Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dealing with stress

All stressed out and nowhere to go

Stress sucks.  I'm talking about the kind of stress that leaves you mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day and then keeps you awake at night.  Many things, like my running, are going so well right now, but work is very stressful.  This isn't the "optimal" kind of stress resulting from tight deadlines working on fun stuff.  This is the negative kind that comes from people being unpredictable and passive-aggressive. There are some really good aspects of my work that I wish I could spend more time focusing on to balance everything out.  I guess I am having trouble seeing that balance point on the horizon.

In looking back at last fall, I realize that these work issues were present even then.  I now wonder how much of a role this stress played in the illnesses and injuries I succumbed to before the Trials race.  I imagine quite a bit.  I don't ever want to end up there again, so I need to find better ways of handling stress.  I would love to hear your ideas on how you deal.

One of the brightest spots in my life and something I now look forward to each day is my running.  It wasn't very long ago when that wasn't the case!  I am making a concerted effort to maintain all of my strength, flexibility and recovery work to ensure that I continue to run without pain.  That is a challenge as my mileage continues to increase (65 this week!), putting more demands on an already cramped schedule.

I just completed my 4th week of training and am repeating workouts I did in the first and second weeks.  I really like this concept of cycling through workouts a couple of times at the beginning of training.  It's giving me a sense of how quickly I'm gaining fitness.  For example, the first workout I did was a 4 mile fartlek of one minute on and one minute off repeated throughout.  I ran this with my friend and my coach.  We probably ran the whole 4 mile workout in around 25:50 or so, but our coach had us run the last 4 minutes "on".

The Püddle (aka Logan) is doing what I wanted to do Tuesday night.
Fast forward three weeks to this Tuesday night when I had the 1-on-1-off fartlek workout on my schedule again.  I worked a full day, went to two hours of band practice and got home at around 8:30, still needing to get in my workout.  I really, really, really, wanted to just eat dinner and go to bed.  The Genius had waited to do his 10-mile run with me so I didn't have to run in the dark alone.  There was no way I could disappoint him!

Running in the dark on the bike trail is actually really fun, but boy was I tired.  My goal was to try to run the workout in under 25 minutes and, of course, progress my pace each mile during the workout.  I ended up running the workout in 24:55 and progressed my mile paces throughout.  I was very happy with my progress, especially considering that I did this workout as written as opposed to running the last 4 minutes all "on" like the first time.  I wonder how many more weeks it will take to duck under 24 minutes.

Stump the chumps

Here's something that I am perplexed by and would like someone to help me understand.  Some weeks, I do both a 4-mile fartlek like the one I did earlier this week and then a 4-mile tempo later in the week.  Four weeks ago, after that first fartlek workout, I was lamenting my slow pace and wondering what in the world my tempo pace would be.  The Genius said that I should be able to do my tempo faster than my fartlek.  That has not proven to be the case!  I run just about the same overall time and pace whether I'm doing it at a steady pace or speeding up and slowing down continuously throughout the workout.  Weird, right?

Even The Genius is stumped, and that's hard to do.  His reasoning was sound--if you could run faster or just as fast doing the speed up-slow down thing, why don't people run races that way?  My best guess is that it's a psychological phenomenon.  When I'm doing the fartlek, I know I'm going to get a "break" after a certain amount of time.  Even though my pace is around 6:30-6:45 for that break, it's a relief and allows for a little recovery.  The workout is sort of broken up into little chunks (that's for you t-meat).  My hypothesis is that it has to do with looking forward to the breaks or knowing that I only need to suffer a little longer before I can recover.  Contrast that with a tempo workout (my least favorite workout in the world) where the whole thing's just one long suffer-fest.  A tempo requires a different type of mental toughness, and one that needs a lot of work for me.  I'm interested in alternative hypotheses on this and your experiences with the two contrasting workouts.        

Strong like bull

As my workouts and mileage progress, so does my strength training.  I completed my 6th week of training today and am starting to get much stronger.  I was able to clean and press a bag of dog food today--something I couldn't do a couple of months ago.  Actually, that was only 40 pounds.  I was able to clean and press 60 lbs to get the barbell on my shoulders for back squats today.  This program is great in that Coach Tim started me out with no weights and sort of a traditional higher rep no/low weight routine.  He called this the honeymoon period.  He was just trying to get my body used to the exercises and prime me for heavier lifting.

The 6-week program I'm in right now progresses in weight on many of the exercises as I'm able to take on more, but the reps decrease.  By the end of week 6, I'll only do 3 x 8 squats, but they will be with heavy weights.  Not all of the exercises have that pattern, but this is definitely different than anything I've done before.  The really amazing thing is that I have not once felt that "oh my God I can't walk" soreness that I always used to feel with my strength training. I have a suspicion that it's because before I just jumped into the strength training without the "honeymoon period".  In fact, that was why I stopped strength training--I always felt sore for a couple of days after doing it and that interfered with my running.  Now, my legs definitely feel heavier the next day, but I'm able to shake that out pretty quickly.

I really like working with Tim.  He understands how runners train.  He is adapting my plan to my running schedule so that my strength training has me peaking at the same time my running is for my races.  Speaking of races: I probably have a few on the horizon.  Now that I feel like I'm starting to get my mojo back, I'll probably jump in something sooner rather than later just to start working on my mental game.  I am planning to run the Marin Memorial Day 10k in May as a goal race.  Let's see if I can take down that "soft" 10k PR this year!    

You can do it, little Golf!
While I continue to rack up my running miles, my trusty little VW Golf is doing the same.  I will go over 200,000 miles this weekend in my cute little diesel car.  I'm hoping to get at least another 100k out of him and hopefully out of me too!


  1. Ooh, so many interesting questions. First of all, on the work thing - been there, done that (my old workplace was like junior high for the over-30 crowd. Awful awful working environment. My stomach turns just thinking about it), but not sure I would recommend my approach to dealing. I adapted a multi-step approach, namely: 1. shut off all visible emotional response between 9 and 5, remain vaguely friendly and neutral, adopt mantra "I am a robot"; 2. mercilessly mock the people involved in a series of scathing emails and Dorothy Parker-esque Facebook posts the rest of the time.

    It sucks, and I have no doubt your immune system and running were both affected by it. Seriously, my best advice is find as much joy as you can elsewhere and try not to dwell on the work situation too much. Really helpful. . .

    And this tempo vs fartlek question is very interesting! I wonder if speeding up and slowing down is ultimately less efficient, kind of a waste of energy, but maybe this effect only becomes noticeable over longer distances?

  2. Ah, Heather, thank you for reminding me of the most important coping mechanism: humor. I must admit that I want to be a robot. I really do. Your advice is very helpful--amplify the good stuff in my life so it overwhelms the work crap. That will probably help me eschew constantly replaying the negative work movie in my head during my non-working hours. Thanks!

    It seems like speeding up and slowing down is less efficient from a physiological standpoint, so the answer has to have something to do with the brain. I think you make a good point about the effect of distance. I bet there's probably a range of distances where it works pretty well. I think it would likely not be a good choice for anything shorter than a 5k and maybe not longer than a 10-13 miler. It would be kind of fun to give it a try in a race. If nothing else, it would have a psychological impact on the competition!

    1. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention - speaking of replaying the negative work movie 24/7 - breathing exercises/meditations totally helped me with that.

      Good luck!!

  3. On the stress issue, for myself, if I'm going through a particularly stressful period at work, I balance that out by adjusting my running (not ideal if running is a priority!). I stop 'stressful' running (intervals for example) and do aerobic running.

    I think you're right about the brain making the difference between the two workouts. Physiologically it doesn't make sense for the tempo to be no faster. East Africans commonly use surges in Championship races but would never run that way if attempting a world record (even pacing reigns supreme). I'd be surprised if HR data for the fartlek session was 'better' than for the tempo run. Average HR would have to be lower for the tempo but it might just feel harder if it's a workout you don't enjoy or look forward to.