Monday, August 24, 2009

Bye Bye Birdie

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing" ***Helen Keller***

Week three is behind me! It was a good fall back week, despite my deviations from the plan. I won't be able to push the envelope so much later and I have a few little warning signs that my RA is threatening to flare so I’ll behave myself and stick to the plan more.

I was supposed to do 3 miles of a general run on Thursday and rest Fri/Sat with a 5K Sunday, but since I couldn't find a Sunday 5K and my husband's group from work were running my favorite trail for military PT I decided to skip my Thursday run and do 5 with them. This trail is a lot of steep ups and downs with many of the hills having boards to terrace them so it is quite technical and definitely killer. I set a 12 minute per mile pace, which is pretty ambitious for me on this trail. I've run this trail in under an hour before, and I've run it barefoot before, but this was my first attempt at finishing under an hour AND barefoot.

Happily, I managed to maintain my pace and met my time goal. I didn't watch my heart rate during the run, but now looking at my stats I think I probably ran a bit too hard for the temps. It was definitely a Lactate Threshold run which isn't too smart on a fall back week. I'll do a little strength training tomorrow and then do a short easy run on Sunday before the next week starts.

Saturday I worked a race with my running club. I LOVE working races, all the fun without the blood, sweat and tears :-) I got to do timing again. Apparently most people don't like to do timing so when they pull out the machines everyone looks really busy, LOL. I get a real charge out of cheering everyone on as they hit the chute and observing all the different levels of intensity on people's faces, judging who did their best and who was out for a stroll. It was very hot and sticky and one woman managed to cross the line looking perfect, every hair in place, make-up fresh, and no sweat spots anywhere! Obviously, she could have done better. Other people staggered across the line well after her, soaked in sweat, looking like they were in dire pain. They are the ones I cheer hardest for because they are working their hearts out, even if it did take them 55 minutes to finish a 5K.

Anyway, I met my running group Sunday morning at 7 and it was lovely. We had an outrageous storm the evening before so the temps were down and the humidity was tolerable. Water still dripped from the trees, but the sky was blue and people were out fishing and enjoying the day. I ran with another relaxed runner and did between 12 and 12.5 minute miles for three miles and then walked the last two back. My heart rate for the 3 miles of running was at a nice %60, other than the spike at the beginning for taking off too fast :-) The guy I ran with is over 6 ft. tall so the walking at the end just about killed me! I'd have done better to just trot beside him, but I didn't want to run more than 3.

We were running in an area that that was new to me so I wore my VFFs and was very glad I had. It was all cut limestone gravel, my most hated surface, but the VFFs saved the run. I'm going to the Expo for the Virginia Beach Rock & Roll HM in a couple of weeks and plan to try on racing flats to see how they feel. I can’t imagine them being comfortable at this point, but it would be good to at least get a real idea of how much the weigh and how the heel feels.

In non-running news, today is my daughter’s 18th birthday and her launch. We left for the airport at 4am to send her to her college internship in Florida. It is only a 5 month internship, but she plans to stay in Orlando one way or the other to work and continue school so this is my first taste of empty nest. It is softened by the fact that we will see her in a few weeks when we go to visit Rusty’s family (so he can say good-bye before leaving for Afghanistan), but she will be working and not playing in the theme parks with us. They grow up much too fast!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week 2 Int. Half Marathon Training

"Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year. "

**Franklin Pierce Adams**

I have now finished the second week of the Int. HM plan and I'm feeling really good about it. Even though I kind of blew my 3 mile pace run yesterday by doing a 5K pace instead of HM pace, I still managed my 6 mile long run this morning and it went well. I maintained about a 13 mpm pace to keep my heart rate down in the heat, (80 degrees, 80% humidity). My plan for the half marathon is a pace of slightly better than 12 minute miles, with the hope of a few 11 minute miles for a target finishing time of 2:30:00.

I can very comfortably run 6 miles, which wasn't the case at the beginning of the year so I'm already ahead of where I was when I was just starting my first HM plan near the end of last year. I do have two extra weeks programmed into my training plan so I can slow things down a bit if need be, and I have a 10K (Virginia Beach Blue Moon Wicked 10K, Oct. 31st) planned the week before the HM. I hope to run for a PR with a goal of finishing in less than an hour.
Yesterday I ran in my minimal shoes (Vibrim Five Fingers Sprints) because of the rough roads, but my 6 miles today were all barefoot. No joint pain, sore hips, tight back, or calves. My only problem this weekend is that I wore a cotton tank top today and didn't think to Body Glide under my upper arms, ouch! This was my second 6 mile barefoot run and I have one very small blister on the ball of my foot. I tend to twist my left foot when it hits the ground if I'm not paying attention so I know I slacked off on form at some point.

I’m really happy with how I have been doing since I switched back to Enbrel to treat my RA. I rarely take Naproxen so I have no more need of constant Aciphex and I have cut drastically back on Flexeril (which I was only taking ½ dose of) and can count on one hand the number of Darvon I’ve taken in the last month. Even when it is happening to me, I have a hard time believing how dramatically running controls my RA! Since I feel best when I’m working the hardest, I’m confident that I will keep getting stronger and faster. A marathon still seems impossible, but I seem to have a knack for doing the impossible lately, so who knows when I’ll make the breakthrough to my first 20 mile training run!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ASYMCA Mud Run: Race Report

"We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. " **Anon**

I’ve been waiting 2 years to do the ASYMCA Mud Run and finally got my chance. Road races are fun, trail races are better, and obstacle races are the craziest and most fun of all! The location brought back a whirlwind of memories, but most of all it was the most challenging race I have run to date. It was also perfectly suited to my barefoot tangent.

The race was held on the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk Virginia, right on the edge of Virginia Beach. 20+ years ago I worked in the medical clinic as a Navy Corpsman with the Reserves so driving through the gate and onto the base brought back a flood of memories. I was allowed to work full time for the better part of our year in Virginia, so it was more than just weekends. I knew the base, and saw the SEAL team guys pass through our halls, but never knew what happened to any of them because the day after we left Virginia Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and we were off to Italy for forward deployment.

With all that in my head, I lined up with the third wave of the start. There were nearly 2,000 runners in all, most participating in teams, and many wearing their combat boots and camouflage pants. The waves were sent out with 5 minutes between each, and we all headed off for the first mile on the beach. Everyone headed straight for the water to run on the packed damp sand, but three times we were directed back up the beach to clamber over huge piles of soft sand, or through pits full of salty, muddy water. Thankfully, after the first mile, we turned off the beach and were greeted with a water stop. I gulped from one cup while pouring a second over my head, successfully washing salt into my eyes. We crossed a piece of asphalt topped road and turned onto a forest path. This was WONDERFUL!! The ground was packed sand that quickly turned to a blanket of pine needles as it wound through the trees. It obviously was not a wildly used trail and in most places it was impossible to pass people, which slowed progress down quite a bit and forced anyone who wanted to pass into a sprint through the occasional break in the trees. This was also where we crossed our deepest water hazard. It was a surprisingly deep channel, owing to the recent rains, and we all plunged into the chest deep water single file, laughing hysterically.

The tree-lined path gave way to sandy dunes as we emerged and headed back toward the beach. This brought us nearly to the start where the crowds of spectators got a chance to cheer and photograph the runners as we approached the second water stop. Turning inland again, we ran on roads that changed constantly from asphalt, cement, and dirt before heading back into the trees. People were starting to flag at this point, myself included. My quads and glutes were screaming from all the sand dunes and my legs felt like lead. Then there was the wall. I was kind of expecting something more intimidating, but was glad that it was only about 5 ft. high. I had to stand in line for my turn to climb over and managed to get in two running steps so I easily got my leg up and over the first time. I was worried about dropping down onto my ankle that has been giving me fits for weeks, but I landed well and continued my run. The last mile of the run was up and down the sand dunes, snaking around to get the distance in. I kept turning corners and thinking, “Oh no! Not another hill!” Very few people were running at this point and we all trudged along with people shouting the remaining distance. It would have been better if they had been a little consistent, LOL. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of how far it was to the end.

Our last major obstacle was the water crawl. Frankly, collapsing to my hands and knees to crawl seemed like a pretty good idea at that point, plus the water was cool and refreshing, despite being totally opaque with mud. Unfortunately, the bottom was course sand that ground painfully into my knees, making me very grateful when I crawled under the last wire and could stand up to finish the race. The crowd at the finish line was huge and cheering everyone on. Through the chute, I stopped to take off the timing chip that had been digging into my ankle for 8 kilometers and found my family. I had made it back in time to see my daughter run the kids’ one mile fun run. She isn’t a big fan of running, but she gave it her best shot and got a lovely finisher’s medal. I was proud of her for doing it even though she would have preferred to sleep in and watch TV in the air conditioning.

All in all, it was a really fun race. I was good and dirty by the end, but you really had to make an effort to get totally muddy. The serious mud hounds did belly flops into each water hazard just to get muddier. The best part, though, was the teams. There were teams of every configuration from all male, to all female, co-ed, all military, all in boots, you name it. Other teams were there to specifically honor a friend or family member that is a fallen hero; those teams were the most touching of all. The teams were required to cross the finish line together, no one left behind. Listening to them as they encouraged each other and worked together to keep the team moving was very inspirational. At one point I passed a group of military guys and heard combat poetry being shouted out loud and clear. I don’t remember the exact words, but what I heard went something like this:

We fought all day
We fought all night
We fought until our gun barrels glowed red and we were out of ammunition
Then it was time for had to hand combat…

I will never be a combat soldier; I will never know what they go through or what a day is like facing a fierce and determined enemy. I don’t have to live in the sand and muck, day in and day out, to do my job. I can only admire them and do what I can on the home front to support them and their families. It was an honor and a privilege to share the race course with our military and a joy to see everyone having so much fun.

P.S. I’m now on week two of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Half Marathon training plan. Being back to a regular running routine is improving my RA and my sleep patterns dramatically. I feel so much better! My ankle isn’t totally healed, but since it wasn’t a running injury, it is healing and not being aggravated. As long as I don’t put my foot down and then turn or twist, it is fine.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." **Jim Ryun**

Today was the Coast Guard 5K and I was feeling really good about being back to running. While organizing my gear, directions, and plan, I saw that most of the race was on the same rough roads as my fateful 4th of July race and it immediately struck fear in my heart. I simply didn't look forward to it. I decided to carry my VFFs and put them on when the road got rough, but the minute I stepped out of the car, I knew I needed to put them on from the start. I felt a little defeated having to give in to shoes already, but I really wanted to just run for fun, no worries about time, take it easy on my ankle, and NOT be in pain the whole time.

Standing at the start, I got a few comments and questions about my weird shoes. One seasoned runner said, "I hope you have a good heel pad in those." Of course my answer was that I didn't need one because I don't land on my heels. He furrowed his brow and said, "Forefoot strike, eh."

I wasn't in a hurry so I hung at the back of the pack and started passing people shortly across the start line. Not far into it, I was starting to think that maybe I had lost more ground than I thought during my injury recovery, but then I realized we were on a pretty good incline, ugh. Not the best way to start a race! I plugged along, purposefully not looking at my Garmin and just going by my breathing. By the first mile mark I was really happy. I felt good, I was still passing people and my ankle didn't hurt at all. I was feeling warmed up and picked up the pace a little. I thought again how glad I was to have my VFFs on. As much as I love running barefoot, if it is miserable and no fun I'll give up. Better to take a break than throw in the towel.

When I hit the second mile mark I decided to increase my speed again, but I started getting a stitch when I hit the next hill so I relaxed a bit. All through this mile I was constantly doing form checks. It is a lot like learning to drive a car. At first you are totally conscious about checking mirrors, position of hands on the wheel, signaling, turning, it is all conscious and consumes all your attention. Relearning to run properly is the same way. I'm constantly thinking, "Am I landing on my forefoot or my heel? Am upright? Am I picking my feet straight up? Are my feet falling inline in front of me? Are my hips moving, or are they stiff? Are my shoulder and neck relaxed?" Pretty much every time I checked, there was something to be corrected. If I let my mind wander for a few minutes, there were more things to correct. However, as time went on, the interval between the correction and the detail falling apart again got longer. I look forward to not having to think about it, but it is going to take a while to break these bad habits!!!

When I turned the last corner, with about 50 yards left to go, I punched it! I sprinted for all I was worth and crossed the finish line with a Garmin clocked speed of 6:20 minute mile!!!!! WOW! I had no idea I could do that! Granted, I only sustained it for about 10 seconds, but WOW!!! My final time wasn't all that impressive, 31:20 clock time (edited to add, the official posted time was 31:34, don't know what happened to those 14 seconds), but considering the heat, my time off, and my history, I was quite happy with that :-) My splits were great:
Mile 1: 10:55
Mile 2: 9:58
Mile 3: 9:40

Unfortunately, I don't know my final Garmin time because I forgot to hit the stop button until an hour later, no biggie.

The best part of the race set-up was that just past the finish line there were two huge ice chests filled with ice water and washcloths! Each person got a sopping ice-cold cloth to mop their brow and wipe down their scorched limbs. It was amazing! They also had a great snack table with plenty for everyone. I hung around for the awards and strolled around a car show for a few minutes before wandering back to my car to go home.

It was a great day, I feel privileged to have been able to race, and blessed that my ankle healed so quickly and that my RA is being beaten back into submission.