What to Work On

Coming back from injury means spending an awful lot of time doing rehab and strengthening and all kinds of things that I clearly wasn’t doing enough of before.  This has become absurdly evident with my new routine, which requires me to do these hip strengthening exercises and assorted recovery techniques DAILY, when I previously did half as much and only three times each week max.  I thought I was doing well, foam rolling after every run and incorporating core and hips two to three times each week, but clearly, it wasn’t enough.  I’ve learned it’s better to do a little every day to keep yourself consistently healthy and aside from those first few weeks, when it really felt like all I was doing was rehab, it really is manageable.  My routine is now so streamlined that it takes roughly 20-25 minutes to do the whole thing.  Twenty minutes out of my day is comparatively nothing.  And I’m still healing.  When I’m back to fitness, it will be more like 15 minutes.  Fifteen minutes to keep my body healthy and happy is a good deal, if you ask me.

 

But this whole comeback has me thinking.  I’m starting from scratch, so to speak, with my mileage currently at around 10 miles/week and (unbearably) slow.  It’s a unique opportunity to approach my running as trying to design the “perfect” version of my runner self.  One thing I have always been notoriously awful at is hitting negative splits.  Even in my best races, I have never hit them.  I’m an even-paced girl all around.  Almost every run is kind of ridiculously even paced, but I have had my share of positive splits in races (ahem, marathons).  One thing I’d really like to work on as I train is hitting negative splits in most of my speed workouts and doing progressive long runs.  I’ve failed those in the past,  somehow I could run at a faster pace for the entire length of a run but unable to start at a more moderate pace and finish fast.  It’s like my body doesn’t like to change speeds, which I’ve noticed in races if I get stuck behind a crowd and end up going slower, I can’t speed back up and hit my paces without blowing up.  It’s definitely something to work on.

 

Another thing that is high on my list of priorities is slowing way down on my easy runs.  I’m going to focus on nailing workout days (once I start those! base building for now), and running a true easy pace on easy days.  I’ve got a heart rate monitor that I don’t use nearly enough and I want to monitor my effort as I’m returning to fitness and make sure I’m not doing too much too soon on days that are supposed to be easy.  That way I can truly put 100% effort into the speed days.  I have been very guilty in the past of taking the easy day for granted.  Not that I tried to race my easy days, but I’d often run easy and start to get “bored,” especially on medium-long runs of 9 or 11 miles and I’d throw in pickups or end the last 2 miles at nearly tempo pace just to feel like I had some pop in my legs.  Ideal training means letting each run serve its purpose.

 

If you could had unlimited time/resources to incorporate an ideal element into your training or racing, what would it be?

Give me your favorite training advice!

Injury Update

I was going to do this post tomorrow but I did pretty much nothing other than study yesterday to update you on so we’ll switch it to today.  I actually feel a little funny even saying that I’m “injured.”  I don’t have a stress fracture or a torn ligament or any acute injury, it’s more of a constant annoyance.  I started noticing it in the spring, a slight pulling sensation on the inside of my shin.  It didn’t hurt or change my gait, it was more of an awareness of a sensation than anything resembling pain.  Then, it started to pull a little more.  Then we went to Austria, land of mountains, and with all those inclines suddenly it wasn’t slight and it was just a little pull.  It hurt and it was pretty constant.  Not while doing day to day activities though, only if I tried to run or walked for a while.  So I wasn’t worried about a stress fracture but something was definitely up.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to go to a sports clinic that has 3D modeling and biomechanical assessment (much like the SPEED clinic at UVA) thanks to a girl who ran for my school’s XC program and now has a PhD in biomechanical engineering.  It was insanely cool, I got lasered up like a little video game figure and ran on a treadmill, which was assessed in real time and videotaped all with me looking like nothing but a skeleton.  We also measured both the flexibility and strength (with a little device that you push on while in various positions) of every different muscle group that is important for running.  My results were assessed in a 40 page work-up complete with graphs comparing me to the ideal runner for my height, weight, gender, and running ability.  It was seriously eye opening, because I’ve always thought myself severely inflexible (I can’t even touch my toes) but I actually tested right around optimal level in nearly every flexibility test (and it was explained that you don’t have to be flexible to be an ideal runner, you just need specific flexibility!).  But I also had a massive imbalance between my right and left sides when it came to anything hip-related.  My right hip was either not strong enough or too flexible, always way above or below the ideal range and even more disconcertingly, never close to what my left leg was doing.  Long story short, I learned that ten years ago when I tore my quad (soccer injury!), during the healing process an imbalance formed that I have never addressed.  I’ve never had hip problems (as far as I know), but because your hips are so important to your running, that hip imbalance was causing lower leg tightness which was causing my posterior tibial tendinitis (eventual diagnosis!).  So, to address my calf problem, I had to slowly strengthen and stretch my hips back into balance.

 

It has been a slow process, the tiny stabilizer muscles in my hips were the problem rather than glutes or any of the larger muscles.  They needed to be worked a little every day for months rather than strengthened with heavy weights.  So there has been no immediate relief, and I’ve been told not to run while still inflamed so for 2 months it has looked an awful lot like this: run 3 miles on Monday, inflamed Tues-Thurs no running, run 2 painful miles Friday, feel better by Monday and repeat.  But in the last 2 weeks, I’m noticing a change.  My hips have gotten a bit stronger, I can tell by how much easier the exercises are getting.  And my runs are sore, but the inflammation lasts only a day and the pain is more like it was in the beginning, an awareness rather than actual pain.  So I’ve cautiously begun running as of this week.  3 miles every other day to start.  There are walk breaks involved, I have to stop every ten minutes to stretch my calves more.  But it’s running, and I’m sensing a comeback that starts now.

The vortex

I’m already Olympics obsessed but with a week of no running, I got 100% sucked into the vortex that is constant live Olympics coverage.  Oops.  I’m back, I promise 🙂  Mostly because yesterday I did this:

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Pain-free run! Woo! Super short and easy, around 30 minutes but I wasn’t wearing a watch so no idea how far or how fast.  Just wanted to do a little test 🙂  SO HAPPY.  Weather still sucks so since I want to go longer today, I’ll probably be indoors.  But officially back on the running wagon!  I’m far too excited, please excuse the rambling.

I obviously had to celebrate with some cake.

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I made a bundt cake so it would look like a ring.  I was going to do food coloring and such and pretend it was an Olympics ring but I didn’t have any.  Sprinkles are always an excellent decision though. 

 

Speaking of the Olympics, there has just been so much to love.  Our ski slopestyle dominance was tremendously fun to watch and that guy landed a triple cork 1440 like it wasn’t even hard.  Just the idea of skiing backwards intimidates me so I was in awe of their crazy skills.  It was hard to watch Shaun White not get the snowboard halfpipe medal but when the gold medal winner made his run, Joe and I went nuts.  It was crazy fun to watch and he so deserved it, and seems like a really genuine guy.  Maybe because I’m so competitive and really hard on myself when I lose things but I’ve been so amazed by the way the athletes interact with each other after a win/loss.  I actually think it’s more obvious with the more extreme sports than with the “classic” sports but they seem so genuinely thrilled for other people to experience the win and so appreciate of the runs they’ve put down rather than focusing on their own shortcomings.  It’s just really cool to me and I could probably stand to take a lesson from it, I’ve been known to not speak to Joe for a couple hours if he beats me at Monopoly. 

Two of my favorite non-winning moments? 

Jeremy Abbott of the USA in the short program figure skating yesterday.  He fell HARD, I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen a skater go down like that.  He crumpled up against the board for a good 15-20 seconds and I thought they were going to have to carry him off.  Visibly hurt, he got up and skated through the remainder of his routine, clearly just gutting it through his jumps.  He scored well enough to go to the free skate, but the amazing thing was the standing ovation he got when he finished from the nearly all-Russian crowd for his courage.  He was obviously moved by it because he kept mouthing “thank you” over and over and shaking his head and blowing kisses and bowing to the crowd.  He thanked everyone for their support over and over while he was waiting for his scores and it was fantastic. 

 

Anton Gafarov in the cross-country skiing semi final.  If you didn’t see it (not all of you are insane and like to watch ALL Olympic events like me), he was skiing on the slushy course and fell on a corner where pretty much everyone falls.  His ski broke, and even though the rest of the field were FAR in front, he continued to ski on his broken ski to finish the race.  Then, his ski completely shredded under him and he was trying to keep going on one foot.  Watching it live, it seemed to go on forever and I just felt terrible for him trying to finish his Olympic dream.  A Canadian coach then brought him a replacement ski so he could finish the course.  He finished several minutes behind everyone else and didn’t make the final but it was unbelievable and for me, what the Olympics should be about. 

 

I’ll leave you with some pictures from my delicious dinner Wednesday night (last night I just had soup!), because I’m currently obsessed with making homemade Mexican food.

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I’m in love.  So good.  I’m still trying to figure out what I’m making tonight or if we’ll do the Friday night pizza thing.  Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, but in the 9 Valentine’s Days we’ve had together, I think we’ve done something maybe twice.  My birthday is in 2 weeks and our anniversary shortly after and we just finished all the holiday nonsense.  It just feels like too much, and it’s such an arbitrary holiday anyway. 

 

Okay, Olympics watchers…favorite non-winning moment so far?

Plans for tonight?

On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you that I’m running again? KIDDING!

 

Did you miss me?

I disappeared on you all this weekend!  I have 2-3 more days of non-running activities and actually took both Saturday and Sunday as complete rest days and quite literally stayed all the way off my foot…aka sat on the couch and watched the Olympics ALL day. I basically watched sports and played with my dogs all day.  It was a mental break I needed I guess because I’m all crazy pumped up this morning to be productive again.  I have no running pictures to share with you then obviously, but I did take everyone’s advice Friday and get me some pizza!

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And some red jalapeno poppers for good measure 🙂  It was excellent. 

We woke up super early on Saturday for no reason other than to watch the Olympics live.  It felt weird waking up early and not running and I was prepared to be super antsy so instead, I made some amazing waffles and hot chocolate so my tummy would throw a fit if I DID get a little crazy wanting to go out.

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Don’t listen to my cup that says “coffee.”  It was irish cream hot chocolate made over the stove and I obviously put sprinkles on it afterwards.  I was definitely not braving any kind of exercise after that so I kept cozy in my pajamas watching the awesome events on Saturday. 

And last night I had a bit of a craving for a pasta I really love but don’t make often–browned butter gnocchi.  It’s pretty sinful but SO GOOD.  Just brown roughly half a stick of butter, seasoned with some sage and salt.  When it’s good and brown, take it off the heat and add roughly the juice of half of lemon (just make sure you get a nice juicy lemon, sometimes I have to use a whole one if it’s not juicy enough).  Put it back on the heat with the gnocchi and stir around, top with a little fresh cheese at the end!

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It’s yummier than it looks! 

I just checked my email upon waking up to find my in-laws sent me a bunch of photos from the beach.  They’re cruising for a month and all the sunshine in the pictures is pretty much torture when I look outside.  I won’t be venturing outside but the plan for today: 2 hour bike to make up for missing a long run yesterday.  I’m freaking dying to be running again but probably only because I dislike biking and the pool is really far away.  If I could elliptical, I’d be fine but I’m trying to be super low impact for this healing period.  I’m thinking just a 2 hour ride with hills on the stationary to mimic what I would have done running.  The time probably won’t be equivalent but I really don’t want to ride double/triple the long run distance.  I figure my inexperience on the bike should even things up a bit 😉

 

Favorite Olympic moment so far?

What was your favorite thing you did or ate this weekend?

Restless!

I’m sitting here incredibly antsy because I want to go for a run but instead I have to wait a bit until I can go to the gym instead and do a bike workout because my toe is all messed up.  I shall provide you with a picture from yesterday’s run aka the calm before the storm:

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Everything was fine and dandy (and muddy) in the park, it’s the stupid slippery roads and paths that did me in 😦  I should only have to do roughly a week of biking/swimming workouts until the swelling and bruising goes down and the toe feels okay to run again.  No insanity (aka lots of jumping) this week either.  I’m going to feel so restless. The bike just doesn’t do it for me.  It’s a great workout, just mentally it doesn’t satisfy me. 

I’m on a roll making things I enjoy and that are (reasonably) healthy for dinner.  May I present, homemade flatbread pizza!

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And because I’m probably going to annoy you all with Olympics talk for the next two weeks (along with my buddy Carson, fellow Olympic-phile), I shall give you a little personal update today.  Most of you know I’m in a PhD program in English.  My program is one of the top few programs in the world and is very competitive and sadly, that doesn’t end after you get in.  There are these hurdles you have to go through at multiple points in your career.  I’ve completed roughly half of my 300 page dissertation and have had to defend my work with that oral examination I took a week ago today.  There is a panel of 2 examiners I’ve never met and who have not read my work or the text I’m writing about.  They judge not only the work they have in front of them, but numerous external factors that I can’t control.  They could love my written work, but not think it’s right for this school or think I’m not engaging enough with theory or whatever and it’s something that might pass one set of examiners but another set will fail you so it really accentuates just how subjective this discipline is.  If you fail, you have to leave the program.  That’s right…you just go home, no more PhD.  To show you how subjective this may be, my supervisor had a student who failed, they didn’t think her project feasible or suitable for this school.  She left and applied to other schools, and graduated with her PhD from Stanford.  I already experienced this in the admissions process, I was denied from a school I really loved because I don’t use a lot of theory in my work and they are a very theory-based program.  Everyone wants to see different things from their students, even among the top 10 institutions, they’re just not all created equal.  Hence my stress levels last week…I will find out in 4 weeks whether I stay here and write the second half of my dissertation and get my PhD in roughly one year from now, or have to move back home and reapply to PhD and start the whole process over again.  One more year or four more years to get a PhD.  Obviously, this has led to discussions as to whether I’ll even try to go elsewhere because four more years is a huge commitment and Joe has already moved for me to do a PhD once.  It’s an incredibly stressful time and yet, in the last week when thinking over my options, I’ve come to terms the best I can with the potential outcomes.  I have a list of schools I’d apply to if I fail and I can decide after I get results if I’d like to do it all over again but at least I have a starting point.  I have a plan for what I would do in the interim, or at least ideas for a plan.  And I of course looked up some races in Virginia in the spring and fall because the only way I’ll stay sane amidst all the turmoil is with running and excitement over new races and things to train for.  None of this ideal but I’m ready to find out.  Sorry for the downer of an update!  I’m very rarely negative but it’s such a HUGE thing that is going on and you might be very confused if I switch from training to one race to another at a completely different time all of a sudden, but it would be because I have to move!  I’m putting it out of my mind until I hear the results so back to your regularly scheduled running, pizza, and puppies 🙂

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This is from about a month after we got Stevie.  The size difference still cracks me up. Can I please have my tiny tiny tiny puppy back?

 

Do you ever make homemade pizza? Favorite toppings? (that’s kalamata olives, pesto, goats cheese, balsamic, and sundried tomatoes on mine above!)

Favorite workout on the bike?  My plan for today is the intervals I would have done running!  5 minutes hard, 2 mins easy x 8 🙂

Ugh. Oops.

Of course, I decided it was brilliant to run outside.  Of course, I slipped.  I’m 85% sure I broke my pinky toe.  It is very swollen, very bruised, and ice cold.  And it won’t really bend.  Some sketchy google searching tells me that docs say lay off until it doesn’t bother you to run or stay off it for 4 weeks.  I’m sorry but those are two very different things.  If it doesn’t hurt in 2 days, does that mean it’s okay to run on a broken toe?  And 4 weeks for something so tiny and not very painful or relevant to my stride seems very excessive.  I have no idea.  I have found sports med docs and podiatrists online who all say very different things and running forums produce all the same varying responses.  BOO.  Someone tell me what to do.  It’s actually not that painful but it’s cold and numb.  I’m obviously staying off it for the next couple days and either resting or doing non-impact things (bike/swim) but what do I do if it feels “better” after 4 days? It’s a dumb pinky toe.

 

Anyway…I was upset and took no photos but I have this winner from 10pm last night:

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I do a lot of headstands and handstands.  Obviously, I was more tired than I thought last night because I’m all swayed over and pushing my stomach out but I’ve gotten good at holding it and can do it for more than a minute now.  Not as long with a handstand because I have weak little arms. 

 

And then I made another of my favorite dinners last night (I’m on a roll with amazing food this week)…avocado pasta!  The sauce is just amazing.

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And not complete until you grate fresh cheese all over it.  SO YUMMY.  Favorite.  PSA for dog owners who (like me) give their dogs little bits of people food…avocados are NOT okay for dogs, don’t give them anything with avocado on it.  Mine beg for pasta all the time (and like pesto the best…is that weird?) and don’t understand why they get the occasional noodle every other time but not on avocado pasta night. 

 

I’m going to be looking up some fun swim/bike workouts to break up the monotony of non-running for at least the next few days.  Any advice on my stupid toe is much appreciated. 

 

Dumbest injury you’ve ever had?

What’s your favorite way to make pasta?