The good, the bad, and the truly hideous

Y’all, I’m trying to keep it real around here. Things are not always sunshine and finish line medals.

The struggle is real. The body, apparently, would very much like the season to be done NOW. The season, however, has one more month to go. So I’m fighting the good fight and trying to keep everything together with duct tape and bubble gum. And these.

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TOEssentials toe stretchers. I get plantar fasciitis in my arches from time to time, usually after a race, and it knocked me off of most of my runs last week. I’m balancing the fine line between being smart to keep an injury at bay (i.e. cutting down on the running), and maintaining some semblance of fitness for the culminating race of the season. So when my good friend Melisa told me about an elite who wears these regularly, I figured I had $11.95 to throw at the problem. They just arrived yesterday so I can’t speak to how they will work in the long-term, but it feels good to put them on. And they seem to be an extension of this awesome stretch that helps a lot:

According to the post on Breaking Muscle:

When you look at your feet, what is the widest part of your foot? It should be the ends of your toes, but for many of you it will be the ball of your foot. If this is the case, it means your shoes have squished your toes out of their optimal position.

The purpose of this exercise is to stretch the plantar fascia along the bottom of your foot, along with helping to restore the natural position of your toes. This exercise will also passively mobilize all of the joints of your foot and ankle.

The ends of my toes are definitely NOT the widest part of my foot. Perhaps TOEssentials are just what I need to set things right. I’ll keep you posted.

Runners: we’re famous for our mobility

Breaking news: I’m a runner who thinks stretching sucks. Who’s with me on this? You get back from a run with every intention of stretching, go inside where it will be more comfortable, and wander straight into the kitchen. Where the coffee, ahem, I mean water, computer, and any number of other distractions await. And there goes the stretch. You’ll get to it next time, right?

I used to be a cheerleader. Seriously. I could do the splits three ways, not to mention a killer toe touch.

OK, that's not a toe touch. This was 25 years ago and my parents took exactly zero pictures.

OK, that’s not a toe touch. That was 25 years ago and my parents took exactly zero pictures.

Now I’m lucky if I can straighten my legs while bending 90° at the waist. As I get older, I’m realizing that this is not good. That perhaps I need to do something about this. I’ve also realized that what I really need is for someone else to tell me what to do. The obvious answer to these problems is a good yoga class. But I already spend an ungodly amount of time working out. I can’t bear adding another class to the mix.

I give you: the yoga video.

Hear me out on this. It’s just 25 minutes. In the amount of time you’d spend pretending to stretch, you can turn this on and have no other choice but to follow the directions and get an ACTUAL stretch. You don’t even have to think about what to do. That’s the beauty of it.

The coffee can wait. If I keep doing this I might be able to reach past my toes soon.

(Over) 40 IS still fast

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I went up against the young guns this weekend at Run of the Mill 5k. It’s a prize money race, which is always sure to bring out the fast competition. It’s also the Washington State Cross Country East-West All Star race for the top graduating high school cross country runners in the state. In addition to being featured in the race, they are feted with an East/West uniform, awards lunch, and some merit scholarships – recognition for their hard work the previous fall. Sponsored by Columbia Funding Mortgage, local running store Run 26, and Brooks, it’s a special send-off for the kids and a great way for the community to see what they can do.

But I digress. I wasn’t expecting much, not even to place, especially given the reduced training I’ve had in recent weeks. But then a crazy thing happened.

I won. 17:40 was good enough to take first place, even with the other fast and fabulous women in the race.

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It was also a time that is pretty comparable to the best times that I ran in college. As in, twenty years ago. And while it does help that I took much of my 20s and 30s off from serious competition, I believe that it’s possible to keep your speed well into your 40s. I feel just as strong as I did when I was in college. I can hit an interval workout just as well as I did back then, and I’m probably (just a little) smarter about my training now. Yes, the recovery aspect is more important these days, but who doesn’t want an excuse to sit around on the couch a little more?

Water … it’s not just coffee’s healthy ingredient

glass of waterI know, right? I bet you’re just as shocked as I am. I mean, who likes water? At best, it’s colorless, tasteless and boring. At worst? Well, it can have you fearing for your life. I hate drinking water.

So when a friend was looking for participants to do a hydration optimization challenge, I figured I’d be a good candidate. Given the amount that I run, I consume a shockingly small amount of water. For the purposes of this exercise, your optimal water intake is calculated as follows:

1/2 your body weight = oz. of water per day

That sounds like a really big number. And then. And then. Any diuretic beverage consumed (coffee, caffeinated beverages, traditional soda, sweetened drinks, processed fruit juice such as OJ) needs to be multiplied by 1.5 and offset by that amount of water. Yep, that’s right. You drink 8 oz. of coffee, that’s 12 oz. more water to add to your water intake for the day. So what did I do? I stopped drinking coffee. Or seriously reduced it. That is exactly how much I don’t want to be drinking any more water than I have to. But then there’s this tidbit*:

If the body’s water content drops by as little as 2%, it will cause fatigue. So if you are feeling tired (beyond this challenge), try increasing your water consumption and see how you feel. Given that we know dehydration causes fatigue and many people reach for caffeine to combat their fatigue (which further dehydrates the body), you can see how this creates a vicious cycle.

In fairness, most of the coffee that I consume is decaffeinated. I can’t seem to handle drugs of any sort terribly well. But some of it is fully loaded, and I haven’t really missed it.

And then there’s the metabolism component:

Hydration helps boost your metabolism and even mild dehydration reduces your metabolism by 3%.  We’ve talked about how people’s ability to detect their own thirst is impacted by dehydration – this gets weak as you get dehydrated.  Often times people are mistaking hunger pangs for hunger when the body is actually trying to tell you it’s thirsty!  In one study at the UW, all participants alleviated midnight hunger pangs by drinking one glass of water.  So are you hungry or are you thirsty?  It’s worth reaching for a glass of water first if you aren’t sure.

Who doesn’t want their metabolism boosted? Especially as we get older? And for us runners:

If your cartilage is well-hydrated, the rate of friction damage is minimal but if the cartilage is dehydrated, there can be much more damage from friction. The cartilage of bones (in a joint) contain a lot of water. In many cases joint pain is a localized sign of dehydration. If I remember correctly, it can take quite a while for joints to become rehydrated.

*Quoted tips courtesy of challenge leader and nutritionist extraordinaire Michelle Nevelle

I’m almost three weeks into the challenge and the biggest surprise is that it hasn’t been that difficult to drink the water. Perhaps this has been helped by the heat wave that has conveniently coincided with the timing of the challenge. It’s not that hard to gulp down 24 ounces when you’ve just sweat that much into your sneakers. But I do feel pretty good. I finally feel like my training is on the upswing, after backing off for a couple weeks after Rock ‘N’ Roll. Is it the water? Is it the timing? Who knows, but I’ll take it, and maybe I’ll even keep drinking the stuff.

Stepping off the crazy train

Do you do it? I do. Maybe it’s for a scheduled race coming up, or a number on the scale, or if you’re like me, sometimes for absolutely no good reason at all. First the fatigue starts creeping in, so you tell yourself that you just need to pick it up a little bit more. Maybe if you work a little harder you can shake off the cobwebs. Then the sleep starts to get disrupted. For me the mornings start earlier and earlier. Suddenly the numbers on the clock push into the 5 a.m. realm. Intellectually you know you need to be sleeping more, but hey, you feel wired, which is great because you’ll need that extra energy to get those extra miles in. Then things start to hurt. But it’s only a little muscle tweak, right? Nothing some extra stretching can’t fix. Or some additional work on strength training. Maybe you’re just not working hard enough.

I’d like to think that I’m so confident in my running that I can easily take off an unplanned day or two. Just. Like. That. That I could skip a long run or key interval workout because it’s just not a good day for it. But the reality is that I start to stress about falling behind. About not hitting the numbers that I’ve devised in my own head. And then what? It’s just a downward spiral to hoarding cats and Jerry Springer marathons, no? 

But last week I actually scaled back. And you know what? Nothing bad happened. My runs weren’t completely miserable. I even hit some decent times running a hill workout on Friday. I still don’t own any cats. Maybe there really is something to all those articles about overtraining. Breaking Muscle has a great one here, and Run To The Finish covers the link between cortisol and weight gain here.

Of course, there is a line between training hard and overtraining, and I certainly have not yet figured that one out. I am a low-mileage runner who needs to build a bigger base if I want to race another half marathon. But maybe that base can be built more gradually than I had originally intended. Maybe it’s possible to work smarter and not harder. Maybe that’s one of the benefits of being a masters runner – that you’ve learned from your mistakes. Then again, maybe that’s not a new pain in my hip that’s popped up in the last two days. Now where did I put that exercise band?

Rest… it’s not just for the weak

Woof. Apparently it’s not super easy to bounce right back from racing a half marathon. At least that’s what I’m finding this week, after taking most of last week off. Recovery, to me, has always seemed like something that was necessary for other people. I mean, if you’re really tough, shouldn’t you be able to keep on training? Sometimes my races are only three miles long. Mathematically speaking, that’s barely a blip in a week’s worth of mileage. Isn’t it just lazy thinking, to consider a day off after such a short effort?

I have two 5k races on the calendar in July, and had planned to pick up the training where I had left off two weeks ago to taper for Rock ‘N’ Roll. I was even going to give myself a break and go back to the second longest mileage week and build from there. It seems so theoretically sound, doesn’t it? Like a neat and tidy staircase heading to that next PR. But then reality set in. It’s just not happening this week. 

A quick cruise around the internet revealed the concept of reverse tapering, which is completely new to me. The basic idea is that in the same way you would taper down your mileage in the weeks before a hard race, you return to running gradually, starting with short, easy mileage and building up from there. For a linear person like me, this is a tough idea to take. Could going backward actually be the way forward? It looks like I’m about to find out.