Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon and an 8K Kicker

What a great year I have had.  I owe much of my success to all of you, who encouraged me and supported me while I got stronger and faster.  Thank you for helping me reach my goals.  As you will remember, I set a fundraising goal of $5000, and I promised to dye my hair purple for the Marine Corps Marathon if I met this goal.  I did it, dyed my hair purple, and got a personal record (PR) in the 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon, all in one race.  And, then, for the kicker, I ran an 8K and got a PR at that distance too.

What you didn't know was that AFTER I threw out the purple passion promise, Allyson Wyld, my friend and hairdresser, told me that it would actually be very difficult to dye my auburn hair purple without going through a couple rounds of bleach!  Bleach it, then go purple, then bleach, then go back to my usual auburn.  And, maybe, have it all fall out!  But I had faith, and Allyson did more research, and on the Friday before Marine Corps, she had a big smile on her face.  I spent several hours going from auburn to an audacious aubergine.  The plan was to "undo" the look before going back to work.  However, as I sat in the salon, I heard Allyson talk about sailing on Monday, and I recalled that salons are generally closed on Mondays.  I wore the aubergine all weekend in DC and received many compliments from young women who wanted to know what color it was so they could emulate the look.  The color made me feel more like a VCU art professor than a partner in a law firm.  But come Monday morning, I pranced into my law practice with my purple passion hair.  Word got around, and by lunch there was a steady stream of spectators strolling past my door.

But I have skipped the main event, haven't I?  I had a race to run, a marathon.  This was my third marathon, and my first one outside Richmond.  My previous personal record was 5 hours and 13 minutes.  My goal was to run this marathon in less than five hours, and my stretch goal was to run it in 4:45.  I consulted with my coach, who said I could do it.  He told me to start out at a 10:45 pace, and go faster after the half if I felt good.  The week before the race, I studied the course and considered this pace guidance and felt ready.  I learned that the first 9 miles contained some hills, and that the rest of the race was flat, until the last dash to the finish, which was up a hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  A friend of mine, a very fast runner, told me I would HATE the final hill.  I couldn't understand that--a final hill to victory?  If I knew nothing else, it was that I'd LOVE that final hill.

So, race morning we got to the start very early, went through security and waited for the start.  I waited with my friends Holly, who has done dozens of marathons, Jenn, who was running Marine Corps in preparation for an Ironman, and Tiffani, who was running her first marathon.  They planned to run slower than I, so when we lined up to start I said goodbye and was on my own.  On my own in a sea of 35,000 other runners. 

We sang the national anthem, and the crowd surged forward.  There was magic in the crisp air.  I guess I knew I was going out too fast, but I felt so great. I was like a little kid presented an enormous ice cream sundae. I knew I'd pay for it, but it was THERE, it was so good, and nobody was going to take it away. I was supposed to start out at a 10:45 pace, but I kept seeing 10:25 or even 10:22 on my garmin GPS watch. I kept telling myself either I was having a great day or being very stupid. Mile after mile, even though there were hills, I kept going fast.  I knew in my heart of hearts that I was being a dummy, but I held a little glimmer of hope that I could keep up the pace, or maybe just slow to a 10:45 in the last 10K.  I knew it couldn't keep up as I passed the 5K mark, the 10K mark, and the half marathon mark, and realized at each place that I had run those distances faster than I had ever run actual races that stopped at those distances.  (According to the MCM website, my 5K, 10K and half marathon splits were 32:25, 1:05:01, and 2:20:47. These are PRs for all three distances.)

That sounds fabulous, doesn't it?  Well, not really, considering that I had to run ANOTHER HALF MARATHON after that.  Actually, I did fine until about mile 18, and then I really started to suffer.  My legs were like lead.  At mile 20, we crossed the 14th Street Bridge.  The night before, John "the Penguin" Bingham, a slow runner who nevertheless makes a living off writing about running, had warned us that this bridge was 13 miles long--"you start at mile 20," he quipped, "and when you get to the other side you're at mile 33."  I thought he was being silly when he said it, but it was so true.  The bridge was made of hard concrete, and my thighs were killing me.  Furthermore, I was surrounded by zombies.  It was Halloween, so some of those who strolled by were wearing zombie costumes.  Others had given up the ghost on the race and had donned facial expressions resembling zombie masks.

Oh, woe is me, I cried aloud, startling a zombie who was under the impression that we could not speak aloud on the silent bridge over the River Styx.  Were we going to die?  I looked down at a bat that had attached itself to my purple jersey.  It was a glittery bat given to me the night before by a very adorable child named Hannah, a survivor of childhood cancer.  Hannah's bat said around it "You are MY HERO!" 

I remembered why I was doing this race.  I remembered my friend Robin, who has had pains in her leg lately, which is pretty weird because her pain comes from a leg that is no longer--a leg that was amputated along with her cancer.  But Robin won't quit.  Despite her pain, she is learning to walk again, and has plans to complete a triathlon as soon as she can.  And I remembered my friend Ed, also suffering from a secondary cancer in his foot--he lost two toes this year from cancer, yet he has gotten back on his bike and back into swimming, even doing a relay leg of a triathlon this summer.  And I thought of all the many people who have weathered lymphoma (such as my Dad) and fallen to leukemia (such as my Grandmother), and I knew I had to keep going.  Hannah, and all the others, were counting on me. 

So I looked over at Zombie Lady and said, "let's go!  Smile!  If we just run, instead of walk, to the end of this bridge, we can take a walk break!"  She and I began running.  I am not sure that Zombie Lady actually smiled, though, but it was a start.  At the end of the bridge, Zombie Lady kept going, and I paused for a walk break. 

I struggled onward.  I knew I was tired when I passed the "hashers" who were offering beer, but didn't stop to sip.  I declined because I realized I'd have to cross the street to get a beer.  So, I kept going, and eventually I knew I was close to the "final hill," the hill my friend Greg said would kill me.  But it was at that point that I got a second wind.  The hill was steep, and to climb it I had to use different muscles.  That alone was a relief, and coupled with it were the shouts of the elated crowd.  Incredible!

I finished in 4:52:57.  I achieved my goal and got a PR of 20 minutes faster than my previous one.  So, although I started out too quickly to make the stretch goal, I was very pleased with the race.  And the purple hair and what it represented.

5---10:24 (this included a longish uphill, which I took by keeping my heart rate/effort about the same; I just felt great)
6---9:58 (yowser)
10--9:59 (you big dummy, why run so fast?)
12--11:15 (slowed so I could eat something)

14--11:13 (nature calling)
18--11:16 (starting to realize my quads were dead)
19--13:28 (stopped at a porta potty line, which probably took 3 minutes, so this was really pretty fast)
20--11:16 (horrible concrete bridge. really started to kill my thighs)
21--10:24 (bargained with myself that if I ran the whole bridge I could walk some on the other side)
22--12:05 (walked some; turned down hasher beer! noticed my overall pace was too slow! sadness)
23--11:45 misery; kept trying to run, but couldn't keep up the pace; slow incline at this point didn't heelp

24--10:59 picked up the pace here as best I could with less than a 5K left
25--12:05 done. Legs are totally trashed.
26--11:34 almost done
So, all in all, it was a great race, but I started TOO FAST.
Two weeks later, I ran the Richmond 8K, which is about 5 miles.  I decided that my main focus for this race would be to find out if I could start out a race at the proper pace, not too quickly.  I almost always start out too quickly--earlier this year I started out quickly before the gun went off and got a speeding ticket on the Downtown Expressway.  The police officer asked where I was going to fast, and I said, "I'm going to a race."  He said, with a sour expression, "slow down; here's a ticket."  So, for the 8K, my coach said to run a 9:44 pace, and I was determined not to get a ticket, except maybe at the finish line!
As the race began, I realized that it would be impossible to go too fast at first. Dozens of 11 minute mile runners and slower walkers blocked my way. I figured this would blow my goal but resolved not to sweat it. It didn't clear out for 1/3 mile, but then it did and there was a bit of a downhill, so mile one ended at about 9:54 per my Garmin. I considered trying to make these seconds up during mile 2 but resolved not to cry over spilled milk. If I fished 10 seconds slower than planned, oh well.

So for mile 2, I checked my garmin often and if it showed faster than 9:44 I slowed. I finished mile 2 and 9:44 popped up as the mile average on the dot. I got some water, felt great, and there was a downhill, so I sped up some. I remembered that an uphill would follow. Sure enough, after the turn around the uphill cancelled some of the speed I got on the downhill, but when 3 popped up the mile pace was 9:33 and the overall pace for the race was a pile up at the next water station I blew past it.

Now I had less than 2 miles to go so I let myself speed up. When mile 4 popped up it said 9:22. I sped up some more, though I encountered some inclines. Then I realized I had 3/4 miles to go and I knew the last was a downhill, so I began to run so hard it hurt. I turned the corner onto Cary and remembered my coach's admonition not to brake, but to run freely down the hill. It felt great coming into the finish. I saw the clock said 48 something and of course it had taken me a while after the gun to cross the mat. I therefore knew I had exceeded my goal.

My official finish time was 47:20, which is about two minutes faster than the 9:44 pace would have netted me.
All in all, a great end to a great season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Running Fast and Running Zen

I’m currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which will take place on October 31st. Although it’s a “run only” event, I keep swimming and cycling, in addition to running. It helps me keep balanced.

Just last week, I was in DC for a business meeting with my law firm partners, and one announced that a group would be meeting to run five miles around the Mall at 6:30 a.m. I had already planned to swim the next morning. What to do?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and swam in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s very Zen pool. Actually, I played “swim golf,” which involves counting the number of strokes per lap and adding them to the time a lap takes to swim. The lower the overall score the better, just like golf. Apparently, in golf, you’re not supposed to swat the ball numerous times down the fairway in an attempt to get there as quickly as possible. I have tried this before, only to be told that the number of strokes is what matters most. The same is true, they say, in swimming: flailing your arms around in circles like a madman is not recommended.  Especially if you plan to cycle or run when you get out of the pool.  Thankfully, if you are swimming in a Zen Pool, you relax and lengthen out your stroke. Also, swim golf in a Zen pool includes as many Mulligans as you’d like. I read it in the rules.  Plus, when you get to the nineteenth hole, you get a banana and a fancy glass of water with slices of lemons and cucumber in it. After 45 minutes of swimming in the Zen Pool, a banana, some Zen Water, and a cup of strong, hot coffee, I was ready to take on the Monuments of the Nation’s Capital.

“How fast do you run?” I asked Randy, who had organized the group. Randy runs regularly in Richmond with two other partners; on Fridays in the summer, they run past Huguenot Flatwaters, and see me swimming in the James River.

“Oh, when we get to chatting,” Randy said, “we slow way down, from our usual 8 minute mile pace down to, say, a 9 minute mile.”

“Hum,” I said, “Can you guys sing show tunes?” He said something about having seen “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, and doubted the trio’s ability to sing and dance while running five miles.

I steeled myself for a fast five miler. Based on some time trial runs I’ve done recently, I should be able to run five miles at 10 minutes per mile, assuming I push really hard. A nine mile pace seemed unlikely, but I had a map.

We waited for a light to change so we could cross the traffic into the mall. In addition to Randy and his regular running buddies from Richmond, our group included two partners from our overseas office, a partner who reguarly mountain bikes to work, my partner Kim who just ran the Baltimore marathon in 4:26, and a partner from our Texas office.  Would there be any runners at my pace?  The light changed, and "bang!" I knew my answer. 

I am good at starting out really fast on a run, though, so I kept up with the fast crowd.  Then I noticed the sun peeking out over the horizon just beyond the Capitol Building, casting a reflection in the pool of water in front of the building. In just three weeks I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon in this same location. 
I ran faster and my breathing grew heavier as I recalled some of the reasons I keep doing these races. Just a week ago, I saw my friend Robin Yoder, who came to cheer friends racing a triathlon. Robin did the Augusta Half Ironman with me last year. Late this summer she lost her leg to cancer, but there she was, walking on an artificial leg with the aid of a cane. She spoke to my coach about training.  Why?  She intends to race another triathlon, once she gets better at walking and can try cycling and running again. Already, she is swimming. What an inspiration!

I slowed my pace and let my breathing even out as my partners rounded the back of the Capitol Building, their forms silhouetted against the Capitol and the rising sun. I consulted the map, and figured out a short cut. “Where’ve you been?” I asked them as they joined me on Pennsylvania Avenue, headed for the White House. "I thought you got lost!" 

We zigged and zagged around the White House and related security details, and then passed the Washington Monument, surrounded by American flags flapping in the wind.  Maybe I wasn't fast, but at that moment, I felt serene.  I looked ahead and noticed my partners were stopped at the top of a hill in front of a red light.  Great--I would have just enough time to trudge up the incline before the light turned green.  My Texas partner turned around and looked at me as I crested the hill, and declared, "I didn't realize we ran up such a steep hill till I saw you coming up it."  He explained that he typically runs only four miles, and we had arrived at his limit.  I can run a long time, as long as the pace isn't too fast.  I was beat.  We walked some, ran some, and caught our breath.  And counted our blessings to be able to run our whole lives.

I recalled the fast fiver when I began my long run the following Sunday. I was to run 22 miles, and my friend Charlene announced she planned to “push the pace” by keeping up with Mark. I have run with Mark before, but typically when I do, he slows to my pace. I attempted to keep up with Charlene and Mark for a bit, and realized after about three miles that I had broken my own personal record for a 5K (3.1 mile) run.

Breaking your 5K personal record is a great idea if you are running a 5K. Maybe it's even okay if you are running 5 miles.  It is not such a great idea if you are only three miles into a twenty-two mile run. Fortunately, there were other, smarter runners with me that day, and I slowed to run with them at a more regulated pace. Thankfully, I had not used all of my energy during that first three miles.  I still had a sense of zen.  After four and a half hours, my 22 miler was complete. I was a little sore, but happy.  I am blessed to be able to run!

My goal for the Marine Corps Marathon is to complete the race in less than five hours. My personal record is 5:13.  More important than how fast I run the marathon, though, will be the feeling of tranquility that I will have when it is complete.  Because, no matter how fast I run the race, I am doing it primarily to raise funds to help cure cancer. My father, my hero, is still in remission from lymphoma, and he has successfully fought another round of cancer too. This is great news, but we have to keep fighting, coming up with newer and better treatments and cures for cancer, hopefully ones that do not cause the secondary cancers that my friends Robin and Ed Stone are facing today, twenty years after their first bouts with cancer.

To highlight the fight against cancer, I will be running the marathon with PURPLE HAIR. At this point, I have raised over $4000, so I will have purple highlights all over. If I raise $5000, I will go ALL PURPLE for the race. I promise to take LOTS of PICTURES. Can you help?

Monday, September 13, 2010


Shhhhh.  Want to know a secret?  Well, shhh, and I'll tell you about my race on 9/11. 

Before the Race

When you prepare for a whole season for a big triathlon, as I prepared for the Patriot's Half Ironman this year, by race day you are a bundle of nerves.  Most people pick out a "mantra" that calms them down.  I wasn't sure what my mantra would be for the Patriot's Half. 

I did know I'd be lucky, though, because the fortune cookie I had after finishing my PF Chang's Singapore Street noodles the night before the race said so.  And it had some "Lucky Numbers," which reminded me of my 7 weeks in Hong Kong doing a project for Philip Morris.  Whenever you bought something in the big stores in Hong Kong (and I bought a lot of good stuff), you'd get a receipt and a Lucky Number.  With the Lucky Number, you'd go to a counter where ladies repeated "lucky number! lucky number!"  Every number was a lucky number.  If you handed over your lucky number, you'd get a prize of some sort.  All sorts of different things.  It made you want to keep coming back for more, so you could get more prizes.  Anyway

The night before the race, I got all kinds of lucky numbers.  The noodles were a great pre-race meal, and it was gratifying to know that on race day, I'd be lucky!  I hoped that it would be good luck!

There was some thing special, too, about doing this race, the Patriots race, on the anniversary of 9/11.
On 9/11/01, I calmly rose at dawn to get into the office early because I had a closing the next day and many hours of work to do before the closing could occur.  But in the quiet morning, I got several hours of solid work done and felt good about what I'd accomplish for the day.  Then someone came and told me to come look at the TV, and the whole world changed.

On 9/11/10, I rose before dawn with butterflies in my stomach and thought about the race ahead of me.  My friend Lilo had told me to hold the butterflies in my hand till the race finish and then to let them go and fly away.  What an image!

Holly, Beth, Dale and I left the hotel at 5:00 am for the race site, where we were told to park in a large hay field.  We unloaded our gear and took turns pumping our bike tires with air, using Holly's truck lights to see what we were doing.  I pumped my back tire fine, and then started on the front one. 

Shhhhhh   Shhhhh   Shhhhh   The air was coming out, but not going in.  Clearly Ariel had a flat.  I would have to change her tire tube before the race start.  Now I was nervous.  In theory I can change a bike tire tube, but it could take me a LONG time.  At these races, there are bike mechanics on hand to help with things, and I decided to have an expert change my tire tube.  But the line was too long!  I began to panic.  I took a deep breath and quieted my mind.  Then I knew what my mantra would be:  shhhh shhhh shhhh 

Then it came to me: Coach Tyler was not racing, but he was planning to drive from Richmond to see us start and through the swim.  I called him on my blackberry, and said he was on his way and would help with the tire.  So I set up my transition, and I realized I forgot my visor!  Running a half marathon without a visor--yikes!  I remembered to remain calm--shhhhh.   I recalled some $5 visors for sale at the registration tent.  I had no money, but Holly had mentioned she had some cash.  "Holly, do you have any cash?"  She replied, "I only have $5."  LUCKY!  Is there any tax?  I found the visor and handed the man the fiver.  "Thank you and good luck on the race!" he said, with no mention of tax.  Whew!  With 15 minutes to spare before transition closed, Coach Tyler arrived, and boy was I glad to see him.  He deftly changed Ariel's tire tube, and announced that the problem was the valve stem, which meant that there was nothing inherently wrong with the tire, no glass hidden there likely to cause a second flat.  LUCKY! 

My Goals for the Race

Patriots would be my second race of this distance, 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. Last year, I raced Augusta, and finished in 7:30:39. The swim at Augusta, though, was downstream in a rushing river.  I completed the Augusta swim in 33:55, but I expected the swim at Patriots to take an hour because there was no downstream current to carry me.  If my cycling and running had not improved, therefore, my Patriots time would be close to 8 hours.  But, I knew I had improved.  So, I figured that if I cycled and/or ran faster, I could make up that extra 30 minutes needed for the swim, and still come in under 7:30.  That was goal one, to beat last year's time despite the harder swim.  And, shhhhhh, I had a secret goal, a stretch goal, to finish in fewer than 7 hours.

The Swim

The swim sounds simple:  Swim from the shore straight out to a yellow buoy and turn left, then swim parallel to the shore (more or less downstream) to another yellow buoy, then turn left and head straight into shore.  I was in the fifth wave so I had the advantage of watching the men and younger women start ahead of me.  Coach Tyler was on shore, and he told several of us to be sure to swim to the right of where we wanted to go because the current was carrying the swimmers, even the strong swimmers, to the left of the first turn buoy.  The last thing you want to do is to get out where the buoy is supposed to be and discover that you have to swim upstream to get around it.    I took this advice, and swam wide.  Most everyone else headed straight to the buoy.  Every few strokes, I would peek up to see the buoy, and I was glad I was banking right, because the current was carrying me closer to it, and carrying others far away from it.  When I got to it, dozens of people had gone to far left and were swimming back toward it to round it.  I rounded it wide to avoid the mayhem and began to swim parallel to the shore.  Before I knew it, likedy-split, I saw, and rounded, the second yellow buoy.  Now my job was to swim to the shore. 

I looked up and I was LOST.  Part of the problem was that the shore was not straight.  Part of the problem was that the sun shone brightly in my eyes.  Part of the problem was, I saw swimmers, but I couldn't tell if they were coming or going.  Moreover, they had not been good guides earlier in the swim, so maybe they were going the wrong way.  I started to panic, but remembered "shhhhhh."  I would get through this.  A woman in a kayak said, "swim toward the light."  I swam toward the blinding sun.  Soon, however, I realized that this was not the "light" to which she referred.  I asked someone on the boat, "where is the exit?"  He said, "see the strobe light?"  Strobe light?  No!  "See the yellow balloon man?"  I saw this balloon blowing in the distance and headed toward it.  Soon, though, I was lost again.  I asked directions again, and realized that to exit I had to swim very far to the left.  I headed that way and sighed at how far it looked.  But at least I was going the right direction now.

While I was still far from shore, my hands began to touch the sandy bottom of the river.  Just a few weeks ago, I had learned to "dolphin dive," and I knew I had to use this technique because running too far in water would wear me out.  Dolphining consists of grabbing the sand with your fists, pulling your feet up to your hands under the water, and then doing an arch with your arms and diving forward in the water.  Coach Michael had taught us this technique and after watching me attempt it a few times observed that "belly floppin' might not be ideal."  I replied, "indeed, it's called the 'dolphin,' not 'the big fat whale'!"  By race day, I was no longer imitating Willy, but I felt a bit more like a frog, or--dare I say a toad--than a dolphin.  I contemplated walking the rest of the way, but I saw Coach Tyler waiting on the shore and kept it up.  Finally it was too shallow to dolphin, and I stood and began to run out of the water.  "I think I swam two miles!" I shouted to Tyler, and he replied, "You are not alone!" 

As I came ashore, I unzipped my wetsuit and pulled it off my shoulders and arms.  Coach Michael teaches you to take your goggles and swim cap off and put them in your wetsuit sleeve, but my goggles are prescription and cannot be removed till I am close enough to my bike to see my sunglasses.  So I kept my goggles on and ran.  Then, I stopped, pulled my wetsuit off completely, and threw it over my shoulder for the remainder of the (long) transition run.  I was pleased that my compression sleeves (knee socks that start below the knee and end above the ankles) remained in place.

The Bike

Back in transition, I found Ariel with my helmet and sunglasses on her handlebars.  I took off my goggles and swim cap and replaced them with the sunglasses and helmet.  I grabbed Ariel and threw my wetsuit over the rack in her place.  My shoes were attached to the pedals, so I continued to run, barefoot, out of transition, pushing Ariel by the seat.  After the mount line, I put my hands on Ariel's handlebars and jumped on her seat.  I found the shoes, right side up--LUCKY-- and pedalled with my feet atop the shoes.  I knew there was a long flat stretch, so I took my time in riding while grabbing my right shoe by the toe, placing my foot inside, and then closing the velcro.  Then the same for the left shoe.  I was in and I was off! 

And what a great bike ride!  I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: after the summer of heat, the temperature was moderate and the humidity was low.  The Patriot's bike course is not a hilly course, but a fast course with just a few modest hills.  I felt great, and focused on making sure I ate and drank appropriately, so I wouldn't get too hungry and lose energy.  I felt so lucky, and I heard the Chinese ladies' voices: "Lucky number! lucky number!" 

There were three bottle exchanges on the bike ride.  Only water was being offered at the first one, so I rode past it without stopping.  At the second stop, I missed the chance to throw my bottle away, but I took a bottle of Heed and refilled the nearly empty water bottle on my aero bars and drank deeply from the Heed bottle, and tossed it away.  Good; more than enough for the rest of the ride, particularly if I took another Heed at the last stop.  The third stop was supposed to be at mile 45, so I looked for this.  At mile 42, I saw a group of volunteers with flags.  Was there a turn?  I thought it was straight on.  I asked "which way?" and they said "straight."  Then I realized--this was the water stop.  No Heed for Amy.  Oops.  Good thing I still had plenty of Gatorade and Heed on the bike. 

By this time, with 14 miles to go, my right hip (top of my IT band actually) was getting tight and sore. I stood up a few times to stretch.  I thought "oh, nothing a little 13.1 mile run won't cure!"  HA HA HA.  I am so lucky!

Before I knew it, I was headed back into transition (T2) and I undid the velcro on my shoes, removed my bare feet, placed them on top of my shoes and kept pedalling.  I slowed near the dismount line and put my leg over the seat.  Not graceful, but I did it!  I pushed Ariel by her seat back to her rack, and racked her on top of my wetsuit.  I removed my helmet and put on my socks, in which I had put lots of talcum powder, and my shoes with the elastic laces.  I grabbed my visor, race belt and fuel belt, and headed out on the run, putting these items on as I ran. 

The Run.

Out of transition, someone offered me water and Heed, but I declined and concentrated on getting into a running rhythm.  My goal for the run was to walk only while taking in fluids at the water stops, and to run steadily the remainder of the time.  And I felt pretty good as I started.  The run course was a two loop course, so fairly quickly I saw my speedier teammates.  I didn't see Coach Michael, who finished second overall.  I suspect he was finished with the whole race before I started my 13.1 mile run.  But he had an advantage--he started in an earlier wave than I did.  : )  But soon enough I saw Whitney (who would take 1st in her age group) and many other teammates, most on their second loop as I rounded the first loop. And, several times, I saw a man who carried a large American flag as he ran.  "Thank you!" I said to him.  It was a fitting tribute to those who have served our country in the military, as my husband did in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Patriots.

Although there was some sun, most of the course was on tree-lined trails.  This was a very good thing because I noticed that I was a lobster.  I had planned to use a spray on sunscreen that morning, but in my haste with the flat tire, I forgot.  LOBSTER!   Nothing to do, though, but to try to run in the shade.  Whenever my energy flagged, I would see a red uniform ahead of me, headed the opposite direction, and I would pick up the pace to meet a teammate.  I started on the second loop and passed Holly going the other way.  "Are you on your second loop?" she asked.  "I'm jealous," she said as I nodded.  But she was not very far behind.  I saw Beth, who said, "my goggles snapped off my head!"  Whoah.  Not so lucky.  But she was still going.

At the turn around for the second loop, with only about 4 miles to go, a volunteer offered "a Double Espresso Hammer Gel?  It's like Starbucks!"  I was running next to a man who looked like he'd lost his last friend, and I said, "I'll have one, and I'll buy one for him too!"  We each took the gels, tore off the tops and downed them.  YUCK!   For future reference, if you tell everyone you like Starbucks, but secretly you think it's a little bitter, then you do not want to try Double Espresso Hammer Gel.  Stick to your Folgers.  But I will say, it perked me up.  And the man I'd treated to the medicine perked up too.  I shouted, "Hey, aren't we LUCKY?" 

The rest of the run seemed easy.  I know that seems weird to say, but soon I only had 3.1 miles left, and I began to say, "I've got this in the bag.  I've got it.  I've got it."  When a young woman at the next stop said, "You got it!" I realized I was talking out loud.  Shhhhhh! 

As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I felt great.  I heard my name as I came in and saw Coach Michael and many teammates cheering.  I let go of the butterflies and the finish was beautiful!  I did it!  LUCKY!!

I looked at my run time and was amazed.  It was the fastest I have ever run a half marathon.  I guess it helps me to warm up with a swim and a bike ride!  And, after a little rest, I looked up my results.

The Results.

My official time for Patriots was 6:59:03.  I was thrilled because I made my stretch goal of completing it in under 7 hours, despite the longer swim.  Here are the splits:

Swim  59:12 (pretty good considering I figured it would take an hour under the best conditions, and then I got lost!)
T1       4:49
Bike  3:23:28
T2      1:58
Run   2:29:29

Yipee!  That's it for me and triathlons this year.  My next athletic event is the Marine Corps Marathon, on Halloween.  I hope to sport a Purple Head of Hair for that event.  You can help that happen by donating to my Team in Training site.  Help cure cancer!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hills, Spills and Thrills--and PURPLE HAIR

Since I last wrote, it's been nothing but hills, spills and thrills.  Oh, and some purple hair! This report is another Moby Dick, so for those of you who like to skip the whaling chapters, I will give you the cliff notes:

• Spills, Part One. I took a SPILL off my bike because I clipped out wrong. I fought back tears.  Should have listened to Brother Ben!

• Hills, Part One. I went to Wintergreen to climb HILLS--huge mountains, actually--and feared SPILLS for not being able to clip out. On the big hill, I had to stop riding my bike and get in the truck. I cried.

• Thrills, Part One. What a difference a climb on a huge mountain makes. The next week, I was THRILLED that God flattened out Goochland with a large iron. But really he flattened out hills in my mind. I grinned like a monkey. Maybe there was a tear of joy.

• Spills, Part Two. The next day, I, Captain Slappy, tripped while running and SPILLED splat onto the sidewalk. I stood up and felt okay, but everyone who saw me pointed at me in HORROR. A homeless lady (I am told she was an angel from God, but it was a good disguise) took a clean paper towel I had and dabbed my bleeding hands and knees with it. A lovely thought, but the angel had a lot of dirt on her hands, so the clean towel quickly became the filthy towel. Despite her kind ministrations, the front of my knee ballooned up to the size of a Florida orange. Later, as I stood at the doctor's office with the orange on my knee and blood oozing out of the other knee, I said, "Holly, how can I do that race next week with my hands all scraped up?

• Hills, Part Two and Thrills, Part Two. I bought $250 worth of bandages during the week, trying to find some that would cover my wounds during the race and stay on. Several promised to remain on for four days during which you could bathe. These came off during the practice swim prior to the race about four seconds after they got wet. Oh, well, I raced anyway, careful not to allow the Clydesdales to kick me in the knee, which was still the size of a goose egg. There was a giant Hill on the bike course, and contemplating it before the race made me want to throw up. But once I got there, I knew I could do it. I had to go around a woman who abruptly abandoned her bike right in front of me on the hill. That would have been me if I'd done the race in the spring. But on this day, I crested the hill and shouted a whoop! What a THRILL!

Future Thrills: I have two races coming up--Patriots Half Ironman on September 11th, and Marine Corps Marathon on October 31st. I have raised over $3000 and put a streak of purple in my hair. I'd like to dye the whole head purple for the Marathon, which I will do if I raise $5000 towards the goal of curing cancer. You can help me by making a donation to my TNT site. If you already have done so, THANK YOU!!

Now for the Moby Dick:

Spills, Part One.  The Clips
I should have listened to my little brother.  A little over two years ago, Ariel came into my life and I learned to clip into and out of bike pedals.  To get out, I would turn my heels in as though I were wearing Dorothy's ruby red slippers.  "There is no place like home."  Ben told me to go the other way, pigeon toed.  "What you are doing is dangerous, Amy."  Ah, but what do little brothers know?

Turns out, Ben was right!  I learned this on a hot Tuesday morning as we practiced climbing hills in preparation for a trip to Wintergreen.  We stopped halfway up a hill to listen to Coach Tyler's instructions.  I stopped, clipped out, hit my spoke with my heel, and toppled over in a circle of cyclists.  For whatever odd reason, it was a circle of male cyclist--I was the only woman--so I tried not to cry.  I spent the rest of the week icing my leg and researching how to clip.   I met with Coach Dave to relearn this basic bike skill.  I found I could only clip out properly at the bottom of the pedal cycle--I do not have enough leg strength, or torque--to do it on the top.  I felt barely competent by the time I had to go, and I most feared clipping out while going up a hill.  What if I wasn't in the right place?  Would I roll back down the hill?  Someone told me not to worry, that you would fall over before rolling down the hill.  Thanks!

Hills, Part One, Wintergreen
That weekend, we found ourselves in Wintergreen, where we were to ride 50 miles, but Coach Michael said the hills would make it "equivalent to 75 miles."  As we warmed up and talked about climibing skills, I began to shake.  It was warm, but I was shaking as though it were December.  "Are you all right?" said Coach Tyler.  "No," I replied.  I was afraid of the hills.  Really deathly afraid. 

Our first task was to head down Wintergreen Hill.  It was steep and curvy.  As we descended, Ariel shouted "WHEEEEEE!" and I did too.  Tyler had warned us not to ride the brakes the whole time because this would cause our tires to burn.  I noticed helpful signs, such as "HILL" and "USE A LOW GEAR TO SAVE YOUR BRAKES."  I used my brakes on the straight parts, and released them on each turn.  The hill kept going.  After a while, my hands were so tired I wondered if I could keep squeezing the brakes!  I resolved to use the "GRIP MASTER" I keep in my desk drawer at work to make my hands stronger.

I think the downhills were my favorite part of the weekend, but the scenery was beautiful, too, as we travelled through some flat ground, and then the rolling foothills of the mountain.  I knew, though, that we approached Crabtree Falls.  The climb up this hill is incredible.  It starts with small climbs that level off every so often.  What follows are steeper and longer climbs that "level" off every so often to what you thought were big climbs until you saw the bigger climbs.  At each climb, I worried whether I could make it to the next level spot.  If not, I was not sure I could clip out without falling.  The fear of falling with my feet clipped in gripped me.  Coach Renee was close by.  "I can't do it any more," I announced.  And she would say, "Just try this one more."  And I did.  But eventually, I clipped out at a flattish place and begged her to go ahead and send "the Truck."  I walked some, climbed a bit more, and cried.  Finally Guy showed up in the truck, and I wiped my tears as we loaded my bike and rode up the remaining hill.  It continued just as steeply for several miles more.  We passed my teammates in the third pace group, which we had dubbed "Team Zebra."  (The faster groups were far ahead of us.)  Everyone on Team Zebra walked a bit of the Crabtree Falls climb to the store. 

Soon after the store, we began the remainder of our ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Coach Sallee announced that the hills there were merely "rolling" and we'd enjoy the ride.  Let me tell you: Rolling Hills on the Blue Ridge are HILLS!  But after the humiliation of getting off the bike at Crabtree Falls, I was determined not to walk on a "rolling hill."  After climbing a particularly tough one, huffing and puffing, Coach Michael passed in the truck and shouted, "Great Job!  That was the last hill!"  I believed Michael and said "Praise God, Hallelujah." And then I climbed up two or three things. I don't know what they were, but they did a good job of pretending to be hills.

Thrills, Part One. God's Iron

God must learned from my experience at Wintergreen that I don't mind hills, so long as they are not steep or long.  The weekend after Wintergreen, we rode 64 miles on a regular route that we take most Saturdays in Goochland County, outside Richmond.  Normally it feels hilly.  I remember in the spring huffing and puffing up some preliminary hills and being rescued by Coach Phil, who let me draft off him to catch up to the group.  But after Wintergreen, the experience was different.  It was as though God had gotten busy with his iron and flattened out Goochland.  He figured I wanted no hills, and flatly eliminated all the things I used to think were horrible hills out there. Goochland is not flat, mind you; apparently God used Coach Michael's definition of hills during his ironing binge.  Everything out there for 65 miles was no hillier than the things that followed Michael's report of "no more hills."  After all the hard work, to bound easily up these hills, er.. things, was a THRILL.

Spills, Part Two.  Captain Slappy.

Various coaches have told me I run like Bozo the Clown.  I prefer to think of myself as Captain Slappy.  I don't "heel strike," which is the number one no-no of running.  I land on the balls of my feet, but with a vengance.  If you run beside me you will hear, "slap, slap, slap, slap."  It's a regular rythm.

The next day, I ran like Captain Slappy, tripped over a lip in the sidewalk and SPILLED splat onto the sidewalk. I stood up and felt okay, but everyone who saw me pointed at me in HORROR. A homeless lady--a friend told me she was an angel sent from God--took a clean paper towel I had and dabbed my bleeding hands and knees with it. A lovely thought, but the angel had a lot of dirt on her hands, so the clean towel quickly became the filthy towel. Despite her kind ministrations, the front of my knee ballooned up to the size of a Florida orange. Later, as I stood at the doctor's office with the orange on my knee and blood oozing out of the other knee, I said, "Holly, how can I do that race next week with my hands all scraped up?

Hills, Part Two and Thrills, Part Two, Luray

The week following my spill on the sidewalk was the Luray International Triathlon. I was recovering from my wounds and wondering if I should race. Would it be prudent? And then my teammate Eric said that there was a hill at the end of the bike route that he called a “DOOZY”! I told him this announcement made me want to puke. I shouldn't race!  Then I couldn’t decide if I was considering pulling out of the race because of my wounds or because of my fear. I decided to travel to Luray and race. I was determined to defeat the hill.

When I got to the swim portion of the race, I had a new concern that delayed my fear of that hill. My knee was still swollen the size of an apricot (down from the original navel orange size that occurred when I fell down). The eight dollar bandages that my friend Lenora had recommended to me became parachutes during the practice swim and had to be removed. And then I learned that I was in a later wave, along with the Clydesdales. Really big dudes. When I saw them, I forgot about the hills for a bit and worried whether one of the big dudes might take me out with a breast stroke frog kick to my leg. That would scuttle any opportunity for me to try getting up Puke Hill. So there was to be no drafting in the swim, I tell you.

Kelly Hadiaris, on the other hand, had no such worries. She went off in an earlier, fitter wave. I'm pretty sure she did some drafting. And you would have too. You can see evidence that she was obviously drafting in the photo, attached. Teammate Brenda snapped this when Kelly emerged from the water. Brenda deserves an award for this photograph, I do believe. You feel like you're right there, now don't you?

Kelly calls the photo "every racer deserves an entourage.” Kelly can call this photo whatever she pleases, but I call it a Chippendale's party. Look at her, Dirty Dancing out of the water with none other than Patrick Swayze!

But just so you know, I had a little party myself. I think there's a picture of me dirty dancing out of the Lake Luray too. Looks just like Kelly's photo, except my dirty dancing partner is Chris Farley.  Can't seem to find the photo to post here; you'll just have to trust me.

Now, children, if you are too young to get the cultural reference, you can thank somebody for you tube and watch the Saturday Night Live skit to which I refer. Here you go:

More Thrills and Hills, I prefer no more Spills!
Coming up next on my calender is the Patriots Half Ironman on September 11th.  A patriotic race for an important day for our country.  It's a 1.2 mile swim in the James River in Williamsburg, followed by a 56 mile bike ride and then a half marathon run (13.1 miles).  So, 70.3 miles altogether.  We previewed the whole course over two days last weekend.  I was helped tremendously by drafting off the back of Coach Tyler's bike during the training ride--I won't have that crutch during the actual race.  I am hoping to beat my Augusta Half time, which was 7 hours and 31 minutes.  The swim will be slower for sure because Augusta's swim was downstream.  A log could have swum that fast, frankly.  I swam Augusta's 1.2 miles in about 30 minutes, whereas the Patriots swim will be closer to an hour.  So I will need to cut the bike and run time by 30 minutes just to match my Augusta time.  Yet I really do hope I can beat it.
After Patriots, I will focus on running with the Marine Corps Marathon coming up at the end of October.  Marine Corps Marathon features a large hill at the very end of the run.  So hills remain in my future!
Purple Hair
As you know, part of my motivation for doing all this is that I'm raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I have raised over $3000 so far, so I previewed the purple look recently at Allyson's hair salon.  Take a look at the photos. I really want to paint the whole head purple, though, which is what I'll do if I raise $5000.  If you have contributed already, thank you very much!  If you want to contribute but have been procrastinating, now is the time!  Just click on the link to my fundraising website, and the rest is easy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot Rocketts

When I signed up for the Rocketts triathlon, it was snowing.  Fast forward to six months later, race day.  At 4:30 am, when I stepped outside into the dark, it was already 86 degrees and muggy.  By the end of the day, the mercury would rise to 105 degrees.  And I was expected to swim 1500 meters, ride 25 miles on Ariel, and then run a 10K (6.2 miles).  It seemed just a little bit crazy.

But I was not going to back out.  As you know, I had decided to dedicate the race to my friend Robin, whose successful cancer treatment twenty years ago has come back to haunt her in the form of a new cancer.  The new cancer will take her leg.  I saw Robin on Saturday, and I can tell you that the cancer has not taken her spirit or her sense of fight.  She will beat this cancer.  Another friend of mine, Kay, just told me that her mother has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer--stage four.  Kay's had more than her share of heartbreak, and so I promised her I'd pray and think of her mom during my swim, bike and run, too.  So, I would go on, perhaps not as quickly as I'd like, but I was planning to complete the triathlon.

Our coaches implored us to hydrate well during the days leading up to the race.  I followed this advice, and found myself getting up hourly the night before the race as a result.  Oh, well, better to be TOO hydrated than too little!   The other key, they let us know, was to take salt tablets during the bike and run to avoid cramping and illness from the lack of electrolytes.  (They'd have you put the salt tablets in your back pocket and take them on the swim, too, but I think that is a violation of the Chesapeake Bay Act.)

I arrived at transition early and got Ariel and all my gear set up for the race.  I showed Holly how I had learned to tape salt tablets to the bike with electrical tape.  I taped five to Ariel's frame, though I planned to use only four of them on the bike.  The fifth was "insurance."  Just putting my bike and other gear in place had caused me to start sweating profusely.  I had brought some extra hand towels and I wiped the sweat from my face, as Holly approached and said, "Want to warm up?"  "Arent' we already warm enough?" I asked, but I knew that we'd warm up, nonetheless.

Our warm up began with a five minute run to my car, where I rolled up my windows and locked my car door.  (Thanks, Wade, for telling me that I left everything wide open).  Then, we got on our bikes for a a brief ride.  At my last race, I had gotten out of my shoes before dismounting and run to transition in bare feet.  But today would be my first attempt at getting onto the bike barefoot, and then putting on my bike shoes while riding.  I practiced this maneuver--putting my bare right foot on the shoe and cranking the pedal.  OOPS--the left shoe dragged on the ground and Ariel bucked like a bronco!  OUCH!  What was I doing?  I had missed the official training on this part of transition, and had practiced getting in and out of the shoes without mounting and dismounting the bike.  Holly gave me a few tips, though, and after a few more attempts, I felt 75% sure I could do it.  So I figured, go for it.

I left my shoes on Ariel's pedals and placed her on the rack where I would find her after the swim.  Next we jumped into the river to do a few swim strokes as a warm up.  You'd think that the water would be refreshing on such a hot day, but the water temperature was hot--in the upper 80s. 

The swim course called for us to swim upstream, around "Leroy's Rock," and to return downstream to an exit not far from the entrance.  The total distance was 1500 meters, the same distance I swam at St. Anthony's this spring.  But, what a different swim.  The gun went off, and I felt no crashing waves, tasted no salt, and encountered no kicks or slaps from other swimmers.  In fact, most of the others swam ahead of me fairly quickly, leaving me alone in my own space.  It was like swimming alone in a lake.  A Lake of Fire!  I felt no current dragging me back to the start, but I swam through hot currents as I progressed.  It felt like I was swimming in a hot tub.  I rounded Leroy's Rock and started the return. Despite the over-hydration before the race, I was already thirsty.  I contemplated drinking, but the thought of getting giardia made me pause.  Could I keep going? 

Then, I shook myself.  I thought about Robin and her upcoming struggle.  I thought about Kay's mother.  Then I realized I did not know Kay's mother's name.  Kay's middle name is Brown, so I figured that must be her maiden name. 
Mrs. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter
Girls as sharp as her are rare

The 1960s hit from Herman's Hermits rolled around in my head as I swam to shore.  I ran up the stairs and along the carpet that the race director had put over the sharp gravel.  I looked at my watch to check my time and it was all foggy.  (I thought it was fog in my goggles, but I later realized I had sprayed sunscreen all over the watch face.)  The attempt at reading the time made me dizzy.  A volunteer pointed and said, "Don't fall on the railroad tracks, which are here!"  I stared where she pointed and doing so caused me to lose my balance and began to trip.  I righted myself and climbed the steep stairs towards transition.  It was a long run to transition, but eventually I was there. 

I looked around, and I was surprised to see perhaps a dozen bikes left in transition.  I was not quite last. The vast majority of those racing were already out on the bike course, but I found Ariel easily enough.  I was joined by a teammate, Charlene, who is a faster cyclist and much faster runner, so I said good luck and knew I wouldn't see her again.  Transition was a quick change--I took off my goggles and cap, and put on my sunglasses and helment, and ran toward the mount line.  My shoes were hanging on the pedals.  Would they cooperate and let me put my feet on top?  I took a deep breath and put my right foot on.  And then my left: I had managed to get my feet on top of my shoes--no bucking bronco.  I pedaled with my feet atop my shoes until I got to Route 5, and then I slipped my right foot in my shoe and closed the velcro, and then put the left foot in and fastened that shoe.  Victory!  I got my shoes on while riding!  Riding slowly, mind you, but the theory is that it's better to do things "on the go" than standing still.

The Rocketts bike course begins with a big hill up Route 5.  They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  I have cycled up that hill many times, and tried to kill it, but the hill keeps getting stronger, so I doubt what "they" say.  The first time I climbed this hill was on one of the first outdoor bike rides of the season in Spring 2009.  I had walked in some mud before the ride, and unbeknownst to me, mud got all packed into my shoe clip.  As I climbed that big hill that day, I realized that I could only use one leg because the muddy shoe was not clipped in and would not clip in for anything!   Cars began to pile up behind me on the hill, and one driver decided I did not realize I was going slowly.  HONK! HONK! HONK!   Thanks, fella, that really helps.  I endured this torture only because I had just finished a winter season of drills at Endorphin Fitness that included grinding up an imaginary hill in a hard gear on an indoor bike trainer. 

On race day, I said thank you for the use of both legs and said a little prayer for Robin.  Soon I was up the hill and on to the really pretty part of the bike course.  Then I noticed that I was being blasted by a strong head wind.  I looked at my bike speed on my garmin: I was going only 12 miles per hour!   At this rate...   But then it dawned on me that the wind was my salvation.  Sure, I was going slower.  But it was one hundred degrees with no air conditioning, and somebody was smart enough to turn on a fan! 

I decided to take a salt tablet.  I reached for one under the electrical tape, and realized I had wrapped the tape around it, making it impossible to remove.  I struggled to set the salt tablet free, but it was a prisoner of my own device.  Eventually, I just put the tape in my mouth and let the salt tablet dissolve in my mouth.  Electrical tape has "a subtle, piquant taste...."  I was careful during the ride to continue to drink plenty of liquid and to take the salt tablets on a regular basis, putting the slobbery tape in my back pocket after finishing each salt tablet.

I passed a couple of cyclists (mountain bikers, I should confess) on the way back up another large hill to Rocketts, and then I prepared, mentally, to take my shoes off and dismount.  I picked just the right time to start, and soon enough the shoes were off and I was once again pedaling with my bare feet on top of the shoes.  I dismounted, ran to my space in transition and racked Ariel quickly.  I slipped my running shoes (with elastic laces) on quickly, grabbed my running belt (filled with four bottles of gatorade), my race belt with number and my running visor, and I took off. 

The heat and high humidity were oppressive.  A tune began to take over my mind as I tried to distract myself:

The heat is on
on the street
inside your head
on ev'ry beat.

And the beat's alive
deep inside
the pressure's high
Just to stay alive

About a quarter mile into the run, I saw my friend Holly standing near an fire engine, where paramedics were assisting a man who was prone on the ground.  Later I learned that he was nearly done with the race (an out an back course) when Holly passed him at the start of her run.  She noticed he was staggering and acting in an incoherant manner.  He was very sick, but he kept trying to get up and run.  She made him stop and waited 10 minutes for the paramedics.  He is fine now, but his core temperature rose to 106.5 that day.  When he regained consciousness, he asked, "how far was I to the finish?"  It is a miracle that he survived.

My approach to the run was to run at a steady pace except during the water stops, when I figured I needed to take all steps available to keep cool and hydrated.  I figured with the heat there was no way I was going to PR (get a personal record for an olympic distance triathlon), so the plan was to finish and feel okay.   I drank the liquid from at least two of my bottles between each water stop, and while at each stop I drank two cups of gatorade and refilled all of my bottles with additional gatorade.  One of the stops, which I passed on the way out and the way back, there was a cooler of ice water and sponges.  Like most others, I stopped to put ice all over my head, back and chest and to place an icy sponge on my back under my shirt.  Each time, I could feel my body cooling off. 

Eventually, I got back to the spot where I had seen the man suffer heat stroke--just  a quarter mile to go.  I contemplated walking the remaining distance, but then I saw a woman ahead of me stop running and begin walking.  She had the number "47" on her calf, meaning that she was in my age group.  If I passed her, I would advance in my age group.  I took a deep breath and passed her on to the finish line, where friends, teammates, and coaches cheered me to the finish chute.

It was not until the next day, when the official times were posted, that I realized I had gotten a PR!  Despite the heat, I completed the triathlon eleven minutes faster than I had done St. Anthony's or Nations, the two olympic distance tris I have done before.  I placed sixth out of eight in my age group.  (I beat the lady I passed at the end of the run and another lady in my age group decided not to attempt the run, no doubt due to the heat, and so she was disqualified).  Results:

Overall time:  3:37:01
Swim 39:30
T1: 3:16
Bike: 1:35:38
T2: 1:42
Run: 1:16:56

Pretty good for one of the hottest days on record! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

she's got legs, she knows how to use them

Lately, I have been feeling tired and, frankly, a bit lazy.  This morning my training plan called for me to ride my bike for an hour, and my daily reminder email buzzed in to remind me of my commitment.  But I didn't feel committed.  I felt tired and lazy, and I didn't want to use my legs, which were tired from yesterday's workout.  So I yawned, turned over and went back to sleep.

When I got to the office, I got an email about my friend Robin.  Robin was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was eighteen, but she survived.  She completed the Augusta Half Ironman with me last year, raising thousands of dollars through Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  She is an oncology clinical social worker, so she works with cancer patients all the time.  In April, Robin celebrated thirty years without cancer with a glass of bubbly. 

But just last week, Robin was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, caused from the radiation treatments she had thirty years ago.  In early August, she will have surgery.  Either the surgeon will amputate her leg from the mid-thigh down, or he will internally amputate her femur and replace it with an artificial device, allowing her, essentially, to retain her leg.  Either way, the surgery will be followed by six months of chemotherapy. 

I am not feeling so lazy any more.  I am thanking God for what he had given me and praying for Robin.  This weekend I am racing an olympic length triathlon.  I will be dedicating the race to Robin, so please wish me luck in using my legs.  If you wish to donate to my website in Robin's honor, I know she would be pleased. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Red and Purple

What do you do when it's 102 degrees and over 90% humidity? Go ice skating?  Eat ice cream?  Take a nap?  All three, in that order?  A trifecta?

How about a triathlon? I got up at the crack of dawn and donned by red superman uniform, ready to take on the red hot day.   I left my socks behind, determined to reduce my time in transition.  I would shake talcum powder in my shoes to soak up the sweat.  The sun was not up, but already it was ninety degrees. 

The race began in the James River.  You'd think a dip in the river would be refreshing given the air temperature, but the water temperature was 88 degrees.  When you are swimming hard, that is hot!  As planned, I no longer hung back, allowing others to take the lead, but instead started toward the front, so I could try to draft off another swimmer.  I caught one swimmer and drafted, but soon decided she was too slow, and took off.  From time to time, someone knocked my with an arm or a shoulder, but I am now used to the inevitable jostling of an open water swim, so I took it in stride. 

The bike course would have been gorgeous on a sunny seventy degree day, but on Sunday it was a sweaty furnace.  I had a fancy new water bottle attached to the front of my bike so I could suck liquids out of straw without any effort.  A couple miles into the race, as I stood to "power over" a hill as my coach had suggested, the fancy water bottle fell to the ground with a thud.  Water spewed all over the hot ground and appeared to boil.  I hoped I would not receive a two minute penalty for "abandonment," but knew that retreiving the bottle would take more time than that, so I went on.  My face shone with sweat, and my mouth was filled with cotton.  Ahead, I could see the wet air rising off the black asphalt.  It undulated and made me woozy.  I reached down and took a swig of water in my reserve bottle.  Then, I noticed that my heart rate monitor showed my heart rate at zero. 

Was I dead?  I looked around for evidence, expecting to see angels.  Instead, I saw a sea of sweaty sportsmen, all wearing red uniforms matching my own.  Winston Churchill once said, "when you're going through hell, keep going." 

So I kept going.  The bike course was an out an back course, with a huge hill at the turnaround point.  It was so hot, my energy was zapped.  I contemplated whether I should walk up the hill rather than grind up it.  Just before I arrived at the hill, I passed a "cheer station" full of Purple Passion: supporters of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, shouting encouraging words.  They reminded me why I got into the sport of triathlon:  my Dad was diagnosed with lymphoma before I trained for my first race, and my Grandmother died of leukemia.  Team in Training helped me raise money to cure these diseases and to improve the lives of patients and their families.

I picked up speed and approached the hill.  It was bigger than I recalled.  Once again, I contemplated getting off and walking.  But then I remembered that my friend Ed Stone was out there too, swimming and biking in this incredible inferno, huffing up the hill.  Ed has competed in many triathlons, raising many thousands of dollars for Team in Training's Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  What made this particular race special for Ed is that it was the first race for him since he was diagnosed with yet another secondary cancer (having survived leukemia during college), this latest once a melanoma on his foot.  His treatment included removal of two toes and a portion of the ball of his foot in March of this year.  As soon as the doctors would let him, Ed began cycling on an indoor trainer, using just his good foot for a while, and then adding the other.  It was incredible to me that just a few months after this surgery, he was out swimming and cycling in a race.  And, he was doing it while undergoing treatments of interferon.  I had no excuses.  I pedalled to the top of the hill. 

As I approached transition, I prepared to do something new.  I reached down and removed the velcro from my shoes and took my feet out as I pedalled. As I came into transition, I jumped off Ariel, leaving my shoes with her.  This way, I could run through transition in bare feet instead of cycling shoes (which have clips on the bottom and thus are not designed for running).  I whipped in, took my helmet off and put my running hat on, stuck my feet in my running shoes with elastic laces (which don't have to be tied), and I was off.  Pretty fast, compared to last year.  It was but a baby step.  Soon I will learn the full "Errol Flynn" swashbuckler mount and dismount, which involves actually flying onto and off your bike. 

Thankfully, the run wound through the woods, mercifully shading me from the hot sun.  There I encountered Coach Michael from Endorphin Fitness, who had finished his race long before.  However, last year, he finished his 18 mile bike ride as I finished my swim.  This year, at least, we were on the bike at the same time, at least for a bit.  Michael encouraged me to keep going.  Then I popped out of the woods into a neighborhood where I encoutered yet another Team in Training cheer station.  Go Team!

Looking at all the purple, I resolved that, if I raise $5000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, then I will dye my hair purple for the Marine Corps Marathon.  At $4000, I will add purple highlights.  At $3000, I will dye one strand of my hair purple.  And, if I reach any of these goals by August 9th, then I will PREVIEW THE PURPLE at a Party at Wyldology, owned by my teammate, Allyson Wyld.  She's got the dye and she's dying to try it!  You are cordially invited to turn me purple and to watch it happen.

I Love the Tavern Tri--6/25/10
Swim 14:42
T1 1:29
Bike 1:11:11
T2 1:19
Run 37:15
Total 2:05:54
Ranked 352/418

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


So, for a while I thought I'd take it easy this season.  Instead of doing long races, I would concentrate on "sprint" triathlons--these are the shortest triathlons there are.  Only triathletes call something a "sprint" that takes nearly everyone more than an hour to complete.  Still, you do not have to train as long to get ready for a sprint triathlon.
Overall, I was pleased with my race.  It took me 1 hour 28 minutes and 44 seconds.  I did the race last year in 1 hour 33 minutes and 11 seconds, so I shaved off 4 1/2 minutes.  My swim was faster, my bike ride was faster and my run was faster.  But one thing was WAY slower--my transition from swim to bike.  It took me 70 seconds longer than it did last year.
Many triathletes skip putting on socks during triathlons, or at least short races.  The clock continues to tick as you move from swim to bike and bike to run, so there is an art to transitions.  The overall winner of this particular race was Coach Michael, who did T1 (transition from swim to bike) in under 1 minute.  I did it in 3 minutes and 33 seconds. 
I blame the socks.  I usually wear pretty skimpy socks, but the night before this race I noticed some fabulous socks--with IRONMAN AUGUSTA on them.  I earned those socks and decided to wear them.  During transition, though, they did not want to go on.  My feet were wet.   I struggled mightily.  I stopped and dried my feet.  I tried again.  I hopped.  I considered sitting down.  Coach Dave was nearby, and he said, "Amy, I love those socks!  I am getting to see a lot of them because you have been here FOREVER putting them on."
I guess the solution is to do some longer races, so the time in transition doesn't seem so long in comparison! And maybe get some new socks.

7:53 swim (300 meters)

3:33 T1
39:54 bike (12 miles)
1:31 T2
35:53 run (5K)
1:28:42 total

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

St. Anthony's Tri

Last weekend, I traveled to Florida to take part in St. Anthony's Triathlon. I was there as part of Team in Training--I didn't fund raise, but I helped others with their fundraising and trained along with them. (My father's lymphoma continues, happily, to be in remission). Now it was time for the actual event: the reward for all the hard work!

The challenge for this event would be the swim, which was to take place in Tampa Bay. This would be just the third time I had swum in open water this year. Tampa Bay is salt water, which would be new for all of us, but the bay is not an ocean. A bay does not have waves, but is calm salt water. Or so I thought.

The race was on Sunday, so on Saturday we donned our wetsuits for a practice swim in the bay. My Team in Training teammate, Amy S, and I swam together. Instead of the smooth water we expected, we faced something like I faced when swimming in the ocean as a little girl. Those childhood swims did not really involve swimming, but rather wading out far enough to ride the waves into shore on a raft (or "draft," as my sister famously said). Each morning and afternoon, we'd take to the waves, coming in during the heat of the day to avoid the sunburn that inevitably came anyway, despite the zinc oxide and T-shirts I wore as a precaution. As she saw the waves, Amy S stood still and I saw panic setting in. I told her of my childhood memories and announced, in my best six-year old voice, "this is fun!" Whee!!" And it was fun because we didn't have to go too far and because I was concentrating on making my friend feel better, which calmed me. But far out in the water I saw little specks of orange and yellow. They were the buoys set up for the race, showing how far we'd have to swim on race day. On the outside, I was exhuberant. On the inside, I was trembling.

Race morning, we set up our transition and made our way to the swim start, on a beautiful white beach called "Spa Beach." Spa Beach sounds like the place to sip blue drinks with little umbrellas in them while reading a lazy novel, but there were hundreds there donning black wetsuits, determined to go out in the water. As I awaited my turn, I put my wetsuit on and went in the water to take a few strokes to calm myself. The water was much calmer than it had been the day before. Have you ever heard the expression "calm before the storm"? TNT Coach Steve bucked us up. It is so much smoother than yesterday, he said. And, based on the current it appeared that the the 1st leg (of 3) would be hardest. Once you get past that first turn, the rest of your swim should be smooth sailing.

I went to the edge of the beach for the onshore start to the race. The announcer said something and a horn blasted. We were off! I ran out into the water and when it got deep enough, I began swimming. Several ladies around me were still wading, and I wondered if I'd started too soon. But I was able to swim, so I kept going. I was really pleased because the current wasn't too bad, and this was the hard part! I turned the corner to leg 2 and began surfing. The waves were HUGE and splashed over my head. I tried to lift my eyes out of the water like an alligator (this is how they teach you to look for the buoys). I couldn't see anything but waves! I was moving, but where was I going? I prayed that it was toward a buoy! Then I realized to lift the alligator eyes at the crest of a wave. This caused the entire head and neck of the alligator to rear up, but I could see a buoy! I was off course, out to sea, so I corrected course. The waves buffeted me about like a toy boat in a huge sea. I began to sight at each wave and correct course almost every time, sometimes left, sometimes right. The sea was so rough, and what was falling on my head? Was it raining?!? The drops were really hard. Was it hailing? Or is this just strong spray from the waves? In any event, I was wet and rain wouldn't make me any wetter, so I decided whatever it was could be tolerated. On each side of the swim course there were orange "sight" buoys, designed to help you stay on course, and yellow "turn" buoys, marking places you were to make a turn. I was expecting just one more orange buoy, and I saw yellow! I rounded the yellow buoy to begin the return to shore, and the fun started.

The waves were Waikiki waves! I tried breathing to my right (which feels wrong to me) and lost my rhythm and couldn't sight. But the waves were breaking left to right. I tried sighting and breathing left and realized it was fine, as long as I timed it right to breathe before the crash of the new wave. I was able to see the sight buoys. I recalled the Monty Python scene where the castle never gets closer. Unlike the Tavern race I did last year, where the river current was so strong I had to bear down and swim upstream without stopping for anything, for this swim, I had to lift my eyes enough to sight every cycle or every other cycle, and each time I had to correct course somewhat because of the unevent current and the waves. It required a good bit of thought. Finally, I passed the last sight buoy and spied the exit stairs. Someone had placed a bright pink marker on the stairs, which helped me sight to the exit. As I got closer to the stairs, I realized the pink marker was a pink swim cap, and inside it was a very tired woman, lying on the stairs, as flat as a flounder. There appeared to be very little room to get around the flounder. I swam to her left and a teen aged boy grabbed my arm and pulled me over the flounder. I stood up slowly to avoid dizzyness and began the jog back to transition.

Transition was a mess of sand, so I put on socks, shoes and sand, grabbed my helmet, and off I went with Ariel, my bike. The wind was relentless. Everywhere I turned it was a head wind so I had to stay aero, or strong cross winds blowing so hard I couldn't stay aero for fear of losing control. Just a week before the race, I had been riding with my friend Holly, who had announced at a red light: "Go really slow and the light will turn green and we can go on." I had gone so slow that eventually I stopped and, still clipped into my shoes, I had fallen over. I remembered that sensation as I struggled mightily to ensure some semblance of forward movement in spite of the wind. It was embarrasing enough to fall on a practice ride (and a man in a car was nice enough then to sit on his horn so I would realize that I wasn't supposed to fall over into the street), but I wanted to avoid falling in a race. Was the wind really so hard I would fall over? A couple times I looked at the speed on my garmin and I worried. I pedaled harder. I said, "Ariel, I'm sorry we're going so slow. I know you like to fly." She replied in her "Tickle Me Ariel" voice (think Tickle Me Elmo, only female): "I prefer tail winds myself, Amy! Or at least some big down hills! Florida sucks!" There were no hills, just relentless wind. A training buddy, Kelly, had told me that Ironman Florida, thought to be one of the "faster" Ironman races because of the flat bike course, was difficult, mentally, because of the relentless wind. I was having a hard enough time riding 24 miles in those conditions, so I thanked my lucky stars I wasn't attempting 112 miles! Finally, in the last 6 miles, conditions eased up. I couldn't feel the wind at my back, but my garmin showed I was riding 22 miles and hour, on flat ground, with little effort. Tail wind!

Back at T2, all the bikes in my area were racked except for Ariel. One of the bikes was in Ariel's spot with the wheel down on top of my running shoes, hat and water belt--in short all of the stuff I needed to run. I said to myself, but out loud, "someone's bike is on my stuff!" A voice from the ground on the other side of the rack said "oh, that's mine; don't worry about it." Don't worry about it? I convinced her that she had racked her bike backwards and would receive a penalty for getting this wrong, so she moved it, freeing my bike shoes, visor and running belt, though leaving much sand all over them. I changed as quickly as I could and headed out for the run. The run was hard, especially the first couple miles. The sand in the shoes didn't help, nor did the heat. I sipped the water in my water belt and wondered if anyone had an Earl Grey tea bag. It was SO hot, and I wondered if I should pour water on my head, but Coach Michael had warned recently that doing this could throw off your body's ability to regulate temperatures, causing you to slow down. I was going pretty slow already. Wasn't there a humidity exception, though? This is Florida, humidity capital of the US. I was thinking through this issue when someone I recognized as TNT's New York City coach advised me "Be sure to pour water on your head. It's hot out here!" I said thanks and continued to weigh this option when suddenly a volunteer poured ice cold water over my head and neck. Immediately, I went from boiling hot to shivering. "There you go!" After the initial shock wore off, the water bath appeared to help, so I believe there is a humidity exception.

I continued on and at about mile 2.5 I caught up with a younger woman who was struggling to keep going. I tried to encourage her, and thereby make both of us feel better. "Come on, we've got this!" She replied, "oh, this run is really hard! It is so hot. I am doing the relay; did you do the whole race?" I tried not to laugh. She said, "Also, did you do the whole long swim or did you start after they shortened it up?" HUH?????

As it turned out, just after my wave started to swim, the officials decided it was too dangerous to expect people to finish the whole 1500 meters. The people behind me were older folks, novices and a special wave for Team in Training (who often are doing their first triathlons). So, most of my training buddies doing the race were in the TNT group and ended up swimming 1000 meters.

As for me, I'm glad I did the full 1500 meters. It gives me an excuse for going so darned slow on the bike and run. I was tired!

But the truth is, as things go, I did pretty well. Most of the triathlons I've done were shorter, sprint tris. St. Anthony's actually was only the second time I've done an olympic length triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40K bike and 10K run). The first time was at Nations last fall. I had a great swim and bike there, but had a terrible run because of asthma. Here is a comparison of my times then and now:

Total time: St. Anthony's 3:48:01; Nations 4:05:01--a PR (personal record) by 17 minutes!

Swim time: St. Anthony's 45:35; Nations 46:05 -- a faster swim despite the oceanic conditions!

T1 (swim to bike transition): St. A's 5:45; Nations 5:46 -- one second faster! (Gotta work on transitions).

Bike: St. A's 1:34:23 (avg. speed 15.8 mph); Nations 1:40:07. Speedy Ariel despite the winds

T2: St. A's 3:24; Nations 3:53 (Improved despite sandy girl's crushing my run stuff with her bike).

Run: St. A's 1:18:55 (12:44 avg pace); Nations 1:29:55 (I need to work on a faster run at the end of a triathlon. This was faster only because asthma plagued me at Nations).

So, faster overall and faster on each element, despite the elements! And another step in helping to cure cancer through Team in Training.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sevens and Eights

I learned to swim as a child, and even joined the swim team for a couple summers, along with my little brother, Ben. Ben is a talented athlete and quickly got awarded "guppy of the week" and later "minnow of the week." I was skilled at blowing bubbles and patiently waited to win "whale of the week." Although that did not occur, I did win many ribbons in races--each a sixth place ribbon (there being six lanes of girls competing).

I took swimming up again over two years ago. Now I swim regularly with a group that is divided into eight swimming lanes, based upon speed. I have labored long in lane one, designated the "beginner" lane. I think the theory is that "beginner" sounds better than "slow," and this is true for a while. But a beginner at three years? Well, the good news is that I recently was upgraded to swimming in lane two. I no longer am a beginner! I am now a "novice." I am at the back of the novice pack, and I am determined to work hard so I am not demoted back to beginner.

I have daydreamed lately about what it must be like to swim in lanes seven or eight. Those in these lanes swim so fast, covering three or four times the distance I do in the same alloted time, but when they are finished, they do not look tired. Will I ever be promoted to lane seven or lane eight? I would be satisfied with seven, where the swimming is slippery, as though the swimmers are fish rather than human. If you are a scholar of the Bible, you know the importance of seven. Seven days of Passover, seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, seven loaves and fishes. And of course, seven days to create the world, with the seventh day reserved for rest, or perhaps for some slippery swimming. Seven means completeness. Eight is a whole other dimension, another zone. Turn an 8 on its side and you have infinity. Those in lane eight are so fast that I question whether they really are human, or perhaps space aliens sent here with really good disguises. The water is no barrier for them; it is as though they swim through space.

This week, I arrived at swim practice a little early, and another class was still swimming. I noticed they were swimming in lanes seven and eight. Although they appeared human in some respects, they were somehow different. For one thing, they looked very fast. Suddenly, Coach Michael called my name, "Amy, come swim. We need another swimmer for this relay." I grabbed my swim cap and lined up, in lane seven. My daydream was coming true! For fifty yards, I was going to swim with the slippery sevens, trying to best the infinite eights.

I looked around at the space alien swimmers, like me in some ways, different in others, and recalled an episode of the Twighlight Zone called "To Serve Mankind." Do you remember this episode? Short beings with giant heads pilot to earth in a spaceship that looks like the Markel Building out near Willow Lawn. They appear benevolent and say they want to help humans. They even have written a book called "To Serve Mankind." A group of humans agree to visit the alien planet and begin to board the spaceship. As the door closes, a woman runs out and shouts, "Don't go! Don't go! 'To Serve Mankind' is a . . . cookbook!"

But it was too late; I was already in the water, in the boiling cauldron. Coach Michael shouted, "GO!" so I swam was fast as I could in lane seven. Down and back. When I hit the wall, I looked up to see whether I had beaten the female alien in lane eight. She was finished, relaxed. She looked like she'd had time to eat a peanut butter sandwich while she waited for me. Perhaps this was good--nobody appeared to be hungry, so I was allowed to leave gracefully, congratulating the winning team as I exited.

It was a great experience, swimming with the sevens and eights, if only for a brief moment. I got out and asked Coach Michael a bit more about the identity of these space aliens. It turns out there were no sevens there, only eights: Eight-year olds from Endorphin Fitness's youth group. Perhaps one day, if I work really hard, I will be as fast as they are. But I'll settle for seven.