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…”

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Importance of the Potty Break Routine

Tri season #5 is now in the books for me. I did three tri’s this year, finishing up at Hickory Grove Aug. 29.

In reality I only did two triathlons because Hickory Grove got switched to a duathlon. I found out the day before the race that they had cancelled the swim due to high ecoli counts. The Department of Natural Resources issues a warning when ecoli counts rise above 126 ecoli colonies per 100 ml of water and again when it reaches 235. The count at Hickory Grove was 790, or over three times the limit considered safe by the Iowa DNR. I definitely did not want to be in that water!

My race buddy, Brita, wasn’t too excited about this change in plans. She was having hip/hamstring issues and did not want to do two runs. I was in training for a marathon (and also not a very good swimmer) so I liked the idea of a duathlon. I suddenly felt much less stress!

As we waited for our run “wave” to start we joked with our fellow MWXers how a duathlon totally changed our pee schedule! We all pretty much had a routine of peeing in the water before the race. That was replaced by running to the porta-potty and hoping you didn’t miss the start of your wave!

We began with a 1-mile run, followed by a 15.5 mile bike and then a 2.1 mile run. I was in one of the last waves to begin so there weren’t that many people on the course as I finished. To entertain myself during the final run I counted the number of people I passed—seven in total. I don’t know that I was any faster, but marathon training had given me better endurance.

I did one more running race before my Nov. 6 marathon. I decided to do the Indian Summer 10-Mile as a training run. It’s a trail run around Lake McBride. I thought it would be no problem since I had run 18 miles the weekend before.

I guess I got caught up in the adrenalin and went out too fast in the first two miles. The marathon is all about pacing so I was disappointed that I made a mental mistake like that. Once I entered the woods I had trouble breathing. I don’t know if I was allergic to something, but I struggled the rest of the race.

Did you ever have that dream where you are racing and they shut down the course? Well, I have. As I came up on the last water stop I found that they had already packed up. Normally I would be wearing my fuel belt with water bottles on a 10-mile run, but I thought there would be adequate water. Knowing you can’t have something makes you want it more, so I suddenly felt dehydrated. This was not a good day!

On the last mile Jody, my coach and mentor, appeared to help run me in. I literally felt like my body could not run at all. What was happening to me? I was six weeks out from my marathon so this really upset me.

I finished and they gave me a gift certificate or what I called “The Loser Award.” They had already handed out the race awards and much of the parking lot was empty. I went into the bathroom to change into warm clothes, but it felt more like I was hiding. I was really down on myself.

I had to shake it off, chalk it up to a bad run and move on. I guess that’s what “keep tri-ing” is all about! Whether it’s a bad race, an injury or some other type of setback, we just have to get up, dust ourselves off and keep going!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Twinkie Training at the Bix

My annual Bix 7 race became known as BixBRAI this year because it was also the final leg of the RAGBRAI bike ride. It was billed as “the largest one-day, on-site gathering of sports participants in Iowa history.”

As much as I love my fellow cyclists, I was not excited that nearly 20,000 bikers would be joining 15,000 runners in Davenport on July 30. I envisioned a nightmare of trying to get out of town after the race.

I found out something else…being honest about your finishing time color-codes you. I was aware before that I had a sticker on my bib that designated where I started the race. I found out, however, that they won’t even let you into the other color areas. “I just want to use the porta potty,” I told the “color-code police” as they guarded the entrance to the orange area. The lady shook her head and pointed down the street to the blue area, designated by someone holding a blue balloon.

As I walked away I gazed longingly at the porta-potties with the short lines, just three feet into the orange area. In the blue area the lines were long, like we were the bottom of the running barrel. We barely ranked above walkers. I was not feeling love from the Bix.

It was a warm day, and not wanting to repeat my heat-related illness at Pigman, I decided to take it easy. We were soon heading up Brady Street Hill. One thing I like about the Bix—the sameness. I know the gospel choir is going to be in the same spot as I head up hill (and return down it) and they always give me a boost with their music.

I was making sure I stayed hydrated. There were some frat boys on the side of the street, handing out beer. I didn’t think beer would be a good thing to drink while running! On the way back they would have a slip-and-slide set up. Slide on your belly and get a jello shot! Again, not part of my training diet.

As I reached the turnaround I knew I needed a bathroom break. I was so paranoid about becoming hydrated, I had made double sure I downed plenty of water. There was a line, but I already knew this was not going to be a PR day so no sense worrying about it. Nevertheless, I could feel myself counting off the minutes I was losing in my head.

I was off again, looking for the spot on the course where they hand out baggies of ice cubes. The ice cubes were gone, but I accepted a Popsicle instead. The frozen treat still cooled me off. I had read something about drinking something cold before a race to lower body temperature. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

I passed a runner who was performing karaoke. Apparently, she didn’t realize that when you sing out loud to your ipod, people can hear you! At mile 6 I saw it—the Hostess truck handing out Twinkies. It’s another fixture of the Bix and one I normally pass by, but this year felt different. I was making stops and sucking on Popsicles, so why not throw caution to the wind and take a Twinkie?!

There I was, running down Brady Street Hill as I stuffed a Twinkie in my mouth. My head was saying “this is not on the training diet!” while my body was loving the sugar! I may have to add Twinkies to the training regimen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I've Got To Be A Part Of It...NYC Marathon!

Ah, the dog days of summer…for me that means taking a break from tri’s for a couple months. My next tri is Aug. 28, which is probably good, since I don’t do well in the heat.

My big news (as some of you know) is that I got into the New York City Marathon! I don’t know how I got so lucky, but apparently the running gods want me to take on 26.2 miles again!

It was during a moment of insanity last January (when my brain had blocked out all memories of the pain I had endured in my first marathon) that I entered the lottery for the NYC. It was the one race I had always wanted to do. I love New York and the idea of running through all the boroughs in the nation’s biggest marathon was exciting to me. I really didn’t expect to get in. People wait years to do this race. I knew if you got rejected three years in a row then you got automatic entry the next year. I didn’t know if I would want to run a marathon four years from now (I’m old, you know) but I figured I would get the ball rolling.

Second on my list of marathons was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. I wouldn’t find out about New York until April and sign-up for the Marine Corps was in February. I signed up and made it in, despite the fact the race sold out in 28 hours! I was pretty excited…you get to run by all these monuments, finishing at the Iwo Jima Memorial, where a Marine puts a medal around your neck!

Well, April comes and I find out I made it into New York! How lucky can I be?! I had a decision to make. I decided to defer the Marine Corps to 2012 and do my dream race. It would mean undergoing months of training, lost Saturdays doing long runs and plenty of ice baths! Was I really choosing to do this?!

Biking and swimming are good cross-training for runners so I still felt I could do a couple more triathlons this season. It would take focus and adhering to a strict schedule, but I was ready to take on the challenge!

My most recent race was the Fifth Season 8K on July 4. There was much consternation from some runners when they changed the race route due to construction downtown. I realize people have been doing this race for 25 years, but five miles is five miles. Do you think the Kenyans care where they run?

The route traveled from the Chrome Horse Saloon down Otis Road. There were lots of water stops, my favorite thing at any race! The race started at 7 AM (I also appreciate an early start in the summertime) and we would be running separately from the 5K runners (wimps, as I call them…just kidding).

I enjoyed the race, even when I got beat by Sophie the Gaddis dog and a stroller containing a baby named Sebastian. (Seriously, I’m getting beat by someone named Sebastian? Shouldn’t he be home playing the piano?!).

The race finished up at the Chrome Horse. My race bib contained drink tickets. I didn’t think I would want a beer at 8:30 in the morning, but it tasted kind of good!

As a side note to last month’s incident at the Pigman Tri, I am feeling good so it’s full steam ahead!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Most Dramatic Pigman Ever!

It was the most dramatic Pigman Tri ever! (I had to take that from “The Bachelorette” TV show.) I ended the race in an ambulance. I think I just wanted something exciting to write about!

It was a beautiful day for a race and I felt confident I would have my best swim ever. I had been working hard in the off-season on my technique. I started out well until someone swam on top of me. I briefly stopped to let them pass before thinking, “Wait a minute! I have just as much right to this water as anyone else! This is MY space!”

As I did the turnaround I went wide to avoid traffic. I got myself in a zone and kept swimming with no interference. There was no traffic because I was about 20 feet from the buoys! I had to bring it back in.

I was out of the water and huffing and puffing up the hill. Where had my endurance gone? MWXer Leah was behind me and called out to me. I reached back and gave her a high-five.

I was off on the bike. My bike computer wasn’t working, which threw my whole mojo off. I felt lightheaded and I struggled up the final hill. Back in transition I felt disoriented. Carrie (also a club member) found me. “Do you need some GU?” she asked. I knew I needed something and said yes. She said she would meet me. Carrie ran back to her bike and stuffed some Gu’s in my hand as I headed out of transition. I wasn’t sure if that was considered “outside assistance” and would be a penalty, but I felt a little out of it at that point.

The day was heating up. About a mile into the run I felt my chest tighten and I started to wheeze. I couldn’t get a breath in. It was terrifying that I was fighting to breathe. What was happening? Was I having a heart attack? An asthma attack? The water stop was coming up and I wondered if I should tell the volunteers to call for help. As a stubborn triathlete, I was determined to finish so I started walking.

I tried to run, but I knew something wasn’t right. I started to dread the finish because I knew my tri club would see me. I was embarrassed and knew I had to run it in. I crossed the finish line and immediately began searching for a medical tent. Brita appeared (she always seems to be there to take care of me!) and took me over to the ambulance. I started getting emotionally upset so I was having trouble getting any words out. All I could blurt out was “my chest” as I put my hand over my heart.

They took me into the ambulance and had me lie down. I thought I felt the ambulance move. “You’re not taking me anywhere, are you?!” I asked, suddenly fearful of the cost of going to the emergency room. “Are you having chest pains?” the two guys asked. I said no and they told me to lie down and relax.

They put oxygen tubes in my nose and hooked me up to a heart monitor. When I was finally able to calm down, I explained what happened on the course. They took my blood pressure, chccked my oxygen levels and pricked my finger to test my blood sugar. “When did I eat? What did I eat? Was this my first triathlon?” So many questions!

They said everything appeared normal. I was starting to feel better in the cool air of the ambulance. “Whoa,” the one guy said at the heart monitor. “You just converted.” I had no idea what that meant, but apparently my heart rate suddenly dropped. I explained that sometimes my heart rate spikes for brief periods. “You should get that checked out by your doctor,” he said.

I told them I felt better and they said to come back if I had any more problems. I was feeling embarrassed again…I couldn’t even do a sprint tri without ending up in an ambulance! I needed food so I walked up and grabbed a slice of pizza, oblivious to the fact that there was a large group of people standing in line! I was still feeling a little lightheaded, but I started rehydrating and went off to join my club.

A follow-up EKG with my doctor and a chest x-ray (looking for an enlarged heart) didn’t find anything wrong. My doctor thinks I got dehydrated. I don’t know what happened to me on the course…if I was dehydrated or I breathed in something that caused some type of attack, but I hope I never have to experience that again! Right now I have electrodes hooked to my chest and an activity monitor, trying to capture what my heart does when it goes crazy. I don’t know what the future holds, but until someone tells me different, I’m going to keep on tri-ing!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Worst Tri Ever

Normally the June Pigman is my first tri of the year, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and do one on May 22. I was signing up for Hickory Grove (held in August) and saw that I could get a discount if I signed up for the Bluff Creek Triathlon too. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

I always try to do a new race each year so I don’t get in a rut. Bluff Creek had both sprint and Olympic distances (I did the sprint). I was excited to try something different, but it would turn out to be my worst tri ever. It was one of those days where nothing went right.

The Friday before the race the water temp was 54 degrees and race officials said wetsuits were mandatory. If it got colder they might cancel the swim. They said we could wear neoprene booties and beanies, but somehow that seemed wimpy to me. I would have to tough it out.

The Bluff Creek Tri was held at a county park about 10 miles west of Boone, IA. I drove down that Saturday so I could check out the course. My hotel in Boone didn’t have an alarm clock so off I went to Walmart. My cell phone was my back-up, but I always like to have two alarms. In the four-plus years I have been racing I have never needed an alarm to wake up on race day, but I didn’t want this to be the first time I overslept. I found out there wouldn’t be much sleep anyway…Boone has a race track and I could hear the sound of racecars as I tried to sleep.

That morning I headed out to the park, not knowing if I would be swimming. They had reduced the Olympic swim to a sprint and lifted the wetsuit requirement (who wouldn’t wear a wetsuit?!), but I would have to brave water temps in the mid-50’s.

The swim was a point-to-point so they would be bussing us to the beach. I was on the first bus, shortly after 7. I’m not a last-minute person when it comes to triathlons. I like to arrive before transition opens and have plenty of time to warm up before the swim starts. A small group of us got to the beach first. Something made me look down and I realized I had forgotten to pick up my timing chip! I ran up the hill, but of course, the bus had left. I had to wait for the next bus and then ride back to transition.

I must have been quite the sight, running in a wetsuit to the registration table, grabbing my chip and running back to the buses. By now there was a long line of people and transition was closing. All that time in the wetsuit had overheated me, but there was no time to get a drink. I got on the last bus, now in full panic. I told myself that I had gotten the bad stuff out of the way. It had to get better, right?

I got to the beach about five minutes before start time. I barely had time to do my pre-race pee break! They recommended getting in the water so the cold wasn’t a shock to our systems. I was in the second wave and soon we were off.

I tried not to think about the cold water and the chaos around me. My sighting must have been off because I wound up right next to one of the buoys—the last place you want to be during a tri! I’m pretty sure an expletive escaped my lips as the next wave of men was on top of me. They were on me like a swarm of bees with nowhere to escape. Someone grabbed my leg and pulled me under and suddenly I was swallowing water. I came up, choking and fighting for breath. I literally stopped and just sat there, bobbing on the surface. Swimmers were going by me, but I felt frozen, disoriented. I saw one of the volunteer boaters looking at me, which snapped me out of it. “You’re not pulling me,” I said and I resumed the swim. I had to end the swim by running up a slippery boat landing, followed by a long trek to transition.

My frozen hands struggled with the wetsuit. I had to sit down in transition to get it off (a big no-no in my book). By now I had resigned myself to the fact that this would not be my day. I was off on the bike course, which was an out-and-back on a county road. Wow, I am really flying! I wondered why the bikes going in the other direction were moving so slowly. Several people were walking their bikes and I saw one guy let out a loud grunt as he headed up a small incline. I would soon find out why. As soon as I made the turnaround I slammed into a giant wall of wind. It practically stopped me in my tracks. “This is going to suck,” I said.

For the next seven miles I fought the wind, averaging 8-9 mph, scanning the horizon for the park entrance. Never has a bike ride seemed so long. At one point I was drafting off another girl because I didn’t have the strength to go by her. The “law-abiding citizen” in me, however, didn’t want to break the rules (although a two-minute penalty would hardly matter at this point) so I passed her. By the end I was hurting and the last thing I wanted to do was run three miles.

The first portion of the run was on park trails, which by now had turned to mud. The hilly run continued on pavement inside the park. I took a bottle of Gatorade with me because I didn’t hydrate much on the bike, for fear of taking my hands off the handlebars and getting blown over. For the first mile my hands were still tingling from my death grip on the bike. My race belt came undone (could anything else go wrong?) so I started to walk as I fixed it.

“No walking, Green,” yelled out an ISU runner. “You’re strong! You got this!” It motivated me to push on. The Olympic competitors were all doing two loops on the course so I didn’t feel alone. I saw my “green team”—my fellow MWXers—and they called out support to me.

Finally I was back on the trails and finishing. It would be my worst time for a tri, but under better conditions I think I would really enjoy this course. The post-food included mini Snickers and Twix bars so life was good. I hung around with the rest of the MWX club, sharing our experiences that day.

I headed back and unbeknownst to me, drove through a tornado warning 30 miles outside of Cedar Rapids. It seemed fitting for the “stormy” day I had just experienced. I think the tough races, the ones that don’t go your way, can be just as satisfying. They force you to find that mental toughness it takes to succeed in this sport. And they make you want to keep tri-ing!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Running Nearly Naked

Someone mentioned to me that I haven’t written anything about the “Nearly Naked Mile” I ran last month. I didn’t think a one-mile run was worth mentioning, but I guess the lack of clothing made it rather interesting.

Julie Johnston, a fellow member of the CVRA running club, had talked me into doing this race. It was a one-mile run at the University of Iowa where you donated your clothes to the Salvation Army. It sounded like fun…combining running and being nearly naked. Throw in some ice cream and it would be the perfect day.

We drove down with two other runners. Could we have picked a colder day? Wind chills were in the 20’s so I kept my clothes on as long as I could. About 15 minutes before the race I stripped down to a bikini bottom, sports bra and a rabbit fur cap.

Most of the competitors were college students, the only ones who are probably crazy enough to run without clothes! Julie was up front with the fast runners and I found my place at the back with my appropriate “pace group” i.e. college students who were still hung over from the night before. Next to me was a group of guys in cut-off shorts, cowboy hats and boots with clothing made from beer case boxes. At least they were creative.

The race was off. All I cared about at this point was finishing as quickly as possible so I could put clothes on! I’m sure the college students were wondering what this old lady was doing out there. The redneck boys ran by me, complaining about how much it hurt to run in cowboy boots.

My Dad’s rabbit fur cap is about 50 years old and it sheds. I could feel the fur flying in my mouth. Where’s the water stop? I guess one-mile races don’t have breaks. A girl in lingerie ran by me. Is that legal? On the final block a dog went by me. He had a fur coat so he was obviously overdressed.

At the finish line I grabbed some hot chocolate and found my friends. Julie was her usual upbeat self, but I just wanted to build a campfire right by the student union. It would be a while before feeling returned to my body.

On to other things…It’s April now so time to crank up the training. It’s been tough to run. I have a bunion on my foot that has bothered me since last year. I had surgery on my right foot nine years ago, but I never did my left and it keeps screaming at me. I should have had surgery last winter and now it’s too late in the season. I will just have to suck it up and push through.

I’m doing a 10K race in less than two weeks and my first tri of the season is next month. Both of these fall under the category of “What was I thinking?!” I’ve been doing some three-mile jogs so don’t know that I am ready for a 10K, but sometimes putting a race on the schedule can make me push myself in training. I’ve never done a tri in May before and since temps have been below normal for weeks, I’m dreading that lake water. That race will probably be closer to a “polar plunge” than a triathlon. Oh well, have to keep tri-ing...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My First Swim Meet

I have a reoccurring nightmare that I am late to a triathlon and I miss the start. Sometimes I am stuck in transition or I forget something. Maybe that’s why I always show up several hours early to a triathlon.

That nightmare came true at my first swim meet when I missed one of my races! More on that later…I had my first race of the year at the Freezefest 5K on Feb. 26. Dressed in a MWX green running shirt and Ninja Turtle boxers, I ran with fellow club member Brita. I told her I was going to run “marathon pace”—slow and steady. My run training had been sporadic over the winter and I knew I wasn’t in running condition.

About mile two Brita wanted to kick it to the finish. I told her to go on alone. As I reached the parking lot I passed several people in one last burst of energy. A young girl came up behind me, trying to beat me. “Come on! Let’s finish strong!” I yelled to her as we sprinted to the line, my long legs just edging her. She thanked me for pushing her and I felt 2011’s first spark of competitive juice.

I signed up for the March 26 Masters State Swim Meet, knowing I would finish last, knowing I would be out there swimming by myself at the end. I had to get over my fears and I knew I needed some type of competition to push my swim training.

The final week before the meet our club practiced diving off the blocks. I had never done any diving before. Coaches Nick and John tried to teach me, but I felt such fear as I stood at the pool’s edge. My heart raced and I felt on the verge of a panic attack. I knew it was mental, but my dives turned into belly flops. We decided it would be best if I started my races in the water.

The meet was held at the University of Iowa pool. They had two 8-lane pools and this incredible facility. Even the water felt warm! We did warm-up swims and I tried to calm my nerves. I was doing the 400-Meter Relay, the very first race of the day! I guess it was for the best so I didn’t have to sit around and get more nervous.

I was racing with Dottie Gierut from MWX and swimmers Barb and Pat. They were all older than me but superior swimmers. I hoped I wouldn’t let them down. I got in the water. The buzzer went off and the other swimmers dove in. I hesitated a second…oh, the buzzer means I’m supposed to start swimming!

I swam as hard as I could, but I felt fatigue quickly. Where were the other swimmers? Oh, here they come. They had already turned around. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did…I swallowed some water and I misjudged the wall so when I reached out, I wasn’t quite there and had to make another lunge. I felt slightly disoriented; I could hear yelling. “You know you’re going to finish last,” a voice told me, “so just relax, have good form and swim hard.” I reached the end, Dottie jumped in (not landing on my head as I feared) and my teammates helped me out of the pool. “Good job,” they said. They didn’t seem mad that I put us in last place. It was all good.

I had my first swim-meet swim under my belt. I felt a sense of joy. Mentor Jody Rausch told me to stay warm, but the shaking in my legs wasn’t due to the cold. I was used to the long, steady triathlon swims. This was fast and frenzied. I could still feel the adrenaline pumping through me.

I had a wait until my next race, the 50 meters. This was the race I was looking forward to; this was going to be MY race. I knew I was in the first heat, but I wasn’t used to how quickly the races start. I was walking towards the start when I heard them announce the 50 meters. I looked up and saw everyone was already on the blocks. I started running, a voice in my head screaming “No! Wait!” I thought about just throwing on my goggles and diving into the pool (wouldn’t that have been dramatic?), but I knew I had to accept that I had screwed up. I wanted to cry, but I knew my 200 Meter Relay was coming up soon so I had to shake it off.

I was racing with Chris O’Hara, Jenny Lorenz and Ron Gierut, some of the top triathletes I know. The only thing we had in common was that we were all over the age of 40. Okay, I told myself, this will be your 50. I waited as they announced the lane assignments, but they never said our names. Ron checked with the desk, but they didn’t have us listed. Another race I wouldn’t get to do. I went and sat down, feeling utterly defeated.

I was mad at myself for missing my race, but I had to chalk it up to a learning experience. I needed to stop the pity party and go cheer on my teammates. (I found out later that another team member had missed a race so I felt a little better).

My last race was the 100 meters. I did another warm-up and made sure I was at the start in plenty of time. “Swim hard or go home,” I told myself, using the saying I had adopted from the Kennedy H.S. Swim Team. As I swam that last 25 I thought “leave it all in the pool,” just like I would do if this was a tri. Jody was there to help me out. I was a little disappointed at my time, but Jody reminded me of the “smiley face” she had drawn on her hand…this day was about having fun.

I only did two races, but I enjoyed being part of the team and I had fun. Everyone was so supportive! No one cared how fast you swam. It made me want to come back next year, stronger and faster. The more I get knocked down, the more I want to get up and be better.

I heard Ironwoman Jenny Lorenz talking to one of the coaches about how she used to only swim during tri season and now she swims year-round. I decided in that moment that I would start swimming year-round. No quitting in August or September. I didn’t just want to swim in a triathlon; I wanted to be a swimmer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dreaded Winter Weight Gain

I’ve always been jealous of those triathletes that train hard year-round. I always need to take some time off, and around December and January my motivation to train is pretty low. I like to think that I am a bear whose natural inclination is to hunker down in the winter and just sleep.

This lack of activity leads to the winter weight gain. I could also contribute it to the various “training” diets I experiment with during the off-season. There’s the “Nacho Bell Grandes from Taco Bell Diet” or the “Eating Breaded Mozzarella Sticks While Lying On The Couch Watching Football Diet” or the ever-popular “I Am Depressed By The Lack Of Sunlight And Need To Eat Ice Cream To Feel Better Diet.”

I tried to return to swimming in December but became too busy with the holidays. In January I made another effort to get back into the routine. “Lori’s back,” said Coach Nick. “It must be tri season.”

It’s true; I only swim when I am in training for a tri. Once my last tri of the year is done (it was in August last year) I stop swimming. There doesn’t seem to be a point to do something I don’t like if there is not an immediate goal in mind. There, I said it, I don’t like swimming.

Logically I know that swimming year-round would make me better. I know the way to be faster is to improve technique. To me, though, swimming is a necessary evil. It’s the thing I have to get out of the way so I can do the rest of a triathlon. Maybe I needed to change my love-hate relationship with the water.

Swimming is mentally exhausting. I desperately want to be one of those swimmers where everything comes naturally. For me, though, I am constantly thinking about every movement—keep my head down, rotate my hips, lengthen my stroke, cut through the water, don’t turn my head so much, breathe in, breathe out. Why does swimming have to be so hard?!

I know tri season will be here before I know it so I need to stay focused. For me, it helps if I have an upcoming race as a goal. My first race of the year is the Freezefest 5K on Feb. 26. It’s a fun run, but I still don’t want to be embarrassed. I remember seeing Deb Gaddis with her lab puppy, Sophie, running the course for a second time while I was still trying to finish. I don’t like being beaten by dogs and small children in strollers!

I guess losing that winter weight should be another motivation. The thought of putting on my onesy trisuit with this body should be motivation enough! I certainly don’t want to squeeze into a wetsuit.

There are many things that should motivate, but ultimately it has to come from inside me. I have to want it. I have to head out into the darkness in the morning and run, go to the pool even after a long day of work and quit using my bike trainer as a clothing rack. I have to make it happen!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Strange Addiction

I recently watched a reality show called “My Strange Addiction.” It’s about people and their weird compulsions. There was a lady who eats household cleaner. “What a freak,” I thought. Then it happened…in between the woman who eats chalk and the girl who tans twice a day was a runner. Wait a minute! There’s nothing wrong with running! We’re not obsessive compulsive addicts!!

Troy was an ultra marathoner who ran 20 miles a day. He was training for a 100-mile race. His girlfriend complained that his running left little time for anything else. I thought about how many times I had said to someone “I have to train first.” I figured anyone in my life had to understand how important it was to me.

As Troy struggled through the 100 miles he said he felt sick and was in pain. His girlfriend didn’t understand why he didn’t stop. “I have to finish,” he said. It was scary, but I completely understood. The pain is something we go through, and sometimes savor, because it makes finishing that much sweeter. I’m sure any non-athlete watching the show would see someone like that as obsessed, but I admired Troy.

Troy finished the race in 26-plus hours. He said he was a little disappointed at his time and then he started to cry. He said the emotion was not a result of his time, but because he had to “dig deep.” I could remember races where I became overcome with emotion because I knew all that I had put in and because I had to mentally “dig deep” just to finish.

Troy’s feet were black-and-blue but he was already talking about doing better “next time.” His girlfriend gave him a look and I knew there would be no next time for her.

Troy talked about the need to keep pushing himself and doing more. Again, I got it. Each year when I start planning my schedule I think about what I want to accomplish and how I can take it to the next level. I always feel this need to do more, to reach higher. Did that mean I was an addict?

The show ended with Troy’s girlfriend breaking off their relationship and Troy doing four marathons in four days. Okay, maybe Troy could cut back a little, but I didn’t see anything wrong with setting goals and pushing yourself. Yes, ultra-marathoners and Ironman competitors punish their bodies. They push limits. They go beyond what “normal” people would do. I wasn’t sure that put them in the same category as people who eat chalk.

On an unrelated note, I donated my Hy-Vee Triathlon finisher’s medal to the Medals4Mettle organization. They take marathon, half marathon and triathlon finishers’ medals and give then to children and adults dealing with “chronic or debilitating illnesses who have demonstrated similar mettle, or courage, in bravely facing these challenges.”

As I have talked about in past columns, I didn’t get to finish last year’s Hy-Vee Tri because of the weather so I never felt I deserved the finisher’s medal. I never even took it out of its plastic packet. Each time I saw that medal in a drawer it reminded me of the disappointment of that day. Now I felt a sense of closure. Something positive was coming out of that day. I could look towards 2011 and put the 2010 season behind me.