Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blogging from the sidelines

WARNING: You are about to read a full-fledged pity party.
If you’ve noticed (which you haven’t) (don’t worry I’m not offended) (okay I am a little) that my blog hasn’t been updated in over a week, rest assured it’s not because I keeled over when my heart went into some sort of arrhythmia.  The unfortunate truth is that my hip injury that I’ve been denying carefully nursing has gotten progressively worse.  It’s pretty discouraging, especially because I had been hoping that over time it would start to heal on its own and wouldn’t require any sort of surgical repair.  I’m starting to lose hope on that, but at the same time I’m looking forward to surgery if it means getting patched up good as new.  Now, some may argue that I’m not giving it a chance to heal on its own because I have continued to run lightly, mountain bike, and ride my horse.  Some may argue that my definition of “lightly” running is skewed, but I can honestly say that my mileage has dropped to just about zilch.  Nada.  Goose egg.  In fact, my mileage tally for June is a measley 34 miles.  And if that’s not convincing enough, I am doing something amazing: I am backing out of a race that’s on my race calendar.  See?  I’m maturing.
                This Thursday is my running club’s first in a series of three trail races, and I’ve been looking forward to this race since I ran the last one in August of last year.  It’s a 5 mile trail race, and what I love most about it is that the course is on the West Hill Dam trails behind my house, which I run, bike, and ride my horse around on a daily basis.  I was so excited about this race that I even coordinated a trail clean up day between my horse club and my running club so that we could get the trails in ship-shape for the race.  That was just a couple weeks before my infamous faux-pas that caused my hip injury (which, coincidentally, occurred on these same trails).  Since the injury, I’ve been reducing my mileage and incorporating more rest days in between runs.  Up until last week I had still been able to run a couple days a week for 3-6 slow miles.  I had been careful to keep the strides short and I avoided hills and sharp turns, which all seemed to cause worse pain.  As pain started to win out, I eventually stopped riding my mountain bike on trails, and incorporated even more rest days in between runs.  The last time I ran was one week ago today, the first day of summer.  It was a beautiful day for a run and I ran on trails and roads, for a total of 4 miles.  The roads were more hilly than I should have tackled, and my hip started hurting pretty badly while running.  I knew this was a bad sign because that was the first time the pain was so severe that I couldn’t continue running.  I ended up walking the last half mile back home, and felt pretty deflated about it.
                The days following that last run were painful, and I alternated Aleve with some stronger painkillers, packed myself in ice whenever I could, and stopped pretty much all activity.  As a person who identifies herself as a runner, this injury has some pretty serious consequences.  Now what?  As a runner I feel like I have something that not everyone else has.  I have a physical ability that a lot of people say, “wow, I could never do that”.  Losing the ability to run is like getting my wings clipped, and it’s made me pretty depressed if we’re being honest.  The only thing that lifted my spirits last week was knowing that I was heading on vacation with my horse.  (Yes, Rocco and I vacation together).  He’s been a real godsend to me, because he’s a super comfortable Tennessee Walking horse, which basically means that I have a lot less pressure on my hip than I would with other types of horses.  I’ve also used the past week to evaluate my current condition and make some decisions.  As depressing as this is, I recognized that it would be irresponsible of me to attempt to run the trail race on Thursday.  The hills and the terrain would be too harsh on my hip, even if the pain had started to die down by then.  Another factor is the Harvard Pilgrim 10K race I’m signed up for next Monday, July 4th, at Gillette Stadium.  This is another race that I’ve been looking forward to all year.  I ran the inaugural race last year, and it was a total blast.  That course is very flat and easy, and I am confident that if my hip gets back to what it was a couple weeks ago, I would be able to complete it.  I obviously won’t be breaking any speed records, but I would be content just to finish it.  If I have any chance of running that race next Monday, I know I need to rest the hip as much as possible this week, and that means backing out of the trail race. 
                Once I made the decision to back out of the trail race, the next best thing I could think to do was volunteer at the race.  At least this way I can still be part of the event (and won’t get nearly as sweaty!)  I really enjoy volunteering, which is good because if this hip doesn’t get resolved in the near future, my racing blog is going to turn into a volunteering blog!  In the meantime, I am going to attempt to run a couple of flat miles sometime later this week so that I can gauge whether or not my hip can survive the 10K in Foxboro.  If it poops out on me, I’m still planning to attend the race and cheer on my pals, take pictures, and hopefully find new ways to scratch my running itch.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I would like to start off by confirming that I am not, in fact, dead.  This might come as a surprise if you are checking out any of my Garmin stats, especially my recent uploads that include heart rates.  (Still cursing Scott for convincing me that this was a good idea).  As expected, this has become my new obsession and I’ve been doing research and analysis on optimum heart rates for runners.  I also reformatted the display on my Garmin to make the heart rate more visible so I could monitor it more carefully during my run.  My first run with the heart rate monitor was on Monday, where I maxed out in the 170’s in what I thought was a casual, easy run.  After speaking with some friends and looking it up online, 170+ is a pretty fast rate and is normally only reached during harder efforts.  I got a little defensive about this and started looking up other Garmin users in my area to see what they maxed out at.  Apparently I live near some real machines that can bang out 6-7 min miles and never break 150bpm. This led me to the obvious conclusion: I’m going to die of heart failure at any moment.  In an effort to avoid being overdramatic, I feel it important to explain a couple possible factors.  1. This was a trail run, which is a harder effort than roads.  2. I was the only female during this trail run.  Not only was I working a little harder to keep up with some of the guys but, um… hello… I was surrounded by men!  That alone should cause a spike of 20-30bpm.  3.  It was a short run.  I wondered if after a few miles my heart would calm down, or if it would sustain that hard effort regardless of the distance.
Factoring in those three points into my analysis, I have revised my heart rate from Monday’s run:
175 average BPM – 5 (trail run) – 25 (surrounded by men) – 5 (short distance) = 140BPM.  Voila.  Genius!

I have this reoccurring dream.  Every morning I wake up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, jump into my running clothes, lace up my running shoes, and just as I’m strapping on my Garmin…the alarm goes off.  Then I hit snooze.  Then I wake up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth…blah blah blah…and the alarm goes off again.  By the time I stop pressing snooze, it’s time to get ready for work.  This morning was different though!  I woke up, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, jumped into my running clothes, laced up my running shoes, attached my heart rate monitor, (awesome, I am definitely not dreaming if I’m attaching my heart rate monitor! I’m awake!), and just as I’m strapping on my Garmin…the alarm went off.  UGH.  Apparently my reoccurring dream is evolving.  Finally, I managed to actually, really, truly wake up and do all of the above steps.  Ugh, I feel like I’ve done this 5 times already this morning.  However, when I fired up the Garmin I got the dreaded message: Low Battery Power.  What? Noooooooooooo!  How did this happen?  Oh please tell me I’m dreaming.  I won’t press snooze this time, I promise! 
Unfortunately I wasn’t dreaming, and I was kicking myself for hitting snooze so much this morning.  If I had given myself more time, I could have charged up the Garmin for a few minutes.  Since I cut it so short however, my only choice was to soldier on and get whatever life I could out of the battery.  I was only going for a four mile run so I hoped the Garmin would make it for the next 35 minutes or so.  I started my run very slowly, carefully monitoring my heart rate.  My goal was to keep it under 170.  I wanted to see how hard I could run before it reached 170.  So I just plodded along at a nice casual pace on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning.  My new obsession with this heart rate monitor is putting crazy thoughts into my head.  I was wondering what it would look like if I just dropped dead while running.  I have a vision of someone finding me, hours later, wondering what happened.  Then, a savvy detective who doubles as an avid runner would spot the Garmin, upload it, and see my stats.  This savvy detective would not only trace my starting location, but he would see my exact performance leading up to my collapse.  I thought of what the heart rate scale would look like: 167..168…169….170.…..171………Flatline.  This morbid thought for some reason struck me as hysterical, and I giggled and snorted my way down the street.  (I wonder how much laughing while running impacts heart rates?) 
At the one mile mark my Garmin chirped, and for the first time I didn’t even glance down to see my split time.  My new obsession has shifted my focus so far off my pace that it’s not even important anymore.  Getting to work on time is, however, a consideration so I made sure I wasn’t shuffling along too slowly.  After another minute or so I glanced down to make sure I was still in a comfortable zone, and I was struck with sheer panic.  The Garmin display was blank.  Empty.  Gonzo.  That’s it.  I croaked.  Bit the dust.  Kicked the bucket.  Flatlined.  My heart has stopped beating and any second now I will collapse.  Luckily it only took a millisecond for me to remember that it was only my Garmin battery that was dying, not my actual body, and I settled down.  I can only imagine what my pulse jumped up to at that brief moment.  I’m lucky I didn’t put myself into cardiac arrest!  Maybe I need to calm down a bit with this heart rate obsession.  I’m making myself crazy.
The rest of the run was fun and uneventful, and I managed to get by just fine without tracking my time, pace, or heart rate.  My only real disappointment was I didn’t get to see how my heart held up over the longer distance, but hey… there’s plenty more opportunities for that!
And for the record, my reoccurring dream isn’t so bad.  I also had a dream shortly before waking up that I snuck into my neighbor’s outhouse while they weren’t home.  (No idea why my neighbors had an outhouse in my dream, or why I would have a desire to use it while they weren’t home).  Then the outhouse started to flood and I was up to my knees, so I quickly jumped out of the outhouse, only to find that the neighbors had pulled into the driveway along with a bunch of other cars, and they caught me sneaking out of their outhouse.  So, in the grand scheme of reoccurring dreams, strapping on a heart rate monitor isn’t too awful.  As long as it doesn’t evolve into flatlining. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pressure-free running

My miscellaneous activities have continued over the last few days, due in part to my hip, the weather, and a mysterious new toothache.  This is also the first time in a long time that I haven’t had a race train for.  My next half marathon isn’t until October, and until then I just have some 5 mile trail races and a couple 10k’s over the summer.  Without a need to build up long distance miles, I find myself in this unusual position of pressure-free running.  In some respects it’s a nice feeling, but in others it worries me that I might become a little unfocused.  So, while I continue to log a small handful of miles a week, I’ve focused on finding other things to keep me interested and motivated.
The weather has played a big factor in outdoor activities over the last few days.  It’s been pretty soggy and cool in New England, but that didn’t stop us from taking the horses out on Saturday.  We brought the horses over to the Upton State Forest for a nice ride.  We were pretty lucky to get in most of our ride without substantial rain, although the wet leaves on the trees still got us pretty damp.  The horses really seemed to enjoy the cooler temperatures (maybe a little too much) but on the way back we got caught in some pretty steady showers, and we didn’t waste any time getting out of the rain.  Well, actually we wasted a little bit of time taking this picture.

Later on Saturday I was supposed to meet up with Kerri for a run, but at the last minute she had to change plans.  Since it was rainy and dark I had little-to-no motivation to run solo, so I was pretty content to lounge around and nap in the afternoon.  Eventually I talked my mother into going to the Milford bike path with me, where she biked while I ran alongside her.  This worked out pretty well because she had been looking forward to biking, and I had to work fairly hard to keep up with her.  As a bonus, because it was lousy weather there were very few people on the bike path so we didn’t need to worry about navigating around a lot of people (or getting mugged).
Mom on the bike

It rained very heavily Saturday night and it was just far too wet on Sunday to ride the horses, so instead I was able to connect with Kerri for a run.  I had mentioned the bike path to Kerri and she wanted to try it out, so I met her there for a run in the rain.  I really enjoy running in the rain, and I’m not the only one it seems, because I saw a fair number of other runners out on the roads dodging puddles.  Kerri and I had a great run at a nice casual pace, and went further down the path into Hopkinton.  Our run was just over 6 miles, and by the end I was getting tired. 

Milford natives on the bike path

I took full advantage of the fact I had run 6 miles, and spent most of the rest of the day just lounging around the house.  Later that evening, I ended up going for a little bike ride with Mom in the trails around the house.  It was a very casual pace (i.e. I could have run it faster) but it was nice to get out.

After my active weekend I would gladly have taken Monday off from running, but thanks to our Monday night pond run with the running club, I had motivation to lace up.  Running this trail on Monday nights has become a regular routine of mine, and I look forward to running with other girls from the club.  This time, however, I was the only girl.  I was a little surprised at the low turnout since the weather ended up being fairly decent but it was still a fun run.   I was actually really excited about running because of my new gadget.  When I bought my Garmin last year, it came with a heart rate monitor.  This heart rate monitor has remained in the box that it came in for the last year.  I had little interest in monitoring my heart rate, and the strap kind of freaked me out, so I thought just tracking my miles would be enough.  Over time I became more interested in tracking pace, and finally just a couple months ago I learned how to track my individual mile splits.  Now, with a little encouragement from my dorky friend Scott, I have accepted the fact it’s time to take a look at my heart rate.  The way Scott explained it to me is that if I’m only looking at the pace and distance, I’m only seeing the “output”.  If I really want to see how hard I’m working, I need to look at the “input” (i.e. how hard my heart is pumping at a certain level of effort).  This could of course become a slippery slope for me, since I have a tendency to overanalyze things and I’m a bit of a numbers person.  After reading the directions I strapped the monitor on and tested it out.  Just walking down the stairs my heart went from 59 to 68.  Yup, this is going to become my new obsession.  I noticed for most of the Hopedale pond run my heart was in the 170’s.  Now of course I have to research that to see if that’s a reasonable level.  I think this will come in very handy when logging long slow miles, as it will prevent me from working too hard.  I’m considering wearing this thing everywhere now: Watching the Bruins game, at work, commuting.  After the club run I took a swing through Dairy Queen to get ice creams for the family, where my pulse was back to a comfortable 64.  It seems that even without a race to prepare for in the immediate future, I still have something to motivate me.  Yup, obsessed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Miscellaneous week in review

Well folks… the way I see it, I have one of two options given my limited miles on the road.  I can either blog less, (boo! No! Say it ain’t so!) or I can expand my blog a wee bit to include some other activities.  I decided to go with option two, so if I bore you to death I apologize.  If I start posting blogs about cats and knitting, please stage an intervention and send me hate mail.
Here’s the overall week in review:  The theme of the week was HOT, HOT, HOT!  A crazy heat wave rolled through which produced some pretty hot temperatures (not complaining; how can I after our insane winter).   The heat just seemed to come on all at once, and it was just too unhealthy to run.  No need to talk me out of it… I may love to run but I know my limitations when it comes to heat.  I am a baby.  A wuss.  A complete and utter blob in the heat.  My heart beats like crazy, I get light headed, I get dizzy, and I’m just a general mess.  I had a mild intention of getting up early to run before work this week.  I gave it a good ol’ college try.  Set the alarm super early.  Went to bed fairly early.  But when the alarm went off, I rolled over, hit snooze, and repeated that step every nine minutes for the next hour until it was time to get ready for work.  I considered running on the treadmill at the gym but talked myself out of that too.  With my stupid hip injury I’m supposed to only be running a couple days a week anyways, so I’m still trying to get used to that.  Running, it seems, is a hard habit to break.
In lieu of running, I thought biking might be a better option in the heat.  I recently bought a mountain bike for my son Andrew, so after a lifetime we finally have something in common.  On Tuesday, we packed up the bikes and trucked down to the Milford bike path.  It was 88 degrees at 5:30 at night but the heat was not an issue on the bike like it would have been running.  We had a nice easy 7+ mile bike ride, dodging the gangsters Milford natives.  Andrew loved it, and I admit it was kind of nice compared to some of the more challenging trail rides I usually do.  The whole time I felt like I was cheating, but Andrew was happy and it was a good workout for him, so it was a good night.  Biking is actually harder on my hip than running so it’s a good idea for me to be careful anyways. 
Andrew - Taking a water break
Wednesday and Thursday were my wake up early/extended snooze button workouts.  The heat made it impossible to run at lunch, and severe thunderstorms each afternoon made it impossible to run after work.
Today, Friday, I finally managed to wake up early enough to run before work.  Don’t  be too impressed; I worked from home today which saved me 45 minutes of “getting ready” for work and an hour and a half commute.  Here’s how my work at home days play out:
7:00 – roll out of bed, throw on running clothes
7:10 – start running
7:50 – return from running, hop in shower
7:55 – out of shower, dry off, turn on computer
8:00 – work!
With my stupid hip, hills are tough and unwise.  I’m a fairly stubborn person and I’ll run through pain, but the doctor made it clear that running through pain in this situation could lead to a more severe tear so I really need to be careful.  Since I have that giant monster hill outside my house, my only option to run at home is to run out on the trail.  I have a nice easy flat loop at home but it requires a half mile run through the trail.  Given the two options, I felt that the trail route was a safer option than the giant monster hill, so off I went.  I walk/jogged the trail, trying to be super careful in the wet woods and slick roots.  Today was one of those days where my body just felt like junk.  Maybe because I wasn’t awake yet, or hadn’t had breakfast, or it was still pretty steamy, I’m not sure.  I thought I’d be plenty perky after not running since Monday but it didn’t work out that way.  I continued my nice easy run, enjoying scenery and dodging early morning commuters.  On the return trip through the trail, I made a stupid move and twisted my ankle on a root.  I’m not going to repeat the language that erupted from this little mouth but let me assure you readers, I made the wildlife blush.  A sharp pain hit my ankle, stopping me in my tracks.  I walked for a while, and then walk/jogged my way back to the house.  What really aggravates me more than anything is that I wanted to walk the trail in the first place, but I was running late and didn’t want to be late for work.  After that little injury I was so deflated and discouraged.  Some pretty negative thoughts started flying.  I’m not a runner.  I’m a stupid clutz.  Put me in a bubble.  I should never leave my house.  I’m so un-athletic.  I should never run on a trail.  I should have just hit snooze.  All the while I was getting massacred by mosquitoes, who were thoroughly enjoying my slowed pace.  Yeah, it wasn’t a happy morning here in mosquito-misery land.
After a super fast cold shower and an Aleve, I started work and immediately started looking forward to my lunch break.  Today is my horse’s birthday and I wanted to take him on a nice trail ride.  I don’t have a lot of time at lunch so I could only do a half hour ride with him but it was beautiful weather and a nice ride, and I think he enjoyed the outing.

Rocco - the birthday boy

After lunch, Andrew and I went mountain biking.  Our original plan was to go to a bike path, but things changed and we got a little short on time, so the only way we were going to be able to squeeze in a ride was to ride at home on the trails.  Oh, bummer.  (YAY!).  Although Andrew was a little nervous about the trail ride, I was happy to be off the paved path and onto some technical trails.  I was very careful not to take him down some of the more difficult trails, and he really enjoyed himself.  Unfortunately I was an idiot and forgot to press the start button on my Garmin so my route is a little skewy, but since I’m not really tracking my bike miles I’m not too worried about it.  I was just happy to be out there, and so was he, so that’s what counts.
At the present time I’m hanging out in the recliner, writing my blog, watching the Bruins win the Stanley Cup (crossing fingers!), reflecting on my weird week, and looking forward to the weekend.  Tomorrow is a full day with a long trail ride planned with the horses, followed by a 7-8 mile run with Kerri in the afternoon, and mountain biking with Mom in the evening.  This is becoming a habit!  I really need to dust off my pitch for the triathlon of horseback riding/running/mountain biking.  I know of approximately two people who I think would be into this.  Knowing these two particular people I would come in third, but still it would be a fun game.  I think I’m going to make this happen in August when we go camping together.  More to come on that.  More immediately, I need my ankle and hip to cooperate to get through my run and bike tomorrow!
I’m trying to find the perfect spot to insert this picture, and it most likely will end up in the Hyannis race report, but look what I just got!  Heading towards the finish line in Hyannis.  I don’t normally order the proof but thought it would be fun to put online.  And for the record, I will be utilizing spray sunscreen for every run going forward, forever.  Even in the winter.  It’s kind of flattering, it looks like my legs are airbrushed!  (Notice the spiraling pony tail, mentioned in previous posts)

Finally… Mom snapped a picture of me “in the moment” while writing this blog.  Not very flattering, that’s for sure, but this is the real-life-Friday -night -party -animal Me.  Note the two different alcohols I’m drinking while writing this blog.  If anyone’s keeping track, the beer is a delicious Dark India Pale Ale named Hop Noir (LOVE IT) and the wine glass has Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey.  I wanted both, I’m not driving, so I didn’t have to choose between the two!  Let’s just hope I can actually get up in the morning for my all-day triathlon!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The super-secret relay race

Last Friday I participated in a super-secret test run for an upcoming relay race.  Before participating I had to swear to keep this knowledge to myself so that none of the future competitors would have any advanced knowledge of the course.  So, naturally I spent the better part of the run thinking of all the wonderful things I would blog about using secret-handshake code words, foreign languages, mad libs, and cryptograms.

It was a couple weeks ago that a blast email came out from a member of my running club asking for "beta runners".  At my job I do lots of beta testing, and I can be pretty vocal about it.  Just ask ScottyTri's.  So when this solicitation came out asking for beta runners - to run a top secret course - I was pumped!  Sign me up!  Even better, another club runner signed up for the same segment so I had a pal on the course to run with.

The course was so top secret, in fact, that we weren't told where to go until a day before the run.  Realizing it was a point-to-point run (which makes sense since it is, after all, a relay race), that presented a logistical problem of how to get back to my vehicle.  I assumed the director had the transportation element all nailed down for me as part of her pre-work (as I would do in preparation for any test).  Good thing we checked, because she expected us to work out our own transportation back to the starting point.  John and I worked this out by meeting at the finish location, leaving my car there, and carpooling to the start.  That way I could drive him back to his car afterwards.  This ended up being an important detail, as I will share shortly.

I'm not exactly clear on the purpose or the expectations of this beta test run, even after completing it.  (I can think of a couple top-notch project managers I work with that should be assigned to this next year!)  They seemed to want to iron out transitions, which is why we had to wait until the bikers came in before we could start our run.  I asked if we had any instructions, but our only purpose it seemed was literally to run from point A to point B.  We were instructed to be ready to run at 11, but the bikes took a full extra hour to arrive, so we didn't head out until 12.  It was a cool, breezy and sunny day, so I was really looking forward to getting moving!

John and I headed out on our 5k*2 (in other words: half marathon/2)-ish distance run.  The time flew as we chit chatted and kept a nice casual pace.  John has been a club member for...forever...so he had lots of stories to share.  The course was just beautiful and took us down streets in my hometown that I didn't even know existed.  (And since I can't remember the name of them, no worries there about spilling any secrets!)  The scenery was fantastic as we passed rural land, farms, and classic New England stone walls.  For a short period of time we were running down wind from a ripe cow farm which was a little tough to ingest, but when we passed by the farm and I saw all the baby calves I was completely smitten.  In fact, if I wasn't being timed I would've stopped to take photos.  It's a good thing the scenery was so amazing because it made up for the fact that the course was very ______ for the first ___ miles.  Since John and I had driven the course in reverse, we knew what to expect.  So, by the time we reached mile ___ we knew that it was clear sailing.

We continued our nice casual pace until all of the sudden something happened to make John stop in his tracks.  Out of the blue he pulled a calf muscle and couldn't run a single step.  We gave it a minute to see if it would work itself out, but eventually he told me to go ahead without him.  He was forced to sit in the shade on the side of the road until I could get back to him with my car.  I continued the last couple miles solo, and it wasn't nearly as fun.  When I reached the transition area I informed the person meeting me that John wouldn't be finishing, and he thanked me for running.  It was kind of an awkward end to the test.  I don't know really what I expected but I thought at least I would be asked for course feedback.  Instead, I ran back to my car and drove back to John, who was hanging out in the shade like a hitch hiker.

As far as dress rehearsals go, I thought this could be staged a little better.  But, this relay race has been going on for years so maybe they have most everything ironed out already.  In any event, the relay looks like tons of fun and I'm kind of regretting volunteering for it because it looks like a super fun race.  And I got to spend a beautiful Friday afternoon running through the streets of _____, _____, and _____, so what could be better than that?