Category Archives: Fun and Adventures

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 Adventures as an Ultra Sherpa: Canyon De Chelly 55-K

About one month ago in mid-October, I expanded my Sherpa portfolio to the ultra distance when I traveled to Arizona for the Canyon De Chelly Ultra (pronounced ‘shay’) 55-K, a 34-mile trail run that takes place entirely on Navajo land.

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About 150 runners out chasing the sunrise

If you’ve been reading a while, then you know I usually Sherpa once per race season when friends take on long-course events.  After all, these folks push me during workouts, so the least I can do is lend my support when possible. Case in point: when a training bud needed people power for the Challenged Athletes Foundation during July’s New York City Triathlon, it was a no-brainer that I’d volunteer as a handler. That weekend resulted in one of my most intense and rewarding experiences to date, and I had similar expectations for the Arizona outing.  It was my friend’s second time doing this ultra, so she prepped me before the race: running and the Navajo culture are deeply intertwined, and hearing how the physical act of running intersects with so many aspects of their day-to-day life fascinated me—and I was excited to see it come together.

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Tsegi Overlook

Once in Arizona at pre-race briefing, it became clear this event would be a unique experience. The 150 runners gathered around the outdoor amphitheater’s stadium-style seats as Shaun the race director detailed the history of the race and discussed how running plays a critical role in Navajo culture: they run to celebrate, they run to pray, and they run to learn. Other prominent folks in the community spoke, including Shaun’s father-in-law who played a few instruments and sang a few songs in Navajo.  All in all, the briefing lasted about two hours, and the atmosphere was basically the polar opposite of what I encounter at triathlons.  No one was obsessing about getting in a last-minute swim or fixing their Di2 shifting. Rather, people appeared calm and relaxed. My friends who dabble in ultras and tris say this is normal; the ultra community as a whole is much more laid back.

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Hanging out in a canyon

This theme of unprecedentedness continued through Saturday with the pre-race blessing and fire ceremony. Around 5 a.m., Shaun’s father-in-law built a fire and tended to it throughout the day. The burning fire symbolized life out on the course, and it would only be extinguished once the final runner finished.  The blessing ceremony took place around 7 a.m. during which one male and female runner were selected to receive a blessing on behalf of all participants. Around 7:30 a.m., the runners set off on their journey.

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White House overlook. See the dirt path? Folks got to run on that.

My normal Sherpa duties include scouting the course and identifying areas where I can camp out and cheer for my friends, but this race had a wrinkle: only Nanajo are allowed in the canyon. Furthermore, if non-Navajo want to go in the canyon, they must enlist a Navajo guide. (Race director Shaun secured special permits so each runner was allowed in the canyon without a guide.) Throughout the day, I went to a handful of scenic overlooks to take photos and try to spot runners, and around 3 p.m. I headed to the finish area and hung out. There was a ton of food, including vegetable chickpea stew and Navajo fry bread. (No photos because I was too busy eating.)

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Selfie in a canyon

One of highlights was witnessing and hearing about the sense of community and camaraderie. Several people who crossed the finish line gave credit to fellow runners for helping them through.  There was an out-and-back climb on the course, and I was very impressed when multiple participants said one of the top-five finishers cheered for every single runner he saw during that stretch. Plus, since the majority of folks were out there for nearly an entire day, packs formed naturally, and there’s nothing like running with someone for a few hours to get to know them. I have no personal experience with long-course racing, but from what I’ve heard, it’s typical for these relationships to manifest at that distance.

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Finishing strong

There’s something to be said for the sense of solidarity when everyone around you is going through what you are going through. It warmed my heart as an endurance athlete to see this connectivity.

How often do you volunteer at races?

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 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 …

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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!

Seventy-Two Hours in Utah

Two weeks ago, I took advantage of the triathlon off-season, headed to Utah, and spent some quality time exploring outdoors.

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Mormon mobile license plate!

One of my best friends was invited to a (Mormon) wedding, and when he asked if I wanted to go, I immediately said yes. Since it was the off-season, I wouldn’t have to worry about logging workouts (a.k.a. trying to find a pool and going days without biking), and to be honest, Utah would not be a place I’d seek out on my own. Colorado, absolutely. Wyoming, sure. But Utah? Without a legitimate reason to go, I don’t know if I would have ended up there—but I’m really glad I did.

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Who knew?

I made an effort to unplug during those three days, so there was not a lot of ‘Gramming, but here are a few highlights:

Enjoying plate after plate of delicious food

You read my blog. You know I’m going to mention food. At first glance, Salt Lake City doesn’t appear to be a foodie paradise, but thanks to some recommendations, my friend and I had some seriously tasty meals. We went to Ogie’s Café and Penny Ann’s Café for breakfast and ate some pre-flight $3 tacos at Taqueria El Rey De Oros. The best meal, though, was lunch at Blue Poblano.

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Located in downtown Salt Lake, this Mexican restaurant specializes in farm-to-table fare and sources only local ingredients. (Unfortunately, they had no liquor license.) We enjoyed pre-wedding nachos and portbello mushroom vegetarian tacos. This was definitely the best Mexican I’ve had in a while—and I eat it about once a week in NYC.

Wandering around the area

Salt Lake City is known as an LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) hotbed to say the least, and two Mormon-centric sites we visited included the Gilgal Garden and Salt Lake City Temple.

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Containing 12 sculptures and more than 70 engraved stones, the garden was conceptualized by Thomas Child. He hoped it would inspire visitors to ponder “the unsolved mysteries of life.”

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Before our return flight, we spent some time walking around the Salt Lake City Temple Square.

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The atmosphere felt like a well-manicured college campus.

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I also felt somewhat out of place without a small child.

Exploring Utah Olympic Park

Hitting up the Olympic Park was non-negotiable, and we spent three hours exploring the museum, taking goofy pictures, and getting a tour.

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We really shouldn’t be left to our own devices.

Even though the Summer Games are my jam, it was still neat to see the facilities and learn more about the 2002 Winter Games.

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Our tour guide said Salt Lake plans to throw its name into the hat to host the Winter Olympics again, but since it costs $10 million (!!) to be considered, they are focusing on updating the park for the next year or so.

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Not real life

Hiking at Zion National Park

The highpoint of the trip was hiking at Zion National Park, specifically taking on the 5.4-mile “strenuous” Angel’s Landing loop.

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Obligatory

The park guide said this hike would take 4-5 hours, but even though we did it in three, we did not have enough time to do The Narrows. (We originally planned to do both.) Next time!

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This photo basically sums up the day at Zion: I’d walk a little bit and then stop for a few minutes to take in my surroundings.

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Interestingly enough, there’s a half-marathon here in March … any takers? (I’m looking at you, Natalie!)

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All in all, Utah ended up being a fun trip and a great “hoo-rah” because we’ll be firing on all cylinders at work with the New York City Marathon approaching.

Have you been to Utah? Has a trip or vacation surprised you?

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.

Getting Perspective in Lake Placid

About a month ago (yikes, I should’ve published this sooner), I packed as many synthetic socks, PowerBar gels, and Smashfestqueen cycling kits as possible into my backpack, vacated the Big Apple, and retreated north to Lake Placid for a triathlon training camp with the awesome Work Live Tri folks.

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Wheels up.  Lake Placid, here we come!

As a kid, I attended basketball, softball, and field-hockey camps during the summer, but I had yet to go off the grid and escape to this type of atmosphere as an adult. And I was so excited! Spending quality time swimming, biking, and running in paradise helped me regroup post-bike crash, refocus my tri training, and ultimately rediscover my motivation—in terms of triathlon and life.

Lake Placid will always be my happy place.

Long before I heard of triathlon, my high school basketball team traveled to this area of the Adirondacks for a holiday tournament. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but we made memories that we still talk about today—like that time we broke the hotel bed. My family has also made the trek up for a few daytrips, so my first impressions of Placid centered on quality time with friends and loved ones.

Fast-forward a few years to when I discovered the swim-bike-run world—and Ironman.

In 2013, I experienced this epic race weekend for the first time. They say if you watch an Ironman in-person, you’ll have one of two reactions: it’s either “yes, I am so doing this one day!” or “I will absolutely never do this, ever.” Training, volunteering, and spectating lit my 140.6 flame; even though I couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my head around the 2.4-mi. swim, 112-mi. bike, and 26.2-mi. run, I knew then and there Lake Placid would be my Ironman. The atmosphere during race week was unlike anything I had witnessed, which says a lot coming from me as a former collegiate athlete. And training amongst trees, rivers, and mountains was also unlike anything I had experienced. Paradise had officially been found.

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View from my room:  home is where the lake is.

In 2014, I became even more familiar with Ironman training and Lake Placid itself when I functioned as a full-fledged Sherpa/emotional guardian. Everything that happened last year—watching the training, seeing the sacrifices, and becoming invested in the journey—highlighted just how inspiring it is to do an Ironman. And actually being there on race day—volunteering as a wetsuit peeler, getting swept up in the emotions, and celebrating the accomplishment—further solidified my desire to tackle Lake Placid one day.

Thanks to these memories, I could not wait for training camp.

The environment motivates me.

My bike crash resulted in some serious training funk, and I hoped retreating to my happy place would restore my spirits. And did it ever.

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Almost too beautiful to be real

Training camp centered on long-course athletes doing Lake Placid and Ironman Mont Tremblant, so I knew most, if not all, of my workouts would be logged solo. Aside from the first ride, I basically did my own thing and embraced the headspace.

Swimming in Mirror Lake and cycling through blink-and-you-miss-them towns was absolute bliss. Lately, I’ve been feeling uninspired by the NYC training grind, so I appreciated the sunshine, the clear skies, the mountains, and the breathtaking rivers even more. Finding inspiration in your surroundings is powerful: this is how training should be. This is why I love it.

The journey motivates me—and the feeling motivates me.

Each time I wiggled into my wetsuit and jumped into Mirror Lake, I found my groove quickly. Residual bike crash/rib flare-ups simply did not make themselves known. For the first time since wiping out, I felt natural in the water. I can’t believe it feels this easy—and this blissful. When I swim for distance, my mind wanders and eventually finds a zen space; and as I made my way to the other side of the lake, I felt grateful: to have the body and health that allow me to swim; to have supportive and genuine people in my life; and to physically be in such a gorgeous and peaceful place. Then I remembered where I was—physically, mentally, and emotionally—this time last year, and I was humbled by how much I’ve grown.

Each time I pumped up my tires and buckled my helmet, I felt excited and inspired to ride; these feelings have been missing since my crash. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect mentally during these solo rides, but Placid lifted whatever post-crash barrier was holding me back. I just rode and reacted to the course. I felt “at one” with the bike. My mojo returned!

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Signs of a successful smashfest.  Picture this setup on ten different bikes.

I didn’t think about the crash, but I spent a lot of time reflecting on last year’s training. For whatever reason, I was lucky enough where everything fell into place pretty perfectly. Although I knew it during the season, I didn’t truly realize how rare it is. It never happens like that. While out there on the course, I discovered an even greater sense of appreciation for last year, especially since transition has defined my training this year.

Basically, each time I thought about where I was at this point last year—in terms of training, work, and life—I felt incredibly humbled, grateful, and motivated. Even though I try to focus on the feeling during training, I definitely fell victim to the numbers game: chasing swim splits, becoming obsessed with power wattages, wanting faster run paces. If you’re looking to compete, this is part of the sport, but the trip to Placid reminded me I simply love the lifestyle: swimming, biking, and running. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

Teams and training groups have different vibes.

For the past two years, I logged essentially all of my triathlon training with a team, but I broke off and am currently doing my own thing. Because I have diversified my “triathlon arsenal”—it now includes folks from a masters swim team and my CompuTrainer studio—I’ve gotten to know, learn from, and train with new people, which has been beneficial for both my triathlon and “real” lives. And going to Lake Placid with a new-to-me group was an eye-opening experience. Prior to the long weekend, I knew only the coach and one other woman, but everyone welcomed me into the tribe with open arms. I’ve trained and become friendly with a lot of people in the triathlon community here over the years, and the Work Live Tri folks were absolutely top-notch individuals. (On a related note, this trip made me realize my old team dynamics/dysfunction is not normal, but that’s neither here nor there.)

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Also not normal:  having Podium Legs at your disposal.  I used them so frequently there was an inside joke about going through withdrawal.  I sort of did.

“There is comfort in that grind. I get solace and a sense of self out of that, but that’s not my life right now. And I’m OK with that. I’ve been nudged to do this kind of stuff, and I’m happy to do it, and I love it.” –Rich Roll

Overall, Placid reminded me that triathlon is about the journey, the progress, and the relentlessness to be better. “Unplugging” from power and swimming by feel highlighted how much I love this sport at its core. Although racing provides an opportunity to tangibly track progress, I don’t need to compete.

Aware of this front-of-mind perspective, I thought about Rich Roll’s recent podcast with Josh LaJaunie, specifically the abovementioned quotation. A lot of Rich’s ideas resonate with me, and when I listened to this statement, I felt like he had a birds eye view of everything that’s going on in my life. (Sidebar: Rich, will you be my life coach?) Even if I don’t have a race coming up, I’ll always find a strong sense of self when I swim, bike, and run, and it will always be an aspect of my lifestyle.

I say this because there’s an opportunity at work (#vagueblogging), and I want to immerse myself in it 150 percent. What’s on the horizon is reinvigorating my work life and giving me a strong sense of self and purpose. And honestly, I haven’t felt this excited and focused since … the only instance that comes close is Honors Week during college.

That’s not to say racing doesn’t matter any more, obviously. I definitely associate triathlon with who I am. But now, my #workflow also comprises my best, most authentic self (#fangirl).

“Congratulations, you’re a human being. It’s not going to be perfect.” –Rich Roll

In mid-June, Rich came to one of our stores for a social run and book signing, and he also hosted an informal Q-and-A session. As a self-professed fangirl, I took notes, and this quotation hit home.

Life brought a lot of changes this year—tri life, work life, and actual life—and coming off a nearly perfect 2014 training cycle, these transitions seemed even bumpier. My swimming, biking, and running essentially took a one-eighty, and although there were some who did not support this change, I know my current regiment is exactly what I need to be doing.

We’re still in the midst of a lot of work changes too. It’s cliché, but the focus and dedication that leads to solid swimming, biking, and running also sets up success at the office. All I can do is keep showing up, giving it my all, and trusting the process. Of course it will feel challenging and uncomfortable and maybe even impossible at points, but just like training, it’s about focusing on the task at hand and knowing the struggle is where the personal growth happens.