Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Creating Habits to End Laziness - Once and for all

This has been a crazy couple of months.  Running has almost completely fallen off the grid for me with my somewhat failed attempt to rehabilitate a cranky shin solely based on Internet searches and free advice (not the recommended way to go when dealing with an injury, by the way.)  While I have started getting back into running again slowly the past week and a half, a marathon - bought and paid for - still looms on the horizon, just over three months away.  With a crumbled base and little time spent actually running, I don't know whether participation in this particular event is feasible or foolhardy.  I'll think about that more later this week.

In the meantime, I can't help thinking that this fiasco that has been my running life the past six weeks hasn't been all bad.  In fact, there has been some real good that has come out of it, namely more exercise and a higher fitness level.

For years, since I started running back in 2002, I have struggled with two things: finding a way to exercise "most days of the week" and extending my exercise sessions to longer than 30 minutes at a time.  Now, you might think that with all the events I have participated in, I would have those knocked.  But you'd be surprised.  I rarely have done anything in the way of cross-training.  A bike ride here or there when the weather was good, maybe a hill walk on the treadmill once in a while.  For the most part, however, my weeks have consisted of three or four runs - and nothing else.  Additionally, until this past fall, all of my runs - except for my long runs have topped out at about 30 minutes.  Even this past fall, when I tried to start stretching out my mid-week runs, they never got much longer than 40-45 minutes.

Why haven't I been able to achieve either of these goals?  Well, I think the short answer would be laziness.
You can love running and be lazy, too. Punch was a
great example of how to achieve this.
At heart, I am a pretty lazy person.  Seriously.  Give me the choice of waiting a little longer to park close to a store entrance or taking a spot immediately and walking a little further, and I'll pick the former every time.  Get up and get a drink myself or have my kids do it?  You got it.  Kid duty.  Sit and read or go work out?  Well, unless it's running, I would rather poke my nose into my latest library book.  That's why I am always amazed at friends who do so much.  Pilates classes, Zumba classes, yoga, spin, swimming, Arc Trainer.  You name it, there is someone I know who does it - along with running.  Sometimes I feel like Captain Kirk surrounded by the hyper-accelerated Scalosians in the Star Trek episode "Wink of an Eye."  (Okay, I like Star Trek, but I am not that much of a nerd.  I had to look up this reference.)  I'm lazy.  There, I have said it.  I think that's why I like running so much.  You just can't be lazy and run.  The very act of running - to get up enough speed to even call it running - takes you out of the lazy zone.

Even in my younger, crazier days I only
ever exercised seriously three times a week.
So, enter in crazy weeks of no real running.  Why has this been positive?  Because I have cross-trained - with a vengeance.  In the - perhaps misguided (it remains to be seen) - hopes of running this May marathon, I have gotten down to serious cross-training business.  I have embraced the elliptical and the rower, and between the two I am up to six days a week of cardio.  Add in my dusted-off strength routine and I am doing something every day of the week.  And, I've been doing this for almost four solid weeks now, so it really is feeling like a habit.  Additionally, since I feel so safe doing the cross-training, as I have added running, I haven't necessarily cut back too much on the cross-training, so I am up to almost an hour of exercise at a shot on my "running" days.

So maybe not running for a while hasn't been all bad.  If I can keep this up once my running is able to really pick up and resume, then having had this time off may be just what I needed to help me achieve two long-time goals I have had and perhaps - dare I say it - finally make me a better runner.

Any committed cross-trainers out there?  What do you do?

If you are wondering what is happening with my shin, suffice it to say that I have effectively buried my head in the sand where that issue is concerned.  It's not worse.  It's not better.  I plan on doing something about it.  I just haven't gotten around to it yet.  Soon.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is it finally time for a doctor?

It seems on the road of running, injury, and recovery - as in life - there come times when a crossroads appears in front of you, urging you to make a choice.  I find myself at such a crossroads.  

It's been almost ten weeks since I first noticed my shin hurting after an eight-mile run on Halloween morning, and it's been almost five weeks since I stopped running and started cross-training.  While cross-training seemed to possibly be helping, after doing my crazy, ill-fated power walk a week and a half ago and after introducing some short running stints into my regimen, I feel the shin has gone back to square one.  

I am finally at that crossroads of What to do?  There seem to be four choices: 
  1. Keep doing what I am doing, including the running, and hope that the body will sort itself out eventually (which would actually be my preference)
  2. Go back to exclusively cross-training and try to reattain those pre-power walk good vibes
  3. Go in to see the PT ladies who helped me so much with my hip last year for an assessment
  4. Go to a doctor
I hate going to the doctor, because my experiences in the past have been that they either just tell me to RICE it, which I have done, or they'll want to order some very expensive tests.  On the other hand, I have a marathon in May that I don't want to give up if I don't have to, but I also don't want to soldier through it if it will make the situation worse.  There are bigger goals ahead later in the year, after all.  And, also, I have now had enough people say to me Oh, geez, do you think it's a stress fracture? as to be worried about it.  I blew off that notion for quite a while, but I have had enough people mention it now that it is all I can think about.  

Distance Dude says he'll eat crow if it is a stress fracture.  (So, as you can imagine, it is almost worth having that diagnosis.  Ha ha ha.)  He thinks that I should just keep cross-training until such time as it doesn't bother me anymore.  But how long do you do that?  I am losing patience and focus.  What to do.... If you are hurt, when do you know it's time to see a doctor?  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Volunteering for an Ultra - Ice Age Style

I have been accepted to volunteer at the Ice Age 50-Mile Trail Run in May, and I couldn't be more excited.  Okay, okay, they probably take all the help they can get; I won't delude myself.  But, at least, I did have the honor of being the first person to volunteer my services.  That's something, isn't it?

When Distance Dude told me that he was signing up for the 2012 50-miler as a tune up for another loftier goal a few weeks later, I had mixed feelings.  Last year while he was running this same race - on his second 50-mile journey of self-discovery - I ran the inaugural Half Marathon at the same event.  This was my first trail race ever, and it was the toughest event I had ever done to date.  I was at the tail end of a week of illness (outlined here), and I probably really shouldn't have been running.  And, the course was no walk in the park.  The half marathon followed the area's Nordic ski loop, and it was hilly.  Not take-smaller-steps, pick-up-your-feet hilly, it was stop-running-and-walk hilly.  (There weren't too many people running those hills.)  It was also hands-down the prettiest race I had ever done in my life up to that point.  (Pikes Peak now holds that honor in my heart.)

After last year's event, which took me over three hours to finish, I swore I'd be back the following year to avenge myself.  That, and I had visions of starting a racing streak as I had never done an inaugural event before.  Well, life got in the way - this time in a good way.  During a fit of post-marathon euphoria this past October, I signed up for the Kalamazoo Marathon, which is held the week before the Ice Age.  While saddened a bit by the thought of missing out, I decided I could still participate - this time as a volunteer.  So, I signed up.

Where will I be on race day? Well, I just received my race day assignment, and I am very excited.  I will be working at aid station 2 from about 5:30 a.m. until whenever they don't need me anymore.

AS2 is the blue tent behind the start sign.
Aid station 2 is located right at the start/finish line.  As the course loops through here a few times, I will have a good chance to see and help out 50-milers, 50Kers, and Half Marathoners alike.  Part of my excitement for working at AS2 (aside from the fact that it is not out in the middle of woods, so there will be potties nearby) is that I remember this aid station so fondly from 2011.  When I ran my half marathon race, I felt so crappy as we came through the start/finish area at the midway point, that I must have spent close to 10 minutes hanging out here before dragging myself away and heading out on loop two of my torture.

Long view of the packet pick-up building.
Drop bags.  If I were a runner, I would have NEON fuscia.  
Food tent for after the race.  Hidden behind the picnic table
is a fire pit.  Very warming on a cool spring afternoon.
Parking lot.  Check out the trees!
Access road to the trail.
I can't wait to get out there and volunteer.  I really love trail running.  In fact, I prefer it to road running, and I want to get more involved with the trail events as my running evolves.  Plus, while I don't know if I would ever get it into my head to try an ultra, I acknowledge that I am the teensiest bit intrigued by the idea.  Volunteering will be a good way to experience an ultra first-hand - without actually running one.  Then maybe I can lay that foolish notion to rest.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Simulated Long Run and Mushroom Risotto Recipe

It's amazing to me the highs and lows I rebound between with my little shin injury.  First, the highs, then the lows, then the highs again.  I'm really getting weary from it all.

I did my long "run" yesterday.  It's the first time I have attempted to exercise more than an hour on my long run day in over a month.  (That's my first mistake.  I don't know why it took me so long to get to over an hour.)  This was a simulated long run, of course.  After four weeks of cross-training, I don't feel anywhere near ready to do a six mile plus long run.  In any event, I went in to the Y and managed somewhere around 1:10 to 1:20 on the elliptical.  I am guessing at the time because the machine actually stopped recording the time at 1:05, and it took me a while to recognize that.  I was surprised that I would last that long on the elliptical, but reading the fourth book in the George R.R. Martin Fire and Ice series really made the time flip by fast.  That, and listening to one of my favorite Killers albums.  I was multi-tasking!

After the elliptical, I headed upstairs to run on the track.  That went pretty well.  I only did a mile, though.  By then, my legs were feeling really tired after the long elliptical session.  Cardio-wise, I felt good, though.  So, the foot felt more or less fine - the usual ache after, but no sharp pains.  The shin felt pretty good immediately after the run, however I did notice some tenderness later in the day.  This morning it is back to what I will call barely tender.  I guess this is all a good sign, but I wish it would just go back to being nothing at all, like the other leg.  I have to keep reminding myself that I am still dealing with a tight IT band on that leg and patellar tendonitis on that leg, too.  That part of my anatomy is just bound to be messed up until I get a handle on all that.  So, I guess I should take what I can get.  As long as it doesn't hurt worse, I'll keep trying to get back into running.  This time, I swear, if it starts to hurt worse, I am seeing a doctor.

Mushroom Risotto

Last night was a night for comfort food, so I made an old standard - a vegetarian risotto recipe that I originally adapted from the cookbook Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson.  This has since gone through so many changes, however - not the least of which is that it is no longer a slow cooker recipe - that I do consider it my own.  If you want creamy, filling comfort food, that is super simple and quick to make, this is it.... The kids are hit or miss on this one.  If they are hungry enough, they'll inhale this and claim it's delicious.  If they aren't, they'll pick at it and begrudgingly take bites.  What does that tell me?  Nothing.  They do that with everything.  The adults in my life like the recipe well enough, though.  Enjoy!

My favorite broth.  BAM!
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 TB of olive oil
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
8 oz. package mushrooms, chopped or sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn

Saute onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft.  Add the rice and stir to coat with oil.

Stir in broth, mushrooms, thyme, and salt.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  (Note: Sometimes, if there is a lot of moisture in the mushrooms, the first simmer can take longer than 15 minutes.  In that case, just let it simmer until most but not all of the liquid is gone.) After 15 minutes, add peas and corn, cover and let steam in pot on medium-low heat for five more minutes.  Done.

Some folks like to add shredded parmesan to this, but I eat it as is - vegan style.  It's delicious either way!

Do you have any favorite comfort food recipes you like to cook up?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One run leads to another...

I am really heartened by the first run I tried on Friday at the indoor track of my gym.  It wasn't amazingly clear that all was well, but, honestly, after doing it, I feel none the worse for wear.

Friday's plan would have been the elliptical for a tempo-type run, but after being on the machine for 20 minutes, I decided it was time to test out the running gears.  So, I headed up to the indoor track and, listening to music, clutching my water bottle in one hand, and my cheap phone in the other hand (to read the time), I started running.  And I ran, walked, ran, walked, ran, walked, ran for 20 minutes.  Woohoo!  

I estimate I covered about two miles doing a modest run/walk.   My intervals consisted of five minutes of moderate running followed by one minute of s...l...o...w walking, repeat for 20 minutes.  While running I really tried to concentrate on my form: back straight, shoulders back, pelvis tilted, slight lean from the ankles out over the midfoot, and off.  Let gravity draw you forward; kick the energy back.  I tell you, after doing that for 20 minutes, I was tired.  Not so much from the physical effort as from the mental effort of trying to keep my form good.  

I think it paid off, though.  I finished the run and really didn't feel too bad.  I then followed the same protocol of stretching and icing as I had been for the cross-training.  The fallout has not been terrible.  Again, a little tenderness but nothing worse than what I have been feeling after cross-training, and certainly not nearly as bad as it felt after my power walk last Sunday.  There may be hope!  

The best thing, of course, was that I felt no sharp pains in my foot while running.  I ended up wearing my beat up New Balance WT101s.  While I consider these more of a trail shoe, I have worn them on the road before (even for a half marathon once!), and they are my favorite shoes. They are a neutral, minimal shoe, but they still have significant heel stacking.  On Friday they seemed to work out just fine.

Today, I am slated to do the elliptical again, but I think I'll add another run to the end and see if I can repeat the magic.  Today will be a bit different, though, in that I want to simulate a long run.  So, I am hoping to do at least an hour and fifteen minutes - if not an hour and a half - total (elliptical and running).  We'll see.

Friday, January 20, 2012

After three weeks off, first runs inconclusive

So, I have tried running twice this week, such as it was, and unfortunately, nothing right now is very conclusive.

So, after my elliptical session on Wednesday, I crammed my feet into my beloved Vibram 5 Fingers - the shoes I wore for three- and four-mile runs on the trails this past summer - and endeavored to run five minutes around the indoor track.  Not a good idea.  The first four minutes or so were fine, but then my calves started aching.  That wasn't so bad, but the sharp shooting pain I got through my right foot was.  In fact, it was a show-stopper.  I aborted my failed attempt of a run and limped off the track, completely disheartened and befuddled.  I don't like to curse too much (anymore), but WTF?

I mean, I know my right foot has been weirdly sore.  For the past month and a half or so, it constantly feels like the bones need to crack, but they won't.  I keep having this feeling like if they would just realign themselves, everything would be okay.  But they refuse to cooperate.  Ah well.  Just another woe added to the tale of my recent spate of injuries.

The foot has been a secondary concern next to the shin, because the pain hasn't been as acute.  It never hurt me while running before, but it was always a bit sore and stiff throughout the day otherwise.  Wednesday's failed attempt of a run was the first time I had ever noticed pain while running.  For the most part, during these past FOUR weeks (yikes!) of cross-training, the foot has gotten progressively better.  It doesn't bug me most of the time; just some of the time now.  So, Wednesday's run was a bit of a surprise.

Some good news, however, comes from my friend the shin.  After Sunday's power walk, I thought I had undone all the gains I had made during these weeks off.  Luckily, that doesn't seem to be the case.  Monday and Wednesday's elliptical sessions and Tuesday and Thursday's rowing have elicited only a little tenderness, but nothing that lingers.  I am very excited about that.  It is still not 100 percent, but it feels pretty darn close.

I did go see one of my favorite PTs for a free consult yesterday, and I am starting to feel a little sheepish.  You know you are starting to overstep the bounds of free-consult propriety, when the PT adds "See you next month?" to her good-bye.  I know she really loves me, but - really - at what point is she wanting to tell me just come in to the office already?  She's too polite to say.

Anyway, I outlined all the aches and pains that I was having, and her response on the shin?  Power walking was not the smartest thing to do.  Um, thanks.  I am always happy to have my husband's opinions validated.  Seriously, though, she said I would have been better off doing a 4-minute run to a 1-minute walk instead of the reverse.  In any case, the conclusion?  Continue doing what I am doing: cross-friction massage and ice.  As to the foot, that is a harder nut to crack, apparently.  I can start getting back into running, but take it easy.  The toe shoes are not advised at this point, and I am to start with a moderate run/SLOW walk.

So, today, I think I will give it a go.  I am scheduled to do the elliptical again, but I think I'll add a bit of running to the mix to see what happens.  I can't not run anymore.  I just can't.  And, at this point, if things are really killing me after trying to run, then it definitely is time to go see someone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baby Steps in Germany

A younger, more
glamorous me.  (Ha!)
Reading a post on the blog Tall Mom on the Run got me thinking about the very start of my running career.  The question posed in that blog was: Have you ever run in a country other than your own?  Boy, did that bring back memories.

In the post "For love or running," which I wrote several months ago (my second blog post ever), I alluded to the fact that I had started running about eight years or so ago.  But that is not entirely true.  If I want to really trace the origins of my current running obsession, I have to go back several years more, in fact about five years, to when I was living in Erfurt, Germany, on a work exchange.

I had just finished grad school and a year of classwork towards teaching certification when I landed a Fulbright scholarship to teach English at a Gymnasium (high school) in the former East Germany for a year.  By the time I moved there, the wall had been down for a good nine years - and I had lived elsewhere in Germany for a year previously - so the culture shock was not that great.  In fact, Germany to me was like a second home.  I felt very comfortable there. However, living in a new city and not knowing anyone, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands.

At the time I lived in a huge, non-descript student housing block.  The building was temporary home to many and more technical college students, and it was all but deserted on the weekends when said students headed home to their respective communities.  I lived on the top floor in a two-person apartment alone, and rattling around in that building when it was empty was enough to drive anyone to run.  I held no love for that apartment.  In fact, I resented it, feeling I was paying too much
Somewhere in Erfurt, Germany
given the small stipend I received, and eventually I would abandon it in favor of a three-person Wohngemeinschaft (WG), or co-op, across town.

While still living in the apartment, however, the weekends were mine, and mine alone, and it drove me crazy.  In my first couple of months in Erfurt, I still didn't really know anyone too well; the two other Americans I had gotten to know during orientation lived clear on the other side of the city, a good 45-minute commute that included tram transfers, buses, and a lot of hoofing it.  My building's house manager was nice enough, but she worked nights and there was only so often I could drop in for a beer or coffee with her to pass the time.

Student housing at its best.
I don't know if it was anxiety-induced energy that needed burning, boredom, or simply the need to move that got me running those first steps, but somehow I got it in my head to take up running.  Now, this wasn't a very organized endeavor (how do these things ever get started anyway?), but it was semi-enthusastic.

I would put on a pair of cotton sweatpants and a t-shirt, lace on my tennies, and head outside.  I didn't carry water, of course; I didn't have a plan.  I simply headed down the multiple flights of stairs, out the door, across the major road, and out into the country.  Being situated on the far edge of town, it wasn't long before I was out in the fields surrounding Erfurt, heading down some walking path or other and jogging away.  To be honest, I don't remember much from those first efforts.  I remember they were hard. I had to stop and walk a LOT, and I don't remember getting too far.  Mostly, I remember the feeling of contentment that washed over me.  I was happy out there.  I liked being out of the city, doing something challenging; at a time when things were mostly out of my control, running gave me a modicum of empowerment.  About the time I started thinking I might get lost if I continued, I would turn around and trot back to the dorm.  

As I said, this was not an organized effort.  In fact, it was hardly anything at all, more something to do on the weekends to help kill the boredom I was feeling.  By the time I moved into the smaller apartment across town, I had made friends and had a lot more to do on the weekends than just head out running, like go to parties and drink beer see the sights, take in the cultural treasures, and travel with my new friends.

Throughout that year I lived abroad, though, I did still find time to head out for an occasional run.  I think running had started to grow on me even back then.  Living in the WG, though, my routes didn't take me out into the fields anymore.  Instead, they took me through an older, residential part of town, across a river, and into the woods along the river.  I never did get to a point where I could run very far, and in my new locale there were more witnesses to my discomfort. One time I even had two young lads shout out Streichholzbeine to me as I ran by.  Translated as "matchstick legs," I remember being mortified at having been called attention to in such a way.  (It's funny what a difference a decade and a half makes; nowadays, I might even take something like that as a compliment.)
River path
Home sweet home!
As other things took over in my life abroad, running got pushed more and more to the back burner until it finally just fell off the stove altogether.  I never gave it up completely, but I didn't embrace it either.  Despite that, though, I believe it was those first efforts in Germany that set me up for running several years later, when back in the States, having put on a few pounds after the sedentary lifestyle of a full-time desk job set in, I started walking for exercise.  Eventually, making the leap to running was in all probability less odd because I had taken a stab at it before.

When I think back on those early attempts to run, I have to laugh at how hard I was on myself.  At the same time, I give myself credit for trying.  I remember all the reasons that brought me to try running in the first place and all the feelings that running brought me - both bad and good.

Running is such an amazing way to get out and SEE things when you are someplace new.  Little did I know that I would embrace it to the extent I have.  Now, I can't think of a better way to take in the sights while on vacation than by running.  I have been lucky enough to run in Germany, California, Boston, Hawaii, Michigan, Colorado and some other places while on vacation.  Hopefully I'll have the chance to expand on that as the years go by.  I don't see why not, seeing as we're now planning vacations around runs.

Sometime I'll have to revisit my first real exposure to running - also in Germany, but six years before my first running steps - when I lived with an American raw-vegan, health-nut distance runner.  Man, did I think she was crazy.  Little did I know....

Happy Running!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When a nightmare is a good thing, it's time for a run....

So, last night I had a dream that I was running away from someone.  You know, it should have been one of those scary dreams where you startle awake, heart pounding, eyes darting around the room to see who's there.  Creepy stuff, you know?  Instead I woke up feeling pretty good.

I was RUNNING!  

I don't remember much from the dream, but I do remember hitting the road, running down a dark, deserted street, cars driving by every so often.  But soon enough I left the creepy person behind me and I was just running - as content as could be.  And that is when I woke up.  Weird, huh?  I am not one for dream interpretation, so I don't know exactly what it means.  But, clearly, running is missed in my life, and I am generally a happier person for doing it.

So, I think today I will try to do a little run after the elliptical to see how everything's doing.  I think my subconscience is telling me I can't go much longer without hitting the road.  I'll be on the indoor track, so I think I'll wear my toe shoes.  I know it probably makes no sense, but I feel like I have fewer leg issues when I wear the more minimal shoes.  I like my big, cushioned Nike Pegasus shoes, but I have noticed in the past that wearing them does strain my feet a bit - like they don't know what to do with all that cushioning.  When the weather was fair, I was running trails at least once or twice a week, and I always wore the more minimal shoes for that.  Since moving to the road, I have been in the Pegasus exclusively.  Maybe that is the issue I am having, not enough variety - or too much cushioning.  Anyway, I'll give it a go and see what happens.

Shin Update:  It seems to have recovered pretty quickly after my power walk Sunday.  There's been a little tenderness after workouts - elliptical on Monday, rowing yesterday - but it seems to abate quickly enough.  I have been icing like crazy, though, so I think that has helped.  My PT (from my hip issue) has free consults tomorrow with a local running store, so I think I might drop in for that .... again .....  I feel a bit obnoxious about going in to these free consults so often.  Hopefully they don't see it that way.  I'll have to ask the PT when I see her .... again.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Veg Head, Power Food Breakfast

As the folks around me seem to be dropping like flies due to stomach flus, common cold viruses, and various other types of maladies and malaise, my fuzzy idea of healthier eating suddenly comes into sharper focus.  I don't know if I can ward off the nasty germs by exercising and eating well, but I sure am going to try.

For me, that means breakfast is no longer boxed cereal (not even the organic, well-meaning granola I like).  Rather, it's homemade oatmeal for breakfast.  Now, I love oatmeal, and I get on kicks where I eat it for long stretches at a time.  But, the fact of the matter is that it is not without its drawbacks.  It does take a bit of preparation.  When it is all said and done, though, really, what's ten minutes out of your morning to get a good head start on the day?  Food is fuel, after all.

So, here's my recipe:

EASY PEASY BASIC OATMEAL - The Breakfast of Champions and Average Runners Alike (makes two bowls of oatmeal)

1 cup oatmeal
2 cups water
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbs chia seeds
4 Tbs chopped walnuts
2 Tbs maple syrup

Mix the oatmeal, water, and cinnamon in a pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer on med-low heat for three minutes.

Take pot off the heat, add the cranberries, cover, and let sit for two more minutes.  Stir.

Stir the chia seeds, walnuts, and maple syrup into the pot.  Basically, done!  Dish out the oatmeal, and, if desired, add soymilk to taste.

The thing I like about this is that the recipe is really flexible as far as what to add.  Use other nuts in place of walnuts.  Add flax seed instead of chia seed.  Use agave or molasses in place of maple syrup.  Use a different type of dried fruit in place of cranberries, or use fresh fruit.  You can even cook the oats in apple juice instead of water for more of an apple-cinnamon flavor.  The possibilities are endless really.

I add to that some OJ and a cup of coffee from my favorite coffee maker, and I am good to go for the morning hours.  

Chemex coffee maker.  The best coffee maker
in the world!
 Happy eating!  Stay healthy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

12:05 average pace for a walk?!? ... (Ok, with run breaks)

Wow, what a day.  I don't even know where to begin.  Yesterday was my first day back to running in three weeks, and it went ... okay.  Not great, though.  There was no huge sigh of relief, no exclamations of joy, no "Baby, I'm back!"  To say it succinctly: the shin still bothers me.  If it weren't for that, it would have been a thoroughly wonderful and enjoyable day.  As it was, it was only a mostly wonderful and enjoyable day.

The family and I got up early to make our drive to the start of this year's annual Samson Stomp 5K, put on at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Despite the early hour, both kids were really excited to be heading off on our adventure.

Ready to go!
Distance Dude and E. ready
to head out to their race!
The drive there took a while, and when we got there I was amazed at how full the parking lot was.  Apparently, there was a record number of participants for the event yesterday and with over 1,300 people in the 5K alone, I believe it.  Following the crowd through the zoo's main entrance building, out the back, past the penguins, and into the Peck Welcome Center, we finally found packet pickup.  For $14 each (pre-registration cost per person for a family of four or more), we got really nice long-sleeved, black t-shirts.  The kids were happy with the shirts because they had a picture of Samson the Gorilla (for whom the race is named) and pictures of ape and human hand and footprints.  I was happy with the fact that there was ample indoor space to wait for the race start (I had had visions of waiting outside in the cold with two young kids) and the fact that they had a Caribou Coffee tent in the Center offering free coffee.

As the first race neared, I got myself outfitted as best I could for the high-teen temps.  Distance Dude and I had discussed logistics earlier, and I think we got it figured out as best we could considering we had four people doing three different race events.  Luckily, everything was spaced out nicely, so there didn't seem to be too much stress.  First up would be the 5K, which I needed to finish in under 45 minutes to make it in time for Hubby's and E.'s 2-miler so I could hang out with the Little Guy.  They in turn had 45 minutes to finish so that Hubby could run the Quarter-Mile event with LG.

First up, the 5K at 9:30 a.m.  Hubby was going to take the kids through the Ape House, which was attached to the Welcome Center, while I "ran."  So, we said our good-byes, I found the bathroom, and then headed down the covered wood walkway, past the penguins again (I can only imagine what they were thinking about all the people milling about), to the start.  I made it with only a minute or two to spare, and then the gun went off.

The 5K

Even though I wasn't running,
I thought I could at least dress the part.
So, I really have to say that I liked the 5K event. Since I was planning on mostly walking (4 minutes walking to one minute running), I tried to align myself towards the back of the pack, but while I was back there with a bunch of strollers and such, it seems most people were still running.  So, how did I do?  Well, I was queen of the back of the pack.  Walking - such as I was - I was surprised to be around so many runners.  Even to the bitter end, I still had other run/walkers around me.  I am afraid I probably irritated a few people.  Sorry, folks!  I did try to stay to the side, but the fact is that wending our way through the zoo, such as we were, the course did bottleneck in a few places.  There was one spot in particular where everyone's progress ground to a shuffling halt as we maneuvered through a particularly narrow spot.  For the most part, though, the path was wide enough to accommodate everyone.  Having the chants of the Fire Department recruits coming up behind you was also motivation to keep going.

As far as my little walk-run strategy, I wouldn't say it was the best.  Very conscious of the fact that I needed to finish the 5K in 45 minutes or be late for the start of the 2-mile run my daughter and Hubby were doing, I really tried to walk fast, i.e., faster than I normally walk by far.  Aerobically, I did NOT feel challenged by the 5K at all, which is amazing.  I've gotten winded by trying to walk a fast 5K before, so I think that just goes to show that my lung capacity is still there.  Mechanically, another story.  I could feel pretty early on a band of tightness compressing around my calf and shin (along the line of where the injury is).  It didn't hurt while walking, it just felt tight.  That, of course, carried over to the runs as well, but despite that running felt great.  I've really missed it.  I spent my few minutes running really focusing on form and trying to keep it light.  Taking these little run breaks was a nice ego boost (undeserved as it was), because I was sailing past folks on the run.  Not just walkers either!  I was running past other runners who were simply at the back of the pack because they do a slower pace.  It was interesting to hear people talk along the way.  A couple of young ladies were talking about how hard it was to do the three miles and how they couldn't even imagine doing 13 - that's just dumb, I believe one said.  Others were encouraging each other on - you can do it, not too much further.  Others were simply struggling to control their breath.  I remember those days.  They weren't really too long ago.  It's nice to be reminded of all the gains I have made even while dealing with the setbacks.

The race course itself was a lot of fun, as it wends past many of the zoo's animal exhibits.  I wish I had taken more time to look up and around during the event.  I did see some mountain goats, though, and camels and caribou.  Apparently, according to E. by not looking up more, I missed the polar bears.  Bummer.  The rest of the animals would have to wait until after the run.

Finishing up the three-mile event, I ended up by stretching the last run segment from one minute to three or four.  I was ready to finish up by then, and, frankly, I didn't feel that bad.  I came in at 37:30, plenty of time to do a slow jog to the 2-mile start line where Hubby and E. were ready and waiting to take off.

The Shin

So, the shin.  Right after meeting up with the family, the Little Guy and I headed immediately back into the Welcome Center.  LG said he had a potty emergency, which somehow miraculously went away once we were inside and he saw the granola bars.  I got some Gatorade, coffee, and a granola bar, too, and we found a place in the crowd where I could try to stretch a bit.  That's where I noticed that my shin was not feeling too happy with my little event.  Feeling down along the outside of the bone, beneath where the patellar tendon connects, there it was - the soreness.  After a week of no soreness after exercise (even when I have been pushing and poking at it), it was a monumental disappointment to feel that familiar hurt after the 5K.

Little Guy ready to do his run - finally.  What a long wait
for the little kids.
Quarter-Mile Event

In any case, I needed to try to put my shin out of my mind and focus on getting LG to his kids' quarter-mile event at 11 a.m.  We had fun waiting by the monkeys for the race to begin, but as the time got closer, LG was raring to go.  I was kind of hoping to see E. and Hubby before LG's race started, but no such luck.  So, when the yell of Ready, Set, Go came, I was left to jog along after the Little Guy as best I could with the backpack on my back and worrying about the shin.

I needn't have worried too much.  LG is known for his slow, dawdling walk, and if there is any way to describe his run, it would be "slow and dawdling" too.  What he lacks in speed, though, he makes up for in persistence.  He ran the whole way.  It was just really .... really .... slow.  It didn't take long before I was coaxing him along - not because he was stopping, but because I just wanted to be done a bit sooner.  Thankfully, as we came around the corner to the finish, there were E. and Daddy cheering him on, so he gave a big burst of speed and sprinted across the finish to slap hands with the man in the gorilla suit and claim his ribbon.  LG's now convinced he won the race.  And, in a way he did.  We're always telling the kids that just doing the runs and finishing is the real victory - not to worry about where they place.

2-Mile Event

As for E., her first two-mile event didn't quite live up to her expectation it would seem.  She ended up walking most of it.  Hubby says that while they started out enthusiastically enough, her stomach started bothering her after the first hill, so then most of the "run" was spent walking and stopping to look at the animals.  I think it's funny, but I think E. was the most disappointed.  She puts a lot of pressure on herself to do things well and she hasn't learned yet how to handle it when they don't go as planned.  She did enjoy seeing the animals, though, and she did finish the two-miles.  I, personally, think that is amazing.  The course did loop around in the middle and she could have chosen to quit at that point, but she didn't.  She finished it.  I love it.

In Conclusion

So, after all of our runs were done, we spent a lot of time hanging out in the Welcome Center eating granola bars and rehydrating on multiple colors of Gatorade.  Then it was a quick walk through the Ape House again (for my benefit), a walk through the aviary, and then on to lunch.  We had thought to walk around the zoo a bit more to see some of the animals we had missed, but family consensus was that we were all too pooped and would have to save that for another time, perhaps when the weather is a little more inviting.

After several stops at fun places like REI and Trader Joe's, it was time to head home.  While the kids watched a movie in the back, Hubby and I had a lot of time to discuss my shin.  (Probably more than he really wanted to!  lol)  My feeling is that it might have been the walk that killed it - and Distance Dude agrees.  Power walking probably flexed my shin a lot more than running would have done - and seeing as I am not used to that, it could be the culprit for yesterday's woes.

Apparently, the Hubby thought I meant to do a 4-minute run to 1-minute walk for this event (gotta love marital miscommunication), and when I clarified what I had done, his response - Why would you do that?  Um, I thought slower would be better?  Anyway, I got home last night, iced the shin, and this morning it feels a lot better.  It's still a little tender to the touch, but I have to really poke it to illicit that response, so I'll take that as good.  (To be honest, both shins are sore this morning, so I know it was the walking that caused it.  Shame on me.  That will teach me to walk fast.)  This week, I'll continue cross-training and maybe try a run in a few days with a different pair of shoes.  It's time to mix things up a bit.  Who knows, maybe it is the shoes after all.

Me, Beautiful?  Sure, why not?

Finally, to wrap up this VERY long post, a blog I have started following (Neurosis of the Stay at Home Marathoner of 3 (Kids)) put out a challenge to post a picture of oneself when you feel "beautiful, or epic, or Galactically Bada**."  I guess the thought behind it is that because women tend to be so hard on themselves, it's time to take a good subjective view of things.  What do other people see?  Mostly, it's probably not as bad as we think.  I have thought about this for several days and had a few pix in mind I could post, but as it happens one we took yesterday fits the bill as well.

This is a picture of me at yesterday's race all sweaty and grungy after my 5K event right before sending E. off to do her 2-miler.  So, here's when I think I look the most beautiful: after accomplishing something hard but fun (read: running), enjoying time with my family, or while relaxed on a family adventure.  Generally speaking, I don't put a lot of stock in how people look.  (Clearly, or I would take more time with my own appearance.)  I don't wear makeup, I don't fuss too much with my hair, I don't keep up on the latest styles and trends.  I strongly believe that beauty comes from the inside, and there is no time that it shines through to the surface more than when you are happy and satisfied with how you are spending your time.  So, there you have it.

Happy Running!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Marathon #3 ... Oh noooooooooo!

I am really proud of myself.  I have not run a step this week, but I have managed a very full week of exercise in spite of it all.  I actually feel like I have earned my day of rest today.

To start things off, I was very happy this week to be back in good health and fine form after a week of feeling under the weather.  I hit each workout with enthusiasm, and I think I was paid back with good heart-pumping, sweat-inducing sessions.
Of course, it has not escaped my notice that part of my "enthusiasm" stems from Marathon #3, looming on the calendar.  With the shin injury and feeling sick I had managed to push thoughts of training out of my head, but when a friend of mine came up to me the other day saying she had started marathon training and how she was nervous because it was only 20-some weeks away, that finally broke through my veil of denial.   Said friend's marathon is actually several weeks AFTER mine.  So, after bumbling through the math, I realized, Oh, SH!T, I don't have a lot of time.  So, now, whereas I was antsy to get running just for the sake of running, now I am antsy because I have a marathon in May.

So, this week's workouts took on a new edge, as I determined that even if I am not running, I need to be hitting my cross-training like I was training for something.  And, I think I have accomplished that.  I did three elliptical sessions of 50 minutes, 40 minutes, and 50 minutes, respectively.  On one of those, I tried to emulate an interval session; the other a tempo run.  I am pretty happy with how those turned out.  I also managed this week to add my new cross-training of choice - rowing - twice, doing 6,000 meters the first day and 4,000 meters a few days later.  Additionally, I have done two strength training sessions this week and one yoga class.  I feel GOOD!

The only thing missing, of course, is the running, and I hope to get back into that tomorrow when we take the kids to a regional zoo for their annual 5K.  I am excited for E. who is signed up for her first two-mile event.  She'll be running with Hubby (a.k.a. Distance Dude), while the Little Guy is signed up for the quarter-mile kids' run.  That left me.  Since we couldn't all do the two-miler (no strollers allowed and the Little Guy couldn't manage that distance) and since I didn't want to run with E. alone - she's too fast for me - that left the 5K.  Yes, my first run back after three weeks off will be a 5K race event.  Since this is about the dumbest idea I have ever heard of, I am going to force myself to go slow by doing a forced walk/run.  That means, I will probably do intervals of 4 minutes walking to one-minute running  throughout the event.  The shin has been feeling REALLY good this past week, even after exercise, so I really don't mean to undo all that by one dumb run.

I am very curious to see how the shin feels after, how the foot feels, how the kids do, well,...I am curious about everything.  I guess I am looking forward to it.  More on how it went later.

Happy running!

Friday, January 13, 2012

What's for dinner, Veg Head?

As a vegetarian, I get a lot of questions about what I eat, how do I get protein/calcium/B12, you name it.  Now, really, I don't mind the questions at all.  I am not defensive about the way I eat, and I welcome the chance to educate people - to play ambassador, if you will.

The part I don't like about it, however, is that whenever someone asks me the question What do you eat?, I invariably draw a big, fat blank.  It's like I all of a sudden can't remember what I had for dinner the night before.  In my defense, though, how many other people actually file away their menu plans in their head, ready and willing and able to serve them up to those unexpected individuals hungering for knowledge at a moment's notice?  I would guess not too many.

Usually, my answer comes out in a stumbling, tumbling, bumbling flow starting with, Oh, you know.  The usual stuff, I guess.

The truth is that the family and I get in cooking ruts the same as anyone else.  Some weeks are more exciting than others.  And, while I could probably write a whole blog on my food choices alone, I won't bore you with the details.  Suffice it to say that we eat for health.  We're vegetarian by choice.  We are not vegan, although the Hubby and I lean that way more than the kids.  We try to make healthful meals that support our active, running lifestyles.  It's become harder with the kids, who claim their three favorite foods are shell mac and cheese, pizza, and the "other type of mac and cheese."  But, despite their preferences, I don't play short-order cook to the little people in the family; they eat what we eat.  On the other hand, I don't go out of my way to make the spice-filled, full-flavored food I used to make either.

Occasionally, I do try to make something that allows us to meet somewhere in the middle.  Last night's dinner is a good example.  So, to partially answer the question "What do you eat?," I present Last Night's Dinner.

Last night, I pulled out an old favorite that I used to make all the time.  This is adapted from the Jambalaya recipe found in a little cookbook called Good Time Eatin' in Cajun Country: Cajun Vegetarian Cooking by Donna Simรณn, which I picked up in New Orleans years ago - back when we were still living in the Deep South.  I love this cookbook and this recipe in particular.  I have modified it somewhat from the original over the years, so here's the gist.

To start out, I rehydrate some TVP (textured vegetable protein).  This is actually a food product that we don't use very often anymore, since we're trying to stay away from processed foods.  But, occasionally, it finds its way back into the pantry.  It's loaded with protein and fiber and is rather chewy.  It looks a bit like chicken, doesn't it?  I'd say it tastes like it, too, but it's been so long since I've had chicken, I really wouldn't know.

Add the holy trinity of vegetables to the saute.

Add some other stuff, including the secret spices.

Add brown rice, and voila!  Dinner is served.

Now, I wouldn't say this was a real crowd pleaser in our house.  Even given the dumbed down version (i.e., it wasn't spicy), the kids looked upon it with suspicion.  But, they did eat it in the end.  I am working on expanding their culinary horizons slowly, so each bite taken is considered a small victory.

At some point, I will wow the blogging world with my breakfast oatmeal recipe.  In the meantime, happy eating, happy running, and keep any questions coming!

I'm always looking for tips and new recipes, so I want to know what do you eat to support your running?  Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

You mean, you can exercise without running? Who knew?

Running, running, running.  I have running on the brain.  It's been two and a half weeks since my last run, and - while I have gotten past the I-am-going-to-go-crazy-if-I-don't-run phase - I am feeling antsy to start up again.  (Okay, so maybe I haven't completely gotten past that going-crazy phase.)

The truth is, though, that NOT running hasn't been all that bad.  It's like I have opened my eyes, looked around, and realized that there are actually other things out there that a person can do for exercise.  Who knew?  Of course, after my faithful devotion to the elliptical the past couple of weeks, I am back in love with it.  It's not so bad.  So, you can't ellipticize outside. And, yes, there is the matter of having to rub shoulders with complete strangers at the gym.  And, no, I haven't forgotten that it really isn't the same as running.  But, ... you CAN go backwards.  Ooooo.  While I suppose I could try that with running, I think people would look at me funny, and there is that matter of tripping and falling.  So, score one for the elliptical.

Also the past couple of weeks I seem to have rediscovered my appreciation for strength training.  There is nothing like laying off of the strength for a couple of months to remind you that, yes, it really does make you a stronger person.  That first day back - when you realize that you can't do half of what you remember being able to do before - that's an eye-opener.

Yoga has also been on the agenda.  While I have never really given yoga up, I seem to have developed even more of a fondness for it than previously.  In my off weeks, I scoped out and bought two Groupons/Deal Chickens to two other yoga studios.  I'm branching out!  I want to see what other styles and places have to offer.

I have walked the dog.

I have hula hooped.

Finally, I have decided I am going to LOVE the rowing machine if it kills me.  I keep reading how rowing is an almost ideal cross-training to running, but I have never been able to get into it.  The shame in that is that we have a rowing machine in our basement.  It seems dumb not to utilize it.  Now, with not being able to run the past few weeks, I have redetermined that I am going to figure out how I can love this machine.

Even the Little Guy likes rowing.
I got off to a good start in that regard a couple of days ago when a friend of mine, who actually rows on a team, was kind enough to show me the ropes at the local Y.  Being able to row side by side with someone who knew what she was doing was helpful, and I didn't do too badly.  I managed 6,000 meters and was sore and sweating buckets afterward.  I'll be curious to see tomorrow how I do when I have to try to do it again on my own.

So, while I have been filling my time nicely with other activities, running has never been too far from my thoughts.  In these couple of weeks off, I have read a book on running, ordered another book online, found two pairs of shoes I plan on buying, started a training journal, and just plain spent a lot of time daydreaming about where I would run when the time came.

So, when is that time?  Hopefully near.  My shin is feeling a lot better.  It has been consistently good for the past five days or so.  Nary a peep out of it, even after exercise.  I have discontinued the cross-friction massage and heat and will only pick those up again as needed.  Now, the only issue I still seem to have standing in my way is my right foot.  Huh, foot?

Yeah, so the foot is something that started bothering me about the same time as the shin, but I haven't really wanted to give it a lot of thought.  It just didn't seem as important as the shin, but it seems to be the most persistent at this point.  Like a lot of my injuries, it doesn't bother me while running, but it does after getting up and after sitting for a while.  The whole foot and ankle area feels tight.  With this time off it has gotten a bit better, but it is still not 100 percent.  Of course, I haven't really thought to nurse it along either.  So, I think I'll start a regimen of icing and massage and see where that leads me.

In any case, I am hoping to start getting back into running this weekend at the latest.  I don't think I can hold off any longer.  I figured when I felt like going for a run on Sunday AFTER finishing an hour workout on the elliptical that it has got to be close to time for me to give it a whirl.

So, all in all, the break from running has been kind of nice.  I wish I'd done it a little sooner and not backed it up as I have into my marathon training period.  But, what are you going to do?  Sometimes mistakes are made.  Now, it's time to ease my way back into it and hope for the best.  I do have a marathon in four months after all.  One way or another, I have to start preparing for it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Walking the dog down Memory Lane

Well, I can't believe I actually got out to walk the dog on Saturday.  I never do that.  Poor dog. She is truly housebound.  With two active adults in the family, you'd think she'd get out all the time, but the truth is that we're active with other things and somehow she gets lost in the shuffle.  But, on Saturday, with the kids at grandma's and grandpa's and me still not running, I thought why not?  It was a better option than sitting on the couch all day.

Sabrina, a.k.a. "Dog," doesn't
get as many walks as she deserves,
but true to dogdom, she loves us anyway.
I felt appropriately chastised when I had to ask Dog twice if she wanted to go for a walk.  It used to be that that word alone would send her into convulsions of joy, leaping around the house, whining, running from me to door and back again.  Saturday, when I asked, she just looked at me like, "Huh, come again?"  It had obviously been a while.  Finally, though, we got geared up and headed out the door.  No goal was in mind, no time I had to be back, no thoughts whatsoever.  Little did I know, however, that such a simple thing as walking the dog would open the door to so much reflection.

Dog and I ended up doing approximately three miles around the neighborhood, and I was surprised by all the memories that flooded my brain.  It's been a long time since I've done anything around our area.  It used to be that was the only place I ran.  Up until a couple of years ago, running for me meant heading out the door, running for a bit, and going home.  I have done endless loops and iterations around my neighborhood, countless two-mile, three-mile, and four-mile variations on a theme.  This direction one day, that direction another - all circling back to the house at some point.  Through the houses, out on the farm road, past the park, on the main road.  This turn instead of that to keep things fresh.  I've run by myself, with my husband (when we could still run together), with baby stroller for one, with baby stroller for two, with one dog or two.  It wasn't unusual in the early days of my running "career" for me to head out with a baby jogger and both dogs in tow.

On my walk, it became apparent to me that in a strange way, I miss those days.  I mean, the running stank.  I can't deny that.  When you are really just trying to get into running, it's hard to find the strength to continue when you feel you have to jolly along a baby and two dogs.  Endless snacks, songs, and toys placated the two-footed companion(s).  The dogs - surprisingly - were not as easy.  You'd think dogs would be great running companions, and one of mine was.  The other,.... another story.

Punch only threw his 80+ pounds around when he
didn't want to run anymore.  Otherwise, he was a big softie.
The only dog I have known who could be completely naughty
but make you feel like you should be ashamed of yourself
for yelling.
Punch would be very enthusiastic about our runs to start out, so enthusiastic in fact that he usually would drag me down the street for the first mile.  After that, however, the situation would deteriorate and I would be the one doing the dragging.  There is nothing like trying to cajole an 80-pound Boxer along who has decided he has had enough.  Punch's idea of taking his running down a notch was not to walk, but rather to flop down dramatically on his side with his tongue lolling out and his eyes rolling to look at his tormentor as if to say, "Are you kidding me, lady?  I'm a sprinter, not a distance dog." Nothing could move that dog if he didn't want to move - not pulling on his leash, not rolling him onto his legs, not begging, pleading, nor threatening.  And, goodness knows, there was no shortage of any of those.  Right about the time I wanted to give up hope and sit down, too, he would deign to budge.  The rest of the run would be a slow jog home interspersed with walk breaks.  Maybe that is where my affinity for the run/walk started.

So, more than the actual runs through the neighborhood themselves, I miss what that time represents.  Like any reflection into the past, it can be hard to be reminded of how young you were.  It was only a couple of years ago, but it might as well be decades.  That time seems so far removed from my life now.  Mostly, my life does not seem to be my own anymore, taken up as it is with the needs of two growing children.  I don't have the babies anymore, and while I am good with that, I also occasionally miss all the things that came with that - the unquestioning love, the unquestioning hugs,... mostly, the unquestioning.  Of course, I miss Punch, too, whose short life was like a shooting star across the sky.  He died of cancer at the age of five, but he was so energetic (mostly) and filled with a Boxer's sense of humor that it still seems to me like he squeezed a full lifetime into his short years.  There is a lesson to be learned there.

No, I don't miss running through the neighborhood.  It was nice taking a walk and seeing things with new eyes again, but the truth is that I've outgrown our little enclave.  As I have grown as a runner, I have moved beyond what our streets have to offer.  Doing longer runs, you either have a choice of doing endless loops around the known, or untying the loop and heading out into unchartered territory.  I chose the latter.

I don't exactly remember when I took my first running steps out of the security of our familiar stomping grounds, but I still remember the feeling of adventure that came with it.  The thought that the road was open and endless and I could do anything I wanted.  I must like that feeling, because a lot of my runs remain to this day only loosely planned as far as destination is concerned.  Running has taken me so many places, literally and figuratively.  It's brought me out of my comfort zone, out of my neighborhood, and helped me meet new friends.  It's brought me an appreciation for life and everything we have in it.

E. and Punch enjoying life.
Walking around the neighborhood the other day, I did feel a sense of loss for the past.  However, mostly I just felt grateful - happy to have the things in my life that I have.  I am grateful to be able to see my kids grow, I am grateful to have known such a great four-legged companion as Punch, albeit briefly.  I am grateful for the old dog I have to walk with today.  I am grateful for my husband (even if we can't run together anymore).  And, I am grateful for running and the places it has taken me.

I hope that I am able to continue to grow and appreciate all that life has to offer.   And, if once in a while I feel I need reminding, then I guess all I need to do to remember is slow down and walk the dog.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sometimes rest is best

Nothing helps you appreciate a healthy lifestyle more than not being able to do it.  That is where I am at right now, and I am not talking about the shin injury that has lead to some time off of running and driven me to the elliptical.

No, I am talking about feeling puny, down and out, under the weather - in other words, I am not feeling so well.  So, instead of doing my scheduled elliptical workout yesterday, I came home and napped.  In fact, I slept most of yesterday off and on - as much as a four-year-old running around will allow - and went to bed at 7 p.m.  All told I ate one banana and a small portion of white rice and drank some apple juice.  Waking up after almost twelve hours of sleep, I felt well enough to eat a somewhat normal breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee (at least the headache is receding now), but I am still not 100 percent.  Bummer.

Hopefully by tomorrow things will be back to the new normal and I can do the elliptical again.  In the meantime, this has reminded me of an experience I had earlier this year that I wrote about for a local running club's newsletter.  I always wanted an excuse to post it here, and this is as good of one as I am likely to get.  The story below is also why you will not catch me trying to exercise through sickness when the symptoms are below the neck.  Happy running - or resting!

So, you think you had a bad run?

Misery might like company, but this is the story of how I ran alone at two half marathons.

Let me start this by saying that I have never been a great runner. I joined our local running club the evening John “The Penguin” Bingham spoke to the club, because in his talk I found someone with whom I could identify. Here was a back-of-the-packer who was happy with his status and telling me it was okay to be slow. I joined the club and have found great support. I accepted my mid-to-back-of-the-pack status and have even considered myself a champion of us slower folks. But even with all that, there are limits, and I am still trying to wrap my brain around the series of events that led to my toughest race experiences thus far.

As a bit of background, towards the end of last year after coming off of a bout of runner's knee, I was feeling pretty good about my running. So, when the time came to sign up for what has become my family's annual trip to a regional half marathon in a scenic area nearby, I naturally signed up. When my husband decided he had to do the a 50 mile trail race a week after that and I found out that they were having an inaugural trail half marathon, I naturally signed up for that, too. Two half marathons one week apart is nothing to many runners, to be sure, but for me this was a big deal.

I was very excited about the back-to-back goal I had set for myself and was doing pretty well. I had a training plan in place. My runs were feeling pretty good. I was on a roll. And then the hip issue started. The diagnosis: femoral acetabular impingement, or – as I understood it – something was pinching and pulling in the hip joint when the muscles tightened up with exercise. This is something that apparently is becoming more commonly seen in athletic (yeah!), middle-aged (boo!) women. So, after several months in physical therapy (during which I continued a modified running program), devotion to the PT hip strengthening exercises and stretches I received, and several weeks of rest, I resumed buildup to my goal races – albeit with a Galloway-like run/walk approach.

As Goal Race #1 drew near, I knew I would be slow. Why? Well, because I was never fast to begin with and now I was doing a very conservative run/walk with a 3:1 ratio. Despite this, I was pleased at how improved my hip was – almost no soreness after long runs – and how even my grumpy knee wasn't peeping. With high hopes and happy thoughts I looked forward to my challenge. Then I got sick.

The day before Race #1, I woke up feeling not so hot. I slept for most of that morning, made it up to our hotel and then proceeded to lay in bed all afternoon and evening with fever, chills and body aches. The disappointment was overwhelming. It's not like I do these types of races all the time. I knew I was going to miss out on something fun.

The day of the race dawned and I woke up feeling exhausted and in need of a day of sleep. However, there were no chills, no aches, and no fever. So, after talking to my very logical, engineer husband, who advised me that this would be an emotional decision and don't think of it logically, I laced up my running shoes and headed to the start.

If you have never toed the start line to a race after a day of fever, etc., then it's probably hard to imagine what that running feels like. Those first steps were excruciating. Everything hurt. It felt like I had already hit the wall, and I was just starting. I had a number of “exit strategies” from the course planned. So, in starting out, I told myself I only had to get to mile 2. By mile 2, though, I was starting to loosen up in spite of everything and suddenly mile 6 (exit #2) wasn't looking so impossible. Well, once at mile 6, I was actually feeling well enough to adjust my run/walk from 3:1 to 5:1. By mile 10 (my final possible exit), it seemed silly not to finish. I did finish in about 2:42 – my slowest Half to date, but I finished and I felt great. I had a whole new respect for the mental game of running an event. Of course, that's about when the relapse began.

I spent the next week exhausted. In addition to just plain being tired, I had nasal sinus congestion, caught a stomach bug, and generally was not up to snuff. Despite all that, I, of course, decided to attempt to complete my goal. So, I lined up at the starting line of Race #2 seven days after the first. (When you are traveling with someone doing a 50-mile race two hours from home, what else is there to do? It all made perfect sense at the time.)

The trail half marathon didn't go quite so well. While I had thought 2:42 was slow for me, this race was even tougher and – suffice it to say – the PR I set was of the kind you typically don't want to see. I started out with a 5:1 run:walk ratio and did fairly well with that. However, at about mile 5, I knew I was hitting my collective wall. The course loops around twice on a very hilly Nordic ski trail, so heading through the start/finish area at mile 6 or so, I treated the halfway point as my personal intermission. I got some food, hit the comfort station, and even walked to my car for another water bottle, all while thinking how nice it would be to just call it a day. In the end, though, I headed out for my second loop. The loss of momentum, motivation, or maybe just muscle memory took its toll, and I ended up walking (strolling?) almost the entire second half of the course, and if it hadn't been so beautiful, I would have been tempted to quit altogether. It's hard to explain the need to sleep while running, but if I could have curled up on the trail without alarming fellow runners (50Kers at this point; the half marathoners had long ago left me in the dust), I would have. But, I finished. And, for me, that is something.

So, lessons learned? I suppose there are several. Top on the list is there is a reason why they say not to run when you have symptoms below the neck. Was it stupid to run these events while sick? Probably. Would I do it again? Maybe. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I wouldn't willingly give up either race experience. Both races were great destination events. But even without that, I discovered new depths to what I personally can tolerate, and I think I'll be better equipped in future races because of what I experienced.