Wednesday, September 30, 2015

USAT Long Course Nationals

This past weekend I raced in Oklahoma City in my final triathlon of the year.  (tear drop-  I am sad :) I was a late entry into this race because I had already signed up for the marathon that was to be two weeks prior.  I didn't think doing these two events back to back would be smart.  Actually, this race was completely off of my radar.  But, Jeremy asked if I would have any interest in going, and more than anything I was interested in racing with friends as I rarely get to enjoy traveling to triathlons with friends these days.  I later figured out that it was a National Championship race, but it seemed pretty low key and I was down with giving it a good try. 

So, I planned to do it, but only if I could do it and not let it interfere with the marathon.  I think I was successful at pulling that off.  I limited my swims and bikes to just 1-2 x per week, got my running in, crammed my only long bike of the summer in with a 70 mile bike ride the weekend before the race, and decided I was good to go.   And I was!  I was worried I would be flat and miserable.  Not at all! I was good to go. 
"Just for fun" with Jeremy :)

When lining up for the swim, I watched Kirsten Sass, a fellow competitor and Tennessee friend.  I wanted to see what the top competitors do.  She was so calm at the start.  She didn't fight for position.  She didn't frantically try to warm up.  She put her face in the water, did a few strokes, lined up wherever, and smiled.  When the gun went off, she just got going without a big rush.  It was a nice example to follow.

My swim was fine.  I only felt my low back on the back half, and it was completely manageable.  I had this unusual experience of feeling prayerful on the swim.  I was praying for everyone's safety.  I was praying thanks for my ability to swim.  It was odd...I must be getting old because that is such a weird thing to do.  I even saw a guy struggling a bit and treading water. He looked so sad, so I popped up and encouraged him.  "You've got this!  Don't give up!"  I normally don't do that in a swim, but his smile was completely worth it.  I was in a happy and calm place. 

When I got to T1, I was pleasantly surprised to see a ton of bikes still on the racks.  I had zero expectations with my swim as my volume has been reduced 75% since having Isla.  Yup- 1 to 2 short swims a week is all I have made time to do and all my back with tolerate right now.  I don't expect this to make me competitive, and it doesn't.  But I was pleased to not be alone on the rack, and I came out with several strong riders.

This bike course is VERY forgiving.  There was some wind on the coursewith a head/crosswind situation, but it was not bad and the day blessed the bike with great weather.  The course is rolling, but you don't lose momentum.  I would love to ride this course in great bike shape.  I had a great ride for me.  I knew I wasn't bike fit and couldn't race the other girls, so I rode to my HR, cadence, and RPE.  I kept asking myself, "is this reasonable?  Can I run off of this?"  I was surprised at how good I felt out there, but I knew I had not put in the training to race the bike.  The top girls were smoking me, but I knew I couldn't keep up and I knew I would not be able to execute a run if I tried to do something I have not replicated in training.  So, if a girl came by me and was working it, I did not try to chase.  I didn't see any drafting, although I heard the guys were drafting quite a bit up front.  But in my position, it was a clean ride with a lot of nice people. 

And again, Grandma Damie was coming out and I kept saying "good morning...have a great ride!" to people.  LOL!  But seriously I made tons of friends out there and it kept me smiling.  And while I am almost always nice to people on the course, I don't go around saying "good morning," so I don't know what had come over me.  I said I was going there to have fun, and I did.  But you know, I got all of that encouragement back in SPADES. One girl and I ended up riding maybe 20 miles in close proximity together, and she was in my AG and super nice.  To be honest, this may have been one of the most pleasant race experiences I have every had on a bike course with the exception of IMWales, which also had super friendly competitors. 

My main thoughts on the bike:  1.  I don't need a new bike, yet.  My bike is good enough even though it is on the older side.  It really is, and it fits me.  No upgrades needed.  2.  I am starting to feel comfortable on the bike again, like I did a few years ago.  It is all coming back.  3.  My saddle was jutting into the wrong places on my pelvis and forcing it to go numb.  I have been saying I needed a different model of my saddle since I started racing again, but I never did it.  I decided I would not wait any longer.  4.  My feet were going numb.  It was not really affecting my cycling, but I was wiggling my toes and trying to figure out what was up. I was getting a little concerned with all of the numbness, but I was riding fine so it seemed okay.

I got of off the bike feeling fantastic and fresh.  I was such a contrast to Nola 70.3 this year.  It was like the old me, where I was able to find that rhythm and pace perfectly to my fitness for the day.  I was in and out of transition ready to work. 

I started the run expecting heavy, dead, flat legs from the marathon.  Instead, I was surprised to find that they, and I, felt great!  What I wasn't happy to find, tough, is that the bilateral foot numbness was starting to burn.  And burn.  And burn with knives.  My pace, body, aerobic system felt amazing.  My foot pain was not resolving, warming up, or working itself out. 

And the race slips away from me here.

So... this "foot pain" has happened in every race that I did this year, although this weekend was by far the most painful and intense.  The other races it really, really hurt, but I could gut through it because the pain was a bit less and the distances much shorter.   I thought it was a shoe issue, and I went though 2 different pairs of shoes and threw out any shoe that I had raced in this year that was "linked" to pain.  Today I wore a new a wonderful shoe, so I was not expecting an issue.  I have also run 50 miles a week for the past couple of months as well as a marathon last week, and NO foot pain ever.  Oh, I have done plenty of bricks this summer.  NO foot pain.  Ever.  And never mind that I have raced many years and many long distance races without this issue.  In hindsight, I should have realized there was a problem.  But in reality, I thought the problem was minor and I had it solved.  

And within minutes on the run, I realized, that they burning, stabbing pain was not an old shoe/bad shoe issue.  It was nerve compression.  Possibly from the bike.  And I was screwed. 

I couldn't run.  I was fighting and fighting for it.  I was willing my mind to ignore the pain.  At about mile 5, I stopped for the first time.  I knew there was no wrinkles in my sock...nothing to fix.  But I took off my shoes and just massaged the neuralgia for a few seconds.  There was some temporary relief- shoes back on- run again.  The pain came back and was full force in no time.  It just progressively got worse as the yards clicked by, and yes my race was becoming measured in yards.  I spend the rest of the race trying everything.  The shoes came off again, but running barefoot didn't change anything.  I tried heel striking.  I tried to massage it again.

And thank GOSH I was so encouraging to others throughout the whole day because they gave it back to me on the run.  The pain become so debilitating that I started walking regularly.  I didn't relieve the pain, but it lessened it just 1% and gave me the motivation to try to run another 100 yards.  And other racers saw me run and really try, and then just pull up quickly and walk on my heels for a second, take off my shoes, or whatever I tried.  And most of them had so many kind words.  And I wanted to be running.  I wanted it so bad, and I wanted to work my butt off on the run.  And for the record, I have NEVER walked in a triathlon.  Ever.  I have taken a few steps in an ironman to grab nutrition or whatever, but I have never outright walked.  And today I walked.  A lot. 

My slowest mile was a 9:23, and in reflection, that was damn good for all of the stopping I did.  I think initial mile that I first took off my shoes, I still ran an 8:25.  I was really fighting for it.  I was in so much pain and so frustrated.  I kept telling myself the pain could be mitigated in my head.  Ignore the pain.  But it never worked itself out.  I think it just compressed the nerve more and more as I was on my feet. So the finish was so anticlimactic.  And once I crossed the finish line, I am sure I ruined tons of pictures.  I just pulled straight over to take off my shoes and try to stretch out the nerves.  A volunteer came over and thought I needed med help, and I was like..."nope!  Totally fine!"  I was physically 100% fine.  I felt like I didn't even get a chance to run. And my feet were in pain and burning for 24 hours later. 

So here is where I ask you guys if anyone has had this and what worked for you with resolving it?  I have spoken to a couple of people that are telling me to change saddle first, then maybe a platform pedal system next (I am on speedplays- but again, I have ridden these for years with no issue).  I don't understand why I never had any issues with bricks in training, and the only thing I can think of it is that I haven't been riding anything over 30 miles, so my rides weren't long enough to elicit the reaction, or that I ride with socks in training but don't ride with socks in racing so that is a difference and maybe there is some sliding in my shoes.  I did read that stability is very important in bike shoes in preventing hot spots.  But otherwise...????  I mean, I have done years of racing with this set up.  And the only difference is that I changed my saddle after Isla, so that seemed to be the initial clue for me.  But is there something I am missing?  My dad asked me if it was an age issue- getting older and having nerve problems in feet.  I laughed it off because I run tons with no issues....but....any ideas?

And I have realized through this process that being consistently good really requires such attention to detail.  You can't talk about getting a new saddle, you have to get on it.  You have to test and retest in order to perform on the day.   If you have really bad pain, you make sure it is completely resolved.  You don't fix what you "think" is wrong.  I think I have gotten a touch very lazy in my preparation, and it really hurt me today, figuratively and literally.
 Racing with one of my favorite triathletes- Walt Rider.  What a smart and fast triathlete! :)

So at the end of this crazy day, I was 6th AG once the super stars were pulled out for overall awards.  I qualified for the Long Course World Championship in 2016.  The day was not a loss.  I hope to never repeat a day like that, and it was certainly not the way I wanted to finish my season, but there was still a lot of positive to it. 

And I give a big thumbs up to the Redman Couse.  It is really run exceptionally well, and it is everything I want to race and a HUGE alternative to M-dot racing, which has left me a little "meh." The atmosphere was competitive but laid back.  The volunteers were great.  The competitors were great. 

And I got home to this adorable girl.  We had such a great day together.  We missed each other so much- it is hard to explain but being apart is hard on us both and man did we love to spend time together yesterday.  LOVE her so so so much. 
That is probably a wrap for 2015, although part of me really wants to race one more time with some saddle adjustments/shoe adjustments? to see if I resolved the issue.  Finishing my year with a BQ and a World Champ slot is not a bad way to go out, even if all of my races were not dream races.  

Happy fall!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

BQ.2 Marathon RR: Part 2

A few things happened after those marathon duds that set me off on the right path.
1.  I completed my first ironman.  Then my second.   Then my third.  All with steady marathons- never walking a bit. 
2.  I worked with some great coaches like Jen Harrison and Lucho, and they taught me how to really focus and train.  I finally saw the connection between my training and my racing.  And it wasn't that I wasn't training hard all of that time, I just wasn't making every session count in the way that more focused athletes have learned to do.  
3.  I stopped playing soccer.  I remember trying to do a track practice and a soccer game in the same day.  I was always sore, exhausted, and injured.  My knee was so damaged, and I just continued to injure it week after week.
4.  I had knee surgery at the end of 2009.  This was probably this biggest break through for me.  Finally, I could run pain free after years of pain.  I can't tell you what a difference it is for me- I can't even quantify it. 

I also started re-writing my story as I had more success and became more mature as an adult.  So, the negative internal tape that played over and over (read last post) was getting re-written with every bit of progress I made in running and racing.  And I started to look at myself more objectively.  I felt like a slow kid for many years, but in reality, no one plays college soccer or gets recruited by two teams to play semi- pro with no ability to run.  It was always a little ridiculous that I felt that way.  It was just that insecure voice that would pop up again and again.  But here was the reality:  I wasn't last in sprints...I just wasn't first.  I would beat everyone in the 2 mile time trials, but get hung up on the fact that I wasn't leading the shorter runs.  I did well at some track meets in high school, I just didn't make it to the state meets, so I felt inadequate.  I was okay at local 5ks, but some girls were 2 minutes faster so I would feel embarrassed by my time.  But in reality, I was doing well.  I was just falling prey to that voice that tells me I must be amazing to be good:  the voice of the "perfectionist."  For years I had written some script that said I wasn't a fast runner, and it was up to me to change the script and dream!  Because hopefully we have many years on this earth, so we don't need to live our lives confined by our self-view as a child.  We can grow, improve, and excel at any age!  So yes, I was a slow kid and running speed is not natural to me, but I have improved over time. 

And somewhere between 2008 and now, I didn't feel slow anymore...I felt good enough without needing to define it.  I also became VERY focused on the process of training and racing and less focused on times.  I rarely race now with a time or pace goal.  It is about learning to turn myself inside out to race well, regardless of the number on the clock. 

So, marathon time.  By this point, I am in agreement with myself that I can run.  

I have been a little lost athletically since having Isla.  Several triathlete moms really encouraged me to focus on running.  I kept stabbing at triathlon, but I have really struggled to get back to where I was and beyond.  Something had to change, and I needed some mojo.  I have a few goals written down, and one was this long standing goal of a BQ that I felt should have been crossed off by now.  Around June/July, I decided that I was going to make life simple, sign up for a marathon, and coach myself.  I wanted the challenge of facing this alone and just doing what I knew needed to be done.  I wanted it all on my shoulders.

Even though I had only averaged 20 or less miles per week for the past year, I didn't want a long build up.  I just wanted to pick a race, commit, and execute.  It is easier on my family if I don't make huge, long term training plans.  My running buddy, Bill, did the BQ.2 marathon last year and suggested it to me.  It is a no-nonsense, 8 loop run course that is low key but serious enough to keep you motivated.  So, I was about 14 weeks out, and I pulled the trigger without a second thought.  I had no running base, but I was injury free and motivated so I registered immediately and got to work.
 To give you an idea of how serious this race is about qualifying for Boston, they have very calculated pace groups with multiple leaders to pull hopeful runners to their BQ time.

This specific marathon is run solely to help people to get to Boston, and it is held on the last weekend of qualification for that year so that people can take one last stab at their dreams of a BQ for that year.  But, at some point in my training, I realized that going for a BQ was not what I was about.  It was an arbitrary number, set at 3:40 for my age, that someone said meant that I was a good marathoner.  I stopped buying in to that.  And honestly, I felt that I had it in me to be faster than that, so I decided to let the day and race come to me.  My running friends thought that was a cop-out and wanted a hard number.  But how could I choose one?  It had been 7 years since my last marathon.  I thought 3:40 was soft, but 3:30 could be too fast.  I thought the best way to approach it was to get one marathon under my belt and have a baseline.  I didn't want to chase the BQ anymore.  That was so 2007.  :)  And my running friends are ALL about Boston.  But you know, I am a triathlete.  I have other goals and other dreams that seem bigger in my mind, so, I just tried to stay balance in my own mind and not let my running be defined by this magical time.

But at the same time- I NEEDED that BQ monkey off of my back.  It was just something that needed to be done, dusted, and put on the shelf. 
 300 runner limit for the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon.  You have to reach certain time standards to register for the race, thus everyone there is really close to or has surpassed a BQ time.  Here we are, starting the day. 

My plan was to pace around a 3:35 and really take no risks.  I hated to think that way about a race, but I kept telling myself to play defense and just have a good day out there with no blow ups.  I NEEDED a good marathon.  I thought that an 8:10 to 8:15 ish pace would be appropriate for starting, and I started right on that pace with first four miles being 8:11, 8:16. 8:12, 8:10 on garmin.

The laps were a little more than three miles long, so I focused on completing them one at a time.  There was a pretty big headwind on one side of the river for about a mile, so that was tough to face 8x.  But, the weather was great and the course was beautiful, so overall it was pretty ideal. 
 I felt like I was on a training run, and I honestly felt a little bored.  But, another cool thing about the race is the bibs- my number was 34029- so I needed a 3:40 to BQ, and I was number 29.  It made it easy to spot other runners on the course and figure out who may be running a pace similar to yours. 
I started with the 3:40 pace group (set to run a 3:37 so that people would more than likely get into the Boston Marathon), but I thought their initial pace was too fast.  So, I ran the first lap behind them, caught up to them the second lap, then had to pee, caught back up to them, and then went in front of them starting lap 3.  From there on out, I was completely solo.  And it was a long day. 
I did get a little lonely out there. 
 Later in the race...lonely...solo.  I remember when it was mile 10 I couldn't believe I had 16 more to go.  It just felt like a long day.  I think Ironman goes by faster than this day did for me.

My pace dropped naturally, and I was running anywhere from 8:05 to 7:55 ish. Around 10-13 miles, I realized my garmin was reading much longer than the mile markers.  At 13 miles, I was .25 longer on my garmin.  So, either my garmin read long, I was running long, or the course was slightly long.  Either way, I realized I had to be careful that I didn't get to 26.2 miles, only to have .5 left to run and not enough time to make it.  .5 would equal 4 minutes to me, and that is a lot of time if you aren't aware!  By mile 17 or so, I was finally feeling smooth, and I was starting to run about a 7:45 pace with no extra effort.  Overall I was feeling like it was a long training day.  I wasn't LOVING the day, but it was fine and I felt like I was just there to do work.  Mile 19 was 7:39, and it was all easy.  And then my garmin died.

It was the oddest thing, but I didn't know what to do.  This is the only marathon where I have ever had a garmin besides IMWales, so you would think I would be fine, but I was a little thrown by it.  Seeing good splits motivated me.  That was my visual motivation, and it was all of a sudden gone.  I felt really frustrated. 

I ran the next lap blind, and I didn't like that.  Here I was, at the critical 20-26 miles, and I didn't know my pace.  I felt like I was slowing, but I didn't know what the reality of my pace was.  My attitude died with my garmin, even though I told myself to let it go.  So for one lap, I just focused on nutrition and finding girls up ahead of me to pass. 

And aren't these water tables cool?  You had your own, assigned water bottle table where you could put your own special drinks.  Then, when you were done with your bottle, you threw it down in this one area, and it would magically appear at your table for the next lap.  It was fun :)  

On the last lap, my quads were shot.  But you know, I have felt that before at ironman, so I knew I could keep running, even though my legs said I couldn't.  I did slow.  I thought I was running 10 minute miles and was honestly scared I was not going to be under 3:40, but in reality, they were somewhere between 8:10-8:20 probably.  I was definitely ready to be done, and there was no finishing kick or magic. I remember saying to myself, "I will never do another marathon or ironman again."  Somewhere in those last few miles, I was sure I would never qualify for Kona because I just wouldn't ever be a fast enough runner.  I started to even question if I was going to BQ because I knew I was running so slowly. 
And then I finished in 3:32:49.  It was so odd when I finished because I had such poor concept of time or pace, so I didn't know if I would finish in 3:37, 3:41, or what.  It was only when I saw the finish line that I realized I was okay. 

I didn't feel as overwhelmed with emotion like I did at my ironman races.  I was glad to walk for a minute and then felt completely fine.  I finally did cry a bit when I realized that all of those years of wondering why I sucked at marathons...why my friends could all BQ but not me...and all of that disappointment was finally gone.  It really wasn't about the BQ, it was about perseverance.
Slowly descending the pace- my guess is I was about .5/4 minutes long on my garmin, so thank goodness I picked it up in the middle.  At one point, Gina kept telling me I was at 8:15 pace, and I thought she was dead wrong as I was running 7:5x pace.  It took me a bit to realize that I had to factor in garmin distance not equaling run distance!
Overall, I give myself a B+ for the race.  I think my pacing was pretty good.  I negative split the marathon.  I need to get comfortable again racing with watch splits as opposed to the instant garmin data. 

I give myself an A for training execution.  It wasn't perfect, but I think I got the most possible out of training June-August.  It was just a really hard time of year to train with such high humidity and heat. If I could have changed anything, it would be to pick a late fall marathon so I could do more marathon paced runs.  Those just weren't really viable in 110 heat index, so I did the best I could with the weather I had.  I didn't miss runs, didn't get injured, and felt pretty positive the whole time.  I absolutely could have used a bigger base and more miles/fitness/strength, but I made the most out of the build up that I could.  And, I do think mileage is super important, but I just didn't give myself enough time to build up to more miles.  So, I just hit about 50 and stayed there.  With a short build up, I really didn't want to risk much more, but I do think I would thrive with higher mileage through out the year and higher mileage in marathon training.  Here is the distance I did get in:
 Week 37 is the marathon- I tried to get in 4 weeks of "base" - lol...but about cramming, and then after the 17 mile week (beach vacation week), I hit the ground running with 12 weeks to go before the marathon.  
And yes, I will do another marathon.  Even though I SWORE in the last few miles that NEVER AGAIN would I do a marathon.  I will set time goals for this next race.  I will go out on pace and see if I can hold it.  I will challenge myself! 

SUPER thanks to running BFF Gina.  She not only traveled with me for this race, but she also has supported me for all of these years of bonks and blow ups.  I am not sure we have ever laughed as hard as we did on this trip. 
And, of course....JEN HARRISON!!!  What an amazing woman.  She has been a mentor to me for such a long time now.  All weekend long she was texting, supporting, helping, and encouraging.  This woman is wise, people!  And I love her.  Thanks for meeting me to celebrate with a beer.  It meant the world to me.  xo

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Long Journey- BQ.2 Marathon RR Part 1

I have had to condense this post several times as it was getting out of hand.  And it is still out of hand, so this will have to be a two part RR.  This marathon was really more than a single day race to me, it was a point in time that followed 3 decades of running for the love of running, even when I wasn't very good at it.

And 3 decades of running history is hard to condense.  And basically it just boils down to the fact that I was never an athletic or fast kid.  I wasn't encouraged to be a runner.  No one pegged me to play sports.  I was awkward and slow.  I was always one of the slowest runners as a kid, and I KNEW this as a kid.  I knew I was slow.  Can anyone else relate?  Even in high school, I was mediocre at best during high school track, and that is probably being kind.  There was really no event for me.  I was not fast enough to do short events, and didn't have enough stamina or endurance to do long events.  And I embarrassed myself out there constantly.  I would get sick to my stomach thinking about meets and how girls would beat me by 20-30 seconds in an 800.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  I was a competitive kid.  I was competitive on the soccer field and could hold my own.  I wanted to be competitive in pure running, but the truth of it was, I just simply was not.  

But I always loved to run.  I read running books.  I read Runners World in my public library when I was a kid.  I read Jim Fixx's book when it was the only book available.  I knew what I was supposed to do to be a good runner, I just couldn't physically do it.

In college, a big run for me was 2 miles.  I was very proud of that.  I was slow.  My non-soccer friends were faster than me on runs.  My roommate would kick my butt on runs, which we did of course to work off the cafeteria food.  Even though I played collegiate soccer, chasing a ball for miles at a time like a big 90 minute fartlek, I was still just a slow, average runner when it came to just pure running.  I was actually a little embarrassed by it, truth be told, but I plodded on.  

After a soccer practice where our coach had us run 6 miles, and I was only 1 of 3 players that could actually run the full distance without walking (and I use the term "run" here lightly), I was encouraged by my cross country running friend to enter a 10k with her for fun.  I did...and loved it...mainly because there were only the 2 of us in our AG so I got a 2nd place award with my pedestrian time.  But I also loved it because I ran 6.2 miles!  Never as a kid could I have dreamed that I could run that distance without stopping or without feeling like the slowest person out there.  I entered 2 more little road races that year, and then when soccer season started back up I never entered a race again...

Until 5 years later when I decided to try to run a marathon.

I went from barely being able to run 2 miles at the time to "keep in shape for soccer" to deciding I was running a marathon.   There were no races, no 5ks, no nothing.  Just me, Team In Training, and some weird desire to run a marathon.  And I "ran" every dang step of that marathon in 4:35, and called my boyfriend Dave to tell him that it was the "best day of my entire life."  Friends, I was finally a runner.

And while a big portion of my blogging friends cannot relate to this, I know some of you can.  Some of you were or are like me.  Slow.  Not really athletic.  Want to be better.

So after that initial marathon, I still just chased the soccer dream.  I didn't enter any 5ks or get serious about running.  I loved my marathon experience, but I was a soccer player.   I didn't start running races until a few years later.  Once I committed myself to racing, I improved.  I saw paces I never thought someone like me could run in my local races.  I started to think I could qualify for Boston based on all of my running times.  I even had some marathon success with marathon #2 and dropped 50 minutes off of my initial marathon time.  And then I started having a lot of marathon bombs.  Some bombs were not my fault (ie. the infamous cancelled Chicago marathon of 2007) and some were totally my fault (ie. not training and then running a marathon thinking I could hold a BQ pace just because....) After 4 marathons in 1 calendar year between 2007-2008 I was done.  I never got the BQ.  I didn't feel I had come close to my potential.  But, I moved on to Ironman and fell in love.

And I hadn't run an open marathon since early 2008 until... I signed up for the Last Chance BQ.2 marathon.  RR Part 2 to come (As if marathons need these huge race reports.  Humor me :)