Friday, March 14, 2014

In Praise of Cross-Training

I so enjoyed having my weekend free after doing my long run last Friday, I had planned to do the same thing today.  But I felt rough last night at Run Club and my doubts got the best of me.  Plus I haven't slept well the past few nights, so I just feel beat and kind of emotionally overwrought.  I put on my running clothes in the pre-dawn, and then crawled back into bed and cried to The Husband about how I didn't want to run.  "Run tomorrow," he said, "and go to Pilates today."  I don't technically need his permission to push off my long run, but it's nice to have it.  So eventually I crawled out of bed and put on yoga pants instead of running crops, and prepared to meet the day.

I have been taking a lovely reformer class at Evolve Los Altos with some very nice ladies and an excellent teacher.  I had been mostly doing privates back in Pittsburgh, but the price is kind of high out here, and this super advanced class happens to be at a time I can get to pretty easily, so I just go for it.  I have a love/hate relationship with practicing yoga and Pilates on my own.  I love how I feel when it's done, I just hate pushing myself through it.  And since I'm kind of a wimp, I get easily distracted, etc.  I like to have someone else's eyes on me to make sure I'm really doing what I should be.  I like those little micro adjustments and weird visuals.  They make me happy.  So I really thrive on a real in person class.  Working myself out gives me a chance to play with things sometimes, but a good teacher will give you that space, too, especially in a private session.  And a good teacher is also going to look at your body with a critical eye and see all the places you're weak and make you do the things you don't want to do.

The other thing about yoga and Pilates, or really anything you do that makes you move in a different way, is that it can make you a better runner.  Not only does it force you to work all the parts you probably don't usually work when running (lateral motion, shoulder stability, the list is pretty long), but if you're someone who likes to think when you run (and no judgment if you don't - sometimes I just want to run and not think all that much about it), it can help you to make little adjustments.  I remember after my first half marathon, the part of my body that was the most sore was my shoulders.  I had totally hunched them up in the last few miles and put all my stress in my shoulders.  This is a really common thing, runners do it all the time, and I did it A LOT.  When I was going through my Pilates certification, I joked that my Pilates name tag would say "Shoulders Down the Back" because that was the correction I constantly got from my teachers.  It took a good year for me to reliably be able to engage my shoulders in the right way, but eventually I got it (most of the time), and my running got better, too.  Paying attention to how I was hitting the ground was also something I started doing while going through training.  I began to see that I was running very turned out (duck footed) and it was leading to a lot of pain in my SI joint and hip in general.  So I began to concentrate on becoming more parallel.  I also began to play with my footstrike, which was very heel-heavy.  I took a few months to transition into being a midfoot striker, rather than a heel striker, and most of the old injuries that had plagued me disappeared.  Not that there wasn't a huge transition process, because there was, and it wasn't always comfortable or fun.  I traded the old injuries for some new ones, but overall, I think it was a good call.  And all because of the attention that Pilates brought to my body and what I was doing with it.
Just for fun, a video of two of my favorite exercises on the Cadillac - Airplane and Ferris Wheel.  I could knitpick these like crazy (and this video is from last year, so hopefully I'm better at these now), I want to yell at myself "straighten those wrists out!"  Still, fun stuff.

Now this doesn't mean that I think everyone should run out and get a Pilates DVD and change up their footstrike.  I think it's really hard to pick up a yoga or Pilates DVD and really do things correctly.  I think it's hard to go to a class at a gym and pick it up, too.  In a perfect world, I'd like to see everyone be able to take some small group or private lessons to get the basics and then revisit that more intimate format to learn new stuff, work with injuries and imbalances, etc.  I just can't say enough about how wonderful it is having someone's eyes on you to help you figure things out and help put you back together.  And there is something a fine line between good and bad yoga and Pilates, and I say that as someone who did bad yoga and bad Pilates for many years.  Poorly performed exercises put you at risk for injury, and preventing injuries is a huge reason to do this kind of stretching and strengthening.  So it really is worth the money and effort to find a good teacher with whom you click and really learn how to do things best for your body.

I left  my class today feeling so much better, both physically and mentally.  Putting the long run off until tomorrow was the right call.  Yay Pilates!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rancho San Antonio, or More Freaking Hills

I won't lie, after my last post I kind of wussed out on the hills.  I'm short on time, it's a pain in the ass to park at the Stanford Dish, and let's face it, I'm lazy.  Plus, we had a few crimps in the training (a unexpected trip out of town, and then an unexpected nasty illness when we got back), so hills kind of got neglected.  Yesterday The Husband says, "let's go run at that Rancho San Antonio place after you drop the kids at school."  So I mapped us a 5ish mile course (it ended up shorter than I mapped it because we parked in a different place), we figured out how to get there, and off we went.

Much like the Stanford Dish, you start going up.  You see the trail, it's going up, so you follow it.  And it goes up.  And up.  And up.  It actually climbs up 610 feet over a mile and a quarter, just keeps going up.  Somehow, that sounds less impressive than it felt, and it felt like we were well on our way up Everest.  The view was pretty cool, though.
That's one hell of a view behind my sweaty self!
The Husband was a good spot, though he did curse me a few times.  "This is like where you bring your husband if you want to push him over the side," he said.  I reassured him that it was not part of the day's plan to bring out his early demise, and we enjoyed a brief respite from the uphill for a little while.  Then we went up again, and more, and more and more.  "I'm not running again until we get to the top," I said and I marched valiantly up the hill.  I could not muster up a nice heroic theme song to play in my head, it was a slow slog to the top.  We had to stop a couple of times to check the GPS, but I think when we do it again, it'll go much better, partly because we'll know what to expect a bit more.
Can you see the deer?  There were a whole bunch of these cute tiny deer.  This was near the top of the second major climb.

Overall, it was a really nice place to run.  We started on the PG&E Trail, cut over to the Wildcat Loop Trail, the High Meadow Trail ("I'd like the Low Meadow Trail the next time, please," I said at one point), and the Coyote Trail brought us back to the start.  A nice 5.19 mile loop with some very decent hills.  It also had a lot of people, so I can see how it could get really congested on the weekends.  We also caught a fear-inducing glimpse of the PG&E Trail further on, and how much higher it gets, and were glad to turn off of it.

Given what we learned today, we need to train up on the hills or it's very likely that Big Sur will kill us.  So if you'd like to put in dibs on my collection of lululemon workout clothes, speak now because I won't need them when I'm dead on Highway 1.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Running hills at the Stanford Dish

Being a Pittsburgh gal, I'm used to being able to walk out the front door and run hills.  Pittsburgh is pretty much up hill both ways, and it takes effort to find flat places to run.  And since I'm pretty much as lazy as they come, I end up running hills.  Sometime last year I decided it was taking way too much effort for me to hate hills, so I decided I should just learn to like them.  So I did.  I went from a card carrying member of the Hills Suck club to someone who actively seeks out hilly routes.  And this strategy paid off when I set PR's in both the 10k and the half marathon on courses with significant hills.  They also had significant descents, which is part of what makes running hills worthwhile.

Since we've relocated to the Bay Area, I've been whining about the lack of hills in my immediate vicinity.  It's not that there aren't hills, clearly there are.  San Francisco is made of hills.  I did the Nike Women's Marathon a few years ago and the hills were definitely there.  But where we live, it's pretty flat.  I haven't changed the gear on my bike yet, that's how flat it is.  So friends helpfully recommended a few different places I could run and I've been slowly checking them out.  The week before last, I took my 3 year old with me and checked out the Stanford Dish.  If you look at this badboy on Google Maps, you can see it starts with people walking up hill.  So yes, hills.  I strapped my little one into the jogger and away we went at the speed of a glacier.  I'm not entirely convinced many of the hills are runnable, especially with the jogger, and it was a lot of me huffing and puffing while he yelled "I thought we were going to be RUNNING, mommy!" and "I don't really think this is very fast, mommy!"  Some of the passersby got a good laugh out of him.  I would have laughed, too, had I not been gasping for breath and afraid I was going to bust a lung.  So the way we went, and it's a loop so you have your choice of straight uphill or slight downhill, and we went straight uphill, it kind of crests at the top, FINALLY, and the view is pretty damn cool.
You can't really see it in the photo, but you can see the San Francisco bay off in the distance.  And if your eyes are keen, Stanford University.
It looked like we were at the top of the world, and we kind of were, since I think it was pretty safely the highest point around.  I think this wasn't even a mile into the run, and we spent the next 3ish miles mostly going down, with some rolling hills in there.  Some of those "rolling" hills were steep enough that I couldn't run them with the jogging stroller.  If you've run down hills with a jogger, you know that there's a very real element of danger involved and you have to be conservative (and if you dig an element of danger in your runs, by all means, borrow a jogger, fill it with about 30lbs of sandbags, find a really steep hill, and have at it).  If you just floor it, you risk the jogger getting away from you (with your precious snowflake strapped into it) AND pulling you along with it since you've got your wrist looped into the safety strap.  The jogger is heavy, and wheeled, and it *will* pull you down along with it.  So that hand break comes in really handy. And sometimes on really steep hills, you just can't run with it, it's just not possible.  Adding to the excitement, we saw a fair amount of wildlife.  Also, near the end, a woman stopped me, fairly alarmed, and told me she had seen a "HUGE" coyote not far away, and suggested we stick to the far side of the path.  I'm not sure what that extra 3 feet was supposed to do if the coyote decided it wanted to eat us, but we didn't see it anyway, so it's all good.  At the end of our 3.5+ miles, I was pretty sweaty, and my youngster was pretty bored and demanding snacks, so we called it a success.
Look!  We saw some deer!  It was just like wild kingdom.  I didn't get a picture of the fluffy fat ground squirrels, but my god they were adorable.
The second time I set out to run the Stanford Dish, I wisely left my youngster at daycare and took to the road myself.  This time I found parking easily (I'll spare you the saga of my search for parking the first time - let's just say there was a lot of me cursing and a lot of the small fry yelling "Why don't you PARK already!" and "Why aren't you DRIVING!  We're just SITTING HERE!" while we sat at red lights), started my Garmin, and away I went.  This time I took the path that went downhill to start, because I figured the more steady ascent would be a better prep for Big Sur than the super mega steep crazy hills that I'd pushed the jogger up.  Rest assured, there were still some crazy hills, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and I'm confidant that I'll get my pace up after I've done it a few more times.  I got to run DOWN the super mega steep crazy hills this time, and it was pretty hard to run down them.  The road was slightly slick from it having rained (horray for rain!  There's a pretty major drought going on here, and that's nothing to laugh about) and I was afraid I was going to slip, so it was pretty pathetic.  And, even more pathetically, I was so concerned about running downhill and being careful that I missed the exit and went almost a mile around the loop a second time before I realized it and then had to go back.  I finished up with around 2 miles on the really awesome bike trail on Stanford Road.  It was gorgeous, asphalt, not on the road, shaded, and so damn pretty.  With the birch trees and wooden fences it reminded me a lot of running in Sweden, which is a very nice thing.  No sightings of wildlife this time, not even the ground squirrels were out.  Or maybe I was too busy trying to keep a decent pace that I just didn't notice.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The music I run with

I gave up running with headphones when we were in Sweden maybe 4 years ago and I was running on scary small roads and trails where it really was important that I be able to hear what was going on around me.  After three weeks of that, I kind of got used to things and I haven't really missed it all that much.

Science tells us that there are some good reasons to run with headphones (and Runner's World writes about it frequently).  It can make the miles pass faster, which is especially important on long tedious runs.  It can keep your tempo up as you keep beat with the music, and some studies have shown that people who exercise with music have a higher rate of exertion over time than those who don't (plus, the exertion feels less, so that's a plus, too).  However, the safety concerns are huge, and losing the control of really being able to think about your breath and cadence can be significant, it depends on the kind of runner you are.  Since I went through my Pilates certification a couple of years ago, I've become pretty darn geeky about running and form, so I was glad that I'd already learned to live without the headphones.  When I was transitioning my stride from a heavy heel strike to a midfoot strike, paying attention to what I was doing was hugely important and I think it went as well as it did because I didn't have music to distract me.

So what goes on in my head, then, since I don't have music when I run outside?  I do miss having NPR in my ear during early morning runs - I can vividly remember hearing about the first reports of the Arab Spring when I was running cold and seemingly endless laps around the Highland Park Reservoir - but overall, I like the freedom of not having anything in my pockets, or headphones constantly slipping out of my ears.  I've found that now that I have to create my own music, I spend a lot of time going through my loop of songs in my head.  Some days I'm stuck on Lady Gaga or Madonna, some days it's some horrendous song the kids are singing all the time.  Yesterday it was "December, 1963" by Frankie Vallie, which was featured on Sunday's episode of Sherlock.  When I run hills, it's frequently the theme from Game of Thrones, though lately it's been the "How He Did It" theme from Sherlock (yes, I'm pretty obsessed, I'm not ashamed).  I've taken the time to plot out conversations I need to have, or to think of ideas for books I want to write, or things I want to talk to The Husband about.  It's nice to have the time to just think if I want to, or turn on my mental jukebox and spin to whatever comes up, like a musical free association.

On the treadmill, all bets are off.  Plug me in, I have no shame.  If I have the option to watch a movie or TV, I'm there.  Otherwise, I'll set my phone to random, use the running mix I've made, or use that Audible membership I should make more use of.  I have a very nice pair of Yur Buds that work great for not falling out of my ears, but one of my cats is quite fond of them so I don't use them all that much because I tend to forget about them, leave them out, and then the cat eats them.  It's a bad cycle.

Are you headphone-free or do you love your iPod like no other?  What plays either in your head or on your player when you're running?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Running on the Left Coast

Since my last post in May, lots of stuff has happened.  I *FINALLY* set a new 10k PR (that thing had stood for way too long), which is awesome, and after a few months of single parenthood, we all find ourselves reunited in California for the next few months.

Make no mistake, single parenting sucks.  I stayed behind in Pittsburgh with the kids so that they could do a semester of school at their regular school, we could tie up loose ends, figure out what to do with the house and the cats, etc.  The Husband came out to CA and worked.  I definitely think he got the sweeter end of the deal and think I have some PTSD from my foray into single parenting, but it's all good now.  My hat is off to my friends who are single parents for any reason, there is not a single thing fun about it.  I told The Husband that if anything happened to him I'd probably marry the first guy I could get to ask me just so that I wouldn't have to take care of the kids alone.  I have nothing good to say about it other than thank god it's over.

A side effect to the single parenting is that I didn't get to run a whole lot, or do a whole lot of anything else, so I gained a few pounds and feel like I might have lost some fitness.  But since we've been out here in lovely California, I've had a chance to get back to things, do yoga again, Pilates again, and get in some quality runs. The weather is awesome, especially compared to the polar vortexes (I'm actually not sure if that's the plural of vortex or not!) they're dealing with back in the 'burgh.  Though I am missing out on bragging rights for having survived what sounds like the Winter from Hell, I'm kind of ok with that.  It's dry out here (they're into year three of a drought), and we are in an area where it is pancake flat, to the point that you feel it when there is a very slight change in elevation.  It's both amusing and frustrating.  I've come to love the hills because they give my runs variety, so I am frequently bored to tears while I'm running here.  There is a decent paved trail nearby, but I learned the hard way that it needs to be run strategically, or else I end up with no shade running next to the stinky San Francisco Bay (which is stinky because the water is so low, the salt marshes are just drying out and stinking the place up).  So some adjustment is having to happen.

The Husband and I signed up for the Big Sur Marathon at the end of April, so I've been training for that.  If you know anything about Big Sur, you'll know that it is not pancake flat, so there's problem number one.  I am, at heart, a lazy girl, and I dislike having to drive to run.  I run because I don't want to have to drive somewhere!  Back in Pittsburgh I can run up as many hills as I want within a quarter mile of my house.  So having to budget time to drive somewhere to run, and carry my own water, which makes me feel kind of stabby, is a mental hurdle I have to get over.  My friends out here think I'm a little crazy, and the San Francisco Bay area is not known for being devoid of hills, but I'm not used to having to drive to find them, and believe me, it is FLAT where I am.  Weirdly weirdly flat.  So my goal for this weekend is to find some hills to run on.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Inexplicably, I've been getting faster.

People say things like that, and then it turns out they've been doing speedwork and lifting weights and running more and blah blah blah.  I've been running less, drinking more wine, and gained 3 lbs.  But, apparently, it's been magical, because without more than benign neglect, I've gotten faster.  The minor break wasn't really well thought out.  I was working more, nursing the same old achilles injury that's plagued me on and off since Columbus, and just really lazy.  So apparently there is something to the whole "run less, run faster" idea.

Heartened by my newfound speed, I decided to actually set a goal other than "finish and not die" for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.  I talked to The Husband and decided that I wanted to PR and beat my previous 2:08 best, which I'd set back in 2009.  Having not been training, he decided that he could keep a 9:30 pace and pace me for the race.  "I hope you know, I'm going to keep that pace," he told me before the race.  Meaning, he'd leave my slow ass behind if I couldn't keep up.  Ouch.

We showed up nice and early, this year remembering our debit cards so we could pay for parking (A short aside - last year, we got to the parking garage only to realize we hadn't bought any money.  Since The Husband was running the full marathon and mile 20 is a block from our house, I told my mom to bring the kids to mile 20 to watch and hand The Husband his debit card so we could get out of the parking garage.  He says our oldest son ran out to give him the debit card, then ran a block or two with him.), and all seemed to  be going well.  They had kept revising the weather report for warmer and warmer, so we were prepared for it to be hot, but it wasn't *humid*, and that's usually the key for me.  The Husband is the master of where to place himself at the start line, so we found good places in Corral D and waited for the start.

The first few miles were uneventful, as they usually are.  I still think they need water earlier in the course, but it's wasn't too bad.  The bands were great, as usual, and the sky was nicely overcast and the weather was cool.  I wore short sleeves and shorts and felt ok.  Between miles 2 and 3 we ran into a friend who was running his first half marathon.  He'd started well behind us, but had caught up and we ran together for a while (he actually crossed the finish line right after us, though his chip time was almost 2 minutes faster - yay he did great!), which was kind of cool.  I noticed right away that the hills didn't seem as bad this year as last, though it was exactly the same course.  I had been making hills a regular part of my easy runs and had as some point decided it was taking too much energy to hate hills, so I should just like them.  Embrace the hills. *LOVE* the hills.  This is Pittsburgh, after all, it's not like you have a choice but to run hills at some point (it's frequently up hill both ways around here).  We hit the halfway point around the West End Bridge and were feeling good.  The route through the West End Village seemed extremely short, and even the mind numbingly boring stretch up Carson Street before Station Square didn't seem too bad.

By the time we hit the South Side proper, I knew we were in good shape.  "Let's just do the full!" I joked to The Husband.  "NO," he said emphatically.  We ran across the Birmingham Bridge, a bridge that I might hate more than any other, and I tried to prepare myself for the uphill on the other side.  And it wasn't that bad.  I felt myself pulling away at certain points, but true to his word The Husband kept a steady pace.  We crested the Blvd of the Allies and I said, "Let's just run it in easy."  Apparently "easy" now involves 8 minute miles because we made up at least a minute or two in the last mile.  The Husband said, "You're going to PR easy, you're going to smoke your previous time."  We could see the finish line as we came down the Blvd, but we weren't there yet.  We went over the last little bump and sprinted to the finish.  And at the end of the day, I did indeed smoke my previous time.  My goal was under 2:08, ideally 2:05.  I came in at 2:03:36.  And at no point did it feel undoable.  A couple of times I felt like walking, but I knew it would pass.  The whole race felt comfortably hard.  A sub-2 hour half now seems doable.
Always quality bling at the Pittsburgh Marathon

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The past 18 months - a roundup

So, clearly I haven't been around in a while updating the blog.  I'm going to refer to the last 18 months as kind of a dark ages in terms of my running.  Last January I was seized by the crazy idea to get  my certification to teach Classical Pilates, so I spent about 9 months torturing myself and others and doing that.  And it was awesome, don't get me wrong, I learned a ton and I'm loving teaching now, but the running suffered, no question about it.
Yay Pilates!  Long stretch on the reformer - I could do this all day.
I had a really hard time balancing my time.  I'd get home late and wouldn't want to get up early to run, and everything just kind of fell to pieces in terms of running.  The pace got slower and slower, the miles less and less, and yeah, it kind of sucked.  In the middle of this, I had the bright idea to sign up with a group for the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco in October of last year.  I *never* thought we'd get in, or I probably wouldn't have bothered to sign up.  But sure, what the hell, I thought.  It's a lottery, it'll never happen.  And then it did.  So crap.  Then I had to actually train for it.  And I'd been ambitious enough to sign up for the full marathon, rather than just the half.

As part of the training, I ran the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, and clocked my slowest marathon time ever, 2:27 and change.  It was actually unexpectedly hot and the husband also didn't meet his time goal for the full marathon, but still.  Yuck.  Nothing fun about it.
Ok, I lied, it was kind of fun.  And the medal was great, as usual.
So, with that, I had a feeling Nike was going to be pretty slow.  I did ok in the Great Race 10k and set a second best, but the weather had been perfect and it had been kind of unexpected.  We went to San Francisco for a family trip and I resigned myself to running Nike.

Both feet off the ground and a smile on my face.
That's because it was almost over.
Here's the thing about the Nike Women's Marathon - it's not *really* designed to be a full marathon.  It's a half, with a full as an afterthought.  Most people do the half, and by most I mean 20 thousand of the 25 thousand who run it.  The first half of the course was a lot of fun.  I ran it with a charming woman named Mandy, who I knew from online, and she really helped pull my slow ass up the hills (and there were some HILLS in that race).  We ran through the Presidio, through Golden Gate Park, around Lake Merced.  It was pretty damn cool.  But she was really not feeling great, and I was pretty tired, too, so we came in well over 5 hours.  When we finished, there was basically no food left at the finish line.  I got half a bagel and half a banana after 26.2 miles.  No coconut water, no chocolate, no other fun stuff (which had all been promised and was supposed to be a major perk of doing the race).  The chute wasn't secure at  all and I saw a lot of non-runners grabbing freebies and such.  Not cool.  This won't be a race I'd be doing again.  I'd run the San Francisco Marathon for sure.  I LOVE San Francisco and would use any excuse to go out there (I'm trying to talk the husband into doing Big Sur in a couple of years), but not this race, it totally wasn't worth the price tag or the pain in the ass factor.  Still, the medal was nice.
Bloody Mary and my Little Blue Box.
Next up: Gen conquers the half marathon.