Thursday, September 11, 2014

so many bees!

My summer of endurance sports has come to an end and since I promised a race recap of the Chicago Half Marathon, here she is.

First I must say, that despite it is now Tuesday afternoon as I write this and I ran the race Sunday morning, I have never in my life been so sore.  Yes, that includes after the triathlon two weeks ago.  Hello, burning calves!  I am thinking there are a number of reasons for this.  The first is it was two weeks after the triathlon!  The second is I have not really moved that often since the triathlon, except for a swim and running about eight miles total (and not all at once).  I also hadn’t got a long run in since the time I ran the eight miles in early August, so going five extra miles further than I’d ever gone before might have done me in.

Let’s start with the beginning.  I found this race to be very…inconvenient.  The locations of the race and packet pickup were definitely not my favorite – with packet pick-up at Navy Pier and the race itself starting in Jackson Park on the South Side.  Navy Pier isn’t terrible because at least there are plenty of public transit options to get there (and at least it is not McCormick place!), but why does it have to be all the way at the end of the Pier!  Once you get there it’s a half-mile walk winding through tourists and tourist-trap shops.  And I wasn’t all that impressed with the expo…it seemed so small for the hype it got.   

And then for the location of the race itself – way down on the South Side.  My only issue here is it is just inconvenient to get to in terms of a lack of convenient public transportation options.  It was helpful the race provided a shuttle from the Belmont stop (along with two others between Belmont and downtown so you could choose the one most convenient for you), but it cost $15 for a ticket!  We paid up, though – didn’t really have any other options to get down there at 5:00am.

From my complaints above about location, you’d think I hated this race.  Actually, it was quite the opposite – the race was great in my opinion, other than the 4:45am wake-up call that is.

Like I said, race morning we woke up at 4:45 so we could head out the door by 5:15.  Mark wasn’t racing this one but he came as a spectator/moral support giver.  The last shuttle was leaving Belmont at 5:30 and we didn’t want to miss it, but also didn’t want to get to the race too early since it didn’t start until 7:00.  We made it with plenty of time and soon we were off.  I just wish we would have sat on the side of the bus facing the lake rather than the city so I could have watched the beautiful sunrise! 

We arrived at Jackson/Hyde Park at about 6:15 as promised, a little earlier before a race starts than I like to get there, especially when you don’t have to go to gear check for any reason.  But at least it was painless to get down there!  Mark and I found a spot to sit down on the curb and posted up until about fifteen minutes before the race started.  It was pretty chilly, so I was sad to shed my outer layers before heading to the corrals.  We decided our meet-up plan for after the race (near gear check) and I said I’d probably finish somewhere between 2:20 and 2:30, so don’t expect me until then.  I was under no impression I’d be able to complete this race running the entire time because I’d never ran close to the distance before and also hadn’t really done much in terms of training specifically for this. 

And then we were off.  I liked how in this race you started in your corrals but once the gun went off everyone could just go at once in a steady stream, without the minutes of waiting in between.  At the very beginning, I was surprised how well I felt.  My few runs in between the triathlon and this had not been very good and my legs felt heavy.  On this particular morning I was having no trouble and started off at a pretty brisk (for me) 9:22 minute per mile pace.  Maybe it was the beautiful weather and temperatures we had – starting out in the 60s and ending in the low 70s with no humidity.  Very nice!

Falling into a rhythm, before I knew it I had passed the five mile mark.  I had a moment of reflection after I passed it, remembering the Cinco de Miler from May and how that race was the first time I’d ever ran five miles.  It seemed like so long ago!  I was still feeling good at this point and wondering when the urge to walk would set in. 

Soon enough I was at the turnaround point at mile 8 at the 31st Street overpass.  I think this was the only hill of the entire race (heading up the ramp) and it wasn’t really that bad and I didn’t break stride.  Again I had to remember when I did the Hot Chocolate Run last November (5k, not 15k) and the mini hill (incline) on Columbus at the end of the race made me stop to walk because I thought I was going to hurl.  I still didn’t feel like walking.

After crossing the nine mile mark and not feeling like I needed to walk, I figured I might be able to do the entire race running.  And I was going to finish 20 minutes earlier than I thought I would!  Around the ten mile mark was where I saw a lot of people slowing down to walk, but my thoughts were ‘just a 5k left!’ so I powered through and still felt good.  I’d come this far, why stop now?

I didn’t really feel lethargic until hitting mile 12, but by then there was only a little over a mile left to go, so stopping wasn’t an option.  I slowed pace a little to closer to 9:40 but kept going.  I think it was here where I decided the marathon was a crazy distance.  Not sure if one of those will ever be in my future. 

When I crossed the finish line in a time of 2:04:31 I couldn’t have been happier.  My first half marathon almost at the two hour mark!  The flat course helped, but I still couldn’t believe it.  And I hadn’t walked once!  I collected my medal, used a strangers phone to track down Mark and our friend David (who also ran the race, sub 1:40:00 I believe), got my pizza, skipped the beer line (woah long), was thankful I didn’t have to wait in the gear check lines (woah longer), dodged hundreds of bees while consuming the pizza, and headed back home on the shuttle.  All said, it was a successful morning…and then the soreness set in…

Here are my casual observations about the race (which I put here because I couldn’t figure out where they would fit best in the above post).  I’d definitely run it again:
  • Course support was amazing – there was an aid station and bathrooms around almost every mile marker.  I didn’t have to use the restroom, but if I did it was nice to know the next was never far away.  It also was nice to not feel like you had to grab water/Gatorade from every aid station, knowing the next one was coming up soon
  • South Lake Shore Drive is a lot flatter than North Lake Shore Drive – thank goodness!
  • It was so nice to be able to run on a traffic free Lake Shore Drive and not have to run on the path…I feel like every race these days follows the same Lake Shore Path – south past the museums/Soldier Field/McCormick and back…it was nice to have a change (granted this race didn’t even intersect with that part of the path if we would have been on it, but it was nice to just be off the path for a race)
  • It’s amazing how comforting the sounds of so many shoes are on the pavement all running in unison.  I didn’t wear headphones and was scared I’d get board of silence, but turns out it wasn’t silent!
  • There were sooooo many bees in the park, I didn’t realize this late in the year there were still so many out and about!  It really made walking around and eating pizza afterwards less than enjoyable
As always, thanks for reading…and don’t forget to come back and check out the new direction the blog is taking in a couple months!

Monday, August 25, 2014

was it a mud run or a triathlon?

Well, race weekend has come and gone and I am happy to say I survived!  And I can definitely say it wasn’t easy.  I do, however, feel extremely accomplished and also not as sore as I’d thought I’d be.  Actually, if I just keep moving I am not sore at all…it’s when I stop moving for any period of time and then start moving again when it hurts.  For instance at work today when I would be sitting then have to get up for any reason at all. 

But enough about my soreness, I’m sure you want to hear about the race.  So let’s get to it from the beginning. 

The organizers changed the bike course this year, so it was mandatory to sit through a 30 minute course talk before you could get your packet.  In my typical fashion, I like to go to things right when they open, so Mark and I went to the expo after work Friday for a 5:30pm course talk and then got our packets right after.  I didn’t mind going to the course talk and actually found it helpful to hear how everything was to go down beforehand.  Although I must say I was surprised by the pictures they showed of the swim start – so many people in the water at once! 

After picking up our packets we walked around the expo for a bit.  I got some swag, Mark rolled his eyes at me, and overall it was a good time. 

Saturday our families arrived, and that evening we went to rack our bikes.  For the first time, the organizers were allowing day ahead racking, which is great.  It was so nice to not worry about how we were going to get our bikes down to the transition area from the apartment at 4am race morning.  It also allowed us to sleep in a little later and take a cab down to the race in the morning as well (yay for no red line at 4am!).  It was also nice because it gave us an excuse to take our guests downtown and show them where they’d need to go to spectate.  A pop up torrential thunderstorm delayed our bike-racking plans for a little while, but we managed to get them racked ok.  I took a picture of where mine was (relatively) so I wouldn’t forget come race morning.  

Turns out that picture was pretty much useless on race morning, however, as it was completely dark in transition since we had to be there before the sun was up.  After waking up at 3:30am, choking down a banana and toast for breakfast (along with a Cliff bar for the road), we headed to the race at about 4:30.  Unless you are catching an early bird flight there is no reason to ever be setting an alarm for 3:30am…but alas, there we were.

Due to the downpour the day before, transition was a muddy mess.  And as luck would have it, I had put my bike right where a muddy puddle formed.  Good thing I had thought to bring a trash bag with me that I could lay on the ground to keep my things dry (although I didn’t anticipate the people running behind my spot tossing mud all up on it, so in the end it looked like I had participated in a mud run rather than a triathlon anyway).

The Swim:

After setting up our transition area, Mark and I made our way down to the swim start and sat around with some other CAC Tri Club members until it was time to head to our respective starts.  My wave started at 7:22am.  There were so many waves and they just started one right after another with no time to mess around in between.  I happened to see the fams right before it was time to get in the water, so at least I knew my cheer squad had arrived.  At 7:20 I was in the water and by 7:22 the start horn had gone off.  I don’t even think I heard it, I just saw everyone else in my group take off.  I’d literally had just enough time to let some water (a warm, 74 degrees) into my wetsuit and check my goggles weren’t leaking before it was time to go.  I liked it this way, though.  Less time to tread and think about panicking before you had to start (which I am happy to say didn’t happen this time, yeah!).

Me in the start corral waiting to head into the water.

The swim was challenging to say the least.  I’d swam over a mile straight in the pool before (granted with a few short breaks), but hadn’t in the water – and nothing could have prepared me for this.  Over by the start the water was nice and calm.  We swam about 375 meters south then turned back north for the remaining million meters.  By the time you got about 2/3 done (so on the other side of the harbor at this point), the waves were incredible and progress was rough.  At least the wind was at your back, so that made it a little easier.  I also had issues swimming straight at this point and zig-zagged all over the place – up against the walls at some points and others being yelled at by the lifeguards because I was going too far out.

It was around here where I was getting pretty spent and had to revert to breast stroke intermittently (in a surprising turn of events I was unable to swim on my back because it was making me dizzy (remember, the ITU sprint I panicked and could only swim on my back)).  Every time I would poke my head out of the water I swear the end buoy wasn’t getting any closer, so I made myself channel Dory and finally (after what seemed like forever) I had made it (after getting kicked in the face twice, too).  After finishing that swim I could have quit and been happy – it was so hard – but I still had two events to go and I’m much too stubborn for that.

Live action shot

Even more live action shot

The Bike:

After exiting the water and finding my land legs again, I slight jogged the quarter-mile jaunt back to transition, found my mud puddle, got my bike things together and took off.  The first leg was a northerly ride up Lake Shore Drive and I was going great, but that didn’t last long.  I would easily say the bike portion was the hardest.  Going north on Lake Shore I was averaging about 20MPH.  Once I hit the turnaround and started heading South, I was lucky if I could go 12MPH.  The direct headwind we were riding into was rough.  I felt like I was on a stationary bike and would never make it.  At one point I was going up a hill (by the way – Lake Shore is incredibly hilly, who knew?) and thought to myself, “I am going to just fall over I am going so slow right now, should I unhook my clips so I don’t completely eat it when I fall?”

Luckily I survived the wind and the second leg was in Lower Wacker – which is underground and protected from the wind.  It was refreshing to actually be able to pedal relatively easy again and catch my breath. 

Then came the third leg, the busway.  There were a few hills on this part, but nothing too extreme.  What made the busway tricky was the constant in and out of the natural light – and sometimes it was hard to see, especially with sunglasses on.  And then there was the crash.  Right before the turnaround you had to climb a pretty steep hill, and obviously go back down it after turning around.  Well it was a natural to artificial light change and it was tricky to see.  The guy in front of me was going a little fast and he ate it – hard.  He slid his bike and ended up skidding across the pavement, on his skin, on his stomach.  And this was on mile at least 22 of about 25, so so close to the finish of the bike leg!  Luckily I was on the outside and was able to avoid hitting him as he went down, but it looked seriously painful and definitely gave me quite a shakeup.  As I was pedaling away, volunteers were coming out of nowhere to assist and prevent any further collision.   

Finally I finished the bike leg and made it back to transition.  The cheer squad was even waiting at the end!

Sights on transition, happy that leg was over!

The Run:

Finally it was time for the run.  At this point I was seriously energy depleted.  I’d eaten some chews before hopping on the bike, but didn’t eat my entire strip and didn’t grab them to finish on the bike.  So before the run I downed the rest of that pack and a whole other pack.  And then at mile one I downed a Clif shot.  And a cup of Gatorade.  Bad bad bad idea.  My stomach hurt so bad about a mile and a half in.  Luckily once I digested some of the stuff I’d just crammed in I felt better – but it was bad for a bit there.

I’d been waiting for the run the entire race, and I anticipated I’d be pretty slow.  I just concentrated on keeping my feet moving at a run pace, because I knew if I walked at all I’d never start back up again.  I managed just under an 11 minute mile pace, which I am happy with.  The course was a loop south on the Lake Shore path.  I’m happy I did that 10k two weeks ago – the course was the same so I knew what to anticipate in terms of hills and such ahead of time.

Finally I reached the finish line and it was such a great sight to see (I knew I was running 11 minute miles and I kept looking at my watch telling myself only this many more minutes...pretty much the whole time).  Somehow the cheer squad missed the finish, but at least I ran into Coach Trent and some others afterwards.  I collected my medal, my gear, tried to choke down a banana (I’m not good at eating after vigorous exercise I’ve learned), and found the fam.  It was finally over.  

1.5k swim/40k bike/10k run - 3:36:50 Total Time (43:42 swim, 1:35:59 bike, 1:08:39 run)

 Celebration selfie

 Earned that medal!...I'm not even confident that's the front

One-half of the Cheer Squad


It’s hard to believe that when I started training for this race in February I couldn’t swim to save my life other than doggy paddle, I hadn’t ridden a bike since before high school, and the furthest I’ve ever ran was shy of three miles.  I still wouldn’t call myself an athlete, but I’d say I’ve found a start.

I was really excited to finally be able to write my recap post for the triathlon, until I actually tried to write it.  Unlike the thirty or so other blog posts I’ve written since February, this one was a challenge.  I think it’s because I originally started ‘the accident athlete’ as a way to discuss my successes and failures in training for said triathlon and now it’s done.  I’m sad that the journey is over, but also extremely satisfied that I was actually able to pull it off.  Not only was I able to do something I’d never even considered thinking about doing (let alone actually doing), but I actually did it! 

Even though it’s over, I don’t want to give up the blog.  As I’d mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am looking forward to turning this blog into something more (and maybe gaining a few more followers in the process!).  Since I am getting married soon, it likely won’t be until after that, but I promise it will be worth the wait.  I do have a half marathon to run in two weeks, so I’ll give you a recap on how that goes afterwards, but otherwise it will be quiet on ‘the accident athlete’ until after the wedding.  For those who have followed my journey, thanks for reading and all the encouragement along the way!!  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

the home stretch

The more this week goes on, the more excited I get for the triathlon to get here.  I really was indifferent not too long ago and just wanted to get it over with (because of the whole 6 months of training thing) but now that it is almost here I am feeling excitement again.

As per usual, I am still concerned about the swim – but what I lacked last time was confidence in myself and I think I have that this time…even though it is still intimidating as crap (the intimidating kind of crap that is).  At least I know I can swim a mile, which certainly helps things.  But I am definitely still keeping my fingers crossed for warm water and calm seas (my latest check showed water temp at 75 degrees, so things continue to look up on that front).  There is just something about cooler water that makes me unable to swim normally in it (probably the fact that it quite literally takes my breath away). 

I also should note I am also concerned about the bike and run (so, so long!) – but those aren’t nearly as scary as the open water swim so I will suck it up and not complain about them :).  Actually, scary isn’t even a good word for them.  They’re really just lengthy and all in succession so that makes them daunting.

But enough about my thoughts on the race, let’s talk about the actual race!

The Athlete’s Guide finally came out on Monday.  It seemed like it took forever for this thing to be released.  Of course the most important part is the wave start times and wow there is a lot of them.  With about 9,000 people total competing it is definitely going to be a bit crowded (at least this also includes some with events on Saturday).  I either start at 7:18 or 7:22am with up to 150 other individuals (although the average wave size is 80…let’s hope it’s closer to that!).  There were so many people signed up with the age group it had to be split into multiple waves.  Mark’s is even more split up – he has four potential waves he could be in (closer to 8am start time).  It’s going to be like bumper fish out there, especially once people who are faster swimmers catch up to slower individuals in waves ahead of them (probably even jumping multiple waves ahead). 

As I learned last time for the ITU, large-scale triathlons have a way of taking up your entire weekend.  It’s a combination of things you have to do for them and also accessibility.  Everything here is in and around Grant Park, which is just so big it’s miles and miles to get from A to B. 

Friday after work we’re heading to get our packets.  Since they changed the race course this year from prior years, the course talk was made mandatory, and they are restricting your ability to get your packet until you listen to it and are able to prove it.  They’re also requiring you to sign up for a session ahead of time, so I signed us up for 5:30.  I get off early on Friday (my second-to-last summer hours for the summer :( ) so I think I’ll head early and check out the Expo (which is massive), and probably be checking it out again after packet pickup with Mark (two times the goodies?).

Since we’re picking our packets up on Friday, technically Saturday we wouldn’t need to do anything triathlon-related (other than get all of our transition stuff together and eat properly), but they are offering Saturday bike-racking which we will be taking advantage of.  It certainly beats hauling that thing down there on the train at 4:30am on Sunday. 

And then comes Sunday.  Triathlons seem to be an event completed on minimal sleep (make that any race event, actually), because they all start so gosh darn early in the morning.  The transition area opens at 4am in the morning and then closes at 5:45.  Since our bikes will already be there, I’m assuming we will probably get there at about 4:45 or 5 to set up (so, about a 3am wakeup call I’d guess).  We’ll just need to check that nothing happened to our bikes overnight (tires decided to deflate, etc.) and lay out our gear, which shouldn’t take too long.  Then drop off our things at gear check and watch the swim waves start until it’s our time to go. 

And once it’s go time, it’s go time.  For fun, here’s the course map.  This thing goes all over Chicago – well, it goes far north and far south at least (and a little west in the Loop).  We will definitely get to see the city on the bike ride and run, that is for sure.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

the final countdown

Well it is finally race week and it has certainly taken long enough to get here (sixish months since decision made to be exact…which is a ridiculous amount of time if you think about it).  The past week since my marathon of posts has been one filled with swimming, some runs, and more swimming.

In our true fashion – Mark and I planned to go to the lake on Tuesday of last week (I think it was Tuesday, who can remember that far back at this point), but both of us forgot our swim suits in order to actually go.  Mark figured this out when he went to change (which happened to be before I did) and I realized once we got back home and it was still hanging to dry on the shower rod.  What are the odds – but at least he felt bad for a bit before realizing it was my mistake as well :)  So needless to say we ran that night instead.  I went about four to five miles at an incredibly slow pace.  Must have still been recovering from the 10k the weekend before.

We finally made it to the lake on Thursday evening, and I am happy to report the water temperature had remained above 70 (in fact, at the time, the water was warmer than the air).  Now, just six more days to hover at that mark, and I do hope it stays!  Especially with the week of rain we have coming up (more on that later).  Overall the swim went well – or as well as it could have given the massive waves.  It seemed that for every two strokes you made, you went back one, so progress was slow and tiring.

But on a positive note, my new goggles worked (even with the waves all up in my face) and I finally felt comfortable in the lake.  I still haven’t swam a mile in the lake, which was my ultimate goal going up to the race, but at least now I have the confidence to do it (even if it is going to be an ugly mile). 

Friday we took the day off and then Saturday I went to the pool to swim and Mark opted for a run.  Usually we try to go to the lake on Saturday mornings, but it is tiresome to get down to the designated swim spot, especially when you are hauling all kinds of stuff on your back.  So instead of killing our backs, we opted for something more convenient. 

As I mentioned before, I may not have been able to swim a mile in the lake before the race, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t determined to do it in the pool.  With extremely minimal breaks (I’m talking three minutes or so of rest total) I pounded out 1620 meters in the pool, and could have gone for more.  I actually think I did do more and my watch must not have captured it, because 88 lengths is a mile and that distance totals 89 – but I finished on the same end I started with so something doesn’t add up.  Either way – it doesn’t make a difference.  I was happy I finally got my mile of swimming in somewhere ahead of the race and also very proud of my accomplishment.  Let’s not forget I didn’t know how to swim (read: only could doggy paddle) when the training for this whole thing started…and now I can swim a mile without hardly stopping!  Luckily I had some good coaches to teach me the ropes.

As far as this week goes, I will be keeping my workouts to a minimum with shorter, more intense intervals for the taper to race day.  I will also be watching the weather report anxiously.  Here’s a current view –

Not very promising, is it?  Although it seems that the weather changes every time I look, and of course every station is different.  I’ll just be crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

race recap chicago 10k edition

As I mentioned in my previous post I ran the Chicago 10k over the weekend.  It was my first 10k (previously have only done 5ks in terms of running racing distance) and I thought this would be a good race to do two weeks before the Chicago Tri just to see what running a 10k is like.  Granted I completed this one without swimming 1500 meters and biking 40k before, but those are just minor details :)  I didn’t really have a goal in terms of this race, mostly just wanted to feel out the distance, but finishing in under an hour would have been an added perk.

Packet pick-up for this one was nice – it was just a Feet Fleet Sports in Old Town.  I love the races in Chicago that packet pick-up is either at RAM or Feet Fleet.  They’re so much more convenient than the ones where you have to go to McCormick.  It’s not easy to get there by public transport, if you drive you have to pay to park, and then once you are there you never know where to go and always have to walk a mile just to get to the lines because it is never by where they make you park.  Never a good experience!  But I digress. 

On race morning I got up around 6am so I could throw on some clothes and eat a banana.  I also ate a chocolate chip cookie dough flavored LUNA protein bar.  I am not one to not finish my food, but I really had to choke this one down.  Usually I go for the chocolate peanut butter but thought I’d switch it up for this race morning.  Big mistake.  No offense to those of you who like that flavor, but it was gross. 

Mark wasn’t participating in the race, but opted to go with me anyway even though I told him he didn’t have to.  It was in the south part of Grant Park which is always a pain to get to, so it was nice to have some company on the long ride down.  As usual, I got there too early, so I did a pre event tour of the vendors and then had a seat to listen to the band before taking my place in the corral.  The race started at 8am, and the band played before it started.  I have to assume this is the earliest gig that band ever had.

I feel like this was a smaller race than some I’ve participated in in Chicago in the past, which was a welcome surprise.  Less corral crowding.  In fact, you just lined up honor system by your per mile pace – no A, B, C, D, you can’t run with people, etc. with this race!  I started with the 8:30 a mile group.  No, I do not run that fast, but I like to get a good fast start and also it was in the first of three waves so I didn’t have to wait around.

The race course itself was pretty good.  It was all south of Grant Park on the Lake Shore path except for about the first three-quarters of a mile, and I didn’t think it was so crowded once the initial start thinned out.  The path was a bit hilly, but luckily given all the running I’ve done lately the hills didn’t bother me this time like they have in the past (for example, thinking I might hurl coming up the itty bitty slope at the end of the Hot Chocolate Run last November).  I did feel bad for all the bicyclists that were out on Sunday morning, though, that kind of got taken over on the path.  But such is the nature of the Lake Front – you never know what obstacles you are going to encounter when you set out. 

Overall, running the race wasn’t too bad.  It was hard going the first couple of miles as per usual, but once I got in a rhythm it was easy to do.  I feel like I passed a good amount of people which is always good for the ego.  My favorite part of the race, though, was a guy cheering around mile three with a sign that said something like ‘doubters suck’ (it wasn’t that but that is pretty close, I just can’t remember it), wearing a belly shirt, and banging a cowbell to the tunes on his boom box (not sure if he was put there by the race or just a guy hanging out).  It was a nice pick me up along the way – and since it was a down and back course you got to experience him twice. 

My final time was 55:47 which was under the one hour mark I’d set for myself, and about a 45 second per mile faster pace than what I usually run when I’m just running to run.  So not a bad finish at all.  It will be interesting to see how my 10k to finish up the triathlon in (less than) two weeks compares.  I am guessing it will take a little longer. 

I was not too keen on the swag for this race – but I guess the shirt is cool enough.  I feel like with races these days we get spoiled with goodies, so a plain cotton tee just isn’t what it used to be anymore.

I did, however, enjoy the finishers medal, and that makes two for my collection. 

Although I must say – the effort for this was much lower than the ITU but resulted in a bigger medal, so the ITU needs to step it up.  But then again the ITU medal has a spinner in the middle, so maybe it wins for technical merit.  Either way, I enjoyed earning them both.

a weekend of epic proportions

After running my eight miles on Thursday, I wanted to keep the momentum going into the weekend.  Especially with the triathlon coming up in two weeks I felt one of the last weekends before the event was a great time to test some physical limits. 

Mark and I got up bright and early (6am) on Saturday to head out for a swim in the lake.  We hopped on our bikes and got to the lake, only to be unable to get in due to huge waves and choppy water.  As much as I wanted to get in, Mark was right in deciding not to.  We would have been miserable, as well as not really accomplished what we wanted to do.  So we opted for a 10 mile bike ride instead, and then a short fun to follow.  I was going to head to the pool and get in a swim later in the day (since we skipped our usual class to head to the lake instead), but that never happened.  Market Days on Halstead was this past weekend so the street was closed by our place and getting around was harder than usual (never thought I’d move away from the train and turn into a bus-loving traveler and feel stranded when my access was cut off).  Plus, I had 400 circles to cut out for the wedding, so that kept me pretty busy.

400+ circles for a backdrop – I sure hope this turns out!

Sunday morning we got up bright and early again (6am – which I feel like this time I should say is earlier than we usually get up during the week, unless we are doing a workout), this time for my 10k.  I opted to run the Chicago 10k this weekend because I thought it would be a good gauge of where I am at for the run ahead of the triathlon.  I’m pleased with my performance and for more information check out my race recap post. 

After the 10k, we went back to the apartment to refuel and then headed to the pool.  Mark swam about 900M and I swam about 720M.  The swim was pretty easy – it’s nice to know I am good at distance in the pool, and I am slowly building confidence that it will eventually translate to the open water.  After the swim I was spent, so after some grocery shopping we spent the rest of the day watching The Wire.  Luckily we only have three more episodes to go before we’re done with the series.  That show has been horribly addicting and has consumed far too much of my life over the past month.  Eat, work, train, Wire, sleep has been my schedule for far too long now.

The plan is to go to the lake tomorrow after work to swim and complete what we couldn’t on Saturday.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

ain't no thing

Well it has certainly been awhile since my last post, as Mark keeps reminding me.  It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about the blog, it’s just that I have been thinking about different things for the blog in lieu of writing posts.  Over the past several months I have truly enjoyed blogging for the few of you that read it, and once the triathlon (actually half marathon and really after the wedding) is over I’m looking forward to taking the blog in a different direction (and hopefully gaining a few more followers in the process!) – but more to come on that later.

In terms of training, it continues (to go on and on and on and on…I swear this triathlon is never going to get here!).  I haven’t done as much in the lake as I’ve wanted and am always full of excuses – waves are too high, just not feeling it once I get in, my goggles suck – things like that.  On mornings when Mark and I decide to go to the lake after work I just feel a sense of anxiousness all day wanting to get what is coming after work over with.  As a result I’d much rather swim in the morning, but with the designated swim spot being decently far away and not all that easy to get to it is just not possible (unless we’d want to be in the water at 5am so we’d still have enough time to get back home in time to get ready and make it to work on time, so no thank you there).

Last Thursday was one of those days where we had planned to go swim after work.  At about 4pm I get a text from Mark that he was going to have to stay at work longer so I was on my own.  Given there is always someone else swimming I thought I’d go anyway because I really wanted to do the 750M loop so I would be more confident in the water to get the mile down (which I plan to swim either this week or next Tuesday at the final open water swim clinic of the season).   I’d also just received some new goggles in the mail and wanted to test those out in the water.  My eyes are too close together or something, because I have serious goggle issues.  One eye seals perfect and the other one is a flood every time.  It’s incredibly annoying.  This is my third pair of goggles, so hopefully these work.  Third time is a charm, right?

Unfortunately, I did not get to try out my new goggles last Thursday.  I went to change into my swimsuit after work before heading to the lake and what-do-you-know (?), I forgot it at home.  All that anxiety for nothing!  As frustrated as I was, I decided I wasn’t going to waste the day and opted for a run once I got home instead.  Mark was going to run too, but knowing I wanted to go farther than he would I went out on my own.  I don’t know when I decided I was going to just go for it, but somewhere along the way I thought I might do eight miles – and I did!  It was incredible feeling to know that I could run that far without even stopping once (well maybe at a stoplight, but that doesn’t really count). 

The strangest thing was that it wasn’t even that challenging to me.  The first couple miles were rough, but once I found a rhythm it was pretty easy to keep going – although I was happy to be finished!  It especially got easier once I crossed that four mile mark and could turn around and head for home. 

I must say, though, that my legs (and arms, even!) were a bit sore on Friday; but a good kind of sore at least.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

i run in miles now, not kilometers

Whew, thank goodness it is Wednesday and the week is all downhill from here.  Between pre- and post-work workouts and addressing and stuffing wedding invites at night, this week has gone fast so far, but it has also been quite exhausting.  Is it August 24th yet?  Training for a triathlon and also being in the final stages of planning a wedding are tiring work.  It’s funny, because this morning Mark and I were talking and he mentioned how I was stressed with the wedding planning.  Which of course I denied because it isn’t true – but now that I actually look at what all we need to do in the next two months I think I kind of am.  

We have also been discussing how we cannot wait for this triathlon to be over.  Don’t get me wrong, we are still excited about it and want to do more in the future, but at this point we just want it to be over.  I think both of us are looking forward to getting some more variety in our workouts, and also not feeling so obligated to train.  It also doesn’t help that we started training for this thing in late February, so at this point we are starting to feel some burn-out.  But the training continues.

Being out of town in Kansas City this weekend for my wedding shower number one (which was great, by the way) I didn’t have a chance to get in any workouts.  But I did manage to eat my favorite McDonalds breakfast of a sausage biscuit dipped in syrup and drink two Sonic cherry limeades – which are my priority treats anytime I get out of the city.  This training regimen has actually toned me up quite a bit (for the first time ever) so I do feel a little guilty eating things that are bad for me, but I do want to stress the little there (hence the italics, because let’s be honest, I’m not giving that kind of stuff up any time soon). 

Once I made it back to the city (which was late Sunday, given my propensity to purchase whatever flight is cheapest over convenience), though, I made up for my weekend sans workouts.  Monday after work Mark and I headed to the gym to hit the pool.  Amazingly enough I did not have goggle problems, and was able to put in 1000 meters like it was nothing.  I only stopped because I had to go grocery shopping (since I didn’t get to on my usual Sunday)!  

My goal for this workout was to just swim without stopping constantly to prove to myself that I could just do it (like my issues in the lake, my pool swims have always been very start and stop).  I also wanted to work on breathing more often, since at the clinic I found out breathing too infrequently was potentially one of my issues.  Turns out it helped a lot.  I usually find I am tired and out of breath every pool lap, but with the increased breathing frequency I was fresh the entire workout.  I still need to get into the lake more often, but maybe my pool victory from Monday will translate over.  I certainly hope so!

Tuesday evening Mark and I were going to go to the lake to swim, but due to a headache Mark was unable to go, and since my buddy system partner was out that meant I was too.  While I am sad to have missed a chance in the lake, I was also alright with it given yesterday was another chilly one up here in Chi Town.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never complain about this beautifully mild summer we are having (I hate heat and would always rather it be chilly out than hot), but the fact that the air is not warm and the water is still a cool 66 degrees does not make Lake Michigan swims all that appealing.

In lieu of any kind of swim workout, then, I opted to go for a long run.  Last night I clocked just under six miles (five point nine to be exact).  I can finally say miles because Mark figured out how to change our watches over from kilometers (just when I was starting to get the conversions down)!  I hadn’t run any type of distance in a while so it wasn’t necessarily a good run, but it was a full run and I didn’t stop.  The entire time I was just thinking, imagine having to do this after swimming (about a mile) and biking (about twenty five).  It’s a good thing I am signed up for the Chicago 10k next weekend as a pre-tri trial.

And that brings us to today – and it was a two-a-day.  Mark and I got up bright and early to go for a bike ride and then after work we swam.  With Tri Club, Wednesdays are a running day, but given Mark’s injury and my run from yesterday, we thought we’d break with tradition.  Getting up for the run this morning was rough – it’s not getting bright as early these days, which makes that five am wakeup call that much harder.  We still managed to put in a solid eight miles on the bike, though, and my legs are hurting as a result and I just feel like all I should be doing is stretching it out.  I think it was the run then bike combo (and slow weekend prior).  Although sometimes the post workout burn is nice – makes it feel like you are getting results.

As for the after work swim, it was another one that went incredibly well.  I swam 1100+ meters with relative ease.  This new breathing technique really seems to be working.  I was never out of breath, which is a nice change of pace.  Now, if only my arms didn't get so tired!  I also didn't have many goggle issues once again.  Thursday night our plan is to head to the lake, where I am anxious to put my newfound skills and confidence to work.  Now I am just hoping for no rain!

Friday, July 25, 2014

don't worry, it's all mental

So I realize lately that most of my posts have focused on swimming, but that is what I am having the most trouble with.  It’s (relatively) easy to just power through things on a bike or running, but not so much with swimming.  The big difference, in my opinion, is the whole ‘not being able to breathe freely’ factor.  With swimming and running air is abundant and always free for the taking.  Swimming takes such a conscious effort to breathe (and not breathe), which is challenging.  Over the past week I am really beginning to think I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this whole International Distance triathlon thing.

There are two reasons why I feel this way.  The first, like I said in my last post, is just the sheer distance.  When you look out over the lake and can barely see the half-mile turnaround buoy from shore and realize that it’s only the half-way turn around point it is incredibly intimidating.  Second, I am having a really hard time in the lake.  

The Chicago Triathlon puts on several open water clinics throughout the summer and I decided to attend the one they had on Tuesday.  It was an aquathon (750M or 1500M swim followed by 5k run) + swim clinic (general training) and I opted for the swim clinic portion thinking I’d get some more open water swimming tips.  I opted to go with the intermediate swimmers group instead of the beginners group because this wasn’t my first time in the water.  

Our lesson consisted of about a ten minute talk on sighting and then a 750M swim practicing what we learned.  I came in expecting we were going to be doing some drills or just short swims back and forth, so the 750M swim caught me off guard.  But not wanting to say no to a challenge I set out with the rest of the group.  I was out of breath and tired almost instantly, but was not having the same wetsuit issues I’d been having previously.  I think being in my wetsuit for a considerable time before even getting in the water (let alone just being in the water with it on) really helped with that front.  I didn’t feel so restricted by it, and was better to able to control my breathing in that regard.

On the swim, one of the coordinators noticed I was struggling (although in my mind I was not struggling, just taking my time and getting used to the feeling of the lake) politely suggested that next time I might go with the beginners instead (not going to complete an Olympic distance triathlon by going with the beginners, but thank you for the advice) before asking me to swim for him.  I did a couple of strokes and he suggested I might breathe more often than I was.  I think I was breathing every fifth stroke, but he suggested every third.  I gave it a try and it did seem to be easier on the way back.  I noticed I was going further and was not as out of breath.  Hooray!

However, my other problem that I noticed was that I would swim for a bit and then just stop.  I don’t think there was any reason I stopped other than I just stopped.  I used to do this when I ran and got even the least bit uncomfortable, and finally realized it was unnecessary and I could just keep going and the uncomfortable feeling would go away.  Hopefully it is similar with my swimming and simply time will help me get over this – and hopefully that amount of time required is about four weeks.  

So my takeaways from the swim clinic were to breathe more often and stop less.  Easy-enough, right?

I wanted to test out my learnings and mostly prove to myself that I could do this, so I went back in the water Thursday after work and dragged Mark with me (it's also my goal to swim in the lake every Tuesday and Thursday until race day, and maybe Sunday mornings as well - like I said, I think time in the water is the only thing that will keep me from stopping constantly).  Mark hadn't been in the water yet and he wanted to see what it was like, so he obliged. 

It was a chilly swim in Lake Michigan.  At least the last couple of times I have been in my wetsuit it has been relatively hot outside (hottest days of the year up here, actually) so jumping in an ice cold lake in a suit of rubber felt good, but the temperature today maxed out at a cool 70 (cool in that there didn’t really seem to be any humidity in the air).  Imagine taking a dip in 64 degree water in weather that felt closer to Fall than to Summer.  Like I said, a bit chilly. 

Needless to say, we didn't last very long out there.  I think we may have spent as much time suiting up as we did in the water.  We just swam back and forth by the buoys given the water was pretty choppy (and FRIGID!).  But I practiced keeping my head down.  So for the ten minutes we were out there I felt pretty good.  I think my corrections might actually work.

Now I just need to fix my goggle issues I have been having, which is another reason I stop so much.  Time to try out a third pair.  Third time is a charm, right?  I certainly hope so!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

...and a pinterest fail

Another weekend has come and gone, only 4 more until race weekend.  Next weekend is out because I am out of town – so that means three weekends until race weekend – time to make these weeks count!

I finally got back out in Lake Michigan this weekend as I’d been hoping to do for about a month now since the ITU race.  I am not going to lie – I went out to the lake expecting to crush it, but that is about the exact opposite of what happened.  As frustrating as it is, I had similar issues this time as I did in the tri.  I wouldn’t say they were as bad, but they were the same and prevented me from performing as I’d liked.  I got out there and would swim a bit, then have to stop – but couldn’t really figure out why exactly it was I was stopping.  

In my mind I’ve decided it has to be an overall dislike for being unable to remedy my uncomfortable-ness in the water.  Yes, the water is cold, but it is manageable.  Yes, my wetsuit is tight, but I can still breathe just fine.  But, what I can’t do is grab onto the wall or just stand up if I feel like it, or if I get a little winded.  In the lake, grabbing the wall is not an option and it’s too deep to comfortably stand on bottom.  So therein lies my issue, I think (hope).  My goal for the next time I go to the lake is to make myself better focus on just simply swimming, and not stopping as often.  I think if I can just get to a point where I go (rather than the start and stop thing I have going on now), I’ll do a lot better – because if I’m going it won’t matter if I need to grab the wall or touch bottom – because I’ll just be swimming instead!

Also – side note.  At Ohio Street Beach – training central in Chicago for open water swimming – they have buoys set up for you to track distance swam at a quarter-mile and half-mile from shore.  It really puts into perspective the distance one has to swim in these races.  Looking out to that half mile buoy and just thinking, “man, I have to go there and back?!”  Eesh.

So that was Saturday AM.  After the swimming excursion, not a lot else happened that day.  Although Mark and I did start watching The Wire on HBO Go (well, we actually started with an episode last week, but picked up this weekend) and by Sunday evening we were already two episodes deep into season two.  Usually I am the one encouraging the TV binge-watching, but Mark is driving this one all on his own!

Sunday morning Mark and I used as an opportunity to go for a bike ride.  Like I said – only four weekends left so you have to make them count!  We figured since the Rock and Roll Half Marathon was going on downtown, the Lakeshore path would be pretty empty.  We were right for the first half of the ride (got out there about 8am), but by the way back up the path at 8:30 we were dodging people as usual.  The life of biking in the city!  I don’t want a car, really, but I want a car so I can take my bike riding elsewhere (like the burbs).

Overall, I’ve decided that biking is hard – but it’s easier to go fast when you are in a pack of other bikers going fast.  It also helps when you are not dodging casual strollers left and right.  While I don’t think the bike portion of the race is going to be easy by any means, I am more confident in my performance there than the swim.  Somehow I’ve managed to nail the run portion, which is funny because prior to this summer I hated running.  Now I actually find it enjoyable.  I’m still not very fast, but that is mostly because I am not trying to be.  I just want to concentrate on completion for now.  Next summer I’ll care about time :) 

Oh, and did I mention I finally officially signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon in September?  Just one more thing to add to the ‘summer of feats of athletic ability.’  I am actually really looking forward to this race.

Before I go, and as the title says - here’s my Pinterest fail of the day.  My two ingredient pancakes (the eggs + bananas things that are all over Pinterest these days) did not go so well (and I added blueberries, so technically they were three ingredient pancakes I suppose).  From across the room Mark so lovingly decided to tell me they looked like turds on a plate.  I ate them anyway (and they were not too bad, but definitely not pretty like the pictures).

And since I had a fail - here's my win.  Blueberry muffins, healthified....mmmm!

Thirty-four days to the triathlon, forty-seven to the half marathon, and 82 until I do.  Good stuff coming up, blogger friends.  Until next time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

running those miles

I know it has been awhile since my last post, but to be honest not a whole lot has happened since then that has been post-worthy – until yesterday!  I ran 10.9k, which translates to 6.8 miles (I say I ran it in k’s because I cannot figure out how to switch my fitness watch to miles…I’m going to be a metric whiz before all this is over).  I ran five miles for the first time in the Cinco de Miler race in May and then just over five miles again about a week ago.  So the 6.8 is at least 1.5 miles farther than I’ve ever ran before (ran in about 1:07, with just under 1:03 for the 10k portion, so not too fast, but for now I will take it).  And let's not forget - the fact that I can even run farther than one mile is almost a miracle in itself.  

One thing I have noticed about running long distances – aside from the fact that I never thought I would be running them – is that it is extremely mental.  I didn’t realize how much ground I could cover (for those in Chicago – it was (roughly) from my apartment north of Belmont, over to the Lake Shore path, south to North Ave, and then back up through the park) to only go that distance (not only as in, ‘I only ran 6.8 miles,’ but only as in, ‘how can that amount of ground only amount to that far’).  I did want to stop along the way, but made myself keep going.  I didn’t want to stop because I was tired I don’t think, but I definitely at some points was thinking I should be walking instead.  That is definitely one of the differences between the me from now and the me from February – the old me would have stopped to walk, but this me kept right on running.  

The strange thing was as I finished, I wasn’t really tired and felt like I could have kept going (but it definitely caught up with me later when I fell asleep at 8:30pm last night).  Which gives me confidence that come September I will be able to complete the half marathon without too many issues (granted I ever remember to sign up!), although probably rather slowly.  First time isn’t for time though, right? :) Although as for running this distance after swimming the better part of a mile and biking 25 miles – we’ll see how that goes (sooner than I’d like to admit!).  

Other training is going well.  Given what happened in the ITU sprint I am still concerned with the swim for the Chicago Tri, but am working on it.  My biggest concern is that we have yet to get in the lake as we’ve been busy lately (and not that this is an excuse, but it is not so easy to get all the way down to Ohio Street Beach).  This will change by Saturday at the latest, though, as we have a training clinic there then.  After this, my goal is to go at least once, if not twice a week, until race day.  That should at least give me four or five times in the lake prior to race day, which will be better than the big fat zero I had before.  

We also need to be better about biking.  Hopefully we are better about getting in some long rides in the next couple of weeks before race day.  I am thinking Saturday and Sunday afternoons are going to be prime for this.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

itu chicago race recap, sprint edition

Race day has come and gone and I managed to survive my first triathlon.  Leading up to race day Mark strained his hamstring, so I was going solo on this one (minus others from the Tri Club participating, but from a household standpoint I was alone).  I must say that it was a lot harder than I was anticipating.  I forget sometimes that until February I was not active (really at all) – so even though I have this syndrome where I think I am awesome at sports, I am not so much.  But time can change that.

The sprint distance for this one was 750 meter swim, 20k bike, and 5k run.  Let’s start with the beginning.

Friday night we went to packet pickup to get our packets and then Saturday it was mandatory to rack your bike.  The course was based in Grant Park, which is not exactly easy to get to when one does not have a car, and then the transition area was on the south side of Grant Park – almost to the Field Museum – so it was a trip just to get setup. 

I went to rack my bike Saturday afternoon after practice in the morning (where I took my wetsuit for a dip in the pool to try her out and it was great, it didn’t feel too restrictive and I felt like I could swim forever with the lift it provided).  When I was down there the elite women’s race was just getting to the run portion so I stopped to watch that for a bit.  I was standing by some coaches, which were fun to listen to.  Here’s a pic of their final lap – the one in front held on for the win (which happened to be the only one who made it in my phone camera is broken, so all my pictures are a bit off).

One thing I did not like about this race was the start time.  For the sprinters the swim waves didn’t even start until 11:45, with mine (the 29 and under women’s wave) not starting until 12:30.  It was nice because I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to go set up my transition, but I always feel like I perform better in the AM, and not to mention it’s much cooler in the morning.  The past couple of weeks have felt more like Fall here in Chicago than Summer, but Sunday was easily one of the hotter days we have had, topping out at 88 degrees with heat indexes much higher.  Nothing like racing in the hottest part of the day.

So back to race day…

I was down there to set up my transition by about 10am on Sunday morning and then head to gear check.  For reference, here’s a picture of about one-half of the transition area.  There were thousands of bikes (and people – 4,000 participants, I believe).

Here’s what mine looked like all set up and ready to go.

I finished up with my transition and headed over to gear check.  Navigating this course was a nightmare, especially since the course was all lap-based, so you were constantly having to cut across the course (through bikers and runners) to get around.  The worst volunteer jobs easily had to be the people trying to throttle spectators and athletes alike across Columbus which was where the bike course was.  But despite sometimes having to wait awhile to cross, everyone seemed to make it alright.

I checked my bags and headed over to the swim start to watch some of the waves that were ahead of me and made some friends in the process.  Everyone is so chatty when you’re all in the same competition and already know you have something in common.  At this point, they had also changed the event flags from green to yellow, signaling an increase in risky race conditions.  

I think the most surprising thing about watching the swim start was how many people were rescued by lifeguards as soon as they got started.  I was sitting about 100 meters out and in the 30 or so minutes I was watching saw at least seven people get plucked out of the water in front of me. 

Soon enough it was time to start, and Mark arrived just in time to zip my wetsuit up for me before I jumped in the water.  They gave you about ten minutes before you started to jump in and warm up/get acclimated to the water.  At this point it felt like it was at least 90 degrees out and I’m walking around in a neck to ankle rubber suit, so the 66 degree water I jumped into was more than welcome.  It seems like it would have been really cold, but it actually was not bad at all.

I tread water for a bit, try out some strokes, and get acclimated to the water and think it’s going to be a pretty good swim – tough for sure, especially when you look out over the distance (because training in a pool really gives you no reference point), but manageable.  We get the go ahead to start and I probably get about 100 or so meters (if even that) before I start to get anxious about being in the water and have to flip over on my back. 

And then every time I try to flip back over and start swimming a normal freestyle stroke I just couldn’t.  So I swim most of the 750 meters backstroke which just killed my legs for the rest of the event.  But I didn’t stop or give up so I am happy with myself for that.  Looking back it seems like it should have been easy to just tell myself to roll over and swim like a normal person – to get in some sort of a rhythm and just do it, but that is easier thought of than done (at least at the time).  I’m not sure what caused me not to be able to swim normally – lack of open water swimming prior to the race, eight foot deep water, swimming against the wind and the current, and any other thing could have caused it. 

Anywho, I make it out of the water and into the transition (which are much longer than I expected) and on to my bike.  Which other than having trouble pedaling into the wind gusts that came at times, it wasn’t too bad.  A lot of the bike course was on Lower Wacker (so a street under the city), which was nice because you were out of the sun, but it was very smelly down there.  Also, at some point when I was on the bike the event flags changed to red.

Then on to the run.  The second transition was much easier and I think I was only in there half the time.  I was finally getting energy back and was ready to finish strong with the run.  I hydrated and grabbed some Gatorade chews for the road and kicked rocks.  Overall the run wasn’t too bad, other than the heat.  My legs were tight at first but after the first half mile or so they loosened up, I think the chews really helped with that.  I was tired, but knew if I stopped to walk I’d never start again, so I made myself keep going, which wasn’t all that hard.  The finish line never seemed sweeter and it was nice to have earned a medal by crossing it.  Although it was too hot for me to actually want to put it around my neck, so I just carried it at this point.  I must say I was a little disappointed with my run time, but given the heat I’m not surprised it was a little slower than what I’d consider as normal for myself.

So there it was, my first triathlon was over, and it was a good learning experience for the one in August.  I don’t know what times I expected, but I’m happy with my results.

I’m also happy I still have two months to train, because like I said it was harder than I expected and August is double this one (but at least it starts at 6:00 in the morning, so I’ll at least have cooler temps on my side).  I’ll definitely be swimming, biking, and running more often and for longer distances in preparation.  And I’ll be headed to Ohio Street Beach hopefully at least once a week to work on open water swimming so I don’t have a repeat performance of what happened in this one.   Oh, and I’ll find a way to wear more sunscreen, because I have mad raccoon eyes from my sunglasses right now, and my race number is burned into my arm like a tan-tattoo (and I even applied sunscreen before and during the race!).