Monday, January 4, 2010

Keys To 2009's Running Resurrection

Before I get into a LONG post, here's how last week shaped up:

Runs: 5
Miles: 40.7
Time: 6:23:12
Races: 1 (Last Chance 1/2 Marathon - 1:42:17)

Okay, with apologies for the length, here are the...

KEYS TO MY "RUNNING RESURRECTION" OF 2009

Since this was the first year since 1984 that I have run every month for an entire year (yikes), I felt like I should summarize what seemed to work in keeping me out there and in one piece. They are, in no particular order:

1. Shoes
For the last several years (the years in which I actually ran), I wore a heavy stability/motion-control shoe. I still have yet to go and officially get my gait analyzed, but after doing my own research online, and with the help of my ultra-running friend Arthur, I learned that what I really needed was a neutral shoe. In fact, the stability, motion-control shoe was probably just the OPPOSITE of what I needed! Wearing the wrong shoe was likely the key factor in ending my running attempts in previous years. I have also worked on increasing my turnover rate, shortening my stride and landing more mid-foot than heel-striking.

2. Stretching
Some up-front honesty here: I hate stretching. But this year, I've tried to be consistent about it. It's a pretty short routine, and I don't strain, but it really seems to help. I stretch my lower back, hips, hamstrings, calves, glutes, quads…but I really focus on my hips/hip flexors and IT bands, which are chronic problem areas for me. I also incorporate a couple of core strengthening poses into my routine. I try to stretch every night, but it ends up being around 4 nights per week. I work on holding each stretch no more than about 5 seconds each, done in a series of repeats.

3. Starting very slowly / being patient
In past years, whenever I'd "get back into running", I thought I was taking it nice and easy. Then, within a few weeks' time (or sooner), I'd be hobbled by injuries. This time, I decided to shut down my ego and REALLY start slowly. For the first two weeks of my "running resurrection" this year, I ran three times a week for a TOTAL of 4 MILES! And for the first five weeks, I totaled no more than 7.5 miles per week. Having been a runner before, I'm sure I could have gone out and run 3-4 miles at a time, even when just getting back into it. But I intentionally held myself back, trying to think like a brand-new runner, running much less than I even thought I should. This gave my body time to gradually adjust. I wanted to be sure I was focused on becoming a long-term runner, not trying to get it all back at once. It probably wouldn't have been a bad idea to mix running and walking for those first few weeks, actually.

4. Foam roller
Having been away from running for a few years, I wasn't familiar with the foam roller. I was introduced to it by my friend Brandon, via his podcast. It has been probably the number 1 key to keeping my IT band problems in check. It hurt like crazy the first few times I used it, but it was worth the temporary pain. There are some good videos on youtube on how to properly use a foam roller.

5. Ice baths
Now THESE are loads of fun! I fill the tub up to seated belly-button level, then dump in all the ice from my freezer's ice maker. I then sit, au naturel, in the ice water for 12-15 minutes, with the bathroom heater cranked, drinking hot tea and listening to my iPod. For most of the year, ice baths were a pretty regular routine for me after speed work or a long run. I actually got to where I enjoyed them. They really seemed to help reduce soreness, swelling, and speed recovery. Just make sure to warm yourself up afterward, or you can risk hypothermia.

6. Cross training / strength training
To be honest, my fitness quest of 2009 started with the intention of training for the bike leg of a triathlon (as part of a relay team). Early in the year, I began riding on my indoor trainer. At the same time, I started wondering if I could also do a bit of running to supplement the cycling. When the running started to "click", and my intense love for running came back, I actually had trouble staying focused on the bike training. But I really do believe that they complimented each other - especially early on, when I was probably more prone to injuries just getting back into running. Since the August triathlon, my biking has tailed off (I haven't ridden since mid-September), and my running mileage has increased. Even though I'd prefer to just run, I know that it would do me well to add back in at least one day a week of indoor or outdoor cycling.
As for strength training, I honestly don't do enough. Currently, I do a short weightlifting routine one day per week, with some miscellaneous calisthenics (pullups, pushups, sit-ups, dips), thrown in randomly throughout the week. I focus on compound exercises (using more than one joint). I don't lift heavy, and I don't do a lot of sets (2 per exercise). I would like to lift weights twice per week, ideally, as I know I could use the additional strength.

7. Running my easy runs easy and my recovery runs VERY slowly
Man, have I ever been guilty of NOT doing this in the past! Most of my runs were done at very similar paces. My "easy" runs were borderline tempo runs, and I NEVER did true "recovery" runs. Now, with the help of a heart rate monitor (and Garmin Forerunner 305), I do my easy runs at a pace of roughly 1 to 1.5 minutes slower than my current 10k race pace, and my recovery runs at a pace of roughly 2 to nearly 3 minutes slower than 10k race pace. There is a lot of info online regarding the benefits of recovery runs, so I won't get into it here, but suffice it to say, I've been able to run faster on my fast days and stronger on my long days due to adding in some shorter and slower recovery runs in between, which help to bridge the gaps between key workouts without taxing my system.

8. Weight control
I've never had a problem with weight in my entire life. No, I take that back. I've had trouble keeping weight ON at times. There, I said it. Please don't hate me. For some reason, even at the age of nearly 43, I have a very high metabolism. That being said, my mission at the beginning of 2009 was to get down to my "race weight" by mid summer. I did alter my diet somewhat, cutting out most sweets, eating half sandwiches, instead of whole, for lunch. Not having ice cream every night (*sniff*). In combination with the running and cycling, the weight started to fall off quickly. I dropped about 18 pounds and had to actually put on the brakes since I was losing TOO MUCH weight. I've since gone back to a more normal diet (okay, I've gotten lazy with my diet during the holidays), and am still maintaining what I would consider my marathon race weight. As long as I can keep my strength and health at the weight I'm currently at, it does seem to make a huge difference. I really noticed it when the initial pounds fell off. I was much lighter on my feet while running and bounded up the stairs in my house much easier than before. But as I eluded to, my challenge is to make sure I take in enough calories to stay at my current weight - especially as I increase my weekly mileage even more while training for a marathon.

9. Online running community
Before I got back into running in 2009, I really had no idea there was a whole "blogosphere" of runners online. That, plus numerous running-related podcasts (several of which I now listen to regularly). Not only has it been fun to interact with runners from around the country & world, it has also been very educational for me. Most of these folks are just regular age-group runners & triathletes that have no hidden agenda and are very open to sharing their experiences and talking about what has and hasn't worked for them in terms of training and equipment. Great stuff! And on top of that, keeping a blog myself has helped keep me motivated and accountable.

10. Attitude
While I have loved running since I first started back in 1983, I also grew resentful of it, mostly as a defense mechanism. Okay, I know that sounds like I'm ready to lie down on a shrink's couch, so let me explain. In past years when I'd get back into running, I'd run for a few weeks or (if I was lucky) a few months before either overtraining or injuring myself. I'd then get mad at running, I guess, so I wouldn't miss it so much (okay, maybe I do have "issues". Hello, Dr. Phil?). I repeated that pattern over and over, until finally, a few years ago, I decided that I just couldn't run anymore. I was done. I let go of it in my mind (or I thought I did). Now, since I SO FAR (knock on wood) have been able to get out there and stay out there for an entire year, I cherish and am thankful for every single run, and don't take any of it for granted. Yes, that's cheesy, but it's honestly how I feel about it. I didn't realize how much I missed running, and how much a part of me it really is. I know there's no guarantee that I can keep doing it. Heck, back in 1997, an MRI on my right knee showed that I have degenerative cartilage and a partially torn meniscus. And that was about 2600 miles ago. So who knows if I'll hold up. But as long as I can run, I will. And I'll enjoy it all! And by the same token, if the wheels fall off somewhere along the way, I need to not panic. I'll simply back off, regroup, figure out what went wrong, address the problem(s), and slowly rebuild, rather than throw in the towel, like I used to always do.

Problem areas:

1. Immune system & lungs
I seem to have some problems with my lungs. They often feel tight and full of junk. No, not just when I have a cold, but for weeks (sometimes months) at a time. I don't know if it's allergies or if I have mild asthma. And I also seem to be pretty proficient at getting my immune system to walk a tightrope fairly often. There was a period earlier this fall in which I seemed to get one cold after another. Maybe this is common among runners, but it's pretty frustrating and disruptive to training.

2. Learning what my body can handle
And that leads into this topic. I'm still struggling to learn how to improve my endurance and speed while not overtraining and/or getting sick (aren't we all). Even after all of my "insightful" words & thoughts above, I'm struggling with some of the same issues as before. My right IT band often reminds me that it's still there, and there are days where I feel pretty fatigued overall. As I mentioned, I haven't cross-trained in a few months and I'm starting to ramp up my running mileage in preparation for marathon training (my first marathon will be on May 15th of 2010). I've also recently done some pretty intense (for me, anyway) speed work lately. I will be backing off on that as I build my mileage, so maybe that will take care of some of these warning signs I'm starting to see again. And perhaps substituting a recover run per week for some time on the bike trainer would be smart, too.

Plans for 2010:

1. Continue building an aerobic base
Since I'm currently training for my first marathon, I'll be continuing my mileage increase in an attempt to build a big base. I'll eventually add in a bit of speedwork as the race approaches (May 15th), but my main concern is to get in the mileage and long runs. The few races I have scheduled leading up to the marathon will also act as speedwork.

2. Run more trails
Eventually, I'd like to get into running ultras…but even before I do, I want to spend more time running on trails. It'll help strengthen my legs and core, and will be a nice change of pace from the pounding on the pavement. Plus, their beauty FAR surpasses the scenery of houses & cars that normally accompany neighborhood runs.

3. Avoid injuries and illness
This is EVERY runner's goal, and pretty much goes without saying…but it's a trap I seem to find a way to fall into. For me, it's an ego check most of the time. The injuries and illness usually happen because I'm pushing too hard. I'm already learning that backing off on the pace most of the time will make me a better and faster runner. If I can keep that reality check fresh in my mind, I'll stay healthy much more than I have in the past.

I've probably rambled enough, but since I named this blog The Resurrected Runner, I thought I'd share some of the things I believe have helped me to keep running relatively healthy and injury-free all year and, hopefully, several years to come. And this was a great reminder for me of what I need to continue doing to meet that goal!

Thanks for stopping by! Have a very Happy New Year, and here's hoping you success in achieving all your running goals in 2010!

1 comment:

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