Race Review: The Chicago Marathon (State #26)

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State  #26: Illinois
Bank of America Chicago Marathon

10/12/2014

IMG_7251The Chicago Marathon was last Sunday, and it was my final marathon for the 2014 season! It wasn’t a PR, but it was an amazing experience and a gorgeous day. It’s only early October, but my legs are tired and ready for a break after a crazy year. I have a few shorter, local races on the schedule for the remainder of the year, but I’m looking forward to a little break and some recovery. I beat the crap out of my legs in the spring, paid for it all summer long and was lucky to have a few decent fall marathons. It’s time to recover and get back to some basics.

The week before the race was the longest week of my life. I was flying out with Mark H., Ashley and Kathy and meeting up with Mark A. when we got there, who was driving. Our flights were scheduled to take off at 8:30 pm out of Philadelphia on Friday night. Around 2:30 on Friday afternoon, I got an email saying our flight had been cancelled and we were all re-booked on separate flights the next morning. I have THE WORST luck with flight delays and cancellations! However, we all got there. Mark H. and Kathy got switched to a flight out of Newark, Ashley and I got brand new flights on a Southwest flight to Midway (instead of O’Hare, since that O’Hare was the issue) for a small fortune. At that point, the only thing that mattered is that we all were snug in our beds at the Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue before midnight on Friday.

IMG_7184We planned to go to Bart’s shakeout run at 8am the next day, but decided to not set any alarms and sleep until we woke up and do our own thing. We got up, headed to the Starbucks in the lobby of our hotel, and ended up doing our own shakeout run on the trail that borders Lake Michigan. It was a gorgeous day and there were tons of runners out doing the same exact thing. My legs felt good, and I had a good feeling about the race.

The Expo, Pasta Dinner and Pre Race

IMG_7194A few blocks from our hotel was a shuttle that would take us to the expo. If I could say one thing about the whole weekend, it would be that it was extremely well organized and very easy to navigate. We took the shuttle over to the expo center and spend a few hours milling around and visiting vendors. It was a pretty big ordeal, and we quickly found our way to the Runner’s World table to stop and chat with Bart, since we’d missed his run. Nike was the official sponsor and had a large display in the center of the expo with all of their official gear.IMG_7202

After spending some good time at the expo, we headed back to our hotel to rest and relax. We had some time until the pasta dinner and wanted to get off of our feet. We’d purchased tickets for the dinner prior to our arrival in Chicago, and we chose the 4-6pm time slot. Around 4pm, we caught a cab to the pasta dinner at The Plaza at Millennium Park, and the food was incredible. There was a station with pre-made pasta dishes (everything from a rigatoni with a bolognese sauce to macaroni and cheese) and a “create your own pasta” station. You could pick your pasta, your sauce, several different types of protein and countless veggies. The only complaint we had was that the event was hosted outside in tents at the park, and it was kind of windy and chilly. Other than that, it was the way to go.

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After dinner, Ashley and I hit up mass at a nearby church while the rest of the crew headed back to begin race preparations. Once back in the hotel, I had zero desire to take an ice bath but knew I’d done a fair amount of walking all day and it would be a good idea. After a quick soak in entirely too much ice and ice water, I gathered up all of my pre race items and had them all set up for the next day. We were all in bed around 8:30, but I had trouble sleeping. I never usually have trouble sleeping, but I did this time. I think I saw the clock every single hour. Not really sure why; I wasn’t nervous, just awake.

Race Day

IMG_7224I feel badly for anyone who rooms with me, because I get up obscenely early before a race. I need time to drink a strong cup of coffee, start hydrating, and get food in my system. So at 4am, I was brewing coffee (in a coffee pot that I brought from home and carried on the plane – yes, I realize I have a serious caffeine addiction) and waking up.

By 6am, we were dressed and in the lobby. We met up with Mark A., who stayed at a different hotel down the street from us. We began the walk to the starting line, bundled up in our throw away clothing. It was still dark out and as we walked to the start, the wind was seriously whipping us around, which wasn’t making me happy. Once at the start, it was pretty well organized. We quickly found our way to the bathrooms and the gear check, where I begrudgingly parted with my sweat pants. I was planning to start the race with Mark H., but I lost him after our first pre race bathroom stop.IMG_7219

When I registered for Chicago, I submitted a qualifying time. But at the time, I only had a 3:18 marathon PR. Once I ran my 3:06:56, I was unaware that I could update my qualifying time to get in a faster corral. So, I was in corral B but could have been in corral A. The 3 hour and 3:05 pacers were in corral A. I’m not one to use pacers, but in this marathon it would have been helpful – and I will get into why later. So once I was at the start, I pushed my way all the way to the front of corral B, since that was the best I could do.

The start of the race was crazy and exciting. It was a little crowded in the first mile, so I already anticipated a slower start and didn’t let that bother me. I did my best to stay consistent and weave through the crowds, but within the first half mile the course went under a large overpass. I immediately lost satellite reception on my watch. When we emerged, we were in the city surrounded by all of the skyscrapers and it continued to mess with my watch. When I hit the first mile, I hit the lap button to try to at least be able to have some sort of indication of what my pace was from that point on. Unfortunately, I spent the entire race not really knowing if I was running a 5 minute mile or a 9 minute mile – my watch was tripping out on me the whole time. I hit lap often and seemed to be on pace, but I wasn’t really sure. From what I could see on the results page, my splits were consistent (all averaging around a 7 minute pace) through somewhere in the 35-40K point. At that point, I slowed down a little. My “splits” on my Garmin (for whatever they are worth) show my slowest miles to be somewhere from miles 21-26ish.

I had no idea how close or far off I was to a PR and was starting to lose some steam after mile 20, so I didn’t push any harder. However, my official finish time ended up being 3:08:22. Only a minute and 26 seconds off of my PR. Had I realized just how close I would be, maybe I would have kicked it up a notch in the last few miles. I did the math once I got to mile 20 and thought I’d be closer to a 3:10, so thinking I didn’t have a shot at a PR didn’t give me too much incentive to crank out some faster miles towards the end. However, PR or not, I was pretty happy with how I placed in the race. I placed 55/3,435 in my age group, 207/18,390 overall women, and 1,700/40,567 total runners, meaning I finished in the top 4% of the entire field! Additionally, my time qualifies me for Boston 2016 as a BQ -26:38, so I can register with the first group and hopefully end up in Wave 1. Not too shabby, especially since I was basing my pace off of effort. Though it wasn’t the result I’d hoped for, it was a good experience.

Anyway, enough about race times – back to the actual experience.  I could see how this course could absolutely suck if you get bad weather – but we got extremely lucky. Perfect temperatures and almost no wind, which shocked me because our walk to the start had me thinking we were in for a long day.Though the watch ordeal made it tough to figure out what I was doing, I loved the course. Among the group of friends I traveled with, none of us thought it was the fastest course we’d ever run. It’s a fun course, and it certainly is fast – but it was harder than anticipated because it is SO flat. Then again, I can’t think of one time that I’ve run 26.2 miles and thought it felt “easy”. I’m still waiting for that day.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Three things come to mind: the streets were definitely in rough shape in some areas (not the race director’s fault by any means), and there are lots of tight turns. Also, the whole watch constantly losing reception is a drawback for someone like me. I should run on effort more often, but the truth is – I’m often a slave to my Garmin. Most times, I use so I actually go slow enough – as I so gracefully demonstrated at Clarence DeMar, it is so easy to fly out of the gates and ruin your whole race. Everyone usually feels good in mile one. If you run by effort and go with how you feel, you could run the risk of overdoing it in the early miles. That’s just my own personal take on it. Maybe the same doesn’t hold true for you and you do better running sans GPS, but I don’t.

Miles 1-13.1

My plan was to go out at a 7 minute mile pace and sustain it through the half marathon point. If I was feeling good, I was going to pick it up and try to hold on to a 6:55 pace for as long as I could. If I wasn’t feeling it, I’d just keep ticking off 7 minute miles for as long as possible. From what I could see on my Garmin and the results on the site, I did just that for the first half. The first four-ish miles give you a great tour of downtown Chicago and it’s full of enthusiastic spectators (well, really the entire course is full of those). Miles 5-8 were not as interesting to me but I was still trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my Garmin, so that was a good distraction. Once you hit mile 8, it’s pretty exciting right through the half marathon point. There’s Boystown with a crazy huge crowd, Old Town, and finally the bridge on Adams Street that marks the half marathon point. There were several bridges to run over and they had mats on parts of them to make it easier on your feet but it was still easy to lose your footing and you had to watch your step.

As I ran, I didn’t feel awesome during the first half – not terrible, but not great. My legs just felt okay, and I felt tired in general. I think it was still from the crazy stress of traveling and delayed flights coupled with a poor night’s sleep. Regardless, as I approached the half marathon point, I had a decision to make regarding my pace. I could still PR if I stuck with seven minute miles, but the problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was even really running sevens. I had a feeling I was close based on hitting lap and really watching my Garmin, but I wasn’t completely sure.

Half Marathon – 26.2

I don’t remember much from miles 14-20. I do remember that the course was still pretty cool, but not as cool as some of the earlier moments. Actually, I take that back. I remember a mom and pop beer stop somewhere around mile 19, and I gladly took a beer and received a big reaction from the crowd. I guess they hadn’t had too many customers up through that point. Either way, the reaction from the crowd put a smile on my face and helped me get through the next few miles. Once you hit mile 21, you start nearing Chinatown – what an incredible neighborhood. It’s super exciting, with tons of spectators and lots to look at.  As you get closer to the finish, you turn on Michigan Ave and are reminded that this race is not, in fact, the flattest race in the world. The last quarter is an uphill grade! Not like the steepest hill ever, but you see it and think, “Seriously?”

I felt just okay at the half marathon point so I stuck with the seven minute miles (or whatever it was I was running that looked like a seven minute mile on my watch). Somewhere around mile 17 I started to feel a little better and picked it up. One of my laps on my Garmin registered a 6:41 mile, and I remember listening to Eminem’s “Rap God” on repeat a few times and cruising at one point so I would believe I ran something close to that. I was able to maintain a relatively decent pace through 21, and then started to feel a little fatigued. Not the worst fatigue I’d ever felt in a marathon, but at that point I didn’t know how close I was. I started to do some math and was coming up with a 3:10 finish time, so I started thinking that maybe I never really was running a 7 minute pace. I wasn’t upset about it, and just wanted to take in as much of the race as I could at that point.

By that time, the crowds were back in full force and I was enjoying sightseeing as I ran through Chicago. My new game at this point was to pass as many women as possible. There weren’t too many around me, but I’d see them in the distance and just pick them off as I passed. Although it didn’t help me PR, it kept my pace more aggressive. I realized around mile 24 that I’d probably be finishing in more like 3:08-ish. I was so confused, and knew if I wanted to PR I’d probably need to lay down a little over a six minute mile. Even that wouldn’t ensure I’d run my way to a PR. So I stuck with picking off as many girls as I could and just kept moving. I was pretty happy with the end result, considering I was basing my pace on effort.

Finish

IMG_7227The last quarter mile is the hardest. You’ve been running on flats for so long that when you hit the final quarter mile and find that it is, in fact, an incline, the only thing you can think is “WTF”. However, that feeling of “EFF YOU CHICAGO” is short lived, because before you know it you are crossing the finish line, claiming your hard earned medal, and drinking the 312 Urban Wheat Ale you are handed as you walk through the chute. I kid you not. After the medals, mylar blankets and post race foods, Goose Island Brewery set up shop and hands out full beers. It was glorious.

Nutrition

I was pretty well hydrated and carbed up from the days before, so all I had left to do was choke down some GU, Gatorade and water throughout the race. Which I ended up not having to choke down this time, everything went down just fine. I ate a Chocolate Raspberry Gu before the start, and alternated between all my fun new GU flavors during the race. I think there was a Chocolate Peanut Butter around mile 5, another Chocolate Raspberry around mile 10, a Salted Watermelon at Mile 15, and a Caramel Macchiato (my new favorite) at mile 20. I even considered taking another one at 23 and didn’t feel any gag reflexes at the thought of it, but I really just wanted to sit down and drink a beer (the little bit I had at mile 19 was such a tease), so no amount of GU could solve that. I drank mostly Gatorade at the water stops but would make sure to grab water after taking GU.

Post Race Party

IMG_7229As I walked through the finish line, I actually ran into Mark H.! He ran 3:06 and change and I immediately started kicking myself for not trying harder to find him at the start. I think if I were running along side of him, I could have done that. I spent more time worrying about going too fast and not knowing what I was actually running and I probably would have just relaxed if I were running with him. I still had a blast and I’m thrilled to get that close to my PR, especially considering the summer I had with my calf and the race I had two weeks prior. We made our way to the post race party and found that we could get free massages. There were NO LINES and we could just walk right in. WHAT? I gladly hopped up on the table of the willing volunteer massage therapist. Anyone who volunteers to massage runners immediately after 26.2 miles deserves to go straight to heaven. You know none of us had the opportunity to shower yet.IMG_7240

We hung out on the grass at the Mile 27 Post Race Party. It was a gorgeous day, and there weren’t too many people around just yet. As we waited, we tracked everyone else and waited for them to meet us. Mark A. was next to cross the finish line with a 3:20, Kathy finished right behind with a 3:30,  and Ashley (whom, I might add, ran the ENTIRE thing with a completely fractured metatarsal) ran a five minute PR with a 3:54! She saw a doctor last week who didn’t think x-rays were necessary and told her to run the marathon. So, she took the medical advice and found out after that it was broken and was likely broken before the race. Crazy!! I was so proud of everyone.

Once we were all gathered in the family reunion area, we headed over to the Goose Island tent to redeem yet another free beer with the beer tickets on our bib. Maybe it was just the post marathon delirium, but I’m pretty sure that their 312 Urban Wheat Ale is about the best beer I’ve ever had. Maybe I should try it sometime when I haven’t just finished a marathon to see.

IMG_7239Back at the beautiful Intercontinental on Michigan Ave, the spa had massages chairs set up with free massages, and the hotel restaurant was serving a free beer to all runners. We gladly accepted both and had a nice recovery lunch before heading to the incredible hotel pool to relax and recover. We strolled down Michigan Ave and checked out the finisher gear at Niketown, did some shopping and found a restaurant for dinner. Somehow, we didn’t crash until we hit the hotel much later that evening. I think moving around really made the recovery process go a lot faster – I wasn’t too sore when I woke up the next morning.

Would I run Chicago again? Probably not, but not because I didn’t like the race. I really did love it. It was a stressful traveling situation, and a pretty pricey event which makes me hesitant to go back. If I’m looking for a PR, the Garmin trouble I had would also deter me from toeing the line of this race again because I really race better knowing what pace I’m running. With that being said, I wouldn’t pick another race for Illinois -and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It was such an incredible weekend, and so much fun to share such an amazing experience with great friends! 26 states down, 24 to go!


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Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes with Maple Pecan Glaze

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IMG_7176I’ve been dabbling in the Paleo world quite a bit lately, and I’ve tried more than a few recipes that I’ve really enjoyed.

My sister-in-law also leans towards the paleo side of things, and she recently sent me a recipe for pancakes that caught my attention. The most interesting part is that the pancakes were baked, not cooked on a griddle or in a skillet. I have a tendency to burn pancakes. Always. I made this recipe and liked them a lot – enough to make them again. But when I made them a second time, I realized I was short a few ingredients and found that my creation was even better than the original recipe (in my opinion)! On my third batch, I changed up the maple pecan glaze and I think I’ve got a winner.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Adapted from the Detoxinista (Grain Free Pumpkin Pancakes)
Makes 6 pancakes 

  • 1/3 heaping cup of almond butter
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grade B maple syrup or raw honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until well combined. On a parchment lined baking sheet, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the batter onto the sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes and serve, either with pure maple syrup or Maple Pecan Glaze (recipe follows).

For the pancakes, the original recipe called for equal parts almond butter and pumpkin, but I thought it made the end result quite heavy. It didn’t dawn on me to switch up the recipe until I was short almond butter the last time I made it and added extra pumpkin. The final product was delicious. What amazes me about these is that there is no flour at all in them – but they really have the texture of a real pancake! Serve with Maple Pecan Glaze (below) or a high quality maple maple syrup.

Maple Pecan Glaze
Makes about 1 cup of glaze

  • 3/4 cup of pecans
  • 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons Kerrygold Pure Irish Grass Fed Butter (or ghee, or coconut oil – whatever you like)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree and enjoy! Eat whatever you don’t use with a spoon Refrigerate whatever you have leftover and save it for next time. The original recipe used coconut oil as the fat and water as the liquid, but I switched it up the first time by subbing the almond milk and Kerrygold butter as my fat – but the coconut oil worked really well the first time, too!

Enjoy! It’s the perfect fall breakfast.

Race Review: Clarence DeMar Marathon (New Hampshire)

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State  #25: New Hampshire
Clarence DeMar

9/28/2014

Well…I finished! If you want to talk about blowing up at a race, you can talk about my performance at the Clarence DeMar Marathon. I’m not sure if I had it in me to run a PR, but the rookie mistakes I made ensured I would never find out. Even though I didn’t run the time I’d hoped for, I learned a lot from this race. I had a blast road tripping up north with friends, and got to check another state off of my list. Not to mention that running in New Hampshire on Sunday meant that I hit a new milestone: I’m now halfway through my 50 state goal!

Getting There/Travel

The drive up north was much easier on the way there than it was on the trip home. I know the roads and the area well from visiting my husband’s family lake house in upstate New York each summer. It was a breeze on the way up, but we drove home on Sunday afternoon and sat for hours on 87. Sunday was a looooong day that resulted in me taking Monday off of work to catch up on some much needed time to sulk over the race sleep.

The Expo

Located in Spaulding Gymnasium at Keene State College, it was exactly what you’d expect from a small town race expo. No vendors, just packet pick up and information about race day. The pasta dinner was sold out before we had the chance to get tickets, so I made a dinner reservation for a restaurant called Nicola’s Trattoria in town. We had a nice group of runners from the Lehigh Valley running the race, and we all ate together.

Race Day

IMG_7072On Sunday morning, we drove from our hotel to the gym at Keene State College to catch a shuttle to Gilsum. It’s a point-to-point course that started north of Keene. In Gilsum, we had a scenic place to hang out, a decent staging area, restrooms, and bag check. The start was about a ten minute walk from where we were dropped off, so after checking our bags we began the walk to the starting line. It was freezing, and I was starting to get nervous.

I knew the winning female time from last year was 3:13, and my PR is a 3:06. My original intention was to try to run a PR and possibly win the race. Since my final spring marathon in Charlevoix, I’d been having a tough time with my right calf. I strained it, healed it, and re-strained it over and over all summer long. I’d get to a point in my training where I finally built my mileage up again, and it would relapse. Eventually, I gave it the rest it needed and got in for some physical therapy, but the damage had already been done. I spent the summer running slowly (no track workouts, no tempo runs) and on flat terrain. The odds were already against me, but it wouldn’t be like me if I didn’t try anyway.

Unfortunately, I got too caught up with trying to win and didn’t run my own race – right from the first mile. I lined up at the start, right in the front. There were two other girls up there with me and I started to get nervous. When the gun went off, I shot out at full speed. My initial goal was to run a seven minute miles for the first half and then see how I felt from there. My first mile was a 6:38 – and I didn’t stop there. By mile 14, my overall pace on my Garmin read 6:50. I ran with the first and second place females for the first 10 miles of the race until it finally dawned on me (about 10 miles too late) that I shouldn’t be trying to catch up to them. I should be patient, run my own pace, and let the race come to me. I’ve never been good with patience. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of person. But I also never lined up at the start thinking I could actually win, and this was my first taste of that.

On my best day and after a summer of ideal training, my goal was to average seven minute miles. But I knew before I started that this was not my best day. I was in pretty good shape from cross-training and triathlons, but I was not in my best marathon shape. Not to mention the elevation profile of the course. Somewhat hilly, but with a net descent over the first 14 miles. It’s almost identical to the elevation profile of the Boston Marathon:

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I know (a little too well) what happens when you go out too fast in Boston, and this course was very similar. While I absolutely went out too fast for my current fitness level, I also went out too fast on a course with a net descent. By the time I got to mile 14 (the first long, steep climb and the first mile where I got off pace, 7:16), I reached the top and it was a little more of a struggle than it should have been at that point in the race. I began descending the hill and thought, “Oh, shit“. My quads were shot, and it was to the point where I thought they were going to completely give out while running downhill. I knew I started too fast right from the first mile, and I knew it was going to catch up to me at some point. What I felt at that moment was way worse than anything I’d ever expected or experienced in the past. In past races where I made this same mistake, I was never running 6:45-7:00 minute miles. This was a whole new level of “I’m so screwed“. Panic set in, and the realization of what I’d done hit me hard. 

At this point, I was in third place. But the race turned from trying to PR/win to trying to survive. My new goal? Not to walk – and I didn’t. Not even for one step. I knew if I started walking, it would result in a REALLY long day. So I stopped looking at my watch, and was at peace with whatever pace I ran so long as I was still running. I was able to keep my pace in the 8-8:30 range but I didn’t bother to push it anymore at that point. My slowest mile of the race was an 8:31. The damage was done, and pushing anymore at that point would just make the experience that much more frustrating. Oddly enough, I wasn’t that upset while I was running. I think some part of me knew that if I had a prayer of having a decent finish time that day, I needed to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other.

I finished in 3:18:02, 7:31 pace. 31 seconds per mile off of my goal. Ouch. I was the 6th female and 3rd in my age group, but they only recognized first and second place winners in ten year age groups (so 30-39 instead of the usual 30-34). There’s always a silver lining, and there are always positives that come out of even the most terrible of race experiences. Even though I took a beating, it was far from my worst marathon ever. Although it was nowhere near a PR, it was still my 3rd fastest marathon finish to date. It’s a solid 2016 Boston qualifier (BQ -17:58). Most importantly, I am beyond thankful that I finished this race without aggravating my calf. The pace, combined with the amount of climbing and descending, could have been catastrophic. To really put it into perspective, if someone would have told me a year ago that I would be crying about running a 3:18, I would have died laughing. One year ago, I couldn’t break 3:31. All things considering, Sunday was a great day.

The whole experience reminds me of when I ran the Baltimore Marathon in 2009. I trained all summer and planned to attempt my first BQ. I’d run a 3:46 on a harder course a few months prior. This was still during the time period where females under 34 years old needed a 3:40, and the race didn’t sell out in a matter of minutes. Except on that day, I didn’t start out too fast. I was running with a pacer and he was spot on, but I just didn’t have it. I ran the marathon in Baltimore in 4:08 that day – 22 minutes slower than my previous marathon. I did, however, end up running my first qualifier less than a month later in San Antonio. I think the race in Baltimore was worse because I trained hard all summer but just didn’t have it on that day. Here, I didn’t put in the mileage and suffered for my arrogance and stupidity.

As for the race itself? Eh. I’ve read that it’s one of the most scenic courses – I disagree. While the first 13 miles are very pretty, the second half isn’t quite as impressive and a little depressing. There’s section of the course run on a bike path around mile 20 that I ran completely alone, and part of it was overlooking a highway.There’s a cemetery that you run through around mile 23 with a decent climb – like on the path through the cemetery (I already felt like death, so it was quite fitting). The last three miles wind you back into Keene through a residential area, and it wasn’t too special.  If I were going for scenic, I’d go back to Maine (by far the most beautiful race I’ve run), Alaska, Utah, Vermont, Rhode Island…and I didn’t pick those based on my finish times – 4/5 of those were far from great performances.

Feeling like you gave a race your all and feeling like you gave a race more than you have to offer is a fine line, but one I never want to cross again. The the lesson I learned, however, was invaluable: let the race come to you and run your own race. I need to remember what I trained for and trust that it’s enough. I’m over it now and actually, I’m almost glad it happened. Almost. Of course I’d rather be writing about standing on a podium and setting another PR, but that can’t be the case with every race. I’d gotten too far last season on going out too fast and having successful results. Before 2014, I used to plan to run negative splits. I’d force myself to start off slowly and then speed up. I’m not sure where all of that changed, but this race really reinforced the importance of pacing.

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!