Wednesday, January 29, 2014

USMS One-Hour Postal Swim Recap

Late last year I joined US Masters Swimming with hopes of just getting at least one event in, I imagined a swim meet, 50 free, 100 free, 100 back... just as a measuring stick of my current swimming ability.  With a whole ZERO swim meets any drivable distance from me, I just swam my own workouts and found the Postal Series with my friend Adam.  I did the 3000 short course yard swim at the end of the year in 53 minutes, good enough for dead last in the country (of 12 who entered that postal).

This year I intend to swim all 5 postal events.  They start with the 1-hour in January to be swam anywhere at any time before the 1st of February.  Adam completed his yesterday with 3225 meters (long course).  I had been feeling like crap lately in a race and a few workouts so I had suspicions I might not make it to 3000 yards.  Nonetheless, the deadline for submitting my swim was looming and it had to be done.
All my gear.  So simple.
Having noticed a huge depression in my energy and strength lately, I attempted to compensate by carbing up as much as I could leading up to the race.  What's made this tough is that Kristen and I started a Whole30 program on the 23rd, no doubt the cause of my slump.  So no pasta, bread or other "traditional" carbs.  Relying on what the good Lord gave us, we cranked out some pretty awesome starchy vegetables for carbs like loads of sweet potatoes (breakfast hash, or mashed), rutabagas, cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, butternut squash and beets (these are a new favorite food but holy crap are they a bit alarming when they dye everything that comes out later a blood red).  I think I ate about 3 lb of vegetables Tuesday night and a good pre-race meal of the same and hit the pool around 9:30.
Only about half of what I'd consumed to fuel up Tuesday evening.
I don't really like warming up, so I forced myself through a few laps to at least see how I felt mechanically.  My back's had a pretty wicked knot in it for about 2 days and I expected to feel it on my left arm pull.  I could detect the knot each stroke but it didn't really cause any discomfort and definitely no pain so after my lame warmup, I was ready to go.  I preset my Garmin for time alerts every 15 minutes.  I had originally intended to just set it at one hour but that would have caused me some certain madness.  I am in a time warp when I don't have at least some perspective of where I was in the hour, I need alerts at shorter intervals to keep my from thinking I'm 40 minutes in when it's been only about 12.

I started off typically, quicker than a pace I could keep throughout the hour but with swimming, it's a different strategy than running, at least for me.  I'm going to blast through as much yardage as I can while I can maintain good form.  I got about 300-350 yards in before my pace was slower than 22 seconds/length.  I attempt to maintain pretty decent form the whole way because quite simply, good form makes swimming easier, the problem is, it's not that easy to maintain for a long period and be efficient.  I watched my strokes/length tank and tried to take advantage of being in a short pool because I'm pretty good at turns.

After I was done knifing through the water, I started plowing through it, I could feel fatigue setting in pretty quickly, almost right around 350 yards when I felt my self slow down, with a lot of doubt between me and at least 3000 yards, I pressed on.  I had nothing better to do at the moment.

What seemed like 25 minutes into the swim, I finally felt a buzz on my left wrist.  One quarter of the way done.  I was still feeling lousy and at this point I had another swimmer sharing my lane.  She appeared to be just doing a kicking set, and really only a bit slower than I was swimming, at least in my head.  This was part depressing and part motivating.  I made a mini-mission to see how many times I could lap her.  I lost count but it was a fun side game that made the yards disappear until I felt the 2nd 15-minute alert.  By now, I was feeling looser and in a comfortable pace, I'd figured I'd pushed through a wall and was good to go and the 3rd quarter hour ticked by in what seemed like 5 minutes and I had only 15 to go.  And was pretty oblivious to how far I'd swum to that point.  I did do one quick distance check at about 27 minutes and saw 1775 yards done.  A bit of a surprise at my pace and I figured, pessimistically, I'd only continue to slow and 3000 was still in jeopardy.

The last bit of the swim was a mixed bag.  Some laps felt awesome, almost "fast", others felt like each recovery stroke pushed me backwards when it hit the water in front of me.  Feeling sloppy but still moving comfortably, the up/down feeling of the last 15-min leg expired quickly and I'd finished my first postal of 2014.  3700 yards and boom goes the dynamite!

I knew I had some metal blocks with my 3000 yd postal last year and a new nutritional challenge that I think I might have figured out for this one.  I'm excited for the rest of 2014's postal series but the 10K sounds like a beast.  At least I have a ton of time to prepare for that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chilly Cheeks 7.2 miler: 1/26/14

If I hadn't mentioned it already, I'm a fan of Pretzel City Sports' trail races.  They put on great races, although they're a small hike from where we live (it's worth it), I try to do as many as possible.  I'd signed up for Chilly Cheeks just this past week, a race new to me I wanted to run and do well in.  I had a good training week with my new gym class and put in some good solid miles leading up to the race.  I was fully prepared for the weather which I realize sucks to talk about in the first place but nonetheless is a factor.  At a whole 21 degrees at the start, it was warmer than the last week or so has been.  I'm sure all runners there were psyched about that and I think I layered appropriately for the balmy run in the forest, maybe just a little lighter than we did for the single digit temps for Watchung.  My gear list for Chilly Cheeks:
  • Long sleeve Nike base layer shirt
  • Another long sleeve tech tee over that
  • Random hoodie sweatshirt
  • Outdoor Research liner gloves
  • Fruit of the loom boxer briefs.  I might as well share all gear.
  • Nike "pro combat" tights (for battling the cold?)
  • Some polyester "athletic" pants from Old Navy
  • Smartwool ski socks
  • New Balance MT810's
  • Ice Trekkers
  • a Buff.  These things are awesome.
  • a knit cap
  • Camelbak
  • GoPro, Garmin and ipod
And I received new gear:
PCS, as always, has pretty cool race swag. 
I expected the typical trails that meander through the normal network that PCS usually uses.  Having never run this, I did not expect a chin-scraping, bushwhacking scramble up a hill only a half mile in.  Looking back, it's a far tinier hill than it felt like but I let myself get back into bad habits and scrambled up as fast as I could.  Here's the maps and course profile from my Garmin:

Not the typical PCS routes I'm used to but very challenging.

Total gain was 1529 ft
Right off the start, I felt pretty tired; my legs didn't feel like they had much juice.  I figured I'd just need to get them moving and warmed up but that quick scramble a half mile in took a toll while I considered it an opportunity to move up in the field as the single track would be a little more challenging to navigate with other runners once we got past the climb.  I managed to keep a pace to finish that mile in just under 12 minutes.  Perhaps I should have taken it a little easier on that climb.
Approaching the scramble up the hill at the half-mile mark
My view for the entire climb.  All extremities were used to get to the top.
Leveling off a bit near the top.
A bit of flat for some recovery.  At this point, I'm assuming I'll hold together pretty well.  I mean, we're only 1/10th of the way in... 
My anonymous pacer for several miles.
I am victim to another female runner!  What am I even doing out here?!
 The trail was in pretty good shape, the most technical challenge were the steeper downhills that were a mix of powdery snow and leaves making for a pretty slick footing.  The Ice Trekkers were a great pickup.  They're comfortable and I know they aided my footing on the loose downhill and in general all over the snow.  So glad I had them.  The way the race was going, there were certainly times where I thought trekking poles might have been good addition to the gear I'd brought.  No one wants to be that guy, so I'm glad I didn't.

I slugged through the first few miles below my expected pace.  I wanted to be around 10.5 min miles and that wasn't looking feasible.  Negativity was taking over and usually I'm thinking of random stuff on my training runs like "why would the robots develop a Terminator with an Austrian accent?  What even makes sense about that?" but it was so rough on me today I was dwelling on my overwhelming feeling of physical weakness that I'd resorted to walking the hills around mile 3.   I'm confident it was lousy fueling preparation prior to the run, nothing to blame other than myself.  That whole nutrition thing and I need to train harder on hills to the point where I outgrow the local hills and have to move west.

At least the course was beautiful, I was warm, maybe a little woozy after 5 miles but as I pressed on, I could taste the finish line at the peak of the last climb at 5.5 miles.  The long, gradual descent to the finish was a Godsend.  
After the final climb, as I walked and collected myself.
Finally through the woods.  And pretty much proof I did finish (20ft is a gimme, right?)
From the top of Reading, PA, I got my legs moving and eked out a finish in a race I find difficult to compare to others.  Certainly there have been harder races, longer races, colder or hotter races but this is in it's own category.  Kudos to Ron Horn, the RD, and his crew!  I finished pretty upset but moved along after making my way to the indoor breakfast banquet they had set up for runners.  Live music, eggs, coffee and best of all, no more running!  I housed a plate of eggs, chatted with other runners a bit who were mostly interested in the GoPro and departed for home.

Another race, another lesson or 2 learned.  Next week, half marathon!  Applying what I learned and bouncing back!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Minor Watchung Regret and training fun

Sometimes, we all learn a good lesson the hard way or in a way we'd wouldn't otherwise choose, usually those lessons are entirely necessary.  In my case, I am kicking myself just a little for bailing on the Watchung half marathon from the prior weekend.  I distinctly recall the fatigue, the biting cold and quit on my half marathon goal for what?  Saving myself a little misery while doing what I set out to do?  Yeah, it was hard to continue but it was doable.  It's also hard to run my first marathon, every race should be hard, it's part of any sport.  Long races won't get any easier as they go, that's a given.  And if I'm running them correctly, they probably won't really get much harder as the miles pile on.  It seemed like a solid plan at the time to bail with a 10K, but I am carrying some regret.

My initial "acceptance" of 1:13-and-change was something I was content with considering the conditions.  That turned out to be good enough for a surprise 9th place of the 51 10K finishers.  Perusing the results, I was pretty surprised to see the number of runners that stuck it out.  There were 49 half marathoners, 11 30Ker's, 34 marathoners, and 23 50Kers.  The top 2 50Kers finished within 24 seconds, holding some very impressive splits and both finishing at 4:42:17 and 4:42:41.  What they did in those conditions is impressive.  While I hope for dry ground again in my revisit of the Ironmasters Challenge in April, I'm still just hoping for a sub 6-hour showing.  Granted, Ironmasters' course is significantly harder than this 10K loop, I am left with a considerable amount of work to do before then.

Hercules' brutal cold and half foot of snow did make for a great first cold race of 2014.  I will be back in north Jersey for a trail half marathon on Feb 1 to attempt for redemption.  This time, I'll fall back on a new aid, my Ice Trekkers.  These puppies kept me upright for a solid 9 mile training run on Saturday while the remaining Ice on the Wissahickon trails seemed to be combating the 63 degree temperature and pouring rain.  Ice and mud were no problem with these.

That run was fantastic.  I had set out with intent to finish around 13-15 miles and settled quite happily with 9.  I soaked in (no pun intended) the empty trails, the fog settling down very low, icy corridors in trail sections that seemed to avoid the day's blast of heat.  It was a top 3 trail run, period.  Something about it was special and I will enforce a new rule because of it.  Let no trail run go undocumented, written or visually.  I need to be a better run journal keeper and need to bring that handy GoPro on all trail runs.  Even though there's something about keeping it to myself that makes it a more personal experience, there's some beauty in that dreariness that only a trail runner might appreciate that I want to share.  When you see no other humans for almost an hour on the trails, there's an odd annoyance when you overtake a couple walking in rain gear with their dogs on the trail, I wonder what they're doing on my path during my run.  Then you pleasantly say "hi, careful on the ice." they say "thanks, you too," and you're alone again for another long span.  Eventually, I crossed paths with another guy running the trail.  We had a manly nod of respect to each other kept on cruising.  Knowing we were piling on miles and most our competition was planted in front of their TVs.

No races this weekend, probably just another long run and time on the bike trainer as preparation for the 1-hour postal and the Chilly Cheeks 7.2 miler the weekend of the 25th and 26th. My swim goal is over 4000 yds.  My run goal hasn't been given much thought yet.  I might just wing it with a goal of holding sub-10.5 minute miles.  Might just get crazy with it and try something else, who knows what the future may hold.

Stay light on your feet!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Watchung Run 1/4/14: Hercules defeats the half marathon

A while ago Kristen and I put the Watchung Run on our calendar but ultimately decided we'd just run it if we felt like it and register on the spot.  Like fools, we registered at a table in 4 degree weather, my fingers barely able to write out legible words.  So if Arrwm Sluwerhh gets credit for my race time, good for him.

Thursday night into Friday the cold and snow came.  We knew it was coming, we knew we'd prepare with layers to combat our first really cold race (I think the coldest prior race was the Dirty Bird from last fall which started in the mid-20's).  We were running anyway.  Because we're badasses.

I haven't had the pleasure of running this trail yet so I had no idea how technical it was, what its conditions were really like or how the conditions might change during the race.  I had on 2 long-sleeve tech shirts, a hoodie, Exoficio underwear, Nike tights, some cheap running pants from Old Navy, wool ski socks and my yellow New Balance shoes, a buff, ski mask, knit cap, Mizuno running gloves as liners and some heavier gloves over those.  At the starting line, my fingers were already frozen and I worried it might only get worse.  Wearing about 1/4 of all my running gear (and my Nathan fuel belt), I lined up with Kristen seconds before the start in a hasty scramble and we fell in line.
All my damn gear, minus the shoes.
Upon the start, I immediately started playing mental games.  I had expected to complete a half marathon race.  The course is a 10K loop so the options were 10K, half and full marathons (with a 1K loop to get to the appropriate distance) and 50K.  With an "out" at my disposal, I tried to forget about that option and just run my race.  My training runs leading up felt great and I thought I could handle the half well and hold an 11 min pace.

The field fell into line which started in a park for about 1/4 mile before turning onto the trail which was a very narrow single track, getting bored and staying cold, I reached a point where I just had to break some trail.  At a few opportune moments, I hopped out of the queue into the left lane and through some powder under which I had no idea what lied.  Either I was really lucky or the trail was pretty well groomed because it was one of the better decisions I'd made that day.

The course was pretty nice in the snow.  After all, being in the woods is a treat in and of itself.  Being out in the snow is a bonus.  Unfortunately, I'd left my GoPro plugged in at our friends' house but what the heck, here's a picture from the previous day in a different park in a different state.  Pretty much the same thing: snow in the woods.
In case you needed to see some snow in the woods.  Actually from a duck hunt the day before, non-Nintendo version is way better.
As I was making my way around packs of runners, finding open space to run and catch more, I was feeling great and the blood was flowing and I was nice and toasty.  The course was a little slippery but very runnable.  It didn't take long, though, for that 10K out to come back to the front of my mind.  And I'll continue to kick myself for this but here's the thing that bothered me: We anticipated the snow.  We purchased Yaktrax.  I left them.  In the car.  At the race.  (They were actually the walking model, all that we could find, so I also assumed that as they weren't the running model, they had the potential to become more of a problem than an aid.)

I assessed the other runners' shoes and it looked like 1/3 opted for YakTrax.  I assume they all beat me in the 10K or ran a farther distance.  I made a game time decision to just go in my trail shoes and that the trail should be worn enough to provide enough traction.  Because of the cold conditions, the snow never changed form; it stayed a fluffy powder reducing traction.  I'd venture a guess that the lost traction drastically robbed me of any running efficiency to the tune of 20-30%.  That's a shot in the dark, but by mile 4, I'd made up my mind.  I'll take the out and just end my race and get Kristen and myself out and into a warm diner. 
The Garmin data
I was actually pretty happy with my showing.  Not quite what my 10K goal would have been but despite the conditions, it was a lot of fun and extremely close to some of Kristen's family so a place to visit again when we're in the area.  We packed up, found a diner and made our way to a small family reunion with Kristen's cousins.  Great snowstorm weekend!