Entering the Home Stretch!

17 days – thats it! In 17 days I will swim a mile in the Hudson River, ride 25 miles and run 6.2 in the NYC triathlon in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society! And I am ready (for the most part- I do plan to get out on that bike a couple more times for some long rides. But THEN I’ll be ready!). Swimming isn’t nearly as concerning for me as it was last year; in fact, it might be my favorite event now. Yes, even before running! (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Yesterday was the fundraising deadline and I am still a bit away from my goal. But the good news is that donations will still be accepted through July 8th so there is still some time if you haven’t already donated! Please click the link below and consider donating to such a great cause. Do it because everyone, in some way, is affected by cancer. Do it because swimming in the Hudson River is crazy and you support my insanity. Do it because it was just payday, or because you are SO happy that this is the last time you will read a post from me begging for money. Do it to change someone’s world. Every penny counts!  Here is my fundraising page: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri15/Meredith

And also watch this super short video of my experience from last year’s triathlon. http://magis.to/eisiTEQHAgd6LnEBDmEwCXh7?l=vsm&o=i&c=m

Two things stand out in that video:

1. I had SO MUCH FUN.  Those smiles are so incredibly real and I plan on having even more fun this year!

2.  I need to actually purchase race photos so not all my pictures say “proof” across them.

Ok, want to hear more about training?

On Sunday I ran in the Achilles Hope and Possibilities run, which is probably the most inspiring race on the NY Road Runners calendar. Achilles International was founded by Dick Traum, the first above-the-knee amputee to finish the NYC marathon! (actually, I think he was the first amputee, period.  Forget the above-the knee part!) He refused to let his disability hold him back and wanted others to feel the same and so he founded the organization.  According to their website, “Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners come together to train in an environment of support and community. Within this community, runners gain measurable physical strength and build confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often transfers to other parts of their life.”  Awesome, right?  And Jon Stewart hosted!

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The race itself was fantastic. 5 miles through Central Park with 3,317 other runners of all different shapes and sizes and abilities. This is one race that really encourages you to give it your all; we ran with runners with prosthetic legs, blind runners who were being led by Achilles guides, wounded war veterans, and runners with other physical impairments. Everyone. Together.

photo 1 A before picture – just seconds away from the starting horn!

It was a cloudy and humid 64 degree morning, but the spirit of the event made everyone forget about the looming thunderstorm that was threatening us and everyone seemed excited and happy to be there.  I know I was – and I was even happier when I realized that we wouldn’t be running Harlem Hill!  God that’s a great feeling.  I was happy with my overall time.  Here are my splits:

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And some obligatory after photos:

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Other than that, I’ve been running on my own and with Team in Training (TNT), swimming even more, and biking a bit – soon to be much more as we head into the home stretch. Despite having done TNT last year, I have learned so much during this year’s training. My coaches and teammates have had some invaluable advice and I am going into the triathlon with so much more knowledge and confidence than last year, plus the added advantage of having done it before.

I’m ready for you, Hudson River!!

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No Guts, No Glory!

Someone once said that “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” Well, having had all three yesterday, I can tell you it is a true statement (though I prefer sweat and salt water).

Yesterday my NYC triathlon team and I took on Coney Island with a vengeance as we completed our first open water swim practice of the season.

7:30am, Coney Island, triathlete states of mind.

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(Picture stolen from TNT teammate C. Oh)

I had a new wetsuit to test out – Orca 5S, this year’s version of the fabulous one I had last year – and was excited to see how it compared.

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Just like last year, we got into the frigid water and acclimated ourselves to everything – the temperature, the waves, the murkiness, the flailing limbs around us – before we started actually swimming. And just like last year I had trouble putting my head into the water. WTF!? The amount of expletives going through my mind for the first 20ish mins was enough to make a sailor blush and I was at a total loss. I wasn’t panicking like last year, which was a plus, but I was frustrated, mad and confused as to why it was not as easy as I expected. So I swam with my head up.  Ugh.

Then it was time for a 30 minute continuous swim. Ok, I thought, do it like you know you can – like you’ve done it before – and get out of the water feeling good and confident, or continue being a scared little p**sy and this whole thing is for nothing and a waste of time. Up to you.

Good pep talk, right? But it worked and I tuned everything else out – the other people all around me (Boyfriend included because he was doing great and didn’t need me worrying about him), the waves, my foggy goggles, the sunburn that was inevitably going to be on half of my face because I am a left side only breather, all of it – and slowly but surly got my head in that ocean. And once I did, everything started working like it was supposed to. My body became horizontal which helped me to glide through the water better, my arms were calm, my legs didn’t kick in overdrive, my breath was rhythmic and natural, and I actually felt fantastic. (And that new wetsuit did an awesome job!) I remembered key swimming techniques that I had recently learned and just focused on those. By the end of the 30 minutes my hands were numb from the cold water but I felt good – which was a huge improvement from this time last year!

Little victories.  I’ll take them anywhere I can get them.

And speaking of swimming, last week Boyfriend and I spent two days at Hungry Ghost Guest House in New Paltz. Known as a vegan “active retreat”, Hungry Ghost is owned and operated by athletes/super awesome couple, Mike and Petra Trunkes, who encourage swimming, biking, running, and a variety of other outdoor activities (which happen to be a few of our favorite things!) We took about 5 hours of Total Immersion (TI) swimming lessons with Mike. Because the lessons are taught in a small pool with a wave machine that makes a current to essentially keep you in one spot, TI focuses on mindful practice so that changes and corrections in swimming can be made immediately. There were also mirrors on the inside of the pool and cameras so that we could watch our technique and immediately see what needed to be tweaked. Seriously – it was fantastic, Mike was a great teacher and the two were the best hosts!! (Not to mention Petra’s chocolate chip and banana pancakes with apple compote were out of this world!) I have a strong feeling we’ll be back in New Paltz very soon for an open water swim or tune-up before the triathlon. While we were there, we also took advantage of being so close to the mountains and ran around Lake Minnewaska. Here are some highlights:

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Ok that’s it for now! Please keep me motivated by donating to my fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as I continue to train. Right now I am 59% of the way to my goal and need your help to keep the momentum going. Let’s do this together! http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri15/Meredith

Coney Island, Take Two: Redemption

July 19 – the second open water swim with my Team in Training (TNT) crew. We all know about the first one and how that went, so – even though I swam great in the Hudson a few weeks ago – I started the trek to Coney Island that morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach and nerves that were acting like I was on my way to the guillotine. I originally planned to meet some TNT folks and ride my bike to the beach with them, but decided not to at the last second because I wanted to just concentrate on the swim and not worry about being tired from the ride, where to stash the bike while I swam, and the logistics of getting back to the city after the morning at the beach was over. Instead, I met other team members at the last car of the Q at Union Square at 6:30am. One of the guys on the train with me was in the tapering phase of training for an Ironman that he was doing in 8 days in Lake Placid. I guess his 2.4 mile swim was a bit more intimidating than my 0.93 mile swim. What a show-off. (Seriously though – that is so impressive and I hope to get there one day, too!)

When we got to Coney Island, I immediately wished that I had a sweater and was glad to put on my wetsuit. It was 7:20am, cloudy and chilly and I was shivering from either the air temperature or my nerves. Or both.

Such a little drama queen, right?

TNT1 (Stolen from TNT team member Karen R. S.)

We pulled on our wetsuits on the boardwalk and then headed onto the beach for a Mission Moment – a reminder of why we are doing this in the first place. A team member gave a bit of background about her battle with cancer and chemo as a kid, and then talked about how she had run into her hospital roommate years later on a subway in Boston. Both were doing well, working impressive jobs and living. She emphasized living, saying that it’s not all about the money and effort that goes into treating and finding cures for cancer, it’s also about the lives that are given back when the cancer goes into remission. The lives that can then live to do great things and potentially change the world – which is something that they may not have been able to to without organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and donations through Team in Training. And how every penny is valuable, useful and appreciated.  (Don’t forget to visit my fundraising page and read more about my story: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith)

TNT2(Stolen from TNT team member Amanda A.)

Then it was time for the water. It was a bit warmer than last time, and this time around we just swam on our own within the group – no buddies to swim with. I high-fived one of my friends while we told each other than we would be fine and we ventured into the water, just after one of the coaches gave us all a warning that there were tons of jellyfish lurking about.

For some reason it is hard for me to breathe out at first when I put my face in the open water. Maybe it’s the cold or the movement of the current or something, but I have to really force myself to breathe that air out for the first 3-5 times before I settle into it. But I think it could also be some kind of natural response to something – I find that I hold my breath way more often than I should when I am punching in Muay Thai, lifting at the gym, or even hitting a tennis ball.

We jumped right into swimming – no acclimating to the water or slow warmups like last time. We swam in a rectangle – out pretty far, then parallel to the shore, then down toward the shore and back parallel in the shallow part until we got to where we started. To be honest, I kept my head above the water for a lot of this drill. But I concentrated on my form, specfically my arms, and slowed myself down when I felt myself overdoing it Otherwise I would be totally exhausted by the time I finished. “Keep your head down, little girl!” I heard a friend yell out to me. Oops, I had been spotted and called out. Couldn’t let that happen again! We did a few more drills in that rectangle and broke into smaller groups so that we could start in 15-second intervals like we would do on triathlon day. I was feeling alright. Still nervous, still a little anxious, but good. (And proud of myself, too.)

Then the coach told us that we would swim the rectangle for 40 minutes straight and that at no time were we to be in water where our feet could touch the bottom. I can’t imagine what the expression on my face must’ve looked like when he said that, but a wave of panic swept over me. 40 minutes? In the ocean. With the waves. In a place where I couldn’t touch the bottom. With the jellyfish. And the tons of other swimmers all around me. Ok. Maybe triathlons aren’t my thing. Maybe I got a little overzealous with this whole idea and am just not ready. Maybe I’m a duathlon girl. Let me run a marathon instead. An ultramarathon, even. Is it too late to bow out gracefully? Tell everyone that I was just kidding about this whole thing? Admit defeat and move on?

I swear I’m not always such a drama queen, but the thought of 40 minutes nonstop in the ocean brought out a 6 year old scaredy cat and I felt stuck between fight or flight. Luckily I am not one to admit defeat easily and was definitely not going to be the person to bow out. No way. I’ll fight over flight any day. The mantra that the coaches have been telling us since day one, drilling into our minds and repeating over and over again in weekly training emails came into my head. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.

I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.

I had this.

There’s nothing scary about the water. When I was a kid I would’ve given anything to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid and could spend days in the water. Maybe I didn’t have the cool mermaid tail but I had an awesome wetsuit. Lycra superhero (as one of the coaches put it). I got to the beginning of one of the lines and was in the 3rd group to enter the water. We swam out to where one of the coaches was treading water and acting as a buoy and went around him. Then all the way to the other side of the embayment where another coach was also treading water making sure that no one cut any corners. Back down the short side of the rectangle and then all the way back to where we had started. And repeat. I settled into a calm rhythm of stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe – turning my head for a breath on every left stroke. I passed some people, others passed me, but at no time did I try to compete with anyone. As far as I was concerned it was just me in there. (At one point though a family began their day at the beach and I had to swim around the grandma as she waded or did her Silver Sneakers water exercises or whatever she was doing.)

I loved being a little mermaid, but after some time I wondered how much longer until those forty minutes were up. I had done several rectangles and had no idea if 8 minutes had passed or 38. I was also a little nauseous from all the movement of the waves combined with continuously turning my head to breathe. I started the short leg of the rectangle and heard the coach whistle and yell that 40 mins were up – time to get out of the water!

Phew!

I got out of the water, quickly tried to turn my water legs back into land legs, reunited with my crew and got out of my wetsuit. I was freezing and shivering and my head was a bit dizzy, but I was smiling and ready for the 5 mile boardwalk run. I threw on my shoes, turned on the Nike+ app on my phone and ran. Since most of us had our race gear on under our wetsuits so that we could practice swimming in what we would be wearing on the actual day, the boardwalk was covered with purple LLS and TNT race tops, shorts, headbands, you name it. It was pretty amazing actually. I can only imagine how many more of us will be there on the actual day.

TNT (Stolen from TNT team member Karen R. S.)

So – the swim was a success, the run was great, and all that was left was fries from Nathan’s and a cold Coney Island Mermaid pilsner. Done and done.

Triathlon day is less than 2 weeks away and I feel ready. I am so excited to wear my purple, to jump into the Hudson, to get the adrenaline rush that comes with races (which I can only imagine is intensified for triathlons), to be a part of something bigger than I am, to swim, bike and run for my grandma, for the fighters, survivors and victims of cancer. To be able to say, after months of training, that I am a triathlete.

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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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