The black lining to the PR rainbow

Black lining PR rainbow

Didn’t think there was any downside to a PR, did you? I know I didn’t. In my mind a PR should be nothing but pink unicorns and fairy dust. And it is, for the most part. But this summer I’ve stumbled upon the realization that it can also be an inadvertent ticket to crazy town. A ride on the PR-seeking crazy train, which, over the summer, has pulled me through the stations of doubt, fear, and mild injury.

I couldn’t figure out what had me in such a funk. A nagging hamstring strain had me questioning how hard I should be training. Which, in turn, probably meant that I wasn’t training as hard as I would under normal circumstances. Two local races resulted in completely lackluster performances. Then a friend posted this great article on the extremes of training for a PR that snapped my reality into focus.

Neither of these extreme states is the smartest, right? Uber-Fitness Mode might give you an amazing body but it can also result in unhealed injuries and (eventually) misery and abandonment if you don’t listen to your body. Meanwhile, Super Sedentary Mode gives you the Couch Body which eventually leaves you cranky with friends and family, and also unhappy when the extreme carb rush is over. (“Oh no. Look at me. What have I done? And why am I covered in powdered sugar?“)

The problem with a great PR is that it’s a rush that feeds itself. There’s no topping the feeling of exhilaration that happens when you see the magical number next to your name. You want more. You know you can do it again, with a few more miles, a little more work. And now, that thing you do because it makes you feel good and enhances your life? It becomes something else. The workouts ratchet. The stress builds. You worry that you’re not doing enough to run well in the next race. The chase for another PR is now an addiction.

My friends, as the amazing Lauren Fleshman put it here: “…there is no pot of gold waiting at the end of the achievement rainbow.

It’s time to step off the crazy train. In the past this has meant a swing of the couch-surfing variety. But I still have a 5k road race and cross country season on the impending calendar. I also have that hamstring thing that, incredibly, has not managed to magically go away on its own. It’s time to learn about the dimmer switch. It’s a mental shift of letting go, of enjoying the process and forgetting the results. Here goes nothing…

Cramming, re-injury and massage

Cramming is never a good idea. Moreover, it’s usually a direct reflection of other poor decision-making from your recent past. I’ve had my share of unnecessarily stressful finals weeks with the only real consequences being exhaustion and a better grade than I probably deserved. Cramming when it comes to running is just downright STUPID. And, as I’ve seen recently, results in injury and re-injury. Can I really be that dumb twice? Oh, yes.

With a little more than 2 weeks to go until the masters exhibition race at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, a day in Eugene is looking more like a reality for me. My seed time is currently 4th on the list, so as long as 8 people don’t run faster times before the qualifying window closes on Saturday, I should be good to go. This was one of my big goals for the year, and yes, the first accomplishment will be to qualify. But I’m greedy. I want to run well while I’m there. With that in mind, events of the last two weeks have been less than ideal.

I returned from the east coast two weeks ago fresh off a 5-day break and ready to start a solid segment of 1500m training. Though we rolled in somewhere in the 1 a.m. hour, I was up at the crack of dawn to push through a 9 mile run, and somehow strained my left quadriceps muscle. Since then, it’s been wreaking some serious havoc with my training. After spending a week trying to muddle through, Bethanee convinced me to get a massage. Confession time: I’ve kind of written off massage as a bit of a new-agey indulgence, something for the spa-going set or for elite athletes to go along with their agents and sponsors. Being neither of those, I’ve never seen massage as something for me.

Until now, that is. Is massage always like this? I think I’ve experienced magic. Matthew Timmons, of Cascade Natural Therapeutics, is a miracle worker. I hobbled in with a deeply cramped up leg and was just about pain-free the next day. Two days later I could run four miles without any sort of hitch in my giddyap. This was great, but I had lost close to two weeks of quality training. So what did I do? An interval workout the next day. With all the time off I was supposed to ease into it.

It went something like this:

2 x 400m @ :83
2 x 400m @ :78
1 x 800m @ 2:44
1 x 800m @ 2:40
2 x 400m @ :79
2 x 400m @ :78/:77

1:30 recovery after each 400, 3:30 recovery after each 800m.

It was great. Until the next day, Tuesday, when it wasn’t. Remember how cramming is a bad idea? I do too… now. You need at least a few solid training runs before attempting any sort of speed work. Two runs totaling 6 miles? Not nearly enough. Today it was another massage, tomorrow, remedial running if I’m lucky. Don’t make the same mistake. Make your comeback slowly. But if you do succumb to the cramming temptation, find a good massage therapist. This shit’s for real.

Vibrams: In praise of the Five Fingers

I realize it’s no longer cool to be sporting the Vibrams. Or at the very least, support has been waning.

Vibrams Five Fingers

In fact, this lawsuit would suggest that they are downright dangerous.

But I never did it for the fad of it. I’ve been running in these shoes since 2011, around the time that they were peaking in popularity. At that time I happened to have been feeling twinges of plantar fasciitis that I had never experienced before, and bought in to some of the anecdotal claims that they could strengthen your feet and the small muscles of the lower legs to help protect against injury. And though it is these claims that seem to have fueled the lawsuit, I found them to be completely accurate in my case.

I don’t know if I have the right running mechanics (though I’m a bit of a heel striker, so I don’t know if that’s it), or if it’s that I’m light and the body impact isn’t as intense (though I also think I pound harder than your average runner – in other words, I run like an elephant), but for some reason these shoes work for me. For the last 4 years I’ve done 2 (out of 5) of my shortest runs of the week in them. I even ran a race in them.

Vibrams Viking Fest 2013

Viking Fest 2013

That was, until last summer when I tweaked my calf and cut back to 1 run. And then this fall when my foot started acting up I gave them up altogether. I was back to remedial running in my supportive trainers and custom orthodics.

Brooks Adrenaline

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Brooks Adrenalines. But after my 2 1/2 week break from running over the holidays, the foot wasn’t feeling significantly better. The problem was in this toe joint.

toejoint

The operating theory is that the joint was bruised from running in shoes that weren’t working well for me. And apparently a joint can take a long time to heal. Especially when you spend a month running on it to make it through one last race of a season. But it didn’t feel THAT much better even after time off. The other issue I was having was that my shoes were feeling really tight. Which got me thinking about bringing back the Vibrams. And you know what? I had a breakthrough run in them. Suddenly the joint wasn’t bothering me in the same way. I managed to do a (short) run without pain, something I hadn’t done in two months. And as a bonus afterward, my shoes weren’t feeling quite so tight.

Now, I’m not saying to run right out and buy yourself a pair of Vibrams. And if you do, you need to slowly and carefully build up to running in them. I think I’m trying to make a broader point about doing what you need to do FOR YOU. It doesn’t matter which shoes/diet/training philosophy everyone else is following at the moment. Everyone is different and everyone has something that works for them. Have the confidence to stand out on your own. Even if that means wearing crazy shoes that have were the subject of a lawsuit.

Kick ass while you’re hurt

Injured? Congratulations! You’re following advice from pro runner Kyle Merber:

Your coach will hate me for this debatably terrible advice I am about to give, but if he heard me out fully, then maybe he’d only respectfully disagree: I think you should get hurt.

Read the full post – he has a really great blog – here.

He’s right though. I agree that a performance breakthrough frequently comes on the heels of some sort of break in training.

You’re good at running? Now get good at being hurt.

I try to schedule a couple of two week training breaks throughout the year, usually one in the summer, and one over the winter holidays following cross country club nationals. This year I didn’t take the summer break, and I think that really came back to haunt me in the fall. But boy, did I take advantage of this last break. I really needed it, not only to rest an injury, but mentally as well.

When I take a break, I REALLY take a break. Instead of cross training, I head to the kitchen.

In The Sweet Kitchen Almond and Dried Bing Cherry Braid

Almond and Dried Bing Cherry Braid

This is a great recipe from In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley, the IACP cookbook of the year in 2001. This is one of my favorite pastry cookbooks of all-time, and if you’re going to invest shelf space and money in a cookbook, this is a good one. The recipes are well-written, easy to follow, and most importantly, they work. I have yet to have a disappointing result, and this bread was no different. It’s like a challah loaf stuffed with kirsch and amaretto-laced almond paste. I hadn’t thought it possible to improve upon the eggy goodness of a quality loaf of challah, but I was wrong.

For Christmas Eve, I tried to kick it up a notch. Having a quiet holiday at home, I had visions of a cozy day of baking with my kids: them, rapt with interest watching me perform feats of pastry-making as I assembled a tower of pâte-a-choux reaching for the sky. Instead, they had their faces in books all day and probably would have been just as happy if I threw a stack of Oreos on a plate.

Christmas Croquembouche

Christmas Croquembouche

How many things are just wasted on the young?

Thanks to a teammate, I discovered homemade Christmas ornaments.

Modular Christmas Star Origami Ornament

If you like origami, these are really fun to make. Check out the youtube video here. All you need is one of those block cubes of notepaper and some ribbon. The bell/ribbon I added inside came from Oriental Trading and made a fun stocking stuffer for the kids. As it turns out, needing to fold 30 units of paper before assembling the star is a little more delayed gratification than my children are willing to handle. So, I hijacked the project. No use wasting a perfectly good craft on them too.

I say this all with a bit of a caveat. This break was easy and enjoyable because I have exactly NO races on the calendar. And because I’m (hopefully) on the upswing and back to running again little by little. But it’s part of the deal. If you run competitively you’re going to get hurt. Might as well learn to get good at this part too.