Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Does Kindness, Compassion & Teamwork have to do with Triathlons?

If you ever considered being a triathlete you probably thought it was an individual sport that you would have to train hard and commit to in order to accomplish your goals. You may have thought you would hire a personal trainer or you may have decided to “go it alone.” For many years I have been running on my own and have enjoyed the solace of my runs. There were times I thought it would be nice to run with others but the groups I had run with in the past had a real sense of “elitism” and that was something I didn’t have the time or patience to be around. In 2008, I decided to start training for triathlons and I continued to do all my training alone. However, in 2009 I decided it was time to consider hiring a trainer. By chance, I came across a trainer that was exactly what I needed. She had recently started a triathlon team but I wasn’t so sure a team was where I wanted to be. I was so used to training on my own and to be around an entire team of triathletes wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for.

Because of the relationship with my new coach, I was asked to photograph a kid’s triathlon that she helped to coordinate. I love seeing children get involved in a sport I love so much so it was my pleasure to photograph the race. What I didn’t know was that decision would turn out to be one of the best decisions of my life and it would help me realize the community of people I had around me in a very different light. Let me explain…

I had been running back and forth between the pool start line and the run finish line the entire race because the kids were sent off in different start waves. So, as some of the older children were finishing the race, some of the younger ones were just starting. After all the participants were out of the pool I stood at the finish line taking photos. What happened next was something that shocked me tremendously. In today's society it seems rare that someone helps or encourages someone else without expecting something in return – particularly kids. But, it still exists! The passion a triathlete has for their sport makes them want to share it and that passion extends to other triathletes around them helping to create a team atmosphere.

The photo below is one of my favorite race photos because of the emotions it evokes in me. If you notice, every boy in the photo except for one is wearing a finisher's medal. All these boys came alongside of the other triathlete and cheered him on to the finish line. Did they know this boy? Possibly. But, as I snapped photos at the finish line I watched these same boys come alongside of many of the soon-to-be finishers and cheer them on to the finish line. It was the perfect example of what the triathlon community is all about: kindness, compassion and, yes, teamwork. It was such a great site it almost moved me to tears.

As I sat back after the race and thought about my previous experiences I realized that I am so thankful I decided to join the A-Team with Amaiza Fitness. I have found that same sense of community with the wonderful triathletes I train with from week to week. Kindnesses, Compassion & Teamwork are not character traits that are a thing of the past – they are present in each and every member of my team and in many of the triathletes I know in my community!

Reston Triathlon 2009

Race: Reston Triathlon
Date: Sunday, September 13, 2009
Location: Reston, VA
Race Type: Triathlon - Olympic Distance
Division: Athena
Time: 3:22:40

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Race Report:

Race morning

I didn't sleep much the night before. I don't know why I would have been anxious about this race. It is a major social-hour(ish) race with many local triathletes coming to compete against each other. It's just one big party of a race when it all boils down to it. It is jokingly called the "World Championship" race because it's where all the locals prove who is the best. However, the competition is tough out there, too. Lots of speedy guys and gals trying to prove they are the best and that leaves the not-so-speedy types like me looking around to see where everyone went! But, I digress...

My morning was about as good as it could have been. I woke up a little earlier than I expected at 4:30 a.m. then made a bowl of oatmeal and cut up 1/2 a banana and added about 5-10 golden raisins and some cinnamon. This was the first time I had prepared this meal before a race but this was a day of firsts so I figured I might as well go all out! This breakfast turned out to be a really excellent choice. The rest of my morning went off without a hitch (thankfully UNLIKE IronGirl which was a disaster!).

I raced this tri last year but thanks to Hurricane Hannah coming through the night before the swim portion of the race was canceled and replaced with a second run. So, this was really my first time doing an Olympic distance tri and it was the first time I had experienced two transition areas.

After getting my chip, pumping my tires and visiting the little girls room I hopped on my bike and rode a mile - IN THE DARK - WITH MY WETSUIT ON - to the first transition area and the beginning of the swim. I've seen several videos from IronMan races in the past and riding in the dark to the transition brought back memories of those videos I had seen where there is all this activity happening and it's still pitch dark outside. My mind immediately started thinking about my upcoming race in June of next year - a half Ironman. I'm already getting excited about it and I haven't even started training for it. But, this is now...this is Reston...and I've got a great race day ahead of me.

Swim (1 mi) : 43:08 min

Brrrrr.....Yesterday I was told the lake temps were 76 degrees. At the high school before the race they were announcing the temps were 72-73 degrees. Once we got to the lake they were saying 70 degrees! All I know is that the water was COLD and I was SOOOO thankful my coach had encouraged me to rent a wetsuit. The swim was kinda fun. I was told by an experienced Reston triathlete that I should go on the inside of the group to swim (because I told her I don't swim straight!). There were buoys on the left and we would circle them to the left and then come back down to finish. She said there was a rope that marked the "path" and I'd know if I was swimming in the wrong place because I would see the line. Well, that line and I became intimate friends. I am surprised I didn't get some sort of penalty for being on the line all the time! I tried to get away from it but I somehow kept going back toward it! I really need to practice my lateral breathing more so I can keep a better eye out on my left side. Another interesting thing that happened not once...not twice...but several that I would take one stroke and be up on someone's back! I had never had that happen to me before...but other people were doing it to me, too. It was somewhat funny. I had a little bit of an issue with the wetsuit (being worn for the first time during the race) because I felt it kept choking me. I had to stop about 3 times just to tug at the neck. But, overall I was pleased with my swim times as I typically swim 1 mile about 5-10 minutes slower than this.

T1 2:35
I'm actually surprised this wasn't slower. I had to run all the way back into the "woods" to get my bike! I was literally on the third row from the back. Then, they had this rule that you had to put all your swim gear in this bag (unlike just throwing things down like I normally do) and then tie up the bag so they could take it to the 2nd transition area. Not to mention that I had to get my wetsuit off my body - which actually wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. THANK YOU, BODY GLIDE!!! Anyway, I got on my bike and off I went.

Bike (22.3 mi): 1:19:55

I had a goal to finish this ride in 1:10. In retrospect that was actually a pretty lofty goal. That would have given me a pace of 19 mph. The fastest I've ever gone in a race has averaged 16 mph (for this type of distance). But, I was pretty pleased with almost a 17 mph pace. The bike portion was mostly uneventful - I was pretty consistent and strong throughout. There was one time where a lady crashed (for no apparent reason) right in front of me. But, other than that things went as expected. I loved the downhills with speeds of approx 35 mph and the wonderful straight stretch on South Lakes going about 28-32 mph. It made up for the "rolling hills" on Lawyers Road.

T2 1:19
Nothing major. I was starting to feel some allergy issues toward the end of the bike and knew that would affect my run, though.

Run (6.2 miles): 1:15:45

Toes. Numb. Thighs. Hurting. Toes...Toes...NUMB!!! It took me about 40 minutes to warm up my toes. I didn't know if they would even warm up before the finish line! By the time they finally warmed up I was able to pick up the pace and run about a 10:30 min/mile pace. However, the first 40 minutes put me so far behind that I wasn't able to catch up. The run was obviously the worst part of my race today but the race volunteers were AMAZING and there were some guys out there just pushing you through the pain...pushing you toward the finish. "GO 407 - keep up the pace on this hill (I swear, I thought this guy was going to run the hill FOR me!"..." "Let the finishing announcers pull you the rest of the way in..." And, of course, it was nice to see some familiar faces out there on both the run ("Daddy" Mike) and the bike (Shawn). THANK YOU for volunteering!!!

Post Race:

It was SO GREAT to see my family at the finish line. They have been unable to attend many of my races so it always brings a smile to my face to see them there. It was great to see my teammate Christina, too. She was there supporting her husband as he crushed the course!!! Loved seeing my running girl Janet there (and my son totally loved seeing Luke!). And, of course, my sweet little coach traveled across the state of VA today to cheer on all her girls. I can't believe she did it but it was great to see her there after I crossed the finish line.

Summary and lessons learned

Practice lateral breathing
Practice hills on both the bike & in my run. They are killing me on every race.

Her Name Was Sara

Have you ever done something that you thought would help change the life of others and you realize it has changed your life? Well, that is what happened to me one August afternoon.

I wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon earlier this year but had missed registering before it was sold out. I looked to find a way to run the race and noticed an advertisement to run it while raising funds for a special needs respite center in McLean, VA called “Jill’s House.” In order to get a race slot I needed to commit to raising one thousand dollars. This would be the first time I had ever participated in fundraising to run a race and one thousand dollars seemed a little extreme. But, I knew the money was going to a good cause so I decided to register for the race.

Although I have never walked the daily life of having a special needs child, I was exposed to my stepson who is a high-functioning autistic. As I began training for the marathon I would sometimes think about his special needs and the needs of other similar children that I knew. I would consider the fact that I was out there running for them – some who would never be able to take a step in their entire life. What a privilege and honor it was for me to run for them. It made the longer runs seem more bearable remembering that fact.

With only a few months left until race day I realized I needed to get serious about my fundraising. I felt uncomfortable just asking people for money but I knew that I would reach at least part of my goal by doing that because people are willing to give to worthy causes. As a photographer I decided to hold a fundraising photography session. I felt it was something a little “out of the box” and people could not only contribute to Jill’s House at the photo session but could then have a memorable photo of their family.

I decided to hold the photo session at a location in which I was very familiar. Not only had I visited this location many times but the trail I use for my marathon training ran right through the area. So, as I took photos of the families I would see a runner go by and was reminded many times why I was doing this. I was there to raise money so that Jill’s House could help serve my community by giving relief – a respite – to the families of children with special needs. I was running because so many of them couldn’t.

Then…there she was…Sara.

Sara could run. Boy, how she could run.

Sara was there on that day to have her photo taken with her family. What a lovely and patient family they were. Sara’s special need is autism and on this particular day sitting still was a bit of a task she didn’t want to be concerned with. If I’m being honest, I saw a little bit of myself in Sara that day. I sometimes find it hard to just sit and be still. I was so excited to take pictures that day but getting a typical family photo was going to be a little on the difficult side this time. So, I just started snapping my camera and what I ended up with wasn’t some staged shot where everyone is looking at the camera smiling but I got photos of real life – a family living by faith knowing that they were all put on this earth for a reason.

The photo session was only fifteen minutes but the family had been running around with Sara trying to protect her and keep her safe the majority of the time. The mom looked at me and said: “Now you can understand why we need this respite center so much.” I never really understood. I didn’t really “get it” but, now I do. Parents with special needs are typically under a lot of stress on a daily basis. They need this respite center. They need some alone time with their spouses and other children. They need a break.

At the end of the day I sat and reflected on the photo session and thought about Sara so many times. I thought about how much she loved to run and, quite honestly, I will probably think about her on many of my future runs. I’m running this race for Jill’s House but on a personal level I’m running this race for children just like Sara and a family just like hers.

Special note to those of you that race: If you feel you need something new or different to encourage or motivate you on a particular race I highly suggest participating in a fundraising group and really go out there and get involved in the program. I think you will be glad that you did.

A BIG THANK YOU to all of you who have donated to support my Race for Jill's House!

IronGirl 2009

Race: Iron Girl Columbia
Date: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Location: Columbia, MD
Race Type: Triathlon - Sprint Distance
Age Group: Athena 40+
Time: 2:31

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Race Report:

Race morning

I had a pretty good sleep the night before the race and I woke up at 4:40 am - 10 minutes before my alarm went off. I felt a little stiff when I woke so I did a few range of motion type of exercises to get myself moving and then I got in the car and headed on my one-hour drive to Columbia, MD. Once I got to the main street in front of Centennial park the traffic was insane (i.e. not moving). I thought I would still have enough time to get all my pre-race agenda taken care of but with every 10 minutes I kept getting a little more nervous. I finally got up to the main gate and just as I did they were closing the gate and sending people farther down the road. I remembered parking in the very back of the park last year and thought there would be no way to get a spot farther away from the transition area...but I was totally wrong. I ended up parking on a side street and had to (speed) walk 15 minutes to get to the transition area!!! As I was walking through the park I saw not only grass parking available but an entire parking lot available! I was less than happy about this! Normally this wouldn't be a problem but with the traffic backup, my 6 am arrival (on the main road) and the start of the race at 6:50 a.m. I knew I was going to be cutting it close. As I finally made it to the transition area I heard the announcer say "5 minutes until the transition area will be closed!" I just about died!!! I hadn't set up one thing in my transition area, didn't have my race number on my belt or my helmet, didn't have my tires pumped on my bike, nothing! Thankfully I ran into Tracy Sinclair (a local triathlete I met last year at my very first triathlon!) as soon as I walked into the transition area. Tracy helped me TREMENDOUSLY!!! If it weren't for her I would have NEVER made the 5-minute time limit that I had. Of course, being in that situation made me very stressed and I really felt uneasy about the race from that point on. I tried to put it behind me but so many little things happened just getting to the swim start that made me a little more unnerved each time. I had the pleasure to finally meet Catherine Hall - a local triathlete I've been virtual friends with for a long time - and just talking to her pre-race helped calm me down a little.

(I don't have the official times yet)

Swim (0.62 mi) : Approx 29 min

The swim was a little scary to me this time. I had a really bad ocean swim in July that was also this distance. It took me a VERY long time to complete it and today I felt I was still recovering from the "trauma" of that race. I finished this swim in 25 minutes last year so I was hoping to complete it in a little less time this year but that wasn't meant to be. I've been following the Total Immersion plan and felt I was gaining some speed so I don't know what's going on with that. The last few weeks before this race I felt I was swimming in a peanut butter lake several times. So, I guess I better get back to the basics with my swimming. Maybe I should get Katie "Speedy" Davison to watch me swim sometime!

I was moving slow and was very disorganized during my first transition. Because I didn't get that pre-race time to set things up like I normally do I ended up forgetting my water bottle on my bike. So, as I headed out for the ride I had NOTHING to drink...nothing since my ride to the race. NOT good.

Bike (17.5 mi): Approx 1 hour

Before I even got out of the transition area I knew I had made a big mistake not having my Gatorade with me but I didn't want to run back (on the other side of T1) to get it either. I knew they would have water & Gatorade at the turn around point so I figured I'd just wait. Not a wise decision. About a mile into the ride I started getting this pounding headache. I knew it was going to be a long ride. For some people this bike course is considered nice "rolling hills" and for others they say there are some "killer hills." I kinda fall somewhere in the middle of those two. But, today I sided more will the killer hills people than the other. Hills were NOT my friend today....well, the UPhills weren't! Thanks to my wonderful little guys over at Spokes in Ashburn (gotta plug these guys every chance I get - just love them there!) I was able to ride the race today using my trip computer! However, this just help me see exactly where my weakness was. Give me a downhill ride and I'm going 40 mph! Whoo hoo!!! Give me an uphill climb and I drop to like 4...and that's no exaggeration! But, what I came to realize today is that I need something on my bike. New Gears? More Gears? Something. (I'm obviously a newbie cyclist!). Why do I say that? Well, I was in my lowest gears going up these hills and people my size (or bigger) were passing me and their peddles were spinning round and round while I was cranking the crap out of mine. me here! What do I need to do? Anyway, the first part of my ride was miserable without anything to drink but once I got some fluids in me I started grinding away to the transition.

SUPER slow. I racked my fell...I racked it again. I took off my cycling shoes...I almost fell...then put on my running shoes. I was getting ready to go out the gate and some guy told me I forgot my bib number...I ran back...

Run (3.3 miles): Approx 35 minutes

The good thing is I got through the run. My last tri run was where I injured my IT band so it felt good to be able to just finish this run. The run was kinda uneventful with the exception of having a "rabbit" to chase. But, the last 100 yards or so I saw three women in front of me that were in my category so I kicked it up and passed them all at the finish line. Fun times.

Post Race:
You know you are looking bad when the people at the finish line ask you if you are okay! I was pretty sure I was on the verge (or had already crossed the line) of dehydration and the little Dixie cup of water they gave us at the finish line was of no help. I looked around for a bagel or a banana and didn't see them anywhere. Were they there and I had missed them? Shouldn't they have been more obviously placed near the finish line? Hmmm...Oh well, I knew I had a chocolate milk and a Lara Bar (Thanks for the awesome suggestion, Laurie!) waiting in transition for me so I started heading back there. About that time I ran into Catherine again. She had a great race but we both complained a little about the humidity. Hot? No, it was only about 80-85 degrees...but the humidity was 92%!!! So, yeah, we got a little hot out there. Anyway, I got to meet her awesome family and friends and spend some time chatting with them and then headed back to the transition area.

The walk from transition to my car was grueling! Now I had to carry all my transition stuff AND my bike back to the car. 20 minutes later I arrived at my car exhausted. I planned to stay at the race for the awards ceremony but there was no way I was going to walk back from my parking space. So, I hopped into the car and planned on driving back to the park and getting a space a little closer. Well, guess what - the police weren't letting people back into the park!!! So, I ended up going home.

All in all I'd say this race is becoming the "Race for the Cure" for triathlons. EVERYONE...and their mother... is racing it and the organization of the race (on race day, at least) is getting a little sloppy. I've got to hand it to them, though - the registration/packet pickup organization was spot on!

Summary and lessons learned

Always have a water bottle on my bike before the race begins
Always have my race numbers ready and attached the night before the race.
Learn more about cycling
Go back to basics with the swim