Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shoes, Supplements and Strength

After months of posts about my health issues, I am happy to move on to much more important things: shoes, supplements and strength training!

First, I should update you on my training. I can't say things have been as great as they were around the time I ran the Parkway Half Marathon. That truly was an exceptional time for me. My blood levels were peaked and I felt awesome. Since then, my blood levels have dropped quite a bit and I had to miss a race because of it. This regression is upsetting, for sure, but I am learning to cope with my new 'normal'. My condition is progressively improving, but that improvement curve is more sinusoidal than linear.

I am learning a lot about patience and attitude. When my blood levels are higher, I have great workouts and when they are lower, my paces slow. BUT, I am doing the work that I need to to become a faster marathoner. I have really had to work on my attitude when my blood levels start to drop. I know it will affect my performance and it is really hard to even motivate myself to go out and run. I know that my goal for each workout is not how fast I run it, but just that I get it done at the right level of effort. As my blood levels rebound I will naturally get faster and paces will feel easier. The work I put in, regardless of how I feel, will pay off in fitness gains.

I make this sound easy, but it's not. I am in the meat of my training for the Eugene Marathon right now and am doing the big Jack Daniels' workouts. I generally have two long runs per week with 10-14 miles of marathon and/or threshold pace mixed in. In the last week, I ran two marathon paced workouts of 10 miles. The first one was run with reasonable (not great) blood levels and the second was a week later with lower levels. The first workout felt absolutely great. I cruised along for 10 miles @ 6:10 - 6:20 pace with ease and felt fantastic. This was a pretty remarkable workout for me given how far out I am from the marathon (8 weeks!).

In contrast, the one I did Thursday of this past week was not so fun. I had experienced the worst bleeding since March and am likely close to anemic again. I knew going into this workout that I was going to suffer. I drug my feet all day about even doing it and finally pushed myself out the door at around 7 pm. It was 85 degrees. This workout was a total of 14 miles with a continuous workout of 6 miles marathon pace + 1 mile threshold (T) + 3 miles marathon. I was mostly dreading that T pace. I started out into a headwind which really pissed me off and I decided to run back and forth on a two-mile stretch of the bike trail to get relief from that for at least half the workout. For some reason, this is easier for me to handle mentally than running out 5 miles and back. I broke the run down into two-mile chunks in my head. I started off around 6:25 pace for the first two miles into the wind. It felt hard. I turned and, with the wind at my back, was able to speed up ever so slightly. 4 miles done. I got some water and turned back into the wind. My pace remained steady around 6:20 through 6 miles. I had already decided to ditch the T pace mile if I was feeling crappy and almost forgot about it until I hit the half mile split in mile 7. I saw that my split was 3:03 and I decided I should try to get under 6:00 (my T pace) for this mile. I actually felt okay running 5:59 for that mile and then slowed for the M pace to complete mile 8. I stopped again for water and then finished up the last two miles under 6:15 pace. So, all in all, this workout was only 1-2 seconds slower per mile than the one I did the week before even though it felt less comfortable. I was mostly proud of that 7th mile.

This entire workout was a HUGE mental battle. I kept feeling sorry for myself and let the worry slip in at every curve. Would I be able to finish the workout? For how many days would my blood levels continue to drop? Will they recover in time for my half marathon next weekend? Would they keep me from running a good marathon in Eugene? When will the madness end? I must have had the most horrible look on my face the entire workout, but I will say I was glad when I finished.

So, my marathon training is actually going well. I am up to around 70 miles per week and I won't go much higher than that this cycle. I am doing major workouts and they are tiring, but they are really giving me confidence in my marathon fitness. I have never run so many long workouts this close to goal pace this far out from a marathon. Fingers crossed that the stars align and I get to the starting line in Eugene fit and healthy! I am defending my title, after all.                                


I've been meaning to write about some changes I've made in my running footwear over the past months. Typically, shoe changes lead to injury for me. It normally takes about 3 weeks for me to see the effects, but my last couple of changes have been right before I became pretty majorly injured. I normally wear the Nike Pegasus as a training shoe and the Nike Lunaracers as my racing shoe for all distances including the marathon. One thing that I dislike about the Pegasus is the fact that I wear them down quickly. I get about 200 miles out of them before I start to lose support and need to swap them out. This is about 2 1/2 weeks of training for me, so pretty expensive. So, I began adding shoes into my rotation to break things up a bit and to just see what would happen (I can't leave well enough alone). Here's what I'm wearing.

1. Nike Pegasus 30. I now wear these about 1-2 times per week for easy runs.
Pegasus 30

2. Nike Flyknit Lunar 1. I'm on my third pair of these lightweight trainers and really like them. I like that they have a higher heel drop, good cushioning and are super lightweight. I've been able to get away with wearing them for my long (14-18 mile) workouts. I've been getting about 150 miles out of a pair of these before needing to retire them.
Flyknit Lunar 1

3. Nike Lunaracer 3. These are my racing shoes and I train in them when I'm doing fast and short speed work. I'm not sure I'll ever change these out. They work way too well for me.
Lunaracer 3

4. Hoka Kailua Tarmac. These were a big gamble for me. I wanted to try them because of the extreme cushioning they provide and thought that might be beneficial for recovery days. I also wanted to see if I could get more than 200 miles out of them. The risk was the low heel drop. Each time I've tried to go lower than my Nikes, I have ended up with niggles and injuries. So far, I haven't had a problem with these and I can't quite say why that is. Perhaps it's the rocker bottom that they use, but I don't have achilles or calf soreness from the low drop. Instead, I feel like I get that cushioned ride that I was looking for and can tell the difference running in them. I'm at 200 miles on this pair and I feel like I can wear them longer. My legs feel better recovered after a recovery run. I wear these on my easy days 1-2 times per week.
Hoka Kailua Tarmac

5. Hoka Stinson Trail. I started running on trails a few months back and decided that my road shoes were a hazard. I invested in these right after getting the Kailuas. These are like running on marshmallows, and I really appreciate the cushiony ride on my easy days. I wear these on trails and when I feel like I need a little less impact on tired legs. I also like a heavier shoe for easy days which makes my light shoes feel like slippers.
Hoka Stinson Trail

So, that's my current rotation and it appears to be working well for me.


Right now, I am taking a boat load of (legal) stuff to try to "cure" my health issues and to help my body replace the RBCs I lose. On the sports nutrition side of things, I recently found a couple of products that I am really loving. They are manufactured by BRL sports nutrition. The first is a recovery powder that I also use as a mid afternoon snack. It is called Invigor8. I have tried both flavors and they are both excellent. I typically mix this in my Nutribullet with frozen fruit and either water, almond milk or coconut water. What I love about it is that it has everything in it already so I don't have to add things like probiotics, omegas, digestive enzymes, BCAAs, etc. While I don't ride the 'sugar is evil' bandwagon, this product only has 1 g sugar. I add my own sugar:)

The second product is one that I use more for pre-workout fueling. It's called TriFuel. It is also billed as a recovery drink and I sometimes take it after a workout. It is unusual in the sports drink market in that it has BCAAs, carbs, a load of electrolytes and some stuff that keeps you going and focused during your workout including caffeine. I typically take this within 15 minutes of a long workout and it holds me over for up to 2 hours. I was skeptical about the manufacturer's claims about improved mental focus, but I do notice an improvement in that aspect of my workouts. My recovery has also been very good especially now that I'm adding in a lot of extra stuff (see below).


Every day, I am bombarded with an endless feed of running-related tweets and articles about how important strength training is for runners. I have long been a believer in the importance of strength training for performance and injury prevention. When I was experiencing the worst of the anemia, I lost all interest in doing strength work. It took every ounce of energy I had to work and to run. Doing anything more was not in the cards. When I started to feel better, I still lacked motivation to do my usual extra strength, core and basic maintenance routines.

So, to get myself back into the groove, I decided to start going to group training classes to motivate myself as well as try some new things out. It started with Bikram yoga. I signed up for a new student special at Sacramento Bikram yoga and was shocked back into the torture of this practice. The first day I went, the 105-degree room was filled with the vaporized sweat of about 50 people. It felt like Florida in there. I just about hyperventilated for the first 10 minutes and literally swam in my own sweat when I got down on my mat for the ground poses. I have continued to do bikram 2-3 times per week and have noticed the following changes:

  • Doing yoga in a very hot room hastens heat acclimation due to physiological changes that occur when exercising in the heat (e.g. increased blood volume). My transition to running in the heat (80-90 degree temps) has been very easy so far this spring.
  • I am gaining flexibility in my lower back. It wasn't until I started yoga that I realized that the area with the least amount of functional mobility on my body is my lower back. All of the twists we do in this class are making tiny improvements in this area.   
  • I can sleep on my stomach without pain now. This may not have anything to do with running, but I had to stop sleeping on my stomach about a decade ago because my neck would start to stiffen up and ache after about 10 minutes. It took about 4 weeks for my neck to loosen up but it did and I am happy.
  • My balance is improving all the way from my toes to my head. Several of the poses require balancing on one leg and holding various parts of the body in strange configurations. I wobble and sometimes fall, but each week I can tell I am getting better and believe this will translate to being steadier on my feet while running.
Will bikram yoga make me a faster runner? I don't know. For now, I appreciate the positive changes I am seeing and it is helping to motivate me to get in additional strength work.

I also joined a studio called P2O or Hot Pilates here in Sacramento, of course taking advantage of a 30 days for $30 new member discount. They offer a lot of different classes. So far, I've only tried the TRX class. This class is a butt buster. It challenges your core muscles while also getting the heart rate up with some calisthenics. The thing I like most about it for runners is that it challenges your range of motion, especially in the hips, in a very functional way for running. I'll try their hot pilates class tomorrow after my long run and see how that goes.

Right now, I am doing some form of strength-based training (yoga, weight lifting, pilates, TRX) at least 4-5 days per week. That's a lot more than the zero days per week I was doing a couple of months ago. I feel so much stronger and can actually feel the improvement in my core strength during my runs. I have also been quite pleased with how much more quickly weight has come off over that time period. My weight peaked during the winter when I was dealing with all of my health issues. I was eating a lot of ice cream to make myself feel better and wasn't doing a lot of running. That's a bad combo. I am just a few pounds off of my racing weight now and quite certain I'll get there in the next 8 weeks.

Next weekend, I race another half marathon. I really hope that my blood levels rebound from this last drop in time for the race. I am downing iron shots like they are whiskey three times a day and crossing my fingers. Hopefully, I'll have a race report to share next Sunday!


  1. I was going to comment but then I got to the part about 10-14 miles at marathon pace and dropped dead of vicarious exhaustion.

    SO glad to read that you're learning how to deal with your bleeding issue. Mmmm, iron shots. Bottoms up!

  2. Good report - lots of info there! Interesting that you have Hokas in your shoe rotation. Same for me - I like them for steady runs on pavement (also sometimes on trails). The cushioning is amazing but I worry that I rely on the cushioning and hit the ground harder than I normally would.
    Interesting also about all the strength training you're doing. The bikram yoga sounds really useful. Hope all the stars align for your HM this weekend. Looking forward to the report!

  3. It has been awhile since I have read your blog. Happy to hear that you are back out there running. I to am back after some time off from ITBS. Thank you for continuing to inspire us to persevere. You were a huge help to me with the ITBS that has brought my attention to foucs on strength training.
    Angela ~