Swim bike run: I’m now a triathlete

I met Michael Alcamo when I joined The Dashing Whippets Running Team and I quickly got the memo that he convinces lots of the runners to attempt a triathlon. It wasn’t long before I was one of those runners.

 

I entertained the idea slightly. However despite being a certified scuba diver, I didn’t feel comfortable competing with my swimming ability, or lack thereof. I quickly made the excuse that I didn’t have swimming techniques. He kept at it at almost every conversation. He was passionate about these. An Ironman triathlon was way beyond what I imagined for myself personally, still is but you never know.

 

I had a bike. I loved cycling. My dad is a competitive cyclist. Maybe I have it in my DNA? Surely something Michael mentioned also. Again, worried about my swimming I decided to start adding pool time to my training schedule. I obsessively watched YouTube and Michael shared the video of the most graceful swimmer, it took my breath away:

 

I figured I’d try mimicking the strokes in the water myself. I mean, how difficult could this be!? I took to the pool with some past coworkers and realized my capabilities quickly. After all, all that’s required for scuba diving is treading in water and swimming the size of a football field… All requirements that didn’t scream efficiency.

 

One day a lifeguard on duty at the pool was bored so I convinced him to teach me techniques and he happened to also be a swimming instructor. I quickly hired him. When he gave me a demo of how he swam, it almost brought me to tears. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in life. As the months progressed I realized how much swimming affected my recovery while running. It was amazing. Still unconvinced that I was an efficient swimmer, I met a woman well into her 70s at the pool who explained that the difference between a good swimmer and a bad swimmer. She said it’s really the amount of effort that they make in the water. I took that to heart. As the weeks went by, random people started complimenting my swims. Was I that great of a swimmer? I just enjoyed it as I became more and more comfortable in the water. I still compare myself as I watched others train at the pool. My swims were certainly more seamless, well, according to my GoPro when I recorded.

 

I still had hopes of swimming like the guy, Shinji Takeuchi, in the video.

 

My swimming got so much more effortless. Still ignoring Michael’s request to do an Olympic triathlon, I signed up for more marathons and ultras in fear of venturing into tris. I was convinced I wouldn’t be ready for open water, especially since the first time I went into a pool without lanes, I got so disoriented.

 

Finally, last year while on vacation, I received an email from Michael showing me the Central Park triathlon. It’s a 1/4 miles swim, 12 mile bike and a 5k. It’s in a pool and around the park. All logistics that should make me feel completely comfortable. Fine, fine fine… I couldn’t get out of it. Credit card was charged. It seemed as if I could get away with it since it was for August 2nd, months after my furthest ultramarathon.

 

However, being the ambitious person I am. I also decided to add a marathon two weeks prior. Plenty of time to recover right?

 

Ready, not readyAs the months progressed I slowly added swimming back into my routine. I ensure that I could swim at least 1/4 mile in 15 minutes and it seemed like I was surpassing that even with lots of breaks in between. I’ll be ok. As the date drew closer and closer, I fell for a guy who had done a couple half ironman triathlon. I was given the opportunity to see him race out-of-town and I felt more comfortable once I realized that there were athletes of varying levels. Some were competing for the very first time. Some were doggie paddling in the way. Some looked like they had never swam before. I can so do this! I also started commuting to work, being quite lazy about my cycling training but I figured 12 miles would be a piece of cake. After all, it was the first triathlon, anything I do would be a PR.

 

The day of the triathlon I made it to Lasker Pool where I set up my bike, got the mandatory prep announcement and lined up to start swimming. There would be 6 lanes and we would do a serpentine route until we got to the end, back and forth across the pool. One by one, we were each called to get into the first lane. I saw a guy blatantly walking across the length (he didn’t even try to swim). I saw others swimming with their heads above the water and a woman doing breast stroke. I’d be ok. When I was called, I tried to get into rhythm. It’s a race, I couldn’t help but move a bit fast but I quickly assessed myself and slowed my pace. I’d make it up on the bike I figured. 10 minutes and 50 seconds later, I guess I predicted well I did put 11 minutes down as my time, I made it across the pool and jogged to my bike.

 

Bike seatAfter I got all my gear on, I got on my bike and started pedaling. I immediately realized that something was wrong. My seat felt loosened. It wasn’t like that when I first cycled over to the pool. My boyfriend was cheering on the sidelines telling me that my swimming looked good. I thanked him but shouted that there was something wrong with my seat. I cycled most of Harlem hill and got off to check. It was definitely loose. I couldn’t fix it. I’d have to make do. I got back on. I started balancing the seat all the way around the park. It definitely felt uncomfortable. I assume I’d deal with the aftermath of the pain later, like tomorrow when my crutch gets all sore. I pedaled strong regardless cringing each time I went over a bump. The last thing I’d want is for the seat to fall off and be impaled by the bike frame (can you imagine?) As I climbed I tried to keep up 20 mph and climbed to 35 on the flats. As I rounded the corner going back to the pool to make the full lap, I saw a group of cyclist in front of me, unable to pass, I slowed down and as soon as there was a clearing, a cyclist cut in front of me barely a foot ahead. “Asshole!” I screamed out.

 

As we came around the corner, a police car was parked on the side and the slow down signs were on the path. I silently wished he had ran into the car. I know, I know.

 

I didn’t see my bf anywhere but as I came up Harlem hill for the second time, I heard his voice encouraging me on. I told him that there was something wrong with my bike. I pedaled on and did the last lap of the park once more. Climbing as best I could and when I made it back to transition 2, my bike seat fell off completely. People gasped and I was simply relieved. I parked the bike and started making my way out realizing that I had my helmet on. I quickly tossed it at the gate and continued on my strongest activity: the run. I’d never been so proud of wearing my teams’ singlet because immediately there were cheers and people who were familiar with me, called out my name.

 

Bricks. Well, that’s what they felt like. Every step was agony. I made it up almost midway Harlem hill and quickly settled into a speedwalk. I had to keep pushing. I attempted to jog once more and each step felt challenging. I can’t believe people enjoy this form of torture. I quickly chuckled to myself and imagined that they probably would think marathons and ultras are insane. After all, this triathlon should be over in an hour and a half (the goal that I gave myself). I came to the halfway point and noticed I could potentially do this in less than half an hour. I wasn’t really going at that slow of a pace after all. Besides the quick walks to ease the pain developing on my calves, the sprints weren’t that bad. I was still moving at sub 8s. It still felt like agony and I still reminded myself I didn’t quite train for this. I had ran a marathon two weeks prior for goodness sakes! I came back to Harlem hill and heard my friend Sharon call out, she was pacing one of her teammates. It was great to see her but I had to relieve my legs again and started speed walking for the last time. I couldn’t allow myself to walk down Harlem Hill could I? I’m a better downhill runner. Good thing I hadn’t continued walking. I ran as best as I could and I saw my bf again. He was cheering and I told him that he couldn’t pace me as much as he wanted to, it’s not allowed. I fought through the last meters because I knew the end was close. I made it back to the pool and circled coming in, according to my Garmin, at 1:25:37 unofficial.

 

TriathleteWow I had made my goal! I was slightly hoping it was a bit off (as in, I made it faster than that time) when they called the awards later. I jumped into the pool and waded around a bit before heading over to the bike where I saw my bf. He congratulated me and I joined him for another mile, he had a training run that day. He acknowledged that I just did a triathlon and didn’t need to join him but I insisted. After all, it would be an hour before they called the winners. When I got back, I hadn’t placed but I realized that my time was actually pretty close to 3rd in my age group.

 

A few hours later, Michael posted to my wall that I had been too modest in my announcement of completing. Despite my broken seat, I placed 5th out of 17 in my age group and I ran the fastest (25:32—I was a Dashing Whippet after all—well, I love running).

 

I hadn’t even noticed that I was that close. My official time was 1:25:39. 4th place had been 1:25:29 and 3rd 1:25:07. Of course the competitive part in me has kicked myself for the past few days about the time of the race where I hopped off my bike, or when I stopped to walk instead of run. However, I’m reminding myself that my projected time had been a 1:30:00 goal which I had surpassed and this is my first triathlon, I had no real transition experience and I felt strong!

 

I’m now a triathlete!

 

The 50K is now my marathon

Dean Karnazes

For the past couples years of running I set a few goals for running the marathon, sub-4 hours was one of them. When I finally broke it, it shouldn’t have been a shock to me that I slipped right into another goal: the ultramarathon (anything above 26.2 miles). The ultramarathon is nothing like racing a marathon, in fact, to me, it wasn’t about racing at all. It was a test of endurance that I’m super proud to be getting better and better at.

ultra2This past weekend I completed my 2nd 50K (~31 miles) at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain, NY. When I signed up, I was undoubtedly insane considering that I saw the rating of difficulty only after my credit card was charged, and after I read what the course would entail. While listening to others gasp as I told them which one I signed up for and noting how technical it would be, that only made me anxious as the date approached.

On the website, the rating was like this:
Overall Difficulty: 5 out of 5 stars
Technical Terrain: 5 out of 5 stars
Elevation Change: 4 out of 5 stars

Months later after completing a Ragnar, and covering a couple marathon-distance training runs, May 3rd had arrived and 7am, as the runners got together in wave 2 (I went back a wave no one wants me leading this) I was pacing myself for the 50 kilometers of mud to trek through, loose tree leaves to sort, snakes to run away from, bugs to avoid, rocks to scale and slide down, bridges to cross, streams to jump over and asphalt. 

It’s not until the we stayed overnight at the hotel I realized how unprepared I was.

“You don’t know about S Caps?”

“How was I supposed to know about that Kat?” I asked my friend. “You let me out into this new world of ultras with no guidance. Go young one just start running…” I gestured with my hand imitating how ones parent might shoo their kid out of a location. Kat had in fact been my inspiration to try the Watchung Ultra 50K in January and somehow convinced me to sign up for the North Face Endurance Challenge, without a blink of an eye.

It had been over IM and I am sure the conversation went like this, “Wanna do an ultra? You just did a marathon, you can totally do an ultra, just a 50K…” Yup, pretty sure that’s how the conversation went. It’s pretty much how all my endurance challenges have been (Wendy with the Tough Mudder talk).

Here was Kat again preparing her outfit the night of our race with gaiters (new to me), S Caps, and whatever vegan thing she was going to convince me really works. Ok, the dinner was delicious and we even got Chinese food to eat the morning of. Delicious. Powered by rice.

Her friend Luis signed up for the 50-miler and he gave me some tips before we dozed off into dreamland. I felt bad that he would have to wake a couple hours before us to head to the start. It wasn’t long before it was our turn however, and luckily even in getting lost, we made the shuttle with a couple minutes to spare.

I’m at the start. I contemplated hanging back with Kat and her friends but realized that this 2nd ultramarathon would be a test on myself. I wanted to see how well I could do so I started off at a comfortable pace. “Maintain a pace that you can see yourself do for 31 miles,” I reminded myself. As we turned the corner to enter the trails, there was chaos. Everyone was stuck on the side because there was a huge puddle that, of course, no one wanted to run through for good reason (you probably don’t want wet shoes for 31 miles). Once we passed that area the thick mud awaited us. Great! Even more runners were sorting themselves out.

Then some brilliant runners, myself included, decided to just jump right in. I didn’t want to spent the next 30 miles trying to be clean. I came here to get through this. However, that means feeling your shoes get stuck in the mud and I had to reinforce my shoelaces a few times even if they were double knotted. After awhile we encountered some flatter, dry areas which made it more comfortable to run but a few miles in we met rocks, and ascents. I remember Luis telling me to approach it like stairs (I’ve been practicing on the stair master) and breathe when going downhill. I did that. Seemed like those tips helped because by aid station 2 I had people complimenting me on how fast I was and how strong I looked. Nonetheless, people were also dropping out of the race by that aid station.

“More difficult than I expected,” I overheard.
“I underestimated it,” said another.
“I didn’t train well,” said a third.

I continued in, remembering than Joe (who ran Watchung) mentioned don’t spend more than 1-2 minutes at aid stations on a post once. Made sense. “Beware the chair,” another last minute advice by Kat. So, minimal stops and no resting, except to walk—fair.

While running I found it difficult to avoid taking out my phone to take photos of the landscapes. It was absolutely breathtaking.

breathtaking

 

I also noted how every other runner approached each obstacle. I made room for the faster ones to pass and passed those who were making me take extra steps (I find that annoying and physically taxing). I refueled at the right times and I began questioning myself as to why I hadn’t needed to use the bathroom the entire time but I assumed it was because I trained well (trust your training).

I even ran into Dean Karnazes on the route. I shouted out:
“Dean! You’re one of the reasons why I’m attempting crazy distances like this! I have your book and DVD, we have to take a photo!”

Of course, who wouldn’t? I’m lovable.
Dean KarnazesI also took a photo of another ultrarunner with Dean and emailed him (Yes, Pier you took some time off my run).

By the time I ran into a fellow teammate at an aid station with 2.9 miles to go, I was still energized and he agreed that I should have signed up for the 50-miler. Probably.

jump(Photo compliments of Kenneth Tom)

I refueled abit more and continued on. That was the final aid station, I had enough water and I could start picking up the pace, especially since my Garmin Forerunner 610 (which lasts about 8 hours) began alerting low battery.

So, this is how my mind works: I’m 7 hours in, I wanted to register my mileage. Run faster. I did. I also realized that we were merging with the other runners who would be running the marathon and marathon relay. The course started looking familiar in the reverse (The muddy path and puddle ahead). I bolted more. Only a few more, it’s was literally less than 800 meters. I came around the corner and saw the finish line and continued on. Push.

strongfinish(Photo compliments of Kat’s husband, Jun)

I was welcomed by cheers by my running team and the announcer. One of my new running friends found me and lead me ahead. There was an ice bath. Yes. I went to pick up my bag. I refueled, had a drink, ate some food and waited as my other friends completed their races. Accomplished. I’m an ultramarathoner, for the second time.

North Face Endurance ChallengePictured: Jessica [ultrabeast] Woods, Me & Kevin Chin

So final results:
07:26:48
194 out of 334 people
33rd out of 79 females
9th out of 24 in my age group

Not bad, very similar to Watchung under different extreme weather conditions (-2 degrees F, snow and ice).

Now, on to the next race, no 50-miler yet. Oh, and there’s a specific way you pronounce “ultra” marathoner, everyone’s doing it. 😉

Frontrunner’s Pride 2012

Pride Race

I signed up for the Frontrunner’s pride race again this year.

It’s a fun 5 mile race for the LGBT community and I fully support them. This year marked a year since it’s legal to get same-sex married in NYC. It was an honor to run on the anniversary.

Last year’s pride run was very different from this one. I wasn’t in the best of shape and I stopped a few times. The race is also incredibly packed so sometimes you can’t pass anyone.

However, last year’s result was: 0:44:56 with a 9 min pace placing 631 in my gender, 223 out of 751 in my age and 2076 overall.  There were 5,017 runners: Men – 2,430 and Women – 2,587. It was 72 degrees that day and 77% humidity, Wind 4MPH.

This year: I came in at: 0:41:46 with a 8:22 min pace despite the crowded route placing 256 in my gender, 82 out of 727 in my age  and 1215  overall. This year there were 4,947 runners: Men – 2,340 and Women – 2,607. The weather was: 69 Degrees, 93% Humidity, Wind 3MPH, A Few Clouds. I did pause three times for water but I did very well because I felt strong throughout the entire race. Unfortunately as usual I didn’t get enough sleep (bad) thanks to my neighbors (who are moving by the month’s end – yes! So I won’t need to move). Next time I’m definitely going to try running at the 7 minute pace starting line because I realized I could run even faster if there was no one in front of my strides. At the last 1/2 mile I sprinted really quickly. After I crossed the finish line, a few people came up to me and complimented me. One even said that I looked like a gazelle and my legs were really high like I was flying. That made my day!

After, there was a raffle (which I didn’t get).

I also ran into the actor, Wilson Cruz. I went up to and asked, “Hey, you look familiar — are you a salsa instructor or someone I’ve danced salsa with before?” Haha, he said, no he’s an actor and if I remembered him from “My So-Called Life,” if I am old enough. Lol I was a little embarrassed for doing this (not every latin guy is a salsa dancer, Jerlyn!)

After the race, I headed to Macondo with my friends and had brunch with unlimited mimosas which caused me to miss my last appointment for the day because I completed passed out and couldn’t wake up. I guess my body needed it.

 

Dreams to be a marathoner

Battle

My first race ever was in September of 2008. It was my first time running outdoors. It also was the most difficult run I’d had in my life! Can you believe it? Barely 3 miles.

2008 was actually a tough year for me and getting into running was a perfect distraction and accomplishment.

Seriously, what did I expect after only running on the treadmill?

It was the Komen Race for the Cure and I came in at 34 minutes. I can run under that time now and a 5K is a breeze these days but I did come a long way.

After a few more 5Ks, I did 5 miles, 6 miles, 10K, 10 miles, 15K, and I even tried a half marathon last year.

Each race left me hungry for more.

I probably spent a fortune on exercise gear alone.

My favorite race so far had been the 10 miler. I think I was the most prepared by being unprepared and it was the day when I truly learned how I was “born to run.”

There’s no stopping me now. Today,  I signed up for the ING Marathon in Miami scheduled January 27th, 2013. My aunt, a bionic beast herself, asked me to sign up and there was no second guessing it.

Dreaming to be the best I can be. Pushing my body to its limit, puking if I have to because I want it so bad. I need it. It’s a goal that I can meet because I see it in the distance. It’s an experience I want to cross off my list.

It’s on Bitches! You can follow my progress here.