Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Improve Your Stride Without Trying | Active.com

Improve Your Stride Without Trying Active.com

Rookie mistakes

It's actually pretty funny, but I wasn't laughing yesterday. On Sunday, I woke up and checked my email. I got something from Active.com with some interesting articles. One of the articles discussed how to improve your stride (see previous post). This really caught my eye as I have been working on making my own changes for the past month or so. I haven't read up on Chi Running or the Pose method, but after viewing the Newton running videos and reading a few associated articles, I have been working on shortening my stride and landing on my midfoot. Basically, I am attempting to avoid heel striking as I think that has played a role in my hip injury and problems with plantar fasciitis.

The article suggests doing "Giant Walking Lunges" and "Single Leg Running," or better known as "hopping." :-) I didn't get in my weekend long run, so I thought I could do these simple exercises as a way of at least doing something helpful. Time was limited and I really needed to be getting ready for church. I decided I could do these quickly in my bedroom, barefoot. I did 10 lunges and hopped 10 times on each leg. Then I quickly followed this up with 25 crunches, 10 pushups, and 5 bridges. While I was doing my crunches, I noticed some sharp pains in my hips and groin. I ignored them and finished so I could hop in the shower.

I felt okay for most of the day, but by the evening, my legs and glutes started stiffening up. Oh, I also forgot to mention that during the afternoon, I helped my sister move into her new house. That meant I was carrying boxes up and down stairs for about an hour.

By Monday morning, I could barely get out of bed. Walking was near impossible. Even sitting was painful! My glutes and adductors were on fire with each step. I thought it would get better as I moved around, but not so. Okay, you wanna laugh? Picture this...I had to keep my back slightly arched as I walked with extremely short strides. Normally, it would just be my kids and husband seeing me walk funny, but I taught cello lessons last night which involves quite a bit of walking back and forth to meet my students in the lobby. I felt like I had to explain to everyone why I was walking so strangely. If I had just run a hard race, I would feel proud to explain. But saying that I was dumb enough to follow advice I read in an article the day before was hard to admit. So, I simply said, "I did a silly workout yesterday and am feeling the effects of it today."

I woke up today feeling a little better so I decided to go for a short run. I only made it out one mile before I had to stop to walk. And, that was going at a 12-13 minute mile!! I turned around and ran (or jogged very slowly) and walked back home.

Now, remember, I've been running for over 10 years and my husband is a running coach. So, why would I think that I've come across a simple answer to my problems in an article I read online? All I can say is that I guess I still make "rookie" mistakes now and then. Let's hope this is just soreness that will go away with a little more rest and I've not caused more injury. I'll keep you posted!

Final thoughts: An article may provide some good information, but it's best to play it safe and start slowly. Less is more!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More than running

Today was my first run since the 1/2. I had planned to go out with my friend (let's call her "J") early this morning, but started having second thoughts when I looked at the forecast right before bed. There was a 70% chance of rain and it was going to be cool. Still, I set my alarm and hoped for the best. I woke up around 5:30, looked outside and saw it was just a light rain. For an easy, recovery run, I didn't see the point in getting wet and feeling uncomfortable. I sent J a text that we could just run tomorrow. After a few minutes and no response, I figured she probably didn't get it. I got myself ready and headed out the door.

I got to our meeting spot and didn't see J. For a minute, I was worried I didn't wait long enough to see her response to my text. But then, she came running up. She had responded to my text, but I had already left my house. I thought it was funny that both of us really didn't want to run today, but also didn't want to risk one of us showing up while the other was still sleeping. As soon as we cleared up all of our miscommunication, I suggested we run tomorrow and go back home. J said "we're already out here so we might as well run." It was a little uncomfortable at first, but within a few minutes I was warmed up and the rain wasn't bothering me anymore. It was very light (especially compared to the hurricane-like conditions at Lewis and Clark in 2008).

I say all of this not to bore you with these mundane details, but to show how having a running buddy can be so motivating, especially when it's not an ideal day for running outside. And, to share what happened during our run.

J is recovering from an injury that sidelined her for over a month. During that time, she had stopped running to let her injury fully heal. This was her first run back! We chose a flat 1/2 mile loop in our neighborhood and I expected we would run 3-4 easy miles.

As usual, J and I got to talking right away. At first, we just talked about the weather and I shared my Lewis and Clark "Hurricane Ike" experience. Then, somehow the conversation shifted and we started talking about songs we like and their deeper meanings. This led us to talk about life and death, grief and anger. Before I knew it, it was starting to get light and I figured we should end our run. I checked my Garmin and it showed we had run over 5 miles! That 1/2 mile loop had never felt that easy and added up to so many miles that quickly. Usually when I run it, I'm doing some sort of speed work and I'm completely focused on my pace and starting and stopping points. Not this time!

J reminded me about another side of running that I love - the unexpected. So many times, I'm following a schedule and trying to hit a certain pace that I get so focused just on running. Today, I was able to forget all about pace, my stride, and breathing, and just enjoyed running and talking with my friend. I was also reminded that there's so much more to life than my running goals. Of course, I know that, but I have a tendency to get so focused that I forget to enjoy the other aspects of my life.

Running is such a great metaphor for my life, but I have to remember not to let it define my life. I have been so incredibly blessed and have so much to be thankful for. If I couldn't run, I would be sad, but I believe God would provide other outlets for me. Through running, I have met the most wonderful, inspiring people - true friends I believe I will have for a lifetime. I have had amazing opportunities and seen so many different places. I'm grateful that God continues to bless me in this area and pray He will for years to come.

As I have said before, I'm not naturally a person who likes to run by herself. But, when I do, it is an amazing opportunity to meet up with my Creator. I like to use my solo runs to talk and pray to God. The great thing about running is the repetition. After a while, I get into such a groove that my mind will become clear. These are the times I can finally "hear" God's answers to my prayers and figure out the direction or action He wants me to take, especially if I'm having a difficult time making a decision. If you've never prayed during a run, I highly suggest you try it. It's an incredible experience!

Thanks J, for a wonderful run and conversation this morning. You're a wonderful woman and friend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting ready to go

After the race on Saturday, I decided to take several days off. My hip and low back were starting to hurt again on Sunday, which got me nervous that I'm not quite all healed up. The race definitely took some effort for me. I think I trained pretty well, but I did just enough so that I could pace without a lot of struggle. Still, I have a long way to go to get in really great shape and do the faster miles with ease. My legs were also very stiff Sunday and Monday which I think was mainly due to the hills and cold on Saturday. I spent some time Sunday lightly stretching and doing self-massage on my back and hip. I was quite sore afterwards, but I think I worked out some of the junk.

I still haven't run, but today I had a good swim workout and did some strengthening exercises for my back and hip. This is part of my bigger plan to get in shape and put myself in the best position to qualify.

I think it's time to finally start listing the things I need to do. If you're reading this and following my progress, I expect your feedback if you see I'm not doing what I say I'm going to do. :-)

1. Hip strengthening exercises (3-4x a week)
2. Strength training (core and upper body) and light cross training 2-3x a week on non-running days
3. Lightly stretch after every run/workout
4. Drink lots of water
5. Cut out excess sweets and salty foods
6. No eating after 9:00
7. Go to bed early every night (asleep by 10:30 - 11:00)
8. Go to chiropractor and massage therapist weekly/bimonthly

So far I've mostly been doing 1 through 3 and that's about it. Today I'm drinking a lot of water, but it's easier since both kids are at school. Getting to bed early and not eating after 9:00 are probably going to be my biggest challenges. I'm notoriously a night owl and have been for the majority of my life. I'm not expecting an instant change, but will be gradually working towards this goal.

I hope to run again tomorrow. The forecast is calling for rain and unless it's a downpour, I'll be out there. I'm working on making small, but very important, changes to my stride so that will be my focus tomorrow. I'll share more about that after it's done.

Now, if I can just stay healthy while my daughter is sick. She came home from school this afternoon with a 102 degree temp. Argh! Let's hope it's short-lived! (look for an upcoming post about balance and making adjustments - both are needed when raising two young kids!)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

KC half

Today I ran the KC half marathon as a co-pacer for the 2 hour mark. Our job was to pace the runners who wanted to come in right under 2 hours utilizing the 'Smart Pace' strategy. The short version - We did it!!

The long version - I had an awesome time running with my co-pacer Stacy and helping so many runners achieve their goal. I paced last year for the 2:10 half and had a good time, but did it on my own. At times, I felt like a crazy lady who was carrying a stick and yelling out words of encouragement and running tips. This year, when I yelled, I had a partner in crime! :-) Not only that, but we sang a song almost every mile we passed. It went a little something like this (adapted from "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus) - "I got my hands up, we're running our race, mile 1 flies away, I'm noddin my head like yeah, moving my feet like yeah." We changed the lyrics a bit if we were running up a hill or if I just messed them up by accident. (It's a new song to me so I really had to think about it)!

Aside from the silly song, I think we did a really good job holding our pace and sticking to the 'Smart Pace' strategy. If you're not familiar with it, we started off slow and gradually increased our speed until we settled into goal pace after a few miles. We built a little cushion in the middle miles then relaxed the pace a bit at the end. If you want to see what this really looks like, check out http://www.races2remember.com/Pace_Bands.html . It's the only way I'll ever run a race! There's nothing like feeling great at the finish and being able to pass so many people at the end. All because you consciously didn't get caught up with the adrenaline of the crowd and go out too fast. I don't really know how many people we were able to help out, but I'm guessing quite a few people were able to gauge their pace just by seeing us up ahead or by passing us at some point. I do know that several friends who started with us felt great and were able to leave us. All of them finished 3-5 minutes ahead of 2 hours. We had wonderful racing weather! Temps in the 40's and overcast skies the whole way. It was a bit chilly, but with a long sleeve shirt (under my short sleeve pacer shirt), capri tights, gloves, and hat, I was comfortable enough.

Overall, I was very happy with my experience today. I only have a few critiques for how the aid stations were run, but I will save those comments for Eladio and the race committee. I'm very proud of our hometown race and how it's grown over several years. I don't expect we'll ever be the size of Chicago or New York, but for our size of city and the hills we inevitably have to have, it is a wonderful, scenic course. Not a super fast, guaranteed PR or Boston qualifier course, but if you train properly and the weather cooperates, it is possible.

In fact, my good friend, Ann did just that. She has been trying for a few years to qualify and she did it today with a time of 3:44:10. She just had a birthday and only needed 3:50, but she really went for it and killed it! I'm so proud of her and thrilled that she accomplished this long time goal. I'm also very excited because with the timing of her qualification, she could run Boston two years in a row. Which means, she can run Boston next April and then run it again with me in 2011, if I qualify next fall. Oh please, oh please....! If I get there again, I really want to run it with my friends. So that means, you all have to qualify too! (You know if I'm talking to you!)

Congrats to Ann, Theresa, Stephanie T., Stephanie G., Mallika, Pritha, Adina and all who ran today! Thanks to all the volunteers, including my dad who helped set up and take down the aid stations! Thanks to Eladio for letting me pace again this year and redeem myself from last year and to Stacy for being an awesome co-pacer and friend!

It's been a very busy week and my body is finally feeling the fatigue. I think it's time to wind things down for the night and get some rest. Sweet dreams!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The journey begins

Eight years ago, I qualified for the Boston marathon. I ran the Portland Marathon in 2001 at the age of 26. It was my 5th marathon and I was still new to running. I didn't realize that my qualifying time of 3:37:46 would probably be my fastest EVER! As I was coming down the final stretch of the race and saw the finish line (and clock), I remember telling myself that I would never have to run this fast again to qualify. I just needed to do it once. I pushed myself in and came in 2+ minutes under 3:40. I'm sure I appreciated my accomplishment on some level, but I wonder how I could have really known what I just did. I had only been running marathons a couple of years and I qualified the first time I tried! I have friends who wanted to qualify for years and kept trying race after race with no success. Now granted, I had to train properly and get in really great shape, but to qualify the first time I tried seems impossible to me now.

Fast forward to the present time. (I'll quickly fill you in on the gaps. Ran Boston '02, dealt with first major injury, pulled hamstring in '03 and simply finished NY marathon, 1st child '04, dealt with second and most nagging injury - plantar fasciitis and ran Chicago '05 anyway, ran KC '06 mostly healthy but ran stupid, 2nd child - '07, NY again in '08 with major plantar fasciitis problems, decided to 'semi-retire' from marathons in '09). OK, so we're almost all caught up.

'09 has been an interesting and challenging year for me running-wise. It started off slow since I was still recovering from my plantar problems from NY. I took it easy all last winter and then finally started training for the OKC half-marathon in early February. I got into some new shoes which seemed to help, if not actually 'cured,' my plantar fasciitis. So I'm running pretty good throughout February, but had to deal with a lot of colds and sinus problems. Then, in late February I ran a hard 12 miler in Shawnee Mission park on a bitter cold day. It was hilly and the ground was covered in snow and ice. I came home and could not get warm. While I was in my steamy, hot shower, I decided to stretch all the tightness out of my body. I did my usual IT band stretch and noticed my right hip was super tight. I stretched, and stretched, and stretched, until I couldn't stretch it anymore. It felt soooooo good! But, when I ran again on Tuesday and did some speed work, it was still very tight and sore. I kept stretching it thinking it would go away, but it just got worse the more I ran on it. I've never had tightness that couldn't either be stretched away or massaged out. I can't remember if I saw anyone (chiropractor/massage therapist) before OKC half, but I thought it would be fine.

I started the race and even with my not so great training, I thought I could still shoot for a PR, or at least a close second. That meant I was shooting for a 1:40-1:43. I saw the 1:45 pacers and lined up by them. Sadly, after I couldn't even keep up with them for the first mile, I knew I would have to forgo any fast time that day. My hip wasn't even really bothering me that much, I just couldn't get my legs to turn over that fast. Even still, I kept pushing the pace and tried to get in the upper 1:40 range. By mile 10 or so, my hip started speaking to me. There wasn't much fight left in me and I struggled in at 1:50. Walking around after the race was quite painful. I had to adjust my gait for my very sore hip. I promised when I got home, I would take off a week or so and see somebody if I had to.

A week later, hip was still sore but I tried running on it anyway. It got worse. Took another week off and tried running again.....same thing. By the end of May, I decided I needed professional help. I started seeing a new chiropractor who does the Graston technique. If you've never had it done, let me just warn you now, it's the MOST painful treatment I've ever had and I've seen many deep tissue massage therapists through the years. I would rank it up there with childbirth! The treatments helped tremendously with the pain and tightness. Only problem was, I couldn't run much and it left me with large black and blue bruises on my hip. Because of the tenderness and wanting it to heal fully, I was running once a week at best at a snail's pace. All my summer race plans had to be scrapped. My focus now became to heal my hip so I could run pain free again.

Two months of treatments, very little running, and practically no cross training later, I started training for the KC half marathon. I had signed up to co-pace the 2 hour group with a good friend of mine and I wasn't going to back out of my commitment. I decided that I was going to train smart and do the bare minimum so I could run a 9:09 minute pace comfortably. I started off slow. I figured if at some point my hip started acting up again, I would just have to deal with it. I knew I could run through the pain if I needed to, but would prefer not to. I was going to try to be smart about my training. This basically meant I was starting over from scratch. I felt like a new runner all over again (but this time, much smarter)! I had taken breaks from running during both pregnancies and right after having my babies, but even that comeback was easier than this. I was having to FORCE myself to go slow, slower than I really wanted to and knew I could go. I had to keep reminding myself that I didn't want to feel that pain again and take all those steps backwards. If I had to, I would, but then I knew I would have to take all that time off again after the race to get healed up. I didn't want to go through that again.

I took babysteps and forgot about my speed. I started doing most of my runs by myself. (Anyone who knows me and has ever run with me, knows that this is very hard for me to do. I like to say that I'm not an endurance runner so much as I am an endurance talker. I can talk for hours, so as long as I have running buddies with me, I can run for hours. Not so easy to do by myself). Fortunately, I'm not training for a marathon and can do 10-12 on my own if I have to.

I need to back up the truck a little here. During May, June and July when I was still in just recovery mode, I had a lot of time to think about things, about who I am as a runner. I had always prided myself on being fast and if I went slow, I had a good reason (running with a friend, recovering from a hard race, or tapering for an upcoming race). Now I was forced to not run if I wanted to get better and when I did run, I HAD to go slow. It was very humbling!!!

OK, back to my half marathon training. I kept upping my mileage slowly and not worrying too much about my pace. I started out around 11 minute miles and was happy if I finished my runs in the low 10's. By late August, I was toying around with the mid to high 9's. In mid-September, I did a couple of speed workouts (800 repeats) and ran the Lewis and Clark half-marathon. I used the race to practice my pacing. Although the course was much flatter than KC will be, I needed to know I could run that pace. Several people joined me and they ALL came in under 2 hours. My official finish time was 1:59:10. I was thrilled I was able to hold the pace!

After that, my confidence started coming back. The past few weeks, I've added more speed, more tempo/goal pace runs, and some hills. My legs are feeling it, but my hip is doing all right. It's not perfect. There's still some tightness there, but no soreness and I'm not doing anymore crazy stretching. I'm adding core and upper body strength training, as well as some physical therapy type exercises to strengthen my hip.

This whole process has helped me respect my body and it's limitations. It has helped me appreciate the times I ran injury free. It's given me a new respect for people who run at a slower pace and are happy with their accomplishments. But more than anything, it's given me a new drive to get and to stay healthy. I don't want to run anymore to impress myself or even others. I want to do this for a lifetime if I can. I want to model a healthy lifestyle for my kids and to keep my body in good working condition.

I'm funny in that if I don't have specific running goals, I tend to not do much at all. I'll let myself off the hook on bad weather days or if I'm feeling too tired. All that changes though when I set a goal for myself. I had all but given up on running and definitely didn't think a fast marathon would again be in my near future. I thought, "who has time and energy to really do that and what would be the reason? Haven't I already been there and done that? Did I need to prove that I could do that again?" The answer to all that was a resounding "NO!" Even still, there was something in my head, asking, "What if?" What if I got in really great shape again? What if I changed my bad habits of staying up too late (as evidenced by this blog entry) and not eating and drinking water properly? What if I stopped wishing and started doing? What if...here's the big one...I qualified for Boston when I turn 35? I would get 5 more minutes than before so I wouldn't need to run as fast. My good friend did it last year, could I?

The question remained, but I wasn't quite sure. Not until I finally had a really awesome speed workout, did I even think it might be possible to dream for this. It was shortly after the Lewis and Clark 1/2. I was running with my girlfriends doing 800 repeats on the track. I was shooting for 6 - 3:30's. All but two were under 3:30 and it felt wonderful! I was able to breathe and felt my leg speed coming back. I started to dream right after that!

Now I've decided to go for it. I've started making a laundry list of all the things I need to do if I'm going to make this happen. I understand there are no guarantees and that just by saying I'm going to try for it, doesn't mean it will happen. But, in order for me to even try, I need to follow my list. I'm not going to share it all now, but will at some point.

This is just the beginning for me. I still have the KC 1/2 to run/pace next weekend. Then, it will all really start. I'm hoping this blog will help me stay accountable to follow the rules I've set for myself. I don't expect anyone to read this, but if you do, I welcome your feedback and support. Thanks for reading!