Friday, June 29, 2012

Winging It

I can honestly say this is the least-prepared I have ever been for the Pigman Tri. My bike didn’t even come off the trainer until May. While other people were taking advantage of our warm spring, I felt my bike should have some more time to enjoy the comfort and safety of my living room.

I had been doing lap swims throughout the winter, but it’s always an adventure that first time the wetsuit goes on. Will this be the year that all my tugging and pulling and sucking in my gut fails to work? Can I blame it on a “shrinking wetsuit? After spraying lots of Suit Juice ( a lubricant) on my body, I was able to get into the suit. I waddled down the Pleasant Creek Park beach, dreading that first cold dip in the lake. Instead of the cold that takes your breath away, the water was actually warm. I can do this!

I would need to adjust my swimming. Swimming in a wetsuit, and away from the stability of a pool, feels different. There are waves and darkness. Coach Nick (my swim coach) had been training me to keep my cheek on the water and not turn my head so much when I went to breathe. That was not going to work in the choppy current of the lake. I took in a healthy dose of water that first time and I learned that in open water I needed that extra wide turn of the head.

I had also kept up my running throughout the winter. I had been injured after last fall’s marathon, but I was starting to feel better. I had run the Mall to Mall race (nearly 9 miles). The added endurance of longer runs would help me in a tri. It’s that darn brick that gets me. Moving from the bike to the run, my legs just don’t like it. I think they go on strike!

My schedule over the last few months had been crazy and I didn’t get in the quality training I would have liked. I should be freaking out, but I like the idea of “winging it.” This is my sixth Pigman and I know I have come far from the person who was terrified of the water and had to borrow a bike to do the race. Instead of worrying about times and who I beat, I just want to enjoy a day with my tri friends. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Good luck to everyone doing the Pigman!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Donut Running...Not for the Weak of Stomach

It hadn’t quite reached “Bucket List” status, but let’s say doing the Doughnut Run 5K was a long-time goal of mine. It combined two of my favorite things—running and competitive eating. (Okay, so I’m not really a “competitive” eater, but eating is something I’m good at.) They would take time off my finishing time for every donut I ate.

The course was on the Iowa State University campus (benefiting their tri club). I had never been there before, but I was intrigued by the horse barn on campus, the “meat” laboratory and the sounds of animals in the buildings.

There would be four Krispy Kreme stations on the route. You had to stop to eat the donuts and they would sticker your bib for every donut you ate. My goal was 10 donuts so I could get the 2-minute bonus for reaching 10. I was focused and I knew this would take a new kind of mental toughness (as in “I don’t feel sick. I don’t feel sick.”).

It was strange to see all these runners suddenly stop and start shoving donuts in their mouths. At the first station there were boxes and boxes of glazed donuts. I ate the first Krispy Kreme like any other donut, savoring all that sugar hitting my system. For Donut #2 I remembered the advice of MWXer Craig Goldsmith and I dipped it in water. It went down faster. I only ate two at the first station. I wanted to see how I would feel and the plan was to do 2-2-3-3 at the four stations (there was a 3-donut limit at the last station). Yes, I was serious about my donut eating!

Some little kids went racing by me. They were obviously on a sugar high. Parents, you might want to rethink taking your kids to a doughnut run! It was on to Donut Station #2. I was now in a groove, dipping two more donuts in the water and shoving them in my mouth, holding up two fingers to the sticker lady. I chewed fast and I was off.

We can do this, I told my stomach. At donut station #3 I saw a guy from my running club. “How’s it going?” he asked. “I’m on number five,” I said proudly. “I’m on 15,” he replied. I watched as he took two donuts, put one on top of the other and then smashed them flat between his two palms. He could then eat two donuts at once. Brilliant! I could cut my donut-eating time in half!! I took two more donuts and did the trick. I threw some water on my hands (now a sticky mess) and I trotted off, definitely moving a little slower.

I knew if I lost my donuts before the finish line I lost my donut bonus. I felt confident I could reach my goal and I could down another three. The course was winding with multiple loops and soon I was entering the finish line. Where was the other donut station?

I would find out later that one of the donut stations was a double station that I needed to hit twice. I had missed the last station and would not get my 10-donut bonus. I was disappointed. I knew my ability to consume large quantities of food could make up for my lack of running speed. Oh well, I would have to be content with seven donuts.

I drove home, my stomach feeling a little queasy. “I know I can do better,” I told myself. Next year I would do donut training! I found out that the top male donut eater ate 18 and the top female, 15. I had some work to do! 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Joy in Passing Little Dogs and Strollers

All this warm spring weather had spoiled me. I froze my butt off at my latest 5K! Just a gentle reminder that yes, it’s only March.

I had barely made it under the wire in my attempt to do a race every month of year. I ran the UIVA Warrior Challenge 5K in Iowa City on March 30. Temps were in the 40’s that morning, but I was sure that it would be in the 50’s by race time. I had been running in shorts for several weeks and knew it would be too warm for my running tights. I opted for running pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

Before the race I went with some friends to a benefit breakfast and downed pancakes, four sausages and scrambled eggs. Probably a bit more than I should eat before running! I got to the Hawkeye Athletic Fields before the 10 AM start. Some of the people had taken part in a “warrior” competition that involved rolling large tires, carrying concrete blocks and then running the 5K with a 15-pound backpack. I seemed wimpy in comparison.

With overcast skies and wind, I was pretty sure wind chills were in the 30’s and there I was with no gloves or headband and just a thin nylon jacket over my shirt. I remembered I had jacket on the floor of my Escape, courtesy of my failure to ever clean out my vehicle! I knew I would be too warm running with two jackets, but I was freezing.

I stood at the start line and saw the usual suspects. Dogs that run with their owners, check. Kids in strollers, check. People that just got off the couch, check. Soon we were off.

Mile 0.5: First jacket comes off. Mile 0.82: Second jacket comes off. Both jackets are now wrapped around my waist. I can feel my butt and stomach sweating from all the layers. Somewhere between miles one and two I am rolling up my sleeves. Feeling really warm. I thought about taking my pants off (I had shorts underneath) but decided I had stripped down enough for one race.

Mile 2.2: A Cocker Spaniel passes me. Seriously? He has like 6-inch legs! I even got passed by some of those with the backpacks. This was my first race back since I started my IT band therapy so I wasn’t about to let my ego cause me to do something stupid. Nice and easy.

The dog had to stop for a break. Must have forgotten to visit the porta-potties before the race! We were now running into the wind, which actually felt good. I soon was over the finish line, happy that I had beaten the dogs AND the strollers! It’s the little victories in life…

Friday, March 2, 2012

My First Runner's Massage

It’s official…I’m signed up for the 2012 Marine Corps Marathon, my third marathon in three years! I deferred the race last year after getting into the New York City Marathon. The race was already paid for so they contacted me about re-registering.

Considering I couldn’t run more than a mile without pain, I didn’t see how a marathon could be in my future. Even if I was healthy, did I want to do another one? The marathon involves a lot of time and mentally you have to be totally committed to put yourself through the many miles of training it requires.

Sometimes, though, setting a long-term goal (the marathon is Oct. 28) can be just the motivation you need to push forward. This meant getting treatment for my IT band injury, which had nagged me since my last marathon three months ago. I’m not sure why I had put it off…denial or a fierce independence that I could fix my own problems.

I got my free injury consultation with club sponsor Physiotherapy Associates. They told me I needed to start physical therapy immediately and they recommended going twice a week for 4-6 weeks. My health insurance, however, was going to charge me $50 for every visit. Come up with an extra $400 a month or never run again. I didn’t like either option.

Club members Belinda and Deb said my money would be better spent on seeing a certain massage therapist who deals with sports injuries. Belinda said she had the same injury and has been pain free for two years. Running without pain…dare I hope?

I ran the Freezefest 5K (doing a run/walk with another rehabbing triathlete, Jody) and then headed to my first appointment. Brian, my therapist, was surprised I had never had a massage. I guess I had always thought things like massages and pedicures were extravagances that I didn’t really need. Brian explained that this massage was not for relaxation, but to correct the problem that was causing my injury.

I didn’t know anything about how strong or deep a massage I should get, but I did have the mindset that it should hurt so I knew it was working (Brian said that was wrong too). He told me to tell him if anything was painful.

I felt a little nervous being half-naked in a room with a guy I didn’t know, but for the next hour he worked his magic on my legs and hips. There were a few “tender” spots but afterwards my legs felt so light! My first urge was to go run, but Brian said to go for a walk instead. I needed to adjust to my “new” body. I also found out that the worst thing for me is sitting at a computer all day. Can someone tell my boss that?!

I left the office with a foam roller to use at home. A couple days later I went for a run. I kept waiting for the IT band pain to come, but it never did. I only ran three miles, but it was the first time in months I had run without pain. Could it really be this easy?

Brian had me schedule another appointment for a week later and after that, he said it was up to me. Just going once a month during the season may be all I need to stay on track (as well as my work at home). Stretching, stretching, stretching! I guess keeping my body in running/tri shape was going to require a little more effort on my part. I couldn’t just go out and run. Do I have one more marathon in me? We’ll see….. 

Freezer Run in Iowa

I’ve always been a winter runner, opposed to any type of exercise that involved a treadmill. One of my goals for 2012 was to do a race every month of the year. That meant finding a January race. I was told only hardcore runners do a January race in Iowa.

The race was the Freezer Run 5K in the Amana Colonies. For those not familiar with the Amana Colonies, it’s a group of settlements of German Pietists in Iowa, comprising seven villages. It’s now a tourist attraction with lots of great shops and even a brewery.

I hadn’t run all week due to a bout of flu, but I hoped I had regained enough strength to gut out three miles. Temps were in the 20’s, with a wind chill of 8 degrees that morning. I picked up my race meat bag (Amana has a great meatshop and smokehouse) and downed a coffee for a little morning heat and jolt.

The course was flat, an out-and-back between two villages. I did a nice easy pace, hoping not to awaken the IT band gods that had cursed me since my marathon. I saw a man running in only shorts and shoes. He was quite hairy so maybe that kept him warm. I didn’t get passed by any dogs or baby strollers so the cold must have kept them away.

I had only run 1.75 miles when my IT band began to hurt. I started to wonder if I had really screwed up my body in my marathon two months ago. I tried to do a one-legged jog. I could hear someone coming up behind me. A speed walker went by. Seriously? This is what I’m reduced to?!

It was very depressing. Like the flu earlier that week, my body was failing me. What if this was it? What if I could no longer run? I wondered what I would do if I could no longer be a triathlete or do the things I loved. What would be my identity? Being out here seemed to be the only thing that made me feel alive. I guess I would have plenty of time to contemplate the future. For now I needed to get across that finish line!

I finished and then snacked on coffee cake and cookies (I know, not a proper post-race, but I needed comfort food!). I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow runners and headed home. I had to accept that my IT band was not going away. I had to make a call to a physical therapist. My body wasn’t invincible and all the toughness and determination in the world was not going to change that. I just hoped 2012 would be the Year of the Comeback. To be continued……

Friday, January 6, 2012

Only We Understand

My Dad has never shown an interest in my races and I can't even remember him ever asking about a race. When I saw him at Christmas, however, he said, "I've been meaning to ask you, that race that you did, was it pretty tough?" He was talking about the New York City Marathon. Yes, it was pretty tough. "Was it worth it?" he asked. The thought had never entered my mind. "Of course," I said.

It was the second time in a week that non-runners had seemed to question my sanity. A group of co-workers at a local establishment got to talking about said-mentioned marathon and running in general. The consensus among them was that they hated running and they couldn't understand why anyone would want to do it.

I get the same thing from people when I tell them about triathlons. They don't understand why I would want to spend my free time training and racing. As the saying goes, "if I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand." Triathletes, runners, swimmers, cyclists, only we know what drives us. I guess that's why I find myself drawn to other triathletes. They get it.

I recently did the Jingle Bell Run with the CVRA running club. We dressed in costumes and did a non-race through the streets of Marion one evening. I had run less than a mile when I felt a sharp pain in the side of my knee. It was my IT band, the same injury that had nearly ended my NYC Marathon. Normally the pain comes on gradually and worsens the longer I run. This came on suddenly and was full tilt. I had to stop running and could barely walk.

I watched the rest of the runners head around a corner and out of sight. I wasn't sure where I was at. It was dark and a residential neighborhood. I just started walking, hoping I would find a familiar street. It was so dark that I came within a foot of running into a pole!

I did find my way back to Tomaso's in Marion and our post-run pizza. I hobbled back to my car that night and it was apparent that I could put off physical therapy no longer. I hoped I hadn't damaged something that would affect my season this year.

Non-runners might say "if it hurts to run than don't run." That's not an option. It would be like telling me not to breathe! I guess only people within our circle can truly understand. It's who we are. And yes, Dad, it's worth it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Livin' the Dream at the NYC Marathon

As the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared from the loudspeakers I moved towards the start line. As if on cue, all of us in Wave 3 sang in unison “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York!” I got chills. I was really running the New York City Marathon!

All the months of training had finally come down to this moment. It was like I was living a dream. Two days before I was at the expo, picking up my race bib, still not believing that they let a newbie runner like me into what most runners told me was the Greatest Marathon in the World. I was one of 47,438 participants. I couldn’t even wrap my head around that many runners. People kept asking me how many years it took me to get in through the lottery. I said on my first try. Just lucky, I guess. As I stood there clutching my bib I started to cry. “It’s just the expo, Lori,” I told myself. “Pull it together.”

I was up at 3:45 AM on race morning and then walked in the dark to the Izod Center in New Jersey to catch the shuttle bus. At Staten Island I walked to my assigned “village.” There were so many of us that they had us divided into villages. I was greeted by Dunkin’ Donuts (they were providing coffee) who gave us stocking caps. I eagerly pulled the cap over my head because it was still dark and in the 30’s. There were bagels, Power Bars, water, coffee and Gatorade at the village. My wave did not start for nearly five hours so I had a long wait. We were quite the sight—all these runners sitting on the ground, trying to stay warm and calm our nerves.

The scariest part of the race for me was the start, when I would have to cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the largest suspension bridge in the country. I have a major bridge phobia and the idea of running across a bridge (not to mention the five I had to cross in the race) was sending me into a panic. I stared at the bridge as the sun came up over the horizon. “Become one with the bridge,” I said. “The bridge is my friend.”

I tried to force myself to eat since my nutrition timing would be off with such a long wait. We were each given a clear UPS bag to store our belongings. I handed off my bag at the UPS truck and headed to my “corral.” We had corral numbers, which was the place where we would line up at the start, based on our estimated finishing time.

The first wave took off at 9:40. I could feel the excitement build as I watched thousands of runners pour over the two levels of the bridge. It was another 30-minute wait for Wave 2 and then finally my wave. They called us the rowdiest group, full of first-timers and charity runners who were just happy to be enjoying the experience that awaited us. A cannon signaled the start and we were off.

My plan was to run on the lower level of the bridge and in the middle so that maybe my brain would forget I was on a bridge. It seemed to work. I felt a tightness in my legs and then I remembered that one of the biggest hills of the race was on the first bridge. Suddenly a pace group went around me (it felt like they went through me). All of the runners were bunched together and they kept hitting the back of my heels. I didn’t go down, but it was a little scary. It would be the only time I felt crowded.

The first bridge is nearly two miles long but soon we were heading into Brooklyn. I got my first taste of the crowds. They were yelling support and holding homemade signs. Temps were in the 50’s—perfect running weather. All I could do was smile from joy. I was soaking it in and even though I knew I had hours of running ahead of me, there was no place I would rather be.

The first half of the race is through Brooklyn, first residential and then all these great neighborhoods—Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Jewish. There were people everywhere, plus 130 bands along the course to keep us motivated. A sign said “You’re in Brooklyn…run like you stole something.” About mile 7 I hit my stride. I was feeling really good. The miles were going by quickly. At mile 8 the straight road turned and so did the crowd. They were wild! I felt like I was part of a big party.

There were water stops at every mile and I was good about hydrating, but now I had to pee. I put it off as long as I could, finally stopping at mile 11. I had to wait in line for five minutes (yes, I kept nervously looking at my watch). I sprinted out of the porta-potty, passing everyone in sight. A voice in my head said “slow down, you can’t make up those five minutes, but you can ruin your whole race by going too fast, too early.” The marathon is a lot of strategy and knowing your pace is vital. I still had a lot of miles to run.

At mile 13 I hit the bridge into Queens. It was the first time I was feeling tired. The bridge was uphill and everyone was walking. “I can walk too” I theorized and then I remembered the many months of doing hill training with the CVRA. “You didn’t do all that hill training so you could walk up a hill!” I yelled at myself. Up the hill I went, crossing the halfway mark.

As I entered Queens I got the boost I needed! The crowds really carry you. Race organizers encourage you to wear a shirt that tells where you are from. I was wearing a Hawkeye tech shirt that said “Iowa” in big yellow letters. People kept yelling “Go Iowa!” Even though I was at the race alone, I had fans!

I was soon crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. There were no spectators on the bridge and there was an eerie silence. People had stopped talking and all you heard was the sound of pounding feet. As I approached mile 16 and the end of the bridge I could hear this growing roar. It was the Manhattan crowd! I was no longer in neighborhoods…I was running down First Avenue in Manhattan, surrounded by huge skyscrapers and crowds that made me feel like I was part of a parade. They continued to yell for “Iowa” and I waved and smiled. One guy even yelled “Hey Iowa! Remember me? It’s Cornhusker guy!” He had yelled to me earlier in the race. “Stop following me!” I laughed.

About mile 17 I felt the first hint of my quads tightening. At mile 18 the pain in my knee started. I had been battling an IT band injury since September. I had tried stretching and in desperation, I had received a cortisone shot from a doctor the week of the race. The doctor said it should help me finish, but apparently it wasn’t enough to hold off the pounding my body had endured. I felt a sense of dread, knowing I still had eight long miles and that the inflammation in my knee would get progressively worse.

At mile 20 I entered the Bronx. The sounds of gospel groups and raucous crowds made me feel happy. Almost there, I thought. I crossed the final bridge and I was now in Harlem. The pain was very intense and I was forced to take more walk breaks. At mile 21 it happened. I hit The Wall. I had heard about The Wall, but I don’t think I had really ever known what it’s like to have your body shut down, to feel physically and emotionally done, like a wall of bricks had fallen on your head. I was feeling sick to my stomach. I had eaten a peanut butter sandwich and numerous gels along the route and I knew I needed more nutrition, but I couldn’t do it.

Mile 22. Only a 5K left, I thought. No wait, it’s four miles. That extra mile seemed devastating to my mind. I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. The marathon had broken me. “There’s no crying in running!” I yelled at myself, paraphrasing from A League Of Their Own. Should I throw up? Stop at the medical tent? What? What do I do? “You run, Lori,” I said. “You reach inside of you and you fight. You are tougher than this. You can DO this!”

I don’t think there is any lonelier feeling than the final miles of a marathon. It’s all on you. I knew any time goals I had were out the window. At this point I was just trying to survive and finish. I was on mile 23 and still running uphill. Are you kidding me?! I guess it’s part of the reason I love the marathon…you have to earn every painful mile.

At mile 24 I entered Central Park. I had dreamed about this, running triumphantly through the park with a final sprint to the finish. There would be none of that. People continued to call to me, but I could barely respond. Walking was the only time I didn’t feel pain, but I didn’t come to New York to walk! I tried to just enjoy my final moments of the marathon, but I just wanted to finish.

The sun was setting. The final mile was lined with people behind a wall. I was doing a limping jog. The crowd knew I was struggling and they called out to me. “You’re almost there, Iowa! You can do it, Iowa!”

A lady ran up next to me, all excited. “The finish line is right there!” she said. “Let’s run it in!” “I can’t,” I said sadly, as my body was barely able to shuffle along. I really felt like throwing up at that moment. Now that would be embarrassing! I raised my arms as I crossed the finish line, more relieved than joyful.

I now had the long walk through the finish area. I walked to get my medal, walked some more to get my recovery bag. Someone wrapped a heat sheet around me as the zombie-like mass of runners headed to the UPS trucks. I retrieved my bag, changed into some warm clothes and began the long walk to the subway station and then the bus to head back to New Jersey. They had told us to get back to our hotels as soon as possible and take an ice bath. I was used to taking ice baths after long runs. I kept my clothes on in the bathtub to stay warm, still wearing my race bib and medal!

My cell phone was filled with text messages from friends who had been following my race all day. I couldn’t believe all the support! I ate the pretzels from my recovery bag but felt too sick to eat anything else.

The next morning I put on my race shirt, feeling a little bummed about how my race went. A funny thing happened, though…everywhere I went people were congratulating me. No one cared what my finishing time was!

At Marathon Monday (an excuse for them to sell you more stuff) I ran into a guy from the New York Road Runners, the group that puts on the marathon. He put it into perspective. “Hundreds of thousands of people apply to get into this race and you got to run it.” He was right; I just ran the New York City Marathon! I got to live a dream. Maybe I didn’t have the perfect race, but I was so lucky to have the opportunity. As one race sign said, “Only 1% of the population has done what you are doing right now.” Or my favorite sign, “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon…”