Category Archives: Race recap

The Stars at Night half marathon race recap

Last weekend I traveled to San Antonio to run the Stars at Night half marathon. I signed up because I wanted a race to get my weekly running miles back up after a long hiatus from distance running (this was my only half marathon in 2017!), and bonus! I figured it would be a fun weekend getaway for the first half of winter break when the kids are at their Dad’s (which is always depressing for me, even 7 years post-divorce).

It was a good idea in theory.

We arrived at the JW Marriott, site of the race, around 2:30pm, in plenty of time to check-in, get my packet, and head downstairs for the 5pm pre-race meeting (5:20pm start time).  It was my first time at the hotel, and while it was lovely (and large), it was also a holiday zoo, crowded with runners and families and Christmas festivities. The young woman checking me in asked if I was “here for the race” and I said yes. She asked me what I was running, and I said the half marathon. She looked at me blankly and asked “How many miles is that?”

It still startles me when people don’t know how long half marathon/marathons are. I consider it common knowledge.

I said “13.1 miles” and she blurted out “Oh my GOD, well, good luck with THAT!” as she turned around and looked outside.

Did I mention it was pouring out? It was pouring out. Did I also mention that most of this race was not on a road, but on trails through the golf course? Trails that, as I would soon find out, became absolutely submerged with water?

I was not looking forward to a wet, cold, dark 2.5 hours.

Initially, I was really intrigued and excited by the race. I’ve never run an evening race (my pre-race nutrition plan took some strategizing since usually I wake up, eat a bagel with peanut butter, and race 90 minutes later), and we were required to wear head-lamps since it would be so dark. It was *supposed* to be a fun, Christmas-y jaunt through Hill Country and holiday lights, a night adventure.

It was an adventure alright.

We started on time (ish), after huddling in mass in the pouring rain, grumbling, outside the hotel conference center for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only 4-5 minutes. The first 3 miles or so was through the neighborhood surrounding the hotel, which confused me a bit, since I thought the race was supposed to be through the golf course (we would turn off and enter the trail into the woods around the 3.5 mile mark).

As you might imagine, there were no spectators or people cheering … just a few hundred of us, running through the rain through a neighborhood, quiet. It was weird, to be honest … like a very large, dejected, cold, wet group run.

Once we turned on to the trail, I felt a momentary (and short-lived) excitement. THIS is what I came for – an evening trail run with lights and scenery and nature!

Y’all. It was so wet. And muddy. And cold. There were points where I had to high step through nearly knee high water, or “run” with my arms out at 90 degree angles, trying to steady myself, and not fall flat on my ass as my feet surfed through slick mud. I saw more than one person go down on the course, and a few who looked like they just gave up, as they abruptly turned and left the trail.

At some point, maybe mile 9, my arm got so numb that I could no longer feel the vibrations from my Garmin watch letting me know when I should do my run/walk intervals (I had it set to 3 minutes running/45 seconds walking).  I got creative and ran through a song, then when it ended I would walk for 30 right-foot steps, then run until the next song ended.

The race officials elected to move the finish line inside, which made for a weird end (although fitting with the entire weird experience, I guess), so we ran through the loading dock area into one of the conference rooms. My husband caught me coming in – notice me carefully run around the metal grate as I approached.

 

The video, and picture, does not at all capture just how frozen and soaked I was. What my husband should have captured on video was me attempting to talk for several minutes after I finished. I was so cold that I couldn’t speak properly – my words were coming out all slurred. He observed, with a nervous laugh, that I sounded like a stroke victim.

My official time was 2:26:55, which, although it seems really slow compared to my last half marathon a year ago (2:17:28) is actually my 3rd fastest half marathon of 7. So I guess all things considered it wasn’t a bad time, given the conditions.

Would I do another night-time half marathon? I actually liked the novelty of running at night, and it would have been fun if the weather wasn’t so horrible and the trails weren’t so hilly and treacherous. I prefer larger races with more energy and people (it was kind of … weird… running in the dark through the woods) but I’d love to do a (shorter) evening fun run in the future.

Advertisements

Thundercloud turkey trot race recap and other tidbits

On Thanksgiving, I ran the Austin Thundercloud 5 mile turkey trot.

img_2915

I run this race every other year (the years my kids visit their Dad on Thanksgiving), and it holds a special place in my heart. It was this race in 2013 when I first ran anything longer than a 5k, and it was this race that gave me the confidence to sign up for my first half marathon in 2014.

This race began my journey as a “runner”.

It has since become a tradition, every other year, for my husband and I to head to Austin from Dallas the day before Thanksgiving and stay overnight in a hotel so I can run the turkey trot before continuing to my sister’s in San Antonio for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The first year I ran the race it was cold, although sunny and gorgeous, and the second year it was warm and muggy. This year was perfection – brisk enough that I was very chilly at the start in my shorts and t-shirt, but not so cold that I didn’t warm up as I ran.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this race – on the one hand, I’ve been running a lot of miles preparing for my December half marathon so my endurance should be up, but on the other hand, I’ve been running a lot of miles (tired legs) and dealing with some pesky stomach issues that have interfered with some of my runs. Web MD (because I prefer to not confirm any potential bad news. #ignoranceisbliss) says I either have an ulcer or IBS, and both are entirely possible given my 2017.

Anyhoo, I wasn’t sure how the race would go is what I’m saying.

It was an interesting race in that I changed strategy a few times on the fly (ie while running) which is NOT my style, in athletics or life. Initially, before the gun went off, the plan was to run the 5 miles at my run/walk ratio (3:30 run/ :30 walk) and pace (10:15 min/mile) that I plan to use for the half marathon.

Then I started running, and felt pretty good, and it was super crowded and I didn’t want to mess up the runners around me by walking. So I decided that I would run everything but the hills, when I would walk (having run the race twice before, I know that it’s not exactly a “flat and fast” course).

But then I got to the hills, and still felt pretty good, so I decided to jog them.

As I hit roughly the 4.25 mile mark, I looked at my watch and realized that OH EM GEE I was going to be in the ballpark of 50 minutes. Listen, I know there are a lot of runners, even middle aged mom of 3 runners, who would laugh at the thought of being excited by maintaining a 10 min/mile pace for 5 miles, but that is HUGE FOR ME. Yes, I can run a sub-10min/mile pace for a 5k (barely) but for 5 miles? Breaking the 50 minute mark for this race, especially with the crowds and hills, would be a DREAM.

So I started running as fast as I could. I tried so hard. I CAME SO CLOSE. If I had just pushed harder, earlier, I know I would have made it.

  • 2013 5 mile time: 53:57
  • 2015 5 mile time: 52:37
  • 2017 5 mile time: 50:46 (splits: 10:18, 10:36, 10:04, 10:05, 9:35)

img_2918

still happy with my run. I took 2 minutes off – can’t complain.

In other news, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged. Like so many, I’ve been feeling homicidal frustrated with the current state of affairs in this country. This isn’t a political blog, and there’s nothing I can write or say that would make a lick of difference, but I feel soul-weary at it all. Between the news on a grand scheme, and the day to day events in my own little universe, 2017 has been hard y’all.

So much left unsaid. About so many things.

But, as always, there is much to be grateful for, and I try to focus on that. Depending on the day, I achieve this with greater or less success, but I always try.

For example, you know what makes me happy? My mastiffs. I own 2 very large, very dumb and very sweet English mastiffs, more than 300lbs of dog.

img_2888

what you can’t tell from this picture is that Moses, the 168lb “war dog”, just peed all over the black tarp in shaking, cowering fear. 

What else makes me happy? Watching my middle child kicking ass in his first year in high school. He’s doubled up in honors’ math classes AND taking honors physics  AND performing in the drumline AND serving as the junior varsity soccer goalie, while making good choices and being a generally sweet and respectful kid.

Although, after roughly 10 years of the goalie mom role, you’d think I’d have a better handle on game stress. My boy the goalie? He’s cool as a cucumber with eye of the tiger in net. His mother? Not so much.

img_2950

my husband covertly caught me in prayer mode during a particularly stressful game with ALL THE SAVES. The struggle is real for goalie moms. 

My next race is in just under 2 weeks, and it’s my first half marathon since December 2016, which is both hard to believe, and a testament to just how much 2017 has kicked my ass.

Sam’s Squad 5k race recap

If you’ve been following this blog for a while (or know me in “real life”), you know that I am not what I’d consider a “natural” runner. What I mean by that is that the sport (hobby? past time?) does not come easily to me, and that I am fighting against genetics and proclivity on each and every run. I did not run as a child or teenager, with the exception of a brief stint as a defensive back on my high school field hockey team for one season, after which I “suggested” to my coach that perhaps I would be better suited to the goalie position, which just happened to involve much less running.

She agreed. I’m pretty sure it pained her to watch me attempt to run almost as much as it hurt me.

This is all to say that when I enthusiastically signed up for the Sam’s Squad 5k charity run, a leadership project organized by one of our seniors to support the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation, I had no idea that he was modeling it after a cross-country workout. When I met with him for his conference for the senior program that I run, I cheerily asked, “So fill me in, where is the route?”, imagining that it would span the local roads around our school.

He began, “Okay, so we’re going to start on the track. Then we’re going to go back in the fields by the community college, loop around there, then come back on the track, then loop on the fields over by the basketball courts, then run along the fence by the playground, then back by the baseball field, then loop again, then finish on the track.”

I blinked a few times. “So…so…it’s not..on…road?”

Him, “Oh no. Only a little bit.”

Me, “So…I’m guessing I won’t get a PR at this 5k, is what you’re saying.”

Him, “Um, well, probably not.”  #understatement

Did I ever imagine I would find myself running a cross-country practice/meet simulation at the age of 43? No, no I did not. But still, I was excited to come support a student endeavor and run with members of our community.

The weather was perfect, overcast and relatively cool for Dallas in mid-October. It was by far the most relaxed race I’ve ever been to, more like how I imagine a group training run put on by a running club would go (not that I would know, since I can barely muster the energy to run, never mind simultaneously extrovert). There wasn’t a clear start time, rather we mulled about chatting until bibs had been picked up, and then my student grabbed a megaphone and called out “Okay, let’s head to the track now!”.

We all (48 registered 5k runners) gathered on the track behind the starting/finishing line, and then he counted us down and we were off. We did a 1/2 loop on the track, then exited through a gate to hit the fields behind the community college campus. Student volunteers were posted at various points along the route to direct us where to go, which for me, was simultaneously fun (since they all know me and cheered me on) and disconcerting (since they all know me and cheered me on). A few senior boys commandeered a golf cart and played “Eye of the Tiger” on full blast as we made our way past them.

While in some places we were clearly running on an oft-used path (well worn dirt trail), in others, we were *literally* running through knee high grass. The New England native in me found myself obsessing on the possibility of ticks, and I kept fighting the temptation to high step to try to avoid touching the grass.

As I exited the community college fields to rejoin the track, I glanced at my Garmin, sure that I had run at least 1 mile. I was already tired, but without mile markers or a familiar route, couldn’t gauge the distance.

Clearly, since according to my watch, I had run exactly .55 miles. Oh dear. Those grass and hills were no joke.

Fortunately, the next section involved some track/parking lot/school drive running, and I was able to get into my normal rhythm for a bit, until I had to turn back on the grass to loop around the school grounds.

I hate running on grass.

As I looped back on the track to begin my 2nd school grounds circuit, I passed my husband and all the other non-runner supporters, who cheered. I looked at him and groaned as I passed.  He ran cross country in high school, so the “off-road” running was familiar to him. He laughed.

I disliked him tremendously at that moment on both counts.

I ran out of gas at exactly 2.1 miles (I know, because I looked at my watch thinking “welp, there goes that sub-10 minute pace I was keeping”). I run-walked the last mile, half-disappointed in myself, but mostly thinking how much I could never do cross country because running on anything other than a treadmill or asphalt makes a normally challenging activity, damn near excruciating.

I finished in 31:46, which all things considered, is okay for my first, and last, cross country run.

Most importantly, over $10,000 was raised for a very worthwhile and important cause, so huge props to my senior who worked hard to put together this race!

 

Stonebridge Ranch sprint triathlon race recap

It hit me as I was laying out my gear on Saturday night for my traditional pre-race layout photo that this was my first such photo in 2017 (I raced one other time this year, my February 15k, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to run that until I woke up that morning, because of a fender bender the day before).

One other race in 2017. Wow.

2017 has not been my favorite, and it certainly hasn’t been about “me” at all, due to some health issues with a member of my family. I’ve been fairly low on the totem pole of priorities, as are most moms, I’d reckon. So, after a few summer months of a fairly disciplined training cycle preparing for this triathlon, I was especially disheartened to get sick the two weeks before this race, not to mention a crazy Aug/Sept schedule that only allowed me to get to the pool 6 times in the 5 weeks leading up to the race.

Life, man. Still, I was up and at ’em and ready to go on Sunday morning, albeit with a few albuterol puffs and some coughing.

I left the house at 5:50am to drive the 30 min to the race site and have time to set up in transition and get my chip before the 6:55am transition lockdown and 7am Olympic distance start. My husband would leave later, closer to 7am, with the 3 kids. All 3 volunteered (no guilt trip, bribes or directives involved!) to come cheer me on, which I really appreciated. I almost always schedule my races on weekends when they’re with their Dad (because 3 teenagers. Enough said.), so they rarely see me race. I’m actually not sure my races are even on their radar, to be honest. They asked me at dinner the night before what I actually do in a triathlon.

They’re teenagers. But they’re really sweet kids.

The weather was gorgeous for the swim start, although it was a balmy 90 degrees by the run. It was my first time at the Stonebridge Ranch triathlon (okay, only my 3rd triathlon period), and my 3rd ever open water swim. Which is all to say that I am still very much a triathlon newbie.

We lined up on the area by the dock to watch the Olympic triathletes start their swims. While I was waiting, I saw a former student (I taught him senior year English) exit the water in third place, which was incredibly cool. I cheered his name loudly as he dashed by me (roughly 10 yards away) towards transition, and he told me after the race that he heard me yelling.

The swim: We entered the water (man made lake) off a dock, one by one, ants-marching style. It was too warm to be wetsuit legal, which worked for me as I do not have a wetsuit. I felt pretty strong throughout the swim; I sighted well, did not weave off track at all, and steadily picked swimmers off. I kept telling myself to slow down, pull back, and save it for the bike and run, but yet again, I cannot follow this advice.

I don’t know how to not “race” on the one leg that I can do well (more on that later). When I exited the water, I glanced at my watch, and saw I was sub-14 minutes, which was about where I thought I should be, given my conditioning. I also suspected, given how many swimmers I passed, that I did fairly well.

This turned out to be true. I was first in my AG out of the water, and the 7th woman overall.

I wish I could end my race report here, because that’s where the good news ends. #swimmer

my husband caught this picture of me exiting the water from his viewing point. 

See the guy in the neon yellow/green shirt in my husband’s picture? This is what he captured. Um. Okay, the good news is that I was running. The bad news is everything else.

T1: I noticed when I looked up the 2016 results (do all triathletes do this? Because I have to do this. It gives me an idea of the size of the field and how competitive it might be) that the T1 times for my AG were almost all between 4-5 minutes. This struck me as very odd. That is a long transition time.

It turns out that there is a very long run from the water exit to the transition area. As in, run down a big hill, across a field, between sets of tennis courts, and then finally into the transition area. I’m not kidding. It was a hike.

running down the hill towards transition. I look fast because I was trying not to fall down. It was a fairly steep decline.

see the edge of a tennis court in the far left side of this picture? We had to run over there, down the width of the court, then hang a right and run between two full court-lengths. 

The bike: What to say about the bike? I am still slow as molasses. I mean, okay, positive reframe – it was my first race using the clip-in pedals, and I did not wipe out at the start or finish. On the other hand, there were 10 and 11 year olds that were flying by me and doing those obnoxious yet graceful running-leap mounts and dismounts that would quite certainly land me in the hospital if I ever attempted them. I, on the other hand, very carefully and gingerly swing my leg over and settle myself and check left, check right, making sure I am not taking anyone out before slowly-grandma-style start to accelerate (and vice versa on the finish). It was hot, and there was a monster hill on mile 1 just out of the start (and then again at the beginning of loop 2) that was kind of brutal.

At least I handled it better than the person in front of me on my 2nd loop, who abruptly had to hop off her bike halfway up the hill because she couldn’t keep the momentum going, which then led the poor guy behind her to also half-fall/half-jump off his bike to avoid crashing into her. This all happened about 15 yards in front of me, which led me to involuntarily call out “oh shit, that sucks” as I swerved to avoid them.

Other than that, the bike was fine, but slow. I passed 3 or 4 people. Roughly 30-40 people passed me.

me on my trusty $200 Schwinn.

The run: As in my previous 2 triathlons, there is an initial euphoria for me going into the run because I am off the bike and alive praise Jesus all I have to do is keep my body moving forward I will not crash! (remember this. Wait for it.). Then, within a few minutes, the hurt locker sets in and I think “how in the WORLD am I supposed to run right now? This is not possible!”

Every time. Every. Time. (all 2 previous times).

I don’t know, y’all. I’m not a runner. I mean, I am in the sense that I have taken up running and I do it regularly, but let’s not forget that I am slow. I’m fine with that in half marathons. I’m still so proud that I can do half marathons. But in triathlons, it bothers me that I’m slow, and despite following training plans and really putting in the hours and training, not having the endurance to even do my pace for the 5k/10k part.

On this particular run, as some sort of cosmic balancing act for not crashing on the bike, the universe decided it would be fun if I tripped and fell with roughly 1/2 mile left of the 5k. I went flying. Down for the count, skidding across the gravel sidewalk trail. Immediately 2 other runners came to my aid (because athletes, whether runners or triathletes, are seriously the nicest people), and I had to do that embarrassing “fine! I’m fine! I got it!” while holding up my bloody palms and brushing off my bloody knee and immediately hobbling-jogging again, so that I wouldn’t slow down their race.

So that was fun.

 

this smarted more than it looks. Road rashes are the worst. 

I finished the race around 9:15am, and had to wait around for transition to open again, since we weren’t able to take our bikes out until the last cyclist left the field. My finishing time was a 1:38:08, which was a good 7-8 minutes slower than where I wanted to finish, so I was not pleased with my performance, but happy to be done.

We headed out to brunch with the kids, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I checked the results page at almost 11am and saw that I was 3rd in my AG. What? How was that possible?

It turns out it wasn’t. When I checked the results page this morning (to get the swim split picture for this blog post), I saw that while those times were accurate for myself and the two women in front of me, the other women were (previously) listed at their “finish” times, vs chip times. They actually finished in front of me – it’s just that I came out of the water before them by quite a bit.

With my former student. He won his AG, and placed 3rd overall for all men. He’s a rockstar.

Triathlons are long. And hot. And boring.

But they love their Mom

So, I have many thoughts about triathlons, and none of them very positive (this week). Three times, I have won my AG, and placed very, very well in the entire female field (without anything beyond the bare minimum for pool training), for the swim portion, and three times, I have done abysmally on the bike and run.  I don’t know where I want to go with this (and fortunately, since my triathlon season is done, I don’t need to make any decisions right now).

I have considered trying Master’s swimming next summer. I’ve considered focusing on aquathlons and open water swim challenges. I’ve considered that at some point I will get better on the bike and run. I’ve considered that maybe I should just try to be okay with being a rockstar on the swim part and merely average (or below) on the bike and run and just do it to have fun.

I don’t know. It’s an awfully expensive and time consuming hobby to be left so wracked with emotional frustration. But who knows. For now? I’m looking forward to getting a bunch of road races on the calendar, where simply getting that finisher’s medal really is an accomplishment for me.

2017 – Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap and Life in General

On Feb 4th I ran the Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k , and I’ve been meaning since then to post my race recap. I’m not sure how two and a half weeks have passed, except to say that my 2017 so far can best be described as the following:

There continues to be a lot, a lot, going on in my neck of the woods, and most days I feel like I’m drowning. So much so that I considered, seriously considered, bailing on the race. I’ve never bailed on a race since I began running in fall 2013 (if you don’t count the 2016 Houston half marathon, which I don’t, since I made the decision roughly a month in advance of the event not to participate after I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn’t “bailing” so much as changing plans due to injury).

When I say I almost bailed on this race, I mean that starting 72-48 hours in advance of the Saturday race, I waffled on whether I was going to follow through. The week leading up to the race was particularly exhausting and overwhelming and difficult for my family, and I was averaging 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and going through the motions.

The day before the race, when I had to drive downtown to get my race packet (taking time out of work and traveling 30-40 min from school), I gave myself the mother of all pep talks, told myself I wasn’t a quitter, that I would and I could and I should do this, and set off.

And got rear-ended on the highway. I can’t make this up. The universe hates me.

That night, with a stiff neck and sore shoulders to add to my litany of physical and emotional ailments, I was so ambivalent about the race that I didn’t even take my traditional night before gear-laid-out picture. I decided to set my alarm, but gave myself permission to not attend if I felt worse in the morning.

Ultimately I decided that whatever physical discomfort I endured during the 9.3 miles would pale in comparison to the emotional pissiness I would feel at not following through with my race entry. I hate not finishing what I start.

I don’t have an in-depth race recap to share (partly because I waited so long to write this that I don’t remember most details) but I can say this: until this race, I never really understood how people don’t finish races due to cramps. I mean, I’ve heard of people not finishing races due to cramps, I’ve even seen it happen in televised races. Someone is clipping right along, and suddenly grimaces, limps. sometimes dramatically dropping to the pavement, writhing in pain.

I always thought that was a little … much. I mean, how bad can a cramp be?

And then I ran 9.3 miles after forgetting, in my zombie state, to drink many fluids the 24 hours prior. Hello dehydration. And agonizing searing quad pain.

I was doing pretty well for the first 7 miles or so. So well that I knew I was on track to bust last year’s 15k time out of the water. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty badass – there I was, almost not even showing up to the race hours before, and now I’m flying along at a faster pace?

And then my legs starting twinging. Not badly, at first, but enough to let me know they weren’t happy. I wasn’t overly concerned – with less than 2 miles to go, I figured I was home free.

Around mile 8.5, with just under a mile to go, the pain got so bad that I actually had to do this weird Jedi mind trick where I pretended I was floating and my feet weren’t really striking the ground each time, but just skipping across clouds. I know it sounds weird and doesn’t make sense as I type it out, but it worked, in the sense that I hobbled-limped-floated to the finish line when all I really wanted to do was collapse on the ground and start crying. Like those people I had seen on television who I secretly called wusses in my head. #karma

Still, I finished. With a 4+ minute drop from last year’s time to boot.

In other news, yesterday my oldest turned 17. 17. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that I have a 17 year old. In one year, I will be the mom to a legal adult. How did that happen?

Wasn’t I just giving him kisses in the park on my 26th birthday?

In my mind, he’s still this age.

But actually, he’s about to be a senior in high school and next year, in addition to delivering cookies to his advisory down the hall, I’ll be ordering his graduation tuxedo.

9 ways I shaved 9 minutes off my half marathon PR.

As I blogged last week, I was nervous for this race. I thought I could do well. I was pretty sure I was going to PR. But still. You never know.

On Sunday morning I ran the Dallas BMW half marathon with 20,000 ish other runners. The weather was perfect: overcast and 50 degrees with some drizzle and fog fading for the start. The wind gusts picked up the last few miles (I imagine it was less pleasant for the 26.2 people still out there), but I was able to run most of the race without feeling too much resistance.

I suppose there’s no need to build the suspense for how I did, since the title of this post is a clear spoiler. I shaved 9 full minutes off my previous PR, run at this same exact race in 2014.

check out that pacing #humblebrag

So how did I do it? After 2 years, two years spent consistently running and racing regularly, how did I have such a big drop in one race? I’ve thought a lot about it, and here are 9 contributing factors (I believe) led to that 9 minute PR.

I. My previous time wasn’t that fast. Let’s start with a dose of reality. I’m not a fast runner. I’m not even a fast runner for a 42 year old mother of 3. There are a lot of middle aged runners faster than me. I know from my years of swimming and coaching that you can only get big drops in time when there’s that lack of speed to begin with. I’m not being falsely modest, just practical and realistic. If I was running sub-2 hour half marathons, I would never see a drop like that. But my previous (5) half marathons were all run in the 2:26 to (cringe, altitude in Colorado) 2:35 range. I was bound to drop time at some point, amIright?

With that said, I still dropped a lot of time for me, which brings me to my next 8 points.

II. I took a break from the distance. When I discovered I could actually run 13.1 miles (in April 2014), I got a little addicted to medals running. In short order, I ran 4 additional half marathons (in less than 2 years). I grew weary, mentally and physically, of training for the long distance. I purposely took almost a year off from a half marathon race, to give my body and brain a break.

III. I played around with the Galloway run/walk method. I’ve raced some of my previous half marathons without walking at all, and finished some others with (exhausted) short stints of walking as I staggered through the last few miles. I’ve never done an entire training cycle with the dedicated intent to try out the run/walk method, thinking (full disclosure) that is for people who just aren’t tough enough to actually run all those miles. However, given my slow times with the “real” running, what did I have to lose by trying a training cycle with the run/walk?

I still did all my mid-week 3-6 mile runs (speedwork, tempo runs, easy miles) as straight runs, but practiced different run/walk ratios for my Saturday long runs. Eventually I settled on a 3 min run/ :45 sec walk ratio. As I practiced my long runs, I was shocked to discover that I was finishing 9, 10 and 11 mile runs in the 10:50-11 min/mile range without feeling like I was killing myself. Not only was my pace faster, but I wasn’t miserable.

Maybe that Galloway guy is on to something.

see? I smiled for the camera. Run/walk covert.

IVI worked on running faster during my mid-week runs. Yes, this is a no-brainer, but remember, I’m still relatively new to this running thing. Before I really committed to trying to lower my half marathon time, I completed my runs, but was not particularly motivated to work hard at them. I mostly stuck to the “novice” training plans, with suggested mileage, without a focus on speedwork. I figured out that I wanted to run my half somewhere in the 10:20-10:30 min/mile range, and started really working on the treadmill during the week at growing comfortable with that pace for 4, 5 and 6 mile stretches.

V. That triathlon training, tho. If I had to identify something really different about this year, versus my previous 2 years of half marathon training and racing, it was all that triathlon training during the 6-7 months before this latest 13.1 training cycle. From March through September, I only ran 3 days a week, but I was also swimming and biking several times a week. Remember, I completed an Olympic distance triathlon on Labor Day. I have to believe that had something to do with it. Also?

VI. For the first time, I actually did my strength training. Unlike my actual runs (which I am fairly militant about completing), I inevitably begin every race training cycle with the best of intentions about strength training. I conscientiously work in 10-15 minutes of planks, lunges and squats a couple times a week the first week or two…and then just sort of drop it. I don’t know what it is about that dang strength training, but I just can’t stick with it.

Until the past 2 months, when I diligently maintained my twice weekly planks and lunges. I still hated it. But I did it.

flying across the finish line. Tri training + strength training = strong finish

VII. I changed up my shoes. Previously, I’ve trained and raced in super cushy sneakers (or “kicks” as my husband calls them. Is that a Texan thing? I don’t know. Weird.). I oscillated between Brooks Glycerins or Saucony Rides. Don’t get me wrong, those are super comfy sneakers, and I still have mad love for them, but I discovered through my triathlon training that maybe I could pare down some of that extra bulk. I discovered the Saucony Kinvara and haven’t looked back.

VIII. I dropped a few pounds. Okay, I’m sure this is psychological more than anything else, but I lost 3-4 pounds, not that I was dieting or trying to reduce my size, but I’m constantly retooling my diet to figure out what makes me feel better during workouts, and keeps my energy up during the day.

IX. I nailed my pre-race week nutrition. I was very regimented the entire week leading up to the race with what I ate. While I’ve figured out what works for me in general as far as nutrition (see VIII), I went into race mode earlier than usual for this half. No desserts, no booze, and carefully planned dinners with a mix of healthy carbs and protein.

Do I believe that not drinking any alcohol or eating any cookies for 7 days before running a half marathon directly correlates to a 9 minute drop? *shrug* It couldn’t hurt.

So that’s it. Nine ways I think I had an amazing race on Sunday.

Next up? A 15k in February, and then it’s time to plan my triathlons!

2016 TriRock Austin Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

So how about that first Olympic triathlon?

Lessons learned:  1. I can do an Olympic triathlon, 2. I will never again put myself in a situation where I am racing for 3+ hours in 90 degree heat and 3. I am a sprinter, and my body is not happy with me when I try to pretend I am an endurance athlete.

But let me back up.

I think I was more nervous for this event than any other race, including my first half marathon, and first (sprint) triathlon. Not only did I start having waves of really strong anxiety beginning Friday morning, but I began having trouble engaging in casual conversation by Saturday night. At one point on Sunday, as I was once again giving monosyllabic answers to questions, my husband said, “So, uh, you’re kind of nervous for this race, huh?” I shut down when overwhelmed.

It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it, rather I knew how much it was going to hurt. The weather forecast showed it would be in the upper 80s by mid-morning when I would be running (with the heat index higher), and I have never raced that long. I trained in all 3 components, and did several BRICKS, but the actual Olympic distance in all 3, back to back? I am not a good runner under ideal circumstances. It was dread of the impending pain, rather than fear of actually failing.

I can take it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it (which begs the question why I decided this was a good idea in the first place, but whatever).

I also knew it would be a “big” race, meaning there would be a lot of athletes to contend with, and they would all be *racing*. Don’t misunderstand – this didn’t concern me on a “I won’t place well level” (I’m used to coming in somewhere in the middle to lower third for my big road races – I don’t enter races with delusions of grandeur), rather “I’m going to get in the way of people who should be on that course, and screw them up.” Remember how scared I was in the bike at my cute little local backyard event?

This fear was confirmed when I arrived at the mandatory bike check-in on Sunday afternoon, and saw thousands of bikes stretched across Auditorium Shores in Austin. This triathlon contained “3 races in 1” – the Olympic distance began at 7am, the sprint distance at 8:30am, and the super sprint at 9am. That’s a lot of athletes, going different distances, funneling through the same course.

The Olympic distance, as I soon learned in looking at the results (although I guessed as much beforehand) is for the more serious triathlete. Or middle aged moms of 3 who decide on a lark to make it their second race.

this is about 30 minutes before my wave hit the water. I’m smiling, but if you look closely, you can see the abject fear behind my eyes. 

The swim waves started at 7am; according to my Weather Channel app, sunrise occurred at 7:09am. The open water swim began with athletes jumping, one by one, off a dock into Lady Bird Lake to complete the 1 mile rectangle loop.

Lady Bird Lake. In the dark.

I don’t want to offend the people of Austin by saying their beloved lake is disgusting, but the muck don’t lie, people. The sun was rising by the time I leaped in (at approximately 7:35 – kudos to the Tri Rock people for such an organized wave start – exactly at the projected time!), but it was still a little…unsettling…for this open water swim rookie (only 1 practice swim under my belt).

Fortunately, once I hit the water, I went on automatic pilot and didn’t think about the water too much, with the exception of when we swam under the bridge and the water was pitch black and the air was pitch black and I sprinted while holding my breath and shutting my eyes because it was so scary.

I’m not lying.

My mantra as I swam was “not too fast not too fast not too fast” because I can swim fast and it’s fun to swim fast and pass people, but you don’t want to go too hard the first 25 minutes of a 3+ hour race.

Despite that, I was out of the water before any other hot pink caps (my age group) after passing several orange caps (women 35-39) and even some blue caps (men in the last wave before women).  This sounds badass. Remember that when we talk about the bike and run.

that’s me in the hot pink cap passing an orange cap and blue cap. This was roughly 50-75 yards from the finish (you see me passing the final orange buoy indicating finish area)

Swim split: 30:32 (exactly where I wanted to be. 3-4 minutes slower than I can race a 1500m, but given the current in the lake, and pacing for the bike and run after, that’s about where I planned to split).

Once out of the water, I had to run along a grass path, around to the Olympic transition area, and then allllllll the way down past racks and racks of bikes to mine (which was the closest rack to transition exit). This was a lot more running than my other sprint tri experience. I expected a poor transition time, given all the running (which I was doing at a very slow jog), and then I plopped down on the grass to put on my socks and sneakers (no fancy clip in pedals to slide into for this teacher mom!). Despite all of this, my T1 time was 2:35, which put me up with (or ahead of!) most of the women in my AG. I have no idea how I did all of that in only two and a half minutes, since I was not frantically rushing, but I’ll take it!

The bike. Oh, the bike.

I am still so slow on the bike. I really don’t get it. I mean, yes, I am showing improvement from when I started biking a mere 6 months ago. But still, I must be doing something wrong to go so slow. I was one of the slowest mph paces in my AG. Even the women that I beat, they were still 1 or 2 mph faster than me on the bike. I’ve played around with gears, and I did all my long bikes and mid-week shorter, faster mileage …

Anyway, let’s focus on the positives. Like, how I googled a tip for storing my GU gels in a rubber band tied around my bike frame, and when I hit the first corner, I heard a “plop”! and looked down … and realized I lost my GU on the street.

And then pointed it out to my husband as I passed him (you want the sound for this one).

fuel? Who needs fuel for an Olympic triathlon?!

Any time I’m on the bike and don’t crash, I count as a victory.

The course looped around downtown Austin, and to hit the 24.8 miles needed for the Olympic distance, we completed 4 loops. As we looped, the Sprint, and then Super Sprint distances, also joined us. As they said in our pre-race meeting, it was a “tight bike route”. That’s tri talk for: watch out, there’s a crapload of cyclists out there.

The best moment of the entire race (maybe even better than finally crossing the finish line) occurred towards the beginning of the 2nd loop. I’m pedaling along, courteously staying to the right as fast, talented cyclists blew by me, when a young guy (20s?) passed me, then turned, pointed right at me, made eye contact, and called out “I hope I’m just like you in my 40s! BADASS!” (remember, per triathlon rules, we have our ages marked on our left calves).

I’m pretty sure he was just trying to keep my spirits up since I’m sure I looked ridiculously slow and tired, but it TOTALLY WORKED YES I AM BADASS SIR!

Bike split: 1:36.11  avg speed: 15.47mph 

As I returned my bike to the transition area, I realized that my initial plan to not need a water bottle on the run (relying solely on aid stations) was very, very stupid. It was creeping towards 10am at this point, and it was hot and while I drank most of my (1) water bottle while on the bike, I was still feeling dehydrated.

10k left. 6.2 miles. Are. you. kidding. me.

My game plan was to follow a 3/1 run-walk interval. While I can comfortably run 6+ miles, I knew that running 6+ miles after racing for 2 hours would prove nearly impossible under the best of circumstances. In training, I discovered that I could pace somewhere around a 11:15 min/mile while doing the 3/1 intervals on tired legs, and I would be happy with that for the third leg of my triathlon.

Because of the simultaneous sprint and super-sprint distance races occurring, the run was set up in a 3.1 mile loop. That means for us doing the Olympic distance, we not only had to pass the finish line (cue the agonizing, longing glance in that direction) and complete another loop, but the (much fresher, less exhausted) short distance triathletes were on the same trail as us, happily bouncing by us. Or at least, it seemed that way.

I plugged away at the first loop, doggedly picking up the pace to a slow jog with every beep of my watch. It was so hot. The little half cups of lukewarm water at the mile stations were not refreshing.

Come on Tracey. You can do this.

Mile 1: 10:31 (that a girl!)

Mile 2: 11:25 (okay, on pace, that’s okay, just keep this up)

Mile 3: 12:07 (oh dear)

As I began the second loop, many runners around me were now walking. I have never seen such a staggering group of exhausted athletes in a race. I tried giving myself pep talks. I did my mantras. I sang Beyonce’s Lemonade album to myself. When my watch beeped, I sternly said to my legs “run!”

They did not run.

does that look like a woman that got this? No. Not it does not. I do not got this.

Mile 4: 13:47

Mile 5: 15:15

Mile 6: 14:22

Final run split: 1:19:54 (please God, let this be the slowest 10k I ever “run”)

if you watch closely, you can see me trip and recover as I enter the finishing chute. 

Because even if you place 15th out of 20 in your AG, you still get a medal (there were some HARDCORE athletes in this race!). And still feel proud for doing the damn race in the first place. 

Final thoughts: If I ever had any fleeting notions of doing a Half Ironman, this race settled those questions. This race was miserable (physically and emotionally) for me. Yes, it was a hot race, and I don’t do well in heat. Yes, my fueling and hydrating was compromised (from now on, GU gels are stuck in my tri suit. And there will be an extra water bottle laid out just for the run). But really, that 2nd half of the 10k was just demoralizing. I can’t even imagine what a half marathon would feel like after DOUBLE that bike (and oh, the bike. *shakes fist at cheap Schwinn*).

Will I do another Olympic tri? I don’t know. Part of me thinks I should just focus on sprint tris (which are fun. And so quick! And short!), but part of me does not want my one and only Olympic tri time to be 3:31. I’m better than that. Or I want to be better than that.

I’ll play next year’s tri season by ear and see what comes up.

at Kerbey Lane Cafe for a MUCH deserved post-race meal. With my medal. Natch.