Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Hills Don't End

From a post on June 24...

"I learned that I love hills (yes, this IS a positive). By the end of the run, I was almost begging for more hills. That's less because I'm good at them and more because you use slightly different muscles when you climb them. But still, they were fun! And they come with a built in "instant gratification" (instant compared with the 2.5 hours it takes to finish a half marathon) --at the top of them, there is relief. "

The hills I was referring to in this post I have demoted from hill status to anthills.  Small anthills, for small ants.  Real hills can be found in Vermont, along Route 100 between Stowe and Okemo Mountain.  

This past weekend, I ran the 100 on 100 Relay Race in Vermont with five of some of my now-closest friends.  We began running at 7am and finished running at 9:32pm, clocking in at 14:32.  Each of us ran three times for distances ranging from 2.5 miles to 8.7 miles (these are the extremes).  All in all, I ran 15.9 miles, 10 of those being uphill.

In case you didn't catch that, 10 of those miles were uphill.  

My last leg, no pun intended, where I ran uphill for 6.7 miles.

Since I made a big deal about my shin problems in my last two posts, I'll go ahead and say that my shin gave me no problems in this race.  I was very worried about it, and while my physical therapist said I would be okay, she didn't have high hopes that I would be able to run for about a week afterward.  Haven't tried to run yet, but walking has not posed any problems so far.

So hills are hills, and they are hard to run up, and they are even harder to run up when you're tired.  I think I did these 6.7 miles in about 1hr 15min.  

We all had hills, though.  You should see the elevation map for Jenny's, our runner 6, first leg of the race, or Arthur's, our runner 2, last leg of the race.  We all had hills.  That's Vermont for you!  
The start of the race, 7am!
So a bit more about this race.  The 100 on 100 is a bit unusual, because it is a 100 mile relay race and most relay races are 200 miles.  The great thing about that is that you get it done in one day, whereas the 200 mile ones last at least 24 hours.  Also, we only had 6 people on our team whereas the 200 mile ones have 12.  

There were 130 teams competing this year, and for a race that is only in it's 5th year of existence, that's pretty awesome.  What's cool about this one is that they have various start times for different teams, depending on your average team pace, and they try to make it so that everyone finishes between 9 and 10pm.  It turns into a "party" for the last few legs since there are so many teams running at the same time.  

I recommend that everyone do a relay race for the following reasons:
At the end of the race!
1) You will get to know the people in your van very well.  This is because you get to see their extremely excited, high-endorphin side post-running, and their groggy, grumpy low-energy side as the fatigue starts to hit before they run again. I think that my team saw a little bit more of the latter than the former from me (sorry team!).

2) You'll kick butt.  There's no way not to kick butt in this.  Chris, our runner 3, had never run more than 6 miles before she did this race, and she ran a total of 15 miles.  15 miles!!  And she was amazing!  Even on her last leg when she had some unexpected hills.  Seriously, you can't not rock this, your adrenaline will be so high with all the cheering from your team and other teams, from the sugar cookies you've been eating the whole day, and from your desire to just be done with running.  In all honesty, if you're even a little bit of a runner, you'll love this kind of race.  When else will running be a team sport?
See? It's pretty.
3) Most relay races that I've read about are set in beautiful areas of the country.  There's one in New Hampshire called Reach the Beach, that goes along the southern end of the state and ends at the coast.  There's also a Reach the Beach in the west, I'm not sure in which state.  There are also several in Colorado.  If you want to find out more, just google "running relay race" and you'll find them.

4) You meet such inspiring people from the area and from around the country.  There was a woman who was running my legs and helped me with the hills by tell me to "go slow and steady, with small baby steps" to get through them.  There was also a 12-person team there called "Cody's Crew" (2 people ran at a time) and they all met on a running website.  The team captain's son Cody died of Neoroblastoma a year and a half ago at the age of 6 1/2 and they have been raising money to go towards research for a cure.  While their mission is serious and the story sad, they are so enthusiastic about the race and so willing to share the story with curious onlookers.  They have a pirate theme and run with a personalized "Cody's Crew" pirate flag.  

5)  It's just fun.  You run, you stretch, you drive, you wait, you cheer your team on, you eat, etc. etc. and then repeat that three times.  Ok, I'll admit it, unless you're a runner that probably doesn't sound like much fun, but just trust me on this one.

Now I'm not saying you should all go out and sign up for a relay now.  I am saying that you should go and visit Vermont because wow it's beautiful this time of the year.  

Thanks to all of the towns along Route 100 that let the race happen, and for the transition space.  Thanks also to the volunteers who made this day run so smoothly.

The race came at the perfect time for me.  I was feeling overwhelmed by the looming marathon date and the loads of training that need to happen and the race helped me to feel ready to tackle the coming month and a half.  

Thank you Jenny, Chris, Arthur, Liz and Carl for running an awesome race this weekend!

What's next for me?  
The Harwich Cranberry Festival half marathon on October 3, 2010.  My Mom will be in town for this so I'll have my first half marathon spectator!!  I'm very excited for this.  
The big day, however, is October 17th, when I will run my first marathon in San Francisco!  I'm still fundraising away and training like it's my job.  

Monday, August 23, 2010

Update: Just Keep Swimming

I decided to keep an email based pain diary, because I know this helps doctors to diagnose properly.  There are a total of three entries.

3:59PM: Ankle; Lower Outside muscle
4:14PM: Lower Calf
4:49PM: Pretty much all over.

Solves that issue!

Just Keep Swimming

My left calf is still one unhappy part of my leg.  Despite my efforts to ice as much as possible, which admittedly could be more, and the painkillers I'm on, the darn thing just won't get better!  I have an appointment with a physical therapist this Wednesday so hopefully they will have some good news for me and will still let me do the relay race this Saturday. 

But on a slightly happier note, I swam on Saturday and not only did my calf not hurt but it felt better afterward.  I have a 3-day pass to a gym that has a pool, and am going today during lunch to swim some laps.  If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that I'm not a great swimmer.  But after two weeks of inactivity, I'm exhausted from all the rest and want to get moving. 

I'm currently reading/have read recently the following:
How to Start Swim Training Without Embarrassing Yourself: this was posted today and the fortuitous timing could not have been better. 
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murukami.  This is a memoir by novelist Haruki Murukami, and as it sounds, he talks about running.  He also talks about writing, but so far, it's mostly running.  Like me, he is not a fast runner, and focuses more on the metaphysical benefits of the activity.
This book has made it that much harder for me to be idle in these past weeks, but has helped with the necessary reevaluation of what running means to me.  I want to be able to do it for the rest of my life and therefore need to take my body seriously now.  I don't want to run myself into the ground (no pun intended).  Swimming will hopefully help with this and give me one more activity, on top of running and spinning, that I enjoy doing.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tendonitis, Muscle Strains, and Fractures, Oh My!

Whoever said that running was pretty was wrong.  Oh wait, no one ever said that.

I've heard it said that it is difficult to get through marathon training injury free, that somewhere along the way you are very likely to do something to yourself to cause some kind of break in training.  That can be anywhere from your average over training muscle strain to full on stress fracture of the foot, the tibia, the hip, what have you. 

Several of my running acquaintances have had said problems.  A former coworker suffered from something with her hip, and forgive me because the details are vague, but I think it was something along the lines of a stress fracture of the hip.  It put her out of running for months on end.  It also caused her to limit her runs to no more than 6 miles every other day.  Her words of the wise were to not run through the pain, to listen to how it feels and stop when you think you need to stop.  This is true for fractures--if you push through the pain, the fracture gets worse and worse. 

I've tried to take the stance that I should learn from others' mistakes as much as I learn from my own and therefore I've been fairly cautious when it comes to my training.  In early April, we had a gorgeous weekend here in Boston for which I had nothing planned, so I did three difficult runs three days in a row.  On the 3rd day, I felt a pain in my outer left calf that didn't go away and made me stop my run and take a week off.  It was clear to me what had happened--I had pushed too hard for too many days without taking a break.  Lesson learned.

Sort of.

Two weekends ago, I had a similar kind of weekend.  I ran 8 miles on Saturday, did a fast 6 miles on Sunday, biked to and from work on Monday and then ran another 5 miles.  On Tuesday, I started to feel a pain in that same spot on my calf, and after it worsened from a spin class on Wednesday, I went to the doctor on Thursday.  To make a long and boring story short yet equally as boring, I'm out of running until next Wednesday.  They don't think it's a fracture and they're not sure that it's not tendonitis, but it is likely that it is a muscle strain. 

To anyone who doesn't run regularly, this might be a relief, a nice excuse to take it easy.  I used to feel that way.  An injury would be the best excuse to be lazy!  But once you get bitten by the running bug, the same one that causes you to lose a bit of your mental capacity and decide that you're going to run over 80 miles in racing in one year, taking a week off from running is awful.

Now there are way worse things in this world and I understand that.  I mean, imagine those places that don't even have a Marathon Sports store at their disposal!  Atrocious. 

A week from tomorrow, I am competing in the 100 on 100 relay race in Vermont.  There are 6 of us on the team and 2 of us are suffering from injuries of some kind.  We've both put ourselves on running leave until the race and I can only hope that any damage done by the race won't be permanent.  My doctor said there was no physical, scientific reason to not run the race so I might as well.  With this half-assed go ahead, I'm prepared with an ice pack, painkillers, icyhot, and a mental rein put on myself to keep from acting on the urge to push myself harder than my poor calf can handle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Not Drowning

That's right, guys, I survived the triathlon.  In fact, I won it!  Nah, just kidding. But I did finish each section, I didn't get kicked in the face by over eager swimmers, I didn't fall off my bike, I only ate one bug while riding the bike (I forgot to not open my mouth), and I ran the running portion a lot faster than I expected and reached a personal best!

Just to bring you down from the elation you are probably experiencing for me right now, this is all after 12 hours of extreme stress and panic about things that could, and did, go wrong.  The night before the race, which is clearly the best time to make sure that your bike is shipshape, I found out that my front tire had a hole in it somewhere and it wasn't keeping air.  This is at about 7:30pm on a Saturday, a time when most bike stores aren't open anymore.  I ended up going to Eastern Mountain Sports in Harvard Square where the nicest man sold me two new relatively inexpensive, light-weight road tires, and then did a quick tune up to my gears. I explained to him that I was so relieved that they were open and able to take some time with me, so close to closing time.  He said that it must be that I'm meant to go to the tri the next day.  I'm not sure that I believe in the whole "meant to be" thing, but after the following morning I'm closer to believing it than ever.

The next morning, after leaving my apartment at 4:45 am and arriving at the race site at 5:45 am, I found out that I was missing a key piece that would keep my front tire on the bike.  Saturday night, I had YouTube'd how to take your front tire off, which I needed to do to fit the bike in my trunk (I'm not a sporting enough cyclist yet to have a bike rack).  There are a surprising number of videos on YouTube on this subject, and I watched a few and felt that I was up to the task.  However, in the process I ended up losing a key piece that would keep my tire on the bike; that is, I was missing the nut that held it all together.

So that morning, after the hour long drive by myself to the race site, during which I had convinced myself that drowning really was a distinct possibility, I arrived to find myself in the above situation.  After talking to several groups of extremely sympathetic but unhelpful ladies who were parked near me, one suggested that I go to the start where there would be a maintenance tent that might have the part.  I bussed it over on the shuttle for onlookers, wheel in one hand and dismembered bike in other, and found the maintenance tent and almost fell to the ground with relief when they said they had the part.  A big thank you goes out to the woman who walked with me to the maintenance tent and carried the wheel while I carried the bike. 

Whew.  And then the work began.

It starts with getting your bib number written on your thighs.  This is the only way that they can take awful pictures of you and credit the photo to you.  I would have been fine with foregoing this part, but I had no say.

This is a heat of women waiting to start.  Note, this is not my heat.  These ladies look much more put together and calm than I remember feeling when I was standing in the water.  There were at least 20 heats, going at an interval of 3-4 minutes.  Mine went right before this one and I'm pretty sure I was passed by most of these people.  I know for a fact that I was passed by my friend Kendra, the one who had convinced me to do the tri.

On intensity: there were women, though not many, swimming with pool noodles.  I may or may not have been passed by one of them.  I'll leave that for you to ponder.

At the start of my heat, I felt pretty good.  The water was tepid, the feet around me weren't thrashing too dangerously, and I was somewhat enjoying myself, despite the painful suctioning of the goggles on my eyes.  What made me nervous was knowing that 50 people were going to be starting 4 minutes later.  About halfway through the swim, I started getting passed by them.  Once I was finally out of the water, the race photographer managed to get a photo of me looking like a 90-year old woman.  Seriously, I had wrinkles.

I did not take this seriously.  My times for transitions were the worst in my heat.  I just...wasn't concerned about it.  Interesting note about the timing for triathlons: you wear a band around your ankle that has a timing chip in it, which is how they know when you start and finish each section.  It's nice because you get to see your individual times for the different portions as well as your times for the transitions.  

I would include a photo of this part except that I don't want to have the copyright police come after me.  But I looked okay on the bike, much, much better than the swim.

This part went really really well.  I had not been on my bike at all before the race.  By at all, I mean it had been about a year.  I trained for this portion by going to Ride classes (spin) at Healthworks Fitness Center.  For about two months prior to the race, I went to a class once or twice a week.  Overall, I felt prepared, except for when it came to shifting gears to go up my first hill.  See, in a year's time, you can forget things like you have to be in a low gear to make it up a hill.  I was in the highest gear possible and ended up running up the hill with my bike.  The rest of the hills were fine and I fixed my mistake :)

Best moment of the ride: I hear someone say "Kristin is that you??" and I look and see Kendra!  We had not been able to meet up prior to the race start so I had yet to see the person who was responsible for getting me to do the triathlon and a proper thanks was due.  


Kendra and I starting the run together

Allow me to refer back to a quote from a previous post. 

 "When you first transition from running to triathlon, it’s best to think of a triathlon as an extended workout. The swim is your warmup, the bike is a good way to dry off from the swim, and THEN you jump into the real race."

I hadn't drowned, I hadn't crashed my bike, and my adrenaline was going.  Really, really going.  My legs were hurting. For some reason, I get very social when I do races, and I ended up turning to a random lady beside me and asked if it's normal for your legs to hurt that much and she said yes, but that it gets better after the first mile. 

My time for this portion of the tri made me extremely happy--I ran the 3 miles at a pace of 8:37.  I don't run that fast, especially not after swimming and biking for the previous hour and fifteen minutes.  I just don't.  But I did.  I part of me questioned if they had my time right, but I guess it makes sense.  The energy at this race was amazing.  Every person there was encouraging and positive, from the participants to the volunteers to the race officiators.  Everyone was great and it was hard to not feel excited and energetic about it.  

I would recommend this race to anyone who feels up to the challenge.  In the swim, I finished 58 out of 61 for my heat.  In the biking section, I finished 30 out of 61.  In the run, I finished 15 out of 61.  The only thing I was in any way prepared for was the run, and it shows in my time.  I plan on doing this race again next year, this time with a little bit more practice swimming and some time on an actual bike beforehand.

Thank you Kendra for the encouragement and convincing me to sign up!!