Adventures in Cross Training

So far everything I’ve read suggests that cross training is a crucial part of running.  Apparently, if you run too often you’ll get injured (ouch!).  And if you run too little, you’ll get injured (double ouch!).  So it’s important to run just enough and find something else to do in between.  Weight training they say is best, but that generally requires a membership, and you all know how I feel about that (see “Running Scared”) or equipment that requires space I just don’t have.  So I thought why not try a yoga class!  It’s kind of a workout, right? AND there’s all that lovely music and infinite opportunities to lie down!   ( I LOVE the lying down parts). But in the interest of making it a real workout, I thought why not make it HOT YOGA!

For a better idea of what Hot Yoga is, go to your oven. Turn it on to say… 450 degrees. Open the door. Get inside.  And proceed to strike a series of yoga poses for 90 minutes!  THAT, in a nutshell is hot yoga!  When you walk into the room, the heat just  SMACKS  you in the face.  Mind you, they hadn’t even turned on the ovens yet.  My little pink workout ensemble, which seemed like a really good idea at the time, was getting a little sticky, but I didn’t panic.  The class begins and the ovens come on (yes, I know they weren’t actual ovens, but whose story is this anyway, huh?).  Now from where I was, I couldn’t see the thermometer, but all said, I was told the room got up to a stifling 105 degrees with 50% humidity.  It was essentially August on the Equator in that room and I paid to be there!  Our “Instructor” enters the class and politely tells us new kids that she will NOT be demonstrating the poses but will be rattling them off at break neck speed (thus the name INSTRUCTOR) and if we get stuck, look around the room for someone who looks like they might know what they’re doing.


And so it begins.  I promise you not five minutes into this thing, I notice the lady in front of me has sweat pouring down her ankles. I’m thinking, “Eww! Whose ankles sweat?” HELLO! Apparently mine do, because not two seconds later when I went to touch my toes, I saw my own line of ankle sweat.  And that ain’t all that was sweating!  But I stay the course!  I continued to participate, because let’s face it, I was there and I needed the material for the blog!

With every movement I could feel the sweat pouring off of me. And had there not been a towel under me to lay witness, I would never have believed it myself.  All done, that towel contained the sweat equivalent of a toddler. I sweated a two year old!  And this is all in the first 30 minutes! My little pink ensemble is now sticking to me and rolling up my body like a shade!  I’m looking more and more like a pink dumpling as time goes on. So now I’m not only drenched, I’m super self conscious. But we get through it!  After 90 minutes in hell (because that’s what it felt like), class ends and we stumble out and to the showers.

By the time I got home, hot yog had started to settle in. I felt like I’d run two marathons through the Mojave desert at high noon. I had just enough strength to shower (again) and inhale dinner (literally) before I had to lie down. Folks, it was 8:45 pm and still partially light out when I laid down. I did not get up again until 4:45 am the next day!  I have never slept so deeply and so soundly in my entire life!  

Now most of you don’t know this about me, (hell none of you do, who am I kidding?) but I carry a lot of stress and tension in my upper shoulders and neck area. This makes it nearly impossible to truly relax, which interferes with my breathing during runs.  Not after a day of hot yoga! I ran without ANY of the usual breathing issues. In fact, I think I had more energy than I’ve ever had on my Saturday morning runs. My legs gave out much sooner than my lungs did this week! (Trust me, that’s a good thing here)

So what’s my assessment?  Was it the 50 hours of sleep after self inflicted heat exhaustion that made the difference? Or was it the healing benefits of yoga in a sweltering room?  Who knows. But if for no other reason than the sleep, I still have a week long pass to check it out ONE more time to see if there’s really anything to it.

Any takers?

(Shout out to Camille Rice for taking on Hot Yoga with me.  Thanks for being a good sport in spite of it all!)

Hazardous PRs

We have our link for submitting your PRs — Personal Records — over on the left, or its own tab up top. Thinking about PRs is often a good idea. The thing is, it can also be a hazard.

The good part, which is very large, about PRs, is that it puts your attention where it belongs — on your own running, rather than on the speedy folks. I was introduced seriously to this when I ran in high school. Our speediest (ran jr. national cross country, and finished in the top 10) guy was loafing through the 2 mile race as I was racing full out. He lapped me and easily won the race. For him ‘loafing’ meant a 10:20 or so 2 mile. I, on the other hand, turned in my PR, breaking 12:00 for the first (and only) time. Since mine was the PR, the team — winner included — were cheering me, not the winner. (He lapped me as he was finishing, so I had a good view of his finish 🙂 He’d loafed, I’d set a PR (11:56). Even if much slower, mine was the harder effort.

The hazard, which I’m very familiar with as I violate the rule so often myself, is to focus too much on your PRs. This is especially a danger for beginners and for people returning from layoffs (injuries, getting married, graduating from school, vacations, moving, … whatever).

For beginners, if you start looking at PRs, there’s that attraction of trying to beat the previous one — every time you go out for a run. The thing is, when you’re beginning, you’ll naturally beat your prior times pretty frequently, without increasing your effort. It’s also, unfortunately, easy to beat prior times by running harder and harder. The problem is, you’ll get injured.

For returners, depends on your layoff. I didn’t run at all for 15 years after setting that 11:56 best at 2 miles (or, more accurately, my 2:21 half mile at the conference meet two weeks later). I remembered all the numbers. And my first figuring was that ‘Ok, I’m slower now, for having not run, but that means, say 8 minute miles instead of the 7:30s I ran in training then, and a 6:00 mile race, instead of the 5:30 or so I turned in back then.’ Horribly wrong, it turned out. It wasn’t until I was able to ignore those old times that I was able to train regularly. (There’d been a few 1-5 run spells in the 15 years.) If you’re coming back from a long time layoff, the one plus here is that your body simply will refuse to do what you think it should. The down side is, too much looking at those old times is depressing and will prevent you getting out enough to train. And, once I finally did train routinely, I did start getting much faster. But it was the routine training that was the key. Not the paces.

For shorter layoffs, the problem I’ve found is, my mind knows in detail how to extract the most from my body, and the body can pretty much respond to do it — even though the next day it’ll be hard to move, or, worse, even though it’ll create an injury for me.

So .. Saturday, the 23rd, I went out after my warmup with the club and visited the track for ‘reasonably hard’ efforts at 100 m, 200 m, and 400 m. If you look over at my PR list, the 100 m, 400 m, and 1500 m bests were set on the same day, within about two hours start to finish. They were all flat out efforts (100%) not ‘reasonably hard’ (should be 90%), and I felt good then and after. After ‘reasonably hard’ efforts, you should be able to run normally the next day. On the 23rd, I turned in 18.5, 41.1, 95.0 for the distances. These are all close to what I expected. And that’s the problem. Given my current base (very little) and such, I should have slowed down substantially from these marks, more like 21, 48, 105.

Having over-pushed for what the body can really tolerate, I didn’t run again until Wednesday, rather than being out again Sunday and Tuesday evenings. There’ll be 2 runs this week instead of the proper 4. Halving my training is not a good idea! So it will be some time before I run any faster than ‘brisk jog’, for any distance.

Running from the Ankles Up!

Someone once told me that fitness begins from the ankles up.  Whether or not there is any scientific proof surrounding this, is anybody’s guess.  Although my ankles look pretty much the same, I have noticed a change in my knees.  Yes, my knees.  You’d have to know the story of my knees to know why this is so exciting for me.  (I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version, if you insist.)

I have always had, for lack of a better word, fat knees. I know this to be true, one, because my grandmother pointed it out to me once. I think she called them “cow knees”.  (She was a very sweet woman, I promise you, despite that statement. ) and two, a trainer I once had, made a very convincing argument for why more reps on the leg machine was in my best interest. (In his very thick Jamaican accent: “You got fat ’round yer knees.”) So to look in the mirror at a more shapelier knee, let’s me know a little progress was made. And I might not have been paying attention had it not been for grandma and the Jamaican trainer.  

Other more obvious physical changes are happening too. Now, whether or not they are direct results of running or eating, is where things get a little fuzzy.  My thighs are huge.  In fact, they are a little more huge-er (yes, I said it!) than they were before I started this program.  Getting my jeans up has become a sport unto itself and walking up even a small incline, feels like I’m wearing metal leg irons.  Either, I’ve gained some serious muscle OR someone is spiking the water with creatine!  PLEASE tell me this is normal!  

Also, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about running. Everything from correct posture and breathing to post and pre-run snacking.  So far, a really good book for women (sorry, fellas) is The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik.  This book gives some very basic information about running and nutrition, as well as some very specific information about the female runner. I highly recommend it.  But as I was going through the book, and the countless other articles and magazines I’ve picked up over the past few months, they all talk about how relaxing running is and should be.  Can I just say, how in the heck can I relax with so many things to try and remember? This is what’s going on in my head when I’m running:

Back straight! Head up!  Drop your shoulders!  Plant your feet! Don’t forget to breathe.  Back straight! Head up! Unclench those fists!  Plant your feet! Are you breathing?!  Back straight! Head up! Drop your shoulders!  Plant your feet! Breathe! 

Who can relax with all this going on??  I’m sure I must look like Pinocchio’ s little sister  limping around the track every week. Trying to keep up.  Trying not to pass out.  Sure, with time, I WILL relax and I won’t look a wooden rag doll but  a real live girl!  But until that time, I will not use the word “relaxing” to describe my running experience. 

So far I’m up to a steady three times a week, not including Saturdays.  This is in HUGE part to GREAT Pace Coaches! Thank you, Charles for not giving any of us an excuse NOT to run. This man will meet you anywhere if it means you’ll get some running in.  Also big shout out to Arneda and Cass for all your support and more importantly, for keeping Charles in line!

Running to work and maybe to Baltimore?

Today I ran to work– about 7 miles from home to office.  This is my third time run-commuting.  I had so much more energy at work today than I normally do.  I plan to run-commute to work every Tuesday, at least for the summer. Each week, I’ll vary the route at least a little to keep it interesting. 

So Dave F has this idea of running to Baltimore.  I thought we could also do a run or a series of runs in the county– maybe a tour de Prince Georges.  We could try out some different routes around the county – maybe have some options of distances so everyone can join in.

Dave F and I seem to be obsessed with the thought of doing more ultras (something must have been in the HEED race drink at the 50K a few weeks ago).  Here’s a local 50K – starts right here in DC- can’t beat that—and is free! The race is in November—here’s the website  Who else wants to join us?  Long runs on Sundays (8am, Atlanta Bread Co.).  I will be posting a marathon training schedule to the website soon and maybe will include something a little extra for the ultramarathoners.  Also, I’ll post a training schedule for the sane folks who want to train for a more reasonable distance (10 miler/ half marathon).


Shoes slipping?

The trick may be in the laces. I have narrow heels but big feet, so I buy men’s shoes (comes with the 6-foot-tall territory, I’m afraid). Obviously because of that, my narrow heels can occasionally cause fit problems. Then a shoe guy at Gotta Run in Annapolis showed me how to loop my laces around to make the shoe tighter around the opening. It’s brilliant. Not all shoes require this particular lacing technique for me, but it sure does help on some. The technique I use to prevent heel-slippage is called “Lock Lacing.”

Ian (aka obsessive shoelace guy) also offers this simple tip: “A better way to prevent heel slippage is as follows: After your foot is fully inside the shoe, physically shove your heel firmly into the back of the shoe before tightening. This works surprisingly well, as many people still have their foot too far forwards into the shoe to allow it to remain secure after being tightened comfortably.”

Read more of Ian’s shoe-tying and lacing tips for different sports (running is the second section).

See you tomorrow at the track!

RRCA Footnotes May 2009

footnotes May 2009

(click on photo for link)

Riverfront Revolution 10k: “A runable race”

by Monica Lewis

The inspiration for the title of this entry comes from the ominous signs that welcome visitors and residents alike to our humble home county, and which my husband and I routinely mock each time we see them: “Welcome to Prince George’s County.”  And beneath: “A liveable community.”  What does that mean?  Our cynical translation: “It is indeed possible, if not relatively probable, that you will be able to eke out an existence in this place.”

In the same vein, it was possible to run a relatively decent 10k at the first ever “Riverfront Revolution” race this past Saturday at the National Harbor.  (In addition to the 10K, there was also a 5k, a 1-mile fun run/walk, and a health and fitness festival.)  AND there were real, permanent-fixture restrooms to use—no port-a-potties—which is no small thing.  There were a great many obstacles, however, that made people like myself—people who like to know all that they can about what’s going on so that they can feel relatively prepared mentally—wonder why they bothered to get up so early on a Saturday morning in the first place.

The course map provided no indication of whether there would be water stops or not, and no one seemed to know if they existed (so I carried my water bottle for the first mile, just in case. . .); no one was sure where the starting line was, or when the races started (the 10k and 5k were supposed to start at 8:00 and 8:15, respectively, but they ended up starting both together at 8:15), and once we were all finally lined up, we had to listen to15 minutes of speeches, of all things—by the race director, by Jack Johnson’s representative, by some woman from News Channel 9, from a man dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier who fired his little cannon for us (which was not, but should have been, the cue to start); not to mention the fact that we also had to endure an invocation and the saddest group rendition of the national anthem you’ve ever heard (with about 10 impatient runners singing and the rest of us silently willing our muscles to stay warm).  Then, at last—the start—a man yelling “one, two, three, GO.”  No gun, no whistle.  Just a yell.  The people next to me began to speculate that this was a race run by people who had never run a race before.

It turned out that there were water/Powerade stops along the way, all manned by very friendly volunteers from a local fitness club, and the incredibly frustrating nature of the event could not dampen the community spirit—people were genuinely excited to be there, it seemed; the PG County police officers were vociferous in their cheering, as were many of the racers themselves.  It was humid and it was hilly—and there was a detour through a sandy bit that had seen far too much rain—but people were truly excited to be there.  Unfortunately, they had to wait until Monday to get their race results, as something went wrong with the timing system.  (They also had to forage for water upon finishing, as the finish line supply had run out. . .)

SO.  It was the first ever Riverfront Revolution, and so slack should be cut.  But clearly what this race needs is—you guessed it–PGRC.  Stinky and sweaty, I harassed a man I saw after the race who was wearing a National Harbor Events shirt and asked him why they weren’t working with PGRC. He didn’t know why not, but he agreed that they should have been.  I say next year we make our presence known so that the “Riverfront Revolution” can be more than just “runable”—it can be a race in which serious runners, semi-serious runners, not-at-all serious runners, joggers, walkers, and whomever can join the effort to revolutionize the National Harbor area PGRC-style!

Something to Smile About…

If you had asked me last week how things were going with my running, I probably wouldn’t have had many good things to say.  The last time I’d been out running was the previous Saturday, due in part to the never ending rain and work commitments.  When I finally did make it out, it was like starting all over again.  I wasn’t focused. I couldn’t get into a steady rhythm with my breathing. It was ALL bad.  I was so frustrated and SO down on myself, I was starting to think maybe running was not for me.  The next Saturday, I literally had to drag myself to class, expecting little results and a whole lot of disappointment.  I did a little better than I had expected, but still feeling like I could have done more.

 Now because I missed the timed trials the week before, due to rain, I was dreading the experience. In fact, I don’t think I slept much the night before thinking about just how hard it was going to be and how long it was going to take me to make it around the track. But I went anyway hoping for the best but bracing myself for the worst. I started out  clunky . I started out too fast, maybe and was unable to get a handle on my breathing. This was a recipe for disaster and I just KNEW  I’d end up walking a lap before I finished.

 And then something MIRACULOUS happened.  About a quarter of the way around the track, I found my pace.  In my head I kept telling myself to relax and to remember what George said about breathing. And I started in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Sure, I sounded like a freight train coming up behind other runners, but I could feel myself starting to relax.  I stayed focused on my breathing and keeping the pace.  By the time I’d finished the first lap, my calves were on fire.  By lap two, the hips were involved.  Lap three, my gluts had joined in and my entire lower body was ON FIRE!! But I ignored the pain and pushed through.  Maybe I was a bit in shock. I was three laps in and I hadn’t wanted to keel over yet.

 And wouldn’t you know it, I did it!  I ran one whole mile without stopping.  It took me 12 minutes and 2 seconds to do it, but I did it!  And even though my lower body was fatigued, I noticed that my breathing was under control (for the most part) and I wasn’t nearly as tired as I had expected to be.  

I could not believe it. Still don’t. But I’m very proud of myself. I just made a very small step toward a much bigger goal. And despite the set backs and physical pain,  it’s good to know things are starting to happen.  Now, I’m nowhere NEAR getting into the dress, but I’m a little closer than I was three weeks ago and that makes me VERY happy.

Ruuuuunning in the rain

I just wanted to congratulate all the Running Starters who made it out to the track Tuesday evening. Not everyone got the message that the run had been canceled because of rain, so the folks who showed up ran anyway! (Go team!) It drizzled lightly on us at the start and then by the third and fourth laps for most of those running the timed test, it really started coming down again. Most everyone was soaked by the time we left.

So do you feel like runners yet? You should. It’s fun when you go out on a run in the rain and you come across other runners doing the same thing. You usually give a little nod to each other — some acknowledgment that, yes, you too are one of those “crazy” runners, when all “sane” people are sitting indoors, nice and dry.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about running in the rain lately. (Maybe because it’s been raining for two months straight? Actually, maybe we should get a GPS and confirm that we are, in fact, still in Prince George’s County and not the Pacific Northwest. Anyone?) Somewhere along the line, I turned into a rain wuss.  I used to run in the rain — no problem. Sure, your socks and shoes get sopping wet and your shoes don’t dry out for days. You’re drenched from head to toe, and not just from sweat (don’t worry, that happens from sweat too — just wait). But when you’re done and you’re changed into warm, dry clothes, you feel really, really good. Ultra clean. Ultra healthy. Maybe it’s that “getting in touch with nature” sort of thing happening. And after yesterday’s track event, I feel a lot better about the rain. I hope those of you who participated do too. (And if you don’t, invest in some good breathable rain gear!)

Bottom line? We shouldn’t be afraid of a little weather (just maybe lightning). It comes with the territory. And for runners, that territory is outside.

See you Saturday…


We did it! (and then some)

Yesterday, Dave F. and I both completed our first ultradistance race, the Skyline Challenge 50K (~31 miles).  In fact we actually ran 33 miles since we got a little bit lost on the trail section of the course.  Amazingly, I feel less sore today than I usually do after marathons (for example, I can walk up and down stores without gripping the rail for support and without groaning in pain!).   I think it is because we ran at an easy pace and for me, at the aid stations consuming plenty of fluids (in the form of HEED sports drink), taking Endurolytes, and eating Pringles (mmm…yummy). 

My training was minimal as I had no plans to run an ultra until I happened upon the Skyline Challenge website a few weeks ago.  I figured I completed National Marathon 5 weeks ago, so a 50K would be just 5 miles more (little did I know that I would be running an extra 2 miles) and if I ran it easy, I would survive.  In fact, I hadn’t even run 33 miles in a week this year (my highest mileage was 31.5 and that includes 26.2 for the marathon). 

The race was really fun but I was sure glad Dave held back his pace to run with me because all of the runners were so far ahead that I probably would have gotten totally lost on my own.   Although it was a small race (maybe 30 runners divided between the 50K and 50 miler races, plus another 30 who ran a half marathon- we never saw the halfers since they started 2 hours after us and finished before us), it had more amenities and goodies then any other race I have run.  There were fireworks at the start to send us on our way, and amazing aid stations with friendly volunteers and every kind of goodie you can imagine (plus endurolytes and painkillers), and each finisher got a rousing applause as we came through the finish chute.  Plus donuts and coffee before the race (I avoided those), and a cookout after the race.  And lots of good schwag – nice shirt, firefly LED light, etc. 

The race was a scenic course out near Front Royal, VA, mostly on rolling country roads with 7 miles on the Appalachian Trail.  The trail section while slow going on the upside was absolutely gorgeous, blanketed by beautiful spring flowers – trilliums, spring beauties, violets, etc. (the spring flowers also brought out dozens of hikers – which took away some of the tranquility of the run).

It was a great experience and I am still in a bit of a shock that I actually finished the race in decent shape.  I never really understood why people like marathons so much because for the most part I find them to just be painful but maybe I’m really an ultra gal.  But now that the marathon and the 50k is done, my plan for the summer is stick to short races only- no more long distances.  Next winter, who knows?


Photos from the Skyline Challenge

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