the longest running break

After almost a year of training, including some cross country coaching at a high school, my running life has come down to this:

A foam roller and a yoga mat.

Ugh.

I woke  up the Monday before my Sunday race in November with a pain in my left knee that I recognized from something I struggled with in my right knee when I first started running. When I look back, I probably shouldn’t have run 13 miles on it like that.

So, now three months later, I’ve probably run 1 mile total. I wake up most nights with a stiff knee. And I am beyond frustrated.

I –and the trainer I work with (at school, not personally)– am fairly sure it’s an IT band issue. So, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. The problem is that out of frustration or laziness, I haven’t been doing it.

Which brings us to last week. Running has been an incredible gift for me. I’m a better writer, sister, daughter, friend, and teacher when I’m running. I have less stress. I sleep better. I eat better. I’m just all-around a better, happier, healthier person. And I realized that part of my increased stress levels in the past month have come from this lack of exertion.

So, I’ve started. Slowly. Stretching out the side of my leg. Working with this foam roller. And trying to get back into some sort of shape so when the moment does arrive that I can run again, I will be ready.

I’ve decided upon the Nike Training Club workouts (on an app for the iPhone) and the Insanity Cardio routine. I’ve been alternating these thus far to see what my knee can take. The first week was good. I’ve targeted the key tight spots in my leg and am working on them.

Now, the keys are focus and ignoring frustration.

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running: 13.1

I’m going to start with the absolute truth: running 13.1 miles is hard. Though not impossible.

I registered for this half marathon on May 1st. At that point, I think the longest distance I had run was 5 miles. But when I was talking about it the other day, the conclusion was it’s one of those things that people do because they can.

I will admit that I woke up one Monday morning about 2 weeks ago and just wanted my training to be over. My legs hurt. I was exhausted every day, and I just wanted to cross the finish line and take the recovery week I promised myself.

Now…I can’t wait to do another.

I do want to say that the two things I was most thankful for were:

  • Hill repeats. Quite frankly, as a workout, I find them fun. The steeper, the better. The Rose Bowl. 1st Street downtown (where I could see people shaking their heads in their cars as I would run to the top at full speed and jog back down–over and over). And, even on a treadmill when it rained or I got home after dark (which was more and more often in the last few weeks). When I hit the hills on the course I ran, I was so grateful that I was used to running hills with tired legs.
  • Sprint intervals. I think this is what saved me. As of a month ago, the 8th mile of my long runs was my breaking point. It was absolutely mental. And two weeks ago I did my long run on a track. Every even mile of the ten-mile run had 8 100-meter sprints. This helped out in two major ways. One, it forced me to push through that eighth mile. Two, it was also the first time my legs were absolutely numb while running. I’m extremely glad I felt that before race day.

I will admit that, in addition to the hard, I am extremely, terribly sore. Yoga has helped, but I definitely know I have work to do before the next race!

train like an athlete. eat like an athlete. (well, kind of)

This is one of those things that a lot of people don’t really want to hear. Anytime I say it aloud, I’m met with “oh, please” or eye rolls or an explanation of how “lucky I am.”

It never occurred to me how much food is required to fuel the body. But the last month or so of workouts have been a little brutal. From what I can track and tell, my daily workouts burn anywhere between 1000 and 1500 calories. With my base calorie requirement, this means I need to be eating between 2500 and 3000 calories. Now, I could eat some french fries and call it  a day.

But when you’re trying to eat only healthy food, that’s a heck of a lot of calories. Take lunch today for instance, in order to achieve 850 calories, I included pasta with basil pesto (which was a majority of the calories, honestly), an egg salad sandwich (2 hardboiled eggs and 1 tbsp of wasabi mayonnaise) on olive bread, and a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigerette.

I think one of the most shocking things running has taught me is how little I  used to eat on a daily basis. It was never with the intention of “dieting.” I always just thought I was choosing healthy foods at small portions.

I realize now that I need to learn to space my eating out and to time it fuel my workouts. Some weeks I do really well, and other weeks–like last week–I fail pretty badly. The fatigue that results is unbearable.

My experiment for the week is to track my food during the work week (when my workouts are the hardest oddly) just to make sure that the final 7 weeks before my race are not an utter disaster.

“in some countries that would be considered walking”

By some strange twist of fate, I have been asked to and have decided upon “helping out” with the cross-country team where I work. I do not say coach because, well, in the grand scheme of running I know nothing. (And more importantly, if someone walked into my classroom and started calling herself a teacher, I’d be pretty annoyed.)

At any rate, the title of this post was overheard during a drill.

When I went out to run alone yesterday, I thought about this. Not about my speed because I am ridiculously slower than the students with whom I work. But I thought about it in terms of effort. Usually when I run, I do it at the easiest pace I possibly can.

And I wonder why I make such slow progress.

So, I eliminated music from my runs. Which was a really hard thing for me to do. But I completed a two-hour run without music and knew that I would be okay relying on the sound of my breathing and my footsteps.

Once that hurdle was passed, I decided to make a conscious effort to improve form and speed. Doing the same thing in the same way over and over again (slowly in my case) just ensures that you can do that very thing in the same way forever, I realized.

And already I feel much better about my progress this week.

Nice to know that “to teach is to learn” applies to coaching as well.

the ugly: on running

I’m going to call this one ugly because it is.

Bruises.

I woke up Friday morning–the morning I was supposed to complete an 8-mile run–with a nasty bruise on my left calf. Upon further inspection, I realized my knee was also bruised along with the shin of my left leg.

I love my foam roller. It’s made my life infinitely easier. It knocked a minute off my mile time. It’s made me extra-flexible. And it’s solved my life-long knee problems. Seriously. No creaking. No clicking. No stiffness.  Not a drop of pain while I run. I don’t have to wear a brace anymore when I run.

But some days, I seriously look like I’ve been boxing instead of running.

And it hurts. The bruises are tender. And sore.

And they’re ridiculously ugly.

the good, the bad, the ugly

When I started running, I promised myself I would not complain on this blog about it. When I started writing (or at least starting writing a novel), I promised myself I would also not complain about it.

I realized, though, that it gives the illusion that these things are easy and come easy and cause absolutely no pain.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Both are a personal, mental, physical, spiritual and emotional struggle. Every. Single. Day.

And it’s funny because they hit the exact same sore spots inside of me. The same self-doubts and the same struggles.

I had lunch with a friend a few days ago, and she said something that has made me think. You have to give honor to the pain. She went on to say that she knows that I just want to push forward to forget about it.

Keep moving has been my slogan for about a year and a half.

But I’m not super-human and these things are not easy. So, I want to give myself the space to honor the pain and to be completely honest about how hard these things are.

what motivates me to run

I stopped after work today to buy Epsom salts and Icy/Hot compresses. After soaking my legs in a hot tub of the “salty” water, I applied the strips of the Icy/Hot to my legs–along the area where the awesomely useful yet ridiculously painful IT bad exists.

For a brief moment, I thought, why?

Then, I sat down to catch up on news and came across an article in one of the running blogs I read about how to remain motivated to run.

Running sucks.

It really does.

In order for me to run and to continue to improve, I have to stretch, foam roll and heat/ice compress for at least an hour day. I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that my Friday nights (the night before my long runs on Saturday mornings) are going to be a continuous marathon of stretching, rolling and compressing until November (my first half marathon).

This article went through ways to motivate yourself to get off the couch and to run several times a week. And I had to laugh. At this point, my bigger problem is telling myself that I cannot run.

I had to talk myself out of running hills this afternoon with the threat that I would possibly destroy any chance I would have of completing my 7-mile run on Saturday.

So where does this come from?

Two places, I realized.

First, running is the only thing that I do that is 100% about me. It’s also mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually the healthiest thing I do for myself. I stopped getting sick. My stress levels are way down, and I’m overall happier. Everything I do to run—including the prep work—requires no thought. And for someone who is constantly thinking, that’s such an awesome break. I even think about why not sit on the couch or read a book. But honestly, I don’t focus on those things. When I run, I have no choice but to clear my mind. Clear it or get hurt is what I tell myself.

And the second thing is that I’m ridiculously competitive–with myself. I love watching my split times. I love pushing myself farther. I’m not even that good, and I love it.