Tag Archives: races

Monday Runday: Montclair Sprint Triathlon Recap

Yesterday Robert and I competed in the Montclair Sprint Triathlon, my second sprint tri and his first.

It was a hot and humid day, but the race was superb. We had a great time, and it turned out to be a significant race experience for me:

That’s a third place medal. What???

More on that later.

Race Logistics and Review

This is my first Revolution3 race, and I was very impressed by the communication and logistics of this race. I got a personal call from the staff the week of the race, asking if I had any questions and thanking me for registering. The 10-minute race preview video was helpful, and the athlete guide was very complete.

This would be a great first race for a new triathlete, especially one in the DC area–Montclair is south of Woodbridge near Quantico, so it’s convenient. There’s also a Splash and Dash for kids, which makes for a nice family-friend festival atmosphere. The Montclair community seems to take a lot of pride in hosting this race.

And the swag! Participants got a t-shirt, hat, and Rev3 neck gaiter (yes, we’ve got a long hot summer to get through, but then it will get cold enough to need a neck gaiter again). The participant medals were nice. You also get a latex swim cap, color-coded for which type of swim start you do. That isn’t really a race premium, but it’s nice to have backup caps.

The swim is 750 meters in a lovely tree-lined lake. Athletes seeded themselves based on 100yd pace and entered the water two by two, except the speedy speedsters who did a traditional wave before the rest of us. The race is small enough that you don’t have to worry about being mowed down in the water, though I did have a guy t-bone into me while doing the backstroke. (Backstroke? Really?) Buoys are large and plentiful, with lots of safety patrols in kayaks. The swim concludes on a sandy beach, but then it goes to grass, so by the time you get to transition your feet are mostly cleaned off.

The transition area was spacious enough, and the racks are labeled with athletes’ numbers AND names, which is a nice touch. People were friendly and helpful, though I find the intimidation factor to be high in triathlons. Something about the expensive bikes and bullet-shaped helmets make me feel totally out of my league, what with my basic swim unitard, and also Clifford the Big Red Bike, my serviceable but un-flashy ride that a friend gave me as a hand-me-down. And unlike running races, there are no costumes, nor even amusing shirts. I get that swimming makes a tutu hard to wear, and you can’t fit a jester hat over a helmet, but you kinda get the feeling that the tri community isn’t here to play. All well and good, just different.

The 12-mile bike ride consists of a double loop. It’s hilly, but the hills are mostly gradual, and anyone who trains in northern Virginia would be well prepared for them. The bike begins with a nasty uphill, and the race announcer made a point of reminding people to park their bikes in a low gear, which was a friendly thing to do. The route was shady most of the way, which made a huge difference in comfort level.

The 5K run is also hilly, but again mostly shady. The first half was on the sidewalk alongside part of the bike course, and someone had written various jokes and sayings on the sidewalk in chalk. Thinking of 15 words that rhyme with “run” kept me mentally occupied for quite a while. The second half of the run course is on neighborhood streets as opposed to the main drag. There were at least two water/Gatorade stops, and perhaps a third if memory serves.

The finish chute is on the beach, and the announcer read each name as the person finished. I love when races do that. Crowd support was sporadically placed but enthusiastic, with neighborhood folks offering signs and encouragement.

Post-race amenities included various packaged snacks, plus thick French toast with little packages of syrup. This race also had several computers set up where you could print a receipt with your race time and standings. This was so cool, and I hope more races move to this. It did create a little drama for me personally, which I’ll explain in the next section.

Overall I’d give this race an A. I’m already excited to come back next year.

Personal Goals and Recap

I hadn’t done a triathlon since last August. I hoped to get a PR, but my main goals were modest and tactical:
1. To do freestyle for the majority of the swim segment. I had a goggles fail in August, which meant I had to breaststroke the whole way. And I’ve really been working on FS endurance.
2. To cut down on transition time
3. To push myself on the run leg, which despite being my main sport was the weakest of the three legs last time, at least in terms of relative standing in my division.

How did I do? Well, I did freestyle the whole time and felt strong–but ended up swimming the same pace as I did doing breaststroke last year. Which could mean that my breaststroke is comparatively fast… OR more likely, I need to work on freestyle form, considering I learned as a kid and have never really worked on technique.

I cut way down on transition time by picking a shirt with wide arm holes to throw on over my unitard suit, and slipping on my running shoes while keeping them tied. (I don’t clip in. I’m a big weenie on the bike.) I also borrowed a race belt for my bib, but I lost some time when I stepped into it and the bib ripped. Had to reattach it using diagonal holes. Later Robert said, “Don’t step into it, just put it around you and then hook it.” Duh. This is why you practice transitions.

As for the run leg, I used every mantra I knew to keep going in the heat. I ended up with a 3-minute PR overall, thanks to faster transitions and a faster run leg. I definitely have room to grow–in all three legs, really–but one of my mantras was “as good as I am,” and yesterday was as good as I could be that day.

Regular readers know my angst over whether to register in the Athena category, which is for athletes over a certain weight. Ultimately I decided to go for it. I love that recreational athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and it felt good to take a small stand for positive body image. The race had all the Athenas racked together in transition, and they were funny and badass.

When I printed out my finish time, they had sorted me into my age group rather than as an Athena. They got that figured out, but then it turned out they hadn’t categorized any of the Athenas properly. While they were sorting that out, I printed a result that said I was 3rd out of 6 in my division. I was excited to see that 3–that meant a podium award–but I knew there were more than 6 of us. So there was a long time of waiting and wondering whether another Athena would knock me off the podium, and practicing the art of holding outcomes loosely. Something I kinda stink at.

Finally they got things worked out and I printed my final result:

And that’s when I started to cry.

I have never won anything athletic in my life. My body was the thing that toted my brain around, and that was about it. I was the last kid picked for the team. When I played softball in middle school, I was a passable second base player on the last team in the league. Even today, I am a mid-pack runner on a typical day. And yesterday it was so hot, and I was so tired. And yet I had done something that for me would have seemed impossible even 7 years ago.

The podium finish was bittersweet. Very few triathlons have an Athena category, and I only have one more race on the calendar this season, and it’s not an Athena one. And I may not even qualify for Athena much longer–I’ve been slowly losing weight over the last several months, and unless I stubbornly plateau, I’ll be knocked out of the division next year. Which I have mixed feelings about, to be honest. I love the Athenas I race with, whether we call ourselves that or not.

But either way, I’ll still be there on the starting line of Montclair next year. It was a great race. Though I wouldn’t turn down a cool snap that day…

It’s a Bermuda-ful Day: Bermuda Half Marathon Race Recap

Last year, my friend Jen suggested a bunch of us do the Bermuda Triangle Challenge for our birthdays (a milestone year for a few of us). I’m not sure whether she really expected anyone to take her up on the idea, but eight of us ended up making the trip this past weekend–four members of Springfield Moms RUN This Town; another running/triathlon friend, Marianne; and three spouses, including Robert. Four of us went for the full challenge, which is a one mile run, 10K run, and half marathon on successive days.

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Two of us ran the half marathon only: Sophie, who is currently 18 weeks pregnant, and yours truly, whose body continues to reward me for not running two days in a row (exception made for Ragnar Relays). Plus, I wanted some sleeping-in mornings. Marianne was going to do the full challenge but her knee was talking to her after the 10K, so she wisely took it easy and went swimming instead. I told you she was a triathlete!

We all had a blast, and if you have the inclination and means to do an international race, this is one for your bucket list.

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We did not throw away our shot!

I blame the song “Kokomo” for my ignorance of Bermuda’s location–it is nowhere near the Caribbean, nor any other island, really. But it’s super accessible from the East Coast. Bermuda is an easy country to visit and navigate. The people are warm and helpful and buses and taxis are plentiful. Businesses take US currency, so logistics are a breeze, and even in the off season, there’s plenty of stuff to do, or beaches on which to lounge and stroll if you don’t want to do much. Robert was super bummed that he was not able to scuba with Jen’s husband Fred because of some fleeting chest congestion. But the guys all went snorkeling on Sunday and on Monday and saw tons of colorful fish, old cannons, and a gigantic elusive grouper fish that became the inside joke of the weekend.

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Some people have strange reactions to so-called runcations. Why would you want to run on a trip like this? Why exert yourself so much? Sounds stressful. Just lie on the beach!  

My favorite kind of foot photo.

My favorite kind of foot photo.

Well… People should do what makes them happy. But I think runcations can be more relaxing than trips in which you cram a bunch of sightseeing into a few days. Our group was up early each morning to run, which meant afternoons were for relaxing, and evenings were festive but finished up relatively early.

On a runcation, you may end up at the grocery store for a favorite pre-race snack or sunscreen, which gives you a glimpse of a place’s local culture. And hey. Running burns calories, so you can indulge in food and beverages without coming home with 10 extra pounds. (More like 5.)

Most importantly, there’s nothing quite like seeing a place through the power of your own two feet. No, you can’t tick off as many sites as you do from a bus or on a hectic tour, but you see them in a deeper way. You see and smell flowers:

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You get a good look at real local living, like homes…

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Businesses… (I’ve always loved this verse)

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Architecture…

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Even cemeteries. Running by cemeteries always reminds me to embrace the experience of running as the gift it is. I get to do this:

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Better to be running past it than buried in it!

And you get a flavor for the local population, at water stops and along the course. The crowd support was fantastic all weekend. People sat in lawn chairs in their front yards, clapped, and offered high fives and many a “Well done!,” my new favorite term of encouragement. I love when races put the runners’ names on the bibs, and here, people actually used them. There’s something powerful about total strangers cheering for you by name.

As for the half marathon–it was an excellent race. Spectacular course, excellent support, great logistics (mostly).

We stayed at the official run hotel, which meant we ran into legend Bart Yasso the morning of the race. He complimented us on our skirts. But really, how could he not:

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These are Sparkle Skirts, and I do believe we sold a few out on the course.

The start/finish line was modest but with all the amenities, including actual flush toilets (and soft drinks at the end, along with the traditional Gatorade and water–our group was elated). I had plenty of time to pee twice before the race, which is about right for me.

It was a beautiful morning:

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Sporting our MRTT “Be Amazing” shirts! We got a lot of attention for them.

Had time for a photo with the town crier, who also led us in a moment of silence for a fallen runner whose name I didn’t catch.

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Then we were off!

This is my fifth half marathon, and I wasn’t running for time. I’m trying for a personal best (PR) at the Rock n Roll DC in March, but for this one we all wanted to be leisurely, take in the scenery and get lots of pictures:

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Lots of mirrors for driveway visibility on these little streets. Couldn’t resist this one.

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Temps were in the 60s, but the ocean breeze kept things pretty comfortable. There was also a good bit of shade.

Here was the moment I knew I’d never forget. Crashing surf and party music:

The marathon is a double loop of the half marathon course, and we laughingly wondered when the leader would lap us. It was at mile 10. Mile 10!

I’m notorious for fading out in the latter miles of long races, which is something I’ve been working on. So around mile 11 I decided to take off and see if I could pick up the pace. I was assisted by a nice downhill in that! When I had about .2 left I stopped and waited for the group so we could cross the finish line together. They were only a couple minutes behind me.

At that point our stomachs were all growling. An 8 a.m. start is very civilized–and the 10K the day before started at 9!–but brunch was definitely calling. We passed a froyo place with just a tenth of a mile to go, and I’m now kicking myself that we didn’t go in to get some, because that would have been an awesome finish line photo. But it was still pretty wonderful. (And there’s video!)

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I mentioned that the logistics were mostly great. The big buzzkill was that they ran out of half marathon medals. That was a bummer. We were all looking forward to medal photos on the beach. And Jen, Stephanie and Todd (Sophie’s husband) had completed three races and were supposed to receive four medals, and we’d been laughing about wanting to get a picture of all of them on the “medal rack” in the hotel room (OK it was a tie rack, but still). I never did hear what happened, but they’ll be mailing them to us. Ah well.

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Stephanie and Jen are holding teeny pics of our friends Sara and Tish, who were with us in spirit.

Finally, I need to say a big thank you to my mother, who kept the three amigos safe and entertained so Robert and I could get away. We couldn’t have done it without you.

All in all, an unforgettable weekend!

Monday Runday: Volunteering at the #BlueMile

Once it was clear that I was no longer running the Marine Corps Marathon, I knew I wanted to do something special on the day besides just spectate. (I should put “just” in quotes because crowd support is so important and motivating and is part of what makes races so much fun, but still.)

When I heard from the mama runners at Springfield MRTT that wear blue: run to remember still needed lots of volunteers for the blue mile, I knew it was what I wanted to do. wear blue sponsors the blue mile at many major races and all of the big military ones, and it packs a powerful emotional punch. wear blue chapters also sponsor group runs that begin with a circle of remembrance, in which people call out the names of servicemen and women they’re remembering and running for. I’ve been to two wear blue events and both were large, and still, every name was heard.

One of the goals of wear blue is to “bridge the gap between military and civilian communities.” I guess I’m symbolic of that bridge because I didn’t grow up in a military family. My brother spent four years in the Marines (and ran MCM this year!) but he’s really the only one. When I moved to Northern Virginia and began serving a church with a large population of military folks, that was my first experience in that community and understanding what they go through.

I’ve run in races that had a blue mile. Many people I know find the courage to continue a tough race when they see those photos and those flags. At Rock n Roll DC, the blue mile goes up the hardest hill, and many friends say that inspiration pushes them up. They run for the fallen who can’t.

For me it’s the opposite. The blue mile takes my breath away. It wrecks me. Such a loss of honor and youth and talent. I stop short of being an all-out pacifist, but I’m a bleeding heart down deep.

But guess what? So are many military families I know. And few people can understand the full cost of war like a family member who’s holding a flag with the name of their lost loved one on it.

~

Caroline volunteered early in the week to join me, but Margaret stayed on the fence until the day before, when she signed on too. Even so, at the 4:30 a.m. wakeup call she was just too tired… “but I might as well go to the bathroom since I’m awake.” I said that was fine, but I knew she’d decide to go for it and sure enough, she came downstairs soon after, dressed and ready to go.

We reported to the volunteer site, mile 12 on Hains Point. After a checkin and brief instructions we received our flags:

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Since Matthew was in the Marines, we chose two lance corporals, LCpl Daniel Deyarmin Jr. and LCpl Timothy Serwinowski. I texted the names to my brother who said “I shall run for them.”

After the circle of remembrance, we lined up. The blue mile consists of a series of photos of the fallen:

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And then a series of flags, each bearing a black ribbon with a servicemember’s name. I heard someone say they keep the photos separate from the flags because the photos are so somber. It is a reflective way to enter the mile. People can be seen looking for a specific photo or touching each picture, often with tears on their faces.

After the photos is the line of flags. It’s good these are separated from the photos because this part manages to be reverent and raucous at the same time, as flag-bearers cheer loudly for the runners as they come through.

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And boy did they come through, 30,000 of them over several hours, beginning with the hand-cyclists. Amazing:

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And here comes the first runner through the mile, though he ended up not being the one who won.

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One of the hidden benefits of being at the blue mile is that you see everyone pass by, from the fastest runners to the most determined walkers, who are eyeing the sweep buses and often nursing injuries. But also, friends who were running knew exactly where to look to find me. I gave lots of hugs and high fives to friends who were giving their best on those streets.

The girls and I also had Jolly Ranchers in case people needed a little something for parched throats, but we ended up eating most of them:

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Blue tongue aside, every time we passed the photos Margaret would say “There are so many of them.” I think she was glad she participated, but she was one-and-done. The earliness of the hour was hard, but really I think it touched her emotionally.

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I’m happy I volunteered. It was humbling to be thanked for it, which many runners did. It was an honor to be there.

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Learn more about wear blue: run to remember.