500 Days of Swim Camp

I love the movie 500 Days of Summer. I also love trying to pretend my life is a movie. I also love stretching things so far to make it seem like I am, in fact, living out a movie.

So, you know that scene in 500 Days of Summer when Tom is going to the party at Summer’s apartment. And it flashes between the scenes playing his expectations for the party, and what actually happened? Well, that’s been pretty similar to my life this past week as the reality of swim camp was occurring and my expectation reel was playing through my head. This is just another reason why it’s great to have a coach – you can count on them to push you past the limits you would have set for yourself. Being able to have private assistance is really helpful. I can totally see why so many people opt for Coast2Coast Private Swimming as you are able to learn so much more.

I have a big milestone coming up this weekend in the form of a 100 x 100 swim set. My expectations for the week before 100 x 100 day included, but wasn’t limited to: a taper-like week to prepare my very tired arms, lot’s of rest, maybe some cookies, and…well….not that much swimming since I’d be knocking out 10k on Saturday! Little did I know, Coach Hillary had other plans 🙂 I am still putting in some big meterage these days as THE day draws closer. Every day I (and Ryan!) knock out another workout I know that I’m going to be able to get through Saturday but it will be tough because the fatigue of 6 weeks of swim camp has most definitely set in. BUT….doing it this way will be much more rewarding – that much I’m sure of!

I hope to be blogging on Sunday with some very tired arms!

The Art of Getting Dropped

I have written here before about how lucky I am to have such a great training group in Baltimore. Amidst the strip clubs, the panhandler children trying to clean your windshield and the murders, Baltimore City is a training ground for some of the fastest women in the region. It’s pretty neat.

But…it’s a double edged sword.

I’ll paint a picture for you: Sunday morning at the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. The tourists have just gotten down to the city and are walking around Rash Field, or getting in line at the Aquarium. All is fairly quiet. Suddenly from around the corner of the Baltimore World Trade Center building pops 3 girls, running very gracefully, albeit very quickly. Twenty-five seconds later, one more girl follows. She is about their age. She is focused intently on them. She appears to be part of their group, but is also looking much more labored and frantic than they were as they passed by. “Flailing” would be the word that comes to mind as she moves.

Is she their friend? Why are they running 50 meters ahead? How long has she been chasing them?

Ladies and gentleman, this is the picture of a situation called: I Got Dropped.

The best part of it all? I asked for it! I sent an e-mail to these girls asking them to run with me this past weekend, knowing full well that the average of their marathon PR’s is a 2:57. I knew full well that when the last 20 minutes of the run calls for “goal half marathon pace” that it meant 7’s for me, and 6:30’s for them. I KNEW I would be dropped. And I did it anyway.

Because it makes me faster.
Because it builds mental toughness.
Because it gives me something to blog about.

Whatever my motivation, I will continue to get dropped. In those 14 minutes after I let myself fall off their pace I had some time to think, and I came up with these….My top 5 suggestions for getting dropped:

1. Have a planned  route. If you know that going into a run it calls for a pace where you may not hold on, discuss with the others a route to run. This way when the tempo relaxes, they can back-track and will be able to easily find you.

2. Try to keep up for as long as you can, within reason. You don’t want to stretch your limits so far that you won’t finish the interval. But, there is nothing wrong with a challenge.

3. Make a signal. Carly and I have trained together for long enough, that when she looks back and I give a nod, she knows it means “I’m dying here and can’t keep up, I’ll be right behind, you go.” For others it could be a thumbs up. Or a cartwheel. (okay that’s not practical)

4. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to not want to be dropped on every single run. (And you NEED some relaxed easy days anyway.) Just be honest with yourself when you’re planning your runs and making plans with others. It is NOT okay to agree to run with someone and back out at the last moment because you don’t feel like it if they’re a little faster. Give them some more notice!

5. Drop someone. That sounds a little weird, but look around your training group. Is there someone else you can reach out to who keeps up “most” of the time, but maybe could be pushed a little more for some harder efforts? Share your run plans, and see if they’ll tag along. Teaching others that it’s not so bad will help everyone get faster!

Drumroll Please….

January swim camp mileage: 55 miles!

Some facts:

Las Vegas is 55 miles from Valley of Fire State Park.

Last January I swam 0 miles.

When I swim a lot, I blog about swimming a lot.

I would have rather just run the 55 miles….at once.

Some (unverified) facts:

I am leading the pool “100 miles in 100 days competition” still.

Ryan is very ready to be done with my swim camp phase. (He’s being a trooper and doing as much as possible with me!)

Coach Hillary is not quite done with my swim camp phase.

Swimming makes your arms fall asleep while you sleep. (Haley said she’s never heard of this phenomenon. Jury is still out.)

The odds of the lifeguards filling the pool while I swim is directly proportional to the odds of me swimming in the lane the cold water dumps into.

Somehow swim camp always lasts longer than run camp or bike camp….

I have a lot of Baggage

Ever wondered what some people could possibly do with all of the bags they acquire going to races? Having built up quite the collection, I’m pretty sure they could do some sort of TLC Hoarders-eque show on me. My name is Alyssa, and I am a Bag Lady.

When I leave the house in the morning, it is indiscernible whether I’m leaving for a day or a month. Carly often gets a confused look on her face as she watches me leave and asks “Did I miss something? Are you going away for a week?” Nope, just a day!

First, I have my work purse. This has all my essentials, from nail polish to gum to a screwdriver (don’t ask). There’s also a ziplock bag with my credit card and license in it: the ultimate cyclist’s wallet. Also inside my purse is another bag. This one doesn’t appear to be a bag at first glance because it’s folded up into a little ball. I keep this bag with me in case I am grocery shopping and want to go green a little bit and put my purchases in this one instead of a plastic one. Just as the hipster behind me is about to be like “Psh, she drives a Tracker and uses plastic? I hope she sees me drive away on my fixie with this tweed satchel and feels bad about herself” I can be like POOF. A environmentally friendly grocery bag. Fooled ya!

Want to guess the number of times I’ve actually remembered that I am carrying this bag that folds up into a ball and used it? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with Beero.

I also throw my lunch bag in here. Bags in bags in bags…..in bags.

Bag count: 4

Then I have my laptop bag for my work computer. Since I’m on call 24/7, this goes with me everywhere. Even into the gym because lord knows I learned my lesson about leaving nice things in the car while I go swim.

Bag count: 5

Then I have my swimming bag. This has my paddles and my pull buoy, my towel, another bathing suit for swim #2, etc. Inside that bag is another bag with my SBR Shampoo/Condish/Body Wash/Lotion (one more bag is totally worth not being itchy and smelling like chlorine all day). A separate bag holds my makeup so I can attempt to cover up goggle marks with a quick swipe of mascara and some bronzer. Then I have a bag of work-appropriate clothes for post swim.

Bag count: 9

Oftentimes I also have to leave from the pool for a run as well. That means I’ll carry another bag, with my running shoes and weather-appropriate running clothing. In that bag will be another bag with my clothes for after the run since I have a fear of sitting in sweaty sports bras for a long time post-workout (weird apprehension about ringworm).

Bag count: 11

If I am going to Ryan’s after work and/or my workout that means another bag with clothes to sleep in. And another bag with work clothes for the next day. And, in case I’m running the next morning, another bag with more running clothes.

Bag count: 14

And finally, so I can make the walk to my car in one trip, I often take my big soft-luggage bag and stuff some of the little bags into it to consolidate.

Bag count: 15

I am addicted to bagging. The madness must stop somewhere.


“Try a little harder.”

– me

Yes, I know I’m not the first person to say this. But this has been a common theme in my mind as I have witnessed races and training sessions the past couple months. I look at people and can see it in their face – whether or not they are really giving everything they’ve got. Whether or not they are totally focused on the effort, or if they are planning their dinner or thinking about work.

And I’m just as guilty of it too.

So as you find yourself in the middle of your workout today, tomorrow and the next day, ask yourself: can you try a little harder? Then do it.

Club Challenge

It’s a silly little race.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t count for anything.

No one peaks for this race.

It’s supposed to be fun.

….but, we’re going to win.

Since 2009 when I first ran the RRCA Ten Mile Challenge put on by the Howard County Striders, Falls Road has won the overall co-ed team competition, and several times has won the male or female team competition as well. This race has become a friendly competition amongst the area training groups. It has also become a rite of passage within our own team. It’s a tough, unforgiving course, both in the elevation profile as well as the time of year. Ryan likes to rally our troops early and get everyone especially excited for this race. It is one of the few times throughout the year we can race as a team in a local event.

This past Sunday our team had 22 runners out training on the course, some of us shown below:

We were at many different levels of fitness, and it definitely showed. But you know what? We were the only people out there. And even for those at the back of the pack, it felt good to do it. It felt good to see no one else but our own team out there, minus a few old men who gave us confused looks as they ventured out to walk their dogs.

The secret to winning that we’ve had for the past few years isn’t hidden in any training plan or book: it’s preparation. You either want it bad enough to prepare for it, or you don’t.

I have a funny feeling that in another 4 weeks we will know what team wanted it bad enough to put in the time and prepare:)

In French, Haley Chura means….


Psyche, it doesn’t really.

But seriously guys, she is pretty cool. After having “one of those days”…you know, the kind where you oversleep and proclaim “This is going to be a terrible day!” and then since you enjoy self fulfilling prophecies, it is? I knew better than to remove the coffee pot from under the stream of coffee that was still brewing, but I did it, because it was a bad day and therefore I had to spill coffee. And then I had to delete my report from Microsoft Word before saving it, because yes, it was a bad day and that would confirm it!

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I was meeting Haley Chura, my blogger and triathlete friend extraordinaire, in York, PA for dinner! Haley lives in Atlanta, but was in PA for work, and so we decided to meet in the middle. A little background on us…..

Last May, I began reading Haley’s blog after she won Rev3 Knoxville. Then at Eagleman, I swam in her wake and never saw her on the course, as she raced to her Kona spot!! At that point, I knew what I had to do: comment on her blog.

And thus, a beautiful friendship was born.

We were both doing IM Louisville, but still had no plans to meet. Fate had other plans for us though, and despite starting nearly 30 minutes apart due to the time trial start, we found ourselves out along the run course together …sort of, at least. Haley was on her way in from a loop, and I on my way out. In an effort to distract myself from the pure misery I was going through, when I saw her I just blurted out “Hi Haley!!”. Her look of confusion slowly registered as she realized it was just me, and a quick “oh hey!” was exchanged. No better way to feel like you’ve known each other for 10 years than to acknowledge a common moment of suffering. I properly introduced myself the next day at the roll downs, and also met some of her Dynamo Multisport friends (they live up to their name!). Such good people.

When Haley was going to be coming to PA for work, we decided it was time to really catch up. And after a brief hiccup due to the fact that I gave her (and myself) the wrong address, landing us both in the hood-iest-of-hood sections of York, we sat down and had a meal — no GU, no spandex, and no bikes involved! It was super fun to compare schedules for the upcoming year and have someone who understands the highs and lows of this sport to hang out with. And of course, we couldn’t leave without getting a proper picture!

Just kidding! Here we are 🙂 Please note the large tiki (thai?) man who is photo bombing us!

So fun and looking forward to some adventures with Haley in the future!

Holler to my people

Hello, people at the pool.

I don’t usually say hi to you, because I usually see you early in the morning and I’m barely awake as I slip into the water.

Or it’s after work and I’m people-ed out for the day and don’t feel like talking to you.

So now, I’m trying to do it. I’m trying to be friendly, and say hi. Because I realize that my affinity for C.B.F. may give the illusion that I’m not friendly.

Hello, first, to you, swim ninja. You have an erratic swim schedule; I never see you on the same mornings or times. You arrive in black spandex, having run to the gym. Your tri shorts are under your spandex and you strip down right there on the pool deck. You fold your clothes neatly and get in, pulling goggles out of a non-existent pocket in the outfit. You swim your swim and hop out, apparently not even needing a towel to dry off before you put your outfit back on. Your skin must be of a different material than mine, as pulling spandex over wet skin never really worked out well for me before. And then you disappear before I lift my eyes up on my next breath.

Hello, old man who is so old you must be retired so why are you at the pool so early why don’t you wait until after you have a nice leisurely morning that retired people deserve? I also think you were the Michael Phelps of 1960, as you can easily out swim me at your age.  And props to you, for showing that you can never be too old to rock a speedo.

Hello girl in the cash money bathing suit. I like that one, where did you order it from? You swim kind of my same pace, maybe we should swim together. Nah, you’re right, let’s just awkwardly exchange smiles when we accidentally catch each other’s eye when we’re really looking towards the clock.

Hello, lady that smells like strawberry bubble gum. I like you much more than Mr. too-strong cologne. You can hop into my lane anytime and swim. It’s like you Febreeze the water, I love it!

Hello man who insists on standing on the one side of the lane that I’ve been swimming on, until I finally give in and move to the other side, the wall-side, where I will inevitably hit my hand on the drain pipe thingy 10 times. I really wish you would just explain to me some sort of good reason for doing this. But, I admire your persistence. You weren’t going to budge. Who cares if I was there first? You want it? You got it!

Hello swim team kids. No, my face to you isn’t CBF. It’s real BF. Because yes, it’s annoying that your practices fall right in the times when I prefer to swim. And yes, it’s annoying when your practices run even 5 minutes over. But I’m trying to be more patient. Hey, maybe while I work on my patience, you can work on not staying in the showers for 20 minutes and throwing shampoo around and making all the floors really slippery? Thanks. And yes, it’s cute that you have my same bathing suit. If only you realized that in 10 more years you’d still order the same one too, because your mind will always think you’re a 32. Thank you, I like my toe nail polish color too. It’s called “pink.” I think you can get it at CVS, maybe your mom will take you. Oh, I think your mom is calling. See you tomorrow.

Hello fins lady. Zoom, zoom, zoom. That is all.

Charleston Chews

Before I recap my Charleston weekend, some of you may be wondering how my super-star OT qualifying friend Chrissie did this weekend in Houston. Unfortunately, Chrissie withdrew from the race at mile 20 due to some hamstring trouble. She tells about the experience in her own words on our TWSS blog here, and I can say that finish or no finish, she’s still #1 in our hearts 🙂 Live to run another day of course!

Also going down this past weekend amidst all the trials-hype was the HURT 100. This still stands as without a doubt the hardest race I have ever run, and prior to the weekend I can I was almost glad not to be facing that race this year! However, as the twitter and text updates started rolling in, those feelings changed and yes, I was missing it! But I was lucky enough to run vicariously through a fellow HB athlete, Andi, and follow along with her race throughout the weekend. I am sure this race lived up to Andi’s expectations – and she nailed it, finishing in  34 hours. I got goosebumps looking at her finisher pic with super pacer-Dave (I think it’s HIS turn to run the race next year 🙂 )

Now on to Charleston where the 5 of us spread our talents over 2 of the 3 races going down last weekend. Ryan and Conrad were tackling the marathon. With a goal of getting that BQ time for 2013, Conrad ran with Ryan for a good chunk of the race and they achieved this goal easily. Well, kind of. The wind and not-so-scenic race course presented some challenges, but they got it done and it was especially neat to see Ryan come off with a huge 7 minute PR. Less than 8 weeks after an Ironman he managed to recover, then train for an open marathon. That is not an easy feat folks!

In the 5k, Ed, Andy and I represented all the way. Ed ran away with the win in the men’s race, while Andy helped pace me through 2 miles of my race, ultimately helping me get that first place female spot! My time was a 19:05 but before you investigate that too much, yes, the course was short. We believe it fell just at 3 miles  and would estimate a true 5K time in the realm of 19:45. But with a goal of running under 20, I was very pleased. And yes, I do realize that I am a lucky girl to have managed to find a 5k I could WIN as my first one. I’m also excited for the race pictures as I had a sweet outfit on despite it being pretty darn chilly that early:

Is there more short-distance racing in my future? Probably. But for now it’s back to swim camp!

Chrissie Hears A Who(uston)!

I have written on my blog a lot about the amazing group I train with here in Baltimore. Sponsored by Falls Road Running store, Team That’s What She Said serves as a training group for many of the elite runners that have come through the area. I am just lucky to tag along for the ride.  One of said runners is Christine (Chrissie) Ramsey. I first met Chrissie in 2008 when I moved to the area. Looking for a reason to meet more runners, I agreed to run 200s with her at the track. In my non-track-knowing brain, I figured 200s wouldn’t be that bad because they aren’t that long. Seemed like an appropriate way to break myself in. If I knew that I had agreed to run 200s with a future Olympic Trials marathon qualifier…I probably would have made alternative training plans that day! Nonetheless, Chrissie met me that day and sure enough, we ran 200s. Granted, I was quite a ways behind. But that is one of the great qualities Chrissie has – She appreciates all of the people in the training group….she would have never turned me away despite being slower than her. As recently as October 23rd, Carly and I ran into Chrissie in Baltimore as we were beginning the tempo portion of our long run.  Chrissie threw away previous route plans of the day and helped Carly drag me through the rest of the run!

Since 2008 my own knowledge about competitive running has evolved and my appreciation and respect for the athlete Chrissie is has grown as well. When I am going to be spectating a race that Chrissie is running I am excited, because I know she will put on a good show. Watching her run is fun. One of my favorite memories of watching her race was at the 2008 Baltimore marathon. This was not her goal event for the season, it was more of a testing ground for her legs. We watched Chrissie come through the half in about 1:34. She then proceeded to drop the hammer and negative split the second (harder) half of the marathon with a 1:24….ending up at 2:38. That phrase of dropping the hammer really is the best way to describe the way Chrissie races. It is a really amazing thing to watch the moment when it happens, when her form changes, her eyes lock forward, and you can just see the utter concentration.

Unfortunately I missed one of the most recent times she raced to greatness, no doubt dropping that hammer yet again, to qualify for the marathon Olympic Trials by running the Philly Half Marathon in November. After a tough spring in which she faced a serious injury while peaking for a marathon-trials attempt, many athletes would have written off the year as a loss. Chrissie chose the other route, and tells about it in her own words here.

As a result, she is heading to Houston this weekend!! I caught up with Chrissie and asked her to answer a few quick questions. Here’s the interview:

What is your favorite workout?  Progression runs.  I do them about once a week for 60-85 minutes starting at a comfortable pace and gradually getting faster until my last mile is at a 10K race effort.

I also find that 10-20 x 1 min hard one min easy starting at 5K effort and progressing to mile effort or faster is a great way to build speed without overtaxing myself.

Generally I don’t like running on the track or taking too many splits.  I find that doing things based on effort and perception keeps me from pushing myself beyond my current fitness level.  If I let my body tell me how fast I’m able to run instead of the other way around I’m more likely to avoid mental burnout and injury.  And it’s a lot more enjoyable 🙂

What is your favorite place to run in Baltimore? Honestly, I don’t love running in Baltimore.  There are a lot of great people to run with, but not a lot of green space.  I do most of my workouts in Druid Hill park and mix up my long runs between the city and Patapsco state park.  Mostly I try to find places with as little traffic and road crossings as possible since I tend to get too focused on the running to pay attention to my surroundings, especially if I am doing anything at effort.

What is your favorite quote to run by? “Everyone has talent.  What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” ~Erica Jong

And to live by? “Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you.  It is meant to, and it couldn’t do it better.  Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.” ~Florida Scott-Maxwell

Do you train with an iPod? Yes, pretty much anytime when I am not doing a workout or running with people.  I also commit other “serious athlete” faux pas like running on the treadmill in cold weather and eating cheesecake icing directly out of the container.

Does being faster than most men ever get old? Absolutely not.  I have nothing else to say here.

Putting the marathon aside, would you rather go to the Olympics for the Javelin or Synchronized Swimming? Tough call.  The Javelin scares me, but I also can’t hold my breath for very long, I also don’t swim very well.  So I’m going to go with choice C: curling.

THANK YOU AND GOOD LUCK, CHRISSIE! You can follow her on Saturday and beyond at @CRamsey1982!

So many possible captions….so little space.