Friday, May 8, 2015

When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Running

This week has been an extremely difficult one for my family for reasons I'm not ready to discuss right now.  But the circumstances have required all of us to find a way to handle some really rough emotions.  On Wednesday night I had a bike ride on my schedule and sat on the couch emotionally and physically drained trying to decide whether or not to change out of my comfy clothes and get on the bike.  A friend sent me a text that said "get on the bike.  If you don't feel better 10 minutes in then get off."  Sure enough, 10 minutes in I felt great.  Better than I had all day.  Those endorphins did a world of good for my emotional state and made a 9 pm trainer ride completely worth it.

In that vein, I've made sure to stick to all of my workouts this week including a swim yesterday and a run today.  But today's run was extra special and fun and really did a lot for providing a happy distraction from the bad stuff.  I took Lil Buddy down to the Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac River so we could run and watch the scheduled WWII aircraft flyover.  Lil Buddy was beside himself with bikes, boats, and AIRPLANE, AIRPLANE!!!  I took more than a few pictures as usual:

Every time a new set of planes would fly in from the left Lil Buddy would point and scream AIRPLANE AIRPLANE with complete glee.  As they turned and headed toward the National Mall he would waive and say "bye bye plane!"

This definitely wasn't the run that was planned for today in terms of pace and efforts, but it was what I could do today and hanging out with Lil Buddy and seeing the smile on his face was PRICELESS.  Some days you just have to go with what you can do and put it in the bank.  I found the key to my sanity during this time and I'm going with it.  Hopefully things are taking a positive turn, but until then I'll soldier on.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Race Recap: Smithfield Sprint Triathlon

Race season is finally heeeeerrrrreeeeeee!  When I first signed up for this race it was 100% because of the pig shaped finishers medal.  I had planned to treat it like an intense brick workout and just get some fitness out of it.  But once I sent my race plan to my coach and got my race packing list out things started to change mentally.  The race nerves came to the party but so did the excitement!  I was going out of town by myself for a night, staying in a hotel, and RACING the next day!  Woo hoo!

I headed to Smithfield, VA the day before the race.  It's a solid 4 hour drive with bathroom stops and there was no way I was going to be able to get up early enough to drive that on the day of.  I picked up my packet, drove the bike course, and met my teammates for dinner.  Virginia race courses never disappoint with the peaceful scenery.  I took way too many photos of the bike course, as usual, but I couldn't help it.  I love being in the middle of nowhere Virginia.

Then it was early to bed so we were ready to rock and roll the next day.  I had a terrible nights sleep with super random dreams that were mostly about work.  So odd.  Thankfully the race site was only 10 minutes from the hotel so we got up, got dressed, and got moving.

I hadn't set up a transition area in months and it was almost like I couldn't figure out what to do first.  Is this all my stuff?  Did I forget everything?  Is this where I put it?  It was comical and I kept getting distracted talking to my teammates and forgetting to finish unpacking. 

Eventually I did get it all done and was organized including with my new race number holder for my bike.  Not only do I not have to stick that damned sticky number on my bike and ruin the paint, but I look so pro now!  Haha.

Once I was all done getting ready (or so I thought) I put on my running shoes and headed out for my 15 minute warm up.  I'm new to this whole actually warm up pre-race thing but it worked so well at the Cherry Blossom 5K I didn't dare not do it at this race.  As I was jogging the run course I realized that I had forgotten to get body marked or pick up my timing chip.  Uh, duh!  Two major requirements of the race.  I looked at my watch and knew I had plenty of time, but wondered if my dummy self would forget again once I got back to transition.  I ran back to transition and took care of those two things right away.  Then I put my running shoes back in their spot, grabbed my cap and goggles, and settled in for the long wait until the start.

And a long wait it was.  Because this was a pool swim, each person had an individual start time.  Which means getting started on the swim takes FOREVER.  Transition closed at 9:40 with the first swimmers getting started at 10.  I wasn't scheduled to start until 11:30.  And there were plenty of people starting after me - some as late as 12:30.  That's a long time to sit around and wait with race jitters.  But I made sure to sit and rest my legs and continued to drink water up until the last minute.

Finally it was time to get in the pool.  It was a 300 meter snake swim with each swimmer being started 15 seconds apart.  By the end of 50 meters I was passing the guy in front of me.  Another 150 meters later I plowed by someone else.  I wanted to crush the swim and get out on my bike.  The pool was kind of gross with the water feeling really really warm.  Final swim time: 5:55.  Not sure why I was disappointed but I was.  Was hoping for closer to 5:00 which really isn't realistic, but out of the pool and into transition I went.

And in transition I proceeded to make a sandwich.  Ok, only joking, but it's a joke about how long it took me to get in and get out.  Felt like enough time to make a sandwich.  All I need to do in there is lose the swim cap and goggles, put on socks, bike shoes, and helmet, and grab the bike and go.  Yet I'm always shaking from the swim exertion and can't seem to do what I need to do with any fluidity.  I spent 2:04 in T1.  Ridiculous.

Then it took me forever to actually GET ON my bike.  This was the first time racing the triathlon bike I bought in the fall and I'm still very uneasy on it.  My goal going into this race was "not to crash my new bike."  And the longer it took me to get on and get going the more frustrated I became.  But finally I was off.  I started furiously pedaling down the road and dropped my arm position down into the aero bars.  So far so good.  I didn't feel like I was going to crash.  Up a short hill and then off down the road.  Until.  Until I realized that I was too afraid to take one hand off the bike in order to grab my water bottle.  This. Was. A. Problem.  If I couldn't drink any fluids during the 10 mile bike ride I was going to be in interesting shape for the 5K run.  I slowed down a bit and very very slowly eased one hand off the bike and down to my water bottle.  I managed to take a few sips without stopping completely or crashing, but barely.  I panicked more about future races with longer distances than I did about this one.  But I finally put it out of my mind and bulleted forward.  It was a problem I couldn't deal with during the race and would figure out later.

Because they had us start the swim separated it really kept the bike course open.  I passed a few people in the beginning and a couple of guys in the middle, but for the most part I was out there alone.  And I was only passed by one person on the entire bike leg so that was kind of cool.  I cruised back in to transition just as my teammate Erica was headed out on the bike.  Teammate Madi was already done with the entire race so she was cheering us on and I got to give Erica a shout out.  Definitely a highlight to the very wacky start time waves.  Final bike time: 32:48 which averages to 18.2 miles per hour.  Super stoked about this pace for my first race on this bike.

And then back into T2 for another sandwich, I mean switching shoes and trading the bike helmet for the run visor.  In there for FOREVER again.  T2 time 1:40.  Madi got a great shot of me heading out for the run.  Probably the last time I was smiling on this run course.

This course was hot, hot, hot.  The temp was only about 70 degrees, but it was the first hot day in a while and certainly the first hot day that I had run in this year.  And there was very little shade.  My legs definitely felt a lot heavier after the 10 mile bike sprint then they did hours earlier in my warm up.  I put all of my effort into keeping them turning over and just trying to settle in to a comfortable pace.  But I could not get my heart rate under control.  It felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.  Twice I needed to slow down to a walk just to let it calm down a bit.  One thing I am pretty strict about with myself is not walking on these run courses.  Because the pain is temporary and well within the limits that I can push myself.  But on this course I just couldn't mentally overcome my heart racing and the feeling of total suck.  When I saw the water station I thought that I must be close to the mid-point turn around.  But it wasn't.  Then I saw the road end and thought that must be the turn around.  But it wasn't.  It felt like the longest 1.5 miles ever known to man.  But I got to the turn around and thought, "Hey, I haven't been passed by any women.  This is really unusual.  Maybe I've got a bit of run game."  And then I did turn around and there they were.  Creeping up behind me.  And just like that a handful of women went running by.  But thankfully no one in my division.  I continued my slow plod back to the finish line.

As I made my way back I started to put everything I had left into the run.  I just wanted to be done.  In the final chute I went all out and sprinted to the finish line with everything I had.  It is always so good to cross that line.  Final run time: 31:56.

I chugged some water and collected the prized pig medal.  Seriously.  This medal makes all of the suck SOOOOO worth it.

Final time: 1:14:21.  And good enough for first place in the Athena Division (women over 165 pounds).  I was very pleasantly surprised to get the top honor in my division.  I never plan or expect to be anywhere near the podium but it's a pretty sweet surprise when it happens.

Overall thoughts about this race.  It's a fun little race and fairly well organized.  I really hate snake swim pool races so I don't know that I'd do it again unless they can somehow improve on the pig medal - which is impossible.  Best medal ever.  Also the post-race BBQ is similarly fantastic.  I couldn't eat enough once my stomach settled down and I was breathing normally again.  This race is also kind of a long schlep for a fun "tune up" race.  But I had a great time in amazing weather.  The sun was so intense that the sharpie race numbers served as the only sunscreen I managed to put on.  Two days later my numbers were still clearly on my arm.  A week later?  Yep, they are still there in full force.  It will be interesting to see what happens if they are still there when I get my next set of race numbers two weeks from now.  Yay race season!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Day Job

As much as I post about triathlon and training one might think I didn't have to do anything else.  Certainly, I'm obsessed about triathlon enough to make it my day job, but sadly it isn't.  I'm a criminal defense attorney in DC with a busy practice made up of a variety of misdemeanors and felonies.  I am my own boss which is nice from a flexibility perspective - some days I just bail in the middle of the day to head to the pool or go for a run - but being self employed has a whole host of its own headaches that often times threaten to outweigh the freedom.

Earlier this month I had three back to back felony jury trials.  Never in my more than ten years of trial practice have I experienced such a stressful crunch.  The first trial ended in a hung jury the very same day I was picking the jury for the second trial.  The second trial ended in a hung jury the day I argued a motion to suppress and picked a jury for the third trial.  And when the third trial, an armed robbery, ended the following week with a not guilty verdict I was too tired to celebrate.  As happy as I was for my client and as professionally satisfied as I felt, it was hard not to just be glad that the whole experience was over.

Trial involves long days and long nights of preparation; visits to the jail to consult with clients.  And the part they don't tell you about in law school: running around trying to find court appropriate clothing for clients held in jail in an orange jumpsuit with families too poor or uninvolved to provide clothes for trial.  Multiple times during that three and a half week stretch I was spending my lunch break running down the street for a bigger shirt or better fitting dress shoes.  It makes it hard to concentrate on the actual legal issues.

With all of that going on how did my training fare?  Actually, I managed to hold it together pretty well.  Turns out that as tired and stressed as I was each day, the one thing that kept me from being a complete wicked witch to everyone around me was to get my daily endorphin rush.  A couple of times I sent a text to my coach to tweak or shuffle workouts, but I don't think I skipped a workout the entire time.  Knowing I had yet something else on my to do list each day was a stress in and of itself.  But once the workout was done I felt SO MUCH BETTER!  The trick is remembering that workout high the next time I find myself in a rough trial pattern.

On Tuesday this week I had a misdemeanor trial get continued.  The weather was absolutely perfect and I had the foresight to bring my running clothes with me to the office.  So I headed out at lunchtime and completed an easy run on the National Mall.  I started at the Capitol, ran to the Lincoln Memorial, and back.  The DC scenery never gets old and I feel privileged to be able to run by the Washington Monument with quick views of the WWII Memorial as well as Jefferson.  The bonus of being my own boss also allows me to be sweaty and stinky for the rest of the afternoon as I get ready for the next trial on the calendar.  

My day job sure isn't perfect and it provides me with a ton of stress.  But I have to constantly remind myself that it also provides for my family and this crazy hobby of mine.  And the training gives my mind and body the outlet it needs to de-stress.  Winner winner chicken dinner.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Race Report: Credit Union Cherry Blossom 5K

Last fall I entered the lottery for a bib to the 2015 Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  At the time I entered, I was also planning to run the Rock and Roll Half, so I figured that my half marathon training would well prepare me for a 10 miler a month later.  I didn't, however, anticipate off and on sickness, an arthritis diagnosis, and other intervening factors that would ultimately keep me from training for these races.  So bitterly and reluctantly I transferred my registration to the Cherry Blossom 5K so I could still enjoy the trees and fun but at a shorter distance.

The morning of the race I headed downtown early to meet up with fellow Team Tri360 teammates for a team photo.

As they headed off to their start corrals I found the 5K start area, checked my gear bag, and for the first time EVER I actually did a warm up.  The weather was perfect and, as usual, the DC area provides for amazing photos.

I was able to watch the 10 miler get started before my warm up.  Without a doubt, the most impressive runner (sorry friends) was the guy running while juggling hockey sticks paying tribute to the Caps.  I couldn't even do that standing still.

After he ran by I did an easy 15 minute warmup with short pickups to get my legs primed for running.  My legs felt sluggish and it made me worry that I wouldn't be able to pull off a pace as fast as I was hoping.  But I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and lined up toward the beginning of the corral ready to take off and not trip over a thousand people while trying to find clear space in which to run.

Prior to race day my coach had given me thoughts on how to go into this race.  She said:

For the 5k -- I would go out strong but smart for the 1/2 Mile.  THEN....get up going - do NOT look at your watch and see a fast time and THINK you will blow up.  WHAT IS THE WORST THING THAT WILL HAPPEN???   You vomit?   Perfect.  You are tough and stronger/faster than you think and give yourself credit for.   SO dig deep, be gritty and the SKY IS THE LIMIT.  Leave it all out there!!!!!

My TrainingPeaks note said "be prepared to suffer."  Might seem extreme at first, but the point is, why hold back?  3.1 miles is not a long distance for my ability at this point and I am able to push my body harder than is comfortable.  But racing isn't comfortable.  It is racing!  So when things got uncomfortable, I remembered "be prepared to suffer."  It's really similar to my mantra of No Regrets. Leave nothing out there.  Don't go home wondering if I could have pushed a little harder.  And having been told that the sky was the limit it really seemed like it was!

Let me say - had the weather been any warmer this might have been a different result.  But it was perfect.  I started out controlled but hard.  Wanted to get out ahead and settle into a steady but challenging pace.  I looked at my watch and saw that I was running below a 10 minute mile.  I got nervous that I went out too fast but reminded myself that this wasn't the time to worry about reserves needed 20 minutes from now.  I had what I needed to push.

The course took us along the Cherry Blossoms and they were gorgeous.  We could also see the 10 milers working their way back toward their finish.  Before I knew it we were turning up a short hill and headed over Memorial Bridge.  There were a ton of volunteers on the bridge and their encouragement was fantastic.  My 1 mile alert went off and I was thrilled to see a 9:27 mile pace.  I pushed across the bridge and had the turn around in sight.  I was learning the true meaning of suffer.  It was tough.  But I pushed and pushed.  And as I came around the turn and looked at the runners behind me.....

.......I. Was. Shocked.  There were so many people behind me.  Many were behind me because they just started after me, but to some extent, my position was because of my improved fitness and speed.  What a mental boost that gave me.  've never been that far up among the runners in any race - never mind a 5K.  Now, instead of hoping I could run this race in under 30 minutes, I was hell bent on finishing in under 30 minutes.  It was then that the pain started to fade and my legs did their thing.

Mile 2 went by in 9:31.  And I continued to push and push and push.  Hit mile 3 in 9:16 and couldn't contain my excitement.  My last mile was the fastest!  That last .1 of  a mile seemed like an eternity.  But I ran with everything I had left in my bones.  And not only did I have sub 30 on my watch, but I was sub 30 on the official race clock!!

My final time was 29:47.  Finally below 30 minutes for my 5K!  I raised my arms in victory as I crossed the line.  Really proud of this effort and glad I proved to myself that I had it in me.  I had my doubts, but no longer.

Lest you think that was enough for the day, I went home and hopped on the bike for a 45 minute recovery spin.  Light and easy to spin out my legs.  I have to say, while I really didn't feel like doing it, my legs were so grateful for it.  I wasn't sore or tight for the rest of the day or even the day after.  I bounced right back into training.  Good stuff.  Can't wait to see what the rest of this season brings!

Friday, March 27, 2015

TriMania DC 2015

Triathlon season is here!  And just like last year I got things started by attending the TriMania expo this past Saturday.  It is a day of seminars, clinics, expo sales, and team competitions.  So much fun and a great way to get excited for the upcoming season.  I remember sitting at TriMania last year unable to wait another day for my first race.  This year I feel like race season is sneaking up faster every day and I'm not as ready as I'd like to be.  TriMania was a good step toward getting my head in the right place.

The night before the expo Tri360 hosted a happy hour with special guest Mike Reilly.  If you have ever watched Ironman Hawaii from Kona on NBC you have undoubtedly heard The Voice of Ironman as he calls the participants across the line and announces "You ARE an Ironman!"  He is iconic in the sport and it was a true honor and inspiration to meet him.

More than ever, I am motivated to complete an Ironman and hear him call my name.  He was kind enough to sign a piece of paper for me and wrote "Jennifer, you are an Ironman!"  I'm going to hang it up in my pain cave as added inspiration to keep training hard when things get tough.

On Saturday I got to American University early so I could get my scheduled run done on the track before the team run competition got started.  Team Tri360 fielded a team for the 4 x 1 mile run relay, the bike time trial, and the 4 x 300 swim relay.  It was fun to cheer so many of our teammates on in one spot.  I had really hoped to do the bike time trial this year, but lucky for our team we had a large number of people that wanted to participate. 

(Even more lucky for me, I have a computrainer at home with the course pre-loaded so I was able to do the time trial course at home and see how I stacked up to the competition.)

Our team did really well in all of the competitions and took 5th overall.  We had a blast hanging out all morning and cheering for each other.  It was a nice energy bump for the season.

In the afternoon I attended a clinic on climbing hills on the bike and learned some good techniques for focusing on my leg efforts while I pedal, in particular when climbing hills.  It was good stuff that I've since then been practicing on outdoor rides and on the trainer.  Every little nugget of info is put to good use in an effort to make this season faster than last.  I am getting pumped to start racing!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Birthday Peloton

My teammate and friend, Will, just had a birthday.  And for his birthday he decided he wanted to bike 100 miles.  Big goals and accomplishments are no stranger to Will.  Over the last couple of years he has set out to transform his life and he has.  He's lost tons and tons of weight and added tons and tons of strength.  He doesn't acknowledge "can't."  In fact, he's removing the "t" from the word one goal at a time.  The picture below is a list of items he physically couldn't do not terribly long ago.  As of early this morning, there were only two things left on the list with one to be accomplished today.

So this morning the Birthday Peloton met up just as the sun was rising to join Will on at least a portion of his journey.  We didn't ride terribly far with him because of varying personal obligations and not everyone had 100 miles in them.  But we got him started.  I was able to get in a total of 35 before my day was done.  And it was a ton of fun and meant a lot to me to be a part of his journey.  A few accompanied him all the way.  And he did it.  In fact he did 115.  There's one less red T on the board tonight.  And none of us had a doubt about it. 

Happy Birthday Will.  I can't wait to watch you crush this year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

So This is Forty

I woke up 40 years old on Monday morning.  It's been a long time coming (40 years in fact) and it didn't exactly sneak up on me.  But the feelings about being 40 absolutely snuck up on me and didn't really surface until last week.  I had actually been surprisingly comfortable with it until I wasn't.  After all, I took my 30s by storm, and isn't 40 the new 30?

The first real acknowledgement of my new age for me came back on October 1 when I completed the registration for my first international distance triathlon for 2015.  When I finished registering I received a confirmation email with the following information:

Registration Options:  International Triathlon
Age Division:  40-44
T-Shirt Size:  Women's Large
Age on Race Day:  40
Oh god I'm in a new age group!  And let me tell you, the women from 40-44 are FAST!  A whole ton of them blew by me on the run during my last race of 2014 and I remember thinking that I had a lot of offseason work to do to be competitive with this group.  But I put those thoughts aside and just kept training.
Fast forward to last Wednesday.  I injured my knee back in high school and it has given me trouble for years.  It has really been bothering me since the fall so I finally went and saw an orthopedist to find out if it was the arthritis I knew I had or something more problematic.  Unfortunately, it WAS the arthritis I knew I had, but it was way more problematic than I realized.  Apparently mine is so severe (they keep using the word severe - doesn't ease the mind at all) that it would not be inappropriate to have my knee replaced.  At 40.  But once it's replaced, no running forever.  The replacement device simply can't take the impact.  But guess what's bad for a knee like mine.  Running.  Even without the replacement the doctor cautioned me not to run. 

Not much cushion left between those bones.

Red circles are around bone spurs that have grown on my knee.
The ones in the back likely are contributing to my
limited range of motion when I bend my knee.

The good news is that this doctor is also a realist and understands that I'm not ready to completely give up running.  So we are going to work on physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles, explore knee brace possibilities, and try anti-inflammatories to keep things under control.  In the meantime, with sage advice from my coach and discussions with Hubby, I'm going to significantly scale back on my longer distance running while I shed a fair amount of body weight.  The less I weigh the less stress on my joints.  So regrettably I am going to withdraw from the Rock and Roll DC Half Marathon that I've been training for.  There are some other races on my schedule that I won't register for.  It is what it is.  I have to take care of my body.
I came into triathlon as a way to keep exercise fun and interesting so that I could lose weight.  The sport changed me and my outlook on exercise and triathlon became something I do for the activity itself and my love of the sport with weight loss being increasingly secondary.  Yes I lost some weight, but even with the extra padding I got into the best adult condition of my life.  My goals continued to include losing weight, but the focus prior to now was really more on my athletic condition and less on pounds.
Now, however, I find myself thinking more about the long term health benefits of exercise and putting myself in a position to continue long term exercise.  It's very chicken and egg, but I need my body to do my exercise and I need my exercise to keep my body.  A recent New York Times article hit the nail on the head when discussing older age athletes getting into triathlon.  They quoted a 61 year old triathlete who stated that "When you're going to be 50, you realize you'd better get on it."  Sadly I'm having that same realization at 40.  It's not a bad one to have, it just makes me feel old.  It definitely takes away some of the fun "40 is the new 30" mantra and makes reality settle in a bit more solidly. 
I'd be lying if I said I've handled this news with even an ounce of grace.  Yes I am completely cleared for swimming and biking, but triathlon is three.  Running is required.  And I don't want to settle for Aquabike.  Not yet.  And I want to complete an Ironman some day.  That calls for 26.2 miles of running.  I can't stop running yet. 

Lifted this photo from Hoka One One - the company that
makes the running shoes that makes my joints happy.

There were daily tears and lots of donuts.  Because, naturally, when you realize you need to take drastic action to lose weight the correct response is to eat loads of the most damaging food possible.  Sigh.  I blew off 3 days of training to sit on the couch and wallow in my own misery.  Then on Saturday I reluctantly got back on my bike for a trainer ride.  After each workout I load my data into a website that sends it to my coach with a note from me about how it went, any issues I had, etc.  This is what I wrote after Saturday's session:
So I know this workout was short and not even particularly hard, especially after a week off.  But here's what it told me.  For some fucked up reason I spent the last 3 days making excuses to not train and just feel sorry for myself while sitting on the couch.  Today I get back on the bike.  And I'm reminded that the only time I feel like myself is when I'm training.  It's the only time that I actually feel like I know what I'm doing.  So we need to kill it moving forward.  I'll do whatever it takes.  Let's go.
Sunday was in the mid 50s and I was able to get outside on my bike and meet up with some friends for an easy outdoor ride.  It was invigorating and every minute a complete pleasure.
So its time to pull myself out of the misery and move forward doing things I enjoy.  My 40s are for me.  To find pleasure in the little things.  To slow down and enjoy life around me.  To watch my kids grow and learn and spend less time annoyed at their messy rooms or lazy homework habits.  To remember to spend quality time with Hubby and not have our lives just be about getting the family schedule accomplished.  To spend quality time with friends and continue to grow and cultivate adult relationships.  To enjoy my extended family at every possible moment.  To not give a rats ass about what other people think because it doesn't matter what they think - only what I think. 
Is it going to be difficult?  Of course.  Am I still going to cry sometimes?  Yes, I'm a wreck more often than not.  Am I going to keep running?  HELL YES, but carefully.  On treadmills, on cushy tracks.  Less pavement than before.  Shorter distances.  And I'm going to get the weight off because I have to.  But I'm going to work harder at embracing the accomplishments my body gives me along the way.  The challenges will be difficult, but they will make me stronger.