Monday, December 28, 2015

Running for Christmas Cookies

One of the first events I penciled into my calendar for December was the 2nd Annual Christmas Cookie Run.  I started hosting this event last year for a group of my favorite Charlotte swim-bike-run friends and it was far too much fun to be a one-time event.  The premise is simple - run several miles, eat dinner, hang out, and exchange cookies.  If there's one thing to know about triathletes, it's that we LOVE to eat!

I prepared two types of cookies for the party - chocolate covered cherry cookies and lemon ricotta cookies.  Combined with a third batch of triple ginger cookies, I baked nearly 200 cookies in the course of 24 hours.  

To balance the abundance of sugar that our cookie exchange would provide, I prepared a dinner that included butternut squash, sweet potato chips sand salsa, vegetables and hummus, crackers and goat cheese topped with a fig spread, and giant Christmas grapes.

Once the group of 15 arrived, we headed out for a four mile run on a rather warm December night.  Our destination was Hillside Avenue's famous Christmas globes.  This street of a little less than a mile features hundreds of lit balls hung from the trees in all of the yards.  Our run even included a stop for caroling at a friend's house, where we sang a few lines of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" before realizing we didn't actually know all of the lyrics.

We paused for a group picture, complete with our reflective gear.  We made multiple attempts with a self timer, but ultimately recruited some neighbors to take a better group picture.

Eventually we made it back to the house to nourish our grumbling stomaches - starting with dinner, but moving quickly to cookies.

Everyone prepared 4 dozen of their favorite Christmas cookie, resulting in a wonderful selection eating.  Some of the standouts were flourless chocolate orange cookies, oreo cookie balls, cake batter cookies, snowflakes, whoopie pies, and fudge.

The benefit from a cookie exchange is that you bring a single type of cookie, but go home with a box full of more than a dozen different varieties.  Our crew of triathletes had a wonderful night running, eating, and celebrating Christmas!  Next year, hopefully someone else will be able to host and I'll make the drive from Atlanta to spend the night with a fantastic group of friends.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

After a rather lengthy drive amidst the millions of Thanksgiving travelers, I arrived home in time to help Mom finish the last of the Thanksgiving feast preparation.  It was a wonderful morning in our pajamas, listening to Christmas music, and cooking.

Thanksgiving Day started with a long run with Bailey, green smoothies, a family hike, and the Macy's  parade.  Lunch consisted of a spread of munchies - crackers, cheeses, salsa, veggies with dip, and roasted nuts - that we grazed on throughout the afternoon.  Dad was manning the grills and our two 13 pound turkeys.

Just as the sun was setting, we captured a family picture.  You may just see four of us (plus the dog) in the picture, but there's a little baby boy the size of a banana that Royce and Erin will be welcoming in to there family in April!  It's crazy to think that I'll have a 7 month old nephew next Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving dinner menu included turkey, oyster dressing, stuffing with butternut squash and cherries, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted root vegetables, celery salad, and cranberry sauce.  For a brief period, there was silence at the table of 9, as we savored each and every bite of the delicious spread.

Grandpa and Grandma enjoyed having all of their children in town to celebrate the holiday together.  I'm pretty sure Grandpa was thinking - "hurry and take this picture so I can dig into my dinner."

The chefs and hosts once again executed a holiday gathering with complete success.  I'm thankful for so many things, but these two people are on the top of my list!

A selfie of the "kids" just before we dove into pumpkin and apple pies.  Thanks to Royce for capturing all of our large shiny foreheads with this unique view.

On Friday we had more family time planned for the afternoon, so Bailey and I snuck out around lunch time for a hike.  It was a picture-perfect day with sunny skies and temperatures nearly 70 degrees.

We both enjoyed soaking up the fresh air and stretching our legs after a day of lots of eating.

That evening, Dad built a perfect fire and we all gathered in the backyard around the fire pit.  Although it's sometimes borderline too cold or windy to enjoy the fire, the trend of perfect weather continued and we spent a couple hours chatting and just enjoying each other's company.

Saturday morning's breakfast started as a random selection of leftovers, but I managed to turn it into a plate of scrambled eggs with veggies, pumpkin cornbread french toast topped with cinnamon applesauce, and citrus segments.

Saturday afternoon was spent in downtown Roswell, yet again soaking up the sunshine.  We started with lunch at The Mill Kitchen and Bar, where I couldn't resist ordering a lobster roll.  It wasn't quite the same as the one I had in Boston during the epic snowstorm this winter.

After, we walking a short distance to Old Mill Park  and hiked some new-to-us trails.  I had no idea this beautiful waterfall existed in the middle of downtown Roswell.

Dad and Mom once again looking so young and photogenic!  I can't wait to move back to Atlanta this summer and spend much more time with this crew.

And lastly, I leave you with a picture that demonstrates what happens when your kids move out and the dog becomes the center of your universe.  Bailey is very well taken care of and ensures that she gets endless attention, runs and long walks, belly rubs, and time to soak up the sun.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Life After Louisville

Ironman Louisville feels as though it was ages ago, yet it's only been five weeks.  Life has been flying by at the blink of an eye and I have no idea where the time has gone.   Let's see, I last left off just as I was returning to Atlanta from Louisville.  In typical fashion, Mom and I celebrated our birthdays together with a delicious meal of split pea soup, applesauce, herb rolls, and caesar salad.  Thanks to Grandma for making the soup and applesauce and for bringing a decadent birthday cake!

Bailey joined in the action as well by opening the presents and shredding the wrapping paper to an abundance of small drool covered pieces.

My very sore self drove back to Charlotte the following day and sat at the bottom of the staircase for a solid 10 minutes finding the strength to carry all of my luggage and bike back upstairs.

One evening I opted for convenience and cashed in a birthday coupon at Fresh To Order.  My hassle-free dinner included citrus glazed salmon, roasted corn, and grilled vegetables.

Perhaps the single thing I was most looking forward to post-Ironman was lazy weekend mornings that didn't involve a six-hour workout.  Sometimes it is the simple pleasures of sleeping in and enjoying a latte in my pajamas that are the best weekend plans.

Many recent dinners have consisted of scrambled eggs, soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, or PB&J.  On an occasion, however, I've had the time to prepare a more well-balanced meal.  This particular dinner included a brussel sprout gratin over brown rice, roasted zucchini, turnips, and garlic broccoli.

Bailey came to stay with me for two weeks while Mom and Dad were vacationing in California.  

She did her fair share of lounging and made sure to verbalize her need for a blanket any time she was chilled.

I tried my hardest to spend one entire weekend studying for my orthopaedic in-training exam and Bailey tried equally hard to demonstrate her dislike for my idleness.

The secret to getting her to sleep while I study is to go on an 8 mile run.  That was worth about an hour nap before she was back to her pestering self.

On Halloween she dressed up and looks just as adorable as ever.  Fortunately, we didn't have even a single trick-or-treater for her to scare.

We enjoyed a Saturday morning at Atherton Mill buying some local produce and sipping on a chai latte in the sunshine.  Bailey maintained her aloof personality despite endless people petting her and commenting on her beauty.

Over the course of two weeks, we covered nearly 80 miles of walking and running.  I discovered several great neighborhoods within walking distance that I had never explored.  Bailey got her exercise, and I was able to study and walk at the same time.  Speaking of workouts, my post-Ironman off-season is in full swing.  I've continued some swimming, biking, and running, but added more time lifting weights and trying out some pilates, yoga, and barre classes.

Despite spending many  more hours in her crate than she is used to at home, Bailey was certainly very content to cozy up on the sofa and sleep each evening.  It was a wonderful two weeks being a dog owner, but it is certainly hard work to balance a busy work schedule with the demands of a very active pet.  Although I won't be getting a dog of my own any time soon, Bailey will be back for a few weeks in May!

And with that, I've caught you up on the past five weeks.  I'm headed home for Thanksgiving in 10 days and I'm thrilled to enjoy a few days of family, rest, and relaxation!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Ironman Louisville 2015

OCTOBER 11, 2015

SWIM - 1:02:53
T1 - 10:54
BIKE - 6:15:09
T2 - 5:54
RUN - 3:53:43
FINISH: 11:28:22
13/119 W30-34      57/788 Women      345/2573 Overall

Race Morning
I was awake at 4:30am with a plan to meet Theoden, Doug, and Lex  in front of the hotel at 5:15am and walk to transition.  I slept surprisingly well, got dressed, packed my last minute gear, ate a breakfast of rice cakes topped with peanut butter, banana, and honey, and sipped on hot tea on our walk.  

Race day also happened to be my birthday, but despite the multiple birthday wishes I was focused on nothing other than my race.  In transition I pumped my tires, double checked my wheels, put last minute items in my transition bags, dropped off my special needs bags, and then gathered with my parents and the boys to walk to the swim start.  

When we arrived at the start at 5:45am, the line was already more than a mile long.  By the time we were body marked, claimed our spot in line, went to the bathroom, walked back to our spot in the line, and put on our wetsuits, the starting gun went off and suddenly the line was moving.  I was bummed I never heard the National Anthem, but as it turns out they played "My Old Kentucky Home instead."  

Just prior to the start I sipped on a bottle of skratch and ate half of a bonk breaker.  The air temperature was a cool 48 degrees, which was cold even in a wetsuit, so I hung on to a fleece blanket until we were within site of the starting docks.  I said good-bye to my parents, fist-pumped the guys, soaked up some cheers from Charlotte friends, and then made the last walk down the boat ramp.  

Swim 1:02:53 (1:37/100m)
Approximately 25 minutes passed from the swim start until I jumped off the dock and into the 69 degree Ohio River.  In an ideal world, I would have been in the water much earlier to avoid the congestion, but it didn’t work out that way.  Having not worn my BlueSeventy wetsuit for more than a year, I immediately noticed the dramatic difference in buoyancy.   The first 1500 meters are “upriver” between an island and shore, but I can’t say I noticed any significant current.  In the scheme of things, it was a relatively clean swim, but I did a lot more sighting than average to zig-zag between slower swimmers.  As I passed the island, I noticed a large group of people standing up and walking in an area with a sandbar, but I opted to stay closer to the buoys and continue swimming.   Once we made the turn to swim downriver, I kept towards the main channel in hopes I might pick up some current and stay out of the congestion.  This worked well and I had fairly clean water until the second bridge when I found myself dodging lots of breast strokers and even a large log. 

I felt like my swim was taking an eternity and as my neck became sore from so much sighting, I wanted nothing more than to be out of the water.   Fortunately, thanks to ridiculous amounts of TriGlide borrowed from Theoden, I didn’t sense any chafing on my neck or arms.  Finally I caught site of the finishing stairs and made a direct line back to shore.  Volunteers were trying to help pull people out of the water, but it’s much harder than you would expect to find your footing on the carpeted stairs.  I caught a glimpse of my Garmin for the first time as I exited the water and was satisfied with 1:02, though hoping for less.  As it turns out, I should have been really please as that was the 10th fastest swim in my age group (top 6% of females, top 9% overall).  I made my way over to two wetsuit strippers who appeared confident in their abilities, and after a short struggle to pull the sleeve over my Garmin, they whipped that wetsuit off in a split second.  

T1 10:43

Unfortunately, the speed with which my wetsuit was removed would turn out to be the fastest portion of my transition.  I grabbed my bike bag and ran very cautiously toward the women’s changing tent.  I wish Ironman had taken the time to put carpeting down on this path, because it had turned into a dangerous slick muddy mess.  Once in the tent there were no volunteers available, so I took one of very few chairs, dumped out my bag, and got to work putting on my bike gear.   Another gripe I have was the very small size of the changing tent and too few volunteers, which were a big disappointment after having an abundance of both in Chattanooga last year.  Because of the anticipated cool temperatures on the bike, I had opted not to wear my tri jersey on the swim so that at least part of me would be dry.  Despite using a towel to quickly wipe off my arms, it turned into a giant struggle to get a tight fitting tri top, arm warmers, and gloves on over semi-wet skin with cold fingers.  At the time though I felt like the extra time would be worth the added warmth.  Once I accomplished that feat and repacked my bag, I made my way out of the tent only to be told by a volunteer that I had to take my bag back inside the tent and give it to a different volunteer.  Very frustrated, I simply told her that there were no free volunteers and that I was leaving my bag there, and that was precisely what I did.  The last portion of transition should be simple – grab your bike and go.  I, however, managed to make that difficult as well, dislodging my aero bottle when removing it from the rack.  This meant tightening the velcro strap (near impossible to do with my gloves on!), realizing the strap was twisted, taking the whole bottle out of the cage, re-fastening the Velcro, putting my gloves back on, and finally making my way out of transition.  I spent more than 10 minutes being sucked into the black hole of transition, and it is without a doubt the biggest disappointment I had in my race execution.  

Out of transition we ran a short distance to the road and the bike mount line.  The first 12 miles along River Road were completely flat and I settled in to my target power (160W) at a very comfortable effort.  As we made the right-hand turn onto 1694, I reminded myself to ride this section conservatively.  Everyone had warned me that the road was narrow, hills were steep, and there would be plenty of people riding recklessly.  I took the giant downhill up on my hoods and then shifted to my smallest gear to climb back out.  The worst part was when we had to turn around within a single lane of the road, so rather than risk crashing, I unclipped one foot and cautiously made the turn.  Just as I did, I caught site of a guy less than 50 feet behind me do a summersault over his bike and crash really hard.  It looked terrible, but fortunately there were medical staff stationed at that turn to assist.  Heading back out along 1694 was definitely more congested and perilous, and I was thankful to make it back to the main road.  My Garmin was beeping every 7 miles as a reminder to eat a square of bonk breaker and drink skratch (~250 calories/hour).  I mentally divided the course into three 35 mile sections (5 x 7 miles) plus the final 7 miles to guide nutrition and avoid focusing on all 112 miles.  

The early section of the loop passed quickly thanks to aid stations, abundant crowd support, and a Tour De France-like atmosphere in LaGrange.  If the ride through LaGrange was the highpoint of each loop, the next 20 miles were the lowest.  We first rode along a narrow back road with plenty of short steep climbs and then we made a left turn and hit a stout wind that seemed to shift between being into our faces and then from the side.  On a couple of occasions it caught my front tire and pushed me several feet across the road, so at that point I no longer was comfortable controlling my bike in aero.  The miles seemed to drag on, my neck and shoulders had already become very sore, my right foot had an odd pain, and for about 20 miles, I wanted nothing more than to call it a day and get off that bike.  Anyone who has raced this distance will tell you that you’ll play mental games with yourself all day, fighting the lows both mentally and physically, and that was without a doubt my lowest point that day.  

Finally we reached mile 60 (the start of the second loop) and mentally I checked back into the game.  The crowd support once again renewed my energy, and despite nagging neck pain that kept me upright rather than aero for nearly the entire rest of the bike, I knew my day was far from over.  The cheers of my Mom and several awesome Charlotte friends (Kelly, Kelli, and Nate) had me fired up for the second battle with the winds.  There really wasn’t much notable about the final 30+ miles.  I looked forward to each beep to indicate I could eat again, and easily tolerated all four bonk breakers, five bottles of scratch, and several licks of Base salt throughout the ride.  I had hoped to regain some speed in the final flat 10 miles, but my 22mph average on that outbound stretch was only 19 mph on the inbound stretch at the same power.  In the final miles I took a Gu Roctane in preparation for the run but instantly regretted it.  The taste was nauseating and suddenly I was adjusting my planned run nutrition.  Making the turn into downtown Louisville with cheering crowds and dismounting after 6 hours in the saddle is a great feeling and I was thrilled to be starting my run.  Final data for the bike was 6:15:09 (17.91mph), NP 156, VI 1.09, HR 143, and 5341 feet of elevation change. 22nd AG, 117th female, 682 overall.

If T1 was an epic disaster, than T2 was highly successful.  My legs felt good coming off the bike and there was even a volunteer to help me in the changing tent.  I traded my arm warmers and gloves for calf sleeves, changed shoes and socks, grabbed my nutrition (scratch fruit drops), and started my run.  Time 5:54.

My parents were cheering and Dad even ran along side to offer his encouragement as I headed out for a casual 26.2 mile run.  My run strategy was to run a strong and controlled first half-marathon, knowing that with a lingering hip injury and a longest run of 14 miles, there was a very real chance that I’d be doing a lot of walking during the last 10+ miles.  In typical fashion I went out fast, but settled my heart rate and found a good rhythm pretty quickly. 

Mile 1 – 7:22
Mile 2 – 7:43
Mile 3 – 9:06
Mile 4 – 8:31
Mile 5 – 8:37
Mile 6 – 8:58

My nutrition strategy was in evolution since I abandoned my gels.  I walked through each aid station (at every mile) and took two iced sponges (one squeezed over my head and another stuffed in my top) and a glass of liquid (alternating water and Gatorade) along with one scratch raspberry fruit drop.  I was also carrying a small bottle with skratch and sipped this throughout.  At the mile four aid station they had chocolate chip cookies and I soon found myself focused on getting back to that aid station (twice in each loop) for another bite of chocolaty goodness.   

Mile 7 – 8:44
Mile 8 – 8:55
Mile 9 – 8:56
Mile 10 – 8:47
Mile 11 – 8:36
Mile 12 – 8:43

Mile 13 – 9:06

It’s a major tease as you complete the first loop and run literally 100 yards from the finish line before making a right turn and heading back out for another 13 miles.  I caught sight of my parents again and Dad ran alongside asking how I was feeling.  I remember telling him I felt good (not sure that’s really the right word 127 miles into a race) and him telling me I was making great time.  My Garmin was showing my mile splits, but I otherwise just had total time running on my watch, so I had no idea what my run split was at that point.  Mentally, it’s tough to make the turn for the second loop and realize you still have another half-marathon to go, but I was feeling good and remained positive.

Mile 14 – 9:22
Mile 15 – 9:25
Mile 16 – 9:12
Mile 17 – 9:34
Mile 18 – 9:36
Mile 19 – 9:00

Mile 20 – 9:18

My right foot continued to hurt (I assume from whatever was bothering it on the bike), but amazingly my hip never hurt except for the first few steps I would take as I started running after each aid station.  I started taking coke at every other aid station beginning at mile nine, and together with fruit drops, cookies, water, and salt, my stomach continued to feel good with no signs of painful cramping that had plagued my run in Chattanooga.  The great part of an out and back course is that I was able to see lots of Ironman Foundation athletes as well as all of my Charlotte training buddies that were having great runs.  A simple cheer or high five go a really long way towards getting you down the road a bit further.  A friend’s husband was riding his bike to keep up with the action and biked alongside me off and on for the last 10k, providing a great distraction from my legs that were screaming to walk.  At this point, my pace was slowing, but I remained diligent about walking only during the aid stations.  I thought my chance at a sub-4 hour marathon (a surprising possibility after the first lap) was rapidly diminishing, but also thought that I could realistically have a PR race (11:48 in Chattanooga).

Mile 21 – 9:11
Mile 22 – 9:27
Mile 23 – 9:43
Mile 24 – 9:25
Mile 25 – 9:12

Mile 26 – 8:15

After the mile 24 aid station, I ran the rest of the way, recognizing that the shortest time between me and the finish was to run as fast as possible.  With a mile left to go I realized that sub 11:30 was looking good.  The crowds began to thicken and I made the left turn just a few blocks from the finish.  I remember having a huge smile on my face and realizing that suddenly my run was about to end and I was going to be an Ironman yet again.  I took off my sunglasses, turned my hat around, and soaked it all up.  After the last right turn, the finish line came into sight and the crowd support was incredible, echoing off the glass arch over 4th Street Live.  At the split, this time I stayed to the left of the cones and the Ironman red carpet was all mine.  I slowed to let a couple guys go ahead and then I had my Ironman moment in the setting sun.  Since I never heard my name announced last year, this time I paid close attention – “From Charlotte, North Carolina, Crystal Perkins.  It’s her birthday!  Happy Birthday Dr. Crystal!”  

And with that, I stopped moving for the first time in 11 hours and 28 minutes.  I get goose bumps just writing those last few sentences.  The “thing” that keeps me coming back to Ironman is the mix of emotions and accomplishment that fill me at that very moment. A volunteer placed a medal around my neck and wrapped me in a mylar blanket.  Mom and Dad were to my right and the volunteer took our picture and captured that wonderful moment.  I gathered my finisher shirt and hat and then walked for a few minutes to cool down.   We pulled up my results on the phone and I was shocked to see a marathon time of 3:53:43.  Seven weeks ago I ran one mile and questioned whether I’d ever be able to run (or walk) 26.2.  Femoral neck stress fracture to sub-4 hour marathon – that was the shock of the day! 

My final placements for the day were 13th F 30-34, 57th female, and 345th overall.  Over the course of a marathon, I had passed 9 people in my age group, 60 women, and 337 total people.  


I wandered toward the convention center with promises of a massage and food.  The soreness was kicking in and movement was slow.  I took a few sips of chocolate milk, but my stomach pretty quickly rejected that.  Lying down on the massage table was wonderful and the massage was equally good.  Getting up from the table, however, wasn’t so easy.  I took a few minutes to sit there, feeling for a brief period like I might pass out.  Eventually I walked through the food line (desserts, pizza, and chicken broth) and settled on the broth.  It tasted incredible!  Our hotel was perfectly positioned just a couple blocks away and I enjoyed a much-anticipated hot shower.   Dad was nice enough to go back to transition to pick up my bike and gear bags and then we all met back at the hotel.  After a long day for all of us, we had dinner in the restaurant in the hotel lobby.  French fries with ketchup were my meal of choice and settled my stomach.  As much as I had enjoyed the midnight finish line celebration in Chattanooga, I was much too sore and chilled to wander back down there that night.  Instead, I settled for my Normatec boots and a warm cozy bed.  My Ironman Louisville 31st birthday adventure was complete!  

I have so much more to write about my race, recovery, family birthday dinner, and off-season plans, but I think this novel is more than enough for today.  I'll be back with more later this week . . .