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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Swimming...part II

  So, some time back, I wrote up a prologue to my swimming adventures.  Well, now that I'm squarely in the midst of what I kindly refer to "swimming torture", I've decided that some kind of update is warranted. When I started with QT2, I'd admittedly been swimming less than normal- my normal whopping twice a week had been reduced to once at times, thanks to marathon training, and also the fact that, without a triathlon any time in the near future, I just flat out didn't have any motivation to sink my body into cold water at 6am to suffer for an hour and a half.  Plus, I had completely plateaued at swimming months ago; the entire purpose of every workout became to swim 4000-4500 yards, with ~2000 broken up into distances that I would attempt to swim under 1:30/100y pace.  Sometimes I would easily, sometimes I wouldn't, and I'd never have any idea what was happening with my stroke.  Overall, I was not enjoying myself in the least in the water.  I knew that I should swim more frequently, especially as my biking improved and I became even more apparently swim-limited, but, for some reason, I just couldn't self-motivate myself.  My justification became that I probably just had so many form flaws I'd be just reinforcing them with more swim volume (nice, huh?)

  So, in came Mary, my former swim coach of a tri coach, who I'm now convinced was sitting rubbing her hands together (in my vision, she's cackling in a dark, creepy, candle-lit room...kidding...sort of), devising twisted and evil ways to prevent me from total embarrassment in the pro field that are really for my own good, as much as I don't want to admit it.  One Friday night in November, we managed to clear our packed, hopping social schedules to meet for some swim stroke taping.  Within 50m, she was thrilled- my stroke sucked.  This assuaged both of our worst fears, which was that I was actually swimming well, and was still that comparatively slow.  (My second worst fear, which was that Mary would make me to flip turns, was also calmed, when she accepted the "grab-the-wall-and-pull-and-turn" method I'd spent hours perfecting.  I had bigger issues).  Based upon my limited swimming knowledge, I kind of thought I had no catch.  I was right.  See Exhibit A:
Beautiful...
Part of the reason for this (at least, it feels that way to me) is because I crossed midline on my entry.  I blame this on cramming myself into the narrowest space possible against the JCC lane lines when I began triathlon swimming, to avoid the flailing arms of the old men swimming next to me.  See Exhibit B:
Checking the time while swimming is just depressing, anyways...
Finally, for my favorite picture.  It pretty much just sums up how jacked my stroke was (and, to some degree, probably still is-let's not kid ourselves).
This one got three red arrows!  It's a record!
  So, after some time spent analyzing in a Nazareth building foyer, I took the the pool the next week, armed with some actual knowledge (and drills).  I figured that the crossing midline thing would be easily amendable.  I started to swim with my arms further apart.  Sure, it felt awkward ("like a fat man", I would affectionately describe it), but, amazingly, I found that by not entering the water in front of my face, I could actually sort of get my elbows bent and kind of catch a little (*disclaimer: this is all in my own mind, because I haven't been refilmed yet.  I could be delusional).  I began to feel a little stronger.  Suddenly, I was aware that I had lats-they were sore (I never had understood the connection between swimming and strong lats before that, after all).  My swim volumes were still pretty low (~6k/week, still less than I had been swimming over the summer), but I was feeling better.  Within a few weeks, 800 time trial time rolled around.  I swam hard for the first time in months, and magically, after over almost a year of little to no improvements in the pool, with less volume, 16 seconds rolled off.  11:47.  Not fast for many, but for me, a breakthrough of sub-1:30 pace.  I reveled in Mary's genius.

    The next week came my meeting with Jesse.  His first response to my time trial time was to quite fairly question my lap counting ability, given my horrible race times.  We'd then probed a bit into the pool/open water disconnect.  "When you're a race situation, do you find yourself way to the outside, trying to find open water instead of getting in the group?"  How'd he know that?  "What is is about swimming in the group that scares you?"  I don't know.  I can't spot well?  Getting jostled?  Getting a noseful of water?  I guess I have no good reason.  "You haven't been in a pool yet," he'd told me.  "We're going to do a swim focus.  You're going to be in the pool 5-6 days/week."  Bring it, I'd thought at the time.  Finally-QT2 was going to force me to do what I'd needed for so long, but never had been able to muster up the motivation to complete on my own.  Sure enough, later that evening, five days of swimming appeared on my weekly schedule, including my now nemesis, "the Big Set".  I set out motivated...for the first few days, at least.

  A few days in came another 800 time trial.  Still basking in my recent sub-12 effort, I actually had some nerves going for this one (I also had a new festive holiday themed swimsuit, to raise my enthusiasm for cold water at 6am).  I counted laps carefully, watched the digital pool clocks, and hit my watch, spent at the finish.  11:30.  Again, still even close to top age group times, but better.  Minus 17 more seconds, and over 30 seconds faster than pre-getting coached.  14,900 yards later (as in, about 6,000 yards higher than my weekly swim volumes over the past two years), week 1 of swim focus was complete.  My entire upper body was sore.  My arms ached.  A head cold was setting in, leading the lovely sensation of choking on my own postnasal drip throughout my Friday workout.  My Christmas gift was two entire days away from the pool.  Followed by...is that for real?  I really have to do all those workouts again?  What is Mary thinking??  That Wednesday workout was the worst thing I'd ever done!  There's no way I could replicate that!  Well, yes...that was for real.

   I'm now four days into swim focus week two.  I did have to redo the Wednesday "big set" workout, this time with the not bad but annoyingly persistent cold, and it was both tougher and slower the second time around.  I was fighting with myself to finish- but I made it.  At some point during this morning's recovery swim, I realized that the form changes were gradually becoming more automatic- one positive.  I never knew that it could feel more wonderful to stretch out my arms than my legs.  Hopefully my patients haven't been noticing me yanking my arms across my body, reaching them overhead, contorting myself into weird positions, and massaging my knotted neck (I'd imagine it'd feel better if I could bilaterally breathe, thus saving me from turning it to the right hundreds of times a day) in order to ease the soreness and pain throughout the day.  I miss running.  But, it is what it is, and it is what I need.  So, whine as I might, I know this is for the best.  I'm no longer backing away from my weakness, deciding instead to engage in more enjoyable training.  I'm being made to attack it-full steam ahead.  My Christmas boxes were filled with new swimsuits, paddles, transition bags, and swim cords.  I still can't say I enjoy swimming.  As I've been pounding out the yardage over the past couple of weeks, I've been doing more than my fair share of whining.  Mary's been virtually enjoying my pain (given that a great number of patients claim that I enjoy inflicting torture on them, I suppose what goes around comes around).  But, here I am.  I know my coaches know what they're doing- I sure as heck didn't when it came to swimming, and I'm already grateful for the improvements I've made.  Assuming I make it out of swim focus alive, I'm trusting that it will help me come April, when I find myself waist deep in water with some of the best athletes in the nation, inevitably intimidated.  As for now, tomorrow is another tough one, but I'll make my way into the water tomorrow morning to take it on, ready or not! 

I couldn't resist one more...am I trying to turn to the right?  Nope.  I'm just stretching out my left side.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Time

  Happy holidays!  As the year draws to a close, I've spent a little time (along with the rest of the world) reflecting a bit.  I've already been lucky enough to be able to use this blog to record and reflect upon the major points of this past year, and while sometimes I feel like everything has changed, in many ways, it's remained the same, as well.  The thing is, day to day life goes on, regardless of Vegas trips and marathon prs and pro cards.  The mundane sticks around, I thought earlier, as I wiped muddy dog paws, searched around for a matching pair of socks, and drove to work with my gas gauge reading below E and my fingers crossed.  As usual, I greeted my patients with a smile, and gave them what I could; after all, they didn't care that my neck was sore from five consecutive days in the pool, nor did they need to know how high I had to push my heart rate on the bike later.  Sure, the triathlon topic comes up from time to time, but usually by my bosses, or casually in a story by me, in which I play off just how huge a part of my life it has become.  Some patients are genuinely interested, and will inquire further, which is great; others could care less, which is perfectly fine by me, as well.  To each their own-that's the beauty of individual interests.  I guess my point here is that while my internal thoughts and motivations and goals shape me and change what I'm feeling at any given time, they don't have any significant effect on my day to day affairs (even though I am trying to get more into treating runners/triathletes).

  But, what my daily life lacks in glamour is made up for in purpose and structure.  Since signing up for Placid and beginning my work with QT2, every minute of every day is carefully calculated and plotted.  I go to bed every night, knowing exactly when I need to wake up the next morning to get to the pool to get in x yards in y time with z rest.  I know when I need to get my bike ride started, because I know exactly when I need to get into the shower to get out the door in time to get to work with 20 minutes to spare before my first patient, so I can review charts and figure out how I can maximize 30 minutes of treatment time with each person.  Some days, too, structure flies out the window, and I adjust to runaway dogs, late patients, or an unexpected twist in treatment plans.  Still, I'm lucky in that I have a regular schedule, great coworkers, an endlessly supportive family, and understanding coaches that allow me to get it all done, for the most part.  Not to mention, I don't have kids (my astonishment/admiration that anyone can raise a family, work, and compete is a different story, though).  So, that's what 2012 will be about- getting it all done.  As much as I want time to slow down on a regular basis (Is it really time to get into the shower already? My next patient is already here?  Do I have time to eat this orange before lunch is over?  Don't I have a few more minutes until I should get to bed?), the clock and calendar are actually on my side.  This came up last weekend- I'm 27.  As much as I've become more aware that I can't improve forever, I still (hopefully) have years to go before I have to worry about that.  While life sometimes calls for rushing, it also sometimes calls for patience.  So, although my normal, mundane, comfortable little life often feels crazed, I can take the months and years at a less frenetic pace in order to allow myself to be guided and developed and shaped.

  Well, that's it for now, I suppose-today just got me thinking, for some reason.  My next post will likely get back into some training developments, but with nothing left to do for Christmas but sit back, relax, and enjoy time with my family, the craziness of the past month made me pensive.  Merry Christmas (happy holidays?) to all; remember to take a minute to breathe and enjoy!    

and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Going long

   "I'm never doing that again!"  I had proclaimed those words some 12 years ago immediately upon completing the 10k at Empire State Games.  At the ripe old age of 15, I had decided that my 10k career was over.  Apparently, I'd figured that my 43:xx (I think), second to last place (that I do remember) finish was good enough for me to go to the grave with.  After all, I'd mostly just wanted to go to ESG to spend time with my high school partner in crime Christine, eating Reese's Pieces in the Binghamton University dorms, laughing at the horrible pick-up lines that inevitably came out when a bunch of high school kids were being housed together away from home (Did it hurt?  When you feel from Heaven?), and watching water polo, field hockey, and other sports.  The 10k was just my ticket in- no one else wanted to run it, meaning I'd had to beat all of one other girl to earn one of the two spots into the games.  Ironically, two days later, I ran on the 4x400, as well.  But, after that trip, it was back to my high school career, that consisted of cross country in the fall, and middle distance (400/800/1000m) running in the winter and spring, always with a focus on our relays.  Even though I was a halfway decent cross country runner, once track season hit, my 1500/3000m times were pretty miserable.  For some reason, I could not get a grasp on those distances, and besides, breaking our school's 4x800m relay record was always the main focus.  Upon graduation, when looking into collegiate running, I'd labeled myself as a mid-distance runner, and I'd held firm on my pledge to never run another 10k.

  Still, at that point, I should have been clued into the fact that maybe the middle distances weren't necessarily my strong point.  From my freshman year to my senior year, I'd shaved off all of one second from my 400m time- from 64 to 63.  Hardly blazing foot speed, and hardly a trajectory of improvement that suggested I'd be getting much faster.  In the 800m, even with the vast majority of my training/racing, especially in peak shape, focused on that distance, I'd only dropped from 2:29 to 2:23.  Again, a mediocre (on the college level) at best time, without major improvements throughout the years.  In the same time, though, I'd slowly but steadily shaved about 30 seconds off my cross country times year to year.  Despite the fact that I'd faced the high school female runner perils of puberty and weight gain, I had been able to get just a little faster every year (although, the fact that I never was a twig, even as a freshman, helped me adjust better than some).  Upping the mileage entering college, though, led to burnout, a suspect shin, and mediocre high school-esque times during my first cross country season.  Winter track came, and despite pounding out repeats faster than I ever had at the back of the mid-distance group (still highly mediocre times, I should add), I think I managed a 2:25 800 and a 5:33 mile (or so) that first season.  When spring rolled around, something clicked in me, and I came to the realization that I just liked running more.  The combination of walking around UB's large campus on a daily basis, discovering how to eat a proper lunch, and disliking dining hall dinners had dropped 10 lbs from my frame, as well.  I clearly wasn't ever going to amount to much in mid-distance track, but I did have a shot of contributing to the cross country team, so my request to change training groups was met with encouragement by Coach Vicki Mitchell.  I loved the longer workouts right off the bat, and began to absolutely dread the days when I'd have to run any faster than 5k pace.  Long story short, I shaved 45 seconds off my 5k pr in my first race out, and spent the rest of my college days sneaking into the top 5 on the cross country team, and at least getting to compete in the 5k and 10k (yep, I ran another one, despite what I'd thought at age 15) at conference meets, even though I was never anywhere near scoring.  Not spectacular results, but still, I'd improved myself, and I knew I'd made the right move.

   When college ended, I continued on the path of 5k-10k distance road races in the spring and summer, with club cross country racing in the fall.  The idea of half marathons and marathons appealed to me, but the durability was lacking, as tendon issues continued to haunt me.  I found my way into triathlons into 2009 due to injury, and started out at the Olympic distance.  I loved it.  Three months later, wanting a new challenge but concerned about my ability to handle marathon training, I registered for the Musselman 70.3.  Five hours of exercise.  I loved it.  But, I still remember thinking as I ran along Seneca Lake during the last mile that I had no idea how an Ironman was possible.  A marathon did, though, so that came a few months later.  It was miserable.  I hated it and loved it at the same time.  I had no idea how it was possible to run one after biking 112 miles.  I wanted to do it again, though.  I knew I could do better, so I did another one, three months later and 16 minutes faster.  Somehow, running one after biking 112 miles seemed possible.  Still, I wasn't ready to commit to it yet.  Mooseman came and went, and then Musselman the second time.  I can say it was there that the Ironman switch, which had already begun to move, was fully switched on.  I remember finishing the race in a 12 minute pr, grabbing arguably the biggest victory of my life to date, and somehow still having a sense of wanting more.  I crossed the line, spent some time in the ice baths, and then was back up again, walking around and socializing, somehow unfazed.  I think it was then and there that I knew- I was ready to make the leap.  I'd given that race everything I'd had in me, of course, but somehow, it hadn't taken everything out of me.  Something was left, and that something was belief that I could do more; every time I'd asked my body to go farther, it had, so the time to figure out how far I could go had come.  Eight days later, with shaking hands, I hit "submit" on the IM Lake Placid registration screen, and off I was.  I went upstairs, jittery, and, for some reason, cried a bit.  My knew that my life was going to change, even though at the time, I didn't grasp by how much.  Five months later, I still don't think I know.

  Which leads me to this weekend.  I began training with QT2 Systems about a month ago, doing mostly the aerobic base work that Mary had designed for me.  As much as I didn't want to admit it, I did need the recovery after the marathon, and I did need to be forced to slow down.  I knew that my training intensity for 70.3s would not work out too well for Ironman training, as stubborn as I was about it at first.  Then, Dave and I headed out to Boston for the QT2 holiday party last night, and my bike threshold testing and meeting with "the Wizard" himself, Jesse Kropelnicki, who has been helping advise my training.  What the bike test revealed was what my entire running career had suggested from day one: I'm a bit of an aerobic freak.  Kind of ridiculously so, in fact.  There it was, the explanation, plotted out simply and clearly.  The irony is that I started this post over a week ago, before any of this occurred.  I spent several hours mesmerized, as we discussed and plotted out and planned my future.  More intensity, more swimming, more biking.  And suddenly, after several months of worrying about the course I'd embarked upon, I walked out the door in a revived, zen-like state.  I still have a thousand work and life-related things going on, but now, with the tentative plan lined out, even though time is about to become even scarcer, I feel more relaxed and clear-headed than I have in some time.  So, with the holidays rapidly approaching, I'll enjoy my time with family and friends, and use the time to prepare myself for what lies ahead with enthusiasm.  After all, it's a long haul, but I have some of the best in the country available to guide the trip, so I'm ready to go and start the ride! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Updates and announcements!

   Well, with my marathon over, work picking up, and the holidays upon us, I haven't posted in a bit.  Plus, I actually had a few things in the works to announce, I had just been waiting for the official word in a couple areas.  Being the borderline superstitious, "it's not over till it's over" kind of person that I am, I had tried to keep quiet except for a few people until all was in place.  Before I ramble on about myself, though, a few public (or semi-public, I suppose) congrats are in order- first, to my lifetime bff Emma, who is now engaged to her long-time now fiance Alex-truly one of the best-matched couples I've ever seen!  Also, to my Vegas roomie Alyssa, who qualified for Kona at Ironman Arizona (securing the spot in the last half a mile of the marathon, nonetheless!), and to our Musselman roomie Tyler, who completed his first Ironman down in Cozumel, dealing with humidity, rain, and winds to get there.  I'm proud to say that they both once slept in a bed (or, in Tyler's case, on a situp mat on a tile dorm room floor) a few feet away from me, after listening to my normal pre-70.3 day before the race unnecessary nerves and negativity crap :).

  Anyways, onto what's new in my life.  It's now out in the open that I did apply for the elite triathlon license that I qualified for in Vegas.  Crap.  The decision was a scary one, and I did have some guidance along the way.  To be honest, the first time someone used the phrase "pro potential" to my face, I was obviously flattered, but in a "cute joke" sort of way.  I remember watching the pros start at Mooseman, and thinking that they were some sort of mythical triathlon beings, the likes of which I could only aspire to for a bit.  As the year progressed, though, I started to have a little hope that it might happen, someday.  I reviewed the new elite license qualification criteria, and figured that I could go after a couple of them in 2012, provided the criteria didn't change, with the eventual goal of reaching the pro ranks by 2013 or 2014 (getting there before having to deal with the ultra-competitive 30-34 age group women sounded appealing, at least!)  Then, Vegas happened, and to my astonishment, I had somehow found myself in the top 3 amateurs in a race offering over $20k elite prize money-aka, according to USAT, an "elite qualifying race".  Huh?  I still can't figure out how I'd managed that one, but the fact of the matter was that I was suddenly faced with a decision I hadn't yet prepared myself to make- was I ready?  Was there enough hope to improve my swim?  How did this even happen, was that race some sort of weird fluke?  Did I want to sacrifice my Kona hopes in Placid for my dream of the pro ranks?  Wouldn't it be awesome, though, to not have to deal with a mass start in my first Ironman?  Would it be a horrible idea to attempt the distance for the first time as a pro?  After all, more people would notice if it doesn't go so well.  Do I really, actually belong at the start line with the women I've been admiring for  the past couple of years?  I decided to hold on the decision until after the NY marathon- if I totally sucked out there, I figured, I'd have no business thinking I belonged.  Well, NYC happened, and I think I was actually most happy about the fact that, although I hadn't lowered my marathon pr or anything along those lines, I'd at least performed respectably enough, in my mind, to think I had some business applying for the elite license.  In an uncharacteristic moment of counting my eggs before they'd hatched, I had actually printed out the application prior the the marathon, but it sat on our kitchen table until a few phone calls and emails told me what I'd been secretly craving to hear- that I should bite the bullet, take the chance, and mail it in.

  So in it went, and, finally, long story short, I got email confirmation a few days ago that "my status had been updated".  For better or worse, then, here I go.  But, I'll have some guidance along the way- announcement #2 (also semi-disclosed by now) is that I'll be competing with QT2 Systems, guided by some top-notch coaches (who have yet to run scared from this type-A, anal retentive, overthinker of an athlete who has never been good at being reigned in!), with a wealth of support for the challenges I have yet to face.  I also was offered my first sponsorship- with Woolsports, the company that was the presenting sponsor at Musselman this year, whose shirts and socks I've been loving ever since.  Overall, all exciting stuff to me, even though the past month has been a bit overwhelming in terms of logistics (hence the total lack of blog posting), with getting used to QT2 training, relearning how to swim (more on that at a later time; preview is -16 seconds over 800 yards on 1/2-2/3 previous swim volume, I can get used to this), and trying to grow myself professionally as a PT (again, more on this later!) stealing away my time bit by bit (as evidenced by what Dave's currently finding in the other room, as he cleans out our fridge).  But, for now, I'll be taking things one at a time, enjoying the holidays, and preparing myself for what the new year may bring!
It's pretty...
We also raked a bunch...

...and I hung lights.  Jennie hearts Christmas.

  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NYC Marathon race report

  After a sleep-disturbed night in which I only sort of utilized the extra hour from setting the clocks back (still the best weekend of the year, hands-down), race morning had arrived.  I woke up that morning feeling...not sick!  My throat was still a little sore, but my head felt clear and my body refreshed.  All systems said go; my mind was made up that I was going to get through this thing for better or worse.  I threw on some clothes, grabbed my race day bag, and headed out.  After making a quick Dunkin stop (thanks to the nice woman who recognized my bag and wished me luck!), my first challenge of the morning presented itself: catching a cab.  I'm such a suburbanite.  I made a quick call up to Dave ("Which ones are available?  What do the lights mean?) when one pulled up to me.  I told the driver where I was headed with authority, like I knew what I was doing, and we were off.  I made my way over to the Sheraton to meet up with several fellow Rochesterians, including Dan Giblin, who had gotten me hooked up with the NYPD running club.  This ended up being the way to go- we got special transport to and from the start (that prevented me from having to stand around in a corral for 3 hours), our own post-race food back at the hotel, and a sweet NYPD jersey that drew TONS of cheers.  Our group walked over the NYPD buses, and soon enough, we were off to Staten Island.  Some good conversations helped to pass the ride and calm my nerves.

  Once on Staten Island, we had a short time in the NYPD area to use the bathrooms, get our stuff together, and strip down to our race gear.  I began my pre-race regimen of Peptos and Endurolytes to hopefully limit the bathroom needs.  Then, we were off to our corrals.  Local Tim Dwyer and I were in the same green wave corral, so I followed him through the crowds to our holding pen (at least, that's what it felt like); we made it there with a few minutes to spare.  I managed to stake out a small place to sit amongst the crowd of runners and tried to stay warm.  The morning was cool, but at 50 degrees or so, it could have been far worse.  Some nameless, yet always appreciated runner saw me rubbing my arms, and in broken English offered me his throwaway sweatshirt, which I gratefully accepted.  Around 9:00, they led us to our start line.  Never having done NY before, I hadn't known we'd be ushered to a place with (gasp!) no port-a-potties that far in advance of the race.  A few trees sat on the far side of a guardrail; these became the unofficial bathroom of our wave.  Interestingly, despite the fact that the "local competitive" corral was supposed to be in front of my corral, no one took any steps to keep us from intermingling, so I was able to get much closer to the start line than I had expected.  I chatted with a few of the runners around me (most of us were on the same "sub-3" page, so I confirmed that I wasn't going to be the jerk who had lined up too far forward).  One girl and I compared gels stuffed in our sports bras, and laughed over the fact that our husbands would likely appreciate the fact that they made our boobs look bigger.  Anything to calm the nerves, which were fully rampant at that point; I actually had originally been drawn into conversation when one guy laughingly told me I looked "intense".

   Despite the fact that I felt like we had gotten to our starting line far in advance of our 9:40 start, time passed in a blur, and next thing I knew, we were off.  Given the nature of the pre-race stuff, I hadn't been able to do even a brief warm-up jog, so I was starting cold.  Our wave actually went under the top deck of the Verrazanos bridge, so my GPS wasn't reading well at all at the start.  I also underestimated the difference that the uphill first mile/downhill second mile would make, and as a result, hit them in 6:57 and 5:54.  Whoops.  I tried to calm it down and settle in, but I still found myself holding 6:25-6:30 pace those early miles.  This was dangerously faster than the 6:40's I had trained consistently at and planned on, but I felt entirely too relaxed at the time.  Plus, as soon as we hit Brooklyn, the experience began to be amazing- spectators everywhere, indescribable crowd support, tree-lined city streets, everyone cheering "go NYPD!".  I knew I was being somewhat of an idiot with my pace, but I ran those first 10 or so miles with a perma-smile affixed on my face, thanking spectators and volunteers, and generally having the time of my life.  I couldn't help it; besides, I'd negative-splitted my 2:54, so part of me wanted to see if I could handle taking it out a bit faster.  My contingency plan of bailing at mile 16 was nothing but a distant memory, and I knew I'd be running well past 64th St.

  I wish I could remember more of the course itself, but the crowds are really what stuck out.  Sometime around mile 11, my quads began to feel funky.  Calm it down, I told myself, and just tick the miles out.  Fifteen miles, you've done that plenty of times.  The soreness/pain gradually became a bit more severe as the next few miles passed, but I was holding onto my pace fairly well still.  The half marathon mark was on one of the bridges; I passed the clock in around 1:24:40.  Genius, given my half pr is within 90 seconds of that.  Well, nothing I could do about it at that point except press on; plus, if Vegas taught me nothing else, it was that I could gut my way through a half marathon despite feeling rough the entire time.  The slight uphill/downhill of the bridge we passed over near that point began to take more of a toll on my legs.  I spent the next couple of miles trying to calm myself down in preparation for the larger hill that the Queensboro bridge represented.  When I first started that climb, the uphill was actually somewhat of a relief on my quads, which were beginning to hurt more and more with every step.  Then, it just kept going...and going...and going.  Finally, I crested the top of the bridge and began to come down.  I tried to use the downhill to make up a little of the lost time and recover a bit, but unfortunately, it also angered my quads a bit more.

  The quiet of the bridge was soon quickly altered by the deafening cheers as we turned off of it; the atmosphere there was electric enough to rejuvenate me a bit.  I didn't see Dave or Jess, but they were able to catch a glimpse of me.  I wasn't smiling anymore, but I had made it past the pre-planned 64th St. The miles then began to grow, it seemed.  I took in a gel to try to keep myself going.  I remember reaching mile 17 and thinking, "nine more miles- (insert expletive of choice here)".  Brief periods of doubt over my ability to finish still standing occurred.  Miles 18 and 19 offered a bit more hope- I was getting closer, and was still holding under 7:00 pace; the crowds were still pushing me forward.  That changed at mile 20, where I slipped over 7:00 for the remainder of the race.  At that point, all I could focus on was how much I could slow down and still break 3:00.  Fortunately, even though I was hurting pretty good and slowing down, I never was over to whatever I needed to be at for the sub-3.  The pain in my quads was reminiscent of only one experience in my life- the Casino Niagara Marathon.  Somehow, that kept me going; I wasn't tanking as badly as I had there, and I knew that taking even the briefest walking break would make running again near impossible.  Plenty of runners (including a few women) were passing me, but some were also slowing down more than I was, walking, stretching, trying to survive.  Misery loves company, I suppose, as it was some small comfort to me that some were worse off than I was; and least I was still running.

  The last 4 miles represented some of the worst athletic-related pain I've experienced.  My quads were absolutely, completely gone by that point, my right calf would occasionally pretend that it was about to cramp, my entire being became focused on finding some way to get myself through Central Park and to that finish line.  I tried taking water, I tried taking Gatorade, I pulled out another gel (that remained in my hand, barely touched).  I was hot and wanted to pull down my arm warmers, but somehow my mind had decided against making any non-running related movements.  The small uphill into mile 24 stands out in my mind as one of the worst points of the course, but with quads that felt like they wanted to break in half with every footstrike, the downhills in the park gave me no relief.  The spectators were still cheering enthusiastically for my NYPD jersey, at least; although upon viewing the Brightroom pictures of me, I now know that those who told me I "looked good" were totally full of it :).  Mile 24 passed, and I quickly calculated that I needed to maintain something around 9:00 pace, which meant that I just needed to continue on with some semblance of running.  At that point, my mind was set on it, but I had my doubts that my body wasn't going to just completely shut down and fail.  Mile 25 passed, and I had 12 minutes to get to the finish line to be under 3:00.  I solely concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other over that last mile; a couple of women passed me during it, but I was past the point where I could have done anything to respond.  I passed the 26 mile marker in just over 2:55.  The last .2 of the NYC marathon kindly counts down every 100m, which was absolute torture.  I desperately wanted to be under 2:57; for some reason, 2:56 just sounds far faster to me than 2:57.  Finally, mercifully, after probably the worst .2 miles I've ever run, I was crossing the heralded NYC marathon finish line.

  My official time would end up as 2:56:36, good for 44th place among the women, both of which met my pre-race hopes of a sub-3, top 50 finish.  Thanks to Brightroom, I can see that I crossed the line, took a couple steps, and then immediately bent forward in abject pain as others streamed across.  My time was just over a couple minutes over my best, but Tallahassee was a far, far easier marathon experience than what had just gone down.  Part of it was my own doing over those enthusiastic first miles, but my limiting factor had again been my quads.  Given I'd known that they hadn't been perfect heading into the race and given my level of pain at the end of it, combined with the concrete downhills of the course, I can say with fair certainty they  would not have held out for the full marathon regardless of my starting pace.  If I had gone through the half a minute or two slower, I might have saved a minute or two overall, but this is pure conjecture.  Who knows.  Given I'm obsessive and perfectionist by nature, I've spent some time chastising myself over my less than genius first half of the race.  Still, I've been mostly able to let it go (and heck, I had a great time doing it early on- in a way, it was worth it to just be a little crazy, go for it, and soak up the experience), and overall I'm very happy with how things went.  Despite my very positive splitting, I managed to only lose 2 places among the women in the second half of the race (from what I can tell, five passed me, and I passed three); seeing that made me feel a bit better, given I felt like I was "selling wholesale" (thanks for the saying, Hennessey) towards the end.  Plus, looking back, those last few miles have toughened me up a bit, and have proven to me that I can will my body to do things despite its best protests- knowledge that will certainly aid me through Ironman time!  In a way, I feel like this 2:56 should mean more to me than my 2:54 did; it's far easier to run well on a day when everything comes easily than it is on a day when every step becomes a struggle.  I had far more low points during NYC than I did during Tallahassee.  At the very least, I now know that the 2:54 wasn't some sort of weird fluke or a mismeasured course or the fastest marathon I could ever dream of running...

   I'll wrap this up with a brief synopsis of the aftermath.  After crossing the line, getting my medal, and getting my picture taken with it by the race photographers, we walked...and walked...and walked.  I knew I was supposed to exit early somewhere to catch the NYPD vans, but I couldn't figure out where.  I did ask some volunteers at one point, but they told me to keep going straight.  I emerged absolutely freezing onto 77th St, hugging my weird metallic blanket thing against myself, with a walk that was more of a straight-legged waddle than anything else.  I then had to make my way to the vans on 69th St.  Eight blocks turned out to be brutal post-marathon.  I made my way to the van, where a kind NYPD officer helped me in and apologized for having to wait for a few more marathoners to come before we could go back to the hotel.   No problem whatsoever by me, I informed him.  I was finally sitting, and the van was blissfully warm.  We could have sat there for hours, for all I cared.  Back up at the hotel, I was congratulated by Dan and Dave (mid-90's Reebox ad reference, anyone?).  A hot shower was absolutely glorious (except for the areas of my ankles that no longer had skin on them).  I tried to enjoy some food (Dave vouched that it was tasty), but apparently six pre-race Peptos (they should sponsor me, I'm a firm believer in their product) doesn't allow your post-race stomach to do things it wants to do (I'll stop before this becomes TMI).  I forced Dave to catch us a cab back to Jess's apartment, as subway stairs were an absolute no at that point.  The most challenging part of the weekend then became trying to navigate the four flights of stairs up to (and down from) the apartment- Dave took video to commemorate my skilled movements.

  Later that night, we did manage to get out to Times Square and Rockefeller Center, where I walked around like something was wrong with me and tried to soak it in.  I saw a few others with similar walks, who had smartly (unlike me) worn either their finishers medals or some sort of marathon jacket to explain their waddles.  That night and the following day, the quad pain continued.  Four days later, I'm finally able to go upstairs without a rail and downstairs foot over foot, but forgetting I'm still semi-crippled and squatting down like I always do at work today nearly sent me through the roof.  Oh well.  I'll recover soon enough, I'll heal, and I'll begin on the next journey (and hopefully there should be something to announce about that soon!)  Thanks again to everyone who wished me lucked, supported me/tracked me during, and congratulated me after the marathon.  The experience was truly unlike any other and was entirely worth every second, no matter how excruciating, and the support means the world to me, the accomplishments of others in any venture inspires me, and all of this helps to keep me going in these journeys!  (And thanks again to Jess, for her awesome hosting/bed giving up/NYC navigating this weekend...we will forever be indebted.)      

For anyone who cares, here's the link to my Garmin file from the race.  Don't mind the fact that it also included the neverending walk through the finish chute and back to the NYPD vans because I forgot to stop it.  Obviously the bridge splits are screwed up, too (4:37 second mile?  heck yeah! 40 second mile pr! or...not)  It also looks a little better than the splits I gathered on my watch, have to love that the Garmin always reads a little over!

Not sure what point of the race this was, other than "after it began to suck".  Sadly, I think this is one of the more attractive pictures taken.
Around mile 16...looked a little better then


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NYC marathon-the build!

   Marathon weekend has come and gone, so where to start?  Well, I think the logical place for me (and my inability to ever stay within page limits), is with a little reflection on my training approach heading into the race.  When I originally signed up for this race, I think I only had my first marathon under my belt, had gotten shut out of Boston, and wanted to run a big city marathon.  I knew NYC wasn't the fastest marathon course ever, but after watching the likes of Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan on TV coverage over the past couple of years, I was intrigued more by the experience than the actual thought of running a good marathon.  Then, in early February, the Tallahassee marathon happened, which just turned out to be one of those races where absolutely everything goes perfectly- 45 degrees at the race start with no wind to speak of, a flat, fast course, a well-executed taper, good pacing, and just overall feeling strong.  Heading into that race, I had a marathon pr of 3:10, which made 3:00 seem like a reach.  I had trained a little unconventionally (marathon-wise)- two runs a week (one long run, one treadmill workout), only one run over 20 miles, and lots of supplemental long bike trainer sessions.  I erred on the conservative side in training, as too long of a run too close to the race had done me in during my first marathon.  But, as a result, I came out of that race with a negative-splitted 2:54, a time that I never would have dreamed I would be capable of, and something I feared I never would approach again.  With a marathon pr I was more than satisfied with, I turned my focus to the triathlon world for the summer.

  Fast forward seven months, and NYC had really only crossed my mind as something I'd casually mention I was running here and there.  I really didn't focus on it or think about it much over the summer; I was too engrossed with 70.3 Worlds.  Then, before I knew it, worlds were over, and the marathon was less than two months away.  I hadn't run over 15 miles since Tallahassee.  I doubted I could approach what I'd run there.  After Worlds, I felt like I was risking letdown in my next big event.  So, I did what any obsessive endurance athlete does: I crammed.  I'd been conservative heading into Tallahassee, so I decided to push the envelope a bit coming into NY.  Part of it was just that I felt like I had to validate my previous marathon to myself- after that race, I had kept checking back to the race website, expecting to see some message that the course had been mismeasured and was short or something.  So, I started running 4-5 times/week, up to 60 miles, with some swimming and biking- a mileage amount that's still very low for traditional marathon training standards, but was still higher than I'd been able to run consistently since, well, my first stress fracture six years ago.  My sub-18 quest sort of developed, as well, so pretty much every run was long, intense, or both.  I also had picked up more hours at work in order to cover for a coworker on maternity leave, so I spent most of October sore, tired, and borderline cranky.  But, somehow, I was still feeling pretty decent during runs, and somewhere in there, a switch turned on, and the fire was lit- I didn't want to run NY as a spectator, I wanted to run it as a competitor (well, competitive for me, at least).  I never really knew how to answer the "time goal" question- I felt I was fit enough for another sub-3, and hopefully better than that, but I had no idea how the hills and crowds of NY would play in.

    Then, a week and a half weeks before the race, less than two weeks after I'd reveled in how great my quads had felt during a 21 miler and several days after a 16 miler had been a struggle, I had my first ominous sign.  With one mile repeat on the track left to go, my quads gave me a twinge of the feeling I fear.  They were nearing their limits with the increased run distance, frequency, intensity, and general abuse I'd been putting on them.  I semi-expected it; I knew I'd been walking a fine line with what I'd been asking of my body.  As I've learned on several occasions, my quads are my weak link, my wall, whatever I want to call them.  At mile 10 of my first marathon, they'd started to go on me.  The best way as I can describe what it felt like was when I would load the bar for the last set of squats during college lifting and severely struggle through the final rep.  It was that kind of muscular failure pain, the sharp, something's punching me, I hope my legs don't give out feeling with every step of that race.  So, despite starting to feel a twinge of that, I finished the last mile of my workout, jogged home, and hoped that no damage was done.  Still, though, I kept feeling little twinges, even at rest, in the quads for the next week, with some discomfort towards the end of my subsequent runs.  I tried not to obsess, but being me, I'm sure I did a bit.

  But, despite the questionable quads, I began to feel more rested day by day, until Friday, when I woke up with a sore throat, headache, and general gross feeling.  Wonderful.  I spent the day fairly upset at work, debating if I just wanted to scratch the NY plan and run the Harrisburg Marathon the next weekend instead, given that Dave was already registered.  Still, I sucked down Coldeeze, enjoyed some sinus rinse (hate that thing!  At least my swim that morning had prepared me for the feeling of water up the nose), and kept my fingers crossed that I could fight it off adequately in time.  With that, we enjoyed some tasty dinner with my family Friday night, and after a short flight and a long airtrain/subway ride, we were in NY.  Dave and I stayed with former college teammate Jess Schultz, who so generously donated her apartment/bed/city knowledge to us all weekend- saving us hundreds of dollars and making the entire experience much more enjoyable; plus, it was great to catch up!  Saturday involved feeling very slightly better, although my throat remained raw and head somewhat uncomfortable.  After a stale-feeling shakeout jog, Dave and I made a contingency plan- aka, where he and Jess would be on the race course in case I needed to bail- 64th St and 5th, just after the Queensboro bridge.  Ironically, we spent so much time developing that plan, that we didn't realize until just before bedtime on Saturday where I'd meet Dave in the event that I did finish the race- oops!  I actually had begun to feel better throughout the day, too, and by bedtime, my "let's do this!" attitude was returning (not to mention, if I didn't finish, I'd have no reason to excuse the massive amounts of food I'd consumed that day).  With my race day goods ready to go, I was off to bed for a sleep-disturbed night, another sign my mind was back in the game.  And so that brings us to race day- which I'll tackle on another post!

    

Saturday, October 29, 2011

...then try, try again

   With fall flying by and the marathon rapidly approaching (yikes!), I've been trying to enjoy myself a bit and have found myself actually training more like I used to when I was solely a runner.  This has involved adding a couple run days a week, running without biking beforehand, and road races to my heart's content.  Knowing that my training will revolve around triathlon, well, from a week from Monday on out, I've been enjoying this bit of run-focused down time.  Two Fridays ago, I made a last minute decision to jump into a 5k "just for fun"- Johnny's Run Like Hell.  I've done this race a couple of times in the past, with a year off last year (something about running a marathon the next day), and it's always a great time, as it involves adults running in ridiculous Halloween costumes, neighbors handing out beers on the final stretch, and some good company.  I mean "last minute" in the literal sense of the term, too- Friday night, while browsing around online at 8:45, I saw that the race was close to selling out, so registering on site (aka, at Johnny's Irish Pub) until 9pm was recommended.  I quickly changed from pajama pants into sweatpants, and Dave and I took off to the bar, making it there at 8:58 or so.  At least I looked classy.

   Anyways, I had few expectations for the race- I'd done my last long run and long track workout in the previous week, so I was more concerned with just shaking off some of the rust from those.  As someone who almost exclusively trains in the mornings, the 3pm start time was a bit different for me.  The race course also featured a downhill first mile, which, of course, means a nice uphill at the finish.  My plan was basically just to not run the first downhill mile in 5:20 in order to avoid a 6:30 final mile, akin to two years ago.  Long story short, this sort of worked out.   It probably would have worked out better for my digestive tract had I not eaten a huge pita loaded with peppers and chicken within two hours of the race start, but at least everything stayed inside of me.  I ended up running 18:32; my splits at least were less atrocious than my previous attempts at this race.  I was fine with the time and the effort overall.  Plus, I'd actually tried to enjoy myself somewhat during the run, which equated to sort of smiling for the various picture takers and spectators, something that rarely happens through the contorted mask of pain I wear during 5ks.  I rocked my old Penfield cross country uniform and flame socks (although my mom pointed out that most people probably thought I was just wearing my high school gear, given I still get mistaken for a teenager...ugh), and Dave followed wearing/sweating in a full-on penguin coat/costume, which was pretty epic.  Afterwards, we enjoyed some good times hanging out with some of Rochester's finest.  There's no choice but to love this race.

Shouldn't she be racing with the rest of her high school team today?

Dave running faster than any penguin has before

For whatever reason, this costume made me laugh the most...how did he breathe in that thing?

Post-race festivities!
    So, fast forward a week, and I was ready to get back to business.  After once again finishing just over the 18 minute mark at Hospice, I'd set my sights on the flat, fast Scare Away Brain Cancer 5k as my last ditch attempt at the mythical 17's (I knew that Johnny's wouldn't be the fastest race of my life).  I'd begun my marathon taper, so I figured that the legs would have a bit more life in them; plus, I knew that my pacing had been terrible in my previous attempts.  A cool/bordering on cold morning, but calm morning greeted us- great conditions, as far as I was concerned (plus, it meant that I got to rock the sweet new 3/4 length tights that my friend Carolynne had given my the night before- I was disproportionately excited about this gift). I ran through the race course to warm up, and noted that the last mile seemed to be just slightly gradually downhill, something that I hoped would help offset my recent final mile struggles.

   At the start line, I switched my Garmin into "lap pace" mode, and told myself to keep that number between 5:40-5:45, no matter what, during the first mile.  I kept myself in relative check at the start of the race, which more or less meant that I didn't feel like I was in an all-out sprint.  I went through the mile mark right at 5:40, which was spot-on with what I had hoped to do.  I didn't feel good, but I also didn't feel bad, and I actually began to feel a bit more alive during the second mile.  Keep it at 5:50, I'd told myself, and I'd be in good shape; I hit the 2 mile exactly at 11:30.  Some doubts began to try to creep in at that point, but, at the same time, the "now-or-never" mentality kicked in.  I knew that I was right there, and I knew my body well enough to trust that it wasn't planning on failing me in the next six minutes- defeating the 5k demons was purely a mental quest at that point.  When I hit the final stretch, the clock was in my favor, and I hit the line in 17:5x- at that point, I could have cared less what that final digit was, anyways (officially, 17:52, I'd find out later).  Karen Blodgett, who I'd wisely not tried to take off with, had finished about 50m ahead of me.  Having been there at my previous close calls, she saw my immediate smile and greeted me with an enthusiastic congrats before she even caught her own breath- she's one of the most genuine and selfless competitors I've ever met.  I then happily (and gratefully) sought out my excited-for-me parents, and waited for Dave to finish shortly after.

   This leads me to another "yay, goal achieved" reflection- the women's running field around here is so supportive of each other, I feel, which really makes racing so much more enjoyable; after all, we're all after our own goals and we can appreciate that we're all working hard and pushing ourselves towards them (and, as I've probably mentioned before, I have the utmost respect for those out there that can balance babies/children with training/racing!).  I remember the cutthroat days of high school and college running now, and while I'll always be a competitor, I'm glad that I'm able to judge my races on my own effort and execution, rather than where I finished in regard to others.  My sub-18:00 is someone else's sub-20:00, 17:00, 25:00; times are just times, we all have our own abilities and limiters, and no one's accomplishments or happiness should be disregarded based upon them.  I'll always look at those faster than me with a sense of admiration and respect, but I'll also admire and respect those breaking barriers 3, 7, 10, whatever minutes slower than mine; we all fight our own battles.  After all, I know how many thousands of women can run circles around me (or, at least, I'll be reminded of that next weekend :) ), but I hope that they're not sitting out there right now, thinking to themselves, "seriously?  this chick is all excited over breaking 18:00? pathetic".  With that, with one personal goal accomplished, I'll spend the next week resting up, preparing myself, and, well, trying not to be a tapering fatass, knowing that next Sunday there will be women half an hour ahead of me, women half an hour behind me, but all of us working towards our own goals and winning our own victories.  

Starting line-I'm bending over to adjust my shoe.  Dave's line of sight appears to be directly on my butt.  Good thing we're married.


Early on- not looking too disgusting yet

Just before the final turn- looking disgusting now in effect

Friday, October 21, 2011

Swimming

   When I was much younger, probably 8 or 9, my mother signed my sister and I up for Red Cross swim lessons.  My sister moved up a level or two right off the bat, and was recruited for the high school swim team.  On the other hand, I was moved back a level, despite having grown up playing in our backyard pool.  Yes, my swimming career began with getting held back.  Shocker.  I eventually learned how to swim a lap, dive a little, tread water, retrieve stuff from the bottom of the deep end, and do some other water-related tasks, and by the end of swim lessons, they actually allowed me to pass levels 6 and 7 in one shot.  I did, however, have a few years on the other kids in class with me.  When I was 12, after a fairly successful first modified cross country season, I wanted to participate in a winter sport, so I ended up joining the Penfield Sea Dragons swim club.  I thought that running success might equate to swimming success- I had some lung capacity, right?  Unfortunately for me, it didn't work that way.  I competed and I tried, but I was certainly no natural born swimmer.  The season culminated at the "C" meet- for those that didn't meet the "A" or "B" standards.  I won a couple of ribbons at that meet; so, amongst the worst swimmers, I was slightly better than mediocre.  Awesome.  For whatever reason, the puffy painted flag with pins signifying our best performances still hangs in my childhood bedroom.  There,  proudly displayed are my pins proclaiming my first ever 50 free, swam in 48 seconds, and my best 100 free that year, a blazing 1:37.  Not surprisingly, I stuck with running.  I'd tried swimming, and that was enough for me.  Or so I thought.

   Fast forward about 11 years, and I found myself in my orthopedist's office, where he was telling me that behind my ailing hip was an ischial tuberosity (the sit bone, or, as I often so delicately put it, ass) fracture.  No running for 12 weeks, I was told, certainly a tough pill for me to swallow, after having been in the best running shape of my life just a few months prior.  "Can I bike?",  I'd asked.  He replied yes.  "Can I swim?", I'd added, figuring that I'd get sick of just biking all that time.  Another affirmative response.  Shortly afterwards, I found myself typing "triathlons, Rochester, NY" into the Google searchbar on my computer.  The Finger Lakes Triathlon sat off in the future, 14 weeks after I'd been told not to run for 12.  My body would remember how to run; I was learning how to ride a road bike on our $250 Walmart purchase.  But, could I swim 1500m without drowning or entirely embarrassing myself?  On a whim, I'd done the JCC Indoor Triathlon that winter, where I'd swam something like 800 yards in 15 minutes, after two brief sessions in the pool for training.  I hadn't gone in the water since that time.  So, I was off to the pool.  That first day, I hopped in and swam 1700 yards, roughly equivalent to 1500m.  I  struggled and gasped for air, but 33 minutes later, I hadn't stopped.  Several hours later, after determining that a 33 minute swim wouldn't leave me in last out of the water, I was officially registered for the Finger Lakes triathlon.

   Improvements come quickly and easily when you're just taking something up again, and that was how it was for me that first summer.  It helped that I couldn't run; I had more time to swim.  I bought myself a "Swim Workouts for Triathletes" book, and followed it religiously.  At Finger Lakes, despite horrible nerves, a panic-ridden start, and the discovery of my tendency to pull right, I still found myself in the top 10 out of the water.  After that race, despite returning to running, I decided that I'd keep up with swimming.  I knew that more triathlons would be in my future, and I also knew that I never wanted swimming to feel as awful as it had those first 1700 yards in the JCC pool.  The 2010 season rolled around, and despite continually dropping pool times, my open water times remained about the same.  Still, every woman who beat me that season did so by more than the margin of just our swim times, and overall, I was still placing lower on the bike.

   Thus, 2011 began by upgrading the bike in a big way, and putting my focus on that.  Plus, I was still faster in the pool than I had been a year ago, so I figured that the open water performances would follow.  Two races into the season, my swim performances had been mediocre, but I still hadn't lost to a female by swim time margin.  That changed at the Tri in the Buff, but I used the fever I'd been running all week as an excuse not to worry about it.  I then swam slower at Musselman than I had the year before; it ended up not hurting me overall, so I used the morning chop on the water as an excuse not to worry about it.  Then, I stopped improving in the pool.  I started to worry about it a bit, especially given that my bike splits continued to improve (thanks, Gray race wheels!).  Then came age group nationals.  My swim there was nothing short of a small disaster.  I came out of the water in over 27 minutes after sighting horribly, getting run over by later waves, and generally losing my focus.  I'd swam faster cooldowns in the pool.  I'd never swam more slowly in an Olympic distance race.  Mentally, it took me over five miles on the bike before I was able to put it behind me, recover, and will myself back in the race.  As per usual, I analyzed splits afterwards, and discovered that of the 16 women that had defeated me, 14 had done so by less than the margin of difference between our swim splits.  I outswam exactly 4 out of the top 100 women, and 1 out of the top 50.

    Frustrated, I tried changing up my pool workouts.  I tried to self-diagnose what I was doing wrong.  I probably started swimming differently; I started thinking too much.  70.3 Worlds came, and I again swam worse.  I pulled left, for the first time in my life.  There, I had 69.1 miles to make up for it, but my performance in the water still cost me the overall amateur title.  Swimming has hit a standstill for me, and I know that it's time to revamp.  As disenchanted as I am, I've managed not to obsess this past month, and I've been able to use my swims more as recovery workouts after marathon training runs.  Soon enough, I'll be working with a kick-ass coach who can't wait to get her hands on my swimming (or so it seems), and I'm clinging to the hope that I have an obvious yet easily amended form flaw that's holding me back.  I know, though, that it won't be that easy; if my Sea Dragons days told me anything, it's that swimming is not amongst my natural talents.  But, I'll have a winter to work on it, and I have a good feeling that some guidance will be the key to getting me back on track.  Most of all, I just want to find some enjoyment in swimming.  Right now, I'm either unhappy in the water because I'm killing myself, wheezing and flailing, in order to hit splits that are even remotely respectable (by my standards), or I'm comfortable but slow.  Although half-ironman and ironman distance races aren't swim-heavy, I may be at a point where I can't get away with coasting through the water, expecting to be able to make it up on the bike and run without totally embarrassing myself in the nearish future.  I don't expect miracles, but I do expect more of myself, and in a couple of weeks, I'll be ready to start tackling those demons!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The short and long of it

    After last weekend's unexpected brush with the mythical (for me) sub-18 5k, this Saturday would bring about take two, at the Run for Hospice 5k in Greece.  This race has been a staple for me since finishing up my collegiate eligibility.  It's probably local race director and running community staple Pete Van Peursem's biggest project every year, as it always promises a deep and fast field, prize money that goes seven deep, one of the best post-race spreads of any run I've done, and a flat course.  Most importantly, proceeds go to the Visiting Nurse Hospice, an organization that has provided compassion and hope for so many.  I have nothing but respect for any hospice worker; I can't even imagine doing their jobs, yet they're all fantastic at what they do.

   Anyways, I'll admit that I probably let a few things into my head in the week heading into the race, and I didn't run too intelligently as a result.  The main mistake I made was obsessing over the weather forecast, which was promising a 20mph headwind for the second half of the race.  I really do this a little too much before races (weather.com generally sits open in a window on my computer, with the ten day or hourly forecast, depending on how far out from a race I am, regularly refreshed).  I'll partially blame it on the fact that I probably have at least 10 small talk conversations about the weather in a typical workday (Rochestertarians, particularly the elderly, are obsessed with the weather forecast).  But, this unfortunately got into my head a bit, and I mistakenly decided that I'd have to build up a time cushion the first half of the race...bad idea.

   Race morning was chilly, but that's never been anything I minded.  I'd warmed up over the course, and the wind really didn't seem as bad as forecasted.  I'd been feeling a little sluggish all week, but figured that I could handle 18 minutes of running, and I arrived at the starting line ready to push.  I spent the first half mile of the race tucked behind Karen Blodgett (who has beat me handily twice in the last several weeks) and Paula Wiltse (probably one of the best masters runners in North America, no exaggeration).  This was poor planning on my part; clearly, I was out of my league with those two.  The first mile didn't feel terrible, but the 5:35 pace would do me in very shortly.  I held on through mile 2 (ironically, if my Garmin is to be believed, I ran a new 3k pr yesterday...oops), but the last mile was more or less a death march.  The headwind was there, of course, but I'd be making excuses if I blamed my 25 second slowdown on it, as it really wasn't that bad.  I just hadn't run intelligently.  I was lucky to barely hang on for fifth place after giving up a ton of ground to a hard-charging Christa Meyer (another woman blazing a comeback trail after having a baby, I somehow have a feeling this might be the last time I'll beat her!) over the last half mile, ending up with an 18:10.  Initially, I was a bit disappointed, but I figure that I have one more chance to break the 18 minute barrier prior to the marathon.  Plus, in reality, until last weekend, this hadn't even been a goal that was on my radar for this fall, and it's really become something I want to prove to myself more than anything.  Dave also struggled over the final mile and wasn't thrilled with his time, but he still won his age group, so overall, a fairly successful day for the Hansens (even though we didn't win the AirTran raffle), and all for a great cause.  After the race, we checked out a little bit of high school cross country at Seneca Park, which is always a good time (plus, my professional skills got recruited a bit-I love working with runners!).

   Today, I had to shift gears a bit- I got my butt out the door for one more 20+ miler.  My route would end up combining two of my favorite shorter routes, and encompassed some trails through Seneca Park, the Genessee Riverway Trail, and the Lakeside Trail through Irondequoit- a dusting of leaves and the changing trees further highlighted the areas.  I forced myself to include a few climbs  and a headwind for the last several miles, given that in three weeks, I won't be able to avoid the Queensboro Bridge or Central Park, and I won't be able to plan out my running direction in order to have a tailwind at the end.  Thus, I needed to man up.  However, my main goal for the day was to avoid the two bathroom stops I'd needed to make during my last long run.  Luckily, my plan of loading up on the pre-run Pepto, popping some Endurolytes to hopefully keep fluids in my bloodstream instead of my bladder, and holding out on starting to drink until mile 3 worked out perfectly, and gave me hopefully one less thing to worry about pre-marathon.  The last four miles, which included a climb and a 20-25mph headwind, almost did me in, but I managed to survive 21 miles without a stop.  What struck me as (fingers crossed) hopefully a good sign was that my quads behaved throughout two weeks after a 22 miler.  A year ago, two weeks after a 23 miler, ten miles was all they could handle before making the last 16 miles of my first marathon an exercise in misery.  So, maybe I'm stronger, maybe I'm luckier, but all I can do now is keep working and know that the marathon is a beast to never be taken lightly, and to use my head in these final three weeks of preparations!  Once again, thanks for everyone who supports me, including my mother, who had to park about a mile away yesterday and make her way through the wind and rain to cheer me on, and the Rochester running/triathlon community in general- hard to ask for a better group!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mixing it up!

After a very long work week, during which I struggled a bit to recover from Saturday's 22 miler, I took on a shorter, more painful conquest this weekend: the 5k.  I have, of course, raced the distance probably hundreds of times since I was 12, but, somehow, I'd gone since May since taking one on.  All I could remember about that particular race was feeling like I was in a dead sprint the entire time, and wanting to keel over.  This was quite a contrast to when I had originally moved up in distance in college and had started running 5ks in track; I remember enjoying how nice and relaxed the first part of the race always felt.  So, deep in the throes of marathon training, with very minimal speed work under my belt, I was mentally prepared to hurt throughout the entire course of the Safe Journey Scarecrow 5k.  I figured it'd be good for me, though.

The race course was more or less pancake flat and fast, so I was hoping sneak under 18:30, but any prediction was a crapshoot.  Mostly, I needed some points for the Rochester Runner of the Year series; so far, I'd had two decent finishes and two disasters in the series races.  Two of the local studdettes, Karen Blodgett and Trisha Byler were both there (and in great shape), so I figured I'd race for third, and that I'd be doing pretty well if I could still see them.  As predicted, as soon as the race started, I felt like I was full-out sprinting.  I knew it'd be suicide to try to hang with Karen and Trisha, so I moved myself into third early on and just tried to continue to move forward and breathe.  At two miles,  despite my oxygen deprived mind, I was still able to figure that I going to be right around the elusive 18 minute mark, but my mind was truly at the will of my body at that point.  I pushed, but my body just wasn't used to moving at that pace, and I slowed a bit towards the end, giving me a final time of 18:03, good for third place.  Still, I was pretty pumped about that- my fastest time in 3.5 years, second fastest ever, and much faster than I thought I was in shape for, given my lack of preparation for the distance, so I can't complain.  The 17's continue to elude me, so the doubt that sub-18 will be a one hit wonder for me is still there.  I'd be happy with sneaking under there just one more time!  On another note, Dave pr'ed by over a minute, running 18:50.  Given it took me over seven years of running to break the 19 minute barrier, I'm going to have to watch my back!

Anyways, marathon training continues to stretch on, and an increased load at work is continuing to steal some of my energy away.  Another ten days or so of hard training sit in front of me at this point, so I'll be doing my best to make it through those to get to my taper healthy, not too cranky, and ready to hit the line in NYC!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Going back to the start

Yesterday left me waxing nostalgic for several reasons.  High school teammate Bridget Coon got married, meaning that a portion of "the fam" (aka the late 90's/early 2000's Penfield XC/Track teams) was brought back together in celebration (congrats Bridget and Rick!).  The McQuaid Invitational was also held on a cold, windy, muddy day, which lead me to recall my first memorable cross country race.  And, five weeks out from the NYC marathon, I was setting out for my longest training run (part of which included some terrain I often trained on back in the day), which gave me plenty of time to think about these things.

So, this all brought me back to the fall of 1996, where I got my start in running.  I was entering the seventh grade as a shy, nerdy little 11 year old.  The previous spring, after running a relatively fast (for a sixth grader) gym class mile, a gym teacher had urged me to think about cross country the next fall.  I didn't totally understand what cross country was, but when we had fall sports interest sign up day, I had written my name and address on the cross country sheet.  Given this was 1996, though, I was involved in travel soccer all summer (everyone who was anyone played soccer, after all), and had originally turned in my sports papers with my intent to try out for the soccer team checked.  In August, though, I received a letter from Penfield's head XC/track coach Dave Hennessey-something along the lines of, "I saw that you had marked that you were interested in cross country, I hope that you still want to run, we'd really like to have you".  After a summer of dealing with a less-than-stellar, way too competitive, way too nasty to be dealing with 11 year old girls soccer coach, the tone of the letter was a breath of fresh air.  My mother, likely tired of dealing with a soccer program that expected its middle schoolers to be future Peles, gently encouraged me towards cross country.  "He sounds nice," she'd said, "I think you should run cross country."  Soon enough, we were calling the school to switch my chosen sport.  The first day of school was also the first day of modified XC practice. Not knowing that I had to take the bus from the middle school to the high school for practice, I ended up stranded at the middle school, calling my mother from the office nearly in tears.  She brought me to the high school, and together we found Hennessey, who was nothing but understanding and kind towards my late arrival and confusion- the exact opposite of my soccer experiences, to the relief of both of us.  The first day of practice involved a mile run on the track.  I ran with many of the boys, without stopping, which drew praise from Hennessey, and, likely based upon his years of coaching experience, a prediction that I'd do well with the sport.

Which brings me to the McQuaid Invitational of 1996.  I'm sure I had run at a few league meets prior to that, but McQuaid was my first invitational race, and thus my first memorable XC meet.  I was a few days shy of my 12th birthday, and the day was pretty similar to what runners faced yesterday- cold, wet, and windy.  The modified girls' race was towards the end of the meet, meaning that Genessee Valley Park had been converted to a mud pit by the thousands of spikes that had been pounding the grass course the entire day.  I lined up with several hundred other girls, and, well, I didn't know anything else at the time but to just run as hard as I could.  I think I fell into the mud at one point, and in the end, finished the 1.5 mile race in 27th place (don't ask me my place at any other middle school race; but this one sticks in my mind).  I remember how excited I was to get one of the fancier, triple level ribbons for my effort.  The conditions of the race were cross country at its rawest, and I loved it.  From then on, there was no looking back, no question that this would be my sport for time to come.  With the toil of competition came fun, camaraderie, and lasting friendships (something I needed at the time), as evidenced by Bridget's wedding last night, where got together and caught up without missing a beat despite years and miles and different life experiences (Courtney had been hiking the Pacific Rim Trail, Michelle had just gotten back from a trip west as well, Megan bought a house, and Hennessey's still leading the Penfield charge).

With this all on my mind, I made it through my 22 miler more comfortably than expected yesterday (minus the stop at the one very, very clutch port-a-potty at mile 17- thank you, random apartment complex with random small park with random port-a-potty in the midst of nothing but residential houses on Winton Rd).  I decided to brave running down into and up out of Panorama Valley twice (once on Empire, once on Panorama Trail/Penfield Rd).  Neither of the longer climbs, to my surprise, seemed that bad, which was encouraging to my hill-challenged self heading into NYC.  In true form, though, thanks to the fact that I was reveling in the glow of the miracle port-a-potty, I missed one of my planned turns and ended up looping aimlessly around a neighborhood, adding a couple miles to the route.  22 miles in and still almost 3 miles from home, I ended up calling Dave to come rescue me.  This ended up being a good decision, because I still needed to store up my energy for some awesome wedding dance moves to celebrate later that night :).  But for now, it's time to go glue myself to the trainer and work some of this soreness out of the legs before enjoying some football later (did I mention the fact that Bridget and Rick had a Bills theme to their wedding?  Completely awesome).

Who doesn't love embarrassing pictures of themselves in high school?   Hard to believe I  didn't have more boyfriends back then, I know.

One of the reasons Henn keeps coming back to coaching...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Running goes to the dogs...and some milestones

This weekend, Barktoberfest rolled around.  Barktoberfest is Lollypop Farm's annual fundraiser, complete with a 5 mile race (and a 1 mile dog walk, for those that would rather stroll with their mutts).  Given both of our dogs were adopted from Lollypop, I always feel good about supporting the cause.  Plus, the actual festival is pretty amusing to those that enjoy being surrounded by hundreds of dogs.  It's also good to remind our dogs where they came from once in a while, they need to be scared into behaving (kidding, kidding...we'd never give them up).  Every now and then, they look nice, too
As far as the actual race went, I wasn't expecting a whole ton.  Two years ago, it had marked my return to road races after four months off with my butt fracture; last year, it had been one of those freakishly good days where I felt comfortable at the start and strong at the end.  This year, I figured it would be a good way to get my legs moving a bit faster again, since my training had been a bit spotty in the two weeks since worlds.  So, I thought some hard running was in order.  The race started out with a mile on a gravel path, followed by some rolling hills, with the fourth mile largely uphill, leading for a downhill finish.  Karen Blodgett, a top local runner who's been making a blazing comeback from having her third (adorable, I should add) child in May was there; she had run a 1:21 half the previous week, and has been getting stronger every race. 

The race ended up being fairly uneventful.  Karen took the lead from the gun (and by the lead, I mean the actual lead- male and female), and held it throughout.  As predicted, I felt neither fresh nor awful, so I spent the better part of it giving myself the "man up, it's short" speech.  At the turnaround just past three miles into the race, I realized that I was in a no-man's land between a very smooth-looking Karen and, well, several men (very strange that we were 1-2!), so I ran the rest of the way against myself.  I crossed the line in 30:34, good for second place and ten seconds slower than last year (all over the last mile), but not far off enough to be concerned, given how I'd felt during the race and for the better part of the past couple of weeks.  The race had served its purpose, which was to kickstart my way back into some more intense training.  Dave ended up running a pr, coming in at 32:25 or so, good enough for the third man, meaning he took home his very first running paycheck!  Go Dave.  He's starting to make me nervous, given the run is the only thing I have left over him :).  Afterwards, I took the Bailey on a 40min cooldown, which did absolutely nothing to calm her down.  We then walked around with my parents, sister, brother in law, nephew, and our small crew of dogs, looking at farm animals, grabbing some free dog treats from the vendors, and generally observing the greatest population density of dogs that ever exists in Western New York.  

Today, though, was to mark another milestone: the century ride.  70.3 training meant that I never had felt obligated to bike that far, but with Placid looming on the horizon and a winter on the trainer rapidly approaching, now was as good of a time as any to break through that physical and mental barrier.  Dave and I had flirted with the mark when we had biked out to Provincetown and back while we were vacationing on Cape Cod this summer, but the ride worked out to 92 miles.  So, last weekend, before we had even left Jamesville Beach Park after Dave's race at the Syracuse 70.3, the decision to go for it was made.  The conversation went something like this. 
Jennie: We should do a century ride before the fall's over.
Dave: Yes.  We should.
Jennie: Let's go next weekend, if the weather's good
Dave: Sure
Jennie:  Ok.  
So, today ended up being the day.  We set out west, since there's really no other way to go from our house and I didn't feel like driving the bikes anywhere (the Bills were playing the Patriots later, after all, and I needed to get home for the end of that!).  The terrain out there is pretty flat, which might not be the best training, but my goal for the day was to just worry about the distance first, as I still have plenty of time to work on the pace and hills.  The first half of the ride was fine, but I was keenly aware that this was largely because of a nice tailwind.  Tailwinds, unfortunately, become headwinds on out and backs.  Luckily, Dave was a trooper, leading for 30 miles or so through the worst of it.  Miles 50-70 seemed to crawl past, but once past mile 70, I began to feel a bit better, and the distance left suddenly seemed very surmountable.  The golden and red tinged leaves on the trees, the apples in the orchards, and views of the lake were worth it; I couldn't help thinking to myself that the ride was actually a great way to enjoy my favorite season.  A quick trip around the block finally pushed my bike computer into triple digits, and the milestone had been reached.  Somewhere along the way today, I realized something: I'm starting to love biking (sorry, running).  Over the summer, I had gone through my identity crisis of considering myself more of a triathlete than a runner.  Today, I discovered that I love being bent over my aerobars, churning at the pedals, whether I'm cruising comfortably with a tailwind, cursing at Dave as he forces me to push myself to keep up, or pushing my way up a hill.  The feeling was comforting, though, given that I've got lots more time on the bike coming up in my life.

On a final note for today, GO BILLS.  Say what you want about us Bills fans, but we're loyal, for better or worse.  I grew up with newspaper posters of Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith adorning our basement wall, before I even totally understood the game.  I've gotten quite good at figuring out how it is, in fact, possibly to blow a double digit lead with 30 seconds left and possession of the ball (ok, that might be a slight exaggeration...but just a slight one).  On our way back through Greece, we had biked many people mowing their lawns, leading me worry that the game was a blowout, and fans had given up and taken to yardwork.  The first thing I did when we got back from the ride was switch on the game, and I'm pretty sure my heart rate was higher during those last couple of minutes than it was throughout that entire ride.  These minutes included running commentary that would make any Bills fan cringe, including talk about not letting Tom Brady get the ball back, the forward lateral, and, naturally, as Ryan Lindell lined up the kick the winning field goal, wide right.   But, just like the century barrier, the Patriots barrier was broken too, and our beloved Bills finally got their win!  Which just goes to show, who knows what's possible?  That's why we work and fight and play the game!
BILL-ieve!