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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...