Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas in California (... and more running)

"The wind... it's what makes it so warm this time of year. Legend has it, when the Santa Anas blow, anything can happen."
--- The Holiday

Why, hello there! Hope each of you had a wonderful Christmas with friends and family... or whatever holiday you may celebrate at this time of year :) While I am very close to my family, I made the very tough decision to not go home (to New Mexico) this year. Related or not, I seem to get violently ill every year after I visit for the holidays. I mean violently ill... in the last five years, I have suffered from the flu and strep throat ('15), bronchitis ('14), and pneumonia ('11 - '13). With my 1/2 marathon coming in 3 weeks and counting, I just couldn't afford to risk it this year. 

I kicked off Christmas week with a 5K run at the gym. I hate treadmill running (as I know you are aware), but this was probably my best indoor 5K to date. I even beat my PR! I figured it was a good start to the week, and decided that I would commit to finishing the long run I had procrastinated doing since last Saturday. Although my brother was coming to spend the holiday with me in California, I still wanted to commit to a couple of runs so as to not lose motivation. I was doing well... I didn't want to lose it.

Somewhat serendipitously, my friend Janelle posted details about a Christmas eve 5K occurring in town that seemed to be perfect. Not only was it a good way to give back to our community, but it would also be a great way for me to see my friend and catch up with her while she is in town. Our not-quite-5K race was great! She's done a bunch of the Disney 1/2 marathons, so she gave me a lot of helpful advice and helped quell my nerves. She and I were also able to catch up on one another's lives, which was nice since I hadn't seen her in a couple of years (she lives in Denver). The miles flew by, and I felt great after. I decided to spend the remainder of my day being active... racking up another 3.5 miles of walking with my dog, and doing another 2 mile run at the gym. It was a very active day!

I planned to get my long run done on Christmas day. I figured nothing would be open anyway, so why not use the time to get those miles in on an empty trail? I felt so much better prepared for this run after talking to Janelle. I taped my knee, packed my mid-run fuel packs (I tried Clif Bars and Shot Bloks and Gu... Shot Bloks are my new friend!), and made sure to eat in advance of my run. When I tried running more than 8 miles in the past, my legs and feet would be in tremendous pain afterwards. And this time? No pain! Woohoo! Although my Nike Plus app only recorded 9.06 of my 11 mile run, I actually finished the day with 13.6 miles in total when you added in my walks with my dog. Not to shabby for a holiday!

I took yesterday off, meaning I only walked my dog and didn't do any running at all. While I wasn't in pain, I know myself well enough to know that I can't push it the day after. I feel so much better prepared for my long New Year's run with my friend Shika later this week. So... what have I learned?
  • I can't run on a completely empty stomach. Similarly, I can't run on a full stomach. I need to prepare to eat a large snack (not meal) approximately 2 hours before running. 
  • I need to fuel mid-run. Actually, I think I need to refuel at least twice for the 1/2 marathon. 4 miles seems to be where I need it. Shot Bloks have been my favorite so far, but I have to remind myself to drink water after. What do you do?
  • Water is your friend. Ph-balanced water is my best friend. I like Gatorade well enough, but the sugar brings me down. Water with electrolytes does the same job, and doesn't give me that sugar rush (and fall) that hurts my run at the end. My favorite is Core Water, but there are a lot of brands out there - have you tried any?
  • Stretching, stretching, stretching!
This is my last week of long runs before I start tapering next week. I'm still nervous, yes, but I feel a lot better prepared than I did before this week. A big thank you to Janelle for the pep talk on Christmas eve! I can't wait to see my friends (and make new ones) at the race in three weeks. Away we go!



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Thankful Thirty

"Be happy while you are living, for you're a long time dead." - Scottish Proverb

It recently occurred to me that I should have written about my Thankful Thirty Trot... a Facebook challenge I opened up to my friends on Facebook in honor of Thanksgiving. I put together this event for two reasons: 1) to motivate me to continue to train during my second busiest month of the year, and 2) to motivate my friends and family to make healthier choices during the calorie-heavy holiday season. 

So what was the Thankful Thirty Trot? This was a virtual race of sorts to motivate participants to move continuously at least one mile per day, with a goal of hitting 30 miles by Thanksgiving. The rules were simple - KEEP MOVING, and motivate others. You could measure the distance however you pleased. You could walk, run, bike, dance, skip, or swim the miles. You could track your miles/steps using Fitbit, or you could estimate it using whatever other tools or know-how you had handy. You could update the group every day, once a week, or once during the entire event. Pretty easy, right?

I had 23 people join the event shortly after I posted it, but it stayed silent. Most of those that had accepted are already training for races or other events, or generally lead pretty active lifestyles... but no one posted anything. I guess I didn't really know what I was expecting. But then... a couple of people started posting their miles. Shortly thereafter, others began to chime in. Ever so slowly, a community developed... people who have no other connection to one another in life were cheering each other's accomplishments. Pictures were posted of trails and sweaty selfies. Personal records were smashed. Friends were made. It was a lot of fun!

Out of the 23 people who joined the challenge, 18 people regularly updated the group on their progress. Another 15 people didn't join the challenge or post their results, but commented supportive remarks or "likes" on other people's posts (I'm sure they were popping up on everyone's feed by that point). The participants included both men and women, ages 6 to 59. We had multiple long run finishes, including 1 Urban Dare winner in Houston (woohoo, Emily!), multiple 10K runners (4 officially participating in 10K races; 7 others finishing 10K+ distance runs), three Turkey Trotters, and a Half Marathon Finisher. In total, the group racked up over 763 walking and running miles!!!

When I set up the event, I made my goal to finish 70 miles before Thanksgiving. Without counting incidental steps as miles and only counting continuous miles... I ended the challenge with 43.6 running miles and 66.39 walking miles! Just one short year ago, finishing a one mile run would have been a challenge. Sure, I could walk far... but 5 or more miles? No way! What a year it has been, my friends! 

While I had hoped to end my challenge with a bang, I only got 5 miles in during my Thanksgiving visit back home in northern New Mexico. It was not for nothing, however... I used those 5 miles to encourage my nieces to work out with me. Both my oldest and youngest niece ran a little over a mile with me on Thanksgiving eve... 

and my youngest niece walked 2 miles with my brother and me after Thanksgiving dinner the following day!

On Friday, I convinced my mother, sister, and nieces to join me for another walk along the river near the ruins in my hometown. On Saturday, we did a very short, very cold, and very snowy mini hike! While our family did a lot of outdoor activities when I was a kid, it had been years since I could remember such an active holiday for us. I was elated! My favorite part? Both nieces said they had fun and that they would be asking to do more walks with my mom and sisters in the future. Hurray!

Given the tremendous success of this group, I toyed a great deal with the idea of creating a similar challenge to get us through the December holiday season. After much thoughtful deliberation, however, I decided to not go through with it. While November was a very busy month, December was scheduled to be even busier and I knew I just would not have time to moderate a group like this again. I've had several participants reach out to me and say how much they missed the community however... maybe I should start it up again in the new year?

I realize that we don't have a huge following for this blog, but I'm toying with the idea of linking this to a Facebook page so that readers could join a fitness community if they were so inclined. I've enjoyed a tremendous community of like-minded people on Instagram, but it's discouraging to find that some only reach out to you to sell you their products. I want this to be a solicitation-free zone. Thoughts?

Regardless, I think I will be setting up some kind of challenge in the new year. If you'd like to be included, drop me a line and let me know. We'd love to have you! I have two more long runs before my half marathon in four weeks... wish me luck. I've been avoiding this last one - hopefully I can motivate myself to finish it tomorrow. 

I start vacation on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll have more time to update this thing while I'm off. (PS - NATASHA! Where are you?). Thanks for sticking with me. If I don't post before then, have a safe, happy, healthy, and fit holiday! Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

She's a brick... (Just leave it at that)

"People who avoid the brick walls -- 
all power to ya but we all have to hit them sometimes in order to push through to the next level." -- Jennifer Aniston

At this point, I've talked ad nauseam about my upcoming half marathon. I know a lot of you are sick of hearing about it. I get it - I'm sick of thinking about it myself. It shouldn't be a big deal. Plenty of people have told me how "chill" the RunDisney races are - several friends have walked them! And I've done a half marathon before (12 years ago... when I weighed less than 130 lbs and ran an average of 4-6 miles/day). I'm doing everything right, supposedly... I'm training pretty regularly, and I never skip my long runs. So why am I freaking out?

My first "long" run in this training program was just over 6 miles. I completed the run the week before my birthday. The picture above says 6.10, but it was actually 6.5 - my phone died as I was running back to my car to cool down and stretch. This was the longest I had ran in over 12 years, and I couldn't believe I finished it. It wasn't the easiest run, but it wasn't the hardest. It definitely proved to me that I could conquer my 10K race in January... shame I scheduled a half marathon before it!

My next scheduled long run was supposed to be 7.5 miles, but I did just over 8. This was my favorite run to date. I felt good throughout my run, paced myself (and kept below the race pace that I am aiming to keep), and wasn't sore the next day. Sure, I was tired, but that's to be expected. Could 8 miles be my sweet spot?

Just two weeks after my favorite run, I was scheduled to complete a 9 mile long run. I recently discovered Hogwarts Running Club, and committed to dedicating this run as a virtual race with a friend from out of town. We picked the Platform 9 3/4K, which is roughly 6.05 miles. I knew my 9 mile run would be far in excess of the requirements, so I decided to push myself and see if I could best my previous pacing. While I met my pace and distance goal, I certainly paid for it. My feet were k-i-l-l-i-n-g me after I finished. I could hardly walk, nearly stumbling as I tried to make it from my car to my house (about 5 feet) when I returned home. Does this mean I can't do further than 9 miles? Do I need to stop? Is this my brick wall? 

As most idiots do, I turned to Dr. Google for answers. Plantar Fasciitis, maybe? No, that's not it. I never have heel pain, and I'm good about making sure any shoe I run in has good arch support. Lactic acid buildup? Possibly. I have a bad habit of not doing much of a cool down walk - I walk a bit, stretch a lot, and jump in the car to go home. I also don't have the best race nutrition. Bad shoes? Definitely possible. Despite only having my shoes since August, I had put approximately 300 miles on them. They felt fine when I walked, however, so I didn't worry about it. I checked out the tread and insole after my 9 miler, however, and was shocked to find that the mid foot was nearly worn through!

Shortly after doing my unscientific research, I headed to my local running store to be re-fitted for a new shoe. A friend recommended the Hoka One One, so I decided to try it since my foot pain was so severe. The Hoka was a dream in the store! So cushy and soft! Surely this, in addition to ensuring that I do a proper cool down and adding magnesium and potassium to my diet, would be my solution... right?

The week after my 9 mile run was Thanksgiving. I headed home to New Mexico to visit my family, and took a couple of my nieces out for a short run to test out the new kicks. The results were disastrous. Not only did the shoe not provide enough stability support, but the Hoka's felt like I was running with boxes tied to my feet. I sadly retired them until I returned to California, committing to doing two more runs (one long, one short) before I would waive the white flag and return them to the store. 

I took my arch support insoles out of my old shoes to put them in the Hoka's. My next short run was better, but oh-so-slow. I was so frustrated. Gone was my foot pain, but hello knee pain! I injured my knee twice in my twenties, and now have DJD, but my knee has given me surprisingly little difficulty since I started running in June. Ugh - is this worth it?

Sunday morning, I hit the trail in the Hoka's to attempt a minimum 10 mile run. I made sure to have my insoles in the shoes before leaving, and also taped up my knee with pretty-in-pink KT tape. Let's see if this works! The first two miles were miserable. The shoe's cushion made it feel like I was running on a mattress, and it seemed like an eternity before I hit the 5K mark. By mile 5, I really wanted to give up. My knee pain was manageable (dull but present) but my ankles were in horrible pain. I attempted to do my run/walk intervals at various points on the run, but I just couldn't find a stride/gait that didn't make me want to cut my feet off at the ankle bone. 

I finished my 10 mile "run" with my slowest pace to date (since I started tracking in August). Shoot - who am I kidding? I walked far more than I ran. The foot pain was less severe but still present (thanks to proper hydration and overly cushioned shoes, possibly?), but my knee was starting to throb for the first time since I started running and my ankles were burning. I was miserable. 

I attempted every trick in the book to relieve the pain - an Epson salt bath with ice, tennis ball stretches, foam rolling, stretching, etc. After messing around with these for a few hours, I decided to head promptly back to my running store to exchange the shoes. Hoka One One - you're so done done. The gal at the running store kept insisting that I move from Asics to Brooks, but the Brooks felt too similar to the Hokas for me to consider them. I tried about 5 pairs of shoes before returning to my tried and true Asics. I'm hoping this works out. 

No long runs for this girl this week... My week will consist of two or three short runs (2-3 miles) and one a bit longer (5-7 miles). I tried the new shoes on the treadmill tonight. I loathe treadmill running, but it's getting too dark too early to do otherwise. The shoes worked out pretty well overall, but I think I'll have to play with the laces a bit to get the right fit. So hoping that my outdoor runs fare better. 

Here's to a better finish to the last month of the year. Let's break down those brick walls, and show life we mean business! I can't believe we're here. It's been exactly a year since I started this more consistent fitness journey, and I'm proud to say I've mostly done it. I am so encouraged by the others who have joined me in this effort. It's great to see so many people committing to healthier lifestyles! 

Well, I better hit the hay if I'm going to be productive at all the rest of this week. Hope you have a great week too!