Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Step One: Admitting You Have the Problem

So, I’ve become quite a TV workout junkie. First it was New York City Ballet. Then Namaste Yoga. Now it’s All Star Workouts. My DVR is busting at the seams with enthusiastic instructors and workouts that don’t involve running, cycling or swimming. The other parts of my body love it.

And I’m totally sore today.

I used to laugh when I saw commercials for All Star Workouts as I fastforwarded through the breaks in Namaste Yoga. The set is chock full of bright colors and people looking like they’re having way too much fun. But as I was searching for Namaste last week, I found an All Star episode for yoga. And then another one for ballet. And one with Masala Bhangra.

Granted, neither the yoga nor ballet episodes were true to those disciplines’ forms (I don’t know enough about Masala Bhangra, but it was a fun time), but the workouts themselves were butt-kickers. In fact, the ballet episode incorporated weights and bands for a super ballet experience. My triceps and upper back can attest to that.

The episodes are pretty cheesy, and I’m surprised I’m admitted my new thang to anyone but myself (I sneak in my All Star workouts before Neil gets home… but I guess he’ll know now), but you have to give props when cheesy works. Either that or I'm really tired right now.

Well, I needed to even out my upper- and lower-body soreness, so I headed to the rec. center today for a spinning class and a ride on the elliptical. Both have worked well for my left leg, which just hasn’t felt fantastic lately (not worse, just achy from time to time). It’s high cardio impact, but low pressure impact on my legs. Besides, it’s the off season: I finally have time to heal. And learn to ride a bike.

But all this All-Starring and spinning and ellipticaling has wiped me out. I spent most of the day doing freelance work at Susan's (making pretty things in Flash) in Kent while my car was getting fixed at Fred's Automotive next door. And as I sat cradling my pot of white peony tea away from my computer, I swear, I almost nodded off at least twice. So, I think I'll go nod off in a more appropriate place. Like this too, too comfy couch I'm.... zzzzz....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Spinning, Eating and Resting

Here’s to everyone who extols the virtues of spinning: last week I took to the cycle and spun my way through a low-intensity class and surprisingly no soreness, but a little fatigue in my legs. I can definitely see how spinning warms and strengthens your muscles for cycling, even if I don’t know how it feels to ride a really great bike. Yet.

spinningThe instructor at the rec. center led us with oldies, and as I only almost wiped out 3-4 times, I was still able to lip-synch to “Build Me Up, Buttercup.” What a good song. It’s funny, though: I absolutely pushed myself much harder than I should have. But pump up “Beat it!” or “YMCA” and I’ll pedal my heart out.

One of the only downsides (except for offending my sundry left-leg issues) was that my legs felt like jell-o as I wiggled my way up to the third floor for my 12:30 class. Spinning ended at noon. As I sat through the 1.5 hours of class, I tried to kick my legs around and keep them warm. I imagined myself getting up at the end of class and my legs just collapsing beneath me. I would think that.

My legs weren’t sore at all and they never hurt, but they just felt tired and energyless from Wednesday through Saturday. In fact, I hit the road on Thursday morning for an outdoor run and five minutes into it I had left-leg pain. I stopped running immediately and walked four miles. Walking felt fine and I didn’t feel any residual pain in the days that followed. But I did feed myself some ibuprofen to ward off the swelling demons.

For the remainder of the week I stuck to low-impact exercises, including yoga, weights and eating. In lieu of the challenge of Turkey Trot, I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner this year. And the days leading up to it were filled with recipe-testing and ingredient-snacking. It can get tiring. Lugging around the extra 50 pounds of pies, cakes and fondue I packed on this week should be tiring as well.

Curry-roasted butternut squash and chick peasSo, it’s only fair that I give this installment the Iron G Chef treatment. Thanksgiving 2007 at the G household included:
My favorite was the Boston crème pie, which Daniella made and which I ate all weekend long. She also cleaned much of my post-dinner apartment when I passed out from cook’s exhaustion. Thanks, girl!

Now a new week begins. I have to slow myself back into some regiment, which should really include more swimming and less excuse-making about it being too cold to go swimming (it’s only getting worse). But at least I have spinning on my list now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Form, Form, Form

It never fails: I am always jealous when I watch football. Be it college or NFL, I get a little sad when I realize that I will never win the Heisman (even if Neil reminds me that I still have four years eligibility remaining) and even more down when I see the way these guys can run. What form! What speed! What style!

We were watching the Buckeyes yesterday, so I had many opportunities to watch Beanie Wells float down the field. It’s really a thing of beauty:

How could I not have form on my mind when I ran today?

You’ll know by now that I have an intensity problem. And while getting a stress fracture (I don’t feel too much like a doof: I’m not the only one) should stop me in my tracks, I admit that it’s hard. I waited a month and a half to get running again, and now I have to slow down?

Well, my cure for toning down my intensity is focusing on my form, which needs some serious focusing. I wouldn’t say I run “like a girl” or like a guy, for that matter. It’s half way between soccer player and person in pain, I’d say. Before my injury, I was just getting to the root of my no-knee-lift form problem, but I’ve never quite been natural about my arms. I wouldn’t say I’m a big darn mess. But I’m pretty close.

On several occasions, I’ve thought I had nailed a good form—my knees lifted, my legs kicked back, my arms swung with ease. My shadow looked totally smooth! But I’ve never been able to take that form and make it something regular, something subconscious, something natural. I always sink back into my pokey form that makes running faster paces higher intensity than they need to be.

So, this was my first week back to running. I spent Monday, Wednesday and Friday focusing on distances and a little too much on pace. And as I extended my distances and envied previous paces, I felt like I was headed straight for disaster. Again.

Today I just took to the track and ran for 50 minutes with my eyes on warm-up, form and cool-down. For my 10-month running life, I’ve almost always neglected warming up and cooling down—even on race day. No excuse for it. But today I warmed up for about a mile at a relaxed pace.

Once I felt loose, I ran for about 20 minutes and then started working on form. First I targeted my knees. Obviously, I don’t need Beanie Wells’ knees, but my friend Melissa told me that my knee-lift was so lame-o (not her words; she was nice about it) that I wasn’t really reaching forward with my legs or taking advantage of my forward motion. It was as if I were afraid to reach out to the ground in front of me! So, I didn’t go for sprinter knees, just enough of a knee flex that I could reach my legs out and pull myself forward.

What's good form, really?With just that little tweak, I felt like I was cruising without upping my intensity at all. I admit that I probably ran a little faster than I should for several laps, but toned it down fast. Lucky for me: no pain.

Next: kick-back. I’ve always been pretty good about following through on my kick-back, but I don’t generally practice it, especially not with good knee-lifting. The follow through stepped up my turnover without much effort. And, again, I had to remind myself to slow down!

Unfortunately, I could only get my arms to not swing with the greatest of unease for more than a few strides. It’s one of those mental issues in which the moment I think about my arms, they start doing strange things. I’ve tried to swing my arms straight back and forth with my hands cupped, elbows around 90 degrees and thumbs whisking past my hips. And I’ll get it from time to time… until I realize what I’m doing and it gets all funky again. One of these days.

The real test will be to master a good form and then keep it up across months and months of training until it becomes as ingrained in my goofy running brain as my current mess of a gait is! I’m happy to report, however, that—fast or slow—my run today felt fantastic (to read more about form, check out "The Perfect Form" from Runner's World). No swelling or residual pain. And I think I cleared out some extra caloric space for Thanksgiving.

Next up: spinning on Monday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slowly, but surely: Repeat that to yourself

After my first five days back in the game, I’ve covered nine—count ’em!—NINE miles: two on Monday, three Wednesday, four today. Nine. Over five days. How far the not-so-mighty have fallen. But this is recovery time. And one of these days I’ll recover my confidence as well.

I ran at the rec. center today and Monday, but took these running legs outside for what appears to be the last nice day of the year on Wednesday. It was just a jaunt around my neighborhood (I knew I wasn’t going far) around a 9:30/mile pace. Not only was it comfortable, but mildly reassuring. I kept up a decent pace while climbing some hills, fighting off my remaining leg paranoia and not feeling any pain. Just like Monday, it was difficult to stop at the end of mile three, but I designed my run to complete mile three at my front door, so the temptation wouldn’t be there to Run! G! Run!

Today I headed to the rec. center around 8 a.m. I’ve wimped out for track running because a) I’m a wimp; b) I’m a wimp about the cold; and c) I thought I’d give my healing leg some tracky cushion for now. It’s sad to think back to last winter when I ran in snowstorms and -20 wind chills. Am I saner now or just a weakling?

Whatever I’ve become, I think I’m learning to be more honest with myself—and all it took was a sidelining leg fracture to get me there! After stretching (I had been doing yoga in the morning before running, but I was hoping for a faster start today) a bit, I hit the track at a slow pace and felt a little creakedy in my bones. I hit the first half-mile at 10:30 pace, started feeling warmed and brought in mile one at 9:56. So, I picked it up a notch and hit mile two at 19:01 (around 9:05/mile).

I thought I would turn it up again—because I am like Pavlov’s dog and I need a distinct sign to tell me when to drool or sharp pain when I need to slow—and ran the first half of mile three in 4:20 (8:40 pace). Right at the halfway point of my fourth lap, my leg started feeling a little achey. Nothing bad, nothing sharp, nothing breaky. It actually felt like a twinge in my injured tendon.

But I didn’t slow down. I stopped. I stretched the thing out for a minute and started to walk. I felt no pain at all while walking (it actually felt a little better than standing still), so I took a mile to walk and then hit a stationary bike. After 20 minutes cycling, I hit the track for the last 1.5 miles around a 9:30 pace. I was surprised to find transitioning was still pretty easy—even if it was only a 20-minute “ride.” Now, if only I could actually cycle well, I’d have this tri thing rolling!

With my leg doing all right, I still came home to some 800-mg ibuprofen monsters and a little icing. I don’t think it actually needed icing, but I wanted to be safe. No swelling wanted here.

And finally: Skippy headed off to the doggy spa in the sky on Tuesday. He will be missed and continue to be the high watermark against which all dogs and loving family members are measured.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Turning the Page

Friday was the last day at my job (my next desk will live at another NEOhio university), so I spent most of the weekend eating cupcakes and reveling with Neil in not yet turning on the heat despite it snowing a few days ago. The no-heat is a pride thing. And it’s totally my doing.

So, Monday was the beginning of a new chapter, as they say. And since I have some time before my next spot starts, I headed to the rec. center bright and early for my first day back on the track.

Before and after spinning and circling the elliptical, I walked a fast mile around the track (which isn’t remotely as entertaining as strolling my neighborhood) and bounced into an ever-so-slight jog. It felt fine. I turned it up a half-notch. Still fine. My confidence was up and my cardio seems like it’s right where I left it.

I ran my first mile back in 10:34. Good, G.

So, I wasn’t even winded after mile one, and fought with myself over how far to let myself run. My body felt ready for at least five miles… but how did I hurt myself again? Pushing too hard? Yeah.

But I admit that I picked up the pace for the second mile—I just wanted to test out my trusty left leg. I started running a typical training pace (around 9:00-9:30/mile), which felt normal, comfortable.

And then a couple of people crowded the track behind me and I picked up my pace for a half lap. I was running around 8:30/mile pace and could feel some tightness creeping into my left calf, so I slowed down RIGHT AWAY. Good, G, again. My leg loosened right away, and I finished the second mile very easily in 9:00.

The hardest part: stopping. My body isn’t quite as out of whack as I had feared—I should know better by now. After working out on the bikes and elliptical, I felt like my body would rebel and my breathing would be a lost cause. It was better than I could have hoped (knock on wood). And several hours later, there are no adverse effects. I was, nevertheless, certain to take my still-running prescription of ibuprofen to stop/prevent swelling in my leg.

My only fear is that those 800mg monsters are going to mask some pain I should feel. But today just felt smooth. I don’t see a Turkey Trot in the near future, but maybe I’ll grab some turkey and do my own trot that morning. Perhaps I’ll learn my lesson this time. It’s a new chapter. And St. Malachi is only four months away!

(On a much sadder note, Skippy isn’t doing well again. My mom said he might be headed for that long doggy nap. It’s such a downer when your little doggy brother has become an old man. But the pooch has lived eleven-and-a-half day-brightening years, and never really stopped looking like a puppy. Skippy has always been the most lovable, smile-invoking furry thing you’ll ever meet. And I hope that when he gets there, the doggy spa in the sky will have reserved the presidential suite for him. He deserves it.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

All Hail Paula Radcliffe!

NYC marathon winner, Paula Radcliffe, and her baby IslaBefore I started running last January (and picked up my Nike+ iPod set), I only knew Paula Radcliffe was a runner — a good one, at that — who quit in the middle of the 2004 Olympic marathon. That's not a criticism. I just remember her crying on the side of the road with cameras buzzing around her... and no one really paying attention to the people actually running the race.

Because I couldn't run a block without getting winded in 2004, I didn't disrespect the woman for quitting... I just didn't understand why anyone would run that far (I think she stopped around 22-23 miles) and just not finish. After you've watched Chris Legh try to crawl to the Ironman finish in 1997, you don't expect any elite endurance athlete to just quit. Even if you don't have a clue what they're going through.

But once I started running with my Nike+iPod, I began to really appreciate Paula Radcliffe: she congratulated me every time I reached a new distance record for myself! So, I started reading more about her.

At the time that I started running, she was having a baby (a girl named Isla). And today she won the NYC Marathon. Now that's some serious girl power.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

One Week to Go...

According to my doctor, I can start to lightly “jog” in another week. My progress will be determined on that ever reliable measure: pain. Which means that if it doesn’t hurt, I can run… I mean, “jog.”

But that also means I’ll have to admit to myself if and when my leg does hurt. The last thing I’d love to do right now is jump up to a full fracture and not run until next summer. So, I’ll be reminding myself for the next week that I’m not Mr. Tough Guy for now. Just Ms. Slightly Sensitive.

All this drumming up to running, however, has had me pumped all week long. I renewed my rec. center membership and hit 1) the elliptical for an hour on Thursday (yes, I’m permitted to do that!); and 2) the pool for 1,500 yards on Friday. It was nice to get my legs moving and heart pumping on the elliptical—even if it really isn’t like running. I noticed that my cardio health isn’t quite what it was a month ago (I could feel myself wheezing a tad after an hour), and I imagine the never-ending didn’t help. Something to work on…

But to my surprise, swimming wasn’t bad at all. When I swam as a kid/teen, it was torture coming back from any hiatus between winter and summer swimming. I had a little bit of tightness that shook out around 300 yards, and then felt all right. Yesterday I swam:
  • 1,000 yards free
  • 300 yards one-armed fly
  • 200 yards free

Not exactly the 5,000-yard workouts I left back in September, but I’ll start building up. It also gave me hope that my outlook on the running front might not be as bleak as I imagined.

Amidst all my lacking blog updates, I have been busy with finishing my master’s degree, procuring a new job and looking for a house in the Cleveland area (I’ve also kept up with yoga and pilates—but that’s not at all interesting to write/read about). But on the tri-training front: I’m looking for a new bike. I’ve been scouring various sites looking for a good, used bike, but I’m still trying to figure out what I want/should want.

When I visited my doctor a couple weeks ago, she had a cycling magazine in the examination room that included an article about choosing bike for triathletes. How handy! So, I’m learning, just not sure. Although I have promised several people I would consult with them before making ANY bicycle purchases! At least I have someone watching my back.