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Happy 3rd Birthday!

To us! Yep, Mile Stones is turning 3 years young on August 10. But we don’t make wishes before blowing out candles, we make decisions. To celebrate the ongoing opportunity to help commemorate your milestones, use code BDAYDECISIONS through August 17. Happy Shopping!! Mile Stones Etsy Shop

3 Things Thursday

1. I’m back.

2. Last week our first ever Ironman Kona bib was received for a race bib coaster order!

3. Next time you find yourself in a snowstorm, unleash your inner 8 year-old and get out there to play! What’s that? No time? You’re a grown-up now? You feel silly? Suck it up and have some fun! Plus, you’ll benefit from an unintended, enjoyable workout. Check out my Nemo storm fun.

Devilman Triathlon

I’ve been staring at my very first triathlon race number for months now, still trying to comprehend what exactly happened that day. I suppose it’s about time I complete my background story/race review, being as I’ve already gone on to complete my second tri!

I didn’t know how to swim when I registered. No, really. I could do the swoosh with your hands while your head’s above water across the pool on vacation thing, and doggy paddle like nobody’s business, but I’d never taken swim lessons nor had I ever been able to successfully blow bubbles out of my nose underwater. Ever. Until November 2010.

For a while I’d been thinking about switching things up, taking a coaching break from Team in Training and eventually doing a triathlon. On the morning of November 10, 2010, I took the plunge. Literally. I registered for the Devilman Sprint Triathlon, to take place in Cedarville, NJ in May 2011. The distances were .40 mile swim, 20.5 mile bike and 4 mile run.

Our first team swim training at the local YMCA was on a Monday and I wanted to vomit all day. Where will I go, what will I do, how will I do it? I pictured 30 other team members swimming laps and me at the shallow end of the pool blowing bubbles out of my nose with the 5 year olds. I’d heard of others who didn’t know how to swim going on to complete triathlons, so I left my fate in the hands of our Coaches, who ended up doing a fabulous job. (Along with some cooperation from me.)

Six months later, I arrived on race day morning, transition bag packed with everything from extra contact lenses and ear plugs to pickle juice for cramping. I had enough fuel/nutrition for an Ironman. I set up my transition area and waited around. Emotional was an understatement. If you looked at me or even talked to me, I’d snap at you or have to fight back tears. Six months of hardcore training for the unknown was so overwhelming. Let’s goooo.

The race started in waves. Elite female, then youngest age group, next older age group, next older, etc, then Athenas (women over 150 lbs). Then elite men, youngest age group, next older age group, next older age group, etc, then Clydesdales. (Over 210 lbs?) The swim was a water start, meaning we stepped down a ladder into the lake, and then treaded water for a few minutes before the gun went off. At this point I wasn’t nervous anymore. I thought, “Let’s just get this done and over with.” Six months in, I was still not a strong swimmer, but found comfort in the fact that there were kayaks and lifeguards out there in canoes and that you could stop for a breath and hold on for as long as you needed.

(And it’s true – wetsuits make you float. A past-participant on my team once told me that you literally had to TRY and drown in a wetsuit, and she was right.)

It was freezing. Like breaking-surface ice-off-the-water-early-that-morning-and-not-telling-us-first-timers-so-as-not-to-intimidate-us, freezing. Wetsuits help keep you warm, but not dry. They let water in. It was freaking freezing, and I was scared to death. The water smelled and in the few places you could touch bottom, it was scummy and slimy.

The gun went off and I started flailing, realizing I’d gone about 10 strokes without my face in the water. Hell no, when I put my face in the water, it was so shockingly cold my chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe! I’m prone to panic attacks and this did not help. What was I thinking?? By the time I realized I was doing a modified doggy paddle, I looked ahead and saw that most other girls in my wave were doing the same. It was going to be a long almost-half mile.

I finally got my face in the water and ended up overshooting the first buoy, apparently a common mistake for first-timers. I adjusted my route then stopped at a kayak to catch some breaths, calculated how far to the next kayak and began again. Stopped for about 30 seconds at the next kayak, touched bottom and stepped on something that felt like plastic. Moving. Not moving because I stepped on it, but moving like it was already moving by the time I stepped on it. That was enough to get me swimming again. Thank God for balance drills, because the rest of the way was spent on my side with one arm leading while I kicked, or side stroking, or on my back. (I later found out that there are divers under water, looking up, for safety reasons. I’m betting I landed on one.)

I’m sure you’re wondering about the waves behind me. There were probably two more female waves, then Athena, and they were all politely non-eventful as they passed the few of us who were taking our time thoroughly enjoying the swim. But a little past half-way, not a kayak in sight, I had to flip over on my back. I fixated on the clear blue sky and attempted some deep breaths, deciding I would not panic. If there were a canoe or kayak in sight, I might have told them to take me out right then. But I told people I would do this, and there was no way in hell I was going out in the first half hour. (Also, there was not a canoe or kayak in sight.)

After what felt like an hour, I relaxed and caught my breath. But as I did, I heard a sound. Still on my back, I took my focus off the sky and lifted my head to see the yellow piranhas coming at me; the elite men in their yellow swim caps. (The Yellow Piranhas, as we would later refer to them) They, of course, had their faces in the water and didn’t know that I and a few others were still there in the line of fire, bobbing up and down.

They tell you you might get kicked, punched or scratched at the start. You might get your goggles kicked off. You might not be able to breathe on the side you’re used to because of waves, so you should practice bilateral breathing. We practice mass starts in the pool. The start wasn’t my problem! Honestly, the fight wasn’t what I was afraid of, it was my own panic. A few hit me, most kept going, one stopped and asked if I was ok. I actually laughed. “Yep, I’m good!” And as I finished the swim, happy to touch bottom, I could care less about the slime or the muddy water streaks on my arms.

Bike, my fav. I got a few “GO TEAM!”s from some random, probably past-TNT participants and a few in Livestrong tri-suits. I was passed by many men on carbon road bikes hearing “whooooshhhhhh” as they went by, yet I still passed more than a few people on my clunky, heavy hybrid. I wouldn’t be last. Yesssss.

Run, not so favorite. I have a numb foot thing I need to get checked out. I finished, and not last. 

Hubs went to retrieve my chocolate milk recovery drink from the car and I went to the porta-potty to change out of my gross tri shorts. I closed the door and sobbed for at least five minutes straight. Disappointment over what I hoped would be a better swim, and the release of pressure of six months worth of training while downplaying the hugeness of it all. I just completed a triathlon. I was the girl in high school who came up with excuses why I couldn’t run the mile in gym class. I raised money to cure blood cancers and I should’ve been more present, and should’ve enjoyed it more, but it was over now. I will NEVER do this again.

Lessons learned:

  • Triathlons are big time! Don’t down-play it. It’s a huge accomplishment!
  • Train for performance, and weight-loss/fitness will follow. Bonus!
  • Get open-water swim trainings in. There’s no line to follow at the bottom of a muddy, smelly, slimy lake. Trust me, and all the articles you read. Really. I didn’t.
  • You don’t need to set up your transition area like you’re going on a 7 day vaca.
  • Relax during the swim. Remember and use what you learned in training. Your chances of surviving are pretty damn good. Especially in a wetsuit.
  • My bike was nice, flat, through fields and farm-land (and no flat tires to change, though I was fully prepared.) Wave at the kids on their front lawns cheering for you. One day they might write about how you inspired them after they win their first Ironman.
  • If you’re prepared to change a flat you won’t have anything to worry about on the ride during a sprint, unless it’s raining and slippery.
  • Practice clipping and unclipping from your pedals. I didn’t learn any lessons at the tri, but fell right out of the parking lot on my first training ride.
  • Non-triathlete spectators and supporters won’t get it. That’s ok.

Prerace – Organized, well-run, comfortable.
Swim – Plenty of support. Gross lake. Could’ve been one more kayak between 2nd and finish, but that’s the wuss in me talking. I made it anyway.
Bike – Visually appealing, flat, saw bike support on the side of the road, though thoroughly prepared to change my own flat.
Run – Sufficient (and enthusiastic) fluid stations.
Finish – Announcer. Didn’t hyperventilate – score!

Stay tuned for a less emotional triathlon #2.

Dirty

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‘Tis the season for non-traditional endurance events. They’re all the rage these days, ranging from hardcore mountain-biking to fire leaping to city scavenger hunts that are a spin on the traditional bar crawl.

Last summer I inserted a new event into my half-marathon schedule to do something a little out of the norm and a little more dirty. I can’t remember if it was my idea or my friend Laura’s, but we registered for the Columbia Muddy Buddy Ride & Run Series which took place at Harriman State Park, NY.

We wore our chapter’s Team in Training triathlon suits, but some people got really decked out. From matching team running gear to full-out costumes like Buzz and Woody, pirates, ballerinas and superheroes.

Laura and I registered as a team, meaning that we’d complete the 5 mile course as bike/run/bike/run, or run/bike/run/bike, switching off at every obstacle. I started on the bike, and she started running. The course was mostly trails through a park, with exposed tree roots, lots of rocks and was uphill the entire way. Or felt like it. I even fell twice, cutting myself and bleeding, once tripping over a tree root while running on the trail, and once just standing over my own bike.

You got to the first obstacle, (a high balance beam slippery with mud) dropped off the bike, completed it, then ran on to the next obstacle. (A metal wall you climb over with a net to climb down on the other side) Your running teammate reached the first obstacle after you, completed it, then found and picked up the bike that you decorated to make it easier to find, passed you along the way and continued on to the next obstacle where they dropped off the bike. Following?

Upon completing the course over the river, through the woods and obstacles, you finished together by crawling through a mud pit. A smelly, knee gashing, thick, gross mud pit. We felt abandoned sneakers and t-shirts in the mud, while what felt like ground up sea-shells dug into and cut up our knees. Yet we laughed the entire way while trudging our way through, trying not to breathe through our noses. I even captured the entire event on a helmet cam.

It was a lot of fun, but we agreed that next time we’d do it as individuals instead of as a team so we could do the whole course together instead of leap-frogging.

Afterwards, we hosed off the mud in a field where a tanker truck was stationed with 50 hoses spurting water. The men took much longer than the ladies…just sayin’.

It was a great experience, and the only thing we wish was different, other than not doing it as a team, was the obstacles. They could’ve been a little harder. And we wish we received medals. However, the levels of dirtiness and belly laughter were more than acceptable.

Have you done a dirtier non-traditional race? Which one(s), and would you do it again?

A fellow Etsian who’s training to run some 5k’s herself, GeeZees, creates personalized canvas art and recently created this for her husband who participated in Tough Mudder in April. Read her blog post here. This is a great gift or something to hang on your own wall to commemorate your non-traditional race!

Thank You

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John “The Penguin” Bingham, a longtime friend of TNT, motivates us at our pre-race Inspiration dinners and sticks around on race-day long after the middle-of-the-packers have finished to proudly high-five the final  crossers at our finish lines. I first heard John speak at my second half-marathon in Anchorage approximately ten years ago. I’ve read his books, look forward to laughing at his humorous Inspiration Dinner speeches and some of my friends make fun of me for trying to get pictures with him at events.

Until recently, I admittedly knew more about John than I did about his wife, Coach Jenny Hadfield. Last year Coach Jenny spoke at one of our Inspiration Dinners. She spoke to a room of hundreds, and while she probably only knew small percentage of the room personally, she had a cool calm confidence in us all that I’m sure helped many across the finish line the next day.

I started to read up on Jenny, “endurance athlete, writer, motivator, adventreprenuer…” and thought “I wanna be like Jenny when I grow up.”

One morning after starting up the @Mile_Stones twitter account, I followed Coach Jenny. Approximately 10 minutes later (I think it may have been 9, but who’s counting?) Coach Jenny tweeted about Mile Stones, and we’ve received lots and lots of love ever since. She ordered some coasters, and also some as prizes to award on the Caribbean Marathon Cruise. She also featured Mile Stones in an Active.com article, Coach Jenny’s 11 Running Must-haves For Spring. We were included in the May/June issue of Women’s Running Magazine as one of Coach Jenny’s “Favorite Things” and we were also honored to be part of her segment that aired on ABC News in Chicago (on my birthday) here: ABC News – Chicago Coach’s Top Picks For Running Gear.

Thank you Coach Jenny for sharing Mile Stones with your friends and fans. As a result, I’ve gotten to “meet” so many fabulous people with their own race numbers, stories, words of encouragement and even great training advice! To quote one of my Ironman customers after sharing congrats and a small piece of my own sprint triathlon experience, “They say you live through your first tri, and live for the ones that follow.” I’m registering for my next in a few days.

I do what I do because I believe in the people behind the bibs. None of you are just that number pinned to your singlet, bike shirt or tri suit. The commitment and dedication put into achieving amazing things is overwhelming and inspires me to be better. As an endurance athlete myself, I get that those hours you wore it were some of life’s most challenging yet rewarding. Every bib that arrives is handled as though it were my own, and I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to help permanently preserve your race-day memories.

Now what?

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About a month ago we went out for a casual dinner with another couple and their little girls. We sat in the back of the restaurant, and the girls made friends with a little boy. They played with the jukebox about 10 feet away, giggling and shrieking, running back and forth to our tables. Everyone was having a good time. There were no meltdowns, there was a lot of laughing, good conversation and great food.

The little boy ran face-first into a chair and fell down. The kids stopped in their tracks and the parents and adults at the tables around us looked down slowly. Silence while waiting to see if he’d laugh or scream. Now what?

“Get up,” she said. This petite blond pigtailed girly-girl looked down and with all the seriousness in the world told him to get up. So he did, and they continued playing. I don’t know if anyone else picked up on it, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I asked this same little girl about an hour before, “So what’s new?” She rolled her blue eyes around, bit her lip, thought long and hard, then pulled on her shirt, saying, “Well… this is new!” So young and naive yet fully understood what a lot of us have a hard time practicing in adulthood.

Life’s hard. You can plan for it down to the hour, but somewhere along the way you’re gonna get knocked down. Some of us over and over again. I recently had a conversation with one of those over-and-over again people. “I’m scared. I just don’t know what to do. Now what?”

I thought about some of the things I’d been through and remembered how broken down I was. There were times I literally felt like I was going to die. I remembered  something a friend told me years ago. “You’ll always be fine no matter what happens. You deal, you feel better, you live, and you’re fine.” It’s true. I’m better than fine. I remembered a day a long time ago when I forced myself out of bed to watch tv for a few hours and then forced down a container of yogurt before going back to bed. I remembered my friend’s daughter looking down at that little boy with the full expectation that he would just get up, and I was inspired.

I said, “You get up. Everyone’s watching. You look like hell, you feel even worse, you’ll eventually eat when you’re hungry, but it’s not like this is going to kill you. You get up, you make it through an hour, and a day, and so on. You just get up.”

They got up, and I made a magnet to share the inspiration with you. We thank you for the reminder and important lesson, little one.

Get Up

Making the Milestone – Brenda

This is the first post in a series called “Making the Milestone”. I asked my friend Brenda if she would be my first featured coaster client and share why she chose to send me this particular bib for her set of coasters. She is truly an inspiration to me and is one of my heroes. I’m so proud of everything she’s accomplished and I hope to follow at least some of the way in her footsteps. And strokes and tire rotations.

#79. A number I will never forget.

After my daughter was born in 2008, I wanted to get into shape…not even BACK into shape because I was never really there to begin with. I knew running could change my body but I didn’t know where to start.

I found a group at my gym called “Women On the Run” and signed up for their program that was basically a Couch Potato to 5K plan for 10 weeks during the fall. In the beginning you run for one minute then walk for one minute. As you progress, you walk less and run more. The finale of course is running a 3.1 mile event without walking or stopping.

The Great Swamp Devil Run in November 2008 was that big moment for me. The tear up at the end because I thought I just ran so far without stopping kinda thing. And I did it in a respectable 33:43. Since then, I have run numerous events including a half marathon and fell in love with triathlons along the way (swim, bike & run). My current goal is to complete the IronMan 70.3 Pocono Mountains (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in October.

When I heard about Mile Stones through Facebook, I quickly became a fan of the page. I was the lucky winner of a drawing for a set of coasters and was asked to send in a race bib. As I flipped through my stash of numbers I realized how far I’ve come from that cold race day in 2008 and knew exactly which one to choose.

I proudly display my coasters and bought some other great Mile Stone items as gifts for family members who are entering their first event in a few weeks. As I told my future half marathoner mom, it’s never too late to have a #79 of your own.

– Brenda

Thank you Brenda and good luck to your mom!!

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