Some things change…

For instance — I will not be racing JFK this year in a cotton t-shirt as I did in 2006 (ah, the good old days!!).

jfk cotton

But somethings stay the same. I still enjoy spending time on trails with no pace intended and no goal in mind other than to run for hours. I still enjoy being so sore I struggle to walk down steps the days after said training runs. I still enjoy putting away the headphones, and the phone, and just heading into the woods without a distraction. I even still enjoy the challenge that the rocks covered in leaves covered in rocks covered in leaves presents 🙂

The past month has been a fun mental break for me from the typical swim/bike/run training weekends I was putting in earlier this year. I am really excited now to let the fitness roll and see where that takes me on Saturday.

The goal? Well, I’ve never had a sub-8 finish at this race and I feel like this could be the year! Let’s do it!

“Off Season” Fun

It’s really is hard to believe that it has been about a month since racing on the Big Island! However, getting out of work in the dark and setting out gloves and arm warmers for runs are a constant reminder that it is the off season — at least from triathlon. Earlier this year I had to ask coach Hillary the old “Mother May I….?” when suggesting to put this last race on the schedule. But, as someone who is heading to Ultraman for her end of the season finale, I had a hunch it wouldn’t be a tough sell! And so it goes, the JFK 50 mile is only 11 days away!

I was in luck this year as the turning of the leaves came a week or so later than usual and that meant one of my big trail runs after I came off some rest post-Kona was amidst the gorgeous fall foliage that can be found on the Appalachian Trail. I was also super lucky to have good company on this run – and 60 degree temps. This run was meant to be.

Alan

However, that run though was a cruel reminder of the differences between ultrarunning and triathlon! I think I was more sore after 26 technical miles and almost 6 hours of running than after any Ironman this year! Round two this past weekend was much better and I’m super pleased with how my body is coming around. This year will mark my 5th finish for JFK, which is always a special landmark to get to. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how I approach an ultra now as I feel more prepared than ever for the “race” aspect of ultrarunning. Being out on the trails the past couple weeks certainly planted the seed in my head that I am stronger than ever out there, and I’m looking forward to bringing this fitness to the races.

I’ll leave you with one more fun fact: The JFK 50 mile in 2007 was actually the first time that Hillary and I ever raced each other! We didn’t know each other then, but finished within 7 minutes of each other!

Holiday Shopping Ideas (for your runner or triathlete)!

Yep, full disclosure there are several sponsor shout-outs in this post. But I promise that everything is something I have or repeatedly lust after. As in, if I don’t have it, I probably keep a permanent browser tab open to that item on a shopping page, adding it to and then deleting it from my shopping cart throughout the day as I struggle with my detox from online shopping! If you’re not as big an online shopper as I am, you can find out more information here about the world of ecommerce!

With the holidays looming near I wanted to give you a head start on the shopping rush. It can be extremely difficult to know what to buy for active people, especially since, usually, they already have what they need. However, it’s always nice to show them that you’ve considered their passion for sports. Clothing is a good idea, all sports people need activewear to travel to events or even for the sport itself. To look at a selection of activewear clothing, you could consider shopping at outletshirts.com for example. Those sorts of presents would be ideal for any sporty people. That’s just one idea though. There are many more. Please feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any other questions on these or are looking for sizing help!

Pearl Izumi: The favorite triathlete or cyclist in your life will no doubt love some Pearl Izumi gear. I have had cycling shorts from them that have lasted since my very first days on a bike! But, I’d suggest doing some snooping and seeing what kind of cold weather gear they have for riding; most cyclists or triathletes skimp out on outdoor riding in the winter and usually it’s only due to a lack of proper gear! I have the Elite Barrier Shoe Covers and the Elite Softshell Gloves and these help keep me riding all winter long in Baltimore. Keeping their toes and fingers warm is the key to keeping them riding happy in the winter!

NormaTec: Okay, so I know NormaTec recovery boots may not be in everyone’s budget. But, if you can find a way, they are well worth it! And if you’re a couple – well, these are kind of buying a present for yourself too 🙂 My NormaTec’s are a staple of every big training build I do — I don’t know what I would do without them.

Oiselle: It seems like every day Oiselle is adding more cute clothes to their selection! My personal favorite this season is the Flyte Long Sleeve. Seriously can’t step out the door without getting compliments on this one! And for the holiday season Oiselle has added their Podium Pajamas — pretty much the excuse I need to get as much rest as possible during the offseason!!

SMASH: The second I saw Lava Berry I knew that was the SMASH kit for me! This kit makes a statement and with a design that honors the lava fields of Kona where dreams are born, how can you resist? Now there are even bibs for girls like myself who prefer that style. And for your winter tropical escape (well, hopefully you are taking one because I don’t have one on the calendar!) the meredith dress is absolutely perfect for nights at the beach AND pictures on the podium 🙂

Make A Difference Gifts

TOMS: When I got my first pair of TOMS shoes I had severely under rated how they would change my style and wardrobe! I remember I found a pair of brand new TOMS for a really cheap price on a website like shoppok. It saved me so much money and it has changed the way I do online shopping! Comfort meets fashion meets durability meets easy to pack in my gym bags and suitcases! Since I try to keep my style as simple and plain as possible to make it quick and easy in the mornings after workouts rushing to get ready for work, Toms have become my go-to way to add some color and personality to my outfits. I’m pretty sure I could get every version of this shoe and live happily ever after.

Activyst: I have loved the mission of Activyst from the second I heard about them. The Active Bag traveled with me to Kona (big enough for my laptop and the NormaTec power supply pack!) and I loved it. Between their bag, the tote, or the cosmetic bag there is something for every price point and they are all SUPER cute. So go ahead, shop and help girls play!

Stocking Stuffers

Powerbar: Athletes never turn away some nutrition to keep stocked up, and the Powerbar variety pack of Energy Blends are a perfect stocking stuffer! These easy to eat, fruit-based energy source have become my quick snack before those early mornings workouts. And I always have one in my gym bag in case I need something to carry me through my commute before I can grab some breakfast.

TRISWIM/TRISLIDE: Every triathlete you know is probably putting in some quality pool time over the winter. That can mean green hair and a constant aroma of chlorine. But, not if you get them some TRISWIM! After 2 years with these products I have all but forgotten about what it’s like to have itchy skin and crunchy chlorine hair all the time.

May Designs Notebooks: While I use electronic logs for most of my training now, old habits die hard and I still keep lots of handwritten lists, as well as a handwritten calendar book each year. I already have mine set for 2014 – this May Designs personalized book. I can’t wait for January so I can use it!

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Sunglasses: Now that college basketball season is starting up I’m ready to show my UVA pride all the time! These sunglasses from Society43 are super cute and anyone who cheers for a team will love them. Or, you can customize your own to match your race kit….and we know how triathletes like to match. And you can’t beat $20!

Happy Shopping!!

New Endeavors

I’ve talked before on this blog about how important I think it is to enlist a coach in triathlon (see here and here). Hillary and I have been discussing for a couple years now the prospect of me coaching with her, and I am so excited that the time is finally right to officially begin this! As I coached the UVA team in the past year, as well as a couple other athletes, it only enforced my decision to begin my “official” coaching career with the guidance of Hillary. It is one thing to know your stuff, and be a good coach. But it is another thing when you can form a partnership with others and form not just a few one-on-one relationships, but instead create a team. TeamHPB is one of the most supportive, hardworking networks that I am a part of. From beginners to elites, the diversity of abilities and personalities is so broad, it’s impossible not to enjoy being around one another, virtually or otherwise! We challenge each other and make each other better, in sport and life. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

On another note, coaching allows me to learn more about this sport that I can ever learn on my own. Having two amazing women to put my head together with (let alone the network each one has aside from that!) gives me so much knowledge about triathlon at my disposal. And to be honest, coaching inspires me. There are always going to be the training days – and races – that are going to be just plain tough to get through. But these are the days when I rely on the inspiration from my athletes. Thinking of how one of my UVA kids sent a late night email the night before a race about needing <insert important race item here> always makes me laugh. These kids are racing triathlon in college – that’s no easy feat. They remind me above all else to race because I love it. And, thinking of how my friend Alley went from a non-runner to finishing her first marathon in 4:07 last month keeps me running in an Ironman when all I want to do is walk. I can’t wait to meet more athletes and be a part of their life as they accomplish their goals.

Here’s to 2014!

UVA @ Half Full
UVA @ Half Full

Paparazzi!

As promised, the last of my Kona pics. I added some in some word bubbles with our conversations and thoughts so you can get a good look at what the day is really like. You should be able to click on the first one then scroll through.

 

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Big News!

Big news people! And yes, it’s different than the news of my haircut (although bangs are pretty big news in my book!)

There aren’t too many times in life when you feel like you can put your hopes and dreams into an envelope and stick it in the mail box on the corner – applying to college is definitely the most poignant memory I have of doing this. And, in the digital age we live in, I can honestly say I would have never thought I’d be doing so ever again.

But, yesterday, I put my hopes and dreams in an envelope once again, and sent them in the mail. Only this time, they weren’t going to various colleges around the country. This time there was one envelope, and it was headed to Colorado Springs: I mailed in my application for an Elite license with USAT.  So to answer the golden question of the past couple weeks: Yes, I will be racing as a pro in 2014!

gopro

Life is funny and I always do like to find the small coincidences in my day-to-day life that make me stop in my tracks and think, “hm….” I love the moments when something happens and you truly feel like you were meant to be in that place at that exact time. While plenty of thought went into this decision, there were of course some of these coincidences happening along the way as well.

I mean, c’mon – this year, my favorite artist ever, Sara Bareilles, came out with “Brave.” If this song doesn’t make you want to chase your dreams, I don’t know what will.

It was also a year of girl power as Oiselle sponsored Lauren Fleshman and Kate Grace. There are no less positive female role models in sport than them!

And in the subliminal message side of things, Cathleen pointed out the title sponsor of this year’s race in Kona: GoPro.

No matter what the next few years bring, I owe all of you a huge thank you for reading, for supporting, and for humoring these crazy dreams of mine. I can’t wait to toe the line with some of the best female athletes in the world.  Here’s to 2014!

What a difference a year makes: Kona 2013

“It’s always better after the first year.”

I can’t tell you how many people told me that after last year! While I wasn’t heartbroken after my performance on the Big Island in 2012, I knew it wasn’t my best, and I knew it wasn’t reflective of where I was athletically. I had to put a ton of trust in those words people were telling me. I also had to put a ton of trust into my training. This being my third 140.6 of the year, I felt great. But I was aware that I had raced more, and raced longer, than I ever had in any other race season. Would I be able to hold up under the pressure, mentally and physically? Well, I just had to race and find out!

I was staying with Julie this year (if you haven’t watched our pre-race videos you should!). We filled the time with filming each other, amazing dinners, even a movie, and lots of relaxation. On Tuesday we hunkered down and stopped the shenanigans to really start to focus on the race. Dan, Julie’s husband and also the best race Sherpa ever, came out on Wednesday to play with us. We also had 2 other Team HPB girls, Maggie and Leslie, out there, and it really made it fun for the pre-race workouts to have a little squad.

swimgirls

PLUS the SMASH crew was in full effect. This included Hillary’s sister Cameron, who, by default, is another one of my long lost sisters. So fun to finally get to meet and hang out!

 

sisters!

Race morning was a little more hectic than it was last year. The lines were a bit longer as temporary tattoo numbers were being figured out rather than the typical race number stamps, and security in general was beefed up in the transition areas. I finished up my pre-race routine and met Julie and Dan outside of transition in a quiet little alley. Funny – Pete Jacobs was also using this alley for his pre-race quiet area. Seeing how calm and cool he was actually put me at ease! It was also really cool to see him, one-by-one, go around and thank the support crew he had out there that day. It really does take a village, and watching one of the pro’s be thankful for that was heartwarming.

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Julie and I entered the water and headed over to the left. We had tried to convince Hillary into giving us the “ok” to start a minute after the entire race started so we could avoid the mass start, but she said no. So, we compromised and started all the way on the left side. Last year was one of the scariest experiences of my life in a mass swim start, and I didn’t want to repeat that. I also knew Julie was my same speed or faster, and staying with her in the swim would do me good. The cannon went off, and after about 500 meters I still had Julie on my left side. It was soooooo much better than last year when I was in the middle starting position, and I felt calm and collected the whole time. Julie and I both breathe to the left so I knew she had no clue I was still there. She made a move further to the outside and unfortunately some people were in the way and I couldn’t go with her. But, I felt good on the other feet I found and continued through the turnaround. Shortly after the turn back, I actually found her again! Crazy! I lost her soon after that, but I did my best to work hard all the way in to the pier. 1:04 was on the clock as I was exiting and I was SO excited to be under 1:05. As I sat down in the transition tent, guess who sat down in front of me?! JULIE!!!! I got her attention and for a couple seconds we were both so excited to have had a good swim and to see each other I swear we could have quit racing and had an amazing day with that. But, don’t worry, we continued on 🙂

On to the bike. I was doing my best to hold back this year because I remembered how terrible it is coming back on the Queen K when generally the headwinds hit and you’re tired. Nonetheless, I was making solid ground on people and during one long stretch I realized I was coming up on Maggie. Maggie is a teammate of mine through Team HPB, but also through Rev3. She, in case you missed it, recently crushed Mt Tremblant, and is SUPER strong on the bike. How I was coming up on her I wasn’t sure. In about 30 seconds so many things rushed through my mind, but more than anything else I thought about me last year, in her position, racing my first Kona. I thought about how the bike was such a different world than I had ever seen before. People will talk till they are blue in the face about how Kona is a draft fest. And, I’m not saying they are wrong, but I do think that the layout of the course is going to make this difficult for it to ever change. So, to succeed, you have to learn to ride aggressively. Legally, but aggressively – this is a delicate balance. So, as I came up on Maggie I looked over and told her one simple thing: Stay with me!

Now, let’s make this clear: triathlon is an individual sport. But, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and the mentorship of some amazing women before me. I can be brought to tears thinking about how kind some women have been to me. If I can, on any given day, be there for another girl that I know who is trying to make it in the sport, I will. At the Naval Academy we would always say to never leave a squad mate “face down in a rice patty.” That’s a bit extreme, but there was no way I was going to pass Maggie without letting her know I wanted her to be right with me.

I made it up to Hawi and as you’ve probably read, we escaped the crazy winds that we saw there last year. However, heading back on the Queen K was just as windy as the worst I’ve seen it, and it did start to take its toll on me. As girls I had passed early in the ride were passing me back, I had to rest assured that I was sticking to my plan and I was riding within myself. I was going to get them on the run.

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Hitting T2 I felt okay. Not great, but okay. My stomach felt a bit full, but the legs were okay. Heading down Ali’i drive I was lucky to be running to the cheers of so many. And, I have to say, it really is another race when you’re in the 10-ish hour range rather than the 11. Suddenly the crowd is encouraging you to race, not just to finish. I had to concentrate on staying on my paces, sticking to my plan, running within myself. I managed not to take any coke until the half marathon point, and that was a small internal victory for me as I continued on to the energy lab. The temperature swings on the run depending on which direction you’re running are huge, and can drastically affect pace. As I headed out the Queen K, I also had some pretty big swings in terms of mood. I would literally feel great for a mile then god awful for the next. During the low swings I just kept reminding myself that everyone felt that way, and it would pass. Again here I found Maggie, and could tell by her posture she was at a low point. I reminded her that everything changes when you come out of the Energy Lab, stick to the plan, and not give up.

As I hit the turn from the energy lab back onto the Queen K, for the first time I allowed myself to look at my watch to determine the time of day, which indicated where I  stood for total time. Some quick, backwards race math left me at least confident that I could potentially break 10:20. I needed to stick to 8’s. I continued on, and Hillary found me. “I feel okay, but I don’t think I have more than this.” Hillary only responded with “okay, well you are going after 10:15 today but you need to push it.”

Well, shit.

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About 3 miles from the finish, I had to turn it on. While I probably was still running about 8’s, I felt like I was flying. I was passing girls. My cadence was strong. I was doing this. I flew down Palani, hit Ali’i drive, and much differently from last year, I remembered to soak it all in. I felt good. I felt strong. It was daylight. And, I was finishing in the world championships of my sport, well above my goal time. It really was, for lack of a better word, amazing. The SMASH crew was there as the finishing chute began. I high fived and smiled all the way in.

I hit the line in 10:14:07. About 8 minutes faster than my ‘best case scenario’ time going into the race. I felt strong at the end – strong enough that my most poignant memory is of the finish line catchers putting a hot, dry towel around me. Why these towels weren’t soaked in ice water, I’ll never know.

After Boston, the post-race area has been changed so you can’t meet up with family and friends right there. I knew Hillary had to go back out for a few minutes to get the other girls, so I sat down and ate some pizza, trying to soak it all in.

Those of you who know me will know that I am loyal to Rev3. There’s no other crew that helps me feel better supported at a race, or like triathlon is more of my family than anything else. And this day was no different – while the team was mostly in South Caroline for the Rev3 race, their support was felt through and through on this day.

Beyond my loyalty to Rev3, I will always acknowledge that Kona is a special place. For about a week you get to leave the real world. As you depart LAX, or SFO, you touch down in a place where suddenly everyone “gets” you. Everyone is family. Your crazy life is no longer so crazy. I was so lucky this year to have 3 other girls with me, a coach, and several other SMASH girls who made the week so fun and special. Leaving to get back to the real world is always hard, but the pangs of sadness that the week is over simply remind me how near and dear to me this sport is, and how worth it the work I put in for it really is.

pretty

Still to come is a “Pictures of Kona” blog! Dan also served as our paparazzi while he was there and got some great shots that deserve to be captioned. Stay tuned!

Believe

mirror

No, this is not a terrible job at a selfie in the bathroom mirror. Rather, you’re looking at what has been written on my bathroom mirror in marker for the past 11 months. Shortly after my end of season break post-Kona 2012, I started to gear up again for the 2013 season. I’ve said a million times before how much I believe in the power of positive thinking, but I also am a big believer in visualization. Part of that “training” is what you see on my bathroom mirror right there: “BELIEVE. 1:01/5:35/3:35 – 10:15.” (actually it appears I wrote BeLIEVE. There’s no hidden context there I suppose it’s just how I wrote it…..And, yes, I did leave it up even if I had company in the house that didn’t know me very well. Interestingly most people just wouldn’t comment on it.)

Coming home today one of the first things I got to do was wipe that mirror clean. In the next month I will find a goal to replace it; just as this one replaced the previous “10:45” that was there. I saw those numbers almost every morning and evening. I’d think about them as I climbed in and out of the shower, and I’d look at them as I brushed and flossed my teeth. For some people, I suppose that might be overkill. It might be overwhelming to think about it day in and day out. But, I truly think that having this ingrained so far into me allowed me to make the turn onto the Queen K at mile 20, check my watch, straighten my posture, and go for it. Because when you’ve been reminding yourself about a specific goal almost every day for a year, when the time comes to go for it, your mind will simply make the decision for you – you’ve trained it to believe there is no other option.

More to come on Kona this week! Back to reality tomorrow…..

On Island Time

Aloha! While I know in the back of my head that the race is near, it’s kind of weird being out here on island time. Things truly run at a different pace than back home, and I’m constantly in a state of “what time is it? Wait….what DAY is it?”

As I swam off of Dig Me beach this morning, with the mountains on my left and endless waters on my right, I felt how lucky I am. So many friends surround me in this magical place, and so many more who cannot be  here are constantly sending their support from home. I feel like I never say it enough, but thank you to everyone near and far who supports me in this journey.

It has come to feel like a bit of a family reunion out here. Aside from the fact that life just moves at a slower pace, you have to also schedule in time throughout the day knowing you will run into friends endlessly and spend time catching up, hearing about their week, and wishing everyone luck for the weekend. I also set aside time for some team activities – most of these happened in the water…..

swimgirls

 

And also time with friends and food and coffee and a fabulous view….

girls

 

And some time at the expo watching the SMASH kits fly out of the tent….

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While it does feel like the family is here, I can’t help but note the void from the other half of my family heading to Anderson, SC for the Rev3 race out there. I can’t wait to watch those results fly in as I recuperate on Sunday!!

 

This may be my last blog as I begin to buckle down and get ready to race. Check out Ironmanlive.com on Saturday for live tracking, my bib number is 2064. And finally, please take some time to head to my Sponsors page and offer support to the companies who make it possible for me to be out here. I can not wait to “rock the R” on the Big Island on Saturday!

 

A year ago…..

A little bit of a flight delay and some free internet in SFO means a blog post! The past week has had me thinking a lot about my trip here last year, my first voyage to the Big Island. I am so lucky to be going back yet again this year and I know that there are many others who are taking their first trip. So, here it is, the ole “Open letter to myself one year ago” post…..

Dear Alyssa,

You’re about to have the week of a lifetime. You’ve watched for years the NBC broadcast, and now it’s your turn. Here are some things to keep in mind:

-Write everything down. As it happens. Scribble in a notebook, put a quick note in your phone memo – anything you need to do to make sure you can document the trip. Your memory is terrible, Alyssa. I know you try to spin it into being a blessing because “you can re-read books and re-watch movies over and over and never remember the endings!” but, this is not a book or a movie. This is a trip you are going to want to remember the details of and you will want to share with your family and friends. Carry a pen and paper, and write it down.

-Swim in the ocean without fear of sharks or whatever other things you’ve dreamed up in your mind about the ocean. See only the turtles and the amazing fish and keep your fingers crossed the dolphins will come to play. But when you swim, just do it from the pier. Watching Blue Crush 10 times doesn’t mean you have the ability to swim out from your condo over the rocks and the current and get out to the course from there. Save yourself the time (and embarrassment of trying!).

-Sleep. Relax. Keep your feet up. Hydrate.

-Get excited because this week will mark the beginning of your friendship with Julie! Take advantage of the time with her because you won’t get to see her often as she lives across the globe. But she will end up being a valuable friend as the time difference makes for great convos via text during early morning trainer sessions, or late night “I’m so tired” commiserations!

-Go to the local shop and get the Hawaiian rub spices you were eyeing. Yeah, you’re not entirely sure if these are actually Hawaiian through and through, but it will end up being your favorite seasoning for the year, and will remind you of your dreams on the Big Island every time you use it, so who cares if it’s truly authentic?

-Wear sunscreen. Really.

sunburn

-Go to the undie run and take part in it with the careless abandon of a first year sorority girl (okay, maybe not quite that wild….). Enjoy it. Turns out triathlon is a sport for the ages, and you’re actually one of the youngest girls out there racing so enjoy these days while you can!

undierun

-Go out after the awards banquet. But, maybe, go a little easier on the Mai Thais. You may not have to go fishing with dad at 5am the next morning and have to endure a terrible bout of hungover seasickness, but you’ll still thank me. I promise. 

And as always, go fast and take chances.

Love,

Yourself, one year older and wiser.