Monday, July 15, 2019

Return to Scenic Mountain Triathlon

(photo credit: Rob McKenzie Photography)

With Nationals less than a month away, I really needed to get my butt to a triathlon, so I picked the Scenic Mountain Triathlon in Richwood, WV, a race I had done three years prior (race report here). It's a small but very well-produced race which has been offered for 34 years, including in 2016 when the town was ravaged by flooding and the race was rescheduled, but not cancelled. This year the race was also the USAT WV State Championship. The event draws from Morgantown, WV, Cumberland, MD, Roanoke, VA and many other regions. If you are within 250 miles of this race, it should absolutely be on your race calendar!! 

How'd I do? I was pleased to again win the women's division, by a good 12 minutes. I was 6 minutes slower than in 2016, but I was happy with how I managed my own race. (Results here)

The most exciting part of the day for me was when I saw a black BEAR run across the road in front of me on the bike descent - maybe 20m ahead. Just a week ago I had told my friend Kristen that I was always on the lookout and hoping to spot a bear on the back roads we cycle (I've seen just one prior). I considered it a really good omen and it put a huge smile on my face!

About the race:

The race takes place in the Monongahela National Forest, starting with a half mile out-and-back swim in Summit Lake. Then it's onto your bike to drop down the mountain briefly, then spend most of the 17 mile bike ride pedaling up the Kennison Mountain to the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. Then you top it off with a 10k run that is downhill to the Cranberry Glades, and uphill back, with generous amounts of shade. When you finish, you've really accomplished something. This isn't some pedal and stroll around a park!

The race info doesn't tell you what is so great about traveling to Richwood, about staying at the Four Seasons Lodge with the Cherry River out your back door. It doesn't say anything about the great race sponsors and cash prizes! How many races do that? The natural beauty is spectacular and touring the Nature Center to see all the snakes and wildlife info is a finish line bonus. There are kind Forest Service Officers who get you into your car when you've locked the key in (yup) and helpful Chamber of Commerce race director/staff who transport your forgotten camp chairs down the mountain (yup).

There are wonderful dining options where people are not staring at their phones (limited cell service which is a good thing ;-) Sherpa Bryan and I ate a fantastic dinner at the Whistle Punk Grill and Taphouse and then I had some a-mazing chicken and dumplings at the Oakford Diner.

If you want more details about the race, or how I personally approached it, read on! If you just want to go eat chicken and dumplings now, I would not take offense.


We self-seeded into a faster and slower wave. I was a little worried about being clobbered at the swim start of the faster wave (mixed gender) but I quickly found my own space. I remember thinking "where did everyone go??"

Photo credit: Bryan Walsh

This photo shows the swim line really well - we swim up one side and down the other. Some people were way right. (photo credit: Rob McKenzie Photography)

My approach:

  • Swim strong but not frantically. I always remind myself the time differential between all-out effort vs just a strong stroke is not that much. 
  • Swim smart: sight frequently and stay on the shortest, most efficient line

photo credit: Appalachian Timing


I chose to ride my road bike for this race. I haven't yet done a triathlon with it and it's what I'll be racing in Lausanne. I was grateful for the extra climbing gears!! 

My approach:

  • Go fast but not recklessly on the first descent (maybe saved me from crashing into the bear!!)
  • Drink (Gatorade) every two miles
  • Have a gel half-way
  • Keep heart rate above 160 (don't slack off)
  • Keep watts around 200 but don't spike much over 240
  • ENJOY!!!! 
I did hear on the bike course that I was the first female, but with two swim waves, one never knows. I certainly didn't let up on the gas. 

T2 is cool because a volunteer grabs your bike, hands you your run bag, and takes your shoes and helmet! It's so easy!

Photo credits: Bryan Walsh


My approach:

  • Stay cool. For the first time ever, I put a bottle of water and small towel in my run bag. I put the towel around my neck and drenched myself and the towel then drank the rest. I passed my bottle off to the volunteer 1.5 miles in, and she offered to refill it and have it ready for me on the way out! I totally took her up on that. To whoever that volunteer was...THANK YOU!!!
  • Stave off cramps. I had a mustard pack on the way out and another on the way back. I thought to slightly pre-tear the tops so they'd open easily.
  • Go conservatively downhill and then run consistently back up. Don't worry about pace, just slow down as little as you need to. Keep running! 
Probably no surprise...John Denver's Country Roads was on repeat in my head for most of the run!

Whatever your approach, race your own race and eventually it brings you to....THE FINISH!

photo credit: Appalachian Timing

Thank you to the Richwood Area Chamber of Commerce and the many, many sponsors for supporting this race that showcases such a beautiful area and strong community! 

Thank you to my ace sherpa Bryan and to Coach Jim :-)
Appreciation also goes to Dave at Valley Active for working to get my glute and hamstring healthier and my core stronger! 

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Next Chapter, A Decade in the Sport

I'm typing this from my front porch, as I listen to the birds, watch the goats in the front field (the neighbor's goats), and enjoy a gently snoring dog and a sprawled cat next to me. I finished a short pre-race brick and am cooling down.

I moved across town at the end of April, into my own home, after 15 years in the same house where my ex and I raised our kids. Finding this home was a dream come true for me. It's a lovely wood and stone home on 17 acres, within two miles of the New River, and offers great running and biking routes. As I've explored on foot and by bike, I've met so many of my wonderful neighbors. I am happy to be a part of this community!

It is the start of a new chapter. It is full of promise and hope.
But it is also a bit scary. I'll officially be an "empty nester" in a month. And I am solely responsible.

The last 3+ years have been packed with major life events - sudden death of my dad, selling the childhood home, moving my mom, helping my sister to care for my mom, separation, divorce, my mom getting sick, my mom passing away, job changes, shepherding two kids through high school, going through the college application process, and getting them headed off to college (UVA for one, Carnegie Mellon for the other).

Through it all I trained and raced (very helpful for my mental health), but I was going 100 MPH to make it all happen. A lot of important things slipped - like cooking, eating well, sleeping well, taking care of myself, keeping up with medical appointments, reading - that sort of thing.

I felt like I was on "high alert" constantly and that I had to be productive 100% of the time or I would just get buried. It was exhausting.

No more.

I'm working less now, and have allowed myself the chance to SLOW the HECK down for the summer. But it's not easy to retrain myself. "Just breathe," I have to say often.

I am starting to get back on top of the things that have slipped. June was "medical catch-up month." After one pair of very expensive computer glasses, bloodwork, and a mammogram scare, plus four wisdom teeth removed from the kiddo, we are through that. I've been cooking again and eating a lot better. I renewed my library card and I've read some books. I'm enjoying mowing (only a small part of the property), working in the yard, and doing house projects. My kid and I just finished a puzzle. I'm getting help for a glute/hamstring issue that has plagued me for 6 months. And I'm spending time with friends.

I'm working to recharge my personal batteries.

The hardest thing for me right now? That would be not having my mom to talk to, to share this with, to lean on. We would talk daily, sometimes multiple times per day. She was always my sounding board and advisor.

I recently got a standup paddleboard that I've been enjoying on the river. It's pretty awesome to paddle hard up river and then sit back for a slow, quiet drift back. Those are the times I "talk" to my mom and my dad. The peacefulness from the middle of the river is really healing.

Now back to triathlon, since that is really the point of this blog.

I'm racing the Scenic Mountain Triathlon in West Virginia on Sunday. It will be my first triathlon of the year. Yes, you read that right. My first. I did the Duathlon in April, and then concentrated on the house. My typical 99.5% training compliance dropped to about 85% during the house moving process but it's come back up. I can feel myself getting stronger. I'm not putting down amazing speeds or power, but that's OK. Not every year, not every race needs to be full-throttle.

This August marks one decade for me in the sport of triathlon. The "why" of it has changed for me from year to year. This year my "why" is really focused on being among the community of triathletes. I've been incredibly grateful for my friends over the last few years. As I lost my mom, they have really helped to lift me up, and I hope I do the same for them.

Thank you, friends, for the conversation, companionship, and laughs!

Here's to healing, recharging, and goat snuggles!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Du Nats and What I know about racing after 10 years

Preface: I have no business writing right now. I am so tired, and I should be in bed, but I just need this. I need the luxury of some time spent in my own words, to slow down, and be. Why so nutty now, you ask? Well, I'm moving across town in 12 days, after 15 years in the same house. I'm excited, and it's my dream retreat home, but as my work teammate who is also moving described it, buying a house and moving is like having another job. In the span of two weeks I will have two houses sold (my mom's and our house to my ex) and one bought. I'm packing and counting down the days, and yes, still working and training in the midst, albeit the training is scaled back. I'll share more after closing is done. It's hard to believe it's really happening.

So despite having a lot going on, I made the trek to Greenville, SC last weekend to race Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon Nationals. I wanted to go and get some experience racing that style since I am going to Worlds for the Draft-Legal Sprint Triathlon in September. Between other life responsibilities and a hamstring issue, I was not in any sort of peak condition, but I had 10 years of consistent training to draw on so I wasn't worried. It was a short race of a 5-kilometer run, 18-kilometer bike and 2.85-kilometer run.

The brief race report is that I found myself in the first run behind a woman one age group up (Geraldine Lupini, F55-59) who was running my pace and she seemed consistent and disciplined. So I tucked in behind her and just focused on keeping up. A duathlon is not won in the first run. I was amazed that my hamstring seemed to be a non-issue. I ran a 23:10, not stellar for me, but decent considering. Then Geraldine and I took off on the 3-loop bike course and the fun began!! Without really saying a word, we traded off pulls and we rode really strong! It was mainly just the two of us then we were caught by Jocelyn Shilling (who went on to win F55-59) and the three of us came off the bike in close proximity. I paced off of Jocelyn for the first bit of the second run then pulled ahead to finish. I won F50-54 by a mere 12 seconds. I was thrilled and I had SO much fun with that style of racing. It was really nice to do something different! (And yes, I'm the same person who was very opposed when sprint Worlds changed to draft-legal.)

It was nice to see my name in the USAT article about the race!

Some pics from the race:

Behind Geraldine 

I swear we traded off, but here I am behind Geraldine again! 

 Starting run 2 behind Jocelyn

With Geraldine post-race

VERY happy to have finished 1st!

At Fluor Field for awards

The whole experience just got me thinking about my racing now vs when I started 10 years ago and some of the differences.

What has changed:
  1. I don't bother getting nervous/excited until maybe an hour before. I just don't have the time or energy for that anymore!
  2. After 10 years, I am confident that even if I have a "bad" race, chances are it'll still be pretty good. I trust myself.
  3. I used to pack my pre-race meals and be super disciplined about what I ate. Now, I don't pass up the opportunity to enjoy a great local meal the night before. I do this for fun, it's not my career!
  4. I now know that arriving 30-40 minutes before transition closes is plenty of time. I don't "need" 90 minutes like those early years!!
  5. I know not to fret about needing extra layers unless it's below about 52 degrees F. That threshold is different for racing than for training.
  6. I've learned not to judge myself while racing. Did I feel like I was having a winning race at Du Nats? Not really, but I stayed positive and pushed on and was on the right side of that 12 second gap. Race happy, race hard!
  7. I'm a more patient racer now. I know the danger of pushing too hard and going to the "dark side."
  8. With a very few exceptions, I have little interest in the professional race photos. They all start to look the same.
  9. I don't take myself so seriously. I race my best on the day and it is what it is. There's always positive aspects to every race, and things to learn from every race, but they are just things, they are not who I am. 
  10. After Nationals last year, I learned to always take a nice change of clothes just in case I end up on the podium!!

What hasn't changed?
  1. Even after 10 years the sport does not get boring. There are always new variations, venues, distances, and formats. 
  2. Race morning I never feel like racing and I feel lazy and sluggish. I just accept that's part of how I am and I ignore it.
  3. Once the starting horn sounds, the body and mind know what to do, and in the moment I most definitely enjoy it.

I am taking a little break from racing for May and part of June. I want to get settled in the new place, enjoy the summer with my boys, rest, refocus, and ramp up training for Lausanne in September. 

My goal is to slow down my life, and speed up my racing!

Many thanks as always to Coach Jim and Sherpa Bryan :-)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Thank you, friends!

Today I enjoyed my longest ride in ages - just shy of 60 miles (6700' of elevation gain, ouch), with a big chunk of those shared with a friend, Desen (pictured). We hadn't ridden together before, but we immediately clicked, and it felt good to work with her across the miles. It's nice to ramp up the training again and notice some fitness returning after my least consistent winter ever.

Less than four weeks ago my mom passed away - maybe you saw my post. We'd known since late November that she had just a few months to live with metastatic brain cancer.

For most of my adult life, I talked to her nearly every day (sometimes twice) just to chat about the goings-on of life. She was a wonderful advisor to me. That's gone. At least in the way we used to do it.

But in the aftermath I have felt friends "circling the wagons" for me, especially those in my triathlon/running/cycling world. They've been ready with hugs, encouraging words, ears to listen, and just as important - they've been there to swim, bike, and run with me.

Triathlon (and running/cycling/etc) is a community of survivors and thrivers - those who push through challenges whether it be a major life change, illness/injury, or even just getting out of a warm bed for an early morning session.

During tough times I keep training as I can, and I encourage others to keep training through their tough times too. Dial it back and give yourself flexibility to adapt, but keep going. It's not just for the physical and mental benefits, but for the community.

Last week I really struggled. I think my efforts to be strong and keep everything going - work, family, all the paperwork and things related to my mom's passing - it all caught up to me and sort of boiled over on Thursday. The last thing I wanted to do was go to Master's swimming, but I went. I told my coach I was having a really rough day. It felt really comforting to just be in close proximity to my friends, to chat and share the workout. And darn if I didn't swim pretty decently. Afterward, our coach asked me, "How do you feel now?" I of course felt much better :-)

My mom was part of a community of lifelong friends forged through tennis (many of whom I've enjoyed catching up with over the last few weeks.) I can't imagine my life without the friendships that have blossomed through the sports I enjoy.

I just want to say thank you for every kind word, text, message, email, card, phone call, and shared workout. Thank you friends. And thank you Coach Jim, who has lovingly coached me through so many challenges throughout the last ten years. He always seems to know just what I need.

The sweetness of life comes from connecting with and loving others.
That's all that matters.
That's everything.