Sunday, August 1, 2021

I've come back!

I think I am at a point where I can say I am "back" as opposed to "coming back" from an injury. June was all about re-introducing running with run/walk intervals. July was about gradually ramping up the mileage without any speed work. I ran 40 miles last week, and I think that's a solid base to begin training for a marathon. My goal is still the Richmond Marathon in mid-November, so I have plenty of time.

I've gotten my long run up to 11.5 miles (yesterday) and I've started including some 20-second strides inmy runs to get my legs used to faster stuff. I want to make sure I peak at the right time. With the Two Rivers Marathon, I think I peaked about two weeks before the race. By the time race day came, I wasn't feeling fully recovered and peppy. My originally scheduled marathon was three weeks prior, but then was canceled- so much of this was out of my control. I think my coach did a great job with my program despite the change of race date, the training cycle was simply too long.

I mentioned in my previous post that I switched coaches within the McMillan family so that I am using the same person for both strength training and running. So there are a bunch of new variables now:

  • New coach
  • New and improved running form
  • Increased emphasis on strength training and drills
  • Running 6 days a week instead of 7 (although I might run seven later in the program)
As for my form, I've really made great "strides" there. My cadence for most runs used to be around 195-200. Now it's around 180-185. This morning I ran a recovery run at an average pace of 9:09, and my average cadence was 182. I compared it to a recovery run in January that was a similar pace, but my cadence was 199.  My cadence on long runs has also decreased.

I'm picking up my feet and using my glutes to power my stride. Previously I was shuffling a long and taking loads of steps, but the steps were super short and close to the ground. I was relying too much on my adductors which is partially how I got injured. Most runners strive to increase their cadence to get closer to 180. A faster turnover logically leads to faster running. But in my case, slowing down the cadence has allowed me to run with more power. This video shows the difference before and after the injury.

Thankfully this summer has not been as hot/humid as most summers here in the Washington DC area. I've been using my treadmill about once a week, but most days running outdoors has been manageable. It took me longer to acclimate this year because I began my comeback with very short run/walks which don't really work towards acclimation. I started running again in early June but it wasn't until mid July that I felt like I was acclimated. Usually I loathe summer running and I count down the days until the fall. But this summer I have embraced it because I generally enjoy warm weather for everything else. Just not running.

I feel ready to tackle August and the marathon training that lies ahead. I'm committed to doing my strength and stability exercises multiple times a week and focusing on my form on every single run.

Longer stride, forward lean, more stable

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Large races are back, and so am I!

774 people came out for the Reston Firecracker 5K this morning. That's by far the largest race we've had locally since last March! It was a festive morning with beautiful weather, and I was extremely grateful that I was able to keep up with the tradition.

I've run this race every year since it started in 2010 with three exceptions: 2013 (injury), 2016 (mono), 2018 (mono). I even ran the virtual Firecracker last summer! It's hot and hilly, but a lot of runners come out for it so it's always fun! Thankfully I am far enough into my injury recovery to be able to run a 5K.

Before The Race
I had no idea what to expect out of this race. I knew that I was not going to run race effort. So far, the

longest I have run without stopping for a walk break is 15 minutes. I have not run faster than an 8:00 pace since the marathon in March. I thought it would be a good idea to run it at a medium effort, increasing to a hard effort at the end if I felt good. And definitely no looking at the Garmin! The whole thing would be run based on feel.

Two hours before the race I had half a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 to top off my carbs and electrolytes. I didn't eat anything. I foam rolled and used a massage ball on my glutes, quads and hamstrings. I made sure everything was really loose. 

Greg and I arrived at the race shortly after 7:00. We already had gotten our bibs so there wasn't much to do other than use the bathrooms and walk around. At 7:40, I had a caffeinated Maurten gel and we started our warm up. I also did some drills and glute activation exercises. We ran into Hannah, Alex and their daughter Luna and it was nice to see friendly faces! The warm up was only 0.75 miles. After all, it would be a new milestone just to run 3.1 miles nonstop, so I didn't want to wear myself out during the warm up!

It was around 67 degrees with about 25% cloud cover and a light breeze. The low humidity made it feel heavenly and I was actually chilly before the race started. This was probably the nicest weather this race has ever had, and of course I was not in shape to really race it! 

I was thinking I would probably run somewhere in the 25:00's. If I was having a good day, then the 24:00's were possible. I've been averaging around 8:30 for my training runs so with a little extra effort, I thought I should be able to get under that.

Mile 1
Greg and I planned to run the whole thing together, and I would set the pace. We started farther back in the

Photo by Cheryl Young
corral than we should have, so there was a lot of weaving in the first mile. I knew I needed to take it easy during the first mile, so I started out at what felt like marathon pace effort-- something I could sustain for a very long time. As we progressed through the mile things got a little harder, but totally manageable. 

Mile 2
Mile 2 is mostly downhill. It's always the fastest mile of the race by far. I decided to coast along and let gravity do its thing. The effort level was a little harder than marathon pace as I gained confidence that I could push harder and still be ok. We passed many runners and nobody passed us. I made sure to stay focused on my form, to run with my glutes and to drive the knee forward.

Mile 3
This mile is always killer. From about 2.5 until the finish, it's one big long up hill! I had to really work to get up the hill without slowing down. And as we closed in on the final uphill stretch I gunned it and sprinted to the finish. It was so fun to be chasing down a finish line in a large race setting. Oh how I have missed that feeling!

I was shocked when I looked at the clock and I saw that the first two numbers were 22.  WHAT?! I had no idea we were going that fast. I totally expected to see something in the 24s!

When I finally looked at my Garmin I saw I ran a time of 22:37, which matched the official results. Good enough for 5th place in my age group, and I wasn't even racing at full effort! My splits were 7:15, 7:00, 7:06, and a pace of 6:51 for the last 0.18 according to my Garmin. I was really surprised, especially since I could have raced that much harder than I did. That felt like marathon pace for the first mile and then a tempo run for two miles.

We didn't do a cool down, but we did walk around the race for a little while and socialized with friends. We then had brunch with Cheryl who had been there taking runner photos. I have her to thank for the photos in this blog.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This was a really good run for me. And it's totally shocking that I could run that fast when I haven't run anything faster than 8:00 since March. Even more shocking that I did it without a ton of effort. It definitely wasn't easy, but it felt totally controlled and manageable.

I don't have any speed work on the schedule for the next two weeks and I am totally fine with that. July is all about building my base back up so I can begin marathon training by mid-August. The woman who has been my strength training coach for the past year is also now my running coach! It just made sense to have one person managing my running and strength. My previous coach was amazing and I advanced so much under him, so it was not an easy decision. But after 7 years, I figured it might be nice to change things up a bit and experiment with a different approach. She also coaches under Greg McMillan so I will remain a McMillan runner!

I'm very thankful that I had a pain-free run and that I continue to progress. This is all very encouraging.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Focusing on Form

I've now been running for 3 weeks after taking 8 weeks off for my Osteitis Pubis and torn adductor. As I said in my last post, I am using the run-walk approach to gradually get back into my normal routine. So far my longest run has been 5 x (9 minutes running, 90 seconds walking). That adds up to 45 minutes of running total.

I'm probably at a point where I can start to get rid of the walk breaks but I like them because 1) it's crazy hot and humid and I need my heart rate to come down and 2) I'm 100% focused on my form and stride and I need a mental break from that. It's also good to check in to make sure everything is feeling good and nothing is hurting. I would hate to finish a run and realize I made the injury worse but didn't get that feedback immediately.

I went to the doctor last week and she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was recovering. She gave me and exam and tested my strength as was impressed that I had made such progress. It wasn't a guarantee that this adductor tendon would heal on its own, but thankfully it's most of the way there and I won't need surgery or any other kind of procedures. Just the dry needling which I stopped about a month ago.

A note to subscribers
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Issues with my running form
Back to the topic of this blog. Fixing my stride will not only prevent this injury from coming back, but it will make me a stronger and more efficient runner. 

I have always been a "shuffle runner". I wouldn't pick my feet very high off the ground and drive forward with the knee. My stride was short, partially due to limited range of motion in my ankle. In order to offset
Drills before running
this and still run fast (like a 5:52 mile) I adapted by having a very high cadence. Most runs would average 200 steps per minute and speed work would sometimes average 210. My feet would stay super close to the ground and move very quickly. Like shuffling!

Another form issue was that when I landed on my left foot, my right hip would drop down, making the pelvis unstable and uneven. This is a common issue with runners and can lead to injuries. It indicates instability and lack of glute activation. I also had this issue on the other side, but it was not nearly as pronounced. It makes sense that I tore the left adductor because I wasn't activating the left glute when I landing -- the right hip was dropping.

I have known about this hip drop issue for over a year now and have been working on it with my strength training coach. I have strong glutes! The problem is that my body doesn't naturally tap into that strength when running. It prefers to use the adductors. If I were able to access that power, I would be a more efficient (faster) runner and be protected from re-injuring my pubic bone.

Changing movement patterns
Working with my Osteitis Pubis specialist in Australia, live video feedback or mirror feedback has been essential. The focus is on doing all the PT exercises 100% correctly. It's not about doing them to get strong (although some of them build strength). It's about teaching my body to have a stable pelvis when put under different types of stress. There are literally over 100 exercises. I am not exaggerating. When I say "literally" I don't mean it like a millennial. I mean literally over 100 exercises. It would be overwhelming to do them every day, so the point is to progress through them one step at a time adding more stress and complexity while keeping a stable center of gravity and a pelvis that is controlled.

There is a huge focus on deadlifts, bird dogs, downward dogs, and side planks. There are many variations of each that challenge pelvic stability in different ways. Being able to see myself on video or in the mirror has enabled me to ensure I am doing the movements correctly, which ultimately translate to running. 

Greg has been recording videos of my running so that I can analyze my stride afterwards. He records some of them in slow motion so I can really see where I need to pick the legs up higher or keep the pelvis more stable. Drills have also been important in reinforcing the correct movement patterns, provided that I am doing the drills correctly. 

Here is what my hip drop looked like last summer:

Here is what it looked like yesterday:

And here is a back view, which is much more noticeable, taken last summer:

This was taken on Saturday - notice the difference:

My knees still come together, but that's just my anatomy. When my feet are pointed straight ahead, my knees go in. When my knees are straight ahead, my feet turn outwards. My PT said that was fine and you can't fix your anatomy! The important thing here is that the line of the top of my shorts is straight across rather than slanted down, like in the green shorts from the previous photo.

What I think about
As I said earlier, I need the walk breaks because focusing so much on my form is mentally exhausting. There are only so many mental cues you can give yourself at a time. Here are a few of them:
  • Feel the glutes working
  • Engage the core to keep stable
  • Keep the spine elongated
  • Shoulder blades down
  • Lean forward from the ankles
  • Drive forward with the knee
  • Use gravity to fall forward
  • Most of the weight in the forefoot
  • Stable foot "tripod" when landing
  • Remember deadlift form
I hope this way of running becomes automatic. I honestly have trouble running slowly when I do this. It's easier to open up the stride when you are running fast. This normally wouldn't be a problem but I don't have the cardio fitness to support the faster paces, and it's crazy hot and humid! My heart rate has been averaging in the 170s for the run segments because I am out of shape and it's hot. My paces range from 8:10-8:30 once I get going. That used to be my easy pace but it's not my easy pace right now, and it's definitely not my easy pace in the heat. So hopefully I will get the hang of it and be able to run in the 9:00's so I won't be dying in the heat. 

I'm on track with my plan to build a base in July and start marathon training in August for Richmond!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Back on the Roads!

After 8 full weeks of zero running, I have started back up again. Very gradually!

I was not exactly sure when it would be safe to return. My physical therapist cleared me to run after 7 weeks, but I felt like I needed an extra week. I still felt the injury with certain movements and I wanted more confidence that I wouldn't hurt myself. Meanwhile, the Osteitis Pubis specialist I am working with in Australia doesn't advise running until stage 8 of his program- which I won't reach for another few weeks.

The physical therapist tested my strength and was confident that I was far enough along in my recovery

that running would be ok. My adductors, glutes, abs, hamstrings -- all have a healthy amount of strength to support running. He gave me a return to running program that seemed too aggressive so I decided to use a more conservative program from my strength coach, Angela. I'll use her program at least initially, and if I feel like I can progress faster then I will switch back to the PT's plan. 

Monday, June 7
For my first "run" back, I did 6 sets of 0:30 running, 4:30 walking. Essentially this was a walk, with six 30-second jogs thrown in. This was discouraging. I felt the injury more than I expected to. I tried focusing on my form and just being really purposeful about my movements but I still felt irritation in the pubic bone area. I did have some hope, however, in that a few of the reps felt decent. I would say about half them felt pretty good and the other half did not.

Did I do too much too soon? As soon as I stopped the running portions, walking felt 100% pain free. And I didn't have any hints of the injury for the rest of the day or the next day. What a relief. This means that my 3 total minutes of jogging didn't make things worse and I could proceed with the plan,

Wednesday, June 9
Building on Monday's session, this time the 5-minute blocks were split as 1-minute run, 4-minute walk. Twice as much running! I was a little nervous heading into this but I was pleasantly surprised that I had very little pain. I felt WAY better than I did on Monday! I was very encouraged by this. So what made the difference between Monday and Wednesday? I think it's a combination of:

  • I focused more on my posture and pulling the shoulder blades down. This was feedback I got from the Australian specialist when doing a Bird-Dog exercise during our Tuesday session.
  • My body needed to get the message "Hey, we're running again, and it's okay" and shake off some of the cobwebs
  • My body needed to recover from a run and realize "that didn't cause an injury"
I've learned that the mind-body connection is REALLY important in recovering from an injury. The brain becomes used to feeling pain with certain activities so you need to train it to not feel pain once you can do those activities properly.

Friday, June 11
No injury flare ups or pain all day Wednesday or Thursday, so I advanced on Friday to 1:30 run/3:30 walk. This was also encouraging although not perfect. I would say that maybe 5-10% of my steps triggered a mild pain sensation around the pubic bone, but the rest were fine. Some of the reps felt much better than others. Once again, I really focused on my form. Several key items:
  • Fall forward as you run - let gravity help
  • Keep a straight spine with the shoulder blades down
  • When landing, ensure that the toes are spreading to form a stable platform
  • When pushing off, observe the firing of the glutes
  • Breathe through the core to help engage the core
I am encouraged by all of this and I continue to work with the PT, the Australian specialist, and my strength coach. I think my biggest issue is stability, which can be improved by glute activation. My lack of stability causes my pelvis to move too much, which is not good. My PT also discovered that I have extremely tight glutes and I fail his strength tests before massaging them out with a lacrosse ball. After the massage, my glutes start to work. So I should be using my massage ball on my glutes before each run.

I continue to swim 3-4 times a week, and I have gotten my swims up to one mile. Last week I swam 4 miles! I joined an outdoor pool so even once I am back to running full time, I plan to incorporate swimming. We also bought a rowing machine which is also great for cross training.

Long term plans
In an ideal world, the next six months will look like this:
  • June: Run/Walk, be able to run continuously for 40 minutes by the end of the month
  • July: Build a mileage base, introduce strides and some introductory faster workouts
  • August: Begin training for the Richmond Marathon, include long runs and tempos, run a 5K
  • September - October: Richmond Marathon Training, run a 5K and a longer distance
  • November: Richmond Marathon
My physical therapist is confident I can progress at this rate and so am I. As for the Boston Marathon, I plan to use my Two Rivers Marathon time to qualify for the April 2022 race. I have a cushion of over 20 minutes, so I'm confident that I will be accepted!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Recovery from Osteitis Pubis

My recovery from this Osteitis Pubis injury has been more involved than any other injury I've ever had. To recap, I have a partially torn adductor with "moderately severe" Osteitis Pubis according to my MRI from April 25. You can read my previous post for all the details. 

Physical Therapy
I started seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist in the middle of April, twice per week. Each time I go she gives me a new set of exercises to do. She started with simple, easy exercises such as the Kegel (pelvic floor contraction) and abdominal squeezes. I don't know the official term, but it's basically just sucking in on the lower abs. Over time she has given me more strengthening exercises like squats, adductor raises, clams, and more. 

In terms of treatment she's done dry needling which hurt so, so much, as well as blood flow restriction therapy. Blood flow restriction therapy wraps a tight band around your quad that feels like a blood pressure machine. It squeezes just like a blood pressure machine while you perform squats to help make greater strength gains with a lighter load. The dry needling, painful as it is, has really helped me feel more normal when walking around. 

I do the exercises nearly every day, in combination with the other items below. These exercises are designed to build strength in the areas around the injury so that when I start running again, everything will be strong enough. 

Strength Training
While the physical therapy exercises are designed to rehab anyone with this injury, I am working with the same strength coach I've had for over a year on making sure I maintain my overall body strength during this time. I would be doing this even if I didn't have an injury, and she has tailored the program to focus on the areas that need the most help: deep core, glutes, adductors. These exercises are more challenging than the PT exercises, involving weights and resistance.

The OP Clinic
I was referred to the OP Clinic in Australia by a friend who also had this injury. He does virtual sessions over Skype. He specializes in OP and the purpose of his program is to rewire your mechanics and movement patterns so that you don't overload your pubic bone. The sessions are a very small part of the program. He has given me a self-guided program with "homework" exercises that I learn through videos. I send the videos to him as soon as I am able to complete the exercises properly and he reviews them and lets me know if my form is correct or where I need to improve.

The program starts with basic core breathing, establishing a strong center of gravity, and having correct form for basic exercises like the deadlift. It's an extremely intense program and so far I've spent over an hour each day watching all the videos and going through each exercise. Stability is the key focus, and in order to be stable you have to engage your core and glutes. It's challenging to upload videos to this blogging platform but if you follow me on Instagram, I post videos to my story all the time. 

Right now I'm focused on learning how to do the perfect deadlift. This involves breathing properly, having the right center of gravity, engaging the glutes, moving slowly, keeping a straight back (not hunched or arched), and feeling the "fascial tension" as I slowly perform the movement. I am doing deadlifts with bands and on my forefeet to ensure I am not rocking back into my heels. 

The OP Clinic is a 10-stage program and by the end of it, I should be able to run as much as I did pre-injury. Because my mechanics will have changed, I will no longer be overloading my adductors. There is no timeline for how long this will take. I can get through the program at whatever pace I am able to. The program isn't necessarily designed to heal; the body does that on its own. It's designed to help patients stop overloading their adductors and pubic bone. Here's how I see all of these working together:

  • Physical Therapy: Helps the injury heal with different therapies and exercises
  • Strength Training: Ensures I have the strength needed to support an intense training load
  • OP Clinic: Overhaul of my running mechanics so I don't keep injuring the area
In addition to the above, of course I want to maintain some level cardiovascular fitness. I started swimming two weeks ago, once I felt like it would be safe to kick my legs. It turns out I don't have a great freestyle kick to begin with so swimming is 100% fine. Due to Covid, I have to reserve a lane a few weeks in advance so planning has been tricky. 

I've been swimming 3-4 times per week. I swim freestyle, and that's my only stroke! I know how to do the others but the breast stroke kick wouldn't be good for my injury and I'm only good for about two laps of butterfly before I fatigue. My typical swim is 20-25 laps, lasting about 30-40 minutes.Yesterday I introduced pool running with the belt. I did 5 minutes yesterday and 10 minutes today after my swim. My plan is to very gradually ramp up the pool running because I do not want to strain the adductors. 

I enjoy swimming, but it's a high maintenance activity. I have to reserve my lane in advance due to Covid capacity restrictions at the pool. Once I get there I have to lather up with pre-swim lotion so that my skin doesn't get irritated. And then get all situated with my swim cap, googles, and waterproof mp3 player. And when I am done, I have to shower there to immediately remove the chlorine from my hair and skin. I think I spend more time driving to and from the pool + getting ready and showering than I actually do with the swim. 

For the first few weeks I was hobbling around and not properly balanced. I could feel the injury with each step even though it wasn't painful. About a week ago I got to a point where I could walk and not feel the injury! Huge progress. I have been taking 2-3 mile walks and loving it. The weather has been gorgeous and Greg and I even went to Burke Lake park one afternoon to walk. We also took a few days off work to go to Annapolis and I did a lot of walking around there. All pain free!

I'm averaging about 60-90 minutes of strength/PT each day and then another 40-60 minutes of cardio (walking and/or swimming). It's more time consuming than running but it's what I need to do to get back out there again while preserving my sanity!

Friday, May 7, 2021

Running and Osteitis Pubis

Osteitis Pubis. Sports Hernia. Athletic Pubalgia. These three terms refer to a set of conditions that result in groin pain in athletes. They all have slightly different nuances, but all of them mean you shouldn't be running.

I briefly touched on this in a previous blog post, but I will get into all the details here. 

How it started
In July 2019, I had a bike accident while on vacation in Norway. The bike tire got caught on a rail track, stopped the bike, and I fell onto the pike, bashing my pelvis into the bike bar with a ton of force. This resulted in massive bruising, a ton of pain, and 9 days off from running. I went to several doctors at the

time and they all agreed it was a hematoma and it was okay to run as tolerated.

The damage from this accident never healed completely. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night with my pubic bone aching. I could never do a sit-up without my lower abdominals feeling strained. Certain adductor exercises were painful or not even possible. 

But it didn't impact my running or my daily life; it was sort of lingering in the background Since the accident I have run 4 marathons (CIM, Boston Virtual, Harrisburg, and Two Rivers). I did irritate it during CIM, but it was silent after Boston Virtual and Harrisburg. But due to the slant of the road at Two Rivers, the adductor finally said "I've had enough!" I think that was the breaking point.

I did have some warning signs before the marathon, though. After my long runs throughout March I would feel a tenderness in the groin area. And once I felt some groin pain at the end of a 22-miler. 

Post Marathon
Immediately after the marathon, the left side of my pubic bone was in a lot of pain, but it subsided within 24 hours. And then I took a week off of running and I felt 100% normal walking around. I actually did quite a bit of walking at the chess tournament (one week after the marathon), logging over 8,000 steps, and felt completely normal.

When I returned to running, my pubic bone area started to hurt right away. It wasn't severe-- it was about a 2 out of 10 on the pain scale. The lower abdominal muscles were also a bit tender. Since I was just coming back from the marathon, I kept these runs slow and short. And I didn't run every day. I think it was a total of 5 short runs over a 9 day period before cutting it off completely. The last of these runs was my longest: a 5-miler. After that run, I began to feel the pain while walking. I have not run since April 13. 

I went to a doctor and my sports chiro and ultimately ended up getting an MRI (this was after the mandatory X-ray needed by insurance). I wish I had gotten an MRI immediately after the bike accident so I would have known I needed some rehab, but I didn't advocate for myself with the doctors. And they reassured me it would heal with no problems.

MRI Results + Diagnosis
This is taken from the report:

Pelvic joints: There is joint space narrowing and marginal osteophytosis with subtle erosive centered on the pubic symphysis. Marrow edema noted at the pubic bone centered on the pubic symphysis and there is

Image from Sports Injury Bulletin
synovitis within the pubic symphyseal recesses. The hip joints are preserved. Small bilateral joint effusions are seen in the right and left hips. No prominent anterior superior superior labral tears are identified.

Muscles/Tendons: There is focal high-grade partial-thickness tearing of the rectus abdominus adductor longus aponeurotic insertion on the left pubic bone (series 2, image 10). The visualized muscles and tendons are normal.

When I first read the report, I panicked. It sounded like there was a crap ton of stuff wrong! I was particularly worried about the bone marrow edema because that can become a stress fracture. The high-grade tearing of the muscle/tendon was also alarming. 

After I had my PT and doctor interpret this, it didn't sound so horrible. Key findings:

  • Osteitis Pubis - inflammation in the area around the pubic synthesis
  • Partial tear of the adductor muscle at the insertion point
  • Bone marrow edema
In the diagram, the tear is located where the adductor longus meets the pubic tubercle, and I have pain in the area around the inguinal ligament + rectus abdominus. 

The most likely scenario is that when I had the bike accident, it never healed properly and it resulted in my muscles overcompensating and "learning" how to fire incorrectly to compensate for the weakness. There was a good amount of scar tissue on the MRI and the doctor said that doesn't happen within a few weeks- it takes a long time for that much to build up. Once I tore the tendon - which could have been during the marathon or during training - then additional strain was placed on the pubic bone, causing bone marrow edema and inflammation. So we think the partially torn adductor is the culprit. . . and that was caused by muscles not properly firing, resulting in an imbalance.

So this is an overuse injury, but it would not have happened if the bike accident didn't damage that area to begin with. It was like a ticking time bomb.

Moving Forward
I have been in physical therapy for three weeks now. I am working with a pelvic floor specialist and she's given me a ton of exercises. We have done blood flow restriction and dry needling. The dry needling was like torture. She has dry needled my adductor, my pelvic floor, my abdominals, and my hamstring. OUCH!  But that needling has honestly brought about the best results. 

When I stopped running on April 13, I started talking daily walks for the next two days, but then I stopped that because I felt like it was too much. It seemed to get worse and worse, with it being painful for me to walk around the grocery store on the weekend of April 24. That's when I felt like I would never get better!

But today, on May 7th, it feels a lot better to walk. I do feel it when I walk but it's only about a "1.5" on the pain scale - a minor annoyance. Maybe enough to make me limp a bit. And my doctor actually recommended that I take a 30-minute walk each day. Anything that involves the lower abdominal muscles or the left adductor doesn't feel right, so there is a constant reminder that I have this injury. 

Now I am focused on doing PT exercises each day, and getting the dry needling twice per week + blood flow constriction therapy. I'm also using my Theragun to massage the adductor and lower abdominals. 

PT exercises include:
  • Single leg deadlift (no weight yet)
  • Squats with a band wrapped around my upper back, anchored to a weight rack
  • Kegel exercises
  • Bear stance hold
  • A 3-part clamshell type exercise 
  • Calf "crunches" with a band to improve ankle range of motion
  • Toe yoga to improve balance
  • Squeezing a soccer ball between my feet

Recovery Timeline
The doctor couldn't give me a definite timeline and he couldn't even guarantee that the tear will heal itself. He said it would likely heal without surgery if I do my PT exercises regularly. At this point, the earliest I would start running again (and by running I mean a gradual run-walk introduction) would be the end of May. Early June is probably more likely. 

Worst case scenario would be surgery or simply taking 3+ months to heal. The longest I have ever taken off for an injury was 5 weeks back in 2009 when I had peroneal tendonitis. That's maybe tied with my stress fractures from 2011. I think that was 4-5 weeks, too. 

I've taken 3 months off due to mono on multiple occasions, but I've never had to take more than 5 weeks for an injury. I guess I should be glad this isn't mono and I know it's going to heal 100%. It just requires extreme patience. The silver lining is that I will be stronger when I come back because of the daily focus I have on stability, strength, and mobility exercises. 

Attitude and Perspective
Compared to previous injuries and bouts of mono, I am not that upset about this one. Even though it's the worst injury I've had - I am tolerating it much better.  Why?

  • I felt like I needed a long break after the extended training cycle for Two Rivers. I ran 3 extra weeks at 75+ miles each, and I think those 3 extra weeks took a physical and mental toll.
  • I don't have any races on the calendar
  • Summer is coming up, so I wasn't planning on setting any PRs in the near future
  • I have always set massive PRs after coming back from mono, so I think a long break will ultimately lead to a breakthrough in fitness
  • I can enjoy the extra time by honing my chess skills and tackling other projects around the house
I hope the road to recovery isn't too long. I've mentally accepted that I likely won't be back on the roads until early June. I'm also prepared for it to be longer. I am still optimistic about a late fall marathon, although I haven't chosen one yet. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Brooks Sports Bras: Everything you need to know

Brooks recently launched an entirely new line of sports bras! And I am going to review many of them. I have another post called The Best Sports Bras for D-Cup runners, but many of those bras are no longer sold, as that post was written a few years ago.

Of all the running apparel brands (Saucony, ASICS, Nike, Tracksmith, New Balance, etc), Brooks is the only one to really focus on supporting women's breasts. As a D-cup runner, this is important to me because I cannot simply wear any sports bra that looks good and have it work. For me and women with larger breasts, sports bra support is as important as running shoe support. Inadequate or improper support is not only uncomfortable, but can cause other problems. For example, shoving your large breasts into an extra small bra to get maximum compression is not healthy for your breast tissue.

In the UK and Europe in general, there are many more options for runners with D-cup (or larger) breasts. When I attended the London Marathon expo, there were almost as many sports bra booths as running shoe booths. In the USA, you might find one or two sports bra booths, and only at the very large expos like NYC or Boston. A few European brands I like are Anita and ShockAbsorber. Brooks has really stepped up to address the needs of larger breasted runners in the USA, offering a variety of options.

If you go to the Brooks website, and go to "apparel" in the navigation, the very first item is bras. They are listed above all the other apparel items, which shows they are not an afterthought for this brand! It's also important to note that Brooks is a running company. They focus solely on products for runners, not for other sports. In this blog, I'll be focusing on their "Drive" and "Dare" sports bras. I love that all of these bras are sized by actual bra size instead of Small, Medium, and Large. 

The ideal sports bra is comfortable, wire-free, flattering (not bulky), adjustable, chafe-free (when using Body Glide or 2Toms), and supportive. Bonus points if it comes in a variety of attractive colors.  I will rank the features I just mentioned as excellent, good, average, or poor. 

The Dare Crossback Bra
The Brooks Dare Crossback Bra is one of the few racerback bras that comes in size C/D. According to Road Runner Sports, this bra offers maximum support for A-C cup sizes and medium-low support for D+ cup sizes. I found this description to be accurate. The bra is comfortable, but it's not as supportive as its "Scoopback" counterpart (reviewed below). I have the 32 C/D size, and it feels like a 32C, with the cups not being quite big enough. I'm not likely to wear this bra on its own without a tank top over it because it's a little small for me. You can see in the photo below that I'm popping out a bit! 

I wear this bra for easy runs because it's not as supportive as some of the other bras for long runs or speed work. I do love the material and the style, and it could be the ideal bra for someone with an A, B, or C cup. 

Comfort: Excellent
Wire-free: Yes
Flattering, not bulky: Excellent
Adjustable: Good. Adjustable back closure, but straps are not adjustable.
Chafe free: Good
Supportive: Average
Variety of Attractive Colors: Excellent
Would I buy more of these: No.

The Brooks Dare Crossback Run Bra

The Dare Scoopback Bra
Of all the bras I am going to review, the Dare Scoopback is the most supportive. According to Road Runner Sports, it offers maximum support for C-DD+ cup sizes. I am a size 32D, and Brooks sells this bra in size 32 C/D. It fits me perfectly, offers plenty of support, and the material is smooth. I have run long runs up to 16 miles in this bra and it's worked well. This bra is very similar to the Dare Crossback in terms of fabric and style, but it fits me much better and feels like a true 32D. If you wear a C-cup, you might prefer the Crossback. If you wear a D cup, you will likely prefer the Scoopback. 

This bra uses molded cups to support the breasts as opposed to compression. Thus, there will be some bounce, but according to breast experts, you do not want to eliminate bounce, you want to control it and minimize it.

Comfort: Excellent
Wire-free: Yes
Flattering, not bulky: Good
Adjustable: Excellent, with adjustable hooks and straps
Chafe free: Good. A tiny bit of chafing on very sweaty long runs
Supportive: Excellent
Variety of Attractive Colors: Excellent. I have this bra in grey, blue, red, pink, and teal
Would I buy more of these? I already have 5 of them!

The Brooks Dare Scoopback Run Bra

The Drive Convertible Run Bra
This Brooks Convertible bra was newly launched this year. It can be worn as a racerback or a scoop back. Unlike the Crossback and the Scoopback bras, this bra does not have molded cups; it uses compression. There is no padding or shape to it.  The benefit here is that the bra is less bulky and feels more streamlined and fast. I also think it's more flattering than the Scoopback and Crossback for this reason.

I first tried this bra as a scoop back, but I found the clasp that connects the straps to be uncomfortable when used that way. Additionally, it did not fit me as well as a racerback. When I unclasped it and used it as a standard bra style, it was much more comfortable and the fit was better. I'm wearing the Convertible Run bra in the first photo (black bra) and also below.

Comfort: Excellent
Wire-free: Yes
Flattering, not bulky: Excellent
Adjustable: Excellent. You can adjust the back clasps and the straps.
Chafe free: Good. I'd prefer a smoother material for the bottom.
Supportive: Excellent
Variety of Attractive Colors: Poor. Hopefully they come out with more.
Would I buy more of these? Yes, if they come out with more colors!

The Brooks Drive Convertible Run Bra

The Drive Interlace Run Bra
The Brooks Drive Interlace Bra was released this year, just like the Convertible Bra. Similar to the Convertible Bra, this bra does not have molded cups; it uses compression for support. That said, the Drive Interlace bra doesn't compress them as much as the Convertible bra, and gives the girls more breathing room. The notable thing about this bra is that it is low cut, which is great for breathability, but not so much for modesty. It has a fun strappy back and you can adjust both the straps and the closure to get a perfect fit. 

I personally did not find this bra to be as supportive as the Dare Scoopback or Convertible, which goes along with the Road Runner Sports rating: Maximum support for A-C cups, medium to low support for  D-DD+ cups. That said, it is definitely supportive enough for running and more so than the Scoopback. This probably will not be a speed work bra, but I think the breathability will be great for summer running.

Comfort: Good
Wire-free: Yes
Flattering, not bulky: Good
Adjustable: Excellent. You can adjust the back clasps and the strap length.
Chafe free: Good
Supportive: Good
Variety of Attractive Colors: Poor. I had to go with basic navy blue.
Would I buy more of these? Only if they came out with a color that I really wanted.

The Brooks Drive Interlace Run Bra

Brooks Interlace Run Bra, back view

The Drive 3 Pocket Run Bra
The Brooks Drive 3 Pocket Run Bra has the look of a crop top, which is very much in style at the moment. I was so excited to try this bra that I wore it on the first day it was warm enough to wear a sports bra only this spring. As the name states, it has three pockets, with one for the cell phone in the back. There are also side pockets that can store gels, cash, etc. Although this is a nice-to-have feature, it's not important to me. Almost all of my shorts have pockets and the last thing I need is something weighing me down up top! That said, I know that sports bras are a popular storage spot for other runners so I think this bra will be hugely successful. 

As with the other bras, I have the size 32C/D. The fit is pretty good. It comes with molded cups that you can remove. I removed the cups and immediately put them back in. Without the cups there was not enough coverage of the nipples and the bra was way too revealing. I was not expecting this bra to be as supportive as it was. I found it to be more supportive than the Dare Crossback, and I barely noticed I was even wearing it while running. Because it's high cut, it's not good for ventilation, but that's true of any "crop top" design. 

Comfort: Good
Wire-free: Yes
Flattering, not bulky: Excellent
Adjustable: Poor. You cannot adjust this bra.
Chafe free: Good
Supportive: Good
Variety of Attractive Colors: Good. They don't have a ton of colors, but I like the ones they do have.
Would I buy more of these? Yes. 

The Brooks Drive 3 Pocket Run Bra

I really like all of these bras. More often than not, I am disappointed when I try a new sports bra. I'm very picky, so it says a lot that one company can have such a variety of styles that fit me and support me. The winner in the group is the Dare Scoopback bra, which is the most supportive, but the trade off is that it's not quite as flattering as the Drive 3 pocket or the Drive Convertible. The Drive Convertible would be #2 on my list. Because it's a new bra, I haven't tried it out on a variety of runs yet, so it's possible that I might end up liking the Convertible just as much as the Scoopback. 

The Drive Convertible and the Dare Scoopback are the only ones on this list that Road Runner sports says offer maximum support for D-DD+ cups. Brooks also has other bras that I did not review that are supportive for women with larger breasts such as Dare Racerback and the Dare Zip Run. The one with the zipper looks like it would be uncomfortable, and the Dare Racerback doesn't look as flattering as the Scoopback. The Dare Racerback is also not reviewed as highly as the Scoopback on the Brooks website. 

I hope you found these reviews helpful! Road Runner Sports sent me both Dare bras and the Interlace Bra as part of their ambassador program, and I purchased the Convertible and 3 Pocket Bra myself.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

My First Chess Tournament

Last weekend, Greg and I played in our first chess tournament. It was called the Colonial Open and it was held at a hotel about 10 minutes away from my house. For all the background on how I decided to join a tournament, read my previous post.

I had several goals for this tournament. My #1 goal was to not embarrass myself! What does it mean to not embarrass myself? I didn't want to get checkmated in less than 20 moves. I didn't want to blunder my queen away. I didn't want to come in dead last. I didn't want to break any of the rules.

Other goals were:

  • Have fun
  • Get the feeling of a real chess tournament
  • Try hard and stay focused
I had no expectations of winning or losing games; this was my first time out there and I was doing it for the experience.

Tournament Overview
The tournament started at 10:00am sharp. We arrived to the hotel about 30 minutes beforehand so we could get situated. When we arrived, we looked at the wall posting to see which board to go to and who

My chess dress
our opponent would be. There were 100 total players and several different divisions. Greg and I had never played in a tournament before, which meant we did not have a rating. So we played in the least competitive division, called U1300, which meant players rated under 1300 or players without a rating. Chess ratings go from 100 to 3000, but no one has ever achieved 3000. 

As Mike Wardian told me in advance, many of the players were small children. In my division about half of the players were children and most of them were ages 7-10.  The older children tended to be in the higher divisions. Mike played in the U1700 division, which was the next level up. In my room, I would guess about 75% of the players were men and 25% of them women. I played all men: two adults and four children. 

Mike introduced me to one of the players he knew who lives in Virginia Beach who is also a runner. He told me that he had read my book and really enjoyed it. WOW - a small world that I go to a chess tournament and someone has read my book. Yes, I have sold a lot of copies, but not that many!

The First Game
My first opponent was a cute little boy, I am guessing around age 7. I played as white and he played as black. The tournament began and the clocks started. We each had 45 minutes to play our moves. But if you make your move within 15 seconds, you get a bonus 15 seconds added to your total time. As I said in my previous post, these tournament rules were all new to me. For the first game, I wasn't even aware of the extra 15 seconds.

The game ends when one of these things happen:

  • One player checkmates the other
  • One player has no legal moves (this is called "stalemate" and its a draw)
  • One player resigns
  • One player's clock runs out of time
When play began I could feel my heart pounding! I did not want to mess up in the opening moves! My first few moves of the first game of my first tournament. What a rush.

My first opponent
This first opponent took a long time to make his moves. Usually the first 3-4 moves do not require much thought and are made within 15 seconds. But he was taking at least a minute per move and I followed suit. 45 minutes seemed like it would be a long time because that's 90 minutes total (more if you add 15 seconds for the fast moves), and usually my chess games with Greg lasted an hour or less. 

I was extremely careful with how I played. I thought about every move very carefully, tried to plan my attack, and tried to understand what he was planning against me. He was solid and he made no mistakes that I could exploit. At one point, I had about 8 minutes more time than he did (28 minutes vs. 20 minutes) and I figured if I played a steady thoughtful game, I would win on time. 

The other players in the room started leaving as their games ended and soon it was just our game and one other game. It was getting down to the wire. The score was even (score is determined by how many pieces are taken) and our positions seemed to be about even. I was happy with how I was playing. 

But he had caught up to me on time and suddenly we both had about the same time left on our clocks. Anxiety set in and I went into panic mode. I did not want to lose on time. I also did not want to be rushed but if I took to long to move, I would lose on time. We started playing quicker and quicker and as a result of this I made a mistake that I felt ended the game for me, and I resigned. 

Had I known about the extra 15 seconds, I might have been a little less nervous, knowing that I didn't have to play it like a 5-minute "blitz" game. Afterwards, he said the position we had been in would have been a draw due to the material and the position. It turns out that this kid came in third place out of the 44 players in our room! So, I got paired with a really strong player right out of the gate and I held my own. I was pleased with how I played but of course bummed that I made a mistake when the time was running low. 

I actually think this was my strongest showing of the entire tournament. I didn't make any mistakes until that very last move, we played over 40 moves and it was a draw position, and this kid ended up coming in third. Lesson: it's not about winning or losing but how you play the game.

After I lost to this child, I was then paired with players who were rated lower than him for the remainder of the tournament. And sure enough, I did not encounter another opponent who was as solid as my first. 

Games 2 and 3
After the first game, Greg, Mike Wardian, and I went to grab a quick lunch. My game had lasted about two hours and was the longest of all three of us. We shared stories and it was really exciting to hear how their games had gone. Greg won his game and Mike lost his. We all learned valuable lessons and I was excited to try again. Game 2 started at 1:00 and Game 4 started at 4:00.

I do not remember these games as well as I remember my first. Of course, I can always refer back to them as I wrote down all of my moves and all of my opponent's moves. 

My second opponent was another child, perhaps a year older than the first. He was the polar opposite of my first from a technique standpoint. He moved very quickly, always had something up his sleeve, and he was a little reckless. He made a mistake early on, which won me a piece. But I also made an early mistake, and he won material back. (Pieces are referred to as "material.").  I set up a battery which would have checkmated him in one move, but he saw what I was up to and successfully defended against it. That game was pretty wild and I ended up resigning after making a mistake. It did not last nearly as long as the first game. I wasn't as happy with how I played that game.

My third opponent was about the same age as my second, but not nearly as skilled. He always made the safest move and never planned any strong attacks against me. I setup a strong attack against him but I wasn't about to "close the deal." I'm fairly certain I was the stronger player and I was in a stronger position until the time was running low, and I blundered away a piece. To "blunder" a piece means to put it where your opponent can capture it with no repercussions. 

I had actually thought about my move for at least two minutes before I made it. But the problem is, I was considering multiple moves, and the actual move that I made I maybe only gave about 10 seconds' thought to. This is what happens to me in online chess. When the time starts ticking down, I get anxious and I make stupid mistakes. It's my biggest weakness in chess and if I could figure out how to avoid mistakes with little time on the clock, I would win much more frequently. 

I ended up losing the third game due to this blunder (I resigned) and I was not happy about it. I played the entire game really well, but then lost because of a very obvious mistake.

Greg, me, Mike Wardian, Adam (the runner)
Day 1 Recap
So, I lost all of my games. I wasn't down about it though. I was frustrated with myself for that final game, but at least I know what I need to work on. On the other hand, Greg won all of his games! Amazing! I was so happy for him. He was absolutely crushing it. We were mentally exhausted after all of that and treated ourselves to a nice dinner out.

Game 4
The tournament started at 10:00 again on Sunday and I finally got to play an adult! It was nice to play an adult because they aren't so serious about it, at least not at my level. He had me in a compromising position early in the game, but I found my way out of it and won material doing so. I continued to win more material as the game went on and he ended up resigning. My first win!!!! It felt so good!  I was worried I would lose all of my games but now at least I had a win under my belt.

Game 5
Another kid, this one was maybe 10 years old. He was similar to my third opponent in that he made safe moves and never set up a strong attack. And, exactly like I did with my third opponent, I blundered away a piece as time was getting low. We each had about three minutes left on the clock. Because it was so close, losing a piece at that stage meant losing the game so I resigned. Once again I was super frustrated with myself for losing focus. I actually thought I had that game won because I had more time than him, I had a better position, and all I needed to do was to keep putting him in check. And I was putting him in check every move, but one of those moves happened to be a square where the piece could simply be captured. 

Game 6
Another adult! Yay! Before we started playing, we chatted about the tournament so far. We both had one win under our belt. In this game, I immediately found his weakness, exploited him, and checkmated him in 12 moves. It took me about six minutes. Way to end on a high note!  Since our game was so quick, we went into the lobby and I showed him how I did it: how I spotted his weakness and took advantage of it, setting it up several moves in advance. Here is how the game went. I played as white.

My final game: a 12-move checkmate!

Greg's Tournament
After winning his first 3 games, Greg had two losses followed by a final win.  So he won four games and lost 2. I lost 4 games and won 2. Because of this, he ended up winning the "unrated" bracket, which equated to prize of $100. We had no idea there would be prizes at our level so this was an unexpected benefit. Greg joked, "It only took me 9 hours to earn $100!"

We left the tournament and Mike Wardian was still playing. Because he was in a higher division, he was playing a game where each player got 2 full hours! We learned that our 45-minutes-per-player games were considered "fast games". If I had two hours, I feel like I could play so much better!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I'm officially hooked and I want to hire a chess coach! I really need the coach to teach me mental strategies for not blundering. I know all I need to do is think about each move very carefully before I make it. But when my clock is running down, I feel like I have to move quickly so I don't take the time to ensure that my move isn't a huge mistake. I think I'm being careful, but I am actually not.

Here are the things that went well:
  • I did not embarrass myself, as I was able to hold my own for at least 35 moves each game
  • I learned so much, particularly how tournaments "go" and what to expect in the future
  • I had a lot of fun and it was cool to watch Greg and Mike Wardian play when my games ended
  • I can officially say I played in a chess tournament
  • I won two games
  • I checkmated someone really quickly
  • I met some really nice and smart people
  • I won against all the adults I played
Here are the things that didn't go well or where I need to improve:
  • Study openings more so that I can move quicker in the beginning and save time for the end
  • Be more careful about my moves when the clock runs down
  • Relax, try not to get so anxious
  • Be more confident in my abilities, but do not underestimate my opponents
  • I lost against all the children I played
I got a chess mask!
Official ratings are updated once per month so I will soon have a rating, now that I have played in a tournament. I think it's going to be pretty low, like 600 or something. I am guessing Greg will be around 1100. But who knows, I could be higher. I'd rather start out with a low rating and improve with each tournament than have a high rating to start and go in the opposite direction. Plus, this probably means I will play easier opponents, increasing my chances of winning. 

As with anything, we all have to start somewhere. Having an official chess rating is a step up from not having a rating, no matter how low. (Okay, I will admit part of me doesn't want a low rating. . . but that's just my ego.) I have decades ahead of me to get better at this game. I will not be able to run at the level I do now once I'm in my 50s, so here begins the transition to a mental sport that doesn't require physical ability!

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my next tournament, which will be memorial day weekend. And thanks again to Michael Wardian for encouraging me to bring my chess skills to a live tournament.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Marathon recovery and chess tournament preparation

I spent last week recovering from the Two Rivers marathon. I experienced a sleep nirvana like no other. For four nights in a row, I slept straight through the night, with loads of deep sleep (according to my FitBit), and for 1-2 hours longer than usual. I would have expected that with no running, I wouldn't need so much sleep, but it was like my body knew it was recovering from a major event and the sleep was phenomenal. FitBit even gives you a sleep score, and one night I got a 90, which is the highest I have ever seen, followed by a 91! This tells me that I really did leave it all out there on the course and that perhaps I didn't have enough rest going into the race. 

Mentally, I feel much better about the race. I wrote my blog when I was still processing all of my emotions. Of course, that is the main reason I keep a running blog - for reflection and closure on my race experiences so I can move on in a productive manner. My main takeaway is that I ran a solid race on a tough course without having as much of a taper as I needed, given the extended training cycle. I'm proud of my execution and my BQ cushion of over 20 minutes. 

Also, running is just one aspect of my life; not my whole life. When I was training at 75+ miles per week it felt like my whole life because I didn't have the time of energy for much else. But getting 10+ hours back last week with no running made me realize just how much of a commitment I made to that training cycle. Unlike with past marathons, I didn't jump to sign up for future races. I only have one race on the calendar (a half marathon in May) and I give it a 50/50 chance of getting canceled. So everything is up in the air with my future race plans, which is a first for me!

Additionally, I have a mild injury, which I am fairly certain stems from the bike accident I had in 2019. While vacationing in Norway, my tire got caught in a rail track, stopped the bike, and I fell onto the bike with my pelvis hitting the bar with a massive amount of force. The area never completely recovered. It was about 95% there and then I ran CIM 4 months after the accident and that aggravated it again. When I started strength training in May 2020, I started feeling it again with lower abdominal exercises. And I noticed that engaging my lower abdomen in any way made the area feel a little sore.

It was extremely mild so I didn't do anything about it. I trained for Harrisburg with no issues. But as I ramped up for Two Rivers in February, I noticed that the pelvic area would get tender from running. During the marathon, it was a little achy, but nothing major enough to even mention in my race report. When I finished the marathon, I did experience some nasty pain throughout the groin and pelvic region, which continued for the rest of the day.

Ever since the marathon, it's been a little achy when I have to use my lower abdominal muscles or when I move my legs in a certain way. I had an X-ray done today and was diagnosed with mild inflammation of the pubic synthesis, which means I need to cut back on running for four weeks, and I am totally fine with that.

Now onto the exciting stuff: I competed in a chess tournament last weekend!

I started playing chess when I was six. I loved it so much that I asked for an electronic chess set for my 7th birthday and I played that thing all the time. It wasn't long before I could beat my dad. Then came the teenage and college years, followed by my 20s when I rarely played. I beat my boss at a job I had in my early 20s and he was just as competitive as me, and he didn't like that I beat him. And so as a general rule of thumb, I learned never to play my boss in chess. It's more important for your boss to like you and respect you for the work you do on the job, not because you can outdo him or her in some other game.

Chess on vacation in 2018
Fast forward to around 2011, the year after Greg and I got married. We took a trip to visit his parents who lived in Albuquerque, NM at the time. His father had a chess set and the three of us played many games because there really wasn't much else to do! This chess binge got Greg, his father, and me all "into" chess again. We set up accounts on and continued playing each other long after the visit to New Mexico. And then my father also joined and the four of us would play each other frequently. And then I started playing random people on

But back then, I didn't have the mental toughness that I learned through running and through working with a sports psychologist. I would be extremely hard on myself for making a mistake. On you have a rating and when you lose, your rating goes down. And at some point in 2012 I think, I lost a few games in a row, became super frustrated, and stopped playing on Greg and I also stopped playing on the board. We would only play on vacation when the place we were staying had a board. Greg got his rating so high that he stopped playing because he didn't want it to get any lower. 

A New Beginning
Fast forward to January 2020, when I saw a Facebook post from Michael Wardian, a professional ultra runner who lives in the DC area. He posted that he was getting into chess and that he was playing games on I thought it would be super cool to play him, so I re-installed the app on my phone, logged into an account I hadn't been in for eight years, and challenged him. There are different types of games you can play on with regards to how much time you get to make a move, and we played where you have an entire day to make a move. That way you don't have to be on the app at the same time. 

My favorite checkmate ever: two equines!
Whenever one game ended, we would start another one so that we always had a game going. I started to explore all the features of the app and I loved doing the puzzles. I even started playing "blitz"games that only gave each players 5 minutes total to finish the game. You win by either checkmating your opponent or having their clock run out faster than yours. I was absolutely horrible at this because it requires you to think fast under pressure.

Before I knew it, I had caught the chess bug again and upgraded my subscription so I could play more puzzles, analyze more games, and take more lessons. And Greg got more into it as well. He started doing the puzzles and we started playing more games against each other. He also started watching chess videos on YouTube, which he used to watch years ago, but of course now there are like 100 times more of them available and they are of much higher quality. 

Upping My Game
A few months ago, I started talking more with Michael Wardian about chess, and I asked him how he was able to get his blitz rating so high. Of course, he is a naturally "fast" person so he is gifted when it comes to competing at speed. I asked him to share some of his games with me and he did. 

I started providing feedback on his games and his desire to improve fueled my desire to improve even more! He totally inspired me to become a better player and also to bring my game to a live, in-person tournament. 

Of course all of this did coincide with the release of The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, and even though I loved that series, it is not what heightened my interest in chess. And it's not what made me want to sign up for a live tournament. All credit goes to Mike Wardian. He had competed in several tournaments and had an official US Chess rating. He was also a member of a chess club.

So I found a tournament just 15 minutes away from my house, which occurred last weekend (one week post marathon). Greg, Mike, and I all signed up for it. Back in 2011, I wanted Greg to sign up for a live tournament because he was getting really good at online chess. But he never did, and then our interest in the game waned.

Greg and I purchased an online chess course and it reinforced concepts we already knew, but also taught us new concepts. Chess is like any game or sport; it's a mixture of natural talent and the hard work of training or studying. While the lessons we purchased were a good start, they barely scratched the surface of the complexities of the game. We also purchased a chess clock and annotation books per Mike's recommendation.

Mike Wardian vs. Greg Clor
The day before the tournament (Friday) Mike came over to my house to play Greg and me live on the chessboard. Playing a live game on the board with an actual chess clock is completely different than playing online. When you can see the person in front of you the dynamic changes entirely, and when you have to manually tap a clock and record the moves on paper, it adds another dimension.

In a live tournament, you make your move, tap your chess clock, and then record your move on a piece of paper. You also record your opponents move. This enables you to go back and analyze your game afterwards. At higher levels of competition, it's mandatory and you need an accurate score sheet to claim a win. To record your move on paper you need to know how to annotate all the pieces and all the squares. This was actually something I picked up quickly, and the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. 

A huge thanks goes out to Mike for coming over and showing Greg and me the ropes of a live tournament. The score book, the chess clock, the rules, and everything would have been totally foreign to us otherwise.

How did it go? Stay tuned for the next blog in which I discuss how I applied the mental skills I acquired for running to the game of chess!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

Yesterday morning, I ran the Two Rivers Marathon in Lackawaxen, PA. That's in the Pocono mountains in the northeastern part of the state, right on the New York border.

When the Myrtle Beach marathon was moved from March 6, I couldn't find another one that weekend within driving distance so I extended my training cycle by three weeks to March 27. I registered for the Tidewater Striders BQ Invitational Marathon in Chesapeake, VA, but I knew that at the end of March, there would be a 50/50 chance of warm weather. 

My backup plan was the Two Rivers Marathon. Instead of 4 hours south, this race was located 4 hours north and would be almost guaranteed to have cool weather in late March. As suspected, the forecast for Virginia was calling for temps in the low 60s and no cloud cover, which was a non-starter for me. I unfortunately have far too much experience bonking in weather like this at races of all distances. 

So I registered for Two Rivers and booked a hotel at the end of last week. I knew the course would be more challenging than the pancake-flat Chesapeake course, but as I said, warm weather is a non-starter for me. The Two Rivers course was two out-and-backs, up and down a long gradual hill. The net elevation gain was not all that high. Anywhere from 350-600 depending on which GPS mapping system you look at. In fact, this is similar, if not less than, what I run on my 20-milers.

I should note that this was a brand new course for 2021, USATF certified. The original course was point-to-point, net downhill, with a shuttle bus. But due to health concerns, they didn't want to use shuttle busses. I've found that in order for marathons to actually happen, the course has to change for various reasons. This was the case for the Harrisburg marathon last fall. 

Before the Race
Greg and I drove up to the Poconos on Friday morning. We picked up our packet outside at the race start and then drove the course. We realized that the course would not be closed to traffic, so we'd have to be careful not to get hit! As I said above, it was a long steady climb for 6.55 miles, and then back, and then out and back again.

Two Rivers Marathon Elevation

We met up with our friend Tricia for dinner where I had my standard eggplant parm without the parm. I made sure to eat enough so that I was content, but not to overeat like I may have done at Harrisburg. The wind on Friday was insane. The area had sustained winds of over 20mph with gusts that must have been about 50. The wind was loud outside of our room and I felt the whole building shake. The internet went out and there was no cell service, so it felt like we were in a horror film. I knew it was supposed to die down by morning, but it was a little unsettling going to sleep during a wind storm with a marathon on tap the next morning.

I slept relatively well and woke up feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready. This is definitely a contrast to my last two marathons. For Harrisburg I woke up with an anxious feeling. For CIM, I barely slept the night before the race AND two nights before the race! So I already knew I was a step ahead. 

I did have a dream that I was looking through the race results and I saw I ran a 3:26, but I didn't remember actually running the race. I woke up from that dream feeling relieved that I hadn't actually run a 3:26 and I still had the opportunity to reach my goal of sub 3:10. I woke up at 4:15 and before getting out of bed I played the computer at level 1600 (advanced) and I won. I was really excited about that! Off to a great start. 

Instead of my normal bagel with peanut butter and banana, I had an English muffin with a small amount of almond butter, and about 1/4 of a serving of Maurten Drink mix 160. I also had an entire serving the the Drink Mix 160 the day before the race to pre-hydrate. This drink mix contains carbs and electrolytes. Maurten also makes a Drink Mix 320, which has 320 calories per serving, plus electrolytes, plus 100 mg of caffeine. I mixed a serving of that to carry with me and sip on during the first half of the race. I had practiced all of this in training and was optimistic I would not face the digestive distress I had in Harrisburg.

In the hotel race morning
It was a 25-minute drive to the race start and we left the hotel at 6:15. The race offered a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon, all on the same course. There were 227 finishers in the marathon and 218 in the half marathon. The exact same race was held on Sunday for those wanting to run the marathon twice, or the half marathon and marathon. This was not a new thing due to health and safety concerns, this race always runs on both Saturday and Sunday. 

We arrived at the race, parked, met up with Tricia and used the porta potties. The start line was open starting at 6:30 and the marathon runners could start any time they wanted between 6:30 and 8:15 to allow for social distancing. This had both its benefits and drawbacks. The benefit was getting to start whenever you felt ready, so there wasn't any anxiety about being late. And since I prefer cold weather, I was able to start on the earlier side (7:00) and avoid the warmer temperatures later in the race. The drawback was that you had no idea who you were competing against. They offered an "elite" start at 8:00 for those wanting competition, but you didn't have to start at that time to be declared the winner. It also wasn't something you had to qualify for; just a group of fast runners wanting to push each other. Masks were required in the start line area, but we were free to remove them once we started running. 

Tricia crossed the start line, and Greg and I waited a few extra minutes to make sure I didn't have to go to the bathroom one final time. We crossed the start line at 7:02, which was set up on a grassy area. We only ran on grass for a few seconds before exiting the park and getting out onto the road. 

The weather ended up being even better than expected. The forecast had indicated 10 mph winds and sunny skies, but I was pleasantly surprised that there was very little wind, and we had about 50% cloud cover. It was 44 degrees to start and rose to about 50 by the end. On my race weather scale, I would give it a 9 out of 10. To get a 10, it would have needed to be slightly cooler. 

I wore shorts, a crop top, disposable arm warmers and disposable gloves. (Disposable meaning they were $1 from Walmart). I started out with sunglasses on my head and there were a few sunny sections in which I put them over my eyes, but they mostly stayed on my head.

Miles 1 - 6.55
I started out feeling like this would be my day. The weather was close to ideal. I had slept well, I didn't have any anxiety or any feelings of indigestion. It was hard to establish a rhythm during the first mile. I was still feeling out the course and how it would be. I immediately noticed that the road was slanted and I either wanted to run on the very edge of it, close the the gravel, or be in the dead center. Anything in between was uneven. But I also needed to pay attention to the tangents, because there would be quite a few curves on the course. 

The first mile was all about settling in and getting used to running smoothly. I ran a 7:54 mile which was WAY slower than goal pace of 7:15, but I didn't judge it. I knew I needed to go out slowly because these miles were uphill, and they were the early miles. If the course had been flat I would have started out in the low 7:20s, but with it being uphill, I figured the high 7:20s would be about perfect. 

Greg ran a faster first mile than me but I caught up to him and passed him in the second mile. He didn't have a goal time in mind, but I knew he wasn't planning to start as fast as me. I ran the second mile in 7:32 and settled into that pace. I knew I needed to be patient and I didn't freak out that this was nearly 20 seconds per mile slower than goal pace. 

At any given time, I had about 4 or 5 runners in my sight. There were also runners coming back in the

opposite direction, presumably half marathoners or 5K/10K runners. There were more cars than I expected and it while they generally wove around the runners, some of them were not as accommodating.  I tried running the tangents, but I knew I wasn't doing a good job because I was prioritizing running on a non-slanted surface. 

Mile 3 was also 7:32. The hills were not steep but they were unrelenting. There was almost nothing flat or downhill in the first "out" section. The entire thing was run up a very gentle incline. It was the type of thing that if you encountered this incline grade in a race you might not really notice it that much. But when it's an incline the whole way, you definitely do notice it. Or at least I did! 7:32 ended up being my happy pace and I kept hitting that consistently for most of the way out. I ditched the arm warmers at some point during the 3rd or 4th mile, but kept the gloves. 

I made a mental note that mile 5 was particularly challenging. The incline felt a little steeper, and I did the math and told myself that if mile 18 was slow, that would be okay. I caught up to Tricia during the 6th mile and we chatted briefly. It was definitely a pick me up to see her!

Mile 1: 7:54
Mile 2: 7:32
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:32
Mile 5: 7:37
Mile 6: 7:32
Mile 7: 7:32

Miles 8 - 13.1
My nutrition/hydration plan was to drink the Maurten Drink Mix 320 in my handheld bottle every 15 minutes. This would provide carbs, electrolytes, and caffeine. I had practiced it on two of my long runs and it worked well.

I turned around and was excited to finally start picking up the pace. I passed Greg in the other direction and he had his phone out and was snapping photos of me! Aww!! What a dedicated Instagram husband!

At this point, I felt decent, but not as good as I would have liked. At mile 8 of a marathon, things should be feeling very smooth and you shouldn't be straining all that much. I felt like I was probably working a little too hard, but I trusted my training. I assume that the elites are working VERY hard the entire race, but they are trained for that. Not to say that I am an elite, but I as push myself towards faster and faster marathon times, I know that I am going to have to be uncomfortable for a longer portion of the race.

I had no idea what pace the downhill miles would bring, and I didn't want to force it. So I glided down the mountain by feel and it was definitely a welcome change from the uphill. I also was able to see a lot of runners coming in the opposite direction. Runners were all over the place-- on both sides of the road and in the middle-- going in both directions. And the car traffic started to pick up. At one point, this huge vehicle decided it was not going to give me much room and I almost lost my balance and fell of the side of the road into a ditch. As the car kept going ahead of me, I noticed it was doing the same thing to the other runners. Not moving over at all, and coming very close to hitting them. 

While I was thankful to be running a real race, I started longing for the day when roads would be allowed to be closed to traffic for races once again. But I was also appreciative that this was not the Harrisburg course. That course had way too many hairpin turns and that path had a ton of uneven pavement. This was definitely an improvement. And it was really beautiful by the river.

I flew through this section and brought my pace down by a good amount. All of these miles were under 7:20 and I started to think that the 3:10 was within my grasp. Probably not a sub-3:10, but a 3:10 by the skin of my teeth if I could keep getting faster. 

Mile 8: 7:18
Mile 9: 7:16
Mile 10: 7:16
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:16
Mile 13: 7:12

Miles 14 - 19.6
When I reached the halfway point, which was back at the start-finish, nobody told me which way to go. So I started going the wrong way. Finally someone pointed me in the right direction of how to pass back

through the start line. That annoyed me a little but I tried not to get too flustered. I passed Greg on his way to the start/finish turnaround point and that was another pick me up. He later told me that I was about two minutes ahead of him. 

By this point I was done with my drink mix, so I had a Maurten caffeinated gel and it went down well. I was mentally prepared for this second uphill stretch to be very difficult. I was eager to see Tricia and when I did, that perked me up. Things started to get noticeably harder during the 16th mile. At this point I realized my goal was out the window and I would be lucky to get a modest PR. Whenever I have set PRs, I have felt amazing at mile 16, and I was not feeling amazing at this point. I was very focused on simply getting to the turnaround so I could cruise downhill. 

The climbing was exhausting me. I felt like I would never get to the turnaround. The course just kept going and going uphill and miles 18-19 were a real challenge. 

Mile 14: 7:40
Mile 15: 7:28
Mile 16: 7:32
Mile 17: 7:43
Mile 18: 7:42
Mile 19: 7:52
Mile 20: 7:57

Miles 20 - Finish
Mentally and physically it felt way better to be cruising back down the hill. But I was so exhausted from pushing so hard on the way out. I tried taking another gel during the 21st mile but my gag reflex had me spitting it out immediately. Mile 21 clocked in at 7:41, and I was too exhausted to judge it or think about what my projected finish time would be. I just kept pushing. I really wanted to beat that 3:26 in my dream and I told myself that if that was my time I would be really disappointed. Not that 3:26 is a bad time, but it's far off of my goal and slower than my last two marathons.

I used every mental trick I had in the book to keep pushing. I told myself I "trained for the pain" and I repeated it over and over again. I didn't train for it to be easy. I trained to be able to handle the pain. THIS is what marathoning is about. This final stretch is the real test of true mental and physical stamina. But oh my goodness was it painful. It was not the sub 7:10 pace that I had planned and it took everything I had to maintain the effort. 

I don't remember much about these miles other than that they hurt. And I did not want to be passed by Greg. It's not that I didn't want him to have a good day; but I just felt like that would be demoralizing to be passed. At CIM he passed me during the 24th mile and while I really liked seeing him, I had the internal

Heading toward the finish
dialog of other runners are speeding up and passing you. So It didn't matter if it was Greg or anyone for that matter, I didn't want to be passed. It motivated me to try and stay ahead of him and I pushed and pushed so hard to not let him catch me. 

I came upon a man at around mile 23 who really carried me for the next two miles. He set a good pace and he was very encouraging. Every time he noticed me falling behind he would tell me to "come on" and I eked out "I'm coming" and I found a little extra effort to stay with him. He was truly a lifesaver. I had someone like that in Sugarloaf in 2019. This guy and I helped each other out during the last 3 miles and it was just what I needed. 

Usually at this point I am counting down the minutes until the race is over, but I didn't even have the mental capacity for that. Every once of mental energy was focused on pushing and staying strong. But as I neared the finish, I realized I could squeeze in under 3:20 if I pushed hard.

I went into all-out sprint mode for the final bit and managed to cross in 3:19:30. Phew. Even though I didn't get my "A" goal or a PR, it felt nice to break 3:20 for the second time. 

Mile 21: 7:41
Mile 22: 7:42
Mile 23: 7:48
Mile 24: 7:47
Mile 25: 7:45
Mile 26: 7:37
Last 0.33 on my Garmin: 7:07 pace

After the Race
I crossed the finish line, which I was thankful was on grass, because I was able to immediately sit down on the grass. I turned around and saw Greg coming through! Yes! He finished exactly 21 seconds after me in 3:19:51. This was a PR for him by 29 seconds. And even though he just finished a marathon, he was thoughtful enough to go back and get pictures of Tricia!

As I sat in the grass, I chatted with some other finishers and waited for Tricia to come through. I was so

excited to see her! We hung out for a little bit and collected age group awards. Because everyone started at a different time, and they didn't want to mail awards, you were able to pick up the award for whatever place you were in at the time you finished. Apparently they ordered lots of extra plaques. My plaque say 1st place age group, but I was actually 3rd. 

What's crazy is that for women in the 40-45 age group, a time of 3:19 at a small race only got me third. At Myrtle Beach, which is much larger, I won 1st place in my age group with a time of 3:21. I think that this is because there are so few marathons to choose from that all the fast runners are showing up to the same small marathons! At Harrisburg, the overall female masters winner was around 3:19.

We said goodbye to Tricia and drove back to the hotel. I spent about an hour in the huge bathtub of the hotel which also had jets. It felt amazing. The weather was gorgeous for the rest of the day so we sat out by Lake Wallenpaupack and relaxed. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
This will actually require its own blog because I have a lot of feelings and reflections on how this went. The overwhelming feelings were relief that at least break 3:20, but disappointment that my training didn't produce a faster result. I ran 75+ mile weeks for 8 weeks in a row. I ran 800 miles in 80 days plus strength training and my body handled it really well. I crushed most of my workouts and hit paces I never dreamed of hitting. See training recap here. 8 weeks ago, I ran a 10-mile race that predicted a time of 3:10.

With Harrisburg, I didn't come close to my goal because of digestive issues. At CIM, it was lack of sleep and crazy humidity. But at this race, I don't really have anything to point to, except maybe the course profile. Most people I spoke with had a similar experience of missing their goal despite the great weather. Some people attributed to the bevel of the road, and others attributed it to the long uphill start. Maybe I went out too fast, but it's hard to imagine that 7:32 is "too fast" for a goal pace of 7:15.

I wish there was an easy explanation and something to point to, but aside from the course, there really

isn't. The obvious culprit could be my training and that I was over-trained. I could buy into that, but I was still hitting my paces just two weeks out from the race. But on the other hand, I did have to extend my training cycle by 3 weeks due to the Myrtle Beach cancelation. Maybe if the race was a week or two earlier it would have been a different story.

My coach attributes it to the hill profile and that the uphill start can really take a lot out of you early. I did experience this in the Hanover half marathon which had a very hilly start, and then I never really recovered from that once the race flattened out.

Greg made an excellent point about the margin of error being extremely small. When I first started marathoning, I would PR by huge amounts each time. But now I am approaching my lifetime peak. I'm 42, I've been running marathons for 16 years, and everything needs to align perfectly for me to reach a goal that is my absolute physical best possible time. The weather, the course, my sleep, digestive system, ALL of it. If I weren't so close to my lifetime peak (let's say I was in my 20s and had the physical ability to attain 2:45 at some point) then I wouldn't need everything to align to run a 3:09. I fall into the trap of comparing myself to other women who run sub 3:10- but they don't need to train as hard or have all the stars align. It's all relative to both 1)where you are in your journey 2) natural physical ability. 

When I ran my 3:15 in 2018, everything was perfect. The weather was a 10/10. The course was flat. I slept straight through the night. I had no digestive issues. And interestingly, I bonked my tune-up half marathon! That day in Rehoboth Beach was a unicorn and I need all those perfect conditions to get under 3:10 because I'm approaching the limit of what I am physically capable of.

My mind went to all sorts of dark places yesterday. And that's what made me challenge myself to probe deeper. Is the disappointment really about the race or is there something else going on with me? And I think there is something else going on with me mentally and emotionally. The lockdowns and cancelations have taken their toll on everyone. I am pretty sure I have been using this high-volume training as a coping mechanism to stifle feelings of despair about the state of the world. I think I expected this huge breakthrough race that would give me so much satisfaction that I would snap out of it and everything would feel okay again. 

Running is a healthy coping mechanism and I know it's provided many people with structure and purpose during this crazy time. And. . . post marathon depression is common because you work towards something for so long and then in an instant (or in 3 hours 19 minutes) it's done. I know that 3:19 is objectively an outstanding time and something I never would have though possible 5 years ago. It's a BQ by over 20 minutes. And I know I gave that race everything I had. I think once the dust settles I will have really happy, positive memories of this race and what I achieved. But in the spirit of total honesty, I feel unsettled and I know I have some work to do.

I'm extremely thankful to have made it to the start line healthy, and to have finished it healthy. The overall weekend experience was fun and much more exciting than if I had gone to Chesapeake. I do feel like I "conquered" something and I have yet another marathon experience to learn from.