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2017 Shiner Beer Run Race Recap

Oh Shiner. What do I say?

Let’s start by talking about what the race was like last year. Last year, it was cold. 38 degrees and super windy. I ran a 1:37. It was a 2 minute PR and I won my age group. It was a great race and an awesome day.

This year, apparently, wasn’t last year.

This year, I ran a 1:46, 10 minutes slower than my PR (9 months ago), and placed 4th in my age group, I missed 3rd by nearly 5 minutes. If you could illustrate the word BLOWUP this would be it. I haven’t finished a half north of 1:45 since Rock ‘N Roll San Antonio in December 2014 (at the time it was a PR, and I was thrilled).

I’ve never had bad race. I’ve had some that didn’t go quite as planned but I could always pinpoint the reason afterward. I couldn’t do that after Shiner. I left Shiner with my tail between my legs, having no idea what happened. No clue what went wrong.

But you can’t have improvement without the occasional failure so the most important thing I can do now is to dissect the race, and learn from my mistakes. This race was unique for a few reasons and I think several factors each influenced the outcome. No one of these factors was the sole reason for failure but I think they each had their own, albeit small, role in the resulting meltdown.

Factor #1: The Heat & Humidity

It was HOT and HUMID. 73 degrees when the race started and that was BEFORE the sun came out.

Factor #2: The Wind

Even though Weather Underground said the wind was blowing at 5-6 mph, all the flags and trees seemed to think otherwise. I don’t know what the wind speed actually was but it had to have been in mid teens.

Factor #3: The Course

Shiner is a HILLY course. I mean HILLY. The first five-six miles are all up hill. The hills are steep, short and compact with little room for recovery between them.

Factor #4: Music Malfunction

For some unexplained reason, the music on my phone stopped working at mile four. Trying to maintain my pace, I dug my phone out of my belt and reset the app, started and stopped the playlist over and over to no avail. I decided that I didn’t feel like dealing with it, so I shoved the phone back in my belt and took out my earbuds. I did the rest of the race without music.

THE ANALYSIS

After a week of thinking about it, and talking it over with my running partner, I think I finally have a handle on what went wrong.

It’s no secret that I train by heart rate. I’ve talked about it here before. But for some reason I went into this race with the hair brained idea that I wasn’t going to run by heart rate. Instead I was going to run by pace/effort and see where that took me.

I can tell you exactly where it took me. Into the seventh circle of Hell.

I spent the first five miles sticking as close to pace as I could, even with the heat/humidity and while climbing that hill. I occasionally glanced at my heart rate which was 178-180 (I normally race at 170). I pushed myself hard going up the hill, thinking that I could use the downhill to my advantage later in the race to give my heart a break and relieve some of the effort. If you look at the heart rate graph you can easily see exactly how much time my heart rate spent above my normal 170 racing heart rate.

When I got to the downhill portion we turned straight into the wind, AND the sun came out. The combination of the two effectively cancelled out any advantage the downhill provided. I was banking on that reprieve in effort and it never came. It was defeating. And the defeat happened in silence because there were no spectators and I didn’t have music.

The further into the race I got, the more I slowed down. Around mile 7, I got wise and went back to watching my heart rate but the damage was done. I was gassed. My normally controlled heart rate was out of control, spiking easily above that 170 mark despite slowing my pace.

I tried to race a half at 95% of my max heart rate when I’ve been training at 87-90%. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. Shocker, right?

The lesson is: Race day isn’t magic.

Yes, you can count on a certain amount of adrenaline to gut out the last couple of miles but it can’t carry you through an entire race. Getting a PR is hard and requires almost perfect conditions. Shiner wasn’t a PR day but I failed to recognize the non-ideal conditions and therefore didn’t slow my pace and expectations to match.

Going into a race with high expectations is hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform at a certain level and it caused me to abandon my core racing strategy.

That’s the mistake. That’s where it all went wrong.

Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about my toe.

Three days before Shiner, it was so swollen I could barely walk on it, and I was really beginning to question if I could even race.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

I unwound a paperclip and using the flame from my stove, performed a little DIY surgery on my foot, burning four holes in the top of my toenail to relieve the pressure. It was disgusting, amazing, and incredibly effective.

For those of you into gross stuff. Here are pictures. Before. During. After. I’ll spare everyone else from looking at my foot.

Did it work? Yup. Improvement was almost immediate. I was able to run on it, gingerly, a few hours later and by race day it was still noticeably tender but much better.

Though I would LOVE to be able to blame my failed race on my toe, I can’t. It didn’t bother me much during the race. I may have been subconsciously altering my stride/form to avoid putting pressure on it, thereby adding to the already increased heart rate but any difference that may have made pales in comparison to the enormity of the strategic error that occurred. The toe didn’t help any but it wasn’t the real issue.

My sock WAS bloody after the race though. Fun times.

Where does that leave me? With a massively bruised ego. I wallowed in defeat for two days but I was reminded that I need to shut up and suck it up. Bad races happen. BCS is in a couple of weeks and if I don’t want BCS to follow in the footsteps of Shiner, I need to evaluate, regroup and move on. There it is.

I can tell you what I WILL be doing at BCS…running by heart rate. Lesson learned.

Becoming A Swimmer

I have a confession. I hate swimming. Maybe it’s claustrophobia? Maybe I don’t like staring at the bottom of a pool? Maybe I don’t feel comfortable in the water? Maybe I don’t like restricted breathing?

Most likely, I don’t like being stuck in my own head. There’s some creepy stuff in there, y’all.

Whatever the reason, we aren’t friends. Getting to the pool, even once a week, is a challenge.  I LOVE running and I LOVE cycling (which will be its own post) but swimming and I are having relationship issues. I know I need to swim. But I never WANT to swim.

I bought a cheap waterproof MP3 player off Amazon and it helped. The sound quality is horrible, everything sounds like it’s being played through a tin can, but it distracts me enough to keep me in the pool a little longer…and for only $30, it was worth it.

I did my first open water swim a week before Cypress Tri.

Before I started, I took a selfie.

Here it is.

Don’t I look excited??

A couple of minutes into the swim, about 100 yards from shore, as I bobbed up and down unable to see my hand in front of my face, I had a moment, not of panic but of WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Let’s just say, I’m glad I signed up for Ironman before my first open water adventure…because you can bet, as sure as the sun shines, that I would have chickened out right then and there.

2.4 miles of this? Oh hell no. Nope. No way. Uh no.

Which leaves me with quite the conundrum. I have to swim nearly 2.5 miles, in a lake, in 10 months. This girl needs some serious open water practice and some serious time in the pool. Serious, like as in, every day.

Which leaves me here, semi-complaining about how much I don’t like to swim. Well, it’s time for that to change.

Upon recommendation from a friend, I bought Swim Speed Secrets for Swimmers and Triathletes. It’s full of great exercises and drills that you do both in and out of the pool. I joined a local swim club and have been swimming there twice a week, and I am spending another two hours a week in the pool at the Y.

Much like anything else I don’t really enjoy, swimming is an opportunity to grow – to take the person that I am today and turn myself into a better person tomorrow.

To take a part of me that is weak and do whatever it takes to make it strong.

Whatever. It. Takes. No excuses. No complaining.

I may never genuinely love swimming, but then again – there was a time when I thought I would never love running either…

…there’s hope, and that’s all I need.

Ironman Texas!

Y’all I registered for Ironman Texas. Not sure what I was thinking.

An Ironman has been on my radar for several years. The idea was planted shortly after my son was born. We bought a BOB Ironman branded running stroller and my husband made some comment in passing about needing to do an Ironman since we had the stroller. My immediate response was, “Have you lost your mind?!”

But the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. I put it on my bucket list, along with running Boston and completing an ultra.

Last fall, I started to think about life after Boston. I’d dedicated a large chunk of physical and emotional energy to that race, and I knew I’d be battling some severe post-marathon blues. Having another goal was important to get me through the inevitable post-race let down.

Around that time Ironman came up in a conversation with a friend and it made me think about it again. Perhaps that’s what I needed to focus on after Boston? I’ve been batting the idea around since then – thinking it over in my head, and talking to friends about it. No commitment. Just talk.

I talked to several friends who have completed the half and full Ironman distance. They know me, they know my fitness level, they know my training schedule…they all said I could do it with no problem.

I would love to say I have all the confidence in the world but I’m truly terrified and that’s what kept me from registering when it opened the week prior.

On Monday afternoon, I drank a beer (liquid courage!), and pulled up the IMTX registration page. I slowly started filling out the form telling myself that nothing was official until I entered my credit card information…

…when I got to the payment screen I just stared at my computer. Did I really want to do this? I’ve never done a triathlon so clearly an Ironman is a good place to start, right?

Staring at that payment screen, my heart raced and my hands shook. Knowing there’s no better time than the present, I typed in my credit card info and hit submit before I had a chance to change my mind.

Holy. Crap.

 

 

 

 

 

BOSTON MARATHON!

I’ve been working on this post for nearly two weeks and have found the task of writing about my trip to Boston daunting. It was emotionally overwhelming, so much so that I can’t find the words to describe how I felt. The entire trip I fought tears. On the plane up there. Driving around Boston. All that work and I was finally getting my reward. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. I couldn’t believe I actually did it.

I don’t know of a word that can properly describe the overwhelming emotions of what it’s like to tackle a seemingly impossible goal and be successful.

It all started on October 29, 2013. Yes, I remember the exact day. That day, I ran the Houston Half, it was my fourth half marathon. In the three previous races I’d finished in 2:13 and 2:10…twice. For some reason, I decided during this race to actually race instead of just run, to give it everything I had and finish with nothing in the tank. It was an experiment of sorts, to see what I could do if I endured a little pain. So, I pushed myself. I ran as hard as I could for 13 miles. And it hurt. But for the first time, I broke two hours. 1:56.

Woah. 

I went home that day feeling like I’d won the Olympics.

That evening as we sat around talking about the race I wondered out loud, “If I can break 2 hours with no real training…what happens if I actually try? Do you think I could qualify for Boston?”

December 2014. Rock n Roll San Antonio Half Marathon, Time 1:48

My husband, who has never been known to sugar coat things, responded with a very matter of fact, “Of course you can.”

And so it began.

You have to know, I wasn’t the person I am now. I was every ounce an average runner who hated the act of running but loved having run. I’m wasn’t one of those people. You know, the passionate, super talented, fast kind? Not me. My one and only marathon was a 4:36. To qualify I had to shave off an entire hour.

An hour, y’all.

Do you know how long that is?

In marathon time that’s practically centuries.

In the three years it took to qualify and then train for Boston I became a different person. I learned a lot about what it’s like to take risks and not let my life be dictated by fear. I learned other stuff too…

…that not trying yields the same result as failure.

…and you don’t have to be special to do something special.

I’ll be the first to tell you. I’m not special. I’m not especially talented. I’m a normal, average person who dedicated herself to achieving an almost impossible goal and was successful.

Which is how I found myself in Boston last weekend doing all the things Boston Marathoners do. Walking amongst all the people at the expo and waiting in line at the pre-race dinner, I felt almost like I was a trespasser, except I wasn’t.

I was there because I literally worked my ass off. I was there because I earned it.

I had to keep reminding myself of that as I stood at the starting line. I was in the first corral of my wave so I was right up front, a place I’ve been in many other races, except this time all the signage said, 121st Boston Marathon.

2017 Boston Marathon Start in Hopkinton

In the words of my husband, holy balls.

The race was incredible. It was HOT that day, so any dreams of a PR were pretty much gone before I started but I went in with the intention to do as well as I could while still soaking in the experience.

And I did.

I enjoyed every second of that race. The spectators in the first six miles of the race from Hopkinton to Framingham where awesome. They were having parties in their yards, blaring music, singing, showering athletes with water hoses.

Near mile 10 in Natick my dear friend, Jenn, with whom I was staying, had staged some of her friends along the route.  As I was running through town I saw posters in Jenn’s handwriting, with my name on them, held by strangers who became ecstatic when they realized that I was the “Go Joni, Go” they were rooting for.

“Hey, that’s me!” <jumps up and down>

When I finally found Jenn and my hubby close to mile 11, I stopped to give them both sweaty, nasty, genuinely happy hugs.

It was amazing.

I was extra cautious managing my pace early on and properly fueled so I never hit the wall. By the time I made it to Heartbreak Hill at mile 20, my quads, though tired, were still functioning well. They didn’t start to complain about the hills until mile 23 and by that time I was cruising on adrenaline. The last few miles from Brookline into Boston were beyond memorable. Yes my quads had checked out and I was waddling more than running but the turn onto Boylston Street made it all worth it. As I ran that last quarter of a mile to the finish I couldn’t help but think about what it took to get there.

Three years. Three years of spending two hours a day at the gym. Three years of foam rolling. Strength training. Stretching. Speedwork. Long runs. Icing. Injuries. Three years of not knowing if I’d be successful. Three years of imagining what that day would be like when I achieved my goal. Three years of daydreaming.

When I turned onto Boylston and watched my dream turn into a reality it was surreal. That thing I’d thought about for so long, that I wasn’t sure I could do…it was actually happening right in front of me. Unbelievable.

Finishing time. 3:35.

No, I didn’t PR but I don’t think anyone did that day, the conditions just weren’t there. BUT I was only 6 minutes off my PR, which I ran in nearly perfect conditions on a flat course. AND I missed part of peak training due to a lapse in judgement which found me mountain biking in the rain and later in a doctor’s office barely able to walk with a grade 3 quad contusion only three weeks before the race. (Yes, I realize how stupid that was.)

I raced the Boston marathon, never hit the wall and I qualified for Boston next year. I can’t ask for anything more than that.

After the race a couple of people asked me how I did, relative to the rest of the runners. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought about it. I consistently win my age group or at least place when I run, but I knew running the Boston Freakin’ Marathon I wasn’t going place in my division so I never even bothered looking.

Much to my surprise, I finished in the top third, nearly the top quarter, of all females under 40…and I’m almost 38.

Best of all, I did it without injury.

Yesterday, only 10 days post Boston, I ran a casual 10 miles. Not because it was on a training plan or because it was a stepping stone to achieve some impossible goal…but because it was a nice day. Because I wanted to. Because I could.

From average to awesome, right?

 

 

Catching Up

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile, no? I’d love to say that I’ve been absent for some super fantastic reason but the honest reason is that I’ve been overwhelmed. Oh so overwhelmed.

We have spent the better part of the last year remodeling our house. Planning began this time last year. We moved out in January when construction began and we moved back in at the end of July. Around that same time we started homeschooling our daughter who is in kindergarten. Between moving out of our house and into a rental, supervising the renovation, moving back into our house and figuring how to homeschool, my entire life has been one big pot of goo (I could use a different word but I’m trying to keep this clean).

My only solace? Running. That should have been a given, right?

Monday though Thursday I take out all my frustrations at the gym. During those two hours I can forget all my problems, at least temporarily. I run for an hour and then spend an hour doing any number of fun cross training, strength training and running drills. I can now run 7 miles, then do 36″ standing box jumps, 20 pullups and 25 full pushups before finally giving out. At least my stress is good for something?

The truth is, I haven’t been very happy lately and it’s certainly evident in my running. I’m a more committed athlete when I’m unhappy. The days when I’m angry, sad, stressed, lonely and depressed are the days I am most dedicated. I pour everything I have into the things that bring me joy and my running, at least right now, is pretty much all there is.

At least I know eventually, the house will come together, we will fall into a homeschooling routine and I’ll find a solution to my desire to have time away from the kids. For now, I’ll be at the gym, throwing my stress at the treadmill and trying to figure out life.

 

 

Hearing Aid Update, 7 Months Later

It’s been a little over seven months since Alvy got his hearing aids and I wanted to give everyone a quick update on how things are going.

When he first got them at 6 months old he was pretty good at keeping them in his ears, when the audiologist first put them in and turned them on the look on his face said, “WOW!” Clearly, they’re the best thing for him even if it did take some getting used to on my part.

Now, his “ears” are just another part of our lives. He wears them about 4 hours a day, some days more than others. He goes through phases of leaving them in and fighting me to keep them in just depending on the day. The ear molds are made of silicone which he has discovered makes a great teether so when he’s cutting a new tooth he’s especially diligent about ripping them out of his ears and chewing on them.

He wears them clipped to his shirt with ear gear that came in the bag of goodies we got from the audiologist. The ear gear is very secure and when you’re talking about something that cost upward of $2,500 a piece, secure is good. Very, very good.

Alvys Hearing Aids2Over the past year I’ve come a long way in understanding how Alvy’s world sounds to him. I’ve asked the audiologist countless questions and read countless articles online that describe his condition. I found this neat hearing loss simulator and it has really opened my eyes as to how much Alvy can actually hear. It’s really changed my perception of his hearing aids and what they’re doing for him. He’s not just wearing them so he can learn to speak, he’s wearing them so he can hear. It’s been a big attitude change for me.

The more I learn about mild hearing loss, the more I realize that the world “mild” is a misnomer. When we first learned about Alvy’s hearing problem the audiologist said, “it’s mild,” almost nonchalantly.  Since that day I’ve been under the impression that “mild” meant no big deal. Perhaps they were being sensitive to an overly hormonal new mom or perhaps they’re used to seeing much worse cases but if anything I’m learning that any hearing loss over 20 db is a big deal.

I’ve read so much about the difficulties that children with mild hearing loss have in school. Without hearing aids, a child with a 35 db hearing loss, like Alvy, can miss up to 50% of what the teacher says and a significant portion of children with minimal hearing loss fail a grade by third grade. I can send him to school wearing his hearing aids and I can advocate the use of an FM system but it can still be difficult for the hearing impaired child to pick up everything a teacher says, as illustrated in this video. We’ve been tossing around the idea of homeschooling the kids and this would be a big reason to do it.

I get stopped a lot when we’re out of the house and Alvy is wearing his hearing aids. It seems I have the following conversation at least once a month.

“Is the deaf?”

“No, he hard of hearing.”

“Do you sign?”

I realize signing is the big trend is baby rearing these days. It seems like everyone knows someone who has taught their baby to sign. It’s true that learning sign early benefits both parents and babies. Our motivation to learn ASL is a little different. I feel that it’s very important for both Evelyn and Alvy to spend time around other kids with hearing problems. I want him to understand that there are other kids out there who have difficulty hearing and ASL is a key part of building and maintaining relationships in the hard of hearing and deaf community. Besides I don’t think anyone can argue that being bilingual is a bad thing.

We’ve started by watching Signing Time on PBS and he’s picking it up slowly. I think the most exciting change I’ve seen is in Evie, she loves learning new signs and uses them daily, sometimes in place of speech, which has been quite a surprise. I love watching her enthusiasm as she picks up new signs and starts using them in her day. I am constantly looking up new signs online as I try to use ASL around the house with the kids and it’s been surprisingly easy to pick up. Most of the signs are very logical and are very easy to remember. We are not even close to being fluent but we’re learning, the hardest part is just remembering to do it often and in Alvy’s sight. Just like anything else consistency is the key to success.

As a mom, you never want to learn that something is “wrong” with your child and when I first learned of his hearing loss that’s how I felt. Now, I know that it’s just a part of who he is. Hearing aids are just another part of our routine, another part of our day. That’s a good thing. When Alvy starts school we’re sure to have a whole new set of challenges and we’ll face them as they come but for now so far so good!

My Baby Boy & Hearing Loss

After months of testing and waiting, we finally got Alvy’s hearing aids on the Monday before Christmas. He’s been in them about 10 days now and so far everything is going well. When the audiologist put them in for the first time he responded immediately by squealing and flapping his arms up and down, the universal seven month old version of, “Oh awesome! I like this!”

He wears them most of the day, except for when he’s in the car, sleeping or nursing. For the most part, he leaves them alone and has only tried to eat them a couple of times.

They came with a whole goody bag of stuff, including a small stuffed animal who wears a pair of hearing aids that look exactly like Alvy’s. It has been great for teaching Evie about Alvy’s “hee-eeing aids” (as she calls them) and has reduced her two year old curiosity to a minimum.

IMG_2534 For those of you who are new to my blog or missed the original post, we first discovered Alvy’s hearing problem during the newborn screening test at the hospital when he was just a day old. When they first rolled the machine for the newborn screening in I thought it was a formality. My baby was perfect, he didn’t need this silly test.

When the technician told us he failed my heart sank into my stomach, I felt sick.

After four failed tests in the hospital we were referred to an audiologist…and told not to worry. So, I didn’t.

ABR number two

When Alvy was a month old we went to the audiologist for a click auditory brainstem response (ABR). After the test was over the audiologist came into the testing room with a big stack of papers and a folder, that’s when we knew for sure.

She explained the extent of the loss and then further explained that since he wouldn’t be still while the test was in progress, it would need to be repeated for us to get a clear picture of exactly what his hearing loss looked like.

When he was five months old we took him to the hospital for a second ABR, this time performed under sedation. That day we had an official diagnosis of mild sensorineural hearing loss, a type of loss similar to the deterioration adults with normal hearing will experience over the course of their lifetime. Hearing aids were our future.

I want to explain to everyone what Alvy’s hearing loss really is. He can hear most things except high frequency sounds which he only hears at a whisper – this translates to English language sounds like S, F, TH and means that without hearing aids his speech will not develop normally.

A graph of Alvy's hearing loss. Everything below the line he can hear, everything above he can't

A graph of Alvy’s hearing loss. Everything below the line he can hear, everything above he can’t.

Unlike conductive hearing loss which can be corrected, sensorineural hearing loss will never get better. For now, the loss is mild but that doesn’t mean it can’t and won’t get worse in the future as his hearing naturally deteriorates.

Like glasses for people who have trouble seeing, the hearing aids are adjusted to amplify only those specific frequencies that he needs help with so as his hearing changes the aids will need to be adjusted. This means we will be visiting the audiologist about every six months for retesting and every couple of months to have his ear molds refitted as he grows.

20140102_111754 As far as our future goes, we really don’t know. He may need speech therapy but that will all depend on how well he responds to the hearing aids. We caught it early but getting the aids took longer than the audiologist would have liked due to circumstances beyond our control (go ahead and ask me how I feel about the chloral hydrate shortage, I dare you).

At 35dB Alvy's hearing loss is on the high side of mild

At 35dB Alvy’s hearing loss is on the high side of mild

Alvy’s hearing and education will be a big part of our lives from here on out. We’ve already been introduced to Texas Hands and Voices (a non-profit group dedicated to helping families of kids with hearing problems) who conveniently have a playgroup every month for deaf and hard of hearing kids at a park just down the street from our house. Though he’s too young to play now, it will be good for our whole family to meet people who face similar challenges. Jason and I have also agreed that learning ASL will be extremely helpful as Alvy grows and we are introduced into the deaf and hard of hearing community.

How do I feel about all this? At first I was in a bit of denial but I’ve had several months to process it and to free myself from any guilt I had surrounding it. He has a mild disability and you know what? That’s okay. It is just one of the many things that make this little boy unique. It may not be exactly what we were expecting when we decided to have a second child but kids are great like that – constantly keeping you on your toes.

His hearing aids will make him different than all the “other kids” and that is something he will have to learn to manage. He has already shown us how strong he is and this minor disability will only make him stronger as he grows. I am so proud to be his mom and am excited to watch him grow and become his own person, hearing aids and all.