Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Priest Lake Spring Festival Half Marathon

I found myself gazing out over the clear, translucent water of Priest Lake. My feet moved to the rhythm of my breathing, and if it weren’t for the tangible impact I felt of them hitting asphalt, I never would have known I was running. The cool air smelled fresh, as if no one yet had moved through what the trees and flowering bushes had worked all night to revive. A long time had passed where I have found the opportunity to escape and explore my surroundings with something other than my eyes.

Yet I looked ahead. Bryan Rowe didn’t know he ran just 50 yards ahead of me. At the starting line, I had told him to go on ahead, as I had plans to run my slower goal Ironman pace. However, I realized during our 2-mile warm up that my legs had some spunk in them. The only problem was, for the last 3 months, I’ve been walking a fine line between running too much, too soon, too fast and risking further injury to my knee.

An out-and-back course on paved roads with a few
hills to make your lungs scream a bit.
After the starting gun, I kept looking down at my Garmin to find the pace I wanted to run. Even after 4 miles had passed, I still wasn’t running slow enough. I told Bryan later, after the run: There is something about me and a 7:30-min/mile pace. Running anything slower than 8-min/miles feels too slow, while anything faster than 7-min/miles feels nothing short of uncomfortable. By the 5th mile, I’d relinquished the reins to my legs and ran at my 7:30-min/mile pace, which ultimately allowed me to catch Bryan. Just know, Meghan, this won’t work in an Ironman.

Nothing quite compares to running a half marathon course that makes you feel as though you’re on a long, scenic trail run. Unless you have the opportunity to run with that person with whom everything feels so perfect. Just like in the Tri Cities Marathon last year, it suddenly occurred to me by mile 7 that if you’d have only had a recording of our run, you wouldn’t have known two people ran together. Perhaps our staggered breathing might have given it away, but by the cadence and timeliness of our footfalls, you would have only heard Bryan’s feet. That’s because mine weren’t hitting the ground.

I took inventory of my body. Everything felt healthy and appeared to be working normally. The 5.5-hour ride the day before rattled my gut a bit, but nothing felt as though it would escape either end…yet.
Two women had the lead ahead of me, one of which I could see. I knew that while I had already failed to run the pace I had initially set, I could not forget the purpose of this “race.” I did not come up here to win, but to run a steady, constant effort at a pace that slightly pushed my limits. I certainly could not afford to hurt my knee any further. So I maintained my pace and enjoyed the views over the lake, smell from the woods, and cool breeze on my face.

Bryan and me passed the 10k turnaround point, and then we came upon the 5k turnaround. Here, I met up with a number of kids out to push themselves harder than many of them ever had. One little guy ran up to me and stuck with my pace until we’d just ran up the final hill toward the finish line. Another girl stopped running just ahead of me; we only had about 100 yards to the finish. I urged her onward, and she proceeded to catch me, run with me, then pass me after the final corner to the finish line. That a girl!

I by no means set a PR. I had no intention of doing so. What I did accomplish means far more to me at this point in my training. I ran faster than I should have, but didn’t suffer for it. I enjoyed the perfect run with a training partner who continually pushes me to be better, simply by keeping me company. I had the chance to participate in a race set in the most scenic of settings, the most friendly of small lake towns.

Third overall woman and 2nd place age group awards
to round out the day. Not bad for a training run!
Bryan enjoying some wood furniture made by one of the
vendors at the Spring Festival after the run.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A flip of a coin: St. George 70.3

Sitting on the plane, thinking about what I hoped to do this past weekend at Ironman St. George 70.3, I inevitably thought about everything I had working against me:
  1. This race is notorious for terrible weather conditions. The extended forecast predicted a day filled with sunshine, 86 degrees for the high, and mild winds of no more than 4 mph. Yet weather conditions can change in an instant; remember last year’s Boise 70.3?
  2. My new Quintana Roo Cdo.1 Race arrived to Fitness Fanatics earlier this week, but because I didn’t have the opportunity to test it out, I decided to forgo the chance to race on a fast, fancy bike. I opted to have Jim put the race wheels on my Seduze instead.
  3. Finally, how could I successfully run in a race of such touted difficulty when I haven’t had the chance to run consistently since the last month has required me to rehabilitate my knee? I fully intended to either 1) race the swim and bike legs, and then walk the run, 2) jog the course at a pace far slower than anything I’ve ever run, or 3) feel better than I’d hoped and walk-run as long as I could keep my knee pain at bay.

This race would be a test of my ability to hold back, to walk the fine line between participating and pushing too hard to cause re-injury. This race would be a mental battle with myself; a test to see how well I could stomach sticking to my plan of self-conservation while every other woman passed me. This race would likely leave me disappointed and slightly injured no matter how careful I tried to race.

Then I found a penny. Heads up.

The entire trip to St. George appeared to depend on the flip of my coin. Heads: Ronnie, Bryan, and/or me experienced a strong stroke of luck. Tails: the circumstances didn’t quite play to our favor. The weekend panned out like this:

Tails: All of our flights were delayed at one point or another. Bryan and me received notice at check-in that, due to construction on the Las Vegas runway, our flight that was supposed to leave at 11:40am was delayed by 2 hours. This threw a wrench in our plans when we were to meet Ronnie, who already planned to arrive well before us.

Heads: Our flight’s delay improved from a 2-hour delay to one of just over 30 minutes. We were back on track.

The view as we made our way into St. George.
Heads: The bikes made it through security without any damage. (If you’d have seen the amount of pipe insulation Bryan used to shroud his bike, you might have thought it didn’t stand a chance of anything touching it.) The security personnel who inspected them did a decent job of putting everything back into our boxes just as they’d found it.

Heads: Ronnie didn’t know that his decision to purchase extra insurance for our rental car would be the best decision of the entire trip. It turned out that, while driving the bike course Friday, a man in a white truck sideswiped our van in an effort to avoid completely rear-ending us. No worries: the bikes sustained no damage. The bike’s riders weren’t injured, either.

Tails: Friday morning’s practice swim in Sand Hollow Reservoir turned out to feel far colder than what any of us predicted.

Heads: Race day morning arrived with clear skies overhead. We felt virtually no breeze to speak of, and mild temperatures further encouraged our pre-race outlook for the day. My feet were pleasantly surprised by what felt like a slight increase in water temperature from the previous day. Upon starting off with the wave of 20-29 year olds, I felt light and buoyant in my Blue Seventy Helix wetsuit. I surprised myself with balls I didn’t think I had when I started out in the front of my wave, kicked it into high gear to avoid the mass commotion in the back, and rallied to find the bubbles of a girl just ahead of the open water I had laid out in front of me. I pursued her the entire swim, sticking like glue to the buoy line, rounding the corners with ease, and pushing it in to the finish. I heard Bryan yell out my name as I flew up the incline to my bike.

Sand Hollow Reservoir. This year, we were blessed with calm,
temperate water. Thank goodness.
Heads: Wetsuit off, socks, shoes, and helmet on, I busted out of transition in just over two minutes as I approached Bryan and Ronnie waving their arms just outside the chute. With a thumbs up and a “Get after it,” I headed out on one of the most scenic, challenging courses I have raced.

Heads: The hills I encountered in this bike ride didn’t bother me. Through all my training, I’ve come to realize I prefer climbing rather than trying to maintain a constant effort on the flats. Each hill presents a challenge of its own, and I usually achieve a significant mental boost by passing young guys on all the hills. This course presents hills of a steadier, gradual variety, epitomized by the final 5-mile climb at an average 5% grade up Snow Canyon.

Thank you, Quintana Roo, for supplying me with my new
bike. I may not have had the time to race on the new one,
but the race wheels sure felt fast on my old one!
Heads: A longer climb means a greater opportunity to pass more people. With that excitement, I posted a personal best bike split that beats my previous time by more than 15 minutes.

Tails: The long climbs encountered on the bike course weren’t confined to the bike course.

Heads: I came into transition off the bike after just having busted my butt to pass the leading 25-29 year-old woman ahead of me. Yet she beat me out of transition. I followed her up the first long hill out of downtown at a steady clip that I knew was too fast, but I wanted to gain a little bit more ground on her before I settled into my desired pace.

Heads: I caught up to her, kept up with her, and eventually overtook her by the first mile. My enthusiasm began to slowly build, as my left knee had decided to cooperate and felt great heading into the first major climb at mile three.

Tails: The small muscle spasms in both my quads, just over my kneecap, weren’t ceasing. I pictured myself succumbing to spasms that would leave me hogtied on the side of the road while I watched my competitors zip by me. I also couldn’t stomach racing so well to this point, only to walk/hobble/limp the final 10 miles.

Heads: The Roctane gels I consumed with every chance I had postponed disaster, mile by mile, until I realized I had just three miles left to burn.

Heads: Still, no knee pain.

Tails: The quick outshoot of an out-and-back before the final mile of downhill finish really sucked. To have finished all the climbing, only to be presented with one last punch to the gut, really didn’t feel fair at the time. My legs noticed, too. The spasms that had stayed confined to my quads suddenly spoke out from my right hamstring and calf. Again, visions of me having to pull off to the side of the road and watch the lead I’d created disappear, flickered through my head.

Heads: I prayed quite possibly my 73rd prayer of the race. I rallied. I flew down the homestretch to the finish line. I crossed it in a time I thought untouchable given the nature of this course. After 5 hours, 2 minutes, and 24 seconds, I smiled, walked over to the fountain in which every little kiddo was playing, and stood with outstretched arms as the water soaked me from head to toe. I felt like I was in the final scene of an action movie. I had conquered one of the hardest courses in the Ironman 70.3 circuit. I further earned the opportunity to compete in another of the hardest courses, Ironman Vegas.

Jackpot: The entire weekend itself. Bryan and Ronnie might possibly be two of the most hilarious travel partners known to man. We gave each other the support we all needed to get through a tough weekend, and we made the most fun out of every opportunity that we had.


I am grateful to Fitness Fanatics for helping me get all of my bike needs situated in a small window of time. I may have missed out on an opportunity to race my new bike, but I had all the help an athlete could ask for from some of the nicest people so I could be as best suited to race as possible.

Both Therapeutic Associates and Johnson Orthodontics helped fund my way down to race in St. George. Without their contributions, I never would have had the chance to put my training to the test. I look forward to working with them in the future to further represent them and all the great things they do for their clients.

Finally, other athletes from Spokane had phenomenal races, too.

Bryan finished in 5:25:15.
Ronnie finished in 5:14:46.
Jayne Anderson in 6:31:39.
Troy Nelson in 4:39:31 (Headed to Vegas World Championships).
Shaun Endsley in 4:53:25.

Pizza is my new pre-race food. It's also my post-
race food. Can't go wrong with pizza.

Friday, May 3, 2013

IM St. George, 70.3: Preview

No better way to start off a race weekend than with an early morning swim in cold lake water. The last time I'd struggled into my wetsuit must have been back in late summer. So Ronnie, Bryan, and me took the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves to the neoprene and feel what swimming with added buoyancy is supposed to feel like.

As of yesterday (Thursday), the official temperature provided by Utah State Parks in Sand Hollow Reservoir was 60 degrees. One step off the smooth, red rock into the water made us realize just how unaccustomed we have become to swimming in anything other than the pool. It felt a little colder than 60. We waded out into the water anyway and made for a large rock that turned out to be about 300 yards out in the middle of the reservoir. Tomorrow we'd be swimming around it.

I swam up to the rock only to have something grab at my toes. Upon looking down toward my feet, I watched as several mid-sized fish scurry back under the rock. That is the first time I've ever had anything nibble on me during an open water swim, and I cringe to admit it, but I thought it slightly unnerving. I quickly climbed up onto the rock as Ronnie and Bryan made their way toward me.

A view of Sand Hollow Reservoir from the starting gate.

After a cold, refreshing swim, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled about 4 miles out on what would be the bike course tomorrow. Scraggly bushes dappled the bright, red sand. The wind must have blown  some of it onto the roadway, surely to be removed by tomorrow's race. We rode out to the first set of cattle guards, which also happened to be the bottom of the first climb. All our bikes felt fine, and just a few minor adjustments were needed.

The bike course is as scenic and beautiful as it is challenging, though it presents nothing worse than what we in Spokane ride every day. In fact, we couldn't help but be distracted by the amazing rock structures, some of which whose shapes and formations reminded me of silly putty and cow pies. The bike course will challenge all of us tomorrow, but driving the run course has instilled just a bit more fear than we would like.

The run course? There are about 3 doomsday hills in it. That's all I'm going to say.

Until I say more, it's just about go-time.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Altered gravity = Altered state of mind

Determine that a thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.
-- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 

I sit in the living room, bike fastened snuggly in its box, wetsuit tucked in my suitcase, my Garmin packed safely in my carryon. A funny feeling envelops me as I think about what I thought 2 months ago. February and March still lurk in my mind, those months when my knee would not…stop…hurting. It hurt to walk, it hurt to bend down, it hurt to touch. To run? I didn’t. When my hip began to hurt, too, the only answer looked like a long road of recovery with my ass planted firmly in the couch. Yet St. George 70.3 fell just 8 weeks out on the calendar. To have a race of such difficulty, such challenge, such presentiment breathing down my neck: I cratered.

The physical therapy I sought wasn’t working. The massage and stretching I used stimulated no healing. The prayers I prayed seemed to fall on deaf ears. I missed the Snake River Half Marathon, but traveled down to cheer on friends and ride my bike along the river instead. St. Paddy’s 5-miler came and went, too.

Interestingly enough, an opportunity presented itself in my last clinical internship at B&B Physical Therapy, of all places. In addition to beginning the last of my three rotations (I graduate June 15th …WoooHOOOOOO!), I started running on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill. I know—if you have read some of my previous posts, you’ve seen me write about it. It has turned around my recovery in such a way that, I have to write about it again.

Starting March 25th, my true therapy commenced. I started running at 75% of my body weight, 15-20 minutes each day for the first week. The next week, I added 10-15 minutes to each of my runs, keeping my percent body weight the same. By the third and fourth week, I tinkered around with my body weight, time, and speed. If I ran slower, I increased the percent of my body weight that I carried (moving from running on 75% of my weight to 80%, or 85%). If I ran shorter, but faster, I allowed the AlterG to support a little more of “me.”

If nothing else, playing around with the settings made boring runs on a treadmill on sunny, warm days a little more tolerable. By the first week of April, I had improved to running on 86% of my weight for slow runs. I even logged an 8 x 800 at 10k pace speed workout, something that never would have been feasible had I stepped out onto the track.

You can imagine my excitement. Suddenly, I realized I might actually find myself at the starting line in St. George. Suddenly, the idea of finishing the race overwhelmed my thoughts. Finally, my knee didn’t hurt after I ran. Finally, I felt reassured.

From then on, I progressed my way to running on up to 95% of my weight. I slowly integrated short, slow outside runs into my week, trying to run everyday regardless of where I ran and whether or not my feet landed on a belt with altered gravity or the ground. April 21st, I ran my first long run through Riverside State Park. For over an hour, I enjoyed sunshine, fresh air, good company, and relatively pain-free running for the first time in months. What…a…relief.

Saturday, my goal for St. George appears complicated. I want to race. I want to race smart. I will swim, bike, and run a fine line between competing well and pushing too hard to cause re-injury. I know I can swim. The winds will wrestle me on the bike. The run… Ia successful one will carry me to the finish—running or walking—but NOT limping.