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Reloading during recovery

The other day I got a text message from my brother. He was rather excited. He had run a pretty good distance on the treadmill in 30 minutes with minimal walk breaks and at a pretty decent average pace.

And while his life as a sportswriter in Binghamton means that our schedules rarely cross, we're going to try and find a 5K to run together in the fall. The thought of that will make today's 30-minute easy-pace run a lot more fun.

Recovery week is a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. While my training workout load is low and the intensity is light I feel like I'm getting back to normal. I feel more balanced. I feel like I've absorbed the lessons, both physical and emotional, of my first two races of the season. And I've remembered just why it is that I love the invention of liquid bandages.

I've ordered new goggles and new running shoes. I've got my training nutrition en route so I can see how much gel and gu I can stomach on a long bike ride. That's one of the lessons I learned during the marathon when the taste of my Shot Blocks got old and hence I started to not take in my nutrition at regular intervals. There's a possibility I could have avoided some of those leg cramps if I was better at taking in electrolytes throughout the course.

Lesson learned.

Practice begins.

And the training for Muskoka 70.3 will soon begin in earnest.

Sunday will be my first major bike ride of the season -- a 70-mile jaunt with my coach and teammates from Train This!

Then next week I head to Lake Placid with the gang for training camp on the area's Ironman Course.

And then the races begin. My next one will be Tri in the Buff where I'll tackle my first Intermediate distance triathlon.

The enjoyment of recovery is almost complete.

I'll enjoy my last moments of it. Luxuriate in it.

Then, it's time to get back to work.

Among friends

My googles broke.

I went to put them on for an easy 30 minute swim and SNAP.

My spare pair? At home.

Not helpful. I know.

But thankfully I was sharing a lane with my friend Sue who, though she's training for her first triathlon, the Summer Sizzler, graciously let me use her goggles to get my workout in. She switched to aquajogging for the morning, a way to recover from a tough track workout she completed before getting to the pool.

Yes, it's to have friends who are as nutty as you are.

It's not a new topic for me -- espousing the virtues of new friendships I've made through running and triathlon.

But it's something I never get tired of noticing.

Take this weekend at Keuka for instance.

Driving to the Finger Lakes on Saturday was the first time I had gone to a major race by myself. I was flying solo this weekend. My parents were coming on race day -- I think they've only missed one race I did and that was because it was a 5K in a snow storm -- but I would be lugging my gear and ushering myself around the entire weekend. No one was around to pick up Sherpa duties, which include carrying my stuff, helping me set up and telling me that I'm great and wonderful as I freak out about the open water swim and the possibility that my wetsuit will no longer fit me.

I arrived at Keuka College, parked my car and started to walk around. Within five minutes I ran into Rich Clark of Score-This!!!

And I felt at home. Despite rooming by myself. Despite having no one there as my Sherpa.

I was back where my triathlon story began. And while I was by myself, I wasn't alone. Not by a long shot.

Last year, as a rookie, I found everyone in this sport friendly and welcoming.

My sophomore season I'm realizing that those friendships are rather lasting. I ended up having dinner with friends and making a new one. In fact, Denise, my new friend, had an idea that could be highly marketable. On race day, triathletes are body marked with their race numbers and ages. Usually when racing, you stare at the back of the legs of people in front of you to catch their age. This determines if they're in the same age group as you are which then determines how fast you work to pass them.

Denise mused that maybe in addition to age there could be an indication as to whether some was single. A kind of in-race match-making service for triathletes.

Somewhere, somehow, that's got to be a money maker.

At nearly every turn on the course I found someone I knew. And it was one of the best feelings -- most gratifying feelings of doing this sport. That feeling of being among friends.

This Saturday morning I'll have the chance to repay some of that kindness. A friend, Jen, is running her first "goal" race -- The Race for the Cure 5K at Delaware Park. I plan to be on the course looking for her to cheer her through the race she's been training months for.

It's part pay it forward, part pay it back.

Because even if you've never met, at these events, you are always among friends.

Recovery week begins

Officially, it's recovery time.

Granted, I have technically been in recovery since running my first marathon on May 24, but to come full circle in my first year as an endurance athlete, I added the Keuka Lake sprint triathlon right in the middle of what should still have been my recovery phase.

So a marathon and a PR definitely equals a proper recovery week as I prepare for my next task: my first intermediate distance triathlon at Tri in the Buff in July.

So enter some proper recovery.

Which begins with good sleep.

Rest is something we never brag about. Few people say, "I got a great eight hours of sleep last night!" Instead, we like to say how much we do on how little sleep we get. I am as guilty of this as anyone. For years my motto was "Sleep is for the weak." Unfortunately, sleep can make you weak. Your body needs rest to recovery, repair and absorb everything that happens to it in a day, in a week, in a training session, in life. And so this week in particular, I'm paying special attention to make sure I'm getting enough sleep.

Recovery continues with good nutrition. This starts with hydration and making sure I'm drinking enough water so that my body can repair itself. It also means making sure I'm not completely going on a food binge. Post-marathon I allowed myself treats almost every day -- in part for celebration of the marathon, part reward and part just because it was my birthday week celebration.

I still had treats after my PR at Keuka -- some nice white wine with friends and a bowl of ice cream. And while I cut very little completely out of my diet, moderation, as always, is the key. It's not the ice cream cone that does damage -- it's the half gallon of chocolate chip in one sitting. But if my body is going to recovery and get ready for longer distances, it needs to be properly fed.

My workouts this week are light but consistent. The idea is to move moderately -- a 30 minute swim here, a 45 minute bike there, a 30 minute easy run again there. Nothing is too intense and nothing is very structured. There are no intervals or specific workouts. Just swim, bike and run with low intensity. It's about maintaining my fitness and keeping my body moving as it absorbs all that has happened in the past two weeks.

And as my body absorbs the past two weeks, so too does my mind. My race report is filed, but the lessons learned, both for future races and those life lessons, continue to surface during this week of recovery.

It's more than just a recovery week. It's a reflection week.

It's time to enjoy recent accomplishments, celebrate and prepare for what's to come.

Race report: Keuka Lake Triathlon

There was only one reason why I wanted to do the sprint triathlon at Keuka Lake this year.

Because it was my anniversary.

This was the first triathlon I ever did: June 8, 2008. Trust me. That date is burned into my memory as much as my own birth date.

That triathlon I struggled through the swim, did most of it floating on my back and made friends with Ashley the lifeguard. But I finished and felt great.

The mentality was to return to Keuka to conquer the swim and to come full circle even though it was only two weeks after the Buffalo Marathon.

And frankly my workouts hadn't been going so well since the marathon. My first run felt like I was repeatedly punched in the gut and on Saturday, the day before the race, I fell while taking a short five-minute run. Yup, caught an edge of uneven sidewalk and went down, scrapping up my hand and slightly spraining my thumb.

This was not a good omen.

I had been dreading this race during recovery. There wasn't a chance to get into open water in my wetsuit and while I had irrational fears that somehow the wetsuit would no longer fit, I also know that getting used to the freestyle stroke while in the suit takes some time. My bike training has been mostly indoors with only a few spins outside, mostly at easy paces. And the run, well, I wasn't even thinking about the run.

But what was I looking for from this race? What was my focus? What was my goal?

That's when I reread one of my favorite quotes:

The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.

I had the power to make this race a completely miserable experience by thinking of what I couldn't do, might not be able to do and, oh yeah, about how cold the water is.

But all that energy would do nothing but make me look for, and attract, the worst the day had to offer.

How could I frame it instead? It was a training day. Just a day to have fun with my friends. Kind of like camp.

By no means am I diminishing the fact that this was a "race." I wanted to go fast. I wanted to beat my time from last year. I wanted those who were in contention for the podium to have great races. But I also wanted to see what would happen if I approached it in a playful way.

I put this attitude into practice at the swim start. While standing around waiting for your group to begin the race, everyone chats and inevitably women who are doing one of their first races will talk about how afraid they are. Sharing is good. We have all been in that spot and it's comforting to know that others have, too.

But not five minutes before the race starts.

I don't want to know how scared someone else is. I want to be focused and happy and having fun.

Instead of ignoring the words of fear around me I decided to be vocal about my fun attitude.

"It's just a big group swim," I said. "It's a big group workout day. It will be a great workout. It's just a fun day."

"This is fun?" someone asked.

Another women responded, "If it's not fun, why are you doing it?"

Big group swim. Here we go.

And I struggled. The water was 61 degrees and cold. Even though I had splashed around in the water during swim warm ups, it still was difficult to put my face in the water and keep my breath. I'm nervous enough at the start of the swim (even with the fun mentality) and add trying to get your breathing rhythm in cold water and, well, it was difficult.

Twice I stopped on the way to the first buoy and rested at a surfboard.

I had to calm my breathing down. I took a few strokes the got around the first buoy. I could hear the lifeguard on the surfboard tell the next kayak to keep an eye on me.

But now, I was fine.

I had space in the water to myself. The lake was calm and I was now accustomed to the cold. I was stead and confident. I pulled up once to site the second buoy which was off in the distance. Once around that I had one more buoy. I kept swimming -- my pace wasn't all that fast but I was consistent. Only one more time did I pull up, on the last leg back to shore when another woman started swimming into me and I chose to avoid the collision. But I went back to swimming right after that.

I got out of the water and looked at my watch: 22 minutes.

Last year it took me 40 minutes to cover the 750 meter swim. Granted, that was because I was backstroking and full of fear and uncertainty. This year, I kept telling myself that indeed I can swim. That I was now a swimmer.

Last year, I was officially the last swimmer out of the water. This time, I was getting out of the water with other people.

And indeed, I was having fun.

Off to the bike, my favorite of the three, and I took it hard. Probably a bit too hard, but I was having too much fun, adjusting my gears for the climbs of Route 54A (and yes, these climbs are relative, but they are climbs). I couldn't count how many people I passed. I think I smiled the entire time on the 13.8-mile bike course. I did the route in 45:55, averaging 18.3 miles per hour. My bike time was ninth out of the 25 women in my age group. My transition times ranked in the top 10, too.

Then came the run.

And this 5K was tough. I left too much on the bike and felt it on the run. It hit me early on that I haven't done any brick workouts yet this year -- ones where you run then bike then run to get your legs used to the unusual feeling of going from one motion to the other. So my legs felt a bit like jello. And some of those people I zipped by on the bike were passing me on the run, which to me felt like a slow jog.

That's, OK, I thought. This isn't unexpected. The marathon took a lot out of my legs and at this point in the race they were feeling it.

At the turnaround for the 5K there was a water stop, I walked the turnaround then started jogging. Only a mile and half left and I was done.

For the record, I did pass a few people on the run, including one woman in my age group (you can tell because your age and race distance is temporarily marked on your right and left calf for the race).

Across the finish line and my watch read the magic numbers: 1:42.57.

During the race, I thought I could do 1:45. Last year I did 2:06.12.

This was way better.

Even my run, which felt slow and labored, was better. My 5K last year was 32:34 (10:25 pace). This year, despite feeling like it was bad, I ran 30:39 (9:53 pace).

Last year, I was last in my age group. This year I was 16 out 25.

My fun experiment? Well, that worked just fine. Yes, it's easy to have fun when you're doing well, but I even had fun on that run where the fact that I improved from last year wasn't even on my radar screen. I figured my overall time improvement was based solely on my improved swim.

But I improved all around.

Most importantly, by keeping my thoughts on fun, I actually had fun.

The shift from marathon season to triathlon season has begun.

Now, it's time to start gearing up for longer distances.

The training for the half Ironman -- Muskoka 70.3 -- has officially begun.

Race Report: Corporate Challenge

For a week I pestered my friend Taylor. Emails, Facebook, text messages, phone calls -- all to confirm that we would run the Corporate Challenge together.

This was my second year running the 3.5-mile J.P. Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge for The Buffalo News team and once again it fell four days before the Keuka Lake Triathlon. Still in marathon recovery mode, this was mandated as an easy-paced run. When I saw that Taylor was running, I knew I wanted to run with her. Yes, in part because she was slow and that would force me to keep my pace, but also because I knew I would have fun with her and wanted to help her get a better time than last year.

We started off with a jog but as usually happens at the beginning of a race -- particularly a big race -- we went out a bit too fast. Not damaging fast mind you, but the kind that you have to ride out with the crowd and your own fresh legs.

Taylor was doing great. Last year, her first race, she took multiple walk breaks. This year, she's been running for fun at the gym, mostly intervals on the treadmill. I wanted to help her run as much of the course as possible.

And when we got to the first mile marker I gleefully pointed it out to Taylor.

"You just ran an entire mile without stopping!"

Our mistake, which wasn't horrible, was taking water at the first opportunity but not walking through the stop.

As we continued on Delaware, Taylor kept warning that she would need a walk break soon. She looked pretty strong so I made a deal with her: We would walk around Gates Circle.

That was fine with her and so when we got to the turnaround, we pulled off to the side and walked. Taylor still looked really strong.

When we hit the first set of store fronts we picked up to a jog and promptly saw the Mile 2 marker.

She said she may have to walk one more time. I said that's fine. Let's walk the water stop ahead.

We did. Then picked it up to another jog.

While the route is flat there is an incline to the Delaware Avenue s-curves. I told Taylor to relax her shoulders, shake out her arms and take it easy. The Mile 3 marker was at the top of the incline. It was hard work, and while Taylor looked like she was working, she also looked strong. Her posture was good. Her form was good. And she didn't look pained.

We turned off Delaware and regained our stride.

Then the park was in sight.

"Where's the finish line?" Taylor asked.

"Right over there!" I pointed. "See the blue? We're almost there!" (I was practically skipping I was so excited for her.)

We turned the corner into the park and there was the clock and balloons and music.

Let's go.

We sprinted across the finish line.

I looked at the time.

Taylor ran nearly nine minutes faster than last year. And took only two walk breaks.

The run for me was just fine (more than fine actually. I did exactly as was called for in my training plan) but I was more excited for Taylor. So many times friends have helped me through races and training runs by pacing me, telling me stories to distract me and encouraging me. I was thrilled to have the chance to do that for Taylor and to have the opportunity to pay it forward.

As we walked through the finishers' chute, Taylor said that it sounded kind of crazy but for all the time you think you're going to die out there, once you cross the finish line you feel like it wasn't so bad.

That's not crazy at all.

That's what keeps us coming back. That finish line feeling is the same for fast people and for slow people. It's the feeling of accomplishment. It's the feeling of doing the best you can regardless of what your best reads on a clock.

Live chat Thursday 11 a.m.

Welcome to JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge Day. It's one day after National Running day and three days before the local triathlon season officially kicks off with the Keuka Lake Triathlon.

Want to talk about the recent Buffalo Marathon? Or the Corporate Challenge? Or triathlon season? Join me for a live chat at 11 a.m. If you can't stop by but have a comment or question, feel free to leave it in the comment section.

The first run back

Yesterday was my first run since the marathon.

It was just 30 minutes but with six sets of intervals -- one minute of sprinting with two minutes of recovery.

The legs felt fine.

But I felt like I had been punched in the gut.

This 30-minute run was a lot harder than I thought it should be. Which has me slightly concerned for Sunday's Keuka Lake Triathlon. Ah, but not to worry, my coach tells me. Everyone comes to realize the marathon takes more out of you than expected both mentally and physically. Sunday's race is about relaxing and enjoying the switch into triathlon season. It's about swimming instead of floating on my back. It's about knowing that any difficulties I may encounter are because I just ran a marathon, not because I don't believe I can do the distance or the events.

And while I know that my experiences mirror the ones of many people, there also is an intensly personal and individual component of running and racing. The idea was brought out well in a New York Times article which detailed how well-meaning advice can be bad advice. It comes down to the simplistic yet accurate "what works for me won't necessarily work for you" adage.

One of the things that does work for me is adding some more yoga into my routine. Just some simple, basic poses and a few sun salutations to help with my flexibility and with my mind. In fact Yoga Journal has some specific poses for summer sports that can be helpful before and after swimming, running and biking. 

And tune in Thursday morning at 11 a.m. for a live chat on Journey to the Finish Line to discuss the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge along with the marathon, running and triathlon.

Entering phase two

The water temperature of Keuka Lake is 56 degrees.

Quite frankly, I am not amused.

I will be doing the sprint distance triathlon at Keuka Lake on Sunday as I transition from my marathon training into my Half Ironman training.

But I probably should have planned this transition a bit better. Because I'm not exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of swimming in cold water -- especially when I haven't even been in my wetsuit or open water this year.

The reasoning for picking Keuka Lake to do this year was because at this time last year, that was the be-all-end-all of my training existence. It was my first triathlon. And I wanted to return to the site of my first tri, where I was the last swimmer out of the water because I floated on my back and made good friends with lifeguard.

This year, I wanted to swim the swim. Not so much for a great time but to return to that first site and actually swim the 750 meter course.

And here's the thing.

Even with my dread and that small knot in the pit of my stomach, I know I can do it.

I know I can breaststroke and freestyle my way through the 750 meters. The challenge will be the cold water temps and avoiding that "ice cream headache" and having the chilly water take my breath away when I dunk my face in it. Yes, my swim time will likely not be great because of that.

But I'm also looking for improved quality.

And while it might take some time for me to adjust to swimming in my wetsuit, which I haven't done since September, and the cold water, I'm pretty sure at worst I can alternate between breaststroke and freestyle to muddle through the swim. Which, regardless of time, will be better than last year's swim.

Sometimes, it really is just about getting through it. And re-focusing what really is important in any particular moment.

And if I need a bit of inspiration, I can turn to the story of Sister Madona Buder, a 78-year old nun in Washington State who has taken to competing in triathlons -- including 40 Ironman distance races. She didn't begin anything athletic until the age of 47 when a priest suggested she try running for spiritual enrichment. 

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