Sunday Sweats [5/25-5/31]

My first tri of the season was today, Sunday, and that's the only swimming I did all week. My swim performance was pretty much what I expected after 3 weeks of not being in the water at all. It was a pretty bad swim, actually, but I finished a minute faster than I did when I did this race previously. 

On Wednesday I went to my normal bike trail for a brick with my dad after work. It was a windy day but we still averaged 17mph for just over 16 miles.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, the bike was my strongest leg in a tri! I decided that if nothing else, I wanted to at least have a strong bike time. Since it was a fairly short bike at 12.5 miles, I felt more comfortable pushing a little harder than I usually would. The last time I did this race, I finished the bike in 46:33 (16mph) and was hoping I could get that much lower, as close to 40 minutes as possible. I was on the fence the whole time I was on the bike about whether or not I would hit that time, but from the time I hopped on my bike to the time I got off and crossed the dismount like was 40:18 (18.5mph) so I was really pleased.

On Tuesday I went to the group run my friend invited me to and I'm so glad I did! I immediately saw him and our other friend as soon as I got to the store so I didn't feel weird or have to wonder what to do. There were a few other people there for it as well, but it was sort of strange in that there was never an official start, everyone just kind of took off at different points? I just stayed with my 2 friends. Tonight was track night so we warmed up with nearly 2 miles to the nearby high school before hitting the track. I've done intervals on my own before where I run a mile or so to warm up, then maybe a quarter or half mile hard, then a quarter mile slow, repeat a few times then do a cool down mile. I never stop running all that time, I just change the intensity at different points. For this we actually stopped after each part (after the warmup and in between laps). We were supposed to run our laps at 5k-10k pace but all of ours ended up being way faster than that and I'm not sure why. The warmup 2 miles to the track was 8:40 pace, then my intervals were all in the low 7's, and our codlin back to the store was 9:12 pace, which all averaged out to 8:24 pace for the day. I had only planned to run about 4 miles but the full workout ended up being close to 5.5. Every neurotic fiber in my being tells me that I can't count it the same as I would normally count 5.5 miles since we did have recovery time in there that's unaccounted for, but I could probably stand to let some of my neuroses go a little bit.

My dad and I ran on Wednesday after our bike ride and I really didn't feel well during it. I don't think I ate well enough/properly throughout the day (big surprise there). Luckily he's a little slower than me so I just pretended I was hanging back for him haha!

Friday morning I got up super early for my first before-work run. I was out the door by 5:45am and while it was hard at first and the whole thing was slower than I'm used to running, it was worth it to catch that sunrise over the ocean. I hope I get used to running that early!

My run during the tri was just okay, not bad but not very good either. I was hoping to finish it in 26-27 minutes and I ended up at 27:03, a little slower than I would have liked but I was happy to trade speed on the bike for the run.

Still trying to figure out when to fit this in and how much I need to do. I got up early on Thursday morning for about 30 minutes of weights.

I did an embarrassingly little amount of yoga this week, especially considering I'm going to a yoga retreat next weekend. Like, 15 minutes embarrassing. Total. For the whole week. So obviously that's on my agenda this week!

My bad swim, great bike, and decent run put me in 3rd place in my age group on Sunday! Technically I tied with another girl who crossed the mat at the same second that I did, but my name was before hers on the results list so I went home with the plaque ;) Look for a race recap of sorts on Tuesday!

She Believed She Could So She Did

These photos were taken on my first day of exams. Of spring semester.  Of my penultimate year in engineering school. For a degree that's been 10 years (and counting) in the making.

I'll be 28 later this year. Seven years ago this month - where did the time go? - I donned a black graduation robe with Virginia Tech emblems on the seals. A white tassel hung from my matching cap to signify my newly-minted liberal arts degree (I had no hood since my school only uses those for advanced degrees - that would come a year later, in a light blue shade). I attended two ceremonies, one on Worsham Field at Lane Stadium where I watched Hoda Kotb (a fellow VT alumna!) give her commencement speech on the Jumbotron; a second one followed the next morning, when I shook hands with my favorite professor and advisor as he handed me the hardest-earned (and most expensive) piece of paper I'd ever received.

A week later I started graduate school, just a few buildings away from where most of my undergraduate courses had been held. Another year passed and at 21, I found myself with two degrees framed and hung on my wall, the tickets I'd been waiting to receive and cash in so that real life could begin. "Real life" turned out to be a short stint as a part-time daycare worker, an even shorter stint as a tutor, and a longer period of unemployment than I would like to admit. But when the clouds eventually parted, I finally got to put those two degrees to good use. That is, until I decided not to anymore.

Safe to say, studying until after midnight is not exactly how I always imagined I'd spend my nights at closer to 30 than 20. Most days I don't question my choice, but I would be lying if I said there aren't some days I have a mini panic attack over the fact that it's been nearly a decade since I first went to college and I have no professional prowess to show for it. No full-time job (unless a full-time class schedule or my internship count), no steady paycheck, no promotions, no business attire, nothing. Just a couple of expensive pieces of paper, a lot of money paid to the Virginia Tech bursar (but thankfully no student loans), and a blip on my radar from the time I was a real life, working adult like everyone else I know.

I don't know why it's so hard for me to remember back to those days. It was only two years ago that I turned in my resignation from teaching, but it already feels like a lifetime. Maybe because I had had a foot out the door for a year before that, and had already started taking classes to bridge the gap between my old and new degrees. I tend to downplay my teaching career, but that's what it was. Not a job, a career. It might have only been 3 years, but it taught me all kinds of valuable professional and life lessons (it's true, just ask anyone who's interviewed me in the last 2 years because I've surely told them so).

My teaching career might not have lasted as long as a career is supposed to, but it's what go me to the path I'm on today. I'm not claiming to have been the best, most inspiring teacher by any means, but I wanted nothing more than for my students to succeed. I wanted them to know that they could do anything - anything! - that they wanted to with their lives. I always loved this time of the school year - as crazy and stressful and busy as it was wrapping up the school year, it was equally exciting watching my students turn into little adults, diplomas in hand, ready to tackle whatever the world gave them.

Something happened to me during those 3 years. I'll never know if it just a timing coincidence, or if it was really because of those amazing kids, some of whom are already better people than I could ever dream of being, but I learned just as much during my time as a teacher as I hope they learned from me. I grew from a timid young adult unsure of her place in the world to a woman who has more confidence about who she is and what she wants from life than she ever could have imagined.

I always knew my kids could do anything they believed they could do, and now I know that's true for myself as well. As hard as it is to believe that it's been 7 years since I finished my first degree, it's even harder to believe that I'll be finished with this one in less than a year from now. Going back to school has been hard. Engineering school in particular is really hard. I've had nights I've thrown my hands up in surrender and cried from frustration. Despite those crying fits, I've never stopped believing I could do it, that I'll make it to the end. There are even harder times ahead of me, I know, but if there's one thing I've proven to myself over the last few years to be absolutely true, it's this: I believe I can so I will.

Training for Tuesday: Surviving Summer

Here we are, friends! The calendar might not have even rolled over to June yet but if pools across America have anything to say about it, it's summer time. I know that some places might still be catching up to the warmer temperatures, but we've been rocking more hot days than not here in Virginia for several weeks now, so there's no denying it at this point. We're in summer training mode, whether we like it or not. Since I'm not training for anything specific right now (I will be soon, I promise! That half Ironman in October isn't going to train for itself so I'm working on a training plan...) and have no recent races worth recapping, I thought I'd share some of the ways I survive training in the summer.

Run early or run late. Whatever you do, don't run at 12:30pm. On a clear, sunny day. While wearing long black pants. Just trust me on this one. I prefer to either run really early, as the sun is coming up (6:00-7:00am) or later in the evening when the sun is going down (7:00-8:00pm).

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you feel thirsty at any point during the day, you're already behind on your hydration. I easily drink 3 liters of water a day even in winter, so in the warmer months I need more like 4 or 5. I'm a strange bird in that I don't like to drink anything on the run so I make sure to stay hydrated as much as possible leading up to my runs. 

Wear as few clothes as possible. I've adopted a strict shorts + tank for anything over 50* policy and even that's a lot of clothes when the temperature starts to creep up into the 80s and 90s (it's still early enough in the summer that I can pretend that 100+ degree weather just doesn't exist). If it were socially acceptable to run in my underwear, I would do it (except I wouldn't really because my thunder thighs rub together and I forget Body Glide more often than I would like to). But really, I like airy shorts and a tank and that's it. I have been known to strip off the tank halfway through the run and finish the rest in my sports bra...because I apparently have no shame.

Know what you're getting into. The hourly forecast section on my weather app is my best friend in the summer. I'm not only looking at temperature, but also at things like humidity (an absolute run killer if you're fortunate to live on the East coast like I am) and dew point. A few years ago I read an article from Runner's World that says that dew point is actually the biggest factor that affects run performance in the summertime, because more air saturation means less perspiration which means the body works harder to cool itself down - therefore, running what is usually a comfortable pace is a lot harder on the body at higher dew points. There's a really good chart at the end of the article that outlines several dew point ranges and their affects on runners' perception of the weather and their performance. It's my go-to reference material in the summer! Knowing not only what the weather is like out there, but how my body is going to perceive it helps me adjust my expectations.

Do what you gotta do. I'll be honest - some of my summer runs are downright ugly. Actually, make that a lot of them. They are hot and sweaty and sticky and slow and sometimes they make me cry from frustration and did I mention they're HOT?! Summer training just isn't my forte, but that doesn't mean I have to give up and wait for more pleasant weather. Summer isn't time for excelling, it's just about getting through. For me, the benefit of slogging through all summer long is getting to fall and realizing that running all of a sudden feels SO much easier! Sometimes it's hard to look ahead and believe that all the hard work will pay off, but if my summer sufferfests and subsequent fall PRs last year taught me anything, it does.

How do you deal with summer training? What's your favorite training season?


Sunday Sweats [5/18-5/24]

No fancy header today because I didn't even take enough photos to fill it this week - ha! That's the kind of week I had. I'm glad I kicked last week's ass because this week kicked my ass, no way around it. I didn't even stick with my newfound Sunday night inspiration and make myself a plan for the week that I could feel good about.  I started my new job on Monday, after just moving into our new place on Saturday, and the adjustment was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. I forgot how hard it can be to find new routes in a new place! Even though I'm back home where I know plenty of places to run and bike, my exact location is new to me and I'm not that close to where I used to live. This week was a roller coaster, with some feeling good about myself but mostly just feeling bad.

Like I mentioned last week, regular swimming will probably not happen again until August. I'll try to get out to some open water swims when I can but other than those rare occasions and races, my swim is on the back burner for now.

I had planned to get in a brick workout on Wednesday, but I ended up staying later at work than I planned to and by the time I got home, biking for an hour then running for 45 minutes (when I also needed to go get groceries at some point) just wasn't going to happen. I promised myself I'd take my bike out after work on Friday - I had all these grand visions of ending my week with a ride at the oceanfront, along a good portion of the Shamrock Marathon course, where I could look out and see the I biked from my apartment down to the oceanfront and once I got down there I quickly remembered that it's Memorial Day weekend and that from now on it's going to be crawling with idiots everywhere and I got out of the really touristy area and thought about continuing on to the more residential area, which has fewer pedestrians out but more cars and I was too afraid of some out-of-towner running me over so I just went back home. It was so frustrating and I started to wonder if moving to this complex rather than somewhere more bike-friendly wasn't a huge mistake and basically felt like the biggest turd who will never be an Ironman ever.

I still planned to do my long ride on Sunday so I got up a little later than planned (ok like an hour and a half) but still early enough and headed out to the trail. I averaged a slower speed than I did last week, not sure why but whatever. I am actually really amazed at how...comfortable (seems a tad generous but let's go with it) I've gotten on my bike. I rode for just over 2 hours, never stopping, just consistent pedaling the whole time, and I didn't get insanely bored or want to murder anyone (usually happens about 45 minutes in). I did 2 loops of the trail like I did last week, only this time I tacked on a bit extra so I could hit the distance PR I didn't realize I was so close to last week. The 35 miles I rode still pale in comparison to where I need/want to be, but I'm realizing I have to start somewhere.

During the week I ran on Tuesday and Wednesday, both toward the beach (although I didn't quite make it there on my 5k run but I did get a little boardwalk action on my 4-miler). They were both at the same pace (8:56-8:57) which is on the slower side for me but that's fine. I needed those recovery miles after going balls out for 5k PR last Sunday!

On Saturday I ran one of my favorite races of the year, my hometown race, the Elizabeth River 10k. It takes place downtown where I live lived for 4 years until I moved away last summer. It's where I took my first running steps of my life, where I've trained for more races than I could count with all my fingers and toes and even someone else's fingers and toes, and I just love running there. Now that I'm living about 30 minutes away from that area I won't be able to run those streets as often as I'd like, so this race was a special treat. Actually, that's a lie, because honestly I wasn't even looking forward to this race this year. This week really left me dragging so by the time race morning rolled around, I wasn't dreading it, I just wasn't looking forward to it. 

I drove downtown to meet up with my dad and some of our friends who were running. The race directors let us know a few days prior that, due to construction, the course would only be 6 miles this year, not the full 10k. Honestly that was a relief for me. Not that I ever had any intentions to PR (my current is at like a 7:55 pace from Thanksgiving and I have no idea where the hell I pulled that one from, but I knew I couldn't do it again this weekend), but that really took away any lingering pressure I might have had to do so (on the flip side, I suppose any time I ran would have been a PR since I've never run a 6-mile race before...). On the drive there I honestly couldn't remember the last race I ran that wasn't a PR attempt, or wasn't being used as a training run for an upcoming PR attempt, other than RnR in March I guess, so I was more than happy to get my money's worth and enjoy the course. Fortunately, my dad and our friend felt the same way so we stuck together at an easy pace for the whole race. We mostly chatted the whole way and the miles seriously flew by. The course ended up being even shorter than we expected, since we run through the Naval hospital and they ended up needed a helicopter pad we normally run around to rush in some injured soldiers. Last year I got a 10k PR at this race with a tough effort 8:55 pace, and this year we comfortably averaged an 8:38 pace for the 5.5ish miles that the course ended up being. Even though the course had issues and the organization was the worst I've ever seen it (there was no timing mat at the start so I honestly have no clue when we even started, therefore all times were based on gun time not chip time), I still had a great race and, most importantly, a happy race. 

On Sunday I felt guilty for not getting in my brick workout or 4th run this week, so I attempted to combine my long ride with a run afterward. Attempted is the key word here. After riding 35 miles, I knew running 5 miles probably wasn't going to feel great, but I had to try it anyway. I really wanted to know what that would feel like (ya know, to get an idea what riding 56 miles then running 13.1 will feel like in October). Answer: bad. Very bad. My legs felt dead and I knew I was in trouble, but I told myself to at least get through the first mile before making any rash decisions. I made it through that mile but it was a struggle, and a quarter mile later, the walk breaks started. My legs were tired, I wasn't mentally engaged, and I just hard a hard time continuing on. I'd run for a little bit then take a break. Sometimes it would be half a mile before I took a break, sometimes it was like two tenths of a mile. I really had to pee so one time I ducked off into the woods on the side of the trail, and I left my watch running on accident so by the time I finished peeing my average pace was at like 10:24. So miles 2 and 3 were pretty ugly, but when I got to 3 miles I was finally able to settle in a little bit and finish the last couple miles decently strong. I was able to get my pace just under 10:00 min/mile and was surprised that I had somehow eeked out an 8:58 last mile? It felt like a 13 minute mile if I'm being honest. Jello legs, party of one. 

I lifted weights once this week, which is one more time than last week. I'm still trying to figure out how to fit these workouts in...I know they're important, I just don't know how important.

I have an off-and-on relationship with yoga, and I think I might just need to accept that. Some weeks I need it more than others. Some weeks I prioritize it more than others. My need for it last week is debatable, but I definitely didn't prioritize it like I should have. I did a couple videos that totaled maybe 30ish minutes.

Onto the next. My goal for this week is to try some morning workouts and maybe, maybe, check out a group run one afternoon. I'm only going because my friend told me about it and said he'd be there. And he's an Ironman and noticed my crazy leg muscles on Saturday (seriously, you guys, these things are out of control) so...yeah. Oh and it's race week, I almost forgot! Just a sprint tri coming up on Sunday, should be a good time to get back into my triathlon rhythm.

Currently: May

Hoping you'll forgive this short and sweet post in lieu of anything of real substance.

Adjusting to my new job! I've spent more time outside this week than I did in all of my teaching years combined, so it's going pretty well so far.

Feeling behind on blog reading, commenting, and replying to emails. It's been a long time since I've had to be at a computer for long periods of time so pulling out my Macbook has been the last thing I've wanted to do when I get home. I try to keep up here and there on my phone throughout the day but it's tough!

Resurrecting my Serial obsession. Now that I have long hours at a computer to fill, I've fallen back down the Serial rabbit hole. I've already listened to all of the currently available episodes of the spinoff, Undisclosed, and will probably give Serial at least one or two re-listens.

Taking a few extra blocks on the way to work just to sneak peeks at the ocean in between the hotels.

Slacking on my workouts. There aren't enough tips or tricks in the world that could have helped me stay 100% on track this week.

Hearing jet noise at all hours of the day. I don't hate it. I grew up near an air force base so the sound of jets has always been strangely comforting to me.

Reading The Girl on the Train...but just little bits at a time because I only read before bed and fall asleep after approximately 7 pages every night.

Planning to resume my normally-scheduled activities and get back to feeling like myself next week. After Monday's holiday, of course.

Thinking about trying to get into the habit of working out in the morning. It'll have to be early, but it might be the best thing for both the weather and my new schedule.

Watching the final episodes of Parenthood. I'm probably not emotionally stable enough for this show.

Wondering what exactly next week's Training for Tuesday post is going to look like. Are you linking up? Get the details here!

Beacon of Hope 5k: A Story of Triumph

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2007. The diagnosis wasn't at all a shock; it came at age 19 after battling those feelings for most of my teen years. It's been 8 years since I sat in that psychiatrist's office, my long-time suspicions finally confirmed, and depression has now been something I've lived with for half my life. Sometimes it lingers in the background, other times it pushes its way to the forefront, without warning and with a take-no-prisoners force. It's something I've struggled with for almost as long as I can remember, and something I know I'll live with forever. Over the years I've seen therapists, taken medication, tried yoga and meditation, but nothing has helped me as much as becoming a runner 4 years ago. I know, I know. What a cliche, right? Any number of Google searches related to tips for dealing with depression would show "Develop a regular exercise routine" at the top of the list. I didn't start running as a way to battle my depression, but it's turned out to be my best weapon against it.

Four years ago this week, I ran my first 5k, my first race ever. Four years ago I didn't worry about whether my breakfast would bother my stomach during the race. I didn't know that compression capris or shorts probably would have been more comfortable than the cotton yoga pants I was wearing. I wasn't nervous when I lined up at the start line. I didn't have any time expectations or any goals other than to put one foot in front of the other until I reached the finish line. The race was only about a month into the Couch 2 5k program I was running my way through, but when my dad told me he was going to be running in this race with a team from his church, I knew I needed to participate. It was a small, local 5k, put on by a depression and suicide awareness organization called I Need a Lighthouse. I might not have been able to run a full 3.1 miles back then, but I had way more than 3.1 reasons to go out and make that race my first.

It was a beautiful, warm day at the oceanfront when I crossed my first start line. The sun was shining and the waves were rolling on the beach as I ran down the boardwalk. I remember getting to the first mile marker in 9 minutes and 30 seconds and realizing I hadn't stopped once. I know Ben warned me about going out too fast, and by the turnaround, I was starting to regret doing so. I know I slowed during the second mile and eventually stopped to walk. I was getting hot and tired (I had never run for more than 22 minutes before that day) and, the kicker, my iPod - my one source of running entertainment and motivation - died with 3/4 mile left to go. I don't know how much of that last mile I walked (I just know it was a lot), but eventually the finish line got closer and closer.

Four years ago, I could never have imagined how crossing that finish line would change my life forever.

I get reminders about that race every April, urging me to sign up, but I never had the urge to run it again until this year. When I noticed that the date was the same weekend I was moving to Virginia Beach, I thought it might be a nice way to celebrate moving home and kick off my summer. I toyed with the idea of running it for a couple weeks - I was sure it would be fun, but if I ran it I wanted to have a chance at racing it. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I looked up the times from the previous year and realized that, based on last year's results, a normal effort 5k would have put me at the top of my age group. I've placed in my age group a few times before (the result of a happy accident an so a few times before, it's just always been a happy accident) and felt a little bit like a fraud to aim for something like that.

As the race got closer and the reality of moving across the state and into a new apartment the day before the race started to set in, my goal of placing started to become less and less important. Not only that, but as I thought more and more about the race and what it stood for, I just didn't feel right about trying to compete. Maybe another day, but not this one. I knew that so many people out there would be there for the same reasons I was 4 years ago, and none of those reasons included competition. Maybe that sounds like an excuse or a cop-out, but it's the truth. Four years ago at that start line I was capable of running 3.1 miles without stopping and, truthfully, I wasn't sure I ever would be. Standing there this year and knowing fully well that making it through the race wouldn't be a problem for me was its own victory, no matter where I ended up in the rankings.

So Sunday morning I found myself on the boardwalk, the same one I lined up on 4 years ago. The same one I've run countless races on since, the same one where I've set multiple time and distance PRs. I listened to the singing of the National Anthem, and before I knew it, the countdown had begun. 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...I was lined up close to the front so I crossed the timing mat at the start line after just a few steps. I was immediately surprised at how good my legs felt - I'm not sure they've ever felt so fresh at the start of a race, like they actually had springs in them. I was so incredulous every time I looked down at my watch and saw my pace in the 7:20s, without my breathing feeling labored or my legs feeling like lead weights, and after a quarter mile I started to settle into a 7:50 pace.

As surprisingly fine as I felt running at that pace, I knew I still had more of the race in front of me than behind me, and I feared burning out like I did the very first time I ran it. But unlike the first time I ran it, this time I was armed with all the things I've been able to push through in the last 4 years. The last time I ran on the boardwalk was during the Shamrock Marathon in March, so I tried to remind myself how this experience paled in comparison to that one (I could have been 10 miles in with 16 left to go instead of 1 mile in with 2 left to go!).  The race runs south along the boardwalk before turning around and heading north, and there was a bit of a headwind heading south but I knew if I could just make to to the turnaround, it would be smooth sailing from there.

As we approached the turnaround I started making mental notes of the leaders, specifically how many women were ahead of me. I counted 6 - even though I told myself I wasn't going to race it if that just wasn't in the cards for me, I had to now. Just in case. Shortly after the turnaround at the halfway point I passed one girl (and prayed she wouldn't speed up and pass me) and set my sights on another girl up ahead. I chased her for over a mile, getting closer and closer with every step, and with .1 left, I gave it everything I had to try to pass her. I don't think I've ever completely drained my legs like I did running toward that finish line at 6:08 pace (Garmins don't lie, right?). I thought about elite runners who finish just barely behind the person in front of them. "Why didn't they run just a little faster?" I'd always wondered. Well, I now know it's because they were already running as fast as they possibly could. Running as fast as I possibly could didn't allow me to pass that girl (I later found out she was the winner for our age group and beat me by 2.5 seconds), but when I stopped my watch after I crossed the finish line, I was shocked and happy to discover that it had earned me a shiny new 5k PR.

After my change of heart about racing this one, I really wasn't prepared to put in a PR effort (I even wore my "Run Your Run" tank just in case I forgot!) and never gave it a thought throughout all 3.1 miles. My only goal was to race with my heart and that is what I did. I was truly surprised to find that running felt so effortless, and that just made this race feel like even more of a celebration. A celebration of triumph. Triumph over all the little voices in my head that have ever told me I'm not good enough, that I'm worthless, that I can't do anything. They are there and they are very real but running has been the one thing I've found that can consistently quiet them. Running is the lighthouse to guide me home in dark, stormy waters, the one I searched for for so many years. It is my therapy, my solace, my beacon of hope.

Sunday Sweats [5/11-5/17]

I didn't forget about these posts, I just deliberately stopped doing them for a few weeks.  I just haven't felt like myself lately, and while I've been getting my workouts in like always, I feel like I've been going through the motions more than anything. I'm not ashamed of my struggles and want to share them, I just don't want to sound like a broken record complaining about how my stomach hurts for the millionth time. But this is real life and sometimes it's all I can do to trudge through 4 miles and that's just as important a part of my story as my triumphs. 

Last Sunday I was thinking about my workouts for the week (and planning how to fit them all in during a busy moving week split between two parts of the state), when I stumbled across this on Urban Fitopia:
"Every moment we have to ability to start fresh, but that feeling really culminates on Sunday nights. Whatever hopes you have for the week, write them down and get to work. Follow your passion because we only have right now."

I'm not sure if it was meant to be as inspirational as I took it, but for whatever reason, in that moment, it was what I needed to hear. At that moment I knew I didn't want my workouts this week to be focused on numbers or paces or stats, but on experiences. Fortunately, this was an easy week to garner all kinds of experiences. I was on the brink of moving back to a place where I have flourished and thrived since my early Couch 2 5k days, and leaving a place I never thought I'd swim/bike/run in a million years but somehow learned to love (and sometimes hate). I already had all my workouts and distances scheduled in a spreadsheet - they've been there for months - but this week I took the time to outline them a little differently:

Monday: one last Blacksburg brick! Say goodbye to the Huckleberry Trail for a few months. 
Tuesday: one last swim in the VT pool. Make it a long one since it might be your last swim for a while. And later, celebrate the end of your first year back at Tech with one last VT run! 5 miles to campus, through the Duck Pond, down alumni mall, to Main Street and back. Take lots of photos.
Wednesday: take a rest day for moving, travel, and dinner with mom. 
Thursday: try a Dismal Double. If and when it gets windy or boring, just be thankful there are no hills. 
Friday: get up early run your downtown Portsmouth route. Isn’t the water so beautiful? Remember how much you used to love that calm, peaceful 7am hour and those 10 miles will be over before you know it. 
Saturday: get your workout in as you move into your new apartment. Take some time for yoga in the morning and the evening to get ready for your race tomorrow. 
Sunday: race hard, race smart, but ultimately, remember why you run. Think back to running this very race 4 years ago - your first race ever. Think about the organization that puts on this race and the cause it supports. If you beat no one in the race today, that’s okay, as long as you remember how running has helped you beat your demons.

It turned out to be exactly what I needed to have a successful week.

I only swam once this week, my M.O. lately. I knew it might be my last one for a while other than the occasional open water swim with my tri peeps, since I won't belong to a gym or pool this summer. I always swim a mile, and I don't know what got into me but I managed to (barely, only by a few seconds) eek out my best mile time all year.

I straight up killed it on the bike this week. On Monday I did my usual 45-minute brick ride, which was nothing spectacular but it was still solid. On Wednesday I moved back home to Virginia Beach (flat land! Thank Zeus!) so Thursday  I went for a long ride, with the goal of doing a Double Dismal. Let me explain: the trail I ride is the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail; it's a little over 8 mile one way, so we call going out and back twice a Double Dismal. Going out was a breeze, literally, since I had a tailwind at my back. Getting to the end and changing direction I to the wind made the trip back tough, and I kind of wanted to just be done after the first lap. I was really determined to get through all those miles though, so I went out for my second lap and finished that one for a total of 32.77 miles @ 17.9mph. It pained me to see my speed drop into the 17s after maintaining 18+mph for 27 or 28 miles, but seeing as my longest ride in the last year has only been 24 miles, and I've only ever biked more than 30 a handful of times ever, I felt pretty good at the end. I realized later that my bike distance PR is 34 miles and I totally would have kept going if I had realized that while I was still on the bike! I remember feeling really drained after that ride though, and felt much better after this one, so I think my reluctant hill training has actually paid off.

The week got off to a rough start. My stomach hurt so bad on my brick run on Monday that I really couldn't have run a second faster. 
Then on Tuesday I had a freak asthma attack at the very end of my 5 mile run. Seriously, I had .06 to go when my lungs all of a sudden got so tight and my chest closed up so much I couldn't breathe. My asthma rarely ever bothers me anymore but when it does, it's at the most random times. All I can think is that the humidity and/or pollen must have contributed since I didn't run any farther or faster than I'm used to. It was actually very scary since I had no inhaler and could not breathe in air (asthmatics know what I'm talking about) and was afraid I might die right then and there, but luckily I was on the trail right behind my apartment and Ben was just up the hill inside so he was able to come out and help me. I took a minute to drink some water and get my wheezing under control, but you better believe I finished that last .06!
I did my long run on Friday this week since I was racing on Sunday. Bane had to be at the vet by 9 so I got up at FIVE AM to be out running by 6:30 to get those 10 miles in. I'm honestly shocked I did it, but glad because I really love early mornings (once I've had coffee and am mentally present for them). My only focus was meeting my body wherever it was after my long ride on Thursday, and enjoying my morning running on my home turf. I've been struggling to get through long runs the past few weeks, but that one made me feel like I might be getting my long run mojo back.
And then Sunday was race day! I have a full recap of that race and why it's so important to me coming up on Tuesday, but the surface of it looks like this: new 5k PR (23:48/7:40 pace); 2nd in age group; 6th female finisher; 21st overall finisher. Can I get a high five emoji?

What is yoga again? I majorly slacked off this week. I did a few videos throughout the week. The good news is that when I did them, I really needed it; the bad news is I needed it more often than I actually did it. But the best news is that I landed crow for the first time ever! I've hit it before for a few seconds here and there but always felt like I lucked into it more than anything. I'm not sure what happened but I tried it randomly on Saturday and was surprised that I could hold it a bit longer than usual, and that I felt solid in it.

An Open Letter to My Family and Friends

I know that endurance sports are a selfish hobby. They serve no real purpose other than to make me feel good about myself. They require long stretches of time spent training instead of enjoying time together. Sometimes I have to turn down invitations to dinner or drinks because I have to get up early to get in my workout. My house is dirty and cluttered and disorganized more often than not because I just don't have the time or the energy to pick up. At the end of the day, I have nothing tangible to show for all those hours I spent training instead of being with you.

But because of all the time with you that I've sacrificed, I've been able to do some amazing things. Things I never even dreamed possible. My hours of training have seen me cross countless finish lines, including 3 full marathons, 11 half marathons, and 8 triathlons. I've been at my best, my worst, and everywhere in between out on those training rides and runs. They've allowed me to find my inner strength and see what I'm made of. Every single one has been a journey to find myself.

As amazing as those things are for me, I know they don't hold the same weight for you. I know that you couldn't care less about my numbers, and that you'd be just as proud of me if it took me 8 hours to finish a race that should take 2. I know that, since most of you aren't runners or triathletes, there's a part of every triumph that you just can't fathom. I know that most of you wouldn't run that far or that fast unless someone was chasing you, and because of that, you don't always know how much work I put into these sports. I know that running has never given you the sense of personal satisfaction that it gives me, and that ultimately you think I'm crazy and you'll never truly understand why I put myself through training and racing.

Photo by Delly Carr / original article
A few months ago I saw this photo from an Ironman race, depicting a father struggling to finish and his daughter holding his hand, encouraging and pleading with him to finish. As I read the stories of the man, his daughter, and the photographer who captured that moving moment, I couldn't help but think of you, of all the times you've been there to support me and to encourage me. And, suddenly, I realized,

I do it for me, but I do it because of you.

I do it because you're willing to get up before sunrise and drive me to the starting line. I do it because, even if you can't physically be there, you mark your calendar just so you can send me a good luck text. I do it because I know I'll see you somewhere along the course holding a sign with my name on it. I do it because you care enough to take pictures of me running, so I don't have to spend an exorbitant amount of money on crappy race photos. I do it because you'll stand outside for hours just to give me a high five and watch me run by for 30 seconds. I do it because I'll know you'll be there yelling my name at the finish line. I do it because, even if the numbers mean nothing to you, you listen to me analyze them for an hour after the race. I do it because you'll oblige my mid-race runger pain texts and bring me whatever food and drinks I want at the post-race party. I do it because I know that if I ever need a hand to hold or encouragement to finish what I started, you'll be there. Even if you'll never understand the dizzying highs and the lonesome lows that I'm feeling, you'll be there for me.

I do it because you've always told me I could do anything I put my mind to. Because you believe in me and help me believe in myself. Because you taught me to never give up. Because you taught me that something I can't stop thinking about is something worth giving my best shot. Because as much as I train, as internally-motivated as I am, as much as I push myself, I'd never make it through a single race without your support.

I do it for me, but I do it because of you.

Sweat and Sightsee

Before you go getting any crazy ideas, just know that I was (unfortunately) not paid or otherwise compensated for raving about this company like lunatic. I just really really like new cities, and I really really like running, so putting them together is a match made in heaven for me.

A year and a half ago I was training for my first marathon and  had plans to travel to NYC right before Christmas. I also had a 14-mile run scheduled for the weekend was going to be there. I do not deviate from a training plan (at least when it's for something as serious as my first marathon), so naturally, I had no choice but to run 14 miles during our trip. I figured I'd have my pick of half marathons and that that would do, but all of the ones in that timeframe were either the weekend before or the weekend after we were traveling. I searched high and low and was willing to leave the city if I had to, but I still came up with diddly squat. 

So, a race was out. I had a runner friend who lived in Brooklyn and worked for NYRR, but he moved the month before our arrival. So rude. I mean you would think his wife's job offer in San Francisco at Google could have waited until after this important marathon training run of mine, right? Anyway, he did give me some route suggestions but I just didn't feel comfortable running that far alone in a city I didn't know. I figured there had to be something I hadn't thought of. I looked into group runs at NYC running stores and running groups but I couldn't find anything quite at the distance I needed until finally, somewhere in my search I finally came across City Running Tours. 

It's not rocket science; it's basically what it sounds like. Tours are offered in several major US cities and can fit any and all of your travel running wants and needs. They offer both personal and group runs, and I've now done one of each:

Personal run, NYC, 14 miles
As I browsed the site I noticed that most group runs are around 3-6 miles, so I knew immediately that I had to do a personal run to get in my full long run mileage. When I signed up I filled out a pretty comprehensive questionnaire with questions about my pace, when I wanted to run, what sites I wanted to see (my only request was to run as many bridges as possible), etc. 

On the day of the run, my tour guide picked me up in the lobby where I was staying in Brooklyn. He had mapped out a course for us so all I had to do was follow along. Sometimes we stopped so he could point out different buildings or tell me some history of the area. We ran the first 5 or 6 miles through Brooklyn up to the Williamsburg Bridge, stopping a few times but mostly running along and chatting.

Once we crossed the bridge, at about the halfway point, I met my next guide in Chinatown in Manhattan. I'm not sure why I had 2 but I'm guessing because of the distance and time it took? He took me over the Manhattan Bridge back to Brooklyn then down to the Brooklyn Bridge. We stopped for pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge then headed back into Manhattan. We ran around Wall Street and along the Hudson River before eventually ending in TriBeCa.

Group run, Chicago, 4 miles
Since this was a group run, the date, time, route, and distance were predetermined (you can check all group run options, with descriptions of what you'll see and available dates and times, on the website). Ben and I did this together and we picked a run that was 4 miles and pretty near to where we were staying. There were a couple other options but honestly that was the one that sounded most interesting to us and was at the most convenient time.

We signed up the night before the run and all I had to fill out was our pace. Since it was a group run and not personal, this time we had to go meet our guide instead of having him come meet us. Our meet up spot was about a mile from our hotel, so we just ran a quick warmup there. It was a rainy, kind of nasty day, so we ended up being the only people on the tour.

Since it was just us and our guide, we got a lot of the same benefits of a personal run without paying for special treatment. We got to determine the pace, which was nice. We started at The Bean and ran down Michigan Avenue to Lincoln Park, then down Lakeshore Drive back to The Bean. We stopped maybe 4 or 5 times along the way so our guide could tell us about different buildings, and we chatted the rest of the way.

Thoughts and Impressions: 
Running is my favorite way to see a new city, and being able to run with people who are really knowledgeable is icing on the cake. The guides are required to have lived in the city for a certain amount of time, and they really know their stuff! They're also really nice and happy to answer whatever questions you have, whether they're about the city, running, or something totally random.

Running through the hustle and bustle of the city is pretty fun! There will be times when you'll get stuck by tourists and by people going about their daily business, but seeing all the goings-on of the city was one of the coolest parts for me. It's kind of like watching a movie since there's so much to see and you're running by too fast to really process all of it.

The tour guides are invaluable, not only for their expertise but because they really take care of you. You don't have to map out a route in an unfamiliar city. You don't have to worry about minutiae like how to bring water or your phone/camera for pictures. They carry a small backpack with all of that stuff for you. You just have to show up ready to sweat and sightsee.

If you are looking for a hardcore training run, this isn't it. The pace is pretty leisurely since the tour part is sometimes more of the point than the running part, and you do stop several times. Plus, you're in a city so you'll be stopping for traffic a lot, dodging people on the street, etc. We got lucky being the only two in Chicago, but I imagine a group run with other people would make it hard to keep any particular pace.

The distances aren't exact. My GPS on my watch never synced up in NYC so I can't say exactly how far we ran, but based on how long it took I really think it was closer to 15 miles than 14. In Chicago, the run was advertised as 4 miles but I measured more like 3.6. Not a big deal in either case, but something to be aware of in case you're data obsessed like me.

Group runs are only offered at preset times, so it may be hard to work it into your travel schedule. I'd definitely check and try to plan ahead of time if you want to try a group run.

Pricing is pretty similar to a race, especially city race prices. You can generally expect to pay about $8-$10 per mile for a group run and about $10-$12 per mile for a personalized run. Our 4(ish) mile run in Chicago was $30 and my NYC run was $110 for 14 miles (personal runs start at $75 for 6 miles and increase by $5 per additional mile). The group run is definitely the more affordable option. The personal run wasn't cheap, but for that far of a distance I really didn't think it was outrageous since I generally pay $90-$100 for half marathons.

My NYC run was one of the best running experiences I've ever had, but I wouldn't have had it without CRT. I wouldn't have attempted to run that far alone, but it also would have killed me to have missed that long run (like probably literally, my training plan is my life), so I don't know what I would have done. I'm glad we could make it out for a group run on our whirlwind Chicago trip, even if it was rainy, as it was a neat way to get to see the city. You can bet I'm already trying to fit in a City Running tour in San Francisco during our California trip this summer!

What's your take on running while on vacation? Have you ever done a run with City Running Tours? What new cities have you explored via running?

Bloom Where You Are Planted

When I first moved back to Blacksburg last summer, for being somewhere I had previously lived for four years, it strangely felt like a whole new world to me. A big part of that was that I really enjoyed getting to see it from new vantage points, like on my bike or on the run. Since I was never an outdoorsy kind of person, I had never taken a long walk to the Duck Pond or hiked the Cascades or run the Huckleberry Trail, but once I moved back, I couldn't get enough of those things. I did my fair share of exploring over the summer and fall, but then winter came. Spring has been teasing us here and there for the last few weeks, but as of this past weekend, it seems like it's here to stay.

Except, now that it's finally sunny and pleasant out...I'm not here to stay. At least not for now. In just over a week I'll be loading a Uhaul and driving it back to the other side of the state where I'll be working for the next 3 months. And since I've been so busy the last couple of weeks, I've barely had an opportunity to get out and do much before taking off for the summer. I would be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to leaving; as much as I've enjoyed my last 9 months here, I know where home is and I'm on pins and needles thinking about getting back. But as excited as I am for this new, albeit short chapter, I want to make sure I don't rush through this current season and that I take some time to enjoy it when I can.

This past weekend, I got a chance to just be here, to enjoy my surroundings, to bloom where I am planted. Becky came into town for a short visit - not to do anything in particular, but just to be here. To walk on campus, see Burruss, go to dinner at The Cellar and brunch at Gillie's, and that is exactly what we did. She couldn't have picked a better weekend to come, as there was a wine festival on Saturday (which we didn't find out about until the day before, but it worked out perfectly for her visit). We drove over and parked near the stadium, then walked the 3/4 of a mile up to where the festival was being held on the outskirts of campus. It's a climb to get up there, but the view was just perfect.

We spent way more time waiting in line than we actually did drinking wine (until we wised up on our 3rd tent and each bought a bottle to carry with us), but there was something that felt so good about standing in an open field under the bright blue sky on a warm almost-summer day. I'm not sure I would have even thought to venture out to the festival if Becky hadn't been in town and if I didn't think it sounded like something she might like to do, but fortunately she was totally game.

The next day we slept in a bit before heading to a popular brunch spot downtown, and after we finished eating we took some time to walk around campus. Any Hokie will quickly tell you that there's just something about our campus. We might be a little biased, but we're all insistent that it's without a doubt the most beautiful campus on the planet. Even though I walk, run, and/or bike through it on a daily basis, and try to remind myself to look around and take it all in, I still sometimes forget that I'm lucky I get to look at those limestone buildings whenever I want.

After we toured the main part of campus, we made a detour to walk through the gardens, something I can't believe I've never done before (my freshman year dorm is visible from the garden entrance, for crying out loud). It was another opportunity to just be and exist.

Blacksburg has never been my favorite of the places I've lived, but I love it all the same. I never thought I'd move back here and I had some serious reservations about doing so. My first 4 years here were wildly tumultuous and when I left in 2009, I thought I had closed the book for good. I spent those years waiting for the next thing - waiting to graduate, waiting to leave, waiting to start my career, and my real life. I never took the opportunity to really look around and let myself be all there. I know I'm not here for good, but while I am, I want to grow. I want to bloom, right here, right where I am planted.