Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Day 1: Training for the 2019 Harrisburg Marathon

True confession: I signed up for the 2019 Harrisburg Marathon.

…and training starts tonight!

I'm looking forward to the training as much as I am for the race. I can't wait to spend hours outside in all weather and all (mostly warmer) temperatures, pushing my body and mind to see what they can do.

I'm looking forward to meeting and being inspired by other athletes.

I'm looking forward to justifying my purchase of the $120+ dollar running sneakers and almost as much in a collection of compression socks. (…and headbands…)

I'm still a swimmer. Always a swimmer. I'll still be in the water 3+ times per week cross training (maybe even training for some open water swims) but my swimming training has been lackluster since my successful goal race in early April, so I'm looking for new challenges.

Me stuffing my face after my most recent run:
13.4-mile Iron Run trail race
Out of all of the races in all of the world, why would I sign up for the Harrisburg Marathon?

Simplest answer: it's local and it was the site of my first and only marathon, so by running it again, I can see how much I've improved or if my first successful marathon was just a fluke.

I never thought I'd run a marathon: not because I didn't think I could do it, but because I just didn't want to. And then I did one and my first thought was, "Just think how much faster I could go if I knew what I was doing!"

That was immediately followed by the thought of, "Wait. Hold up. I don't actually want to do that again."

And yet, here I am, three years later!

Training for this marathon fills me with excitement but also with doubt and a little bit of the impostor syndrome. For example, because I so strongly identify as being a swimmer, I have a difficult time calling myself a runner and using my time to run rather than swim when I know I am a much stronger swimmer than I am a runner. But, hey. This is all
part of my journey.

Monday, April 29, 2019

2018-2019 Masters Swimming Season: "I Kept Showing Up"

Going into the 2019 championship season, I didn't know what to expect from my performance. I had more challenges this year that affected my training and my perceptions of my training.

It started off well: I got to train at the Olympic Training Center for a weekend with the 2020 men's Olympic swimming coach and several former and prospective Olympic swimmers as coaches. I loved the experience and got some great stroke technique tips, like lowering my head position. So that's what I worked on for months afterwards: keeping my head down while swimming freestyle.

But it didn't seem to make a difference. I still had neck pain. I didn't see improvement in my times and actually felt slower. It frustrated me. I felt like I was ruining my stroke. I wanted to give up on trying to lower my head and go back to my original, higher head position that felt more comfortable because I was used to it.

Shortly after the training camp, my boyfriend of several years and I broke up, which resulted in me moving to a new home in a different town. Overall the move was positive, but it was stressful and emotional. It also moved me away from the beautiful, fast competition pool where I had been training and always had my own lane, and it put me back at the West Shore Y, which is where I grew up swimming but it's shallow and often dirty and crowded. It also moved me away from Gruver Fitness Outdoor Bootcamp, which helped me to lose fat and gain muscle and had also given me a sense of community when I otherwise felt isolated.

I also started a new job after I moved, which was not exactly in my area of expertise, but I needed a new job quickly because my spring college classes were dropped due to low enrollment. The new job is more stressful, more hours, and late hours. It's mostly second shift—till midnight—but I am a morning person. So it causes me to lose a lot of sleep. I typically need a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep to feel fully functional. I only get 4 to 6 with the new job. I thought my body would adjust, but four months in and I haven't adjusted yet.

My swimming training has felt lackluster all season. I wasn't motivated to go to the pool. In the past when I felt like that, I'd feel better once I got to the pool and I’d have great workouts. Not so much this season. For months I was forcing myself to go to the pool three or four times a week, each time hoping something would click to bring back my motivation, but it rarely happened. Maybe once a month I'd do a set that would give me that spark again.

But I persevered. I kept showing up. Again and again.

A few weeks before the championship season, something with my head position clicked: I realized what I was doing wrong and why it still felt so slow and awkward. So I did a lot of drills to fix it and slowly, slowly I started to improve.

There's not much I can do about swimming at the crowded Y, but I found my rhythm there and mostly found times I could usually have my own lane. I still miss the outdoor bootcamp, but I found the Chaka Fit classes at Chaka CrossFit which have helped me to continue to build strength and community.

My poor work duties and schedule gave me extra motivation to finally finish my doctorate, and I successfully defended my dissertation in February! (Yes, I am a doctor of education now!) With that degree, doors for new career opportunities have opened, which has relieved some stress.

Having an awesome massage therapist and access to a local float spa were also crucial to recovery during the season.

At my pre-championship meet, I swam well enough: I was the overall female winner in each of my three events, but my times were +/- a half second from the times I swam at the same meet last year. It didn’t give me much indication of what to expect from my goal meet of the year. In fact, I almost decided not to go to my goal meet because I didn’t think the time and energy was worth it if I wasn’t going to swim better than I had last year.

But I did go to the 2019 Colonies Zone Short Course Yards Championship meet at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA which brings in fast swimmers from Maine to Virginia, and here’s what happened:

  • 5/5 age group wins
  • 4/5 personal adult best times
  • 2nd place overall in 2/5 events

Other highlights include:

  • My mom and boyfriend coming to support me
  • A 5-second drop in the 500 free that had consistent splits (5:31.24)
  • An eight-tenths of a second drop in the 200 free (2:01.91) that proved my time last year wasn’t a fluke
  • Finally getting back to a 25-second 50 free (25.78), which is within tenths of my fastest-ever 50 free time

It’s amazing how much work goes into swimming fractions of a second faster, and how exciting it is to see those fractions shaved away from my previous adult best times. It makes the months of practice worth it. I’ve already written out new goal times for next year 😊

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On Trail Running and Feeling Like "I Don't Want to Do This Again"

This summer, I ran a 20-mile trail race in mid-July, another 20-miler in early August, and about 15 miles as part of a Ragnar Trail WV relay team in mid-August.

10 miles in / 10 miles to go
During my first 20-miler, I wanted to cry for nearly the entire back half of the race. I didn't feel great during the first half for no particular reasonI was well-fueled, well-hydrated, though maybe not well-rested. I just felt, I don't know, not good, not powerful, not fast. In the last five miles, I got so tired that I tripped and fell about five times, often over nothing but my own two feet. I did finish, only cried a little bit out of relief that it was over, and felt recovered within a few days. But the experience left me feeling like I didn't want to run any trail races again. Why do I need to compete? I wondered. I can just go out and hike/run trails on my own.

But I had already signed up for another race, a 50K with two drop-out points: one at 17 miles and another at 23 miles. When I signed up for the race, I wanted to try for 50K, but I knew a few weeks before that I wasn't properly trained or physically prepared to take on that many miles. So I planned to hike/run until the 24 mile drop-out point.


After getting to the 2nd aid station about 13 miles in, I thought nope. I'm done. I anticipated a difficult mountain trail, but this was way more than I bargained for, certainly way more than my body was prepared to do. The whole course went up then immediately down a mountain then immediately back up. The downhills were on wet boulders. I ran out of water. My calf cramped up. On one hillafter I ran out of water and while recovering from a cramped calfI had to take three steps and rest, take three steps and rest. I wanted to quit there, but the only way to make it end was to make it back to my car.

So at the 2nd aid station, I followed the signs for the 17-mile drop-out. Only four miles to go. In about 3.5 more miles, I heard voices and thought I must be nearly finished…until I realized I had come back around to the same aid station I had just left! Disheartening. A friend at the aid station said if I just followed the road, I'd be back to the starting point. How far? I asked. Not far, she said. Only about three or four more miles. So. What else could I do? I followed the road, eventually saw where I made the wrong turn, found where to make the correct turn, finished the race on the trail, and logged about 20.7 miles total. I didn't cry this time. There was some amazing food at the end and some awesome people to talk to and re-live the horrors of the trail. But, again, I was left with that feeling like, "I don't want to do this again."

The week after that was Ragnaran experience worth it's own blog post, but in summary it was a two-day, three nights camping, relay trail race in WV. Each relay team member runs three times to cover each of the course's three loops of varying terrains and distances equaling about 15 miles total per person. I loved camping. I loved the shorter distances. I even loved when the extreme storms and rain delays caused us to "triple up" our loops and I got to run two of my three loops with teammates. That was fun. I didn't go race-pace fast, but I got to go fast enough that it was challenging and enjoyable. My body was better prepped for those shorter distances, in this case between 3.5 and 6.7 miles. It renewed my love of and faith in trail running.

Moral of the story is that I need to better prepare if I plan to race longer distances or stick with the shorter distances! I don't have any more trail races planned, but I'll be on the look out for 5K or 10K races.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Exploring Athlete Privilege—Part 1: Defining Privilege

I am lucky to be an athlete and have the body, conditions, and support to pursue my athletic goals. I think about this as I jump into the cold pool before 6 a.m. on a work day; as I run in a hot, humid Pennsylvania afternoon; as I wake up with sore knees, a stiff neck, and a ravenous hunger; as my students and co-workers look warily into my chlorinated, blood-shot eyes ringed with goggle marks; and as I brace myself with two hands to sit down on the toilet when my legs are just too sore to do it themselves.

I always think I could do more, work harder, eat better, sleep sounder. But I work with what I have, make choices to create even better conditions for athletic performance, and express gratitude that I can participate in activities I love every day.

Defining Privilege 

According to Sian Ferguson at Everyday Feminism, “Privilege doesn’t mean your life is easy or that you didn’t work hard. It simply means that you don’t have to face the obstacles others have to endure. It means that life is more difficult for those who don’t have the systemic privilege you have.”

Yes, I work hard and make sacrifices to dedicate myself to my sport, but I am also privileged that I have the body and the resources like time, money, and support to work towards my athletic goals. I am more privileged than many and maybe not as privileged as some, but recognizing my own privilege is the first step towards eliminating oppressive situations. Eliminating oppression in sports—particularly for women—is one of my goals.

I will continue to explore this topic in future posts. But in the meantime, consider this: what privileges have affected you and/or your athletic career?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Training through Fatigue

I'm not that old: I'm only 33, but a 33-year-old athlete body feels a lot different than 23- or 13-year-old body.

I'm as strong as ever, maybe even stronger. Mentally, I’m definitely tougher.

But I do not warm up as quickly and I do not recover as quickly as I used to. It takes me about a half hour to feel warmed up and ready for high-intensity training. When I swim, that’s about 1,200 – 1,500 yards. When I run, that’s about three miles.

Recovery time is worse. It's difficult for me to swim two days in a row or to run two days in a row with any intensity; however, I'm OK to swim with intensity and then run with intensity in back-to-back days, though I’m not sure why.

I feel tired most of the time. I take at least one day off per week and don't do anything other than maybe some light yoga and stretching on that day. I’ve worked with a sports nutritionist and feel confident that my meals aren’t the limiting factor. I. Just. Get. Tired.

The day after a full day off I feel like a new person.

But some days I have to go into my workouts feeling groggy. Sometimes I'll feel better after I'm warmed up, but some days I can’t reach my intended level of intensity. I used to get frustrated when I'd have those days, and it's still not pleasant, but I've learned how to get the most out of my tired days.

When running, it's easier because I don't have many expectations of myself as a runner. If I run and I'm tired and not making my expected splits, it's easy to shrug off and say that it's good that I at least logged some miles.

When swimming, I have much higher expectations, so it can feel devastating when I'm way off my times. But I keep remembering this quote I heard in Ronda Rousey's memoir that a champion is someone's who's the best, even on her worst day. I tell myself that as I get stronger, even on my bad days I will still be fast.

I've also learned to place less emphasis on speed during those days; instead, I focus on my technique:

  • Am I breathing correctly?
  • Do I have bi-lateral breathing?
  • Do I take a stroke before breathing off the wall?
  • Are my elbows high?
  • Do I have enough body roll?
  • How's my head position?
  • What are my legs doing?

This turns it into a mental workout. Sure, I should think about those items even on a fast day, and I do, but on a "tired" day it forces me to slow down and pay close attention.

I write my own workouts, so I have the advantage of tinkering with my sets, too, on a tired day. Instead of intense, repeat sprints or long, powerful endurance sets, I find a happy medium and integrate more stroke work (meaning strokes other than freestyle), which still give me a good workout but they slow down the pace and stretch my body in different directions.

It’s a cliché to say “listen to your body,” but it’s also good advice. I can’t sit at home every time I’m tired, but I can alter my workouts to accommodate and push through my tiredness.

How do you handle your workouts when you’re feeling tired and sluggish?

Friday, April 27, 2018

On Swimming as Fast as I Did in College: Recap of 2018 USMS Colonies Zones

2018 USMS Colonies Zone Swimming Championships
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
April 14 -15

The week before Zones—my goal meet of the spring—I started to doubt myself. In my head, I’d hear things like, “You better swim fast or the past eight months of training were a waste of time” and “You should have done more to be better prepared.”

After about two days of this, I’d had enough negative thinking and anxiety, so I consciously changed my thought process. I told myself that I loved training the past eight months. It gave me something to look forward to every day and helped me to plan and structure my free time, nutrition, and sleep habits. Like the John Lennon quote, “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.”

And, sure, I could have done more to be better prepared. One can always do more to be better prepared. But I knew I was as prepared as I could be at that time. I told myself I’d go give it my all, whatever “all” I had in me on those two days of competition.

On Saturday, Brian came with me. We got to the pool 15 minutes before warm ups which gave me just enough time to squeeze into my new compression suit. It only took me about 8 minutes to put it on this time, and once I had it on, I realized it was too big! Not so big that I couldn’t wear it, but big enough that I could have gone down a size. It was a little roomy in the hips and bust because I had lost body fat between the time I bought it and tried it on and race day. Oh well. It was still plenty tight and felt comfortable during warmups.

1st Event: 100 Freestyle
The 100 free is a sprint, so I went out fast and held it for as long as I could.

I won first place in my age group with a 55.94!

Not to be cliché, but my draw dropped. I had just dropped 1.62 seconds from my adult best time. I hadn’t swum a 55 since college. I looked for Brian in the bleachers, and he had moved to the edge of the pool and had his arms pumped in fists above his head. Before the race, I told him I was hoping for a low 57. Last year, this would have been a top 10 time in the nation for USMS.

2nd Event: 500 Freestyle
The last time I raced the 500, I felt tired and sluggish, so I wasn’t sure what to expect at Zones. But after the 100, I was feeling pretty confident, so I also went out fast—not at a sprint, but fast—and held just about the splits I wanted to hold. Brian counted for me, and I told him to move the counter up and down if my 50 splits went over 35 seconds. He only did it once, so I knew that I was on track to get a personal adult best. I hoped to go under 5:40.

I finished 3rd in my age group with a 5:36.59, shaving another 6.82 seconds off of my previous best time and was 14 seconds faster than previous seasons.

I was pleased enough with my performance on day 1 that it almost didn’t matter what happened on day 2. My mom went with me this day, and on the drive down I could tell I was much more tired than I had been the day before. I hadn’t swum in a multi-day meet for a few years, but I anticipated being a bit more tired, maybe a bit sore.

3rd Event: 200 Freestyle
In March, I had an amazing 200 free race because I was neck-and-neck with another swimmer the whole way until the last few yards when I pulled ahead to out touched him by .16 seconds to finish in an adult best time of 2:04.47. So, I was excited to race the 200 free again, this time against fast women.

I finished 2nd in my age group and 3rd overall with a 2:02.73, knocking another 1.75 seconds off my time.

Again, I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited to have done a 2:02, a time I hadn’t done since college. Mom gave me the thumbs up from the stands. I had put everything, everything I had into that race. I was drained. And I felt amazing.

4th Event: 50 Freestyle
I hadn’t raced the 50 free yet this season and hadn’t raced it in over a year. My previous best time was a 26.86, which I had done four years ago, but I had already beaten that time with my 100 split the day before with a 26.58.

I finished 2nd in my age group with a 26.36 and was pleased to have placed that high. I had kind of hoped to go a 25, but I’m pleased with the low 26.

I couldn’t be happier with my Zones performance. I surpassed my goals, felt amazing in the water, and enjoyed spending time with Brian and my mom.

What excites me is that I know I can go even faster than that. I know the weaknesses in my training and how to get stronger. I know my strengths and how to continue to use them. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

*I may be as fast as I was in college, but that's also about as fast as I was as a 12 & under!

Monday, March 26, 2018

“I Swam 9,000+ Yards Today. Now I’m Really Tired.”

I found my swimming practice journal from 1999 when I was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. Most entries pretty much look like this: “I swam 9,000+ yards today. Now I’m really tired.” And when I got too tired? I took the “day off” and ran five miles instead.

1999 Swimming Practice Journal
Seriously. Page after page of this little blue spiral bound notebook documenting my daily exhaustion. I don’t know how I did it. My workouts were even longer and more frequent the year after that at Mercersburg Academy. I remember at least one of my teachers wrote on my midterm report, “I think Anne will have better class participation when the swim season ends.” That was a very tactful way of saying, “Anne falls asleep in class.”

Now I rarely swim over 5,000 yards per workout, and, thankfully, I’m not quite that tired every day. But some days I am exhausted. Some days my body hurts so bad, my muscles so sore, so twisted up in knots that I wonder how I can get out of bed let alone swim a few thousand more yards. Some days I wonder, why do I do this? I am not going to make the Olympics, or even the Olympic trials, I’m not going to break any national or world records. Hell, I’m a long shot from breaking the local masters swimming league records in my age group. So, what’s the point?

I think my massage therapist—whom I see monthly as part of my training—said it best: “You must really love swimming. Not everyone’s lucky enough to find something they love to do.”

And I thought, I do love swimming. And I am lucky. Swimming allows me to have some structure to my time, helps me create goals, and keeps me healthy—physically and emotionally.

So maybe some days I am very tired, and my muscles feel like a mangled, messy, mass, but it’s a worthwhile trade off to do something that I love. I relate to what Dara Torres (the 41-year-old Olympic silver medalist in the 50 free at the 2008 Olympics) wrote in her memoir: “I’d kept swimming because I wanted to – it made me happy and gave meaning to my life.” Of course, she was swimming as a career, and I’m swimming as a hobby in addition to my career. But still. I can relate.

I am less than three weeks away from my spring goal meet: 2018 Colonies Zones at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. I am nowhere near my “Wildly Improbable Goal” time in the 500 free, but I have dropped seven seconds in it, almost five seconds in the 200 free, and about a half-second in the 100 free. I feel pretty good about that.

Here’s hoping for a few more (adult) best times at Zones!