Maryland Olympic Duathlon

This was my 3rd year racing Rip It Event’s Maryland Olympic Duathon and the 3rd year I’ve had a great experience with a well-run event. Dan, Suzy and their crew have race organization and execution nailed! This is what keeps bringing me back year after year.

I arrived at Western Regional Park and was greeted with the usual flawless procedure. Suzy sees me and grabs my packet for me – no waiting. Then I quickly gain entry to the transition to find my marked spot. I am a total creature of habit and thrive on consistency. Knowing that I can show up at this race each year and have everything run so smoothly means I can stay focused on pre-race prep. As an added bonus this year, the elite field had T-Blocks for racking their bikes. If you have experienced racing with these, you understand how exciting this was! Especially when you are vertically challenged like me and your mini bike always dangles from the rack. I knew that faster transition times were on tap today! (my 1st transition was 2 seconds faster and my 2nd transition 5 seconds faster than last year!)

Elite female bikes in the T-BLOCKS

Elite female bikes in the T-BLOCKS

After a short warm-up (man that humidity was already thick for my now-northern blood!) it was time to line up at the start with the tough competition this race draws year after year. I didn’t have an exact plan or strategy for this race. I feel totally comfortable with the course and although last year was a bit of a let-down, my plan was simply to improve on last year’s time. I wasn’t feeling great but I wasn’t feeling bad either. My biggest hang-up was not having race wheels on my bike, but I figured I would use that disadvantage to ride harder 😉

Elite female start

Elite female start

The gun went off – I am used to leading the first run at this race but that wasn’t the case this year! Last year Julia Roman-Duval, the super-runner, was hot on my heels and came into T1 a mere 3 seconds behind me. This year about 1/4 mile in she made her pass, and I was smart to let her go! She was running strong and it wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to try to stay with her. I finished the first 2 mile loop in 12:14 – 9 seconds slower than last year and 10 seconds behind Julia. I was able to make up that time and was first out of T1 onto the bike course for the lonely first loop through the rolling hills of Western Howard County. Once again the course was well-marked and well-staffed with volunteers – a fun yet challenging ride!

Heading out on the bike

Heading out on the bike

It was like deja-vu as I was finishing loop 1 of the bike – at the last turn I looked back to see Emily Richard closing fast. Starting the second loop she made her pass but I didn’t let it get me down. I planned to keep her in sight and reminded myself of Nationals in May where I was able to come from behind after being passed on the bike. If I didn’t let her get too big of a gap, I should be able to make it up on the final 4 mile run. The rest of the ride was uneventful. No other females passed me so I kept my confidence high. I felt comfortable but still not as strong as I would like to feel. Despite not having race wheels this year my bike was 11 seconds faster than last year.
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T2 - ready to run

T2 – ready to run

Coming into T2, as I was running the bike in I saw Emily heading out onto her run. I had work to do. Normally my second run is where I feel strong, but this time my legs felt like I was running through peanut butter. I was not happy about this and hoped I would feel some improvement quick. I saw Emily up ahead and she was running strong. I felt like I was slowly closing the gap but was going to need more if I wanted to make this happen. We made our way down the hill to the 180 turn to head back up. I drew from my strength on the hills and convinced myself I could do this. As we entered the park I started closing on her and at about 1 1/2 miles in I made my pass.

I don’t feel comfortable making a pass if I can’t create some cushion with it. Coming towards the transition to start loop 2 a spectator told me she was right there – just as I expected. I used the crowd to draw some energy as I headed out onto loop 2. The heat and humidity were taking their toll – nothing unusual at this race! With only 2 miles to go it was time to dig deep. Did I think about last weekend’s race up a mountain? You bet! I told myself that these hills were nothing compared to what I endured at Loon Mountain.

That was the motivation I needed to push me to the finish. I made my way up the little risers into the park and knew right where I wanted to launch my final push. At this point I saw that I had a substantial gap so I didn’t need to turn myself inside out. As I neared the finish line I saw that I was about to beat last year’s time. Success! I was over 2 minutes faster than last year for the win! Still not as fast as my first victory in 2012, but I was happy with how the race played out. Next year I definitely need to shoot for a PR!
finishAnother awesome MD Olympic Du in the books – well worth the trip. I always meet such awesome competitors at these races. Emily Richard, Jessica Koltz, Julia Roman-Duval, Jennifer Cortesi and Alison Gittelman made up the elite field of women, and they were all the most friendly and fierce athletes. It was also nice to see other familiar faces in the mix. Laura Bergmann took the age group overall, Tracy Lempke took 4th in her age group, and Jim Drumm took 6th in his age group. Congrats to all!

Me (1), Emily Richard (2), Jessica Koltz (3)

Me (1), Emily Richard (2), Jessica Koltz (3)

Run 1 – 12:14.0
T1 – :48.9
Bike – 1:16.01
T2 – :52.4
Run 2 – 27:21.0
Total – 1:57:18.1

 

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Loon Mountain Race – US Mountain Running Championship

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What possessed me to sign up for the US Mountain Running Championship? I guess I was curious and wanted to try something new. My love affair with trail running is quickly becoming my #1 addiction, so why not try racing up a mountain?

In the weeks leading up to the event the race was receiving more hype and I was starting to see the names of women competing in this event. Yikes! This was serious business. And what was I doing? Focusing on Ironman training 😦 Being a multisport athlete is a blessing and a curse – I love being able to compete in so many different events, yet without ever truly focusing on one sport it’s hard to get your best performance in any of them.

In the days leading up to the race that’s when the real doubt set in. I started questioning why I hadn’t done any hill repeat training on the trails when I live in the perfect place to do so. I contemplated squeezing in some stair climber interval workouts at the gym. Instead I worried about my long run for the week, and snuck in 13.5 miles on the trails Wednesday night. Although I was bummed that I couldn’t get a 6 hour ride outside on Friday due to the heavy rain, perhaps it was meant to be that I only mustered 3 hours on the trainer. Obviously a taper for this event wasn’t on the schedule. The constant battle in my head between “the next race” and “the big picture” was raging as I started to regret the fact that I wasn’t going to be bringing my A-game to this race. I needed to change my mindset, and quick!

Luckily I had plenty of distractions over the holiday weekend. Saturday took me to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary July Jamboree, followed by the long drive to NH. I stayed with a friend 90 minutes from the race site which kept me away from what I had to face the next morning. Arriving at Loon Mountain bright and early Sunday morning and seeing the terrain was super-intimidating – seeing the competition mulling around the parking lot – even more so! But the weather was better than anyone could ask for and it was time to give it my best shot!

Quietly tucked in behind the big guns

Quietly tucked in behind the big guns

I lined up at the start line for the women’s 8:00 am gun time. By this point the nerves were full blast so I took some centering breaths. Looking around me I knew that we would be going off at a crazy pace. “It’s only 8k” I kept reminding myself…
startI read that the leaders hit the .5 mile mark at 5:30 pace. Um, yeah…even though I was not right up front, that’s not where I should be running at a mountain race! Time to settle down, get my head in the game, and power through this the best I could.

Hitting the 1/2 mile mark before starting to climb

Hitting the 1/2 mile mark before starting to climb – I’m tucked behind Magdalena

The course? Up, up and up. The footing wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – rocky dirt trails that were dry and deep. When you hit the steep spots you noticed how loose it was. My inov-8 trailroc 150’s (my go-to trail shoe) were a great choice for this race. They have the grip and protection for the rockier spots, yet are super lightweight and flexible to carry me up the ascents.

Photo credit: Scott Mason

Photo credit: Scott Mason

The climb to the gondola was probably the most energy-sapping. It seemed to go on forever. I had not been sitting in a good position the whole race and was just trying to not get passed at this point. It’s a lonely race with not many spectators tackling the slopes to cheer us on. At one point there was a lone spectator and he told me “you’re still in the top 30!” Perhaps this was meant to make me feel better, but it surely didn’t. Everything ached – my legs of course, but also my arms and lungs. The only thing I knew going into this race was that the finish was up the infamous Upper Walking Boss – which averages a 40% grade for about a 1/2 mile. All I had to do was make it to that point.

1 mile to go & looking rough! Photo credit: SNAPacidotic

1 mile to go & looking rough! Photo credit: SNAPacidotic

I reached the gondola and it was nice to be greeted by spectators! What came next was a long descent. I feel like I have really progressed in my descending so I was excited to have the opportunity to make up some time. Unfortunately my legs were not quite as eager – they felt like rubber and I fought just to keep myself upright! I still managed to pass my first competitor at this point which gave me a small mental boost.

But I knew this “break” would come to an end and soon enough I rounded a corner to see a sign “Welcome to Upper Walking Boss.” I took one look up and was in awe of this climb. I almost wanted to stop and soak it all in, but no time for that – the finish line was at the top of this mountain! Somehow I was able to pass a few people during this 10 minute climb. There’s not much excitement in power-hike-passing other power-hikers, but a pass is a pass! As we neared the pinnacle there were signs marking our distance to the finish. With 100 meters left to go I started to run and passed my last competitor to take it to the finish line. (there is a great picture of this, but I’m not willing to pay $28 for a copy, so we can just picture it in our minds 🙂 )

8k in 56:59 – definitely felt like the longest 8k ever! Preliminary results placed me 18th so I was pretty excited. Later that day I was bumped to 20, then the next morning my final spot was at 21. What a bummer. But it also makes me hungry to come back next year and have a better showing!

Although this wasn’t my initial feeling upon completing the race, I can now say that I am looking forward to future mountain races!
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Provincetown Whales – A Northeast Adventure

logo1I had been looking forward to last weekend’s trip for quite some time. And despite the travel issues we had getting out to the cape on Friday, Plan B went into effect and we left New Paltz for the 2nd time late Saturday morning. Phew – the trip was still on!

I had no doubts that the whale-watching adventure would be amazing. As I got to “know” Skott a little more over the past few months my excitement grew. It is obvious that he has a very deep passion and excitement about what he offers through Provincetown Whales. This isn’t your average whale watching trip, and I will explain why.

Stroll along the beach in P-town

Stroll along the beach in P-town

Once we arrived in Provincetown and checked into the hotel we set off on foot to explore downtown and grab a lovely dinner at Tiny’s. During this time I received a message from Skott – he was changing the location of where we were meeting at 8:30 the next morning. Why is this special? Because Captain Mike is extremely knowledgable and knows where the whales are going to be. With only 5 other passengers besides Skott and the Captain it is very easy to make this last-minute change which was only going to make our trip more enjoyable. They explained that because of the smaller boat they have more flexibility in where we can go. Those bigger whale watch trips can only leave from their dock and don’t have the range to explore in the short period of time they offer. We had 5 hours, yes 5 hours, to explore. And because we had the prime starting location and the intel on where the whales where spending their day it meant more to be seen on our trip. Makes me wonder if the other tour boats got to see much at all…

Tiny's had great vegan options

Tiny’s had great vegan options

Once we all met at the dock and exchanged some quick introductions we quickly boarded and set off. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful on our way out to the ocean waters. We passed two big herds of seals on our way out as well – sunning themselves on sandbars. Very cool to see!

Our vessel and crew

Our vessel and crew

Before we knew it we were 3 miles out and already seeing whales! Here are 2 whales that were feeding right in front of us. We learned how to spot when whales were near. First you see the feeder fish along the surface – dark rippled patterns on the water – sometimes right up to the boat. Then you see the birds. Those birds sure are smart – they know that when the whales surface they can swoop in to grab whatever escapes the whales’ mouths. Seeing the circle of life in a natural environment is sweet.

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Yes! First whales of the day with hours left at sea. That’s when it became surreal. I mentioned that the weather was perfect – not only could we see for miles but it was also so calm and quiet that we could hear for miles too. Suddenly we’re looking around and there were spouts everywhere! We were surrounded by whales! (insert child-like squealing here) We could see spouts, we could hear spouts, and then we got to see the highlight of the day – whales breaching! This was by far the coolest thing to see. Unfortunately we were never close enough to get good pictures of this. We would see a whale breach and then head towards their direction hoping to see more of this behavior, only to arrive and see another breach somewhere else. Oh the struggle of having so many whales to see 😉

What was most spectacular about witnessing this behavior is that we were seeing it in the whales’ natural environment. Not at SeaWorld where these beautiful creatures are confined in way-too-small tanks and forced to perform for people. Over the past year SeaWorld has received major backlash and has seen a sharp decline (woo hoo!) thanks to the documentary Blackfish. I’m sure most of you have seen it by now, but if you haven’t I definitely recommend checking it out. It really drives home the point of why Provincetown Whales is so special. When you see the whales in their natural environment just doing what they love to do you have a better understanding of why places like SeaWorld are so bad. Multiple times throughout the day we encountered a mother with her calf. The way it should be!

Let’s take a moment and check out these awesome flukes 😉

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

 

Photo credit: Danny Bent

Photo credit: Danny Bent

What more can I say? We saw a lot, we learned a lot, our faces hurt from smiling – what a day! New friends made and an experience that will last a lifetime. Luckily it doesn’t have to. We will definitely take another trip with Provincetown Whales next year! At $110 per person it may cost a bit more than the larger carriers but the experience is unmatched. An intimate group of people, a longer time on the water, and top-notch expertise. No profit is made on this trip – the money pays for chartering the boat and fuel. The point of this trip is to raise greater awareness of these spectacular mammals.

Thank you Skott!

Thank you Skott!

I’ve posted links to Provincetown Whales, but also feel free to follow on Facebook where you will find more pictures from the trips as well as dates for tours. He still has a few spots open on some of this season’s trips and he may add more if there is demand. If not, stay tuned for next season – I know I’ll be waiting anxiously to book my next excursion! If you’ve always wanted to go on a whale watching adventure, I highly recommend Provincetown Whales. If you’ve taken a whale watching trip in the past and were disappointed, I highly recommend Provincetown  Whales. If you’ve never thought about taking a whale watching trip, I urge you to try something new. You will thank me 🙂
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