Sunday, August 30, 2015

Aches and pains check-in, and a swan song

A swan and his goose friends at the park where I start my runs.
I've been MIA these last few days because I needed a bit of a mental break after Michigan Titanium. I've also been busy with family stuff and trying to catch up with all the things in life that get pushed to the back burner when you're training 11-15 hours a week.

My SI joint has been OK. I have been running shorter and slower, and it has been holding up with a bit of tightness but no real pain. I noticed when I wear my newest shoes, which I have been running in since Christmas (BAD!), I have the most pain. So I'm rotating them out, have ordered another pair, and am using my next-newest for the time being. I really think the pain is a combination of ramping up running miles, not doing any stretching (again, BAD!), and running in the same shoes for too long.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about my marathon in 7 weeks (EEEEEEK!). Right now the plan is for a slow re-build, a short taper, and hoping for the best. I also might have a second-chance marathon fit perfectly into a January vacation, but we'll see. I did 10 today, which I figured was a safe middle ground between ramping up too fast again and losing fitness. Plus, it started downpouring at 9.5, so 10 it was.

I really shouldn't even be thinking about monthly mileage totals right now, but when I added it up a few days ago and saw I was in the 80s, I decided I wanted to try to hit 100 at least. As long as I get a 4-miler in tomorrow, I'll do it -- slowly, but it'll be done.

So, swans! The park where I begin most of my after-work runs from has a lake full of geese, ducks and a few swans. Lately I noticed that there is one swan that hangs out with a flock of geese. Then I found out that swans mate for life, and I got really sad. =(
"Hey guys, will you be my friends? Guys?" =(
I talked to my mom, the bird whisperer, and she said that if a swan's mate dies they'll try to get in with another flock. Then I started Googling, and turned up a bunch of stories about swans dying of broken hearts after their mates die, and before long I was sobbing at my desk. I even emailed the park department (prefacing my email with "I'm not a crazy person...") so they were aware of the situation and to ask if there was anything residents could do.

After work that day, I was on a swan mission. I found the goose-befriending swan in his usual routine, strolling around the park. But this time I walked down to the lake and spotted another one! So, maybe his mate did NOT die, and they just prefer to spend their days apart, or maybe they don't like each other's friends (ha).
One with his flock of geese, and another swimming with some ducks.
At the very least, he has another swan friend to hang out with. Yay! I know this makes me sound like a bleeding-heart hippie animal lover, and I really am, but I see these birds every day and it makes me feel much better to find out that Mr. Swan may not be a widower after all.

Now that I feel better about the swan issue, it's time to go stretch my hips for the 50th time this week and work on that SI joint. Hopefully stretching and slowing down will do the trick.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday-evening quarterbacking and post-race thoughts about Michigan Titanium

Just going over the numbers.
It's two days after my aborted second 70.3 attempt, and of course I've been doing a lot of thinking about my performance.

First thing’s first: I solved the bike time mystery. I wrote last year’s splits on my thigh in permanent marker, covered by my shorts so I could check them if I was feeling good but ignore them if I wasn’t. Comparing last year’s time to this year’s time, I didn’t think I was on track for a PR. But when I looked at my Garmin, my average speed was 0.3 mph higher than last year. I was confused.

As it turns out, I’d had the wrong time for last year. I’d written 4:38 and change, which is very slow even for me! I assumed I was off by an hour and it should have been 3:38. But as it turns out, the 4:38 was the total race time to that point, not the bike time off by an hour. My bike time last year had actually been 3:46 and change. Since last year’s 48-minute swim and 5-minute transition adds up to less than an hour, I got the discrepancy when I subtracted an hour.

All that is a very long explanation to say that I WAS actually on pace for a PR. Assuming I could have held a pace of 15 mph, 4 minutes per mile, and with 3.11 miles to go, I probably would have come in right at 3:41. It’s still a long, long, LONG way from blazin’ fast, but five minutes off last year’s time is nothing to sneeze at. Hey! I feel much less depressed about it now.

I also compared swims from last year and this year. While my time was only 21 seconds faster (48:00 to 47:39), I had better placing across all categories:
Last year, I was 189/246 OA (top 77%), 68/97 women (top 70%), and 7/10 AG (top 70%).
This year, I was 198/293 OA (top 68%), 56/94 women (top 60%), and 7/12 AG (top 58%).
(I just divided my place by the number of finishers in each category for purpose of comparison.)

So there were more faster people than me this year, but there were even more slower people than me. I’m not sure if this means that more slow swimmers are doing triathlon, or if everyone was having trouble with sighting around the free-floating buoys and fighting through the waves on the final leg, and I just had less trouble compared to the rest of the field.

I do feel better about my performance after crunching the numbers. Maybe, just maybe, all that time in the water is giving me confidence to swim stronger even if I can’t swim in a straight line. If I keep moving up 10% in the standings each year, I’ll be first out of the water by 2020 or so. =)

Of course I'm still bummed about the race being canceled, but knowing that I was actually doing relatively well is a comfort. Maybe enough to sign up for another one some day. Some day far, far down the road.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Race report: Michigan Titanium 54.1 aquabike =(

I felt OK taking this since it says "Aquabike" on it.
What a weekend. I was hoping to write up a wonderful race report about how I PR'd every split and had an amazing race but, alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Instead, I had an OK swim and got to almost mile 53 of the bike before lightning started. The storm stuck around long enough that the race was canceled. The directors made the right call, of course, but it was so disappointing.

Final prep and pre-race

I had to work a half-day Thursday but ran a bunch of last-minute errands, including buying Gu, and fit in a doctor appointment. My hip/SI joint/lower back was still bothering me, so the only training I did was some stretching. (I had missed what was to be my last pool swim for the Great Garage Door Adventure.)

I talked about Friday and Saturday in my last post, but boils down it to getting in one last short ride and run even after my tire pump broke in my hands, heading to Grand Rapids, a practice swim, and the usual drive the course/athlete meeting/last-minute stuff. When I left off last post, it was time to try to go to sleep Saturday night.

Well, that didn't really happen. I was exhausted, so I did fall asleep, but my butterflies didn't let me sleep for long. I spent most of the night lying there, just being nervous. Ugh. I wasn't feeling great about the day. But I got up, ate as many potatoes and drank as much coffee as I could, double-checked everything, and headed for the shuttle. We were at the park in no time and I headed to transition (while my husband headed to McDonald's for an egg mcmuffin) to finish setting up.

First off, the guy assigned to the spot next to me tried to mansplain how to rack my bike. Are you kidding me? I was way too nervous for a feminist rant so I just said something like, "My tag says the front wheel goes this way" and ignored him. I pumped my tires -- new pump, remember? -- and I couldn't get the damn pump off the front wheel. I struggled with it until finally it came off, THE TIP OF THE VALVE WITH IT. Oh no, not this, not now. After an internal freakout, I realized the air was staying in the tire. I finished setting up, watched the full racers take off, and went back to check on it right before transition closed. The tire was still full. I decided there was nothing I could do now, crossed my fingers, and headed to the beach for good.

I'm not sure why, but they didn't let us do a warmup swim this year. My mantra of the day was "Race the mile you're in" and I repeated that to myself in my head. Struggled into my wetsuit, made sure I had everything, kissed the husband goodbye, and headed down. I knew the chances of me panicking were less if I got in the water and splashed around first, so I darted off to the right to squeeze in as many warm-up strokes as I could before the countdown. I stayed off to the side and to the rear. "Here we go," I thought.

The swim

And we were off. This year's course was an elongated triangle, with a short second leg. They had warned us that the sight buoys were free-floating in the lake and to keep the anchored triangle turn buoys in sight. Easier said than done, considering I'm half-blind and they were a half mile away. But I focused on one buoy at a time, swimming strong. I got clear water after the first few minutes, after the faster swimmers put some distance between us. I was sighting pretty often, every five strokes or so, but I figured the extra time sighting would make up for getting lost in the lake. "One buoy at a time. Race the mile you're in," I kept thinking.

Around the first turn buoy with no incident. Sighted to the second and around that one too. I got foot cramps a couple of times, but I'd just try to swim with my arms and flex my feet. It was painful, but they eventually went away. After I made the second turn, I started passing a lot of men from the wave before and slower full swimmers on their second lap. I was honestly surprised -- I am not usually the person passing other swimmers. The wind was starting to pick up and it was blowing me a bit off course. I tried a sharp turn back on course but got a wave full in the face -- it hit me so hard I thought a jet ski had just gone by to rescue another swimmer. I randomly found myself on the other side of the sight buoys. Really??? I passed more people -- I guess everyone was having a hard time navigating the waves. It seemed like I had to adjust every time I looked up. I saw the beach. Closer and closer. Adjust. Touched bottom and stood up. One leg down.

Final time: 47:39

Ugh. I know this would have been faster if I would have been able to swim in a straight damn line. It's 21 seconds faster than last year, so I'll take the PR, but I know I was capable of better.

T1: 3:47

I used the wetsuit strippers this year and it worked beautifully. Dry off; headband, helmet and glasses on; jersey on; shoes and socks on; Garmin and gloves on; quick spray of sunscreen; and I'm off. I should note that mansplainer was still there -- I guess you don't know everything, do you, buddy? My time was almost a full minute faster than last year, so I can't be mad about that.

The bike

I hit the mount line and was off. My front tire seemed to be OK. I headed up the main road away from the park, and then on to the country roads. The first thing I noticed was the road surface, chip seal. Not conducive to fast riding! I felt every bump. Oh well -- everyone was suffering along with me. The course was not closed to traffic so I tried to stay over to the right as best as I could. I'm slow, so I got passed a lot, but this time I thought, "I swam faster than you, and I swam faster than you, and you and you," every time I got passed. It put me in better spirits, whether or not it was true. We hit some decent hills (for Michigan) on the way out so I was crawling along. The wind was also blowing pretty good.

I had taken Gatorade coming out of transition and I wanted to front-load some solid calories, so I took a Larabar at about mile 5 and a That's It bar (dehydrated fruit) at about 15. Up hills, down hills, passing farmland, passed by faster racers. My stomach started not feeling so great. I tried to ride in aero, but it cramped up by my ribcage. I couldn't even breathe deeply. Gatorade and even water made it worse. OK, this isn't good. Do I need to find a port-o-potty? I remember hearing advice that if you feel crappy and are eating, stop; if you aren't, start. I stopped trying to put anything down. Hills, people cheering, some beautiful country scenery, cows. (Yes, I mooed at some.) There was TONS of roadkill. The middle section was pretty flat and I made up a bit of speed (relatively speaking). Finally, the turnaround. A few zigs and zags and we were on the final straightaway back into town.

Side note: On the last big hill, I put my head down and just spun and spun. The next thing I know, I'm riding RIGHT OVER THE SANDBAG keeping a temporary road sign anchored. I screamed an obscenity and the person in front of me looked back to make sure I wasn't dead. How incredibly lucky I am that I hit the sandbag and not the metal bar. Kids: Always watch where you are going. I definitely learned my lesson on that one.

I noticed around mile 40 that the clouds were moving in. By 45 it was getting dark. By 50 I was getting a few sprinkles. "I better hustle," I thought. "If it starts raining I want to at least back to T2." The special needs station for the full distance bikers was up ahead. As I got closer I noticed a volunteer in an orange vest waving me down. "Pull over! Lightning!" he called out.

Crap. By my Garmin, I was at mile 52.89. So close!

There was a pretty big group of a couple dozen of us, with more trickling in, and we tried to make the best of it. I chatted with someone who lives near where I grew up, tried a bite of someone's gluten-free pop tart from her special needs bag, and just generally commiserated. We got word that we were 5 minutes away from restarting as long as there was no more lightning. Just then, there was a HUGE flash and a kaboom of thunder. 50-75 grown adults collectively groaned, "Awwwwww."

We all knew then our race was over. The official word came a few minutes later. We hustled across the street to a church, where we called for rides. Since my husband was near the start/finish line and I'd have to track him down anyway, I asked him to come get me. We loaded up my bike. It was done.

Unofficial time: By my Garmin, I completed 52.89 miles in in 3:28:37. This wouldn't have been a PR, but the average mph is slightly faster than my final mph average from last year, so I'm not sure how that works. Anyway, I guess we'll never know.

I gathered my swim and run stuff from transition -- my run shoes had standing water in them and everything was completely soaked -- and got a medal anyway. A young girl, no older than 13, said to me "Good job." "Yeah, I wish," I joked. She got a bit serious: "No, really. You did good." Aw, thanks, kiddo. After that we headed back to my friend's house so I could shower, eat leftover pizza, pack up and head out of town early. There was no reason to stay.

One thing I realized after the fact was how my priorities changed during the race. First I was worried about my back. Then my tire. Then not barfing. Then the storm. The things I thought would take me out ended up being non-issues, and new issues kept popping up. It just goes to show how you can't plan nor expect anything on race day.

So, what next? By the time the race was called, I was pretty over it. Last year I felt I had one more sprint race in me, but this year I'm just done. I'm frustrated that I am making such small improvements in the swim and bike. I feel like I need a mental break. Plus, I really need to get my running back in gear, considering I haven't had decent mileage in weeks.

I took today completely off and am going to try for an easy run tomorrow. I am hoping that my back issue is better, with all the intentional and unintentional rest. My season isn't over yet and I still have some work to do.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The ride that almost wasn't, part 2, and ... it's almost race day!!!

Just what I needed two days before race day.
It's been a wild few days! After errands and dropping the dogs off with my parents Friday morning, I wanted to fit in one last bike ride and easy brick run. I took my bike out to the park, went to pump up my tires, and found that all the air was hissing out immediately. I tried to take a closer look and the pump broke into two pieces in my hands.

Great timing, huh. Plus, this happened at the same park where I almost got rained out and then got a flat. I think it's cursed!

I drove around a bit looking for cyclists from whom I could borrow a pump, but no such luck. I had resigned myself to driving out to a bike shop and buying a new pump, but I remembered at the last minute that there was bike fix-it station at the next park up. Yes!
Thank you, fix-it station!
I got pumped up and headed back to the first park. After two laps without further incident, I decided to quit while I was ahead at 11 miles. A quick 0.5-mile run, with only a bit of back pain, and again I decided to quit while I was ahead and head home. I had just wanted to keep the legs warm, anyway.

After spending way too much time cleaning the condo, loading the car and trying to figure out how to put my bike rack on my new car, we were finally on the road to Grand Rapids. We're staying with a friend of the family again and very conveniently close to the race start and finish. We did a bit of bar hopping last night, and today I got up early-ish for the practice swim (I got totally lost in the lake and finally gave up and headed to shore. Hopefully this is not an omen), athlete meeting, the sporting goods store to buy a new bike pump, and bike drop off.
Sleep well, Cesar. I'll see you in the morning.
After that we drove the course -- lots of hills, eeeek! -- and headed to a cider mill where I ate way too much pizza for dinner and drank many delicious kinds of cider. Somehow, I managed to get all packed up and pretty much ready to go. I've got potatoes pre-microwaved and ready to be warmed up, the coffee pot set to brew, and notes reminding me to get my water bottles out of the freezer and wetsuit out of the shower.

My husband asked me yesterday which part of the race I'm most worried about. I'm "meh" about the swim; I know I'll do OK, especially after today's practice swim. I just want to go faster than last year. Same with the bike: I know the hills won't be fun, but I did them last year OK, and I'm in a bit better shape now. So I just want to go a bit faster. As far as the run, I am a bit worried about my back. It feels fine today, but will it hold up for 13.1 miles? I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

It's finally here! Now to try to get some sleep.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A comedy of errors: The Swim that Wasn’t

Those metal pieces are supposed to be attached to your garage door.
I was ready to throw in the towel for this day by 6:30 a.m.

I was woken up just past midnight by a huge clap of thunder, followed almost immediately by my lab mix trying to climb in bed with me. She can’t lie next to me, she has to lie on top of me – all 55 pounds of her – and bury her head in the pillow to escape the scary lights and sounds. After about a half hour of her fidgeting I finally got her to cuddle next to me while I rubbed her belly. Of course, the storm had passed by then. Also of course, my other dog got jealous and had to jump into my side of the bed, too.

After a few more hours of sleep my alarm went off at 4:35 a.m. “Ugh,” I thought. “I’m so tired. I think I’ll skip today.” Followed by, “No! You can’t skip today, it’s your last pool swim of the season! Get up! You’re only working a half-day today, you can nap later.” I got up, had a snack, got ready for the pool, and headed out just after 5 a.m.

I got in my car and hit the garage door button. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. I got out and took a look. The metal frame that attaches to the door had sheared off the actual door, so while the motor pulley was working, there was nothing attached to it to pull.

Crap.

I went back upstairs to wake up my husband. He dutifully got the ladder and power driver and tried to re-attach the frame to the door. It immediately flew off again. By this time, another resident had come down to the garage to get to work early. The three of us used brute force to push it up and open, and stuck a 2 by 4 in the frame. Success! Now we could all leave for work.

Nothing a 2 x 4 can't fix.
Sadly, this took a good hour. If I left right then, I’d be getting to the pool just in time to get out and shower. Sigh. I headed upstairs, made coffee, took a quick shower in my own bathroom, and headed into work.

On the plus side, I was 10 minutes early, for the first time, like, ever.

I'm bummed I missed what was supposed to be my last pool swim of the season. And I'm especially bummed that I was delayed with something other than extra sleep.

2.5 days until race day -- one last pool swim or no.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My first run back in almost a week and I didn't die

Not bad for almost a week off.
After not running for six days, today was the day to see if the rest had done anything good for my cranky low back/hip/SI joint.

To be honest, I was a little nervous. What if it still hurt? So I procrastinated, fueled smartly with a half a family-sized bag of potato chips, and headed out between rain storms.

And it was OK. The area got a little more cranky as I kept running, but I never felt like I had to alter my gait and I was never in pain. I kept a decent-for-me easy run pace, about as much as I could hope for after most of the week off. I'm walking around OK later this evening, but the true test will be how I feel tomorrow, I think.

I've spent the last few days stretching my hips and lower back and doing some movements I found on a random yet very helpful Canadian dance site. (I danced ballet for 10 years as a kid so this brought back fond memories!) If anything, this has taught me that I NEED TO STRETCH. I am very bad at putting off stretching and these last weeks and months I ramped up my mileage and not my stretching. BAD, BAD, BAD. Assuming I can get back to normal soon, I will be building stretching and yoga time into my weekly routine, no exceptions -- even if it means cutting short a run or two.

Fingers crossed that I am better by race day. Less than four days and counting.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The thing about 70.3 training I will miss LEAST

Zero dark thirty.
I'd be happy if I never again had to set an alarm for a time beginning with 4 in the a.m.

This is the last week of 70.3 training which, in theory, means that if I never want to wake up early to get on the trainer or in the pool again, I don't have to.

Two more early wake ups to go, but who's counting?

I actually had a really good swim this morning. Usually Tuesday swims are painfully slow, but I felt like I was zooming, pulling myself through the water faster than ever. I think I managed a 200 with a Phelpsian pace of 1:52/100. Sports companies who want to sponsor me: Take a number, please.

I'm giving my lower back one more day of rest before trying to run tomorrow. Until then, it's swim, bike, yoga, rest, freak out about race day in LESS THAN FIVE DAYS. Eeeek!