Sunday, November 16, 2014

Molly Strong

I spent 22 weeks training for the Harrisburg Marathon, which was Nov. 9. That's 154 days of running, foam-rolling, biking, swimming, weightlifting, yoga-ing and thinking about the fifth 26.2-miler I have taken on. That's 42% of a year, a long time!

While race day didn't go quite as those 22 weeks prepared me for, I did finish the race, we did travel to another city (always a plus) and I was able to take in the sights (some nice, some not so nice) of the capital of Pennsylvania.

As with any big race, you learn many things about yourself and about your training--improving is a never-ending quest. If we were perfect, what would be the point? And life sure would be dull. Lingering health issues manifested themselves yet again this year and I have committed to working on those in the off-season.

Arthritis flare-ups (left ankle and second toe on the right foot). The latter can't be fixed without another surgery, and I'm not sure I'm up for that, or if the insurance company would pay for a fourth. My podiatrist told me they now harvest cushioning pads from cadavers and one could be inserted between that joint, bone-on-bone, no cartilage in sight. Cortisone shots become less and less effective, so I've likely tapped those out. The doc did have me fitted for another pair of orthotics, meant to take pressure off the aching joint. I'm still breaking those in.

As for the ankle. . .I just started taking a glucosamine sulfate tablet every day in the hopes of forestalling further erosion of the cartilage in that joint. Studies aren't conclusive about the efficacy of glucosamine, but I'm willing to try. The pain became so intense around mile 19 in Harrisburg that I stopped and sobbed for a bit. But I kept moving forward.


Glute weakness. It may seem counterintuitive, but running actually atrophies your glutes, rather than strengthens them. As the quads get stronger (which will happen with running and biking), the back of the legs--hamstring to glutes--get weaker. That's a reason I had an issue with patellar tendonitis over the summer. My PT showed me some exercises, which mitigated that pain, but I admit I neglected those toward the end of marathon training. Time to get back to the weights, with focus on my butt (Kim K is not the goal here; think Jackie Joyner instead).

I am grateful to my Super Masters body that endurance was not an issue this training season, nor was speedwork. I completed enough of those workouts to my satisfaction for Harrisburg. I can't really train to avoid arthritis.


Now, to my thoughts about the race itself.

I really enjoyed the size of the field--about 800. The race director didn't have to employ pacers for a group of this size, but he did and for that I am thankful. I was able to hang with the 10:18/mile pacer (for a 4:30 finish) until about mile 16 (when Arthur showed up). It's really helpful to have a group to run with and at a pace you prefer.

Around mile 5. It was a surprise seeing my personal photographer here.
The start and finish on City Island, located in the Susquehanna River and large enough for a minor-league ballpark and other attractions, were delightful. Crossing both bridges a few times meant plenty of crowd support, especially from your personal cheerleader. That's always fun. The portion of the course along the river was quite pretty, flat and fast, providing plenty of spots for spectators. We spent about 3 miles running out on that and then coming back.

I liked the tour of downtown the first five miles afforded us, but I wonder why the course didn't take us past the attractive state Capitol. The band at the northern end of the Walnut Street bridge kept spirits high--too bad there weren't more musicians along the way. That said, the volunteer support for this race puts many other, larger, races to shame. People at every water stop were enthusiastic, helpful and encouraging. How I wish they could map a course that didn't take runners on the same roadway as 18-wheelers. Not only was it ugly, it was a bit intimidating running so close to these monsters. I didn't like miles 12-16 at all because of that--starting to feel pain in the ankle around 16 didn't help either.

The college students at mile 16 really stood out, even though the DJ played some obnoxious music (ick to Robin Thicke). Thanks to the woman at mile 17 handing out Twizzlers--a pleasant and tasty surprise. The next few miles through the nature preserve broke up the urban landscape, but that hill! It never seemed to end.

Seriously?
By far, however, my biggest gripes have to do with the finish line. Some idiot parent allowed their young child (3, maybe) inside the chute (see photo at left). He ran back and forth as we finished, putting himself and exhausted runners at risk of injury. I'm still trying to figure out why a race official didn't halt that nonsense immediately. Also, I realize I didn't finish this race in record time, but I did finish the race. I paid my entry fee just like a 3-hour marathoner did. So......where was the food? I had my choice of dry slice of ham-and-cheese sub and dry slice of ham-and-cheese sub. And bagel halves. And that was it! No bananas, no orange slices, no brownies, no cookies. Not happy. I heard a few days from a Syracuse friend who ran a leg of the relay that they had an "incredible" fruit salad, including fresh pineapple, for runners. Gone; all gone! Even more not happy.

I don't get that part at all. If you see non-runners taking food, ask them to stop. If you see you are running short, set some aside for the late-finishers. Surely you had radio contact out there on the course and you knew a good 50 people had yet to finish. There really is no excuse.

So I would rate Harrisburg a good, not great, marathon. It had so much right going for it, but my experience at the finish line left me disheartened. We won't be back. If I race another marathon next fall, it'll likely be Mohawk-Hudson, my first, run way back in 2006. We'll see if the off-season strength training and glucosamine help with my weaknesses. If not, I'll drop back to half-marathons. Since arthritis seems to flare at mile 16 (as it has the last two marathons I attempted), running 13.1 miles will be a breeze!


Monday, July 21, 2014

It Took My Breath Away

I'm not sure if the lifeguard in the kayak thought I was crazy or stupid. And I gave him two opportunities to decide. About 500 meters from the swim finish of the Delta Olympic triathlon on July 20, I gulped way too much water. When that happens (as invariably it will in open water), I stop short, catch my breath and keep going. This time was different.

Back in February I suffered a nasty bout of bronchitis, and for several months afterward, whenever I swallowed wrong, my breath would catch, almost as if my epiglottis got stuck. A whack on the back would set things right (and frighten the kids), until my husband convinced me to see the doctor. A steroid inhaler quelled the problem.

Sunday morning it happened again. But this time I was in a lake and there was no hubby to get it to stop. I looked toward the kayak, raised my hand and yelled for help. The lifeguard came right over. I told him the problem (between gasps), and rested for about two minutes. At one point, I asked him to whack me on the back with his paddle. "Really?" he asked. "Yep." Crazy or stupid, take 1. He instructed me to pull long, deep breaths, and things were set aright.

I thanked him, and started off. "You're going to keep going?" "Of course I am," I responded. Clearly this kid doesn't know me well. Crazy or stupid, take 2.

And thus began my 3-hour journey in and around Delta Lake State Park, in northern Oneida County, a place my mother took us often in the summer. The Olympic distance tri is generally a mile swim, a 24-mile bike ride, and a 6-mile run. I have competed at Delta three times, if memory serves, first in the sprint distance and then twice in the Olympic. It's a terrific, well-run and organized race, put on by ATC Endurance.

Even with that minute-or-so respite, I can't complain about my swim time. I tried a new strategy for the start--lining up on the buoy side, instead of in the middle of the pack. I was surprisingly untouched for a good deal of the race, and even drafted a swimmer ahead of me, careful to back off if her feet got too close to my face. And with the buoys right there, I didn't drift off track. I always feel triumphant when I pass the men, who yesterday started swimming five minutes ahead of the women, and I left several behind me as I exited the water.

Transition to the bike went pretty well--the new wetsuit I got for my birthday comes off much easier than the one it replaced. The bike was OK--my pace was 16.7 mph--an improvement but not even close to where I wish I could be. I am hopeful that the new bike I am saving to purchase later this year will be a faster ride.

Me and my improved, less damaging, stride.
Last year's race was brutally hot, and my run time showed it. This year topped 77 degrees with considerable cloudiness, which helped a lot. I also have been seeing a physical therapist for about six weeks to solve this patellar tendonitis I feel in both knees. For the first time in quite a while I ran pain-free; the tedious exercises are working, as is my attempt to change my running gate. Being a heel-striker for 30 years has not been good for my joints. This photo shows that I am having some success at changing that stride--nearly my entire foot is hitting the ground at once, instead of just my heel. Bonus: I actually placed third in my age group on the run.

While I wish I had placed higher in my age group, I conquered the only goal I set for myself--finishing faster than last year's time of 3:05:08. This year's finish clocked in at 3:04:38, a fact my astute husband pointed out as soon as I crossed the finish line.

This is Jade. See Jade swim. See Jade bike. See Jade run.
A big shout-out to my girl, Jade Barth Mills, an ultramarathoner who completed her first triathlon, this one, and she beat me! We exited the water at about the same time, I passed her once on the bike, but she got me back, and I can never keep up with her on the run (even though I used to about 10 years ago). Good on you, Jade! I hope you caught the triathlon bug and I see you at future races.

Next up for me: Cayuga Olympic Triathlon, Aug. 3. Last year's time was 3:14:57, but I did finish 3rd in my Age Group! The bike there is tough. So I'll aim for 3:11.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Which Amazing Race?

I realize it's almost a year away, but I am already considering a spring 2015 marathon. There are four held in May from which to choose, and each brings with it a number of pros and cons. All four races receive ratings and comments at marathonguide.com, so while also consulting that, I'll attempt to make a decision as a write.

Buffalo Marathon, May 24, 2015; 1,286 finishers. $70 (with a $5 discount if you register by June 1).
I have run, and pretty much enjoyed, the half marathon three times (if memory serves). It looks as if the race director mapped out a new course this year, which is a good thing, because the old course's second jaunt along Lake Erie was dreadfully boring. We are familiar with Buffalo, it's less than 3 hours from home and this race is a well-run event. However, we are familiar with Buffalo; not much new to see there.


Ottawa Marathon, May 24, 2015; 5,425 finishers. $105 (Canadian, 2014 price). Oh, so much positive to say about Canada's capital. I love this city; every time I have visited I have been charmed by the architecture, the friendly natives and just the fun of being in another country. And I hear terrific things about this race. But I also have read some negatives regarding lodging: price hikes with ridiculous minimum stays at the hotels. And while we have no reason to fear Customs, it's still such a hassle to cross back into the U.S. Ottawa is about 3-1/2 away, not too far at all. And, hey, it's Ottawa!


Pittsburgh Marathon, May 3, 2015; 4,500 finishers. $95 (2014 price). The earliest of the races on this list, this marathon comes highly regarded as well. However, my understanding is that it's hilly between miles 12 and 24. And while I have never shied away from hills, they are starting to be the enemy to my creaky knees. I have been in Pittsburgh twice (many family members live in the area), and it would provide the most metropolitan experience of the four. The early race date is a decided disadvantage (hard to get in decent long runs should Syracuse's upcoming winter be as harsh as the most recent one we suffered through). It's also more than 6 hours away, making travel a bit onerous.

Vermont City Marathon, Burlington Vt., May 24, 2015; 2,432 finishers. $90 (2014 price). I have been in Burlington once, and it's a gorgeous place to visit. The marathon map shows a good portion of the race route along Lake Champlain. Hotels there offer shuttle service, and some even provide early breakfast for the runners (other hotels in other marathon cities should take note). And it's pretty close to where Ben & Jerry's is produced, necessitating a visit, which could be the deciding factor. The comments about this race on marathonguide.com are overwhelmingly positive. It's farther away than Ottawa (5-hour drive), but still not a ridiculous distance.


Now, I realize all of this is a bit premature, considering I have a marathon coming up in November, and anything can happen on marathon race day; anything. But I enjoy looking ahead and dreaming and thinking that maybe, just maybe, I can tackle two marathons a year. So, have I decided? I do believe I have. But it wouldn't be nice if I didn't consult the driver/photographer/supporter/cajoler. Time to ask the hubby, and see what he thinks. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will see my decision once it's made.

If, in the comments, you'd like to give your opinion, feel free. I am always open to suggestions, good or bad, and willing to listen, especially since I'm asking!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Things Have a Way of Working Out

A year ago today I was "let go" from the only job I thought I had ever wanted.

True story: When I was a journalism student at Syracuse University, I would see the Syracuse New Times at one of my three places of employment, the long-gone Burger King on Marshall Street. I read it; I liked it. I announced to myself, "I want to be the editor of that paper."
After a circuitous route that included two years as a copy editor at a major daily newspaper, the editor of a small alternative weekly in Ithaca, years of freelancing, and working for a labor union as their communications director, I achieved that dream.
When I told Shirley Zimmer, former co-owner of The New Times, this story, she couldn't contain her awe that I had predicted my future 20 years before it became my present.
I spent 13 years on staff at the third-oldest alternative newsweekly in America, one as staff writer and 12 as editor-in-chief. It was daunting, it was scary, it was nerve-wracking, it was gray hair-producing, it was exhilarating, it was fun. I got to interview people I never could have imagined: Ray Suarez, Liz Phair, Pete Best, Graham Nash, Hillary Clinton. Actually, I had tea with her one late August morning; it was awesome.
Sure there were issues working there--any newsroom has its stresses, but an alt-weekly newsroom's are magnified.
The money stinks.
The benefits (what few there are) are pricey.
The work can be all-consuming.
You are perennially understaffed.
Every Tuesday, production day, demanded undivided attention--no doctor appointments, no lunches outside of the building, no idea when you might make it home.
For years I convinced myself that the positives far outweighed the negatives (life is merely a series of trade-offs, right?). Besides, it was a pretty cool job.

A year ago today my life changed. I had never before been fired from a job. I had never before worked so hard for someone who had no clue 1) how hard I was working, 2) why I was working so hard and, 3) why I so desired to protect the paper's integrity and my editorial staff. The dirty deed happened on a Tuesday, after the paper was put to bed; figures.
I cried (but not outside my office). I called my husband and cried. I called my daughter and cried. I went home and cried. I drank too much wine and cried.

I have never been one to wallow, however, so instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, the next morning I posted a candid status update on Facebook. The community outpouring of support was incredible and flattering, and served to boost my self-confidence in the face of the ego-deflation I had just experienced.

Now, Facebook is both a blessing and a curse. Three-hundred-sixty-four days ago, I was truly blessed when a friend-of-a-Facebook-friend contacted me via, what else?, Facebook to say she had a position available, and would I want to come in and talk about it. Would I?

Almost a year later, I am enjoying this job (can't call it new anymore) at a different labor union than the one I worked at before, helping communicate the plight of workers, learning so much I can't even begin to list it, being part of a team that is like-minded and dedicated to the members we represent. I am doing good work, important work, satisfying work, and that's really what matters.

Some things, I believe, are truly meant to be. Way back in 1981, when I transferred to Syracuse University's Newhouse School, after I finally realized Skidmore College and I didn't mesh, my sister was organizing upstate New York healthcare workers for an upstart Service Employees International Union local. I moved in with her (free rent in exchange for keeping the apartment clean).

Nearly 30 years later, I find myself working at the place she helped form way back when (life can truly be strange). Some people she worked with are still with the union, and they remember her, and they remember me. And it feels wonderful to be appreciated.

So what's the takeaway? 
1. You're never too old to learn some lessons about life, or at least have them reinforced.
2. Life isn't fair, but it isn't meant to be fair.
3. Hard work does pay off, often in surprising ways.
4. Try as you might, you cannot control your destiny. You can take steps toward your life's goals, but they may get derailed. The key is to bounce back, be flexible and keep an open mind.
5. Dreams often turn into nightmares and then back into dreams.
6. When the going gets tough, the tough get going (one of my mother's favorite sayings).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lost in Cyberspace

This is a gripe.

I am having a terrible time retrieving my Running Log from runnersworld.com. I have kept this log since 2006, and it contains data that is important to a runner: personal records, miles run per week or month or year, shoes worn and mileage accrued on those shoes. I can't access any of that, and the customer service folks at Runner's World as well as Rodale, which publishes the magazine, in a word, suck! I have emailed, I have called, I have left messages. Nothing! Nada! Zilch!

I have already transferred the mileage on my five active pair of running shoes to beginnertriathlete.com. (FYI: You should replace shoes every 400-500 miles, that's why it's important to know). That was easy.

But what I'm really frustrated about is the lost-in-the-vortex information about my PRs. My best running year ever was 2007; that year, I PR'd at every distance. As I am starting to regain some speed (but likely not all of it, due to this annoying thing called aging), I want to compare current race times with my best, or even with those of 2009, or 2011.

It is nearly 2014, and I find it hard to believe that runnersworld.com doesn't have a mechanism for the subscriber to change his/her email and password, without the verification link going to the email address you no longer can use! If I log in using social media, all my accumulated information in my log is not there; I am considered a new user. When I contact customer service from the link on the website to change my password, the link for the new password goes to the email address that doesn't exist.

I can't figure out a solution to this problem, a first-world problem, but a problem just the same.

So I hope someone in customer service at Rodale sees this and gets in touch (or listens to my messages and calls me back). When you ask me to contact you, using a specific, non-toll free, phone number, and I get a recording telling me you're with other customers and to leave a message, shouldn't I rightfully expect a return call? Why do I have to call several days in a row, only to get that same message? Why don't customer service reps listen and respond to the previous day's messages at the beginning of the next day?

And I'm not a freeloader; I have subscribed to Runner's World and Bicycling, both Rodale publications, for years. 

If anyone reading this can posit a solution for me, please leave it in the comments section. Thanks.