Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pulling the plug.

I am sure that, by the title of this post, you probably know what you are about to read.

I have been thinking of what to write for this post ever since Coach Dave and I got off the phone at 9:30 this morning. This was not a post I wanted to write. Honestly, I thought my next blog would be about the power of positive thinking and essential oils (will get to that in a second) and how anything is possible when the fitness is there.

This post, as previewed by my title, is to explain why I will no longer be toeing the line at Grandma's Marathon this coming Saturday.

After banging my knee on the chair on Monday, I had quite the interesting week:

  • Monday I ran 5 miles after banging the knee. The pain subsided after maybe a mile. Phew.
  • Tuesday came, I ran 6 miles cutting the pace down to 6:00 at the end, again pain subsiding after a mile. Phew.
  • Wednesday, I did my workout of 3mile warmup, 5x3min HARD 3min EASY, 2mile cooldown. Except that despite the HARD sections being awesome (5:34 average on crushed limestone, so 5:2x average on roads), I couldn't make it to the cooldown. I walked the last mile in knee pain. Tears all night.
  • Thursday I ellipticalled. And then had tight calves until today (Sunday). Whoops.
  • Friday we tried this running thing again. 3.75miles later, knee pain was back, 6 miles later I walked the last mile in. Tears and swears followed.
  • Saturday I biked for an hour and walked 3 miles. All pain free, very promising. My PT friend Earl had me see an "essential oils" friend. We talked for awhile and I decided to try out a few of these oils. One in particular was the "Deep Blue," which also comes as a rub. It's similar to Icy Hot but is much stronger and can penetrate deeper as it is made up of all natural oils. Even though it didn't cure my knee, it almost immediately fixed my tight calves from Thursday's elliptical! Highly recommended.
  • Sunday (today), I attempted 6 miles while watching Ryan and my friends compete in our local Lake in the Hills triathlon. Turns out the knee pain comes on at 10 minutes. And on a scale of 1-10, at 10 minutes, it's at an 8. Can you imagine running even just 5 miles with that kind of pain?

So, after today's run, Coach Dave and I decided that my training has been compromised to a point where a sub-2:43 is just no longer achievable. While PR-ing is still in the cards if my knee heals this week, it still just is not worth the effort I'll have to put in and the recovery time that will be needed before I can get back into triathlon training.

This is definitely not how I envisioned the end of this run focus going. But, everything happens for a reason and I fully believe that.

I have learned SO much through this training cycle. In a short 2 months, Coach Dave has transformed me physically and mentally into an "elite" runner. He helped me develop the "elite" mindset and physically tested me with workouts comparable to the true elite distance runners.

Physically: the demands of solely running are much more than what I had anticipated going into this. I thought my 2-4 hours of working out per day during the week when triathlon training was tough, but for some reason the 1-2 hours of working out per day during the week when just running took a much bigger toll on my body. Plus, the pace I was pushing during the runs (even the easy runs) was far more challenging than the paces I was running during triathlon training. So physically, it's safe to say I made some significant gains in the running world.

Mentally: most of my runs throughout these 2 months were done solo. Between teaching and coaching and Life Time group training, it never really worked out that I could run with others. The harder the workout, the tougher I became mentally. One of the first workouts Coach Dave had me do (with him) was a 3x2mile with 1mile recovery in between. I could not even break 6 minutes the first time I did this workout (granted, it was 2 weeks post-Ironman Cabo but still). I recently did this workout and had to control myself to stay above 6 minutes for the first set. So mentally, it's safe to say I made some significant gains.

Emotionally: it's pretty safe to say this was the most emotional time period in my entire life. I cried more than I ever have and the littlest things would upset me. NO, I am not pregnant (sorry, mom!). But truly, the biggest emotional "low" I have ever experienced in my life was when my grandmother unexpectedly passed away. The amount I cried during this past week tops that amount, which is kind of ridiculous, but at the same time hopefully demonstrates just how dedicated I was to this goal. It was incredibly difficult to watch Ryan just crush the triathlon and road-race scene while I was off training for my marathon. Obviously I was and am so proud of him, but it was emotional as I was no longer a part of that aspect of his life. While I broke down in front of way too many people, I will say that emotionally I did make some significant gains.

Spiritually: I don't really post much about religion because I know people have different views and it's not something people necessarily talk about. However, this weekend when I was at church praying (not kneeling though since that was impossible, ironically) I came to the realization that God is going to help me with this OTQ on His schedule. He has a plan, and Grandma's just wasn't it. After my awesome workout but horrible knee pain on the cooldown on Wednesday, and then after the letdown of a run on Friday, my faith was really shaken. Coach Dave has said throughout this entire process to "Keep the faith" and that has been hard, but last week really pushed me over the edge. Luckily, my awesome family and husband keep me sane and reminded me that God works in mysterious ways and I have SO much going for me in other aspects of my life. So spiritually, my faith has been strengthened so I made some significant gains here as well.

Everything in life is about perspective. Even though I am disappointed in the fact that I worked my butt off to get to the start line at Grandma's, an accident happened that I had no control over. That was the hardest part for me to put into perspective: I had no control over what happened. It would be different if I was adding in extra workouts or eating like garbage or doing something else that would jeopardize my performance. But the reality is, despite doing everything right and making all of these sacrifices, we are all susceptible to accidents and when they happen, we must use them as learning and growing experiences.

Tomorrow begins the "get back into shape for triathlon" program, in terms of swimming and biking. I'm going to figure out this knee thing, but in the meantime gain back some fitness on the swim and bike that I've been neglecting for the past two months! I have learned SO much from my run focus and plan to use many of those ideas in my new triathlon program.

Oh, and don't worry. That Olympic Trials Qualifying dream is still there. It's simply postponed. Thanks for all of your support and encouragement through this chapter of my athletic career. I'm ready to move on to the next chapter and come back and revisit this one after Kona in October!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Scare.

Monday, June 9th: 12 days until race day.

Monday started off like any normal Monday during the school week. Except that it was the last Monday of the school year. My school is hosting summer school this year (which I'm teaching!) so a few things were being taken care of in the classrooms. I had some items removed from my classroom, and in the process of removing these items, some of my desks/chairs were misplaced.

I started cleaning my room during this whole removal process and went to go grab something from my desk. Unfortunately, with my desks/chairs being misplaced, I wasn't thinking and that's when it happened.

I turned around and SMACK! The center of my kneecap perfectly hit the metal frame of the chair.

Luckily, no students were in my classroom at the time because I was probably not very professional during that moment.

I limped my way to my chair, sat down and rubbed my kneecap, hoping to avoid any real damage. My mind kept going back to when I smacked my kneecap directly on the metal frame of the door at my parent's house two years ago. Long story short, I was stubborn and ran the Palos 1/2 marathon despite the knee pain, but it was probably the worst experience of my life. I ended up taking 12 total days off because of my bruised bone.

12 days from Monday would be Grandma's Marathon. I tried not to panic since I still had to get through the school day. It hurt walking to refill my water bottle. It killed walking down the stairs. Luckily, Ryan convinced me to try and run after school just to see if maybe it would loosen up.

Well, Ryan was right again. As awful as it felt in the beginning, by mile 2 I was feeling totally normal again. I couldn't help but think this was that "sign" I was waiting for to reassure me that Grandma's was going to go well.

Tuesday I had a run where I progressed to marathon goal pace and could only feel my knee once or twice in the beginning, so was again encouraged that everything was good.

And then I ran my workout on Wednesday.

Beautiful forest preserve - I'm lucky enough to teach nearby!

To be honest, this was probably the best run workout I've had to date. It was a fairly simple workout: 3mile warmup, 5x3min HARD 3min EASY, 2mile cooldown. I chose to run this in the forest preserve so as to be on the soft surface. I knew the path would be a little slippery/wet, but was okay and figured I would just take 10 seconds off like Coach Dave and I do when we run at Waterfall Glen.

My paces for these 3 minutes were 5:44 (1/2 uphill), 5:35, 5:31, 5:50 (entirely uphill), 5:35 (1/2 uphill). I was pretty happy with those times considering the terrain and hills. I felt really good for the warmup and first two repeats.

Halfway through the third repeat, my knee had some SHARP pain. I didn't know what to do, so just kept going and finished the rep. During the easy segments, the pain was even worse. After the fourth rep, I actually stopped running and walked for a little bit. I was 3 miles away from Life Time and certainly wasn't going to just walk those 3 miles back. I figured I would try and finish the workout. As tough as it was, I finished the hard portions in respectable times.

The cooldown, however, was an entirely different story. My knee was just throbbing. I had two miles to run before I'd be back at Life Time...and I certainly did not want to walk two full miles. Despite feeling like a hammer was pounding on my kneecap, I powered through the mile in a blazing 8:32... I stopped at that point as tears were forming in my eyes.

How is this possible?

10 days out.

All of this hard work and time off of triathlon training, and I might not even make it to the start line?

I allowed myself to cry and get my frustrations out. I had a pedicure scheduled after my run and wasn't about to let a stranger see me cry. During my pedicure, I kept forming positive thoughts in my head:

By not doing the marathon, there's no need to recover, so you can start training for triathlons again right away!

Think of all of the progress you've made in terms of running and mental toughness!

If you have to take these next 10 days off, think of all of the grad school work you can get ahead on! (okay, that one actually made me sad instead of happy)

Use these next 10 days to just catch up on sleep and not care about working out!

I truly had convinced myself by the time my pedicure was over that not running Grandma's was okay and that this was just God's way of telling me triathlons are my "thing."

I called my mom to let her know what was going on since she was worried after seeing my "Tart Cherry Juice" picture posted on Facebook....and the water works started up again.

"Magic Juice".... no lie, this stuff is great for injuries like smacking your knee on something!

Getting everything off of my chest really helped. My phone kept cutting in and out so we didn't have much of a conversation, but I felt so much better when I got home. During my pedicure, I had texted my PT friends to see their thoughts on my self-diagnosed bruised kneecap.

My dad's PT friend Jerry called me to talk about my knee and reassured me that it likely was not a bruised bone...which is great since they can take 4-6 weeks to heal.

I talked with Coach Dave and he agreed, replacing my run with an elliptical session for today to test the knee (all was good!).


Today, I went and saw my PT friend Earl at RMS Physical Therapy after texting with him yesterday to get his thoughts. Again, I was reassured that this is not a bruised bone.

Earl did all sorts of tests. Basically, the part that protects the kneecap is inflamed and needs to be taken care of for me to run pain free. He has me on an ibuprofen and heat/ice regimen for the next few days to speed up this process.

I have to say I am extremely blessed with people who truly take care of me and understand my goals and what it takes to achieve those goals. Earl gets that I want to run Grandma's and is helping me speed the recovery process as much as possible. Coach Dave gets that we have to adjust things slightly but need to continue to press forward. My mom and Ryan get that I just need to have a good cry every so often. Thank you all for being there for me. And to everyone who reads this blog, thank YOU for believing in me. This has been the most emotional journey I've ever taken, but knowing that I have so many people who believe in me is what has kept me going and keeps me staying strong. Tomorrow I'll be testing out the knee on my run and will be sure to post updates. Staying positive as that is what will get me to the starting line of Grandma's Marathon in 9 days.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Simulation Success!

Race day will not be a new experience for me.

Hours away from my husband, who is competing in his own event. Me running, him triathlon-ing.

2009 Chicago Marathon.

The first time I broke 3 hours.

Ryan was competing in the Life Time Triathlon Championships in Dallas, TX and my parents were off with my little sister on a college visit. The only family support I had would hopefully be my brother waiting for me at mile 16.

I won't pretend that I was upset going into this race. I had some great training under me, so to not have the three most supportive people in my life (Ryan, my mom and dad) there to watch me compete really made me frustrated. Luckily, frustration makes me run faster. In my mind, I'm thinking, "I'll show them what they're missing." And on that day in October 2009, I did just that.

That was over four years ago.

My life since then has changed quite a bit with my newfound love for triathlons.

After deciding to pursue this whole marathon thing, I have had countless thoughts about going back to the triathlon world. A miserable race at the Palos half and an almost-as-miserable race at Soldier Field only amplified my desire to go back to tri training. Watching Ryan crush his bike workouts, solo, simultaneously crushed my heart as I longed to be there with him. Plus, seeing Ryan just dominate this year while triathlon training didn't help either.

And then I blogged about Soldier Field. And got an overwhelming response of encouragement, support, advice...people really believe in me. I know it sounds silly, but after fighting the tri vs run battle in my head and heart for these past few months, I just simply needed that reassurance.

That reassurance came at the right time.

Sunday, June 1st was to be a simulation on many levels:

Dial in the pre-race nutrition: wake up when I would for Grandma's Marathon, eat and drink just like I would on race day

Focus on fueling during the race: practice taking my gels, storing my gels (more on that later), and hydrating based on the conditions

Practice the plan: Coach Dave and I know that if I want to run a 2:42:59, a lot of things have to happen. Obviously we cannot control the weather, but we can control my pacing. This simulation was meant to have me start off the first portion of the race at slightly slower than marathon pace (6:12.9 is the pace to hit), then bring it down below marathon pace for the last portion of the race.

Practice the focus: knowing that Ryan will be competing in his own race on the same day that I will be competing in my BIG race has been hard. I obviously want to be there with him to support him, and I know he wants the same for me, but with our differing goals, this just is not possible. Luckily this simulation was on a day when Ryan was competing in his own race as well.

Since this was a simulation run, I had a 4-mile warmup at 7:00-6:45 pace prior to the start of the race. My wonderful friend Dave ran this with me and made it just fly by. He is the one to credit for all of the pictures below!

After the warmup, I got to the line with about 8 minutes to spare (planned that way). After chatting with some of the other Illinois Elites (the category that we were put in to have a front row start!), we were ready to get this race going.

The gun went off, and I settled into pace. Normally, I would be keeping up with the other girls based on their times, but this race was about mental and physical control.

The first 6-7 miles of this race were planned to be at 6:15-6:20 pace.

Mile 1--6:17...perfect
Side note: the girl I'm running with is one of the girls I used to compete against in hs!

Mile 2--6:21...oops
Mile 3--6:18
 Feelin' good. What's up with that quad?!?!
 Powergel-ing it up at mile 3 (really mile 7 for me)
 I'm so lucky I am able to run this
Still feelin' good.
Mile 4--6:16
Mile 5--6:18
Mile 6--6:20
Somehow, Dave always caught me downing a gel!
 One last glimpse of shade until the hot sun section began...
 Flying along (or at least the picture looks like it...surely wasn't feeling it!)

Mile 7--6:14
Just after mile 7 is a HUGE downhill, followed by that same HUGE uphill. Not a nice mile.
Mile 8--6:33
Mile 9--6:17

This is where things started getting interesting. The last four miles were all totally in the sun, exposed, a lot into the wind, and some decent inclines were included as well. I heard feedback from other runners post-race that they think the course should reverse directions so as to finish in the shade (which I thought was a pretty darn good idea myself!).

Mile 10-- 6:26

In any case, we made a loop for two miles and mile 11 crossed paths with mile 9. At this point, I saw the presumed female leader sprawled on the ground with two helpers around her. Maybe 1/2 mile later, an ambulance was coming down the street. It was at this point that I reminded myself this run needed to be about effort during these last few unshaded miles, rather than pushing my body so hard to hit the sub-6:10 pace and passing out.

Mile 11--6:18
Mile 12-- 6:23
Mile 13--6:21

Many times throughout this run, I had to remind myself that this was a simulation and to not get caught up in the moment and race. I was pretty proud of myself for being able to do that as it required patience and maturity, something I used to rarely use in my racing in the past.

I ended up finishing as the 3rd overall female. I quickly chatted with the 4th place female before going on a 4-mile at 7-7:15 pace cooldown. Coach Dave was spot on when he said last week that I'm super aerobically fit: the cooldown felt like I was going SO slow, yet 7min miles clicked by effortlessly.

Overall, I am really happy with this performance for a few reasons:

1) Pre-race and during race nutrition was executed perfectly
2) No calf or hamstring cramping or pain
3) I used patience and maturity in knowing when to pull back with the heat/humidity
4) No post-workout soreness: this means 21 miles caused no lasting effects!
5) I stayed confident in myself and the plan, trusted the training
6) The race showed that if similar conditions exist on race day (80+, hot and humid and windy), I can still be around 2:45, which is a significant PR and something that I would totally accept!

....and as a bonus, I called Ryan's dad as soon as I finished to hear that he was closing in on the leader (who had a 3.5 minute lead on him going into the run). Then I saw a former study hall student who gave me a hug after finding out how I did. And then Ryan's dad called back to say he won after catching the leader at mile 5. Pretty freaking impressive if you ask me.

Thank you for all of the support and encouragement, especially from those who responded to my Soldier Field write-up. To hear such kind words after what felt like such a horrible day really made me stay motivated and believe in myself. With just over two weeks until Grandma's, I am becoming more excited about this opportunity that I am very lucky to have!