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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Barefoot running/minimalism-what are the facts?

   Throughout my history as a runner, I've probably tried nearly every shoe and orthotic imaginable.  As I've written about before, I have a fairly lengthy running injury history that I've tried to address with footwear variations, with limited degrees of success.  In reality, many of my injuries occurred due to strength imbalances and training and nutrition errors, so to blame shoes or orthotics alone is short-sighted.  Still, as a physical therapist that enjoys treating runners, I have a responsibility to stay up to date on footwear and running trends.  So, I figured I'd use this blog share a bit of information on barefoot running/minimalism trend, as sports medicine/rehabilitation research has begun to look more into it as the trend emerges (recovery rides are a great time to read an article or two)!

   Part of the reason this interests me is my own personal experience.  In sixth grade, while playing soccer, I developed Achilles tendonitis, and was put in orthotics.  I did fairly well with them throughout my high school career, until they began to wear out.  I was given new, more built, rigid orthotics and stability shoes, and promptly flared up some arch and lateral foot pain-my feet were not used to being stretched out so much!  I think I kept with them for a bit, but from there, my memory's a bit fuzzy.  I tried a mix of custom orthotics, OTC, cheap Dr. Scholl's-type more flexible inserts, semi-custom molded orthotics, running store inserts, motion control shoes, stability shoes, etc, throughout the coming years.  My feet are flexible and flat; I could be classified as an "over-pronator", even though I find the term a little too simplistic at times.  Throughout those years, my injuries jumped from shin splints (freshman year of college), to patellar tendonitis (summer after freshman year), to peroneal tendonitis (sophomore year), to plantar fasciitis (junior year), to a proximal tibial stress fracture (senior year), to a nasty, nasty bout with ITB syndrome/patellofemoral pain (senior year-5th year), to a distal tibial stress fracture (5th year).  Post-collegiately, I cycled through bouts of shin splints, posterior tibial tendonitis, more peroneal tendonitis, distal hamstring tendonitis, and finally, my ischial tuberosity stress fracture.  Basically, if you could develop tendonitis somewhere, I did.  So, obviously, nothing worked consistently.  The funny thing was, no matter what sort of injury I had, I could without fail always put on my racing flats or spikes and run a workout or race without pain (except for the stress fractures; those were a different breed).  I always chalked it up to the physical pain of running harder masking any sort of injury pain; but perhaps changes in form with less shoe and a faster pace helped, as well.
Yes, I did break my butt
   Switching to triathlon training, which has allowed me to avoid many of the training errors of my prior years of run-only training, bettering my nutritional habits in terms of post-workout recovery, and addressing my functional strength deficits have been the main components of keeping me healthy (knock on wood) in the recent years, as I've moved to longer and longer races.  At the same time, I've shifted my footwear choices.  Gone are the heavy, stiff motion control or stability shoes and orthotics.  I remember when I first began the switch-I had won a pair of New Balance shoes at a race.  When I went to the store to buy the shoes, the sales rep watched me run.  Sure, my feet are flat and pronated at rest, but in motion, they hold their own a bit better.  We talked a bit, I tried some neutral shoes, and I realized that they were just more comfortable.  A few months after that, I bought a pair of the original Saucony Kinvara-one of the early minimalist/low heel/toe drop shoes-for my faster training/workout days and longer races.  Fast forward to today, and I now train in a combination of the Kinvara (my third pair by now) and the Pearl Izumi Kissaki, which are considered a lighter weight, neutral training shoe (my current love affair with them makes me incredibly grateful to have PI as a team sponsor again this year).  Although I have niggles here and there, as a whole, less shoe has done better for me than more.  So, is there anything to minimalism other than the anecdotal evidence of myself and others?  Does it actually encourage a better running gait, or prevent injury?  Am I tempting fate by challenging conventional shoe fitting wisdom?
I love this shoe!
   When the barefoot running trend began, supporters preached reduced injury risk and better performance, arguing that the human foot evolved to handle the loads of running unshod.  Of course, true barefoot running just isn't practical in many instances (for example, in an upstate NY winter). So, shoe companies have spent the past several years designing minimalist shoes to imitate barefoot running.  This article provides a good background on some of the features of these shoes.  So, does barefoot running or minimalism result in healthier running?  Well, based on the literature, the answer is...we don't really know yet.  To date, no high-quality, long-term study looking at injury rates between shod, unshod, and minimally shod runners has come out.  However, there still is a fair amount of information that has come out on the subject.  One of the professional journals I receive, Sports Health, included a review of the subject in their November/December issue (Volume 4) entitled "Is There Evidence to Support a Forefoot Strike Pattern in Barefoot Runners?  A Review" (Lorenz DS, Pontillo M; 480-484).  Several points were made in the review.  Barefoot running is thought to encourage more of a forefoot landing pattern, as opposed to the traditional running shoe, that promotes more of a heelstrike pattern due to the higher heel.  This theory has in fact held up in studies.  The forefoot landing pattern of barefoot runners has also been associated with smaller impact forces at initial contact than in shod runners with a rearfoot strike pattern.  The following figure helps illustrate the idea of impact forces:

If you imagine the graph as a mitten, the thumb region represents impact force during a typical heelstrike.  Although the total force is greater as the body comes over the foot in midstance (represented by the hand region), it's thought that the rate of loading influences injury development to a greater degree than the total amount of loading-i.e. the thumb region is where the bad stuff happens.  Forefoot/midfoot landing barefoot runners often eliminate this thumb region, and the graph ends up looking like a single hill, where the impact forces are lessened and occur more gradually.  Theoretically (because, as mentioned above, no studies have answered this question yet), this may help decrease the risk of impact injuries such as stress fractures, knee pain, and low back pain.  At the same time, barefoot runners land in a more plantarflexed (toe down) position and demonstrate greater activity in their lower leg musculature while running.  So, it's been proposed that this could raise the risk of injuries such as metatarsal stress fractures and Achilles tendonitis.  Stride rate and characteristics are also influenced by barefoot running.  Barefoot runners take smaller, more frequent steps.  Their feet spend less time on the ground (shorter ground contact time), and their legs are stiffer during stance phase, possibly allowing for greater energy return.  One study also did find that barefoot runners use about 5% less energy than normally shod runners (Squadrone R, Gallozzi C Med Phys Fitness. 2009;49(1):6-13).

   From this data, some questions begin to arise: what about minimalist shoes?  Is forefoot striking a must to reap the proposed benefits?  The good news for those of us that have been running in arctic temperatures over this past week is that minimalist shoes and an increased run cadence have both been shown to have similar effects to pure barefoot running.  Squadrone and Galozzi also found lower peak impact forces in minimalist shoes; barefoot and minimalist runners had similar lower limb kinematics.  Heavier shoes do increase oxygen consumption (~1%/100g of shoe); however, barefoot running has not been shown to be metabolically advantageous over running in lightweight shoes (Franz JR, Wierzbinski CM, Kram R. Metabolic costs of running barefoot vs. shod: Is lighter better? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 March 2).  Simply put, minimalist shoes weren't shown to make you work any harder than you would barefoot.  As for forefoot vs. rearfoot landing, minimalist shoes have been shown to be more economical than their standard counterparts, regardless of where on the foot the runner landed, with rearfoot vs. forefoot landing making no significance difference on economy for either shoe type (Perl DP, Daoud AL, Lieberman DE. Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jan 3).  Of course, those findings dealt running economy only, not on the impact peak of rearfoot vs. forefoot running that was discussed earlier.  In practice, I take foot strike with a grain of salt, focusing not necessarily on where the runner is landing on the foot, but how they're landing-I look for the shin to be close to vertical, the angle between the foot and the ground to be low, and the initial contact point to be beneath or just in front of the runner's center of gravity.  
Barefoot running in the snow: fun if you're a dog.  Not as great if you're a human.
   What about run cadence?   Is it the barefoot running condition that causes decreased forces, or do the gait changes it encourages (decreased stride length and increased frequency) have that effect on their own?  Researchers at the University of Wisconsin (led by Bryan Heiderscheit, who co-taught the course where I learned much of what I know regarding run mechanics) have demonstrated that simply increasing run cadence, or the number of steps taken in a minute, by 5-10% decreases lower extremity joint loading (particularly at the knee, by ~40%).  Landing patterns become similar to those seen in barefoot running. 90 strides (or 180 steps)/minute has been often thrown about as the "gold standard", based upon observation of elites and some statistics about the frequency of muscle contraction.  Clinically, I'm not going to take someone running at 75 strides/minute and immediately jump them up to 90; but encouraging the runner to start working towards 80-85 strides/minute is often indicated.  Usually, I've also found that increasing cadence in order to encourage a better landing pattern works better than simply telling a runner to try to land differently.  Having a runner tell me that they're a forefoot striker, then discovering a heavy, braking heelstrike on video is not an uncommon happening!
On the left-example of a heavy, braking heelstrike.  Lots of pressure up to that knee!
   So, as a whole, do I tell every runner who comes into our clinic to toss their shoes?  Obviously not.  Running injuries, footwear, and form is personal and individualized.  If something was best for everyone, then the running shoe market would be pretty darn limited.  As mentioned above, injury rates and location in traditionally shod, minimally shod, and barefoot runners have yet to be determined.  Past research has shown that regardless of foot type, runners do best in neutral or stability shoes (minimalist shoes were not included in these studies).  Basically, if the shoe is comfortable-wear it.  I tend to focus more on cadence, landing pattern, and neuromuscular control and strength deficits to a greater degree than footwear, as I feel that these aspects play a far greater role in injury development than footwear does.  For certain conditions, such as knee or shin pain, I do feel that there is enough evidence to possibly recommend less shoe.  For others, such as plantar fasciitis, I take into consideration the other end of the spectrum, which is that orthotics (simple, OTC ones) have been shown to have benefit.  Overall, I am intrigued by the idea of minimalism; less shoe has been part of the equation that has helped me personally, and I do believe that it helps to encourage better running form in most (not all!).  But, for now, I'll continue to watch out for research and pass it along as best as I can, keeping a balance between the art and science of what I do on a regular basis!  

Thursday, January 17, 2013


  Over the course of the past year, I've been told that word more times than I can count.  I grew to hate it.  I'd have another workout where I felt like I was getting nowhere, like I was spinning my wheels in place, like I needed this or that or something else in order to improve-and I'd just be told to be patient.  I would want to put my fist through my computer screen, kicking and screaming and eventually chucking the whole thing out the window in grandiose fashion.  I'd interpret "patience" to mean "you should be better by now, and I don't know why you're not".  That idea is ironic-I've told patients to be patient (pun unintended) hundreds of times myself, likely much to their chagrin, and I've never really meant that.  If I don't know why someone isn't getting better in a reasonable amount of time, I'll change treatments around or encourage further follow up with doctors.  But, there's a difference between the rotator cuff repair patient who thinks that he should have full range of motion a month after surgery and my triathlon progress, I'd tell myself.  How did I know I was going to get better?

   I disliked what I perceived to be the connotation of patience.  Patience always seemed like it meant sitting around, waiting for something to happen.  That's not how success in athletics comes about-it comes by making it happen, through sweat and guts and pain and grit and pure, straight hard work.  That wasn't patience, in my mind.  The dichotomy of it all is that when it comes to everyday life, I am fairly patient.  An impatient physical therapist would never make it, after all.  In person, before I become comfortable in a situation, I'm a little bit reserved, a little bit timid, a little bit introverted.  Assertiveness is my weak point.  I hate saying no, I hate asking for anything, and I really hate making phone calls.  I'd last about 2 minutes in sales.  In athletics, though, I'm different.  A new side of me comes out-I'm more fiery, more tenacious, more aggressive, less fearful.  I fret less, and more.  The self-consciousness and doubt that normally grips me somehow morphs into a sense of confidence once the gun goes off, regardless of anything I was feeling (or saying) just beforehand.  I'm a competitor-most of all, against myself.  Throughout my entire racing career, I only wanted to lose because I was being out-talented, not outworked.  I was inducted into the Penfield athletic hall of fame this past fall not because I was ever the fastest runner on my team, but because there was just something else inside of me, something that never let me accept anything less than the best that I was capable of at that point in time.  I always just wanted to push and shove and fight for whatever I could.  Maybe that's my demon, maybe that's what drives me still, maybe it's just what burns in all of us-but that whole idea of patience?  It just didn't fit in.

   But, a few quotes have started to change my mind regarding patience.  I'm starting to see that patience isn't just skipping around in a field or floating around in a raft and waiting for something good to happen.  Maybe patience is knowing to persist even when nothing good is happening; maybe it's the faith that the good will happen.  The first quote  I discovered earlier this week-"Patience is waiting.  Not passively waiting.  That is laziness.  But to keep going when the going is hard and slow-that is patience."  I immediately loved it-gone was the lazy connotation of the word, the idea that I was supposed to think that I'd get what I wanted by doing nothing.  That idea was replaced with one that suggested that maybe patience is actually sticking with it, gutting through it when times and numbers and paces just aren't going my way, knowing that ultimately what I was doing would be for the greater good.  It got me thinking-usually the times I've been told to have patience were after some workout that didn't go as planned, that I'd completed nonetheless, but with results not where I anticipated or wanted them.  Several instances in particular come to mind.
   I could probably rattle off dozens of swims that fit the description, but one stands out.  Last fall, I took to the pool for a set of 2x800, 1x600 (I think there was something in between there, but I don't remember exactly what) at half IM goal pace (my gold standard at the time was 1:30/100y, even though I never actually swam that in a race).  I'd done the workout the prior week, and it'd gone as well as swim workouts go for me-I'd held under my 1:30 pace throughout.  Naturally, I wanted to beat that.  But, that day, it just wasn't in the cards.  My first 800 was fine.  On the next one, I checked the wall clock at 200 and saw I was one pace.  At 400, I had slipped over 1:30.  Frustrated, I just stopped.  I grappled for a few moments with what to do next.  I wasn't sick or injured; nothing was wrong with me.  I was just off.  So, I sucked it up.  I swam another 400-over 1:30 pace.  I still refused to quit, and took to the 600.  I forced myself to not even look at the clock, and fought my way through.  It was slow-I've been warming up more quickly lately-but it was done.  I didn't dwell on the time, I just trusted that my body just knew that it'd done work.  It didn't know that today work was 15 seconds slower than it'd been the week prior.  I saw it as persistence at the time-but, that swim had been patience.

   On the bike, I can again think of times where I'd kept going, even when the going was hard and slow.  I remember my longest ride before Florida-6:40, done on the trainer (I'm a total wimp when it comes to cold riding weather.  Thanks, Raynauds!). From the start, the ride sucked.  I felt sluggish, tired, sore.  My power numbers were low, my heart rate was high.  I'd had high hopes for the ride, wanting to really nail it, to prove progress to myself.  Instead, the numbers were just not there.  I remember seeking out any support I could on that ride.  Getting myself through the first few hours was the roughest part.  Somehow, though, I managed to break it up mentally, to will myself through, to just keep pedaling, whatever it took.  Once I made it within two hours to go, I knew that I could will my way through.  The result?  Well, that day, it sucked.  My watts were lower than they'd been for any long ride since March.  But the ultimate result? A 4:53 split in Florida, faster than I'd though I could ride.  That miserable ride the month before had exemplified patience, even if I hadn't know it at the time.

   The other quote regarding patience that I love is the stone cutter.  "Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.  Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."  That's always painted a picture for me, one that's spurred me on through those times where I was seemingly getting nowhere.  Thinking back on my entire running career, my biggest breakthroughs were often preceded by some of my worst races or lowest times-times when I was questioning myself, times that I just had to trust that somehow, some way something would crack.  My first sub-20 cross country 5k back in high school came a week after my worst race of the past several seasons.  In college, after a year of injuries, a lousy cross country season, a brief period of getting back into shape, and another stress fracture, I finally found myself again on chilly night in Hillsdale, Michigan, when nearly a 40 second drop in my 5k time from the week before suddenly brought me back.  But, whatever workout I had done earlier that week hadn't been some magic healer.  That race, that big crack, had been a result of drop of sweat and ounce of effort I'd put forth throughout the incredibly frustrating year plus prior.  I'd spent that winter hammering away however I could, whether it was water running at 7am (helped to have a roommate in the same boat), on the bike, or on the elliptical.  The race had just been the release of everything that had led up to it, for better or worse.  It'd been the result of my patience through it all.    

  But, in particular, the stone cutter has been some small source of inspiration to me in the pool for some time now.  Back when I was swimming twice a week, I could accept that I wasn't improving too much.  After nearly doubling my swim volume, though, the lack of significant improvement became more of a frustration.  I'd take a step forward, followed immediately by .99 steps back.  At times (like during the infamous workout outlined above), I'd remind myself of the stone-and patience.  Maybe nothing was cracking-but at least I could tell myself that every yard swam, every stroke taken was one more hammer strike, that some sort of indelible weakening in the rock hard swimming wall was occurring.  My attitude towards swimming began to shift every so slightly this past fall, when I just began to try to push the envelope, push the volume, push the effort a little bit more at a time, shutting my mind off, working at that rock, even if it wasn't showing.  And now?  Well, we discovered a seemingly small yet glaring defect in my form, one that's made a big difference.  But ever yard I swam last year has led up to the pool awakening I've been experiencing lately.  On Tuesday, I swam a 6:53 500 at the very end of my workout.  It's not fast, I know.  It's not even a girls Class C Section V qualifying time (sadly, hitting one of these is a side goal of mine).  But up until now, even 20 seconds slower than that could have been considered a decent swim.  I swam a lot of 400 TTs last year, and was lucky to crack 5:40 on them.  That rock?  It hasn't split yet-maybe it never will-but it's beginning to chip.  I lost myself a bit after that workout, returning to an empty locker room and randomly burying my face into my towel and letting myself lose it a bit.  More than anything, I was relieved.  I've always wanted to believe that there's more in these arms and lungs than I've shown in the water-now, for the first time, I'm starting to have reason to.  I sort of feel like Mary's waved some sort of magic wand, but in reality, it was patience-on both of our parts-and it was continuing to keep going no matter how hard or slow it (I) was, knowing that the hammer has been working away.

   So, what's being patient mean to me now?  It means that I'm going to push and fight and give the best of myself when I'm supposed to.  It means that I'm probably still going to complain and be dramatic in my logs when my run paces are slower than I'd like them to be or get pissed at my garmin when it, yet again, reads somewhere in the 180W range on my long rides, as it has for the past ten months.  What it doesn't mean, though, is that I'm going to quit on myself when this happens.  I'm not going to let up, and I'm not going to wait around passively, assuming I'll magically improve.  I'm still going to experience frustration, and setback.  I know that.  That's life and that's sport.  But, as long as I stick with this idea of patience through it all...I'll be fine. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Seven reasons why Ironman training is similar to intoxication

   There are a variety of reasons behind my general lack of alcohol consumption.  I don't handle it well-so I'm always worried about affecting my training (lame, I know), I don't have the greatest stomach lining (that's what happens when you've taken more NSAIDS than advisable for long periods of time in the past in order to run), I never want to be hungover again, and mostly, other than the occasional glass of sweet white wine, I just don't really enjoy the taste.  In order for an alcoholic beverage to taste good to me, the taste of the alcohol more or less needs to be completely disguised by all sorts of sugar in some sort of caloric nightmare of a beverage.  Because I like food, as my coworker often puts it, I'd rather eat my calories.  Sure, a mudslide tastes good, but a giant bowl of ice cream tastes even better. I always tell myself that I'll enjoy an adult beverage after my Ironmans, when I don't have to worry about training or calories, but then I always find myself too nauseous to even think about them.  The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that the real reason that my alcohol consumption has gone from occasional to rare to practically never is because really, Ironman training is actually fairly similar to drinking.  So, below, I've presented some points to support my argument!

1. Both make awkward social situations less awkward.
When it comes to Ironman training, I'm actually too tired/have to get up too early to ever really go out into social situations.  The most social I get is basically the occasional Friday night facebook conversation with my equally awesome QT2 teammates.  These interactions are never awkward.  Problem solved.
I need this shirt
2. Zoning out=entertaining in its own right.  Time becomes warped; you don't completely understand what's going on around you.
The other day at work after a few hours of training earlier that day, with 20 minutes until my next patient, I sat down behind my paperwork.  I opened a chart and started writing.  Five minutes later, I then realized that I wasn't writing anymore.  In fact, I wasn't doing anything anymore.  I'd say that I was staring, but I don't even think what I was looking at was registering with me.  My mind had become some blank, happy place.  Forming a coherent thought then required a good deal of focus.  But it was ok.  The time was somehow passing by more quickly.

3.  You become inexplicably clumsy.
After long workouts or in the middle of long weeks, holding onto small objects suddenly becomes a gargantuan task for me.  I think that my pen flies out of my hand at least 5-7 times each workday.  I dropped a clementine on the floor today, rinsed it off, and then almost dropped it again while I was drying it.  I also routinely walk into things for no good reason.  The giant exercise machine at work?  I swear it moves.
A fairly accurate depiction of what occurs multiple times daily.  I drop something, my patient feels bad for his/her clumsy physical therapist, we both go to pick it up.
4. Drinking beverages in the shower somehow makes sense.
After my last ever collegiate cross country meet, my roommate Kate and I came back to our apartment, knowing what awaited us-the $5 bottle of Tom Collins mix she had bought from Target that summer for this occasion (we were awesome).  We mixed up our pitcher of Tom Collins (which, because it actually tasted good to me, was probably like 2% alcohol-our normally fly-like alcohol tolerances had been turned gnat-like after a season off).  Neither of us wanted our Tom Collins enjoyment to be interrupted, so we both took turns showering while drinking our beverage.  Ironman training also prompts me to mix drinks for the shower.  Water bottles used to mix Endurox are a normal sight just outside our shower on the bathroom sink, as I often mix some up quickly, then run upstairs to shower before I have to head to work (or before I start absolutely freezing after running outside on cooler days).  Every time I take a sip of the Endurox, I remember the Tom Collins with fondness, and pretend that I still pretend that I'm cool every now and then.
I think this might in fact be classier than our mix.
5. Nausea is a normal part of going hard.
I had several friends/acquaintances in college who were able to throw up and then continue drinking.  In fact, some of them would even induce puking in order to continue drinking.  This entire idea both mystified and disgusted me, as, under normal circumstances, I live in fear of puke and will do anything within my power to avoid throwing up-barfing is literally the worst thing in the world that my body can do.  That is, I didn't get it until I began training for/racing longer events.  I will qualify this by saying that I have never (knock on wood!) thrown up during/after training or racing (minus the occasional reflux issue in the pool...TMI?).  However, I've been very close...and when in those situations, I honestly stop caring if it happens or not.  I remember crossing the line at the Flower City half marathon a couple of years ago after spending the last couple of miles of the race trying not to puke, and immediately realizing that I was going to lose it-but in that moment, it was somehow ok.  I ended up (to the horror of the poor little volunteer holding my medal) just violently dry heaving with no shame whatsoever.  I spent the last 10 or so miles of IM Florida simply wondering whether or not I was going to barf, with no great desire either way.

6. Minus the rampant muscular breakdown, the day after an Ironman is remarkably similar to a hangover.
Headaches.  Dehydration.  The vague realization that a lot might have happened the previous day, but you don't remember a whole bunch of it.  The temporary comfort that coffee provides, until the rebound effect hits.  The fact that you feel like you should have slept great the night before, but in reality, you got four hours of totally interrupted sleep due to the fact that you stayed up late, then spent the rest of the night waking up miserable every time you moved and dragging yourself to the bathroom every now and then.  As I've gotten older, I can no longer remember the last time I was hungover, because I now hate it and (as previously mentioned) avoid it at all costs  If I'm going to feel hungover...I want to earn it by doing an Ironman, not by drinking.  Then, I actually enjoy it.

7. Food becomes more amazing.
The extent of my alcohol consumption for the vast majority of this past year came in the form of a glass or two of wine prior to dinner the times I find myself in social situations every 3-4 months.  Every rare occasion this has happened, I've then eagerly eaten my dinner, finding it tastier than I could have imagined.  This is similar to what happens after exercising for 2-5+ hours on a regular basis.  Everything tastes better.  Mmm.
Ironman training makes all food seem like it's presented like this.
Well, there you have it.  In reality, though, while I could care less if others drink or not and understand what the appeal generally is (in moderation-I also have ZERO tolerance for drinking and driving), another big reason why I don't feel the need is because the highs of this sport generally do it for me.  So, I'll happily give you a cheers with my water and head onto my bike tomorrow, knowing that I'll end up sort of out of it and dropping things the rest of the day anyways!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Love is not a victory march... (Jennie swims twice in one day. She used to swim twice a week.)

   There were no fireworks that went off when I finally touched the wall on the last lap of my second swim of the day yesterday.  No giant "Jennie nailed her double swim" banner unfurled; no trumpets played a fanfare.  No one draped a medal over my neck and handed me a hat.  Instead, I was surrounded by a child's birthday party, one other open swimmer-a woman in a skirt bathing suit whose cap was pulled on over her down hair (winter hat style), and the Webster Bluefins, a youth swim club consisting of 8-17 (or so) year olds all likely swimming more quickly than I just had.  No one knew (or cared) that I'd had some sort of small personal victory in the pool that evening.  I pulled myself out of the pool, albeit slightly more slowly than usual.  I took my first couple of steps on deck somewhat gingerly, fearing that the foot cramp I'd been just barely warding off in the water might fire up on land (it didn't).  I wrapped myself in my towel just before I started to shiver.  And, I smiled.  Just a little.

   As a self-proclaimed anti-swimmer, by principle I just can't bring myself to outwardly admit that sometimes, somehow, swimming can have some redeeming qualities.  That's like admitting defeat to myself.  When I slipped up earlier and texted to Mary that I love our normal pool (as far as pools go, I had specified), she proclaimed victory that I had used the words "love" and "pool" in the same sentence (Foiled!  Jennie loses!).  So, although I knew that the day of my first double swim session would come sooner or later, when it finally appeared on my training schedule, I took it upon myself to unceremoniously dread it, with a practically mandatory facebook complaint previewing how I was about to sort of become something resembling a legitimate triathlete.  In reality, though, I was sort of looking forward to finding out what would happen when I attempted as many swims in a day as I used to do in a week.  Now or never, I supposed.

   Swim session #1 went well.  It started well before it even started, actually, simply because "Checkers" (the cute old man who counts his laps with checkers) had returned.  He'd been gone for some time (months), and Dave and I had been discussing him last week.  I had since become concerned about his absence.  Anyways.  In some rare reversal of the norm (the planets must be aligned in some new formation), I found myself trying to slow down to avoid swimming faster than I was supposed to on my initial set of 200s (the rest of your day consists of hill bounding, work, then more swimming-slow down, you idiot!).  When I was finally supposed to swim the last one all out, I ended up swimming faster than I ever had-and found myself oddly unfazed.  I also swam some sort of broken 500 thing as 2x (50 easy/200 hard) with a 5 second "reset" in the middle-and that was faster than any 500 I'd ever swam, including the rest.  I laughed a bit at how awful my swim times truly have been throughout my career.  Swim workout #1, which hadn't been that difficult, had nonetheless been successful.  No matter what happened later on, I'd at least have a couple of good splits in there to give me some hope.

   After the pool, I took to the streets for 10 miles, with some hill bounding in there.  If I was going to give swimming any satisfaction, I'd admit that the swim workout felt better than the running workout.  But, swimming is all smug, so I'll continue to claim that bounding my (offseason weight) self up a hill into a 30-40mph wind at strikingly slow speeds was the best thing I did all day yesterday.  I headed off to work feeling better than expected after the morning's workouts, though.  Mary had been planning to meet me at the pool later on; Dave said that he'd give the double swim a shot, as well.  Mary's presence also meant that I'd have a possible out later on-if I was too fatigued to swim well, she'd said, we'd just turn the workout into a drill session.  Not to mention, company always makes swimming slightly more tolerable.

   Well, as the day progressed, Mary's parenting duties were called upon, and Dave's breadwinning duties (aka, his job) kept him in Buffalo longer than he had planned on this morning, so I was on my own.  This also meant that I no longer had any hope of my swim being changed into that drill session-I was stuck with a set that wasn't killer, but would still test me to some degree, especially given that my Friday evenings normally consist of coming home, not moving, beginning to fall asleep on the couch at nine, and finally going up to bed at ten.  Plus, our normal Irondequoit HS pool isn't open on Friday evenings, so I was being taken away from the bright confines that have become my home away from my home away from home (I figure that work technically would be my home away from home, because I spend more time there than anywhere else that isn't home, but after that, it's probably the pool), and thrust into the new environment of the Friday evening Webster aquatic center (a worthy alternative, albeit one that runs the risk of patients seeing me in my bathing suit).

   When 5pm rolled around, I was encouraged by the fact that I wasn't feeling like I was ready for bed.  I headed to the WAC, fully mentally prepared to get the ball rolling, walked in, looked for the sign in...and was informed that the pool didn't open until 6.  I was briefly concerned that the 30min wait might kill my non-sleepiness (and strange pool motivation), and I could hear the swimming gods laughing at me.  I waited it out, though, and was rewarded with free entry into the pool for my patience (what does it say about people that I was rewarded for not freaking out over my own schedule reading mistake? Thank you, pool sign in lady!).  Open swim lanes were limited, but luckily enough for me, no one wants to swim on a Friday evening (other than the previously mentioned skirt bathing suit lady, and another skirt bathing suit lady who water walked for half an hour), so I was all by my solitary self in the lane.  Within the first couple of laps of the workout, I had some sort of swimming revelation-I was just...doing.  I wasn't obsessing, I wasn't dreading what was to come, I wasn't thinking about how fast I was(n't) going, I was just putting in the laps-it wasn't necessarily mindless, it was more just automatic.  Something was switched inside of me-I just got "it".  By "it", I mean how swimmers can tolerate the monotony of just continually moving back and forth in the water, lap after lap, hour after hour.  You  I think I can do this and not go nuts, I thought, and I didn't mean the workout at hand; I meant all of the increased yards in the pool that are to come.

   Workout #2 was fairly straightforward and simple (disclaimer: I'm about to reveal how much I truly suck at swimming.  Some will think that I'm not as bad as my race times might suggest, others will read this and think, wow, her awful race swims are real!  She really IS that slow!  Look at those intervals she's all excited about-I can swim that with one arm and ankle bands!  My own former swimmer sister laughs at me-rightfully so.  It's not "self-deprecating" wouldn't be a normal descriptor of how I usually describe my swimming abilities, after all.  I'm not going to make any apologies for my lack of swim speed, it just is what it is right now, and I'm encouraged with the gains I'm making, even though I'm still way down on the totem pole.  For a brief history of my swimming career, I refer to this blog post.)  After warming up, the workout started out with 5x200 on 3:15, aiming for 2:55-3:00, then went to 5x100 on 2:00, shooting for 1:17"ish" (that part is freaking hard for me), and finishing with 10x50 on 1:00, aiming for 45ish (easy).  Based upon the morning's workout, the 200s should have been manageable, the 100s were going to suck, and the 50s should be fine, assuming I wasn't entirely broken by that point.  Part of the beauty of the WAC is that, unlike Irondequoit, where digital clocks on both ends sometimes make it impossible to not check my speed, the clocks can't be seen in certain lanes-including the one that I had chosen.  So, I swam the first 200 by feel...and came in on 2:46.  I tried to back off a bit on the second one...and again came in on 2:46.  #3?  Another 2:46.  I had officially entered the "screw it" realm, and finished the set in 2:45, 2:44.  That had quickly become the best set of 200s in my life-and it wasn't even that bad.  Maybe I'd lose it on those 100s and completely miss my goal times.  Maybe I'd surprise myself and be fine.  I was already in uncharted swimming territory, so, well, why not find out how far I could take myself?  Again, another total reversal from my previous attitudes towards were swimming, which generally avoided any of the unnecessary swimming discomfort that I'm constantly trying to force myself to embrace.

   The 100s?  I hadn't screwed myself entirely.  I struggled and hurt, but that's exactly what was supposed to happen.  The water was thickening, it seemed, my arms and upper back were protesting more and more with each stroke, the generous 2:00 interval began to pass all too quickly.  Still...1:17.  1:17, 1:16.  Hold on, Jennie.  1:16.  One freaking more.  Do NOT lose it now.  You HAVE this. 1:16.  Worst is over.  The rest is easy.  And it was.  The 50s passed like nothing- (I even got wild and crazy, and started swimming 40's on :55).  I stretched out my wrecked arms, enveloped by the water.  I let my legs drag along for the ride.  My feet and toes started to cramp here and there.  Flipping over onto my back to cooldown felt fantastic at the time.  I even added a few hundred yards to that cooldown, although I was really pushing my luck with the foot cramp by that time.  

   And when all was said and done, I'd swam just over 2 hours on the day, for a total of 7000 yards, with 200y and 500y prs in there, and my best 200 and 100 sets in there.  A drop in the bucket compared to what real swimmers (and most serious triathletes) do on a regular (daily) basis, but a small victory for my weak ass shoulders, nonetheless.  I realized that I had experienced the sort of fatigue in my arms that had previously been reserved for my legs during long runs sessions, and I loved it.  Maybe that's been my problem with swimming all these years-I've just never been taken to the point of pure, blissful exhaustion, of being pushed towards the brink.  Sure, I've hurt and hurt good in the pool before, but this was somehow different.  Usually, my pool pain had been the sort that's reversible with brief rest, i.e. the lung-searing type of discomfort that comes because I generally like to breathe, and I don't get to while swimming.  What I felt last night was somehow different, and I somehow loved how my body felt as I dragged myself back to my car and plopped in the driver's seat.  Taking a minute to catch my breath wasn't going to change anything by that point.

   So...what now?  Well, yesterday obviously wasn't any sort of finish line, more just like another step forward.  In another year from now, I'll probably look back at this and laugh at how I once thought I was badass for swimming twice in one day, as it'll probably be the norm by then (with longer individual sessions to boot)-just like how century rides became the norm, when the first one had been a revelation for me.  But, sometimes it's nice to enjoy our accomplishments along the way a little bit.  Steps forward are different for everyone, and there's no use in putting oneself down constantly because others might be doing more and doing it faster.  We're all somewhere, we have different priorities and time commitments and hopes and talents-in the end, our victories are our own in this sport.  My biggest victory yesterday?  It's not any repeat or set or time.  It's that I'm just dreading the pool ever so slightly less now.  I'm taking it all with a grain of salt, because swimming for me has always been variable and fickle, often 2 steps forward, 1.9 steps back.  Monday might just suck again.  But, I now know that I have it inside of myself to take it to another level, to make it automatic, to fully leave all of my swim energy in the water.  It won't be pretty, it won't be easy, it won't be the most fun I've ever had in my life, but it'll be worth it.  And I'm ready to go.