Tech Trek 10K

I had been planning on doing this race for a few months, but hadn’t sent in my registration. It’s pretty low-key, so I figured I’d just show up on race day and go. The race started at 9 and I set my alarm for 7, figuring I’d give myself time to eat my normal breakfast instead of having a bar. When the alarm went off, I heard the steady thumping of raindrops. I turned over and thought about skipping the race. I haven’t invested any money, I’ll run in the afternoon, it would be so nice to spend a lazy morning drinking hot tea and listening to the rain. Besides, this race was a school fundraiser and wasn’t being put on by “serious runners.” For all I knew, they would cancel. I finally got myself out of bed to check the website, but there weren’t any updates. Around 7:40, I finally decided to go; if it was cancelled, I’d run on my own. Even though it’s tempting to stay inside when the weather is bad, some of my best runs have been in the rain. I ate a Luna bar and headed out.

When I arrived at the school, the rain had let up. I registered, paid my $27, got my number, and relaxed in my car for a bit. I had a chocolate cherry Clif Shot about 20 minutes before the start. It was a fairly small group, and the men far outnumbered the women. Last year the fastest woman had finished in 45:27. If I were at full capacity, I could run around that time, but I’m still running a bit slow. Still, in most races, I wouldn’t have even a glimmer of hope that I could win. Since the crowd was so small, I started right behind the line. Some of the men and a woman in a blue jacket took off. The rain had stopped, and it was 60 degrees and 90% humidity. This is the desert, and anything above 20% feels stifling. The clouds lingered low around the mountains. I had worn capris and quickly wished that I had chosen shorts. You’re not supposed to feel hot during a run in January, even in Tucson.

The course had several rolling hills with some decent climbs. There were five water stations. After about a mile, I was passed by a woman who had a dog leash attached to her waist. She asked what my time had been at the mile mark and I told her “About 7:53.” She said that they were going to fast and the dog wasn’t being a good pacer. I ended up passing her around the second mile. As far as I knew, only the blue jacket woman was in front of me. I could see her about 200 meters up ahead. My next two mile splits were faster than the first, but at the time I didn’t know if it was because I was getting stronger or if it was an easier part of the course. The version of U2’s song Magnificent that was a part of the current RPM release was running through my head.

After the fourth mile, there was a stretch of dirt road. Parts of the it were firm and only slightly wet, but there were also some slick muddy patches. I kept thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer overhears some men talking about a horse race that was going to be run in the rain.

Man 1: “This horse loves the slop, it’s in his bloodlines. His father was a mudder. His mother was a mudder.”

Man 2: “His mother was a mudder?”

I am ignorant of my bloodlines, but I wasn’t loving the slop and it did slow me down a bit. I ended up losing blue jacket around here. It was back to the pavement with about a mile to go. There wasn’t anyone to close to me either in front or behind. I wanted to finish strong, but I didn’t push as hard as I would have if this had been an A race, there was a PR on the line, or there was someone to run down at the finish. As I crossed, the announcer confirmed that I was the second-place woman.

I ran a couple of cool down miles and then headed back the the gym. After I changed into some dry clothes, I took a banana and half a wheat bagel and ate them along with my 2nd Luna Bar of  the day. The woman with the dog said that she recognized my name from other races and I recognized hers. She was the third female finisher. I was awarded a $40 gift certificate to the Running Shop for second, so in a sense, I got paid to race that day. I was a minute faster than at the 10K two weeks ago, on a tougher course in worse weather. I’m still not back to where I was, but progress is encouraging. I also ended up with a new Facebook friend. Getting out the door was definitely worth it that morning.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/266262909

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I wish I had started this sooner…

I was a mile into the bike leg of my first triathlon. The course was flat and I felt like I was flying. There was a lane coned off for us, so I didn’t have to worry about traffic. I had bought the bike three months ago, but this was the first time I had actually enjoyed riding it. Then that phrase popped into my head: “I wish I had started this sooner.”

I remembered being intrigued when I first heard about triathlons, but I was young, poor, and didn’t have a bike. I also had no idea where I could find an event. We’re talking pre-Active.com here. I had been on the track and swim teams in high school. I started as a 100 and 300 meter hurdler who would sometimes get stuffed into other events, but I had never run farther than a mile until my senior year. That winter, I spent a few months huffing and puffing along a 2.2 mile on a path near home before the start of track season. Eventually, my enjoyment grew along with the distances I was covering. I kept running and swimming in college, not because I was good enough to compete for the school, but because I enjoyed being active. The years passed and I kept running. I’d swim from time to time. I started entering more and more road races. I discovered Aquathlons (swim and run events). Some friends started getting into triathlon. I became a certified RPM (indoor cycling) instructor. But I still hadn’t tri’ed.

There were reasons. I wasn’t poor anymore, but I still didn’t have a bike. OK, I had a cheap mountain bike, but I didn’t want to race with it. When people beat me, I want it to be because they were better, not because I was riding a paperweight with wheels. Did I really want to plunk down a bunch of money on a sport I might not even like? Besides, taking care of a bike sounded like a hassle – I just wanted to head outside and work out. Biking in traffic is scary. I was afraid of riding clipped in and falling down. Road bike or tri bike? What’s with those crazy jerseys cyclists wear? Bicycles can get flat tires. Running shoes don’t get flats. Would swim-able clothing be, uh, supportive enough to run in? Even the word “triathlete” sounded intimidating. Did I belong in that world? How were the transitions handled? It all seemed very complicated.

One day I saw an ad for a Lifetime Fitness indoor triathlon. It consisted of a 10 minute swim, 30 minutes on a Spin bike, and a 20 minute treadmill run. Competitors are assigned points based on how far they can go during the allotted time for each leg. Here was my chance to get a feel for the sport without having to deal with biking outside. Completing it gave me confidence that I needed. I signed up for a race four months away. I bought a used tri bike and practiced riding clipped in. The narrow tires and lack of shock absorption were hard to get used to. I fell repeatedly. Each time I made it safely home after a ride, I wanted to kiss the ground. I had a lot of fear and doubt, but once I was out on that course it was all worth it and I haven’t looked back.

Common wisdom is that when people look back on their lives, the biggest regrets were the things undone. I was thirty five when I did my first tri. Even though I should have many years of events ahead of me, I’ll always wonder how much better I could have been if I had started earlier. Maybe something has been gnawing at you: getting in shape, taking dancing lessons, signing up for a race, weeding out the junk food, joining a team, trying a new exercise class, teaching an exercise class… There might be good reasons why this is not the time to start, but honestly, is there ever time when life is orderly and perfect? You might feel like a fish out of water, you may decide it’s not for you, or you may find yourself wondering why you waited so long.

Mountain Man Triathlon (2012)

There are a lot of nice things about living in Tucson, but the weather in August isn’t one of them. So when I went searching for an Olympic distance triathlon to cut my teeth on, heading to north to Flagstaff in late summer sounded ideal. I plunked down some money, bought a wetsuit, and continued to swim, bike, and run.

A few months before the race, I started reading some race reports on Beginner Triathlete. I knew that there were hills involved and the climbs were challenging, but I had forgotten that what goes up must come down. And when you’re on a bike, that coming down can be very fast. Some people had reached speed of 50 miles per hour. My insides were turning to goo at the thought. Some might enjoy flying downhill protected by nothing more than plastic, styrofoam, and technical fabric, but I am not one of them. Fortunately, I hooked up with another triathlete named Tracy who was familiar with the course. We biked it together, and while I did freak out in some places, I made it down the hills.

On race morning, the alarm went off at 4. I ate some Icelandic yogurt, berries, and granola before leaving the motel. It was a bit chilly and I was glad that I had some yoga pants. I parked on the side of the road like we had been instructed to. When I took my bike off the rack, I noticed that my aero pads were moist with dew.

My warm-up consisted of, some trips to the car, a couple visits to the port-o-potty, and the wetsuit wrestle. This was my third time wearing the suit, and it must have stretched out slightly because it only took about 5 minutes to put on instead of 15. I had a 2nd Surge caffeinated gel and headed toward the lake.

Swim  (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/209901349)

00:27:38 | 1640.42 yards | 01m 41s / 100yards
Age Group: 6/19
Overall: 122/288

The water was cool, but I was comfortable in the wetsuit. With about 4 minutes to the start, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom again (not the type that is easily done in a wetsuit either), but told myself it was nerves. I positioned myself toward the top third of the group (all Olympic women and Olympic men 45+). I had been warned that the altitude would probably be a factor at the start of the swim, and it was. I felt out of breath and hemmed in by the other swimmers. The lake water was a muddy brown and there was no visibility. I told myself to relax, get lots, of air, and just keep going. Lifting my head up to sight was awkward and tiring. I altered my stroke to extend the time on my side and take in more air.

This was my first open water swim. I had heard my people say that nothing can prepare you for it, and they were right. There was contact, but at least the “washing machine” felt like it was set on the gentle cycle. Maybe it was due to this being a smaller event, but I was grateful. My hands slid off a few neoprene-clad bottoms and I wondered if that’s what petting a dolphin felt like. I felt a few hands slide off my bottom as well.

Sighting was tough. When I lifted my head up, half the time I didn’t see the buoys, only the bodies in front of me. I felt a tug at my ankle at one point, and a lady told me that I was swimming off course. This was a very polite group, and many sorries were exchanged as contact was made.

Once things thinned out, I was able to settle into a decent rhythm. I got some extra minerals as I swallowed lake water a few times. I had no idea if I was swimming well or  how long I had been in the water. I only knew that I was slowly headed somewhere. After rounding the buoy to head to the boat ramp, I was hit with the glare of the sun. At least I could make out people leaving the water up ahead, so I focused on them. I kept swimming until my hands made contact with the lake bottom.

Transition 1 http://connect.garmin.com/activity/209901352

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Where is that darn zipper leash?

Pebbles, ouch!

Pebbles, ouch!

When I reached the shore, I wobbled upon standing. I would have flunked a field sobriety test. The rocks were sharp and I gingerly made my way out of the water. I tried to run to the transition area, but my legs weren’t very peppy. I really struggled getting the wetsuit off of my feet. I stood and tugged, then sat and tugged, then stood, then sat… Why don’t the wetsuit manufacturers take a cue from Guess jeans in the 80’s and put a zipper by the ankles? If anyone has tips, please share. I had half a Z bar and a drink of water before heading out.

Bike http://connect.garmin.com/activity/209901353

01:21:19 | 24.85 miles | 18.34 mile/hr
Age Group: 11/19
Overall: 190/288

This is the part I was dreading. After my test ride with Tracy, I had ridden some semi-hilly courses near home the last few weeks and hoped that would help.

The first part of the course was fairly flat and fast. The road is smooth with a very wide shoulder. It wasn’t coned off, but traffic was light. It’s really beautiful. The lake and the pines were a nice change of scenery for this desert girl. I had decided ahead of time not to use my aero bars for this race. I am still getting used to them, and the course had enough up and downs that I didn’t feel super comfortable. About 7.5 miles in, there was a sizable climb. Knowing that I would be surrendering time as I braked and gave my legs a rest on the descents, I decided to push the hill. I teach indoor cycling and I am used to climbing intervals, so chug, chug, chug I went, passing several people. Maybe not the best strategy, but it was fun.

Finally, the moment of truth came: time to ride downhill. Part of the fear comes from the initial approach when you can’t see the bottom of the hill and it’s easy to imagine falling straight down. I had gotten to 29 MPH on my test ride. I feathered my brakes and started down. Soon, I was talking to myself. “Come on! You’ve got this!” Feather, feather, feather… It took about 3 minutes and I saw 32 MPH on my Cateye. I didn’t enjoy it, but was thrilled to be done.

Toward the end of the ride I started noticing some dull hip flexor pain. My hands were also starting to go numb. In hindsight, I probably should have ridden some of the course in the aero bars. I think I started to lose focus toward the end of the bike and let my pace slow. I had been intermittently drinking Body Armor sports drink and felt fueled and hydrated, but not overly so.

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A flat part of the course.

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Trying to smile for the camera.

Transition 2 http://connect.garmin.com/activity/209901354

I probably slowed down and jumped off my bike too soon. As I was switching shoes, I was trying to decide whether to take some Sport Beans with me, use the port-o-potty, and/or put some Body Glide on my feet (I had put some blister powder in my running shoes before the race, but had felt a little hot spot on my left foot during the bike). I did nothing. Thankfully, I remembered to take my helmet off. I applied some more sunscreen. I burn easily and wanted to be safe. The hip flexor pain was completely gone.

Run http://connect.garmin.com/activity/209901356

00:50:20 | 06.21 miles | 08m 07s  min/mile
Age Group: 2/19
Overall: 54/288

At the start of the run, I noticed that the rubber-leg feeling was much more pronounced than on the sprint triathlons I had done. I think it went away faster, though, probably because I wasn’t trying to book it out of transition. About half a mile in, I realized I had forgotten to put my race belt on. This was despite putting it under my running shoes so I would have to look at it in transition. I decided to keep going. Even if I got disqualified, I wanted to know what I time I was capable of on this course.

I settled in to a good pace, knowing that the hill was looming. I had heard from about it several people, including one who said “It goes straight up.” I had checked out the elevation charts online, and while it was steep, it looked less menacing than Saguaro Monument East in Tucson, which I have run dozens of times. I had also gotten a preview by truck a month ago, thanks to Tracy. I knew that there was a long stretch, and then more to climb after the switchback. Many people get discouraged here when they realize there’s a lot of hill left and start walking.

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In the middle of the hill.

Once I got to it, I focused on a short, quick stride and tall posture. Several people were walking and I racked up some “kills”, to coin a Ragnar term. One was a woman in pink compression socks that had passed me on the bike. When I reached the end of the pavement, I was directed onto a dirt path. Tracy had pointed that out, but because we didn’t actually drive it, I had forgotten about it. The dirt wasn’t super-deep, but did slow me down a little.

When I hit the descents, I let go. I run down hills well, and stayed quick on my feet and let gravity do its job. When things flattened out again, I tried to keep my intensity, but ended up slowing down. I think physically and mentally, the race was beginning to wear on me. After the fact, I realized that other than the one marathon I had run up to this point, this was the longest race I had ever run. During the final mile, the pink-sock lady passed me. I thought about picking it up, but couldn’t or wouldn’t summon that little extra. I did manage a little kick toward the end, but she finished 3 seconds ahead of me. After we stopped, I noticed the faded 36 on her calf and realized that she was in my age group. We chatted for a while, and she told me that she had been chasing me ever since I passed her on the hill. She was using me as a rabbit and thanked me for pushing her on the run. When she told me her name, I recognized it from other race results and had expected her to beat me going in. Anyhow, I now have a new Facebook friend.

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Beautiful scenery and a gasping runner.

Recovery

I changed into some dry clothes, connected with some friends, had one of my Hammer protein bars and some cold watermelon (sweet nectar!) the event provided. It was pretty warm by then and the sun felt especially intense because of the altitude. As I drove away, I passed several of the Half Ironman competitors on their runs, and frankly, I was happy not to be one of them (this year anyway…).

Wrap-up

Final time: 2:44:57
Overall: 110 / 228
Age Group: 5 / 19

There were a lot of firsts for me with this race (Olympic distance, altitude, wetsuit, open water, substantial hills), so I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself. I definitely have room to improve on my open water swimming, biking, and transition skills. I should weave the race belt through the shoes so I have to touch it to put the shoes on. I wish I had brought a visor to shield my face from the sun. My run time was pretty much what I was expecting and strong for this course, but I can’t help feel that I wimped out a little. Granted, I did push hard, but if I’m honest, I didn’t want to take the pain to the next level. Still, I am mostly happy with my performance.

The Mountain Man Triathlon is a great race. The course is pretty and challenging, and the event has a nice, laid-back vibe.

Motivation and Commitment

January is more than halfway gone. The month that often begins brimming with plans, goals, and enthusiasm often ends with the same-old-same-old. Excitement wanes and we fall back into old routines. People who want to pursue a healthy life often bemoan a lack of motivation. Speaking for myself, it’s amazing how jazzed I can be to workout while I’m sitting at my desk at work only to have to have that feeling vanish as soon as I leave the office. An internet search for “Workout motivation” returns scores of results. Why is so hard to keep?

Motivation ebbs and flows – kind of like the loving feelings you have for someone you’ve been with a long time. When you’re excited to tackle your fitness goals, life has a way of leaving the toilet seat up*. I think motivation is an important thing to have and it certainly makes the journey more pleasant, but it is not sufficient in itself. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I committed?”

I don’t know if there’s a person alive who doesn’t want a healthy, fit body. So why doesn’t everyone have one? Our society certainly makes it easy not to. High calorie junk food is cheap and abundant. Modern conveniences have made it so very little physical effort is required. Jobs and family require our attention, and rightly so. Appealing distractions are everywhere. Many people just go with the flow because it takes such a concentrated effort to swim upstream. Progress is often slow. Just like your thumb can block out the sun, immediate wants can seem much bigger than far-off goals.

The lifelong commitment involved is a deep and personal thing. What will being fit ultimately bring to you and your life? Then ask, “Am I going to forgo short term pleasure to get what I really want in the long run?” Passing up food you love is hard. Getting up early to work out is hard. Working out after a long day when you’d rather just flop on the couch is hard. Know it, own it, and do it anyway, then while it may never become easy, it will become part of your life. And that great feeling that comes afterward? I find that… motivating.

*My husband does not leave the seat up.

No, this isn't me :)

Sun Run 10K (the Pancake Race)

The Sun Run is the official start to the Southern Arizona Roadrunners Grand Prix series. Both a 5K and 10K are offered. It’s a “pancake flat” course around Reid Park with a pancake breakfast served afterwards. The course and cool temperatures should yield fast times, but I am never in peak shape this time of the year. All of my PRs have been set at the Cinco de Mayo 10K, even though it’s a much tougher course. I think I am still dealing with the after effects of the marathon I ran five weeks ago, but found some encouragement in my workouts this week. I’m starting to get some pep back and was anxious to see how this run would go.

A night owl like me appreciates the 9 AM start time. I woke up at a very civilized 7:20. As the season progresses, races start earlier and earlier in an attempt to beat the desert heat. This was not a problem today. The event’s website says that the temperature is typically 55 degrees. When I arrived, my car’s thermometer read 28. I came prepared, wearing tights, my short-sleeved Ragnar shirt, arm warmers, gloves, a headband that covered my ears, and a jacket. I got my bib quickly, and then chatted with some friends. Putting my bib on was a challenge because I did not want to take my gloves off!

Sun Run

I headed back to my car for a bit to enjoy the relative warmth, had a Chocolate Cherry Clif Shot (I already had a Luna bar and hot black tea before leaving the house), and then headed out for my warm-up run. Almost immediately, I felt the urge to use the bathroom. When I saw the lines at the port-o-potties, I decided to run to another area of the park where I knew there were bathrooms instead. It took me longer to get there than I thought, so I had to hustle on the way back. I threw my jacket on the car, dashed to the start line and made it with a few minutes to spare.

It was a little bunchy at the start, but thinned out quickly. The 5Kers had a separate start about a quarter mile away (one of my friends almost ran the wrong race!). I ran the first mile at what felt like a decent but controlled pace. I passed Steve (Ragnar captain) and my friend Shane. Steve always starts slow and then finishes ahead of me. I hadn’t raced Shane in a while, and he’s been improving tremendously as of late. They both ended up passing me before too long. At the first mile, I thought my watch said I was few seconds over 8, but when I reviewed my Garmin data at home, it read 7:35. Maybe I was looking at the wrong field or something. My mindset at the time was to pick up the pace because I knew even if I wasn’t at full capacity, I could go faster than 8.

The next few miles were about getting into a groove. I could see Shane’s bright orange jacket up ahead. Come to think of it, bright orange was everywhere that morning. While this course is about as flat as you’ll find outside of a track race, there was a gentle upward trend for miles two and three. I swiped a quick drink at the water station. After mile three, the course started to slope slightly downward and I tried to take advantage. People were passing me here and there and I wasn’t passing anyone. My heart rate was right where it should be for a 10K. One of the women who passed me had a bouncy running style, and I hoped that she would get tired and that I would be able to catch her. I concentrated on running smooth and getting my feet off the ground quickly.

In the sixth mile, my focus wandered a bit. When I saw my split of 8:10, I knew I needed to pick it up. The last .2 miles were a miserable push, which is the way it should be. A couple more people surged passed me and I couldn’t catch them. I heard a few friends cheering for me, which is always nice. I finished 7th in my age group with a 49:01.

In conclusion, there was plenty of sun at the Sun Run, even if there wasn’t much heat. Former Olympic Trials Marathon runners Craig (30:00), Gina (36:33), and Paula (36:47) tore up the course. Shane matched his 5K pace. My friends Tia, Stu, Melody, Cindy, Chris, Pam, and Keith all picked up age group awards. There was some tough competition in my age group today and even my current PR would not have cut it. I was disappointed that my pace today (7:53) was slower than my Half Marathon pace from last November (7:38). On the other hand, I had improved from 8:09 pace I ran at this race two years ago. I know that all races can’t be fantastic, so I’ve just got to trust the training and keep on running.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/261917934

Does this mean I can hire Jerry Maguire?

Sometimes a small moment in life can change the way you think. During my second triathlon as I was nearing the finish and the announcer said, “Here comes Michelle Kaseler, looking strong. This athlete is going to finish well.” I had never thought of myself as an athlete before. The word made me think of professionals, or at least people who earned college scholarships. I admired them, but I wasn’t one of them; I was just a girl who liked to work out and race.

Merriam-Webster defines an athlete as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Dictionary.com says “a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill.” Gifts and abilities are mentioned, but so is training and participation. Maybe an athlete could also be described as a person who prepares for and engages in physical competition. Many of us participated in sports when we were younger, only to stop after high school. The good news is that are plenty of events out there, whether your preference is racing, weight lifting, teams sports, or a forum to display your hard-earned physique.

Having this mindset changed the way I looked at things. Should I go to bed at a reasonable hour or keep watching re-runs? I’m an athlete, I need to sleep so my training will be effective (confession, this works about 25% of the time, but it’s something). Does it make you want to take better care of your body throughout the day? How does an athlete view food? A well-nourished and fueled body will perform better than one that isn’t. Junk food can keep you from realizing your potential. Does it give focus to your workouts? You have goals and events ahead. You’re not just going through the motions: you are in training.

My compensation as an athlete consists of an occasional age group award, EPSN isn’t trying to set up any interviews, no child has asked for my autograph, and I will never be be able to say the word quite like Cuba Gooding Jr. does in the clip below (I am an at-thlete!). On the other hand, I get out there and do it, not to make Gatorade or Nike happy, but because it’s who I am.

Train on, fellow athletes!

Walt Disney World Marathon (2012)

It’s almost time for the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon and I felt like looking back on last year’s race. Best of luck to everyone running this weekend!

This race was the cap on a nice vacation. We rented a large house in Orlando with several relatives. My cousin Steve was also doing the marathon and his wife Kristi did the half the previous day. We had a fun family day walking around the Magic Kingdom the day before the marathon, and I was amazed that Kristi was up for it. She and several other park goers were sporting their 15th anniversary Donald medals. We left around sundown and had Carrabba’s for dinner.

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The house was about 30 minutes from the park, so we set the alarms for 3. The race started at 5:35! I made some black tea and had a banana and some peanut butter before leaving the house. Steve was living in Orlando at the time and he took care of the driving, which was nice.

I had read several race reports on marathonguide.com, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect come race day. One wild card was the weather. Some years the race had been hot and others the starting temperatures were sub-freezing. Fortunately, weather reports promised a 50 degree start. 
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Cars were streaming into the park, but I don’t think we were held up too long. I ate a Luna bar before leaving the car. There were large televisions and music in the parking lot. Racers needed to walk about a half mile to get to the starting corrals. Several port-o-potties are set up in between the two. There were some lines, but we got to use the facilities in a reasonable time. I took my Chocolate Cherry Clif shot about 15 minutes before the start. Steve and I were in different corrals, so we said goodbye. I made my way to the Corral B and positioned myself in the middle.

I tossed all my warm clothes except for my gloves a few minutes before the start. The A Corral people were started with fireworks and cheers from Disney characters. We moved up and were started with the same fanfare a few minutes later.

My only real goal for this race was to finish under 4 hours. I had trained for a 3:45 pace, but I didn’t think I was quite there yet. Since this was my first marathon, I also had no idea what I would feel like when I hit 20+ miles (I had done a couple 20s in training). Would I smash into “The Wall”? I had talked to a couple people who had run marathons and felt great at the half, were even ahead of their half PRs, and then slogged to the finish.My plan was to run with the 4-hour group for a little while, then pull ahead if I felt good.

There were several people in front of me, so my first mile was slow. I don’t think this was a bad thing because it kept me in check. I had brought my MP3 player with me. I never raced with music, but I thought it might be nice for the marathon. The songs in the first couple hours of my playlist were smooth and flowing and they got more up-tempo and aggressive toward the end.

Most of this course is very flat (overpasses are the main exception), which was nice for pacing. The majority of the race was not in the parks, but on connecting roads. Disney is great about putting characters and other diversions along the way. Many of the male runners took advantage of the non-park portions to turn their backs to the road and relieve themselves. Many, many, many male runners. I had run 100+ races, but this was new to me!

After my first mile, I was hitting sub-9s with regularity (a 4 hour marathon is a 9:09 pace) and was feeling good. I tossed the gloves around mile 3. I saw the 4 hour pacer around mile 8. I ran with them for about half a mile, but felt I was holding myself back too much and decided to pass. The sun was starting to rise as I approached Cinderella’s castle. It was an incredible sight and I actually got a little misty-eyed.
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In the reports I read, some people had complained about a sewage-y smell near the Animal Kindgom, and yes, it was there, but it wasn’t too bad. There were some fun little signs with Donald Duck trivia around this area. Did you know that Donald has been in more cartoons than any other Disney character?

I saw my husband around mile 19. I waved at him and then he saw me and snapped a picture. The course then hit an out-and-back stretch that some people had complained was boring, but I didn’t mind. Next was a bit of a hill, but the Toy Story green army men were there cheering us on. When I passed mile 20, I kept thinking about how each step I took was the farthest I had ever run.
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The Hollywood Studios portion came after that. I had never visited it or even looked at pictures, and I really enjoyed seeing it. It was kind of Old Hollywood. The final section headed back toward Epcot. When I hit 23 miles, I was feeling good and tried to pick up my pace (hey, I know how to run a 5K!) and I got slightly faster. There were some little rollers in the Epcot area, but there were a lot of spectators and cool buildings to look at. Disney put our names on our bibs, and I got some personal cheers.
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There was a gospel choir (mile 26?) toward the end, which was really uplifting. I was still feeling pretty strong and overwhelmed that I was almost done with a marathon. I was also going to break 4 hours easily. I saw Minnie near the finish line and gave her a hi-five before I crossed. Kudos to the folks in those costumes – they were jumping and waving enthusiastically. The characters took turns manning the finish line.
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When I approached the finish, I felt like I could have kept running for a few more miles, but I was certainly glad to stop. Of course, once I did it was all over. Let the limping begin! It had also gotten warm by this time. I had avoided most of it, but it got to cousin Steve who finished about an hour later.

The bling

When I got back to the house to take and showered, I felt a searing pain on my back. I had forgotten to put Body Glide under my hydration belt and was seriously chafed. It seems like I always forget one place…

Now for the rest of the day: eat, sleep, repeat.

Race data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/151593853

Colossal Du (Back in the saddle again)

I had never done a duathlon, so when I saw an ad for the Colossal Du – Is it Tougher than You?, I decided to register. The course was a 5K run/12 mile bike/2 mile run in and around the very hilly Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Since it was my first race post-marathon and the start of a new season, I didn’t feel too much pressure. It would also be my first multi-sport race since October and my first race on Futomaki*.

Race temperatures were predicted to be in the 30s, and I decided to wear running tights, a short-sleeved short, arm warmers, a jacket, a headband that covered my ears, and cycling gloves. I knew that the weather wouldn’t cause a problem on the run, but I was worried about drafts on the cycling portion. I packed my triathlon bike shoes and stretchy Zoot running shoes for quick transitions.

Race start time was 7:30 and I set my alarm for 6. When the alarm went off, it was cold enough that I thought about going back to bed for a minute. I had a Luna bar, made a hot tea, loaded everything into the car, and set out. When I left home, the car thermometer read 41, then quickly dropped into the 30s. It read 27(!) around the farmer’s market, but came back to the mid-30s at the race site.

The event was small (there were 45 duathletes plus a handful of 5K runners and a couple relay teams), and I was able to park about 10 feet from the transition area. I found a space and set up without a problem. Everyone was bundled up, except for one man who was wearing a tank top and running shorts (maybe he was one of the competitors from Flagstaff?). There were a couple gas heaters set up as well as a fire pit and people huddled around them. I had a Chocolate Cherry Clif Shot about 20 minutes before the start.

The officials finally called the runners to the starting line. I stood about 5 feet behind the line and no one stood in front of me. There were some last minute instructions, and then we all moved up. I was right at the front, which never happens. I looked back to see if anyone was trying to wiggle up closer, but no one was. And we were off!

The 5K run (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/258396040)

Being at the front, I felt jumpy and ran my first hundred or so meters way too fast. I settled in to what felt like a good effort – I still didn’t know if I was totally recovered from my marathon and the course was hilly, so I wasn’t trying to keep a particular pace. It felt like everyone was passing me me, but I didn’t turn around to confirm my suspicions. The incline started to pick up and I certainly felt it. I took a quick drink at the mile 1 water stop (today was not a day to dump the rest of the water on my head!). After about another quarter mile, the climb got really steep.

As we rounded the top of the hill, there was an amazing view of the desert below. Heading downhill was a relief, and at this point, I could see that there were in fact some runners behind me. I played back and forth with another woman for the last mile. She surged as we approached the end of the run and I decided to let her go at this stage in the race. I was relieved when she veered off to the 5K finisher’s chute.

Transition 1 (data is included in the bike split)

I sat by my bike and tore off my running shoes and grabbed my bike shoes. I had a moment of confusion where I wasn’t sure which shoes belonged on which foot. The tri shoes velcro the opposite way than bike shoes because it makes flying mounts easier and it had been a while since I had used them. I had drawn arrows on the flaps to help in just such a situation (I had also written a brightly colored reminder to remove my helmet on the shoes after forgetting once in a race).

TriShoes

Bike (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/258396047)

The course consisted of two loops. Colossal Cave Road was covered with cracks, potholes, and gravel. Road crews had come by the day before to fill up some of them, but even the patches were gravelly and I could hear the stones bouncing against my spokes. A couple of men in Tri Sports cycling jerseys passed me. I’m still not crazy about riding downhill, so I used my brakes a bit. Pistol Hill Road is in great condition, but the cross winds made it really hard to stay in the bike lane. After the up and down, it was on to Old Spanish Trail and I really felt the next climb. It was granny gear all the way.

I rode back into the park, and as I approached the start of the next loop, the race organizers wanted us to slow to 10 MPH because of the gravel. I put the brakes on, but didn’t get quite that slow. There was an aid station, but I didn’t stop. A woman passed me on Colossal Cave Road. I gained on her a little bit on the Pistol Hill and and Old Spanish Trail climbs. I pretended that she had a magnet on her butt and was pulling me toward her, but I couldn’t quite catch her.

Between the condition of the road, the climbing, and the winds, this race was really suited for a road bike, but a tri bike is all I have at this time. I only noticed one other person riding one.

Finishing the bike

Finishing the bike

Transition 2 (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/258396057)

I had no problem remembering to take my helmet off or figuring out which shoe went on which foot. I thought about taking my jacket off, but decided to keep it on. I left transition ahead of the woman I couldn’t pass on the bike.

The 2-mile Run http://connect.garmin.com/activity/258396062

Oh, post-bike wobble legs, how I’ve missed thee! It took about half a mile before I felt I was running normally. I was starting to heat up, so I tossed my jacket at one of the volunteer stations (someone was kind enough to bring it back to the finish line for me so I didn’t have to go back and retrieve it). The 2-mile course was the same as the 5K course, except we turned around sooner were spared the big hill. I felt like I was running as fast as I was able, even though I didn’t have that put me out of my misery feeling that I usually have at the end of a race. I think my legs were holding me back more than my heart and lungs. Still, I was very happy to see the finish line.

Wrap-up

I ended up placing 1st in my age group… out of 2. It was such a small race that almost everyone took home an award. I thought my times were slow, but it was a tough course and I still might not be back to 100%. I have a flat 10K next weekend that should give me a better idea of where I’m at.

*I wanted to give my bike a name and didn’t have any good ideas. I was looking at a poster in a sushi restaurant and noticed the Futomaki (Big Roll). I liked the sound of it, and my new bike (700) had bigger wheels than my old one (650).

Looking forward, looking back (the obligatory New Year’s post)

My Goals in 2012

1. Break 22 minutes in the 5K: I ran a 21:25 at the Tucson 5000.
2. Qualify for the Boston Marathon (3:40 or better): I ran a 3:38:41 at the Tucson Marathon.
3. Complete an Olympic Distance triathlon: I completed the Mountain Man Olympic triathlon in Flagstaff, Arizona.

What worked

In 2011, I tied my previous 5K PR of 22:51 set in 2008. I was starting to think that I was about as good as I was going to get. I spent the rest of 2011 and all of 2012 working with coach Dean. He gradually increased my mileage and introduced me to some workouts that I loved and some that I loved to hate. Although I had been pretty regular with my running in the past, having a schedule helped me tap into an extra level of discipline. Unless I was completely exhausted or thought I might be on the verge of an injury or illness, the workouts got done (I did need to shift things around on occasion). It also got me out of a workout rut; I tended to do the same thing over and over again.

He also gave me target paces based on my current ability and future goals. The mistake a lot of amateur runners tend to make is that they run their easy workouts too hard and/or their hard workouts too easy. It’s a delicate balance to get give your body the stimulus it needs to improve without breaking it down so much that you do more harm than good. Olympian Ryan Hall expounds upon the subject nicely here: http://runningwithjoy.com/2011/01/20/training-tip-alternating-fast-and-slow-days/. One of my mistakes had been to treat all of my hard workouts like races, striving to go all-out on each run or interval.

I started doing triathlons in 2011, but they had all been sprint distances with pool swims (I live in Tucson, it’s what we do here). For an Olympic distance (1500 meter swim), I would have to venture into the open water. Unless you count goofing around on beach vacations and boat trips, I had no experience. I sought out help from a local triathlon club, the Tucson Tri Girls, and started frequenting the forums on Beginner Triathlete. I was able to join the Tri Girls on a trip to Patagonia where a bunch of us swam while one of the husbands followed us in a kayak. Through Beginner Triathlete I ended up meeting Tracy. She lives in Phoenix, but we were both going to be in Flagstaff at the same time. She was familiar with the Mountain Man course and kindly offered to swim and bike it with me (we also drove the run course so I got to see just how bad the dreaded hill was). Open water swimming can be scary and dangerous, and the help I got was invaluable.

Take away

Having a schedule is important. A coach or a trainer can help you craft one and provides extra accountability. You can also look to books, magazines, or online training plans for ideas. You may need to tinker with them a bit so they work for you. If you have some knowledge in the subject, try writing out your own workouts a week or month in advance.

Other people have done what you are trying to do. Join a local or online community for support, encouragement, and advice. In my personal experience, people interested in health, fitness, and endurance sports are great people and eager to help.

My new goals

1. Break 21 minutes in the 5K. I’d really like to go under 20, but that might be too ambitious for this year.
2. Complete a Half-Ironman triathlon (1.2 miles swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run).
3. Update this blog at least once a week. It’s not a fitness goal exactly, but writing is something that I’ve neglected for a long time and want to do again.

Here’s to 2013!

The most important thing

My husband and I were concluding our Christmas visits. We had spent the afternoon with his mother and her caregiver talking about this and that. The fact that I was a fitness instructor and liked running races came up, but wasn’t lingered on. As we were heading out the door, the caretaker asked said, “I’m trying to lose weight. What’s the most important thing I should do?” Wow. One thing. I paused for a moment and said something like this: “Consistency. There are a lot of eating and exercise plans out there that people have had success with. You need to choose something that makes sense for you and your life that you can commit to. You can’t get permanent results from temporary behavior.”

Your life is a journey and so is your path toward health. You may be motivated to lose weight for a wedding or vacation, but what happens next? Does the plan you’ve chosen take you beyond the milestone? Many plans start out with a short, strict jump-start phase, which can be fine as long as you know what to do when it’s over. Can you see yourself doing it for the rest of your life?

While I believe that there are some definite truths when it comes to owning a fit, healthy life, I also believe that there are a lot of roads to Rome. People have differing work and family obligations. Some have physical challenges. Some have abundant resources and support systems, while others don’t. Then there are the internal differences. Some people thrive on structure and don’t mind counting every calorie. Some need the convenience of meal plans. Sweets are the downfall of some, fatty while salty fare might thwart others. What’s delicious to one might be gross to another. Some people crave companionship when they exercise, others enjoy having slices of time to themselves.

Our motivations, emotional makeup, and tastes differ and can even change along the way. I started reading fitness magazines when I was a High Schooler obsessed with the thought of the “perfect” body. I would vacillate between strict dieting and sugary binges. It has been a process learning to eat for nourishment and to appreciate the way that healthy food made me feel. Exercise went from being something I had to do to burn calories, to something that my body craved. I appreciated the strength and endurance that I had gained. I liked being fit.

So whether you are just starting out on your fitness journey, or finding your way back to the road, commit yourself to progress. Know that there will probably be times when find yourself clutching your queasy stomach while staring at an empty plate ashamed that you ate the whole thing. Sometimes the snooze button gets the upper hand. We slip up. We need breaks occasionally. We can always start again. Consistency wins. Happy 2013!