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

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.

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Fall 2014 Marathon Training: Take Two

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

State  #24: Michigan
The Charlevoix Marathon
6/21/2014
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