Thursday, December 31, 2009

A last look back

In 2009, I only logged 350 miles run, but it was still a big year for me as a runner. Here are the highlights:

Jan/Feb: I managed to get out and run after work a few days a week. Decided to break a PR in the spring and knew that I needed to stay fit.

March: I began a 5K training plan and increased mileage dramatically. Have miserable fond memories from the beginning of the month of frozen eyelashes and running without being about to feel my toes.

April: Bought a Trek mountain bike and couldn't wait to cross-train. April 11: Run to Read. April 25: Main St. 5K. Two races that I hoped and expected to PR in that I didn't. Reached a plateau and was pretty frustrated.

May: Ran farther than 5.5 miles for the first time in my life. Became very motivated to increase my mileage.

June: Continued increasing mileage. June 20: O'burg 5K. Tied the PR exactly.

July: Continued increasing mileage. July 25: Branchville 5K. Broke PR by 9 seconds!

August: Continued increasing mileage. August 6: Christmas in August 5K: Broke new PR by 1:12! Continued increasing mileage until shins started hurting even when I was not running. Stopped running altogether.

September: Total rest, except a few miles the week of Sept. 12. Sept 12: Skylander 10K Challenge My first 10K!

October: Total rest, physical therapy, and the continuation of shin pain. Suffered from acute running withdrawal.

November: Bone scan revealed no stress fracture. Rested and began to slowly ease back into running.

December: Took it very easy and kept to a very conservative mileage increase. Brainstormed fun events and ways to train for next year.

So there it is. I still can't believe that I only ran 350 miles. I guess that I'll just have to stay injury-free next year and see what the mileage comes out to then. Can't wait to see what 2010 will bring!

Happy new year, and best of luck to anyone setting running goals for themselves!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 List O' Fun: Part 4

The new year is fast approaching, so I'll continue my list of fun running things to do in 2010 with something that has been growing in my mind for the past couple of months:

#1: Run a half-marathon
#2: Run on single-track bike trails
#3: Do some speedwork
#4: Run in the mountains

I've always been the first one to say that a hill on a run was tough or to blame hills for my fatigue or a bad race time. I want to do more of them, though, and I want to enjoy them. I want to be able to take my training all the way up a mountain and not be daunted. I want to run up to the top of the ridge and look out and be utterly overwhelmed by the view and the knowledge that I climbed that height.

I really started thinking about this after I started reading Geoff Roes' blog. He is an extremely talented ultrarunner from Alaska who also has an ability to put into words what I've never been able to describe about running, and he runs his best - physically and mentally - in the mountains. I've been wanting to run on technical trails, and mountain trails would be a greater challenge and immerse me even deeper into the natural, wild environment that I love running in so much.

Technically, I don't know if the mountains here classify as mountains. The ones I'd be running have an altitude of about 1,300 feet, but even "hill" tops can give a spectacular view. Just take a look at this one:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday cheer from the threshold of Hell

Happy holidays! I hope that any and all readers had a very merry Christmas. Mine was very nice, spent with both my family and the support staff's family. I actually found some neat presents for my parents this year, and I was happy to be able to surprise them. For example, my poor dad is used to getting bbq spatulas and coffee makers, so he was very surprised to get kayak accessories instead. It made me so happy to see that he was happy with it!

I also received some great fitness gifts, for which I really have to thank my family and support staff. The first I opened up was Wii Fit from my parents. "Pretty cool," I thought. Then I tried it out, and it's much more than just "pretty cool." The yoga and strength training sections are like workout videos, except that the platform senses your motions and center of gravity and it tells you how to readjust your positioning for the proper movement. Very, very, very cool. I'll be working on flexibility and strengthening my core for better posture with this.

My parents also got me a calf-stretcher, which is very useful for me, since my calves are always tight. It gives an even better range of motion than standing on a stair-step. I definitely recommend one if you have trouble with tight calves.Then there was the support staff's gift: a bike trainer - a stand that you prop the back wheel on that provides resistance so you can ride indoors as a stationary bike. I had been wanting one of these for a long time because I want to even out my running and biking, and now it's hooked up to my old Diamondback just waiting for me to ride! I've already done about 40 minutes of cycling on it, even though I haven't moved it to its permanent spot by the treadmill. The support staff will probably help me with that when he comes over to help install a speedometer to go with it.

I made use of all of these fitness gifts this week, so I didn't feel too badly about slacking off with my already minimal runs. I ended up only doing one mile all of last week. I've been reading about running, though, in Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. I like this book, although my running intensity has never been anything like the competitive collegiate track atmosphere that it describes. The book points out that recreational runners don't truly understand the mindset and training of a competitive miler, which actually made me feel slightly offended. In fact, I thought to myself, "Ok, Quentin Cassidy (the protagonist) may run over 100 miles a week and be existing in a state of perpetual exhaustion, but he's never known the pain of running with menstrual cramps."

Famous last words.

Was I trying to jinx myself? (This is where I come to the part of my post in which I describe how I decended to the threshold of Hell this weekend.) It seems that I did jinx myself. I was getting ready Sunday to go into Manhattan to see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center with my cousin, her husband, and my sister, when I started to feel some cramps. I prepared myself somewhat in case the inevitable came around, and began on my merry way. I drove an hour to my cousin's house, which is about 25 miles from New York, and we took a bus into the city from there. The bus ride should have taken about an hour, but it was a beautiful day, and everyone else and their cousin also decided to go to the city, so the ride took 2 hours. During the course of this (bumpy stop-and-go) ride, the inevitable did come around. I was uncomfotable with cramps, but I figured that it was no big deal and I could handle it. Until we pulled into the Port Authority and took the escalator down into crowded stuffiness and I knew that I was going to throw up.

Maybe it was just that time of the month, maybe it was the bus ride, maybe it was not eating anything for several hours beforehand, maybe it was a lot of things, but when I found myself running along the New York sidewalks to keep up with the group while stripping off winter gear because I was desparately hot and realizing, on top of that, that the cramps were so bad that even standing upright and extending each leg to walk was unbearable, I think I had Quentin Cassidy topped. And then, when I threw up in a trash can on the sidewalk in the middle of New York City, I was truly at the threshold of Hell.

But I returned, and I can try to use the memory of it to help me with my running. Mainly, I have never, ever, felt such pain or had such an overwhelming sense of misery than I did leaning over the trash can knowing that I was a 2-hour, motion-sick-filled bus ride from my cousin's house and an hour's drive home from there. It was far worse than any of the cramps I've had while running, so maybe I'll remember and be hardened in future runs. Of course, I hope never to experience that feeling again, but maybe I'll remember that I did, indeed, return in one piece. In fact, I actually ended the night by drinking eggnog and eating cookies. Ah, to be well again!

Thank God for health and happiness, for so many new fitness opportunities, for my cousin and her husband, for my very supportive support staff, and for a merry Christmas this year (notwithstanding the whole Hell incident)!

I'm feeling much better and had a great 1.5 mile run on the treadmill this morning. I warmed up by walking and doing a few minutes on the bike, and I felt pretty good. Much better than I did last Tuesday when I only did a mile. Here's to more good training days this holiday week!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

This coming week, I'm going to bring my mileage down and rest for the holidays. Bring on the ice for my legs and the hot cocoa for my tummy!

Last Saturday, when I made my triathlon contestant video, I ran on the trail through some snow. Because I was talking for the video, I was feeling pretty tired and out of breath by the first mile, but I kept going, and by the end I felt strong and even that I could have gone a lot farther. I felt that it was a really great run.

Tuesday I went for a 2.5 mile run and, because it was well above freezing and all of the snow was melting, I decided to do it on the street so I wouldn't have to slip and slop through mud on the trail. I couldn't believe how difficult those 2.5 miles were. I was exhausted by the end. I didn't run again until yesterday, when I did 4 miles on the trail with 3 walk breaks, and I woke up this morning feeling tired and sore.

I think that running in the snow last week was rough on my ankles and lower legs. Feeling sore is natural, but I'm going to be very careful because I still might be in danger of inflaming/bringing back my shin splints. I've been icing after my runs, but I'm going to ice throughout the day as well, as a precaution. Ice, ice baby!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2010 List O' Fun: Part 3!

So, in my last few posts, I've discussed how I want to run a half-marathon, run single-track trails, and how I don't want to belly flop into the Hudson River on national TV. Now to continue my List O' Fun things to do in 2010:

#1: Run a half-marathon
#2: Run on single-track bike trails
#3: Do some speedwork

This sounds like a pretty simple, every-day, not-exciting thing. I've never really done it quite right, though, and I think that it could change a lot of things for me. I also have a special place in my heart for a 400m track. And doing some workouts there - done correctly to show some results - would be pretty special.

I spent a lot of time alone at the track during my senior year of high school trying to train myself to be good enough for the track team, and I feel like that was a defining time for me. Before that, I had been caught up in the general impression that I just wasn't the athletic type, and my parents never encouraged me to join any kind of organized sport, especially in high school, because it would be a big hassle for them to drive me home from practice. So deciding to join the track team was actually was one of my first steps toward independence.

Thanks to knee issues, my track career turned out to be one single JV race, but the experience of training and then joining the team was powerful. This post shows one of my memories of that experience. It's just a snapshot of an evening alone at the track, but it's one of the best examples I can think of as to "why I run".

So that brings me to doing some speedwork on the track this coming year. Once I started running in 5Ks, I tried to revisit the track to do speedwork -- without having a base. My experience of track in high school was as a sprinter, so I never had to do very long distances. The miles warming up and cooling down were the farthest distances I ran in those days. So, when I started running in 5Ks, it didn't seem odd to do speed workouts when I was only running 10 miles per week, although I can say that those workouts never had much of an impact.

I got pretty frustrated in the spring of 2009, when I was doing pace and speed intervals once every week and could not, for the life of me, break my 5K PR. I couldn't imagine why I wasn't getting faster. Then I started running longer distances and running just for the fun of it, and my speed increased dramatically. Like by a minute and 20 seconds in the 5K! Oh yeah, that "base" thing people talk about. That's what they mean...

So one thing that I would love to do in 2010 is to go back to the track after I've built up a base and do some real interval workouts. If having the base alone could decrease my times so much, I'd love to see what incorporating speedwork will do.

As much as I love the freedom and natural environment of the trail, there is still a competitor in me that loves the thrill of racing on a track, and I definitely want that as part of my running experience in the next year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sometimes I'm just crazy...

Sometimes I'm a little crazy (by which I mean a lot crazy). Like this weekend, when, for a few hours, I thought it would be awesome to enter myself for a chance to go on CNN and participate in the NYC Triathlon.

It happened on Saturday morning when I was eating breakfast and watching the news. The medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, came on and said that in July, he would be doing the New York City Triathlon, and that he was looking for 5 people to do it with him. CNN would send trainers to your home and you'd be awesome and train for the next 6 months for the triathlon. It's called the Fit Nation Tri Challenge. I thought, "Hey! I bike. I run. I could do a triathlon! And, who wouldn't want a personal trainer checking up on your progress for 6 months?!" I went on the website and saw that to enter yourself for a chance, you needed to submit a video of yourself explaining why you would be a good candidate.

All of the videos were of people sitting on their couches. I thought "Hey! They look like couch potatoes! Why don't I do a video of me explaining why I should be a triathlete - while I'm running..."

So I went out for my scheduled 3-mile run (with my ancient digital camera in hand) and took this video of myself:

It's a big file, so I don't know if it can even be viewed in increments longer than 5 seconds, but I tried. It's a little goofy. Or crazy.

Anyway, after the run, I took a closer look at the submission guidelines. Look at what I found: "Costs and equipment used to participate in or prepare for the Challenge, such as bikes and personal trainers, will be the responsibility of participant."

Wait, what? I have to pay for the personal trainer they send to my house? Well, I'd better find out how much the race itself will cost to enter. I went to the event website, and it turns out that the race is sold out, so there was no registration fee posted. So I have no idea how much this whole escapade would cost me.

Then I started browsing through the site and saw that the swim segment takes place in the Hudson River. Can you see me diving into the Hudson River? Neither can I. Honestly, the last time I ever even tried diving into a pool, I did a belly flop instead.

Belly flop into the Hudson River while being filmed for CNN? Let's just say that made up my mind against submitting my video. It would have been fun and really exciting, but between entry fees, a personal trainer, a wetsuit, a road bike, a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in NYC, and the whole diving into the river thing, I'll have to pass this time. Dr. Gupta, if you're out there reading this and want me to run a marathon with you, I'll do it, but I can't afford a triathlon.

A mini sort of triathlon is upcoming on the continuation of my List O' Fun things to do in 2010. That one is sprint distance and includes canoeing instead of swimming. I'll save that for another post, though.

Before I end, I want to congratulate bloggers Jenny and Jeri for success at the Dallas White Rock Marathon/Half-marathon yesterday! While I was home being crazy, they were out being awesome. Congrats to Jenny for setting both a PR and a BQ in the marathon, and to Jeri for a PR in the half! You guys are really inspiring, and I enjoy reading your blogs. :-)

Friday, December 11, 2009

2010 List O' Fun: Part 2

In yesterday's post I discussed how I am looking forward to running a half marathon in 2010 as a way to expand my running horizons and enjoy my hobby as much as possible. Now it's time for the next one up on the list:

#1: Run a half-marathon
#2: Run on single-track bike trails

I normally do a good deal of my running on a flat, level trail. It used to be a railroad bed, so there are no steep ascents or descents, no sharp turns, and few tree roots to trip over. It's great for injury recovery or long runs when I don't want to overwork myself with hills, but even during those runs, I sometimes wish for it to be a little less tame.

Every once in a while when I come to a rock cut, where the path was blasted out of a hill for the railroad to pass through, I'll run up the side of the hill to get a different perspective and give some alternate muscles a chance to work. It feels so good, after the repetitiveness of a flat surface, to nimbly jump over roots and dart around rocks to the top and then pick my way down the other side. These types of trails are calling me, and I can't wait to answer.

There's a state park located about a half-hour away from my home with miles of single-track trails. If I do little else in 2010, I want to get out to that park and run on those trails. I know that I'll enjoy the technical aspect of the trails, the scenery will be gorgeous, it will be good for training, and it's an opportunity for the support staff to keep me company on his bike. Given all of these points, I can't believe I haven't done it before!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2010 List O' Fun

Why did I sign up for a half-marathon 7 months in advance at a time when, on doctor's orders, I couldn't even run? Good question. The answer is #1 on my 2010 List O' Fun. Read on and I'll explain.

There have always been different reasons why I run. In high school, it was because I wanted to prove that, geeky as I was, I could join a sport and be good at it. In college, it was to lose weight and relieve stress. After college, it was to participate in road races and feed that competitor in me that didn't get enough in high school track.

I started out 2009 with that competitive motivation. I was determined to lower my 5K race times and place higher in my age category, and when I couldn't keep up with my running buddy, I increased my mileage so I wouldn't be left behind. Then something interesting happened: I went out for long runs and didn't look at the stopwatch. I really liked these runs. I started looking forward to them all week. My self esteem was boosted, and instead of running to lower my race times, I ran because it was my hobby and I wanted to do more of it. I became more laid-back about races and ended up running my fastest times ever in the 5K. Most of that is because I had, unwittingly, built up the base needed for speed, but a lot of it was also that I was having more fun.

And now, after getting shin splints and not running for 3 months, I have a long list of ways that I want to have fun by running in 2010. In some ways it is like a list of goals, but in other ways, it's just a brainstorming of ideas. I expect that I'll be running for many years to come, so there's plenty of time - I'm just so excited about it all that I want to do everything as soon as possible. I'll start working on it in 2010. So here it is, my 2010 List O' Fun! Instead of listing everything right now, I'll focus on one item per post.

#1: I want to have fun by running a half-marathon.

I've had this goal ever since this summer when I realized that my long runs were just a few miles shy of a half-marathon. Now, although it's not until May, I can't wait for the experience. It will be my first really large race. I can't wait to get into the corral at the start and feel the energy from all of the other runners and then have lots of crowd support during the race. It's always been nice to wave to people who stand on their porch as a 5K takes place on their road, but I think that this will be a different experience. And I'll be able to be a spectator as well! After I'm done, I'll be able to watch the full marathoners cross the finish line. And there will be professional race pictures along the course (the support staff will probably be relieved not to have photographer duty!). There is so much that this race will have that I've never experienced before, and I can't wait to enjoy it all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Forgot one teensy little thing...

I had 1.5 miles on the trail to run today, so I walked a half mile, ran a half mile, and then turned around and ran the mile back. I just forgot one teensy little thing -- to stretch! I don't know why I thought that walking would be enough of a warm up, especially since the weather was chilly. I felt a little stiff as a result, but other than that, it was a good run. It snowed a few days ago, and there was some snow and ice left on the trail, but I tip-toed through it and didn't slip. I actually felt more stable running than walking, since there's so much less contact with the ground.

I'm really pleased with the fact that my shins aren't a problem anymore. I'm more confident about being prepared for the half marathon, and I can't wait to see what other adventures I'll find for myself in 2010. I'm really looking forward to running more technical trails, and maybe I'll do some running at higher elevations. Depending on how things go, I might even sign up for a marathon...

But first things first: I have 20 more weeks before the half-marathon. I have to safely work up to being able to finish that. The rest of my week looks like this:
1 mile on Thursday, and then 3 on Saturday -- the longest run since September!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another good run

Yesterday I got in a 2-mile run before sunset, and I am happy to say that my legs once again felt great. I tried to pay attention to form -- concentrating on keeping my back straight and lifting with my quads with every step rather than pushing up with my feet and lower legs -- and my shins didn't hurt at all. The pace was not hard, but it was a bit brisk, and by the time I was done, I was out of breath, and my legs were a bit shaky as I stretched out. They've been out of training for a long time, now! It was a good run, though.

At night I got a kind of reward for the 10k I ran in September. Since the course was improperly marked and official times could not be given, all participants were given two free tickets to a show of choice at the local community college's performing arts center. Last night the support staff and I redeemed them and saw a great production of Oklahoma! It wasn't a fancy medal, but I appreciated it as a reward for the 10k.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A little longer and feeling great!

I decided to go for 2 miles today. It fit into the schedule, and I felt ready for it, and....yes! I felt great the whole time. My legs felt like they're supposed to feel, and I was able to just run and listen to my breathing and feel the motions and try my best not to slip and fall in the mud. It put me in such a great mood.