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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:
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 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 I trying to turn to the right?  Nope.  I'm just stretching out my left side.

Friday, December 23, 2011


  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.