Guiding for Achilles at the 2017 New York City Marathon

On Sunday, Nov. 5, Team Asim spent the day running through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan during the iconic TCS NYC Marathon.

About to make some marathon magic

Although I’m about one week removed from the race, the experience still seems surreal. Did our Achilles group really log 26.2 miles in the Big Apple—with more than 50,000 fellow runners?

Sunday’s journey through the five boroughs marked several second times for me: guiding the marathon distance for Achilles; covering the distance ever; and tackling 26.2 miles this year. In March, I guided the same athlete for the Queens Marathon, but even with this outing, I still felt anxious. Leading a disabled athlete through a race is a huge responsibility, and my biggest fear was that something would happen to me—or to one of our three additional guides—that would impact our athlete’s race. The marathon is an equalizer in the sense that it challenges everyone who toes the start line. Although I trusted my Corona Park experience, I did not discount the inevitable tough patches our team would face. But that’s the marathon: when you’ve been out there for a while, and your legs feel like logs and every step takes all your energy, how do you respond? I had faith in our team to remain positive, hang tough, and cross the finish line.

Marathon weekend unofficially began on Thursday when I ventured to the Javits Center to pick up my guide bib and race materials, and on Friday evening, there was an Achilles International dinner at the Hotel Pennsylvania. That’s when reality of the race started to sink in: athletes from around the world (Denmark, Mexico, and even South Africa just to name a few) were running, and I felt honored for the opportunity to be part of my athlete’s race. On Saturday night, Team Asim—our namesake, four guides, plus family members and friends—went out to dinner, and then we got down to business of reviewing the game plan. Asim tabbed me as the lead guide and pacesetter, meaning I was responsible for locking in to our goal speed, communicating our formation, observations, and needs, and ensuring we functioned as a team. We decided to break up the race into six-mile segments, and though all four of us would be tackling the complete distance, we would take turns using the race belt to guide Asim. (The first guide would do miles one through six, the second six through 12, etc.) Asim asked me to guide him for the final stretch—miles 18 through the end—I was honored. Those later miles are the toughest of the day, so the fact that I got the guide “anchor leg” was a huge responsibility. Mentally, that’s when I told myself the race would start. My goal was to be a sparkplug, to create sustainable, contagious energy that would carry us to the finish line.

My alarm sounded at 4:30am on Sunday morning, and Asim and I inhaled some oatmeal before catching a cab to the Athletes With Disabilities (AWD) buses on 38th Street and Fifth Avenue. It was really neat to see a sea of runners descending on Midtown so early in the morning! The ride to Staten Island took about an hour, and upon our arrival, we hung out in the AWD Village until our 9:50 a.m. wave. During this time, we talked to fellow runners and reviewed the pace plan.  Our goal was to break five hours, but we were prepared to make adjustments as necessary. We would check in with each other every mile, of course, but I wanted us averaging 10:45-11:00 min./mi. My main checkpoints were miles 13 and 18; we needed to hit those miles feeling decent and in control of the effort. From there, the grind would begin—staying strong mentally and continuing to move forward.

Running down our marathon dreams in Brooklyn

Although it was a little chilly at the start line on the Verrazano Bridge, the temperature hovered around 45-50 degrees throughout the day, and there was a continuous light misting of rain. These were perfect conditions for me, but the weather posed an added challenge for a visually impaired athlete: the precipitation led to slick pavement, and the road itself was littered with cups, nutrition wrappers, and other debris that we had to navigate.

Another factor that tested Team Asim was the 50,000-plus other runners. We started the race at the back of the first wave, so the opening miles weren’t crowded, but as we logged miles 8-13 in Brooklyn, the on-course traffic was unrelenting. Most athletes were courteous and moved to the side when we announced there was a blind running approaching. Some racers infiltrated our formation and cut directly in from of Asim, and there were two instances specifically where I “gently guided” these folks out of the way. During our Brooklyn stint, I did a lot of diagonal running with my arms totally extended (think a basketball defensive stance) to create a human shield around Asim with the goal of ensuring no one would obstruct his space.

When you see one of your friends at mile 24 …

Brooklyn was by far the toughest area to guide, but it was also the most fun. I literally ran into one of my friends who was racing, and I saw two more buds spectating. The narrow streets made it easy to read signs—throughout the day, we read aloud signs to Asim—and it also creating a wall of sound: cheering, clapping, horns, cowbells. The weather was not conducive to watching a marathon so it meant a lot to see so many people braving the elements and urging us on. Our team was super grateful for the energy and the cheers, and lots of fellow runners gave us a thumbs up or a “Go Achilles” on the course. Those moments were magic.

The going got tough for Team Asim around mile 18 when cramps arrived, forcing us to take our first walk break. (That was also when race officials announced Shalane Flanagan won the women’s race!) Prior to the race and even during the event itself, the magnitude of running 26.2 miles didn’t phase me—mostly because I didn’t give it the headspace. But it was impossible to dismiss those feelings in the Bronx. My arms felt like bricks from playing zone defense in Brooklyn. My left hip was also noticeable, but thankfully not debilitating. Finally, I acknowledged everything: I was running a marathon; it’s not supposed to be easy, but I am fine; and I have one job, and that’s to get Team Asim to the finish line in Central Park. But it’s in these moments of discomfort where change, growth, and magic happen—a fact I relayed to Asim. We were all going through our own tough spells, and I told him we were all in this together.

Marathon finishers!

They say if the hurt comes, then so will the happiness. We powered through the final miles in the Bronx and in Central Park, running when we could and walking when necessary. The fans were absolutely phenomenal, giving us all a much needed boost. (And I saw another one of my friends!) As we exited the park, headed along Central Park West, and reentered for the final time, we began to cheer and throw up our hands to get the crowd to cheer for Asim. We picked it up during that half-mile uphill and finished in 5:28.

We look gooooood

Volunteering for Achilles has redefined my outlook on sport, and I encourage all runners, endurance athletes, and fitness enthusiasts to give guiding a try.

2nd Annual SwimRunVA Recap

On Saturday, Oct. 21, I completed my “A” race of the 2017 season, SwimRunVA. Held in Richmond, the endurance event spanned roughly 18 miles, totaling 3.3 miles of swimming in the James River and 14.9 miles of running along trails.

#TwoStevens!

The uniqueness of swimrun centers on its structure and logistics. Unlike typical road races and triathlons, this is a team event, meaning each athlete sticks with their partner for the duration of the competition. (Garden State SwimRun was an exception.) Most swimrun races are point-to-point, starting at A and traveling to B, and all contain multiple transitions that challenge athletes to go back and forth between swimming and running. Finally, all gear that is used for the swim must be carried on the run and vice versa; ultimately, this equates to swimming while wearing running shoes and running with paddles and pull buoys. Sounds like fun, right?

Pull buoys, paddles, wetsuits, oh my!

“Fun” was the guiding principle for my triathlon training this year. My coach and I worked to round out my endurance portfolio, gain multisport experience in a variety of events, and ultimately keep this lifestyle fresh and fun: I guided an Achilles athlete for a marathon (and we’re doing the NYC Marathon tomorrow, but that’s another post!); I participated in swim meets; and, I competed in two swimrun events.

Getting after it on the trails

SwimRunVA sounded interesting because with the abovementioned outlook, it demanded lots of swim and run training, which meant lots of time working on my not-as-strong triathlon disciplines. Since I had never attempted this type of race, my training saw some new techniques and different workouts, and it also introduced a team component. Although I love competing solo, I grew up playing team sports; the fact that I would be tackling 3.3 miles of swimming and 14.9 miles of running with a friend not only gave me peace of mind—knowing we were in it together—but it also made me train harder. It was easier to tap in to motivation knowing that my teammate was counting on me.

Scoping out the swim

As the race approached, my teammate and I met up once each week and completed swim-run bricks together: twenty minutes of swimming, 20 minutes of running, 20 minutes of swimming, etc. These workouts gave us the chance to identify sustainable paces (we projected a five-hour finishing time), work on communication, and above all, get used to transitioning from swimming to running and vice versa. Each Sunday was a key workout day for me: I’d run 3.5 miles to masters practice, swim for two hours, and run 3.5 miles back home. Overall, I swam 4-5 days per week and ran four days.

Sighting #AllForTheSwim

Anyway, onto our memorable weekend in Richmond!

We flew down from New York City late Thursday afternoon, which gave us enough time to get our bearings, explore the area, and take care of last-minute race necessities. We ordered a swim-run race kit from Europe that contained our tether, pull buoys, and compasses, but the package was held in customs, leaving us without gear. Luckily, we found a swim shop within an aquatics center, so we bought the required items. Friday morning began with a shake-out half-mile “run” to the Black Sheep for breakfast, and we also ventured down to the American Civil War Museum to check out the mighty James River—its surging rapids and monstrous boulders were clear indicators of just how gnarly the swim portions would be, and we were pumped!

So gnarly

One reason the boulders were so visible was due to the low water level, the race director Jay told us at the pre-race briefing and dinner. (Sidebar: two thumbs up for the veg-friendly spread!) Last year, the James was about five feet deep while the water measured 3.5 feet. This meant we would have to swim around and potentially over these rocks, and these natural road blocks added an extra challenge to navigating the course: there was never a true straight line we could follow. Unlike triathlon, where there are buoys stationed at various points on the course, the swims in Richmond had two buoys only—one at the entry point, and one where competitors exited. Safety measures and general swimrun etiquette was also discussed, and Jay also reviewed the course in its entirety. Although SwimRunVA was only my second ever event of that kind, I felt relaxed and at ease after the briefing. Sure, there was some uncertainty—how would my “new” pull buoy hold up on the run? What if we got lost?—but it would be an adventure!

Fiddling with my paddles

I wish I could talk about each of the seven runs and six swims in great detail, but honestly, the entire race was a blur. My teammate and I settled in to a comfortable, endurance pace with the objective of managing our energy and simply enjoying the day. The opening run and swim segments set the tone for outing as we were greeted by a gorgeous sunrise. During those moments—especially during the swim as it was the longest continuous one of the day at 1.1 miles—I took time to reflect. I felt grateful to be in nature, exploring a new-to-me area. I felt grateful to have a body that allowed me to swim and run. And I felt grateful for the experience as it was unfolding moment to moment.

Thanks for the suit, Blueseventy!

Race day conditions were perfect. The air temperature started around 50 degrees and steadily climbed to the low 70s, and the water hovered around 60 degrees. The first swim felt a little brisk, but it ended up being ideal as the race progressed; each time we finished a run segment, we were ready to get in the water and cool off. (There are a handful of companies that make swimrun suits, and Blueseventy hooked me up with a prototype they are introducing to the market next year. I absolutely loved it!) Most of the running legs traversed trails, but there were a handful of “urban” running segments with stairs, ladders, and—my favorite—a pipeline. Full disclosure, we did get lost three times, but that was our fault. (Race protocol dictated we carry a course map, which proved to be helpful in these instances, ha.) Plus, it gave us a chance to further explore Richmond.

I felt like I was in The Hunger Games!

Team Two Stevens finished in 4:47, and we narrowly missed the podium in the mixed division—by four seconds! But more importantly, we had a blast, and we already registered for next year’s race.

2017 Garden State SwimRun Recap

This past Saturday, my Cannondale Slice remained at home as I went to New Jersey and completed my first swim-run endurance event, the Garden State SwimRun.

All photos are from the Garden State SwimRun Facebook page.

I’ve taken a step back from racing triathlons this season and focused on rounding out my endurance portfolio: competing at swim meets, guiding for Achilles, and volunteering for the Challenged Athletes Foundation at the New York City Triathlon. The catalyst for this decision was my “A” race this year, SwimRunVA, a team-based outing where pairs are tethered together and alternate between—you guessed it—swimming and running. Even though being tethered was not an option this past weekend, the event still presented an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with this new-to-us world.

Most of our anxiousness surrounding swim-run derived from logistical uncertainty, especially since everything athletes use for swimming must be worn while running: what shoes (and socks?) could we wear without getting blisters; how would we carry our paddles and pull buoys on the run; when and how would we take nutrition? We both researched, but reading cannot replace doing; we went into this outing with open minds, good spirits, and a willingness to ask questions, make mistakes, and soak in the experience. After all, this was trial run (and swim … and run …) for our goal race.

We made the hour-long drive to Randolph, NJ and were the second people to arrive at the race. With more than an hour before the start, there was plenty of time to study the course map, pick the brains of race organizers and more experienced athletes, and attempt to develop a plan for transition from one sport to another.

#TwoStevens coming through!

As stated above, during a swim-run event, competitors are allowed to use paddles and pull buoys (which is not the case for triathlon), but all gear must be carried or worn during each segment. This means, yes, you swim while wearing your running shoes, and as my teammate and I discovered, you run while wearing your paddles. One of the race organizers (who generously loaned me her pull buoy) advised rotating our paddles during the run segments: simply moving these plastic fins from under our palms to sitting on top of our hands led to a more “natural” arm carriage during the run portions. The seasoned swim-runners rigged their pull buoys to be attached to their hips with elastic strings. Like the paddles, this foam floatation device was simply swiveled from between the legs to the hip depending on the current segment. We plan to do the same for October, but during this race, we simply stuffed the buoy in the back of our tri tops.

The race began with a 0.25-mile run that took us around a baseball field. I had flashbacks to my softball days!

Garden State SwimRun saw about 100 competitors and offered two distances: the sport distance (5.45 miles total) and elite distance (10.9 miles total) with the sport option consisting of one loop and the elite course spanning two. Since my teammate and I will tackle three miles of swimming and 15 miles of running in October, we opted for the longer distance that featured 16 transitions. Our plan was to dial in to a sustainable, endurance effort.  As our first race of this kind, we were realistic and conservative.  Although similar to triathlon, swim-run is its own multi-sport world; just as we train consistently for swim-bike-run events, others log serious hours swimming and running.  Overall, we approached this outing with respect–for the course itself, for the total distance, and for our fellow athletes.

Focusing … on not falling.

And we had an absolute blast! There were tons of volunteers stationed on the swim course and by transitions, plus there were some manning water stations on the run legs. Going into this race, both my partner and I put a lot of thought into transitions and logistics, but once we started the event, our bodies took over; there was no thinking—especially on the trails—and we simply reacted. As a stronger swimmer, I used my time in the water to recover, stretching out my strokes and settling in to a bilateral breathing pattern. (When I race, I breathe every stroke.) The trails were more demanding, especially since my experience running off-road is extremely limited.  Luckily, my teammate led the way, so I followed his line and tried not to trip.  We chatted a bit during the run segments, but the longest and most technical leg (2.58 miles) felt like an active meditation:  I focused on the step that was immediately in front of me and couldn’t let my mind wander. The few times I almost zoned out, I almost wiped out! (Note: I did not fall once!) We balanced each other out too: my strength lies in the swim, so I led; once we arrived to the run sections, I followed my partner’s line. We finished in 3:17:59 almost squarely in the middle of the pack.

Watch out, SwimRun VA–Team #TwoStevens is coming for you!

2017 Coney Island Aquathlon Recap

On Saturday, July 15th, I completed my first swim-run event, the Coney Island Aquathlon.  As its name suggests, the race took place in Coney Island, and it ended up being my first trip to the Brooklyn neighborhood that’s famous for its boardwalk, amusement park rides, and carnival foods. More importantly, this competition served as an introduction to the swim-run world; my “A” race this year is SwimRun VA in October.

All calm at the swim start

The event offered several distance options with solely open-water swims (0.5 mi., one mile and two miles) and swim-run categories (0.5-mi swim and three mile run; one-mile swim and three mile run; two-mile swim and six-mile run) offered. Three of my Bearcat masters buds registered for the race, and we all opted for the “long course” two-mile swim and six-mile run. Although there were difference between this race and what I will be doing this fall, the main similarly I wanted to experience was the transition from swimming to running: how my legs would feel, what my heart rate would do, and how easily would I settle in to my desired pace.

My race plan was simple: warm up the first mile of the swim; build the effort through mile two; and keep my heart rate under control during the run. From the “Trial By Fire” races I completed with my old triathlon team—where we alternated between swimming and running—I knew this third goal would be the toughest. Without fail, my heart rate would skyrocket as I exited the water and started to run so I expected the same experience.

Overall, the swim progressed smoothly. Well, the water was choppy—I felt like I was in a washing machine—but there wasn’t a lot of jockeying for position or contact with other swimmers. Competitors were released based on which distance they were doing, and even though there were only about 40 people doing the longer race, I swam solo for the majority of the time. There were a few opportunities to draft, but I got impatient swimming in the pack. In hindsight, I should’ve been more assertive in terms of joining a group off the bat, but since I had never raced two miles in the open water, I wanted to be conservative. For what it’s worth the top two women did the swim in 55 minutes, and my split clocked 1:01. (The woman who placed third completed the swim in one hour.)

In an effort to keep my heart rate under control, I took my time as I transitioned from one sport to the next: jogging to the transition area, peeling off my wetsuit, slipping on my running shoes, and ultimately heading out onto the boardwalk.

Locked in and finishing strong

I settled into my pace fairly easily, but I immediately had issues with my breathing. During a triathlon, it takes me about a mile to feel “good,” but my lungs were still burning when I hit the 2.5-mile mark so I backed off the pace. I told myself I’d increase the effort once my heart rate was OK, but that didn’t happen until mile five. (When my coach and I talked about this challenge after the race, we were able to identify a few ways to key my heart rate in check.) On the bright side, the weather was perfect. The sun came out around the mile five, but I finished the race strong and sans sunburn.

Where is everybody? Ha!

I also won my age group (full disclosure: I was the only girl in my age group, ha!) and placed fourth overall among women. My Bearcat buds crushed it—one guy won the race overall, and the other two took first and second in their age groups—and I had a blast seeing them out on the run course. It was a great day of doing sports with friends, and I’m excited to apply the lessons I learned to my swim-run training and beyond.

When’s your next race?

A Long Overdue Update: Seneca7, Rev3 Quassy, and Lake Placid

Hello.  It’s me.  I was wondering if after all … these months you’d like an update?  Yes?  Good.

Summer nights in the city

As you noticed, I failed to write a blog post following the Seneca7 in April. For the second consecutive year—and third time total—I tackled the 77.7-mile relay race around Seneca Lake with some of my best runner friends. We had a blast, and it was an unforgettable weekend, but when I thought about articulating the weekend, I struggled to find the words.

The Seven PerSISTERS

The CNY running and endurance community suffered a tragic loss at this race with a local legend passing away. Although I didn’t know him well, we met a few times at Fleet Feet events during the summer of 2012. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious, and I wanted to soak up his positivity and knowledge. When I visited the shop during my trips home, I would occasionally see him, and that was the extent of our interactions. Our paths didn’t cross during the Seneca7 itself, but upon hearing the news, I struggled to accept it. How could this happen to someone so young, so passionate, so selfless?

Summer solstice sunrise

For the following few weeks, the news consumed my thoughts, especially during workouts—the endurance sets in the pool, the VO2 max efforts in the saddle, the speedwork intervals on the pavement. Working through the disbelief, the shock, the sadness by swimming, biking, and running helped, and it gave my training a renewed sense of appreciation.  Life is too short to pursue things that don’t bring us truly alive; this sport, this lifestyle, this community make me feel complete.

My happy place: in the saddle

This perspective made me feel relaxed heading into my first triathlon of the year, Rev3 Quassy. A hilly and technical course, this race broke me last year: in what is usually my strongest discipline, the bike made me feel uncomfortable, ill prepared and absolutely dejected, and I carried these sentiments onto the run. This year, the plan was simple: execute a solid swim; ride conservatively on the bike; and hang tough on the run.

During the first event of the season, there are always kinks to iron out, but the outing progressed smoothly.

Pleased with my execution and pleasantly surprised to bring this home

Aside from dropping my chain during the 40-K bike ride—and having to get off my bike to fix it—I had a good day and even managed to sneak on in my age group. I was shocked given the technicality of the course and my mechanical issue. Any day you wind up on the podium is a good day, but I was even happier with my progress:  I shaved off three minutes from my swim; I refused to let the mechanical issue spiral out of control on the bike and simply accepted it and moved on; and I hung tough on the run and even passed people.  This season debut gave me even more confidence in my abilities, progress, and mental game.  It also peaked my interest in long-course racing since I dialed into an endurance effort on the bike and felt comfortable on the run.

Not ready to be done … who am I?

The long-course thoughts continued as I traveled to Lake Placid in mid-June for our yearly training trip. I trained like a 70.3 athlete for four days and took full advantage of serene Mirror Lake and the beautifully brutal bike and run courses: I logged four swims, two rides, and two runs, which equated to nearly five miles of swimming, 100-plus miles of riding, and 17 miles of running. Open-water swims occurred every day, and I rode one 56-mile loop of bike course on Friday and Saturday.

Bro-ing out and keeping an eye on the boys as they fixed a flat tire

The second ride provided a new Sherpa/emotional guardian experiences: two guys in our group are doing Ironman Lake Placid, and they needed to ride 112 miles (two loops of the course) on Saturday, and I tagged along for miles 56-112. Although I’ve witnessed friends in various stages of their Ironman training—and have even been on hand during the race itself—I had not witnessed the crucial 100-mile ride firsthand, specifically the backend when things can unravel. There were a few tough moments out there—for those who know the course, especially during the final 12-mile climb back into town—but the guys did great.

Never have I ever spontaneously signed up for a half-marathon. Oh, wait …

Placid is paradise and makes me feel fully alive—and it also tempts me do crazy things, like spontaneously sign up for a half-marathon. To be fair, there was some peer pressure (thanks a lot, long-course buds!), but I did not need much convincing. Any and all time I could spend outdoors was welcome, and again, my long-course wheels were turning: the 13.1-mile run was nearly identical to the route athletes will run at the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid this September. Thankfully, my coach gave me the green light, and he instructed me to use this outing as a pure recovery run, especially since I was coming off 100-plus miles of cycling of the past two days.

As I ticked off mile after mile, I was grateful to be moving at a pace of “hanging out for a scenic tour of Placid” and not pushing it because the course was absolutely beautiful, and the outing served as a good recon session as well. I even got to run with a super cute ultra runner who looked like a lumberjack. It was the perfect way to end the one of the best weekends of the year.

Never leaving

So what’s coming up? I tackled my first aquathlon this past weekend in Coney Island. A few of my Bearcat masters buds raced as well, and we all completed the two-mile open-water swim and six-mile run. It was an adventure, and I learned a lot out there; it was a good simulation for my “A” race, SwimRun VA in October. Hopefully I can post a race report within a reasonable amount of time. This weekend is the NYC Triathlon, and like last year, I will be volunteering for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) as a handler.

What’s new with you?

Triathlon Training Log – Week 15 (April 10)

For the first time in a few weeks, we are back to regularly scheduled programming.

Back in my happy place and back on dawn patrol

It’s taken a lot longer than I anticipated to recover from the Queens Marathon, and although I am trying to be patient with myself, I really want to start logging quality efforts again.

Training notes: this is the first week since the marathon that I’ve felt semi-normal/recovered. All but one of my workouts went as planned, but unfortunately, the pool was closed for general maintenance and the Easter holiday. I definitely missed the water this week. I also got a sports massage, which helped the recovery process.

Monday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

We kicked off Monday with a recovery-based 75-minute ride. My legs felt fatigued getting on the bike, but they felt better getting off.

Tuesday – a.m. brick (CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance and run in Central Park); p.m. run with Achilles

Some #2MileTuesday action with 60 minutes in the saddle and two miles off the bike.

After work, I met my Achilles buddy, and we ran together for the first time since the marathon. Central Park was a zoo—so many folks on bikes, motorized vehicles, etc.—and it was stressful guiding experience, but we completed six miles.

Wednesday – a.m. run

What was supposed to be my first workout since the marathon ended up being a recovery run. After doing a warm-up and the first interval, I could tell my legs were not in a good place. I could’ve grinded it out, but I am trying to be smarter about my training, especially since my first race isn’t until June.  I also got a much needed sports massage after work.

Thursday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

We completed the same VO2 max workout from last week: 6×3 minutes at VO2 max with three minutes of rest between each interval. One of the benefits of repeating sessions is learning from the workout before and executing more precisely the next time. Last week, I found myself “hanging out” at 110 percent for each interval—I couldn’t tap into the top-end watts—but this week, I knew I could push myself. With each progressive interval, I challenged myself to start a bit higher: 105, 110, 115, 117 and finally 120 percent.

Friday – off

Saturday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

An easier-than-anticipated two-hour indoor ride. Our main set included two, 25-minute builds that started at 65 percent and progressed to 105 percent plus one final block at 90 percent that called for different cadences every three minutes. I got off the bike feeling great!

Sunday – a.m. run

Easy and sweaty loop of Central Park with my running buddy. The warm weather has arrived!

How do you adjust to working out in warmer weather?

Triathlon Training Log – Week 14 (April 3)

It always feels like the weekdays drag while the weekend flies by.

As seen after my run

This week seemed especially long since I had non-training commitments every night after work. Being busy is good, but I definitely need a few more days to recover, ha.

Training notes: my coach and I met last week for a summit meeting to recap the off-season and discuss my triathlon life. I made a lot of progress on my swim and run throughout the past few months, but I am ready to be a triathlete again and become BFFs with my bike. Because I was logging laps and running miles, I lost a lot of watts, so I have my work cut out for me—but the month of April is all about the bike.

Monday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

After a busy and high volume weekend, my legs needed this 75-munute spin-out. It took about 40 minutes for everything to loosen up, but I felt much better getting off the bike than I did getting on.

Tuesday – a.m. brick (CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance and run in Central Park)

April is brick month at Tailwind Endurance, and we kicked off the campaign with some #2MileTuesday action: this consisted of a 75-minute threshold ride and—you guessed it—a two-mile run off the bike. This was my first run after the marathon (you know you’re a triathlete when …), and I headed to Central Park with one of my friends for a lower loop. I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable everything felt.

Wednesday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Coming off my first true brick of the season, I wasn’t sure how quickly my body would recover and turn around for a quality swim. Although this was a freestyle-based practice, there was a lot of choice stroke work, but I chose to do freestyle, ha.

Thursday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

Nothing showy or flashy about this workout: 6×3 minutes at VO2 max with a long warm-up and cool down.

Friday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

For whatever reason, this swim felt like a breakthrough workout. I’ve been feeling a bit down on my swimming after last weekend’s meet, but I felt so good in the water during this IM session—and not just during freestyle. Maybe this is a turning point, or maybe it’s mental, but either way, it was a great 3500m swim.

Saturday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance; p.m. swim with Bearcat masters

A most successful sports Saturday: two hours on the bike and 1.5 hours in the water. The ride consisted of a 3×20 minutes at threshold main set, and we tackled 4200m of freestyle work with lots of pulling and kicking in the pool.

Sunday – a.m. run

Since April is all about the bike, my “long run” will decrease: today, for example, I met my run bud for 5.5 miles. That’s it. My legs felt like molasses from the biking this week so I was glad there were not double digits on the schedule.

What are your goals this month?

Guiding for Achilles at the 2nd Annual Queens Marathon

On Sunday, March 26th, my Achilles buddy and I negotiated turns, avoided potholes, and dodged puddles en route to running 26.2 miles (26.8 according to my Garmin) at the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon.

Pre-race with the Achilles Queens group

Held in Corona Park and co-sponsored by the Queens Distance Runners, this event offered both a full marathon and 20-mile tune-up option and welcomed about 300 athletes.  The Achilles cohort had five athletes participating and 18 guides who ran anywhere from one to all four loops of the course.

If you’ve been reading for a while, then you may recall my renewed perspective on the 2017 triathlon season, and one of my guiding principles: service.  I want to give back to the community that has given me so much.  My experience volunteering as a handler with the Challenged Athletes Foundation during the NYC Triathlon in 2016 rejuvenated my outlook on sport, and functioning in this type of capacity is something I plan to do on a regular basis.  Several of my triathlon friends are involved with Achilles—a nonprofit that aims to enable people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running events—so getting involved was easy.  Achilles NYC hosts two workouts each week (the group meets Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings in Central Park), and I started attending sessions in December and gaining experience as a guide.  There is a rough guiding framework, but its execution varies from athlete to athlete.  I can only speak to my experience so this post will focus on what I do for the athlete I guide.

My Achilles buddy and I first ran together in December—he was the second person I guided, ever—and we hit it off immediately.  He’s an experienced runner and triathlete who’s tackled marathons and even completed Ironman Lake Placid, and we have a lot of mutual tri friends.  He is visually impaired and legally blind, so when we run together, we use either a tether or a race belt that we both hold.  By pulling the device, I can make adjustments to the direction he runs, and we also communicate a lot. (More on that in a bit.) Anyway, when he asked me to guide him for the Queens Marathon, I was honored and honestly shocked—I had yet to run a marathon myself!  He knew, though, and had no concerns or reservations so I said yes.

As the marathon approached, we ran together on a regular basis, usually doing six miles on Tuesday evenings and going longer on Saturday mornings.  Prior to race day, the farthest we ran together was 11 miles. (The weekend before the marathon, he did the NYC Half, which was his longest pre-26.2 outing.) For me, my coach said to think of this event as an ultra-marathon:  I would be running at a much slower pace and would be on my feet for much longer.  In addition to my normal tri training, we increased my run mileage, and I capped off at a 15-mile long run.  We knew from my training load my engine would be able to run (ha!) for close to five hours, and we also knew I would be OK muscularly.  Sure, there would be pain, but nothing debilitating.  The challenge for me, however, would be mental: being out there for a long time and staying present, focused, and engaged.

Out there: this is loop three or loop four.

At this point, I will disclose this is neither how I would’ve trained for “my marathon” nor how I would recommend training for a marathon in general.  I should also disclose there was a discrepancy in our training paces. (I did my solo long runs in the 8:40 min./mi. range, and when we ran together, we were in the 9:30 min./mi. ballpark; for the marathon, we were targeting 10:00 min./mi.) Finally, my buddy knew the training wasn’t there for a PR, so it was all about having fun and enjoying the experience.

That said, though, I didn’t know what my body would do after 15 miles. This outing would be one of the toughest things I had ever done. The buildup was far from perfect, but I put my body through some brutal workouts—power tests, race-simulation workouts, swim meets. (The 100 IM at Harvard was one of the most painful things I have ever done.) I knew there would be pain during the marathon, but I knew I could handle it.  I mentally prepared for dark patches, and to work through those times, my coach told me to remember:  “this is a gift you are giving someone else.”  Maybe it was naïve, but I knew that sentiment would carry me through the darkest of times.

There were no dark times.

Heading to the start line: almost marathon time!

As the race begun, I entered a space of intense focus.  My job was to get our team across the finish line.  Mile after mile passed, and I found myself in a state of flow.  No thinking; just doing.  Calm confidence. The looped nature of the course brought both positives and negatives. On the plus side, our Achilles team did not face new terrain after six miles, and there is something to be said for comfort in repetition—just not in terms of this course specifically.  There were tight turns, including some traffic circle-like patterns, and the road itself contained potholes and speed bumps.  Several times per loop, we had to go off-road onto the grass to avoid running through puddles.  These obstacles could’ve been disastrous, but luckily, my buddy and I communicate well:  I would announce turns, terrain changes, etc. at least 20 seconds in advance; I would audibly count down as we approached speed bumps (“Speed bump coming in three … two … one”); and I would give clear instructions on our general plan (like veering right, making a sharp left, stepping onto grass).  Basically, I was the primary guide/navigator/coach, so I was responsible for maintaining our formation, delegating jobs to our supporting guides, and making sure everyone was feeling OK throughout the race.  Our team had two guides per loop, and having that extra person was incredibly helpful.  In most cases, I had the second guide run slightly in front of us to create space and announce to fellow athletes that a blind runner was approaching.  The second guide was also tasked with running ahead to aid stations and getting hydration/nutrition needs sorted.

See the race belt? We used it as our tether during the race.

As we grinded through the later miles (my buddy hit the wall at mile 18), I found myself repeating sayings my coaches have told me over the years, and I had no reaction when we reached uncharted distances for me.  Everything after 15 miles was new, but there was no internal dialogue or narrative. Instead, it was all about making sure my athlete was doing OK:  asking if he needed nutrition, inquiring about how the pace felt, listening to his breathing pattern.  The only time the miles got “personal” was when we hit mile 25 because that was my number for basketball, a fun fact I relayed to our team.

We did it!

We crossed the finish line in 4:45:45, and the experience seems surreal.

What was the most memorable moment during your first marathon or most recent race?

Triathlon Training Log – Week 13 (March 27)

Yesterday afternoon, in addition to conquering my second swim meet in three weeks and third one ever, I enjoyed some delicious dim sum with my Bearcat teammates.

Surprisingly, not stuffed with pork, but rather a sweet, egg custard. Yum!

We pigged out big time!

Training notes: this week was all about recovering from last Sunday’s 26.2-mile adventure. (The recap is almost done, promise.) Although I was able to walk and move around fairly well on Monday, I didn’t start to feel somewhat normal until Thursday. And I learned the hard way that I cannot run a marathon and then expect to slice through the water at a swim meet.

Monday – p.m. CompuTrainer spin-out at Tailwind Endurance

After work, I went to Tailwind for an easy 30-minute spin-out and spent some quality time in the NormaTec sleeves.

Tuesday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

Another easy spin session at Tailwind. This time, I went before work—and saw a bunch of my triathlon buds—and made adjustments to the prescribed workout. Basically, I hung out at 70-75 percent for 70 minutes.

Wednesday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

After a week-long hiatus, I returned to the water. My legs still felt toasted from Sunday, but I hung tough for 4200m of freestyle swimming.

Thursday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance

A Sufferfest workout was on the docket, and while the class tackled the prescribed intervals, my coach instructed me to do the VO2 max efforts as threshold blocks. My legs felt surprisingly OK, and I was even getting a little ancy toward the end of the workout because I wanted to push more.

Friday – a.m. swim with Bearcat masters

Woohoo for Friday Fly Day! My body felt much better in the water, but this IM-based, butterfly-focused workout was still brutal. We logged 4000m.

Saturday – a.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance; p.m. swim with Bearcat Masters

Sportz Saturdays are back! The day started with a two-hour ride at Tailwind Endurance. It was a tough workout with intervals ranging from 80 to 105 percent without any true recovery. (Blocks at 70 percent were considered recovery.) I hit my numbers and survived the ride, but I have a lot of work to do in the saddle.

That afternoon, I went to the pool for a 90-minute distance freestyle swim. My favorite set of the day was the 5x200s. I love locking into that pace. We also spent some time working on starts off the blocks for the upcoming meet.

SundayNYC Parks Swim Meet

Lesson learned: I cannot except to swim fast one week after running a marathon. There were about 30 Bearcats who went to Queens for this meet, and since most of us competed at Harvard two weeks ago, expectations were low. In hindsight, I should’ve done what my teammates did and swam events I “didn’t care about” like the 50-yard breaststroke and maybe the 100-yard butterfly. Instead I swam personal worsts in the 200 and 500 freestyle and the 100 IM. Oh well. Train, race, and learn.

How long does it take you to recover from races?

Triathlon Training Log – Week 12 (March 20)

Sunday was the best day.

Twenty-six point two, Team Asim smashed you!

Training notes: coming off a fun and intense weekend in the pool, by body realized just how much effort it put forth, and I spent this week battling a head cold. Apparently post-swim meet congestion is normal, but sneezing and blowing my nose every five minutes was not how I wanted to spent my marathon week. When I was stuffy earlier during this training cycle, I tried to power through and log my workouts as prescribed. I’m stubborn, and it took me a while to realize in order to truly heal, I needed to rest. So that’s what I did this week: slept in, took it easy, and only ran twice before Sunday’s marathon.

Monday – off

Tuesday – a.m. run

My running buddy and I met for the first time in weeks for an easy shake-out. He raced the NYC Half, and my body was still feeling the effects of three days in the water, so it was very much a gossip-paced run.

Wednesdaya.m. swim with Bearcat masters off

I woke up stuffy and congested so I skipped my swim workout.

Thursdaya.m. CompuTrainer class at Tailwind Endurance off

Trying to be a responsible athlete is tough.

Fridaya.m. run off

Womp, womp

Saturday – a.m. run

Easy 20-minute shakeout in Central Park to make sure I remembered how to run

Sunday – Queens Marathon

We did it! My Achilles bud and I tackled four loops of Corona Park for the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon. It was an unforgettable adventure (it was also my first marathon!), and I’m so proud of my friend for hanging tough and getting it done. Race recap to come!