Thursday, September 4, 2014

Luck is most apparent in retrospect

I got a pretty serious reminder of just how lucky I am last week.

See, I've had my time trial bike for almost three years now. And last week, I was chatting with a friend about a flat she'd gotten on her commute, and I noted that I had never had a flat on my time trial bike.

Not racing.

Not training.


And while I realize how lucky THAT facts is, I didn't yet know just how lucky I was. As I was finishing up my ride Saturday morning, I got a flat. Giggled about how I'd just boasted about my luck and this was probably payback, but was happy that I was less than a block from home and simply walked the bike home, flat to be dealt with later.

And when I did get to it a few hours later, I discovered something very interesting. You see, my bike came with Felt's TTR2 wheels, which have a slightly deeper than normal rim. Observe.

It turns out that they are just deep enough that a standard valve stem on a tube won't reach through far enough to support inflation. Meaning that for 3 years, hundreds of miles of racing, thousands of miles training on roads that are often quite far from home, or the nearest bike shop, for that matter, I was riding with spare tubes that would have been useless.

And I discovered this after getting a flat one block from home. 

My luck has probably run out, I'd best hide from society for a few days.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On Being a Medical Abnormality

The normal healing time for a metatarsal stress fracture is 4-6 weeks. That meant that, since today is September 2, and I got my fracture diagnosed on August 11, I should have at least another week or two in this fine footwear.

Since I had no intention of prolonging this situation, I kept this boot on pretty much nonstop, to the point that I took it off right by the edge of the pool when I got in to swim or enjoy some deep-water running, and otherwise only took it off to change clothes or bathe. While I've been logging a good deal of doctor-approved activity - biking in hard-soled shoes, deep-water running, and swimming while avoiding pushing off the wall with the bum foot - I've also been staying off my feet as much as possible outside those activities.

(Pretty much)

Although I am still smack in the middle of the normal healing timeframe, I've felt absolutely no pain from the fracture site since about August 18. While this tempted me to ditch the boot and go back to normal flip turns in the pool, I kept complying with doctor's orders. However, since the original podiatrist was dead-set on my staying in the boot for a month no matter what, I decided to seek a second opinion. So I kicked off last Friday with a fun swim (one-leg flip turns only, of course), and thought that after an appointment with a podiatrist later that day, maybe I'd be able to lose the boot a few days early.

The new podiatrist listened to the history of my injury (first pain on July 29, stopped running as of August 10, in the boot since August 11, clear bone healing showed on an x-ray on August 20), and tried to prepare me for the 99.999% chance that the bone wouldn't be fully healed and that I'd still be looking at another couple of weeks in the boot because "healing at this rate would only occur for a medically abnormal case."

Since "medically abnormal" is pretty much my middle name (no joke: 5 years ago, I had surgery that was so rare for an adult that a dozen or so residents from GW watched the procedure), I retained some hope, got the x-rays done, and waited for her to come back with the results.

Healed. Only a faint sign there was ever a break at all.

Now while you might think I went out and immediately celebrated with a double-digit mileage run, even I have some sense about me. Before leaving the podiatrist's office, I asked about when I could run again (next Monday), when I could hit up the elliptical (Thursday), and how to transition out of the boot (slowly, over the course of 4-5 days).

And believe me, upon taking myself out for a stellar 15 minute walk in super stable running shoes later that day, I understand the need to ease back into normal life before running again. That boot messed up my hip and calf pretty nicely, but I'll get back to running far sooner than anybody would have thought.

Usually, I lament my massive, dense bones, gigantic body frame, high weight, and super sluggish metabolism. But it all finally pulled through for me this one time. Being a freak of nature isn't always so bad.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Racing on an Injury: It's (Almost Always) Stupid

 It’s kind of hard to hide some injuries.

Since almost everybody I encounter asks about my injury given my footwear “selection,” I should probably just walk around with a stack of handouts explaining my foot situation. When asked, I try to be as brief as possible– I had some foot pain 1.5 weeks out from a major goal race, minimized how much I ran on it, developed/worsened a stress reaction/fracture while competing in two races one weekend, and got the confirmed diagnosis a few hours after getting back to DC. The reaction from the (mostly non-athletes) I run into on a daily basis is generally something along the lines of “Wow, you are really tough! You did those two races on a broken foot?”

Not exactly the reaction I’m looking for.

What? Doesn’t everybody like to get some affirmation that they are super hard-working, determined, and altogether badass?

Maybe under some circumstances. But to be honest, racing on a known injury is arguably stupid, and should really only be undertaken in some very rare circumstances.

Hypocrite much? Maybe. Read on.

Racing on a known injury puts your long term athletic goals and health in jeopardy, and is highly unlikely to result in a stellar performance. There are rarely good reasons to do it.

Because you paid for the race/travel? Nope. That’s a sunk cost, and by racing on an injury, you could potentially hurt yourself badly enough to set yourself back even MORE cash as you try to heal in the months after the race.

Because you trained really hard? Uh-uh. See note about low likelihood of a stellar performance. Better to delay, maintain fitness as best you can with the injury, and bank those months of work for a later, healthier, race.

Because your friends are racing? Sorry, 6th grade is over.

Because you are in PR shape? Funny, if you are injured, you aren’t in PR shape, regardless of what those 800s at the track two weeks ago said.

Because you want to prove what a badass you are? Hardly. It takes a lot more strength to back away from a major goal and save yourself for a better race down the road than to stubbornly slog away through the original goal.

So then, why would you do it?

I can only speak for my reasons for racing two weekends ago, but it can be summed up as follows: it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was unlikely to come across again, and it was meaningful enough to me that I was willing to spend 3+ months under serious activity restriction following the race if I had to. In this case, I had qualified for a national championship taking place in my childhood hometown. This is a situation that would quite likely never happen again in my life (though we now know the race is going back to Milwaukee next year, and that I probably already met qualification).

Had this just been a target Olympic distance race, I’d have pulled the plug and found another race to build back up and taper for once the foot healed up. But this was a very different, very special situation.

This level of “worth it” might be different for everybody. Maybe it’s your only shot at running the New York Marathon, maybe it’s your final championship NCAA race, maybe you are racing with a dying relative, maybe it’s meaningful to you in some way that you can’t explain to anybody else. But the common thread in the decision HAS to be that you fully understand the potential consequences, and that you are willing to accept them WITHOUT whining about it after the fact.

This is why you won’t see me complaining about 2+ hour pool runs or races I might be missing this fall – I made my bed, time to lie in it. It had nothing to do with proving how tough I was, and everything to do with taking advantage of an experience that I thought I might never get again. I don’t regret it, but won’t hesitate to pull out of another race in the future if I’m injured. It’s highly unlikely I’ll find something so special in a race again.

Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 USA Triathlon Sprint Distance National Championships

I had signed up for the sprint championships as an afterthought. I’d be at the race already, Jason had signed up for the sprint, why not go ahead and race?

As we got closer to race day, online discussions about Team USA slots kicked up, since Worlds 2015 is in Chicago. Out of curiosity, I looked up what I’d have had to go to finish in the top 25 the year before.


Or, 3 minutes slower than I’d been at Colonial Beach, which featured a 22k bike course rather than a 20k bike course like nationals would.

Realizing that the race would probably be more competitive this year thanks to the proximity of 2015 Worlds, I was still hopeful maybe I could sneak in. This was a late-breaking goal, not one I’d worked towards for months, but I still wanted to go after it, foot pain and all.

With that in mind, I spent Saturday after the Olympic distance championships icing my foot and downing more Advil in 16 hours than I had in the previous year total. No, this is not medically advisable, and yes, I know that. I was on a mission to finish another 3.1 miles of running and then deal with the foot issue 100% on Monday morning, recognizing that I might be spending 12 weeks in a cast as a result.

Look, technically I’m an adult, so I get to make these decisions for myself. At least, that’s what the law says.

I was in a later wave again for the sprint, as was Jason, so we got comfortable on a patch of grass while I kept poking at my foot to see how it was doing. More Advil was downed (yes I know), more sports drink went in, and finally, it was time to wander towards the water.

Swim: 11:18 (10/65 AG, 45/723 Women, 1:22/100 yards)

Since our wave was about half the size it had been for the Olympic distance race, it was much easier to sight and get clean water. I pulled HARD and felt like I did a good job of staying on course and staying focused. Came out of the water with 11:15 on my watch and volunteers yelling “YOU’RE 10th” as I made my way over to transition. Very happy with this swim.

T1: 3:18 (51/65 AG, 441/723 Women)

More slow running with a painful foot. Passed Jason in transition, then heard Carrie yell “GO MAKE SOME WATTS” as I approached the mount line. Well, if she says so…

Bike: 37:44 (30/65 AG, 279/723 Women, 19.8 mph)

This race was taking place between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Summerfest grounds. Summerfest? It’s an early-summer music festival that the entire city loves, and the same park holds ethnic-themed festivals, like GermanFest and IrishFest, later in the summer.

With the intent of putting out as much as possible on the bike because I wasn’t sure how well the run would go anyway, I came up with a name for this ride.

HammerFest 2014.

Any time I felt like backing off, coasting down a hill, or letting somebody go in front of me, I reminded myself that it was HAMMERFEST and you can’t go to HAMMERFEST if you aren’t going to HAMMER. It would be like going to GermanFest and not having any bratwurst, come on.

I got stuck behind a few people and probably should have put in the surge – aka HAMMER – to get past them, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it in time and had a USAT official following me for a couple of miles. That’s probably about the only time I left out there, I put out about the same power I did at the Colonial Beach Sprint, and definitely HAMMERED up all the inclines. I would have liked to have been a minute or so faster, but was OK with how this turned out.

T2: 1:36 (49/65 AG, 413/723 Women)

Came into transition with 52 minutes on my watch and hoped that T2 plus the run would be fast enough to get me in under 1:20, which might be enough to get me a slot for Worlds.

Run: 26:08 (44/65 AG, 419/723 Women, 8:24/mi)

This hurt from the beginning. No question there. The pain came and went, and just like most of the run the day before, and just like the day before, I couldn’t overcome the automatic stride adjustment to avoid the pain. I essentially ran most of this on the inside of the arch of my foot, which is obviously not a strong or efficient way to run. In retrospect, I have absolutely no idea how I made it through this 5k, but I did, and wasn’t too far off my typical sprint triathlon run split.

Final time: 1:20:06 (35/65 AG, 256/723 Women)

The most disappointing part of the weekend is that my legs were barely sore Monday morning, and I know it’s because my foot limited how hard I could push on the run. My time in the sprint was about 2 minutes off a slot for 2015 worlds, and had my foot cooperated, I could have maybe been close to that. But it didn’t, so I sit around considering the possibility that a slot will roll down to me and, barring that, will come back next year to get one for the 2016 edition which will be “somewhere in Europe.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

2014 USA Triathlon Olympic Distance National Championships

I’ll always remember this as the race where I first broke 2:40.

And also broke my foot (but you already knew that).

And also broke a spoke on my rear wheel (more about that later).

Since qualifying for the 2014 USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships almost a year ago, I’ve been looking forward to the race. A lot. Sure, this race isn’t anywhere near as prestigious as Kona or 70.3 Worlds, but I still had to qualify, and was thrilled that I’d be able to compete in this race in my hometown. I figured I’d be coming in nearly last in my age group, but didn’t care because at least I was there.

The race absolutely delivered everything I was looking for. The venue was beautiful – right along the Milwaukee lakefront – and well organized. And the competition would be fierce, which would push me to race harder. Ideal conditions for the sub-2:40 PR I was after that day.

That fierce competition and I hopped into the water around 9:30 am; we all swam a few strokes in the water in the protected lagoon off Lake Michigan, and then lined up and waited for the start countdown. Literally 90 seconds before we were to start, the announcer informed us that there was going to be a delay. The wait wound up being about 15 minutes, and I used this time to find Carrie hanging out on the dock with the rest of her 20-24F wave. It was nice to finally meet her and chat about our watts a little bit, and it took my mind off the rising temperatures we’d be facing on the run later that day. Eventually, we were called back in and I lined up, ready to get this done.

Swim: 24:08 (33/169 AG, 261/1343 Women, 1:28/100y)

I realized that when I hopped in the water with some of the fastest 30-34 year old women in the country, I wasn’t going to be one of the first out of the water, and about 10 seconds after we started, I also realized that this meant many of us would be about the same speed.

In other words, we’d all be competing for the exact same real estate on the swim course. There was a lot of contact the first third of the swim, and it was hard to sight the buoys with so much commotion around me, but everything finally broke up a bit and I was able to stay on course alright. My effort level may have been a little low, and while I think I’m very much capable of a 22-23 Olympic distance swim based on my times in the pool, I tend to have trouble focusing in open water, and wound up coming out in just over 24. Not great, not terrible, and either way, time to move on with the race.

T1: 3:14 (105/169 AG, 677/1343 Women)

Woah look at that low ranking. The run to and through transition was large, and I was running a little tentatively because of my foot. We’ll blame that.

Bike: 1:16:32 (114/169 AG, 858/1343 Women, 19.5 mph)

I’ve really struggled to hold good power numbers at the Olympic distance, and usually wind up holding an average power that is more suitable for a 70.3. At this race, I did a little bit better, holding around 170W, which is maybe 5-10W lower than I should be holding at this distance given my FTP. I was pretty happy with this, and had the course been REALLY flat, I’d probably have been pushing over 21 mph.

There were, however, a few non-negligible inclines that brought down my speed a little, as well as some WIND that made me angry. I started to get kind of negative around mile 15 thanks to the wind and some rough road conditions; then I shoved some candy corn in my mouth (I keep it in my bento box - it’s the same as a sugary sport chew, really), and was suddenly happy again. Candy corn, a closed bike course, and I was RACING AT NATIONALS, how could I not be happy?

T2: 1:45 (114/169 AG, 774/1343 Women)

Put on the lighter/less stable shoes I got 3 weeks ago (foreshadowing) and got out of there.

Run: 53:14 (116/169 AG, 776/1343 Women, 8:34/mi)

I felt GREAT for the first mile and turned it in under 8 minutes. YES! My taper had worked, backing off running last week had saved my foot, and maybe I could even get my reach goal of around 2:35.

Then…the foot pain started up.

I tried to ignore it. Tried to tell myself that “it was just pain” since two PTs had assured me it wasn’t a break. Tried to focus on running at a sustainably hard level like I do during track workouts.

But the pain got intense enough that I couldn’t override the automatic response to alter my stride to protect the foot – and whatever I did made it impossible to really get my heart rate up and push with my glutes to run as fast as I could. My average pace kept increasing, and sometime after mile 2, I contemplated a DNF.

I reasoned with myself that walking generally hurt more than running, and I’d just have to walk back to transition, so finishing the course would be the least painful option. I distracted myself by cheering for people I recognized on out and backs (Hi Corey and Carrie!) and eventually focusing on getting closer and closer to the art museum once we turned back around for the finish at about mile 4. In retrospect, I still don’t know how I did this, but I suppose being stubborn has its advantages occasionally.

Final time: 2:39:00 (90/169 AG, 656/1343 Women)

As much as the foot hurt while I was running, it hurt EVEN MORE after I finished. Stepping down to walk towards the finish exit was agonizing, so I grabbed some ice from medical and hobbled out to meet Jason and my family.

We looked up the results, found out that I’d finished in the middle of my age group - 90th out  of 169- and had set a new overall and run split PR, which made me laugh given the condition of my foot, and also made me a little angry because I was obviously in shape to go a few minutes faster. Still, I reminded myself that my stated goal was sub 2:40, and I went 2:39 flat. AND I had just raced in a national championship. This collection of awesomeness really wasn’t lost on me.

Since walking hurt so much, I rode my bike back to the hotel and started hearing a funny noise from the rear wheel a few blocks away. Upon inspection back in the room, I discovered a broken spoke. I believe that this happened AFTER the race, as I did not hear it at all during the race, but still, come on – do I really need this, too?

I was still debating whether or not I could survive the sprint the next day, but knew I wanted to at least have the opportunity available, so we hauled my bike back to technical support (staffed by Wheel and Sprocket, the bike shop I went to as a kid) where they fixed it for $15 in 10 minutes. Score.

As much as this race day was quite the experience, I still wasn’t done – I knew I wanted to at least swim and bike the next day, so it was time to rest up. More on how that turned out in a later post.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We interrupt this blog with some breaking news

Yes, breaking news.

See what I did there?

As I mentioned Friday, I was going into the Olympic and Sprint Triathlon National Championships with about two weeks of minor foot pain. I had rested it quite a bit leading up to the race, simply focusing more on my biking to compensate, and was figuring I could handle the 9.3 miles of running between the two races.

After about a mile of running in the Olympic race, the foot pain became bad enough that I couldn't hold a proper stride. At mile 2, I contemplated a DNF, but since walking hurt more than running and I'd just have to walk back to transition, I kept running (and finished with a total and run split PR, go figure). I spent most of Saturday afternoon icing it and downing Advil, somehow survived the run for the Sprint as well, and then drove 12 hours home and went to a podiatrist's office first thing Monday morning because I was in so much pain that I figured I must have a complete break.

X-rays ruled that out, and after a lot of intense imaging, they found what might be a small beginning of a stress reaction/fracture. 10 days with this fancy shoe and no running and I get another evaluation.

While many may say I was stupid to race this weekend, I did it knowing that my Monday morning might look just like this. It was a national championship in my childhood hometown, and that's an opportunity that one doesn't get often.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Nationals Ahoy!

When I found out that USAT Age Group Nationals were going to be in Milwaukee in 2014, I KNEW I had to be at the race. I grew up there, the lakefront would provide a beautiful race site, and hello, I would be able to say I was at nationals.  There was the little matter of "qualifying" getting in the way, so I set my sights on doing so at Nation's Tri in 2013 (done) and started planning my season around the Olympic distance championships.

Then I started doing sprint race again, realized that those could be kind of fun, too, and decided to sign up for that race since I'd be here anyway (no need to qualify for the sprint).

So now I'm walking around like this.

It's one thing to hang out all weekend with one race bracelet; two is a little much. One might argue that what's ACTUALLY a little much is doing two races in 24 hours. One might be right, but more racing means more fun.

I had a foot issue flare up over the past two weeks (and also had a root canal, asthma incident, and a probable kidney stone), so a couple of days ago, I decided I'd be happy to make it to the finish line(s) in one piece. Things have calmed down now, and I think I'm in better shape. Regardless, the field here is STRONG and I am most likely going to get my behind handed to me by the rest of my age group, so I'm planning to spend most of the weekend in awe of the super speedy folks around me.

If you are bored this weekend and want to follow along, go here.

Time to go get it done,