Race Report: Montclair Triathlon

Lake Montclair is a private lake in northern Virginia. It is controlled by the community’s Home Owner’s Association.  It used to be the location for an annual triathlon (of varying lengths – sprint to almost international, from what I can tell) until some incidents a few years ago closed it down.  Through the hard work of the current HOA and a group of dedicated athletes, the Montclair Triathlon was back in business on Sunday!

The distance was a true sprint – 750 yds swim, 12.4 mile bike, and 5K run within the community.  The race was capped at 500 participants and I don’t think they quite hit that cap this year.  I’ll just put it out there now that I was not able to complete the race but here are some of the details for the event.

Packet Pick-Up

Packet pick-up was a low key event at VA Road Runner in Woodbridge, VA.  The race director gave a short briefing a bit after 3 where he outlined the course and explained the one tricky part of the bike course.  Everyone received a nice, light-weight cotton shirt with their numbers.  There were safety pins on the table but not in the envelopes – not a problem for me as I had a race belt but I saw several participants who were carrying their numbers on the run.


The Swim

The weather was absolutely perfect for NoVA. High 60s, low humidity.  The lake was 79.5 degrees.  I saw a small number of people in sleeveless wetsuits but most went without.  The course was well marked with large yellow balloons every 100 yds, paddle boards or boats in between, and rescue personal around the perimeter. There were also residents who were spectating from their pontoon boats.

The swim, a water start, was seeded by age and gender so I was in the first wave – women under 40 – followed by men under 40.  This was my first open water swim so I swam out and back a few times, probably 50 yards each time, just to get the feel for things.  I was feeling good but decided to go to the back and outside of the wave to stay out of the main craziness.  Around 100 yds in, I was kicked pretty hard in the shoulder.  I gulped quite a bit of water and came up sputtering.  I spent the next 200 yds swimming with my head up because I couldn’t take a full breath.  I made it to a paddle board at the 300 yd turn and tried to catch my breath. Every time I tried to breathe deep, I started coughing and I know I had water in my lungs.  I told the guy on the board that I wanted to try to make it to the next buoy but I could only go about 5 strokes before I had to doggy paddle back.  I knew that even if I did managed to float my way to the finish, there is no way my lungs could handle the bike and run.

A very nice group was nearby on their pontoon boat and asked if they could take me back.  I was a crying, wet mess but the gave me a towel, calmed me down, and even offered me a Bloody Mary!  I wish I had gotten their names but I will be forever grateful for their kindness.

Back on dock, the medical personal checked me out a bit and sent me on my way.  I turned in my chip and sat in the grass for another cry while waiting to get into transition to collect my things.  I then packed out my stuff and loaded it in my car.  My car was on the dead-end side of transition so I knew I was stuck for a good 2 hours.  Instead of sitting and feeling sorry for myself, I put on some dry clothes and went to help direct athletes out to the run and hand out water.

The Bike and Run

While I didn’t do the rest of the course, I do know that the bike was a double loop with a significant hill (5-6% grade) at the start.  There were 17 police officers and 17 volunteers on the bike course.  The run was a single loop with three water stops (including the one at the start).  In other words, a very well supported course!


I only have a few qualms with this race.  First, I couldn’t find the start to save my life.  The neighborhood is very confusing with a lot of loops.  Quite a few athletes were local to the neighborhood or friends of locals and I felt like those from outside the area were at a bit of a disadvantage.  Just a couple of signs would have made the world of difference.   Second, the seeding on the swim was tough.  I do wish they had seeded by estimated times.  Third, the hill on the bike/run out of transition was very slick and I saw a lot of people slip and fall on it.  There should have been a mat on it to give a bit of traction.

Like I said, minor quibbles.  Since this was the first year, really, for this race, I give it a solid A.  I really do hope they are able to make this a yearly event again.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the cat who was hanging out and watching the bike/run exit.  He seemed quite amused by our antics.

Silly Humans!
Silly Humans!

Switching Horses Mid-Stream

After much thought and consideration, I’ve decided to defer my entry to this year’s Marine Corp Marathon.  I’ve been thinking about it for a bit (more so after listening to episode 112 of Another Mother Runner Radio about when to stop training for a race).  Yesterday, it hit home when I realized that I was already a week behind in my training schedule and this weekend’s 8 miles was really supposed to be 10 miles and I just wanted to cry.

Other factors:

  • I would have to run 17 miles the day after a very, very hilly Spartan Super.
  • I would have to work in 14 miles around a sprint triathlon.
  • I would have to work in 19 miles around a (difficult) 30 mile Olympic distance triathlon.
  • I am in a “fresh meat” roller derby training program that runs until 11:15 pm once a week but will soon bump up to twice in August so that means at least 2 fewer run days (likely more because I’m always dead the day after derby practice).
  • I won’t have time to work with my personal trainer because any free cross-training has to be used on the bike or in the pool.
  • I would definitely need to stop taking family taekwondo classes with Little Runner. We’ve been doing it for the past month and he absolutely loves it but that’s another hour of my evening to schedule around.
  • I am already the “walking wounded” with plantar fasciitis now in both feet.  Ramping up the miles now will not help that – at all.
  • I have not really enjoyed a race or done overly well in one since Rock n Roll in March.

So, what does this mean?  It means that I can stay in derby, stay in taekwondo, get back to PT, and really focus on my triathlons.  It will also give me time to work on my running pace.  I plan to stay “half marathon ready” and would like to work to get to a two hour time.  I also plan to do a spring marathon so I can train over the winter when I will have fewer commitments.  I think the benefits greatly outweigh the cost of this decision.  Am I sad to be deferring and do I feel a bit like I’m not trying hard enough?  Yes, of course but I would rather cut back and do well in all of my events than do it all but just very poorly.

I do plan to volunteer at the race and cheer on all of my runner friends who will be out there.  That’s (almost) the next best thing.


So, you want to run a Ragnar Trail Relay

I have heard from several people who are interested in running a Ragnar Trail Relay. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart!   Here are a few tips that may make things a bit easier:

Consider bringing at least one canopy with sides. Otherwise, bring enough tarps to wrap around the sides.  We could only cover 1 side and a bit around the corner to act as a wind break and even that little bit helped but more would have been better.

Remember to bring duct tape.

Bring at least one change of clothes for weather 20 degrees warmer and 20 degrees colder than predicted, especially if it’s in the mountains.

Bring disposable hand warmers.

Bring an extra pair of dry shoes for your last leg.

Schedule the strongest runners to run the red loop last. By the time you get to that last run, your legs are toast.

Have at 1-2 very strong runners who would be willing to pace during the night legs.  Having the extra set of lights really does help!

You can’t have too many gallon size ziploc bags. Ditto garbage bags, especially when you are breaking down your camp.

An old-fashioned percolator can save your life! Coffee in the camp doesn’t start until 10 PM on the first day.

Baby wipes are great.

Use a big plastic bin to bring your gear. No worries if it rains/snows/etc. and it’s an extra flat space.

Consider bringing a hunk of outdoor carpet to put in the common area.

Make one of your smaller tents the “changing” tent.

If your shoes are wet, immediately pull out the sock liner/insoles and stuff with newspaper. They won’t be completely dry but they will be less soggy for your next leg.

Make sure you bring enough calories.  Focus on nutrient dense food – your body will definitely need it.

Try to sleep whenever the opportunity presents itself. I foolishly wasted a good nap time and wound up with only 1 hour of sleep.

Have a team that is flexible and can adjust easily to varied weather conditions, running schedules, delays, etc.

Remember that this is FUN! 🙂

Have you run a Ragnar Trail Relay (or other overnight event)? What would you add to the list?



Race Report: Ragnar Trail Relay Appalachians, WV

AKA: the One With All of the Mud

For over 28 hours, I and 7 other lunatics hearty souls who comprised my team joined 349 other teams and ran.

We ran through cloudy skies, we ran through torrential rain.

We need a boat!
We need a boat!

We ran through heavy mist, we ran through the dark with faulty headlights.


We ran through mud.  So much mud.  Big mud puddles, slippery mud slides, sticky mud holes that threatened to take our shoes.

All three loops joined for the last 3/4 mile or so.  This picture was after it drained enough so we could run on the sides of the trail.
All three loops joined for the last 3/4 mile or so. This picture was after it drained enough so we could run on the sides of the trail (an improvement, believe it or not!).

We ran up endless hills, we ran through beautiful pine forests, we ran past illuminated disco balls that the race organizers hung in lieu of the “scenic overlook” for those running that trail overnight (I don’t even know!), we ran through swamps. We ran past monster ferns that were straight out of the Cretaceous Period – but we did not run past any bears!

We ran  climbed up monster boulders and managed to not break anything as we slid down them in our muddy shoes.

Mud + huge rock = "fun". This was a tiny rock compared to others on the Red Loop.
Mud + huge rock = “fun”. This was an itsy bitsy rock compared to others on the Red Loop.

We ran back to our campsite to save it from blowing away in the wind during the storm.  We ran to the food tent, in desperate search of coffee.  We ran to the bonfire where we had to wedge our way into the circle of warmth to stave off hypothermia.

Everyone trying to warm their booties!
Everyone trying to warm their booties!

We ran, we limped, we hiked, we walked for a total of 118.4 miles.  We cursed – A LOT!

F-ing Mud!
Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

We survived!  Ragnar.medal

Would we do it again?  Some say no but others say… maybe!

"Hey, I heard about this great race!  It's a relay and it's in the woods and there's a bonfire!  It will be great! Come, join me!"
“Hey, I heard about this great race! It’s a relay and it’s in the woods and there’s a bonfire! It will be great! Come, join me!”

My heart-felt thanks goes to the rest of my team for joining me on this insane adventure and for not throwing me off the side of a mountain (or drowning me in a mud hole).  Oh, and I also stole their pictures because I didn’t take a damn one!  Thanks, guys! 🙂

The Hardest Muscle to Train

On May 11, I participated in a super sprint triathlon and had an absolutely disastrous swim (400 yd).  I don’t know what happened.  Maybe it was allergies, maybe it was the hype of waiting in line on the pool deck and watching everyone else go (I was seeded at the back), maybe it was the pressure I put on myself to not be passed – I don’t know.  All I do know is that I lost my shit.  Totally and completely.  I could hardly make it one length without hyperventilating. I could not get a breath to save my life.  I had to freaking DOGGY PADDLE at least a third of the distance and was almost the last one out.  A few times, I started to tear up but I knew if I let myself cry, it would be all over.  I thought about stopping but then I saw my husband and Little Runner and kept moving as best I could.  I went on to have a good bike and a great run (9:20 avg. on the run!) and was very glad I didn’t quit.

Afterwards, we talked about what was different about this race and one of the biggies was the fact that I didn’t swim the day(s) before.  Swimming is totally not natural for me and my body likes to pretend it has forgotten what to do at regular intervals. The only way to keep it in check is to get out there and swim.  So I did what any logical baby triathlete does, I ignored the pool for three weeks. Oh, and did I mention that I have a real sprint distance, open water tri at the end of June?  Yeah….

Yesterday, I finally forced myself back into the pool.  I swam 800 yds.  It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty.  I started freaking out a couple of times on the first few laps.  Every time I thought about the impending OWS, my lungs just shut right down.  To calm myself, I tried to pretend I was swimming in a beautiful bay with colorful sea life.  It helped.  I also just counted 1-2-3 for a bit, to keep my rhythm.  That helped, too.  I saw some posts in one of my tri groups that kicking too much can cause hyperventilation so I tried to slow my kicks as much as I could and still stay afloat.  By the end of my time (I don’t even know how long I was there because I didn’t want to freak out about being slow), I was much more calm and my strokes and breathing were even.

Which just proves that it was all one big mind fuck.  My body knows what to do!  It’s my mind that the problem child (as usual)!  If I can keep it occupied with other things, then I can go on and do my thing.  I think I need to think up some good mantras and some other visualization ideas before next time.  I have 750 yds waiting for me in 4 weeks and I don’t have time for this mental nonsense!  Instead of dwelling on that bad swim, I am going to focus on picturing good swims.  I’m going to focus on staying calm and being strong and not worrying about what others are doing.  If/when they pass me, so what?  I need to worry about my race and forget the rest.

I know it’s easier said than done but, with practice, I know I can do it!