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Goucher and the Garmin

On my way to my Saturday morning run, I turned on my Garmin only to discover ... the batteries were low.

Uh-oh.

It wasn't so much that I was going to run without all the bells whistles this electronic devices provides -- the milage and pace and GPS map of my route and heart rate and time -- but that I would have to do a 90 minute run no real way to check my time.

So I turned around, ran back in my apartment and grabbed my heart rate monitor watch and accompanying strap. This was all I really needed anyway. My workout called for 60 minutes of one heart rate zone and 30 minutes at another.

I didn't really need pace and mileage.

And so, I set out on my first real long run in quite some time.

Ok, actually, it took a bit of time for me to get started as I pulled into Delaware Park as my friends Karyn and Jess had just completed their run. We caught up walking three quarters of a loop until I decided that I really needed to get my run started.

Off I trotted with my high cadence, small steps. I checked my heart rate zone. All seemed good.

Until.

Well. The heart rate monitor just wasn't feeling it apparently.

It would soar up into the 180s then dip into the 50s. For periods of time it would settle in to match my perceived exertion level and I thought all was fine. Until I checked it again and it was flashing "00." While running can be strenuous I am pretty sure I had a pulse at that point.

I played with strap but pretty much just let it go.

I knew that for an hour I needed to run an easy pace and for the final 30 minutes I needed to pick up my effort.

\ I thought about my form -- how were my feet striking the ground? I relaxed my shoulder and shook out my arms from time to time. I took a few pronounced inhales as I looked at the beautiful blue sky and noted the quick turnover of the PAL basketball championships taking place at the same time.

And I thought a bit about Kara Goucher.Kara_goucher_finishes_third_place_in_first_maratho

She has been dubbed America's greatest hope in the marathon and Goucher will be vying for a world championship title today in Berlin.

Goucher just started racing the marathon in the past year, taking third in her first ever marathon -- the 2008 New York City race in November then placing third again at Boston this past April.

Her success, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, is to take all those scientific training methods and throw them out the window.

Goucher runs twice a day during her marathon training but, according to the article, doesn't base her runs on mileage or time, choosing instead to run as hard as she can for as long as she can. It's a relatively recent approach to distance running in the U.S. but a formula (or, perhaps more a non-formula) that has worked for African-based runners who have dominated marathons over the last decade.

"It's not that Americans can't win," Goucher tells the Wall Street Journal. "It's just we get obsessed with time."

I thought about Goucher and the simplicity of just running. So all my gizmos went kerplunk on me. I just ran instead. Granted, I had a plan -- both for duration and exertion -- but I did it by just running, not based solely on the numbers.

Different approaches work for different people. Yes, I would love to be able to shut my mind down but I'm not wired that way. Thinking, believe it or not, is actually fun for me. Today on my long, hilly bike ride, I will enjoy the climbs in large part because I'll be practicing skills. I'll be remembering what my friends Howard and Jax told me about pedaling when I took a cycling tour in Italy through Women's Quest. Sure, I will take them as they come -- no need to worry about what climb may or may not be around the corner -- but I will enjoy trying to climb them while thinking of the technical lessons, the tries and misses, while smiling, laughing, grunting and cursing.

See, for me, learning and trying to implement the technique is enjoyable, regardless of whether I actually master the skill.

Because even though I turned off all the numbers (with the exception my duration) and just ran like Goucher on Saturday (metaphorically speaking that is), I didn't turn off my mind. I thought about my foot strike and my cadence and my posture. Not the entire time. But from time to time. As a check in. As a way to see how I'm doing on the learning curve. And with every check-in, whether I had it right or had to adjust, I smiled.

It's not about getting it right or doing it perfectly.

It's about getting a little bit better.

It's about facing a new challenge.

And there's nothing that says you can't run hard and smart at the same time. Or that hard, smart and fun are mutually exclusive.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz for updates on today's long, hilly ride.

Plan of attack for the hills

There is a game plan for what I'm going to think.

Oh, it can be quite amazing what passes through my mind during training. For some, long training runs can be great for clearing out the mental cobwebs, for putting you in your own space, for letting ideas flow freely through your mind.

Or, if you're me, it can be a time for random thoughts and bizarre metaphors as an entire soap opera, complete with non-linear transitions, will play out in my mind. 

Yeah. No wonder I need to rest on kayaks from time to time. I'm mentally exhausting myself.

However I will challenge this mental mishmash on Sunday when a friend and I tackle a group ride in the Southern Tier. It's long and it's hilly.

Did I mention long?

Did I mention hilly? Hilly might be an understatement. There's over 3,000 feet of climbing. A really good cyclist we knew made a comment about the route, saying it was "really challenging" because the hills were "pretty steep."

When a pretty darn good cyclists thinks a route is challenging, well, let's just say it induced some fear. 

And cue the pointless mental chatter.

But the goal for Sunday is to find an approach to those hills, both the long and steady and short and steep variety.

My friend, whom is graciously helping through this part of my Muskoka training, said his approach is simple.

"I think pedal, pedal, pedal," he said. "Like when I swim, I think stroke, stroke, breathe."

That zen-type of thinking is something I could aspire too. But training has taught me some valuable things about myself. And completely shutting down my mind to simplify isn't a strategy that works particularly well for me.

I need mental distractions. I need a plan to keep mind focused instead of wandering off into dissecting past relationships or trying to convert miles to kilometers while suffering up a climb.

So I have a two-part approach. We begin with the mantra "harmonious."

Harmonious hills are part of my running philosophy (thanks to my running guru Sue) and I'm adapting that to the bike. The idea is not to fight hill but to take the hill as it comes and be in harmony with it. Angry rider doesn't work for me. But court jester does. So I sing, "la-la-la-la here comes a hill" or something to that affect.

Harmonious singing will relax and calm me.

Now, I can focus and direct my over-active brain to think about topics which will actually be helpful on the climb instead having an internal debate over whether or not I will actually make it to the top of the hill.

I will think about what gear I'm in, how long I can push the gear a bit harder until I have to drop down to an easier gear. I will think about my pedal stroke. Am I making circles? Is my foot flat? Am I using the entire pedal stroke? How is my posture? Are my shoulder back and relaxed? Can I go a bit further before I want to stand? Do I even need to stand?

Yes, I realize, that's a lot to think about it.

But it's productive chatter.

It's concentrating on what I can control. I have no control over the grade of the hill or its length or the condition of the road.

But I can control my form. I can control my thoughts. And if I direct them to making the climb harmonious and about executing and learning a skill, then there is no judgement -- only opportunity. I could have the opportunity to gain confidence after easing up a hill. I could have the opportunity to learn through trial and error should I falter on the climb.

In all likelihood there are many more opportunities that will present themselves to me on those climbs.

And I'll be in a much better position to see them if I'm not creating useless dialogue in my head.

To create purposeful chatter, I'll review a few climbing tips, including an excellent primer on cycling performance tips is available here.

Meanwhile, there's nothing like getting some video tips from Lance Armstrong's personal coach, Chris Carmichael:

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz and see if the harmonious approach works.

The definition of a woman

For my morning run, I wore a skirt.

Didn't even think twice about it. I have several running skirts in my athletic wardrobe and truth be told, it's what I prefer to wear. I just feel comfortable in them and there's just enough vanity in my blood to also like the way they look.

It also clearly signifies me as a female runner. I'm not trying to glam myself up in a skirt and pigtails. But it's how I choose to define and express my identity as a woman and athlete.

And it got me thinking about Castor Semenya.Amd_berlin_caster-semenya

She is the 18-year-old from South Africa who won the 800 meter race at the Track and Field World Championships this week, but is in effect under investigation by the IAAF. The organizing body requested she be "gender tested" after an astonishing improvement in her results this year.

At first, the notion of gender testing just sounds plain degrading.

If you run fast, have muscles and don't look like a model you have to prove your a woman?

It just didn't seem right that someone had to justify their gender.

But the more I read about gender testing, the more I understand that it's nuanced, historical and involves a thousand shades of grey with no easy answers.

Perhaps the most enlightening discussion occurs over at the Science of Sport blog where the good doctors help explain the ins and outs of sex testing.

First, a take on the semantics. "Sex testing" is more accurate than "gender testing." Gender is a social construction -- it's how individuals and society identify male and female. Sex is a biological term, but as I learned the biology of male and female is crazy complicated.

It's not a simple matter of a chromosome test but a multi-discipline approach which includes using internal medicine specialists, gynecologists, psychologists, geneticists and endocrinologists. 

And it's not just simply determining one of two categories: male or female. There are plenty of secondary characteristics that a person can have which makes them develop masculine (or I am assuming feminine) physical characteristics. The determination, as I now understand it, is that should Semenya have any male secondary characteristics, she is not considered "entirely female" and therefore not qualified to enter competition as a female.

It makes me immediately feel for Semenya who perhaps has done nothing wrong and might still be ineligible to compete simply because of unusual genetics.

But then the point was made that should she be not "entirely female" it also a disservice to the other athletes in the field.

And that's something I really didn't think about.

Because it might not be fair to rest of the women in the field. If an athlete isn't completely honest, whether through purposeful illegal performance enhancement or naturally unusual genetics, it can taint their performance, hurt the integrity of the sport and place the other female competitors at a disadvantage.

Would this be any different than Lance Armstrong being somewhat of a genetic "freak" when it comes to things like lactate threshold and VO2 Max? I'm not sure.

I know that anyone who competes and loses to people who are given an edge that is not available to the general athletic population is not very sympathetic to their cause. They become frustrated and sometimes jaded, justifiably so.

And unfortunately, there have been a few "gender cheating" scandals in track and field (see the Wikipedia entry for a good listing of major incidents). While not many, it only takes a few to be terribly embarrassing to the sport and detrimental, perhaps, to the development of women's track and field.

There are too many "ifs" in the Semenya case at the moment to accurately discuss her situation.

Part of gender testing includes a psychological component in part to see if the person identifies mentally and emotionally with what a genetic and physical exam claims them to be.

And that gets me thinking more universally about how we chose to define ourselves and the standards of definitions we're held to.

What does it mean to be a female athlete?

Do I have to look a certain way? Act a certain way? Perform a certain way?

Am I more of a girl if I run in skirt?

Does it matter?

--- Amy Moritz
For more links, news and training fun, follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Joy, graciousness and controversy at IAAF Games

It was one of the best celebrations yet at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Berlin.

Oh sure, the dance moves of Usain Bolt are entertaining and from the heart.

But when Brigitte Foster-Hylton won the 100 meter hurdles on Wednesday it was pure joy. It was the kind of joy you have as a teenager. In fact, she and her Jamaican teammate jumped in celebration and reached that pitch the usually only giddy high school girls can reach.

This was happiness in bright yellow and green track garb.

Not hype or expectation for the 34-year old -- one of the oldest competitors in the field.

While Sanya Richards was facing questions about her ability to win a gold medal at age 24, Foster-Hylton, 10 years her senior, was ready to retire after failing to medal at the Beijing Olympics last year.

Her coach talked her out of it.

And in 12.51 seconds that elusive title became hers.

Foster-Hylton had won bronze in Helsinki in 2005 and silver in Paris in 2003.

At age 34 how does she do it?

"I have a great coach and I take care of my body," she said on Versus after the race.

To reporters, she gave much credit to her coach.

"I owe all this to my coach," she was quoted as saying in an AFP news story. "I was so down and disappointed after coming home from Beijing without a medal that I was ready to retire. My coach talked me out quitting and I must admit I owe all this to him, otherwise I would not be here now."

A good coach can take you far, but Foster-Hylton certainly has the experience and the dedication to her training to keep her at the elite level for a long period of time. Another case of perseverance paying off.

Meanwhile, Dawn Harper could not have been more gracious in defeat.

The American hurdler won the 100 event in Beijing but hit the second hurdle in the final and ended up seventh.

But in her TV interview immediately following the loss (which always is a platform for awkward moments) she was composed, smiling and gracious. And while she visibly was calming herself down at the finish line, just a few moments later she had the right words.

"I had no chance," Harper said about the race after hitting the second hurdle. "It comes with the territory. My coach stresses jumping clean and it happens. That's the thing with track and field. It comes and unfortunately it goes sometimes. It's on to the next meet."

Life lesson from Harper: It's best to have a short memory.

Meanwhile, the 800 meter women's final was won in a blowout by 18-year old South African Caster Semenya but not without controversy.

The IAAF had asked for gender testing on Semenya about three weeks ago as there was speculation about the massive improvements in her results along with the stereotypical concerns about a muscular woman with a deep voice.

Gender testing is a complicated notion, one that is meant to preserve the integrity of competition but one that also smacks of an insult that an athlete needs to "prove" herself genetically to be a woman.

It's a topic that sparks debate, and one that doesn't even elicit an easy opinion.

The results will be interesting but more interesting will be how the track and field world responds.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Sanya Richards has her day

She is only 24 but one of the most charismatic and impressive runners in American track and field.

And she was in danger of falling into that dubious honor of "best to have never won gold."

Sayna Richards has dominated the 400-meter event for the past several years but on the big stages -- the World Championships and the 2008 Olympic Games -- she faltered. 

Tuesday, Richards finally won her gold medal -- winning the 400 in Berlin in 49 seconds.

"It hasn't been that many times that I've failed as the favorite," Richards said in a post-race interview you can watch here.

Since 2005, she has ended each season ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400. She has won titles on mostly-European track circuit. But when it comes to the big-named races, she stumbled. She ended up a disappointing third in Beijing after fading in the home stretch and also lost at the world championships in 2005 and 2007.

"To cross the finish line at not just a regular meet but at the world championships just sent a chill through my whole body," she said.

She was happy but composed in front of reporters. In private though, she was in full celebration mode.

On her Twitter page, Richards posted: "OMG...it's for real!!! I'm a WORLD CHAMPION!!! Yaaaay! I'm on cloud 9. I could never respond to everyone but thanks a MILLION! love u all."

And she linked to her video blog where she and her family members hit the Soul Train line (which really is worth the watch).

It made me excited to watch Richards win and celebrate.

And, just as I took in lessons from last place the day before, take in lessons from first place.

And the lesson of perseverance and perspective. 

So often we define success narrowly. It is only first place, the championship or the gold medal that counts. Not only that -- but the first place or championship has to come at specific events on specific stages.

If you only deem yourself successful for your performance on one day, you're setting yourself up for future failure, disappointment and unhappiness.

It would make sense if Richards struggled at times to make peace with her performance on world championship and Olympic stages. But her post-race comments Tuesday suggest she understands those were only a handful of performances in a body of work, in an entire career that already was impressive and one that can have six or seven more years.

Is it unfair to say she is finally a world champion?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Elite athletes play into those expectations in part because they have those expectations for themselves. It's what makes them, in part, elite athletes to begin with.

But many times we've seen elite athlete fail to meet the expectations of the public, the media and most importantly, themselves.

One day does not define who you are.

Life is a collective work.

And while Richards finally had her day, it's just one part of amazing fabric of her athletic life.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz.

Lessons from last place at the World Championships

During coverage of the IAAF World Championships Monday night, the announcers discussed American runner Maggie Vessey.


The 27-year old placed fourth at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in June, running the 800 meter race in 2:01.19.

In order to officially be part of the American squad at the world championships in Berlin, she had to hit the qualifying standard time for the event -- 2:00.00 -- in a race sometime between the June U.S. Championships and this week's meet in Berlin.

She did that and more at a meet in Monaco in July where she set a personal best  in the 800 -- 1:57.84.

The commentators mentioned that she ran that Monaco raced relaxed. Vessey, they said, wasn't concerned about the time, just staying with the leaders. That attitude pulled her through not only to hit the qualifying time but to post a pretty significant personal best.

That should have set her up for a great run in Berlin in the 800 meter semifinals on Monday, right?

But she faltered.

She quickly fell behind in the race and lost contact with the pack.

"She has the ability to run fast," one of the commentators said. "She just has to allow herself to do it."

Vessey finished seventh in her semifinal with a time of 2:03.55. She was the last runner to finish as the defending Olympic Champion, Pamela Jelimo of Kenya, DNFed with an injury.

Vessey ran nearly six seconds slower than she did a few weeks ago.

From personal best to dead last.

On one day, anything can happen.

There were no post-race interviews in the nightly coverage, but I wonder what was going through her mind in the race and leading up to that race.

For me, it offered some pretty clear evidence that you can become what you think about.

Think you're not fast?

You never will be.

Where we put our focus, where we pay the most attention, is where our energy goes.

In the last few weeks, I've been working on my run. With addition of some hill bounding workouts (revisit my bounding post here) the emphasis on all my runs has been heart rate zones and cadence. The goal is to stay in a particular heart rate zone while running a cadence of 90 or greater. This means, for practical purposes, every so often I count how many times my right foot strikes the ground. I do this for 30 seconds. If hit 45, then I'm at a 90 cadence. The trick is to have a high cadence, a high turnover, and stay in my heart rate zone. To do this, I take shorter steps.

Frankly, I look like I'm running a bit funny.

But I got over the "funny run" rather quickly.

Because I notice that I'm running right in my easy zone pace every single time, without even worrying about it. I notice that the more I run like this, the better my form becomes. My cadence is right up there and has gotten a bit higher at times. 

Most importantly, I'm running easy. That gives me confidence.

And here's the thing about preparing for that half Ironman next month -- I can swim, bike and run and do it at a consistent pace. I am strong and smooth (and I've created songs to sing to myself on the run that reinforce the notion that I'm strong and smooth). I am a swimmer. I am a cyclist. I am a runner.

It doesn't matter if I fit those definitions for anyone else.

Only I have to believe it.

I have the ability.

I just have to allow myself to do it.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line daily on Twitter at www.twitter/amymoritz

Event report: Carly's Crossing

During the pre-swim announcements, the phrase came out -- "leisurely swim."

"See," my friend Jen said as she looked over to me. "It's just a leisurely swim."

In my head, I understood this but still I was a little nervous. Swimming a mile in open water is a long way and I had picked a bunch of really strong swimmers to undertake Carly's Crossing with.

I was wearing my new wetsuit for the first time.

And I wasn't feeling 100 percent, as the traveling bottle of Pepto-Bismol would suggest.

But as the morning wore on, I started to feel better, both physically and mentally.

The swimming began about half an hour late, which created some good-natured jokes among the triathlete set. And it helped reinforce to me that this was purely for fun -- a recreational, recovery day.

My friend Jen was doing double duty -- swimming the one-mile timed event and in our wave. An amazing swimmer, she finished her first wave in less than 30 minutes but more impressively, sprinted the boardwalk across Gallagher Beach to return to the start with the rest of our wave.

P8150083 Still a bit nervous, I took stock of the day. It was wonderful weather and very calm lake. The strong breeze made the current tricky to negotiate on the way back, but nothing that constituted any type of "waves." We were surrounded by swimmers of all ages, shapes and sizes and my plan was just to enjoy the swim. In fact, I took my watch off so that I would not be able to time myself, and hence judge myself.

Because an event like Carly's Crossing is not really a day to judge your time, technique or fitness level. It's a day to appreciate where you are at, that you have the ability to swim for a mile or 600 yards. That you are healthy enough to jump in the water and find enjoyment in movement.

As usual, when our wave went off -- which consisted of me and my two Jennifer friends along with Carly's Crossing founder Joe Zwierzchowski and his brother-in-law -- I walked and false started a bit. It takes me a few minutes to shut my mind down, put my head in and swim. But soon enough, I was gliding along the water.

Well, gliding through the weeds.

The first part of the swim is a tall and gangly weed patch with no opportunity to avoid it. I was in a slow, warm-up rhythm when my legs got tangled in the weeds. I had to stop for a moment.

"I'm stuck in the weeds!" I said. Jen (the one who swam the timed mile) was near me and waited for me. Our kayaker was by my side and I told him I really was stuck.

"It happens," he said. "They're pretty bad here but it gets better."

As Jen and I neared the first buoy we could see the rest of our group.

"I got stuck in the weeds!" I implored and put my head down and swam to them.

But ... we lost them. Joe was scheduled to swim with other waves and he needed to finish a bit faster than my pace (and yes, this did break the Carly's Crossing protocol slightly!) and he took the other Jennifer and his brother-in-law with him.

Jen stayed back with me. As I took my breaths to the left (which is the only side I can breath on) I could see her lazily backstroking here, breaststroking there, chatting with our kayak escort.

Part of me felt bad because I really was trying to swim at a decent, steady pace. And here was Jen, splashing around for a mile.

But every time I made that observation, she chastised me lovingly.

"I already did my timed swim," Jen said. "And you're doing great. Every time you're in the water you're getting better."

I flashed back to last year, the first time I did this event and the first time I swam a mile in open water. I smiled to myself. Because what is important to remember is that I can swim. I can swim a consistent pace and I have the endurance to get through a long distance. All of that I have developed in the span of a year.

Life is pretty good.

We approached a buoy to turn on the course. I pulled up to see where we were headed and jokingly asked if I would be disqualified if I cut the buoy (a big no-no in triathlon races). The guys in the wave behind me, whom had caught up to us by this point, played into the humor and urged me to cut the buoy. Then, they steadily pulled away in front of me.

On the return leg of the swim, the current and the wind drifted swimmers too far right. We were urged to keep the buoys on our left, in essence to swim inside the course, but even as I tried to aim for that, I drifted to the left. My strategy at this point was to keep the kayak on my left because this guy was good and he was going to direct me back to shore.

On this leg I thought about my stroke and my breathing and worked a bit harder. And it felt good.

The finish line was near and I was pretty happy with my swim. I climbed out of the water and was congratulated by volunteers and given a Carly's Crossing magnet. It was a thank-you gift for raising money and participating and a wonderful touch. But again, it made me smile -- instead of a bottle of water at the finish I was handed a refrigerator magnet.

It really is a wonderful blessing when the universe keeps throwing the proper perspective your way.

One my friends, who was on race roadie duties, met Jen and I at the finish. I felt good about my swim --P8150097  that I worked hard in some points and just enjoyed the water in others. Still I was curious about my time. He didn't want to tell me so first asked me what a good time would be.

An hour and 15 minutes, I said. That's the cutoff time for Muksoka next month for the 1.2 mile swim portion of the triathlon.

Oh, we crushed that Jen said.

So, they asked, what would be a really good time?

An hour, I said.

According to both their watches, I finished the swim in around 50 minutes. This with pulling up every so often to chat with Jen and getting caught in seaweed. And if you think I made the course short by cutting to the inside of buoy, I gently remind you that I drifted out enough on the return to make up for that.

It was another chance for the life lesson -- if you're having fun and enjoying yourself, the results will come. The outcome is not a goal. The outcome takes care of itself.

The new wetsuit felt good -- tight enough to be effective but flexible, too. And even though the water was warm, I didn't overheat in the full-sleeved suit.

After the swim and quick change of clothes my friends and I roamed the grounds. For small fees you could do everything from tackle a rock climbing wall decorate your own cookies while bands provided some pretty entertaining live music.

The emcee of the event announced swimmers as they finished and we watched the end of the one-mile course while parents of club swimmers set up shop with their folding chairs and snacks, ready for an afternoon of the 600 yard event.

Kara Lynn Joyce was signing autographs and posing for pictures before she was scheduled to take to the water. Joyce, who grew up in Rochester, has won four Olympic silver medals -- one of which she brought with her. And if you think I gave up the opportunity to hold an pose with an Olympic silver medal, you have me mistaken for a 1940s era-movie-style newspaper cynic. Because you have to be pretty jaded to not take that opportunity.

And when you participate in events like this, it's difficult to be jaded, or cynical or even wrapped up in your own accomplishments. Race days have an energy and a supportive environment that I love.

That energy and support shifts at a charity fundraising event. The best ones make you feel part of something bigger -- and that your contribution to the whole is important.

That's what I've found in two years of Carly's Crossing -- an amazing opportunity to mark my improvement in swimming, a chance to enjoy the water with friends and an environment that celebrates the simple acts of being and doing.

--- Amy Moritz
For more pictures from Carly's Crossing, training updates and news follow Journey to the Finish Line on Tiwtter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

When charity and fitness meet: Carly's Crossing Day

It was the Fall of 2005 when I bough my road bike. The purchase came at a local shop and although I would go about the process completely differently today, the shiny, silver Specialized machine continues to be one of my most prized possessions. (See Amy's Rule No. 1: Do not touch my bike or my computer without express written permission or status as my official "race roadie.")

Through trial and error I learned how to use the gears and through the folks at the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club, I was able to go on group routes to increase my knowledge, my fitness and my endurance.

My first athletic goal became the 2006 Ride for Roswell -- a cycling fundraising event for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. I trained for the 62-mile ride and completed it.

And truly, it kicked start not just my fitness routine but my desire to create an athletic identity for myself.

It also introduced me to the world of charity events. Knowing about the Ride for Roswell led me to hear about Carly's Crossing -- an open water fundraising event for Carly's Club which raises money for pediatric cancer research and the care of pediatric cancer patients and their families at Roswell Park. I first attended the event on assignment -- to cover an appearance by Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard. At that time, cycling was my only sport along with some fitness routines at the gym. I couldn't swim a length in the pool let alone a mile or 600 yards in open water.

Last year as my triathlon adventure began, I was invited to participate in Carly's Crossing. Still uncertain of my swimming ability in general, and my distance open water ability specifically, the mere idea of the event made me nervous. But I swam with great guys in a supportive, non-competitive environment. I completed the mile swim, raised money for a great cause and felt my confidence in my swimming ability soar.

Today I again will take the Carly's Crossing one-mile challenge, swimming with two good friends (both named Jennifer) who are accomplished triathletes in their own right.

Meanwhile, today also marks the annual cycling excursion, the CanAm Century Ride, sponsored by the NFBC. A non-competitive event, cyclists of all levels can pick various distances -- from 35 miles State-side to 62 or 100-mile cross-boarder routes. The purpose is to get people out on their bikes and increase fitness awareness.

And these types of opportunities exist all over Western New York.

Whether it's tackling swimming or distance cycling or running your first 5K, there are plenty of charity and club-sponsored events that allow you test out new sports, new venues and perhaps find your athletic niche.

Check back to the Journey to the Finish line Twitter page (www.twitter.com/amymoritz) for coverage this morning of Carly's Crossing.

--- Amy Moritz

Update: 1:10 p.m.

Swim success The swim was successful and the new wetsuit worked just fine! Details on the blog tomorrow while plenty of pictures from the day are posted on Twitter. At the right, my friend Jen and I celebrated our successful 1-mile swim. Technically, it was a 2-mile swim for her since she participated in the timed event as well! More than 300 swimmers participated in two distance events -- the 1-mile and a 600-yard swim. The weather was perfect and the water, while weedy, was nice and flat.


Putting all my chips on happiness

It was a high school retreat where we did a group exercise. Each of us had a certain number of "chips" to place on a giant wheel. The slices of the wheel included all kinds of things we wanted in life: money, success, friends, happiness, etc.

We could divide up our chips any way we want.

One girl put her entire fistful of chips on happiness.

The rest of us thought she was confused.

"No," we implored her. "You don't have to put all your chips in one place."

"But all I want is happiness."

That was nearly 20 years ago.

And those words have stayed with me.

At times I get caught up in "stuff" but ever since that day, I firmly believed that I should have put all my chips on happiness.

There's really no way to go wrong with that.

In my circle, the past few weeks have included family death and illness and while most of my time in the pool involves thinking specific things about my stroke, the sensory depravation has given me an opportunity to think about their lives and to hear those words:

All I want is happiness.

What makes us happy?

It's different for each person. In fact, it changes over time. It's supposed to change over time. Life is about growth and movement, not stagnation. We tell people that they've changed as some sort of accusation instead of celebration.

Change can be difficult -- only if we think of it as hard and painful instead of an opportunity.

What makes me happy?

Running. Biking. Swimming. Racing. Spending time with the fabulous cadre of friends and acquaintances I've made who enjoy the same things yet enrich my life in ways that are much broader and deeper than mere training tips.

Other things bring me joy and make me happy -- writing, reading, cooking, music, learning new things and reminiscing with family and old friends.

But becoming a triathlete and a marathoner en route to my first 70.3 Ironman race has allowed me to grow. Perhaps some would call it change, but I feel it's more of coming into my own, becoming more of who I am, rather than morphing into someone different.

There are obvious things that becoming an athlete has given me -- confidence, health, new friends.

I've also developed a better ability to focus. I've seen how I can use multi-tasking to my advantage -- and when it takes away more than it adds. I've learned to value quality over quantity. I've learned how to recognize when I'm having a nutty -- and how to get myself out of that state as quickly as possible.

I've learned how to ask for help and how to do things for myself.

I've learned that goals are things you can control and that attachment to the outcome is a sure way to disappointment and frustration.

I've learned that life is about who and what you love.

I've learned that we are all responsible for our own happiness.

And, I've learned that it's never too late to put all your chips on happiness.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow the Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz. Sunday's tweets will feature coverage of Carly's Crossing.

The great peanut butter and oatmeal debate

The emails went back and forth all day long.

The question -- race day nutrition.

And if one should avoid peanut butter and oatmeal as part of the pre-race meal.

It started with a blog post from Jesse Kropelnicki -- the coach of my coach who has successfully guided a cadre of talented athletes to Ironman wins and to the Kona World Championships.

The takeaway of his post on peanut butter and oatmeal is that they are fine as part of your regular diet, but that they are not good on race morning. 

Peanut butter, he explains, is great a slowing down digestion, which makes it a good choice mid-day. But, he points out, on race morning, you want your stomach cleared easily to accept and use nutrition during the race.

Oatmeal poses a similar scenario -- great for an every day breakfast but full of fiber which you may not want moving through your system by the time you hit the bike portion of your race.

Personally, I love peanut butter and natural almond butter, but I have found them too heavy before a workout.

Oatmeal, on the other hand, has been my go-to breakfast for quite a while. I base my pre-race meal, about three hours before the start of my event, on calories and usually have a 150-calorie bowl of oatmeal, a mini bagel and some Gatorade.

I then take a gel about 15 minutes before the start of the swim and then follow my race-day nutrition plan depending on the length of the event and taking weather conditions into consideration (particularly if it's hot and humid).

The emails from other athletes in the Train-This family included stories of working well with oatmeal, peanut butter or both. Others had moved away from both, choosing different, more simple carb-friendly foods before the race.

So what am I to do with Muskoka 70.3 looming in the distance?

Nothing.

That's right.

For the moment, we abide by the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

See, everyone's gastrointestinal system is different. What I can tolerate may make you sick while what you chow down on race morning may make me ready to hurl early in the run.

Oatmeal may continue to work just fine and dandy for me and I'll notice for sure at Muskoka.

But if I find I'm having issues, it's time to experiment with simpler carbs for breakfast on mornings of a race or a long run or bike ride.

The key, it seems, is to experiment and find what works for you. If you're not feeling your best on a long workout or race, change up what you eat, when you eat, and see if that makes you feel better. Go, quite literally, with your gut.

So in striving to put myself in the best possible position with nutrition, I asked my coach what I should do after my 45 minute run.

She recommended 1.5 cups of chocolate milk and two Fig Newtons right after the run. Then to follow that up with some greek yogurt and fruit at home.

I actually ended up drinking two cups of chocolate milk (because that's what was in the serving and after a hot, humid afternoon run in Chestnut Ridge park, it tasted good). I then had some plain greek yogurt (fat free and high in protein) along with raspberries and a banana.

Pretty good nutrition, eh?

Until I made a trip to the grocery store and split a bakery chocolate chip cookie.

Because into everyone's life, a little splurge must fall.

As I get closer to Muskoka, the splurges will decrease. Not because I think it will make me fast. In fact, time is not an issue at all for this race (something to be explained in forthcoming blog posts), but because I think it will make me feel good -- about my training, about my preparation, about myself.

And that, I believe, is the core of what this triathlon journey is about.

--- Amy Moritz

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz


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