Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three Things Thursday - Swimming Thoughts

1. I think that what I liked most about last week's meet was getting the chance to really race. It's just not quite the same in a road race. Yes, there are other people on the course to race, but it's so much more about the clock in that situation.  I'm not fast enough to be racing for the top ten, so at any point on the course I have no idea if the people around me started before or after me. I could be behind someone and still ahead time wise or vice versa.  It was so motivating on Friday night to try to run down the guy next to me in the last third of the mile. I know that I swam faster because of it. I need to figure out how to channel this type of motivation when I'm running a race.

2. I left the swim meet wanting to sign up for a ton of meets and variety of events. But right now I'm only swimming 2 times a week (2-3 hours total).  This has been the perfect amount with my running schedule and I don't want to throw that balance out of whack too much. I just fear that swimming is fun right now because I'm not too serious about it. I don't want swimming to become a chore or something I dread, which has definitely happened in the past. I know I'll never get back to where I was in college because I'm older and I'm no longer swimming 15+ hours a week. And if I even attempt that, I'll be sick of swimming in less than a week. So I need to find that right level of commitment where I can feel like I'm making progress, without feeling overwhelmed.

3. At last weekend's meet there were two 69 year old women who swam the mile and a 79 year woman old who swam the 1000. There were several men and women in their 80s competing during the weekend. I find them so inspiring. I hope that I am still swimming at that age. And if I am, you had better believe that I'll be at some meets!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Colonies Zone 1650 freestyle race report

A few months ago I got the crazy idea that I should sign up to swim the mile in a swim meet to practice racing before the half ironman relay in May. I was doing occasional time trials at the distance, but I was curious to see what I could do in an actual race. I managed to convince Katie to join me and, after spending far too much time debating over how to seed myself, I was committed to my first swim meet since I was on a local Masters team in 2005.

As a side note, in all of my years of competitive swimming, I never once swam the 1650 in a meet. I was a breaststroker and sprint freestyler and anything over 200 was WAY too long for me.  Of course, back then I also thought three miles was a long way to run.  How times have changed.

That's right, we're here for a swim meet!

The meet was held at the George Mason University Aquatic Center and the distance events are relegated to Friday evening so that swimmers doing all of the other "normal" events aren't forced to sit through them.  We arrived with plenty of time to check-in and warm up before the first heats kicked off at 6:00. Fortunately, I also was able to practice starting off the blocks a few times, something I hadn't done in years.  After going way too deep the first two times, I got it sorted out and was ready to go.

The heats are run fastest to slowest with men and women together, regardless of age. I was in the third heat of the mile so we had about 45 minutes to kill once the meet started.

Clearly we were thrilled to be there

Once the heat before mine started I made one last trip to the bathroom and then took a double caffeine Clif Shot.  I've never tried anything like that before a swimming race, but I figured that it works so well during runs that I might as well give it a shot.  I waited until the last possible minute to put on my super tight goggles (don't want them falling off during the dive, but also don't want a headache!) and cap and then it was time to go.

My only fear was that my goggles would fill with water as the result of my start so when I hit the water and they were fine, I relaxed.  I felt like a got a good, strong start and Katie would tell me afterwards that she thought I went the farthest of everyone in my heat. I never going to win, so it's those small victories that are important! Obviously it's hard not to be fired up at the start, but I tried to keep myself under control.  The guy to my outside (with a slower seed time), took off within the first 100 and I knew that I couldn't stay with him.  I was a little nervous that this meant I was way off of my projected pace, but I knew I couldn't spend time worrying about it. The guy to my inside also pulled ahead and though I tried to maintain the gap, he kept pulling ahead.

I felt strong for the first 500, but then I got tired. The second 500 was by far the hardest part of the race for me.  I only about a third done and my arms were burning. The two guys I could see were pretty far ahead and I had no real sense how the other five people were doing. For all I knew, I was dead last. And I really didn't want to be stuck swimming a 50 (or more) at the end when everyone else had already finished. There was a lot of yelling going on in my head as I tried to keep swimming at a steady pace and not back off.  Around 900 I started to think that it would have been a lot better idea to sign up for the 1000 instead of the 1650.  I was sure that the drop off in my splits between the first 500 and second 500 was going to be dramatic, but the actual numbers don't back that up.  I was only about a second slower per 50, which I think is relatively normal.

Before the race, I had decided that my strategy should be to stay steady for the first 1000 and then give it whatever I had in the last 650.  During the tough patches during that second 500, I started to doubt this strategy.  Since I was struggling, I thought that there might be no push in that final third of the race. But a funny thing happened right around that 1000 yard mark. I noticed that I had a gained a bit on the guy to my inside (not the guy on the outside, he lapped me several times and ended up winning the heat).  He was still probably at least 10-15 yards ahead, but I decided that I was going to catch him before the race ended or die trying. This re-energized me and I started slowly closing the gap. It happened faster than I expected and I went by him at 1400. I didn't want him to take the pass as a challenge and come back past me so I kept pushing the pace. Then I was just counting down the remaining laps and before I knew it I was in the final 100, and then the final 50 and Katie was putting in the bright orange counter.

There was not a much better feeling than making that last turn and "sprinting" with all I had left in that last 25.  And then I was done and with a shiny new (automatic) best time of 22:18.05.

I was in lane 6 
Going into the race I decided that I would be happy with anything under 23 minutes, so I was thrilled with this time.  Last weekend I did my last pre-race time trial in 23:20, so this was a good improvement.  It was also a 1:21 pace per hundred, which is what I thought I could hit if I had a good race. It also shows I am right on track to hit my goal time for the 1.2 mile half ironman swim. I'm also happy that my splits were pretty consistent, despite the fact that I felt like I was really struggling from 500-1000.

I had about 10 minutes after my race to catch my breath before counting for Katie in her heat of the 1000.  I'll let her share all of the details, but she did an amazing job!

Overall, it was a great experience. It was so fun to be back in the swim meet environment and wished that I had signed up for more events on Saturday and Sunday. It was a good reminder of why I was a swimmer for so many years and I'm already thinking about adding more meets into my schedule. Also, like any good competitor, I'm already thinking about how I can improve on my time. I know that I can get all of those 50 splits under 40. I'll never be setting any records, but I think that this former sprinter can become a solid distance swimmer.

Special thanks to Thom who was our race photographer!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Four

1. On Wednesday I finally registered for that half marathon I've been talking about for months. Since there was no danger of a sellout, I wanted to make sure that I was able to race Cherry Blossom without any issues. It went well on Sunday and now I am officially running the Frederick Half Marathon on May 6!

2. Obviously, once the credit card was warmed up, it was time to go on a bit of a race registration bender. Take a look at my newly updated list of upcoming races, it's had a number of additions this week.  Yesterday I signed up for an 8k tune up race two weeks out from the Frederick Half. I also went ahead and signed up for the open water race on Memorial Day weekend that I've been thinking about for a while. So, two weeks after the MOST IMPORTANT SWIM EVER, I will swim two miles. Should be fun. After almost three months of no races, it feels good to have a bunch of things on the calendar.

3. I had a bit of a breakthrough at tempo this morning. For the first time this year I felt good the whole time. It wasn't my fastest workout, but it was consistent. I didn't start dying in the third mile and completed four miles feeling strong (the last few weeks I've been told to stop at 5k because mile 3 has been so rough). I started a bit more conservatively and tried to stay relaxed. The first three miles were more or less evenly paced and I was able to go a bit faster in that last mile. Mentally, this was exactly the workout that I needed to have. My struggles toward the end in the last few weeks had really started to get in my head and those doubts popped up during Sunday's race. I don't need those kind of negative thoughts hanging around!

4. When I struggled in the later miles of Cherry Blossom, the main thing I kept thinking was, "I need to be running more." I'm not sure if this is truth or a myth, but I feel like I am better able to pick it up at the end of a race (or at least hold steady) when I've built up a strong base and my volume is up. (I also tend to do fairly well off of a taper, but only when there's something to taper down from!) High mileage is all relative and I'm someone who ran a 50 mile week for the first time last fall in my last big week training for the Philadelphia Marathon. So I'm not talking about anything crazy here. But I would like to spend April in the upper 30s-low 40s. I recently added a fifth run back to my schedule, so this should be a very manageable goal. I think this will get me to the start line at Frederick feeling confident about my abilities to run a strong 13.1, especially in the back half.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

March Recap

Miles: 128.21 (+ ~25 miles in the pool)

X-Training: 9 swims

Rest Days: 4

Race(s): None

New gear: None.  My quest for a true red running jacket/pullover continues! This is harder than you would think. None of the major brands seem to be making much in red for women these days. Who would have thought "cherry" would be pink?

Workout goals:

Keep swimming! - Done. Swimming is going well.

Smart running - I'd like to think I did a pretty good job here.  I made it back to tempo workouts at the beginning of the month and added intervals back in two weeks later.  I'm still working on getting my volume back where I'd like it to be, but I made significant strides in the right direction in March.

Stretching and foam rolling - I was semi-successful here. I did a good job of doing all of my PT exercises and stretches every day, but I wasn't foam rolling enough.

Non-workout goal: One of my "personal" goals for 2012 is to volunteer more. I have a few places in mind, but so far I haven't taken the time to reach out and get started. I will do this in March. Sadly I didn't do so well here. I WILL make progress on this goal in April.

I made a lot of progress in March.  After regular PT sessions and being diligent about doing my stretches and exercises every day, I saw significant improvement in my right piriformis/glute. I was able to return to workouts and run fast without pain shooting down my leg. Victory! I know I'm not cured yet, but I'm getting there. I've managed to continue swimming regularly and am really enjoying it.  While I'm sure it would help if I added another swim to my week, I seem to have found the swimming/running balance that I can maintain without feeling overwhelmed. 

April Preview

Workout goals:

Swimming - the BIG race is just over a month away. I need to continue swimming two times a week.

More running - I've been slowly working back up and made a lot of progress during March, but I plan to continue to increase my weekly volume during April.

Core work and stretching - It's very likely that I will "graduate" from PT this month, but I need to continue to be diligent about doing my exercises and stretches.  I don't want to return to where I was in January.

Races: Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run - April 1, 1650 freestyle - April 13, and a TBD 5k the weekend of April 21-22

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.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run Race Report

I think the biggest thing I learned yesterday is that when you take your watch out of the equation, you evaluate a race very differently.  I had a rough time in the last few miles and when I finished I was pretty angry with myself, despite the fact that I ended up with a pretty significant PR.

The first few miles were relatively uneventful.  The course was pretty crowded, so I tried to keep a steady pace and move around people without expending too much energy.  I saw a number of great CAR spectators near the start and then my mother was out on Memorial Bridge and again near mile 4.  I felt good in the early miles, but since I hadn't raced in months, I had no idea how it would go later on.

Photo by Cheryl

When I hit mile 5 I was happy to be halfway, but also starting to realize that the second half was going to be pretty painful.  I knew there was water somewhere around mile 6, so when I got past five and a half miles I took my Clif shot (chocolate cherry - double caffeine!).  I felt an immediate boost and was able to drop the pace a bit as I headed out onto Hains Point.  My goal had been to treat those last four miles as a tempo run and incrementally drop the pace/increase my effort each mile.  I felt like I was right on track on the way out to the end (miles 6, 7), cruising along comfortably and passing a number of people without too much difficulty.

Unfortunately, when I reached the end and turned around to head back towards the finish, I could feel my energy start to lag.  This was eerily similar to what has happened in all three of the tempos I have run since returning to the track.  In those workouts, I felt strong for the first mile and a half to two miles and fell apart in the last mile (in two cases I was planning on four miles and stopped at 5k).  The worst part about feeling myself slowing a bit was not actually that I was slowing, but that my mind immediately recalled those workouts and I let it get to my head.  As people I had passed started going past me, the negative talk in my head just got worse. Instead of trying to push past it, I held back, afraid that I would completely fall apart. Unlike with those workouts, there was no option to stop early. I was afraid to force myself to pick it up when I saw the 8 mile marker and instead waited until I had completed mile 9.

Fortunately I was able to rally and get going again in the last mile and tried to pick people off as I ran up the slight hill that was about a quarter mile from the finish.  Despite the fact that I had not looked at my watch the whole time, I had a general idea of how I would finish because I had a hard time ignoring the clocks posted at every mile marker and I had a very rough idea of the time on the clock when I crossed the start line. So I thought I was actually probably going to be pretty close to the PR I ran at Army in the fall, especially if I did a decent job in the last mile.  Yet even though I knew this, I crossed the finish line feeling disappointed and angry.

After walking a bit down the chute, I finally changed the screen on my Garmin to see my time and was surprised to see that I hadn't squeaked under my old PR, but actually been almost 90 seconds faster.  This should have immediately made me feel much better about the race, but oddly, it didn't. I think I was so focused on ignoring my pace that I could only tie my evaluation of the race to my feelings about how it felt to run. I just didn't feel like I had run a smart race and that bothered me.

For the sake of comparison, here are my splits from the Army 10 miler (my old PR) vs. yesterday's race:

When I ran Army I had my Garmin set on autolap, which is why I ended up with 1:24 of extra time. I hit lap myself for Cherry Blossom, so even though my Garmin distance was a bit long (10.12 miles), the splits are accurate for each mile. If I redistribute the extra time from Army over 10 miles (to make the math easier I just did 8 seconds per mile), the comparison is a bit more relevant.

Looking at this adjusted split comparison is what finally kicked me out of my funk and made me feel a whole lot better about this race.  Yes, I didn't do a great job of picking up the pace over the course of the run (I did a better job in October), but my splits for eight of ten miles were faster yesterday.  And I was relatively consistent overall, the range isn't that large.

It feels good to know that even on what I considered to be not enough training this spring, I am still ahead of where I was last fall.  I was worried that the time off after Goofy and subsequent piriformis issues had set me back pretty far.  Fortunately that does not appear to be the case. I said in my goals post that I wanted this race to be an assessment of where I am right now and I think it ended up being a good evaluation of my current fitness level. I'm looking forward to really focusing and working hard in April and then, hopefully, racing a strong half in May.