Introducing Yanking Chains: A multi-sport life podcast

For the past two months, I’ve been working with my former coach Vince Matteo, of Junk Miles, and one of his athletes Matt Momont on a podcast-germ of an idea, which has evolved into Yanking Chains, a podcast about multi-sport life. We are mixing a side of snark with discussions about all things multi-sport. Our goal is share information, have fun, and grow as students, ambassadors and coaches of the sport.

Now, we are far from professional podcasters, and we need to work on our intro and editing. But we decided we’d float a pilot of a first episode to see what you all think about the content and direction of the show. What follows below is the first of the episodes we’ll be releasing in the next week. Right now, these are available on YouTube (as we used Google Handouts On Air to record). We will be offering these on iTunes, once we’ve edited them, added an intro and otherwise cleaned them up.

I hope you enjoy Episode 1 – in which we discuss:

  • Matt’s post race blues (or lack thereof) and Maria’s emotions
  • Race reports: Ironman Wisconsin race reports from Matt & Vince (including the inside scoop on Vince’s romantic finish), Labor Pains (with, of course, more details on sharting)
  • Asthma
  • Training & Racing plans – and following them

For those of you who would prefer an MP3 of this podcast, you can find it by clicking this link for Yanking Chains Episode 1: Is that part of the plan? 

Thanks for listening. Feedback is appreciated – either in the comments here, on YouTube, or contact me. 

I can’t get no satisfaction: Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run Race Report

I am rarely, if ever, completely satisfied by a race result–or training session. Even for the races that seem to go pretty well, it usually only takes me a good night’s sleep to start picking apart what I need to do better, how I can improve, and what I did “wrong.”

The Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail Run was no different than any other race in this regard.

Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail run

Pace giving me a race pep talk.

I selected this race as my primary prep race for the Javelina Jundred, which will be my first 100 mile race on October 31, 2015. G.U.L.P.

My plan was to approach this race as a test of my Javelina-specific strategy, including the nutrition plan, gear, and pacing.  In each of these ways, I learned some VERY important lessons (mostly in the form of what-not-to-do for my first journey of 100 miles.)

Beyond testing my strategy, I had some goals for this race. My basic goal was to get to 50 miles. In my mind, if I ran 50 miles, I’d feel mentally prepared for the 100 mile race.

But, I didn’t stop at my basic goal, as I also had a more aggressive goal: run 55 miles. Then, I had my super secret goal. You know, the one you really really really want, but it will be a definite stretch? Yup. That one.

My training for Javelina has included some of the most aggressive strength-based training I’ve done since I rowed crew in high school. I lifted weights. I abused my core. I dragged tires around my home town (which always brings with it some of the funniest reactions from the passerby). I repeated bridges. I summited mountains. I bounded hills. I repeated all of these, week after week after week throughout the late spring and summer months.

I threw pretty much everything I could at my legs to make them harder, stronger, better – but maybe not faster. That additional muscular strength has come with a bit of a price for my overall road-speed – at least for now. But, that’s a trade off that’s worth it. Labor Pain served as a good test of the value of this strength work.

The race course is a 5 mile loop through trails in Reading, PA. (For those of you looking for details on the course itself, you’ll find them after this narrative under the header “Course Notes”.)

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: loops? Over and Over? It’s not so bad – truly.

I enjoy the rhythm of a loop course. Five miles is plenty long enough, and the route itself was varied enough, so I never felt bored. A key value of a loop course is that it gives you a chance to come by your crew (in my case John) very frequently throughout the day. It’s easy to stock up on hydration, fuel and other supplies across relatively short intervals.

Labor Pain 12 Hour Endurance Trail run

Pace holding down the fort at headquarters. Notice the bike trainer in the background. John rode the bike trainer while I raced. Who’s crazier? I vote him.

I came through the first 4 laps of the course (20 miles) feeling excellent–especially leg-wise. I didn’t have any fatigue in my legs, and they were handling the terrain really well.

John asked: “How do you feel?”

“I feel so good. If I felt any better, I’d have to bottle it.” And, as far as my legs were concerned this was 100% true. They were like strong-like-midget-tank.

What I wasn’t telling him was a little secret: my heart rate was much too high for a 12 hour run. I was having trouble getting it under control pretty much from the second the race started. For the first loop or two, I wasn’t that concerned. In previous races, I’ve had an elevated HR but then it’s settled. Read the rest of this entry »

Process or Outcome? 7 Ways to Tell if Someone is a Serious Athlete

The now-iconic image of the finishing chute at the Ironman World Championships has become synonymous with “serious” athletes. I mistakenly thought that when I crossed this finish line I would finally be a “good” athlete. But, it was never about this outcome. It was always about the process on the way to this moment.

Many of us have in our minds a picture of what a “serious” athlete looks like, or an idea of what a “good” athlete does. Usually, these pictures and ideas have something to do with chiseled muscles, and speedy movements.

*Cue the montage of olympic-esque figures and movements*

However, the look or the speed of a person is not the only way (and many times not the best way) to determine the seriousness with which that person approaches the sport. “Seriousness” can be (and should be) defined by more than one’s speed or appearance. “Good” can be evaluated and interpreted in multiple ways.

In the past month or so, I have had conversations with a few different clients I coach, each of whom tried to discount their achievements in one way or another.

For example, athlete ABC (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent ;)) sent me an email while I was in Lake Placid, volunteering and cheering on two of my clients who were racing Ironman Lake Placid.  ABC wrote, “I’m sorry to take time away from your serious athletes. So, take your time answering this question.”

Um. No.

This very same week, athlete XYC commented that their Olympic distance effort was “wimpy” compared to my “good athletes” who do Ironman.

Double oh-hell-no.

Ironman is such a limelight whore, isn’t it? Of course, racing an Ironman is a big accomplishment, but why should that accomplishment cast a shadow over the achievements of others, who are competing in their own races of strength, endurance, and perseverance? Ironman does not own the rights to cancel out all of the things.

In case you want to discount what you’ve accomplished as “less than” or “not as good as” something or someone else, let me tell you something: every race brings its own challenges. Every race, when taken seriously, will bring us to our limits. If we are good, we will challenge our limits and find out how extraordinary our bodies can be. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Do It

Nike had it straight when they came up with this gem:


By now, this tagline is cliche. But, think about it this line as if it were fresh, and recognize how powerful the sentiment is.

You have a goal that requires hard work. Sometimes, you might not want to do this work. Other times, the work might seem too hard – too far outside your comfort zone. In another moment, there might be fear or anxiety about the uncertainty that comes with training and racing toward bigger and bigger dreams.

Think about those moments in light of this line.

Now, just do it.

While this tagline captures a simple idea, it is not always easy to execute in practice, is it? We have excuses that will get in the way, such as:

No one has the time. They make the time for what is important.

No one has the time. They make the time for what is important.

I’m too busy. 

I’m too tired. 

I don’t know how. 

It’s too hard. 

I can’t do that. 

I’m scared to do that. 

[Insert your favorite variation here…]

I know I struggle with these voices that try to counter the call to Just Do It.

I work a full-time job, and I run a growing business. I have a full family and social life. I want to cry when the workout seems harder than what I’ve got inside to handle it. I like to sleep and have considerable distaste for anything that takes away from my sleep. Really: don’t mess with my sleep. Ever.

But, time and again, I remind myself of my goals, my big dreams, and what I care about. And, time and time again, I find a way to make the training work. Why? I actually do enjoy the training, and my dreams are important to me.

At some point, we all come to that moment when we have to make a choice. Read the rest of this entry »

Burning Nomads

IMG_5108.JPGOne of the things that I like about big goals and dreaming big is the way the thought of the goal itself sets a spark that lights a fire in my core. The fire focuses me. It excites me. It lets me know I’m alive.

The last big fire went out the second the announcer at Ironman Louisville said my name to step right up and grab my golden ticket to the big show in Kona. The relief washed over me with the same intensity as the fire that burned to get me there.

Since that day, however, I haven’t even felt a flicker, let alone a belly full of fire. For the most part, that’s a good thing. I needed a break, as I’ve written before, the mental capital I had to spend to get to that moment was almost more than I had saved. I’ve spent the last few months recharging and having a lot of fun.

But, in the past month, I was starting to feel an aimlessness, and I wasn’t really liking it. The drifting into and out of races was no longer enjoyable. I was becoming an endurance nomad, seeking just the right race and right goal for settling.

On July 18, I had the pleasure to pace my husband John for the final 30 miles of the Vermont 100. (For his race report, click here.) The beginning of my pacing segment was a healthy climb up a moderately muddy trail. It was a perfect adventure for a wanderer.

My lungs were filled, my legs were alive, and then I felt it – a flicker. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Morning Mindfulness: I Just Want to Feel This Moment

You may have heard or read advice to “stay in the moment” when racing or training if you want to have a breakout performance, or make the most of a key training session. I know I’ve written about staying focused and being present more than once.

But, it’s not common to think about this advice in the context of race morning – the very moment when anxiety threatens to culminate in a potential freak out or meltdown.

Obviously, the meltdown scenario has to be avoided at all costs – or it may cost you a positive race day experience.

In the chaos of race morning, it can be especially challenging to stay present and focused on the moment. Pre-race preparations are mixed with pre-race anxiety which in turn can lead to a mind run amuk.

The blur of race morning.

The blur of race morning.

Those pre-race moments are an essential part of race day, as they set the tenor of the day, how we will feel, and how we will approach the expected–and more importantly, how we will deal with the unexpected.

Despite our best efforts, race morning is usually a whirlwind of anxious activity. It can seem like a time lapse sequence: skip, skip, skip, pause. Skip, skip, skip, pause.

We may mindlessly go through all of the motions, failing to focus on the present moment and the task at hand. I’ve learned (mostly from making mistakes) that a more mindful race morning is one of the keys to a successful day.

It’s taken concentrated mental training, but over time, I’ve learned to (sort of) enjoy the pre-race moments rather than to dread the anticipation. Those moments of pre-race energy can supply us with mental energy to overcome the challenges of the day – or they can deplete our will and leave us with little spark when we need it most.

I should know. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve messed up race morning badly and paid for it later. But, in recent years, I’ve learned to better control my emotions, and to approach race morning as an integral part of the day’s process.

When I did Lake Placid in 2013, the pop “classic” (a term used very loosely here) “I just want to feel this moment” was popular. When I trained leading into that race, I would listen to this song during some of my runs. I imagined myself on the shore of Mirror Lake in a huddle of bodies waiting for the start of the race. I imagined myself looking across the lake and seeing the familiar “V” shapes of the mountains tattooed against the horizon. I imagined myself feeling that moment.

Ironman Lake Placid

The shores of Mirror Lake, before Ironman Lake Placid 2013. Those mountains in the horizon are the perfect landmarks for sighting, that is, if you don’t find yourself on the underwater cable.

When that race morning finally came, it was the first race that I remember feeling calm. Sure, I was ready and excited to start, but I had a sense of peace like I had never experienced before. The benefit of that peace was that I was able to focus on the moments and feel the energy of race morning in a way that fueled me for the rest of the day. After the race, during our post-race “re-cap”, John noted that I was fearless. I think that’s the best compliment he has ever given me–given my long history of dealing with fear.

I remember being in transition before the race started, and instead of frantically careening through my duties, I was unruffled and immersed in the things I needed to do.

I prepared my bike bottles, double checked my gear bags, donned my wetsuit, and took my spot on the beach in front of Mirror Lake. As I did each of these things, I felt myself fully in that moment and focused only on bottles, then only on gear bags, then only on the wetsuit, and then only on the feeling of the cool sand between my toes, sucking in the energy from the bodies exhaling around me, and looking into that mountain-rippled horizon, knowing that I would be a part of it soon enough.

On race morning, we (myself included) can focus too much on just getting this thing started already such that we fail to soak in the pre-race energy and use it as much-needed mental fueling. For a first time experience, especially, we can let our monkey mind get away from us.

My advice: just don’t let that monkey mind wander. Don’t let yourself escape the beautiful pre-race energy. Stand on the shore. Huddle with the bodies. Feel that moment.

We have so few extraordinary moments in our lives; we can’t afford to let them pass by unnoticed, unappreciated. I believe the heightened awareness and tingling excitement of race morning is just such an opportunity to hit the pause button – even if only for few brief moments.

Feel this moment. Feel your moment. This is your day to be extraordinary.

This Race in This Place: 2015 Challenge Atlantic City Race Report

@EnduranceRuns posted this quote last week. It sums up how I feel about my experience at Challenge Atlantic City.

[Note: This report features my thoughts on my experience at Challenge Atlantic City. If you are looking for a course overview, that will be coming soon. Please sign up for email updates (to the right).]

I don’t load up my race calendar with a ton of races, and every race I do has a reason.

I had two primary reasons to do Challenge Atlantic City. First, it’s a hometown long-course race, and I would be able to share the course with so many of the good people that surround me. While most people in North America are getting into the heart of their triathlon season, I’m just ending mine as I turn my focus to ultrarunning. So, what better race to end my 2015 season than with a race hosted on my hometown training grounds?

Second, I wanted to do some hard work to chase down some goals.

Despite all of the jokes about New Jersey, and the issues that trouble Atlantic City (and the surrounding areas), I have a #JerseyStrong pride that can’t be beaten out of me – no matter how I might also make fun of or complain about my home state. This pride comes from the physical geography as well as the social topography.

that_moment_when_team_show_up_to_raceWhen I showed up to transition race morning, I immediately saw the smiling faces of so many people that are a part of my life. Friends were racing every distance Challenge AC had to offer, and we were all feeling our own version of pre-race nervous excitement, and we were experiencing it TOGETHER.

It was unlike any other race morning in that sense – here was my local village assembled for the big tribal meeting. While the internet may reduce the obstacles that physical space presents, it doesn’t break the strong bonds that form when we share a place.

The race course itself is also a familiar friend, with different parts of the swim, bike and run course bringing back memories of previous races and benchmark training days.

These are the places where I learned to dream and believe.

I broke my fear of open water swimming in the back bays of Atlantic City, when I first completed the Bridge to Bridge 5k swim back in 2009. So, I was prepared for the chop and current that greeted me during the swim.

I learned to be independent and self-reliant spending hours upon hours of solo cycling on the roads of the bike course. I knew there would be wind, but I also knew there would be nice open roads upon which I could find my groove and grind.

And the Atlantic City boardwalk – well, it’s got to be one of the best places to run in this area. I raced my very first marathon on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and in the moment that I crossed that finish line, I fell in love with endurance sport. Now, I train regularly on the boardwalk with my friends from the NJ Shore Run club. I know how long it takes to get from one end to the other. I know how far apart the casinos are. I know that there would be whack-a-doodle people everywhere – and not just the triathletes.

There were moments out on the course when the nostalgia made me just a slight touch weepy. Pretty shocking, I know.

In the final few miles of the bike course, you cross the highway on an overpass. As I looked out, I could see the skyline of the city in the horizon, and I felt happy to have this perspective, and while it was all familiar, I felt a new appreciation for this place. And, it was much more exciting than I thought it would be to ride on the Atlantic City Expressway :).

As far as the race competition, I had placement and time goals, one of which I hit, and one of which I missed. Read the rest of this entry »

Mental Fitness and the 4 F’s (Not the 4-Letter F-Word)

[Note: The content of this post was part of a presentation I gave during the DT&N training camp in Lake Placid, on June 5, 2015. I’ve reworked the presentation notes to share here.]

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” ~Henry David Thoreau

This sentiment reflects my experience over the past several years – as I’ve moved through various goals, from my first sprint to my first double ironman. Working toward each of my goals (and all of the ones in between) has been a journey worth taking. What I have become (I hope) is a person who is braver, stronger, smarter and happier.

This picture was taken about 30 seconds after I crossed the finish line. I have been chasing this feeling ever since.

Hello, Teeth! This picture was taken about 30 seconds after I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman in 2010. Every time I see this picture, I weep happily for the woman I was becoming.

The journey to cross that first Ironman finish line is one that I will never forget. I learned how to be an athlete (again). I learned how incredibly extraordinary the body can be, but even more so, I learned the mind is the MOST powerful and important tool we can have as endurance athletes. Achieving our goals is as much dependent on mental fitness, as it is physical fitness.

I define mental fitness as a strong belief in your ability, which allows you to push beyond your perceived limits, to counter negative thoughts, to be stubborn and steadfast in your quest to achieve your goals, and to possess a healthy confidence that, with hard work and grit, you can achieve those goals.

In sum, mental fitness means you DON’T STOP BELIEVING even at – especially at – your lowest points.

But, belief doesn’t just come to you – you have to train the brain to believe. I taught myself to believe that with hard work, I could go from the back of the pack to a Kona slot. As you might imagine, that was not an easy sell at the start.

I think it’s worth mentioning, to further support the point I’m trying to make about mental fitness, I am not a naturally gifted athlete. In fact, I’m really average physically. I lack coordination. I’m clumsy. My body type is not exactly what you see among the most elite athletes in the world. I’m not some super fast freak of nature – but, sure, I am some type of a freak.

My secret? I define and articulate realistic but challenging goals. I work like a dog to achieve them. And, I’ve taught myself to BELIEVE, working my mental fitness just as much as my physical.

With respect to mental fitness and goal setting, I’ve learned a few things that might be of use to you. I call them the four “F’s”: Fear, Focus, Facts, Fun.  Read the rest of this entry »

What I Learned From a Return to Sprint Triathlon

comfort zone

This magnet and collection of Yogi tea sayings is on our refrigerator.

I like to talk a big game about “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” and “the magic happens outside of your comfort zone” and all the related platitudes of that ilk.

But, do I walk that talk?

While I won’t say I’ve completely mastered being comfortable with the discomfort of endurance pain, I know I can take a long course licking and keep on ticking. My nickname isn’t Midget Tank for no reason.

What I’m not very good at – not good even a little bit – is anything at or even near my threshold. The so-called “red-line.” No, I much prefer the green line, the so-what-if-my-muscles-feel-like-someone-is-sticking-ice-picks-in-them-I-can-still-breathe-so-I’m-fine line.

In the last several years of training, I’ve done very few efforts at or near the threshold, especially in running. Just to make sure I wasn’t telling you all pork pies, I looked at my Training Peaks charts for the past few years.

Last year, my time in running HR zones were as follows (percentages are rounded):

  • 50% in Zone 1/Easy
  • 40% in Zone 2/Steady
  • 7% in Zone 3/Mod-hard
  • 2% in Zone 4/Hard
  • Not even a full percentage point in Zone 5/Very Hard.

Cycling is a little bit better, but as with running, the lion’s share of time is spent in zone 1 and zone 2 (45% and 29% respectively).

As you can see from the chart below, if I expand this analysis out to the past three years, the percentages stay roughly the same across the two sports.

Training Peaks Charts

Here’s a screen shot of my time spent in zones from May 2012 until May 2015. The chart on the left is running, the one on the right is cycling. The zones go from easy to hard, left to right.

So, it’s safe to say I’ve become comfortable – and I would argue too comfortable – with the long distance ache. So, what to do to shake things up?

Go short and hard, of course. So, I signed up for a local sprint triathlon (Hammonton Sprint Triathlon, May 23, 2015), and prepared myself to get really uncomfortable. I find it much easier to push hard in a race context, so I saw this race as an opportunity to re-introduce myself to threshold work.

The Hammonton Sprint was my very first triathlon 6 years ago, at a time when I had NO IDEA what my triathlon journey was to become. I was on a used bike, that was about 2 sizes too big for me. I wore $20 bike shorts (can you say OUCH?!), and I was grossly unprepared for the open water swim–with people. Within 30 seconds of the start, I had been kicked in the face, panicked and wound up swimming the entire race with my face out of the water. True story. Read the rest of this entry »

Asking questions, seeking answers

After three years of working toward a slot at the Ironman World Championships, the goal became a part of my identity, my decision making, my lifestyle. Now, the race is long done and dusted and the mysteries have been revealed.

So, what’s next?

My interest in the 140.6 distance has all but disappeared, while my desire to participate more in the ultra world (both triathlon and running) continues to grow. Even so, I haven’t settled on “THEE” goal that drives me. On the one hand, I’m totally okay with that. I’m having a low-stress, fun year of racing and training so far.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve lost my best friend–the KQ dreamer. As one of my readers Wes commented on my IMCdA race report, “This race was so close for you, on one hand, I wanted you to get the Kona spot and on the other, I wanted the drama to carry on like a good novel you don’t want to finish.”

stopped believing

While I certainly didn’t want to go another race without grabbing a slot, I absolutely know what Wes means. The drama was pretty exciting, right? Who am I if I’m not “the smalltown girl” who doesn’t stop believing, trying to make it to Kona?

Obviously the sum of who I am is not simply my journey to get a slot to Kona–even if almost all of the posts for the past 3 years came back to that theme.  The thought of doing another 140.6 right now leaves me wholly uninterested. That’s how I know it is time to move on and write new chapters, explore new adventures, dream new dreams.

The trouble stems from the way my new dreams are just in snippets right now. You know when you wake up and you remember 3 interesting but seemingly unrelated details from a dream, and you can’t quite figure out how they all fit together? That’s how I feel about my endurance goals. I’ve got some interesting details, but I haven’t quite put them all together just yet.

I’m still believing – I’m not 100% sure in what just yet.

In the midst of this soul searching about who I want to be when I grow up, I received an email from a reader (who I’ll call Joe), asking me some provocative questions about my motivation. While a part of me didn’t want to acknowledge my struggle with a stranger, the process of answering the questions was very helpful for me.

Here’s a screen shot of the email I received (note: While Joe allowed me to post parts of our discussion, I want to protect his privacy. Therefore, I’ve deleted references to his name and email address):

Screen shot 2015-05-15 at 2.27.47 PM

Read the rest of this entry »

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