Friday, February 27, 2009

Week Three is Over!

Week three of the couch potato to 5K plan is over, and the main thing it taught me is that I prefer running in nicer weather!  This morning, I opened one eye when my alarm went off and peeked at the thermometer on my phone.  When it said 45 degrees, I knew it would be a good run, especially after making sure to switch out my insoles.  And mostly it was - I felt less tired after the three minute intervals than I did at the beginning of the week and worked up a great sweat.  But my body was struggling today a bit, so I'm definitely glad to have the weekend to recover, stretch and relax.  Plus, I'm ramping up to five minute and three minute intervals on Monday, so I definitely need to psych myself up for that!

So what did I learn this week besides that I like nicer weather (and who doesn't?!?)?  Let's see:

- I'm actually a morning runner - who would have guessed?  Running first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day, and keeps me from making excuses not to run.  I've actually stuck to the plan as it's laid out, without skipping days or postponing them and that's something I can really be proud of!

- Although running seems easy (just throw on some sneakers and do it, right?), it's actually more complicated than that.  I've had to learn about how to better hydrate myself, run slower and more relaxed, run in the cold and the wind, and now I'm learning how to better heal my body when I recover from the runs.  My next step is learning about shin splints and working on strengthening my hips.  I'm glad I didn't know about all of this when I started, because I might have quit before my first steps!  But now, I have to admit...

- That I actually like running!  I'm definitely not loving it yet, but it's been a great mood elevator and I can really see progress already, in just three weeks.  I'm still not jumping out of bed to get out there, but the running has become very satisfying.

So I'm curious to see what week four will bring and what else I'll learn!  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Pain, No Gain - But No Running at 10 Degrees!

Peter Maher, an Irish-Canadian Olympian and sub 2:12 marathoner (that's possible?!?) says "Running is a big question mark that's there each and every day. It asks you, 'Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?'" This morning was the first day that I didn't get right up and head out for my run. Was I a wimp? Did I give up running? No, definitely not - but it was only 10 degrees when I woke up, and even I'm not crazy enough to run when it's that cold! Instead, I postponed my run until about 1:30, when it had warmed up to a balmy 37 degrees. Much nicer! Between the sun and only facing the wind on the first half, I ended up actually feeling a little bit warm today for the first time, which made me think "I can't WAIT for the nicer weather!" I do love that quote though - it really speaks to the battle I have in my own mind every morning the alarm goes off - am I tough enough? Each time I get up and run, I feel like my answer is yes, and that's a good feeling.

Running in the middle of the day did make me realize that I prefer my morning runs - who would have guessed that of this night owl? But first thing in the morning, I can do the run before my mind really kicks in and tries to talk me out of it. I had to battle myself today a little bit more than usual to take a break from work and head out. With fewer people around at 7am, I don't feel self-conscious about my slow pace or running only in intervals. Plus, I have the reward of the post-run shower, which I skipped this afternoon to jump right back into work. I was glad for the warmth though, as well as a marked reduction in windiness. I'm sure I'll be grateful for the wind when it's August, and 80 degrees before 10am, but not at this time of year certainly!

I did make another rookie mistake today though, and that was thinking that I'd broken in my inserts enough to run in them. I've been using gel inserts to run in, which has been fine and comfortable, but today I wanted to use the orthotics I've been slowly breaking in for the past week. Unfortunately, I could feel the blisters forming about midway through my first 90 second interval and knew it would only get worse (even though my knees did feel much better!). I think I might have actually *liked* running today if it wasn't for that. But now I know, and the blisters are minor, so I'll be prepared with my gel inserts on Friday and hopefully can report that I finally *like* running. I still don't love it - don't get excited - but I'm definitely liking it more. I might be a convert yet!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Apparently, I'm an Athlete - Who Knew?

And week three begins! I must admit, when I woke up this morning, I was nervous - butterflies in my stomach nervous! - because I was doubling two of my intervals to three minutes of running. It would be the longest length of time spent running to this point and a part of me wondered if I could do it. Was I ready?

My first interval was 90 seconds and the cold and wind made me start to speed up a bit, until I found my stride, relaxed a little bit and concentrated on slowing down so I wouldn't tire myself out too quickly. The next interval was 3 minutes and I just told myself to take it easy and relax into it, which worked! I felt great after that three minute interval and was ready to do the next 90 seconds & 3 minutes. I concentrated on relaxing my shoulders and slowing my stride and before I knew it, I was done with the run. Not bad!

One of the things that really helped me on my two off days was to concentrate on recovery. I read a great blog post the other day about the importance of recovery days, which taught me to really focus on what my body is telling me. On Friday, I mentioned that I've really been feeling sore in my neck, hips and knees, so I took hot baths, used my anti-inflammatories, and loosened up with the heating pad. I've been building up my tolerance of my orthotics, and wearing my Birks. And I'm really looking forward to the day that I feel a little bit stronger!

But according to coach J, I'm already an athlete. I laughed it off at first when he said that - me, an athlete? I feel like I'm still in the couch potato stage! Maybe it's because I haven't run my first 5K yet, or maybe it's because I still can't just go out and run a few miles. But I have gotten up faithfully at 7am for the last 7 running days (just over two weeks) and pushed myself to run first 60 second intervals, then 90 second intervals, and today 3 minute intervals. And this morning, while maybe I didn't leap out of bed, I did get up pretty easily because I was...dare I say it...*excited* to try out my new running tights and see if I could make it through three minutes without keeling over. I could actually picture running a 5k now (though I couldn't get up and do it tomorrow!). So maybe that does make me an athlete. Who knew?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Week 2 is Finished! (*Pat on the back*)

Woohoo - I survived week 2 of running!

Last night, I was already dreading running because I knew it was going to be cold and windy this morning, which had contributed to making Tuesday's run so miserable. But I keep hoping that it's going to get better, so I bundled up and headed out. And I'm happy to report that today was MUCH better than earlier in the week! It seems I was pushing myself too hard on the earlier runs, so I focused on slowing myself down and releasing any tension in my arms and shoulders (which I've learned can contribute to tiring new runners out faster). Despite the cold and wind, I was much more energized during the run and didn't feel nearly as wiped out by the end.

Week 2 was a much bigger struggle than week 1, but maybe the payoff is bigger because I made it through and am committed to continuing. So what did I struggle with, and what did I learn?

- Weather: This can be a big obstacle and is not to be discounted. I don't have the option of running inside on a treadmill, so I had to learn to deal with it. Layers are key, but the main factor for me this week was finding motivation to keep running. Because when it's 20 degrees outside, my nice warm bed is much more inviting than tying my sneakers on and heading outside for a run. I'd like to say I was motivated this week by wanting to run that 18 mile race in October, but I think it was more that my stubborn Capricorn side was taking over, and I just want to be able to say that I've done this. Running will not beat me!

- PE: Nope, I don't mean physical education - I mean "perceived effort." J mentioned to me earlier in the week that I might be struggling because I was putting out too much effort and running too hard on my intervals. I thought I was running pretty slow already, but I found that when I really concentrated on slowing down and relaxing into the run, it made all the difference! I've got lots of time to get my speed up and the key for me right now is learning to love running, not to be good at it. I'm working on checking how far I run during each of my intervals, but I noticed today that overall, my run was shorter than it has been, so my effort was definitely lower.

- My own hang-ups: I'm a total perfectionist, so I want to do things right, immediately. I'm not usually into the process, so it can be difficult for me to jump into something like running - I want to go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight (or at least be able to run more than 90 seconds without getting tired!). So this week has been about settling into doing the work, with my end goal in mind. That means pushing myself, but also pacing myself, so that I'm not inclined to give up before I've even given myself the chance.

- My body: I'm not in top shape - I have bursitis and tendonitis that flares up in my left hip from an old fencing injury; I have a recurring pinched nerve in my neck which has appeared this week; I've got high arches, so my knees have started to bug me a bit; I struggle with migraines regularly. But all of those things are manageable, and I've been working on handling them this week. The increase in migraines is attributable to dehydration with my new workout, so I've been drinking more water all the time (not just before and after running) and have felt great the last few days. I picked up some insoles to support my arches, and my knees already feel better, plus more stretching will help me too. I'm pushing the Advil to keep down the inflammation in my neck, which will sort itself out as it usually does. And now that it's feeling better, I can get back into yoga, which properly stretches my hips and helps with my migraines. I think, over time, that running will actually help all of these things in addition to giving me more energy.

After all of my complaining this week, I do have to say that there have been some great benefits to running that I've seen already. I definitely have more energy - normally, I struggle to get up in the morning even after eight hours of sleep and I feel tired & sluggish during the day. Since I've started running, I snooze my alarm less, have more energy, and am clear-headed when I start my day. My body feels stronger - I don't notice a huge difference, but because each run gets a little bit easier, I know that I'm building up endurance and I can feel it in my muscles. And I feel happier - some of that is the increase in endorphins that I get from running, but it's also because I'm focused on moving my body every day, for a goal other than a vague "losing weight" or "getting in shape." I'm getting my recommended 30 minutes of exercise three days a week (plus yoga) and that's increasing my self-esteem, so I worry less about food except in terms of fueling my body. I think getting outside for 30 minutes every couple of days is also a great mood elevator - it's cold here, but I still live in a beautiful place. I used to love to see the ocean first thing in the morning, despite being more of a night owl, and this gives me the chance to do that. And after all, isn't that why I moved here?

Now I have two days off before ramping it up in week three. I go from my 90 second intervals to two repetitions of the following:

* Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
* Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
* Jog 400 yards (or 3 minutes)
* Walk 400 yards (or 3 minutes)

I'm a little bit nervous about jumping up to the 3 minutes, but I think I can do it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

So I thought that it might just be my imagination that it's harder to run in the really cold weather, but my coach (who I'll refer to as J from here on out), assures me that it actually IS harder. Lucky for me though, I was so focused on getting in my second run this week to get over the two-week beginngers' hump, that I didn't linger on the fact that the temperature said 21 degrees when I bundled up this morning. But I did make sure to wear gloves!

I told myself that this morning's run would have to be easier than Sunday's, and reminded myself of the difference between days 1 and 2 of last week. But it was still a struggle today, begging the question, will I ever learn to love running? I've heard that the first two weeks are the hardest, so I kept that thought in my head as I pounded the pavement. I didn't think about my goals of 5K or 18 miles. I didn't even think about increasing my running time next week. I just thought about getting through each 90-second interval and about how much I would love my post-run shower. I've found that my post-run shower is even better than a regular shower, and that's been a big motivator the last two runs. Sad, but true.

So what's going wrong? I chatted with J this morning, who said not to discount the weather (both the wind and the cold), but that I also should figure out if I'm running too hard during my intervals. He suggested that I check my perceived effort (PE) - to do that I'd either have to run on a track (to see how far I'm going for each 90 second interval and check whether I speed up/slow down/go about the same distance) or have a marker that I always start at, and see how far I go in that 90 seconds, checking that again on my next run to get a sense of whether I'm changing my effort run to run. So I'll be keeping an eye on that starting Friday (yay, two days off from running!) and we'll see whether it's the weather or my level of effort that's tiring me out so quickly.

On a motivational note: the other day, I printed out a quote from Elizabeth Waterstraat, a triathlon coach who's earned five national long-course championship titles and a world championship silver medal (and is the cousin of a fellow high-school alumna of mine). I put it right on my computer monitor - "Do the work. It will pay off." I could wax philosophical and talk about how this actually applies to every area of my life, but in terms of running, it's been a big help to see that throughout the day as I work. It helps me to remember that I have a goal, but I won't meet that goal without putting in the work now. So I'll just keep running...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today, I hate running

Today was not one of my more inspired days for running, for a lot of reasons. It started with having trouble getting out of bed (literally) because I've managed to aggravate the pinched nerve in my neck. So I popped a couple of Advil and groaned my way into my running clothes (who needs their neck for running?). It was also colder than it has been, which wouldn't have been so bad except it is "windy Sunday" here again - it always seems to be really windy here on Sundays, as if the gods know that I have to put my garbage out and they want me to be running outside constantly to pick it back up. Plus, I had to increase my running time today - 90 seconds running, 2 minutes walking. As I started out, I was very crabby, and it only got worse as I ran/walked. I kept telling myself that of course there will be days that I hate running and I'm looking forward to changing my mental question from "Ugh, will I always hate this?" to "Will I always love this?" That didn't make the running any easier, but it motivated me to finish.

And that was the key - finishing the run/walk as the program dictated. Once I made it back home and my hatred of running waned a little, I realized I was actually pretty proud of myself. I didn't quit midway through; I made myself get up this morning and do it and that makes me feel pretty good! It's that pride that I want to remember the next time I have a bad day.

I read a blog the other day about finding motivation for running (well, in her case, training and coaching others for the Iron Man competition, but for me, running). The author talks about how a lot of type A people are attracted to this sport (no surprise there), but then they can lose their motivation if they're not able to be the "best." For me, even though I'm definitely a type A, I'm just glad that my motivation at this point is actually the journey itself. I do have external goals - running the 5K on Giants Draft Day & running the 18 mile LBI race - but every time I run and hate it, it reminds me that I want to get to the point where it's easier. Someday, I'll be able to run without my lungs and heart burning in the first 90 seconds. Someday, I'll have great leg muscles and be proud of what my body can do. Someday, I'll be able to outrun criminals chasing me (not that that's ever happened, but IF they were chasing me, I want to be able to outrun them!). Someday, I will like running. Just not today.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Run Like the Wind (Or Against It)

By Wednesday night, I was feeling great about running - my muscles weren't very sore, I'd gotten two runs (-ish) under my belt, and the beautiful weather and scenery was making me think that maybe there is something to this running thing. Yesterday was an off-day (meaning I had no running scheduled), so I was still feeling strong and good. I was also feeling grateful for not having to run in the crazy winds in the northeast, especially after I saw my neighbor's shed had blown completely over. But maybe I was feeling a little too cocky about the whole thing, since today's run definitely kicked my butt!

It started out okay - no kids waiting for the bus (is it a vacation day?) and it was already over 40 degrees when I got up, so I didn't have to wear too many layers. I got through my first two 60-second runs with little exhaustion, and was feeling the burn after that. But when I turned around at 11 minutes left to head home, things really started to go downhill. That's when the wind really became a factor.

It is great to live at the beach, I have to say. Even through the winter, I've been happy with how mild it is (though cold) and I really love being able to head down and look at the water to restore my serenity. But it's windy here on the best of days, so we resign ourselves to picking up everyone's trash as it breezes onto our lawns and repeatedly going outside to right our own garbage cans when they're blown over. And with the high winds of yesterday still blowing through, I felt like I was running through a bowl of jello this morning. At one point, the wind was strong enough to knock me slightly off course.

All complaining aside though, I did it - I finished the run as per my plan, and although I was really wiped out when I got home, it was worth it. I definitely love my post-run shower most of all though.

Now that I've got week 1 of running under my belt, here's a couple of things I've learned (that I haven't already mentioned):

- When you're new to running, you have to consider that you have new hydration needs. I'm a migraine-queen, but had managed to get them under control in the past couple of years so I'm not getting them daily anymore. Until this week - suddenly I had a migraine every day, though I hadn't changed anything else. I needed more water! As soon as this was pointed out to me yesterday and I had a big glass of it, my migraine was instantly reduced, no Excedrin needed! I learned it's also important to drink more water all the time, not just right before/during/after a run - your body needs it!

- You can just lay in your bed celebrating yourself on your days off from running - keep your body moving! Since I already love yoga, I picked that to do on my off-days. For me, it helps stretch out my sore muscles, quiet my mind, and focus better. I'm even going to be taking a yoga class on Thursday nights starting next week, and I think there's a nice balance between yoga and running.

- Layers are key when running in variable climates. My coach told me that I should feel a slight chill, but not cold when I first start. If I'm warm enough, then I'm likely to be too hot when running. So on Monday, when it was in the 20s, I had on sweatpants, a tee shirt, long sleeve tee, and a fleece. But the last two days, it's been warm enough to run in stretch pants, a tee shirt and thin fleece. Makes me wonder what I'll do when it's in the 90s. I guess I'll be running at the crack of dawn - my two least favorite things, running and getting up early.

Now that week 1 is over, I'm interested to see how week 2 will go - an odd schedule next week means I'll be running Sunday/Tuesday/Friday, and ramping up to 90 seconds running and 2 minutes walking. My dad asked me how much "laying down time," but I can say that I haven't needed to lie down during a run yet!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 2 - A Cheering Section is Necessary

The biggest obstacle I've faced in the past is a lack of motivation. I get pumped up to be a runner, but don't picture the interim goals. So when I fail to turn into Steve Prefontaine the first time I head outside, I give up pretty quickly. That's where three things have been a huge help to me. The first is having a plan - by starting with my couch potato to 5K plan, instead of having the general "I want to run" thought, I can tell myself "Today, I will alternate 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking and it will only take me 20 minutes plus my warm up." That's more manageable to me, and I can't find as many excuses not to do it.

The second is having goals - I know that I want to run in the LBI 18-mile race in October, and if I don't start running now, I won't be in good enough shape to do that. In talking with a friend who's been coaching me, he also suggested that I pick a 5K to do at the end of my couch potato plan. That's a short-term goal that's helping to motivate me too. I've decided to do the 5K at the Giants Draft Day party, which my brother-in-law will be joining me for too. Knowing that I have to run 5K in 2 1/2 months is a good reason to get up in the morning and get moving!!

The third thing is the most important for me, and that's having a cheering section. If I'd kept my plans to run to myself, I would be able to find excuses not to get up and run pretty quickly, and no one would be the wiser. I'd be letting myself down, but no one else would know. So I posted about my running on Facebook and Twitter, and emailed my brother-in-law to commit to the 18-mile run in October. Doing that has given me a pretty great cheering section.

After day two of running, I had comments on my Facebook page like "Keep it up - you are doing great - all progress is made one step at a time!" and "nice. stick with it." My best friend told me "I am proud of you for doing it." My brother-in-law sends me funny and motivational emails. And my "coach" has been checking in daily to give me tips and encouragement - "Keep with the program. You are doing great!" When you know someone is going to be asking you if you ran that morning, it really makes you want to get up and do it, no matter how sore you are! Having both a cheering section and accountability has helped me to stick with the plan (yes, even though it's only day 2 - my lack of motivation can be THAT strong!).

For the actual run/walk of day 2, it was both better and worse. I felt less tired when I was running than I had on Monday, but since my muscles were so sore, it was a little bit more painful. But the weather was beautiful, and once I was warmed up, I felt pretty strong and proud of myself. My muscles actually felt less sore by the end of the day! Now I've only got one more day of running in week one, before I ramp it up in week two.

Day 1 - The First Two Weeks Are the Hardest

The first week of the Couch Potato to 5K plan tells me that I have to start with a five minute warm-up, then alternate between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes. I think that that sounds pretty easy, so I leap (well, maybe it was more like a groan followed by resignation) out of bed on Monday morning, throw on my running clothes and grab my tunes before heading out the door.

My m.o. in the past has been to hide out in my own neighborhood whenever walking or when I've pretended to like running in the past (no plan = immediate FAIL for me). But as I walked out the front door, I realized that my new neighborhood is a little bit small to run in and I would soon get bored of the view. Since I live at the beach (though not right on the beach), I figured that I should just run towards and by the water - that turned out to be great motivation for me. Who doesn't want to run in a beautiful place?

But I had to overcome one of my obstacles to enjoying running - knowing that other people would see me run (and maybe looking foolish whenever I switch to walking and look more exhausted than I probably should). I decided to run at 7am, which is prime school bus stop time, so groups of teenagers are all gathered to act as my audience. Great. But I kept my head up, pretended as if I've always been a runner, and breezed past them. Obstacle 1, down.

Obstacle 2, actually running. The first sixty seconds of running made me realize how glad I was that I had 90 seconds to recover. By the 10 minute mark, I was calculating in my head how many more 60-second runs I would be doing. But I finished the program as planned and felt great! I'm not a runner yet, but I was proud of myself for sticking with the plan!

Of course, because I am a bit of a couch potato, my muscles started to tighten up by the end of the morning, presenting me with Obstacle 3, soreness. In the past, I would have let it get me down, but I just kept telling myself that it was showing me that I was becoming stronger. Positive thinking makes all the difference, right?

Couch Potato to Runner? Can I do this?

I've never been a runner. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I hate running. In high school, whenever we would have our physical fitness tests in gym class, I would try telling the teacher that I had to skip the mile because I had asthma. Unfortunately, so did she and she could run it, so there went my excuse. I managed to take a gym sabbatical my senior year, but somehow ended up at a college with a gym class requirement. This requirement didn't involve running the mile, but I after exhausting all possible avenues for getting around the gym class and having to drop a step aerobics class after I had a fencing injury, I found myself in a true, team-picking, middle school nightmare, gym class.

So there I was, senior year of college, in a class full of almost all athletic popular girls, with the threat over my head of having to run the dreaded mile again. Huffing and puffing (and sometimes walking), I managed to squeak out my fastest time yet - 12 minutes. I swore I could taste blood when I finished. And I was still the last one in the class to finish. I think it was only the conditioning runs I'd done as a member of the fencing team that saved me from the 16-minute mile I was known for in high school.

I'm simply not a good runner. Some people I know can head outside when the weather is nice and just run for a three, ten, fifteen miles. I can barely run for sixty seconds without wanting to keel over. Yoga is more my speed when it comes to a workout - low impact, and I can do it in the privacy of my own home. I've always wanted to love running, but I simply don't.

"So what's changed?" you might ask. What could be motivating me to run now, when I was previously so content to let running be something that other people do? It started when I moved down to the beach, close to Long Beach Island, where every October, those crazy runners get together to participate in the annual 18-mile LBI Run, which takes them from one tip of the island to the other. My brother-in-law started kidding me that we would be signing up to do this year's run. My immediate response was "Ha ha, NO!"

But then I got to thinking about it - why couldn't I run 18 miles in October? I've heard stories of people training for runs who've never run in their lives. Maybe I didn't need some innate running talent, just stubbornness and a plan. So I decided to do it. I went to Cool Running to get their "Couch Potato to 5K" plan, put it into my Outlook calendar, along with their marathon training plan (yikes!), and got out my running shoes - don't worry, I know they're called sneakers. So now, I'm off!