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.

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?