Cohasset 2013: Not (Yet) Palace Malice

packet pick-up has never been so fun

packet pick-up has never been quite this fun; here’s my silver cap  Wave 1 Elite cap and already-assigned age group #

I got my very-first-ever chance to race in the thoroughbred division last month, and by that I mean I abandoned both my F 40-44 age group and what was in all likelihood my last sip of common sense to race as an “Elite”. At the 2013 Cohasset Triathlon. Which, you may recall from my 2012 so-called race report, attracts an ever-so-slightly competitive field. If you require evidence of the “current calendar year” variety, how’s this: Olympic swimmer extraordinaire Gary Hall Jr. chose to race 2013 Cohasset not as an Elite but as an age grouper.  Yeah, sure—the world-class athlete who owns ten (ten!) pretty pieces of Olympic hardware is an “age grouper”…while the 42-year-old single mother of two with a desk job who only recently stopped looking like she might drown mid flip-turn is “Elite”. Makes perfect sense, right? Oh you betcha.

Gary with his gold hardware in Athens, Greece, circa 2004 (credit: Getty Images)

Gary with one-tenth of his Olympic hardware, circa 2004 (credit: Getty Images)

Now, maybe prior knowledge of Gary’s “age grouper” status would have sent me scurrying right on back to Wave 8 with the rest of the F 40-44ers. (Since we all look like neoprene-clad seals at the start, I assumed he was in my silver-capped midst; didn’t find out his cap was green til a few days post race when I stumbled upon this crazy YouTube video.)

On second thought, knowing about Gary wouldn’t have changed a thing—not after the kind of year it’s been here. I guess handing your daughter over to a neurosurgeon so he can drill into her skull, peel back her dura and remove not only the brain tumor within but a  “margin” of the good stuff—tissue responsible for memory, behavior, emotions—“just in case”… well, that kinda-sorta streamlines what qualifies as “scary” and a little ol’ race no longer makes The List. It also kinda-sorta clarifies: if you want something, chop-chop and carpe diem because who the hell knows what’s around that river bend.

So here we go, chop-chop-carpe-diem.

Blame Becky?
I could blame that brain tumor for my Cohasset decision. (Aside: If this whole brain tumor thang comes as breaking news to you, here’s a 68-character update: Gone! Benign! Dr. Joseph Madsen at Boston Children’s Hospital rocks!) Or I could blame Becky, since she unwittingly planted this arguably malignant “race Elite” seed in my own gray matter at the 2012 Title 9 Tri. I definitely can’t blame Cohasset race director Bill Burnett, who encouraged me but at the same time made certain I knew precisely how far over my head the water was:

Subj: Elite at Cohasset?
Jun 23, 2013, at 10:36 PM
TO: Bill Burnett
FR: Christine Johansen
Hi Bill: I would like to race in wave 1 as an elite at Cohasset if I can. I am already signed up as elite for Title 9 in September. Curious if switching is possible? Thanks!
Sent from my iPhone
Subj: RE: Elite at Cohasset?
Mon. Jun 24 at 3:23 AM
TO: Christine Johansen
FR: Bill Burnett
Hey Christine – this is possible…..please consider:
1) by racing elite you are no longer eligible for any age group awards
2) our elite women field went a 1:04 (total time in hour:minutes) or better last year
3) we have 10 women in the elite field
4) finally your number has already been assigned – so by switching to elite – you will still be racked with your age group – not a big deal but wanted you to know in the spirit of competitive fairness.
This is entirely your call and naturally I want to ensure you have a great race experience.
Let me know by 10:00 am this morning your decision.
Subj: Elite at Cohasset?
Jun 24, 2013, at 4:58 AM
TO: Bill Burnett
FR: Christine Johansen
Game on! Switch me!  Thank you so much!!! See you next weekend! Crazy-fun 🙂
Sent from my iPhone

Thanks to my newly streamlined Scary List, Bill’s email energized me. I felt like I really did have a chance; I’d burst into Elite-dom like 15-to-1 odds Palace Malice at Belmont Stakes (just minus the mane) to win by three furlongs (swimmer translation: 660 yards).

June 8: Belmont Stakes favorites Oxbox and Orb were relegated to chasing long-shot Palice Malice. June 23: History does not repeat itself at Cohasset, but I did have as much fun as the bay-colored boy.

June 8: Belmont Stakes favorites Orb and Oxbow were relegated to chasing long-shot Palice Malice. June 30: History slated to repeat itself at Cohasset… just sub in cj  for the bay-colored boy. That was my story and I was stickin’ to it.

The “Who” and the “How”
There were a lot of words in Bill’s email, but I fixated on the numbers: 10 (the size of the F-Elite field) and 1:04 (the slowest F-Elite circa 2012). I wondered the “who” of that 10 and the “how” of that 1:04…since my 2012 time was 1:09:06.5. Five minutes and six-point-five seconds is, like, a lot to shave off…especially since I had a pretty awesome-for-me 2012 race; I took 3rd in my age group, right behind the aforementioned seed-planting Becky who just the year before had been completely out of my reach.

Given the crazy competitive field at Cohasset,  I had zero expectations of being on this, the F 40-44 podium. But there I am! :) Kinda wicked fun.

2012 podium flashback…super-super-super fun day.

Still, I felt like I could cover that 5:06.5 for a few good reasons. First, my frame somehow slimmed down a full ten pounds between model years 2012 and 2013, and I’ve heard that lighter = better on both the bike and the run. More importantly, the newly-svelte 135-pound cj comes fully equipped with more muscle (confirmed by both Daughter #1 and my obsessive-compulsive-ridiculously-expensive Tanita body fat scale) and more myelin (confirmed by me).

A thing of beauty: a well-myelinated neuron. (If you have a perplexed look on your face right now, get thee to a Barnes and Noble and buy yourself The Talent Code or Bounce or The Genius in All of Us...or if you have an incredibly short attention span just Google myelin for chrissakes.)

A thing of beauty: a well-myelinated neuron. If you have a perplexed look on your face right now, get thee to a Barnes and Noble and buy yourself The Talent Code or Bounce or The Genius in All of Us…or if you have an incredibly short attention span just Google myelin for chrissakes. Or just take my word for it: unlike tumors, myelin’s something you want in your brain. The more the better.

As far as the “who” question was concerned, I sensed that was better left unknown since I have a tendency to get a wee bit fixated on the competition. This was most definitely (as Coach Tim would say) a Good Call since I’d later learn that toeing the sandy start line alongside little ol’ me would be:

Brianna Blanchard. At 24, the former Pepperdine queen of the 200, 500 and 1650 freestyle is presently fixated on traveling to Rio…with the 2016 Olympic team.

–  Kaitlin Anelauskas. Captain of her high school cross-country, swimming, AND spring track teams, the now-28-year-old Kait set records as a Bentley College swimmer.

Jessica Barton. At 24, she’s not just a professional triathlete but also a professional runner who earned her pro card at the Clermont ITU Pan American Cup in March.

Rae Bastoni. Also 24 (are you sensing a theme here yet?), Ms. Rae will compete at Worlds in September—on the very same London course the Olympians raced this past summer.

Sonja Kent. I saved the best for last: this 21-year-old phenom is the reigning Sprint Nationals freaking champion.  Let’s put that into perspective: according to my sport’s governing body, 50,136 US females raced triathlon in 2012. Out of all of those females, Sonja won the Numero Uno sprint spot.

Check out that shot glass; I so want a set. Norwegians rock.

Check out that shot glass; I so want a set. Norwegians rock.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I was the only Cohasset F-Elite who could legally slug down a shot of Linie Aquavit whilst the rest of the pack was still suckling at the breast. No no no,  that would be entirely misleading since there was in fact one other elite woman who blew out more than 20-something candles on her last birthday cake: Maynard’s very own Becky Paige has also crossed The Big 4-0 chasm. Hurrah! The similarities end there; a card-carrying member of the aptly named (and invitation-only) Team Psycho (perhaps my invitation got lost in the mail?), Becky was the 8th woman overall at Ironman Regensburg and posted a top-ten finish (6th!) in her age group at the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas.

Right. As the kids would say, NBD. (Baby Boomer translation: No Big Deal.)

As “they” say, what you don’t know can’t kill you. (Aside: “they” are usually right, unless what you don’t know happens to involve a grade IV glioblastoma lurking in your brain. I’ve done lots of awful research this year, and trust me—that really can kill you.) So silver lining, I was blissfully unaware of all of the Wave 1 Psycho-drama and ergo basked in my newfound, Bill-bestowed Elite-dom. I took it all very seriously and by that I mean I was even more unbearably stringent than usual when it came to training, sleeping and eating…this proved to be a bit of a challenge since in the 21 days leading up to Cohasset I had not one not two but three freaking business trips—that’s more than I had in the previous 24 months combined.

This robot ate my month of June; to launch the iRobot Ava 500, which is half iRobot, half Cisco technology, I traveled thrice in June.

The robot that ate my month of June: the iRobot Ava 500. It is half technology made by iRobot (aka the super-cool Roomba vacuum cleaner guys) and half (you guessed it) Cisco stuff. It was super fun hanging out with iRobot founder Colin Angle (whom Forbes called “our very own Tony Stark minus the suit”) and Cisco’s Chief Futurist Dave Evans (whom I say wins for Coolest Job Title Ever)…but also a wee bit exhausting and not exactly conducive to Elite-level training.

I did my best to keep my cells Elitely fueled…

everyone brings their coffee pot and blender to hotels, right?

Business attire? Check. Laptop? Check. Blender, bananas, and vegan protein powder? Check, check, check. Keepin’ things interesting for airport security and puttin’ hotel-room kitchenettes to good use, oh yes I am.

…and didn’t miss a single workout even when it meant swimming in this monstrosity…

If you want to simulate swim-start pandemonium or practice your sighting, this pool's the place to be. If you want to do a serious workout, not so much. I got cozy with the security guard and he unlocked the gate extra early for little ol' me ( was our little secret.)

Silver lining: staying in a hotel four miles away from Disney gives a triathlete ample opportunity to simulate swim-start pandemonium and practice sighting. The security guard took pity on me and bent the rules by unlocking the pool’s gate extra early each morning so I could avoid this scene. Sssshh…it was our little secret.

Even during off-site junkets to Disney I kept my Elite-dom front and center, and by that I mean I forced myself to ride roller coasters as Mental Toughness Training (you know, just in case I didn’t get enough Mental Toughness Training between the diagnosis-triggering grand mal seizure and the sleep-deprived EEG and the too-many MRIs and the virtually-impossible-to-fathom surgery and the terrifying recovery.)

Heck, when a vacationing wee one made off with my swim gear (!) I even made a mad dash to the only store in Orlando I could find that carries the lone brand of goggles that fit my “unique” face…

Thank goodness the Diver's Direct on International Drive in Orlando, just a few blocks from the convention center

Thank goodness for the Diver’s Direct on International Drive in Orlando, just a short cab ride from the Orange County Convention Center.

Decided to go all girly; bought the pink. Here they are pool side the next morning, circa 6 am

For a change I decided to go all girly; bought the pink. Here are my Orlando acquisitions pool-side the morning after I procured them.

In a way, the craziness of training through business travel made me feel all the more confident of my Elite-dom. After all, how many other humans would have ventured to smuggle a Ziploc baggie of protein powder past TSA? Jus’ sayin’.

Totally Intolerable
Eventually my travel ended and The Big Day arrived. I woke up smiling. Viper woke up smiling too, and it is noteworthy to add that he and I woke up completely devoid of further human company; when Daughters #1 and #2 learned of our Elite-dom they quite literally sent us packing…made us get a hotel room near the race venue and refused to come, claiming we would be totally intolerable heading into our first Elite race.

Fine. Be that way!

oh. yes.

oh. yes.

No question about it: this ride is 100 percent Elite.

No question about it: the boy is 110 percent Elite.

This shot never gets old: Viper racked and ready June 30th.

This shot never gets old: Viper racked and ready June 30th.

Pre-Race: Concessions to Elite-dom
I have always worn my heart-rate monitor for races, but having it around my rib cage can cause me to get a stitch during the run. I knew I’d need all the help I could get to keep up with the Elites (whoever they were), so I made a game-day decision to forego both the data and the potential cramp. Viper approved and wanted to streamline his own race kit, too (not that he was afraid of those other bikes, nor did he have reason to be) I removed his Garmin bike mount:

keeping it simple by shedding some gear

keeping it simple by shedding some gear: Viper’s Garmin mount and my HR monitor

Swim Start: “You Look Like You BELONG!”
I was hellbent on not getting frazzled when Bill rounded us up for the start. I did a bunch of bigdeepbreaths and was thankful for my goofy ear plugs since they let me burrow into my own little safe place like a hermit crab in a nice cozy shell. I pretended this was just like any other race despite ample evidence (ie, the exquisite neoprene-clad specimens swarming around me) to the contrary. (What can I say; I have mastered the art of Willing Suspension of Disbelief, otherwise known as Lying To Oneself. A handy yet occasionally dangerous skill.)

There was one thing my hermit-crab shell didn’t block out: moments before the start my friend and training partner Jim tapped me on the shoulder and leaned in so I could hear. (He has swum with me scores of times, so he knows precisely how loud to speak so his voice travels through the silicone plugs.) He shout-whispered: “CHRISTINE! You look like you BELONG!” That put a great big ol’ smile on my face and earned Jim a great big ol’ kiss on the cheek. Which in hindsight is totally awkward but…whatever happens in Cohasset stays in Cohasset, right? (Unless you blog about it. Duh.)

Bill had the silver caps gather in a circle and do that hands-in-the-center-cheer-thang. I separated from the pack, hung back. I glanced at Jim and he shot me a glance that nudged me into the circle. OK then! I don’t remember what Bill told us to chant-yell, but I did it and it was really fun.

Then we were crossing the timing mat and we were off with a bang:

Wow! These guys take off like they mean it. I know ya'll think we all look like seals in our neoprene, but clearly I am the fourth seal from the left, right leg straight left leg bent. Note the chick with the orange and blue Blue Seventy suit directly in front of me...

Bang! Silver caps take off like they mean business while the rest of the field watches. How fun is this? I am the 4th seal from the left, with right-leg-straight-left-knee-raised. Note the blue-striped seal (Blue Seventy wetsuit) directly in front of me…

...that orange and blue is now a dolphin kick or two behind me. That's me in the forefront--look closely and you'll see the pink strap of my Orlando goggles :) I guess I can hustle like I mean it, too :)

…because now that blue-striped seal is a dolphin jump or so behind me 🙂 Yep, that’s me in the forefront–look really closely and you’ll see the pink strap of my Orlando goggles…I guess I can hustle like I mean it, too 🙂 I found these pics on Streamline Events’ Facebook page–thanks to whoever took ’em! 🙂 None of my usual photographers came to Cohasset so I was thrilled to find these.

If the photos aren’t enough, you can even watch this video of the swim start, which is kinda cool (NB: this is the first time I am attempting to embed a YouTube video in my blog, so fingers crossed; if all you see is white space instead of a pretty click-on-able video below, then I failed and here’s the Old-School-Plan-B link to the video.)

~ The Swim & T1 ~
The Pack: Brianna sure must have looked worthy of the Olympic 2016 slot she covets; she emerged from the water in a blazing fast 6:21…ahead of every Elite with the exception of the amazing Michael Emmons, who was eight seconds ahead of her but not for long since Brianna T1’d faster than anyone that day: a jaw-dropping 20.6 seconds. Now, that’s some super-fast wetsuit shucking; perhaps she employed an Xacto blade??? She had a nice lead but the bulk of the pack exited T1 close enough to make it a “game on” moment—Jessica trailed by a skosh, with national-freaking-sprint-champion Sonja in hot pursuit.
Order out of T1: Brianna, Jessica, Sonja.

CJ: I had a great-for-me swim, but great-for-me clearly isn’t great-for-Elite. Of the 21 non-cj Elites who started the race—that’d be 14 not-Gary-Hall amazing male athletes and 7 not-cj incredible female athletes—I emerged from the water in front of only two: my 8:56 swim split put me a few steps ahead of 37-year-old David Souza of Brookline MA (9:02) and 29-year old Allison Hall of Charlestown, MA (9:10). I T1’d in a time fast enough to land me a spot on Jet Blue’s Top Ten Fastest Transitions list, but at 56.2 seconds it didn’t, like, get me any closer to Brianna et al.

~ The Bike: Not in Kansas Anymore ~ 
I was a skosh over two minutes behind the bulk of the pack; their cumulative times were “in the sevens” and mine was “in the nines.” Now, in any other race, this would not be a crisis of epic proportions. Viper is darn good at his job and two minutes is not an insurmountable gap for him to close—especially since at some races the fastest chick in the water comes out of T1 with a mountain bike.

But this wasn’t just any race. Remember: I was riding with the national sprint freaking champion and women aiming for Olympic medals.

So, yeah: with 90.47619 percent of the overall elite field and 87.5 percent of the F-Elite field ahead of me out of the swim/T1, I clearly needed divine intervention…perhaps they’d all en masse for some reason heed this bike course sign:

No such luck. Heed they did not.

No such luck. Heed they did not. David apparently whizzed out of T1 faster than me and Allison apparently dropped out at some point during the bike, so by the time I passed this sign I was the last Elite.

Remember: I am pretty good at that Willing-Suspension-of-Disbelief thang, so I harnessed that, pretended the pack was just around every corner and was genuinely surprised as each passing corner failed to produce them.

In reality, the chasm between their race and my solo time trial was getting wider by the second. From the race results, it looks like they had quite the ride. Brianna lost her 1st-place standing, dropped to third as Kait and Rae pulled off the two best female bike splits of the day, riding a super-impressive 23.4 mph and 23.0 mph respectively.

Out of T2: According to my race-day reconstruction math, this would have been quite the T2 to see: the powerhouse cycling done by Kait and Rae knocked Jessica and Sonja out of their top-three spots. Looks like Kait, Rae, and Brianna zipped out of T2 pretty much en masse, and really it was an anything-could-happen moment, since the rest of the pack was capable of closing their gaps with stellar runs…

CJ: …everyone except cj that is! I rode an average of 21.4 mph, which isn’t the best I’ve got and likely had to do with the fact that there was no “fresh meat” in sight to entice Viper. It felt like a solid effort though; I was happy with my ride though I was surprised I wasn’t faster. Three other Elites rode “in the 21s” so I wasn’t completely out-classed. Still, to be in the running, I’d need to run the 5K at something close to 6:00 pace…and that only happens during repeat 400s on the track.

~ The Run: O, Jerusalem! ~
File under “fitting”: my fate was sealed on the road named (I suppose) for the city of the Last Supper and Crucifixion. It was here that I failed to heed Ephesians 4:29 and by that I mean I uttered an expletive when I glanced down at my Garmin and saw this:

No, I am not crazy enough to have snapped this photo mid-race. I am, however, crazy enough to reenact it during a post-race workout so I could have a pic for illustrative purposes. Does this surprise you in the least? I thought not.

Remember what Bill said? 2012’s slowest Elite went 1:04. So it wasn’t a good sign that I was at 1:04 on Jerusalem Road, a little less than a mile from the finish line. (Aside: No, I am not crazy enough to have carried my iPhone with me throughout the race; only Christy is that kind of crazy.  I am, however, crazy enough to have done a little crime scene reconstruction during a post-race workout so I could snap a pic for illustrative purposes. Does this surprise you in the least? Before you answer, remember: I bring blenders on business trips, people.)

Yep, last year’s entire elite field had quite literally beaten me by a mile. Which is, like, a lot.

By the time I uttered that expletive, the 2013 non-cj Elite race was totally over: Becky (who swam 1:35 pace, rode 21.7 mph and ran 7:01 pace)  was the last of the lot across the line, at 1:03:55.1. Jessica set a new run course record with her 5:51 pace (!!!) run, which secured her a silver medal only 1.5 seconds behind first-place Kait, whose 6:22 pace run combined with that awesome 23.4 mph ride earned her the top step on the podium. Brianna took home the bronze–the only podium finisher to be over the one-hour mark (1:00:35.3).

Exiting the Expletive Zone
I didn’t stay in the expletive zone for long, since I knew what I was doing here and it had to do with making more myelin (see? I told you you should have Googled it) and this quote from Mia Hamm:

, page 91. Get your own copy; I am not done yet. Daughter #1 urged me to break out of my usual yellow highlighting; pink seemed appropriate as it matches my Orlando goggles.

Page 91 of “Bounce” by Matthew Syed. Get your own copy; I am not done yet.

I was definitely “playing up” that day in Cohasset, and I knew it. So when I finally (mercifully) crossed the finish line I did so with a smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment; by some measurements it was a lousy performance, but by others it was completely-totally-wholly awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing. (Well, unless I could magically run 6:15 pace; I would so totally change that.) That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

That’s all for now. Thanks to Bill for giving me the chance to race against these superior players, to Tim for coaching me through it and to Jim for enduring that awkward pre-race kiss. As for the rest of you: follow Mia’s lead and “play up”; follow my lead and chop-chop-carpe diem. Streamline your Scary List, keep on myelinating on whatever the heck it is that matters most to you and don’t fret—you’ll catch up to your Orbs and Oxbows yet.

Elitely yours,

– cj

Posted in Life and Training, My Race Reports, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Triskaidekaphobia and Fear of Cats (With a K)

Sad but true: no Marlborough Tri in 2014. Fingers crossed for a 2015 comeback

Sad but true: no Marlborough Tri in 2014. Optimist that I am, my fingers and toes are crossed for a 2014 comeback.

Since Streamline Events axed the Marlborough Triathlon from its 2013 lineup, I’ve been as befuddled as the Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon when the Syfy network unceremoniously dumped his fave show. I mean, seriously, Streamline—Marlborough wasn’t just any race. It was my race…where F-ELITE Vicki showed nervous newbie-me how to rack my brand-new bike (2010)…where I earned my first ever “1st AG” (2011)…where I honestly thought I could beat Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference on the bike leg (2012who knew that dude could crank the pedals?).

Streamline cancels it without my consent? Cruel and unusual.

Resilient chick that I am (read: resilient chick that I am working reallysuperhard to become), it didn’t devastate me. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it). I healthily went in search of something to fill the void, another hometown race. The search was short, since there’s only one other tri in town: Firm Racing’s Lions Spring Pool Sprint at Wayside Swim and Racquetball Club.

In a way, it’s weird that I didn’t choose this as my first race oh-so-many years ago. After all, I’ve been a Wayside member for a gazillion years. I met my coach here and did my very first triathlon pool workout here too (in a string bikini; nuff said). The maintenance guy knows that if I am looking for him it means the Vasa needs new batteries. Heck it is even the club at which a teensy-tinsy Daughter #1 cowered in the corner during racquetball lessons (sadly she inherited her mother’s fear of flying orbs) and an even teensier-tinsier Daughter #2 learned to love the water:

Lida with her favorite instructor, circa 2003. I am pretty sure her name is Melinda though I can't be sure since she hasn't worked at Wayside in, like, a decade.

I kindly did not photograph Daughter #1 cowering in the racquetball court but I snapped lots of photos of Lida with her favorite instructor, circa 2003. I am pretty sure that instructor’s name was Melinda though I can’t be sure since she hasn’t worked at Wayside in, like, a decade.

Another gratuitous cute kid shot. How could I resist?

Another gratuitous cute kid in the pool shot. How could I resist?

Like Cheers, everybody at Wayside knows my name…unlike Cheers, they aren’t always glad I came. I’ve been known to become “difficult” when, say, the earbud-wearing power walker on the next treadmill randomly blurts out lines from Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. Or when an eighty-year-old acquacizer meanders into my lane when I’ve 200 yards left of a 500 TT. Still, they do a stand-up job of loving me through my hissy fits.

Pre-Race Perks
Membership does have its perks: the manager of Wayside’s fitness room also happens to be my massage therapist and friend. Steve offered to let me stow my stallion in his massage room overnight, so the boy would be all sorts of freshly rested and ready to roll. I got a huge kick out of this offer and giddily took him up on it. Yes, Viper got the VIP treatment. I guess that makes him “VIPer” for the day. Here’s the oh-so-special boy, the night before the race, reclining against Steve’s torture I mean massage table:

My high maintenance guy.

I spend a *lot* of time in this room…so it was fitting for my high maintenance guy to rest here the night before the race.

Lucky 13
I arrived at my preferred insanely early time, unapologetically parked the Prius in a staff slot, said hi to lifeguard Ryan and waited for Steve to arrive to release my race-ready stallion from his stall. (Yes, I was that early—I beat the manager to the club). I checked the numbers list—ya’ll know I have a thing about race numbers—and did a double-take to make sure I was seeing straight:

Find your name, find your number, pick up your packet...I do love it when I get a unique number, and it doesn't get much more unique than 13!

Find your name, find your number, pick up your packet…I do love it when I get a unique number, and it doesn’t get much more unique than 13!

No triskaidekaphobia here–I immediately decided #13 was the best thing that could happen to me. I texted it to my coach and his reply sealed the deal, confirmed it was an omen of awesomeness; Tim told me he was #1313 earlier this month when he posted a top ten finish at the Kennedy Space Center’s rather cool Rocketman Tri:

I interrupt this blog to brag about my coach: at the Oly distance Rocketman 2013 Tim placed fourth overall and won his age group by more than ten minutes thirty seconds. That's, like, A LOT. Here he is with his #1313 rocking the bike leg.  So. Insanely. Awesome.

I interrupt this blog to brag about my coach: at Oly-distance Rocketman 2013, the incredible Tim Crowley placed 4th overall and won his age group by 10 minutes 37 seconds. That’s, like, A LOT. Here #1313 rocks the bike leg. Pure awesomeness.

I love symmetry just as much as I love race-day numerology, so this numerical tidbit connecting me and my coach was exponentially awesome, nearly sent me into orbit (I almost inserted an apology here but on second thought you really cannot expect me to resist those puns so I will not apologize). I borrowed Steve’s scissors and obsessively trimmed my twist ties to the perfect length before giddily affixing my Supremely Lucky Number 13 to VIPer’s seatpost. It was kinda fun to be me 🙂

The low numbers get the primo spots in transition, so I beelined directly to the first row of racks and got to choose my real-estate. I naturally chose the best one and had just started setting up when #12, another girl racer, whirled in to transition and selected the slot right next to me even though, like, we don’t have to rack consecutively:

I love it when girls have pink bikes. So much easier to track down and kill I mean pass.

12 and 13. Viper appreciates it when girls have pink bikes… It makes it that much easier for him to hunt them down.

If it weren’t for the pink wheels I might not have known the owner was female and that’s not because she was one of those muscle-bound types my friend Kate calls Quadzilla. It was because I couldn’t see any muscles or skin at all; for some reason #12 was wearing a black skull cap and down parka that went all the way to her knees, as if it were the dead of winter and not a clear spring 60-something morning. Sure, it was slightly chilly, enough to make me glad I had the foresight to wear my track jacket and running tights over my itsy bitsy tri suit, but a feather-stuffed coat felt like overkill. But maybe she knew better than me—maybe this is, like, the latest pre-race prep philosophy. Ack! I wasn’t prepared enough! She didn’t talk to me or anyone else. She moved about transition with an air of efficient precision that had the potential to rattle me. OK-OK it went beyond “potential”…truth be told her intensity was totally freaking me out.

And then her upended helmet caught my eye. Her name was written in Sharpie inside of it. At first I wondered how the ink didn’t run, what with all the sweat it must be subjected to, and then I didn’t care, because I read the writing on the helmet:


O-M-G. Kat lurked under that coat.

Now, if you’ve read this blog once or twice, you know I can get a little fixated on the competition. I’ve raced Kat before and she is great–she beat me handily at last year’s Ludlow, like by more than a minute 30 over the sprint distance, placing first to my second AG. She is not only great but she has been doing this a long time. And she’s also the RD of the incredible 70.3 Pumpkinman Triathlon. And the wife of the incredibly talented triathlete Jeff Donatello (read: built-in kick-ass training partner).

My brain signalled to my body to initiate Full Freak Out Mode.

And then my phone rang. And it was my mother, who was in her own freak-out mode, over where she should park to watch the race. Try as I may, I could not summon the ability to be nice. “This is not my problem today,” I growled and hung up, leaving her to her own devices, which is, like, not a good thing. (Sorry, Ma. But you should really know better by now. Expect no pre-race kindness.)

I needed to drown my fear of Kat, quick. I beelined for the pool, where I claimed my very favorite lane (the center one–it keeps me away from the lane 5 aquacizers plus it’s the only lane in which I can manage to stay straight during backstroke because I can line myself up with the midline of the peaked roof). I was the first one in and the last one out when they told us it was time to get this race started.

The swim: Home Pool Advantage

In a pool sprint, your number is determined by your self-reported projected swim time. It was fun imagining myself as the 13th fastest swimmer and I went with that thought, convinced myself I was speedy on the swim and the brain thang worked; I actually felt as fast as this photo looks and had a fantastic swim start to finish:

I absolutely love this photo...especially all those feet of the athletes lined up awaiting their very fun!

I absolutely love this photo…especially all those feet of the athletes lined up awaiting their send-off…so very fun!

Post race I sent my Garmin file from the swim to Tim with this note: “I am thrilled to report that the Garmin recorded my pace on each length as follows: 1:23, 1:31, 1:36, 1:40, 1:39, 1:39, 1:40, 1:47, 1:38 and the last one I am mortified to say shows up as 2:15 but that’s only because it includes the attempt to get out of the pool–it was much harder than usual, and even though I didn’t feel like I had toasted myself on the swim while I was actually swimming it sure did feel that way once I had to get myself up and out! The slowing down in lane 4 I think may have been just as much about worrying that the guy behind me wanted to pass–remnants of my yucky swim at Ludlow–as it was about getting tired. I cannot wait to do this race again next year and make those all 1:20s instead 🙂  Lots of room for improvement”

My swim split: 4:21
My place on the swim: 25th overall (6th if you weed out the boys)
Best swim splits of the day: The first male was the super-speedy Blake Wheale (M 25-29) in 3:11 (he would go on to finish the race 2nd OA). Best female was the seemingly jet-propelled Carol Pearle (F 45-49) who zoomed through 250 yards in 3:26 and went on to finish the race 34th OA.

The bike: 13 Chases 14
Once we were on the bike it was easy to forget about #12; she quickly receded into my rearview mirror (not that VIPer has a rearview mirror; you get my point). It was all about #14, a boy-powered bike that showed some serious giddy-up. There’s my riding partner, I thought.

Well, I thought wrong. That boy was blazing fast and after the first descent all I could do was look in vain for him around every corner.

Whilst looking for him I caught several riders, including the incredible Jo Poole, #11, who I misjudged when I first passed her. I say I misjudged her because I thought she was as gone in my rearview as #12 but she kept coming back for more. We played this crazy cat and mouse game, passing each other three or four or five times in the last few miles. Naturally, I made sure the last pass was mine and had serious incentive to speed through transition as we were neck and neck.

I should note here that there are no photos of me on the bike, since my mother was race-day photographer and she claims I am too fast to photograph. Clearly she needs a photography lesson but I did think that comment was kind of awesome.

My post-race notes to my coach on the ride: “This is the ride I had in me last week but that didn’t get to come out then due to the rain 🙂 The only thing I would change is that I would have been faster so I could have avoided seeing the poor raccoon limping off the road to a painful death (but I would have had to be much faster, as the #1 rider (bib #14) saw him too–we commiserated about it afterward and I told him I thought he might have been the one to inflict the damage as he was just that speedy. His name is Steve O’Brien (M 25-29) and he lives in Clinton and he rode 24:53 to my 26:03. I am just a little excited that I had the 5th best bike overall and the best overall of the girls…and also a little irked that George called it “talent” although I know what he means and I know he means it as a compliment but…you what what I am saying!…That said, if anyone ever accuses me of having “talent” on the swim or the run, I will fold that compliment right on up and put it in my back pocket, save it for a cloudy day 🙂 This year I descended at 33.3 mph; next year I want to do 40, if the weather gods cooperate :)”

My bike split: 26:03
My place on the bike: 5th overall
Best bike splits of the day: The non-raccoon killing Steve O’Brien was the first guy, in 24:53. First female was yours truly.

My T2 split: :24
My place: 6th overall, 3rd girl
Best T2s of the day: The first male T2 of the day was former senator Scott Brown; I can’t help but wonder if running away from Democratic trackers helped him do this in such a super-speedy 16 seconds. The girls’ race to dismount was insanely fierce: Jo Poole and Carol Pearl tied for best, both ditching their stallions in 23 seconds.

Me and the Speedy Senator Brown

Me and the Speedy Senator Brown

The run: The Incredible Jo Poole
Jo put on her running shoes a second faster than me. As I exited transition I worried that I wouldn’t have anything left for the run; I really did give the bike leg my all, and it’s a hilly one to boot. So I had to use that brain control thang once again, telling myself that it isn’t the bike leg I am best at but the run. (Apparently on race days I am not above yelling at my mother or lying to myself.)  I told myself this was my leg and #11 would soon be trailing #13.

Since she was seeded 11th to my 13th, her race began 30 seconds before mine. Our accumulated times at this point: Me, 30:48. Jo, 31:18. So while I am a step behind, I am actually in the lead. Someone else will need to explain this concept to my mother, who despite teaching math her entire life struggled with this concept.

Since she was seeded 11th to my 13th, her race began 30 seconds before mine. Our accumulated times at this point: Me, 30:48. Jo, 31:18. So while I am a step behind, I am actually in the lead. Someone else will need to explain this concept to my mother, who despite teaching math her entire life struggled with this concept.

That thought didn’t work for long…we haven’t even crossed the street and look how quickly that gap is widening! Jo Poole is an awesome runner.

The lead did not last for long. Here we are seconds later. Seriously, this is seconds later! Jo you rock.

The lead did not last for long. Here we are seconds later. Seriously, this is seconds later! Jo you rock.

Didn’t matter. The run totally rocked, all 3.2 miles of it. I channelled the best of my training partners, becoming George on the hills, Sumner on the flats and me in the last mile when I knew I could get this done in something around seven minutes or something a lot closer to six; my best pace in that final mile was 5:20.

Less than a quarter mile to go...

Less than a quarter mile to go…

Post-race notes to my coach: “I thought I ran well last week but this run was even better 🙂 Hillier course and better splits and I am thrilled that I no longer look at my HR data while I run because I definitely would not have run this good of a race had I looked since the file shows my HR averaged 172 and maxxed out at 180 and the steep Cook Lane descent was the only time it went below 165 (to 164)–those are numbers I probably would have tried to control by slowing down had I seen them. My average run cadence was 87 and max was 101, and for a hilly course that makes me smile. Like a lot. :)”

My run split: 24:06 My place on the run: 26th overall Best run splits of the day: first male was Steve O’Brien, in 17:37 (!!!). First female was The Incredible Jo Poole, who placed 13th overall on this leg, with a time of 22:40

For the .000001 percent of you who actually care to know more than that, full race results are here.

2nd OA

Add all those splits up and I was 2nd OA

pet peeve: stay for the awards ceremony, people!

Pet peeve: stay for the awards ceremony, people! This is the Overall female winner’s podium. Minus Jo Poole on the first step and Kat Donatello on the 3rd. Ggggrrr.

lots of goodies

lots of goodies…they gave me a plaque for being the first female Wayside member to cross the line

That’s all I’ve got. As usual, thanks for stopping by. Don’t let yourself get freaked by the number 13 or cats (whether spelled with a C or a K). Transition like a former senator, sprint up hills like George and if you’re  Bill Burnett bring back the Marlborough Tri in 2014!!!! Just make sure it’s not too close to the Wayside date, as I’ll want to do both next year 🙂


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New England Season Opener 2013: “Suffer Like It’s Childbirth”

NE opener logoStop calculating. Compete and win the damn race. Swim bike and run 100 percent— don’t look at the clock. Dig deep and suffer like it’s childbirth.”

That was my coach’s doubly perfect comeback when I announced my oh-so-obsessive plan to go sub-one-hour at the 2013 New England Season Opener.

I say my plan was “oh-so-obsessive” since it involved a mathematical  equation of my very own formulation: [(1:40 pace x .25 miles) + (22.2 mph x 10) + (7:25 pace x 3.1 miles) + (T x 2 like a pro) = 8:00 + :55 + 27:00 + :40 + 23:00 = 59:35 ]. I say his “childbirth” line was “doubly perfect” because a). this race coincided with Mother’s Day and b). I kinda-sorta win hands-down whenever women kibitz about labor and delivery.

Now, not to belittle all ya’lls childbirth experiences, but truly I say, my story trumps yours just as surely as “rock” beats “scissors”. Unless you too woke up in labor the morning of your recently deceased mother-in-law’s memorial service and you too told your near-tears-then-husband to fear not, you need not head to the hospital, no, no, no, you could “hold it” through the memorial service and you too even stood up and eulogized her in between contractions and you too were then driven at ridiculously high speeds to a hospital where you too delivered naturally—no drugs, zero zilch zippo—not the seven pound five ounce cherub they’d prepared you for but a TEN POUND, NINE AND A HALF OUNCE CHILD.

In the event you forget your fourth-grade math, here’s a refresher: ten pounds nine and a half ounces rounds up to FREAKING ELEVEN POUNDS. Let me also reiterate that this brutal trauma I mean blessed event occurred NATURALLY and WITH NO PAIN MEDICATION after an INSANELY STRESSFUL WEEK. (Make that month. No, year. OK, decade–we’ll go with decade, that sounds about right.)

See? Told ya so. My rock smashed your scissors, right?

My coach had never heard this story and so of course I regaled him with the abbreviated version via text message. He had a perfect comeback then, too: “Oh. So 90 percent should seal the win.”

I liked that thought quite a lot, oh yes I did. Here’s how the race played out:

Pre-Race Prep
I did some serious (read: ridiculous) prep work for this race the week prior. Since it’d be the first open water race of the year and wetsuits would be mandatory, I got in the lake near my house four days out of five to re-familiarize myself with being hermetically sealed in neoprene. After each session, I terrified dog walkers and their furry companions alike by blazing out of the water as if fleeing a lake-shark attack and then frantically ripping off my neoprene as if it were infested with fire ants. When my wetsuit-shucking failed to go as quickly as I hoped, I even wielded scissors (not yours; they are smashed) and snipped two inches from each leg of my beloved (read: insanely expensive) Xterra Vendetta, to widen the ankle openings:

So sorry,, I don't have a vendetta against you. I swear this hurts me more than it hurts you.

Oh, Vendetta…I swear this hurts me more than it hurts you.

I made the pilgrimage to Hopkinton State Park the day prior to pick up my packet so I wouldn’t have to wait in line on race morning. Back at home I took my time affixing my number–185–to Viper’s seat post and my helmet and  made my girls pack themselves breakfast and lay out their race-day clothes since they were both signed up to volunteer. On race morning I made them wake up at 5:30 am (all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be first in transition). We arrived in time for me to claim the very best spot on the F 40-44 rack, the spot Max Performance’s Megan Gurley calls “California” since it is as coveted as oceanfront property.

The early bird gets the best rack space

The early bird gets the best rack space–happy Mother’s Day to me! 🙂 I remembered to bring my iPod Shuffle to deter energy-draining banter. Yes, I am *that* type of annoying on race day.

Since I was there so early, I had a gazillion hours to burn before race time. That’s always a drag but was made even moreso since it was drizzling and chilly. The forecast called for mid-morning clearing and a high of 70 degrees.  I prepared for 70, but not for chilly bits preceeding it. At home I had slathered myself with sunscreen in anticipation of running in full sun, but at 6:30 am the yellow orb  was nowhere to be found and the sunscreen did nothing to keep me warm. As all those late-sleeping triathletes waited in line and racked their rides and affixed their bike helmet stickers, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the bathroom and the big tent where the massage tables were being set up to stay out of the elements. I was happy when it was finally time to hermetically seal myself in neoprene.

spoiled rotten yes he is

Of course, the boy didn’t have to get wet:  Viper donned his super-spiffy bike coat. Spoiled rotten yes he is.

The F 40-44ers were in Wave 2, as were all females who self-selected as Elite. I was super-excited about that. As an F 40-44er I’d get to try to keep up with The Elites on the swim, would know where I stood as we exited the water, assuming my minions I mean friends and family did a good job of counting yellow caps for me.

Swimming With the Big Girls
I was totally ready for and excited about this swim. It is a point-to-point, meaning easy sight lines and no pesky turns. I had high hopes that I could find one of the super-fast chicks and tuck in behind her, get some free (and legal, I might add) speed. While we were queuing for the start, I sought out one athlete in particular: the one assigned #1. (Duly noted that my Uno Obsession apparently continues.) Her name is the impressively unpronouncable Medena Knespl and her swim time last year at this race was an impressively superhuman 6:51 (compare that to my 9:07). If I could tuck in behind her for even a buoy or two I’d feel like a sea turtle catching a ride on the East Australian Current.  I moved about the pack of yellow caps like a Secret Service agent, covertly scanning each athlete’s right hand for the Sharpie’d Numero Uno. I never did find her; if I hadn’t seen her bike in transition–a schnazzy red, black and white Colnago with its signature clover leaf logo–I would have thought she was a DNS.

No matter; we all know where the fast swimmers go once in the water–to the front line–so that’s where I went, too. The neoprene did its job keeping me warm and slightly more buoyant than usual. When the horn bleeted to start our wave I took off with the big girls and kept up with this aggressive, fast-moving pack. Until, that is, the pack seemed to turn on me. Apparently we were not EAC-bound sea turtles but wolves and the alpha female had ordered me culled from the herd. I got run over and my goggles knocked totally askew; both sides filled with water. I tried to swim that way (heck, it’s only a quarter mile) and did so for a few strokes, but then came to my senses and stopped long enough to get them back on. And then I was run over again. But this time only the right eye piece was knocked off, and the left one somehow managed to stay put. Since the shore was to the left, I just closed my right eye and swam the remainder (read: most of) of the race this way, wounded and trailing the pack but still pleased with my performance. Hey, the only way to learn how to be jostled around is to be jostled around, is the way I see it.

SWIM GOAL:                 8:00
SWIM ACTUAL:            9:17
MEDENA’S ACTUAL: 6:41 (!!! Rock star!!!)

T1: “Run Really Fast”
It was on my coach’s advice that my Vendetta got snipped. But his overall advice on improving my already-pretty-darned-good T1 time was to keep it simple, “just run really fast from the water to your bike”. Like most things in life, keeping it simple really helped. I wish my Garmin collected pace data for transitions since I swear my pace per mile would’ve registered in the fives for this T1 dash:

the fourth discipline of triathlon is transitioning.

That chick behind me actually exited the water well before me.

girls rack still full--always a good sign

Escaping the imaginary fire ants

the rack to the left belonged to boys in the wave before me, so it's empty...but my rack is pretty full, which is always a good sign

The rack to the left belonged to the Wave 1 boys so it’s appropriately empty…but my rack was good and full which is always a good sign

bike out

bike out

the bike split officially begins here

the bike split officially begins here

T1 GOAL:      55 seconds
T1 ACTUAL: 1:06 (11 seconds better than last year, so I’m OK with it)

Mutiny on the Bike Leg? 
As I took off up the initial hill, I looked to my minions I mean friends and family to give their reports: they had all been instructed to count how many yellow caps emerged from the water before me and yell out that number as I biked out. The idea being that I would then go catch at least that many riders. (I say at least that many because there was a whole wave of boys who were sent off five minutes before us, and a whole race of duathletes who were sent off five minutes before them, so there was a chance for even more.)

But here I was, biking out, and I got no info. Dead silence. I saw friends. I saw family. But no one said anything to me. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Is this a mutiny? I obsessed about the lack of information for the first mile of the bike until I realized the source of the trouble was me not them: in my transitioning frenzy I had forgotten to remove my goofy swim plugs. I couldn’t hear a damn thing through the silicone. Yes, it took me a mile to figure this out.

Now, lack of ability to hear on the bike would normally be a crisis of epic proportions, but another problem loomed even larger: the skies opened up and rain started coming down in buckets. Seriously, I have not seen such instant-puddle-formation since I was in the Costa Rican rain forest. During the rainy season. This was nuts. It came down so fast and hard that the ground was littered with race numbers–the stickers actually unstuck from athlete’s helmets.

After the race, my friend Jim got irritated about my obsessive whining about how bad the bike leg was. He gave me 40 seconds to complain about it. “You’ve got 40 seconds to complain about this and then you are banned from ever complaining about it again,” he told me.

I agreed to this, so I guess I can’t really whine here. Unless, of course, I provide a loose transcript of that 40-second discussion…that’s not an infraction, is it? I think not so here goes:

Jim: So how bad was it?
Me: Oh my gawd it was awful.  The course is riddled with frost heaves and potholes, so wheel-catching danger could lurk under any given puddle. One volunteer grabbed a broom and was actually sweeping water out of potholes, so we would see them.

Jim: I bet your bike split was really bad, compared to past years.
Me: Ugh! Yes! Last year I did this course twice and went 30:19 and 30:07 on it then. Heck, even in my very first year of racing I did it in 31:41, and that was on Maverick–on an aluminum frame! This is just really really awful.

Jim: Wow, that is really awful. You must be really embarrassed.
Me: I am really embarrassed. I am such a fair-weather rider, meaning if it is raining, I mount my bike on the trainer and ride inside. Both of my “boys” are just too fussy to get wet; plus, I feel incompetent at chain-cleaning, so why create a mess you can’t fully fix? Net-net: this “riding in the wet” thing is not my forte. I think I need some serious bike-handling lessons. Actually, I think we all need some serious bike-handling lessons. There were some superfast boys who zipped past me and I swear they didn’t have any more control over their bikes than I did but they didn’t really care, and that was really scary.

Jim: It doesn’t sound like you did anything right out there.
Me: It’s true. I sucked. But at least I followed my coach’s advice…he told me not to look at the clock and suffer like this was childbirth.  I was certainly suffering and there was no way I was going to look at my watch since a). both eyes were required for puddle-dodging purposes and b). even if I did glance at it I wouldn’t be able to make out the digits on its rainstreaked display through my rainstreaked glasses.

Jim: What was the worst part?
Me: Hard to say since it all sucked. It was, like, a Nightmare on High Street. I guess the worst part was that I could just never get up to speed.  My heart rate normally averages 168 or even higher on the bike, but I couldn’t do that due to the rain. I bet if you looked at my Garmin file you’d see the only times my HR approached 168 was due to fear–not effort. I was so scared of crashing. I kept thinking about how much last summer’s crash hurt and kept reminding myself that the bike would go faster if I kept it perpendicular–not horizontal–to the road.

[OK. You will never hear me complain about this again. Promise.]

BIKE GOAL:        27:00
BIKE ACTUAL: 32:46 (argh!)
BEST FEMALE BIKE SPLIT OF THE DAY: The amazing Zuzana Trnovcova aced it in 29:26. Clearly, she has some serious bike-handling skills.

Grumpy in T2
Daughter #2 was on transition area patrol duty when I ran in to T2 to park Viper in his oceanfront California slot. She pointed to the towel that I had used to keep myself warm pre-race and said, “you should dry your feet off before you run.” I was so flustered by my insanely bad ride that I simply growled at her, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” (Sorry, Lida!)

T2 GOAL:     
40 seconds
48 seconds (I am good with that.)

The Run:
The one good thing about such a sub-par ride is that my legs were unusually fresh for the run. Plus, while the weather was not conducive to riding, it was made to order for me on the run; full sun tends to wilt me, but the day’s cloud cover was perfect.

That doesn’t cancel out the fact that this is a challenging run course for me–it starts with a significant hill and has another, five-telephone-pole-long hill towards the end. My sub-one-hour race equation took those hills into consideration and also figured in the fact that in the three times I’ve done this course so far my times have been 23:19, 23:24 and 22:57.

I felt really strong on the run. I didn’t look at my watch once but I knew I was having a good run. It was odd to have the run be the most fun leg of the race. I guess super-hard hill repeats, track and treadmill work pays off 🙂 Only one female blasted past me–a 20-year-old chick on the Boston Univeristy Triathlon team. She was awesome and I found her after the race and told her that; she is Anna Geary-Meyer of Lowell and according to the race results she ran 6:43 pace and I would say I want to be her when I grow up but as I mentioned earlier she is, like, 20 years old.

RUN GOAL:      23:00
 RUN ACTUAL: 22:53 (whoo hoo!)

trying to figure out if that heavy breathing I hear to my right is male breathing or female breathing.

trying to figure out if that heavy breathing I hear to my right is male breathing or female breathing.

grr he got me

grr he got me



When all was said and done, two females recorded sub-one-hour times and neither have the initials “CJ”. I did, however, place first in my age group. By the time the awards ceremony rolled around, it was full sun, 70 degrees and the roads were perfectly dry. How’s that for cruel race-day irony? (Full results are here.)

girls got flowers

F 40-44 podium: the girls got flowers

So, that’s all for now. Transition like there are fire ants in your wetsuit. Roll with the punches, especially when they bring behemoth babies or rain on your bike leg. Keep your bike perpendicular to the road and tell someone you think they rock.

Saving the best for last: happy birth-week to that freaking ten pound nine and a half ounce cherub of mine…she turned 13 on May 14th! 🙂 Love you, Lida Rose!


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Ludlow Pool Sprint 2013: Rusty, Foggy, Naked

“Time to get the rust off.  The main goal is have a clean race. No big errors and get a solid race under your belt.”

That was my coach’s pre-race pep talk in the early-morning hours of April 28th, as I was about to begin my very first race of my very fourth triathlon season.

Oxidation happens during the off-season, especially when you are a captive I mean a resident of New England where the weather from October through April is a heinous wasteland I mean a winter wonderland. Snow and sleet and slush sure muck up the works.

It wasn’t just rust I’d need to grind off in Ludlow—I needed to burn through some serious fog, too. The day prior, Daughter #2 and I had literally gone back to the scene of the crime, and by that I mean the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. Two weeks post-bombs, it was time to stop postponing, carpe diem and retrieve the satchel Daughter #1 had abandoned at Stefanie’s Restaurant when the bombs went off and we fled to Cambridge—a satchel that contained, among other things, my friend Christy’s post-finish line change of clothes and Daughter #1’s driving learner’s permit.

I had hoped this trek would provide a bit of closure—a suture or two to stimulate mental healing. I focused on the happy fact that the bag was fetchable at all— a complete stranger had seen Christy’s 2013 Boston Marathon jacket peeking out of the bag, and in the post-bomb chaos he had the foresight to realize some thieving schmuck might see more than sentimental value in that jacket and snatch it. By tossing it in his car and tracking us down through a random friend’s phone number scribbled on a Post-It Note in the bottom of the bag, he performed one of the gazillion small acts of kindness that warmed the country’s heart and carried Boston through the darkest days.

Pick up the bag, bask in being benefactors of this small act of post-bomb kindness and maybe even sit down at Stefanie’s… actually eat this time; this was the plan.

Yet once we were downtown, I felt no mental healing, did no basking. Instead, I felt raw and frazzled and rattled. Duck Boats filled with tourists were rolling down Boylston. The bombs are already part of The Script. Even worse, pedestrians were posing for photos in front of Marathon Sports—the running mecca that impossibly morphed into a triage center moments after a bomb exploded in front of it. We watched in awe as a fit middle-aged man jauntily leaned on the store’s freshly replaced window while his female companion stood on the freshly re-poured concrete (they replaced the bloodstained stuff), snapping photos. People lost limbs and lives here, folks. I have no words for you.

I also had no stomach for lunch—I was suddenly very queasy. We collected the bag and returned Stefanie’s freshly laundered patio blankets, the ones that were still wrapped around our shoulders as we ran away from bombs that day. Said our thank you-s and pointed the Prius westbound on the Pike.

So I brought some serious baggage to Ludlow. In the event you don’t believe my thinking was muddled, how’s this: in packing my race bag the night before, I actually removed my race belt. As if I would have no use for a race belt. During a race.

Something old, something my race bag will forever have two. When I realized the err of my ways I sent Daughter #1 scurrying back to the car for cash and to the race-day vendors to procure a new belt. Naturally, she selected a loud light blue one.

Something old (left) something new (right)…now my race bag will forever have two. When I realized the err of my ways I sent Daughter #2 scurrying back to the car for cash and then to the race-day vendors to buy a new belt. Naturally, she selected the loudest one.

While I brought a muddled mind to western Mass, I also brought my brand-new, never-been-raced-on-before, super-spiffy Corima race wheels, too. Yes, we had gone straight from Boston to Ata Cycle to fetch my freshly shod stallion:

My main man.

My spirited thoroughbred just got faster. Oh. Yes.

I also brought some high hopes that I’d rock the swim leg at Ludlow. I have worked hard to strengthen my weakest link this winter—the hard work has happened not just in the pool but also  in the weight room and even in the kitchen, which is to say I have a new obsession with muscle-building protein (just not the type derived from animal sources. Sorry carnivorous family of mine—this tri obsession will never extend to eating animals).

I’ve amassed so many strength-building “pool toys” that simply lugging around my overstuffed Speedo swim bag should count as a strength workout:

So much torture, so little time.

So much torture, so little time.

In my single-minded focus to improve, I even acquired an STD. Head out of the gutter, people; this STD is a Swimming Torture Device.

Trust me--this thing is more evil than it looks.

WARNING: Objects in image are more evil than they appear.

THE SWIM: Well, so that didn’t quite go as planned. Rock it I did not. In fact, I never felt like I got beyond “warm up” speed and I failed to nail even a single turn. Which is impressively bad, since there are a grand total of eleven turns. Silver lining: my swim was a second better than last year’s, so at least I didn’t, like, exit the pool last.

My 2013 split: 5:18
My 2012 split: 5:19
Best female 2013: Amy Parent (F 34-39)…a blazing fast 3:45 (!)

Now on to the stuff we actually know how to do. So here's a cool tidbit: see that yellow racer running out? That's Number 3, Amy Parent. ***Spoiler Alert*** she actually *did* rock the swim but I will end up beating her overall by ten seconds by the time this thing is over.

Now on to the stuff we actually know how to do.

T1 / THE BIKE: No rust here—not only had I selected a proper gear for bike out and positioned my shoes so they wouldn’t whap the ground as I ran Viper out, I even remembered to violate Velominati Rule #37 and put my shades on under my helmet straps, to make T2 go easier (since the shades stay in place for the run).

rudy girl

…and we are off!

Oh yes - the debut of my Corimas.

Oh yes – the debut of my Corimas.

The bike leg is always too short, but in Ludlow it is way too short: just shy of nine miles. Viper and I both would have preferred far more quality time together (he begged for a full second loop). Parting was such sweet sorrow. Despite the time-trial start of a pool swim, we passed 12 people on the ride and yes, we *did* count and yes two of those passed were boys who ran over me during the swim leg. Atta boy, Viper.

My 2013 split: 24:45
My 2012 split: 25:04
Best female 2013: Mary Guertin (F 45-49) in 24:17 (you rock!)

T2: time to run

Bye for now, Viper; time to get this run done.

Another sign of my race-day muddled mind: For the first time in my Garmin-owning life, I failed to grab the Garmin off its bike mount and put it back on my wristband. So as I exited T2 with my screaming new race belt, I was “running naked” ie, without any way to gauge my pace and heart rate except, gasp, by feel. This is not good.

race belt, check...Garmin, not so much.

brand new race belt around my waist but no Garmin on my wrist.

Truth be told, I knew I’d forgotten it before I exited transition. So I could have gone back…I mean, that was a physical possibility. Maybe someone else would have, but not me; it would have added to my T time and would not have made for the “clean race” my coach implored me to have. It felt cleaner to keep going.

Besides, there was something terrifyingly appealing about running without it. “Gut feel” has been all I’ve really had to navigate these last few months and weeks. It has been pretty darned scary at times, but I’ve left-foot-right-footed it through to the best of my ability. Having to execute the last three miles of this race by gut feel–this felt poetic and scary and appropriate.

A friend and training partner was spectating a hundred yards or so out of transition; as he encouraged me with the usual words (“you look great! You’ve got this!”) I simply tapped my right index finger against my naked wrist to draw his attention to my dilemma. He immediately understood, uttered a commiserating expletive, and started stripping the watch off his own wrist. I declined it and kept going. After all, he was right: I’ve got this.

Running naked was both “cleaner” and cleansing. I couldn’t watch my heart rate, but I sure could feel it. I navigated through a lot more than Ludlow’s streets, focused on planting my feet firmly on the ground and propelling myself forward as I sorted through all sorts of events that have freaked me out, from the last Friday of summer vacation through November 14th straight down Exeter Street on Marathon Monday and right up to the present moment.

A pack of men ran a hundred or so yards ahead of me; I glanced up at that pack from time to time. I took it as a good sign that the gap between me and them did not widen.

Before I knew it I was approaching the finish line. No rust here; I have serious muscle memory for what to do at a finish line and by that I mean the darned dry heaves started the minute I was on that mat.

On the Green Mat of Agony

On the Green Mat of Agony

My 2013 run split: 25:03
My 2012 run split: 24:52
Best female run split 2013: Mary Guertin (F 45-49) in 22:24 (you double rock!)

When you add those all up I was the second female overall; Mary was first and Amy was third. The full results are here.

getting my medal from race director Bill Fiske. When the announcer called my name and city I am from, Bill asked if I am doing FIRM's tri in Marlborough in a few weeks...the answer is yes, since Streamline isn't doing it's Marlborough Tri anymore and I have a thang about racing in my hometown.

The freaky “43” on my calf is rather visible as I get my medal from race director Bill Fiske. I tell you, this triathlon gig sure does age you prematurely; I don’t actually turn 43 until December. When the announcer called my name and city I am from, Bill asked if I am doing FIRM’s tri in Marlborough in a few weeks…the answer is yes, since Streamline isn’t doing it’s Marlborough Tri anymore and I have a thang about racing in my hometown.

overall female podium

overall female podium

Well, that’s all for now. I hope you are finding ways to grind off the rust and cut through the fog. Trust your gut and be OK with your nakedness and I will see you at the New England Season Opener on Mother’s Day!

– cj

Posted in Life and Training, Marathons, My Race Reports | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Marathon Monday 2013

At 2:50 PM on Monday April 15th, my Boston Marathon was almost over. A block away from the finish line, I was all the things you hear about: wiped out…eager for the end… thrilled that the day had been perfect. Perfectly exhausting, but still perfect.

I never hit my stride, and by that I mean I did not actually run the 2013 Boston Marathon—at least not in the traditional left-foot-right-foot-lather-rinse-repeat sense. Instead, I ran the support crew for my dear friend Christy, aka C4 of “Four Cs” Hyannis Marathon Relay team fame. Christy was proudly—and very, very nervously—donning bib #25901 in the 117th Boston Marathon.

Running support is its own sort of endurance sport. From serving the carb-loading Last Meal to fetching your exhausted runner at the finish, it requires a whole lot of fretting, planning, and waiting—skills that fall miles outside my wheelhouse. Add to the list something else alien to me: hostess-ing. Yes, Christy had for some reason entrusted me (me!) with all six-feet-five inches of her out-of-town beau, who had flown in from Arizona the night prior to cheer on his gal. Three quarters of the Four Cs (read: the non-Christy bits) immediately dubbed him “The Cowboy”—since he not only wears a fantastically bright white not-from-around-here ten-gallon hat but also stole our friend’s heart while country-line dancing. In, like, real, actual cowboy boots. Kid you not.

Fortunately, just like marathoners have race plans, I had a playbook to guide me in this crazy support crew stint; running Christy’s support simply meant dusting off my family’s gameplan from the 2011 version of this race, when I was the one proudly and very very nervously donning a bib number (#24777, in the event it somehow slipped your mind). From what time we woke up to what streets we parked on to where we’d cheer—first in Natick and then in front of Marathon Sports on Boylston Street at the finish line—my Marathon Monday gameplan was a carbon copy of theirs. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Even with the pre-made plan, this was stressful stuff.  While my 2011 nightmares were about blisters and bonking, 2013 brought visions of making Christy miss the start, failing to see her at the Mile 10 mark, and missing her grand finale because I was stuck in traffic. I didn’t stress about whether The Cowboy would think I was weird; that seemed to be a given. (God has granted me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.)

So here it was, 2:50 pm and nothing that could have gone wrong had. In fact, we had had an awesome day from start to finish.

By piling into the Prius at the obsessive-compulsive gameplan-approved time (6:15 am) we cruised right to the start line with ample time for photos:

Told ya he's tall.

See? Crazy-tall! Actual cowboy hat! My one regret: I failed to capture the boots.

In front of Marathon Way sign

In front of Marathon Way sign

Wave 3 Corral 9--that's our runner!

Wave 3 Corral 9–that’s our runner!

We even had time for me to give Christy some last-minute unsolicited advice: don’t wear the jacket and leave the iPhone with us. Yes, she planned to run The Marathon wearing that red jacket and carrying her iPhone. At six it was crisp, but it would hit 55 by her start time; I told her the jacket would be a portable sauna by Mile 5, and that five-ounce phone would morph into a 25-pound kettlebell by Heartbreak Hill.

True to form, Christy followed half my advice, and by that I mean she stashed the portable sauna in the Prius but kept a firm grasp on her kettlebell.  You’ve no use for a phone between here and the finish line, I protested, rolling my eyes; little did we know how wrong I would be.

We said our goodbyes and—just as my family had done in 2011—I pointed the Prius right straight down the actual Marathon route. The actual Marathon route! On Marathon Monday, even! As we drove the first ten miles of The Course, the roads were literally being closed behind us so the race could get underway. Crazyfunlikeyouwouldn’tbelieve.

Water stops were being constructed on the sides of the road. Never having done this, I had no idea that the elites get their own “fuel stations”…

Who knew the Elites get their own water stops? Yet another incentive to get super-speedy...

I confess was a little jealous. Further incentive to get super-speedy…

Water stops for the mere mortals required a little more manpower.

Water stops for the mere mortals required a little more manpower. Volunteers gather.

The Course slices through an exhausting seven municipalities, but runners get to cross one of the list pretty quickly...Mile 2: Ashland, baby!

7 towns in 26.2 miles. Cross one of the list pretty quickly… Mile 2 =  Ashland, baby!

Mile 5 = Framingham...they're apparently "all in" too :)

Mile 5 = Framingham…they’re “all in” too 🙂

As  the earliest of spectators started to line the streets, the girls and I regaled The Cowboy with stories of the sights, sounds and smells that are part of the warp and woof of our beloved race.

This house makes every runner smile. Every year.

Any runner who doesn’t smile at this sign needs a chill pill. This house has been making Bah-stun runners beam for years.

We got to Mile 10 at the Natick Common well before 8 am—something just shy of a gazillion hours before The Marathon’s start time. Perfect. Per “The Plan”, we’d cheer her on from here then head into town to snag our finish-line spot right in front of Marathon Sports, where we knew the crowds there would be thick and loud and all sorts of fun. I strategically positioned the Prius for a quick getaway so that as soon as Christy passed we’d be Mass Pike-bound. We set about burning those gazillion hours.

Spectating requires energy, so we refueled at Bakery On the Common, where even the cookies had Marathon Fever:

Even the cookies were all smiles at Mile 10.

All smiles at Mile 10.

We staked out our corner—the same one my family claimed in 2011. (Again, I cleaved to The Plan like Christy cleaved to her iPhone.) We made a serious land grab, outlining the property line with chairs—two green fold-up ones I had brought from home, and two more we rented for two bucks a pop from the impressively entrepreneurial church located behind us. We snapped photos of our location and texted them to Christy’s kettlebell so she’d know our coordinates. (Hey, if she was going to be silly enough to carry it, we might as well make use of it.)

Corner Sweet Corner

Memo to Christy’s kettlebell: “When you see the big steeple on your left, LOOK FOR US!”

The girls made a sign and we texted that, too. I considered texting a few other friends—namely Highland City Strider Gary (aka one of only two known people on the planet who can claim to have run every road in Marlborough, MA) and fellow Cisco PR rock star Jessica… but both are far too speedy to wield smartphones at the start so I didn’t.

Christy's sign in Natick

Now she’ll see us 🙂

Ten miles from Hopkinton you can’t hear the official  bleets, bangs and cheers of the official start.  So we watched the church’s clock and generated some noise on our own as the BAA sent each wave of racers on its merry way. At 9:17, we applauded the wheelchair race start. At 9:32, the elite women. Then at 10 the elite men and those super-speedy not-so-normal normal runners. Wave 2: 10:20. When 10:40 rolled around we hooted for our Wave 3 runner’s departure (and I silently celebrated my sanity for not having run again).

Eventually, crowds began to form around us in Natick. Anyone who had ever run The Marathon was wearing either a marathon cap or jacket. I was no exception—actually, maybe I was, because I was wearing both my marathon cap and jacket. And under that I was wearing my marathon long sleeve. And under that I was wearing my marathon short sleeve. I had a logo for every layer. (If they had manufactured 2011 marthon logo undies, I think I would have bought them, too.)

Question for Gen Xers: Is it still called a "selfie" if there are two people in the pic? Just wondering. Me and Daughter #2.

Question for Gen Xers: Is it still called a “selfie” if there are two people in the pic? Just wondering. Me and Daughter #2.

People wearing the same black with green stripes as I was—the 2011 runners—exchanged crazybig smiles, as if we were both kindred spirits and dear old friends.

No matter how few marthons we’d run or how slowly we’d run them, non-runners looked to us jacketed folks as BMEs (Bonafide Marathon Experts). Despite full disclosure of my pathetic-ness (and by that I mean I confessed that in 2011 I ran a pedestrian 4:09:55 and was handily beaten by a guy in a cheeseburger costume), I was nominated as BME of our little patch of the Marathon course. It was a nomination I gladly accepted and I proceeded to answer all of their questions with a crazybig smile.

Q: “Why are those wheelchairs racing so close together?”

Answer: free speed for the guy in long as he doesn't nick the other guy's wheel. That'd be a bad day.

A: free speed for the guy in back…as long as he doesn’t nick the other guy’s wheel. That’d be a bad day.

Q: “Why the weirdly taped legs???”

Answer: Allegedly to give a little assist to an injured muscle. But I think they do it to look tough, scare the competition. Not that I'd ever do that. Not me, no-sir-ee.

A: Allegedly to give a little assist to an injured muscle. But I think they do it to look tough, scare the competition. Not that I’d ever do that. Not me, no-sir-ee.

We watched the elites blast past and then the super speedy BQ-ers, those who would somehow manage to finish this race sub-three hours. I was thrilled beyond belief to spot my every-Marlborough road-running friend Gary and crestfallen to miss Jessica, who flew in from Cali for the race.

They were followed by legions of normal-people runners. A cheeseburger or two whizzed by. This guy on stilts did nothing approaching “whizzing” speed but got just as many cheers:

26.2 miles like this--seriously!

26.2 miles like this–seriously!

And then, finally, the moment we had waited for…Christy came. It was actually a two-fer deal, and by that I mean she brought with her another quarter of the 4Cs, C2 to be precise, Christine Festa.

Two of the 4Cs ran this year: C2 (aka Festa) is on the left. next to C4 (aka Christy). The half of the 4Cs on the right side of this pics were the only ones in their right minds and sanely sat this one out (that'd be C3, CBT, and me).

Two of the 4Cs ran this year: C2 (aka Festa) is on the left. next to C4 (aka Christy). The two Cs on the right side of this pic were the only ones in their right minds and by that I mean C3, CBT, and I sat out this marathon.

We hugged and listened to their tales of woe (swears were uttered at Mile 10–not a great sign) and as soon as they were off we were too: we returned the chairs to the entreprenurial church and pointed the Prius towards the Pike.

I thought the ride in to town would be chaotic and crowded, but it was actually awesome. Everyone on the road seemed to be doing exactly what we were doing: trying to beat their runner to the finish line. As we approached the tolls, scenes from the elite finishes were flashing on the huge display screens affixed to the WGBH building. In the excitement of watching the Wave 3ers race, I hadn’t paid attention to the super-speedy race, so I slowed down to see who had won (Benti took the boys’ gold and Jeptoo got the girls). We parked under Cisco’s Boston office–far enough away from the finish to avoid the maddening crowds, and yet just a few T stops away. We took the T to Arlington.

We emerged from underground around 2:20 pm and I was chomping at the bit to beeline straight to Marathon Sports. Not that we were in any danger of missing Christy–she wouldn’t cross until at least 3:15 pm by our estimates. But we were approaching the anniversary of my own finish time: the Wave 3 clock would soon pass the four-hour mark, start ticking towards my 4:09:55 finish time. I wanted to cheer for the people finishing then, those who were like me, The “Four Somethings”. I knew firsthand that many of them had probably aimed for sub-four days, for BQs, and had had to give up that dream somewhere after Heartbreak Hill. Some would be heartbroken, others would be proud of their not-great-but-still-hard-earned four-hours-plus times, like I am of mine.

But my girls had other plans. They were hungry. Ugh. I was not happy about it–very very grumpy about it, in fact. But I hid my grumpiness, since I needed to play the happy hostess and act all affable for our Cowboy I mean guest. We got a table on the outside patio at Stefanie’s, a restaurant on the corner of Newbury and Exeter–just a block from the finish line. From out front, you could see the excitement one street over, see the flags of all those countries whipping in the wind, see the front door of the Lenox Hotel. The waitress brought The Cowboy water, the girls Shirley Temples and me a cup of coffee.

On Boylston Street, the Wave 3 clock–my clock…our clock–flipped to 4:09:42. It was 2:50 pm and I was a block away, on the corner of Newbury and Exeter, pouring milk into my coffee when a cannon fired.

That’s odd. Cannons are for the Fourth of July…not the Marathon. Or did I totally miss that tradition, like, every single year somehow? Do we *always* do cannons? If so, why at four-plus-hours? Why not at the start? Or at the Elite finish?

And then the second cannon fired. And I knew it wasn’t a cannon; the smoke wasn’t right. And then the steady roar of finish-line cheers coagulated. Into screams.

WE. ARE. OUTTA HERE. My Momma Bear emerged and I literally scooped up the girls, one under each arm, and ridiculously said, “let’s go, babies”—I say “ridiculously”, since my so-called babies are 12 and 17.  “You follow me, Cowboy,” I barked at the towering Arizonan. He may be used to leading country dances, but he was a stranger in this city and would need to follow my lead.  We glanced over our shoulders nervously as we walk-ran away from Boylston Street, towards the safest place I could think of—the Charles River.

We held our breath, expecting blasts might follow us down Exeter Street, just as impossibly thick streams of people now were. “Is this like 9/11?” my 12-year-old asked. She is still in that stage where she actually thinks I hold all of the answers. I don’t really know, I confessed.  But look at the smoke—it doesn’t seem so big. Buildings are still up. It will be okay, I think, I told her. We just need to go to the river.

As we crossed Storrow Drive, two young women ran past in high heels. “What did you see?” I asked, their speed suggesting a terrible knowledge.

The one on the left exhaled the impossible words, her voice cracking and her eyes fixed straight ahead: “Blood. So much blood.”

THIS. IS. NOT. HAPPENING. Now was the time to teach my girls something I learned while I was a Boston University journalism student, from my favorite professor, Larry Tye of the Boston Globe: eyewitness accounts cannot be trusted. In times of crisis, people don’t see things straight. It’s not that they are liars, but they are not trained watchers, I told them. That young lady is probably wrong, I said.

Everything was still OK. Probably. I said.

Just in case it wasn’t we were getting out of the city.

My younger daughter nodded a singular, certain nod. I think it is safe to say that this child has been through far more than her peers, and the reason she has emerged so well from this hellacious year is that she possesses a strong desire to actually want to be calmed down. She is more than willing to suspend her disbelief, to trust that brain tumors won’t return and bombs won’t hurt; the world just needs to give her an itsy-bitsy reason for faith. So when I told her all would be well, she believed me.

My older girl isn’t so easily swayed. Being a little older, she has cracked the code and figured out that I am, gasp, not always right. And so she panicked, announced she couldn’t breathe, needed her inhaler…which had been abandoned along with her Shirley Temple on Newbury Street.

“You are NOT ALLOWED have a medical emergency,” I growled through gritted teeth as we fled with what seemed like half of Boston. “CALM DOWN AND BREATHE DAMMIT.”

For some reason, that made sense to her. And calm down she did–at least enough to breathe.

A man sitting on a park bench confirmed it was bombs, said there were more—at the JFK Library, at Downtown Crossing. The city seemed completely unsafe. Will the bridge to Cambridge be bombed? I swore this group would swim across the river if it was necessary.

No swimming required. We walked right across the Salt and Pepper Shaker bridge—the same bridge I ran over several times a week as a college student, the same one my girls and I stood on to watch the Red Sox World Series parade in 2007.

We passed MIT. “When are we stopping?” Daughter #2 asked. Not yet, I said. For some reason, MIT didn’t seem safe enough.

We kept going til we got to the Marriott in Kendall Square. We stared in disbelief at the TV in the hotel’s foyer, with a clutch of others with whom we had an instant bond–not the happy bond we had had on our corner in Natick. An awful bond.

Christy didn’t get to cross the finish line that day but instead became an she qualifies as an ultra-marathoner in my book, since she didn’t get to stop til Kendall Square. Once cell service had been restored we directed her in via her kettlebell. She gave us salty, sweaty hugs. We had no clean clothes for her—we had unintentionally abandoned them in the chaos and they were now part of a sprawling crime scene. Then we intentionally abandoned the Prius for the night—who knew if more bombs lurked in the financial district—took a $270 cab ride home.

Two weeks to the day have passed. The dead have been buried. The blood has been bleached from the pavement in front of Marathon Sports and, I suppose, the limbs that were torn from bodies both there and in front of the Forum have been disintegrated as medical waste. Copley Square has reopened. The black and blue I mysteriously came home with that day—did I fall?—has faded and the fancy Rocheforte glass my too-shaky hands broke later that night as I poured myself a drink has been replaced. Not that it matters; I’ve given up beer for now. Alcohol’s a depressant, and this has been depressing enough.  Christy has moved to Arizona to be with the Cowboy and I’ve removed from my trunk the green fold-up spectator seats we used at Mile 10, stored them away for another day—a concert, a picnic, a trip to the beach.

In other words, life is settling in to a new type of normal. That’s a huge relief. That’s also utterly unacceptable.

layersSome days it seems impossible that we’ll ever get back The Marathon I left behind at Mile 10—the one of runner-shaped cookies, super-speedsters wearing cheeseburger costumes and silly signs that say “Shortcut”. But it’s only as impossible as climbing Heartbreak Hill; we’ll all get up and over this in our own time—no, wait, over is not the right word. You don’t get over something like this. But we will get beyond it. Some in better shape than others.

Like my choice of outfits that day, this beloved race of ours has layers. We’ll shed the filthy, nasty outer layer that was foisted upon us. And once we do, there’s layers upon layers of the good stuff just underneath.

That’s all I’ve got. You take care, and you keep on running.


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My 2013 Challenge to You: Let Yourself Suck

The Mayans were wrong and the world didn’t end, so if you are presently New-Year’s-Resolution-less, please go find one pronto. Since we scored the cosmic Bonus Ball and get another 365 earthly rotations, I kinda feel like it’s incumbent upon us to find the chutzpah to make 2013 resolutions that are completely non-wussy. In fact, I challenge you to pick something big enough that you have to initially give yourself permission to totally suck at it.

You heard me right: in 2013 I really-truly hope that you completely-totally-wholly suck at whatever you resolve to do—and I hope you suck at it for a good long time. But here’s the clincher: you’ve gotta suck with an intent to not suck. Going around sucking for sucking’s sake, now that would really suck. But sucking with the intent to not suck, this is where the good stuff can happen.

Daughter #1 taught me most of what I know about sucking with intent to not suck when she was just an itsy-bitsy thang making a hopelessly tangled mess out of her shoelaces. After 20 or so exhausting minutes of watching her struggle and tie knots where no knot should ever be, I’d invariably grab the scissors and attempt an intervention. As soon as she saw me coming she’d shriek: “GO AWAY! I can do it—ALL BY MY LITTLE OLD SELF!”

The funny thing was, she really-truly couldn’t…she had no clue what she was doing, at least not at first. But clearly she was onto something, and somewhere around Attempt #9,894, her skill caught up with her spirit.

Most of us lose the sucking skill as we get older. Instead of trying to do something completely new and impossible ALL BY OUR LITTLE OLD SELVES, we stick to the tried and true. It feels good to be good at something, so we keep doing that.

Society encourages this specialization. Heck, my own mother has watched me emerge from the swim leg looking more drowned rat than competent triathlete and suggested, “how about you find a nice bike race to enter instead?”

I get the rationale; it allegedly takes 10,000 hours of practice to become great at any given task (this is according to some book my coach made me read this year; in keeping with this blog’s theme, I forget which book—due to my sucky memory.) So, like, who has a spare 10,000 hours just lying around, waiting to be spent?

Find the time—you’ll be glad you did. It’s an investment that pays dividends way beyond the budding competence you’ll experience around Hour #9,894, because sometimes life throws stuff at us and doesn’t give us the luxury of 10,000 hours of practice. We have to handle this stuff rightthisveryminute, and it is utterly impossible stuff, as utterly impossible as, say, selecting a neurosurgeon for your very own child. You will truly suck at catching this curve ball and yet it will be yours and yours alone to catch.

If you’ve allowed yourself to “suck with intent” before, you’ve got a better shot at making it through these suckiest of situations with your sanity semi-intact. That’s my hypothesis and I’m stickin’ to it.

Sometimes the task at hand is so freaking big that gobs of humanity must simultaneously sign up to suck, and that’s exactly what happens in the movie Lincoln, which I saw last week. I promise I won’t ruin the story in the event you’ve yet to see it (well, unless you don’t know whether the 13th Amendment passed, abolishing slavery. If you don’t know that, consider me a movie-wrecker.) There’s a poignant scene in which certain opponents of slavery say they aren’t going to vote for the 13th Amendment because they think the country would totally suck at figuring out what to do with four million newly freed former slaves. (OK, “suck” is my word—not theirs.) They had a point; completely changing a way of life for an entire country is pretty big stuff. The movie ends where the sucking begins—I bet Reconstruction really sucked at times, but we are all better off for it.

On a smaller-than-Reconstruction scale, I will give myself lots of opportunities to suck in 2013. If you keep reading my rants in the new year you’re bound to hear about some of them, including the aforementioned swim leg. Yes, I’ve been “sucking with intent to not suck” on that for three full seasons now. (“They” say the third is the charm, but I’m thinking “they” are as wrong as the Mayans and it’ll be the fourth for me.) On the work front, I am actively completely sucking at using Twitter (please feel free to follow @cisco_cj…or is it @cj_cisco? See? I even suck at remembering my “handle,” if it is even called a “handle.”)

So, that’s all I’ve got. I do hope you go have a fantastically sucky new year. Let your skill catch up with your spirit. I can’t wait to hear what you’re accomplishing ALL BY YOUR LITTLE OLD SELF!

– cj


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Thirty-One Seconds

By now, ya’ll must know I’ve a thing for numbers; math may flummox me, but race-day numerology intrigues. So how’s this for nifty number stuff: thrice this season I placed in the top three overall, and in two of those races—yesterday’s Wrentham Halloween Duathlon and September’s Title 9 Triathlon—the difference between 1st and 3rd was precisely 31 seconds.

Kinda cool, huh?

Yesterday it was my turn to be on top, which was also cool, and makes it two years in a row I got 1st OA at this race (no pressure there!)

Another nifty number thing happened yesterday: I thought I had registered for this race months ago (early registration is my MO; gets me through the winter, having a nice full race calendar does.) But for some strange reason I never did. My goof-up meant that I had to visit the race-day registration table, and the queue put me one racer behind training partner Jim (who had made the decision to race 24 hours before.) So net-net Jim and I ended up being assigned transition areas right next to each other:

These bikes have done quite a few training runs together, so it was fitting for them to keep each other company in transition whilst their owners ran.

While I had placed first here last year, I knew whether I would repeat largely depended upon who showed up; it always does. So my goal was sanely self-focused: I wanted to whittle my time on this course to something closer to 1:05. Girl bodies can go under 1:05 on this course—I’ve seen it happen—and I wanted that very much. It wouldn’t be easy; my past performances were 1:11:20 (April 2012) and 1:10:32 (November 2011.) I’d have to improve on all splits to do it; “just” annihilating on the bike would not suffice. But it seemed possible as I’ve been making peace with this torture called “running.”

When I arrived at the venue, it was clear this might not be the year for 1:05; Hurricane Sandy was approaching and was already causing some serious gusts. They wouldn’t make running very easy, let alone riding.

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, since TV-watching Daughter #2 says Sandy is indeed on her way and the power is slated to be out by 10 am here in the greater Boston area:

Run 1: 3 miles in 21:21 (3rd female / 36th including the boys) T1: :59
How it compares: faster than both of my previous Run 1s on this course (a 21:42 last fall and a 22:55 this past spring.) The T was slow for me; previous T1s on this course have been :42 and :49. The slowness was because I exited at the same time as a half-dozen others, and we all had to single-file it over the timing mat. So it slowed us all.

The race started with a giggle for me; I was toeing the line right next to Jim, who knows all too well my predilection to “go out” too fast. When I hear the word “go!” I seem to forget that I am neither related to Usain Bolt nor competing in a 100-yard dash. So as soon as the race director gave the “Go” command and we were off, I heard Jim yell at me (from behind) “Christine—NO!” It was fantastic and gave me something to focus on other than the lactic acid as I proceeded to ignore him.

Bike: 12 miles in 32:31 (1st female / 14th including the boys) T1: :38
How it compares: Faster ride than last fall’s 33:23 (2011) but not faster than April’s  31:27 (April 2012.) I T’d better this time: past Ts were :43 and :47.
It was just a fantastic ride. It was super gusty and the road is kinda yucky in parts and I missed a few significant potholes while in the aero position by mere millimeters, which for some reason made it all the more fun. I am definitely more fearless on race day than I am on training rides.

Run 2: 2 miles in 14:32 (6th female / 54th including the boys)
How it compares: Last November I ran 14:21; in April I ran 15:21…so I was 5.5 seconds slower per mile than last year.
There are still plenty of better female runners out there than I am, and I knew chick #2 couldn’t be terribly far behind me, since I had only passed her on the bike in the last few miles (for those who know the course: I passed shortly after the North Street rotary.) So I knew I had to stay focused and relaxed and resist the overwhelming urge to freak out. A friend hanging out about a quarter-mile before the finish line employed his best soothing voice–the dulcet tones you’d use to talk someone off a cliff or tell them to not glance over their shoulder at the stalking mountain lion–to calmly tell me she was within 100 yards. The freak-out-reflex was very very strong but I did not give in and somehow reached the finish first; I was still dry-heaving 15 seconds later when Grace Kerr crossed the finish line. Another 16 seconds and we’d welcome #3, Kellie-Tabor-Hann, across the line.

The only bummer: there was a glitch with the timing chips so the awards ceremony was delayed and lots of people left…including Grace and Kellie who had busy days to get on with.

Use your imagination: Grace Kerr (20-24) should be on the “2” step and Kellie Tabor-Hann (a fellow 40-44 age grouper) should be on the “3.” Sorry you couldn’t stick around, but we all clapped for you, ladies! Kellie gets the You Rock Award for this race: she had to leave because she was running a 5K with her son later that day (!) V impressive.

Thirteen boys beat me on the bike, and three of them are here on the overall winners podium:

1st place Paul Miller rode the bike course in 27:25; 3rd place Tim Glickman (a fellow Marlborough resident) rode it in 29:32 and 2nd place Greg Palken rode it in 29:53. Rumor has it that Greg ran Run #2 barefoot as he couldn’t get his running shoes back on–apparently they were too soggy from rain! I am so impressed by this teen. Yes–he is in the Under 19 category! Total times for the Top Three boys: 57:02, 58:10 and 58:13.

So 1:05 is still “out there” as a goal for me…but I did shave a few seconds off my time on this course, on a blustery day at that, so we’re calling it good, me, myself and I all are. (Total time: 1:10:10 versus previous best of 1:10:54.)

Well, that’s all for now.  Make every second count, batten down the hatches, and go have yourself a merry little off season, everyone!


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Operation “Beat Becky”

I have officially become a horrible, terrible, very-bad person. I am absolutely sure of it, and by the time you reach the end of this piece, I am absolutely sure you will be absolutely sure, too.

The unlikely (appropriate?) scene of my transformation from CJ Runs Like a Girl to Wicked Witch of the MetroWest: the otherwise chipper, cheerful, you-can-do-this-yes-you-can all-girl race, the Title 9 Women’s Only Sprint Triathlon in Hopkinton, Mass. on September 9th.

Now, we’ve had a tough few weeks here on Denoncourt Street, and by that I don’t mean the standard work-is-nutty-and-the-kids-are-driving-me-nuts variety; I mean the kind that start with a shrieking ambulance and careen right onto the ER-CAT-scan-MRI-sleep-deprived-EEG freeway. So as I headed to packet pick-up the day prior to Title 9, I wasn’t feeling like a horrible, terrible, very-bad person; I was feeling like a drained, beat-up, ok-life-I-give-up person. But the race would reunite three of the 4Cs (my clamshell-earning-but-sadly-never-receiving Hyannis Marathon relay team). And both daughters—one of whom was the reason the aforementioned ambulance shrieked—were not only very much alive but also well enough to come cheer me on. The single-minded focus that high-speed pothole avoidance requires would be just what the doctor ordered.

I found my name on the great big alphabetized list of 700-ish pre-registered athletes. I was thrilled to see that sea of names—the race was sold out. Nice.

Johansen, Christine: / AGE GROUP 40-44  / CAP COLOR BLUE / BIB NUMBER 236.

236. Not a very noteworthy number, but I’ve had insanely high standards ever since I was issued that triply-lucky 24777 at the 2011 Boston Marathon. Still, bib numbers = tarot cards to me, so I searched for a sign. All I came up with is that I had worn that exact number once before, at the 2011 Scituate Duathlon. It was my first race with my then-brand-new Quintana Roo and I got a silver medal for coming in 2nd AG.

Since toeing the line alongside me at Title 9 would be Rebecca Padera, one of my season’s prime competitors, maybe my Scituate-repeating #236 was an omen it’d be another silver-medal day. Becky could easily ace our age-group podium, and depending on who showed up and how I felt, I might earn the step below her. That would be kinda nice, I thought. She has always beaten me fairly handily but I did podium with her once—at the 2012 Cohasset Sprint. When she passed me on the run at Mile 3 of the Age Group National Championships, she was rocking along rather effortlessly…at what looked to be my “repeat 400s” speed. She is just that fast, and as we all know, I am….working on it.

Next I scanned the list for Christy (aka C4) and Christine (aka C3.) They like numbers, too, and since they couldn’t pick up their packets on Saturday I’d text them their numbers. C4 would be # 183; C3 would be #435.

Then I looked up Becky— I don’t know why, since I don’t have her cell number so there’d be no silly texting. I guess I looked because I was excited to race her. Since you rack your bike with your age group and numbers are assigned by rack, her number should be something very close to mine.

When I found her amidst the Ps, my jaw dropped and my eyes bulged; she wasn’t 235 or 237—she wasn’t 200-anything.

Padera, Rebecca: / ELITE / CAP COLOR RED / BIB NUMBER 1.

What? What??? WHAT????? My eyes must be deceiving me, I thought. Surely it’s the lingering effects from that sleep-deprived EEG thing… I looked twice…three times. Nope, those characters just weren’t changing. Becky had somehow been dubbed “elite” and given a tarot card—I mean bib number—that required zero psychic skills to read. Everyone knows what “#1” means.

My heart raced. I found a Max Performance official in the big white tent, tried to sound all nonchalant (which I was not) and casually inquired how “elite” status was conferred. Self-selection at registration, he said. With a click of a button several months ago, Becky had taken herself not just out of my wave (red-capped elites would go first; my blue-capped wave would go five minutes after), but out of my league.

Bold! Brazen! Infuriating!

You guessed it—cue the Wicked Witch music.

I started punching away at my iPhone, but not to giddily text C3 and C4 their bib numbers. My texts were revved-up rants to training partners and my coach; I employed ALL CAPS as well as the acronym “WTF” followed by a string of question marks and exclamation points.

Their responses all conveyed the same basic thing: Go. Get. Her!

As if I needed encouragement.

My mind’s TV briefly flickered on the “Best of Becky” channel—a highlight reel featuring her smooth stride as she breezed past in Cohasset…her stellar hill-handling skills at Nationals…the massive 2:01 chasm in our finishing times on this very course in May. I didn’t just flip the channel—since a flipped channel can always be flipped back and usually does at the very worst moment possible. I pulled out a sledgehammer and blasted the damn screen to smithereens.

“Stop calling her ‘Becky,’ “ one friend counseled. “She’s now ‘Toast’.”

OK, I needed a plan.

Step 1: Select Code Name.
At Cisco, all big projects get a “code name”—something to rally the troops behind. While Cisco’s realm is all things IT, you wouldn’t know it from our project names; I am currently involved in both “Operation Yoda” and “Operation Chewbacca.” (Kid you not. Sometimes trying to keep track of which project is which drives me so crazy that I threaten to go all Darth Vader-ish; at the very least I think I should be issued my very own light saber to cut through the bullshit.) My code name would motivate, not obfuscate. And so Operation Beat Becky held its inaugural meeting right there in the still-under-construction transition area. (A quorum was reached with just me and my iPhone. Keepin’ it simple.)

Step 2: Reconsider Wave.
It was suggested that I might join the ranks of the few, the proud, the “elite.”  In the “do it” column: if Becky and I were in the same wave we’d start at the same time and there would be no question where I was vis-à-vis Numero Uno—it could even come right down to the wire and I could channel my inner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as needed. If I started with Wave 2, I’d always be five minutes behind her, so who finished first would be clear as mud until the results were posted. In the “don’t do it” column: “Elite” means something special to me. Jarrod is elite. Alicia is elite. I am a fast age grouper and the sanctity of some words should be preserved. Plus, I love-love-love passing people on the bike, and being in Wave 2 would by definition give me more people to pass.  Decision made: I’d stay put in Wave 2.

Step 3: Identify Minions.
It’s tough work being evil; even the best—Lex Luthor…Two Face…the aforementioned Wicked Witch—need the assistance of a loyal lackey or two. Daughter #1 would serve as Head Minion; assorted friends and training partners would round out the bench. I gave my Head Minion explicit instructions: she was to hit the “start” button on her phone’s stopwatch function when the airhorn bleeted to start Wave 1. She would time “Toast’s” swim, then wait on the beach until I emerged from completing my swim leg. Once she had seen me remove my goofy silicone earplugs so I could actually hear (I may be evil but I’m still fussy about water in my ears,) she’d yell two numbers at me: Toast’s swim time and my position in my wave. We even practiced: “I’ll say it like, ‘8 minutes / eighth red cap’.” Atta minion—I mean atta girl.

The rest of the minions made up my ego support crew; whenever they spotted me, they were to tell me how much better I looked than Becky. (Remaining “on message” was key, I stressed; truth was superfluous.)

Pre-Race. I arrived later than I wanted to—6:15 instead of 6 am. The reason for the delay: the Dunkin Donuts’ trainee took a ridiculous amount of time to make breakfast for Head Minion and Daughter #2. (As a race volunteer, Daughter #2 was excused from minion duties.) This cost me the very best rack position, which I had scoped out the day prior. I was extremely grumpy about that—every notch down the row I had to go could add, like, whole milliseconds to my time. The Elites racked right next to BIKE OUT—waaay away from the riff-raff. Bigdeepbreaths. Fortunately, the second woman to arrive had left a sizable gap between her bike and the spot I coveted, so I nabbed it. She protested: “Oh, they told me there would be plenty of room in the rack and there’d be no need for us to squeeze in together!” she said, “inviting” me to move in a passive-aggressive manner. I simply put in my earplugs and pretended I didn’t hear her. (See what I told you?!? What has become of me?!?) She eventually re-racked down several notches.

The swim. As we walked to the swim start, I avoided the usual race-day banter. Ear plugs sure do come in handy. And when the announcer asked my wave to “give it up” for Wave 1, I did not. Conserving my energy. Once Wave 1 departed, Wave 2 took to the water for warm-ups. I don’t think lions swim, but I felt like a lion pacing in its cage—I swam fast for 20 yards, turned around and swam back. Lather, rinse, repeat. Fairly certain I scared half the wave. Sorry about that, ladies—the devil made me do it. And then we were off, and I was up with the faster of the Wave 2 swimmers. We overtook the slower part of Wave 1 (it included not only Elites but also all athletes up to age 34 plus the Athenas.) I have not become horrible or terrible enough to hurt a slowbie, so dodging those who required the assistance of “swim buddies” forced me to sight frequently and slow down substantially.

When I emerged, The Plan went off beautifully. Head Minion waited until precisely the right moment and when my unplugged ear was close enough to hear she yelled: “8:07! SIXTH IN YOUR WAVE!” Good thing I had sledgehammered the TV or that highlight loop might have started playing; my Garmin said 9:07. Becky was winning. I sprinted into transition like Usain Bolt. (Only he has never had to sprint in a wetsuit. That I know of.)

Official times:
Becky:   8:07 swim / 1:36 T1 (5th/631)
Me:        9:01 swim  / 1:34 T1 (23rd/631)

gratuitous racked-and-ready shot

The bike. In the first few miles, the course has these fantastic sweeping downhills with great sight lines…and massive frost heaves. Hopkinton State Park, I think I can speak for all triathletes here: we are willing to chip in if you’ll repave this. Combine the bumps with my still crash-rattled-brain and my desire to burn up the bike and, well, it was a dangerous combination. I rode those downhills with my left arm in the aerobar, my right hand on the brake hood. An unusual position for sure… but it worked. I passed and passed and passed… by Mile 4 I had passed virtually everyone and was riding solo (I had passed all but three riders, I’d later learn.) While I hadn’t passed Becky, I was fairly certain I’d scored a better bike split. Gut feel, mostly based on the fact that when I glanced at my Garmin several times on a very flat section, it said I was going between 26 and 28 mph. As I hit the dismount line I channeled Usain again, imagining how he’d sprint whilst pushing a bike.

Official times:
Becky:   33:04 bike / 1:02 T2 (9th/631)
Me:        30:19 bike / :47 T2 (1st/631)

The run.  I felt solid, but not in the usual leaden way…in a good, strong way. For some reason a quick cadence came naturally and I had to urge myself to chill out on the initial hill. Around Mile 2 there’s this out-and-back—you go .2 miles up a slight incline, then turn around and head back the same .2 miles. As I was starting that ascent the lead runners were coming down. I was within .4 miles of the lead runners—and one was Becky. Who had started five full minutes before me. I didn’t need a PhD from MIT to figure this math out; unless I let things go horribly pair-shaped, this race was on. Even though it had been fewer than 48 hours since I had worn earplugs in an attempt to dampen the sledge-hammer-like sound as the MRI machine captured images of my daughter’s head, at that moment, I didn’t feel like a weary, worried mom; I felt like Number One. When I got to the turnaround, I realized I may not “just” be in line to accomplish Operation Beat Becky…I had a shot at placing overall. I refused the Gatorade the volunteers offered but demanded to know my place; I was the fourth runner to come through. Smile.

Fast-forward through the next mile and cut right to the finish. (Trust me, there’s an awful hill–you’re lucky to be missing it.) Now, it is not abnormal for me to puke at the end of a race; what can I say, I am a bit of a race-day puker. When my heart-rate crashes from the 180 of my finishing kick to 140-ish when I run out of timing mat, my stomach decides it is time to purge that lake water I swallowed on the swim. But this time the urge to puke actually came during the kick, somewhere around the 100 yards-to-go mark. A new and exciting experience. When the timing-chip-collecting volunteer knelt down to take mine off my ankle, I told her she might want to move fast. She got the drift.

Official run times:
Becky:   21:26 (1st/631)
Me:        22:57 (13th/631)

I was the fifth to cross the line, but with the whole wave/time differential we had to wait for the results to know for sure. It was a long wait. I got a post-race massage. Celebrated the finishes of C3 and C4. Changed into compression tights and wiped down Viper with some of the water I didn’t drink a sip of on the bike leg. In a way it didn’t matter what the results would say, as I knew I’d done my very best, but in a way nothing else mattered. I stalked the white van where the organizers were chunking the data. (This cracked me up…”girl stalks white van” sounds a lot like “man bites dog.”)


Official Overall Times:

  1. Bib #46 Ginger Howell (25-29) 1:04:05
  2. Bib #214 Cindy Regnante (40-44) 1:04:06
  3. Bib #236, Christine Johansen (40-44) 1:04:36
  4. Bib #2 Karen Gregorczyk (ELITE) 1:04:58
  5. Bib #1 Rebecca Padera (ELITE) 1:05:14

Once the results were final, I texted my coach to change project status from “in progress” to “mission accomplished.” In the final of our rapid-fire-typo-laden exchanges, I noted that Becky trains under another top-level coach. So when I beat Becky, I said, he beat his competition, too.

His response: “I like that.” I guess that means we’re all a little evil on race days. 🙂

Since the race, I’ve been offered some very good reasons one might self-select as an “elite;” the reasons are so good in fact that I might just might be tempted to self-select into elite-dom at next year’s Title 9. I’d do so knowing full well that putting a low number on my chest would also put a great big bulls-eye on my back.

Well, that’s all for now. As usual, thanks for stopping by. Explore your inner sledgehammer side, avoid puking on the timing-chip collector’s head and develop your very own bench of minions in the event you ever set your sights on world and/or tri domination. Tell your kids you love them and please don’t hate me too-too much for being a horrible, terrible, very bad person…I’ll see you at Buzzard’s Bay!


Daughter #2 says I look silly because I wasn’t holding my loot. I didn’t want to drop the glass so I put it on the ground. Sorry to embarrass you, dear. Again!

here’s the loot

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Scared, Scarred, Scarified

I took a scarred bike, body, and brain up to Lowell this past weekend for FIRM Racing’s Wild Cat Sprint Triathlon, my first post-crash race. Little did I know this scared and scarred rider would be navigating a whole lot of scarified pavement, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Pre-race I am typically freaked in an excited sort of way, but pre-Lowell I was freaked in a full-fledged freaked sort of way. I had good reason: while the worst of my Water Row wounds have healed, my ankle is still slightly swollen and my forearm aches when I get in the aero position. (The latter I learned less than 24 hours before, when I got Skerritt back from ATA and went on my first aero-type ride in a month. Glutton for punishment that I am, I went back to The Scene for this spin, and by that I mean Water Row just not that section of Water Row.)

Most importantly I was still feeling the impact in a mental sort of way; while some call my big-gear-low-speed “you-stay-where-I-can-see-you-and-hold-your-freaking-line” type of riding of the last month “smart”, I call it “spooked”.

As proof of how freaked I was in Lowell, I submit to you the usual Skerritt-turned-Viper-in-transition-pre-race photo:

Shocking but true: I was so freaked that I couldn’t even bring myself to snap the usual “Viper-racked-and-ready-to-roll” photo. Say it with me: “Houston, we have a problem.”

This race was not on my original 2012 line up. Between Cohasset and Nationals I was to be completely race-free, by design: since I started racing in April this year, my coach said it would be good to have a race-free July to rebuild before my “A” race was upon us in August. As Daughter #1 would say, that sounded “solid”.

But then in June I won a free entry to any 2012 FIRM race. (FIRM put out a call for race reports, said they’d print the winning entry in their newsletter and give the author a free race entry; they picked my “Racing Gives You Wrinkles”. How cool is that?!?) Back then I had no idea that I’d need a race between Cohasset and Nationals to regain my confidence post-crash.

To say I went into this race with low expectations is an extreme understatement. When asked about goals, I used words like “remedial”. I am mortified to report that I even once said the purpose of the race was to “get back on the beast that threw me.” (I regretted it immediately and apologized to Skerritt, who is not a beast and did not throw me. Why must we lash out at those we love? Deep deep sigh. Sorry again, buddy.) I even went back to the three goals I set for myself before my very first tri: “don’t hurt anyone else, don’t hurt yourself and finish.” With that kind of an attitude, I stepped up the shoreline on Lowell’s Rynne Beach.

mill meets river

The Swim
The swim was a super-short .25-miles, which was great for me in two ways.

First, it made me feel fast again, a feeling I feared was gone along with Skerritt’s original aerobars. (It is hard to swim fast when you have chunks of loose flesh flapping in the water. Sorry for that image, but it is true.) Case in point: I reported to Coach Tim that my first post-crash pool swim “was the type of workout that brings tears to your eyes, and not the good kind of tears but the ones that come with thoughts like ‘I should give my slot at Nationals to someone who deserves it.’ ” His response: “It’s one workout, let it go.” Usually so obedient, I’ve struggled to heed this command.

Second, the swim’s brevity meant less opportunity to contract typhoid fever in the river whose tainted 19th century past earned it the nickname River of Death. (Would someone please refresh my memory as to why I don’t just run marathons? Oh yeah, right—I suck at them…that’s why! Sorry Lowell; I don’t mean to disparage you. Truth be told I think you’ve come a long way since the days you considered the river both sink and sewer. I’m just an ocean snob, that’s all. And we all know there’s no converting an ocean snob.)

Swim result: 6:42. I’d later find out that 18 of the 155 racers swam faster than I, the best of the day being Brian Burnes with his rather smokin’ 5:11 (!) (Truth be told, I could have been a wee bit faster but got stuck behind Dick and Rick Hoyt’s dinghy at the exit. That’s not a complaint; it’s a total honor to get stuck behind Dick and Rick—they rock!)


The Bike
Viper apparently accepted my apology and we are simpatico again. We had a few sketchy miles in there—as I insinuated in the headline, it wasn’t just bike, body and brain that were scarred; the pavement was scarred too…yep, the course crossed scarified pavement for what felt like 20 miles, but that’s unlikely seeing as the whole bike course was only 11. (A friend estimated it was about four miles of etched asphalt.) The worst part wasn’t the mental angst (since the pavement looked really reminiscent of Water Row, just before The Crater) or the scarification itself; it was the not having any idea when it would end. I asked a traffic cop as I whizzed past “how much more of this crap road?” He either didn’t hear or considered that classified information; his response was a very nice but totally useless double-thumbs-up.

Despite the scary scarified pavement that came without warning (gentle nudge to my friends at FIRM; this is what microphones are for pre-race), I had a blast on the bike. Around Mile 8 I giddily decided my next upgrade should be neither race wheels nor a power tap but a little button I can push to bleet out “ON YOUR LEFT!” since I had to say it so often. (OMG I can’t believe I thought that! How pompous and arrogant can I get? Clearly I forgot my manners at T1. Fear not; I’ll get my comeuppance at the Age Group National Championships in Burlington, Vermont on August 18th.)

Bike result: 29:51. I knew I had done well on the bike by the usual means; Viper had little company when I tucked him in at T2. I’d later learn that I had the second best bike split of the 65 chicks…and the 7th best if you add in the 90 boys who raced. Best bike split of the day would have gone to Eric Pasinki (25:59) but he was DQ’d (I don’t know why) so Jeffrey Donatello’s 26:57 took the day. I came in 51 seconds back from the best female cyclist, the amazing Karen Mackin.

First race for my new kicks. Any guesses as to why I bought red/black?

The Run
I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of my run, mostly because a coworker sent me this hysterical Onion article underscoring how ridiculously detailed we endurance athletes can be when telling stories about trials, tribulations and blisters; after I finished laughing hysterically, I started to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, she was trying to tell me something. (Nah—you’re right; she couldn’t have meant me. After all, my blister stories are fascinating.) Still, in deference, I will cut right to the chase which is kind of the perfect word choice because in this case “cut to the chase” is not just a figure of speech—I really was chased on the run.

I’ve always thought it would be big, BIG fun to have a race come right down to the wire. Lowell reminded me that playing with wires can lead to electrocution.

Just past the half-way mark, a skinny little thang (read: real runner) sidled up to me and uttered The Dreaded Words. Now, there are actually many variations of the Dreaded Words (“good job!” “keep it up!” “lookin’ strong!” “you’ve got this!”) but they all mean the same thing: “stand down, loser, I’m gonna pass you and once I do you will watch my back and sulk the rest of the race.”

I was dog-tired when I heard The Dreaded Words. She looked tired too but in a better-than-me sort of way. In my mind she became a Great Runner while I Sucked. I started imbuing her with imaginary athletic accomplishments; she captained the cross-country team at some Division 1 school. She BQs every year and runs mile repeats in the fives.

Once the training is done and the chip is around your ankle, it can all come down to what your brain tells your body. Fortunately for me, in the brain department I’ve got a secret weapon: the brain I was issued is a left-handed one and studies show that lefty brains are both more creative and more forgetful that the standard right-handed model. This comes in mighty handy when you need to concoct crazy stories and forget pain.

She may be a Division 1 BQ-er but you’re Jonny Brownlee,” my brain told my body.

British Olympian Brownlee makes the run look like a cakewalk

“No wait—wrong gender; you’re Helen Jenkins.”

Helen the Great

“Wait…with all due respect, screw Britain; support Team USA! OK, you are Bennett-Groff-Jorgenson all wrapped up in one.”

My brain couldn’t choose one fave so it channeled all three super-strong chicks of the 2012 US Olympic triathlon team

As Bennett-Groff-Jorgenson, I/we drew an invisible line from the tip of my/our front toe and refused to let The BQer cross it. (Of course I/we had to keep re-drawing the darned line as I/we ran, which kept me/us distracted from the intensifying pain.) The Olympians forced Division One back where she belonged (i.e. behind me/us). She fell far enough behind that I/we could no longer see her in my/our peripheral vision, so as I/we passed a glass door, I/we snuck a peek at the reflection to keep track of her, reminiscent of Beardsley/Salazar circa 1982…

Duel in the Sun.

And then there was the finish line and suddenly it felt like the Tarmoh/Felix race in the Olympic Track and Field qualifiers…

Just like this. Well, sorta. Only neither of us ran the last 100m in 11.068 seconds.

Unlike in Oregon, there was no talk of run-offs and coin tosses and no one studied our torso leans; while the timing chips put us both at 1:00:41, it was indeed visible to the naked eye who crossed first and that’d be me. I soon found out that this time was good enough to place–not just in my age group but overall, as in the second woman across the finish line. That’s a first for me in a tri (I’ve placed first OA in one duathlon.) I also found out that Division One’s actual name is Patti Thorp; we hugged sweaty hugs and joined the incredible Karen Mackin on the podium where we were given medals so crazy-big that I joked we could incorporate them into our strength-training regimens. When Bill Fiske put the medal around my neck I felt like this:

serious bling

To put it in perspective, here’s the OA Wild Cat medal hanging next to a couple Streamline medals on my wall in The Bike Cave:

See what I mean?

Full overall results for all athletes are on the FIRM site; the top three OA are as follows: (Glutton for punishment that I am, I include the super-speedy winning boy times. You can’t reason with me; despite clear anatomical differences, I really want to be that fast!)

The Girls Age Swim T1 Bike T2 Run Total
1st  OA Karen Mackin 45-49 6:34 :38 29:00 :32 21:03 57:50
2nd OA Me 40-44 6:42 1:02 29:51 :46 22:18 1:00:41
3rd OA Patti Thorp 50-54 6:14 :54 31:19 :39 21:33 1:00:41
The Boys              
1st  OA Jeffrey Donatello 40-44 5:46 :44 26:57 :31 19:46 53:45
2nd OA Marcus Alexander 45-49 7:22 :50 27:44 :44 18:36 55:19
3rd OA Scott Fuller 45-49 6:21 :58 28:41 :57 19:33 56:32

Net-net: Lowell, you slather some fresh tar atop that scarified pavement and I’ll heal the rest of my mental wounds. Let’s meet again in 2013… when my goal will be to go sub-one-hour 🙂

That’s all for now. As usual, thanks for stopping by. Have blind faith in the Clean Water Act of 1972, don’t get spooked by scarified pavement, and let your favorite Olympian(s) take over when it’s down to the wire. Thanks to Wendy and Bill of FIRM Racing and Elaine of Vescio Multisport Performance Services for the race entry that helped me get my confidence back; you guys rock!

Next stop: Nationals! 🙂

– cj

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Flagrant Violation of Rule #42 in Cohasset

If you haven’t heard me yammer on about the Velominati’s list of 91 Cycling Rules, well, where the hell have you been… training at altitude with Manny Huerta, perhaps? Seriously, consider yourself lucky; I’ve become barely bearable since a fellow blogger introduced me to The Rules. I enforce Rule #37 with gusto on group rides (sunglass arms go over helmet straps). When a fellow cyclist confessed he might buy a handlebar mirror after becoming a hit-and-run victim, he got my “speedy recovery” wishes as well as a copy of Rule #66 (mirrors are for wusses). I am diligently working to come into compliance with #s 83 (be self-sufficient) and 87 (be on time. Gasp. A mighty tall order for a chick whose father’s license plate is Mass tag # L-A-T-E. I swear it’s genetic.)

There are two notable exceptions to my Rule glee: I ignore all Rules that show disdain for my main man, and by “main man” I mean Lance Armstrong. (Rules 4, 27, and 51 all show thinly veiled Velominati vitriol; ergo, I refuse to provide links. Seek them out if you must but I will not assist.) And then there’s Rule #42, which was clearly made to be broken:

Rule #42: A bike race shall never be preceded with a swim 
and/or followed by a run. If it’s preceded with a swim 
and/or followed by a run, it is not called a bike race, 
it is called duathlon or a triathlon. Neither of which 
is a bike race. Also keep in mind that one should only 
swim in order to prevent drowning, and should only run 
if being chased. And even then, one should only run 
fast enough to prevent capture.

On Sunday, June 24th at the Cohasset Sprint Tri I was under no threat of either drowning or capture. My apologies to the Velominati: I had a fantastic time in flagrant violation of Rule #42.

It has been brought to my attention that some of you have been saying, “if you’ve seen one photo of CJ’s bike racked in transition, you’ve seen ‘em all”. So. Not. True. First, he has a name–please use it. Second, Viper’s body language is highly nuanced and is as scrutiny-worthy as John Chambers’ facial expressions on earnings day. Here he is, showing serious swagger in Cohasset’s F 40-44 rack. That’s a stock to buy, I’d say.

Now, I love all races, but Cohasset falls into the super-special category since it attracts a crazy-competitive crowd and by that I mean the Cohasset Tri is this kind of popular:

OK, wicked bad metaphor, as no one in their right mind over the age of 16 would rush the One Direction van. I trust you get my point though. Cohasset = popular.

Put it this way: to race Cohasset in June you’ve gotta be lightening fast the December prior and I don’t mean in the pool or on the roads I mean on-line; Cohasset 2012’s on-line registration sold out in 40 freaking minutes, making it the fastest sprint tri sell-out in North America for two years in a row. How’s that for fantastically fun? Here’s what the scene looks like:

nothing better than a full transition area

not my wave but still…how fun is this?

What was my favorite part of this race?

I could say it was the swim…

Give this goofy, earplug-wearing girl hermit crabs under her feet and chop on the surface and she feels right at home. Pool and lake tris will suffice, but ocean swims just totally rock. My suspicion that I did well in the water was confirmed when I saw the super-speedy Becky Padera hit the timing mat as I approached it.

And you would expect me to say the bike…

My heart jumped jumped right into my mouth as I exited T1 and a spectator told me I was sixth out of my wave to hit the “mount” line. Since my wave had two age groups in it, both mine and the 45-49ers, I knew we were in for a mighty good day.  While Viper got his groove I started counting how many calves sharpie-d “40 something” we passed

Bike + ocean = heaven    Together, Viper and I had the best “mere mortal” female bike split of the day and by that I mean our 21.9 mph ranked us the fastest of all female age groupers. (When I reported this result to Husam at ATA, he was pleased and as we talked he rounded my performance up to an even 22 mph. No rounding, I said; we will earn our 22 the hard way 😉 If you count the four F-ELITEs and their steeds, Viper and I still had the third best bike split of all 322 chicks. Beat two elites, yes we did. (The ones we beat rode 21.4 and 21.5). Top riders were 24-year-old Brianna Blanchard, (22.8 mph) and 36-year-old Catherine Sterling (23.5 mph). You know what that means…Viper has his hubs set on 24 mph.

Or I could break from tradition, surprise you all and say the run was the very best split.

While bike + ocean = heaven, run + ocean = torture. Relief is so close but yet so far. Truth be told, I had a great run…as far as runs go. But others fared better, especially Becky, the best runner in our AG that day. She ran 7:06 pace to my 7:49 pace, which means she passed me with about a half mile to go. We congratulated each other for such a good race as she blazed by.

Best part of the run? The finish line!

Or maybe I could say the best part was getting to meet a three-time Olympian and getting to shake his hand and tell him it was fun to watch him swim in Wave 1, which is precisely what I am doing in this photo:

That’d be me chatting up Gary Hall, who won ten Olympic medals (5 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze) in his three Games (1996, 2000, 2004). I hope I didn’t look as star-struck and googly-eyed as a One Direction fan.

Or I could say the best bit was standing on the podium next to Becky Padera, who in the event it isn’t clear I happen to think is absolutely great…(I had never met Tracy, #1, before this day, but Becky and I have raced several times and she is not just super-fast but super-nice).

Given the crazy competitive field at Cohasset, I had zero expectations of being on this, the F 40-44 podium. But there I am! 🙂 Kinda wicked fun.

Or I could say the best part was improving every split year-over-year:

2012 2011
Swim 9:02 (2:03) 9:24 (2:08)
T1 1:13 2:19
Bike (avg mph) 32:56 (21.9) 35:33 (20.25)
T2 :59 1:18
Run (mile pace) 25:00 (7:49) 25:14 (7:53)
TOTAL 1:09:06.5 1:13:46

But the very best part was when all was said and done and I was back in the F 40-44 rack, collecting Skerritt (per usual, he lost his race-day bite and transformed from Viper back into Skerritt at some point during the awards ceremony. I guess it’s part of his cool-down or something.) A fellow F 40-44-er saw my medal and with wide eyes and a big smile congratulated me and said I must be super-fast. I thanked her and told her I had a blast, asked her how her race was.

“Well, I am not fast and I certainly did not win a medal!” she told me.

“I didn’t ask if you won,” I said. “I asked if you had fun!”

She went on to say she had a fantastic time and that she loves doing this, has done it every year. She said the best part for her was when we rode through the center of town, and she saw a chunky, lazy guy eating a burger and smoking a cigarette on a patio. “I thought, I am so glad I’m doing this and not that!” she said.

I thought that was absolutely fantastic and really, that’s what it’s all about: wanting something better for yourself and going out there and making it happen.

And with that, my 2012 season is half-way done, with five races down and five to go. Hard to believe!

As usual, thanks for stopping by.  Perplex your coworkers by talking in kilometers (Rule #24), have a Rochefort (Rule #47) and don’t diss Lance (CJ Rule #1). Break all rules that are meant to be broken…and approach life like a pre-teen girl approaches the One Direction van. See ya’ll at the race!

[PS: Yes, this blog is a wee bit overdue. In the weeks after I raced Cohasset, I crashed my bike, said goodbye to my coach and directed my very first race. I’ve been a little preoccupied, to say the least…so cut me some slack! Better late than never, I say! 🙂 ]

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