Frozen Fitness

I live in Wyoming, and unlike some other states, El Nino seems to have forgotten us this winter. Snow, ice, and cold has spanked us way too many times already. The past month, more and more of my runs have been on my treadmill. I’m thankful for that moving belted beast in my basement, but I’m also thankful for the other fitness toys I’ve accumulated over the years.

Cross training isn’t only good for the body, it’s also important for the mind (well, my mind anyway). I’ve become a mostly every-other-day runner, and on my off running days I spin, lift, punch, kick, yoga and Pilates my way through my early morning workouts. Not only have I maintained my sanity, all of these other workouts have improved my running by leaps and bounds (pun sort of intended).

I look forward to each run, and can finally say that each run has a purpose. I also crave my cross training days; knowing that in an indirect way, those workouts are making me a stronger runner. Running will always be my first love, but there are so many other fitness activities to be enjoyed as well. So even if El Nino doesn’t make us warmer and drier than usual, me and my arsenal of fitness toys are ready.

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It’s All About the Pace, ‘Bout the Pace

The marathon I last blogged about has come and gone, and so have three months. Yikes! I realize there aren’t many people hanging on the edge of their seats wondering  how it turned out, which relieves my guilt about not posting for so long.

We all finished feeling strong and happy in 4:43. This was by far the most enjoyable 26.2 I’ve run, in spite of a rather difficult course and not a lot of crowd support. The Boulder Reservoir offers some beautiful scenery; if you squint your eyes just right and look over the water, you can pretend it’s the ocean. If your thing is running through the peaceful countryside, there’s some of that too. The not-so-great part was running along the dam on the rocks, gravel, and narrowed road. It’s a double loop course, so we rolled through the good and bad parts twice. Literally rolled, as the course was rather hilly.

The last six miles were our fastest, and I was shocked to feel so good at mile 20. For this, I thank my son’s amazing pacing skills. Even though I’ve been running for almost 20 years, I still start races like a spastic puppy. I feel good, so let’s run fast! He’s been running for about five years, and knows that starting slower means finishing faster. We followed his pace, and were rewarded with a strong finish and 4+ hours of truly enjoyable running.

Post-race, we compared training notes. Hubby and I lived by the schedule posted on the front of the refrigerator, held in place by a magnet with the message “Don’t think; just go. We ran when, how far, and how fast the little boxes told us to. My son ran when his work and tennis schedule permitted; usually 2-3 times a week, which included his long run. Yet we all finished together, and truthfully, he was the stronger runner.

Even though the three of us trained very differently for the same race, smart and consistent pacing carried us to the finish line feeling strong and happy. IMG_0783

 

Three Weeks Until 26.2!

boulder backroads

Only three weeks from tomorrow, and I (along with my son and hubby), will hit the road in Boulder, CO for a 26.2 mile jaunt around the Boulder Reservoir and surrounding area. This will be my third marathon, my hubby’s second, and my son’s first. During my recent 20 miler, I was thinking about how much training has changed since I ran my first marathon in 2001. With knowledge comes power, but is too much knowledge always a good thing?

The training for my first marathon didn’t include a training plan, Garmin, or GU. I was a consistent runner, probably logging 15-20 miles a week and racing any 5 and 10k in the area. I was also teaching 9 or 10 spinning classes a week, along with a Body Pump class or two (or five). My friend (who ran the marathon with me) and I started with a 10 mile weekly long run and added one mile every week, until we thought we had run a 20 miler. Since there were no Garmins then, or at least not on our wrists, we didn’t find out until we drove our route AFTER the marathon that our longest run was only 18 miles. In addition to the long run, we’d each run whatever and whenever we could during the rest of the week. We would hide Gatorade and water somewhere along our long run route, but never brought any other type of fuel. Our pace was whatever felt good that day.

Fast forward 10 years and training for my second and third marathons was vastly different. Hello training plans, pace police, and mid-run fueling. Suddenly it seemed a lot more complicated to train for a marathon. I diligently checked off the completed training runs on the plan sheet plastered to my refrigerator. My eyes were glued to my wrist during long runs to make sure I wasn’t running too fast or too slow, and I learned how to swallow the sticky, pudding-like substance that was supposed to keep me from hitting THE WALL (cue the thunder sound).

During my first marathon I ate and drank whatever was offered at the aid stations – water, Oreo cookies, orange slices, licorice (really? isn’t that supposed to make you poop?!?), and of course Gatorade. During my second marathon, I took in water and GU at timed intervals and stoically passed by the donut holes and Dixie cups of beer offered by spectators along the course.

I finished both marathons feeling just fine, although my time was a bit faster the first time, but I was also 10 years younger. Sometimes I wonder if training and running has become too technical and complicated. Our bodies will give us what they’re capable of on race day, regardless of how many boxes we’ve checked off on our training plan sheets. Will it matter if I ran 6 seconds faster than prescribed on my 16 miler? What if I take GU at mile 8 instead of mile 7? It’s something to ponder during my final 20 miler tomorrow, and maybe I’ll be a rebel and take that GU at mile 8.

And The Winner Is…

winner

And the winner is… me! When I opened the email telling me that I’d won the Runners Connect Your Best Marathon giveaway, I couldn’t believe it. I never win anything – ever. If there are 5 prizes in a drawing, my name will be drawn 6th. The luck of the draw has never been in my favor, but what an awesome prize to kick off my lucky streak.

My prizes include the Runners Connect Strength Program, a One Month Supply of Enduropacks Recovery Products, and a pair of Skora Fit Shoes!  Winning this contest came at a great time, as I will start training for my 3rd marathon in two months.

Within hours of receiving the “you’re the winner” email, I was sent the link for the strength program, and couldn’t wait to dive in. This is an incredibly comprehensive program. There are five modules included in the program. Module 1 – Prescriptions, details the strength programs according to race distance from the 5k to the marathon. There are also programs for general fitness, weight loss, and even one for time-crunched runners (isn’t everyone?). Module 2 – Routines gives the specific exercises to be done, in both PDF and video form. We’re talking 23 separate routines! Module 3 – Injury Prevention Routines, details 17 specific workouts to help prevent and help speed recovery from common running injuries. Module 4 – Philosophy and Research, explains the rationale behind the exercise programs. This is great for inquiring minds like mine, who want to know the how and why of everything. Module 5 – Interviews and Bonus Material includes interviews with Jason Fitzgerald, Dr. Mark Cucuzzell, and Jay Johnson, as well as more injury prevention information.

Since I’m not “in training” yet, I’ve been following the General Fitness routine. It’s not horribly time-consuming, as most of the routines can be completed in 15-20 minutes. The exercises are familiar, and I’ve been trying to do them regularly even before starting this program, but following the program organizes them so that nothing is missed. Each week the core, hips/glutes/legs (upper and lower), and even the Achilles are strengthened. The general/gym strength routines include upper body work as well.

Because I’m an experienced weight lifter, I tend to gravitate towards the more advanced routines, and I admit to adding sets and/or reps to some of the routines. (When I start marathon training, I’ll try to be better about sticking to the routines as written.) I’ve noticed that my runs lately have felt stronger, and my lower body seems more solid and a bit more fatigue-resistant.

I have to give a shout out to the Runners Connect people too. Both Jeff Gaudette and Tina Muir have emailed me to see how the program is working, and to ask if I have any questions. Talk about impressive follow-up! If you’re not familiar with Runners Connect, please head on over to http://runnersconnect.net/ right now and see what you’ve been missing.

I’m heading out to buy a lotto ticket – fingers crossed my lucky streak continues!

Running and Reading

Running and reading are two of my passions, and reading about running makes me one happy Salty! 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald and Build Your Running Body by Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz, and Melissa Breyer are my two latest reads. Both books are well worth your time (and money if you buy them). Here’s a sneak peak and short review of each one, just to whet your reading appetite.

80-20 cover80/20 Running promotes the message that doing 80 percent of your runs at a lower intensity, and 20 percent at a higher intensity is the best way to train and make performance improvements. Throughout the book, Matt Fitzgerald explains the research and scientific principles that support this method of training.

According to Fitzgerald, most runners spend the majority of their training time in the moderate intensity zone, where paces are too slow to reap the benefits of speed work, but too fast to be considered easy running. Left to our own devices, most of us will self-select a pace in this moderate zone because that’s where our bodies feel most comfortable. I frequently found myself nodding in agreement, thinking “Yep, that’s me.” He dedicates an entire chapter to monitoring and controlling intensity, which I found quite helpful.

I was excited to get to the training plan chapters (no I didn’t skip ahead to them), but was disappointed to find that they were rather complicated and time-consuming to figure out. For example, in the low intensity category, there are 9 different recovery runs, 9 foundation runs, and 15 long runs. There are 13 different categories, with up to 15 different types of runs in each category. Once you figure out what category and type of run you should be doing for a given day, you’ll most likely be searching for a Sharpie to write the workout on your arm. “5 minutes Zone 1; 5 minutes Zone 2; 4×5 minutes Zone 4; 3 minutes Zone 1; 5 minutes Zone 1.” Really?!?

I enjoyed the research/science part of the book, and I do believe that 80/20 is a valid training method, but I’m not going to be following one of the plans anytime soon.

build run bodyBuild Your Running Body is the most comprehensive and enjoyable guide to running that I’ve ever read – emphasis on enjoyable. I’m fairly good at understanding scientific jargon, but this book didn’t require any searches through my old anatomy and kinesiology textbooks. The authors explain (in normal language) why we do specific types of workouts and how to do them correctly.

Part One includes chapters on gear, vocabulary, and motivation. Part Two delves into the types of workouts necessary to build our running body. There are workouts that benefit connective tissue, the nervous system, hormones, the brain, running pH, the cardiovascular system… These aren’t new workouts – they’re the same ones we’ve all been doing, but now we know why we do them and which of our bodily systems they help build. Strength Training is covered in depth, with several sample workouts that are running-specific. Part Three covers training schedules and how to choose the appropriate one, recovery, and injury prevention. Part Four is all about nutrition, and includes some pretty tasty-sounding recipes. Part Five targets approaches to racing.

It’s impossible to concisely describe everything this book offers. I find myself going back to it over and over again, and I have to say, the Runner 360 body weight workout kicked my butt. We’re talking a laying-on-the-floor-moaning kind of butt kicking. It’s fine to follow blindly follow a training plan by a trusted coach or author, but after reading this book, you’ll have a much better understanding of how to choose the right training plan for you. You’ll know why you do a particular workout, and which of your body systems it targets. The training plans in this book are much more user-friendly; “Fast Tempo 2×10 minutes with 3-min. jog rest.” Beside each suggested workout is the page number in the book where you can find a description of the workout. I’m even following one of the 5k plans right now, and I’m not typically a lover of training plans.

Winter’s coming, so grab one or both of these books and spend some me-time making yourself a better runner while lounging in front of a crackling fire, with your drink of choice nearby.

What’s your favorite running book? How often do you read about running?

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Does This Rest Day Make My Butt Look Big?

If my rest days could be here, I'd enjoy them a whole lot more!

If my rest days could be here, I’d enjoy them a whole lot more!

Ahhh…rest days. After a grueling week of running, lifting, cycling, yoga-ing, there’s nothing like a day to relax and recuperate, right? Maybe not. Some look forward to those rest days, while others dread or ignore them. We all know that our bodies need some down time for recovering and growing stronger, but for many, putting that knowledge into practice is anything but easy.

There are as many reasons for dreading rest days as there are reasons to take them. Fear of losing hard-earned fitness gains, whether on the roads/trails or in the gym is a big one. Weight lifters know it’s best to wait 24-48 hours between training sessions, but instead of resting during that time, many find it’s a great time to get in some cardio. And it is, and technically they’re giving their muscles the needed rest, and but it also takes the rest day out of the picture. Strength and muscle size can normally be retained for about a month without training, and the more experienced the lifter, the slower those losses will occur.

Runners tend to worry about fitting it all in – speed work, tempo run, long run, mileage-building easy runs, a bit of strength training…how can we possibly accomplish all of that and take a rest day? There’s also that little niggle of a voice that asks how much resting will cost us. According to Jeff Gaudette from Runners Connect, up to a week off from running would cost a 20 minute 5k runner a mere 10 seconds, putting him/her at a 20:10 finish. Up to 2 weeks off would cost that same runner 1:05 off their time, and taking up to 30 days off would bring that runner across the finish line in 23:00. (Read Jeff’s article here.) I’m not suggesting that any runner would really want to take a month off from running, but as you can see, if it happened, the results wouldn’t exactly be catastrophic.

For those on a weight loss journey, taking a day off from exercise can be extremely stressful, since it’s a wide held belief that exercise burns a ton of calories, which allows the already hungry dieter to eat just a bit more. Truth be told, weight loss is more about what happens in the kitchen than in the gym. I believe exercise is vital for optimal health and well-being, but it’s possible to lose weight while doing very little formal exercise. It’s all about what goes in (or doesn’t go in) the pie hole.

Personally, the number one reason rest days don’t exactly rock my world is that I truly love my workouts, and they bring sanity and clarity to my day! During the summer months, I love a run at sunrise, grabbing my dumbbells and heading out to the backyard to pump some iron, or hopping on my bike for an early morning spin on our local greenway. During the winter months, when I put my 4th grade teacher’s hat back on, my morning workouts are what allow some of my students to live to see another day! If they perceive I’m grouchy, the first thing they ask is if I got my workout in.

Rest days aren’t the enemy, and are in fact a valuable training tool. I realize that, and wholeheartedly encourage you to take at least one every week. Making myself follow that advice, however, is like asking my dog not to eat the chunk of chicken I just dropped on the floor!

Do you regularly take rest days? Do you look forward to them or simply tolerate them as a necessary evil?

 

 

Friday Fitness

glute-bridge

Squeeze those cheeks!

Because both Friday and Fitness start with the letter ‘f’, let’s make Friday the day when I share my favorite exercises, workouts, or other fun things (fun  also starts with ‘f’, by the way).

Today’s fitness fun is a workout that focuses on your running muscles, primarily hips and glutes, with some core and upper body work added in for an extra dose of strength. I’m not going to describe each exercise in detail, since you can easily find demonstration videos on Youtube.

Single Leg Deadlift w/Dumbbell – 3 sets of 12 reps each This exercise strengthens your glutes and hamstrings, and if you lift your nonworking leg while you lower the dumbbell, it pulls the core muscles in as well.

Single Leg Glute Bridges – 3 sets of 20 reps each  This is my absolute favorite butt exercise. Squeeze those cheeks together at the top of the lift like you’re trying to hold the winning lotto ticket between your cheeks!

Side Plank w/Leg Lifts – 3 sets of 12 reps each  Make sure your body is aligned in a straight line, and the leg you lift is obviously the top leg. If your hips aren’t strong enough to do this with straight legs, go ahead and bend the supporting leg.

Hip Hikes – 3 sets of 30 reps each  Your hip should be on fire by the 30th repetition of this one!

Lateral Band Walk – 3 sets of 15 reps each direction (side to side)  Loop the band right about your ankles and take a big enough step to the side so that you really feel the resistance of the band against the side of your glute.

Pushups – 3 sets of 12 reps each

Pullups – 3 sets of as many as possible You may only get 1 or 2 reps on this one, but keep working on it and you’ll get stronger.

Straight Leg Raise – 3 sets of 15 reps  Lay on your back, hands underneath your low back and top of butt cheeks for support. Slowly raise and lower both legs together.

This took me about 45 minutes this morning, but if you move quickly through the exercises you can get it done in a half hour. I don’t suggest rushing through, however, since form is very important with these exercises.