Getting my $h!t Together

I haven’t blogged in many months and it’s reflective of where I’ve been with my triathlon training this year.

A few weeks ago, my husband’s business sponsored a local charity race, and a lot of ladies from my running group were there. I haven’t seen them in awhile because my schedule has been so different since I switched jobs last November. It was awesome to catch-up with everyone after so many months apart, but inevitably one by one, they would ask me what I was training for. For the first time in 8 years, I didn’t have an answer.

I was planning to race Tupper Lake Tinman (which I raced in 2016) at the end of June, but after doing about a third (that may be generous) of the training I would need to truly race a half Ironman, I decided to volunteer at the race instead. I thought about racing the Olympic, but I haven’t really done the speedwork that I would need to race an Olympic, either. Since I had already requested the time off from work and we already had our hotel booked, I ended up using the time to take a relaxing vacation with my mom in the Adirondacks. We had a great time – drank wine, finished a 1,000-piece puzzle, sat by the lake, and watched movies. And I got in one very cool trail run.

 

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Volunteering at Tinman was fun, but of course, not the same as racing, and I think it helped me refocus my priorities a bit. It was actually a wake-up call for me. It reminded me that I feel my best when I am training, eating right, racing, and socializing with like-minded people.

In addition to volunteering, I also happened to listen to a podcast interview with one my former Team-HPB teammates, Mary Knott, on the drive to New York, and I think both of these things combined made me really appreciate how much I miss all aspects of my triathlon life – being in shape, training with friends, and coaching.

I decided to register for next year’s Tinman and I recruited a friend to race with me, as well. That gives me something to look forward to for next year at least, but I knew I would need something to focus on more immediately. I had registered for an October 50k many months ago, but I think part of me doubted whether I would really be able to get in the shape to get it done, especially without a coach. I have been thinking about the race, but not really focusing on it as a goal, since it feels so out of reach at my current fitness level.

Yesterday morning, I tagged along with my sort-of boss for a small group ride that reminded me how much fun it is to train with people. We only rode about 40 miles, but I love social rides in new places with great people and it was just what the doctor ordered to light the fire in me to get serious about training again.

And, then, on top of that, today was day one for the new Machine M3 women’s-only beginner triathlete training group. I’ll be coaching four ladies to finish their first triathlons at the Patriots Sprint Triathlon this fall. Chatting with these ladies at masters swim this morning totally brought me back to 2010, when I thought I might “someday” want to try a tri. It really reminded me how transformative and empowering this sport can be.

So, I sat down and wrote out my training plan for the next three months to get me race ready for the 50k – and I mean really race ready. Not “am I possibly in shape to finish this race?” ready. That’s a tall order because this race is no joke:

The Cloudsplitter 100 will take place on High Knob, deep in the heart of Central Appalachia, during the weekend of October 7-8, 2017. High Knob is located at the highest point in the Cumberland Mountains at an elevation of 4,223 feet above sea level. The 100 mile course, as well as the accompanying 100k, 50k and 25k distances, will wind along rugged, rocky and remote trails within Jefferson National Forest. Although parts of this region have been developed, strip mined or heavily logged, High Knob remains relatively untouched, and it is home to some of the greatest diversity of plant life in the Commonwealth of Virginia, making it a true ecological treasure. The unique trails on High Knob pass through dense forestland dotted with cliffs, water crossings, waterfalls, rock shelters, rhododendron thickets, caves and enormous sandstone boulders. This is one of the more physically demanding trails in the East, and it remains a significant unprotected wilderness area. On a clear day, four other states can be seen from the High Knob summit: West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina.

This morning, after my workout, I texted my friend (I’m not using her name in case she hasn’t put it “out there” that she is doing this yet) to check-in. I think being virtual training buddies (for the race we will actually do together) is going to help me immensely on the motivation front (I hope she doesn’t mind getting texts from me every weekend, because that is totally happening!). She replied back about her training, and I immediately felt that training camaraderie I have been craving. 

So, my focus for the next three months will be the Cloudsplitter 50k. I plan to do a mix of trail runs, hikes, and strength work in preparation for the race. I also hope to incorporate some TRX training back into the mix. It’s not going to be easy – but nothing worth doing ever is.

Off-Season Fun: Trying Masters (again!)

If you’ve visited any triathlon or running websites lately, you’ve probably read at least a few (dozen) articles about the “off-season” being a great time to focus on projects or goals you’re too busy or exhausted to tackle during the season.

Last winter, I made a concerted effort to improve my nutrition and strength and, while I certainly have plenty of room for improvement in both areas, I was successful in making noticeable gains on both fronts. 

This winter, one of my focuses is to improve my attitude toward swimming. 

First, a little background. As a kid, I loved playing in my grandma’s pool. Mostly doing handstands, or playing Marco Polo (great Netflix series, btw), or picking up objects from the deep end, or jumping off the diving board. I was very comfortable “playing” in the water, but I wasn’t lap swimming. 

Fast forward to November of 2010, when, after completing my second marathon, I decided I wanted to try a triathlon and signed up for an adult beginner swim class at the local rec center. I loved the teacher and class, but it was a rude awakening. I was exhausted after just trying to swim 25 yards, even though I was in marathon shape. I also realized I had no clue how to do a proper stroke. I didn’t know my arm wasn’t supposed to go straight out in a giant circle like a windmill. I had a lot of work to do. 

Of course, I did learn to swim well-enough to get through that portion of a sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and finally an IM distance race, but it’s always something I dread. As my husband says, I only swim so that I can bike and run. 

Leading into Ironman Chattanooga, I thought I was going to be a “one and done” for IMs. There were a few reasons for this – the cost of triathlon, the amount of time it takes, etc. – but one of the biggest considerations was the fact that I couldn’t imagine making myself swim for another year! 

Of course, after Chattanooga (a dream come true day for me, despite some mechanical difficulties on the bike), I immediately signed up for Ironman Mont Tremblant. I knew this meant another winter of forcing myself to get to the pool. 

The word “forcing” tells you everything you need to know about my relationship with swimming. 

I decided that I needed to change my mindset toward swimming and I asked Alyssa to help me brainstorm on this. We decided to try adding masters back into my training schedule.

I’ve tried two other masters programs before and I didn’t find it super helpful for where I was in my training at that time.

I was nervous about starting again because I remember the humiliation that comes from not being able to keep up with the rest of your lane and  – worse yet – getting lapped.

After we decided to try masters again, I had put it off a couple of weeks in a row. I was just afraid to try it again, even though part of me wanted to. Fear is a powerful emotion. I was supposed to go on a particular Thursday morning, but I didn’t. The same thing happened the following Thursday, and then the next. I was just sort of hoping Alyssa would forget I ever raised the topic. Then, one Wednesday night, Alyssa sent me a text: “All good for masters tomorrow??”

UGH! ALYSSA! Totally a guilt trip she knew would work on me.

So, up I got at 4:00 a.m. and stumbled out the door to the pool, probably looking like I had been roughed up by a mugger in the parking lot.

Much to my surprise, it actually went well! So well, in fact, that I even asked Alyssa if I could add masters to my schedule on Thanksgiving morning. 

I’ve now gone five times and I’m really enjoying it. The hardest part – BY FAR – is the 4:00 a.m. alarm and I am still adjusting to that. One of the things that has helped in that regard is having coffee made and ready to go when I get up and having a Bobo’s Oat Bar waiting for me as a quick and delicious pre-workout snack. The coffee and food definitely help to wake me up. 

I’ve also totally lucked out that my masters coach and my lane mates have been AWESOME and so understanding when I have had questions. I think this is really key to the experience being enjoyable for me. I also love having one of the day’s workouts out of the way by 6:30 a.m.! 

Coach always knows best and I’m glad she sent me that text to give me the push I needed to give masters a try.

Speaking of awesome lane mates, since we are talking about swimming, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my birthday swim last month. I was fortunate enough to start my birthday by swimming 35 x 100 with two of my besties – Taryn and Leslie – followed by a coffee date! Taryn also made me the most delicious vegan cupcakes ever! I hope we’ll get to meet-up for regular swim dates in the coming months as well. Company always makes time in the pool more fun (notice that I didn’t say “less miserable” – moving in the right direction!)

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I’m so happy to be enjoying myself in the pool again and I can’t wait to see how this will translate to improved swimming during my races in 2016!

Ignite Endurance

In my last post, where I talked about joining the coaching staff at Machine M3 Triathlon, I teased that other exciting things were happening that I couldn’t quite talk about yet.

I can finally let the cat out of the bag – I was invited to join Ignite Endurance!

If you aren’t familiar with Ignite, I’d invite you to check out the club’s website and to like the team’s Facebook page!

I am absolutely thrilled about this opportunity and can‘t wait to represent the team at races in 2016! 

Post-Ironman Recovery and Planning for 2016

It’s now been over two weeks since I finished Ironman Chattanooga and I am still on my post-race high! I’m not sure I can adequately describe my feelings in words, but suffice it to say, the race was one of the best experiences of my life and I can’t wait to do it again!

Since the race, I’ve been taking it easy. My first draft of this post used the word “lazy” but I’m trying to be better about positive self-talk. So, I’m telling myself I’m “giving my body the break it deserves” after such an enormous undertaking.

Truthfully, though, my physical recovery has gone better than I anticipated. The day after the race, I was sore, but I didn’t feel as bad as I had expected. This may have been a result of pounding calories during and after the race, but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. 🙂 In the following days, the only thing that really hurt was my left hamstring, which had been bothering me leading up to the race, so that wasn’t a big surprise. The important thing is that it held up during the race itself (thanks again, Peter!).

During the past two weeks, I haven’t worked out much at all. I’ve done a couple of short runs and rides (on my road bike), TRX class three times, some home workout DVDs, and that’s basically it. I initially ate whatever I wanted, too – which turned out to be an embarrassing amount of vegan junk food (I discovered, unfortunately, that there are WAY too many amazingly delicious vegan junk food options on the market!). But after about ten days, I needed to get back to eating more normally. Ten days is definitely the longest I can survive living like that.

I am still a bit out of sorts scheduling-wise. This has been the hardest part of post-race recovery for me. I think I thrive when I’m in a structured routine and not having that these past two weeks has thrown me a bit off-center. My time management is actually worse, even though I would have expected the opposite since I have so much more free time now. I’ll be glad to get back on a normal schedule next week.

Now that the Ironman is over, I’ve started planning out my 2016 season. Choosing races is always so much fun!

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be running the L.A. Marathon in February. This will be my 6th stand-alone marathon. I’m excited to focus on running for a while, although I am somewhat nervous about the hamstring holding up. We shall see how that goes.

My first tri of the season will be Rev3 Knoxville (half) in May and then I’ll be racing Toughman Tupper Lake Tinman in June. My “A” race of the season will be Mont Tremblant on August 21st. These will all be new races for me and I’m so excited to experience them for the first time.

I may add a local half marathon or ten miler in the spring, depending on scheduling, and I’d like to go back to Team HPB tri camp in Tucson, as well. It’s always so tricky to fit everything in!

I’m actually super excited about Tinman, which jumped out at me because I spent many childhood summers vacationing in Tupper Lake, New York.

Tupper Lake, NY, circa summer 1988? (age 7?). In my mind, that was a beautiful sandcastle.
I’ll be swimming in that water at Tinman.

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Tupper Lake is an absolutely gorgeous area and should be beautiful for racing. Tinman is also a smaller and very affordable race, which really appealed to me, as well. When my mom told me my parents would come to the race if I picked that one, that sealed the deal for me! They’ve never seen me race a triathlon before, so that’s going to be huge. I’m also really looking forward to setting some new goals for the half-iron distance, now that I have three 70.3s under my belt. I think I’ll have more confidence to actually race them now, too, since I know I can survive twice that distance in a race.

In addition to my parents coming to Tinman, Taryn will be joining me at Knoxville and Mont Tremblant, and Ashley at the L.A. Marathon, so I’ll have lots of company at my races next season.

I really couldn’t be more pleased with the year I had this year and I’m super excited about what’s to come in 2016!

 

Finishing Touches

Since taper started, I’ve finally had some time to focus on the non-training aspects of my race preparation. In the past few days, Alyssa and I worked on my nutrition plan for race day, I had my race wheels put on my bike (thanks, Transition Tri!), practiced changing flats, scheduled my final sports massage appointment with Peter, and revised my packing list about four thousand times.

Race wheels are on!

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My number one priority has been the SI joint/hamstring issue. I’ve had a bunch of appointments for massage and chiropractic adjustments and I’ve spent a lot of time icing my SI joint and working on my exercises to strengthen the muscles around my pelvis/hips. I’m doing all I can to be ready for race day.

9 days!!

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Good News and Bad News

I’ve been so busy with Ironman training that I haven’t had much time for blogging lately, but a lot has been going on with me. Unfortunately, it isn’t all positive. I’ll start with the not-so-fun stuff, so that I can get that out of the way and end on a brighter note.

The Bad News

The bad news is that I’m dealing with a bit of an injury issue and that is definitely weighing heavily on my mind as I’m only 17 days out from the IM.

You may remember that back in early spring, I really wanted to break 2:00 in the half marathon. I wasn’t successful in doing so in either of my two attempts, and although I didn’t go into a lot of detail at the time, I was struggling with a left hamstring injury. I just couldn’t seem to get it healthy, no matter what I did. It was extremely frustrating, particularly since I had made improving my strength and keeping up with foam rolling major goals for 2015 precisely to avoid injuries like this.

Later in the spring, I had a Retul bike fit after a friend suggested bad bike position may be causing or exacerbating the hamstring issue. The fitter noticed a pronounced leg length discrepancy that he thought was the cause of my hamstring woes. In his report, he said:

“Stephanie came in with . . . complaints on her left side. We found that she has a hip imbalance which is pulling her right hip up causing an approximate 10mm leg length difference. This is a lot and accounts for nearly all of the compensating injuries on her left side. She needs to see a good chiro and have 2-3 adjustments along with a couple of massages to get her hips back to normal.”

I did have a couple of really great sports massages over the course of the summer and thought I had resolved the issue. However, as soon as I started building up my running mileage again in preparation for the IM, the problem resurfaced.

This time, I ended up seeing a fabulous local massage therapist and active isolated stretching practitioner on the recommendation of two friends (if you are local and want his contact info, let me know!) and to make a long story short, he reached the same conclusion the bike fitter had reached. After just one visit, he concluded that the source of the problem was my SI joint, which was causing my hips to be misaligned, resulting in my left leg being functionally (not actually) longer than my right (the first problem described in this Running Times article). I’ve seen him twice now, with another appointment scheduled for next week, along with a chiropractor to work on my alignment. I’ll be seeing the chiropractor again tomorrow.

I’m trying not to panic, but this is really the last thing I need with the IM just around the corner. In addition to the worry and self-doubt this has caused, there is the considerable cost and time associated with frequent massage and chiropractic appointments. I’ve already felt guilty throughout the Ironman training process about the expense and spending so much time away from work and this is only heightening those feelings. I’m trying to remind myself that we are almost to the finish line, but it’s definitely weighing on mind.

The Good News

But, that’s enough on the bad stuff. The good news is that I’ve registered to run the LA Marathon in February!

I am off the charts excited about this race!

I’ve had running LA on my bucket list for several years now, after watching the race on TV, but really didn’t think it would materialize any time soon for several reasons, including the logistics/cost of racing on the other side of the country and training for a marathon through the winter months.

I had also resisted registering for any races of any kind or distance slated for after the IM because I really wanted to keep my options open for next year (e.g., I may decide to take a break from triathlon and focus on running races, or I may sign up for another IM, or I may decide to do something else totally new – I’m just not sure).

However, on the day LA Marathon registration opened, the stars aligned and my friend Ashley and I decided to register for the race and plan a girls weekend in LA! It was all very spur-of-the-moment, which I think added to the excitement because it’s so out of character for both of us.

I can’t wait to be reunited with this lady in L.A.!

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If you aren’t familiar with the race, the course starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier. Just typing that makes me excited! I’ve only been to LA once – just for one day and many, many years ago – so I am really excited to go back and explore a new city with a dear friend. As an added bonus, the Olympic Marathon Trials are the day before the marathon, so we will get to spectate that race as well. I can’t imagine any more perfect motivation for the following day’s race!

I know Ashley and I are going to have a fabulous time and I can’t wait to get on that plane!

One Month to Go!

With just one month to go until Ironman Chattanooga, I am feeling pretty great. Don’t get me wrong – I’m definitely tired – but I’m really happy with where I am training-wise.

Since my last update, I’ve had a couple of big weeks.

Three weekends ago, I did my first-ever solo 100 mile ride on Saturday and a semi-long run on Sunday. For the run, I ran with my friend Emily along the C&O Canal Towpath from Georgetown (in D.C.) and that was a really nice change of scenery for me. I’ve never run on that path and was eager to try it out. Emily and I had a great run! I really liked having the company, as it made the time on tired legs pass more quickly. While I usually do most of my runs solo, it was definitely worth the extra time and effort to drive into D.C. with a friend to keep my motivation high after a big ride the day before.

Quick photo op in front of the canal.

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Since that training excursion worked out so well, the following weekend, I decided to do something similar for my bike. I drove up to Columbia, Maryland to ride with my friend and fellow Team HPB-er Megan. I’ve ridden in that area twice before, but not this season, so while the route was somewhat familiar, it didn’t feel boring. Getting to ask Megan a million questions about her first Ironman (at Lake Placid just a few weeks ago) was icing on the cake. I hadn’t seen her in-person since her race, so it was great to hear all of the details about her awesome day.

On the bike with Megan in Maryland.

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After riding with Megan on Saturday, I did a solo trail run on Sunday. It was a really beautiful day to get out on the trail!

The Cross County Trail (“CCT”) is a great place to run if you live in Fairfax County.

 

This past weekend, I ran (a lot!) on Saturday and then did the Reston Century Ride, which I also did in 2013, with Taryn on Sunday. It was a really beautiful day and while my time wasn’t much faster than when I did the ride in 2013, I felt a zillion times better afterward. In 2013, I could barely walk to my car after the ride, but this year, I did a nice easy run afterward and felt relatively fine.

After the Century Ride with Taryn.

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I still have a couple of big weeks to go and while I’m a little nervous about it, I’m excited, too.  Race day is almost here!