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by Tzatzil LeMair on June 19th, 2018

The First Encounter

My dream to run the Boston Marathon began 22 years ago when my friend Amy and I happen to walk by the final mile of the 100th Anniversary of the race. Something about the human drama we were witnessing right in front of us called my name and I said, “I want to run this race!” Inspired and motivated by the Boston Marathon, I started running daily during study breaks while pursuing my MBA and MS at Boston University. Little did I know it would take me more than 20 years to achieve that goal and that running would shape the next two decades of my life, not just personally but also professionally.

Becoming A Runner

A year and a half later, I ran the New York City Marathon accompanied by my then boyfriend, now husband, Marc. Tip: If you really want to know if you’re compatible with someone, train for and run a marathon together! That race was epic! There was a hurricane moving up the coast and we had torrential rain for most of the race. As a newbie, I was over-trained and struggling with IT band issues from the start. We managed to finish the race in an unimpressive time of 5 hours and one minute - soaking wet, shivering, limping, but elated at having finished our first marathon together.
After running the New York City Marathon, I started doing triathlons – I was hooked. As an executive at an advertising agency in New York, I was traveling constantly. I’d pack my running shoes and run every chance I had. When not traveling, I’d train before and/or after work and run races in Central Park or triathlons in Long Island on the weekends. Two years later, Marc and I got married and moved to Austin, to work at a startup and start a family.
Austin was endurance sports’ heaven and I saw an opportunity. Combining my marketing expertise, leadership skills, and passion for endurance sports, I started Tough Cookie Fitness in 2002. I dedicated the next 15 years to my growing business and growing family. I was coaching women, giving lectures, organizing races, running marathons, competing in all-distance triathlons from sprint to Ironman all the while raising my four boys. It was a blast! However, qualifying for Boston, with its increasingly faster qualifying times, remained an elusive goal which I had given up after narrowly missing qualification in 2006.

​​Unfinished Business

One summer day in 2016, while visiting colleges with the boys, we found ourselves sitting outside a Starbucks on Boylston Street in Boston. I noticed ribbons tied to a utility pole and suddenly I realized we were right at the site of one of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It hit me hard and reawakened the deep desire to run Boston. After a moment I said “I need to run Boston. Somehow, someday, I need to run it!” Marc and the boys assured me I would one day run Boston.
I came back to Austin determined to train for and qualify for Boston. I recruited my partner in crime and experienced Boston marathoner Lorena Devlyn to help me qualify. We signed up to run the California International Marathon. Neither of us was quite in marathon shape and we had some pathetic long runs that hot September. I was nowhere close to the pace needed to run a sub 3:55, the qualifying time for my age group. Nonetheless, I stuck to my training and as the temperature began to cool I started to see progress. I cleaned my diet and I trained harder than ever. By race day I was feeling confident and strong. The weather was perfect and with the help of Lorena’s pacing over the last flat, fast 10 miles I was able to finish the race in 3:51:31! I did it! I had qualified for Boston!

Then the Wheels Came Off

Having run a qualifying time did not mean I was in. I needed to wait 9 months to see if I had enough of a cushion to get a spot in the race as they let faster people register first and every year it fills up faster and faster. I decided to take time off from racing and give my body a break while waiting to see if I got in. The ironic part of this story is that during my time off I ended up developing a serious case of plantar fasciitis. I tried everything under the sun to treat my injury; physical therapy, manual therapy, yoga, stretching, icing, rolling, sleeping with a brace, but nothing worked. September rolled around, and I received the email I had been waiting for: I was in!
Panic started to set in as the weeks and months went by and my foot was not getting better. I had multiple steroid shots and wore a boot for 6 weeks. In January, 9 months after my first symptom I had an MRI and two different doctors recommended fascia-release surgery. Boston was 3 months away, which was not enough time to recover from surgery. My podiatrist suggested getting a stem cell injection. I had nothing to lose at this point, so I went for it. For the next four weeks, I let my foot heal and even experimented with intermittent fasting as researchers found it can trigger stem cell regeneration.
Two weeks after the shot I noticed my first steps out of bed became less painful. Four weeks after the stem cell treatment I got the green light to try running. My first run was a 3-mile loop around the Capitol with future Texas Senator Beto O’Rourke. I ran pain-free for the first time in almost a year! There was hope! I had 5 weeks to train for the Boston Marathon!
My 5-week training program consisted of running 3 times a week using 2:1 run/walk intervals and spending 45-60 min. on a “zero runner” elliptical machine the other days. I was only able to get up to 6 miles before race day. I was undertrained but healthy enough to show up to the starting line. I was going to Boston!

The Boston Marathon

The streets downtown were lined with little pots with yellow flowers celebrating the Boston Marathon, street banners hung from every light post, enormous window decals decorated storefronts celebrating the race, waitstaff in restaurants and bars wore special edition Boston Marathon shirts, elite runners from all over the world shopped in Newberry Street, I was in runner heaven.
Marc and I had a fantastic relaxed and romantic weekend leading up to the race. As race day approached, the weather-forecast turned from bad to worse predicting temperatures in the 30s with torrential rain all day and headwind up to 30 mph. Somehow, this was not worrying me one bit. I was happy to be there with no goal other than to see how far I could go. We had a fantastic pre-race dinner with Lorena and John at “Limoncello” Marc’s and my favorite Italian restaurant in Boston. There were no pre-race jitters, just lots of laughter, good food, wine, and limoncello.
The wind was howling race morning. Marc observed from the window people fighting the wind and umbrellas turning inside out. It was going to be a tough day for sure. I took my time getting ready and layering; running tights, the “Tough Cookie” long sleeve shirt my fashionista cousin Elena designed for me adorned with silver wings on the back, and my Gortex running jacket topped by throw-away warm layers. By the time we got to the buses heading to the start line in Hopkinton, I was drenched through and through from the waist down. Water poured out of my shoes with every step and icy water flooded back in. The wind made it seem like it was raining sideways, and I had to just laugh at the insanity of the feat ahead.
During the long bus ride to Hopkinton, Lorena and I reminisced about all our previous adventures and laughed again at the situation and the fact that I had not run more than 6 miles in over a year. The chances of me finishing the race seemed slim, yet I was not concerned. My mission was simple: Put one foot in front of the other for as long as I can. And when I couldn’t anymore whether due to my injured foot, lack of training, or hypothermia, I would hop in an Uber. Lorena announced she would stay with me since it was going to be a long day for everyone due to the weather so “we might as well suffer together!”
The race started, and I stuck to my plan to run 2 minutes and walk 1. Despite the relentless rain and wind, I was feeling great and the first 8 miles flew by! Since the longest I had run was 6 miles, every mile marker was a victory in my book and I celebrated accordingly. Before the race, I had made a pact with myself that no matter what, I was not going to complain about anything. I knew it would be a long painful day, but I wanted to stay as positive as possible. Every time Lorena asked me how I was feeling I replied “Great!”. I never mentioned to her that I was developing a blister on my big toe, and as the race progressed the burning and stinging became quite intense, but after everything I already had going against me 1) the weather, 2) my injured foot and 3) lack of training, I was NOT going to let a blister stop me from accomplishing my goal!
Soon we reached mile 13, I said to Lorena “We are on the other side of the mountain!” And she said, “Yes, but the other side is uphill!” I knew the hills were coming but I was unfazed, I could always walk if needed. At that point, I started paying careful attention to my nutrition and electrolyte intake to prevent cramping. I stuck to my interval and dug deep through the hills. My legs felt heavy and my heart rate would escalate quickly as I climbed, but I managed to recover quickly during walking intervals. Finally, we reached the top of the infamous Heartbreak Hill and to my delight, Marc was there! I was feeling absolutely ecstatic to have made it to mile 20! Marc was equally amazed, and his excitement gave me the burst of energy I needed to push through the final 6 miles of the race.
I must admit that the last 6 miles were a blur. I was exhausted, and my toe felt as if it had split in half at that point, but I kept my 2:1 interval. I could feel my pace slowing and my stride shortening as every muscle in my body tightened and twitched threatening to cramp. I envisioned the medal around my neck and focused my sight on the blue line painted on the middle of the road taking me to the finish line.
The final two blocks were pure bliss. Despite the torrential rain, the finish line grandstand was packed with spectators cheering so loud even the heavy rain and wind couldn’t drown them out. I wanted to soak it all in, after all, it had taken me 22 years to get here. I reached for Lorena’s hand, raised it over our heads and stepped over the finish line.

by Tzatzil LeMair on December 12th, 2017

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

​If you are like me, you are probably rushing to get things done before the Holidays and have not taken the time yet to plan your New Year's resolutions. But you should try to set aside sometime to sit down and write some goals. I'm usually good about that. I had a fantastic 2016 full of personal best performances from 5K to Ironman and even qualified for the Boston Marathon! I ended the year with a bang but in all the excitement, I failed to plan for 2017.

The new year rolled in and I never found my "mojo". Without a plan, or goals, I felt unmotivated. I jumped into a couple of races without properly training for them (not fun). Then, in April, I went for a walk in London wearing cute boots. I walked and walked enjoying the city, but the next day my heel hurt. And it hasn't stopped hurting since. I'm in a boot right now, but this time is not the cute kind but the kind you get at the doctor's office. The irony of it all is that after 20 years of running I finally qualified to run the Boston Marathon, but I can't even run a mile right now, and I'm not sure I will be able to run in April.

So, onto 2018! As I set my New Year's resolutions, this time around I will be focusing on my health, healing and helping women achieve their fitness goals! For starters, we've partner with Athleta and Zooma Texas, Austin's only women's road race, to offer a new 5K, 10K and Half Marathon training program and discounted race entries! Our 3-month plan starts January 3rd! Additionally, we're also partnering with Dr. Victor Pena who is offering a special introductory 10-week health coaching program at a fraction of the regular price exclusively to Tough Cookies!

So if you don't have a plan yet, join us this January 3rd and kick start 2018 with a plan to walk, run or run-walk Zooma Austin! You know what they say; if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I won't make that mistake again. Let's get planning for 2018!

by Tzatzil LeMair on September 5th, 2017

And so, it began.

​Twenty years ago, this fall, I ran the New York City Marathon. It was my first time running 26.2 miles. There was a hurricane moving up the east coast dumping rain on us all day long, flooding the streets, blowing trash around and making street signs sway in the wind. Somewhere in the Bronx, with just a few miles to go, I clearly remember saying “Never again!” and “What was I thinking?” But stored right next to that memory, is also the uplifting sounds and sights of the crowds along Central Park South cheering us on that last stretch, and I am light as a feather, elated, sprinting across the finish line with my arms up in the air! And so, it began, my love-hate relationship with marathoning.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve heard myself say “This is my last marathon!” more times than I can count. Yet, I keep coming back for more. Most of the time I say that during the last six miles of the marathon, but that’s expected as I’m usually depleted, tired, sore, and slightly delusional by then. During the last six miles of a marathon is hard to recall the reasons you signed up in the first place.

In the months leading to the race, there are many moments that make you question the decision to train for a marathon, like when your alarm goes off at ungodly hours on weekends when everyone else is asleep, or the moment you step out into a cold rainy morning wearing nothing more than a singlet and shorts. There is a laundry list of reasons to hate running including black toe nails, chaffing, port-a-potties, energy gels, blisters, and of course…GRAVITY.

But, with all the complaining and whining, I keep signing up for marathons. What is it about running 26.2 miles that’s so enticing? I remember once at a gathering, I mentioned excitedly I was getting ready to run the NYC marathon. To my surprise the person replied, “Why would anyone want to do that?” I remember being put off by the question and not being able to give him a good answer, although I doubt he was expecting one. I probably listed many reasons why I loved running, like “it helps me stay in shape” and “it helps me clear my mind”, etc. but that didn’t address the question of why 26.2 miles.

Not everyone CAN run a marathon. Even if your doctor gives you the thumbs up and says you’re perfectly healthy, training for a marathon is hard. It requires discipline, dedication, drive and most importantly, grit. You will experience exhaustion, hunger, and you will feel pain. It will test your endurance, your will. It will keep you honest. You can’t fake it. There will be set backs and curve balls that will challenge your dedication, your drive. But because it is hard, the rewards will be all the sweeter. You will feel stronger, empowered, accomplished and elated every day you train. Sure, you’ll have ups and downs, but you’ll know you’re one step closer to achieving your goal. And when you cross the finish line and accomplish your goal, you will want to do it all over again.

So here I am 20 years later, waiting eagerly for registration to open for the 2018 Boston Marathon (It only took me 20 years to run a qualifying time!) I was a young 20 something girl when I ran my first marathon, and here I am, a young 40 something mom of 4, and I am just as excited as I was the day I lined up in central park to sign-up for the NYC marathon. And so, I revisit the question “Why would anyone want to do that?” and I know my answer now. Because I CAN.

by Tzatzil LeMair on June 28th, 2017

Last weekend I took my family to ride the Southern Walnut Creek trail for the first time. This is a 7 mile stretch from Govalle Park to the Austin Tennis Center on Johnny Morris. We decided to ride north to south in the direction we will be heading on July 1st at our Tough Cookie Cycling 101 Clinic and Ride.

We picked the hottest time of the day with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees which was not a smart move. My riding partners that day were my husband and four boys ranging in ages from 9 to 18. The ride starts with a long mile and a half downhill that was just pure fun. My youngest son, Diego, was squealing with joy “We need to do this ride every weekend! Weeeeeeeee!” I, however, was more concerned with the fact that we would have to ride back up that hill at the end of the ride, and wondered if he would be able to make it...
tzatzil lemair, southern walnut creek trail
After the initial downhill, the path flattens and winds around following the natural path of Walnut Creek. About two miles into the ride we reached the YMCA trail access point which might be a more central starting point for some folks. As we continued our ride we were impressed by the wooded scenery to the point that it didn't seem we were in Austin anymore.

The rest of the 10 foot-wide concrete path was mostly flat with some rolling hills and only one road crossing. The boys particularly enjoyed all the little bridges and under passes that allow this ride to be virtually car-free by going over or under the roads.

​We eventually arrived at Govalle Park which featured a nice creek-side picnic area and playground. Here we took a little break on a picnic table and when the boys started horsing around and squirting water on each other I knew it was time to start our ride back up the trail.
southern walnut creek trail
On the way back, Diego started slowing down but was still in good spirits. This was Diego’s first solo ride, since he usually rides tandem with my husband. Although Diego rides his bike around the neighborhood regularly, he had never gone this far. The last two miles were long and hot and Diego started to struggle (see photo below). I was trying to find ways to encourage him to keep going and prevent him from having a negative experience on his first solo ride. I tried distracting him and we started talking about space. Diego wants to be an astronaut and go to Mars, so I told him how important learning to “endure” and pushing himself beyond his “comfort zone” was going to be in his career. This seemed to click, and continued to push and managed to complete the last uphill mile and a half.

During our entire ride, we only encountered two other cyclists on the path, I'm sure in part because it was the hottest time of day! The boys really enjoyed this trail and are looking forward to riding it again this summer. It was a nice, peaceful alternative to often crowded Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, or as I still like to call it Town Lake. I highly recommend you ride the Southern Walnut Creek Trail if you are looking for a traffic free, paved bike path, where you can focus on cycling and nature and not on watching out for cars. I’m looking forward to our Cycling 101 Clinic next weekend and to sharing this great new bike path with new cyclists!

Southern Walnut Creek Trail Map

by Tzatzil LeMair on June 15th, 2017

Last Monday we we hosted the first event of our Free Women-Only Triathlon Clinic Series in celebration of our 15th Anniversary. Our opening event, an Open Water Swim Clinic at Pure Austin Quarry Lake, exceeded our expectations in every way but also reminded us of how terrifying swimming in open water can be for many first timers. The event, which is part of USA Triathlon's Women's Initiative (WIN), featured a "brief lecture" prior to the swim session. My challenge was condensing 20 years of triathlon experience and "Lessons Learned" into a  20 minute talk. The result was this list of Top 3 Tips which, if you master it, can make all the difference in your open water swim experience.

The Goal

Your main goal during the swim should be to have the most efficient stroke technique so you can swim effortlessly, master sighting techniques so you can swim the shortest distance, and keep your heart rate down by staying relaxed and calm throughout the swim. If you can master these three skills, you should be able to come out of the water ready to rock the bike and run!

The Strategies

1) Maximize your efficiency

If you are new to triathlon and have never learned proper freestyle stroke, you need to invest in lessons or join a masters swim team. There is no point in spending hours training in the pool if all you are doing is reinforcing bad swimming form. Swimming is all about technique. Without proper body alignment and stroke technique you will be working twice as hard and you will come out of the water exhausted and not ready to bike and run.
  • Make yourself long and sleek through the water - think "fish-like”
  • Balance your body "on top" on the water perfectly parallel to the bottom of the lake - push your chest into the water if your hips and legs are sinking
  • Kick from the hips – Flutter kick generating small bubbles (like boiling water) and not a big splash - just enough to keep your lower body from sinking
  • Rotate your body to fully extend your leading arm as it begins to pull then roll back to the other side as your hand passes your hips
  • Utilize your “paddle” from your elbow bend to the tip of your fingers to pull through the water - Keep your hand relaxed and fingers in a natural position (do not cup your hands)
  • Complete the stroke - make sure you are not starting the next stroke too soon - you want to maximize the distance per stroke by taking long powerful strokes. Make every stroke count!

2) Swim the shortest distance possible

If this sounds like an obvious tip that's because it is. However, I am always surprised by how little time most triathletes spend practicing and mastering sighting techniques and by how few actually incorporate sighting into their technique. Mastering sighting technique - incorporating sighting into your freestyle stroke and sighting often - will enable you to swim the shortest distance between buoys and prevent having to correct your course and adding extra yardage to your swim.
  • Use "Hippo Eyes" when sighting. No need to lift your head out of the water, just peek with your "hippo eyes" between breaths to make sure there's a straight line between you and the next buoy at all times.
  • Sight often! Every 8-10 strokes, the more you do it the better you'll get at it.
  • Draft off of slightly faster swimmers. Don’t swim right behind them but to the side of them somewhere between their waist and feet.

3) Keep calm and swim on

Staying relaxed and calm during the swim is essential in having a successful swim. You can minimize physical contact with other swimmers by positioning yourself in the right place at the start of the swim. Swimming around a pack instead of through it might be worth the extra couple of strokes to avoid the “excitement” of physical contact and heart rate spike that goes along with it.
  • Position yourself to avoid getting stuck in a bad group, preferably on the outside of the wave. Swim wide around the buoys to avoid crowding then cut straight to the next buoy.
  • Protect your face – always have one arm in front at all times and replace it with your next stroke arm
  • Count strokes to keep your mind busy and stroke rate tempo constant
  • Focus on technique and not speed to stay calm and focused 
The more you practice these skills the better you'll get at it and the more comfortable you'll feel during the swim. Don't let the swim-start mayhem get the best of you! Keep your mind calm and your body relaxed by focusing on your technique instead. Before you know it, you'll be coming out of the water fully energized and ready to conquer the bike and run!