Niantic Triathlon 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Long Race, Long Blog

It was an amazing race and it wasn't because of the weather or the course or an enormous crowd of spectators.  It was an amazing race because of pure inspiration.   The most overwhelming thought I have as I reflect on the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man Triathlon yesterday is the powerful support of family and friends.  I know I can't possibly find the words to fully describe the power of the encouragement showered all throughout the day but hope to articulate the event the best I can.

Pre-Race Days
In the days leading up to the tri, I thought of my motivation for doing this long distance event.  I often thought of Aimee who has twice inspired me to do this race.  Firstly, she and Milly were the first to register for the Rhode Warrior this past winter and secondly and ultimately, her battle with aggressive breast cancer.  Aimee is deeply disappointed to miss out on triathlon season and this milestone event and that is what triggered my commitment to this race.  The day before the race, Aimee wrote her first blog about her journey these few months which touched me deeply and helped fuel my emotional tank for race day.  For me, it was all about Aimee.

Aimee has had a difficult week having her first super dose of the second round of chemo.  She was in bed for a full week, unable to eat or work which is uncharacteristic for her.  I tried to channel my concern into mental race preparedness.  Meanwhile, fueling my drive was the donations from so many of you that continue to be made to Aimee's fund, , set up to help her with expenses during this long medical journey.  Thank you to all who have been so generous.

Saturday afternoon, my brother Dave and sister-in-law Pam arrived from Pennsylvania.  Dave is an uber marathoner having participated in 18 Boston Marathons and a handful of other marathons.  I have admired his running ability and his willpower for decades.  Back in the early 80's, Dave competed in a couple of triathlons in this area.  He even won a triathlon!  

Being a strong runner, Dave pulled ahead
in the run segment and won!
Back in the day (ha ha), people helped you in transition!

No wet suits in those days

Race Day

Mel squishing in the bike rack
Jen gets the end slot
The Rhode Warrior Triathlon is based at Misquamicut State Beach and parking is at a premium in the summer.  Several triathletes arrived at our home at 5:00 a.m., parked their cars and we traveled posse style by bike with our gear to the staging area.  The usual pre-race rituals occurred of getting our timing chip, setting up and greetings to fellow triathletes (it is such a small world).  For the swim, we walked 1.2 miles along the beach to the start so that when we finished the swim, we were close to the transition area where our bicycling and running items were located.  The great thing about the Rhode Warrior tri is it is designed for competitors to swim with the current and usually results with swim times much faster than pool or non-surf areas. 

The start was delayed for 15 minutes and it was a good thing because just before the start, I spotted Aimee hurrying towards Jen and me.  I was overjoyed to see her before setting off on the 6-7 hour event.  During the swim, which seemed to go on forever, I spotted Aimee walking along the shore with her eyes on us which infused me with power. Swimming has become my favorite and best performance of the triathlon and I did well this day.  My time was twice what I estimated but so were the other swimmer's times. The theories among racers is that it was longer than 1.2 miles, the current shifted and we were swimming against it or both.

Madigan ringing the cow bell as I exit the water (white cap)

When I was in ankle deep and exiting the water, people began to distinguish me from other emerging swimmers and I heard my family shouting and cheering as I fled up the sandy dune and down into the transition area.  Then I heard the ultimate cheer - the vuvuzela!  It was just like David to be situated near the public service vehicles.  I hurried into the transition area for a quick turn around, stripping from the wet suit to helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes.  Off I went on the bike for the 3.5 hour, 58 mile journey to CT and back while my family enjoyed a beach breakfast at Sam's.

Initially, I had difficulty getting up to a good speed on the bike as my legs were tired (already!) so I worked on eating and drinking to rehab.  I packed homemade granola and settled in, content riding and eating granola, until I choked on an oat and spent the next 10 miles coughing and gagging. At about mile 30, my speed had increased to my average and I decided not to slow down for the water exchange or stop for the bathroom.  I truly enjoyed the ride as I was familiar with the route and it was kind of neat coasting through large intersections with police as traffic control.  I cruised through the last leg of the bike route and was greeted in the transition area by friends who had completed the Olympic distance.  Marie, who won her age group, Doug, who won the Aquabike division (swim & bike), and Brent, second in his division.  My legs were numb as I switched into running shoes and began my most difficult leg of the tri.

The run was grueling with no shade, high humidity, long distance and the mental challenge of a double loop.  There were 2 highlights:  the water stop at miles 3 and 10 and running on our street.  Fellow triathlete Helga and her husband Tracy were enthusiastically serving water, ice, skittles and taking pictures of us.  It was an emotional lift since they were situated in the middle of a hill and they were highly attentive to our needs.  Since the run segment goes by our house and twice around for the 1/2 Iron Man participants, triathletes, family, neighbors and friends positioned themselves there and were treated to David's famous Bloody Marys as they cheered and vuvuzela'd for everyone.  A few houses down, I was surprised by the large cheering section at our good friends, the Henry's.   Karlie and Abbie with their big cousins Emma and Maddie's help, had made a beautiful sign rooting for me!

At mile 5, I was drained and in despair and didn't know how I was going to finish 8.5 more miles.  I had slowed to a snail's pace when I spotted Ed and Brent.  Ed's words were comforting and helped me along a bit more until I saw Milly near the finish line with her family.  Milly ran with me as I faced the dreadful turn-around sending me back out on the next 6.5 mile loop and then her sons, Ian and Evan, ran too.  My shuffle picked up a bit and I had a second wind.  The next surge of adrenaline came when I reached the Weekapaug bridge where my brother Greg, wife Anne Marie, their kids and spouses and grandchildren were cheering.  My brother Dave joined me running and acted as my servant, feeding me ice cubes and pouring cold water on my head but mostly served as my companion with conversation and coaching.  My boys bearing popsicles, my cousin Vic, Mel and Marie appeared on bikes along the route, checking on me.  I felt spoiled and these benefits felt like an unfair advantage (aka cheating) but I so appreciated every ounce of this attention as it got me closer to that finish line.  

Approaching my street for the second time, I spotted Madigan and buddy Zein who took off on their bikes.  I knew I was on the home stretch and looked forward to the raging party at my house followed by the Henry's cheering section further down the street. It was just over 2 miles to go! 

Madigan and Zein raced back to the house Paul Revere style ringing a cow bell and yelling that I was approaching.  There were people lined up on both sides of the road and Aimee was among them.  Marie began running with us and told me to look back. Aimee was running behind me.   

At some point, my big brother Greg told me he was impressed with me but he has it backwards.  There were so many inspirational, motivating moments throughout the day from wonderful, wonderful people including him and his terrific family, trainer Will who literally gave me strength to do this insane event, Toby and Candy, the surprise appearance from long-time friends Ed and Maria, the Henrys and the remarkable poster, my fellow triathletes, Ed and coach Jen, text messages from friends before and after the race, the donations to Aimee's fund, cousins Vic & Sue who celebrated my first tri last year, my beloved brothers and their beautiful wives, my nieces and nephews, Grandma Bernardo who devoutly stands in for my late parents, the best next door neighbors in the world - the Nelsons, Tessa and Lara and their kids, volunteers Helga and Tracy and my dear friend Marie and her mom.  The inspiration from all these people especially from my incredible, loving husband and my boys who I love so much is a far deeper feeling than the accomplishment of completing this event.  

When Aimee had the strength to run those few moments with me, I knew we connected on that inspiration.  It was the charge I felt when I spotted her walking the beach alongside the swim.  And I know she felt the inspiration too.   Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting both of us.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

With Time and Patience, We Will Overcome

With exactly one week until the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man Triathlon, it is officially taper week!  Wikipedia's definition of taper week is:
  1. In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as long-distance running and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance.
Whoo hoo!  Less training, more time with family, sleeping past 5:30!  This should be the best part.   Well, not really... it's kind of kooky.  For triathletes, making sure all three sports are at peak performance is like trying to round up puppies in a box.  When you get one or two puppies (swim and bike?) in the box, the third is not where it should be and you go off chasing that puppy (the run?).  Meanwhile, puppies one and two are climbing out of the box again!  

Mental preparation is a big part of taper week.  I have moments of feeling totally ready to race to moments of panic.  Did I run enough?  Am I eating too much?  Am I eating the right things? Do I have the right socks?  The funniest is probably the dreams during taper week.  Dreams about forgetting to bring stuff to the race, (omg, the bike!), can't find the race, restarting the race over and over and swimming or running naked.
Did we remember to put on our wet suits??

According to the experts of endurance race training, tapering should have started last week for me.  I have not been one to follow the training plans largely because my body tends to not cooperate with the timing.  I haven't been running much since March, just enough running to qualify as a bike/run brick.  A brick in the triathlon world is when you do two disciplines back to back, bike and then run immediately, as you would in a tri.  For the past two weeks, I have been cramming the run workouts in hopes of making up for lost training.  And..... the foot started hurting again.  OK, I need to be patient with my body I told myself.  These run workouts are not going to make me faster and I know I can survive the 13.1 miles as a shuffle.  I  need to take my time and have patience with my body during the run portion of the tri.  

My buddy Marie is recovering from an injury and hasn't been able to train for a month.  I have missed her and she has desperately missed training.  She has exercised incredible patience letting her body heal while I and the tri group have been training hard for the upcoming races.  Typically, Marie wins her age group and has even placed 1st for women.   Today, Marie biked, ran 6 miles and swam a mile and is contemplating jumping in the Rhode Warrior Olympic event.  There's no question about whether she can finish but rather the bigger question, can she take her time and be patient with her body?

Jackson James
Mr. Servando N. Pesarillo MD

Two dear friends had great losses this week.  One lost her Dad and one lost her best friend, her dog.  While these are two very different losses, both are painful, heart-wrenching and life-changing.  Time and patience will make memories of their loved ones clearer and a little less painful.  

Aimee had her first interval of her second set of chemo this past Thursday.  Previously, she was prepped by the oncology staff that it was going to be rougher than the first round.  It was difficult to face since she doesn't feel sick even though they tell her she has inflammatory breast cancer (the aggressive and unusual sort).  This treatment was rough and made her very sick.  She still is sick as I write this on Sunday.  Three more intervals over the next 7 weeks will be a mountain to climb.   

Mystic River Valley Triathlon 2014 - Aimee Reed
Time and patience, my friend, and you will get there.  
This time next year, Aimee, we will be at Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man taper week 2016 together.

Thank you to the good friends who have donated to Aimee's fund.  These funds will help Aimee with medical costs and expenses for when she is unable to work.  You can make donations here:

Shout out to Ian - thank you for lifeguarding at 6:00 am.  We like having your watchful eye ;).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

It's not all about me! Triathlons are a team sport.

This post comes with a warning: you are about to catch a glimpse into the crazy mind of a triathlete in long distance training.

This has been a weird week.  Sunday was the Niantic Bay Triathlon and quite a few athletes from the We Tri 4 Aimee team were there tri-ing for Aimee.  For me, it was a mixed bag of emotions.   It was exciting because two lovely ladies, Monika (2nd from right) and Kathleen (3rd from right) were doing their first triathlon!
We Tri 4 Aimee at Niantic Bay Triathlon 2015
missing Brent, Mel (on the massage table) & Susie
I was morose on my drive to Niantic, parking and moving onto the transition area. I missed my driving buddy, Milly and my workout best bud Marie.  Weighing heavy on my heart and mind was Aimee, who was supposed to be at this event.    With the day beginning at the ungodly hour of 3:00 a.m., I asked myself "why I am here??"
Arriving at transition area

My mood shifted as I spotted white We Tri 4 Aimee shirts and we gathered as a group with pre-race nervousness and excitement.

At the start of the swim, the race officials took turns making announcements and recognizing volunteers.  The East Lyme High School Girls Lacrosse team were volunteers on the course and being a lacrosse lover, I thought that was very cool! Then the announcer made a comment noting the work the volunteers are doing for the race at an early hour and that "it is not all about you" , the participants.   Hmmmmm, I thought, I am pretty sure most if not all the participants recognize and appreciate the volunteers especially since we are dependent on them for registration, directions, guarding our expensive stuff in transition, feeding us post-race, etc.  Many of us volunteer for races when we are not racing.  Personally, I continuously huff and puff  thank yous to course volunteers and police officers but on this day, I made sure to shout out loudly to everyone for fear of not appreciating them enough.

The race begins with the swim and as I exited the water peeling off my wetsuit, I heard a familiar voice on the sideline say my name.  Aimee!   I was so charged seeing her there and so early in the morning rooting for us.   A few steps later, I heard the bellow of the vuvuzela and I burst out laughing as I ran into the transition area to get on the bike.  David is here!  I thought he was home in bed!  Seeing both of them so early in the morning made my heart soar.

Moving ahead to this past week, my goal was to step up my running workouts.  Around March, I began having foot trouble and avoided long distance running.  I learned a couple of weeks ago that it is plantar fasciitis.  The good news is I was cleared to run with a simple solution.  The bad news is the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man was less than 5 weeks away.   The 13.1 mile run portion of the race has been weighing heavy on my mind because I am not in shape for 13 miles much less after long distance biking.  I have grown to dislike running a bit.  Swimming and biking is much more fun and easier on the body.  As a slow runner,  I wind up running alone.  This week, I worked hard getting in 2 track workouts and a 13 mile run and I should have felt good about that.  Instead, there were moments of loneliness and I contemplated hard about why I chose to do this.  Is it all about me?  Leaving my family for endless hours, making my son Ian get up at 5:30 a.m. to lifeguard our ocean swims, my family dealing with my crankiness after bad workouts and on and on.   These long workouts allow for too much thinking!  How I miss my dear friend Marie and her endless positivity.  She would tell me I need a new mantra.
 On Wednesday, the Mystic tri group met and we chatted, swam, chatted, biked, chatted on bike, chatted, ran and chatted more.  On Thursday, the Westerly tri group met and we chatted, swam, chatted on bike, chatted off bike, chatted while running and chatted more.  I was reminded that these amazing groups fuel me, challenge me, inspire me, teach me, entertain me, support me and love me (despite my lousy running and too much thinking).

I think often of Aimee, (more thinking, lol) especially this week.  She completed her first round of chemo last week, which was 12 rounds, once weekly.  This past week was her week off from treatment and while it was nice for her to not have treatment, a visit to the oncologist informed her of what to expect from her next round which begins Thursday.  It is not pretty.  It is overwhelming, scary and going to be hard work.  She doesn't want to do it but she will because she is strong, courageous and wants to live.  Surely, she will have moments of loneliness.  Though it feels like it sometimes, her fight is not an individual fight.  She has a team fighting with her.  Like me, Aimee is not alone, she has this amazing group too.

With ten We Tri 4 Aimee team members participating at the Niantic Bay Triathlon, with sideline fans Aimee and David cheering and vuvuzela-ing for everyone and with our weekly triathlon groups, I am acutely reminded that facing any challenge is a little easier with support of family and friends.  We Tri 4 Aimee team is campaigning for financial help for Aimee for medical expenses and other expenses for when she is unable work.  Please consider a donation of any amount to help her.

Several We Tri 4 Aimee team members have signed on to do the Rhode Warrior event on August 23rd.  This event begins at Misquamicut Beach with a swim in the ocean and a bike route that heads out of Westerly into CT and back to Misquamicut.  The run loops twice from Misquamicut through Weekapaug.  Every stroke, pedal and step will be tri-ing for Aimee.  We can use sideline support that day!  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why am I Tri-ing?

I am fairly new to the triathlon world with my first being the OCY Triathlon of September 2014 in Misquamicut.  The training was something I grew into last summer when I was swimming in the pool, biking in the spin room and running outdoors with friends.  They were preparing for triathlons and encouraged me to take the next step.  Triathlons? Seemed logical!   At least it did to David who saw this coming a long time ago and predicted a future of endless equipment and an MIE (Missing in Exercise) wife.

It became more complicated when it was time to start swimming in the open water.  Note that my kids can't get me to put a toe in the ocean unless it is above 90 degrees outside.  So I ordered the wet suit thinking it will be my shining, insulated armor and felt ready to go.  My first attempt at an open water swim was with Jen Massengale, the Mystic Y Tri Coach and a small group of triathletes and my son Ian who was preparing for his lifeguard open swim test.  It was a beautiful day with calm water.   I didn't get very far and not because I wasn't physically capable. 'Wasn't in the mood,' I think I told myself.

The next opportunity was an early Saturday morning and Jen was meeting a group of triathletes for a swim at Westerly Town Beach.  It was a much rougher ocean that morning and I was nervous.  I didn't know anyone in the group and spotted a familiar face from Spin class, Aimee.  So I latched onto and clung to her like a security blanket.  That day we discovered are similarly paced swimmers and were perfect swim buddies looking out for each other as we swam and completed the 1/2 mile swim in choppy water.  We had some help from two of the greatest - Steve Schonning and Jeff Duda who accompanied and coached us.   Aimee and I were awestruck and inspired because they coached us after swimming the 1/2 mile themselves as their workout, AGAINST the rough current.

I have since learned that it is a mental exercise to prepare and practice in the open water and there are psychological barriers to overcome.  There are sea walnuts which Ian has labelled and are small, hard jellies that are walnut size.  There can be jelly fish, fish and lots of seaweed.  Who knows what lurks in the seaweed!!  One of my favorite stories, which put me at ease and made me realize I am not the only lunatic, is a story of swimmer in the cove at the Mystic Y.  She kept seeing a shadow and was convinced it was a whale.  She noticed there was a pattern to the shadow's appearance and realized it was actually her arm coming overhead entering the water that was creating the shadow.  Those of us who've imagined the creatures and monsters in the sea can appreciate this story with a laugh knowing it is normal to have a vivid imagination and open water anxiety in the beginner's tri world.  And maybe that wasn't an eel I saw in yesterday's tri...

Since the day that Aimee and I conquered the ocean swim together, we have become good friends.  I have learned a lot from her about swim technique and have improved because of tips she has shared.  I have modeled after her so much that folks have commented that we look like synchronized swimmers because we match stroke for stroke.

Over the winter, Aimee enthusiastically scheduled herself for at least 5 triathlons in 2015.  She boldly added the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man Triathlon to her list!  1/2 Iron Man?!  A 1.2 mile swim (that's the easy part), 58 mile bike topped off with an 'easy' 13.2 mile run.  OK, Aimee, I said, if you can do it, I can do it too and I put it on my list of things to do, noting it sounds like a 50th birthday present to myself.

Just weeks before the 2015 tri season began, our tri group was shocked and devastated to learn Aimee was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive and unusual form of cancer.  Cripes, we thought, she is a mere 31 years old.  Aimee is funny, positive and kind with a soul as deep as the ocean.  It is hard for her to be the spectator and not the participant, yet she comes to the triathlons, cheers for us and celebrates our successes.  Aimee has a long road of treatment and surgeries ahead and we want to help her.  We have created a team, We Tri 4 Aimee, because she is the heart of the 2 large triathlon groups in Westerly and Mystic.

A fund has been set up for Aimee to help with medical costs and expenses.  Please consider donating to help Aimee during this difficult time.

Just this morning, I made my pledge official and registered for the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Marathon.  Every stroke, pedal and step will be tri-ing for Aimee. After all, this was her idea.  :)