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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Jazz Half Marathon 2019 race recap

I signed up for the Jazz half with a discount code before I knew I was pregnant, and as the day grew closer I kind of wondered how it would work out: racing a half marathon in the third trimester! But I figured that if I could still complete long runs of 10-12 miles, I'd be fine.
I went into this race really banged up. A surge of the hormone relaxin has wreaked absolute havoc on my feet and legs: my normally strong arches are lax and I cycled rapidly through achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, and now arch-ankle-leg pain so bad I'm limping. I've been experimenting with compression wraps and things, but race day still had me in a lot of pain.

The day didn't start out well. A tropical storm hit New Orleans on Friday night, brining rain, wind, and storms. Its strength was completely unexpected, and took the city off guard. We lost power over and over throughout the morning, and when we got up at 5am, it was pitch black and we didn't have electricity. The storm was still going at this point, so as we groped around by candlelight for our race clothes, we wondered if the race would be cancelled. It was scheduled to start at 7, but my weather app showed the worst would be over at 7, so I guessed that it might just be postponed. I was right: as we headed to packet pickup, the rain and wind died down, and the race posted that the start would be delayed until 7:30. By the time the race started, the rain was a mist, and our biggest obstacles were fierce wind and a lot of debris on the course. The Jazz course is mostly on St. Charles avenue and through Audubon park, and all those oaks leave a lot of downed branches (sadly, Audubon lost one of its majestic oaks in the storm, actually).

I pushed myself back quite a bit from the start, knowing my limitations. Last year I ran this race in 1:27:04, which was a PR (and a surprise). This year the VDOT calculator predicted a 1:40 based on my recent two-miler. Although how accurate could that be? I was a lot more pregnant now! I decided to let my painful feet and legs decide how the race went. The race starts downtown, where GPS is useless, so my first "mile" beeped at 7:27...nowhere near the first mile marker. By mile two, I was really trying to let my feet warm up and maybe stop hurting so much, and I was mostly jog-limping. My GPS mile indicators were way, way off, as is typical, so I wasn't able to really on average pace readouts anyway. But by the time we got onto St. Charles Ave, I was starting to get a stride going, and at mile four I was at about a 7:50 pace (at some point, I rendered my Garmin splits totally useless by cleverly hitting "lap" at the mile marker. I was trying to get back on track so my autolap wasn't beeping so early. But I somehow also hit "stop" and didn't realize it for several tenths of a mile...eventually everything evened out what with GPS error and all, and by the finish my miles were *almost* on track, but basically my splits are useless!).
At the start
I run down St. Charles almost every week, so most of this race is very familiar to me. The only difference was that I was picking through a lot of branches on the ground this time. I got a chance to talk to teammate Paul, who came out to watch, and as I neared the park I got to see the leaders already coming back the other way. Power Milers were in second, third, and fourth for the men, and first and second for the women! I always like a chance to cheer my team on! Speaking of cheers, I was getting a lot of attention for running pregnant. It was really nice, because otherwise I was just another mid-pack runner. This gave me some motivation!

We reached the park after mile seven, and I love running through my park in a race. I was feeling a little better and started to pick it up. I passed two friends I'd seen at the start who had left me earlier in the race, and checked my time. A 1:40 was still doable, despite my slow start, but I'd have to pick it up. I was at 7:45 pace by the 7.1 marker (the relay exchange) and I'd need 7:37. There was Powerade on the course after the first few miles, so I grabbed some of that for some energy. And electrolytes - although it had cooled a lot since we got up - 78F to 65F by the race start! - it was still really humid from the storm.

I exited the park and headed back up St. Charles, trying not to think about taking a bathroom break (ugh!), and kept my pace up. I passed quite a few people in the second half: 35, actually, moving up from 97th to 62nd overall. It was definitely fun to hear the cheers then, because it's bad enough to be the pregnant runner, but the pregnant runner passing people? That gets A LOT of chatter! I can't really sprint anymore, but I did pass one more women right at mile 13, leaving me as 8th woman overall and 3rd in the 30-39 age group. I don't know how baby scored, but I did get two medals at the finish from the sweet and excited finish line volunteers...honestly, I rarely take medals anymore, but I took these so as not to be incredibly rude.
Getting a "Grace Thacker and company" from the announcer at the finish, ha! 
I finally got a bathroom break, but right away my ankle hurt too much to walk. Now that the race is over, I am on break to rest and heal. I don't plan for this to be a break all the way until the baby is born, but you never know. I just need to take enough time to readjust to all the changes that are creating all these injury situations and to let the inflammation die down!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Lessons learned from my 2nd trimester running

Well, here we are, already well into the third trimester, what do you know! Time flies when you're running really slowly. Just kidding, it doesn't fly at all! Here are some lessons I learned from second trimester running.

1. You will slow down. Period. Sorry.
2. But everyone is different. There are other pregnant runners out there cheerily holding paces you can't even remember seeing on your watch. For me, the second trimester brought a massive slow down, adding about 2 minutes per mile to my easy pace and similar slow downs to other paces, like about a minute to my 5k pace. But some pregnant Instagram runners I follow didn't see nearly so much of a slow down. It's totally individual.
3. It's not just about the weight gain. I gained 18 pounds in my first and second trimesters, which, sure - that will slow a girl down! But not two-minute-per-mile down. There's more to it than that. There's both decreased and increased flexibility, joint instability, lack of ability to use the core, increased blood volume, anemia, edema, fatigue, change in center of gravity, round ligament pain, and activity-induced Braxton-Hicks contractions. A lot of changes just make running more difficult! For me, I felt like I had to re-learn how to run every single day. I especially noticed that I no longer had the ability to use my core to propel forward. Apparently, I'm a big core runner, and rely a lot on hips, abs, back, and glutes. Well, forget abs, and without abs to tighten up front, it's hard to engage glutes. On a related note, I also have a lot of pelvic pain from osteitis pubis: a symptom I expected, since I have had it before. It often shows back up in pregnancy! This case is more severe than last time, and where my pectineus muscle attaches on the bone I've been getting pain and pretty severe swelling. I do think running exacerbates this...and I don't care.
4. Warming up helps. For me, the first steps feel terrible, like a completely foreign movement, and I have to stop and stretch every mile for the first few miles. It's very tough at first, and I don't "remember" how to run until about 5 miles in. I do better if I do some dynamic warm ups pre-run. I think this is mostly related to fluid retention; warming up gets some of that lymph and blood flowing.
5. You'll need new clothes! There are only very specific shorts I can fit in - they have to fit under the belly - and I sized up in bras right away. This made me feel pretty bad for low-income pregnant women. We want women to stay active during pregnancy, yet on top of all the other expenses pregnancy brings (not to mention having a child!), they would have to buy activewear, some of the most costly types of clothing. It's no wonder that low income is a predictor of excess gestational weight gain.
6. You will have to rely on feel. As my pace rose almost daily, I could forget pre-planned paces for workouts. It's all by feel. And the good thing is, I easily adjusted. You kind of know what level of effort "5k pace" is, even if it's nowhere near your "normal" 5k pace.
7. New aches, pains, and injuries are possible. I grew up going barefoot almost all of the time, and I have really high arches and strong foot muscles (case in point: a foot exercise is picking up a pen with your feet. I picked it up, turned it on, and wrote my name the first time...this is not a problem for me!). Yet pregnancy brings the hormone relaxin, and suddenly none of those key connections are as strong as they used to be. As my arches grew lax, I developed a bad case of achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. Because my muscles were already strong, these were particularly hard to treat: this wasn't a case of strengthening solving everything (what did work: rest and an arch wrap).
8. You might actually start to feel better. I didn't actually stop having debilitating fatigue and nausea until the very end of my second trimester, and I started the third trimester feeling a lot better. Part of this could be that my hemoglobin made the superhuman effort to get up to 11.9 recently! Sooooo close to 12! And I can tell. I run most of my long runs in the 9-11 minute range, but if I get below that, it's a good day. I've run a lot more high 8's and low 9's since my anemia improved.
9. People think you're super human. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for any encouragement as I plod around the park, but it kind of amuses me that NOW I get cheers. Not when I was finally able to put all the pieces together and actually run some PRs: now, when I'm trundling around with clearly no object other than my own enjoyment!