Thursday, February 25, 2016

First marathon of the year coming up too soon

My first marathon of the year - the Trailbreaker Marathon in Waukesha - is coming up in just over five weeks, and the build-up to it sure has not gone according to plan. By now, I should have had a couple of 20-milers behind me, but as it is I have only managed one 14-miler and that was several weeks ago. Remarkably, I am quite calm about this state of affairs, although I couldn't say exactly why.

I guess it helps that I have an ultra hubby who keeps reminding me to not lose sight of the big goal - my 100-miler in August. It helps, too, to have ultra friends who encourage me to be patient and remind me there is still plenty of time to train.  

Keep calm and carry on.

That hasn't been my official motto or anything, but it sums up my mindset nicely. Of course, if things don't turn around soon, that unofficial motto could very well turn into Panic now and lose all hope.

As it is, running got off to a rocky start this past week. I had had such high hopes of doing a longer run last weekend, but I really just wasn't feeling it. I was tired and my quad was still sore from pulling it a bit last Thursday, so I opted out. It's not an easy choice when you decide to just scrap a run, especially with a race looming on the calendar. However, what good would it do me to push myself when I am not ready? Chances are good I would just hurt myself worse. I need to keep reminding myself to listen to my body and not try to "make up" any lost runs. What's gone is gone. Time to focus on the future, and for me that really means the 100-Miler.

Don't get me wrong! I had been looking forward to running the Trailbreaker Marathon for its own merits, but now that it is obvious that this first marathon is not going to allow for my best effort, I need to keep it in perspective. It is just the first in a long series of races that I am using for training runs, designed to get me across the finish line of my 100-mile event in August. That's all. So, so what if the marathon doesn't go well? In fact, it won't go well in the classic sense. I can't race it. I'm in no shape to do that.

My current best-case scenario has me doing a pain-free 10-12 miler this weekend, which I would then follow up with a 14-miler and then a 16-miler... and that is where I will most likely stall before the marathon. And, that's if nothing else goes wrong! And something could go wrong. Unfortunately, I found out this week that I have to have some skin excised from the top of my left foot (result of my dermatology visit last week), and that will require stitches. On top of my foot. Ugh. I am not sure what that will do to my training, but I hope little to nothing.

Honestly, Trailbreaker has the potential of being my least-trained-for marathon EVER. So be it. I need to be patient and never lose sight of that ultimate goal of the 100-miler. With that in mind, I will muddle through the Trailbreaker as best I can, get the time on my feet and the practice power hiking, and move on. I guess there is something to be said for that. Right? RIGHT?

So, how do things look for this weekend's long run? Well, at this point, I am cautiously optimistic. I have managed two one-hour-long treadmill runs this week, and my legs have felt great - both during the run and in recovery. Also this week I have used the rowing machine a couple of times and attended two yoga classes. I still feel some lingering tightness, but I am walking well up and down stairs and generally just feel ready to try something longer. Like I said, cautiously optimistic.

Facebook update, so to speak

I am now two weeks into my Lenten challenge of giving up Facebook, and I am not going to lie. I miss the easy contact with people. As a means of forming friendships, Facebook may be kind of like throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks, but for an introvert like myself that's not all bad. The truth is, I get all befuddled when it comes to making friends and Facebook has made it very easy for me these past few years. Without it, I feel a bit lost. Oh well, only three and a half more weeks to go. I can do this.

Because I don't have enough races on the calendar

So, this goes to show how greedy I am. I went to our running club's volunteer appreciation dinner last night, and in previewing the door prizes available I scoped out the one I really, really wanted. I told my husband that if I am called first (because I saw this as a high-value prize, I was going to scoop it up). Well, as it turns out, I was called second and that was good enough. So, I now find myself the proud possessor of a free entry into the North Face Endurance Challenge - Madison ... any distance. Now I am going to have to think this through carefully, because I need another ultra on the calendar like a hole in my head, but I just couldn't help myself. The NEC 50-Mile was my first race of that distance, and I loved it. But, it is also just a scant six weeks after my 100-Mile event, so..... I guess more on that later. 

Because I am loving the signs of Spring...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

At a crossroads

Well, this just sucks. Now something else hurts. I think I have to admit it. I really need help. Somehow, I have dug myself so deep into a hole of body imbalances that it is proving hard now to find my way out without a guide. This does not come as a total surprise to me. After all, I had started to call in the reinforcements last week when I set up appointments for a massage and running gait analysis, but I didn't think the situation would become so dire. Now my quad muscle is unhappy with me. Add that to the left knee and we almost have enough for a party.

So, how did all this happen? Let me think. Oh yeah, running became erratic over the winter with the new job and ... well, heck, it's winter! I thought this was the time for doing what I wanted to with running! Just have fun with it, they said. Clearly, that doesn't work for me. Apparently, I need a plan even for fun running. (How lame am I?) Without a plan, though, I see that things become too disorganized. Looking back at my training log, I see a lot of weeks of hardly any mid-week miles and yet random 15-20 milers thrown in on the weekends. I don't fancy myself a weekend warrior, but I seem to have "just-have-fun"ed my way into that designation.

So, that's what I did do. What I didn't do was yoga, stretching, and aerobic cross-training. Not much anyway. I only just started adding some biking and rowing back into my regimen. Skiing, which played such a vital roll in past winters, has been almost non-existent; I've only gone once and that was just this past week!

I did add a new sport to my repertoire - rock climbing! I tried that once on a whim and it was love at first climb. However, I do have to admit, it has added a whole new class of misery to my tendency-to-get-overly-tight prone body. Now my upper body is just as sore as my lower body. Yay.

That's looking back over the past few months. Just in the past few weeks, I probably got back into running way too quickly after five days off. Ramping up to a 30+-mile week from almost nothing wasn't the best course of action. At the time, though, it seemed fine.

So, what have I done wrong this week? Well, I am not sure. The only things I can think of are that, first of all, I am NOT working anymore. While I really celebrate the fact that I am no longer chained to a desk and phone for 25 hours out of every week, and I really enjoy all the movement that now affords me, I probably should have recognized that that IS extra movement, which my body is not used to. (I am a fragile flower, after all.)

Also this week I went back to my first yoga class in months. Although it did greet me like an old friend, it did so like an old friend bent on giving me a hard time for the lapse in contact. That is to say, I felt it the next day. Skiing on Monday for the first time all winter probably didn't help either.

Finally, I have tried to get back into some old PT exercises that have helped me in the past with knee issues - namely squats and clams to build up the glutes and hips. I have also foam rolled the heck out of my body. All this was in the name of helping myself get stronger and better, but does it really help if those are not the exercises I need to be doing right now? Maybe they were targeting the wrong muscle groups. What do I know? At least, that is the conclusion I have now reached.

I'm stumped! Which way to go?

So, that brings us all to yesterday. For my second 3-mile run of the week, I had a choice. I could have played it safe and used the treadmill or run some road miles, but instead I opted to hit the trails. I really agonized over this decision for a couple of hours while I cleaned house. The trails finally won out, because 1) it was sunny out, 2) I hadn't done them in a while and I thought the change would be good for me, and 3) it's just really what my heart wanted to do. And, while I don't regret the decision, I do recognize that the choice to do PT exercises after the slippery, sloppy trails was probably what put the quad over the edge, especially after dancing my way through house cleaning. Yes, that's right. I'll own it. It makes the time pass more quickly.

Iced over Lake Winnebago. On a 45-degree day, it makes me nervous looking out at the ice-fishing shanties. Others have so much more faith than I do!
Frozen creek! The kids wanted so badly to snowshoe up this when frozen, but all winter long the water was running...but not today!

Handy screws in the shoes make me a bit more confident in snow.
Weekly Workout Wrap-Up

Sunday - 10 mile run/walk on the treadmill
Monday - 40 minutes cross-country skiing
Tuesday - 18 minutes biking and 12 minutes of rowing
Wednesday - 3-mile group run
Thursday - 15 minutes biking and 15 minutes rowing and one-hour yoga class
Friday - 3-mile trail run

Happy running!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Newly unemployed

This is shaping up to be a busy first week off.  As a newly unemployed citizen (my four-month temp job having ended last week), I have come to the realization that I have missed being at home. I missed the flexibility the stay-at-home mom gig afforded me. I missed being able to do things for my family without it involving major contortions in the time-space continuum (or is that space-time?). I missed working out when and where I wanted to. I even missed the dentist.

Well, that last bit is not exactly true, but I did - literally - miss the dentist while I was working. This week I made up for that, as well as a few other mundane chores that are necessary to one's health and welfare but are harder to schedule when working: dentist, haircut, dermatologist. I finally even managed to get my son in for his well-child visit, just a couple of months late.

I know it is possible to schedule all of this while working, but the temporary nature of my employment definitely lent itself to me feeling like it was just as easy to put things off until I was once again gainfully unemployed as it was to juggle everyone's schedules and get 'er done.

Aside from doctor's visits and such, I am also starting to take stock of my training plan and figure out what I need to do to get into shape for this year's big running goal - the 100-Miler. So far, I have planned for a massage and a running gait analysis to see where my weak spots currently are. I did this a couple of years ago and found it helped tremendously. With the legs feeling a bit wonky lately, it seems as good a time as any to go in for a tune-up. Who knows, maybe I've let something get lazy. It wouldn't surprise me. Aren't we always looking for the easy way out?

Today also saw me go to my first yoga class in, oh, a pretty darn long time. I generally stray away from yoga in the summers when the kids are off of school, and I think I was just starting to get back into it when I got the temp job in October. So, I've had a good four months of living in the stretch-free zone. And that has not been good. I realized a long time ago that I need regular stretching to keep my body feeling happy and healthy, so not going to yoga - and not even stretching much at home - over the past few months has taken its toll.

Heading into yoga this morning, I really had no clue what to expect. I felt like a beginner all over again and felt shy despite the fact that I knew Every Single Person in the class. (Okay, so there were only four of us. I still knew Everyone, and that's pretty cool.)

I feel over the past couple of months I have slowly lost all those gains in flexibility and fluidity that I had fought so hard for last year. In their place, I felt stilted, stunted, and clunky. And, the class did nothing to disabuse me of that notion really.  While my arm strength was quite good - thanks to months of indoor rock climbing sessions and now some rowing - my glute strength was weak and my legs were shaky in pretty much every yoga pose I tried. My balance was off a bit, and there wasn't much stretch in the body at all. Of course, it wasn't all bad. I did leave the class feeling about two inches taller. However, I also left with little aches and pains, telling me I kind of need to keep going back. And, I will.  I need to.

So, I am going to end with a question I've been thinking about all day. It takes a little setup, though, so bear with me.  I had the best night's sleep last night, and I cannot explain why. I have been sleeping horribly lately. My pillow somehow isn't right, and I go though life pretty much always with a sore neck and upper shoulders. It doesn't help that the job that just ended had me hunched over a computer keyboard five hours a day. So, yesterday my husband suggested swapping pillows with me to see if his, which is new, would be better. Okay. Cool. Also, before bed, I decided to try some simple neck stretches to see if that would help. So, fast forward to my good night's sleep. I go to bed later than my husband, so things are dark when I stumble in and go to bed. Got into bed last night and was immediately impressed with how fantastic the new pillow was. Got a great night's sleep. Even sleeping on my back, which I haven't been able to do for a long time. Woke up, neck felt great. Went out and asked my husband about the pillow, and he said he hadn't swapped pillows. Figured I would have done it if I wanted to. Huh. So, now I am left wondering if those neck stretches really are all that?  Or is it - as my husband suggests - simply an example of mind over matter? I believed I had a new, going-to-be-great-for-me pillow and I believed it? Something to think about.

Happy Running!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Oh no, not the IT band...again

This year is big for me. No two ways about it. I don't have time to be injured. And, yet, that is where I find myself. Well, not injured per se. At least, I hope not. More, warding off an injury, nursing along a grumpy leg, trying to put my finger on that what ails me.  For whatever reason, the ugly IT band issue from a couple of years ago seems to think it can make a reappearance.  Well, I am here to tell it that I don't have time for that!

This year's race schedule includes exactly this:

- 2 marathons (one in 6.5 weeks!)
- 3 50Ks
- 1 50 Miler
- 1 100 Miler

Do you see any time in there for injury? I sure as heck don't.

So, here's what's happening. After a year (that would be last year) and a fall/winter off-season that was on the whole very injury free, I seem to have tweaked my left leg. I blame a number of things for this situation: 1) having such a good year I slacked off on my yoga and other stretching activities, so I have gotten noticably tighter and tighter; 2) a temp job that placed me in a chair hunched over a computer keyboard for 5 hours of every day Monday through Friday (can you say tight hip flexors? I can.); and 3) well, I am not sure what "3" is exactly, but there probably is one somewhere. 

Anyway, after a perfectly fine 10-mile run one day, walking down my stairs to do laundry, I felt a bit of a ping in my left calf.  It wasn't a snap, or a pop. Just a ping. Enough to feel like a pretty decent cramp. It lingered for a few days, and there was a bit of swelling for a couple of weeks. I did continue to run through all that - not because I am stupid or pig-headed - but because I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. It didn't hurt to run, after all.

So, exit the calf issue, and enter the IT band issue.  Now I am smart enough to realize that one definitely followed as a result of the other. Sneaky devil that it is. The calf now feels ship shape, while the IT band feels wonky. It manifested itself in a bit of pain around the knee when I ran. So, I took five days off - and felt great! Deciding to get back into running, I started with a modest 3-mile walk on day 1. All was well, so a couple of days later I tried a 3-mile run/walk. Again, peachy! A couple of days later - a 4-mile run/walk, then a 5, a 6, a 7, an 8, ... until this past weekend - 10 glorious run/walk miles!!! And that was great, except for the pain I felt above my knee at mile 5. Sigh. Please note, the pain was in a different spot than the original pain that led to the five days off. So, here I am, unsure of where I'm at...if you get what I mean, dear Reader.

I am hoping that my progression was a bit too aggressive and that a down week this week will do the trick, but I really don't know. What I do know is I do not plan to be laid up for months on end if I can help it. I'd rather take a few weeks off now than that. The hard part is determining if that is necessary. So, over the next few weeks, I have a massage scheduled and a run analysis. I will continue what I have started - namely, more stretching, more exercises, more foam rolling. I will only run twice this week for three miles each time, but only if that feels okay. And then I will reassess next weekend.

Here is hoping that all does go well. After all, I have a big year ahead. Happy Running!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The tie that binds...

...or not.

I have finally cut the cord. I have ventured out into that brave old world on my own. For the first time in a looong time, I feel disconnected from family and friends in a way that I haven't felt since, oh, 2006? And it is completely by choice. You see, for Lent I decided to give up Facebook. And, so far, I am okay with that decision. 

I have given up Facebook twice before in recent years. The first time lasted about five days. The second time about a day and a half. Both times, I pulled away from it because it actually caused me angst. I don't know whether that angst stemmed from the inferiority complex that developed on the heels of what I saw as everyone else's epic adventures, (isn't anyone else's life just mundane sometimes, or is it just me?) or from the fact that it was just too much information to have swirling around in my brain at any one time. (After all, I find it hard to keep track of my own life at times, let alone others'.) In any case, this time around is different.

Giving up Facebook this time has nothing to do with feeling inferior, or overwhelmed, or anything negative really. Instead, it has more to do with possibilities, growth, and discovery. I am of an age that I can actually remember life before Facebook. However, I seem to be having a hard time recalling what I actually did instead of Facebook. How did I spend all those stolen moments when I wasn't scanning through my newsfeed, peeping into other people's lives like a socially licensed voyeur? The fact is that I don't know, and that's what I aim to find out.

Driving the farm roads two days ago, looking to where the crystal blue sky meets the frozen fields of a Wisconsin winter and seeing a lonely strip of power lines marching down the road beside me, I was struck with a profound sense that there is a whole other world - or alternate reality - going on around me that I could not see. Somewhere out there in the ether there were conversations taking place, plans being made, stories being told that I was missing. That made me both sad but at the same time relieved.

There is a sense of freedom I feel having given myself the permission to NOT keep on top of all of that. And, having given myself that permission, I feel strangely less distracted. Since I cannot look at Facebook I am not constantly thinking about looking at it. Or, if I do think of it, I dismiss it as not an option. So, at this point, I feel just a bit more present in my real life.

So far it's been four full days without that go-to time-filler. I have missed it certainly. Like any addiction, you notice it once it's gone. All those moments in the day when I have been between chores or activities, when I would have reached for my phone, I have had to stop myself and find something else to do. Admittedly, there have been moments of twiddling my thumbs, unsure what to do with myself. But there have also been moments of conversation with my kids that would have never taken place before. And, whether they like it or not, they now have my full attention. I have read more articles and books, as those are easy to grab in down moments. I have cleaned a tad more. I have helped the kids with their projects a bit more.

Increased productivity is a fantastic side-effect of this little experiment, and if it continues I will be quite pleased with myself. What I wonder at more, though, are the moments when I haven't done anything at all. I have just allowed myself to stare out the window and be lost in my thoughts. What a great feeling!

Staring out the window is how I found this guy yesterday. Usually one of the first signs of Spring, this robin made his appearance on one of the coldest days this winter!

I will be curious to see how this all unfolds. One thing for sure, though, is that with no Facebook I have more time for writing, and I have missed it. I plan to spend more time blogging and writing in my journal. There is a lot to catch up on: the four-month long temp job that just ended, some epic runs of my own that I have had since last year, and of course race plans for this year! More to come on all of that. In the meantime, the negative windchill of today has driven me indoors - so ten miles on the treadmill, here I come!

Happy Running!