Hero Worship

I love running, and I love podcasts about running. Today’s episode of Everyday Runners highlighted Libby James, a 77 year-old runner who, in 2013, smashed the half-marathon record world record for her age group. Her time was 1:45:52, which makes my half PR of 1:53:34 look like I’m the older runner!

Libby lives in Ft. Collins, CO - 45 minutes from where I live. My hubby and I run in Ft. Collins almost as often as we run here. Two years ago we ran the Firecracker 5K on July 4th in FC, and when they announced the winning Masters runner’s time and that she was 75 years-old, my jaw hit the ground! As I watched her accept her award I marveled at how someone so petite could be such a running powerhouse (although the muscles in her legs were A-MAZING!).

During the podcast, she told host Matt Johnson that she didn’t start running until she was 50. She found that she enjoyed the quiet time running gave her, and she also found she was pretty good at it. When Matt asked about her training, she said she runs 5-6 days a week, usually a 4 mile loop near her house. Some days she runs a little faster, and on the weekends she likes to run a little longer, up to 10 miles. Cycling is her favorite form of cross training, although she does it because she enjoys it, not to improve her running. I loved that she seldom runs with a Garmin!

Libby inspires me for many reasons, but I think what really speaks to me about her is the fact she truly is an everyday runner accomplishing extraordinary things with her running. She doesn’t have a coach, PT, or massage therapist standing by like many runners do who accomplish what she does. She raised kids, had a job, and didn’t become “famous” by doing some of the crazy stunts that seem to lately make “ordinary” runners less ordinary.

And…drum roll please…she’s not currently a marathoner! Maybe it’s because I’m focusing on shorter distance right now, but I’m so over reading and hearing about nothing but marathon training. Hey! Racing a 5k to the best of your ability can hurt more and test your limits just as much as running a marathon. I’m thrilled to learn about a masters runner who actually enjoys running fast at shorter distances.

One of her comments really hit home with me. She told Matt how sad she thinks it is when people give up running and racing because they’re slowing down and can no longer run the fast times they did in the past. That’s when you need to run for the pure enjoyment and love of the sport itself.

I have to admit that getting older scares me, but with someone like Libby James as a running role model, maybe the saying “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better” can be more than just a cliché.


Vortex Fitness

I live in Wyoming, and like most other states, the Polar Vortex has spanked us way too many times this winter. Most of my runs have been done on my treadmill; since December I’ve run outside only about 5 or 6 times. I’m thankful for that moving belted beast in my basement, but I’m also thankful for the other fitness toys I’ve accumulated over the years.

Cross training isn’t only good for the body, it’s also important for the mind (well, my mind anyway). I’ve become an every-other-day runner, and on my off running days I spin, lift, punch, kick, yoga and Pilates my way through my early morning workouts. Not only have I maintained my sanity, all of these other workouts have improved my running by leaps and bounds (pun sort of intended).

I look forward to each run, and can finally say that each run has a purpose. I also crave my cross training days; knowing that in an indirect way, those workouts are making me a stronger runner. Running will always be my first love, but there are so many other fitness activities to be enjoyed as well. So bring it on, Vortex! Me and my arsenal of fitness toys are ready for you.

Long Time Gone

It’s hard to believe the last post I made was in July. At least it was July 2013, which is “only” seven months ago. Still, it’s been too long. Here’s what you’ve missed:

August - I ran the Heart & Sole half marathon in Boulder, CO with my son and husband. It wasn’t a PR, but I did beat last year’s time by 5 minutes. I was hit by one of the worst side stitches of my life at the start of mile 12, which gave birth to a Dr. Google fest while I tried to figure out why I kept getting them. I found many causes and even more “tried-and-true” solutions, and I tried them all so I really have no idea which one finally cured me.

September - No races, but with two coming up in October, I kept on training.

October - Aahhh! The race I’d been waiting for, which had nothing to do with the race itself. Hubby and I flew to Long Beach, CA to run the LB half. We’d run the full the previous year, and fell in love with Long Beach, running alongside the ocean, and the thought of escaping the quickly approaching Wyoming winter. The fact that my oldest son lives in L.A. is the icing on the California cake.

A week after running Long Beach, we ran the Denver Rock ‘n Roll half. It was going to be the first time my son had run that race, and we were all so pumped to be running it together. Two days before the race, my son got hit with the stomach flu, and the only run he felt up to on race morning was to the bathroom. My heart wasn’t in it, but it ended up being my best race of 2013. I shook off the mental monkeys that always show up around mile 8, and ran one of my strongest races ever. I also felt surprisingly good for just having raced the week before.

November - (Insert trumpet sound here.) The great rematch of the Turkey Trots happened on a frosty, windy morning two weeks before Thanksgiving. I ran our one and only local Turkey Trot 5k to support the homeless shelter. The course is hard - like downhill the first half, uphill and into the wind (always) on the way back kind of hard. The last time I ran it, I was edged out of 3rd place in my AG by two stinking seconds. This time, being familiar with the course, I saved something for the end and nabbed 1st place in my AG.

Since November it’s been mostly treadmill miles, thanks to the Polar Vortex that won’t quit. My longest run has been 7 miles, but the miles have been faster and with more purpose.

As I read my post from last July, I realized how much has happened but how little has changed. I could have written that post last week (except for the part about the long bike rides). I’ve been on a quest to put the love and fun back in my running. Right now the answer seems to be shorter distances and faster paces as I try to regain some of the speed that used to come so easily. Letting the clock define my worth as a runner is something else that needs to change. Like most things in life, it’s a work in progress. Stay tuned…


Girl Just Wants to Have Fun

Ok, maybe the “girl” part is a stretch, but the lyrics of the song playing in my head as I write this don’t say “woman just wants to enjoy her runs again.” Last Monday as I awoke to the sound of my annoying cell phone alarm, my first thought was “Ugh! How far do I have to run this morning?” For someone who normally looks forward to every run and hops out of bed 5 minutes before the alarm goes off, that thought was a red flag for trouble ahead.

As I checked my training plan to see how far and how fast I needed to run, strapped the Garmin on my wrist, and decided on a route that would give me the exact 6 miles required by my plan, it became clear why I was dreading the run. So many numbers, so many rules…running had become full of far more must-do’s than want-to’s. Whatever happened to just heading out for a run and going as far and as fast/slow as I wanted?

Over the past month I bought a new bike (and I love it!) and started cycling. Each time I ride I have the excited butterfly feeling in my stomach that I used to get when I ran. Since I’ve never enjoyed cycling before, this was really strange. Then, like a well-timed slap upside the head, it hit me why I was turning to cycling and away from running to get my endorphin fix. There were no have-to’s on the bike! I had no pace, time, or distance expectations. I would ride until I didn’t want to ride anymore, and come home tired but happy. To my surprise, I was putting in some pretty good mileage too - 20 mile rides became the norm rather than the exception. My endurance craving was being well-fed.

But what about the running? It was my first love, and I’m certainly not ready to end the relationship. So running and I went to therapy - naked therapy. For one week I ran without Garmin; going whatever pace and distance felt right for that run. The next week I put Garmin back on, but turned off the sound and refused to look at it until I finished my run. Now we’ve progressed to the point where I decide on how long I want to run, and whether it’ll be an easy or a faster run. Garmin goes along, and lets me know how far and how fast I went that day.

I think running and I are going to make it. We’ll see each other 4-5 days a week, and spend around 10 miles together once during the week. This will keep me half marathon ready, but not burned out and filled with running dread. I’m not ending my relationship with cycling, because other than loving every mile, it’s making me a much stronger runner. This girl (ok, older girl) is going to have fun.

Testicle Envy?

Apparently my husband has a couple of appendages that enable him to run faster and stronger than me. Evidently the testosterone in these little guys is a magical fluid that gives men the edge when it comes to speed and strength. I’d like to file a formal protest against the testicles for robbing me of my thunder!

When I met my hubby he wasn’t a runner, but because most of my running partners were guys, he started running. I remember coaching him through his first 5K and really having to slow my pace so we could finish together. A year later he ran his first 10K. We each started in our assigned waves; my wave started a few minutes before his because, well, I was faster. The year after that we ran the same 10K together, and try as I might to lose him on the crowded course, he hung with me and we crossed the finish line together. A few months later we attempted to run a 5K together and he nearly killed me! The realization set in that he had become a faster runner than me, or maybe we was willing to endure more suffering - either way, that race was the end of our running shorter races together. I became content to compete against myself and other women instead of my hubby.

A couple years later I decided to try a half marathon, and he assured me he had no desire to run that far. Yeah, right. Within a month he was training for his first half. Yep, we crossed that finish line together too; me feeling like road kill and him barely sweating. Are you seeing a pattern emerge here? Last October was the big one - his first and my second marathon. I was dancing in the street at mile 22 and it was his turn to feel like road kill. Finally! A distance where he couldn’t steal my thunder. Hello, thunder - I’ve missed you.

We continue to train for and run half marathons together. He holds back and I run way outside of my comfort zone, but we manage to finish together. I know the day is coming when I’ll have to kiss my thunder good-bye again. I won’t be able to hang with him speed-wise and he’ll want to see how hard he can push it. Thanks for that, testosterone.

This weekend’s half marathon made me realize that if I want my thunder back, I’m going to have to go long. Way long. Maybe I’ll run another marathon, maybe I’ll try an ultra. Now that I’m getting into cycling, maybe I’ll do a century ride (knowing that he will refuse to sit on a bike seat that long).

Don’t get me wrong; I love having a live-in training partner who doesn’t complain about how much money I spend on gear and race/travel fees. I’m glad he’s finding success and continuing to get faster. I’m not exactly slowing down, but I just can’t seem to beat him at the speed game. I love running too much to suck at it, and trying to out-race hubby brings that feeling on in full force. If it’s the testosterone making him fast, I’m out of luck, but distance might just be the magic elixir I need to get my thunder back.


Money for Miles

Yesterday as I looked at my race schedule for the next 6 months, I thought about something I’ve never given much thought to before - how much I spend on what’s supposed to be an inexpensive “hobby.” A rough totaling of last year’s race fees showed almost $1,000 for me and the hubby to do what we love. Those zeros don’t include travel and hotel expenses for the races we do out of town, which would be…all of them!

Now that I’m getting into cycling, I’ve been looking at some rides and duathlons. More money for more miles. While looking at the map for one of the rides, I realized that I’d be paying to ride the same greenway path I ride every week for free. Sure, I’d get a nifty water bottle for my bike (which doesn’t have a bottle holder yet), and a lovely cotton t-shirt (which I would cut the sleeves off and make into a workout shirt). The duathlon? About the same swag, but I’d also get an official finishing time that would live forever somewhere on the internet. Wait! Couldn’t I run a mile, then ride 13 miles, then run another 3 miles - for free - without leaving town? Absolutely, but would it be as much fun as being beaten by people with more duathlon experience than me? Probably.

Why is it that we “recreational athletes” (meaning anyone who doesn’t get paid for competing and winning) lay out so much money every year to run the same distances that we could run for free? Is it for the tech t’s with the event name? Is it for the finisher’s medal we get at the end of half and full marathons? (Ok, I love those!) Is it for the privilege of beating ourselves up over goals not met, PRs not set? How about the “official” finishing time that anyone with a Garmin could get free of charge?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, and I doubt all this deep thinking and ciphering is going to stop me from clicking on the Register button any less often. However, there’s this little voice deep inside my head that’s asking me if it might be fun to run and ride those distances for free, without the pressure of race day performance. What if I train, run, and record my own results? Will that make it any less real? Will I actually try it? Stay tuned…

The Right Ingredients

Being someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking, I’ve never equated running with cooking. Then I read a couple of attitude shifting books that helped me realize that running, just like cooking, requires the right ingredients to make a quality “meal”. Like food, the ingredients that make a tasty meal will be different for everyone. Matt Fitzgerald’s book RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel and Greg McMillan’s YOU (Only Faster) both emphasize the importance of finding what works for you, and de-emphasizes the importance of diligently following a prefabricated training plan. McMillan’s book even takes the reader through the steps of determining running strengths and weaknesses, then shows how to take a running plan apart and rebuild it, ending with a plan specially tailored for you, rather than the person who wrote it, or some elite runner who may have followed it.

For the past month I’ve been paying attention to the ingredients that work or don’t work for me, and in the process have become a healthier, happier runner. The main ingredient of my running recipe is frequent running at various distances and paces.

After recovering from an injury this spring, I figured I was running too much, so dropped down to 3-4 runs per week. As I got stronger post-injury, I bumped up my frequency to 4-6 times per week and realized that my body actually felt better with more running. The key to this, however, is not running the same pace, same distance, and same routes day after day. With the help of Greg McMillan’s pace calculator, I’ve figured out my proper training paces for specific types of runs and have been following them religiously. I also have a purpose for each run, and have it firmly implanted in my mind before I take that first step.

Another important ingredient to my mix is hip, glute and core training - sometimes everyday and sometimes every other day. I’ve narrowed it down to about 10 main exercises that seem to work for my particular issues. I also lift heavy weights for my upper body 2-3 times a week, which may or may not help my running, but I sure do like looking buff (from the waist up, anyway).

A surprising deletion from my recipe is lower body weight work. For some reason, lunges and squats don’t agree with my knees or hamstrings these days. Straight leg deadlifts, glute bridges galore, one leg balance work, yoga, Pilates, and some band work seem to keep my legs strong and my knees happy. Hill running is a great form fixer, in addition to being the equivalent of strength work for the quads, glutes and hamstrings.

The most surprising addition to my meal du jour is cycling. After some run-ins with cars and some headers over the handlebars during my mountain biking attempts, I’d pretty much decided that anything on two wheels was not for me. Then I borrowed a bike that fit and took a 20 mile ride on a Sunday afternoon. My heart and lungs got a workout, but my joints were having a rest day. My run seemed a bit easier the next day, so I did it again on my next cross training day. Same result, only better. Taking it as a “here’s your sign” kind of thing, I spent some money on a decent bike that I will want to ride instead of leaving it in the yard, hoping someone steals it.

An important take-away from both books I read is that as runners, we’re constantly changing and evolving. What works now may not work in a year, or it may work forever. Keeping a training log helps us track what works and see what needs to be changed.

There’s really so much more to running than just running, but like anything worthwhile, it’s worth doing right. Take some time to tweak your recipe to find just the right ingredients. Change simply for the sake of change isn’t always a good thing, but necessary changes can mean the difference between being able to lace up and hit the roads, or having to sit on the porch and wave at the runners passing you by. 

Get Strong to Go Long

This is me, three years ago, when I gave up the miles for the muscle.

After focusing on running for the prior 14 years, I decided I wanted to see how far I could get in an online physique photo competition. The main focus of my workouts became weights, weights, and more weights. My running time diminished from miles to minutes of all-out sprints on my treadmill. Short, high intensity cardio that wouldn’t eat away at the precious muscle I’d built was the name of my game. I got strong, leaner than I’d ever been, and I won 1st place in my division.

Fast forward three years, and I’m focusing on the miles again instead of the muscle. Most of last year was spent training for a marathon, and while I continued to lift a couple times a week, it was a half-hearted attempt at best, and while I still have a pretty good pair of “guns”, I did lose some of my hard-earned strength. Little niggling aches and pains began to pop up, and I took it as my sign to try and regain some balance in my workouts.

Lately I’ve done some research on the importance of strength training for runners, and it reinforced what I’d been suspecting - to run long (and continue to do so injury-free) it’s important to get strong. Runners should lift heavy - we build our endurance through our runs, and need to build our strength by lifting heavy weights 2-3 times per week. Deadlifts, squats, pull ups, pushups, rows, overhead presses…these exercises train movements and not just muscles. Runners move, so it only makes sense to train your body to move strong.

It’s also important to do the strength training that focuses on those small muscles in the core that no one sees (I’m not talking 6-pack abs here either). This  http://www.therapeuticassociates.com/sports-medicine/stability-routine/ is one of the best compilations of running stability exercises I’ve been able to find. Watch the short clips and learn to do them right.

I don’t plan to ever give up the miles again - I love running too much. However, I’m never going to give up my strength either. It’s going to help me keep running until I’m 150. Heavy weights twice a week, and stability training 3 times a week - that’s my plan to get strong so I can go long.

Numbers, Numbers and More Numbers

I’ve never been crazy about numbers. Math has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, and until I became a teacher, I did a pretty good job of avoiding it. When I became a personal trainer I learned to compute macro percentages, calorie equations, rep maxes…but I never thought of them as numbers (not the evil kind anyway).

Since I’ve been highly focused on running, the numbers have been creeping back into my life. At first I didn’t notice, because numbers are sneaky like that. Just when you think they’re gone - BAM! - they’re in your face. I’ve never connected running with anything horrible, you know, like math, but the numbers rule just the same. Training paces, miles run, distances, heart rate percentages. They all involve numbers, and most runners tend to take them very seriously. All this computing has me thinking about all the numbers in my running, and how important they really are.

Let’s talk about paces. Long runs are at an easy pace, except in the middle or end when they’re not. Training plans tell you (in numbers) how far, how fast, and how often to run. Garmin is always spewing numbers at me in the form of distance and pace. I don’t do heart rate, but there are plenty of numbers to be had there as well. How important are these numbers?

As runners we’ve diligently followed the numbers on various training plans, sometimes with good results, sometimes not. We’ve all lost sleep over miles not run, paces not hit, and weekly mileage that was either too much or not enough. On race day, did it really matter? My guess is that the numbers matter a little, but not as much as we think. We all know runners, and we may be those runners, who follow a plan to the letter and still don’t achieve the desired result. We also know runners, and we may be those runners, who don’t follow any plan and have great results.

I’ve been both kinds of runner, and have had both kinds of results. This year, I’ve decided to diminish the power of the numbers and bring back the power of the words. Words like fun and enjoyment. Run as much as possible, sometimes fast, sometimes slower, sometimes far, sometimes short. Check that out - a training plan without a single number!

The Mill

When I hit the GO button to register for the Phoenix R&R Half in January, I had visions of palm trees and sunshine dancing in my head. Maybe I should have looked out the window to see the snow and ice covered streets first. Sure, running a half marathon in a warm climate in the middle of winter sounded like a great plan for my sunshine-deprived self. What I forgot to consider is how diffucult it would be to train decently when most days the wind speeds exceed the temps, and hitting the freezing mark seems like a heat wave.

Hello treadmill. I’ve owned a treadmill since I started running nearly 20 years ago. I’ve never really hated running on it, but much prefer being outside pounding the pavement, even in cold weather. Cold weather - not this sub zero crap we’ve had for nearly a month straight. Yes, I’m thankful that I can roll out of bed and head downstairs to get my miles in, but I’m also concerned how all this treadmill training affect my running when I get back on the road.

I’ve read the articles about how to make running on the mill more like road miles, and I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to, according to the experts. It’s comforting to know that there are runners who have done mega miles on a treadmill and performed well in their goal race. It not comforting, however, to read about how your stride and gait change, treadmill running creates muscle imbalances, and multitudes of other onimous things that could happen (like my feet coming right off my ankles!). Okay, maybe I didn’t read about the last one happening…

With the half now three weeks away, I’ve abandoned all hopes of a PR and will be extremely grateful if I can even run without a moving belt underneath my feet. Even if it’s my slowest half ever, the sunshine and palm trees will help soften the blow of a less-than-stellar finish time!