Strength Is The Product
Of Struggle

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

A good day - 4th place female at the Colonial Half Marathon

Hello?  Hello? It's been quiet on this blog lately, but not on purpose.  Some training seasons seem to move along so fluidly - a building crescendo of workouts capped by an amazing race.  And other seasons are full of stops and starts, sputtering along as you try to cobble together the workouts needed to move you forward.  I'll let you guess as to which season I'm experiencing. :)

I hadn't planned on taking such a long absence from writing here but I found that every time I sat down at the keyboard to type, I had negative post after negative post swirling around in my head.  And I felt...very unlike myself.  I consider myself a fairly positive person, but I have struggled these past few months and I didn't want to commit all those negative thoughts to blogging history.  It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride over here.  I'd have a great week of workouts where I'd finally feel like I was seeing progress (tempo miles in the 6:30s!) - followed immediately by a disaster of a week where I'd bomb both quality workouts I attempted.   I tackled a tough, hilly beast of a race that I used as a great workout (Colonial Half Marathon - 4th female overall), followed by a minor calf strain that cropped up on the first workout after the race.  :-(

Stop. Start. Stop. Start.  Days of cross-training followed by a few runs back, followed by a few more days of cross training.  It's been tough to make plans for any spring races with the ups and downs that this particular season of life has dished out.  But in the spirit of Lent and Easter, I've been putting more effort into two things:  1) Being grateful and 2) letting go.

On Letting Go:

I have always been pretty type-A.  I like having control, I like checking off each workout on my schedule as I complete it, and I HATE when anything (weather, sickness, injury, etc.) derails my well-laid plans.  I STRUGGLE with "letting go" and giving up my illusion of control.  But what I'm learning is just that:  that it's an ILLUSION of control.    I'll never be as in control as I'd like to be - especially in running.  There are too many variables, and the body is such an amazing, complex miracle that we can never predict exactly how things will go.  All we can do is work to treat our bodies like the gifts they are, and honor them when they need extra care.  I must admit I've felt a bit betrayed by my body this season - I lowered my mileage significantly in order to add (just a little!!) extra quality, but I have still had to work through more than a few setbacks.   But I've also learned a few things about myself - both as a person, and as a runner.  And that's the strength that comes from the struggle.  I've spent some time with sports psychologist Mike Cerrato ( working on my mental fitness, and he's made me be more proactive about catching negative thought spirals early and replacing them with positive thoughts (i.e. replacing "My calf hurts again - I'm NEVER going to get back to running marathon pace successfully" with "I'm going to use this cross-training time to work on things I CAN improve - my upper body strength and my nutrition - and I will come back a better athlete for it.") can go a long way towards helping me keep my spirits high.

On Being Grateful: 

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

Grateful for these two little ladybugs!

I've mentioned it before, but it's a provenfact that grateful people are happier people.  As I've been working through all of the ups and downs this season, I've started to include at least one line in my training log about what I'm grateful for that day.  If I've gotten to run, or complete a workout, it's easy:  I'm so grateful for that!!!  But even if I'm on the elliptical again and missing my Saturday running group, I can always find something to be grateful for - my friends, my family, the ability to take (and teach) my BodyPump weightlifting class, the smiles on the faces of my daughters as they see that the Leprechaun left them Lucky Charms for breakfast on St. Patrick's Day.  You get the idea.   The practice has been helpful to remind me that while I may not be where I'd like to be in terms of running fitness, I've got so many other good things happening in my life.  I'm hoping to be one of those little old ladies still running around when I'm 85 (I'm going to clean up on age group awards!!! :-)), so this particular season of stops and starts will hopefully be just one of many, many more seasons of running to come.

In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to enjoy running when I can run, and being grateful for the other awesome stuff in my life when I'm wildly flinging my arms and legs about on the elliptical.

Once I've figured out if my calf strain is officially on the mend, I'll be back to write about some upcoming spring and summer races and my next adventures!

Trials of the Track-less: How to run track workouts without a track

The 2 mile warmup was uneventful.  I was a little nervous about the workout but excited to get my legs back on the track and see what I could do.  At 5:30am my running buddy and I reached the school, ran up the sidewalk and came to an abrupt halt as our headlamps illuminated the sign on the fence: IMG_8278

Well, time for Plan B.  With no desire to run back home to drive 20 minutes to another track, and my type-A runner personality demanding that I find a way to complete the workout, it was time to improvise.  So we did.  We figured the empty high school parking lot was big enough (and relatively flat enough) to make do.  A quick math-on-the-run calculation and we had our new marching orders:

Original workout: 2 mile warm-up, 2k (6:45/mile), 1600m (6:30/mile), 1k (6:25/mile), 800m (1:35/400m), 400m (FAO = HARD) ea w/ 400m easy to recover, 2 mile cool-down

Actual workout:  2 mile warm-up, 1.25 mi (6:41), 1 mi (6:27), 0.7mi (6:17), 0.52 mi (6:03), 0.28mi (5:39*) *downhill on this part

Around and around that parking lot we went - sneaking glances at our watches as we wove in between the deserted rows of spaces.  We left the parking lot with a strange sense of satisfaction from having not only completed the workout, but having refused to let the closed track defeat us.  I don't know how long the track will remained closed.  Weeks?  Months?  Indefinitely? But I do know that I can get in my workouts without it.  It may not be as pretty, but they'll get done.  So for those of you who are in the same boat, take heart:

How to run track workouts without a track

  1. Find the flat:  Flat road, that is!  You'll want to find a section of road that's relatively flat for you to do your intervals.  If you are forced to run somewhere with changes in elevation, try to ensure that you can complete a circuit of the road to incorporate both the uphill and downhill areas. If you can't find a flat place to run don't stress, but do realize that you'll have more variation in the paces you'll see on your watch.
  2. Convert the intervals:  The standard track distances don't line up exactly with the distances in miles, but it's pretty close.  For ease of use I've made a chart (slightly rounding up/down as needed to make things simpler) that can help you make the conversion: Slide1
  3. Utilize the "Custom Workout" feature on your watch: I LOVE this tool on my Garmin.  You can set up each interval and rest time in between and then just run.  Each interval is different you say?  No problem - Garmin has you covered.  Your watch will beep when you start/end each interval, removing the need for you to keep glancing at your watch to check distance.
  4. Swap shorter intervals:  Once you get down to around the 400m range or shorter, watches are notoriously fickle.  It's such a short distance that it's difficult to get accurate pace and distance on the road.  Your best bet here may be to swap out the 400m repeats with a set time duration (i.e. run 90 sec HARD) or swap 200m repeats for strides (30 sec HARD, 30 sec recovery).
  5. Run longer intervals:  Since shorter intervals are so fickle on the watch, it's a great opportunity to have your workout include some longer intervals.  For marathoners, these are likely more useful anyway in encouraging the desired adaptations in the body.  Half mile or mile repeats are great ways to get that "interval" feel on the road.
  6. Understand the limitations: When running intervals on the roads, unless you are on a measured course you are relying on your watch (and its communication with satellites...which are ridiculously far away) trying to pinpoint your location and calculate distance and pace accordingly.  I know that my watch is always "faster" than what I actually run.  When I use my watch on the track I'll hit the "Lap" button for each interval so that I'm getting an accurate time since my Garmin always measures that I've run longer than the actual distance I've run on the track.   So I need to take that into account when running intervals.   I'll often go a little longer on the roads (0.53mi vs. 0.5mi) to try and account for the margin of error.
  7. Train your brain:  Your brain is tricky and will regulate the intensity of exercise so that you never fully exhaust yourself.  This is why even if you feel miserable and slow dramatically in the last mile of a race, once that finish line is in sight your body is able to summon an extra kick and speed over the line - your brain has realized the end is in sight and removes the body's limitations on recruiting more muscle fibers.  On a track, the end is always "in sight" - and you can push harder on intervals since your brain knows exactly when you can stop.  (How many of you do what I do and manage to "make up" time on that last 200m on the track?  Yes? :)) On the roads, without such visual cues you are forced to overcome the brain's governing abilities and continue to push even when your brain is telling you to stop.  This skill pays dividends in races as you push through those middle miles.

And finally, don't despair.  While the track is a wonderful way to practice pacing, and provides an even, softer surface, the reality is that most races we are training for are run on the uneven, unpredictable roads.  So when you are running your 40th loop around the stupid parking lot, tell yourself this is awesome practice for your next race.




Hope & Despair

When an athlete is injured, their mind often ping-pongs daily from hope to despair.  I spent most of October through December in that state as I dealt with not one, but two bizarre (non-running related!) injuries that left me unable to run.   I'd wake up hopeful:  maybe today I'd feel better!  But the despair would flood in:  It's going to be forever until I can run again - and I'll be starting from scratch.  The truth is, I often had a hard time choosing to be hopeful - even though I know that psychologists have proven that hopeful people live longer, happier and healthier lives.   I tried each day to choose hope.  To choose to be hopeful, to be grateful for everything in my life that was going right, even if the running wasn't going the way I'd wanted.   I know that statistics say that around 79% of runners will be injured in a given year, so most of us are in good company when we do suffer an injury.  Of course, that doesn't mean we like it.  Running is a source of great joy - and for me the need to run feels akin to the need for a daily shower.  It has simply become a part of my daily routine.  So how do we keep our spirits up when we are forced to be apart from the sport we love? Do Something Different: 

Something different: Convincing my extended family to take my BodyPump class!

I decided I'd take the opportunity to try some things I'd never done - like a BodyCombat class - and surprised myself at how much fun I had getting my cross-training groove on.  Yes, it definitely wasn't the same as running and I missed my running friends and routine, but thankfully I got to get to know several amazing women at my gym and their friendship gave me lots to look forward to when I was putting in miles on the elliptical instead of on the roads.  If you are injured, use the time to do something you've maybe always wanted to do but hadn't had the time or energy to pursue.  It doesn't have to be a physical activity, but trying something that you are interested in can help remind you that there are so many things in this world to be passionate about.  

Count Your Blessings: 

Study after study has shown the positive effects of practicing gratitude:  happiness, reduction of stress/anxiety, better sleep, and improved health are only a few of the many well documented benefits.  I tried hard during the weeks rehabbing my injuries to write down a few things each day that I was grateful for.  Most of them were not athletically related and that's okay - it helped me open my eyes to the fact that while running is a big part of my life, it's not the only part.  Taking a few minutes to write down three things you are grateful for each day can go a long way to improving your mood during a time of forced rest.

Keep Your ATHLETE Mentality

When I'm injured I tend to go one of two ways:  I either let everything slide (nutrition, sleep, core work, stretching) or I use the forced time off to focus on improving each of those things.  I'll let you guess which one helps more in the long run.  :)  I started off with the first option (way too many cookies!) but halfway through my time off I decided that I wanted to feel better - less down in the dumps about not being able to run.  And in order to do so, I needed to get back into an "Athlete" mentality.  That means realizing that even though you are injured, you are still an athlete.  And you can choose to use this time to get stronger and to work on establishing good habits that will improve your running when you DO make your comeback.  And speaking of that....

Believe You WILL Come Back

For most of us, though we may feel like we'll never run again, an injury just means we have to take a certain amount of time away from doing what we love.   We are fortunate that for 99% of us, these injuries do not spell a total end to our running career.  It simply puts it on pause for a bit while our body heals.  While we rest, we are still allowed to dream of big PRs, of hard tempo workouts, of long runs on crisp fall mornings.   Even if you have such a layoff that you are essentially starting from scratch, know that your mind and body will remember how to do this - the road back will not be as steep nor as long as you fear.  You must believe that you WILL come back, and that it will be worth the work to do so.  And your success will be all the sweeter for the struggle.

One of my first runs back - got to break in my NightRunner shoe lights!

As for me, I was very, very cautious when I finally got back on the roads.  I ran 2 days the first week, then slowly added in a day at a time.   I am being rewarded for my patience - I am back to running 6 days a week and even had a small workout this week!  I am just SO, SO HAPPY to be back out there.

Run happy, friends, and be grateful.