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!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Interview with Beth Lehr: Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor Who Never Stops Learning

About three years ago, after I finished a five-mile run on the treadmill at the West Shore YMCA, I sat in the calisthenics area to stretch my legs while one of the fitness instructors hung straps from the ceiling beside me. I asked if I was in her way.

She said not at all and asked if I had ever done this before. She pointed to the straps. I asked what “this” was.

TRX, she said, and described how it was a full-body strength-training workout using your body weight while performing exercises with the straps.

"You want to try it?” she asked.

Yes I did. And I have been hooked ever since. Beth's a tough trainer, but fun, and has many loyal clients that take her fitness classes religiously.

Somewhere within her schedule of teaching fitness classes and working with personal training clients–and being a mother of three–she talked to me about her experience as an athlete and as a woman dedicated to a healthy lifestyle.

Name: Beth Lehr
Occupation: Personal Trainer and Group Fitness instructor
Sport(s): Softball and the occasional mud run :)
Age: 39

How did you first get interested in competitive sports and physical fitness?

Beth: I've always loved playing sports. I began t-ball with the boys and then that moved into softball. I was hooked. I played for eight years and was on the summer all-star teams most of those years. After high school, college, and three kids I went back. I forgot how much I loved playing in that dirt! I now play on a women's league as often as I can!

Also, after my 3rd child was when I started working out again and feeling great. I went to a boxing class and fell in love. A year later I was an instructor. Five years later I am now a certified master trainer. In between I became certified in TRX, personal training, BARRE, and R.I.P.P.E.D. Once I started, I wanted more. You can never stop learning and I learn new things every day.

What are the sports and activities with which you're currently involved?

Beth: I currently teach 11 classes a week and have about 15 personal training clients. I try to get a few workouts in on my own throughout the week. Everyone thinks teaching all those classes is my workout but really I walk around in most. I'm there to give you a workout, to motivate you. I may demonstrate but you are doing all the work.

What are your short and long term athletic goals?

Beth: Like I said, I am always looking for more, and in this line of work there's always a new trend people want. I try to keep my certifications fresh and bring my people the newest fitness fun.

How would you describe your athletic journey or body?

Beth: I am very proud of what my body has done. I have given birth to three children and feel very happy about the way it looks today. I am going to be 40 this year and I think I look better than I ever had, and feel better than I ever had. I am proud of my healthy lifestyle.

Check out Mixfit with Beth for even more inspiration!

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!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How Running a Marathon Nearly Broke My Heart (and My Ankle, Too)

The morning after my first marathon, I felt like I had a dagger lodged and twisted in each of my Achilles tendons. I walked in from the parking lot at work by picking up one foot at a time without bending my ankle. I entered the stairwell, looked at the flight of stairs, said fuck it, and took the elevator.

The next day didn’t feel any better. I sat at my desk to eat lunch so I didn’t have to walk anywhere. I took a few bites of the homemade chili my mom had left in my refrigerator. As I ate, I thought about my Achilles tendons and wondered if I had ruptured them, maybe a partial tear. I had felt a slight pop in the left one within the last three miles of the marathon, but I kept running on it. I took the last bite of chili and felt queasy, really nauseous, and wondered if I’d have to go to the bathroom to throw up. What had my mom put in this chili?

I think that was the last thought I had before I felt like I was stuck in a dream and couldn’t open my eyes. I wondered where I was. I blinked open my eyes to find my head down on my desk. And then I felt dizzy again and darkness creeped in like tar. I fought it, but down I went. Again, I fought to come out of it like waking from a persistent dream. I wondered if any co-workers saw me and though I was taking a nap. I couldn’t stop shaking. I sat there until I was sure I wouldn’t pass out again.

With the help of a friend, I got to the on-site clinic, where they checked my vitals, gave me more food, and kept wrapping blankets around me. My blood sugar was low, they said, but not low enough to cause me to pass out while sitting down. So...they called emergency services, who carried me out of my workplace on a stretcher and chauffeured me to the hospital where I waited for hours to find out that nothing was wrong with me (and Mom's chili hadn't poisoned me).

The ER doctor was concerned about an underlying heart problem. She wanted to keep my overnight for observation but all I wanted to do was go home. She agreed to release me if I promised to get a portable heart monitor the next day. I agreed.

Due to a faulty healthcare system, it took five weeks until I got my portable heart monitor. In the meantime, I could have died had I actually had a heart problem. But my heart was normal, with a low resting heart rate of 42.

Within those five weeks, I saw a doctor about my Achilles, got an ankle brace and an MRI on the left one. At first, he thought I had a partial rupture and told me to walk with crutches, which I didn’t do (stubborn!). But it turned out to just be a bad case of tendonitis with severe bone bruising.

After training for a marathon, not being allowed to work out for over five weeks was pretty brutal. I completed a lot of upper body weight exercises, but that wasn’t enough. I was so thankful when the ankle brace came off and I was at least allowed to swim and cycle again.

I just finished three weeks of physical therapy with a clean bill of health. I’ve been jogging on the treadmill for 30 or so minutes at a time at 1 minute walk and 4 minutes running. So far I’ve had no pain!

I’m ready to build up my miles again while continuing to cross train. I have some big plans for 2017...

Monday, November 14, 2016

On Negative Splitting My First Marathon

I never thought I’d run a marathon because I never wanted to. But I enjoyed training for the half marathon so much I thought, why not?

So now I’m a marathoner – Harrisburg Marathon 2016.

Still smiling 26+ miles later.

It was freezing before the race – literally only 30 degrees. Nearly wore gloves, but very glad I didn’t because it was in the 60s by the time I finished. Sunny, mild temperature, no gusts of river wind. Ideal.

My goal time was 4:15, about 9:44 per mile pace. This was a realistic goal based on my half-marathon pace—I was advised to add a minute to my half pace—and the paces I consistently ran while training. I assumed I would go a little faster than that, occasionally getting down to 9:30s or even a few at 9:20.

It always takes me about three miles to warm up, and my first three miles were within my goal range. When my fourth mile dropped to 8:47, I told myself to relax and don’t take it out too fast. So I eased up to a 9:08 pace for the next three miles until I went down to 8:49 again at the eighth mile.

This was also about when the four-hour pace group was within sight. Could I really pull off a sub-four hour marathon on my first try? Not likely, but it was encouraging to see how close it was.

I felt great, didn’t feel like I was pushing it too hard, but I knew I still had a long way to go. Each mile my watch vibrated and I checked my split, and each mile it was at or under nine-minute miles. Each mile I told myself to slow down and relax, and I did, and I still felt great. I thought even if I have to slow it down to 9:30s later, I’d still be way under my goal time.

There was a clock at the 13.1 mile marker, and I crossed it at exactly two hours. And it was after that that my splits started dropping: 8:38, 8:26...and then stayed there at a pace faster than my half marathon pace.

But I still felt great! Each mile I continued to tell myself to relax and wondered when I would start to crash.

About 15 miles of the course was an out-and-back from City Island to Fort Hunter, a long, flat stretch of road. It started to get hotter. Runners shed their clothes all over the course. Gloves, ear warmers, shirts, arm sleeves were every few feet. I worried this stretch would be dull, but it wasn’t because I got to see other runners, wave, shout encouragement, give and get high-fives.

Running that far without conversation provided plenty of time to be in my head, even though I concentrated on relaxing into my body. I developed a mantra: “I’m a competitor. I’m a competitor. I’m a competitor.” That was my positive self-talk for miles. And I am a competitor, not in the sense that I thought I was going to win or even get top ten in my gender age group (I didn’t), but that I know how to have the best race I can with my circumstances. I trained hard, ate well, and slept enough for months prior to the race. I fueled and hydrated appropriately before and during the run. When my hips and achilles started to hurt around mile 16, when I knew they would, I could tell myself, “I know this pain and I know I can run through it. There’s time to recover later.” I ran a smart, well-prepared race, and I knew it while I was racing. I could feel it, and it was amazing. Magical.

My 20th mile was my fastest at 8:21. Well, this is it, I thought. I’d never run more than 20 miles before, and I’d heard from more experienced runners that something happens to you after mile 20, especially if you’ve never run that far before. So I anticipated a sharp increase in time when my watch buzzed at mile 21. But nope, I had only gone up two seconds for an 8:23 split. I had also passed the 3:55 pace group during that mile. This is crazy! I thought. But I still had over five miles to go.

My legs were stiff from my hips to my toes, but otherwise I still felt great. My “competitor” mantra kept me mentally positive, I had plenty of energy, and I felt relaxed and at peace. I knew there’d be a bigger crowd as I neared the Walnut Street Bridge, and the crowd would keep me energized. I love when people shout my name and I love it when strangers tell me I have a great pace. They have no idea what my pace should be, but that positive encouragement and energy is the important part.

As I turned onto Locust Street, a block from the finish line, I nearly cried with relief. And then I heard my mom shouting for me on the corner of Locust and 2nd and I felt more like smiling when I knew my parents were there to share in this important experience. In this picture of me that my dad snapped within the last few feet of the race, I think I am smiling. “You did it! You did it!” my mom kept shouting. I gave her a high five as I rounded the corner and then gave everything I had left into the finish.

And I had done it, completed my first marathon. But not only had I completed my first marathon, I had shattered my goal time by 23 minutes to end in 3:52:39. I never, ever imagined going under four hours, and certainly not over seven minutes under! I crushed it. In fact, I negative split it, and my second 13.1 miles was three minutes faster than my fastest half marathon.

I think I’ve earned the right to say that I am truly impressed, amazed, and proud of myself for training for and finishing this and for feeling so wonderful about it. I wonder what else I can accomplish that I never thought possible.