Ironman Maryland

While running the marathon of the Ironman, two runners asked me why I was doing this. I can’t remember if I asked them why they too were completing an Ironman or not because that would have been polite (and I was beyond polite at the time).  My memory is foggy at best through the delirium I experienced on the run, but I remember replying to each one of them: “I just don’t know; I should have that answer in a week.” So, if you’re looking for an inspirational blog post about my revelations before, during, and after Ironman Maryland: this is not that kind of post.

And, It’s been a week.

Well, more than that, and I still don’t have an answer to that question. But I do know that I would like to do another. Maybe I’m just out to punish my body– to escape responsibilities in exchange for training– to wake up at 4am to train — to ride for hours on end on Saturdays– to swim endless laps in the pool staring at the black line (actually, I like this part)– or swimming loops around swim buoys in a lake for hours, flicking seaweed away– to run on exhausted legs every. single. day. where every run is absolutely a punishment and all of your running friends leave you behind— or worse– to ride for over five hours on a trainer.

Not all training is grueling. I’ve met some Ironmen who have trained with me on the bike or run, and I adore the masters swim team I train with three times a week, and I’ve met the BEST people while preparing for the Ironman.

In any case, here’s my Ironman story. It’s not pretty, but neither is the Ironman.

Four hours from Chattanooga, Lacey sends me a text: “The swim is cancelled; I’m so pissed.” She was checking in on Thursday for Sunday’s race while I was in the car en route. My heart sank. I was devastated: a year’s worth of training and now the swim is cancelled? How can I call myself an Ironman (silly, I know) if I don’t do the swim? The swim is my best sport of the three. With the new staggered time trial bike start for Chattanooga, I wasn’t sure if I would make the bike cutoff, or if I would get pulled from the course at some point. I vented my frustration on Facebook and to my friend, Catrina, racing in Maryland. Lacey received many of these texts too. Catrina sent a message saying that the race director for Ironman Maryland is doing walk-up registrations on Friday from 10am-1pm and that I should consider changing course and race Ironman Maryland instead. There were 30 slots available.

For many of you who do Ironmans, a walk-up registration the day prior to the race is almost unheard of. Phil and I deliberated in the car for over an hour while parked at a gas station four hours from Chattanooga. I texted family and friends and talked to Cathy for awhile. We decided to take the chance and drive to Maryland. It was five o’clock on Thursday, and we pulled into Cambridge, MD by midnight.

The next day, Phil and Sophia slept in while I drove to the transition area for Ironman Maryland. I arrived by 8am and started asking around about the walk-up registration. One volunteer didn’t think they were doing that–it couldn’t be! I was still determined and hung around, watching athletes practice their swim in the Choptank River. I spoke to anyone who would listen and felt like a total outsider. I didn’t belong here. What was I thinking? Did I throw away Chattanooga for nothing?

I headed to the bike in/out for transition when I noticed more activity. An athlete there spoke to me and mentioned that the race director, Gerry, was the guy in the pick up truck right next to me. He knocked on the window, and Gerry eased my concerns when he said that they are doing walk up registrations at 10am where they were setting up tents. Finally! I hugged Gerry too! I was able to sign up, got my green Ironman band, and then proceeded to panic since I had to race on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to get all of my gear ready and dropped off by tomorrow. Back to the hotel!

Race day came before I knew it. Phil drove me to transition while Sophia stayed with his parents (they were kind enough to head to MD to watch the race after being so close to Chattanooga). I handed my gear and special needs bags to the volunteers and carried my swim bag to the swim start where I still needed to get a timing chip, or this whole thing would really be for nothing. While waiting for volunteers, I forced myself to eat something more, but ended up dry heaving in a trash can near the swim start. I found Catrina and Dylan and calmed down chatting with them and getting my wetsuit on. Soon, Catrina and I lined up for the swim ready to go.

In the corral, I talked to experienced Ironmen and calmed down again. I was ready and still had to pee, which I couldn’t possibly do in my wetsuit. All of that vanished in the rolling swim start–I got my head wet, adjusted my goggles, and swam for the buoys, one at a time. Waves lifted me up and down as I swam forward. My wetsuit felt tight around my neck despite cutting it lower. I flipped over on my back three times before the first turn buoy 500 meters away just to breathe. I thought about quitting and searched for a kayaker. The waves were choppy enough that sighting was difficult, but I told myself I am a good swimmer, I won’t drown, and I have a wave of people who support me coming along for this race. I closed my eyes and pictured all of them following me like geese in formation. I am not alone. I held this image throughout the swim for all 2.4 miles. Whenever I hit sea nettles with my hands that bubbled up from the deep, I pictured my friends and family with me. As I prepared to exit the swim, my calves seized up, and I wan’t sure if I would be able to stand let alone ride my bike. I flexed my feet to stretch out before getting out of the water, which seemed to help.

In the changing tent, a volunteer helped me with my cycling gear while I drank a protein shake, swallowed a salt stick capsule, and ate some gummies. I found a port-o-potty on the way to my bike. Phil found me and cheered me on while I ran with my bike to bike out.

The bike course was fast, flat, and windy. So many cyclists passed me in the beginning, but I stuck to my plan and held my pace and heart rate to prevent burning out later in the race: I ate every forty-five minutes, drank a bottle of Tailwind every hour, and stopped to pee. Around mile 50, I knew I was going to have GI issues, so I stopped again, ate a banana every time my fingers tingled–that happened three times on the ride. Overall, I thought I was going to be OK for the run. By mile 70, I could no longer sit on my saddle and adjusted my position every few minutes. I sang songs out loud to myself and passing cyclists. Wind pushed me around when I was in aero, but I tried to enjoy all of it–even the last 42 miles of wind, wind, and more wind. I smiled for the sports photographer, watched a blue heron land, and traced the ripples on the water as I rode by. I wanted to be here, and I’m lucky to be here.

As I entered transition to prepare for the run, I saw my support crew, which made me feel really happy. I started the run strong with the intent to walk as needed. My stomach was still uneasy, but I ate some pretzels and drank some Gatorade Endurance upon leaving transition. I felt good. Bring on the 26.2 miles!

The first 8 miles went well, then GI issues were back in full force. I went through cycles of feeling hungry, dizzy, and dry heaving, to full for a few minutes, followed by severe stomach cramping that stopped me in my tracks. By mile 16, I could no longer run because of my stomach. All I could eat was chicken broth, pretzels, and water. The aid station made me want to vomit with its cookies, gels, bars, and Gatorade. Just give me chicken broth, please.

The cycle of nausea, temporary relief, and stomach cramps stayed with me for the rest of the marathon. I saw Catrina and Dan twice on the run through some of the most desolate sections of the course–seeing them gave me the motivation to keep going. I tried to speed walk, did calculations in my head to see if I would make the cut offs, felt utterly alone in the darkness when the crowds went home, and when my friends were ahead of me. If I passed out, who would find me? Should I go to medical? All would be lost if I did that, so I continued anyway. At the last turn around, the bright lights made me dizzy, so I looked at the blood orange moon instead. I heard Mike Reilly calling out names of athletes who finished, and I desperately wanted to get to that red carpet.

I passed the last cut off, so I could walk if I needed to. This was such a relief. I heard a song that reminded me of Sophia’s friend, Hope, who beat cancer, and began crying as I ran to the last turn around. How many people are able to do this? How many people have the financial means to do so? How many people have the luxury to train and the family support behind them? I walked faster and maybe even ran. I don’t remember.

After the last turn around, I started to see people behind me, which made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Thank goodness. At the last aid station, I ate an orange, possibly the best orange I’ve ever tasted and kept speed walking. When I hit that red carpet, “Stayin’ Alive” was blasting from the speakers, I sang, I danced, I shook Mike Reilly’s hand, and I became an Ironman.

To answer that question about why I was doing all of this, it’s because the challenge is there, and I can.

Thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, without whom none of this would have been possible. She make schedule changes, told me when to take a break, and pushed me when I needed it. Thank you to Phil and Sophia for putting up with all of my training days, cleaning the house, cooking dinner while I napped, and for being supportive even when I was hangry, which was all the time. Thank you to my family who had to work around my training while I visited and watched Sophia on the long rides–I took my bike everywhere I traveled this past summer. Thank you to Jan and Clint for driving to Maryland to watch me race and to Aunt Nancy for making so many phone calls to secure lodging in Cambridge. Thank you to Friends Central Masters Swim Team, coached by Kerry, for making me faster and for the friendships there. Thank you to all of the Ironmen I know: Cathy, who got me into this sport in the first place, Dan, Mary, Mary, Lacey, Amajit, Lou, Catrina, Dylan, Bill, Sue, Steele, and John. For being .01% of the world’s population who have completed an Ironman, I know a lot of you! Thank you to all of my running friends near and far: Kim, Marianne, Caroline, Gene, Mira (my running twin), Jen, Megan, Hua, Kelly, and the running pups: Moose, Marla, and Packer! Thank you to my friends all over the place who never doubted that I could do it–Becky, Vince, Angela, and Amanda. I’m sure I missed someone, so thank you everyone!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Many of the runners and triathletes I coach are strong women who work hard to accomplish their goals–whether it’s getting up for a 5am run, training for their first triathlon, or preparing for the Chicago Marathon. These are only a few of the women who inspire me to keep going every day. I’m so glad my mom encouraged me and my sister to pursue sports–she’s the original Greek athlete in the family who played football in the street as a kid and now challenges herself in cycling races today. She’s Sophia’s Yiayia, and she kicks butt every single day.

So, to all of the strong women out there, and that means ALL of you, today is your day. Get out there and show yourself what you’ve got!

Training with Heart Rate Zones

 

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Training with heart rate zones may seem overwhelming at first, but once you understand your zones, you can properly train for any endurance sport. Get out your calculators or put on your thinking caps for the rest of this blog post. Let’s do some math!

 

First of all, find your resting heart rate. Without a heart rate monitor, you’ll need to take your HR (heart rate) before you get out of bed every morning for seven days. Take your heart rate for a full minute in the carotid artery. At the end of the week, find the average out of seven days. Mine is 59 bpm (beats per minute).
Secondly, to find your max heart rate without a VO2 max test, which you can do if you choose: run a hard workout such as 6×800 repeats on the track with 2 minutes rest in between while you wear a HR monitor. Look for the max HR after uploading your workout. Mine is 185 bpm and may spike higher, which is different than the standard 220-your age.
Third, calculate your HR reserve. Here’s the formula:
Max HR – Resting HR = HR Reserve
For example, mine is 185-59= 126 bpm for Heart Rate Reserve.
You can base your training on heart rate reserve or a percentage of your max HR.
                                                      Max HR %                         HR Reserve %
VO2 Max (Zone 5)                          93-95                                91-94
Lactate Threshold (Zone 4)         82-91                                77-88
Marathon Pace (Zone 3)               79-88                                73-84
Long Run (High Zone 2)               74-84                                65-78
General Aerobic (Zone 2)             70-81                                62-75

Recovery (Zone 1)                          <76                                    <70

To calculate HR Reserve:
(HR Reserve x percent from table) + Resting HR = HR Reserve for zone
Example from my numbers:
(126 x .77) + 59 = 156     156 bpm (for the lower range of zone 4)
You would do the calculations for the whole range, so here it is for the higher end of zone 4:
(126 x .88) + 59 = 179
So, my range for zone 4 HR Reserve training would be 156-179 bpm. I usually train by percent of max HR, so that is just taking a percent of your max for the ranges. Therefore, for my lactate threshold of zone 4, I would be in this range: 157-168 bpm. Please note that these calculations are for running.
For cycling, everything is about 8 bpm lower in all of the ranges. To set it up manually on Garmin from Garmin Connect–first login and then click on your device:
1. Go to your device
2. Device settings
3. User Settings
From here, you can add HR zones that are customized for you. You’ll have three choices: Percent of max HR, HR Reserve, or Percent of Lactate Threshold. Garmin calculates it automatically, or you can manually change it around based on your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). I originally had Garmin calculate the percent of HR Reserve, and then adjusted it manually a little higher because zone 2 felt too easy.
Here are a few things you should know when using heart rate to train: heart rate is useless if you are doing short sprints on the track or on the bike. It takes too long for your heart to recognize that it needs to work harder, which is why you see a spike in the recovery phase of really hard and short efforts. Go by rate of perceived exertion or by time for really, really short distances.
I also want to mention that for swimming, your heart rate zones will also be different, which is why I use rate of perceived exertion for swimming as well as timed intervals and train all of my athletes as long distance swimmers, but that’s another blog post. Not to mention that looking at your watch on the swim, if you can actually see it, messes up your swimming form, which doesn’t make this coach happy. If you wear a HR strap during the swim, analyze your heart rate later on and write down notes about how you felt on the swim for comparison.
Remember, your numbers will be unique to you and your training. With HR training, you will eventually become more efficient at each zone so that you’ll see your pace increase while your HR stays the same. It takes about six weeks to see progress, following the 80/20 rule where 80% of your workouts are in zone 2 and 20% are in zone 4. Train slower to race faster. It’s also true for ALL endurance sports. Happy training! And be sure to comment below with questions.
References and further reading: 
80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (where all of the heart rate charts are from)
Be IronFit by Don and Melanie Fink
Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels (if you only get one book on running, this is it)
Joe Friel also has excellent books and online resources, so check him out too!

Chicago Marathon

Chicago. Marathon #5. I had hoped that this marathon would be my fastest and best yet. It wasn’t.  Nothing was amiss–I had trained properly, had no major injuries, race day fueling was perfect, I arrived to the race in plenty of time and came off of a good night’s sleep. So what happened? A marathon happened. And in a marathon, despite all the good preparation, anything can still happen.

Race day was cool at the start, but the forecast predicted the temperature to climb into the upper 70s or low 80s. With that in mind, I knew Chicago would not bring a personal best–heat, humidity, and my body do not like each other. I told myself to run a good race with or without a PR and tried to pump myself up in the starting corral. “I am a fast runner. I am a fast runner. I am a fast runner.”

I took off at the start and almost cried. Here I was running one of the Abbot World Marathon Majors, crowds were cheering, and I felt like a champion. I never thought I would be able to even run a marathon, let alone five of them. Yellow jackets bombarded runners and dive bombed my ears from time to time. I swatted them away like the negative thoughts in my brain. A marathon is run in your head and not with your feet.

By mile 10, my legs felt fatigued and sweat dripped from my shorts. My feet swam in a pool of water trapped in my shoes. The half marathon ticked by, and I saw my awful split time: there was no way, I would get a PR, and this might be my slowest marathon yet if I don’t get it together. I kept swatting bees, took a deep breath, and told myself that even if I didn’t get a PR, I will finish this race.

That’s when I decided the hell with it. Screw running. Who cares if I need to walk? I looked around at the crowds, at the taiko drummers, at the dragon dance, at the humorous posters held aloft, at the brownstones, at the Sears Tower, and listened to the roar of the train on the El. I am in Chicago, and today I am taking a running tour of the city because I am fortunate enough to be able to run. I am healthy enough to run a marathon, and I am happy that I have the means to do so.

I earned my medal without a new PR, and now I’m setting my sights on a full Ironman in Chattanooga on September 30, 2018.

Thank you to everyone who came out to cheer for me: my mom, Aunt Shirl, Fred, and Eric. Also on this trip, I visited my childhood friends, Katie and Andy, whom I haven’t seen in almost thirty years, and caught up with Chris, my high school soccer and swimming friend who rocked Chicago with a new PR despite the heat! Congratulations!

Just Another Day

I often run the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia for my long runs. It’s flat for the area and has plenty of water stops; the trail follows the river into the city, past Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and ends near the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rowers dot the smooth waters of the Schuylkill, and the trail attracts runners, walkers, and cyclists alike. I love this trail.

I usually park just north of the Falls Bridge in East Falls, Philadelphia since Kelly Drive has lots of traffic right next to the trail. I take time to hide my stuff before leaving with my keys and phone, and I typically have a bag with a towel and a fresh shirt for after the run. I had been looking forward to a run on the SRT all week to escape the hills of my neighborhood–the air was crisp, and I ran fast.

Upon finishing my twelve miler, I looked at the front passenger window of my car and immediately thought I had left my window open in my post-run delirium. Then, I noticed the spiderweb of broken glass clinging to the door and peered inside. Crap. My bag was gone with my wallet, clean shirt, and towel. Glass littered the passenger seat, the cup holders and even the back seat of the car.

I was cold, hungry, and pissed off. All I wanted was for Phil to come and get me and bring me lunch, but he was at work, and my car was still in good working order, minus a window. I had to pull up my big girl panties and handle the situation. I think the thief would have taken my bag with or without a wallet inside in the hopes that there would be. A driver with a sweet bike on the back pulled in next to me. I advised him to park elsewhere since my car was just robbed. He stayed.

I texted Phil and called my bank. Sure enough, the thugs already tried to use my card at Home Depot. Why is it always Home Depot? The last time a skimmer swiped my card information, the crook went straight to Home Depot. Not Lowe’s. Home Depot. I cancelled my cards, called the police to file a report, and spoke with my insurance company. The cards and my driver’s license can be replaced, but I’m more angry about the long-sleeved tech shirt from the Atlantic City 70.3 and my Mile on the Sand beach towel from VA Beach that I lost. Losers. I hope the shirt doesn’t fit and my useless stuff ends up in some dumpster.

Despite all of this, it was still a good day. I remember listening to NPR’s Invisiblia, and how they interviewed a women who couldn’t feel fear: bad events like a robbery were just events that happened, neither good or bad, and didn’t influence the rest of her day. I thought about that and felt lucky that I wasn’t mugged because that would have been much worse. Even though I can feel fear, I’m not afraid. This was just something that happened, but I will be even more cautious if I park there in the future. I won’t even put my towel in a bag.