Category Archives: Running

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?

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

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

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About 150 runners out chasing the sunrise

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

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Tsegi Overlook

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

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Hanging out in a canyon

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

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

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

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Selfie in a canyon

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

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Finishing strong

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

How often do you volunteer at races?

2016 Seneca7 Recap

On April 23, I returned to my old college stomping grounds in Geneva, NY with six New York City friends for the annual Seneca7. (Sidebar: I can’t believe this race happened nearly one month ago! Time sure does fly.)

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Lakeside at Camp Hoho

I’ve referenced this seven-person, 77.7-mile relay on the blog a few times, and last month’s outing was my first time doing it since 2012—a.k.a. my senior year of college. Now that seems like a lifetime ago!

That race four years ago easily makes it onto my “best days ever” list, but even so, I struggled to field a team and head back to the Finger Lakes region. For the past few years, the Seneca7 fell on the same weekend as the South Beach Triathlon. And although the majority of my NYC friends are runners and triathletes, it was tough to find seven humans who could commit tin February to a race in April. Luckily, though, our schedules worked out, and “Joe Paulik’s Inaugural Fun and Senexy” (it’s an inside joke) was one of the 283 groups who made the cut; when registration opened, it sold out in 31 minutes! When I did this race in 2012, there were about 1,200 runners compared to the nearly 2,000 this year. Clearly, the Seneca7 has become well known over the past four years, and I wondered if this growth would affect race day. Spoiler alert: it was an amazing day.

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Each race medal has the leg engraved (1, 2, etc.) so you can collect all seven!

As our team organizer/head Sherpa, I was responsible for pre-, during, and post-race logistics including, but not limited to getting a rental car, making hotel reservations, and navigating our minivan through Upstate New York. The drive from NYC to Geneva was uneventful, but long; we left around 9:30 a.m. and arrived at the pre-race briefing site at 3:30 p.m. I was really looking forward to the trail mix bar, but most of it was gone by the time we got there, which is totally our own fault. Packet pick-up went smoothly, and Jeff Henderson, the race director, kept everyone laughing during the race briefing. He definitely had the line of the weekend: “There are not enough port-a-potties in the state of New York for this race.”

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Buncha port-a-potties because we “can’t get enough!”

We grabbed an early dinner at one of the restaurants downtown, and I took everyone on a tour of campus. And that’s when worlds collided: being back on campus four years removed from graduation with friends from NYC. It was crazy to think back to where I was four years ago, what I was doing, what my goals were, and where I ended up.

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Ah, Quad life …

Just like the Armory Indoor Marathon, our number one priority for the Seneca7 was having fun. Everyone on the team was a runner, but we were at very different fitness levels. Case in point: one girl ran a 3:25 at Boston while another hadn’t laced up since December. So for us, the day centered on hanging out, having fun, and doing a little running.

For us, race day began at 6:45 a.m. Like years past, start times were staggered based on projected paces, and I selected a conservative 9:30 min./mi. team average. I wanted to start as early as possible because we’d be making the drive back to NYC immediately afterward. In the end, we averaged 8:25 min./mi., although we received a penalty too much of a differential between our projected pace and actual pace/finish time. We were pleasantly surprised with our average, and although receiving the penalty was a bummer, it didn’t break the day—it was all about having fun. The high-energy start line and the super friendly volunteers set the tone for the day, and I even reconnected with several college classmates and a few tri friends.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Seneca7, each team of seven covers a total of 77.7 miles around Seneca Lake, a.k.a. the mileage is divided up. And since it’s a relay-style race, you don’t log your entire mileage in one stint: runner one runs and passes off the slap bracelet to runner two; runner two runs and passes off the slap bracelet to runner three; etc. This cycle repeats three times as the team makes its way around the lake.

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Exchange point at mile 37.8: Clute Park in Walkins Glen

Each person covers somewhere between nine and 15 miles, and as runner six, I logged 12.4 miles total. When discussing the pace plan with Earl, we determined each leg was essentially its own race: my first leg (4.6 miles) was flat and fast; my second (4.9) was a gradual climb; and my third (2.5) was rolling. And the goal was to run each as fast as possible. As to be expected, the terrain affected my pace—my first and flat leg was the fastest, and my second and hilly leg was the slowest—but I averaged 7:50s for the 12-ish miles. Also, breaking up the mileage and running it relay-style added an extra challenge: sitting in a car and then running on fatigued legs. On my third outing, my legs felt totally trashed—but it was great practice for running off the bike, ha. It made me wonder if the cycling teams—the folks who *biked* around the lake instead of drove—were onto something!

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Grinding it out on hilly leg number two. Imma runner?!

Overall, it was a super fun day, and we’re already looking forward to heading back next year.

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Unpictured: delicious post-race chili, cornbread, and homemade chocolate chip cookies

Have you completed a relay race?

2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Recap

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

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

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

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Round and round we went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

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

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

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

Best swim

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

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

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

Best bike

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

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

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

Best run

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

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!

2015 Philadelphia Half-Marathon Recap

This past weekend, I once again escaped New York City for a race. However, this one did not follow the normal swim-bike-run format: on Sunday, I ran the Philadelphia Half-Marathon, a.k.a. a 13.1 miles through the city sans swimming and biking.

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Obligatory

This was my second time doing Philly, and like last year, it was supposed to be a low-key race weekend with family and friends. Unfortunately, my immediate family was sick, so they were unable to make it. And my entire friend group was simply on a different timetable: some of us were doing the marathon; some of us weren’t leaving NYC until Saturday afternoon; etc. This combination translated to pre- and post-race experiences that were much different from what I anticipated, but it turned out to be totally fun.

A few Tailwind Endurance training buds and I discovered we were taking the same Friday night train, so we traveled south together, went to the expo, and grabbed dinner. The next morning, we met up for a shake-out run, and we linked up race morning too. (And we reconvened after to go to Geno’s for Philly cheesesteaks.) I have to give credit to my diverse triathlon arsenal on this one because I would’ve been flying solo otherwise—and since this was not a goal race, I wanted to socialize a bit more.

So more about that “not goal race” part. The Philly Half has become a late-season staple in my schedule because it keeps me running during the off-season. This year, Coach Pat and I were able to be more aggressive with my run training, and after my last tri in August, we slowly increased my weekly volume to about 30 miles per week. That’s the most I’ve run ever! My “engine” (cardio base) from triathlon season carried over quite seamlessly too, so even though this was not a goal race—it was a “C” priority, but we did taper a bit—we planned to be more aggressive and execute the most perfect race possible.

Thinking about the most perfect running race intimidated me—just ask Jen or any of my work friends. After reading over the plan and calculating the splits, I realized if the stars aligned—if I felt great, ran smart, and stayed mentally sound—we were looking at a 1:43 half. Wait, is this me we’re talking about? Mind games ensued, but as soon as I hopped on the train, my outlook changed. Coach Pat has not steered me wrong. Earl has told me time and time again, “having confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.” And as I reflected on my roller coaster of a triathlon season—leaving my former team, assembling my triathlon arsenal, sustaining a bike crash—I realized I was strong enough to overcome anything on that course.

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And on race day, I simply had so much fun I ran an extra half-mile—ha!

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The race plan: we would start easy (miles 1-2) and build to tempo effort (miles 2-6); relax on the first hill (mile 7); build the effort again (miles 8-9); relax on the second hill (mile 10); and then hang on and finish strong (miles 11-13.1). According to my Garmin, I ran 13.1 miles somewhere in the 1:44-1:45 ballpark and logged a total of 13.67. Unfortunately, this data did not translate to official race results. (Chip time was 1:49:40.) However, after reviewing the outing with both Coach Pat and Earl, we are viewing this (1:44-1:45 Garmin time) as PR.

Honestly, the race was a blur, but here are a few bits and pieces I remember:

Miles 1-2 – relax, settle in, and keep the pace easy

Target – 8:15; actual – 7:39, 8:01

Well, whoops. ‘Slow down, Red—this is not a 10-K off the bike.’ I didn’t feel amazing during these first two miles, but I felt strong. It usually takes me four or five miles to settle in and feel decent so I wasn’t worried.

Miles 3-6 – take advantage of the flat course and build the effort

Target – bring the pace to 7:40; actual – 7:56, 8:03, 8:13, 7:52

Within this chunk, I realized my watch was off. At first, it was only a 0.1-mile deviation, but it ballooned to 0.5. I felt like I was doing everything right: I was in control of the pace, I took a gel at the 45-minute mark as planned (hence the slower split at mile five), etc. My paces matched my effort level, but I couldn’t figure out where the extra mileage was coming from. Looking back, I realize I was probably bobbing and weaving too much.

Mile 7 – relax at the hill and run with confidence

Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 7:38

Due to the Garmin deviation, this was not at the actual hill. This happened on Chestnut Street where the crowd lined up Tour de France style. This is one of my favorite times during the race, and I even ran into one of my old work friends. You know you’re a runner when …

Mile 8 – increase the effort

Target – 7:50-8:00; actual – 8:30

This is when I actually ran up the hill. The wind at this part of the exposed course prompted me to really back off the effort; I didn’t want to burn too many matches here. My hat also blew off, so I actually backtracked a few steps to retrieve it.

Mile 9 – relax at the hill and run with confidence

Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 6:42

Yep, totally not at the hill. There was a big downhill here, and my legs simply took over. Muscle memory kicked in, and it was a really cool moment. It just happened, and I just ran.

Miles 10-13.1 – hold strong

Target – 7:30; actual – 8:51, 8:10, 8:13, 8:23, 5:36 for the last little bit

During this span, I actually hit that second hill and again eased off the gas. It wasn’t until after the hill where I let myself attempt to calculate my finishing time. (I do words, not math.) According to my Garmin, a 1:45 was totally within reach. ‘I’m doing it! I’m a runner!’ But my watch was off. Sure, the distance, time, and pace it recorded were accurate, but those values did not match up to what the course actually measured. When my watch went off for mile 13, and I saw 1:44:17, I was feeling all the feelings. An unofficial 13.1-mile PR somewhere between 1:44 and 1:45 was huge. Absolutely huge. But I couldn’t even see the finish line. It took me several seconds to realize that although I just logged a major PR on my watch, I may not even break 1:50 according to the race clock. That was an incredibly bizarre realization.

My mental game had been locked in the entire run, and only after hitting 13 miles on my watch did it begin to wander. I was incredibly frustrated, and I realized this would be the biggest mental test I’d face: I could check out and ease off the gas; or I could hang tough and stay in it. Granted, my legs didn’t have a finishing “pop” in them so I mostly cruised to the finish line. My first thought? ‘OK, so that happened. Now what?’

 It took some time to fully process everything and come to terms with the official race results. I learned I can run strong for 13-plus miles. I can stay positive and mentally engaged for 13-plus miles. I can execute even when things go awry. And if I can run a 1:44-1:45 half, then I can definitely run faster than my current 45:xx 10-K PR off the bike. All good things!

And with this 13.67-mile run through Philadelphia, my 2015 racing season is officially over. I will be slothing around for a few more days (#SlothWeek), and official base building for 2016 begins next week. Bring it on!

But first, bring me a piece of apple pie …

2015 Philadelphia Half-Marathon Goals

Race week, race week! It’s been three months since I’ve had an event on the calendar, and even though this is not my typical swim-bike-run outing, I’m pumped to take on the Philadelphia Half for the second year in a row. Last year, I had a blast, and even though it will be tough to replicate that race-day experience, I’m excited to escape NYC, spend some quality time with my fam, and *knock on wood* string together 13.1 solid miles.

2015-central-park-nyc-fall

Another way to escape the city: retreat to Central Park

As a short-course triathlete, I do not view the Philly Half as a true goal race. This event found its way onto my calendar simply so I’d be motivated to focus on my run during the triathlon off-season—because if left to my own devices, I’ve be making watts around the clock. After my final tri in August, Coach Pat started increasing my running frequency and volume. I’m at the point in my running career where gaining experience (like muscle memory from running all the miles) and confidence (like logging strong 11- and 12-mile outings) is the goal. I will definitely race the half-marathon distance one day—which will most likely be preceded by a 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike—but for now, it’s about continuing to grow and transferring this development to triathlon.

So although there is a race plan for Philly, I feel as though I’ve already won. Thanks to Coach Pat, we’ve once again made productive use of the triathlon off-season, and I’ve improved a lot both physically and mentally as a runner. Going into last year’s Philly Half, I told him that was the most prepared for a race I’ve ever felt—and I feel even stronger and fitter this year. So even if race day doesn’t pan out as planned, I’m proud and motivated by the progress we’ve made—and I’m psyched to keep working at it. Here are my big three goals for Philly; accomplishing them will put me in a really good spot for performing my best.

Stay positive and mentally sound

2015-nyc-marathon-mile-21-cheer-zone

Po-si-tive! Po-si-tive! Cheering on the NYC marathoners a few weeks ago.

During this year’s triathlon racing season, my mental game proved to be a limiting factor. In addition to upping my running volume and frequency, Coach Pat also suggested reading Running Within, which helped me a lot, especially in terms of reframing challenges and race happenings (i.e. not swearing when a pocket-friend passes you). You’re always going to experience highs and lows on the run, and I was able to use the strategies outlined to cope with and ultimately overcome challenges. Although I hope it’s all smiles and cute guys like last year, I know there will be low points—and now I have the tools to work through them. Bottom line, I can run 13.1 miles; my mental game will determine just how quickly they get logged.

Execute the plan and focus on the feeling

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Marathon thunderstick fun #TheRabbitLife #branding

Last week, Coach Pat mapped out the race plan and broke it into sections: miles 1-2; miles 2-6; mile 7; miles 7-8; mile 9; and miles 10-13.1. Visualizing the race as smaller chunks helps me a lot mentally, especially when there is a target pace range involved. By focusing on each segment—instead of thinking about all of those 13.1 miles—and locking into the prescribed pace, I increase my chances of staying strong for the entire outing. Thinking about 1-4-mile sections seems much less intimidating too.

That being said, though, I cannot become emotionally attached to the numbers and let them overwhelm me. We have an aggressive plan. I know what I should be feeling. I know it’s sustainable. I just can’t be intimidated by the numeral values that accompany the feeling.

Have confidence—and have fun

jackrabbit-adulting

#TheRabbitLife isn’t all fun and games: “For when you just can’t ‘adult’ anymore.”

As one of my triathlon coaches told me before Nationals, “having confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.” My fitness from the tri season has carried over to this run block, and I’ve been able to build on it. I’ve done everything to put myself in the best possible situation for success.

One of my elite runner friends asked how I was feeling in the lead-up, and I told him it will be nice to do a race without the pressure of winning my age group and potentially contending for an overall podium slot. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love racing. But there’s something to be said for toeing the start line and only competing against yourself. Last year, I smiled for 12.5 miles, and it was time I had fun running a half-marathon. I hope to have a similar experience this time around.

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

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

west-side-highway-running-artsy-blurry

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

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

above-the-clouds-milwaukee

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

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

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

Enter: Bearcat masters.

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

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

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

Time for my favorite: let’s talk watts.

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Solo smashfest = the BEST

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

That leaves the run.

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

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Lakeside love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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