Run Richmond

Every year since I started running, I have done something with the Richmond half.  The first year, it was my first half marathon.  The second year, I ran with a friend to bring her to her first half marathon.  Beyond that, for three years, I coached the half training team, so would be out on the course for all of our teammates.  This year I had my sights on a relatively lofty 8k PR.  I took a break from coaching to kind of get my own running in line.  It’s hard to give advice and help push forward when you find yourself stuck in a “never-improving” rut.

I had been running for 5 years and I just wasn’t moving the needle at all. A lot of it had to with the hodgepodge of races I would sign up for….a lot of it had to do with lack of focus/purpose in my running.  I had “goals” but never an overarching goal that could be achieved with the season I had set for myself.  I was always over here doing a 10k, and then turning around doing a half. Then, I would sign up for a Spartan a couple weeks later, or a triathlon. I didn’t have a schedule that guided me towards success; I had a schedule that had me doing so many different things that I did none of them truly well.

For 2018 (after the marathon), my only goal was to get faster in the short distance.  I laid out my schedule methodically and put in the work.  When it came time for my goal race, I had actually gotten faster, but it was 3 minutes off my time instead of the 10 I had wanted.  It’s hard to be upset at improvement so I dusted my ego off and kept going. Little did I know I had that 10 minute PR in me, just not for the short distance race.

While reading the book Run Faster early this fall (and realizing that I might be on the hook for some extra mileage at our trail Ragnar race) I decided to start training at a higher volume.  I increased my midweek runs a bit and nearly doubled what I wanted to do on the weekends to prep for the upcoming 8k.  My goal time was 40 minutes and I was still quite a bit from actually being able to achieve that.  I was starting to get extremely discouraged until I ran a 10 mile EASY training run…at a pace that would have gotten me a 4 minute half marathon PR had I continued.  An easy pace for me.  Suddenly, I was torn.  I hadn’t really been actively training for a half, but here I was running at a pace that would give me a victory that would feel SO much better than my “swing and a miss” attempt for the 8k time would.  Should I switch to the half?

Obviously I polled everyone on the planet about it and everyone said the exact same thing. Do the half. Well, it was just over 2 weeks out, so I decided to run the entire 13.1 miles for the training run that Sunday as a “peak week” run and decide after that.  I hadn’t really technically trained for the half distance, so was still a little concerned how I’d fare those extra three miles.  Or even how beat up I’d be physically afterwards.

Well, the day came and I ran 13.1 miles; I got that 4 minute PR. ON A TRAINING RUN that barely had me breathing hard.  So, I had my answer.  I had to switch to the half and make it official.

Let’s fast forward to race day.  The weather was perfect, but I always get nervous about getting too cold, so may have worn slightly too much.  My friend, Staci, decided to not run and to be my sherpa instead and enjoy the event. So, I luckily had her thinking about things I wasn’t so all I had to do was walk my happy butt up to the start line.

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First person we bumped into was my training buddy for my first half marathon ever.  “Yang” (Chris) and I quit smoking about the same time and picked up running.  We banded together and both set off on a great path of health. It seemed super lucky to see him right away. Here’s us at the first one and at this one.

The plan was to start slow and every three miles increase speed. I lined up next to my buddy, Liz (who I usually just call “Gunn”), who was pacing the 2:15 group.  I figured if I could hang with them, I’d come out great!

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But, that didn’t happen.  The race started and I settled into a comfortable pace and found myself ahead of the pace group.  At mile 1 I noticed my pace was a bit faster than I was hoping to be, but felt amazing so let it go.  In fact, I didn’t feel even slightly fatigued until mile 6 when we hit the Bryan Park hills.  I swear, I have run that park SO MANY TIMES as a coach and never remembered how endless it is.  Up a hill, around a corner- oh there’s more. Down hill, up a hill, around a corner, still more.

Towards the end of the park my legs felt like they were on fire.  I was barely through 8 miles and my legs already wanted to quit? There’s always that moment (or couple miles) of shear panic that you aren’t going to be able to do what you were already largely doing.  I kept telling myself I couldn’t walk a single step because if I did I could toss my PR hopes out the window.  I’m impossible once I’ve walked.  “Well, I already walked, I need to walk again. Well, I’m already not going to make it, might as well walk some more.” So I just kept plugging away.  I had maintained that same mostly-consistent pace the entire time, I could do this.  I wanted to cry because I felt so tired, but I knew I wasn’t.  My mind was just trying to crumple on me. I also knew my family would be waiting for me at the finish line, and I wanted them to be excited to have been there for a triumph not have to console me because I came undone.

It wasn’t until about mile 11 when I hit my stride again and was feeling good…so in miles 12 and 13 I was able to speed up and up- mile 13 being my fastest mile by about 30sec. I flew down the hill ready to bust into tears- I had done it! I really had really done it!

My hopes was 2:15 and my official time was 2’11’38.  Over three minutes better than I had even dreamed.  Since that first half marathon 5 years ago, I had shaved 17 minutes,  10 in the past year.

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So, I guess while I didn’t quite get the 10 minutes off of the sprint triathlon I had originally wanted, I nailed it in a different race!

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Pink Goals

So I have waited a very long time to write this.  No real particular reason other than I took a while to shake off some disappointment and learn some very valuable lessons from my performance.  Let me start out this post by saying that race day was supposed to be overcast and slightly rainy, according to the forecast. Actual weather was about 80* and sunny.  It.was.hot.  But, then again, I shouldn’t be shocked because Pink Power Triathlon is ALWAYS hot. It’s the middle of August- I should expect nothing less.

I also want to start out by saying that this was a GREAT race for me. I know my lead-in paragraph makes it seem otherwise, but going in with very big goals can set you up for some disappointment- even if the finish should make you proud.

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photo credit: Kit Forrester

So, let’s start with the swim.  This year was meant to be my fastest swim year ever.  I had consistently paced the same over and over in practice- without much effort.  HOWEVER, the funny piece to a pool swim will always be seeding.  This year, the seeding was changed.  Instead of putting the time you thought it would take you to swim the entire 400m straight, you were to put what you swim 100m at.  I don’t know about you, but my time for a 100m race and a 400m race are very different.  And that exact principle was why the seeding became a colossal mess. I caught up to the swimmer in front of me fairly quickly, only to not be able to pass her right away and have the person behind me catch up to me.  I let her pass me, and then we passed the girl that was in front of me and we all caught up to another person ahead of her.  And then another one and then there was wall waiting and “no you go”s and by the end it was still a faster swim time for me than last year, but not nearly what my practice and seeding should have put me. I’m not sure what the solution is for this, but I think going back to a 400m time seeding would help a ton. I tried to not let the disappointment of the mess of the swim get to me as I ran to transition. Swim time- 8min, 34 secs.

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Transition was pretty smooth into the bike.  Normally on the bike I feel like I get passed pretty frequently- not this year! I held my own and even did a little bit of passing.  I have ridden the route countless times, but the hills never cease to chew me up and spit me out. I had lots of people yelling to me on the bike and I felt so focused that I couldn’t take in who they all were, but I was so glad to hear my name. I did, however, see my training buddies Cate and Mike at one point on the bike because she pretty much jumped out in front of me! It renewed my spirit, and I pushed harder in the last little bit.  I managed to shave 1.5 minutes off my time last year for a time of 41’33- or 15.8 mph.  Here’s my beef with that, though.  Like I said, I have ridden the route a gazillion times- also have done this race 5 years in a row now, and my garmin has literally ALWAYS called it 11.8 miles, but the race has it measured at 11.4.  Obviously, I have to believe the race, but if my Garmin is the one that is right, it’s 17.1mph- which is more in line with the rest of my races.

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The run was hot. Like, very hot.  I had trained many many times in high humidity and heat- even running a 5k a few weeks before that nearly hit my PR in super humidity, but still had trouble catching my breath during this 5k.  Even still, I pushed and pushed, trying to even get another sub 30min 5k like I had at Rev3 Williamsburg. I booked it up the big hill and was excited to see Cate and Mike again yelling from the top.  It was enough to get me up the hill running as quickly as I could! The sun was beating down and with a quarter mile to go, I did have to walk for a second to take some deep breaths.  Missed my sub-30 by a hair- 30’55.  BUT, that was still over a minute off of my time from last year.

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photo credit: Herv Sherd

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Finishing the race was incredible.  I got my medal and water and turned around and there were my husband and kids, so excited to tell me how well I did.  And then, my coworkers were right there- they had showed up as a surprise with a sign they had made! And my training buddies were all there.  It was incredible the amount of support and excitement that met me at that finish line.

My time last year was 1’27’19.  This year- 1’24’10.  I had shaved 3 entire minutes off- IN SPITE of the heat/humidity.  It wasn’t the 10 that I had hoped and worked for, but that doesn’t make that kind of PR any less incredible.  I was 50th out of 300 women! If I can’t be happy about that kind of hefty improvement in the short distance, then I have learned nothing. I worked hard and it showed…and really isn’t that everything?

After a year of nothing but sprint triathlons, I can say that I’m ready to face the longer distances again.  I still have the Richmond 8k on the books this year- and am still hoping to come as close to 40 minutes as I potentially can.  But, for 2019, I will be doing mostly half marathons and half Ironmans (Virginia and Maine!).

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Do the Du

2nd triathlon of the season- done! Well, sort of.  We have gotten a lot of rain in Virginia…I mean, a LOT.  So, the river was 10 feet higher than normal and the swim was changed to a run.  I’ve never done a duathlon before so I was really excited at this change- in spite of the fact that the run is now my weakest discipline.

After packet pickup, I spent the afternoon mulling over my game plan. I suddenly wanted to go all out on the first .9 run and then just see how it went the rest of the time.  Well, just a couple hours later I get an email from my coach asking how trashed she thinks my legs would be if I tried the first run all out.  I was like- we’ll find out because that was how I was thinking of doing it, too! So, that was the plan for race day!

Here I am right at the start. My husband and daughter came to watch me and luckily ran over to snag a “before” pic because I had completely forgotten to take a selfie.  I never forget! Look how cute this Smashfest Queen one piece is! I was so pumped to wear it, even though there was no swim.  And, of course, my favorite BOCO Gear visor to match.

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I don’t normally warmup at every single race, but to go all out, I couldn’t skip it.  So, I dropped off my stuff at transition and did a half mile to get warmed up.  I think I could’ve used a little more, but it didn’t really matter because pretty much as soon as the wave started, it bottlenecked.  I have this awful habit of being like “oh pish posh, I’m so slow I should be in the back.” I did it in my half ironman swim, too, and had to spend a lot of the swim trying to get around people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not winning any awards any time soon, but I was looking to do a mile in the early to mid 8s so should have been farther up than I was.  So, I got stuck trotting back a bit.  The run was through the woods on this narrowish trail and then a little after the halfway point found the paved trail then dumped out onto the street that lead into transition. It wasn’t until about halfway through the run when I was able to pass on the side and dart forward.  It ended up still not being a bad effort at about a 9:08 mile pace.  I love this picture because I was so focused I didn’t see the camera.

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Next up, the bike!  This bike course is kind of neat because you basically spend a lot of time climbing in the first half (leading up to a crucially steep hill) and then can fly down the second half.  I spent my time trying to kick it the best I could up until the terribly steep climb so that I would already “be ahead” on the way back down since I have a bad habit of being brake-happy on downhills. I didn’t this time and hit a speed of almost 35mph heading back down the steep hill. It was super scary, and I can’t believe I didn’t brake at all.  Worth mentioning- right before I got to the big climb, about 20 feet ahead of me, I spied what I thought was a frog. As I came closer and rode past I realized- IT WAS A FROG-SIZED SPIDER.  Horrifying.  Last year on this course I averaged 15.6mph which was pretty quick for me at the time.  This year, 17.5mph.  Over the course of the year I have managed to improve nearly 2 mph! The climbing half was about 16.5mph and the descending half was about 19mph! I was so excited.  A time improvement of about 7.5 minutes.

The last run is where this whole story gets a little weak, though.  It was hot.  And humid.  As soon as I started running I was dragging.  The run is like 70% trails so as soon as you entered the woods it’s like this corridor of trapped, terrible air.  No matter how hard I tried to push and push I just couldn’t move any faster.  I had walked a LOT last year so my brain finally settled on the goal to “run the entire time”.  Ended up with a 32:48…about 50 seconds worse than last year and probably my worst 5k in the last two years. But, albeit slowly, I had run the entire time.

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I did manage a last-minute “kill” coming in to the finish line. Luckily, both my husband and the finish line photographer managed to grab evidence of this effort! Thanks, whoever you are, for the last second boost of energy!

The Robious Landing Triathlon is such a fun race and so well put together.  Thank you to all the volunteers who worked so hard at the event, and thank you to the race director and everyone involved in planning for making the swim decision so quickly and substituting the run so seamlessly.  I will definitely be back again next year….hopefully with an even more improved time!

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Hold the Plank

It all started 17 weeks ago when I suddenly said to myself- you know what I need in my life? Progressively more planking.

I’d always had problems with the monthly plank challenges because- who can increase that much over that little time? I’d find myself missing a day and then not being able to catch up and scrapping the whole ordeal. So, I thought of a better way for me to have a plank challenge.  I’d go for that 5 minute plank, but I’d progress slowly and steadily- while having built in days off.  Week 1 started with a 45-second plank.  Out of the 7 days of the week, I only had to plank for 5. Then, every Sunday I would increase the time by 15 seconds. All on my hands and feet- no knees or elbows.

 

This was an awesome plan.  And it worked extremely well.  That is- until the 4-minute mark.  Up until then, the next level would be hard, but manageable with a little grit.  Once I got to the 4 minute mark, it was like I was a planking calamity.  My wrists hurt, my shoulders hurt- I found myself having to shift my hand position because it was intolerable at points.  There were even days that I had to pick my hips up into a little down dog for a second because it just.was.not.happening.  Each week beyond that 13 week mark was just a string of miserable planks.  I kept pushing forward because I had come so far, I wasn’t leaving without the 5-minute plank trophy.  Okay, there isn’t a trophy, but after this I vote there should be.

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During week 16- after the 3rd time I did the 4 minute 30 second plank, I could barely swim the next day. It was the kind of workout where you take a step back and go- why.  Why am I doing this.  To prove something?  It’s obviously stopped helping my training and is now actively working against it. So, I did one more 4 min 30 sec plank for good measure and then gave planking a rest until this past Tuesday when I skipped the 4 min 45 second week and just did the 5-minute plank.

The 5-minute plank was really, really hard.  Two or three times I had to shift my hands up to my knuckles because my wrist were hurting so badly, but I never moved my hips out of position.  I played music on my phone while I watched the stopwatch app. It was ridiculous. But, in the end, I did it.  My shoulders and wrists were throbbing.

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^Obviously that picture was staged because if I had been able to take a picture during the actual plank, that’s not what it would have looked like.  On my face would not have been a smile but rather a twisted grimace.

So, I know I’m making this out to be super terrible, and it kind of was, but let me tell you the positive.  I learned a whole lot.  If I were to start this whole thing again tomorrow, I would start off like I originally did with 5x per week and 45 seconds.  From there, I would do up until 2 min 30 seconds 5x a week and then drop back to 4 times a week.  At 3 min 30 seconds I would drop down to 3 times per week.  I think that would have helped alleviate some of the wear and tear of this challenge.  I think as you get into the higher numbers you are just so worn down that the 2 rest days a week just can’t help you recover.  I also think doing forearms would have helped tremendously.  Still a great ab and shoulder workout, but without the wrist strain.  So, if you want to attempt this challenge, do that. Note- when doing a forearm plank, arms parallel to body, not clasped hands.

What’s next for me? I’m glad you asked.  Right now I am in the middle of a month long run challenge (Streaking with the Cool Kids…no we are not running naked, it’s a run streak…check out this post about it). So, that’s pretty fun.  As far as plank-esque workouts, I think I’m going to start using the Bosu ball more to give myself different plank options/workouts.  Also, I just bought a suspension trainer and I am itching to set that up and start doing core work.

I also own like 1000 (okay 9) Jillian Michaels DVDs that I’ve been trying to pepper into my schedule.  There is no soreness like the day after a JM video workout.  But, that means it’s helping.

Next race day is t-minus 15 days. I’ve done that race before, so there’s PR opportunity.

 

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Kickin’ it Kiptopeke Style

So, we had planned to vacation for Memorial Day weekend camping at Kiptopeke State Park.  My husband tore his ACL and had surgery on the 16th of May, so spending the weekend camping wasn’t really in the cards unless I took the kids on my own.  I didn’t mind doing that, but I also didn’t want to leave him on his own for too long, so I just took the kids for the day.

It is a little less than a 3 hour drive from western Richmond….on any weekend that isn’t Memorial Day weekend.  We spent over 4 and a half hours in the car on the way there. But, crossing the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel is always fun so it wasn’t so bad.

It’s a pretty cool park.  After you enter, you pass some campgrounds and then immediately are at the water.  Boat launch, swimming area and trailheads. We immediately hit the gift shop and then headed out on the trail. We took the Wood Warbler Boardwalk and stopped at the water.  It is always such a neat experience to emerge from the woods straight out to a beach.

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The kids desperately wanted to swim, but I wanted to wait until we made it to the legitimate “swimming area” because it seemed like there was a lot of debris (shells, foliage, etc) on the particular beach we came out to.

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We walked back onto the trails and and headed over to the Hawk Observatory and Butterfly Garden.  We didn’t see anything in either place, but that could have been because the park was so busy for Memorial Day Weekend.  But, we did encounter a little lizard on the way there!

We headed back (through clouds of mosquitos and picking ticks off as we went) to the beach via the Peregrine Boardwalk.  We walked along the beach and crossed the road over to the swimming area.

The swimming area was just lovely.  The perfect little bay beach area. Soft sand, almost no debris and shallow for days. The kids swam for the better part of an hour until we decided we were done for the day.

All in all, we generally liked this park. Aside from the ticks and mosquitos, it really had a lot to offer.  The trails extended farther than we went and I would definitely be interested in heading back to explore those- perhaps in the winter time or very early spring.

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Kinetic Energy!

I am still so pumped up from the race that I’m having trouble focusing!  I keep getting excited about a new facet of the race.

So I signed up to race on Mother’s Day- sort of a “toes in the water” race for the season.  I started training about a week after my marathon in March, so 5ish weeks in was the perfect time to see where I was and what I needed to do to move the needle.  I was super excited about this one because it was at Lake Anna and boasted rolling hills and scenery on both the bike and run- which I’m realizing I prefer to flat and boh-ring.

My family decided to come with me, even though it was an hour and a half drive. Arriving at the scene, Lake Anna did not disappoint.  The transition was off to the side leaving lots of open space for spectating- and scenery-gawking.  It was gorgeous.

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I mean come on.

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And I was sporting my new kit from Smashfest Queen so I felt like a million dollars.  I got everything settled in transition (including my bike, Barracuda), and we walked down to the beach where I would start my swim.

First thing, of course, I put the legs of the wetsuit on backwards. I don’t know if it was nerves, or just not thinking, but that definitely set a very stressed tone to the pre-race.  Luckily, my husband kept saying “it’s okay, you have time” and I really tried to contain the voice inside me that was going “OMIGOD WHY DID I DO THAT THIS IS SO DIFFICULT I’M NOT GOING TO HAVE ENOUGH STRENGTH TO SWIM AFTER PULLING UP THIS STUPID WETSUIT TWICE.”  But, with a little help, I put the suit on the right way. Look at my face in this picture, it’s like a mixture of sheepishness from my unnecessary internal panic and relief that I had actually managed to get it on with plenty of time to not only pose for a picture, but stroll down and shimmy in the water a bit to get it just right. I love a new swim cap, though, popped that sucker on first try instead of whipping myself in the head with it a couple times.

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So the swim. It started on a long side of a rectangle and you were to swim up until the yellow buoy, hang a right, swim to the next yellow buoy, hang another right, and then swim to shore. I managed a great spot to start in- pretty much in the front because there was such a large area for us all to spread.  The water was way chillier than I was used to and I was so grateful my friend Cate let me borrow her wetsuit because I hadn’t intended to buy one until much later in the season when the water cooled down again.  I should’ve realized this race would probably need a wetsuit, but, luckily she had my non-thinking back. I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside a wetsuit, but it’s like someone wrapped your entire body with a giant waterproof ace bandage.  You feel trapped and stiff and uncomfortable.  I wore it for the Patriot’s Half last year (over a mile of swimming) and was fine….but that day?  I was like half panicked to be in it.  The buzzer sounded and we were off and I was just startled.  That’s the best way to describe it. I was startled.  I don’t know if it was the cold, the suit, the combination of the two….or the nerves for the race or the other racers so close by, but I was so tense during the swim. I had to breathe every stroke (I only breathe to the right) just to keep from really panicking.  Eventually, I got more and more okay, but never really hit a good rhythm with my breathing.  My leg was grabbed at one point, and at another I was blocked by a couple girls swimming directly side by side and as a result I then swam almost completely to the center of the block to maneuver (poorly) around them.  But, I finally got to the shore.  Take a look at this picture if you’d like to know what I felt like coming out of the water.

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“But, Rainey, you said this race went really well?” Oh it did. My swim, although it felt terrible and slow to me was actually not a bad pace for me at all.  The swims ranged from 12 minutes to about 25 minutes and I finished in 16 minutes 13 seconds.  So, not shabby overall either.  I had thought my transition was terrible, but it turned out to be pretty quick. I got the wetsuit off pretty quickly and had laid out everything else pretty efficiently.

The bike starts heading straight up a hill.  I was still really, really out of breath from the swim so I struggled quite a bit to get started.  I’ve always considered the bike my worst discipline of the three, but I was determined to be proud of it in this race.

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I let myself catch my breath and then went for it.  I picked off person after person after person- completely surprising myself because I have almost never passed people on the bike.  The bike ride was gorgeous and was exactly my type of topography- except for one killer, steep hill.  I think it was around mile 6 or 7 that you hit it and it ravaged the entire field. NO SURVIVORS.  Just kidding, we all made it through, but I have never seen so many people practically stopped on road bikes.  After catching my breath from that monstrosity, I went back to my mission of picking off people with the goal of catching one particular girl in a very pretty trisuit.  I didn’t know her at all, but I needed someone to “catch”. I spent 4 miles chasing her until finally I passed her and didn’t see her again on the bike. The last few miles are all down hill-ish so it was a great glide down back to transition.  I was all smiles when I got in, yelling to my husband- I WAS SO FAST!! And it was- I averaged over 17mph…my fastest bike average EVER.

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My second transition wasn’t very quick. I forgot to put the lock laces in my running shoes and fumbled a bit getting those on, but it wasn’t a bad transition overall.  Off I went! My daughter even ran beside me for a little bit!

The run went uphill for the first mile.  I mean it, all uphill. My legs were a bit fried from the bike, but I just kept plugging along the best that I could.

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I wasn’t more than a half mile in when the girl that I had chosen to “catch” in the bike flew by me and said “Great job! I tried to catch you on the bike and just couldn’t do it.” I was FLOORED.  Not only had she also used me as a goal, but I had managed to maintain a lead ON THE BIKE. I was so excited that it helped me plug up the rest of the hill with such high spirits- even though she had just shot by me on the run, haha!

The course leveled out about right as it hit the 1 mile mark and I realized my pace up the hill wasn’t what I was hoping for, so I kicked it up a bit.  It was mostly shaded, which I was so grateful for because the temperature in the sun seemed to be way warmer than the shade.  I kept pushing and pushing and pushing the closer I got to the finish- luckily the course started to go down around then.  It was a wonderful run course- lots of shade and either road or paved trail until you got to the finish- which was right near the water.  I finished feeling like a million dollars.  The run ended up being slightly over what I wanted (30:19), but was my fastest triathlon 5k by almost 2 minutes.  My son even met me at the finish and walked me back to the family.

It was my best tri effort yet.  It was the first run I hadn’t walked in during a tri and my first time passing people on the bike. I am so pumped that I want to keep saying that over and over and over again.

To wrap up my analysis of the race itself- AWESOME.  Beautiful scenery, wonderful support, and best of all is they hired a photographer who not only took gorgeous mid-race pictures, but offered them at a super affordable price.  Being able to buy all my race pictures for $20 brought the whole experience up a notch above amazing. Thanks Joe Shrader Photography!  If you ever get the chance to do the Kinetic Sprint Triathlon by Kinetic Multisports at Lake Anna….do it.  And you’ll get to see me because I will totally be doing it next year.

 

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On top of the mountain

So this past Sunday I climbed a literal mountain.  My friend, (for 18 years now!!) Kat, and I climbed Catawba mountain along the Appalachian Trail to get to McAfee Knob.  And it was worth every.single.step.

We left her house at 5am and got on the road to get there decently early.  It’s about 2 hours and 45 minutes away from Richmond, so it’s definitely not a short trip. Between a Wawa stop and a bathroom break or two, we ended up arriving at the trailhead around 8:45 and started on our way.

The trail does NOT mess around; it starts on up right away.  And up and up and up. Brace yourself, it’s picture time.

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The trail is about 4 miles to the top and then turns around and is 4 miles down. At about the half mile point you have an option. You can either choose to follow along the AT (Appalachian Trail) or take a fire road for about 2ish of the miles.  The AT is moderately strenuous and the fire road is easy-ish.  We chose to take the AT on the way up and use the fire road on the way down. So at the half mile point we kept following the white blazes and indulged in some AT.

The trail was gorgeous.  Little bits of snow here and there where the sun wasn’t reaching, but it wasn’t cold- just “chilly”? Like a warm 40*.  Extremely pleasant hiking weather.

We even got to see a couple shelters on the way.  It was so awesome.  Lots of neat plants coming to life, and the “afterglow” of melted snow.

Then, at about mile 3ish, the fire road and AT converge again and you begin the REAL ascent to the top.  We are talking about 1000 feet over the course of a mile. And then you really start going up up up up.  Then, something crazy happened.  It looked like we had walked into Narnia’s winter wonderland.

And then….we were finally at the top. And it was breathtaking.

So, I’m pretty terrified of heights, but I had to push my limits to get a couple “bucket list” shots.  I wasn’t about to dangle my feet off the edge…but I got within 10 feet of the edge and I feel like that is pretty praise-worthy.

It was such a calm, peaceful place to be.  And we came at the exact right time. Right after we got there everyone started climbing back down so we had it all pretty much to ourselves. It was incredible. We picnicked at the top- so awesome.

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We were super glad we had chosen to take the AT up and the fire road down because we were so excited and interested in everything along the way…and on the way down we were tired and nothing was going to top the view we had seen so we more “trudged” than anything.

If you’ve been wanting to do this hike, DO IT.  I am glad I didn’t bring the kids because while they are pretty seasoned hikers, this was a BIG hike.  It was quite a climb, and it was really long.  The entire 8ish miles took us about 4 and a half hours.  We moved MUCH quicker on the way down than on the way up.  Finally got home at about 6:30pm.  It was a long, long day. But, such an awesome day.

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