Saturday, March 3, 2018

Boston Marathon Training with 43 days to go!

 All the Heartbreak Photo Creds to Justin Keefe
I'm taking a break from catching up on outdated race recaps to write about the present: Boston Marathon training! The 2018 Boston Marathon is just 43 days away.

After meeting the Boston qualifying standard but missing the cutoff by one second at the Vermont City Marathon in 2015...

...and then boiling my insides at the Vermont City Marathon in 2016...

I finally qualified for Boston at the Chicago Marathon in 2016.

To say I've looked forward to this opportunity is an understatement. Here's a glimpse into my journey to the 2018 Boston Marathon:

I had a bumpy start to 2017, working through lumbar herniation, sciatica and an IT band injury. I spent most of the last year recovering and rebuilding my foundation for running.

In August, I nervously jogged onto the MIT track early on a Tuesday morning to join a free, public coached track workout with The Heartbreakers running team in partnership with Nike+ Run Club. I was so intimidated upon arrival I felt sick to my stomach. By the second 400 meter repeat around the oval, I was jubilant. This felt like summer camp. I've returned nearly every Tuesday since. We've moved to the indoor track for the winter.

 All the Heartbreak Photo Creds to Justin Keefe

In September, I officially joined the Heartbreakers team. I've always been a runner who seeks a strongly structured plan, but I tended to run my workouts and long runs solo. Joining the Heartbreakers presented me with opportunities to explore my limits with the support of teammates and train purposefully with the guidance of nurturing expert coach Dan Fitzgerald. I focused on understanding the purpose of every run and workout.

I worked with my trainer at the YMCA to craft a strength training plan that would focus on lifting specifically for performance. I listened carefully to advice from my physical therapist and physiatrist to work diligently on stabilization exercises, core work, and single leg exercises that target my weaknesses.

And then, in a year I'd written off as lost to injury, I set new personal bests in the 5K...

...and in the half marathon.

I entered my 20 week Boston Marathon training cycle in December feeling like a stronger and smarter runner. The work was hard, but easy runs, hills, drills, and speed workouts were clicking off steadily.

The Heartbreaker Intermediate marathon plan has me running 6 days a week. I'm lifting 2 days per week, taking a cardio-strength fitness class 2 days per week, and performing specific core and/or hip stability work 2 days per week. I take yoga class with emphasis on postural stability and stretching connective tissue around the joints 1-2 days per week and stretch daily. I know I sound crazy. I promise I also have a job. 

As mileage built up, there was one thing looming over me. I'd injured myself last January on an ill-advised 15 mile long run and hadn't run that far since. Almost exactly one year later, 15 miles was printed neatly on the calendar taped to my refrigerator.

The run went off without a hitch.

Last weekend, I ran my first 20 miler of the training cycle, a "Double Firehouse Loop". Two laps around the Newton Hills, including the famed Heartbreak Hill.

It was tough and it was great and I am so excited. Even the signs outside of the gas station on my long runs are rooting for me.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Race Recap: Rock 'N' Roll Dublin Half Marathon 2017

It was a convenient coincidence that the Affidea Rock 'N' Roll Dublin Half Marathon on Sunday, August 13, 2017 happened to be running through the streets of Dublin on the very week of our planned summer vacation to visit dear friends in Ireland. I'd never run in a Rock 'N' Roll event before, but I'd heard there'd be many live bands throughout the course and I loved the idea of "sightrunning" as a quick way to cover a lot of tourist ground in a new city. Signing up with my husband and BRF, Becca, was a no brainer. Without asking her permission, we then registered our Dublin host, Ciara (who happens to be my OG marathon training partner).

Pre Race
We arrived in Dublin the day before the race. We walked to bib pickup on the historic campus of Trinity College, where Ciara was presently studying to teach science. We explored the school's historical campus and retrieved our race packets from the modest health and fitness expo.

Veganism in Ireland was trickier than I'd predicted. They REALLY do love potatoes. Nutrition leading up to the race was not as controlled as I'm accustomed to, but I did get my peanut butter banana fix on race morning.  On the morning of the race, we walked from Ciara's apartment to the start area in The Docklands. The large start area had trucks where we could drop our gear bags to be transported to the finish line. After a few nervous trips to the port-a-potty, I bid farewell to my companions and squeezed into the massive start corral.

The Course
The half marathon is a point to point course on paved city streets and park trail. It starts in the Dublins Docklands and proceeds along the north side of the Liffey River before crossing Memorial Bridge and looping around Christ Church Cathedral. Eventually, the course enters Phoenix Park, which is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. The course winds around and ends here in the park, where there is a large post race party with music, fake beer, and shuttles to take runners back to downtown. The course had a few long, grinding hills. It was entirely closed to traffic and well marked.

Race Start
According to the race website, more than 14,000 runners registered for the four events held across the weekend. The half marathon and 10K started simultaneously, so runners of both events were mixed together in the starting corrals. Since amazing bands were promised nearly every mile, I opted to forgo using any personal music device.

Miles 1-3
The start was rather crowded, and as we ran over a few bridges along the north bank of the River Liffey, we squeezed ourselves shoulder-to-shoulder. Things opened up a bit once we turned left to cross the river and passed Ha'penny bridge. At mile 2, we made a sudden left turn on a side street, running uphill to Christchurch Cathedral and then cutting back downhill. I think this little diversion was specifically so the course could include the landmark church. I didn't mind it, the little hill gave me a burst of energy early on. We returned to run west on the quays (that's what Dubliners call the roadways along the north and south banks of the River Liffey). We passed the Guinness Storehouse. I was just settling in here, finding some rhythm.

Miles 4-6
We looped through the campus of the Royal Hospital on a gravel path. I liked this part of the race because it reminded me of Fort Adams at Newport Folk Festival and because where my favorite musician was playing folk music one man band style. We ran through a more residential area, where local supporters cheered, "Good on ye!" Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 we ran past a cover band playing some cringeworthy 90s rock. I liked the community neighborhood feel of this part of the race. I settled in, repeating the mantra, "run with discipline." 10K Runners peeled off toward their finish line finish line while we half marathoners we began a slight downhill drag.

Miles 7-9
Just before Mile 8, we turned left into Phoenix Park. As I passed the mile 8 aid station, I began to wonder why running suddenly felt hard. Seemingly out of nowhere, easy running had become a grind. Later, I learned that we'd run up a slight, steady incline for 2 miles here. Woof. The park itself was beautiful, with grassy paths, trees, monuments, and (allegedly) deer. I kept my eyes peeled for the deer, but I didn't see any.

Miles 10-Finish
At mile 10, we bombed downhill. I regained composure and picked a few women ahead of me to target. I knew this was not going to be a particularly fast race time for me after the hilly slowdown, so I focused on a strong finish. As we hit some rolling hills winding through the park, I worked to keep my form in check. Body straight and strong, drive from the hips. Finishers from the 10K race had walked through the park and were joining other spectators here. I was buoyed by a man encouraging, "All the way through, lads!" I tried to muster a strong last 400 meters, but it was a rather feeble effort on this day.

I finished the race in 1:35:35, 516th of 6556 finishers and 58th of 3207 women. According to Rock 'N' Roll's official ranking system, this earns me a "Lead Singer" badge. Which is great and all... I get they're trying to tell me I'm fast. But why the band member class system? Does this mean slower runners get ranked "back up vocals on that one track" or "tambourine" or "groupie"?

After being funneled through the finisher shoot, I returned to the course to cheer my loved ones into the finish.

Chris had a fantastic race, setting a PR!

Ciara and Becca, who are far nicer, less selfish humans than I when it comes to running and friendship and supporting each other, finished the race practically arm in arm.

The post race party featured some epic jams by local band The Riptide Movement and one free nonalcoholic beer. We took a tired, happy group photo and boarded the shuttle downtown.

Bottom Line:
Even though I had a hard day on the course, running a half marathon was a truly fun way to see the city of Dublin and the best possible way to spend vacation visiting my running companions. I am all in on racing as sightseeing while traveling. I've even convinced Chris to sign up for a race with me in Portland, Oregon when we travel to the Pacific Northwest this July.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Race Recap: Falmouth Sprint Triathlon 2017

If you read my last post, you know that I am attempting a return to blogging after a lengthy, unplanned hiatus. As part of my return, I'm pumping out some race recaps from 2017. They're out of date, but I'd like to maintain a narrative record of the events I've participated in. I won't be able to recap all of them, but I'm going to cover as many as I can. Starting with the Falmouth Spring Triathlon from July 2017:

When sciatica and IT band injury sidelined me from running this winter, I turned to biking and swimming. The training shift was partly for rehabilitation and cross-training, but mostly to feed my endorphin addiction.

I signed up for swimming lessons at the YMCA. I bought a swim cap and goggles. I learned to love the meditative state brought on by the repetition of paddling back and forth along the twenty yards of the odd basement pool and the rumble of the Red Line trains passing through Central Square underneath me.

photo by Racked Boston

I bought a bike with gears. I took it out for adventures.

And then, I registered for a triathlon. The Falmouth Sprint Triathlon on Cape Cod, July 16, 2017.

Lead up to Race Day
I didn't follow a triathlon training plan, but I tried to work in 2 swims, 2-3 bike rides, and 3-4 runs each week. I put together a few "brick" workouts with back-to-back swimming and biking or biking and running. I completed one dress rehearsal complete with an open water swim in Lake Champlain. There were so many lake weeds wrapping around my ankles. It went very terribly.

As race day approached I developed increasing anxiety the ocean swim. I imagined myself coughing and sputtering and getting kicked in the face and being dragged out of the water by lifeguards.

I drove to the Cape with Duncan on Saturday morning. After a quick shakeout run to soothe my nerves, I headed to the race hub at Surf Drive beach to pick up my bib and get the lay of the land. I opened my envelope and withdrew a fortuitous bib number. Deja Vu. 3:32:33 was my finishing time for my first marathon, and 3:32:32 had been the time I'd needed to get accepted into the Boston Marathon.

I got home and wrote myself a detailed race day timeline. There is a whole bunch of gear to pack for a triathlon.

Race Morning
On the morning of the race, I arrived early. Competitors were asked to park about a mile away from the transition area in town lots. I used the bike ride from my car to the transition area to make sure my bike felt just right. I spied on my neighbors and imitated the way they set up their bikes and personal items in the transition area. I felt like an obvious greenhorn. As I laid out my shoes and carefully arranged my helmet and sunglasses on my handlebars, I watched curiously as the man across from me filled a tupperware box with sea water and set it down next to his towel. He explained that this was to wash the sand off his feet when transitioning from the swim to the bike. Well, that sure would've been a good idea. The race organizers marked my arms and calf with my bib number and I was set to go.

Each athlete was given a colored swim cap to indicate his or her division and swimming wave. I noticed that several of my fit looking neighbors had purple "First Timers" swim caps. I looked down at my own "Female Under 34" swim cap and felt a slight pang of anxiety. As a novice, I had the option of starting with my age group, in the 4th wave of swimmers, or starting with the "First Timers" wave at the very end. I asked a few purple capped folks about how they'd made their decisions, weighed the pros and cons of each option, and opted to swap caps for the "First Timers" division. I could start in Wave 12 or Wave 13. This meant I'd have only other novice triathletes around me and that the lifeguards would be paying closer attention to me, but it also meant I had to wait and watch 11 waves of athletes, each spaced 5 minutes apart, before I could enter the water.

The Swim
I took a quick dip in the water and swam a few strokes to loosen up and get acclimated to the ocean and decided to ditch the wetsuit I'd borrowed from a friend. I was wearing a triathlon suit and the water was above 70 degrees. I'd not practiced swimming in the wetsuit and wagered that the benefits of floatation and warmth were outweighed by the potential discomfort of swimming in an unfamiliar costume and the time sure to be lost by attempting to peel it off my body while running out of the water.

As athletes in the more elite waves set off, I watched attentively from the beach in hopes of gaining some insight about how to approach this daunting swim. I felt somewhat comforted by the fact that most of the swimming was done parallel to the shoreline and that the water was quite calm. Even still, my knees literally knocked together on the beach and I thought to myself, "What the f*ck am I doing here?" 

Finally, waves 12 and 13 were called. The race director gave us novices a short speech about how not to panic out there, which mostly just made me feel more panicky. I waded in with the other athletes for the water start and listened to the "Ready. Set." and a long loud BEEP.

Swim, swim, swim. I sloppily thrashed my way forward. I remembered the advice of veteran triathletes and looked up between strokes to sight the buoy. I was on track. In spite of my vision of swimming a steady, classy freestyle, I found myself alternating between strokes so I could just keep moving forward. A little freestyle, a little side stroke, back to freestyle. When I looked around, I felt relieved that many other swimmers had adopted similar sloppy, survival swimming styles. I wasn't panicked, but I found that I didn't care about how I looked or whether I was neat. I just wanted to move forward to the next buoy. The lifeguards yelled out, "everybody okay?" And I was!

I saw the final buoy on my left and made a tight turn in toward the shore. Swim, swim, swim! Suddenly, my fingers grazed sand. I stood up and emerged from the ocean. As I hit the beach, I felt completely elated. I'M NOT DEAD! I HAVEN'T BEEN DISQUALIFIED! It had taken me a pitiful 13:12 to complete the .4 mile swim. I was 415th of 511 competitors. But my body was pumping with adrenaline now.

The Bike
My wobbly legs found their footing underneath me. I sloshed through baby pools which had been placed near the transition area to rinse the sand off my feet. It took a moment for me to find my bike, but once I did, I was all business. Helmet on, buckled. Socks and shoes on. Sunglasses. Sip of water. Let's ride! I ran my bike to the line where a sign read "mount bike here", hopped into the saddle, clipped in my shoes and started to pedal furiously.

As I rode down shore drive, winding toward the Falmouth lighthouse, it occurred to me that I'd never, ever taken my bike for a ride on closed roads. I was literally able to ride as fast as my legs would take me. With excitement pulsing through my whole body, I began passing cyclists. One, two, three, four, five. We passed the Nobska Point Lighthouse. We hit some rolling hills. With a big grin, I bombed downhill as fast as I could.  Sharp right turn, bike tilt. Shifting gears felt surprisingly natural.

This is actual footage of me riding my bike during the race:

When the beach and transition area came into view, I couldn't believe the bike ride was already ending! As I dismounted my bike, I could only think about how I wanted to keep riding. This was fun! At 205th/511athletes in the ride, I was moving up in the world. I racked my bike, pulled off my cycling shoes and laced up my sneakers. Hat on, bib on. Off we go!

The Run
The run was a 5K out and back on Shore Road along the beach. I liked that there was constant activity. Since we had all started in different swim waves, it was hard to know who I was in direct competition with, so I encountered runners of all paces along the out and back course. Athletes were really supportive, offering high fives and "looking strongs!" as we passed one another. I set a comfortable pace, guessing I must be running somewhere just below 8 minutes per mile. My watch beeped the first mile. 6:40? I felt great. I barreled on, picking off runners ahead of me one by one. I had just run a 5K race in Vermont a week and a half prior to this event and had felt terrible the whole time. I was still feeling cautious about my return from injury, so I had low expectations of my pace in this race. I focused on maintaining a "cruisey" feel, but felt surprisingly awesome. I hit the turnaround. Just needed to run back to the beach now. With 800 meters to go, I started to kick it into gear. The finish was on the sand, and I crossed the line feeling full of joy. My run was 21:08, faster than my 5K race in Vermont the week before and good for 21st/511 athletes.

My time was good enough for 3rd of all novice women, an accomplishment for which I was rewarded with a commemorative...bath tile?

Triathlon was such a scary and fun adventure, and the Falmouth Triathlon was well organized, on a great course, and super friendly for a first timer. My first love is still running, but I hope to find a way to get more triathlon in my life in 2018.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2017 Reflection.

At the close of 2016, I resolved to write more. I promised I would submit at least one piece of writing for publication. Instead of doing either of those things, I stopped writing for pleasure all together. I've written plenty of occupational therapy evaluation reports, IEPs and progress notes. I've written research papers for class, grocery lists and workout plans and a grant proposal. But midway through the year, just as I began to move beyond my self pity cycle of injury and feel physically like my strong self again, without ever making a conscious decision, I simply abandoned my blog.
So why did I stop writing? Looking back, I recognize that I developed doubts about the identity and purpose of my blog. I lacked clarity about who I was writing for and what I hoped to gain from writing. Big, pressing, weighty issues in our country and world made me start to feel like my writing was trivial and self centered. I wasn't using my blog to make a difference. I wasn't sharing expertise or developing my professional network. I didn't have a product to market or incentive to monetize. I didn't feel like what I had to say was all that important these days. So what was the point?

Last week I was out on a cold, windy run along the Charles River when unexpected feelings started working their way up to my throat and then tumbling over in my mind. I thought about my defunct blog. I asked myself whether I missed writing and what, if anything, I had gotten or wanted to get out of the creative process. I felt strongly that this was an endeavor I wish to continue.

It's really difficult to pick things back up after a hiatus. There's an undeniable gap in the narrative documentary of this space that isn't easy to go back and fill in. And so, in the spirit of reflection that permeates the close of a calendar year, I am looking back on 2017 with the intent of moving forward into 2018.

Here's a glimpse at life in 2017:

At the beginning of the year, I struggled with a herniated disc, sciatic nerve pain and a blown out IT band. 

I moved through recovery and learned lessons from my experience with physical injury, like how to shift my passion to support others and how to persistently advocate for myself to get the help I needed to heal.

I took my first ever summer away from my occupational therapy career and picked up a gig hauling produce, recycling and compost by bike. Spoiler alert: I sucked at it.

I bought a new bike, signed up for swimming lessons, and completed my first triathlon in July. 

I traveled to Copenhagen, London, and Ireland with my loved ones.

I made my debut as a race organizer with the inaugural Parlor Sports Classic, raising funds for the Quell Foundation through the Falmouth Road Race.

I committed to a vegan lifestyle, eventually even giving up dairy ice cream. Thank goodness for FoMu

I joined the Heartbreakers Running Club and fell deeply in love with coached track workouts.

I started a new school year and invested my professional efforts into supporting social emotional learning for my students and developing my cultural competency as an educator.

I ran 5 half marathons in 3 different states (VT, MA, NH) and 1 foreign country (Ireland).

I was officially accepted into the Boston Marathon (!!)

I set new PRs in the Half Marathon and 5K.

And now, as 2017 comes to a close and I set my focus on the year ahead, I can genuinely admit:

I am documenting and reflecting on a part of my life that I value and that brings me joy. I am putting it in public space, which is kind of a weird idea, but the process is for me. It doesn't have to be big and important and world changing. 

I am writing this blog for myself. 

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