Friday, January 21, 2011

Listening To My Body - and PT

(The following post appeared as a NH Runner column in the New Hampshire Sunday News on 1/30/11.)

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten as a runner is to listen to your body. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

As runners, we seem to naturally want to push ourselves, to stick to a training regimen or, quite simply, to just get out and run. It becomes easy to ignore what our bodies are trying to tell us.

After several weeks of marathon training logging weekly mileage that my body wasn’t used to and a series of hill and speed workouts, I started to feel a slight tightness in my left calf. But it was quiet enough to ignore.

I kept running and kept up with the training plan.

A week or so later, my body was done whispering and hinting to me. By then, its complaints were getting louder, now with a sharp pain in my left calf complemented by a nagging ache in my right ankle and shin.

I tried not to listen. But on a four-mile run that was supposed to be an easy run, my body had had enough and was downright screaming at me. I ended up walking most of that scheduled run, my mind swirling with thoughts of doubt and anxiety. The Boston Marathon was less than 100 days away and, mentally, I needed every one of those training days.

It was the first time I’d cried during this training. Sure, running hurt sometimes, but it didn’t hurt like that. But the tears weren’t tears of pain (although I’m sure I was holding those back a little), they were tears of fear – the fear of getting thrown off my training plan and the fear of not being able to cross the finish line in April.

After a brief mental breakdown at home, I sent a semi-panicked email to my running coach detailing my aches and pains – and complete failure on the four-miler. Until then, I’d kept the pain pretty quiet, thinking if I didn’t actually say anything about it aloud that it would be real.

She immediately jumped into action, telling me to back off training for the next week and replace all of my running miles with time on my bike trainer. My body needed a break.

Honestly, after several weeks of running in the cold and snow, it was nice to be ordered to stay inside. Still, my mind told me I needed to be there running. I had a training plan. I was missing miles. How would I make those up?

I rode 75 miles in my living room that week, hoping that all of the spinning was giving my body the much-needed rest it was craving. I stretched and used my foam roller more than I ever have, giving my body everything I thought it needed.

A week later, I did a test run, my fingers crossed that I’d be pain-free. But just a mile or so into the route, I felt that same tightness – like someone grabbing my calf muscle and squeezing as hard as they could.

Several days later, I ended up at a physical therapy appointment. Until then, I’d been avoiding even the thought of making an appointment.

I’d only gone to physical therapy one other time in my life, after a car accident a few years ago. I was in the midst of marathon training at that time, too, and although the injury was very minor, it sidelined me from the race.

This time around, I wanted things to be different.

I wanted a therapist that would help me work through it, who would help me ease back into a training plan. I wanted someone who understood that I “needed” to run.

I guess I should have been skeptical of my last physical therapist when he asked me how far a marathon was during my first appointment. And, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when his advice was simply to stop running – without advice to replace those workouts with cross-training, stretching, strength-training or anything else, I might add.

That kind of advice to a runner – especially one who’s in marathon training – is mental torture.

Yes, this time would be different, I told myself. So I sought out a sports-minded facility, one that came with strong recommendations from a few people. I think I was sold on Apple Therapy Services when I read on their website that their goal is to “bring our patients back to the work, the play, and the lives they love.”

Exactly what I was looking for.

The facility was impressive, with every piece of rehabilitation and stretching and strength-training device you could imagine. The staff was friendly and the mood was upbeat, much less like a doctor’s office than I expected.

My appointment and examination was beyond thorough. The therapist talked to me – and more importantly, she listened to me. I’m sure I was beaming when she said, “Our goal is to have you run the race to the best of your ability.” Finally, someone who got it.

I learned more about the calf muscles – yes, the calf is made up of two muscles – than I thought I would. I learned some specific stretches to use on my problem areas. I came away with handouts and visuals, but more importantly I left feeling positive, enlightened and reassured.

I already know it's important to listen to my body, but this whole experience has taught me to find a physical therapist that will listen to me, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

100 Minutes, 100 Days Out

One of the things I like best about cycling is all of the places I get to explore, the back roads that most people never get to see or experience.
I like seeing new things, hearing new things and smelling new things. I like the wind on my face, the sun beating down on me.

Unfortunately, the 75 miles I put on my bike last week got me nowhere - literally.

I've been experiencing a bit of pain in my left calf and right ankle/shin (I can't quite pinpoint it) during my last few runs. I hadn't written about it or mentioned it to many people because, well, if I actually say it aloud, it's more real.

I didn't want my mind to wander (any more than it already has) about the possibility of being, ugh, injured. So if I don't talk about these pains, they'll be less of a factor in my training. Right?

Not to worry too much, I don't think it's anything serious. But I was (am) worried about it becoming something serious - especially with the Boston Marathon less than 100 days away - so I reached out to Coach Lauren as soon as I felt that it wasn't going to be just a one-run thing.

Her advice was to back off running for a bit, which I was secretly happy to hear because I could just sense that running on it was making it worse. I had a recovery week coming up anyway with fewer miles, so the timing was right.

My goal was to focus on cross training. Specifically, I'd do 10 minutes on the bike trainer for every mile I had on my schedule. Think about that a bit. It's a lot of miles on a trainer. Luckily, I had "only" a 10-miler on the schedule for my long run.

Let me be clear, 100 minutes is still a long time on the trainer. It's just better than the alternative of riding 150 minutes, which is what I had on my schedule the previous week.

Surprisingly, I actually liked adding the bike trainer into my training routine, and Coach Lauren is going to build a cross-training day into my schedule from here on out.

Turned out, I didn't mind pedaling "nowhere," and I enjoyed being able to pull out the trainer and spin in the living room while watching television or chatting with TC. I liked that it gave me a legitimate excuse to take a break from running outside in the cold and snow. Shh, don't tell anyone.

Still, cross-training bike miles would have been much easier and more enjoyable in the summer or fall or spring. Anytime but winter, I guess.

In all, I put on 75 miles (a little less than four hours on the bike) in my living room this week. And my legs - and mind - held up fine.

Last night was my first test run after a little more than a week off. I went to the gym (in the midst of a major snowstorm, so I was one of four people there) and hopped on the treadmill.

I didn't feel any of the sharp pains I'd felt during my last few runs - and, bonus, all of my favorite running songs seemed to come up in my Shuffle. I stopped at four miles, even though I felt like I could keep going.

Everything was back to normal? I say that with a question mark because I'm not entirely convinced yet.

The plan now is to ease back into some easy, short runs. Don't overdo it.

Fingers crossed that my feel-good legs continue when I venture for a farther, outdoor run on Saturday and that a week of rest did my banged-up body some good.

Maybe I shouldn't think of the trainer as a trip to nowhere. After all, it took me quite far in my training and recovery.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010 Dailymile Summary

Here's a snapshot of my year-end summary from dailymile. Pretty cool, eh?

I couldn't capture the whole thing with my screen shot, so if you want to take a closer look, you can click here.

Now, off to print this and file away to pull out next January... 400 miles more next year to reach 3,000? Totally do-able!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Worst Thing About Training?

I think I may have discovered the worst thing about winter marathon training.

It's not the dark mornings or freezing temps. It's not the amount of time it requires. It's not the headlamps or balaclavas or other special gear I need. It's not chaffing or stomach issues or muscle aches and pains. It's not even the miles.

It's the shower. To be more precise, it's the work shower. (Cue Psycho music.)

Balancing the training schedule with everything else going on in my life - a full-time (and then some) job, the holidays, the need to maintain somewhat of a normal life with friends and family - has been a challenge. I knew it would be.

Finding time to fit in runs during the shortest of days has been even more challenging. I was on a roll of pre-work runs for a while (and, really, I actually liked them). But I'll admit I was getting just plain sick and tired of running in the dark. Plus, it's the coldest time of the day.

I decided - after a few mornings of just not being able to muster up enough get-up-and-go to, well, get up and go - that I needed a new strategy. I mentally could not take any more miles in the dark.

Taking advantage of some flexibility in my work schedule, I decided to hit the office early and sneak out mid-day for a few miles. To date, I've been able to get away with this a few times. Hopefully, since it will be only temporary, no one will tell me to stop. As soon as it's slightly lighter in the pre-work hours, I'll get back to a morning schedule. Promise.

The runs are fabulous - there's daylight and sunshine and, gasp, other forms of life.

What happens after the runs, however, is as far from fabulous as possible.

While getting ready twice in one day isn't ideal - really, who want to put on make up and dry their hair more than once a day? - the slight inconvenience of a second coiffing session pales in comparison to the dreaded shower.

Yes, I realize I'm lucky to have showers at my work. It gives me the opportunity to sneak away for mid-day runs and enjoy a bit of winter daylight.

But as I turn the faucet and watch the water trickle onto the dirty floor in a rarely used bath/locker room, I question whether hitting some a few more morning dark runs is more appealing.

Let me set the scene for you a bit. I work at a newspaper. For those of you who haven't been at a newspaper printing facility, it can be pretty dirty - all sorts of ink and paper dust flying around and landing on everything.

The shower room, it just so happens, is directly off the press room. Actually, it's inside the press room. Yes, inside the press room - which means that aside of the less-than-clean conditions I'm dealing with, I also have to shower just a few feet from a group of press guys wandering around.

Oh yeah, did I mention there's not a lock on the door?

My shower-at-work routine is well planned. I need to be quick and I need to be discreet. I can't have those guys knowing that I'm showering on the other side of the door. If they knew, I imagine that there would be a special press warning bell sounding - woman in the shower, woman in the shower, woman in the shower. (Yes, this is how is works in my mind.)

That's not to imply that they'd come in or climb through the air ducts to sneak a peek, but just the thought of them knowing I'm in there creeps me out a bit. At the very least, I could probably expect a few loud knocks on the door just to freak me out - followed by plenty of laughter and high-fives on the other side.

So, I've got to be quick. (I like to think my speed training will help with this.) Luckily, my office door is a straight shot to the press room and, even luckier, the woman's locker room is on the side of the press that doesn't house the main controls. Most times, I can sneak right in without being noticed.

The music is usually blaring and the guys are singing along unabashedly. It's loud enough in there on a quiet day that I don't have to worry about them hearing me.

But, through the vents and the not-so-heavy door, I can hear them (and the music), which makes the whole experience even more unnerving.

I always, always let the water run for a few minutes before stepping in - the first of several rules.

I learned this lesson last year when, because the shower hadn't been used in so long, that jet-black water streamed from the shower head. Totally gross. Eventually, it cleared, but I haven't been able to put the image of me standing under the stream of black water out of my head.

The condition of the showers, shall I say, isn't great. I don't blame the company. Although the men's locker room is used daily, several times a day, I think I might be the only one in years to use the ladies' showers.

Needless to say, it's a bit dirty. As I mentioned, the newspaper is a dirty business - and it's dirtiest in the press room, so you can just imagine how the showers look. A layer of paper dust on everything. The picture above doesn't do it justice - or injustice, depending on how you look at it.

There are two showers. I prefer the one the right (farthest from the door), but it has a burned-out light, so the lighting isn't great. So yesterday, I decided to try the one on the left. I turned on the water and, well, barely a trickle came out. Seriously, I could have washed better with a bottle of water.

I had a slight moment of panic. I'd already run. I wasn't in any condition to put my work clothes back on and get back to looking "professional" at my desk.

So I tried the darkened shower on the right. When I had just the cold water on, it streamed out with force, just the way I like it. Unfortunately, I also like hot showers - and the more hot water I put on, the less water came out.

I'd rather shower in a hot trickle of water than a decent cold shower, so I stepped in. (Another rule: always, always wear flip-flops.)

The water was coming out in such a ridiculously small amounts that I debated whether it would make more sense for me to just try some touch-ups with a cloth, dry my sweaty hair and just try to make it through the rest of the day without seeing anyone.

Instead, I opted for some shampoo. Big mistake. It lathered fine, surprisingly, but was taking forever to rise out. This was interfering with my next rule: make showers as fast as possible.

I heard the music coming from the press room and heard the guys singing along with the "Cult of Personality" - very loudly. Then, the press warning bell.
Woman in the shower, woman in the shower, woman in the shower?

I tried not to think about it. I rushed through the rest of the the routine, just doing enough to get through the rest of the day without disgusting my co-workers.

The only saving grace of this shower experience was that the soap packed in my travel bag was a bar from a nice inn in Vermont that TC and I stayed at last year. Great trip, great memories and, yes, great soap.

For an instant, I almost forgot I was uncomfortably showering in a dirty, dim shower just feet from my co-workers. Not really - the soap is good, but not that good.

**REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. Thank you for your support!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

How 2010 Added Up

Happy New Year, Friends!

I'll steal a few minutes soon to write a more reflective post on the past year and take a look at where the road is leading me for 2011.

For now, here are a few running and biking stas from 2010, thanks to my dailymile training page.

Total Miles: 2,601
Run Miles: 829
Bike Miles: 1,772

Total Workouts Logged: 215

Total Doughnuts Burned: 916
Total Gallons of Gas Burned: 138
Number of TV's Powered: 2,217

Trips Around the World: .11

See ya, 2010. Bring on 2011!