Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Beating the Heat, and ITB Stuff

As spring (what spring?!) drew to a close, I found myself asking fellow runners the same question over and over. How do you beat the heat? And let's be real for a minute here. In Florida, the reprieve from heat is pretty minimal; but there is a difference between the heat and humidity of June, July, August, and September and the rest of the year. Not wanting to admit defeat for four months, I sought answers.

While some answers came in almost technical form regarding water-replenishing-rates (see here), other answers I received were to run earlier, decrease my pace, bring water with me, run shorter distances...basically, take these four months as a chance to decrease my training. (I've tried to get up early to run about half a dozen times now, and failed to get out of bed each time!) The good news is that nearly everyone agrees that in the fall, when temperatures dip, running in the heat pays off. Suddenly you're a super speedster, breaking PRs all over the place.

Or something like that.

Anyway, like most runners, the thought of taking walking breaks (even if they're for water) sounds like cheating. When I first began running, I couldn't complete a quarter mile without walking. Being able to build mileage without a walking break is a huge accomplishment for me, and I absolutely hate having to walk. But, as I discovered a couple years ago when training for the half, planned walking breaks don't feel like cheating. Intervals, in other words, are a saving grace.

I've had to grapple with myself over this, because coming to the decisions to 1) ease up on my pace, and 2) keep my distances at a comfortable level has been hard. But in the end, I decided that it's more important to stay consistent (meaning running weekly) than to push myself to a level of discomfort. This also means taking water breaks. Tonight, I took a break after the first mile to have some water. I kept my pace comfortable, and although I've been doing two-milers for what feels like forever, I didn't give myself any grief over not increasing my distance tonight. The humidity just makes my legs too heavy.

I'm not really happy about this, but there's something freeing in running just to run again, not for a specific goal or race or reason. Just to run.

On top of this, I think I've mastered my IT band pain! I'm wearing something much like this or this. My strap is Velcro and has a little rubber bar on the underside. It's meant to be worn under the knee to support the patella, but I've been wearing it about 3 inches above my knee, pulling it nice and tight, with the rubber bar directly on the IT band, and voila! No pain! I've had three runs free of pain now, after two years of consistently painful knees.

This is seriously a lifesaver. I can go running without fear that halfway through I'll be in debilitating pain. I haven't tried for a longer run than two miles yet, so we'll see how this works for 5ks and the like.

There is a 5k June 2, right before I leave for my trip, that I may attempt. But I'm not really feeling an urge to go.

I leave for Israel June 3 so I won't be running or posting until the end of the June. I'm super excited, and the girls I'm going with are runners as well, so we may get a few runs in while there. But I won't have internet and, frankly, won't want to spend my time posting when I'm experiencing the trip of a lifetime!

So until then I leave you with these words: "Run often, and run long, but never outrun your joy of running." - Julie Isphording


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Inspiration: A Cycle

One of the best things about running and social networking is that your success can easily influence others. I can't tell you how many times over the past three/four years I've received messages from friends - some who were nearly off my radar and some I considered very close - telling me that my posts had inspired them to take up running themselves.

Now I see these people completing 5ks and half marathons and feel a wonderful sense of pride for them. I know what it is to succeed at such an accomplishment, to beat a PR or conquer a goal you never thought you'd meet. I am their biggest cheerleader.

And one of the most wonderful things about all of this isn't that I can take any sort of credit for their success (I can't, and would never attempt to); it's that their success then becomes inspiration for me.

These past two weeks have been brutal. The weather has been despicable, and the final two weeks of school are always stressful and busy. I was at school until 6:30pm Monday, 11pm Tuesday, and after 5:00 Wednesday through Friday. I put running aside to get my priorities straight and in order to get enough sleep. I wasn't really bothered by this; I knew I had to and I felt okay about it.

Then, this past weekend, a friend of mine ran her first Half (and kicked butt!), and another friend (who is rather new to running) messaged me for some advice and completed her second 5k with outstanding results compared to her first. These successes were the gentle urging that I needed to go out for a couple casual runs this week.

No hardcore training, no PRs, no long distances. Just casual, nice, stress-relieving runs for the purpose of being alone and clearing my head. I'm happier with two short runs this week than I was with the four long runs I completed three weeks ago, because my head was in the right space. My body didn't feel overtired; it felt strong. I felt strong.

Inspiration among runners is cyclical, and it comes from all kinds of runners. I love the tribe runners make up, where we cheer each other on and truly understand the pain, dedication, and exhilaration of it all like no one on the outside really can. I love that someone completing their first full mile without a walk-break can inspire just as much as someone completing a 15 miler in two hours. I especially love that people I know I've inspired are now repaying the favor and inspiring me.

Keep it up, everyone. This is a wonderful system we have going! You are all amazing!


PS: Just a note to add that my late-night run tonight was the first pain-free run I've had in over two years. I wore a different brace to target my IT band, and it worked like a charm. I can't WAIT for what this will mean for me in the long run! (No pun intended haha!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


As much as I love running, even I have to admit that sometimes it's just too much. I've been dancing around a bunch of excuses, feeling a blurry sensation that there's more to them than I'm aware; but it all crystallized yesterday.

Yesterday was a running day, the first of the week. I was planning to go. Eventually, my fatigue and sore muscles got the most of me. And what I realized today, as I put on PJs to grade papers and never changed into my running clothes, was that I'm burned out.

It started slowly. First, I hit my peak. I was daydreaming about running, thinking about it constantly. While I circled desks during testing, I let my mind wander to the run I'd have that evening. While talking to friends, running was the only thing I wanted to discuss. I was reading blogs on running, spending hours finding stretches, reading quotes and tips on improving form and keeping yourself moving.

But then I got to a point where I had to take time off. And coming back, I was hit by the realization that I have less than 10 days left of the school year. 10 days to finish finals, finish all the paperwork, pack up the room, get report cards done and comments in, deal with graduation and all that comes with it, attend and lead meetings...

What I realized, as I crawled into bed earlier and earlier each night, is that I'm burned out. Not necessarily on running, although I do think I hit a wall there because my last few runs have been mediocre, and that has an effect on my motivation, but on activity in general. I'm tired. That tiredness has caused my runs to be mediocre, which has led to some of the burnout. Vicious cycle.

But we all know that when we get too tired, too stressed, exercise sometimes adds more. The right amount of stress makes exercise a saving grace; too much, and all it does it wear you down. It's over-training.

I know the classic advice on overcoming burnout. Change your route. Change your distances. Try a new playlist, or running without music at all. But I don't want to deal with that right now. As much as my mind is craving a run, my body is just completely wiped.

So the excuses may keep coming. It's muggy. It's hot. (Have I mentioned, by the way, that I need to learn to run in the mornings? It's my summer goal, because the evenings - even when pitch black outside - are still humid and pushing high-80s already. It's only May!) I'm tired. I'm swamped. Too much cooking/grading/planning/working to fit a run in.

I need to learn two things. One, learn to accept that I need a break and it won't mean the end of my running. It may only be a week, or even less, and I can pick up again when things calm down. Two, learn to overcome this burnout and find some joy in a run sometime in the not-too-far future. Because overcoming burnout? Not my forte.

In fact, this may be the first real test of my 2012 NYR, because it's all about being consistent. If I burnout and take too much time off, I may lapse and have some run-less weeks. And I really don't want that.

I think I need to learn to be okay with cutting down to a couple runs a week, just enough to get out there, but not enough to let it take over my mind. I can't spread myself too thin.

I absolutely hate to do it, but a bigger part of me is dreading a run than is normal. If nothing else, that's a sign that something needs to change.

So, bear with me, folks. I intend to keep running weekly. But I also intend to get my priorities straight for the next ten days, so that I (and my students) can finish the year strong and smiling.

But seriously...what I wouldn't give for a nice drizzle to drop the temperature a few notches, shade the sun, and allow for a nice, cool, stress-free jog.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lovers Key Turtle Trot 5k

May's 5k was a little different than the last two I've done. Not only did I not really "train up" for it, but I knew going in I'd enjoy it for another reason. The Turtle Trot takes a route through a beautiful state park, over leaf-shaded trails, and ends at the beach. I decided not to aim for a PR. The purpose of this race was to remind myself that races are fun. It also helped remove the mental block inflicted by the past couple weeks' worth of setbacks.

Case in point: I almost purposely overslept for this one, because of my self-doubt.

M and I met K at 7:30 for packet pickup. She has about 7 1/2 weeks left on her pregnancy, and is seriously a superhero. I had to laugh at all the incredulous looks and questions she received. "Did you run today?!" Why yes, yes she did. My running buddy is unstoppable!

Anyway, I've never run a trail race before, and the last time I ran a trail was while camping two years ago. This was the main reason I decided not to stress about my time. The race started in a parking lot, went over some soft sand, and then into a shaded area where the trails are mostly packed sand, some shell, and some dirt/grass. I did turn my ankle a few times on some soft shoulders (nothing serious), and the biggest problem was that slower runners were difficult to get around because of the narrow and tree-lined trail.

Can I just mention that I think races should email, along with your signup receipt, some basic race etiquette reminders? Like: If you're running intervals, plan to walk, have a slower pace, or are pushing a stroller, start in the back of the group. Also, if you're running in pairs or keep a slower pace, be considerate to those trying to pass you - move over. I never start right at the line because my pace is barely under 10:00! I know people will overtake me, and I don't want to be a nuisance. This is common courtesy.

The race included a few small bridges (did I mention this state park is a beach park?), which I actually killed! I don't have a lot of hills to practice on, but for some reason I always seem to be able to pick up my pace on short bridges, and that's where I do a lot of my passing. The humidity took a bit of a toll and left me wishing I'd worn a Breathe Right strip. M, K, and I all ran separately, but I caught up with M at the end and we finished the last 1.5k together. The day was very sunny and warm, and the last half mile wasn't shaded, so that was brutal. Longest last km of a race EVER. But we ended on the beach and didn't do too badly.

K, me, and M at the end! Nice beach view!
My final stats were consistent with how I usually do. I seem to always fall just inside the first half of finishers for all categories. (Although here I just missed that by 5 people in the "overall" section.)

Time: 30:35 (Very pleased with this. I wasn't aiming for a specific goal, and the run was so beautiful, I was in no rush. This is consistent with my daily running pace.)

Ranking: 74/200 women, 198/386 overall, 13/28 in my age group.

Pace: 9:51

Now to look up some IT band stretches, because although my feet and legs mostly feel great, my right knee is giving me trouble as usual. I'm so glad for this race...and only a week and a half left of the school year! Summer brings a new goal: learn to become a morning runner. Florida heat in the evenings - even when totally dark out - is killing me!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reset: Finding the Fun Again

In case you haven't noticed, my last run was over a week ago. I've been in DC chaperoning a trip for my 8th graders. We had 70 kids go this year, and over three days we saw the important political sites, memorials and monuments, and museums. Basically, we were up at 6am and in bed after 11pm, going nonstop. I didn't run all week, and the pain in my knees, legs, and hips was so bad (and our weekend was so packed), that I took both Saturday and Sunday off.

I mean to run tomorrow, and my next 5k is on Saturday so I really need to get back into things, but I'm plagued with doubt. For one thing, I haven't run a full run (3 miles or more) since last Tuesday, because of the shoe dilemma. For another, I finally have new shoes but I haven't worn them yet, so if they cause any pain or trouble, I won't have time to figure it out before the race. The biggest reason for my self doubt is probably that the difficulty of finding new shoes has left me doubting my ability to even run at all...and this has led to frustration and the unfortunate effect of me forgetting to have fun while running.

I'm in need of a reminder that, while I took a week off from running, I didn't sit on a couch and do nothing. I've found myself constantly reminding myself that I spent three days walking all over DC; I certainly wasn't sedentary. So why do I still feel like I haven't gotten any exercise?

Touring DC definitely pushed my comfort level, but not at all in the way running does. Walking as a means to get to a destination is simply not the same as running for...well, for all the reasons we have that don't include "basic mode of transportation". I run to feel free, to relieve stress, to enjoy alone time, to clear my head, to feel amazed at myself and my capabilities...Walking from Point A to Point B simply isn't the same. Although over three days I probably got more exercise than I usually would based on my regular running schedule - walking hills, mile after mile, for hours straight - it just didn't have the same mental benefits as a good, strong run.

The point of this blog is to motivate myself when I'm beginning to lag. This entry is basically a way to rev my running engine, because after a week off, no matter the reason, it takes a ton of motivation to get me moving. I had a blast in DC and I'm so happy I had the opportunity to go and chaperone my kids. I haven't been there since I was in 8th grade myself, and seeing everything as an adult was so meaningful. I learned a lot about my students outside the classroom, and over all it was a spectacular experience.

Monday brings us back to the grind: three more weeks of school, and back into training. DC left me with something really motivating, actually. I have never seen so many runners! Everywhere we went, runners passed us. They jogged through the memorials, used the steps for training, ran through the streets. I had been drifting toward a place of frustration, which could have led to giving up. But those hundreds of runners reminded me to focus on the fun. I'm not going to worry too much about the 10k I've been wanting to do. I'm going to run the 5k Saturday (it's a trail race, so it will be for fun, too, not to beat a PR) and then I'm going to let my legs take me where they will.

I don't have to set a goal monthly. I plan to be a runner the rest of my life. That's my long-term goal, and it's really the only one that matters. For now, I don't want to add more stress to the one thing that is my stress relief. I just want to run, and have fun doing it.