Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A weekend trip home and Ironman training

This past weekend I was home for a few days in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as my family did a delayed burial for my grandmother who had passed in December. The winter was cold and dreary and we wanted to wait for a beautiful spring/summer day, which we had this past weekend. We all miss her so much and she would have loved that everyone was together, laughing, swimming, eating, and playing with kittens. It was the perfect day to honor her and it felt like she was there with us in some way. We love you Gram.

As I get further along in Ironman training, traveling poses some challenges - especially on the weekends - as I am away from my bike and can't get in long rides when I am away. This past weekend was one of those weekends. It was a trip that I wasn't going to miss, and that I also wasn't going to compromise to try and borrow/rent a bike and go out on my own. The weekend was about family and getting to spend as much time with my family as possible.

So how does that work with training?

Well, it starts for me with strong communication with my coach. Weeks in advance I let him know my dates of travel and had that built into my schedule and marked on my TrainingPeaks as soon as I knew the dates and had flights book. He then builds my schedule around that. The weekends leading up to my trip had long, challenging bike rides built into them. I rode the Gaps two weeks before, and followed that up with a 5:00 hour bike ride on Saturday the 9th. Everyone else that was riding that Saturday had 3-4 hours on their schedule and a number of people asked me why I had that extra hour!

It was a long, hot day for me and I ended up riding the furthest I have ever gone on an unsupported ride. The long rides I have done have had built in rest stops every 10-15 miles (that I have taken advantage of!) or even ITL-supported SAG vehicles. On this day, there wasn't even an official ITL group ride, I just went out with my friends to ride bikes for 83 long miles. Knowing I had about an hour longer than everyone else, I started early and got in 30 minutes before we planned to meet, tried to keep moving as much as possible even when we stopped to regroup, and then kept going at the end of the ride when everyone else stopped for the day.

I followed that 5:00 hour ride with a 20 minute run, leaving me as the last person from our group in the parking lot for the day. Hot, sweaty, tired, but feeling really proud of myself.

And that bike ride wasn't even the only challenging portion of that week! Leading up to the 5:00 hour ride, I had actually ridden my bike 1:30 hours the day before and had a number of challenging swims and runs built in. Enough so, that I had my first mini-breakdown of Ironman training, where I got into bed at 8:30 feeling overwhelmed and completely exhausted from training, work and life commitments that left me needing to disengage from communication and conversation for a bit (despite the fact that I had driven an hour to go see my boyfriend, and then immediately after running and ice cream decided I needed alone time and shut down.)

The day after my long ride, I had a 2:00 hour run scheduled. I took it nice and easy, getting in 12 miles. I started at 6:30 a.m. to do an hour on my own and Jonathan joined me for the second hour of my run. Going at what must have been a turtle's pace for him, he stuck with me and helped keep me distracted.

The week stayed full after that, going right into long swims, track and an insane amount of lunges, and long trainer rides throughout the week before hopping on a plane Thursday night to head home. When I tell you that literally sitting down to go to the bathroom was ridiculously painful, I am not even joking. My legs were so sore from lunges on Tuesday, that when I saw my trainer ride on Wednesday evening included getting off the bike and doing squats in between intervals, I thought my legs were going to buckle just reading that.

My priority for going home was seeing family.

When I go to New Hampshire, I always stay at my mom's house. And every time I am there, I have the same challenge. I arrive around midnight, and then my mom leaves for work at 6:30 a.m. the next morning. Unless I am renting a car, I have to coordinate if I am going to get up SUPER early and have little sleep but get a workout in before my mom leaves so she can bring me to my sister's. OR I can wait until my sister has the chance throughout her day of managing her flock of babies to come get me. Or I can just hang around at my mom's house all day by myself.

This trip was so short that none of these things were going to be an option for me, so instead, I planned ahead and brought my hiking backpack. Why? So that on Friday morning I could incorporate seeing family into my workout, and threw some clothes and flip-flops and snacks (duh... I didn't know what my sister would have at her house!) into my bag and head out on foot from my Mom's to my sisters. In reality, it was just a bit over 8 miles, which is a normal run for me, but it felt so fun and funny to run the distance from one place to another and make my training functional. Thinking of seeing my little niece and nephews was honestly really amazing motivation and I had a very strong run for myself on Friday. Despite wearing a backpack for the first time ever while running and tackling a hilly back half of the route.

Saturday I planned to have off from training in order to totally devote to family and the reason I had flown up, as it was the day of my grandmother's burial. But then back on Sunday, I had another run on the schedule for 1:30 hours.

As we got off the highway at my mom's exit in New Hampshire around 10:00 p.m. driving back from Massachusetts, we saw a sign tacked to a poll advertising road closures for the "Ribfest 5 Miler" road race. I looked up the run online, and did a little research to learn that it was a little over 4 miles from my mom's house and right around 11:00 p.m. (an hour before online registration closed) I signed up for the run the next morning!

One of the things I am trying to focus on with this training is fun. And although I wasn't going to race the race, incorporating an organized 5 mile route into my run sounded like a top more fun than spending 1:30 hours on the same roads that I have been running every time I go home for the past few years. Roads that I got really tired of running back in December when I was home for 2 weeks in the heart of marathon training.

I left my mom's around 7:30 a.m. and ran the 4.2 miles to the start of the race, checked in, then continued to run around until my watch hit 5 miles. I ran into some people that I knew at the race, got an awesome race T-shirt, and was impressed with the size and number of people that were out at this Ribfest 5 mile race!

We started at 9:00 a.m. and I loved the energy and atmosphere of this race! The route was an out-and-back on some of the roads I had just run on to get there, it was unshaded and hot, but there was music, aid stations, lots of energy, and some beautiful neighborhoods. Out-and-back routes can be fun as well because you get to look at and cheer for other runners. I felt comfortable and happy and pushed the pace a bit, but also stayed in control as I knew this was supposed to be an "easy" run day and not a day to race.

The best part was that my mom came out to cheer and meet me at the finish line, which, absolutely made for a much better running day than what I would have otherwise done! I felt strong, I actually had a great run for me (I guess this is what it is like to run on legs not tired from biking!?) and did I mention I really liked the shirt I got?? It was an all around successful run that is now super memorable for me.

I flew back to Atlanta on Monday morning and was back to training regularly on Tuesday. Sometimes I stress over feeling like I need to be tied to my bike and have to sacrifice life things for training. And it is true, many times you do. But I am really thankful to have a coach who encourages me to book the trips I want to book telling me "we'll figure it out." I am thankful to have a super supportive boyfriend who helps me through my freak-outs and encourages me to take the time I need to do things, even if it means less time together. I am thankful for my family and mom who help me build my hobbies into our schedule, come out to cheer for and take pictures of me on the side of a hot highway in the summer heat. And I am thankful for all my community in this sport who help make it so much fun, even when I am tired and exhausted.

Ironman Chattanooga is 14 weeks away!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Return to the Gaps

Last year one of the more challenging days of training throughout the summer and a day that had an entire blog post dedicated to it was my first ride at the Gaps. As a quick recap, the Gaps are a series of climbs in the North Georgia mountains that are frequented by cyclists and triathletes in Atlanta. Biking in the Gaps means a lot of beautiful scenery, gorgeous views, curvy roads, and long climbs UP mountains with fast, sometimes scary descents down afterwards.

Last year when I went, it was a challenging day for me physically, but also mentally, as I struggled with anxiety throughout the day, cried multiple days, and left the Gaps feeling a bit defeated. The Gaps had gotten the better of me on that day.

I knew that returning to the Gaps was something that I needed to do. I wanted that revenge on the mountains and wanted to prove myself there. But I had also been putting it off a bit as well.

I wanted to feel strong when I went back and wanted it to be a positive experience. I went last year in mid-June after having been biking regularly since the beginning of the year. This year, it wasn't until the end of April that I really started spending time on my bike. And although I did ramp up quickly and have had some strong rides, I haven't really felt that I have been in great biking shape. When going to the Gaps has come up in conversation this year, I've put it off as something to do later in the summer when I was feeling stronger on the bike.

Last week, in a group chat with other ITL athletes that I am a part of, it came up that the group ride was going to be taking place in the Gaps that weekend. I immediately started to panic a little and told myself, maybe we aren't actually going this weekend and I can put it off for longer. It came from pretty reliable sources... but I still went to my coach to confirm that I'd be going. So I started shooting text messages to him.

"Are we going to the Gaps this weekend??"
"Am I ready for that??"
"Do you want me to be biking in the mountains??"
"Do you think I can do it??"
"Really though, do you think I can do it??"

Yeah, I am a fun athlete to coach.

In addition to all of the questions for confirmation and reassurance, I also let him know that if we were going, I wanted to have an actual discussion about the overall approach to the day. When he confirmed we were going, I first went back and re-read my blog post from last year. I recalled a few things that I didn't remember before and I knew the questions to ask. I prepared a list and talked with Jerome about what the day would be like. One of the things that was important that I remembered from reading my blog from last year was that although the climbs were hard - I could do them - that my challenges from the day were a lot mental. I knew the things that I needed to do to prepare myself mentally and after talking through all my questions with my coach, I felt ready to return to the Gaps.

He helped give me an understanding of what I could expect in the route. We talked through the names of the various Gaps, the distances, and the times it might take me to climb them. Talking to him made me feel much better and turn my nerves into a bit of excitement. Before going to bed on Friday night, I put together a last minute list of my goals for the next day, which simply consisted of:
  • Ride mindfully and be in the moment
  • Practice good nutrition
  • Don't pay attention to the numbers
  • Have fun
  • Smile a lot (a last minute add by my coach!)
I went to bed feeling ready but a bit excited.

The plan was to be wheels down at 7:15 a.m. and it was an hour and a half -ish drive. I arrived around 6:45 and was surprised that we just sort of basically parked on the side of the road. I recognized portions of the drive there, so things were looking familiar, but parking on the side of the road was new. I got my bike ready and chatted with friends, greased up my bike chain, and waited to get started.

One of the things that I had discussed with my coach the night before was which of my bikes I should bring to the Gaps - my road bike or my triathlon bike. I was a little nervous to bring my tri bike because I can feel a distinct difference in climbing on my road bike vs. my triathlon bike. And I definitely feel more comfortable and stronger on the road bike. My coach advised me to bring that one then and said it was far enough away from my race that we could go back to the Gaps with my tri bike sometime and for today, he was okay with me choosing comfort. I also am not racing such a hilly route, so I don't need to be doing that much climbing on my tri bike.

At 7:15 we were rolling - with the plan to do the loop that Jerome and I discussed the night before, which consisted of 3 Gaps - Neels, Wolf Pen, then Woody's Gap. As we head out someone told me that from where we were starting to the top of Neels was exactly 13 miles. Having that target in mind made me feel really good.

I stuck with my friend Kevin, who is also training for his first Ironman in Chattanooga with me. We agreed on a plan of "slow and steady" for the day and went into Neels Gap feeling positive, with our friend Joni riding at a much easier pace than she needed to, in order to stick with us on the climbs. I was so thankful to have Joni there with us as she chatted away on the entire climb up Neels, which helped take my mind off of how long we were going and helped keep me at a comfortable and conversational pace. Slow and steady.

I recognized points along the route from last year, and at this point in the day traffic passing by wasn't too bad. When we did this climb the year before it was later in the day and lots of cars and motorcycles were zipping by us which had frightened me. Aside from a few idiots who honked at us and drove by obnoxiously, the roads were pretty clear.

I felt comfortable climbing. There were a few points where I got out of breathe, but then settled back in. I used my gears whenever I could, but otherwise just kept pedaling in my lowest one. Slow and steady. As we got closer to the top, or I guess after we had been riding a while (since I didn't know where the top was), I started looking at my watch, trying to see how far away we were from reaching 13 miles. I also knew we were getting somewhat close as people started to loop back for us multiple times and pass our little group pedaling away. I CHOSE not to allow the people looping back or the fact that we were the last ones in the group let me feel bad. Just kept going my pace and having fun talking to my friends. Thank goodness Joni was there. Slow and steady as we climbed.

Eventually we made it to the top of Neels! I felt relieved. I had done it. And it wasn't too terrible. Neels was the climb last year that had broken me a bit and what I was most nervous about going into today. It was our 4th climb out of 5 last year and I was exhausted and started crying when I got to the top. My coach had made me take a picture with the view in the background amidst my tears because he knew it would mean something to me later, so I went back and took a picture while people had snacks and went to the rest room, regrouping at the top of Neels.

June 2018
June 2017

At the top of Neels I started to eat some of my snacks, possibly overeating a bit since it was still early in the ride. But I had brought yummy snacks for the occasion, and the year before I had gotten hungry early in the ride, so did not want that to happen again. We had a SAG vehicle, but it was mostly just holding extra things for the group that was riding 6 hours (I had 4) so everything I had brought was stuffed into my baggie on my bike.

The descent down Neels was fun - I don't mind the descents that much, whereas I know a number of people are terrified of them. I just hold onto my brakes and take it easy but also enjoying the reward of not having to pedal after a long climb. We rode passed Vogel State Park - which is where I had been back in March when we supported/crewed Jonathan's friend at the Georgia Death Race ultra-marathon. It made me feel even more comfortable with the day to be able to remind myself that I wasn't in totally unfamiliar territory - I was becoming more familiar with and accustomed to the mountains of North Georgia. I was an old pro at this area of the state! ... Although in reality I do not know my way around whatsoever, it was something I told myself to help feel more comfortable, which it did.

The next Gap started at the bottom of the descent of Neels. Wolf Pen is a 3 mile climb, which feels short after doing Neels right beforehand, which is 7 or 8. But it is a bit steeper. I had been feeling good tackling the one that seemed most scary to me going into the day, but came back to reality a bit because Wolf Pen is still challenging. Joni stuck with me again, back of the pack, and I just kept my own pace and focused on what I was doing. Slow and steady.

We chatted more and I tried to stay in the moment, observing the beautiful views, waterfalls, trees, and skyline that poked through. It was a really gorgeous day out and aside from getting a bit chilly on some of the downhills, I felt very comfortable temperature wise.

I checked my watch throughout the climb up Wolf Pen, knowing to expect about 3 miles. It helped me to have that to plan for and definitely relied on that quite a bit. We made it to the top and found the group up there waiting, a few people having turned to loop back. We regrouped there, filling up our water bottles from our amazingly helpful SAG vehicle, took some pictures, and then continued on.

The next Gap was Woody Gap. I knew it was really short, but it was also the only one on this route that I had not done before and was not sure what to expect. We rode over, regrouping at a gas station before getting into the climb, and then regrouping again at the top of Woody. The climb there really wasn't bad at all! It was the first one that I did on my own, and I thought back to my goals for the day of "not paying attention to the numbers" and set the mini-goal for myself to not look at my watch and check how far I had gone up the climb at all. I just wanted to ride until I got to the top - which I did! Slow and steady.

The top of Woody has one of the prettiest views. I recognized that we had actually stopped there when driving through the year before and I had taken pictures at the top of Woody. I took some more with friends and was honestly just feeling really happy and really good about the day. I had just ridden the 3 Gap route and was still feeling strong. My goals and my approach to the day all seemed to be working for me... except maybe trying to focus on nutrition. At this point I was shoving Cape Cod potato chips into my mouth with no shame. I wasn't getting hungry though and was going through water, so I felt happy with that.

When we finished the 3-Gap route, we were at about 2.5 hours into the ride. Our coach, Adam, suggested that we stay together as a group for a bit longer before splitting up (people were trying to ride a range of 4-6 hours.) He suggested we turn around and descend down Woody the way we had just climbed and turn down a road that we don't usually ride down but, he said, "is really nice, shaded, and a pretty ride!" He told us to descend, then keep going straight until we got to a big country store that we wouldn't miss, and then turn around and go back. He thought it would add about an hour to the ride.

It sounded good to all of us so we turned and rode down Woody the way that we came up, and continued down the road that Adam mentioned... and when I say continued "down" the road... I literally mean DOWN. After the descent down Woody, we kept going a bit and then continued to go downhill for mile after mile. It was a pretty road and it was a shaded road, as Adam has mentioned, but he had NOT mentioned that it was straight downhill! Which meant this out-and-back add on to our ride, was also going to be taking us UP this road.

There were some pretty steep seeming sections and I was cursing Adam in my head the whole ride down, wondering when it would level out or when this big country store would appear.

Eventually I started seeing people come back up, so I knew the end was in sight. I reached the store and with a few of my friends said to one another, "What in the world did we just ride down!?" and complained a minute... but then did what we had no other choice to do, but ride back up.

As we started up, at first I was grumpy. Why did he have to make the last hour and a half so hard?! He hadn't even given us any warning! I felt frustrated and annoyed, but then all of a sudden the voice of one of my friends who I had asked for advice the day before came into my mind. She had told me to go into the day knowing it would be hard, BUT that this was just one step on my way to becoming an Ironman.

All of a sudden I felt like I had a bit of clarity and remembering that advice started to give me perspective. I told myself, don't be mad because this is hard - you KNEW this was going to be hard. You are here because of that. The reason that you are doing this is BECAUSE it is hard. To get stronger. You signed up for an Ironman to do something challenging. And not just on the day of the race, but in the months of training beforehand. I stopped being mad at the fact that we'd gone a way that was "hard", turned my mindset around, and just rode my bike up that hill. Slow and steady.

Adam passed me on the way up and I said to him, "How is this not a named Gap!?" and he said, "It is! It is Skeenah Gap!" ... I have never heard of this Gap and it is not one of the 6 that people talk about, but I felt a little validated that I wasn't making up that it was a big climb! When I looked at my elevation profile at the end, it confirmed that I wasn't making it up either.

I hadn't tracked on my watch how long we had been going downhill so I wasn't sure how long I had to climb up it, but I just kept going. I stayed focused and kept in the moment and just pedaled away. When I got to what I thought might be the top, I even did something I never thought I would do -- I turned back around. Turning back around was scary because I wasn't sure how much climbing it would add. But it was also scary because it meant that when I got to my friend who I was turning back for, I would have to stop riding, turn around, and then start riding on an uphill. That made me nervous, but I did it.

I turned back down Skeenah Gap until I got to my friend and helped encourage him up the last of the climb, and we made our way to where the rest of the ITL group was waiting at a gas station by the bottom of Woody. At this point, I was still feeling SO happy and was really proud of myself. Not for how fast I climbed or anything - but because I was still having fun and still happy. I had gone through a huge mental challenge with the unexpected part of the route throwing me for a loop, but I was able to find a mental place where I was strong and get through it with a positive attitude.

Even though we still had one more Gap to ride up, Woody again, I felt victorious. There was music playing at the gas station and I was smiling and dancing (and eating more chips.)

The group split up at this point and the 4 hour crew head back up Woody and towards the cars, while the people with longer rides head off on a different route. Woody Gap seemed longer this second time climbing up it, but I continued with not looking at my watch at all and just staying in the moment, riding until I could see the top.

Once we all go there and regrouped, we started downhill. I knew it was a long descent, very twisty, on a smooth newly paved road that would literally dump us right back at our cars. It was a 5 mile downhill that although was a bit scary, was also extremely pretty (I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road.) I was back at my car with my watch at exactly 4:05 on a 4:00 hour ride planned. Pretty darn perfect.

My elevation for the day was 5104 feet of climbing, over 4:05 hours riding and 50.3 miles. For perspective, Ironman Chattanooga, what I am training for, has 4808 feet of climbing over 116 miles.

I never tried to push the pace. I told myself over and over "slow and steady." I laughed and had fun with my friends. I encouraged other people and accepted support when I needed it as well. I reversed bad self talk in the moment. When the ride went unscripted, I faced my fears. I was mindful and focused on the present. I had fun. And I smiled a lot.

It was a good day and I really feel like on this day, I conquered the Gaps. Not because I was faster or rode further or stronger than last year but because I embraced the toughness and I used it to make me stronger. Understanding what the day at the Gaps was going to be like was really key for me. I felt so much more comfortable having a sense of what it would be like. But even when it came to a part of the day where I did not know what was happening, I turned my attitude around and found the right mental self talk to get me through it. One more step on my journey to becoming an Ironman.

Looking forward to more tough things to come.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cooper River Bridge Run Race Recap

Back in early April, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina with my friend Brick and her husband G to take part in a race in a new state and a bucket list race for Brick and I - the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K. This race is the 3rd largest 10K in the world (with the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta being #1... we Googled it.) There are about 44,000 people that run every year and we have heard lots of good things about the experience.

We had made plans to run this race and signed up back in the fall, but then life happened and we put together our trip somewhat last minute. Things have a way of working out though and despite not a ton of research going into our planning, it ended up working out perfectly. The race took on a lot of different meanings and motivations throughout the months from when we signed up to when we actually went to go run. It was something I am so proud of Brick for accomplishing and a fun weekend all around so I wanted to be sure to recap it all on the blog.

We left Atlanta midday on Friday, April 6 and drove across Atlanta into South Carolina, about 6 hours in total for the drive I'd say. We planned to go right to the expo since we were arriving with about 30 minutes to spare before the end of the event. 

Arriving at the expo was pretty easy, since I think most people had made it through already. The location was only a bit busy (and more colorful!) due to a Jimmy Buffet concert taking place right next door. We walked the Expo with high expectations of free samples and vendors to explore (we are both NOT the in-and-out type of expo attendees.) However, the race expo was already shutting down and a number of the booths had already packed up or were in the process of packing up. A little bit of a let down, but it was okay. We were tired from the drive and knew we had a long day ahead of us. Plus, we hadn't had dinner yet. We snapped some pics and figured out where we needed to be in the morning and then head over to our hotel.

By some stroke of luck, our hotel was actually right in the same complex as the race expo... literally just 2 minutes down the road. What made this really lucky was that the expo spot was one of the locations for bus pickups the next morning. Since it is a point-to-point race, you need to take a shuttle to the race start, very similar to the New York City Marathon. By total coincidence, we ended up having an incredibly logistically easy morning ahead of us, which took a lot of weight off our shoulders.

After having some pizza at a delicious spot right by the hotel and expo, we head to bed just to get up in the morning and walk over to the shuttle bus pickup. Our hotel was awesome and had breakfast bags with fruit, muffins, granola bars and water for runners and the pickup was extremely organized and very smooth. There were a few ITL ladies who were also in town from Atlanta to run the race and I had made plans to meet up with them in the morning at the race start. Again, by pure coincidence, even with 44,000 people at the start, we were able to find them really easily.

Brick and G were going to be walking the race, so we all hung out together at the start and made our way to the corrals but then I moved forward with some of the girls who we all planned to run the race together. None of us had any goal paces and all were planning to run for fun and take it easy, enjoying the experience of this large race!

The run itself actually starts in Mount Pleasant, and at about 2 miles in, you start to head over the bridge. The portion on the bridge itself is about 2 miles, before you enter in to Charleston and finish right in the historic and beautiful downtown area of King Street. The race start was pretty uneventful. I had no hype up dancing and no nerves, it was not a goal race for me so I was just planning on running it like I would a regular weekend run.

The first thing that I noticed when the race started was that there weren't a lot of spectators. Given that a large portion of the race is on a bridge, there of course are not spectators along that portion, but overall I was a little surprised at the fact that there weren't more people out spectating. As we got into Charleston, there were more crowds. However, races with similar numbers of runners (NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Peachtree Road Race, etc.) have people lined all along either sides of the street rows and rows deep. This was less crowded but still lots to look at with the beachy towns, music along the route, and lots of runners in costume along the course. Plus, I was running with my friends, which is not something I have done in a race environment in a long time. We stopped to take some pictures along the route and were continually checking around for one another.

I personally felt like I was having a hard time maintaining what should have been a comfortable pace. I have been having a hard time running in general since my marathon and even though this was only a 10K and it wasn't at any record setting speeds, it felt hard for me. I was happy to see the miles ticking by but at the same time tried to enjoy the experience since I knew it was a bucket list race.

As we head into Charleston and King Street I tried to take in all of the different restaurants and shops. I hadn't been to the Charleston downtown area yet so it was my first time scoping out everything around us and take in the cuteness of the area. I hadn't been to the coast in a while or a coastal town in the south, so I was enjoying seeing the palm looking trees and the cute beach-y feel of the town.

We made two left turns into the finish line and just like that the race was done! Unlike any of the races I've ever done there was no rushing to stop my watch and see what my time was. There was no gasping for air and feeling of excitement or disappointment at how I did. It was just done and I stopped running and laughed and took some pictures with my friends.

There was a great finish line and as we made our way through we got medals, water, and then were dumped into the finish line festival area. There was BBQ, watermelon, muffins, fruit, Gatorade, water, etc. and we tried to stock up on snacks and also hopped into a Panera to use the restroom and get coffee before heading back out to the race course to see our friends who had walked make their way in to the finish.

When Brick and G came through, I jumped back into the race and walked the last .25 miles with them, hopping out of the race before they went through the finish and took pictures as they crossed. I was really proud of Brick for starting and finishing this race, despite seemingly the odds being stacked against her. This race was a goal of hers and the reason I signed up and it wasn't about time for either of us but the experience. She always impresses me!

The one thing I will say about the race is that the finish line party was not well prepared for the people who finished at the end of the race. By the time that Brick came through there was no BBQ, watermelon, or good snacks left. I don't like when races only cater to the people who come in first and don't have enough supplies for everyone. Everyone paid and participated so they should plan to have watermelon for all 44,000 runners in my opinion!

We didn't stay long in the finish party not surprisingly... there wasn't a ton left to do and Brick was ready to be off her feet. With everything sort of crazy and busy in the finish area, we stopped at a cookie shop and grabbed some cookies before making our way back to the hotel to shower and figure out a plan for the day.

The weather had held out for the time that we were at the race, but unfortunately the rest of our Saturday was filled with on and off TORRENTIAL downpour thunderstorms.

We proudly wore our medals around the city and explored the food and sights of Charleston, SC for the rest of Saturday. We tried food and sweets from numerous restaurants and enjoyed some drinks as well before falling asleep early and getting up to make our way back to Atlanta. It was a fun weekend exploring and running in a new city and state and with some of my favorite people. I have no idea what my time was at the Cooper River Bridge Run and I am A-OK with that. I highly recommend it for a fun race experience!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Proud moments

Despite my last post about some of the challenges I am working to overcome as far as eating is concerned, I wanted to share a bit about some of the fun stuff from the past few weeks as I have gotten back into the swing of things with training. It's been a really busy time of year and despite lots of weekend trips, a little bit of work travel, and various work and social commitments, I have been maintaining a full schedule of training and starting to remember what it's like to balance three different sports! I really have not trained for a triathlon in about a year since the only major triathlon that was on my schedule last year was Chattanooga 70.3 in May. After that I did some more biking and swimming, and raced an Olympic distance race in June. But it was all running focused training from June 2017 until about a month ago in March/April 2018 after Berlin and Albany Marathons.

I have been proud of myself for getting back on the trainer. And in a big way! Now, I still cannot (and have not had to) force myself to do multiple hours on the bike trainer, but I have lately been spending more time working myself into a full on sweaty mess and my legs into Jello with tough workouts on the trainer. Right before I went to Chicago in mid-April (more on that later!) I did three days in a row of really tough trainer rides, plus swims, plus some strength work all mixed in. After the Wednesday-Thursday-Friday trainer combination, my legs were TOAST. But it felt, and continues to feel, really good to push through a challenging workout on the trainer. I have been dreading these workouts less and enjoying the sweat sessions. I told my coach that I can feel the muscles growing in my legs after these workouts!

I have been proud of myself for getting back to swim practice. Now, this is another little "gimme" of something I am proud of, but it has been a change in habit to return to going to swim practice not for it to be a recovery set from running, but for it to be a workout. All winter long I (and my coach) was giving myself permission not to push too hard at swim practice, leave early if I wanted, and use it primarily as a means of recovery instead of fitness. It was a change in habit to get in the pool at 6:00 a.m. and not get out until 7:30 when I started back going to the full sessions. I have really been loving it though and am proud of myself for getting back into it. The first few weeks when I first was recovering from Albany and couldn't really bike or run hard, I did a few swims of 3600-4000M, just because. I actually stayed longer at swim practice, adding to the workout, instead of dropping out early. I am looking forward to open water swims starting as well!

I have been proud of myself for recognizing that it is okay to skip some workouts. So, this might sound crazy but it has been an important thing for me. As many people might be able to tell, I can be pretty type A and nutty about not wanting to skip things. I have written about this before and it is a point of pride for me - I do not skip workouts. Since training for my first marathon where I did every single mile on the Hal Higdon plan, except for TWO that still eat away at me, until now. It's just something that doesn't sit well with me and so I just don't do it. Sometimes that can be to my detriment though when travel, injury, fatigue, and life come up. I will drive myself crazy and anxious to get in workouts, lose sleep and stress to get it all in - sometimes hurting myself in the process.

As I ramp up for Ironman, I have already come to the conclusion that I need to be better about sometimes letting something go by and go red in TrainingPeaks. I spoke with my coach about this and he agreed and encouraged me to listen to my body at times. He said he had no problem telling me this because he knows my work ethic is not one to allow myself to skip all the time. But if I am feeling exhausted and stressed, he said he'd much rather me get more sleep and feel better and skip a swim than drive myself nuts over it. In reality, my Ironman race isn't going to be made or broken by one single workout. It's a long term training of consistency and building week over week, so remembering to be good to myself and listen to my body throughout the journey will be important.

I have been proud of myself for remembering I can say no. In my first week or so since having my wake up call and refocusing meeting with the nutritionist, it's been a lot of "first's" for me in terms of resisting the food and indulgences that I had gotten into the habit of just saying yes to. Just like with staying the full set at swim practice... it's not that I didn't think I could do it... but sometimes you have to reset your habits, and those first few times can be hard.

I was in a habit of every time I went to the grocery store, going to the bulk food section first and making myself a bag of "snacks" to eat while I shopped. Chocolate and yogurt covered pretzels, nuts, cranberries and blueberries. Gummy candies, jelly beans, and sour watermelons. It became my habit and it is hard to snap yourself out of that. But once you do it once, it becomes easier the next time. I have been working to reset other habits and remind myself - I can say no to getting a drink, even though I am attending a happy hour. I can eat my own salad that I brought in for lunch, even though the office ordered pizza. I can pass on the cookies, cupcakes and donuts that are at the work conference. I can choose the egg white omelet with veggies and dry toast over the bacon and buttered biscuits while going out for breakfast. I have been proud of myself on more than one occasion lately as I "say no" and move on to a number of temptations.

I was proud of myself for how I rode at the Up the Creek bike ride. On April 28 I did my first long bike ride of the year at the Up the Creek 71 Mile Ride. It was in Rome, GA and I went out with a number of friends as I had heard great things about the route. This ride is the same day as the John Tanner sprint triathlon that I did last year. However, not having any triathlons until later in the year, I didn't feel the need to do a sprint this year and knew a long supported ride would be better for me.

I was a bit nervous going into this because the longest I had ridden this year up to that point was 36 miles. I was about doubling my distance and that made me nervous! Plus, I'd had some issues with my bike the last time I had ridden it that didn't have me feeling too confident.

Well, I ended up having an awesome day at Up the Creek. I felt like I got stronger as the day went on and I loved every minute of the ride. It was a gorgeous route, great friends, lots of laughs, and I couldn't believe how strong I felt all the way in through the finish. Now, I know these numbers aren't setting any records for speed, but I averaged 16.8 mph for the 71 miles, which is a really strong training ride for me. Even at the peak of my strength last year, I would be really happy with that, so to average that speed just getting back into my first long ride, I was thrilled and really proud.

And the day was just so fun!

I was proud of myself for how I rode at the VeloCity 100 Mile Century bike ride. The week after the Up the Creek ride, I decided to go out and add to what had already been double the furthest distance I'd ridden this year by another 30 miles and do my first century (100 mile) of the year. Last year, one of my goals for the entire year was to ride a century bike ride and after months and months of training, I built up to it and rode 100 miles at the end of July. It is so weird to me that this year in the first weekend of May, after doing much less cycling leading up to this, I just rode 100 miles for the second time ever - this time with it not being "the" goal, but just a stepping stone on the way to Ironman. Saturday was just the first of many 100+ mile rides I will get in this year. Oh and because it was a city ride, it started a little less than 2.5 miles from my house. I actually rode TO and FROM the ride, for a total of the day of around 106 miles.

The ride was different from the week before as I could feel the fatigue in my legs early on and unlike the feeling of getting stronger all day long, after about 25 miles, I felt like I was just getting slower. Miles seemed to be crawling by and I was afraid I was just going to crash and bonk. I dropped my chain 2x around mile 50 and after a long stop at mile 54, when starting back up again my legs just felt dead. However somewhere around mile 60 I came back to life and started to feel strong again. I focused on 5 miles at a time and pushed through to the next rest stop at mile 80. The last 20 miles in were really challenging with lots of terrible hills. We were going through neighborhoods where it felt like every time we had a downhill it was met with a stop sign or a red light that caused us to start the next steep incline from a dead stop or slowed pace. It was tough, but I still felt strong through to the end. I ended the day with an average speed of 16.7 mph, which I was really happy with. I had been thrilled with 16.8 mph the weekend before, so for my speed to be about the same on a route with double the elevation (+5000 ft) and 30 more miles of riding - it was a really nice surprise after not feeling so strong for parts of it.

And again, it was an all around really fun day with friends.

I have been proud of myself for staying positive. I wanted to share the things I am proud of as part of this effort to continue to stay positive. Because to be honest, not every aspect of the beginning weeks of training has felt perfect (shocking, right?!) Most notably, my running has been really struggling. I think I really burnt out my mind and my body with the running that I had done throughout the winter. Plus a little weight gain. Plus using and tiring out a bunch of muscles in my legs that I haven't used in a year. And yah, running probably will suck a little. But it's been hard because I have been getting slower and slower (after a year of focusing on just getting faster and faster), feeling terrible, and just something I have been struggling to get the motivation to do. However, I try to find positives in all my runs. Whether it be running in a fun different city like on my recent trip to San Francisco, the beautiful weather we've been having, ability to wear tank tops, being consistent in pace (whatever it may be) or running with friends. I am working to stay positive.

And not just on my runs, but on my bikes as well. I spent a lot of the century ride biking along and even during the tough portions where I felt like I was going to bonk, I tried to focus on the positives and enjoy the day. During the challenging hilly portion of the last 15 miles of the ride, I told myself all the starting and stopping was just going to make me stronger. I am working to stay true to the first part of the goal I had set for myself when I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga, which is just to have fun with the training. Staying positive is not always easy, but it is a choice. And I am proud of myself for the times that I have chosen to be positive in the past few weeks.

It is something I will continue to work on and choose every day. Hope you are having a great start to your week!

Friday, May 4, 2018

New goals - an honest post

Lately I have been really feeling the itch to write and have been missing having this space as an outlet. I am going to make an effort to spend more time here and write more. I have continued to come back to the blog after 9 years now because I have come to find that writing is good for me mentally. It helps me process things and sort through my thoughts. I have missed the routine and ritual that I have often had of sitting down with my laptop at the end of the day; digesting and analyzing the things I felt and did as they related to training, eating, and life.

As I get ready for Ironman Chattanooga, I know finding free time in the day is going to become even harder than it is now, but I am hoping to continue to carve space in my life to dedicate towards writing and reflecting and sharing my journey on this blog.

Over the past few weeks my training has begun to ramp up. I doubled the furthest mileage I had gone on a bike last weekend, ramping up to 71 miles, and tomorrow I am jumping yet again. I am riding 100 miles with some friends - my first century of the year, and second ever bike ride of that distance!

I am going to write another post soon about both some of the things that I have been struggling with right now with training and some of the things I have been most proud of. However, today I wanted to open up a little about another important aspect of healthy living overall and the topic that this entire blog was originally founded on, before the days of me ever even running a 5K, and that is food and eating.

As winter dragged on, I found myself so much looking forward to the warmer weather and outdoor bike rides with my friends. However, one aspect of that I had been beginning to dread, was pulling out my triathlon and cycling kits from last season and squeezing back into to tight shorts, lycra (or whatever this stuff is made of), and no ability to hide stomach rolls and excess body fat. Now, I had become very comfortable with this all last season, but throughout the winter my body has changed a bit and I have put on some weight. As happens with a lot of people when you pull out your spring/summer clothing, everything fits a bit snugger and tighter than when you had packed those boxes away.

And while endurance sports has taught me to love and feel comfortable in my body for how strong it is, no matter what the scale says, I have been stressed out about the weight due to the habits that have come along with it. The tighter clothing meant I could no longer deny the weight, which means I could no longer deny the habits, which, for me, could best be described as binge eating. And was something I have felt really out of control with as of late.

I was hesitant about whether or not to really open up on the blog about this, but I thought that by sharing openly, it would help to hold me accountable to the changes I want to make. And in essence, stop the process in its track, because for me, binging also comes along with hiding these habits, the shame around it when it does happen, and discarding evidence to those around me. In addition, I was reminded that - Katelyn, you actually have written about this exact topic on the blog before! This post from May 2013, I literally could have written last week. Almost every word of it. Except now I know to label my habits as falling under "disordered eating" (which is different from having an eating disorder, I should add) and not just eating in secret.

So what exactly does that mean?

For me, binge eating is eating without thinking. It is letting the lizard brain win and giving in whenever I think to myself "I want that" despite another part of my brain telling me no. It is also the shame that goes along with it when I do indulge. Almost always alone, without telling anyone, and hide the evidence before anyone can see the candy bar wrappers in my trash can, the empty box where the donuts once were on my counter, or the empty frozen yogurt container in the backseat of my car. Sometimes I might be with someone when I buy the cookie or the candy or the food - but you won't see me eat it until I am alone (because then I can still leave that doubt in your mind.) It is eating without really enjoying it, feeling satisfied, and often is hidden afterwards, or referenced in a joking way, where in fact, I feel horrible and embarrassed about it.

Now logically, over the past months as I have been feeling out of control, I have *known* the things that I needed to do. And mentally I *wanted* to be doing them. But I haven't been able to get myself to do them. And I didn't know why.

I can pinpoint when these habits started to become an issue, and that was following the holidays and the passing of my grandmother. It continued as I returned to Atlanta and even in the months leading up to my marathon in Albany. Usually when I have a really important to me training goal that I am working on, I am more focused than ever with my diet. I recognized in the moment that the behavior wasn't smart or healthy, but at the same time, I was running 50-60 miles a week and training harder than I ever had in my life. It wasn't showing up on my waistline the binging didn't seem that detrimental to me. It felt like I could get away with going out just to buy the special Groundhog Day donutS (multiple) from the place down the street after seeing them across my Instagram feed. I mean, it was Groundhog Day exclusive donuts... I couldn't pass those up, right?!

I make a joke out of it, but in reality, I ate them alone, at my apartment, not telling anyone it happened, and feeling ashamed about it later.

Healthy eating has always been a balance for me where I have never been so restrictive as to say, "You can never eat a donut!" or completely cutting out pizza, ice cream, candy, and other things that - in reality - I love! I have been incredibly successful in the past with plans like Weight Watchers that don't restrict any foods, or eating the way that I was taught by my nutritionist a couple of years ago. So don't get me wrong in that sense, I think a donut can be okay every now and then as part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Especially when exercising to extreme amounts, I think treating now and then is perfectly normal and warranted. But, when they are incorporated into a healthy way, they don't come with that shame and embarrassment and feeling of being out of control.

Lately I have felt out of control and I haven't known what to do. And in the months that have followed Albany Marathon and my training dropped way down and I wasn't burning as many calories... it became really apparent really quickly that I couldn't hide this, and other bad eating habits I have picked up over the past months.

So, last week I met with that same nutritionist. I have joked sometimes I am not sure if I need a nutritionist or a psychiatrist, but I feel lucky that I have found one who I feel I have a little bit of both. Meeting with her, we didn't talk about food. Like, at all. I did show her a log I had started with the food I have been eating, binges included. But I think that was just because I had to admit and come clean to someone what I had been doing.

Instead of talking about food - because I honestly knew the things I *should* have been doing and what works for me, we talked about what might be causing the disordered eating behaviors I had been engaging in. It had been confusing to me and hadn't made sense because I felt like I was happy. I felt like things were going well. But we uncovered and talked through some things that I hadn't necessarily realized I was working through mentally. We discussed things I could do to help manage what I was feeling, stop the binging, change other bad habits I have formed, and ultimately, get myself back to a weight where I felt strongest and most confident.

This was a week ago and it was a scary step for me to make that appointment but I am really glad I did. I set some clear goals for myself in the last week and in the next few weeks and am working away at them. I had some challenging situations to manage through off the get go, with a work trip to San Francisco, which, travel is always challenging for me.

I didn't eat perfectly over the past week by any means - I think I have had a piece of chocolate every single day - but I don't feel guilty about it. I feel in control and determined, and balanced. I feel excited to continue the streak of feeling in control with my eating and I feel a weight off of me a bit that I have opened up about some of these things to people in my life (figuratively, but hopefully literally too.)

Given the fact that I wrote a post extremely similar to this almost exactly five years ago... I'd say that this is something that is going to challenge me for a long time to come. But I feel good knowing that I am strong, I have supportive people in my corner, resources available to me, and a super strong will and determination to keep working at it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I guess we are Ironman training now!

After my marathon in March, I needed a break. Heck, if we're being honest, BEFORE my marathon in March, I needed a break. Which may be partially to blame for why the race went the way it did. But I needed some time off and I wasn't ready to think about what next. But at the same time, I know myself well and determining "What next?" is one of the ways to get myself passed what just was. The rebound race, if you will.

I do better with a plan, so I met with my coach and we set the plan to not have a plan for a couple months. The goal was to return my training to just having fun. I wanted to stay active, I wanted to recover, and I wanted to do what I felt like doing and what felt like fun. During training for Albany Marathon, running stopped being fun and my workouts were things I "had to" do for the goal I had set. I needed a break from that mentality so wanted to spend some time mainly avoiding that feeling of anything was something I "needed" to do.

So that's what I did. And have been doing. For March and April the "goal" has been to go the direction my body told me to. I wanted to get out on my bike and go on bike rides with friends. I wanted to do a full swim set in the pool, actually pushing myself instead of just swimming for recovery. I wanted to maybe try some new classes in the gym. Do yoga. Strength work. Run easy without a plan with friends. I just wanted to have fun. And it's been great.

I have had some really nice days biking with friends, I have gotten to know people better or connected with new friends while running easy. I have pushed myself to go further in the pool when I was feeling it. I ran a 10K with friends, stopping to take pictures along the way. I also DIDN'T run some races, volunteering or supporting others towards their goals. And I tried new to me workouts like climbing stadium steps with November Project's Atlanta tribe!

But at the end of March, my mind was telling me I had to plan ahead. I figured in my "down" time, that my body and my mind would start to tell me what it was that I wanted to do. I assumed that I'd figure it out as it went along. And figure it out I did. My mind kept coming to one thing I wanted to do. It kept thinking of the same race over and over. When I was driving in my car, when I was swimming, when I had a few moments to think. I kept thinking of one thing.

Ironman Chattanooga.

Now, wait, what?! I said I would wait! I said I was going to take a break! That I needed a break! I said I was going to go a bit without a plan! The plan was to have no plan! Right?! Well, my body and mind figured it out for me and I did what felt right.

At the end of March after saying back and forth over and over to Jonathan, my coach, and others: "Do you think I should do it?!" I finally got the push I needed from Jonathan saying, "Yes. So you can stop asking me if I think you should every day!" And just like that, I signed up for my first Ironman! I knew right away after clicking that button that I had made the right choice. I had some moments of doubt and fear in the hours afterwards. Qualifying for Boston is still a major goal of mine, something I want in the near future and didn't want to compromise too much. I got scared that maybe the marathon I was thinking of doing was too close after Chattanooga. But I knew that signing up for this race was the right thing to do. I felt happy with the decision and excited for the challenge.

Now, if you're friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram, you've seen my posts about this. And many of you may have seen this coming, long before I saw it in my own future. For years, I insisted I could never do a full marathon. And for years I insisted I could never do a full Ironman. It's not like I had contemplated it before though - I just literally so firmly believed that these things were not in my wheelhouse or my realm of capabilities. It wasn't that I was being playful pushing it off, I literally just didn't think I could do it. However, here I am, signed up for my first full distance Ironman, Ironman Chattanooga, on September 30th of this year. The race that decided that the 140.6 distance is a bit tooooooo short, so it tacked on an extra 4 miles for a total distance of 144.6.

I love the city of Chattanooga. I have done two Half Ironmans there, a number of bike rides, and an Olympic distance race. I have been to spectate and volunteer at the full in 2016 and I was there for the Half Ironman World Championships in 2017. I love racing in Chattanooga, being in Chattanooga, and I love the crowds in Chattanooga. When I first started thinking about doing a full, this wasn't one that I was contemplating, but I am honestly and truly really excited for this location to be the home to another new athletic experience for me.

With signing up for this race, I feel like this is how you SHOULD feel when you sign up for a new thing. I am excited. I am a bit scared. I am intimidated in a good way and I just all around can't wait to experience the new challenges with training and the feeling on race day. It is going to be a fun summer ahead.

So how is training going?

Well, this is where that "break" still does come into play. I have got a great relationship with my coach and right now we still have been spending March and April to be "fun" months. And even parts of May. He is helping me stay focused and build a base, but I am also pointing out things I have on my schedule that I want to do, workouts that interest me, and days that I need rest. Heading into June, July and August we will really be building. I am working to keep my schedule as free as I can make it and starting to carve out when my big training weekends will be so I can have them on my calendar.

I am working to spend more time swimming and biking right now, and my runs have been really easy beyond track - because that's what has felt right. My running has not been great lately. My HR gets high, I feel crummy, and since spring really hasn't hit us yet... I still just have no desire to be out running in the cold. I feel slow and sluggish and I feel heavy, overweight and unfit right now. However, I am enjoying going out on my bike with friends. I am enjoying getting super sweaty on my trainer biking indoors. I am enjoying swimming in the mornings and a few times have gone Ironman distance on the swims just because I can. I'm trying to focus on my diet a bit more and get back to my clothing fitting a bit more comfortably as well.

I can't wait for open water swims. I am looking forward to fun organized bike rides. I am excited to push myself to new limits and work to squeeze in workouts (and recovery) whenever I can. It's going to be a fun summer.

Back in November, I mentioned I bought a new triathlon bike - the Cervelo P3 with Di2 shifting. And that was all a part of this long term plan so I have also been working to get comfortable and finish fixing up my new bike. I had bought it, rode it 2-3 times, then promptly let it sit collecting dust as I ran and ran only all winter long.

The switch from my road bike to my triathlon bike has not been an easy one for me. I thought it would be seamless and a love affair with the tri bike from the start - feeling speedy and professional and unstoppable. But instead I have felt sluggish, slow, and lacking almost every time I get on it. Some days I love it and some days I am mad at myself for thinking I was so cool and buying this fancy bike that I barely know how to work. It's a work in progress and we are growing together. I share these mixed feelings on my bike because I like to keep this a place of openness and honestly. And honestly, I was so excited to buy the tri bike and make what felt like a big step forward - but a lot of times as I have been out riding I have wished I just was on my road bike. For example, this past weekend when it was the first gorgeous, beautiful, sunny, warm day we had and all my friends and I went out on a big organized group ITL bike ride - and my battery went dead (seemingly) on my Di2 battery so I couldn't shift gears and had to turn around and go back 45 minutes in to the ride. That was a frustrating day.

I am sure the journey to Ironman will include lots more ups and downs from this point out and I hope to share many of those here. Hopefully no more of them include dead batteries, but I promise to be open and honest as I make my way through training for my first full Ironman on September 30th! Thank you to everyone who has always believed in me long before I have believed in myself. Thank you to everyone who has responded with such excitement and support. And thank you to all the people who make training and all this stuff so much fun and something I want to do. Looking forward to it!

Chattanooga, I'm coming back!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Snickers Albany Marathon Race Recap

On Saturday, March 3rd I ran the Snickers Albany Marathon in Albany, GA.  A city, I learned, that was named after my old home of Albany, NY, due to both cities being based near a river head (there's your fun fact for the day!) It was a race I chose based on the fact that it is supposed to be a great race to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. It is BQ-friendly in that it is flat, typically has good weather, pacing groups, is uncrowded, and for Atlanta athletes, it is local at only 3 hours by car. I know numerous people who have BQed in Albany and decided to take my shot at it.

Going into the week, it felt a bit odd. The race is on a Saturday, which I feel like most major races are on Sundays and you have a free weekend day beforehand to prep. The fact that I could work a full day on Friday when I had a marathon to run the next day felt so odd to me. I felt really anxious and nervous the entire two weeks prior to the race. I am used to traveling for races and without that aspect of this trip, I had nothing to think about or plan for really. All my energy was going into stressing about the race itself, but I felt like I had no adrenaline or excitement around it. Not having to travel was originally supposed to be a pro but in the weeks before, it began to feel like a con. Everything in my life felt too normal and THAT made me nervous.

I tried to do everything I could to "take advantage" of doing a local race. I saw MY chiropractor, I got a massage from MY massage therapist, I met with my coach, I drank lots of water, made sure to sleep soundly in my familiar bed, and spent time with friends and people who make me happy and feel calm. I ate home cooked meals and prepped my food to eat the day before the race exactly as I wanted it. I took the Friday before the marathon off from work and that morning, went meticulously through my packing list, bringing everything I could think of I might possibly need because, hey, it's a local race!

I drove from Atlanta to Carrollton, where I met up with Jonathan, ate some of my "Marathon Lasagna" that I had cooked from Shalane Flanagan's cookbook for lunch, and then we head out to Albany. We made the trip in good time and it was a gorgeous day out. We stopped once to use a restroom in the middle of Georgia's pecan county. In addition to using the restroom, we browsed and picked out some sweets and snacks for POST race before continuing on.

We went right to the race expo, which was a pretty uneventful and small expo at the civic center that gave us the opportunity to also know where we would be going in the morning for the start. Jonathan was coming to be my support and I was so thankful for all he did to help me stay stress free and basically just be there for whatever I needed. He also took lots of pictures of me. There wasn't too much to look at or buy at the expo, but there was a copious amount of fun size candy bars for the taking, which I did help myself to!

From the expo we went to the hotel, where we unloaded the car and then rested for a bit. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and overwhelmed so laying down and doing some meditations seemed to help before we walked across the street for dinner at Mellow Mushroom. I got a salad with chicken and we split some "pretzel bites" which were really just hunks of pizza crust. I also sipped some of his beer and tried some of his pizza.

Back at the hotel, I took part in my normal night-before-race prep of listening to some music, rereading old blogs and training notes, things that inspire me, and putting together a race plan. I talked on the phone with my mom and grandfather, laughed a lot at my mom's reaction to this photo we sent her, and head to bed early.

We were up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for the race and head over to the start at 6:00 for a 7:00 a.m. race start. When we arrived over, I was bundled up in a pair of sweatpants, and 3 layers on top. It was chilly and I wanted to stay warm! We sat in the car a bit before heading over to the race start, where I got in line for the porta potty at the exact right time. After using the bathoom, we started to coordinate meeting up with other people. I am incredibly fortunate to have such supportive people in my life and of course, my number one fan, Brick, and her husband G, had come down for the race. As well, my coach, who has been such a big part of this journey, had all left at 3:30 in the morning to make the 3 hour drive and arrive in time to see me before the start.

These people are beyond a blessing in my life and the fact that Brick has been at every one of my major races that has been stateside in the past three years is such an important thing for me. I don't know what I'd do without her!

I was able to see Staci and Jessie, who other ITL athletes running the race, before we all head off to the corrals and I met up with the 3:30 pace group.

As far as how the race actually went - it was tough. From the very beginning, it was tough.

There wasn't really music or anything to hype us up at the start. There was no countdown, just a large cannon blast and all of a sudden we started running. I don't know that race day EVER really and truly felt like race day. I don't think I ever had the excitement and the adrenaline I have at other races with the hype leading up to it. Of course, I had prepped everything as if it were race day but when I started running, it felt like another training run.

The course started with a 4 mile loop that then took you back past where you had started. I tried to get settled in and chat with the pace group and the pace leader, Jackie Merritt, a well known and really successful trail runner in the region. After just 4 miles, I already knew I wasn't running as comfortably in that pace group as everyone else was. I figured it must have been visible on my face as when I ran past my cheering crew for the first time, handing my long sleeve shirt to Jonathan, my coach Jerome shouted at me to smile.

As we kept going, I told myself not to talk myself out of this and that I was hanging with the pace group just fine. I told myself over and over I was doing fine and that me not feeling good was just in my head. I was still with the pace group. I didn't need to be at the front of it, just needed to be right with them and I was doing great. I knew it didn't feel the same as I did in the beginning of Berlin Marathon, where I was telling myself to slow down the entire time, but I just kept repeating that I was fine. I told myself I would discover a new level of how much I could push myself and how I could perform today. I just focused on keeping on going. I never once looked at my splits on my watch and just focused on staying with the group.

Starting at around mile 7, I could feel it starting to slip and I wasn't quite with the group anymore. The road started to get very boring and there were no people cheering. At this point I didn't know when I would see any of my support crew and I started to feel like I really needed them. I was dropping back a few strides and I needed a boost and nothing I was telling myself was working. I was desperate to spot my coach along the course for a pep talk or adrenaline boost. There was NOTHING interesting to look at. We were running on a stupid highway, there was nobody cheering, and I felt like I needed SOMETHING to keep me going. I started to have thoughts of "Oh my god, it's ONLY mile 7 and I already can't do this." But then would quickly beat myself up for having a negative thought and told myself to stay positive.

I started to feel angry and embarrassed but I told that voice to shut up and to just keep moving. I told myself I was capable of more than I knew, to be positive, and keep moving forward at this pace until my legs physically stopped moving. I had no idea what mile I was at at this point, I felt like it should be 18 or something and was discouraged when I would pass a mile marker and it was just 9.

I felt frustrated at everyone that I was just out running on this dumb straight highway and started feeling really negative. I finally saw my support crew after what felt like forever and passed Jonathan, then Jerome, around mile 10. When I passed Jerome he told me I was only a few seconds behind the group and was doing fine, but by mile 10.5 I was dropping back more. I looked down at my watch for the first time at mile 11 and saw that my mile split was 8:44 and just thought "Shit." I was trying to focus on one mile at a time so I told myself to keep going for mile 12 and then saw 8:48. I already felt like crap, was 1:30 behind, wasn't running at pace and didn't feel like I could make that up. It just was downhill from there.

I wanted to quit completely. I wanted to stop and just give up. I didn't want to be out there any more. I was disappointed that the race was over so early for me and now I had all these stupid miles to figure out how to get through. Going into the race, I had known that I just needed to go for the goal from the very beginning. It was 8:00 minute miles, hanging with the 3:30 pace group, and that was that. BQ or bust. It made me a bit nervous because usually I head into a race with an A goal, B goal, C goal, etc. Whereas on this day, on purpose, there was only one goal. We figured if I busted, I would bust, but I had to go into the race with my goal in mind from the very start. Even though I knew that busting was a strong possibility (which may have been a problem altogether) I was hoping I would be able to hang on at least halfway! I was questioning myself while trying to keep going, why did I die SO early on in the race???

As much as I wanted to and the thoughts were flying through my head, not finishing the marathon was never actually an option for me. I know some people who attempt to BQ take the approach of dropping out of a race when they know they aren't going to make their BQ time to save their legs and some of the damage. That way they can recover and try again or pursue other goals quicker. The thought flashed through my mind but it was never a question. Leaving Albany, GA without a finisher medal around my neck was not going to happen. To drop out is not the type of athlete I am. I knew I was making it to that finish line and I needed to mentally figure out how to get there.

I seriously felt like crap though. Even after my pace dropped and I accepted it, I felt terrible. My knees hurt, my legs felt dead. It didn't make any sense to me. Two weeks earlier I had run 17 miles the day AFTER running 15 miles with some fast pickups! I was doing 10 mile tempo runs on fatigued legs after days and days of hard work. And now here I was at 14 or 15 miles in, tapered, in peak condition, but trudging along at not much different of a pace than my easy training runs and I felt SO much worse. It made me mad and frustrated. I reminded myself to keep my race strategy the same, even though my goal shifted to just finishing, and take the race one mile at a time.

I enjoyed looking out for Jonathan, Brick and Jerome throughout the course. Those were really exciting bright points for me. I wanted to walk really badly but told myself not to do that until I got to mile 20. Knowing I had people throughout the course that I could be seeing at unexpected times kept me from walking as well. I didn't want to disappoint the people that had come all the way down to Albany to see me go after this goal. However, at mile 19 I stopped to use a bathroom at a Porta-Potty after an aid station. I didn't have to go SO bad that I couldn't have held it (if I were racing, I would have been fine) but I figured why not be comfortable.

Going to the bathroom was difficult because my hands were so cold. The circulation in my hands can tend to be a problem for me because my hands get so cold that I can't feel or move them and I have a hard time taking in nutrition. Although I was running in shorts and a tank top and it was ideal running weather, I wore gloves for most of the race and my hands were still frozen. I was struggling to zip open and shut my Spibelt that had my nutrition in it and it was hard to pull down my shorts and pull them back up when I went to use the bathroom so it took me longer than planned to get in and out.

After the bathroom break around Mile 19, I dropped off my nutrition a lot. It was getting really hard to move my fingers and get out my nutrition so I just stopped. Especially since the goal was out the window, I sort of figured what's the point? "Might as well save the calories for post-race snacks instead of these Gu Chews" is actually a thought that went through my head. I decided to just take what was offered along the course and drink water and Gatorade and whatever else they gave us instead of fighting with my nutrition any more. There really were very few spectators along the course, but if there were people with beers or snacks like at some big races, I 100% would have taken anything offered at this point (I've always wanted to be one of those people that takes a beer handed to them on a race course, but I am usually way too goal oriented to do that!)

When I hit mile 20, I started walking on/off. I walked for 2.5 minutes, then ran for 10 minutes, walked for 2 minutes, ran for 20 minutes, walked for 3 minutes, stuff like that. The most I walked was 5 minutes in a row at the beginning of mile 25. I knew I would then have about 15 minutes to run into the finish and there is no way it is acceptable for me to be walking with less than 1.5 miles to go in the race. When I saw my coach the last time, he told me I was still looking strong, but I knew I was just trying to pull myself to the finish line. The race was not an enjoyable one for me, although I tried my best to focus on the positives.

But basically, nothing in this course ever excited me. At one point there was a main road that we crossed where myself and the one person running next to me literally couldn't even tell where we were supposed to keep running once we crossed. There were so few people that the crossing guard had been waving cars through as we came up and we had to ask the police officer which direction to go. We ran through some pretty neighborhoods but it was so boring to me. The very last couple miles we were back to running on big main roads with cars flying by and it just felt so not special.

At one point when I saw Jonathan I shouted to him, "This sucks." I knew I could get away with saying that to him, whereas my coach Jerome would never have heard it. He responded back, "It's supposed to," which was actually exactly right. It's a marathon. It is not supposed to feel good.

During the race I carried with me in the back pocket of my shorts two special momentos. One was a picture of my grandmother who passed away this past December. The other was a pin of a guardian angel. It had been my mom's and she wore it during the marathon she ran when I was a senior in high school. She had given it to me when I ran my first marathon in 2014 and I had worn it during that race. It has new meaning to me now and during challenging moments during the race, I thought of these things with me and touched my back pocket to remind myself of their presence.

I thought about my grandmother a lot during the tough moments as well. During a few of the pretty neighborhoods, I knew my grandmother would have loved them and I imagined myself out walking with her. I pictured us from this past summer, walking from the cottages down to the beach at Lake Waukewan. With my arm locked around hers, to help hold her steady, as her balance and stability had been beginning to go in recent years. This time, I imagined her helping me hold steady and keep going. These thoughts are what carried me through.

At around mile 22-ish, as we ran down another uninteresting road with cars driving down it and nobody out cheering, I saw a sign outside a building for the Albany, GA Amputee Center. It seemed like a place to have prosthetic limbs made and fit... and that did give me some perspective. I wasn't feeling well but reminded myself that whatever the outcome I am lucky to be healthy. I am fortunate to be able to do these things, to be able bodied, to be fit and strong, to be able to move myself 26 miles. I did not let that fact be taken for granted and focused on gratitude for everything I am able to do and all that I have in my life.

The finish was a bit weird, we ran through a building basically and onto a little path, you literally had nobody around you and couldn't see the finish until it was directly in front of you. I loved seeing my cheer crew as I ran through the finish line and was so thankful and happy to be done at this point. It was so special to me to have my coach, my best friend and my boyfriend all at the race. I crossed the finish line like I have every other marathon finish line I have crossed - exhausted, happy to be done, so thankful to see that finish line in front of me.

They came over and met me after the finish area, I gave them hugs, and I think everyone was holding back waiting to hear what I had to say and how I was feeling. Was I going to be happy or sad?

The day had not been what we had all hoped for, what I had trained for, or what I had wanted. I told them as I stood there after crossing the finish line that disappointment might come, but at that moment, I was just happy to be done the race and happy to have them all there. I grabbed my post-race beer, left the finishers area, and we all sat down in the grass enjoying the sunshine and watching the other finishers come through. It felt quiet. I feel like nobody really knew what to say. I congratulated the others I knew that where there who had hit their goals, and just sat there totally drained.

As we sat there, the emotions started to come. I watched others ringing the "BQ bell" and as my HR started to settle, I started to feel the tears coming. Tears at a marathon finish line are not unexpected. Completing 26.2 miles on foot is an amazing accomplishment, regardless of how many minutes and seconds it took you to get there. It requires strength, determination, hard work, and it is an emotional thing every single time.

(This picture was taken moments before Jerome distracted me from getting too sad and teary by accidentally knocking my beer out of my hand.)

It was hard to explain exactly what I was feeling. I was crying for all of the months of hard work. I was crying for all the heartache and pain I pushed through in training with losing my grandmother. I was crying because I missed my grandmother. I was crying because I had put so much into the training and I felt like my race day didn't reflect that. I was embarrassed. I was jealous. I was tired. I was feeling so many things and I am a crier so tears aren't an abnormality for me.

In the 24 hours after the race, the tears came on and off. We left the finish line, stopped to grab EVEN MORE free Snickers bars, returned back to the hotel where we quickly showered, packed up and head back to Atlanta. That three hour card ride was filled with some laughs, some Celine Dion, lots of snacks, the fanciest Dunkin Donuts I have ever seen in my life, and a few spells of tears.

Sunday morning after the race, I woke up and felt lost. I didn't have a run to prepare for. I realized that I didn't have absolutely anything in my schedule to start to think about next. Since the beginning of 2015, I have had one goal lined up after the next and I knew what was coming in the future after I recovered from one thing. However, this time around I have nothing else planned. I had changed my initial thoughts for 2018 to give a BQ attempt a go. Qualifying for Boston was a dream big enough for me that I was okay making the sacrifices that go along with training as well as bike and swim fitness, but with an empty TrainingPeaks, no goals lined up and not sure what to do next, and my friends all out running... I felt empty.

There is always a low/down for me at the end of a training cycle and after a race that I have been training for and working towards for months and weeks on end. Regardless of outcome, the thing that has been your focus and what you have been consuming hours upon hours of your week in dedication towards - is over. When you have realized that goal, there is a blissful feeling unlike anything else. While your schedule may feel empty and your mind space unsure what to be directed towards, you have that satisfaction and buzz of a high that keeps you going and tells you that it was all worth it. 

But when you don't hit that goal, that low of the race being over, combined with the disappointment, is tough. Especially that this race was so emotional and personal for me for many reasons.

Overall though, I feel okay with not meeting my goal. I am proud of myself and I have learned and grown and I wouldn't change anything. This is all a part of my journey.

I mean, obviously, it would have been amazing to feel great and crush things on Saturday. But I have done better than I expected in race after race for a couple of years now, and I can't expect that to happen every time - even though I worked hard during training. I was trying for a 9 minute PR on top of a 19 minute PR I had made less than 6 months prior. I don't know many people who have BQed on their first attempt. In running and triathlon, I haven't had a disappointing race or a missed goal in a while and I feel like that is something that is just unavoidable in sports. So yes, of course I am upset, but I also at peace with it.

Looking back, I think that a part of me never really believed I could run a 3:30 at all. I had so many people saying to me, "You can do this!" and I wanted it to be true. I felt like I had a chance, and that chance was worth it enough for me to try. But I don't know that I fully believed I ever could. I thought of that as the one-in-a-million, if the stars align, type of a thing versus something seriously attainable. Like when the Megabucks gets really high... you want to at least buy a ticket and not rule yourself out completely from winning the lottery, right?

Just as I started to build confidence in my ability to reach the goal, December happened. In debriefing with my coach, I don't think I ever recovered mentally from that month. It makes sense, I personally have absolutely not gotten over the fact that I can never talk to my grandmother again or that she is no longer with us. I had a hard time being positive. I knew I needed to be and I tried, I wasn't going to quit, so I had to. But I struggled with the pressure. And the goal shifted for me from the RACE to just GET THROUGH TRAINING. By the time the race came, I had nothing left to fight with.

And I was PROUD of myself ALREADY for finishing training! So proud! Because it was hard! I needed to train hard because I was going after a big stretch goal. We couldn't slack off with the work load to adjust for life, because I had a lot of ground to improve on. And I did it. I hit some really tough workouts and things I didn't think I would be capable of doing or struggled with in the past. I am still proud of those big builds and tough weeks and pushing through so much. This training cycle proved how strong I am, how much I can push myself physically, and I was healthy and strong throughout everything we threw at my body. I was already feeling accomplished and satisfied before the race even got here.

An interesting thing I noticed is that I have a pattern now of flip-flopping a marathon where I feel good with a marathon where I feel bad, and my times bounce up and down. Particularly they go down when I do a race with quick turnaround from another major goal. Marathon finish times are listed first, then the race details.

4:37... April 2014 - Paris Marathon; GOOD race, felt great
4:58... October 2014 - Kansas City, MO; BAD race, felt terrible
3:58... October 2015 - Chicago Marathon; GOOD race, felt great
4:34... November 2016 - NYC; BAD race, felt terrible (Raced a major 70.3 two months prior)
3:39....September 2017 - Berlin Marathon; GOOD race, felt great
4:01... March 2018 - Albany Marathon; BAD race, felt terrible

I have learned a lot and know some things to change and focus on that I think will help me when I try again. Because I will try again. I feel confident that my story is just not yet finished being written. I have learned from this. I have and will continue to grow from this. I am PROUD of all of this. And I am so happy that I set out to try and qualify now. I wouldn't change how I went about this and I wouldn't change that I tried.

I realized that this is the first time that I personally set a big goal for myself. Because of my lack of confidence, I tend to take baby step goals. I doubt myself and have a hard time setting a goal until it is something I feel confident I can reach. The fact that I personally set this big, scary, hard-to-reach, aggressive goal for MYSELF is huge for me. That shows huge person growth for me in this sport and in life in general.

There are so many defining moments that I will think back on when I think about this training cycle and this race. The pain, the heartache, the days and weeks I thought there was no way I could get through everything on my schedule, the long runs early in training with Jonathan, the really long runs where he'd jump on a bike when he was done his runs and ride beside me as I finished, the miles after miles on the treadmill that were both physical and mental battles, the cold and the snow, the solo miles on the Beltline and through my neighborhood, the track workouts, early morning tempo runs, getting pushed by my training partners to not slow down during my pickups, and the long lazy weekend runs in the rain and on the trails with friends.

I'm proud of myself. Everyone's journey is different and I believe this race and this training cycle was an integral part of mine. My story is not yet finished being written and I am not done going after big, scary, hard to reach goals. To be continued.