Monday, September 30, 2013

Running and Muscle Cramps: Cracking The Code

First of all - Hello. Sorry it's been a while. Since the Iron Girl Tri I've just had my head down and have been focusing on running again. I've had one or two bike rides and ZERO swims.

Instead, I've wanted to really, really focus on cracking the code on the cramping issues I've been dealing with.

There hasn't been one race since the Hollywood Half (April 2012) that I haven't been foiled and faced with painful cramping. And the cramping isn't limited to running alone. As I reported in my IronGirl race recap, I dealt with awful, awful cramping in the water that made me worry that I'd be unable to complete the race at all.

Hollywood Half. I've got a monkey on my back

The cramps aren't in one place. I get them in my toes, the arches and the tops of my feet, calves, hamstrings and even the tibialis anterior.

The biggest problem with the cramping is that it has put fear and apprehension in me. It is paralyzing me before I even lace up my sneakers. With all my talk of "dreaming big" and "going for finish lines," the cramping is stopping me dead in my tracks. In my heart I want to run another full marathon someday, and even possibly a 70.3 distance Tri someday. But I hesitate to even dream that big because if I can't get thru 13.1 or a sprint triathlon without cramping then how could I ever think to go for something bigger? It also doesn't inspire me to try to PR or run my best, instead i slow my roll and pray that being conservative will help me not to cramp later. It's really messing with my head.

I have finally come to grips with the fact that I've been limiting myself because of this issue.

And that shit has got to stop right now.

It's one thing to make decisions on races because of time constraints or other reasons. But being afraid of cramping up and possibly failing is not going to fly.

Recently my friend Angela sent me this video from Runner's World called, "Inside the Doctor's office: Cut Out Cramps." This was a terrific eye-opener. Up until this point most of what I've read had to do with making sure i had enough electrolytes during running and making sure to be trained. I've been consistent on that front so what gives?

Well. A lot. I have work to do.

Some of the key contributors to cramping according to the video are: Dehydration, lack of strength and lack of flexibility. I'm probably guilty of all three of those things. I am a big sweater and even after a 3 mile run I can be caked in salt. So right off the bat, yes, I have to hydrate and figure out electrolytes. I have days and even weeks at a time where I'm coming no where close to what I should be drinking in water. I always try to hydrate the days leading up to a race but that's just not enough.

And flexibility and strength? Bah. I've been amiss in paying attention to those things. Not on purpose. Remember I had that brief stint with yoga (I was going to and then just didn't stick with it - I wasn't a big fan) and I take a strength training class here and there but when training it all falls by the wayside and I focus on running (or biking and swimming.)

That's gonna change. First off, I'm sucky, sucky at hydration, which is stupid. This is a no-brainer, easy thing to do. Drink freakin' water all day. That's it. This shouldn't be a big whoop. I've got water drinking apps and playful cups - I'm going to drink water and keep hydrated.

It's the first time I have ever heard that flexibility and strength could help cramping. I have heard that it would improve my running. I took yoga to help the tightness in those muscles but for some reason I never put it hand in hand with the cramping part. It makes sense though. So I've started taking this strength training boot camp class every Tuesday night that I'll be continuing with. I've also added a few extra strength moves at home. I'm using my foam roller consistently and I no longer blow off dynamic stretching before my runs. Maybe I'll even (gulp) give yoga another shot.

It has only been a few weeks but I think it's paying off. My runs are feeling better and my legs don't feel as spent after. We'll see. The proof will come when I do my 10 mile race in two weeks.

The good news is that I now have a plan and some hope.

Hope all is well with you! What's your running fear that holds you back? Any races coming up?


Monday, September 16, 2013

Iron Girl Triathlon Sandy Hook: Race Recap Part Two

And we are out of the water and on to T1 and the bike!

Read Part One of my race recap here.

The water the day before
So after a tough swim that has left my lower body painfully cramped up I make it to my bike. I am a little panicked about how I'm going to pull the rest of the race together feeling like I am. I take the advice of Dana and down a bottle of water (with a salt stick) eat half a gel, and swig a little coconut water for good measure. I then stretch, say a silent prayer and work on getting out of my wetsuit.

As a side note, I am super proud of myself for successfully getting in and out of my wetsuit. I am thankful to my friend Jen Small. Jen gave me some really great wetsuit tips in Maine and also sent me on my way with a can of Tri Slide which really helped.

The cramping began to subside enough. (Thank God!) The cramped muscles were super sore from being so tight but workable. I washed off my feet, got my socks and sneakers on, put on my helmet and made my way all the way to the "bike out." Right before exiting I realized I had forgotten to put my ankle timing chip thing back on! GRRR! So I had to wheel all the way back, get that thing on and get back on the road.

Let's get going already!
I have no idea of how long my transition had taken. In the results they listed my transition as 47 minutes and my bike as 4 seconds. Now I will admit that my transition certainly felt like 47 minutes but even with a 47 minute transition I am pretty sure that I didn't bike a 8.25 miles in 4 seconds.

And made it to the bike! Whew.
However, I am guessing my transition to be 10 - 11 minutes easily. It took me a bit of crawling to get to my bike, guzzle 24oz. of water, eat a gel, stretch, shimmy out of the wetsuit carefully trying not to re-cramp, wash off the feet, get socks and sneakers on, head out to "bike out" not once but twice - and none of this was at lightening speed. I contacted the timing chip people and they said my bike out didn't record so they can guesstimate and make up my T1 at 4:36 but that's impossible. Plus I know that I felt pretty good on the bike and pushed it trying to make up time.

I'm feeling pretty good on the bike for the most part. A little sore but pretty good. I know that if I don't cramp again (and even if I did) I would finish this race and that's really what mattered to me most.

I'm back!
The bike was pretty uneventful. Flat a little scenery of the ocean and reduced to only 8.25 miles. I'm guessing my bike was around 36 minutes or so. It was fun to see the Moms who were in waves before me coming back in since the course was an out and back.

T2: 2:54 - Not sure what took me so long but it is what it is. 

And on to the run.

Took a minute for me to figure out if my legs would give me any trouble. I was still sore from the cramping (and would be for days after) but started off with a slow jog. In the first quarter of a mile or so I walked for a second or two and then got mad at myself and decided that I could freakin' run 3 miles, even if it was slow. I soon started to see the Moms ahead of me coming in for the finish line and knew I wasn't too far away to completing my day.

I caught up to fellow Mom'er Dede and that was great. We ran and chatted a bit. She needed to stop for water at the aid station and since I had a hand held, I kept going. 

Running without music was a little bit of a challenge. Not impossible but I was not finding that "enjoyable" thing that many non-music runners report. I felt a little bored. I know my pace would've been a bit better and the run would've been more enjoyable if USAT rules allowed for music. Guess I should consider a few non-music runs in my training for future races.

Love these Iron Girl girls! Dede, Heather and Monica
During the last mile I was getting tired I began repeating a mantra to help me to keep moving forward. I kept saying to myself, "I'm strong, I'm fast, I'm focused." Finally I entered the shoot and headed towards finish line! This was it! I set a goal and I swam, biked and ran my way to the finish line!

I'm gonna make it! And I didn't sh*t the kit! Woo hoo!
How sweet it is to see…

Jennifer Roe - You are an Iron Girl! :-) 

And every Mom in Motion made it too. A truly wonderful day!

Run time: 32:04 Total time on course: 1:50:55. That time will not get me on a podium but I'm OK with that. From here I can only go up!  I am also pretty stoked that while this swim was tougher, I was much more confident and comfortable than I was on my last Tri. My overall bike was faster and my run was faster too. They were pretty comparable (both flat). Progress!

I really loved this race. 

The bling up close

Thank you Iron Girl for putting on such a good show!

Thank you Dana for taking the time to train us for this big milestone in our fitness worlds!! 

Thank you Angela Lee and Jen Small for all of your Tri advice and hand-me-downs!

Thank you Roxi for letting me use your bike all season!!

Thank you to my fellow Moms who made this journey so much fun and so worthwhile.

Thank you to the Tri Bloggers who've inspired me over the years.

I am blessed and grateful to have had this experience and can't wait to do it again.


PS: Speaking of my friend Jen Small - the day I was doing this Sprint, she was kicking some serious butt doing 140.6 at Rev3 Cedar Point! Read her journey here. She's amazing.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Iron Girl Triathlon Sandy Hook NJ: Race Recap Part One

It's been a week since I competed in and didn't drown during the swim FINISHED Iron Girl Sandy Hook!

Race-wise it had its share of ups and downs but ultimately it was a fantastic day that has only cemented my new love for the sport of triathlon.

This was a special race (aside from being the first triathlon I had signed up for - the one that made me leap towards the sport) but along the way, 20 of my Mom in Motion friends decided to make this race THEIR first (or second) triathlon as well! It was so special to have a bunch of great friends and teammates to do this with. It really brought the experience to the next level.

A couple of the Moms at Expo: Allison, me, Roxi, Kerry and Beth
Most of us decided to stay the night. It's just far enough of a drive (about an hour and a half each way) to make it feel just a tad too long to go down Saturday to get the bike set up and pick up the packet and then go home to come back at 5AM. Once again (as I had for the Jersey Shore half marathon) I shared a room with Rox and Kerry.

We had grand illusions of resting on Saturday but the day went quickly! By the time we got our race packets, kicked around the expo, brought the bikes to transition, trembled over seeing the water we were going to swim and checked-in to the hotel, it was already time for dinner. 

After a nice dinner that all the Tri Moms attended - we figured out our "fuel" for the morning (i.e. stopping at Starbucks so the girls could have cold coffee and make 'perfect oatmeal' with our hotel room coffee pot in the morning.) Angela hooked me up with a Starbuck Via Ready Brew Instant Coffee packet which is absolutely genius for race mornings. Mixed with hot water and you get delicious Starbucks coffee just like that!

By the time we got back to the room and got all of our stuff ready it was getting late. And the how many hours do we have before the alarm clock goes off at 3:45 AM game began. Once again none of us could sleep, we started trying around 9:30 PM, we put on some movie to try to get sleepy. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation to be exact. Rox couldn't stop laughing so we had to change the channel pronto. Soon we got sucked into a few episodes of Everyone Loves Raymond somewhere around the 2nd episode I drifted off into some sort of sleep. I felt semi-asleep and semi-awake for most of the night but managed to get a little rest. 

Hmmm. I think I've got everything
I woke up with a stomachache. (Actually I also went to sleep with a stomachache) - neither occurrence is all that unusual for me unfortunately. I popped an Immodium and hoped for the best. I was wearing a kit instead of two pieces for my tri outfit of the day. The kit is cute and so much more comfortable but getting in and out of that thing is a bitch challenging because of the built-in bra that easily gets all tangled and twisted. My silent mantra was - "please don't sh*t the kit." (OK, not so silent because I soon had Rox and Kerry also chanting it). You see, at another Tri, I saw a guy cross the finish line who must've had a little accident in his kit and his kit pants were light grey. It was unfortunate and I felt for him. I now live in fear of being that guy.

Anyway, back to race day. We headed out to get our transition ready and body marked. 

Me, Rox and Tracy getting ready for the day ahead!
And soon it was time to head to the water. For the record, I have to toughen up my feet. Wow. The "sand" was rock and cut up seashells and standing/walking in it for a half an hour was seriously starting to make my feet hurt and ache. I'm a baby but I heard others "ouch-ouching" as they walked too so I don't think I was alone.

Getting ready! 
The water was unusually super-crazy choppy. I had never swam in water like this and I was very nervous. I felt like I was a little boat getting tossed about. Everyone felt it and unfortunately many women had to be pulled out that day. This race is usually considered beginner friendly but there was nothing "beginner" about this swim. It was tough. But the race did provide plenty of "swim angels" to help women rest and catch their breath along the way. I was glad that I had swam a lot in training over the summer. And even though my other ocean open water were calmer seas, that experience was super valuable - I think I would've been a way bigger mess if I hadn't swam a little in Maine in the ocean and had my OWS's in Kentucky.

This pic of Allison shows off her amazing smile and the "chop" of the water
I took the advice (and wetsuit! thanks!) of my friend Angela and approached it very slow. The goal was not to burn out here but for me to make it. I did - I took it slow and with the conditions, I will admit there was some doggy paddling and unconventional swimming to keep going forward. But I did it and I was proud that I never had to hold onto a buoy or noodle or really stop. It was forward motion - just slow. Dana said that she overheard several seasoned triathletes remark that this was the hardest swim they had ever done - it was no joke.

The bad news. In the last part of the swim my lower body started to cramp up! WTF!!!  My hamstrings were going and so were my calves. The worse was the pain in my Tibialis Anterior. (I had to look up that muscle for this blog btw.) 

HOLY CRAP they were seized up and I wasn't sure how I was going to go on. I am so annoyed by this cramping thing and didn't expect it to hit me in the swim. I even tried to ensure something like this wouldn't happen by hydrating well, and having a banana and half of gel right before swim start. Ugh. Hiss. Boo. I had to pretty much just use arms for the last part of the swim. 

In pain but smiling for the camera - I'm done! I made it!
As I got onto the beach I realized I was screwed. The cramps hurt so bad I was wondering how I would even get out of my wetsuit, never mind bike and run. But I knew that if I had to sit in transition for an hour to recover to be able to finish I would. 

Camera caught me gritting my teeth in pain, wondering what I'd do with these cramps - and
That's Sheila a M.I.M. (no wetsuit!!) We stuck together in the swim and it was a great support 
I told my coach Dana that I was cramping up and having problems. She shouted to drink a lot of water, DO NOT SIT and take a gel if I had one. I nodded these directions and crawled headed to transition unsure of how this thing was going to play out. 

SWIM: 28:23 - It was originally supposed to be a half mile swim and then the race people said they shortened it to a third of a mile. It looked longer than that. Kerry went to question the Iron Man-tee-shirt-wearing-official and he said that he had personally swum the course (it was his job for IM to ensure distance) and it was exactly .45 of a mile. So who knows? All I know is that it was tough. I had made it without drowning but could I go on with being this cramped up? 


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Count down to Iron Girl race day and some thoughts on triathlon

In exactly one week I will be competing in the Iron Girl Triathlon!

The decision to go for my first triathlon was a scary one at first but it has been immensely rewarding. I've really loved learning to swim and bike ride again.

Jen from the documentary on the left running to the finish with her family
I am dead center looking all official with the camera filming the moment for the documentary
I am really getting into the sport and while in Maine last week to film and watch friends Jen and Angela participate in Rev3 Orchard Beach I got to swim in the ocean for pretty much the first time. It was FREEZING but I was also proud that I didn't drown and that gave me some confidence. We were lucky because while cold, there weren't any real waves and the water was calm. I'm sure if my first time in the ocean was rockier it wouldn't have been such a good experience, so I'll count my blessings. 

It was incredibly inspiring to watch the Rev3 Triathlon again. It is an Olympic and Half distance race. It was exciting to watch everyone give such effort and it was a beautiful day.

I was so proud of my friend Angela who did her first OLY distance and she was one of the only people in the race to do the run in a tutu! 

I love this picture of Angela. It is so her!
The big downside to Triathlon is that it's expensive and there really is no way around that. 

I'm lucky because I got a hand-me-down wetsuit (thanks Ang!) and I borrowed a bike for the summer from a friend (Thanks Rox!) but if you want to get seriously into the sport it will run you.

Even my borrowed hybrid bike has cost me a pretty penny. I had to put new gears on it and have it tuned up, I invested in a bike rack, bike pump, bike chain and other little bike accessories. And now I'm getting knee pain and I will have to pay about $65 hour to get it properly fit. The knee aches only last thru the day after riding and then it goes away. I might suck it up for the race (it's only a ten mile ride) and then decide if I'll fit it or not. I have to talk to Rox, the girl who lent it to me. If she's in no hurry to get it back then I'll fit it. If she wants it back then I'll wait until I get my own bike. 

Still, even with the expense and pain in the knees, triathlon training is fun. I like mixing up my workouts and not just running. 

With Iron Girl right around the corner I'm feeling excited and a little nervous. I'm mostly nervous about the swim I mean who could forget my first Tri water experience just a few weeks ago?

I am blue cap in the middle with the look of, "OMG, Help me."

And what scares me (just a bit) my first tri was in a lake and not the bay. AND the distance was half of what I'll need to conquer for Iron Girl. 

I think the bike and run will be OK if I don't run into anything too unexpected like mechanical issues or something.

I won't be allowed to run with music which will be interesting - I definitely enjoy my runs with music!