Friday, August 30, 2013

Reaching for Your Goals

This summer I have surprised myself more times than I can count. I've hit paces faster than I thought were possible, climbed hills I thought would eat me alive, and raced like I had nothing to lose. If I've learned one thing this summer it's to take chances. My fitness level is a million times higher than last summer and I know it's because of all the work I've put in over the last three months.

I'm not sure when I made the change but somewhere along the way I stopped going through the motions during workouts and started trying to really push myself. I didn't want to survive a workout, I wanted to dominate it. It may sound a bit obvious to go hard during workouts but it's all too easy to stay within your comfort zone. I know that if I want to become the kind of athlete I want to be I need to reach outside my comfort zone and not be afraid to fail.

For the past three weeks I've done the same interval run and each week the run went very differently.

15 min warm up
2x [1min on, 1 min off, 2 min on, 2 min off, 3 min on, 3 min off]
10 min warm down

The first time I was in Chincoteague on vacation and the temps were probably low 70's with low humidity. I had had a couple crappy runs the previous two days and lacking confidence going into the workout. As soon as I started running I knew it was going to be great though. My legs felt light and quick, and I felt like I nailed the workout. Afterwards I remember coming home and telling my dad it was one of the strongest workouts I'd had all summer.

1 min @ 7:16, 7:06
2 min @ 7:42, 7:27
3 min @ 7:40, 7:21
Avg pace 8:31

The second time I did this workout was when I was in the Florida Keys where it was at least 90 degrees all day long. It was ~15 mph winds and very humid too. This run was a struggle but I fought really freaking hard for it. I felt pretty crappy and my calves were insanely tight but I managed to run pretty comparable to the week before. Some faster, some slower.

1 min @ 7:24, 7:28
2 min @ 7:32, 7:20
3 min @ 7:51, 7:13
Avg pace 8:40

Thursday evening I did this workout for a third time, this time on the track. Both Chincoteague & Florida are super flat so I thought it would be pretty consistent with the past two times I did it. Between Sunday's race and lifting heavy on Tuesday my hamstrings were crazy tight and never fully loosened up. The weather was warmer than in Chincoteague but definitely cooler than Florida. Between my tight legs and moving back to school on Wednesday & Thursday I wasn't expecting anything special here.

Before I started the workout I told myself to run as hard as my body would let me on that given day. Effort is more important than pace. As you can see I absolutely crushed this workout. I'm assuming some of the extra speed is attributed to doing this on a track but still, that's a huge improvement! I know that in order to be making so much progress I have to be something right, which is an incredible feeling.

1 min @ 6:35, 6:37
2 min @ 7:00, 6:46
3 min @ 6:51, 6:54
Avg pace 8:19

I have a little over two months until the New York City Marathon and I know the only way I'm going to achieve my goal [which I haven't said yet] is to get really far out of my comfort zone. I don't want to look back and wish I could have done more or run harder. I want to show up to Staten Island knowing that I put in the work and am ready to conquer those 26.2 miles.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wrapping Up Triathlon Training

The Keystone State Sprint Triathlon on Sunday marked my last triathlon of the year. I toyed with the idea of doing another one in two weeks but right now I want to focus on training for the New York City Marathon in November. With that being said I would much rather keep training for triathlons. After years (10 to be exact) of only doing one sport I love the variety of triathlon training. I don't get bored or overworked even with higher training volumes.

At the beginning of this year I was only planning on doing triathlon to fill the space between training for a spring half and fall full marathon. I never expected to enjoy both training and racing triathlons so much. I have made so much progress in a pretty short amount of time and know that I am capable of a lot more. While part of me is sad to be done with triathlons for the year, I am mostly excited to dedicate next year only to swim/bike/running.

After Sunday' race I thought it would be neat to look back and compare it to last year's race to get an even better idea of how far I've come in only a year.

Swim- 13:52 v 11:10
T1- 1:23 v 1:06
Bike- 1:22:31 v 1:04:04
T2- 1:01 v :57
Run- 26:13 v 25:55
Overall- 2:05:00 v 1:43:14

Obviously the biggest difference is my bike splits. Part of it is that I upgraded from a hybrid to a road bike but most of it is just that I worked really hard on the bike leg this year. With my new bike I actually enjoyed riding, which made a huge difference. I started off the summer pretty terrified of riding my new bike, being extremely cautious on all turns and downhills because I didn't feel confident enough in my handling skills. I also started off the summer with a nagging hip pain when I ran and dreading all scheduled swims.

The day before I left for vacation I completed a ride that included two hills that I've always wanted to try climbing but was too scared to. I wanted to push myself before leaving so that I'd be ready for the hills at Keystone so I did both hills in the same ride plus some other killer climbs. I was tired, cranky, ready to be at the beach but mostly wanted to show myself I could do it.

On Sunday when my quads were screaming earlier than normal I went back to that ride and those hills. I knew if I could make it up those I would be fine. I thought back to the river ride with the boyfriend and how hard that was but how I pushed through anyway. For the first time ever my mind & body are on the same page & that excites me. I've struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, and pretty extreme negative self-talk before so when my mind is on board I know I'm doing something right.

Taking home 2nd place female!

So now that I am back at school & turning my focus to marathon training does not mean that swimming and biking stop. I have to swim twice a week for a gym credit and am hoping to find a weekly group ride I can go to. I hate riding inside on the trainer & don't live in the most bike friendly area but am hoping to ride as much as my schedule allows. I never thought I would like riding so much & couldn't imagine hanging up my bike for the rest of the year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Keystone Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Going into this race I had no idea what to expect. Based on last year's results I thought I could podium but then I went on vacation for two weeks and did absolutely no biking or swimming while away. I changed my goals and decided to just do this race for fun since it's one of my favorites.

I got home Saturday night around midnight, was in bed by 12:30 and before I knew it I was waking up Sunday morning, not at all motivated to race. I went through the motions and by the time we made it to the park I was starting to get excited. There was also an Olympic distance race, which made logistics a little more confusing but overall I thought this race was pretty well run.

Swim (1/2 mile)
The Olympic swimmers started first since they were doing two laps of the swim course. When the last Olympic racer started their second lap the sprinters were allowed to start. I wasn't such a big fan of this because it meant that the stronger swimmers were not far behind the slowest Olympic swimmers.

I started in the front of the pack and was anxious to see how I would feel after being out of the water for two weeks. Somehow I felt great and by the first buoy I was in the lead. I had no trouble sighting and was just cruising along, feeling the best I've felt in the water this year.

From the last turn buoy back to the shore was a little hard to navigate with the sun in your eyes but enough Olympic swimmers were there to keep you going in the right direction. After what seemed like the quickest swim ever I was suddenly done and running to transition. Couldn't be happier with how this went.

Swim: 11:10 / 1:22 pace / 1st female
T1: 1:06

Bike (18.2 miles)
I was a little nervous about the bike leg after not being on a bike in two weeks either. I don't have the best bike handling skills and was worried I was going to be jittery and shaky during the race. Luckily I frequently train on this course so I know it inside and out and had absolutely nothing to be worried about.

I think the race day nerves caught up with me on the bike because I found myself going much quicker than I anticipated within the first couple miles. I debated whether to pull back but ultimately decided to take a risk and push hard from the beginning. No holding back, at all.

I pretty much even-split the two laps on the bike course and zipped by people on the hills. All those super hilly long rides Mike had me do definitely payed off and I was thanking him in my head while climbing. This bike course, in my opinion, is awesome. It is two laps with two big hills on each lap with a mix of flat, gradual climbs and descents and big descents. There is a nice mix of elevation, which makes it much more fun.

By the end of the bike I was starting to get tired and was ready to run. I knew I was either in first or second coming off the bike but didn't know if I pushed too hard to be able to hold on during the run.

Bike: 1:04:04 / 17.04 mph / 5th female
T2: :57

Run (3.2 miles)
Time to find out whether taking a risk on the bike leg would pay off or cause me to blow up. I decided to run without my watch since this was mostly a trail run. I took off and just wan hard. I didn't think about paces or anything. Move forward and go hard. My legs felt heavy at the beginning but not terrible. They never felt great but they did feel better as the run went on.

Around halfway I missed a turn and got a little lost but quickly made my way back to the trail. I opted not to take any water during the run which ended up being a smart move because my stomach became sloshy with about a mile to go. At this point I was hurting and ready to be finished but didn't want to be passed so I kept trucking along, hoping my legs wouldn't fall off in the process.

Thankfully the run course isn't too hard. It is a trail run but it isn't very technical. I definitely would wear trail shoes though because it is really rocky and uneven. There is also one pretty steep hill that has a warning sign before it. Once you exit the trails you follow the lake path all the way to the finish line.

Run: 25:55 / 8:05 pace / 4th female

When I crossed the finish line I was spent. I pushed a lot harder than I was mentally prepared to do but it payed off. I dropped almost 22 minutes off my time from last year, with the majority being on the bike leg. I could not be happier with how this race went, especially considering everything that went on before it. Just goes to show that anything can happen on race day!

Finish Time: 1:43:14 / 2nd female

Now I am ready to fully dedicate my training to the NYC Marathon. I have some hard workouts coming up but I am ready to put in the work and am excited to see how much I can improve from last year.

And as always, a HUGE thank you to Mike for helping me get to where I am today. Last year I was clueless and not putting in nearly as much work as I needed to be doing. I have never been so confident in my training and am excited to see how much farther I can go.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fitting in Training on Vacation

The entire month of August has felt like a vacation to me. The month started off with a weekend trip to Virginia for the Culpeper International Triathlon. I then came home and put in a solid week of training before heading to Chincoteague, Virginia for a week at the beach with my family. Before leaving I planned on upping my running mileage and getting in multiple open water swims while there. I had every intention of training very similarly to when I'm home. 

On maybe the second day there my boyfriend told me his family had planned a last minute trip to the Florida Keys for his birthday, leaving the same day I would be getting home from Virginia. So now I was going to be on vacation for two straight weeks with essentially no access to a pool or a bike. Even better, I'm doing my last sprint triathlon on Sunday and we get back into Baltimore around midnight the night before. Since I'm already signed up I might as well do the race but considering at most I'll get 5 hours of sleep it probably won't be pretty.

To be honest, I'd had big hopes for this race. I did it last year and despite having a mechanical issue of the bike I had a really great day and with all of the training I did this summer I really wanted to see what I could do. I'd started stressing about ways to fit in bike rides and such while in Florida but quickly came to the conclusion that doing this race for fun was a much better idea. That way I could truly enjoy being on vacation and not have everything focused around me getting in training.

And it's not like I've been doing absolutely nothing while away. I logged over 41 miles of running while in Chincoteague plus did some kayaking and beach cruising on my hybrid. I'm not calling these a good replacement for training but staying active certainly won't hurt. Getting in training has been harder in Florida though. Since I'm not with my family it's a lot harder to ask everyone to eat a later dinner so I can go for a run in the evening. And although I'm not always the best at waking up in the morning it is so much easier to set an early alarm and run before the Florida sun starts cooking you.

Throughout the past year of training I've learned that I need breaks. If I am training too long for one particular thing without much variety I lose motivation in the worst way. When I first found out about going to Florida my brain was in overdrive trying to think of how I could log the most hours while away. I didn't want to miss out on more training. When I realized there was little I could do I started thinking that maybe this break would be exactly what I needed before really buckling down and focusing on training for the New York City Marathon.

So what have I done? In Chincoteague I did two long runs of about 10 miles, 3 easier paced runs and a really strong interval run. I knew that since I was getting in less training than normal to make when I can do really count. So far in Florida I've done an 2 easier runs, an interval run, a hike and a lot of kayaking. At this point I am starting to get antsy for more but that just means this little bit of a cutback has worked, right?

I don't know what marathon training is going to look like, and I'm okay with that. I am trusting Mike to get me there in one piece and ready for a huge PR. What I do know is that my head is now on straight and I am ready to tackle training. While I do think I like triathlon training better and will focus more on that next year, I do really like focusing on different types of races throughout the year to keep things interesting. Now, I am recharged and hungry to get back to work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First Long Run of Marathon Training

Sunday morning was my first long run on marathon training and my longest run since the Nike Women's Half Marathon back in April. I didn't really talk about it on the blog but my running after the half was less than stellar. For a few weeks I felt sluggish and dizzy on all my runs, coupled with off and on hip/glute pain. I cut way back on how much I was running and even took close to two weeks off to let my hip/glute calm down. Since the middle to end of June I have been running around 3 times a week as part of triathlon training but it wasn't until about 2 weeks ago that I started to feel good on my runs (I'm blaming the heat & humidity and how terribly I function between the two of them).

The plan for Sunday was 90 minutes at an 8:45 pace if possible. I knew this would be challenging and told myself to that it was okay if I only held 9:00 since my running isn't where it used to be. Since my family and I are on vacation in Chincoteague, Virginia this week I planned a route that would take me from the house we are renting over to the beach. I wanted to try to see the sunrise over the bay so I woke up at 5:15 and was out the door by 5:55. I decided I wanted to do some faster miles during this run to make it go by more quickly so I did 1.5 miles warm up, 2 miles at marathon goal pace, 1 mile easy, 3 miles at half marathon pace, 1 mile easy, 1 mile at 10K pace, .75 cool down.

This run went so much better than I was expecting it to. I ended up hitting faster paces than I was supposed to and felt really strong the whole way. I also didn't even need to take the gel I brought with me! Runs like these remind me why I love running and training for these races. I know my long runs are only going to get longer and harder from here but Sunday's run was a good indicator that I am in much better run shape than I thought.

1.5 miles warm up   9:29 avg
2 miles @ MGP      8:38, 8:36
1 mile easy              9:23
3 miles & HMGP   8:23, 8:11, 8:09
1 mile easy              9:22
1 mile @10K pace  7:59
.75 mile cool down  9:16 avg

The marathon and half marathon goal pace miles were all too quick and the 10K pace mile was a right on but in general I felt really steady and strong. When I was running the marathon goal pace miles I felt like I was running between 8:50-8:55 which would have been spot on. The three miles at half marathon pace were fairly challenging, especially the last one, but I really wanted to push it on this run since I was feeling so good. After the run I jumped straight into the ocean to cool off. It wasn't that hot out since I finished around 7:30 but it was certainly humid. The water was ~72 degrees so I didn't stay in too long but it sure felt great on my tired legs.

I am going to be in Chincoteague until Friday morning, will be heading home to unpack and repack because Friday evening I'm heading to the Florida Keys for my boyfriend's birthday! I'll be getting home super late next Saturday and have a race Sunday morning which won't be pretty since I won't really be able to bike or swim at all before the race but at least I'm ending summer with some awesome trips. I am looking forward to really getting to work with marathon training once I get back though. I'll certainly be running in Florida but that will also probably not be too pretty. At least it'll be good views, right?!

You can also find me here:
Instagram: @MulcahyShannon
Twitter: @smulcahy48

Monday, August 12, 2013

Finding the Spark

For the past ~2 months I have making it a point to put more effort into my training. I have always been a hard worker when it comes to training for something but I had been finding myself getting too comfortable even during my harder workouts. I am not the best at easing up and frequently end up doing easy and recovery workouts a little harder than I probably should. I was finding myself not going easy enough on easy workouts and then not being able to give what I want on my harder workouts.

Training for the Nike Women's Half Marathon was the first stop of my journey to getting back to competing somewhat competitively. I was committed to my training but was not as invested as I could have been at all times. I did the work and certainly challenged myself but mentally I wasn't pushing myself to that place. Since I started triathlon training at the beginning of the summer I have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone more.

The site of my super hilly long ride on Thursday

During workouts if I am feeling good I will push harder, even if the time on the clock says I am going fast enough. I don't want to settle for what the numbers say I can do. It's all too easy to only do as much as your mind says you can do. I remember at swim practice and meets those times where I would go after a time that not even my coaches thought I could do. I wanted to test myself and was not afraid but rather excited. That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before you're about to do something really bold and gutsy but amazing is what I lived for as a swimmer.

I have spent a lot of time training this summer and a lot of time thinking of where I want training to head in the future. Instead of dreading my hard workouts I look forward to them and am excited to find that spark that keeps me coming back for more. Although clearly not all workouts are meant to be super hard, it is an amazing feeling when, instead of pushing hard during an interval, you push a little bit harder than you thought you could. I never want to settle but rather I always know I can do more. Sometimes it's better to miss your goal than to not even try to go after it.

You can also find me here:
Instagram: @MulcahyShannon
Twitter: @smulcahy48

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Thing About Blogging

After I quit swimming and had my third surgery almost three years ago I had no idea where things were heading. I had started running some while at school in Pittsburgh before my surgery but knew absolutely nothing about how to train for any kind of endurance event. In the spring I stumbled upon a running blog that quickly opened my eyes to this wonderful community of running and endurance bloggers. I started following a bunch of blogs and reading as much as I could to learn about running.

Some of those blogs I still follow, some don't exist anymore, and some I just didn't like the content so I stopped following them. What I've realized a lot over the past ~6 months is that just because someone has a blog and writes about running does not mean that they actually know anything about running or that you should follow their advice. When I first started reading blogs I thought the proper way to train for any kind of endurance event was by doing the bare minimum. I was way underestimating what I was capable of and what I needed to be doing to train for these events.

I have seen a lot of bloggers recently that say they are training for huge races like an Ironman or Half Ironman and are documenting their weekly workouts for all of their readers to see. In fact, they are actively promoting the way they are training for these events. The problem is that they are hardly even training. I know I shouldn't judge, especially since they are at least trying, but it drives me nuts that as someone training for short course triathlons I am putting in more volume than someone training for an Ironman. That is just backwards.

From following certain blogs I got the impression that you should start a training cycle for a marathon with long runs at ~6 miles like the beginner plans online say to do, even if you can regularly run around 10 miles. If you are a beginner or haven't run that long in awhile than starting shorter is the smart thing to do but if you can run 10 miles why sell yourself short and start with 6? It just doesn't make sense to me.

I am not writing this post to attack anybody as I am not directing this towards any particular bloggers but rather as a PSA of sorts to be more aware of the things you read. I've given advice on this blog before but it's all based on my own experiences and I am not sharing it because I am right but rather because I hope to help anybody who may experience the same challenges that I did. I really truly think that blogging has helped me as an athlete but now I only read those blogs that challenge me.

Just because your favorite blogger wears this brand of clothing or is following that training plan does not mean that you have to also. Give yourself a little more credit and do whatever is best for you. People are not going to stop reading your blog or get angry with you if you just don't like whatever popular bar is out there that everyone else seems to like. In a way the blogging community reminds me of a high school with some of the cliques. If they bother you, don't read them or interact with them.

Make your own decisions and surround yourself with people that inspire you, not anger you.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Culpeper International Triathlon Race Report

I didn't really mention it on the blog but this race had me pretty nervous. I have put in a lot of hard work over the past two months but my running was not where I wanted it to be and bricks were pretty nonexistent in my training. I knew I could cover the distances strongly on their own but I was worried about running a 10K after biking for 24 miles. Luckily things turned out alright.

With the race being around 3 hours away my dad and I drove down to Virginia on Friday night and made the very smart decision to head over to the race site to check things out. The website describes both the run and bike courses as being challenging, with both hills and technical turns. I'm terrible at turns on the bike so I wanted to get an idea what I was in for. While driving the course I noted a few turns that looked a little hairy and a few big hills but nothing too scary. I knew I would have my work cut out for me but was so much more relaxed after driving the course.

The morning of the race went pretty smoothly. It was really easy to pickup my packet and get body marked with plenty of time to set up my transition area. Despite the earlier wake up call, I recommend getting to the race site on the early side so you have enough time and don't end up worrying and running around trying to get everything done on time.

Swim (1500 meters)
Before I knew it the race was starting. I was in the third out of five swim waves, meaning I started at 8:08 vs 8:00. I didn't really have a plan for the swim other than to stay with the leaders. When the horn sounded it was pretty chaotic. I've never experienced contact like that in a swim start but it didn't really bother me after so many years of some intense swim meet warm ups. I pretty quickly found myself behind a girl who had on a green cap vs the light blue ones the rest of us were wearing. I tried numerous times to pass her but she cut me off every single damn time so I decided to just hang out on her feet and let her do the work.

She ended up being really good at sighting so instead of looking for the buoys I just made sure I was still behind her. I definitely could have gone harder in the swim but I wanted to save my energy for the rest of the race plus the free sighting was a huge help. Towards the end of the swim the girl started to pick up the pace so I went with her. We pretty much caught up with the other girl in our wave and all finished within seconds of each other.

Swim: 23:58 / 1:35 pace / 1st AG / 5th overall
T1: 1:29

Bike (24 miles)
The bike course started with a pretty steep grassy hill that you had to walk or run your bike up, followed by a descent down the other side of that hill, a sharp right turn, and another steep climb. The beginning and end of the bike course was the hardest but only because it was fairly technical. After the hill I settled onto the bike and started to get to work. It was lightly raining and fairly cool out. My plan for the bike was to ride the first half at whatever felt comfortable and then pick it up for the second half.

There were two decent hills on the course, one towards the beginning and the other towards the end. I was really worried about the first one, only to realize I had already gone up it about 5 miles later (guess I'm getting better at hills!). When my watch got to an hour I looked to see my pace and was shocked to see 17.25. I knew I needed to pull it back a little if I wanted to survive the run but I didn't feel like I was overexerting myself at all. I kept the pace up but took all of the uphills easier.

Before I knew it we were at the final descent back to the park with a really sharp right turn at the bottom of the hill. I was so nervous about this turn all day but just took it slow and did fine. Once dismounting we then had to run our bikes down that grassy hill which was actually pretty challenging to do in bike shoes.

Bike + run up/down a grass hill w/ bike: 1:26:24 / 16.79 mph / 2nd AG / 45th overall
T2: 1:30

Run (6.2 miles)

I knew the run course was hard going into the race and in some ways it was worse than I was expecting but in others it was better. I thought there was one super huge monstrous hill and the beginning of each of the two laps. While nothing was that bad, there were three pretty big hills on each lap. Luckily for each uphill was a pretty sweet downhill. My plan was to go conservative on the first lap and then push with whatever was left on the second lap.

I think I positive split this but I still did so much better than I thought I would. Given my general lack of run training I was hoping to be able to hold sub 9:00. Despite all the hills, I took advantage of the downhills and was not only able to run a much faster 10K than I was expecting but I felt really strong the whole time. There was definitely some bargaining with myself not to walk on the last few hills but I made it through with a run that I am proud of.

Run: 53:15 / 8:35 pace / 2nd AG / 32nd overall

The final ~half mile of the run is slightly downhill in the grass which was certainly not fun but it wasn't too terrible either. I realized about half way through the run that I might be able to go under 2:50 if I really hustled. I didn't set any time goals for this race beforehand since I didn't know just how hard it was. At dinner the night before I did tell my dad that I think on a flat course I could probably go 2:45 so to be even kind of close on a hilly course is amazing to me.

Finish Time: 2:46:34 / 2nd AG / 21st overall

As they always do, Set Up Events put on an outstanding race that I would absolutely recommend. This race showed me I am capable of so much more and I am so excited to see what next year has in store for me. I have one more sprint triathlon on the calendar, although I am thinking about switching to the Olympic distance. I am also contemplating doing another sprint in early September but from here until November 3 the New York City Marathon is what takes priority.