Back to Blogging: February 21, 2016

The year is in full swing and after a nine-month hiatus, I am thrilled to be back on the competitive circuit!

After my injury of late May, 2015, I was forced to cancel my Alcatraz swim, my swim across the Great South Bay, and other important events too numerous to think about (anymore). That all made the last six months of 2015 somewhat frustrating, and when I did begin to work out again, I had to make accommodations and move carefully at first. The thought of falling and getting injured again was always in the back of my mind (okay, it still is). Nine months later, I know that I still have to regain strength, endurance, and an overall feeling of confidence.

Having races on my schedule is motivating, and the hugely competitive side of me needs me to constantly perform better. So now that I’m back, it’s a good time to jump again in to writing about what I am doing – all as a lead-in to my Alcatraz swim on August 13th.

So far, I’ve done these races:

(1) January 23: Freezer 5k Run in Amana, Iowa:   Although it was something like 20 degrees out that morning, the sun was out and there was no wind. I did not have a current 5k time to use as a benchmark, so I decided this race would create my time for the year ahead. I finished in 32:28 (decent for me) and was 14/28 in my age group (ten-year increments). I hope to edge closer to thirty minutes going forward, and also to feel more comfortable throughout the run.

(2) January 31: Muscatine YMCA Indoor Triathlon:    I enjoyed and did well (1st place) in this event last year and was very curious to see how I would swim, bike, and run this time. I was surprised (well, shocked) to be about two minutes total off my 2015 time – every event was slower. Although I came in 2nd in my age group, I saw this as a wake-up to help me realize much I need to continue to work to get myself stronger.

(3) February 13: Hawkeye Community Rowing Indoor Challenge:    Indoor rowing is tough–many people feel as though they are going to pass out, fall off the rower, and/or have to be carried off the floor as they participate. For me, rowing all-out in a 2k, 1k, and a 500-meter event is tougher than any other type of race, and the mental preparation is an exercise in itself. I was pretty much satisfied with my times in each of those races, and thankfully, our relay team did very well, had fun, and the whole Indoor Challenge was an outstanding event.

(4) February 20: Freezefest 5k in Marion, Iowa:   I was so happy throughout the week as I followed the weather forecast for Saturday. The sunny, warm, over 50-degree morning was perfect for running although the wind made it more of a Breezefest than a Freezefest.

My prime goal for this run was to do better than my time of a month ago. I did that, finishing in 32:05, #6 of 12 in my age group (five-year increments). My goal now is to continue to knock time off that throughout the year (and stay injury-free, of course).

There are actually 173 days left until Alcatraz and I am counting down the days, determined to show up at the super-tough swim feeling strong and confident. Every event I do prior to August 13th is to help me get to that goal.

Next up: Performance Fitness Dri-Tri this Saturday, February 27th.

-Susan

My Left Arm is Back to Work, June 21, 2015

Sunday

I haven’t posted in a while mainly because I have been sort of frustrated. The weeks have been long and it has been hard to find good physical activities that I am able to do without my broken left arm. I think I have turned that around.

I started water walking three weeks ago, going to the pool every morning for 45 minutes to an hour and first walking, then running. I stayed in shallow water, just up to my waist, to start.

I moved my left arm gently every so often, and the resistance felt good although my arm tired quickly. I knew from what my doctor and physical therapist told me that pain is the best guide with this type of injury. They both cautioned me to not do anything that hurts.

I kept up that water regimen for a week, but didn’t go to the pool on Saturday or Sunday. Instead, I worked out at the gym. I used the rowing machine with just my good arm. It is tricky to hold the erg handle in the middle rather than on the sides, as it is designed to be used. It is also painful. I used my son’s batting glove to protect my hand, but it was still not a pleasant way to use the machine.

I also used the spin bikes, but needed to find one in the spin room that was already set up for my height. There was no way I could otherwise move the seat and handlebars. Those workouts went fine and gave my left arm some time off.

The next week, I decided to go into deeper water in the pool. This plan presented its own problems from the start since I wanted to put my head under the water. That meant I needed to wear a bathing cap. With just one usable hand, putting the cap on is not easy. I was able to do it though, and considered that a huge victory that made me almost as happy as dunking down in the water and letting my arm go up a little higher than it had been moving. Each day got a little better, with no pain at all and some strength returning. As my arm went up, I was able to push it back down through the water – all the while treading water. I felt very happy to be able to do that.

Last week I decided to try to swim. A friend had told me that one-armed swimming is not all that difficult, and I felt my right arm was pretty strong. So I began swimming front crawl and alternated with breaststroke. The first few laps were very slow, but once I got the hang of it I felt great, moved along well, and did not tire at all. I was thrilled by the end of the week that I was able to swim for five days again.

I went to the physical therapist on Friday and she was happy with my range of motion and told me (when I asked) that my arm was initially healed and that I could use it – although not to lift or carry anything heavy. She encouraged me to work toward moving my arm straight up at a 180 degree angle and then I could think about using my left arm to swim. Challenge accepted.

Today I went to the gym and rowed a bit with both arms. My left arm felt fine although I did not allow it to do much of the work – my right arm was leading. I used a pulley after that to move my arm up as high as it could comfortably go. I need to have it move on its own though – without a pulley or my other arm pushing it up. So I am taking that as my goal for this week. I plan to swim a couple very slow laps with both arms, or see how it goes. If my progress continues, I do think I will be swimming again and getting my arm back in great shape in no time.  I see the doctor on Friday for x-rays and consultation on my progress.

-Susan

Sling-free Me, May 30, 2015

I am entering Week 3, Post-Break, without a sling and that is a great feeling. The doctor yesterday told me I should just let my arm hang straight down now as it heals. It is a relief not to have my elbow at a permanent right angle, although I do still have it immobilized when I am sleeping and I have a sling for when I am out in public. This is mainly as a deterrent in the hope people will stay far away from me. I am nervous about getting jostled and aim to avoid crowds as much as possible right now.
I was leaving the library after tutoring students on Wednesday, and there was a large crowd of adults and children signing up for summer reading programs –a larger group than it could have been because librarians were bribing, err.. handing out ice cream. I had to walk through the mass of people to get to the front door, and felt very vulnerable in the sea of strollers, adults, and kids of all sizes. One push into my arm, I kept thinking, and I’ll be back to square one. Or worse. Anyone looking at my bruised eye seemed to sense not to go near me. I walked out untouched, using my right hand to shield my arm even though it was in a sling.
My black-and-blue eye is slowly healing. I thought the area was looking almost acceptable until I ran into a friend yesterday who had not seen me since the day of my fall. She immediately made a face that seemed to say, “Oh, wow…ouch…your eye,’ before actually speaking, “Your eye looks painful.” It isn’t though, and I am confident it will look fine eventually. (The first thing Dr. O told me yesterday was that it was looking much better than Tuesday, which initially sounds kind and is always a safe thing to say, but his practice sees 250 patients most days.)
The two (relatively painless) x-rays yesterday showed that both places near my left shoulder where my humerus is broken are healing well. Dr. O told me that if I needed to break it, this is the best way to do it – the bones didn’t move and are sitting nicely in place, but their cracks are sobering to me. Forget about swimming for a while, he reminded me as he pointed to the ball of my shoulder, where the arm rotates. The healing there is going great but it can’t be rushed. Even if I want it to.
Of course I was relieved to see and hear that my bones are healing and I thought to myself later that as of now, I have needed no invasive medical intervention at all. Two sets of x-rays and professional counseling. I do feel fortunate and thankful.
After getting suggestions from Dr. O for ways to stay physically active and not harm my healing arm – he could sense I was going a bit stir crazy- I went home, got changed (a time-consuming process, especially in that I can only wear front-closing tops right now since my arm is not movable. Finding something that worked and then getting it on was a chore), and went to the gym to spin on a stationary bike for a half hour. It was tough after a while because my left arm just hung after I took it out of the sling, but it felt great to be back with my heart rate up and my body doing some work besides repairing my arm (which of course is a big new job).
Next week I have my first PT session and am interested in what that will entail. Until then, I will figure out ways to stay active while I am healing. Right now, I will change my clothes and try to do a one-armed row (doctor-approved) for a half hour.
-Susan

2015 Working Event Schedule
1. Muscatine Y Indoor Triathlon, 1.25
2. North Dodge Indoor Triathlon, 1.31
3. Hawkeye Community Rowing Indoor Challenge, 2.07
4. U of I Tropical Indoor Triathlon, 2.22
5. Performance Fitness Indoor Triathlon, 2.28
6. Dam to Downtown 10k, 4.18
7. River Run 10k, 4.26
8. Marion Half-Marathon, 5.16

9. Quad Cities Sr Olympics, 6.06 Cancelled
10.Great South Bay Swim, 7.17 Cancelled
11. Alcatraz Swim, 8.08 Cancelled
12. Big Shoulders Swim, 8.12 Hopeful
13. Des Moines Half Marathon, 10.18 Perhaps

The Dismal Reality, May 28, 2015

Week 2 Post-break

I spent the first week with my broken arm immobilized against my chest, my elbow at a permanent ninety-degree angle while I traveled 1,200 miles by car with my husband and son to my daughter’s college graduation in Massachusetts.

The trip there was relatively uneventful. The dull ache in my arm could easily be masked with just one Extra-Strength Tylenol so I was very thankful. I followed instructions to rotate my wrist from time to time and move my fingers around so they wouldn’t get stiff. That got easier by the day.

Since it has never hurt, even a little, I almost forgot that my eye was black, blue, green, purple, and bright red except for those times I got out of the car. I first thought people were just staring at my cinched-up arm attached to the wide elastic belt around my waist. Maybe they were, but their glance quickly went up to my scary-ugly eye. I didn’t mind or care, except when people made comments to each other as though my hearing had also been affected. (“She’s pretty banged up” is a tame example.)

Then there was sleeping. Sleeping in a chair at home is one thing, but on the road and in a hotel it was hard/often impossible. I guess it really didn’t matter since I just slept in the car after we got going each day, but some nights were pretty uncomfortable with no solution except to wait it out.

The graduation was nice and I am proud to have three of my four kids out of school. We moved Daughter out (with no help from me) and the car was completely stuffed. It was nice to eventually get home.

Tuesday, I saw the orthopedist. He said I could take my arm out of the sling and straighten my elbow for periods of time each day. That felt great. He showed me some “exercises” to do to roll my shoulder a bit. He also told me that there was NO way I would be swimming across the Great South Bay in July, or Alcatraz in August. Instead, I could be swimming again in three months with my strength probably fully back in six. I gulped and let that dose of reality slowly sink in as he readjusted my sling and said I should come back Friday for X-rays.

The only swimming event now on my calendar is September’s Big Shoulders swim in Lake Michigan. I’ll leave that there and see what happens. I cancelled upcoming rowing events, the bay swim, and won’t do the Senior Olympics pool swim events next week (my records had better remain intact!) I will eventually cancel my Alcatraz entry and am hoping I can transfer it to next year.

For now, I need to figure out a reasonable workout plan. Possibilities include walking on the gym track, water walking, rowing with my good arm on the rowing machine, and right now I’m not sure what else. Problems include the difficulty getting a bathing suit on (may just wear shorts since I’ll just go waist deep), and the huge amount of time it takes for me to do anything with my dominant hand in a sling. Bigger problems are feeling like a slug, envisioning my muscle and strength going from 100% to close to nothing by the time my bone is healed, and my ever-present healthy appetite.

Susan

A Bump in the Road, May 19, 2015

Tuesday

I had intended to begin blogging regularly again since 109 days to Alcatraz was last week. The countdown is beginning.

I have been training hard, swimming long distances in cold water, and have been happy with my 10k running times in two April events. I felt great anticipating swimming in the July Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim and also Alcatraz, both of which I aimed to swim faster than I did last year.

My event season came to an abrupt halt this past Saturday at mile 11 of the Marion Half Marathon. I had been cruising along well with my friend keeping us at pace when my foot caught the uneven road and I went down hard. I put my left arm out to protect my head, and it did its job. My head was okay but my arm was broken.

I didn’t know it was broken at first. I only knew it hurt up by my shoulder. My friend and a few people who stopped to help were more concerned about how the corner of my eye was quickly swelling up. When I looked straight ahead, I could see a huge mass in my line of vision. I was happy it wasn’t bleeding and applied ice to it as I walked forward, sort of in a daze.

A well-meaning person jogged by and suggested that my shoulder was most likely dislocated and that once it was snapped back into place I would be fine. I latched on to that thought and kept walking, eventually turning my race belt into a sling because my arm was getting annoying to hold. I made it over the finish line and went directly to the medical tent where the only thing they could tell me with certainty was that my arm was not dislocated.

A trip to the ER included particularly painful x-rays, and I found out my left humerus was broken. I was sent home in an immobilizing sling with instructions to sleep sitting up, which I have been doing ever since. I am so thankful that I likely won’t need surgery. I see the orthopedist next week for new x-rays to assess how it is healing.

So for now, I am impressed that my right hand is stepping up to the challenge of being dominant. I am getting used to sleeping upright, and I am cautiously anxious about my super-tough big swims on my calendar. I can’t imagine rehabbing and possibly being strong enough, but I will see how things go. After next week, I will need to resume some sort of training and I will blog about my progress.

-Susan

2015 Working Event Schedule

  1. Muscatine Y Indoor Triathlon, 1.25
  2. North Dodge Indoor Triathlon, 1.31
  3. Hawkeye Community Rowing Indoor Challenge, 2.07
  4. U of I Tropical Indoor Triathlon, 2.22
  5. Performance Fitness Indoor Triathlon, 2.28
  6. Dam to Downtown 10k, 4.18
  7. River Run 10k, 4.26
  8. Marion Half-Marathon, 5.16

 

  1. Quad Cities Sr Olympics, 6.06

10.Great South Bay Swim, 7.17

  1. Alcatraz Swim, 8.08
  2. Big Shoulders Swim, 8.12
  3. Des Moines Half Marathon, 10.18

Two for Two! February 5, 2015

Thursday
My event-year is off to a very good start!
Two weekends ago, I competed in the Muscatine YMCA Indoor Triathlon. I had never done this event before and thought it sounded interesting, mainly because it is set up differently than others – actually better. That’s because it is run in a similar way to outdoor events: the clock starts when the swim begins and does not stop until the end of the run. So every second counts and the fastest time through the course wins!
The first leg is a 500 meter swim, 36 laps of the Y pool. There are volunteers at one end of the pool counting laps, and at the other, one volunteer specifically assigned to each participant. His job was to keep track of my times for each leg of the competition by following me throughout the course and urging me to keep up the good work, don’t slow down now, and otherwise be very helpful and kind.
I was very proud of my swim time, since I swam faster than many of the racers, men and women, and all ages.
After the swim, participants go directly to the bike/spin area. We were cautioned beforehand to towel off, but no one spent too much time on that. Instead, most of us just pulled a shirt and shorts on and dashed down the hall.
The bike portion was 15 miles. Although my time was fine, I held back a bit, knowing that I would have to run on the same legs that were spinning like crazy. If I do this event next year (and I hope to) I will put in even more serious practice time on the bike so I can take a minute off my time and feel great about it.
After the bike, we dashed to the indoor track and began a 2.5 mile run. This should not be difficult at all, but the first half mile was gruesome. It took about five minutes for my legs to feel normal again so I could just run. My run time was mediocre and to be better, I need to practice biking, then jumping off and immediately running. It’s not fun to practice or actually do it, but I will since I want to improve my time.
My overall time was great, and I was thrilled get first place in my age group. My swim time certainly won it for me and gave me a very respectable time overall.
The following weekend was The House Indoor Triathlon, which I have done and enjoyed for a few years. This type of indoor triathlon adds the distance for each leg of the race: 10 minute swim, 30 minute bike, 20 minute run. There is a short rest/transition period to move from the pool to the bikes to the treadmill.
I was happy with the distances I swam, biked, and ran, and with my overall total: my swim distance was about the same as last year, the bike was as fast as possible, and I beat my last year’s run distance. It was enough for first place in my age group.
So I have been riding high.
Reality check: A couple days ago, I was in Walgreens and when I started loading my items onto the counter, a poster beside the register said it was Senior Citizen Tuesday, which means all purchases are 20% off for senior citizens. As I waited, I took a closer look and realized, with a mix of shock and dismay, that, to Walgreens I AM A SENIOR CITIZEN: I am over 55!
[gulp]
When the cashier was ringing me up, I mentioned that I was entitled to the discount and began to look in my wallet for my driver’s license since CERTAINLY SHE WOULD ASK! She didn’t though – she just took me at my word and subtracted 20% from the total.
-Susan

2015 Working Event Schedule (italics = registered)
1. Muscatine Y Indoor Triathlon, 1.25
2. North Dodge Indoor Triathlon, 1.31

3. Hawkeye Community Rowing Indoor Challenge, 2.07
4. U of I Tropical Indoor Triathlon, 2.22
5. Performance Fitness Indoor Triathlon, 2.28
6. Iowa City 2-mile Run, 3.14
7. Dam to Downtown 10k, 4.18
8. Marion Half-Marathon, 5.16
9. Quad Cities Sr Olympics, 6.06
10. Alcatraz Swim, 8.08
11. Big Shoulders Swim, 8.12
12. Des Moines Half Marathon, 10.18

28k + The Season Begins, January 20, 2015

Tuesday
I have enjoyed taking advantage of the long course pool set-up at the University rec center the past three Saturdays: I swam 8,000 meters three weeks ago, 10,000 two weeks ago, and 10,000 last Saturday. It takes about four non-stop hours for me to swim that far and I was so happy to feel stronger each week and see my elapsed time decrease considerably. It is excellent training for my upcoming events.
The pool is back to short course now, so I won’t be swimming those distances for a while. That’s okay since this weekend is the start of my 2015 schedule – I have an indoor triathlon on Sunday. These events are tricky to compete in, which is a big part of their allure, at least for me.
The swimming is in a pool, of course, but the lane lines are sometimes removed to include more swimmers at one time. There is no guarantee that anyone will be swimming in a straight line, so it’s not really possible to just relax and swim.
Even if the lane lines are in place, there can still be challenges. It’s not unusual to have a few people assigned to each lane, or have swimmers asked to weave up one lane and down the next until they make their way to the last lane and the end of the pool. Even though swimming is my strongest leg of a triathlon, it is usually complicated by the indoor format.
The bike portion is on a spin bike, with the resistance sometimes pre-set. Spinning is tough since it’s important to go as fast as possible for 20 minutes to a half hour, all the while aware you’ll have to jump off and start running. The bike miles are usually the most important, so there is no letting up. And treadmill running is harder than an indoor track, since you really have to set a fast pace and stick to it (even if you feel as though you are going to fall over).
By the time the three parts of the triathlon are finished, I never really care how well I did (okay, that’s a lie). I am completely out of energy and have done as well as I could. Still, it is a crazy kind of fun – and as I often say: if I can do it, pretty much anyone can.
Try an indoor triathlon this winter!
-Susan

2015 Event Schedule so far
1. Muscatine Y Indoor Triathlon, 1.25
2. North Dodge Indoor Triathlon, 1.31
3. Hawkeye Community Rowing Indoor Challenge, 2.07
4. U of I Tropical Indoor Triathlon, 2.22
5. Performance Fitness Indoor Triathlon, 2.28
6. Marion Half-Marathon, 5.16
7. Quad Cities Sr Olympics, 6.06
8. Alcatraz Swim, 8.08
9. Big Shoulders Swim, 8.12
10. Des Moines Half Marathon, 10.18