Training/hamstring update

So, round 2 of ‘come back from the hamstring injury’ did not go as planned, in spite of my sincere promises to my hamstring to take things slow and *not* be an idiot. Behind these promises lurked the reality of a race a few weeks away and a desire to salvage my training by squeezing in a few short, but up-tempo workouts. I still really wanted to do BolderBoulder, so, foolishly, I attempted a tempo workout  the week before last to ‘test things out’. As you can probably guess, this pushed me back over the hamstring-aggravation threshold, and I had to take another four days completely off.

After that second break I finally realized that the only way I was going to be able to manage my training expectations in a way that is compatible with healing the hamstring was to pretend that my couple months of strong late-winter/Spring training were their own separate season, and that this return post-break represented a start-of-season base-building mode after what was effectively a post-season break. In light of this more realistic new view of my recent training I’ve dropped my plans for BolderBoulder, postponing them to next year, and am focusing purely on getting my hamstring healed in time for Sawtooth relay in early June. I’m going to be cautious and patient with that June 10th date in mind – I’d rather be out of shape than in shape but running two 6-mile segments on a cramping leg!

For my ‘back to base’ plan I’m sticking to a maximum of 5 days a week of running, and am focusing on controlled, gentle pacing for all runs (no faster than 9:00 pace average unless I go a whole week of running with zero pain, and absolutely no workouts). I’ve also adjusted my hamstring rehab routine to include some lighter exercises to warm up before doing any higher load hamstring rehab, and I’ve been getting out on the bike more to exercise the hamstring in a low-impact, small range-of-motion manner. So far things are improving – my hamstring pain during normal daily activities has been eliminated, and I’ve had several solid, pain-free runs in a row!

My runs are rough even at the controlled pace and I can tell I’ve lost fitness, but I’m hoping the solid training from the start of this year will still give me a boost when I finally get back to workouts and racing. I’ve had a few frustrated moments when I think of all the tough, miserable winter miles that I ran in the dark, thinking the suffering would pay off in Spring/Summer races. However, I know that even with time off I’m still in better shape than I would have been if I hadn’t put in those miles, and the several speedy Spring workouts I got in pre-injury were rewarding even if I never got to ‘use’ the fitness gained. They reminded me of what I can do as a runner, and will hopefully let me get back to those exciting paces a little quicker once I’m healthy!

March training

March ended in a whirlwind of travel for a conference and family visits, some wild weather, and a little hamstring trouble that changed my training plans from high mileage and fast workouts to a couple weeks of focused glute/core/hamstring work and easy running. With all the chaos and unexpected hamstring trouble I still managed a little under 160 total miles, or just over 5 miles a day on average, giving me plenty of miles to enjoy the experience of running on new and home-town trails.

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The adventure of mid-late March started the Saturday before last, as I stepped groggily from the crowded, air-conditioned airport and into the startling mid-day San Diego sunlight, poster tube in hand and suitcase full of conference and running clothes, ready to enjoy a change of working and running scenery.

I was excited to attend my first Orthopaedic Research Society meeting (which turned out to be AMAZING!) and was also appreciating the change to escape the chill of the mountains for the warmth of the southern California coast.

My first run from my hotel the afternoon of my arrival did not disappoint – I sweated through 13 meandering miles exploring the nearby Balboa Park, taking in the shimmer of the happy green plants and the sweet scents of the flowering trees. The difference from the bare branches and grey, muddy fields back home was an enjoyable surprise!

After three solid days of air-conditioned long-run recovery spent absorbing (or at least trying to absorb!) a steady stream of orthopedics basic-science knowledge, research presentations, and new names and faces, I escaped into the overcast, humid outdoors of downtown San Diego for a more physically challenging activity.

I’d been lucky to find the San Diego Track Club online prior to my trip, and decided to check out the free Tuesday workout, which is open to visitors as well as club members.  I jogged over to Balboa Stadium to warmup, and then joined the large group for a couple laps and drills. The workout on the schedule was a fartlek of 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 hard/easy on the track. The club director broke our large group (maybe 100 people) into three groups by pace (from 10+ minutes/mile for 5k down to sub-six pace) and I hopped nervously in with the fastest group.

Each group got 3 lanes of the 9-lane track, and we spread out quickly enough that the large group provided lots of pacing buddies, but no overcrowding. The air was humid and warm, and the fog of sweat and shimmer of shadows thrown by the stadium lights provided a hypnotizing backdrop to the swirl of colorful runners. We sped up and slowed in a huge flock, obeying the sharp sound of the coach’s whistle every few minutes. I started to fall off near the middle of the workout, breathing becoming ragged and legs becoming heavy in the heat. I latched on to a few runners and focused on sticking with them on the shorter segments, trying to ignore the sinking feeling that came with being lapped by some of the faster women. I full-out sprinted the last 1-minute segment, racing with the flying herd of fellow sufferers.

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Unfortunately, my hamstring didn’t find the combo of travel and hard running as delightful as the rest of me did, and it stiffened up as I cooled down back to the hotel along the now-dark downtown streets. I spent the rest of the week nursing a crampy medial hamstring, but luckily my next stop at my grandparent’s home a few hours outside of San Jose provided the perfect place for some shorter, relaxed runs and plenty of time for stretching and foam rolling.

With the recent rains the ranch roads around the fields below their house were muddy, and the road their house sits on has no shoulder, so I was effectively forced into a couple of days off. I did enjoy 2 short runs after the mud set a bit, and was glad to feel only mild tightness during those runs. Instead of worrying about missed training I spent my time chatting with my grandparents, looking through old photos with them, and curling up on the couch with coffee and several of the books scattered about their house to enjoy the quiet, windy days in the country.

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After several days with the grandparents I got to hop onto yet another flight, this time back to cooler regions and my parents’ house in Idaho. I was lucky to be able to trade scar-tissue-removal/sore-muscle-fixing tissue mashing sessions with my sister, who recently had ankle surgery. We left each other’s legs bruised and sore, but hopefully a bit healthier! Outside of these *delightful* pain-sessions I was able to take the recovering hamstring out for some spring bloom viewing, trail exploring, and former-teammate visiting runs. I’ve also tried out these amazing core/glute activation exercises, with good results (and sore core/hip muscles the next day!)

Overall the travel was a good time to have a fiddly little injury, since it limited my running a bit and allowed me the free time to work on rehab and rolling. The visits with much missed friends and family made any decrease in my running mileage feel unimportant, and the runs I was able to do covered either exciting new routes or familiar, and much loved, hometown trails that distracted me from the usual post-injury running anxiety.

I’m back now in the chilly Colorado mountains, with a mostly-healed hamstring and a renewed dedication to getting my pre-run warmup done, squeezing my hamstring, glute, and core exercises in, and rolling/stretching regularly to keep me running healthy into late spring and summer.

Turns out a bit more mileage does actually make one faster!

I still remember the four mile run in the park back in Grad School City with MountainMan during which he told me he thought I’d eventually be able to recover from my persistent foot injury and work my way back up to 35 mile weeks. At the time this seemed nearly impossible, but his confident talk gave me hope.

Now, over the last couple weeks, I’m averaging 45 miles per week, 10 miles beyond that 35-miles-per-week dream.

I’m absolutely thrilled…and have purposely inserted a lower mileage week into my training in order to avoid riding this fun higher-mileage wave right into a brutal injury-or-sickness crash. As seen in my lovely training plot below that slope is getting a teensy bit frightening :-O Time for some short recovery days to reward myself and protect my legs.

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2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 weekly mileage. Those 3 2017 months make quite the ski-jump slope ;-P March is a little artificially inflated due to a long run and a long workout in the 10-day span.

However, even during this chill, restrained week I am enjoying the benefit of having several consistent weeks of higher mileage training in my legs. About 4 weeks ago I did a workout of 2 x 2 miles at tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery in between. I managed the sets at 7:16 pace average, with a rough , slower second repeat and a very upset stomach after (lunch enchiladas on workout day = poor decision).

This week I did the same workout, but with an added third 2-mile repeat. I lucked out with a breezy but sunny free afternoon post dentist appointment, and headed over to the ~1200m bike path loop around the local pond/park. I went out hitting 7:09’s and spent the 2nd mile thinking ‘This feels lovely, but oh man I may have just made the rest of this workout exceedingly painful…’. The second set was (unintentionally) even quicker, at just under 14 minutes for the repeat. I tried to relax at the end, and went into my two minute recovery thinking the last set was either going to be amazing or a total mess.

The last repeat was definitely tough with 4 fast miles already in my legs, but I held it together and gritted my way to a final repeat average 7:03! That put me at an average of 7:05 for two miles further than four weeks ago, a pretty big jump and a huge mental-toughness and physical fitness confidence boost for the BolderBoulder 10k coming up at the end of May.

I jogged slowly home and spent the evening just about talking MM’s ear about off with post-workout energy. Luckily he’s a patient listener and is still run-nerdy enough to get excited about my random speedy workout 🙂

I looked back at last Fall and realized this workout was better than all but one of my pre-13.1 workouts. The biggest difference seems to just be base mileage since I haven’t done *that* many workouts since coming back from my break. Last year I had a few low-40’s weeks, but was still regularly in the mid-high 20’s for weekly mileage. With consistent training for a year and a quarter I finally have the mileage in my legs to allow me to do a six-mile workout, and 8-10 mile workout days (warmup, workout, and cool down total). The difference is amazing – I still struggle through the end of long workouts and long runs, but I don’t end every run feeling a little ragged, and I can pile on longer workouts without spending every ounce of energy that I have. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t actually notice a difference with the bump up in mileage but it looks like increased training is treating me kindly and my legs, lungs, and heart are all absorbing the increase and rewarding me with improved performance!

Hurrah for exercise physiology theory working in real life and the practice of slowly wearing down my running shoe soles paying off in fun, fast workouts 😀

Winter running – February highlights a few days early

Winter running is ROUGH. There’s snow and ice everywhere, it’s dark all the time, the trails are all closed or snowed over, and cold viruses are abundant. I’ve been struggling to stay motivated, and to avoid injury on the bumpy, slippery winter streets. Podcasts and the promise of post-run hot cocoa (and warming my hands up on poor MountainMan’s furnace-like stomach) have been lifesavers on the more miserable days.

However, in spite of the regular bouts of wishing I was somewhere tropical and my generally poor attitude I’ve actually managed to get in a very solid month of training just by shoving myself out the door on a regular basis. So far my average weekly mileage is the highest it’s been since right after undergrad, and I’m getting in some road/track workouts that are promising for the upcoming racing season. All these frozen runs may actually be worthwhile!

Some highlights from the month:

1.Calf massages from MountainMan – my calves have been reacting to speed work by turning into whiney balls of ouch, and MM has been very generous with the calf torture. I’m a lucky gal! I think he may just get a kick out of watching me squirm…

2.    This workout-sunset combo: the workout was very grumpy and snot-rocket-puncuated but did involve some magical sub-6:00 pace 400’s! My legs are gradually remembering what ‘fast’ feels like and it’s cool to feel the neuromuscular changes.

3.  The mountain climb race, even though it was much more grueling than expected. It’s amazing what some fun post-run time with friends and amazing post-run brunch can do to cheer one up! I think I may have convinced MM to take advantage of his speed-hiking skills to climb his way to a men’s win next year…

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So much pain face :-O I look like I’m doing a painful-scream duet with my calves.

4. The moment I discovered that the local high school track was plowed off. Look at that gorgeously un-icy speed work surface ❤img_9274

5. New (garishly bright) shoes! I’m going to be so sad when the ‘obnoxiously bright’ running shoe trend ends…img_9358

What have everyone else’s February running highlights been? Any fun strategies for dealing with the late-winter struggles?

Mountain runners – a whole different animal

This week I thought it’d be a lovely idea to spend $30 to wake up at 5am on Sunday and run 2.5 straight up some ridiculously steep slopes that less idiotic people enjoy skiing DOWN. It was an informative experience, to say the least…

Shortly after the starter yelled “go!” at 7am I discovered that mountain running is actually better described as mountain speed-hiking. 200m in I followed the lead of the experienced-looking woman in front of me and switched from a slogging run to a brisk hike in order to keep my heart from full-on exploding. I didn’t manage another step of running until the last 400m, which were, blessedly, downhill. 

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The hiking gait kept my breathing under control, but unfortunately my glutes and calves were horribly unprepared for the constant strain of pushing uphill in slick snow, and I lost about a dozen places and most of my dignity over the arduous 2-mile, 2,300 foot-gain climb. I watched helplessly as masters-division mountain runners, several snowshoers, and even skiers footing heavy, skin-bedecked skis scooted past me as I wobbled up the incline. The final (extremely steep!) uphill 50m found me crawling on all fours, legs no longer willing to work without assistance. 

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An encouraging friend running next to me and a flock of cowbell ringing spectators provided the boost I needed to push over the final ridge, and then it was (thankfully!) downhill to the finish. I grimaced with the sudden shock of pounding on my destroyered leg muscles, but managed to fall foot-to-foot to a  somewhat speedy finish, trying desperately not to face plant. I was happy to finish right with my friend, a tough ultra runner, and was even happier to flop into the snow to cheer in his wife and the rest of our group of friends. 

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After the post race breakfast and prizes I reflected on what I learned:

  • Mountain runners are TOUGH. The race was in honor of one of the local USA mountain-running team founders, and was designed as a test of mountain running grit. It managed to make a 2.5 mile hike into one of the most challenging activities I’ve ever done, and I’m even more in awe now of athletes who choose mountain running as their competition of choice. 
  • My aerobic system is coming along fine from my solid running training this winter. My muscular strength/endurance, not so much. Basically, I learned in a very painful way that I should be lifting instead of being a slacker. Oops…

In short, this race was a great, painful reminder of my weaknesses. Here’s to actually working on my leg strength and managing my next race without resorting to crawling on all fours!

New season running so far…

It’s been 3 weeks since returning from my lovely between-season’s running break and so far everything is going along boringly. Which is actually excellent in this case because it means things are going as expected, with only the usual ‘starting up again’ stiffnesses and twinges and no major setbacks.
I’ve cautiously moved up from 0 miles to 19 miles, then to 22 miles, and then to 25 miles, and hope to keep gently building during the long, cold winter. I’m staying on top of auxillary work (core, glute/hip exercises, upper/lower body general strength, the horrible rolling of the calves and IT bands…) by forcing myself to just do one or two non-running things per day, and so far it’s paying off.

Christmas lights – the prettiest part of twilight/pitch-black winter runs


The weather has been interesting, with more sunny days than last winter, but also more ice as the snow melts and re-freezes with warm days and cold nights. I’ve been busting out the headlamp most nights except for my weekly treadmill night, during which I sweat profusely while running in place and counting on specially-selected podcast episodes to keep me rolling in place for the necessary 30-40 minutes. The weekends bring the glorious opportunity to run in full sunlight (or at least full, if overcast, daylight) without the need to either rush into work sweaty from an early morning run or rush home to make dinner after a few late evening miles. I’m supposed to be starting strides this week (6-8 strides twice per week) but am finding that a bit challenging with snow and/or ice blanketing every surface and a complete inability to go faster than a quick up-tempo pace on the treadmill without panicking.

So much sweat and anxiety 😐

Cross-training has consisted mainly of circuit sessions or classic skiing, a bit of a change from my heavy indoor bike trainer and skate-ski schedule of last winter. Alas, I no longer live 5 minutes from a groomed skate track, and can’t bring my skis to work (and the nearby skate course) on the shuttle bus (no parking due to construction and a very crowded shuttle), so classic skiing on the unused train tracks behind my apartment is a much more convenient activity. As for the biking, I’ve just been too lazy to switch out my relatively new back tire for the worn-down trainer tire. The upside to less cross-training variety is that it reflects my ability to run more often than last winter – fewer forced cross-training days means less need for so many different cross-training activities! Hurrah!

not at all evident but i am wearing skis here ;P


 
A few winter-running questions for you all!

  1. Anyone out there actually comfortable doing workout/strides pace on the treadmill?
  2. What are your favorite winter cross-training activities? 

End-of-(running)year thoughts

I’ve been seeing lots of good-riddance-2016-oh-no-please-not-2017 post lately and thought I’d join in. Although this particular one is going to be less of a ‘prolonged internal screaming’ post because it’s going to focus on running, rather than the complete shitshow going on every time I pick up my phone or turn on the radio. In part because thinking about running doesn’t contribute to the constant tension headache and mild anxious nausea I’ve had going for the last week. Yayyyy 😐

Anyhow…

2016 was actually a solid year in terms of running. I finally busted over the 3-miles-per-day-average bump that I’d been pushing against and falling short of due to injury the last two years, and I made up for all the lost racing time by cramming in 16 races over the spring, summer, and fall. I’ve spent the last few weeks either off or running very easy, and spending a good amount of time enjoying other activities like cross-country skiing, yoga, and strength training.

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My training over the last 3 years as average running miles/day. Can you tell this month is a rest/recovery month?

Now I’m letting myself ease back into the mileage and back into dreaming.

My main goal is to hit a 4% improvement in the 5k, which would get me under 19 minutes with altitude conversion. This would set me back into the 18:something’s, and would make an actual PR seem within range after a long 7-year 5k-PR dry spell. I’m vacillating between hope and thinking that sub-19 sounds absolutely ludicrous, but at least the journey in the attempt should be fun whether I get there or not!

Along the way I’m hoping to hop in a few spring track races for the first time since undergrad (if I do anything shorter than 5k everyone will get a good laugh…), check out the much-storied BolderBoulder 10k, have even more fun on the trails than last summer and explore some new routes, maybe get in another half marathon, and get back out on the XC courses with a few more fast miles in my legs than this year.

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But first – some steady winter miles and plenty of winter-sport cross training!

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