Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pre-Martinsville Half Thoughts & Goals

I'll be running in the Martinsville Half Marathon this weekend in Martinsville, VA.  This will be half marathon #3 for me.  I'm pretty excited about it but there are also a few things that are leaving me with some pre-race jitters.

First, let's talk about the weather.  I've been stalking the forecast for a while now and we are close enough that I can see the hourly forecast for Saturday morning:

If I hadn't run in the monsoon Blue Ridge Half Marathon last year, I might be freaking out about this.  But my past experiences have shown me that running in the rain is AWESOME, provided that you've got enough Body Glide in all the right places, good socks, and warm dry clothes to change into after the race.  The temperature looks warm enough to be able to run in a tank top even with the rain, so that's good.  So would I rather have dry conditions? Yes. But I'll take the rain, too. 

Next, let's talk about the course.  I didn't really look closely at the elevation profile before signing up for this race. I live about an hour away from Martinsville and for some reason I thought the course would be pretty flat.  Not so much:

This is not awful, but it definitely makes me think about my game plan.  I just need to remember that there is a short hill at mile 2, downhill between miles 2.5 through 3, uphill for miles 4 and 5, downhill from mile 6 through 8.5, uphill from mile 9.5 through 12, and flat for the last mile. The downhills are long and are a great place to make up a little time, but I have to save enough energy so that I'm not walking uphill for miles 10-12.  Hills have a tendency to aggravate my back a little bit, so I just need to remember to be careful, too.

I have never had to "travel" to a race.  I know an hour is not that far away, but I have never really had to go more than 10-15 minutes away for a race. I am going to have to leave by 5:45. That means I need to wake up ridiculously early to eat breakfast and do my business.  That leaves a lot of time for me to get hungry again before the race starts at 8. I'm thinking I'll pack some Honey Stinger waffles and/or half of an apple butter sandwich to snack on before the race. Hopefully those things won't cause any digestive issues during the race.  Of course there are the other concerns with traveling to a race...what if I oversleep, what if we get lost or have car trouble or there is traffic or we can't find a place to park...

I am of course a little nervous about my back, too.  It has felt a little off this week.  I went to the chiropractor on Tuesday and my back was feeling better on Wednesday afternoon and it felt pretty good during my run Wednesday afternoon and at the beginning of today.  Sitting at my desk at work for 10 hours today has kind of pissed it off so I'm icing it right now.

So those are the things that I'm nervous about. Now it's time to put my goals out there:

My first goal in ALL of my races is to FINISH and HAVE FUN. But I also have a few time goals in mind...
  • I'll be satisfied as long as I get under 2:20 (10:42 pace)
  • I'll be really happy if I get around/between 2:13:49 (1st 1/2 marathon time; 10:13 pace) and 2:14:49 (2nd 1/2 marathon time; 10:18 pace)
  • I'll be super excited if I get below 2:10 (9:56)
I know 2:10 will be hard, but not impossible. Why? Because I broke 2:10 on a 13.1 mile training run 2 weeks ago.  The only thing that makes me doubt my ability to meet this goal is the fact that my training run was on a pancake flat route. It all depends on who shows up on race day...a fast Lauren or a slow Lauren.

Let's hope I do more running than crawling!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Frustrations and Holy Heel Striking

I have been pretty quiet on here lately about my much-better-but-not-all-the-way-better back injury. Thankfully my lack of back talk has been due to the fact that my back has, for the most part, felt pretty good recently.

For those of you who are new to my blog or can't keep the 2934795 blogs that you read straight, I injured my SI joint last October when I was training for my first marathon.  I stopped running for about 6ish weeks and didn't run my marathon.  I have been able to gradually build my mileage back up and I am to the point where I can run a half marathon again (I am running one next weekend, in fact).

Last weekend I even set a new unofficial (not in a race) half marathon PR of 2:09:49 and I was on top of the world about it.  A few days after that I did a 7 mile run that included 800+ feet of elevation gain.  So on the outside it looks like my running is going awesome, right? Well, not so much. It's going well, but not as great as I'd like it to be.

Before and during my runs my back doesn't hurt the way it did when I first hurt it (when it hurt to walk a lot or stand on one leg to put on a pair of pants).  It will feel a little tight at first, but it seems to loosen up after a mile or two to the point where I don't really think about it. And it never feels any worse to the point where I feel like I should quit a run early.

What is frustrating me is the fact that the day after some of my runs (and sometimes until the next time I run) my back just feels off.  It's not a painful feeling at all and I'm not running to the chiropractor after every run, but it just doesn't feel right.  It doesn't feel that way after every run, but it seems to come about when I really push myself (like after a 13.1 mile PR or a 7 mile run up and down Mill Mountain).

Anyone who has been through some sort of injury like this can probably relate.  Honestly I'm sure some of it is in my head.  It's easy to get nervous and scared and think that the slightest soreness or minimal pain is a sign of re-injury.  Because let's face it, being injured really sucks and nobody wants to take time off from doing something they love.  Frustrations also arise in trying to balance listening to your body and facing your fears (in this case, fear of injuries) and just doing it (please note that I am not at all suggesting running through actual injuries).

So my natural instinct is that I need to do something to fix it.  And here's where I get even more frustrated...

I'm sure some of you will read this and say, well, sounds like you just need to stop running for a while! Um, sorry, but no. If I can run more than 5 miles and not really feel it when I'm running, I don't need to stop running all together.

One thing that did cross my mind this morning is to shorten my weekday runs.  For some reason I'm not satisfied anymore if I run anything less than 5 miles (Hi, my name is Lauren, and I'm crazy).  I think the reason for this is that I'm still stuck in a marathon-training mindset that I need to run tons and tons of miles.  If I'm sticking to half marathons and shorter races for now, 3-5 mile runs really should really be adequate for weekday runs, as long as they are quality runs and I'm not dying on my long runs.  When I am running distances during the week that used to be considered a long run, something isn't right...

Another thing I know I have been bad about is strength training.  It's not that I don't like it, but I have a bad habit of pushing it aside when I'd rather run or ride outside, especially if it's nice out.  My time is a little more limited with having to be at work more right now, so when it comes to choosing between running or lifting, I will choose running almost every time.  Shame on me, I know.

Yet another thing I have been thinking about is my running stride (and naturally my shoes). I never really thought that I've had terrible form, but I have been looking at some pictures of myself running and trying to look at my feet when I am running, and wow...holy heel striking. I did a little research online (I'm sure most of you already knew this...) and heel striking is really jarring on your body, and it can really aggravate your SI joint if you have issues with it.

Here's some photographic evidence of my heel striking:

This was from my first half marathon in 2010. You can see the whole bottom of my foot. Please also note the guy behind me with 20 bananas in his arms.

Same race. Same awful heel strike.

Crap-tastic picture of me finishing the 2011 Blue Ridge Half with some crap-tastic heel striking action.

Heel striking it up at the 2012 Explore Your Limits 5K

So, what am I supposed to do about this? Change my stride, duh! Hmmm...too bad it's not that easy. I know that a new trend in the running shoe world is to have a smaller heel-to-toe drop. Most shoes have a 12+mm difference between the heel height and the toe height.  Apparently a heel-to-toe drop of that size can encourage heel striking, whereas a smaller heel-to-toe drop (many of the new shoes are 4mm) can encourage more of a mid-foot strike, which is more "natural" and can therefore lead to less injures.

When I was in Fleet Feet buying my new shoes last month (I ended up buying the Brooks Ghost 4 with a 12mm heel-to-toe drop), I also tried on the Saucony Cortana, which has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop.  I could definitely feel the difference in the heel height when I tried them on and they were extremely comfortable.  But in the end I went with the Ghost 4 because I was scared to try the 4mm heel-to-toe drop shoes (the guy helping me told me that they take some getting used to), because there was a $45 price difference, and also because I liked the looks of the Brooks better. Now I am kind of second guessing that decision...not because I dislike my Ghost 4s, but because I feel like a different shoe that would encourage a mid-foot strike could help my back.

Saucony Cortana

I really don't think that a new pair of shoes is going to make all of my problems go away, but I can't help but think that they could help.  But, since I just bought new shoes (I do have >100 miles on them already though!), I'm obviously not going to run out and get these right now.  I think I'll at least keep them in mind for when it comes time to buy my next pair of shoes. 

For now, that is all of the "fixes" that I can think of.  I'm frustrated that my body isn't performing the way I want it to and it's revolting every time I try to push it too far too fast.  Although I want to try to fix it, ultimately I know that I might not be able to...the right fix might just be more time and patience.  So anyways, thanks for listening to me rant about my always, advice is appreciated. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Explore Your Limits 5K

Whew! I have been busy this month! I'm way behind on blogging (and reading blogs) and I feel like I don't have a spare minute...mostly because I don't, thanks to the awful mandatory overtime at work. Anyways, I have been working on this race report for a while now but I just haven't finished it until now. Two weeks late is better than never, right?

Two weekends ago on March 3rd I ran in my first trail race. The Explore Your Limits 5K/10K was held at Explore Park and was put on by Mountain Junkies.

The night before the race I got all of my "stuff" ready and admired the awesome race shirt.

long sleeve technical shirt (that actually fits) = sweet!

The morning of the race I ate my usual pre-long run breakfast: whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter, banana, and honey. I know it was only a 5K, but why mess with a good thing?

On the way to the race, we may or may not have gotten lost on this road and ended up driving around in a field for a while.

We also may or may not have led some other people behind us astray. We didn't really know where we were going and Andrew followed the turn signal of the car behind us (who we thought was also headed to the race). Thankfully we found our way and we weren't late and I had time to go through the porta-potty line twice.

I convinced Andrew to run this with me (reminder: he's not a runner, but he used to be) and I was very happy to have him there with me. The weather preceding the race was rainy rainy rainy, so that meant the trails were muddy muddy muddy. Honestly my biggest concern was not face-planting in the mud. I was also a little relieved by the mud, because I knew that it would slow everyone down. Plus I thought it would be pretty fun, although I was sad about getting my new trail shoes dirty (don't worry, they cleaned up very nicely).

To give you an idea of the conditions, this is a picture of the trail taken by another runner (Rick E.) that was posted on the Mountain Junkies Facebook page. This is what most of the trail looked like:

mmm muddy

The 5K was a combination of pavement, trail, and packed gravel, so thankfully we weren't in the mud the whole time.

Arial view from Google Earth

The beginning of the race was a lot of downhill and most of the uphill was at the end of the race. We walked a lot of the uphills and managed to pass a few people on the downhills.

Elevation profile; total elevation gain = 384 ft.

For me the race went by really fast, and I am happy to report that I didn't fall! Andrew and I stayed together the whole time (except at the very end when I kicked it into high gear...) and I really enjoyed racing with him.

Me and Andrew. He has his "serious" face on but I was trying to smile.

My final time was 33:10 and Andrew's time was 33:21.

muddy shoes!

After the race we changed shoes and waited for the 10K runners to finish. While we were waiting we snacked on some goodies, to include the famous pumpkin chocolate chip bread which is always greeting runners at the end of all Mountain Junkies races. After everyone finished, they had the awards ceremony and also gave out some door prizes. We were sticking around mostly for the door prizes, but I was very surprised when they announced my name for winning first in my age group!! What?!

I was so excited/proud/shocked all at the same time. At first I was all "pshhhh...a 33 minute 5K does NOT deserve an age group award..." BUT, as Andrew reminded me, I competed against the 6 other women in my age group who showed up and I was faster than all of them on that day, so naturally I won my age group. Ah, the beauty of age group awards (side note: I am really bummed about aging out of my 20-24 age group in 2 months...the 25-29 age group is way faster).

The medal is pretty sweet, and I'm excited to hang it on my medal hanger (once I decide where to actually hang it up...).

Needless to say, I really enjoyed my first trail race. And even though he doesn't like running, when we were finished Andrew told me "I'm really glad you made me do this", which totally made my day.

I'm not going to go off-road full time or anything now, but it is nice to have the trails as another option.  Provided that I don't twist an ankle, running on trails is definitely easier on my body. I am looking at doing some more Mountain Junkies trail races this spring, to hopefully include the Mill Mountain Mayhem 10K (sort of undecided about this one because it is the weekend before the Blue Ridge Half so I'm paranoid about twisting my ankle or something) and the Trail Nut Half Marathon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

February in Review

Yes, I do realize it is March 7th already. I have a million (ok, only 3) blog posts I want to do but no time to write them all! I have been busy with work and running and winning age group awards. More on that later ;)

February was a good month and definitely better than January. My back has continued to feel good and that makes me very happy! I am still going to the chiropractor once every two weeks to make sure everything is staying in place, and I think that's helping, too. I can also cross off my 2012 goals of "buy some trail shoes and start running" and "start wearing big girl cycling shoes and using clip-in pedals." Yay!

Running Miles in February: 53
Cycling Miles in February: 126

Running Miles year to date: 96
Cycling Miles year to date: 239

I am almost on track for meeting my "B" running and cycling goals. Looking back on my "A" running and cycling goals, I'm thinking they were a little overly ambitious and I didn't fully take into account running and cycling at the same time.

So long, February!!

On the schedule for March...
  • My first trail race (which I already did last weekend...race report to come)
  • Half marathon #3 on 3/24 (Martinsville Half Marathon)
  • I will be trying to complete the GU 100,000 Mile Challenge from March 9 through April 9.  Check out my previous post about it HERE. There is free GU involved so you should definitely do it.
  • I am SO excited about getting an extra hour of daylight this weekend. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Strava GU 100,000 Mile Challenge – FREE GU!

I knew I could get you to read this if I included “FREE GU” in the title…there really is free GU involved, so keep reading!

Andrew has been using Strava for a little while now and he was telling me about this crazy cycling challenge he has entered (climbing 105,000+ feet in 45 days for a free water bottle or something). Strava is a website where you can track your running and cycling adventures and compete with fellow runners and cyclists. It is free to use but you do need some way of tracking your distance via GPS (GPS watch or using their app on your phone). Anyways, this morning Andrew mentioned that there is a challenge for runners, so I checked it out and I am signed up.

Here are the juicy details for the GU 100,000 Mile Challenge:
  • The challenge runs from March 9 through April 9.
  • If you run 100 miles during that time, you will receive an 8 pack of Peanut Butter GU.
  • If you run 150 miles during that time, you will receive an 8 pack of Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel
  • If you run 200+ miles during that time, you will receive a mixed box of 24 Energy Gels
  • If everyone in the challenge runs a combined 100,000 within the 31 day period, all participants will receive a special GU VIP card for discounts (up to 35% off) and special offers from the GU website.

Pretty cool, right? Right now there are 954 people signed up. I’m spreading the word because I know so many of you run 100+ miles in a month and really love GU and free stuff. Even if you don’t think you can run 100+ miles, you should still enter for the GU VIP card if you are a fan of GU.

For more information on the challenge, check it out HERE and sign up! If you're interested in the crazy cycling challenge, you can check it out HERE.

Happy Friday everyone :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Three Things Thursday

I signed up for my 3rd half marathon yesterday! It's only 24 days away but I feel pretty good about it since I was able to run 11 miles last weekend. If there is one thing that I gained from training for a marathon (without actually running the marathon...) it's that I am not as afraid of the half marathon distance anymore. Yes, it is still very difficult and it still requires a good bit of training. But when you train for a marathon, going beyond 13.1 miles becomes a routine part of long runs and your mentality about the distance changes. I know I will still probably be crazy nervous come race day, but I would have never made a "last minute" decision to sign up for a half marathon like this before.

I am running my first trail race (5K) on Saturday!

I'm pretty excited, but a little bummed/nervous about the weather forecast for tomorrow and Saturday:

Can you say, MUDDY? I think it could make it fun though and really the only reason I'm bummed is because I really don't want my pretty new trail shoes to get muddy...but I guess that's what they are for, right?

I'm okay with road races in the rain after my experience at the Blue Ridge Half Marathon, but if you have any special tips for running on muddy trails in the rain, send them my way!

Andrew is running this race with me, so at least I'll have some one there to help me get my face out of the mud after I face-plant.

I made some dairy-free chocolate ice cream last night. It was very easy to make and I am eating some as I type this so I can attest to the fact that it is also delicious! Don't be fooled though. This stuff might be dairy free, but it's not good for you! At all.

1 can full-fat (i.e. not lite) coconut milk (note: this is not the same stuff that you buy in the carton...the cans are usually found in the Asian section of your grocery store).
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup of sugar
4-5 crushed up Oreos (I used the chocolate w/ chocolate filling. Yes, milk's favorite cookie is dairy-free!).

Mix the coconut milk, cocoa powder, and sugar in a bowl and pour it in an ice cream maker. It took mine about 20 minutes to turn into something that resembled ice cream, then I dumped in the Oreos and let it go for another 5 minutes.

When I was looking up recipes (I found this one here, btw), I read that if you don't have an ice cream maker you can just freeze this in a container and stir it every hour or so.

It's nice and soft right after you make it, but it will harden up a lot once it goes in the freezer. Just take it out a little bit in advance to make it scoopable.