Saturday, December 28, 2013

Below the neck

They say you shouldn't run when you have symptoms "below the neck." I have known this for a long time, and Runner's World even recently ran a helpful article about this. But when you have had bronchitis for over 2 weeks and haven't been working out at all, and you're gradually feeling better, and all you have left is this tiresome, hacking chest cough, isn't it tempting just to start working out again? Why, yes it is, and so I did, and so I now find myself lying in bed feeling like someone is stabbing my right lung with sharp knives, because I have pneumonia. Lesson (re)learned.

Back before I caught that initial hacking cough (thanks, 7-yr-old son who caught it first and hacked in my face countless times!), we did finish up that USATF-NE cross country series, and our masters team did win both the final championship event (out of 7 teams) and the whole series. One of my teammates won the individual series as well. Our open team ended up a close 2nd in the series--not bad for the team's first year!

This shot shows me (slightly blurry in the back) doing my best version of pack running with my super teammate Karin, the blond with black compression socks. I make this next observation, I swear, not in some cloud of body dysmorphia: as a triathlete, I look like kind of an amazon around all these little distance runners, especially in the upper body. I can't look at this picture without thinking that it looks like I'm trying to chase them down for a snack. Back to pack running: my version of this consisted of merely trying to keep Karin in visual range, something I did better in this race than in all the previous ones. Maybe because she had just run a marathon the weekend before. In the end Karin was our 3rd scorer, and I was our first displacer, with another teammate Janet right off my shoulder to displace the heck out of our competition, but you can read all about it in the Nov. 10 article on the USATF-NE homepage.

Oh, no, wait--you actually can't read anything about our team there, because they named the winning masters men's team but not the winning masters women's team. Which is consistent with the fact that their coverage was totally uneven by gender--named the 1st and and 2nd place open men, but only the 1st place open woman; named the top 3 masters men (plus the winning team) but only the top 1 masters woman. USATF-NE is hardly the only entity to be guilty of this gender bias in reporting, but I sort of feel like, as the governing body of the sport, they should do better. And just to be clear, I'm not saying masters coverage should be as extensive as coverage of the open competition--the people who win outright should get the most press. But women who win the women's race should get the same treatment as men who win the men's race.

A much better article, but with the same gender issue in the masters reporting, appeared on Level Renner. One of my teammates and I both wrote to the Level folks, independently, to express or disappointment. To their credit, they got back to us and were gracious about it. Ironically (in hindsight), one of their excuses at the time was that the editor was suffering from pneumonia.

After cross country season ended, I did a Thanksgiving weekend 5K out on the Cape. My plan here was to hold back the first mile and then gradually pick it up, and while that may or may not be the route to a PR, it sure is the route to feeling good in a 5K. I spent the last 2 miles passing lots of people, including the only women I could see. Turns out (of course!) there was one I couldn't see, which made me 2nd woman overall.

Right about this time was when I developed the hacking cough. Coincidentally, it's also around the time my family decided we needed to do a polar plunge in Cape Cod Bay.

My favorite part about both these pictures is how my husband and I, after running into the water hand in hand with our children, left them to fend for themselves while we got the hell out. Ironically, the only member of the family who seemed unscathed by this experience was the 7-yr-old, who has approximately 0.5% body fat. I spent half an hour afterward rocking back in forth in front of my in-laws fireplace while my circulation-challenged toes thawed out in the most painful way imaginable. (How painful? Sort of like your lungs feel with pneumonia.)

Not long after the Thanksgiving 5K my cough turned bad enough that I stopped running or working out completely. The Hot Chocolate Run, my yearly last hurrah, fell right in the middle of this period. In my somewhat compromised physical state I decided to focus more on the costume than on my running performance:
I can take credit only for the silver lame leggings and arm warmers (although everything appears rather white in this shot); the shirt (silver zebra/tiger stripes, hard to see here), sparkly headband and bow are all courtesy of Karin, who outdid all of us:
Some of our speedier teammates swept the women's podium, a remarkable feat for what is always a suprisingly fast (for a winter, small-town 5K) field. The men's team did the same, and so the local paper had a nice front page article about the race, in which they interviewed both the men's and women's winners and mentioned that our team also raised over $1,500 for this great fundraiser.

Oh wait, that's not exactly true. They did run a front page article, and they did name the top 3 men and say they were all from our team and explain a little about the team, and they did interview the winner, and then they just named the first-place woman, ignored the rest of the women's podium, and failed to mention that they all ran for the same team. Something that was actually more obvious on the women's side, since they all stood on the podium wearing matching team singlets:

As opposed to the men's team, God love 'em, who got up there looking like some random group of fit 20-something men (two of whom happen to be identical twins):
I got annoyed enough, and saw this article close enough to my morning caffeine hit, that I dashed off a letter to the editor. I know I'm sounding like a very grumpy middle-aged woman, but I just feel like we should be past this in 2013. And I'm not the only one.  Check out this year-end wrapup about trail running in Running Times, plus the 2nd comment after the article. (Yes, I may have a little too much time on my hands, what with all the sitting around and hacking up a lung.)

Where was I? The Hot Chocolate Run. I didn't feel great, so I didn't push it, and I definitely felt no worse afterwards, but I got serious about another full week completely off from all aerobic exercise. At the end of that week one of my teammates was doing a monster trail run, so I broke my running fast by joining her for any easy 20 minutes, plus 20 minutes back to the trailhead. I was too stupid to get a picture of her running, so here's one of me on the way back, trying to capture what was truly a beautiful, silent, snowy day:

After that I slowly eased back into running, biking and even swimming. I went back to masters swimming and had to cut the workout short, which was my first inkling things weren't going so well. Two days later I tried to do a 50-minute easy run with a friend and could barely catch my breath, went to the doctor the next day, had a chest x-ray, and Bob's your uncle: pneumonia.

I have promised not to even think about exercising until all my drugs and all my symptoms are gone. For now, my right lung is making me sort of feel like this. You're welcome.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

It ain't about the money

. . . or is it?

The USATF-New England cross country series awards $250 to the first place overall masters women's team, and going into the final race of the series next weekend, it looks like my team is the favorite to win this massive payout. This is mostly because:

1) I have a couple super-speedy teammates.

2) We're the only club to have fielded a full team at all the series races so far.

The third race in the series was--come to think of it, like 4 out of the 5 races--out in eastern MA. (So much for "New England.") When I saw there was a kids' 3K race, I asked my kids if they wanted to go. Patrick was a definite yes, but Charlotte was on the fence until I suggested we stop at the Natick Mall on the way home, at which point even a massive head cold couldn't keep her home. (The girl, who up until recently wouldn't wear anything but jeans and baggy t-shirts, has become a fashionista overnight.)

I figured there might be 20 kids or so, so I was as shocked as anyone to see the hordes of children there when we arrived. Not just hordes--organized hordes, in actual cross country uniforms, wearing spikes. Yes, even in the 10-and-under race. My kids, who don't actually train for running, were pretty nervous when they saw the competition. Charlotte put on her game face:

I tried not to stab Patrick with safety pins:

They both did great. Charlotte ran wisely, starting conservatively and moving up the whole time. Here she is finishing up on the track:

 Patrick took off at pretty much a dead sprint, so I fully expected to see him having been spit out the back when the race re-emerged from the woods. I think I underestimated his competitiveness.

 He dusted his sister, and his average pace for 3K was faster than my own pace for the middle mile of my 5K. He was exhausted after the race. . . for about 5 minutes. Then he spent the next hour playing soccer while he waited for my race to be done.

The 5K was run with all men and women together, which was great, because there were always people around me. My coach told me to "go out hard and hang on." I got the first part right, but my execution was a little more "go out hard and die." This shot of me coming into the track for the last 300 meters proves mostly that I am the least photogenic runner in my family.

I did manage to pass a couple people in the last mile, including one woman who looked like a masters runner. She was strong and had beautiful running form, and she said something encouraging as I went by her. And then I heard her name called out as she finished: Karen Smyers. Like the huge dork I am, I turned around in the chute and said, "You're KAREN SMYERS?!" I'm sure she was really happy to meet an excited fan at the end of a 5K.

The mall was nearly as exhausting as the race. I picked out a pair of cool and edgy suede ankle boots, only when I went to try them on I realized they were Dansko, just like all the sensible and non-edgy clog-based shoes I own. The salesman tried to make me feel better by saying, "They're really making a lot of more stylish shoes these days." I'm sure he says that to all his middle-aged customers.

Two weeks later we headed back east, to the Mayor's Cup in Franklin Park in Boston. This is our team after all the races, minus a couple women who had to leave early, and plus one of the team babies:

 At this race they held a separate women's championship race and relegated the masters to the open 5K. This seemed like a really good idea once we mature ladies watched the championship race, which was ridiculously fast. Here's a shot from the start:

Triathletes reading this might recognize the woman in the white shirt--that's Sarah Groff, 4th place in the 2012 Olympic triathlon. She got 2nd in this race. And yes, again because I'm a total dork, I had to go meet her. She was extremely nice, so if it's possible for me to be an even bigger fan of hers, I am now. Oddly enough, I seemed to be the only person in Franklin Park who knew who she was--I was kind of running around like a tween at a Justin Bieber sighting, telling all my teammates, "I think that's SARAH GROFF!" and they were all--even the cyclists among them--like, "Who?" None of the official race coverage (which to be fair is all on fringe running sites) has mentioned her Olympic awesomeness, which I take as a sign of how marginal a sport triathlon is to the rest of the world. Even the rest of the marginal-endurance-sports world.

For my race I went with the same strategy as the last one, hoping that at some point all this "going out hard" business might translate into enough fitness to sustain the "hang on" part of the plan. I think I did better--it's always hard to compare different courses, but my 2nd mile was less sluggish than last time, and my overall time was significantly better even though rumor has it the course is a tad long. It appears our masters team won in spite of there being two other actual teams there, although USATF seems in no hurry to post actual results. It's like they don't understand that there's $250 on the line, or something.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Actually, that was pretty bad

All that worrying I did about swimming into someone at masters' swimming, and here I should have been worrying about simpler stuff, like staying vertical while running.

This is the immediate aftermath of a tumble I took while on a really lovely early morning trail run with two of my super-speedy running teammates. We had headlamps and everything, but I wiped out anyway, landing first on the knee and then bouncing onto my butt.

There wasn't a lot of blood, but the bruising was pretty impressive. The fall was on Friday, and here's the knee again on Monday:

Luckily, the knee was totally runnable and bikeable. Just ugly.

I have been back to masters' swimming 3 more times, and each time I set some new kind of PR. First I swam more butterfly in one workout than I have swum altogether in my entire adult life. I'm using the word "swam" pretty loosely there. Also, "butterfly."

Next time we alternated IM-minus-the-fly sets with hard 100's and 200's, and then finished with a 500 for time. I set a new PR for the amount of lactic acid circulating in my blood while swimming. Also probably a pool record for slowest breaststroke, which some quick YouTube research showed to be the result of me swimming something that vaguely looks like breaststroke but isn't. I was going off whatever I learned in swimming lessons when I was 10, when my teacher (I still remember this, and I still remember her name, which I won't publish here) told me that she was going to pass me, but she really shouldn't, because I swam breaststroke "like a [disabled] frog." Only she said something more offensive than "disabled," because this was 1980.

Tonight we did some ladders and kick sets, and my legs were so trashed from the kicking that I had trouble pushing off the wall on turns for the 2nd half of the workout, another first.

In non-athletic news, I've also started taking piano lessons. I played for 8 years as a kid, then quit when I started running year-round in 9th grade. When my 7-yr-old started taking lessons this fall, I finally got our piano tuned, and when I found myself playing for up to an hour a day I figured I might as well get some instruction. My daughter asked me if I was having a midlife crisis, between the swimming and the piano. I told her I probably am, but that these seem like comparatively mild ways to express it. Also, how does a 5th grader know about midlife crises?