Running up, over and through the cogs

Posts tagged “Recovery

We Interrupt This Training Cycle to Bring You INSANITY

Exhausted runner (male), lying on trackOn Saturday, I ran my last 20 mile training run before the Boston Marathon. It was pretty terrible.

During the three hour plus ordeal, every single muscle ached at some point. My legs were heavy. My pace was slow. My mind was adrift.

Runs like that don’t happen often for me, but when they do, I now know enough to pay attention. I ran a little bit on Tuesday, but again, didn’t feel all too great. An overwhelming sense of blah has seemed to take over my body. The crummy weather, lack of sleep and 16 weeks of primarily being stuck on a treadmill are probably the usual suspects.

Instead of dwelling on it and feeling sorry for myself (like I would have done in the not too distant past) I will just stick this one in the “deal with it” file and focus on recovery.

deal-with-it61

And what better way to focus on recovery than to watch my friends and loved ones torture themselves on 150 miles of trail?

Yes, you read that right.

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES.

(image courtesy of Jaime Quarandillo)

The Potawatomi Trail (image courtesy of Jaime Quarandillo)

Starting Friday at noon, my girlfriend, Edna*, and a whole host of other dear friends from the New Leaf and M.U.D.D. groups will descend upon the Potawatomi 150 at Pekin, IL’s McNaughton Park for 150 miles of… Fun? Exploration? Masochism? Transcendence?

I assume it will be some combination of all of the above. As Edna’s crew chief, I will have a front row seat to the type of pure guts and determination it takes to even attempt something like this, let alone conquer it. And I have no doubt in my mind that once this expedition comes to a close, the minor aches and pains I felt last Saturday will be but a silentious memory.

 

*To read Edna’s blog in English, check out THIS PAGE.

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Reality (or Why I’m Not Too Upset About My Wonky Heels)

chicago marathon 2012 epic sign

Ah, reality, how humble and distraught thou can render me.

Current reality will reveal the following: My race pace 20 miler three weeks out from the Chicago Marathon was an absolute disaster.

I could not hold 6:50 pace. I got about three miles in before both of my heels (especially the left one) became extremely stiff, limiting mobility, sending sharp pains through both Achilles, and ultimately, slowing me down. A lot.

Running with a partner, I felt quite embarrassed that I wasn’t going to be able to accomplish what I set out to do. I worried that I was letting her down, that she might be better off running ahead rather than slowing pace to accommodate my wonky state and subsequent moodiness.

I told her she should carry on, to leave me behind. I didn’t want to hold her back. But she stuck with me, slower pace and all. She even helped me find some peace of mind despite the compounding frustration setting in. For that I am grateful.

It is no secret: the sub-3 hour marathon is my white whale. And facing yet another injury setback while training for this lofty goal just feels like a low blow.

Despite the diminished demeanor, I finished the 20 miles. But in the immediate aftermath, my calves didn’t seem to work very well. I hobbled around like a newborn calf for three days and am just now back to walking normal.

This monstrous hybrid failing of my body — some sort of calcaneal bursitis mixed with Achilles tendonitis and tight, cramping calves — has been hindering my training off and on since July. But it really struck me down after my PR half marathon on August 25. That was one of my best run races to date, but by the time I got home, my entire left heel had swollen to the size of a tennis ball and I could hardly walk. Recovery became laborious. In fact, worried I would lose my fitness, I didn’t allow it to fully recover before picking up with more speed work.

Unfortunately, this heel nuisance seems to be exacerbated by speed work. The more I run up on my toes (inevitable at faster pace), the more load is placed on the Achilles, the more inflamed the bursa becomes, leading to slow, stiff, swollen bouts of BLAH. I have been giving myself extra rest days and dialing back the mileage, but, as proved to me by failing the most important workout prior to race day, it ain’t gonna happen — not right now anyway.

When I hobbled home from my 20 miler Saturday, in between foam rolling my calves and getting on with my day, I budgeted a good hour to feeling sorry for myself.

Boo hoo. Woe is me. Life sucks.

Except, life doesn’t suck. Life kicks ass. Sure, it’s a roller coaster — one that induces vomiting from time to time — but being down is where we have an opportunity to get back up.

There will be other marathons. I still have plenty of time to run my best races. Right now, I need to focus on lining up at the Chicago Marathon 100% healthy, so that’s what I’m going to try to do. I might aim for a 3:05 finish, or a 3:10. I don’t know yet. My calves and heels will tell me what I am capable of on that day; but to expect a sub-3 finish with such little dedicated race pace training the last 6 weeks is a bit unrealistic at this time.

Of course, all of the above truth and rationale is made more palatable by the fact that I GOT INTO THE 2014 BOSTON MARATHON, baby! Whew! Just barely! But I’m in, and that’s what counts.

Having run the race this year (and negative split), I already know it’s a PR waiting to happen. If sub-3 is in my near future, it’s more than likely going to come on April 21, 2014. That gives me plenty of time to heal up, take some time off from heavy training, and to start over new (and healthy) next year.

Whatever happens on October 13th will just be a bonus.

boston marathon finish line 2013


Running into Yoga

Yoga-SilhouetteIt seems so silly now to think how defiant I once was against even trying something like yoga to supplement my running habit.  To think how I secretly questioned Scott Jurek, my running idol, and his unabashed dedication to the practice seems so immature.  My prior disbelief that I could actually benefit from yoga seems, now, to go against all practical sense.

And such disbelief only existed because I thought… *GASP*… that I would look foolish.

WRONG.

Floundering in the land of what-ifs is foolish.

And so it wasn’t until I found myself injured, unable to do what I love to do, that I finally listened to all those who had advised me.  In my circle, there was no shortage of yoga proponents.  Every single one of those individuals touting the practice was sincere in his or her belief that it would help me.  How could I ignore such considerations any longer?

I found a local yoga studio, signed up for their beginner’s course and seven weeks later I’m here pondering how I ever lived without it.  As a runner, there are myriad benefits to practicing yoga (flexibility, controlled breath work, increased synovial fluid production to name a few), but what I appreciate the most are the calming, meditative principles applied through movement.  This is essentially what happens to me during a really good long run: I connect movement to the breath and allow my mind to experience the now.

Like running, yoga is a door to the present.

I’m just as susceptible as most to the infinite technocratic noises of the world, but I also know there is a way out.  I know I am happiest when I exist among the calm of the present tense.  Running gets me there.  A baseball game on a lazy, summer afternoon gets me there.

Now I know yoga gets me there too.  And even when the practice is over, I still feel like a glowing, hundred foot giant of awesome.

* * *

Injury update:

I am still out of commission, but staying active and positive.  I’ve seen a sports medicine doctor now who is sure my condition is ITBS and nothing else.  So I can only continue to do what I’m doing: stretching, icing, foam rolling, strengthening, yoga, boxing, watching Bulls basketball (despite this giving me headaches from time to time) and re-reading all my favorite Carl Sagan books.

I will not be able to run the Houston Marathon in 2013, but that’s okay.  I am at peace with that.  There will be plenty of marathons to run once I’m back to full strength.  My focus now is on getting better in time to train well for Boston.  I start physical therapy this week and aim to invoke my inner Derrick Rose as I focus on strengthening my hip flexors as well as my mind.

One thing is certain: this unscheduled time off from the sport I love so much has been as humbling as it has been healing.  The majority of my other constant niggles, aches and pains have gone away with the time off and I am confident that the forced disassociation has strengthened my mind.  When I do come back, I am going to be more hungry, more ravenous and more determined than I have ever been.

Special thanks to Lisa Kinlinger, who has provided me with excellent ART treatments as well as a final, swift kick out the door and into a yoga studio.


Behind the Abs: Some Detail and Instruction on How I Got Them and How You Can Too

When I first saw the above picture, taken at the Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon a few weeks ago, I had to do a double-take.  Who the hell is that guy?!?!  Is that really me?  Holy shit!  When did I become… that?!?

I posted the picture on my Facebook, and before I knew it I was receiving an abundance of messages, comments and texts, all asking the same thing:

HOW DID YOU DO THAT?

It’s a great question.  And the answer is layered, with several components.  But it’s an important one to address because by examining exactly how I did transform from a tired, overweight, boozing nicotine addict into the uber-fit, lean ultrarunner I am today, I think others will discover that it really is possible — that if one is determined enough, he or she can have the type of body people dream about.

Me, summer of 2009. Pudgy and buzzed with questionable tastes in fashion.

The problem with acquiring that perfect dream body is the simple fact that it is definitely not easy.  In fact, it’s really damn hard.  The only way it can be achieved is through determination, practice and discipline.  That’s good news if you’re a runner, because running requires all of the above.  In fact, that’s how it all started for me.  Once I became a runner and began setting and accomplishing my goals, then I realized that I could accomplish any reasonable goal I put out there, as long as I made use of the same principles.

Determination, practice, discipline.

Determination:
Tired of always thinking what if, I decided I was just going to do it.  No matter what.  I was going to get a six-pack.  Whatever it took.  Once I became determined and really prepared myself mentally for the kind of struggle that would be necessary, I went on to the practice phase.

Practice:
Knowing it wasn’t going to happen overnight, I started at zero and worked my way up.  I learned some basic physiology tenets and found exercises that would get me where I wanted to go.  I did the work.  Lots and lots of work.  And while this may not be what most people want to hear, it is the truth that it took about two years of hard work to get my body to look like it does today.  Two years.  Anything that takes that long requires…

Discipline:
To quote Scott Jurek, “Sometimes you just do things.”  I’m tired today.  So what.  There’s work to do.  I’m really craving that Ben & Jerry’s.  Too bad.  There’s work to do.  Can’t I just skip this workout?  Sure, but you can kiss that six-pack goodbye.

With those principles in mind, let’s next look at the three major components of my total body transformation — the actual practices that made it possible:

1)  INTENSE CARDIO
This may be obvious, considering this is a running blog and I am a runner, but that doesn’t diminish its importance.  I lost all the “fat” I had by running a bunch.  And it’s not like I have been running crazy mileage forever either.  In 2010 I averaged 25 miles a week.  In 2011 it went up to about 40 miles a week.  This year I’m averaging 70 miles a week, but such mileage is not necessary to lose the fat.

What is necessary is getting that heart rate up.  One can do this by swimming, biking, boxing, jazzercising… it doesn’t matter.  Just devote some time (20 minutes a day would be a good start) to an activity that requires a sustained, elevated heart rate.

The effects of my intense cardio sessions (running mostly) were that, after about 12 months, I eventually reached my ideal base weight — a number backed up by simple body mass index formulas.

2)  DIET
This is probably the hardest aspect of body sculpting, but I assure you it is the most important.  And it is possible.  Again, it just takes determination, practice and discipline.  The truth is: what you put into your body is paramount to how it will look and operate.  For me, adhering to a good diet required a complete overhaul of my understanding of food — where it comes from, how it is prepared, how it affects my body.  Realizing I knew very little about general nutrition and the science around it, I bought some books and read up on it.  What I discovered was as exciting as it was alarming.

The most important step I took was eliminating virtually all processed foods from my diet.  I got rid of anything full of high fructose corn syrup and eschewed all other engineered food products.  I stopped drinking calories.  No more soda.  No more concentrated “juices”.  No more crap.  I stopped boozing.

I quit eating fast food (the WORST!!!).  When eating out, I opted for the healthier options whenever possible.  And most importantly, I began to focus my diet on a variety of whole foods, paying special attention to those categorized as “super foods” (whole grains, leafy greens, berries, quinoa, legumes, eggs, Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes, broccoli, almonds, salmon, etc.).

Dessert became a four-letter word.  That is not to say I wouldn’t, on occasion, partake in a small bit of ice cream or a cookie now and then, but those occasions became extremely rare.  Even now, I have little room for junk food (pizza, sweets, chips, etc) in my diet.  Every great once in a while I will indulge, but I often don’t feel too well afterward — my body’s way of reminding me that that shit is not good for me — so such happenings are rare.

In fact, I would assume very few people get the beach body by eating like shit.  It’s just not conducive to how our bodies work, naturally.  Our bodies respond to good, wholesome, nutrient rich foods, not engineered foodstuffs full of ingredients that no one can pronounce.

3)  SUPPLEMENTAL BODY & CORE SPECIFIC TRAINING
If you have the intense cardio down and you’re eating right, you should already be looking pretty damn good!  What is left is only a matter of specificity.  Decide what it is you want, then do the work it takes to get it.  I wanted a six-pack.  So I started doing workouts that focus on the core.  Outside of running, I like to box, so I trained with some boxers in my neighborhood and picked their brains for advice.  I bought books on core training.  I started to see results (albeit slowly, remember, these things take time) within six months or so and I just kept at it until the definition finally arrived.  And when my training needed a bit of variety — a boost to get into that pop-out territory, I eventually hired a trainer to teach me more advanced workouts.  I learned them well and I teach them now .

Me in 2010 (left). Me in 2012 (right).

I should also add that, in my supplemental body and core specific training, I do not lift a lot of traditional weights.  I do from time to time, but I’m a runner.  I need to be as lean as possible, while still maintaining a high level of strength and support.  Instead of lifting weights, I utilize full body weight training.  Resistance training.  I do some band work and a few kettle bell workouts, but otherwise, all of the exercises I do require little else than my own body (think push-ups, pull-ups, dips, planks, etc).

The key to this sort of training, in my opinion, is to vary the exercises.  Just like with food, the more varied, the better.  If I am doing my workouts correctly, I should experience soreness in the day or two after.  Of course, like any other exercise, intensity should be based on whatever the body has that day, but in general, I like to push myself to get just one more sit-up… just one more push-up… just… one… MORE!!!

BUT WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO, JEFF???

When I put it all together, it goes something like this:

I run.  Six days a week.  The distance varies, and I run at different intensities, but the heart rate is always elevated.

I do two or three 40-60 minute supplemental body and core specific workouts, depending on how my body feels that week.

Here is an example workout. Keep in mind that I prefer the active recovery model, so I’m never fully resting. I generally do two sets of each exercise, and in between sets I jump rope as “rest”:

Jump rope
Up-down push ups into high bar pull-ups
Jump rope
One legged squats
Jump rope
Hanging leg raises
Jump rope
Dips into knee raises
Jump rope
Stairs
Jump rope
Scorpion push-ups
Jump rope
Hindu push-ups
Jump rope
Traditional planks
Jump rope
Side planks
Jump rope
Bear push-ups

I eat well.  I eat a variety of whole foods, focusing on the “super” foods.

I also sleep 7-9 hours every night.

I don’t drink much alcohol.  And when I do drink, I only have a few.

I take one day off a week — from everything — and I force myself to kick my feet up and enjoy a good game or movie or book.

But, MORE than anything:

I believe in myself and I believe in what I am able to do, physically and mentally.  I feel like every day is an opportunity to get better, to do the work it takes to be who I want to be.  It’s something we are all capable of, every single one of us.

So what are you waiting for?

– – –

PS.  I am not a doctor.  The above is not intended to be medical advice.  Always consult with your doctor if there are doubts.  If you are interested in getting started yourself and want a learned trainer to get you there, please let me know.


The Art of Rest

Rest.  Wow.  What a concept.

After months and months of solid training.  With a strong base.  A calculated taper.

You go out and run the race of your life.

Then you get to rest.

Rest!

I like to give myself 2 to 3 weeks of just playful recovery/rest.  Go run when I feel like it.  Don’t follow a plan.  Leave the watch at home.  I put on the shoes that look good at the time and go run wherever I feel drawn.  Sometimes it’s just 5 miles around the neighborhood and sometimes it’s a nice, slow 6-hour adventure on single track.

You wanna veg out for three days and watch streaming epsiodes of Breaking Bad?  Wanna stay up til midnight, Google surf and eat a bowl of cereal before you go to sleep?  DO IT!  You earned it!

And it feels awesome.  Knowing that in a few weeks I’ll be back to the hard, disciplined grind of training for that target event makes the few weeks of active rest a damn fine prize.  It refreshes me.  Reminds me why I love to run.  Makes me hunger and want it again.

I always do.  I always want it again.