Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strength Training, Part 2: Hamstrings

Last week I wrote a post about the importance and relative easiness of strength work for distance runners. Not crazy circuit training or hours in the gym to get totally ripped; just simple exercises to keep our most important muscle groups balanced and free of overuse injuries.

In this & future posts, I want to share some of the strength exercises I do in case it's helpful to folks who want to get started with it or are just interested in learning about someone else's routine. I don't just want to list a bunch of exercises, though. One of the most valuable parts of going through all the physical therapy I did last year was learning more about how different muscle groups are involved in distance running, how they interact, what the risks are to those muscles, and how the exercises I was learning helped mitigate those risks.

Today's exercises are for hamstrings. Now, I am a total body movement nerd & find all the nuts & bolts & finer physiological points fascinating. But I know that not everyone does, and if you aren't interested in all the how & why & just want to read about my exercises, go ahead and scroll to the bottom; I promise I won't be offended. :)

Cast of Characters

quadsQuads. Our quadriceps are a muscle group made up of four muscles (sartorius, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and vastus lateralis). Your quads let you straighten your leg at the knee, and also play a role in flexing the hip (raising your knee upward).

hamstringsHamstrings. This muscle group is made up of three muscles -- the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. Your hamstrings bend your leg backward at the knee, and also perform a kind of "braking" function when your quads contract that prevents your knee from hyperextending.

Most muscle groups in the body come in complementary pairs that act on the same joint but pull in opposite directions -- ie, your biceps lets you curl your arm, while your triceps pull in the opposite direction & let you straighten it. The quads and hamstrings are complementary muscle groups -- your quads straighten your knee, & your hamstrings bend it backwards. This is a nice set to start with because the relationship between quads & hamstrings is pretty straightforward (as opposed to the muscles that work the hip, which can move sideways and in circular motions in addition to forward & backwards).

In a perfect world, complementary muscle groups like this would be equally strong & flexible. This wasn't a problem for our ancestors, because millions of years ago we spent our days doing a wide range of physical activities (running, walking, climbing, dancing, carrying things, etc.) that kept everything in balance easily. Nowadays, we do a lot more sitting, and for most of us physical activity is more something we plan and schedule for short periods of free-time than it is a way of life. When we are active, many of us choose one, maybe two activities that we really enjoy and do them to the exclusion of everything else. Whatever muscle groups that activity happens to work get strong, and if the complementary groups are left to languish, it's easy to end up with one muscle group weaker or tighter than its opposite. It's these types of imbalances that often lead to the nagging overuse injuries that plague many distance runners.

So what causes this lack of balance in the hamstrings & quads?

When we sprint, we move our legs through a pretty full range of motion -- we're using both the anterior (front-of-body) and posterior (back-of-body) muscle groups fairly evenly and at near-full extension. Long-distance running is different; by the very nature of what we do, we rarely run 100% all out, meaning we spend most our miles moving our legs through a relatively small range of motion. Most of time, that particular range of motion means using our hip flexors and quads quite a bit, and our hamstrings and glutes relatively little.


Click on pictures for sources

It's easy to see the difference between how much a sprinter uses the posterior muscles compared to how much your every-day recreational distance runner uses them, purely based on range of motion. (You can't see it as much in this picture, but distance runners usually come closer to full range of motion when they move their legs forward to begin the next stride. It's in the backward "push-off" part of the stride where there's the most dramatic difference.) It may seem like a relatively small difference, but because running is a repetitive activity where we do the same set of motions over and over and over and over and over, even a slight difference between how much we're engaging each set of muscles becomes magnified over time.

If runners don't work to strengthen those posterior muscles, they can become quad-dominant, a situation where the quads overpower the action of the hamstrings in a running stride. (Overstriding & heel-striking can also contribute to quad dominance.) When this happens, the hamstrings have to work harder to compensate (remember that braking function I mentioned above?), which can lead to strains and tears. Quad dominance is probably *the* most common cause of hamstring injuries in recreational distance runners. This article does a great job of going into more detail about how & why; as the author points out, hamstring strains and tears are notoriously slow to heal and easy to re-aggravate, so it's *absolutely* worth taking the time to make and keep these muscles strong relative to your quads. As an added bonus, strong hamstrings will let you ascend hills with strength and speed and sprint hard at the end of a race without injury, which is always fun. :)

My Favorite Hamstring Exercises

Before you get the wrong idea, please know that this is just a list of the hamstring exercises I like and find convenient and rotate through fairly often -- I certainly don't do them all every session or even every week.

My ongoing goal is to do strength work 3-5 times a week (5 times being an A+ week and 3 times being more like a C-). I usually do 4 different exercises, each for a different set of muscles -- ie, in one session, I might do a couple of sets each of a core exercise, a glute exercise, a hip exercise, and a hamstring exercise. The whole thing usually takes 15-20 minutes start to finish. On Mondays & Wednesdays I do it while warming up for karate; otherwise I usually do it last thing before bed during the Daily Show.

How many sets & reps I do of each depends on which exercises I pick, how those muscles feel, how much I did the last time, etc. If you are just getting started with this kind of work, I can't say enough about starting off slowly and paying close attention to how everything feels; especially if these muscles are on the weaker side, it's easier than you think to overdo it. This is especially true for hamstrings, so I would recommend erring on the side of doing a little less than you think you can than risking doing too much too soon -- remember that weak hamstrings are easily damaged and take a long time to heal. The upside is that it will take fewer sets & reps than you think to make a difference.

1) Single-Leg Bridges. (Also works the glutes.) The biggest mistake people make with this exercise is arching their backs in order to raise their hips higher, which defeats the point of the exercise (in addition to being bad for your back). Don't worry at first about how high you're raising your hips -- focus on keeping your lower back flat and feeling your hamstrings & glutes contract. It's also smart to lay your hands at your side palms up or across your chest, to prevent you from pushing against the ground (some people do it subconsciously). You can lift your other leg straight up as in the video, rest your ankle on the opposite knee, or fold your knee up against your chest -- whichever is most comfortable.

2) Stability Ball Bridges. This is a more challenging version of the same exercise; when first started PT, I could only do 8-9 before I felt like I was about to get a serious cramp, so definitely be cautious until you get a sense of how hard they are for you. I don't have a ball at home, but there's one at my karate dojo, so this is one of the ones I try to do when I'm there. Naomi also posted some strength exercises that she's been doing, including a version of this exercise that uses the seat of a chair instead of a ball, so that's another option if you don't have or want to get a ball. If you do get one, a 65 cm ball (the size I use for this) can usually be had in the $15-25 range, depending on what brand you get & where. (They just take up a lot of space, which is the main reason I haven't gotten one.)

3) Good Mornings. Good Mornings are a good one because it focuses on a type of strength called eccentric strength, which, put very simply, is the type of strength where a muscle gradually disengages in a controlled way (ie, slowly uncurling your arm while holding a heavy weight versus just letting it drop). You can google the details, but eccentric strength is a) extremely important for running muscles, and b) something people rarely work on developing.

In this video, he demonstrates how to do Good Mornings with no extra weight, which is perfect if you're just getting started. As your hamstrings get stronger, you can experiment with holding extra weight behind your shoulders. We have a set of adjustable barbells at home and when I do these, I just hold one over each shoulder with maybe 5-10 pounds on each side. This video shows how you can do them with a weight bar if you're super hard core & have access to it. The hamstring article from above gives good instructions for this one: "Start with your legs locked, back in neutral position and core tight. Slowly bend over at the waist, gently feeling the stretch on the way down. Keep your torso fixed -- don't be tempted to droop your shoulders toward the ground in an attempt to look like you are going lower than you really are. Constantly keep the core tight to support your back. On the way down, keep the barbell as close to your leg as you can to reduce the pressure on the lower back. Keep the back in the neutral position. When you have gone as low as you can with your knees locked, start to go back up slowly. (Avoid the tendency to jerk upwards or arch your back. If you feel inclined to either, use less weight.)"

4) Eccentric Hamstring Curls. This is another good eccentric strength exercise covered in the article above. Their instructions explain how to do it with a partner, but I just stick my heels under the couch & it works just as well. The rest is pretty much the same, though: "Kneel on a folded towel or mat with your toes pulled toward your shins. Keep your hands in front of your chest. Your partner [or couch] sits behind you, facing your back, pressing down on your lower legs with his hands. Keep your core tight, chest up, and hips forward so your body forms a straight line from your ears to your knees. Maintain this posture as you lower your torso toward the floor while resisting gravity with your hamstrings and calves. Control the range of motion as far as you can, catch yourself with your hands, then push off the floor to assist your hamstrings and glutes in pulling you back up to the starting position."

This one can be as easy or hard as you make it, depending on how much you use your arms to catch yourself & push off the ground, and how much you use your calves to control the lowering part of the exercise. Remember that if it's very hard at first, then yay! You've found an exercise you need to do! And there is no shame, ever, in starting off easy.

So there you go -- some of my hamstring exercises, along with a little of the how & why. Stay tuned for Part 3!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Week in Review: Jan 23 - 29

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

3 Weeks to Bay Breeze 10K

8 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

I knew going in that this would be a tough week. Most of the time I take Monday and Wednesday off, but since I was planning to volunteer at Coyote Hills 5K/10K/Half in Fremont on Saturday morning, then spend the rest of the weekend with Don's parents in Sonoma (more on that later), I needed to run every week day this week in order to make up for Saturday & Sunday. This was on top of the four days in a row I'd already run the week before, for a grand total of 9 consecutive days of running -- kind of a big deal, considering that I usually only run 3-4 days in a row.

Monday: 6 miles easy. Surprisingly, I felt great after my 10 miler the day before(first double-digit run of 2012, holla!), and other than a little asthma (which, OMG, I am sooooo over) and leaving me a bit tired for karate, it was a good run.

Tuesday: 2 miles easy + 3 x 10:00 @ 10K effort = 6.12 miles. For all that I adore track workouts, 10@10's are no joke, and they are even less of a joke when it's only your second speed workout in 2 months. As with the 5@5's last week, I was a little conservative with the first one because I wasn't 100% sure what I'd be able to do. I ran the first one at a 7:22 pace, which was not a cakewalk, but I felt like I'd maybe run it a little conservatively & could probably speed up a bit while staying in 10K territory. What felt like more effort on the second one resulted in exactly the same pace, so I pushed a bit more on top of that for a 7:18 pace. I figured I'd have to run the last one with effort like unto the last mile or so of a 10K to beat that; I ended up with a 7:14 pace, but I may or may not have done it by running the last half mile or so at a 6:35ish pace (WELL under 5K pace) which is kind of cheating & probably means I should have started that interval out a little faster. My PR 10K pace from last year was 7:12/mile, so I'd like to get back down to that, if not faster, & have it feel comfortable.

Wednesday: 7 miles easy. Cardiovascularly (is that a word?), it was exceptionally easy, which I knew I needed to stick to given that I was on day 7 of 9 without rest days. But I can't remember the last time my legs felt so tired & heavy! From the first mile, I felt completely out of gas. I thought about cutting it short because I was actually afraid I might reach a point where I was miles from home & no longer had the energy to run, but I managed to power through & finish the whole thing.

Thursday: 2 miles easy + 6 x 800m @ HM pace w/ 400m recovery 2 miles easy + 4 x 800m @ HM pace w/ 400m recovery + .88 easy. Day 8 of 9 consecutive running days! I was really, really tired mentally and very nearly just called it a rest day, but in the end I made it to the track. I got some good advice recently to try splitting up my early-cycle pace runs into intervals (ie, 6 x 800m @ HM pace rather than 3 consecutive miles), so that was the plan. On the very first one, though, I realized I was going to have the same issue as Wednesday -- regardless of the fact that my heart & lungs weren't really working that hard, my legs felt heavy & out of gas & just really couldn't move all that fact. It didn't really bother me, though, because I knew it was most likely just a result of over a week of running with no rest days. In consideration of that fact, though, I decided it was probably smarter of me to just do 4 HM pace intervals (which, believe me, was plenty challenging) & not jeopardize my ability to finish my long run on Friday (moved up from Sunday).

Friday: 12 miles easy 8.5 miles easy. It was supposed to be 12, but then social plans unexpectedly changed & at 4 pm I suddenly had 90 minutes until I needed to walk back in the door. Not 90 minutes of running time, but 90 minutes total, including dealing with stoplights & traffic. So the plan became "Run as far as you can until 4:45, then run back at the same pace or faster." It turned out that, of the 90 minutes I spent outside, 74 of them were spent actually running & 16 of them were spent waiting at lights. That was kind of depressing.

Saturday/Sunday: Volunteering / Sonoma.

Grand Total: 33.5

So basically the same as last week, which is okay. If I'd run everything as planned, it would have been a little over 38, but at least I can honestly say that I did the best I could under the circumstances and that none of those un-run miles were due to wimping or lazing out. I knew going in that it would be a busy week -- the next few should be a little easier.

Happy running! :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

100 Things to Eat [in San Francisco] Before You Die

Although lady-running brands like Lululemon and Tres Ladies would have us believe otherwise, there are in fact women in the world who run for reasons other than building up a calorie deficit they can then stuff with pie or cupcakes. Even more shockingly, some of us even enjoy rich, high-calorie food without mentally calculating how many miles we have to run to "atone" for it. A world in which I need permission from my training log to have pizza for dinner is not any kind of world I want to live in.

In celebration of this fact, I'm joining my friend Katt in her New Year's resolution to eat everything on the 2012 7x7 100 Things to Eat [in San Francisco] Before You Die list (and not running a single extra mile because of it). Several other friends are already on board, so I foresee an even more spectacularly tasty year than usual. :)

The List:

  1. Salt cod fried rice at Mission Chinese Food.
  2. Roasted chicken & bread salad at Zuni Cafe - Done and DONE! Absolutely divine -- you *must* try it.
  3. Dry-fried chicken wings at San Tung
  4. Carnitas taco at La Taqueria
  5. Chasu ramen at Katana-Ya
  6. Custard French toast at Nopa.
  7. Morning Bun at Tartine Bakery - Good, but I must question -- out of everything they have to offer at Tartine, why the morning bun? It's kind of dry & stiff & gummy & gets all stuck in your teeth. I'll take a croissant or a slice of tea cake any day of the week.
  8. Cellophane noddles with crab at The Slanted Door
  9. Eggs In Jail at Outerlands
  10. Kelvin-made ice cream at Smitten
  11. Pork sugo with pappardelle at Delfina
  12. Porchetta sandwich at RoliRoti
  13. Soup dumplings at Kingdom of Dumpling
  14. Warm egg salad sandwich at Il Cane Rosso
  15. Any seasonal flavor at Scream Sorbet
  16. Katsu curry at Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill
  17. Pizza margherita at Pizzaria Delfina - potentially the best pizza margherita I've ever had.
  18. The $24 prix fixe at Cotogna
  19. Benwaffles at Bar Jules
  20. Salumi misti plate at Perbacco
  21. Tonkotsu ramen at Izakaya Sozai
  22. Vietnamese roasted pork sandwich at Saigon
  23. Duck and sausage jambalaya at Boxing Room
  24. Loaf of bread straight out of the oven at Tartine Bakery - I've had it, say, an hour or two removed from the oven, but not straight out.
  25. Pistachio meatballs at Zare at Fly Trap
  26. Spicy baby octopus stew at La Ciccia
  27. Tuna tartare at Bix
  28. Clam chowder at Anchor Oyster Bar
  29. Amatriciana pizza at Ragazza
  30. Pupusas at Balompie Cafe
  31. Prime Rib at House of Prime Rib
  32. Pork belly bun at Chairman Bao Bun's truck
  33. The Little Star at Little Star Pizza - Love it!
  34. Argentine beef empanadas at Venga Empanadas - quite good, as I recall (though admittedly I'm not sure I'd put it in the top 100 food items in SF).
  35. Salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery - fantastic!
  36. Soft garlic pretzels at Absinthe's bar
  37. Whole wheat pasta with hen & liver at Flour + Water - I've never had a pasta at F+W that I didn't like, so I'm excited about this one.
  38. Burger and fries at Spruce's bar - Haven't had the burger, but everything else at Spruce was FABULOUS.
  39. Egg custard tart at Golden Gate Bakery
  40. Pierna enchilada torta at La Torta Gorda
  41. Langos at Bar Tartine
  42. Maccaronara with ricotta salata at A16
  43. Nojo sundae at Nojo
  44. Beer sausage at Rosamunde Sausage Grill - again, pretty much everything at Rosamunde is amazing.
  45. Duck larb at Lers Ros Thai - Lers Ros is definitely where we take out-of-towners for the best Thai, but I haven't had this dish.
  46. Secret Breakfast at Humphry Slocombe
  47. Chips and salsa at Papalote - I've only had burritos here.
  48. Seafood chowder at Bar Crudo Update! Had this & wasn't super impressed. Not bad, but kind of one-note in my opinion.
  49. Ginger snaps at Miette
  50. Chicken soup with dumplings at Leopold's
  51. Pho ga at Turtle Tower
  52. Carnitas at Nopalito
  53. Tika masala burrito at Curry Up Now's truck - Don has this for lunch all the time because apparently the truck often parks right by his work. He raves about it but I have yet to try it (though the deconstructed samosa was uh-MA-zing) Update! OMG Jesus Christ. Go get it. Get it now.
  54. Koulgn Amann at Four Barrel
  55. A dozen Sweetwater oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co.
  56. Chicken porridge at Bush Street's Out the Door
  57. Sandwich No. 1 at Lucca Delicatessen
  58. Pork shoulder fried rice at Sai Jai Thai
  59. Hamburger at 4505 Meats - love their charcuterie, but have yet to try the burger.
  60. Huarache with cactus salad at El Huarache Loco
  61. Spaghettini with tuna heart at Incanto - I will eat anything, any time at Incanto.
  62. Dim sum at Ton Kiang
  63. Pozole at San Jalisco (Fridays)
  64. Sand dabs at Tadich Grill
  65. Cookies-and-cream cookie at Anthony's Cookies - out of this world!
  66. Paper masala dosa at Dosa
  67. Meatloaf sandwich at Fatted Calf
  68. Foccacia at Liguria Bakery
  69. Omakase menu at Kiss Update! This was really, really good, but I still maintain that nothing but *nothing* in terms of Japanese beats the pre fixe at Kappa, which is very close by.
  70. Calamari with chorizo and black rice at Contigo
  71. Fried green beans at Coco500
  72. Peanut brittle cookie at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous
  73. Munsoned at Deli Board
  74. Faux shark's fin soup with black truffle custard at Benu - To be honest, I'm not sure I'm going to get to Benu this year...
  75. Super carne asada burrito at El Farolito
  76. Steak frites at L'Ardoise
  77. Fried chicken at Foreign Cinema
  78. Bone marrow at Alembic - I'm not big on bone marrow so this was kind of 'meh' for me.
  79. Crawfish beignets at Brenda's French Soul Food
  80. Potato latke with pickled beets at Baker & Banker
  81. Pickled egg at Comstock Saloon
  82. Breakfast eggs at Boulettes Larder
  83. Rice burger at Sandbox Bakery
  84. A cheese slice at Arinell Pizza - This is another that I'd have to say I'm not sure belongs on the list of top 100 food items in SF. I mean it's tasty, but it's a slice of cheese pizza.
  85. Sesame balls at Yank Sing
  86. Fried chicken sandwich at Marlowe
  87. Coconut buns from King's Bakery
  88. Malaysian curry laksa soup at Betelnut
  89. Korean taco at Namu's Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market stand
  90. Albondigas soup at Mijita
  91. Bacon-wrapped hot dog at a cart in the Mission
  92. Chicken liver on toast at Frances
  93. Seven flavors of beef at Pagolac
  94. Hawaiian Hangover cake at Bluestem Brasserie
  95. Deviled eggs at Park Tavern
  96. Ube ice cream at Mitchell's Ice Cream
  97. Green goddess salad at Prospect - To be honest I can't remember if I had this or not. I definitely had a salad there but I don't remember which one it was. To be safe I should probably just go back. ;)
  98. Chicken curry lunch special at Punjab Kabab House
  99. Fried chicken and waffles at Little Skillet
  100. Cracked Dungeness crab at Swan Oyster Depot.

This is serious business. Katt has figured out that we'll needs to hit 2-3 per week on average to make it happen, so there is a lot of work to be done. There may be a few pinch hitters due to allergies & geography (I've had Tamales Bay Oysters -- I don't need to drive an hour for Hog Island ones), but by God if we won't make a valiant effort.

Any of these you've already had? Any others we shouldn't miss?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Week In Review: Jan 16 - 22

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

4 Weeks to Bay Breeze 10K

9 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

Monday: No running; karate + strength work.

Tuesday: 2 miles easy wu + 4 x 5:00 @ 5K effort + 1.17 miles easy cd = 6 miles. OMG, I've missed being on the track so much! Given how hard my "easy" 4 mile run was on my legs the previous Sunday, I was a little tentative going into my first track workout in months, but it felt GREAT. Yes, I was a little slower than I was back in August, but significantly faster than I was expecting, so that's a plus.

Wednesday: No running; karate + strength work.

Thursday: 7 miles pseudo-easy. It was really supposed to be an easy day, but to be honest I just didn't have an easy run in me. As I've mentioned, easier runs in terms of effort have been significantly more painful for my legs & feet lately than faster ones; also it was raining today & I was not trying to spend more time than necessary out in it. I decided to do one loop of Golden Gate Park (fewer stoplights = less time in the rain) at a pace that was just fast enough to be slightly uncomfortable. I had some significant MT pain at first, but later in the run I experimented with increasing my turnover a bit and found that it actually did help (though I felt kind of ridiculous given that I wasn't really running fast enough to warrant, say, 100 strides per minute). In terms of re-building aerobic fitness, I was pretty pleased with myself for averaging 8:06 / mile going downhill & 8:28 going back up. Definitely not something I could have done two weeks ago.

Friday: 2 easy wu + 3 @ HMP (???) = 5 miles. A wet day out out at the track, though not especially cold (in fact, it was ten degrees warmer than Tuesday's speed session). Friday was supposed to be three miles at half marathon effort, but I got in a rush and left my Garmin at home (ironically, it seems more susceptible to being left behind than anything else) so I actually have no idea how fast I was running. I'm guessing somewhere between 10K & HM effort, but probably closer to HM. Not being back in great shape yet makes it a little more difficult to tell, and also my perception of how hard I'm running gets waaaay thrown off when I do anything other than intervals at the track and causes things to often feel tougher than they are.

Saturday: 6 miles easy. Some concerning MT pain (again) at times. Faster turnover does help some, but at a certain point this causes my "easy" run to become not all that easy anymore and I am not trying to do four tempo runs a week.

Sunday: 10 miles easy. I tagged along with Layla on the last part of her 20+ long run through Golden Gate Park, which was good because it was EXTREMELY wet & nasty out & we both agreed that we might have wussed out if we hadn't already planned to meet up. Also, this was my first double-digit run of 2012!

Grand Total: 34 miles

Progress! Hitting 2000 miles for the year means averaging ~38 per week -- I knew it would take some time to build up to that after taking December off, but it looks like I should be back in that neighborhood in another week or two.

Next week will be tricky because we're spending Saturday & Sunday in Sonoma with Don's parents and there really won't be any time for running (I think I've mentioned in the past that for me running & wine tasting weekends don't mix). That means that I really need to run every week day this week in order to stay on track with mileage, meaning that by this Friday I will have run on nine consecutive days. That's kind of a big deal for me -- I almost never run more than four days in a row, so it'll be interesting to see how my legs hold up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Strength Training is Not A Joke

muscle man//Begin rant//

Excuse me while I lug out my soap box.

Is it just me, or is strength training the red-headed stepchild of the run-blogging world? I feel like at least once a week I read a post where someone is like, "x muscle group / body part is acting up, AGAIN. I know I should probably do strength exercises for it, but it's not like I'm actually going to or anything. LOL!"

It's like the trendy new run-blogger thing to do. I find this utterly baffling, because

    • You have a problem.
    • You know what the solution (probably) is.
    • It's an easy fix. (Seriously. 15-20 minutes, 3-5 days a week. On the floor in front of the TV. Free. This is about as far from rocket science as it gets.)

It's like if it's winter, and you leave your windows open every day, and your house is always cold when you come home. "Ugh, the house was freezing when I got home, AGAIN. I know I should probably close the windows before I leave in the morning, but it's not like I'm actually going to or anything. LOL!"

Why on earth would you not just freaking do it? Why are we whining about shit and then semi-bragging about the fact that we're choosing not to fix it? Why??

//End rant//

Seriously, though.

A friend of mine and I were talking about strength work recently & she brought up the very excellent point that some people just really don't know what to do, or how to start, or how much/how often to do, or where to fit it in. (Plus there's all those folks with nagging pains / injuries who aren't bragging about how they never do strength work/cross-training who may not even be aware that that's something that might help.) So I thought I would share a little of what I do & why, in case it's useful. :)

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, physical therapist, or health professional of any kind. Everything I know about strength training & running, I've learned from sports medicine doctors / physical therapists / trainers / etc. -- it's not like I'm just making shit up -- but it's information that's mostly come to me in the context of dealing with my own nagging injuries, so it's possible that you might have different issues / injuries that need something a little different. Also, I hope I don't actually have to say this, but if you try anything and it hurts, you should probably stop & check in with a pro before continuing. Also, if you ARE a doctor / PT / exercise professional and anything here sounds sketchy or like I've misunderstood it, also do please let me know so I can fix it! Cool? Cool.)


What Is the Deal With Running Injuries? (A lightening-fast overview)

Maybe the first thing to get out there is that most running injuries are overuse injuries -- ie, it's not like football or basketball or something where you have people dislocating joints or twisting ankles or tearing their ACLs all the time due to a single traumatic event. Our injuries more often come on slowly over a long period of time. This is mainly because

  • Running involves a relatively small, repetitive set of motions.
  • It relies heavily on certain muscle groups and very little on others, which can cause imbalances in muscle strength & tightness.
  • Very few people are biomechanically perfect; in most people, tiny flaws & inefficiencies go unnoticed, but when you do the same motion over and over, thousands and thousands of times a week, the effects are magnified & bigger problems can result.

These are the root causes of most running injuries.

Three million years ago, hunting antelope on the savanna or whatever, this was less of a problem. Yes, we did a good amount of running, but we also did a bunch of other stuff like climbing, dancing, building, carrying heavy things, etc. that helped keep all our muscle groups strong and balanced. These days, because most of us have limited free time & don't have to physically exert ourselves all that much to make a living, we're more susceptible to finding one activity we like to do & just doing that all the time (eg, running).

The Origin Tale: How Angela Came to Strength Training

Back in the day when I first started running track & cross country, I went many many years without a running injury (other than my ever-present MTSS/shin splints). For this, I credit the facts that a) I was doing gymnastics at the time, which is pretty off-the-charts in terms of a full-body workout; b) I did a lot of horseback riding, which does wonders for the posterior kinetic chain; and c) track & cross-country included twice-weekly strength training sessions in addition to running practice. I did less running in college/grad school but also did a lot of lifting, swimming, karate, & also started playing polo. Post-school, I continued riding/polo & karate for a while.

But then I started getting back into running more seriously, and I quit riding/polo. Once that happened, it took me less than a year to develop an overuse injury. It started as an achy hip, which got achier and achier in spite of my valiant efforts to ignore it & treat it at home with ibuprofen & ice. Then I had two achy hips, which I continued trying to self-treat & run through, & this is all what led up to the Great RNR SJ Debacle, or as I like to call it, Sufferfest '10.

Cue sports medicine doctor -> physical therapy -> all strength training, all the time.

This was when I first heard the term posterior kinetic chain. It is pretty much PT speak for "stuff runners like to ignore."

It was also when I first heard the term pelvic stability, which is the extent to which your pelvis stays square and even when you run. (Hint: Even among runners, most of ours really don't.)

My biggest problems were weakened glute meds & hamstrings compared to my quads, and hip abductors that were not balanced strength-wise. To quote one of my PTs, "Probably 75% of all running injuries we see are the result of a lack of consistent strength training for the core & pelvic stability muscles."

It took 4 months for me to get strong enough to go back to safely building significant mileage. For the first time in a very, very long time, I was able to go back to running 45-55 miles pain-free last fall.

So you are crazy if you think I am *ever* ditching strength work ever again.

What/Where/When/How often/etc.?

People often overestimate what is involved in strength training. They ask, "Do I have to join a CrossFit gym/Pilates class/yoga studio? Do I have to spend 3 hours a week in the weight room? Do I have to do one of those Boot Camp circuit-train-ey things?"

No, no, and no. CrossFit and yoga and Pilates are all wonderful and good-for-you activities and many people enjoy them, and from what I understand, if you have the time & resources and enjoy some of that stuff, you are probably good as far as getting in enough strength training to avoid an overuse injury from running.

But if you don't, fear not! It can be way, way simpler than that. Do you have a few minutes at home, a few times a week? You're golden. (Remember, I'm just talking about doing enough to maintain balance between muscle groups & prevent overuse injuries, not getting crazy ripped. Crazy ripped is a different blog.)

Before we delve into specific exercises, here are my top tips for beginning a strength program:

Start small. If you are intimidated by strength work, don't really want to do it, or are worried about adding something new and big to your weekly routine, choose one or two exercises at first and make your goal just to do a set or two of something. Do you have 5 minutes, three days a week? Perfect! The routine that seems manageable is the one you're most likely to stick to. Just like with running, you can increase from there.

Distract yourself. The nice thing about at-home, isometric exercises is that you can do them really anywhere. Watch TV. Listen to music or a podcast. Whatever. If you've committed to five minutes (or whatever), set a timer. Another friend of mine got started by committing to doing strength exercises for "3 pop songs every other day."

Keep track of things. Just as with mileage, writing down what you do, when, & how much keeps you accountable and also gives you a sense of accomplishment. It also helps you keep track of which muscles you're exercising so that you can make sure you don't over-work one set of muscles while ignoring others, and lets you see your progress as you begin to spend a few more minutes or do more sets or reps.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I actually share some exercises. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Back on Track

Why hello, 6:xx pace! Long time, no see!

For the last two weeks, I've been doing easy runs in the 4-6 mile range in order to rebuild my aerobic base & generally remind my legs what running is like. Now it's week three, though, and I am running a 10K in four and a half weeks, so it's definitely time to get back on out on the oval and work on some speed.

kezar stadium

Gorgeous day at Kezar Stadium - a brisk 47° & sunny.

I can't really explain to you how much I love running on the track. Maybe it goes back to my track & field roots. There's just something about it that's incredibly satisfying, and I've missed it so much.

Plus, I got to lace up these bad boys again. (Yes, the laces do sparkle.)


It's totally okay to be jealous.

For the last few months it's been all marathon all the time, so it's been a while since they've seen the light of day. I love my Brooks Adrenalines, but I can't tell you how good it felt to slip my feet into something light and fast again.

I spent most of last summer working on my 10K as a vehicle for eventually improving my half marathon. During that time, my weekly track workouts alternated between five-minute intervals at 5K pace (usually 5-6) and ten-minute intervals at 10K pace (usually 3-4). If you want to improve your 10K time, I can highly recommend this regimen; in four months, I went from an exhausting 7:24 / mile pace to a fairly comfortable 7:12 / mile pace, on a grand total of about 25 miles a week.

However, I think I made a tactical error during the two and a half months between my last 10K and Clarksburg Half Marathon by trading those workouts for the track workouts dictated by my marathon plan (longer & slower). At the time, I figured that if I was in shape for a full marathon, the half marathon would take care of itself. It was after running the Clarksburg Half that I had the grand epiphany that the 10K and the half marathon are basically the same race, and the only real difference in training for them should probably be somewhat higher mileage & longer long runs for the half. I definitely won't try to train for a marathon and an "A" race half or 10K simultaneously ever again; the preparation is too different.

So I'm definitely going back to my trusty 5K / 10K pace intervals in preparation for the Oakland Half in March. (Until I get my speed back, I'm thinking of them more as 5K & 10K effort intervals instead of pace, but the principle is the same.) The only question about yesterday's track workout was whether it was smarter to start with fewer, longer, slower intervals or more, shorter, faster ones. I decided I'd try to do three 5:00 intervals at 5K effort, just to gauge where I was, and if I felt alright, I'd maybe try four.

And I have to say, I really surprised myself.

First, my "easy" runs lately have been in the 9:00 - 9:30 / mile range and rather unpleasant, so imagine my amazement when I clocked an effortless 8:20 on my first warm-up mile and 7:54 on the second one. Well, this is promising, I thought to myself.

After a few minutes of dynamic stretching, I changed into my flats & set off on my first interval. I wasn't sure what kind of pace I'd be able to maintain, but I tried to think of it the way I do the first mile of a 5K -- basically, run as fast as possible without feeling uncomfortable. (The uncomfortable usually sets in around mile 2.) My pace pendulum-ed embarrassingly between 6:30 and 7:20 on that first interval (out of practice, much?), but I was pleased to see that I was able to average a 7:09 pace and stay strong through the whole thing. After three minutes of rest, I ran the second at a 7:09 pace as well, which was easy enough that I felt like I could push a little harder. I ran the third at a 7:02 pace, and felt so good after that one that not only did I go ahead and run a fourth interval, but I did it at a 6:57 pace. (For comparison, my PR 5K pace is 7:05, and I'd really love to be able to legitimately call it sub-7 by the end of this year.)

I felt good enough that I could have run more after that, but didn't want to push it too much too soon. My intervals netted me 2.83 miles, so I jogged an easy 1.17 to make it a nice, round six for the day.

It's amazing to me how I can sometimes feel totally wrecked after an "easy" 4-6 miles through my neighborhood or the park and completely fine after a track session with the same (or more) total mileage. My podiatrist has suggested that it has to do with how much time my feet spend in contact with the ground with each step (more time with feet touching ground = more force on bones / joints / etc.; faster turnover = less time touching the ground = less force on the body = less achey-ness later). Makes sense to me.

I can't wait to try some 10K effort intervals next week. I'm not expecting to be as fast at my February 10K as I was by the end of last summer, but it seems like I'm definitely on track to be faster than I expected. Maybe a sub-1:40 is in the cards for Oakland after all. :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Week In Review: Jan 9 - 15

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

5 Weeks to Bay Breeze 10K

10 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

Monday: Karate + strength work.

Tuesday: 6 miles easy. Still super hard.

Wednesday: Karate + strength work + 4 miles easy. I wasn't trying to run any faster than usual, but this ended up being an 8:40 / mile run (as opposed to 9:15-9:30). I think the main difference was running in Golden Gate Park, which is considerably flatter in my neighborhood. Still pretty tough, though, & sunny to boot.

Thursday: No running; strength work.

Friday: 6 miles easy. I can't say it really felt easy, but I definitely felt a LOT closer to normal than I have. This run felt a lot more like what I expect a 9:06 / mile run to feel like.

Saturday: 8 miles easy. I met Courtney, Alyssa, and Sesa at the Presidio Sports Basement to run with the PamaKids Kaiser Half training group. When we realized they were planning on running a hilly trail route, we decided to just do flat, easy laps at Crissy Field. The first few miles were tough but once I got warmed up, I started to feel almost normal.

Sunday: 6 miles easy 4 miles easy. It was supposed to be six, but when everything below my knees was crying out in protest after a quarter mile, I wasn't sure I could (or should) make it. I felt sluggish & slow & tired on top of that which didn't help. I could've dealt with that; after all, the day before had been my longest run since Dec. 4, technically making this one of those "recovery" runs where you practice running on sluggish, tired legs. What I wasn't sure I could deal with was the immense amount of legitimate pain in my lower legs (shin splints, ankles, Achilles, feet, you name it). Seriously. It felt like someone was hammering a giant spike up through my feet and into my shin bones with every step. When it hadn't gotten any better by the time I got to 2 miles, I decided to cut my losses & just turn around. Later a bunch of us then went for an 8 mile urban hike through Golden Gate Park & up to Sutro Baths. Fun, but chilly and SUPER windy.

Grand Total: 28 miles

I'd wanted to get to 30 this week, but those last two miles were just Not Going To Happen today. Still, progress. Next week I'm going to start adding in a bit of speed & threshold work. Having a little bit of shin splint & ankle pain and a little tightness in terms of breathing, but I've got my fingers crossed that all that will resolve as I get back into shape.

On the plus side, I got up at 8:15 & 8:30 am respectively on Saturday and Sunday to run and didn't feel like I wanted to shoot myself, which is kind of a big deal since I am rarely up before nine even on week days. This is slightly encouraging re: potentially committing to one "early" run a week.

Hope you had a great week 2! :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What's in a Medal?

If you don't regularly read The Runner's Kitchen, a) you should start, and b) you may have missed a recent guest post by Sarah about race medals. (If you haven't read it, go ahead; I'll wait.)

In case you didn't read it, Sarah begins:

"There are plenty of things that piss me off about running culture: $150 stability shoes, white compression shorts, overemphasis on marathons, Gatorade stops in a 5K, and so on. But there may be nothing – nothing! – more maddening than the impression among recreational runners that the completion of a race merits a medal."

She's got a real point there. On plenty of occasions, I've seen the preoccupation with race medals overshadow the focus on running, competing, being active, challenging oneself, and yes, even having fun.

Some choice statements about medals that I've run across:

"[T]he 10K runners and the 1/2 marathoners got the same medal. This is my first event that gave medals to 10K runners and I was disappointed that my medal had the words 10K on it. I wish they had a separate medal for 1/2 marathoners. I run for the medals and train hard for my accomplishments and wish I was rewarded for my hard work, not just with a general medal that was shared with everyone."

"Yes, I have shamelessly searched for the races with medals. I am always amazed that not all races have half marathon medals much less 5K medals so you have to look for the races that have them."

medals in box"I wasn’t going to actually do said race, since I stopped training about a month ago and also because I felt the promoter was not being nice. However...I went for it and I’m so so so happy I did. I wanted my MEDAL!!!!! That was pretty much my main catalyst for this night owl getting up at the pleasant, lovely hour of...FOUR AM."

And, overheard at a party, a friend-of-a-friend speaking with a patronizing grin to another friend preparing for her first half-marathon, "I have sooooo many medals."

Is it just me, or do these statements feel a little...well, sad?

I keep mine in a shoe box under my bed. Clearly among my most prized possessions.

Today I'd like to discuss, if you'll indulge me, the difference between an award and a souvenir. I could be wrong, but I feel like that maybe where a lot of this knotty business about finisher medals gets tied up. Now, push come to shove, I'm ultimately in Shelby's camp -- it's your medal; you do whatever you feel like with it, and go on wi' ya bad self. That said, I do have some strong opinions about how runners think about medals, the emphasis that different ones of us put on them, and how all of that affects our relationships with running and racing.

In every situation I can think of where awards are given out, they are given to a select few, in recognition of an outstanding accomplishment. I can't think of any situation where something given to basically everyone is called an "award." I'm not saying there's anything fundamentally wrong with giving something to everyone; I'm just saying we don't typically call those things "awards."

For example, I got my first-ever medal at the Cowtown 10K in the 4th grade. My friends and I ran-walked it, and it was by far the longest distance that any of us had traveled by foot in a single stretch. I'm sure it took us at least an hour and a half, and we were wiped out for the rest of the day afterward, but we couldn't have been more proud. This is the only finisher medal I have ever placed around my neck, and I don't think you can blame me. I was nine, I'd just done something *incredibly* hard, and I'd never had a medal before. I was proud of it and I still have it somewhere, but it wasn't an award.

My next few medals came from track and gymnastics. At that point, getting a medal just for crossing the finish line was a distant memory. These medals--perhaps a third the size of the monsters from my road races--were given not for participating or training really hard or meeting an ambitious personal goal, but for winning, or very nearly winning. I probably ran several dozen races during that time, maybe as many as a hundred. I received less than a dozen medals. A similar ratio applies to gymnastics. Those are examples of awards.

Because most of my early exposure to medals was as awards, as something rare and elusive that was never, ever presumed or guaranteed, I think I came to public road racing with a slightly different mentality about them than, say, the folks quoted above. I don't share this in order to point out how awesome and fabulous I am for having won *real* medals or to belittle anyone who hasn't (it was high school, for god sakes, not the freaking Olympics). I just point out this period in my life as the one that shaped how I think about medals. (Seriously, you should've seen my face at my first road race when the volunteer handed me one. I'd forgotten all about the Cowtown medals and for a split second figured there must be some mistake, because I'd definitely seen a lot more than two people finish in front of me.)

Track MedalSJ RNR Medal

Left - A medal nearly identical to the one I received for winning the All-District 400 meters in high school. I didn't have to pay for the race, but I did have to run hard & perform well all season and qualify for the District meet with a certain time. Right - The medal I received for stumbling across the finish line at Rock N Roll San Jose in six hundred and something place with three injuries for a personal worst. All I had to do to get into this race was pay $85.

Many years later, I started reading running blogs, and was again pretty confused by how obsessed some people seemed to get with finisher medals. They're nice keepsakes, but going out of your way to run specific 5Ks and 10Ks purely because you get a medal? Bitching and moaning because your half marathon medal has been soiled by the word '10K'?

Bitch, please. Receiving a finisher's medal is basically the organizers saying, "Congratulations! You did at least the minimum amount of training necessary to finish the distance, and didn't get irreparably lost or forget to breathe!" Sure, that can represent a real accomplishment (I know it certainly did for me at my 1st marathon last December), but when you're sniffing out short local races every other weekend just because there's a medal, I'm going to go with not so much. Let's be real; in the grown-up world of adult road racing, how many medals someone has doesn't say as much about how fast, strong, or even necessarily hard-working s/he is as it does about how much free time and disposable income s/he has.

So no. Medals I have received for merely completing a race in which finishing was never in doubt really don't mean much to me in the way of achievement. Furthermore, I will go on the record in saying that I find the thought of paying good money to meander one's way down a course that poses little challenge for said one, just to get another $5 bauble to hang on the wall, kind of pathetic, not to mention financially wasteful. I mean...what IS the point of that, really? It can't be the accomplishment, if it wasn't a real challenge. It can't be just running the distance, because you can do that for free any day of the week. Let's be honest about what's going on here. At this point, you are purchasing medals; case closed.

medals on ebay

You can also purchase medals on Ebay. Some of them are a lot cheaper there!

Certain medals, on the other hand, do hold a lot of meaning for me. My first Cowtown 10K medal meant a lot, because 6.2 miles seemed like an impossibly long distance to my nine-year-old brain. I was pretty sure I could finish it, but not completely sure. I worked hard to prepare for it. I was afraid of what might happen. I encouraged my friends during the race and they encouraged me. It was a real, true challenge that I was not sure I was equal to until I did it.

I felt the same way about my CIM medal. Preparing for & completing that race was a real, honest-to-god challenge for me. Billable hours, those were. (And unlike the woman on Twitter that Sarah quotes in her guest post, I definitely understand that simply finishing a marathon doesn't make me a 'winner.' It makes me a marathon finisher, just like millions of other people on the planet, and nothing more.)

Absolutely, those medals are reminders of sweet accomplishments that I'm proud of. But the value they have for me lies in the fact that they remind me of the accomplishments, not in the actual, physical medals themselves. They are symbols, and it is what they are symbols of that's actually important.

They aren't awards. I'm under no illusion that I in anyway deserved them. I didn't earn them. The race just gave them to me, like they did everyone else who crawled across the finish line regardless of how hard they worked, because that's just what they do. As much as we like to wish it were otherwise (especially in the U.S.), working hard and accomplishing something challenging doesn't entitle anyone to an award. It entitles you to pride, to bragging rights, to be able to say, "I worked INCREDIBLY hard and achieved x." Awards, at least in a race, aren't for accomplishing something amazing relative to your own goals & abilities; they're for accomplishing something amazing relative to everyone.

Don't get me wrong; I like finisher medals. I don't throw them in the trash or give them away. But I do think that some of us maybe need to do a little shifting in how we think about them. There are a good number of us who I believe would do well to stop thinking about them as prizes that we have somehow "earned" with our mediocre performances and start thinking of them more like souvenirs. Kind of like when I went to Niagara Falls that time and bought a key chain. They remind me of a place I went and a thing I did and (hopefully) a good time that I had.

Note that I don't hang all my gift shop key chains up on my wall, or display them on a giant rack that reads ALWAYS PURCHASED, NEVER GIVEN or some such. (Though I guess some people do.) I am not under the impression that, by completing the journey to Yellow Stone and back and laying down a few bucks, that I have done anything terribly notable. If I tell people about this neat, fun journey I had to Yellow Stone, they might be all like, "Oh, nifty!" Then, they'll probably be like, "So where do you want to go for dinner?" Because, let's face it; that's about as interested as my non-runner friends are in any race I've run. (In that sense, I can sympathize with people like those who ran RNR Las Vegas and were irked that the race ran out of medals. If you think of it as a memento, as something that was advertised and supposedly included in the race fee as a souvenir of the experience, that makes some logical sense. What I can't get behind is people claiming they "earned" the damn thing. You didn't earn it, folks; you paid for it.)

Finisher medals are party favors. Like the wine glass you get to keep from a tasting. Or the heart-shaped candle holder you took home from your friend's wedding. They are not awards.

And let's not pretend that they are. It's fantastic that more people are running road races of all distances, getting active, and becoming healthier. I'm incredibly excited any time I hear about a friend taking on a new physical challenge, be it signing up for a first race, a longer distance, or a type of event s/he's never tried, and I'd never begrudge anyone being proud of a medal they feel like they worked really, really hard for (again, see CIM). But the accomplishment should be its own reward. Run and race for the challenge of it, for the achievement, for the social aspect, for the physical benefits and how it makes you feel. Run for the joy of it; not the party favors.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gear: Ethical Consumerism & Running

greenHaving gone to a hippy-dippy liberal arts college and residing in hippy-dippy liberal San Francisco, I've spent a reasonable portion of my life concerned about things like labor practices, social justice, civil & human rights, environmentalism, sustainability, etc. This can be conflicting sometimes because it's difficult to live in the 21st century without doing or supporting *something* that doesn't match my values in one or more of those areas. I try to do what I can, but you can only delve so far down that rabbit hole before you're living in the woods gathering roots & berries for sustenance and weaving your own clothes out of hemp seed and dandelions.

I suppose, to a certain extent, it started back in high school. I'm sure you remember the Nike sweatshop scandal of the early nineties. Before then, Nike was my brand of choice when it came to athletic gear. When I found out about their repugnant labor practices, I was horrified that I'd been supporting such things & swore off the brand forever. The real trouble, though, came when I tried to find another brand I could purchase with a clear conscience; although most weren't as bad as Nike, just about all the major athletic brands at that time were engaging in a few practices that turned my stomach. The one exception seemed to be New Balance, so that's what I ran in for a while. With regard to clothes, I kind of threw up my hands & started just buying stuff at Target. (Don't think I don't see the irony of that now.)

In college, my roommate & I found out we could no longer shop at The Gap, for similar reasons. Then we found out Old Navy was part of The Gap, so that was out. Then we found out that Taco Bell, our one fast food indulgence, was horrible to its tomato pickers, so then we couldn't eat there. Then we learned that formaldehyde is routinely used in the manufacturing of "wrinkle-free" frabrics, which brings up all sorts of environmental & health concerns, so we couldn't buy those anymore either. At one point, my roommate began an active campaign to avoid hearing about such issues, because once she knew, her conscience wouldn't let her ignore it. "Pretty soon I'm going to be eating weeds & hunting & skinning squirrels to make my own clothes," she said soberly. (There were a lot of squirrels at our school.) "It's the only way to be sure."

Which brings us back to, no, you can't do everything. Most of us don't have time to sew our own clothes, grow our own grain, make our own bath products from scratch, etc. In general, my philosophy has been to do what I can, within reason, and to do the most where I spend the most. My big ones are food and health & beauty products -- if it's going in or on my body, I can take the time to do a bit of research. I try to buy recycled and reusable as much as possible, and avoid patronizing companies known for poor practices.

In the last few years, though, I've spent enough money on running shoes & clothes that I've started to feel like that's an area where I should make more of an effort. If I'm going to regularly support a brand or company with my hard-earned dollars, I decided, I needed to find out what their policies and practices are with regard to the things I value. Are they environmentally responsible? Do they pay their workers a living wage? Are the chemicals they use in production safe, both for the workers handling them and the consumers who will be wearing/using the product?

For a long time, I kind of figured that unless I heard something particularly egregious about a certain product or company (like Nike in the 90s), then most of them were pretty much the same and it didn't matter which one I went with.

Well, they're not. It matters. And thanks to technology, it's easier now than ever to find out who's making it a better world (or at least not actively making it worse) and who isn't.

So I've started looking into the brands that I personally have purchased the most, and those that I see and hear a lot about in the broader running / active community. It's a bit of an ongoing project, but I'll try to post about one or two every week or so.

(Disclaimer - The purpose of these posts is NOT to make you feel guilty or like a horrible person if you prefer a brand or product that doesn't have the greatest practices ever, or to necessarily persuade you to switch to something different. It's purely to inform. I absolutely, 100% believe that we should get to make our own choices, using whatever criteria we want (this is 'Murika, after all). But I also believe that we make our best decisions when we have all (or at least more of) the information. These posts have one purpose, and that is to inform.)

Have a favorite brand or company whose practices you're interested in? Let me know!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


...which will actually be never, given my lack of playing the lottery (mathematician). But #whenireceiveamassiveandlargelydisposablewindfall doesn't have the same ring to it.

But seriously. When I do, I am totally buying this outfit

dragon outfit

and I will race in it forever.

Let's see that again:

dragon bra

dragon shorts

For $64.95 plus shipping & handling, you too can be stylin' (do the kids say 'stylin' anymore?) in your Hollywood Dragon gear from INKnBURN. (I like the cherry blossom outfit too, but push come to shove, I've got to go with the dragons.)

They also make compression sleeves. Wearing the compression sleeves apparently makes you run like you're in Flashdance:

compression sleeves

Now, short of receiving enough cash to make myself & loved ones debt-free for life, there exists no universe where I'm ponying up $65 for a sports bra or a pair of shorts. Likewise for the $33 arm warmers.

But still. My birthday is next month, so if you're feeling generous, you know what to get me now. ;)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week in Review: Jan 2 - 8

Running ShoesThis is my weekly training journal. Including it in the blog gives me a little extra accountability in the mileage department & helps me stick to my schedule. :)

6 Weeks to Bay Breeze 10K

11 Weeks to Oakland Half Marathon

First weekly training journal of 2012! One week down, fifty-one to go.

And holy base training, Batman. What a week it's been. Not in terms of mileage, or eventful-ness; just in terms of what I was expecting after not running a single mile for a month.

During the last three weeks before CIM, I suffered from some serious training burn-out. It was a good thing I was tapering because forcing myself to run five and six times a week had by then become a serious psychological battle. On December 5, I told myself, "Kudos to you for hanging in there. For the rest of the month, no running unless you really, truly want to. No schedules. No 'have to.' You worked really hard for the last few months, and you deserve a good, long break."

So I didn't run. For a month. I just never felt the urge (which I figured was just as well, given that I had a few niggling aches & pains that probably needed a chance to completely heal). But on January 2nd, I set up my Garmin a la ultra-RoadBunner (distance only), laced up my running shoes, and set off on my usual six-mile loop.

Let me tell you. For the first time, I think I really, truly empathize with not-so-active folks just starting to take up running. That run sucked ass. ASS, I tell you. I was not above slowing down a little as I approached the corner so as to catch the red light. Oh no no no.

My friend Teresa (who also ran CIM last month) has apparently been feeling the same way:

(Jessica & I ran track together back in the day. Her first marathon was last April.)

I knew that four weeks of no running would take its toll and I would have some fitness to make up. However, I had no *idea* it would be this dramatic, that I would be counting down tenths of miles on 4 & 6 mile runs and at a 9:00+ pace to boot. (I went ~3 months without running at the end of 2010 because of my hip, but I started back so slowly & gradually that I never really noticed the effect on my fitness.) Had I known, "You deserve a month off" would have become "NO ONE deserves to feel this bad on an 'easy' training run." I would have forced myself out the door for a short jog *at least* a couple of times per week, and gladly.

Monday: Strength work + 6 miles "easy." By which I mean ass-hard, in spite of the fact that I was running at a pace that, four weeks ago, I would have called leisurely. I can't be sure, but I think the last half-mile was actually harder than the last two or three miles of CIM. The level of soreness the next day was somewhat awe-inspiring. And GAWD did my feet hurt (!??).

Tuesday: Strength work + 4 miles "easy," with hills. I stopped and rested at the top of each one. Which meant every couple of blocks. Feet still hurting weirdly.

Wednesday: No running; karate + strength work.

Thursday: 6 miles easy. I kind of thought this run might have felt a little easier than the previous two. Or it could have just been that I'd been expecting it to suck, and bad things always seem a little less bad when you know they're coming.

Friday: Strength work + 4 miles easy. Still feeling like a 200 pound walrus with emphysema, but getting it done. Enough foot pain after this one to cause a little limping (?).

Saturday: No running; strength work.

Sunday: 6 miles easy + strength work. On Sunday it was hot as balls, by which I mean it was almost 70. (Hey, it's January.) I think this run was maybe very slightly less hellish than the previous ones. On the other hand, six miles feels really hard right now. To the extent that I find myself using all the same mental tricks as I did on my long runs during marathon training.

Grand Total: 26 miles

I didn't really set an "official" goal for this first week, just because I wasn't sure how I was going to feel, but in the back of my mind I'd been kind of hoping for 20-30 miles, so not too shabby. It's been hard to force the rest days, since there's a part of me that thinks I should be running any time that I'm physically capable of it in order to get past this unpleasantness as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the rational part of me knows that less-than-peak fitness + not enough rest = injury-ville. For the next few weeks, I'm hoping to increase my mileage by ~3-5 miles per week, which seems pretty reasonable.

By Sunday, the bizarre foot pain was mostly gone. Other positives this week include no shin splints and no PT tendon pain (I've gone AirCast-free 3 runs out of 5), and as of Sunday evening I feel great. I'm still having some tightness in my chest during the runs; it's not really full fledged asthma, but I'm clearly not quite back to normal yet, either.

By the by, I'm experimenting with tracking mileage online. I've never done it before, so (as you can see on the sidebar there) I'm trying out both DailyMile and RunningAhead. At some point I expect one of them will speak to me (or just amuse me) more & I'll give up the other, but for now everything is in both.

Happy first week of 2012! :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Musings on 2012 Races

ORF HalfSo there are still a bunch of things about my life that are up in the air as far as 2012 goes, meaning I'm not really ready to commit to much in the way of races (at least not in any way that requires a credit card). But I also got kind of got sick at looking at the row of question marks under "Race Schedule" over there on the side bar, and I'd hate to be caught unprepared once other non-running aspects of my life are settled, so I figured it was not a bad idea to at least start thinking about what races I'd like to run in 2012 if I had my druthers.

My 1:39:xx half marathon is still out there, so the first task was to find a few good halfs amenable to a fast time. (BTW, can we all agree that when we're talking about half marathons, the plural is 'halfs,' not 'halves'? I don't know why, but somehow that feels like it makes more sense.) At the pre-CIM sleepover in December, there was much discussion about the March 25 Oakland Running Festival & several bloggers were already signed up for various distances, especially the half. It seems like people liked the course and that the race was well-run and -organized, so I signed up. This one will be an 'A' race since my goal is a sub-1:40 or at the very least a new PR.

To fill in the gap between now & then, I'm also tentatively planning to run the Bay Breeze 10K on February 18. This wouldn't be an 'A' race or a PR attempt, just a bit of a tune-up before the half marathon to gauge where my fitness is. (Because let's face it -- I've got some serious ground to make up after not running a single mile between December 5th and January 2nd.) Another plus is that the course is the same as the Summer Breeze 10K last August -- flat, fast, and familiar.

I also wanted to find another half marathon around two months after Oakland. As I've learned, even once you're theoretically in shape to run a certain time, circumstances don't always cooperate, so it would be nice to have another one already on the schedule in case I don't meet my 1:39:xx goal in March (entirely possible, given how much fitness I've lost). The only half that appealed to me really at all in May was Avenue of the Giants, which I definitely want to run sometime, but it's early May, and I'd rather have a fully two months between HMs. (Plus, AotG involves more traveling than I really want to do for a race right now.) Instead, I decided on the See Jane Run half in Alameda on June 3. For the most part, I've heard good things about it. And if I do get my sub-1:40 in Oakland, it would be a good chance to see if I can do it again (or--dare I say it--do even better).

Odds are also good that I'll run SF PrideRun 5K or 10K again (June 23, presumably). It's small, close to home, reasonably cheap, and for a good cause, so there's no real reason not to. I had good luck with the 10K last year, so it would be fun to try to beat my previous time, or to try to place or PR in the 5K (mostly just for fun, since I probably won't have done much 5K specific training at that point).

I definitely want to run Summer Breeze in San Leandro again in August (the 24th last year, so I'm assuming it'll be the 25th this year). If I get my sub-1:40 in Oakland or Alameda, then I'll probably run the 5K, since 21:xx at that distance is my next big goal and 2 months is plenty of time to do some 5K-specific training. If not, then the flat, fast SB course will be another good place to try.

Finally, I threw in the Zippy 5K in Golden Gate Park on April 24. I've kind of wanted to run this race for a while - it's close to home, it's cheap, and although it's SUPER competitive and I'd be doing well to even make the top 20 in my A/G group, I haven't run a good, solid 5K since August 2010 (and any kind of 5K since Jan 2011) so I'm kind of curious to see where I am with it.

That's as far as I've planned. My fall is still pretty up in the air in general, so I'm leaving everything after that open for now.

Other races I've vaguely entertained include....

What's on your calendar for this year? Anything you're really looking forward to or on the fence about? Any other hot Bay Area races I can't miss?

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: Lookin' Forward....

20122011: ...Lookin' Back

2011 was a great year for me running-wise. What am I shooting for in 2012?

Goal 1: Miles, Miles, Miles

I can't tell you how pumped I was last fall to be able to run enough miles to train for a marathon without ending up hurt again. It was kind of like magic. Schedule-wise, though, it was tough at times. I had a training schedule with specific distances & paces each day, and if I couldn't get them done (or at least most of them), I knew I wouldn't be ready for CIM. It was also mentally hard to look a schedule that was already planned out & force myself to stick to that, day in & day out, without negotiating. (Though, I'll be honest -- there was a bit of negotiating at times.) This is a big part of the reason why I was soooo ready for a running break after CIM.

In 2012, while I don't (yet) have a marathon to train for, I want to try just increasing my casual mileage (ie, runs that are not speed work or threshold/pace runs) without worrying about a specific schedule. I want to try being creative & flexible with when & where I run. If I have a morning meeting at Stanford, maybe I take my running clothes & do a few miles at the Dish or around the campus loop. If I'm in San Mateo or Burlingame, maybe I head to Sawyer Camp trail for an hour or so. Maybe I set out without a clear plan of exactly where I'm going to go & how far & improvise some new routes. And maybe--shock of shocks--I occasionally talk myself into getting up early for a short run. (I'm toying with the idea of making one morning run per week my goal, but I'm not ready to commit to it yet. Maybe once every two weeks. Or once a month.)

snow kitty

I've heard folks get all kerfuffled when your blog posts have too many words and not enough pictures. Here is a picture of the snow kitty Don made while we were visiting his parents in Washington over Christmas.

I've never really tracked my cumulative yearly mileage, but with all the time I spent recovering from hip problems at the beginning of last year, I was kind of shocked to see that I still managed to run about 1,320 miles (~25/week on average). This year, I want to shoot for 2,000, or ~38.5/week. I have no idea what kinds of craziness my year holds, so it's completely possible that circumstances could conspire to make this impossible, but for now, that's my goal.

Of course, if I'm going to up my miles again, I'll need to make sure to keep up my...

Goal 2: Strength Training

Boy, have I learned my lesson about THAT. It's no coincidence that my hip issues started just a few months after I kind of abandoned my cross-training activities; for basically all of 2010, I couldn't run more than 20-30 miles a week without ending up in pain. Or that, after six months of aggressive strength work in 2011, I was able to go back to running 45-55 miles a week with no problem. I've actually been reasonably consistent about it, so my goal this year is just to try to do at least that well & slightly better. I haven't decided on the specifics yet, but I want to try to do core work every day & hip, glute, & hamstring work maybe 4 days a week each.

Goal 3: 1:39:xx Half Marathon

'Nuff said. A "B" goal is just to beat my current PR of 1:46:10, which by now is SUPER old.

Goal 4: 21:xx 5K

My current PR of 22:00 is also getting a touch old, so I'd really like to see this one drop, which will mean at least 2 months of serious speed work at some point during the year.

Picture break:

yummy goose

Eyeing the Christmas goose.

Goal 5 (maybe): Marathon #2?

If I were to run a second marathon this year & try to beat my time, it would probably be CIM again in December. My half marathon & 5K goals are more important to me right now, so race-wise the year is more or less spoken for through August (more on that in another post). Our fall travel plans are also up in the air right now as well, so depending on how all that shakes out, training for a marathon may be out of the question anyway. If I don't run a 2nd marathon this year, I'll probably target one early in 2013.

Goal 6: Eat Better!

It's not that I eat all that terribly (especially compared to the average American...), but I can always do better. I'm still thinking through the specifics of what I want to commit to, but here are some of my ideas:

  • 1 - Eat More Fruits & Vegetables
    • Whenever possible, fill my plate with half fruits & veggies & eat them before anything else.
    • Keep them easily accessible & ready (and with me, if I'm gone long) - I do my worst eating when I get hungry unexpectedly.
    • Snack on fruits & vegetables.
  • 2 - Eat Less Filler
    • Cut out any parts of a meal that offer little nutrition unless I'm actually excited about eating them (eg, I tend to mindlessly eat rice with certain Chinese or Thai dishes because that's how you're "supposed" to eat it, not because I particularly enjoy it all that much or miss it if it's not there. Same thing with deli sandwiches - I actually enjoy them more if I throw out the top piece of bread.)
    • When I'm not actually hungry, satisfy salt cravings with chicken broth (which I actually really enjoy).
    • Put on my plate everything I intend to eat for a meal, then stop (except for fresh fruit/veggies).
  • 3 - Drink More Water
    • Carry my water bottle with me regularly. (I did this the week of CIM & without even trying ended up drinking ~2 liters a day.)
    • Start & finish every meal with a glass of water.

That's probably enough to be getting on with for now. Happy 2012, all! :)