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Saturday, December 29, 2012

The second most epic 5k that I've ever run

   The most epic 5k of my life will always be our conference meet my final year of collegiate cross country, when a foot of melted October snow followed by two consecutive weeks of nonstop rain left Beaver Island a complete, total swamp/mudpit/continuation of the Niagara River.  I've run over 23 minutes in a 5k twice in my life.  Once was my very first 5k ever.  The other time was there.  (Note: club nationals in Spokane a few years ago, when it was 15 degrees with a windchill of -381 might have made this list, but that was a 6k.  It just deserved a shout out.)  Anyways, my training schedule called for a 5k this weekend, mostly for HR zone testing purposes.  I selected the Post Christmas Blues 5k, a fun little race in Canandaigua that I ran a couple of years ago, and enjoyed for the cheery atmosphere and Christmas-themed race shirt (I love anything festive holiday, as I've previously stated).  However, I'd been feeling sort of off all week, I hadn't run a single sub-7 mile in well over a month, I'm admittedly not in race mentality mode, I'm just flat-out out of shape (there's been a lot of chocolate involved in my Christmas season), and I hadn't run a 5k in over a year...so needless to say, it wasn't going to be a PR-quality race.  While brushing my teeth last night, I figured that a sub-20 performance would be adequate.  It briefly occurred to me that this would mean that I'd be running my 70.3 half marathon pace-stellar.  I then became thankful for two things-1. The course had been changed, so I wouldn't have to compare myself to the 18:2x surprise performance from a couple of years ago (it was the one freak 50 degree day that winter), and 2. it might snow, giving me a fantastic excuse for a slow time.

   Fast forward to this morning.  I dragged Dave out of bed nice and early, as he complained and tried to weasel his way out of joining me, saying that the best things for the cold he's had this week would be sleeping all day and continuing his self-pity party.  I'd have been more sympathetic, but he went to bed before seven last night, and, most importantly, he'd backed out of running this race a couple of years ago, costing us the husband/wife prize.  I wasn't willing to let that happen again, after all.  When we left Irondequoit (later than I wanted to, of course), light flakes were falling, but nothing was sticking to the road.  Naturally, I packed my ancient flats with negative traction.  I thought maybe it'd stay clear enough until we were through the race.  Wrong.  As I drove further and further south, the roads became snowier and snowier.  I remembered the whole "excuse to run slow" thing, though, and didn't panic.  By the time I was warming up, a good 1-2 inches of fresh powder were on the ground.  My race goals shifted from "hopefully break 19, at the very least 20" to "don't fall, or completely embarrass yourself".  By the time I got to the starting line, I decided to at least try to enjoy the craziness of it all-after all, if I'd wanted perfect conditions, I'd have gone to the upstate indoor track meet.  But, the thought of running a 5k on an indoor track sounded less appealing than navigating a snowy wonderland, so there I was!

   When the race started, I was about as ready to go as I was going to be.  I settled in behind former Canandaigua standout/current collegian Meghan McCormick, and basically just stayed there the entire race. Occasionally, I'd try to see if I could close the gap a bit, but it wasn't going to happen.  I knew that she had been one of the best high school runners in the state last year, and had pr's that put mine to shame, so I didn't worry too much about it, and concentrated on a. staying upright, b. trying not to let the gap get too huge, and c. trying to smile at the high school volunteers directing us at intersections (it had to be COLD for them just standing there, after all-I was uncharacteristically easily distracted during the race, which was nice). The footing during the first mile actually wasn't too bad, and I felt pretty decent, running it around 6:15.  During the second mile, I tried to keep the same intensity, and entertained myself by trying to find the best route through the snow, alternating between the tire tracks (less snow but more slipping in the slipper-flats) and the undisturbed snow (less slipping but olf-like running through sand).  The garmin flashed a 6:37 for that mile.  I justified it as the second fastest mile I'd run in the past month (to the first mile of that race), and continued on.

   The final mile consisted of me trying to stay a respectable distance behind Meghan (I was thankful she was there, otherwise I probably would have started sandbagging things entirely) and counting down the distance left.  As expected after months of zone 1, I wasn't in a ton of pain, I just had no other gear in my arsenal.  Plus, the snow kept getting deeper (tends to do that as it falls, I suppose).  By this point, my HR monitor had slid down my chest and was reading in ventricular fibrillation range, too.  The slight uphill towards the final turns passed in slow motion, and the garmin beeped with a 7:04-or, slower than any mile I'd run in any 70.3 all season.  Oh well.  I made the final turn and finished up in 21:09.  While this may have been slower than the first 5k of my marathon during IM Florida, it still fell within a good range-slow enough to indicate that something other than my (lack of) fitness had caused (at least part of) the deviation from my normal times, yet faster than my epic condition 23 minute cutoff.  Dave finished shortly thereafter, thus locking up our husband/wife title (and drawing far more sympathy from Joe Williams and Curbeau as he stumbled through the finish chute with the cold of the century).

   Afterwards, we enjoyed what I miss the most about running road races-post-race socializing while eating (Chobanis and hot chocolate=awesomeness).  We caught up a bit with Joe and Matt, and got our husband/wife swag, selecting a new sweet flashlight from the offerings.  This may not seem very exciting, but as I learned when I was slightly concerned about power outages before Sandy, we actually didn't own an adequate flashlight.  Plus, it gave me another opportunity to make fun of Dave for the time that he bought some $1.99 "lantern" from his favorite website, slickdeals.net, and bragged incessantly about what a fantastic deal he'd gotten on this amazing light source, until it arrived and was all of 3 inches tall.  I don't think that one should be lived down.  Ever.  Overall, though, although the last time I ran a 5k, I ran over 3 minutes faster, I still enjoyed the race (it remains pretty high on my list of personal favorite 5ks), and we accomplished the goal of getting some HR data (until it fell down around my stomach).  Plus, I just love snow, so I'll never fault it for anything (we even went out and bought some new xc skies right afterwards, taking them for a spin later on).  With the new year will come some harder training-and I'm more than ready to tackle it!

Dave and our flashlight.  He loves me for getting him out of bed this morning.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

10 things that my dogs do that make no logical sense whatsoever

Almost a year ago, I wrote up this post about ten things I've learned from our dogs.  As a follow up to this, I began to think about its antithesis-basically, ten things the dogs do that really just don't make sense.  Some of these are typical to many dogs (fear of fireworks); some of them are specific to our sometimes lovable mutts (the figure 8 thing).  Our dogs are certainly unique, and they frequent my social media presence.  Being rescues, we cut them (especially the Moose and her mystery history) some slack when it comes to their idiosyncrasies (we don't expect dogs to be furry four-legged Einsteins, after all-especially our dogs); still, some stuff makes us scratch our heads, sigh, or in the end, just laugh.  So, for a little light-hearted Christmas reading, here we go, in no particular order!  (Disclaimer-multiple poop-related references are made here, but given this is mainly a triathlon-related blog, and triathlons often involve close encounters with bodily functions, I figured I was in the clear).

1. They have zero fear of things that could maim/dismember them.

Things that my dogs are not afraid of include:
Coyotes

School buses...or any motor vehicle, for that matter
Both dogs have chased coyotes.  Any time that Bailey has managed to sneak out our front door or slither under our fence, her immediate instinct has been to go play in traffic.  One morning, after escaping our back yard, she was running along the sidewalk as a school bus barreled its way up the street.  Dave and I watched in horror, sensing what would happen next-Bailey would decide to run across the street right as it approached.  Sure enough, she did.  To this day, I have no idea how she wasn't run over.  No fear.  Moose, while not quite as brainless, also has no street sense.  Her MO is sprinting up to cars as they pull into the driveway, because she can't wait for the two ton death machine to actually stop moving before greeting its occupants.

2. Yet, they are terrified of objects that pose absolutely no threat to them.

Things that my dogs are afraid of include:
The ordinary hula hoop

The vacuum clea...omg OMG RUN IT'S MAKING NOISES
BIG SCARY NOISES

It only works if the blade is fully contained and my human is making it go, but I don't get that because I'm a dog!
At dog obedience class, the Moose retreated from the hula hoops on agility day, terrified for no good reason.  Like most dogs, ours run terrified from the vacuum.  Fireworks (and thunder) cause our 50lb Bailey to voluntarily retreat to the dreaded, awful bathtub.  When chopping up walnuts to help my mom with Christmas cookies last week using the hand blender, she ran into the basement.  Seriously, dogs?  Theoretically, I'd imagine that all of these things could somehow cause harm if weirdly misused (not that we leave our dogs outside during thunderstorms, or light off backyard fireworks).  But, chances of death by hula hoop or hand blender are far less than the chances of death by getting run over by a school bus.
This is where we found Bailey after getting home from the Fourth of July fireworks one year.  That would be hiding in one of her other great fears, the BATHTUB (cue horror music)

3. They do this:

SICK
Dogs roll in gross. I get that.  Well, I don't get it get it, but I understand that dogs are attracted to all kinds of nastiness.  This, though, defied explanation, due to its location.  While on a romp in the woods one day, Moose disappeared for a bit.  When she returned, that was on her thigh, and her thigh alone.  I still can't figure out how she managed to get a thick smear of...whatever that is...only there.  Did she rub up against it with her hip?  Did she lay on her side for a second, and that just happened to be there?  Did she find some other animal in the woods and stand there against its rear while it #2'ed?  The Moose.  Ew.


4. They eat pounds of raw rice, experience the unpleasant results, and then seek it out and eat pounds of it again.

One morning, probably a couple of years ago now, Dave and I came downstairs and found a incriminating trail of rice coming out of the pantry, starting from the weirdly giant bag that Dave had purchased.  We chastised Bailey a bit (because anytime a dog does something bad, she automatically gets blamed).  I wondered what would happen-we postulated that the rice might absorb water in her stomach, expanding her freakishly skinny midsection.  We were wrong on both accounts, as I found out a few days later when the Moose squatted down on a walk and pooped out completely undigested rice.  After gagging for a bit, I couldn't help but think, that must have felt like straight sandpaper coming out.  Unfortunately, neither human nor dog learned a lesson from this experience, as Dave then moved the rice to another dog-accessible location.  This time, both dogs ate several pounds worth of it, and the process repeated.  Nothing starts the weekend off right like cleaning dog rice poop up from your den carpet, let me tell you.  After that, we hid the rice somewhere good-or so we thought.  Those brats, despite the fact that their nether regions must have been rubbed raw, sought it out yet again.  This time, Bailey did most of the damage, which was fantastic, given that we were bringing her to a hotel shortly afterwards.  Luckily, she did wake us up at night to do her business...but I did get a few nasty looks the next day when I was dragging her as she was trying to squat on someone's front yard while running.  There would have been no cleaning that up with a plastic bag, after all.  Thinking back, yes, we were idiots for leaving the rices places where the dogs could get at it...but, it's freaking rice.  When raw, it's absolutely tasteless little hard pellets that hold no appeal to anything with moderate intelligence in the first place.  After what had to have been the most painful poops of our dogs' lives, one would think that would have killed all desire to forage for more.  There's just no way that the taste of raw rice can be so awesome that it outweighs what it must feel like to pass it.  Unless you're one of our dogs, that is.  


5. The whole "lick something ridiculously hot, retreat and smack lips, approach plate again, sniff a little, and repeat" deal.

This typically happens with one of two items: wasabi or Dave's favorite sriracha hot sauce.  After dinner, we'll often clear anything possibly dog-harmful (bones, undigestibles, etc) off our plates and set them down for the dogs to prewash for us.  Sometimes, the plates will have one of the aforementioned items on them.  The dogs will have the sense to lick around the tongue-searing stuff at first, but at the end, they'll be faced with a dilemma-let the goodness end, or try that stuff that sort of burns the nostrils when we sniff it?  Naturally, the choice is to continue licking.  This leads to a fun little cycle.  The dog will immediately back off, looking scared and confused as she smacks her lips repeatedly, not understanding what's going on.  She'll then be overwhelmed by her inner obese dog voice, and will tentatively sneak closer and closer back to the plate, seemingly expecting the hot monster to jump out and attack.  When that doesn't happen, she'll carefully sniff at the plate, tentative at first, and then repeat the entire process, experiencing the same results yet again.
Maybe it stopped being hot in the past 30 seconds!   Let's try again!

6. Moose refuses to run away from the house.

This one is Moose-specific.  Given she's a stout little 35 lb dog, I don't expect the Moose to be able to hang with me for 10 milers.  In the woods, though, off-leash, she'll sprint around endlessly, leading me to believe that she could make it a mile or two.  However, this isn't about the Moose's ability to run.  It's about her willingness to run.  She literally just flat out refuses if I'm heading away from the house.  If you start to run behind this dog on a walk, she will sit down and absolutely refuse to move, no matter how much pulling, encouraging, or pleading you do.  It's almost bizarre.  I've never been able to get her to go more than a block before this happens.  On the way back to the house, though, she'll break out into a dead sprint, dragging me along in her frantic attempt to get back to the safety "no running" zone.  My only thought is that her previous owners drove 1000 miles away from home, went for a run with her, left her, immediately hopped back into their car, and drove off, leaving the Moose stranded.  Or maybe she just makes no sense whatsoever, because she's a dog.  Who knows.

7. Moose also refuses to walk in a figure 8

At dog obedience class, one of the exercises we were supposed to do was walk our dogs in a figure 8.  The response from the Moose on the first attempt mirrored what happens when we try to run her.  She refused, sitting in the middle of the floor while all of the other dogs happily trotted around, making their owners look halfway competent.  The instructor shot us a look, and told us to practice this skill.  Determined not to be embarrassed the next week, I took Moose out into the yard, setting up a mini figure 8 course.  More refusal. I tried treats, I tried bribing, I tried every type of collar or harness that we had, I tried as much dragging as I could.  The Moose just adhered herself to the grass.  At class the next week, we were supposed to demonstrate how awesome our dogs had become at their figure 8'ing over the past week.  Again, all of the other dogs pranced along.  The Moose planted herself firmly on the ground.  The instructor came over, suspecting that perhaps I hadn't done my homework.  Well, even the highly experienced instructor, who had assisted in the basic training of thousands of rescue mutts over the course of the years, could not get the Moose to budge (almost to my relief).  As the rest of the class gawked, the Moose, firmly superglued to the ground by that point, yelped as the instructor tried every trick in the books to get her to walk a figure 8, to no avail.  After several minutes of this, she gave up, stating that this was the first time in her career she'd ever failed to get a dog to do something so simple and harmless.  Yep.  That's our dog.
The configuration of death 

8. They chose to stand in the worst positions possible in the car.

When car shopping a few years ago, I selected a versatile, practical hatchback, figuring it would be perfect for transporting two dogs, two people, and a bunch of triathlon gear.  The car design has been fantastic-except for when the dogs decide to inexplicably leap out of the comfy, spacious back (fully equipped with a blanket, plenty of windows to look out, and often some bones) in order to stand in weird positions all over the rest of the car, spreading their epoxy-like fur everywhere.  They'll usually try to weasel their way up to the front seat, not understanding the whole "I'm driving" concept.  The favorite position is standing with back feet on back seat, front feet on the center console between the front seats-aka, the most unstable dog position ever.  They never seem to learn that every time I turn, brake, or accelerate, this leads to a scrambler-like effect, and a struggle to stay upright (that sometimes ends up in falling all over the place).  My favorite example of this was on the way home from the Poconos 70.3, when Bailey slunk her way out of the back into the backseat, trying to perch/lay among wheel bags and piles of gear.  Conveniently, we were stuck in traffic at the time, with no means of pulling over and shoving her back into place, so she sort of awkwardly stood/laid there while Dave yelled about her standing on his carbon wheels.  Good times, Bailey, good times.
Why lay comfortably in the back of the car when you can awkwardly perch like this?

9. They poop on the upslope.

The back part of our property is a steep uphill, covered in various types of groundcover plants and pine trees-i.e., unusable to humans.  Thus, we thoroughly appreciate when the dogs decide to #2 up there.  How they chose to do their business, though, is what confuses me.  When they choose to use this area as their bathroom (the Moose in particular), they poop with their butt up the hill, and their arms down below.  I don't get this.  I can concede that this position would mean less squatting.  However, the laws of gravity still apply in other ways here.  Having the butt above just doesn't seem like it'd be ideal pooping position (the multiple times Bailey pooped in a 45min run done immediately after witnessing her doing this confirmed my opinion on this matter).  Plus...what if stuff started rolling down the hill into their front legs?  Gross.  I guess this wouldn't bother the dogs, given they eat/roll in poop, but it bothers me.  And I feed them.  They should respect that more.

10. They completely don't realize that they only delay the start of their walk (or, in Bailey's case, run) by spazzing all over the hallway beforehand

Although Bailey ranks towards (at) the bottom of dog intelligence charts, she has some sort of savant-ness/hyperactive radar regarding runs or walks.  The second she hears anything that suggests that one of us might be heading out for a run or preparing to take them for a walk (this includes turning on a garmin, putting on a shoe, coming upstairs after biking, grabbing a plastic bag out of the cabinet, changing after biking, making any sort of move towards the hat/glove bag, etc), even if she's been lounging on our bed all morning, she immediately comes downstairs.  This is when things start to get irritating.  She then loses all control over her excitement, frantically leaping, digging at her leash, picking up gloves in her mouth and transporting them elsewhere, and jumping around into the shoe rack, knocking shoes all over the place.  Trying to get shoes, hats, gloves, and leashes on then becomes a gargantuan task, as I have to deal with a 50lb, lanky, spastic disaster of a dog spewing equipment everywhere, sometime smashing into my face if I try to lean down to tie my shoes.  She sometimes senses that sitting gets her what she wants, so she'll do that...but it'll last all of 2-3 seconds before her uncontrollable excitement gets the better of her.  My favorite is transporting the gloves elsewhere-maybe, Bailey, maybe we'd get out the door sooner if I could find my gloves.  The Moose tends to be a bit more reserved, given she knows that she doesn't always get to go on our mysterious outings. However, when it's clear that we're going on a walk instead of a run (i.e., when I reach for the drawstring bag of treats and poop bags), she then contributes in her own way, which is by sitting at the door and barking.  I get it, the Moose.  You want to go for a walk.  Fifteen (or so it feels like) unnecessary minutes later, when I finally get us all ready, I force them to sit before I open the door.  Of course, the second I open the door, they forget that they're on leashes, and take off in a 6ft dead sprint.  Canine geniuses.
Captured in her .3 seconds of sitting.  I didn't touch her leash at all; its positioning is all her
Well, that about sums up some of our dogs quirky, "endearing" little qualities.  Because a picture's worth a thousand words, I'll close out with a few more that summarize day to day life with our mutts.
Enjoying some butt
And washing it down with some butt water

Why yes, it is possible to get a blanket stuck in your collar and drag it off the couch
But look how cute they are!  So that's how they get away with all that stuff...





Thursday, December 13, 2012

16 reasons why running is better than swimming (Jennie's rebuttal)

  Earlier today, in response to an article about why swimming makes you smart, Mary posted this blog post about the real reasons that swimmers are smarter.  Because I'll never let up in my battle against swimming (and because I feel like I have to make up for my uncharacteristic moment of weakness yesterday morning, when I posted a rare positive thought about swimming on social media for the world to see), I spent most of my workout this morning mentally composing this list of reasons that running is better than swimming.  I could have kept going, too; I have more in my brain.  Still, the list was getting long, so I decided to cut myself off at 16.  So here they are, in no particular order!

1. You can look at stuff when you run. 
Right now, Christmas decorations are out.  They make me happy.  Earlier in the year, I composed this blog post about 5 nice things that I get to look at while I run.  You’ll notice I have no such list about swimming.  That’s because when I swim, the five things I get to look at are the bottom of the pool (boring), the wall (boring), the lane line (boring), the digital clocks at the ends of the lengths (depressing), and, once a lap, Dave (gross.  I know he’s my husband, but men wearing nothing but spandex bottoms are, as a rule, gross).  Plus, half the time my goggles are fogged up, so I can’t even make that stuff out that well, anyways.

           2. You can listen to stuff when you run.
I don’t always bring music with me when I run; I actually probably don’t bring it more than I bring it (see above-it’s because I actually get to look at stuff).  Still, it’s nice to have that option.  Even if I’m not listening to music, I can still listen to outdoor noises.  I know that Mary has blogged about how she enjoys the noise of the water when swimming before.  However, when I swim, all I can hear is my gasping, asthmatic breathing.  I suppose I might enjoy the sound of the water if it wasn't drowned out by the COPD-like sounds that I make.  But it is.  So that's that.

3. You get to breathe the entire time that you run.
Self-explanatory.  For a lifelong endurance athlete, I have zero lung capacity.  I can hold my breath for about 10 seconds before I start to get really, really uncomfortable.  As a child, I always lost horrifically when we would hold "see how many times you can swim across the pool in one breath" contests (which is probably why my sister became the swimmer).  When Mary tries to give me stuff to do in the pool that involves me to do something other than breathe every stroke, I remind her of this fact.  With running, I just get to...breathe.  I don't have to time it or suffocate even at slow speeds.  I appreciate that.

4. My winter running clothes are more forgiving/flattering than my bathing suits are at off season weights.  
This morning, I had to wrestle my way into my bathing suit.  I marveled at how it cut off half of my butt, creating a second butt.  I noticed how it appeared lighter in color because it was being stretched so thin.  I wondered if I was 5 months pregnant.  Most unappealingly, I felt my upper back fat spilling over the straps.  In my winter running clothes, though, the only thing I notice is that my thighs are kind of large in my spandex.  Still, spandex prevents chafing for me, so even this isn't that bad.  All those other things?  They're hidden.  Plus, I can tell myself that it's not me, it's the extra layers.

5. Year-round, the first minute or so of swimming absolutely sucks.     
I will admit that when it's cold out, the first couple of minutes of running aren't that pleasant.  However, the pool is freaking freezing every single morning, winter, spring, summer or fall.  Mary has also said before she loves the first push-off from the wall.  I can't say I feel the same way.  In fact, I spend the entire morning dreading the moment in which I leave the warm, dry, bright, pleasant pool deck and plunge myself into the freezing cold, wet abyss.  Not to mention, this moment also represents the fact that the pool workout is just beginning.  Gross.  At that point, I know that I'm not going to get to breathe nearly as much as I'd like to in the coming 1-1.5 hours, too.

6. You can fully wash off the running smell.
Sure, I probably smell better after getting out of the pool than I smell after finishing a run.  However, after showering, the sweat odor is gone.  The pool chlorine odor, though, sticks around faintly the entire day.  I'll be at work writing notes, resting my head on my hand when I'll catch the slight aroma of municipal pool.  Mmmm.  I love smelling like a water park.

7. I don't have to pay $2.50 every time I run.
And that's a good pool price.

8. I don't have to get up at 5am to run.  I can do it whenever I want to...because outside is always open.
Self-explanatory.

9. When I begin/return from a run, there's exactly a 0% chance that I'm going to inadvertently see a naked old woman doing something that should be done AFTER getting dressed.
I have to say, this isn't really an issue at the Irondequoit pool.  Sure, some women shower in the open showers there, but that's probably a necessity.  They then grab a towel, head to the lockers, and promptly get dressed first.  There's nothing wrong with that.  When I swim other places, though, (i.e. the JCC), though, this isn't the case.  I come out of the pool and see naked old women doing things that, in my world, rank below at least putting on underwear in priority, such as drying their hair, putting one leg up on a bench and lotioning it up (one of my personal favorites), or conversing with me.  When I run, though, I'm guaranteed that there won't be any naked old women in my house.

10. I do think when I swim.  It's just never about anything good.
When I swim, I'm basically forced to think about three things: 1. how far I've gone (which inevitably leads into how freaking far I still have to go); 2. what the heck my arms are doing (which inevitably frustrates/confuses me); 3. how much this either a. is really hard, b. is really slow, or c. both of the above.  When I run, I can zone out and think about other things.  I don't have to constantly be aware of how far I still have to go.  I do try to think about my form here and there, but if I don't, it doesn't start doing something completely foreign.  Which leads me to my next point.

11. My run form, while not perfect either, at least doesn't vary wildly, and I can easily better it if I actually think about it.  My swim form is an enigma, and it doesn't always get better if I think about it.  In fact, it probably often gets worse.

12. If you stop running, nothing bad happens.  If you stop swimming, you drown.
Are there lifeguards required when I go out for runs?  No.

13. I've never had a giant clump of unidentified hair intersperse itself in my fingers while running.  
This has happened on more than one occasion while swimming.  There's nothing worse than seeing the giant hair clump gradually drift closer and closer to you each lap, until it ends up intertwined among your fingers, forcing you to spend the rest of the interval trying to breathe sporadically and gag at the same time.

14. Speaking of hair, although running doesn't make me a beauty queen, it doesn't leave my hair quite as gnarly as swimming does.
When I get out of the pool, my hair is a snarled, birds-nest like creation sitting on the top of my head.  It basically requires half a bottle of my $2/bottle Suave conditioner to untangle.  Half of it then ends up on the drain of the shower, on the bathroom floor, or stuck on my work clothes.  I'm not entirely sure how I actually still have hair, in fact.  

15. I can enjoy the company of my dog on runs.
She does not swim.  But she's kind of cute when she runs.  Running makes her happy.  And less annoying the rest of the day.  Win-win for both of us.

16. I'm comparatively much better at running.  
Let's face it, this helps.  As Jesse put it at the end of the season (on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being best and 10 being worst), "if your running is a 3, your biking is a 4 and your swimming is a 9".  I've missed out on a lot by swim margins these past couple of years-top 3 in my AG at age group nationals, the overall IM 70.3 amateur title last year, and the podium in all of my fall races this year.  I've exited the water in DFL more than once.  Given that I've put way more time and effort into swimming than running for the past year, I *might* be harboring a bit of frustration here and there. 

In reality though, I really want to like swimming.  I've grown to tolerate it a little bit more over the past year, and sometimes I find some redeeming qualities in it (especially when I get to wear fins).  I hope that my struggles in the water will make any (relative) successes in it even sweeter if they (eventually) every happen.  I've been making some progress recently, so I'm actually at a good place with it right now (this might last another day, another week, or another month...we'll see.  Swimming is fickle for me).  But...I'll always like running more.  

I do like the festive holiday bathing suit my mom gave me last year that's in this picture.  Yes, this is a picture of dogs in Christmas outfits posed in front of aero wheels adorned with a festive holiday swimsuit and a QT2 swim cap.  Yes, we have issues.  Serious issues.


  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The balancing act


  My offseason officially concluded today (with some threshold testing on the bike-olf).  Four weeks of unstructured "training" later (I occasionally ironically thought about how the amount of exercise I was doing in that time probably qualified me as a normal, healthy person), tomorrow I'll be starting back into the grind.  Mary and I met today, we set my season up, and I'm obviously excited about what's (hoping that all goes according to plan, of course) on tap for 2013-the rookie jitters are gone, and it's time to take the kids gloves off a bit.  I'm already looking at flights and elevation profiles and pro rankings and all that.  But, at the same time, I honestly haven't spent the last month in any great rush to get started.  People asked me here and there if I was going nuts yet, and really, after spending a year juggling work and training and dogs and the normal challenge of house upkeep in a two ironman household...I just wasn't.  I obviously don't have children, and my schedule certainly wasn't as packed as it is for many of my peers, but I still spent a good portion of 2012 just tired.  Life keep seeming to have this way of bringing me just to the brink of my sanity (I remember just sitting back and crying one morning as I crawled around my bedroom floor through piles of laundry looking for a freaking matching pair of socks to wear to work, feeling that I was defying the laws of probability as I pulled out one stray sock after another), and then throwing me a bone just in the nick of time, whether it was a recovery day or week, a long ride where I was able to shake off my fatigue and feel inexplicably strong, or even something as simple as a smile from my favorite cross guard on a morning run with the dog, or calling back a new patient and finding him/her to be, as I might put it, "basically the nicest person ever" in the midst of an otherwise stressful day.

   But enough complaining, my life isn't really all that hard.  It's actually pretty darn good.  And my husband even cooks dinner most nights (and hand washes dishes-because he's just so much better at it than I am, of course).  What I really wanted to reflect upon is something that came up today when we met (Dave and Logan Franks were there participating too) after my testing-the concept of balance.  While Chrissie Wellington's retirement announcement surprised some, I honestly couldn't say that I was surprised-the woman did incredible things in/for the sport, and has nothing left to prove.  I've been reading her autobiography, and I can relate to some of the things she described from her childhood days-excelling in school, a desire to use her brain for good.  So, I can understand how after using her body instead for a number of years and accomplishing all their is to accomplish in long course racing, she might just want to go back to using her position and her brain and her time to pursue different pursuits.  Throughout my high school, college, and graduate school careers, my academic achievements far outpaced my athletics ones.  This might be part of what drives me so much athletically-academically, I could put in the work and get my 4.0 every semester, and that was that.  Athletically, it's not as linear, and there's no ceiling-well, there is, but I don't know what it is and I won't unless I keep at it.  Still, I can't turn my back on the 20 years of school and the doctorate degree I spent so much time (and money) on-and I don't want to.  It's something I worked towards, it's something I continue to try to work at, and it's balance.
I'm a libra, so I guess that means I was born level or something.
  Successful long course racing takes time and dedication-no doubt about that.  I've made many of the common concessions of the pro triathlete without hesitation, including Friday nights in, Saturdays spent on the bike, 5am wake up times, using all my vacation time on trips to races, swapping out those diet cokes for water, coming to terms with my clothes being everywhere (well, that one might just be laziness...) etc.  This hasn't been a big deal for me-I know what my goals are, and I feverishly want to do my best to get after them.  I've never crossed a finish line wishing I'd done less to get there.  Of course, there's always more I could do-and I do need to work on some of this next year.  Except for a select few of us, there's always something else we could change.  But, the question becomes-what's the cost?  Where's the tipping point between healthy sacrifice needed to maximize ability and reach a goal, and an unbalanced life that leaves one cranky and miserable, usually with a lack of return on investment and in many cases declining performance and a loss of passion for the sport?  I could leave my family and friends and go live in a tent at altitude, subsisting off of vegetables and training 35 hours/week (that might be a bit of an exaggeration...but we get the idea)-but that wouldn't work for me.  I do think that the tipping point probably varies from person to person, and while an adherence to a certain lifestyle or certain sacrifices can be suggested, it can't be dictated.  I'm incredibly lucky to have a coach that gets this, that respects this, and that lives this herself.

   I know what I need for my balance-I need time with my family and friends, I need sleep, I need a bit of time to take the dogs for a hike in the woods a couple of days each week, I need ice cream and chocolate and pizza here and there, I need human contact after four hour training days, I need to be gainfully employed, I need a chance to utilize my talents outside of triathlon.  I also have outside interests-I like to garden, I like to deck out the house for holidays, I like to write in this darn blog, I like to walk around my dad's property and look at the growing plants and pick stuff, I like to watch a few mindless tv shows every week, I actually do sometimes like to clean.  These "things" all keep me somewhat grounded in normalcy, and, conversely, keep my passion for the sport high (after all, nothing beats daydreaming about racing while planting vegetables on a warm summer evening).  Next year, I do intend on dedicating myself to the sport to a greater degree, but not to the point where I lose my sense of balance.  I can waste less time browsing slowtwitch and spend more time sleeping, reading something educational, or even preparing bottles to save time for the following week's workouts (and...ok...cleaning).  I can get my butt to the pool for an extra session each week.  I can clean up my diet more.  These are all things that require more self-discipline, but the type that I consider worth it.  I want to better myself as a triathlete, but not at the expense of worsening myself as a human being.  Apart from a small charm I wear around my neck, nothing about my outside appearance or carriage of myself screams "crazy triathlete", and I hope to keep it that way.

  So, as my offseason comes to a close, was I bored?  Was I going nuts?  Well...no.  I was decking the halls, enjoying staying up past ten and sleeping past seven, spending my Saturday shopping with my mom and sister and having a grand old time, and putting together a 1000 piece puzzle.  I even washed the windows and windowsills on the first floor of our house.  Trust me, that's a big deal for me.  The laundry...still didn't get done, but I'll keep telling myself someday on that.  Basically, I righted the triathlon/life scales towards the life side of things, until I was ready to start building the triathlon bank again.  That starts tomorrow, and I'm right where I need to be heading into it.  I'll be pushing my limits and testing my thresholds and making sacrifices, but at the same time, keeping in touch with my sanity.    

  Just in case anyone was still worried I've been bored...here's some photographic evidence of our overly festive Griswold house.  I love Christmas.  It's like a disease.  Dave loves me.
Festive holiday mantle.  No fears, the other dog has a stocking too-it's just hidden behind the woodstove.  Because dogs have any freaking idea what Christmas is, or that they have stockings hanging.

More den.  Dave likes giraffes, so he Christmas more when I somehow make them fit in the decor-hence the giraffe planter with fabric poinsettas jammed in its butt.

Festive holiday dining room table.  Sometimes Dave comes in here with his laptop and does work and moves things.  It makes me disproportionately upset.

Festive holiday kitchen table (not that we're classy enough to eat at the table).  Find the giraffe!  Dave did.  It was the one thing he complimented about all of my festive holiday kitchen touches.  Actually, a giraffe can be found in the mantle picture, too.  Oh, Dave.
We decorated the dog too.  She's trying to hide.  Yes, I do realize that it'd be healthier for us to have children someday.





   

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Aquagear.com gear review-Jennie takes on the Finis PT Paddles!


   Recently, I was asked by aquagear.com to check out their site in order to possibly do some reviews on their swimming gear.  I was invited to chose an item to check out, so I headed over to the site to scope out what was available.  

The website was easy to navigate and well-organized, and although I was distracted by some of the more fun items (brightly patterned swim caps and my favorite swim toy ever, fins, for example), I instantly knew what I should look for-Finis PT paddles.  Conveniently, aquagear carried them. 
Evil little suckers
  My history with the Finis PT paddles goes back a year, when Mary first got her hands on my swim technique.  The initial videotaping revealed this:

Yikes
   As in, a missed catch and a total lack of appropriate body rotation (replaced by some weird sidebending motion resulting from my runner-turned-triathlete background).  As soon as Mary saw this, she pulled her (beat up) PT paddles out of her bag, and made me swim a lap with them.  I sputtered a bunch and felt like I was going to drown.  She gave me her (even more beat up) pull buoy, and had me swim another lap.  It probably took me three minutes to make it 50m.  Clearly, adding those was entirely exposing my weaknesses.  The PT (short for “perfect technique”) paddles are designed to take the swimmer’s hands out of the equation, requiring the athlete to use other methods (i.e. an actual catch with the forearm and body rotation-you know, the things I didn’t do at all) to move forward.  They’re designed to somewhat simulate fist swimming-only, they make it impossible to cheat by sort of opening up your hands when you get tired of it (doesn’t everyone do that??).  Aquagear.com offers this description: "PT - standing for "Perfect Technique" - is achieved by literally taking the swimmer's hands out of the equation. The unique curved shape of the PT hand paddles forces water away from the hand, disallowing the hands to "grip" the water. In doing so, the swimmer is forced to adopt innovative strategies for propelling themselves.  These incredible paddles also promote proper arm entry and hip rotation, by emphasizing the "catch" of the armstroke. Also, because these swim paddles work to destabilize the body, the swimmer's core will engage as well."  Of course using them was nearly impossible at first.  I was more than happy to give them back to Mary after that brief experience; she was then more than happy to email me my suggested Christmas list of swimming gear that I should want, with the paddles at the top.  I think I then added them to the Christmas list that I emailed to my family, burying them at the bottom with an internet link and the glowing endorsement of “I’ve been told that I want these”.  Needless to say, no one bought them for me

   Fast forward about six months, and I was starting to feel like I sort of had a catch.  At some point in those months, videotaping revealed that although I felt like I was swimming like this:
Michael Phelps in my own mind

  I really looked like this:
Yikes again.  At least the water in our pool is really clear.
  Again, at one point when I was swimming with Mary, she broke out the dreaded PT paddles, and I again struggled with them.  I’ve determined that I really have no body awareness in the water.  I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I can’t figure out how to do it-and the more I think about it, the harder it gets.  My arms (especially my right, it seems) still can’t figure out how to move into that high elbow catch position.  The body rotation is especially troublesome-I do rotate a bit to my breathing side (right-but not at the expense of flailing my legs everywhere), but not at all to my non-breathing side (left).  Both these flaws probably also contribute to my nasty right hook whenever I swim in open water, so I became curious to see if the PT paddles could teach me to do automatically what I can’t do consciously-sort of akin to when in the PT clinic I finally physically guide a patient’s limb through the motion I’m trying to get him or her to do with verbal or visual commands.   

   I decided that it was fate to finally cave and try them out for real.  I selected the PT paddles from aquagear.com, and they showed up on my doorstep shortly afterwards.  Luckily, they came at a good time-my time off.  If one thing could make me sort of enthusiastic towards getting back into the water, it would be a new toy (even if it meant making swimming take even more time).  I got back into the pool after my time off, and with no structured workout to do yet, I was free to play around with the paddles.  The paddles were easy to adjust, and with them secured to my hands, I was off.  This time around, it didn’t feel like as much of a drown-fest as it had a year ago, but it was still HARD to move forward.  I concentrated on the feel of what I was doing-I could feel my left elbow popping up towards the surface of the water.  I then turned off the brain, and swam another couple of laps, trying to let my body figure out how to get from one end of the pool to the other most efficiently.  I then tuned back into what was happening, and…was that my right arm, trying to develop a little bit of a catch?  Maybe, just a little bit.  After a few laps, I took the paddles off and swam normally.  The first little plus that I noticed was that suddenly my hands felt like huge paddles, sort of akin to going from swimming normally to swimming with my beloved giant paddles.   Although I was still swimming at my normal remedial pace, I at least felt like I was cruising-never a bad thing! 

   I alternated a few more laps with/without the paddles, and tried to concentrate on what I felt my arms doing with the paddles on so that I could translate it into a better stroke once I took the paddles off.  I was able to notice some subtle difference as I went along, as well as some shortcomings.  My right arm was trying to reach out a little farther and my elbow was trying to stay a bit higher, but the muscle pulling I felt indicated that I have some flexibility issues to deal with!  Towards the end of the swim, I felt confident enough in my PT paddling ability to take away my kick while using them.   Before that point, I still hadn’t really become aware of any body rotation developing.  Once I had the pull buoy between my legs, though, I almost immediately could feel myself rolling side to side as I swam along.  This was a revelation to me-one of those so, THIS is what it’s supposed to be like! moments.  I was disproportionately excited.  I locked in the feeling for a few more laps, and then tried pulling without the paddles.  The body rotation stayed.  With the buoy out, though, it started to become more of an unnatural struggle again.  Still, I was able to periodically “remind” myself by putting the paddles back on for a few laps.

   Overall, my initial reaction to the PT paddles was encouraging.  I can see why Mary had been pushing them on me, as they do seem to help address some of the form issues I have that simply thinking about hasn’t been able to solve.  Do I suddenly have perfect freestyle form?  Of course not-not even close.  The paddles aren’t a cure-all, but after swimming with them on and off for the past week, I can see how they’re going to assist me.  Like any other pool “toy”, they’re not necessarily a cure-all, but another very useful tool that, with proper application and use, will help me (hopefully) inch those swim times down bit by bit.  I could see them being used effectively between hard sets in long workouts in order to remind myself of some good form points as I become more fatigued, or during recovery days.  Recently, my coaches and I discussed using the recovery days in the pool to concentrate more on form/drill work rather than just straight swimming-the PT paddles will likely fit in perfectly there.  Overall, early on they seem like they’re helping to help me move my swim form from “conscious incompetence” (I know what I’m doing wrong, but can’t correct it) towards “conscious competence” (I can do what I’m supposed to be doing, but I have to think about it).  With time and further PT paddle use, I’m encouraged that this can become more automatic.  At the very least, I’ll continue to feel like superwoman when I take them off and swim with actual use of my hands!  I’d recommend giving them a try (this says a lot, coming from someone that rarely speaks good of anything pool-related).  Thanks again to aquagear.com for letting me try them out, check out their website for all sorts of other neat toys (and sweet swim caps)!  
My seasonal favorite aquagear cap offering.  Penguins would also make me like the pool more!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Want vs. need (and the season of thanks)

  Although I haven't been participating in it, the "Today I'm thankful for..." posts that some of my facebook friends have been putting up every day have been heartening to me, amidst the myriads of complaints about politics and such.  Because really, I'm thankful for a lot, and I have it pretty darn good.  Us triathletes as a whole, well, we're pretty well-off, if demographic data tells us anything.  I don't know the exact data, but we make a bunch more than the general population.  Yes, we work hard at our day jobs, but we also have enough time and energy outside of them to devote to our love of the sport.  We can afford to ride fancy bikes, we swim in expensive wetsuits, we shell out several hundred dollars each year for shoes to run in and engineered sugar to eat.   And race entry and travel fees?  That's another story.  As a result of all of this, I celebrate when my bank account holds more than a paycheck in it at any given time.  

   Still, I consider myself very, very fortunate.  I have everything I need in life.  We live in a perfectly nice house, in a neighborhood where we can forget to put the garage door down at night and nothing happens (cough, last night, cough).  Our cars are 5 or 6 years old, but they get us to point A to point B reliably, and even if something happened, we could get them repaired without going into debt.  We have a couple of dogs that we can afford to take proper care of, and we never have to worry about coming up with money for our next meal.  We can go out to eat every now and then, and if I want to buy the berries in the grocery store even if they're not on sale, well, I buy them.  We both were able to get into college, get scholarships, and earn graduate degrees, which led to good careers.  Sure, I have loan payments, but I've able to make them religiously the past three years.  We had beautiful wedding a few years ago, and I wear a rock on my finger that's worth...a lot (Dave had to outbid his brothers, I kid you not)...around every day without thinking twice about it.  I have practically every piece of triathlon-related gear I could want, and I have the time and ability to put it to use.  I've worked hard in my life to get all of this; however, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a supportive, loving, stable household that provided all of my basic needs and supported my every move, allowing me to have nothing to worry about other than doing my best in school and sports.  I also was lucky enough to be born with natural intelligence (I know that sounds completely conceited, but let's face it, I was one of those freaks that would ace standardized tests with little preparation starting at a young age), and some athletic ability.

   Too many people don't have all that.  Whenever there's something I want (say, a disc wheel, or a bathroom remodel with a jacuzzi tub), but can't afford, I have to remind myself of this fact.  I never had to work during the school year (my parents actually wouldn't even allow it-my job was to focus on my academics), I never had to worry about crime in my neighborhood, I never had to watch unrest in my home, I never wondered why Santa brought everyone else what they wanted but not me, I never had anything but a well-rounded meal packed into my lunchbox or put on the table in front of me at night (even if I was an ungrateful little snob at times, whining about how long I had to wait for dinner or how much I hated steak.  I do still hate steak and think that my childhood would have been fine without it, but that's completely besides the point).  My house was never washed away by a hurricane.  

   So where am I going with all this?  Well, I'm thankful for a lot.  I'm thankful for my family and my friends.  I'm thankful for our jobs and our ability to have to the opportunity to participate in such a great sport with such great people.  I'm thankful to have been given this gift of triathlon talent, that's allowed me to rise to a level I never could have dreamed of several years ago.  I know there's thousands of others out there working their butts off who won't necessarily be able to get the results that I have, so I feel that it's my duty to make the most of what I've been given-just as it was always my duty to make the most of my brain throughout my school days.  Mostly, I'm thankful that my needs have always been met, so I can even think about my wants.  As the holiday season comes upon us, I hope that everyone can think of what they have and what they can give.  $20 to me might represent a meal out some week-a luxury I can certainly go without; $20 shoved into Salvation Army cans could make a difference in the life of someone else.  I remember seeing a mother and son coming up our street when I was loading my overly expensive bike onto the back of my car before heading up to Lake Placid in July.  They were picking through recycling bins, looking for anything they might be able to return.  When they reached our house, I told them to wait, and ran into the garage to grab the bag of returnables that we'd been accumulating.  It was a simple gesture on my part, something that cost me nothing (not shockingly, Dave and I are bad about remembering to take back bottles and cans), but the two of them were so intensely grateful that I couldn't help but get a lift myself, despite my feelings of guilt over the value of the gear I was loading into my car at the time.  What had I done in life that's allowed me to have so much, yet has given these two other fellow human beings so little?  How could they be so grateful to me, bless me when they were doing what they needed to to survive, while I was doing what I wanted to do?  It reaffirmed in me that there's some basic goodness in all people, and that we should spend less time judging, and more time giving and helping if we're so able.  So, I hope that all of us that have our needs met can keep this in mind.  Don't complain if something comes up that might take away from a want, because it's just that-a want.  If we get to the point of taking care of our wants, then we're the lucky ones.         

The hard lives of our dogs.  They're clearly onto their wants!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ironman Florida-the report!

         Hard to believe, but my rookie pro 2012 season wrapped up over this past weekend at Ironman Florida.  At some point, I’ll summarize the season as a whole, the lessons I’ve learned, and where I go from here, but for now, I’ll get to the race report!  Although I was a little nervous that my pre-race rituals would be a little compressed (I was heading down Thursday morning for the Saturday race; my bike wouldn’t be arriving until Thursday night with Dave), I ended up having plenty of time to take care of everything.  QT2 male pro Tim Tapply and I drove into Panama City Beach together on Thursday morning and hit up the pro meeting, check in, and some practice swimming.  I then had plenty of time to purchase a few last minute items at the expo, meet fellow Rochesterian (and former patient!) Monica for some dinner, and buy the groceries I'd need before picking Dave up on Thursday.  Friday, I was finished with breakfast (pancakes...mmm...), bike setup, and gear bag packing early on, and I had the rest of the day to sit in some shade on the beach while Dave swam, followed by relaxing on my butt all afternoon.  Life was good.  
The gulf-much more enjoyable to look at than swim in


The Kestrel, racked and ready!
          Heading into the race, I had my wattage and heart rate targets and my race plan, and I had in mind what I hoped they would translate to time-wise (sub-1:10 swim, 5:10 bike, 3:05-3:10 run, overall sub-9:30).  But, I never like to fixate only on time or place, because I know that too many other factors beyond my control play into those factors, so I was only planning on executing what I could.  As the week progressed, so did the weather forecast...towards higher and higher temperatures and humidity levels.  This would have been fine three months ago, when I had been acclimated to those types of conditions, but after several months of comfortable runs with temperatures in the 50's, I was a bit nervous about what would happen when temperatures hit the low 80's, with heat indices in the mid-80's-IMFL was known for freezing cold morning temperatures and comfortable humidity levels that time of year, after all.  I hoped that the long trainer rides I'd done would have helped me keep some semblance of heat acclimation in my system from the summer, loaded some salt tabs into my race gear, and told myself that by focusing on heart rate rather than pace on the run, I'd be fine-the time would be whatever it was, no need to obsess.  Secondary to the heat, my other concern heading into the race was the water conditions.  Tim and I had swam a bit on Thursday afternoon, when the gulf featured some powerful breakers towards the shore-maybe only 100m of them, but still enough to strike a little panic into me as I struggled to get through them.  One little voice in my head convinced that I was going to swim 1:20 because I had to go in and out of that twice with the two loop swim; the other one was trying to shut that up, telling me that it might not be that bad on race morning, and then again, even if it was...guess what, I'd just gotten through the breakers, so it could be done.

          Race morning went smoothly.  I reached transition plenty early, and had plenty of time to set up and get ready without additional stress.  My bike was coated in moisture from the air, as it was already 67 degrees at 5:30am, and the air was thick with humidity.  Life felt a bit surreal as I finished the last minute bike preparation just across the transition aisle from Rinny and Meredith Kessler, listening to two of the big names of the sport, women I admire and look up to discuss why exactly their bikes were soaking wet and how they maintain some aspect of femininity in the midst of the grossness of Ironman.  A few age groupers here and there were stopping at the end of our aisle to snap paparazzi shots of the two of them; I had to laugh to myself that I'd end up being the random chick in the corner.  After chatting with a few QT2'ers in the bathroom line, I was off to the swim start, somehow feeling nervous and calm at the same time.  The water wasn't calm; the breakers were there again, although not quite as strong as they had been on Thursday.  I used the few minutes I had to warm up to practice working my way through them, which ended up being a good call, as the first wave that hit my face knocked my goggles loose.  I moved the strap underneath my cap, got to the smoother water, and then swam back in.  I'd be ok.  
All lined up. "Gosh, I love swimming," I thought.  Wait...
Never having done a beach start before, I wasn't entirely sure how it'd go.  The pro men started five minutes beforehand, and then we were up next.  I stood among 20 other women, ankle-deep in the water, and took a few last deep breaths.  The starter sent us off, and I followed the lead of the other women, getting through the breakers and out into the open ocean.  The excitement of the start didn't give me much time to obsess over it, and as I began to swim, I was somewhat pleased and surprised to find myself amongst others.  I laughed a little bit to myself as we hit the first buoy-it was farther than I'd swam with people in Placid.  Score!  As we swam away from shore, the water shifted into rolling swells.  I actually found them easier to deal with than chop, as I could swim/breathe normally, but just with a fun little up/down action the entire time.  On the first trip out, I could feel fingers brushing against my feet-someone was actually with me, I'd take it!  The swells did make sighting a little difficult, as I always managed to decide to look up when I was at the bottom of one.  As a result, despite the fact that the current was pushing from right to left, I still found myself to the far right, next to a kayaker once I got within a couple of buoys of the turn buoy.  I redirected, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise-as I swam diagonally toward the first buoy, I saw two women swimming in a line near it.  I put in a surge, caught up to the feet, and settled in.  As we turned towards shore, the swells were in our favor.  I felt smooth and in control, just telling myself to stay on the feet and use the draft as best as I could (even though I’m sure the fact that I kept brushing the feet/calves was getting irritating after a while).  Mentally, this was huge.  Swimming 2.4 miles completely alone, in last place in Placid had just seemed so defeating.  The swim had dragged on forever, and I spent most of it battling negative thoughts.  When swimming with others, the buoys passed quickly, my brain was shut off, and I was just…going. 


Heading back into the water for lap 2.  This picture cracks me up, as I look as if I'm in no hurry whatsoever to get back into the water.
We exited the water at the end of the first loop, I saw 33:4x on the Garmin, and I heard the announcer call out the names of the other women in my swim group.  The first loop time was solid for me, requiring far less effort than previous half IM swims of the same pace (ha), and I was in the company of some the women that I’d had the well, maybe on a good day I’ll have a chance to stick with them about.  I was having the kind of race swim I’d been waiting for all season, and I knew it.  We re-entered the water, got past the breakers again, and I positioned myself second in line this time, still on feet.  I told myself to stay on them on the way out into the swells, and then move ahead if I was still feeling good on the way back.  Some of the age groupers were passing us by this point, but far fewer than I’d dealt with in Placid.  I stuck to my plan, taking over the lead on the way back in, even spotting decently, trying to use the age grouper packs to spur me along.  Finally, I emerged from the water, hitting the beach in 1:09:11.  The time was only 47 seconds faster than Placid, but the effort was a huge improvement, given that the swim conditions there had been akin to a giant pool, and the Florida time included fighting breakers, a beach run, and currents.  Plus, I wasn’t last out of the water-I’d made it out of there ahead of five other pro women, even if it was by a narrow margin in most cases.  Still, the mental boost of still seeing other bikes on the rack as I made my way through transition was welcome.  Although I still have a long way to go, I think I might have cracked a smile in T1 for the first time all season.
See?  Smiling out of T1!
                   
Fifteen minutes after getting to the mount line (bike skills), I'm off!
With the swim behind me, I set off on the bike.  I knew my wattage target, and I was hoping that it would translate into a sub-5:10ish ride, although time is never a primary metric that I use to judge my biking.  I’d try for my wattage, make sure to hit my nutrition on the rapidly warming morning, and see what happened.  The forecasted winds for the morning were light and variable, so I knew that it could be a fast day on the flat (understatement!) course.  One of my main concerns heading into the day was bike packs that were known to form on the course.  I wanted to ride clean; I wanted to know what I could do-a fast but non-cleanly achieved time would mean nothing to me.  Being a weaker female pro swimmer, I knew I’d be starting off with some competitive male age groupers, and I worried that I’d get caught up early on.  Sure enough, I found myself going back and forth with a group of men.  At first, they were riding as individuals, so I would pass and move ahead.  Soon enough, though, the distance between them became shorter and shorter, meaning that I’d have to either spike my wattage to grind past the pace line, or soft pedal while they all passed me.  Another pro woman was in the same scenario as me, and it was almost as if we could feel each other's frustration as we exchanged encouragement.  Still within the first five miles, I sucked it up and decided not to ruin my entire day by spiking my power so much early on, and I slowed up to let them all pass me.  The group them rode away, and I settled in and continued on with my day, taking solace in the fact that I’d know what I was capable of legally.  Although I’m a competitor, I’ll never let it come at the expense of playing by the rules.  If others don’t feel the same way then…so be it.  Nothing I could do about that-plus, I wasn't competing against age group men, I was competing to be the best that I could be.  After that, the ride continued uneventfully.  I concentrated on downing Perform early on and hitting all the bottle handoffs (the fear aspect of them continued to decrease throughout, too!)-sure enough, the warmer temperatures meant that I was easily finishing off a bottle between every stop. 

Those earlier miles almost seemed like the hardest ones-I was alone, the terrain was unchanging, my wattage near the lower end of my target zone.  I shut off my mind, and just continued on, knowing that the ~13min/5 mile splits showing up on my Garmin meant that my early pace was pretty quick for me.  Around mile 35, when I was pondering the fact that I hadn’t even reach the 1/3 point yet, I thought of Heather, and let emotion and sadness wash through me.  I felt some guilt, as well, knowing that I still had this opportunity, that it was a gift, and that my fatigue was pretty freaking insignificant in the scheme of the world’s problems and inequities.  I came out on the other side with a renewed sense of strength and purpose, dedicating myself to completing this Ironman for those who never would get the chance, giving a quick glance upward and instantly feeling less alone.  At that point, the caffeinated gels I had started into began to give me a bit of a boost, and a few solitary age group men passed me here and there, offering encouragement and telling me that I looked strong.  I found a renewed sense of happiness in what I was doing at that point, the kind I often get on training runs but don’t so often feel on rides.  I used it to smile for the volunteers and thank anyone and everyone along the race course in those middle miles.  In long races, I always find myself reading signs, as well, and the ones that lined the road shortly after the forty mile mark offered up some comic relief-starting with “Ever wish you’d taken up bowling?” (good question) and finishing with “Is your junk numb yet?” (I don’t know if I have “junk”, persay, but numbness would be a welcome option…).
Look!  A bike smile!
I reached the halfway mark in ~2:26, as in, a ridiculous amount faster than any previous 70.3 ride in my life.  I figured that a. the wind I couldn’t figure out to that point had actually been a tailwind the entire time, and the second half of the ride was going to be awful; b. I was going to bite it later on, big time; or c. that I was just having a good ride on a fast day.  I hoped for c.  I was also getting hot, and added in grabbing water to dump all over myself at every aide station into my race plan.  I at least sort of felt an urge to pee at this point, though, which was a step above where I’d been in Placid hydration-wise.  The urge didn’t lead to execution (which would later haunt my comfort levels a bit on the run), but at least it gives me something else to work on in future Ironmans, I suppose.  My power levels began to rise a bit towards the upper levels of my zone, and all was well.  I could feel my energy levels and strength building as the ride progressed, and I began to have to tell myself to back off a bit, to keep calm and steady until mile 80-90 or so, when I could begin a push towards T2.  I’d had the occasional pack pass me here and there, and I hadn’t let it get to my at that point, because they’d continued on, and I’d been able to keep on with my ride unobstructed.  This changed somewhere around mile 75, though, when a larger pack (of not all males this time, unfortunately) started to come by.  I was sitting up, braking, soft pedaling, but it just kept coming.  As they passed, I was seeing wattage numbers ~2/3 of what I had been riding, indicating to me how much of an advantage they were gaining.  I had to slow to a near crawl to get and stay a legal distance behind them at times.  Finally, once they were all past, a motorcycle pulled up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t an official one, but it could have been mistaken for one.  This led to further disarray, as the peloton sort of began to dissolve a bit, meaning that some riders were slowing down, some were staying together, and I was stuck off the back.  I passed one man who was riding off the back as well, and commented to him that I hoped the motorcycle was up there breaking things.  “I know”, he replied, “they’ve been like that all day.”  I maybe spent 5-10 minutes or so in that position, watching my heart rate and power plummet, becoming increasingly frustrated as I had just felt like I was really getting into the ride.  The saving grace came in the form of an aide station.  I took the time to slow way down, grab my Perform, grab my water to spray over myself, and let the pack ride away.  By the time I got to the other side, they had put distance on me, and I was able to continue on my way.  Shortly thereafter; I saw a motorcycle with the official markings on it ride past me, by the next out and back, the pack was dissipated, and I actually began to pick off some of the others here and there. 

By mile 80, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I stood a chance of biking sub-5, something that had been my long shot pipe dream heading into the race.  I remembered discussing with Dave after one long ride what it’d take to get there.  He seemed to think I could do it; as usual, I had my reservations.  But, it was a fast bike day (to put it mildly), and I was doing my best to cash in on the conditions.    I began to build the effort throughout the last 20-25 miles, moving up a couple of places and finishing with some of my higher power numbers of the day.  By the time I hit the final few miles along the beach, I knew I had the mythical sub-5 split within my grasp.  I felt great at this point, and took some time to soak in the surroundings, spectators, and experience; I smiled at anyone I saw around.  I saw 4:53 on my garmin when I hit T2, smiled a bit to myself, gladly handed off my sticky mess of a bike, and took off toward the changing areas.  The volunteers dumped out my bag and helped me try to sort of organize all of the nutrition I’d thrown in there, as I jammed gels into my top and chomps into my belt pouch.  I joked about being terrible at transitions as they asked me what I needed; they replied that I was “way up there”.  I smiled, thanked them, and took off towards the run exit. 

One thing was clear as I went out the run exit-it was HOT.  I flashed Dave a smile as I ran past, thrilled with my bike effort, but already feeling a bit nervous about what was ahead.  I never feel great when coming off the bike, and this was no exception.  “Take SALT!”, Dave had screamed at me; I figured this was a relayed message from Mary, and I decided that it might be a good idea.  I settled right into my HR range immediately in the first couple of miles, which wasn’t hard given the heat and humidity, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable.  I just felt off, like I was barely moving, even though I was hitting 6:45-6:50s in the first few miles.  You’re fine, I tried to convince myself, you’re running your freaking open marathon pace right now.  You’re fine.  The woman who eventually would school us all on the run and make her way up to third came flying past me within the first mile, which put me in the unfamiliar position of getting passed, but I brushed it off and moved up a position myself.  I remembered being revived by a gel in the early miles of Placid, but I’d taken one in with less than five minutes to go on the bike, so I didn’t think I should be having any issues there.  So, when I couldn’t shake the feelings of weakness and settle into the run (especially since I’d been feeling fantastic in my run training heading in), I made the decision to go for the salt tabs, something I’d never actually tried before-I actually really suck at swallowing pills in normal situations, so I wasn’t sure how well that was going to go down mid-race.  It took a couple of walk steps (a small sacrifice), but luckily, I was somehow better at pill-taking while moving than I am otherwise.  The advantage then might have been mental, but I thought I started to feel a little better, although it never drifted into the “good” range-I knew I’d have a battle ahead, even as I managed a small smile for Dave at mile 5. 




The rest of the first 7 miles or so were spent doing whatever I could to stay cool and trying to get nutrition in.  My stomach was already feeling not-so-great, and I was doubting my ability to make it through the next few hours or running.  This time around, it wasn’t the crampy muscular fatigue that I’d fought in Placid, it was more of the whole body, systemic, sapped, sluggish, I can’t move feeling that’s distinct to running in the humidity for me.  My low point probably came around mile 8-9, when my pace first slipped over 7:00, and I felt like I was just going to continue to fall apart throughout.  I don’t want to be walking that last 10k with a HR of 90, was all I could think to myself.  It was at this point that I ran past Dave again; he’s got some great video where he asks me if I’m feeling ok, and I simply responded with “no”.  It was regroup time, and I knew it.  I didn't panic, I allowed my heart rate to drop a bit, I decided not to worry too much about the pace, and my focus shifted into getting in as much as I could.  I didn’t exactly know what my body wanted, so I tried to give it some of whatever it might have needed-salt, another gel, Perform, coke, water, sponges, ice everywhere.  I began to regroup a bit around mile 12; when I passed Dave again, he said I looked a bit better.  Just make it to the second lap, I willed myself.  I tried to count what place I was in as I neared the turnaround, but lost track-I think I was somewhere in the vicinity of 10th, but I was unsure.  I grabbed my Fuelbelt from my special needs bag, made the turn, and headed back out for lap #2.  A mile in, what Dave said was music to my ears: They’re all slowing down, Jennie.  You’re not slowing down as much as some of them are.  I ran past the stripper house (yes, there was a stripper house on the run course-they were the best!) again, and tried to let them amuse me again. 

Survive.  Make it to the way back.  You can tough out the way back.  I knew the gel I’d taken at mile 12 would be my last of the day.  I was done being able to eat my bloks, I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to stomach, as I was fighting to keep anything in.  I turned to coke and water, and I at least still had enough wits to recognize that I needed to at least supplement that with salt tabs.  The next 10 miles followed a predictable pattern-I’d hit an aide station, take in whatever fluid I could get my hands on, dose myself with ice/sponges/water/etc, and feel better for a few minutes.  Then, I’d start to feel worse again, and would convince myself to just make it to the next aide station.  I’d tell myself that I could walk the aide stations, even though I stopped allowing myself to as the run progressed-it was a coping mechanism more than anything.  The volunteers were amazing; one man even ran back up to me to get me a sponge after we’d flubbed the handoff-you don’t get that every day, and when your existence is reduced to the brief moment of relief that smearing an ice-soaked sponge over yourself provides, you appreciate every gesture you get.  My pace had rapidly slid from the early 6:45-6:50s of the first seven miles to ~7:15-7:30 by mile 11-12, but luckily, that was where the slide ended, and I was holding that pace through mile 23, even though that entire time was a stream of momentary highs (and, by highs, I only mean “sort of okay’s”) and momentary lows.  I only remember snippets of that time; in a way, I think that was my body’s coping mechanism-shut out the bad, forget the bad, or else you’ll never come back.  My HR dipped slightly mid-run, but I was able to bring it up slightly as I headed toward the final few miles, and I became more confident that I was going to at least survive.
Plodding along...

 I moved up six places during that run (meaning I passed seven women, because Ashley had passed me), but aside from the first pass, I couldn’t tell you where or when the passes occurred-I was just so zoned in to making it through.  The other QT2’ers on the course were out there cheering and supporting me, telling me that I looked strong, even though I was feeling anything but.  I tried to manage smiles as I passed, I tried to fake it best I could, I tried to return the support, even though I’m sure I wasn’t totally successful at all that as my brain began to fog over more and more.  I again thought of Heather a few times during there-Heather strong.  I made it to 10k to go.  How many 10ks have I run before?  Tons.  5k to go.  8 min miles was all it would take to beat my Placid marathon split.  It wasn’t going to be the 3:05ish I’d been hoping for, but I also hadn’t been expecting a day as oppressive as the one I was dealing with.  Just keep running.  The last three miles turned into an absolute slog, as my pace (according to my Garmin, screw those IM tracker splits!) suddenly slowed from 7:20-7:30 to 7:50ish for the final few miles.  I didn’t care anymore, though-by that point, I was dumping Perform from my Fuelbelt over my head, because I wanted something to cool myself off and I didn’t want to have a full bottle around my waist anymore, and I accidentally grabbed a cup of chicken broth, thinking it was coke (gross!!).  The last two miles are an entire blur in my mind-I remember Wheeler telling me no one was behind me and to just make it in, I remember counting down every last tenth of a mile, and I remember thinking that the “2nd lap” sign meant that I should go that way if I was on my second lap, and I ran about 10m the wrong way before I realized that I should have been going straight to finish-absolutely brutal.  I was fighting tooth and nail to keep those mile splits under 8:00; the garmin told me that I was successful at that, at least.  I think I slapped one high five on my way in, but I was too close to the edge to do anything but get myself across the line.  Even though I knew the garmin always reads short, I had bargained with myself that I’d be close enough when it read 26.2 that I’d be fine to push to that point.  Well, this resulted in the last .2 pushing me to the very brink of what I could handle.  When the finish line came into sight, I also saw 3:10 on my watch, and began to pour whatever I had left into the straight, just because it was important to me to run just a tad bit faster than in Placid.  Finally, I made it across the line.  In true runner fashion, I stopped my watch, took a couple of steps towards Dave, and did what I’d been wanting to do for the entire marathon-I lowered myself down into a heap on the ground and laid there while Dave handed me my medal and tried to tell me that I had nabbed sixth; despite the fact that I really hadn’t been paying attention to what place I was in the entire run, I still somehow knew that I was really seventh, though (thanks for getting the hopes up, Dave).  I allowed the volunteers to give me a wheelchair lift over towards the medical tent, where I insisted I was fine, and I transferred into a chair, basking in the exhaustion and hurt that somehow felt so good.  
Done!  Stop the watch!!
The initial aftermath of the race was a bit rough.  I removed my shoes right away, revealing that my poor feet were chewed up and covered in blood blisters-tasty.  I began to freeze and swelter at the same time as I was soaked in all sorts of grossness, and I hobbled around on my sore feet to find my morning clothes bags.  After changing into dry clothes and putting on flip flops, I was happier.  Dave and I went to the finish for a bit and cheered in some finishers until I began to feel sort of shaky and nauseous.  The walk back wasn't pretty, and neither was the rest of the night-I'd wanted to get back to watch the midnight finishers, but my body was on shut down mode, and I couldn't get out of bed without being hit by immediate chills (along with other details that shall go undescribed...).  We ended up listening to the calls through our open balcony door and watching online, which would have to suffice.


Sunset over the gulf (Sunday night!)


This post wouldn't have been complete if I'd left this gem out 
Overall...the race was a success.  My swim reflected exactly what had been going on in the pool heading into the race-I'd been working consistently hard, and seeing modest improvements.  To see them translated into small improvements in the open water was the encouragement I'll need heading into the swim focus that awaits me after my brief off-season is over.  My bike was easily my best of the season, as well.  It felt good, it was fast, and it was on a new level for me in terms of its competitiveness within the field.  I feel that I still have room to grow on the bike-I know my volumes aren't near what many women do-so this prospect excites me for next year.  My run wasn't as fast as I'd been hoping for based upon my paces heading in, but the conditions weren't going to be conductive to that.  Part of this was my own fault, too, and I knew it-I knew that it could still be hot down there in November, so I should have been layering myself up here and there and sweating it out.  Still, I was pleased that I'd been able to fight out a split slightly faster than Placid (even if the course should have been faster).  Jesse told me afterwards that I'd "run too fast in Placid" anyways, and I do feel that it was more important for my psyche and confidence to know I can still hang on and run decently after riding well, rather than knowing I can run well after riding sort of ok.  Sure, it hurt a little to once again finish just off the podium-this now makes three consecutive races in which I've been within 3.5 minutes and 1-2 places-but as 28 year old first year pro (with a full-time job off the race course), perspective tells me I don't need to be there yet.  Plus, how better to head into the off-season than satisfied with two good race efforts, but hungry for more?  The race lineup for Florida had some ridiculously fast women in it, and when you lose out on the last podium finish to someone with two iron-distance race victories under her belt this year, well, there's no harm in that.  In fact, you pinch yourself a little that you're even within striking distance, that you managed to sneak into the top-10 against those women.  Three days into my off-season, I'm already itching to get back at it.  I want the kid gloves to come off, I want to see if there's another level I can get myself to.  I know I have some decisions to make in the coming months, and I'm excited to see what may come.
Picture from our balcony, Monday am.  Where was this calm water on Saturday?
Of course, no race report would be complete without me expressing my gratitude for everyone out there who follows me and supports me throughout any of my journeys, whether it be good luck messages beforehand, congrats after, tracking, cheering, etc.  I couldn't do this alone.  The support I receive somehow turns this strikingly individual sport into one in which I'm never alone.  Family, friends, teammates, everyone-you all rock (and yes Dave, this includes you-I owe you one for your race sherpa duties this past weekend, as well as for touching my bike after that race.  At least I didn't pee on it).  I can't say enough about the contributions that Mary, Jesse, and everyone at QT2 has made to my season and my career-I have no idea what would have happened this season without them, and I don't want to know.  Thanks to all of you for believing in me more than I believed in myself at many points, and for knowing when to push me, and, more importantly, when to hold me back.  Ironically, it was when I turned one eye towards the future that my present improved.  Also, thank you to Powerbar for their fueling support, NormaTec, Kestrel, and Woolsports.  For now, I'll focus on the rest of 2012 (I love the holidays, at some point I might just have to post some pictures of our house after I Griswold it out), and still keep looking towards 2013!  Thank you everyone! 


I figured I'd close out this report with this awesome picture of a pigeon that felt it necessary to land on the rail of our balcony within 3 feet of me.  This was not zoomed in at all.  Birds are weird.