Monday, October 22, 2012

Injury progress, and realizations

I'm hoping that I'll be ready to attempt some short, easy runs at some point this week.  I'm happy to report that it hasn't hurt to walk for a week now.  I am terrified, however to set out on that first post-injury run, and because of that I'm trying to wait until I don't feel anything unusual in my legs to try to run on them, and I'm hopeful that will happen this week. 

What I've done to 'fix' myself over this past month-and-a-half:

- 1 massage (I'm planning on getting another one soon!)
- 1 Physical Theraphy appointment (initial assessment, no homework exercises given)
- 4 Chiropractic appointments (Active Release Technique)
- 1 more Physical Therapy appointment (homework exercises given..which I still need to do- that's my
   project for this week)
-  I was instructed by a doctor friend to stop taking stairs, so I did (as embarrassing as it has been). 
- Did more yoga and stretching in a 1 month period than I have my entire life, cumulatively- I'm pretty sure!

Things I've noticed about myself, or learned during this injury period
                                  (6.5 weeks and counting):

I don't eat as much when I'm not exercising.  Obviously, it makes sense that I'm not as hungry as when I am exercising because I am not expending the calories I normally do.  For the past year or so, though, I have thought of food as fuel for my workouts.  When I am in training mode for an upcoming race, I think about the type and amount of food I'm putting into my body.  I've typically never been a person with a large appetite, so it has been difficult to remember to eat since my body isn't telling me it's hungry, and my mind isn't thinking about fueling for my next workout. 

I drink more alcohol and less water when I'm not exercising. Not having to get up and perform athleticaly at 5am means I can have a glass (or two, or three) of wine with and after dinner.  I seem to have replaced my glass of water with dinner with a glass of wine.  I'm so aware of how important hydration is when I'm exercising that I make the conscious effort to stay well hydrated all day every day when I'm exercising.  Although I know water does a body good even when you aren't exercising, I just can't seem to make myself drink it as much if it's not for the benefit of a future workout.  Also, I can't pretend I'm not a psychology major and don't know that increased alcohol use is likely a coping mechanism..

I'm not aware of the weather forecast if I'm not running! My husband relies on me to give him the weather forecast every morning.  I'd always know because I would look at the hourly weather forecast almost every night to know what the temperature, humidity, rain chance would be for my run the following morning.  Checking the weather forecast was such an everyday (running related) event for me that I didn't even realize that had become my 'responsibility' or 'service' for my household until I didn't need the information for myself!    

I've made a good habit of taking the stairs rather than an elevator, and like any habit, it is hard to break.  I was instructed by a doctor friend to not take stairs for awhile becuase it is a 'single leg activity' and those are the kind of activities (walking, running, stairs, are some examples) which have been aggrivating my SI joint.  I find myself opening the door to the stairwell and then remembering "Crap, I'm not supposed to do this", or getting all the way down a flight of stairs and remembering "Woops, I wasn't supposed to do that."  Not to mention how embarassing it is for me- a young, healthy individual to stand there and wait for an elevator while others walk by towards the stairwell. 

I avoid social networking pages, and social gatherings which have to do with my running and triathlon groups while I'm injured.  I don't want to konw that everyone but me is planning and able to run, or to hear about how awesome everyone's race or training run was.  I'll admit it, I'm jealous of my un-injured counterparts. 

Most of my social time is spent exercising with my training buddies.  I've been aware for a couple years now that for the most part, my best friends are the ones I run and bike with.  Time spent running or biking with my best buds is more than just time to exercise, it is time to socialize and catch up with what's going on in one another's lives.  Not running = not getting my social outlet.

It feels really good to start the day off with a good stretch.  Almost every morning for the past three weeks , I've started my day off by rolling out the yoga mat and doing some yoga stretches to losen up my hips.  I've included the foam roller and tennis ball (read: self mini-massage) in this morning stretch routine too. 

I hope to report next week that I've done some 'baby' runs, and I'll also have some tips from a great article I read about 'Listening to your body to avoid injury'  Stay tuned! 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Only Myself to Blame

Why do cigarette smokers smoke even though they know it causes cancer and heart conditions? 

Why do people with diabetes or asthma or any number of chronic health conditions not take their medications even though they know if they did their quality of life (and chances of living a full-term life) would be tremendously better? 

Why do many people not wear seat belts even though they have been proven to save lives?

Why don't we always wear sunscreen even though we know we'll get burned?

These are questions, as a psychology major, and public health professional, I've asked myself, my colleagues, and mentors.  In public health, we try to say it is lack of education that causes people to make the wrong choices.  This is true to an extent, and for some people knowledge is the missing link.  There are far too many instances, however, where an individual has all the knowledge to make healthy, informed decisions and actions but chooses (for whatever reason) not to.  In most aspects of my life, I do the healthy thing:  I exercise regularly, take my asthma medications daily, always wear a seat belt, and I almost always remember to put on sunloation.  But over the past 4 years there are two major things I've lacked:  strength training and stretching. 

So the big question I've been asking myself over the past 4 weeks: WHY DON'T ATHLETES TAKE CARE OF THEIR BODIES  (i.e. stretching, strength training, listening to their body and addressing pain issues with a medical professional)?? Most athletes know the importance of stretching and strength training to prevent injury, and you'd think it would be common sense to seek professional help for pain that lasts longer than a week, but knowing and doing couldn't be further apart for many athletes (including myself). 
For over 4 years I was lucky, but my luck ran out a month ago.  I was lucky to be able to swim, run, and bike mostly injury free without strength training or properly stretching for over 4 years.  For the past 4+ months I have felt pain and tenderness at the top of my hips, not to mention the usual tightness I've had in my hips which would come and go/ get better and worse ever since I started running 4 years ago.  After a regular 6 mile run a month ago, I started feeling pain in my right leg.  Long story short: the pain did not get any better, week after week, and after talking to a couple doctors and a Physical Therapist, I'm pretty sure I have: periformis syndrome (which is causing pain in my sciatic nerve) and some sort of issue with my L4 (which is what caused the pain in my hips for months, and now pain to shoot down my groin and quad). 

I'm pretty certain all of these periformis/ sciatic/ L4 issues could have been avoided if I had strength trained and stretched like I KNEW I should have all along.  The timing of these issues was horrible (when is it ever good timing for an athletic injury, I know, but this was particularly heart breaking for me).  I had worked hard this summer towards my 'A Race' - the Tri for Sight.  I was hoping to improve on my time at that race from when I did it 2 years ago, and to place top 3 female overall.  My issues flared up about 3 weeks before the race, and has yet to improve.  It wasn't until the evening before the race that I accepted the fact that I wasn't going to be able to compete in the Tri for Sight this year.  I can't even walk without limping and feeling shooting pain down the front and back of my right leg, so there is no way I cold have run without pain and risking further damage.  I had to skip that race, I'll likely have to skip the next race I'd already registered for (a half-marathon November 3), and it's going to take some time now to re-gain my cardiovascular shape. 

This was a hard lesson to learn, and one that I will not soon (hopefully never) forget. I am looking forward to being stronger than ever next tri season.  I'm finally doing the yoga, and core strengthening I've been saying for years that I "need to do", and once my current issues subside, I'll do leg and hip strengthening too.  I only have myself to blame for the current condition I'm in. 

Please let my story be your motivational lesson, and don't wait until it's too late that you have to figure it out for yourself.  Soon (hopefully sooner than later) I'll be off the injured list, and another 'poster athlete' for the benefits of strength training and proper stretching. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

My thoughts: 1st week of London Olympics 2012

Even before the first event of the 2012 London Olympic swim meet was swum, the US Olympic swim team was capturing the world as their audience.  I, along with millions of others, viewed their "Call Me Maybe" Youtube video.  As I watched it with a big smile on my face, I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. I realize this is not a normal reaction to a silly, fun loving skit put on by some of the best swimmers in the world, but to me it represented more than just that.
This video took me back to a place in time when I was an age group swimmer.  My teammates and I would make up dances to popular songs and perform them between our events at swim meets on the pool deck.  As individual of a sport as swimming is, it's not nearly as fun without the company of your teammates.  As an age group swimmer, it was easy to not take myself too seriously, but it is understandable that as one ages, and takes the sport more seriously, that element of fun can dwindle.  The US Swim team's Youtube video demonstrates that athletes of the highest level can still have fun. The video was the idea of the extremely lovable 17 year old Missy Franklin, but even the veteran late 20 and early 30-somethings on the team played along.

As the 2012 London Olympics Swim Meet progressed, multiple US team members stated during interviews "This is the most fun team I have ever been a part of!"  Their words were validated not only by the Youtube video, but by the smiles on their faces throughout the entire meet, and the way they cheered for one another, every event.  To see that made me so happy for each and every one of them, and for myself having been a part of something like that once as well. 

The 2012 London Olympics Swim Meet will, no doubt, be remembered as the year that Michael Phelps exited his Olympic career, and Missy Franklin entered hers.  Michael Phelps presences in the pool will surely be missed by all but his competition.  Several of the NBC commentators refused to accept that this was Michael's last Olympics, asking him multiple times and ways if this was really the end.  Lucky for the commentators, and the rest of us needing a US swimmer to obsess over now that Phelps is done, we were introduced to Missy Franklin.  From what I've observed of Missy, I'm convinced there has never been a cooler, more down to earth 17 year old, ever. 

Many things have impressed me about the athletes in this Olympic Games thus far:  the world records broken, the sprint to the finish at the end of the Women's Triathlon, the gratefulness some of the athletes have shown for the opportunity to simply compete in the Olympics, but perhaps most of all, the restraint the athletes have shown by not punching the NBC reported Andrea Kremer during their post-event interviews.  Here are the synopsis of just a few of her interviews:

After Ryan Locthe's (who went into London planning to medal, if not get gold in all his events) disappointing  4th place in the 200 Free:
Andrea:  "Ryan, you just placed 4th in the 200 Free.  How do you feel about that?" 
Ryan: "Uh, I'm disappointed..." (duh, Andrea)

After the first head-to-head showdown between Phelps and Locthe where Locthe upset Phelps:
Andrea:  "Michael, Ryan just beat you in the 400 IM (Michael's first event of the meet).  What does that say about the kind of meet you are having?"
Michael: "Well, I swam how I trained, and I didn't train hard enough for that event.  I'm going to put that behind me and focus on my upcoming events.  Taking it one event at a time."

After Kathleen Hersey's Personal Best swim in the 200 fly:
Andrea:  "Kathleen, I know your mom died earlier this year.  How does that play into a moment like this?"
I don't even remember what Kathleen said, I was in such a state of shock Andrea had just brought that up.

After the men's 400 Medley Relay:
Andrea:  After asking Matt Grevers (backstroker) and Tyler McGill (butterflier) about their individual legs of the relay, and their London Olympic meet overall, she asked Brendon Hanson (breaststroker, team captain, veteran Olympic swimmer in his last Olympics)  something to the effect of "Brendon, isn't Michael Phelps great? What does it mean to you to swim on a relay with him"
To which Brendon (who probably thought she was going to ask him something about himself and was prepared for a question of that nature) fumbled over his words to come up with a response and noticeably felt like a fool after he finished speaking to a question that caught him off guard. 

What the hell is Andrea, and NBC (who lets her continue to conduct these interviews) thinking?  Rubbing salt in the wounds of the best swimmers in our country after their events, bringing up sore subjects, and blatantly ignoring some athletes to praise others.  It's a really good thimg these Olympic swimmers have (along with strong bodies) strong psyches, because the questions Andrea asked could really cause damage to the average athlete. 

I need to get back to watching the Olympics now, but just wanted to praise the US. Olympic Swim Team for their awesomeness, and chastise a reporter who could use some lessons in sensitivity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Greenswell Triathlon

My training buddy Tom moved to town outside of Columbus Ohio a few months ago, so I decided to register for a triathlon near him as a good excuse to make the 3.5 hour drive to visit.  I registered for an 'International Distance' (.9 mile swim, 24.4 mile bike, 8K run) Triathlon in mid July because the date fit into my busy summer schedule.  The race wasn't until Sunday morning, but Tyler and I made a last minute decision to head up Friday after work in order to check out this cool event in Downtown Columbus  called WaterFire We met my friend Tom at WaterFire, and had a great time chatting, listening to the band, and watching the bonfires on the Scioto River.  After that, we followed Tom to his new house, where we were greeted by his sweet dog, Luna.  

Saturday morning we slept in (til 8am!) then got some breakfast at Bob Evans and headed to Alum Creek State Park where Tom competed in an Aquathon that morning (and where my Tri was Sunday morning).  Once we saw Tom had his race under control (he won by several minuets), Tyler and I headed out on our bikes to do one lap of the bike course of my race.  Whenever possible, it's a good idea to bike or drive a race course before the actual race, so you know where to turn and what to expect of the course as far as hills or technical aspects.  This particular bike course turned out to be easy in every way- flat except for one gradual hill, and only three right turns. 


After that, we went back to Toms to shower, then went to a music and art festival in Toms town.  When we got home, Toms wife Sylvia was home from work so we all went out to dinner at Olive Garden (their 2 for $25 special is an awesome deal, by the way!)  We went back to Tom & Sylvia's house and hung out for a few more hours until 10pm bedtime. 

Sunday morning came, and it was time to get my game face on.  As I'd predicted, I wasn't really feeling like racing, though.  I went into this race with a weird feeling.  Since I had done a small taper for the Bluegrass 10K, which was 11 days prior, I didn’t want to keep resting after the BG 10K (because my ‘A’ race isn’t until the end of September).   So, the week between the two races, I kept my mileage up to what it was before tapering for the BG 10K, but didn’t do any real intense training.  I went into this race with the mindset that I was ‘training through it.’  I thought that, even with that mindset, I’d be able to still mentally and physically give it my all on race day.  I’d never actually ‘trained through’ a race before, and I discovered last weekend that is really difficult for me to do.  Unless I feel like my body is 100% ready to race, I can’t get my mind to that state of being 100% ready to race.  None the less, I tried to go into the race with the best attitude I could, and see how it all played out on race day.  It turned out to be a really good thing I was just ‘training through’ this race, however, because there were multiple circumstances beyond my control during the race which would have been extremely frustrating, had this been a serious race for me.

Pre-race went as usual, with body marking and transition set up (although, this time I felt much more organized and less stressed than usual).  I had a few minutes before the start of the race to swim a bit to warm up, so that was nice (not all races let you warm up in the water before the start).  I lined up with the other females doing the International Distance Triathlon (there was also a sprint distance, which started a few minutes later).  The race director counted us down, sounded the horn, and we took off, sprinting and splashing our way through the water until it became deep enough to dive down and start swimming.  As soon as I put my head under water, my goggles filled up with water, so I treaded water for a couple seconds while I adjusted them, and resumed swimming. I was shocked at how fast some of the other women were!  I didn’t start off in a sprint, rather just swam comfortably, but even at that, I assumed I’d be ahead of everyone else.  Not the case.  I was actually swimming against several good swimmers, for once! I found myself wondering if they actually trained swimming more than once every month or so, and stated feeling bad about my lack of effort when it comes to swim training. By the end of the two-lap, one mile long swim, however, I ended up passing all but one of the women who took off ahead of me at the start. 
About half way through the first lap of the swim, I realized I’d lost my timing chip, which I knew was properly secured around my ankle before the start of the race!  Loosing a timing chip during the swim is something I, and I imagine many triathletes, fear before the start of each race, but, that I know of, doesn’t happen very often.  I broke stroke a few times and reached down to make sure my timing chip was gone, and sure enough, it was.  Upon realizing this, I had a couple thoughts going through my head the rest of the swim (still about ¾ of a mile to go).  “Was my time for the race even going to count?” and “Was I going to have to pay for the lost timing chip?”  I decided that I’d still race my race, and get my swim, bike, and run splits on my own, and then pay attention to my overall time when I crossed the finish line.  I'd tell the race timer my splits and finish time at the end of the race.  I wasn’t sure they would allow the ‘honor system’ to count as an official result, but that’s all I could hope for.  As far as having to pay for the timing chip, I thought about how I’d tell the race director “This is not my first rodeo, and I’ve never had a timing chip fall off.  Therefore, it’s the fault of the Velcro on my timing chip strap, not mine, so I’m not paying you for that chip.”  
By the time I reached the end of lap one, to begin the second lap of the swim, several subsequent waves of racers had been released, so the second lap was very crowded and consisted of a lot of swimming into and around people. I finished my second lap and exited the water, ran to the transition area, and had a pretty smooth transition to the bike (other than clipping my shoes onto my pedals once I was on the bike, which took forever for some reason).  The bike course was two laps, and was flat other than one gradual, approximately half-mile-long uphill.  I thought I would really enjoy and be good at a flat course, but that didn't turn out to be the case!  Although I don’t consider myself strong at uphills, I know I’m typically faster than most of my competition at downhills, and there was not a single downhill on the course. I was bored.  Not having my timing chip on the bike really messed with me mentally.  I was still struggling with the fact that my time may not count at all, and every time I passed someone, or was passed, I imagined they were staring at my ankles, wondering where my timing chip was, and thinking I was banditing  the race (doing a race without paying for it).  I realized at some point that I wasn’t even breathing hard.  Usually I am huffing and puffing during the entire bike leg, but I just couldn’t get my mind in the right place to push myself.  Generally I go too hard on the bike, and then suffer on the run, so I decided that maybe my lack of hard effort wasn’t a bad thing, and that I’d be more fresh on the run.  With about 6 miles to go on the bike, I dropped one of my two water bottles while trying to put it back in the holder.  The water bottle was old and had only cost a dollar, so I just left it.    As I coasted into the bike dismount area, I saw Tyler and Tom.  I told them “I lost my timing chip!” and they replied “We noticed as you got out of the swim, and we told the race director.”  That gave me a little relief as I made my way to my transition area.  As I racked my bike, I noticed my timing chip was wrapped around the bike rack!  I had no clue how it got there, but I put it on, changed my shoes, and grabbed my watch, visor, and race bib and ran out of transition.  I found out after the race that my timing chip fell off as I ran in the water before it was deep enough to start swimming,so it floated and washed up on shore.  

 My friend Tom offered to do the 8k run with me to pace me/ provide moral support.  As soon as we started, he asked what my goal pace was.  I replied "I have no goal pace on this crappy grass and gravel course."  If the course would have been on road, I would have had a goal pace of sub 8 minute miles in mind, but I don't expect much out of myself on grass and gravel, as I'm so clumsy and just hope to finish with some sort of decent time, without falling.  I really appreciated having Tom there with me though.  He was so encouraging the entire time, and I felt like I didn't have to do any of the thinking.  He was my brain, and I was my eyes, legs, and feet.  He'd tell me when we were gaining on someone in front of us (I was looking at the ground the entire time), and if it was a female, he'd figure out about how many seconds in front of us they were.  Tom asked me if I wanted water as we approached each aid station, and he'd run ahead and grab the water for me.  The aid stations weren't manned by volunteers, so he saved me a lot of time by filling up my cup for me and catching back up to hand it to me while I kept running.  As we approached the turn-around, we saw a couple females heading the opposite direction.  Tom told me that I could catch them, to which my response was "I don't think I can catch them."  He replied "You don't know that, they could be awesome swimmers and cyclists, and crappy runners." Of course, the first thought that came to my mind was "I'm a crappy runner!" but I'm pretty proud of myself for refraining from saying that out loud.  I've only recently been working on this whole 'not arguing with people when they give me a compliment or tell me that I can do something athletically, when the negative thoughts in my head tell me they are full of it.' 

After the turn-around, we were running against the wind, so Tom offered to run in front of me to block my headwind.  He was so thoughtful about everything, I couldn't have asked for a better portable support crew during the run!  Not too long after the turn--around, I DID pass one of the girls Tom told me I could catch!  The other girl was still a ways up ahead though, and I didn't know that I had it in me on that grass to pick up the pace to pass her.  As it was, at the pace I was going I had trouble every once in awhile with my ankles giving out and almost falling.  If we were on road, I have no doubt in my mind that I could have kicked it into high gear and passed the woman ahead of me who Tom kept encouraging and bribing me to pass.  We were gaining on her; she was getting slower every mile, and I was staying steady or getting faster each mile.  A portion of the course was on loose, large pebble gravel  Tom had just offered up a bribe of buying me German sausage and a large beer if I passed this girl, when the moment I feared most came: I tripped on something along the gravel path, and supermanned the ground.  Some swear words came out of my mouth, then I got up, looked back to see if anyone else saw, and kept running.  I told Tom that I really didn't care about the girl in front of me anymore, and to just keep looking back and let me know if there were any females approaching me.  After about a tenth of a mile, I realized my GPS watch had fallen off (the band broke on impact) when I fell, and Tom said 'I have it.' He had noticed and picked it up for me.  I'm not sure exactly how much more I ran after the fall to get to the finish line since my watch turned off when I fell, but I wasn't in pain yet because I still had adrenalin flowing through me. 

After I crossed the finish line, I looked down at my knee, and it was bleeding quite a bit.  Tyler and Tom searched for First Aid, but there was none!  What kind of a race director does not have First Aid at a triathlon?!? One of the men serving post-race food had a First Aid kit in his truck, and got that for me.  I used a couple cleansing clothes and some alcohol wipes (which burned!) to clean it up a bit. 
So there it is, the most eventful race I've done to date.  I lost my timing chip during the swim, my water bottle during the bike, and some skin and pride during the run.  I had lost my motivation to race long before the horn sounded at the start, though, so I was able to take all my loses in stride. I ended up 4th Female Overall (mere seconds off of 3rd place), and 1st in my Age Group if you subtract the Overall Winners. 
Thanks again to my support crew: Tyler and Tom, and to Tom's wife Sylvia for letting Tyler and I stay in her home!  All-in-all I had a fantastic weekend, and I may forever have a scar to remember it by :). 
I've already emailed the race director of the next triathlon I've registered for (Olympic Distance on August 11th in Boonville Indiana) to make sure there is no grass, and definitely no gravel on that race course.  He assures me there is only a small patch of grass to run on to get back on the asphalt path.  Hopefully my next race report will be much less eventful! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bluegrass 10,000 Race Report

The Bluegrass 10K has been my favorite race ever since I started running 4 years ago.  I guess it's easy to call a race your 'favorite' when you achieve a personal best time at it year after year.  This was my fourth year racing the BG 10K, and every year prior, I achieved a new PR (Personal Record) on this course.  I'd come to expect a PR performance out of myself during this race, but knew the day would come when that PR would elude me.  On July 4, 2012 (a day that set a record for the highest heat on a July 4th in Lexington KY), that day came. 

A few running buddies who live in my neighborhood met me at my house at 6:45 AM on race morning so we could all peddle downtown together as our warm up for the race.  This was the second year I’ve rode my bike downtown for the BG 10K, and I will never do it any other way now.  It is a great 4 mile warm up, and you don’t have to hassle with or fret about finding a parking spot.  The plan was to leave promptly at 6:45, but that didn’t happen because we spent a few minutes watching Tyler chase our neighbors’ (who were out of town) bunnies that had gotten loose around our yard.  I believe this was Tyler’s way of warming up before the race, as he had to drive downtown because he had to go to work right after the race.  We could have watched him try to catch bunnies all morning, it was such a hilarious sight, but we had to start making our way downtown.  It was a little before 7:15 when we arrived downtown.  We locked our bikes up at the rack right outside of McCarthy’s Irish Pub (where we planned to celebrate with beers after the race).  We walked to the start line, and within a minute of positioning ourselves in the mass start, the gun was shot and we were off! 
It is always hot during the BG 10K, but this year was exceptionally hot, as Lexington KY (along with most of the country) was in the middle of an extreme heat wave.  I had already broke a sweat during the easy ride downtown, and knew it was going to be the sweatiest race I’d ever done.  I prepared by making an ice ball, which I carried in the palm of my hand while walking to the start line, and for the first 2 miles of the race until it melted completely.  As always, the first mile of the race felt great.  I positioned myself within the first 15 lines of people in the mass start so I wouldn’t have to weave in and out of too many people, but that caused me to get caught up in the speed of everyone around me and go out a little too fast the first mile (7:18), woops! 
By the end of mile 2 (my pace for mile 2 was a 7:50), I was ready for the race to be over.  The heat was getting to me, and that great first mile feeling was long gone.  A little after the 2 mile mark, I heard a young boy say to his parents “Look, it’s American Girl !”  I knew he was talking about me because I was wearing my homemade red, white, and blue patriotic sports bra.  That made me laugh and took my mind off the heat and pain for a few seconds at least. 

I knew I would see a group of my friends (John’s Striders) around mile 2.7 of the race and they would have a cool bottle of water, and a frozen water balloon for me.  The purpose of the ice ball at the beginning of the race and frozen balloon during the race was to help cool my core body temperature.  I ended up having to stop for a couple seconds when I got to them in order to grab a frozen balloon, but I really didn’t care.  I could already feel that I wasn’t going to run a Personal Record time at this race for the first time in four years, so I knew a couple seconds probably wouldn’t matter.   I reached the 5K mark around 23:40.  I knew at that point, unless I did a negative split (not likely in that heat) there was no way I was going to beat my PR of 47:09.  My mile 3 was a 8:10...I was slipping. 

In past years, even while PR’ing, and running much faster than I did this year, I was able to talk during the race- saying 'thank you' to the volunteers spraying me with water, and giving a “Woot Woot” to spectators or other racers who yelled my name during the race, at the least.  This year, I was so hot and miserable that I didn’t make a single ‘peep’ during the entire race.  I gave a wave and smile to those who yelled my name, but that was all I could offer.  Since the last 4 miles of the course is an out-and-back, I saw my friends in the John’s Striders cheering/ support section again around mile 4.7.  It was nice to see them all and hear my name, but I was just so ready to be done running.  My mile 4 split was a 7:50.

The last couple miles of this course are mostly flat or a gradual downhill (my strengths), so physically and mentally I am able to ‘pick it up’ at the end of this race every year. Although I thought I'd be ready to pick up the pace at mile 5, my body wasn't ready to do that yet, and I slowed back down to an 8:10 that mile.  I had been keeping an eye on a few girls who were in front of me the entire race.  At times, they’d be just a few steps ahead of me, and at other times they’d be as much as twenty five yards ahead of me.   At the beginning of mile 6, I decided I was going to pass these girls, and they were not going to pass me back.  I picked up my pace, and ran a  7:27 for mile 6.  You can see the finish line of this race from a good ½ mile or maybe even further away.  This makes the last ½ mile or so extremely painful!  Around mile 6, I noticed a man in front of me wearing a long pants and long sleeved American flag costume, and realized how hot he must be.  I just couldn’t let this man who must have been absolutely roasting beat me! I gave it everything I had to catch and pass him- which meant running my last .22 of a mile at 6:49 pace!

As soon as I stepped across the finish line and started walking, my body nearly lost all control.  I couldn’t walk straight whatsoever, and I felt like I was going to pee myself.  Luckily I was able to hold in the pee (I really don’t know how), but there was nothing I could do about my issue with walking.  I walked into a man who finished right behind me and was trying to get past me, then continued to stumble my way through the finish chute.  A fellow racer noticed my inability to walk straight, and asked me if I was okay.  I told him “Yes, this happens after a lot of races” but the truth was, I had never been this bad off at the end of a race before.  The man was persistent, asking me several times if I was okay, to which my response was the same every time.  He grabbed a couple police officers standing nearby and asked them to help me.  They led me to a curb, told me to sit down, and got me some Gatorade.  The stubborn part of me wanted to argue with them and insist I would be fine, but the rest of me was A) too tired to fight, and B) actually had a semblance of a brain left and thought it would be really unfortunate if I ended up falling and cracking my skull on the concrete.  I sat on the curb for I don’t know how many minutes until I couldn’t take it anymore.  More and more of my friends were crossing the finish line and talking to one another about the race, and I hated to miss those conversations.  I got up and didn’t have to walk far to find my friends, and leaned on them for support while we all shared our stories.  After several minutes I realized that the bottoms of my feet were incredibly sore.  I assumed I had stone bruises from the fact that my racing shoes have no cushion.  I sat down on a curb to change my shoes (I’d brought a pair of Tevas with me) and saw the pads of my feet were black.  I still assumed they were stone bruises, until about 36 hours post-race when I realized they were blood blisters- gross!

I’m able to chalk most of my poor race performance up to the heat and humidity of the morning (it was at least 75 degrees and 80% humidity).  I can’t help but think about a couple other factors, however, which may have played a role in my first Non- PR Bluegrass 10K race:
1)   The adage “You can’t win a race in the first mile, but you sure can lose it” may have pertained to my 2012 BG 10K.  In order to run the time I was aiming for (46:30) I would have needed to maintain an average of 7:29 pace for the 6.2 mile race.  Why in the hell, then, did I allow myself to go out in a 7:18 pace?!  Granted, I was able to run my last 1.22 miles at 7:18 pace, but maybe those miles in between could have been faster. 
2)    Maybe, just maybe, I need to step up my running mileage.. As much as I’ve enjoyed ‘following’ (I use that term loosely because I didn’t follow the plan to a “T”, skipping runs here and there) a 10K training plan for the past several months, I have most definitely lost my running base.  Last year, I ran the BG 10K a minute and nine seconds faster than this year; last year I trained for a marathon over the winter.  I felt stronger as a runner last year than I do this year. 
Perhaps my poor performance in this race (be it due to the heat, or to one or both of the aforementioned factors) was just the reality check I needed to get me to step up my running training.  I’m racing again next weekend (Olympic Triathlon near Columbus OH) but after that, I plan to add another day of running to my schedule.  Hopefully I can find the time to squeeze it in between biking and swimming, as I can’t afford to compromise my time on the bike.  Why did I just say ‘hopefully’?  Where there’s a will there’s a way, I make time for the things I want to accomplish if I truly want them bad enough, so lets see exactly how bad I want to become a faster runner. 

                                                        Post-race celebrating and Downtown Festivities

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Circle of Training Buddies

It is rare that I set out for a run or a bike ride without a training buddy.  Often times, scheduling with a training buddy is the first step in getting myself in gear for a workout.  Scheduling a run or ride with a training buddy takes place before I think about how much fluid I’ll need for the training session, what I’ll wear, or what I’ll eat/ drink to prepare for the training session.  Every athlete has their favorite training buddy:  that fellow athlete who clicks so well with their own pace, goals, and personality.  The ‘favorite training buddy’ becomes a best friend, and so much more.  You become obsessed (in a healthy way) with this person, and in a way, develop a co-dependency from spending so much time together.  So, what happens when life happens and for one reason or another, your tride-and-true training buddy who you just assumed would be your training buddy for life is no longer able to be there for you, every (or any) run or ride?     
I’ve had training buddies move (obviously training with someone hours or states away is not practical).  I’ve had training buddies have babies (obviously their priorities as well as capabilities and mine were no longer the same).  I’ve had training buddies lose motivation and stop showing up for runs, or likewise, become so focused that they prefer to train solo.  I’ve had training buddies that went back to school, and the schedules of our busy lives no longer coincided. 
Growing up as a swimmer, on an organized team, there was never the ‘training buddy’ mentality because I always knew there would be other swimmers, or at the least, a coach, at practice.  Since I became a runner (four years ago) and a cyclist (two years ago) I have had the privilege of having numerous ‘favorite training buddies.’  Each of them has their own ‘chapter’ in my ‘life novel’ and will forever have a special place in my heart.  I have a close connection, and keep in touch with all of my past ‘favorite training buddies’ because the bond we formed was so strong.  I find myself dreaming about life scenarios which will make each and every one of them a ‘favorite buddy’ again someday.

I ran with my first-ever running buddy for nearly 2 years.  He quickly gave himself the nickname of my ‘Running Boyfriend’ (don’t worry, my husband and his wife know about this J), and we spent together nearly 2 years worth of pounding the pavement, side-by side, 4 to 6 days a week, until I discovered a training plan that was perfect for me, but not for my training buddy.  My new focus became speed and lower mileage per week, while he liked to run high mileage every week (which makes it difficult to focus on speed).  Due to our different goals and training plans, we saw less and less of one another over time.  I still see him on a weekly basis, and at least get to exchange a quick ‘hi’ before the run and a few words after the run.  I ran the last few miles of his 60th birthday marathon with him last October.  I plan to run with him again someday when I’m pregnant (I’m pretty sure I can get him to carry my water and food and anything else I may need during runs J). 
I have a ‘Running Sole Mate’ (nickname given to her by the previously mentioned ‘Running Boyfriend’) who I spent many miles with, as our running pace, and personalities were a perfect match.  My Running Sole Mate was bit on the leg by a dog during a run a couple years ago, and since then she’s had some other bad luck that has hindered her running progression.  While I, on the other hand, have been very lucky thus far in avoiding dog attacks, or major injuries/ illnesses, and have been able to steadily progress in running.  She’s due a really long, awesome string of good luck, so when that happens, she’ll catch up with me.  Until then, we have re-defined our relationship as ‘drinking buddies’.      

I have a ‘Triathlon Sole Mate’ who has given up triathlons for this season (so she can focus on running and other things).  She was my tride-and-true training buddy my first two triathlon seasons.  We did nearly all our runs and bikes together when our schedules allowed.  We even finished the last Olympic Triathlon we competed in, crossing the finish line together.  We have different strengths and weaknesses, but in the end it all evens out.  When we train together, we push each other very well.  I feel the loss of her presence this triathlon season, and I miss her, but I know she’s not done with triathlon for good, and we’ll have more tri seasons to share in the future. 
In the meantime, while I can’t say I currently have a ‘number one buddy’ with whom I do nearly all training sessions with, I have amassed a wealth of amazing training buddies this season.  I’ve been forced to branch out and find several new compatible training buddies, and I’m really enjoying getting to know so many awesome athletes. 
The longer one participates in a sport where ‘training buddies’ are the norm, the more one realizes the value of a training buddy.  Training buddies will come and go throughout life, but the position itself always seems to be full, if you let it.  If your training buddy has to take a temporary or permanent break from you, let them.  Don’t dwell on the fact that they are no longer the huge part of your life which they once were, and don’t let that be an excuse for you to stop exercising.  Keep in touch with them and hope that your lives will sync up again someday.  Be open to the prospect of meeting new people, and I promise you will fill the vacancy with one or more amazing training buddies.  Every person, and therefore every relationship is different, so don’t compare them, rather, take the opportunity to gain new insight, knowledge, and experiences with each and every training buddy that crosses your path. 
If any of my training buddies (old, current, new) are reading this, I hope you know the very important role you play in my life, and the special place you have in my heart.  I’m so grateful our training trails crossed, and appreciate every run, ride, experience, memory, and beer we have shared. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Buffalo Trails Triathlon Race luckiest race yet

My 28, 2012.                                                     I set my alarm for 4:30 AM race morning, but since I went to bed a little after 9 the night before, my body woke up a little before 4 AM.  I laid there and thought about the race until my alarm finally went off.  I had packed most everything in the car the night before the race to minimize stress on race morning, but the forty-five minutes that I'd given myself to eat, finish last minute race packing (filling water bottles with  water + heed + sustained energy) and morning bathroom routine went by really fast. 

Tyler (my husband and amazing supporter) and I left the driveway at 5:15 AM, right on time.  We drove up Hwy 68 all the way to Maysville, Kentucky. It was a nice, straight, country route, and I was grateful that Tyler decided to come with me (I left it up to him) to support me (including driving me, so I could concentrate on thinking about the race rather than the road). 

We arrived to the race site around 6:45 AM, and I went through the pre-triathlon race routine: packet pickup, body marking, and transition set up.  This was my 6th triathlon race ever, and first tri race in over 10 months, so transition set up is still a bit stressful for me.  The race started with the swim a half mile upstream from where the transition area was, so a cute trolley picked up racers and transported us to the swim start.  I tried to get on the first two trolley trips, but somehow timed both so that the trolley was full by the time I tried to get on.  The third  and final trolley trip came back around and  boarded the rest of us.  I met a few athletes while waiting for the trolley, and was able to ask one of them who had done this race before 'at what mile this Big Hiney Hill the race director had warned us about via email was located along the course'.  He answered my question, and gave me some other helpful tips about the bike course.

The trolley dropped us off at the top of a hill with a gravel road as our path to the river (swim start).  Those who had done this race before knew to wear sandals, but those of us who had not walked cautiously and whined a lot about the gravel on our sensitive feet as we made our way to the start.  Shortly after we reached the rest of the athletes along the shore of the Ohio River, the race director announced that the race would be delayed 30 minutes because there was fog on the river, and the barge that we were jumping off of for the start of the race could not travel down river until the fog cleared.  It was already 71 degrees and humid at this point, so of course my immediate thought was 'this is going to make it even hotter by the end of the race', and although I think my body does not deal with heat as well as many other athletes, I reminded myself  that 'this will make it hotter for everyone, not just me, so deal with it.'


A few minutes before 8:30, the barge arrived, and I walked up the ramp and positioned myself in the first row to enter the water.  The National Anthem was sung, the Cannon was shot, and we were off! My goggles fogged up the minute I entered the water, so all I could see during the swim was colors and shapes.  Luckily, the guide buoys were big and bright red, and the athletes swim caps were bright orange, so I knew to just follow red and orange. The swim was downstream, and while the current wasn't as fast an in previous years of this race from what I've heard, there was a bit of a current to help us along.  The last 200 meters of the swim, however, were unexpected: I started feeling pushed around a lot (to the side, and backwards).  I had swam in the ocean and in lakes before but had never swam in a river, so I thought maybe this was just some strange phenomenon about swimming in a river as you get closer to the shore.  I found out from Tyler after the race, that a barge went by as we were swimming, and caused a huge wake (thus the strange resistance and tossing around I felt towards the end of the swim), which made all the spectators say "ooooh that sucks for them!"  I exited the water, knowing I wasn't the first person to exit the water, but I felt there weren't too many ahead of me. Turns out I was the first female to exit the water! I ran up a couple flights of stairs, turned left, and was in the transition area.  I did my transition (not at lightning speed) and took off on the bike. 
I knew the Big HIney Hill was around mile 8, so my plan was to stay 'comfortably strong' before I got to the hill.  The first 8 miles of the course were definitely manageable, with some rolling hills, so I was averaging 20.7 MPH for the first 8 miles.  Then came Big Hiney Hill.  This hill was nearly a mile long, and averaged 7.8% grade (which sucks).  I struggled up that hill, got passed by several men (one of whom I actually thought was a woman) and when I crested Big Hiney, my new average speed (over the last 9 miles) was reduced to 16.8 MPH (nearly 4 miles per hour!) My legs felt shot, but after that hill we were rewarded with some nice downhill sections.  I kept peddling hard as I went down the hills, but the relief I did get felt great.  I watched my average speed creep up over the remainder of the 25 mile bike ride.  At a left hand turn at the bottom of a hill on mile 15, a police officer at the intersection of this turn yelled to me " Are you the last one?"  I yelled back "I hope not!"  I pondered that question from the police officer over the next several miles.  I wondered if he A) really just wanted to go home and was hoping the race was over, and really thought I could be the last one, or B) was joking (so not funny, dude).  I believe that police officer needs some sort of training in 'athletic psychology' if he's going to work another race, but at least his question gave me something the think about over the next couple miles.  Around mile 16, I discovered that my bike would not go into the big gear anymore, which was unfortunate because there were some good long downhill stretches that last 9 miles that I just had to coast down (which is not my style).  As I biked into transition, I saw Tyler and another friend who was there supporting her husband, and that made me smile. 

I transitioned and took off on the run.  It was hot out, but I was keeping a pace I was relatively comfortable (and happy) with.  The first 1.5 miles of the run was on road, with no shade.  I passed a couple men (one of whom I thought was a female when he passed me on the bike, so that was a nice 'pick me up' to realize it was actually a man), and I was passed by one female who was running really fast.  At the 1.5 mile mark, we approached a huge set of stairs and were directed up them.  I ran up the first 3 stairs, and then decided to walk (it was hot, and the stairs were killing my calf's).  I got to the top of the stairs and was welcomed by some kids who were handing out ice cold towelettes to squeeze on ourselves.  It felt amazing!  I proceeded with the remainder of the run: 1.5 more miles on the grass, on a natural flood plain.  I am really clumsy and slow at running on grass, so I was less than thrilled to have to run on grass, with no shade for the remainder of the triathlon.  The width of space we had to run on was roughly four feet, with steep declines on each side.  I had visions of tripping on the grass and rolling down one of the hills.  Luckily, I only had a few 'ankle give outs' , but did not trip, and kept chugging along to the finish.

I crossed the finish line, not knowing what my finish time was, or what my place was, but somehow I felt content with my overall performance.  The results were posted about a half hour after I finished, and I saw that I was the 2nd place female overall ! I let out a little yelp and jumped up and down a few times.
2nd Place Overall Female Plaque, and prize money in the envelopes for: 2nd Place; Fastest swim split; and Fastest bike split.

I say this was my luckiest race yet because there are so many factors that contribute into how well one places in a race: there's all the internal factors that make up the individual athletes performance (race preparation/ training; adverse incidents, or lack thereof, on race day; how one handles various weather conditions; one's mental toughness; etc) and then there is the big external factor: who shows up on race day.  Looking back at the previous two years race results from this race, I noticed that with the time I did this year, I would have placed 1st in 2011, however, I would have placed 7th in 2010 (perhaps a little higher up, as the current in the river was much faster that year, but I certainly wouldn't have been top 3 overall)!  If you have the desire to receive an age group or overall award, then train and prepare to the best of your ability.  You can't control who shows up on race day, but if you've done the best you can do to get ready for race day, you just may eventually get lucky!

What I learned:

Get some anti-fog for my goggles.  Swimming in open water and not being able to see is frustrating.  

Get a bike tune-up before my first tri of the season, or any super important race, for that matter.  It doesn't make much sense to train your butt off and to prepare in every single other way possible, and Not make sure your equipment is in tune.  My bike time could have been faster if my bike was working properly, which could have won me the race (you never know).   

Either pony up the money for some tri running shoes, or take the 10 seconds to put socks on before the run during transition.  I earned some gnarly blisters on the short 5K run! 

I am lucky to have Tyler in my life.  He chooses to get up early, drive me to races, pump my bike tires, etc. on race morning; then takes pictures, cheers, and waits patiently for me to pass by him just a few times during a 2 hour race.  Triathlon isn't the best 'spectator sport', yet he comes to support me anyway.  He never complains that I spend hours away from home training, while he's doing side-jobs or working on our house.  He doesn't have the same innate competitive desire and drive I do, but he understands why I do what I do.