Sunday, September 5, 2021

Fort Hunt 5K Race Recap

I just couldn't think of a creative title for this one. I'm tired! I ran the Fort Hunt 5K this morning in Alexandria, VA. Last year, Greg and I ran the 10K course at this same race.

The course is a 1.2 mile loop with gently rolling inclines and declines. Nothing too steep or long. The 10K is 5 laps exactly. The 5K is two laps, plus a little extra. The course is nicely shaded but that didn't matter because it was an overcast day.

Before The Race
Amazingly, I woke up just 1 minute before my alarm went off. I almost always wake up at least half an hour before my alarm on race morning, but that wasn't the case today. I was happy to maximize my sleep and not get woken up by an alarm!

My first order of business was to drink some Maurten Drink Mix 160. Instead of having actual food to fuel a 5K race, I drink this mix as it's easier on my stomach. I had about 2/3 of the packet. After that, I got dressed and spent 5-10 minutes with my massage ball on the glutes. My physical therapist has told me it's the best way to get my glutes to activate. I also used "the stick" to massage my calves. I felt ready.

The race started at 8:00 and we left our house at 6:30 which ended up being perfect. It was a 40-minute drive during which we both needed to use the bathroom. It's not race morning if you don't need to use the bathroom every 10 minutes! We arrived at 7:15, used the bathrooms, got our bibs, and pinned them on. 

We warmed up for about 15 minutes, during which time I took a caffeinated Maurten gel. I like to take that about 20 minutes prior to the start of a 5K so the caffeine has time to kick in, but the energy doesn't wear off while I'm still running. The downside is that it makes my stomach a little uneasy at the start line when combined with race jitters. 

It was 69 degrees with a dew point of around 63, overcast with a light breeze. Average weather for this time of year so I can't complain. It did, however, feel way muggier than a 63 dew point - I would have guessed at least 95% humidity. The air felt thick and I didn't feel like I could get good clean breaths. 

I wore a sports bra and spandex shorts along with my Adidas Adios Pro shoes. 

Goals and Strategy
Since I had had success not looking at my Garmin during my previous two 5Ks, I figured I would take the same approach. At the Nags Head 5K 3 weeks ago, my average pace was 6:54 and my time was 21:11, because the course measured short on my Garmin. I was hoping to run sub 21:00 today, even with a non-short course. Goals are really just "hopes" when you aren't pacing with a Garmin - you run your hardest and you hope you meet your goal! 

Mile 1:
For the first mile, we did an out-and-back that was about 1/3 of a mile each way, and then proceeded to begin our two laps around the circle. The race is organized by Bishop's Events, which puts on races nearly every weekend in VA/DC/MD area. They held all of their races throughout Covid and did a great job with their organization. 

When I hit the turnaround about 3 minutes into the race, it was nice to have the race director say "good morning, Elizabeth." I replied back with a quick "hi!".

Greg had shot out much faster than me, as usual. In terms of women, my main competition was a little girl who looked like she was no more than 10 years old. She was serious looking and was there with (who I assumed to be) her brother, who ended up winning the 5K. She had amazingly good form and you could tell she was as tough as nails. 

I was very tempted to look at my pace on my watch, but I practiced good restraint and instead focused on running with good form and keeping a positive mindset. I passed the little girl about a mile into the race. Since I wasn't looking at my watch, I don't know for sure, but I hadn't heard it beep for 1 mile yet as I passed her. 

My split was 6:53 for this mile, but I had no idea what it was at the time.

Mile 2:
The race started to feel hard and I had to chase negative thoughts out of my head. I continued to resist the urge to look at my pace. I had memories of the 10K from last year and I remembered how I kept getting faster and faster as the race progressed. I wanted the same thing to happen today. I felt strong, but it was definitely hard!

As I mentioned above, this course is a loop. Thus, to run the tangents, you must run as close to the inside of the loop as possible. I didn't do a great job of this because I was frequently passing other runners (most of them 10K runners, as the 10K started earlier than the 5K). Split: 6:50

Mile 3:
During this mile I finally allowed myself to look at my watch. My average pace was about what I expected it to be, but I didn't judge it and stayed emotion neutral. With one mile left to go, I realized I could kick it into high gear without the fear of bonking and that's exactly what I did. Split: 6:36.

The Finish:
I gunned it to the finish at an average pace of 6:14 for 0.17 miles according to my Garmin. As I said above, I did not do a great job of staying on the inside of the circle. Greg's Garmin had him at 3.14. My official time was 21:23.

I was the first female finisher, and that felt awesome. Granted, there were only 30 women in this 5K but a win is a win! The second place female was the little girl who ran 24:02.

Greg ran a time of 20:30, which would have been faster if he didn't stop to tie his shoe. Despite the stop, he was the 3rd place male. 

After the Race
Greg and I collected our awards and then ran a 10-minute cool down. We were hoping to visit the horse who lived in a stable along the course, but the horse was out in his pasture and not in the stable. We chatted with the male winner (the brother of the little girl) who, at age 14, ran a time of 17:42. WHOA! He was frustrated at having been recently injured and therefore not close to his PR, but man - when you are 14 years old and running that kind of time, you have an amazing future ahead of you!

After the cool down Greg and I went out for crepes to celebrate. I got one with smoked salmon and one with bananas and brown sugar. 

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have mixed feelings on this. There are plenty of positives here:

  • I won the race
  • My average pace per mile was 10 seconds faster than the 5K from 3 weeks ago
  • I had a massive negative split
  • Achilles held up great!
  • This was a great workout
However, the perfectionist in me cannot help but feeling a little "meh" at this. I used to be able to run a sub 21:00 5K no problem. Even with humidity. Even on a course where I didn't run perfect tangents. I
actually thought that sub 21 would be a soft goal, but apparently it was not. 

Part of me feels frustrated with my fitness, and that I'm not coming back as quickly as I did from my bouts of mono. I am running a half marathon in 4 weeks and I feel utterly unprepared! My coach and I agreed that I needed to come back slowly and conservatively and so there hasn't been much speed work in my training. And I can't expect to run a blazing fast 5K with just a few workouts under my belt. So logically, I am right where I should be. But that doesn't mean I'm not getting impatient! 

Another takeaway is that I should have started more aggressively. My fear of bonking and not knowing what pace I was running meant I was perhaps too conservative during the first two miles. 6:53, 6:50, 6:36 indicates that I probably had a faster time in me. The elevation profile for each mile was roughly the same. I'll bet if they moved the finish line to make this a 4-mile race, I could have run the same overall pace.

So. . . to look at the Garmin or not? I don't know. I definitely want to "feel" my way through a race and not be a slave to the watch. But at the same time, if I had seen a 6:53 pace during that first mile, I probably would have pushed a little harder with the confidence of knowing I wasn't going to bonk.

Anyway, I will continue to trust the process, try to be patient, and be grateful that cooler weather is on the horizon!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Achilles. Heat. Boston.

I have multiple topics to cover in this blog. First, my Achilles Tendinopathy has flared up in both feet. Second, I have ramped up my training in the heat. Third, I'm going to comment on the Boston Marathon letting additional qualifiers in. 

Achilles
My insertional achilles tendonitis (or tendinopathy, more correctly) flared up at the end of last week due to repeated treadmill runs. I have been battling Achilles tenderness and stiffness off and on since 2017. It goes away completely when I take a break from running (like with my recent 8-week lay off), but comes right back the moment I resume training. I try to stay on top of my rehab exercises--eccentric weighted heel drops--but I admittedly have not been doing them every single day.

For whatever reason (lack of variation, change of gait, amount of impact), my Achilles tendons do not like the treadmill. Last week it was abnormally warm and humid so I ran on the treadmill Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And then on Saturday I did my long run outdoors, which is never really Achilles-friendly!

The good thing about insertional Achilles tendinopathy is that you aren't at risk for rupturing the tendon when you run. And it doesn't hurt that much while running. What sucks about it is that it's very difficult to cure 100%, and walking can be painful, particularly barefoot around the house. 

I went to my doctor on Tuesday for a follow up on my groin injury, and while I was there, we talked about my Achilles issues. He did an ultrasound and we could see where there was irritation and small little holes in the tendons. He recommended I have a procedure done called ultrasound-guided tendon scraping. I am having this done in a few weeks. He will go into both Achilles tendons with a needle, using an ultrasound, and create space in between blood vessels that are rubbing together and creating friction. (This might not be a 100% accurate description, but it's how I remember him describing it.) The recovery is only a few days and then I can start running again. He says he does this procedure frequently and if my symptoms are caused by what is seen on the ultrasound, it will provide immediate relief. 

Of course the only way to really recover is 8-12 weeks of the PT exercises every day, twice a day. I am committed to doing them, but they sure are time consuming and boring. My physical therapist theorizes that because my glutes still don't always fire, I'm pushing off with my calf, creating tension in the soleus, resulting in the irritation of the tendon at the insertion point. He dry needled my glutes on Friday and also gave me a painful calf massage. Later that day I was walking around without pain, so it definitely worked.

My plan is to continue training on it (since it's not at risk for rupture), do the PT exercises, go to PT weekly to get needling and massage, and have the procedure in mid-September. 

Training in the Humidity
Because the treadmill had caused such a flare up, I did not use the treadmill at all this week. I would have liked to because we had dew points at 72-73 each morning and the air was incredibly thick. My solution was to run extremely slowly (except for the one track workout) and drink loads of water + electrolytes throughout the day. 

Compression socks support the Achilles
I was able to knock out 49 miles this week with most of them being slower than a 9:00 pace. But in this weather, it's all about effort, time on my feet, and not over-exerting myself. We won't see the heat and humidity drop until Thursday, so unfortunately I'll have to do another speed workout in the heat on Monday. If my Achilles are feeling okay, I might resort to the treadmill Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Last weekend, I knocked out 14 miles at an average pace of 9:00. Yesterday, I ran 14 miles at an average pace of 8:59. Both were progression runs starting in the 10's and ending in the low 8's. It's always good to NOT bonk in the heat and still have a little more to give in that final mile. The Richmond Marathon is on November 13, so my long runs will start getting longer very soon. I'm also running a half marathon on October 3. At this point I really don't think I will be in half marathon shape, but a decent amount of fitness can be built over 5 weeks. (Well - 4 weeks excluding the taper week leading up to the race). 

It's actually hard to know what kind of shape I'm in with all of my runs being in such crazy humidity and I am just trying to survive them. But I have only done one lactate threshold workout since returning from injury + the two 5Ks. Why? Because my coach and I prioritized coming back safely rather than pushing me into tempo runs right away. It was the right approach but unfortunately doesn't bode well for my confidence at least as of today!

The Boston Marathon
Recently, the Boston Marathon allowed all qualifiers who were registered for the virtual race to run the live race. This decision definitely ruffled some feathers among those who had qualified, missed the cutoff, but did not register for the virtual race. For example, if someone qualified with a cushion of 2 minutes and registered for the virtual, they were invited to run the live race. But if someone qualified with a cushion of 5 minutes but did not register for the virtual, they were not invited. 

First of all, I am skeptical that the race will actually happen. We are already seeing marathons being cancelled and Massachusetts is one of the more risk-averse states. But regardless if the live race happens or not, my thoughts are as follows.

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) can do whatever they want. It's their race, and they aren't obligated to be fair. I do believe they try to be as fair as possible, but there are many other factors that come into play. We, as runners, don't have visibility into their decision making process so it's impossible to know exactly what they were dealing with. They are already having to deal with towns like Brookline threatening to deny them a permit if they don't meet certain demands. 

Is it entirely fair that someone with a 2:00 buffer gets to run the live race and someone with a 5:00 does

Boston Marathon 2016
not? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it is fair because the person with the 2:00 buffer committed to Boston. They paid for the virtual race. They said "I will run Boston no matter what, even if it's virtual!". There is a lot to be said for that level of commitment to the spirit of the Boston Marathon. And they did, in fact, qualify for the race. This doesn't follow the traditional method of "fastest first" - but that doesn't mean it's not a viable method for selecting race entrants. 

What most likely happened is that the Boston Marathon had some spots open up, and that number of spots was similar to the number of virtual entrants, so boom- it was logistically easy. And they even offered up spots to those who missed the cutoff by 20 seconds or less. And imagine how happy those virtual runners must be! The B.A.A. didn't have to release any extra slots. But they did, and now more people get to run it, which holistically is a good thing.

I feel badly for the 2020 entrants who didn't get into 2021 and don't have a qualifying time for 2022. That sucks, especially if it will be difficult for them to ever qualify in the future. I do believe that the majority of the qualifiers WILL be able to qualify again, it just requires more hard work and more patience. 

Life isn't always fair. We can't expect the B.A.A. to always do the most fair thing. All we can do is train our hardest and try our best. 


Friday, August 13, 2021

BYOC: Bring Your Own Competition

Greg and I are spending the week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We are staying in the same condo that we did last year and are here during the same week. Our wedding anniversary is at the end of the week and we will be celebrating 11 years on Saturday.

Beach vacation!
We arrived on Saturday evening and I was eager to watch the men's Olympic Marathon. I had been unable to watch the women's marathon on Friday because we are not cable subscribers and there was no way to stream it.

The condo had a yellow sheet of paper with all the channels listed, and the USA Network was listed as22. That was the channel with the marathon. I flipped to it, but the channels went from 21 to 23 and skipped right over 22. I tried typing "22" into the keypad but without luck. I was so sad! I had really been looking forward to watching the men's marathon. So I called the cable company to ask if there was an outage on that channel and they were unable to help.

I have to admit I sulked a little bit because this condo literally had 200+ channels, but not USA. What are the chances that the ONE channel we wanted would not be available. Finally I decided to flip through each channel manually in the hopes that the yellow sheet of paper was wrong. When I finally got to channel 982 (I think this was the highest) it was the USA Network! YES! So we were able to watch the men's Olympic Marathon after all. It was just the inspiration I needed to be running all week in insanely warm and humid weather. 

Background
As for the race, last year Greg and I ran the Outer Banks Lighthouse 5K in Corolla. It was a 40-45 minute drive, but well worth it. Typically the Outer Banks Running Company also holds a race in Nags Head, which is much closer to our condo. But last year it was cancelled due to Covid. We didn't understand why it was okay to have the Corolla race but not the other, but we didn't worry about it too much.

Shortly after arriving, I learned that my friend Meredith was staying practically next door to us. It was literally 0.2 miles away according to Google Maps. We decided to run together on Monday morning,

Meredith and me on Monday
during I which I tried my best to convince her to run the race, which was scheduled for Thursday. She was hesitant, as she has not raced since 2019, but I told her I was just looking at it as a fun run. Of course I would try my hardest, but you can't really run a fast time when it's 80 degrees and crazy humid. 

Interestingly, the last time I had seen Meredith was at her 2019 race- the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. I had run the half marathon and cheered her into her full marathon finish. She thought about it over the next two days and ultimately decided to run it with Greg and me. Hooray!

My mindset for the race was to run it smart but hard, without looking at my Garmin. Since I had such success with the not-looking-at-pace approach during the Firecracker 5K in July, I figured it would be good to do again.

Before the Race
I woke up at around 5:30 and I drank about half a packet of the Maurten Drink Mix 160. I have decided to prefer to use the Drink Mix instead of having a food breakfast because it's easier on my stomach. Greg had his standard English Muffin with peanut butter.

As for hydration, both Greg and I had taken that very seriously all week long. I was aiming for 60+ ounces a day, with half of those containing electrolytes. I brought multiple packets of UCAN Hydrate with me and we also bought several bottles of Gatorade. I had felt sluggish towards the end of last week and I attributed it toward cumulative dehydration. We were sweating so much with our runs each morning and sitting on the beach all day, that we knew hydration would be so, so, SO critical.

We picked up Meredith at 7:00 and were on our way. It was a 12-minute drive, which was a nice contrast to last year's 45 minute excursion. Once we arrived we got our bibs and shirts, pinned them on and warmed up. I had a Maurten caffeinated gel 20 minutes before start time along with some water.

It was 80 degrees with around 90% humidity. Sunny with wind of 5-10 mph. Similar conditions to last year, when I had run a time of 21:31. Last year I had been training all summer, with speed work, and was not coming off an injury. This year, I had no speed work under my belt aside from some 1-minute strides in a workout last week. Based on that alone, I thought it would be unlikely more me to beat my 21:31 time, but I didn't set any limitations. 

We lined up at the start line and I observed that there were far fewer runners than there had been at the Corolla race last year. Maybe it was because there was only one race instead of two last year, but I think there was around 150-200 people last year and maybe about 50-60 this year. It was a small but competitive field. 

Mile 1
The race started and I went out at what felt like marathon pace. I knew I would need a conservative start with this heat. Even in a 5K, once it hits you - it hits you! I did not want to bonk. Greg shot out ahead and so did Meredith. As well as like 5 other women. Geeze! But I decided to run my own race and not be pulled out too fast by the others. I'd save my energy for the final mile if I wasn't bonking by then.

Mile 2
Greg was so far ahead he was out of my line of sight. Meredith was also quite far ahead-- about 30 seconds, I would later learn. I could still see her but barely. There were four other women up ahead, and one who I believed to be tailing me pretty closely. The cool thing is, 5 out of 6 of us were in our 40s (which I later learned by looking at the race results). The course was an out-and-back so we turned around at the halfway point. This mile had some hills. Nothing major, but when you're at the beach expecting everything to be flat, these were noticeable. During this mile, I accidentally looked at my Garmin to see how far I had run. Habit I guess! But thankfully I didn't see the pace.

Mile 3
The race felt very hard at this point and I was no longer holding back. I noticed that I was getting closer and closer to Meredith. I didn't think it would be possible for me to catch her because she had a large lead and she's also a faster runner than me. But I used her as motivation to keep pushing hard. With about a quarter mile to, I had caught up with her. When she saw me beside her, she sped up and we raced to the finish line. 



The Finish
It was neck-and-neck and we crossed the finish line at the same time! So exciting. My Garmin logged a pace of 5:30 for the final stretch after mile marker 3. 

It took me a few minutes to recover and become coherent. When I did, I met back up with Greg and Meredith and we shared our race experiences. 

My splits were 6:57, 7:03, 6:47, and a 5:30 pace for the end. A negative split! My Garmin clocked in at 3.07, so a little short for a 5K. My official time was 21:11. A full 20 seconds faster than last year, which is significant in a 5K! (My Garmin measured 3.08 last year so it's sort of apples-to-apples in that regard).

I was surprised that my second mile was slower than my first because it felt like I was giving far more effort. I definitely didn't think I was capable of a sub 6:50 final mile in this kind of heat, but I did it!

After the Race
They gave out awards, and the Master's Winner was announced as Meredith. I was super happy for her, but obviously curious as to the difference in our times. The timer said she had run 21:11.0 and I had run

21:11.2. So she was 0.2 of a second ahead! Wow!

I was thrilled for her and pleased that I was so close. Meredith is a really strong runner, so finishing anywhere near her is a massive accomplishment. Without Meredith I would not have run as fast as I did at the end. Competition really helps you give it everything you have. 

Greg was awarded second place overall in a time of 19:51. He's super speedy! I know he can break 19:00 when it gets cooler.

We did the world's shortest cool down (like 0.3 of a mile) and then went back to our condo.

Final Thoughts
I loved this race experience and I'm so happy we did it, and that Meredith joined in. What a small world that she ended up staying so close to us! And nothing beats relaxing at the beach post race to bask in the achievement. 

I'm clearly fitter than I thought, and I think that my hydration this week was a big factor in my success. I don't have another race scheduled until October, but maybe I will find another 5K in September just to stay fresh and just because I love racing.






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.

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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
Cardio
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. 

Swimming
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. 

Walking
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

Conclusion
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.

Goals
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.