Feet First

What’s the best way to get into a cold pool at 5:30 am? Jump in feet first, of course.

How do I usually roll? Slowly lower myself in going “ohmygodohmygodihatepoolsohmygod.”

But judging from how Coach Hillary set up my training plan she believes in the feet-first method 🙂  I am back in full swing of things with no time last week to gently ease myself into it. And I have to say, I feel good and all the workouts went really well – so there is something to be said about jumping in feet first.  This is how I did with each of the 3 disciplines:

Swimming: Just a hair over 12 miles on the week! I am measuring my swimming in miles right now because my gym has a “100 miles” competition going. This week I surpassed the 10 mile mark, earning myself a swim cap (that wasn’t ready yet because “they didn’t think anyone would get there that fast!”), and am currently the pool leader for mileage. I am going to hold on tight to this as Ryan and I think there are at least a handful of people who will give me a run for my money in this one. But I have some tricks up my sleeve and big swim days coming yet too.

The bike: This weekend we were lucky enough to have temps up to 67 here in Maryland! And what better way to jump into training on the bike than a good old-fashioned ride on the Columbia course. Andy/Chicken Tender invited me to ride out on the Columbia course with him on Saturday, and I managed to dupe him into 2 hours which meant the lollipop portion of the course twice. In case anyone was wondering….the hills are still there. That course is always a rude awakening and it hit me a little harder than I would have expected, but I had great company and his ride data showed that we were moving at a good clip for the ride. The extra bonus was the 5 miles running off the bike too!

The run:  My stealthy speed work over the holidays is paying off, evidenced by Friday morning’s workout. The Shrimp ‘n’ Grits 5K is this weekend in Charleston and I’m looking forward to see where I’m at.

Beautiful sunrise == reward for Friday's early speed sesh!

And for the first long run of 2012, what do you get?? SEVEN ladies meeting on Sunday morning for the run! It was a great turnout and I’m pretty excited to keep this attendance up. As I learned last year, the best way to get faster is to run faster…and that’s most easily accomplished in a group. While not everyone is running too long yet, the reward for sticking out the whole thing was lunch at the Grilled Cheese Company in Federal Hill. YUM!

Rev3 Runs Across America!

In 2012, Rev3 set some big goals. Not only were they going to continue to add races to their series (perhaps another yet to be announced? c’mon just tell us already!), but they were going to continue to foster an amazing Pro Team as well as an Age Group team. I am continually surprised by the generosity and encouragement that I have already received from the team in just about a month….this is something so unique and special that it really says a lot about Rev3 as a brand!

But that wasn’t enough. Rev3 wanted to do more. And thus the Rev3 Run Across America was born. On Monday, March 26, Team Rev3 will set out for a 3,458 mile run to end 21 days later at at the Georgetown Hospital’s Lombardi Cancer Centers in Washington, DC.

Ten people. 3,080 miles. 21 days. Don’t even try to do the math about mileage per person – it’s a lot! But they are going to be able to get through it with the motivation and inspiration that comes from doing it for a cause that is near and dear to their hearts. Taking this directly from the “Why Run?” portion of the Rev3 RAA website:

Rev3 events provides athletes the opportunity to achieve personal goals, overcome obstacles, and push their inner limits beyond what they think is possible. On race day the rev3 staff is honored and privileged to share in that excitement with our athletes and family members. We delight in watching their months and maybe even years of hard work and dedication to their training become a reality.

Run Across America gives us the opportunity to touch lives on more than just race day. Rev3 has partnered with the Ulman Cancer Fund. It is a charity we believe in. Each year more than 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer in the united states. In fact, cancer is the leading disease killer among 20-39 year olds. Cancer has in some way shape or form has touched all of our lives. What a better way to celebrate perseverance, determination, courage, and heart than to run across America side by side with people whose lives have been forever changed as a result of this disease. They have had their “defining moment”. It’s time to make ours.

There are a couple ways that you can help them get through this huge feat! First is pledging your support through a donation to help get to the goal of $100,000. Just click on the Donate button on the left of my blog. Another way to get involved is to be a relief runner! I will be out there in the final 3-day push of the run helping get those miles in! If you’re interested in that (check out the website here for the map of all the cities they will be running though) contact me and I’ll forward you on to the right people. And of course, if you have another idea for to become involved in this project as an individual or team, please let me know. No contribution is too small!

Dear Self

As I sat down to write my New Years resolutions and/or my 2011 reflections it somehow warped into this – a letter to my 2011 self, had I known what I know now, at this time last year. 2011 was a truly special year for me, and if I can take what I learned into 2012 I have the opportunity to make it even better.

Dear Self,

First, get a watch. A good watch. That takes splits. And learn how to use it – you will need it this year.

You are about to begin a year that is going to stretch you beyond what you thought you were capable of. You will do more in the hours of each day, more in the minutes of each hour, than you ever have before. You will survive on less sleep than you did during your 2 year stint at the Naval Academy – never thought you’d willingly do that again, huh? You will get in the pool. A lot. Things will start slow, but Hillary knows exactly what she is doing and will make a fish out of you yet. Swim hard. The benefits are great in the first part of the year. You will be encouraged by the seconds and minutes that drop off your times in the pool. Be patient. It will take time for that to translate into open water. Don’t get caught up in the numbers either. Remember that an improvement can be measured in using less effort to swim the same times. You will swim many of these workouts alone, but be thankful when Ryan joins in the work. Enjoy the days when you can out swim him…there will only be a couple 🙂

Get a new saddle early. Changing it up a couple weeks before IM LOU probably isn’t the best approach. Get comfortable on it, and stock up on movies and TV shows to watch on the trainer. You’ll spend a lot of time there. Go riding with the boys any chance you can. You don’t need fancy tools. You don’t need a power meter. You have a handful of really talented guys in your area willing to ride with you. They are your fancy tools and your power meter. Ride hard, and keep up for as long as you can. Ask questions. Learn to fix your own bike. And for the love of god, make sure you have 2 tire levers before you start a big race.

Get uncomfortable with running. Yes, you can run a really long time, longer than most people like to drive. Learn to run fast. Learn to hold on when you think you’re going to die. Because none of the workouts this year are going to kill you, no matter how much you think they will. Your arms will tingle and go numb. Your form will go to shit and you’ll feel like an ogre trying to keep up. Work on it. Think it through and stay calm. Similarly to the bike, you’re lucky because you will have the opportunity to train with a group that is much faster than you. Take every opportunity you can to run with them. It sucks to always be the slowest one, and that is not ever going to change this year, so suck it up and get used to it. These girls work hard too and deserve their speed, so don’t resent them for it. Learn from them. What do they do when they are tired? How do they recover? How do they run their easy days? Take it all in and apply it in your training. Work hard.

Give back when you can. If you can help another get through their long run, do it. If you can help brainstorm training plans with a friend, do it. Watching those around you achieve their successes will keep you going.

Build your tribe. Not everyone is going to understand what your goals are this year. But do not be offended by their lack of understanding. Keep those who do get it close. You will spend many weeks in the cocoon of Hillary, Ryan and Carly’s support. These are the people who will be there for you every single day. These people will bring you out of the bad days (expect one in late August). And they will be there to celebrate with you on the good days. Be observant and seize the chance when you have the time to reach out to those who have seemingly lost touch. You will find it’s not a lack of caring that has caused it; you will rebuild the bonds and they will be stronger than ever. Oftentimes what seems to be a lack of support is really just uncertainty in how to support you.

Don’t let that make you shy away from holding yourself accountable and letting people know what your goals are. Don’t undersell yourself. You’re working hard and deserve credit for what you’re attempting to do. Stand with your head high, even after failed workouts, even after you raced slower than you ever thought you’d have to suffer through, and keep your eye on the prize.

You know all those cliché statements about hard work paying off, and talent only taking you so far? The ones about using your heart to compete? Hold on to them because they are true, and will become your mantra for the year. Don’t be jealous of those who had the opportunities to swim, bike or run competitively from an early age, or compete at the highest level in college. Take solace in the fact that your meager Evergreen Dolphins Swim Team in the summers of the 90’s gave you a decent freestyle form. Running local 5k’s with your dad instilled a competitive edge in you that will never burn out. Playing soccer and lacrosse allowed you to realize the value of a team early on, and you will build a team in a seemingly individual sport.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. At the end of the day, you still have to go to work. You still have to pay your mortgage. You still have to be a friend, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, in addition to being a triathlete. Life will get in the way some days, and that’s okay. No one is going to think what you’re doing is cool if you’re grumpy and angry all the time. So if it starts going down that road, take the time to re-evaluate what needs to change. Similarly to how you schedule in races, schedule in time to *not* race. Cross something off your bucket list. And if you go to run in the Grand Canyon, pack food and water for 2, because Dave will not bring enough. And you probably want to check the shuttle times before you start that run. Just sayin’ 🙂

Do the work, and have faith in what you are doing. You are working with Hillary for a reason and that is because you believe in what she is going to have you do. Believe in the process. Have patience. There will be a time this year when all of the hours of training will come down to one minute. Let it all go, and (spoiler alert) run your butt off. That will be what you came for.

You will realize that in achieving some goals this year you have found yourself not nearing the end of a road, but only at the beginning.



PS – If you go for a long run, pack toilet paper.

Done and Done!

I did it!!! Certainly not perfect but I’m pretty proud of myself…..definitely learned a lot along the way.

Happy New Year everyone, and a very special shout out to Coach Hillary & Maik who are getting married today!!! woohoo!

Where I’ve been

As I have been enjoying my last week of downtime before the swim camp begins, I decided to tackle a home improvement project. My basement steps have been unfinished and since I moved in I have been saying I wanted to fix them up. I wanted to improve my house more, but I didn’t have the money for the tools and design! Got told by my friend that I could have applied for one of those home improvement loans, he had done and it helped, looks like my next big project is getting the full flourish! Anyway, I borrowed my dad’s electric sander and got to work! I also didn’t shower for awhile and dressed in frumpy clothes to complete my “home improvement look” (just kidding…that just happened on its own apparently). Funnily enough the next project is the installation of the new shower niche.

Everything has finally come together and I have been able to make the home improvements that I’ve been wanting to do for ages now. It’s just a relief. For now, I’m just deciding to complete the small jobs, and when the time is right, I will be able to enlist the help of someone similar to www.dependablehomeservices.com to help with some other improvements that I want to make like having a new decking installed. I’ve always loved the idea of having one and being able to host parties and bbq’s on it and so I can’t wait until everything else has been finished so I can get started. I’m getting excited just thinking about it now, but I think it’s probably best to try and focus all of my attention on my current projects so that they can be done to my liking.

Then I set to work. I’m about 75% done now, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll be posting with pics of the finished project!

Trio Tuesday

1. In an effort to pamper myself during my little training break, I painted my nails and bought a loofah.  Turns out, this loofah looks exactly like the sponge we would put in my hermit crab cage when I was little. And it weirded me out then. Guess what? Still does. Now every time I shower I am reminded of Lobster, the freakishly large hermit crab I owned for a day before I got scared and threw him out into the backyard, probably offering him up to the lawn mower. Sorry, Lobster.*

2. Lesson learned (twice): Amazon’s “one-click buying” LITERALLY means you buy it…. in one click. THAT click. There is no next click where you’re warned “This is the one click where you are officially buying your item.”

3. Carly made me the coolest thing ever for Christmas…this amazing pink blanket! I *love* it! And so does Amelia! Here is us modeling it as a cape:

*Editor’s Note : My sister seems to believe we owned Lobster for years before the throwing him out into the yard incident. My loathing of this terrible creature seems to have skewed my memory.

Hellgate 100k in Video

Thank you to Ryan and Carly for not only being the crew of champions, but also for their photography and videography skills that helped make this video possible! Also thanks to Bill Hite for several of the pictures, you can find more of his photos of the event here. Ryan’s pictures of the event can be found here.

Hellgate 100k Race Report: Oh what a night.

For those who don’t want to read a long race report, I will be posting my picture/video version later this week!

Back in October when I mailed in my application to run Hellgate, I wasn’t sure if I was getting in over my head. I had learned from the past few years that training primarily for ultras and being able to jump into triathlons and race respectably was possible. But was it possible the other way around?? In late October when I found out my application was accepted into the race, I knew I was going to have my chance to find out.

Between IMAZ and Hellgate I had 3 weeks. In that time I ran about 44 miles, the bulk of which (25) came in two back to back runs (10/15 miles) last weekend. The rest of the miles were scattered in handfuls here and there, all very easy and used to loosen up. I had hoped to be able to run a lot more than I did following AZ but my legs just weren’t back under me quickly –  I only had 7.5 miles that first week!

Needless to say, while I was pretty sure I could make it through, the nerves were definitely there. I know that having to get through an ultra when you’re not trained for it can be anything but pretty, and I couldn’t help but have the memory of JFK ’09 lingering in my mind (DNF’d JFK after racing Clearwater the week prior). When the bib numbers came out and Dr. Horton had seeded me 4th, I was flattered but I also began to feel the pressure. I wanted to deliver!  So just before 4pm on Friday I found myself in the car with Ryan and Carly and we headed down to rural Virgina. Due to my own lack of planning (I suppose I could have pre-made something and brought it with) we ended up at Wendy’s in Woodstock, VA for dinner. While the go-wraps and fries I ate were super tasty, unfortunately I would be seeing them again soon…..yes, that’s foreshadowing. Since we were early enough, we arrived at Camp Bethel in time for me to get my number and chill out a little before the run. Being around everyone ready to run was making me pretty anxious so I was happy to jump back in the car for the caravan to the start. It was surprisingly warm and in a race that is known for bad weather being one of the biggest obstacles, I was happy that a light long-sleeve under my Oiselle Fargo Jacket, tights, gloves and a beanie were enough to keep me warm. I was also wearing Ryan’s Oakleys which we put clear lenses in to avoid the dreaded Hellgate eyes (it has become a common occurence at this race to see people’s cornea’s freeze. Needless to say I wasn’t taking that chance on my Lasik-ed eyes!) Promptly at 12:01 am Dr. Horton sent all 137 of us off into the cold and dark trails.

The first 3 miles of the race are gently rolling trails and are followed by a long climb up a road. I kept reminding myself to keep it chill but I couldn’t help but notice that I was running stronger up the climb than I ever would have before – I would wager some of the pounds I shed this year getting in IM shape helped that. As I got up to the 2nd aid station I was told I was in the top handful of women. Cool, too bad we still have 55 (or is it 59?) miles to run! At this point I started tuning into my body to see what was going on. As the next section wore on, I began to feel worse and worse. I would try to eat a GU and it would seemingly come right back out – only I wasn’t puking…..it was all coming out the other end. My science knowledge isn’t good enough to know if when that happens any calories are retained, so I was getting pretty worried that it was only a matter time before I was literally running on empty. But, if there is one thing I have learned this year it’s patience, so I just tried to relax, ride out the really low points, and sip/eat whenever I felt like I could keep it in. I made it to Camping Gap 13 miles in and this was probably the peak of the worst of it. Unfortunately I had about 10 miles to the next aid station where my crew was waiting. I am still not sure what was going on – maybe it was the Wendy’s? – but it was a really low point. At one point while leapfrogging with Jen Nichols she tried to make conversation and I was focusing so hard on keeping my stomach happy I couldn’t even respond (sorry Jen!).  The upside though was that it was nighttime so finding a dark nook to take a bathroom break in is pretty easy.  I bounced back a little bit towards the end of it and I was surprisingly still way ahead of my project pace times coming in to the first crew station. So far ahead, in fact, that Ryan and Carly had just woken up and I found them in the car staying warm! I handed off my headlamp for fresh batteries as I made my way down to the food options. Soup was really the only thing I could stomach so I took that and an Ensure for the trail in hopes I would be able to slowly sip it throughout the next section.  I didn’t stick around for long as it was Cold. My hands were frozen under the gloves and I couldn’t feel my toes after a few of the stream crossings. I only had to stop for a bathroom break once in this section so I knew I was on the upswing. Running in the dark was getting old though…. The trail was very well marked but there were still a few scary “umm, dude where’s the trail?” moments. What we did have on our side though was that it was a clear night with a full moon, giving us a decent amount of moonlight and making it so you could actually run sans headlamp on several of the jeep roads – very cool!

I kept it chill and just made sure to get in the calories I could, and as I reached the next crew stop I was in a slightly better mood. Bob was also at this stop and another friendly faced helped. Ryan and Carly quickly replenished food and water in my pack and I was off again. The next section is a lonnnggg climb followed by a nice little descent. Only to be followed by an identical long climb up to Little Cove Mountain. The sun had come out towards the beginning of this part, and while that helped I was definitely starting to feel the effects of not having slept. I asked the question that no ultrarunner should ever ask “how far am I?” and when I heard only 35 miles I was not a happy camper! BUT I was able to shed my beanie, headlamp and glasses and put my hair up and I think looking a little prettier while I ran boosted my mood. The next section is pretty long at 8 miles and after awhile I caught a guy and asked him how much farther we could possibly have to go – I felt like I had been running forever! He said he didn’t know but he hoped it was soon as he was in dire need of food. I offered him the last GU I had with me and he gratefully accepted. Luckily the aid station was just up ahead and this is where Carly would be joining me! I felt good enough here to finally ask if anyone knew what place I was in. Some said 4th, some said 5th, and some said 6th. I allowed myself now to hope for a top 5 finish, but I knew I had work to do to ensure that. Carly and I set off and I have to say these next 20 miles were pretty tough mentally. I was feeling pretty good though and we made good time getting to Bobblet’s Gap. The next section of the race is 8 miles. Well, it’s 8 “Horton Miles”…..meaning the true length is somewhere in the 9.5 mile range. I was happiest to have Carly here as at one point I thought we must have gone in a huge circle at one point and would have sworn we’d seen this section of trail. But, Carly just assured me that we had not and encouraged me to keep pushing it as much as I could.

As we were running into the final aid station they were pretty pumped to see me and Ryan told me there’d be no dilly dallying as I had made some good time and was only 5 minutes back of the woman in front of me. I looked at the sign nearby which said 6.3 miles to the finish. Is it really 6.3? I asked. The kids working the aid station laughed – of course not! They said. It’s more like 7….3.5 up, 3.5 down. Wonderful. (Note: the race is rumored to really be 66.6 miles…cruel I tell you!)

As we set off in pursuit I had Carly keep track of the time and we did intervals of “how far can I run up this thing” with 2 minutes of a fast hike in between each one. Finally we caught sight of someone up ahead. As we passed Sophie – who was having a great race with a huge PR – she gave us some great info on the course. She said it’s generally 40 minutes to the top (from the bottom) and 31 down to the finish if you work the downhills. I thanked her and she sent me off to go pass some more of the men up ahead 🙂 Carly and I will get our final splits off the Garmin this week but we made it up QUICK. There was no stopping me now though – I was headed home. For the first time in an ultra I was going to use my pacer to actually pace me (usually I prefer them running behind me or side-by-side). I told Carly to run ahead of me and push the pace, I’d yell to her to slow if I couldn’t hold on. So we started running, and in ultra-terms, we were flying…..8:15….8:05….Under 8!….and then there was the finishing chute! I pushed hard all the way in and was greeted by Horton who happily proclaimed I did him well by finishing in the place of my seed number….Didn’t want to let him down with that! My final time was 14:32:40.

After the race it was quick showers (yay for hot showers!) and we hit the road back to Baltimore. Fueled on Red Bull and wings in Harrisonburg, VA, this drive was one of the harder parts of the weekend! But we made it through like champs (thanks to Ryan for doing the actual driving on less than 3 hours of sleep). As I sit here on the couch with my swollen sausage-toes and a few tweaks and twinges in my legs I am so happy to have done this race. Only having the opportunity to run 2 ultras this year, HURT and Hellgate could not have been better picks. These truly are races that embody the spirit of ultrarunning, ones that definitely give you plenty of “this is what you came for” moments. Dr. Horton puts on some of the best events in ultrarunning and the best always come out for them. It was truly an honor to partake in this year’s event.

Small Talk, Work and the Weather

That title really has nothing to do with this post but I was searching high and low for Taylor Swift lyrics to use that were appropriate and came up short. But clearly that didn’t stop me from using some lyrics nonetheless.

As I have been finalizing my preparations for Hellgate tomorrow night, I realized I am more excited than I thought I was. I have been missing shoving 30 GUs into ziplock bags to eat over 15 hours. I have been missing getting updates from the race director that include lines like: “There will be only water at Aid Station 1. If you need more than that, you should stay at home.” and “Do NOT call the rescue squads or 911.” I have missed having to prep my crews for what will inevitably be The. Longest. Day. Ever.

The weather forecast looks GREAT and I’m not going to say it out loud, but ____________. (Sorry, can’t even type it, don’t want to curse it!) It will still be chilly though and given the indian summer we’ve had in Baltimore allowing me to run in shorts and a t-shirt up through last weekend, I felt like I needed to acclimate to the cold. So tonight I will be sleeping here:

JUST KIDDING, MOM! I’m not really sleeping on the roof.

Anyway I will be bib number #104. If Ryan and Carly have any cell service they will tweet some updates throughout the race (@rmcgrath732 and @cannepa)

You can take the ultra out of the girl….

But you can’t take the girl out of ultras 🙂

If you have been paying super close/stalkerish attention to my tweets lately, you may have noticed that I haven’t quite hit my offseason. I took a week easy after IMAZ to get my legs back under me, and then started to test the waters because I had one last Bonus Race planned for 2011  (C’mon…you know I can’t be a devout follower of the Biscay way without a bonus race in mind!)

On Friday I will be running the Hellgate 100K. This is one of Dr. Horton’s well-known ultra events in the Virginia mountains and has been on my bucket list for quite some time.  Back in September I was pondering a way to capitalize on the fitness I felt would be there after IMAZ. First I thought maybe a 5k? Nah….A marathon? Maybe finally break that 3:30 barrier? Nope…..a 100k sounds so much more appealing 🙂 After being accepted into the race I put it on the back burner and only brought it back out after Arizona. I wasn’t hell-bent on racing this. While I wanted to, I’m well aware of what an ultra takes mentally and physically. It wasn’t until this past weekend when I decided that I did have it in me, and more importantly, I *wanted* to run this.

One of the great things about the Ironmans this year is that they taught me a new kind of mental toughness in racing. But the one thing that has been missing from these races is the element of survival. The primitive simplicity of an ultra – just you, your shoes, and the trail. Having to get from point to point on foot, over the rivers and through the woods (okay now I’m just being dramatic). No bikes to worry about getting a flat on, no fancy wetsuits. There’s something to be said about the satisfaction that comes from the survival element of an ultra. In an ironman there is always another competitor at arms length. In an ultra, you may run by yourself for the entire day. That solace in the solitude of racing in the mountains is something that I have missed and am excited to have time to experience it again this year!

Another reason I’m excited for the race is that Carly will be pacing me the last 20 or so miles (her first experience in an ultra!) and Ryan will be rounding out the fearless crew to get me through the day. Here is a link to an “interactive” story about the race. You will note that this event actually starts at 12:01 am on Friday night. I have done a 6pm ultra start before – never later than that – so this will surely be interesting. One thing is for sure about making all the runners run through the night is that it does tend to equal the playing field a little bit. Though, this course is tough enough it’s known to equal the playing field regardless….I would consider 15-16 hours a good time for me to finish in, making this a very tough course.

So the rest of week will be some light days on the legs and more so logistical planning – it’s been a while since I’ve had to plan drop bags or crew directions!