Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ball of Nerves

Tomorrow morning I will be competing in my fourth 1/2 marathon - The Spirit of Columbus 1/2 Marathon. Even if I'm not actually competing in a race, I have to go through the same steps to prepare for a race that I will be coaching and over the years with Team in Training, I've lost count of the number of races that I've prepared for. Despite all of the previous experience with competing and coaching, I still get nervous the night before a race. I have to go through my same goofy rituals every time and this race is no different. It is 10 pm and I have checked and rechecked to make sure my race number is pinned to my shirt straight. This takes obsessive pinning, trying on and re-pinning. I can't stand when it isn't on straight because if it isn't right, my arm or hand will catch on it and drive me nuts. That happened with another race and I somehow managed to rub a spot raw on the inside of my arm. Yes, I am that awesome. I have also taped a note to the front door so that I don't forget my water bottles in the freezer or my sunglasses or hat. All of my clothes are set out, my emergency tag is on my left shoe (like always), my Shot Bloks (no forgetting the nutrition this weekend!) are already packed in the fuel belt and my cell phone is charged.

My goal for tomorrow is to run at least 8 miles. Ideally that will be the first 8 miles but that will be up to my evil shins. I'm hoping a short warm up run just before the race will help keep the shin splints away. The ultimate goal is to finish within 3 hours. Most people would aim for under 3 but I really don't care if the clock says 3:00:00. My previous personal best is 3:14:10. Most people like to shave 30 seconds or a minute off their time and for really fast people, 30 seconds can be an eternity but I'm aiming for 14 minutes off my PR. That's the benefit of being so slow and being a race walker that has temporarily gone to the dark side of running. Despite my extremely slow run pace, it is a little faster than my race walk pace so I really think I have a decent shot at getting within that 3 hour goal. My challenge tomorrow will be the shin splints in the first 3 miles, a few hills in the middle of the race and then of course the weather. It looks to be a nice morning but the high is supposed to be 93. Luckily the 7:30 am race start will hopefully get me to the finish line before it heats up too much.

It's been a stressful week and I'm feeling a little under trained for this race so even though I still have some pretty lofty goals, I'm not going to be crying in my chocolate milk after the race if I don't reach my goal. This race is really just the kick off to my training for the Goofy Challenge and will hopefully provide some insight as to if I should keep running or shift back to focus solely on race walking the Goofy races. And even if the race goes completely awry tomorrow, it is somewhat comforting to know that I will do more activity before 11 am tomorrow than some people will do in a week. I'm evil but hey, stuff like that entertains my brain during mile 10 and I just want the damn race to be over.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

No Nutrition

I'm registered for a 1/2 marathon that is one week from tomorrow. I haven't been completely focused on training for this because I've been busy, I needed a mental and physical break from all the triathlon training AND I didn't have to pay for the race registration. Because I didn't have to pay, I'm going into this thinking that if its too hot on race day or I just don't feel like racing, then I won't go. That has directly affected my lack of motivation to train hard. I'm hoping that the triathlon training and my previous race experience will get me through. I got the free race entry because I had a hissy fit after this same race last year. The 2009 Spirit of Columbus 1/2 marathon was poorly organized (which is an understatement) so I was sure to let them know what I thought. I did a play by play of that race and the only good thing about the whole day was that I got a personal record.

I did a 10 mile run/walk with a friend last weekend but the heat and humidity forced us to walk more than planned, despite the 7 am start time! I met up with some TNT alumni on Tuesday night for a 4 mile run that went fairly well. I had every intention of training with the Team on Thursday night but I decided to donate blood at lunch that day and that zapped all of my energy so I went home....and went to bed at 8:30!

So with one week to go, I decided that I really needed to get in one last long distance training. Unfortunately I couldn't find anyone that was available and that is my pace (and willing to do a run/walk) so I headed out on my own.

The morning started off rough when I headed out about an hour later than I wanted to. I decided to do a 1/2 mile warm up walk since I hadn't done anything since Tuesday. Shin splints struck again! My 1/2 mile warm up turned into a mile. At the one mile mark, I started to run but my shins were on fire and my feet were slapping the ground. I forced myself to run to the 2 mile point, knowing that the shins usually only hurt for the first 3-4 miles when they do act up. I walked from mile 2 to 3 but then picked up my flopping feet and started to run. It was about this time that I realized that I had left my Shot Bloks on the kitchen counter. These are the "fuel" that I use for distances over 8 miles and I was planning to cover 12 miles.

I ran almost non-stop for the next 7 miles taking just a couple 30-second walk breaks to drink some water. I had nothing else to do other than shuffle along and obsess over what to do about my lack of nutrition. I decided that I would go to the 5 mile marker and turn around. If I felt OK, then I would head back out to cover the last 2 miles. By mile 7 though I was really starting to feel hungry and quickly getting lethargic. I was focused on getting back to the 2 mile marker and then I planned to walk the rest of the way in. I knew I couldn't cover 12 miles without some kind of nutrition.

It was almost time for me to stop running and walk the 2 miles back when a friend (well, I used to babysit her but now that she's a triathlete and a year from finishing her doctorate I'm going to call her a friend so I don't feel so old), Nicole, came up on roller blades. I felt bad for making her slow down so I just kept running as we chatted. Despite my lack of running skills, I can sort of have a winded conversation and keep running at the same time. I made it to the 1 mile marker and decided I had had enough and started walking. She stayed with me though and I was so glad! I was hot and starving by that point and just wanted to be done so she was a much needed distraction! I felt the need to have a "strong finish" so I ran the last 1/2 mile in. I really wanted to collapse and roll around on the ground when I was done but that would have been embarrassing for her and I was too hungry. I went right home to refuel and stretch.

I'm pretty worn out now (it's been a couple months since I've run that much) and I'm a little sore. I'll be coaching the TNT fall teams tomorrow morning and I'm hoping a 6 mile walk will help loosen up my angry running muscles.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

2010 Caesar Creek Olympic Triathlon Recap: part 1

On July 11, 2010 I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon! That is a 1500 meter swim (which is almost a mile), a 25 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run. After nearly six months of training with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, I was able to cross the finish line but more importantly I was able to raise over $2,800 towards the mission of finding a cure for blood cancers. I couldn’t have met either challenge without the amazing support of my friends and family!

Many of you heard that our original race was canceled so we had to find another race. We ended up registering for the Caesar’s Creek Triathlon in Waynesville, Ohio. Our team met at the lake the afternoon before the race to scope out the course and to have a pasta dinner together. We were all nervous but really excited that race weekend was finally here!

On race morning, our team gathered at 6 am to head over to the lake. It was a beautiful morning but we knew that it was going to be a hot one! When we arrived we picked up our timing chip, which looks a lot like a house arrest bracelet, but it tracks your exact time throughout the whole race. Our race numbers were written on our arms so race officials could identify each person. There were over 700 people competing so there was a lot of organized chaos. We all entered the transition area where all of our gear is stored during the race. Naturally I had a check list with me to make sure I didn’t forget anything before heading toward the water for a warm-up swim.

Continued in part 2

Triathlon Recap Post 2

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming!
We all received a Team in Training wetsuit for being on the team and even though we practice in them several times, I never quite felt comfortable in it. The air temperature was already pretty warm before the race and after several 90 degree days, the water temperature was warm as well. Even though the wetsuit provides a lot of buoyancy, I knew I’d be more comfortable not wearing it. My goal for the swim (other than to not drown!) was to swim the whole distance unassisted. There are lifeguards out in the water on surfboards and kayaks to assist swimmers if they get into trouble. The rules allow you to hold onto the kayaks if needed but I was determined to make it without needing to hang on! The swim was a giant rectangle marked off in the public beach area at Caesar’s Creek. The sprint distance triathletes only had to complete one lap around but the Olympic distance triathletes had to go around twice. Trust me, a ½ mile loop in open water sure looks a lot different than swimming laps in a pool!

Because of the large number of people in the race, they divided everyone up into groups to enter the water at different intervals. I was one of the last groups to enter the water around 8:30 am. I was very nervous about getting kicked so I hung back a little as we entered the water until it was deep enough to get a full arm stroke. The start was a little rough as I started swimming the wrong direction for a few strokes and swallowing a few mouthfuls of water!

I did the sidestroke a few times to get my breathing back under control but was soon into a rhythm. I struggled at first to see all of the buoys because the sun was creating a glare on the water. I also realize that I was really far behind the other swimmers and that was mentally kind of tough. Another group entered the water a few minutes after me and was starting to catch up so I knew I had to get in a good freestyle rhythm for two reasons. One, so I wouldn’t kick anyone else coming up behind me and two, so I could focus on my own swimming rather than get distracted by the other swimmers. It thinned out a little as I made the second turn but not much longer, the elite racers that entered the water first, caught up to me and lapped me.
My coach had prepared me for this to happen so I wasn’t caught off guard too much when all of the sudden a swarm of men started churning up the water all around me. I just focused on not swallowing water and kept moving forward. The eventual winner of the race finished the swim in just over 19 minutes. Thirty-nine minutes after entering the water, I finally made it back to the beach. My coach, parents and boyfriend were all standing on the beach cheering for me. I later found out that my mom was convinced that I had drowned and asked my coach where I was. Apparently I have a very distinct swim stoke that my coach could recognize so he knew I was still out there and still above the water! I felt better than expected coming out of the water and I couldn’t help but yell out to my coach that I didn’t need a kayak!

Continued in part 3

Triathlon Recap Post 3

I Think I Can! I Think I Can!
The transition area was further away from the water than I expected so it was a long run/walk/shuffle up the sidewalk while barefoot. I made it to the transition area and found my bike! I was really concerned about losing my bike like I did at the mini triathlon I did last summer. The transition area was laid out differently which made it much easier for me to remember where all of my gear was. I tried to be fast in the transition but I knew I couldn’t leave without at least drying off a little and reapplying some sunscreen on my shoulders! Once that was taken care of, I put on my helmet and cycle shoes and I was off again! You have to run the bike to just outside of the transition area where a sign directs you to mount your bike. The pros can hop on their bike while running. I however have to make sure I’m standing on the left side of the bike, stop, swing my leg over, clip my right foot into the pedal and THEN mount the bike to start pedaling. It’s very graceful. My coach was standing on the sidelines shouting directions because the sprint distance athletes were already coming back in from their bike ride so it was kind of confusing and I certainly didn’t want to collide with anyone!

Once I got onto the road though, I realized that my bike computer wasn’t working so I had no idea how fast (or how slow!) I was going or how far I had gone. I knew that the magnet down on the spokes had shifted and the transmitter wasn’t picking up the signal. It’s an easy fix but it would have required me to stop and get off the bike. I just knew that I’d never hear the end of it from my coach if I stopped so I just kept going. I had my watch so I could kind of guess how far I had gone based on time but I quickly realized that pacing would be the least of my worries. Nothing could have prepared me for what was ahead. The bike course seemed to be uphill every direction we turned! All throughout training, I HATED hills. Even the simulated hills we did on the indoor spinning bikes over the winter. As I was heading out and others were coming back, I saw several people pushing their bikes up the hill that I was going down at the time. I cursed under my breath knowing that I was going to have a rough time when I was coming back. I kept going but it seemed to be one hill after another. There were some good down hills that I really wished I had my computer for because I know I had to be going at least 25 mph a few times. But each fast decent was rudely interrupted by an uphill. There was one hill that I was preparing for the worst. I thought for sure I was going to roll right over. I was in my easiest gear, standing up but still swerving all over because I just didn’t have enough strength to get up the hill any other way. I was going so slow that I couldn’t seem to get the leverage to unclip my shoes from the pedals either. At one point, I tucked my elbows in and made my way to the edge of the road so that if I fell over, I would at least land in a grassy ditch. After some loud cursing and heavy breathing, I somehow made it up one of the last nasty hills without falling over. I knew I was almost done because I could hear the announcer back towards the lake shouting the names of those that were crossing the finish line. The sound was carrying up and over the levy.

Continued in part 4

Triathlon Recap Post 4

Run, Amber, Run!
Throughout my training, my goals for race day changed. At some point the goal was to finish in less than 4 hours. Then it was just to not finish last. Right before the race though I decided my only goal was to finish. Period. I did manage to pass someone on the bike course. It happened to be one of my Team in Training teammates so we gave each other a little pep talk as I caught up to her but then I took advantage of a pretty steep downhill and passed her.

As I came back into the transition area though, I was really wishing that I could have been done at that point! Just as there was a sign instructing the cyclists to mount their bikes, there was another sign indicating where to dismount. I was nervous about this because this is where people tend to crash. They can’t seem to unclip from their pedals or they run into someone else. Lucky for me, there was NO ONE around to run into and I successfully got out of my pedals. Then I had to get back to where all of my gear was. Naturally it was on one of the furthest racks so I had to run/walk/shuffle while in my cycling shoes (very slippery on concrete!) and pushing my bike. This is when I noticed just how many people had already finished the race. They were already starting to tear down the racks and I hadn’t even started the run yet! I was a little discouraged at that but I kept going.

When I got to my rack, there were several large, beefy triathlete dudes packing up their gear and blocking the rack. I yelled “Excuse me!” but they didn’t seem to hear the urgency in my voice right away. I pushed my way through anyways (I may or may not have run over someone’s wetsuit with my bike), changed into my running shoes, threw on my hat, another quick spray of sunscreen to my shoulders and I was off again. I think the large, beefy triathletes dudes finally realized I was still in the race and they felt bad so they all got out of my way and started to cheer for me as I ran back out. I also had my own personal cheer squad waiting just outside of the transition area. My parents, boyfriend and his parents were all there for me. I later found out that they were all very concerned because I had been gone so long on the bike. The bike ending up taking a good 20 minutes longer than expected so they thought I had crashed into a ditch somewhere. I was pretty close but survived!

Just as I left the transition area, I immediately realized just how hot it had gotten. It was about 11:00 am and the sun was intense. The first part of the run course was in the shade but it was uphill so I didn’t get much relief. I struggled during training with going from the bike to the run. Your legs feel like lead when you get off the bike so when you try to run, it’s almost like you have forgotten how to walk, let alone run! During training though, I always forced myself to run at least a mile before taking a walk break. I think I only made it about a half a mile before I started to walk. There were still people out on the run course but they were all finishing up their second of two laps. There were a few people that cheered for me as they passed me and yelled out “you’re almost there!” Now, as a marathon coach, I have learned to NEVER say this to anyone unless you can SEE the finish line. I really wanted to trip these people but instead I just mumbled something about still having another lap to go and yelled to them that they were a lot closer to “almost there” than I was!

I had already made it through over three hours of racing at this point but the hardest part was still in front of me. I managed to get through the first lap (3.1 miles) and did a combination of running and walking. I came back towards the beach where my entourage was waiting for me. They had multiplied! Some friends and teammates had now joined and cheered me along.
For some reason though, in that exact moment, I felt dead. I honestly felt like I didn’t have another step in me and I really wanted to cry. I completely credit Team in Training, all of my marathon training (and learning how to push through “The Wall”), and thinking about our team hero, Seth Jenkins, for getting me through that last lap. Even though it was amazing to have so many people out there to support me, I don’t think there is anything that any of them could have said to me to keep me moving forward at that point. I could hear them all yelling but it was almost like an out of body experience and something other than me was making my feet move. I headed back up the hill (and into the brief shade) and starting what was probably the SLOWEST 5K I’ve ever done. I walked almost the whole way but it was now close to 90 degrees and I felt like my skin was on fire. Over two miles of that 3.1 mile course was on top of an old levy next to the lake. It was a narrow, gravel trail with overgrown grass on one side and large rocks on the other. It was challenging to navigate but it was also in full sun. The only good thing about the run was that it was an out and back course and one of my teammates was about a ½ mile in front of me and the other was about a mile behind me so we passed each other a few times and did our best to both encourage each other but to also blurt out the obvious, that it felt like we were running at the gates of Hell.

With less than a mile to go, my coach appeared out of the trees and I was so glad to see him because I knew that hadn’t died on top of that levy and that I was slowly but surely getting to the finish. I really wanted to run the rest of the way in but my stomach was starting to cramp up and I just wasn’t sure how much energy I had left. Then I saw one of my teammates that had done the sprint distance race at the bottom of the hill and she was cheering for me but more importantly, I saw that she was waiting with COLD water for me. I started running towards her then! She handed me the water and started to run with me. Then a few more of my teammates joined us. I was so touched that they had not only waited for me but were out running with me even after finishing their own races. They ran with me until just before the finish shoot where they split off and let me have my moment as I crossed the finish line in four hours and 12 minutes. My whole entourage was cheering for me right from the finish line and my mom was waiting with a bottle of cold water that she poured right over my head. Always my mother, she probably realized by looking at me just how close I was to having some serious issues with the heat.

Everything was a blur for a little while after I finish and I have to apologize to everyone there if I didn’t seem quite coherent! I knew you were all there and I certainly appreciated it! It took several minutes after being ushered into the shade and having the water dumped on me before I started to feel a little more “with it.”

Final times:
Swim: 39:11
T1: 3:41
Bike: 1:49:05
T2: 2:28
Run: 1:59:58
Total: 4:12:48

I had achieved my goal of finishing but I also achieved my goal of not finishing last. But that also meant that one of my teammates was still out on the course. Having just finished, I could appreciate even more than most of the others just how brutal the conditions had gotten and I could feel for her. The same people that ran in with me headed back out onto the course to run in with our teammate. I had gotten some much needed sugar by that point (Thank you to my coach’s kids that magically appeared with a can of Coke for me!) and was feeling a little better so I went out with them. Team in Training isn’t about the individual competition. We are a Team out there with the mission of finding cures for blood cancers. We support each other until the end. The race organizers had packed everything up with the exception of the actual finish line and the announcer was anxiously waiting for us. As we all rounded the last corner, he yelled out that the “purple monster” was wrapping up the 2010 Caesar’s Creek Triathlon. We are indeed a purple monster when a pack of us wearing our purple jerseys gets together. And the entire purple monster finished!

Continued in part 5

Triathlon Recap Post 5

Thank You!
This was my fourth event with Team in Training and kicked off my sixth year of volunteering with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Over the past six years, my family, friends, teammates and even complete strangers have helped me raise nearly $13,000. Our team hero, Seth Jenkins lost his battle with cancer not long after we started training for this race. He was with our team in spirit during the 6 am swim practices and during the 30 mile bike rides in the heat and humidity. He was there with us all on race day. We couldn’t save Seth but he was the kind of kid that didn’t stop fighting so we won’t stop fighting either. We will find a cure for these horrible blood cancers. We will spare another family from going through what the Jenkins family went through. This was an amazing experience for me and it was an opportunity to prove to myself that I am tougher and stronger than I give myself credit for sometimes and that I really can achieve things that seem impossible in the beginning. One of my favorite Walt Disney quotes is “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” and it really is!

I hope that my unlikely journey to becoming an endurance athlete is inspiration for others to reach for things that they once thought were impossible and to always make sure to take a step back and realize what is really important. A bad day at work, a hard training session or even finishing last in a race doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.

Thank you so much to everyone that continues to support me in all of my adventures. I couldn’t do what I do without the financial support when I decide to fundraise for a charity, the emotional support when the training leaves me exhausted and cranky and the physical support from all of my amazing training buddies. These people know who they are and they help me push harder, go further and faster, inspire me to be my best (no matter how slow my best is!) and generally act as the glue that holds me together!
I promised myself a week off from training and that I would ease myself back into but I have a ½ marathon scheduled in 5 weeks and my biggest adventure yet, the Goofy Challenge, is in six months. Stop back to read about my training shenanigans for those events!