Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 7

Better late than never, I'm finally posting last week's training summary.  Rest assured, my training efforts for the week were much more on-target than my attempts to catalog them.  Without (even) further adieu:

Monday (1/19):  4 mile run.
The training plan stepped up to a new level this week, so 4 is the new 3.  I'm still trying to solidify a 4-mile neighborhood route that I like.
Tuesday (1/20):  Pilates core workout plus additional strength.
An innocuous seeming YouTube video, this turned out to be surprisingly tough.  I knew it was harder than expected while I was doing it, but the aftereffects really snuck up on me later in the day.  Yowza!
Wednesday (1/21):  7 mile run.
This may come as a surprise, but it is hard to squeeze in 7 miles before 6:00am.  I ran half at tempo pace so that I could get home in time to supervise the household morning routine.
Thursday (1/22):  yoga and strength work.
I focused on yoga positions for my neck, shoulders, and back.  I always remember to work out the tight spots in my lower body, but I often neglect my upper body when it comes to yoga.  Given that the upper body is working plenty hard to carry me through my miles, it was past time to give those muscles a little TLC.
Friday (1/23):  3 mile run.
My last easy 3-miler of this training plan.  From here on out, the short weekday runs move up to 4 or 5 miles...
Saturday (1/24):  14 mile run.
A.K.A. my longest run ever!!  The weather was pleasant (considering that it's January), I got to run in the daylight, and I ran negative splits on my out-and-back route.  It wasn't all rosy, however.  Miles 6-9 were tough.  Given how exhausted I felt in those middle miles, I could not fathom running the full 14.  After I hit 10, I felt like I'd been recharged.  My legs were certainly fatigued, but I had the mental and physical energy to finish the run.  I probably checked my watch 13 times in the final half mile because I was so ready to be done.  But the feeling of accomplishment when it clicked over to 14?  Un-freaking-believable.
Sunday (1/25):  REST!
A day so packed with activity that I barely noticed I hadn't worked out.

Neighborhood tree week 7: much the same as last week and all the previous ones.
Maybe this whole tree picture wasn't such a great idea...
This week featured some tough runs that pushed me out of my comfort zone.  7 miles on a weekday?  New distance PR?  Why not?  Both of those runs challenged me mentally and physically, but the feelings of badassness (that's a word, right?) that followed are without comparison.  I'd do it all again just to find those feelings again.  And lucky me, I get to do just that while I continue with this training cycle ;)

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Beauty of the Out-and-Back

Most of the time, I cover my miles using loop courses.  I like to make tidy little shapes with my maps and check out new scenery on every step of the run.  As I've been planning longer runs, however, I've found it difficult to always make a nice little loop.  I'm learning that not all neighborhoods around me have sidewalks or comfortable shoulders for running, so some routes that look good on Google maps, quickly become treacherous when I attempt them on foot.

For my last few long runs, I've tried out-and-back courses instead, and I'm really liking them.  I find it a challenge to push myself far enough on the out.  I sometimes want to cave and turn around before I'm halfway through my miles, but I usually try to resist the temptation.  I'd rather go too far out and tack a little extra walking on the end of the run than not go far enough and face the temptation to cut the run short or run laps around my block to make up the extra distance.

I took my "more out is better than more back" idea a little too far on Saturday's 14-miler.  I was heading out on a road I've driven many times but one that I've never run.  Engrossed in an episode of Serial, I cruised along, enjoying new scenery and fresh air.  I checked my watch and realized that I'd gone out further than I needed to and quickly turned around to retrace my steps back home.  Sure enough, my watch clicked over to 14 miles when I was more than a mile from my house.  I didn't really mind.  I appreciated the extra time to walk to stretch out my legs, and it was such a gloriously sunny, warm day that I enjoyed the additional fresh air and quiet moments to myself.

My I-just-rocked-14-miles (and have crazy wind-blown hair to prove it) face :)
My favorite part about an out-and-back is that the back always seems to go so much quicker than the out.  Retracing the ground I just covered seems like it would annoy me, but instead, it feels comforting.  And I love the idea that each step I take is getting me closer to my destination: home.  While it can take some mental gymnastics to go out far enough, the back feels like a no-brainer.  In the late miles when my legs are tired and my brain is protesting, I need any mental advantage that I can get.

Do you prefer out-and-back courses or loops?  Why?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 6

For those of you keeping track at home, six is one third of eighteen, which means that I'm 33% of the way through my marathon training journey.  That statement seems quite unbelievable.  It still seems like I'm just getting started, warming up before the real training starts.  Looking ahead, I know my plan will ramp up in intensity in the coming weeks, but the first six weeks of training were certainly no gimme.  I'm proud of what I've done so far, and I'm excited to see what else is to come.  In the immediate term, however, my week six workouts looked like this:

Monday (1/12):  3 mile run and strength work.
Continued cold temperatures and patchy ice found me running on my treadmill yet again.  So soon after my treadmill long run, I wanted nothing to do with the hamster wheel, but I sucked it up and powered through the easy 3-miler.  I followed the run with some strength work, including squats, lunges, and core work.
Tuesday (1/13):  6 mile run.
The temperature was barely 15* (with a windchill around 5*), but I couldn't stomach the thought of facing the treadmill yet again.  Perhaps against my better judgment, I headed outside, running the first half with Emily and the second half solo.  My watch died after a mile and my phone froze not much later, but I survived.
Desperate to warm up after Tuesday's cold run,
I camped out directly in front of our heating vent with a mug of hot green tea.
Wednesday (1/14):  yoga.
For the first time in several weeks, I heeded my alarm on a non-running day and did my yoga before everyone else was up for the day.  I love my early morning runs, but I seem much less likely to wake up for an early morning cross training session.  Today I conquered the snooze and made it happen.
Thursday (1/15):  3 mile run.
The temperatures began to thaw, and we enjoyed this run with one less layer of clothing!  It's the little things...
Friday (1/16):  strength work.
A day that was far from routine and one in which a workout seemed unlikely to happen.  I squeezed in 20 minutes for strength work (core, squats, and arms) and counted it as a victory.
Saturday (1/17):  9 mile run.
With temperatures slated to be in the 40s and 50s, my one goal for this run was to complete it in the sunshine while wearing capris.  Mission accomplished!  I felt happy and strong throughout this run.  Sunshine + no need for reflective clothing + Serial podcast = one happy mother runner.
Exposed ankles and sunshine: nothing but good things on Saturday's long run.
Sunday (1/18):  REST!
I usually look forward to my rest days, but this week, it felt tough to take the day off.  I wanted to do something to get my body moving, but heading into a hard week of training, I knew a complete rest day was the right choice.  I threw my energy into deep cleaning the house and blogging :)

Besides my workouts, I also visited my chiropractor this week.  All my problem spots from last spring (low back and hips) are holding strong, and she put my ankles, neck, and shoulders back where they belong.  Walking out of the appointment, I felt like a brand new person.  I plan to continue checking in monthly during this training cycle to keep everything in its place and hopefully prevent injuries from cropping up.  The best rehab is prehab!

Sunshine on my favorite tree, which refuses to drop its remaining leaves.
All in all, a solid week of training and one that showed me how much my psyche has adapted to the marathon training load.  When my sister asked how long my weekend run was, I told her it was a step-back week, so just 9 miles.  She shook her head and laughed at my blase attitude.  When did I become that lady to whom 9 miles is a drop in the bucket?  I'm not sure, but I think I like it :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Finding Time and Honing Mental Toughness

As it turns out, training for a marathon takes a lot of time.  Earth-shattering revelation, no?  Before deciding to train for this distance, I accounted for the extra time I'd spend out on the road logging my miles, but there's a bunch of other time that I didn't quite consider: additional stretching and foam rolling, plotting new (longer!) routes, planning logistics for long runs while still balancing the family calendar.  I knew I'd have to do these things, and I knew they would take time.  However, I hadn't considered the enormity of the mental energy they would require.  The planning, scheduling, and organizing are almost as exhausting as the miles themselves.

In spite of all this, I'm so glad that I decided to train for a marathon this winter.  I'm (over-) committed on many different fronts, but running is the singular thing I do for me.  By signing up for the marathon, I've committed to taking care of myself: eating the right food, getting enough sleep, guarding my mental and physical health.  I obviously should do these things no matter the race calendar, but running gives me extra impetus to focus on my well-being.  Without the marathon as my anchor, I likely would have slipped on most, if not all, of these tasks.

The marathon training process is also an opportunity to develop my mental toughness, which will carry me through the late miles on race day AND through countless other real-life difficulties.  The lessons I learn while running make me a stronger wife/mother/human.  This training plan is teaching me to push my limits, to try something that seems too crazy to imagine, to continue pushing until the work is done.  Because of this mental training, I'm better equipped to handle the numerous non-running stresses in my life.

So, while it seems crazy to add one more enormous task onto my plate, I wouldn't change it for the world.  There are other things on my docket that I'd drop in a heartbeat if given the opportunity, but not the marathon.  That is mine, and I'm keeping it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 5

Mother Nature did her best to wreak havoc on week 5 of my marathon training schedule.  Bitterly cold temperatures swept through the country, enveloping us in temperatures that barely reached double digits and windchills that hovered around 0*.  Not to be derailed by a little cold, I braved two frigid runs at the beginning of the week but decided that the treadmill was a safer option for the late-week runs, including my long run.  To recap, my training week looked like this:

Monday (1/5):  3 mile run and strength work.
A windy, cold neighborhood run with Emily.  The wind made my eyes water, which quickly turned to ice.  In case you wondered, frozen eyelashes are an odd sensation, especially while running.  Post-run, I did some strength work focusing on core and legs with a few ceremonial push-ups.
Tuesday (1/6):  6 mile run.
Still trying to settle on a good 6 mile loop, I headed to a park that's about 2 miles away.  It was not the most scenic route, but it was a good change of pace.  My legs felt heavy throughout the run from the cold and from Monday's strength work.

My iPhone's message after Tuesday's cold run.
I'm sure it was out of it's acceptable temperature range,
though most likely on the other end of the spectrum, at least if my
frozen fingers get a vote...

Wednesday (1/7):  yoga.
Yoga during naptime was the perfect choice on this blustery cold day.  Just 30 minutes, but I felt renewed and invigorated when I was finished.
Thursday (1/8):  3 mile run and strength work.
My first treadmill run of the week.  I began listening to the Serial podcast on the recommendation of several other mother runners and was instantly hooked.  I followed up the run with some squats, lunges, planks, and glute exercises.
Friday (1/9):  neighborhood power walk.
A 4:00 explosion from all three kids (yes, simultaneous tears on all fronts!) made me want to tear out my hair.  Instead, I headed out for a quick pre-dinner walk as soon as my husband got home from work.  The crisp air was refreshing, clearing my head and restoring my sanity - at least temporarily.
Saturday (1/10):  12 mile run.
On the treadmill.  Ugh.  Long.  Mentally exhausting.  Not something I care to repeat any time soon.
Sunday (1/11):  REST.
We spent my rest day celebrating Mr. D's 7th birthday!  How I can possibly be the mother of a 7-year-old is a subject for another post ;)

While yoga only shows up once on this list, I snuck in mini yoga moments throughout the week whenever I could.  Just a pose or two here and there to help work out some kinks.  Though this was a tougher week of training, both in terms of mileage and circumstances, I feel satisfied with how it went.  Not ideal conditions and my performance was far from perfect, but I persevered and garnered some serious mental toughness.  

(No picture of the tree this week.  Since I did my long run inside, I didn't think to go out to snap the weekly pic.  And I guarantee you don't want to see photo evidence of the view from my treadmill!)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

12 Miles to Nowhere

Yesterday found me with 12 miles to run and no good way in which to complete them.  Due to family commitments, I had to fit in my long run in the morning, and Mother Nature was not smiling upon me.  The temperatures barely reached 15* with windchills hovering around 5*.  Knowing that my 12 miles would take about 2 hours, I reasoned that it would be unwise to spend such a long time out in the bitterly cold air.  I'm as badass as the next mother runner, but losing a toe to frostbite isn't high on my to-do list.

With the outdoors off the table, I was left with one other choice: 12 miles on the treadmill.  In my dark, uninviting basement.  With baskets of laundry and bins of outgrown clothes to keep me company.  By Thursday, I was 93% certain that this would be my fate, so I had a good 36 hours to prepare mentally.  I knew I just had to embrace the suck and do everything I could to make it as painless as possible.  I downloaded several episodes of the Serial podcast, cued up a few episodes of Friends on Netflix, and lined up my water, dates, and headphones on the treadmill console.  Time to quit moping and make it happen.

My Strava post after the run.  I stand by my assertion that
monotony is better than frostbite, though I'm not sure by how much...

The run began worse than I expected.  The first mile dragged on forever, and I couldn't wrap my brain around the possibility of logging another 11.  But by mile 3, my mind had accepted my fate and stopped complaining about the unchanging view.  I found my zone for miles 3-6, but then my brain re-engaged and started rioting.  6 miles was my previous treadmill distance record, and both my brain and my legs knew it; neither of them wanted to continue past the 6-mile mark.  It took all the mental strength I had to stay on the treadmill because every fiber of my being wanted to hop off and call it a day.

After fueling at mile 8, I found my stride again.  "Just 4 miles to go," I told myself.  "You can do this!"  I knocked the speed down a little, switched from podcasts to Netflix, and solidered on.  Mile 11 was another low point, but I forced myself to kick up the pace for the final mile.  I upped the speed every .2 of mile 12 and finished feeling strong but exhausted, both mentally and physically.  It was undoubtedly the hardest run I've had in quite some time.

I climbed the basement stairs and rejoined the family, barely mustering the words, "that.was.hard." in response to my husband's inquiry about the run.  I was totally spent, yet at the same time, I felt like a rockstar!  As I laid in our dining room with my legs up the wall, I thought about what I had done: powered through when I wanted to quit, tackled an insane number of miles while staying in one place, and lived to tell about it.  I have no doubt that I will face mental difficulties such as this on race day.  This run was an opportunity to practice my response when negative thoughts try to defeat me.  Though I didn't break any land speed records (why is it so much harder to run on a treadmill?!), I am so proud of my effort.  I will carry this victory with me for many future runs and remember that the harder the battle, the sweeter the reward.

What's your treadmill distance PR?  Given the scenario, would you have braved the cold or faced the treadmill?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Favorite Yoga Poses

I have come to LOVE yoga!  With the hubbub of December, I struggled to keep yoga in my weekly rotation, and I could definitely feel a difference.  When I practice yoga regularly, my muscles feel relaxed, my brain is balanced, and I recover more quickly from hard runs.  When I don't, both my legs and my brain feel tight, tense, and edgy.

If you're interested in adding some yoga to your regimen, I've compiled my favorite yoga poses and videos.  Full disclaimer: I am in no way qualified to give out advice on yoga.  I'm self-taught via the interwebz, so I have no formal training on the subject.  However, I've learned a few things that work very well for my body, and I'd love to share what I've learned to see if they might work for you, too.  A quick rundown of my favorite poses for yoga novices:

1.  Triangle:  stretches the hips, thighs, and low back

2.  Pyramid:  hits the calves and hamstrings

3.  Happy Baby:  relaxes the hamstrings, groin, and back

4.  Lying Cow Face Pose (I don't name them; I just do them!):  incredible stretch for the glutes and IT band

5.  Toes Pose:  works out the ball of the foot and the top of the foot through the shin

6.  Standing Side Bend:  stretches the entire side body from the legs up through the torso

7.  Legs up the Wall:  eases tension in legs and back

Yoga has taught me how to listen - and respond - to my body.

I like to do Triangle Pose and Pyramid after every run.  They give a nice, gentle stretch to the hamstrings, calves, and low back.  If I only have a few minutes, hitting just those two poses is enough to help ease my tired muscles.  If I can squeeze in a few more minutes, I add in Happy Baby, Lying Cow Face Pose, and the Toes Pose.  Not pretty to look at, but they work wonders.

The Standing Side Bend may seem like an odd one to include here, but you'd be surprised by how tight your upper body can become during a long run or a speedwork session.  Stretching out these muscles is the ultimate refresher.  Ahhhmazing!  The final pose on the list, Legs up the Wall, is pure magic.  I have no idea how this pose works, but it makes a huge difference for me, particularly after a long run.  When I can lay in this pose for 5-10 minutes after a hard workout, I feel like a million bucks for the rest of the day, and I usually have limited soreness the following day, too.  I cannot recommend this pose highly enough.  If you are unable to do anything else in this post, give this pose a try after your next long run!  You'll love it, I promise.

I've found that I don't have to do yoga all in one session to reap its benefits.  Undoubtedly, the mental benefits are much greater when you can dedicated an uninterrupted block of time to its practice.  But, in the busy mother runner life, sprinkling poses throughout the day can still help your achy body.  I'll do a standing side bend while waiting for the microwave.  Put my legs up the wall while reading a book to my toddler.  Do toes pose in the shower (especially in the winter, when I don't want to leave its warmth).  Stand in triangle and pyramid while chatting with my 1st grader after school.

If you're looking for an easy-to-follow online yoga class for beginners, I highly recommend the hips, hamstrings, and low back classes on  Check out my review of the classes for links and more details.  If you're looking for something slightly faster-paced, Ekhart Yoga also has a great yoga for runners class.  View this post for full details and a link.

Give one of these poses a try after your next run and report back.  And let me know of your favorite poses, too!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Week 4

And just like that, I've knocked four weeks off my training plan.  I feel hesitant to say this, for fear of jinxing myself, but training is off to a very strong start.  New Year's Eve notwithstanding, I improved my food choices tremendously this week (seriously, they couldn't have gotten worse! The bar for improvement was very low), which certainly made for easier workouts.  Overall, my training week looked like this:

Monday (12/29):  3 mile run.
Easy Christmas light route with Emily.  Perhaps our last chance to see them this season...
Tuesday (12/30):  6 mile run and strength work.
I felt apprehensive about this run after Saturday's disastrous six miler, but I rocked this one, managing negative splits and a tempo pace for the second half.  Post-run, I did strength work focusing on core and arms; a very tough workout after the run.
Wednesday (12/31):  yoga.
I combined some of my favorite poses to work out the tension in my hips, calves, hamstrings, and low back.  I walked away feeling amazingly relaxed and refreshed!
Thursday (1/1):  3 mile run.
Emily and I kicked off the new year with an easy three miler through the neighborhood.  Though I was short on sleep and fueled primarily by chicken wings, I felt surprisingly good.
Friday (1/2):  11 mile run.
With a weekend forecast for freezing rain, sleet, and high winds, I took advantage of the dry, low-30s weather on Friday to complete my long run.  I explored a new running route, which included lots of hills and an unfortunate lack of sidewalks in several places.  All part of the adventure, I suppose.  Though I was tired and ready to be done at mile 10, I held on for a strong finish.

My "I just rocked 11 miles" face.
So.darn.proud. of that run.

Saturday (1/3):  yoga and strength.
On a busy, busy day, I squeezed in some time for yoga and strength work.  Short but sweet.
Sunday (1/4):  REST!
And by rest I mean from working out.  The day was far from restful, but my legs were grateful for the break from exercise.  With my long run on Friday, taking both weekend days off from running felt very odd.  I'm itching to get back out there tomorrow!

After Friday's 11-miler, I relaxed that night mother-runner style:
with compression socks, recreational reading, and a vodka cranberry :)
I couldn't be more pleased with this week of training: I nailed my long run, conquered my old foe six, and managed to complete two yoga and strength workouts, too.  A very solid week of training, and one that I hope sets the tone for 2015.  4 weeks down, 14 to go!

The tree, week 4.
I promise, the sun does shine occasionally in St. Louis!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Goals for 2015

The gals of Another Mother Runner encouraged their tribe to put their goals for 2015 into the universe.  By taking the time to create clear, measurable goals, one has a much greater chance for achieving them.  I make internal goals quite regularly, but I rarely write them down.  The commitment - and risk of failure - that comes with putting dreams into written words feels like too much pressure for this recovering perfectionist.

I'm taking the leap, however, and writing down concrete goals for the coming year.  And I'm leaping even further by posting them here.  I focused on goals that would help me as a runner but also as a wife/mother/friend/human being.  I limited my list to three.  Many more would feel overwhelming; fewer would not pose enough of a challenge.  So here they are, my goals for 2015:

1.  Train wisely for the GO! St. Louis marathon: Arrive at the starting line healthy and happy; cross the finish line upright and smiling.
2.  Remove both mental and physical clutter: Discover what matters and truly focus on it; let go of the rest.
3.  Embrace the journey - and the suck: It won't always be pretty or easy or fun; sometimes it will suck.  Do it anyway!!

I'm looking forward to the challenge of these goals and to discovering new things about myself as I work to tackle them.  What are your goals for 2015?