Why I’m Going Streaking

I’ll admit it. I’m in a rut. I’ve been able to string together six months of injury-free running (yay!), but have lost my fire. I still work out. I still run. But lately I’ve also skipped workouts for any number of reasons (too tired, too hot, too cold, don’t feel like getting sweaty, just don’t wanna).

As someone who’s been at this for a while, I know that the first step out the door is often the hardest. I like this challenge because I think the suck it up, it’s only a mile voice can drown out my inner whiner until I’m in the groove and actually feel like moving.

So I will run when I am tired, cold, lazy… and remind myself that I can.

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Marathon Training: A Plan That Fits

As I sit here writing, there are 95 days until the Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth time tackling 26.2. In my earlier attempts, I met my goals of: breaking four hours (3:52:10 – Disney World), qualifying for Boston (3:38:41 – Tucson), and qualifying for Boston by enough to actually get in (3:31:32 – Phoenix). I used the Hanson’s plan for my third marathon, and while I was pleased with the results, I decided to try the FIRST plan this time. Despite very different philosophies, both have successfully guided runners to PRs.

The hallmark of the Hanson’s plan is that their long runs top out at 16 miles, while most prescribe 20 or beyond. The Hanson brothers believe that no one workout is that much more important than another, and that extra-long runs compromise the workouts that follow. They have you run six days per week, which includes an interval workout, a marathon goal pace run (up to 10 miles), and the long run. This leaves 3 easy runs of between 3 and 8 miles, wwpid-20150113_221348-1.jpghere the goal is volume and not speed. The plan may not seem too difficult at the outset, but it’s designed to build cumulative fatigue, and the long runs are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first.

Other than a period when I was injured and relegated to the Step Mill and elliptical, I was able to complete most of my workouts and hit the paces more often than not. My body felt good on race day, and while the last few miles weren’t easy, I wasn’t in agony like I had been with the previous marathon. The training, on the other hand, was a different story. I teach four fitness classes a week (three cycling and one strength), and I also like to get at least one additional strength session as well as an outdoor ride and swim in. I taught the whole time, but toward the end, the supplemental workouts fell by the wayside. It was also physically and mentally draining to work a full day, teach class, and then pound out 5 to 8 miles. I wasn’t enjoying my runs.

The FIRST program, named for the Furman (University) Institute of Running and Scientific Training, is built on 3 runs and 2 cross training sessions per week. Each running workout (speed, tempo, long) is to be run at very specific, challenging pace that adherents have called “tough but doable.” Intense cross training further develops the cardiorespiratory system while allowing the running muscles to recover. They recommend swimming, cycling, and/or rowing because of their dissimilarity to running. This allows the athlete to push the key runs faster than in many other plans. Even the long runs aren’t leisurely jogs. For their Boston-Qualifier version of the 3:30 marathon schedule (8 minute miles), the 20-milers start at 9 minute miles and go down to 8 minute miles by the end of the training cycle. Because I enjoy cross training and want to keep teaching my classes, I think the FIRST plan is a better fit for me.

It will be interesting to see how I improve during the next few months. When I started the Hanson’s plan, I had recently run a half marathon PR. These days, once I pass the 10-mile mark, my legs feel like they’ve been repeatedly flogged with a plastic bat and I fall off pace. Therefore, if this race is slower than my last, I can’t necessarily fault the plan. Still, based on my November 10K time and the charts in the book, I could be capable of a 3:30 marathon, which would be a PR. The target paces are nothing I haven’t hit before, but how quickly will I be able to get my endurance back? Two weeks in, the results have been mixed. I’ll keep you posted.

For more information on these plans, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method or Run Less, Run Faster

Songs That Go the Distance

It’s that time of the marathon training schedule when the long runs are starting to show up. Even though I am doing the Hanson’s Plan and my long runs top out at 16 miles, that’s still about two and a half hours of me and the pavement. For shorter and faster workouts, I like energetic music, but when I’m going long, my tastes change. It’s all about smoothness, and for lack of a better word, flow. Some of it is darnright mellow. Here are some of the songs that I lose myself in.

I have been getting into trance music lately and think it’s great for running. This song travels through a lot of different sounds and moods. The introduction makes me feel like something grand is about to happen.

Hypnotic instrumental opener that draws me into a mental place where everything is about the here and now. And that everything sounds better, looks brighter, and feels… better.

Trancy instrumental that makes me feel like the world is wide open and there for my taking.

One more trance selection. Nice, quick, light cadence, it sounds like running on the road. As the vocals and guitar work their way in and the song progresses, my feet may still be on the ground but my spirit soars through the air.

Throwback to my high school tastes. This song has smooth and flowing by the bucketload. I imagine I am gliding over the road without a care in the world.

Super mellow and introspective. And great for when I do my long runs in the dark.

Oh, now that I’m talking about the dark, I have to mention this song. More trance! Those synthy parts just make me want to move.

So smooth and no one does guitar like Pink Floyd. And aren’t all of us runners just a bunch of earth-bound misfits?

Sometimes you just have to get literal. Hey, it’s what we do every time we head out the door 🙂 I could only find the live version on Youtube. For the album version, go here.

Do you like to run with music? Do you tailor your playlist based on the type of workout? What are some of your favorites?

Push-up Challenge Recap

Last month, I attempted a thirty-day push-up challenge. It started with five push-ups and ended with fifty, following a two day on, one day off schedule. I missed two days, but I was able to catch up by using the off day. Five varieties of push-ups were involved. I was able to complete all of the reps, although I always had to drop down to my knees after two diamond push-ups.

It was a fun challenge and easy to fit into a busy schedule. It only took me 3:11 to complete all fifty push-ups. At the end of the month, I re-tested myself to see how many standard push-ups I could do before failure. I went from being able to do 29 before the challenge to 33 after. I had been hoping for larger gains, but that’s still a 13.8% improvement. I think the biggest thing I took away from the challenge is that it’s not too hard to fit a little extra strength work in and I plan on doing so.

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Easy Peasy Lemmon Squeezy

“Have you ridden Mt. Lemmon?” If you’re a cyclist in Tucson, you will be asked. I had always answered with a resounding “No.” The challenge of going up intrigued me. Coming down, not so much. I was a skittish biker. A Cautious Carla. A white-knuckled brake squeezer. A girl who got so frustrated with herself that the phrase “poopy puppy” would spring to mind during rides. But even puppies mature, and after about two years of riding, I decided it was time to squeeze the Lemmon.

The Tucson Tri Girls have a yearly summer tradition of going a little further up the mountain every week until the whole (or half) climb is conquered. My cyclist friend Rafael was also game to join me, so I decided it was as good a time to try as any. I had missed the first few rides, and the goal for that weekend was Milepost 17.

I met Rafael at a school parking lot and we rode to Milepost 0. We checked in and got smiley stickers for our helmets (people who collected a sticker from each ride would get a special memento at the end of the series). There are certainly steeper climbs around town, but Mt. Lemmon provides a long, mostly steady incline with a few downhills. There are also a few sharper climbs mixed in. I started at a moderate, even effort and quickly shifted down to my granny gear. To my surprise, we passed a quite a few people on our way up. Rafael (who was riding a fixed-gear bike!) had to turn around early to go to work, so I continued on my own. Locally-headquartered Tri Sports was parked halfway up, and they provided hydration and snacks. I topped off my water bottle and grabbed some Gu Chomps and a sample-sized European Chamois Butter (European = menthol in this case) packet. I ended up eating my own Honey Stinger waffle and decided to save everything else for another time.

After chatting with some folks, it was time to climb again. I was now in pine country, and their sharp, clean scent hung in the air. For the most part, all you could see was the road ahead, but there were some spots with amazing views of the city below. It’s a tremendous feeling to look down and see how far you’ve climbed. There was a sign saying that the camp ground was a mile away, but somehow I missed the turnoff. I decided to keep riding and make it an even 20 miles up, and luckily I found it on the way back. The Tri Girls had provided bagels, Z Bars, fruit, cookies, coffee, and more. I took my refueling very seriously because I didn’t want them to have to lug too much food back down the mountain. I was pretty sweaty and it was cool enough up there that I started to feel a little chilly.

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The way down was surprisingly enjoyable. There were some times when I rode the brakes, but I always felt in control. Some riders really push it going down, and they whizzed by me. Coasting was fine with me. I also stopped more than once to take some pictures.

Ride data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/352753406

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Two weeks later, it was time for the Full Lemmon: Cookie Cabin (Milepost 25) or bust! Rafael joined me again, along with some of his other friends. I met a guy named Bill and mentioned that I was more of a triathlete than a cyclist. He asked if I knew one of the other triathletes in the group, but said that maybe I wouldn’t because she was in her thirties. I told him that I was as well, and he said that he had thought I was twenty-something (he was well into his fifties). I asked if it was because I was wearing sunglasses. He said it was the legs. Anyhow, it’s always nice when people think you look younger than you are. Thank you exercise.

The SAG stop was at Windy Point this week. It was a really hot day, and I probably guzzled a quart of water in under a minute. It’s amazing how quickly I can drink after a good sweat session Then I grabbed a banana and smeared peanut butter on it.

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I hung around for a while, drank some more, and reapplied sunscreen before heading back up. The extra seven miles made a big difference, despite a long downhill toward the end. My legs quivered as I dismounted at the Cookie Cabin. It was closed, so I had to make do with one of the energy bars that I had brought. Even at the summit, there was no escaping the heat this week.

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I didn’t see any Tri Girls, so I decided to head back down on my own. It had already been a very long ride. I saw a deer on the way down and got off my bike to take a picture, but a car went by and the deer leapt over the side of the mountain before I could. I also realized that I had left a water bottle at Windy Point, and thankfully it was still there on my way back. By the time I finished, my back was sore and I was stinky and starving, but still smiling.

Climbing the mountain had been unthinkable to me for so long that I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I could try to wax eloquent here, but I feel a song coming on instead…

Ride data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/360555541

 

ROOB Workouts

Some folks pop out of bed with a gleam in their eyes and a spring in their step. Not so me. Some days the roll out of bed (ROOB) is practically literal. Maybe I should attach a ramp to the bed so I don’t hit the floor so hard. Anyhow, due to life’s demands, sometimes AM workouts are the only option. Here are some ways to survive, if not always thrive, in the wee hours.

Injury Risk and Diminished Performance

Your core temperature runs cooler in the morning, which can increase the risk of injury. And then there’s fighting that feeling of grogginess… A longer warm-up can help counteract these factors.

My paces in the morning are slower than they are in the afternoon or evening, and I am not alone. This can be improved somewhat by making morning exercise a habit. If you happen to enjoy racing, it’s good to train in the morning at least occasionally since most events are held early in the day. The effect is much less pronounced when performing a simple and/or less strenuous activity, such as walking.

Fueling and Fat Burn

Will working out in the morning on an empty stomach help me burn more fat? I’ve read the cases both for and against it. Some physique competitors swear by it, saying that being glycogen-depleted (like you are first thing in the morning) leads to greater fat burning. However, recent research says that you won’t be able to exercise as long and/or hard on an empty stomach, which negates the benefit. Total calories burned are more important than whether they come from glycogen or fat stores.

Logistics come into play as well. If you’re already waking up long before you want to, you’ll probably don’t want to sit around waiting for your food to digest before beginning your workout. When deciding what and when to eat, the type of workout affects my decision. In general, if I am doing an shorter, easier workout, I’ll do it on an empty stomach. If it’s an intense interval workout or it’s going to last for more than an hour, I’d rather be fueled so I can perform at a higher level. I am personally a big fan of Choclate Cherry Clif Shots on days when I wake up and head right out the door to workout. They digest quickly and the caffeine helps wake me up. If I have to spend some time traveling to a gym or running route, I’ll have something quick and solid like a Luna bar*.

Getting Your Feet On The Ground

Of course, none of this matters if you stay nestled under the sheets. Here are some ideas for those mornings when it feels like Lilliputians have bound you to your mattress with invisible threads during the night.

Will Gulliver be skipping his long run this morning?

  • Move your alarm clock across the room. The first step out of bed is the hardest.
  • Make plans to meet a friend. No one wants to be the one who bailed.
  • Make a commitment on a site like http://www.stickk.com/, where you will have to pay an amount of your choosing to a self-designated beneficiary if you fail to meet your goals.
  • Register for an event. Having a set date where you will be putting your fitness on the line is great motivation. If you have a rival, even better. Picture her wide awake and getting her sweat on.
  • Think about starting the day with a feeling of accomplishment rather than regret.

While I am still a night owl at heart, I have come to appreciate the cool, freshness in the air that only exists in the morning. Speaking of which, I’d better get to bed. I have an early date with my running shoes tomorrow.

*I am not sponsored by the Clif Bar company, but I am more than willing to be 🙂

After the Marathon (My first published article!)

I was fortunate to be able to contribute an article to the May/June edition of Tailwinds (a publication that focuses on outdoor activities around the Southwest). You can view it by turning to page 23 using the slider or print page 21 at the link below.

http://issuu.com/tailwindsweb/docs/tw-mayjune-2013?mode=window

I’d love to hear about your post-marathon experiences.

vV02-vV02-vVroom

I’ve been doing track workouts for years: quarters, miles, ladders. Simple. Straightforward. Run hard, try to hit the paces, rest, and repeat. Sometimes the distances get mixed and matched, but I haven’t experienced anything revolutionary… (let the voice in your head drop an octave) until now. Recently, my coach introduced me to the V-Run. Basically, the athlete attempts to run every meter of the workout at vV02 max pace, the velocity at which V02 max (maximum volume of oxygen that your muscles can consume per minute) is achieved. Depending on the source, it’s the top, sustained pace that a runner can hold from six to eleven minutes. My coach likes to use racing mile speed, or in my case, what he thinks my mile time should be, which is six minutes (twenty seconds faster than I’ve ever run). At least it’s pretty close to what the McMillan calculator predicts.

Here’s how it works. The runner is assigned a distance (3600 meters for me), chooses a starting interval length (50-1200 meters), attempts to run it at vV02 max pace, and rests a minute before beginning again. If the interval is run too slowly, the next one must be shortened. The rest period doesn’t change, regardless of the distance run.

The benefits of this workout:

  1. The runner spends a great deal of time running at vV02 Max pace, which will help improve V02 max.
  2. It’s self-adjusting. Whether you’re having a great day or an off day, the workout will meet you where you are.
  3. It will put hair on your chest. Ladies, make sure you have extra razors on hand before attempting this workout 🙂

I’ve done the workout twice so far. The first time, I started with a hard 400 and had to drop down to 300s immediately (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/284127673). These hurt just as much, and I started hoping that I would be slow enough to shorten the interval. I ended up completing six before dropping to 200s. The next time out, I was able to run four 400s before having to drop down (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/294115776). Progress! There were some repetitions where I thought that there was no way I had finished in time, but I had. When I finally got to the 200s I was a bit faster than I needed to be, so I think I’ll try 250s the next time. Here’s hoping this translates into a blistering 5K next month.

If you’re a somewhat experienced runner looking for a tough, effective workout that’s a little different, I encourage you to give it a try. For more information on vVO2 max and some additional workout ideas, click here.

A Stroke of Inspiration

Last weekend, I had a swim workout on the calendar and congestion in my nose. My yardage had been low in December and January and my recent times reflected that. Triathlon season starts in a month and a half, so time was ticking. My schedule only allows for two swims a week, so skipping one is a big deal. I did an internet search for “swim with a cold” and found everything from “[the] pool is just one big neti pot!” and “it cleared up my sinuses,” to “skip it and rest” and “[it] can cause a condition called myocarditis.” The voices in my head argued. Don’t be stupid! Don’t be lazy! I finally decided to go, but I’d temper the workout and mix in some drills.

My swim workouts are usually get in, get out, and get on with the day. I like to concentrate on the fitness aspect of swimming, and I hadn’t done drills in months. After the warmup, I alternated 25 yards of fist drill and catch-up drill for a total of 200 yards. When I checked my watch, I was surprised at how fast the split was. Fist drills are always going to be slow, so I knew that the catch-up drill was doing something for me. I thought about it for a few moments. I knew there would be a pause to my stroke, so I had focused on a forceful pull. The extra time had also allowed me to better finish my stroke and so I traveled farther with each effort.

Water is about 800 times denser than air, so swim technique is paramount. I had been sabotaging my own efforts by starting a new stroke before reaping the benefits of the previous one. I continued the workout, swimming my intervals while focusing on pull strength and stroke length. I thought about how rhythmic Sun Yang’s* stroke was. My pace per 100 yards dropped below 1:40, which I hadn’t seen in months. Swimming, like so many things, has technical aspects that must be mastered to achieve proficiency. Like a kid who wants to be able to play piano without learning the scales, I want to just dive in and go without taking the time to develop my skills.

I don’t claim to be any kind of swimming expert. I have other issues with my stroke. My knees bend too much during the kick. I lift my head too far out of the water when I breathe. Swim technique is so involved that it can be overwhelming. I feel for all of the adult-onset swimmers out there! I’m fortunate that three years of high school swimming polished off some of my rough edges. For the near future, I will focus on the lessons learned from the catch-up drill as I continue to build swim fitness. After that, I’ll see what can be done about the other flaws. This experience reminded me that if I am serious about getting better, I can’t neglect the technical aspects. There are no shortcuts across the pool.

Workout data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/271515605  Note: The last 100 was probably 1:33, not 1:39. It said 1:34 when I popped out of the pool, then it took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t hit the lap button squarely.

*Sun set the current world record in the 1500 meter freestyle by swimming 14:31.02 at the London Olympics. This video shows him swimming in slow motion. It’s almost hypnotic.