The Importance of Recovery, Part I: Learning to Breathe

Hello there, strangers. Long time, no talk.

This has been a very tough year, in many ways. If you’re reading this you probably already know that I’m in my last year of law school, and if you know that you also know that this has been by far the most difficult year since I started school in 2012.

Let’s shift to triathlon talk for a moment. The years 2013 and 2014 were really fantastic, especially pertinent to my race times and podium finishes. I was getting faster and stronger and hitting times I never thought I’d be able to hit. The pinnacle for me was the 1:39 I ran at the Philadelphia Half Marathon last fall – without any speed training whatsoever. Things were looking good. Then I had a PR at the Charleston Marathon in January of this year, again without really training, so I was feeling pretty solid.

Then, clinic happened.

I had to complete 700 hours of legal clinic in about 7 months’ time – on top of taking classes and working full time. Plus, I was trying to train for Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I was stressed, I had barely any semblance of a social life, and I felt like I was doing too much of too many things, and doing none of it well. Whether it’s true or not, I feel like I was below average in all aspects of my life – work, school, training, and socially – and that is not a place I like to be.

I was so tired every day. On many days I woke up with a dark cloud hanging over my head. I had a hard time dragging myself out of bed to run in the mornings. I felt like I was going to crumble under the pressure of all I had to do.

So, I made the difficult decision to trade in two-a-day workouts for more rest, and to let my body recover from the immense load of stress it was under. I raced Challenge St. Andrews 70.3 and while I was second in my age group, my time and performance were not up to my in-shape abilities. Ironman Mont-Tremblant was fun but I had a less than stellar marathon there, a direct result of my minimal training this past summer. I had a fun race at the Wisdom Oak Winery Olympic Triathlon and somehow managed to place third overall, so that was a fun way to end the triathlon season. Not a great year at all as far as race times (no triathlon PRs at all!), but two podiums and I do enjoy the podium.

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I was supposed to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October, and early on during race week I decided I had to let that plan go. Enough with the excess, unnecessary pressure on myself. I’ve run a bunch of marathons, including MCM, so I have nothing to prove. It would probably be better for my body to not force the issue and drag myself through 26.2 miles when I was not nearly trained for it. I’ve previously run marathons without training, but never with so many added life stressors. Plus, my foot had been bothering me a little bit. I knew I could survive the race, but at what cost? It was a good decision not to race.

That brings me to today. I’m happy to be a member of the athlete team at the Rose Physical Therapy Group, and have done my best to represent them despite all the busy-ness wreaking havoc on my schedule and my training this year.

Kendall is the therapist I see when I visit the clinic, and I have to say, she totally gets me. The first time I met her she took a few minutes to just talk about me, to ask questions and to find out who I was and why I was there and what my goals were. I really appreciated that. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any major physical issues or injuries, but wellness is about more than muscles, joints and ligaments. It involves the mind and the soul as well.

So, time for some enlightenment (thanks, Kendall). It turns out one of the things that was causing me excess stress was shallow breathing, caused in part by tightness in my chest and shoulders…maybe having something to do with riding in aero position for 112 miles? So Kendall showed me a couple of stretches I could do to open up my chest, which would help to expand my lungs, thus reducing my stress and *BONUS* increasing my lung capacity, which should directly impact my athletic performance. One exercise involves lying on a foam roller, with the roller parallel to the spine, and letting the arms fall to the sides, and taking several deep breaths. That’s it.

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The other exercise involves placing this little medical peanut-shaped device ( called the SKLZ Accupoint Ergonomic Spine & Tissue Massager: see below) between the shoulder blades, lying on the floor, and slowly moving the arms up and down. That’s it. And what a difference it makes!

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Clinic is over. Law school will be over in 30 days. Then I’ll tackle bar review and the bar exam. But in the meantime, I owe thanks to Kendall for giving me a couple of simple exercises that take barely any time at all, but dramatically improve the way I feel every day, while I still carry this workload. And thanks to my friends and family, who understand that I have been barely present over the past several months. I miss you.

We’re almost there, folks. Are you getting excited?

Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Take Two!

August 16, 2015

After Ironman Mont-Tremblant last year, it took me all of a week before I decided to register again. After I talked Mark and Lee into doing the race at a DC Tri Club happy hour, I went home and registered myself that same night. It’s an addiction, I guess.

Plus, it’s beautiful.

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If you want to read my race report from last year, it might help you understand why a repeat performance was necessary. The run last year gave me some issues. So I went back this year and while I was hoping to kill the run, you’re about to see why it was the run that almost killed me.

If you know me at all, you know that this has been a very, very, very difficult year. On top of my promotion to Executive Director at FELTG (woohoo!), I started my legal clinic rotation for law school, which was an extra 30-ish hours a week on top of at least 50 hours for work, from January through August. The criminal law clinic this spring nearly did me in, and I learned two valuable lessons: 1) Never ever EVER say something to the judge unless you’re prepared to answer the inevitable follow-up: “Why should I consider that, counselor?” And, 2) A public defender I am not. This summer I had another clinic, government accountability, which was very interesting but due to the compressed summer schedule it averaged 35 hours a week.

So, I skipped Monticelloman 70.3 this year, which was slightly devastating but given that the race was May 3 and my first outdoor ride was May 2, it kind of made sense that I wouldn’t race that. Legal clinic killed my training! Did I really start my year off with a Marathon PR in Charleston? Sigh. It felt like so long ago…

I raced Challenge St. Andrews 70.3 in July with a very fun group of DC Tri friends. My performance there wasn’t very stellar, except for the swim, where I managed a 31:07 split. I managed, somehow, to place second in my age group – at the one race in the world that only gives awards for the FIRST place finisher in each age group. What the heck, Challenge? 😉 Anyway, I was so busy all summer I didn’t even write a race report for that race. I know, my fans were disappointed, but hey, I can only do 31 things at once, people, and race report writing was number 32. But here are a couple photos from the trip to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where the lobster (or klobsta, as we prefer to call it) is divine.

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(St. Andrews, New Brunswick, antics)

Fast forward, legal clinic was over August 12 and that same day my friend and triathlon training partner Andy Baldwin and I hit the road and headed up to Quebec. We got to Mont-Tremblant about 7:30pm, checked in to our condo (just a 5 minute walk from transition) and then went to the village for dinner.

The next day, which was Thursday, we went for an hour-long ride (and got lost so it ended up being two hours), a 20-minute run then a 20 minute swim. The rest of the DC Tri crew arrived throughout the day Thursday, and that night a bunch of us had dinner together.

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(DC Tri crew, showing off our flexibility and creativity)

Friday dawned and we went for a swim in Lac Tremblant. I can’t say it enough: what a beautiful body of water! This year the espresso boat was about 500 meters offshore, so we had to swim for our coffee. (Last year it was anchored about 50 meters off shore.) We swam about 1.5 miles easy that day, including 3 stops for coffee. Saw a bunch of DC tri friends bobbing in the water by the espresso boat. It is so fun to drink espresso in the middle of a lake in Quebec. I highly recommend it!

Friday night fireworks were awesome. Saturday morning we went for a short ride (maybe 30 minutes) and then jogged down to the swim start, got in the water (no wetsuit – they take forever to dry and are impossible to put on wet) and swam to the coffee boat for espresso, then came back to shore. We chilled in the condo most of Saturday, had a huge breakfast of steak and eggs, then rested until we racked our bikes and dropped off our transition bags. After that we headed to the top of the mountain to check out the views, then paid visits to Lee, Mark, Heather and Chris (Condo 1) and then Bryan, Octavio, Darren, Jacques, Kevin and Genvieve (Condo 2). It was a social day! After that was dinner and chilling in anticipation of the next day.

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(Sandra, racked and ready!)

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(We even had room for one more)

I decided, because this year has been so exhausting and my training volume/quality has been at least 30% below where it should have been, to race without a watch. No Garmin. No bike computer. Just by feel. I know myself well enough to understand that if I got hung up on the data – especially when I am not nearly in the kind of shape I was last summer – I could get in a negative place in my head, and be miserable the whole race. I wanted to enjoy it. So, I went fully commando, if you will.

Race Day!

I woke up before the alarm – at 4:29 a.m. I made coffee and commenced the force feeding. Half a bagel loaded with peanut butter and jelly (shout out to Octavio for that – you know why!), a Tousarde aux Chocolate (basically a delicious twisty chocolate croissant), plus some spinach orange juice, chocolate milk, and a bottle of water. We headed to transition for body marking and to pump up the bike tires, put the bottles on, etc., then came back to the condo to get our wetsuits and coat ourselves with Body Glide.

We walked to the swim start and at some point I lost Andy because he had forgotten his timing chip, so he was in search of a replacement chip. I saw Nicole and Adrian, Jacques, and then my fellow Rose Physical Therapy Group team member Bryan Frank, to whom I gave a big old smooch on the cheek for good luck. Bryan’s cheeks are so smoochable!

Le Swim

We lined up at the swim start in waves, and of course because we’re women we were in the last two waves so we had to wait for all the guys to start first. I lined up next to Heather, and we tried to false start. Oops. We were so excited though! When the fireworks shot off at 6:57 a.m. to send us in to the water, we charged from the beach into the lake, which was a perfect 71 degrees, prime for my sleeveless wetsuit, and started to chase down the guys. Beach starts are so so so so so so fun!

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(That’s a lot of people, eh?)

Last year I don’t remember the swim being so physical. This year, it was pretty tough. Sighting was a tad difficult because there was a lot of fog on the water. The 2000 men who started in front of us need to take lessons on sighting, though, because they were all over the place. I must have overswum by 200 meters in that first mile, just picking my way around the guys. I got elbowed and kicked a few times, shoved by Heather (haha! still love you, girl) and swallowed a mouthful of lake water – which was delicious. And I chased down a whole lot of men.

At the turn things stayed choppy but then when we headed back to shore the water opened up. Heather and I swam side by side nearly the whole way. She pulled ahead as we approached shore. I didn’t think I was going to have a very good swim so imagine my shock when I ran out of the water and saw I had set a new swim PR! I was excited! I headed to the wetsuit peelers (why don’t they call them strippers any more?) and before I knew it I was on the ground and they were peeling me out of the suit. They helped me up and I was on my way long the red carpet toward T1.

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(Out of the water!)

The swim was over! I raced a 1:02:25, good for fifth in my age group! I was on my way to the bike.

Le Bike

For me, the ride is the big unknown factor in any race. So many things can go wrong: a crash, a flat, a mechanical issue, a broken chain. Any of those could kill the momentum of a race, and very possibly end it. So I put on my bike gear in T1, loaded my jersey pockets with food, and I got on my bike, sans computer.

I felt good right out of transition. I mean, really good. I was having fun immediately and I was surprised at how spry my legs felt. I think the swim set me in to a good mental place. So I started riding, out Montee Ryan toward Highway 117, taking on the hills with a smile. The first loop of the bike course didn’t feel too badly. I remember thinking during the ride, how last year seemed so hilly and these hills didn’t feel too bad. Even the Chemin Duplessis, which has a few steep climbs, seemed tolerable.

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(Game face)

And then I got peed on.

Yes, you read that right. I was passing a guy on Chemin Duplessis and he decided the downhill was a good time to pee on the bike. He didn’t check to see if anyone was behind him and as I pulled to his left he let it fly and it got all over me. Including in my face. Ewwwwwwww! I was so grossed out, and right after the descent I pulled my water bottle off and sprayed it all over myself to wash off that dude’s urine. Nasty!

The second loop of the bike course felt much tougher. The sun came out and it got HOT. It was really nice to see my friends out there (I saw Bryan and Octavio several times, plus Mark, Eric, Andy and Stef once each) but the hills were talking the second time around. I had absolutely no idea what my bike split was going to be. I still felt pretty solid and thought if I came in under 6:20 (last year’s split was 6:12) that would be acceptable, given the fact that I only did one century ride in training all year long.

On the back stretch of Chemin Duplessis the second time, I was loving with the descents and tucked into aero and fully comfortable on my K.BEDFORD custom tri bike and probably topping out at 42 mph or so. Just guessing, since I had no computer. I headed in to transition and hopped off my bike, handed her to a bike catcher and noticed the race clock. If my math was correct, I’d biked a 6:02. That’s 10 minutes faster than last year – with less training and no data! I was thrilled.

Here’s what I ate on the bike: a sleeve of Clif Blocks, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a bagel, six no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, two fig bars, 1.5 bananas, three bottles of Skratch and two bottles of water.

I jogged into T2 with a huge smile. The ride was over, with no mechanical issues, no crashes, and no pain. Now, I just had to run a pesky little marathon and then call it a day.

Le Marathon

I can usually tell right out of T2 whether or not I am going to have a good run. I was already thrilled with my swim and ride and realized I could have a huge PR if I ran the way I usually run during an Ironman. So I put on my race belt, running shoes and Rose Physical Therapy Group visor, and headed out (no Garmin) to run a marathon. A quick stop at the loo and I was off.

And I was really off. Off my game.

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(Oof. This was hard.)

In the first 400 meters I knew I was in trouble. My legs were tired but the most scary part was my heart rate. The heat was high (it nearly hit 90 that day) and the humidity was over 90%, and my heart rate was in the danger zone after two minutes of running. So I had to walk to bring it down. This was a hard decision for me, because I knew I was on track for a PR, but my heart was telling me to be careful, and I knew I had to listen.

Thus commenced one of the slowest marathons I have ever completed. I kept loading ice into my sports bra to keep my core cool. I saw a lot of friends out on the run course and most everyone was struggling. I poured water over my head to stay cool. I took flat coke at every aid station. My legs were okay but my heart was not. So I shuffled…and shuffled. It would be disappointing, and maybe that will hit, but yet I was just so thankful to be out there doing another Ironman in a really beautiful corner of the world. I have a body that can do amazing things, things that most people never undertake.

The second loop was slightly better than the first, and I picked up the pace a little bit. I knew it was slow going but I did all I could do. As I was 2 miles from the finish I saw Darren and Nicole and cheered them on. I decided to finish strong and I picked it up the last mile.

I love the downhill finish chute at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. I high-fived everyone along the way and, as always, my eyes filled with tears as I headed toward the finish line. Finishing Ironman is always, always an emotional experience for me. I think it’s because when I completed my first one four years ago, it was on the tail end of what was the hardest time in my life, and the completion of that long-time dream was surreal. I remember that every time I approach another Ironman finish. I love racing!

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I crossed the finish line 17 minutes slower than last year and feeling fine (that’s what happens when your run is an hour slower than it should be), downed some chocolate milk, and on my way out bumped in to Bryan, Mark and Chris. We took a picture before we picked up our bikes from transition, then I headed home to relax, clean up, and rest before meeting everyone for dinner later.

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Dinner was fun, the finish line at midnight was amazing, and on my walk back to the condo it hit me: I just did Ironman #5. Not only that, but that was my fourth Ironman in just two calendar years. The people who told me I had to give it up when I started law school were wrong. And the people who supported me throughout were right. I love you guys!

We got a couple days to play in the village after the race, which I did not get last year because I had to get home for a business trip. As I write this I’m waiting in the airport for my flight back to DC, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am able to do what I love, with people I care about dearly.

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(We terrorized the children on the mountain luge Monday night)

Thanks especially to my family and friends, Chris Hendricks and Rose Physical Therapy Group for keeping me aligned and functioning, Smiley El-Abd for the BEST bike fit in the world. You are all incredible!

I can’t wait till next season. Rumor has it that Ironman Switzerland is absolutely beautiful…Save the date: July 24, 2016!

Charleston Marathon Race Report: A Surprise Marathon and PR!

January 17, 2015

So, a few days ago I got a text from my friend Andy Baldwin. Here’s what the text said:

Andy: Hey, want to run the Charleston Marathon with me?

And here’s what happened next:

Me: When is it?

Andy: Saturday.

Me: Hmmm. Okay, sure.

After that we had to work out details, but basically I registered on Monday for a marathon that upcoming Saturday.

I haven’t been posting about races lately because I haven’t been racing. I’ve been enjoying the off-season by taking trips to Michigan, and running barefoot along the beach in the Dominican Republic.

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(5 miles barefoot on the beach = 15 miles on the road, right?)

I didn’t have a race on my calendar until the Rock ‘n Roll USA half marathon in March. I’ve been running some but for fun and to keep my base up. I haven’t run more than 12 miles since the Philly half marathon in November (read that race report here) and I haven’t run beyond 14 miles since Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August (that race report/novel can be found here).

Andy needed to use the Charleston Marathon as a training run for his 38 for 38 (a 38 mile charity run for Got Your Back Network on his 38th birthday – find out more or donate here) which is coming up in a couple weeks. So sure, let’s go have fun, see Charleston, and get in a nice long 26.2 mile training run while we’re there.

We flew to Charleston Friday evening, and got an upgrade on the flight down. Gotta love the extra leg room the day before a race!

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(Goodbye, DC!)

That night we went to downtown Charleston and had an amazing dinner at a place called Prohibition. The food was excellent and the live band (we’re talking old school southern boys!) was something out of a movie. People in Charleston LOVE Charleston! Sadly, we couldn’t stay out too late because the race was the next morning.

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(Look at this band at Prohibition. They were legit.)

I slept pretty terribly, as I often do before a race, but I got maybe three hours, which was enough. After a French press coffee at the hotel (yes, I brought my French press and my own coffee – Costa Rican Finca Salaca from Verve Coffee Roasters) we headed to Bruegger’s Bagels for some carbs before the race. We then parked at the high school where the expo was taking place, and picked up our packets. The race was small (only 4,000 total runners for the full and half) so we were in and out in no time.

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(I got an odd-numbered race number, Yes!!! Let’s do this.)

On the way to the start line Andy asked what pace I was planning to run. I said 8:30s and he said he’d run with me. He’s way faster than that but he was using this as a training run so he needed to save his legs. I mentioned that my PR was only a 3:53 and he said, “Deborah, I’m going to help get you a PR today.” Okay, Doc, let’s do this!

It was 43 and sunny with just a little breeze. A tank top and arm warmers would do it. The race started right at 8:00 a.m. and we were off! The first few miles were beautiful. We ran along the water, by gorgeous plantation-style homes and past Battery Park before we turned up King Street to run through the heart of town. Somehow the distance between miles 1-2 was a quarter mile longer than it should have been (we later learned that the lead car had taken a wrong turn and added four blocks to the course). No problem, we just settled in at about 8:20-8:25 pace and cruised for miles. It wasn’t crowded but there were always people around so it didn’t feel lonely. One thing I love about running marathons is that it’s easy to make friends and talk to people, because you’re never really out of breath. So I had some lovely conversations with people along the way.

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After mile 5 the scenery got a little less charming. I felt like I was running in New Jersey through business parks. Haha! Anyway, we ran with the 3:45 pace group for quite a while. I took a Clif Block about every 3-4 miles, and had a bit of banana around mile 12. A sip or two of water and Gatorade at every aid station. That was it. At one point around mile 13 we passed a tent that was set up with live mics, but there was no band to be found. So two seconds later I’m running along with the pace group and I hear a familiar voice on the mic, singing Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time.” The pace group cracked up as we realized it was Andy. We got a good laugh as he rejoined us.

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We passed mile marker 14 and I realized this was the furthest I had ever run in my Mizuno Wave Evo Levitas flats. I’d asked my waitlist-only Aston-Patterner extraordinaire and good friend Chris Hendricks, who changes lives by keeping bodies in the D-M-V in proper alignment, if I should run in the zero drops or if a marathon was too far to risk it, and he said to go for it. So, my feet legs, knees and hips were feeling just fine. I felt amazing, actually. Usually at some point in a marathon I think, “Why am I doing this?” but I had no such moment this day. Around mile 16 I had to make a pit stop since I’d been holding it since before the race started, so I told Andy to go on ahead and I’d catch up to him. It was a quick stop and I rejoined him within a couple minutes. Our pace was still right around 8:20-8:25. Sweet!

Of course, around mile 20 is when a marathon starts to get tough. That’s true when you’ve trained – and it’s also true when you haven’t. I could feel fatigue setting in and I told Andy to keep running at his pace and that I wouldn’t be too far behind. But my body was tired and so my pace slowed some. After the aid station at mile 20 there wasn’t another one until after mile 24. I was so thirsty by then because the temperature had reached almost 60 degrees! Finally, the aid came and I hydrated for the final two miles. My left IT band had tightened up a little bit around mile 18 but I ran through it and it was just a little nag in the background those last few miles.

I love the last half mile of a marathon because it goes by so quickly. I turned a corner onto a street in North Charleston full of cheering fans. The momentum of the crowd carried me those few blocks and across the finish, and I was happy to see that despite the lack of training and the fatigue in the last 10k, I’d still set an 8+ minute PR. It makes me wonder what I could do if I actually trained for a marathon!

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Finish time: 3:45:12.

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(Look at this medal. But not at the camera.)

I felt surprisingly good – the best I have ever felt after a marathon. That’s weird because I didn’t train, and it was the fastest marathon I’ve ever run. Go figure.

We collected our free beer and shrimp & grits, made some friends at the finish line celebration, then took the shuttle bus from the finish line back to the race start, which was about 10 miles away.

After we got cleaned up we explored Charleston. Good food, drinks, ice cream, sightseeing, and walking (which really helps the legs after a marathon) were on the agenda that afternoon. What a cool town!

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(Cool sights and big houses in Charleston.)

So, there you have it. A surprise marathon that turned out quite well. Thanks to Andy for pacing me to a PR. And, had he not exploited the fact that I’m a sucker for a race, I would never have gone to Charleston that day. 🙂 Thanks to Chris Hendricks for keeping me healthy and strong. And, special thanks to my wonderful family and friends for tracking me during the race, and above that for for caring about this stuff to begin with. I had so many texts when I got back to my phone, from people checking to see how it went or congratulating me on the finish. Because it’s important to me, it’s important to you, and I am so grateful for your support. ❤

Philadelphia Half Marathon Race Report: Breaking 1:40

November 23, 2014

I planned a trip to Philadelphia to spend a fun weekend with a group of friends and, oh yes, to run a half marathon Sunday morning. My brother PC and his friend Fred were flying from Michigan to meet me, Shana, Matt and Nate in center city, where we’d rented a condo through Airbnb. We hit the road from DC around 12:45 pm Saturday and had a quick, easy drive to Philly. We laughed and talked the whole way. It’s so fun to travel to a race with friends!

We got to the condo just a few minutes after PC and Fred arrived. We dropped our stuff off then headed out into the chilly, breezy afternoon, to grab a snack at Reading Terminal Market before stopping by the race expo for packet pickup.

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(Race expo)

We sailed through packet pickup – I think we were in and out in 5 minutes – and looked around the expo for a little bit. From there it was a quick stop back at the condo to drop off our stuff, and then on to dinner at Positano Coast in Old City. The food was pretty good and we laughed as we noticed we were the youngest people in the restaurant by at least 30 years. That may have had something to do with the 6:30 p.m. reservation time, although when we left a bit after 8:00 the average age of the patrons was still hovering around 71.

We walked the few blocks back to the condo and got in bed early. Shana and I took the master suite and the boys crashed in the living room on the pull-out sofa and a couple of air mattresses. It looked like a college sleepover in there! I fell asleep about 10:15 and slept really well for the night before a race. I was up at 5:13 to head to Dunkin’ Donuts with Nate and Matt for coffee and donut holes for the group. I had coffee and a d.hops Power Muffin for breakfast. That was it. That would hopefully be enough.

The forecast called for 38 degrees at my projected finish time so I’d opted to run in shorts, a singlet, and arm warmers. I also donned a throwaway sweatshirt, gloves and headband so I would stay warm enough pre-race. We left the condo around 6:00 and walked the 1.5+ miles to the start line. On the way I realized I’d left my Garmin and my Clif Blocks in the condo. Oops. Oh well, today I’d run by feel, and I also hoped the Power Muffin was enough nutrition to hold me over.

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(Pre-race)

At this point it was about 36 degrees out and there was just a very slight breeze. We got to the start corrals around 6:40, which was nice because the race started at 7:00, so we didn’t have to wait too long. PC, Matt and I lined up in the maroon corral. As I tossed my throwaway sweatshirt a minute before the start I heard a comment from behind, something like: “What a surprise, d.hops is taking off her clothes at a race.” I looked at the commenter and saw it was made by my good friend Christian Schultz, who was gearing up for probably his 13th marathon in November, and who is quite familiar with my usual triathlon race kit.

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(Race start)

The race started right on time and we were off, of course to the soundtrack “Eye of the Tiger.” This is Philadelphia, after all! I enjoyed being seeded in the maroon corral, because it was the first corral after the elites, so there was no waiting around to cross the start. In fact, we crossed when the race clock was at 0:53. I ran the Philadelphia Marathon two years ago and didn’t cross the start until 17 minutes after the gun, so this was a nice change. The course generally takes the runner through downtown Philly the first half, before heading by the Zoo and through Fairmount Park for the second half, and finishes in front of the Art Museum.

So, PC, Matt and I took off together with the understanding that we didn’t have to stick together but would if we wanted to. I was hoping, if I had a perfect day, to break 1:40, but it seemed like that might be a stretch because my PR was a 1:43:20 and I was on the tail end of a 2-week cold and sinus infection. But I wanted to start out holding 7:30s and see how long I could endure.

The first mile was a little crowded but not too bad, and we ran it in 7:45. The next mile was a 7:20. We settled in from there to about a 7:30 pace, although that was just an estimate because I didn’t have my Garmin with me. There were clocks at every mile marker, so we could keep a rough estimate of our pace as we ran along. Around the 5k spot we saw Christian and his friend Jeff, and chatted with them a bit before cruising on. PC dropped a bit back around the 4-5 mile mark, and Matt and I continued along. We held 7:28s-7:30s miles 2-7, and our 10k split time was a 46:38, which was exactly on point at a 7:30 pace. Around City Hall my sistas June and Ang saw me and cheered for me, but I never saw exactly where they were. I heard them though!

As the course continued Matt and I matched stride for stride. Miles 7-9 present a few little ups and downs and one more significant hill by the Zoo. It’s a steady, gradual incline but no fun at about mile 8 in a half marathon. We were very happy to get to the top. Aid at every other station. A little Gatorade and a little water. Our pace slowed just a little and then like clockwork, at mile 8.5 my left IT band started talking to me. That happens in every standalone half marathon I run. My Aston-Patterner bodywork master extraordinaire Chris Hendricks told me that happens because I don’t do speedwork in training, and if I did, this problem would go away. I only push myself this hard during shorter races (I know it’s crazy to call a half marathon a short race, but for me it really is). Maybe I’ll listen to Chris before the next race. 🙂

Mile 10

(Getting closer to the finish)

A Clif Shot at mile 10 was well-timed, and a downhill toward the river reinvigorated my legs, which were starting to feel the race just a little bit. I will say, however, that I have never felt so solid, consistent or strong at this point in a half marathon. Mile 11-12 is on JFK Drive on pavement with a significant right bank, so that’s not too easy to run on. But, we endured. Once we hit the Mile 12 sign, Matt said he was going to kick it in, and he took off. I tried to keep up, I really did, but I didn’t have that extra gear. I knew I needed to keep the pace I was running if I wanted to break 1:40, and I couldn’t believe it was really within reach. The last 1.1 felt really long but also went by quickly, if that makes any sense. At the split where the half marathon goes to the right and the full marathon goes to the left, I was very happy to veer to the right. The IT band discomfort subsided some and I kept cruising. A couple hundred meters from the finish I saw the race clock was in the low 1:40s, and I knew I needed to keep pushing to break 1:40. I sailed across the finish line, almost in disbelief, as I realized I’d run a 1:39:51. That’s a 3:29 PR, which is huge, especially with a sinus infection and a huge lack of training. My average pace was a 7:36. I also finished 46th in my age group, which doesn’t sound that impressive, but there were 1,277 women ages 30-34, so it turns out I finished in the top 3%, which I’m pretty happy about.

Finish

(Finish line)

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(Official race results)

After finishing I saw Matt who’d finished about a minute ahead of me, and we waited by the finish as the rest of our group crossed (well, except for Nate, who is wicked fast and ran a 1:28 or something, and was already far ahead of the rest). The reunion was a happy one, enhanced because we also saw David and John Michael at the finish.

I got COLD once my heart rate settled down. Really cold, shivering, teeth chattering -and a mylar blanket doesn’t do much for that. It was a long walk back to the condo but we stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for hot chocolate and that made the rest of the walk much more tolerable. We got cleaned up and headed out for brunch and bowling! We stayed overnight Sunday so we got to enjoy a fun afternoon without having to get on the road back home. Great idea!

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(Me and baby bro)

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(Shana won both games at Lucky Strike!)

So, what are my reflections on my final race of the year? I had a wonderful time. It’s so fun to travel with a group, and knowing the race is part of the weekend but that there’s much more to look forward to, takes the pressure off. I can’t believe I ran so well considering how busy things have been with work and law school, and how much I didn’t train for this race. It makes me wonder what I could do if I had the time to actually train right. One more year of law school, and then we’ll see what happens. Either way, I have firmly decided our little group needs to do another destination race!

J’adore Ironman Mont-Tremblant!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant Race Report

August 17, 2014

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Wow.

When DC Tri and FeXY friends told me Ironman Mont-Tremblant was going to be amazing, they weren’t exaggerating. It was a fantastic race. What a venue! The event organization was flawless, the scenery was breathtaking, the volunteers and spectators were spectacular, and the course was challenging but phenomenal.

I loved it!

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(Look at this place!)

Pre-Race

I had a conference in San Diego the week leading up to race day, so I left San Diego on Thursday morning and flew to Toronto. Because I knew I needed rest after being on my feet in heels for three days, I stayed overnight at the Hilton in Toronto, and then flew from Toronto City Airport (the darn cutest little airport you’ll ever visit – it’s on an island and only accessible by a ferry ride, a ride that lasts maybe 2 minutes because it’s only about 200 yards from the riverbank to the island) to Mont-Tremblant on Friday.

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(This is the Mont-Tremblant airport – in winter, but still!)

My flight was supposed to arrive at 2:05 p.m. but it was delayed and I ended up deplaning more like 2:30. I felt a little pressure because athlete check-in closed at 4pm, but luckily Rob and Max were waiting for me at the Mont-Tremblant International Airport (another darn cute airport; it’s a log cabin) and we drove toward the Village, which was about a 45-minute drive. We dumped my bags at the condo and then briskly walked to athlete check-in, which was probably a mile or so away.

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(Ironman Village with Rob)

I checked in at 3:45, so I only had 15 minutes to spare, but I made it! After check-in we walked by (but of course not across) the finish line…

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(There it is, ready for me!)

…and around the expo and then I picked up Sandra from TriBike Transport. She was in perfect condition! We walked her back to the condo and then headed right back to the Village (this time on the shuttle) for the welcome dinner and pre-race meeting. It was awesome – there were Cirque du Soleil Performers, and some amazing acrobats from Spicy Circus, which was a surprise because I’ve never seen entertainment at these things. The videos of the course gave me chills and I finally, finally started to get excited!

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(Gondola ride to the top of the hill)

The next morning, Rob and I headed to the swim start, which was only a 5-minute walk from the condo, for a practice swim. The air temp was 50 and it was drizzling out, but the water was 67 so it felt nice. We swam out about 300 yards, turned around and I cruised back toward the shore. I felt good, long, and lean, in the water. Close to shore there was an espresso boat serving coffee, so we swam up, placed our orders, and drank espresso while treading water in Lac Tremblant. It was hilarious, fun, and take it from a self-proclaimed coffee snob, the coffee was quite good! (It was Kona coffee. Of course it was good. Oh, the novelty!)

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(Lac Tremblant…the sun is shining because I took this photo on the day I left town – the day the weather got nice.)

We finished our coffee and headed to shore. After that came the tri club athlete breakfast, followed by a quick spin on our bikes in POURING rain and 53 degrees. We checked out the part of the bike course we were warned was the worst, hilliest part and we laughed because it didn’t seem that bad. (More on that later. I will be forced eat my words and swallow my laughs. Christian Schultz, for once, was not exaggerating about those couple of miles of hills! Haha!) We dried off, packed our transition bags and checked in our gear and bikes, still in the pouring rain. Then it was time to rest.

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(Loving the mascot!)

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(Poor Sandra had to endure a day and night of nonstop rain.)

After a pasta dinner, I got in bed around 9:15 and fell asleep around 10:30 or 10:45 – SUCCESS! I slept fairly well until the alarm went off at 4:37. Then it was a breakfast of coffee, half a bagel with Trader Joe’s Cookie and Cocoa Butter, Almond Butter and jelly, and a bowl of oatmeal with chocolate covered raisins and granola. I made an almond butter and jelly sandwich to take to transition and put in my bike bag, but as I headed out the door I accidentally left it on the counter. I would regret that during the race.

It was 47 degrees out. Brrrr! I did quick prep on my bike, filled my bottle, put nutrition in my transition bags, went to body marking, then headed back to the condo to cover myself in Body Glide, get my wetsuit and head to the swim start. It was almost time to race and as the excitement built, I thought, “Here goes, Ironman #4!” There was music and cheer and adrenaline and I loved it!

Swim!

I opted for my sleeveless wetsuit since the water was 66. The swim started with the pro men’s wave at 6:36 a.m. There were several waves that followed, including Rob’s at 6:51, and mine went off right on time, at 6:57. They started us off with fireworks, which was really cool! I lined up on the far right of the beach (I adore beach starts), so when the fireworks went off I charged the water, dove under and started pulling.

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(IMMT swim)

The swim course layout was simple and well-designed. It was 1.1 miles out, a 90-degree right turn for .2 miles, then another 90-degree right turn and 1.1 miles back to shore. There were lots of clouds and no sun so sighting was not a problem, and with about 14 sighting buoys along each long side of the course I had no trouble holding a line. The water wasn’t as calm as it had been the day before during the practice swim, and it was downright rough at the turn points, but it was clear and tasted good! My only complaint is that, because the swim waves were age-group based and not time-seeded, I had to swim through slower people THE ENTIRE TIME. There were about 2300 people who started ahead of me, and I finished #152 out of 2600 competitors. Do the math…I had to pass a LOT of people in the water.

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After I turned toward the shore I focused on taking long, easy strokes, and the swim felt almost effortless. I knew I would have a good time but I didn’t think it would be stellar. About 100 yards from shore I angled toward the swim exit and I hit shallow water, and ran into a patch of rocks with my hands and my knees. Yeouch! I pushed off to deeper water, swam till I hit bottom and and ran out. I glanced at the clock and my jaw dropped. I had a swim PR!

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(Happy about the PR! Woo hoo!)

I pulled off my cap and goggles and pulled my wetsuit down to my waist. Then came the fun part: the wetsuit strippers! (Don’t worry, Mom, these are people who help athletes remove their wetsuits, not actual strippers.) There was carpet laid out for us just past the swim finish and I quickly lay down and pointed my feet to the sky while three good-looking men peeled my wetsuit off me. It all happened so fast but I remember laughing and thinking how much fun it all was. I have never before experienced wetsuit strippers, but I’d happily do it again! 😉

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(How did I not scare off the wetsuit strippers, with this face?)

It was a half-mile barefoot run on asphalt from the water to the transition tent. That’s a long way and it adds minutes! My feet hurt but I was exhilarated from the crowd support, the excellent swim, and the though of the impending bike ride. There is absolutely no feeling in the world like racing Ironman.

I entered the transition tent, grabbed my bike gear bag, and with the help of the volunteers suited up for the 112-mile ride.

Favorite part of the swim: the wetsuit strippers!

2.4 mile swim: 1:02:47

AG rank: 4/89

T1: 6:17

 

Ride!

My goal for the ride was to keep my heart rate mostly in Zone 2. I knew there were hills (5900 feet of climbing, to be more exact) and the air was cold, plus there was wind and the threat of rain. I decided to ride smart on the first loop and see what I had left for the second loop.

We’d driven a good portion of the bike course on the way back from the airport and it didn’t look too intimidating. On race day, though, I felt the inclines a lot more than I did in the car. Go figure! Turning on to Highway 117 north we encountered a brisk headwind – nothing like what I encountered in Sweden but probably still 15-20mph winds. It was maybe 15-18 miles out on that road, with rolling hills but an upward trend and some false flats and I felt slow. Once I hit the turnaround there was a little bit of a tailwind and I checked my average mph and was dismayed to see it was at 14.9. What the heck? I was frustrated and thought maybe something was wrong with my bike; the hills weren’t THAT bad!

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(Such a beautiful ride.)

Rob passed me about mile 25 and said, “You must’ve had a heck of a swim!” I replied that I was going to chase him the rest of the day. As the ride continued back toward town my average speed increased to over 15mph but I was frustrated because I’ve been biking really well this year. I didn’t want to push harder though, because I had a marathon to run after I got off the bike, so I settled in to the ride and decided to do my best with what I was dealt. We hit a couple more challenging hills from miles 40-45, separated by a nice stretch through downtown Mont-Tremblant (a fantastic cheer spot!) and then from 45-55 the real fun began. The section Rob and I had ridden the day before got really hilly right after the spot where we’d turned around. None of the climbs were long but a couple of them were rather steep and I used the full range of my gears there. People were whizzing by on their way back down so I looked forward to the turnaround around mile 50. And the climb was worth it – wheeeee! I hit 41.1 mph on those downhills, held it in aero and felt safe the whole time. It was great fun. Loving that K.BEDFORD custom tri bike!

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(Riding comfortably, 90-ish miles in)

Bike loop two repeated the same course. I had to make a quick loo stop because I refuse to pee on my beautiful new bike. The wind had picked up a bit more but my pace was almost the same and about 60 miles in I thought, well, this might be a 7-hour bike ride and there’s nothing I can do about it unless I want to redline and give myself a heart attack. It was beautiful scenery on that ride, past lakes and creeks and mountains, the roads were perfect, and I was really enjoying the experience. Plus, at the aid stations the bottle drop came in the form of hockey nets, and the volunteers had hockey sticks, so we’d toss our bottles and the volunteers would slapshot them into the goals. I scored three goals with my bottles (d.hops for the hat trick!) and one with my banana peel! It was good fun, eh.

The sun came out for a few seconds maybe twice on the bike. At mile 99.79 I scrolled through my computer readout and THEN realized that before the race I had never reset my average mph, which had included all that walking with my bike at 2mph around the village. No wonder my average was so low! I felt energized those last few miles when I realized I wasn’t going to have a slow bike split. What a relief!

My nutrition didn’t go so well. I usually stick to a good plan but I got distracted, I think by my pace, and I never got back to where I was supposed to be. I had 4 NatureBox strawberry figgy bars, a sleeve of Clif Blocks and a banana, plus two bottles of water and 1.5 bottles of Skratch hydration mix. I was way short on my calories! I should’ve had a couple more bottles of water, two more figgy bars, another sleeve of Clif Blocks plus that sandwich I’d left back at the condo. I’d pay for this on the latter part of the run. Such a rookie mistake!

Back into transition I looked at the race clock and was very surprised and happy to see how well I’d done on the ride. I handed Sandra to the bike catcher, took off my cycling shoes and ran in my socks toward the transition tent. I grabbed my bag, took off my jersey, put on my running shoes and visor (I kept my braids in, which I usually don’t do, because on this day I felt like running in pigtails), grabbed my Garmin and headed out. I hit the loo before tackling the marathon.

Favorite part of the ride: the hockey net bottle drop. So Canadian, eh?!

112-mile ride: 6:12:47 (18.08mph average)

AG rank: 14/89

T2: 3:41

Run!

I felt good coming out of T2 and took on the hills with no problem. My first mile was a 7:45 so I forced myself to slow down. I saw Rob’s kids and they cheered for me. They’d made me a sign, too, which was cute! I took in flat coke and a little bit of water at every aid station. The run course traversed rolling hills through little villages for the first 4 miles, then for several miles it was an out-and-back on a beautifully paved trail through the forest, next to brooks and lakes. There was aid at least every mile, which was fantastic, and I walked only the aid stations to make sure I took in nutrition. It started pouring rain around mile 9-10, and I got soaked, but then the rain stopped. It was cold because the temps were in the 50s, but it wasn’t freezing. I felt like I was in Eurpoe because the cheers from spectators were in French.

Heading back toward the Village of Mont-Tremblant and the end of the first run loop, my stomach started to get queasy. I saw Rob on the run a couple times, and he was far ahead of me, looking strong! I also saw a couple DC Tri people, Kyokyo and Shelly, and cheered them on.

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(Somewhere around halfway through…during a brief respite from the rain.)

Out on loop 2 the downpour started again, and this time it rained for a good 20 minutes steady. My stomach was feeling unstable and I started to feel dizzy, and my hands got cold. I know exactly why this happened: my poor bike nutrition. I didn’t have enough in my stomach at the start of the marathon so anything I took in on the run wasn’t sitting right. So I had to walk up a couple of the hills. I had a half banana at an aid station and hoped it would calm the nausea but it didn’t help. From miles 20-24 I had to stop at the loo a couple times and that slowed me down considerably. People tracking m thought maybe I was injured because of that slow split, but nope, it was the porta-potty’s fault. I was slightly disappointed because I knew I wasn’t going to break 12 but I was doing the best I could given the circumstances and my attitude was overall positive. I was still having fun. On the second loop the aid stations ran out of coke, so I was stuck with water and Honey Stinger gel blocks. I pushed through and right before the turn down the finish chute, my stomach settled and the emotions welled up.

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(The progression as I approached the Finish…)

It was a downhill run of maybe 600 meters to the finish, and the chute was probably only 6 feet wide so I could high-five spectators on both sides as I made my way toward the finish. I almost started to cry (I can’t adequately explain the emotion of finishing Ironman – only those who have done it will understand what I’m talking about) but I didn’t want an “ugly face” at the finish so I composed myself and ran strong all the way to the end. I had the entire chute to myself. I crossed the finish line of my fourth Ironman to hear Mike Reilly say, “Deborah Hopkins, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and I was so happy to be done! What a race!

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(Boom!)

Favorite part of the run: the finish! Mike Reilly said it was in the top 5 best out of 135 Ironman finishes he’s announced, including Kona. Whoa!

26.2-mile run (and walk): 4:47:29

10:58 pace (that’s what happens when you walk)

AG rank: 22/89

Finish time: 12:13:01

Post-Race

I got my finisher’s medal, hat and shirt, and remembered to get my finish picture, which I failed to do at CAC.

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(Whoop! There it is. That’s #4 baby!)

Chocolate milk and poutine awaited. The milk was wonderful. So was the poutine but I didn’t trust my stomach with too much of that. I got my morning clothes bag and layered up because I was freezing! Rob (who was waiting at the finish) and I chatted with Nick from DC Tri, then headed to transition to get my bike, take her right to TriBike Transport, then pick up my transition bags. It was a looooooong, slow walk back to the condo, and the hot shower awaiting me was fantastic! After that we hit the hot tub, which was fun because it was only 50 degrees outside and we could hear the music and cheers from the finish line while we relaxed.

We were ravenous so we walked back to the village and sat at an outdoor table by the finish chute while we housed 8oz. burgers. I had on three layers of clothes and was still cold! We stayed till the end where the fireworks show was spectacular! Then it was back to the condo and bedtime at 1:30am.

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(I “borrowed” this photo from another athlete.)

Final Thoughts

I loved this race. It wasn’t a perfect race – none of them are – but it was my favorite venue out of 30+ triathlons I’ve completed. I’m happy with my effort, thrilled especially with my swim and ride, and I’m okay with my run. People have been shocked to hear that because they know how much I love a PR, but I did what I could that day and I wasn’t too far off anyway. Two Ironmans in seven weeks was a lot to take on, and this was my third in exactly one calendar year – quite a feat. I’m so grateful to have a healthy, injury-free body (thanks, Chris Hendricks) that can do this and enjoy it. I wish I’d had a sherpa there but it was still a lot of fun to race with my buddy Rob.

And now, it’s time for a little break. This girl needs some sleep!

Another Ironman? Ok, Then!

So…I have another Ironman in 8 days. My last one was 41 days ago. I will be honest and transparent here, without being negative: I am burned out. Scheduling these two races seven weeks apart was probably not the brightest idea I’ve ever had. (Thanks, BLTCE peeps, for talking me in to Challenge Atlantic City. I love you all and wouldn’t change that experience for the world!!!)

After Challenge Atlantic City (you can read that race report here) I went to the beach in Avalon, NJ, for a week and it was amazing, wonderful, beautiful, fantastic, relaxing and perfect. While there I rode easy a couple of days (thanks for pulling me, Scott!), ran easy a couple days, slept in past 8:00am almost every day, ate a million calories, and thoroughly enjoyed the down time.

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(Avalon…sigh.)

When I got back to DC, it was time to ramp up again. In the past 5 weeks I’ve put in a couple long (90+) mile rides, and several decent swims including an awesome 2.4 miler in the Severn River with some Navy studs in Annapolis, but my legs have been so tired I haven’t run more than 11 miles straight since the marathon at the end of Challenge. I am hoping my conditioning will carry me through the run portion of the race next Sunday. I’ve been on an Ironman training plan since the end of January. I’m tired. Some days I just feel like lying on the couch, watching TV and eating ice cream instead of putting in two workouts.

I had a nice chat with my friend Kendra a couple weeks ago, and she provided me with some much-needed encouragement about my training. Kendra, who WON her age group at Ironman Texas and Ironman Lake Placid, and did both sub-10, is humble, amazing, and my hero!

There you have it. For those of you who think I always love this stuff, I don’t always. Usually, but not always. If you think I never have an off day, I promise you I do. Despite all this, I’m not feeling down, I’m just tired and looking in the mirror at my own mortality and realizing I took a whole lot on this summer. So many people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” Well, my answer has always been that I just do it. But, boys and girls, I have (almost) had enough!

All that said, I’m still very excited about Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Now that I’m in taper, my mindset is shifting and I’m looking forward to having a fun day on a beautiful spectacular race course, and completing my fourth Ironman/iron distance tri.

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(The last long swim is done.)

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(Smiling because 51 miles feels easy!)

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(Who’s a little teapot? IronJeff is a little teapot!)

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(The last long ride is done – and look who we bumped in to on Glen Rd.! Smiley of the world-famous Bike Fit By Smiley, that will change your life and revolutionize your ride.)

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(The last long (ok, medium) run is done. Sweaty, shirtless runs in DC are the best!)

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(And this is where I get to race. Look at this place! Mont-Tremblant is gorgeous!)

Today, I received a mysterious package from I. Ronman in Arlington, VA. It’s a good-luck package with warm gloves (hopefully I won’t need them – race day temps now are 53 low/73 high which is perfect race weather!) and chocolate covered coffee beans. So, whomever I. Ronman is (I know a lot of Ironpeople in Arlington so it’s a mystery), thank you for the good luck package!

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(Good luck wishes come in all formats.) 

Here’s my schedule next week:

Monday, 11 am: fly from DC to San Diego for a conference

Thursday, 8am: fly from San Diego to Toronto, and stay there overnight

Friday, 1pm: fly from Toronto to Mont-Tremblant; check in at the Ironman village

Saturday: bike check-in and transition bag drop-off

Sunday: race Ironman Mont-Tremblant

That’s what I call a full week!

My race number is 774 and here’s the website where you can tune in to live coverage, and track me.

My friend Rob’s swim wave starts at 6:51am and mine starts at 6:57am. (Look out, Rob, I’m going to try to catch you before the swim exit!)

Thanks to everyone for the support, love, and prayers. I’ll need them next week!

Challenge Atlantic City: The Third Time is the Charm!  

Last fall, I got talked in to racing Challenge Atlantic City with a bunch of BLTCE teammates. Don and Mindy were the expo managers. It sounded fun to be part of the inaugural Challenge USA triathlon, so wise decision or not, I registered for the full iron-distance triathlon to be held June 29, even though I was already registered for Ironman Mont-Tremblant August 17. That’s right, two full distance triathlons, a mere seven weeks apart. Peer pressure will make a competitive woman do amazing things.

Atlantic City is a 3.5 hour drive from DC (if there’s no traffic), a 1:15 flight from Michigan, and a 2-hour drive from Lansdale, PA, so my parents decided to fly from Michigan, and three of my dearest friends (including SuperSherpa KLapp) decided to come down from PA, to support me. This was going to be awesome!

If you’ve read my blog at all this spring you know the training has been going fairly well, except that I’ve been slacking in the pool. I headed in to CAC with the hopes of breaking 12 hours in the race, which would set a PR (my previous PR was 12:12), and racing strong in front of my family and friends. I’ve put in a lot of time on the bike this spring, so I especially wanted to post a solid bike ride. My running has been consistent, and even though I didn’t brick enough I entered this race thinking I had a shot at sub-12.

Pre-Race

I got to Atlantic City on Friday afternoon after sitting in horrendous traffic on I-95, and met up with my parents. We went to the expo and I got my race packet, then we had an early dinner and did some shopping before an early bedtime. Saturday morning was spent on the beach. Kristen Kramer came down from PA to spend Saturday with me, Mom and Dad. She and Mom stayed on the beach while Dad accompanied me to bike check-in at transition. I saw Marjorie and Kang, and we took a quick photo. We saw Matt too, but he wasn’t in our picture.

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(Kang, me and Marjorie.)

Suddenly, after I racked my bike, I felt exhausted from the sun, so I headed back to the hotel to lie down in the air conditioning.

We had an early dinner at an amazing Italian restaurant and the BLTCE team was all there. There was not room for four extra people at their table but we ate at the bar so we were all together in spirit anyway! We took a group photo before splitting off and heading back to our hotels to get some rest.

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(Me, Mom and Kramer heading to dinner.)

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(BLTCE!)

I told Kramer that I was not an exciting date the night before a big race (just ask KLapp, who accompanied me to Sweden) so when I got in bed at 8:30 Saturday night, it was not a surprise to her. J We watched Dateline and I dozed a little bit. I slept off and on between 9:30 and midnight, but then I actually fell asleep till the alarm woke me at 4:17 a.m. It was race day! I got out of bed, thrilled with a decent night of sleep (Sleeping for 4 hours before an iron distance tri? What a treat!), made coffee and my breakfast (a Trader Joe’s British muffin with almond butter, jelly and cookie/cocoa butter) and donned my race kit. I put on silver eyeshadow, which as a silly superstition I do before every race. I made sure I had all the nutrition I needed for the day, grabbed my swim gear bag, and headed down to the hotel entrance where Mom and Dad were waiting for me in my little rental car.

On our way to the transition area, which was about two miles from the hotel, I spotted an athlete walking quickly in the direction of transition. I figured he had missed the shuttle (he had) so I asked Dad to pull over. We picked him up, and he thanked us profusely for the ride. His name was Scott and he was from PA, and his first Ironman was in Louisville last year. Louisville was also my first…ah, the memories!

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(Sunrise!)

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(Me and Dad before the race start.)

I got to transition to put the nutrition on my bike, pump up my tires, etc., and heard the announcement that the water in the bay was 80 degrees and the race was not wetsuit legal for those of us seeking awards. There would be a wetsuit swim wave at the very end of the swim, but most of us would go without. I’m fine with that since I’m (usually) a very good swimmer. “Bring it on,” I thought! I saw a bunch of BLTCE friends in transition, and told Christian (who was starting his swim in a wave 18 minutes ahead of me) that I would catch him by mile 70 on the bike. We both laughed…it’s all in good fun and the spirit of healthy competition. Right? He’s would be my toughest BLTCE competition of the day.

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(Leigh Ann, me, Mindy and Marjorie pre-race.)

When it was time for the national anthem, three Navy SEAL skydivers jumped out of a plane. They did some cool formation stuff, then one unfurled an American flag and the other two linked up for a face-first plunge toward the earth. Such a cool start to the race! The swim waves began. It was race time!

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(Such a cool start to a race!)

The Swim

We walked into our corral, which was the tenth out of 13 waves, and a couple of the girls near me asked how many Ironmans I had done. I told them this was my third, and they were both competing in their first full 140.6, so I told them to stick to their pace, eat a lot on the bike, and that this would be the best day of their lives!

Finally it was time for our wave, so we walked onto the dock, I mugged for Dad’s camera, we got into the water and finally the horn went off. The first 400 meters of the swim were lovely. Smooth water, easy to sight the first and second turn buoys, and I was cruising.

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(Can you spot me?)

Then, everything changed. The swim course was a Y-shape and we hugged the coastline most of the way. The sun was rising, which made sighting the buoys nearly impossible. The water was so shallow, I hit a spot where it was only 18 inches deep, so I had to walk through muck until the water got deeper. The current was going every direction, people were cutting buoys and I was having a rough time. It felt like the swim was 3.4 miles long…the course went on, and on, and on. And on. I was fairly miserable, which never happens to me during the swim. I passed a whole lot of people, since 9 waves had begun before me, but it was never too crowded because the waves were spaced out well. I only got a couple of rib-kicks and elbows to the head the whole swim.

After what felt like forever, I finally made the last turn and saw the dock. It took way too long to get there, and as I came off the ramp up toward transition, I saw the race clock and I wanted to cry. I swam a 1:18? That is 15 minutes slower than my last two Ironman swims – I mean, I swam a 1:03 in Louisville without a wetsuit! I saw my mom at the chute on the way toward transition and I said, “That was so slow!” I ran under the fresh water coming off the fire truck, grabbed my bike gear bag, ran in to the changing tent, put on my bike gear, stuffed my jersey pockets with extra nutrition and quickly exited the tent and ran toward my bike. Mom and Dad were standing by the fence and said, “You can make up that time on the bike!”

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(Exiting the water. Such a slow swim!)

Ok, it was time to ride.

2.4 mile swim: 1:18:13

T1: 3:50

The Ride

The ride took us out of transition and toward the Atlantic City Expressway. It took me about 20 miles of riding before I got that terrible swim out of my head and was able to think about the upcoming ride. I would later learn that nearly everyone was about 15 minutes slow on the swim, but that didn’t help at all at the time, nor would their slow times make a difference in my attempt at a PR.

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(T1)

I was flying – flying – on the bike for the first 30 miles or so. My average was 20.6mph without even pushing my heart rate above Zone 2. I felt like I was going to have a really good bike split. In training I’ve been focusing a lot on the ride, which I believe is time well spent, since the bike ride takes up about half the clock time of any triathlon.

We rode off the Atlantic City Expressway and into Hammonton, where we navigated two loops of about 20 miles. This part was fun. Totally flat, mostly good roads, some headwind and tailwind at parts but relatively minor breezes, and I easily kept my average speed in the high 19s. Easily – what? How did I do that???

Twice we rode through a downtown area lined with spectators and an announcer, who called out our race numbers and words of encouragement as we rode by. There were cowbells and cheers and a huge Challenge Family arch we got to ride through. Those types of spots during races are really motivational, and I had fun whizzing by the crowds. But, after the downtown cheering section I had a very close call at one particular left turn. I came to an intersection with a traffic light, where there were police directing traffic. An officer waved an SUV ahead as I approached, and instead of driving through the intersection the SUV stopped right in the middle of the intersection. I had to hit the brakes hard as I banked into my left turn, and my rear wheel skidded. I almost fell over but managed to right myself and kept going. Phew! Close call. A wipeout during a tri is something I hope I never have to experience.

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(I need to buy this photo.)

After 82 miles on the bike we turned back onto the AC Expressway for the remaining 30 miles…and then things got tough. All week we’d been warned about the possibility of strong headwinds on that last section of the ride, but the weather forecast was only calling for 10mph winds so I didn’t think it would be too bad. I was wrong. Now, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the wind in Sweden, but still, battling the elements while riding on a wide-open expressway, opposing traffic (yes, we were riding against traffic with nothing to separate us from cars driving 65mph except a line of traffic cones), started to really challenge the mental aspect of this ride. My pace, which had averaged 19.7 through 82 miles, suddenly dropped and I was battling to keep it above 15. In aero and out, it was a challenge. I gritted my teeth and kept grinding those pedals, watching my average mph fall as the miles continued. I passed Don around mile 85 and we chatted for a quick moment about what a struggle the ride was. I caught Christian around mile 103 – it took much longer than the 70 I originally predicted. We were all having a rough time out there. But I kept pedaling, savoring the thought of the moment I could get off the bike and out of the wind. And, I have to say, I passed more people than passed me on the ride. Maybe some of that has to do with the swim wave start, because during a mass start I’m usually one of the first out of the water so the stronger cyclists catch me after they finish the swim. But, it was a good feeling to pass more than be passed. That’s never happened to me during a big race.

Nutrition on the bike went something like this: 6 raspberry figgy bars, a granola bar, half a pbj sandwich, a banana, two sleeves of Clif Blocks, 4 bottles of water and 2 bottles of Skratch hydration mix.

Finally, finally, I saw the left turn that would take me back to transition and I joyfully thanked the police officers who were covering that intersection. I rode into the chute and gladly handed Sandra to the bike catcher at the dismount line. I’d broken 6 hours on the ride, despite the wind!

I tried to jog toward the gear bag area but realized my feet were sore. I mean, sore. I took my shoes off and walked in my socks, right past my friend Earl who was volunteering. After about 20 yards I finally connected that he’d been saying my name so I turned around and waved before heading to get my run gear bag. I saw the Stromanator and Jen Wright and a couple other people (sorry guys, I can’t even remember who right now) and grabbed my run gear bag. I almost made the wrong turn into the men’s changing tent but caught myself before that happened. I grabbed the first available seat in the women’s changing tent and took a deep breath. I took my time in there to make sure I had everything I needed for the upcoming 26.2 mile run. The volunteers in there were awesome! I hit the loo and then headed out for the run. It was a slow transition but I wanted to make sure I was ready for the marathon.

112-mile bike: 5:51:57 (19.07 mph avg pace)

T2: 6:29

The Run

The beginning of the run took us on a quick jog down the airport runway, as transition was at Bader Field, the nation’s oldest airport. As I headed out I saw Brian beginning the marathon portion of his relay. It was an out-and-back on the runway and after the turn I saw Christian, much too close behind me. “Stay back, IronSparty,” I thought. I had an 18-minute lead on him because his swim wave started earlier than mine, but I was concerned he was a threat because he is a strong runner and just a few weeks earlier he posted a 4:53-ish 70.3. A contender for sure!

As I was running off Bader Field The Havillator jogged with me for a few hundred meters and encouraged me by telling me I was third in my age group. What?!? No way! I couldn’t believe it.

I kept running, checked my Garmin and saw that I was running a 7:24 pace. Slow down, Deb, this is going to be a long run. Take it easy, breathe. Settle in to a manageable pace.

Around mile 1, I settled in with a guy named Randy from the Badgers club, and we ran together for the next 20 miles. He had just run a BQ marathon a few weeks before, and was participating on a relay this day. I know he was holding back his pace and I told him to go on ahead, but he’s preparing for his first Ironman in Florida this November and he wanted to run with me to see my strategy. He said he wanted to go sub-12 and since that’s what I was hoping for, he said this was exactly what he needed.

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(Me and my running buddy Randy. Would you believe he’s 61?)

Miles 2-7 of the run are on a desolate, hot road with not much to look at, but after that the run was entirely on the boardwalk. There was a lane coned off and we did two loops, which means we got to see our fans at least 4-5 times as we ran. I enjoyed running on the boardwalk – the boards had a little bit of give and were easier on the legs than asphalt. There were only a few loose boards or nails sticking out of the boardwalk, so for the most part it wasn’t a dangerous endeavor. However, I have a couple of minor complaints. There were a lot of people in Atlantic City who were oblivious to, or did not care about, the race, and we had to watch out for them as we ran, because they’d walk right into the race lane without looking. We’d have to yell at them to get out of the way, and many of them just stood there looking at us as we ran at them. We had to dodge a bunch of people, and always be aware. Cigarette smoke and fried funnel cakes are also not the best smells during an endurance race.

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(Still feeling good at about 12 miles in to the run)

The Challenge volunteers were helpful but there were just so many people in front of the major hotels and casinos that total crowd control was almost impossible. I also wasn’t thrilled at the placement of the aid stations. On the north end of the boardwalk they were spaced what seemed like every half mile or so, but then on the south end it was almost two miles between aid stations. On a hot, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky, two miles is a long way to run without aid. On the positive side, the music coming from the bars and cafes was awesome and provided us with energy and motivation as we endured.

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(And, we’re still going…)

Randy and I continued running, but walking the aid stations to take in nutrition. I had two Clif Blocks at the beginning of the run, then took in water and coke at every aid station, plus a cup full of ice down the sports bra to keep me cool. At two stations I forced down half a banana to keep my stomach happy. I hit the loo around mile 16 and continued on. I spotted lots of friends and family on the run, including BLTCE teammates Jen and Leigh Ann, plus Kristen Kramer, and my parents. On the last loop of the run, I saw Kristin (my Sweden Sherpa!) and Susan cheering alongside my other friends. I looked at my watch and knew I needed to keep it steady if I was going to break 12 hours.

At mile 21.5 Randy got some bad cramps and had to walk. I hated to leave him but I told him I had to keep going if I was going to get my PR and he encouraged me to do so. I continued, down the quiet section of the boardwalk. I ran the whole way except through the aid stations, and as I hit the final turnaround at mile 23.5 I knew I would meet my goal if I just kept running easy, but solidly.

I could see Boardwalk Hall in the distance, 2.5 miles ahead, and I knew the finish line was there because I’d already run by it 4 times during the race. So I kept running. Since the run course was out-and-back loops, I saw Randy, still walking, and he encouraged me on. I saw Tobias, the Stromanator and Mindy (all of whom I’d seen several times on the run – along with Christian and Brian) and they all encouraged me toward the finish. It’s so awesome to see friends out there!

At the final aid station I took a cup of water and poured it over my head and face (gotta look good for the photos!), then settled in to a slight push for the final mile. The noise got louder as I approached the finish chute. I saw Kang and maybe John (again, I can’t exactly remember) probably a tenth of a mile before the finish. I entered the chute and started to get a little overwhelmed with emotion, which always happens when I finish an iron distance tri.

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(Coming up the finish chute! Almost there!)

As I entered the chute I saw my friends and family ahead of me, jumping and cheering like crazy. I held it together and finished strong, and heard “Number 726, Deborah Hopkins, welcome to the Challenge Family!” as I came across the red carpet at the finish line.

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(Thank you, dad, for taking the best finish chute photo EVER! I like my new finish line pose. 🙂 )

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(Finish strong!)

Someone handed me a mylar blanket, asked if I was okay, and walked me to get my medal and finisher’s shirt. Somehow I missed my post-race photo, which is a huge bummer because the Challenge organization was giving us the photos for free, and I walked out of the finisher’s area to find my family and friends.

26.2-mile run: 4:35:20

Final race time: 11:55:54

Post-Race

I visited with my friends and family, took some pictures, then hobbled inside Boardwalk Hall to get my morning gear bag and to check out the food situation. It was bleak – airport sandwiches and soft pretzels. No, thanks. I appreciated the iced tea, but nothing else even looked good. I wanted chocolate milk! I changed into my sweats and met my family and friends back outside. What a day! What a race! I guess having an even-numbered race bib didn’t hurt my day!

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(Look at the size of that medal!)

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(I might need some help getting back up…)

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(Love my family!)

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(Really love my family!)

I had ice cream for dinner – three scoops from Ben & Jerry’s. The next morning there was an awards banquet, and it turns out I finished third in my age group so I got a trophy! My parents were there, along with BLTCE teammates, and it was very cool to get called up on stage at such a major international event. This is by far my favorite podium finish! If you look at the trophy closely you’ll see it says “2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride, 126.2 mile run.” Too funny, adding an extra hundred miles to the marathon! A typo that I will cherish forever.

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(Awards breakfast.)

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(On stage for the AG awards.)

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(I got a trophy!)

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed racing Challenge Atlantic City. The organization was wonderful and the volunteers stellar. The course itself could benefit from a few changes but overall it was a fantastic experience. It was so special to be there with about 12 BLTCE friends, plus my parents and my adopted PA family cheering me on. KLapp has now been there for my last two iron distance tri finishes, and my parents were there for my first and third.

I could write about how much room I still have for improvement, but I won’t do that here. I remain happy with my race. It wasn’t perfect, and I have another chance coming up in six weeks when I take on Ironman Mont-Tremblant, but for now I’m happy with my sub-12, and I’m enjoying a recovery week at the beach in Avalon.

I’m so lucky, so blessed, to be able to do this stuff. Life is good!