Category Archives: Fun and Adventures

The 2017 Season In Review

After nearly 10 months of concentrated swim-bike-run training, my 2017 multisport season has officially ended.

How I feel about the 2017 season. Thanks for the photo, Dad!

This was the second year my coach and I worked together, and I’m incredibly happy with the progress we made across the disciplines. We stepped back from targeting a specific, performance-based race—Age Group Nationals was no longer the “A” event—and instead focused on expanding my endurance portfolio: doing swim meets, guiding for Achilles, and tackling two swim-run races. By de-emphasizing the outcome and focusing on the process, I rediscovered my passion for the multisport lifestyle.

This season, I noticed a huge shift in how I approach training and racing. Rather than obsessing over the result—splits, wattages, and paces—I zeroed in on the execution of the immediate workout. A 4×100 IM (woof!) become a 100 IM, then another 100 IM, and another, etc. In the short-term, each interval provided an opportunity to get the best out of myself; and it was identifying, working toward, and ultimately accomplishing these mini-goals–no matter how small–that set the stage for long-term progress. My goal this year was to execute each workout, interval, and stroke as precisely as possible. Doing the little things right would help the big things happen.

Eldorado Canyon in Colorado (Also, Colorado = THE BEST)

One concept my coach introduced this year was structured, one-sport training blocks. As an event approached—like a swim meet or a marathon—we increased the frequency and duration of the appropriate workouts. I loved this opportunity to throw myself into one activity and dial in on making progress for a few weeks. This method worked well for the swim; throughout the past year, the sport has transformed from a workout I “had” to do into a session I truly “want” to do. I also discovered that signing up for certain events—like the New England Short-Course Yards Championships and the Coney Island Aquathlon—increased my devotion to the process. Now, I truly find joy in the water—and I firmly believe it’s the closest I’ll ever get to flying! This past year, I’ve also become closer with my swimming buds, and that’s another reason I’m excited to go to practice; not only do I have some super fast people to chase, but I also like hanging out with them outside of the water.

A photo from the race that did not make the blog–but I beat a local pro out of the water! (Full disclosure: she smoked me on the bike and obviously won the race.)

Overall, my race calendar looked much different than previous seasons. I hopped in a few swim meets and did some road races, but the biggest change was the lack of triathlons: I raced Rev3 Quassy in June and my hometown race in August (which I never blogged about so who knows if it actually happened, ha). This was all part of the plan, though. Targeting swim meets and SwimRunVA—as opposed to swim-bike-run events—posed an opportunity to work on my not-as-strong triathlon disciplines so I did a lot of swimming and running this season. A lot of the miles came from guiding an Achilles athlete—we trained for and completed two marathons, and we also did a five miler—and this fresh outlook was exactly what I needed after five years of doing tris. It was beneficial to take a step back from short-term performance and lay the foundation for long-term goals. Hopefully, this past season has set the stage for not only next year, but also a lifetime of sport.

Chasing the sun on dawn patrol

So what’s the plan for 2018? The first part of the season will mirror 2017: I’ll head back to Geneva, NY for another Seneca7 (yaaas!), and a few weeks later, I’ll travel to Boston with my Bearcat masters buds for the annual New England Short-Course Yards Championships. I’ll probably tackle a few running events too, and Team #TwoStevens has already signed up for another round of SwimRunVA.

I’m going long in 2018: my “A” races are Ironman 70.3 Syracuse in June and Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid in September.

I’m really excited to make the jump to the 70.3 distance. Ever since I volunteered at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse in 2012, I knew I’d do the race one day, but I did not want to rush the process. The distances have slowly become demystified over the years (1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running), but even on your best day, it’s still going to be a tough race. And previously, that’s what worried me: how would I react when faced with adversity?

Searching for my running legs in the Bronx. They were not there.

Over the years, I’ve become mentally tougher and developed my race acumen so I feel more confident assessing the situation, making adjustments, and executing in the wake of hardships. During the past two seasons, especially, I noticed this change in my mental resolve: when my wheels stayed on at Nationals in Omaha two years ago despite the heat and humidity; when I dropped my chain at Rev3 Quassy in June, but remained calm and collected; and, of course, when I guided an Achilles athlete through two marathons. I built on my mental fortitude this past year by tackling longer events (like SwimRunVA), and I also survived several “character building” workouts and races. (Looking at you, Bronx 10 Miler.) Every 70.3 is a challenge, and I’m excited to devote myself to the training—and keep improving my mental game—and make some magic out there.

What are your goals for the upcoming year?

Guiding for Achilles at the 2017 New York City Marathon

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

About to make some marathon magic

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

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

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

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

Running down our marathon dreams in Brooklyn

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

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

When you see one of your friends at mile 24 …

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

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

Marathon finishers!

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

We look gooooood

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

2nd Annual SwimRunVA Recap

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

#TwoStevens!

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

Pull buoys, paddles, wetsuits, oh my!

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

Getting after it on the trails

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

Scoping out the swim

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

Sighting #AllForTheSwim

Anyway, onto our memorable weekend in Richmond!

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

So gnarly

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

Fiddling with my paddles

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

Thanks for the suit, Blueseventy!

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

I felt like I was in The Hunger Games!

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

2017 Garden State SwimRun Recap

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

All photos are from the Garden State SwimRun Facebook page.

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

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

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

#TwoStevens coming through!

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

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

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

Focusing … on not falling.

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

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

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

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

Summer nights in the city

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

The Seven PerSISTERS

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

Summer solstice sunrise

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

My happy place: in the saddle

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

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

Pleased with my execution and pleasantly surprised to bring this home

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

Not ready to be done … who am I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never leaving

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

What’s new with you?

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!

2016-bearcat-swim-meet

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?