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Happy Birthday, November Project!

11.05.2014

November Project turned three years old this week. I might not be one of the people shouting about it from the mountain tops each day (not really my style), but as NP celebrates its birthday and the growth of their movement, I’m compelled to reflect on how this grassroots tribe has changed my life.

Back in July of 2012 I went on vacation to Spain for a few weeks. While I was gone, my exercise partner in crime, Danielle, discovered this little run club in her neighborhood that ran up and down Summit Avenue each Friday morning.

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Talk about FOMO. After two weeks of laying on beaches, eating croissants, and drinking wine, I returned home resolving to get back on track. I’d been running on my own for about a year then, but I didn’t consider myself “a runner,” even though one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to run three half marathons that year. I was slow, and not totally sure that I belonged when I showed up at Summit that balmy July morning. We gathered at the bottom of the hill, and BG had everyone say their name. Then we ran. It was hard- the kind of hard I knew I’d never do on my own. But I left there with a sense of accomplishment and the idea that if I kept showing up, I might get faster.

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More than two years later, I’m still showing up, and, yes, I am better at running. But perhaps more importantly, I’m a better person. How? Here are a few examples:

1. I’m a hugger. Growing up, I was never really into hugging. Maybe it’s my New England roots, maybe I was subconsciously putting up walls, I don’t know… for whatever reason, hugging was something that happened to me a few times a year, and generally made me super uncomfortable. My own sister used to complain that not only would I not hug her, I frequently left her hanging with high-fives.

NP3-001Sometimes, I hug on skis.

Today, thanks to countless sweaty hugs, I’m a lot faster to embrace, I’ll high-five strangers on the street, and have to remind myself that hugging is not office appropriate. My sister gets a lot more hugs and high-fives these days too… that’s probably the main reason that she approves of November Project.

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And sometimes, I hug in groups.

2. I’m a better friend and teammate. Like a lot of folks, NP has brought some of my favorite people into my life. But my natural tendency is to be sort of a lone wolf, the kid who kind of stands apart from the group and watched everyone out of the corner of her eye. NP taught me how to not just be part of a team, but how to support others in meaningful ways. It taught me how much words of encouragement can mean when you’re struggling through a run. Watching friends open up about their own challenges (big and small) made me realize that there’s strength in making yourself vulnerable. Knowing the value of a #verbal has made me take my commitments seriously.

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3. No to cotton, yes to colors. This photo is from one of my first runs at Summit. That shirt is doing nothing for me.

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m churning through a tough workout and sweating buckets, cotton is kind of useless. Bring on the tech fabric; the more neon the better.

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4. I’m #weatherproof. Three years ago, rain was an excuse to skip a workout, and running in January was done mostly on a treadmill. Today, there are no weather excuses. I like the winter a lot more now that I’m not sentenced to months indoors, and I don’t mind the darkness as much when I’m surrounded by friends.

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(A big part of this is also due to learning how to layer right… see previous point on cotton.) Being #weatherproof brought all kinds of adventures to my life, like running through Windsor Great Park in the December rain, back country skiing out west, and swimming in Walden Pond on the first day of fall.

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5. I’m more positive (and more fun). I’ve spent a lot of time taking myself, and life, way too seriously. NP taught me the value of #positivity, and showed me that you can still train for excellence, while adding in a bit of ridiculousness. Today, whether I’m at Harvard Stadium, on the T, in my office, or anyplace else, I aim to make the best of it. Fun might not be possible 100 percent of the time, but positivity is, and it goes a long way. Just look at my Timberman race.

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NP has some pretty major changes on the horizon, and I’m not sure what it’ll look like a year or three from now. Then again, I’m not sure what my life will look like one or three years from now. But these early mornings, and the lessons and friendships that come with them, are something that will stay with me for a long time to come. Thanks, Brogan and Bojan for having this crazy idea and pulling it off so well. #thetribeisstrong

Pilgrimman Race recap

10.02.2014

When I signed up for a late-September triathlon, I thought I’d be racing in brisk temperatures, and prepared myself for the worst. Instead, I got weather more akin to August: sunny and 80-plus degrees. Not that I’m complaining… I almost didn’t make it to the race at all. More on that in a sec.

Pilgrimman, a new race in Plymouth, Mass., was a late add to my race calendar. After my tri in Ashland last June, I was passively interested in doing another Olympic. Meanwhile, my friend Danielle was looking to do her first triathlon. I knew I had to be in Chicago the days before the race, but figured I could fly home Saturday night and be good to go Sunday morning. Little did I know that a disgruntled employee would set fire to the air traffic control tower outside Chicago that manages much of the midwest’s air space. My flight home Saturday night was cancelled, along with hundreds of others, and when I called United customer service they told me that all flights for Saturday were off. Instead, they booked me on a flight Sunday. I called Danielle and told her there was no way I’d be there for her first triathlon. I’m not sure who was more bummed: Danielle at the idea of racing alone, or me at the thought of missing the race.

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I went back to my hotel room and saw that friends were posting about the airport on social media. A few flights were getting out. So I logged into United.com, hit manage my reservation, and found out that there were seats on a 4 p.m. nonstop flight to Boston. I rebooked myself, packed my bags, and hopped in a cab, trying not to get too excited at the prospect of making it home in time to race.

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Before I knew it I had a boarding pass in my hand….

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and I was on the plane. Bliss!

A celebratory margarita and the knowledge that I’d probably be up late meant I slept the whole flight back. I met Danielle at my place where we feasted on lentils, brown rice, swish chard, salmon, and ice cream before setting a 5 a.m. alarm and heading to bed.

Sunday morning went off smoothly. We were out the door at 5:45 and met our friend Scott a bit after 6.

The race was held at Myles Standish State Forest. Parking and navigating were a bit confusing, as I’d never been there before, but between Danielle’s knowledge (she’d biked the course the week before) and the event staff, we found the parking area and made our way to the race site.

After picking up our bibs, we made our way to the transition area and I showed Danielle how to get set up. As you can see in this photo from the Ashland Tri, I’m a big fan of an orderly transition area. The less thinking one had to do in transition, the better, in my opinion.

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We had plenty of time before Danielle’s wave started at 9, so we took a few selflies, applied sunscreen and body glide liberally, and ate a snack.

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Then we headed down to the water to watch the half-iron racers swim. Pretty soon, Danielle was lining up with her wave, ready to start her first triathlon.

The swim course was a .3-mile loop that you had to swim three times. In between each lap you had to get out of the water, run around some cones, and then start swimming again. It was a pain, but it also meant that I got to cheer for Danielle as she finished her first lap.

Shortly after Danielle came by, I lined up with my wave and got ready to start my own race.

Swim:
There were only about 12 people starting in my wave, which meant a much calmer start than other races I’ve been at. I stood on the left side of the group, and had pretty clean water from the beginning. As usual, I focused on keeping my breathing and stroke steady, and this was by far the calmest I’ve felt during the swim portion of a race. I finished the first lap in about eight minutes, but man, standing up and running in the middle of a swim is tough. The loops also made it tough to tell where I was in my wave, as I wasn’t ever sure if the person I was passing was on the same lap as I was. Once we were done swimming, there was an uphill run of about 200 yards back to the transition area. Whenever I stand up afar swimming I feel light headed, and this was no exception. It was a tough run to the transition, but there were a couple girls in my age group right behind me, so I booked it. I made it out in 27:24, second in my age group. Two other women were 20 seconds behind me.

T1:
Between the run and the swim, I was a bit light headed in the transition area, and getting my wetsuit off was sort of a challenge. I ended up getting it covered in grass and dirt… oh well. I tried to focus on speed as I pulled on my shoes and helmet and hopped on the bike. I was out of there in 2:13.

Bike:
The bike course was two loops of a 14-mile out and back that consisted of rolling hills. About 45 minutes after starting I ate my first Gu (15 minutes into the bike). I ate half a Clif bar 45 minutes later, and the rest about two miles from the end of the bike leg. I’d put aero bars on my bike the week before the race, but hadn’t used them before (super smart, I know). I was surprised at how easy they were to use though, and tucked in for the majority of the 28 miles. The course itself was pretty, and the rolling hills weren’t too bad, but the hairpin turns at the ends of the course were pretty annoying. You basically had to stop, turn around, and then start back up again. I felt good during the bike, and probably should have pushed it a bit more, but it was 80 degrees out and I was sort of worried about the run. I finished in 1:39:18, with an average speed of 16.9.

T2:
There was a bit of a run/walk once I got off the bike and I really wish I’d taken my shoes off so I could get through the transition area faster. I felt pretty good coming off the bike, and having things laid-out well meant that I was in and out pretty quickly. Having quick-laces would have sped things up even more. T2: 1:58.

Run:
It was 80 degrees and sunny when I got off the bike. I ran out of transition and passed a few people, which made me feel good, but a yoga class taken the day before had left me with tight hamstrings that plagued me through out the run. The course was two 3.3 mile loops with some rolling hills. I ran the first loop, and took water at every mile. At the 3.3 mile mark I had another Gu and prepared myself to do the loop all over again. Since I was pouring water over my head, I didn’t carry my phone with me, so I have no idea what my splits were, but I suspect the second loop was much slower than the first. My legs just felt like they had nothing left. Around the four-mile mark a girl in my age group passed me. I kept her in sight, and when she ran into the woods to use the bathroom I tried to put as much distance as I could between her and me. She passed me again around mile 5, and then started walking and so I passed her and again, tried to give myself a good lead. But with less than a quarter mile to go, she passed me again and I didn’t have anything left to chase her down. She beat me by 21 seconds. Run time: 1:10:53 (10:45 pace).

10413409_10100317019691970_7008889687765380844_nNot exactly a strong finish. Photo courtesy of Scott!

Danielle and Scott were waiting for me at the finish. I was so hot and tired I wanted to drop. Fortunately, someone took a photo:

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From here, we booked it back to the pond where I submerged myself until my body temperature was back in a normal range. It might have been the best swim of my life.

My finish time was 3:21:44, fourth in my age group and 88th out of 146 athletes.

Overall, I think this race went better than my prior tris, but I clearly still have work to do. What went well:

- Nutrition: I think I’ve finally figured out my pre-race fuel needs, and have nailed my in-race nutrition. There was no point in the race where I felt like I was on the edge of bonking.

- Transitions: are definitely getting speedier.

Things I didn’t do well:

- Yoga the day before the race was a bad idea. I overdid it on my hamstrings, and they were screaming for the whole run.

Things to work on:

- Bike. My bike sped here was a mile faster than it was in Ashland, but I really need to build power on bike. 17 mph is ok, but I know I can do better.

- Bricks. I need to incorporate more of these into my workouts so my final leg is more powerful.

I’m sort of struggling with what to do now that tri season is over. I know I want to keep swimming and biking over the winter, but I haven’t completely figured out the logistics. Dark mornings mean biking is harder (probably should just get the trainer set up). Anyway, suggestions and advice are always welcome. Looking forward to doing it all again next year.

 

One last Walden morning

09.24.2014

The forecast said 47 degrees Tuesday, the alarm said 5:45 a.m., and I questioned my sanity. Was I really going to head our to Walden pond for one last swim on the first day of autumn? Peer pressure is sometimes a wonderful thing.

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My friends were waiting when I arrived at 6:33. We pulled on wetsuits as the sky faded from black to purple to pink. Steam rose from the dark water, creating an eerie haze. After a few obligatory photos, we shed our jackets, pulled on our caps and made our way to the shore. The water was cool, but warmer than the air. We stood around waist deep, letting the water seep into our wetsuits. It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, but this was definitely no summer swim. Knowing I’d be warmer once I started moving, I dove in and started heading for the opposite shore. Four other bodies followed suit, and soon Katy was leaving me in her wake.

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I swam with no fear, a big change from my first morning at Walden back in June. The fog made it tough to see one another, so we stopped halfway across to regroup, floating and giggling like eight-year-olds at summer camp. We paused again when we got to the other side. The sun was just rising above the trees, casting everything in a golden light, and making it impossible to see the shore we’d just come from. Everything felt special in that moment: the friends who have trained beside me all summer (heck, all year); this pond with its stark beauty and deep, mysterious waters; the sunrise, which always delights me.

Regardless of whether I’m on a bike, in a pool, or on my feet, exercise is an opportunity to get out of the confines of my life, to be reminded of the wonders of the world, and to shed superficial thoughts and needs to find a truer version of myself. I never feel more authentic than when I’m engaged in a physical activity, pushing my limits and letting my mind wander. Yesterday was a perfect example. It was also a reminder of how far I’ve come. Three years ago, sub 50-degree weather was the perfect excuse for skipping a run. Now, I’m swimming in it.

We swam back in one fell swoop. It was beautiful out there, and much quieter than it was just a month ago. It felt like I had the whole place to myself.

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I swam ahead of the group and ran up to retrieve my phone in its drypak so I could take some photos. Unfortunately, it was so cold that my phone died after just a few shots.

Getting out was the hardest part. It was cold! I toweled off as fast as I could, hopping from food to foot on the cold ground. I ran to my car, turned on the heat as high as possible, and drove to a local coffee shop to warm up. In my haste to get warm, I didn’t even turn around for a last look.

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