Friday, April 27, 2012

When negative is positive

Well, hello there.  It's been quite a long time since I've posted.  Sorry for being out of touch.  Rest assured, everything in my running world has been bouncing along nicely.  In fact, it's been relatively boring, but I am very grateful for that.  I mentioned how chaotic my work life has been a few posts ago and that hasn't changed much.  However, Heather gave me some sage advice that has really worked.  She told me to look to the things in my life that are positive as a way to drown out the negative din.

Running has been a great way for me to focus my energy on something constructive that is under my control. Being able to run without concern for injury has made it even more perfect.  I have bumped my way up to 85 miles per week by slowly adding miles each week for the last 11 weeks. I will continue to scoot up, 5 miles/week, to see how I handle it.  Once I hit 100, I think I'll level off for a couple of weeks, but that's only 3 weeks away!

I came down in mileage last week for a race.  What what?  Yep, I ran a race: my first 5k in seven months.  It was a great opportunity to test out some of Coach L's mental exercises and focus on a fast finish.  Every workout I do is meant to be run as a negative split to program my body/brain to get faster throughout the race.  I didn't have a time goal, but I did want to finish hard the last mile.  I have never negative split a 5k before and was determined to do so.  One way to do that is to sand bag the first half, but that doesn't really count.  I wasn't sure how to split the race since I knew the course had some good hills.

I ran 18:25 (by my watch) and my splits were 5:58, 6:06 (hilly mile), 5:45, :36.  I was so pleased with that third mile and how focused I was able to remain through quite a bit of pain.  The pain was coming from my hip flexor muscles.  This was a "good pain" in that I knew it was muscle fatigue and not injury.  Holy guacamole were they screaming!

Look at those screaming muscles!
Confession time. Post race, I confessed to my coaches that I hadn't followed their pre-race instructions (do no strength work after Thursday) because my schedule didn't allow.  On Friday, I had to make a choice: do I forgo strength training for the entire week (I hadn't done any earlier in the week) or do I get it done and live with the consequences in the race?  I decided that the strength work was more important to me.  However, I did learn a valuable lesson in how much 24 reps of 100-lb squats + lunges + core work + Bulgarian squats + what not, can dull your legs for a fast race or workout.  Strength Coach Tim asked me if I'm the type of person who always has to learn the hard way.  I told him I am not.  I knew the likely outcome of my choice, but I chose being strong over being fast.      

To that point--I am convinced that the main reason my body is handling higher mileage so well this time around is due to this strength program.  I have been building in that program too, adding weight and decreasing reps to really build muscle.  I just went over the 100 lb mark for my squat (front and back) repetitions and look forward to the day I am doing my reps using my own body weight.  I like the mental image of me doing squat reps with myself on my shoulders.

Like most distance runners, I have been concerned that my body weight would also increase as a result of packing on more muscles.  I am proof positive that this doesn't have to happen.  I'm now at the same low weight as last October when I was running good mileage but doing zero strength training.  My arms were puny back then though my legs were still muscular.  My body fat is a little higher now than it was back then, so I actually have room to lose a bit more.

Riffing on the subject of body fat. I was really concerned about having levels that were too low after getting hydrostatic tested last fall.  Yes, I know that there is error associated with this measure, but I was still damn low adding on the highest standard error estimate associated with this method. That actually bothered me for months because everything I read said that my levels were so low that my body shouldn't be functioning.  In fact, I worried that the injuries I was experiencing in November/December were due to low body fat.  I was trying to figure out a way to gain body fat while continuing to exercise: not because I was experiencing any symptoms of low BF, but because I fell outside the *normal* range for ladies.  Simply eating more doesn't work since exercise converts the excess calories to muscle rather than fat.  The only way to store more body fat is to eat more AND stop exercising.  I proved that when I was injured: my body fat popped right back up.

I did a lot of asking around about this issue and what finally convinced me to abandon my quest for higher body fat was a convo with Dr. Ball.  I told him about my dilemma and he said, "you didn't get injured because you had low body fat.  You got injured because you were doing stupid shit with your training.  You don't need more body fat."  He was right.  My body fat levels are low but fine.  I'm a muscular girl and will always weigh more than most distance runners. I'll probably have lower body fat than most of them too.  That's how I'm built: like a Swiss tank.

I am a runner/singer.  Music is another hobby that has helped me cope with the rocks at work lately, but it has always been a calming activity for me.  My Mom used to tell people that she knew I was dealing with problems as a child when I would lock myself in my room and saw away at my cello for hours. I would emerge a different child.  I feel lucky to be able to rely on music for this.

Setting the goal and qualifying for the Olympic Trials in my late thirties has made me think:  well, WTF?  What other crazy things should I try to do?  Two weeks ago, I submitted an audition video to The Voice!  Chances are it won't even be watched, but the process of choosing songs, practicing, recording and telling my story, was super fun.  Plus, I have this video to show for my hard work (YouTube link here if you can't play the embedded version)!  Enjoy!