February 23, 2014 at the Cowtown half marathon was a day of firsts for me. It was my first introduction to the world of endurance sports, my first half marathon, and my first failure to reach a race goal. I finished in 2:00:51, just 52 seconds short of my goal to finish in under 2 hours. It was also where I made a commitment to myself that one day I would qualify for the Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious and storied marathons in the world.
Eventually my passion for running would morph into a passion for triathlon. Even as half marathons were replaced by half ironmans, my dream of qualifying for Boston remained. I completed my first full marathon in December of 2016 with a promising time of 3:15. After accomplishing this milestone, I knew I was ready to make my dream of qualifying for Boston become a reality. I discussed my ambitions with my coach and together we planned my race schedule for the upcoming year. I would wrap up my triathlon season in late October and shift my focus to qualifying at the Houston Marathon on January 14, 2018.
As a triathlete, the marathon is a precarious event to train for. With the necessary running mileage increase comes the risk of injury, sickness (especially in this flu season), and overtraining. Additionally, my peak training would come right in the middle of the holidays and a whirlwind tour of family visits across Texas, weddings, and holiday parties. With the guidance of my coach, Amari Holmes, I was fortunate to make it to race week with relatively few issues. After a week of tapering, my wife Mandi and I loaded up the car and headed to Houston.
Although my family lives in Houston, we decided to stay at a hotel next to the start line to keep race morning as stress free as possible. The race would start at 7:00 AM and I had to be in the starting corral no later than 6:45. On race day morning my alarm went off at 5:00 am. I scarfed down a bagel followed by a bowl of oatmeal and spent the remainder of the time leading up to the race stretching and visualizing my race plan. At 6:30 when I headed downstairs to the starting corral it was a chilly 32 degrees outside – perfect for running but less than ideal for staying loose and warm. Mandi and I continued our warmup with a light half mile jog to the corral and waited for the gun. 15 minutes later I gave Mandi one last kiss, wished her good luck on her half marathon and the race was on.
The first few miles were all about settling in at a decent pace and keeping my heart rate as low as possible. My plan was to negative split the race. To accomplish this, it would be key not to start too fast. The qualifying time for my age group was 3:05. Finishing with a time of 3:05 would guarantee my ability to register for Boston but would not guarantee my registration would be accepted. Because the amount of people who qualify for Boston surpass the number of slots available[MD1] , in reality I would need to finish closer to 3:02 or 3:03 to guarantee qualification. I settled in at just over a 7:00 minute/mile pace, focused on staying as relaxed as possible and followed my nutrition plan which consisted of taking one Gu energy gel every 4 miles and a splash of water at each aid station.
I crossed the 13.1 mile marker at 1:31:15. To reach my goal, I would have to run a sub 1:30 second half. I was feeling great. I dropped my pace to a 6:45 minute/mile and tried to remain as calm as possible. It was staring to hurt but I got a much-needed boost of energy from seeing my family around mile 17. The plan was to make it to mile 20 and put everything I had left into the final 10k.
It wasn’t until I reached mile 20 that I began to realize that things were going very well. I reached the 20 mile marker 2 minutes ahead of schedule and was on pace for a sub 3 hour run. After 3 years of dreaming, months of training, and 20 miles of racing it was time to make my goal become a reality. I dropped my pace to 6:30 minute/mile and distracted myself from the task at hand by thinking about how amazing the feeling of crossing the finish line would be. The final 6 miles were a combination of euphoria and pain. At mile 23 every muscle and joint in my legs was on fire and screaming for me to stop or slow down, but with just over 3 miles left I pressed on.
I entered downtown Houston in a state of total disbelief with less than a mile remaining. I passed a sign saying ½ mile to go and simultaneously could not wait for the race to be over but didn’t want the experience to end. A few minutes later the finish line was in sight. I glanced at my watch and saw 2:57 and I knew I had done it. I savored the moment, took it all in, and crossed the line at 2:57:43 - seven minutes and seventeen seconds faster than the 3:05 Boston qualifying time.
I am truly amazed at how far I have come as an athlete since that first half marathon in 2014. I am proof that with the right support system in place, no goal is out of reach. Playtri owner and coach Ahmed Zaher once told me there is no such thing as a crazy goal, only a crazy commitment. To reach my goal of qualifying for Boston took a crazy commitment from so many people other than myself. The Playtri family including coach Ahmed, coach Beth, friends, and fellow athletes helped me through the entire process. With the help of Dallas Sports Recovery and Massage I was able to stay fresh and avoid injury during training. Coach Amari was the mastermind behind my training and preparation. She saw my potential and pushed me to achieve my goals, providing thoughtful feedback and oversight every step of the way. Finally, my amazing wife Mandi was persistent in holding me accountable to Amari’s plan. I didn’t have to think twice about my diet because she was diligent about cooking healthy meals to fuel my training and recovery needs. We ran every step of the 2014 Cowtown together and she has been with me every step of my Boston journey.
Boston, I’ll see you on Patriots Day in 2019.
Just wanted to give everyone an update on my Ironman journey...
I’m a little over 2 months in and just finished my second key weekend over the New Year’s weekend.
Each key weekend increases the load to move me closer to my goal. Just to give you an example of a key weekend here were my workouts:
- Friday - 1-hour swim followed by a 2 hour brick trainer ride
- Saturday - 4-hour trainer ride followed by a 30 min brick run
- Sunday - Half Marathon
Now looking at that all together might seem overwhelming but you just take it one workout, one segment or even one interval at a time. If you would have told me at the beginning of this journey I would run a half marathon 2 months in I would have laughed and said you were crazy. Between multiple foot injuries and inconsistencies with my running prior to starting Ironman training, that Half on a very cold and snowing/sleeting New Year’s Eve I had only run 5.5 miles. I stuck to the plan and while miles 6-13 were slower than the first 5, I finished it!
Through these weeks of training my families support and that of my Coach and training buddies have been part of the driving force pushing me through. That 4-hour trainer ride would have been so difficult if i hadn’t had others riding with me or dropping by to give words of encouragement! Thanks Jodi, John, Reed, Tamar, and Erin!
I have also learned how important recovery is...monthly visits to my Chiropractor, Dr. Rodgers, foam rolling even though I don’t like to and using compression boots after the longer workouts have really helped.
I have learned to always have a backup plan, I had a hill workout one morning but due to rain and fog had to go to the gym and do hill repeats on the treadmill. Maybe it’s not a workout but a meal for the family...have some crockpot meals in the freezer or a quick throw together meal ready if you get off work late and the meal you had planned can’t be ready in time.
This experience has been so different from any other training as I have a Coach who listens and plans workouts not only that she knows I will do but I can see the progression and love knowing that it is specifically for me and not just a turn-key plan that may or may not benefit me or get me to my goal. Coach Morgan Hoffman, YOU ARE AMAZING, Thank you!
I moved to Texas from Illinois in January 2016 and have been involved in triathlon since 2013. As I grew up in the sport in a much colder state, I’ve had somewhat of a forced experience in training in all weathers. in Illinois it’s not uncommon for the temperatures in winter to dip below zero degrees, however, if we want to do well in race season, we need to prepare in the offseason.
First a word of caution - if you feel at all unsafe in the conditions, please delay the training until weather improves. There is no use in beating ourselves up by training in dangerous conditions. Running or biking in unsafe conditions will likely result in injuries, which will hinder training more than taking it inside or skipping a day.
Breaking it down by sport:
The easy one is swim. Open water is not generally available to us in winter, so I highly encourage you to check out an indoor pool or take a session in Playtri’s endless pool as often as you so desire. Once the conditions start to warm up again, a wetsuit is worthwhile from March onwards to get an early start on open water, watch the Playtri website for open water practices starting again.
Running outdoors in winter is actually (in my opinion) much more pleasant than running in hot summer. The key here in Texas is layers - I’ve found that I can often start a run in the 40s but it be high 60s by the time we finish. Typically you want to aim for what you would be comfortable in about 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, and even warmer conditions if the intention is a higher intensity run. Runner’s World has put together a handy “what to wear” app on their website: https://www.runnersworld.com/what-to-wear which I have bookmarked and use whenever I’m not sure what will be good for the conditions, just fill in your gender, weather conditions and when you are running and it’ll spit out a suggestion to fit the conditions. I suggest filling in the conditions in the expected middle of your run time.
A few things it is good to have in your wardrobe for winter running:
Base layer - used for colder temperatures underneath technical fabrics to assist with wicking moisture away and keeping heat in.
Long sleeved technical shirt - I find the free ones at beginning of season/end of season races to be very adequate and after a few years in the sport have a selection to pick from.
Short sleeved shirts for when it’s not quite so cold or warmup is expected
Warmup jacket or fleece - I’m a fan of fleece personally for this and my go to fleece is zip up so i can unzip as I get warmer
Wind breaker layer either can be worn directly over the tech shirt over the fleece/jacket depending on the temperature - to keep the wind from biting through the clothing.
Trail running shoes - these tend to be higher grip and more waterproof than regular running shoes - I use mine on the road during frosty, snowy or wet conditions.
Lightweight running tights -should be the most you need in Texas, although if you intend to travel to colder climates during winter a thermal pair could also be added.
During darker evenings or early morning it is a good idea to invest in some visibility equipment - I have a flashing headlamp and a handheld flashlight that I do use during dark runs along with reflective clothing choices.
As a general rule, it is good to dress for conditions 20 degrees cooler than you would for run. This is due to the cooling effect of the wind on the ride. That said I’ve found that providing I can keep my fingers, toes, and torso dry and warm, I will generally be fine in a pair of cycle shorts down to about 40 degrees. You may find me on the group rides with a coat, gloves and a hat but still wearing cycling shorts, I usually use thermal socks in winter and am a fan of breath thermo (Mizuno) which has a fiber that gets warmer as it absorbs sweat from your body.
I recommend utilizing as much daylight as possible with the bike - car drivers have a difficult time seeing us and judging speed and distance in the dark even if we are using lights. If you can schedule your ride during the weekend (we have some excellent group ride opportunities) or have a flexible schedule and can get a ride in during the daylight hours it is a much better option.
If this is not possible consider using an indoor trainer or joining an indoor group trainer session (now available at Playtri).
Stay visible at all times -use multiple lights and reflective clothing on both the bike and run workouts. Wear bright colors where possible, especially in the dark or dull conditions.
Watch out for icy conditions - if the temperature is in the low 30s or below you may find ice, which can be a surprise at times. On bike keep a straight line as possible with no sudden movements. On run shorten your stride and focus on landing mid foot to increase traction.
Meet Amber Motsney, an amazing working mom & wife, now challenging herself to complete an Ironman in 2018. That's a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and full marathon! Playtri will be following Amber’s journey from start of IM training through IMTX in April 2018 on our Athlete's Blog.
Tell us about yourself...
I am Wife to Michael and Mother to Tori (21), Lauren (15) and Grace (11). I’m the Manager of Provider Relations for North Texas with UnitedHealthcare. My husband Michael is a High School English teacher/Girls Basketball/Softball coach. My oldest daughter is in college and recently moved out, Lauren is a Sophomore in High School and on the Drill Team, and Grace is in 6th grade, plays the flute and takes Ballet, Jazz and Hip Hop.
How long have you been doing triathlons?
I just completed my 3rd year of triathlon.
How did you start?
In December of 2010 I was 200 lbs and knew I needed to change my habits or my health would be impacted and I wanted to be around for my family. I started with Zumba and then went to Running and needed something to keep me active. I heard about Playtri’s group program with Bike Rental and the rest is history. I fell in love with the sport and the people in the Triathlon Community.
What is your big goal for 2018?
Why did you decide this goal?
I originally wanted to do an Ironman the year I turned 40 but that was delayed a year with a few injures so 2018 is the year. I have completed several Sprints, Olympics and this year completed Galveston 70.3.
What do you think will be some challenges in achieving this goal?
Time…I’m not fast in any of the sports but very persistent
What are you doing to address those challenges?
I hired a Coach as I had been using the Group Programs but for Ironman felt the need to have individual coaching. Stay consistent with my workouts and make sure I am working on recovery so I won’t risk injury.
Any general tips for those starting their triathlon journey or thinking about a “bigger” goal in 2018?
Every race or training day is a learning experience. Learn as much as you can from others and surround yourself with supportive teammates. As a Playtri Race Team member I love seeing my teammates out on the course and we encourage and cheer each other on. Our Facebook group is a huge help as well. For me the decision to take on Ironman was one that I thought about for sometime but in the end I felt I never would feel ready to sign-up. I just needed to do it and get myself ready.
Any recommendations for other athletes out there on deciding on a bigger goal:
-Don’t set an unrealistic goal
-Talk to others who have done the race and get feedback
-Talk to your Coach about what you want to do and get their feedback
-Have a support team to encourage you when things get hard or you are having a bad day
-Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this
Any specific tips for women who want to “tri” bigger goals?
-Get your families buy-in.
-Meal Plan/Prep - My Sunday evenings are typically meal prepping for the week. I pick up groceries at the store with the new grocery pick up available at several of the local stores. It really cuts down on time spent grocery shopping and buying things I don’t need to eat.
-Ask for help, this is really hard for me but I know I can’t do everything and get my training done.
1) What race did you do and what distance?
Stonebridge Tri Sprint distance (750m/20km/5km).
2) What went well?
Looking back, many minor things could have been improved upon, and many things were way better than expected. The best part of the event was simply having my training buddies racing alongside me.
3) What was unexpected area for improvement?
Swimming a straight line in unfamiliar waters.
4) Will you tri again?!
Absolutely without a doubt going to tri again next season.
5) Any tips for a first timer?
Practice transitions. Don’t overthink it, trust your training, and do not change anything before your race. Clean bikes are faster – hashtag science. Allow your first race to be a celebration of your efforts to get there.