Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Surprise! iPods and Water Don't Mix...

For the first year-plus of my running career (if you can call it that), I ran entirely without music. I enjoyed the sounds of my footsteps on the pavement, the birds, lawnmowers -- the general sounds of being outdoors.

Plus, living in a somewhat country area where people tended to drive way too fast for a road consisting mainly of hills and curves, I felt going music-free was in my best interest.

I needed to listen for oncoming traffic and be ready to dodge oncoming vehicles -- which I had to do on many occasions. And still do. (There's a reason teenagers and elderly drivers have a bad rep when it comes to driving!)

Last year, my brother got me an iPod shuffle for my birthday. And I was quickly hooked. It was the perfect little running buddy. So shiny and small, easily clipped to the waistband of my shorts. It kept me entertained for the longer runs by myself. It made me laugh when certain songs came on.
It motivated me when I needed a boost.

Yesterday, I said good-bye to my shuffling buddy.

As I did the last preparations for my six-miler, I reached into my running bag. Immediately, I felt a damp towel. Not damp, downright wet. Soaking. Uh-oh.

A water bottle had leaked in the bag, which normally wouldn't be a big deal. But in the rush of getting from place-to-place on Sunday, I didn't bother to take my iPod out of the bag. It was tucked inside a Ziplock bag (unfortunately, an unzipped Ziplock), along with some GU, snacks, Band-Aids and other running necessities.

The iPod had literally been sitting in a bag full of water for a couple of days -- marinating. It was like iPod soup. I knew it wouldn't be good.

But, ever the optimist, with a slight glimmer of hope (but knowing it was a long-shot) I turned it on to see if it worked. Nothing. No big surprise.

I headed out for my six miles sans music. At first it was okay. I don't live in the country anymore, so I didn't hear those peaceful sounds I once enjoyed.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed taking in some new sounds -- even if I seemed to pass by an inordinate number of weirdos who felt compelled to yell at me from passing cars, doorsteps or sidewalks.

I chalk this up to the fact that I was running a new route through Manchester -- using my legs as transportation to make a trip from my comparative country-esque setting on the southside of the city to downtown. I passed through some neighborhoods I normally wouldn't frequent.

Mom's yelling at children, catcalls from creepy guys on the sides of the streets, sirens blaring, music thumping from passing cars, dogs growling and barking.
Welcome to city running.

It was definitely a new experience -- and probably one I'll do again. It wasn't totally unenjoyable, and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I reached my destiniation.

Luckily this kind of running buddy is easily replaceable. Maybe next time I'll have some good ol' 80's hairband songs playing on a new iPod to help drown out some of the noise.


Friday, June 19, 2009

A Second Coach

While my main source of training, tips and inspiration remains my teammates, led by Coach Jack, I recently have found myself seeking the advice of a sort-of second coach.

I met Geno while taking his Spin Class at the YMCA a few times this winter. He's definitely a motivating person -- high-energy, enthusiastic and positive.

More than a few times, he made a note of when I missed a few classes -- which made me sure to get back to the cross-training. Exactly the kind of nudge I need sometimes.

He seemed to take a particular interest in my training, asking me about upcoming races, my goals and my plans. Along the way, I've updated him about my progress and he's offered his advice.

Let me preface this by noting that Geno is an ultra-marathoner. That means he runs races that are 50 or 100 miles long. Yes, you're reading that correctly. I know people who complain about driving 100 miles -- and he runs it.

I'm sure it takes a different kind of person to be an ultra-marathoner. Without even mentioning the physical strains it must put on one's body (although Geno assures me the body will do anything you mind tells it to do), I can't imagine how one mentally takes on those miles and training.

I figure if he can get his body to survive a 100 miles on foot, he can certainly help me get a mere 26.2 run out of the way.

Sometimes I feel silly complaining to him or telling him that I feel nervous about taking on the marathon in the fall. I mean, 26 miles barely registers as a training run for this guy.

Yesterday, I sent him my "official" marathon training schedule -- which I put together with the help of Runner's World -- to see if he thought I was going in the right direction.

On paper, it seems do-able. But I've watched enough marathons to know to expect the unexpected.

It's the unknowns that worry me the most. What exactly is going to happen to me, mentally and physically, somewhere after Mile 18 or so?

I was quickly brought back to reality with Geno's short email reply:

1) Forget the unknowns... Focus on what you can do right.

2) Remain consistent in your training.

3) Drink before you get thirsty and eat when you are hungry.

4) Listen to your body.

5) Believe in yourself!

Sounds simple enough, right?


Ready, Set, Go

For anyone who hasn't been to a race, here's just a glimpse of what it's like. Of course, seeing it on video is nothing like actually being there.

We pass by somewhere around the 1:28 mark. Look for Matt checking his watch and a big tall guy in a white hat. I'm in there somewhere. Consider it a "Where's Waldo" activity.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taking the Placid Out

Lake Placid is a great place -- a quaint, picturesque village by the lake, surrounded by mountains. Yes, that's right, mountains.

Quite a place for a half-marathon.

We had been told to expect a "hilly" course, and the team even added some hill repeats to our weekly runs. But I don't think I was truly prepared for the hills (um, mountains) that we'd encounter.

The Lake Placid race was a good excuse for a team r
oadtrip. I rode up in Dave's car -- the official TnT-mobile (which also often serves as rolling support during training runs), complete with a TnT magnet on the door -- along with Nancy, Shawnna and Coach Jack.

When we reached the relatively small ferry to cross from Vermont to New York, we happened to bump into Matt and Seth -- both ready to tackle their first 13.1.

As we approached town, we remarked at the number of cyclists, also noting how challenging a bike ride would be on these hilly roads. Yes, many of the same roads we'd be running the next morning. Ready or not.

Being Inspired - Again
On the eve of a race, Tnt puts on an Inspiration Dinner -- and, as hokey as this may sound, it really is inspiring.

I've attended four or five of these dinners now, and I don't think there's one that doesn't give me goosebumps, bring a few tears to my eyes or just leave me in awe of what we

Our team runs are often so focused on training and mileage, that we often forget that we're part of something bigger -- part of a group of people that's raising literally millions of dollars to help fight blood cancers.

In all, about 350 TnT runners from the Northeast teams raised money and participated in the Lake Placid race. Not only did they train for a half or full marathon -- these athletes did so while raising an impressive $850,000.

And many of them did it while dealing with personal

Take Jennie, for example. Jennie is a vibrant, pretty, 30-something-year-old who's already dealt with more than any of us ever will. She's a mom of four and her husband, Rhett, was battling leukemia when she signed up for TnT earlier this year.

A month or so into our training
, Rhett lost his battle and Jennie, like a rock, continued with her training and her fundraising, all with a smile. Although her job prevented her from attending many team runs, we'd check in on her to make sure she was on track. She always was.

A photo of Jennie and Rhett flashed across the screen at the Lake Placid Inspiration Dinner. It looked like they were at a bonfire or a cookout. They were smiling -- Rhett's arms around Jennie as she leaned against him. It made me realize again that TnT isn't just about running or friendships. It's about people like Jennie and Rhett. And their kids.

The Inspiration Dinner isn't all about tears -- it certainly can't be, not the day before a big race that's supposed to be the celebration of months of hard work.

There's a lot of cheering, whist
les, cowbells -- and this year I noticed more than a few tamborines.

The New York City coach gave us some last-minute -- and hilaroius -- pointers, relayed to us in an accent that made his words even funnier. Things like this:

  • Pace yourself. If you see a Kenyan or an Ethopian running next to you, you're probably going faster than you should.
  • If you think you're ready for the last hill, you're not. This coach had run the course at least 20 times -- and "that hill sucks every time." (More on this later, but he was not exaggerating one bit!)
  • The coaches on the sidelines will cheer for you -- but you have to be moving forward. You can be running, walking or crawling, but just move forward.
  • Sorry, but no one from TnT is going to win the race. So just have fun.

Race Day
I've suddenly realized that my workdays are a chance for me to sleep in. It always seems that some early-morning obligation is dragging me out of bed earlier than I should have to get up on a weekend. Race days are no exception -- especially when you're running with TnT.

Our itinerary told us to be in the hotel lobby at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast and the ride over to the starting line. (While that's pretty early, that's nothing compared to the 2 a.m. meeting I had before the Disney race!)

The lobby was filled with a sea of purple jerseys, most decorated with puffy paint and marker. Runners fueled up on bananas, bagels
and peanut butter, crackers and other pre-race eats.

Soon, after a wait in a monsterously long porta-potty line, we were at the Start Line. The announcer played some energizing music and we found ourselves dancing slightly.

Then we were off.

The crowd of 2,000 runners made it's way up the first hill -- very slowly because we were crammed into the narrow streets. Soon, the crowd thinned as runners found their paces. We wound our way along the course, with a beautiful view of the lake.

There's one thing we found out quickly. This course was hilly. Really hilly.

I ran along at a pretty good pace -- although I was unable to keep up with Scott, who pulled ahead quickly. hese were hills weren't like ones I was used to running. I checked my watch at every mile marker and was pleased to see that I was steadily under a 10-minute mile. I was on track for a personal best.

I high-fived Jack when I saw him on the sidelines at Mile 4. The out-and-back course gave a great opportunity to see and celebrate with all of the Seacoast Team. More smiles and high-fives.

Somewhere around Mile 9, as the hills and the heat caught up to me. I slowed dramatically, even stopping to walk many of the hills. I started to feel that familiar twinge in my left IT Band. Ugh, I thought, not today. At times I felt that I was running unevenly -- not exactly limping, but not exactly running normally either.

I couldn't wait to see Jack at Mile 10-ish -- he'd have The Stick.

The Stick is a simple device, but it works miracles. It's made up of a series of hard, plastic rollers that you massage over your muscles. The label describes it as "a toothbrush for your muscles" -- no joke. And boy, does it work.

I saw Jack about mid-way
up one of the bigger hills. He handed me the stick and I massaged is along my left leg and we walked up the hill together -- chatting briefly about how the teammates were doing. I reached the top and was off again, reminding myself there were only three miles to go. No problem.

Those last three miles seemed to go on forever. And they seemed mostly uphill

I put the idea of personal best out of my mind quickly. I just wanted to finish in a reasonable time. Maybe I just wanted to finish, period.

I walked a lot more of the hills than I'd like to admit -- especially this last hill, a ridiculous ending to an already-difficult course.

This hill was like nothing I'd ever seen. At every turn, just when you thought it might be over, it went on -- and it got steeper. At one point, I even said "this is just mean" to a spectator as I went by. The hill turned into switchbacks as we approached The Oval, the site of the 1980 Olympics, and the final steps of the race.

The crowds cheered and runners made their way, finally up the exhausting h
ill, to the track. Everything in me wanted to turn left, the shortest distance to the Finish Line, but the course took us to the right. I went around the track, which seemed to go on forever, and finally across the Finish Line.

As I crossed, I heard the announcer say my name. Then he asked, "Teresa, how do you feel?"

I managed to give a pretty energetic two-thumbs-up and a smile.

But that wasn't really how I was feeling. I felt like the course had gotten the best of me. Still, I finished and I felt relatively okay at that point. My official time was
somewhere around 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Got The Fever

Almost immediately after the race was over -- I think we were still in our running clothes on the field -- talk began about the next race.

A lot of it was fueled by Matt, who had a tougher-than-expected run and dealt with cramping calves for most of the way. It's disappointing not to have a good race, but we all hoped it didn't diminish his sense of accomplishment and didn't turn him away from running another.

It was very much the opposite, actually. He's got his sights set on another 13.1 as soon as possible -- and most likely, most of us will join him.

I know exactly how he feels. I wanted to run this race stronger. I felt more prepared than many of the other races I'd done. It was frustrating not to at least run all of the miles.

There aren't many long-distance races during the summer months (we're probably unknowingly thankful for that), so it looks like we'll be heading up to Portland in October.

I have my current PR at the Maine course. And I'm going for another now.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Lake Placid, Here We Come...

I almost can't believe yet another season of TnT training is over.

Bright and early tomorrow morning, the team will make its way to Lake Placid, NY, to culminate the season's training that began in February.

I remember the anticipation that I felt as I boarded the plane for my first half-marathon in Disney last year. I was super-prepared, of course, with my running clothes properly tested and planned. Still, our longest training run had only been 10 miles and I couldn't help but wonder what the other 3.1 miles would be like.

I felt the slightest fear of the unknown. Turns out, just like Coach Jack had told us, I didn't even notice the extra mileage.

I wonder if our newest team members, about to embark on their first half-marathon, have the same sense of anxious anticipation.

They've paid their dues, running their miles in the snow, the rain and the heat -- and have nothing to worry about.

Sunday's 13.1 will be my eighth half-marathon. (Wow, I never thought I'd say that.)

I no longer have those lingering thoughts about what the miles will feel like (although the course elevation graphs I've seen make me a little nervous about the final miles). In fact, as I write this, it's 9:30 p.m., the night before I leave for the team trip -- and I haven't packed a thing.

Don't worry, everything's either laid out, on a list or mentally planned.

Going against all of Coach Jack's advice, today I even purchased new socks and a new belt to carry my GU. Nothing new on Race Day, Coach says. (In my defense, I ran with the new belt tonight to try it out and will bring my old-standby socks, just in case.) .

I'm looking forward to sharing a weekend of celebration with the team, helping them to recognize the accomplishment of doing something that they probably thought was impossible just a few short months ago.

And a few post-race rounds of karoke should add to the spirit of the weekend... Go Team!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Everything's Relative

I’m not fast. Not even close.

Distance-wise, I’m reasonably confident that I could out-run a lot of people. But if it came down to a speed match, I’d be left in the dust.

I’ve often joked that if I was ever being chased by a robber, I’d be fine – just as long as he chased me for 10-plus miles at a low rate of speed.

When I started running less than two years ago, I averaged 11-minute miles – maybe more. It was more like a shuffle than a run.

These days, I can comfortably pull in a 9:30 pace for a pretty significant distance. If I push it, I can get closer to 9-minute miles. I’ve shaved 20 minutes off my half-marathon time since my first one.

Although I don’t usually see look at it this way, the improvement is pretty impressive.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. Now is one of those times.

Although I was excited to participate in the triathlon relay and was really pleased with our team’s performance, I couldn’t help but feel like the weak link in the Try Team.

I just didn’t feel that way. I was the weak link.

I’m sure my teammates will disagree or argue or tell me not to feel that way. But the numbers don’t lie.

Jamie was the first of the relay swimmers to finish. My Trusty Companion had the fourth-fastest cycling time for the relay teams. I ranked 20th for the run – out of only 27 teams.

Those tiny ankle bracelets capture so much information, most of which is almost instantly posted online. As I scrolled through the results from the triathlon, I started analyzing the numbers.

I remarked at the running speeds – rows upon rows of six-, seven- and eight-minute miles.

My official pace was recorded at a 9:19 average.

I was pretty pleased with it at the time, until I started comparing myself to others. And in a strange way, the fact that my teammates had done so well in their field made me question my place on the team.

If they had had a better runner, where would they have ranked?

We didn’t sign up for the relay to win it, so I know that the thought didn’t cross either of my teammates’ minds.

But it sits firmly somewhere in mine. And somehow I know this will turn into another challenge for me.

I just need to figure out how to get faster. I’ve never trained for speed. Team In Training isn’t about winning a race; it’s about getting you across the Finish Line.

We don’t time our training runs and don’t have official time goals. Most of us don’t even wear watches. Generally speaking, it’s pretty common to see TnT runners near the end of the pack.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of accomplishing things you never thought you could. Nothing wrong with making slow but steady improvements. Nothing wrong with trying new things and having fun.

Still, I’ve made speed a new goal for me – making a mental commitment to try some interval workouts, drop a few pounds and put more than a few miles in on the bike.

Stay tuned.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Giving It A Tri...

This weekend I checked off another thing on my Bucket List.

Okay, I’m not sure a triathlon relay was ever on the list. But it should have been.

Shortly after I met my Trusty Companion, he mentioned that we should consider doing a triathlon relay. He could be the cyclist, I could be the runner and we’d pick up a swimmer somewhere along the way.

I loved the idea and wanted to jump at the chance. But I was cautious. After all, I had just met him. (In fact, I think we’d only met face-to-face two or three times at that point.)

The relay would be months away. A lot could happen in a few months.

But, I reasoned, even if things didn’t work out for us as a couple, a triathlon relay would be a fun experience even as friends. (Plus, I have to admit, I was really drawn to the fact that this was something he wanted to do. Right up my alley and, potentially, my kind of guy.)

We let the idea linger for while, both expressing our interest now and then, but taking no real steps to make it a reality.

Some time passed and we made a move to get us one step – or one stroke – closer to the relay. We found our third, our swimmer.

I emailed a friend of mine who has done a few triathlons to see if he knew anyone who would be interested in being the swimmer on our tri relay team. Within minutes, we had our swimmer.

Jamie, who was a swimmer in college and coaches swim teams now, was excited to get her first taste of triathlons.

And so the “Try Team” was formed.

We made our debut Saturday at the Mooseman Triathlon, taking our spot in the International Distance relay – a

.93-mile swim in Newfound Lake, 27 miles on the bike and a 6.2-mile run to the finish.

It all came together as planned – and then some. I’ll attempt to capture some snapshots – literally and figuratively – in the next few posts.

She’s That Girl

The water temp hovered somewhere around 60 degrees. Brr! The funny thing was the swimmers were pretty pleased with that. After all, it’s a lake in New Hampshire in early spring.

Still, the race organizers strongly urged swimmers to compete with a wetsuit. And they complied. Well, most did.

Not our swimmer.

She decided, despite the fact that she had a fully functioning wetsuit in her bag, she was going in without it.

We made our way to the beach and toward the start of the swim. Swimmers started in heats, divided by age. Relay swimmers started in the last heat.

We watch as Jamie, still bundled in her sweatshirt and sweatpants, waded into the lake amid a sea of black wetsuits.

I looked around. I didn’t see anyone NOT wearing a wetsuit. Did Jamie know what she was getting herself into?
She peeled off her sweats just as her wave was getting ready to go. She was the only one without a wetsuit. The only one.

Her pink bathing suit could be seen from a mile away, which was a bonus as we tried to find our teammate in the crowd. Even as the swim started, we could find her in the water because of her bare arms emerging from the water.

We eventually made it to our designated post, after a moment of panic when we couldn’t find a way back into the transition area, forcing us to crawl under very small opening in a fence to get there.

Swimmers shocked from the cold swim ran from the water and onto their bikes. Suddenly, Jamie appeared – the first one from her heat to arrive. The very first one.

My Trusty Companion took off after the relay exchange and I turned my attention to Jamie. Did she need a towel, a sweatshirt, a trip to the warming tent?

Surprisingly, she said she felt fine – although I could have sworn her upper lip looked just a little more purple than it had before the swim.

She became an immediate celebrity at the relay area – and in general – as people remarked at “that girl who swam without a wetsuit.”

Was she crazy? I dunno – but she got out of the water pretty darn quickly, so maybe she knew something no one else did.

The $5 Million Field

The transition area is the heart of the triathlon. It’s where everything happens.

In one corner, swimmers emerge from the frigid water as volunteers rip their wetsuits off. In the opposite corner, cyclists leave for the 27-mile run. In another corner, the cyclists return. In the final corner, the run course gate leads athletes to the final leg of the race.

In the middle is the stuff. Lots and lots and stuff.

The ground is covered by transition set-ups – towels, helmets, running shoes, bags, shorts, all sorts of might-need items.

A thousand bikes line the racks, a thousand serious bikes.

Most people (including myself, until recently) think of bikes as a relatively simple vehicle – two wheels, some pedals and handlebars, right? Totally, totally wrong.

Sure, those are the basics, but these bikes are fine-tuned, specialized machines designed to do a job – and do it well.

Some of the bikes had equipment I’d never seen before. Some had special racing wheels with a solid panel where the spokes would be. Some had ingenious hydrating devices that allowed the riders to drink right out of a long straw without adjusting their position. Triathlon bikes had arm rests that put the rider in a near-horizontal position. The list goes on. These ain’t the bikes Santa left under the tree at Christmas.

All this comes with a price tag. We estimated that the rows upon rows of bikes and equipment would ring in somewhere in the $5 million range.

Bringing It Home

I expectantly checked my watch about every two or three minutes, maybe more frequently. My Trusty Companion would be rolling in any time for the exchange and it would be my turn.

It seemed like every other cyclist was wearing a red jersey, just as my Trusty Companion had done. I watched the entrance to the Transition Area intently, sometimes momentarily distracted by the impressive and quick transition skills of an athlete.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, my Trusty Companion was beside me – ready for the official exchange of the ankle bracelet that held the timing chip.

He momentarily fumbled with the Velcro strap around his ankle – and I snapped into reality. I pushed his hand out of the way and ripped off the ankle bracelet.

I strapped it onto my ankle – and internally scolded myself for not immediately taking charge of the exchange. My Trusty Companion had just ridden 27 hard miles and I, like an idiot, expected him to be the one to take the bracelet off?

There wasn’t time to apologize during the lightning-quick exchange, so I told myself I would mention it later (which I did and will use this opportunity apologize again for not planning better).

With the bracelet securely around my ankle, I took off through the Run Course gate. The start of the course wound us through a trail-like path that eventually (and thankfully) put us onto the main road along the lake.

It was a beautiful course – and I made a mental note to appreciate (quickly) the scenery and the near-perfect (although slightly hot) day. Why didn’t more people spend a Saturday morning like this?

I was only a few steps into the road course when I realized something – these runners were fast. Their footsteps were faster than I was accustomed to hearing in a race. These people were usually miles in front of me.

But my awesome teammates had performed so well that I somehow ended up with these super-athletes. So I decided to give it my best shot.

I struggled to pace myself. My body felt like it was performing at above-average (for me) levels. And people seemed to be passing me like I was standing still.

These athletes had just completed the swim AND the bike – and they were still blowing by me.

I reached the first mile marker and glanced at my watch: 8:17. Way too fast for me. I definitely wouldn’t be able to keep that pace for six-plus miles. So I slowed a bit and tried to find a groove.

Eventually, somewhere around the two-mile mark, I think I found it. It was a quick pace for me and I felt like I was pushing myself a bit – but that’s what I wanted to do. So I kept it up.

Officially, my average pace ended up being 9:19. And I was pleased enough, despite the fact that I missed my aggressive overall time goal that I had set for myself earlier.

Along the way, I noticed how quiet the experience was, the only constant sound being the soft cadence of footsteps. Generally speaking, fast footsteps. Occasionally, athletes would encourage each other or have quick back-and-forths as they ran.

The athletes were amazing – and I truly couldn’t believe that these people had done all three legs of the race.

They were in great shape – even managing to look good in the skimpy triathlon outfits that consisted of second-skin tanks and skimpy Spandex shorts. Not a hint of jiggling on most of these runners. And those outfits wouldn’t hide a thing.

The numbers on the back of their calves kept my attention. The body-marking process is how tri-athletes are numbered. It consists of a writing your race number in black marker on your arm, hand and leg. On the back of your calf, they write your age.

So I studied the ages on the runners in front of me – and especially those who passed me. The oldest was 57.

I continued the run in relatively uneventful fashion, remarking at the coordination of the race details – mile markers, enthusiastic volunteers, support stations, sideline entertainment. They didn’t miss a thing.

Somewhere along the “back” portion of the out-and-back course, I ended up running alongside a guy entering the homestretch of his first triathlon.

He admitted to me that he was struggling and that I was helping to pace him along the final three miles. I confessed to him that I was a relay-only participant and assured him not to be impressed by my pace.

We chatted on-and-off along the way – and I felt like I was somehow helping to bring him in or at least mentally get his mind of his struggle. At times he mentioned his “feet like cement” and the fact that he was on his “last fumes.” I told him he’d make it.

As we approached the finish, he picked up the pace. I think he could smell the finish and wanted the day’s challenge to be over. He pulled away from me slightly and headed down the finish chute. I congratulated him briefly at the end.

The finish lived up to the multi-surface description posted online, sending the runners down a wooded trail and onto the beach sand. (Have a mentioned that I don’t like running on beach sand? At all.)

After a few short steps on the beach, the finish chute (which seemed to go on forever) wound along another wooded trail. There was no one on the sidelines of the narrow path, but I could hear the clamoring of cowbells, the cheers of the crowd and the thumping of music as I approached the Finish Line.

I turned a bend and the crowd came into view. They cheered, they whistled. I saw my teammates on the sidelines as I passed across the mat, officially recording my finish time and our overall team time.

The end of a race is always hectic. I always feel like there’s a lot going on and runners are pulled in every direction.

I stepped across the line, as a volunteer corralled me into the area where ankle bracelets were removed. Within seconds, someone was handing me a medal and a water bottle branded with the race logo. I was shuffled through the line to end-of-race snacks, where I couldn’t resist grabbing a small slice of watermelon.

Amid the swarms of people, I found my teammates and celebrated that we completed our first relay – and completed it with smiles.

The Try Team Becomes A Tri Team

Our official team time registered at 2 hours, 41 minutes. We came in sixth out of 26 teams and fourth in our division.

Not bad for a bunch of rookies. And definitely a good starting point for our future relays. Yes, I have a feeling there will be more.

Paying Our Dues

Although the idea of the triathlon relay had been bounced around for a while, we didn’t actually pull the pin until late in the game – a little too late.

The race was full.

One who sees roadblock as opportunities, my Trusty Companion quickly went to work on getting us into the race.

The price? A day of service. (Not to replace the regular registration fee and a late fee, of course.)

The race organizers quickly snagged the chance to get three anxious racers into the volunteer loop. If we would volunteer for Sunday’s Half-Iron event, they offered, we could compete in Saturday’s International Distance Relay.

We wanted in. So we agreed.

After an exhausting race day that started much too early, I know we all questioned our willingness to spend the next day volunteering on the course.

More than a few comments were floated about skipping out on our obligation. But knowing that we would be riddled with guilt forever – and we’d never be able to do the Mooseman race again or any other race organized by these folks – we made the plans to get back to the race site by 6 a.m.

Like a case of déjà-vu, we made plans to get some rest and an early bed. It would be another 4 a.m. wake-up call. That would be two in a row.

When the alarm went off – for the eighth time, after a record-series of groggy snoozes – I wondered how bad it would be if I didn’t make it to my volunteer post by 6 a.m. Or at all.

I was still tired from the previous day’s hectic schedule and early morning. It was a long drive. It wasn’t like there would be a roll call for attendance. Right?

It was so tempting. And I have to admit, if my Trusty Companion hinted that he wanted to bail on the day, it wouldn’t have taken much, if any, convincing to get me to stay under the covers.

But I quickly reminded myself that the race organizers had held up their end of the bargain. They’d let us in, we raced – and had great time doing it.

The least we could do is hold up our end of the bargain.

So we reluctantly and sluggishly prepared for the day – as sluggish as two people could be after our later-than-planned wake-up allowed for a mere 20 minutes before we had to be on the road.

Somewhere inside, I think I was actually looking forward to making a return trip (although it would have been more enjoyable a few hours later in the day).

At the very least, it was the price to pay for a great day for the relay.

Plus, being in the midst of the relay and concentrating on my tasks for my first triathlon hadn’t allowed for much time to watch the race – actually, it didn’t allow for any time.

If you haven’t ever been to any challenging athletic event, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The mental fortitude, physical accomplishments and determination of the athletes is impressive to say the least. I’m not just talking about the elite athletes, who fly by at speeds that shouldn’t be humanly possible. The athletes at the end of the pack are just as impressive – if not more.

I was looking forward to seeing this at a whole new level.

We scarfed down breakfast and coffee in the car on the way up – narrowly missing a deer that decided to dart across I-93 just feet in front of us – and eventually made it to the volunteer meeting spot.

We weren’t there long before the bike course coordinator gave us our marching orders in the form of an orange flag and traffic vests.

We stocked up on the snacks provided for volunteers – who would be stationed on the course for no fewer than five hours – and made our way to our mark.

The assigned intersection also had a police officer hired for traffic control, so I think we were questioning whether we’d be needed. But it didn’t take long for us to realize that the oddly designed intersection needed more than one set of eyes to ensure the cyclists would make it to the Finish Line safely.

Sunday’s race was a Half-Ironman: a 1.25-mile swim, followed by a 54-mile bike and then a half-marathon. Yep, swim and bike more than most people ever will, then run 13.1 miles.

Told you these people were impressive.

It wasn’t long until the first cyclist came flying by us. I recall the distinct sound of his specialized racing wheels as he whizzed past us.

He was easily breaking the speed limit set for cars driving on this downtown stretch of road.

Soon, cyclists were coming fast and furiously in packs. Between traffic directing responsibilities, we encouragingly clanged the cowbells we had been given.

If you’ve never been to a race, you’ve never experienced the power of a cowbell. Add it to your life’s to-do list. You won’t be disappointed.

The cyclists for thankful for the support – some nodded or smiled, some waved slightly, some said thanks. A few let out whoops and hollers.

Not far into the race, we saw something we weren’t expecting – a cyclist walking toward us from the opposite direction. Yep, walking his bike. This couldn’t be good.

As he approached, we noticed that his back tire wasn’t spinning. After running over something in the road, a couple of spokes had snapped out and locked the wheel. Unless he could find a replacement wheel, he’d be out of the race just as it was getting started.

My Trusty Companion called the volunteer coordinator, who radioed to a mechanical support vehicle. It seemed like hours until they arrived. The defeated cyclist held out hope that a replacement wheel would arrive.

The mechanical support arrived, but not with a wheel. And without good news.

The wheel couldn’t be fixed on-site. This horse was out of the race.

The cyclist wasn’t giving up that easily. He snapped off his cycling shoes and walked in sock-feet across the street to the police station. They’d have a bike he could borrow – this guy was so determined to finish that even a police-issued mountain bike would do.

Sunday in small-town New Hampshire isn’t the time to go knocking on the police station door, especially when thousands of people have descended into the town to take over the roads by bike and on foot. The door was locked and, so to speak, no one was home.

We watched as the determined cyclist made his way up the street, still wearing only socks on his feet, knocking on doors in search of a replacement wheel or bike.

I thought back to a conversation my Trusty Companion and I had on the way to the race about how he thought about bringing his bike – for no real good reason. He could have – and would have – saved the day.

But there are no woulda-coulda’s on race day, so the cyclist continued his quest to re-enter the race.

We even saw him flag by a passing cyclist – not one entered in the race – to try to persuade him to let him take the bike for the remainder of the race.

Unfortunately it didn’t work.

He returned empty-handed to the intersection and joked that had it not been for the nearby police officer that we may have witnessed a hostile take-over of the bike.

A boy on a BMX-type by casually pedaled by – and I wondered for an instant if the cyclist might even try that bike.

Eventually, it was evident he wouldn’t get back in the race. The wounded bike was packed up into another mechanical support vehicle and hauled back to the Finish Line.

This athlete would not complete a triathlon today. Until that point, he had been near the front of the pack and was obviously a seasoned tri veteran.

Although he put on a generally strong face, we all knew he was experiencing the true agony of defeat.

Cyclists continued to pass – their faces getting more focused and intense as the hours went on. I reminded myself that these people still had 13.1 miles of running ahead of them.

As much as it would have been interesting to watch the runners finish, that would mean committing several hours to the Finish Line. We decided to call it a day after the last cyclist passed – and we gave her a hearty cheer and some strong cowbell.

I never would have signed up for the volunteer day, especially not the day after my first triathlon relay.

But given everything I saw and experienced, I wouldn’t trade the day for anything. Well, except maybe a race entry in a future event.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Un-Athlon

At this time tomorrow, I'll be just about to step off for the third leg of the Mooseman Triathlon.

Don't be too impressed. I'm not doing the first two legs. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to the 6.2 miles of my relay leg and experiencing something new.

I talked about and thought hard about training for a triathlon earlier this year, all three portions. But with my sights on a marathon later in the year, I figured I'd take on one significant challenge a year -- and hopefully the increased focus on one goal would pay off in an enjoyable and successful experience.

Maybe that was just me trying to justify my avid avoidance for the swim.

I'm most certainly not a swimmer. Although I enjoy being by water and can tolerate being in water, I'm not big on being under water.

My dislike for swimming borders on an unexplained fear. I've seriously considered signing up for private swimming lessons to conquer this fear, but quite honestly, it's not a big priority for me.

I can swim and I don't fear that I'm going to drown. I had a pool growing up and love spending time at the lakes and ocean (notice that I'm saying "at" not "in").

Still, I really can't explain why I want to avoid it so much.

My only reasonable explanation (and I'm not sure it's that reasonable) is that for years I had a re-occuring dream that I was trapped underwater -- sometimes in a car, a few times in a plane. The dreams were always vivid and detailed. And I always remembered them.

Fortunately, I haven't had a dream like that in a while. Always curious by nature, I decided to do a little "research" on what these types of dreams meant. ("Research" these days is a simple Google search.)

Turns out, if you believe what you read online and you believe any dream analysis, that the dreams had nothing about a fear of water or drowning or anything like that. Like most dreams, the water was a metaphor for other things trapped in my subconsious -- fear of losing control or being controlled. Stuff like that. (That's a whole other subject for a whole other blog.)

Luckily, the dreams are gone. So for now, I'll take baby steps into the triathlon. Get a relay under my belt and maybe I'll train for a duathlon next.

And then perhaps -- with my watery dreams firmly in the past -- I'll conquer my disdain for the water and complete a triathlon sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Have to admit, it would be a pretty cool feeling.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day. And I have no plans to run. At all. Not one step.

Do I feel like I should run? You betcha!

Why? Just because someone, somewhere decided today is National Running Day.

I'm a sucker for these things. I also rode my bike to work on National Bike To Work Day, dug through my closet for something to wear to the White out the Whit game, dressed up as everything and anything to align with the theme for our college parties. There are countless other examples.

For once, I'm not going to follow the pack. I'm not going to run on National Running Day.

To tell the truth, I hadn't planned a run today. The forecast called for rain, so I planned my schedule around the weather and decided I'd skip today. Of course, Mother Nature has a mind of her own and it turned out to be a beautiful day, which has sparked my urge to put on my sneakers for a quick run.

But I'm not going to do it.

When I was a kid, I used to ask my parents on Mother's Day or Father's Day why there wasn't a "Kid's Day"... their response was typical, like every parent: Every day is Kid's Day.

I'm using the same logic here. Every day is Running Day. Almost. Not today.


Giving It 62.7 Percent

I usually pride myself on being healthy. Generally speaking, I feel good. I tend to escape winter colds and flu. And if I happen to get a bug, I can usually sleep it off overnight.

Not the case lately, though.

I started with a common cold last week -- nine days ago to be exact. It came on quickly. At first I thought it was springtime allergies. But soon I felt hot, tired and way too stuffy. I tried to deny it. I walked in the Memorial Day Parade for work, went out to eat and tried to go about my normal business.

A few days into it, I realized I wasn't going to win this battle so easily.

The cold worsened. So I stocked up on cold medicine, cough drops and tissues. I ate soup like it was the last food on earth. I went around in fog for most of the week, struggling to make it through my workdays so I could get home to sleep. In fact, I even left work early twice and came in late one morning. (Anyone who knows me knows that ain't my style.)

I think my body was sending me a message -- a strong one. I'd been operating on too-little sleep for a while and pushing my body with running and riding. Although I felt great doing it, maybe I just needed to be smarter about it.

I was (and am) reminded of something veteran runners have told me over and over: listen to your body. Mine was yelling at me now.

More rest, some good nutrition and a little more general balance should do the trick. Balance in life is always a challenge.

I took a whole week (and a day) off from running and riding. Luckily most of the week was cold and rainy, so I didn't miss it. But as soon as the weather turned, I got the itch to get outside.

I resisted last weekend, despite near-perfect running temps and bright sunny skies. It pained me to stay inside and rest. But I knew it was best. I even skipped practice with the team on Sunday -- the team's last long run before the race.

I couldn't help but think of my two upcoming weekends -- with a triathlon relay this weekend and the Lake Placid half-marathon the next. I needed to get better!

I finally decided I felt well enough, despite a persistent cough and lingering overall stuffiness, to try a run. I needed to get my legs moving before the relay.

My urge was to run all-out -- far and fast -- but I took the smarter route (somewhat surprisingly) and decided I'd do an easy four-mile loop.

Boy, I'm glad I took the easy route.

I guess I didn't realize how much this cold had taken out of my body. I felt winded and slow. My legs felt heavy and uncoordinated. It was like I hadn't run in months. I was sweating like crazy, breathing harder than I should have been and mentally counting down the miles. I just wanted to get home.

I finally found a bit of a groove after a couple of miles, but realized it was much harder than I was expecting. I was thankful it wouldn't be a long run. I felt a twinge of panic as I thought about the upcoming relay and half-marathon.

How would I do this?

Honestly, I'm still not sure. I'm feeling better every day. I don't need a handful of cold medicine to make it through the day and I can actually participate in activities other than working and sleeping.

But I'm still trying to conserve some energy and rest up. I'll probably try another little run tomorrow before the triathlon relay. It won't be at 100 percent effort. But I'm thinking I might be able to swing 63 percent.