Category Archives: Fitness

My 2016 Running and Triathloning Recap

As the final day of 2016 get crossed off in our planner (just me?), it’s time to recap the year in multisport.

Tailwind family photo at Rev3 Quassy; finishing the run at HITS Hudson Valley; hammering at Nationals in Omaha.

I’ve done this survey a few times, and I enjoy looking back on progress and highlights.

Best race experience

Comparing a triathlon to a swim meet is like setting an apple and an orange side by side: both are sweet, but you probably favor one over the other. (I’ll go for the apple every time.) I had a blast this year diversifying my race portfolio—triathlons, relay races, and swim meets—and while each event posed a unique set of challenges, I found joy through competing in everything.

NYC in Geneva, NY

Even with the apple and the orange comparison, one race experience was the sweetest:  the Seneca7. The present collided with the past when my NYC runner friends traveled to my college stomping grounds for a 77.7-mile relay around Seneca Lake, and we had the best time. The race itself was extremely well organized, the volunteers were friendly; race directors Jeff and Jackie and their entire team simply produce top-notch events. It should come as no surprise that we’re going back to Geneva in 2017.

Best swim

Because I avoided the pool after the 2015 season, swimming and I got off to a slow start in 2016; it took a few months to rediscover my connection with the water. Therefore, it makes sense that my best outing was at the end of the season at the Cazenovia Triathlon in August. In the sprint-distance race, I was the first female out of the water, and the distinction felt even sweeter because I actually raced a girl in the closing 200m.

Bolting to T1

I also did two swim meets in 2016, and while the individual medley (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) is challenging me big time, I now find even more comfort in the freestyle. Er, comfort with being uncomfortable. I swam a solid 200m free during October’s Bearcat Invitational. It wasn’t fast enough for an AG top three, but I was happy with how I executed: starting strong, building the effort throughout, and nearly eking out a heat win. Training for and competing at swim meets has been a refreshing change, and I’m pumped to continue diving off the blocks in 2017.

Best bike

Thanks to my lack of health insurance from February through May, I didn’t ride my bike outdoors until June. Aside from a leisurely morning spin, my first true outing of the year was at a race: Rev3 Quassy. That showing rattled me, and it took time to become friends with my bike again. Things improved as the season progressed, and I nailed workouts indoors and felt strong outside, but that elusive, perfectly executed ride never happened during a race.

Combating the bonk with some sugar

However, when I think of biking in 2016, I remember those brutally beautiful outings in Lake Placid during WorkLiveTri Camp.

Best run

The run will always be a work in progress, and it reached a turning point toward the end of the season. (Noticing a theme?) I had a good showing on the trails at July’s HITS Hudson Valley, and although my split at Nationals was not what I trained for, I ran a mentally sound 10-K in hot and humid conditions.

Locked in

That combination would’ve led to a meltdown—definitely figuratively, potentially literally a la NYC Triathlon—for the “old” me, but it did not happen in Omaha. I did not hit the wall or go into a dark place. Heck, I was passing people! The split will take care of itself, but this process of maturing mentally makes me excited for 2017 and beyond.

Best piece of new gear

Aside from a swimskin for Nationals, I didn’t make any exciting new gear purchases this year—just the normal goggles, running shoes, etc.

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

Trust the process. This is one of my coach’s fundamental philosophies, and my mindset has slowly shifted over the past year. With prior training groups, the immediate results—going faster now, getting on podiums now—were paramount but now, I’ve found joy in journey: what can I do today to become a better version of myself—tomorrow, three years from now, five years from now, etc.?

 If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

“Foundational” and groundbreaking

What are some of your highlights from 2016?

Just Keep Swimming: Gearing Up For My Second Meet

Remember that time I reached a new milestone as a wannabe swimmer and completed my first meet? It turns out I am a glutton for punishment: I signed up for my second one!

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Who is a wannabe swimmer and loves pain?  This girl!

Since all the strokes are going down again in a few weeks at the Metro Short-Course Meter (SCM) Championships—I registered for the 50m and 100m freestyle, plus the 100m and 200m IM—I’ve been reflecting on my first competition:  what I did well, what I could do better, and what I learned overall.  The most important thing—aside from not bellyflopping off the blocks, not losing my goggles, and not finishing last—is applying everything I experienced the first time around to my second showing. Ideally, this will translate to faster, smarter swimming and a more mentally sound mindset … plus ultimately growing as an endurance athlete–and a swimmer.

When I took the plunge—metaphorically, not literally—and registered for the Bearcat meet last month, I selected which events I’d swim based purely on the stroke and distance; I neglected to study the order of events and ensure there was enough time to recharge between each. Case in point: it was an aggressive move to swim the 200m medley relay and turn around and uncork a 200m freestyle just minutes later. On the bright side, I didn’t realize this would be less than ideal—it’s not like I knew what an adequate recovery time between events should be—so ignorance was a bit blissful.

This time, though, I was slightly more discerning with my selections. I say “slightly” because I did opt for both the 200m IM (the meet’s fifth event) and the 50m freestyle (the meet’s sixth event). That IM will be the biggest, most challenging event of the meet, so as soon as I complete it, I’ll be able to relax—and hopefully survive a 50m free right after.

Second, I need to warm up adequately.  In October, my teammates suggested swimming 800-1000m before the meet officially began, but I only did around 600m (because I was chatting with my amazing Work Husband who was there cheering for me). Would a longer warm-up have translated to better results? Maybe, maybe not—but I do know I did not feel ready for my first event.

However, I made it a priority to cool down between events.  After each, I immediately moved over to the designated warm-down lane and swam anywhere from 50m to 200m based on the length of the event: after my 50m free, I swam 200m easy; after my 100m free, I swam 100m easy. I buried myself in the hurt locker for each event, but in general, the shorter the swim, the more intense (read: faster) it is, which demands a longer warm down to alleviate the lactic acid buildup. Between events, I also slipped on a long-sleeved sweatshirt in an effort to keep my upper body warm.

Third, I will continue to play with my nutrition plan.  As a short-course triathlete, I don’t think a lot about fueling since my races last only 2.5 hours or so. However, for an all-afternoon swim meet—I arrived around 2 p.m., and we left for post-race libations around 6 p.m.—I was conscious about what and how often I was eating. My coaches and teammates advised using the same products I take in during triathlons, so beforehand, I had my normal pre-race breakfast, plus a carb-heavy lunch of sweet potatoes and plenty of coffee.  Throughout the meet, I consumed one bottle of Skratch Labs (which I drink during the bike portion of a triathlon), one banana, half of a Powerbar, plus water to thirst.  Toward the end of the meet, I felt hungry, but that problem was solved fairly quickly with pizza and adult beverages. Overall, the old athlete adage of “nothing new on race day” served me well. Since my next meet takes place at night, I will push back my meals as much as possible:  eating breakfast around 10-11a and lunch around 2-3p. I’ll also bring more “Carrie-friendly” foods like bananas and Picky Bars to eat on deck.

Finally, my main goal is developing a better handle on navigating my emotions during the meet.  Before tris or running races, I get amped up, but still retreat inward to deal with the anticipation that builds.  Once the gun goes off, the anxiousness vanishes, and I just race; it’s a slow release of adrenaline that I ride. During this swim meet, though, the rush of energy was unprecedented. I’ve played in some big field-hockey and basketball games back in the day, and nothing compared. I harnessed that all-encompassing excitement during each swim, but once it ended, I struggled to calm down. I was basically wired for the entire day.  In fact, I felt more mentally spent than physically exhausted when the day was done. My coaches and teammates said this would most likely be the case, and they were right.

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How I felt at the end of the meet as depicted through Zelda

With this in mind, I hope to create a “between-event” practice. I don’t know what this looks like, but it will likely contain my warm-down routine, plus some form of deep breathing and meditation.

Much like triathlon, my life as a wannabe swimmer is a work in progress, and I’m focusing on the journey, not the destination.

When’s the last time you did something totally outside of your comfort zone?

My First Swim Meet: 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational

A few Saturdays ago, I reached a turning point in my life as a #WannabeSwimmer:  I dove headfirst (six times to be exact) into a wet world of intense adrenaline and searing pain at my first-ever swim meet.

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Time to fly! Er, do the butterfly.

Although I’ve been swimming with the NYC-based Bearcat masters for two years, I had yet to partake in a swimming competition. I really do identify as a wannabe swimmer—proficient in the pool thanks to taking swim lessons most summers as a kid, but not a “real swimmer” because I never did the sport competitively growing up (high school, rec meets, etc.).

So why am I all for the swim now? First, from my performance at races throughout the year and at Nationals, we confirmed: I’m a strong swimmer locally, usually exiting the water in the lead group; but, I’m extremely average for the outing we ultimately want to put together, logging a very solidly middle-of-the-pack split in Omaha. In order to improve my 1,500m open-water times, I would have to swim more. Crazy concept, right?

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Chasing this feeling of being first out of the water. Is this what Andy Potts feels like all the time?

Second, I avoided the pool after the 2015 season for about three months because there was no concrete reason for me to be there. (And I take full responsibility for what happened—well, more accurately didn’t—during the off-season, and it honestly took several months to re-familiarize myself with the water.) I know myself: if I sign up for a race, then I am in 150 percent.

Finally, this triathlon off-season centers on building my portfolio as an endurance athlete and exposing myself to as many different experiences as possible.  Basically, we’re building the foundation for long-course racing by taking on new challenges—and training for a swim meet was perfect.

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It became officially official when I received my Bearcat masters swim cap.

Once this was decided, the next task was to figure out which events I’d swim at the 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational. The distances themselves would not be challenging; after all, swimming just 50m or 100m or 200m at a time would be doable since I swim 1500m during tris. Rather, the details intimidated me—those specific to the physical act of swimming in a competition and those regarding the logistics of the meet itself: could I dive off the blocks without losing my goggles?  How many times should I dolphin kick underwater off flip-turns?  Should I touch the wall with one hand or two when finishing an event?  Also, how do I decipher the heat sheets and figure out when I was swimming each event?  I had never even attended a meet in-person, and luckily, my coaches and teammates helped me navigate everything.  Bottom line, simply attending the meet would be a new experience.

During our season review/off-season planning meeting, Earl and I identified which events to target: all the freestyle (50m, 100m, and 200m) was a no brainer, and we also decided an individual medley (IM) would provide a challenge because it demanded all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle). This also ensured I’d work on each during practice (a.k.a. not revert to freestyle). Although Earl was gunning for the 200 IM, the 100 IM seemed more “comfortably uncomfortable” to me, mostly because it called for only 25m of butterfly. (The joke was on me, though, because my masters coach put me on a 200m medley relay, and I had to swim 50m of butterfly!) In addition to these four individual events, I also indicated I was “available” for relays and was placed on the aforementioned 200m medley and 200m freestyle for a total of six events. At my first meet. Go big or go home!

With my race plan solidified, I discovered a greater sense of purpose, dedication, and connection to swimming. No longer was I just swimming to swim; I was logging laps with care, conviction, precision, constantly concentrating on technique, engaging the proper muscles, and aiming for efficient stroke after efficient stroke. By becoming more invested in the process, I grew to love it, and I found myself willing to embrace challenges. For example, after doing four, 100 IM repeats, it was tempting to revert to freestyle for the fifth.  But my goal—surviving this upcoming competition—held me accountable; I needed to make the next repeat happen.  Yes, it would be uncomfortable.  Yes, it would cause some self-doubt.  And yes, it would not be easy.  But that’s what this sport and life is all about—persevering through the challenge in front of you and doing whatever it takes to come out the other side.

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Hello. It’s me.

The masters coaches warned me the meet would be more mentally and emotionally taxing than I anticipated, and I aimed to act like a sponge throughout the afternoon: soaking up everything about the experience, learning as much as possible, and hopefully not belly-flopping off the blocks, losing my goggles, or finishing last. I arrived at the pool around 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. start and immediately exclaimed, “I’m feeling a lot of feelings!” when one of the coaches asked how I was doing. That statement basically summarizes the entire day: I got swept up in the adrenaline, the happiness, the pain, the uncertainty, and I loved it.

My nerves slowly subsided as the day progressed, but my heart was in my throat for my first few events.  I thought it would explode during the 200m medley relay, my first event ever at a meet. Not only did I not want to let my team down by doing something stupid (there are a ton of rules for relays), but I also had to swim 50m of butterfly.  Yikes.

My senses heightened as I carefully stepped onto the blocks.  My heart pounded, my teammates’ cheers reverberated around the pool.  Amidst this sensory overload, I quieted my mind for a few moments.  As I looked out onto the water, I couldn’t believe how I far I’ve come as an endurance athlete. When I started triathlon, I couldn’t even flip-turn, let alone swim 100m continuously in a pool. That’s the thing about this journey: there are no wrong turns, only paths we didn’t know we were supposed to take.

Heart racing and adrenaline surging, I reminded myself this uncomfortabilty was good:  it was this feeling—raw, intense, and daunting—that hooked me on triathlon, and inherently, I knew I was on the precipice of something good here.  This is where the magic happens.

My goggles stayed suctioned to my eyes as I hit the water cleanly.  Muscle memory took over:  I dolphin kicked, I broke the surface, and I swam with urgency, riding the excitement to the opposite side of the pool.  I am doing it.  I am doing the butterfly.  I am a swimmer!  Then the pain set in—as did my experience as an endurance athlete. I knew I could hurt.  I knew I was supposed to hurt.  I knew I could hurt more and longer.  I knew I could hurt for 25m.

That’s how my six swims went:  hopping aboard the pain train and refusing to relent even when my lungs were searing, when my legs were screaming, and when my arms were ready to fall off.  My body was trained, and my mind recognized this pain and knew it could be endured.

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Rocking a pink cap and catching a quick breather between sets.

Looking back, I’d describe my 2016 triathlon racing season as a culmination of repetitiveness. I’ve been doing the same Olympic-distance races for the past few years, and although it was my first season working with a coach, there was a sense of routine: we did the same workouts in an effort to best prepare me for the same “A” race I’ve targeted for the past three years. However, my experience training for and racing a swim meet rejuvenated my outlook on the sport. It was new, fresh, and so much fun, and these factors will be the driving force behind the rest of my 2016 off-season and beyond.

I guess I should include results:

50m free – 34.32

First in my age group!

100m free – 1:14.89

200m free – 3:09.97

Inaccurate because I did not hit the timing mat hard enough coming into the wall, and the clock wasn’t stopped until I exited the pool. A few teammates said I was closer to 3:04 or 3:05.

100m IM – 1:37.84

2016 In Review and What Comes Next

As per usual, this post is a few weeks late, but I like to think the delay led to greater reflection, conclusions, and headspace.

After enjoying seven days of zero physical activity, Sloth Week concluded on Labor Day Weekend. I actually went home for the holiday, and it was nice not to have workouts hanging over my head. It was also nice to eat my way through the New York State Fair: fried pickles, falafel, frozen chocolate-covered bananas, mmm. This gluttony and inactivity eventually ended, though, and once back in NYC, I spent a week reintroducing my body to exercise. And a few weeks ago, my coach and I met to review the 2016 season and map out off-season plans.

2016-central-park-skyline

First things first: we had a solid 2016 campaign. This was my first year having a coach, and it revolutionized my training. It eliminated the guesswork of putting things together piecemeal-style—which I did in 2015—and it gave me peace of mind. All I had to do was follow the plan, trust the process, and the progress would come.

Progress definitely occurred this season. I had some great races. (I had some not-so-great ones that I worked through.) Other opportunities arrived too. I got a new job. I moved. I worked something like 20 days straight for Olympics. Above all, I matured this season. Thanks to Earl’s guidance, I took a long-term approach to training, keeping the big picture in mind and recognizing how the short-term affects the long-term. Each training cycle, each week, each workout, each interval has its purpose. Rather than obsess about making it fast, I focused on execution—how precisely can I execute each interval, workout, week, and training block. Numbers are absolutely important, but I’ve found that by honing in on the execution, the result takes care of itself. To paraphrase John Wooden, when you focus on the little things, that’s when the big things can happen. And, of course, this outlook transcends triathlon.

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Every day is National Coffee Day for me, but …

In this light, the 2016 off-season will be about further enjoying the process and savoring the journey.  From now through early November, I have free reign to do what I want. So far, that’s been swimming (I know!), running (I know!), and rowing (who am I?). Not sure if this is an identity crisis or transformation, but I’m having a lot of fun. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

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Good vibes and good shoes

This means 2017 will look different from a racing perspective. As Earl says, I’m simultaneously on the brink and in a weird limbo: still tapping in to my short-course speed and almost ready to make the jump to racing a 70.3. With this in mind, we’ll aim for “experience” outings, or endurance events that will test me in new ways and provide the foundation for long-course racing. We’re talking about masters swim meets, open-water swim races, and running races. Of course, there will be some tris too, but Nationals will not be the “A” race this year. The plan is far from concrete, but overall, we’re looking to build my endurance portfolio.

2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Recap

This past weekend, I ran my first marathon—as part of a relay team known as the Flat Feet Social Club. (Check that link—race organizers interviewed us!) Comprised of endurance athletes, our group convenes for quirky events and turns off our collective competitive switch. Having fun at the inaugural Armory NYC Indoor Marathon was our top priority, but we still finished third in our division. (There were options to run the 26.2 miles as an all-male, all-female, or mixed relay.)

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What a bunch of 3:15 marathoners look like–when each person runs 6.5 miles.

At first glace, this seems like a crazy event. After all, who would willingly run a marathon around a 200m indoor track? That’s 211 laps! But endurance cray cray loves company, and when my friend proposed the idea, I didn’t shoot it down right away.  In fact, I was intrigued.  A team relay, the 26.2 miles would be broken up four ways. ‘OK, I can handle 6.5 miles on a track.’ Plus, since we were going into the race with zero time goals, I could treat it as a workout. And if this was going to be a solid sportz day, then asking my coach for permission to brick—and riding on my indoor trainer beforehand—seemed like an even better idea.  So I may be a little endurance cray cray …

2016-armory-nyc-indoor-marathon-track

Round and round we went.

A few logistical notes:  there were more than 500 athletes registered  (either solo or as part of a two-, four-, six- or eight-person relay), and to avoid congestion, each team selected a date and time to run. The event started Friday morning and continued through Sunday, and although Flat Feet Social Club originally signed up for the “graveyard” shift from 6-9:30 a.m. on Saturday, we ultimately ran at 9:30 a.m. (We also considered the Friday evening shift from 8 p.m. to midnight, but one of our members had a work commitment.) For the relay division, each person could run a total of three times, so we decided to break up the individual workload into 20 loops, 20 loops, and 10 loops.  And during the race itself, each runner wore a bib and affixed a timing chip to their ankle (á la triathlon), and there was an exchange zone sectioned off with cones. There were timing mats at the start and end of the exchange zone that registered who was running and their split.

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It felt weird to be wearing a timing chip and not have a bunch of swimming and cycling gear with me too.

All right. I could write a play-by-play of every loop or mile or leg, but instead, I’ll share a few takeaways that made the experience memorable.

The DJ was on point.  If you have 18 or so relay teams running in a circle for hours on end, then the music has to keep everyone pumped.  There were a lot of top-40 tunes, but one of my favorite moments was when Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” played. During my high school basketball days, that song was our theme song during sectionals. I loved remembering those times, and I also loved how I was running, and Tom Petty was singing about running down dreams.

Race logistics were smooth, especially given the relay component and inaugural event status. My team totally overthought the whole keeping track of laps aspect—we talked about buying a whiteboard and marking off loops—but we eventually realized we could use the lap feature on our Garmins. (Who said all triathletes are tech geeks?) The hand-off section was clearly marked on the track, and there were various screens that displayed time, distance, and laps to go. We didn’t look at them a ton given our self-described “non-competitive” status, but it was neat seeing how we stacked up against everyone else.

I viewed the “race” as a workout; I went in very loose and without a pace plan other than to run on feel. (I had my Garmin, but only used it to count laps.) Plus, being on a 200m track provided valuable race simulation experience. I practiced reeling in people ahead of me and made a conscious effort to focus on form. I hung tough when rough mental patches arrived (like when I was ready to be off the track after 10 laps during my first stint).

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Somehow, I managed to not get any official race photos, but this is a screen shot from a video clip one of my teammates took.

And overall, it was a great workout:  I covered the 6.5 miles in 48 minutes (7:23 min./mi.). The track was fast, and I felt smooth, strong, and in control of the effort the entire time. And this feeling gives me confidence I can hit and hold a similar pace when I run off the bike at Nationals.

Bottom line, the Flat Feet Social Club had a blast, and we plan to return next year—and we’re also researching our next relay. (Hint: there’s camping involved.)

I should mention that although we didn’t stick around for the individual marathon heats, both the men’s and women’s indoor records were broken. One of our NYAC runners smashed the women’s record and ran a 2:44:44!

Have you completed an indoor and/or relay event? What did you think?

‘Training’ for Life

In the run-specialty industry, it’s common to hear sales associates ask customers about their goals: “what are you training for?” is a great prompt to kick off a shoe fitting. Some folks easily articulate their upcoming races while others struggle to identify themselves as runners. For a lot of people, lacing up isn’t about performance, but rather lifestyle—staying active and trying to balance being fit with living life. This principle led to the conceptualization of “training for life” at my old job, a phrase we used in the store. Customers seemed to like it. Or, maybe they humored us. Either way, a lot of the feelings we experience, obstacles we face, and challenges we overcome while sweating prepare us for the uncontrollables we face throughout the course of the day when our workouts are over.

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Central Park bliss

A few weeks ago, I had a great long run in Central Park. I executed my workout, and I felt great during my intervals. I also got some great headspace during my recovery periods; my mind wandered to the beginning of #WingedFootLyfe as my first day was less than 24 hours away. Starting a new job was relatively uncharted territory for me, but training, racing, and competing have been part of my life for 15 years. The more I thought about it, though, the more they seemed similar.

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Inspiration is inspiration

In my training logs, I’ve bemoaned the amount of time I’ve spent in zone two, but it really is an important piece of the puzzle. You can’t go from zero to 100; you need to slowly increase time, frequency, and intensity. For all intensive purposes, #TheRabbitLife was my worklife zone two time. (I’m skipping over college and internships here, but both could fall into this zone as well.) It was my first real job out of college, and I learned a lot—how a company functions, what I value in a workplace, etc. I had the opportunity to work within various facets of the run-specialty world. And thanks to last year’ acquisition, I had the opportunity to work for two different companies essentially.

It was the transition from company number one to company number two when I slowly inched out of zone two and work became more intense: my amount of responsibility increased, my opinions meant more, and ultimately, my colleagues held me to higher standards. And, of course, our key events—the main one being the New York City Marathon—represented slight “touches” to VO2 max work. Over the years, this time “in the red”—operating under tight deadlines and unrelenting pressure—felt increasingly routine. I became comfortable and confident executing campaigns; it equated to muscle memory. I knew exactly what was important, what needed to happen, and how it needed to happen.

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It’s not about the hard work—it’s about the right work.

As I’ve experienced from my triathlon training this year, it’s absolutely important to spend time doing the not-so-glamorous workouts. And that’s OK because training prepares you for something greater. But eventually, you need to challenge yourself; the magic doesn’t happen in your comfort zone. #TheRabbitLife served as nearly three years of training, growing, and figuring things out. And thanks to my experience there, I felt comfortably uncomfortable taking the next step in my career.

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Before that happened, though, I “tapered,” took some downtime, and headed to Sanibel to spend time with my family. I relaxed and recuperated—and became reenergized for the next training block. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my worklife thus far. And much like race-day taper crazies, I did go a little nuts toward the end (mainly due to all the shopping for corporate clothing).

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There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

But back to that run. I entered that meditative headspace easily. And as I cruised along the lower loop, my legs responded; they opened up, they knew what to do. And as I powered up Harlem Hill, my legs reacted; they turned over. A sense of calm confidence set in. ‘Tomorrow is race-day. I am ready.’

My 2015 Running and Triathloning Recap

So long, 2015! I have mixed feelings saying goodbye to this year. It felt like a roller coaster ride right out of the gate, and almost immediately, there were some big triathlon and work changes. The highs were high, and the lows were low—and I was always on my toes. I did a lot of learning, growing, contemplating, and of course, swimming, biking, and running. Let’s take an easy, zone two jog down memory lane.

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Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

Several factors comprise an awesome race experience. Of course, there’s the training—dedicating yourself to the process and doing everything in your power to prepare for a successful outing—but there’s also the traveling, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the overall race atmosphere. In 2015, I didn’t complete an event that rose above the others as the pinnacle of racing. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure. But I enjoyed every race.

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Post-trail run in Denver. This is why people wear trail shoes.

When I went to South Beach in April, I had a blast hanging out with friends before and after the hotter-than-hot classic-distance event (a.k.a. eating all the food). At Kingston in July, I had fun getting to know my Tailwind Endurance buddies more and executing a decent race given the weather. At Nationals in August, I loved trying on “autopilot” and doing me. A few weeks later, I returned home and did the same course that served as my first triathlon ever, which was a neat way to look back and see my progress. And at the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in November, I proved to myself I am a mentally strong runner who can execute 13.67 solid miles.

Best swim

Swimming and I have an interesting relationship. Simply going to the pool for a workout requires so much logistical coordination: getting my cap, goggles, swimsuit, towel, and flip-flops together; walking the 17 minutes to the facility; jumping in the freezing water and attempting to warm up. It’s a wonder I manage to swim at all! (Full disclosure: I still haven’t been in the water since September.) But I never struggle to swim when I’m in Lake Placid.

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Swimming in Mirror Lake is therapeutic. During these mile outings, my mind wanders. I reflect on the past year or so—the last time I was in Placid is usually the baseline—and what was going on in my life then. I love getting this headspace. Hitting paces and making intervals are the last things on my mind.

But as far as those lung-busting swims go, the best one I had during a race was at Nationals. Not only did I lay down a respectable split, but I also knew within a 15-second ballpark what my time was. (Related: I plan to start swimming again next week.)

Best bike

Thinking back to the time I spent in the saddle, a few things jump out: starting my training early at Tailwind Endurance; sustaining a crash (and concussion); recovering from said crash physically and mentally; logging blissful rides in Placid; and executing a decent 40-K at Nationals. The happiest miles I rode definitely occurred in Placid, but I can’t discount the comeback process.

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Everyone loves a good #TrainerSelfie, especially when it showcases a black eye.

I vividly remember my first outdoor ride post-crash, and even though I was a bit twitchy, the outing restored my confidence.

Best run

I didn’t run to my potential off the bike this year; I never found that effortless, invincible feeling, and I failed to execute strong, mentally sound miles. But that’s OK. These “close, but no cigar” experiences helped me fully devote myself to Philadelphia Half-Marathon training.

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… and refocus my run training

The goal was to run strong and bring home a PR, and this running block catapulted my 2016 triathlon training. And during the race itself, I felt smooth, strong, and confident in my ability to execute.

Best piece of new gear

Santa delivered: hello, power meter!

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Watts, watts, WATTS!

Obviously, I haven’t used it yet, but this tool will revolutionize my racing. I’ll be able to see how many watts I make!

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

This year will go down as the year of the bike crash, and as I mentioned previously, it really forced me to let go and trust the process.

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Head down and getting to work

The crash affected me mentally too, and as I recuperated and approached my races, Earl gave me some sound advice: “Confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.”

Most inspirational runner

Like last year, I continue to train and work with some stellar humans who also run—and they run fast, far, and a lot.

 If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Challenging, humbling, and memorable

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#2015bestnine

Thanks for following along this year–bring it on, 2016!

Playing the Game: 2015 Off-Season Goals – Part I

My 2015 triathlon season came to an official close about a month ago after the Cazenovia Triathlon, and since then, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what went well and what I can improve from now until January.

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And this is where I write an insightful caption on refocusing my run training.

The biggest change between 2014 and 2015 centered on my training structure. For the past two seasons, I trained with a team. Since I was relatively new to the sport, it was beneficial to have coaches leading workouts and to train alongside more experienced athletes on a regular basis. Although the atmosphere helped me improve tremendously from 2013 to 2014, the model became unsustainable as my training outlook shifted; that’s when I broke off and enlisted Coach Pat to do my run programming. And ultimately, when the 2015 season started, I developed a solid triathlon arsenal and put together a “piecemeal” approach: I swam with the Bearcat masters; I biked with power and periodized workouts at Tailwind Endurance; I ran under Coach Pat’s expertise. Overall, this training approach led to all-around progress and some decent race results so this structure will stay in place for 2016. (There is an important update regarding my triathlon arsenal that I’ll share once everything is solidified.)

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And this is where I write an insightful caption on taking a bird’s-eye view of my training and keeping the big picture in mind.

All right, discipline by discipline—let’s go in race order.

From day one, my swim has been a relative strength. Honestly, I’m still not sure how that happened because I did not compete in high school or college, but I’m grateful for all those summers my Mom shuffled me to swimming lessons. However, since I do not have the sheer amount of experience swimmers-turned-triathletes boast, I thought my swim had come close to reaching its potential. Sure, I could devote a few months to a swimming block, but those training hours would yield a relatively small return on investment compared to what they could do for the bike or run.

Enter: Bearcat masters.

Joining a swimming team totally took me out of my comfort zone, and logging laps with these folks from February through August helped me become faster and hone my technique. I still consider myself a #wannabeswimmer, but I throw down flip-turns, do all the strokes, and dive off the blocks—and most importantly, I can hold my own during practices.

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C’s get degrees, right? I’m also fairly sure I was tapering that week.

I’m only a few weeks into the triathlon off-season, but I can already tell it will be much more productive from a swimming standpoint: last year, I went about three months without getting in the water; this year, I lasted 19 days. From now until January, I’ll hit the pool once each week for recovery/cross-training/maintenance purposes.

Time for my favorite: let’s talk watts.

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Solo smashfest = the BEST

It’s no secret the bike is my ace in the hole, and becoming a Tailwind groupie further helped me develop wattage manufacturing skills. Although the saddle is where I spent the majority of my in-season training hours, the bike will take a backseat during the off-season. Like the swim, I’ll ride once each week for recovery/cross-training/maintenance purposes. (I may potentially ride outdoors on the weekend, but I haven’t been outside since my last race.) Once January rolls around, the intensity and volume will increase.

That leaves the run.

Here’s what worked: enlisting an expert and handing off the reins; logging 15-20 miles per week, which was a huge increase from my 2014 average weekly mileage; doing my run training solo, which gave me some great headspace and helped me fall in love with it again.

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Lakeside love

From a physical standpoint, everything running-related improved: my easy pace is about 45 seconds faster than it was last year; my cadence and turnover is getting better; I’m lighter and leaner than I was at this point last year (and that’s another post entirely too). Despite logging miles, nailing workouts, and priming my engine to do work, I failed to address the mental aspect of racing.

Hindsight is 20-20, and there proved to be a reoccurring theme during races: I’d lay down a decent swim-bike combo, start the run feeling strong, but eventually get caught and become mentally dejected. At first, I was able to justify it. During SoBe I got run down within the last mile and lost the top spot in my age group by a few seconds. It stung: ‘But a second-place showing is still a great day.’ However, the same thing happened when the stakes were higher at Kingston: I got caught within the last quarter mile and lost the third place female overall slot. Again, that one hurt—‘but fourth female overall? Not a bad day.’ So you can see how I downplayed this problem. During workouts, I executed and hit paces; after both SoBe and Kingston, I knew my run splits were not indicative of my level of fitness. And plus, I was caught in the final stretch of these races, so I was able to get away with an expletive-laced dialogue in my head, but hang on and finish the race.

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Yes, I know Spiderman doesn’t have a cape. I exercised some creative liberty during spirit week’s Superhero Tuesday.

Big-time events—whether it’s high school basketball sectionals or USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships—promise to highlight strengths and weaknesses. In Milwaukee, the competition was tough, especially in my new age group, and my work would be cut out for me; even if I laid down a solid swim and smoked the bike, I would still get run down. (Spoiler alert: I can’t run a 40-minute 10-K off the bike.) Anyway, my mental stoicism and positivity was totally controllable, but every time a girl passed me, I’d come out of my headspace. There would be a few curse words followed by a variation of, ‘she looks so fast/smooth/tiny.’ And then I’d struggle to dial back in. Those 6.2 miles were mentally draining.

In triathlon and in life, you can only control the controllables. I can’t control the humidity level or heat index or number of pocket-friends on the course, but I can 100 percent control my mind.

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Spotted pre-race in Milwaukee. I should’ve heeded this advice.

As one of my coaches said, to race at the level I want to race at, I need to play the game: when a competitor catches me on the run during a race, I need to have to the stamina, confidence, and mental resolve to hop on her shoulder, put the pressure back on her, and challenge her to sustain the pace. This means I will be running all the miles this off-season under Coach Pat’s guidance, and we’ll also work on my mental game.

The “goal race” will be the Philadelphia Half on Nov. 22. Simply having an event on the calendar gives my training more purpose. However, even though I hope to PR, we won’t be doing a ton of 13.1-specific work because I’ll stick to short-course triathlons next year. Most likely, it will be a fun long run.

In terms of my mental game, Coach Pat recommended Running Within. I’m almost halfway through, I’m already implementing some of the strategies and visualization techniques—and it’s working.

This post is longer than I anticipated, so I’ll wrap it up here for now. Basically, the overall goals of this off-season include to safely ramping up my mileage, gaining more physical/mental experience on the run, and entering the 2016 season lighter, leaner, and fitter than last year.

Ironman Lake Placid 2015: Flying Unattached

A few weeks ago, I once again fled New York City and retreated north to Lake Placid for the iconic Ironman weekend. If you’ve been reading a while, then you may remember I’ve been on-site for this 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run in both 2013 and 2014. Even though it’s become a staple trip, this adventure ended up being much different.

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Let’s recap quickly: in 2013, a friend and I went to train, volunteer, and cheer for one of our fellow teammates. After the race, my friend registered for the 2014 event, and I jumped at the chance to venture back and be her Sherpa. In 2014, my primary focus centered on fulfilling Sherpa/emotional guardian duties, so not a lot of training got logged.

This year, I knew the most people doing Ironman Lake Placid—there were 12 people loaded into my tracker app—but I was not “responsible” for anyone. Of course, I told everyone I’d be available, but typical Sherpa duties like going to packet pickup and organizing gear backs did not apply. I could do whatever I wanted—swim! Bike! Run! Sleep!—whenever I wanted. Case in point: upon arrival on Thursday, I took my time unpacking before heading to Mirror Lake. The lake was there. I was going to swim whenever I was going to swim—but I 100 percent would, of course.

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It was absolutely ridiculous how happy I was swimming here. #ThisIsOurLab

There was no schedule, and although I did a little work, the only real structure I had centered on my workouts. Friday ended up being a monster training day that resulted in an unintentional 66.2. Doesn’t have the same ring as a 70.3, but it was still a solid day: fifty-six miles on the bike course, nine miles on the run course, and 1.2 miles in Mirror Lake. Saturday saw another loop both the bike and swim courses. Hands down, this was the most productive training block I had in Placid (aside from WorkLiveTri Camp in June), and there’s no way it would’ve happened if Sherpa-ing had been my number one priority. Plus, it was perfectly timed because Nationals (a.k.a. #Hammerfest2015) was two weeks out.

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As seen on my long run.  Definitely not in NYC anymore.

Placid always helps me get some quality headspace: chilling out, reflecting on life, and getting my creative juices flowing. Since I was doing my own thing (and not acting as a pre-race logistics coordinator), I was truly able to enjoy the physical and mental distance from the city. Even though I worked everyday, it still felt like a vacation. Case in point: my boss told me to go ride for a few hours and start thinking about an upcoming project. Brainstorming … in the saddle … in Lake Placid. Yep, I’m definitely working for the right people.

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Total bliss

From a pre-race standpoint, this trip clearly panned out differently. Not better, not worse. It was just incredibly different.

Onto race day.

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As a volunteer, I had an absolute blast. Not surprising, of course, but it was the most fun I’ve had as a wetsuit stripper.

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Race French braids for race day … even though it was not my race … yet.

I recognized folks from previous years, and I also peeled off a ton of neoprene—and have the battle scars to prove it! One of the highlights of the day was being tipped a wet and sandy dollar bill for my efforts as a wetsuit “stripper.” I also spotted all of my friends exiting the swim so it was a great morning.

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As a spectator, I experienced the normal Ironman race-day emotions—inspired, worried, humbled, anxious—and enjoyed the day as friend and fellow athlete and not as an emotional guardian. Don’t get me wrong; there were tough moments. But for the most part, everything was less intense than last year, which makes total sense. After all, in 2014 I trained with them everyday so I was more emotionally invested in their race. That simply wasn’t the case this year. Even though I tracked my now Ironpeople obsessively, that all-consuming connection didn’t exist. I obviously cared, but it was nice to watch a race without that amount of heightened emotions.

Finally, you don’t go into Ironman weekend with any expectations, but my people this year were the most outwardly grateful. (I say “outwardly” because it isn’t in everyone’s nature to say “thank you” multiple times.) One of the most memorable moments was when my friend entered the Olympic Oval, made his way to the finish line, but stopped, gave me a hug, and thanked me for being there.  That selfless act was easily a highpoint of the weekend.

Every though taking on the Ironman there tempts me every year, I did not sign up—and I will not for another 10 years. This will absolutely be my race, but it’s not time for it yet. So rest assured, folks; I’m stick with short-course events for the foreseeable future.

Change has defined this season, but Placid always reminds me why I do what I do: I feel alive when I swim, bike, and run, and I feel like the best version of myself.

Five Important Things I Learned From My Bike Crash

So, a little more than three weeks ago, I crashed my bike. My first one of the season and third one ever, this wipeout—in which I bombed down an unfamiliar hill, hit a pothole, and flipped over my handlebars—maintains my average of one accident per year. The lower the number, the better, obviously, but that’s an OK figure all things considered. If you ride, you will fall; it’s a question of “when,” not “if.” Anyway, this one was definitely the most serious: I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a mild concussion. As my first triathlon “injury” that sidelined me for a notable amount of time, I learned a lot from this experience.

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Pre-crash photo because people be creepin’. Please note my peeved expression due to the reroute. Also, RIP Smashfestqueen Ohana kit.  And red Rudy helmet.

My family, friends, and folks in my “triathlon arsenal” are irreplaceable.

Under normal circumstances, I shy away from attention; I keep a low profile, and although I do social/digital media for a living, I did not tweet or ‘gram from the hospital. In fact, aside from my parents and literally two other people, I did not tell anyone about my crash. My friend who came with me to the hospital asked if I wanted her to post on social media, and I said absolutely not. Even though it’s part of the sport, wiping out seems a bit embarrassing, and I didn’t want that kind of attention.

I hoped the crash would remain on the DL, but the news eventually broke. Although I was self-conscious retelling the story, I was extremely grateful for the calls, texts, emails, and messages from friends. This triathlon season has seen a lot of changes—and I’ve only raced once so far!—but times like these illustrate who truly cares. And I feel extremely blessed to have so many great people surrounding me.

Falling gracefully is an art.

Semi-joking, semi-serious. Thanks to my years playing softball and perfecting my sliding skills, I have no issue going down and accepting the fact that exterior damage will be done. (My softball sliding “raspberries” have faded, but aren’t forgotten!) And I suppose previous cycling wipeouts have conditioned me as well.

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PG photo of right hip road rash

Like softball, falling off your bike guarantees road rash, but you can prevent sprains and potential broken bones by keeping your hands off the ground. Again, I learned this lesson playing softball. It may seem counter-intuitive—you want to use your hands to break the fall—but simply getting your hands out of the way can help you shirk serious injuries.

Giving your body time to heal is important—and easier said than done.

After any accident, your body needs time to recover; and I was especially careful to ease back into training due to my mild concussion diagnosis. (The hospital doctors did not prohibit me from training; they just said to take it easy and be careful.) I took Monday completely off, and it was only after talking with coaches that I decided to spin easy Tuesday. And since I felt good during that workout, I did the same thing Wednesday—and tried to run afterward, which was too aggressive. Although I’m good at managing discomfort during workouts and races, the sensations I felt during that run were painful. My right hip ached; my upper back tightened up, and I couldn’t swing my right arm without shooting pain. Spoiler alert: I shut it down.

They didn’t administer x-rays at the hospital, but I’m fairly sure I bruised a rib. Again, I’m extremely lucky there wasn’t further damage, but the rib situation affected workouts. Even during easier sessions, breathing hurt, which caused me to dial back the effort. This was probably a blessing in disguise because I totally would’ve dove back into intense training a few days after the crash. Bottom line, there’s a fine line between discomfort and pain. And thanks to this crash, I’ve become even better at listening to my body (so cliché, I know) and discerning between the two. Overall, it took 2.5 weeks for the pain-to-discomfort transition, and by week three, there was little discomfort.

Focus on what you can do—not what you can’t.

After several failed attempts to swim and run, I felt upset, frustrated, and defeated: Why can’t I do this? Why is this happening to me now? How in the world will I be able to race again?

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I can ride indoors and take goofy #trainerselfies.

After getting these thoughts out of my system, I realized it’s useless to spend energy worrying. As much as I hated to admit it, I accepted the fact that I had little control over the healing process. It would happen in time. Instead, I focused on the controllables, or the things I could do. At first, it was biking, corework, and some strength training. Five days later, I was able to run. It was not smooth, it did not feel great, and it was definitely not fast. My average pace was about 45 seconds slower than normal, but it was my best. And any day you can run is a good day, a fact I appreciate even more now.

Keep the big picture in mind.

Needless to say, I’ve been an emotional, sometimes cranky and irritable roller coaster. Especially after my failed running attempts, my mood plummeted big time. This is justified to an extent, but I did my best to remember the long-term plan. I have a training camp in Lake Placid. I race at the end of the month, and it’s a tune-up. Most likely, I will not be fitter than I was for SoBe, and I’m OK with it. My “A” race isn’t until August. I will be fine.

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Bar fight or bike crash?

I firmly believe everything—in triathlon and life—happens for a reason, and it’s all about perspective. A few days after the crash, one of my work friends and I were chatting, and he raised some good points. (He’s a coach and elite runner so I trust him). Maybe this accident prevented me from peaking too early; maybe this accident helped me avoid a serious injury; maybe this accident happened to give my body some downtime. The reason isn’t totally clear now—and it may never be—and although it affected short-term plans, I trust the process.

After all, it’s going to take more than some road rash to keep me down.