Steelman Race Series

What you see after sunrise is the result of dark mornings. Swim practice starts at 5:30 AM, but I often am already swimming with my lane buddies before five. Three times a week, my alarm goes off at 4:15 AM, and by 4:30, I have my swim parka on and water and yogurt in hand before heading out the door. I’m mostly still half asleep and my brain is convinced I’m in bed or sitting on the sofa with a warm cup of coffee.

Because of all this hard work, the last race of the Steelman Summer Swim Series was that much better: we all got on the podium in our respective age groups!

This was only the third open water race that I’ve done, but I wasn’t nervous at all. Maybe it’s because I swim and paddleboard at Marsh Creek Lake all the time? Maybe it’s because it’s a lake so there are no sharks? Or maybe it’s because I have finally learned how to manage my anxiety when it comes to open water swimming? Probably not because if you threw me in the ocean to swim across a channel or along the shore, I would still be a bit nervous even though I would still do it.

I absolutely loved this swim with it’s rolling start, spacing out swimmers ten seconds apart, and the staggered start times for the different races of three, two, and one mile swims. Except for the first few minutes, I had open water for the two mile swim. As the race went on, the wind picked up, creating a steady chop along the shore section of the course, and the sun shined in my eyes for the same stretch. Overall, I found my swimming groove and took 2nd place in the 40-49 women’s age group. Getting on the podium for the first time in my adult life felt pretty good. I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

Patriots’ Triathlon Festival

Cathy is the reason I do this sport. When I lived in Norfolk, VA, I was talking to my friend Amy because I was looking for a running group to meet up with in the early hours of the morning. She immediately recommended the Hampton Roads Runners 6@6 group that ran six miles at six in the morning. I didn’t really want to go because I’m not a fast runner, and I was worried that this group would leave me behind as I watched the lights from their bobbing headlamps get smaller and smaller.

It’s a good thing that wasn’t the case. Cathy ran slow with me to show me the route, and there were a few other runners there that were my speed so I wasn’t alone in the darkness. Some days, Mira and I kept up with the speedier runners, and we finished the route in under an hour. During this time, Cathy’s girls and my kid became good friends, so we started hanging out when we weren’t running.

One day, I happened to mention that I used to swim in high school, and Cathy’s first thought was to invite me to swim in the indoor 50 meter pool on base. A 50 meter heated indoor pool? I’m in! I haven’t yet found a good place to swim other than the Y downtown, and it was just OK. We always swam a minimum of 1600 meters for the swimming gods, and I kept getting faster. Cathy suggested I do triathlon, helped me get my first road bike and drove with me to do open water swims in the Chesapeake Bay and in Lake James.

Through this sport, I have met so many people who have helped me along the way and are now good friends like Cathy. Even though military moves have come and gone, we still try to meet for a race like the Patriots’ Triathlon Festival in Williamsburg, VA. It’s a “local” race to Norfolk that I have never done, even though I ran up the same finish line twice for the Colonial 200 Relay, so why not make a girls’ weekend out of it?

That’s just what we did. I’m glad we had the chance to catch up, race on a beautiful day, and still make it back in time for the birthday party at her house. Cathy took first place in her age group for the 70.3, and I managed to hang on for the run in the Olympic distance as old injuries flared up even though the rest of the race went well.

Farm to Fork Fondo

I love cycling, but my favorite part of the Farm to Fork Fondo in Lancaster, PA is the fork part. The Gran Fondo of 68 miles takes riders through all four courses (I mean, aid stations with fuel and hydration), up and over rolling country roads with 3800 feet of elevation gain. Some of the elevation is from the undulating roads, but most of it is served up by the four climbs on the course.

Each farm stop along the Gran Fondo features specialty foods like: savory bread, homemade root beer and whoopi pies, fresh peaches and salsa, lemonade, and, my favorite, farm-fresh ice cream with chocolate milk so thick that it was a meal. All I had to take with me were two bottles, extra Skratch, and emergency snacks in case of a mechanical issue on course. While we snacked, there were farm animal friends, and even a tour of one of the Amish Farms.

This was Phil’s longest ride to date, and he did really well despite some cramping from the heat and pushing it up those hills. 68 miles is just over a metric century, so we’ll have to plan for a full 100 mile century next year. Shhh… he doesn’t know about that yet.

I absolutely loved this ride with its country roads, spectacular views, and the people we met on the ride. If you’re not up for the Gran Fondo, there are other distances to choose from: 50 miles, 30 miles, and a 10 mile ride too–all are on low traffic roads with lots of food. All rides help support the Farm Community Fund that works to maintain open spaces. To find your next adventure, check out the rides and weekend getaways:

Farm to Fork Fitness Adventures

Dealing with Anxiety in Triathlon

The mental side of triathlon is often overlooked and brushed aside with the advice that if you just practiced more, your anxiety will fade, and you’ll be a better athlete. Although more practice certainly helps, there are more strategies you can use to help deal with race day anxiety, open water swim anxiety, and the panic that arises on the bike when going downhill fast. I know that’s not parallel structure, and the English teacher inside me cringes, but I’m moving on because I got an open water swim to go to tonight that I’m already anxious about.

You heard me. I swim in open water often, but each time I’m faced with the same fears: what if I have a heart attack and drown? Who will find me on the bottom of the lake? I imagine the lifeguards abandoning their canoes and kayaks to form a search line to see if they can dredge my body up from the bottom. What if I run into that mysterious abandoned buoy that looks like something died? What if a fish nibbles at my toes? What if I get stung by a jellyfish again? What if that sea grass slaps me in the face when I’m least expecting it? What if something pulls me down, down, into the deep? What if someone swims over me or punches or kicks me? Let’s not even talk about sharks… I’ve seen all three Jaws movies, and I know a thing or two about bull sharks swimming way, way upstream in freshwater.

On the bike, my main fears are: descending too fast and hitting a pothole that will cause me to fly over my handlebars, getting a flat on a fast downhill, getting a bee caught in my kit or helmet and getting stung, not turning in time and hitting a tree, a driver looking down at their phone and not seeing me in time, or running over a squirrel or other creature (I did actually run over a squirrel, and thankfully, the poor thing didn’t get caught in my spokes, but that’s another story).

These fears seem ridiculous when written down in that haphazard list, but these are all thoughts that enter my mind, silly or not. Because the first thing I do when dealing with anxiety is to write down all the things I’m afraid of so that they are laid bare. The second thing is just admitting that I have anxiety, which seems like a no-brainer, but it’s an important step to take before you can actually move on to the strategies and putting those strategies to good use. It’s so important (there’s that word again) because you don’t know when you’re going to have a panic attack, but when it does happen, you can say to yourself, “Wait, this is a panic attack. I’m physically OK, but I have to deal with this.”

Once you see what you’re afraid of and can recognize a panic attack from an actual physical issue, you can move on to the strategies. Here are a few that have worked for me, but if you deal with anxiety or depression all the time, get help from your doctor, see a social worker or psychiatrist, and learn more about yourself. Counseling can do wonders.

Strategy #1: Give your brain something to do after you have identified that’s it’s anxiety and not something physically wrong. I like to count my exhale and/or sing my favorite songs in my head. When I exhale, I say “relax” in my head too.

Strategy #2: Turn the volume down on your fears. That list of fears that you made? Yeah, those will pop into your head often. Turn the volume on those fears down by employing strategy #1 so that your inner monologue is louder than your fears.

Strategy #3: Visualization. See yourself being successful. If you’re swimming in open water, when you arrive on site, look around, note the buoys, where lifeguards will be, study the course, and as you warm up, see yourself swimming effortlessly through the water. This is something to practice all the time.

Strategy #4: Go through all the steps and have a routine: get in, get your face wet and exhale under water a few times prior to swimming, start swimming slowly at first and then build your speed, sighting to stay on course. If needed, recover on your back to settle your breathing, adjust your goggles, etc. Give yourself a limit here before you begin to swim again: “I’m going to take two more breaths and then flip over to my right, and then ease back into the swim.”

The bike is a bit different, but the same strategies apply: make a list of what you fear on the bike, visualize yourself taking on the downhills, low on the hoods a first, and then in the drops, have a safety plan in place if you do fall–my Garmin will alert my emergency contacts and call for an ambulance if I crash, which gives me some peace of mind. Practice outside in a safe environment–low traffic roads or trails are ideal, slowly building your speed over time. Focus on your mental game: following your breath, giving your brain something to do on the ride helps as well.

Lastly, know that you are not alone and that all of this takes time, lots of time. Many athletes deal with anxiety during training and on race day. When I’m out there and feel alone, I think about all of my family and friends who support me as an athlete and coach, and I take their positive thoughts with me too. My head is full of them when I’m swimming in a lake as dark as coffee.

If you have some strategies, add them below in the comments. Thank you!

Ohio 70.3

I loved racing the Ohio 70.3 last weekend. It’s my first real race since 2019, and why not go bigger with a 70.3? No need to do a full IRONMAN again just yet. Since I started doing this sport, I always wanted to do a triathlon in my home state, and besides being in Ohio, this race checked all of my favorite things about racing: within driving distance from home, small college town, a lake swim, mostly flat bike course with some rollers near the end, and a hilly run course that had some shade with a nice long descent.

The lake swim was in Delaware State Park, and is a reservoir, which is similar to where I do most of my practice swims in PA and NJ. Murky brown green water that you’re lucky to see your hand in front of your face is what I’m used to. In fact, on race day, I almost swam over another athlete because I couldn’t see his legs that were right in front of me. Thunderstorms churned up some of the water and left a nice chop with a few swells, but nothing like the ocean or the pull of the tides. I swam the course wide and checked on a few athletes who were struggling in the beginning of the swim–I’ve been there. However, my choice to swim the course wide along with the added time waiting at the start after walking under the arch added a few minutes to my projected time. Good thing I didn’t care. For the first race back, I just wanted to find my swimming groove.

I kept transition short since I was anxious to start the bike to see what my new Trek Domane SLR 7 with tubeless 32c tires could do. This bike is not a TT or triathlon bike, and I’m usually one of the few athletes racing a roadie on the course. All I wanted was a comfortable ride without having to deal with bottle cages behind the saddle or an aero bottle. I’ve used those before and know I can no longer ride in aero due to an injury. So, roadie it is! And thank goodness! About 10 miles or more of this bike course was chip sealed–not ideal for a TT bike. That surface is rough. It was no problem for my Domane though–I flew through that section of chip sealed road and onto the rollers, leaving TT bikes in my dust. One rider, who eventually did catch up to me because I’m not super fast, said, “I’ve been trying to catch you for the last 10 miles. You’re fast on those hills!” Thank, you total stranger athlete. I’ll carry those words with me for awhile because that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten while racing.

T2 was even faster than T1, but hot, hot, hot. It was on the track and turf at Ohio Wesleyan University, and the heat just swirled around my head in the full sun. Gone were the clouds and threatening rain from the swim and bike course. It’s HOT. 85-90 degrees F with high humidity. Gosh, I suck at running in the heat, and the headache that started around mile 40 on the bike course was a full blown migraine now. I racked my bike and had to own the mistake of opting for the on course nutrition on the run, which meant I had nothing left from the ride. The nearest aid station was a mile away in the heat of the full sun. I ran, I walked, I wanted to quit. I told myself that if I ran slow and added some walk intervals and made it safe and sound to the first aid station, that I would wait until the next aid station to see how I felt and then decide if I was going to walk off the course and turn in my timing chip.

At the first aid station, I grabbed three cups: Gatorade, Coke, water. I needed the caffeine to see if it would get rid of the headache or at least make it manageable. I drank all three in that order, took a banana. Ate that. Took another cup of Gatorade. Drank that. And last of all, I grabbed two cups of ice: one for my back side and one down the front–my tri kit would keep the ice in place and cool me as it melted. This all worked. By the 2nd aid station, I used the port-o-potty because I remembered I had to pee and then I went back for more snacks. At mile 4, I felt like a million bucks and was totally thrilled that I could count the miles left on two hands. No more double digit miles for the first time today!

By mile 9, I came to regret the Gatorade and Coke, but I held on, ran to each aid station and only walked when I went through the aid stations. The last three aid stations kept me going to the finish line where I did my best to look thrilled when all I wanted to do was to sit down with the after race food and see if my stomach settled. It didn’t. I could hardly eat anything, so I walked to the car with my family, sat in the air conditioning, and proceeded to pick apart a blueberry muffin in small, edible chunks while sipping on water to try and get some calories in. Phil went to pick up my bike and gear because I couldn’t.

On the way back to the hotel, I got a smoothie of 700 calories and sipped it for the next hour or so. I felt much better after that and a shower. Then, I started thinking about when I would do my next race.

Busy, Busy and Ohio 70.3

School is out, racing is back, and the long days lend themselves well to getting stuff done. Trying to juggle triathlon training with all the things can be a challenge, and I often feel like a bee buzzing from one flower to another. That reminds me to weed my garden that I included pictures of (above) with the busy, busy bees and echinacea.

In any case, I had an easy ride that I moved from Saturday to Monday (not ideal, and I don’t tend to stack workouts for my athletes because I know better, but I don’t know better for myself), which left little time to do everything I needed to do with swimming and strength training on the schedule. But, that didn’t matter with the early sunrise and my trusty aluminum roadie. So, strapped my Garmin to the handlebars and headed out for an easy ride with all of my swim gear on my back. I needed to be in the pool at 5:00 AM. Little did I know that at 4:30 AM, it was still dark. Really, really dark. Heck, the bees weren’t even up yet. I turned on my lights to high beam and navigated my way through the dark streets. No one was up.

Part of my route went through a park that I had never been through before. As I approached the trail, I noticed it was paved, but the black wall of trees looked impenetrable, like some primordial forest. I zoomed in on my Garmin and decided to ride around the park for fear of getting skunked. The last thing I wanted to encounter was that or a raccoon, or to find out that the paved trail turned to dirt at some point (it did).

Success! My route took me directly to the main road where I had to ride on the sidewalk on City Ave with my road bike like a goober. There is no chance in hell I was going to be in the road on that road with the early commuters thinking it’s the Indy 500. I saw it as a chance to work on my road bike handling skills with a big backpack on. I made it to swim, managed an easy paced ride, and still had time for my strength session. I call that “winning” and the chance to get to do it all over tomorrow! Yay! Because there are only 5 weeks to go until the Ohio 70.3, and I need to make the most of my time to be ready.

Waterfalls

Sometimes we chase waterfalls,

the rush of the wind and the tarmac

under the tires fills the ears

with a gushing sound

until nothing is heard

but the trees, the loose rocks in the shoulder

and the roar of the road left behind.

There’s no need to linger long,

the waterfall spilling anew each second

over the bedrock,

and so, we ride on

Bear Triathlon Prep and Results

I just have to brag about this athlete, Ben. Ben started working with me to complete an Olympic distance triathlon. For his first Oly, he finished feeling like he could have done the race again. But, at the Bear Triathlon this year, he not only finished the race, but knocked 20 minutes off his previous finish time. This was his first race in cold water with a wetsuit as well.

In order to prepare for the cold water swim in a new wetsuit, we did what every athlete should do: practice. A week prior to race day, we headed out to Medford Lakes, NJ where the water temp was a chilly 60 degrees that froze your face and numbed your feet. It was so cold that my teeth hurt during the whole swim. After starting out too fast, Ben caught his breath and continued to swim for 2000 yards in that freezing lake because he knew what to do to get comfortable swimming in water that cold.

Congratulations, Ben! You never cease to amaze me! He finished his swim fast, held 18+ mph on the bike, and ran a fantastic 10K after having knee surgery earlier this year. I can’t wait to see what else the season holds for you!

Pockets, pockets, pockets

I had a chance to ride with Phil and test out my new kit from Coeur Sports as part of The Collective Beat, a team of women in triathlon supporting and encouraging all athletes. If you’re interested in being part of The Collective Beat team, which I highly recommend, here’s the link to do that: https://www.coeursports.com/collections/collective-beat

But, this post is a clothing review, so more on The Collective Beat in a future post. Since I started triathlon, I’ve worn lots of different clothing brands in the search for something that fits well and is comfortable without chaffing on long rides or runs. My favorites are Terry, Bontrager, Santini, and Coeur Sports. All of my tri kits, two of my bib shorts, triathlon shorts, and a few of my cycling jerseys are from Coeur, and here’s why: they are soft like butter, stay in place, and are comfortable for all day wear.

The bib shorts keep everything in place for long rides and were so comfortable, I bought two after getting tired of washing them immediately after every ride because that’s all I wore. The bib shorts also have pockets like the running shorts and are big enough to stash a phone and other goodies, one pocket on each leg. The cycling jersey didn’t bunch up or ride up above my waist and has three pockets as well as a zippered pocket for valuables. As for tri kits, Coeur is the best. I wear the one-piece sleeved kit for all of my races because it feels like I’m not wearing anything at all. It’s like being naked, but supported in all the right places. And, it has pockets!

Everything Coeur makes has pockets! Pockets in the bib shorts, three pockets in the back of the tri kit, two pockets on running shorts big enough for a phone, yet it doesn’t weigh down the shorts as I run. The tri shorts have tiny pockets for gels and paired with a cycling jersey, you have pockets, pockets, pockets! Pockets for all my friends!

It’s no surprise that Coeur Sports is one of my favorite brands: it’s also a triathlon clothing company run by women for women. And women know that women want pockets for all the things. Check out their site for swim, bike, run, and triathlon clothes for women of all shapes and sizes because everyone should look awesome while training and competing. https://www.coeursports.com/

Exploring the Schuylkill River Trail Again

I must have passed the Smith Run Ravine too many times to count. It’s nestled in between Conshohoken and where the pavement ends and the towpath to Manayunk begins, easily missed on my numerous training rides for Ironman Maryland as I made my way back and forth from Betzwood. I stashed extra food in my parked car near Valley Forge, so it was vital to pass it every two hours to get a solid 5+ hour training ride in where it’s safe from drivers and flat and windy like the race course in Cambridge, MD. The Schuylkill River Trail is one of the flattest stretches nearby, compared to the 3,000 feet of elevation gain possible in 30 miles on the roads of Gladwyn.

But by the time I passed Smith Run during Ironman training, I was almost an hour into my ride–fresh legs spinning into the headwind. The second time, there was a crosswind, and all the other times after that, my head must have been down from sheer exhaustion. Sure, I noticed it, but I never stopped. I never read the sign. I never looked and wondered.

I learned a lot from my Ironman training about what it takes to do something that is really hard, but I also learned how important it is to slow down and enjoy the ride. I’m currently training for the Ohio 70.3, but I have a much more relaxed approach, scheduling easy rides and making sure they are easy and doing the hard training solo on the trainer or outdoors without distractions. I’m consistent, but not perfect. And, that’s OK.

I’m glad I stopped in the middle of the ride to read the sign for the Smith Run Ravine, and, if next time is a longer ride, I’ll stop and eat my snack there too so I can enjoy the view.