Category Archives: Swimming

2017 Coney Island Aquathlon Recap

On Saturday, July 15th, I completed my first swim-run event, the Coney Island Aquathlon.  As its name suggests, the race took place in Coney Island, and it ended up being my first trip to the Brooklyn neighborhood that’s famous for its boardwalk, amusement park rides, and carnival foods. More importantly, this competition served as an introduction to the swim-run world; my “A” race this year is SwimRun VA in October.

All calm at the swim start

The event offered several distance options with solely open-water swims (0.5 mi., one mile and two miles) and swim-run categories (0.5-mi swim and three mile run; one-mile swim and three mile run; two-mile swim and six-mile run) offered. Three of my Bearcat masters buds registered for the race, and we all opted for the “long course” two-mile swim and six-mile run. Although there were difference between this race and what I will be doing this fall, the main similarly I wanted to experience was the transition from swimming to running: how my legs would feel, what my heart rate would do, and how easily would I settle in to my desired pace.

My race plan was simple: warm up the first mile of the swim; build the effort through mile two; and keep my heart rate under control during the run. From the “Trial By Fire” races I completed with my old triathlon team—where we alternated between swimming and running—I knew this third goal would be the toughest. Without fail, my heart rate would skyrocket as I exited the water and started to run so I expected the same experience.

Overall, the swim progressed smoothly. Well, the water was choppy—I felt like I was in a washing machine—but there wasn’t a lot of jockeying for position or contact with other swimmers. Competitors were released based on which distance they were doing, and even though there were only about 40 people doing the longer race, I swam solo for the majority of the time. There were a few opportunities to draft, but I got impatient swimming in the pack. In hindsight, I should’ve been more assertive in terms of joining a group off the bat, but since I had never raced two miles in the open water, I wanted to be conservative. For what it’s worth the top two women did the swim in 55 minutes, and my split clocked 1:01. (The woman who placed third completed the swim in one hour.)

In an effort to keep my heart rate under control, I took my time as I transitioned from one sport to the next: jogging to the transition area, peeling off my wetsuit, slipping on my running shoes, and ultimately heading out onto the boardwalk.

Locked in and finishing strong

I settled into my pace fairly easily, but I immediately had issues with my breathing. During a triathlon, it takes me about a mile to feel “good,” but my lungs were still burning when I hit the 2.5-mile mark so I backed off the pace. I told myself I’d increase the effort once my heart rate was OK, but that didn’t happen until mile five. (When my coach and I talked about this challenge after the race, we were able to identify a few ways to key my heart rate in check.) On the bright side, the weather was perfect. The sun came out around the mile five, but I finished the race strong and sans sunburn.

Where is everybody? Ha!

I also won my age group (full disclosure: I was the only girl in my age group, ha!) and placed fourth overall among women. My Bearcat buds crushed it—one guy won the race overall, and the other two took first and second in their age groups—and I had a blast seeing them out on the run course. It was a great day of doing sports with friends, and I’m excited to apply the lessons I learned to my swim-run training and beyond.

When’s your next race?

2017 New England LMSC Short Course Yards Championship Recap

From Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19, my Bearcat masters teammates and I traveled to Boston for the New England LMSC Short Course Yards Championship.

Hello. It’s me.

A staple event for my team, this competition was my first multi-day and short-course yards meet. (My first two meets were measured in meters.) Suffice to say, it was a weekend of learning, absorbing, and growing as an endurance athlete, and I had a blast butterflying, backstroking, breaststroking, and freestyling.

Even though I took swimming lessons as a kid, I cannot compare myself to folks who logged laps through high school and college.  The competitive swimming learning curve is steep.  Yes, I had goals for the meet, but they centered on execution as opposed to performance-based, numerical values.  As I’ve learned with triathlon—and to paraphrase legendary basketball coach John Wooden—when I focus on doing the little things right, that makes the big things happen.

I went to Harvard … for a weekend for a swim meet. (Don’t worry, Mom: the tattoo is temporary.)

Speaking of John Wooden, I had flashbacks to my basketball days as we rode the bus from New York City to Boston on Thursday night: heading to another city for a weekend of competing, cheering, and hanging out.  During the 4.5-hour drive, my teammates talked me through the structure of the meet and gave me tips for warming up, cooling down, and staying composed during the eight-plus hours we’d be spending at the pool each day.  We also talked a lot about eating and team dinners, and it became apparent food was a top priority for swimmers.  Full disclosure:  I quickly hopped aboard the all-you-can-eat bandwagon and had two breakfasts every morning.  I even went to an amazingly delicious diner after finishing my final event.

So metabolically inefficient, so not caring. Thanks to The Breakfast Club for making this spread possible.

To be fair, swimming five events (50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, and 100 IM) over the course of three days revved my appetite.  I spent the most time in the water on Saturday, swimming the 500 free, 50 free, and 100 IM.  On Friday, I swam the 100 free and 200 free relay.  On Sunday, I did the 200 free. Heading into the weekend, this line-up seemed doable.  After all, I was “racing” 1000 yards over three days, and we typically swim 3000m each day during practice.  But when you calculate warm-ups (800 yards or so each morning) and cool downs (100-300 yards after each event), it was a lot of swimming:  high intensity swimming, slicing through the water swimming, searing pain swimming that made my muscles scream.  But that’s when the race starts, and that’s what makes it fun:  when your body begs you to relent, slow down, or stop all together, what do you do?

Just do it

As the weekend progressed, I became increasingly comfortable and confident reading the heat sheets and remembering my lane assignment, developing a warm-up and cool down routine, and managing my nerves and excitement.  This was a big meet, and the events progressed quickly:  the competition pool contained eight lanes, and each event saw as few as 8 or as many as 20 heats. (For example: the women’s 400 IM wasn’t a popular event; the men’s 50 free, however, was the polar opposite.) There were two adjoining, but separate pools, which were designated as warm-up and cool down areas.  Sometimes, I had a lane to myself; others, I was circle-swimming with six people.  I liked how there was a specific time each day to practice starts off the blocks.  I need a lot of practice with dives.  One of my teammates helped me adjust the blocks and gave me some pointers, and I could feel myself progressing throughout the weekend.  I enter the water with a little more pop and authority these days, although I still have plenty of room for improvement.

#WannabeSwimmer?

I had the most fun swimming the 200 freestyle relay on Friday afternoon, and I confirmed my partiality toward the longer distances of the 200 and 500 yards.  One of the coaches said people either love or hate the 200, and it’s an event that plays to my strengths as an endurance athlete—it demands speed, endurance, and the ability to hurt.  These characteristics matter for the 50 and 100 too, but elements like getting off the blocks (I may be the slowest swimmer off the blocks) and breathing patterns (apparently, you aren’t supposed to breathe every stroke during a 50 because it slows you down) matter more, and I simply have not developed those skills yet.  Again, those little things—starts, turns, breathing patterns—make the big things happen, and those little things mean more during shorter events.  If I’m the last one off the blocks during a 50, I can’t make that up.  Plus, I like the pacing strategy behind the 200 and 500.  The 200 was my final event of the meet, and it was the one I executed the most precisely: redline off the blocks for 50, settle in to 87 percent for the second 50, and then build through 100 by 25s.  I had a similar strategy for the 500: use the adrenaline off the blocks, settle in, and then increase the effort at the 300-yard mark.  Overall, my triathlon background translates better to those longer distances, so going forward, that’s what I’ll be focused on.

A complete race recap needs results so here are mine:

Friday
100 free – 1:05.68 (seed – 1:06); 10th AG

Saturday

500 free – 6:32.29 (seed – 8:00); 11th AG

100 IM – 1:24.40 (seed – 1:30); 21st AG

50 free – 30.90 (seed – 32.00); 10th AG

Sunday

200 free – 2:25.28 (seed – 2:48); 8th AG

When is your next race?

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?

Just Keep Swimming: Gearing Up For My Second Meet

Remember that time I reached a new milestone as a wannabe swimmer and completed my first meet? It turns out I am a glutton for punishment: I signed up for my second one!

2016-bearcat-swim-meet

Who is a wannabe swimmer and loves pain?  This girl!

Since all the strokes are going down again in a few weeks at the Metro Short-Course Meter (SCM) Championships—I registered for the 50m and 100m freestyle, plus the 100m and 200m IM—I’ve been reflecting on my first competition:  what I did well, what I could do better, and what I learned overall.  The most important thing—aside from not bellyflopping off the blocks, not losing my goggles, and not finishing last—is applying everything I experienced the first time around to my second showing. Ideally, this will translate to faster, smarter swimming and a more mentally sound mindset … plus ultimately growing as an endurance athlete–and a swimmer.

When I took the plunge—metaphorically, not literally—and registered for the Bearcat meet last month, I selected which events I’d swim based purely on the stroke and distance; I neglected to study the order of events and ensure there was enough time to recharge between each. Case in point: it was an aggressive move to swim the 200m medley relay and turn around and uncork a 200m freestyle just minutes later. On the bright side, I didn’t realize this would be less than ideal—it’s not like I knew what an adequate recovery time between events should be—so ignorance was a bit blissful.

This time, though, I was slightly more discerning with my selections. I say “slightly” because I did opt for both the 200m IM (the meet’s fifth event) and the 50m freestyle (the meet’s sixth event). That IM will be the biggest, most challenging event of the meet, so as soon as I complete it, I’ll be able to relax—and hopefully survive a 50m free right after.

Second, I need to warm up adequately.  In October, my teammates suggested swimming 800-1000m before the meet officially began, but I only did around 600m (because I was chatting with my amazing Work Husband who was there cheering for me). Would a longer warm-up have translated to better results? Maybe, maybe not—but I do know I did not feel ready for my first event.

However, I made it a priority to cool down between events.  After each, I immediately moved over to the designated warm-down lane and swam anywhere from 50m to 200m based on the length of the event: after my 50m free, I swam 200m easy; after my 100m free, I swam 100m easy. I buried myself in the hurt locker for each event, but in general, the shorter the swim, the more intense (read: faster) it is, which demands a longer warm down to alleviate the lactic acid buildup. Between events, I also slipped on a long-sleeved sweatshirt in an effort to keep my upper body warm.

Third, I will continue to play with my nutrition plan.  As a short-course triathlete, I don’t think a lot about fueling since my races last only 2.5 hours or so. However, for an all-afternoon swim meet—I arrived around 2 p.m., and we left for post-race libations around 6 p.m.—I was conscious about what and how often I was eating. My coaches and teammates advised using the same products I take in during triathlons, so beforehand, I had my normal pre-race breakfast, plus a carb-heavy lunch of sweet potatoes and plenty of coffee.  Throughout the meet, I consumed one bottle of Skratch Labs (which I drink during the bike portion of a triathlon), one banana, half of a Powerbar, plus water to thirst.  Toward the end of the meet, I felt hungry, but that problem was solved fairly quickly with pizza and adult beverages. Overall, the old athlete adage of “nothing new on race day” served me well. Since my next meet takes place at night, I will push back my meals as much as possible:  eating breakfast around 10-11a and lunch around 2-3p. I’ll also bring more “Carrie-friendly” foods like bananas and Picky Bars to eat on deck.

Finally, my main goal is developing a better handle on navigating my emotions during the meet.  Before tris or running races, I get amped up, but still retreat inward to deal with the anticipation that builds.  Once the gun goes off, the anxiousness vanishes, and I just race; it’s a slow release of adrenaline that I ride. During this swim meet, though, the rush of energy was unprecedented. I’ve played in some big field-hockey and basketball games back in the day, and nothing compared. I harnessed that all-encompassing excitement during each swim, but once it ended, I struggled to calm down. I was basically wired for the entire day.  In fact, I felt more mentally spent than physically exhausted when the day was done. My coaches and teammates said this would most likely be the case, and they were right.

2016-zelda-nyc

How I felt at the end of the meet as depicted through Zelda

With this in mind, I hope to create a “between-event” practice. I don’t know what this looks like, but it will likely contain my warm-down routine, plus some form of deep breathing and meditation.

Much like triathlon, my life as a wannabe swimmer is a work in progress, and I’m focusing on the journey, not the destination.

When’s the last time you did something totally outside of your comfort zone?

My First Swim Meet: 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational

A few Saturdays ago, I reached a turning point in my life as a #WannabeSwimmer:  I dove headfirst (six times to be exact) into a wet world of intense adrenaline and searing pain at my first-ever swim meet.

2016-bearcat-swim-meet

Time to fly! Er, do the butterfly.

Although I’ve been swimming with the NYC-based Bearcat masters for two years, I had yet to partake in a swimming competition. I really do identify as a wannabe swimmer—proficient in the pool thanks to taking swim lessons most summers as a kid, but not a “real swimmer” because I never did the sport competitively growing up (high school, rec meets, etc.).

So why am I all for the swim now? First, from my performance at races throughout the year and at Nationals, we confirmed: I’m a strong swimmer locally, usually exiting the water in the lead group; but, I’m extremely average for the outing we ultimately want to put together, logging a very solidly middle-of-the-pack split in Omaha. In order to improve my 1,500m open-water times, I would have to swim more. Crazy concept, right?

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-swim-exit

Chasing this feeling of being first out of the water. Is this what Andy Potts feels like all the time?

Second, I avoided the pool after the 2015 season for about three months because there was no concrete reason for me to be there. (And I take full responsibility for what happened—well, more accurately didn’t—during the off-season, and it honestly took several months to re-familiarize myself with the water.) I know myself: if I sign up for a race, then I am in 150 percent.

Finally, this triathlon off-season centers on building my portfolio as an endurance athlete and exposing myself to as many different experiences as possible.  Basically, we’re building the foundation for long-course racing by taking on new challenges—and training for a swim meet was perfect.

2016-bearcat-masters-cap

It became officially official when I received my Bearcat masters swim cap.

Once this was decided, the next task was to figure out which events I’d swim at the 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational. The distances themselves would not be challenging; after all, swimming just 50m or 100m or 200m at a time would be doable since I swim 1500m during tris. Rather, the details intimidated me—those specific to the physical act of swimming in a competition and those regarding the logistics of the meet itself: could I dive off the blocks without losing my goggles?  How many times should I dolphin kick underwater off flip-turns?  Should I touch the wall with one hand or two when finishing an event?  Also, how do I decipher the heat sheets and figure out when I was swimming each event?  I had never even attended a meet in-person, and luckily, my coaches and teammates helped me navigate everything.  Bottom line, simply attending the meet would be a new experience.

During our season review/off-season planning meeting, Earl and I identified which events to target: all the freestyle (50m, 100m, and 200m) was a no brainer, and we also decided an individual medley (IM) would provide a challenge because it demanded all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle). This also ensured I’d work on each during practice (a.k.a. not revert to freestyle). Although Earl was gunning for the 200 IM, the 100 IM seemed more “comfortably uncomfortable” to me, mostly because it called for only 25m of butterfly. (The joke was on me, though, because my masters coach put me on a 200m medley relay, and I had to swim 50m of butterfly!) In addition to these four individual events, I also indicated I was “available” for relays and was placed on the aforementioned 200m medley and 200m freestyle for a total of six events. At my first meet. Go big or go home!

With my race plan solidified, I discovered a greater sense of purpose, dedication, and connection to swimming. No longer was I just swimming to swim; I was logging laps with care, conviction, precision, constantly concentrating on technique, engaging the proper muscles, and aiming for efficient stroke after efficient stroke. By becoming more invested in the process, I grew to love it, and I found myself willing to embrace challenges. For example, after doing four, 100 IM repeats, it was tempting to revert to freestyle for the fifth.  But my goal—surviving this upcoming competition—held me accountable; I needed to make the next repeat happen.  Yes, it would be uncomfortable.  Yes, it would cause some self-doubt.  And yes, it would not be easy.  But that’s what this sport and life is all about—persevering through the challenge in front of you and doing whatever it takes to come out the other side.

2016-bearcat-masters-empty-pool

Hello. It’s me.

The masters coaches warned me the meet would be more mentally and emotionally taxing than I anticipated, and I aimed to act like a sponge throughout the afternoon: soaking up everything about the experience, learning as much as possible, and hopefully not belly-flopping off the blocks, losing my goggles, or finishing last. I arrived at the pool around 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. start and immediately exclaimed, “I’m feeling a lot of feelings!” when one of the coaches asked how I was doing. That statement basically summarizes the entire day: I got swept up in the adrenaline, the happiness, the pain, the uncertainty, and I loved it.

My nerves slowly subsided as the day progressed, but my heart was in my throat for my first few events.  I thought it would explode during the 200m medley relay, my first event ever at a meet. Not only did I not want to let my team down by doing something stupid (there are a ton of rules for relays), but I also had to swim 50m of butterfly.  Yikes.

My senses heightened as I carefully stepped onto the blocks.  My heart pounded, my teammates’ cheers reverberated around the pool.  Amidst this sensory overload, I quieted my mind for a few moments.  As I looked out onto the water, I couldn’t believe how I far I’ve come as an endurance athlete. When I started triathlon, I couldn’t even flip-turn, let alone swim 100m continuously in a pool. That’s the thing about this journey: there are no wrong turns, only paths we didn’t know we were supposed to take.

Heart racing and adrenaline surging, I reminded myself this uncomfortabilty was good:  it was this feeling—raw, intense, and daunting—that hooked me on triathlon, and inherently, I knew I was on the precipice of something good here.  This is where the magic happens.

My goggles stayed suctioned to my eyes as I hit the water cleanly.  Muscle memory took over:  I dolphin kicked, I broke the surface, and I swam with urgency, riding the excitement to the opposite side of the pool.  I am doing it.  I am doing the butterfly.  I am a swimmer!  Then the pain set in—as did my experience as an endurance athlete. I knew I could hurt.  I knew I was supposed to hurt.  I knew I could hurt more and longer.  I knew I could hurt for 25m.

That’s how my six swims went:  hopping aboard the pain train and refusing to relent even when my lungs were searing, when my legs were screaming, and when my arms were ready to fall off.  My body was trained, and my mind recognized this pain and knew it could be endured.

2016-bearcat-masters-tweet

Rocking a pink cap and catching a quick breather between sets.

Looking back, I’d describe my 2016 triathlon racing season as a culmination of repetitiveness. I’ve been doing the same Olympic-distance races for the past few years, and although it was my first season working with a coach, there was a sense of routine: we did the same workouts in an effort to best prepare me for the same “A” race I’ve targeted for the past three years. However, my experience training for and racing a swim meet rejuvenated my outlook on the sport. It was new, fresh, and so much fun, and these factors will be the driving force behind the rest of my 2016 off-season and beyond.

I guess I should include results:

50m free – 34.32

First in my age group!

100m free – 1:14.89

200m free – 3:09.97

Inaccurate because I did not hit the timing mat hard enough coming into the wall, and the clock wasn’t stopped until I exited the pool. A few teammates said I was closer to 3:04 or 3:05.

100m IM – 1:37.84

My 2015 Running and Triathloning Recap

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

2015-christmas-eve-sunset-lakeside

Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

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

2015-trail-running-denver-wipe-out

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

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

Best swim

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

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

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

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

Best bike

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

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

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

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

Best run

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

west-side-highway-running-artsy-blurry

… and refocus my run training

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

Best piece of new gear

Santa delivered: hello, power meter!

quarq-riken-power-meter

Watts, watts, WATTS!

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

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

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

5:28-tailwind-endurance-power-hour

Head down and getting to work

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

Most inspirational runner

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

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

Challenging, humbling, and memorable

2015-best-nine

#2015bestnine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter: Bearcat masters.

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

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

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

Time for my favorite: let’s talk watts.

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Solo smashfest = the BEST

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

That leaves the run.

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

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Lakeside love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Perspective in Lake Placid

About a month ago (yikes, I should’ve published this sooner), I packed as many synthetic socks, PowerBar gels, and Smashfestqueen cycling kits as possible into my backpack, vacated the Big Apple, and retreated north to Lake Placid for a triathlon training camp with the awesome Work Live Tri folks.

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Wheels up.  Lake Placid, here we come!

As a kid, I attended basketball, softball, and field-hockey camps during the summer, but I had yet to go off the grid and escape to this type of atmosphere as an adult. And I was so excited! Spending quality time swimming, biking, and running in paradise helped me regroup post-bike crash, refocus my tri training, and ultimately rediscover my motivation—in terms of triathlon and life.

Lake Placid will always be my happy place.

Long before I heard of triathlon, my high school basketball team traveled to this area of the Adirondacks for a holiday tournament. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but we made memories that we still talk about today—like that time we broke the hotel bed. My family has also made the trek up for a few daytrips, so my first impressions of Placid centered on quality time with friends and loved ones.

Fast-forward a few years to when I discovered the swim-bike-run world—and Ironman.

In 2013, I experienced this epic race weekend for the first time. They say if you watch an Ironman in-person, you’ll have one of two reactions: it’s either “yes, I am so doing this one day!” or “I will absolutely never do this, ever.” Training, volunteering, and spectating lit my 140.6 flame; even though I couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my head around the 2.4-mi. swim, 112-mi. bike, and 26.2-mi. run, I knew then and there Lake Placid would be my Ironman. The atmosphere during race week was unlike anything I had witnessed, which says a lot coming from me as a former collegiate athlete. And training amongst trees, rivers, and mountains was also unlike anything I had experienced. Paradise had officially been found.

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View from my room:  home is where the lake is.

In 2014, I became even more familiar with Ironman training and Lake Placid itself when I functioned as a full-fledged Sherpa/emotional guardian. Everything that happened last year—watching the training, seeing the sacrifices, and becoming invested in the journey—highlighted just how inspiring it is to do an Ironman. And actually being there on race day—volunteering as a wetsuit peeler, getting swept up in the emotions, and celebrating the accomplishment—further solidified my desire to tackle Lake Placid one day.

Thanks to these memories, I could not wait for training camp.

The environment motivates me.

My bike crash resulted in some serious training funk, and I hoped retreating to my happy place would restore my spirits. And did it ever.

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Almost too beautiful to be real

Training camp centered on long-course athletes doing Lake Placid and Ironman Mont Tremblant, so I knew most, if not all, of my workouts would be logged solo. Aside from the first ride, I basically did my own thing and embraced the headspace.

Swimming in Mirror Lake and cycling through blink-and-you-miss-them towns was absolute bliss. Lately, I’ve been feeling uninspired by the NYC training grind, so I appreciated the sunshine, the clear skies, the mountains, and the breathtaking rivers even more. Finding inspiration in your surroundings is powerful: this is how training should be. This is why I love it.

The journey motivates me—and the feeling motivates me.

Each time I wiggled into my wetsuit and jumped into Mirror Lake, I found my groove quickly. Residual bike crash/rib flare-ups simply did not make themselves known. For the first time since wiping out, I felt natural in the water. I can’t believe it feels this easy—and this blissful. When I swim for distance, my mind wanders and eventually finds a zen space; and as I made my way to the other side of the lake, I felt grateful: to have the body and health that allow me to swim; to have supportive and genuine people in my life; and to physically be in such a gorgeous and peaceful place. Then I remembered where I was—physically, mentally, and emotionally—this time last year, and I was humbled by how much I’ve grown.

Each time I pumped up my tires and buckled my helmet, I felt excited and inspired to ride; these feelings have been missing since my crash. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect mentally during these solo rides, but Placid lifted whatever post-crash barrier was holding me back. I just rode and reacted to the course. I felt “at one” with the bike. My mojo returned!

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Signs of a successful smashfest.  Picture this setup on ten different bikes.

I didn’t think about the crash, but I spent a lot of time reflecting on last year’s training. For whatever reason, I was lucky enough where everything fell into place pretty perfectly. Although I knew it during the season, I didn’t truly realize how rare it is. It never happens like that. While out there on the course, I discovered an even greater sense of appreciation for last year, especially since transition has defined my training this year.

Basically, each time I thought about where I was at this point last year—in terms of training, work, and life—I felt incredibly humbled, grateful, and motivated. Even though I try to focus on the feeling during training, I definitely fell victim to the numbers game: chasing swim splits, becoming obsessed with power wattages, wanting faster run paces. If you’re looking to compete, this is part of the sport, but the trip to Placid reminded me I simply love the lifestyle: swimming, biking, and running. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

Teams and training groups have different vibes.

For the past two years, I logged essentially all of my triathlon training with a team, but I broke off and am currently doing my own thing. Because I have diversified my “triathlon arsenal”—it now includes folks from a masters swim team and my CompuTrainer studio—I’ve gotten to know, learn from, and train with new people, which has been beneficial for both my triathlon and “real” lives. And going to Lake Placid with a new-to-me group was an eye-opening experience. Prior to the long weekend, I knew only the coach and one other woman, but everyone welcomed me into the tribe with open arms. I’ve trained and become friendly with a lot of people in the triathlon community here over the years, and the Work Live Tri folks were absolutely top-notch individuals. (On a related note, this trip made me realize my old team dynamics/dysfunction is not normal, but that’s neither here nor there.)

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Also not normal:  having Podium Legs at your disposal.  I used them so frequently there was an inside joke about going through withdrawal.  I sort of did.

“There is comfort in that grind. I get solace and a sense of self out of that, but that’s not my life right now. And I’m OK with that. I’ve been nudged to do this kind of stuff, and I’m happy to do it, and I love it.” –Rich Roll

Overall, Placid reminded me that triathlon is about the journey, the progress, and the relentlessness to be better. “Unplugging” from power and swimming by feel highlighted how much I love this sport at its core. Although racing provides an opportunity to tangibly track progress, I don’t need to compete.

Aware of this front-of-mind perspective, I thought about Rich Roll’s recent podcast with Josh LaJaunie, specifically the abovementioned quotation. A lot of Rich’s ideas resonate with me, and when I listened to this statement, I felt like he had a birds eye view of everything that’s going on in my life. (Sidebar: Rich, will you be my life coach?) Even if I don’t have a race coming up, I’ll always find a strong sense of self when I swim, bike, and run, and it will always be an aspect of my lifestyle.

I say this because there’s an opportunity at work (#vagueblogging), and I want to immerse myself in it 150 percent. What’s on the horizon is reinvigorating my work life and giving me a strong sense of self and purpose. And honestly, I haven’t felt this excited and focused since … the only instance that comes close is Honors Week during college.

That’s not to say racing doesn’t matter any more, obviously. I definitely associate triathlon with who I am. But now, my #workflow also comprises my best, most authentic self (#fangirl).

“Congratulations, you’re a human being. It’s not going to be perfect.” –Rich Roll

In mid-June, Rich came to one of our stores for a social run and book signing, and he also hosted an informal Q-and-A session. As a self-professed fangirl, I took notes, and this quotation hit home.

Life brought a lot of changes this year—tri life, work life, and actual life—and coming off a nearly perfect 2014 training cycle, these transitions seemed even bumpier. My swimming, biking, and running essentially took a one-eighty, and although there were some who did not support this change, I know my current regiment is exactly what I need to be doing.

We’re still in the midst of a lot of work changes too. It’s cliché, but the focus and dedication that leads to solid swimming, biking, and running also sets up success at the office. All I can do is keep showing up, giving it my all, and trusting the process. Of course it will feel challenging and uncomfortable and maybe even impossible at points, but just like training, it’s about focusing on the task at hand and knowing the struggle is where the personal growth happens.

It’s November?

Whew—marathon madness has finally ended, so I can finally come up for a breath. Throughout October and the first week of November, JackRabbit was firing on all cylinders: various events and group training runs, plus a pre-New York City Marathon party and race-day cheer zone. So many 26.2 activities!

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Full Throttle Endurance says, “WHOA!”

Marathon week—plus Monday actually (because Meb Keflezighi had a book signing at our Upper West Side store)—centered on stress, semi-organized chaos, and tons of excitement. We live for this time of year and all it encompasses; for me, that meant making sure our Saucony pre-party and Brooklyn cheer zone were successful events.

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Behind the scenes–and mission accomplished!

And now, I’m embracing the work “off-season.” Thank GAWD. Here’s what’s going on:

Last week, my fam and I went to Florida to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My grandfather lives there, and my uncle flew in too, and it was great to spend some quality time with everyone. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Sanibel without plenty of beach time (where running, reading, and sunburning occurred).

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This weekend, I have my first “race” since Nationals in August: The Philadelphia Half-Marathon. Some of my teammates and (work) friends will be there, plus a few BoMFers and my family. I’m really excited! Not only is it an escape from the city, but it’s also an opportunity to test my training and gauge my progress. Coach Pat and I have talked race strategy, he things I can string together a solid 13.1 miles, race the thing, and shoot for a big PR. A few months ago, I planned to simply go out and run and see what happened; now, though, I feel confident pushing it. Speedwork is coming along, and my long runs have gone pretty well, and this is hands down the most prepared I’ve felt for a “straight up” road race. Fingers crossed I feel good on race day and can hop aboard the pain train for a while!

And then, it’s Thanksgiving, which means even more family time!

In other training news, I ended my 72-day swimming boycott and went to the pool. Honestly, I planned to wait until December, but several knowledgeable individuals—including but not limited to Coach Pat and my tri coach—said getting back in the water sooner may be a good idea. Specifically, “not swimming is totally going to bite you in the a** come January!” according to my tri coach. The race isn’t won during the swim, but one of my friends/Girls’ Club colleagues questioned: “How fast can you run if you’re last out of the water?”

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Talk about tough love—and a serious wake-up call.

So two weeks ago—about 12 hours after my endorphin-inducing 11 miler—I walked to the pool after work. On the way over, I visualized myself swimming, flip turning, and doing all the little things right, but I couldn’t shake the insecurity: what if I don’t remember anything? What do my arms do again? How does one execute a flip-turn?

As it turns out, swimming is a lot like riding a bike; you never forget how to do it. When my feet touched the water, I went on autopilot: adjusted my cap, put on my goggles, and just went. Sure, I felt semi-winded 200 yards in, but those 1,500 yards felt OK. And they felt slightly better—and faster—a week later.

To be honest, I’m not sure what will happen after Philly—in terms of training and life. It feels like I’m on the brink, like a breakthrough is right around the corner, but I don’t know what is it or what it will entail. But I just hope I’m ready.

I Mean …

Oomph. This has been the longest, strangest week. And it’s only Wednesday. Everything has seemed off—both at practice and at work. Are the tides changing?

Happy National Running Day!

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Just being a model (again) and hamming it up at work.

If using a crockpot during the summer is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

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Chicken has returned to the rotation thanks to this recipe. I made some swaps—chicken breasts instead of thighs, one can of black beans and one cup of quinoa instead of two cups of black beans, all the sweet potatoes, etc.—and I highly recommend this meal if you like Mexican/Latin flavors. So good.

Speaking of food, almond butter and jelly has been my, erm, jam. Before every bike workout, I toast a waffle and layer on this combo. I’m a little kid at heart.

… and I’m a little kid who can’t count. During swim workouts, I can keep track of laps up to 200 yards, but then all is lost. If the actual swimmers have any tips, then I’m all ears. #wannabeswimmer

Somehow, I end up in charge during workouts. Even though I got bumped up a cycling group, I’m definitely on the brink—meaning I’m the slowest and hanging on for dear life—but everyone turns to me: “Carrie, what’s the workout? Carrie, when do we attack? Carrie, should we be sitting or standing for these climbs?” It’s amusing because (1) I’m the youngest, and (2) I’m the least experienced. Yes, this happens during swim and run too, but who would’ve thought I’d be captaining my bike group? Certainly not me.

All I want is a maxi dress that actually touches the floor. I went shopping on Thursday and tried on all the clothes, but could not find one acceptable dress. You’re to blame, swimming shoulders and cycling legs.

I don’t blog about work a ton, but it’s going well. However, in recent weeks, I’ve been struggling to maintain a work/life balance. My schedule is unique (I’m off Thursdays and Sundays), which makes it tough to leave work at work, especially during the week. When I was the editor of my college’s newspaper, I trouble pressing “stop”—signing off email, taking a break from editing articles, and leaving the computer suite even though the InDesign layout wasn’t complete. I’m hardwired to work hard—if you’re going to do it, then really do it and give it 150 percent—and this is a blessing and a curse. I need to figure out how to “power down,” and I hope changing my work schedule will help.

How do you “unplug” after work?