Tag Archives: running

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…

Monday Runday: On Being an Athena

When I was a little girl, and even into my teens, I spent inordinate time thinking about this body part.

Yes, that’s Wonder Woman. GO SEE IT.

Body image stuff shows up in many different ways. Some people (most of them girls and women) obsess over the flat stomach, or the “thigh gap,” a term that didn’t even exist when I was younger, thank goodness. For whatever reason, the focus of my attention was on the hamstring tendon.

Do you have Visible Hamstring Tendon? I do not. I could feel it when I flexed my knee, but it has never been visible, no matter how much weight I lost, nor how fit I got. I am within normal BMI for my height, and arguably the healthiest I’ve ever been, and certainly the strongest. I run close to 1,000 miles a year while pursuing two other sports. I ran three half marathons within three months earlier this year, each one faster than the one before. But still, that stupid hamstring tendon remains buried under a thin but persistent layer of fat.

(If you say, “Why on earth would you care about that?” I guess you’ve never been plagued with body image issues. Congratulations.)

Athena. More about her later.

I’ve been thinking about VHT (a condition I just acronymed myself) as I prepare for this Sunday’s Montclair Sprint Triathlon, my first triathlon of the summer. When I went to register for the race, I was given the option of registering in my gender and age group, or as an “Athena.” I’d never run into this before, but a few races do it–a designation for people who weigh more than a certain amount. I’m not way over the line, but I’m definitely over it.

(By the way, the designation for the gents is called Clydesdale. Let’s just say I’m really glad the women’s category has a different name. A friend who loves horses insists that Clydesdales are beautiful, strong, graceful animals. Certainly. But God love her, I doubt my friend was ever the tallest and broadest girl in her grade. Clydesdale has way too much baggage.)

I went back and forth about whether to register as an Athena. I’m a confirmed mid-pack athlete, so the whole point of running has always been to compete with myself–to “beat yesterday.” Why does it even matter what category I’m in? Would I actually be competitive against other Athenas? Possible, but unlikely. It also seems a little simplistic to lump all of the Athenas together, the 5’9” ones like me with the 5’2” ones.

If I’m honest, a part of me sees it as a bogus designation. That’s the voice that says being overweight (or even fat) is a choice, a matter of willpower, even a moral failing. That voice isn’t the loudest one–it’s a minority voice, to be sure–but it’s there, and I’m not sure it will ever be completely exorcised. Certainly not as long as our society beats that drum so insistently. Things are better culturally than they used to be, but fat is still seen as a personal defeat, rather than a complicated byproduct of yes, some choice, but also genetics, circumstance, economics, and privilege.

This is all on my mind as my kids begin a new swim season, their first in a new swim league. Reston does competition and team points differently than our former league. There are three divisions in which kids get sorted based on their times in different events. So for example, if an 8-year-old boy swims a 25-meter freestyle in less than 28 seconds, he’s in division A. Between 28 and 37 seconds, division B. Slower than that, division C. There are points awarded for first, second and third place in each division.

I can hear the scoffers now. “The top three swimmers should get the points, full stop,” they might say, and inevitably start pontificating about how everyone-gets-a-trophy is the downfall of American culture. I assume most of the people who think that won the genetic lottery, and probably have Visible Hamstring Tendon. But I’ll tell you what I saw at Saturday’s meet. I saw kids at all levels, who swam their hearts out, and were given the chance to contribute to the overall success of their team. How is that a bad thing?

So… did I register for the Athena category? Damn right I did.

Is it because I worked out my body image issues? No, not completely–though it stands to reason that someone who swims, bikes and runs with 165 pounds is doing more work (or at least, different work) than someone who does it with 120. And VHT is stupid, I get it.

No, what made the decision for me is this:

I love Athena. I always have.

My Facebook friends have been treated to a weekly Athena for the last month or so, as I remember how much I adore that character. Wisdom? Courage? Justice? Democracy? Heck, throw knitting and crafts in there too, she’s got time on her hands.

Athena is a complete and utter badass:

Basically, any time things look really damn bad, your girlfriend is in the hands of a horrible monster, your family is held hostage by an evil king, and your only chance of salvation lies in being able to single-handedly kill a dragon made out of lava, and you’re just sitting there staring at the ground hopelessly thinking what the fuck do I do now, Athena is the goddess that materializes out of nowhere with a lava-dragon-slaying hand grenade, a winged horse, and a motherfucking ham sandwich and tells you to get your shit together, suck it up, and be a goddamn hero.  This goddess is legit, folks.

Some favorite Athenas. I call this gesture goddessplaining:

Just do it my way already.

Check out this gun show:

And she has an owl! And I went to Rice!

In reading up on the Athena category, there are plenty of women who qualify for it but don’t register as such. In triathlons, athletes get marked in Sharpie with their race number. Athenas get an additional A with that number, and some women feel self-conscious about being branded a big girl. I get it, and people should do what they feel comfortable with.

As for me, I’ll wear the A proudly. There’s no hiding this body of mine, and I don’t want to. She wouldn’t:

She’s here to kick ass and chew gum, and they didn’t have gum in ancient Greece.

UPDATE: Here’s a recap of the race.

Monday Runday: For My Health, For Women’s Health

You may have heard that “Defund Planned Parenthood” protests are in the works for February 11. Planned Parenthood has asked supporters not to counter-protest, but to stand with them through donations and other shows of assistance.

IMG_2409I’ve gotten together with a group of friends who know one another primarily through running. We’re showing our love for Planned Parenthood by asking people to sponsor us as we run purposeful miles over the next couple of weeks. Some of us are scheduling a training run especially for this purpose. Others are doing a Valentine’s race the weekend of the protests–I’ll be doing the Love the Run You’re With 5K, and trying for a PR (because why not?).

We invite you to cheer us on with your dollars, which will support high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people.

We stand with Planned Parenthood, and we run for Planned Parenthood. 

I’ll be running in honor of my friend Kelly Gregory, who has been kicking cancer’s butt for five years. She has written many times that Planned Parenthood saved her life, and that’s no exaggeration. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s a fierce dame. If I were cancer, I wouldn’t want to cross Kelly Gregory.)

Here is a link to Kelly’s public post on Facebook, in which she says, “Be pro-living. Be pro-Planned Parenthood.”

Our team has set a goal of $1500, and my personal goal is $250. I reserve the right to raise my goal as you guys respond, and I know you will, because you’ve come through to support my running before!

Go to our page to learn more about our fundraiser, read some stats about Planned Parenthood’s work, and show your support today. Thank you.

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: On Getting a Coach

FB memories reminded me that three years ago today I was in Orlando, preparing to run the Disney Marathon. (Here’s the recap, Every &*#@! Mile Is Magic.)

It’s something I never thought I’d do when I started running.

Last month I did something else I never thought I’d do: I hired a coach.

I’ll be working with Lena from TRF Coaching at least for the next few months, through the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in DC. I met Lena through Moms RUN This Town and love her energy and positivity. She is a running rockstar, but celebrates and supports runners who come from a variety of experiences and fitness levels. When I was injured and she was pregnant, we did a lot of pool running together.

This will be my third time running RnR. I’ve improved my half marathon time gradually over the years, but I’d like to see what I can do with a customized training plan and a bit of a push from someone who knows what she’s doing.

I’m a big believer in coaching in general. I had a ministry coach when I first started a call in a new church. I’ve coached or mentored people informally over the years, and will be getting my coaching certification through the International Coaching Federation this spring.

So why is working with a running coach something I thought I’d never do? Well, there’s the expense. I’m a Presbyterian, and typically we’re frugal folk. Running is theoretically a cheap sport–all you need is a decent pair of shoes. And yet… things easily snowball:

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There are tons of running resources available online, to say nothing of books, and I love doing my own reading and research. So this isn’t something I need. But I’m considering this stint of coaching to be an investment in myself and in something I love to do. I’ve already learned valuable stuff about good form and proper training. And my physical and mental health are not extravagances. So, we’ll see where this takes me.

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I’ve realized, though, that the cost thing is only a small part of a larger dynamic: the feeling that coaches are for other runners. Better runners. Faster ones. Not middle-aged, middle of the pack runners.

Indulge me as I drill down on this a little.

One of the ways we protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable is by pretending we don’t care that much: “That thing I love? I don’t really love it. I could take it or leave it.” We apply a thin veneer of “cool” to our lives, because to throw ourselves in with our whole heart means to risk disappointment, failure or embarrassment.

As Brene Brown reminds us in her work, wholeheartedness constantly fights against two twin messages, constantly whispering in our ear:

  1. Not good enough.
  2. Who do you think you are?

I hear these messages in my head from time to time when I run. Thankfully the running community is pretty good about affirming runners’ bodies in all their many shapes and sizes and speeds. (Check out I Have a Runners’ Body on Instagram.) But I’ve also heard snide comments at races, directed toward us slow-but-enthusiastic turtles. Not good enough. Who do you think you are?

So I’ve hired a coach–to support and encourage me in my running, sure. But also as an act of wholeheartedness–as a way of committing my entire self to something.

My personal goals are modest–they’ll never get me to Boston, for example. But this matters to me.

What matters to you? And how do you affirm that wholeheartedly in your own life?