive with others, but often when I feel like I am too far behind, or it would be too painful to try, I allow myself to simply be complacent with where I am - and this is not a recipe for growth, learning, or success. There are those who compete, and those who compete with the intent of running themselves into the ground in order to achieve their goals. A couple years back, in 2011, before one of my early season races when I was at the bottom of the learning curve when it came to competing and learning how to race, Jen wrote me an email full of quotes that scared the pants off of me - in a good way. The gist of it basically boiled down to "Destroy Yourself To Achieve Your Goal" and "Suffer." I had *no idea* how to do this; up until that point, I always wanted to finish a race with a smile on my face, wanting to do another. That was how I defined success. When things hurt, I slowed down. Over the years, my definition of the type of success I want to achieve has evolved. I'm learning to embrace the hurt, the suck, the burning quads. While I've improved, this past weekend showed me just how much more I have to learn, how much more I can grow, how much more potential there is to fulfill. And it is only May - and I am *SO EXCITED* about race season!

12 May 2013

Race Report - Kinetic Half Ironman 2013! Demons Conquered!

I *love* this photo of my team!
I've done the Kinetic Half twice before - in 2009 and 2010. It was never a positive experience, usually culminating in some sort of epic meltdown on the run course. In 2010 I finished in 5:47, walking a fair amount during the run and generally feeling very, very sorry for myself, especially on that one mile hill I got to do during each of the three loops. I was so over this race after 2010 and never wanted to race it again, until this year. Even though I have improved alot as an athlete since 2010, in the days leading up to this race, a little voice in the back of my head kept reminding me that this course always chopped me down in the past and who's to say it won't happen again in 2013. So I went into race day with a little bit of mental trepidation. It's not like it's even an exceptionally hard course - nothing at all like Savageman or Wildflower, or even Quassy. The bike has rolling hills and the run has rolling hills (and one loooong uphill at the beginning of each loop). But even if the course itself isn't hard, it can still be difficult to have a good race on a course that seems to be notoriously cursed with past bad experiences. 

But I am happy to say that the score for 2013 was Caroline 1, Kinetic 0. Finally.

Top O' the 30-34 Age Group Podium to you!

In the days leading up to the race, I diligently followed Jen's advice in my Training Peaks to "eat plenty." I obliged - 30 pancakes worth between Thursday and Friday! Yum! And some pizza and pasta thrown in as well. Carbs galore to top off the glycogen. And on Friday night I kept to my usual ritual of eating ice cream, chowing down on Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby. 

Race morning arrived early, with my alarm going off at 4am Saturday. It was about a 90 minute drive from Arlington to the race site at Lake Anna State Park. The race started at 7am and I weighed the pros and cons of trying to drive down on Friday afternoon (I-95 traffic is the WORST, and Friday afternoon I-95 traffic is the WORST of the WORST) with getting up an hour early and getting to sleep in my own bed. My own bed and avoiding Friday traffic won out and I enjoyed a speedy (if early) drive down Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I left about 15 minutes later than I intended AND was stuck in a long line of cars trying to park at the race site, further delaying my morning, and I didn't actually make it into transition to set up my bike, nutrition, etc until about 6:25. I frantically set things up, scuttling out with about 5 minutes to spare and hoped I hadn't forgotten anything critical (I hadn't). Then it was a dash to the porto-potties, a dash to find my wetsuit, then a dash back to the car to grab my Garmin that i forgot (and a frantic struggle to find my key it the hiding place it slipped into - for a second, I thought I lost my car key). Then a mad dash to the beach and into my wetsuit. I calmed down once I got the wetsuit on, chatted with Sarah and Dawn, did a practice swim, and then walked to our wave start with Kendra.

In terms of race expectations and goals, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew Kinetic was a popular race with DC-area triathletes and there would be alot of strong athletes out there. If I could get in the top 5-AG, maybe sneak into the top 10 OA (though my previous finishes were both 39th OA so top 10 seemed like a stretch), I could call it a good day. I was also gunning for a PR (so, anything under 5:10), but was worried the prior race demons would get the best of me. AND my previous best was 5:47 so I was asking to cut off almost 40 minutes from that time. Good luck with that. As I stood at the swim start with the rest of my swim wave (girls 34-and under) and looked around, EVERYONE looked fit and fast and it was more than a little intimidating and nerve-wracking. And when it comes down to it, all you really can do is your best on that particular day. So, my best it was, whatever that was going to be. 

The Swim: 34:30
The women 34-and under was the third wave to go off at 7:08. The water looked deceivingly calm (as I would find out after the first turn buoy) and it was the perfect temperature for my sleeveless wetsuit. My plan, as always, was to swim hard and find fast feet to shamelessly draft off of. The pack strung out quickly and I stayed close to the buoy line, but sadly not on any fast feet, swimming mostly on my own. I could see a handful of pink caps in front of me, but I mostly had clear water to myself and sadly I did not latch onto any fast feet. By the time I made it to the first turn buoy, I caught up to some of the guys from the previous wave, making for some dodging and weaving. Once we made the turn, the water got choppy and this was not the easiest swim. I kept trading places with another pink cap with a blue and orange wetsuit (who turned out to be Dawn!) and it was good to focus on staying with someone rather than focusing on the waves. The rest of the swim was uneventful, I basically tried to keep decent form and stay on course. I know I worked hard because my lats and back have never been so sore after a swim. 

T1: 3:31
The race company had some issues with the timing mats, so the results show Swim + T1 time, Bike time, and then T2 + Run time, so I'm using my Garmin time. Legs got stuck in the wetsuit again, but at least my arms didn't.

The Bike: 2:38:05
Dawn and I left T1 together and proceeded to play cat and mouse for the next 30+ miles, making the bike ride fly by. The bike course changed a bit from years past - rather than doing two hilly loops, we had one hilly loop and then did a loop of flatter roads with really good pavement. It started raining a little bit on the bike course, but nothing terrible, it actually was a nice way to keep cool. Kendra went blazing by before I hit the Mile 5 marker, never to be seen again. I passed a few girls in the 25-29 AG who were faster swimmers than me, but didn't see any girls in the 30-34 AG, making me wonder if I was really behind and all the fasties were too far ahead to catch, or if I was towards the front. There did seem to be alot of bikes still racked when I left T1. Either way, I biked my face off, trying to break 2:40 AND stay with Dawn. She would blow by me on the flats and downhills and I would catch her on uphills and this is how it went until she finally left me in the dust somewhere around Mile 30 :) She went on to have a super stellar race, and I don't think I would've gotten as good a bike split as I did if I hadn't been working out of my comfort zone to keep her in my sights. I nailed my nutrition during this half Ironman. 2011 and 2012 were the years of Eat Gels All The Time, but I think the sugar would get to me because I sometimes had stomach issues on the run. I also think overeating was a problem (are you surprised?). I figured overfueling was better than underfueling because bonking is bad. Well, guess what, overfueling is bad too. So I'm trying something a little new this year, eating mainly solids and NOT overeating. I do typically put down more nutrition in the first hour of the bike, frontloading the calories, and then back off during the remainder of the bike ride. So this time I ate one PowerBar in the first hour (a giant bite every 15 minutes), sipping on Skratch Labs lemon-lime hydration after each bite. Then I put down a whole gel, triggering my gag reflex, and ending my gel consumption on the bike at 1. About 30 minutes after the gel, I took a bite of a Clif MoJo bar, and then had another bike about 30 minutes after that. Each time I ate, I took in hydration. I think I took in between 500-600 calories total on the bike, with about 160 calories worth of Skratch, 270 of PowerBar, 90 of gel, and 75 of Clif, and a total of 1.5 bottles of fluid. By the end of the bike ride I felt full but not overloaded and not close to bonking. I stopped eating and drinking 20 minutes before the end of the ride. I was riding hard enough that I felt a little nauseous at times, but it wasn't from the food, it was from the effort because I felt hungry and had no problem getting the food down. Around Mile 40, I finally caught up to a girl in my age group. It was short lived because she promptly passed me back, but I was hopeful I would see her on the run. From miles 40-50 we hit some headwind and this was also where I hit my low point and was over the bike. I actually had no idea what my average speed was, as my Garmin was only showing me my overall time, and I think I race better like that - less information to freak myself out with. And less data analysis = more focus on actually racing. I was pretty happy to roll back into the park and head out on the run. The last mile of the bike ride goes by the first mile of the run and I took that opportunity to see how many girls were out on the run course. I saw two, plus I knew Kendra and Dawn were out there, along with the other girl in my age group. But I didn't know if there were any others that I just didn't see. 

T2: 1:44 
I was jazzed to be headed out on the run (ANYTHING to get me off the bike, really). As I rolled into T2, I heard the announcer say I was the 6th female off the bike. THIS was completely unexpected and I was going to make it my mission during the run to at least keep 6th and, if I was lucky, move up to 5th.

The Run: 1:44:47 
Remembering my past two races at Kinetic, I was a little intimidated by the run course, seeing as it resulted in a pity party of epic proportions every single time I raced it. And I remembered that hill at Mile 1 (and 5 and 9) being an absolute beast. But you know what - it actually wasn't that bad! At all! The first 50m is steep, then you make a sharp right, and while it continues to go up for the rest of the mile, it's a more gradual, gentle climb. The absolute best part about the run - and the race in general - is the crowd support. I saw so many of my Ignite teammates, as well as my Team Z friends and friends from DC Tri/Snapple and FeXY out there cheering and racing. I love, love, love local races for this reason. There was an AWESOME Team Z contingent at the corner at the top of the steep hill and they kept me going EVERY lap - so thank you guys! I looked forward to seeing them each time! And then Zoya and John from FeXY boosted my spirits with their cheers as I went by, it was just awesome! And of course seeing Dawn, Mike, Kendra, Kasha, Kelly (who WON the whole thing!), Sarah and Ryan out on the course was the absolute best! Per Jen's advice, I didn't not blow myself up during the first mile and overextend it - I spent most of it looking for the top of the hill while assessing how I was feeling (actually felt pretty good!). It ticked by faster than I expected in 8:13 and then the subsequent mile or two were faster once things flattened out. At the top of the long hill, you make a right, have a flat/slight downhill for about 1.5 miles and then you loop around and come back, having a slight uphill for 1.5 miles and then you have about a mile downhill where you loop by the finish line and then do it again two more times. It is hard, especially on that first loop, to go by those signs that say Mile 9, Mile 11, Mile 12 and realize you have to go by them TWO MORE TIMES before they actually apply to you. And let's not get started about how it feels to go by the finish line twice before actually getting to cross it. Upside of the loops - LOTS of crowd support and knowing where your friends will be standing to cheer you on. During the first loop, I struggled a little bit to find my stride. My stomach still felt a little full and I resolved that I would only eat the gels I brought with me if I felt hungry and my body was asking for calories. Otherwise, I was just going to run and hope I would eventually feel less full (which I did). I took in a few sips of water every 2 miles and it was getting a little warm out there (compared to how chilly it has been this spring, it felt downright summer-like on Saturday). I was also getting passed left and right by guys, which felt a little demoralizing because I was thinking to myself how slow AM I running - usually I am passing guys on the run because they blow by me on the bike. But then I started to realize that I am not usually this far up in a race, I don't usually have the sort of bike ride where I come into T2 towards the front of the girl's race, so it wasn't that I was running super slow, it was more that I just biked well and found myself further up than usual. I felt stronger and faster on the second loop and started seeing more familiar faces out there, and by the end of the second loop I saw the girl from my age group ahead of me, I was sloooowly but surely gaining on her. I spent the first two miles of the last loop reeling her in and I passed her while we went through an aid station and she was grabbing water, I don't even know if she saw me go by, sneaky. I spent the rest of the last lap running scared, convinced that she was hot on my heels. I also wanted to make sure I ended up in the top 5 overall so that meant not letting up on the gas pedal, as there are always some speedy people in the 35+ age groups who started in the wave four minutes behind me. I checked my watch for the overall time about 1.5 miles from the finish and it was reading a few minutes under 5 hours. I knew I didn't have a sub-7 mile in me, so I gunned for anything under 5:05 instead.

Post-race hanging out!
 I ended up crossing the line in 5:02:05, a PR by about 8 minutes! I ended up 5th female overall and 1st age group. I would love, love, love to get my run under 1:40 someday in the near future, and I am slowly but surely whittling my time down and suddenly a sub-5 seems within reach, which would've been completely unfathomable to me just a few years ago. Heck, it felt unfathomable just last year. I felt the same exhausted, legs running on fumes for the last mile or two of this race that I felt at Poconos 70.3 last year, when I put all my effort into having a good run. This is twice in a row that I've had a good, relatively solid run off the bike, and now - like I'm learning to do on the bike - I need to start pushing the envelope of my comfort zone on the run. With a half marathon PR of 1:33, I should be capable of a sub-1:40 off the bike, it's just convincing myself to dig deeper on the run. I could see it on the faces of Kendra and Dawn and Rachel, the girl who ended up winning the whole race (AND who also has the same type of dog as Miles - a Llewellin Setter), that they put themselves in a world of hurt on that run course and I absolutely was not on their same level. I don't know where that fine line lies between racing just outside my limits to completely blowing up and I need to get up the courage to keep testing it out and learn how to expand my capacity to suffer. But overall, I am really happy with how my race went yesterday.

With Sarah and Kendra post-race
Lots and LOTS of thanks to all of my friends who were out on the course, both racing and cheering, as it absolutely made my day. I loved exchanging words of encouragement with my fellow Ignite Endurance teammates Ryan, Mike, Kasha, Kelly, Dawn, and Sarah along the course, as well as superstar Kendra. I loved seeing all the Team Z'rs along the approach to the finish line as well as at the top of the steep hill and their cheers made that hill so much easier - thank you Jenny and Julie and Amber and Scott and Ray and Jason and Janet and Valerie and Mark and everyone else! It was great to see Adam S. killing it on the course, and Zoya and John from FeXY cheering on the long hill was great! I got to run with Chris W. AND I saw Bob the Pie Guy multiple times on the run course.  Happiness ABSOLUTELY is when it takes you 45 minutes to head to your car because you keep bumping into friends and chatting. I'm really lucky.

I chased this girl ALL day! Congrats on your first sub-5, Dawn!
And of course, a *huge* thank you to Tri360 for making sure my bike was running smoothly on race day. In a show of ultimate procrastination, I finally put my bike back together on Thursday night, a good month + since I packed it up for Tucson. I've just been riding my road bike everywhere and I would be lying if I said I didn't consider just riding the road bike out of sheer laziness. Twitter can vouch for this. On my Friday AM shakeout spin, my gears just weren't switching right and I had visions of my bike falling apart on the course and Mr. Sweetie took it to Tri360, they fixed the problem and it ran PERFECTLY on Saturday - thank you guys! And thank you to Skratch Labs, the hydration mix is *amazing* and I attribute my happy race day stomach to your product. And ZocaGear's kit was super comfortable, as usual. And I love BlueSeventy's goggles, no leaking! And THANK YOU Jen Harrison - you are a fabulous coach and you've changed me from an athlete who was a resident of MeltDownCity to one who gets to stand on the podium. And a thank you to Mr. Sweetie for indulging my need for carbs all week, making yummy pizza and pasta dinners. I hope to always be able to repay you in bottles of victory wine :). And thanks to my awesome teammates on Ignite, I love racing with you guys and I think it's pretty neat that we all podiumed!

08 May 2013

Happy Anniversary to my parents!

This post is a good week overdue, oops (must take after my father, heehee).
The last week of April, my parents celebrated 34 years of marriage. And even though life - and marriage - are not perfect, I think the relationship that they have built and nurtured is a pretty darn good one. I've still caught them making out in the kitchen when I come home for visits, if that is any indication on love surviving two kids, job changes, too many cats to count, 3.5 dogs, moves, and the grind of the day-to-day. I absolutely credit my parents' marriage as a role model for my own and I feel lucky to have had such an example.
Mom and dad showing off their years of dance lessons at my wedding
- Find pleasure in the little things. It is borderline dorky how excited my dad gets about going grocery shopping with my mom. He sees it as an opportunity to spend time together and chat. I don't know if my mom quite shares that same level of enthusiasm (my dad is a bargain shopper and while he's good at finding deals, it is an arduous process and takes 10x as long as when my mom goes by herself), but she indulges him and invites him along sometimes. Makes his day. Seriously.

- When you live with someone, it is inevitable that you will have disagreements and fights. It doesn't mean you love each other any less. My parents rarely fought when I was a kid, but they are only human and disagreements happened. I remember my mom telling me that when you live with someone, you're going to fight with them and the key is fighting fairly and productively so you can both find a solution and grow as a couple.

- When your spouse cooks you dinner, it is your job to be the dish fairy. My mom is a great cook and takes care of making most of the meals. And it's my dad's job to do the dishes afterwards. This arrangement works pretty well for Mr. Sweetie and I too (only he does the cooking because we like edible food).

- ... But if the dish fairy REALLY hates washing the pots and pans, you give them a pass. My dad hates the pots and the pans. So they are excluded from dish fairy duties. Mr. Sweetie gives me the same pass sometimes when it comes to wiping down the countertops, as he'll often do it while I'm finishing up the last of the dishes. I always appreciate it when he does this.

- Compromise. For years, my mom was the one who got the family up and moving in the morning. But before she started knocking on bedroom doors each morning, she would take about 30 minutes of quiet time for herself to turn the lights on low, sip her tea, read a book, and enjoy the silence. My dad slept through all this, smartly waiting until the mayhem of his two kids getting ready for school passed through the door and onto the schoolbus. But then the kids grew up and moved out and suddenly there wasn't any morning mayhem for my dad to wait out and instead he saw this as a golden opportunity to hang out more with mom before they went their separate ways to work. Only - my dad's idea of a good morning is the polar opposite of my mom's - turn on all the lights, talk to himself, talk to my mom, sing to himself, sing to my mom, and make a general racket. After about a week of this, mom put her foot down - if dad insisted on getting up early with her, he needs to be quiet as a mouse for the first 30 minutes AND no turning all the lights up bright. And so, that is what they do, even though I know my dad employs alot of willpower not to loudly be-bop around the house. Compromise is love, for sure.

- Make peace with your spouse's quirks. They are part and parcel of the person you love the most. My dad is late. every hour. of every day. My mom holds a grudge like nobody's business. My dad talks. alot. all of the time. The weirdest things make my mom cranky. My dad talks so loudly on the phone, you'd think he might as well save on the phone bill and just yell to the person instead. Sure, these quirks could drive my mom and dad up the wall, but they don't let that happen. Mom will just tell dad he needs to be somewhere an hour earlier than he actually needs to be there (or she will just get in the car and leave him behind if it comes down to it, ha!). Dad just leaves mom alone if she is cranky, knowing that she will come around eventually. After 34 years of marriage they've perfected the art of "letting it go."

- Show your love by doing the dirty work. I'd say that mom does most of the housework around the house, but my dad pays her back by taking care of the really messy things. Like disposing of any dead animals that expire in the yard (or in a bucket of water during my mom's epic Battle of The Great Chipmunk Infestation). Best story was when mom was mowing the lawn and almost ran over a bat. She freaked out and called to my dad to get a shovel and take care of it. Just as he's about to scoop it up, he leans down, takes a closer look, and says "Molly, this thing was made in China." Turns out my brother left a toy bat out in the yard, ha!

- Do something together. My mom and dad are very involved with their local parish and often you will find them volunteering at Church together, whether it is acting as greeters at the beginning of Mass, helping to run the Holiday Bazaar, or any number of things. You'll also find them attending Mass together (though if my dad is running late, my mom WILL leave him behind and they will take two cars, ha!). For years they also took dance lessons. Not only does volunteering or taking up a hobby together encourage them to spend time with each other, it also gives them something to discuss, as well as goals to work towards.

- Summer evenings are best spent side by side in Adirondack chairs, sharing chips, salsa, and margaritas. To mom and dad, unwinding in the Adirondack chairs in the yard while chatting about their day is better than going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant any day. And this isn't just a Friday night treat, any evening with decent weather is fair game. For our wedding almost seven years ago, my mom topped our wedding cake with adirondack chairs (accented with mini beach towels, running shoes, and golf clubs that she made out of clay). And whenever I see an adirondack chair, I think of my parents, sitting in the front yard at sunset, watching the world go by while enjoying each other's company.
Adirondack chairs facilitate communication, relaxation, and encourage you to spend time with the one you love
- You don't need material wealth to wake up feeling like a lottery winner every day. Ask either one of my parents - and they will each say I feel like the luckiest one, what did I do to deserve such a great spouse. They each think the other is the greatest person ever (quirks and all). We were never a family with a big house, expensive car, lavish vacations. Those things simply aren't important to my parents. What is important is the way my dad looks at my mom and the way he talks about her - 34 years on, he still has the utmost respect for her and appreciates everything about her. What is important is the way my mom takes care of my dad - cooking him dinner, getting him that second glass of milk so he doesn't have to get up from the table. Their inside jokes, their patience with each other, all that is what really matters to them. And I'm 100% sure they wake up every morning happier and more fulfilled than any lottery winner because they always have someone they can count on each and every day.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! And cheers to many more great years!