Saturday, July 25, 2015

Race Recap: Buckeye OWS 1-miler

Yeah. This happened.

Yes, I'm starting my blog with the results... weird, I know.  This is the plaque I was handed as I exited the water.  My first plaque!  I've never actually placed in a race that awarded plaques, so this is kinda special.  My friends all laugh at me when I talk about wanting a plaque.  My friend Erin said hers are all shoved into a box.  This one may end up in a box too, but right now it's sitting on my kitchen counter where I can admire it for the next few days.  

Okay, back to the beginning.  After doing my first triathlon a few weeks ago, I have been itching to do another one.  There is a local one being held tomorrow, but I am not anywhere near in running shape to do a tri.  In fact, I've only ran once since the triathlon, and that was a walk/run that still didn't feel quite "right" with my calf.  So since racing a tri was out, when I saw that Greenswell was putting on an open-water swim (OWS) today at the site of tomorrow's tri, I decided to give it a shot.  OWS's are kind of rare around here, and Antrim Lake (where we swam) isn't even a lake that allows swimming on a typical day.  I've ran by this lake dozens of times on the Olentangy Trail, but never thought I'd get to swim in it.  

Kinda pretty, isn't it?

Well, today was that day!  I actually didn't register until yesterday morning, only to find out that they closed out on all registrations yesterday evening... good thing I didn't wait any longer!

The race offerings were 2-mile, 1-mile, 0.5-mile and 0.25-mile.  I haven't been swimming far lately (most of my swim workouts are at Alum Creek and I usually swim less than a mile there due to time constraints), so I opted for the 1-mile race.  Because this race started a bit later (8:30 AM), I got to join Erin's CXWORX 30-minute core strengthening class at DK Fitness before the race.  Class was great as usual, and I high-tailed it over to Antrim to pick up my t-shirt and swim cap.  Not a lot of time to get nervous, as putting on my wet suit took me a good ten minutes, and after a selfie it was time to get the course instructions and start the race!

The course was a counter-clockwise half-mile loop that we swam twice.  My hubby informed me that Antrim is actually a quarry, so it's super-deep, especially in the middle.  Most of my runner friends were freaked out by the idea of me swimming in it... again, we all run by this lake all the time.  It doesn't smell the greatest, and it isn't exactly clean-looking from shore.   However, the water was really warm (no clue on temperature; I'd guess 74-75 degrees), and very clear once we got started. I positioned myself at the front of the field and at the "go!" we all carefully "ran" into the water!  There are some sharp rocks at the start; in fact a friend cut her foot at the quarter-mile swim today. 

It took me a good quarter-mile or more to really get into this race.  I had a slight bout of panic about 200 meters in, so I did a few strokes of breaststroke to re-sight the buoys and take a long breath.  For some reason, swimming with people all around me really bothers me.  I feel claustrophobic or something, and my breath starts to race.  Once I chilled out a bit, though, things were fine.  I focused on using mostly my arms for the first loop around the course, letting my legs relax and just lightly kick.  I felt my timing band fall off towards the end of the first loop, but I didn't even let this bug me me as I knew there was nothing at all I could do about it!  It wasn't like I was going to stop and start diving down to the bottom to find it LOL!  I figured at the finish I'd tell them my race number and they'd figure things out.

I felt much better on the second loop.  I was very alone... I could see some swimmers ahead of me, but didn't notice any around me.  I like it that way, though!  With around a quarter-mile to go, my triceps were starting to burn so I let my legs take over and started my sprint to the finish.  I felt good at the end--strong!  I knew there were people ahead of me, so I had no expectations upon exiting the water.  Which is why I was fairly shocked when the race director handed me that beautiful little plaque!  So, the truth: two women actually beat me.  One was Tracy H., who runs a local swimming training facility for triathletes (I did the 10,000 yard challenge at her facility in December, and she conducted the OWS clinic prior to the race today).  I have no issues losing to this four-time Ironman athlete!  The actual first place female finisher (who I think beat all of the men as well) was clearly a younger woman who admitted afterward to being "just" a swimmer--I think she was in her 20's and probably a kick-ass collegiate swimmer a few years ago (the Swedish goggles gave it away!).  Again, no problems losing to fast women!  So why did I get the plaque?  The other two women didn't actually register for the race.  Unlike running, where "bandits" are really frowned upon, it's apparently not a huge deal in OWS... or at least it isn't at little races like this one LOL!  So, the first place award was given to me.  

No results yet; Greenswell is famous for not posting until much later in the day or even not until a day or two after an event.  Plus, with my timing band falling off mid-way through the race, I'm not even sure I'll be listed or if my time will be accurate.  I did tell the man running the timing pad computer at the end what my race number was.  The clock read 28:02 when I exited, which if it is accurate, isn't too bad.  A 28:00 mile is 1:45/100 pace.  I'd hoped to go around 27:00, but I went a 29:02 for 1500 meters in the relay last year (1:56/100 pace), so this is definitely an improvement.  The way I look at it: every opportunity to swim in open water in a competition is a chance for me to figure things out a bit more.  I really want to be competitive in triathlons in the coming years... my body has told me that it's better for me to do multiple sports than solely focus on running.  Swimming is easy for me, yes, but swimming (training) in open water is totally different, and racing in open water is another story!  Unfortunately, there are not a lot of OWS races in Ohio.  I did find one in three weeks (options of a 2K-about 1.25 miles--or a 5K--just over 3 miles), but it's a good two-hour drive from here.  Just not sure I want to deal with that.  What I would love to do is the triathlon taking place about 30 minutes north of here in three weeks... but I am working super-hard to be smart.  And smart is not running right now.  I've been doing my PT exercises once or twice a day, and focusing on eating better as well.  I plan on trying to run again in the next day or two, to see how things are.  Hoping that this methodical approach to recovery will result in an injury-free fall/winter/spring etc.!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Race recap: Triathlon for Hope (subtitle: I tri-ed it and I liked it!)

Whenever a running friend discovers that I swam at the collegiate level, the next question invariably is "Do you do triathlons?"  Well, now I can finally answer "Yes!"  Today I competed in the 5th annual Triathlon for Hope at Alum Creek State Park here in central Ohio.  I was part of a triathlon relay last summer (as the swimmer, of course), and I was immediately taken away by the sheer intensity and beauty of this sport.  I knew then that the question of doing a triathlon was not if, but when.  The biggest thing holding me back was the bike portion.  Road and tri bikes are extremely expensive, and while I can ride a bike, I had never done so for more than a few miles just for fun (and it had been years since I even did that).

After my forced running hiatus due to my calf strain-fracture combination injury back in late March, my sweet friend Carolyn offered me the use of her road bike.  I actually didn't take advantage of her kind offer until just five weeks ago. Since then I've logged an estimated 100-120 miles or so total on the bike, with my longest ride being 24 miles.  I'm definitely a newbie still, but I figured why not go ahead and give a tri a try!  This race really appealed to me, as it's all-women and small--a great first-time event, for sure.

I showed up to the race super-early, as I always do for races... in fact, this was the first of two things that I actually "won"--I was the first competitor in the parking lot!  (Bet you're wondering what the second thing is...well, just keep reading!)  I hadn't picked up my race packet ahead of time, so I wanted to get there early and get that taken care of, as well as figure out the transition area.  The day dawned amazingly beautiful.  We've had so many rainy days here in central Ohio, and I was beyond grateful--as were the other athletes!--that no rain was predicted for today.  We were greeted at the beach by this gorgeous sunrise.

You can't ask for better weather!  Well... maybe a bit warmer.   The air temperature was a cool 59 degrees, and due to all of the rain, the water temperature was only 68 degrees. Typically this would be a no-brainer--just wear a wet suit.  But for such a short race, it was a true quandry, again not just for me, but for the other athletes.  The majority of us went without (me included), as it would barely help in such a short race, and taking it off in transition would take too long.

Back to pre-race, though.  I got myself all set up and checked and re-checked my bike and belongings.  
Extremely proud of my set-up here!
I called my friend Erin to get my nerves calmed a bit. I walked the route from the beach to my bike, and from my bike to the "bike out" exit, memorizing how I would get from one place to the next.  I chatted with those whose bikes were racked around mine, and I was super happy to see a couple of familiar faces from my local running group.  

Connie and me, pre-race!
The time came all too quickly when we were ushered from the transition area to the beach start area, 400 yards away. 

Amazing... all of the strong, beautiful women about to race!
Pre-race sun-kissed selfie!
I started to get a teeny bit a lot bit nervous, as my awesome friends Amy and Jess were supposed to be coming to spectate, and I wanted to give them my phone before the race started.  They showed up just after the national anthem was sang, and I was super-happy for my pre-race hugs. 

I was in the second-to-last wave to start, and anxiously watched the other age groups begin their swims.  When at last it was my turn, I made sure I positioned myself at the front of the pack.  It was a water start, meaning we all waded in out to our waists and started after a short countdown.  

I am somewhere out there... maybe. Jess and Amy weren't sure which wave was mine LOL!
And we were off!  The shock of the cold water took my breath away.  I knew this would happen, but I just couldn't settle into this swim.  I dealt with the pack pretty well for the first 50 meters or so, having an overzealous kicker to my left that bothered me a bit until I got out of her wake.  My biggest concern was I just didn't feel like I could calm down enough to get into a good pattern of breathing and sighting.  

This next part is going to make me sound very conceited.  I don't mean to, though... so, I was not expecting to have to contend with many people at the start of my swim. I am a very strong swimmer, and felt that my training pace with Carrie would be more than sufficient to lead the swim based on last year's results.  When, after about 100 meters, there was still several people around me and (gasp!) even a few people in front of me, I was taken aback, and started to feel a bit down.  I immediately got mad at myself for letting these silly thoughts get into my head, and tried to just focus on my own stroke and the yellow buoys at the end of the swim.  I felt strong, but I couldn't relax.  My heart was racing and I honestly was just wanting the swim to end.  So funny, as this is my strongest leg for sure!  I ended up with a split of 7:19.3 for the quarter-mile swim, which wasn't even good enough for top 10 overall, although it would've been the fastest swim split a year ago.  Just goes to show me that you can't really judge a race by last year's results!  

I remembered my friend Jen's husband's advice about the end of the swim, to keep swimming until my hands were grabbing sand.  So even when people around me were walking, I just kept swimming until I touched sand with my fingers.  I then quickly exited the water and took a few slow breaths as I started an easy jog up the beach into the transition area. Sometimes I get dizzy after a swim, so I was cautious but felt good, even though my heart was still racing a mile a minute.  I was able to quickly find my bike and get prepped for stage 2 of the race.  The transition went swimmingly... in fact, this is the other thing that I "won"... I (along with two other women) had the fastest T1 transition times (1:19.5) for the race!  Pretty proud of this, especially for my first tri!  I had mentally rehearsed my transition dozens of times so I knew what to do.  

The bike was the best part of the race for me, hands down. From start to finish, I felt good.  I knew I was biking well without having to push the pace too hard.  I passed a few people, and was passed by more than a few people.  I just felt totally at ease.  This will come as no surprise to my running friends: I met a friend on the bike!  After passing another rider and having her pass me back, we started to talk a bit about the race.  I was so excited when I realized she also didn't clip in (use cycling shoes).  A man who was out on a training ride buzzed by us at one point.  "Wow, I thought that was one fast chick!" I yelled back to her.  We took turns complimenting the other riders on the course--both those who passed us and those who we passed.  Most were very kind in their responses, although I feel like the speedier ones who were whizzing by us were a bit taken aback by our praise.  Again, for me this part of the race was just plain fun. I didn't even mind the huge hill at the end--not too much at least!  It's helped that I've biked this course six or seven times now, so I'm very familiar with it.  My split for the bike stage was 43:49.0, which is about 17 mph--a bit faster than I've ever rode before.  Pretty happy with that!  I was in the top 25 for the bike.  As a few friends have mentioned to me, this isn't too shabby for someone who literally just started to ride, is on a borrowed bike, and doesn't clip in. This is definitely the stage where I have the most room for improvement time-wise, but I loved every part of it anyway.

Getting ready to dismount...
...and almost falling LOL!
The results didn't record a time for T2, but I think was pretty speedy here too, as all I had to do is rack my bike and put my helmet on the ground, as I was already wearing my running shoes.  I headed out of the transition area and felt pretty good. I downed a cup of water as I hadn't taken the time to drink on the ride. 

Grinning for Amy and Jess... and yelling that my butt hurt from the bike!
Within about two-tenths of a mile, I realized that this was going to be a tough run for me.  My calf felt tight.  Super tight.  Tight... like I felt it was going to just pop again.  Not good.  I decided the best thing to do was to simply relax and run.  I knew that pushing the pace could result in another injury, so I did something I've never done in a race: I held back.  I did it out of fear, but also out of preservation.  I knew that if my calf did tear again, I'd be limping the rest of the race.  So I breathed and I prayed.  I prayed a lot!  I asked God to please let my calf not cramp up.  I bargained with Him, promising I'd take off a week, two weeks from running... just to please let me make it through this race!  At times I'd try to go a bit faster, and I immediately would feel the pressure in my leg and pull back again.  It just wasn't my day to run fast, and I needed to realize this.  

I was so happy to see my friend Erin at the half-mile mark of the race.  I knew she was going to try to make it to the race after the class she taught, but I hadn't seen her yet and wasn't sure if she'd found a way to get to the race.  I smiled my best for her, despite the way I was feeling. 

 It was honestly the longest two-mile run of my life.  I was so happy to see the one-mile turn-around at the top of the dam, and even happier to run by Erin again with a half-mile to go. 

 It was very difficult to not push myself for the final stretch of the race.  When I felt a runner passing me with only a few yards to go, I wanted to scream, "I am faster than this!  I just can't risk my stupid calf exploding!" 

I was ever so grateful to see the finish arch and my smiling friends Amy and Jess there to give me hugs again.  My run split was 17:27.8, good enough for 6th overall among all of the runners.  This is a pace (8:43/mile) at which I am able to run quite comfortably during training with my friends, though, so I know I have so much more in me.  

My final overall time for the triathlon was a 1:09:18.  I ended up in 8th place overall out of 150 triathletes, and 4th in my age group.  I was actually only five seconds away from the 2nd place finisher in my age group, who won the AG award (since the top finisher in my AG was 2nd overall).  The woman who whizzed by me at the finish was actually 3rd place in my age group--she beat me by two seconds.  I can't help but play the "what if" game... as in, what if my calf hadn't given me fits... but I know this is a silly game and doesn't help me become stronger mentally or physically.  So I'll just say that I am pleased with the results of my first-ever triathlon. I can't help but want to sign up for another one immediately!  I know what I need to do though, and that isn't to race... it's to rest this dumb calf and continue with my PT exercises to strengthen my glutes.  There is, however, an open-water swim competition in a couple of weeks, and I am probably going to enter this, as I feel it is one area I really can improve on (being comfortable swimming in a big group).  I am going to continue to swim and bike and hopefully get back to running again in a couple of weeks--I've gotta make the most of the final six weeks of summer break!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Race, race, race-ity race!

15 weeks. It's been 15 weeks, or almost 4 months, since I last donned a bib to race.  I've gone longer, yes, but with not getting to race my spring full, and not doing a 5K on the 4th of July as I typically do, for some reason it feels like it's been ages. 

Well, this Saturday that will change!  I won't be wearing a bib, though--rather, a "multi-sport timing band" and body markings.  It's triathlon time, my friends!  Seeing as this is my first tri, I don't have the nervousness that a big race usually brings on.  I honestly have no clue what to expect.  I mean, I know the distances, and I have done the course.  But all bets are off on race day when I'll be swimming, biking and running alongside 200 other women at the Triathlon for Hope. It's a mini-sprint, which just means that it's shorter than a typical sprint tri.  The distances are 0.25-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and 2-mile run.  The swim is just a short lap up the beach at Alum Creek, where I've been doing my open water training swims. 

Sunrise swim--even better than a sunrise run!

 I've been lucky to get there several times over the past couple of weeks.  I love meeting my friend Carrie there; I've known her since we were 9 or 10 years old through age group swimming.  It's great to swim with someone at my pace, as typically most triathletes are weaker in the swim. 

Carrie and me after an early morning swim at Alum

I've done the 12-mile bike loop about five times now (twice yesterday with Carrie!), so I'm pretty comfortable with the route.  It has a nice 5 mile flat stretch in the middle, and a not-so-nice quarter-mile long "grade 6" (whatever that means) hill at mile 10.5.  Yesterday Carrie showed me the run route.  It's actually going to be my first semi-trail race, as the first and last half-mile is on a gravel path. 

It's ironic as I consider myself a seasoned runner, but the run part is what is worrying me the most.  I've kept quiet about this on Facebook, but last Sunday with a just a half-mile left in my 12-mile long run, I strained my left calf muscle.  Yes, the LEFT one, the "good leg".  I felt a twinge deep inside and then a little snap in my soleus muscle on my inner calf.  I knew what it was immediately, and stopped Paige and Andrea. We walked (well, I half-hobbled) up the hill back to the parking lot, all the while with me lamenting about my awful luck.  Lamenting is putting it mildly.  The "f" word was used profusely.  I just don't get it... I barely am recovered from my last strain and now another one???  The annoying thing is that there was no lead-up to this.  There are two things I could possibly pinpoint as signs:  one, my left calf is always really tight after I ride; and two, I'd been feeling "off" in my runs (it would take me forever to warm up, and my easier pace just didn't feel as easy as it used to).  However, while it did take me awhile to feel good during my run last Sunday, my calf was not giving me any trouble at all... which is why the pop I felt was so surprising, and of course upsetting.  

I wasn't planning on going to go to my sports med doctor (why pay a $20 co-pay when you know what is wrong with you and how to treat it?), but decided that if I saw him, he likely would recommend physical therapy.  I needed to see someone who could tell me the reason behind all of these injuries (five in 12 months, as my friend Erin pointed out), and I knew a PT would be the best person to analyze my body and help figure things out.  So, into MaxSports I went last Tuesday, and out I went after 25 minutes with my diagnosis (as expected, an acute calf strain, likely grade 1, which means least severe) and a script for physical therapy.  I was evaluated by a PT at MaxSports Westerville on Wednesday, and met with the resident "runner" PT on Thursday.  My friend Lynn who is a PT as well met with me on Wednesday evening and did a thorough evaluation of how my body is moving and using the different muscles.  The final verdict was agreed upon: I have a weak butt.  That's the short version of the story, but basically, I am not using my glutes when I am running or doing strength work (like squats).  My calves are taking on all of the work, hence the reason why they continue to get injured.  The plan is to do strengthening exercises to activate these never-used muscles, and in doing so, they will start to take over when I am running.  I've been doing these religiously twice a day, and I'm hoping they are doing their job.

Not yet, but hopefully soon!

Meanwhile, I have been taking it very easy with my existing injury.  I took off two days from everything, and then just did some swimming and biking over the past week.  I did run an easy mile after our long ride yesterday, and I felt okay... just okay.  My calf is always tight after I ride, so it was hard to say how the injured leg was doing, but it was at least run-able.  I plan on one more short, easy run this week before my triathlon, and of course swimming and biking.  I know I can muscle through the two-mile run at the end of the tri.  After the race, I will reevaluate things and see where I am at and how I feel. Joe and I have a quick two-day getaway planned next Sunday/Monday, so that will force me to at least rest a bit. 

I can't say I'm not upset about the way things have turned out.  I can't say I didn't hope to run a marathon this fall. Because I did.  I really did.  I knew I could build up to the miles that I needed... the question was, would I have the speed to BQ?  Now I'll never know, because I'm throwing in the towel.  It needs to be thrown in, it does... but it doesn't make it any easier.  If my triathlon goes well, I may schedule another (hopefully longer) one before the end of the summer.  And I'm tentatively thinking of running a half in November with my cousin, pacing her to her PR (which should be a relatively easy pace for me).  But as far as running races goes... I think I'm out til spring, and that hurts.  I am back in the stages of grief again, where I waffle daily between anger and depression.  Swimming and biking just don't give me the same endorphin rush as running does, so while I'm lucky I can do these things, it isn't helping with my frame of mind. 

My thoughts when people say "At least you can swim and bike..."

I honestly didn't mean for this blog entry to turn into a pity party, but I suppose it did.  I am sure that by the time Saturday rolls around I will be ready to push through and enjoy my first tri!  No true goals other than to make it through without mishap (no bike problems, goggle issues, or calf injury, please!).  Race recap will follow :)