Monday, May 28, 2012

Fun: an essential ingredient to passionate and productive training

At the end of the day, for me, it all comes down to fun.  Fun is where it all started, and fun is what keeps me going.  But let me take a moment here to put “fun” in quotations.  The concept of fun can be a very relative term, and something  that is different for everybody.  When I first started running, the fun was in the challenge.  It was fun to lace up my shoes, grab my yellow Sony Walkman and head out the door, just to see where my feet would take me.   Acquiring and testing new gear was (and still is) fantastically fun, especially when it came my discovery of dri-fit materials.  Going a little farther than the week before, signing up for my first race, the pride I felt in my achievements kept me going early on.  Over the years I learned to embrace the exquisite pain of running, and the euphoria it all brings as my kind of fun.  I once had a long stretch training for a marathon where all I did was run long, listening to a playlist of about 12 songs total.  Looking back, this was in NO way a proper training method, but I was having a blast and somehow managed my first (albeit very painful) BQ .  Eventually I hooked up with some other runners, and the fun became having training partners, and lengthy conversations about training methods.  It was great fun when I got my first Garmin. Experimenting with new routes and paces, comparing notes with other runners and playing “dueling  Garmins” as we ran.  Of course, there were times when I felt flat, or unmotivated, but the promise of one of those exquisitely magical runs was always on my mind.  The kind of run where time seems to stretch or bend and there is joy in letting go and running free.  Currently, my fun is in the satisfaction of nailing a workout, knowing I am becoming better and better prepared for upcoming races.  And its not just the physical part.  As a physical anthropology major, I studied evolutionary reasons for every adaptation.  When “Born to Run” came out, I read it four times.  Finally someone was writing about why we do what we do.  (Side note:  if you are interested in this topic, check out the research of Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University).  I had often wondered what is it about human beings that draws us to running long distances.  My anthro brain was constantly thinking of ideas as to what exactly was it about our evolution that made this trait desirable.  After all, running is an energy expenditure.  There must have been a pay off.  I had so much fun thinking about running in this way.   Training can stir up moments of inspiration that draw from both past and new experiences,  translating over to daily life. 

As we train, and race, and train again, our goals will change.  It is satisfying to achieve goals!  I read once that the level of fun an athlete has in training corresponds to higher performance in racing.  Looking back on races I have done, the more fun I had in training= the more fun I had racing = my best performances.  Keeping training “fun” is an important element, and will show on race day.  Yes, you will need to work hard, and yes, there will be days when you don’t feel anywhere near your best.   The training journey can be an amazing process.  Ask yourself where your “fun” lies.   Racing?  Competition?  The satisfaction of hard effort?  The wind in your hair?  Write it down in your log, keep a journal, talk to other athletes.  At the end of the day, fun is what keeps us going, and fun is my motivation lifelong running and triathlon training.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I'm not a doctor.  What follows should not be considered medical advice.  See you doctor first.  What I want is to save other runners some grief by reading my experience, and give them hope that it will get better.

Okay, ladies.  Let's talk.  Let's have a truthful and brutally honest chat about running, particularly what can happen as we get older.  If you've had babies, you already know what I mean.  If you haven' still might know what I mean, and if you're smart, you're already on top of it.  Yep.  We're talking Kegels, people.  I'm going to start by admitting that I never did them.  Never had any problems, ran for years quite happily, saying "feh" to rest stops.  I've had a couple babies.  I remember the nurse midwife mentioning something about Kegels to "strengthen the pelvic floor," but I didn't listen.  I was young.  I was going to bounce back.  Flash forward to about 7 years after my youngest was born.  One day I thought I was going for a training run...but wait...what the heck?  I'm not embarassed to admit it.  Its a common problem for women as we age.  I know other women who won't run at all for this reason.  I just didn't think it would ever be MY problem.  I pride myself on being a tough chick...but this is not a tough chick problem, right?  Wrong.  Long story short, I ended up at the PT.  Note here: see your doctor first, to rule out any major problems.  Chances are you just need some strengthening exercises.  But here's the kicker with have to do them properly!  You can Google "Kegels" and get some good information, but most of what you will hear just says to do Kegels like you are stopping the flow of urine.  Well, let me tell you, that little tiny muscular contraction is not a proper Kegel.  The pelvic floor is more than just one layer of muscle.  A proper Kegel consists of two motions.  Think of it squeezing together, and then pulling up and in.  And its not just a little contraction.  I'm going to be blunt here...its a more of a big movement where you are squeezing not just the "urine stoppage" part of the muscle, but all the "stoppage" parts of the muscle (aka your booty, too!).  When I first started doing these, I could barely feel anything.  Its important to sit or lay quietly and really concentrate.  It should feel hard.  You can't be lazy about it.  And here's another thing the good old internet won't tell you...if you want to help your symptoms, its not just Kegels.  There's a very important muscle called the transverse abdominus, or TA.  It lies deep in the abdomen, and wraps horizontally.  Its a low back a  natural weight belt.  It "sucks you in" (forced expiration), and works with the diaphragm and pelvic floor region.   The TA is going to keep everything together, sucked in and tight.  Now, after babies the TA can get a little stretched out and it might not go back to the way it was.  You do crunches, ab exercises, etc., but most likely the TA isn't doing much.  Instead the big rectus abdominus muscle is taking over.  Rectus is a forward flexor, and boy does it look great on bodybuilders and anyone who is lean.  But rectus isn't going to help you.  In fact, when you are running, rectus can actually kick in, pushing down on the bladder.  And if TA isn't there to support it, and keep everything together, guess what?  Yep.  Add that to a weak pelvic floor and you're in deep with the stress incontinence.  Raise your hands if you know what I mean. 
So what can you do?  First, see your doc.  Again, its important to rule out anything major.  What I'm going to tell you as an avid runner is this old ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Do you Kegels NOW, before problems arise.  If you are one of the lucky ones, this might not ever be a problem.  Why chance it?  If you're just starting to have some issues, Kegel away ladies!  Remembering, focus on squeezing together and pulling up and in.  When you are first starting, its tricky and surprisingly difficult.  Stick with it.  Do 20 a day, and as you get stronger, up it to 30, then 40.  Do them sitting or laying down at first.  As you get stronger over the weeks, do them standing.  Another important note here:  keep your belly quiet when doing Kegels.  It should be a pelvic floor contraction only.  If belly kicks in, rectus is going to push on the bladder.  Not good.  Keep belly nice and quiet.  When you move to standing Kegels, this is especially important.  Take the time to concentrate and do them right.  You might even place a hand on your core to make sure its staying quiet.  Move on to graded contractions (squeeze part way, then all the way).  Eventually you can move to doing Kegels with one foot up on a short stool, standing on a couch cushion with the other leg.  You're not laying down when you're running, so its important to get the pelvic floor used to working in different positions. the TA.  Plank on your knees is a good place to start.  Go for 30 seconds, then work up to 2 minutes.  Eventually you will do full plank.  Remember, focus on the lower abs, keeping them tight.  Rectus might kick in a little, but think of your lower ab muscles working.  One note here about the TA:  it can be hard to find.  When you are first starting out, try standing next to a counter, feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent.  Place your fingers underneath, and pull up slightly.  You should feel TA working.  Try to make this brain-muscle connection.  Picture those muscle fibers sliding together.  Hold for a few seconds and let go, repeat.
Another muscle that is important, and underdeveloped especially in road runners is the gluteus medius.  Gluteus medius does abduction, assists in hip flexion, and also internally and externally rotates the hip.  What does that mean to you?  Its reponsible for side to side movement.  And as road runners, we don't do a lot of that.  Strengthening this muscle is going to help complete the picture.  One exercise to try:  lay on your side, knees bent.  Raise the knee toward the ceiling (think clamshell).  You should feel it in the back of your hip (the muscle attaches to the femur, or hip bone).  This is another surprisingly difficult move and you should start with 5-10 reps.
What is stated above is all from personal experience.  I'm not a doctor, or a physical therapist. If you are having problems, see a doctor first.  What I am is a runner who wants to run for a lifetime, with dry pants and a happy body.  This is information I think every female runner should know.  And I can tell you from personal experience, this works!  Like any training, it will take time and consistency, but in the end, hard work pays off. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Running along my good old familiar route today, I passed by my daughter's old elementary school.  You can see the playground from the road, looking across some small wetland. Some kids were out at recess.  Immediately an image popped into my mind of my daughter as a first grader, waving to me from behind the school playground fence.  I haven't thought about that in years...that when she was a first grader, I used to time my runs so I would run by when she was at recess.  Sometimes it would be just her, sometimes her and her friends.  Got me thinking about the hundreds of times I have run on that particular stretch of road.  Alone, with other runners, doing warm-ups, long runs, mile repeats or cool downs.  One time I ran into a mama goose and her goslings on the composite boardwalk that runs along the wetland.  She was not happy to see me, and I was more afraid of her than when I come across someone's wandering dog (at least with a dog, you can tell it in your most authoritative voice to "go home!").  I did get past the goose with no damage to anyone.  I've run on this road in rain, snow, sleet, hail, blazing sunshine and gray cloud cover.  Lately I use it because its a nice flat stretch for mile road repeats.  There is a park at the end of the road with a seasonal drinking fountain and year round bathrooms.  I remember long ago, coming back on this road after my first 18 mile run.  That was back in the day when I was very loosely following a training plan (I don't remember where I got it) and knew I needed some salt.  I had a pocket full of nuts and dried fruit for fuel during the run.  Now I'll bring along some PowerGel or Gu, but looking back the fruit and nuts did a pretty good job.  Although have evolved and continuing to evolve as a runner, my core relationship to the sport has changed very little.  I am in love with running...from the joy to the exquisite pain and everything in between.  I'm glad my favorite route has been there for me all these years.  Here's to hundreds of more miles and just as many memories. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Man, oh man.  How long has it been since I last posted a blog entry?  Been "meaning" to dust this puppy off for some time now.  Moving forward...this blog is devoted to running and triathlon training.  My own for starters.  I've been a runner since 2006, a triathlete since 2011.  And yes, if anyone was wondering, I did officially and successfully transition from Asics to Newtons.  Best. decision. ever.  But more on that later.  The latest excitement in my life is the opportunity to work for Coaches Jeff and Diane at PRSFit.  Jeff and Diane are have been successfully coaching runners and triathletes around the US (and the world!) for many years.  They have built up PRSFit into a nationally recognized business...this is a great group of coaches and a amazing group of athletes.  I have been coached by PRSFit for a year now, with tremendous success.  I have a lot of good things to say about heart rate training.  And believe me, I was a runner who was all about distance.  Distance, distance, garmin, distance.  Not too concerned about perceived exertion, heart rate, didn't even know what a "zone" was.  My brain and body gave up distance training in a pretty stubborn way.  Here's what I think after a year, in a nutshell.  1) Heart rate training can benefit runners in ways they never imagined.  Let me put it this way...HR training is your secret weapon!  I know, I know.  You're not a triathlete.  That's okay!  Trust me on this, if you are open to it, you as a runner can learn a lot of triathlon.  2) Swimming and cycling are not only fun (I promise...), but will make your body and mind stronger, more well rounded, and well, you get the idea.  Better running!  Not to mention...and this is another post altogether...if you get are two sports you can do to 1) save your sanity and 2) keep cardiovascularly fit during recovery.  Next up...some of my personal experiences with HR training, natural running, life, balance, training and the big goal:  PRs (while having fun doing it!).