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Fending off the injury bug

It has been over six months now and I have been incredibly lucky.

No major illness. No major injury.

Which is why when I started to feel some discomfort on the inside of my right knee I let out a big, disappointed sigh.

I had my best 5K time yet on Saturday. I have been feeling strong and eager to work on my swimming weakness, learn more about how to efficiently work the bike and continue to improve on my run.

Now, I have to dial it back a bit.

Oh, but just a bit.

I am off of running for a few days until I have no pain in my knee. Cycling and swimming are fine, so my total workload does not decrease for the week, but the pounding does. Easy cycling only until the weekend and swimming shouldn't bother my knee one bit -- even that pesky open water practice.

Ice and rest are the only things to help my knee at the moment. It's not that bad, really, but paying attention and taking care of discomfort now will prevent bigger injuries and setbacks later.

So it's back to the freezer to get out that bag of frozen peas, place it on my knee and be glad that my laptop is uber portable.

Taking a look-see for the wizard

At Keuka College the day before my triathlon, Sherpa and I met up with my parents on campus so they could get the scope of the land and we could get something to eat.

I took them over to the swim start and showed them the basic outline of the course I would (attempt) to be swimming. My dad eagerly walked down the stairs with me as we struggled to sight the small buoys in the water marking the course.

It was simple and probably not all that character revealing, but it was a moment I'll always remember about my first triathlon.

The death of Tim Russert brings pause to everyone in Western New York and on this Father's Day makes appreciating the relationship you have with your own father a little more poignant.

My dad would spend Sunday afternoons during football season -- well, like any other Sunday in the year. He'd be mowing the lawn, cleaning or painting and periodically check in on the score. Sitting around watching TV all afternoon never was his thing (though he always sits down to watch "Meet the Press" on Sunday mornings).

He was the person who took me hiking. I can't even remember the first time we went out for hike. It's just something we do and from him I learned an appreciation for playing outdoors. His favorite phrase, "Let's go take a look-see" has stuck with my brother and I. Heck, sometimes when I'm running a race, I'll think of "taking a look-see" to get me around the next corner -- even if I know what's ahead. It just puts me in a good place.

Happy Father's Day!

Meantime, in training news, I ran my fastest 5K Saturday at the Race for the Cure. My time of 29:21 was 29 seconds faster than my best time. Coach wanted a negative split, but that second mile on the 5K always kills me. I probably was a bit slower that second mile, but I picked it up on the final mile and thanks to Train-This! teammate Jenny, who ran the course in 23 minutes and cheered me in, sprinted through the finish line.

This time, I took a look-see and found the wizard.

Back in the water

It was Nancy's first time swimming in open water.

It was my third, counting the Keuka Lake Triathlon.

We both jumped into Lake Erie at the weekly swim with the Buffalo Triathlon Club. She started swimming right away. I was aqua jogging.

Eventually I warmed up and Nancy and I did some improvised sets swimming 20 strokes out from our safety spot on the wall then 20 back in.

She seemed more ambitious, asking if I wanted to swim further or swim over to the other ladder that would take us out of the lake.

I was quite content to do my 20 strokes.

Here's the thing -- I can swim. After six months of lessons and practice, I can swim. It may not be fast. It may not be technically correct. It certainly isn't pretty. But I can swim nonetheless.

Open water is a different animal than the pool. Most notably, there is no wall every 25 yards or so. Even if I continuously swim laps in the pool and just grab the wall and go (flip turns are not, nor will they ever be, part of my repertoire) I get a bit of a breather and the mental/emotional comfort that if I do get in trouble, there is an ending point not so far away.

In open water, there are slightly different skill sets needed. You have to be able to "sight" or look up and see where you are going without losing too much momentum. You have to be able to negotiate waves and you have to be able to swim without much rhythm because of those waves.

But mostly, it's all a case of what's in your head.

It's about relaxing, believing yourself to be strong and confident.

Triathlon is all about the head games you play with yourself.

I played the 20 strokes game this week. Next week, one of the Buffalo Triathlon Club members said he would swim with me so that I can do a few laps of the "big wall" which is 300 meters long. It's a distance I've done a zillion times in the pool.

When I stop thinking open water is scary, it will come much easier.

My new goal is to swim freestyle to the first buoy of the Quakerman Triathlon on June 29. Not necessarily quickly or smoothly, but in the water, going forward, taking an aquajog break when I need it.

Sometimes you just need to put your head down and go.

Changing up my race schedule

There are any number of events -- from 5Ks to walks to bike rides -- that raise money for worthy charities.

The problem is, they tend to happen all at once. I start throwing out names of races that all seem to have "cure" in the title and my coach gets confused.

So my race schedule has been revised.

Seems I am doing the Quakerman Tri in Orchard Park.

The time off between Keuka and Quakerman is three weeks, which is enough rest. I am still doing the Ride for Roswell, but will take it as an enjoyment ride, not a hard blast-through-all-62.5-miles ride. In fact, I may change it up and ride 44 miles, but my coach believes that my fitness level is pretty solid and that shouldn't be a problem.

My fitness level feels pretty good right now. In fact, I think it's the best it's ever been. Running, biking and swimming have been folded into my daily life in such an enjoyable way that I can't see the point of stopping my training.

So this week includes an open water swim, a Buffalo Triathlon Club time trial and the Race for the Cure 5K.

In the meantime, the finishing touches are being made to my race report story on my Keuka Lake experience. Watch for the story in The Buffalo News, along with some online content, later this week.

Rest time is over

Monday was my official day of jubilation.

I actually got yelled at by my coach for asking about my workouts for this week.

Monday was to bask in the glory of my first tri, relive the details and collect the photos my friends and family snapped at Keuka.

And this morning, I'm right back at it. Today I'm riding my bike for an hour then taking to the pool for a swim workout. I should be back in open water tomorrow to try and tame that beast.

I have two events left in June -- the 5K Race for the Cure and the 62.5 mile Ride for Roswell. I won't be doing the inaugural Quakerman Triathlon in Orchard Park because I had already committed to the Roswell Park fundraising bike ride, but I will be there to cheer on my friend Jenny who is tackling her first tri that weekend.

But Keuak will not be my last triathlon. I'm registered for the Broome County Parks Tri in Binghamton on July 5. That swim is actually longer -- a half mile -- than the one at Keuka Lake. So my goal is simple -- to be able to swim freestyle to at least one buoy and maybe spend a little more time with my face in the water.

As I continue to process and absorb all that was my first triathlon I start to understand that it's not about having the perfect race or getting the best time. It's about what you do when things go wrong -- how you react to choppy water, a flat tire, excessive heat on the run. Some races do not list the "DNFs" (did not finish) in the official race results. Part of me understands because there are many reasons why you can DNF -- illness, injury or extreme mechanical failure. There's no need to embarrass people who were brave enough to stand up to the start line.

But on the other hand, being able to anonymously not finish makes it easy to walk away when things get tough.

You can choose to walk away or you can choose to plug along and muddle through.

And as disappointing as your final time or performance may seem, seeing the race through until the end, regardless of what it looks like to get there, is worth it.

Taking the long way around

Sherpa and I decided to avoid the New York State Thruway and take the scenic route home.

We drove country back roads through Naples and Avon up through Darien Center. I snoozed at times. I answered text messages and a few phone calls. Sherpa even had the hotline going with friends calling him to find out how I did and offer their congratulations.

In the end, all that really matters is that I finished. My coach gave me strict instructions today not to think about anything in the future. That includes my workouts for the week. That includes upcoming triathlons I've signed up for. That includes improving my open water swimming.

You only have one first triathlon, Coach Eggers reminded me, so enjoy it.

And I am. I am reliving the moments. Even the swim is enjoyable in hindsight. OK, several times I wondered if a water rescue would be all that bad. More than once I thought I could never make it to shore and I took maybe a total of 15 freestyle strokes the entire 750 meters.

And even though I was the last swimmer out of the water, I did notice on the official results posted this morning that technically I did not have the worst swim time. That's probably because I didn't take any of my wetsuit off on shore and the chip reader was at the top of the stairs to end your swim time.

Hey, thank goodness for my hustle to transition.

Actually, as slow and ugly as the swim was, Sherpa reminded me that I just enjoyed it more than most, spending a lot of it on my back, looking up at the puffy clouds in the blue sky, gently backstroking and thinking of summer fun as a little kid when two months off from school felt like an eternity.

Yeah, it took me 40 minutes and 34 seconds to finish the 750 meter course that way.

But I picked it up on the bike where my time of 49:30 was ranked 130 out of the 224 competing in the short distance tri. My run was respectable too, coming in at 32:31 for the 5K, ranking 142 overall.

Part of me is ready to go after that open water swim.

Part of me thinks maybe I should convert to duathlons.

But I need to suppress both thoughts at the moment.

Instead, I am basking in the fact that I finished my triathlon. Robin Adams, of WIVB fame who completed her first marathon last month, told me that if doing endurance events was easy, everyone would do it. (Actually, that's her husband's line, but I'm giving her the credit.)

I finished the race in 2:06.12.

But more importantly, I finished the race.

And there will be more in future.

After I celebrate this one.

Post race report

I am home. I didn't drown nor suffer hypothermia in the water or heat stroke on the run.

I finished the triathlon. I enjoyed the day. I had fun. And I had the biggest cheering section there -- 12 friends and family members were in attendance to cheer me on.

My swim was a struggle, spent mostly doing the backstroke and breaststroke. But I got to shore (with a big shout out to the lifeguard Ashley on the surfboard who made it her personal mission to get me in) got into transition and took off on the bike.

Frankly, it felt like I was only on the bike for about 10 minutes it went so fast. I picked people off on the bike, flew into transition and went out on the 5K run.

It was hot and many, many runners were struggling and walking. I didn't want to walk. I was determined not to walk. I kept a slow but steady and strong pace. For the love of God, I wondered where my turnaround was, but it came soon enough.

Fellow participants would encourage each other. "Good job 442!" "Keep it going 521!"

The finish line was the best sight of the day.

Apparently, I also came in at the same time as the woman who was winning the Intermediate distance race. She collapsed as she crossed the finish line. I grabbed a water, saw my brother beside the fence and gave him a big hug.

How do I feel? I'm tired. My legs are a bit sore. I'm a little dehydrated and I couldn't even finish my blueberry pancakes after the race.

But I'm happy. I'm proud. I'm a finisher.

More specifics and race results to come.

Game time!

Welcome to T-Day ... Triathlon Day. My very first one at Keuka Lake.

Getting here was a journey that involved an incredible amount of self reflection and individual effort.

But I certainly did not arrive to the start line by myself. What follows is an incomplete list, in no particular order, of people whom I'd like to thank:

Steve Jones, my sports editor, who believed in the whole "Journey to the Finish Line" project from the moment I suggested it in passing. He, and the rest of my colleagues at The Buffalo News, have been incredibly supportive. Of course, Steve's main concerns, in a true journalism compassion, is that I didn't drown while doing this project and that we got good photos to run with my stories.

My parents, who listened to my training stories and encouraged me even on days when I thought I would never learn to swim.

Sherpa, my boyfriend who calls me out when I'm being a headcase, drives me around from event to event and makes sure I drink enough water.

My brother, who will play along with the "What time is it? Game time!" gag while reminding that nothing, and I mean nothing, is harder than math. So this triathlon thing will be a piece of cake. Mmm. Cake.

My sister-in-law, who inspired me with her own weight loss story. I also owe her a ton for serving as Julie-the-cruise-director for this weekend's festivities.

The Women's Quest staff, especially founder Colleen Cannon and Jacqueline Stanford, who shared their life stories and prompted me to think about what I wanted to do with my one wild and precious life.

My Women's Quest Sisters, who supported and encouraged me. Special thanks to the kind words from Margy, Michele, Carolyn and Pat.

Darlene. You can make good friends at the gym and she's an example. Darlene got me through those winter workouts indoors and became a true confidant in the process.

Mary Eggers, my coach who dealt with the big bag of stuff I brought to training. She kept me on track, kept me from going nutty and helped me realize just how much I could accomplish if I stopped thinking and started being.

The Train-This! Team, who answered my email questions and shared their sense of humor.

The Buffalo Triathlon Club, which welcomes newbies with open arms and endures all sorts of basic questions. Special thanks to Joe, Paula, Mark, Eric and Sergio for their encouragement.

Swimmaster Greg Murnock, who patiently watched my stroke, watched me wiggle around the pool and gently corrected what I was doing wrong. "Hey, I can do that," I would say to Greg when he'd give us a workout. "Yes you can," he would tell me.

Jenny, whom I met recently through Train-This, Coach Mary and master's swim practice. The contents of our individual bags of stuff are very similar, which makes it easy for us to talk about training. She also helped me learn how to properly use some of the gears on my bike in one simple ride.

Margot Page, for the hockey bag that was on its way to the dumpster. It has served me well as my training bag.

Debbie Sullivan, who graciously helped me learn to swim and taught me how to properly wear my goggles and swim cap.

My local college contacts. The people I cover on a regular basis have been incredibly supportive particularly the Big 4 women's basketball coaches, Brian in sports info at UB (who worked really hard to get a mention in one of my blogs) and the Canisius sports info team who always had a comment or question about my training.

You, the blog reader. I have received many posts and emails from people who have competed in triathlons or marathons and offered encouragement. I am touched by the many stories people have shared with me, from their first endurance event to those who have been inspired by my journey to start their own. I am incredibly humbled by those emails and am grateful for those who have shared them with me. 

T-minus 24 hours to Triathlon Day

I'm doing what tomorrow?

Competing in a triathlon?

Yeah, when exactly did I think that was a good idea?

I thought that Friday was my official flip out day, but it might be today, the infamous day before my first triathlon.

I'm nervous. I'm excited. I'm ready to go. I need more practice.

I am a walking contradiction today. Godspeed to Sherpa and anyone else who has to deal with me.

Today will be the drive to Keuka Lake. There's a possibility of a dip in the lake in my wetsuit for another chance to get a feel for the open water swim. More importantly, Sherpa and I will drive the bike course, which I'm told is littered with pot holes and badly kept pavement, so that I can check out the bad patches and get a mental picture of what this hill exactly looks like.

There's a free clinic for beginners at Keuka College -- half an hour to show you how to set up your transition area and half an hour to give you a crash course on the course. I am all over attending that.

Otherwise, my orders are to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and stay out of the sun. Oh, and think of positive mantras.

Coach Mary sent out an email to all her athletes racing this weekend -- and a whole bunch of her team is out at three different races -- listing key words she thinks about with each athlete.

For me, she wrote "fearless."

I don't know that I am fearless, if I need to approach the race in a fearless manner or if fearless is something I've become over the course of six months of training.

I do know that fearless will be one of my key words as I do my breaststroke-doggy-paddle combo on the swim. So will focus. Strong. Chocolate milk.

The race is supposed to be the fun part. Sergio, a member of the Buffalo Triathlon Club, reminded me to smile.

The nerves and the panic all melt away when you smile.

Wizard-free Corporate Challenge

The instructions were clear.

When Coach Mary told me I could run the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge last night she had strict guidelines:

"You are not to see the wizard," she said. "If you see the wizard, you're dead. I will kill you."

Message received.

With my triathlon on Sunday, this week of workouts was a taper week. Nothing was particularly hard. Everything was easy and I was encouraged to reduce intensity, shorten duration or skip a workout if I felt tired or sore.

Nothing I did this week could make me better for the weekend. The only thing I could do was hurt myself, and I definitely needed to avoid that.

Still, I had never run the Corporate Challenge and wanted to be a part of the festivities. So I joined The Buffalo News team with the goal of merely enjoying the event, running light and feeling good.

I took off to go do my 10 minute warm up ("Warm up?" my colleague Dennis said. "The walk over to the start line is the warm up.") then lined where I honestly thought I belonged. The uber-fast, competitive runners began at the front of the pack while the rest of the race start was divided with banners donning mile pace. The non-competitive walk started in the back.

I positioned myself at the 10-minute mile pace because that's the slow pace I was hoping to trot in the heavy, humid evening air.

The gun went off and we moved up, bit by bit. With 12,000 participants, it was a huge race and I knew that it would take some getting to the start line.

I crossed under the blue banner and started my watch, confident that the rest of the pack would start running.

But it didn't.

Seems that that "non-competitive walkers start" was a myth. Teams of people who were walking the 3.5 miles lined up wherever they pleased.

Now let me preface this by saying I am a full supporter of people who walk. Anyone who does any type of physical activity, I'm there to cheer you on. Exercise of any kind counts and I will gladly go walking with anyone who needs a friend for conversation and motivation.

But during the Corporate Challenge the walkers ... well ... annoyed me. Because it meant dodging people, hopping curbs and trying to find a fee lane to run in. Heck, I couldn't get my easy pace going let alone a slightly amped up version for the race.

By the first mile, the field opened up and it was easier to find running room.

My pace felt good. In fact, the hardest part was holding back. When I saw the mile markers and wanted to pick it up for a bit, push through the fatigue of running, I had to scale back instead.

Save it for Sunday, I told myself.

The hardest part was the final half mile, when, with the finish in sight, I wanted to really pick it up and sprint through the end. But I surely would have seen the wizard if I did that, so I kept a steady pace.

The clock time said just after 42 minutes, but my watch time, what I really ran, was 36:32.

Yes, it took almost six minutes for me to get to the start line.

And the wall of walkers that first mile probably held up my time just a bit.

But in the end, I was pretty darn pleased. I kept it light and easy. I felt great afterward, albeit a bit bloaty from the humidity. And I still was happy with my time.

Afterward back at the tent with my coworkers, we shared stories of our runs. A few people dropped by to ask about my tri on Sunday and wish me luck.

Frankly, there was no better way to end my training for the tri than with the camaraderie of the Corporate Challenge.

And a wizard-free zone.

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