Women in Trail Running

Please enjoy my mixed smattering bag of womenly goodies on this little writing odyssey. I just kind of went with the flow…not that monthly flow, but yeah, you get it.
Now I may not speak for every female out there, but let’s get something straight…

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Or get muddy, but that’s everyone. Between the toes, under the nails, cuticles. So much for that pedi!

You will chafe. Somewhere, maybe somewhere you didn’t know you could. You’ll feel temperatures differently. You’re hot, she’s cold. It’s 50 degrees.

Maybe you leak a little in places. Maybe you get weird blisters just thinking about running. Maybe you run intervals. Maybe your heart is in a different place than your friend’s. Your hands swell. You get boob sweat in winter. Maybe you lack boobs and wear push up bras for running? I know I did for a long time. But don’t tell anyone.

Ladies come in all sizes, all shapes, and every ability. The ladies who are out there giving it what they have, have courage. Race day isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. No, a lot of training gets put in. And if a lot of training wasn’t put in (I admit I’m sometimes one of those), we put forth all of our experience on the course in front of us. That experience, however, comes from miles and miles of training under all sorts of conditions. Rain, snow, wind, more snow, heat of the sun midday, creepy lonely nights…those birds, will they attack? It’s just a robin.

Nope, that’s definitely a red winged black bird…time to run like heck. Que impromptu speed session. Wait, what’s that rustling over in the bushes? Ack! Chipmunk. But something deep in the back of our mind keeps us on our toes at every little change in environment, or sound that isn’t expected…

Our heads sometimes go straight to flight or fight, and being totally self aware that things are out to get us. That something could be men. No, not all men are dangerous, but there are some that are, and they wish for less than good things to happen to us. For what reason? Who knows. But we don’t deserve it.

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We are out there giving it our all, to work hard for ourselves. We oftentimes think about when we should run, or who we can run with, to give us that peace of mind, of protection against our society and world. We want to feel strong. So we make ourselves strong. And that can come in a variety of ways.

We go to the gym, putting on clothes that hope do not draw attention, especially in such an enclosed area. We head out to do our speed workout on the track, keeping covered afraid wearing just a sports bra even though it’s hot as the devil’s oven out just to not attract unwanted gazes, or worse, have others judge our rolls and scars. Out on the streets we run with a swivel to our head, keeping an eye out for followers, and trying to avoid cat calls. Driving to a running spot so people can’t track where we live, or how often we run a certain path…

We try so often to be safe and feel confident. Now I know I cannot help you all be more confident, it’s just the society we are in. But we have trails. Running freely and judgement free among the trees and tricky roots and rocks that line our path, making it a harder earned run. And when you get done, you can bask in the glory of what you accomplished. Running trails, you can leave your pace behind you. It will be what it will be.

I write this as my own blog post, just reaching out to other women out there, saying it’s ok to be experiencing these things. No it is not ok for society to treat us this way, but the winds of change are slow. Now I would like to talk about what we do out there.

Buzzing participants surround you, manly men, cocky men…oh neat there are some ladies here. You go to talk to them. They are just doing the 10k option, while you feel a little embarrassed you are running the 50k and will be in for the long haul, kind of wishing one of them was joining you in your day of labor.

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And don’t get me wrong, everyone who goes out there is a champion in my book, and I’m not meaning to say just a 10k, but I am reaching out to those of us who want to go that extra mile (or 20), who have drank from the sacred kool-aid we call ultra running. We sometimes feel very lonely, sometimes like we are the only ones there, and the few other women may look very intimidating; classic ultra long distance runner, long blonde hair, carrying just a handheld, lean and tall, and seemingly ignoring everything going on around them. You are there with your hydration pack, packed full of supplies for your long haul with blister kit, extra gels, salt tabs, body glide, chapstick, and bladder weighing in at 5 pounds no less.

But there is a smile under that trucker hat, as your focus soon shifts to the starting line as the sun begins to peak out revealing the trail before you. You start to focus in on the inner you, why you are here. Why are you there? You should be there for yourself, and it’s ok to be selfish! Enjoy your day.

I know it’s hard to be one of the few females out on course though. And sometimes it may seem that others aren’t experiencing the raging hot spot you are getting from higher than expected humidity under your bra, or wait, did that bee just sting me? The NERVE of that bee…no it was a wasp. Die wasp. Missed. Guess I’ll keep chugging along.

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It’s hard to be huffing and puffing on a hill — and yes you trained for that hill and you knew it was coming — and being passed by men who seem to be taking it in stride. Remember to take the time and bring the focus back on yourself and what YOU can do for yourself at any given moment. Each moment you earn for yourself. Each step you take forward (and sometimes a few lost steps that may add to your day, shake those off and accept the bonus miles and brag later). Each breath you are able to enjoy.

Close your eyes and take in what you have managed to accomplish. Sometimes it’s so hard when you compare yourself to others. And inevitably it will happen. To every one of us…big or small, faster or slower. Running generally is a solo sport. Don’t expect to run with others, everyone has different skills, and bless the trail angel when they come along and are by your side.

Let’s take a step back. You are there for the 10k, this is your first trail race, and you have worked so hard for so long to get to this point. You are nervous, but maybe you have some new and old friends by your side. Who quickly disperse once the run starts. You are alone with yourself. You are trying to convince yourself not to give into walking. Walking is so easy!

No, you did not get this far to give up on your arduous efforts leading up to this! You might feel so overwhelmed you don’t deserve to be there. Well, let me tell you the news.

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Breaking news really. You paid to be there (whether that’s paying for the shoes on your feet, or an event or whatnot), you worked hard to be there, and you have every right as every other person has to be there right in that moment, and all your future steps leading you forward. But your mind is a powerful thing, it can empower you and take it right away from you at the same time. Mental toughness, the willingness to refuse to quit. Build it up like a monument so no one can take it down. Come at each step that seems darker and darker with curiosity instead of anxiety or negativity. Ask what you may feel like in 5 minutes, or 90 seconds. Create a mantra…you can do anything for 1 minute. Negativity is temporary, I promise you that. But if you give up, you keep part of that darkness, and will only wonder what could have been if you’d taken the next step.

What is your limit? Can you actually find out? Is there one? You might find you have a temporary limit…work to remove it. Come back, try again and again. Seek joy and pleasure in your journey and soak every moment in, because one day you may not be able to later in life.

It’s rather interesting to see the stats on events, especially as they get longer. I see a lot of participation, women outweighing men, in shorter events. I see women get at it, every pace, every shape. These miles are nothing! But as the miles drag on, those of the female variety tend to lessen in participation. Are we scared of trying? I know from psych research that women are more cautious than men, not as likely to take risks. So it may come down to personality as well. Going the distance is definitely a risk, and an ever increasing risk of failure. We dislike failure. It may be that women are expected to raise kids. I don’t see a lack in participation from the male variety. Shouldn’t raising kids be a joint effort? Another societal expectation? I have no right to say since I do not have these experiences, but I know others who might be going through this. And maybe that’s completely ok with them, that’s their relationship and family.

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But I at least want to say: try. It becomes rather addicting to try, and to see new places, experience new things. Oh how I call the mountains’ name so often (they don’t answer back echoing the sounds of my empty wallet). Prove to yourself you can do hard things, and it’s ok that they are hard, even harder than you expected. And maybe you need a break. That’s ok too. In life there is ebb and flow. Up and down. Positivity and negativity.

Ultimately, you are going to be upset with yourself. You’re going to be angry at things. That’s normal. Go for a run, you’ll feel better, even if it’s delayed after a day or two. You don’t have to sit there and be supportive and positive all the time. We are women and our mood swings can be dangerous…to others. And sometimes ourselves. Find something you can do to chill. Take a salt bath. Drink some tea listening to classical music for 10 minutes. Yoga? I’m not a yoga person, but deep breathing is the shizzle I hear. Close your eyes and imagine your happy place. Do you hear the sound of the leaves crinkling before you on the ground? The smell of fresh pine. Can you hear muffling of the virgin snowfall? Or feel the radiant sunrays on your back, with the crickets singing off in the distance?

This has been quite an adventure in itself. Being a woman running can be lonely even in a crowded room. Hold your shoulders back, chin up, as cliche as that sounds, and march forward in your endeavors. YOUR endeavors. YOUR journey. Each step is so important, if just for you. Don’t be afraid to question, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. No one on Earth is perfect, no man, no woman. It’s hard not being afraid, but sometimes the greatest reward is overcoming that fear and just being you.

How to Travel for a Race

Sometimes you sign up for a race, and it’s not exactly close or within driving distance of your house. Great! So you might stay in a hotel, or with friends, or AirBnB. Maybe you are lucky and have family in the area. But traveling for races can be complicated, especially as the distance you have to travel, not only to get there, but as the race distance increases as well. What if you forgot something? Let’s try and prevent that scenario.

I travel a bunch for race, and it’s one of my personal favorite things to do in life; go to new places, see places I’d never see otherwise, trail or road. This could be an hour to hours on a plane. Have a plan in place, and an order to things ahead of time.

Let’s take this situation. You are traveling out to your first half marathon, and it’s a three hour drive away. First off, read read read the race website, know it, love it. Know what will be on course for you and what you will decide to use that the race provides and what you will bring with you instead. Does the race have an expo? Find out who’s there and what you could possible need while there. If you don’t need anything, have a look, but don’t stay on your feet and CERTAINLY don’t buy what you don’t need and don’t use anything from the expo on race day! I see this happen so often, especially with shoes of all things. The shoe brand might be new to you, and it may seem plush when you try them on, but you have no idea how that will feel under you at mile 8! Don’t do it. Expos are useful however because you can oftentimes find something there you may have forgotten. Head to the place you are going to stay for the race first and sort out everything on the floor or bed that you will be using for race day. Bonus points if you made a list and did this practice the week leading up to your race and maybe took a picture to make sure you didn’t actually forget anything. You’re essentially Santa, check you list twice.

A list is always useful, whether you use it or not, more than likely you will remember some of what you put down on paper. Make this list a week before the race. Make sure you can get what you need or have what you need a few days before leaving your home. Get gas in your car a few days before. Know if there are toll roads on your route. Plan 10-15 minutes for every stop in your schedule.

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Check the weather, and know the area’s patterns, which if you aren’t traveling too far away most likely will be similar to where you live and bring contingency clothing in case the weather changes for the worse, you won’t regret it. I say this, but you could be well driving up to the mountains and altitude and weather could be far more unpredictable, that’s beyond the scope of this blog post for the moment! A key thing is to bring with you a throw-away poncho or just household garbage bag (the black kind that’s large and in charge!), and a pair of scissors. I’ve randomly needed scissors so often and most places just don’t have a pair laying around. Plastic is a GREAT insulator of heat, so if it’s a rainy start to the race and might even clear up later, don’t freeze at the start line, just wear the bag and toss it at the first aid station you are warm. Sometimes I bring a small grocery bag (sorry California) and use it under my hat to keep my head warm when I don’t want to wear a soaked beanie. Easy! Use the scissors to cut to you size and liking.

If your drive is longer than say 2 hours, make it a point to stop and shake the legs out every hour or so and stretch. Fluid can pool in the legs of some athletes. Toss on a pair of compression socks/sleeves. And HYDRATE! It’s so easy for time to escape when traveling. Bring a water bottle you are familiar with and make sure you have goals of how much to consume over the trip. Travel is not an excuse for you to become dehydrated. This should go without saying, but make sure you have reservations for your place of temporary residence long before you arrive and make sure it’s non-smoking if you’re not into that sort of thing. Most athletes aren’t smokers so I mention it did happen to me…a smoker room. Not fun.

Make sure you know race day parking and if you get a morning bag to put your things in ahead of time. Plan to be at the race at least 15 minutes before you think you need to be there. This is usual race day protocol, but you traveled too far to be late for your event.

More than likely you will not get a shower after the race and will most likely drive home afterwards. Have some wipes for yourself to clean off if you wish, and definitely bring another change of clothes. I suggest loose fitting clothes as your body will mostly likely be swollen from your hard efforts of the day. If it’s a new place, I usually like to get to the destination early or stay later just to see some of the sites. Check out the town’s website and get an idea of what you’d like to do when beforehand.

In a car, you can usually bring whatever you want, however much of it you want. There are no security lines, no baggage fees…But what if your race is far away, and you need to fly to get there? Things get far more complicated, but it doesn’t have to be stressful! New situation: you have a 50k trail race out in the desert out west. You’re from the east coast. There are a lot of things to consider even if you’ve done 50ks before. I will say, the more experience you have with a race distance, the easier things become, but the easier it will be for you to forget simple things.

The east coast is muggy, hot, and humid a lot of the time during the year, temperatures generally don’t vary much between day and nighttime. The desert is dry and hot, and the temperatures fluctuate drastically between day and night. Know the climate you will be presented with ahead of time and prepare your outfits for it. Arm sleeves or a light jacket or vest might be needed and then shed later in a drop bag, or if you won’t have access to drop bags or crew (and this is more specific to trail ultras here), something light you can carry that won’t bother you. Check your forecast and weather! Watch for patterns. Look up data on the internet for the area in past years, climate data is free and easily found.

Number one rule. DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT YOUR ID OR PASSPORT.

Generally I do not advise that those traveling by air just bring a carry-on bag, as things become way more complicated with liquids, and things they don’t want carried on planes, not to mention lack of space and perhaps sacrificing what you would have brought if you had space potentially making your race more uncomfortable in the long run. Hah, long run. See what I did there? No? Anyway, I suggest footing the bill of the checked bag for 1) space, and 2) not worrying about what might not make it past TSA security. I typically will organize a suitcase with all race gear a few days before (not allowed to use them on any last minute runs) to one side. Bring more clothes than you think you will need. As above, lists are so important. Make one with the aid stations and how you are going to go through the race with the stuff you have. The stuff you have already. Nothing new! Unless you forgot something. Look up local running stores in the place you are heading to in case there is no expo or in case your bag gets lost. This is the only advantage of just having a carry-on that I can think of is you know your bag probably won’t get lost (unless there is an overwhelming number of bags already in the overhead in which then they will make you check you carry on anyway). What I usually do is check my main bag and pack essentials I know I can’t race without in my carry-on bag.

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Make sure you have transportation arranged before you land at your destination. Rental car? Cool. Lyft? Also cool. Family or friends driving you? Make sure you have all their contact info. Don’t plan on all flights landing at the right times either, planes are late too sometimes. Make sure you make flight arrangements with enough cushion time that it won’t in any way affect your race! Get there a day ahead of time to prevent this, in the least. Research ahead of time how long it will take to get from the place you are stay to the race location. Don’t look at the miles, look at the time it will take. Time and miles are not always the same thing. Mountain races will slow your travel time down a lot.

Food. This is a big one. You can do you, but prepared to have to eat out and eat quick at times, especially in airports, which by the way if traveling by plane, you should be bringing an empty water bottle through security! Never an excuse to not stay hydrated. It’s very difficult to find healthy places in airports. Plan to eat ahead of your flights and make plans to eat after your flight or bring some food with you on the plane if the ride is a long one. If you are renting out an AirBnB, you might have access to a kitchen. Hit up the old grocery down the street from where you are staying and do you. If you’re lazy like me, find a restaurant that’s local that’s fairly healthy and have your meal made for you. There is always a risk with this and your GI system not playing well. Knock on wood, I have yet to have an issue. Plan out how it will work best for you. You are the racer. You make the rules here.

A few last tips. If you are on a plane and it’s a long flight, over 90 minutes, make sure you get up and stretch. Yes, it may seem awkward as they try and squeeze us in smaller and smaller spaces (you can upgrade for 3 more whole inches of leg room for $25!!!), but it really is important. Do ankle swirlies, and if you’re short like me, you can get away with lifting your legs up to your chest without bothering anyone beside you (though bonus points if you are traveling with someone you know who happens to be in the seat next to you and can bother them without care), as compression can only help so much. Small calf raises will also help. Curl your toes and extend them. DRINK WATER. Have I mentioned staying hydrated? Ok. Just so we’re clear. Set an alarm to do these things at a regular interval so if you end up sleeping, you are still doing what you need to do.

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Otherwise, have fun, explore the new area, see new things, take lots of pictures. It’s very exciting seeing new places especially through racing. If you are traveling with others, communication is key, don’t assume they know what you have planned. Hope this lil blog helps out and hit me up with any questions down below!

Information for the Blue Ridge Marathon and other Distances

The Blue Ridge Marathon, which I have run 3 times and was my first ever marathon distance race, is a fabulous and stunning course in more than one way. The Blue Ridge Marathon (BRM) is a USAT certified course and is a Boston Qualifying event (which is usually not something people shoot for here). The course has 3,700+ feet of vertical gain and loss (7,400+ total), which traverses over three peaks throughout the course. But, it’s not always about how much elevation change occurs, but where it occurs, and this is where training strategy comes in. A course where you run steady climbs and falls is much different from a course that has fewer larger climbs and longer downhill sections, and will eventually take a toll on the hamstrings and quads later on in the event. Some people say that it’s harder going down at the end than it is ever going up! I heard it on course myself several times! The BRM has the most elevation change in any road marathon in the US, which gives it its Toughest Road Marathon title. Sure there are loads of newly forming downhill marathon courses cropping up these days, but going downhill all the time is boring. The BRM offers so much more and the locals make sure it’s special.

A little more about the course. The course is all road with the exception at the top of Mill Mountain near the City of Roanoke Star, where there is a very short section of dirt/gravel path as you make your way around the front. The course runs a large majority of its miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s most visited National Park. Something useful to note, because it does run along the Parkway, the roads are slanted usually according to the slopes of the hills they run along, meaning your hips can be unaligned tilting left or right (where one leg is shorter than the other because of the slope of the road). A lot of people are not prepared to deal with that over that many miles, and something I experienced the 2nd time I did the marathon after not being able to train on the course. I would suggest doing some hip strengthening exercises and cross training as part of your regular regime. I am an RRCA certified coach, so I know a thing or two when it comes to these things 😉 Feel free to reach out to me!

Now I’m going to walk you through the course from my perspective. This is definitely the most beautiful and scenic road marathon I’ve ever done. And if you haven’t read my blog, I’ve been to quite a few places, as that is what I love doing.

The Blue Ridge Marathon Course

BRMThe BRM starts out in downtown Roanoke, giving you a small city vibe, surrounded by tall building and full of a hype crowd. You immediately head towards Mill Mountain first (that’s the one with the Star on top!) taking a left onto Walnut. Oh Walnut. You start out getting in a bunch of gain after your one mile warmup. Walnut is no joke and my suggestion is to take it slow, take in what’s around you even though you may be surrounded by hundreds of people! One of my favorite things is being able to look up Walnut at all the people in front of me in the morning sun. Walnut takes you to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds up the side of Mill Mountain. You are still climbing here, seeing the sun peak through the trees on your left. At almost 5k in, you reach the top of this climb where the crowd will thin out as the half marathoners head up to the peak of Mill Mountain and you get to shake out a bit as you move onto the rolling hills that lay between where you are now and the climb to Roanoke Mountain.

A few spectators make their way out here typically every year to cheer everyone on. Upon arrive at the base of the Roanoke Mountain climb around mile 5, there are usually a few spectacle surprises, I won’t spoil them here! I consider the climb up Roanoke Mountain to be the hardest of the three big climbs, maybe because it’s the longest at nearly 2.25 miles. You will likely meet a lot of fellow runners under the same struggle, doing a walk-run or walking as fast as possible! Don’t be discouraged by pace, as what goes up must come down, always a rule of thumb with the Blue Ridge Marathon that I love. There are two overlooks for Roanoke Mountain and the first ones on course you come to. More than likely if you want, you can get someone to take your picture up there, or just shoot a quick selfie. There is a great aid station up there as well! I typically lose a bit of time here taking it all in 🙂

Don’t let the first overlook fool you, there is a bit more climbing to do before the very tip top of Roanoke Mountain where another aid station awaits you and more beautiful views! Now get ready for the first real downhill section of the race!! With about 2.5 miles of screaming downhill, brace your quads and try not to burn them out too soon. It’s a hecka’ lotta fun, as it’s one of my favorite sections. Not too scenic, just trees around you, so you can really focus on what’s in front of you and go as fast as gravity will lead you. Remember, on long downhills try not to heel strike too much as this braking motion might do more harm than good. Lean forward a little and engage your core here for more control. Back at the base of Roanoke Mountain, the spectators usually return for a quick jaunt down the Blue Ridge Parkway road to return you back to those lovely rolling hills taking you back to where you left the half marathoners heading up Mill Mountain, this is almost mile 12 here, half way there almost!!

The climb up Mill Mountain at this point is very short, but also very steep. Keep your eye on the prize, for at the top here you will get to see the Roanoke Star and a view of the entire Star City (Roanoke) and beyond on a clear day. There is an aid station up there to keep you going (I haven’t mentioned every aid station, as they are fairly often, generally every 1-1.5 miles from my experience and well stocked, and I’ve never had to carry my own water). If you miss any of the great views, you can always see them after race day on your own, celebrate with some pictures if you’re into that 😉

And get ready for the reward again, and head down Mill Mountain, past the zoo there, and view some lovely properties along the way as you see Roanoke to your left on your way down. Somewhere in this section you may find Moomosas (and orange juice for the nonalcoholic people like me, which is really tasty). This path leads you down to the Roanoke River Greenway, a pretty flat section of the course, as you are able to look back to where you came from atop Mill Mountain from here. Usually you will find the local Fleet Feet aid station ready to welcome you with their own flair here. Now get ready  to be greeted by more locals as you head into their neighborhoods and prep the legs for the final climb: Peakwood.

Peakwood is usually considered by most to be the hardest climb, probably because of where it is located along the course, around mile 17, usually when people start hitting “the wall”, and how steep it is in sections. Be prepared for several families to have their own makeshift aid stations for you in the neighborhood and maybe even some people playing music for you as you make your way up this hard section. I remember my first year doing this is was hot, in the 80s, and there was a little girl who was giving out watermelon on sticks…it was the best moment and the tastiest watermelon I’ve had. Now, the peak of Peakwood, get ready for (usually) the Fink’s aid station! Sometimes you find sprinkler showers, champagne, fruit, sunblock, so much stuff! This is it! This is the final peak! Treat yourself, you’ve earned all of it 😉

Now the descend. The final big one. By this time, you are generally very tired of going up and down so much. You quads may be talking back right about now. But never fear, the end is near as you make it to 20, then 21! Along this path, if the sun is out, be prepared for the sun to beat down your back, take note if you think you need sunblock, remember to take the aid station up on that reapplication! The bridges you cross will radiate some heat back at you as you begin to re-enter the city, Mill Mountain passing on your right.

Hey, this looks familiar? You might hear some crowds off in the distance. You’re not going crazy, the finish line is ahead of you now, and no, you didn’t get lost, but you will come very close to the finish line area around mile 22. It’s just a teaser.

Back to the greenway. From here, things have calmed down, there are a few smaller and rolling hills left, nothing you can’t handle. You head into Wasena Park and out past Black Dog Salvage. Just a few more turns around downtown and the race is yours. You might be thinking at this point, “another hill?” But I assure you they aren’t as bad as what you just did, it’s all perspective! Be on the lookout for the sign “Jesus Saves”, and you’re almost there. Luck Ave. will have you traveling back to the finish in no time. Hit mile 26, you got this. It’s all downhill from here. Literally, the finish is downhill! The crowd is waiting for you as you make your way down into Elmwood Park off of Bullet Street, almost like a red carpet finish with the red bricks lining your way! And that’s the Blue Ridge Marathon!

Now, what are the best methods to tackle this seemingly daunting course? Hills and more Hills. I would say it is important to get in a hill workout once a week. Practice what you want to perform. If you plan on run-walking the hills, set an interval for that. If you plan on walking fast, practice walking fast and get a pace goal for that. Going up never gets easier, you only get better at it. Going down can get easier. I talked a lot about your quads, and the best practice to getting your quads in shape is to literally practice bombing downhills, meaning try and run them hard and fast putting pressure on the quads, and engaging that core. Remain upright. Posture as though you are being held up by a string attached to your head. A lot of people practice and prepare for the climbing but not the descending. And yes, it’s easier to prepare for climbing, for even if you reside somewhere flat, you can get some good quality climbing even without the stairmaster at the gym (or treadmill) by finding a tall building, like a hospital or stadium with bleachers, and do stair climbs there.

For training downhills, find the longest and steepest you can in your area to practice with and become good buddies with it. Road or trail, although road is preferred because you can more so mimic the marathon course. Sometimes trails can provide more climbing and descending than local roads or are in safer areas. For downhill specifically, you can do a lot of body weight exercises in lieu of a missing hill.

I mentioned the slope of the roads. They are a factor and nontrivial. Make sure you get in a crosstraining day for that specifically! Get those hips working! Otherwise, you probably can follow any traditional marathon plan to get you nice and ready. You have 7.5 hours for the marathon, that’s a minimum pace of 17:10 min/mi.

Blue Ridge Half Marathon Course

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And the BRM doesn’t only offer the marathon distance, no, they also have a freaking hard half marathon! Here’s the difference the half marathon course takes…

Follow the above to mile 2.5 where the marathon splits from the other distances on Mill Mountain. The half marathon continues the climb from the start up to the top of Mill Mountain where the Star is! And this is brutal, just after the 5k mark you reach the top! And right after the amazing view over the Roanoke valley, you head down your first of two descends right down to the greenway to head right on over to Peakwood. The Half course never seems to catch a break. It continues the marathon course from the top of Mill Mountain to Peakwood and back down that to Jefferson. The difference here is instead of that little teaser of the finish line the marathoners have, the half marathoners get to head straight for the finish area down Jefferson. Huzzah!! Two mountains for the half marathon, skipping Roanoke mountain and the tour through the downtown area and Wasena Park.

The half has almost 2000 feet of gain! The minimum pace for the half is 27:30 min/mi, that’s a 6 hour cut off time.

The Star City 10k Course

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Everyone starts the course at the same place, and finishes in the same place. Not ready to tackle the half or full? The Star 10k gives you the Roanoke Valley overlook, the same way the half and full do and comes right back down the switchbacks of Mill Mountain, fast fast fast! At the intersection at mile 5 with Walnut, oh how we all love Walnut!, you head back in the final mile to the finish the same way you came up. And Voila, you’re there!

You get 861 feet of gain on the 10k course alone. Take all the time you need, and even walkers are encouraged to join in on the fun 🙂

What else?

I am personally signed up and doing the Blue Ridge Double Marathon. It was a low key unofficial event back in the day, and is now official with finish times and everything! What is it? Do it twice. You start at 1am and do the course without much aid (aid stations are closed), a headlamp, and safety gear, to get back around by the time race starts officially for everyone else and then meet all the time cutoffs. The first cut off is 7:30 when the race starts for everyone else, and the same time cut off as everyone else for the second lap. 16:20 min/mi is the minimum pace. There are a lot more rules associated with this distance if you are interested, please see the official site for details (Double Marathon).

I highly recommend this course as challenging as it is, it brings forth great reward for your efforts, and Roanoke is a very friendly city with many things to do and see. Some of my favorite things are within driving distance are listed below:

Homestead Creamery (locally sourced food and ice cream), located at 7254 Booker T Washington Hwy, Wirtz, Virginia: Homestead Creamery

Sharp Top Hiking and Picnic area and Lodge (Peaks of Otter in Bedford, VA): 85554 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Bedford, VA 24523: Peaks of Otter Info

Grandin Roanoke area Pop’s Ice Cream Shoppe: Pop’s Ice Cream

Tanglewood and Valley View Malls, Roanoke, VA

Mill Mountain Zoo, Mill Mountain Spur, Roanoke, VA 24014: Zoo

McAfee Knob Hike, Mcafee Knob TrailHead, Catawba Valley Dr, Catawba, VA 24070: McAfee Knob

National D-Day Memorial, 3 OVERLORD CIRCLE, BEDFORD, VA 24523: D-Day Memorial

And loads of wineries and farms to look up and visit! I will update this list as I think of more. For any questions about anything in this or if I need to be more clear on certain things, please contact me! I have a discount code for any of the race distances 🙂

Doing Events when Injured or Undertrained!

Weighing Risks – What is worth it?

A lot in running, and other sports too!, we often see people in situations that aren’t ideal. It’s not uncommon to see sport athletes playing with an injury or pushing through one because they’d rather chance further hurting themselves than sitting the bench. Running and triathlon are no exception.

You’ve signed up for a race, maybe long in advance, or maybe impulsively (this is usually the case for myself, trust me, I’m good at being bad), but you are either undertrained or risking or have an injury you are nursing. If you haven’t plain out broken a leg (although I know an awesomely crazy lady who “ran” a 5k on a broken foot, not advised!), you are probably going to still make the best of a bad situation. I’m one of those people who has an idea planted, and it’s going to grow into a full grown plan prematurely at times, and resolve in some sort of ridiculousness. The good thing is that I’ve learned from this and can pass on the information. As my own coach has said, “Once an athlete gets an idea in their head, they are most likely going to follow through with it.”

Let’s talk about the injury side of things. There is a whole list from IT band syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, knee pain, stress fractures, metatarsal pain, lower back pain, sciatic nerve pain, shin splints, tendinitis, and pulled muscles just to list some common ones. Certain injuries like blisters, chafing, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can usually be treated quickly and you can be back in the game in no time flat…we aren’t talking about these. Injuries can sideline you from days to several months depending on severity and how long you actually rest and take care of yourself. But what exercises will make your symptoms worse? This can only really be resolved and answered by your doctor, so if you suspect you are suffering, make an appointment and get to the bottom of things before making things worse. And when I mean get to the bottom of it, I mean get an actual name for what injury you have and how to treat it, and not some generic symptom or name like lower back pain, what is causing the lower back pain?

What can these injuries be from? Typically injury comes from overuse or accelerating training too quickly. Keep in mind, most injuries start from the top and trickle down. What I mean by that is that if you have some knee pain, it might be from tight glutes. If you have ankle weakness, are you strengthening your knee and hips? A key ingredient in training in anything is to give your other muscle group some action to help support your other efforts: crosstraining. Running? Get in the pool, ride on a bike/cycle class, go rock climbing, play tennis, something that gives other muscles experience. I’ve torn my left meniscus twice, both while playing soccer, not running related, and I have not yet had to really do much for it because I’ve been able to keep the surrounding muscles strong, and I can start to tell when I haven’t been strengthening those over time.

Now what if, after all this talk, you have an injury and you decide to “do it anyway, it won’t be that bad”. One, you are taking a huge risk to make a bad situation worse. Sure you paid for the race probably a while ago, but would the medical bills and potential for having to stay away from what you enjoy doing be worth it in the end? Probably not. Talk to people outside of your sport about it reasonably. Someone from the outside usually will have some good perspective. Two, if you decide you are really going to do it, do self checks in time intervals…and drop out if you need to. There is no shame in dropping out of a race to treat your body right! Consider a different pace, or experimenting with something new in your race. If you’re going to do it anyway, learn from it at least. Only you can make decisions for yourself. I’m just here saying pushing through injury is a bad idea. Don’t let it cost you your whole season.

NOW, let’s talk about being undertrained. This is a huge one. I am totally a victim of this. Let me give you my resume!
– my first half marathon ever was “just do it to prove yourself”, and I had no idea what I was doing was a half marathon or even what that meant. IT SUCKED BAD. I had blisters almost as large as my feet, was cripple for a week because those blisters got infected, it was just overall not good. This situation was almost unavoidable because I didn’t know what I was even doing or what it meant or what was involved.

– my 2nd marathon, the most I ran was 9 miles before the race. Sure I had trained earlier that year for my first marathon, but that was half a year prior. My feet swelled up and although the race went ok, a LOT could have happened. I even ran an 8k the morning before in a race challenge! I was sore for a long time.

– my first 50k, I was training for a marathon and signed up a week before. I probably was not ready. There was a lot of struggle because it was during my peak training for the marathon that was just 3 weeks later. I could have done much better with a taper and not as training fatigued.

– my first triathlon, I couldn’t swim multiple laps in a pool yet, and here I was in open water not ready to swim the 400m. It was pretty sad!

Although nothing seriously bad has happened to me personally from being undertrained, I know not everyone is built the same, and not everyone can pace themselves properly if this happens. With the exception of basically my first three half marathons (yes, I did the same half marathon the next year since I got lost the first year, I thought I needed vengeance on the event, and still didn’t know what the heck it was or what I was doing, and didn’t know how to train for my third when I finally figured out what a half was), I knew what the distance involved and I could kind of skirt by and was pretty smart with how I handled the situations. Yes, I have excuses as to why I was undertrained, but these don’t matter in the long run (har har), just you and the event matter and how you handle it. So don’t take this a green flag to do something not so smart, like decided to run a 50k with just half marathon training or something to the extreme.

So what’s the risk? When you go for new distances, or the distances you haven’t run in a LONG time (like a few years), your skeleton hasn’t really made the adaptations of the pounding you have to do when you journey through an event you’re not prepared for. This could lead to more muscle fatigue, trying to support your efforts and bones, and you could very well end up with stress fractures. Your tendons and ligaments are also at risk, they are basically like little rubber bands that help you move along, and they can be damaged or snapped. You can easily overstress your immune system as well, and this could lead to colds, or flus, or upper respiratory issues. Your body needs time to repair the damage caused by training/racing, and it can be distracted long enough you can contract a virus. Lots of things can happen when you’re not prepared. So in this regard, you can take a step back and decided if the event is worthwhile.

But you’re probably going to do it anyway. In this case, there are a few things you can do. If you have enough experience with your own body and training, you can wing it and make a solid plan, even if you feel good on race day it’s important to stick to that plan! This usually involves walking and a change in pace. Some races will allow you to drop distances, which is always good option! You can also hired a coach to help guide you through it, they have the experience for you and will try and get you on a track that will hopefully prevent you from hurting yourself and be successful in your event anyway. I have done both of these things, but the latter is probably for the best and something I personally have never regretted.

Getting in over your head is very easy to do. Most people will probably just wing it, but there are always so many risks, and most people don’t even know the extent of those until it’s too late. I hope this small little article will help my audience think about things at least. Please feel free to reach out to me about this, or leave a comment!

Heat Adaptation and What to do when Heat strikes

This year I have had the worst luck with cold temperatures. Little Rock was in the 50s and raining and windy, OPSF 50k was sleet/hail/rain/snow/wind/low 30s the whole time, Zion 100k was snowing at the top of the first mesa and was raining from start to about 2pm with temps in the 40s and 50s, and Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 bike relay this last weekend was raining and upper 50s/low 60s with some wind too! I’ve had a few good races that were quite warm in the past, including Xterra Worlds (87°F/humid), Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos (97°/humid), and a handful of other shorter distance races topping 84°F+. So I wanted to make sure it was warm for ONE race this year!

Just this past week I willing signed up for my first 100 miler. Generally that’s pretty impressive, but I added a little bit of extra insanity to it. I’ve constantly had bad luck this race season with the cold. So I decided on a race where the heat instead is unavoidable and actually is the main challenge of the race: The Habanero Hundred. What’s different about this race? The scene is set just west of Houston, Texas, in the middle of August. Not only that, but it has a start time of high noon. It’s a 6.3 mile course, where you’re never more than 3 miles away from water/aid. I personally feel like this will play to my strengths as I find nothing much worse than doing long loops, and being cold. So how in the world does one prepare properly for the heat? What could be so bad about the heat? Several things, especially for a race with a very high DNF rate because of it.

Heat and humidity sap and drain your energy. Expect a lower pace!

Heat will raise your base heart rate; the hotter it is, the harder your heart has to work.

Heat can cause serious conditions such as: dehydration, heat rash, sun stroke, sunburn, lightheadedness, electrolyte imbalance which can cause cramping and hypo/hypernatremia among other more minor conditions like headache and dizziness.

Why would you want to run in the heat? Because it’s not cold. Also because climate changes and there are seasons for many of us and one in particular called summer. It tends to get hot in many places, with or without humidity factored in. The good news is you can get acclimated to heat and adapt in about 2 weeks time. These adaptations include improved electrolyte management, more effective sweat rates, and better blood flow that helps redirect heat.

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What can you do to prepare? How can you heat adapt? Now keep in mind what I have in mind, is a little in excess, but this is not necessarily over-preparing because upper 90s with humidity is no joke.

You can start off by running in the hottest part of the day and running or working out so that you get your internal temperature up into the low 100s, this can take upwards to 90 minutes of harder work. Sunlight, thick grass, humidity, and pavement will add to the difficulty pushing heat back off from the ground. Frankly, this usually happens gradually and naturally as seasons shift and change, so unless you are training for a race that is hotter than the climate you live in, you probably don’t have to do much more than train in the midday to afternoon. You will adapt in time! Just be careful to gradually build up your time if you haven’t been exposing yourself to more intense temperatures.

Want to get ahead of the curve? Starting early or prepping for warm races or training? Wear extra clothes when it’s not very warm out. Wearing extra layers or layers that don’t breathe as well will trap heat and slow the cooling the skin provides (humidity also does a nice job of this). Be careful as to not overheat. If you suspect this or get dizzy, shed some layers and seek a cooler place.

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Two shirts for this run!

Something else, taking hot-as-you-can-take showers. I feel like this helps prevent heat rash and provides an environment where you can breathe in humidity with a quick out if you get overwhelmed. Another place you can accomplish this in a safe way is in a Sauna where you can spend as much or little time in sessions as needed, although this usually requires a gym membership.

What if, though, you are not prepared for the heat?

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A lot of us go through seasons, winter being a big one, hah, and sometimes mother nature has mood swings, and that swing happens to be during your training or event! Here are some tips on how to manage that:

1. Slow down. Considerably. It is better to slowly chug along than try and reach any planned pace. Take a step back. Your heart has to work so much harder to keep you cool, and will be fighting you. Consider a run-walk that keeps you in check, or if you are already a run-walked, extend your walk intervals or lessen your run pace. Find ways to cool, like agree to walk a bit more in the shade, or slow down further in the shade.

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2. This can help, but don’t expect these things to be available…Ice and wet/cold towels. If you have access to these things, a lot of people find it useful to hold ice in their hands, pour it down their shirt (front/back), or even put them in their hat (if you are wearing one, but in the heat you might want to reconsider since this could potentially trap heat and your head is a place where heat can escape the most). If you are female, putting them in your bra can also help. Wet towels can be placed over the back of the neck, under the shirt against the shoulders, and chest. Once you don’t feel their effect, what I would do is carry them in your hands and let the air cool them a bit and see if that helps. Some ironman events will occasionally have sponges. If you are in an event and they know it will be hot beforehand, try and get a hold of the race director and ask what they will have at aid stations. Pouring cool water over you and over your head can also help relieve some. If it’s humid out, these things may not help as much as evaporative cooling will be lessened the higher the percent humidity.

3. BE AWARE. In the heat, you can hallucinate if it gets bad enough. Stay alert, and if you find that you cannot remember things you need to be doing, especially drinking, you might want to tap out. Play mind games with yourself to keep your brain operating and to have self checks on yourself while out there in the heat.

4. Stay further up on nutrition. Your body is working harder, therefore it is using more. You will sweat more electrolytes out, so staying up on your salt intake is imperative, this INCLUDES water and hydration! Without these resources, you risk cramping up, everywhere. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If your body is shutting down in a workout because you haven’t been keeping up, you may want to call it a day and restock your body up with the goodies. If you are working out in the heat, bring more than you expect to use, always! Salt? Try some chips, easy to chew and loaded with sodium. I also try and carry an emergency salt chew pack. You can get simple things to carry with you, like a tube of pink salt from Base Salt, or SaltStick chews, or even salt pills! If you sense things are going wrong fast, like within a few minutes, hold some salt in your mouth. It’s faster to get it in your system starting in the mouth than swallowing and waiting for your stomach to absorb it.

5. Your body may not play nice with things you are used to! Like food. Especially in longer workouts or events, people need more than gels and water. Typically you will have your peanut butter and jelly crustables, or your pretzels, or banana, or even clif bar, or what have you. When your body goes into full overdrive in the heat, your already stressed GI track, which yes includes your stomach and stomach acids and muscles, might just go into rejection mode. Treat it more gently if you have this issue or stumble on that you have this issue. Simple sugars found in fruits such as strawberries, grapes, watermelon, peaches, oranges, might be the key. I personally am only able to really get these into my mouth and chew as all other food items disgust me and I literally cannot chew to swallow them. Other things, as old as they tend to get in long events, are chews and gels. Another thing you might consider is drinking your calories. I have used Tailwind with success for instance. This gives you a certain amount of calories per serving, and you can kind of tailor what that serving is since the substance starts as a powder you dissolve in water. Some people have used DrinkMaple, or Infinit nutrition (which I believe is formulated specifically to your needs). I have also used soda during a race, and it’s delicious and if you’re one for caffeine, grab a can and try it out sometime. I hate Coke otherwise, but in races it’s magical. When considering your GI track, keep it simple.

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5. Speaking of caffeine, try not to use it. Some people swear by it and need it. Just keep in mind that caffeine is still a stimulant, and as one, it can raise your heart rate, and in the heat, your heart rate is already going to be elevated, so keep that in mind and be careful!

6. Clothing! Cotton is generally a no-no in the exercise world, as it can cause chaffing, doesn’t really let sweat dry when it clings happily to the cotton fibers, and holds heat against your skin. You can wear less, wear a tank to help disperse heat away from the shoulders and back, or wear very light colored clothing (remember the darker colors tend to absorb the whole sun spectrum!). Wear a visor instead of a hat to help heat escape the head better. Even lightweight socks to help keep the feet from feeling like you’re beating the rubber of your shoes into the hot pavement (or whatever surface you’re on). If you are prone to hot feet, make sure your running shoes breathe as much as you need them to. A good shoe fit includes many things, and this should be one of them. If it’s humid out, consider wearing something around your wrist to help wipe off sweat occasionally.

I hope this little write up has helped someone out there, or was just interesting to read. Let me know if I missed any points or need to clarify! I will always update my write ups here to reflect the best and most current information or fill in the holes!

The Open Water – The Struggles

This is going to be a little different from my usual race report blogs. Since it’s now sort of spring (although the high this Saturday is scheduled to be 44°F with rain, you know, my FAVORITE forecast this year), I thought I would put up my advice on the dreaded open water swim (OWS for short).

A lot of people out there who do triathlon or are thinking about doing triathlon seemed mostly stopped by one thing: OWS. What I don’t understand is where this fear is coming from. I have heard many stories of those struggling with phantom sharks in a small community pond, to suffocating wetsuits (understandable, more to come on that), to the sheer panic of nothing being under you, the mystery of what is down there…you could drown. But will you? Probably not. Statics say no, no matter how much you may fear it.

A little bit about my experience. I grew up in rural Virginia on the east side of the blue ridge mountains, we had some lakes, and we would visit the Atlantic Ocean once every 2 to 3 years, usually down in the Outer Banks (and how I do so love this place). Perhaps it was because I grew up getting in and out of the water. It’s not like bad things did not happen to me. I got the usual; stung by jellyfish, wrapped up in seaweed, hit by fish (and could see little minnows EVERYWHERE), jumped off of boats into 300′ deep water, felt all the little coquina clams burying when the tide would rise and fall, been in water below 55°F and above 83°F, and caught in a rip tide…

oh yeah that…

Back when I was about 10 years old, I was at the beach with my family and was playing in about thigh high (mind you I was like 10, so I wasn’t tall) water in the open ocean. I used to body surf (or thought I was anyway) with the incoming waves. I was riding along as the wave crashed over me, and I was caught. The rip current dragged me under and I could not get out. Yes I could swim, but a rip current is a relatively strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach through the surf zone that is hard to get out of. Typically you can swim parallel to the shore and get out but I am not sure this is true. Regardless, I was too young to have this knowledge. I kind of accepted that I was going to die until an arm grabbed me and I surfaced. My aunt had saved me. I didn’t go into the ocean again that year.

Rip currents (and I guess sharks) are the most dangerous things in the open ocean that can kill you. Now that I have probably deterred you from ever swimming in the ocean, let’s talk more about OWS. I just wanted to be clear that I am not without my experiences in the water. I have done both Xterra rough water swimming in Hawaii and a half ironman OWS in the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. I have done several triathlons in several different lakes, and I have to say, I much prefer the clean nature of the ocean and its buoyancy over a murky lake.

First, you have to address WHY are you scared of open water? Let’s forgo the fact you have to coordinate swimming in it for a moment. Can you get in the water and play around? What is stopping you? Take a second and just think. You won’t be going in alone (and nor should you do ANY open water swimming without someone present!), the water is perfectly safe, unless you are going to try and do this during a thunderstorm, but you shouldn’t be racing or training in those conditions!! The water is probably calm, and somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees, pretty mild. If on the cooler side, you probably have a wetsuit on (more about this later I promise). You won’t freeze and you won’t overheat. Picture yourself just floating on the surface of the water.

Practice. Everything comes with time and calming any fears will take time and practice. Why not take some time, don’t swim, and learn to relax in the water. Take an hour of your time and just experience what being in the water is like. Get in, splash around, sit with you feet dangling. As a kid, I would just willingly trust the lake waters I got in, everyone else did, it must be ok, right? Mentally that’s easier said than done for a lot. Do a picnic by the lake, enjoy what nature has offered you. Being around open water should not be stressful, it should be serene. I think a lot of the mental side of getting in has to do with peoples’ experiences in open water being purely in a race environment. Race situations will always be stressful. So if your only experience in open water is during races or group swims, you might not be able to associate the water with calming thoughts. Take your practice outside of this and experience the water in a different light.

Ok, so we’ve gotten acquainted with the water, stay with me here, now we need to swim. If you have a fear of not reaching the bottom, and you are able, let’s try swimming casually along the shoreline where your feet can reach the bottom at all times. Doesn’t matter how long or short the swims are, this is about control. You are in control. This is no different than a pool, it’s still water, might be a little cooler or warmer, but it’s not acid, it’s not peanut butter flavored jello or some nonsense, just water. Usually in lakes, and most oceans or bays, you won’t be able to see very far down below you. Just because there is no lane line for you to follow doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your swimming form to keep your neck strained upward. More about sighting later! Swim just like you would in the pool, and now there are no walls to slow you down!

Find a rhythm right away. Like running or biking, starting out at a slow pace will always reward you. I find that a lot of people are short of breath when they first enter the water to swim because their pace is too high and then they panic (although some panic before that happens just by nerves or the feeling of the water). Enter the water like you would if you were just going to play in the water, feel it out. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, let it fill with the water, let it equilibriate and take normal breaths, keeping it even and consistent. Float around if you are able. I typically like to float around cause I dislike touching the bottom of the lake.

But the water is cold, and it constricts my airways! Being cold is temporary. Prevent yourself from taking shallow short breaths. Some people find it useful to dunk the head into the water, as putting your face into the cooler water will help your body realize it’s ok! (Rather than taking off swimming making that first stroke when your face touches the water.) Find an inner peace with the swim. Feel the water surrounding you and how it flows around your body. Sounds corny, but hey. I like to do some bobbing and water treading before starting the actual swim, this will warm you, your hands and feet, and get your heart ready to work out for the swim, versus spiking it by just taking off.

This is all practice, this is not a race situation, but I have used these things in races when I can. Now, wetsuits. You probably have a love hate relationship with the darn thing. It’s tight, probably too much around the neck, the chest next, and uncomfortable. Yes if the suit is tight, it’s probably fitted correctly as the suit expands in the water and if the suit were too loose, you’d be swimming around with extra water weight in your suit…that’s not really efficient! All wetsuits are tight. All wetsuits will be uncomfortable around the neck, it’s literally the number one complaint I read about. There’s nothing you can do about it, so we’re going to move on. The benefits of a wetsuit far outweight the cons. Wetsuits provide so much buoyancy. You’d be hard pressed to try and drown in one…they will float you. And I assure you most OWSs are wetsuit legal. They begin being illegal at around 76°F and absolutely not past 82°F due to overheating being a factor. Luckily we have these things called cold fronts that push rain around and cool lakes and things called nights where the sun isn’t out to warm the waters in excess, so many lakes stay below these non-wetsuit conditions. Wearing your wetsuit around the house probably won’t do much, and a wetsuit will stretch a little over time with use. When I wear a wetsuit out in a lake before I swim, I get in and try to fill the wetsuit with water from opening the neck collar and letting it all in, then moving it around into the arms and legs. I always feel like I’m filling a limp balloon when I do this! I usually find this loosens the neck. But then people complain about the tightness in the chest. The chest should not feel excessively tight in the water. Remember, in swimming you are just taking breaths in rhythm and not like in running, you should not feel like you are out of breath, if you do, slow down! Check your form. Are you lifting your arms enough to allow your lungs to fill with the air you are trying to get? A sleeved wetsuit you are fighting against the neoprene to get your arms around! There’s resistance where there wouldn’t be normally. This takes, you guessed it, practice. Just be aware! A lot of people opt for the sleeveless because of this rotation and lack of movement you get in the sleeved version. I prefer the sleeved one because I tend to be cold and like being warm.

You’ve swum before. Try not to set expectations for time or distance. Instead opt for time in the water. You probably won’t be going in a straight line, and lakes don’t generally provide lines you just follow, they are usually round bodies of water! Sighting. Don’ts: don’t sight every stroke, you will be lifting your head too much causing strain on yourself and your form; don’t sight every 10+ strokes, you might get off course or move too far left or right. Do: sight every 3-7 strokes. 5 is generally the magic number and you don’t have to lift your entire head, just a quick glance and you’re set. DON’T FOLLOW PEOPLE IN A RACE, DON’T TRUST THEM!

And there’s the race. Most panic happens here. Why? Because it’s stressful being around stressful things and people! In triathlon, you are kicked, punched, dunked, swam over, ect. There is good news my friend, no wildlife on this planet is going to want to go near a swarm of struggling humans all going in the same direction!! I use this mentality A LOT, as I very much dislike marine life (e.g. fishies). So we’ve taken care of water critters. They’re gone. They took vacation for the day. You are probably not going to be in the front of the pack. This is also good! Why? Because they will clear out the rest of “water life” there is, the algae and “seaweed”, sweet!! I very much appreciate this as getting a little weed attached to your hand feel creepy in the “I walked into a spiderweb I didn’t see” feeling. Can you see the bottom of the water? Nope. That’s ok, you’ll never really know you’re only 20 feet above the bottom, and that’s not very far. 20 feet looks the same as 5 feet and that looks the same as 500 feet. Assume it’s 5-20 feet. See that kayaker volunteer over there? Yeah he got your back son. He’s there to help you out should you need it, or not. Usually these bros (chicks) are shouting at swimmer saying how they’re off course and usually not needed because someone is in trouble in the water.

The hardest part is listening to your swim wave. There will be all sort of nervous chatter. Just know what YOU need to do and execute it. Calm someone else down, it may help you remember what you need to be at peace and help them too. Everyone there is in the same water as you, there isn’t a single issue. Everyone is there to race with you. No one is TRYING to punch or hit you, it’s by accident. I can’t count the number of times a swimmer has stopped to tell me they’re sorry. Just keep swimming, Dory. If you are nervous about that, position yourself for success. What I mean by that is look out at the course, yes you have to swim that, but feel out where you want your line to be. This could be an outer edge to avoid people. If you gain more confidence along the way, then just cut inside, no big deal! Remember when I said to swim your pace? DO IT. Slow and ease into it. Keep your heart rate in check. You’ve probably done this in a pool where you started out too fast and made it 50 yards and thought you were out of shape…same thing. Same thing happens in running, would you start your run at a 7 minute per mile pace when your sweet spot is 10 minutes per mile? NO. Don’t do it. Trust me.

Find your swim. Find your lane in the water. This is your race, or your practice time for YOU. Do what YOU need. I hope this was useful in how to handle conquering the OWS. For the more adventurous, read on for Ocean OWS.

If you made it here, you might be adventurous. I’ve done a few OWS in the ocean and I find the different to approach but fun. First off, the water is different from the lake or pool, it’s more buoyant because it’s salty. This is good and bad! Good because you can float, bad because you really shouldn’t drink it haha. Or who knows, maybe you are getting your sodium in before the bike? I don’t judge. A swim with waves can be intimidating however. I think I have a few pictures from my Xterra race up on my race report, head over to this link to see the waves! (Xterra World Championships)

Oceans have currents. This is unlike your other swims. The current can be used to your advantage if you are with the current, and disadvantageous if you are against it (this can also be applied to OWS in rivers). You typically have no control over this. Learn that it is there.

Oceans have rip tides. The most dangerous part. But typically triathlons are not held where there are high risks of these. Xterra was different in that it was supposed to be difficult. You can google what these look like, but unlikely you will be able to see them before you’re in one while swimming. Riptides: swim WITH it until you are out. If you feel a strong pull, you are probably in one and just need to relax and swim with it, and usually swimming towards shore will pull you worse (don’t do that).

Waves! This is the fun part, but can also be challenging. Let’s talk about shoreline waves. You’re on the beach, and you need to get in. Waves can provide a lot of resistance and slow you down in a race, or just be overall annoying in practice. What do? Dolphin dive! You can find useful visual on YouTube (Global Tri channel I think it is). Basically you wait for a wave to just about to break, this requires a bit of visual timing, and then dive beneath where the wave will break towards the ocean floor and curve your back upward to the surface where you will come out the other side of the crashed wave. If you want to gain more speed on this, aim to grab the ocean floor to push yourself back up to the surface faster! Ok, you might have to do this a few times to get past the breakers, but once you do, it’s almost like any other open water situation, the water is usually calm, but you can feel there are mini waves that will bob you up and down. I usually like to go with this rhythm and it can be super relaxing like you are being swayed by the wind in a hammock on the beach. Past the breakers is where the current is usually found. This will bless or curse you. But again, everyone is in the same situation!!

Swimming out in the ocean, typically you will do an out and back or swim along the shore with the shore to your left or right. This makes sighting pretty easy! The ocean is also where bilateral breathing will come in handy. These little mini waves that I spoke of might be hitting you from one direction. It’s not a bad idea to breath from only one side in this situation, but it could be either side so be prepared left or right.

Ok, you went out past the waves, did some swimming, but now you have to come back in. What I like to do when approaching the breakers again, is look under my arm as I raise it for a stroke, and see if a wave is behind me.  This will give you some warning without breaking your form too much. I love coming back to shore with the waves, it can be free speed if you use them to your advantage. Body surfing. You’ve probably practiced streamlining in your local pool workouts, now time to put it to some use! When a wave is about to break, again like when you entered, get your body into a smooth streamline position and ride the wave break until it fizzles out. If you get caught in a breaking wave, try to get under it, or if you are in shallow enough water, stand your ground until it passes. Wave typically break where you can stand up in the water, but it’s still not efficient to run to the beach.

You’ll get to this awkward point where you can swim but you can stand, but the waves are still breaking and pushing and pulling you making running in the water difficult. You can continue to body surf what you can use wave-wise, or you can do the side leg lift, basically lifting your leg from the hip and knee sideways up and over the waves and water. Then you’re done!

 

If I missed anything, let me know, and I will go back and edit this.