Early Mornings

It all seemed easy in the beginning: sign up for masters’ swimming, pay for the yearly membership, and go to practice. Everything would be done for me–the workouts, the paces for the workouts, the total distance, everything. I’d do all of the strokes–fly, back, breast, and free, which will only make me a stronger swimmer for triathlon. The swim team I found meets three times a week at 5:30am, which didn’t seem too early until I realized I needed to set my alarm for around 4:30 in the morning. 

I am not a morning person. 

To wake up this early means I need to go to bed by 9:30pm, and I like to stay up until midnight. 9:30pm is also my 10 year old daughter’s bedtime because my family is a bunch of night owls. 

I am not a morning person, but I paid to do this. Like everything else that’s difficult, it is worth it in the end. I have been waking up before 5am on most weekdays to either swim, bike, or run. Many of my workouts start and end in the dark, way before the sunrise. In autumn and winter, I run down daylight at noon, but in order to complete all of my workouts, I dive into the darkness.

By the time I exit the athletic center after a swim, it’s still dark while commuters speed to work and the trains rush by. A few lights are on in some of the houses I pass on my way home, and I wonder how many people wake up way before dawn or how many people are just returning from a night shift. 

I am not a morning person, but I understand the allure of the stillness that exists in the hours before dawn, before most of the world around me is awake. 

Running Form

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Running form is something that is not often taught since most people will encourage you to run however you run. However, there are a few tips you can keep in mind for good form.

  1. Get fitted with a good pair of running shoes and retire those shoes after 300-500 miles.
  2. To begin running, stretch your arms to the sky with your shoulders back, lean forward, and go! Your arms should be bent around a 90 degree angle, never letting your elbows go past your torso.
  3. Run with a high cadence to prevent injury (170 steps per minute or more, and 185 is ideal).
  4. Land mid foot to forefoot. If you are a heel striker, your body actually stops moving for a moment, slowing you down.
  5. Keep your elbows back, and if you want to go faster, pump them back, keeping them close to your body without your arms crossing your midline.

That’s it! Focus on one technique at a time, and your running form will start to improve. I’m still working on mine, especially when I get tired. And, running isn’t always glamorous: the above video was shot in my basement while it poured outside, but I got it done.

Guess What?

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An invitation to an event at my favorite local running store, The Bryn Mawr Running Company, landed in my mailbox and appeared on my Facebook feed. I had to go: the founder of Altra, Golden Harper, would be there for a two hour talk and running clinic.  The talk began at 6:30 on a Tuesday after the running group returned from the track workout at the local polo and soccer fields nearby. By the time I arrived, pizza and beer were on hand to feed the small crowd gathered in the store.

Understated and determined, Golden Harper challenges the design of standard running shoes and is brave enough to run into an industry dominated by the shoe giants of Nike, Brooks, Saucony, Asics, New Balance, Hoka, and Sketchers. His shoe is the only one on the market with a “zero drop” and a toe box that is actually foot-shaped. Zero drop refers to how the heel is the same level as your forefoot. By not elevating the heel, running injuries are reduced, and a runner’s form is more natural as if the runner is running barefoot.

Golden has a long history with the sport as a runner and while working at his parents’ running store, Runners’ Corner, since he was nine years old. What frustrated him was that he felt like the shoes he was selling to runners were not keeping them free from injury, but actually causing injury. This led him to dismantle a shoe with the help of a toaster oven set to 275 degrees F to melt the glue and remove the foam that lifted the heel. Essentially, he made a prototype of a completely new shoe and had the data and research to back up the changes. The problem was that the shoe companies were not interested in making changes to their running shoes, so Harper decided to make the shoes himself with a lot of help from experienced people in the industry.

Now, Altra makes shoes for everyone that feel like you’re running barefoot with enough cushion to protect your feet. They are also the only company that truly makes shoes designed for women. Most companies just take the men’s shoe and remove some of the bulk and call it a women’s specific shoe. Not so with Altra. The company has actually measured and studied how women run and developed shoes for women. Currently, they are working on children’s shoes, and when they arrive online or in stores, you better believe that is what my daughter will be wearing.

I absolutely love these shoes (and I am not being paid by Altra to advertise, but I wish I could be… maybe I should ask Golden if I can review new shoes and write about them?): my toes can spread out in the roomy foot-shaped toe box, my feet feel springy with the cushion: the shoe feels like it’s part of my foot. I have run short and long distances in these shoes, on the trail and on the road, and they are light enough for track and speed sessions. I have been wearing these shoes all freaking day because I love them so much.


Note: all of the information was based on my notes from listening to Golden Harper at the Bryn Mawr Running Company on October  17, 2017 from 6:30-8:30pm. Please visit Altra Running for more information, and go to Bryn Mawr Running Company to purchase your next pair of running shoes or stop in just to say hi. If you ever get to hear Golden Harper speak, please go. His enthusiasm for the sport and excitement is contagious. Run on!

Chicago Marathon

Chicago. Marathon #5. I had hoped that this marathon would be my fastest and best yet. It wasn’t.  Nothing was amiss–I had trained properly, had no major injuries, race day fueling was perfect, I arrived to the race in plenty of time and came off of a good night’s sleep. So what happened? A marathon happened. And in a marathon, despite all the good preparation, anything can still happen.

Race day was cool at the start, but the forecast predicted the temperature to climb into the upper 70s or low 80s. With that in mind, I knew Chicago would not bring a personal best–heat, humidity, and my body do not like each other. I told myself to run a good race with or without a PR and tried to pump myself up in the starting corral. “I am a fast runner. I am a fast runner. I am a fast runner.”

I took off at the start and almost cried. Here I was running one of the Abbot World Marathon Majors, crowds were cheering, and I felt like a champion. I never thought I would be able to even run a marathon, let alone five of them. Yellow jackets bombarded runners and dive bombed my ears from time to time. I swatted them away like the negative thoughts in my brain. A marathon is run in your head and not with your feet.

By mile 10, my legs felt fatigued and sweat dripped from my shorts. My feet swam in a pool of water trapped in my shoes. The half marathon ticked by, and I saw my awful split time: there was no way, I would get a PR, and this might be my slowest marathon yet if I don’t get it together. I kept swatting bees, took a deep breath, and told myself that even if I didn’t get a PR, I will finish this race.

That’s when I decided the hell with it. Screw running. Who cares if I need to walk? I looked around at the crowds, at the taiko drummers, at the dragon dance, at the humorous posters held aloft, at the brownstones, at the Sears Tower, and listened to the roar of the train on the El. I am in Chicago, and today I am taking a running tour of the city because I am fortunate enough to be able to run. I am healthy enough to run a marathon, and I am happy that I have the means to do so.

I earned my medal without a new PR, and now I’m setting my sights on a full Ironman in Chattanooga on September 30, 2018.

Thank you to everyone who came out to cheer for me: my mom, Aunt Shirl, Fred, and Eric. Also on this trip, I visited my childhood friends, Katie and Andy, whom I haven’t seen in almost thirty years, and caught up with Chris, my high school soccer and swimming friend who rocked Chicago with a new PR despite the heat! Congratulations!

It’s That Time of Year Again

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The leaves are curling on the sidewalk,

Crushed in between the cracked cement.

Cool air creeps in the window

Freezing my phone case

And numbing my hands as I hit snooze.

News alerts blink on my screen,

Blurred by tired eyes without glasses nearby.

It’s that time of year again when darkness falls

Early, seeping into our lives at hours unexpected–

In between the cracked clouds before sunrise,

And the space between my headlamp light

And the end of the trail.

The news doesn’t change:

I’ve heard it many times before–

I just hope that my light is bright enough

To illuminate the paths worn about the same,

And we’ll all choose the same one

In between the slanting light and the darkness.

Otherwise, it will always be that time of year,

Again.

Treasure Island Sprint Triathlon

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The sun is barely up at 7am with temperatures in the upper 40s. Winds whipped through the transition area as athletes set up their bikes and gear, jostling the bike frames side to side from the nose of the saddle as if they were motioning a unanimous “no”.

I tucked my chin into my jacket and headed towards the water to view the swim course from the dock. A few wetsuit-clad athletes on the beach dipped their toes or feet up to their ankles to gauge the water temperature. One said, “Well, it’s certainly warmer than the air is right now.” That’s a good sign, but it’s going to be freezing on the bike with the current cloud cover and wind.

I sent a text to my athlete to see if she had picked up her packet or if she was setting her gear up in transition. Fortunately, this sprint tri was small with only a few hundred athletes competing, so she was easy to find. She was a bit nervous about the swim, but glad she had borrowed a wetsuit for the extra warmth and buoyancy.

All of her training was complete, and there was nothing more I could do, but remind her of racing strategies, how to remain calm in the water, and wish her the best. She could do it. And she did.

At the start of the swim, I stood on the dock with her kids, husband, and pup–the elite swimmers were running out of the water before her heat even started, but she chatted with a few other athletes, which calms the nerves and made me feel better too. She took one dip in the water and was off at the start of her heat. We watched the swimmers as they pushed against the current parallel to shore; it was an out and back swim of 400 meters, and since it was her first time in open water in a race, she handled the swim perfectly, switching strokes when needed and not panicking when other swimmers decided to swim over her.

Upon exiting the water, I ran over to her and unzipped her wetsuit since there were no volunteers to do this (and there usually are). After the swim, athletes are breathless and tired, so getting a wetsuit off can be difficult.

Once she was in transition for the bike, she put on her shoes, clipped her helmet and was off once again. The bike and run are her strengths, and she pushed it on those events, finishing strong.

I am incredibly proud of her accomplishment, especially on the swim, because her hard work paid off. I think this is the beginning of many more triathlons in her future. Congratulations!