Category Archives: Healthy Living

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?

2016 In Review and What Comes Next

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

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

2016-central-park-skyline

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

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

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Every day is National Coffee Day for me, but …

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

2016-nyc-sidewalk

Good vibes and good shoes

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

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.

2015-christmas-eve-sunset-lakeside

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.

2015-trail-running-denver-wipe-out

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.

2015-ironman-lake-placid-mirror-lake-rock

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.

2015-bike-crash-black-eye-trainer-selfie

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.

west-side-highway-running-artsy-blurry

… 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!

quarq-riken-power-meter

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.

5:28-tailwind-endurance-power-hour

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

2015-best-nine

#2015bestnine

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

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

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

west-side-highway-running-artsy-blurry

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

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

above-the-clouds-milwaukee

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

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

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

Enter: Bearcat masters.

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

bearcat-masters-swim-effort-grade

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

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

Time for my favorite: let’s talk watts.

biking-9w-smashfestqueen-kit

Solo smashfest = the BEST

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

That leaves the run.

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

cazenovia-lake-sunset-summer

Lakeside love

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

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

jackrabbit-spirit-week-superhero-tuesday-spiderman

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

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

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

usa-triathlon-age-group-national-championships-milwaukee-be-positive

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

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

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

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

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

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.

utah-salt-lake-city-license-plate

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.

slc-5

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.

slc-2

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.”

gilgal-garden-collage

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.

Five Important Things I Learned From My Bike Crash

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

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

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

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

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

Falling gracefully is an art.

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

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PG photo of right hip road rash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I can ride indoors and take goofy #trainerselfies.

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

Keep the big picture in mind.

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

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Bar fight or bike crash?

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

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