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.

Birthday Ride

The best birthday gift is warm weather in March and a ride with Phil. We headed out after a leisurely breakfast and made our way down to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before heading to Manayunk for coffee at Volo. This is an easy ride to do with Martin Luther King Drive closed to cars for the time being. Usually, it’s only closed May-October on weekends for cyclists and runners, allowing more room than the Schuylkill River Trail on Kelly Drive that tends to be filled with people.

With temps in the mid 50s, on a Wednesday, it wasn’t too crowded. Recent snow melt and rain filled the Schuylkill and there was the usual headwind throughout the ride. The sun was shining, and it’s always a good day when you’re on a bike.

If you’re interested in rethinking MLK Drive in Philadelphia, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia’s post and sign the petition at the bottom:

https://bicyclecoalition.org/the-future-of-mlk-drive-your-questions-answered/

Before Morning Coffee

I started running in 2010 when we moved back from Japan, even though I dabbled in the sport while doing run/walk intervals along the Odakyu Line that stretched out from the center of Tokyo to Kamakura. It was the only flat road, and I would go back and forth from our house to the local playground. Phil would run with me when we started, offering encouragement, even though I ran/walked super slow. If he ran ahead for a mile or so, he would come back to check on me before heading father once again. By the time we moved back to Florida, I ran my first ever 5K race without walking.

Since then I’ve added triathlon when my friend, Cathy, found out I used to swim in high school. She wanted someone to go to the pool with her because she knew that if she made plans to meet me there, she would show up without fail. It was a 50 meter indoor pool, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim there, being a much better swimmer than runner. We would go twice a week and swim 1600 meters for the swimming gods before hopping out. I also ran with her every day at 6:00 AM and the whole 6@6 group, and after many runs, she convinced me to get a road bike since I was already swimming and running–why not add the third sport of cycling?

And, that’s just what I did. I bought a used road bike for $500. I then went on my first road ride with Cathy and Gene to the Norfolk International Airport and back and just about died trying to keep up. Within a week, I got myself a pair of road shoes, clipped in, and proceeded to fall a few times while practicing in the apron of our driveway. The kid came out and drew chalk outlines of everywhere I fell so that our driveway looked like a crime scene.

I’ve managed to stay on my bike more often than not, and have kept up with swimming and running, but it’s way easier to get out there when you have friends waiting for you in the cold, pre-dawn hours. Marianne is that friend. We typically run at 5:00 AM to beat the traffic, the heat of summer, or crowded streets during COVID, and she’ll ride with me for miles in winter as we chase the sunrise to the city and back. One thing we always do is get coffee afterwards, which makes all of that hard work in the cold, the dark, the windy, the rainy, the snowy, totally worth it. We’ve talked about just meeting for coffee at 5:00 AM, but I’m still asleep at that hour because it’s the running or the cycling that wakes me up so I can really enjoy the coffee.

Throughout my time in this sport, meeting my friends in person or virtually has helped me get out of bed when I would rather hit snooze. Because most days, I’m not motivated to be getting up at 4:30 AM, and there are many times I hope to see a text from Marianne before 4:30, saying she can’t make it. I often stare at my messages with one eye open, hoping to see that cancellation text that will never come. So I shut off my alarm and get up for the run or ride before coffee.

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!

Go By Bike

Going by bike is best the way to get around your neighborhood, and if you can substitute one car ride with a bike ride per week, you are helping to reduce your impact on climate change. Here are some tips for getting around town by bike:

Make sure you ditch the fancy cycling gear for everyday clothes and some Vans over your road shoes for a meandering ride around the block or running errands. Yes, my road bike hub has 108 points of engagement and wants to go fast, but when I ride around, I take my time. Even though I have clipless pedals, I can still ride my road bike with a pair of stiff shoes on my feet and not clip in as long as I’m not going too far. If I’m going more than a few miles, I’ll take a backpack with an extra pair of shoes for more comfortable riding.

Say hello to everyone. When I drive, I have a tendency to get annoyed by pedestrians and everyone in general because I should have left my house ten minutes before I actually did, but on a bike, I wave and say, “hi”. It’s just more enjoyable.

Remember the times you were a kid on a bike while you ride as an adult. As a kid, or a college student studying abroad in England, a bike was freedom and transportation. It still is. The leaves are falling and crunching under the tires, the wind might blow, it might rain, yet you get a better sense of your community from behind the handlebars since you see your neighbors outside rather than passing by them in a car, or going from your house to your car. The point is to get out of your car and outside.

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I didn’t say that, but I stole it from a Scandinavia phrase. It’s true though. You can go out in all kinds of weather if you have the right gear and layers, which I’m sure you have somewhere in your closet for most weather conditions.

Last of all, wear a bike helmet and attach some lights to your bike so drivers can see you. Follow all traffic rules and signal where you are going so everyone knows. Get out there and ride! Trek Bikes started the movement, so when you do ride, snap a photo and tag it with #GoByBike if you would like to share it.

Tell Me Something Good

Flats happen, the hour falls back, the moon stays up late, and sometimes my feet carry me faster and faster until I fly above the ground. Gravity can’t hold me down.

With all the craziness going on in this world, tell me something good. Just one thing. It can be a small thing too. I’ll start, but please leave yours in the comments:

  1. I fixed Phil’s flat on the side of the road with freezing hands so that he was able to ride home.
  2. What’s yours?

Stronger

When I was little, I used to want to grow up to be strong enough to beat the crap out of any bully I encountered. No matter what their size, I wanted to be able to take them down to stop them from picking on other kids or getting their way. I wanted to be the Karate Kid who wins the tournament just because I wanted to win and to show the bad guys, once and for all, that I can kick ass. But, I’m not a big person or the strongest or the best athlete.

I never took any form of martial arts. Standardized tests told me I wasn’t smart enough for scholarships to go to my college of choice, or get a master’s degree. I’m 5’4″ and still have to climb the shelves in the dairy section to get milk for my coffee. I ride a small frame bike, and the wind can blow me over while I ride. I am facing the fact that I might get shorter as I age, but I hope I can honor the legacy of the 5’1″ force that is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

There’s a step stool in my kitchen for all of the things out of reach that has more or less become a metaphor for life. RBG made some of those things easier to reach for women: she gave us a step stool to level up in the eyes of the law. I used my step stool and climbed higher, getting the much needed scholarship and degrees along with the milk for my coffee too. For that, I am grateful for RBG.

I continue to climb above the bullies, the naysayers, the doubters, so now I don’t have to worry about beating the crap out of them. Instead, I’ll lend them a hand if they’re willing to change and accomplish more than just getting ahead. Let’s keep moving forward and continue the work that so many women have done, the work that RBG continued throughout her career. It shouldn’t end with her, but continue with you and me.

Get stronger. Know you can. And then, go and do it. There is no before or after, there’s only now.

Calling All Athletes

Anyone who’s been around the fitness industry knows that before and after pictures are powerful advertising tools, as in, look how great Brittany looks since she’s lost weight, or look at Bill who now has six-pack abs! Well isn’t that fantastic? Yeah, but (you knew there was a huge but coming, referring to the conjunction, but not a big ass), what about the athletes who alter their nutrition, train, and do awesome things, but are essentially the same afterwards and don’t fit the definition of what most people think an athlete should look like? Where does that leave them? And what about the Brittanys and Bills before they lost weight or started training? Does that mean they were somehow not as good as their new and improved selves?

Look. Training and proper nutrition doesn’t “fix” people. In fact, most people don’t need “fixing” because we’re all on this journey called life (insert eye roll here), and everyone is simply doing the best that they can do with what they have right now. Consistent training and eating properly does provide overall better health and sleep, but it’s not going to “fix” an athlete. That work is done in your brain and by you.

The story I want to hear right now is the story of the busy mom who runs every day but never races, the IRONMAN rocking a dad bod who skips a long ride to be with his kids, the cyclist who rides an e-bike to and from work every day and gets others to ride too, and all the athletes who don’t seem to fit inside that athlete box because some arbitrary expectations say they don’t look the part.

That’s the story I want to hear right now. Because it’s my story too. If you are training for events, training for a healthier life, training because that’s how you make friends, but you’re essentially the same lovable you at the end of the day, spreading the joy, I want to hear from you.

Email me your story to be included as a series in this blog about how you got to be where you are today. Here are some guiding questions to consider (thanks, Jamie!):

  1. How did you get started in triathlon?
  2. How has triathlon contributed to you life?
  3. What has been your experience as a triathlete in regards to performance and self image?
  4. How can the sport of triathlon be more inclusive to all athletes of all backgrounds?
  5. What motivates you to get up before dawn and do a workout?
  6. Which of the three sports is your favorite and why? Don’t forget the WHY.

Here are the details:

  • 1000-2000 words, or enough for a “chapter” (or the standard 500 words is OK too)
  • Names are changed to protect others’ privacy, but the story is true.
  • I have your permission to publish the story on my blog and edit for grammar, spelling, or clarity. You’ll see the final copy before publication on the blog.
  • I also reserve the right to not share the story on my blog if it’s inappropriate.
  • If you have a totally awesome story, I’ll send you some swag. I have shirts and hats, and in a year with very little racing, free stuff is the BEST!
  • Please email your story me at laurie@vformationmultisport.com

Training in the Time of Corona

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my favorite authors, and if you haven’t read “Love in the Time of Cholera”, you should. This is where I borrowed my blog post title from. Many athletes have a lifetime love affair with the sport in much the same way Florentino loves Fermina in the novel, so here goes.

Athletes without access to a pool will while away their time with dry land and strength exercises before returning to their love of the pool and open water. So, be patient, and while you wait for the pools to reopen, here is a dry land workout you can do:

Warm up for 5 min on the bike, walk, or run briefly and then:

10x double arm freestyle pull
5x single arm right
5x single arm left
REPEAT

Dead bug
https://youtu.be/I5xbsA71v1A
3-5 min plank–rotate between all of the plank exercises

10x Chest Fly
10x Reverse Fly
REPEAT

Bridge
Monster Walk

10x double arm freestyle pull
5x single arm right
5x single arm left
REPEAT

Don’t worry, pools will reopen, and you will get stronger in the interim. For the bike, most of us can still ride outside. Use this time to explore new routes in your neighborhood, practice on hills, and ride with your family, if possible. The other great thing about the bike is indoor training if you have a bike trainer and a subscription to Zwift, Trainer Road, etc. You can decrease your time and focus on intensity, which will make you even faster when you do get back to riding outside. Also, you can virtually ride with friends on Zwift and other platforms to help stop the spread of the virus. Ride on!

Last of all, for the run, embrace running solo and without music. If you’re in an area where you do not have to shelter in place, go it alone and easy to maintain your aerobic base. Conversely, you can also take your workout to the track or treadmill to increase your speed and strength.

Here’s one of my favorite run workouts for the treadmill from my running journal from Runner’s World. The treadmill keeps you honest and your pace steady, so use it if you have one and are stuck inside (this workout can also be done outside):

3, 2, 1 Repeat Workout

Warm up for 10 min at zone 1 pace

Run 3 min at 30s faster than 5K race pace with 3 min recovery

Run 2 min at 1 min faster than 5K race pace with 2 min recovery

Run 1 min FAST with 1 min recovery.

Repeat 2-3x

Cool down for 10 min at an easy pace.

There you go! Stay true to the sport, but please rest and recover, check in with friends, family, and your neighbors, find time to read non-triathlon related books, catch up on home improvement projects, and sleep in! We got this! Practice social distancing and take care of yourself and others.

Latte O’Clock

I understand, for a coaching blog, that discussing coffee, lattes, and mochas can seem counterproductive from a nutrition standpoint, but I’m here to tell you it’s not a distraction: some version of latte o’clock can be a boost to your well-being.

I’ve noticed patterns in my mood throughout the day, and by far the most difficult time is in the afternoon before the kid gets home from school, before the dinner-making frenzy, and before after school homework or activities. This was true when the kiddo was a baby and Phil was out to sea somewhere in the Pacific, and it’s still true now that we’re all together under the same roof with no deployments in sight, whether I’m at work or at home. This was the time I would call my friend, Becky, just to talk, or we would go and do something together when the kids were little–like make dinner or go out to Ayase Town Hills for a mocha at Tully’s and to take the kids to the giant ball pit for 300 Yen. That’s really specific, I know, but it doesn’t have to be (it certainly doesn’t apply today since neither of us live in Japan anymore near Ayase-shi).

What does help is something to look forward to, and that is: latte o’clock. Instead of throwing all of my money at Starbucks, which I do anyway and need no help in doing so, I make my own whole milk latte when I get home with either caffeinated coffee or decaf, depending on how late I plan to stay awake. I save a few bucks and sip my latte in the peace and quiet of my home. If I do go out to actually purchase a latte, I take my own travel mug and include the latte in my daily macro count, so it works.

A latte might not make you feel better, but it is something to do that’s not working or being productive, and that is something to look forward to indeed because all of us do not have to be so efficient all the time. Maybe you carve out some time to read, meditate, or binge on social media for a five to ten minute break. I know that around the same time in another city and state, Becky is also making a latte for herself. And, even if I don’t call her every afternoon, we still have latte o’clock together.