Tag Archives: cross training

A Year Without Injuries

This is potentially the most jinx-filled post I’ll ever write. But since I’m not a huge believer in that type of thing, I’ll just go ahead and write it.

(Knock on wood, knock on wood…)

As of this past weekend (Saturday to be specific) it has been one year since I’ve been injured. One year, you guys!

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, I was forced to cut short a 20 mile Chicago Marathon training run because my ankle blew up to the point of not being able to walk. It was heart-breaking, and although I ultimately was able to run the race and had a great time doing so, the injury was still a wake-up call of sorts.

And since then, I haven’t had to take a day off of running for anything other than basic aches, pains, and soreness. Kind of hard to believe! And if any of you are thinking, “It’s just a year Robyn, what’s the big deal?” let me recap some things for you:

In 2012 I was hurt three separate times, all of which were the result of improper (too much) training and general bodily negligence.

– In April, I got horrible knee bursitis which completely threw off my Tacoma Marathon training. It took a cortisone shot and a lot of Aleve to weasel my way out of that one in time for the race.

-In May/June, the evil IT Band Syndrome got me good, and I was limping with knee pain for nearly two months. No running whatsoever.

-In September (as previously mentioned) my ankle tendonitis nearly eliminated my chance to run the Chicago Marathon. It was a little miraculous that I actually made it to and finished the race, and it wasn’t without a lot of luck and prescription anti-inflammatories.

I was actually very fortunate in my year of injuries. While they definitely were the result of over-training, none of them were very permanent and could mostly be quick-fixed with rest and drugs. I definitely consider myself lucky in that regard, but I still knew that my luck wouldn’t hold up if I didn’t make some changes.

It’s one of those “Fool me once, fool me twice…” scenarios. But in this case, I was certainly the one to be shamed, and I knew that these running injuries were going to keep happening if my habits stayed the same.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, and it was time for me to change.

And here I am…a year later, and (okay fine, lots of knocking on wood) I’m healthy and running happily. I will be the first to admit that a lot of this is luck; running and injuries sometimes just go hand-in-hand, no matter how careful you are. For some reason, I’ve been able to avoid the inevitable injuries that can knock us out.

However, I have definitely made changes that I’m certain have played a role in eliminating overuse injuries. Here’s a few things that I think have made the biggest difference:

1 rest day per week. No matter what. I used to take a rest day once every 2 (sometimes 3) weeks, and now I don’t know how that was even possible. I start to crave my rest days, which I also think means that I’m working harder during the other days.

Foot strike. I know this is a debated topic, but between last year and this year, I have fully transitioned to a more minimal shoe and have completely changed from a heavy heel-striker to a mid-foot striker. It could be a coincidence, but I’m guessing that this has a lot to do with the lessened impact.

Added walking. I walk every day between the water taxi and my office building (~.7 miles each way) and often times this is right after I’ve run and showered. I could be wrong, but I think the prolonged striding and extra “shake out” that walking provides has helped my legs recover more from my running.

Strength. This is potentially number one. Up until last August or so, I never did any kind of leg strength training. I always wanted my legs to be fresh for running, so I never bothered with squats or lunges or anything like that. I kind of cringe to think about this now, given that I’ve done a 180 in that regard. Currently, about twice a week, I do all kinds of strengthening, flexibility, and balance (<–super helpful!) work thanks to the lifting class I found. Not only do we work the big running muscles (hammies, quads, and glutes) but also the smaller, less obvious muscles that ultimately make a big impact on both performance and injury-proneness (not really a word, but I think you understand). In a nutshell, I think I had it wrong before; cross-training for running should actually be more about strength and less about other types of cardio. This might not be the same for everyone, but I’m convinced that adding strength training and dropping spinning has been perhaps the number one injury prevention technique.

Here’s the kicker to all this: I’m actually running more days per week and more miles than I was last year when I kept getting hurt. I have built up to this in a totally safe way, no doubt, but I think it’s interesting to look at how I’ve actually been able to do more since I’ve made the above changes.

And let it be known: more running wasn’t even the intention when I decided I needed to reevaluate my habits; in fact, it was actually more the opposite of that. But along the way, I think I found that with the added balance and the added rest, running was granted to me more freely. Some weeks are better than others, and some weeks require more rest and less miles. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on the balancing act of the sport. Much like any relationship, it’s very give and take; the more you nurture your running with things like rest days, stretching, rolling, and nutrition, the more it will give back—in the form of more pain-free and happy miles.

I’m constantly reminded of how much like life running is, and how much it can teach us about other aspects of our lives. This past year has really solidified my belief that nothing changes if nothing changes, but also that we are in control. I think for all of last year, I felt as if running owned me; like it was an abusive relationship, and running had all the power. Of course this was wrong, but it was hard to see things otherwise when the sport I loved so very much kept disappointing me.

Now, I realize I had the power all along, and in fact I was the one who was abusing it. Today, I feel infinitely more control over my training and my running, which is an incredibly empowering and comforting feeling. As a result, I feel like I’ve become both stronger and faster—and perhaps most importantly, more conscious of both my limitations and potential within the sport. So long as I continue to give and take, I have a feeling that that potential will continue to turn into results.

As evidenced also by this past year of three different PRs, it’s safe to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit safer.

Take care of your bodies everyone. We all love to run as much as we can, but sometimes our running, just like us, needs extra TLC.

And if you are hurt right now…here’s one of the most wonderful things I discovered last year after sitting on multiple sidelines: running isn’t going anywhere. It will be right there to take off with you whenever you’re ready again.

The Fall Goal

Without really meaning to, I somehow came up with a fall racing schedule that I instantly fell hard for—as in, head-over-heels obsessed with.

I commiserated to all of you about how I felt goal-less, restless, and lost after Eugene. I think the post-marathon blues hit a bit harder than expected. Okay, a lot harder—and I can admit it now.

I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that while I was really excited to have accomplished a big bucket list goal, it was actually really hard to wave goodbye to that goal and look out into the great beyond. Qualifying for Boston had been my baby for so long, and I think I had this idea in my head that once I’d done it, all the running happiness would be mine forever and ever. That’s exaggerated—but you get the point.

But I didn’t feel like that, and it wasn’t just because I had a hard, less-than-perfect race. Yes, Eugene wasn’t as satisfying as I might have hoped, but I’m realizing now that it had less to do with the race itself and more to do with my lack of direction afterward.

I know I should have let my unrelenting goal-setting brain kick back and take a break, but that’s not really how I work. Even when I’m between training cycles and running less frequently, I still like to know that a new possibility is out there, waiting for me to take it on. Without a defined goal, I was left with a very jumbled mess of potential ideas, and consequentially a very blank drawing board.

I went back and forth on running a fall marathon, on committing to triathlons, on working solely on speed, on jacking up strength training (no pun intended). Around and around it went, until all I had was more confusion, too many “potential” race options, and not enough enthusiasm to even make a decision. In retrospect, this is one of the reasons my blogging went down so much after Eugene (okay…one of the reasons). I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, so what was the point of lamenting those frustrations to others?

So I kind of gave up. Not because I no longer wanted a goal, but because I decided a “roll with it” approach was going to be more tolerable than orchestrating a race schedule that I wasn’t totally psyched about. Sure, I had races lined up, but none that had a sparkly “goal race” asterisk attached to them.

But now, approximately 48 hours after a light-bulb went off, all that’s changed. I think the light-bulb may have actually broken with how much intensity the idea came to me.

FYI, this is a very long-winded explanation for my decision making process. Sorry…there was just a lot of build up.

It all started with a little triathlon last Saturday. I had such a great time at this race, and it left me hungry for more. Admittedly, when it comes to triathlons, I’m more interested in the distances that have an “iron” in their name. But it was too soon for that. There is a chance that I could do the 70.3 distance this fall, but I feel like it would be a little half-assed. I’m not experienced enough on the bike or in the sport itself to have a real go at it, and it’s not really my style to commit to a serious distance without a decent training cushion to go off of.

But I still wanted more from the tri. I wanted to become a “bike rider” and get more acquainted with my beautiful baby bike. And I want to open the option for a half-Ironman next year. That requires more practice, more training, and less marathoning.

Which all ultimately brought up the idea of the Black Diamond Olympic Tri in September. Arielle first mentioned this race to me last year, and it seems like this year there’s a lot of blogger interest. It was also far enough away to get in some actual tri-specific training in—and far enough after my second ultra-relay to allow for some recovery time.

So yes, I was on board for Black Diamond. But it still wasn’t clicking. It felt like a means to an end; a stepping stone, if you will, toward what would be an actual goal race next year. Therefore, I still felt as if I was winging it in terms of training and racing, and I was okay with it. Black Diamond would follow a lot of summer running, and eventually I’d figure out some more fall/winter plans.

But then, THEN…an idea came to me. I shouldn’t take credit actually, in fact—credit goes to a Twitter conversation between Lauren and Larira two nights ago. I spotted them talking about the Bellingham Bay Half-Marathon this fall, and I had to chime in since it was my own first half-marathon almost three years ago. I started thinking then about how much fun I had at the race, how nice the course was, etc.

Somehow, then, after remembering how much I loved that race and how much I wanted to run it too—it all came to me: I want to run a goal half-marathon this fall.

And not just any goal. No—that’s the fun part. This goal would be hard, elusive almost, and perhaps the most intimidating training I’d ever have to take on.

And I was hooked. This is exactly what I wanted to commit the rest of the summer toward, and it seemed silly I hadn’t thought of it sooner. I have never done goal-specific half-marathon training, in fact—I’ve never actually done intentional half marathon training, and I figured why not start after already running 6? 🙂

I considered a few options for races, but Bellingham just felt right. It’s close by, it’s cheap, and it’s a PR-ready course. I considered a few other options, but after navigating a few scheduling plans, this was clearly the best option. The best part was that I could still do the Olympic tri as it’s a full two weeks before Bellingham, leaving enough time for recovery while still gaining the tri experience.

So basically, I’m obsessed. For a number of reasons, but mainly:

1) I’m sticking to my no fall marathon plan 

I really wanted to try and commit to saving myself for Boston next year (assuming I’ll get in), but I could feel that commitment slipping away when I felt completely goal-less. It would be easy for me to just plan another 26.2 training schedule, but that wasn’t ultimately what I wanted. This plan totally fits the bill for maintaining distance but without going all out marathon.

2) Speed!

I have been wanting to focus on speed forever now but never fully could because marathon training + excessive speed work is kind of a recipe for disaster. At least for me. With a goal for a half instead of a full, I’ll be able to really narrow in on speed workouts, which will be very new to me in some respects. I can’t wait.

3) Forced cross-training

By keeping the Olympic distance tri on the schedule, it will not only force me to spend more time on my bike and in the pool, but also off the roads. Cross-training, IMO, has a direct correlation to decreased injury risk. Double wins all around.

4) Tempering the sadness of no fall marathon

Despite my aforementioned goal of not doing a fall 26.2, I knew that when the time came and everyone was after their respective marathon goals and running 20 milers, I would be seething with jealousy. Having a distance goal of my own will (mostly) help offset that little green monster and keep me focused on the Boston end-game.

5) Lots of work to do

No sugar coating…this goal is a big stretch for me. It is going to require more discipline and probable more puke-inducing workouts than I’ve ever done. And while that probably sounds awful to some, it’s exactly what I need right now. Feel free to remind me of this at my 4:30 am alarms 😉

6) It doesn’t feel possible (yet) <— Biggest reason of all 

Here’s the honest truth about training to BQ in Eugene: I was nearly 100% sure I could do it. The required pace was something I was already comfortable with, and without the injury when I ran Chicago, I’m almost certain I could have done it there. Of course, I wanted to work hard and I wanted to secure my confidence, but I never really had a doubt that unless disaster struck—I could do it.

This goal? Not so much. In the name of full disclosure, let’s get real with numbers here:

I would like to run a 1:35:xx half this fall.

That would require dropping nearly 15 seconds off my current half-marathon PR pace. And here’s the biggest kicker: I’m still convinced my current half-marathon PR was a fluke. Yes I’m proud of it and I’m happy it happened, but I still, to this day, have a hard time believing it wasn’t a lot of luck.

Which makes shaving 3 minutes off that time even scarier.

So no, I’m not totally sure if I can do it. Do I believe with the right training it’s possible? Of course—which is why I can’t wait to dive into the horrifying place of having a very big reach goal.

This whole agenda, tri and all, feels like the perfect formula for all the things I was hoping to take on this fall season, and I can’t wait to get started.

In fact I did start, yesterday, with a 5-mile tempo at my previous half-marathon PR pace. It wasn’t the easiest, but it happened—7:30s on the dot. And it’s a start.

Time to get uncomfortable folks, I can’t wait.

 

What’s Worked: Reflections on Marathon Training

As I approach these last few weeks of marathon prep— namely, the taper stage— I’ve been reflecting a bit on how this bout of training has fared compared to others.

There were a lot of different strategies I incorporated this time around which made for a lot of new experiences. And while it’s still 17 days ‘til race day (*shudder*), I think it’s pretty safe to say that these strategies have worked.

As of right now, I feel healthy, strong, and mentally prepared to make Eugene an “A” race. Since I’ve had more than a few marathon-training mishaps in the past, I thought I’d write a bit about the things I’ve implemented this time that seemed to have made the biggest difference.

Following an actual training schedule.

I know, right? NUTS.

But honestly, other than roughly sketching my first marathon training around a Hal Higdon program, I’ve never really followed a “schedule.” Before, I would just try to gradually increase my mileage and my long-run distances. And somehow I kept winding up with injuries that forced me to take weeks off at a time. I didn’t go into my last two marathons 100% healthy. In fact, I was more concerned with my injuries flaring in those races than the actual running. Luckily, I was able to complete both races—but they didn’t have that climactic, “I gave it everything I have” feel that 26.2 is supposed to have.

So I changed my method. I bought the Advanced Marathoning book by Pete Pfitzinger and decided to let him take the reins. I made a few tweaks to the prescribed programs (long runs on Saturday instead of Sunday), but otherwise—it was all up to Pete. The schedule wasn’t too much more demanding in terms of mileage, but if definitely offered components that I’d never used before.

Suddenly, all of my runs had intention behind them.  There were paces I never, ever trained at—both fast and slow—and workouts I’d never done before. I liked it though. This new approach was refreshing and interesting—and it added some color to the “10 miles at an average pace” runs that had become too frequent in my schedule.

I now have a pretty good idea of how my 5k pace, half-marathon pace, and goal marathon pace all feel according to effort as opposed to solely by my watch. I feel more in tune with my exertion levels and when to push and when to hold back. I also have a much better gauge of my strengths and my weaknesses—which feels good both going into race day and future training. For instance, to work on: hills, tempos, and workouts in the middle of long runs. To capitalize on: race day brain/competitive nature, speed work, and finishing strong.

I love that this new schedule has given me new favorite workouts, too. Somehow I’ve developed an infatuation for 800 repeats as well as half-marathon pace shorter runs—both of which require hard, fast rap…which I also kind of love right now.

Rest Days

I think there has been one week this entire training cycle that I didn’t take a rest day. Otherwise, they have been as integral to each week as the long run. I’ve gone from avoiding and hating any rest days at all to welcoming them with open arms whenever they come.

I am certain that this change has made a critical difference in my body’s health, but perhaps more so—I’m convinced that they’ve done wonders for my brain. While I definitely still get a little restless on rest days—it’s the temporary holding back that gets me excited to get back out there the next day. My workouts or runs the day after rest days always feel so fresh and strong, and I’m having a hard time remembering back to the time when I disliked rest days.

Through this, I bluntly have to state that, IMO, any runner who doesn’t take at least one day OFF a week is fooling themselves. There is everything to be lost, and nothing to be gained, by not letting our bodies recover. I’ve learned this the hard way too many times, and it took me too long to realize that this habit was actually the thing holding me back.

In our sport, sometimes the greatest strength of all can come from when we go against our instincts to keep pushing. It’s a strange concept in a country riddled with laziness and lack of motivation— but something I’ve come to realize is that there can always be too much of a good thing.

Running-specific strength training

On a similar self-preservation topic, I think a key component of this training cycle has been the strengthening I’ve incorporated.

I’ve always been a regular “lifter”—but mostly in an arms-and-core-only kind of way. Part of it was that I didn’t like straying from routine, and the other part was that I never wanted my legs to be too sore to run.

Overuse injuries that were all stemming from muscular weaknesses kind of forced me to change my habits. I started going to the total-body strength class that I always talk about, and all of a sudden—the aches that always plagued me weren’t there anymore.

The class toasts every single muscle group—including my glutes, hammies, and quads, and it also incorporates a lot of plyometric work that improves balance and ankle strength. All of it is so very good for runners, and while I don’t love the weekly DOMs screaming in the back of my legs, I have also seen my recovery time and speed increase.

And fine, maybe—MAYBE—PSJJ has helped too. I still hate it. Day 101 today, woof.

What’s interesting to me about this whole strength-training concept is that I’ve actually decreased the amount of other cardio-cross training during this cycle. I spin or swim maybe once a week, and otherwise it’s just running and strength classes. I used to be a big believer in a more-is-better approach to cross-training, but I’m starting to think that for me—my body can handle running better than I previously thought, so long as I’m diligent about strength. Which is encouraging, because if there’s a choice of activities…I think you can guess that run > everything else.

Food

I love food. I’m very non-discriminatory when it comes to the food I love. As in, I love a big bowl of vegetables and quinoa as much as I love a piece of chocolate pie.

Really though, I’m all about diversification and all-encompassing love when it comes to my food choices. It’s part of what helps me feel balanced, and I like to think that it helps me become not too obsessed with what I put in my body.

However, the fact of the matter is, I have a digestive system that really does not appreciate being deprived of the things it really needs, therefore ample portions of fruits, vegetables, fats, and protein are essential to ensuring I’m not keeled over in abdominal pain every night.

And not to mention running. I’ve done a bit of experimenting this training cycle to see exactly what types of fuel (food) are best on my stomach for both comfort and performance. Instead of focusing on, “Okay, I know I need a lot of water and a lot of pasta before my long run…then I can have whatever the f I want afterwards,” I’ve started focusing more on the before-and-after fueling of every run. Through this, I’ve discovered that food is really magical. Good, whole, nutrient-dense food can make such a monumental difference in how we perform and how we recover, and it’s this special attention I’ve given to figuring out what works for me that’s yielded a greater understanding of what’s best.

A list of my current staples: sweet potatoes, kale, peanut butter, avocados, eggs, oatmeal, almond milk, apples, bananas, spinach, berries, quinoa, almonds, rice cakes, pasta, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, chicken sausage, squash, Picky Bars, and black beans.

Of course, I stray from these staples often—there’s lots of chocolate and cookies to be found too—but around my long runs and around key workouts, these are what I’ll go for. A lot of it has to do with my bad digestion, admittedly, but I suppose it’s a blessing in disguise because it’s forced me to think about fueling as opposed to rewarding.

….

Along with all these things, I think that being keenly focused on a tangible, quantitative goal has really helped me through this training. Whenever I get the urge to fall back into an over-training or haphazard habit, I remind myself of the truth that nothing changes if nothing changes.

Do I want to get in an extra couple of miles, or do I want to qualify for Boston?

Whenever I put things in this perspective…the answer’s always the same.

I’m ready to see if the changes I’vee made, and the habits I’ve broken, will yield something great—something I’ve wanted for a long time.

More than anything, I’m happy to have had a solid training cycle that has helped me improve as a runner and has helped me rediscover so many new and wonderful things about the sport I love so much.

 

What works for you in marathon training? What doesn’t work? What changes have you made that make the biggest difference in your training?

Chicago Marathon Training Week #6

Hello friends, how’s everyone doing?

To start off, in terms of my decline in blogging, quite frankly I’ve been too busy all day, every day, to keep up on my normal frequency. I’m pretty positive no one is too distraught over this, I’d just thought I’d offer some explanation as to why I’ve been off the interwebs more so recently.

On the same note, I’ve been the best kind of busy. My days are flying by, I’m learning a lot, and although there’s a definite stress factor to my new job I’m really enjoying it.

But now, let’s talk about some running.

Here is how week #6 of Chicago Marathon training looked.

M: Rest

T: 10 m run @ 8:10ish

W: 7 m tempo run. 1 m warm up, then 5 starting at 7:45 and progressively going down, ending at 7:25, 1 m cool down. + BodyPump

T: 8 m easy run

F: 80 m swim

S: 15 m run for time—finished in 2:00

S: 2 hour spin, lifting

Total: 40 miles

I wanted this week to be a mini cutback week. I have one more cutback week scheduled before peak weeks/taper, and so I figured it would be good to get in an easier week before I start increasing to 50+.

I was debating my long run distance up until the night before. Technically, I should be ready for 20. I’ve done 16 and 18 twice, and 20 would be logical for this week. However, I’m realizing I started training a bit early, and since I want to peak at 22-23 and not do more than 4 20+ runs, I needed to do some rearranging. I also knew that I wanted to do some spinning on Sunday, which would not have been too awesome the day after a 20 miler.

So, instead, I decided to test out my new “Let’s run faster” theory with a shorter long run distance. The plan was to accomplish 2 things:

1) majority of miles @ marathon goal pace

2) practice running in some heat

The second goal wasn’t too hard to come by. I started the run around 9, later than normal, with the intention of running in the hotter weather. I know there is a decent likelihood of Chicago being hot on race day, as history has shown, and so I’m trying to help my mild Pacific Northwest climatized (go with that word) self get used to some more serious sweating. It wasn’t too bad (about 70 degrees) but relatively speaking I was feeling the heat. Good job, one goal achieved.

Now, the other goal was definitely achieved if you just look at the numbers involved. There were several miles in the sub 8 min zone, and I finished in 2 hours flat—averaging 8 minute miles. In fact, I ran a half marathon PR on this run.

However, those numbers are a little bit of a lie.

I stopped 4 or so times for a quick sip of water, and once to stretch. And quite honestly, I really didn’t feel awesome for the majority of the time. My legs were heavy, and they never really loosened up like they normally do. When I got home, there wasn’t much more I could do aside from lay horizontal on the floor and Tweet about my blister bff.

Seriously, that thing will not go away.

However, despite the stops, I’m happy with how it was run. While running, I was below where I wanted to be, and it felt good to push it during a long run as opposed to gingerly ticking the miles by. Sure, I love that style of long run running too, but sometimes it’s nice to not spend a ton of time on my feet.

Otherwise, training this week was good. Wednesdays are still my favorite workouts, and I’m really liking the relaxed runs on Thursdays. The swim on Friday was heavenly as well, especially since I hadn’t spent time in the pool for almost a month.

This week, I’m hoping to get to 55 miles—the highest mileage week I’ve ever had. It will cap with a 20 miler on Saturday, and with some luck, ice, and rolling—my legs won’t be too dead at the end of it all. I’m getting to a point where I’m really looking forward to my rest days—which is a good indication that I’m doing what I should be in my individual workouts.

In other news…

Did anyone watch the men’s marathon? If not…and you don’t want a spoiler…scroll down a bit, and ignore the next paragraph.

It was pretty shocking to see not one but TWO of the Americans drop out so early. I suppose it’s the nature of the sport, and the nature of the marathon…but man, really? I’m sure there was perfectly legitimate reasoning on both their parts, but I can’t even imagine how bad a DNF would feel at the Olympic marathon. It was an impressive finish though, and I was really happy for Meb with his 4th place victory. And I know watching the marathon is supposed to be inspiring and make everyone want to go out and run forever…but I really just felt tired watching them. I turned to BF and was like, “Tell me why I do this again?” because those guys looked so beat. Then again…I’m not averaging under 5 minute miles and running against the fastest dudes in the world.

Anyway, it was a lovely weekend in Seattle, and aside from the aforementioned sweaty activities, BF and I hung out downtown, relaxed, and went on a little water adventure yesterday. We went stand-up paddleboarding, which was super fun! I was pretty nervous about a number of things, namely cold water, falling, and sharks…but once we got comfortable all was good and we had a great time. One of us fell off more than the other…I’ll let you guess who it was.

An unrelated photo. But beautiful flowers from my man 🙂

I hope you all had lovely weekends! Happy Monday.

This Time Around…

Warning:

This post is going to be all about running.

But that’s not too off-beat, I suppose.

Running!

This is what a stupid runner’s high-enduced smile looks like

I have been stupidly excited about my runs recently. Like, smile plastered on my face, greeting every person/biker/car/rollerblader I see going by with a toothy grin and an in-your-face “GOOD MORNING!”

Here’s an example about how this elation has taken over my better senses: Tuesday, I finished a 10.3 mile run feeling on top of the world, both literally and figuratively. I had just climbed the super steep hill up to my house, and I felt super confident about my overall speed. Also, my IT band/knee was completely unnoticeable, which took my runner’s high to a recovered runner’s high—a whole new degree of giddy. THEN, later as I was driving back down said hill I’d just climbed, I saw a fellow runner girl grinding back up, and you know what my thought was? “I wish that was ME doing that right now! Jealous!”

Seriously, someone cage me.

But overall, I think these euphoric (bordering on obnoxious…I know, you can say it) feelings are stemming from two things:

1) My return from injury

2) My new-and-improved approach to marathon training

Obvs returning from injury (and please knock on every wooden item near you right now) is great reason to dig your runs. You have such a heightened appreciation for running after being away from it for so long. Relatively speaking, I wasn’t away too long, but I think any unplanned time away from running can totally revamp your love for it. I always love running, but there’s something so renewing about it when you come back from injury.

I know I haven’t discussed much about my new training mentality, partly because it wasn’t complete, but I love what it’s been doing for both my physical and mental strength.

So what, pray tell, is this new approach?

Very simple: Take myself less seriously, try new things, and be flexible.

These things are working together quite well so far, and I think they’ve done wonders for my training.

I’m having more fun, I’m looking forward to workouts more, and I’m less stressed out about the whole shebang.

So what are the steps I’ve been taking to ensure that my new approach works correctly?

Well, to begin, I think that the biggest thing I’m working on is very intentionally caring less. This sounds counterintuitive, because…um, hello, doesn’t marathon training take a butt ton of self motivation?

Yes, but hear me out.

As I realized after the Tacoma Marathon, the physical training—meaning the daily workouts, the mileage buildup, and the general grind of it all—isn’t the hard part for me. By nature, I enjoy the physical challenge, and my brain is programmed to go!go!go! all the time in terms of pushing harder and getting stronger. I realize that this can be a benefit, particularly for someone who runs marathons, however it can absolutely be taken to a destructive level. Take the TCM for example, or the fact that to this day I have to force myself to be okay with taking days off.

No hard feelings, Tacoma. Kidding! There still are. I hate you. Oh, it was all my own fault? FINE. I still hate your hills though.

So, I needed a new mentality. And that entailed letting myself off the hook and focusing more on the day-to-day victories. I realize this may only make sense in my own head, but essentially what I’ve done is I’ve taken the pressure off of performing at an unreasonable standard. I still want to run fast, and I still want to run many miles, but those numbers aren’t the reason I love this sport. What I love more than anything is to just run—fast, slow, long, short, outside, inside (okay…that’s pushing it), alone, and with others. So although I am training with number and mile goals in mind, they aren’t my primary concern.

With that said, I am also trying to get myself out of my normal exercise comfort zones. Sure, I can muster up the energy for an easy run or a gym workout—but within my own agenda. Ask me to go to a class I’ve never been to before or try a crazy lifting move I’ve never seen—fogetta about it!

However, I am a big believer that it is outside of our comfort zones where we find excitement, challenge, and—ultimately—improvement. So I committed myself to trying new things, yes in hopes of building my physical strength, but more so in hopes of shaking up my routine.

And I’ve found that you never quite know what you like until you venture into the unknown. I have absolutely loved trying new things (weights classes, different running workouts (tempo!!), new yoga poses) and I think the best part is that they make me excited for each daily workout. Instead of just being a means to an end (the end being Chicago in this case), I’m taking pride in my day-to-day sweat sessions and enjoying the smaller victories they present.

In addition to trying new things, like lunges, squats, and mountain climbers (I want to go on record saying I HATE THESE), I’m also getting very cozy with my rest days. They are scheduled into my training, and I’m taking comfort in them instead of letting them make me anxious. I’m realizing that if you are training at a hard enough level, you should want your rest days instead of fear them. I think before, when I was avoiding any rest at all, it’s because I was operating on an at-threshold activity level just for the sake of not wearing myself out. I wouldn’t push myself too hard for the sake of not needing a rest day.

DUMB

I’d much rather work hard, recharge, and stay healthy. Plus, now that I need to wake up a 4:45, days off are like a beacon of light every week.

Resting must involve rehydrating with a tropical beverage.

I know you’re probably getting bored (that’s presuming you’re still reading…and if so, hi!) so I’ll be brief in finishing up my last approach to marathon training.

Be flexible…that’s the motto I keep telling myself.

Flexible, yes, in the sense of stretching and yoga (jk I haven’t been in two weeks). But more so in being okay with the fact that life is going to get in the way of marathon training. And I’m letting it—because when marathon training starts to take over all other joys in life, such as an extra beer or three the night before a long run, a weekend visit to see your friends, or a lazy Sunday, it starts to drain us.

Running is a huge part of my life, but it’s not all of it. I like to use running to enhance the other great things in life, not take away from them. This means that my training schedule is amendable, and I’m not freaking out over hitting every target workout every day of the week.

A perfect example would be this upcoming weekend. BF and I are going down to my Summerhouse to play with my family…meaning LR plans needed to be altered. Ordinarily, this would stress me out. But instead, I rearranged, I front loaded the weekend with some extra miles this week, and I’m allowing myself to be excited about everything else I’ll get to do.

I’ll probably run there, but I feel a lot less pressure to break X number of miles with so many other wonderful things to occupy my time with.

So there it is: Robyn’s New Approach to Marathon Training. I am sure someday I’ll be gunning for a specific time goal, BQ, etc. But for this training cycle, I’m more interested in enjoying the running, fundraising for Girls on the Run, and getting excited to run in one of the biggest races in the world.

Based on my current mood and euphoria about anything involving Body Glide or Brooks, I’d say my new technique is working.

What do you think is the best way to approach marathon training? Relaxed? Goal-Oriented? Nutella in one hand and Nuun cocktail in the other?

 

Getting Uncomfortable

TGIF

I really feel like I’m saying that a lot more frequently than normal. Again with time dwindling away…

Where does it go?!

Actually, I think I only feel like this because I always posts on Fridays, therefore my forced Friday acknowledgment makes the time seem to go quicker.

That’s my justification.

Hello! Welcome to the end of the week, and another round of “I have too many other things to say there I’m not doing Friday Favorites, AGAIN.”

Sure, I could save up all of my running-related thoughts for posts in the future, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily like to wait on the things that are currently going on in my brain. Also, I never “draft” posts—that would be way too productive. I’m sure you thought I spend days ahead of time writing my posts, given their not-at-all rambling and stream of consciousness nature.

Sorry to let you down. I fly by the seat of my pants and often have typos.

So, despite my lack of dedication to Friday Favorites and my fear of the speed of time, I am generally feeling rather cheery today. Superb workout (including RUN!) and my beautiful, tall, law school attending bestie Anna is coming to visit for the weekend.

Friendship! This is actually one of the few “nice” pictures we’ve taken.

Anna and I get along for a number of reasons, but mainly because our friendship takes little effort; it’s easy, it’s fun, and it has no filters. We also enjoy many of the same things, namely being active and food—sometimes in that order, sometimes not. With that said, our weekend will consist of some hiking, some Ikea browsing (also known as people watching, impulse buying, and getting lost), and food consumption.

There, that’s more accurate.

Additionally, I have some pretty exciting endeavors/news in the works. Exciting is relative, meaning it might only be exciting for me, but I am PUMPED for some things going on in the near future. More on that on Monday! Let’s just say I spent the better part (aka: all of) yesterday morning plotting/emailing/texting/Tweeting with Nicole about some pretty sweet and sweaty plans. I love having people that can share in my athletic delusions ambitions.

Oh, you want a hint? Here.

I’m in this weird balancing act right now of settling into a routine of not running as much, trying new things, and wanting really bad to run again. The thing is, though, it’s becoming just that: a routine. And truthfully? I don’t hate it.

Yes, I love running all the time. Particularly long, salty-sweat face runs that leave me in a heap of endorphin-filled giddiness on the couch, whilst stuffing oatmeal in my face and planning my dessert for the day.

Running is the best. DUH.

But, I have to say I am really digging discovering all of my body’s short-comings and working on them.

Do I have calves that don’t fit into most boots? Yes. Do I have quads that could likely strangle someone? Yes, not a pleasant thought there. But other than that…I’m realizing that I have a lot of room for improvement in terms of my strength, and it’s both humbling and exciting to figure that out.

Case in point: the current state of my rear. It’s sore. It’s been sore since Wednesday. I definitely have not been massaging it in public.

With the exception of some occasional leg lifts, I rarely did any kind of glute work when I was logging heavy miles. This isn’t awesome…considering the strength of your rear muscles and the propensity of getting injured are directly related, but the truth is I never had any interest. I might love a long, exhausting run or a sweat-covered spin bike, but honestly…I actually shy away from things that I know will be hard. Once I am confident in doing something (such as the aforementioned cardio activities) I have no problem hopping right into them…but give me something I’ve never done before and I curl into a ball of stubborn reluctance.

And thanks to my new-found need and interest in testing out my weak points, I’m realizing that being a good athlete isn’t actually about focusing all our energy and attention into the things we’re good at. Sure, if we’re good at something—we want to capitalize on it, but being a good athlete is actually more about finding the areas we need to improve on more than the things we already excel in.

I am so guilty of getting into a place of routine with my workouts. I know they will be fulfilling enough to tide me over, I know that I will get through them no problem, so I’m content with never changing them. Sure, a 10-mile run every Tuesday is a great workout, and it kept me in great running shape, but hand me a pair of hand weights and make me do single-leg lunges? I turn into a crying toddler.

Do you see the imbalance? I think a lot of us do this…and although it’s great that we can excel and be great at certain things, that does not excuse us from making our bodies work hard in other capacities.

Which is a very wordy, roundabout way of bringing back to where I am now. I don’t think at least one of my muscle groups hasn’t been sore in the past two weeks. I’m doing exercises that I have long proclaimed to loathe, simply because they are hard. I’m accepting that not being the best in a class is okay, and I’m letting instructors give me advice.

And I’m loving it. I love being sore, even though it necessitates doing things that are uncomfortable or even painful. I love feeling that there’s a lot of room for improvement, and I love my new mentality of “all-around” fitness as opposed to the one-dimensional cardio focus that I tend to hide in.

This whole way of approaching my physical health hit me right between the eyes this morning when I thought about trying to run. And while I bellyache about not running, and all I seem to think and talk about is when I can run again…I somehow felt reluctant when it was go time. Was it because the walk/run is annoying? No, I’m getting to be okay with it. Was it because the weather was bad? No, no rain.

It’s because I knew it would be hard. Hard, sure, because of my persnickety IT band, but mainly just hard, physically. Even in marathon shape, you can’t go a month with minimal running and expect to just jump back into it effortlessly.

A part of my brain, the newly-developing humbled part, knew this as I went back and forth with the running decision. All of a sudden, my go-to, default mode of exercise has become a little more difficult to force out…and it scared me. It scared me the same way squats and lunges always scare me. It scared me the same way biking scares me, and lifting heavier weights, and trying a new yoga pose scares me.

(Side note: Running is hard no matter what. I am simply speaking as someone who is normally in running shape and is currently out of running.)

Running has become a little more ambiguous than I’m normally used to. That bothers me a little, but I’m happy that running can slowly become a part of the mix of things that I’m working on getting better at. I am fairly confident that once my injury whittles away, my running is going to come back no problem—but for now it’s something I need to challenge myself with. And that’s okay.

What’s my point? I don’t really know…there’s a lot of rambling going on in there.

Ultimately, I think I’m realizing the importance of leaving our comfort zones. You might be able to bust out miles week after week, but are you actually challenging yourself to be better?

I encourage you to look at the fitness safe zones you stick to—and maybe try and step out of them a bit. Improving upon your weak spots isn’t going to take anything away from the things you’re already exceptional at, and in fact—it will probably make you better in them. Whether it’s adding speed work to your training routine (I’m speaking to myself when I say this one) or going to a weight lifting class for the first time—try getting a little uncomfortable.

You’ll be sore, you probably won’t be the best in the class, and you will probably utter many swear words during the process. But you will positively leave in a better space than you started off in. We cannot get better by sticking to the same routines—we plateau, we get bored, and eventually our fitness can actually decline. We get better by pushing our own limits, doing things that are hard, and regularly questioning how we can improve.

What kinds of things do you want to incorporate in your fitness routine? What do you actively avoid, for fear of failure or it being “too hard”? 

Class People

I am going to be completely honest here and tell you that I really never thought much about exercise classes.

I always considered myself self-sufficient enough to take care of my own fitness, and in a completely judgmental and unfair way, I thought the reverse about people who went to classes. I’m a jerk, I know, and all I can plead is ignorance. I preferred keeping myself disciplined and designing my own workouts as opposed to someone telling me what to do. I figured classes were there for people who didn’t know how to exercise and needed encouragement and motivation from an instructor. Asshole, I know.

Fast forward to March 2011 (Or I guess rewind? Go with it):

Injured Robyn: Completely incapable of running, or even walking for that matter. Also, really effing grumpy.

Universe: “HA! Want to rethink judging those exercise classes, or drown in an out-of-shape pile of couch-sitting and Phish Food pints?”

Now, the Phish Food definitely happened, however at this point I realized that despite my aforementioned preference toward solo-cizing, in order to maintain a level of fitness—I would need to surrender at least some of my gym time to a professional instructor.

(Robyn, stop trying to make “solo-cizing” happen, it’s not going to happen. Thanks, Regina George.)

And you know what? I converted (ish). Spinning is a really darn good workout, and it necessitates a killer instructor who is kind of scary. Yoga is one of my most favorite things now, and not only does it make me stretchy and flexible (good for running), but it calms me down.

fyi: I NEED CALMING A LOT OF THE TIME.

Anyway, I am fairly certain that had I not been literally forced off the running-only wagon, I would never have found these other forms of sweating. Even when I was able to run again, I kept rolling on the cross-training bus, much of which included group-exercise classes.

Where am I going with all this? Well, if you haven’t been listening to my incessant blog rants, tweets, and merciful pleas to the universe(joke-ish), I am currently not able to run. I was robbed of a happy IT band in the Tacoma City Marathon, and since then I have had to be creative.

Luckily, thanks to last year’s injury, I was better prepared for how to keep myself in shape. (Dear world, if I must get hurt, let’s go for the winter months next time, cool?) In essence, I’ve been spinning and swimming like a madwoman. You would think I was preparing for a tri. Wait, am I? But, this time I wanted to actually try and take advantage of this temporary loss of my run love.

I committed to focusing the energy that is normally occupied with race registrations, long runs, and PRs on other aspects of my health—like  getting stronger and more bendy. I knew this would entail doing some of the things I normally avoid—such as venturing outside of the familiar spin room to—gasp!—another class. I have the yoga and spinning thing down…I’m a regular, the instructors know me, I’m comfortable with both. However these are the extent of my class experience.

My lack of attendance in other classes was due primarily to two things: 1) No time with marathon training and (honestly, more so) 2) apprehension. When I work out, I like knowing what I’m getting myself into. I like knowing beforehand that it will be worth my time, as in difficult and a good sweat, and I like knowing that I can get through it no problem. I didn’t really think that other group exercise classes would be beyond my physical condition, however as someone who is used to getting along no problem in a group exercise setting, I don’t like thinking of being the newbie who knows nothing.

Yes, I am psychotically competitive.

HOWEVER, I did vow to try. And try I have!

More specifically, I’ve been going to a “Maximum Sculpt” class at my gym, which was the least frightening choice when reading the online description. I knew the instructor, and the paragraph detailing what it included had enough familiar terms that I was comfortable testing it out.

It seems that I was not alone in preferencing this class—because when I arrived at 5:55 for a 6:00 am class, the entire room was full of everyone with their little stations of a step and weights and omg how much crap do we need??. So, obviously I pretended like I had been before, didn’t ask for help, and found the very last spot in the back of the room—which honestly I was grateful for.

And just like that, I was sweaty, tired, and humbled. Despite having a fairly strict routine myself, switching to something new proved that I have things I can definitely work on. My hammies were screaming after that first class, and lifting my arms to shampoo my hair was equivalent to bench-pressing BF.

Yes, you read that right—I do shower.

In essence, I was out of my comfort zone. And you know what? I’m totally digging it. As a creature of habit in all aspects of my life, I rarely stray from my normal routines—and exercise is perhaps the most perfect example. Because I can(could, sad face) run really long distances and lift weights on a semi-regular basis, I gave myself an out on not really pushing my body otherwise. I was so focused on running, and not having too sore of legs, that I was wary of ever doing anything else. And I didn’t care. I gave myself a get-out-of-jail free card and simply refused to try anything else.

Now, PLEASE remind me that I said this when I can run again, but I am realizing that we aren’t actually reaching our full potential by doing the same things over and over again. I know every exercise know-it-all preaches this, but I never really internalized it until I realized all the things my body couldn’t do. Naively, I figured that because my endurance was tip-top and I could run 26.2 miles, I had everything else in the bag.

Wrong.

Guess what? Running might be fantastic for many things, however just because you can run for three hours does not mean you have the fitness thing completely figured out. In that same breath, I am hoping to use this whole humbling I-actually-have-room-to-improve experience to teach me that while running might be my numero uno, I still need to focus on strengthening myself in other vacinities.

Running actually leaves a lot of our body parts quite weak, as I’m finding, and it’s due to these imbalances that a lot of injuries occur. Pounding out miles doesn’t always mean we’re getting better, and I’m recognizing the fact that the only way for us to get better is to do things that are uncomfortable. 

In this respect, I’ve sort of admitted to myself one of the biggest reasons I haven’t tried on any other exercise caps. It’s because I was/am afraid of it being hard. I know that sounds funny coming from someone who will willingly run 12 miles before the sun is up, however running is something that I know I can do. When I don’t know that I have the ability to excel at something, I get scared that it will be beyond my physical condition. Hence, the underlying reason why I never wanted to try out anything else.

Sure, it’s really easy for me to say these things when I don’t have the availability to run whenever I want, but it’s something I hope that injured and non-injured runners alike can recognize in their own habits. In running, in all physical conditioning, and in life, it’s the hard things, the things that are outside of our comfort zone, that actually make us better. It’s great to get comfortable…to know that we can knock out effortless miles day after day. But, that’s exactly the time that we should be looking at our weaknesses, and figuring how to improve upon those things. Plateauing is really easy when we stick to one repetitive routine, and it can be one of the fastest ways to injury, boredom, and actually losing our strength. I’m realizing now that I was absolutely plateauing when I was running a lot, and had I been a little less obsessive perhaps I would be in a different spot today.

So, I suppose for now—I am a “class person.” I am really, really enjoying getting my butt kicked by workouts, specifically when it’s facilitated by someone else. It’s good to see that despite having a lot of endurance strength, I have a lot of room to improve. Because despite how humbling it might be, it’s really exciting to see that I have a lot more potential—which gives me a lot of hope for my racing future, whensoever that may be.

I know I will always prefer to workout alone, but a little socialization never hurt anyone—and for someone desperate for another best friend while running takes a time out, a group setting could be just the ticket.

Now, talk to me: Are you a class person? Do you try to shake up your routine? Have you ever hit a running plateau?