The Dream Star's Corner

Dare to Dream...and DO!
walk. run. fly.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Year in Review!

Well, it's been two months since I last wrote something and here's why...

I've been busy...

doing nothing...

falling in love...

and getting engaged!

But let's back it up....after all, this post is entitled "My YEAR in Review!" This year I competed in A LOT of races. I pushed myself to many personal limits in endurance racing. My year started off with marathon training for the Rock n' Roll USA Marathon.

That's me in the front on the right leading the pack on a COLD 16 mile run
I suffered an injury literally two weeks after this photo was taken and I was sidelined for 6 weeks with a metatarsal stress fracture in my left foot. I got back up on my horse and ran a slow Rock n' Roll USA Half Marathon but I went out there, fresh off of recovery with no real practice runs, I ran it and finished!

Shortly after, I went all in and trained and hit my goal time for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in April and received what is now my favorite medal out of the lot.

Next up was the Titanium Girl Challenge! I had to run in both the Iron Girl Half Marathon and the Frederick Half Marathon 7-days apart! I knew that if I pulled this off, I could literally do anything! But just before the Iron Girl, I started taking swim lessons to help me pull through my recovery from my injury. I also took up spin. With all three disciplines under my belt, I started to consider a triathlon. But first, I had to get through this challenge...and I did along with two other strong women who went on to run the Baltimore Half Marathon AND the Marine Corps Marathon with me.

At this point in my life, my training became more than a tool to stay in shape and push myself, it became my mediator and my counselor. I was in the midst of a break up and it left me feeling sad but I never felt alone. My training and my running partners were all there with me. When I woke up to run an early run, I took my worries and thoughts out there on the pavement with me and sorted everything out. I, in fact, came out of that situation as a Titanium Girl. It was more than just a running title... it best describes my persona for the rest of 2012.

With a healthy mind, body, and spirit, I lived my best life and took on triathlon training from May through August with fervor! I joined the local tri club, learned how to swim in open water, bought a bike, and trained with an old college friend for the Atlantic City Sprint Triathlon.

I also met a wonderful guy who took an interest in my athletic lifestyle and supported me in every way possible. He ran with me once a week and accommodated my busy training schedule to spend time with me. :)

I went on to complete the Atlantic City Sprint Triathlon and the Rock n' Roll Philly Half Marathon all in the same weekend in back to back races!!

I ran in some other half marathons to help me along the path to running 26.2 because a challenge isn't a challenge without a little bit of crazy challenge powder sprinkled on top. So, not only was I training for my first triathlon, I was also training for my first full marathon since I didn't get to run in the DC full in March.

I signed up for and ran in several races and relay triathlons to help me stay outside and on the pavement. The medals really added up!!

Ben Moore Memorial Half Marathon, the Baltimore Half Marathon, and the Half Full Tri Relay are just a few...

I put all of my focus on getting in my long runs and resting my body as much as possible. This somehow worked and I pulled it off! I ran in my first full marathon and finished in 5:18:00.

Soon after, my beau and I went to New York City for a wonderful weekend and to support my best friend in the New York City Marathon. Then the storm hit...and we found ourselves cheering up a sad runner who couldn't run in the marathon due to cancellation. We made the most of it and made some memories.

After returning, we signed up for the Little Rock Half Marathon and have had a slow start to training. I wanted to just enjoy being in love and living day to day without a training schedule dictating my every move. Thankfully, the Little Rock Half has a generous window of time to complete the race so even if my significant other and I had to walk the whole thing hand in hand, we will finish.

But the biggest surprise of them all was the proposal that took place on Christmas Day! We are now planning a wedding for 2013 and I'm pretty sure that's going to take precedence over a race calendar. I've signed up for a summer duathlon to keep me on track with working out but that's about it. I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my life.

Here are a couple of photos of some things that best summarize the year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

37th Marine Corps Marathon

I'm a MARATHONER! Another goal crossed off the list and another great race year in the books.

I earned 14 medals this year (awaiting RnR Double Encore medal)

The race took place on Sunday, October 28th at 7:55 a.m. in Washington, DC. The travel distance from Baltimore to DC isn't significant enough to require hotel accommodations so I chose to stay at my house. Saturday was a busy day but I knew it was important to scale back my "to-do" list and only focus on the important things. After all, my goal was to be in bed by 8 p.m. and no later than 9 p.m. Everything went as planned... I woke up and went out for an easy 2 mile shake out run. The weather was beeeautiful! Sunny, low 60s, slight breeze... perfect. And with the threat of Hurricane Sandy, I definitely wished that the marathon was taking place that Saturday instead of "storm chaser" Sunday.

I met with my family and handed each person their "Mission" sheets and went over all of the directions for the Washington Metro, the spectator points, and meeting me for fuel and hydration needs. After that, I had one last thing to of the most important things... I had to go buy The Stick. I know..."how do you make it all the way to marathon day without owning one?!" I have no idea... I just managed. But every marathoner told me that having The Stick to push out the lactic acid right after the race was key so I went to the running store to buy one.

Boyfriend and I arrived around 6:05 p.m.... the running store closed at 6. DOH! But there were still people in the store. I whimpered, whined, and panicked and felt hopeless. I told my boyfriend that we should just go home...there's no way I'm gonna get in for The Stick... let's just give up. He insisted that we at least ask when the associate came to the door to let out the customer he was helping at the register. I stayed... and when I saw the associate approaching the door, I told him to let me do the talking.

When the door opened, I went into FULL GROVEL MODE... hands clasped, pleading inaudibly with pain and desperation spread across my face. It came out something like this "RUNNING-MARINE-CORPS-TOMORROW-FIRST-TIME-PLEASE-I'M-A-VIP-MEMBER-PLEASE-OH-PLEASE-LET-ME-IN-TO-BUY-THE-STICK-I-KNOW-WHERE-IT-IS-I'LL-BE-QUICK-I-PROMISE-PLEEEEEEEEASE"

That last "please" must've worked because dude let us in. lol I bought The Stick in literally 2 minutes and I was out of the store all before 6:10 p.m. haha! Thanks Road Runner Sports for your first class customer service! I sincerely appreciate EVERYTHING you guys have done to help me out :)

So with that done, I went home, ate my pasta, packed my bag and stopped myself from "nervous cleaning" so I could lay out my things and settle into bed. I tend to clean random parts of my house at odd hours of the night when I'm nervous about something - annoying. Well 4 a.m. came quickly! But not quickly enough. I felt like I never really fell into a deep sleep and my eyes popped open at 3 a.m. I guess that's why they say to make sure you get in most of your rest two days before the race because clearly you don't sleep very well the night before. I forced myself to stay in bed for the extra hour and proceeded to go through the morning ritual. I gave myself EXTRA time to have breakfast and do the thing we runners do before getting showered and dressed. So I waited...and waited...and nothin...

Some time ago, I went out for a 16 mile run without "going" and totally regretted it. So I was determined not to do that again - not on marathon day! So even if your nerves get the best of you, please make sure you go. I'll leave that there. I rushed to get dressed and reached for my Garmin only to realize it still said 9:27PM Saturday October 27... uhhhh what?!

I pushed ALL the buttons and nothing happened. NO TIME! I rushed and was dressed and out the door around 5:40... a little later than originally planned but whatever. I told my boyfriend about my Garmin. I couldn't believe that it crapped out on me on the morning of the most important race EVER!! He did something to it and reset it. It came back on like new and said it had 99% battery life. SCORE!

I made it to the Largo Metro Station around 6:15 but unfortunately, our train didn't leave the station for almost 20 minutes :( While riding all the way out to Arlington, my nerves got the best of me. I was jittery, couldn't focus on the conversation my boyfriend tried to distract me with, and I just felt so overwhelmed. It was nervous energy, anxiety, excitement, and everything in between all wrapped into one. It was terrible...not fun but scary.

We finally made it out to the Pentagon stop around 7:30 and I started freaking. I kept murmuring things to myself like "should've left earlier...should've left from New Carrollton...I'm gonna miss my pace group...I have to pee!...I don't have time to pee" I was so in my head and I regret that. I wish I took the time to enjoy the entire experience but I was really anxious and freaking out. We saw a bunch of people running off to the side of the road and going in the trees and hey, I'm not too proud for that. Off I went, I found a tree, popped a squat and felt like a brand new person. :)

All of the anxiety was gone. I was having fun and stripping down. I laughed as other runners opted to do the same thing and actually heard what my boyfriend was saying to me. The "voices" were gone. I noticed the weather was great! Low to mid 50s, cloudy, no rain, and slightly breezy. I stripped off my last layer, kissed him goodbye, and took off looking for the 5 hr pace group. This is as close as I got.

The balloons signify where the pacer is located among the sea of people

There was a massive sea of people around me and I knew I had no chance of getting to the pacer so I had to remember the times that I read from the Clif Bar Pacers bracelet. I knew that if I maintained an 11:27-11:30ish pace I should make my lofty goal of a 5 hour marathon. Now mind you, I chose this goal 2 days before the race. I knew I could run around a 5:15 marathon but wanted to push myself a little to see what I could do. However, I also had to respect the distance and the was a learning experience after all.

Finally happy and excited before the race!

The race started and the excitement was immeasurable. I was so pumped that I had to pull myself back a few times by telling myself to slow down. I was itching for a run but now was not the time to break out a 9 min/mi pace when I still had 26 miles to go. I started getting anxious about pacing myself so I found a Marathon Maniac to kind of pace off of. I figured they were more experienced with this distance than me so why not follow a pro? I remember the pacer telling me at the expo that he planned to walk some of the hills. So around mile 2 when we ran into a massive hill, a lot of people stopped to walk - including the Maniac. I followed suit. Eventually, around mile 3, I found my pace. I kept with it and stayed pretty consistent for the first 16 miles. It's at that point where I met up with my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend as they cheered loudly with signs and cowbells. I was handed a new Camelbak bottle with gatorade in it and some gummy bears. I took off running and saw them again on the course as I turned at the end of the road.

Then around the Smithsonian, things started to go south. My left quad began to twitch...yes, the entire muscle began twitching and feeling tight. I stopped on the side of the road, in front of the Washington Monument to stretch it out and massage it a little bit. That seemed to stop the twitching but the soreness was still there. I figured it was part of the experience so I kept running. Around mile 21, both quads were twitching. I stopped to stretch the right one but again the tightness persisted.

I ran in the MCM 10k last year and at this point, we were on the 10k course so I knew what the course looked like from here. I knew the last 6 miles wouldn't be easy but I tried my best. I ran a consistent 11:30 min/mi pace up to this point but now I was finishing each mile in the 13s and 12s if I was lucky. Around mile 22, my Garmin died. Like gray screen of death - died. I still don't know why that happened.

By mile 23, I hit the wall. I was running and all of a sudden both quads started jumping and twitching so I stopped running and decided to walk. I began walking slower and slower then the soreness and annoying aches turned into cramps in both quads. As soon as it happened, I knew what I needed and I had NO WAY of getting it - SALT!

I started to cry. Not like a little teeny lonely tear out of the side of my eye kind of cry but a I've just been robbed and I don't know where I am and I'm scared kind of cry... it was a cry of hopelessness. I just felt empty and hopeless. The first thought was "my legs stopped working! I'm not going to finish! I need new legs!"

Yep... I didn't know it was possible until now but yes, you tend to think some really crazy things during a marathon. It breaks you down to this emotionally raw state of solely having the desire to fulfill basic needs. I think God was there with me (well I did pray before the race) because as soon as I looked up, I saw some spectators on the corner giving out PRETZELS!! I perked up and hobbled over and took two big handfuls of pretzels and in an ugly slobbery cry, I said "THANK YOU!! I NEEDED THIS!"

Before I could swallow the first pretzel, I felt better immediately. I wasn't sure how long it was going to last so I started running a little to make up for lost time. At about mile 24.5, my boyfriend called me to ask me how it was going (I had in my earphones for my iPhone and I could take calls really easily) and at that point, the Marines gave us Dunkin Donut munchkins as promised so I was chomping on my munchkins and talking to him and telling him "This is hard!" He proceeded to give me a pep talk at the same time that a spectator heard me say that. She told me "You're doing great! Less than 5k to go! Keep going!" My boyfriend said some positive stuff too but her words stood out a little more. With a mouthful of munchkins I said "MMKAY!" and got back to running. I didn't stop from that point on. Everything hurt but I didn't stop. My ankles, my knees, my quads, my arms all hurt but I kept running. As we got closer, I took in the crowd, the signs and the sign that I was waiting for: MILE 26!

I blew a kiss to that sign and kept on plugging along. I had no idea what time I was going to finish and at that point, I really didn't care. I just wanted to finish! As I turned to go up the final hill to the finish line, I saw my dad and my boyfriend on the left smiling and waving. I smiled back and kept my head down. I had to climb that hill with every ounce of what I had left in me. I did it and finished in 5:18:25 (chip time).

I received my beautiful medal from a brave Marine who saluted me and thanked me for running. It was an awesome experience and truly made me feel like I can do anything. Period. No "ifs", "ands" or "buts"...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hoping for a DNS for Hurricane Sandy

The Marine Corps Marathon is this upcoming Sunday and instead of anticipating a great race, being on pace, timing my fueling correctly, etc, most of us are worried about THIS! 

As someone on Facebook wrote, "Ok! Who transferred their bib to Hurricane Sandy?" Even though a lot of us are tough endurance runners who ain't afraid of getting a little wet, it's still kind of a blower knowing there's a chance that you may not run your best race after training for months. 

But for someone like me who isn't fast and really just wants to finish, this is really a matter of not wanting to be outside running in crappy weather for hours on end. Times like this, I wish I ran a little faster. But I will have the greatest support system out there with me: My Mom (Food & Recovery Officer), My Dad (Official Photographer), and My Loving Boyfriend (Clothing Officer). I've given each person a mission to help me get through this day and to involve them so they don't feel like they're just waiting around to chauffeur a cranky runner in a few hours. 

But back to the weather. As any dedicated runner should, I've painstakingly analyzed and obsessed over glanced at a few weather sources online to get a better idea of what to expect on Sunday. Accuweather and Weather Underground are both providing hourly predictions that show a 0% chance of rain during the marathon and some slightly windy conditions with lots of cloud cover. It's the Weather Channel that's giving us the blues with their 90% chance of rain and 26 mph winds. They are the more commercial of all of the sources so perhaps they're attempting to excite people and get us all worked up over nothin... either way, I can take the rain, but I'd much rather not run for 5 hours in crappy weather.

So here's hoping Hurricane Sandy DOES NOT START for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Baltimore Half Marathon Race Review

I ran in the Baltimore Half Marathon on Saturday (October 13, 2012) and had an awesome time!

Packet pick-up was moved to M&T Bank Stadium but last year it was at the Convention Center. Another group beat the organizers to booking it, so the packet pick up had to be moved. Getting in and out was easy and for once, I actually bought some stuff! I wanted to buy a few things to commemorate my last time running in the Baltimore Running Festival (for now) so I picked up the RUN BMORE Under Armour tank top and the Run Baltimore tech tee at the expo. The  race tee was purple this year (looks blue in the photo).

That night I had to decide on what to wear so I laid out my latest tech shirts and went to twitter to get some help. I settled on the blue TEAM FIGHT shirt. Speaking of TEAM FIGHT, if you haven't made a tax-deductible donation yet, please head over to my site and do it now, pleeeeease!

The morning of the race, I slept in until abou 7:30ish and took my time at home. One thing that I LOVE about this race is the late start time. The half marathon starts at 9:45 a.m. while the full marathon starts at 8:00 a.m. Unheard of, right? Gotta love the nice cool autumn temps. I left home around 8:45 to get to the BWI Airport light rail. I was the only runner on the platform and couldn't figure out why. It was around 9:00 a.m. but I thought I still had plenty of time to drop off my things at bag check before getting to the start line. I started to SWEAT at 9:10 a.m. as I then realized that the light rail must have been running on some sort of delayed weekend schedule. :(

After many silent prayers, the light rail FINALLY arrived. I boarded and the bout of panic soon left me. I prepped my music, fueling, etc and packed away my things in my running bag so when we arrived at the Hamburg Street stop, I just sat there... looking over at Runner's Village...first noticing the various colors of balloons... then thinking "I think the Runner's Handbook said something about different color balloons... something about baggage check having a green bal--- OMG! I GOTTA GET OFF THE TRAIN!" lol

I jetted off of the light rail before the doors closed. Last year, I got off on the Camden Yards stop and went to bag check from there. I don't know if bag check moved or what, but it was RIGHT...THERE! Right in front of the Ravens Stadium - I don't remember it being that close last year. Anyways... So, there I was, racing over to bag check with one other lady behind me who then told me that she was following me. We laughed at how we're half crazy for doing all of this so close to the start time. Bag check was easy... then I jogged behind some other "purple bib" people to the start line.

I made a point to stop at one of the hotels to use the facilities. I had the entire bathroom to myself because at this point, it was around 9:50 a.m. - yep the race already started! But I was in the third wave so I still had a little time. I sprinted to the start line and made it just in time to hear "Wave 3, please approach the start line. You will be starting the race in a few minutes." Wooo! I made it!

I ran a smart race. I KNOW how hilly Baltimore is. I ran in this half marathon last year and I ran the organized 20-mile run which includes part of the BRF marathon course.  This was a taper run for me so I had nothing to prove. I hung back and tried to keep an easy pace around the 10:30 min/mi mark while trudging up hills doing an 11 - 11:30 min/mi pace.

Baltimore's Hills!!!
I knew that the course didn't cut you any slack until AFTER the 11.5 mi mark - a lesson I learned the hard way last year. It's at this point where most people start to walk, stretch, massage out cramps, etc. I chose to walk for a few minutes around mile 6 (on St. Lo Drive) and around my favorite spot on the course, around mile 10.5 when I stopped to take a photo of the singing "tigers"!

These wonderful folks dress up in tiger costumes and cheer on runners while playing Eye of the Tiger in the background. Their dedication to cheering us on while wearing those awesome costumes is so amazing.

I let 'er rip around mile 12 and ran the last mile at an 8:55 min/mi pace! IMPRESSIVE! A lot of people ran out of steam at this point and honestly, I think I could've given a little more for the other miles. I had a lot left in the tank by the end, but I was pleased to beat my time from last year by 3 minutes.

I earned the Baltimore Half Marathon medal that reads "What Hills Don't Kill You Make You Stronger" and no truer words have been spoken. :) I also earned the Maryland Double medal for running in both the Frederick Half Marathon back in May and the Baltimore Half Marathon.

I wanted to pick up one last momento to commemorate my semi-retirement from the BRF. I look forward to enjoying some hot coffee and hot chocolate all winter long out of this nice mug. :) 

I had a great day and actually talked to a few folks who asked me about the MD DOUBLE medal.  Several of them said they will consider the challenge next year! I will be out there... cheering them on with all three of my medals hanging around my neck while holding a sign that reads "I got mine, now go get yours!!!" 

Next up, Marine Corps Marathon!!!  

...but whose counting?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thanks But No Thanks

I might come off as a jerk for saying this... and some of you may not like it, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

Some parts of the race planning process should not be left in the hands of volunteers.

There. I said it. And before you get all angry with me, let me explain. 

First of all, I want to say that I appreciate the efforts of volunteers. I really do! You have to be one kind and generous human being to wake up that early and stand on your feet to serve a bunch of sweaty people for hours on end. And on top of that, they always have a smile on their face. That takes a special kind of compassion, generosity of time, and willfulness that some of us runners could probably learn from.

Now on the other side of this exchange is the runner. I sat down recently and actually counted the number of races I've participated in this year. I honestly had no clue that I registered for and ran in TEN races this year, not including the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon. Holy cow! And as I sit here now, I'm counting my race bibs dating back to my very first 5k, and the grand total is...24. Since October 2010, I've run in 24 races. So I think that length of experience gives me the reference material needed to write on this topic. 

I've reached a point in my racing life where I operate on autopilot when it comes to showing up to run in a race. And as I go through this process, I will notate some of the pet peeves that I've encountered. I'm a pretty easy going person and I don't let a lot of things get to me, but these things do. 

On a typical race day, I arrive at the race site and check in my bag at baggage claim. Never really had any bad incidents there. Many races do it differently. I personally think Marine Corps Marathon and 10k do it the best! Nice to know your belongings will be kept safe,and dry inside of a UPS truck.  I rarely ever have to stand in the mile long potty line but when I do, I really love the inclusion of volunteers here to direct traffic when a porta-potty becomes available. I believe the Baltimore Women's Classic 5k employs this method to make sure there's fair and steady movement of all of the lines. 

Next, I usually move to the corral area and that's never been a problem. I've never ran into a corral marm hell bent on keeping people in one corral and out of the others. I hear that they typically do that at the NYC Marathon but I've never experienced it. So to me, it's just a rumor. 

POW! The race starts and we're off! Around mile 3 or 4, there's a water stop that's well stocked... no problem. But around mile 6 or 7 or for the full marathoners in last week's Baltimore Marathon, mile 19, the quality of the water stops began to deteriorate. When I looked to see what was causing the issue, it seemed that the volunteers were falling behind on filling cups. In a mad dash to provide water, they were rushing, sometimes knocking down cups, picking them back up and refilling them... mmmm hygienic. There was a point where the uncapped water jugs that were being used to refill the cups were being picked up by runners and yes, I witnessed every single one of them drink behind the other. When the volunteer COULD get in to grab the jug, they proceeded with filling the cups with that SAME jug of water! 

You have thousands of people from all over the country and in some cases, from different countries coming together to run. There are so many infections and illnesses that can be transmitted in this kind of environment. Let's not aggravate the situation by having volunteers handle food and beverage services during a race that people pay money for. Do you really want a random person walking off of the street, going into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant and cooking your meal? No? Ok. Well I suggest race directors think of the handling of beverages with the same level of seriousness as food service in any other venue.

Knowing how important it is to provide fresh and clean food and water to a runner, I'd have a SERIOUS problem with this practice that typically takes place in panicked situations if I was volunteering. I don't knock the volunteers for the ingenuity but I don't agree with the logic of a "non-athlete" serving an athlete. 

Look at what happened in Vegas

Moving on... 

Crossing the finish line! What a wonderful race! Time to celebrate! But first, let's calm our breathing.. and get some water! But how easy is that when people are being sandwiched together, told they must move forward and away from the finish line when we really have no place to go? Just a block of sweaty people clustered together....waiting....waiting...waiting...WAITING ON WHAT?! Now, you can call me impatient, but I seriously hate standing and waiting and feeling claustrophobic after running 13.1 miles (+ or -).  And the stuffiness caused by being surrounded by intense body heat from others doesn't help one to calm their breathing at all. I know it sends me into a coughing fit. Not fun for me or anyone surrounding me. At one race, I finally got to the area that was holding up the process. I saw boxes and boxes of medals in our 10 ft wide finisher's chute area and also found 3 little people, about 6 or 7, handing out medals... medals to a CLUSTER of marathoners, half marathoners, and relay teams, each denoted by the color of their bib. This task of quickly handing out medals to the corresponding runner was left in the hands of 2nd graders. I'm sorry, but what if someone in the crowd needed medical attention due to the conditions of standing in such a closed in space after crossing the finish line? How easy would it be for medical personnel to get to that person? Not so easy with this dense block of people in the area. And some of us really wanted to start the recovery process but couldn't because we were waiting to receive our medals. 

When I finally got my medal (that I had to point out to the bearer), I said "So they have kids giving out the medals?" to a lady reaching for hers. She responded by saying "But they're doing their best." I guess that's the comment that made me think and made me feel compelled to write this post. I've received my medal from several volunteers from all ages but I think that 7 is just a little too young for such a daunting task....even if they are doing their best. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Endurance Athlete Relationship Guide

I'm in a beautiful relationship with an amazing who supports what I do and brags to others about my accomplishments. He plays soccer and loves cricket but his involvement doesn't seem to require as much time and preparation as running 26.2 miles. He is just as accomplished and he's secure in himself to support my need to make goals and meet them... with one caveat...

...that I still make time for him. And that's fair, right? I mean after all, the end goal for us both is to have a lasting relationship for the rest of our lives together. So, with that being said, there comes a point in every relationship between an endurance athlete and their mate to have a good conversation about what it means to be with someone who has a need to do some exciting and sometimes questionable things when it comes to their sport.

 So recently, we had to sit down and have such a conversation.

Baby, I have time for you and anything you want to do! long as you give me a few days notice...

I'm all for spontaneity and surprises but please understand that they may not be well received during triathlon training or marathon training season. It's not because of anything you did, but please understand that we have training schedules with certain goals that must be met before the end of the week. For triathlon training, it may be a certain number of workouts or a certain number of hours. For marathon training, we usually have mileage goals set in place. So even though I'd love to sit behind homeplate at the O's game, I'm just not sure how that 1:05 p.m. start time will fit into my 16-mile long run and recovery period. So give us a few days notice and perhaps we can move some things around.

Yes, I know that box of Gu Gel costs $25 but I NEED it...and other things.

Don't question our purchases. Unless you know your mate has a tendency to overdo it, typically we need the things that we buy. Either our shoes are about to wear out or we believe you can never have too many pairs of Injiniji socks to ward off blisters, just let us spend our money the way we need to. Trust me, I'd rather spend $25 on a decent bottle of wine, but alas, I don't think a bottle of Oberto Barolo would make for a good fueling strategy on race day.

The running routine starts with the bathroom.

It's race day. Start time is at 7:30 a.m. But your runner is up around 5 a.m. What gives?! If they're anything like me, they probably have a routine. Get up. Get breakfast. Drink coffee, or tea (my preference). And wait....and wait. Then it happens. Bathroom time! "Going" is so important to us. It's a must to help us perform at our best without dealing with gastronomy issues later on in the run. If you are married or in a long term relationship with an endurance athlete then you've crossed this bridge and you're probably used to it. If you're in the early stages of your relationship with one, then this is one of the lovely things you can expect.

After a long run or hard hard workout, don't talk to me...unless it's about swimming, biking, or running.

I call this the "Brain Dead and Still" phase. After a long run or hard workout, we typically just want a hot shower and food and comfort. We may not be in the mood to entertain you, hold thought provoking conversations, or shower, get dressed and go out for a rich and hearty meal. I normally want to shower, (cold then hot), find my compression sleeves and my favorite compression socks, something warm, dry, and comfy, and a soft place to sit for a few hours while refueling on something simple like fruit and a sandwich or vegetables. In a couple of hours, I'm normally good to go and can at least form sentences and attempt to care about things. We will be achy and moving slowly. No need to show us sympathy...we're used to it. Just keep moving as usual.

So, those are the key points that I've had to make to my significant other. He understands me a lot more now and it has helped to strengthen our relationship. Communication is key! 

Do you have anything to add to the list? What issues have you encountered?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Size Matters.

Or does it?

I'm thinking about running in the Little Rock Marathon...

for this sucker!

Property of Arkansas Runner :)

I mean, c'mon! Look at the size of that MEDAL! What a nice addition to my medal rack... I can see it now...the massiveness of all that bling just hanging there looking all wonderful. But what will it cost me? Not monetarily but time.

My boyfriend went to college in Arkansas so we're actually looking to make this destination race a mini getaway to see friends. I will get to meet his best friend and some other people who really mean a lot to him so running the race will be a very small part of the visit.

The race is in March which means that training would have to staaart...RIGHT AFTER Christmas.

Yeah. No thanks. So now I'm looking into running the Little Rock Half Marathon instead and relinquishing the desire for this massive medal. I mean, but I'm still on the fence with this decision. Even if I don't train really hard, I can finish the full marathon in the very GENEROUS window of time of 8 friggin hours. But seriously? Who wants to be outside for that long run/walk/slogging it out? So why not run the half in 2 hours and leave with a normal sized medal?

Besides, I'm running out of space on my rack anyway.

What to do??

Half Full Triathlon Race Recap

Yesterday, I participated in the Rev 3 Half Full Triathlon in Columbia, MD. I signed up to participate as part of a relay team a few weeks ago on a whim. I was finishing up my last open water swim before the AC Triathlon and the workout director mentioned that she was doing this race with a swimmer but really didn't want to do the run.  She's a BEAST on the bike but like most triathletes, she HATES running. So I said "Sure... why not?" She was participating as part of Team FIGHT! so I signed up and I'm now raising money for this awesome cause so PLEASE go visit that link and donate. :)

I parked at the Sheraton Hotel and boarded the shuttle that took the athletes to the park for the race. This was an awesome option for those of us who needed to leave the park before 2 p.m. and everything operated seamlessly. I met up with my team and gathered together with the rest of TEAM FIGHT! including other athletes and some race volunteers for the prayer circle. It was my first time doing anything like this but we stood there shouting out the names of those we were competing for. I shouted out the name of one of my twitter friends who is actually undergoing her very first surgery for her brain tumor TODAY! She's an amazing girl who has run countless marathons and who inspired me to become a Half Fanatic. It was a moving and emotional event that I wouldn't trade for anything. It definitely put a fire inside of me to give my all, no matter what.

The race started around 7:30 and so did the rain. Our swimmer did an amazing job and loved every minute of it. It was the perfect set up. He loved swimming, so he kicked butt and had a great job doing the one thing he loved most in triathlon. I was fortunate enough to be on a team with an amazingly strong cyclist who didn't care about the rain. She went out there and gave her all and came back freezing and wet but feeling fearless! Then it was my turn. I went out and OMG! Holy frozen feet, Batman... After standing around and sitting around for 4 hours trying to stay warm in the rainy 50 degree weather, running on stone cold feet took some getting used to. Once my feet warmed up, the rest of my body warmed up so then it was time to strip. I went out with running gloves and  rain jacket but found that none of these things were needed. Unfortunately, at the time that I wanted to strip, I encountered some hills. I can do a lot of things while running, but it's no fun running a hill while fidgeting with other things so I walked for a bit during mile 2. Once I got it all together, I took off and never stopped.

While running, I was enjoying the course! It's challenging but not obnoxious. There were hills everywhere because, well, what do you expect? It's Columbia! But nothing too hard for me to handle. I thought about LOTS of things while out on that course. I was running with so many wonderful and strong athletes who did all three sports on this wet and cold day - something that would've given me pause. I was also tracing the footsteps of one of the greatest athletes that ever existed, Lance Armstrong.  Regardless of what you believe he did or did not do, one can not deny that this man is an elite athlete and inspiring!! I also thought about Monika. During those times when doubt creeped into my mind and I thought that maybe I shouldn't push too hard. After all, I DID just run 16 miles the day before. But I knew that Monika ran marathons at a mind blowing pace and now she's doing her part and FIGHTING for her health. The least I could do is FIGHT with the same heart and determination that she had so I picked it up!

Miles 4 Mokie!!

I ended up running a negative split, and one of my best races ever!! I felt amazing and strong at the end and still had a great time while out on the course. I received cheers of "GO TEAM FIGHT!" from the volunteers while thanking the officers for their time today and even joked around with some. :) I complain a lot...A LOT about prepping for races and waking up early but while I'm out there running and of course, at the end when I receive that medal, it feels like it's all worth it.

I'm glad I did it and more importantly I'm glad I did it for Monika.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Going the Distance: My First 20-Miler

A few weeks ago, I ran my FIRST EVER 20-miler. The course was through Baltimore City and it  wasn't easy! Talk about hills! I'm pretty sure all of Baltimore is on some sort of incline. I ran "with" about a few hundred people as part of a supported course run organized by one of the local running stores.

The weather was awesome and my performance was surprisingly great! The run didn't get interesting until mile 19. The wheels almost fell off when I felt some strange sensations in parts of my legs that I never felt before. I also found myself having to focus on throwing one foot in front of the other. Breathing was normal, fueling went great! I'm really grateful for the Power Bar chews provided by the running store. After mile 14, I feel like I need to consume "real" food and not Gu gel. So anything in the gummy bear family is sufficient.

Given that just7 months ago, I was dealing with injury that kept me from getting to this point, I felt proud and accomplished for making it this far in my training. I'm healthy and I feel prepared for the marathon. No, I may not finish with a sub-5 hour time but I'll finish AND I know that I will be able to get myself to a vehicle to go home all on my own. If I can do that, then I will feel like a winner. Now the day after...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Beginner Triathlete Lessons Learned: How to Prepare for and Survive Your First Triathlon

I learned a few things along the way as I journeyed from clueless newbie to triathlete. I think I still have a lot to learn, but for those athletes out there who are starting from zero, there are so many things that more experienced swimmers, cyclists, runners, and triathletes just neglect to share with you. I wanted to write a blog post about the things that I wish someone told me or explained to me a bit more and also some of the things I learned along the way that really worked well for me.

1. Train with someone.

Triathlon is a hard sport. Regardless if you're coming from a swimming, biking, or running background, putting these three things together and then creating and following through on a cohesive training schedule is a lot of work. Having someone around to kind of hold you accountable and to check in with you really gives you that added push to get your stuff together. Also, you get a sense of what it's like to swim, bike, and run in a group. I took my first spill on the bike while riding with others. I learned a lot on that first group ride. I'm not fast. It's not safe to try to go fast on a bike when you still need to learn how to control the bike and when you're new to learning how to use your shifters. It's important to train with a group who is knowledgeable about bike safety. Also, here's something no one told me: when riding on a road, the lay of the road tends to decline along the edges. If your tires get caught in a groove in that decline, you will ride off to the side of the road and you will crash. Stay to the right as much as possible but be mindful of where your tires are.

2. Learn about bikes.

I'm so glad I didn't listen to my parents. My parents both have hybrid Schwinns and told me that it didn't matter where I bought my bike...a bike is a bike. That's not true. Not saying I was going to be a natural born Lance Armstrong on two wheels, but I figured there was a reason why some advanced triathletes owned $12,000 bikes and some owned $3,000 bikes, etc. My budget was not in that range, but first things first, I had to learn WHY these bikes cost so much and then find what worked for me. Yes, it's true - you could complete your first triathlon on any old bike but I wanted to at least learn about road bikes and how to shop for one since the triathlon was taking place know... a road. After learning about road bikes, I made the decision that I didn't need all the things that a $3,000 bike or even a brand new shiny $1,000 bike had to offer. I just needed a bike that I could learn on and get used to. I bought a $500 bike from Craigslist and that worked out just fine. But learning about road bikes FIRST can help you shop more effectively on your own.

3. Be prepared to put money into your bike.

Regardless if you bought a new bike or a used bike, be prepared to spend more money. You may want to change the seat or the pedals (for clip in) on your new bike or maybe the used bike you bought is in decent shape but needs some adjustments or a new shifter (like mine did). Just be prepared to spend more money. Then there are mandatory accessories like the helmet, bike rack, and gloves. I know gloves aren't required but I found them useful.

 4. Buy the right gear and find an economical way to do it.

You need a lot of stuff. I bought the REI Membership card and that was one of the wisest decisions I made. I had to pick one place that potentially carried most of the things I needed so I didn't have to run all over the place looking for things. The staff at REI was always super helpful and patient. Yes, I could've shopped online and got some better deals on lots of things, but honestly, do you really want to buy a tri suit online when you've NEVER tried one on before? When you're trying to figure out how to fit in 4 to 7 workouts in a week, the last thing you need to worry about is waiting on some piece of equipment or apparel to arrive only to send it back because it didn't fit or work out the way you expected. I liked the instant gratification of just shopping in person. Besides, I got most of my stuff on sale which worked out great. Also, they have this really cool membership benefit where you receive a check equal to 10% of your total annual purchase amount at the end of the year. You can spend it on anything! I'm looking forward to that.

5. Link up with a REALLY REALLY REALLY GREAT local bike shop (LBS).

Your local bike shop should be a place near your home or near your favorite riding route. It's a place to go to ask questions, buy tools, cycling gear, or even the place where you decided to buy your bike. I take my bike to Race Pace Bicycles and I've never regretted it once. The staff is SUPER friendly, down to earth, and professional. It's where I got the crash course on bikes and where I took my bike for repairs when needed. I bought my travel tools there and some other things like my helmet and gloves. When I'm ready, I will definitely buy my first new bike from that shop. In the off-season, I will make arrangements to have the proper adjustments done on my current bike done there and a formal bike fitting when I'm ready to buy my new bike. It's a really awesome place. The people at your LBS should be knowledgeable and helpful and shouldn't ever make you feel stupid or like you're in the way. They shouldn't put any pressure on you to buy stuff from them or make you feel like you need to buy something whenever you step foot in the store. To me, this is how you gain more customers - by being honest and helpful at all times.

6. Take swim lessons.

If nothing else, swim lessons should help you to feel super comfortable in the water. I can't stress it enough - if it weren't for my swim lessons, I probably would've freaked out during the open water swim in my triathlon. But because of a great teacher who simply told me "Relax! Get used to water being in your face, in your ears, in your's gonna get all over! Water EVERYWHERE!! HAVE FUN!" I simply relaxed and found a method that worked for me to just get through the swim. It didn't bother me to have water in my face. I knew what to do in case something went wrong (like floating on your back and calming your breathing) and I learned that in my swim class. I took basic swim lessons at the local YMCA. Now that I know how to swim (for the most part), I know I need to work on technique. So now I will look into registering with a private swim coach. I don't think a new swimmer needs that kind of concentrated (and expensive) attention at first. And why not save yourself some money by going to the local Y? For $49, I have access to the pool, the weight room, and all of the exercise classes which included spin class which came in handy when I was still shopping around for a bike. And in all honesty, my shoddy performance during the swim is no reflection on the Y. I simply didn't practice enough. I had access to the pool but didn't go as much as I should have. That's the truth.

7. When the time comes, rent a wetsuit (if that's an option).

Depending on the time of year your first triathlon is taking place, you may or may not be able to wear a wetsuit. If you can, I highly recommend that you get one. They help you float, and keep you warm, and like I mentioned in this post, wetsuits are awesome. Rent one if you aren't sure if triathlon is for you. No use in shelling out $150+ for something you may never use again. I rented one for around $60 from and didn't have one issue with the company or the suit. They came highly recommended from more experienced triathletes who simply don't see a need to buy their own suit.

8. Use a backpack or triathlon transition backpack to carry your triathlon stuff.

This is something I did not do and I wish I did. The triathlon club that I belong to gave us a long talkin' to about this very thing but for some strange reason, I only focused on ONE piece of advice from that discussion. The tri club member presented his backpack:

Example. Not the actual bag.
And also mentioned that he sometimes carries along a crate to help him organize his things. Kinda like this:

I opted for the crate idea instead of buying the backpack (I don't think these things are mutually exclusive). But here lies the problem. When it's 5:30 a.m. and dark, and you have to get all of this stuff to the transition area along with your bike, how do you carry a crate and your bike to a location this far away?

Yeah...when you find out, you let me know. It was miserable. So please don't try to cut corners. Spare yourself the hassle and buy an oversized backpack or a triathlon pack. And I saw some people throwing their backpack on and riding their bikes to the car after the race. I envied them so much. 

9. Arrive at transition when it opens.

If the Race Director says transition opens at 5 a.m., get there at 5 a.m. Time flies early in the morning and every minute counts. Transition will have an open time and a close time - meaning you will not be allowed back in for anything. So to save yourself the aggravation of rushing, just get there early. Trust me, you won't be sitting around and waiting, and doing nothing for long. The list of things to do before the race is pretty lengthy - much different from a running race where it's okay to show up at 7:50 a.m. for a 8:00 a.m. race start (if you're as lucky as me and you don't have to go through a potty ritual each time).

10. Buy and bring throw away flip flops. 

We found ourselves standing on this sandy/grassy/questionable area while waiting for our wave to start in the water. There were shards of glass buried in the sand and some other random rocks, pebbles, and pieces of broken asphalt. You never know where you will have to stand before the race. Best to have a pair of throwaway $3 or $5 flip flops to wear before the race that you don't mind "losing" after you exit the water. If they are still there when you exit, then score! Pick them up and keep on going. If not, then there's no loss. 

Do you guys have any other tips and tricks that you'd like to share??

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon Race Recap

The next day after the triathlon, I traveled to Philly to run in the Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon. Why? I honestly can't remember if I had a reason for running in this race that was any more purposeful than fulfilling the gluttonous desire to earn this medal.

Earlier in the year, I ran in the Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon in Washington, DC and questioned my sanity the next month for wanting to complete the Titanium Girl Challenge (which included running the Iron Girl Half Marathon and the Frederick Half Marathon within 7 days of one another). Yet, I'm pretty sure that crossing the finish line at Frederick knocked a few more screws loose and before I knew it, I was signed up to complete the Atlantic City Triathlon and the Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon in the same weekend.

Tri training partner signed up to be a volunteer at this race out of the kindness of her heart (read: to give herself something to do while I ran the race) and with that assignment, we scored some nice VIP parking. But let's back it up...

The alarm clock went off on Sunday morning at 3:45 a.m. We were still in New Jersey and had to pack up the car and drive to the Philly in time for Tri Training Partner to report for duty at 5:30 a.m. Well, I turned off my alarm clock and closed my eyes for 2 minutes *cough 30 minutes* only to see that time raced on and it was now 4:15 A.M.! Ugh... we jumped up and scrambled to get dressed and to get the car packed up without waking our gracious hosts. We were out of the house by 4:50 a.m. and on our way to Philly and actually made it to the parking lot after circling a few times by 5:55 a.m. Tri training partner met up with her volunteer group, and I sat in the car, sleepy and a little hungry. Yep... that's right, I didn't have time to eat a thing.

I went for a walk to try to wake myself up and watched the sun rise over the buildings. It was beautiful!

Good mornin' Philly!
I'm a city girl so I can appreciate every single dynamic and moment that a beautiful historical city has to offer - from the grime, to the noise, to the eclectic mixture of people, to the quiet and still moments in the wee hours of the morning. Awesome.

Anywho, I wandered back to the car and stopped to ask someone waiting in line at a porta-potty what time the race started. I seriously, had no clue. That's what happens when you do upwards of 10 races in a calendar year. lol After hearing 8 a.m. I decided I'd head to the start line around 7:50ish... baaah! I was in no rush.

I went to the car and double checked my new Spibelt to make sure I had everything in place and rummaged through our bags to find the snacks that were given out at the expo. I chowed down on some granola and a Larabar and that seemed to take the edge off. It was a pretty chilly morning and I really wanted to stay bundled up in my long sleeve pull over with the fleece lining but I decided to leave it. Glad I did. By the time I walked to the start line, the sun was up and the jittery folks in the corral were keeping the area pretty warm. I still hadn't decided what I wanted to run...what conservative... and I had no idea if my legs would actually work. I didn't see why not. All summer, I trained for the triathlon and the full marathon by completing a swim-bike-run workout on one day and the long run on the next day so my body was pretty used to it.

After setting up the Garmin, I decided to head down to a corral closer to the one I was supposed to be in and then I waited. I met up with Ashley, the friend that ran with in the DC half marathon and we chatted for a little while. Then the race started... I found that I was pushing a 9:30 min/mi and made myself slow down to a 10:30 min/mi pace.

After mile 3, I found it hard to slow down anymore than that. I wanted to run an 11:15 min/mi...or at least that's what I told myself at the start, but my body wouldn't cooperate. It wanted to just RUN! So I let it, but I still held back a little, telling myself, "I'll let go a little more if you can make it to mile 5... mile 7... mile 9...oh alright, let 'er rip!" I was a little worried because the course seemed to either lay flat or we were going downhill. I was worried about the one thing that usually rings true in EVERY race - what goes down must come up. I was anxious for the massive hill that might be waiting for me at mile 11 or something.

I didn't bother looking at the course map or an elevation chart before the race. My only goal for Philly was to make it there on time...seriously. So I was relying on my wisdom from other races. I took two walk breaks to make sure I got the Gu gel down at mile 4 and mile 9. But other than that, I pushed through and ran a negative split. I tried to pick up the pace toward the very end, but the lay of the road didn't help. It switched from flat to a lopsided decline then flat to a lopsided incline. It wasn't conducive to picking up speed but I tried to maintain a quick cadence. I noticed a lot of people stopping to walk at mile 11 and 12 and found it to be completely odd.

But honestly, back in October of 2011, I remember stopping to walk at mile 11 in the Baltimore Half Marathon - my first half marathon (for time). I remember that being the toughest point of the race. But now that I've run six half marathons in a year and now that I'm in the throes of full marathon training, I have surpassed that mileage threshold. I can run long. I was finally on the other side! I was seeing people lose their determination, their fight! Interesting, to say the least.

I kept plugging along, and at mile 12.5, we had to run up a very short but steep incline. I lowered my head, and dug in and climbed it, passing people who couldn't make it and opted out to just walk it. It wasn't the end and I could see the finish in the distance. I felt amazing! I couldn't believe that I was finishing a half marathon the day after a triathlon in another state and still felt like I could run on for another 5 or 6 miles. So I posed for the camera, holding up my arm in a bicep pose to show off my strength in that moment and smiled! I crossed the finish line, grabbed my medal and my favorite snacks, met up with Tri training partner and headed for the car.

I finished the race in 2:19:37. I ALMOST PR'd and missed it by 2 minutes. I look back on those walk breaks and think that if I ate something that morning, maybe I wouldn't have felt so compelled to stop and walk to make sure I got down every drop of Gu gel. Perhaps there was a chance at a real life changing PR. Dah well... there's always Baltimore.

The course was great! Nice and peaceful winding roads along a river basin. It was a great blend of the more scenic historical streets and monuments and the beautiful natural treasures that Pennsylvania has to offer. Course support was okay. Water and Gatorade all around. But there were points where runners had to pass 3 or 4 tables before getting to a table with Gatorade and water. That's a little scary. Good thing I always bring my own hydration with me. Pretty good crowd support at the start and at the finish but I was a little surprised that there weren't more people out along the course since it's a major city. DC crowd support was WAY better. All in all, it was a good race. Nice and fast course! Great place to PR if you do it right, line up with your proper corral, and bring your own fuel and hydration.

The medal is a nice addition to the rack, for sure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Atlantic City International Triathlon Race Recap

On Saturday, I competed in the Atlantic City International Triathlon in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was my first triathlon EVER! I got it done and earned the medal...but let's start from the beginning...

On Friday, Tri Training Partner and I met up and packed up the car and got on the road for Philly! First stop was the Rock 'n' Roll Philly Half Marathon packet pick up and expo (to be continued in the next post). Later, we took off for Atlantic City and made it just in time for the pre-race meeting.

Race Director in the distance telling us what to expect

The Race Director went over the course and the procedures for going through each part of the race. He practically reiterated all of the information that was written in the Official Athlete's Guide which was totally great. After going through the general information, he answered questions. It was nice to see the Race Director providing the answers and not someone from the staff or a volunteer. He reassured us that the course would be safe and that we were responsible for making sure that we simply kept some distance between ourselves and other participants. For some reason, this made me feel so much better about everything. I had fears of being kicked and held under during the swim, and run off of the road on the bike. But when the director said that an infraction as small as being rude to a volunteer wouldn't be tolerated, the weight was lifted off of my shoulders.

Next, we picked up our packets and found our transition racks! Naturally, we took photos.

I have the rack all to myself!

Somebody's owning that space!

We surveyed the end goal and made some mental notes about the course. We took a look at the water and got an idea of how we would enter and exit and captured an image of the most important point in the entire race... where we would go from being runners to triathletes.


The weather was gorgeous and we knew we could expect much of the same the very next day. We went to Egg Harbor Township and got settled in at my best friend's parents' house. They are super awesome for letting us crash at their house... the house that was so comfy and nice that we never wanted to leave...ever. We asked if they were open to adopting more children but given that they have been without their 3 children for quite sometime, this suggestion wasn't a crowd favorite.

So, instead we unpacked our things and laid everything out for the next morning and went to bed.

My triathlon person and all of her stuff!
Well 4:30 a.m. came fast! Soon, I was up and eating oatmeal and enjoying hot tea. We made it to the race by 6:05 a.m. Plenty of time to inflate our tires and get set up in transition before it closed at 6:45 a.m. NOT!

After getting settled with parking at 6:15 a.m., it was a MAD DASH to pump up the tires and make the long trek to transition. This does not include getting set up in transition. Lesson #1: If the Director says transition opens at 5 a.m., it's for a reason. GO EARLIER THAN EARLY! After scrambling to get body marked, and to affix stickers on bikes, we were finally allowed into transition. Once I found my space (so glad I found it the day before), I set everything out and lubed up for the donning of my wetsuit. The voice over the loud speaker said it was 6:35 a.m. and transition was slated to close in 10 minutes. So on went the wetsuit and before I knew it I was posing for photos with Tri Training Partner. lol

I was saying "What are you doing?!" moments before she snapped this photo lol
Then we heard the voice say "the closing time for transition has been extended by 10 minutes". YAAAAY!! Even though we were ready, we were still happy to find out that we had time to chat with other triathletes around us...many of which were competing for the first time like us!

And then asked them to take our picture. :)

Soon we headed over to the swim start which was at the boat ramp of the back bay. We stood there in our orange sherbert colored swim caps anxious and wide-eyed! But honestly, I think the wait between waves helped to calm our nerves. Sometimes all you need is time...and to see someone else do it... over and over again. We stood there watching wave after wave enter and exit the water. It got to the point where I felt like a total spectator then as I was standing there singing the song that was blaring over the loudspeaker, the race director called out "Females 30 - 34, you're up." It still didn't register until the girl standing in front of me said "THAT'S US!!" I was excited at know, like in a "OMG! I just won the lottery!" kind of way... then I realized that something different was about to happen... I was about to embark on a new challenge that started with a single stroke.

In I went... anxious to see how cold the water felt... inching closer and closer to the water... letting my feet shuffle in, then my ankles... waiting for the shock of cold... then...nothing. It wasn't cold at all! It was really warm, actually. Nice! So I allowed the water to take me away, onward to the buoys that were set out about 50 yds away. I floated a little, backstroked, played like my triathlon training mentor taught me. I made my way to the buoys and waited for the count down... floating around, smiling anxiously at the ladies around me. I noticed how far away from the buoys that I positioned myself and started to swim forward as the director counted down "5...3....2... GO!" That's what I heard as I stroked forward, not hearing all of the words. The mental voice started coaching me... "Ok, KJ, nice and easy, just like the pool, sight! Keep your head neutral... *splash!* WHOA! That's salty!" Yeah. Super duper salty water in the bay knocked me off of my mental game.

I don't mind water over my head, in my face, in my mouth, up my nose... that's expected. But super salty water in the back of my throat and in my nose? I'm not a fan. I tried all I could to refocus but the cough-inducing salty water wasn't working for me. I had to make it through the swim, so I flipped on my back and back stroked a bit, but I didn't feel comfortable doing that because I couldn't see where I was going and really, what weak swimmer wants to make the swim portion of the tri longer than it has to be? So I flipped back over but not before seeing someone else in my wave get pulled out by the tug boat. I erased the image from my mind and told myself to "finish this swim on your own!" All around the course were guys on surfboards, waiting to assist in whatever way possible. I waved one over so I could rest. I had to think of a game plan...but in the middle of my thought, the guy said "ladies (as there was one other sherbert cap hanging on) I'd stay with you if I could, but I must go back to the start for the next wave. You're more than welcome to come with me but I don't think you want to do that." So off we went. I tried the backstroke again, but this time the leader of the blue caps was glaring at me and was only one body length away from me. I audibly let out a "UH OH!" and flipped back over, determined not to have anyone swim over me. I doggy paddled in a consistent line, allowing the next wave to swim by me. Once they were passed, I found that the default survival mechanism of the doggy paddle was working for me. I was moving forward, and not sucking down salty water, and I could see exactly where I was going! SCORE!

And there I was... doggy paddling my way through the tide. I made it around buoy #1 but not before almost getting sucked in by the turbulence caused by the hot pink swim caps that met me there. The salt water went flyin, and I was in need of some relief so I waved over a surf board and proceeded to cough up a lung. I apologized for my unladylike reaction and went on my way once the herd passed.  I was met with shouts of encouragement from ladies straggling from the other two waves, telling me that it was half over and I was doing great! One of the lifeguards told me that the waves that were giving me so much trouble on the first half will help me and carry me to the finish on the way back. This brought a big smile to my face, one that wouldn't leave my face until I crossed the finish line.  I paddled to the finish line, thinking "I'm doing it! I'm finishing on my own!!" And like that, I crossed the threshold of the "SWIM FINISH". WOOHOO!

T1 was...interesting. It's so hard to put dry socks on wet feet. lol That was probably the hardest thing to do. I tried to put my things up neatly and found myself piddling with things that didn't matter... hence the 8 minute transition time. The run from transition to the bike mounting line had to be a quarter mile. I wanted to lay down and take a nap halfway between the distance. lol But I kept pushing... I finally made it to the line and got on my bike. I pushed off and focused on gaining control of my bike and downshifting to make it easier to manage the flat terrain. The 10 mile bike ride was smooth and easy. The rides we go on through the tri club are MUCH more difficult than this one. I passed lots of people but I assumed many of them were International distance riders, going for 20 miles. But as I reviewed my results, I passed more than 50 Sprint distance people on the bike. I was shocked! I faced a nasty headwind on the first half but pushed through it. I glanced across the road at the people coming back down to the bike dismount and didn't see anyone grimacing in frustration so I read that as a sign that my torture was a lovely tailwind for them. And indeed it was! On the way back, I was flying in!

I got off of the bike feeling awake. :) I ran into T2 and didn't have to do much. I decided not to busy myself with learning how to clip in and unclip on the bike for this triathlon so I was already in my running shoes. I chose to cycle in them and that worked out fine. So T2 only involved me taking off my helmet and gloves and putting on my visor and race belt. I grabbed my Honeystinger Waffle and ran out. Here's the thing. Honeystinger Waffles are awesome when you're riding a bike. Not so awesome when you're running. Holy indigestion, batman! I kicked myself for not bringing any Gu gel with me. I've never fueled with anything differently before. But I've run on less so I pushed through. Afterall, it was only a 5k. Once my legs adjusted to the run, I decided to keep an even pace. I didn't wear my Garmin so I had no idea how fast I was going. This was probably for the best. I still had to run the RnR Philly half marathon the next day so I had to save something in the tank. I just wanted to finish this race and take it all in. I looked around and enjoyed the view of the ocean from the boardwalk and took note of the kinds of shops and restaurants along the way. Once the run started getting good, I was already back to the race site and on my way to crossing the finish.

I pushed through and crossed the finish line and received my medal. Yep! I became a triathlete! Woohoo!!

YAY! I did it!!

The organizers provided a hot breakfast with bacon, sausage, eggs, danishes, donuts, bagels, and fruit. A nice spread!! The weather was beyond gorgeous and everything just seemed perfect. I didn't pick apart my performance, and didn't have a real interest in running over to the results tent. I knew I didn't win. I knew I didn't place in my age group. But I didn't care. I did the one thing I set out to do and that included finishing and having fun! I just wanted to enjoy the moment. When you're an established athlete in one sport, it's hard to remember that baseline race... the one that you don't have anything to compare it to. I forgot what that felt like... it was nice!

We did it!
It was a long journey to this point, but we made it! It's only the beginning. All in all, the Atlantic City International Triathlon was a WONDERFUL triathlon. I never felt intimidated or confused. Everything was laid out for us and made simple. It was safe, and organized. I'd suggest it to ANYONE looking for a good triathlon in a great location. And afterward, all athletes are given complimentary admission to the Atlantic City Seafood Festival.

Sooooo worth it!
So if you're in town for the race, be sure to attend the festival! You can also chat with other athletes from the race! We met John from Facebook who shared his story with us. Many years ago, he experienced cardiac arrest and actually died! After being resuscitated, he laid in a coma for quite some time. When he recuperated, he decided to lose some weight and get in shape. This was his first triathlon but he's shooting for an Ironman someday.

Go get 'em John! What a way to LIVE!

At the end of the day, I went through my bag and found the race shirt that displayed the most befitting theme for the entire experience from start to finish.