Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jim McDonnell Lake Swims 2 mile race report

Sunday marked my second open water swim of the season and the longest one I have done in a while. Several years ago I was very involved in Masters swimming and spent a summer doing as many open water swims as possible. Last week I did some searching to try and find one of my old two mile times, just to have a reference point, but they seemed to have been erased from the Internet. 2005 was a LONG time ago.

The morning got off to a not-so-great start when I woke up, looked over at my alarm clock and saw that it said 6:15, which just so happened to be the time I was planning to leave for the race! Apparently although I had set my alarm for 5:30 the night before, I had neglected to actually turn it out. I jumped out of bed and got ready in about 10 minutes. Fortunately, I tend to arrive way too early for most races, so getting out the door at 6:30 got me there right on time.

I was asked at check-in if I knew that wetsuits weren’t allowed because of high water temperatures, but since I wasn’t planning to wear one anyway I just nodded and kept going. I had my chip and was body-marked by about 7:10, so since I had time to kill I decided to jump in the pool for a brief warm up. Was this really necessary? Probably not, but it seemed to make sense at the time. Of course I remembered after getting the pool that I hadn’t put on any sunscreen yet (one victim of my late wake-up/dash out the door). So after swimming about 400 yards, I got out and attempted to dry myself off before applying sunscreen. I imagine that I was just damp enough that it didn’t stick at all, but at least I tried!

Then it was time to line up in waves and get the race started. It was at this point that I finally saw Victoria, and caught a glimpse of Beth behind me (someone was a little off with her seed time). Victoria and I were in the second wave, so as soon as the race started we were headed down into the water and got going shortly after. I don’t have too much experience with dealing with mass open water starts and I also see no need to sprint at the beginning of (what I consider) a long race, so I was pretty much at the back of the pack when we got going. I got bumped a few time,s but nothing violent and soon settled into a decent rhythm. When we got to the first turn, I noticed Victoria slightly ahead of me. We maintained this same position for most of the race. Sometimes I was close enough to gain some benefiting by drafting, other times I could just see her ahead of me.

I spent the first lap getting a good idea of the course. I had looked at the map, but it’s obviously a whole lot different when you’re at water level and trying to see the next buoy. After the second turn there was a long straight away back to the start and I definitely went way too wide the first time around the course. I couldn’t see any buoys for reference and only had a general idea that I needed to head back towards the shoreline in the distance. Once I got a bit closer I could see the weird grated structure that served as the third turn buoy and aimed myself that way.

As I passed the start/finish and headed out to begin loop number two, I was definitely questioning my decision to sign up for this race instead of the mile. It’s not like I’m training for an Ironman and needed any kind of long swim practice! I also attempted to see the clock at the point, but couldn't, so I have no idea how well I paced the two laps. I felt comfortable as I started the second loop and decided that I would hold steady until I made the second turn and would then attempt to pick up the pace on the long straight away back to the finish. About halfway through the second loop, Victoria decided that she was tired of me just hanging out behind her and dropped back to draft on my feet. I figured that she probably knew that I had been just behind her for most of the race and when she did that I knew for sure! All’s fair in open water swimming. :)

Finally I made that second turn and headed back towards the start. I tried to pick up my kick and increase my arm speed, though I have no idea if I was actually successful in picking up the pace. I knew from the first time around that I could swim a lot closer to the middle of the lake than I would have thought, so I really tried to keep that line back and avoid adding extra distance by getting closer to shore. Then I was making the last turn around the weird grate structure and tried to kick it in to the finish. When my hands hit the bottom I was up and running to the timing mat.

Final time – 56:32, 1st in AG, 16th woman, 43rd overall

It is very rare that I even place in my AG group, so I was very happy with the win! Once again I lost the showdown with Beth, but I was closer this time! Only 30 seconds instead of 50. Progress. I had been thinking before the race that I should be able to break 55 for two miles, but given that we both finished similarly again, I think I did the best that I could on this course. While Victoria and I both walked away with medals, sadly for Beth she is a part of a young, fast age group!


I really enjoyed this race and hope that I can do it again next year. Maybe I will even attempt the Sunday double (2 mile and 1 mile) or the whole Triple Dip (those two races plus the 5k on Saturday)!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kinetic Half Relay race report

Two weeks ago I participated in my first ever triathlon relay, the Kinetic Half. If it wasn't totally obvious after I talked about it here and here and here, this was my A+++ race of the year. In addition to a "friendly" team competition with two other CAR & friends teams, there was a swim showdown with a certain Ironman in training. The fear of this intense competition motivated me to get back into the pool in January and to actually swim at least two times a week every week until the race. I took advantage of another future Ironman's excellent coach designed workouts by crashing a bunch of her swims, swam my first ever mile race, and managed to conveniently be at the pool a lot of the same mornings as my competition for pre-race reconnaissance. After four months of dedicated training, I was ready to race!

Sure, we look friendly here, but this was a cutthroat competition

Relays were in the last swim wave, so Beth, Jessica and I had plenty of time to get into our wetsuits and make our way down to the start. The course was a triangle so I decided to mentally break the race into three legs. Strong start, hold steady as we went across the far side and then go as hard as possible after I made the second turn and headed back towards the finish. We lined up right at the front and when our wave started I tried to dive right in a get myself clear of the masses. I could see Beth just ahead of me for about half of the first "side" but once we started to run into the waves ahead of us I lost her in the crowds. Once I caught up to those first swimmers, I never had a really clear path for the rest of the race. Being a relatively inexperienced open water swimmer, I still don't know exactly how often to sight or swim straight without a black line to follow, but I tried to settle into a decent rhythm. I'm guessing that I was probably looking up too often and would have been better off swimming for longer stretches with my head down. However, in addition to looking for buoys, lifting my head up helped me see the swimmers ahead of me. I definitely did a fair amount of weaving during the race, some that was helpful, some that probably just tacked on extra distance I didn't need.

By the time I made it to the second side, I felt like I had settled into a good hard effort and was happy with my pace. I was a bit frustrated by all of the traffic, but I was doing my best to kept pushing.  I was about halfway across the second side when all of a sudden I got a massive cramp in my left calf. I've gotten calf cramps in the pool before (though not during this training cycle) and I've always felt some sort of twinge ahead of time (normally when pushing off the wall) to warn me that it was coming. This one came out of nowhere. Immediately my brain went into overdrive. Given that there was no side of the pool where I could stop and stretch it on (my normal remedy), I wasn't sure how I was going to get rid of it. For less than a second I thought about stopping to do some type of awkward stretch while treading water, but immediately ruled that out because this was a RACE. Not only was it my race, I had teammates depending on me. So I settled for flattening my foot, lifting my toes towards my ankle and attempting to stretch it out that way while still moving. I more or less stopped kicking with my left leg and relied on my arms and a weak right leg kick.

The cramp had pretty much gone away by the time I made the second turn and headed back to shore on the final leg, though I was somewhat nervous that if I started kicking too hard it would come back. To be honest, my main worry at this point was that I would try to stand up and exit the lake and fall back down because my leg cramped up again. But I did try to increase my kick somewhat and pick up my overall pace. This leg was challenging because we were heading into the sun and even with my mirrored goggles I couldn't see much.  I swung far too wide going around the turn buoy and realized about a third of the way through the leg that the marker buoys were way off to my right. So I tried to work my way back onto the line while still heading forward. Finally my hands hit the bottom and I was up and running (no cramps!).

I heard them mention Jessica's name and team on the loudspeaker as I was running up the hill towards the transition area and knew she, at least, had finished ahead of me (turns out it was Jon leaving transition on his bike).  When I got to our rack and handed off my chip to Lauren, I found both Jessica and Beth waiting.

I ended up finishing in 31:23, a little over a minute behind Jessica and about 50 seconds behind Beth. I had been hoping I could break 30, and I am still quite confident I could do that for the distance in a pool, but I had forgotten about all of the additional complications of open water swimming. The calf cramp didn't help either, but I doubt it slowed me down all that much. Maybe 10-15 seconds, if even that? (As for the cause of the cramp, I'm blaming the wetsuit. It was the only thing that was different about the day. I think the compression, plus the fact that it ended mid calf, leaving half my calf compressed and the other not, must be the cause. To support this, my calf cramped again when I was pointing my toes to pull of the wetsuit and it got stuck around my calf.).

The time works out to about 1:29/100 yards. In contrast, at the Culpeper sprint tri last summer, I averaged about 1:43/100 yds over a significantly shorter distance. I wasn't wearing a wetsuit then, but this is certainly an improvement! With a few more open water races lined up for this summer, I hope to get that average even lower.

After getting changed, I spent the rest of the morning cheering for my team, the other CAR teams, and my brother who was competing in his very first 70.3! I felt like a bit of a slacker given that Lauren was on her bike for 56 miles and Steph had to run a half marathon in the heat. Not to mention all those athletes who did it all! Our team ended up finishing in 5:40:18, 16th out of 37 teams. Given that there was only one relay category and some of those teams could have been all men or co-ed, I think we had a very strong showing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Frederick Half race photos

Not my finest race photos. The last two are from somewhere around mile 13. My face shows just how much I was hurting.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Frederick Half Marathon Race Report

Sunday morning started bright and early when my alarm went off at 4:00am. Since Frederick is only about 45 miles away from DC, I opted to save money, sleep in my own bed, and drive up the morning of the race. I was out the door a little after 4:30 and picked up my teammate Stephanie at about 4:45. She came along to serve as CAR spectator extraordinaire and was willing to leave at that ridiculous hour to satisfy my need to be there extra early. I was expecting the drive to take an hour but instead it was only about 45 minutes and we were pulled into the parking lot shortly after 5:30. The lot we ended up in was on the same block as the race start so the logistics were incredibly easy. We sat in the car for a while, then we split up so Steph could walk out onto the course and find her first spectating spot and I hit the porta potties and then did an extremely brief (10 minute) warm up. Then I positioned myself between the 8:00 and 9:00 minute pace markers (which were much closer to the start than I've been in a long time - the benefit of a smaller race), took a gel, and tried to stay loose.

At the beginning of the race I tried to stay as relaxed as possible. I told myself to think of this as a long run, not a race, and just cruise along as comfortably as possible.  I decided to have pace visible on my Garmin, for the purpose of keeping myself controlled at the beginning more than anything else, but I avoided looking at it most of the time. I threw on the brakes a bit after the first mile, but I think that time was definitely aided by a long downhill at the start. I distracted myself by watching the spectators, reading signs, and keeping an eye out for Steph.  I was also looking for my brother and his fiancee who said they were going to try to make it out as well.  She is from Frederick and her brother was running the race too.  I saw them somewhere past mile two (along with her Dad) and then passed Steph a few blocks later.  The way the course was laid out was great for spectators.  As we made our way around downtown, they could move a block or two and see us a mile later.  I think that in the first 10k, I probably saw my two cheering sections three times each. It was great and I got a boost every time that I saw them.

Splits: 8:18, 8:41, 8:21, 8:02, 8:31, 8:23

I got to 10k feeling very relaxed and strong. Before the race I had told myself that I needed to stay very controlled until 5k. But I hit that point and decided to stick with that strategy until 10k. It was working, so why push it?  I thought of my teammate Cris, who uses this strategy in all of her races and has found that she runs much faster the less that she tries to push. By the time I reached 10k, I decided to continue the same way as long as possible. It was sometime around mile 8 or 9 that I started to falter. According to the official mile 8 split, I was on track for a 1:49, but I was starting to slow down.

Around mile 10 I was definitely struggling and the 1:50 pace group passed me right before the mile marker.  I had gotten ahead of them early in the race and knew as my pace started to slow that they were probably going to catch up to me.  In fact, during mile 9 I gave myself a pep talk and told myself that even if they passed me I couldn't quit.  That I was still going to be on track for a massive PR and couldn't give up on that.  Of course, when they did pass me it was disappointing and though I thought about latching onto the group and letting them pull me along, I didn't have it in my legs to keep up.

Splits: 8:26, 8:26, 8:19, 8:37

When I passed mile 10 there was a race clock and I could see that I had to run the last 5k under 26 minutes to break 1:50.  Realistically, I knew that was probably unlikely, but I would do my best to get there. For some reason I was under the impression that the course flattened out somewhere around mile 8 before a final climb right at the end, but that was not the case.  The hills weren't that steep or long, but they were unrelenting.  There was plenty of downhill to counteract the up, but there was hardly any flat.

I definitely noticed the hills more in the last 5k, though they weren't any worse than those at the beginning. My pace continued to slow and I felt like I had nothing left in my legs. It was somewhere between miles 10 and 11 that I made what was probably an unwise decision not to take a second gel.  I had taken my first one right before mile 6 and had planned on a second one sometime shortly after mile 10.  But my stomach was slightly unsettled and I could think of nothing worse than trying to force one down. So I let my foggy running brain tell me that I'd be just fine and didn't need a gel for those last few miles. I started to feel funny in the middle of mile 11. Not necessarily dizzy, but definitely like I needed calories and soon.  Normally I don't drink Gatorade during races because when I combine it with gels it makes my stomach mad.  However, Gatorade sounded much better than a gel at that point so I took a cup at the next water stop.  I knew that if I didn't get something in my system I was going to be in big trouble. I hated to do it, but I slowed to a walk to make sure that I actually drank the whole thing.

Splits: 8:41, 8:50

Right after that water station I saw Steph again, right by the mile 12 marker. I really tried to pick it up after hearing her enthusiastic cheering and because I knew there was only had a mile left, but I couldn't muster much leg speed.  My brother's group had positioned themselves at the bottom of the last hill that took us back up to the fairgrounds where the race finished.  He wins with the most motivational cheer of the day telling me that "the family PR was within reach!"  I knew he had run a 1:51xx last year at National, but I had no idea exactly what that time was. On a better day I think this would have definitely helped me kick it in, but my legs were having none of it on Sunday.  Fortunately I knew that the last hill was coming, but that didn't make it any easier.  It was probably only about a quarter mile, but I'm pretty sure that it was the steepest incline of the day.

I got to the top hoping for a straight shot into the finish, but we had to run over to the fairgrounds racetrack and then around the oval.  This was definitely my least favorite portion of the course.  It was a packed dirt surface, but I found it to be very uneven and I could muster no energy for a speedy finish.

Splits: 8:27, 1:28 (8:34 pace)
Final time: 1:51:28

All in all, I'm very pleased with how this race turned out. Although I would have loved to break 1:50, I still ended up with an almost 8 minute PR.  It was a humid day and not the world's fastest course and I feel like I gave it everything I had.  I hate to use "low iron" as an excuse, but I do think it was a reason for my slow fade in the second half.  I felt great until about mile 8 and then I just slowly ran out of gas. And, really, that "running out of gas" is all relative. My slowest mile (8:50) was still faster than the average pace of my old PR (1:59)! I'm making improvements, even if I sometimes feel frustrated or impatient with the speed of my progress. I'm really looking forward to seeing what I can do once I get my system back in balance and have the energy levels to train as I'd like.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how well I thought this race was run.  From remote packet pick up, to the finish festival, it was all well done. Parking was easy, porta potties were plentiful, aid stations were well placed and frequent (about every 1.5 miles), miles were well marked, and they had pace groups for a wide range of finish times. Compared to many races in the area it was on the smaller side (about 4000 in the half) and I never felt crowded. Sure, I did a bit of weaving at the beginning but after that it was smooth sailing, even when they had us restricted to one side of the road. I only ended up with about .13 extra on my Garmin, which is excellent for a poor tangent runner like me.  The premium was a jacket and while I was expecting a relatively cheap plastic windbreaker, it's actually a very nice warm up jacket (sweatshirt type material) that I will actually wear. The only downside is that the first weekend in May is a toss up weather-wise, but, as we've seen this spring, early season races don't guarantee great racing conditions.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Frederick Half Marathon Race Goals

Back in January when I was taking my three week break from running post-Goofy, I decided to leave marathon training for the fall and focus on taking a big chunk of time off of my half PR this spring. I settled on Frederick because it late enough to give me a solid 12 week training cycle, but not so late that I had no hope for decent temperatures. I would run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler to give myself a sense of my fitness and then spend April working hard and fine tuning things. My plan was to train for a 1:45, perhaps a bit of a reach, but a time that I thought I could run if I put in the work.

Unfortunately, my return to running in February was derailed by piriformis pain and the discovery of my lazy glutes. So I postponed my return to the track and started PT. I made a lot of progress and, after a few weeks, initial forays into speed caused no pain so I figured I was back on track. I started back up with CAR workouts eight weeks before the race and figured I had plenty of time to get myself ready.

I ran Cherry Blossom on April 1 and felt good, but not great. It was a new PR, so I can't complain, but something felt a little off. I just didn't have that next level to go to in the second half, which at the time I attributed to still working my way back into shape. I looked forward to increasing my miles in April and getting in some good speed and tempo workouts. My workouts weren't awful, but they weren't all that great either. I had a hard time keeping pace with the group I ran with in the fall, though it made sense because they had been training hard since January and I hadn't. I was off my times from the fall as well, but those were from peak marathon training. But by the middle of April my times were actually heading in the wrong direction.  I was getting slower and slower in workouts and feeling tired from the first lap. After wondering what was going on for a while, I had tests done earlier this week and confirmed that I am anemic, as I mentioned yesterday. Sadly, a few days of iron before the race aren't going to do much to change the way I feel.

So, where does that leave me for Sunday? While I've struggled at the track, I've felt better on long runs and had some pretty decent ones. I still have third gear, it's just fourth and fifth that are eluding me right now. Obviously, a 1:45 is out. While I'm hoping I can get pretty close to 8:00 minute miles at the end, there's just really no way that it will be my average pace. My current PR, from the 2011 National Half, is a 1:59:03. I feel confident that I can run faster than that. How much faster, I'm not totally sure. I think that if I have a really good day and everything goes my way I could get close to 1:50. However, I recognize that it's also quite possible that I could come nowhere near my PR.

I haven't decided if I'll run "watchless" or so I can see my pace, but my focus is going to be on running a smart race and staying within myself.  I need to stay relaxed at the beginning and run with whatever I have left at the end. Things you should do in every race, but are especially important for me right now.  It's not going to be the race I wanted to have back when I started this in January, but it doesn't mean that it can't be a race I take pride in.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Three Things Thursday

1. I mentioned in my April recap that running has been a struggle for the last few weeks. What I didn't mention is just how tired I've felt. As in, go home from work, eat dinner, and go directly to bed tired. Get 9+ hours of sleep and do the same thing again the next day. I had a physical on Monday and I got the news yesterday that I am anemic due to extremely low iron levels (something my coach suggested about two weeks ago).  There are so many things I want to say about this such as warning signs I ignored (or attributed to other causes) and why I ended up here, but it will have to wait until I have time to write a coherent post. Which should happen when I have a bit more energy and can stay up past 8:30. In the meantime, I'll be taking these magic pills on a daily basis.

2. Yesterday I went to Fleet Feet in Adams Morgan and picked up my bib for Sunday's race. I think it's great that the Frederick Running Festival does these remote pick ups. They were in a different location each day this week and yesterday was DC. It was definitely one of the reasons I decided to run this race since the idea of driving up to Frederick twice in one weekend (or paying for a hotel room) was pretty unappealing. It's always nice when races get these kind of logistics right!

3. As usual, the predicted weather for Sunday has been changing every day. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we are going to enjoy the overcast cool weather that was around last weekend, but we are going to avoid the crazy high temperatures that are around right now. The current prediction is high of 72, low of 52 and humidity at a lovely 73%. Fortunately the race starts at 7:00, but I'm sure the 50s won't stick around for too long. I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to wear, but I've decided to take an informal poll.

At what temperature (and/or level of humidity) would you switch from this outfit:

To this one:

I don't generally run in just a sports bra, even in the middle of summer, and this would be my first time ever doing it in a race (if that's the outfit I pick). But if it will improve my comfort level, I'm willing to try it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Recap

Miles: 137.05 (+ ~26 miles in the pool)

X-Training: 7 swims

Rest Days: 4

Race(s): Cherry Blossom Ten Miler - 1:22:05 and Colonies Zone 1650 freestyle - 22:18.05

Workout goals:
Swimming - it was another good swimming month, including my first meet in years!

More running - I didn't get in quite as many miles as I had hoped to at the beginning of the month, but I was able to run more than I did in March

Core work and stretching - I give myself a C here. I managed to do my stretches and exercises a few times each week, but I really should be doing something every day.

Non-workout goal: Spring cleaning. I started to de-clutter at the beginning of the year and never finished. Time to get this done and move on. I haven't been doing well with the non-workout goals recently. April kind of got away from me and I didn't make any progress here.

April was not exactly the month that I hoped it would be. Swimming continues to go well and I had a great time swimming the mile at a Masters meet. Running, on the other hand, has been tough. I started off the month with the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and hoped to use that as the kickoff to a strong month of training before the Frederick Half on May 6. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans. For some reason (that I'm still working on figuring out), I've really been struggling at track and tempo workouts. I just haven't had that next gear that I need for speed workouts. This doesn't leave me in the confident place I had hoped I would be at the end of April (a week out from my race), but I can only work with what I've got.

May  Preview

Workout goals:
Less running - The Frederick Half Marathon (May 6) has always been my focus for the spring. I want to make sure that I give myself a break after the race so I avoid any feelings of burnout later in the year.

Swim 50k (or at least try) - A few bloggers took part in this challenge last May and talk of doing it again this year started on Twitter yesterday. I'm not sure I'll make it since my May (non-workout) schedule is pretty packed, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Mix up my routine - I bought an yoga/strength class groupon back in February and I need to start using it before it expires.  May seems like a good month to try some new things.

Races: Frederick Half Marathon - May 6, Kinetic Half Ironman Relay (swim leg) - May 12, and Jim McDonnell 2 mile lake swim - May 27

Non-workout goal: These haven't been going well recently. I'm not going to set a goal for May. Maybe I can instead make some progress on all of the ones from the last few months.