One More Tri 2016 Recap

I’ll admit: I had no intentions of participating in the One More Tri triathlon this year. After a pretty miserable experience last year (almost entirely of my OWN doing, mind you), I wrote off the sport of triathlon as a fun distraction from my usual running and that was that. But when Jeanene Leppert, the Special Events Director of Special Olympics New Jersey, reached out to tell me about the positive changes they’d made to the race and invited me to this year’s event, how could I say no?

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There’s Jeanene: one of the sweetest, most hard working women I know!

To keep things low-key, I registered for the Super Sprint distance; knowing I’d be smack in the middle of half marathon training, I didn’t want to push too hard and this .1 mile swim, 6 mile bike, and 1.5 mile run was just the right effort. It worked out even better because I ran a solid 11+ miles the day before, my longest run since May, and I was tired!

On Sunday morning I packed up the bike and headed down to Asbury with Mike, arriving with plenty of time to check in, get my packet (and a BIG hug from Jeanene!), set up in transition, and go wait in the car while the temps rose from a chilly 49 degrees!!

Once the sun came up it got warmer, and we made our way to the boardwalk for race announcements, the national anthem and the reciting of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” And that’s when I was reminded why I was SO happy to do this event again: being able to compete alongside Special Olympics athletes is a true honor. No matter how rough the water is, how strong the winds are, and how hard it is to keep running on tired legs, the fact that I get to take on all these challenges with these inspirational folks by my side is one that I will never not be moved by.

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As we marched to the beach for our swim start, we were informed that the swim portion had been shortened for everyone due to the rocky surf. Seeing the crazy waves the day before during my long run I figured as much, and we all clustered on the sand to keep warm after shedding our layers. It wasn’t long before our wave – the last wave, of course! – was next, and I laughed with some of my fellow Super Sprinters as we calmed each other’s nerves and passed the time. One woman had us roaring about how we should just “go to Waffle House – we’ve got the shirts already!”

After just a few more minutes, our gun went off and we ran into the water (which was almost 20 degrees warmer than the air!) and quickly discovered that the “swim” turned out to be a “fight for 35M through the waves and walk to the lifeguard who keeps getting knocked over”.

It was BRUTAL! I’ve never felt the surge pull me back so strongly – once one wave crashed over us, the current pulled my legs from under me and I had to fight to stay upright. After a few minutes of walking through the waves – and laughing and screaming – we made it to about 5 feet from the lifeguard. While the goal was to go around him, it was like running into a brick wall when each new wave pounded us! I laughed the whole time, and finally when a wave pushed me out, I grabbed onto the lifeguard’s shoulder to keep from getting swept out, rounded him and promptly got swept right up onto the shoulders of the guy in front of me, who got pushed into the girl in front of him, and so on! After apologizing and laughing, (“Thanks for the ride!”), the water calmed down enough for us to make a break for the shore again, and I ran. It was TOUGH. My legs burned from running against the strong current & jumping over waves, but I finally made it out.

The run back from the water to T1 was long – I’d estimate about a quarter of a mile or so, mostly on sand – but when the course is lined with volunteers and spectators cheering you on it’s hard NOT to feel awesome. Once I got into transition I rinsed my feet off, tossed my sneakers on & ran out with my bike. The volunteers were super organized, pointing me in the right direction with clear instructions and lots of encouragement, and I jumped on the bike in no time, speeding off for one loop of 6 miles.

There was a headwind for the first 3 miles out, but the course was clearly marked and filled with volunteers pointing us in the right direction (and police blocking traffic for us, thanks guys!). As I turned back at mile 3 and took a gel, I couldn’t help but smile and notice the absence of blue bibs around me. There weren’t that many folks in the Super Sprint wave at the swim, I wonder if I could Age Group place?? That was enough to make me pick up my pace and push for a bike finish of 26:10.

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After Mike snapped me bringing my bike in, I tossed my helmet off and headed onto the boardwalk for the 1.5 mile run, going slowly. My legs were now pretty shredded from the ocean, sand, and bike, but as I made it to the boards I fell into a rhythm and kept pace at a surprisingly fast 10:30. I’m just always faster when I bike!

It was on the boardwalk that I realized just how good my chances were to place – I saw only a few other blue bibs around me, and none were in my age group. The volunteers on the run course were phenomenal – SO many more this year than last year, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Once I got to the turnaround ahead of the full distance folks and headed back for the finish, I picked up the pace and couldn’t stop smiling over what a completely different, positive experience I had this year compared to last year!. When I spotted the folks at the finish line I broke into a sprint and crossed in 15:23 (a 10:15/mile pace!) and a total time of 51:41.

And of course I burst into happy tears when the little 5 or 6 year old Special Olympics rep placed my medal around my neck and gave me a high five, because that’s what I do.

After finding Mike and celebrating with him on a great finish, we wandered to the food tent where they had a CRAZY spread of amazing food – sandwiches, muffins, kale salads, Girl Scout cookies, donuts, recovery shakes, iced tea… you name it, you got it!

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::Liz Lemon voice:: I want to go to there…

After eating and sitting for a bit, we hung around for the awards and cheered on as the winners were announced in all divisions. It was so fun seeing everyone get recognition for their hard work. But the biggest shock of all came when they announced the Top Three Super Sprint Female Winners – and I placed THIRD OVERALL!

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Seriously, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Standing nearby helping organize medals and presenters, Jeanene screamed and grabbed me for a huge hug when she heard my name, and I went up to the podium for my first ever Overall medal!

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I was so stoked – sure, it’s really a numbers game when the field of participants is that small, but I still came in 11th overall in the Super Sprint, and 2nd in my AG too! I’ll take it!

Needless to say, this race is now a Must-Do for me every year. The Super Sprint distance the perfect way to challenge myself while not interfering with my half marathon training, and I can definitely see myself doing this one again next year – maybe I’ll see you too? 😉

NYC Triathlon Recap

Oh my goodness what a long strange month it’s been! Sorry for the lack of updates – its basically been non stop running, training, and racing every day for the last 4 weeks, but let’s take a look back and recap the fun, starting with July 24th, when two friends and I took on the NYC Triathlon in a relay team! Let’s see if I can cram two jam-packed days into one post. Ready? GO!

Announcements had been made earlier in the week that the run course was shortened from 10K to 8K due to the heat, and I could see why when we arrived in the city Saturday morning: it was like a blast furnace outside. After we got to the hotel and checked in, we found Alex & Chris and headed up to the expo for our pre-event briefing and packet pickup. The crowds were stifling – but if you cram 4,000+ people into any place you’re going to run into bottlenecks, I suppose. The layout forced us into very narrow walkways and I got stuck behind a thick crowd of people a few times. Plus the briefing and packet pickup was upstairs and expo/tshirt/swag bag pickup was downstairs. It all made for an uncomfortable expo experience, I won’t sugar coat it.

To get it over asap, we sat thru the briefing, got our hands stamped so we could get our packets (at the Pro & Relay check-in table, thanks for lumping us all in together!), asked a few questions of the helpful volunteers there, then walked downstairs to fight thru the expo crowd for our shirts and swag bags, then hoofed it across town to drop off Chris’ bike and check out the transition area.

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That turned out to be super helpful – just seeing the transition area and the in and out spots helped put our minds at ease. Plus we got a sneak peek at the sarcastic tags they used to mark off our areas:

After Chris left his baby on the rack, we ended the day with a quick Uber (my first Uber ride!! I felt so millennial! ) to meet back up with Mike at the Cock & Bull for dinner and drinks.

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4 people, 9 beverages. We take our pre-race hydration very seriously.

After parting ways (Chris and Alex stayed at a hotel much closer to the start), Mike and I sat outside for a bit to enjoy the sunset and people watch, then headed back to the hotel to relax and prep for the the next morning.

I have to take a moment to shout out the true MVP of the weekend (aside from my husband of course): that little backpack up there. It not only held everything I needed for a night in the city, but it also held Mike’s overnight stuff, ALL my race gear AND my expo swag bag so Mike only had to carry one bag while I raced. Brilliant, right? Round of applause for the little backpack that could.

OK, so after managing to get about 3.5 net hours of sleep, I woke up before the alarm at 3:45AM.

This was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole weekend. I miscalculated how long it would take me to get ready and the leisurely pre-race time I usually have ended up as a frantic 3-minute last check to pack up all my hotel stuff (because Mike was checking out while I ran) and throw my race gear and breakfast into my clear transition bag (and prayed Chris would have room in his bag to carry the stuff I couldn’t run with). After a quick picture to show off my race tats, I sprinted out of the room and made it onto the shuttle bus only to hit every red light.

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I arrived at Red Transition at 4:55 when the transition areas closed at 5:15AM – and I still had to go a half mile to Yellow Transition to meet Chris and Alex before Alex left for the mile long walk to the swim start! My heart was pounding by the time I jogged into our area and found them, and we snapped one quick pic before our swimming phenom took off for her start a mile up the Hudson.

Thankfully, it all turned out to be smooth sailing from there on out. As the sun came up, Chris and I BS’d for an hour before the Elite and Pro people started coming in from the swim to the bike. We all cheered and stood in amazement – these folks were incredible!

Shortly after, we started checking the event tracking site to see when Alex jumped into the water – once we refreshed the page and saw she’d been swimming for 3 minutes, Chris gave his now famous announcement: “Shit just got real, son!” and took off for his bike. To keep the already crowded bike rack area clear, I had to wait outside. But I got to hang out with Alex’s towel and be her personal sherpa which was fun.

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Chris climbed into his bike shoes, got his helmet on and gave the paparazzi a smile just as Alex made her way in WAY sooner than anticipated (20:03 for a 1.5KM swim, 1:12/100 yds!) and our first transition was underway!

They traded the timing chip, Chris took off on his bike, and Alex met me with a big hug – she crushed it! She was covered in Hudson grit (some people came out entirely covered in gray and black, it was quite gross), but she was psyched and happy with her time. After toweling off and talking for a few minutes, she wished me luck then headed back to their hotel to shower, check out, and meet us at the finish.

At that point it was just me – but it was one of my favorite parts  of the day. As an only child, I really value alone time. And even though I wasn’t really alone but surrounded by 150 other relay triathletes, the hour or so that I got before running was pure bliss.

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While I couldn’t race WITH my headphones, bringing them with me to transition for the wait turned out to be a great decision. Having my music helped me get in the zone and calm my nerves while waiting. I leafed through my magazine, ate my fuel (a Starbucks bagel and PB with a tiny bit of banana), hydrated, used the porta potty, and then returned to the steps for pre-race stretching. It also helped that this was my view for the whole hour:

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When my timer went off 75 minutes after Chris took off, I started to pack my things away and made one last bathroom stop. He had estimated his time to be around 1:45-2:00, but after seeing some other relay folks start to roll up, I didn’t want to chance not being ready for him in case he was early. It turns out I made the right decision there too: he crushed his time and came in at 1:38: 07 for an average of 15.2mph the whole 40KM!

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Chris, Crushing It (TM)

After he rolled in and racked his bike, he passed the chip along to me and I took off up the hill to 72nd street. After spending the whole morning in the shade by the water with a nice breeze, I was shocked to feel how hot it had gotten. Landing on the cookie sheet heat of 72nd street’s asphalt was a gut punch, but I felt good. Really good, actually, thanks to the unbelievable crowds of people lining the course. There were folks the entire mile from the transition to the entrance to Central Park with signs and cowbells, all cheering and clapping – one guy even yelled out my name after I passed and he saw it on the back of my singlet!

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This was my face the whole race, for real!

As I got to the entrance of the park, I spotted Alex yelling my  name, which gave me a nice boost. I cheered right back and gave her a fist pump then glanced at my watch as we entered the park. I was shocked to see I’d already run a mile – in 10:20! It felt like nothing!

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At the first water station I slowed to a walk and grabbed two cups – one to drink and one to dump over my head – and continued on my way. It was really cool being surrounded by FULL triathletes as I ran. Being passed by speedy people definitely had something to do with my great pace I’m sure. Mile 2 clicked by at 10:55 with the water stop, and I laughed, amazed at my speed.

Finally, around mile 3.5 I started to flag – there was now no relief from the sun and the hills were brutal. At the next to last water stop, volunteers were handing out baggies of ice and I grabbed one – what a brilliant idea! I alternated between running with the baggie at my neck and throat and wrists, and grabbed a few cubes out to chew on every few minutes too.

A little after mile 4, I was walking up a hill when a guy passed me: “Come on Jess, it’ll be over faster if you run,” he said as he whizzed by. Knowing my teammates and friends and family would be there at the finish, I glanced at my watch – just over 3/4 of a mile left. As good a time as any to drop the hammer, I figured. The crowds grew thicker and I could hear the roar at the finish line, so I downed the last cup of water I’d been carrying and took off.

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Note the serious face and airborne running form.

I pushed through the pain and focused on the people screaming on the sidelines.. My watched ticked to mile 5 and I groaned – the course was long, 8K was under 5! As we rounded the last few tight corners to get to the finish I went into a full out sprint and glanced at the crowds scanning for my people. Unfortunately, I was so overheated and focused on finishing that I didn’t see anyone. BUT that final extended kick managed to get me over the finish line at a freakin fantastic time: 56:29 for 5.22 miles (!) for an average of 10:50 per mile!!!

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I was so pumped – but also dehydrated and overheated. So I pounded some water, accepted an ice cold wet towel from a volunteer, grabbed the three medals our team earned, turned in my timing chip and headed for the Family Reunion area where I met up with Mike and my friend Lizzie (who had just finished TEN miles that morning for her training run!!)

Alex and Chris showed up shortly after with a crew of their friends, and we all hung out to bask in our post-race glow before heading out to celebratory brunch.

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Also, I will never forgive you for not putting the shirt on for the picture, Chris. Never. 

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2,000 words later, I’ll sum it up: this was a great event and we were super happy with our performances. Being fresh for each leg of the event makes a huge difference that I’m grateful for this time around: shortly after we finished they shortened the run to 1.2 miles and had people go right to the finish upon entering the park!

The logistics of it are huge and while the expo/packet pickup situation was a real stress-inducer, it was surprisingly well managed and all the volunteers were super helpful. I’d give it a solid A and would gladly do again as part of a relay team, possibly even on my own!

From Zero to… Two

So last year I had two extremely different experiences at two sprint triathlons.

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look at the happy!!

The Jersey Girl Triathlon was everything I could have hoped for in my first tri: fun, low-key, perfect weather, an overall A+ experience.

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look at the very real tears!

The One More Tri, on the other hand, threw everything it had at me and nearly broke me. I was almost last out of the water after they mis-measured the swim (nearly doubling it), I was last to finish on the bike thanks to my lead legs, busted bike gears and high winds, and the run was a footrace with a woman I affectionately dubbed “Bike Basket” because she beat me in the bike at the last minute on a beach cruiser with a basket.

But, because I’m not one to turn down a challenge (and part of me NEEDS to conquer that Asbury Park course, dammit), I’ve signed up for not just one, but BOTH of these races again this summer! I’m taking my training slow for the Jersey Girl – haven’t even done an official brick workout yet, with like 2 weeks til race day! – and actually chose to do the Short Sprint in Asbury because it falls smack dab in the middle of peak training time for my fall goal race, so I guess you could call these… Triathlon Lite?

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Call it whatever I want, all I know is I don’t have a spare $600 to upgrade my janky mountain bike and I’m doing these just to have some fun, not break records. Also, the One More Tri has the added bonus of benefiting the Special Olympics, so I’m honored to be raising money for them again. If you’re so inclined, feel free to donate here – every little bit helps, even $5 would be much appreciated!

So there’s my big summer plans in a nutshell – doing two races I said I’d never do again as long as I lived because I don’t know how to say no and have a silly competitive streak with myself! Have you ever done a “never again” race again? Which one? How did it go? I bet you didn’t regret it!

Ode to the Fitness Buddy

I don’t know about you, but with no major races on the horizon until at least March, I’m feeling kind of lost when it comes to my running. Without a big goal race to aim for or a plan to follow, I kind of turn into a sassy cranky pants just looking for some kind of structure to my life that’ll help me avoid gaining weight through the holidays and keep me sane when the Christmas madness takes hold.

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Exhibit A: my life.

Luckily, I’ve managed to set a pattern of sorts now thanks to my fitness friend, Kevin. Kevin has been my friend and frequent running buddy for a while now, but recently he’s joined my gym and kicked me into gear in a big way without even realizing it.

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Hooray for structure!

Kevin is usually the one to text me at 9PM on a Friday with “Are you running tomorrow?” What he doesn’t realize is that I’m usually eyeballs-deep in a glass of red wine and when I see his texts I usually say, out loud, to no one, “Well, I wasn’t planning on running in 12 hours but I guess I am now.” And then I finish the glass and put the cake down because no one wants to see me sweating red velvet and Robert Mondavi.

Now that he’s also a member of the same gym, he’s taken to texting me with random thoughts such as “Just throwing it out there. In addition to running. I want to work on abs, arms, and legs. Abs every day.”

And just like that, I’ve got a strength training schedule in my life!

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Exhibit B: this past Saturday’s workout

When I’m in the throes of training, I sometimes lose sight of how fun it is to workout with someone else, so I’m grateful for his reminders. And he’s not the only one!

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My sister in law (who ran the Turkey Trot with me last week!) has been excellent at suggesting we do fun runs and races lately, which I totally need in my life if I don’t want to end up waking up surrounded by empty Godiva chocolate boxes wondering what happened to the past 48 hours.

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And my cousin Heather who ran the Trenton 10K with me is another motivator: she’s got races lined up for pretty much every weekend now through the end of 2017, and I only wish I had her dedication!

How about you: do you have a fitness pal to keep you motivated? How has sweating with someone else helped you on your journey?

Insta-Thanks!

I say it a lot, but I can’t stress it enough: Instagram is where I first found my home in the fitness community, and it’s by far where I spend the most of my social media time.

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As of now, I’m currently about 60 followers away from 10K (HOLY COW) and while I don’t know when I’ll  hit that amazing, eye-popping milestone, I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to each and every one of you.

But I’m going to wear clothes. Especially on the bus. Because, ew.

You guys are truly the best. I read and smile at Every. Single. Comment. And while I try and sometimes fail to reply to every one, I try as hard as I can because I want you to know just how much I appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk to me.

When I look back at the past two years to when I started this whole Jess Runs Happy thing, I see a huge spike in my overall happiness. You folks have inspired me to push myself and do things I never would have dreamed of: swimming, run-streaking, relay races – even going out for a run when I really didn’t feel like it. Hell, I’ve lost count of how many runs I’ve gone on just to have something to post about on social media that day. Some might think that’s vain or silly, but I say it got my ass off the couch and onto the pavement for miles I never would have run otherwise. What’s so bad about that? Nothing.

So thank you. Thank you for looking at the silly pictures I post. For reading the words I string together in a hopefully entertaining way on a semi-regular basis. For not getting tired of all the various ways I capture images of my big dumb face and/or my sneakers. For encouraging me to train harder, smarter, and faster. For giving me a reason to keep doing the things that I sometimes struggle with: running, smiling, being.

For all that and more, THANK YOU!

NYC Triathlon: I’m IN!

A month or so ago, my coworker asked me how I felt about being the runner in a relay team for the NYC Triathlon. After a little research showed me what a ridiculously cool race this is (and that the run was only a 10K around Central Park, yes, please), I was stoked: of course I said yes!

Cut to a few weeks later when we realized that the entry was a fundraising spot that we’d all have to raise upwards of $1k for, each, in addition to the entry fees. That’s a lot of money, so we shelved the idea until the race lottery opened and we decided to enter as a relay team that way. “Who knows”, we reasoned. “If we get in, we get in, and if not, no sweat.” We’d find another event to enjoy together.

Fast Forward to this afternoon when I came face to face with the following email:

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Few subject lines make me squeal as much as “You’re In!”

I immediately ran to find my coworker – the biker of the group – and we promptly high fived and jumped in the air, Anchorman-style.

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(but with less mustaches)

I then texted my other co-worker (or rather, former co-worker, as she recently accepted an awesome new position!) and we freaked out for a bit via text. She’s the swimmer of our group, and the initial idea was hers in the first place.

Once I got through all of the details and filled out our form officially registering us, it finally sank in: I’m going to be doing the NYC Triathlon, and as a part of my first-ever relay team! How cool is that? I never pictured myself doing this event, but once the tri bug bit me, I knew I had to be a part of something larger like this. My confidence in my swimming skills, however, are somewhat lacking, and my biking… well, let’s just say I’m more Beach Cruiser than Iron Man. But with two unbelievable athletes like these folks by my side, with their own strengths in swimming and biking? Piece of cake!

The Reluctant Tri-ers (yes, that’s our team name) are headed to the Hudson River on July 24th, 2016!

How about you – have you done a relay race before? Or the NYC Tri? Any tips for a first time relay team member?

Skirt Sports Running Skirt Giveaway

If you’ve got eyeballs and you’ve seen my photos, you probably know I’m a big fan of Skirt Sports. I’m also an ambassador for them, and love what they’re about: empowering women of all ages, sizes, and abilities to get moving.

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Me in my Happy Girl at the NYRR Oakley Mini 10K this summer

I know I’ve been giveaway crazy lately, and today is no exception: I’m giving away my favorite piece of Skirt Sports gear: a Happy Girl Running Skirt!

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That’s right, I’m giving away my namesake skirt because I love it so much and I know you will too. The 17″ skirt is longer than most you’ll find out there, but it’s not dowdy. In fact, it’s even better than shorter skirts! That’s because the 7″ built-in semi-compression shorts are long enough to stay put, eliminating those dreaded thigh-chafing issues. Short-waisted gals or those of you with a booty you’re proud of (like me!) will love this one – it covers all the right places but is still super cute without looking like a skirt a nun would approve of (although I’m sure they’d like it too)! Just like the rest of the Skirt Sports pieces, it’s loaded with pockets and made of high quality tech fabrics, but the key to this one is its versatility. I’ve worn it both on the race course and in the office, and swear by it on the weekends.

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So what are you waiting for? Enter here, spread the word, and good luck!

One More Tri – Triathlon Recap

It’s been a little more than a week since I crossed the finish line of the One More Tri in Asbury Park, and if I’m being honest, I’m still a little emotional about it. Let’s recap:

The morning of the race I woke up completely nerve-free: my race bag was packed, bike tires were full of air, my legs felt strong even after racing the Seaside Semper Five 5K the day before.

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We arrived at the iconic Carousel building just as the sun was trying to come up, and I picked up my race packet, got marked up with my number, slipped into the transition area, and prepped.

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After I felt confident everything was ready around 7am, I kicked my flip flops off and we walked up to the boardwalk at around 7:15, where pre-race announcements were being made. By then the day had broken: cloudy, cool, and dry – perfect race conditions!

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Once we got up there though, I looked out at the water and received quite a shock: the buoys were MUCH farther apart than I expected. There was NO way I’d be able to swim that! I started to panic. The Jersey Girl Tri swim was 300 yards, and this was only supposed to be .25 mile, or about 440 yards. This looked WAY more than 140 yards longer. Something was up.

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At the water’s edge, I had a full on panic attack and started crying. And no amount of positive self-talk helped. Even Mike couldn’t calm me down. My confidence was shattered, and unfortunately I would not get it back up to 100% for the rest of the race.

Things happened quickly from there – the first wave of 30 or so Special Olympics athletes started first, men second, and women third. We had an “in-water start”, which is something I’d never heard of: you swim out to the start and tread water before the gun goes off. They say it’s to conserve energy but I still spent energy and added another 50 yards of effort getting OUT to the buoy, but now I know!

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It was happening whether I was ready or not, so I sucked it up, got my good luck kiss, and walked into the water.

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After swimming out with the rest of the women to the first buoy (which felt like FOREVER away!), we waited for a few minutes for the guys to get a good headstart, then the gun sounded and we were off! Within the first 30 seconds, I knew I was in trouble. Everyone around me took off like dolphins, and I was left at the back of the pack giving it my all for 1/4 of their speed. There were a few folks back there with me, but not many.

After a solid 5-7 minute effort to get to the first buoy, I gave myself permission to roll over and recover with the backstroke for a while. I focused on my breath and the clouds over my head, kicking with all my might for a solid few minutes and when I got tired, rolled over excitedly to see how far I’d gone – and found that while I only got about 20 yards towards the next buoy, I had backstroked myself 30 yards out to sea. After dropping the biggest F-bomb of my life, I dove under the water and power-swam back towards the crowd, then kept going to the second buoy to reach the halfway point, exhausted.

At this point I genuinely considered waving down a swim angel and asking for mercy. I thought about all the things in my life I set out to do and failed, and how miserable that list made me feel. I thought about how I started running (and competing in triathlons) to prove to myself that even if I can’t learn how to knit or learn sign language, I can accomplish some things. Like completing triathlons. And when I pictured the DQ next to my name in the race results, I got so mad. If I quit, all those negative thoughts I think about myself in my worst moments would be true. And I wasn’t about to let that happen.

To stop the negative thoughts, I found a mantra: Just keep swimming. Repeated it in my head over and over to the rhythm of my strokes, alternating between freestyle and backstroke 3 or 4 more times. After what felt like an eternity I finally saw the last buoy at the turn back to the shore.

I was joined by a Special Olympics athlete and his swim angel fighting their way back to the shore too – I shouted out some encouragement to him and he shouted something back (I was too far away to hear), and before I knew it I saw the swimmers in front of me standing up and walking. A few kicks later my toes found the sand and I was running through the surf. Finally I made my way safely onto the sand where Mike was cheering me on. He walked with me and asked how I felt as I moved on shaky legs. All I remember was saying “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” before giving him a half smile and taking off for the next leg of my journey.

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The crowd support was incredible – I could hear the people on the boardwalk cheering on the swimmers that made it out ahead of me, and felt a little burst of energy. On the boardwalk I grabbed a cup of water and pumped my arms over my head to everyone’s cheers, and slowly walk/ran my way over the painful little rocks on the concrete to the transition where I threw on my shoes and helmet and wasted no time getting out of there.

Total Swim: 22:45

Transition 1: 3:09

The bike course was two loops around a 5.88 mile course, and I cruised out smiling, cheering along with the crowds at the transition area and waving at Mike as I passed. I was ready to do this!

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But about a hundred yards later, I felt like I was pedaling through sand. The headwind was STRONG, my legs were shredded from the swim and my bike gears were jacked up. Every time I tried to go lower, the pedals caught and it felt like the chain was slipping off the gears.

Right about now, all those folks who wagged their fingers at me for riding a mountain bike are probably saying “I told you so”. And to them I say “Go sit on it and spin”. I know it’s not ideal, but I had to work with what I had. This bike got me through Jersey Girl perfectly and I had no reason to believe I’d have any issues. Until I did. Again: now I know.

But I toughed it out, and after 3 miles of fighting, finally got into a comfortable gear for the rest of the first loop. At mile 1 of the second loop (Mile 7-ish overall), we went back into the headwind and I spotted a woman ahead of me on an old school cruiser with a basket. I passed her for a mile or two, but when I tired out she soon passed me once again, followed by another speedy lady who came up from behind me, laughing in relief: “I thought I was the last one back here, thank goodness for you!” And then she passed me.

That was seriously not the thing to say to me in that moment. I kept waiting for someone else, but once we turned around and I got a good look at the rest of the course, I realized the truth: I was the last person on the bike.

And that’s when I cried. I cried like a big dumb baby as I pedaled my big dumb mountain bike for the last 3 miles and wished that I’d never started this whole big dumb thing. I tried as hard as I could to try to gain on Bike Basket, but she was just too fast. At the bike finish I hopped off, walked my bike in and Mike found me, smiling and asking me how I was feeling. All I could do was choke out the words, “I’m last,” before sobbing. In front of everyone. I was SO MAD at myself. But I just kept going, racked my bike, waved back to Mike, and took off on the run.

Total Bike: 1:05:44/11mph

Transition 2: 1:35

“The run is your sport. You are a runner.” I kept telling myself this as I put one foot in front of the other, my eyes on Bike Basket’s hot pink tank top about 250 feet ahead of me. It wasn’t even a desire to finish anymore – it was pure anger. Anger at myself for being so slow, for being 10 lbs overweight, for signing up for things that I had no business trying to compete in, for thinking I could do this in the first place. It got ugly out there.

But then something strange happened – I started gaining on her. Before I knew it, I was only 100 feet behind her, then 50 feet. I took inventory of my body, looked at my pace of 11:15 and thought… you can do better than this. So I did. Once we rounded the lake, I caught up to her and heard “Fight Song” coming from the speakers of her phone. I’m probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t like that song – and after hearing it on repeat the whole run as she paced me, I now really HATE that song! – so it propelled me to go even faster. Once we hit mile 2, I hit the gas and passed her.

For good.

We moved back onto the boardwalk for a bit, then around Boardwalk Hall where I slowed to a walk for 30 seconds or so. That’s where I found and passed another competitor, who I applauded and chatted with, but once I heard Bike Basket/Fight Song creeping up behind me I took off running again and told myself that was it. If she passed me again I would undoubtedly suffer a complete nervous breakdown on this course, so it was all or nothing. At the turnaround I saw just close she was to catching me, so I pushed. Off the boardwalk, around the hall, and back onto the boards for the final stretch, no looking back.

Honestly, I wish I could find her now and thank her for her inspiration. I’m sure she was fighting her own fight out there as well, and we were neck and neck for so long that I almost considered introducing myself. But out there on that cloudy, windy course, the sight of her ahead of me – then RIGHT behind me! – was better motivation than any power song or positive mantra ever could be. Thank you, Bike Basket!!

Once I was in sight of the finish line, the crowds started cheering as soon as they saw me, and I gunned it and crossed the finish line with my hands raised above my head and my face screwed up from fighting happy tears.

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Total Run: 32:56 – 10:59/mile

TOTAL TIME: 2:07:01

Once I crossed the finish, I was greeted by two of the sweetest little angels from the Special Olympics – a little blonde boy and an even littler ponytailed girl who were handing out medals. When I saw his face looking up at me as he held my medal out to me, THAT’S when I started crying. The whole thing – all of the negative self talk, the anger, the frustration, the anxiety – it all meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was these kids, and the Special Olympics of New Jersey and all the inspirational, amazing, determined folks that are affiliated with them.

Mike found me a few moments later and I completely broke down sobbing in his arms. I had done it! It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, and it was over. He helped me pull myself together, got me some food at the awesome (still fully stocked even though I was third to last!) food tent, and we got my stuff out of transition and back to the car.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotionally and physically drained in my life, until we got home and were hit with terrible news: our Sammy had a real family who really missed him, and we had to give him back.

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To say that I was gutted is an understatement. There was a moment there after I saw the Missing Poster where I thought I’d be sick from crying so hard. It felt like a bad dream. Mike was shattered. After we called his family and let him know that he was OK, we made sure to enjoy every moment of the time we had left with him. I know it’s for the best that he’s back with his family, but that little guy brought such joy to our lives right when we needed him, and we’re thankful for every moment we had.

It was an extremely emotional day for sure, and one that still leaves a bittersweet taste in my mouth. But it’s a part of my history now. I learned a lot about myself out there. I like to say that every run – good or bad – changes me for the better. If that’s true, then this swim-bike-run made me three times better – tougher, stronger, and wiser. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

EDIT: I just received an email from race officials admitting that, after many people contacted them about the swim distance, they discovered they were WRONG! The .25 mile swim was actually… get ready… .45 miles. That’s almost double! No wonder it looked so crazy long: they made a mistake while measuring on race morning. Vindication! But it’s still pretty cool – I now know that I can swim almost a half a damn mile, then bike 12 miles and run 3. That’s pretty damn badass, if you ask me!

I’m a Triathlete… again

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I completed my second sprint triathlon this past Sunday and while it was hands down the most challenging race I’ve ever participated in, it was also the most rewarding. I finished emotionally and physically drained, in 3rd to last place (!)… but I FINISHED.

Life is crazy right now so I promise I’ll post more later, but I just had to share my excitement 🙂 How about you – how is training going? Any awesome milestones to share? Let’s hear it!

Jersey Girl Triathlon Race Recap

It’s been 2 days but I’m still riding high on the post-race victory wave! Now that things have settled down (and I’ve caught up on my sleep, hello 9PM bedtime two nights in a row!), I can finally give you guys a good race recap. So here we go!

Before a big race, I always say I’m going to get a good night’s sleep and end up hitting the pillow close to 3 hours late after rushing around packing my race bag, figuring out my outfit, and obsessively checking/re-checking everything. This time, I was determined to NOT let that happen, so I spent all day Saturday taming my nerves by creating order around the house (while also packing my things and taking my bike out for a test spin around the neighborhood). I did laundry, dusted, cleaned the kitchen, and it felt awesome. As a former OCD sufferer, I find happiness in order, so I dealt with my pre-race jitters in a constructive way, and as a result, woke up at 3:30 Sunday morning with a smile and a sense of calm!

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The gorgeous sunrise didn’t hurt either.

We arrived at Pier Village at about 5:30AM and found a parking spot easy peasy lemon squeezy. This also made my anxiety-prone mind happy! After a simple walk along the boards, I was marked with my bib number, entered the transition area, and staked out my little spot.

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Transition slowly started to fill with people, and after only about 5 minutes of putzing around and setting up my space, my cousin arrived and parked next to me – hooray for someone to race with!

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There was some more milling around as we used the bathroom one last time, hung out with my husband on the boardwalk, then shed our flip flops before transition closed at 6:30. The first wave of swimmers was due to go out at 6:50, so we hung around and watched them, and made our way down the beach once they set off.

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After hanging out for a while and running into our new friend Amanda before she set out in her wave, Mike came down on the sand with us and kept us company while we nervously waited for our wave – the LAST wave – to go out at 7:29.

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Once we were herded into our pen, an amazing volunteer stood at the front and gave us probably the sweetest pep talk I’ve ever heard. “Here we go, Wave 14! You guys are last but that just means you trained the hardest!” Accompanied by our coach (who was wearing his trademarked tiny gold speedo, as you’ll see in the photo below), we were assured repeatedly that the swim would be awesome.

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I didn’t doubt it! The swells were nowhere near as large as they’d been in the past 2 swims I did with the group, and the course seemed MUCH shorter. They even spotted some dolphins out there! Finally, the countdown was up and we were released into the water.

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The water was so warm!! I was thrilled and couldn’t help running right into the waves, laughing. I could hear Heather right next to me chatting with our coach, and I knew she was going to do great. I put my head down and paddled through the breakers, and within a minute or two I was already at the first buoy! The energetic volunteers in kayaks and on surfboards kept yelling out encouragement (“The hard part is over, guys!”) and once I rounded the first corner I settled into a rhythm. Stroke, stroke, stroke, look up, breathe, repeat.

After a few minutes I took a moment to soak everything in – it was really happening! I was competing in my first triathlon. The sun sparkled over the horizon in a cloudless sky, the women around me were all cheering each other on, the water danced calmly all around us. It was a moment I’ll never forget – it’s amazing where your life takes you sometimes, isn’t it?

Once I made it to the second buoy to turn back to the water, I kicked and paddled for a bit and let the ocean do some of the work to get me back to shore. I touched my toes to the sand and saw about a dozen people in the shallows helping swimmers out of the water. Just as I was about waist deep, I made eye contact with one of these volunteers – just in time to see his eyes go wide and hear him say, “Duck.” Without a second thought, I ducked straight down and felt a big wave crash right over my head. I was safe! When I popped back up I saw him making his way behind me for another swimmer and yelled out to him, “Thank you!!”

Well, I spoke too soon. I made it 2 steps before the water surged backwards around my shins and glued me in place for the next wave to smash right into my back, knocking me chest-first into the sand. I put my arms out so I didn’t tumble around, but I felt the sand rush into my top and bra, and down my shorts. Thankfully, two volunteers rushed for me as I got to my feet a second time, each one taking an arm and asking me if I was OK – these volunteers were ON POINT! I said I was fine and shook some sand out of my top when I spotted Mike on the water line. I called his name and smiled: how fun to see him right there!

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I honestly don’t remember what I said to him, but he kept me company as I got my feet under me, and then I was off, running up the beach to T1.

Swim Time: 9:04 (.17 miles)

The volunteers at the stairs, standing with hoses, and offering water before transition were all so kind. I can’t overstate this part: the volunteers throughout the entire event were AMAZING. I’ve done a lot of races, but the people that worked this one were the best I’ve ever seen. Every one had a smile and a kind word, and not one of them was being paid. Seriously fantastic!

Once I got into transition I sat down at my towel and washed my feet off, got my socks & sneakers on, and realized that Heather was nowhere to be found. I got my helmet on, drank some Nuun, and putzed around for another minute or two when she came running in and we were able to go out on the bike together – and Mike was even able to get a pic of me as I was running out!

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T1 Time: 7:47

We hopped on our bikes and made our way onto the course, and despite the sand wedged into my bra, top, and shorts, I powered through and fell right into a groove. The first flat mile clicked by under 5 minutes, and I was happy. Heather and I chatted a bit for miles 2-4, and once I took a nice long drink from my bike bottle I took off ahead and went for it. The course was almost entirely empty at this point – damn Wave 14 being the last – and I made a mental note to register for an earlier wave in my next tri.

Even though it was empty at the back of the pack, I just kept pedaling and smiling and singing along to myself – I’m sure I looked quite mad, but I was having a freakin’ blast! The course was nearly completely flat, all through Long Branch, Deal, and into Asbury. I laughed to myself when I biked over the same streets I ran just a few months ago during the Asbury Park Half Marathon, and turned around at mile 6-ish to head back the way we came. There were a few other people now along the course – some were just recreational bikers and others were a part of the race – so I got the satisfaction of picking a few off as I passed. I was certainly not breaking any speed records, but I wanted to avoid that strange cramping I experienced on my last brick workout.

Once I got to mile 9-ish though, I panicked briefly & slowed: the signs and road cones were all gone. Did I make a wrong turn? If all else fails, I thought, I can just bike to where we came out of. Finally, at mile 10.75, I approached a corner and saw a few people standing between cones that continued past the street. I slowed and asked them “Do I go straight or turn?” Evidently I was dealing with the only two volunteers who kind of stunk at their job. They didn’t hear me at first, so I had to full-on stop and ask again, “Do I go straight?!” Finally, one of them says, “Sure, if you want?” Incredulous, I spat out “I’M IN THE RACE!” to which he replied, “OH, then go right!” I laughed and shook my head as I turned and started up again, a little annoyed at having to stop like that.

But once I came around the corner and into the finish area, the other volunteers were on point again. As I dismounted, one genuinely asked me how I was feeling, and walked with me until I answered, “Great!” and ran my bike back into transition for T2 and the run.

Bike Time: 55:18 (11 miles)

This transition was even simpler – I just had to drop my bike & helmet off and put my hat on, but I stayed a moment to slug back another 1/3 of my bottle of Nuun. Then I was off – Mike even got me there too!!

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T2 Time: 2:08

Within a few strides out of the gate, I could tell this was going to be difficult. In the first quarter mile, I passed two women who were walking and really struggling, so I slowed to walk and offered encouragement to each of them: “We’ve got this, one foot in front of the other!” Honestly, it was half for them and half for me at this point. I had been feeling good, but the full sun right on the boardwalk was harsh. But I told myself it was only 3 miles and the quicker I moved the sooner it’d be over. So I ran.

I looked at my watch at .60 and let out a few curses that I kind of regret now, seeing as how there were children in the area. But it was getting really raw out there. At the turnaround near mile 1, I had somehow convinced myself that the race was only 2 miles. The finish line was right near transition, and all we had to do was run back to there, right? I know, I was delusional, but it got me through that middle stretch, OK?

I turned to cheers and high fives from the volunteers there and plowed through without even looking at my watch. At around 1.3, Heather passed me going in the opposite direction – all she could manage was “Where’s the turnaround?” I pointed behind me and said, “Not far!” But once I got near the finish line at mile 2 and saw that the finishers were coming in from the other direction, I realized I still had another mile to go. And that’s when I felt like crying.

It might have been the emotions of the day catching up with me, but I just wanted it to be over. Especially after seeing the finish line area filled with people already wearing their medals and celebrating, knowing that I had nearly another mile to go was a real gut punch. Instead of letting it get to me though, I put my head down and told myself – out loud – to suck it up and just finish the f*cking race. Once I made it to the final turnaround at mile 2.6, I made a mental promise to start running once I hit the boards and not stop until I had that medal around my neck.

That’s where I passed Heather again, and we gave each other some last minute encouragement. When my feet hit the boards I just kept trudging. I didn’t necessarily hurt, I just wanted it to be done with. I glanced at my watch and saw an average time of 11:45 and thought: Hell no, I’m not going out like that! So I pulled a little extra out of the tank and picked up the pace for the last quarter mile. Once I was in sight of the clock and saw 2:27, I wanted to beat 2:30 (never mind the fact that the time wasn’t adjusted for wave starts).

So I pushed and smiled and heard the shouts of everyone at the finish line cheering me on as I crossed the mat with the announcer’s voice booming out my name: I was a triathlete!!

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Run Time: 34:45 (3 miles, 11:35/mile pace!!)

At the finish line I thought I’d cry or collapse or something – but I was honestly so amazed that all I could do was laugh and smile and shout out “YEAH!” as the volunteer handed me my medal. Mike was right there to give me a big hug and lots of congrats as another volunteer removed my ankle timing chip – and that was that!

TOTAL TIME: 1:49:00

Mike went to feed the meter while I waited to cheer Heather in – she finished not long after – and we had done it!

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Even though I felt like crying there during the run, I knew from the moment I crossed that mat that I was going to do this again.  The people in charge of this event deserve their own medals for organizing such a seamless experience, from the outstanding volunteer support to well-thought-out transition areas – it was all perfect. The experience was so overwhelmingly positive and rewarding that I’m already planning my next triathlon in September!

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