Race Report: Rev3 Knoxville Half

Taryn and I headed down to Knoxville on Friday for our first half of the season. I hadn’t done this race before but heard great things about it from Alyssa and others and was super excited for the race.

Taryn and I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton directly across the street from the race expo, which was an awesome choice. I would definitely recommend staying at the Sheraton if you decide to do this race (and you should!).

Most of Friday was taken up with the drive, so we didn’t pick up packets until Saturday. After we got those, we hit the practice swim, which is always really critical for me, with swimming being my weakest of the three disciplines. Luckily, the practice swim went great. Everyone was super friendly, the swim was very low key, the water temp (68 point something) was perfect – I couldn’t have asked for a better start to race weekend. We also did a short ride and run, checked our bikes in at transition, attended the athlete briefing, and then went to bed early. The day before a race always goes by faster than I want it to!

With everything going so smoothly on Saturday, I woke up feeling positive and excited on race morning. I got up at 4:00 and we left the hotel around 5:15, which is when transition opened. No race number tattoo or directional snafus this time. We were able to walk to transition and get there by 5:30, which was great, and we had until 6:30 to get set up.

We thought an hour in transition would give us more than enough time to get ready, even if something went wrong. Sure enough, I had to visit the mechanics, as I couldn’t get a reading on the pressure in my rear tire (this is a recurring problem, as I need a valve extender on my rear tube and it’s constantly causing me problems). In any case, they were super friendly and helped me out quickly and efficiently. Huge thanks to those gentlemen for helping me out!

I also spoke to the race officials in transition (I had a random question about where I could put my bag because it was too large to fit neatly by my bike) and they were super friendly. The head official was from Atlanta and we chatted a bit. I loved the low-key, friendly atmosphere at this race from start-to-finish. It really makes such a difference in terms of keeping the athletes calm. The Race Director told us in the athlete briefing on Saturday that our racing experience was their top priority and it really showed throughout the weekend.

As I was finishing getting set up in transition, I happened to look down at my ankle. No chip. I stayed calm, and walked over to Taryn to tell her what was happening. She immediately stopped what she was doing and went to talk to a volunteer about getting me a new chip, as I retraced my steps trying to figure out where mine could have gone. Ultimately, I found it (it had slipped off when I took my pants off), but it was definitely a scare.

We finished getting organized in transition and started the walk toward the race start right around 6:30, with our wave scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m. It’s about a half mile walk from transition to the swim start, but it wasn’t bad at all. And, as a bonus, we were treated with a gorgeous sunrise. 

Soon enough the race was starting and the two waves in front of us had gone off. It was our turn and we walked down to the dock. It’s an in water start, and they give you about five minutes to warm-up in the water before the start. We jumped into the water and I felt good warming up. I was ready to go!

Swim: 45:25 (10/14 AG, 29/47 women)

Oh, the swim. My day did not get off to the start I had hoped for.

In terms of the race itself (as opposed to my personal performance) I actually really liked this swim. Our wave was quite tiny and we were able to spread out a lot at the start. It was a simple out and back course (with the back section slightly longer than out, since the swim start and finish were at two different points along the river) and the water temperature of 67 degrees was really perfect for a long-sleeved wetsuit. The sun made sighting for the first half quite difficult, but, generally, I liked this swim more than most. It should have been a great swim day for me.

It was not.

The problem came when my cap started creeping upward around the turnaround. If you know me at all, you know I am a rule follower. Always have been, always will be. The minute my cap started to slip, I was panicked about getting a penalty. At the athlete briefing the day before the race, they had emphasized littering as something they would be looking for during the race. Surely coming out of the water sans cap would be a penalty, right? I wasn’t sure. But I thought it was a possibility. I knew I couldn’t swim holding my cap in my hand. Especially since I wasn’t even half way through the swim. I had to figure something out and I had to do it fast.

I tried stopping several times to pull it down. This wasn’t working because my head was wet and the cap would just slide right back up. The only result was that I was messing up my goggles. It was one of those situations where time (and quite literally other racers) seem to be passing you by at warp speed, but you can only seem to work in slow motion. After several attempts, I knew this approach wasn’t going to work. I finally swam over to a kayak and asked the kayaker if I could hold on and try to fix my cap. I took my goggles off completely, took the cap off completely, and started from scratch. I finally got my cap back on my head, got my goggles back on, and started swimming again, but it felt like an eternity had passed while all of this was going on.

I did finally finish and get out of the water (volunteers pull you up on to the dock and then there is a bit of a run to get back into transition), but I was definitely shaken up.

Looking at photos afterward, it was very obvious my cap wasn’t on properly before the race even started.

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

Lesson learned to make sure I really pull my cap down completely before future races.

Bike: 3:15:33 (7/14 AG, 12/47 women)

I’ve done a lot of riding this month, including the Tour de Skyline, which entailed riding over 200 miles in 2 days with a ton of climbing. I thought I was set up for a super strong bike.

However, with the less than ideal swim behind me, I spent the entire start of the bike just trying to calm down and stop being mad at myself about my damn cap!

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Photo from the Rev3 Facebook page.

The course starts in the city and then heads out to the country. In the more rural sections, there were some spectacular views. It actually reminded me quite a bit of riding in Loudoun County. Hilly, but very scenic and green.

I would classify the bike course at Knoxville as a challenging course. Before the race, I had read in a race report that this is “not a PR course” and I think that’s definitely true. There is a lot of climbing and for some reason, I felt like I couldn’t really take advantage of the downhills as much as I normally would, which usually helps make up for the climbing on a hilly course.

There was a course marking snafu (not Rev3’s fault), but that didn’t impact my race. I thought the course was very well-marked with color-coded arrows and signs throughout. There were also a few special “caution” signs along the course and those were helpful. I really only found one turn to be especially tricky.

There were two turnarounds on the bike course and I was able to see Taryn twice along the course, which was nice.

My overall bike speed was slow – in the low 17s – which is slower than where I wanted to be. Even though I stayed on top of my nutrition throughout the ride, I definitely felt like I wasn’t able to go as fast as I had expected.

I finally got back to transition at 3:15, which was honestly pretty disappointing. I dismounted, ran back in to transition, and got ready for the run as quickly as I could.

Run: 2:18:19 (9/14 AG, 22/47 women) 

So, my PR for a 70.3 run is a 2:02, which I ran at Challenge Atlantic City last year. After my solid run at Monticelloman (a 54:14 on a challenging run course) earlier this month, I thought I would be in the same 2:00 ballpark here, but obviously, I thought wrong.

I didn’t start out strong and die in the heat or get injured or anything like that. I was just running slow from the get-go. I tried taking in extra calories along the run course, thinking that may give me a boost, but instead, all it gave me was GI distress.

At each of the aid stations (spaced about one mile apart along the run course), I took a gel or Coke or Gatorade. I tried ice in my bra. I tried ice in my hat. I really wanted to “fix” whatever my problem was, but nothing was working. I’m honestly not sure what I could have done differently to remedy the situation. I was just slow. 

The only thing that really hurt on the run was my feet. I am using a different brand of elastic laces this season and they are not as adjustable as the ones I used last year. My feet must have been swollen because my shoes were painfully tight (I wore the same shoes in Monticelloman without any issue). Although this wasn’t ideal, I don’t really think it impacted my race. It was an annoyance, but, again, I don’t think there was any clear cause to my bad run – it was just one of those off days.

Toward the very end of the run, two of the Rev 3 Team athletes ran up from behind me and were trying to encourage me along (thanks, guys!), but I really didn’t have anything extra to give. They ran past me and I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish.

This ended up being my slowest 70.3 run EVER (yes, even slower than Syracuse, which is a much tougher run course) at 2:18:19. It was definitely NOT the run I had expected to have at this race.

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My final finish time was 6:25:52 (it hurts just to type that), which landed me in 8th place in my age group (18 out of 47 women).

In happier news, Taryn was waiting at the finish for me. She had a fantastic race and WON her age group! This was her second podium this month!

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We ended the day on our balcony, over-looking the expo, sipping sparkling wine to celebrate Taryn’s awesome day. It was the perfect way to end the day.

Despite my performance, Rev3 Knoxville was a great race. The volunteers, Rev3 staff, and Rev3 Team athletes were all fabulous. I loved the course. Rev3 puts on a fantastic, well-organized race. I loved this race and definitely plan to go back someday.

While my race was disappointing, I am trying to convince myself that I will come back stronger and smarter from this experience. Everyone has bad races – even the pros – and the only thing I can do about it now is to have a positive attitude and move forward.

As always, I want to thank my awesome husband for his support; Alyssa, who even called me after the race from somewhere on her journey home from Lanzarote to give me a post-race pep talk; Bobo’s Oat Bars; and all of Ignite’s fabulous sponsors.

Next up for me is the Tupper Lake Tinman half on June 25.

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Race Report: Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon

On Sunday, I raced the Olympic distance race at Monticelloman for the second year in a row.

Last year, I had a strong race at this event. My goal for this year was to try to improve on my times from last year, knowing that I have put in a lot of time and effort in the past year to improve my swim, bike, and run.

I’ve been challenging myself by going to early morning masters swim once a week; going to evening group rides once a week (even though I often get dropped during these rides); and pushing myself on the run with lots of speedwork on the treadmill. This March, I went through a bit of a training slump, but I’ve come back strong.

Despite knowing I’ve put in the work, leading up to this year’s Monticelloman, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to replicate my strong day from last year, particularly on a challenging course with rolling hills on the bike and run.

Race goals aside, I was super excited for race weekend because I was racing with two of my favorite people – Taryn and Megan.

Volunteering with Megan & Taryn at IM Maryland last year (someone didn’t wear her costume!)

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We were staying together for the weekend and I knew we were going to have a lot of fun hanging out together. The three of us met up at packet pickup at Lake Monticello on Saturday and did a shakeout ride and swim and then went to dinner. 

My pre-race routine was a bit different for this race. On the Friday night before the race, I went to a wine tasting party. I normally wouldn’t do something like that so close to a race, but I really like this group of ladies and wanted to go. The night before the race, the forecast was calling for thunderstorms and we were sure the race was going to be cancelled. So, we went to Ben & Jerry’s and got ice cream after dinner (if you haven’t tried their new vegan ice creams, you should!).

Of course, by the time we got back home, the forecast had cleared and we were expecting rain, but no thunderstorms, on race morning. Whoops! #sorrynotsorry

I called my husband before I went to bed on Saturday night. He said I should really work hard to have a good race because then I would have an excuse to drink wine and eat ice cream before every race going forward. Good point by the hubs!

On race morning, we woke up to pouring (I mean seriously pouring) rain and, of course, there was lots of discussion about what this would mean in terms of what we should wear (arm warmers? vest? jacket?), how we should alter our racing strategy, why are we even doing this crazy sport, should we just go out for pancakes instead, etc. We decided to go the race and hope for the best.

Luckily, shortly after we got into transition, we ran into my Team HPB and Ignite Endurance teammate, Nate, and he talked us through some of the questions we had (thank you, Nate!). I have to say, I did feel better about the rain after talking to him. The rain actually let up a bit as we were getting set up, but it was still quite cold. I was glad to get into my wetsuit, which kept me warm.

Megan was racing the half aqua bike, so she started in an early wave. Taryn and I were starting together in a later wave, so we were able to walk down to the beach to the start together.  When we got there, we both noticed we did not see a lot of pink (female athlete) caps. There were a lot more men than women. We did start to see some ladies trickle into the water and we ran into two athletes who live locally to us, Karen and Kate. Karen and I are making pre-race meets ups a habit – we hung out before the start at Atlantic City last year. It’s always nice to see familiar faces at the start of the race when nerves are a bit high.

One of the really nice things about this race is that Lake Monticello has a smooth sandy bottom and is shallow enough to stand for the start. The water in Lake Monticello was cold. I knew once we got moving we would warm up, but standing there was less than pleasant. Two waves of men were starting the Olympic in front of us, and, of course, as we were waiting, the rain started again – just in time to make things difficult for sighting on the swim course!

I’ve been working a lot on my swim, both with Alyssa and by attending masters with Machine M3 Triathlon every Thursday morning at my local rec center (I need to give a shout out to the Machine coaches – Andrew and Cindy – for helping me improve my swimming over the last several months), so I was hopeful that I would have a strong swim. I didn’t start off great (story of my OWS life!), but I eventually settled into a rhythm and was able to try to actually think about my stroke and the things I’ve been working on over the last few months.

Side note: I think I’ve mentioned this before, but for anyone who has open water swim anxiety, I highly recommend investing in a more expensive wetsuit. It has helped me so much to not feel so restricted in the water. Triathlon is expensive and you need to pick and choose what you want to spend money on. I still don’t use power on my bike, but I bought a nice wetsuit and that has really been worth it to me.

Sighting on the swim course was difficult in the rain, but generally speaking, the swim went by pretty quickly (is that the first time I’ve ever said that?) and soon enough I was back at the beach. I purposefully didn’t wear a watch for the swim, so I wasn’t sure of my time when I exited the water, but I knew I did the best I could on the day.

I scurried into transition and tried to get ready for the bike. It was POURING at this point and trying to get in and out of clothes and organized for the bike was a struggle. This was not the speediest of transitions for this girl (sorry, Alyssa!).

I headed out on the bike going a bit conservatively because of the rain, particularly because I knew there was a fairly steep descent within the first mile of the course. I took it easy there and on a few other tricky spots, but at the same time, I tried to push myself to go hard. Eventually, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and I was able to really push myself on the bike as the miles went by. The best news of the day is that I didn’t get any flats!

My only mechanical issue was that the velcro strap holding my aero bottle in place came undone after I hit a bump in the road. I am paranoid about following the rules and didn’t want to get a littering penalty, so I was trying to hold the bottle in place with my hand. The problem was that I couldn’t use my brakes with my hand holding the bottle in place. I finally figured out a way to wrap the strap around the bottle in a way that loosely held the bottle in place (better than nothing!) until I got back to the transition area. I slowed down a bit to deal with the bottle issue, but I tried to pick it back up as soon as I could.

I rode back to transition, dismounted, trotted back into transition with my bike (I was not about to try to run fast on wet pavement wearing bike shoes!) and just as I rounded the turn, I saw Taryn leaving transition. I shouted “GO TARYN!,” but she didn’t hear me.

This second transition was much quicker than the first (thankfully!) and I was able to get out on the run course in pretty smooth fashion.

I knew the run course was going to be brutal with all of the hills, especially after pushing myself on the bike. But, I also knew I just needed to focus on the task at hand (good form, fueling, etc.) and not let myself get distracted thinking about the hills or where I may or may not be in terms of my overall time or age group place.

Before the race, I was worried that a lot of the volunteers weren’t going to show up because of the weather. I wouldn’t need them for nutrition on the bike (I can carry plenty of nutrition to cover a 90 minute race), but I would for the 10k run. There were probably less volunteers than last year, but it didn’t negatively impact my racing experience. There were two adorable little girls – maybe 4 and 5 – volunteering on the run course and I ate a gel as I was approaching them. One of the girls must have seen me do that because she said something like “you can just drop your Gu packet here, we’ll get it for you!” So darn cute! 

In any case, I kept motoring along and would occasionally glance at my Garmin. I was hovering right around 9:00 mm pace, which was good, but nothing spectacular. I tried to push a bit harder.

A woman in my age group came running past me around mile 4-ish. I tried to stay with her, but I couldn’t. I kept her in my line of sight though and kept pushing. I always have to pull out all the stops in terms of positive thinking when I’m trying to push hard in a race. This time, I thought about an especially challenging workout I recently did with my friend (and Team HPB teammate), Beth, that finished with us running a mile as fast as we could. I ran that mile MUCH faster than I thought I was going to be able to during that workout. So, I told myself I could push harder than I thought I could to maintain my run pace to the finish.

I crossed the finish line and knew I had given it my all on the run because I felt like I might puke (luckily, I did not). I met up with Taryn right away and we talked about our days. We both knew we had strong races, but we anxiously awaited the posting of our times to confirm. Thankfully, it was good news for both of us!

My finish time of 2:42:22 was over 12 minutes faster than my race last year and I had improved my times in the swim, bike, and run.

2015     33:17     1:19:23     57:47     2:54:34

2016     26:07     1:16:26     54:14     2:42:22

I also ended up finishing in 2nd in my age group, which meant I would be standing on the podium for the first time ever. Now, full disclosure, the weather kept a lot of athletes home this year. They haven’t posted results by Age Group yet, but I saw very few women (of any age) out on the course on Sunday. However, even in last year’s women’s 35-39 field of 20 athletes, I would have finished in second place. Yes, I checked. I can only control what I can control. I can’t control who shows up on race day, but I can control my own performance. Small field or not, I am very happy with my day.

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Huge thanks to Alyssa and Team HPB; Ignite Endurance and our amazing sponsors; Andrew and Cindy at Machine M3; Bobo’s Oat Bars; and, of course, my fabulous husband for his continued support of this crazy hobby of mine.

Shout out to Taryn, who CRUSHED it and finished 1st AG in her first race back after she was hit by a car on the bike last year; Karen, who finished 2nd AG behind Taryn; and Nate, who won the half. Megan fought through the cold rain and finished the half aqua-bike, despite a rough day. 

I’m so glad I came back to Monticelloman for a second year. I definitely plan to do this race again in 2017.

Race Report: L.A. Marathon (and Spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials)

I had a fantastic time in L.A. this past weekend, albeit short. From spectating the Olympic Marathon Trials, to running the L.A. Marathon, to spending time with my dear friend Ashley, this was most definitely a weekend to remember.

I flew out to L.A. on Friday to meet up with Ashley, who I haven’t seen since August 2014. I had to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to catch my early flight out of Dulles. After a brief layover in San Francisco, I landed at LAX around noon and met up with Ashley, who was coming in from Phoenix, at baggage claim.

Only in California! A sign at the airport in San Fran.

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We knew we were in L.A. when we stepped outside and the first person we saw was a little girl (maybe 5 years old) wearing sunglasses and Beats by Dre. L.A. oozes cool.

Ashley and I took a cab downtown and checked into our hotel – the Sheraton Downtown. Between waking up so early and the 3-hour time difference, I was starving, so the first order of business was getting some food. After enjoying some very yummy Asian food, we headed to the race expo to pick up our bibs. We somehow turned what should have been a short walk (the expo was just a few blocks from the hotel) into an adventure (we got a little turned around and ended up at the place where people were picking up their tickets for the Grammy Awards), but we eventually found our way. The expo was huge and we walked around briefly to scope everything out. After the expo, we hit the hotel gym (the Sheraton has super nice gym, by the way) for a brief, post-travel shake-out jog. We grabbed dinner and then – Type A personalities that we are – figured out logistics for the rest of the weekend. We decided where we would stand to spectate the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday, we thought-through our plan for race morning on Sunday, I figured out my coffee plan for the trip (priorities!), etc.

Saturday

On Saturday morning, we went for a brief shake-out run around downtown and then grabbed breakfast at the Whole Foods just a couple of blocks away from the Sheraton (another plus for the Sheraton). We showered and I put on my most patriotic outfit and off we went to watch the Trials!

Spectating! USA, USA!

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Spectating the Trials was incredible. There was a palpable buzz in the air. Ashley and I were actually nervous for the runners! We found a great spot to watch them walking to their warm-ups, which was awesome. They are all SO teeny in person – even the men. These runners have thighs the size of my arms!

I took a ton of photos during the race, but here are a few of my favorites.

Meb and Galen Rupp 

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great shot of Meb at the finish, but he was waving the American flag with one hand and pumping his fist/giving high fives with the other – it was awesome! He’s just the best!

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I am so thrilled with our women’s team. We couldn’t ask for three more fabulous women to represent us in Rio.

The winner of the women’s race, Amy Cragg, looking super strong and fresh at the finish.

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Desi finished in second.

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Shalane fought hard to hang on for third.

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Spectating the Trials in person was even more amazing than I hoped it would be. It’s something I will never forget.

The races ended in the early afternoon and Ashley and I took it easy for the rest of the day. We reviewed our logistics for the next day and laid out our clothes. We wanted to be ready to go in the morning. We had noticed the day before that the Sheraton’s gym had foam rollers and massage sticks (how awesome is that?), so we put in a solid foam rolling session before bed.

Sunday

On race morning, we woke up at 4:00 a.m., had our breakfasts, got dressed, and walked to the shuttle buses. For those of us staying at the Sheraton and other downtown hotels, free shuttle service was provided to the race start at Dodger Stadium and back from the finish in Santa Monica. It was so convenient that we only had to walk a couple of blocks to get on our shuttle. The whole process went very smoothly. It really made race morning a breeze.

We were able to hang out inside Dodger Stadium before the race, which was pretty cool. We took a couple of photos and hung out for a few minutes and then I headed out for my warm-up. It was actually a bit cold, so I was glad to get my body moving. In addition to the bathrooms inside the stadium, there were more than enough porta potties outside, so there wasn’t a long wait at all to use the bathroom before the race. Ashley and I went to the bathroom one more time, gave each other a hug, and off we went to our respective corrals.

Inside the stadium on race morning.

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I had some trouble getting into my corral. I couldn’t figure out where to enter the lettered corrals and had to slowly work my way through the very crowded general corral to find my place with the 4:15 pace group in corral D (there were five lettered corrals, seeded based on prior marathon finish times, and then a large general corral).

Even though this was a large race, the start was much smoother and quicker than the other large marathons I’ve done (Chicago and NYC). I crossed the line just a few minutes after the start of the race.

I wasn’t wearing a Garmin for this race, but my plan was to stick with the 4:15 pace group. The last time I tried to run with a pace group, I lost them at the very first water stop, so this time, I made a point of staying right with Jo, our pacer, even if it meant jostling a little in the crowds at the start of the race. I stuck like glue to that pacer for the first few miles, even though the pace felt really fast.

While the elevation profile really doesn’t seem bad at all, the course was quite hilly, particularly over the first six miles or so. Between the hills and what felt like a quick pace, I was starting to struggle. I knew it was WAY too early to be feeling that way and I had in the back of my mind the time I tried to run the Chicago Marathon in the heat and ended up walking to the finish in 5:20-something.

This elevation chart doesn’t do the course justice!

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At one point, we ran past a clock and I realized we were way ahead of where we should have been to run 4:15 pace (I was wearing a pace band that listed all of the splits for a 4:15 marathon). I wasn’t sure what pace we were running, but this was confirmation for me that it was too fast. Knowing it was going to warm up throughout the day, I decided to let the pacer go a little after mile 5.

This was not the start I was hoping for. I tried not to get upset and to just relax and settle in to a comfortable pace, which is easier said than done when you’re in a race, knowing you’ve already abandoned the plan at less than 1/4 of the way through!

In an effort to take my mind off of the pacing issues, I told myself to just do what I did in Chattanooga – just put one foot in front of the other until the finish.

The course was just incredible. Looking up at the mountains and the palm trees, the fancy shops and restaurants – I actually liked this course more than New York. Maybe that’s just because I grew up near NYC and went to law school there, so the sights there aren’t new to me. In any case, this course was spectacular.

At around mile 10-ish, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see my friend Cassie who also coaches at M3. I was so thrilled to see her, especially since I wasn’t feeling great. She reiterated what I already knew, which is that I really needed to calm down and settle in. We chatted briefly and then she ran ahead.

It was definitely warming up and I was trying to take in fluids at every aid station and stay on top of my gels and salt to ensure I was giving my body everything it would need to get to Santa Monica. The aid stations were just about every mile, which was fabulous. It really helps you count down the miles and gives you something to look forward to.

The crowds were amazing along the entire course. Their support was incredible. The volunteers were great, too – there were lots of kids volunteering, which was really cool to see. Everyone had words of encouragement. I loved looking at the crowds and volunteer groups as we went along. There were cheerleaders and drag queens and people who looked straight out of magazines – you just never knew what you were going to see next.

I think this was the most diverse race I have ever done in terms of both runners and spectators. So many people of different ages and sizes and colors. It was awesome! L.A. has an amazing program called Students Run L.A. (“SRLA”). From the SRLA website:

The mission of Students Run LA is to challenge at-risk secondary students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience: The training for and completion of the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon.

There were hundreds of students on the course. These kids were so fabulous. I was just so darn impressed with them.

The miles were ticking by and I had no idea where I was time-wise, but I knew I was going slow. I kept telling myself “only X miles left,” but I was hurting. Everything hurt – even things that haven’t ever hurt me on runs before. My toes were hurting, which was a first for me. I took some Ibuprofen, hoping that would help, and just tried to keep moving. When I got to the last few miles, I could finally do the math and see that I still had a chance of finishing in less than 4:30, but it was going to be close (heading into the race I thought I would be happy with anything better than a 4:30 finish time). That was good motivation for me to keep moving as fast as I could, despite the pain.

As we approached the finish in Santa Monica, there was a drastic weather change – it was noticeably cooler, with a fog that really helped cool things down. At this point, unfortunately, I was in too much pain to really capitalize on the improved weather. My hamstrings, quads, feet, hips, low back – basically, everything – was hurting so bad that I was running with a bit of a limp. I knew I was SO close and tried to push, but just couldn’t. I’ve actually never been hurting so bad that I couldn’t give a final push in a race, but there is a first for everything, I suppose. Several people passed me in the final stretch as they surged to the finish and I was just hobbling along.

As I crossed a few volunteers asked if I was okay because I was stumbling a bit, and I said I was. I was just in pain. There were tons of volunteers at the finish, which was great.

I got my medal, which is gorgeous. It’s two-sided and one of the heaviest medals I’ve ever gotten.

My medal.

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I knew I finished in just under 4:30, even though I wasn’t sure of my exact time. As I mentioned, I had said prior to the race that in light of the heat I would be happy with anything under 4:30, but in the moment, it can be hard to accept anything less than what you know you can do (and I know I have a faster marathon in me somewhere). I was tired and in a lot of pain, and disappointed in my time and I got a little emotional at the finish. But I was able to pull it together after I drank some water and ate a banana and recovery bar.

I found Cassie and we were able to chat for a bit post-race, which was great. She had a good day, even though her training had not gone as she had hoped, and I was very happy for her.

#Twinning with Cassie in Lululemon at the finish.

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I met up with Ashley and unfortunately she did not have the day she was hoping for. I was super bummed for her, but she seemed to be in good spirits.

We found the shuttle back to the hotel. The Sheraton offered a late (3:00 p.m.) checkout option for $80, which we decided was worth the money so that we could shower before getting on our planes. After showering and checking-out of the hotel, we grabbed lunch at The Counter, which was right by the Sheraton. They had great vegan burgers and fries – the perfect post-marathon meal.

We had enough time to grab a drink at the airport and then Ashley was off on her way back to Phoenix.

I was definitely sad to say goodbye to her, but I am so glad we did this. It was out of character for both of us to decide on a whim to register for a race across the country, but I am so glad we did!

My final race time was 4:28:06, which is less than 5 minutes slower than my marathon PR. All things considered, I’ll take it!

Final Thoughts on the Race:

I can’t say enough about this race. I’d love to do it again one day and would definitely recommend it to others. It has all of the benefits of a big city race without the negatives that usually come along with it. For example, when I did New York in 2013, I didn’t check a bag, but leaving the race was still a nightmare. We were directed through what seemed like at least a half mile walk, if not more, before we could exit Central Park and meet-up with our families. Here, the finish process was very easy and smooth. Similarly, pre-race in New York is nuts. You have to get on a motor coach super early in the morning and then sit outside on Staten Island for hours before you can start the race – in my case at 11:00 a.m. Here, walking to our shuttle bus at 5:00 in the morning was a breeze, and we could hang out in Dodger Stadium before the race and use real bathrooms. And, L.A. started at 7:00 a.m., so you didn’t need to make special plans for nutrition because of a late start. I actually even think the crowd support was better in L.A. in terms of crowds being spread out throughout the entire course. I will definitely do L.A. again someday. I loved it!

Travel Notes:

If you’re thinking about doing this race, I would recommend staying at the Sheraton. It was affordable, within walking distance to the expo, restaurants, Whole Foods, etc., and included the free shuttle service to the start and from the finish on race day. A taxi from LAX to the hotel was about $60 with tip. As I mentioned above, they also allowed for late check-out (for a fee) after the race.

I do wish they would have opened their coffee shop at 4:00 a.m. on race day to provide runners with the option to purchase coffee, bagels, bananas, etc. before boarding the shuttles to Dodger Stadium. I’ve never understood why hotels don’t do this for races. It would make race morning logistics so much easier for the runners (and families) and surely would bring-in enough revenue to cover the cost of paying employees to work.

Ashley booked our room as soon as hotel options were posted on the L.A. Marathon website, shortly after we registered for the race. I’m not sure how quickly it sold out, but if you want to stay there, I would try to book early.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a red eye home on the night of the marathon 😉

I’m so glad I went on this adventure to L.A. and I look forward to going back again soon!

 

Race Report: PHUNT 25k

Saturday was a day of many firsts for me. I ran my first race of 2016, my first 25k, and my first trail race. It was also the first of several races Taryn and I will race together in 2016.

Taryn convinced me to register for the TrailDawgs PHUNT 25k sometime during IM training last year. She ran the race in 2015 and we thought it would be a fun adventure. Alyssa’s roots are in ultrarunning and she has won the 50k version of the PHUNT (at least once, maybe twice?), so she was 100% on board with me giving it a try, even with the race falling just one month before the L.A. Marathon.

A few ladies from the running group Taryn and I belong to, “MRTT,” registered, too, as did another of Alyssa’s athletes, Beth. I was so excited to get to see Beth, who I haven’t seen since July.

The race was in Elkton, MD, which is almost in Pennsylvania, so we had a long drive on race morning. I drove thirty minutes to meet Taryn at her house at 6:00 a.m. We then had an additional two hour drive from her house to Elkton. Patty from MRTT carpooled with us as well.

The Race Site in Elkton, MD

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As soon as we arrived at the race site, I knew this was going to be a very different experience than running a road race. The first thing I learned was that the trail racing uniform is shorts, a long sleeve top, compression socks, hydration vest, and beard. The male grooming products industry is really missing out by not sponsoring these races!

It was much chillier than I had anticipated and I went back and forth about what to wear a zillion times. I made a last minute decision to switch out my tee shirt for a long sleeve (this turned out to be a mistake), we picked up our bibs (there were no timing chips – whaaaatt?!), adjusted our gear, and got ready to race.

I spotted Beth (and her awesome dad, who also ran the race) and we took a few minutes to catch up.

Reppin’ for TeamHPB at PHUNT

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We proceeded to the athlete briefing (which was indoors, thank goodness!), where the race director provided a brief overview of the course markings and then everyone started walking outside. I started noticing people running and realized the race was starting! This was just one example of how informal and un-type A this race was, especially as compared with triathlon.

Beth, Taryn, and I started running together. Right off the bat, it was very clear that the mud was going to be a factor. We were slipping and sliding even on some of the flatter sections at the start of the course. When we hit the trails, we had to run single file and there were definitely some back-ups where we were stuck behind other runners and had to wait to pass. Again, this was a new experience for me, so I just tried to soak it all in.

We ran into another MRTT runner, Anna, at the first aid station (around mile four) and it was great to see another familiar face on the course.

I really enjoyed running with Beth and Taryn, but it became obvious pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with them (and was going to blow-up if I tried), so right after we ran through the first aid station, I backed off a bit and they ran ahead.

I tried to settle into a more comfortable pace for me. There were definitely some sections of the course that I had to walk, either due to mud, a steep incline or decline, or a combination of the two. There were also some water crossings that required caution. I’m not very coordinated (understatement of the century) and I really didn’t want to fall and hurt myself with a marathon less than one month away!

Have I mentioned it was muddy?

(photo credit Sean Toohey, top, and Patty Thompson, bottom)

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The scenery was beautiful, but I was trying to focus on foot placement and surely missed out on some of the views along the course. There were switchbacks in a couple of spots and I tried to see if I could spot Taryn and Beth running ahead of me, but never did.

There were some noticeable wind gusts, but generally, the weather was perfect. I definitely could have worn a tee shirt and shouldn’t have switched into my long sleeve before the race. We really lucked out, since it snowed during this race last year!

Even after I slowed down a bit, I still felt like I was struggling. I distinctly remember at mile 19 of my first marathon (in 2009) thinking I was in over my head and shouldn’t have registered for such a difficult race. I felt the same way about half way through the PHUNT. It was a much tougher course than I expected and everything from my waist down was hurting.

Alyssa didn’t want me worrying about my speed, so I did not wear a Garmin. There were no mile markers on the course, so I wasn’t sure about my mileage throughout the race, other than knowing the third aid station was around mile 10. We had been warned that the 5 (ish) miles after that last aid station were the toughest, so I tried to really stay on top of my fueling. As I thought I might be getting close to the finish, I asked someone running next to me if he knew how much longer we had to go. He replied: “For the first loop?” I can’t even imagine running the 50k on this course. My hat is off to those runners for sure!

On the Run (photo credit Ryan Goverts)

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The last little bit of the course is uphill and when you cross the line, the race volunteers hand record your number. They haven’t posted results yet, but I believe I finished in about 3:19.

I ran into Taryn as I crossed the line. She had a HUGE PR over her time from the prior year (over 20 minutes!). I was elated for her, especially since she had a tough end to her season last year and couldn’t run for many weeks. I’m so proud of you, Taryn!

I was definitely hurting as we headed back inside for the post-race food. (They had vegan soup, which I was thrilled about! So many races only offer post-race pizza, which I can’t enjoy. Thank you so much to the race organizers for accommodating vegetarians and vegans!) We met up with Beth and the other MRTT-ers there and everyone agreed it was a really challenging day. I was exhausted. I texted Alyssa to let her know I was near death and of course she was responding with words like “fun” and using exclamation points. I told her I would need a few minutes before I could even think about whether I enjoyed myself out there!

Since this was my first trail race, I don’t have much to compare it to, but the course seemed to be quite hilly (supposedly over 1800 feet elevation gain) and I was definitely hurting more than I would be running 15 miles on the roads. I honestly think this 25k was as difficult as any road marathon I’ve done.

Post-Race with Taryn, who had an awesome day!

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Yup, it was muddy! I didn’t even bring my shoes home!

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By the time we ate, collected everyone, and headed home, it was 5:00 p.m. before I got back to my house. I took a shower, ate dinner, and fell asleep at 6:30. Trail running is no joke!

It’s now Monday and even though I am still sore I can honestly say that I do want to try trail racing again. It was a huge test for me – physically and mentally – and a great change of pace from road races and triathlon. I may even do PHUNT again next year!

I would definitely recommend this race to anyone thinking about giving trails a try. It was a fun, friendly event; very affordable; and the post-race food was great. I also loved the medals, even though I’m not a huge hardware person. If you drive to and from Northern Virginia on race day, it is an all-day affair, but doable. The weather is always going to be a big question mark in January, but that’s just part of what makes trail running such an adventure! Just get out on some trails and hills beforehand because it isn’t an easy course.

Thanks to Taryn, Beth, Patty, and all of the other ladies who made the day so much fun! And, of course, thanks to the “TrailDawgs” for a great event!

 

My Favorite Recipes of 2015

For some reason it hit me a couple of days ago that I have officially stuck with cooking healthy, vegan meals for an entire year now! In honor of this anniversary, I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite recipes from 2015.

Best Recipe

Minimalist Baker Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls 

I made these on Thanksgiving morning and I am still thinking about them. They were a huge hit at our house – even with my non-vegan husband. This was one of the most complicated recipes I tried all year (I had to work with yeast for the first time ever), but it was well-worth the effort.

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Best Sandwich

Minimalist Baker Chickpea Sunflower Sandwich 

Make it. Now. It’s that good. And make sure you make the garlic hummus sauce, even though the recipe says it’s optional. It’s really the best part of the entire sandwich!

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Honorable Mention: Tiny Lemon Tree Cannellini Bean Sandwich

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Best Salad

Tasty Yummies Autumn Harvest Salad 

This hearty and flavorful roasted vegetable salad is meant to be served at room temperature. I highly recommend adding butternut squash to this one.

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Best Entree

Vegan Yumminess Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Tofu 

I’ve made a zillion versions of this now, using different combinations of vegetables and variations of the sauce, and they are all amazing. Tofu “stir fry” is a great way for me to pump up my vegetable intake when I feel like I’ve been lacking in that area.

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Best Knock-Off of a Meat Dish

One Green Planet Tempeh Gyros with Tzatiki 

I actually hate most meat knock-off dishes. I just don’t find them appealing at all. And I’m actually not a huge tempeh fan, if I’m being completely honest. But this recipe is a winner. I think marinating the tempeh for several hours really makes the difference here, so make sure you don’t cut any corners with marinating. It will be worth it! I also suggest you make extra tzatiki because it’s awesome for dipping (veggies, pita chips, etc.) and as a salad dressing, too. 

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Best Chili

Taste of Home (aka “Julianna’s”) Chili

There are LOTS of veggie chili options and I like several of them, but this is my standout. It’s easy to make (the hardest part is chopping up all of the vegetables), super healthy, and has great flavor. I call it “Julianna’s” chili, since my friend Julianna (who is a meat-eater) introduced me to the recipe last winter and I have been hooked on it ever since.

The only photo I have of this one is pre-cooking, but you get the idea. It’s loaded with veggies!

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Please let me know what you think if you try any of these! Happy cooking!!

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!

Vegan Thanksgiving 2015: Part II

I’m happy to report that my first homemade vegan Thanksgiving was a success! Generally, everything went well in the kitchen and the food was tasty (check out my previous post for links to all of the recipes I used).

So, how did we like each recipe? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “spit out first bite and threw the rest in the trash” and 5 being “loved it and will definitely make again,” here are the scores:

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Pecans: 5

This was the most difficult of the day’s seven recipes and definitely gave me the most anxiety leading into Thanksgiving Day. I’ve never worked with yeast before and I was concerned that my dough may not rise properly. However, I didn’t have any issues with the yeast or any other aspects of the recipe. The whole process took about 2:30, including letting the dough rise, assembly, baking, and cooling, but for special occasions, I definitely think the effort was worth it and I will make these again.

After rolling out the dough, you add the yummy filling ingredients, including pumpkin butter, cinnamon, sugar, and chopped pecans.

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The final product, including icing and more chopped pecans!

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Pumpkin Chia Pudding Parfait with Ginger Snaps: 4.5

This pudding was super easy to make. It’s healthy (canned pumpkin, chia seeds, and spices are sweetened with just a bit of maple syrup) and delicious, and even won rave reviews from my meat and potatoes loving husband! I definitely plan to make this again. The only reason this didn’t get a 5 was because the cinnamon rolls were just too delicious for anything else to get the same score.

I was definitely glad I made the pudding the day before because it was one less thing to worry about on Thanksgiving Day.

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I assembled the parfaits on Thanksgiving Day so the (store-bought) ginger snaps would retain their snappiness.

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Mashed Potatoes: 4

This was my husband’s favorite dish of the day. Although the potatoes looked a little dry (there is no milk in the recipe), they didn’t taste dry at all. This recipe is a keeper for sure. The best part was that I didn’t have to peel the potatoes.

Roasted Carrots with Fresh Parsley: 4

This was the most simple recipe of the day, but it was really delicious. I don’t make carrots very often, but I will now that I have this recipe.

Meatless Loaf: 3.5

One of the main reasons this recipe appealed to me was because the author was clear that this loaf wasn’t trying to be meat. Personally, I don’t care for the taste of fake meats (yes, I’ve tried a bunch of brands), but I did want something that was a real, satisfying main course. I may be a vegan, but a salad won’t ever be enough to really fill me up, especially on a holiday.

This recipe really delivered what I was looking for. It was filling and hearty (and healthy!), with ingredients like tofu, beans, walnuts, and chopped vegetables. Although the recipe called for a lot of ingredients, it was not hard to make. Basically, everything goes in the food processor and you’re done.

The recipe makes quite a large loaf, so I’m thinking about trying to freeze some for future use. I will be honest that it isn’t the most attractive dish, so I added the carrots to the platter for some color.

The baked meatless loaf with roasted carrots.

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Whole Wheat Stuffing with Green Lentils: 3

I loved the addition of the lentils in this stuffing recipe because it made the stuffing more substantial than any other stuffing I have tried. That being said, this is only getting a three for two reasons. First, I wish I had added some additional vegetables, as my ratio of bread to vegetables seemed a bit off. Second, I wish I had used a different bread. I bought an organic whole wheat sourdough and, unfortunately, the sourdough flavor was a bit too overpowering. I will definitely try this recipe again because I think it has the potential to be a standout.

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Mushroom Gravy: 3

I will start by saying I’m not a huge mushroom person (I picked the recipe because my husband is), so I wasn’t expecting to love this. I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it, but I definitely didn’t love it. My husband liked it, but thought it was a bit heavy on the mushrooms.

 

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Things I would do differently

  • To the extent possible, I would grocery shop the week before the holiday, not the week of the holiday. Only a handful items really wouldn’t have been fresh if I bought them last Friday (e.g., the fresh baked bread) and I could have made one last minute trip for those few items.
  • I would either make my own pumpkin butter for the cinnamon rolls or purchase a few flavors to sample beforehand. I had a hard time finding already prepared pumpkin butter in the store and I did not love the flavor of the brand I ended up using.
  • I would use a different flavor whole wheat bread for the stuffing and might experiment with adding more celery and perhaps squash, mushrooms, and/or another vegetable to make the dish a bit less bread-heavy.
  • I would add a bit of sugar to the pudding (note: I like things sweeter than most and my husband said he liked it as is).
  • I would add some kind of green salad to the menu.

All in all, this Thanksgiving was a success! It was definitely a lot of work. Plus, we think it cost more to purchase all of the ingredients for this meal than we have spent in the past ordering our meal from Whole Foods. There are definitely pros and cons to each approach and I guess I’ll have to weigh those between now and Christmas. I think I’ll probably be doing dishes until then…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving