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.

Looking Forward and Back

With the New Year upon us, many people look to make resolutions to improve themselves in the New Year with the hopes that they will be better for it. I’ve done it and have been disappointed each time.

This never works.

Resolutions only leave me frustrated because it implies that I wasn’t good enough last year–that nothing is ever good enough. What does work is knowing that there is no finish line, no end in sight. Sometimes I’ll get lost on the course and start a century ride over again (did that before realizing what I did and called for my personal SAG vehicle, thanks, Phil!), other times, I’ll come out with a shiny new PR and reach that 5K finish line in record time, and sometimes, my daily workout sucks ass on the treadmill with a side stitch because I ate too much garlic bread. Through all of it, I am consistent, accountable to my training plan, and am flexible as needed.

Consistency is key.

Consistency is also boring. I go to bed and get up at roughly the same time, I have meet ups for some workouts, virtually or socially distant now, for accountability (it’s hard to sleep in when someone is hopping on their bike trainer at 6am waiting for you to ride, but a virtual breakfast after the ride with coffee is the best!), and I pretty much eat the same stuff throughout the week. Boring. Not the “get off my lawn” old person kind of boring, well, sometimes I’m like that. Damn kids.

Accountability goes along with being consistent. Who are you accountable to? Your running, riding, or swim buddies? Do you have a coach? Do you have a friend who expects you to run fast once a week with her so you work hard all week just to keep up? Do you have a training plan or schedule? Adapt your plan day to day, but be consistent with your workouts. If you’re accountable, you’re also consistent.

Lastly, be flexible, but not to the point where accountability and consistency are forgotten. Move your workouts around based on your schedule, but make sure that you get most of them completed with the proper training intensities. Grab a coffee on the go, but maybe not a mocha. Keep your priorities in mind, but have some indulgences every once in awhile. Be kind to yourself. This has been an interesting year, and the next one will be too. Happy New Year!

IRONMAN Certified Coach

Since I began competing in triathlon, the IRONMAN distance was a goal that seemed too lofty after completing my first sprint triathlon at Breezy Point on Naval Station Norfolk. The swim started from a boat launch in the Willoughby Bay, which averages 7-12 feet in depth, and sometimes it was no more than 4 feet deep. I had no idea. All I knew was that it was choppy and windy enough to blow the swim buoys off course, and I knew I was terrified.

The brackish water made it impossible to see farther than my submerged hand on the catch. I made the mistake of starting in the middle of the mass swim start for my first ever triathlon. I was kicked and swum over. It was also only the third open water swim I have ever done and the first OWS in a race. I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was going to drown out there and sink to the bottom. I worried about marine life, especially jellyfish. I swam panicked for 800 meters, or more because I swam so wide and off course, and was still in shock for the first three miles on the bike after T1.

So, to think of even completing an IRONMAN race seemed out of the realm of possibility after that swim where I thought I was going to die, after the unrelenting headwinds on the bike, and the sun burning my back on the run. Would I run another marathon? Sure. No problem. But running a marathon AFTER swimming 2.4 miles in open water and cycling 112 miles on my road bike, well that seemed impossible. But, impossible is what I like to do. After all, I ran a marathon a few short years after my first 5K road race.

Three years after that first triathlon in Breezy Point, I finished IRONMAN Maryland, standing up, healthy, and happy. Mike Reilly called my name and said what I had waited to hear all day long, “You are an IRONMAN!” I somehow ran through the finish chute to my family waiting for me on the other side. I was transformed during that race because I not only realized that the impossible is possible, but I also know that anything takes consistency and commitment, the support of family and friends, my daughter riding her bike alongside with me for 20 mile runs at age 10, and the help of a good coach. Mary Kelley coached me through my 70.3 and IMMD, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

Now, I can help other athletes know that the impossible is within reach. I’m looking forward to what we can all accomplish together.