Run less, party more: going coach-less

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RUN LESS PARTY MORE! 🎉😁. Thanks for the reminder @yetitrailrunners! 🙌 I’ve had a change of heart in my training philosophy over the last few weeks, and I have a lot of stuff to figure out for my next training cycle. 🤔 I always want to get faster, but my biggest motivators right now are to stay healthy and maintain the joy in running.

I’ve grown a lot as a runner over the last month. Facing a potential injury certainly changes perspectives!  One of the biggest things that I have changed is how I train. I worked with a coach for the last year as I trained for my first 100 mile race at one year postpartum, and she helped me nab a sub 3 hour marathon about three months later. Undoubtedly, my former coach helped me find speed that I didn’t know that I had.

I learned how to run intervals and tempo runs. And that’s about all that I ran.  It was good for a season (or two or three) but it’s been really hard on my body, and I was starting to dread running. When my shin splints started to hurt more than normal, I actually welcomed the excuse to cross train and scale back.

My (former) coach is a firm believer in her method, which is great, but it didn’t leave any room for modifying my next training cycle so that I didn’t only run with intensity. So now I am coach-less, and I’m kind of excited to see where this leads. It’s pretty scary because I have big goals for the end of the year, but at the end of the day, running is a hobby, and if it’s not fun (or worse, if I can’t run because of an injury), it’s  just not worth it. Thankfully, I have some pretty amazing runner friends who can help guide me through this process and help me figure out the right blend of training.

Have you ever had to separate from a coach when viewpoints were different?

Just getting warmed up

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We had a boat to catch this morning 🛥️🎣, so I just got in a quick 3 miles with this as the backdrop. 😍 Hilton Head may be hot and humid, but it’s my favorite place to run. So many memories here. ❤️ #motherrunner #bestlittletrainingbuddy #21monthsold #seapines #harbortownyachtclub #marathontraining #womensrunningcommunity #womenrunning

I slept pretty badly last night, and my husband and I overslept for our run this morning. My parents joined us last night in Hilton Head, and they invited us to join them on a charter boat today.  We were not about to pass on that opportunity, so we ran a quick three miles and quickly showered for the boat.

After running 20 miles yesterday, my body really needed to ease into a run, but instead, we hopped out of bed and ran as soon as our feet hit the pavement. I’m so glad that my parents watched Cadence for our quick run because I don’t think I could have handled the stroller. For an 8:14 pace, it felt way harder than it should have!

I was pretty unwise not to warm up, especially since I’m walking a fine line with a potential injury. Here’s a good article by David Roche with some simple suggested warm-up moves.  Warming up not only helps prevent injury, but it also helps improve performance and perceived effort. My leg swing is always lower starting out on runs where I do not adequately warm up.

I survived the three mile run, and I was happy to get the blood flowing. We only caught 3 fish, and I discovered that I get seasick when rocking at sea on a boat. Once we started driving, things got better, and I had a great time! We finished the day with a family walk, and I wore Cadence in our Kelty carrier for an hour. Great core workout!

What’s your warm-up routine? Has the need for a warm up changed as you’ve gotten older?

 

Running performance and the menstrual cycle

One of the aspects of running that I love the most is understanding how our bodies work.  I have a biomedical engineering background in sports medicine, but I didn’t really start to run until several years after I finished my masters degree.  (Ironically, I simulated the Boston Marathon for my thesis waaaaay before I had ever run a marathon.)

One of the most complex and fascinating areas of science are the hormones that make us tick.  I never gave hormones their due respect until I got pregnant and realized within days that my body had completely changed as a result of a few hormones starting the cascade of signals to grow a baby.

I have been breastfeeding for 20 months now (check out a recent post on extended breastfeeding here), so my hormones are still a bit on the postpartum spectrum, but my period returned at 16 months postpartum and so far I’ve been regular every month.  With this, I’ve taken a new interest in understanding how different levels of hormones during the menstrual cycle affect running performance.

I was on birth control for as long as I can remember before my husband and I decided to have a family. With that, I do not feel like I experienced the same shift in hormones that I feel now that I am BC free.  Before you give a point to BC for eliminating noticeable shifts in how I felt, also note that I think that BC may have negatively affected my performance.  I have come back postpartum way faster than I was pre-pregnancy, and I don’t have as much body fat. (Little sidenote: Steph Rothstein Bruce did not use BC because of her suspicions that it could affect performance, and that is how she unexpectedly got pregnant with blessing #2.)

So back to the hormones:  There are two main phases: the follicular phase (days 1-14), in which you have your period and ovulate, and the luteal phase (days 15-28) when the body is preparing for a possible pregnancy.

Follicular Phase: First menstruation occurs at day 1, and then around day 5 or 6, estrogen starts to increase along with a hormone called the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).  Around day 12 the estrogen levels surge with the luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes ovulation and an egg is released.

Luteal Phase: After ovulation, estrogen dips for a brief time, only to rise again with progesterone, as the body prepares the lining of the uterus for possible implantation.  Estrogen and progesterone peak around 5 days before menstruation. If the egg isn’t fertilized and implanted, progesterone levels fall and the body returns to day one with menstrual bleeding.

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This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MenstrualCycle.png under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

How our hormones affect us: Our carbohydrate metabolism and recovery are more similar to men in the low hormone phase than the high hormone phase. During the high hormone phase, in which we have higher amounts of both estrogen and progesterone.  High estrogen makes us spare glycogen and utilize fat stores instead. This is not a great scenario for high intensity exercise when we need a fast source of fuel.  High progesterone delays the sweat response, turns up core temperature, increases sodium loss, and increases muscle breakdown.  The result in this shift to the high hormone phase can cause fluids to move into the cells, resulting in bloating, as well as a predisposition to central nervous system fatigue. (Yay! Tell me more!) Ok, so here’s more.  During the high hormone phase, your body is more likely to break down muscle but not re-grow more (low anabolism, high catabolism).

There is not a ton of research on the effects of the monthly cycle and performance, but it is recognized that generally, low hormone times are the best for performance, with actual menstruation being noted as one of the best times to compete.  This is of course, highly subjective, as everyone has a different experience with their cycles.  If you are planning to compete during a high hormone phase, be aware that cooling will be more difficult and that proper protein ingestion will help with muscle catabolism.

What Next: If you want to learn more, I highly recommend the book Roar by Stacy Sims. She goes into much greater detail how the system works and ways to mitigate some of the negative effects of our hormone shifts.  While some of the side effects of the hormonal shifts women experience can be frustrating, we need to celebrate the amazing mechanism taking place so that we can stay healthy and grow our families.  As with just about everything in life, the more we understand, the easier it is to navigate the things of life.

Do you notice a change in your running performance at a specific time of the month?

Do you plan your races around your menstrual cycle?

 

Late to the Party

 

I just received my bib for the Peachtree Road Race 10k in the mail, and I’m in the seeded wave.  This is something new to me.  I’ve always been active, but I didn’t really run races until around 2013 when I finished my first marathon (3:45), and I had to work really hard (3 marathons) to finally BQ for entry into the 2016 Boston.  I ran my first 50k in November of 2014, then ran a 50 miler in January of 2015.  These were not fast races for me, but it was a great introduction to trails and the lovely trail community.  And then I got pregnant, and running took on a whole new meaning as a little human grew in my belly.

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Fast forward to postpartum running, and I was pleasantly surprised to have come back faster.  This wasn’t without effort, as I painstakingly ran through pregnancy and kept up a pretty tight strength routine.  I also think that pregnancy, delivery, and the whole process of keeping a baby alive gives a certain resolve that must be earned.  I can do hard things.  And I don’t take running for granted after what essentially feels like a year of injury as a pregnant runner.

My paces went from about an 8 minute mile to about a 7:30 minute mile. I trained for Boston, and ran a 3:24 at 6 months postpartum, which was a PR of about 5 minutes.  Things were definitely more speedy, but nothing like the speed that I would develop in less than a year after I hired a coach.

I signed up for my first 100 mile race shortly after Cadence was born, and decided to hire a coach since this was totally new territory for me, and as a postpartum momma, I wanted to make sure to do things right for my body.  My coach is a total badass and she has a little girl too.  A big part of my training is interval workouts.  I had never (never) run intervals before hiring Michele.  It turns out that speed work makes you fast.

I hear so many other fast runners who talk about their high school and college experiences running cross country or track with a coach who pushed them. I missed that somewhere along the way, but I’m so thankful to have a coach now who has shown me my potential.

I ran my 100 mile race in September of 2016, and I had an amazing experience and kind of accidentally placed 2nd female.  Then I set a goal for a sub 3 hour marathon in January of 2017 and surprised myself by hitting the goal in 2:58.  I have runs where I feel so slow and can’t believe that I could ever sustain that marathon pace, but then sometimes I get ambitious and want to keep getting faster.

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My next big race is the San Francisco Marathon on July 23rd. I get to start as an elite runner because of my 2:58 marathon time, which just blows my mind. I would never have dreamed that my mid-pack legs would line up with the elites.  It’s been really fun (and a lot of work) to see how fast I can get. As long as I am still enjoying the process and have the support of my sweet husband, I’ll keep chasing goals.  For anyone else who has dreams to get faster, keep pushing!  You never know what your legs can do until you give it a shot.

Have you ever surprised yourself in a race with a faster finish than you expected?

Unstructured training (break) between training

I’ve been enjoying a little unstructured time since my last race, and it’s been great to get extra sleep and decide how I’m feeling in the morning to determine what kind of workout or run I want to do. Cadence still does not sleep through the night at 19 months, and I feel like I’ll be digging myself out of this sleep deprivation hole until she graduates from high school.

My favorite runs have been with Cadence in the stroller, and I forgot how challenging that can be!  It’s so fun, but we haven’t done any high mileage together, and I think Cadence is at an age where she’s not about to fall asleep and risk the chance of missing anything. We ran 13 miles together on Saturday, which I managed to extend from our usual hour by bribing her with Cliff bar bites throughout the run.

I’ve been getting at least 45-60 min of cardio a day, as well as 3x upper body and 3x lower body strength work each week.  My legs don’t feel quite as fresh and fast as I’d like for them to be, but I have no goals this month that require for me to push hard, so I’m enjoying a little less speed and a little more baby time.

I plan to keep May unstructured and move back into training in June/July for non-goal races.  I am signed up for the Peachtree Road Race 10k on July 4, and I’m also running the San Francisco Marathon (as an elite!) on July 23.  Neither of these races are A goal races, but I want to perform well and have a good time.  There are a couple of other races that I’m considering, but nothing else on the calendar.

I will most definitely be focusing on road racing for a bit now that Gorge Waterfalls 100k is behind me.  I just don’t have the bandwidth to run on trails enough to be competitive on the technical stuff.  Plus, I really like road racing.

Based on my last race at Gorge, and my future goals, my two main areas of focus are 1. getting stronger on the hills (San Fransisco!) and 2. being mentally tough and confident.  I felt so strong for my sub 3 hour marathon in January, but it all kind of unraveled for me when I got out on the course of Gorge. But that’s how you grow. 🙂

There’s a quote by Alan Webb that I love: “Experience is something that you gain… after you need it so much.” So true, huh?

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What are you working on right now?

Maintenance: Dry Needling

So far, I have been really fortunate to not have any injuries in my training.  (Knock on wood!)  The last injury that I can remember occurred during pregnancy when I had to take about a month off because my ankle was hurting when I ran.  I was able to continue cross training, but running put too much strain on my ankle in addition to the weight of pregnancy and associated gait changes.  (Thankfully, with the rest time, I was able to continue running at about 20 weeks and ran through pregnancy until the day that I went into labor.
I largely attribute the absence of injuries to the strength plan that my coach has created for me and to preventative maintenance.  The week before my most recent marathon in January, I started to notice that my hamstring was really tight.  I raced without injury, but I definitely felt the tightness during the race, and I was never able to roll or stretch the discomfort away.  For a month, I did cross training while I recovered, so I didn’t really test the hamstring under the same duress of my normal running schedule. Within the first week back to my normal training cycle, my hamstring was crying again.
With a goal race less than two months away, I was  distraught at the idea of any additional time off while I attempted to loosen the hamstring (not to mention that none of my former efforts like massage and rolling were getting me anywhere).  So I asked around and found a good physical therapist who specialized in dry needling.  I remember reading Kaci Lickteig’s blog post from last year where she attributed her return to running to dry needling.  If the girl who wins Western States believes in it, I could at least give it a try!
I scheduled my first dry needling session in February, and found the experience  to be way less painful than I had heard others describe it, and the results were pretty magical. I’ve since returned for another hamstring session and one session for my shin area.  It’s $90 a session where I live, and my insurance doesn’t cover it.  That’s pretty expensive, and I’m thankful that my husband lets me budget for luxuries like this.
How it feels:  My experience with dry needling is that most of the insertion places just cause a slight twinge and jump of the muscle.  I have had a few times that the insertion location has felt a little more achy, but overall, I wouldn’t describe dry needling as painful.  Remember that runners typically have a pretty high threshold of pain!  I am also a little stiff after the session, and it’s recommended not to try to exercise the same day as your session because your mechanics might be off, and you’d hate to create another injury while recovering from dry needling. Ha!  (I have done some strength work after a session though.)  My physical therapist advised that more hydrated bodies feel less pain during needling, so drink up before your first session!
My results: I have had slight relief after the sessions, but the real relief normally doesn’t set in until after the first day or two.  I often have the dry needling appointments in the afternoon, and I can still feel a little tightness the next day on my run.  But by the second or third day, the muscles have generally released and the magic of dry needling is realized.  Voila!
How it works:  A needle is inserted into a myofascial trigger point to produce a local twitch response.  This twitch results in muscle relaxation due to the release of shortened bands of muscle fibers. The local twitch responses are spinal cord reflexes, which helps break the pain cycle.  Not much is understood about dry needling, but the results speak for themselves.  When my hamstring was so tight, the physical therapist determined that my hamstring wasn’t really tight, as my leg could fold at a 90 degree angle, but I had knots in the hamstring that made me perceive tightness.  Dry needling signaled for my hamstring to release and removed the feeling of tightness that I was experiencing.
So far I am a happy customer when it comes to dry needling.  While I’d love to not have any pains requiring this type of treatment, it is inevitable with my body and the type of training that I am doing.  It’s nice to have dry needling in my toolbox when I need it.
Has anyone else tried dry needling?  What have your experiences been?

(Un)balanced

The other day someone asked on Instagram if I have balance in my life in reference to all of my training.  I use my Instagram account as a running account, and it’s full of training pictures, but it still made me feel a little defensive.  I read the post right before I went to bed, so I went through various stages of answering this question in my head throughout the night (made possible when your baby wakes you up in the night and starts the thought process over again).

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I woke up clear headed with my answer.  No, I don’t have balance.  That’s not my goal.  If we’re honest, not many people have balance, whether they are training for crazy goals, or just trying to survive motherhood in a world that has traffic and work and grocery shopping and housework and relationships to attend to.

I don’t think there have been many stages in my life where I lived a balanced life.  I’ve always lived in extremes. I finished first in my class in high school, skipping my senior year and going to college early.  I didn’t drink before I turned 21. I was not good at math growing up, so I majored in engineering and ended up getting my masters degree in it.  I finished the masters degree in 1.5 years, while my peers took 3+ years to finish.  I married the first person who I ever went on more than three dates with.  I never missed a workout until I hired a coach and she made me so tired that I finally took rest days seriously.

Like most runners, I’m a bit A type, and I also really love to train and get stronger and faster.  So this past year of running postpartum has been a lot of work, but it has also been extremely rewarding.  I compared my Boston Marathon experience to Disney for adults.  In that case, training for my first 100 mile race and completing it was heaven.  And the feeling of satisfaction in training a little harder to get my sub-3 marathon was the icing on the cake.  While I can do it, I’m going to keep going.  I have a supportive husband and a baby who fits right in to the schedule.  It’s hard work, and I have to make sacrifices, but that’s where I am in life right now.  Unbalanced.  🙂

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Is balance one of your goals?