Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Flower Power

We spent an enjoyable five hours in Rochester on April 26, leaving home at 5 a.m. to prepare for a 7:30 race start. I was there to run the Flower City Half Marathon, the first time I've done this race, but not the first time racing in Rochester, and hubby was there, as always, to provide support and take photos. Athletes numbering nearly 2,300 enjoyed nearly perfect running conditions (I would have liked about 5 more degrees), but for spectators it seemed a bit chilly.

Still, crowd support was impressive, with only miles 10-12, along the Genesee Riverway Trail, a little sparse. After running riverside, we emerged onto the Ford Street Bridge after we passed a small group of string musicians (larger than a quartet but smaller than a symphony orchestra) playing "Eleanor Rigby." From there it was a straight shot to the finish line, and I was able to pick up speed and finish strong, stronger than I have in many previous races.

That's one groovy medal.
Traffic control was outstanding, with friendly and cheerful police officers urging us on. The whole vibe just felt good.

My goal for the race was 2:14, modest to be sure but also realistic considering a month before I had run a terrible Syracuse Half Marathon and a week before this half a disappointing 10K. I lined up behind the 2:15 pace group but, surprising myself, quickly passed the pacers and settled in for the long haul. I was upset with myself when that group caught me with less than a mile to go. But I thought to myself, "Aw, hell no!" and left them in the dust.

Around mile 3 (I think), we entered a historic district featuring Susan B. Anthony's home. The supporters there, dressed in Anthony-era clothing, held signs saying "Votes for Runners." Similar fun and distracting support continued throughout.

The first half of the race followed flat city streets, taking us through downtown Rochester and then neighborhoods with lovely homes. Then, looming ahead, was the first tough hill of the course. I reminded myself how my girl, Deena Kastor, approaches changes in elevation: It gives the muscles something different to work with, so no worries. Still, the hills seemed relentless as we entered Highland Park and then Mount Hope Cemetery. Unlike in the Springtime 10K, I kept going. I refused to stop. I will conquer these hills. My reward for doing so was the flat that made up the remainder of the race.

Over and over again I spied a little boy dressed in a Spiderman suit, handing out high-fives (he and his dad must have been supporting mom/wife). We saw signs of support aplenty, among my favorites "You Look Skinny!" and "This is a lot of work for a free banana."

My overall goal this season is to work on the mental aspects of racing--when I feel like slowing to a walk, talk myself out of it; if a foot starts to twinge, give it a half-mile or so and then check in with it; remind myself that I have raced this distance before, whatever distance it is; and, above all, run the mile you are in. That last really helped me on Sunday.

After a helpful runner told me "That was the worst hill," upon conquering the first one, another runner said, "But it wasn't the only hill." There are more hills to come? Worry about them when you get there, not when they're still two miles away. And once the hills had been vanquished, a helpful spectator said, "That's it for the hills." No more hills? "Nope!" And I reached mile 9, knowing I had gotten through the worst of it. Only 4.1 miles to go. . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Plan for 2015

It's nearly 2015 and my race calendar for the upcoming season is pretty full already. I will no doubt fill in the spaces between with a race here and there, but my major triathlon plans are complete.

I am challenging myself in 2015 to complete three 70.3s--Tinman, Peasantman and Incredoubleman, which I DNF (Did Not Finish) last year.

But my big news is qualifying for Age Group National Championships by winning my age group in the Incredoubleman sprint race. Boy, was I surprised by that email! The Nationals sell out pretty quickly, so I booked a hotel as soon as I could (since that can always be canceled) just in case the race was full. It wasn't, and I'm in. August 8, 2015 I will be competing with the top amateur Olympic-distance triathletes in the country. I know I won't finish last, but I wouldn't care if I did (well, maybe I would). I'll never have this chance again and I will go to Milwaukee with the foremost goal of enjoying the experience.

So with my ambitious schedule published at right, here is my off-season plan for being the most fit I can be so I can compete at my best throughout the year.

  • Weight-lifting, twice a week. We're not talking mega poundage here, but enough weight to tone without bulking. I am especially focusing on hip strength to avoid a repeat of the knee issues that plagued me last summer.
  • Get my new bike on a trainer, which means getting my butt to the CNY Tri Club's Winter Training Facility (WTF) so I can build a base of cycling fitness. The bike is my weakness, and I know I have to work on it more often. And thanks to my husband for buying me a spiffy tri bike so I have no more excuses. 
  • Swim three times a week, with two of those drill-focused. I gave myself a good long time off from specific swim training after my last tri in mid-September. For 10 weeks I just swam. December 1 marked my return to the paddles, swim buoy and kickboard. I received all of those for Christmas last year, and training with them helped my race-day swimming considerably.
  • Be more religious about speedwork. Now that the Liverpool High School track is open again to the public, I truly have no reasons not to trot over there once a week. To race fast you have to train fast, and that means repeats at the track or on the treadmill when the weather isn't cooperating.
  • I always, year after year, work on my diet. Not "diet" to lose weight, but "diet" as in what I eat. Last year's effort to reduce processed food was successful, although I do like a bowl of cereal for breakfast when it's not oatmeal season. I really want to decrease sugar intake this year, though it won't be easy. Sugar has become the new salt as far as nutrition is concerned. It's just so bad for you. So, so bad. Also, increase intake of quality protein. Endurance athletes tend to focus on carbs, carbs, carbs, and while we need those I know I need more protein, especially for recovery. I am trying to incorporate some non-meat sources as well--quinoa, especially, and black beans. I love black beans.
So there it is in a nutshell. Easy, right? Right. In a perfect world, achieving those goals every day would be automatic. But what world is perfect? As long as you try to do better every day, you're making progress.

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.

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, 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 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!