Friday, September 27, 2013

Philadelphia Half Marathon: race report

I'm not sure when I decided to fly home and do this race, but three of my closest friends and two of my athletes were running it, so it turned into a "must do" on the race schedule of my life.  And it stands alone as the single race I am signed up for before my next ironman (for now).  

The best parts of the weekend weren't the race.  The best parts were catching up with the friends and family I wanted to see for the 24ish hours I was in DC and the 24ish hours I was in Philadelphia.  The race itself was more of an afterthought.  A couple days before the race, my friend Liz asked, as good friends do, if I wanted to run with her.  A few warm-up miles and then the rest of the race at (her) goal marathon pace.  I snorted in amusement of the crazy thought that I could possible run that fast and shipped the plan over to Sonja, expecting to get shut right down.  She surprised me, as she likes to do, by rubber-stamping the plan with a there's only one way to find out comment that made me say, out loud in public, ACK, and then, oh for fuck's sake when I read her email reply.  I've been dealing with a bit of a "situation" since IMLP that I am refusing to acknowledge in print because I'm all better now, but it means I haven't done much running or biking in the weeks since ironman.  
Still, I had coming down to sea level on my side, plus I was packing about 6000mg of caffeine in the form of FE PreRace & Gu Roctane, plus knowing that it actually wasn't that crazy of a plan if I was in a bit better shape.  And if we were very lucky, we could duplicate one of the more hilarious race photos I've produced, where Liz is bouncing happily along and I am snorting and grunting my way to the finish line.  So why not, indeed?  
The race morning stuff went as it should go (this means I pooped).  I was wearing a new top on race day that I hadn't run in yet (do as I say not as I do) and when I pulled it on and adjusted it around, Liz said, Look, you're the playboy bunny of the half marathon so I did what any woman should do in this situation which is to take a picture and text it to her husband.  I'm sure KompetitiveEdge is thrilled with me right now.
In the defense of the top, it was quite comfortable and I didn't lose a nipple even one time while running.

We warmed up on our way over to the race, and after a fruitless search to find my athletes and an available place to pee, hopped in our corrals and did the hurry up let's go dance that you do when you aren't in corral one (never).  This race still stands as one of my favorite races.  I ran it back in 2011 and I spent the whole day feeling joyful and punching girls in the face with my gut hanging out.  
It was the first real race I had done since struggling with a back/ass injury for the better part of the year, and I crossed every mat and then the finish line feeling strong and happy.  And when we crossed the start line Sunday morning, I felt it again.  Who cares what my training has been like, who cares what my watch says, who cares what everyone is going to run today?  I'm here, and I'm alongside one of my closest friends, and I'm running.  (This photo is the first in a long series entitled oh shit, there's Amy, get your long sleeve untied).
I'm running and we're laughing and in the way of everyone and we're in my city.  I just felt happy.  
I spent the first three miles milking every minute of the pace we were SUPPOSED to be warming up at by constantly putting the brakes on Liz.  The race was crowded, and people were ducking and squeezing and, in one case, two-handedly shoving someone out of the way.  I've missed you, Philadelphia, and all of your honking yelling shoving cussing residents.

Just after the 5K mat, we finally saw a portapotty without a line, and ducked in to take care of our bladders.  For 1:24 (according to Garmin, obviously) I peed like a drunk frat boy, and it was worth every second of the stop.  I also managed to shove down my first gel and some PreRace and then we hauled ass to catch up on the time that we had lost (do as I say but not...).
We reached the "back" part of the first out-and-back, and I started watching bib numbers for my girls that I knew would be coming through.  Liz saw one and I saw another, and they both looked happy, and calm, and steady, and I waved and sent them strong thoughts to carry along as they set off on their days.  And then it was time to start getting work done.

It feels like it's been a long time since I raced, and by race, I don't mean ironman.  I mean race when it hurts, and you have to manage the hurt and dole it out across time.  And I felt, there at mile four, like I've forgotten what that feels like, I've forgotten what mile four of a half marathon is supposed to be doing to my heart rate and my breathing and I kept asking Liz is this too hard or not hard enough? because I couldn't remember.  Going into a race with no idea about what shape I was in, it was an interesting experiment, because the miles kept beeping by and the numbers on my watch meant nothing to me.  Was an 8:29 fine or going to kill me later?  Should I have gone out slower than that first 9:25?  It was all meaningless, which was really good for my head.  I just kept running.  I was focusing on my form and for a little while I was searching for my mom (found her!) and thinking about when I was going to take my second gel and when the flat part of Kelly drive would start feeling more flat.  Liz has much better hip extension than I do. Dammit.
At mile six Liz started to pull away, and I tried to gear down and ride her wheel but I didn't have any more gears down there, in the drafty empty basement where all the runs I was supposed to do in August were.  So I kept her in my sights for another two miles and then lost her in the tangled mess of the Gu aid station.  And from there on out, it was just me, battling with my brain about how much harder I could run.  I wasn't hanging onto the heart rate that I wanted to but I was pushing, and thinking positive, and splits starting with a 9 kept showing up on my watch and, as I told Sonja after the race, I started to get mad at my watch because every time a split would pop up I would say to myself HEY I AM THINKING POSITIVE WHY DOES THAT START WITH A 9?  And she laughed at me, as she should, because thinking positive doesn't always replace a month of holes in the training schedule, but on Sunday morning, I was pretty convinced that it should.
I plugged into my emergency music somewhere before the bridge and then took a Roctane (2x caffeine) around mile nine and THEN slammed another dose of PreRace around mile eleven (basically ensuring that I wouldn't sleep for days).  And then I just tried to latch the blinders down and hang in there.  When I lapped my watch at mile twelve, I did some math at the total time and realized that I was pretty close to the two-hour mark.  The poet gets really cranky with times ending in two or three seconds so I dug into whatever gas I had left to make it under that line, and every time I wanted to slow down I thought of him, and looked at my watch, and that got my ass rolling down and then uphill into the finish.  About as close as I'd ever like to cut it.
For someone who claims to not really love half marathons, I sure do run an awful lot of them.  This one was number thirteen, and to me, it was a perfect day.  I hugged friends at the starting line, I chased Liz for so many miles, I dug hard into my legs, and I crossed the line content.  That's what racing is about, for me, this is why I love to stand on the line.  It's not about always lining up in perfect shape ready to "crush stuff."  It's about chasing joy.  And it wasn't all mine that day, either, both of my athletes PRd, but more importantly, both ran amazing, perfect races and both of THEM finished happy as well.  I couldn't ask for anything more.
Okay, well, maybe just one more thing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Running Reform

If you've been around for a while (sorry), you'll remember that I injured my back/butt/everything in the spring of 2011.
It took several months of pretty intense physical therapy with a good solid dose of gait analysis and strength training to put me back together again.  In July of 2011, Amy and I made a trip out to Active Spine and Sport to see Dr. Kevin Maggs, touted by our running coach as being one of the smartest gait analysis docs around.  I posted about my visit, but it was some running on video, an exam, and then a few exercises to keep me growing stronger in the right places (some of which I still do today).  One of the biggest problems with my gait at that point was that I was leaving my leg too far out in front of me at footstrike - overstriding - landing with a straight leg and a locked knee, which was letting my heel absorb a lot of the ground impact and causing me to be crabby about not being able to run very much or often.  I did a lot of work that summer to retrain my body - mainly to let my foot land closer to the center of my body instead of way out in front, but I also did a lot of glute activation work (this is also still part of my strength training).  Over the past two years, I have been mostly injury-free.  I had a big whoops with some new shoes that I got into too quickly, and I've had a few niggles to work out here and there, but I've gotten through two ironman races, a handful of half-ironman races, a marathon, and thirteen half marathons since then without my broken ass reappearing to haunt me.  
Since then, Dr. Maggs has started a company called Running Reform, and the point of it is that you don't have to drive all the way to Gainesville, VA (so much traffic on 66) to have him gait analyze you.  I haven't yet found a PT in Colorado that I trust and it seemed like a good time for a check-up (post-ironman fallout), so I signed up.  The process was easy - I think the hardest part was dragging the poet out to the street to videotape me running back and forth on the sidewalk.
There's a short video to watch on the website that tells you how to make your videos (which I did not watch which is why my shirt is hanging out, but really, you should watch it).  Uploading them only took a few minutes, and then I was able to pick out a time slot for my consultation.  The time slot has to be further away than three days, to give Dr. Maggs the chance to review your videos and, if needed, send you additional videotaping homework.  When you upload your videos, you fill out a short form and one of the questions is whether you are getting a gait analysis in the interest of injury or performance.  Since I haven't been struggling with injury lately (knocks on wood throws salt over shoulder sends a short prayer to running gods), I chose performance.  
The first thing Dr. Maggs asked me to do after reviewing my videos was a test of my ankle dorsiflexion.  He does this through Running Reform by sending you a short video, you watch it and either videotape yourself doing the test or simply do the test and send him the results.  It was a simple test (that I found out later, I massively failed).

When we met for our consultation, the first thing we talked about was gait analysis for performance rather than injury prevention.  In discussing mechanics are related to performance, the idea is to find out if there are any mechanical factors that may be limiting performance - understanding that there are other factors outside of gait to be considered separately as well.  Speed of running is determined by cadence multiplied by stride length.  My cadence has always behaved pretty well, landing in the 180ish "sweet spot" of cadence.  So we took a look at stride length.  Here I am being compared to some professional triathletes racing a half-ironman, all of them with thinner thighs than I (this was a pretty serious blow to my ego, thanks Dr. Maggs):
So, my stride length kind of sucks.  Or, to be more accurate, the hip extension of my trailing leg is...not happening.  A short stride (stride being described as "how far you fly" which I love) means that I can't produce as much force when my foot pushes off the ground.  There could be a few reasons for that, but as we worked through them (ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion testing), he was able to pinpoint my crappy ankle dorsiflexion as the likely cause of my short stride (ankle dorsiflexion tester guy also has thinner thighs).
So how do I fix it?  A few ways.  Dr. Maggs gave me some ankle stretches to do that will (hopefully) increase my dorsiflexion.  He also gave me some very specific drills and workouts to include in my training for the translation & activation piece.  When I was first hurt back in 2011, everyone could tell me that I needed to make my glutes stronger, but it wasn't until I went through gait analysis with him that I finally learned how to activate my glutes while running - the second piece of the "fixing my gait" puzzle.  

And finally, just for fun, instead of comparing me to pros with 2% body fat, he compared 2013 me with 2011 me.  Mostly small changes, but with great effect (shorter hair, better posture, same thighs).
If you live in a town where you don't have good access to these kinds of resources, I can strongly recommend going through this process with Running Reform.  Even if you do have access to a lot of resources, it can be pretty difficult to wade through everyone that is available to find someone who really knows what they are talking about in regard to endurance athletes & runners (please see: my ongoing search for a physical therapist in Boulder, which I did not anticipate to be nearly as difficult as it has been).  I left our consultation with a brain overflowing with information about how to become a stronger and faster runner, and I'm now a firm fan of the gait analysis check-up, because even though nothing is technically "wrong" with me right now (and there's a loaded statement), I was still able to get a good list of items to work on so my run can move forward.  Plus, Dr. Maggs is smart and awesome and didn't mind the millions of little questions that I peppered him with throughout (and after) our session.  AND he told me that I looked like a runner that was probably mostly injury-free, which is always nice to hear even if my butt does stick pretty far out the back.  

Monday, September 16, 2013


I actually have some posts in the pressure-cooker of my brain right now, but since Boulder has taken over the news in the past week, I feel like I'd be an enormous jackass to hit publish on a half marathon post without acknowledging what has been happening in my home.

We've lived here less than a year, but I'm fairly confident that we will live here for the rest of our lives (and now that I've said it in print, I'm sure the universe will conk me on the head with change at some point).  We are in love with Boulder.  We are in love with Longmont, in love with our little house that we are gradually painting blue instead of the yellow walls it came with, in love with these mountains and these roads.  In love with our lives here, in a way that we never experienced in DC.  And I'm almost ashamed to say that, in this disaster, we got lucky.  Very lucky.  The neighborhood next to us is one that you see in some of the aerial pictures that are being passed around online, showing flooding over front porches and halfway up garage doors.  Roads less than two miles away have been closed, I have friends with homes that have been destroyed, friends that are temporarily trapped in their homes because there is literally no way out.  

It hurts my heart to look at photos attached to online news, and I know I shouldn't look, but I can't look away.  Just like hundreds of other athletes that live here, I spent all spring and summer riding up and down mountains and all over the counties surrounding Boulder, I've refilled my bottles at the corner store that no longer exists, I've ground up the many miles to mountains town that have been washed away, I've planned long Saturday adventures on two wheels that I won't be able to ride again for a long time, if ever.

And our house stands.  Dry.  All of our grass will probably die and the backyard smells pretty funky, but we have been incredibly lucky.  I won't stop saying it.  Lucky.  Fortunate.  We are grateful.  We're going to do what we can to help with the aftermath of the storms, but I wanted to take a moment.  To pause.  To recognize what is going on, what has happened, and to be thankful that we are able to extend our hands to help others instead of be asking for help of our own, this time around.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Without Limits 2.4 mile OWS: race report

By a mean trick of the calendar, the poet ended up signed up for two races over Labor Day weekend, so I wasn't looking to add any to the schedule.  But on Thursday afternoon, Melissa mentioned to me that there was an open water swim race at the reservoir on Saturday morning, starting about two hours before the poet's sprint was starting in the same location.  So a quick email to Sonja, complete with begging Bambi eyes, and I was in.  I love swimming.
It was lovely to roll out of bed about 15 minutes before I needed to show up to register, and there was a pretty short line so it didn't take long.  The website advertised chip timing but when we checked in, all the volunteers seemed mystified so no chip timing it was.  
I shook all the remnants of Mirror Lake out of my wetsuit and climbed in.  OWS races at the reservoir have a small roped-off area for warm-ups in the shape of a circle, and I am amused every time I see it. Lots of athletes circle-swimming in a tiny whirlpool.  I waded in, did a few laps around using only my left arm, and climbed back out.
The 2.4 mile swim was going off first (there was also a 1.2 version) so I smooched the poet goodbye and squeaked on over.  We had a bet going for Saturday's race on what would be faster: my 2.4 mile OWS or the poet's 17.3 mile bike leg of his sprint triathlon, so I was revving myself up for a big hard swim when I noticed that I was standing next to the guy who leads my lane at masters.  He did IM Canada the weekend before, so I was surprised to see him, but when I asked him why he wasn't at home covered in donuts, he said, "I just love swimming."  I completely understand.
When the buzzer went off, I made the split-second decision to abandon my "swim really hard and fast" plan and switch instead to the "swim 2.4 miles on Mike's feet" plan.  I've been swimming on his feet 2-3 times a week for the past six months, and I know that he's just enough stronger than me that I can hang.
An open water swim race is relatively boring to recap, but it was lovely.  It was a two-loop course and I wasn't wearing a watch.  I did learn that I have zero ability to swim in a straight line as I kept getting dropped off Mike's feet and having to paddle around to find them again, but other than that, it was unremarkable.  It felt like a pretty solid effort, a bit harder than how the swim feels when a bike comes after it, but also certainly manageable.  And every time I breathed, I was either looking at the mountains or the sunrise.  I felt peaceful, blessed even, happy just to be in the water, doing what I love in my own backyard.  I had the thought several times that there was no place in the world I would have rather been then in the water, watching the sunrise, chasing big ol' feet.  (I'm the second swimmer with the terrible head position and inability to sight properly).
There was a funky little turn at the end of the second lap and then we were headed to the blow-up arch that means you're done.  I swam until the water was about six inches deep, and then stood up and tripped my way through the finish.  The first thing I did was thank Mike (and his feet) for dragging me around.  He laughed and said that at every turn buoy, he looked back and there I was!

I wasn't wearing a watch and there was no clock at the finish, but the poet said he thought I swam "somewhere around an hour."  I was pretty thrilled when the final results were posted.
I broke an hour (59:51) and was the sixth female (out of way more than six).  I'll take that any day.

I drove home and hopped on my bike to ride back and spectate the sprint triathlon.  The poet had a ridiculous day full of PRs, but he might drop in to recap it later this week so I won't spoil the surprise.  
Oh!  Puppies say hi.