Thursday, February 28, 2013

I Run Anyway/Gear Report

If there were a list of things that a sore throat makes nearly-impossible, teaching would be my #1. Seriously. You really have to dig deep, keep the volume up, drink water, and pretend nothing's wrong.

It's kind of like running, in that way. Running with a sore throat sucks too, now that I think of it. All that air drying you out and exacerbating the situation...

Here's a bit of inspiration I borrowed from facebook. Definitely necessary to remember lately.

But if I'm going to talk about things that can make running rough, I need to add a little pick-me-up, too. Very little is better than a run that should be par-for-the-course but turns into one of those Good runs you've been needing. It's been a long time since I've had a Good run, and tonight was one of those.

It really took me by surprise. I've been feeling sniffly and groggy, but thought if I put on my running clothes I might be motivated. I took the opportunity to try my new Pro Compression Marathon Socks; I figured I was only going to do two miles, so if I hated them I could just suffer through it. Turns out I shouldn't have doubted. My legs felt unstoppable! The socks are thin and so comfy.

At first Archie was wary of the new socks...
But then he decided they were perfect - and just his color!

I did an old loop, then added some of the main road, and caught that the lights were on at the park across the street. I veered off course to run through some of those paths. I love when the lights are on in the park! Plus I had my MACE with me, so I was feeling brave out there alone.

I've found lately that new paths are a must for me. Part of my burnout must have been boredom. On top of that, I like having the freedom to make my paths as I go. Evening runs allow for that more than morning runs because I'm not as strapped for time and it feels a little safer because there are more people around.

This run was meant to be just two miles with a 4-minute warmup, but when I hit two miles I just felt too good to stop completely. So I added another half mile at a slower pace. The run became a tempo run, which was awesome because I love tempo runs! My splits were 10:14 (including the warmup), 9:20, then 10:30 at the end. I kept the majority of the run in the 9:20s overall, and had negative splits. Plus, the warmup and my exercises took care of any pain I may have had. Pain-free tonight! I'm elated! And I'm definitely anxious to see how this speed translates into a 5k, because I definitely felt tired at the end from pushing it.

I am going to browse ProCompression to see if they have more socks on sale. I got their calf sleeves (which are still on sale!) and love those, and the marathon socks I wore tonight were simply amazing! to roll out my legs and settle in for an evening of grading.


PS: Today is the last day to receive 40% the ProCompression site! Just add promo code JJ40!
PPS: I'm going to be marshaling at the Hooters Half I decided not to run. So excited to volunteer on the course, but I hope I don't misdirect traffic and cause problems. I've never had that much responsibility before.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Branching Out

M and I have been on a quest to get out more, try to be more social, and not spend all our free time sitting on the couch with our computers on our laps. This has proven pretty successful. Tonight was another venture into the great unknown. One of the running groups here is offering a free "training" called "6 weeks to 6 miles". It's basically an unofficial training group for the 10k we're signed up for in April.

We were a little worried we'd be overqualified, having run a 10k or two in the past, but it turns out many of the runners who showed up are really advanced. We're talking Ironman competitors. Of course, there were some newbies too, so it was a nice mix. The idea behind the meetups is that every week we focus on something to do with form, not necessarily distance. That's fine, since I know I can build the distance, and really I just needed something to spur me back into the running mode. (I'm also on the hunt for runners in my area who are closer to my pace.) Today we worked on negative splits, which is perfect for me because I'm still working on bringing my pace back down from the 10s. I have no idea why the 9:40s take so much out of me lately, but I guess I should chalk it up to the time I've spent resting.

Today's goal of negative splits was successful!
I forgot to take my inhaler beforehand. It was a muggy evening, overcast, and warm. But I actually felt fine. We started with a .25-mile extremely slow warmup, then did a slow-run mile, and turned back to do our faster second mile. The warmup helped my knees a lot. I wasn't the slowest out there, either, which was nice.

Everyone at the group was really friendly, but I am as antisocial as they come. I was able to strike up a conversation with one girl (after I awkwardly made eye contact, she finally introduced herself) who seemed about our age, and sure enough she turned out to be a teacher. Too bad she lives at least 25 minutes south of us!

I've been doing my leg exercises and stretches consistently, so I think that helped my run, too.

Most of my runs look the opposite of this; I need to remember a slow start & strong finish feels better all around.

Today I signed up for the Fast & the Furriest 5k in March. I'm really looking forward to this, because KS is going to run it with me! (KS is a sorority sister who lives on the other coast. It's really nice to get to bond over running with someone I've known for such a long time! I feel like we're still discovering the sport together.)

Last time I ran this race, I was by myself because K was was my first ever solo race. I remember being so overwhelmed and scared. I forgot my hair tie and had to use a million bobby pins to keep my hair up. But I remember also how exhilarated and proud I felt to finish the race on my own. I felt a real runner. This was one of my first sub-30 5ks, too. I have such fond memories of this race!

Finishing the F&F in 2012. Check out the 'do...and the knee braces!
Also in March is the Susan G. Komen 5k. It's the exact same course as the F&F, but more than triple the size of it. Obviously it's a well-publicized race. It's also one my students run; I love seeing them being active and helping a good cause outside of school. I ran this one last year with K, and it was a blast!

It's nice to have these little races coming up, and it's really cool to be repeating races I'm familiar with. It makes me feel like a real member of the Tribe. And, because I've run these before, I know I like them, I'm not as nervous for them, and all I feel is happy anticipation.

Anyway, this spring is shaping up to be like a mini race season. A friend over at the Sub-30 Club brought up the idea of "seasons", and I really like it. When not training, it's okay to have a season of rest, interspersed with smaller runs. I'm enjoying this time immensely. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gear Report: Strength & Stretch Edition

I promised you awkward pictures, and if there's anything I'll deliver on, it's awkwardness.

A little history before we get to the meat of this post, and the real reason you're all here. My knees began hurting after the 2011 NDN Half. This isn't surprising, considering my lack of preparation. I had never walked 13.1 miles, let alone run. (I don't think I'd ever walked more than six, unless you count rotations around the classroom or speedwalking Busch Gardens.)

After much research regarding where my knee pain was located, what times of day it was better/worse, etc, I self-diagnosed my problem as ITBS. I began going to the gym with M and focused on hip abductors and adductors, which really helped. Strengthening my hips, core, and glutes has really made a difference. I'm not very good at sticking with these exercises, and if I go a few days without doing them - especially if I've increased my mileage - I can feel the difference almost immediately.

Taking those two weeks off and then running six miles (including a race) on my first day back left my knees achy. Barely a mile into my short run last night with M, my knees were killing me and slowing me down. So, I've decided to do my stretches and strengthening exercises, and recruited M to take photos. The lengths we go to for education, yes?

1. Begin with a flat loop resistance band. I got mine at Sports Authority for $9. It's a medium strength band because I'm a weakling but I like to challenge myself.

I should have kids just so I can embarrass them by making posts like this.
2. Lie on your side with the band looped around both legs at the center point of your calves. Keep your resting leg slightly bent/relaxed, and keep the active leg straight. Raise and lower your active leg in a slow and controlled motion. I usually do two sets of 12 reps per side.

It's not a real workout tutorial without a cheesy grin.
Repeat for the other side as well. (These are just glorified leg-lifts, but do the same as the hip ab/adductor machines at the gym.)

3. Lower your active leg, stomping on the band (which you've now moved closer to your ankle). Lift and lower the leg that was resting in a slow, controlled motion. (This exercise sucks but helps your inner thighs. I hate it and rarely do this one.)

Hard to explain...Hopefully this photo is enough, because I quit after one rep.
4. Phew, I'm tired from all that resistance work! Time to stretch!

Always stretch with a spotter. Preferably a spotter that matches your shirt and foam roller.
Foam rollers are awesome. I got mine at Target for about $25. It came with a DVD I never use because Runner's World has so many great videos. Next time I buy one of these, I'll go for the black one, which has a higher density. But this green Gaiam is good for a beginner like me.

Rollers are great for all-over body massage. They allow you to use your own body weight to work out knots and tight muscles. I seriously don't know why it took me so long to buy one!

This is a thumbs-up, not a boob-grab.
As someone whose major issue is the IT-band, I spend most of my rolling time like this. You simply balance as much pressure as you can stand on the roller, and roll hip-to-knee for about 30 seconds at a time. Three full minutes of rolling is optimal.

I take calf-massages very seriously.
Rolling your calves is nice because it doubles as a core exercise. So does rolling your quads, which we can't forget, of course:

"Drop and give me twenty!" he chirped adorably.
I also like to do planks for core work, and I got a giant stability ball I'll take some photos of next time. But I think for now, this is enough embarrassment.

Remember to do all exercises purposefully. If you're rushing through them you risk injury, and you're not getting the full benefit of the routine. Remember, too, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. New runners rarely know how important cross-training and strengthening exercises are...until they get injured. If I had been smart about my habits when I first began running, I wouldn't be dealing with knee pain two years after my original injury.

So be consistent, spend a few minutes a day where it counts, and enjoy your run! Good luck!


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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Running's Hidden Gifts

Running isn’t all endless carb-binges and bikini-ready booties. There are some groan-worthy side effects to this sport. Besides the usual injuries and the sacrifice of sleep, running brings things into your life you may never have known existed.

For one, sweat. Not just during a run, not just during cross-training, but randomly. Constantly. Apparently the more you exercise, the better your body gets at creating sweat. And it’s ready to start popping perspiration at the drop of a hat. My classroom is a steady 75-degrees. Add 29 teenagers, a closed door, and constant walking, and I’m easily sweating like an old man in a steam room.

So accurate it hurts.
Which brings us to the next gift of running: laundry. The two weeks I recently took off from running reminded me how light my laundry loads used to be. I could go a week or two without running a machine at all. But taking up running means that if I leave the laundry for a week, I’m going to have to jam clothes into the washer using a broom handle and an array of swear words to make them all fit. The clothes rock the machine so hard it sounds like a monster is trying to crawl out of the closet, like I’m washing a load of bricks. I swear, it’s amazing the washing machine hasn’t torn free of the wall yet.

Below is my lovely laundry...closet. Piled atop the machines is clean laundry waiting to be put away. This is from one week between just the two of us.Honestly, the picture doesn't do it justice.

Both washer and dryer are currently chugging away on the last load.
Being a sweaty house elf isn’t really all that bad, though. Not compared to the king of all gifts running has granted me. It's brought back something else I haven’t dealt with since I was a kid. Eczema.

When I was little, I had eczema on my thumbs and my heels. I clearly remember a time I was walking barefoot on my mom’s treadmill and my brother, walking behind me, accidentally kicked one of my barely-healed heels. The skin split and bled all over the place. I’ve also never been a good healer; I scratch and pick, and my eczema would take months and months to heal.

Once I was diagnosed with Celiac and went gluten free, much of my eczema cleared up. But last year, being a “more consistent” runner meant my skin had less time to refresh between sweaty, constricting clothes. My eczema has returned with a vengeance where the band of my sports bra is tightest. Like most runners, I refuse to take time off for something that doesn't directly affect my runs; I slather on my prescription cream, use baby powder, and shower immediately post-run, but my skin simply can’t heal up. The patches on my back are finally 80% healed over, but the spot on my ribcage is persistent. I think I will have this scaly, itchy, flaky patch forever. Maybe I should name it and call it a friend, because it’s not going anywhere.

(I debated and decided against posting pictures of my really lovely eczema patches. If you need a visual, Google is your friend. Search at your own risk. You’ve been warned.)

I’m very lucky that through it all, M has stuck by me. Because if he suddenly developed a penchant for sweating, dumped pile after pile of laundry on me, and was covered in scaly lizard-skin, he might be looking forward to a long sojourn on the couch. And because giving up running is out of the question, I just need to learn to live with these little bonuses, and so does he.

Maybe I can reframe these "gifts" as super powers or something. Dun da-da-daaaa, it’s Affliction Girl!

…Or maybe not.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Edison Festival of Light 5k

The 5k last night may be my new favorite. I can't wait to run it next year!

K and I pre-race
K, M and I drove downtown to park and walk to the start. This was an evening race, followed by a parade. As such, there were over 1300 runners and tons of spectators. I could hardly believe the atmosphere. I had expected this local 5k to be on the smaller side, but when K and I went to pick up our race packets in the early afternoon, we were shocked by the amount of traffic and booths.

Not to mention that as of 2pm people had already chained their chairs to the gutter to reserve spots for the 7pm parade.

It was extremely windy and in the high 50s for the race, so I dressed in long sleeves and wore my compression socks. (I wore them all day because I had run in the morning too, and after taking time off I wanted to be sure I recovered as quickly as possible.) I was a little warm at times when the buildings blocked the wind, but for the most part I was happy to have the layers.

New calf them!
 The course was a flat and fast out-and-back. It was really cool to see that they had shut down a section of the major highway for us to run on. There were tons of people dressed up with blinking lights, as superheroes, wearing chef was just a festive affair.

Start line. Check out that crowd...and the trees! Super-windy!
Running down 41 in the second km.

As this was my birthday race, M ran the entire thing with me. The crowd kept me motivated the entire way. As we neared the end, I thought I may finish in the 28s, which is my 2013 goal for 5ks. And by the time we saw the clock and the finish line, I could see the 28:00-minute mark ticking away. I was just barely too far to get there. I finished in 29:25, and for taking two weeks off and running a double, I'm very be happy with that.

M and me post-race.
After the race, M and I dropped K off with her family at a friend's house to watch the parade. We met up with some other friends at the big tent where they were serving pizza, pasta, dessert, beer, and presenting awards; then we headed out to meet up with another group for dinner and drinks, and caught some of the parade. It was a really good night. I'm excited to run it again next year.

Back to the Future!
My official stats were: 
19/60 female AG, 239/631 female over all, 705/1337 over all.

This was a great experience and confirmed that my priorities are back in order and I'm ready to get back into the races I really enjoy, instead of building up distance just for the bling. My head feels like it's in the right place. My excitement and happiness during this race really proved that to me. I can hardly wait for next month's races!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

I'm baa-aack!

Okay, so my break from running ended up being a little shorter than anticipated, but I'm comfortable saying that with 13 days of no running and an early morning three miles under my belt today, I'm back to it.

I didn't spend the two weeks off doing anything really important. I avoided Nike+ and DailyMile and didn't read much in the way of running blogs. I turned off my usual alarm and slept until 6:17 every day. This week, I was feeling antsy, so I did some of my hip exercises (the ones I promised photos of...they're coming soon). I saw that Pro Compression had a 40% offer going on, and I ordered a pair of compression calf sleeves and a pair of socks.

We went out for dinner for my birthday last night, and K mentioned that a running group she's met up with a few times was doing a 3-miler this morning. (They usually do long runs, but we're all signed up for a 5k this evening so they wanted to keep it easy. On a bit of a tangent here, the 5k is sure to be really cool. It's called the Edison Festival of Light, and it's run at night - obviously. Afterward, there's a huge parade. It's a giant race with lots of spectators...should be fun!)

So anyway, we did the three miles this morning and I felt really good. Well, my legs felt good. They like time off. But my breathing was really erratic. It could be that I kept a bit of a faster pace for some of the run in the beginning because the other runners were fast/not just coming off a break. Or, it could be that I'm not totally over whatever cold I had last week. But probably the trouble breathing had more to do with resting than anything else. I plan to take the rest of the day easy, and run the race this evening for the atmosphere and fun.

I did a little soul-searching during the time off, and it really helped my mood today. It felt great to be out there in cold, bright, sunshiney morning. It felt great to feel my body getting back into the motion. The biggest thing I realized was that the idea of all these half marathons was stressing me out. I wanted to run the Hooters Half in March, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't want to run it for any other reason than to add to my bibs and medals. How silly! If the run isn't about the experience, but just the end result, then where's the enjoyment?

So I've decided to run my shorter races - mostly 5ks and one 10k planned out so far - and not worry about distances at the moment. I'm going to spend the summer doing speedwork and building strength, and I'm going to run the full (or half) in November as planned. I think two half marathons a year is an accomplishment, and I don't need to run a half every month to feel like running is part of my lifestyle. I can still be consistent and meet my goals, but in a way that's more mentally and physically efficient. I still plan to build up distance eventually, but if today's first run back reminded me of anything, it's that there's merit in just getting out there.

No matter how slow you go, how long the run takes you, or how far you get, putting feet to pavement and loving it is what it's all about.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

DNR + Hot Toddy Heaven

I had my first DNR today.

M and I spent all of Saturday helping his mom move, and we spent some time in the evening with my parents. My dad had just had shoulder surgery, so it was especially nice to see him. We discussed the next couple surgeries he'll be having (knee and toe), and it made me consider what life could be like when I hit 60. Will I need knee replacement or foot surgery due to running stress? Or will running keep my bones strong?

Anyway, by the time we got home, M and I were both exhausted. On top of this, we've both been under the weather all week. I've been on the edge of whatever all my students have, and the congestion headaches, sneezing, and runny nose was just really pushing me over the edge. (Mom sent us home with my birthday gift, plus a couple shots of good whiskey poured into a jam jar - for medicinal purposes. Nothing cures an almost-cold like a hot toddy.*) Of course what also factored in was that I've been taking a break from running anyway.

So Saturday I called the race organizer to see if we could bump down from the 10k to the 5k, and were given the okay. But by 11pm, M and I both knew we needed a day of rest. We opted to skip the race completely.

I've never signed up for a race and then not shown up. I used to be really confused by people who did this. I figured if you spent the money, you may as well run the race. But last night, just the thought of getting up for the race was stressing me out. I understand now how people can say, "Well, the money is going to a good cause anyway. Let's sleep in."

When I say "taking a break" from running, I'm really not foreseeing much past two weeks off. I didn't run this week, and it feels different than the times I accidentally took time off. Meaning, I didn't set my alarm intending to run and then back out at the last minute. I didn't beat myself up for taking the time off. I dedicated myself happily to getting rest and not working about a lack of miles. I was purposeful and proactive in this decision, and it's been working.

I think this is doing me a world of good, and already I'm feeling excited to run again. But I'm not going to get back into it until I'm really feeling free of the hangups that have been plaguing me the last eight weeks or so. When I feel mentally unencumbered, physically well, and have the urge to run again, I'll go back.

I'm coming back to center, back to what I love about running. I need to shake off the competitive stuff because it turns running into a chore instead of a treat. I'm actually thinking I want to edit some of my NY resolutions because they're a little heavy. When every run is about "training", I lose the real purpose behind why I like to run in the first place.

So, I skipped a race today. Instead, M and I went to a young couples meet-up at a park and played cornhole and ladder golf, ate burgers, and met some new people. (Ah, February in Florida...perfect weather!) It was a good day.


*I've included the recipe for my go-to hot toddy here. See steps below.

1. The ingredients are simple, and, as mom pointed out before providing us with whiskey for the ride home (perfectly legal, I tell you), you should always have some medicinal whiskey in the house. Lemon juice, whiskey, and honey are all you need. And water, of course. Some people like to add a tea bag to the mix, but I prefer it without.
2. Bring your water to a boil.
3. While you wait, pour between half-an-ounce to a full ounce of whiskey into a mug.
4. Add between a half and full tablespoon each of honey and lemon. (It's really up to taste. I like a lot of lemon juice.)
5. Add your boiling water, stir well, and enjoy! The finished product should be a light golden color, smell sharply of whiskey, and taste sweet and lemony.

This has been a go-to cold-curer for me since I was a kid. I highly recommend it for everything from sore throats and congestion to full-body aches.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Weekly Report: Jan. 28- Feb. 3

This was a fun epiphany: I don't have to run my next planned half if I'm feeling burned out.

I haven't signed up yet, and while I keep telling people I can't take time off because I'm running the Hooter's Half March 3, I now realize...I could do my race-a-month plan and not run that half.

I feel really liberated. I haven't decided yet for sure, but I like knowing I have options on the table.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weekly Report: January 21-27

I feel like lately, I've been battling some weird mental monster.

A magic-eating mental monster.

A lot of the exhilaration of running is wearing off for me lately. The magic seems to be gone. Maybe this is normal; 2012 was such an amazing year for my running; it makes sense that I'd be a little worn down and a little over-done.

I feel lost. I miss what running used to be for me. I love doing a race a month, but I miss just being true to my body. I miss the unencumbered joy that running can bring. I miss just being happy to get out there; now nearly every run feels like a chore. I can't remember the last run that had me talking and venting and laughing and bonding...The social side of it just feels...gone.

In short, I think I'm tired of training. I know I can run and improve without forcing every run to be simply for the purpose of the next race, but as long as running feels like work, I'm not going to be happy about hitting the pavement. The run should have value in itself. I just want to enjoy it again.

I'm playing with the idea of going back to evening runs. Part of the problem is exhaustion, as usual, and fatigue from work. If I need to change things up to rekindle my love of the run, then I will. I don't want to hit a slump and stay there. I want to be recharged. I want this year to rival the last. I want to be happy with running again.


PS, how awkward is THIS Nike+ badge?