Wednesday, October 29, 2014

my eleven

When I'm running my weekly long run (we're talking anywhere from 10 to 20 miles these days), my guard drops and the truth of who I am and what I can accomplish comes out. I have heard too many times that running is 10% physical, 90% mental. I have found this to be the case if running conditions are optimal and I can focus on each step I take; counting as I breathe, envisioning myself making it over the hill, adjusting my gait to try to hit heel first once and a while. So yeah, every so often I find myself in ideal running conditions and I feel incredible. But most of the time, runs are hard and my body starts to physically break down. Frequently, running is just as physically challenging as mentally challenging; it's more 50/50 for me. I find myself having to push through the pain just to make it through every run.
Since there is a lot of physical strength involved in running, I take my distance run training seriously. I follow a plan. And because there is also my mental toughness being developed, I read A LOT about running. I read at least five running articles a day, covering everything from the most common mistakes runners make to how to pace yourself while training for your next long race. When it comes to running articles, I don't discriminate; I read them all. But they are all, to a degree, saying the same thing; they are giving the same tips. A friend appropriately pointed out to me that these articles are being published online as pieces from commercial enterprises; basically I need to take what they choose to write about with a grain of salt. The ultimate goal of Women's Running Magazine is to sell magazines. It's not a hidden agenda; it's actually clear and appropriate. So they post clever articles about the ten best running gadgets (really?) and what to eat the week before a marathon. And it can be helpful. But so is actually putting on your shoes (they'll tell you how to pick the best shoes for running, too) and hitting the pavement. 

Typically, a running magazine/blog/article/website will have something super generic, like this article from Active entitled, "10 tips for injury free running."

But by learning to run miles around my town several times a week, here is what I have learned (and some of it isn't pretty).

1. Sprints work. A year and a half ago I started lifting weights with a trainer. I became, and still feel, strong. One of the first and best warm-ups my trainer showed me was running sprints. Run 45 seconds on the treadmill or the pavement as fast as you possibly can, walk fast for 90 seconds, while waiting for my heart rate to drop about 30 bpm (to around 140 bpm). And then once again sprint for 45 seconds again, walk for 90 seconds, repeating this for as long as you like, for no more than 30 minutes. I typically run 1.5 miles in 15 minutes at this pace and I love it. It may at first be hard to make the full 45 seconds (30 seconds is fine, or work your way up from 20 seconds to 45 seconds with time and practice), but it has helped my race stamina tremendously. I ran a 12K three weeks ago and I was so prepared for the shorter distance race that I ran the last half mile in a full on sprint. And I crossed the finish line with a huge smile across my face. Sprinting works for me.
2. Every part of me can sweat. And it does. My elbows sweat. Okay, my elbows probably don't technically sweat, but there is a constant stream of sweat beads forming on and then shaking themselves off of my elbows. I now know that I sweat in places I didn't think possible. And you will too. My hair drips water out of my ponytail. My boobs sweat soo much they chafe. Trust me, NO ONE told me in any article about boob chafing. But it's true, we will all chafe at some point. So run out and buy yourself some body glide and don't be afraid to cover yourself with it. Because it works. "Chafing" is no longer a part of my running vocabulary. No more covering everything with band-aids - I've evolved.

3. My hip hurts when I run. Okay, this I actually did read about in a running magazine. But it's also something important that affects me. Because only my right hip hurts. But wow does it hurt. It has ALMOST caused me to stop every long run I've ever attempted. But it hasn't yet. Instead, my hip just hurts and I deal with it, typically starting mid-run. But it's only on the right side. Go figure.

4. There are runners who race. But there are other runners who don't. I race every once and a while (once or twice a year) because I love the actual race. I race to see the city in the morning. I race to experience the joy of running with total strangers. I race to push myself to my limit. And, as a novice, I race to figure out my pace; to get a sense of just how long and how fast (or slow) I am actually running. But there are many people I know who are true runners that don't ever race. Racing is not for them. But they are more dedicated to running than I have ever been. Non racers run several times a week, and have been for years. And they will continue to run long after I've given up.

5. I do the Gu. At first, I was skeptical of using gels and goos. I can still not need any pre-race prep. Sometimes it's okay just to tie on my shoes, go outside, and run 7 miles. No problem. But on longer runs, I found I was always hitting a half-marathon wall at mile 11. The last two miles were always evil, and felt torturous, and were in the end just too much for me. Until I started running with Gu. Gu helps. Sugar helps. The best long run I've ever had included 2 cookies and coffee pre-run, two Gus during run, and a Gatorade post-run. This got me through my longest run ever. The Gu definitely helped.
6. And cookies help too. Before a long run, I eat cookies and coffee. I have tried all other recommended breakfasts, from bananas to dry toast, peanut butter on bagels, and energy bars. I've even tried salad (an ultra-marathoners go-to breakfast), but I'd find myself throwing up by mile 8 if I hadn't eaten anything. Until I found cookies. A cookie (or four) pre-run has enough sugar to get me through the first few miles happily and don't come back up during the last few miles. It's not the advice any magazine would recommend, but it's what works for me. So I'm going to stick with it. (Runners World actually slightly agrees with me; Eat 2 Run and everyone else does not).

7. I foam roll religiously. This little piece of PVC pipe covered in foam is one of the best investments I have ever made. I love it. I foam roll almost every day. It's not necessary, but I also can't remember the last time my quads and calves have been sore post-run. Foam rolling helps with lactic acid in my legs and helps my muscles recover faster. Foam rolling hurts, at first. But then it's wonderful and I love every minute of it. I foam roll post-run and sometimes even soak my legs in an Epsom salt bath. I have skinny little legs with almost no muscle; my pencil stick legs used to hurt every single day. Now my legs (especially my quads) never scream. Well, almost never...

8. I don't run with an iPhone. And I am in the minority. Because I run outside several times a week, I typically run laps around San Francisco and I end up passing a lot of fellow runners. 90% of those running have their iPhones on them. I, on the other hand, do not. For many simple and personal reasons. The main reason is that it's heavy and bulky. The iPod nano 6th gen (with the clip and Nike+ tracking) is a runner's dream device. I use it every day. It also has incredible battery life; my iPhone does not. It holds 10,000 songs and my iPhone most certainly does not. My iPod Nano doesn't require holding it in my hand or require me to attach a giant armband (that honestly breaks every time) to my arm. So I leave my iPhone at home. Because I do this, you also can't reach me when I'm out on a run. While no one really cares that I'm unavailable for a few hours every week, I also won't post pictures taken during a run. I'd probably like to, but not enough that I would try juggling an iPhone on my arm during a 16 mile run. I only carry my iPhone when I am in a new place, like going on a random run down the beach in Mexico, getting lost on a jog through Lima, or running in the dark (its flashlight is awesome).

iPhone 6s vs iPod Nano 6th gen
Which would you choose to carry on a 10+ mile run?

9. I do run with a safety net; I carry my clipper card. I bring my bus pass with me on every long run just in case. To date, I have never had to stop mid-run nor been stranded miles from home. But in the event that I do have to stop for any number of valid reasons, I know I can always hop on a bus and be home shortly. I did this after my 12K a few weeks ago. The race ended miles from my home and since I didn't have my iPhone with me, I couldn't call a friend or even a cab. So I took the bus. And I was home in a snap. It was awesome. Because going out on a 14 mile run is difficult enough for me, knowing that if I'm having an off day or a bad run, I can always get home. This makes me feel okay. And that takes a load off my already jumpy nerves.

10. I wish all my toenails were gone. Currently, I've only got about seven remaining. And there are another one or two that are so badly bruised they should be falling off soon. The remaining toenails I wish would just hit the road. Currently, having toenails only adds to the pain. If I didn't have any nails on my toes, they wouldn't rub in my shoes and wouldn't cause any pain. And, thus, life would be better (don't worry, you don't have to see my nail-less toes; I don't typically wear sandals). If the first thing that comes to mind when I mention removing my toenails is torture, you would technically be correct. While the ripping off of toenails has been used as a mechanism of torture, simply allowing us runners (or maybe just me) to remove our whole toenails would actually make us very happy.

11. I love to talk about running, but it's not my whole life. I also talk about the book I'm reading, the trip I'm taking, what's new with my family, how things are going with my start-up company, and some of the new volunteer projects I've got going on. But I do talk A LOT about running. I'm not obsessed, I'm just in new territory and I'm scared. It's always in the back of my mind; what does this week look like? When will I fit my long run in? What will I do for my shorter runs and sprints and cross-training? Do I have everything I need to run my best run? What are my goals for the week? These thoughts (and more) are constantly running through my mind. So yeah, I may seem a little running obsessed lately. But I'm new to the run-life balance. I'd like to think I'm getting better at it every passing week.

So that's a look at what running is like for me. We all feel differently about running. But hopefully you too have wondered HOW your elbows manage to sweat. Or perhaps your loved ones also think that when you foam roll you're simply inflicting unnecessary pain on yourself and they will never enjoy doing it themselves. Or maybe you love taking mid-run selfies and I'm nuts to run without an iPhone (it certainly appears that way). Whatever gets you from mile 0 to mile 1 and all the way to mile 26 is what matters. For me, it involves a heavy amount of toe bandaging and dozens of sugar cookies. And lacing up my shoes for yet another 2+ hour run. And loving (almost) every minute of it.

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