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Wisconsin State SCY Master Swim Meet:

It’s become somewhat of an annual tradition for my Masters Swim class to descend en masse on the Wisconsin State SCY Master Swim meet. For many of the group, it’s the only meet of the year that’s attended, and it’s a nice chance to see how we’ve progressed over the past year and get some experience pushing ourselves as hard as we can. For those of you who aren’t in with the swimming lingo, SCY, as I recently learned, stands for Short Course Yards. Swim meets are generally divided by short course, a 25-meter or 25-yard pool, versus long-course, a 50-meter pool. And then, of course, there’s the distinction of meters versus yards. Given that the pool we train in is 20 meters long, I guess we train on a short, short course.

This year our group was a little smaller than usual, due to some scheduling quirks, so only three of us made the trek to Brown Deer, WI, for the meet. I had initially been pretty excited about doing the 400 and 100 IM (individual medley, in which one person swims all four strokes). However, at the last minute, my coach talked me into signing up for the 200 butterfly. I actually like butterfly and I do it well compared to the other students in our Master Swim group, but 200 yards of it sounded like total barf city. But in a moment of weakness, I signed up for it and spent the next week dreading the 200 yards of pain.

Of course, the 200 fly was my last event of the day, so in what I can only explain as preemptive self-defense, I immediately told anyone who could listen that I was going to scratch the 200 fly so that I could focus only on the events that I actually wanted to do. The 400 IM was up first, and I was really looking forward to it. I love swimming IM because you get to do something different each time you start getting tired of one stroke. It’s sort of like triathlon, where as soon as I am tired of swimming, I get to bike, and then often before I’m tired of biking it’s time to run. The 400 IM consists of 100 yds of fly, then 100 of back, 100 breast, and 100 free. I felt strong during the entire race, and was shocked to see that I had finished in 6:17. My coach had seeded me at 6:30, which I thought was relatively optimistic, and I was thrilled to have beaten that seed time by 13 seconds. Best of all, I placed third overall (of women), and won my age group. Granted, not a lot of people like to sign up for the 400 IM, but hey, part of placing is convincing yourself to sign up, right?

My other races were good, if unremarkable. I swam the 50 fly, 50 free, and 100 IM, and had a pretty good time doing them. Meanwhile, my classmates were killing it, knocking down PBs in their various events. We found a fourth to join us for a medley relay, and without even thinking about how much fly I was already on the hook for, I volunteered to swim fly. We finished in fine, albeit non-competitive form, and immediately after the medley relays was the 200 fly. The meet director announced a 5 minute break before the 200 fly would start, and at the very last minute I decided, “Oh crap, I might as well just swim it.” After all, if I want to compete an Ironman some day, I should at least be able to stand being extremely uncomfortable for 3 and a half minutes.

See, the problem with swimming butterfly is that it’s exhausting. And as soon as you (or I, I guess) start getting tired, your legs drop, which increases drag and makes everything that much more difficult. I went in with a conservative plan to execute some pretty slow turns to take the time to grab some extra air and bit of rest. And… I just went for it! I only consciously hesitated on two turns to get my breath back, and although during the last 75 yards my legs were begging to fall and my muscles were burning, I held on to my stroke and even managed to speed up slightly in the last 25, finishing the 200 in 3:05. I was thrilled. And just like with the 400 IM, the fact that I managed to show up and race the event put me in third overall and won my age group.

10k PR:

I was happy this year to be able to run the 10K at the Shamrock Shuffle, after spending last year watching Josh take off while I was still side-lined with a knee injury. I was even happier that this year it was a balmy 50 degrees and sunny, which was a huge relief after last year’s 5 degrees and windy. So cold, in fact, that as soon as Josh was out of view, I hunkered down in a coffee shop, hoping my estimates of his time would get me to the finish line in time to see him cross.

This was only my second official 10K, the first being at last Thanksgiving’s Berbee Derby, where I finished in 56:47. I felt awesome after that race, which made me think that I could take it out a little faster in this effort. This was also my first race since being diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, and it’s astonishing how much of a difference it makes to be able to actually breathe while I’m running.

This year’s race involved a bonus hill, as muddy conditions on the Lakeshore Path had the course rerouted to ascend the very steep Observatory Hill not once, but twice – first at mile 1 and again at mile 5.5 when, you know, you just really want to climb the steepest hill in the city. A few representatives of the UW Marching Band were there, though, to help us up the hill with the power of music.

I was very pleased with my time, finishing up in 54:45, which had me coming in at under 9 minute miles! I guess that when you only have one other race to compare your time against, it’s easy to PR, but overall I’m really liking the 10K distance. I feel like I can actually think during the race and don’t need to spend the whole time running as fast as I can.

Running Intervals: 

As I mentioned previously, I signed up for Fleet Feet Madison’s SpeedPLAY training, which focuses on running intervals. I’ve sort of vaguely tried to run intervals on my own before, but it’s so incredibly hard to force myself to run them alone. I truly believe that interval training works, as it’s improved my swim times dramatically, but running intervals are somehow even more painful than swimming. I signed up for this training program in the hopes that it would be easier to force myself to actually run intervals, counting on my own competitiveness and the proven power of peer pressure.

Our first session was last week, and although the coach cautioned that this would be our easiest one, as he wanted to get a sense of where all our speeds fell and how we were doing to start with, I came away feeling confident and excited about the next seven weeks. I wasn’t the fastest person (oh Lordy, not even close), but I wasn’t the slowest, and who cares even if I were? In swimming, there’s a saying that “if you’re the fastest person in your lane, you’re in the wrong lane.” Which is to say, if you have no competition, you’re never going to get better.

We started out by running 800 m repeats at faster than 10k pace, with 1 minute of rest. I felt strong and out of breath and tired and competent. I’m excited to see where this training takes me.

Random bonus:

I can’t explain it, but despite the recent spring weather, I’ve just had no desire to get out there and start training for the 2015 triathlon season. Well, I figured out what I needed, and it turns out it’s two things: the smell of sunscreen and a ride on my bike outside. The first was easy enough – I’m pretty militant about sunscreen and as soon as spring started to think about emerging, I bought my cadre of tubes for the summer. The first day I put some on to work out outside, I immediately was transported by the smell back to last summer and I got excited to get out there.

Then, last Saturday I finally unhooked my bike from the trainer, changed out the tire, somehow put the back wheel back on correctly, and went for an actual ride in the actual outdoors. Ahhhh… this is why I love my bike. Inertia solved.

Obligatory intro – long time no post life busy blah blah blah.

So this past Thursday (also known as Thanksgiving), Josh and I ran the 11th annual Berbee Derby. This is one of my favorite races for a whole lot of reasons. It’s awesome to start out Thanksgiving morning with some activity and excitement. There are so many people racing (6,700 this year) that you always have someone to pass so it’s motivating. And, as the Derby organizers themselves say, “It’s like a Thanksgiving Day parade, only faster.” People wear costumes and turkey hats, everyone’s in a good mood, and it’s just all around a good time.

This year’s race was bitterly cold and pretty icy. It was about 18 degrees and windy at race time and the parts of the course that weren’t in direct sunlight were pretty slick. And it was in the middle of one of those stretches, along the Capital City bike trail, that I found myself stuck behind a bunch of runners who were going a little slower than I wanted to go, with ice on the bike path and snow on the edges of the path. And that’s when, as I do in almost every running race, I started thinking about Mario Kart. I haven’t even played in quite a while, but in my heyday I was pretty tough to beat, especially when I was driving Koopa Troopa on the Blue Falcon.

Sure, I could stay tucked in behind the folks in front of me, but is that what Koopa Troopa would do? No way. So, without further awkward introduction, here are three lessons from Mario Kart Wii that I genuinely apply to my own racing.

Move through a crowd
I might not be the fastest runner (spoiler alert: I’m not), but I can work my way through congestion. Playing Mario Kart taught me to shove my way into the smallest opening. In the game, as in real life, people don’t like to be crowded and they tend to open up a path for you to squeeze through.

I made this diagram with Clip Art and PowerPoint. Living the dream.

I made this diagram with Clip Art and PowerPoint. Living the dream.

Obviously anyone can say just to go wherever you see an opening, but I saw a lot of people who weren’t going for it. My hot tip: If you’re not feeling comfortable working your way through a crowd, pretend that you’re drafting off the kart (read: person) in front of you. Especially in a race like the Berbee Derby where there are so many people running, if you wait long enough, someone faster will come by, and you can follow the path they carve through the crowd.

Take the shortest line

This one can be summed up by another hot PowerPoint diagram:

How many roads must Michelle run down. Before she can run the shortest distance on them?

How many roads must Michelle run down. Before she can run the shortest distance on them?

I can’t tell you how many people I see running along the right hand lane of a course instead of taking the shortest line between two points. Obviously when you’re working with lots of congestion, you shouldn’t cut in front of people. But on the Berbee Derby course, once you’re off the bike path and onto the suburban streets, there’s plenty of room. Time you take running around corners is time wasted (and extra distance!). Playing Mario Kart, I learned to see the shortest line at a glance and not be afraid of driving in the gutter to take it. Driving on grass just slows you down, though, so pay attention to surface, too.

Know the course

Almost every course in Mario Kart gets easier the more you play it. Knowing where and when to turn, when to use your mushrooms, and what you can expect only speeds you up. If you don’t drive your bike and run courses before a race, you’re just asking for unpleasant surprises. Granted, sometimes it’s not great to know that you have a hill to run up between miles five and six (Berbee Derby, I’m looking at you), but wouldn’t you rather be prepared for it than have to react on the fly?

Pretend this is a hill.

Pretend this is a hill.

There is something to be said for the surprise of a course. Sometimes I purposefully don’t familiarize myself with a course ahead of time so that there are “interesting” surprises waiting for me. But I never perform my best when I do this. So I wouldn’t really advise it on a race you want to do well on. Also, honestly, it’s pretty unsafe, especially when you’re talking about a bike course. I’m thinking about the Couples Triathlon (fka Capital View) where there’s a 90-degree right hand turn at the bottom of a steep downhill. If you don’t know that’s coming and you don’t take the “Slow Down” signs seriously, there’s no doubt you’d crash, and probably take out a few other people with you.

Before I leave you, one more bonus tip. You know that level of Mario Kart where there are all the penguins and when you hit them they spin around? Well, it took me a while to master that one because every time you brake on the ice, your kart skids around like crazy and it takes a while to accelerate again. Well, if you find yourself running outside in, say, the Berbee Derby and you’re planting your foot on a sheet of ice on a bike trail, maybe don’t try to brake. It won’t end well for anyone. And don’t hit any penguins, either.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so here’s a lightning round series of updates. No more than a paragraph for each topic!

Escort Service:

I volunteered as a bike escort at the Madison half marathon last week. This was the first time I’d done so, but ever since I noticed bikes riding with the leaders at a few of the races I’ve run it’s something I wanted to do. Since I was a rookie on the escort service I didn’t get to ride with the leaders, but I was a “pack escort,” which meant that I rode back and forth on miles 10-13 looking for runners in distress and making sure that no one needed medical assistance or a SAG ride. It was a lot of fun, way more physically demanding than I would have expected (even though I never rode fast), and next time I want to escort the leader. Also, I got to put a sign on my bike identifying it as an Official Race Vehicle, and even got cheered on by a couple of spectators (“Way to go race vehicle!”). Finally, I rode up Edgewood Hill five times. So.

Proud Graduate:

I’m happy to report that I was graduated from physical therapy a few weeks ago. My knee is still not 100%, but I’ve reached maximum benefit from the PT interventions and I have improved quite a lot. I saw a sports medicine doctor who gave me some feedback that I’m still sort of mulling over, but among other things he recommended picking up some orthotics to help my knee stay as well-aligned as it can be when I’m running. I’ve only taken them out running a few times, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they’re helping.

Open Water, Open Mind:

I’ve joined an open water swim class, and I might say that the lake panic is shifting into a lake anxiety. I can’t really say I enjoy going to my open water class, but I take that as evidence that it’s good for me. Once again, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’m getting better in the open water. I’m still allergic to the lakes, by the way, but I think I have a fairly good one-two punch going on with Zyrtec followed by Advil Cold and Sinus.

Bike Shoe Fail:

I’ve been working on getting onto my bike barefoot with my shoes already clipped in. Here’s how it started:

To Sock or Not to Sock:

My first race is a week from today, and I’m still struggling with the sock issue. You’ll notice in the video above that I was originally trying to do the bike shoe thing with socks. I’m pretty sure for this first sprint triathlon I’m going to go sock-free on the bike, but I am going to wear them on the run. I’ll get there; I just haven’t practiced enough without them to feel comfortable yet, especially with the new orthotics.

“World’s Healthiest Cake”

I came across this recipe for what’s described as possibly the world’s healthiest cake, made with beet root and avocado. So I made it. Except I used real butter instead of vegan margarine (sorry, there are some lines I will not cross). It’s pretty good. I’m not going to tell you it tastes like for real cake, but it’s a decent substitute. I’ll certainly eat it all.

Why yes, I did sprinkle edible gold glitter on top of this cake. Thank you for noticing.

Why yes, I did sprinkle edible gold glitter on top of this cake. Thank you for noticing.

Shoes:

I have a race in a week! Time for me to go do this. Stay tuned for (possibly) a pre-race freakout post and (definitely) a post-race recap.

 

Swim:

This coming weekend, I’ll be completing in the Masters Swimming Wisconsin State SCY Championships in Brown Deer, Wisconsin. This is not nearly as impressive at it sounds. When I was playing high school sports, the state championships were something you had to qualify for. It was a big honor just to go, let alone to win.

For Masters Swimming, all meets, including the state championships, take a more inclusive approach. You can even swim a limited number of events without qualifying at the National Championships if you’d like to. (You can swim more if you have qualifying times in them.)

This will be my third ever Masters Swim meet. The first one was this same competition last year, and the second was a very small local meet about a month ago:

The benefit of swimming in a small meet is that there usually aren't more than 3 people in your age group in any given event.

The benefit of swimming in a small meet is that there usually aren’t more than 3 people in your age group in any given event.

I was terrified before my first meet. I had only learned how to dive off the starting blocks two days before the event, and had only learned how to swim at all within the year prior. I hadn’t even done any triathlons at that point.

The atmosphere at Masters Swim meets, though, is ridiculously welcoming. There are athletes of all ages, shapes, sizes, situations, and abilities. The former college swimmers are apparent with their killer technique and bullet-like dives, and they have enough competition among each other to stay happy. The new swimmers are given the option of starting by diving off the side of the pool if the blocks are too scary, or even starting in the water and pushing off from the wall if they’d like. There was a blind swimmer at the state meet last year who had a friend tap him on the shoulder with a tennis ball on a stick when he was near the wall and it was time to turn.

I was afraid before my first meet that everyone would be watching me and if I messed up, everyone would see. The reality is that the only people who are really watching are your friends or family who happen to be there. There are 8 lanes of swimmers, and people might be interested in the competition, but the only reaction to finishing last is applause that you were out there trying in the first place.

This coming Saturday, I’m going to be swimming longer events than I ever have before. Part of this is because I’m just not competitive at the super fast sprints, part of it is to try something new, and part of it is because I miss racing the endurance aspect of my sports. Rehabbing my knee injury, I haven’t been able to run or bike long distances, so I might as well swim them.

I think every triathlete should try one swim meet. For everyone who has felt that panic in the beginning of a triathlon, with the waves and the elbows and the sudden inability to breathe, the starting blocks of a pool before a race are an experience worth having. It’s just as scary up on the blocks, but the anticipation doesn’t have such a chance to build, because before you know it the starting horn has gone off and there’s no time to think or panic, because you have to dive in already. It’s good practice for just going for it without dwelling on the scary, plus using those active recovery skills once you’re in the water.

Bike:

It’s now regularly in at least the 20s and 30s every day, with a few days in the 40s and glorious 50s. This means I’ve seen people riding their bikes again, and I am so ready to get back out there. Part of my physical therapy has been riding a stationary bike for 5 minutes at a time under my physical therapist’s supervision, and it’s been going well. She said that as soon as I get properly fitted to my bike, I can give it a try. I also have new aerobars and those amazing new wheels to install. I just need the time to get all this done!

Run:

I had a follow up running evaluation. I’ve been using a free metronome app called “Metronome” (real creative, guys) when I run to keep me at about 180 steps per minute. It works fairly well in the gym, aside from one annoying week when it kept flashing a bright light every beat that I couldn’t turn off, but when I run with it outside it seems to skip beats quite frequently, sort of negating the point. When I ran outside with Josh the other day, we wanted to be able to talk while running, so I didn’t plug headphones into my phone, just letting the metronome bonk out loud. We got some strange looks in the park, but whatever. I’m at the point right now where I don’t give a rip what anyone thinks about my knee rehab. I’m going to do what I have to do in order to get back out there.

I had also tried out an app called Cadence (not free) that analyzes the music in your library and arranges it according to bpm. It’s a great idea, but I don’t think it works all that well. The beats didn’t seem to match up to my metronome and were off enough that I felt knee pain when running to them. I haven’t used it much for those reasons.

Anyway, along with my growing ability to run at 180 bpm, the running evaluation PT said that although my stride is definitely better, and pretty darn good on my right leg, in slo-mo it’s apparent that I’m limping when I’m running. I’m tensing up my left leg (the injured knee) in my body’s attempt to brace myself for the impact. Unfortunately, this has the reverse effect of making the impact worse. This is because the tensed up leg keeps my knee straight instead of bent, putting the force of impact onto the joint. He said this should go away with time as I keep healing, but in the meantime to be conscious of it and try to land with a bent knee, hitting the ground with at least the flat of my foot and possibly even the ball of the foot.

I’ve also been given one-legged squats to do, twice as many on my left side as on my right side.

I’m up to 3 minutes running/2 minutes walking x4, and it feels pretty great. I often feel like I could just keep running without the walk breaks in between, but the risk of re-injury is too scary for me to try. This week I plan to increase to 3:30/1:30, and once I get to the full 20 minutes running with no or minimal knee pain (or pain during running that goes away after running is also apparently okay), I can start increasing speed (I’m currently plugging away at a slow 10 minute mile pace) and distance. Both of my physical therapists (my regular one and the running expert) said that my goal of 8 minute miles after swimming and biking “should be no problem.”

I’m still nervous that the first race is in early June and I still can’t run a 5k, but I’m hopeful that the cardio base from swimming and the strength base from strength training and PT will be enough to get me on the podium.

As part of my ongoing rehab of my knee injury, my physical therapist referred me to a PT downtown who specializes in analyzing running form. Running has been getting less painful for me, but we thought it would be worthwhile to have my form checked out in case I was doing something to aggravate the healing injury.

The evaluation started with me filling out a form about my running history, which unfortunately didn’t include anywhere for me to brag about how great I think I was last season. I’m joking, of course, but filling out my current running information (2 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking at a leisurely 10 minute mile pace) felt like I wasn’t telling the whole story. I wanted to write in a postscript: “And I need to be able to run a lot more way faster, okay?”

At any rate, I filled out my form and changed into running clothes. If you’re ever going in for one of these, make sure to wear shorts, as obviously the knees should be easily visible.

The PT started by pinning up the back of my tank top so he could see my lower back. I felt weird and exposed on a treadmill with my shirt half pinned up, but (and this became a mantra throughout the evaluation) I wanted to be able to run without pain more than I wanted to be modest.

After I’d warmed up a little bit, he had me run at my current 10 minute mile pace while he filmed me from several angles. He spent what felt like a long time behind me where I couldn’t see what was happening, filming my overall form, just my feet, and just my low back. Then he came to the side and did the same thing — first the overall form and then a zoom in on my feet. I was trying not to act like I was working very hard, because I felt like my pace was very slow, but it was the most running I’d done since before I’d been injured and I was getting out of breath.

After the first filming, he brought me to another room to watch the video in slow motion.

I’m not going to lie — the first relief was that I looked relatively fit on the screen. Since I’ve been unable to run or bike, I’ve been swimming as hard as I can, but I’ve still gained about 10 pounds. I’m not someone who focuses on weight (or at least I try not to be). I evaluate my body based on how functional it is at doing the activities I want it to. And I know that once I’m able to get back to my standard triathlon training, everything in my body will regulate itself again. But the truth is that last season when I was training so hard, I came up with all kinds of innovative ways to sneak extra calories into my food so that I was getting enough nutrition and I might not have stopped doing all of those.

At any rate: I looked fine on the video so let’s just move on.

My main diagnosis is that I am over-striding when I run. That means I’m taking steps that are too big. As a result, I’m striking the ground primarily with my heel, which means that my knee is pretty much straight and all the force from hitting the ground goes straight into my knee.

Check out my awesome arrow work!

Check out my awesome arrow work!

Related to this is that I’m also going up and down quite a lot when I run. That is, there’s too much vertical displacement of my body. He showed me the line of my shorts in slow motion, and I was making quite a large jump up and down.

He explained that I was running at about 164 steps per minute, but the ideal is about 180 steps per minute. I found it interesting that it apparently doesn’t matter how fast I’m running – the steps per minute should be about the same.

So what’s the cure? Well, I’ve been running with a metronome app that I downloaded. I have it set to about 175 bpm right now, because 180 is a little too drastic of a switch. I’ve been practicing this for about 2 weeks now, and although it originally felt incredibly awkward and uncomfortable, it’s gotten much, much easier. Today I had no pain while running for the first time since the injury, and it felt almost natural to run at about 175 steps per minute.

Increasing my cadence like this means that every step is a little shorter, which leads to me landing on the flat of my foot instead of the heel. Check out how that translates to a bent knee, putting the force of the impact on my quad instead of my joint.

In case you were wondering, no, I don't run on the carpet in front of the blinds. Photos taken for demonstration purposes only.

In case you were wondering, no, I don’t run on the carpet in front of the blinds. Photos taken for demonstration purposes only.

Running (on a treadmill) to a metronome is not the most stimulating endeavor, so I started looking for songs at my desired pace. Well, you can try searching for that yourself, but 180 is certainly a very popular number, and many, many folks across the Internet have put together extensive playlists. Here are just a few.

I’ve just downloaded the Cadence app, which is, at this very moment, analyzing the music in my iTunes library to add the bpm to the songs’ metadata. I’ll let you know how it works out so that you don’t have to waste a few bucks on it if it sucks. 🙂

How about you? Do you all know about this magic 180 number already? Do you pick your running music based on your cadence needs?

Best of Madison 2014:

Here’s how I found out this blog had won the silver medal at the 2014 Best of Madison Olympics in the category of Local Blog:

(1) A new reader mentioned in a comment that she’d found me through Best of Madison.

(2) I looked up the Best of Madison results and couldn’t find my blog’s name in any of the categories.

(3) I realized I was looking at the 2013 results.

When I saw I’d won 2nd place in the 2014 results, my first thought was, “Thank goodness my most recent post was a funny one.”

I’m surprised and honored to be among the Best of Madison blogs. Check out the gold and bronze medal winners as well.

So welcome,  new readers, to my somewhat confusing blog. Let me break it down for you. Here, you’ll find approximately:

  • 79% posts about triathlon and running
  • 20% posts about baking fancy pastry
  • 1% posts that are pictures of cats

I hope you enjoy it! And if I can figure out how to put the Best of Madison winner graphic on here, I will someday.

What I came here to write:

At the risk of making my most recent post no longer funny and/or featuring a picture of a cat wearing a chef’s hat, here’s what I had in progress when the results came out.

As I continue rehabbing my knee injury, I’ve started increasing my running. When I was first allowed to run again, I was limited to walking for 4 minutes and running for 1 minute, for a total of no more than 4 minutes of running.

Well, one day last week, my time on the treadmill (I’ve been banished by my PT from outdoor running until I can do a full 30 minutes on the treadmill) felt great, so I decided to try for 2 minutes of running. That extra 60 seconds gave me an opportunity to think and notice my body more, and I realized that I was holding massive amounts of tension in my shoulders and hips. This is exactly what I do when I’m trying to swim fast — I tense up, as if contracting all my muscles means I’m trying extra hard. On the treadmill, I tried to relax, and suddenly everything felt so much better. I walked away from those 2 minutes feeling like a champ.

So this week (with the blessing of my PT), that’s been my routine – 3 minutes of walking and 2 minutes of running, 4 times. I’ve even upped the speed from 5.5 to a whopping 6.0 (to put this in perspective, this is a 10 minute mile — not exactly race pace, but it’s an improvement).

I’m happy things are turning around, and happy the pain is minimal. Really, it’s mostly just a dull ache at the spot where the meniscus tore and a sort of crunchy feeling on the opposite side (more scar tissue breaking up and floating away to… who knows where).

And yet, I find myself so self conscious at the gym. I don’t have to wear a brace on my knee and luckily swimming has kept me mildly fit looking, so I feel as if everyone must be watching me and wondering why I’m running so briefly and so slowly with a casual paced walk in between.

Yesterday, the only open treadmill was next to one of the gym’s owners, who was running a 10k at 7.2 (about 8:15 pace) and I felt like such a failure. I found myself wishing that I could wear a t-shirt that said in fluorescent letters: RECOVERING FROM AN INJURY.

Even worse, by the time I got to the 1:30 mark of my first 2 minute run, I felt out of breath and exhausted. How was I supposed to race this summer if I couldn’t even run 2 minutes at a 10 minute mile pace?

Most of my friends and co-workers know that I race and know that I love my gym, and I’m not infrequently asked for advice about how to get started running or joining a gym. I always tell people that the most important thing to keep in mind is that it might feel like everyone’s looking at you, knows you’re new, and is judging everything you do. But really, I say, no one cares. Everyone’s focused on their own workouts and if anyone does notice you’re new, they’re more likely to think, “Oh, good for that person. Way to start it out.”

Easier said than done, huh?

I feel the same sense of self consciousness when I’m doing my rehab exercises in the strength training room at the gym. As I step up and down on a Bosu ball, I’m acutely aware of those lifting heavy weights behind me, and again, I want to stop everyone in the room and announce that it’s just because I’m recovering from an injury. I know that stepping on this ball doesn’t look hard, but it’s challenging to balance without letting my knee tilt inward.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this, other than to say that starting triathlon as a whole, and especially learning how to swim as an adult, has put me time and time again in situations where I’m the newest and/or least experienced person in the room. Sometimes I get exhausted by wanting to be the best at whatever I’m doing and trying new things where there’s no way I’m going to be the best. There was a great and popular article about being a Peace Corps volunteer a few years ago about how serving in the Peace Corps taught the author how to fail, and how in many ways that was a much better and more valuable lesson than learning how to succeed. In a similar way, I feel the Peace Corps started me on the path to learning how to not be the best at something — how to try something new that I’m not likely to do well the first time out.

I still would like an “I’m recovering from an injury” t-shirt, though.

Quick and dirty triathlon book reviews:

A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington: Hand’s down the best book about triathlon I’ve ever read. I don’t think this was ghost-written (I don’t see any ghost-writer name anywhere on the book), and although it’s not literary CNF, who cares? Chrissie has an authentic and vibrant narrative voice, and I admire her even more after reading this. I heard that last year she was passing out finisher’s medals at USAT Age Group Nationals. If she’s doing that again this year when I’m there, I’m going to lose my mind.

Anatomy of Running, by Philip Striano: This had exactly what I was looking for — pages and pages of beautifully illustrated strength-training exercises specifically for runners, including a huge section on core, which I’m trying to work on. It could include more hips/glutes, though, in my opinion (and my PT’s opinion, who told me that “hips are the new core”).

The Triathlete’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel: I like how in-depth this book is, and I like taking the little quizzes (apparently I am mentally strong in visualizing, but not in confidence), but I lose my concentration when going over all the ultra-specific training plans. I’m still more of a by the seat of my pants athlete. Plus, looking at the training plans right now makes me feel like I’m going to fail all summer because I can’t physically do what I “should” be doing at this point in the off-season.

Stay tuned for my next post: in which I recap my 2nd ever Masters Swim meet, which took place yesterday. Spoiler alert: I didn’t drown.

I could figure out exactly which day it was in September, 2013, that I threw a roundhouse kick and felt my meniscus pop and tear. But I’d rather not relive that moment, and instead share that yesterday I was able to run for the first time since then.*

I’ve been in physical therapy once a week since about November, and my PT has promised me since day one that they’d have me up and running soon enough. And after almost three straight months of doing hip strengthening exercises every single day, yesterday was the big day.

I was allowed 4 minutes of walking followed by 1 minute of running, with no more than 4 minutes of running total. The temperature spiked all the way up to 36 degrees, which after the recent polar vortex, felt amazing and warm, as if the birds were singing and snow was melting in dripping puddles from the trees, and we should all be frolicking naked the whole day long. Ahem.

Anyway. That got weird. But it felt nice out. So Josh and I went out and I started my stopwatch, and we walked for 4 minutes, and then it was time to see how the knee was going to work.

It felt… strange. The first minute of running was painful. It felt like my knee was grinding on bone and my IT band (my most recent** source of pain) was tugging at the kneecap, making it feel like it was going to explode. But, in a reversal from all the PT advice I’d received up until now, my physical therapist told me this week I could start working through the pain as there’s a bit of scar tissue that needs to be worked out of the joint, and I’m able to hop and skip like a champ in the PT gym. Not to mention, balance one-legged on a Bosu ball, which I challenge all of you to try with two healthy knees.

Anyway, it was hard. And scary. I so don’t want to hurt myself again. But then all of a sudden, 60 seconds were up, and we walked again. The second minute of running was much more comfortable. Surely the scar tissue had worked itself out in one minute of running! I was like a gazelle again, and I could almost pretend we were out for a nice mild winter day’s 4 miler.

My watch beeped and we walked again. The third minute of running (let’s be real, we’re talking a gentle jog for all of these) was achy again. Popping, tight, crunching. I was positive I’d never be able to run again. No more triathlons. No more road races. No more anything but swimming.

And then, of course, minute four felt great.

My overall conclusion? I have no idea. But I’m glad to have had the chance to at least be back out there. I’m discouraged that things are so sore, but hopeful that this is just scar tissue breaking up, as my PT has told me. And I’m doing my hip strengthening exercises every day without fail. Are you?

Special bonus one-off: I did my first 100 m*** freestyle in 1:10 this past week. Rock.

*By which I mean since that day I did a 25 mile brick after the meniscus tear because I didn’t know that I tore it.

**Also a relatively ancient source of pain. I was hit right in the IT band (on the same knee, of course) more than ten years ago by a 55 or 60 mph pitch when I was playing softball in college, which I’m sure has contributed to my current knee woes.

***Actually 80m because our gym’s pool is a shorty. Still, though: fast.