Tough days.

IMG_20151114_095644254 [73589] Even after 1,200+ miles, this running activity can still throw a wrench at me. Or, perhaps more appropriately, hide a bunch of wrenches under freshly fallen leaves.

Let me explain.

After a week of pretty stellar runs, I headed into a high-mileage weekend with great hopes. The plan was to run 17 miles on the trails on Saturday followed by an easy 11 on the roads on Sunday. I felt really confident about these runs, and I was really looking forward to them.

Saturday was an incredible day. The skies were insanely blue, which is something I’ve been missing lately. The trees in Harmonie State Park had dropped many of their leaves, so my view of the sky and of the forest beyond the leaves was nearly unfettered as I plowed through the deep piles. In general, the run was pretty great. But, under all those fallen leaves were roots and branches that I couldn’t see until my feet landed on them or inadvertently kicked them. I was constantly stabilizing or recovering from dramatically tripping. I think I fell all the way down twice, which is always frustrating. But tripping without falling is just as frustrating, really – and surprisingly painful. My legs felt really beat up after a while.

I have a friend who is studying to be a physical therapist, so she can tell me if this is all wacko, but my theory is that constantly pulling myself upright and trying to correct sudden imbalances overworked my stabilizers, which led to pain in my IT Band (UPDATE: She doesn’t think it’s wacko). This pain is something I’m unfortunately really familiar with. When that pain starts, aside from stopping running immediately, there’s no way to keep it from getting worse. I kept running and finished my 17 miles on increasingly painful legs. It’s my own fault.

I used to deal with pretty regular IT pain. It made my first marathon incredibly painful – but after many months of dogged ITBS rehab, I had it under control really well, so I don’t deal with this very often anymore. It’s really frustrating when I get that pain, and it’s that frustration and ill-placed determination that keeps me running when the IT pain starts.

Anyway, I tried to treat my legs really well on Saturday night (compression, elevation, quality foam rolling time) so that I could still go out on Sunday and get those 11 miles done. You may not be surprised that a little more than 2 miles into the run, my IT band started hurting again. I stretched and tried to manage it, but ultimately decided to cut the run short. When I got home after 4.89 miles, I could barely get up the stairs to my house.


These are tough days.

It’s so hard to come home and have to say “Today was a bad run.” It truly is. I texted a friend a little while after my run to admit I cut it short. It was a therapeutic admission. While I was stretching and rolling, I thought, “Maybe I won’t tell her. I’ll keep it to myself and let her think I did just fine.” But admitting that I had a bad run was important for me in order to move past it and get on to the next part. She responded by telling me that she cut her long run short, too – and that we need to figure out a way to encourage each other through these hard times – and she’s absolutely right. We runners can spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back for the great runs and impressing one another with the long distances, but being able to admit when we had a bad run or a bad string of runs is just as important to our ability to get out there and keep impressing and inspiring one another.

Maybe the hardest part about being a runner is when I have to admit that I don’t always have it all together, and that – despite the work I do and the food I eat – sometimes it just really hurts too bad to keep running the impressive miles I aspire to. Sure, most of miles come easy, but with each success, the perceived failures bite even deeper.

But, keeping true to the ultradistance, I’m in this for the long haul. Maybe I’ll “fail” a run now and then – but, as you may have read in an inspirational picture on the Internet – failure doesn’t come from falling, it comes from not getting up.

As I write this, there are three weeks and six days until my next ultramarathon (the countdown widget is a “nice” reminder). I had a plan for those weeks, too. But, this weekend’s IT trouble necessitates a new plan: ITB rehab from strengthrunning.com. This is definitely not a new thing for me. I’ve done this routine so many times, I could do it in my sleep. But I haven’t done it lately. This routine focuses on hip and glute strength, improvements that will keep me from relying on my poor IT band to stabilize me on downhills and unpredictable terrain.

While it’s hard to move past the disappointment of the weekend, I have a new vision and optimism as I start the last several weeks of training before Bell Ringer. As always, there are strengths I need to cultivate in my mind and body, new habits to build on, and routine to establish. Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you!
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Establishing structure.

Last week the fitness center was closed. So I couldn’t get my gym time in. This week I’m headed back, and I’ve built a more clear structure to my workout week to help me focus. This way I won’t be deciding what I’m going to do at the gym on my way to the gym.

Monday: Easy elliptical.

Getting on the elliptical helped me turn a significant corner in my fitness life seven years ago. After a while, though, it was hard to find a place for it in my routine. I haven’t very consistently used the machine for a few years now, but lately I’ve enjoyed getting back on the ol’ pedaler again. Monday is supposed to be an easy active recovery day following long weekend runs and cross training. Elliptical fits the bill quite nicely. I pull up some Netflix on my phone and get to relatively easy work.

Tuesday: In the weight room.

I’ve talked before about how strength training is a very important ingredient to running strong, fast, and injury free. I haven’t been completely ignoring it, but I also haven’t been spending much quality time in the weight room until a couple of weeks ago. It has felt really great to get back into some of those workouts, and Tuesdays will be a fantastic day to do them on the regular, to put it vernacularly.

Wednesday: Faster blaster.

I’m calling it this because it rhymes, and I like a good superfluous rhyme.

I love the 12 Minute Athlete workouts, but I don’t want to do them every day. It’s kind of easy to get burned out on them, since they’re high intensity and focused a lot on legs. Leg days are good though, so I’m keeping these in on Wednesdays. It’s far enough away from the long-run weekend that my legs will have recovered nicely. I’ll also be able to work on those fast twitch muscles, getting my heart and body ready for fast, technical trail races and explosive uphills!

Thursday: Core.

Sit ups, crunches, kettlebell, pull ups, and more! Using one day to focus on building those core muscles will benefit every other thing I do.

Friday: Rest and occasional race.

Ah, the rest day! I love it. I go to the salad bar and get a massive salad, which I eat in a little park. It’s a special day for eating great food and putting my feet up in preparation for Saturday’s long run.

However, the Full Moon Fever races I talked about last week are all on Friday evenings once a month. So, occasionally Friday won’t be a complete rest day. FMF is a fast 5k, and last week’s race taught me I need to be sure to have effective recovery foods on hand for when the race is over. Gotta be ready to head out on a long run first thing in the morning.

Speaking of which…

Full Moon Fever #1

On Friday at the series’ first race this season, Ashley won second place in her age group AND a brand new pair of Altra shoes. I’m jealous of both, but she busted it out there! She pulled out a course PR, so the shoes and award were well earned.

I did pretty well. I did not place in my age group, but I managed 25:03 finish time, so it was right around an 8:00 pace, which I’ll accept. I haven’t been doing any speed work, opting instead for keeping my heart rate at a Maffetone-approved <155, which will help me (slowly!) build a solid endurance base – great for ultrarunning.

It was encouraging to see my 5k pace unchanged from the last race I did (Laufenfest in July, 25:02), even though I’m not doing speed work. Laufenfest was also a road race, while FMF is a trail race.

My age group (30-39) is a competitive one. All the top finishers are crossing the line at least five minutes before me. But I did notice that those paces haven’t changed much from last year’s series, so if I can improve my time, I may be able to place at some point this year. Chopping five minutes off a 5k is not going to be easy, but it’s one of my goals for the year, so I’m keeping my eye on that 20-minute finish.

Sweat

use this gymbo copy

I’ve been working harder at the gym, as I promised – and it feels great, as I expected. I’ve even been reunited with an old flame, burpees. 12 Minute Athlete has been my resource for quick, effective workout routines, which are great for lunchtime gymtime! I get about 25 minutes of quality time after factoring in the walk to and from the gym plus a shower (you’re welcome, coworkers). The routines on 12 Minute Athlete are mostly HIIT (high intensity interval training) with some AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) usually within a 12-minute timeframe (surprise!). She always says “Work HARD!” – which is really the only way to make a short work out yield the most productive results.

I even “discovered” a new workout that heats up my quads like nothing I’ve experienced, short of actual downhill running, which I don’t get much of around here. Pike jumps! These will probably be really useful for attacking long and plentiful downhills that I don’t have much experience with.


run copy

As I write this, I have 308 miles behind me for the year, which is crazy. Last year, I ran 76.08 miles total in January, February, and March. Training for an early spring ultramarathon can really rack up the miles quickly – during some very painful months. I don’t like the cold very much, but it seems like we’re on the other side of that for the most part, here in southern Indiana. This past Saturday, I ran 17 miles under what was apparently direct, unfettered sunshine. I thought it was going to be colder than it was, so I started by running with a long-sleeve shirt, which I shed a few miles in. A few hours later, my face and shoulders were slightly burnt, and I was shamefully pleased. It could maybe not be winter soon!


A few weeks ago, we ran the Run of Luck 7k, the second race in a three-race series held locally. I needed to get five extra miles in addition to the 7k (which, according to my Garmin, is 4.37 miles). So I raced my heart out in the 7k, pulling out an 8:36 pace, which I felt pretty good about. I paused briefly after the finish line, had some water and a date, and then headed back out to run the same course, much more slowly, with an added mile on the end. I wouldn’t typically start a 10-mile run with an 8:30 pace or anything near it, but it’s hard to not race hard even though I know I need to run extra miles. I get caught up in the excitement of the starting corral and the energy of the runners around me. A few weeks from now, I’ll be running a 10k with an added 10 miles. I’d like to think I could do the 10 miles before the race and be done, but we’ll see what the day brings.

#RNRStL

IMG_2483
I ran marathon #2, and it was pretty great. My official time was 4:45:04, which is slower than I had hoped for, but there’s more!

The Run
Ashley and I walked from our hotel to the starting corrals. I got in line for the port-a-john and did my business in plenty of time to get back to my place. We scouted out the 4:30 pace group, and started the day off hanging with a group of people that I would run next to for the next few hours.

I don’t normally use this platform to review the vocal performances preceding these races, but I’d like to note here that the individual singing the National Anthem before the starting gun was not nearly as good as the person who sang it before we ran the Evansville Half. It did not affect my performance, thankfully, and I soon forgot about the voice that couldn’t choose between singing flat and singing sharp (maybe it evened out in the end?), but perhaps my remembering it is noteworthy enough to mention.

Once we finally got through the starting banner, we ran toward the sunrise under the city’s strange and stunning Arch, but not for long. The course had us winding around the downtown streets in a large elbowy circle. It was exactly as I remembered it from last year. The footfalls of runners, cheers of onlookers, and the music from a few bands echoed off the tall buildings. The rising sun beamed on us occasionally between the buildings, but we were in the cool shade for the majority of our time down there.

I don’t know if I mentioned the major draw of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon event is the music. There are live, local bands every mile, usually playing familiar songs. It’s the first thing I learned about the RnR runs, and it is definitely my favorite. Bands ranged from rock ‘n’ roll, to Americana, to a DJ spinning his mixes underneath the curve of an overpass. Each was distinct from the other, and always something to look forward to.

Mile 10
The full marathon course split from the half marathon at around mile 10. There were volunteers and signs saying “HALF MARATHON ON THE LEFT; FULL MARATHON ON THE RIGHT,” and I had a surge of adrenaline. I was again taking the path that would wind me away from a 13.1 mile finish to the more crazy 26.2 mile finish. I prayed for Ashley as the barrier came up dividing the two distances, and I followed the 4:30 group. We were a pod of probably 25 runners completely separated from a mass of people. While we ran with the half marathon course, it was difficult at times to make sure I was not losing the group. But once we separated, it was incredibly obvious who we were and what our intention was. We were the 4:30 pace team.

Our course took us around the buildings of the Anheiser-Busch Brewing Company, which was neat. We’ve toured the facility several times, and it was cool to see familiar buildings from different angles, and several different buildings. It smelled heavily of hops. It was almost like drinking a light, crisp lager.

Miles 13-20
Mostly, this part of the course was a long, straight line for several miles before looping around the beautiful Carondelet Park (St. Louis knows how to do parks) and heading back on the same course. This out-and-back had its benefits, as I could observe the course for what I would be running on the way back. For instance, a great portion of the long, straight road was an easy downward slope on the way out, which meant we’d be going up on the way back. There were a few other hills I watched runners struggle up while I went down, knowing that I’d be struggling up those same hills in 45 minutes or so.

I started losing the pace group once we got inside the park. I had to stop to stretch my legs and get a drink of water, and I couldn’t catch up with them again. This left me to count my footfalls over and over again to keep my cadence up. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, again and again.

As the miles racked up, my legs got sore, and it became harder to run. After 20 miles, I had to walk briefly, which I would do off and on for the next few miles. When I felt my form failing, I’d walk to get it back and then start running again. I don’t like to sacrifice form for a few reasons. It’s not healthy for the body. Poor form causes more strain on the knees and hips, which would cause more suffering in the long run. Additionally, a person running with poor form looks terrible in pictures. You can see the broken down body and soul, and I don’t want to imagine myself looking like that. So, partially practical, partially vanity – but I guess whatever works.

Finish strong!
We joined back up with the half marathon course just before mile 24, and I ran the rest of the race. My legs were sore, but I felt good otherwise. The Arch was coming in and out of view, and I knew we finished at a park near it. I got close and closer, and finally turned the corner where I could see the finish line. I started scanning the street sides, and finally saw Ashley waving at me. I had another surge of adrenaline as I reached both arms above my head to wave back. I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.

I can smell the bananas!
I can smell the bananas!

How did it feel?
It felt great. I didn’t hit my target, but I held onto it for a long time. Finishing this marathon injury free was more important to me than a time goal, but striving for a certain time was an excellent motivator for training. I’ll hit the 4:30 soon enough. Someday, I’ll finish sub-four hours.

I’ve learned new things. I’ve set new goals. I’m headed for the next! Next, incidentally, is this Saturday in Audubon. The Chilly Hilly 5k is upon us once again, and for the third year in a row, I’ll hit those trails in racing form. Once I’m done, I’ll write about it right here for you.

HIIT(ing) the trails!

This week, I noticed my countdown go from three months to two months. It’s sort of strange to have one goal in mind that I’m working hard to accomplish while at the same time pursuing several other goals. I guess this is how I keep things exciting and keep the motivation fresh!

One of my upcoming other goals is the Rugged Red half marathon in Red River Gorge in Kentucky. This is a trail half, so it will be quite challenging and will take longer than my current half marathon PR of 2:05:10. I’m trying to wrap my head around that as being an okay thing. Even though I know that trail running is more technical, typically resulting in a slower overall pace, I never really like to see that happen. With this disappointment serving as motivation to run stronger on trails, I’ve compiled a trail running conditioning workout that works really well with high intensity interval training (HIIT – you thought that was a typo, didn’t you? Well, shame on you.). This particular HIIT routine involves 30 seconds of fast, intense effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, which is really just enough time to get ready for the next 30 seconds of fast, intense effort for a different exercise. HIIT is time based, rather than repetitions based, but the idea is to do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds. As an added bonus, I do this routine barefoot outside in a nice patch of grass.

HIIT the Trails Conditioning
30 sec effort
10 sec rest
Four rounds
1. Pistol squats (15 secs right, 15 secs left)
2. Haybales
3. Walking lunge w/weight
4. Step ups (15 secs right, 15 secs left)
5. Stair hops
6. High knees/butt kicks (15 sec each)
7. Bounding
8. Four-square drill

I put this routine together from info gathered from Doug Hay at rockcreekrunner.com and from Jason Fitzgerald at strengthrunning.com. Both excellent sources of running information! Trail running typically involves hills with steeper grades than roads, sharp curves around trees or other obstacles, hopping over roots and fallen trees, and sometimes even splashing through creeks. It’s a great way to mix up a running routine, especially if you like to be in the woods, which I do – quite a bit.

This week was a fairly standard week of training. I found a great running speed calculator that I got fairly excited about. I know that I want to run my marathon in around 4:30, and I knew what pace I would want to get that, but I wasn’t sure what kind of paces I should be training at in order to be best prepared for the big day. So, McMillan’s running calculator helped me find out I was right on pace for the most part, and showed me a few places were I could make adjustments. The information was surprisingly motivating as I hit the roads this week.

On Saturday, we went to the zoo to run a 5k called Dash for Donna, honoring what was once the world’s oldest hippo in captivity. Sadly, after turning 54, Donna died. Now the zoo is raising money for a memorial, and the race is one way of raising those funds. I finished 4th in my age category, which is pretty tough age category to place in, so 4th ain’t too shabby.

At least I was faster than these guys.  Turtle joke.
At least I was faster than these guys.
Turtle joke.

It was a one-mile loop around the zoo that we ran three times, so we got to see a lot of the zoo over and over again. Some of the animals seemed alarmed by the pack of charging people, but as far as I know, no one fell victim to any creature’s resort to instinctual behavior – though it looked like the emus wanted to show us what real running looks like.

Next weekend, we’re off to go camping! We’ll be running a 5k in a small town east of here, and I’m pretty excited about that. My long run next weekend is 12 miles, and I’ll be doing that on the trails in Lincoln State Park. I’ve never run 12 miles on a trail before, and I’m looking forward to it, especially knowing that there is a lake that I’ll be able to cool off in afterword.

Running: A full body workout.

Climbing over vans in the Ford Center.
Climbing over vans in the Ford Center.
When I started getting into running a few years ago, it surprised me to find out that running, while definitely the main exercise, is certainly not the only exercise needed in order to be a strong runner. Strength training is an important part of being a strong, fast, and healthy runner, and has become part of what makes training even more enjoyable. It adds variety to the challenge and is legitimately fun. Who wouldn’t rather do a bunch of burpees than eat a cheeseburger over lunch break? While I definitely spend a lot of time running around town, trails, and country thinking about what I’m going to blog about next – I also spend a lot of time at the gym, where if I think about what I’m doing too much, it all seems quite peculiar.

Three to four times a week, I can be found in the rooms and hallways of the fitness center picking up heavy things and putting them back down; twisting from side to side, pretending to throw a heavy ball over my shoulder; and walking oddly up and down a hall, taking big steps and sinking to the ground. One of my current favorite exercises has me looking rather like a flamingo, pecking slowly at the floor and standing back up straight before doing it all over again (all, of course, while holding a 12-pound ball).

These odd routines and repetitions are all helping me build muscles that help my body stay upright while running, not flopping poorly side to side or limping heavily mile after mile just to cross a finish line and crumple in pain that would likely stay with me for weeks after.

Finding the time to do strength training or other cross training (such as cycling) is difficult. Though I’ve noticed that generally, if a thing is worth doing, it is going to be challenging – a key to this training of which I have to be reminded regularly. I’m fortunate to have access to a free gym where I work, so I head there on my lunch break and do my strange calisthenics. A few weeks of consistent work will yield noticeable results in the speed and comfort of my increasingly long runs, which certainly makes it worth the extra time and effort.

Consistent strength training also makes it possible for me to participate in exciting events like the one I was in this week! Saturday morning was a lot of fun. See below to find out why!

Monday
Tomahawk Medicine Ball Workout (four circuits)
The link takes you to one of my favorite websites for advice and information about becoming a better runner. I’m not recommending that everyone go out today with their favorite heavy ball and attempt this workout. It’s just what I like to do, and I’ve seen great results from it. (You’ll also see what I’m talking about with the flamingo exercise.)

Tuesday
ITBS Rehab Routine (hip strength)

Wednesday
Trail running in Audubon! Ashley took a spill this time and now has two glamorous wounds gracing her knee. I often feel like it’s only a matter of time before I pay my literal pound of flesh for using the woods for fitness.

Who does this for fun?
Cars and vans? Let’s climb on them.

Saturday
The Arena Challenge!
Evansville’s Ford Center is home to a variety of events. This weekend, it played host to around 150 athletes (including myself) running for three miles through its halls, VIP seating, backstage, and loading dock. There were purportedly 1,000 steps that we all covered (but who’s counting?) before ending up in the bottom of the bowl where we scrambled over a van, climbed over short walls, and hopped over the hood of a car before crossing the finish line. They also, graciously, provided us with five exercise stations between sets of stairs: squat jumps, pushups, burpees, ball slams, and mountain climbers. It was a tough run, but two bananas and a bottle of water later, I wished I could run it again. This was a great cross-training day – and I got a medal and a T-shirt for my efforts!

Sunday
There’s no rest for the weary. My long run this week, while being a drop back week, was still six miles, and the Arena Challenge was only three miles of running, which, you might notice, is fewer than six miles. So, Sunday morning, I headed out into the 94 degree, 70% humidity air and ran a grueling 6.77 miles at a dismal pace. My calves were very sore from the countless steps I took at the Ford Center on Saturday morning. The sun burned relentlessly as I made my way along shadeless streets. The humidity squeezed my breath away and prevented my body from cooling. It was a very hard run. I kept telling myself if it’s worth doing, it’s going to be challenging and continued moving forward. If the hard ones are where you grow, then I grew quite a bit this week.