Sunday, February 27, 2011

Here we go

I am so excited to finally be at the threshold of a new training plan with real workouts and higher mileage.  It seems like it has been a long time since I thought about doing an actual workout.  I find it a little scary but mostly thrilling.

This week was a real test for me.  My training plan had me running six days, 39 miles total, with two longer runs on Friday and Saturday.  After running the first 4 days in a row--a post injury streak--I knew I was healed and asked Coach Tom what was next.  He reminded me that the hardest part of the week's plan was yet to come, and that we would talk about my next training plan after I had gotten through the week unscathed.  I ran 7 miles on Friday at 6:57 pace followed by a 9 miler on Saturday at 7:15 pace and felt great.  No. I felt better than ever.  I sent Coach Tom a note that said, "Bring it!"

My new training plan is very different from anything I've done in the past in a number of ways.  I won't get into the details here, but will report on my workouts as I work my way through them.  I will say that, in the next three weeks, my mileage will bump back up into the 70s (assuming my body handles it), and that my hard workout paces will start off relatively slow, while the bulk of my miles run will be faster than I would have run in the past.  Also, hard days are not necessarily followed by easy ones.  This is fun stuff, and I am really curious to see how my body responds.    
I finally have the confidence in my health to start thinking about upcoming races.  While I haven't committed to anything yet, my first focus race will likely be Bay to Breakers in May in San Francisco.  I have never run this race, but I have always wanted to.  There are usually some fast Masters competitors in the race since prize money is on the line.

My big racing news is that my top-US-female-finisher status at the Athens Marathon earned me a spot on the US team to run the marathon in the World Military Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil being held in July 2011!  But, July in Rio?  It's actually their winter and the coolest time of year.  So, my effort in Athens and associated time away from running due to injury were worth something really great.  I will wait until the deadline (mid-April) before committing to this event, but it is really exciting to think about representing the US Military in another international marathon.  Victoria para América!

Monday, February 21, 2011

RAM dump

This week marked a post-injury milestone for me.  I made that mental shift from gratitude for being able to run pain free to frustration with how hard the paces feel compared to how they used to feel.  I am actually taking this as a good sign.  It means that I'm thinking less about walking home in pain at the end of a run and more about getting back into harder training.

Actually, this is kind of a fun time right now.  Each time I run, I feel a little stronger, and I feel my body subtly adjusting to the reintroduction of running.  My comeback has been slow, and I think that has made all the difference.  However, while my muscles are adjusting to the pounding of running again, the biggest adjustment I have had to make is mental.  For starters, I had to forget how I used to train--wipe the brain clean of all training memory.  It was very difficult for me to think of 3 miles as a long run, but that was the longest I got for the first couple of weeks back.  Here's what my training schedule has looked like for the last four weeks.

Cross training details: You'll notice a lot of yoga and core strengthening workouts these last couple of weeks.  I am convinced that core work is the key to stronger running, and I am trying to fit a little in 4-5 times per week.  The strength training routine is one that Coach Tom prescribed and includes exercises targeting the core but includes some good stretches too.  Two of the yoga workouts are podcasts that I downloaded from  The short versions I use are free.  They are called yoga for runners and core yoga #1.  They are short and sweet, but very effective.  The longer yoga routine I do is called Yoga Conditioning for Athletes with Rodney Yee.  I have been using this video (3 separate workouts that take about 50 minutes) on and off for 4 years now, and it is still the best overall yoga routine I have found.  I wore out the DVD actually, but was able to save it as an MPEG-4 file. I now play it on my iPad when I travel or through my Apple TV at home.  Geek alert!  

You might be thinking that it is killing me to run so little, but it really isn't.  Once I got past the fear that I had lost my fitness forever, I was fine.  Last winter, when I was injured, I was paranoid about losing fitness and my cross training workouts were very intense.  I did intervals nearly every other day during my bike rides and pool runs to help maintain my fitness.

Coach Tom mentioned something to me a while back that has stuck with me.  Back in December, he saw that I had done some crazy bike interval workout, a hold over from the last injury cycle, and he tried to explain to me that this was not necessary.  He said, "there's a time for intensity, and it's not now."  It struck me that I was used to training at that high-intensity level all year round.  I would give myself a week off here and there, but most of the time I was doing something hard either on the roads or in the gym.  I think Coach Tom is right.   There is a time and place for intensity and too much of it is a recipe for (re)injury and/or burnout.

I ran 7 miles today, and it felt like a breeze.  This week, I will run close to 40 miles in 6 days.  I like the confidence in that statement I just made.

In other news, I was quite blessed to have a couple of fabulous photographers/videographers follow me around last week on a shoot that will highlight the work I do as well as my running.  Ian Shive took some amazing stills that I thought I'd share with you here.  Enjoy.

Running amongst the majestic oaks along the American River Parkway.

Running along the American River Bike Trail in Folsom. 

Me looking out at Lake Natoma.

Out standing in a vernal pool.  My habitat of choice.

Staring at the fantastic critters swimming for their lives in the vernal pool.

Yes, I am using my iPad to record data, and Sara is using hair picks to sift through algae. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New beginnings

I had to pinch myself today when I got an email from Coach Tom detailing my next three weeks of training and it included miles and miles of running.  Glorious running.  The fact is, I am running pain free after last Friday's visit to see Dr. Lau.  I haven't been back to see him in a week, and the work he did has lasted through four runs.

I had forgotten how nerve wracking it is coming back from an injury.   Over the last couple of months, my running had become rather predictable.  I'd gear up for my run, hopeful that this day would be the day I was going to run pain free. I'd start out with no symptoms only to feel a sharp pain in my knee within a few minutes.  That's when the negotiations would begin. Would it improve with a few more minutes of running or was I doing damage by continuing?  At some point, I would stop and hobble home, sometimes with tears in my eyes feeling absolutely disappointed and helpless.  By far the worst experience was taking a number of complete rest days, thinking I was doing myself a favor only to experience the same level of pain upon return to running. This was the worst because I knew I was losing fitness AND not getting healthier.

Each day that I have run without pain, I have gained a little more confidence.  There are the little decisions: should I be so bold as to run across the Watt Avenue bridge all the way to the bike trail (1.2 miles from my house)?  That's a long walk home if I start to feel pain.  I have thrown caution to the wind these last few runs and crossed the bridge, all the way out to the 2 mile point, then turned around to head back home.  No pain.  Not a lick.

I must admit that I am in awe of my recovery from this injury right now--maybe even in a state of disbelief.  How is it that I can be hobbling around while walking with severe knee pain one day and running pain free on the treadmill the next after just a simple tweak to my back and butt?

The body is a mystery.

While I return to running, I am trying not to lose hold of the lessons from this experience.  A big one for me: we use a lot more than our legs when we run.  This is pretty obvious, yet for many of us, recovery and strength activities are focused mostly on the legs.  In my case, I could have kept rolling my left quad muscles and IT band for a decade and they would have just kept getting the same knots in them despite my efforts.  There is a lot of maintenance to be done to keep me up and running, but at least I now understand the cause and that is worth its weight in gummy bears.

A few months ago, I was talking about how important upper body flexibility was for running to anyone who would listen.  I remember hypothesizing that a lot of injuries were caused by a tight upper body, and now here I am:  living proof.  In addition to core flexibility I have also begun to realize that core strength training is not just about doing planks and crunches.  I got a core strength training routine from my coach recently and was a little baffled by the name since there weren't any crunches and only a few minutes of planks in it.  It started to sink in that the best core exercises are those that challenge your entire core rather than those that isolate your abs or lower back.  Terrance Mahon wrote a great piece in Master The Shift on January 21st that underscores this point and highlights a few of the mistakes runners make with core training.

The word "beginnings" in my blog title is plural for a reason.  I am beginning a new running program, and I made a big decision last week to adopt a new dog after losing my best Buddy.  Buddy left behind his life-long companion, Sadie, but I thought she would be fine as an only dog.  I was wrong.  I have heard stories of dogs dying in close succession out of grief for the loss of their companion, but I always thought it was a wives' tale.  Sadie was absolutely grieving after her loss, and I felt horrible leaving her alone each day.  She is a very good dog, but she doesn't like many other dogs.  So, introducing a new soul into this house was a risk.

I am pleased to introduce Logan, a Coonhound, Plotthound, Leopard Cur mix from Hornbrook, California.  He is six months old and is a very sweet boy.  He has so many of the same characteristics as Buddy (pillow nesting, sitting up like a person, a proclivity for dance) it is a little scary.  The most thrilling thing of all for me is how accepting Sadie has been of him and how much spirit he has enlivened in her.  Whereas she could barely make it through a 20 minute walk a couple of weeks back, now she is romping around the back yard with this little puppy leaping and hurling himself to her left and right.  The other morning, after they were done wrestling I looked out in the back yard to see Sadie sharing her special spot in the sun with Logan, and I knew all was right in the dog world again.