Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Celebrating My Run-niversary

It's hard to believe this even as I type it, but two years ago today I made the decision to lace up my running shoes and start training.

My goal two years ago was to be able to run a 5K by the end of the Summer.

I never could have dreamed how far my feet would eventually carry me.

In this second year of running, I ran nearly 450 miles, finished my first half marathon, finished two sprint distance triathlons, and returned to my favorite 5-miler. 

Currently, I'm six weeks out from my first race of this season -- my registration is in for the Providence Half Marathon, the Mystic Half Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon. No triathlon dates or distances are confirmed yet, but I'll be posting a potential race schedule some time soon.

I am fitter and faster than ever, and it's been such a rewarding journey. 

I can't wait to see how things continue to progress this year.

 Nope. Pretty sure this is just the beginning.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

So You Hate Running... Now What?

First things first, I'm going to dish up some hard truths.

Running is hard. It can be boring. You might feel like you're going to die. Maybe you used to be able to run all day, but now you're a half mile in and you're sucking wind. A woman with a cane hobbled by faster than you and offered to call you a cab. When you declined, she offered an ambulance.

When your first run feels like this, it's understandably easy to throw your running shoes in the closet and swear off the treadmill/track/roads forever.
 
I will fully admit that running has only recently become enjoyable. I've always enjoyed running, because it was a means to an end. I got places faster. I became fitter. I didn't feel like an unathletic sack of potatoes on horseback. I loved how I felt after a run.

I didn't, however, love how I felt during a run... and that is an important distinction! 

There are a few things I did to make myself hate running less while I was in the throes of those first few weeks of training. I found that by doing so, I stuck with it (and am still doing so today). These days, I see running as one of the purest expressions of freedom and joy that one can experience. There's nothing else except for you, your two feet, the open road, and bliss.

1. Find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and fit well

I can't stress this one enough. If your knees and back hurt because of ill-fitting shoes, you are much less likely to want to continue to run or exercise. You can go the route of having a shoe specialist at your local running store fit you for a pair, or you can do what I did -- buy a few pairs of different styles and run in them. The ones that didn't work for my running form were used as work shoes, so it ended up being an overall win. After plenty of running and researching, my current favorites are the Nike Free RN Flyknit for track work (it is a super-minimalist shoe, and I love how light and flexible it is) and the Under Armour Charged Bandit 2 for long runs and races (this is also a very minimalist shoe, with just a small amount of support in the heel cup). These are both shoes in the $80-$100 range, but the comfort they provide is (to me) well worth the up front cost.

2. Listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook

This practice involves disassociation, or taking your focus away from what your body is currently doing and experiencing, and can work wonders to help you stick it out during a hard workout. The best way to make this work is to listen to something you only allow yourself to listen to while running. Are you hooked on the Serial podcast? Don't let yourself listen to it unless you are running. This gives you something to look forward to on your run, and is a positive association for exercise. It does take quite a bit of self-control to make this work properly, though. I used to listen to the old Runner's World podcast on long runs, and would eagerly look forward to Friday/Saturday each week so I could finally listen to the newest episode.

3. Set a goal to work towards

Are you running with a specific goal in place? Pick a race, sign up for it, and mark it on your calendar! Holding yourself accountable to a goal is a great way to motivate yourself to get out and get moving. It's not so easy to put off a training session when you look at your calendar and realize your goal race is coming up in six weeks.

4. Find someone to spend time with

Do you have friends who are already runners, or who have expressed interest in starting to run? Form a group! It's easier to show up when you know other people are relying on you, and if you can carry on a conversation while running then you might just notice the minutes and miles starting to melt away.

5. Or... go it alone!

I am a registered nurse and an APRN student. I spend a lot of time surrounded with people, and all the problems and stresses associated with that. For me, running is my sacred alone time. I get a chance to experience quiet, and I have time to reflect on the day and to think about my plans for the upcoming week. Without my alone time on the run, I would be quite a bit more stressed!

6. Take it easy

The first few times you're out on the road, you might be tempted to relive your high school glory days, where an 8:00 mile was a breeze and when you could play a full soccer match without needing oxygen and medical attention. Unfortunately for you, not all things get better with age. I used a Couch-to-5K program to get started, and it involved a lot of walking, interspersed with increasing run intervals. It took me a while to get to the able-to-run-3-miles-continuously phase of training, but once I was there it was considerably easier to continue training. Yesterday, I ran 9 miles and it felt easy. Two years ago, I couldn't run for a continuous mile. Don't set any sort of pace expectations for yourself, at least until you are a little further along in your training.

7. If it hurts, don't do it

This is another one I can't stress enough. Yes, running is hard and your legs and lungs might be sore and shouting for air, but nothing should be hurting. If something is hurting so much that it is affecting your stride, then you need to stop (and potentially seek medical attention). Up to 79% of all runners will potentially sustain running-related injuries each year (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465455/); most of these injuries could have been prevented by training smart, taking it easy, and listening to what the body is saying.

8. Stop comparing yourself to others

Celebrate your own milestones! It doesn't matter what other runners are out there doing -- if you've never been able to run, and you just completed your first 5K then that is a reason to celebrate. Don't let the fact that other runners might be faster or covering more miles be intimidating, and don't let those accomplishments diminish your own. What you are doing is just as amazing.

9. Look to others for inspiration

I am a big reader, and one of my new obsessions is autobiographies. Reading about other people's accomplishments inspires me and helps me continue to dream big. It can also help me put things in perspective -- reading books about training for ultra-marathons makes regular marathon training seem completely reasonable! Keeping tip number 8 in mind, be careful to avoid unfair comparisons between yourself and the author.

I can't make you love running, but these tips should help to make you hate it at least just a little bit less. Let me know if you have any other tricks, or if any of these tips have helped you out!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rewind! Race Recap: 2017 Dave Parcells Sprint Triathlon

Whenever I talk to people about my triathlon training/competition schedule, I invariably get the same response from everyone:

Them: "Oh, that sounds like so much fun! I'd do one, but I'm a terrible swimmer." 

Wanna hear a secret?

Promise you won't tell anyone else?

Okay...

SO WAS I!

No, I'm serious. My first triathlon was the product of my husband telling me that he didn't have any interest in running any further road races with me, but that he was very interested in trying his hand at triathlon. We picked a date, gathered a crew (his younger sister and her then-fiance-now-husband) to join us on our misadventures, and set out to start training. 

The triathlon in question was the Dave Parcells Sprint Triathlon in Madison, CT, and was set for September 9, 2017. My first time in the pool? July 12.

I didn't really think that one through, but let's be fair, I had just come off of training for my first half marathon at the end of May, and then my husband and I got married, and then we spent 2 weeks in Spain. There wasn't a whole lot of official training or thinking going on at any point there.

Back to the pool. I am not a terrible swimmer. I was on the YMCA swim team as a child, where my specialty was the backstroke. I got out of that when I started spending more time horseback riding, and my last time turning laps in the pool before this session was probably 15 years ago.

No sweat, right? It's just like riding a bike! I figured I would be fine.

I was so, so very wrong.

It took me 10 minutes to swim 200 yards. Pro: I didn't drown. Con: the swim portion of a sprint triathlon is 880 yards. Unless I still wanted to be swimming when my friends were crossing the finish line, I needed to get my butt in gear.

Thankfully, my husband's younger sister is an awesome swimmer, and she graciously agreed to coach all of us. I have no doubt that she is the reason I am not still clinging to the swim buoys for dear life today. Over the following weeks, we all improved vastly, and we were ready to take on race day.

 September 9th dawned cold, early, and beautiful. I mean, one of those incredible crisp late Summer days where everything is still and perfect.

I, of course, was terrified. There were 4 of us in our group, and none of us had the faintest idea what we were supposed to do. We had overpacked adequately according to the checklists I had made during the week prior, and were trying to figure out the optimal placement for all of our items in the transition area. Did we need socks? Should the bike helmet go on the handlebars or on the seat of the bike? Snacks? Shoes on the left or right side of the bike? And how many times were we supposed to draw our numbers on our bodies*?

We got our wetsuits on (thank you, Body Glide), and waddled over to the water. It was a standing start, so we needed to get in position. To our delight, the water was warmer than the air, and once we discovered that we weren't keen to get back out. There were 4 waves of athletes going off, and since we were all first-timers, we were luckily placed in the 4th wave. The gun went off for each wave, and I just floated and watched, getting a little more nervous with each passing minute. I began to position myself towards the back of the pack, on the outside, so that I was less likely to tangle with any other swimmer.

 Can you see the first buoy? No? It's the little yellow speck to the left.

When we were finally given the go-ahead, I took off at a strong doggy paddle.

Wait.

Really?

Yes. Really. I tried to cover some ground in free style, but I kept losing my bearings and was veering off-course wildly every time I put my head down. I alternated between a few strokes of freestyle, poking my head up to correct my course, and then getting back to work. I won't lie to you -- 880 yards is a really far way to swim. It's not impossible, but it can be hard and intimidating. After inhaling a good amount of seawater, I switched to backstroke. This was a good rest, but I was again swimming off course. I rounded the first buoy and switched back to freestyle until I got to the second buoy. By then, I had swallowed enough seawater to become isotonic to the ocean, and so I switched back to backstroke until I reached the third buoy. From there, it was a turn for home and a mad dash to get there. To my chagrin, I kept swimming into a pontoon meant to keep us on course. Somehow, it was also supposed to save us from drowning. I say somehow, because my head was a magnet for it, and I am fairly certain I was most likely to drown from hitting it. The best part of all was that the crew kept yelling encouragement to me as I continued to collide with the boat.

I finally, somehow, made it to shore.

Nobody will tell you this, but the first time you attempt to run on the beach after having swum for 25+ minutes, your legs will not work appropriately. Forget graceful Baywatch-style prancing through the surf. No. You will look like a grave hag stumbling through a vat of molasses. So don't worry about it, just struggle your way over to transition and you'll be fine. Your legs will begin to work properly once you've made it to the bike mount line.

At least, that's how it worked for me. T1 (first transition) took me longer than it should have, because I still hadn't decided whether or not I needed socks. Once I realized I couldn't get my socks on my wet feet, nor my bike gloves on my wet hands, I decided I really needed neither, and so gave up on those as a lost cause. I ate a quick snack as I ran my bike to the mount line, chugged half my water bottle, and got up in the saddle as quickly as I could manage without face-planting.

I took off on my bike, having only ridden it twice before this day (gear and derailleur failures on my previous bike left me in the lurch, and thankfully I ended up with the most incredible piece of carbon fiber and French ingenuity I could have ever imagined), and promptly realized I had no concept of pace. I knew I had some time to make up, given that my swim portion had been quite slow, but I also knew that I needed to keep something in the tank for the run portion. As a result, I kept my effort level relatively low for the first few miles of the 13-mile bike loop, with the thought that I would pick up the speed towards the end.



 Hello, beautiful!

This was a great idea, but again, I had no idea what my pace was (I didn't have a bike computer and my FitBit seemed to think we were out for a leisurely hike, so that was a non-starter). I passed somewhere between 10 and 15 people on the bike portion, but overall wasn't really pushing myself too hard. There were a number of decent hills and climbs (so much for the "gently rolling" course description) that hampered my effort.

T2 (second transition) was not significantly quicker, because for some absurd reason I felt the need to revisit the sock debate. The socks made it on this time, but I should probably have not brought compression socks -- they took a little too long to get on. I swapped my helmet for my hat, and took off running.

Almost immediately, I realized I was in trouble. I hadn't drank anything during the bike portion, and my vision was getting fuzzy. I realized I may have triggered a migraine by allowing myself to get dehydrated, and so I stopped at the water station on course and double-fisted glasses of water. Thankfully, the wonky vision resolved itself around the two-mile mark, and I was able to finish strong. About a half mile from the finish line, I spotted my mom and waved, and then noticed that a very familiar SUV was trying to turn onto the race course. As it turns out, that was my dad. A police officer began to yell at him, which mortified his girlfriend, but caused my mom and I to laugh uncontrollably.



Half a mile from the finish -- big smiles.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:56:02, which was good for 5th in my age group. My husband finished first of our little group, and was 8th in his age group with a time of 1:44:53. His younger sister placed 4th in our age group in 1:48:59, and her then-fiance-now-husband was 11th in his age group with a time of 1:55:04 (quite impressive as he came in to T1 to find his bike tires completely deflated and needed to scramble to find a fix).


Smiling because we were on our way to get steamed cheeseburgers next.

I can't believe how much fun we had, and how much we learned during that first triathlon. I have since done one more since then (OCY Westerly Triathlon 2017 -- 2nd in my age group and 12th of 25 females overall, with a time of 1:32:00), and was able to put all that I had learned to good use. Pacing is still a bit of a problem for me, but I'm now able to swim a full 880 yards freestyle, non-stop. No more backstroke here!

Want to hear another secret?

If I could manage that, then so can you.

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*We settled on two -- left arm and right calf. We had considered marking all four limbs, just in case there was a terrible shark attack and we needed to re-attach arms. Thankfully, that wasn't necessary.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Knowing When to Call it a Day

Some days, and some training sessions, one of the most important things you can do is know when to throw in the towel and call it a day. I'm not talking about the times when things feel a bit tough, and all you really need is a swift kick in the rear to keep going. I'm talking about the days when your head is pounding, your legs are shaking, there's nothing left in the tank, something's hurting, or something's just not quite right. 

If you are a perfectionist, type A person like I am, then quitting a workout before you've even reached the halfway mark feels as wrong as buying a book that has a movie poster as its cover.

But.

That's exactly what I did this past Wednesday*.

As I said in a previous post, I run three times a week. I also work 12-hour shifts twice a week, am in class for a full day once a week, and on most weeks I also do a 13-hour clinical shift. I try not to run on consecutive days, but some times I just can't find a way around it. This past week, I decided to space my run days out by planning one of my workouts for after work.

As you have probably predicted, this didn't end well.

I love my job, and I love the work I do as an RN. However, there are days that are stressful and busy, when you don't get a chance to pee or eat or drink anything for more than 4 hours in a row, and Wednesday was one of those days. Even though I had been on my feet for the better part of 12 hours, was mentally tired, and under-fueled, I still decided to give the run a go.

I walked down to the gym close to work, and hopped on a treadmill. I still hate treadmills, so that was strike 1. The treadmill was in a corner facing an unfinished Sheetrock wall, with no ventilation or airflow, so that was strike 2. Unsettlingly, the woman on the treadmill next to me seemed to have been crying while running, and even though that should have been strike 3 and I should have just bailed then, I still went ahead.

I was planning on covering 7 miles at a mid-tempo pace, but I knew I was in trouble during the first mile of my warm-up. By mile 2, my legs were shaking and my stride was starting to fall apart. I dropped the pace for the third mile, and came down to a walk. I now regret it, but at that point I was disgusted with myself. I cooled off and headed home, still in a negative headspace. I knew I had done the right thing, and that I had certainly helped avoid injuring myself, but that wasn't making it much easier to swallow.

My next run was scheduled for Friday -- an 11 mile long run. I knew I needed to recover as best as I could, so I spent Thursday in the pool doing pull sets (no legs for me!). 

When I set out for Friday's run, I knew I had made the right choices. Despite 20+ mph wind gusts, and a run course that included more than 600 feet of elevation gain, the run felt easy even though I averaged under a 9:45 pace.

While I don't plan on canning any future training sessions (I plan to be more cognizant of my work schedule, and will be giving early morning workouts a try), it was a relief to know that I had made the right call. 

Grey, windy, cloudy, gross? Still better than a treadmill!

-----

*Bailing on a workout, not the book-buying part. I'd never sink so low as that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How Do You Ride a Bike in a Blizzard?

This is going to sound a little strange, given my well-expressed distaste for treadmills, but one of my favorite pieces of work-out equipment is my bike trainer. 

I grew up riding my bike everywhere that I could -- to friends' houses, on trails (covering portions of the White Mountains, including Wildcat, with my family was one of the most fun experiences I had as a kid), and around campus as an undergrad at UConn. Partly because of this, the bike portion of triathlon training and competition has never been much of a problem for me.

However, as I started to increase my training, and as I began to set my sights on higher levels of competition, I ran into a critical New England problem.

How the hell are you supposed to ride your bike in the winter?

I tried using the stationary bikes at my local gyms, but found that it was completely non-representative of riding a road bike; despite maintaining my usual cadence and power, I would be lucky to cover 5 miles in an hour on one of those monstrosities.

So, after some sheer frustration and a fair bit of research, I settled my sights on obtaining my very own bike trainer. This is my RAD Cycle Max Racer Pro:

This is a magnetic resistance trainer, to which I have mounted my old Giant Kronos GS. There are also water and air resistance trainers, which have their own pros (quieter) and cons (significantly more expensive), but I don't have any personal experience with those. For even better training input, I affixed a small and inexpensive (about $20) CatEye bike computer to my rear wheel.

This modest addition lets me know my current pace, distance covered, and workout duration. You can reset those counters between sessions, but the lifetime odometer will continue to keep count (I've covered 110 miles so far, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable reviewing this combination of products at this time). Back to the bike trainer.

Pros:
  • Relatively inexpensive (this model was under $100 including shipping)
  • Easy to assemble
  • Fits most bikes
  • Allows me to spare my competition bike
  • Closely mimics the feel of riding on a road
  • Multiple resistance settings, and you can still change gears as normal
  • Able to watch Triathlon World Series coverage while working out
  • Safer than dealing with traffic


Cons:
  • A little loud (but not terrible; I'm still able to hear the TV)
  • Doesn't fully replace training outside (as much as we wish for sunny race days, that's not always the case)
  • Can't practice turns*
  • Can't practice flying mounts**


Today, despite our third Nor'Easter in ten days, I still managed to get in a 20-mile bike ride. I'd call that a success, and a rousing endorsement.

-----
*Speaking of TWS coverage, being able to turn is important. Seeing both Jonny Brownlee and Flora Duffy wiping out on turns in the bike portions in Abu Dhabi was eye-opening.

**This isn't quite applicable to me yet. Remember from a previous entry: I am not good at jumping over things.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Importance of Cross-Training (aka Everything Hurts and I'm Dying)

Fair warning: I'm writing this post while soaking in my tub.

When I began running two years ago (yes, I mentioned in a previous blog post that I ran on the middle school track team; for a variety of reasons, we are not going to regard that as when I seriously began running)* I essentially ONLY ran. I rode my horse, too, but I didn't do any sort of cross-training. I was injured twice within my first three months of running, and to be honest I just kind of thought that's how running was supposed to be. Why else would we call it "Runner's Knee"?

In the weeks leading up to my first half marathon (May 2017), I sustained a number of "niggles" and problems that weren't QUITE injuries, and I did my best to prevent them from blowing up and keeping me on the sidelines come race day. The day of the race was essentially perfect, but I was body-sore and tired. I was, in a word, over-trained. I had done 10 weeks of hard running (I ran 4-5 days a week, and other than the occasional ride on my horse, had done little to no strength work or cross-training). I crossed the finish line at the Mystic Half Marathon in 2:05, but it wasn't pretty. I was dehydrated (likely hyponatremic) and had pulled my right hip flexor. I made a deal with myself to take a few weeks off from running (I got married two weeks after the race, and then went on an incredible trip to Spain, where my husband and I walked and rode bikes EVERYWHERE).

During my half marathon training, I had tried to get my husband to accompany me on some of my training runs. He politely declined, and said that he had no interest in running as a sport by itself, but that he was keen on doing a triathlon.

Well, that was the spark. We picked a date for our first triathlon, and began training. I slowly began running again, but was doing far less in terms of volume than I had been doing previously. I was running two to three times a week, biking twice a week, and swimming twice a week**. Since Summer has long passed and I am back in school, my training regimen looks a little different. These days, I run three times a week (about 20 miles a week), swim one to two times a week (I aim for 1750 meters or about one mile for each session), and bike one to two times a week (around 10 miles for each ride), depending on my work, school, and clinical schedules.

I'm going to touch wood now, but... I haven't been injured in nearly a year. I'm not counting the time(s) I've tripped and skinned my knees, of course. I'm talking about over-training injuries. The other cool part? I'm much, much faster in my running. Today, for the first time since middle school track, I ran an 8-minute mile. I'm about eight weeks out now from my first half marathon of this year (I'm aiming for the Providence Half on May 6th, and I'll be returning to the Mystic Half two weeks later on May 20th. I'm planning to break the 2-hour mark in Providence, and then enjoying the scenery in Mystic (hopefully also at a sub-2-hour pace, but we'll see). After that, training for triathlon season will be in full swing, and hopefully I'll start stepping up to two workouts a day at least twice a week. The main goal is to stay strong and injury-free, of course.

There's another benefit to my cross-training, as I found out. My husband and I went skiing yesterday. My husband is an exceptional skiier. I... am an utter novice. This was actually only my second time on skis (the first time was a little more than two years ago). To my delight, I wasn't terrible! I wasn't even half-bad! I made it to the summit, and skied down from there a few times before my legs turned to jelly and we had to return to the smaller lift for a few shorter runs to end the day. 

I was paying for it afterwards (hence the soak in a hot bath), but I was elated. I am physically in such a different place than I was two years ago, or even last year, and I am looking forward to what the rest of this year will bring.

-----
*One of those reasons is that I had no idea what I was doing. I don't remember half of the practices or meets I went to, and I wasn't very good. I didn't know how to train on my own, so I didn't. This is probably a story for another day.

**The biggest thing I hear from people when I talk about triathlon is how much they'd like to try it, but they can't swim well. I did the backstroke on my first tri, no joke. This is definitely a story for another day.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Going to the Dogs

I love running, and thankfully so does my dog. If you follow the adventures of Marvel on Instagram (and if you don't already, why not start?), then you know that Marvel is my main training partner, and thank goodness for him. You can't possibly resist going out for a few miles when your dog is nearly peeing himself with excitement just because you're wearing running shorts. Having a dog accompany you on your daily run can be a seriously life-affirming choice.*

Before I get all rainbows and unicorns on you, I will share a caveat. If your dog hasn't been conditioned or trained properly, you may bring yourself to tears. We'll cover conditioning later, but as far as training, your dog should have some reasonable leash manners. I'm not expecting a perfect "heel", but being able to get your dog's attention and having a reliable "leave it" command will save you a lot of grief. Also, watch for your own feet. If you trip and your dog is chugging along ahead of you and not paying attention, they may literally pull you to the ground. I have the scars to prove this one.

Still interested? Awesome!

If you are serious about running with your best four-legged friend, be prepared to never be able to leave the house for a solo run ever again. Let's start with conditioning.**

Conditioning
If you're like me, you may have initially gotten into running through a couch-to-5K program. We're using the same principles for this, and basing our start off of a seriously couch-bound canine. If your dog is reasonably fit, you'll be able to skip ahead a little bit. With that said, limit your dog's intense exercise until they are about 18 months, or close to full grown (this will vary based on the adult size of your pooch), to avoid undue strain and stress on developing limbs. Each week is based on running 3 times a week. You can do more or less based on your own weekly mileage, but you should definitely start off slow. This is the pattern I followed to get Marvel up to 5K distance:

Week 1: Walk 30 minutes (I said to start slow!)
Week 2: Walk 10 minutes, run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes (alternate x5), walk 10 minutes
Week 3: Walk 10 minutes, run 5 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 5 minutes, walk 10 minutes
Week 4: Walk 10 minutes, run 10 minutes, walk 10 minutes
Week 5: Walk 5 minutes, run 15 minutes, walk 10 minutes
Week 6: Walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 5 minutes

After 6 weeks, Marvel was up to the 5K distance with no problem. Now, that's the base for all of our runs. He comfortably covers up to 5 miles at a time (not bad for a 30-pound Westie/Shiba mix), and usually joins me at the start of each long run. He's not quite up to running 10+ miles in one go, and I'm not quite up to carrying him when his paws hurt too much to go on.

Gear
You really don't need anything fancy for this, but sometimes it helps to splurge on certain things. For me, it was a hands-free leash that allowed me to run without having one arm pulled on or held in a weird position. You may feel more comfortable holding a leash in your hand, but that's up to you. Experiment and find out what you like best. If you run on roads where people put down salt in the winter, you may want to invest in a pair of booties to protect your dog's sensitive paw pads from chemical burns.

Does this not look like the happiest face you've ever seen?

Do you already run with your pooches? Or are you planning on trying to share your love of running with your best friend? Let me know in the comments if you do!

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*Despite how this is worded, it really works best if the dog you run with is your own. If not, you might cause some raised eyebrows and awkward questions (some of which may include "Is that my dog?")
**I'm really not referring to grooming and shampooing, but I can't help but imagine running along with a dog with hair like Fabio

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day

I am a woman in a sport that, sixty years ago, didn't believe I was capable of running long distances, simply because I was born with two X chromosomes. Women were told that we would grow chest hair, become unsexy, or that our uteruses would fall out if we dared to run more than 200m.

Even though I ran the 800m on my middle school track team, the women's 800m wasn't (re)added to the Olympics until 1960. Even though I entered my first 5K on a whim two years ago, women weren't allowed to run further than 2.5 miles in a road race until after Title IX was established in 1972. Even though I am contesting my first marathon at the end of this year, women didn't have an Olympic marathon to compete in until 1984. The 3000m women's steeplechase wasn't added to the Olympics until 2008*.

While I don't know exactly where I would be, I do know that I wouldn't be competing at the level and distance that I currently am if it weren't for the women who came before me, who persisted and gave their blood, sweat, and tears. 

To borrow from Sir Isaac Newton, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

I am loving Amby Burfoot's novel First Ladies of Running, which is an incredible collection of stories regarding those giants of running: Bobbi Gibb, who bandited the Boston Marathon in 1966. Kathrine Switzer, who ran with a race number after entering under the name KV Switzer in 1967. Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the first women's Olympic marathon in 1984.

We still have a ways to go: the #metoo movement has unearthed some awful truths about what it still means today to be a female runner, but I think that might be a conversation for another day.

Today, we celebrate the women who have brought us here, and the women who continue to push the limits of what it means to be female. Today, we celebrate the women who don't back down. Today, we celebrate you.

Go out there. Be brave. Be bold. Don't ever let anyone you can't do it. Your uterus won't fall out. I promise.

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*You won't catch me trying my hand at this one. I took out every hurdle I tried to make my way over at my first ever track practice.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Dreadmills

I'm just going to say it:

I. Hate. Treadmills.

There. That felt good.

Now, treadmills and I didn't always have this sort of negative relationship; in fact, when I began running in March 2016, I logged every mile of my Couch to 5K program on a treadmill. The first time I ran outdoors was during my first ever road race. I continued to utilize the treadmill at my local gym during training sessions for the next few road races, but I slowly began to transition to more outdoor runs. Eventually, I was running on the treadmill once a week or less, and since then I have been on the treadmill 5 times. Mostly, I was getting in 4 or 5 miles on days that were too cold (my cutoff is 20* Fahrenheit), too rainy, or if there was too much snow on the ground. And that was working well until last Friday, when I was scheduled to run 10 miles.

Know what else was scheduled for Friday?

A bomb cyclone.

If you're not from New England, a bomb cyclone is like a Nor'Easter but on crack.

I panicked. I looked to see if I could get up at 4:30am to beat the weather (the rain was going to start at 1:00am, so scratch that). I checked the radar to see if I could drive to another state to avoid it (all of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine were affected, so that was out).

Eventually, I resigned myself to an hour and a half of treadmill running, and headed out to my YMCA. The first 4 miles passed easily, and I remembered there were some benefits to treadmills after all:

  • I had access to my water bottle during my whole run
  • I could refill said water bottle whenever I needed
  • I could use the bathroom at any time, without concern for being arrested
Of course, after those 4 miles, I remembered why treadmills were public enemy #1:
  • No change in scenery -- you can only watch so many episodes of Parks & Rec before you start to channel your own inner Ron Swanson
  • Changes in pace don't feel as natural as they do on the roads
  • Have you ever been so bored you've considered tripping over your own feet just to spice things up?
And then, the kicker.

Did you know that treadmills require electricity to work? They do! And bomb cyclones (with 20-30 mph winds) have a tendency to make electricity a little bit dodgy. At mile 5.5, my treadmill went BZZZZZTTTTT and slammed on the brakes, sending me grabbing for the handrails.

For the second time in 24 hours, I panicked. I couldn't stop now, and for about 0.2 seconds I considered what would happen if I ran the last 4.5 miles outside (answer: a terrible reenactment of Twister, so that was a non-starter). 

Thankfully, the treadmill next to me had not been in use, and so had not shorted out like mine. I climbed aboard, and things seemed to be going smoothly until mile 7 when... BZZZZZTTTT. Again, I pitched forward and managed to save myself from smashing my teeth out on the console. Getting worried, I hopped off and refilled my water bottle. When I approached another treadmill, I saw a YMCA staff member apologetically unplugging the shorted out treadmills. Before they could stop me, I hopped on to the treadmill I had singled out, and began running again.

Mile 8.5 approached, and the wind was gusting fiercely. I anticipated the short-out this time, and frantically hopped to the second-to-last available treadmill. I picked up the pace, hoping to finish before we ran out of treadmills completely. The YMCA staff were circling and still looking at me apologetically as they unplugged the downed machines. The last available treadmill was next to the one I was currently on, and it was occupied by a younger woman. I'm not proud, but I considered shoving her off her treadmill and stealing it if mine stopped working.

Thankfully, I reached the 10 mile mark without any further electrical issues, and when I hopped off my treadmill, I saw the carnage around me. Mine was the last working treadmill out of 20. I had been lucky.

Of course, I would have been luckier if I hadn't had to use a treadmill for a 10 mile run, but that's neither here nor there. 

I managed to sneak in a 7 mile run today before our latest blizzard, and even though the 15 mph wind buffeted me sideways and sucked the life from my lungs, I couldn't help but smile. At least I was outside.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Training without Music

I tend towards the nerdy side of music love. I love to listen to music, I love to read about music, I love to talk about music, so unsurprisingly I also love to train while listening to music.

In most cases, this is completely feasible -- I have a great set of bluetooth earbuds for running, and when I ride my bike trainer indoors I can pump up the tunes on a speaker. But, with warmer weather approaching, and me trying to get some more time in the water, this presents some new problems.

Earbuds need to be out for safety when I'm riding my bike outdoors, and I haven't found a reasonable (and cheap) way to listen to music while swimming. This... has been less than optimal for me.

Like a lot of people, I like to talk. If there's no one else home I talk to my dog (yes, he participates in these conversations).* So for the first few swim workouts I did, I could keep the conversation going in my own head:

Me: "This is great! I feel great! Wow this water is cold!"
Also Me: "This is terrible. I feel terrible. I can't breathe."
Me: "Let's go grocery shopping after! We need milk! And bread! And fruit!"
Also Me: "Let's get chicken nuggets on the way home instead."
Me: "That is a terrible idea!"
Also Me: "..."
Me: "CHICKEN NUGGETS!"

But as it turns out I am A TERRIBLE INFLUENCE on myself.

So to keep my mind in the game and work on tempo and pace, I just started counting my strokes and trying not to let my mind wander. That, unsurprisingly, didn't work well either.

Me: "One, two, three, breathe! One, two, three, breathe!"
Also Me: "..."
Me: "One, two, three, breathe! Turn! What lap was that?"
Also Me: "Eighty-five."
Me: "..."
Also Me: "I'm bored, I want cheese fries."
Me: "I think that was lap three."

I've finally found a formula that works -- I keep my swim intervals short and relatively high intensity. I allow my mind to wander (but I don't give in to the food suggestions**) during my longer stretches for cool-down. Here's a sample workout I used on my last swim session:

Warm up: 100 free / 50 breast / 50 back / 100 kick
Set 1: 5x150 pull with paddles (no kick)
Break: 100 free
Set 2: 4x100 pull with paddles (no kick)
Cool down: 200 free

This is for a 25-yard pool and covers a total of 1750 yards (approximately one mile) and could be adjusted (or not) for a 25-meter pool. At the end of this session, I was almost too tired to pull myself out of the pool and get back to class. Working that hard and for such manageable intervals also meant I stayed interested and engaged in my workout, and I found I didn't miss my music too much. Now I just need to figure out how to make that work for my long outdoor bike rides!

*Mostly he just gets REALLY excited whenever I ask a question... unless the question is whether or not he would like a bath
**Most times I don't.

Who Am I?

If you're reading this at the time of publication, then you probably know me personally (if you don't, how did you get here?), so I won't go overboard.

If you're reading this long after its publication (hello from the future!), and you don't know who I am, here goes:

My name is Liz. I am a registered nurse (RN) working on a general surgery floor at a small local hospital, and I love what I do. I am enrolled at Yale and will be graduating as an Adult-Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP) in May 2019. I was never super athletic, and spent most of my life riding horses and competing in a variety of riding disciplines. In March 2016, I decided that if I wanted to become the best horseback rider I could possibly be, then I needed to become more fit. I began running with the intention of finishing my first 5K at the end of the Summer. In my first year of running, I completed four 5Ks, one 5-miler, and one 10K. I also placed 8th in a USEA-recognized beginner novice horse trial and won an unrecognized HT at the end of the season. In my second year of running, I finished my first half marathon, completed my first two sprint triathlons, and ran another 5-miler. I continued competing with my horse, Gee, in eventing, but at the end of the season she was out of commission with neurological Lyme disease. As I was unable to ride my horse, I began training and running more intensely, and as a result I am looking forward to an amazing 2018. I will be running a handful of half marathons, contesting my first Olympic triathlon, and will be staring down the Chicago Marathon in October. Thankfully Gee has made a full recovery from Neuroborelliosis, but we have a long road of conditioning ahead of us to get back to where we were before the illness. As a result, I have no competition goals for Gee and so will spend the year slowly getting her fitness back while keeping her happy and healthy.

If all of this sounds like a lot, don't worry. I have one of the best support crews a woman could ask for. My husband, Oscar, is incredibly supportive and helpful with my competitions and training (he is my voice of reason and my biggest cheerleader, all in one). Our four-year-old dog, Marvel, has his own Instagram feed, and he accompanies me on almost all of my training runs. Our two chickens, Schumi and Kimi, provide the best egg breakfasts a city girl could ask for, and they are a constant source of amusement.

I found that telling people about plans and goals is the best way to hold myself responsible for them. It's hard to consider skipping a workout when you've already told someone you were going to do it! You, my lovely audience, are my way of airing my thoughts and plans and will (maybe) help me to stay sane and keep track of everything that happens along the way. Welcome to my Olympic triathlon and marathon journey!

Race Recap: 2018 Lake Terramuggus Sprint Triathlon #1

What do you normally do after running two mid-distance road races two weeks apart? If the answer of "follow that up with another race ...