“Tri”-ing something new: Training for a super sprint triathlon

One of my earliest memories takes place in a pool.

Unfortunately, it’s not a good memory.

I was about two years old, and my parents decided to sign me up for beginner swim lessons at the local YMCA.

While most of the details are fuzzy (I mean, I was two!), I can recall the swim instructor picking me up and saying, “1, 2, 3, DUCK!” (or maybe it was DUNK?!) and plunging me underwater. When she pulled me to the surface after what I assume was just a second or two, I was coughing and crying.

Shockingly, this was not an effective way to teach a toddler to swim, and my parents pulled me out of swim lessons soon after. But a lifelong fear and suspicion of the water took hold, and when they re-enrolled me in swimming lessons at a popular public pool in our town several years later, I refused to put my face in the water. Like, at all. Eventually, after MANY years of lessons, I did learn to get my face wet, and I learned to swim, though not with any real proficiency.

As an adult, most of the “swimming” I’ve done has consisted of splashing around in the shallow end of a pool, preferably with a drink in my hand.

Until now. Because I’m doing my first (maybe only?!) triathlon in a week!

What possessed me to sign up for such a thing when I’m kind of afraid of the water? Rip It Events is holding its inaugural Columbia Association Triathlon, which features a super sprint and a sprint option. The super sprint is four pool laps, followed by a 5-mile bike ride and a 1.75-mile run. Surely I can do four pool laps, I thought when I signed up at the beginning of the year. (Full disclosure: As a Rip It ambassador, I am doing this race for free. But I have a 15 percent discount code to share if you want to do it, too! Send me a message if so!)

I admit training for this most definitely took a backseat to Boston training, so by the time May rolled around, I knew I needed pool time stat. I recruited my friend Kree, swimmer extraordinare and two-time Ironman triathlon finisher, to help me during my first swim practice. I warned her that it would be rough, and she assured me she would be patient and we could get Mexican food and margaritas afterwards. (I can be easily bribed with food and drink.)  

The day of my first practice, I was SO nervous and even questioned whether I really wanted to do this. I mean, I didn’t pay anything to enter the race — I could bail and it totally wouldn’t be a big deal. Except I’d told a bunch of friends I was doing it, and I knew they’d be disappointed if I chickened out. So, I sucked it up and met Kree at the North Arundel Aquatic Center for my first swim lesson in decades.

We walked in and the smell of chlorine took me right back to the 1980s. Anxiety washed over me immediately. Isn’t it crazy how smells can just do that to you? “Welcome to my happy place!” Kree said, totally serious. Get me the eff out of here, I thought to myself.

We suited up and walked out to the pool and I still wanted to run away, but I gingerly lowered myself into the pool and tried to acclimate to the water. “Want me to show you how I swim?” I asked Kree. “Sure,” she said.

I swam to the other end of the pool, head out of the water and freestyling the whole way. That’s not so bad, I thought. Then I swam back. OK, that was harder. But hey, I’m only swimming four laps, so I’m half done!  

“Good job!” Kree said. “But let’s try getting your face in the water now.”

“Ugh, OK. But hey! I made it halfway!”

“Uh, no,” she said. “It’s four laps. That’s eight pool lengths.”

Well, crap.

Kree showed me how to blow bubbles underwater and take a breath when I lifted my head up. Sounds simple, and I’m sure I learned this all those years ago in swimming lessons — and yet actually doing it was a huge mental hurdle for me. Honestly, if I had accomplished nothing else that day, I would have considered that a victory! But I actually did swim a few laps with my face in the water. It wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t fast, but I did it. And man, I was TIRED afterwards.. So tired. How do people like Kree swim 2.4 MILES in Ironmans? I can’t fathom it. I guess a lot of people think that about marathons, though!

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First real swim in years! 

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Will swim for margs

Since then, I’ve gone once or twice a week to the county’s other Olympic swim center that’s close to my home and work. It’s not easy, but it’s getting easier (I still get anxious when I smell the chlorine! It’s hard to undo all those years of believing that the pool is a scary place where someone is just going to dunk my head underwater suddenly.) I do need to take a breather in between laps, but because this is a pool swim, that shouldn’t be a problem on race day. I’m totally fine being a slow swimmer — as this is my first triathlon, I just want to finish without completely embarrassing myself!   

I’ve even convinced my husband to do the triathlon, too. He claims he doesn’t need to train and that “swimming is like walking” to him. I joked that my only goal is to beat him because he’s not taking it seriously, but I might not be able to. In addition to being a very strong swimmer, he’s faster and more comfortable on the bike. I get nervous about going too fast and having an accident. My running race pace is about three minutes per mile faster than his, but I don’t know if that can make up for the swim and bike portions!  

We went swimming together this morning and after I swam my first lap, he giggled (yes, actually giggled) and said, “Good job, sweetie! You are trying so hard!” He might as well have added a “bless your heart!” afterwards. Then later he said, “It will be nice to actually beat you in a race.”

Whatever. I’m just going to “tri” my best….. That’s all I can do, right?

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Goofing around after laps

A hilly Herald Harbor 5K

For the second year in a row, I ran the Herald Harbor 5K with my friend Cindy. Last year, I was the first female finisher, but didn’t get a medal because those went to the top three overall finishers, both male and female. I finished sixth. This year, I had heard that the top three finishers were getting trophies, so I was hopeful that I could run fast enough for a trophy! I’ve been doing a lot of speedwork this past month in hopes that I can get better at 5Ks, so I was optimistic.

No such luck. Even though I was about a minute faster than I was last year, I finished third female and eighth overall. There were some fast people this year, and I got passed early enough in the race that I knew within the first mile I would not be in the top three. Finish time was 21:34, but the course was short. My watch measured 2.9 miles, so if it had been a true 5K, I’m guessing I would have been in the high 22s. The hills of Herald Harbor got me, again! (I have not done a damn bit of hill training since Boston, although my neighborhood does have rolling hills.)

Cindy, who lives in Herald Harbor and runs on the hills regularly, did great, beating her time last year by about three minutes! The race raises money for a new pavilion at the community’s park. It’s a fun and low-key race, and I definitely recommend it as long as you aren’t going for a PR, since the course is short. 

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Cindy and I afterwards

 

 

 

 

Summer 2018 racing: An update!

Wow, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve blogged! While I’ve been quiet on here, my summer has actually been quite busy in terms of racing. That’s pretty rare for me. I run all year long, but I usually don’t do too many races in June and July. That’s probably because I do so many in the spring and fall! But this summer, I’ve been all about tackling shorter races — with some mixed results.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t been thrilled with any of my race times this year — which probably sounds ridiculous because I’ve won some kind of award, either an age group award or an overall award, at almost every race I’ve run. But last fall, going into my BQ race in Rehoboth, I was on fire, setting huge PRs in the 10-miler, the 10K and finally, the marathon. I was also killing it with the speed work and hill repeats. Of course, no runner can expect to PR EVERY time he or she races, but I’ll admit that I was getting pretty used to it. I’ve been taking a really challenging treadmill class at my gym on Wednesday nights, where we focus a lot on sprints, hill repeats and sometimes, a killer combination of the two …. so I’m hoping I can see some new PRs soon!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to since that brutal 10K in Annapolis two months ago!

Herald Harbor 5K

On June 9, I ran the Herald Harbor 5K with some of my kickboxing friends. It was a small community race in the Herald Harbor neighborhood in Crownsville. My friend Cindy, who lives in the community, warned me ahead of time that it was hilly. Yep! It was also hot and sticky that day (duh, June in Maryland.) I ran it in 22:46 and was the first female finisher, sixth overall. No medal for me — only the top three finishers got them. Man, 5Ks hurt! My PR is 20:49 and I really don’t know if I will ever see a sub-21 finish again. Maybe on a flat point-to-point course in perfectly crisp conditions? Who knows.

 

Ellicott City 10K

On June 17, I ran the Ellicott City 10K with Rip It Events. This race helped raise money for flood relief efforts in downtown Ellicott City, which suffered catastrophic flooding for the second time in less than two years over Memorial Day weekend. I was the third overall female in this race with a time of 50:59. In most 10Ks, that time wouldn’t even get me an age group award, but that course is no joke. The race was actually a 5K and a 10K — 5K runners did one lap of the course, while 10K runners did two. Miles 1-2.5ish featured some major downhills, which we then had to run right back up — twice if you ran the 10K! At least the humidity wasn’t too bad, and I still ran faster than I did at the Wayfarer’s 10K.

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own! A full list of 2018 Rip It events can be found here.

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Charm City Run Memorial 5K

On July 4, I ran the Charm City Run Memorial 5K to help raise money for the families of the victims of the mass shooting that happened at Capital-Gazette newspapers on June 28. This was a really tough one for me — not physically, but emotionally. Many of you know that I worked as a Cap-Gaz reporter from 2007 through 2014, when I left the print world to work in digital journalism for a Baltimore TV station. (I’m now out of the business completely, and explaining why I left would take a whole separate post …. and this is a running blog anyway. But I digress.) I worked with four of the five victims who were killed, plus many more journalists who still work there and are now dealing with the aftermath of this unbelievable tragedy. I’m still at a loss over what happened — we all are — but I was so happy to see so many generous people come forward to help the paper and everyone associated with it.  Runners donated more than $20,000! Our community really is amazing. And it’s beside the point, but I didn’t time myself and ran super easy, so I think I finished that one in 27-28 minutes or so.

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Maryland Duathlon

On July 14, I raced the sprint version of the Maryland Duathlon for the second time. (This is another Rip It event; the sprint consists of a two mile run, followed by a 13 mile bike ride, followed by a two mile run.)  Some background — last year, the sprint was scheduled for the same day my family was planning to leave for a week’s vacation in Rehoboth. I figured I could totally race the duathlon in Woodbine, then head to the beach to meet up with the rest of the fam. What I didn’t count on was getting two hours of sleep the night before the race (my first ever multi-sport race, btw) because my sister and brother-in-law wanted to go to an Orioles game. I ended up finishing the race last year in an hour and a half and was so proud of that.

So this year, it was take two. Once again, the race coincided with my family vacation, and once again, my sister was in town. But this year we actually tried to go to bed at a decent time so I could be well-rested. You’d think that would make a difference, right? Yeah, not so much. I finished in an hour and 42 minutes this year, and 11 of those extra minutes were due to my time on the bike. Afterwards, one of my fellow Rip It ambassadors asked me if I got injured. When I said no, he was like, “So you were just that slow?” Ouch! Truthfully, I felt undertrained on the bike anyway …. I think I rode it maybe four times in the month before the race. Not enough for a runner who just dabbles in cycling from time to time. It was still fun — I would like to do more duathlons if I can fit the training around my marathon training schedule. (Ha, good luck with that.) And yes, my bike has a basket, and yes, I brought a mascot with me this year! That alone made the whole experience worth it.

As a Rip It Events ambassador, I ran this race for free. Opinions are entirely my own! A full list of 2018 Rip It events can be found here.

 

 

Seashore Striders 5-Miler

For most people, maybe it would be enough to do a race the day you leave for vacation. Then there are weirdos like me, who decide to run even more races on vacation. I signed up for the Seashore Striders 5-Miler back in January and had been looking forward to it for months, even though it was the day after the duathlon! I had only done one five-mile race prior to this one, and finished in 36:58. But that was on a VERY cold day in December in Rosslyn, Virginia, so I had no idea how I’d do in a summer 5-miler. I was hoping to finish under 40 minutes, and I finished in …. 40:08. Wah. However, I won my age group and got a nice trophy and a $75 gift certificate to the Rehoboth New Balance store! The race took place mostly in Cape Henlopen State Park, one of my favorite places at the beach. Highly recommend Seashore Striders’ races if you are in the area, or just like to vacation there!

 

 

Dewey Beach Patrol 10K 

So I didn’t plan on running this one. But I was flipping through an area guidebook and saw a listing for this 5K/10K taking place the day we left the beach. Why not? I thought. I hate it when vacation ends, so this will give me something to look forward to. It was organized by the same race company that puts on the Bottle and Cork 10-Miler every September, which is one of my favorite 10-milers. And this race followed some of the same route, even finishing at The Ivy in Dewey just like the 10-Miler. My goal was to be sub-50, and once again I just *barely* missed my goal, finishing in 50:19. (Will I ever finish sub-50 again? I’m starting to think 10Ks are just not my distance!)

Somehow, though, I won my age group again. I was shocked by that. But …. it’s Dewey Beach, where plenty of runners could have still been drunk from the night before! Ha. I wasn’t even hungover, which probably gave me a hell of an advantage. Dewey Beach, I love you.

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Annapolis Sailors Triathlon 

I’m a God-awful swimmer, and am marginally OK at cycling (see again: my duathlon recap), but I am not half-bad at running. So I am down with triathlons if I can just do the run part. So, yay for relays! I teamed up with two of my husband’s sailing buddies — Rook, who swam, and Wells, who biked — for this sprint tri on my birthday on July 28. I also came up with our name, Two Sailors and a Wench, which still makes me laugh. My part of the race was supposed to be 3.8 miles, though my Garmin clocked four miles. I finished in 31 minutes and some change, and our total time was an hour and 23 minutes. We won the coed relay division, beating out the second place team by a minute. Rook said it was his goal to be the most unathletic-looking triathletes on the podium — since none of us bothered to put down our post-race beers when we went up to collect our prizes, I’m pretty sure we accomplished that.

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What’s next?

Lots of things!

But the big thing I’m training for is the Baltimore Marathon on Oct. 20. This will be my sixth full marathon. I am following a 12-week plan this time around, so this week was my first official week of training. My next race is my absolute favorite of all time, the Annapolis Ten Mile Run on Aug. 19.

Then I’m running a double header on Sept. 1 — the Charles Street 12-Miler in Baltimore in the morning and then Rip It’s Glow Run 5K that evening. I’m also planning to run the Bottle and Cork 10 Miler in Dewey on Sept. 8, and I am signed up to do the Charm City 20 Miler on Sept. 23 — which fits in perfectly with my marathon training.

And, oh yeah, Boston Marathon registration! I get to register on Sept. 14 … that’s 39 days away. But who’s counting? 😉