Race Review: FirmMan Half Iron Triathlon

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Narragansett Bay

I haven’t posted too much lately since I pretty much spent all of August trying to battle my calf injury and get ready for some fall races. I don’t have too many on the schedule this year, but I had a pretty packed spring so I’m looking forward to a nice long recovery and base building season to follow. FirmMan 70.3 was in the plans for awhile but sneaked up on me quickly, especially since it was just after the start of the new school year. I’d been swimming and biking like a champ (for me, anyway) but struggling with my usual favorite, the run. Race weekend arrived and before I knew it, I was loading up my gear, picking up Emily and heading to Rhode Island.

We stayed in West Warwick and arrived on Friday night. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up and headed out for a shakeout ride and run before heading to the expo. I felt super tired, sluggish, and achy – even though we’d gotten a lot of rest and slept in that morning. After loosening up our muscles, we headed out to find some food and go to the expo.

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The Expo

There are several pavilions along Beach Road in Narragansett, and the race expo was held at the North Pavilion. It’s a beautiful setting, with the beach and the bay as the backdrop. We could see the buoys in the water to mark the swim course, and the water looked a little rough. The current looked like it was going in the opposite direction that we were supposed to be swimming in less than 24 hours. On the beach, the wind was whipping sand everywhere, and it was extremely humid. There was a storm that was supposed to roll through that evening. I was praying the meteorologists prediction would be on point, and the storm would blow through to fix the wind, heat, humidity, and current. Between the conditions and how I was feeling that afternoon, I started to feel nervous and fear that it was going to be a looooong day.

There were several vendors at the event and friendly volunteers handing out the packets. Your packet included your chip, a number for your bike and your running bib. They gave out long sleeved tech tees and water bottles to the participants. We got there just in time for the “course talk” that the race director held. We listened for awhile, but decided to leave and drive some of the bike course to see what we were getting ourselves into.

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Pre-race salt baths

Back at the hotel, we ate our obligatory pre-triathlon meal (a pizza) and got all of our stuff ready to go for the morning. Bags were packed, breakfast was prepared, water bottles were mixed with GU brew and the coffee pot was ready to go. We took Epsom salt baths, and were watching TV and reading in bed before 8pm. All we needed to do now was sleep. Which actually came really easily, until we were woken up at 1 am by a dog barking. A dog. In hotel where pets were not allowed. Long story short, the entire wing of our hotel was awake and trying to resolve the issue, and we lost about an hour of sleep. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really fall back to sleep so 4am came way, way, wayyyy too quickly.

Race Day

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Pre-race!

Even with our lack of sleep, I felt decent when my alarm went off and just needed some coffee to wake up. We were out the door before I even knew what was going on, and in the transition area setting up our stuff in the dark. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore and hoped the water would calm down as the sun came up. There was a chill in the air, and as it got brighter out I could tell that it was overcast. It was a point to point swim, and we had to walk on the beach to the start. I didn’t mind the walk to calm my nerves. Both of us were anxious about swimming in the ocean. As absurd as it sounds, we were terrified of sharks and whatever else was in the water. Lake swims are one thing, but the ocean? I could barely force down my pre-race breakfast – a bagel, peanut butter and a banana – but managed about half of it. I felt like I was going to throw up as we made our way to the swim start.

Swim

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Swim start, a point to point swim

There were two waves – the men, and the women/Aqua-Bike division. Emily made me start up front with her to avoid wasting energy and having to swim around the other athletes. It was a beach start, and we made our way straight out to the first buoy to make a right turn to swim along the shore line. As we swam out, I panicked a little (okay, a lot). It just seemed so vast and choppy, and I knew I didn’t want to have to fight for a space since I was already scared. I swam as hard as I could to the buoy and forgot all about sharks. I realized I had a new fear: the current. The waves were rocking me a bit and I started to feel seasick, which I didn’t expect. I picked a spot on the shoreline to focus on, which worked to calm me down and get my bearings. I noticed the current kept pulling me out to sea. Every so often, I’d lift my head and panic because I was drifting further and further away. I’d swim back towards the pack, and try to focus on a swimmer that looked about my pace but would end up passing them. This went on until I eventually caught up with the first wave, and then swam on the outside to avoid wasting energy by swimming through the pack. After what felt like an eternity, I approached the final buoy and made the turn to loop back in to shore. I was finally with the current for the short distance it took to get back on the land and relief settled in. I felt like I was in the water for hours, and figured it would be a slow swim. I was shocked when I got out of the water and saw that it was actually a PR.

Swim – 1.2 miles – 32:45

T1 – Swim to Bike

Just like at Steelman, I was stoked from the swim and couldn’t wait to start riding. Even with getting disoriented as I came into the transition area, I was able to move around quickly. They had “peelers” present to take off your wet suit, but I bypassed them and kept running to my bike and took my wet suit off myself. I was on my bike and moving before I even realized what was going on.

T1 – 2:28

Bike

Oh, the bike. The turning point in the race happened all too soon. I was so excited to get on my bike. I’d been feeling strong lately and the course looked cool. I came out of transition fast and my legs felt loose and ready to work. The first mile flew by and I saw Emily a little bit ahead of me as she made her way out of town. I turned a corner to make a small loop in Narragansett before heading out the way she was going, and I heard a loud whoosh. Oh no. I could feel it before I could stop and see what it was. My back tire (seriously, it couldn’t be the front?) was flat.

It all boils down to this: I screwed up. Not in getting a flat or in the process of changing it – I let someone help me. I should have just politely (or not so politely) told them to stop. As I flipped my bike over and started to pull the back tire off, one of the guys riding the course on his motorcycle for support stopped and asked if I needed help. I was flustered and told him no, but to stay just in case. I already had the tire off and the blown tube out, and he came over and just took over. In the midst of him taking over, I forgot what I was doing and missed the most important step. I didn’t check the tire for debris. There was a shard of glass in my tire, so as soon as I filled up the new tube I heard the loud whoosh again and panic set in. I only had two tubes. What if I got another flat?

With a string of obscenities flying from my mouth, I grabbed the tire out of his hand and pulled out a tiny piece of glass. He was still trying to help, so he began to pull the blown tube out of the tire. I don’t have CO2 cartridges – I have a pump mounted on my bike – and it was still attached to the valve. Somehow, the guy broke the valve from the tube off in the pump. I just sat on the side of the road in total disbelief, feeling completely defeated and considered the possibility of quitting. But I wasn’t injured. I still had a perfectly good tube. I drove up to Rhode Island to do a triathlon, so I told myself to get my shit together and make the best of the situation. I signed up for this event fully aware that this kind of disaster comes with the territory. You hope that it doesn’t happen to you – but it shouldn’t come as a shock when it does.

The guy trying to “help” me got on the phone to try to get the bike store that was working the event to come help, and I started to try to get the valve out of the pump. I somehow got it out and had the new tube in the tire, pumped up and back on my bike before I had time to process everything that just transpired. As I rode off, I felt completely lost and unsure of how to proceed. How do I come back from this? There would be no way to PR or place at this point. Could I mentally handle at least another 5 hours being in close to last place after I’d been so far ahead after the swim? I figured I had two options: ride conservatively and try to smoke the run, or ride hard to play catch up and pray my legs didn’t get too burned out. I went with the reckless option (of course). I wasn’t going down without a fight.

The next 55 miles on the bike (and the 13.1 running off the bike) were like nothing I’d ever experienced. Not just physically, but mentally. At some points, I was positive and upbeat and completely committed to making the best of a bad situation. Other times, I would feel bitter and ask myself why I was even bothering with the race at all. But I’m not a quitter. Once I got it in my head that I was going to work, I worked hard. I passed as many people as I could and didn’t get passed once on the bike. I pushed every single down hill. My quads burned on every single climb as I fought to keep my cadence and pace steady. I stuck to my nutrition and hydration plan because I knew I needed every ounce of energy I could get. My bike computer (which didn’t factor in the time I’d stopped) told me I completed the ride doing 18.4 mph, but the reality was more like 17.2 mph when the flat tire debacle was factored in. That stop probably cost me about 15 minutes, but as I headed into T2 I realized I was only about 8 minutes off of my time from Eagleman. I started to feel confident and prayed my legs could carry me another 13.1 miles.

Bike – 56 miles – 3:15:08

T2 – Bike to Run

Although I was still bitter, I was enjoying the race. The volunteers, the course, the participants – everything exceeded my expectations. I’d passed a lot of people at that point and physically felt good. As I cruised into transition, the announcer said something like, “The last of the cyclists are starting to come in!” and I was crushed again. I hated hearing that I was still near the end of the race after working so hard – even though it was the truth. I’d come to terms that I’d lost a significant chunk of time, but hearing that was discouraging. Almost to the point where I wanted to turn my chip in and call it a day. I sat for a few seconds and thought about what I wanted to do. I made it this far. Might as well finish what I started.

T2 – 2:03

Run

I started the run with a bad attitude and zero motivation. I had my watch in multisport mode so I had no idea what pace I was running as I left transition. One of the girls I passed on the bike must have left T2 right on my heels, because she caught me and we chatted for a few minutes until she fell behind. I was feeling exceptionally cranky. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since mile 50 on the bike, and I was about 2 miles into the run. I had gels with me, but was starting to feel nauseous from all the sugar I’d consumed that day. I forced down a packet of Salted Watermelon Gu and started to feel better almost immediately.

My strategy for the run in every triathlon is the same – pass everyone, and do not get passed. I kept focusing on people in the distance and closing gaps. The course is gently rolling hills, and comprised of two different out and back segments before you head back to the beach. I saw Emily on the first segment. I didn’t know how far she was ahead of me but hoped I might catch her so we could run together. I was feeling pretty cranky the first time I saw her and made a comment about my tires followed up by a few choice words, and immediately felt bad. She looked REALLY strong and I could tell she was having an awesome race. I should have just kept it in, but I’d been going for so long without really being able to tell anyone what happened! I kept running and started feeling better knowing I saw a familiar face and with the hope that I might be able to catch her and run with her.

After the first out and back segment, we were somewhere around mile six. The second segment of the course descended what looked like the steepest hill I’d ever seen (in reality, it was nothing I’d normally think twice about) and I saw people running up it. I knew I was entering another out and back and would have to return up that hill. I couldn’t even think that far ahead and just focused on gaining some time on the downhills and continuing to pass people. I saw Emily again, and I was getting closer but knew I wouldn’t catch her before the finish line.

I reached mile eight and started to feel fatigued. I knew it was partially because I needed to eat something again (probably being around mile 65 for the day also had something to do with it!) but felt even more nauseated at the thought of more gels. Nothing sounded good, so I told myself to suck it up and eat a gel, because the next thing I would get to eat would be real, solid food when I finished the race. I managed to choke down a Chocolate Raspberry Roctane GU and washed it down with some water from a water stop and kept going. I returned to the “monstrous” hill that I descended earlier, and climbing it wasn’t as horrible as I’d anticipated. I knew that once I hit the top, it was downhill to the finish line.

Finally, the finish line was in sight. There was a stretch of sand to run through on the beach before crossing the finish line. The race directors assured us that the stretch wasn’t as long as it was in years past but at the end of 70.3 miles, it looked endless. I saw Emily waiting for me, the finish line and the clock. Even after the flat tires, I realized I was going to PR by a little over 2 minutes. I crossed the finish line and immediately started crying. Not because I was happy it was over or relieved that I’d finished, but that I could finally react to what happened five hours ago and relax again. I found a bed in the medical tent and just sat there crying and telling Emily the whole story. She was the one person I wanted to talk to the whole day, and I knew she had an amazing race – but I just needed a minute to shake it all off. Now that I’m not in the midst of it all, I realize how dramatic it all sounds. But in that moment, after racing 70.3 miles while trying to fight a pretty nasty mental battle, all I could do was sit there and cry.

IMG_6932When I finally stopped acting like a little girl, we found out that we both placed in our age groups! I still PR’d with a 5:30:08, got 1st in my age group and 5th overall female. I also found out that my half marathon time, 1:37:42, was the top female run time, and the 10th fastest run time out of everyone (women and men). Emily PR’d with a 5:25:12 and had the fastest swim in her age group and second fastest swim overall with a 28:40! She finished as the fourth female overall, biked 3:00:05, ran 1:52:50, and also won first in her age group! We both left the race on cloud nine.

All things considering, a lot of good came from this race. As a matter of fact, I don’t know that I would change any part of that day – even the flat tires. I learned a LOT. If I’m ever in that situation again, I know I can handle it, and WILL handle it much better. I learned that I can push myself way past my limits and have the strength to overcome obstacles. I loved the race, would return without hesitation – but I spent five hours trying to make up lost time and trying to mentally get myself to the finish line. Of the countless races I’ve completed, this was without a doubt the hardest one. Physically, I felt incredible the entire time, but I didn’t realize that until after it was over. Instead of focusing on that, I had to talk myself into actually finishing the race over and over. There’s always a point in a race where it hurts and you want to quit, and you ask yourself why you’re even doing it. That’s the mental fight, and it’s something you are faced with even on your best days. On that day, when I asked myself why I was putting myself through this, I found I didn’t know how to answer it. Why WAS I doing a triathlon, particularly one that was 70.3 miles? The only thing I could come up with each time was a quote from one of my favorite books, Eat and Run by Scott Jurek…”Sometimes you just do things”. So I did it. I was grateful to be healthy enough to complete the race, thankful for the beautiful weather, and happy to have the opportunity to spend a weekend in Rhode Island with one of my closest friends. What an awesome race and an incredible weekend!
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Race Review: Steelman Triathlon

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IMG_6770I better stop signing up for these triathlons or people might start calling me a triathlete! All joking aside, I had a blast at Steelman this year. Thanks to my tweaky calf issues I’ve been dealing with for much of the summer, my biggest improvements from last year were actually on the swim and bike! I PR’d by exactly eight minutes (to the second!) from last year, finishing in 2:33:14. It was good enough for first place in my age group and more than good enough for me! I had a bunch of friends at the race competing and cheering that day, and the weather was perfect. It was a wonderful day and an excellent way to end the summer.

Pre-Race

I was up at the crack of dawn (more like the middle of the night, actually) – 3:45 am – and both Kathy and Cassie rolled up to my place just after 4am. Lake Nockamixon is only 30 minutes from my house, but the parking situation for this race is a little tricky so we wanted to get there as early as possible. We hit the road by 4:30am and rolled up with plenty of time to spare. For some reason, the people directing the vehicles to park thought we were lifeguards and directed us to a separate lot, further away. Oops! Just a little extra warm up/cool down time for us.

I was pretty relaxed as I set up in the transition area. Since we were early, I got a great spot and got everything situated. For some reason, I thought the race started at 7:30 and I was in wave 4. I made my way to the bathrooms, chatted with friends, and decided to go get into my wetsuit at 6:55 am. All of a sudden, I heard wave 1 go off. What? I wasn’t even in my wetsuit yet and was nowhere near ready! I scrambled to get everything together and was at the start before the second wave even entered the water. I have no idea how I messed that up, but it left no time for me to get anxious or nervous so it ended up being a good thing.

Swim

IMG_6755Last week, I spent the whole week at Babcock Lake and swam a lot. I practiced in my wetsuit and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use it – I timed myself every single day. Some days I would wear it, other times I would not. I swam exactly the same time every time regardless of if I wore my wetsuit or not. I decided I would use it because I’m doing another triathlon in September and wanted some practice wearing it in an actual race. As the swim began, I started to warm up and felt just okay – not bad, but not spectacular. I got a little nervous and began to think this could be a longer day than I originally anticipated. But by the time I hit the turnaround, I was warmed up and flying (for me). I felt strong and swam on the outside of everyone, closer to the kayaks. I started closer to the front so I had less fighting for a space in the water and more time just swimming. In my head, I figured I swam about the same time as last year, around 28 minutes. I knew I was finishing ahead of most of my wave, but that didn’t mean anything. That happened last year, too. Imagine my surprise when I got out of the water and saw my time and shaved off nearly four minutes from last year.

1500 Meter Swim- 24:39

Transition 1

I was ecstatic as I made my way to the transition area. At this point, I didn’t care what happened – I had a great swim and I felt good. Getting my wetsuit off went a lot better than I expected. At the lake, I would struggle getting it off and couldn’t see how using it would be beneficial. I was out of the transition area and on my bike faster than I anticipated.

T1 – 3:14

Bike

The bike is not my strength, and my goal going into the ride was to average 18mph. I’d done 17.6 last year and I felt much stronger on the bike this summer, so I thought 18mph was a reasonable goal. Once I got out of the water, I was on cloud nine and didn’t really care anymore. I was just excited to go for a bike ride.

I headed away from the lake and out to route 563. There was nothing that eventful happening on the bike course, except that I was having a blast. I felt strong. Though it isn’t insanely hilly, I always remembered having to get out of my saddle for the climbs the past three times I competed in this event. I stayed seated for the entire ride, and felt great on the hills. I kept telling myself to slow down, and was averaging 18.1 by the end of the first loop without feeling like I was overdoing it. Against my better judgement, I picked it up on the second loop. I still felt comfortable, but by the time I re-entered the park I was averaging 18.7mph. As I headed back towards the transition area, I forced myself to slow down and spin out my legs to get ready for the run. I knew the run was going to be tough because I’ve never ridden my bike at that speed before.

24.6 Mile Bike – 1:19:53, 18.6 mph

Transition 2

I jogged with my bike back towards my area to gauge how my legs felt. I was surprised that they felt really good and I was ready to run. I changed shoes, threw on my running bib and headed out.

T2 – 2:05

Run

The whole time I was riding in on my bike, I kept telling myself: Okay, time for a run. This is what you do. This is where the fun begins. I never once considered my right calf muscle. It had been tweaky all summer. Early July, I strained it, and it’s come back at the worst times ever since. I’d spent the entire week before Steelman running on the insane hills of upstate NY and I certainly did not taper for the race (I ran 60 miles that week). I considered that my legs might be tired, but I thought my dumb calf problem was a thing of the past. I was so wrong.

Within the first mile, I felt a little twinge. Not like what I felt the first time this all began, but enough to raise some concern and slow down and assess. I felt okay averaging about a 7-7:15 pace, but my goal was to run 6:50s. I was so frustrated. My legs, other than my right calf, felt amazing. They didn’t feel tired and I didn’t feel ready to be done. But every time I started to pick it up, I would feel that little twinge. Around mile 3.5, a girl running almost my same pace began to pass me. I heard her start to say “nice run” from behind my shoulder and I kicked it up a little more. I was able to hold onto whatever I had at that point until around mile 4.5, when I felt another twinge and slowed down until the final mile. I could hear the girl behind me breathing, and I kicked it up again. I cruised into the finish, averaging a 6:46 for the last mile and it felt almost effortless. Why couldn’t I do that the whole time? My legs could take it. My calf just didn’t like it. I still improved my run time from last year, but only by 15 seconds. I was slightly disappointed but I was more concerned as to why my calf decided to pick this day to act up. I’d been fine for weeks. I’d done tempo runs, track workouts, and run hills. Why now?

Other highlights on the run – it’s an out and back course that you complete twice when doing the Olympic distance, and the Endurance Multisport crew was working at one of the water stops. Each time I ran by, Flo and Kelly were out cheering and would yell for me as I passed. It made me feel a lot better and took my mind off of my leg.

Even though I was pretty concerned with my calf, I turned around the second I crossed the finish line and faced the girl that had been on my tail the whole time. We both started cracking up and shook hands and congratulated each other, and credited each other for pushing and having a good run. That moment made me feel a lot better.

10K – 43:25

IMG_6785Overall, I was thrilled with my time. Even the run, where I expected more. As for my calf, I went to my chiropractor and he did some active release therapy on it, and now just feels like general muscle soreness. Steelman wasn’t my goal race for the season, so I didn’t exactly taper. I did run lower, easier mileage towards the end of the week but I think the problem was the amount of hills I’d run on vacation. I’d been taking it easy on the hills all summer and then basically ran mountains for a week. I really need to find some good places to run when we visit upstate NY next summer. This is the second year I came home injured from running up there.

My friends all had some great success on the course this year, too. They all placed and/or PR’d, and we all had a blast. This is always such a fun event!

Race Review(s): The Belmar 5 Mile and Steelman Open Water Swim

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A little over a week after I strained my right calf, I was supposed to run the Belmar 5 Mile. Even though I was feeling better, I was disappointed because I wanted run as hard as I could at that race, but I wasn’t sure what I could do. The race was on a Saturday (a few weeks ago, I’m a little behind!), and I got late entry into the Steelman Open Water Swim for Sunday. The plan was to swim in the morning and bike in the afternoon. So, in light of my recent injury, I resolved to run as hard as I could at Belmar and back off if necessary and to use Sunday as a fun day to recover and hang out with my friends.

The Belmar 5 Miler

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Belmar 5 Mile, July 12, 2014

It was an early morning to make sure I got to Belmar in time for the 8:30 am start. My husband and I were planning to spend the day at the beach and then go to a concert in Philadelphia that evening, so we had a long day ahead of us. The drive was easy and uneventful and we got to Belmar with plenty of time to spare. Entry to the race gets you a cotton t-shirt, plastic beer mug, and a tote bag. I lined up at the start with my friend, Mark. The race had somewhat of a delayed start – it was supposed to start at 8:30, but it started at 8:40. The temperatures were already soaring and the sun was blazing hot.

It certainly was not my prettiest race, and I knew that as soon as the gun went off. From the start, my legs felt heavy and tired, and I just felt off. I wasn’t overly concerned about my legs: I was still a few weeks off of my marathon PR, and I was still recovering from my calf strain. The first mile felt like a false flat as we cruised along the beach down Ocean Avenue, and I held on to a much faster pace than I should have even considered on that day. I was barely back to running a week, and I told myself I would try to average something in the 6:30 range. My first mile was a 6:11, which is 10 seconds per mile faster than my 5K pace. What an idiot.

I slowed down a little and hit the first of two “lakes” (more like large ponds) that you run around and finished the second mile in 6:26, but at that point the heat was really starting to get to me. We headed back down Ocean Avenue towards the second lake, but I was feeling the effect of going out too fast on unprepared legs. Mile 3 flew by as a 6:36, and it didn’t feel any easier as my watch told me mile four was a 6:41. At this point, I was the 7th female.

In the last mile, a few things happened. My calf didn’t hurt, but I felt a little tightness so I decided to slow down just a little. It loosened up, and another girl started to gain on me. I could see the finish line about a half mile away, so I kicked it into high gear and forgot about the tightness in my calf. I felt great, but she picked up the pace with me. I picked it up a little more and started to feel a little nauseous from the heat, my poor meal choice the night before (steamed clams and waffles with ice cream at a church picnic, smart move), and being unprepared to sustain that pace on that day. About 30 yards from the finish, I couldn’t hold it in. I stopped and threw up – TWICE – before I could finish the race. Ew! The girl chasing me down easily passed me, as well as one other girl that I didn’t realize was close by. I was still happy with my time – 33:07 and a PR – and my final mile was still a 6:49 – even with the puking incident. Looking at my splits, I did the furthest thing from a negative split, which is how I usually prefer to run races! At least I can cross “running until I puke” off my bucket list now.

Until the lovely puking incident, I was probably on pace for more like a 32:40-ish based on the finish time of the girl ahead of me. I’d like to run a 5 miler a little faster than that at some point. I was shooting for anything between 32-33 because it would be a PR and it seemed reasonable considering the weeks leading up to the race. I still finished around the time I was hoping for and was happy about that. Had I not puked, I would have taken second in my age group – but I didn’t. I just didn’t have it that day and came to the event unprepared. All things considering, I was pretty stoked that I could run a PR sustain that pace anyway. I ran a good race and now know what kind of work I need to do to prepare for my fall marathons.

Steelman Open Water Swim

While I really enjoy swimming and realize how beneficial it can be as a cross training tool, I know I’m not a fast swimmer. I don’t go to the pool and do intervals or timed swims or whatever it is that you do to get faster. Sometimes I get in the pool and feel like swimming all day long, but most days I’m good with 45-ish minutes of easy swimming. For the open water swim, my plan was to swim as hard as I could and use the race to prepare me for the upcoming Steelman Triathlon, which takes place on the same lake in a few weeks. Oh yeah, and it was a perfect excuse to hang out with my friends, get a cool backpack (the swag item they give away for the race), and go out for breakfast. I was out late the night before and ran the Belmar 5 the day before, so I wasn’t exactly feeling fresh. As a matter of fact, when I rolled out of bed at 5am that morning, I felt anything but fresh.

Much to my surprise, I truly enjoyed participating in a “swimming” race. Usually, it’s hard to enjoy the swim portion of a race because it’s a warm up for a bike and a run and my mind is focused on what I have to do next. I didn’t swim very fast – 1.5 miles in 50:13 – but I had a blast. The race went off in four waves, and I was the last wave. I got nowhere near placing in my age group (I’d have to cut like 10 minutes or something off for that) and came in last among my group of friends (Emily, Sarah, and Jon). They kicked ass, with their times ranging from something like 42-46 minutes. I’d sign up for another open water swim in a heartbeat. It’s so much more fun than swimming in a pool!

This might sound a little arrogant (which I hate), but it was a good weekend for my ego. I’d been getting used to placing at races and feeling good every time I ran, and I felt anything but great at the Belmar 5 Mile. At the open water swim, I had to chance of winning anything and didn’t go into it with that mindset. It reminds me of why I started all of this in the first place and made me relax a lot as I started ramping up my mileage again. I’ve been enjoying running easy miles and building up my base again. It was a great way to kick off my fall marathon training.

Fall 2014 Marathon Training: Take Two

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Last week, I wrapped up my first week of marathon training for the Clarence Demar Marathon, and it’s going a little different than I’d originally planned. I’d planned to jump right into Pfitzinger’s 12-Week “50-70 miles per week” plan. I was planning to mainly run general aerobic and recovery miles but with a little more volume. What I didn’t plan on was having to recover from an injury in my first week of training.

I feel like every single season I write a post very similar to this one. In 2013, I had two stress fractures. One in the spring, and one in the fall. Both times, I started training and had to modify everything because of injury. After going through the ringer of MRIs, blood tests, DEXA scans (to rule out osteoporosis), I began a pretty cool supplement program for maximum calcium absorption designed by my smartie pants pharmacist friend, Lauren. So when 2014 rolled around, I was ready. And then, a few days after I began training for Boston, I got the flu. Take two, once again. This time around is no different…and it wouldn’t be marathon training if it started any other way!

I came home from Charlevoix and was ready to go, but I promised myself I would take a week off of running. Anyone who knows me knows that I never do this willingly, so my thought was that a week of much needed rest would help with injury prevention. I was also hoping that a week off and some massage therapy, ART (active release therapy – a post for another day), and ice baths would help kick my plantar fasciitis that I’ve been battling since March. The entire time I was running my marathon, I kept telling myself that and promising my body a rest. I had 2 weeks of downtime in between Charlevoix and training for my first fall marathon so one week of swimming, biking, stretching and resting would be good for me.

Usually, I declare something like this and never follow through. Last year, after my marathon in Alaska, I promised myself the same thing – but made it four days before deciding I should run and explore the Alaskan wilderness. I can’t say I regret that decision…

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Except last year, I couldn’t just stop at a few miles and ended up overdoing it. The result was being sidelined for nearly 5 weeks (8 if you count the time where I was barely running because I didn’t know what was wrong) with a tibial stress reaction. So this year, I stuck to it. I took several days completely off, and did ice baths almost daily. I was stretching, and by the end of the week, strength training and biking again. Maybe I put in too many miles on the bike, or maybe my body needed just a few more days without running. On my first day back out, I strained my calf. I was so confused when it happened. I rested! I took care of myself! Why was this happening?

Well, my first run back was on Monday, June 30th and I was a little to excited to get back out there. I went a little too far and fast for coming off of a break, even though I only took a week off. I’d done a fairly hilly 56 mile ride the day before, and two other decent rides in the days before that. My legs were tired, but not from running. I know better. Thankfully, I was at the Saucon Rail Trail when it happened. It’s a flat, cinder trail – at least I wasn’t trying to run Honeysuckle Road or something. I probably would have completely torn my calf on that.

I got about three quarters of the way through my run when I felt a sharp twinge in my calf and the whole thing felt like it seized up. I stopped immediately, recognizing the pain from a small hamstring strain I had earlier this year before the Columbia marathon. When I felt the tell tale pain in my calf, I didn’t take another step, even knowing I was still 2.3 miles from my car. I massaged the area, and walked to see if it was just a cramp. There was a water fountain, so I took in some fluids and started to stretch a little. Ow. Stretching was excruciating. After about 10 minutes of frustration, I tried to take another step running – ow. So I started walking, which didn’t feel good but didn’t result in the same alarming feeling running produced.

About 10 minutes of walking and I was bored and cranky. I tried running again- slowly – and it was okay for about a minute. I continued the run walk pattern until I ended up back at my car. The rest of the day was spent icing, elevating, compressing and taking some ibuprofen. As I’ve said before, I don’t like taking NSAIDs, but I thought it was the best way to get down any initial inflammation. There was no visible inflammation or bruising, but as the day went on walking became more of a chore. I kept a calf sleeve on it, went to bed that night and hoped for a miracle. No miracle – but it certainly felt significantly better in the morning. Not better like I should go run a marathon, but I was walking fine. The following day, I tried running. I made it one slow mile when I started to run with a limp and feel uncomfortable. I stopped, knowing I did enough and more miles would be pointless and unnecessary. After an afternoon session with my massage therapist, Mary Fitzgerald, I was feeling a lot better. The next day, same thing: one mile. This time, faster, but I felt like I’d hit my limit at the one mile mark. Still, it was progress. I felt better.

The whole thing was still bugging me, so I went to the doctor just to be on the safe side. I like Dr. Krafczyk at OAA, but he was unavailable so I saw Dr. Laura Dunne, who I used to see before I met Krafczyk. I wanted to confirm that it was, in fact, a calf strain and that what I was doing to treat it was on point. Dunne has seen me through several injuries, and she told me she was relieved to confirm my suspicion and thought she was going to see me with a completely torn calf muscle. I’m glad I stopped when I did, because it could have easily turned into that. She cleared me to run – I was supposed to run a four mile road race the next day and she encouraged me to do it. I opted to stay home because I didn’t want to chance racing it and tearing it.

Instead of racing, I went out solo and made it three glorious miles. I finally felt like I could keep going – but I still made myself stop at three. I was just happy to make it past the one mile mark and though I wasn’t at the point where I was running with a limp, I didn’t want to chance it. I made it six miles the next day at a decent pace, but felt a little tired towards the end. I opted to rest it on Sunday and start the week fresh on Monday morning. Biking really seemed to aggravate it, so I stayed out of the saddle the entire week it was bugging me.

What did I really expect? Seven marathons (six PRs), a half-Ironman, and some awesome shorter distance races since the end of November. My body wanted some rest and gave me a warning sign. I am still following my trusty Pfitz plan, but I chose a different level to allow my body to ease back into training. I only ran a total of 27 miles last week, and the first few days were not the most comfortable. My legs felt heavy. I felt tired. But as the week wore on, I started to feel like it was coming back. By Saturday, I ran the Belmar 5 Miler and PR’d (more on that later) but I had to work pretty hard for it. I felt every single day of my two week hiatus on that run.

My last marathon still feels like it was a dream. I did it on tired legs – it was my last race of a very long (but fun) season. I am confident that I have more in me. Right now, it’s more important not to ignore warning signs and to give my body the recovery it needs and do some real training. So here’s to two months of rebuilding mileage, track workouts, tempo runs, and shorter distance racing!

Race Review: The Charlevoix Marathon

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20140630-070832-25712609.jpgMichigan was state #24 in my conquest, and ended up being another great choice. I’ve really been enjoying traveling to and running small town marathons. We spent a few days making our way up to Charlevoix, and we drove up almost the entire peninsula in the process. We camped in state parks and took lots of back roads. It’s a beautiful state with lots of character.

 In the days leading up to the race, everything about this marathon screamed “disaster”. I was sure it was going to be a tough experience. Every single run since Eagleman was rough: I couldn’t hit my interval paces on my final track workout (and it was just a few 800s), and my last long run took everything I had. My final key workout before the race (a 7 mile run with a few marathon paced miles) felt much harder than it should have felt. I woke up on Thursday morning with the nastiest case of poison ivy – including a cute patch right on my face – and it kept spreading. I wasn’t eating my usual pre- race foods, and I thought it would be a great idea to go camping on Wednesday and Thursday as we made our way up to Charlevoix. I LOVE camping but we were a little ill-prepared, making sleeping uncomfortable. During a shakeout run on Thursday, I tweaked something in my left hamstring. By the time I woke up Saturday morning, I was just excited to run the race and take a little break afterwards!

Getting There

Charlevoix is a charming town in northern Michigan and sits on Lake Michigan. It’s tricky to get to, particularly if you choose to fly. We drove, and it took about 13 hours. We chose to camp on Wednesday and Thursday but once we got to Charlevoix, we spent the night in a hotel. We ended up staying in Petoskey, which is the next town over. Word to the wise: book your hotel early for this race. By the time I was looking for a room, I ended up staying in the next town over. Many of the hotels in Charlevoix wanted a two night commitment, which I was unwilling to do since we already planned to make our way through Ontario in the direction of home after the race.

The Expo

For a small town race, the expo was decent. There was your usual bib pick up and t-shirt distribution, and they had a table set up with some free items (like toiletries). There was a tent set up with merchandise for purchase.

Local Attractions

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It was drizzling, and my left hamstring was feeling a little strange from my shake out run the day before so I opted to walk around the town to shake my legs out. We explored the shops and restaurants on Bridge Street and a stroll along the water to see the lighthouse and Lake Michigan. Walking and along Lake Charlevoix (which feeds Lake Michigan via the Pine River) showcases the boats that the locals dock in the water. We took a drive to see the beautiful lakeside homes – some built by famous architects.

The Pasta Dinner

The pasta dinner was held at a local Methodist church and the entry fee was donation based. It was held from 4:30 pm on, and I like to eat early (especially because the race started at 6:30am!). I wanted to get off my feet so we showed up early. There were other runners already there, and the women and men preparing the meal welcomed us with open arms and let us start eating early. This pre-race dinner is not to be missed. It’s not really the quality of the food (though it was pretty good) but the quality of the company. The church parishioners take pride in hosting the event and absolutely love having the runners. At dinner, we sat with another couple from Pennsylvania – Dave and Cathy. Dave was running the race and we had a blast chatting with them.

Race Day

20140630-070835-25715070.jpgThe gun went off at 6:30am, which is the earliest I’ve started a race. I was thankful for the early start as I was finishing the race and it began really heating up. There was also a half-marathon, 10K and 5K – they all started sometime after the marathon.

The marathon route is an out and back, which I’ve never done in a marathon. It was mainly run along route 31, on a path off the road so we weren’t near any traffic. I thought it would be completely flat since it was next to the lake, but it wasn’t totally the case. It certainly was NOT a hilly course, but there were a few hills that got me (particularly the one at mile 10 and 25). The course started by weaving through some residential areas and the town, until hitting the path along route 31 somewhere between mile 2-3. Once on the path, the entire path was paved with the exception of one mile – it was a wooded path and felt great to run on. The whole run gorgeous, and every so often the trees would clear and you’d get spectacular views of Lake Michigan. There were frequent water stops – I’d guess every 1.5 miles or so – and friendly spectators. Not a lot of spectators: the ones that we saw were basically the same ones each time tracking their runner, but very fun and energetic. It’s an out and back, and the race has an uphill start, but that means the finish line is downhill.

Personally, I went into this race with three goals: My “A” goal was to simply finish the race, “B” was to run a Boston qualifier, and “C” was to shoot for a 3:08. Based on the days leading up to the race, I was thinking it would be a “B” goal kind of day but I wasn’t really sure until the race got going. I lined up at the start and went closer to the front of the pack, and off we went. I held the first place female position for about a mile, when a girl passed easily passed me. I looked at my Garmin and already knew I was going out fast and told myself not to follow her. I was planning to start in the 7:30 range, but as my watch beeped it was telling me my first mile was a 7:01. Too fast. But I could already tell that I felt REALLY good, so I made a decision: it was my last full marathon until the fall, so I was going to go all out – even if it meant walking it in.

20140630-070836-25716443.jpgFor miles 1-9, I was a little scared every time my watch beeped: each mile was somewhere between 6:54-7:06. I thought it was all over when I hit the hill at mile 10: it was steeper and longer than I’d anticipated and that mile ended up being a 7:17. I feared that I’d used my energy up in the first nine miles, and now I was going to pay for it. But after the hill, my pace continued to stay consistent – mainly 6:56-7:05. One mile that was a 6:45 – when I cruised back down the hill that slowed me down on the way out. It was kind of a dumb move, because the last six miles ended up getting the better of me: 7:10, 7:32, 7:21, 7:15, 7:38, 7:29 and a 6:30 pace for the last .2. My slowest mile was mile 25 – it was slightly uphill and I’d had enough by that point and just did everything I could to keep moving. My official finish time was 3:06:56, which was good enough for 2nd overall female!

Post Race/Awards

20140630-070837-25717387.jpgThe award ceremony was just a few blocks from the finish line, and on the same road. It’s also where the post race food spread was set up, and where the expo took place the day before. The awards for the 5K and 10K had already been given out, and they were working on distributing the half marathon awards when I made my way over. The marathon awards began around 11 am. Overall finishers got a slab of granite in the shape of the state of Michigan and inscribed with the place you finished. Age group winners got enormous beer mugs.

 

After the Finish

The church that held the pasta dinner offered free post race showers. It was about two blocks away from the finish line, fully stocked with clean towels and toiletries, and free! The best part was it seemed that no one knew about it so there was no wait.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this race to anyone looking to check Michigan off their list, but also as a good Boston Qualifier. While it’s pretty flat, there is some variation in the terrain and a few hills to keep it interesting and to get different muscles working. The race is well organized and offers a 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon to get more people involved. The setting is unique and beautiful. Check it out!20140630-070838-25718400.jpg

Race Review: Eagleman 70.3

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After a tough winter and long season of marathon running, my first half-Ironman is complete! In the weeks leading up to the race, I was more than ready for this race to be over. I was irritable, exhausted, and basically just a hot mess. Although I couldn’t have picked a better course for my first 70.3, it couldn’t have come at a more terrible time for a teacher. It was the end of the school year, so things were pretty hectic over the past few weeks in all aspects of my life. Now that I’m on the other side of this whole thing, I’m sad to say it’s in the past. I’m sure there is another one in my future at some point, but I have no plans for another 70.3 at the current moment.

20140611-132955-48595027.jpgEmily, Cassie and I drove to Cambridge, Maryland on Saturday morning for the expo and bike drop off. Before we could head to our hotel, we had to make two stops. Our first stop was at Sailwinds Park for the expo. We got there in the afternoon and met up with a few other friends: Jon, Jeff, and Anthony. Since I’m pretty unfamiliar with Ironman events, the whole “picking up your bib” thing had some extra steps than what I’m used to. Just to get into the expo, you have to show your USATF card and photo ID. Once that all checked out, you head over to a table and tell the volunteer your bib number. Instead of being handed a bib, you are handed documents to sign your life away. One was a waiver saying you know what you are getting yourself into (hmmm, should I be signing that?) and the other confirmed your medical/insurance information. Once everything was signed, you headed to a second table to hand your completed paperwork off to another volunteer.

We visited a table to get our race bibs, and I knew that was much more complicated than running a marathon since I’ve done a few shorter distance triathlons. There was your traditional race bib for the run, but then there were stickers for your bike and helmet and a wrist band, all labeled with your bib number. Next stop was swag bags, t-shirts, and timing chips, which are worn around your ankle for the duration of the event.

Once we were done checking out the vendors at the expo, it was time to rack our bikes. The transition area was in Great Marsh Park, which was a few miles away. We unloaded our bikes, covered them with the provided stickers, and and headed to the transition area. As were entering, volunteers made sure the numbers on our bracelet matched the numbers on our bikes. The racks were clearly marked and I easily found my spot. It was conveniently located right next to the finish line for the swim and the starting line for the run.

The first thing I noticed? My bike looked way less cooler than everyone elses! I have a pretty basic road bike – a Specialized – and I really do love it. It looked pretty funny when I racked my bike next to some super fancy tri bikes. For a second, I was thinking “wait, what if my bike won’t make it 56 miles?” Haha! Nevermind that I’d just take in it on a 55 mile ride about two weeks ago. I actually really like my bike, as basic as it is, so I never really gave that another thought.

20140611-133202-48722679.jpgOnce the bikes were racked, we met up with Jon to walk around and check out the water for the swim. There were a number of people in the water testing out the course and warming up for the race. It looked relatively calm where the swim ended, but then we walked over to the start and there were waves crashing up against the rocks. It looked very choppy and a little scary…but mostly fun! All of the buoys were out marking the course, and the distance looked crazy far. Luckily, I tagged along last weekend with Emily and her family to swim at Dutch Springs (a local quarry) and remembered that everything looks way further in the water and once you start swimming it goes pretty quickly. After checking out the whole scene and snapping a few pictures, we were ready to leave and get situated at our hotel.

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Swim Start

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Swim Finish

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Once we were done at the expo/bike drop off, we headed to the hotel to eat, prepare for the race, and sleep. Since we procrastinated booking our lodging, we ended up in a hotel that was in the town of Salisbury, about 35 minutes away. I was kind of sick of driving by that point in the day, but it ended up being nice to have a little drive in the morning to wake up and get ready for the race. Cassie and I headed to church, picked up a pizza and ate dinner back in our hotel room with Emily. After some last minute preparations and an Epsom salt bath, I was falling asleep by 8:30. I still really didn’t know what I was in for, and I wasn’t nervous. I had no trouble sleeping. Usually, I don’t sleep well the night before races but since I really had no expectations for the following day, I was out like a light.

Even with an early bedtime, 4am came way too quickly. Usually, I’m picky about pre-race foods because my stomach is very sensitive when I run, but I had a lot of activity to complete before getting to the actual run. Although we had to be there early, my wave didn’t start until 8:25am so I made my usual pre-race bagel, banana, and peanut butter to go. We got dressed, threw our stuff in the car, and headed to Mace’s Lane Middle School. This was the designated area where we could park our cars and take the shuttle to the start.

20140611-133202-48722858.jpgAt the start, we entered the transition area and volunteers marked your body with your bib number and put your age on your calf. I found my bike and set up my area with all of my gear. Once we were had everything ready to go, we had to leave the transition area by the time the first swim wave began, which was at 6:45 am. We watched the first few waves start and camped out at the starting line, waiting for our wave to be called. I still wasn’t nervous (really, I think it was just my ignorance) and was enjoying hanging out with Emily, Cassie, and Jon at the start. Jon was the first in our crew to hit the water, and I was second. Emily was in the second to last wave, and Cassie started in the final wave.

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Pre-race photo op of the crew!

Swim

The swim was technically on a river, but it feeds into the Chesapeake Bay so it was actually saltwater. Not like completely like swimming in the ocean, but definitely had higher salinity levels than straight up freshwater. It was kind of dirty looking and smelled pretty gross. I was in the 8:25am wave (females 30-34) and I lined up as soon as our wave was called. The girls in my age group were friendly and chatty, and everyone was so excited as we stood in the water to wait for our start.

Oh and that wetsuit I bought back in December? The one I only got to try out once prior to this race? It was useless since the water ended up being 76.5 degrees, making it not wetsuit legal (wetsuit illegal? I don’t know my triathlon vocabulary too well)! I didn’t really care so much because I’d never actually used a wetsuit in a triathlon and thought that it might actually slow me down since I wouldn’t be used getting rid of it in transition. Ended up not being a problem…I just wanted to use it since I went through the trouble of buying it. More motivation to sign up for another, I suppose.

I’m not a fast swimmer, but I know how to swim. I swam briefly in middle school and a little bit of my freshman year of high school, but it was enough that I walked away with decent form. That’s half the battle. I lined up in the back, but in the future I’m going to start towards the front. I spent a good two minutes just fighting my way to the front, and I finished swimming with the wave that started 10 minutes before me. Overall, it was a tough swim because the water was a little choppy, particularly on the way back.The water was pretty gross, but I felt really strong and enjoyed being in the water.

Another negative was towards the end – the water was shallow and people could stand. I was still two buoys away from the swim finish and people stood up and started to walk it in. WTF?! I was cruising along at a decent pace and people would just stand up – so now I had to worry about completely railing someone who was walking. I swam until my hands touched the ground, but the last 100 meters or so was spent dodging people wading through the water to the finish! I thought that was crazy. My goal was to swim somewhere between 35-40 minutes. I was pleased with how I swam, and the lesson I learned for next time is to start in the front. I may not be the quickest but I can hold my own, and I was fast enough to catch a good portion of the wave ahead of me.

Official Swim Time: 37:02

T1

I came out of the water and jogged to where my bike was racked. As I ran my legs kind of felt stiff and tight, and I wasn’t thrilled – but  I couldn’t worry about that since the immediate concern was getting on my bike as quickly as possible. Even though I exited the water with women from the wave ahead of me, I saw the vast majority of the bikes were still racked around my bike, confirming I’d gotten off to a good start. I got to my bike sat in the grass for a moment to catch my breath and put on my socks and bike shoes, my bib (even though it was unnecessary for the bike; I knew I would forget it later), chug some water, and dump the remainder of the bottle over my head to get rid of some of the nasty, dirty Choptank River. I grabbed my helmet, sunglasses and bike and headed for the bike out. I’m sure I could have been more efficient, but I didn’t know what to expect the rest of the day. I still had a lot of ground to cover.

Swim to Bike Transition: 2:58

Bike

The bike was the real wild card for me in this event. I put in some good time in the pool and out running on the roads, but I slacked on my bike training because I was always tapering for a marathon. Shame on me for doing so, because what an awesome bike course they had for us. Don’t get me wrong – I was completely pleased with my time and effort on this leg, but more preparation would have been helpful. As I clipped into my pedals and headed out, I took the first mile to continue getting my shit together. Adjusting my attire and getting comfortable in the saddle, eating some shot blocks to get some food in my system, and drinking some Gatorade to stay hydrated.

I’d say I was pretty uncomfortable for the first 5-10 miles. I’m sure part of it was that I was warming up, and that I just swam 1.2 miles before hopping on my bike. In my mind, I wanted to average about 16-17 mph. I thought that was reasonable and not much faster than I’d been doing most of my training rides. I use the Garmin 310XT and don’t have a bike computer (I know, I know, I really need to get one of those) and so I didn’t really know my pace until each mile registered on my watch. Before the race, I was trying to figure out how long each leg would take me. I was hoping for about 3:15 on the bike but thought that might be too aggressive based on my not so stellar bike training. 3:15 meant 17.2 mph. It meant that every time my watch beeped to indicate a mile had gone by, it had to say 3:29/mile.

Miles 1-10 were tough since I was warming up, but managed to average 17.13 mph through that point. I ended up taking in some GU (my favorite – Chocolate Raspberry Roctane) and fluids and started to feel really good. The next split time recorded was at mile 47.7, and at that point I was averaging 18.37 mph for miles 11-47.7. The last 8ish miles were clocked at 17.07, and I was starting to feel the distance and my lack of training. I don’t have the fanciest bike, and I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. I have a road bike and never put tri bars on it, and by that point my hands were going numb from being in the drops. My left groin was starting to ache pretty badly in a way that was unfamiliar. I think it was because it was a flat course, so I’m not used to sitting in the saddle and peddling for 3+ hours straight. There was no reason to get out of the saddle to climb, and no downhills I could recover on. It was straight peddling for 56 miles, and it was much harder than I’d anticipated. Here in the Lehigh Valley, we train on hills by default.

Other highlights from the bike leg? How about the huge black snake that slithered across the road RIGHT in front of my bike around mile 48? Yep – I seriously almost ran it over. It was pretty cool to see. Also, getting passed by my girls: Emily around mile 30 and Cassie around mile 45! They are pretty amazing cyclists and I knew they would be coming at some point. I couldn’t wait to see some familiar faces out there. Both of them came flying by me, all smiles and completely rocking the bike leg, as expected. Emily cranked it out at 19mph, resulting in 2:56. Cassie killed it with 20.4 mph and cruising into T2 with a time of 2:44. Being as the bike leg is my most challenging leg, this is seriously impressive to me. I can’t imagine breaking 3 hours for that many miles. As for me? I was beyond thrilled as I crushed my original goal and cruised into T2:

Official Bike Time: 3:07:19; 17.94 mph

T2

Somehow, this transition was slower than my first one. I didn’t expect that. In any of the shorter distance triathlons I’ve done, T2 is always faster for me. I racked my bike, and (once again) took a seat in the grass to change my shoes and just take a breath. I grabbed a (now completely warm) bottle of water, chugged a little and doused myself with the rest, knowing that I had a pretty hot half marathon ahead of me. I hit T2 at 12:07 pm, and it was 83 degrees and sunny at this point. I made sure to take in some GU around mile 50 on the bike, so I really just put on my sneakers, put on a headband (I hate when sweat gets in my eyes) and got ready to run.

Bike to Run Transition: 3:28

Run

The last six miles on the bike, all I could think about was how excited I was to go for a run. I thought I was ready to get off my bike and go…but as I took my first few clumsy steps, I realized I just wanted to be done. What the hell? This is the part I love and looked forward to, but instead I was kind of like, “I’m good, thanks.” I felt like I was moving soooooooo slooooowwwwlllyyyy, and made it about a half mile before my shoe came untied. I thought, “Oh well, I’ll stop and tie it” (like I had much of a choice in the matter – but I guess when you’ve already covered 58 miles or so, your thought process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) and was just kind of relaxed about it. When I started running again, I felt like I was barely moving. I told myself that I would just try to keep the pace comfortable and not worry about my time. Besides, since I was using my Garmin in multisport mode, I wouldn’t know my pace until I hit each mile. So I just ran. I passed people, and I heard a spectator say “nice pace” but I really didn’t think they were talking to me. Until my watch beeped. I looked down. 7:45? What? I expected more like a 10 minute pace. I started to realize that I probably had no sense of pace since I was just moving at almost 18 mph on the bike. Everything was bound to feel slow compared to that.

It was really hot, so at every aid station I took cups of ice and dumped them down the back of my tri suit so it would melt slowly (or not so slowly) and keep me cool until I could get more. I’d grab cups of ice water to drink and douse myself with, and ice cold sponges to cool my face and neck whenever I could get them. The residents were out with their sprinklers and hoses, which was awesome. The course was an out and back, and I think it kind of made the whole ordeal a little easier. On the way out, I was pretending I had to run 6.5 miles because it sounded a whole lot better than 13.1. I caught up with Emily at mile four, and she was running strong and looking good. After hours of not talking with anyone, it was good to exchange a few words as we both were toughing out that last leg. I kept on going and as I was nearing the turnaround, I saw Cassie heading back towards the finish. I saw her awesome pace as she cruised by and I perked up again. It’s against the rules to use headphones and it is heavily enforced at these events, so my game to make it through the miles was to focus on someone in the distance and pass them. It worked. My overall pace was extremely consistent for the run – actually, I somehow ran a negative split! The first 6.5 I ran a 7:47 average, and the second was a 7:46 average.

Official Run Time: 1:41:47

The Finish Line

20140611-132958-48598458.jpgWhen I was about a quarter mile away from the finish, I could see it in the distance but it looked so far away. By the end of the run, I was ready to be done. It was a totally different type of tired than marathon tired. When I am at the end of a marathon, it’s like my legs are so done that I can’t take another step. At the end of the 70.3, it’s a different kind of tired. Like whole body tired. It’s a much longer event and you incorporate so many more muscles throughout the race.

Overall Time: 5:32:39

20140611-133203-48723037.jpgIt was truly an incredible day, and it was such a humbling experience. I’ve gotten very used to straight up running races, and this took me out of my element and made me uncomfortable in a totally different way. Particularly for marathon training, I like being put in situations where I am expected to be comfortable with being uncomfortable for an extended period of time. I think it really helps train your mind to realize that you can accomplish whatever goal you are setting out to achieve. As for my friends, they all loved the course and kicked ass out there. Emily finished in 5:33:57 and broke three hours on the bike. Cassie PR’d by over 12 minutes and got close to the five hour mark, with a 5:07:53. Jon was just coming back from knee surgery and did not run, but completed the swim and bike. He cranked out almost 24 mph on the bike – something I can’t even comprehend.

Will I ever do another one? Most definitely. Actually, I noticed that they have a FULL Ironman on that same course in late September…

Oh, and the best part about 70.3? The amount of food you can eat afterwards.

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Best picture of Emily. Ever.

On Pins and Needles: Acupuncture and Plantar Fasciitis Relief

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Acupuncture_needles_1Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a healthcare professional. I’m a recreational athlete with an interest in endurance sports and a healthy lifestyle! Please seek medical assistance if you think you have an injury or illness.

Back in March, I started feeling some pain in my heel. It started as a little twinge every here and there, and finally I started feeling it consistently every morning when I woke up. Being as I was sidelined by stress fractures last year, I went directly to my doctor. An x-ray and clinical exam later and it was official: plantar fasciitis. In the very earliest stages. While it’s certainly frustrating, it’s not something to stop me from running as long as I don’t ignore it. It’s a high maintenance and relentless injury to deal with, and requires constant attention.

I like to document injuries and provide as much information as possible on my symptoms, diagnosis and treatment in the interest of helping anyone that may find themselves in the same situation as me. I hear people talk about plantar fasciitis and how it often is an annoying injury that keeps them off their feet. Of course, runners are often affected by this condition and it causes hiccups in training plans and race schedules. I always hear people talk about it and would stretch my arches and calves to prevent it. In the past, I’ve felt my arches get sore and thought that I had plantar fasciitis so I’d simply stretch some more. It wasn’t until I really got plantar fasciitis that I understood what it was. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, irritated, and inflamed. Consequently, the heel or the bottom of the foot hurts when standing or walking . Not the best thing to have if you happen to be a runner…

I did everything my doctor suggested, and more: rolling it out with a tennis ball or frozen water bottle and all kinds of stretching. I used my foam roller to roll out my calves, and took Epsom salt baths. I started taking turmeric supplements and incorporating tart cherry juice and other antioxidants for inflammation into my diet. I didn’t take ibuprofen because I don’t believe in using NSAIDs to mask pain to get through a workout. I think it tricks the body into thinking it’s recovered from a hard race or workout when you really aren’t…but that’s a post for a different day. At night, I’ve been wearing a Futuro night splint to sleep to keep my foot flexed and avoid doing more damage when taking my first steps in the morning (if you thought compression socks were sexy, they’re nothing compared to a night splint!). I continued with my scheduled mileage and races, and it never got any worse. It also never really got better – just remained status quo. So, I decided to try something a little different. I went for acupuncture.

Heather Shoup, owner of Balanced Acupuncture in Bethlehem was recommended to me. She has has a degree from Lehigh University in Psychology and underwent extensive training in three different styles of acupuncture. Besides word of mouth recommendations, I felt very secure in choosing her as my acupuncturist due to her background in healing and extensive education. I scheduled my first appointment for after the Sugarloaf Marathon.

On my first visit, I was tasked with filling out new patient paperwork, much like I would if I were visiting a doctor for the first time. Only this paperwork was much more extensive and detailed, and really covered a lot in terms of past medical history so she could get a good understanding of my background. When Heather was ready to see me, she went through everything with me and explained thoroughly how acupuncture works. Acupuncture uses the energy in the body and trigger points to heal and treat different conditions. It’s basically what you expect: tiny needles placed on certain trigger points in different areas on your body. There’s a whole lot more to it than that, but the one thing everyone wants to know is, “Does it hurt?” I don’t think so. I think it’s kind of glorious.

The good news is acupuncture absolutely provides immediate relief to my symptoms. The not so good news is that it has not resolved the plantar fasciitis issue completely.  I can tell when Heather removes the needle that is “releasing” the tightness in my calf muscle causing the plantar fasciitis, because that one does ache a little bit. Plantar fasciitis didn’t happen to me overnight, so I don’t expect it to be fixed overnight and I like the results I’ve gotten from acupuncture. It still stands that the best long term remedy I’ve found up to this point is simply stretching my calves and arches. Being as the location of the plantar fasciitis is on my heel, it signifies that the underlying issue is calf tightness and so I focus on stretching and foam rolling that area the most.

I’m still working on getting this all sorted out, but my best advice is not to ignore heel pain. It’s not going to “just go away” unless you deal with it, whether it be with stretching, icing, acupuncture, etc. If you live in the Lehigh Valley, I encourage you to go and check out Heather at Balanced Acupuncture. I’m still not healed at this point, but if I were ignoring it I’m certain it would be far worse.