Ironman Wisconsin 2016 Race Report

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Post-Ironman finish (photo credit: Greg Larson Photography)

(Note: It’s been two months since I finished this race and that means I’ve had two months to reflect on the highs and lows. This is the first in a series of posts about my experience with Ironman Wisconsin. Here I start by re-capping the specifics of my experience that day.)

With my back toward the Wisconsin State Capitol and one final stretch to go, I closed my eyes to cope with last few moments of pain. This was my first (and at the time I was convinced my last) Ironman finish and I couldn’t justify walking across the finish line. As a result, I tuned out all the noise—including my family and friends who were screaming for me at the top of their lungs—and focused on one simple task: earn that freaking medal until the very last step.

14 hours and 22 minutes prior to this moment I had trained six hard months for, I was treading water with 2,400 other athletes in Lake Monona waiting for the start of the race. The sun had just come up over the lake. The national anthem played, swimmers sang along. I took one final look at the large crowd stretched out alongside the water.

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The start of the race (photo credit: Greg Larson Photography)

“Have the best day of your life,” the race announcer shouted to the athletes after firing the gun.

It took every ounce of self control during this mass-swim start to keep my heart rate down. Feeling an intense adrenaline rush, my ego wanted to take off as fast as I could, but the smarter half of my brain told me to chill.

After the first turn, which halted the swimmers around me to a standstill as everyone began yelling “Moo” (a long standing tradition in Ironman Wisconsin), I got a bit more aggressive—both with my pace and elbows. Most of the swimmers around me were large men who didn’t seem to care who was in their way. I kicked and splashed harder. Fortunately, after making another turn, things finally spread out and I no longer had to focus on other swimmers.The long stretch after the second turn is both a blessing and a curse. While there are no longer other swimmers to battle, there didn’t seem to be much of an end in sight. So I put my focus on each buoy ahead. “Just get to the next one,” I kept telling myself.

Eventually the last turn buoy came and I knew I was getting closer. I swam as fast as I could into the final stretch. The first thing I saw out of the water was the clock, which read a time of seven-minutes faster than my previous 2.4-mile swim and I threw both thumbs up in the air. I was thrilled.

Volunteers peeled my wetsuit off, I ran around the helix of Monana Terrace and made my way toward the first transition.

The Hill Training That Finally Paid Off

Despite the fact that the swim is the shortest distance in the Ironman and causes the least amount of stress on the legs, the uncertainty and fear of drowning is reason enough to feel relieved after completing this part of the race. Relief, however, was anything but what I felt while getting ready for the bike leg.

While one can take all the precautions necessary to avoid incidents like a flat tire or getting hit by a car (at least two cyclists were hit on this year’s Ironman Wisconsin course), it’s easy for these gloomy anxieties to cloud your head. I was losing focus on my goal: conquering the bike course that I had given up all my summer weekends to train on. Still, I had gotten this far and wasn’t going to allow any of that to prevent me from clipping into my pedals and attempting to take on the course.

The Ironman Wisconsin bike route consists of 16 flat and fast miles before taking on two 40-mile loops on country roads with several hilly, strenuous climbs. My strategy had been to take in as much food and fluids to take advantage of the flat roads before taking on the monstrous hills for the next 80 miles. With adrenaline pumping through my veins, it was tempting to ignore my plan and to take the first 16 miles fast, but I knew I had a long day ahead of me so I stuck to my original plan.

I was all too familiar with the roads of the Ironman Wisconsin course. I knew what loomed ahead, when to anticipate every turn, every hill. This knowledge can be both beneficial and disadvantageous during an Ironman. Physically, my legs were ready for what was to come, but mentally, I dreaded every moment.

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Halfway through the bike course (photo credit: Greg Larson photography)

Though in retrospect, I’m sure as heck glad my legs were ready for the monstrous hills. While other athletes who were clearly stronger and faster walked the toughest hills on the course, I inched my way past them in my saddle on my modest road bike all because I had trained on these hills and my legs were ready for them. Needless to say, the confidence went straight to my head and my pace wasn’t lagging. I came around one of the last corners on the first 40-mile loop and had another surge of adrenaline after seeing a large group of my family and friends shouting my name.

But the surge of energy quickly faded as I got got further away from them and reality set in. I was hitting my first wall of the day and needed a break. Fortunately, the timing couldn’t have been better. I was just a few short miles away from the “special needs station.” At the beginning of race day, we had the option of dropping off two separate bags (one for the bike, one for the run), which could contain items such as nutritional foods or an extra pair of socks that we’d have the option of picking up midway through the bike and run courses.Once arriving at the special needs station, the incredible volunteers encouraged us to eat, stretch and take a bathroom break. I filled up on all the nutritional goodies I had packed such as mini-bagel peanut butter sandwiches, a Snickers bar and pretzels (my go-to food items that got me through training), and then made my way back to the start of the second 40-mile loop.

There’s no doubt my body was much more tired this time around. But fortunately, the second loop was slightly different than the first and left out the hardest hill on the course. Though my pace had dropped off significantly compared to my first loop, I kept moving and tried to focus once again on nutrition.

In total on my ride, I ate at least six mini-bagel peanut butter sandwiches,  four “Ah Fudgenuts” Picky Bars, six lime Honey Stinger chews, five “SaltStick” electrolyte salt capsules, several ziplock bags full of pretzels and countless bottles of Gatorade and water. Paying close attention to my nutrition throughout the day paid off and before I knew it I was making my way toward the bike finish.

Just a Marathon To Go

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Loop one of the marathon (photo credit: Greg Larson Photography)

Getting off of my bike was the second most rewarding feeling of the day. But knowing I had to complete an entire marathon before earning my medal was one of the hardest challenges of the day. Though, running wasn’t all that hard during the first few miles of the run course, where both sides of the street were filled with spectators, followed by a loop inside Camp Randall Stadium. And it seemed right when I began to feel pain, crowds seemingly appeared out of thin air to cheer us on. While the first 13.1 miles were difficult, they weren’t impossible and my legs still felt strong.

But as I came around the corner nearing the start of the second loop, I was faced with one of the most difficult mental challenges of my life: seeing other athletes who were hours ahead of me cross the finish line while I still had a half marathon to go.

The day grew longer, spectators had faded and the sun started to set. I couldn’t stand to take in any more gel or gatorade and even the sight of the rest stops made my stomach churn. In addition, all the fluid had finally caught up to me and I had to pee nearly every two miles.

Without doubt, my pace fell by several minutes per mile and I was struggling to run. I accepted the fact that a walk would do just fine…as long as I made to the finish. Despite finishing nine marathons and several triathlons, my body had never come close to experiencing this much pain.

As the sky darkened, numerous runners fell because they couldn’t see where they placed their feet. Bushes rustled as desperate runners were in need of a “bathroom.” And hardly any spectators were still out cheering on runners on this part of the course. I was in the deepest pit of the race and gaining any motivation to finish got increasingly more challenging with every step along the way.

Eventually, I finally neared the Wisconsin State Capitol and had one final stretch to go. I closed my eyes to cope with the pain and gave it one more final kick into the finish. After 14 hours and 22 minutes, I had finally become an Iron(wo)man.

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Just a few steps away from the finish (photo credit: Greg Larson Photography)

I stopped right at the finish line, tears poured down my cheeks and a volunteer asked if I was in pain or just happy to finish. “Both,” I said as I limped my way off the finish line with a well-earned medal around my neck to embrace my family and friends who were there at the finish line waiting for me.

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10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Signing Up for an Ironman

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At the time I hit “submit” on the race registration website and threw $710 on my credit card, I thought I had done my due diligence of research on Ironman training. I looked at various training plans, read a few books and spoke with several Ironman finishers.

In retrospect, despite my research, I actually knew very little to nothing about what I had just signed up for.

All of the various factors like knowing the sheer volume of training and giving up my entire social life didn’t sound all that bad in theory. But until the body actually experiences what 100 miles on a bicycle feels like, or your spirit experiences what it’s like to say no to pretty much every social outing, it’s hard to grasp the consequences of training for an Ironman.

1. Get used to 5 a.m.

Getting used to the 5 a.m. hour is simply inevitable when training for these three different sports. There’s just not enough time in the evening after work to fit in a two-hour bike ride on top of an hour+ swim.  And while there’s no doubt that the body gets used to the early-morning hours, by no means does it get easier on the body. After months of getting up before the sun during both the work week and weekends, there isn’t a morning that goes by when I don’t want to hit the snooze button. But the difference between Ironman training and anything else is that you don’t really have that option (that is, if you want to cross the finish line).

2. Don’t get complacent with the race course.

Since the early spring, I spent several weekend rides along the race course–learning every turn, conquering every hill. But with only less than two months until race day, the course dramatically changed. Due to construction along the course, the race director swapped out two tough but manageable hills for one brutal climb (known as the “Barlow Hill” that makes my legs shake just thinking about it). It sure would have been nice to have had the opportunity to be able to train on the hill for the bulk of training.

3. Finding the energy to cook will be challenging.

Every ounce of energy gets put toward training. Even cooking a simple meal like pasta takes too much energy when you’re completely exhausted. But nutrition is key in training. It’s key to meal plan, always have ingredients readily available for a protein-packed smoothie and other quick nutritious meals. Another option is to seek out services like Blue Apron, which delivers pre-measured groceries and ingredients for meal prep. These types of services not only save time at the grocery store but don’t require any time looking for creative, healthy and delicious recipes.

4. Emotions will run high.

I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sleep or the constant exhaustion, but emotions will run very high once training really picks up. Just remind yourself to keep those emotions in check and be kind to others.

5. Sign-up for a few races before the big day.

Fortunately, lots of Ironman finishers told me to do this ahead of me. And I’m so grateful that they did. Getting used to crowded swim starts and getting all the kinks out before race day is a must prior to race day. The trick here is not spending tons of dollars on race registration fees just to get some experience. That’s why I limited myself to only local races. And in a town that hosts the Ironman, that was fairly easy to do. For folks that don’t live in a place that frequently holds aquathons, triathlons and/or open water swims, try to seek out smaller races that may not offer the nicest swag but gives you experience racing. For starters, a score of YMCA chapters host triathlons throughout the country.

6. “Vacations” will look very different.

Vacations look much different when training for an Ironman. Instead of searching for the top tourist attractions, you’ll find yourself scouring the internet for swimming pools, bike paths and running trails. When possible, opt for a road trip where you can bring your bike along. It also doesn’t hurt to pick a destination that’s known for its outdoor activities.

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7. Find training buddies.

This is a deal breaker. I literally have no idea how I would have trained for this without others to hold me accountable, keep me company on those long and sometimes miserable rides and to commiserate with. The other perk to having training buddies is once the race is over, you’ll also have people to party with.

8. Be prepared to give up your social life.

It really doesn’t matter if you get your first workout out of the way in the morning. There’s still no time for happy hour. More often than not, you’re going to have to squeeze another workout during some other time that day. Social occasions are reserved for rest days and after you’ve completed the race.

9. Endurance is much more important than speed.

Despite months of training, I never got faster. But that’s not what this sport is about. For us non-elites, endurance should be the priority when training for an Ironman. There were many swims, rides and runs where I felt defeated seeing no improvement in my speed. But when I took a step back and realized I was going the same speed on the bike at 20 miles (when I first started) as I was going at 100 miles (at peak training), I was quite pleased. Embrace the fact that the Ironman race is all about going long–not fast.

10. Just do it.

Tried but true. Even without having the satisfaction of crossing that finish line yet, I’d still hit “submit” on that race registration page. Yes, this training has tested my limits, to say the least. Yes, there were plenty of mornings I had to drag myself out of the house huffing and puffing, dreading the workout ahead. Yes, there were weeks–okay, months, if I’m really being honest with myself–when I wanted nothing to do with Ironman training.

But completing an Ironman has been a goal of mine for years. And if there was ever a time to conquer 140.6–in my late twenties, residing in the town that hosts an Ironman and no kids to look after–this was the time to just do it.

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Milkman Triathlon Race Report

*photo credits: Greg Larson Photography

There are certain moments that athletes carry around with them for days, months, even years after completing a race. I can still feel the chills that crawled up my body as I climbed up the last hill of my first marathon. And the tears that ran down my face as I was just a mile away from completing my first half Ironman last year.

The first moments that I recall a week after competing last week’s Milkman Triathlon has nothing to do with the usual overwhelming feeling of success. That’s probably because the race had everything to do with survival.

The combination of temperatures (in the 90s), monstrous hills on the bike course and very little shade meant snagging a finisher medal was by no means an easy feat.

Milkman Triathlon Pros

Plenty of bathrooms. Most races are notorious for never having enough bathrooms for its athletes. But this race had plenty of bathrooms to go around for both the athletes and spectators. Most importantly, the long row of bathrooms was in close proximity to the swim-start. I’d call any race a success if it’s set up so I don’t have to contemplate peeing in my wetsuit. In addition, there were bathrooms at most aide stations along the bike and run courses.

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Easy swim start. Some triathlons start on different ends of the water, making it difficult to get from the transition area in the morning to the start. But because this course was in the shape of a triangle, it turned out to not only be ideal for the athletes, but fantastic for spectators. Family and friends didn’t have to choose between watching the start or finish–they could watch both.

Location. From the ability to train on the challenging bike course to not worrying about extra travel expenses on top of a race registration fee, there are numerous benefits of competing in a local race. The race start was just a five-minute car ride away from my house. I ate a home-cooked meal and slept in my own bed the night before the race. And family and friends could spectate without having to dedicate their entire weekend to my race. And for folks who live outside of Madison, it’s a fairly quick drive from Milwaukee and/or the Chicago area.

Cycle repair. Fortunately, I didn’t need to take advantage of the numerous cycle repair cars that drove around the bike course. But if I did, it definitely wouldn’t have been long before a cycle repair car found me. Even though I know how to change a tire or make other small fixes on my bike, it was comforting to know that someone was always nearby if I needed an extra hand.

Top-notch volunteers and police officers. In the intersections where there were police and volunteers directing traffic (I’ll go into more detail on that subject in the “con” list), they did an excellent just clearing intersections for us. The cops never cut it close with allowing cars through and I felt like they always had my back.

The volunteers were also quite remarkable during this race. They not only withstood scorching temperatures so the athletes could have access to food and water, but they did so with a smile and enthusiasm.

During the run, my loopy self (from the heat) just grabbed a water cup at the first station thinking that would be enough. But then one volunteer went out of his way to intensely tell me that I needed to be taking down at least two energy gels. “Get them down now,” he sternly yelled at me. As it turned out, his demands were exactly what I needed in the moment. I hadn’t been thinking clearly and was teetering on the edge of dehydration and heat illness. I immediately took down the energy gels and did so throughout the rest of the run. I attribute my ability to finish the run without leg cramps or having to stop to walk to this volunteer.

Milkman Triathlon Cons

The bike course finish. The last four miles of the bike course varied between a deserted parking lot to being forced on a sidewalk for a brief moment only to make a tight left turn onto a bumpy, narrow bike path. This is the last thing any biker wants to deal with the last few miles of a challenging 56-mile ride. If this race does return to Madison, I hope the course map will at the very least make it clear to athletes that’s what they should expect. The bike course implied that this particular left turn was going to be made from the road, which would have given us a bit more room to make the tight left turn.

Traffic on the bike course. Not closing the traffic on the bike course and failing to assign police officers and volunteers to certain intersections was a major flaw and reflects poorly on the organization of this race.

There was one intersection in particular where I came around a tight corner followed by an immediate left, and there was no cop or volunteer directing traffic. If I hadn’t been fully attentive and waving my warm at the car headed for me (who thankfully did slow down) to let them know I was turning left, I’m not sure what would have happened.

During any race, I have the expectation that with a race registration fee, I shouldn’t have to have any anxiety about traffic. I understand that it’s difficult to shut down 56 miles of road, but the race could just shut down one side of the road with cones and leave the other side open just for cyclists. Isn’t it enough that as a cyclist, we have to fight our way for a place on the roads during training rides? I think so.

Dodging cyclists on the run. Just like closing down car traffic, I understand that closing down a bike path in the middle of a Sunday afternoon is no easy task. That said, why should any athlete during an endurance event like a 70.3 have to work through a sea of people who aren’t competing in the race? I hardly had enough energy to get to the finish line, let alone fight my way through walkers, runners and cyclists on the bike path.

Not enough aid stations. Unlike the last 70.3 I did last year, this run course had aid stations only every 1.5 miles. In most official Ironman races, there are aid stations at every mile along the run course. In addition, this race only had food and energy gels at every-other stop. The combination of this type of distance and hot temperatures definitely called for more aid stations.

Doubling the Distance

In exactly three months, I’ll be doubling the distance of this last weekend’s 70.3 and taking on the Ironman Wisconsin (140.6). If this weekend was any indication of how September’s race will be, I’ve got quite the work ahead of me.

I’ll need to take advantage of training in the hot summer temperatures with the hopes of cooler weather on race day in September, but being prepared just in case. I need to continue trying to take in as much food as possible on long bike rides to ensure I’m taking in as much as my body’s taking out. And the hills on the Milkman course was just a taste of what I’m in for during Ironman Wisconsin.

One factor Ironman Wisconsin and the Milkman Triathlon will definitely have in common: snagging a finisher medal will be no easy feat.

Snip20160626_14photo credit: Greg Larson Photography
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Swimming With My Eyes Closed

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Early mornings. Late nights. Exhaustion. Massive appetite. Trade offs.

These are the first thoughts that come to mind when I take a step back and reflect on the emotional and physical journey during the past three months of Ironman training.

While there are certainly many aspects of training that I’m getting better at, there are still times where I feel like I’m swimming with my eyes closed–literally and metaphorically.

In the Water

The occasional fish sighting, or just the mere thought of a fish sighting, can send me in a panic all on its own. One of the ways I’ve learned to cope with this fear is to keep my eyes closed underwater while swimming.

Though not ideal (ask anyone who’s swum behind me how much time I lose swerving), the trick has allowed me to continue training for the swim portion without panicking every time.

Yet, despite making the effort of getting in the lake several times a week, and spending numerous hours in the pool months before official my Ironman training plan even began, my swim has not gotten any better.

At my last aquathon (a swim followed by a run), my overall time only improved by two seconds. While I’m grateful that I’m not getting slower,  the amount of time I’ve dedicated to training for the swim deserves better results than two seconds.

On the Bike

Training rides are never complete without a group of cyclists with $10,000+ bikes zipping past me. Or if they’re not passing me, they’re likely already ahead of me.

A few months ago I showed up to a Meetup group for triathletes. While it was still early on in the training, I felt confident about my capabilities and overall endurance. Yet I fell far behind the rest of the group and turned around early so I didn’t make a total fool of myself. And after the ride finished, the organizer sent a message around calling some of the cyclists in the group “slow” while bragging that the ride attracted cyclists at “all levels” (I can take a guess who he may have been referring to).

The Gear

I’ve owned the same pair of bike shorts for the last six years. And it’s only within the last year I’ve owned a proper bike shirt (note the use of singular nouns here). This has left me with just running clothes to wear during training, which are now full of bike grease and the smell of Lake Monona.

From now until September, I’ll be spending most of my days scouring the internet for outlet prices on workout gear that doesn’t break that bank. But those types of prices are the exception when it comes to triathlon gear.

The Only Leg That Comes Natural

The one portion of the triathlon I can say with 110% certainty that comes naturally is the run.

It took several months to get here after recovering from a stress fracture earlier this year, but my running times and endurance have consistently improved throughout the last three months.

This Sunday, I’ll be lining up on the shores of Lake Monona to compete in the Wisconsin Milkman Triathlon (70.3). For the time I may lose on swim and bike portions, the run will definitely make up for it.

After the race, I’ll have exactly three months left to learn how to open my eyes more–both in and out of the water–until Ironman Wisconsin.

{Photo credit: Flickr user malkovitchlicense}

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Cause I Run Kickstarter (+Q&A!)

20160327-IMG_9440(photo credit: Jon Cameron Photography)

I’ve always had a unique relationship with nature as an athlete. I have vivid memories of weaving in and out of the woods during cross country meets as early as kindergarden. My young, short body sensing the trees towering over me. My ears relishing the sound of leaves crunching with every step.

And even now, as I ramp up my Ironman training in my late 20s, I’m reminded nearly every day of the fond appreciation I have for a healthy planet. This sport relies on clean water to swim in, clear air to bike through and protected trails to run on.

But as I get older, I’m realizing that future athletes may not have the same opportunity as I’ve had running on protected trails in the woods and swimming in serene, clean lakes.

There’s lots we can do as athletes to protect the most pristine gym in the world (Mother Nature). Last year, I wrote about ways athletes can be greener on ActiveLifeDC.com. These recommendations included investing in a good reusable water bottle, recycling old running shoes and purchasing mindfully. Today I’m thrilled to be able to provide a recommendation for doing exactly that.

A friend of mine recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign, which combines two of my biggest passions: sustainability and fitness.

The campaign, called “Cause I Run,” is raising funds to launch a new activewear brand that’s not only made ethically and in the United States, but is also sustainable.

In addition to ensuring its products are made out of environmentally friendly material, Cause I Run also contributes 10 percent of every sale to various charities and non-profits, making a difference for people all around the globe.

Cause I Run founder Amanda Yanchury told me a bit about the new sustainable brand and campaign:

Q. Briefly tell us about the mission of the Kickstarter campaign and Cause I Run?
A. Cause I Run is sustainable activewear that gives back. We’ve got the business plan, the supply chain set up, and successful prototypes. Now, we just need help raising funds to pay for the first production round–that’s where the Kickstarter campaign comes in!

Q. What sparked the idea for the new enterprise?
A. We see products that give back all the time in other areas: shoes, eyeglasses, etc. To me, it seems as though my fellow runners–many of them raising thousands of dollars for charity year after year–would also like to purchase gear that does some good for the world. I started asking questions: Can we do activewear this way? Is it possible to make high-quality running apparel that uses recycled materials? Can I do all of this in the United States? I think the answer to these questions is ‘yes!’

Q. What’s the difference between the material used by Cause I Run and other activewear?
A. Our fabrics are easier on the environment without sacrificing high performance-level quality. Our tank-top is made from 100 percent recycled polyester. Our other two pieces are a blend of RPET and spandex. RPET is a polyester (with the same properties as any polyester garment you’d typically wear on a run), that’s produced from discarded plastic bottles. It reduces the waste that would otherwise pile up in landfills. One pair of our pants reuses between 18-27 plastic bottles! The fabrics are mid- to heavy-weight and suitable for three seasons. They’re a wicking material and are even treated with a natural odor-reducing property.

Q. Can you tell us more about the charities runners will be helping by purchasing activewear from Cause I Run?
A. The charities range from healthcare services to supporting women’s involvement in running and sports in unsafe regions, to economic assistance. Email subscribers should watch their inboxes for the announcement of our first charity partner very soon! We’re dedicated to choosing charities that make a sustainable impact for the community they serve. For future lines, we’ll be developing a system where organizations can apply to become a partner, and where repeat customers have a voice in choosing which ones will allow us to make the most impact.

FTR1(©Free to Run)

Q. After the Kickstarter campaign, does Cause I Run have any immediate and/or future plans to roll out other products?
A. Launching the web store with these first three pieces is our immediate priority, but after that we’ll go right into pre-production on our next line. In the works right now is a long-sleeve shirt with a detachable wrist opening for a GPS watch (many of them now have heart rate monitors built in, so they can’t be worn over clothing). We’ll also be producing our first men’s item(s) as well as introducing comfortable, organic cotton athleisure items. We value inclusivity, so we hope that we launch strongly enough to propel us into a place where can expand to maternity, plus size and more.

Q. Are there any other actions Cause I Run is taking toward sustainability?
A. We do sustainability two ways: in what we wear, and how we give. It’s important that we’re considering every step of our production process–our packaging, for example, will all be recycled (and recyclable). And like I alluded to above, we’re also committed to sustainability in our giving. So often, social enterprises mean well, but they end up dropping off a bunch of stuff that communities may not need. I want to work with charities that involve the people they’re serving into their mission, who listen and incorporate the assistance needed to make a lasting–sustainable–impact.

Q.Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. I’m really looking forward to bringing people into this process and creating a better option for runners everywhere who care about people and the planet. Pre-orders are open through May 21. Please share far and wide!


Click here to learn more about the Kickstarter campaign that will help launch the first production of Cause I Run activewear. I’m eager to try on the three-piece set (running tank + calf-length leggings + low-impact sports bra) I pre-ordered, so I’m crossing my fingers for a successful Kickstarter campaign!  

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Choosing an Ironman Training Plan

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38 years ago on today’s date, 15 athletes competed against each other on the coast of Hawaii. The goal was simple: find the toughest endurance athlete.

Unlike today, these 15 athletes didn’t have a stacks of books at the library or 567,000+ results on Google to help guide them to the perfect training plan or race strategy. Buoyant wetsuits weren’t used during the unprecedented event and aero bars hadn’t even been created.

Yet, all but three athletes finished the race.

Today, I have unlimited resources at my fingertips. I have seasoned athletes who’ve conquered the Ironman numerous times feeding me advice. I’m just a Google search away from any training question that comes up. And with so many Ironman plans to choose from, the options can actually be overwhelming.

Despite all these factors, part of me can’t help but feel a connection to these 15 athletes who took on the race in 1978. The race will mark the hardest endurance challenge I’ve ever conquered. The entire distance, 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle and 26.2-mile run, is something I don’t actually know for certain if I can finish. And I’ll be relying on a fairly basic bicycle without all the bells and whistles (though, more advanced than Dave Orlowski’s Sears Free Spirit 10) due to budget restraints.

Choosing a Plan

After several months of reading online articles, published books and in-person talks with other triathletes, I’ve chosen a 24-week plan based on Matt Fitzgerald’s Essential Week-By-Week Training Guide. The plan incorporates three phases: base phase, build phase and a peak phase. As with the running plans I’ve developed, every fourth week is a recovery week.

Fitzgerald’s book encompasses eight different levels for the full Ironman distance. While I’ve chosen one level based on my fitness today, I’ll be re-evaluating that decision every day based on how my body is reacting. Fitzgerald explains this best in the beginning of his book:

“You should never treat a training plan as a gospel. It’s impossible to always predict how your body will respond to training. When it doesn’t respond quite as expected, adjust your training appropriately or your fitness will stagnate or worse. Training well is about doing the right workouts at the right times and the only way to do the right workout every time to is to be responsive.”

Beyond the Swim, Bike and Run

Since finishing a book written by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn titled Going Long, the way I view Ironman training has changed dramatically.

From the first chapter of the book:

“The spirit of Ironman is much more than a race, more than a simple time goal. It is about the process of preparing yourself for one of the greatest endurance challenges you will ever face. Race day is but one aspect of your overall journey.”

Preparing the body for one of the greatest endurance challenges I’ll ever face requires training beyond the swim, bike and run. From my perspective, Going Long is one of the best resources out there for mapping out what the “beyond” means. From nutrition, which they describe as the “fourth discipline,” to emphasizing the importance of sleep, this book encompasses it all.

In my experience, the biggest challenge I’ve encountered on race-day can usually be attributed to the mind. Yet, I rarely, if ever, put any emphasis toward mental toughness during training. One of my favorite aspects of the book is in chapter 11, which provides techniques to approach the mental aspect of training.

Cautiously Optimistic

I’ve suffered two stress fractures in less than a year. I struggled with a disappointing marathon time in the fall. And even after spending hours and hours in the pool and lake, I’m still a slow swimmer. But despite all this, I have so many reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

I have training partners to hold me accountable. I have a training plan that can easily be adjusted, if needed. I have the gear already purchased.  And I have a successful half Ironman already under my belt.

Most importantly, I’ve developed a strong passion for this unique sport that puts my body up to the ultimate endurance challenge–without all the pounding.

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Silver Linings

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Almost exactly one year ago today, I confronted my feelings about an injury the only way I knew how–to write about it. In the midst of pouring out all of my emotions into a blog post, I was going to physical therapy two to three times a week where I suffered through dry needling and aggressive deep-tissue massages. I was limited to low-impact activities like swimming and biking. And worst of all, I had to forgo not one, but two marathon entries.

But as I confronted these feelings, I came to an unexpected conclusion: I actually really enjoyed the swimming and biking, which I could still do even when I was injured. Enjoying exercise even during an injury? This was a whole new concept to me. And that’s when I decided to set out a new goal. A goal that all my readers, friends and family would read and hold me accountable to: Finish a full Ironman in 2016. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post a year ago–

Set New Goals: All the biking and swimming I’ve done during these past few weeks reminded me how much I enjoyed training for a triathlon four years ago. And with all the excitement from last week’s Nation’s Tri, I couldn’t help but set my sight on a new goal. One that I’ve had my eyes on since college but put it off because I caught the marathon bug.

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That’s right, the biking and swimming Instagram updates aren’t going away even when my IT Band gets better. In 2016, I’m going to complete an Ironman: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run in less than 17 hours (the official time limit for an Ironman to actually count).

Why not 2015?  I’ve got lots of money to save to afford a new bike that’s capable of riding 112 miles (My road bike was stolen back in June) and I still want to qualify for Boston this year or next. But in the meantime, I’m happy to have finally found the silver lining in this ordeal.

Almost exactly one year later, I made the first of many steps to stick with this goal. I forked over the (expensive) race entry fee for Wisconsin Ironman 2016. With the advantage of being able to train on the actual course, which is just minutes from my house, I couldn’t feel better about this decision.

I have lots to work on until then, like my swim form and getting a few more miles on the bike. But I’ve already come so far since last year. I’m finally comfortable in the lake. My legs know exactly how brutal hills on the bike course actually are. And my running will continue to get better as long as I keep training smart. But all that said, I’m also glad I have an entire year to prepare.

I know the training throughout the next 12 months will have its ups and downs. But I have the advantage of that amazing feeling of coming across that finish line of Ironman 70.3. And as long as I carry that feeling with me during the next 12 months, I know I’ll have no problem getting out of bed in the morning to zip up my wetsuit, conquer the hills on the bike course and lace up my running shoes. Here’s to silver linings!

 

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