Category Archives: Healthy Living

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?

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.

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

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

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Every day is National Coffee Day for me, but …

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

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Good vibes and good shoes

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

My 2015 Running and Triathloning Recap

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

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Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

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

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

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

Best swim

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

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

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

Best bike

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

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

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

Best run

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

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… and refocus my run training

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

Best piece of new gear

Santa delivered: hello, power meter!

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Watts, watts, WATTS!

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

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

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

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Head down and getting to work

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

Most inspirational runner

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

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

Challenging, humbling, and memorable

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#2015bestnine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter: Bearcat masters.

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

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

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

Time for my favorite: let’s talk watts.

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Solo smashfest = the BEST

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

That leaves the run.

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

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Lakeside love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventy-Two Hours in Utah

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

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Mormon mobile license plate!

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

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Who knew?

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

Enjoying plate after plate of delicious food

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

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

Wandering around the area

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

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

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

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The atmosphere felt like a well-manicured college campus.

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

Exploring Utah Olympic Park

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

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

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

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

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Not real life

Hiking at Zion National Park

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

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Obligatory

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

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

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

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

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