Let’s talk about BRICKs!

This is the beginning of week 10 of triathlon training.  10 weeks in, 10 more to go. Halfway there.  Hump week, as one of the coaches put it.  At this rate August 3rd will be here before we know it – a thought that is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. 

I’ve been working on BRICK sessions lately – biking and then going straight into running. (I think BRICK can be used when you transition from any event into another one, but we just use it for biking to running.)  I’m not sure where the term BRICK comes from.  (I also didn’t put any effort into researching it –  the most I did was wonder out loud in a group of people who thought about it for a second and then shrugged their shoulders.)  So I decided that it stands for “Bike and Run? Ick!!” When I think of biking and running without much of a break in between, my first thought is “Ugh” but I guess BRUGH sessions just don’t have the same ring. 

Running immediately after biking is… interesting.  I’m not sure my legs will ever totally get used to it, but at least I am learning what to expect.  Here’s how it usually goes:

The first few steps are wobbly, and I am pretty positive that there is a 98% chance that I am about to fall over, and I brace myself for a crash to the ground.  (It must be what Ariel from The Little Mermaid felt when she got her legs for the first time.)  Several seconds later I am less wobbly and the chance of me falling over is down to about 10%.  At this point, though, I still feel like I don’t have much control over my legs.  It’s a strange feeling – like my legs are slightly weighed down (maybe with… bricks!!??  Could that be where it comes from?) and I am trying to run while on a trampoline or in a bouncy house.  I tend to run faster than usual when starting the running portions of BRICK sessions, probably because my legs seem to be independent from the rest of me and they’re just doing their thing.  I have to really be conscious of my pace if I don’t want to crash and burn later on.

Today I did a 13 mile bike ride through Central Park.  Because it was Memorial Day and 85 degrees out, all of the tri-state area was there too – biking, laying out, walking, picnicking, BBQing, soaking up the sun.  To say it was crowded would be an understatement.  But 13 miles went off without a hitch (for me at least – some kid really wiped out on a Razr scooter), and I met Katharine by the reservoir, passed along my bike and helmet to her, and then started running. (Katharine did her own BRICK today and ran a 5k before doing a full 6.2 mile loop around the park on the bike!) 

I had intended to run 3 miles, but stopped at 2.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to do the full 3 miles, but sometimes those legs just need a rest! (And I am bad at remembering to schedule rest days.)  Besides, this also happened so it was hard to stay disappointed:

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A PR during a BRICK?  I’ll take it!!

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The Brooklyn Half Marathon – the stuff that PRs are made of!

Another weekend, another race!  Saturday was the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  I’d heard amazing things about this half marathon and couldn’t wait to run it!

The starting line was in Brooklyn near Prospect Park.  I was happy to not run in Central Park for a change, but the commute to Brooklyn was not something that I particularly looked forward to, but I was ready.  For the most part. I was out a little later than I expected the night before supporting some pals at an event, but 4 hours of sleep? No sweat – let’s do this, I thought when my alarm clock went off. (At least I hoped it would be no sweat! Who needs sleep anyway, right?)  I jumped right out of bed, had a vanilla bean Chia pod, grabbed a Quest bar for the train and headed out the door.

There were over 25,500 people running this half marathon (making it the biggest one in the country!) and so there were 2 starting waves – 7:00am and 7:45am. Luckily I was in wave 2 because at 7am I was still a borough away waiting for the 4 train.  I was amped up and ready to go though! My Mizunos felt good, I had a new tank top on that Katharine had gotten me, and it was definitely shorts weather and perfect for a little 13.1 mile run from Prospect Park to Coney Island! My excitement stayed with me as I transferred to the 2 train and ate my Quest bar.

7:45 rolled around and runners took their marks. Well, most runners did. I assume they did, anyway – I was still stuck on the 2 train with 3 other runners. Since the race was so big, we were hoping that it would take at least 20 or so minutes for all the runners to cross the starting line. If that happened then we had plenty of time to get there and sneak into the mob somewhere!   We ran out of the subway at Franklin Avenue and saw lots of runners still making their way to the starting line – and lots of barricades blocking entry to the race course. We would have to go all the way around to the back before we would be able to join the runners. Or so we thought – until a race volunteer saw us with our race bibs and frantically asked if we were part of wave 2. She acted like we were late for getting our Nobel Peace Prizes or something.  But she opened a barricade and let us into the rabble of runners – just feet away from the starting line.  Ok, let’s do this. No stretching. No last minute prepping. Just get it started!  I wished the other 3 late runners good luck and was on my way! Here is the course:

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My headphones were tangled up in my armband where I had my phone and I didn’t have a chance to wrestle both earbuds loose before I started running, so I only put one in. I actually preferred that – I was able to really take in my surroundings, hear the cheers and all that was going on around me, but if I needed some extra encouragement from my pals Ludacris, Rihanna, Jared Leto, or the rest of the gang, I had that too. Best of both worlds!

As I ran, I realized how much I loved the Brooklyn Half – it totally lived up to the hype. The first 10 miles were a breeze. I actually couldn’t believe that they went by so easily.  We went around outside Prospect Park, then through the park before exiting onto Ocean Parkway around mile 7 and continuing straight down to Coney Island. I expected those few straight miles on the parkway to be tedious and pretty terrible, but they were great! The crowd was hyper and enthusiastic, cheering us on with signs. “You’re faster than the G train!” “Your perspiration is my inspiration!” “Run faster, Solange is coming!”  “Run now, mimosas later!”

I had really wanted to wear my Vivobarefoot sneakers, but opted for the Mizunos at the last second because my feet were a little angry with my choice of shoe the day before and I thought my ankles could use some extra support, and I didn’t regret that decision – the Mizunos were getting the job done!  My feet, ankles, knees, hips, everything felt good. 

Just when I started to get a little bored running on the parkway, I started to smell something that perked me right up.  The beach!! That salty air filled my nose and all I wanted was to see those waves crash against the sand. I’d been waiting since August to see the beach again and it was somewhere right up ahead.  We turned onto Surf Avenue, a cluttered street filled with huge signs and awnings advertising Nathan’s famous hot dogs, fried clams, pizza, and pretty much everything and anything else crammed between touristy beachy storefronts.  Man, I love it.  It was clear we were in Coney Island!

We turned onto W. 10th Street briefly before going up an incline onto the boardwalk.  From there it was just beach on one side, the crowd on the other, and the famous Coney Island amusement park just beyond the finish line.  I crossed that line in 1:55:46 – 4 minutes faster than my previous fastest half!  It was a beautiful day for a personal record, that’s for sure!!!

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In 3 weeks I’ll be back in Coney Island for the first open water swim with TNT.  It’s probably about time to look into getting a wetsuit!  I’ll keep you posted.

Why I Run

I don’t think it’s any secret that I like to run. Today is Wednesday and since my last post on Friday I’ve logged just over 21 miles so far and I have a half marathon coming up on Saturday. Lately I feel like I have a race every weekend and when I am not getting ready for a race I am anxiously waiting for the next time I can put on one of my many pairs of sneakers and run out into the world.  (I have a sneaker problem – I can’t stop buying them.)

Running wasn’t always something that I connected so closely with – it was just another form of exercise. Sometimes when I was little and needed a time out or something, my dad wouldn’t send me to my room or take away television privileges – he would have me run around the house 3 or 4 times (sometimes even with some push-ups in between!). But even then, as much as I may have hated it because it was something that I was being told I had to do, I remember that I usually felt calmer, better, more relaxed after.  And I always loved running around like a banshee in the backyard, or in the park, or as part of a game with friends or my sisters.

I ran a bit in high school as part of conditioning for tennis and in college at one point made it a routine to run 3-6 miles a day, but there was still something missing – it was exercise because we lived in our bikinis in college and wanted to stay in shape. There was something superficial, and therefore strained and forced, about running.  But it was always a good escape and a way of getting more level-headed when the chaos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness got a little overwhelming!

It wasn’t until I started running in NYC a few years after I moved here that my view of running changed. It became less of a monotonous exercise or punishment that I was inflicting upon myself and more of a calming mechanism. It became my time. My time to think, to push myself, to fully break away from everyone and everything and reconnect with whatever I needed to reconnect with. Just me, my mind and nature. (It actually took a long time before I would even consider running with anyone – just the thought of it seemed like a gross invasion of my privacy. And there are times when it still feels like that, but other times having a running partner just adds more to the run. Especially the right running partner.)  At that time, I didn’t run extremely regularly.  Usually just to clear my head whenever I needed it.

Anyway – I was out running the 6.2 mile outer loop at Central Park one day after a particularly tough day. I needed to clear my mind and decompress and running was my escape, as it had been in the past. Before long, I realized that I was almost done with the loop – I hadn’t even stopped to walk at either of the two hills that usually tried to kill me each time I attempted them. I went past the beginning of the loop and did almost 8 miles. That was when things started to change. It was a little victory – stress on the “little”. In the grand scheme of everything it didn’t make any kind of difference. People run more than that, faster than that, with no sweat. But in my world, it was the beginning of something. I was a little more self-aware. I knew myself just a little bit better, and I had done something that I had not done before, that I hadn’t really known that I was capable of doing. In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami talks about that feeling after he completed a 62 mile run. While I haven’t (yet ;-)) run that far, I get what he was saying:

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That’s when I started pushing myself more. Why stop there? Why not try to run better or faster or harder than the last time and see what I could do? Before long I started to see what I was really made of. I was in competition with myself while learning more about how to excel – experimenting with different strides on different terrains and inclines, different sneakers, reading up on heart rates and strides per minute. I found myself running 10 miles at a time with ease, pushing it to 15 and even 20 miles.  I’m not saying that it was always fun but even through the exhaustion or the pain, I was learning something.  Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek uses a quote by William James in his book Eat and Run to sum that up: “Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” If I had never pushed myself, I might still be content with 6.2 miles at a time and never really know the full extent of what I could do.  I might never be training for the triathlon and expanding those methods to biking and swimming.  One day I might even break through that wall of obstruction when it comes to swimming.  I haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Also, I think the discipline I’ve gotten through testing myself with running has also translated to other parts of my life which is always a good thing!)

I recently just finished Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  Everyone around me is probably so sick about me talking about it, but I loved that book and totally recommend it.  Even if you don’t consider yourself a runner, it’s worth it.  I promise.  The hidden tribe is the Tarahumara in Mexico –  the running people. That’s what they do, they run.  A ton.  Sometimes 100 miles a day!  They get it:

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I don’t know – that passage totally resonated with me.

I like the feeling I get after a long run, or after sprinting a mile trying to break my record (now 7:33).  Each race and run presents another opportunity to do something new in my little world.  Scott Jurek said that “Every single one of us possess the strength to attempt something he isn’t sure he can accomplish.”  I chose to attempt pushing the boundaries with running, which led me to the triathlon – to where I am right now.  It has also led me back to ballet and to venture from boxing into Muay Thai.  It’s a busy schedule, one that a lot of people don’t understand, but I wouldn’t change it!

But no matter how far or how fast or how often I run, I’m pretty sure this will always be true:

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Flashback Friday!

Let’s flash back to my first “real” half marathon, shall we? December 14, 2013 – a day that will first and foremost forever be remembered as Frickin Freezing. That day was the Brooklyn Holiday Half – 13.1 miles along the water in Bay Ridge near the Verrazano Bridge. It was 27 degrees, snowy and icy.

I had run probably around 6 “unofficial” half marathons before this one, but those were just for fun. They were long runs that I did by myself – just me and my Nike+ watch – or with a friend as he was training for the NYC Marathon.  They weren’t officially timed and documented races with a bib and swag and all the finish line glory.  Just your run-of-the-mill half marathons on a whim!  This was also my first winter half.

My friend Andy (who subsequently got me involved with Team in Training and the NYC Triathlon) and I ran the Brooklyn Holiday Half together. Here is my before picture.  (Poor little girl is so excited and doesn’t realize she will soon be a living and breathing icicle.)

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By the time Andy and I got our bibs and swag bag, my toes and fingers were getting more and more numb. I had layers and a fleece hat on, and awesome little running glove/mittens that I had gotten the day before, but thank God for the fleece neck warmer thing that I put around my face or I think it would have frozen right off. We took our minds off the cold by taking some pictures – it is rarely too cold for pictures.

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While we waited and after we checked our bags, Andy ran up and down a dock several times to warm up and I pretended to stretch while watching the falling snow and wondering if we were all completely crazy. It was perfect fireplace and hot chocolate weather. Grilled cheese and tomato soup weather. Snuggly blanket and a stupid RomCom movie weather. Not really half marathon by the water weather, especially for a little girl who tends to hibernate in the winter (unless she’s snowboarding).  But there were people there in shorts so I decided that if they weren’t complaining, then neither should I!  I knew what I was getting myself into and had fleece-lined running tights keeping my legs slightly warmer than their shorts were keeping theirs.

Anyway – we lined up, someone said remarks about how tough we were for being out there in the snow and sub-freezing temperatures and told us to be careful around water stations because the ground around them were already starting to ice up and would no doubt become worse.  Soon after we started I felt myself becoming warmer as I got into the groove of the race.  I ran for warmth but, more importantly, I ran for the free post-race pasta lunch.  I couldn’t wait.  I probably smiled just thinking about it.

The course was pretty straightforward – down along the waterfront, then turn around and back to the starting line, and then repeat.  The first half was fine.  Since it was a new place where I had never run before I was taking in all the sights and sounds.  I am a water girl, so just running by any body of water is always super calming and enjoyable for me.  Even with the Arctic chill smacking me in the face. (And it was smacking me in the face pretty hard!)  The highway was also right there and cars kept honking at us, cheering us on – I loved that. But by the time I ran the second half of the race, I had adopted a “been there, done that” attitude, since I had just literally been there, done that.  Snow had started falling a bit harder and the flakes that landed on my eyelashes were no longer whimsical, and there were newly formed patches of ice scattered around.  Parts of my face were numb and air that I was sucking in was so cold that it hurt my throat.

I was trying to break my standing record of 2 hours and Andy was using this race as a tapering run since he was doing a half Ironman a few weeks later (the man is a beast!) so we didn’t run together much.  I used two girls in front of me as pacers for a good portion of the second half of the race and tried to avoid any snowy or slippery spots on the course.  Somewhere along the way I pulled the fleece off of my face, rolled up my sleeves and considered taking my cool little glove/mittens off.  (I ended up compromising and only taking one off.)  I was warm – or fully numb – and running like it was just another practice run.  Until disaster hit near mile 9!! (ok, that might be a little dramatic.) I reached out at a water station to grab a drink and spilled it all over my bare hand and wrist.  The glove quickly went back on.  I had to clench my hand into a fist inside the glove to warm it up while I wondered how I would be able to properly function after my fingers were amputated from the frostbite that I would inevitably get, and the pros and cons of a Robo hand.  My fingers were fine after they regained feeling (poor little things were shocked!), but I refused to grab a drink for the rest of the race and let it sabotage me again. Take that, water.

The rest of the race was more or less fine.  I slid once on some ice at one point but it was nothing major.  (Later on my lower back was a little sore, and I think I tweaked it a little when I slid, but I didn’t notice it until a few hours later and within a day or so it was completely gone.)  I know that I definitely talked myself through the last mile.  Out loud.  A full on pep talk.  Sometimes you just need that extra push!  But I crossed the finish line in 1:59:40 – juuuuust under my 2 hour record!  I collected my medal, got a banana that I ended up throwing away because it was waaay under-ripe, and sat down on the cold ground.  Bad idea – I was frozen again in about 30 seconds flat and couldn’t move.  This must be what hypothermia feels likeDon’t people get a rush of warmth before hypothermia takes over? I waited for that warmth as I checked my phone.  My fingers were moving so slowly.  It took what felt like 5 minutes before I was able to send a text with my time.  I decided to get up when I figured that I probably felt similar to how Rose in Titanic felt like as she laid on that slab of wood in the ocean.  Andy and I had said that we would meet at the bar that was giving us the free pasta, so I dragged myself off the ground and headed over.  Andy had a great run and we were ready for pasta!  We ate, he had a beer while I had about 4 waters, and then we began the long journey home.

Overall – that half was a success!

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The trek took nearly 2 hours because of the usual weekend train trouble, and I felt like I had been dragged to the edge of the earth and back by the time I made it home.  I was sore, tired, and wheezing, and I had an old man cough for the next day.  My lungs hurt from all that cold air.  (I’m assuming. I’ve never had that happen before.)  BUT by the time I got home, Katharine had grilled cheese, tomato soup, hot chocolate with marshmallows, a snuggly blanket, AND a stupid RomCom waiting for me as a surprise.  All that was missing was a fireplace!

 

Bikes and Bootcamp

Week 6 of triathlon training has been…. challenging.  I did Muay Thai twice, ran a couple times, rode my bike, and was getting over a massive migraine the rest of the week.  Like, the worst kind of migraine – the one that messes up your vision and makes you nauseous and dizzy and the only thing that provides any relief is a dark room with closed eyes while you hope you fall asleep quickly so you can stop wondering if this is what a brain tumor or aneurysm feels like. (Web MD is the devil.) I used to get migraines pretty often until I stopped drinking insane amounts of coffee.  Actually, I stopped drinking coffee altogether almost a year ago, replaced it with unsweetened green tea, and the migraines went from regular to rare.  Just like magic.  Too bad a couple weeks ago I felt like it was absolutely necessary to try the new Baskin Robbins flavored iced coffees at Dunkin Donuts.  One sip and I was hooked again.  It was like crack and diabetes in a medium-sized cup and I couldn’t stop.  Long story short – I did this to myself and am officially off coffee again.  (At least until new magical flavors come out next year and I have long forgotten how terrible these migraines are.)

Today was a beautiful day, so I did what any sun-driven little girl who thrives in warm weather (the hotter the better) and the great outdoors would do – I woke up for a 7:30am bike ride with my TNT team!  Besides, my bike was just sitting there begging to be taken out again.  Who am I to deprive it?

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There were three sections – basic, intermediate and advanced.  I stayed with the basic group at first because the coach was going to go over using our gears, and I tend to only use the gears on the right side and ignore the left side altogether, so I figured I could learn something.  She also went over proper form – always a good reminder!  Then she sent us off into the wild!! (Well, off into Central Park).  There were a bunch of coaches scattered around the park in case we needed some extra help.

Everything was going fine – I was paying attention to my form, really experimenting with the gears and (for once) aware of my surroundings. Or so I thought until I heard sirens and then saw a cop car pull up next to me. “Hey, bicyclist,” the cop yelled out of a half rolled down window. “You have to stop at the red light.”  I’ve run in Central Park a TON of times and have never seen any bicyclist stop at that particular place. But I’ve also never seen a cop there before either. Ok, lady cop, I thought. You got me this time. “Oh, ok – I will next time.” I told her. She looked annoyed. “If I stop you stop.” she said. “That’s the way it is.”  “Ok, thanks.” I told her and went on my way, a bit upset that she made me lose my momentum.

Oops.  Luckily none of the coaches were around!  Overall I did about 15 miles.  (2 of those miles were in the street!) Not bad for a Saturday morning!  

But I wasn’t done there.  I headed downtown to what has quickly become one of my favorite places in NYC and took a boot camp/Muay Thai combo class!  If a bike ride followed by kicking, punching and enough sweat to fill a small bucket doesn’t get you ready for the weekend, then… well… I don’t know what to tell you! 

In other news:  I am 55% of the way to my fundraising goal of $4,000!!!  You all are so generous and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) agrees!  You are not only helping me reach my goal of becoming a triathlete, but helping LLS research and find cures and better treatments for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma.  If you haven’t donated, please check out my fundraising page: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith

Thanks!!!