Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is it the Shoes?

As an athlete who has been known to push the envelope, there's one thing that I accept. I may get injured. My goal in training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene has been to go as hard as I can and NOT get injured. When I've felt the type of pain that has (in the past) progressed to an injury (such as a stress fracture), I have backed off and rested, confident my gobs of mileage will protect me from losing fitness.

But getting injured with four weeks to go was almost too much for my tiny brain to handle. Especially since I had no warning. I missed my long run/bike on the critical last hard weekend before my taper, and now I'm left with a growing fear of what that might do to my entire training program. Seems a bit irrational and contradicts what I said in the first paragraph, doesn't it? Is it possible that the "critical hard last weekend" is overrated? that all will not be lost? Will the long/hard mileage I've already done really act as the proverbial "miles in the bank"? I guess we are about to find out. With three weeks to ironman, I have the green light to race.

The green light comes after a non-typical (for me) trip to Dr. Patterson, the miracle worker in my previous life as a marathoner. Most of my friends know that for me to even consider going to a doctor, I have to be in a LOT of pain, pain like "can't-take-another-step-for-fear-my-leg-will-snap" pain. And Dr. Patterson always determines exactly what is wrong and always realizes that I HAVE to run. He's a great orthopedic specialist who truly understands endurance athletes for two reasons: he IS one and he takes the time to get to know them. 

The short diagnosis: Dr. P checked everything even remotely associated with my knee/hamstring and found nothing. This includes sending me to an MRI machine 45 minutes from my house for two hours of scans. NOTHING. No bone thing. No muscle thing. No tendon thing. The only thing that showed up was a meniscus tear I've had at least since 1998. But it never caused problems in the past and the pain isn't in my knee -- although, Dr. P says it still could be the problem.

So, after a week of non-running, lots of icing and large doses of ibuprofen, the only thing we have is an almost-non-diagnosis. Dr. Patterson says that's great. Now we turn to the old scientific method. Try to force the pain and then try numbing up my knee to see if the meniscus tear is indeed the cause. So, out the door I went... I ran down the industrial road where his office is located. In my work clothes and my Land's End shoes. The lawn care maintenance people stared. I got completely soaked from sweat. But NO pain. How can this be? I tried loading that leg in every direction, but NO pain was to be had. Am losing my mind? Is it all in my head? I swear, it DID hurt. BAD.

Back to the scientific method. New hypothesis. Could it be my new running shoes? (Having run several long runs in them, I didn't even consider that). Thus, off to the weekend we go. We will test the shoe theory. But most importantly, Dr. Pattersons said he's confident in sending me off to Coeur d'Alene to at least START the Ironman. Everyone who knows me knows that if there is a way for me to cross that finish line, I will.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bound for Disaster?

How does six months of smart training come apart without warning? I really thought I had kicked the disaster habit, but it appears that's not the case.

During the past two months I have been keenly trying to avoid stupid injuries from overtraining. I get pain - I back off - I prevent the injury - I play it smart. So, a couple days ago during a run when I started to have some (not severe) pain on the inside of my knee (toward the back), I backed off and everything seemed fine. The pain was completely gone during my brick workout on Saturday. When I started my long run on Sunday, it never occurred to me that I would be limping home. How does that happen? No warning, nothing, just severe and instant onset of pain, like someone stuck a knife in the inside of my knee. I couldn't take a step in a running gait. I stopped. I stretched. I mostly walked home. Now I'm icing and resting but I'm so confused. I've never had pain in this part of my leg - heck, I can't even figure out what muscle it is, and I certainly can't imagine being able to get a doctor's advice in a timely manner. Should I try to get through training for the next week knowing my taper is right around the corner? How much time off can I take without ruining my race day? Or is race day already in ruins? How do you learn a lesson when you didn't do anything wrong?

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Motto for Geek Athlete

For my 44th birthday, my good friend Leland gave me what my husband calls "the nerdiest t-shirt of all time" (see photo). He proclaimed its nerdiness for two reasons: it's a Star Wars reference (nerdy in and of itself), and it's written in programming syntax (obviously nerdy).

How do I feel about it? I've retired my old yellowing "Ironman Utah Volunteer Team" t-shirt (that I wear before every race since IM Utah in 2002) and replaced it with this new one. I call it "words to live by" - especially for my upcoming racing season. I am now the oldest in my age group (40-44), and almost everyone I have to race against for an age group win will be younger than me. That's daunting, especially since my upcoming race is a Ironman and a qualifier for Kona. And it all happens a month from Sunday. There is no try.

Yikes, I just came up with a Star Wars saying for duathletes: "Du or du not. There is no Tri." (Who knew Yoda was a duathlete?)

Time to go get my driver's license renewed - like I really need a mug shot on my birthday.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Only Half a Disaster

Yesterday, I raced in the Kinetic Half - a half iron distance triathlon at Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Before I go into a race analysis, I just want to mention that the setting for this race is beautiful and the company that handles the admin duties, Set Up Events, is excellent. There were markers every 5 miles on the bike, and mile markers for every mile of the run, lots of water, Heed, and other food/drink available during the race with great volunteers who made sure all the racers got whatever they needed.

So, on to the race report. My goal was to have a positive experience, work out the transitions and any other race kinks for the upcoming Ironman, have a good swim (for me, that means under 30 minutes for 1.2 miles), a decent bike (under 2:50 for 56 miles), and a great run (under 1:30 for 13.1 miles). My training has been going so well on the bike that I was willing to push it a little knowing that in my previous half-IM (Greater Cleveland in August 2008), I was able to evenly split a 1:27 in the run after a hard bike and felt great most of the final miles.

But, you can't discuss what
happened in a triathlon without talking about the course and the weather conditions and how they affected the race. The swim was everything I wanted it to be - the water was about 68 degrees so most of us wore wetsuits. The course was 2 loops with a run between them. My swim felt great, I was able to relax and stretch out, race smart, and clocked in at 28:59. One goal down. The transition was a disaster. I got stuck getting my wetsuit bottom off and lost at least a minute. I will need to practice this and get the technique down. On the bike exit, we had to run on gravel, so most triathletes ran in their bike shoes (which was another thing to put on in transition).

The bike course was rolling hills, not huge hills (which was great because I was expecting much worse in Virginia), and it was also 2 loops. There was an uphill right after the bike mount, then a short mile out and back with a turnaround which slowed everyone down. But the thing that had the biggest effect on everyone's race was the wind. The wind was probably around 15-20 mph from the west, and the first part of the loop was directly into it. Judging by the bike times from years past, I would say everyone lost 5-10 minutes for the 56 miles. I struggled with not knowing how "hard" to ride in the wind, and my first loop put more stress on my legs than expected, but by the second loop I was feeling very little pain and was able to hold close to the same speeds along the course as the first loop. There were great downhills, allowing speeds over 30 mph (for me) for long stretches, and I always had momentum going into the uphills. I fueled every 15 minutes - Heed and Perpetuem - the same regimen I've been training with for Ironman. I wasn't thirsty and everything was great until about 2:15 when I starting to have a little digestive problem, feeling like I had too much in my stomach. There was no nausea, so I decided to skip a feed and just drink water/Heed if I could. I finished the bike well off my goal, in 2:53.

My bike-run transition went a little smoother, not as fast as it should have been, mainly because I almost forgot to take an Endurolyte and grab my Roctane gels (2). Jim told me at the run start that I was about 6-7 minutes behind the leader, so I knew I had to have a great run if I wanted to catch her. Unfortunately, the first mile was uphill and gave me no gauge of how I was going to be feeling for the run. My first two miles were 7:00 (uphill) and 6:10 (downhill). Then the whole run started to fall apart. I felt very fatigued, like my body had no energy. The temperature had gone over 80 degrees and it was very humid (the heat index was 89 degrees by the time I finished). I had not run in this type of heat since last summer and I was not sure if I needed more water or a feed. I consumed one of the Roctane gel packs and shortly after I felt like my energy increased a bit, but by that point I was starting to walk the water stops and I was having to stop regularly to catch a breather. It was very very strange. My legs felt really strong but I had no energy. When I would run, I would blow by a bunch of people and then I had to stop and walk. It was just like the Chicago Marathon in 1998 when I ran with serious intestinal distress and had to keep stopping. So, it became a death march for me, and I no longer had winning in mind, but avoiding dropping out. The run was three loops and each time I passed by the start, all I wanted to do was walk off. Jim told me to hang tough and get through it, which then became my goal. And that's what I did. My time was 1:36, not even close to what I have been able to do in the past, but in retrospect, I'll take it. I was expecting more like a 1:45 the way I was feeling.

My finish time was 2nd woman overall. The awesome thing was that the top three finishers got bottles of wine and a "Newton's Cradle" (strangely enough, something I've always wanted, I kid you not). So, another thumbs up to the race organizers for the coolest prize ever.

Looking at the results, my transitions were very slow, but, among the women, I had the 5th fastest swim, the 6th fastest bike leg (the fastest was only 5 minutes faster, and only one woman was under 2:50, so that tells me everyone suffered in the wind and my bike leg was not so bad in comparison to the other women, which is good because last year I regularly got blown away on the bike and had to make up huge deficits on the run). My run was a different story, and, even though it was the 2nd fastest run of the women, it was not even close to what I think I'm capable of (based on the 2008 season and my current training). So now comes the process of determining what went wrong and how to fix it.

There are three possibilities to consider when analyzing what went wrong:
  1. Race strategy
  2. Lifestyle (what Jim calls "systemic"), including current training load
  3. Fueling
I think my race strategy was good. I didn't go all out on the bike, but I rode hard, knowing I had good hard training to back it up. My fueling also seemed to go well, but in retrospect, I probably would have done better with more water on the bike. That seems to be the bane of my racing - not enough water or too much water and not enough electrolytes. Since I made sure I had the electrolytes yesterday and I felt no nausea, I could probably have drank more water. On the bike, I drank one whole polar bottle (22 oz) and about 1/3 of a 24 oz bottle of water + perpetuem. But it was HOT. I was doing things the way I do them in 60 degrees, not 80 degrees.

The other thing - the whole system - is probably also to blame. I've been training for Ironman, about 15-18 hours of training per week, with a slight cutback this week for the race. I've not been getting 8 hours of sleep per night, especially the two nights before the race, and I think my diet is lacking in protein. Jim says I need to eat more and better overall. He's probably right - after looking at the photos from yesterday, I'm looking thinner than I remember from last year (not that thin is bad, but dropping weight could indicate I'm not eating well). One more thing to note, Jim brought to my attention that I needed to relax more on the run, and looking at the photos, I now "get" what he meant. My upper body looks very tight and not relaxed at all. One more thing to work on.

So, I have 6 weeks to put it all together for IM Coeur d'Alene.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Truth about Water: Avoiding Hyponatremia

If you told me after my first marathon that it is possible to drink too much water I would have laughed long and hard. But as of 2008, while training for the Philadelphia marathon, I learned the hard way how easy it is to overdose on water, even in the hottest conditions.

Sometimes I wonder if every new problem (disaster?) is age-related, because I never had problems with water consumption while training for marathons in my 30s. But beginning last year, every time I ran for over 2.5 hours and drank only water, I found myself vomiting in the last mile. At first I thought it had something to do with overexertion because it almost always happened after running up a steep hill. But the more I thought about it, the culprit seemed more likely to be too much water - for several reasons:

  • There was a LOT of water still in my stomach (!) at that point, and I was desperately thirsty even after drinking at regular intervals that day
  • It didn't happen on runs when I took electrolytes, Gu Roctane (my newest favorite gel, thanks to Bill at Second Sole), Gatorade, or Hammer Nutrition's Heed during or before the run
  • I noticed excess salt stains on my skin and clothing when the sweat dried (don't ask me how or why I take note of these things)
So, yes, it does make me wonder: does the need for electrolyte supplementation increase with age? Am just more depleted after my long bike rides the day before? Am I trying to ingest too much water each time I drink?

Whatever the cause, one thing is certain - focusing on the task at hand (i.e., my run) is something I need to pay more attention to. Before my run on Sunday I was worrying about so many things, but nutrition wasn't one of them: new shoes, a budding pain in my lower left leg, the wind direction, and trails with soft surfaces (and I know for a fact that none of THESE things
have ever caused vomiting - in the past). I did not stop to grab a Gu or Endurolyte on my way out the door (I'm even embarrassed to say I might have gave it less than a second's thought and brushed it off thinking "there's water fountains on my route").

So, Sunday's run was mostly a live & learn lesson all in itself. I should be looking at these long sessions as practice for the Ironman RACE. Which includes getting the nutrition thing nailed down for each leg and practicing it whenever I get the chance. I've been doing it religiously on the bike every weekend. But, doing everything right on the bike is completely useless if I throw logic out the window on the run. And I won't get a second chance if I do it wrong in Couer d'Alene on June 21.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Shakedown

Got my bike back from Spin on Friday after a complete tune-up. Since my first race of the season is May 9 (half-iron), this weekend would include a bike shakedown to determine if there are still any creaking noises and make sure everything feels good and the shifting is smooth. It would also be the third long ride in prep for Ironman CDA.

Saturday's ride accomplished the following things:
1. Spent six hours on the bike without looking at my odometer until after I was finished (103 miles) - it was the first mental challenge.
2. Found new routes to ride (South and West) - some good stretches but had a lot of stops and turns in Akron area following the "bike route"
3. Learned that I still have inner strength to conquer cold and wind when all I wanted to do is pack it in after three hours and finish on the trainer - the second mental challenge
4. Further solidified nutrition needs on the bike: 1.5 scoops of Perpetuem per hour will just about do it, water as necessary depending on heat (supplemented with Hammer Gel for a change of taste) - no nausea, no dizziness
5. Worked on spending more time in aero position

And, the live & learn lesson: never bike in the afternoon when your route takes you past neighborhoods in which people will be cooking out -- I actually felt ravenously hungry at the smell of burgers - and I don't eat meat!

Saturday's ride was also important in determining if there was any effect of taking a day to fight a sinus infection that I wasn't fighting off. So, only two days of riding this week (albeit, two hard days).

All in all: some new mental callouses formed, will test them on my long run Sunday.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Custom Greeting Cards -The Finished Product

With training and work I've not had time to post a blog about the finished greeting cards that I made for auction - but I have a moment before my long bike ride today to show you how they turned out.

The printing process went quite smoothly. I only had to print 5 of each card and they were all one color, so all I needed was an inking plate, black (oil-based Speedball) block printing ink, and a small 2.5 inch soft rubber brayer (Speedball). The inking plate is a cheap marble slab that I bought years ago at Home Depot in the tile area. You could just as simply use a pane of glass, it just has to be a non-porous flat surface:

I created a template out of a scrap piece of paper/newsprint with pencil lines drawn on it for lining up the block along two adjacent edges so that I have the correct margin. The block is placed with its edge on the pencil lines and the paper is placed to line up along the same two adjacent edges of the template border itself. The only tricky part of this step is to make sure that the card will fold with the image on the correct side. Here are some shots of how I line everything up:

And finally, I run it through my small etching press, with its roller adjusted to the height of the block with the paper on it. I do a dry run - a non-inked plate with paper on top - to adjust the height of the roller. You want pressure to offset the ink onto the paper, but not so much pressure to get ink to spread outside the lines or to damage the linoleum block:

You can see the finished cards in the first photo at the top of the page. I started the bidding at $5, in $1 minium increments and by day 2, the bidding was up to $12. Don't know how much they sold for, but I got requests by workshop attendees to do another edition of cards.