Category Archives: Races

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 Metropolitan Short-Course Championships Recap

This wannabe swimmer once again reported for duty: two weekends ago, I competed at my second meet, the Metropolitan Short-Course Meters Championships. Held at Asphalt Green (AG) on the Upper East Side, the meet sounds intimidating, but with about 100 swimmers—25 of whom were Bearcat teammates—it was an ideal size for a “Sunday night practice.” That’s how I viewed it anyway, especially since my team didn’t taper. Rested or not, my goals remained the same: gain more racing experience by soaking in the details, getting some quality starts off the blocks, and posting good-for-me times. Overall, it was a fun and successful evening in the water: I learned a lot and set new PRs across my events.

Waaaah! Still can’t believe that’s me.

After surviving my first meet in October, I outlined areas of success and identified opportunities for growth. First, I realized it may be a good idea to be more discerning about which events I swim. It turns out most folks opt for one, two, or maybe three events, but not four like I did. This time around, however, I still registered for four events—50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m IM, and 200m IM—but I at least looked at the schedule of events and determined I’d have “enough” time between each. (At my first meet, there were a handful of quick turnarounds.) I’m definitely still figuring out what constitutes “enough” time though: my closest swims were about 15 minutes apart, which seemed fine; however, one of my teammates was stressed because it wasn’t enough. Bottom line, when I swim targeted meets—like Harvard in March—I will do only one or maybe two events per day. This outing was all about gaining experience, so if I was a little flat for my later events, then so be it.

Second, I did a better job warming up and cooling down overall. Before the meet began, I swam at least 1000m with some drill and tech work, and I also dove off the blocks four or five times. Figuring out my nutrition plan was also important, but it actually didn’t play as big of a role as I anticipated. I ate carbs all day—cinnamon raisin bagel for breakfast, sweet potatoes with kale and black beans for lunch, and a bowl of oatmeal with a banana around 3:30 p.m.—and felt fueled for the 5 p.m. start time. During the meet itself, I drank my electrolyte mix to thirst and felt fine (read: not hungry like last time).

The essentials, but I did not eat the bananas.

Aside from swimming faster than last time, my primary goal was to become better at controlling my adrenaline and navigating my emotions. This world of competitive swimming is so new, but I felt much more calm, composed, and confident. I knew how to read the heat sheets. I’m in the process of developing a warm-up and warm-down routine, plus an “at the blocks” ritual. I had an idea of how painful each event would be. Thanks to my super small amount of experience, the atmosphere was less foreign—still nerve-wrecking, but comfortably uncomfortable.

I’ve recently started a meditation process—that’s another post entirely—and one principle that has resonated with me is the willingness to allow our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to come and go. Rather than fight them, let them flow. So as I waited for my individual events, I let myself feel the excitement, the nervousness, the anxiousness, the happiness. As I stepped onto the blocks, I quieted my mind and visualized my race: I saw myself diving cleanly into the water (with my goggles staying on) and executing perfect stroke after perfect stroke. I imagined how each flip-turn would feel—catapulting off the wall and dolphin kicking for momentum—and where the lactic acid burn would surface first. As I adjusted my goggles—fiddling with the lenses and ensuring they suctioned to just the right spot—the world vanished.

It was just me and the water.

Results:

50m free – 33.80 (seed 34.32)

1st place AG

100m free – 1:11.73 (seed 1:14.89)

2nd place AG

100 IM – around 1:33 (seed 1:37)

3rd place AG

200 IM – 3:24.72 (seed 3:40)

2nd place AG

When’s your next race?

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

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

2016-canyon-de-chelly-ultra-start

About 150 runners out chasing the sunrise

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

2016-canyon-de-chelly-tseyi-overlook

Tsegi Overlook

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

2016-caynon-de-chelly-overlook

Hanging out in a canyon

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

2016-canyon-de-chelly-white-house

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

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

2016-canyon-de-chelly-selfie

Selfie in a canyon

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

2016-canyon-de-chelly-ultra-finish

Finishing strong

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

How often do you volunteer at races?

16th Annual Cazenovia Triathlon Recap

My 2016 racing season officially ended a few weekends ago at the 16th Annual Cazenovia Triathlon, my favorite local yokel race. This was the first swim-bike-run event I did four years ago (wow!), and when possible, I love going home and doing it again.

2016-august-cazenovia-lake

… and also relaxing at home

Although I had a satisfactory outing at Nationals, it always lights a fire inside me. Racing alongside stellar athletes is both humbling and motivating; and even though an August event is late in the season for me, I always want to race one more time afterward. Luckily, we were firing on all cylinders at work with the Olympics so I accrued a few comp days and used a handful to head home to the Syracuse area for a long weekend.

Since we eased off the gas post-Omaha—the “A” race was over, and work was nuts—I didn’t know what to expect from my legs. But because I had a tough swim and run at Nationals, I was primarily concerned with those two disciplines. (The bike would simply be what it would be, especially since I had not been on my tri bike post-Nationals.)

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-overall-female-podium

I really need to get a Tailwind t-shirt so I can change after the race like everyone else.

Overall, it was a good day: the choppy swim and windy bike equated to tough conditions, but I felt good about the outing I pieced together—and any day you find yourself on the podium is a good day.

Swim – 800m – 15:26

It seems like the swim course changes every year, and this time around, the 300 or so athletes faced a “C”-shaped out-and-back route. Unlike Omaha, the swim was wetsuit-legal, and the water was choppy, which I liked because it separated the field. At 8:30 a.m., my wave of women 39 and under was released, and I immediately surged to the front of the pack. Since it was only a half-mile swim—I usually swim twice as far in an Olympic-distance race—I decided to kick as if I were at a masters swim practice, a.k.a. much more frequently. There were six buoys out to the turnaround point, and I hit my first group of dudes at buoy three. (Luckily, it wasn’t a Wall of Dudes.) Given the wind and chop, I was happy with the course I swam and how I paced it: I settled in after the first 200m or so, and then I started to push again after hitting the turn around buoy. One girl in my wave tapped my feet around the 500m mark, so I threw in a surge in an effort to get some separation. She tapped me again around 700m, and that’s when I really started to push. I really wanted to be first out of the water!

Transition 1 – 1:21

Mission accomplished!

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-swim-exit

Thanks for the photo, Dad!

She was just a few seconds behind me, but I saw her sit down in transition so I knew I would be the first woman out of T1.

Bike – 14 miles – 45:11

As soon as I mounted my bike, my legs let me know they did more work than usual during the swim. It took a few miles for me to settle in, and during the process, one pocketfriend zipped by me. I let her go because I didn’t want to burn all my matches in the opening miles.

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-sprint-bike-course

Even though I know the course well, I always forget how hilly it is; it’s like Quassy in the sense that it punches you over and over again. (And you feel the effects more if you’re 5’10” as opposed to 5’.) So like Quassy, my plan was to “cover up” and be conservative on the hills and make my moves on the flat portions. There’s a monster hill about halfway through, and the woman who won the sprint race outright (she beat all the dudes and ran an 18-min. 5-K off the bike) zoomed by me. I was able to hammer the last few miles, though, and as I passed one dude, all he said was, “Wow.”

Transition 2 – 1:00

As I rolled in, I knew I was the third female overall, but that placing didn’t affect my race plan. I just wanted to run a solid 5-K—and hopefully not get passed.

Run – 5-K – 23:24

The theme of this race was definitely, “I forgot how hilly this course is!” and the run was no exception.

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-sprint-run-course

The hill in the opening mile punched me hard, but I was able to rebound and settle into my target pace from there. The 3.1 miles passed by quickly—and I wanted to keep going?

Official finish – 1:26:46

Even though this was a slower day compared to last year, my coach would remind me to focus on the feeling and not become emotionally attached to the numbers. Like Nationals, I felt much more in control and comfortable with the effort I was putting forth. Better yet, I had tangible goals that centered on execution (i.e. kick more during the swim, be a “boxer” during the bike, etc.). Precise execution would lead to a good day, and that’s what happened.

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-pre-race

Aero is everything.

I’ve become better at this process throughout the season: remaining mentally sound during a race and executing precisely and confidently. I’ve matured a lot as an endurance athlete this season (season recap post to come), and I’m excited to build on this progress during the off-season.

2016 HITS Hudson Valley Recap

Two weekends ago, I took on my second swim-bike-run event of the season, the HITS Hudson Valley Triathlon.  One of my training buds has a house in the area, so even though the race course changed from last year (which I didn’t realize until 11 p.m. the night before), I still escaped New York City with a few friends for a sportz-filled weekend.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-hardware

Hardware for everyone!

After a tough season opener at Quassy, I was excited to race again and execute across the disciplines. Between a high volume training weekend in Lake Placid and moving apartments, Earl and I decided the best course of action was to simply let the race happen: go out, see how my body felt, and make adjustments from there. Needless to say, I was carrying both physical and emotional fatigue into the race, so I was relieved the strategy didn’t center on splits and paces.

On Friday, I left the city around 3 p.m., drove “upstate,” and picked up one of my friends from the Rhinecliff train station before we headed to dinner in Woodstock. It was at dinner I learned the race was completely different, which made it easier to let go of expectations; Saturday would be all about having fun and enjoying swimming, biking, and running with friends.

This mentality was perfect because pre-race logistics on Saturday were not smooth: Google Maps led us astray, and we were almost late to the race; one guy who was doing the half forget his water bottles; and another guy forget his goggles—and forgot to register for the race all together. (Luckily, there was race-day registration.) Race-morning craziness is not ideal, but in a strange way, it helped me relax, let go, and let the race happen.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-olympic-distance-award

The race was an adventure, but I had a relatively good day out there.

Swim – 1500m – 26:27 (2/35)

The main characteristic that sets HITS apart from other triathlon race companies is the variety of distances offered: sprint, Olympic, half, and full. This spectrum meant all Olympic-distance athletes started later (8:20 a.m.), and it also meant we would merge with long-course folks during the two-loop course.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-swim-course

Kind of confusing, but I swam around the four buoys to the far right twice.

It was a “mass start,” and even amongst the dudes, I positioned myself near the front and swam aggressively when we were released. There was a lot of action within the opening 200m, but everyone eventually found packs. And I found myself in no woman’s land:  slower than all the dudes (and the one female pro) who exited the water in 23 or 24 minutes, but faster than everyone else. I did draft off a dude for a few minutes during the second loop, but I eventually overtook him. Overall, I felt really smooth, but I’d like to be closer to 25 minutes at Nationals.

T1 – 1:51 (15/35)

Yeah … totally botched both transitions.  I couldn’t find my bike and obviously left a lot of time here. No excuses.

Bike – 40-K – 1:24:05 (3/35)
How would I describe this two-loop bike course? Punchy.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-olympic-bike-course

There were a couple of kickers.

And it was fair. Because it was two loops, it gave everyone who was unfamiliar with the route one lap to take it all in—which was great because it was a rolling and technical course. My first loop was on the slower side: I rode the descents very conservatively and noted where I could tuck in and hammer the second time around. When I completed the first loop, a volunteer told me I was the first female, but I knew the female pro was far ahead, so I focused on riding my race. On one of the kickers, one woman zipped by me. I’m not used to that, and she was moving! (We talked after the race, and she’s local and rides the course often.) It also started to mist about three-quarters of the way through, but I’ll take 65*F and rain over heat and humidity any day. Anyway, it’s all about progress, and I felt much more composed and confident during this ride than Quassy. In short-course racing, course knowledge is a huge advantage, and unfortunately, that isn’t a luxury I’ve had this year—so I am OK with the split since we know it does not reflect my fitness.

T2 – 1:48 (15/35)

Again, not totally sure what I was doing here.

Run – 10-K – 51:30 (3/35)

This is a first:  the run was my favorite part of the race.  None of us read the course guide beforehand, so we were surprised to learn 90 percent of the course took place on trails, including a stretch that took racers through a cave. Did we sign up for an XTERRA race?!

2016-hits-hudson-valley-olympic-run-course

Again, per “letting the race happen,” I let go of expectations, embraced the conditions, and simply ran. I was surprised how comfortable and confident I felt navigating rocks and roots—maybe because of the trail running I did in Denver?—and I had a lot of fun out there. I chatted with other athletes and thanked the volunteers. And when it started down pouring, I refused to become frustrated. Everyone had to contend with these conditions, and the rain/trail run combo helped me enter a meditative headspace. It was not my fastest 10-K, but it was one of the most cathartic and enjoyable ones I’ve had in a while.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-finish

Running like a basketball player

Official finishing time – 2:45:43 (3/35)

Overall, I feel good about this outing. In terms of performance, there was time left out there (i.e. what the heck was I doing in transition?), but this race reaffirmed that you can only control the controllables. There were points where a less athletically mature me would’ve become angry, but I was really pleased with how I accepted and adjusted without letting my emotions get the best of me. This was also the first race in a long time where I explicitly thanked the volunteers and cheered for other racers—and it totally made my experience better.

original_url: F630D1AD-D81C-4679-9B69-D49EE00FB47D

original_url: F630D1AD-D81C-4679-9B69-D49EE00FB47D

Cheesin’

Less than one month until Nationals—time to get it locked in!

2016 Rev3 Quassy Recap

This past Saturday, I took on my first triathlon of the season, Rev3 Quassy. Held in Middlebury, CT and marketed as “the beast of the Northeast,” this event offers challenging Olympic- and 70.3-distance races. (The Olympic takes place on Saturday while the half-Iron occurs on Sunday.)

2016-rev3-quassy-transition

Obligatory transition photo

So yes, although it was a race, my game plan for the day did not center on “racing” for a few reasons. As my season opener, this event gave me an opportunity to dust off the racing rust—and honestly, get out a few bonehead mistakes before my target race. Two, this race would be my first time truly riding my tri bike outside this season. And riding for the first time in a race environment was not ideal. Three, this race simply did not suit me; in fact, it is the worst race I could’ve done. Not to be dramatic, but basically, this was a perfect storm with the potential for plenty of things to go wrong.

From the beginning of the season when Earl and I were planning my calendar, he made it very clear Quassy would not be a “race” for me, but rather a tough training day. (And not having insurance and the ability to ride my bike outside further supported this outlook.) He developed the metaphor of a boxing match to illustrate our strategy: the hilly course would punch me hard and often. When this occurred, I was tasked with covering up, playing defense, and absorbing the blow. And then, when the opportunities presented themselves, I could punch back, go on the offensive, and make up some time. Overall, it would be an outing filled with strategic moves and countermoves. I would not be “racing” anyone else; it was me against the course.

And this time, the course totally won. Here’s how it went down.

Pre-race:

As I mentioned a few days ago, the week leading up to Quassy was not normal. Due to Memorial Day weekend, we were working on overdrive at the office, and my sister and I also spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights looking at apartments. This life stuff obviously took priority, which led to missed/abbreviated workouts and extra mental/emotion fatigue. And even though Earl and I addressed the bike situation, I was still worried about riding for the first time on a technical course. Honestly, as Friday approached, all I wanted to do was sleep. But once I met up with my Flat Feet guys, and we started talking about the race, my outlook started to change. This outing would not be an accurate reflection of my fitness. This outing would be a long and challenging grind. And by putting myself in an uncomfortable situation now, I would set myself up for success in the future.

Swim – 1,500m – 26:56 (9/28)

Due to an impenetrable fog on Lake Quassapaug, the swim start was delayed 30 minutes.

2016-tailwind-endurance-rev3-quassy-family-photo

Tailwind family photo

My thought process: ‘I hope they don’t cancel the swim! Wait, this also means I’ll be running 30 minutes later in the day, which means it will be hotter. Oh great.’

Luckily, the swim actually happened, and my wave of women 39 and under was aggressive. There was a lot more bumping, grabbing, and jockeying for position within the opening 400m than I anticipated. It was Nationals-level aggressive, but my basketball instincts kicked in. The field spread out quickly, though, and aside from that initial contact and sighting into the sun at the first turn buoy, everything went smoothly: I found my rhythm, drafted when possible, caught the Wall of Dudes who started five minutes beforehand—just another day in the open water.

2016-rev3-quassy-olympic-swim-course

We started at the green point and ended at the red.

Even though I thought I swam a tight course, it felt like I was out there for a while, which was reflected in my slower-than-usual split. Everyone who Garmin’ed the swim had a distance between 1,650 and 1,800m, which could be due to swimming off course, but the consensus was the course was long.

Transition 1 – 1:56 (2/28)

Exiting the water is one of my favorite parts of the race, especially when your training buds and coaches line the chute. “Now your race can start!” yelled one of the Tailwind coaches.

2016-rev3-quassy-olympic-swim-exit

Fist pump

This was probably the only time I smiled during the race.

Bike – 25.7 miles – 1:34:47 (13/28)

Under normal circumstances, I love anything to do with watts—but not this time. First, the positives: in accordance with our boxing strategy, I executed relatively well. I “absorbed” the course’s punches on the climbs. I became reacquainted with my small ring and did most of my overtaking on the ascents. I rode in aero when I could. And I definitely stayed below 85 percent of my FTP per Earl’s instructions.

2016-rev3-quassy-olympic-bike-course

Hilly, but fair:  I just could not capitalize on the downhills.

I made a few bonehead mistakes. My bike computer and power meter weren’t working properly so I rode the course “blind” and didn’t have access to total time, average power, etc. I lost a bottle within the first four miles, and luckily, I was riding with an extra. (For Olympic-distance races, I take in one bottle of nutrition, but knowing we were estimating a 1:30 bike split, I brought two bottles.) I taped my gel to the top tube of my bike, but couldn’t get it off. Basically, I made every “first race of the season” mistake possible so let’s hope I got everything out of my system.

My main shortcomings on the bike were my handling skills and simply riding with confidence. Although I paced myself on the climbs, I didn’t feel comfortable descending and truly making up that lost time. So many people passed me on the downhills. So, so many. There were a lot of technical turns too, and since I didn’t ride the course ahead of time—like a lot of my friends did—I lacked the knowledge to know when I could relax into aero and when I needed to move onto the hoods. Although I had prepared for a long ride, I did not think about what it would feel like to be riding timidly for 90 minutes and how that would affect me mentally. When you can’t execute your ace-in-the-hole discipline—and not only fail to execute, but also feel twitchy—it wears on you. Bottom line, I left a lot of time out there. And mentally, I should’ve left that experience out there too—but I carried it with me onto the run.

Transition 2 – 1:07 (7/28)

All I noticed were a lot of bikes back in their racks. That’s not a sight I’m used to.

Run – 10-K – 1:01:08 (18/28)

Grind, grind, grind. I don’t want to say the wheels came off on the run because they weren’t ever really on.

2016-rev3-quassy-run-course

Oh mile three …

The first two miles were downhill and flat, and there were some friendly faces out spectating, so it started off OK. Mile three was when the course had its initial “punch,” and the combination of the hill and the sun (remember we started 30 minutes later) caused my heart rate to skyrocket. Per our boxing strategy, I had to “cover up,” pump the brakes, and get my heart rate under control. Full disclosure: there was a lot of walking on the hills. In hindsight, I definitely did not need to walk as much as I did—or at all—but thanks to a mentally fatiguing bike, I could not access the headspace necessary for a strong run.

Official finish – 3:05:54 (14/28)

Yeah, three hours is a long time for me to be out there for an Olympic-distance triathlon. But after debriefing with Earl and my Flat Feet guys, here’s what I’m taking from this experience:

My swim put me in a great position to do some serious smashing on the bike. I was within two minutes of six girls ahead of me, and under normal circumstances, I can erase that deficit in the saddle.

That was the toughest and most mentally and physically challenging bike course I will face all year.

That was the toughest and most mentally and physically challenging run course I will face all year.

I left a lot of time out there. (I probably left 2-3 minutes on the swim, at least five minutes on the bike, and 8-10 on the run.) Not to be dramatic, but given the factors leading into Quassy and the race itself, this was the worst possible combination; yet even on this tough day that was not my day, I finished in the middle of the pack—which for most people is not bad, ha! Basically, if I’m able to put myself in a situation with several factors that are working against me, and I’m still able to put together an “average” outing, then hopefully this means I can totally smash a course that works in my favor. Onto the next!

Being Tactical: Pre-Race Thoughts on Rev3 Quassy

Race week, race week: the next edition of sportz Saturday will occur at a sanctioned event, and I’m excited to swim, bike, and run at Rev3 Quassy!

2016-rev3-quassy-logo

Structured training began in January, so I am itching to enter a race environment, do some sportz, and execute across the disciplines. Plus, I feel like training has been going well, but it will be beneficial to have an “official” check-in point to make sure we’re on track.

Held in Middlebury, Connecticut, “the beast of the Northeast” is known as one of—if not the—toughest courses on the race circuit. It offers both Olympic-distance and 70.3 races, and for those crazy enough, there’s a “revolution” option to race back-to-back and complete both. But tackling the modest 0.9-mile swim, 25.7-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run is more than enough for me. In fact, after the disastrous Pat Griskus Triathlon two years ago, I swore I would never do this race since these courses are so similar. Yet here we are.

As Earl and I developed my race schedule at the beginning of the season, one of our top priorities included exposing me to as many different experiences as possible—both for the build-up to Nationals this year and for my general growth as a triathlete. These mini tests would serve as opportunities to practice pacing, nutrition, etc. in challenging environments before I go to Omaha for *knock on wood* a successful smashfest across the disciplines. The “challenging environment” component is key: my tune-up races will be on hilly courses while Nationals will be flat and fast for the most part. Basically, if I can execute my race plan on rolling courses, then I should be able to lock it in on a flat course.

There’s no doubt Quassy will be the toughest race I do this year—and quite possibly ever. With that in mind, this will be a very calculated outing. This course does not play to my strengths. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst ones out there for me: it’s hilly, and at 5’10”, I am far from being a pocketfriend who can zip up those hills on the bike and run.  And that doesn’t take into consideration the weather either.

Enduring a four-plus-hour college graduation. Would not do it for anyone else, Margaret! <3

We’ve experienced an incredibly hot and humid week here with temperatures reaching the high 80s. Bottom line, facing a hilly course on a hot day is my worst case scenario, and there’s a high chance that’s what the conditions will be on Saturday. Oh, goodie.

It’s all about controlling the controllables: being smart, executing the plan, and racing the course—not the other athletes. On the bike, there will be no hammering. There will be lots of climbing, cresting hills, and managing my efforts strategically.

2016-rev3-quassy-olympic-bike-course

Self, repeat after me: smooth, strong, controlled. Do. Not. Hammer.

Plus, due to my health insurance situation–due to my new job, I did not get insured until June 1–this ride will be my first true outdoor outing of the year. (Although I did spin out in Central Park yesterday in an effort to remember what it is like to handle a bike.) Therefore, I’m really managing my expectations for the bike. Luckily, Earl has data from my bike workouts and knows I’m fit. He’s not concerned about my performance in the saddle—he’s looking forward to seeing how I execute on the run.

2016-rev3-quassy-run-course

What goes up must come down …

Bottom line, this will be an incredibly solid training day. It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be tactical. But I’m confident in my training thus far, and no matter what happens out there, the only place to go is 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?

2016 NYRR Spring Classic 10-K Recap

This past Sunday, I ran my first race of 2016:  NYRR’s Spring Classic 10-K.  Normally, I wouldn’t pay to run in Central Park, but the entry fee was only $10. (It was open only to NYRR members, and there weren’t t-shirts, medals, etc. ) And that’s a cheap pricetag for quality racing experience. Also, Earl and Coach Pat wanted a check-in race to gauge my running fitness.

2016-central-park-nyc-reservoir

No photos during the race, of course–I snapped this one as I cooled down.

Of course, I wanted a strong showing, but Earl and Coach Pat made it very clear the main objective was executing the race plan and running on feel (i.e. not shooting for a PR).  With this in mind, we decided that although I would turn on my Garmin to capture data, I would not look at my watch during the race.  Running is extremely mental for me.  Although I’m becoming fitter, faster, and stronger, seeing certain values (read: anything in the sevens) intimidates me and makes me second guess whether I can sustain the pace.  And as we determined from my splits below, thank GAWD I didn’t look at my watch.

Mile #1 – 7:56 – “Let it happen”

The opening mile contained Harlem Hill, so we figured this would be my slowest mile of the race.  I didn’t complete a long enough warm-up, so I was still finding my rhythm here, and I was pleasantly surprised how smooth I felt while climbing the hill.  Thanks to my Sunday Snowman Challenge, I’ve run Harlem Hill frequently so I knew how to pace it:  I broke it up into three sections and gradually increased the effort as I neared the top.  “Let [the first mile] happen,” Earl advised.  “It was going to be what it’s going to be.”

Mile #2 – 7:43 and mile #3 – 7:32 – “Let the course do the work.”

A few days before the race, Earl and I talked strategy, and he said it was important to let the course do the work.  That meant absorbing the “punches” on the uphills and making the necessary cadence adjustments and then smoothing out the effort on the downhills.  My mantra during these two miles along the West Side Rollers was “let the course do the work” and “smooth, strong, and controlled.”  If I had seen my splits during these two miles, especially the 7:32, I would’ve freaked out and eased off the gas—I didn’t and continued to run on feel.

Mile #4 – 7:58

With Cat Hill coming up, I ran the little hill conservatively.  This was also the point in the race the lactic acid started to make itself known in my legs.

Mile #5 – 8:07 – “Hang on”

Dun, dun, duuuun: Cat Hill.  Like Harlem Hill, I broke it into three sections, but struggled to find the next gear as I neared the top.  In hindsight, this was the race’s TKO punch.  My legs felt dunzo, and although “hang on” was not the most positive mindset, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Mile #6 – 7:45 – “I’m dragging.”

Again, I’m really glad I did not look at my watch.  My legs felt heavy, and I felt like I was running through molasses; it felt like a 9:00 min./mi. pace.  It’s important to run your own race, but around this time, I listened to the people alongside of me; they were totally gassed.  I was still breathing easily.  And that’s been the story of my running life—feeling the burn in my legs and not my lungs.

Last bit – 2:04

As per usual, I was feeling a lot of feelings when I finished.  I was surprised with my average pace because it felt like I was running 7:40-7:45 throughout—which, if you take out the Cat Hill mile, is exactly what happened.  It also gives me confidence to know that when I thought I was “dragging” I was actually fine and running a 7:45. It comes down to dialing in my mental game and trusting myself. As Earl said post-race, becoming a better racer physically is the easy part—the challenge is getting your mind to catch up.

How do you power through tough workouts and races?

 

My 2015 Running and Triathloning Recap

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

2015-christmas-eve-sunset-lakeside

Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

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

2015-trail-running-denver-wipe-out

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

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

Best swim

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

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

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

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

Best bike

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

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

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

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

Best run

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

west-side-highway-running-artsy-blurry

… and refocus my run training

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

Best piece of new gear

Santa delivered: hello, power meter!

quarq-riken-power-meter

Watts, watts, WATTS!

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

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

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

5:28-tailwind-endurance-power-hour

Head down and getting to work

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

Most inspirational runner

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

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

Challenging, humbling, and memorable

2015-best-nine

#2015bestnine

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