Made for More – Oakley Women’s Mini

Saturday was the 43rd annual Oakley Women’s Mini – a 10k that celebrates women being able to participate in races, which didn’t happen until 1972! Isn’t that kind of crazy?  That’s the year that Title IX became a law, which created a ton of more opportunities for women athletes.  I was looking forward to this race for weeks and knew I had to run it. As the day came closer, though, it felt like the elements were challenging me to see if I would really run it. Didn’t matter – I was doing it. The 101 degree fever I had a couple days before wouldn’t stop me. The never-ending cough that had been lingering for almost a week wouldn’t stop me. And the crazy thunder, lightning and downpour just about 12 hours earlier wouldn’t stop me.  Besides, I had already picked up my race packet and the dark grey racer-back tanks that said “Made for More” in hot pink were super cute and I needed to wear it ASAP!

I got to the starting line at 61st and Central Park West feeling as though I had gotten 45 minutes of sleep and practically sleepwalked my way through the nearly 6,000 women who were doing their pre-race preps. Some were stretching, others were running in place. Most were taking selfies, looking at the photo, shaking their heads and then retaking them.  I get it though – it’s important to have a good race day photo. I don’t usually do pre-run photoshoots, and then I regret it.  Especially after seeing the in-race pictures. Man, those are usually pretty rough.

I found my corral – yellow 2000-2999 – and wiggled my way up to the front, getting there just as the opening remarks were starting. There were several famous runners there – including Deena Kastor (Olympian who ran and won the More Fitness Women’s Half Marathon that I did a couple months back), and Lauren Fleshman (awesome runner and co-creator of Picky Bars, which are in my top 3 favorite bars of all time. Sometimes all you need in life is a Smooth Caffeinator or a Blueberry Boomdizzle.).  After the remarks a survivor of the Boston marathon bombing spoke.  I couldn’t see her from where I was standing, but what she said was short and sweet and got the job done –  we were even more ready to run! We had to wait a few more minutes though because they needed confirmation that Central Park West was closed through 90th Street.

Ok, finally – the countdown. 3… 2… And the horn sounded – we were off!! I started my Nike+ watch, coughed up a lung, and started up CPW.  As I passed the stage I saw the Boston Marathon survivor wearing a cute running outfit and a prosthetic leg.  She was so enthusiastic and telling us to have fun as we rushed by her.

I tend to have a lot of adrenaline at the beginning of races – too much maybe – and start pretty fast. Problem is, races are relatively slow at the beginning. You have to maneuver your way around everyone in front of you until you and everyone else settle into their paces and spreads out a bit, which is no easy task at times. During this race I was “that girl” – the one who definitely and annoyingly used the curb to get around a ton of people.  When I wasn’t doing that I was dodging and weaving through everyone, which had potential to catch up with me later on and I just hoped that I had the energy to keep it up and not pay for it by the end of the race. I would have been more mindful of all that if this had been a longer race or in a different location, but it was “just” a 10k around my park. I had this!

This race was interesting because we ran up CPW and entered the park at 90th Street, and continued in the park running clockwise. I’ve never run clockwise around Central Park – only counterclockwise. Every single time. It was almost like running in a new place! Running down the Harlem hill was great.  Running down the Cat Hill was even better!  Don’t get me wrong, there were other hills, but just the satisfaction of not running up those hills – being able to smile at the cat statue instead of glare or grimace at it – made any other hill totally worth it.

As I ran and continued to check my watch, I noticed that I was running much faster than expected, so I began to think that it was a perfect day for a personal record.  I mean really – what better race than this one, right?  And so I just booked it. One of my pals from Muay Thai was volunteering at this race so I made sure to run on the outside when I got near the south part of Central Park, knowing that he would be around there.  I found him somewhere just after mile 5.5 and got a big high five from him.  “Finish strong!!” he yelled after me as ran off.  “Will do!” I promised.

Before long I saw the sign saying that there were only 800 meters left.  Then 400 meters.  Then… where was 200 meters? It seemed to be taking forever!  Oh – there it was.  200 meters left!  I could see the finish line just ahead.  My Vivobarefoot sneakers pounded the ground as I sprinted the last 200 meters and crossed the finish line.  I stopped my Nike+ watch and it immediately congratulated me for breaking my previous 10k record!  I got my medal, a pink carnation, and an apple, and headed for the nearest bench.  Here’s a summary of it all:

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After that, I grabbed a Venti unsweetened green iced tea, headed straight for the nearest couch, and considered it a successful Saturday!

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“It’s Like Swimming in a Washing Machine.” : The First Open Water Swim

The first open water swim has come and gone.  I woke up at 5am on Saturday and jumped out of my bed, ready to take on Coney Island with a force that would even surprise myself.  I had a rhythm down when swimming in the pool and was excited to see it translate to the open water.  I headed out at 5:45 to meet a fellow TNT-er at the subway, picked up a few more along the way, and we made the nearly 1.5 hour trek to the ocean. 

We got there, met the rest of the team, pulled on our wetsuits and waited anxiously, excitedly, and nervously to hit the water. 

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 After splitting up into 3 groups, we ran in!  No swimming at first – just getting acclimated to the water (which was colder than I expected!)and getting loose (jumping around, putting our heads under the water, and shaking our arms and shoulders to release any tension).  So far so good.

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Then it was time to actually swim.  We picked buddies to swim with and headed back in.  I was nervous, but still excited – until I started swimming.  I put my head under and started going.  Stroke – the water was murky and it was hard to see.  Nothing like the pool.  Stroke – there were people’s feet kicking and arms moving all around me.  It was a little claustrophobic and reminded me of the scene in Titanic after the ship sank and everyone was crowded and flailing together in the water.  Stroke – I had heard that ocean swimming can be like swimming in a washing machine and I was suddenly aware of the waves and all that was different from the pool.  Breathe – I had forgotten to breathe out, so when I turned my head to take a breath, I couldn’t.  Then I think I forgot how to breathe altogether.  Alright, panic attack, I feel you coming.  Let’s just get this over with.  My buddy was calm, cool and collected and totally helped me out, but it was too late – I was too far inside my head and there was no turning back.  I kept trying though, but it was hard to push my head under the water, and my body was so tense.  I was frustrated and it showed.  After a little bit, I got out of the ocean to shake it off and headed straight to the head coach for advice.  So helpful.  He calmed me down, reassured me, and reminded me that I had done this in practice.

Ok, back into the water, where I was greeted by some TNT pals – some who were experiencing the same thing I was, and others who swam next to me and offered their own advice.  By the time the open water swim ended, I was just getting comfortable.  I left the ocean feeling let down, but confident that I could do it the next time. After the swim (and 5-mile boardwalk run that followed), we feasted!  We all gathered at one of the millions of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs where I had fries and calmed myself down with a good old Coney Island Mermaid.

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Here are some things I learned:

You will probably get hit or kicked along the way. There are a ton of people in that water – some pros, some beginners, all trying to reach the same finish line. With all the arm strokes and kicks, it would be a wonder if you made it through without any hits! Get used to it. (And for the love of God, don’t think about that scene in Titanic while you’re swimming!!)

Learn to sight. There is no thick black line at the bottom of the ocean to help guide your way like there is in the pool. (And if there is, the water is too murky and gross to see it anyway!)

Breathe.  Every time I felt an inkling of uncertainty, I held my breath. I forgot to breathe, which added to the whole panic thing. Breathing is pretty key. Who knew? 😉

Relax.  Much easier said than done, but once you remember everything (that you’re not going to drown, that your wetsuit is buoyant, that you know what you’re doing because you’ve done it in the pool, that breathing is kind of an important part of swimming, that slower and calm strokes will get you there faster and more efficiently than quicker, rushed strokes, that you’re not trying to race or keep up with anyone so it’s fine to just go at your own pace, that YOU’VE GOT THIS) you will relax. And you will be fine. And you will enjoy the swim.

Ok so maybe my first attempt at open water swimming wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was a learning experience and can only get better. The next ocean swim is in July so you can bet that I’ll be back out at Coney Island – wetsuit and all – working on my open water swimming before then. Whether it be by myself (near the lifeguards of course, Mom), with other TNT team members, or with other friends, I’ll be there. But at least I didn’t leave the ocean feeling completely defeated, so I guess there’s always that.  And I had a great day with my team!

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 I went to the pool this morning before work to make sure I still had it in me. We’re supposed to be able to swim 20 consecutive minutes before the triathlon, and I did 17 right off the bat pretty easily and ended up swimming a total of 40 mins.  Coney Island won’t know what hit it next time.

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Keep Calm and Swim On

Ok – confession time: I took about 3 weeks off from swimming. I know, I know, but it was necessary at first!  The first 2 weeks were because I dyed my hair at home and it took that long for my hair to get wet without the red dye dripping out.  I don’t know about you, but leaving a trail of red hair dye in the pool sounds more like a nightmare than anything else, so I skipped the pool entirely and worked on my BRICKs.  After that, though, I just couldn’t get myself back into the water for another week.  I don’t know what it was, but there was some kind of mental block that kept me away.  But the tri is in 2 months and I kind of need to swim as much as possible until then, so I made a deal with myself – beginning June 1st swimming and I are becoming best friends until Aug. 3.  (And really, what better time to swim a ton than in the summer?)  I really don’t hate swimming at all – I’ve always been a beach/pool/water girl.  It’s just the whole process of actually getting into the water – once I’m in there I could stay there all day.  We’re only 5 days into June, and I’ve been a little fish so far! Here’s a breakdown of what’s been going on:

Sunday: It was a beautiful day – the kind that makes you wish the day would never end and you could just run around like a 6 year old forever. I needed to be out in the sun and recharge my Vitamin D, so I rode 14 miles on my bike around Central Park. I wanted more of an adventure than that but I had a ballet class to get to so I restricted my adventure to the park. Not too shabby in the grand scheme of things, though!  After ballet I remembered that it was June 1 and I had to swim. I couldn’t skip the first day of my little deal with myself or that would set the entire plan off on the wrong foot, and so I dragged myself to the pool and slowly picked up where I left off. And guess what? It was fabulous. I could tell that I had taken some time off, but I was doing it and that was all that mattered.

Monday: I woke up early and swam before work.

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Back in the pool, back to the grind. The monotonous and continuous motion of stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe was actually very calming first thing in the morning. Who knew? (I used to go to the pool before work here and there, but didn’t remember it being quite that calming.) I kind of loved being there so early in the morning.  There were other people there, but it was relatively empty and quiet compared to how it is on the weekends or when I go after work – a great way to begin the week.

Tuesday: More swimming before work. Can you tell I’m serious about this whole swimming thing? I was faster than Monday and was able to swim many more continuous laps than when I was there on Sunday, and it felt good.  That night I went to my usual Muay Thai class (that place is still one of my favorite places to be!) and talked swimming with one of the guys who is also doing the triathlon.  When I got home there was a package waiting for me – my wetsuit!!! 

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I love that thing and it makes me feel like a superhero!

Wednesday: It was National Running Day so I woke up bright and early for a 7 mile run before work!  Then I threw my bathing suit and wetsuit into my bag and waited anxiously for the work day to end so that I could get to the TNT group swim and test out my wetsuit.  Swimming in a wetsuit is SO COOL.  I felt faster, lighter, float-ier – a little Michael Phelps in training! 

Today will just be a Muay Thai day, followed by a long bike adventure tomorrow since I have the day off of work.  Then… the first open water swim at Coney Island with TNT followed by a team run on the boardwalk!!!  I can’t wait to get into that water.

11 weeks in, 9 weeks left!

9 weeks until the triathlon!  That means 2 things: 1 week before the first open water swim at Coney Island, and about 6 weeks until the fundraising deadline.  Thanks to YOU and all your generosity, I have been able to raise 69% of my goal of $4,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  They have provided fabulous coaches through Team in Training to ensure that I, and everyone else on the team, will do our very best on race day. Because of them I’ve gotten more confident with my swimming, learned how to repair a bike tire, and am always one day closer to accomplishing my goal of becoming a triathlete.  I may never be a doctor and cure cancer myself, but I can use whatever I have to raise awareness and funds that go toward finding a cure. And I have feet that love to run, legs that feel at home on a bike, arms that (are learning to) like swimming, and a hankering for adventure! 

For those of you who have donated:

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If you have not, please consider it. Every dollar helps!  Visit my fundraising page, and feel free to pass it along to anyone who might be interested: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/Meredith

This week is going to focus mostly on swimming – lots and lots of swimming – in preparation for that open water swim in 6 days (with the usual running, biking, Muay Thai, and ballet mixed in).  My wetsuit should arrive by Wednesday, which I am really excited about, and I’ll have the chance to swim with it in the pool with the team before we jump into the Atlantic!!  I have a feeling I will love wearing the wetsuit much more than my nerdy one-piece bathing suit.

Just wait and see what happens!