Category Archives: New York City

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.

Guiding for Achilles at the 2nd Annual Queens Marathon

On Sunday, March 26th, my Achilles buddy and I negotiated turns, avoided potholes, and dodged puddles en route to running 26.2 miles (26.8 according to my Garmin) at the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon.

Pre-race with the Achilles Queens group

Held in Corona Park and co-sponsored by the Queens Distance Runners, this event offered both a full marathon and 20-mile tune-up option and welcomed about 300 athletes.  The Achilles cohort had five athletes participating and 18 guides who ran anywhere from one to all four loops of the course.

If you’ve been reading for a while, then you may recall my renewed perspective on the 2017 triathlon season, and one of my guiding principles: service.  I want to give back to the community that has given me so much.  My experience volunteering as a handler with the Challenged Athletes Foundation during the NYC Triathlon in 2016 rejuvenated my outlook on sport, and functioning in this type of capacity is something I plan to do on a regular basis.  Several of my triathlon friends are involved with Achilles—a nonprofit that aims to enable people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running events—so getting involved was easy.  Achilles NYC hosts two workouts each week (the group meets Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings in Central Park), and I started attending sessions in December and gaining experience as a guide.  There is a rough guiding framework, but its execution varies from athlete to athlete.  I can only speak to my experience so this post will focus on what I do for the athlete I guide.

My Achilles buddy and I first ran together in December—he was the second person I guided, ever—and we hit it off immediately.  He’s an experienced runner and triathlete who’s tackled marathons and even completed Ironman Lake Placid, and we have a lot of mutual tri friends.  He is visually impaired and legally blind, so when we run together, we use either a tether or a race belt that we both hold.  By pulling the device, I can make adjustments to the direction he runs, and we also communicate a lot. (More on that in a bit.) Anyway, when he asked me to guide him for the Queens Marathon, I was honored and honestly shocked—I had yet to run a marathon myself!  He knew, though, and had no concerns or reservations so I said yes.

As the marathon approached, we ran together on a regular basis, usually doing six miles on Tuesday evenings and going longer on Saturday mornings.  Prior to race day, the farthest we ran together was 11 miles. (The weekend before the marathon, he did the NYC Half, which was his longest pre-26.2 outing.) For me, my coach said to think of this event as an ultra-marathon:  I would be running at a much slower pace and would be on my feet for much longer.  In addition to my normal tri training, we increased my run mileage, and I capped off at a 15-mile long run.  We knew from my training load my engine would be able to run (ha!) for close to five hours, and we also knew I would be OK muscularly.  Sure, there would be pain, but nothing debilitating.  The challenge for me, however, would be mental: being out there for a long time and staying present, focused, and engaged.

Out there: this is loop three or loop four.

At this point, I will disclose this is neither how I would’ve trained for “my marathon” nor how I would recommend training for a marathon in general.  I should also disclose there was a discrepancy in our training paces. (I did my solo long runs in the 8:40 min./mi. range, and when we ran together, we were in the 9:30 min./mi. ballpark; for the marathon, we were targeting 10:00 min./mi.) Finally, my buddy knew the training wasn’t there for a PR, so it was all about having fun and enjoying the experience.

That said, though, I didn’t know what my body would do after 15 miles. This outing would be one of the toughest things I had ever done. The buildup was far from perfect, but I put my body through some brutal workouts—power tests, race-simulation workouts, swim meets. (The 100 IM at Harvard was one of the most painful things I have ever done.) I knew there would be pain during the marathon, but I knew I could handle it.  I mentally prepared for dark patches, and to work through those times, my coach told me to remember:  “this is a gift you are giving someone else.”  Maybe it was naïve, but I knew that sentiment would carry me through the darkest of times.

There were no dark times.

Heading to the start line: almost marathon time!

As the race begun, I entered a space of intense focus.  My job was to get our team across the finish line.  Mile after mile passed, and I found myself in a state of flow.  No thinking; just doing.  Calm confidence. The looped nature of the course brought both positives and negatives. On the plus side, our Achilles team did not face new terrain after six miles, and there is something to be said for comfort in repetition—just not in terms of this course specifically.  There were tight turns, including some traffic circle-like patterns, and the road itself contained potholes and speed bumps.  Several times per loop, we had to go off-road onto the grass to avoid running through puddles.  These obstacles could’ve been disastrous, but luckily, my buddy and I communicate well:  I would announce turns, terrain changes, etc. at least 20 seconds in advance; I would audibly count down as we approached speed bumps (“Speed bump coming in three … two … one”); and I would give clear instructions on our general plan (like veering right, making a sharp left, stepping onto grass).  Basically, I was the primary guide/navigator/coach, so I was responsible for maintaining our formation, delegating jobs to our supporting guides, and making sure everyone was feeling OK throughout the race.  Our team had two guides per loop, and having that extra person was incredibly helpful.  In most cases, I had the second guide run slightly in front of us to create space and announce to fellow athletes that a blind runner was approaching.  The second guide was also tasked with running ahead to aid stations and getting hydration/nutrition needs sorted.

See the race belt? We used it as our tether during the race.

As we grinded through the later miles (my buddy hit the wall at mile 18), I found myself repeating sayings my coaches have told me over the years, and I had no reaction when we reached uncharted distances for me.  Everything after 15 miles was new, but there was no internal dialogue or narrative. Instead, it was all about making sure my athlete was doing OK:  asking if he needed nutrition, inquiring about how the pace felt, listening to his breathing pattern.  The only time the miles got “personal” was when we hit mile 25 because that was my number for basketball, a fun fact I relayed to our team.

We did it!

We crossed the finish line in 4:45:45, and the experience seems surreal.

What was the most memorable moment during your first marathon or most recent race?

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.

Volunteering for the Challenged Athletes Foundation at the New York City Triathlon

I’m no stranger to volunteering. From Syracuse 70.3 to countless stints at Ironman Lake Placid, I’ve embraced the spirit of giving back to triathlon. After all, it’s given me so much, brought some phenomenal people into my life, and ultimately shaped who I am; the least I can do is peel off wetsuits and manage transition bags for a few hours. A few weeks ago, though, I had an unparalleled experience when I volunteered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) at the New York City Triathlon.

2016-nyc-triathlon-caf-paratriathlete-handler

Although several friends are involved with CAF and other likeminded non-profit organizations like Achilles, I had yet to volunteer for this type of group. The week of the race, my duties were routine:  I emailed my athlete, exchanged phone numbers, and answered a few questions he had about traveling from the airport to his hotel. Some of my responsibilities centered on these logistical uncertainties—how to get from the hotel to transition, how early to leave the hotel on race morning, etc.—and since I sort of did the race in 2013, I was able to answer course-specific questions.

This is where “standard” volunteer duties ended and paratriathlete handler responsibilities began.

On Saturday, the day before the race, we met at the mandatory briefing, which was held in Midtown Manhattan. There was a separate presentation for paratriathletes and their handlers, and I did my best to absorb as much information as possible: the classifications, the scoring system, etc. We also reviewed rules and identified appropriate instances and protocol for an athlete asking for help, and we continued this conversation as we brought our athlete’s bikes to transition to Riverside Park.

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Racing chair on the left (for the run) and handcycle on the right (for the bike)

There are several areas on the NYC Triathlon course that are not ideal for paratriathletes.  Luckily, since both my fellow handler and I had done this race, we were able to pinpoint a few problematic points, and in some cases, we were able to scope them out. When our athlete arrived at these spots during the race itself, he had to clearly ask for assistance (i.e. “May I please have some help here?”) so he would not get DQ’ed for receiving unsolicited help. Anyway, after getting his handcycle and chair situated in transition, we talked through our race-day plan once more and agreed to meet the following morning at 5:30 a.m.

2016-nyc-tri-caf-race-morning

A unique aspect of the NYC Triathlon includes its transition setup: there are two (yellow and red) that run along the Hudson River, and your transition color dictates your swim wave. The yellow transition contained pro males and females, plus elite age groupers, all females, and a handful of dudes. After the final wave of the yellow transition was released into the Hudson, there was a 20-minute break, and then the paratriathletes were released at 7 a.m., which meant these folks had clear water. My fellow handler and I helped our athlete down the ramp to the swim start, and he simply exited his chair, and then we hightailed it 0.9 miles south to the swim exit and waited.

Now, I’ve worked swim exits many times. And yes, I am a total endurance sap who cries during every Ironman Lake Placid video. But I was on the verge of tears at the swim exit.

2016-nyc-tri-caf-swim-exit-2

Watching these strong, capable, absolutely relentless individuals swim 1K was incredibly humbling and inspiring. All too often, we get caught up in the data, paces, and accolades we chase while pursuing the perfect race. We worry about minutia: which goggles to wear, which ring to be in on a hill, when to take a gel. We analyze metrics. We obsess over those 15 seconds we lost in transition. And we take it for granted.

I’ve taken race experiences for granted. But seeing my athlete navigate this race in his chair—pushing him up the steel swim ramp exit, lifting him in his chair up four steps into transition, helping him back into his chair after he fell due to pockets of sand in transition—instilled a new sense of gratitude in me.  It also made me quite anxious. He entrusted me with parts of his race, and I wanted him to have the best day possible. This responsibility stressed me out—volunteering in this capacity allowed me to have a direct impact—but it gave me a greater emotional connection to his experience. And ultimately, this higher investment led to a greater “reward.”

If you have the opportunity to volunteer for one of these organizations, do not pass it up.

2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Recap

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

2016-armory-nyc-indoor-marathon-flat-feet-social-club

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

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

2016-armory-nyc-indoor-marathon-track

Round and round we went.

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

2016-armory-nyc-indoor-marathon-snapchat

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

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

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

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

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

2016-armory-nyc-indoor-marathon-running

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

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

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

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

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

‘Training’ for Life

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

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Central Park bliss

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

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Inspiration is inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back To Reality—Whatever That Is

Whether it’s a job or a vacation, good things eventually end. My last day of work was one week ago (wow!), and my quality Sanibel time has run its course too; I head back to New York City today.

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My best beach bud

It was nice to enjoy a true vacation. My old workplace had a liberal working remotely policy, and it proved to have its pluses and minuses. On the pro side, I travelled to Lake Placid twice in 2015, plus I went home for the 4th of July weekend and for a local yokel race. And earlier this year when I headed south to Florida for some quality family time, I didn’t have to worry about missing anything important—because I was expected to be contributing on conference calls, checking email, and responding to our social channels regularly. But therein lies the downside: I couldn’t unplug, disconnect, and go off the grid; I couldn’t recharge my own battery.

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For headspace, just add water. (Also, who am I?!)

My coworkers and I joked if I turned off my phone, there was a good chance the Internet would implode. Of course, that’s not totally true. I could leave my phone or laptop untouched for a few hours. But whether I was racing, training, or vacationing, I was still posting content, responding to customers, and making sure our brand didn’t cease to exist in the digital space. Flexibility comes with responsibility.

So this time around—with no work/social media constraints—I got to be as digitally active or inactive as I wanted. Full disclosure: I did not go an entire day without checking my personal platforms, but I dialed back my usage considerably. And when I did use—do I sound like an addict?—it was on my own terms. I uploaded plenty of photos to the ‘Gram of Zelda, and I had a blast chronicling my days on Snapchat. (I’m kind of ridiculous; follow me at carriestevens25 if you feel inclined.) This is a crazy concept, but I used social media for pleasure.

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<3 <3 <3

And as I ready to board my flight, it’s finally starting to hit me: I’m going back to reality—but my old one is over. I’m not going to roll in to the Bullpen (the nickname for my old office) on my own sweet time tomorrow. (Anytime between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. was acceptable.). I’m not going to immediately ask my old Work Husband, “what did I miss?” and then immediately start discussing the Downton Abbey series finale. I’m not going to climb a flight of stairs up to the store and ask sales associates about their training and weekend races. I’m not going to take a field trip to one of the East Side stores and catch up with the store manager and eat too many homemade cookies.

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A delicious birthday throwback

I’m not going to be seeded shoes. I’m not going to have a generous discount. I’m not going to wear running apparel to work.

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Direct, but true

I’m not going to be living #TheRabbitLife.

I have yet to develop a snappy name for my new worklife—maybe #WingedLife or #ClubLyfe—but it starts Monday. Aside from a desktop computer, an office with windows, and a strict dress code (related: who wants to teach me how to walk in heels?), I’m not sure what will constitute my new normal. And I’m sure it will take several months to figure it out. In the mean time, I’m trying to see the beauty in uncertain intricacies of the job, the culture, and the institution. It’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. It’s a blank document that offers the potential to write, curate, and connect. It’s a fresh start, it’s a new gig—and although there are some uncertainties, it’s certainly exciting.

The Next Step

Generally, I don’t blog a lot about work. My day-to-day revolves around niche topics—shoe updates, nutrition tips, and upcoming events, races, and activations. I could talk about the adidas PureBoost X, a shoe designed for women. (Ironically, the shoe isn’t made in my size.) I could mention new gel flavors that GU released. I could gush about the Los Angeles U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. (I loved seeing Shalane and Amy rocking visors, a.k.a. the unofficial triathlete uniform.) One thing I will announce, though, is yesterday was my last day in the run-specialty world.

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*Sigh* the good ole rabbit times

Unless you follow news in this industry, you may not know the roller coaster of this past year. And I chose not to discuss that topic here. I had no idea what the future would bring, so I didn’t want to publically comment on what was happening or speculate on what could happen. Plus, the news didn’t affect me initially—the same could not be said for coworkers in sales—so it wouldn’t be totally fair for me to voice my two cents. But, in summary, our locally owned and operated specialty shop was acquired by a larger conglomerate, and its portfolio contains more than 70 stores nationwide. Over the next few years, the goal is to rebrand all doors as one entity, and the company chose the NYC market as its first relaunch site.

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The new Rabbit Life

The wheels slowly turned, and our NYC team worked tirelessly to unveil the new brand as the New York City Marathon approached in November. The month leading up to the race (and the day after) was crazy, chaotic, and unrelenting. That’s par for the course when it’s your busy season, and we executed some great campaigns, did some impactful stuff in the digital space, and introduced the city and the industry to the new face of run-specialty.

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And the new face of the Bullpen?  Antonio, our stoic mannequin.  FYI, this is our Western Wednesday getup for spirit week.  We obviously won.

What followed? Post-race blues. You know when you throw yourself into training, devote yourself to the process, and work hard to make sure you are set up for success on race day? You know when race day comes, and you execute and get it done? You know the high you experience as soon as you cross the finish line? You know the thoughts that creep into your head shortly thereafter: ‘what’s next?’ That’s a question I asked myself every day after the marathon. And I struggled to find an answer.

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Can I get some clarity, please?

At first, I put my head down and continued to work. Marathon month felt like an “A” race, and this series of emotions is normal after a big event. However, every other time I’ve experienced these feelings—whether I was racing or working—I had been able to refocus, identify the next goal, and work toward it. This time, though, the process felt different. Upcoming projects were easy to pinpoint, but I couldn’t throw myself into it. I made an effort to be present and embrace the process (#MostAuthenticSelf #RichRollfangirl), but it didn’t click. Things had changed. I had changed.

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Peace out!

It was time to move on.

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Swimming, biking, running, moving … and remembering that time I was a triathlon model

Throughout the next few months, I updated my resume, poked around LinkedIn, and went on several interviews. I didn’t need to leave right away so I had the luxury of time: to find a position that made me excited and gave me a good feeling. (And, of course, would pay me well and challenge me and help me grow as a human.)

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Doggies always give me a good feeling. Now to find a job that makes me feel the same …

As my job search progressed, it became clear one institution would most likely make an offer—which, in turn, meant I needed to be OK with leaving my current position. Mentally, I was ready to leave the actual work. It didn’t stimulate me anymore, and I felt unfulfilled. But the hard part would be saying goodbye to folks I worked alongside.

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Our holiday card. Antonio is not impressed.

I am fully aware JackRabbit Sports/JackRabbit was/is not a normal workplace. A lot of my best friends here in NYC came from JRab when I started nearly three years ago. And after the acquisition, I grew close to a handful of my “new” coworkers who became mentors and friends. And through it all, my Work Husband has been a permanent fixture. He has been my person, and there’s no doubt I would’ve lasted as long as I have without him.

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Some of the best humans I have ever met

But the magic doesn’t happen in your comfort zone. It’s impossible to grow without facing challenges. And if it scares you, then it’s a good thing.

In a few weeks, I’ll continue my career at New York Athletic Club (NYAC) as their social media manager/assistant editor–and I am pumped!

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.