Friday, November 29, 2019

On Being Slow (But Not Too Slow)

At the pool today, there was a woman who was almost keeping pace with me. I was doing a distance set with easy to medium intensity, and I have no idea what kind of set she was doing. Maybe she was doing a sprint set. Maybe she was on her warm up. I don't know, and it really shouldn't matter, yet it still irritated me that it took more than a little extra effort to keep her behind me. I'm not used to the everyday lap swimmers at the Y being anywhere close to me.

I get a little bit bigger and a little bit slower every day, but I know it's temporary. I have been practicing a lot of positive self-talk, letting myself know that I'm doing great and whatever I can do now will help significantly when I am ready to get back into competitive-athlete shape.

But still. As an athlete for 30+ years, I don't want to be slow. I don't want to lose muscle and gain fat. But my body has other priorities right now, and I have to respect that.
About two-dozen practice suits
that I don't fit into right now. 

I shared a lane with a man while I was doing a stretch-out/recovery swim shortly after I ran the Harrisburg Marathon. I was really slow that day, and rightfully so. When I stopped at the end of the lane between sets, he said, "Wow, when I get into shape, I hope I can keep moving like you do and be half as fast."

He had no idea I was pregnant, no idea I was significantly slower than my norm, no idea I was recovering from a marathon. He just saw a person swimming smoothly and confidently lap after lap. I was stuck in my head about being big and slow, so it was a nice reprieve to see myself from a different point of view.

Not that I need others to validate me. Not that I need to compare myself to other swimmers to validate myself. Most of my favorite workouts are the ones where it's just me racing the clock. But I don't live and swim in a bubble, and it helps to have others to push and motivate and inspire and give new perspectives.

So maybe I am bigger and slower, and maybe that's frustrating sometimes, but it's just a new kind of challenge that will make me mentally (if not physically) stronger.

[I just can't bring myself to end this post without saying that near the end of my set this morning, I finally noticed that the woman keeping pace with me was wearing fins, and that made me feel significantly better. Haha.]

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Marathon Race-Day Recap: Running (Pregnant!) to Support Children & Families in PA

Good Omens on Marathon Race-Day Morning:

  • I still fit into my pre-pregnancy running leggings and didn't have to wear the maternity leggings that I bought just in case.
  • I got to City Island before they closed the bridge.
  • My multisport watch was working (which it was not on the morning of the Harrisburg Half; it wouldn't hold a charge, so my mom let me borrow her watch for the race).
  • Perfect running weather and temperatures.
Under Prepared but Excited!

I didn't go into the event feeling like I was as prepared as I could be, but I did go into it knowing my limitations and knowing what I hoped to accomplish (finish 26.2 miles, preferably uninjured and not last).

In training, my long runs only got up to 15 miles, and I only ran 2-3 times per week (plus cross-training, but still not optimal conditions for running a marathon). My training was limited not by pregnancy (though that certainly slowed me down) but by the lack of free time and energy because of my new job, which requires me to drive 3+ hours round trip to Baltimore most weekdays.

In any case, I loved the training I did accomplish, I looked forward to my long runs with Fleet Feet every Sunday morning, was excited for the marathon for months, and was excited to stand at the starting line on the Market Street Bridge with several hundred other marathoners.

Race Strategy

A few months ago I stopped referring to the marathon as a "race" but as an event. I knew I couldn't race it, would be nowhere close to a PR, and I was OK with that. I just wanted to see what I could do with the new conditions my body presented.

My plan was to run at least 15 miles and then walk/run as needed to complete the marathon. And that's exactly what I did. I had a great first 14-15 miles.

And then it started to hurt.

Not pregnancy hurt, but under-trained hurt. My legs. My legs. My legs. My hips down to my ankles were on fire and throbbing, and I still had 11.2 miles to go.

The water stops were about 2.5 miles apart, so I ran to each water stop, got water and/or Gatorade, and walked while drinking and sometimes for a minute or so longer, then started jogging again. It was a little tough to see the pace groups start to pass me, but I told myself it didn't matter how fast I went: I was going to finish.

After the turnaround point at Fort Hunter, at about 18 miles, the run was really lonely. That's over 8 miles of lonely running. But I still knew I could finish.

The Finish Line: A Colorful Soundburst

I walked up the hill beside the Walnut Street Bridge and most of the way back down to the Harvey Taylor Bridge because I wanted to make sure I had the strength to run across the finish line a half-mile later.

I started jogging on Front Street a few yards before Pine Street, ran down Pine Street and turned the corner onto Second Street where everyone was waiting and cheering and I could see the blue banner of the finish line. Turning that corner was like when a black-and-white film suddenly turns to color or when someone turns up the volume of your favorite song when the chorus starts. It was exciting but emotionally overwhelming. I saw Fleet Feet running friends, my parents, Jon and his parents, heard people yelling my name. And I cried my way through the finish line.

I finished. I finished. I finished.

Love & Gratitude

I felt so well supported through not just the marathon, but the whole build up to and aftermath of the race. I have so many people to thank, from Fleet Feet coaches and running friends, my parents, Jon and his parents, all of the volunteers and spectators on the course who cheered for my by name, all of the volunteers and spectators who cheered for me by race number, those who gave me hugs near or at the end of the race, everyone who sent kind words and encouragement and pregnant-athlete stories before the race, and everyone who donated to my fundraiser to support children and youths in central PA. My heart is full of love and gratitude for you all. Thank you.

Children & Families in Central PA

At 21-weeks pregnant, I participated in the Harrisburg Marathon (26.2 miles). To keep myself motivated, I used the event to raise money for children & youths at the United Methodist Home for Children in Mechanicsburg, PA. Thanks to all of you who generously donated, I met my modest goal of $500. Thank you! If you'd like to learn more about my journey and fundraiser, please check out the donation site and consider donating. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

How Are You Feeling? Is It a Boy or a Girl?

People who know I'm pregnant ask me the same two questions:
  • How are you feeling?
  • Is it a boy or a girl?
These are polite and appropriate questions, the same questions I've asked other pregnant women, and I'm touched that people want to know more about my experience.

However, one reason I've waited a while to tell people I'm pregnant  and it's still not something I go around announcing  is because I still want to have conversations about athletic goals, and when some people know I'm pregnant, they assume I've stopped participating in athletic activities or think I'm being unsafe by continuing athletic pursuits.

I love it when people still ask me what I'm training for or what I'll train for after the marathon. Part of me wants to say, "I'm training for childbirth." And that's true. We're taking Bradley Method for Natural Childbirth classes, and I don't know too much about it yet, but it works on the premise that you need to train your body and mind with the help of a birthing coach if you want to have a healthy and relatively comfortable natural childbirth experience. There are lessons on nutrition, exercise, relaxation, meditation, and other areas of focus that are similar for athletes. So preparing for childbirth is like preparing for a sporting event! But different.

When asked what I'm training for, I'll usually say I don't have anything picked out yet. In reality, though, I aspire to compete in 1-2 swimming competitions in August 2020. I'll be about 4.5 months postpartum. I have no idea how I'll feel then or if I'll even have time to train. But August 2020, you're in my sights.

For those of you who want to know how I'm feeling or if I'm having a boy or a girl, here are my answers.

How Are You Feeling?

I feel fine.

First trimester had some ups and downs: easily winded; fatigued; experienced brief bouts of nausea that I could quell with well-timed meals and snacks; had round ligament pain, which isn't supposed to happen until the second trimester, but I felt it more in the first. Emotionally I was eerily well-balanced.

Now in my second trimester there are some mornings I wake up and feel totally normal in my body and don't think about being pregnant until something happens like I bend down to put on my socks and I can't quite reach my feet without straining. Some days after a long day at work I feel like crying (do cry) but it's mostly from being tired from driving 3+ hours to and from work. Oh, and I moved to a new home again this week, which is stressful no matter how well-prepared I was and how smoothly to move went.

I'm still swimming, running, spinning, using the elliptical, going to TRX classes. I can't power through these workouts like I used to, but I'm still doing them at my own pace and ability. Some days my abdomen cramps up when doing flip turns or push ups. Some days it doesn't.

Is It a Boy or a Girl?

It's a…I don't know yet!
Swimming fins or running feet?
I didn't want to find out until birth, but Jon wanted to know as soon as possible, so we agreed that at our anatomy scan (which was Tuesday this week) we'd ask the ultrasound tech to write down the sex, seal it, and give it to Jon. Now it's his to do what he wants with it. I figured that as soon as he found out, I would be able to read it all over his face, but he's been good about keeping it a secret so far: sometimes referring to the baby as a boy and sometimes as a girl. (I'd like to go on the record as saying I don't have a preference but I have the feeling it's a boy.)

He will reveal it to me and our parents when I finish the Harrisburg Marathon tomorrow (November 10). He has something planned, but I don't know what! The big reveal is definitely motivation to get me across the finish line.

Shameless Self-Promotion

TOMORROW (November 10), at 21-week pregnant, I will participate in the Harrisburg Marathon. It'll be a much different kind of adventure than the one I anticipated when I signed up for the marathon. To keep me motivated, I'm doing this as a fundraiser. Find out more about my new journey and fundraiser and please consider contributing to help children and youths in central PA.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

My Biggest Fear as a #PregnantAthlete

I'm on a message board for pregnant women who are due in March 2020, and although a lot of the posts are lighthearted ("Show Me Your Bumps!" or "What's Your Biggest Craving?"), many of them are from women filled with fear about miscarriages, abusive boyfriends, pregnancy-related illnesses, and the pain of childbirth.

Bay swim @ Avalon circa 6 weeks
Sure, I've wondered if I'd miscarry or develop gestational diabetes or if I could/should bare the pain of a natural childbirth, but I am super fortunate that I have never feared for my safety or general well-being. I am also super fortunate that I have so much support from my baby-daddy and our families. So, I don't have many fears or worries about pregnancy or birth.

I was worried that I would have to stop doing all of the things that I love to do (swimming, running, hiking boulder fields [haha, you know who you are]), but I, again, have been super fortunate that I have not had to give these up. I know not all women are able to remain active during their pregnancies, either because they develop pregnancy-related conditions that keeps them bedridden, or they feel too ill and/or tired, or they don't have other supports/resources to know that physical activity can be healthy for mom and fetus.

Admittedly, I have slowed down. A lot. But I would rather slow down than be out of the game. For fun, I've made a list of some of the physical activities I've done since I've been pregnant:

Boulder field adventure
circa 7 weeks
  • Climbed 30-foot towers using only lobster claws
  • Led ziplining tours through the forest at Roundtop
  • Swam open water in two different lakes and a bay
  • Top-roped and bouldered at an indoor climbing gym
  • Ran a 10-mile trail race at Rocky Ridge
  • Rode waves at two different east-coast beaches
  • Kayaked down a creek and on a lake
  • Cabin-camped for four days, sleeping on a sofa
  • Backpacked and hammock-camped
  • Hiked a boulder field several miles downhill
  • Ran multiple 12-15 mile routes in humidity and/or rain
  • Swam at least 30 pool-miles total 
  • Raced a half-marathon and PR'd by two minutes

Soon, I hope to add "completed a marathon" to this list in addition to more pool miles, TRX strength-training classes, lots of yoga, and fall/winter hikes.

I also hope to continue to be active post-pregnancy. I know having a child is a huge, life-changing event and my life will never quite be the same again. But, again, I am so fortunate to know so many athlete parents who find and make time to keep living healthy, active, and competitive lifestyles. You inspire me!

Harrisburg Half Marathon
PR by 2 minutes
circa 12 weeks

Shameless Self-Promotion

In two weeks, at 21-week pregnant, I will participate in the Harrisburg Marathon. It'll be a much different kind of adventure than the one I anticipated when I signed up for the marathon. To keep me motivated, I'm doing this as a fundraiser. Find out more about my new journey and fundraiser and please consider contributing to help children & youths in central PA. 

Friday, October 18, 2019


My first symptom of pregnancy was my inability to sprint.

It was the beginning of July, so while running I just blamed it on the humidity.

But in the pool, I had no excuse. I had the ability, I had the desire, I had the sprint set written down on the piece of paper I keep behind my lane…but I could not pick up the speed and I was getting winded way too easily. Maybe I was out of shape? But the decline was too rapid.

One Saturday morning, I was at a boot-camp-type HIIT workout and I got dizzy and breathless and I thought maybe my heart was failing and I was going to die.

I finished the workout and I did not die; however, I connected the dots between my dizzy breathlessness with my inability to sprint, three weeks of sore breasts, and even more weeks without a period and voilà! That's the story of how I found out I was pregnant.

Baby bump or extreme bloating? Circa 15 weeks.
Athletes Who Are Pregnant

At my first prenatal appointment, my first questions were: "Can I keep swimming?" and "I'm training for a marathon…can I keep doing that?"

My doctor laughed and said I could keep running and swimming if I was feeling up for it, but that I probably wouldn't keep feeling up for it. As long as I didn't get too out of breath and could carry out a conversation and didn't try anything new or anything at a higher intensity than what I had already been doing, then I was good to keep on keeping on.

Well. First of all. I was getting out of breath walking up the stairs. Also, the thought of trying to carry out a conversation while swimming sounds daunting, even at the best of times. But what I heard loudest was "keep on keeping on." So that's what I've been trying to do.

There are not many resources for competitive athletes who are pregnant because there hasn't been much attention or formal research of pregnant athletes. It's been kind of a taboo topic until the past few years. Now there are more women athletes, professional and high-level amateurs, and there's a greater demand for resources. I did find a new-ish (2014) book called The Pregnant Athlete. And I've been following #pregnantathlete and other similar variations of hashtags on social media, and reading/writing messages on message boards for pregnant women to get more information about sports and pregnancy.

One of Those Women

I never thought I would be one of those women who wanted to talk/write about being pregnant all the time, and I try not to do it all the time; but I can see why women do it. Growing another human being is a pretty big deal.

Given that there are so few resources for pregnant competitive athletes, I'm going to keep writing about and sharing my experiences to contribute to the growing collection of narratives on social media about pregnant athletes. It helps me to keep a record of my athletic journey and maybe it will help someone else someday, too.

Shameless Self-Promotion

In three weeks, at 21-week pregnant, I will participate in the Harrisburg Marathon. It'll be a much different kind of adventure than the one I anticipated when I signed up for the marathon. To keep me motivated, I'm doing this as a fundraiser. Find out more about my new journey and fundraiser and please consider contributing to help children & youths in central PA. 

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 😊