Thursday, June 2, 2016

Post-Stress Fracture Life: Grow Gills and Bike Like a Mofo

Last time I wrote, I had a broken leg propped up on a coffee table and a bunch of triathlon registrations for April, May, and June were looking like a potential sunk cost. What a downer, right?

Eh, not really. I've been down the stress fracture road before and came back to finish 4th overall in a sprint tri just a few weeks after returning to running. Bones repair themselves, fitness can be maintained in the absence of running, and life goes on.

This deserves its own blog post that I have yet to write, but it's worth noting that in February, I switched coaches and started working with Brian Stover, who has put new meaning to the phrases "serious suffering" and "bike training focus." And while many people would be frustrated with an athlete that gets injured about a month into working with them, that's not what happened here. Instead, roughly 24 hours after I broke my fibula, we started on the "Aquabike Champion of the Universe" plan.

Or, as Stover put it, "grow gills and bike like a mofo."

I had several weeks where I couldn't bike above threshold, and all swimming involved a pull buoy, a braced ankle, and one-legged flip turns, but we worked with what we had. Lot of tempo/threshold intervals on the bike, furiously trying to catch up in the pool after each turn, and some physical therapy work to heal the leg faster took up the first few weeks. I was eventually able to swim and bike normally again, and finally got back to running come May. I'm up to a whopping 2.8 miles of continuous running (Amy Cragg watch out) and don't have any pain, so the rebuilding train is going full steam ahead.

In the meantime, here's a fun fact for you: the Virginia/Maryland Triathlon Series offers an aquabike option (swim and bike only) for ALL of their races. So those race registrations didn't go to waste. Instead, I got to test the success of the "Aquabike Champion of the Universe" plan.

First up was the Rumpass in the Bumpass Olympic distance race. Summary: got off course on the swim, mucked up T1 beyond any recognition including a humorous two minutes at the bike mount line, and just missed my target bike power.

And won.

The whole thing. Out of all the women and the men.

Next up was the Kinetic Sprint race. I'd hoped that MAYBE I could run 5k come mid-May, but my first few test runs featured a little soreness, so we took the conservative route and cut back the duration of my runs, so that wasn't happening. Aquabike it is!

The day was quite windy, and the water was choppy enough that by the time we were 100 meters in, I was thinking that this was a good day to be a strong swimmer. My time in the water was a bit slow, but I had a plan to unleash ALL THE WATTS on the bike course, which probably involved passing at least 300 people because the aquabike racers started last. That was a tad scary, but I escaped unharmed with a sweet bike split and another victory.

First, by five minutes, out of both genders again, of course.

To quote coach after this race "I bet there are a LOT of aquabike dudes out there who can't wait for you to start running again."

TL;DR: Broken bones suck but they aren't the end of the world. Do what you can and you'll be stronger than you realize when you come back.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


It’s been a while since I wrote here, mostly because I haven’t had anything notable going on that merits a blog post.

OK fine, Jason and I got married, but that’s not triathlon related.

Anyway, triathlon season isn’t quite here yet in the mid-Atlantic, so there hasn’t been much to write about.

Until Sunday, when I posted my first ever Did-Not-Finish at the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach.

Obviously it wasn’t without cause.

I’d noticed some very minor ankle soreness earlier in the week, yet felt nothing while running, so I thought perhaps I had some soft tissue stiffness, and addressed it with a lacrosse ball, some heat, and even a massage appointment. It felt best right after an hour or so of biking, which comported with my suspicion of stiff muscles and tendons, so we set off for Virginia Beach midday Saturday, where I hit the ankle with alternating heat and ice and hoped for the best. A pain level of 2-3 out of 10 was something I could handle; a pain level of 7-8 meant I had to stop because I was probably doing permanent damage – whether it was a stress fracture or a torn muscle, localized pain at that level is not OK.

I woke up Sunday morning with no pain in my ankle, did the normal pre-race routine, and checked out the weather forecast, which called for temps in the low 40s, drenching rain, and 20+mph headwinds for the first half. I stayed inside as long as possible, and then went out for a short warm up jog before lining up for the start.

It’s notable that I felt absolutely no pain in the ankle during my warm up jog, though, this might just be because the cold rain was numbing it. With that done, I waited for the start with other soaking wet, cold runners, and took off at the start.

The first half of the course was into a nearly relentless 20mph headwind, and despite that, I was holding PR pace without straining at all. The pain in my ankle crept up to a 2 or 3 by the time I got to mile 3, but that’s not really anything to be concerned about. Random pains come and go while racing, being able to tolerate them is part of the game.

We turned onto a substantially cambered road during mile 4, and while my pace got better, the pain did not. The pain was increasing and decreasing in waves, and I considered stopping several times – but of course, every time I had the thought, the pain would subside.  

Mile 5 brought some steady pain, as did Mile 6. I stopped right after Mile 6 and told a course marshal I thought I might have a broken leg, he asked if I wanted medical attention and if I understood that meant my race would be over. The 90 second stop killed off the pain, so, in a moment of stupidity, I decided to try running again.

Just half a mile later, I knew something was very wrong, stopped my watch, and started walking to the next course marshal.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard for me to call in my first DNF as I thought it would be. Maybe it’s because this wasn’t a big goal race for me, maybe it’s because I knew in advance this was a very real possibility. Either way, there weren’t any tears or anger, just annoyance that I had to drop out before I got the advantage of a tailwind.

Luckily, the course marshal I flagged down had a car, and he kindly turned on the heat for me while I waited ALMOST AN HOUR to be picked up by a race vehicle. Had I been stuck out on the road without a car to shelter in, in cold rain and wind, I’m not sure what I’d have done (besides possibly make myself severely hypothermic). Once the car arrived (along with 3 other DNF’ers), it navigated through the race, dropped us off at medical, where I was evaluated in 5 minutes and told “Yup, something in here is broken.” I was then told I could go to the hospital or walk myself half a mile back to my hotel, in a jury-rigged splint that was cutting the skin on the back of my heel, and “no, we can’t call your husband, even though he raced and has his phone on him and we have his phone number in our database, so, you have to walk by yourself.”

(In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not exactly impressed with race’s preparation to support medical situations.)

I had a few doubts about dropping out immediately after jumping into the car. Then I tried to flex my foot and it hurt like crazy, so it was definitely the right decision. I was able to see a doctor about the situation the next day, and they confirmed that this was most likely an early stage fibular stress fracture that I could have turned into a full break had I tried to finish the race.

That’s something I’m willing to break my no-DNF record for.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Prazynski Memorial 5k Race Report

Today, Jason and I close on the condo next door to mine so that we can make one big condo for us to both live in. Since it needs quite a bit of work, we probably aren’t going to be able to travel to visit family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and planned in advance to visit our respective families in early November. I got to travel to Ohio a couple of weekends ago to see my niece (and give her a purple gorilla because everybody needs one of those).

And also bake a bunch of cookies, so that my family could freeze them to have at Christmas.

Finally, of course, I had to pet this guy, in all his 20 pounds of feline glory.

While I was there, I wanted to be able to run, of course, and got this idea that maybe I could even find a race. Winner, I found the Prazynski Memorial 5k taking place about 30 minutes from my parents’ house, and even convinced my dad to sign up, too.

It was under 30F when we got there, so I took full advantage of the time to warm up and finished right before the ceremony to honor the race namesake, and then lined up right in back of a couple of local cross country teams, because, come on, I’m not that dumb.

Mile 1: 7:35

As I figured, the cross country teams took off like mad, and at least 50 people passed me in the first 100m, including a woman in loose sweatpants and a knee length puffy jacket. I didn’t panic, because either they would hold that pace the whole race - in which case, I wasn’t going to keep up -or they were going to crash and burn and I’d pass them later.

Maybe 300m later, I’d passed at least 20 people (including the previously mentioned woman in knee length puffy jacket). It took me until the first mile to pass the remainder of those who took off way too fast, though I questioned possibly going a tad conservatively when I saw the first mile split pop up.

Mile 2: 7:32

I continued to pass a few more people, and as I approached the final turnaround, counted five women in front of me.

Mile 3: 7:27

During this mile, I passed one more woman and moved into 5th place woman overall. I was feeling good, which is probably not ideal for mile 3 of a 5k – come the final 0.5-0.75 miles, you should feel pretty terrible.

Last bit: 6:25/mi

That woman I passed tried to outkick me at the end. She failed.

Final time: 23:10 (7:27/mi)

This was 12 seconds off my PR, so I was OK with my time. I should have pushed harder earlier, and need to race 5ks more often to figure out the appropriate effort level more easily – the last standalone 5k I raced was in the spring, so I was rusty.

Still I was announced as the age group winner.

My dad won his age group, too! Even walking the entire thing (in 38-something, e.g. faster than some people run).

Something was funky with the results, and latter than night, another woman was placed in front of me, but I didn’t see her on the course at the out-and-back near then end where I counted the women in front of me. So, who knows what happened there. I do know that I ran a negative split race and almost got a PR, so I’ll call it a successful day.

I also know that this cat is apparently sad now that I’ve returned to DC.

 Do I have the right ratio of cat pictures to running discussion here? Please give feedback in the comments.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Veteran's Day 10k Race Report

This race happened over a week ago, and I was waiting for race pictures to post before writing up a report, but it seems that’s going to take a while, so I decided to go ahead and post this thing without pictures of my not-so-awesome running form.

The week leading up to the Parks 10k was not optimal between some health issues and work travel, yet I still posted a 45 second PR that left me curious about what I could do under better circumstances. Luckily for me, the Veteran’s Day 10k was taking place on the same course exactly a week later, so when the weather forecast 3 days out looked promising, I handed over my $40 and got ready to give it another try.

Race day was sunny with temps around 45F, so it was a perfect day to go out for a nice, hard run. I got in my warm up and lined up at the start, mindful of the fact that I needed to hold back just a little for first mile to ensure I had a better chance at even splits.

Mile 1: 7:30
In an effort to avoid going out too hard, I repeated “relax and extend” to myself, as my two biggest running form flaws are carrying tension in the upper body and running with insufficient hip extension. Breaking down the task at hand into something so elementary kept my effort level just about right, and I put in pretty much exactly the same mile split as the week before without putting in nearly as much effort. Cool.

Mile 2: 7:35
Relax and extend, relax and extend, with a very tiny increase in pace. Decided to keep with it

Mile 3: 7:41
Wasn’t there a 5k somewhere in DC I could have done this weekend instead? (Note: I always think this to myself during a 10k. I bet a lot of people do.)

Mile 4: 7:42
Another 20+ minutes of repeating “relax and extend” to myself was going to get old fast. I needed some other distraction.

Mile 5: 7:55
Oh, headwind. That’s a good distraction. I spent a lot of time trying to tuck behind people, and the only thing I succeeded in doing was weaving around the race course and adding unnecessary distance to my run. Major fail.

Mile 6: 7:47
In the interest of not blowing up, I had been keeping the entire race “comfortably uncomfortable” – kind of a notch just above threshold pace. In retrospect, the last 1.5-2 miles should have just been plain old “uncomfortable.”

Last bit – 7:30/mi
Yeah, definitely waited a little too late to hop onto the pain train.

Final time: 48:18

I started my watch a good two seconds before I crossed the starting line, and didn’t stop it until a few strides after the backup timing mat. Yet, somehow, my “official” time was longer than my watch time. Upon discovering that other people had the same experience, I’m claiming my new PR as 48:18 instead of 48:22.

Because that matters.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to get my 10k time under 48 minutes soon. I think I had it in this race until I held myself back TOO long in the final miles. Proper race pacing is a skill that requires practice, so it looks like I’ll be trying to knock out that sub-48 at another race.

Friday, November 6, 2015

2015 Parks 10k Race Report

My 2015 triathlon season fizzled to a close when my last planned race (Waterman’s Sprint in Rock Hall, MD) was canceled because of Hurricane Jocaquin, and while that left me a little disappointed for a few days (read: I spent the 24 hours after the cancellation announcement in my pajamas and pouting), there are plenty of other ways to swim, bike, and run that don’t involve an actual triathlon race.

To deal with the immediate disappointment over the missed triathlon, I signed up for a swim meet that was taking place a mile from where I live, and while I’ll write up that experience at some point, today, I’m writing about the first running race I’ve done in six months. I guess I really did go quite triathlon heavy this year if I didn’t even manage a 5k or 10k between early May and November.

Since nationals, my run training has been so-so – between a lack of motivation to do ANYTHING fast for a solid month and a half after crossing that finish line, and knowing that Jason and I would have a lot to do with an upcoming condo purchase and renovation and, oh yeah, getting married, I decided to skip my normal fall half marathon plans. Instead, I went with training for the 5k and 10k distances, and planned to jump into local races when my schedule and (relative) fitness allowed. So, with that in mind, I went with The Parks 10k last Sunday. I could bike to the start line, the course is flat and fast, and I’d be done well before 9 am, leaving the rest of the day open for dealing with mortgage and renovation efforts.

I did manage a PR (48:44, compared to my old PR of 49:30 on the exact same course in 2013). That was enough to land me on the first page of the women’s results – 47/583, and 8/111 in my age group.

Not too bad of a ranking for somebody whose run is the weakest point in their triathlon bag of tricks. Mile by mile:

Mile 1: 7:29 - As usual, I took the mile out too fast, since I’m used to starting a 10k already fatigued from a hard 40k bike, and my perceived exertion doesn’t hold me back enough in a standalone running race.

Mile 2: 7:47 – More sustainable.

Mile 3: 7:50 – Holding steady, even in the headwind.

Mile 4: 7:54 – Started passing people here, usually a good sign you’ve paced the first 5k alright.

Mile 5: 7:56 – Feeling some lower back pain here – I had a cyst develop the week before the race, which can result in nearly blinding pain. It had mostly deflated by race day but gave me some grief about 2/3 of the way through the race.

Mile 6: 7:50 – From a distance, I mistook a large construction sign, positioned at mile 5.9, for the finish line. Hence the slight acceleration in this mile.

Last 0.2: 7:24/mi – Painful, but I was not letting sub 49 slip away so I went with everything I had left after the mile 6 sign, with that pesky cyst protesting the entire way.

Given that I spent a lot of time floundering after nationals, a renegade cyst, and a rough week of work travel leading up to the race, I’ll take the PR and relatively high ranking in the field. I still have some hopes that I can post a slightly faster time with a better lead up to race day, so stay tuned for more November races.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Patriot's International Triathlon 2015

After a pretty good Olympic-distance race at nationals, I took a substantial portion of the next week completely off to recover from a relatively intense string of racing. I still wanted to race a few more times before local waterway temperatures ended triathlon season, so I got back into training after an easy week, and had no difficulty putting out the watts on my bike and getting myself back in the pool.

Then there was running.

I was having a great time getting outside and enjoying the slightly cooler temperatures and lower humidity whenever such weather passed through DC towards the end of August, but anytime a workout called for any kind of intervals or real effort, well…

Maybe it was because I’d broken the 2:30 barrier at nationals and had already reached a bunch of podiums this season, and I felt satisfied with what I’d gotten done. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

The running funk didn’t turn around before my first race back after nationals, so two weekends ago, I found myself in Williamsburg on a very muggy morning, with all my gear, ready to find out just where I stood after five weeks of questionable training following nationals.

Swim: 25:57 in the water (4/86 women, 2/11 AG)

I completely misread the current while warming up and started on the wrong side of the first turn buoy, so that had me behind the lead women at the first buoy. I caught back up to them shortly after that, and we stuck together until we caught up to the slow men, which broke us apart. I wasn’t swimming that hard and kept trying to coax myself to go faster, but was definitely doing the whole thing at a moderate aerobic pace rather than a racing pace. Even though I didn’t swim fast, I do think I did a good job of staying on course, so at least I didn’t waste energy, and I came out right at the front of the race.

T1: 2:49 (5/86 women, 2/11 AG)

We had a pretty long run into transition, which, historically, has been a place I get passed often. This time, I decided to treat the run like a race (how novel), and had much better results. I passed one woman, and one passed me, so that’s better than several women running past me before I can even get to my bike.

I also decided to address previous weaknesses in my T1 plan by starting with my shoes clipped into my bike. I’d practiced this a few times in the week leading up to the race, and found that I ran to the mount line MUCH faster, and of course, saved time by putting on my shoes while I was moving forward on the bike course. I can definitely improve my mounting technique and speed, but this was a substantial improvement.

Bike: 1:06:23 (22.5 mph, 5/86 women, 1/11 AG)

The bike was the best and most fun part of the day. I passed one woman in the first mile or so, then the eventual race winner caught up with me and I stuck with her (legally) for pretty much the rest of the ride. My power was lower than it was at nationals, but not drastically so, and I think part of this was because, for 12 miles, we were navigating around the slower people in half ironman that started 30 minutes before us. Part of it was probably also because I wasn’t in as good of shape as I was at nationals.

Once we hit the turnaround, I realized that the eventual winner and I were 1-2 in the race, and she was only a few seconds ahead.  I also realized that my bike computer was showing 32-something which meant that I was on pace for a 1:05 bike split.

This would be substantially faster than the sub-1:10 I was thrilled to post at nationals just a few weeks earlier, so I was a little concerned I was going too hard. But, my legs were feeling OK (well, as OK as they should feel during a hard short course race effort), and my heart rate was under control, so I just went with it and stuck with the lead woman, passing her once or twice as we leapfrogged back to transition.

T2: 1:15 (10/86 women, 3/11 AG)

I took my feet out of my shoes too early because I was worried about not having enough time to do it before the dismount line, so partial fail on the more efficient dismount. It was still much easier running through transition without clomping around in bike shoes so it was an overall success. I had come into transition maybe five seconds in back of the eventual race winner, and decided save time by skipping socks.

Run: 56:02 (9:02/mi, 31/86 women, 6/11 AG)

I started out at a comfortable pace, which turned out to be just over 8min/mile. For whatever reason, I never found motivation to push hard enough to get beyond a conversational pace, and my pace kept getting slower and slower. Once 2nd and 3rd place passed me and I was off the overall podium, I had even less motivation.

Just in case I needed more demotivation, I started developing extremely painful blisters on the arches of my feet after four miles. Remember the no socks thing?

I wound up getting passed by a couple more women, including one in my age group, but never felt the urge to run harder. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that it felt like I was running on shards of glass thanks to the ever-expanding blisters.

Overall: 2:32:49 (6/86 women, 2/11 AG)

I was pretty annoyed with myself about phoning in the run when I realized that if I’d run only 90 seconds slower than I did at nationals, I would have been second overall. The entire time on the run, my thoughts were pretty much a mess of “I already broke 2:30 this season, it’s a hot day, I haven’t been running well since nationals, blah blah blah,” which isn’t going to lead to excellence on the run course.

I do also think I lost a non-trivial amount of fitness since nationals – which is fine and needs to happen after a peak race – but I guess I can’t expect results from work I didn’t do.

Setting aside the above whining, there were some pretty good outcomes here. I made the age group podium in an Olympic-distance race, biked a pretty fast 40k, and logged my second fastest ever Olympic-distance race time. If I can do all that after a month plus of slacking, I can’t complain too much.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sprint Distance National Championships "Race" Report

As happy as I was after my race at the Olympic Distance Age Group National Championships, I didn't have too much time to celebrate right after, because I was doing the Sprint Distance Age Group National Championships the very next day. I love weekends of double racing, and after crossing the finish line on Saturday, got right to work with ice and compression and rehydration so that I was ready for a good race on Sunday. One of my goals this season was to qualify for 2016 sprint worlds, which meant placing top 8 in my age group at this race - difficult, but definitely possible based on how I'd done in the Olympic distance race.

Despite all my recovery efforts, Saturday night, I was still too buzzed from the race - and possibly caffeine - to get to sleep before midnight, and then woke up at 4 am with no alarm. Ah well, sleep is overrated for recovery, right?

I set up transition and went through my warm up routine to find that when I jogged, I had a REALLY tight windpipe and all the puffs on my rescue inhaler didn’t make a difference. I tried stretching and massaging my chest to loosen everything up, but it didn’t seem to help.

You can probably see where this is going.

Not  being one to DNS a race when I've already racked my bike and warmed up, I hopped into the water for a brief warm up. As we were warming up, I could hear the announcer reading off names of women who were expected to place high in our age group, and thought about how weird that would be to hear yourself called out like that.

Then he read my name.

It was weird. 

I am not sure who I know who knows somebody at USA Triathlon who thought that would be a funny joke, but it was definitely bizarre. 

Swim: I lined up on the dock - and it turns out I did so on the wrong side, since there was a last minute announcement about the buoy pattern that differed from the Olympic course - and got ready to go. I went out hard, and felt pretty good for the first few minutes. Then, I started having trouble breathing. By the last 300 meters or so, I was gasping for air and constantly lifting my head out of the water, and got to the swim exit and pretty much fell over.

T1: The volunteers got me back on my feet, and I was so out of it that I couldn’t even get my arms out of my wetsuit and completely forgot to lap my watch. My breathing only got worse and worse, and when I ran past Jason, I told him I couldn’t breathe and I was really starting to panic because this wasn’t getting better. I wound up running right past my bike, backtracked, and fumbled all my stuff together while hyperventilating.

Bike: I considered not even going out on the bike course, but thought maybe everything would calm down. I pedaled SUPER EASY at the beginning, and after maybe 4 miles, was able to do some kind-of-normal breathing, so I tried upping the intensity for about 15 seconds before I realized that wasn’t going to work. I tried that a handful of times more before I resigned myself to doing the biking equivalent of a brisk walk. As I neared the end of the bike course, I considered dropping out at T2, but I’m scared that if I DNF a race, it will be too easy to DNF other races in the future.

T2: I stopped to fix my shorts since I was clearly done with actual racing, so what’s an extra 15 seconds? When I left transition, I stopped to talk to Jason (again, done racing, who cares) and tell him I was OK as long as I kept with low-end aerobic stuff so that he could go and do his own race without worrying about me.

Run: I took off with some easy jogging, and stopped to walk when I felt the wheezing and hyperventilating starting up. It was pretty painful, and there was a convenient bail-out point about 1.5 miles in that was quite tempting, but I figured worst case, I could walk another half hour. The last mile or so, I was getting extremely dizzy and was still hyperventilating even when I was walking, so when I jogged past my parents in the finishing chute, I told them I was going to medical.

They got me on a nebulizer and some supplied oxygen, and I was good as new after about 10 minutes. Then I went out to cheer on Jason and laugh about how miserable my splits were (I haven't bothered to post them here, but you can go look them up for yourself).

I obviously didn't meet my goal of qualifying for 2016 sprint worlds. That's ok. There will be sprint worlds in 2017, and 2018. The bigger issue here is getting my breathing problems under control because it's frustrating to not be able to race to my abilities, and I'm sure my friends and family are kind of sick of worrying about me out on the course. I have, since the race, had a chance to see my pulmonologist, and found out some interesting and very surprising things that I'll discuss in a later post, but I think we have a good idea of how to prevent or address future episodes.

In the end, I'm just happy I at least had a good race on Saturday, and I have some high hopes for nationals next season.

If I can, like, learn how to run.