When Is It Too Cold to Wear a Singlet?

It’s so easy dressing for summer runs. Since we can pretty much guarantee warm temperatures, we never really have to consider anything other than shorts and a tech shirt. For me, starting in April or May, I go with singlets (or “tank tops,” although I can’t say for sure if there’s really a difference between the two). Because I run so much in hot weather, it’s nice having something that wicks moisture and keeps me (somewhat) cooler.

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I don’t know why I didn’t start wearing singlets sooner; they’re fantastic. (Of course, I don’t have the body of a traditional long-distance runner, so maybe I had to learn not to be so self-conscious.) I look back at some old race photos and really wonder what I was thinking for my wardrobe!

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Now that we’re into November, I have to think about how much longer I can continue wearing singlets. I’ve worn one throughout the fall, and even over my last few long runs, I haven’t had any problem staying warm. Of course, fall will eventually turn to winter, and having such an exposed upper body will no longer be an option. But at what point does it become too cold to wear a singlet?

When Jen and I ran the Wineglass Marathon in early October, we both wore a singlet—even though the temperature at the start was in the 30’s (definitely winter-like). However, it turned out to be a PLEASURE because it warmed up to the upper 50’s by the time we finished, and I never felt uncomfortable.

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We stock up on Walmart’s $3 blankets to use as throwaways before races

When we ran the Walt Disney World Marathon last January, it was also in the 30’s at the start. (Yes, FLORIDA—it’s funny how temperatures can fluctuate at that time of the year.) But for the first 10 miles or so, I was so cold in my costume—a short-sleeved shirt and shorts—that at one point my fingers went numb. (Note: The race starts at 5:30 a.m.)

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Fortunately, 7+ hours later, temps had warmed up quite a bit… 😉

So it’s hard to say what’s too cold and what’s not. Of course, when running in the cold, we can just keep ourselves warm with layers and remove items if we get too hot. But the thing with me is that if I layer, I’ll rarely take the layers off. I’d rather not tie shirts around my waist or have to head home (or my car) to shed them. On the flip side, if I choose to wear less clothing, I run the risk of having a chilly, unpleasant run.

Recently, during some of my short, midweek, morning runs, I’ve had to put on a long-sleeved shirt. I’m not complaining because I much prefer the cooler weather. But with fall weather constantly changing, especially as it warms up from morning to early afternoon, it’s becoming tougher to plan for the start AND the later part of run.

Jen and I have one more big race lined up this fall—the Manchester City Marathon & Half Marathon in New Hampshire—and I imagine I’ll transition away from singlets soon after that. I really prefer to wear one in the race, since that’s what I’ve been training in for the last few months (and I DON’T want to overdress). If the temperature is going to reach the 50’s, I think I’ll go with a singlet, even if it’s supposed to be cold at the start. (That sort of answers the question in this blog’s title.)

I’ll bring plenty of backup options, though. Maybe a sleeveless shirt. Perhaps a short-sleeved shirt for more coverage. We’ll see. But if it’s too cold to wear shorts, then I KNOW I’ll have to keep my singlet in my suitcase.

Thanks for reading,

Todd

Running Lessons NOT to Take from Our Dog

It’s obvious that both of us like to run, but did you know that another member of our family is also a big runner? Our dog, appropriately named Miles, loves getting some exercise out on the roads.

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And at the beach…

If you read Jen’s old blog, The Final Forty, you know that we got Miles a few years ago, and quickly he showed off his athletic prowess. We started off slowly with him, only incorporating short running spurts into his regular walks. But then he wanted to go longer and faster and more often. Jen says she always knew he was “our dog,” and his running proves that unequivocally.

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Definitely our dog ❤

As a spaniel/shih tzu mix, Miles has the ability to run without getting worn out all that quickly. You can say he’s both a sprinter AND a distance runner; he can bust it for a few blocks, often dragging one of us along the way, or he can take on a jogging pace and keep it for well over a mile. Of course, his “jog” is usually way faster than either of us would normally go.

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After one of our first runs with our new puppy

But even though Miles is a fast, fit, and friendly pooch, he does quite a few things that runners shouldn’t do. Of course, his body type (and number of legs) differs from us, but all of us can take some advice from him on what NOT to do when going out for a run:

  1. Be impatient. Really, we just have to ask Miles if he wants to run, and he goes bananas. He gets SO excited, yet he often can’t contain that excitement. He’ll whimper and whine and then get frustrated if we keep him waiting for more than a few seconds. There are also times when he DEMANDS a run; he’ll just stop short during his walk, and the only way to get him to move is to offer to run.
  • Analysis: Obviously, Miles can’t just go out and run whenever he wants, so we understand why he gets impatient. But you, the runner who typically can head out whenever he/she pleases, should be very careful about not getting too overzealous. If you can’t run as long or as fast as you want right now, try not to let it beat you up. Progress will come. If you’re injured, don’t try to push it too quickly just so you can get out there. And if you’re training for a race, don’t let your anticipation get the better of you by making up missed runs or doing more than you’re capable of.
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Sometimes it’s best to just take a leisurely walk in the park

  1. Go out too fast. On occasion, Miles will join us for the first mile of our long run. (He really does have good stamina.) But sometimes, he books it immediately, and we’re scrambling just to keep up with him. We know he looks at this as a special opportunity, and it’s obvious that he has a lot of energy. But whenever he goes out too fast, he eventually gets tired, and his hard effort turns into a slow trot or just a walk. (He’ll then be sleepy throughout the day.)
  • Analysis: Like Miles, you probably enjoy running, and you want to look strong while you do it. And in a race environment, it’s natural that you want to get off to a good start and not let other runners pass you by. But eventually, you’ll get tired, too. Miles doesn’t know how far he’s running, but you do, so don’t jeopardize your entire run or race by pushing the pace too soon.
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What usually happens on long run day…

  1. Get distracted. When Miles is out, anything can divert his attention. Sometimes, he’ll see a UPS truck, stop in his tracks, and begin barking his head off. (For some reason, he dislikes all delivery people and services.) Or maybe he’ll encounter a squirrel and slow down to keep a close eye on his “enemy.” (He’s a hunting dog, after all.) Even if he’s going at a nice pace, the sight of a cat or a bird or an object out of place can cause him to forget about his run and focus on whatever he sees at that particular moment.
  • Analysis: We’re loaded with distraction in everyday life, and when we go out for a run, that’s no exception. Usually, we have our phone with us, maybe an audio device, probably a GPS watch. These are all great things to have, no doubt. But if we’re checking Facebook, making calls, or stopping to text throughout our run, are we really getting the most out of it? Don’t let distractions affect your performance or make you lose sight of all the great things that running brings.
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…Like enjoying a gorgeous fall afternoon at the park

  1. Bust it in the heat. Like most dogs, Miles doesn’t do so great in warm weather. He’s loaded with hair, so even a short time in the heat can have him panting. Yet, Miles disregards all this and tries to run just as fast in the summertime. We’re always very careful about Miles running in the heat, and if it’s too warm, we’ll refuse to let him run at all (which often requires a lot of might and a strong leash). Many times, we’ll even cut his walks short so he can get back in the air conditioning. We know how much he enjoys running, but his safety always comes first.
  • Analysis: Anyone who’s trained for a fall marathon has probably had to endure summertime long runs, and it’s usually not pleasant. Not only does the heat make us feel tired and worn more quickly, but it also affects our pace—making us feel as though we’re not as fast or conditioned as we thought. We have to realize that running in the heat can be dangerous; adjustments may be necessary. Until the weather gets cooler, we need to listen to our bodies and accept that we probably won’t be going as fast as normal outdoors.
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Definitely no running allowed when his tongue is hanging out!

Miles is about to turn 3 in November, and even though he’s a smart, kind, adult dog, obviously we shouldn’t be modeling our running behaviors after him. Hopefully, from the examples above, you see that small things in your running can make a big difference in your effort, performance, and overall enjoyment level. Plus, running can be a whole lot of fun with your favorite four-legged friend!

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What advice do you have for running with your dog?

Is there anything your dog does that you shouldn’t do as a runner?

Race Recap: Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon

It’s been a week or so since I ran my first trail race…and I still haven’t cleaned my shoes. They’re pretty filthy, but it almost seems like a badge of honor to keep them that way.

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As mentioned in a previous post, I just started trail running this summer and decided to sign up for my first race, the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon in New Rochelle, NY. Let me first say that this was a fantastic choice for a first race. Not only was it well-organized, but it had the feel and excitement of a traditional road race.

When it came to racing on trails, I wasn’t sure how different it would actually be (other than the terrain, of course). How do you approach a technical course? What do others wear? Do they carry water? I found information and advice online, but you never really know what to expect until you actually get there.

Jen and I woke up early on Sunday and made the drive to Westchester; it was actually pretty easy, given that the route was traffic-free—even on the George Washington Bridge. After parking at New Rochelle High School and making the walk to Thomas Paine Cottage, where packet pickup was located, I had about 40 minutes before my wave would go off. At this time, it started raining—heavy at times—so we sat under a tree with our umbrella as we waited for the race to begin.

Because of its connection to the revolutionary Thomas Paine (the PAINE in “Paine to Pain”), the race has a colonial theme: volunteers in dress, a colonial band of drummers at the start, and even a musket to signal the start of each wave.

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I was in the third wave, and just six minutes after the first group crossed the line, my race began. The first mile was primarily on a residential road, a gradual incline that I took very slowly. We then entered our first trail, the Leatherstocking Trail, one of many local trails featured in this race. Almost immediately it got challenging, with a variety of roots, rocks, and inclines to contend with.

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I had trained on a variety of trails, in a bunch of different parks, over the summer, so seeing this technical terrain wasn’t unusual…or even frightening. But it was VERY fatiguing. It also didn’t help that I was still feeling the effects of my cold/sickness from the previous week, so I’m sure I was tiring sooner than I would have otherwise. Regardless, it was a tough go within the first few miles, so I was focused primarily on watching my step and maintaining a fairly easy pace.

In the early miles, I probably ran a little faster than I should have. On these single-track trails, with someone usually right in front and behind you, I felt compelled to keep the pace of those other runners so as not to cause congestion. That’s something I’ll have to get used to in other trail races.

I was also focused on NOT GETTING TRAMPLED. Unlike road races, sometimes there’s just not a lot of room to run. And with plenty of other runners in the vicinity, I almost always heard footsteps behind me and was always cognizant of who was nearby. It was kind of nerve-racking. A lot of times, I found myself moving to the right so others could pass. I got passed SO MUCH! (To ensure that the trails didn’t get too crowded, each of the five waves featured both fast and slow runners, so others were bound to catch up to me.)

It was raining most of the time, but because we were surrounded by trees, I really didn’t feel it all that much. But it WAS very humid, which made my throat dryer and my clothes wetter. I’m so glad I chose to wear my hydration belt—I was guzzling water starting in the second mile!

I was definitely tired after the first quarter of the race, but not so much that I didn’t think I wouldn’t finish. I knew I just had to take it easy, walk when necessary, and power on.

Again, the organization here was top-notch. At every point where we came out of the trail and had to cross a road, there were always volunteers guiding and cheering us on, while police held up cars and directed them when to go.

A spectator spot was stationed at around the halfway point, and Jen was there cheering me on when I passed. I told her that the race was hard but I was feeling ok.

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She then said the trail up ahead looked terrifying—I guess she won’t be doing a trail race anytime soon!

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The second half of the race was actually much easier than the first, primarily because we were running on groomed trails with limited obstructions. (Also, I think runners had spread out a little more; at times, there was a lot of space in front and behind me.) This definitely helped my tired body, even though there were MANY times when I still had to take a break and walk for a bit.

I didn’t have a time goal for this race, but I saw that I was approaching 2:30, so I stepped it up in the last mile or so to try to stay within this mark. Before I knew it, I exited the trail for the last time and started approaching the high school football field.

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The finish line was positioned on the track, and after making a half-loop on the smooth track surface, I saw Jen and crossed the line in 2:26—my first trail race complete!

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The festivities beyond the finish line were really nice, with tables set up with plenty of food and drink. Texas Roadhouse was there with sliders and iced tea. There were also GIANT sub sandwiches, pasta salad, bagels, and fruit.

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Everyone sat on the football field, and Jen and I enjoyed chatting and relaxing in what was now much nicer weather.

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This race was great because it didn’t have that intimidation factor that I imagine you’d find at other trail races. I’d definitely recommend it to other first-timers who want a chance to get off the road…and dirty up their shoes a little bit!

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Thanks for reading,

Todd

Have you/would you ever run a trail race?

What’s the biggest adjustment you have to make running on trails versus the road?

 

Wineglass Marathon Race Recap: Shattering a Personal Record

After four months of long runs and speed work, I finally had my shot at a new PR at the Wineglass Marathon last weekend. This is probably the hardest training I’ve ever put in for a race, and I’m happy to say that it paid off! I met my goal, shaving more than six minutes off my previous best.

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However, it didn’t come without A LOT of struggles, and as I’m writing this today, I’m feeling the effects of that effort. Not only can I barely move, but I’m now under the weather. They’re not kidding when they say that running a marathon lowers your immune system.

Jen and I had been wanting to do this race for a while, and earlier this year, we decided to put it on our fall racing calendar. A few weeks after we signed up, though, she decided to register for Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City (recap here), held two weeks before Wineglass. Because she devoted all her time and energy to the triathlon, her goal here was simply to survive, while mine was to run as fast as possible.

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We actually started our trip by driving south to Philadelphia to check out some of the historic sites we hadn’t seen before—including the Mint and the National Constitution Center—and also to see her all-time favorite band, Hanson, who was performing that night in the city.

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Presidents for the day…

From Philly, we made the four-hour drive to Corning, NY, which was actually pretty easy. Our first stop was the Corning Museum of Glass, where the Wineglass expo was being held. It wasn’t a very large expo, but they had the usual booths like Bondi Band and BeeCause Charms. And they had a decent selection of merchandise for a race of only a few thousand. As usual, we spent way too much on shirts and doodads—what can I say, my wife is a we’re suckers. 😉

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After a little light shopping…

We bought tickets to see the rest of the museum, which allowed for two-day entry. On Friday, we made our own glass picture frames. And on Saturday, we customized a sandblasted wineglass specifically for the race.

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Also on Saturday, we explored the lovely Finger Lakes region by visiting a few local wineries.

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Jen, who was basically still in recovery from her half-Ironman, was a little scared about what would happen in the marathon, so I’m sure getting her drink on at 10:00 in the morning eased her nerves a little bit!

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That day, though, is when I started to feel a little off. My throat was scratchy, and I was lethargic from lack of sleep. (I usually don’t sleep so well in hotel rooms.) I was just hoping it would hold off for one more day.

We stayed in a hotel near the start line in Bath, NY; although we were in Corning for most of the trip, we thought staying here would be the more convenient option. All runners, no matter if they are doing the half or full, have to take a bus to their respective start line, and since we were so close to ours, we only had to drive a mile to our bus and ride the bus for ten minutes.

We were at the start line with about 45 minutes before the 8:15 kickoff. It was pretty cold—we bought some throwaway blankets from Walmart the day before—but in all honesty, it was refreshing since we practically spent the last 16 weeks training in brutally HOT temperatures. My throat was still scratchy, but I had managed to get at least some sleep the night before.

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Within about a half-mile into the race, Jen urged me to leave her—we had agreed long before that we’d run this race separately. So we said our goodbyes, and I focused on keeping a steady 9:30 pace. The first few miles went through Bath before heading toward some busier roads.

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Let me first say that this race is extremely organized. Support crew were watching us from their bikes the entire time, and there were ample volunteers and aid stations. (I noted down where all the water stops and port-a-potties would be on the course, so I knew there were plenty ahead of time.) It’s always nice to know that you don’t have to worry about these things, and you can just focus on your race.

However, the course itself wasn’t the most scenic. (Maybe it would’ve been better had the fall foliage come in already.) For the most part, we were running on highways, alongside the busy I-86. Because of this, the only spectators were in the few small towns we passed through before heading back on the main roads.

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Lots of mountains…

Although the race lacked crowd support and memorable sites, it was indeed pretty flat (aside from a few rolling hills)—exactly as I’d heard. The first half went pretty well, although I experienced a side and back stitch within the first two miles. (I was hoping it would just subside, but it didn’t really go away until my first fuel break after mile 5.). And the mild ankle pain I had been experiencing over the last two weeks wasn’t bothering me at all—good thing I iced it in the hotel!

At mile 10, I stopped for another round of Clif Bloks and made the impromptu decision to hit the bathroom. I only mildly had to go, but there was no line, and I knew that the next port-a-potty wouldn’t be until after the halfway point. (If I had to wait at the next stop, I knew I’d be mad.) Because the fuel break and pit stop together cost me some time, I foolishly tried to make up for it over the next mile or so, running at under a 9:00 pace.

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This probably wasn’t the best idea. At around mile 14, I started feeling the usual lower back pain that I’ve had in pretty much every marathon to date. To combat this over my training cycle, I focused a lot on strengthening my glutes and hip flexors. I thought all those exercises had helped, but on race day, I guess you never know. (It wasn’t nearly as bad as before, which I suppose is a plus.)

It was also at this point that I started to get a mysterious stabbing pain in my right quadriceps. Now, this was something I had never experienced in a race, so I really didn’t know what to make of it. As you can imagine, it wasn’t comfortable, and it never really went away. Soon both quads were screaming.

To add to my list of woes, around mile 18, I started to feel a bit of light nausea. Jen has experienced this in marathons before, specifically in the 2015 New York City Marathon, and believes the culprit is often too much electrolyte intake. I was planning to fuel for a fourth time around the 20-mile mark, but I didn’t want to take the chance that I couldn’t keep it down.

All in all, the last eight miles weren’t pleasant. I tried to keep myself occupied by giving names to the other runners I had been with the whole time, including Blue High Socks and the Camelback Couple. I had also been keeping a close watch of the 4:10 pacer, hoping I could possibly finish in that range. But after getting ahead of him in the first half, he and his crew left me in their dust for good.

I knew I had to rethink my goals. For this race, I followed the Runner’s World Break 4:15 Marathon Plan, so by this time, I just wanted to finish under that mark. I knew, though, I’d have to maintain at least a 10:00 pace over the next few miles. I wasn’t sure if I could maintain that, especially because I needed to walk a bunch of times and stop and stretch.

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I tried to summon the strength to push the pace, while hoping I could keep my breakfast down and my quads from buckling under me. I must’ve REALLY wanted to beat 4:15 because I was not in the best shape.

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I managed to cross the finish line with an official time of 4:13. The race finished in Corning on the famous Market Street, with a pretty lively crowd and even Bart Yasso announcing the names of all finishers.

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After receiving my cool glass medal, I walked hobbled over to the food tent, where I received a shopping bag to collect some goodies, including chocolate milk, bagels, bananas, apples, and cookies. For hot food, there was even soup and pizza. I was still feeling a bit queasy, but the soup actually helped.

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Within an hour or so, Jen was crossing the line.

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And as usual with us, we proceeded to take a whole bunch of photographs before taking a bus back to our car in Bath.

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Including photos of our chicken soup…which might just be our new favorite post-race treat (for cold-weather races, anyway).

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I’m so proud of my wife for tackling this race just two weeks after Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City, where she competed for more than seven-and-a-half hours. I didn’t think this marathon would be easy for her, but I was confident she would finish.

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The good news is that she was in pretty good shape afterward, except for her back, which bothered her for much of the race.

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We started our long, five-hour car ride back to New Jersey, and at this point, my throat was killing me, and I had no appetite (which is VERY unusual for me). Jen insisted that I needed to eat, preferably something salty since I’m such a salty sweater. We enjoyed a rare yet delicious Chicken McNugget dinner from McDonald’s, and although I was clearly coming down with something, I was able to make it through the rest of the car ride.

Another race in the books for the Lesser-Known Runners…although this one could’ve gone a lot smoother. I’m glad I got my PR, but maybe next time any sicknesses can wait until the off-season. 🙂

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How have you dealt with nausea during a race?

How much do you focus on scenery in a race?

Why Training for a 5K Scares the Hell Out of Me

Hey, everyone. Todd here. For those who’ve been following us for a while, you know that Jen and I have completed a number of marathons. This weekend, we’re actually running the Wineglass Marathon, where I’ll be going for a new marathon PR (to break 4:20).

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Needless to say, I’m no stranger to the world of distance running, and I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea of training to run for hours on end to complete a 26.2-mile race. But when I recently thought about training purely for speed, to really race a 5K — which is “only” 3.1 miles — I actually managed to talk myself out of it.

When I first started running, I did a bunch of 5Ks…mostly local races that I remember as much for the post-race spread as I do for the course. Since I was a newbie, there wasn’t much pressure to nail a specific time or set a PR. (I was running in cross-trainers and cotton t-shirts, after all!)

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The picture that makes my wife LAUGH HYSTERICALLY…

I was just there to get out for a little while, go as fast as I could, and enjoy this new racing experience. They were fun…they must’ve been if I was willing to get up so early on a Sunday!

Fast forward a few years, and I really haven’t run so many 5Ks. (We do run a local 5K every year that includes a pizza festival, but I’m sure you can imagine what we look forward to there.)

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We’ve really been focusing a lot on longer distances, and it always seems like we have one (or multiple) marathons on the calendar. Over the summer, though, I was thinking about those 5Ks and how I hadn’t pursued a 5K PR in years. Something about that feat, though, makes me very uneasy.

If I’m going to race a 5K, I feel like I need to bust it…and I don’t know if I can. I’m scared of going all out and risking injury for something that truthfully isn’t one of my top goals. I’m very happy with the training I’ve put in for half- and full-marathons, achieving new PRs in both distances over the last year. But a fast 3.1 miles? That will require speed and discipline that I’m not sure I can bring to the table.

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Last year’s Steamtown Marathon, where I set my current PR

I’ll admit that Runner’s World piqued my interest in the 5K this year. The June issue had a whole section on crushing your 5K goal for the summer, and there was even a 10-week training plan. Although my first thought on this plan was, “Are you crazy? I’m not doing that!” I suspected I could possibly train for it in a shorter amount of time: three weeks. I didn’t really want to do more than that, and this was how long I had after racing a hard, hilly half-marathon in Mystic, Connecticut, and before the beginning of fall marathon training.

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After the Mystic Half Marathon

I found a few speed workouts online and decided (reluctantly) to give it a shot. Only a few days after running that hilly half, I attempted to do some intervals with little success. My legs just weren’t having it. A few days later, I tried again…and gave up halfway through. Yeah, I was disappointed…but you know what, not ALL that much. It was at that point that I just chose to abort the plan. There would be no 5K PR for me and no 5K attempt at all. I just didn’t have the drive to do it, and even with more rest, I wasn’t excited about pushing my body that far.

Ultimately, it was the smart call. I’m pretty much always in training mode—Jen says I’m not happy unless I’m training for something—and this was my chance to relax and give myself a break. I did think at one point that I should simply go for it and see what happens, but worry-free easy runs sounded a whole lot better than speed work.

After taking that nice break, I went head-first into training for Wineglass and now am ready to see what I can do in my next 26.2. But I haven’t forgotten about the 5K. With marathons taking up most of my time, I know I won’t have many chances to get that 5K PR. Perhaps someday soon. Until then, I guess I’ll be doing those runs mainly for the pizza. 🙂

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Our very first 5K together

Thanks for reading,

Todd

Have you ever followed a training plan for a 5K?

Have you ever aborted your training plans to give your body a break?

I’m a *Half* Ironman!

So this happened on Sunday.  🙂

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As I’m sure you could tell from my last post about the FREAK OUT I had when my bike flew off my car three freakin’ days before the race, I had some serious anxiety about this event.

Completing a Half Ironman was a goal I set for myself earlier this year because, quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me. I had already completed a few sprint and Olympic distance triathlons (which are typically less than a mile swim, around 12-22 miles on the bike, and a 3-6 mile run), but I knew this was a whole different animal and I would be in WAY over my head.

Nevertheless…I really wanted to do it. It’s sort of my thing — after all, I didn’t just sign up for my first marathon, I registered for the Dopey Challenge (the race challenge in Disney World where you run a 5K, 10K, half, and full marathon in the same long weekend). So I bit the bullet and signed up in May and basically killed myself all summer training for this race. And here’s my (looong) recap. 🙂

Todd and I arrived at Bader Field in Atlantic City first thing on Saturday morning (um…to get my hands on some sweet IRONMAN merch, not gonna lie…).

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After a few hours at the expo shopping, racking my bike, and attending an athlete briefing on the many, many rules of an IRONMAN-branded race (for example, if you come within six bike lengths of another cyclist, you have to go sit in time-out for five minutes), we spent the rest of the day at the beach and an early dinner at Ri-Ra at the Tropicana.

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On Sunday morning, I was up by 4am and out the door around 4:45am, and we made the easy 15-minute drive to Bader Field (we stayed outside of Atlantic City to save $$$). That meant I had a LOT of time to set up my transition area with all of my race day essentials and visit the port-a-potty multiple times (I apparently have a nervous bladder).

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The start of the swim was going to be a self-seeded start with only 6 athletes entering the water at a time. I lined myself up in my rightful place towards the back of the pack. That meant it was about an hour before it was my turn. Which gave me PLENTY of time to panic about what I was about to do.

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Truthfully, I wasn’t really nervous about the swim at all. I busted my butt to participate in group ocean swims all summer with a local triathlon club, and I had covered the 1.2-mile distance multiple times in training. Plus, this swim was in the bay, meaning the water would (theoretically) be calmer than the ocean. And I’ve done the Atlantic City Triathlon twice, so I already had experience swimming in this particular bay.

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What I WAS nervous about was the bike. I knew it just came from the shop, but would it hold up for 56 miles? Would I get a flat? Would my brakes malfunction? Would the wheels fall off? Would the entire bike just fall apart right from under me? One of the hardest parts of a triathlon, in my opinion, is having to rely on a machine for such a long portion of the race. In the swim and run, it’s all you…but on the bike, any technical malfunction could leave you sidelined and unable to complete your race. And I am NOT a mechanically-inclined person who can fix any sort of bike-related snafu on the road.

So after panicking about that for an hour (while Todd goofed around and tried to make me laugh with his corniness), it was approaching 8am and it was finally my turn to jump in and get this race started.

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I have to tell you, I felt GOOD. The first half-mile or so flew by. I felt smooth and strong, and because I had started so late, I felt like I had plenty of room to swim and not get kicked and punched by faster swimmers.

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And then I reached the turnaround buoy to head back and realized just why I was feeling so good. Apparently, the current had been with me going out. Now, suddenly, every stroke was a struggle. I knew I’d have to fight the current the entire way back. I tried my best to focus on my form and breathing and not let myself get into my head, but my pace had slowed significantly and I was fighting the urge to freak out about not making the swim cut-off time.

The last half-mile or so felt like it took FOREVER. And I kept feeling something slimy slipping between my fingers…which I later found out were jellyfish. UGGGGGHHHHH GRRROOOOSSSSSSSSS.

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I survived the jellyfish!

My Garmin told me the swim was longer than 1.2 miles, but nevertheless, I had finished in under 55 minutes. Which was A-OK by me because the swim cut-off for this race was an hour and 10 minutes.

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And my ultimate goal for my first 70.3? Finish in ANY time under 8:30 — the official cut-off time for the race.

The first leg of my race was COMPLETE!

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Just a girl and her dirt beard…

I climbed out of the water and had my wetsuit stripped by volunteers for the first time. Which basically means a team of people spin you around and throw you on the ground to yank off your wetsuit for you. I actually thought it was fantastic…it takes forever to get the stupid thing off sometimes.

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I raced into transition to get ready for the bike leg. Now the fear was setting in.

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No matter how nervous I am, I somehow still manage to be able to make myself look like an ass…

The bike was always the portion I was most afraid of because I’m just so new to cycling. Obviously I can ride a bike, but taking a leisurely ride through the park is a hell of a lot different than cycling in a race. And now I had this extra layer of panic on top of it all because I basically had to trust that the mechanics at the bike shop fixed everything that needed to be fixed after my little bike rack incident earlier that week.

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I took a deep breath and rolled my bike out of transition, and hoped that everything would be OK.

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I sat on the bike and started pedaling…gently…carefully…and not gonna lie, I had tears in my eyes for the first 2-3 miles. I was in full-on anxiety attack mode because I really, truly was convinced that my bike was going to fail me that day. I berated myself for being such a baby and for letting my fear overcome me in that moment. THERE’S NO CRYING IN TRIATHLON!

But after a few more miles ticked by and I calmed down, I started to realize that my good old Specialized Dolce was functioning normally and I might actually be OK. I kept talking to myself – as I often do on long rides – and telling myself that the bike was fine and I had trained so hard and I was going to complete these miles. I could do this. Quit being a baby and GET IT DONE.

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The bike course was 2.5 loops, which included the Atlantic City Expressway and some back roads outside of Atlantic City. I started verrrry conservatively, and I’m pretty sure held my breath the entire time I was on the bike. I was overly careful and aware of my surroundings. When I wasn’t making sure to stay far to the right to get out of the way of the fast cyclists, I was staring at the ground to make sure I didn’t hit any potholes or bumps or obstructions or anything that could cause damage to that bike.

Despite my nerves, riding on the Expressway was freakin’ cool. Not only is it flat and smooth, but you get to ride through tollbooths without paying. So at least I had some distractions out there.

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I had a little bit of a newbie freak-out moment when, after I passed the mile 5 marker, I continued on and soon found myself approaching a mile sign with a 45. DID I MISS A TURN-OFF SOMEWHERE? AM I GOING TO HAVE TO FIND A RACE OFFICIAL TO TRANSPORT ME BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THE COURSE AND START AGAIN? AM I AUTOMATICALLY GOING TO BE  DQ’ED FOR ACCIDENTALLY CHEATING?!

Yeah, I know. Stupid. It’s a multiple-loop course and they’re not going to have mile markers at every mile. I felt like an idiot when I soon passed the mile 10 marker and breathed a sigh of relief. What a dumbass.

The whole time I was biking, I was just trying to keep a nice, steady, comfortable pace. I’ve only done 50+ mile rides in training, and always with lots of stopping for traffic lights, stop signs, bathroom breaks, etc., so I wasn’t 100 percent sure what pace I was capable of holding. I had done 16-17 mph in some Olympic-distance triathlons earlier this summer, but I wasn’t sure I could maintain speed that for 56 miles.

I seemed to fall right into a 15-16 mph pace, and I was feeling good. Other than the fact that every time I saw a bottle in the road or a piece of glass or a rock or ANYTHING that could cause physical harm to me or the bike, I would swerve or slow down significantly and fight the urge to have an anxiety attack.

So, yeah…it was kind of a stressful ride.

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By the time I was on my second loop, I had settled down and was starting to feel like I might just survive this ride. Plus, I was waiting all morning for the sun to come out and for it to get blazing hot…and yet…it was still cloudy. No way. Would it possibly stay cloudy and (somewhat) cool for the rest of the race? How joyous that would be!

My pace was consistently hanging on around 15.5 mph and my mind was drifting on to other things. Like how funny all of these people with their scary wheels and alien helmets look to me (I laugh now, but I’m sure I’ll join them someday), and how much longer until I could enjoy my next half of PB&J Uncrustables sandwich…my fuel of choice on the bike.

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I tried my very best to stay out of the drafting zone and pass people within 30 seconds so I didn’t have to spend any time in the penalty box…’cuz I saw a LOT of other cyclists being sent to time-out, and I knew that in my race, every minute counted because I needed to finish under that 8:30 mark.

After mile 40, I was struggling, but at the same time I was also starting to feel like I might make it. Just one more weekday “easy” 15-mile ride to go. No big deal. All of the crazy fast cyclists had completed their race by that time, so it was just me and the “normal” people out there on the course.

I was even getting comfortable enough to take some water from the volunteers at the aid station (my bottles were now depleted)…which was no easy task when I’m still super shaky when riding with one hand.

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My legs didn’t feel too bad, but I kept shifting in the saddle and was struggling with a lot of discomfort. I opted to just wear the tri shorts instead of pulling on bike shorts with extra padding in transition. (I’ve tried that before and it actually made everything hurt even worse.) My ass hurt, my lady bits hurt, and I just wanted to be OFF. THAT. BIKE.

Then my bib got caught in a wind gust in mile 54 and one of the holes ripped, so it almost flew off on the Atlantic City Expressway and I had to maneuver it back around my waist with one hand. Running without a bib is against the rules and there was NO WAY I was going to get off my bike and chase a stupid piece of paper on a highway to avoid a DQ on the run course.

Mind you, I didn’t realize that basically NOBODY wears the bib for the bike portion of the race; I felt like a huge dork, but at the same time, I got a lot of encouragement from cyclists who were passing me and cheering me on by name. I know that with my bright blue running sneakers and beginner pedal cages and entry-level road bike, I might as well have “NEWBIE” stamped across my forehead. So I appreciated the more experienced cyclists whizzing by with words of encouragement and I was actually sort of glad I made the rookie mistake of wearing my bib on the bike. 🙂

Those last miles took forever, but somehow – FINALLY – I was approaching Bader Field again and heading back towards transition. It had been 3 hours and 45 minutes, and I was actually thinking I couldn’t wait to start the run just so I didn’t have to sit on that damn bike seat anymore.

I couldn’t wait to see Todd because I knew he was tracking me the entire time and crossing his fingers that the bike held up. He had decided to do his long training run on the boardwalk while I was on the bike, but I knew he’d be done by that point…and I also knew he would be just as relieved as I was to see the bike portion of the race come to an end.

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I rolled into transition and dismounted my bike. I MADE IT! To me, the mental anguish portion of the race was over. My legs felt wobbly and rubbery as they always do after a long ride, but by the time I finished ripping a new hole into my bib to re-secure it to my race belt, the feeling was already starting to go away a little bit. My back also felt a little stiff, but I figured the feeling would go away once I started running.

Now all I had left was a half marathon. Just 13.1 miles to the finish. It was a distance I’ve covered hundreds of times, and running is my “original” sport. No big deal.

It’s “just” a half marathon. I’ve got this.

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With my ripped bib

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Good one.

I started running (well, more like shuffling) and was almost immediately hit by a crippling wave of pain in my lower back. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for training-related back issues for at least 2 years now and had just had an adjustment that Friday. I didn’t have any major issues throughout the entire training cycle for this race…just some neck/shoulder pain from swimming and minor aches in my mid-back after particularly hard weeks.

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So you can imagine my surprise when here I was, on race day, and I couldn’t even make it out of Bader Field before having to stop to walk and try to massage my lower back and hope to God that this wasn’t going to continue for the entire race. This was NOT a normal pain for me. WTF?!

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In pain…

SERIOUSLY? I had come this far and I was NOT about to fall apart in the run. I frantically started trying to calculate just how fast I’d need to run in order to meet the time limit. If you don’t complete the course in 8:30, you may get your medal…but you’ll receive a DNF as your finish time with IRONMAN. And that would pretty much shatter my life.

I realized I had about 3:30 hours to complete the run and still meet the cut-off. My fastest half marathon times still hover right around two hours, and I had originally given myself a conservative goal of 2:30 to complete the course.

So I was fine. Right?

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Realizing I had 3+ hours to complete a half marathon before the cut-off

I told myself I would do a run-walk and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that’s what I did. Pace be damned. Just keep moving forward. One step at a time.

I made it the first few miles out and onto the boardwalk, and my back started loosening up a bit. I was still uncomfortable, but the sharp pains were starting to fade a little bit.

I was walking at every mile marker and aid station and feeding off the excitement and energy of the volunteers, who really were amazing. They had YUMMY COCA-COLA in addition to the usual water and Gatorade and were giving us handfuls of ice, which I promptly dropped into my bra and down my back.

Running on the boardwalk was nice, and around mile 6 we got to run out onto a pier, which was probably my favorite part of the run course (other than the finish line, obviously).

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After I passed the halfway point, things started to go to hell. The back pain was coming back. Bad. I knew I was bloated and dehydrated because I had the uncomfortable urge to pee but after stopping in multiple port-a-potties and boardwalk bathrooms, nothing was happening. While on the bike I fueled promptly at every 45 minutes, my fueling on the run was all messed up because I was so focused on the pain that I kept forgetting to take my Clif Bloks. I kept telling myself it was “only” a 10K to the finish but in that moment it felt like I might as well be running across the entire state of New Jersey.

I knew I’d be seeing Todd soon because he told me he’d wait for me around Caesar’s, so that kept me going a little bit…but I was really hating on myself for falling apart at that point. It made me so mad that my legs felt pretty good, but my back was giving out and there was nothing I could do about it. I have no idea what my pace was at that point because I stopped caring.

Just one foot in front of the other. No matter how much it hurt, I knew I had come too far and worked too hard for this moment to fall apart now.

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This course takes you back down the boardwalk towards the finish line, where you literally pass the finish line festivities and go around it onto the sand. Which suuuuuccccckkkks. I got to see everyone relaxing and having a grand old time, and meanwhile I still had about 5 miles left to go. Plus…who the hell wants to run on sand?!

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Faking it…

Fortunately, I saw Todd shortly thereafter, and in true “sherpa” form, he was there to snap a zillion pictures of me that I didn’t especially want at that point, lol.

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Those last 4-5 miles were hell on Earth. Really. The only thing that could have made it worse was if the sun had come out. I kept looking towards the sky and bargaining with the weather gods to please, oh please, keep the sun behind those clouds for just a little while longer. It was warm, but with the breeze from the ocean and the cloudy skies, it was tolerable.

I had just a few more miles until the turnaround where I could head back towards the finisher’s chute. I knew I was looking at well over a 2:30 half marathon at that point, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to be done. I was continuing to have to stop to walk to relieve some of the pressure in my back, and I was getting frustrated that just a few miles could take SO. DAMN. LONG.

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Smiling or wincing…?

To me, it felt VERY MUCH like those grueling last six miles of marathon, and I felt like such an idiot that I assumed I was so well-prepared for the mental/physical demands of this race. HA. I thought I was just so special. “I’m a marathoner, so a Half Ironman shouldn’t be SO hard…” WROOOOOOOONG.

I could tell that other runners were seeing me struggle because they kept saying things like “almost there, stay strong, the turnaround is up ahead, you’ve got this…” and I definitely needed the encouragement at that point. It was incredible to feel the support from complete strangers all around me, first from the cyclists on the bike course and now the runners who were watching as I pathetically tried to massage my own lower back and walk through the pain.

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Finally, I was at the turnaround. Less than a 5K left until the finish. And I had HAD it. I summoned everything I had left and tried to pick up the pace as best I could. No more stopping. Just keep going.

I felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame at that point. My back was killing me and my form was a mess and I knew I probably looked like a hobbling idiot, but I didn’t care. Time to get to that finish line.

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Almost there

I saw Todd again and told him this was PURE HELL and he gave me some much-needed encouragement.

The finish line is just up ahead. It’s right there. Go get it.

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One more trip around the pier and the finish line WAS MINE.

Finally…FINALLY…I saw the glorious IRONMAN red carpet ahead of me. Nothing has ever looked so beautiful to me.

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I could see the finish line. The clock said 8:40, and since I jumped into the bay an hour after the official race start, I knew my finish time would be around 7:40. My half marathon time would be around 2:45.

I had made the cut-off with 45+ minutes to spare. I had it.

I saw Todd was already there cheering. I had made it and in that moment nothing hurt and there was no more fear or pain or anxiety.

Just sheer joy that I somehow managed to pull this off.

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All of the 6am ocean swims and the 4-hour bike rides and the soul-crushing long runs had culminated in this moment where I was about to accomplish something I never, ever, EVER thought I’d do.

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A year ago, I was afraid to swim in the ocean. It took months to summon the courage to ride my new road bike in the street. I had to learn to swallow my fear and do things that scared the ever-loving shit out of me over and over again.

I endured countless “bricks,” testing myself time and time again to see if I could mentally and physically withstand multi-sport workouts.

It was HARD. The training was exhausting…in some ways, even more so than marathon training.

And now I was about to finish a Half Ironman. And, suddenly, it was all worth it.

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There are no words.

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I crossed the finish line, was handed my medal by a volunteer who saw I was on the verge of a breakdown, and she asked if I needed a hug. I then proceeded to ugly sob all over her. She squeezed and hugged and congratulated me for what felt like an hour before passing me over to my husband.

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A little post-race boohooing…

I didn’t think anything would ever top the feeling of completing my first marathon. But I gotta tell you…this came pretty damn close.

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I got celebratory smooches (from Todd, not the volunteer…) and then went to find some food. They had a food truck set up for us with burgers and fries, in addition to a tent with bacon, soft pretzels, fruit, etc. SCORE.

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Todd and I sat on the ground to eat for a few minutes before taking some more pictures with my AMAZING medal.

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The world’s most supportive (and patient) husband ❤

I couldn’t have asked for a better first Half Ironman experience. This race director (Delmo Sports) has to be the absolute BEST in the business in terms of organization and communication and perks, IMO, so combined with all the bells and whistles of an IRONMAN-branded race — plus the AMAZING weather — it was everything I could have hoped for.

Oh, and the sun didn’t come out until about 3 minutes after I crossed the finish line. I’m convinced those weather gods were looking out for me that morning!

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At the end of the day, I know I’m a mediocre triathlete. I’m a middle-of-the-pack runner, a slow swimmer, and a fearful cyclist. I know I’ll never win any awards. I know I’ll never be the leanest or the fastest athlete. And I know I’ll probably always be among the last finishers in a triathlon.

But I don’t care. I know this is technically a new blog and a lot of you reading this (if you’ve made it this far…BLESS YOU) don’t know my story from my previous home at The Final Forty, but suffice it to say that after a lifetime of being obese and hating everything about your body, crossing the finish line of a 70.3 mile race is a feeling that I can’t really put into words.

I feel like I have to keep doing things like this. I have to keep reminding myself of the reason I put my body and mind through the stresses of training for marathons and triathlons. Truth be told, I am so desperately afraid of going back to the person I used to be. I probably always will be.

As much as this race hurt (let’s just say I’ll be spending some extra time with my chiropractor), I finished feeling strong. I felt so very grateful for what my body could accomplish. I looked at my race pictures and didn’t see a “formerly fat” girl…I saw an athlete.

It was yet another way for me to make up for all the years I drowned myself in food and let myself be so incredibly self-conscious and miserable all. the. time.

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When you can’t believe what just happened…

To go from weighing 265+ pounds and not being able to walk a mile to achieving an athletic goal of this magnitude means more to me than any finish time or medal (even the beautiful, GIANT medal I just earned) ever will. I spent the first 25+ years of my life doubting myself and being afraid and not going for what I want, and crossing that finish line on Sunday was just my way of proving to myself yet again that I’m not that person anymore.

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What I AM is a Half Ironman finisher. 🙂

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Thanks again for reading.

Jen

What was your proudest moment as an athlete?

 

When Fear Takes Over Before Race Day…

Hi, everyone. Jen here. Todd has a great post ready to go for all of you, but I’ve decided to hijack the blog one more time this week. Hope he doesn’t mind. 😉

I had sort of a traumatic bike-related experience yesterday and I guess I just need to share with people who will “get” it.

So, I’m 4 days away from my very first 70.3 — Atlantic City — and I’m leaving my local bike shop with my freshly tuned-up bike (it’s a Specialized Dolce in a lovely shade of turquoise). The bike is only a few months old; my hubby bought it for me at the beginning of the summer because he knew how much I wanted to do a 70.3…and there was no way I could race that distance on my 10+ year-old hybrid (at least not without feeling like a idiot).

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My old bike

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My new bike (I only have one pose, apparently, lol)

Anyways, I hook my bike to my bike rack (yet another triathlon-related purchase to add to the list) as I’ve done dozens of times this summer. I hopped onto the Garden State Parkway on my way to teach a few piano lessons. I decided to bring the bike with me because a.) I didn’t have a ton of extra time before my first lesson to stop home and b.) I wanted to do a short ride afterwards just to double check that everything was good to go after my pre-race tune-up.

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The bike rack I have (Photo credit: Thule.com)

And then my worst fear came to life. I was driving about 55-60 MPH when I saw the bike swinging on my bike rack a bit, as it sometimes does when I’m driving at faster speeds and/or it’s especially windy. I decided I would pull over at the upcoming rest stop just to double check that it was secure because, if you’re unfamiliar, the Garden State Parkway is really NOT a great road to stop on unless it’s an emergency.

But unfortunately I didn’t make it. Minutes later, I looked in the rearview mirror and watched in horror as my bike flew off the bike rack and smashed onto the highway.

I had that moment of that didn’t just happen, I must be hallucinating, but once I realized it was for real, I pulled over and flung myself out of the car to go retrieve my precious bike. I was in the right lane, and the bike landed halfway into the shoulder. Thankfully, the approaching cars saw what happened and went around me (heaven forbid they slow down, though)…but I have no desire to run around on a major highway anytime soon.

I hooked the bike back onto the car as securely as possible (it’s a two-bike rack, and I’m sure there’s a more technical way to describe this, but the “stopper” on the end had come off on the side that holds the seat, and the rubber strap securing the bike ripped on the side that holds the front end). I’ve been using the rack at least 2-3 times a week for the past several months with no issues, and had no inkling whatsoever that anything was loose, broken, etc.

I raced back to the bike shop (BTW — if by any chance you live in my area, Cycles 54 in Wall is the ABSOLUTE BEST BIKE SHOP EVER). After his initial response — WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?! — the shop owner immediately went to work taking pictures of the rack and the damages to the bike to help me file a claim with Thule. He said it was clearly a failure of the bike rack because it was installed and secured perfectly and that Thule should make it right in terms of paying for the damages (but, honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about going after Thule…I just wanted to know whether or not I would be dropping out of my first 70.3 due to lack of bike).

Most importantly, he said most of the damage to the bike is cosmetic and can be fixed/replaced over time, but there are definitely some issues that need immediate attention…the handlebars were all jacked up, the front brakes were bent and need to be replaced, etc. I don’t have photos to share of the damage…it’s too traumatizing. 😦

In spite of all of that, he assured me that they will fix it for me, do a full safety inspection, and I will have the bike back and ready to race in time for the weekend. (Truth be told, I think the poor guy saw that I was on the verge of bursting into tears, so I was a little bit hoping he wasn’t just telling me what I needed to hear to avoid having a meltdown in his store.)

I know it could have been so much worse. There was nobody driving directly behind me when the bike fell off. I know I could have caused an accident and somebody could’ve been seriously injured. I know I could have been killed when I started running around on a major highway.

I’m so thankful that nobody was hurt and that the bike isn’t irreparably damaged, but now I am in sheer and utter panic mode. I’m a marathon runner, for crying out loud, so I’m no stranger to pre-race anxiety…but I’ve never had it this bad.

I was already a nervous about the bike leg of the race, but I’ve spent this entire summer with my ass glued to that bike seat. I can’t remember the last Sunday I didn’t spend cycling for 3-4 hours. It took me forever to feel comfortable on my new road bike (I did my first few sprint/Olympic tris last summer on that trusty old hybrid), and I was finally starting to feel somewhat confident as a cyclist and less fearful out on the roads.

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Feeling like a badass in the 2017 Atlantic City Triathlon

And now I feel like all of my progress is gone. I’m afraid again. I have to bike 56 miles on the Atlantic City Expressway this weekend and I can’t get the image of my mangled bike lying on the side of the road out of my head.

And this isn’t even the first time that I’ve experienced triathlon-related panic. At last year’s Atlantic City Triathlon — my first Olympic distance tri — I had a full-on panic attack because the water was too warm to be wetsuit legal and I had never attempted an open water swim without one.

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This is what my fake smile looks like, in case you were wondering…

After crying in a port-a-potty for 15 minutes, I swallowed my fear, got in the water, and surprised myself that day. I made it through the swim with no problem (other than a few of my usual THERE’S SOMETHING TOUCHING MY LEG freak-outs), and realized I had stressed out for nothing. And I’m hoping this weekend will be the same.

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Me and my filthy dirt beard made it out alive!

But for now, I just have to try to shake the fear that my bike will fail me on race day. I am definitely not a mechanically-inclined person who knows how to fix minor issues out on the course, so there was ALWAYS the fear of getting a flat, etc…but now it’s about a zillion times worse.

It makes me miss running races. There’s always those pre-race jitters before a half or full marathon, but when you’re running, you’re only relying on yourself…not a bike that can fail you at any time, regardless of all the hours of training you put in.

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No anxiety on the run!

It’s not like I was in a crash or anything like that, thank God, but I can’t stop obsessing over the idea of my bike being “broken” just days before my first 70.3…or the fact that I really don’t even want to get on a bike right now for fear that it’s just going to fall apart from under me.

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Hoping good old “Dolce” carries me to the bike finish this weekend

I’ve worked so hard and I know I can finish this race, but I can’t shake the fear of ending up with a DNF on race day because of a mechanical failure that’s beyond my control. My bike shop has been very good to me and I trust them to fix the bike and ensure that it’s safe to ride, so I’m sure I’m probably being irrational, but I just hate that my excitement for this race has now been replaced by fear.

Talk me off the ledge…how do you deal with pre-race fear/stress/anxiety?