Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Recovering from Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: The Left Knee Edition

In my short running career, I have received (earned? accumulated?) the following running injuries that halted my training:

Stress fracture (fibula)
Walking Cast. Ended high school freshman year cross-country season.
Torn quadriceps
Ended high school freshman year track season.  I did not train for a running race until I started training for my first half-marathon about 16 years later.
Stress fractures (foot bones)
Soft cast. Ended training for my first half-marathon.
Nearly ruptured Achilles tendon
Walking brace. Luckily happened after my first half-marathon and (only) marathon.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (a.k.a. runner’s knee) in right knee
Ended training for my first ultramarathon.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome in left knee
Ending training for general trail running/hiking.

I’m slowly recovering from my latest bout of knee pain. With the help of some PT exercises to strengthen a very specific part of my glutes, I’m running about three times a week, five miles at a time with no knee pain! I keep track of my workouts and paces, and I have definitely seen an improvement.

I missed running, and I’m thrilled to be building mileage again, but it’s discouraging to have my progress halted with each injury. It feels like I’m starting from scratch each time, even though I have kept up my fitness level through swimming.

Usually, it takes me at least three miles to warm up and feel good during my run. I haven’t quite gotten back to the point of feeling good—it’s all a struggle. My body feels heavy and slow, and I can feel that I’m not running as well as I had before my injury. With more training, I know that I’ll get back to feeling good again, but this in-between stage is frustrating. I want to push harder because I want to get faster, but I don’t want to push so hard that I get injured again.

I also have to consider my running goals. Do I want to train for the Ironmaster’s 50K again and hope I stay healthy and uninjured? Or do I just want to use running as cross-training to supplement my swimming goals? Or run to build strength/endurance for multi-day hikes? 

For now, I’m just going to slowly build mileage, keep up with my PT exercises, and see what happens in a few more weeks. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

On the Rocks 20-Mile Trail Race

I loved racing the 15K at On the Rocks last year in the 100+ degree heat so much that I wanted to run it again.

This year, like last year, had a loop course and participants had the option of racing one, two, or three laps. Last year the lap was a 15K; this year it was a completely different course and a slightly longer lap at 10 miles.

I would have loved to race three laps to complete my first 50K, but after spending most of my spring training for swimming and rehabbing a knee after a running injury, I knew I wasn’t in shape to do that yet. I debated for weeks between signing up for the 10-mile or the 20-mile event. I knew could actually race the 10 miles, but 20 miles would be a little long with my recent lack of running. If I did the 20-mile race, I’d have to go into it know it wouldn’t be a “race” but a supported training run.

If you know me, you know I love a challenge, so I signed up for the 20-mile run on the morning of the event. I knew there would be an aid station every three miles, so I decided not to run with a hydration pack. I had never relied so heavily on aid stations before.

And although I told myself it was a training run, I got to the starting line and felt all of the nervous/excited flutter of a race in my gut. So I took it out like it was a race. I mean, I tried not to take it out too fast, and I definitely could have gone faster in the first 10 miles if I knew I was stopping after one loop. But it was still probably too fast given that I had another 10 miles to go and I had barely been running 20 miles in a week let alone in one morning.

My 10 mile split—1:52—was about two minutes faster than my 15K time at this event last year! I saw my boyfriend after the first loop and he helped me get through the aid station. Said I looked strong. It was hot, but not as hot as last year. Humid, but bearable. My clothes were so drenched I could wring them out.

But it quickly went downhill from there, and I don’t mean literally downhill. I was tired after 10 miles, but my body felt OK. As I neared 11.5 miles, my body started to rebel. I felt the tightness in my hips that slowly crept down my thighs. The calluses on the sides of my big toes started to pulse. My skin was salty and I knew I needed to replenish, but the aid stations mostly had sugary foods.

The 10 mile race started a few minutes after I made my first loop, so the faster runners in that event kept catching up and passing me; even though I knew they were in a different race, it was difficult mentally to watch so many people pass me.

I got some salty potato chips around 13 miles and felt OK for the next mile and a half, then I felt tired and sore again. I slowed my pace but kept going. Hiked fast uphill and ran when I could. At the next aid station, around 15.5 miles, I grabbed more to eat and drink. The volunteers told me they thought I was the lead female runner for the 20-mile race. I knew some women had passed me, but they must have been in the 10-miler.

Again, I felt OK for a mile and a half after that aid station but then plummeted again quickly after that. I had to walk more than I wanted, even on easier terrain, just because I was so tired. My calves started to cramp up and if I ran on them, it felt like they could move into a full-blown charley horse. My watch hadn’t been fully charged, so it stopped giving me my pace and mile splits, so I didn’t know how far I was from the next aid station. It felt like it was taking forever. But I did eventually make it to the aid station where I refueled, re-hydrated, and got some ice for my wrists and neck. I needed a break, so I spent a lot of time there, watched more 10-milers pass me, but I know I needed to pause there for as long as I did. As I left the aid station, the volunteers told me I had three miles to go.

The next mile and a half felt OK, but again I crashed. And the last two miles of the loop were the hardest because they were mostly uphill. I felt slow and discouraged. But I reminded myself why I was there: it was a training run. I wanted to do the event because I wanted to spend a few hours roaming around in the woods, which is exactly what I was doing, even if I was just walking slowly. So that took some pressure off. I’m not sure I could say I enjoyed the last two miles, but I knew I would make it to the end.

And I did make it! I finished in 4:26:08, which means my second 10 miles was a half hour slower than the first.

I knew I was under-prepared for 20 miles, but I was pleased with myself for finishing. I learned a lot of useful things that I can use in future long training runs or races, such as carry salty food or salt tablets and don’t be afraid to walk when needed. I got an idea of what my body will feel like and what I can push through for the next time.

I posted on facebook that I felt like I wanted to die: I had a hard time catching my breath even though I had walked most of the last two miles. Legs hurt. Hungry. Tired. Tender feet. All of those typical running ailments. But I gave myself time to rest, ate some pizza and chocolate chip cookies, and I felt better—but not recovered.

I was the top female in the 20-mile race, and got 4th place overall, which is more because of the low number of participants (21 total finishers—there were more but some dropped out after one loop) than my speed. But still. Not bad for my longest-ever trail race.

Friday, July 21, 2017

4.4 Miles Great Chesapeake Bay Swim 2017

I was accepted by lottery to race in the 4.4 mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay in early 2017, so I spent the next six months training for it, which included a 100x100 workout with some friends about a month before the race.

I completed the Bay Swim in 2015 with a wetsuit but without much training. I did well, though, getting 2nd place in my age group and finishing under two hours, but mid-way through my shoulder gave out and I spent the rest of the summer rehabbing it.

So, for this year, I had a few goals:

  • Train enough that, at the very least, I wouldn’t reinjure my shoulder
  • Compete in the non-wetsuit category (which makes it more difficult and slower but more comfortable for me)
  • Go under two hours again
  • Win my age group (not that it mattered, but I was hopeful)

Sunday, June 11 was the perfect day for an open water swim. It was in the 90s, clear, sunny. The water temperature was about 71 degrees, so I didn’t need a wetsuit for warmth.

My boyfriend drove to the event with me in the morning. We parked and then got on separate shuttles—he to the finish line and me to the start—and didn’t see each other again until I finished the race over three hours later. I’m so grateful when family and friends come to support me at these events, and a little baffled that they’re willing to wait for so many hours when they only see me compete for a few seconds. Even if I can’t see them for most of the day, it’s very comforting to know they’re there.

I found some swimming friends on the shuttle and sat with them in a shady spot at Sandy Point State Park after we checked in and while waited for the start of the second wave of swimmers. Although I had swum it before, my nerves kicked in—the excited kind! I had trained, prepared as much as I could with the time I had. So I just had to get in there and trust the training.

At the start, I was relieved when I felt the water: nice and cool and refreshing. I swam a little crooked, I think, getting out to the bridge from the shore, but then was able to swim relatively straight. We were meant to use the two bridges as lane ropes: stay between them at all times or get disqualified. I hugged the left side until about ¾ of the way through, then hugged the right side till the end. The water was calm enough, though it did get wavy. There were long stretches when every time I tried to breathe to the side, I got a face full of water in my mouth. So I’d have to look straight up to breathe instead. My right hand went numb about half way through. And my left shoulder started to twinge around mile three. But otherwise, I felt great. I just kept swimming, stroke after stroke after stroke.

When I got to shore at Hemingway Marina’s beach, I ran (sort of) up a small hill to go through the finish line. Remembering how I had a dirt beard the last time I swam it, I tried to wipe it off as the volunteers collected my timing chip from my ankle and paper number out of my swimming cap.

I walked through the gauntlet of spectators to get to the food tables where I downed a bottle of Gatorade, a bottle of water, a 6-inch sub, and two chocolate donuts all within about five minutes. My boyfriend found me as I was getting water, congratulated and embraced me, and then told me I was filthy. Get it off! I said. With what? he asked. He said he needed to take a photo first, which he did, then he wiped the dirt off of my face with his bare hands.
So, did I meet my goals this year?

  • My shoulders ached for a few days after the race, but it was just muscle soreness and I was back to normal about a week later.
  • I did not wear a wetsuit, which, again, made me slower but it was more comfortable.
  • I went under two hours again, and did almost the exact time I had done in 2015 1:56:58.
  • And I won my age group!

Other results:

  • 1st place in my gender/age group out of 15
  • 19th woman overall out of 198
  • 101st overall out of 621 finishers (a few more than that dropped out during the race)
  • 6th woman in the non-wetsuit category 46
  • 22nd overall in non-wetsuit category out of 145

Loved it! Happy I did it and did well, especially after putting the time and effort into the training for months. Felt a little burnt out on swimming for a few weeks afterwards, but I’m starting to swim again now, about six weeks later. There may be a two-mile or 5K swim for me at the end of the summer...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ragnar PA: 200+ Mile Relay Race from Stauffer Park Lancaster to Mount Pocono

Ragnar PA: 200+ mile 6- or 12-person relay race from Stauffer Park Lancaster to Mount Pocono.
Team Name: Fleet Feet’s Feet Fleet
I was privileged to be invited to run on the Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg’s Ragnar PA Relay Team on June 2 – 3, 2017.

There are many sources through which you can get the logistical information about Ragnar Relays and how they’re set up, so I’m going to skip that here and give you my insights about this event.

I call it an “event” because, although it was a race, I never felt like we were in a competition. It was a goal-oriented team task in which we had to safely run from one point to another while driving large decorated vans, not sleeping, and following an entire manual of event rules and regulations.

And although getting “kills,” a.k.a. passing people while we were running, was a fun way to keep ourselves motivated, it was much more about the camaraderie. I loved the upbeat, positive attitudes of every member on our team, our determination to work together to complete our journey, and the unwavering support we gave each other.
We had a 12-person relay, so we each ran three legs of varying distances and elevations. My three legs were 6.3, 6.5, and 7.1 miles and pretty hilly. I was just coming off a knee injury in which I spent four weeks in physical therapy and who knows how much money rehabbing it, so I had not been running for probably two months, then I trained for two weeks, then ran in this event.

So I was worried that a) I wouldn’t be in good enough shape to complete my legs at the speed I wanted to complete them, and b) that I would reinjure my knee. I realized early on that no one cared how fast I ran—just that I ran, had a good time, and supported the rest of the team. Happily I did just that and did not reinjure my knee :)

I was runner #11 of 12, so by the time I ran my first leg, it was 3 p.m.-ish (our start time was 6:45 a.m.) and I was more than ready to go. I took out my first mile in 7:20 (ha) but then evened out my splits in the low 8 minutes range.

I ran my second leg around 2:30 a.m. in the dark wearing a mandatory headlamp and reflective vest and blinking light on country roads with no lights except the occasional Ragnar van headlights. I did not see another runner for about 4.5 miles of that 6.5 mile leg. This wasn’t as fast as my first leg, but it was my favorite to run and made me want to do more night running—though preferably on trails.
My third leg, which I ran around 3 p.m. the next afternoon after getting maybe an hour of light sleep in the past 32 hours, was the hilliest and slowest. I had a hard time breathing during the leg and immediately after—possibly had an allergic reaction to something in the air because my eyes were burning so badly that I occasionally couldn’t open them—and I thought about asking a teammate to sub in for me, but I didn’t. I was slower than I hoped, but and I was able to finish it on my own.
I have not looked at roads the same since this event. Now when I’m driving in my car I think, “I wonder what it would be like to run this. Maybe I could run this route.” Every road becomes a practice course. I consider commute running—running not just for the joy of it or the exercise, but to get to places, like the gym, the post office, the ice cream shop.

I knew when I was selected for this team, this event that I was embarking on something special and this team, this event exceeded all expectations.

Friday, May 26, 2017

They Tell Me I'm a Water Not a Land Animal

It’s good to have goals, but sometimes I don’t reach them: another running injury [patellofemoral pain syndrome/chondromalacia patellae a.k.a. runner’s knee] prevented me from running for most of the winter and spring.

Running Disappointments

  • I did successfully complete the Squirrely Tail half-marathon trail run in February and surprised myself with a time only a few minutes slower than my road half time. I was still getting back into running shape at that point, after my Achilles injury, but it felt fabulous.
  • I tried to run the Lucky Charm 10K in March, but I cut out at the 5K cut through and limped home.
  • I couldn’t compete in the Ironmaster’s Challenge 50K in April because I was still going through physical therapy and my knee wouldn’t have handled that distance or intensity, not to mention I had already taken over a month off of running to let the knee heal. So that was a big bummer: I had been looking forward to that race for years.
  • My mom and boyfriend signed up to hike/run the 15K at the same event, so I switched my registration and hiked with them, which was fun and only gave me a little bit of knee pain.

Swimming Successes

On the upside, my knee weirdly only hurt when running or hiking steep hills—not swimming or cycling—so I was able to keep working out, and my swimming improved noticeably when I stopped running.

I competed in the 2017 U.S. Masters Swimming Colonies Zones meet in Fairfax, VA in the 1650 freestyle (the mile, in swimming terms) and crushed my goal time to win my age group and finish as third woman overall with a 20:07.82.

The race felt amazing. It was the most evenly-paced race I’ve ever swum, and I believe it was because of all of the longer-distance running I did in the fall. I learned how to pace myself then and it carried over into the pool.

Current Situation

I started running again last week and so far so good. I can manage 5 miles without knee pain or feeling like I want to collapse. I’ve done two 7ish miles trail runs that felt good. And in a week from today I will compete with the Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg’s Ragnar relay team to run from Lancaster to Jim Thorpe (200+ miles of which I am doing about 19).

Swimming is still going great, and I’m still planning to tackle the 4.4 mile Chesapeake Bay swim on June 11. In preparation for this, a few swimming friends and I swam 100 x 100s on the 1:50, 1:45, and 1:40 a few weekends ago. That’s over 5.5 miles of swimming. My shoulders got sore, and were sore for two weeks, but nothing serious, no injuries. Can’t wait till this event! I’m hoping the water is warm enough that I don’t have to wear a wetsuit.

Friday, February 24, 2017

My Winter/Spring 2017 Training and Race Schedule

2017 Winter/Spring Training Schedule

Monday: strength training, swimming
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: strength training, running
Thursday: swimming
Friday: strength training, running
Saturday: swimming + wildcard
Sunday: running + wildcard

I adjust this depending on weather and how my body feels. I’ll often do double workouts on the weekend, so wildcard could be a spin class, a hike, another run or swim, biking, rock climbing, etc.

2017 Winter/Spring Events Schedule

February 26: Squirrelly Tail – 13.1 mile trail run
March 18: Lucky Charm – 10K road race
April 7 (tentative): US Masters Swimming Colonies Zones – 1650 yards freestyle (for any of you non-swimmers, that's called "the mile")
April 30: Ironmaster’s Challenge – 50K trail run
June 2-3: Ragnar Relay – 200+ mile relay race from Lancaster to Jim Thorpe
June 11: Great Chesapeake Bay Swim – 4.4 mile swim

There are some other open water 5K swims this summer and 15K+ trail runs this fall that I would love to do, but it’s too far in advance to commit to them yet, so this is what I have so far.

So excited for spring training and competitions! Bring on the warm weather and mud.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Interview with Holly Maitland-McKenna: "I Take My Time and Enjoy the Adventure"

Holly Maitland-McKenna paused at the shallow end of the Penn State Harrisburg pool to speak with one of her many visitors. She wore a rash guard over a swim suit and her chlorinated, goggle-marked eyes looked tired. At that point, she had been swimming for almost 19 hours straight, since 8 p.m. the night before.

When she saw me, she smiled and thanked me for coming as she did with every visitor who came to support her. She had already swum 17 miles by the time I arrived around 2:45 p.m. on Friday, January 27. “I’m tired,” she said. "Not from swimming but from being awake all night." She showed me the raw chafing on her neck from the rash guard, but said she didn't want to take it off because she was too cold. She said her pace had slowed down, but she felt confident she’d last another five hours.

I met Holly when I started teaching swim lessons at Penn State Harrisburg, and she impressed and inspired me when I learned of the marathon swims she completes as a fundraiser for THON. For four years, she completed 15-hour swims, but this year she decided to crank it up a notch and swim for a full 24 hours.

And she did it! She completed 21 miles in 24 hours. That’s an impressive feat for a great cause.

Holly Maitland-McKenna
Sport: Swimming
Age: 53
Occupation: Swimming Instructor, Water Safety Instructor, Lifeguard Instructor

How did you first get interested in swimming?
Effects of a 24-hour swim

Holly: I have been swimming since I was a baby. Went through the whole ARC (American Red Cross) swim lesson program right into Lifeguard and WSI (Water Safety Instructor).

What does your weekly workout schedule look like, and what keeps you motivated to train?

Holly: I teach five water fitness classes a week, which is my cross training from lap swimming. I try to swim at least two miles a week, but that doesn't always fit into my schedule. My motivation: I just love the water.

What are your short and long term athletic goals?

Holly: Short term: going to a clinic for open water swimming. Long term: possibly more open water swims.

Tell a story about a favorite moment of your athletic journey.

Holly: Teaching wise, having an adult learn and realize they just swam! Personal: meeting Diana Nyad.

How would you describe your athletic journey or body?

Holly: I am an arctic seal.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Holly: I don't consider myself an athlete. I suppose because I am not competitive. The few swims I have done, in a triathlon, I only do the swimming part, I take my time and enjoy the adventure. I don't need to be fast. Or come in first. Just love the journey.

I conducted this interview as part of the Thigh Flasher Athletes Who Inspire Me Interview Series: I interview women who have inspired me and/or others to lead a fit, healthy, happy, fun lifestyle. If there’s a woman you know who has inspired you to get fit and/or compete in sports, share her story!