Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Cross Training

I could use a little advice regarding cross training the weeks before and after my first race.

As you probably know, I swim on the days I don't run. This Friday will be my last swim for a while, because my pool is shutting down for three weeks for its annual maintenance. The staff handed out a list of other county pools that accept our passes, but I don't think any of them are close enough for me to use without majorly disrupting our family's daily routine.

I have some fitness DVD's that I was thinking of using, for fun and a change of pace (some dance, some Billy Blanks boot camp, whatever torture Jillian Michaels thought up before she created the 30 Day Shred, etc.), but I'm concerned about doing anything too different with my legs the week before my race. Is this a silly concern, or a legitimate one? If it's legitimate, would you recommend just resting on my off days leading up to the race and maybe a couple of days after, or would it be better to do some walking to keep the muscles loose and warm?

Thanks for any advice you can share!!

In other news, I hit a major milestone with my running on Sunday evening, and I've been eager to blog about it, but my brain has been preoccupied with my oldest son's first day of kindergarten, which was today. Tomorrow I hope to be back to "normal," whatever that is, and will post my thoughts then! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Race Day Attire

With my first race less than three weeks away now, I'm starting to think about the details of the big day so I can be fully prepared. One detail I'm pondering is what to wear!

I'm no fashionista and I really don't care whether I look stylish or cute even when I'm not running! My main concern is what would be most comfortable and appropriate for the race environment.

Part of my clothing challenge is covering my not-quite-fit-yet body. No matter how hot it is, I will not be running in short shorts and just a sports bra! Nobody needs to see all that...trust me. :)

I'll probably wear a pair of exercise pants that come just below the knee, but the shirt is a little trickier to figure out. I have a running tank top with a built-in bra that would certainly be cool to wear if the temperature is high. Unfortunately, it tends to ride up while I run, so I'm constantly tugging at the bottom, pulling it back down over my stomach and hips. My other option is to wear a baggy t-shirt that will not require constant maintenance but could get insanely heavy with sweat over the course of 3.1 miles.

A third option would be to find some time to go shop for a new shirt that would not have the problems of the other two. I know I would need to do that ASAP so I can practice in the new shirt before race day.

What do you think? If you run races, what do you usually wear? Do you think what you wear affects your performance at all?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Head First

Well, my fitness journey took a real nosedive today...literally! And it's a good thing! No, scratch that...it's a GREAT thing!

You may recall from my earlier posts that my childhood progress through swimming lessons came to an abrupt halt when I could not learn to dive. I simply could not do it. There was some enormous mental block between the top of my head and surface of the water. I tried and I tried, and people tried to teach me using every strategy imaginable. No matter what, I always managed to turn upright at the last possible second and slip some other body part under me to enter the water before my head.

At some point I gave up, and accepted my inability to dive as just a part of life. I never had any problems jumping into water, even deep water, feet first (as long as I had my nose squeezed closed between my fingers, that is), so not being able to dive was sort of a non-issue. But in a way it always haunted me deep down inside as this basic skill that most everyone could do...except me.

Some time after I started overcoming my face-in-the-water issues and became comfortable swimming like a normal person, I started to ponder whether I might actually be able to dive someday. While I was on vacation at the beach, I played around with "diving" headfirst into some waves in the ocean, and found it rather easy to do. Diving downward would be more difficult than diving straight forwards, but I thought I might give it a shot.

Last week one morning, I was sitting on the side of the pool with my legs dangling in, and decided to tip over with my hands in a diving position to get the rest of me into the water. It wasn't a true dive, since part of me was already in the water, but it felt good and there was no hesitation or fear.

So my plan was to try it from a squatting position this week, but I actually forgot about the whole plan until I was nearly at the pool this morning. When I remembered, I decided to abandon the plan and just go for it. I have a tendency to over think things, and rarely does any good come of that. When fear is involved, over thinking just gives the fear more time to creep in and take control. So I walked to my lane, put on my swim cap and goggles, bent over, and just DOVE RIGHT IN!

It felt so incredible! The water has never felt so smooth or refreshing! In one fell swoop I washed away an entire lifetime of fear and anxiety! And now I feel like I can conquer the world. If I can overcome a lifelong fear just like that, there are truly no limits to what I can do!

Now, it's worth noting that it was not a good dive, per se. I did not become Greg Louganis in an instant. Hahaha! My form was poor, but most important is that my hands entered the water first, followed by my head. My thighs might have been next to hit, which is less than ideal, but I'll take it because they came AFTER my HEAD! :) :) :)

Life is funny. If I'd never gotten a stress fracture, I might not have fallen in love with swimming, and thus might never have had the opportunity to overcome one of the biggest fears of my life. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I am grateful.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Uphill Battle

Today I encountered a challenge running outside in my neighborhood that was not an issue at all along the flat coast of South Carolina: HILLS!

My own street has an incredibly steep hill, but since I went down that at the beginning of my run, I thought I was in the clear. I figured I'd go back up the hill during my walking cool down, and all would be right with the world.

What I didn't realize was that one of the other main roads in the neighborhood was just one long (though less steep) hill, and I had to run up the entire thing on the route that I chose! I don't know exactly how long the hill was, but I'm pretty sure it was at least 500 miles. My struggle must have been a comical sight, as I believe I was "running" at a pace slower than my 1-year-old toddles.

Halfway up the street, I came the closest to quitting in the middle of a run than I have since before my stress fracture. I don't really know how I managed to keep going, even as my thighs and hips were burning with every step. The pain subsided once I reached level ground again, and I was still able to finish my run strong, so I guess in the battle of me vs. hill, I won! But next time I run outside, I think I'll plan my route more carefully to avoid long uphill stretches.

Eventually I'll want to do some hill training on purpose, but right now I'm still just trying to survive my runs without dying. Baby steps!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Great Outdoors

My last post got a little heavy on the introspection, so I figured I'd save some of the more practical reflections for another day.

Running outside went really well last week, heat and humidity notwithstanding. I found that the time passed fairly quickly, and I didn't have to rely on my ipod as much to keep me going. The pavement felt great under my feet! I'm sure my speed slipped a little as I got tired, but I never finished a run feeling completely spent, so maybe slowing down isn't such a bad thing to do.

I haven't run outside since I've been home (I overslept yesterday and it had already started getting hot, so I decided it would be a treadmill day!), but I'm optimistic about how I will progress once I do.

The other new experience from my vacation was open water swimming! I mostly was playing around in the ocean, "diving" into the occasional wave, and having a good time, but I did try a little actual swimming and noticed how very different it was from pool swimming! Obviously I knew it would be different, but it's one thing to have a fact lodged in your brain and another to feel the truth of it with your body. Next year, when I begin my actual triathlon training, I'll need to work some open water swims in there somehow. I just hope I can find some water as pleasantly warm as the ocean off of South Carolina in August!

Now that I'm home, I'm settling into my new routine of morning workouts and focusing most of my energy on my running. For now, the swimming is just a cross training tool for my non-running days and I won't give it much more thought for a couple of months.

COUNTDOWN TO 5K: 3.5 weeks!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where It All Began

Last week I returned to my roots in more ways than one.

I spent the week on beautiful Edisto Beach, SC, the little slice of heaven where as a child I vacationed with my family and as a college student I lived a few summers with my parents who had retired to their home there. It was during one of those college summers when I first fell in love with running.

The pace of life is slow on Edisto, in a way that I find refreshing now, but found a little boring in my youth. This one particular summer I was working in a restaurant to earn tuition money, but didn't really have much else going on. I decided to spend all my extra time enjoying the beach, and getting into shape!

Though I was already somewhat internet-savvy in those days, I don't think websites with free walk/run training programs even existed, so I devised my own plan for gradually increasing my run times. My goal was to be able to run 30 minutes at a time 3 to 5 days per week, and by the end of the summer I was doing just that.

Running in the miserable SC heat/humidity was not the easiest way to pick up a new hobby, but the "runner's high" experience made every bead of sweat worthwhile. I felt amazing, powerful, and even a little attractive. I wish I had continued running regularly when I went back to school in the fall, but I guess life just got in the way.

Going back to where I first started running was interesting, and a little cathartic. Physically, it was much as I remembered: the air so wet it was difficult to breathe without gills; the intoxicating smells of salt water, sand, and marshes; the extreme friendliness of everyone I met..I could go on and on. Though the houses have grown, the restaurants have changed owners and locations, and the town has entered the modern era with its own website and Facebook page...Edisto is still Edisto, and always will be. Running through my old neighborhood last week was like spending time with a dear old friend.

The catharsis came about by reflecting on my mental state. I ran for different reasons when I was 20 years old, and my world had not yet been touched by grief, real stress, or hardship. Completing a tough run was a challenge all in its own, never a metaphor for overcoming difficulties. Now I run with the burdens of an adult life on my shoulders. I run to survive. I run to escape. I run to forget. I run to prove something, but I don't always know what.

Last week I ran on vacation because I have a race to be ready for very soon, and also because I want to prove to myself that I'm in control of my health and not using any available excuse to slip back into laziness. But I also ran so I could connect with my younger self and how it felt to be so free. And I ran so I could connect with the island, this place that my parents loved so dearly and where I feel their presence more than anywhere else.

My life as a runner came full circle, and in some ways my grief did too. Prior to this vacation, the last time I visited Edisto was right after my mother died, when several of us brought some of the funeral flowers out to the beach to scatter in the waves during a gorgeous Edisto sunset. I'm a different person than I was 5.5 years ago, and for once I'm confident my parents would be proud to see me now...so I hope they did see me frolicking in the surf with my boys, and huffing and puffing through a few good runs down the street where they lived.

I'll save the rest of my fitness reflections from vacation for another post, another day. :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Night and Day

Today I made a significant change in my workout routine. Up until now, I had been running late in the evenings, usually around 9:00pm. This morning, for the first time in a long time, I ran in the morning.

I'd been planning to make this change for quite some time, but didn't get around to doing it until it became necessary. When my oldest son starts kindergarten in a few weeks, we have to really streamline our schedule to keep him on a good routine and keep our busy family functioning. This means only one workout per day, first thing in the morning.

Most weeks, my new routine will be as follows:
Monday: Swim
Tuesday: Run
Wednesday: Swim
Thursday: Run
Friday: Swim
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Run

This should get me through the next few months. I might add some yoga in the evenings occasionally, and I'll throw in some other workouts in place of the swims from time to time as well.

Running first thing in the morning definitely had a different feel today...it took longer than usual to fully warm up and settle into my stride. But the run still felt good and I'm pleased with how it went.

Next week I'll be on vacation and I will add another new element to my running: the great outdoors! I have not run outside since I got my treadmill last November. As my runs get longer, it gets harder to keep staring at the same old walls, so I'm looking forward to the change of scenery. I'll still use my treadmill in bad weather, or when I need to get a better idea of my speed. I will report next week how my transition to outdoor running goes...let's just hope I don't face plant into concrete like I did a year ago!

Countdown to 5K: 5 weeks today!!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday Tips: Speed or Time?

I have a dilemma and I could use some help sorting it out.

When I finish my walk/run training program one week before my 5K, I will be running 30 minutes straight through with no walk breaks. However, I currently run at 5mph, or a 12-minute-mile pace, so at 30 minutes I will not have completed 3.1 miles.

My goal for my first race is to complete the entire distance without walking, so it's time to figure out what I need to do to make that happen. I see three main options, but I'm also open to other suggestions.

Option A: Change nothing. Complete the remainder of my training program at the same speed. Try to add a few extra minutes to my last two runs before the race, and then just rely on race-day adrenaline to get me through the whole 3.1 miles.

Option B: Keep my speed the same but deviate from the times in my scheduled runs. Start adding on a couple more minutes to each one so that by the end of the program I'm actually running about 38 minutes.

Option C: Keep my times the same but start gradually increasing my speed, so that by the end of the program I can complete 3.1 miles in 30 minutes or close to it.

I'm a tiny bit wary of pushing myself too hard, because it was when the runs got a lot longer and I increased my speed a bit that I ended up with the stress fracture last winter. Maybe neither of those factors was truly to blame for the injury, but I don't know for sure and thus I'm nervous. I also don't know whether speed or time/distance is safer to increase at this point. Please share any wisdom or knowledge you may have on this topic! Thanks!