Thursday, July 31, 2014

After the layoff comes the experiment

It would appear from my blogging frequency that I'm not particularly adept at this whole "writing regularly" game. That's partly true - I do have a hard time getting blog posts completed and published, but the main issue is that I don't want to write when I don't have something that may actually be useful or interesting for others to read. But, at long last I have something to say today that you runners might find interesting, so settle in for part one of a recap of what I've been doing with my training, racing and pacing as of late and how it is actually all one giant experiment that I'm conducting on myself this year.

To fully understand the nature of this experiment let's start with a quick look into how I have trained during the last few years: I was a high-ish mileage runner (for a recreational runner), logging 60-70 miles a week over 6-7 days of running. I incorporated core work sporadically and often ignored my coach's instructions to do drills and strides within my workouts due to lack of time or proper facilities. I also was happy to do the bulk of my speed work on my treadmill: I'm comfortable in that environment and as someone who never ran on a track until adulthood I've historically found the track to be daunting. (Yes, I just admitted that I was intimidated by a rubber oval. Silly, but true.)

This is where my foot was injured.

But then a few things happened: first, it occurred to me that I probably wasn't going to hold onto my top end speed forever and that I needed to get my act together if I was going to set any more PR's. (I just turned 41.) Second, I got injured. And I remained injured for four long, boring, excruciatingly painful (at times), frustrating months. As a result of these factors, when I was finally able to return to running I made a very conscious decision to step outside of my comfort zone and shake up my training in hopes of kick starting my speed, staying injury-free and hopefully achieving some of the goals I've been (not so secretly) holding onto.

Basically, as I returned from injury in late April and early May the plan was this:

1. Lower mileage. I built my mileage back up more slowly than I ever have post-injury and I'm now topping out in the mid-40's at best. I run 5 days a week now.

I swam so much that I destroyed this
swim suit in less than 4 months!
2. Swimming. I fell back into swimming after becoming bored to tears with aquajogging midway through my injury. My iPod broke and I couldn't stand one more minute of staring at the pool wall while running in place so I strapped on my goggles and went for it. I haven't really swum since my triathlon days (which ended in 2002!) and I'm by no means a talented swimmer but I quickly remembered what I love about swimming: a) it is completely solitary. Yes, I'm an extrovert. But I also love a little quiet time and swimming gives it to me. b) It stretches me out. All my aches and pains seem to dissolve in the pool. c) It increases my aerobic fitness enormously. Aqua jogging does this as well, but swimming is just much more meditative for me. So I swapped out 2 of my recovery runs for swims and have stuck with it.

The tools of my core and strength training
routine: stability ball, medicine ball,
wheel, rubber band and airex mat.
3. Consistent, functional, extremely challenging core work. Twice a week, every week. During the school year I get to do at least one of these workouts with my fantastic running friend Ellen Moss, which means that a tough 20 minute core workout is also a hilarious gossip session. We have fun and we kick our abs into shape. It has been hard to keep this up solo in the summer but I've been diligent. Also, all the work I do is geared towards running fitness. There are no vanity exercises, no crunches; just 12 or 13 really tough exercises designed to help maintain form when my body gets tired.*

mid core-workout with Ellen.
Laughing is a workout, right?

4. PT exercises. I do these in conjunction with my core work and they take 10 to 20 minutes. My injury was having a hard time healing due to the classical runner's woe of weak glute medius so I was prescribed a series of injuries to help with that. Since every single injury I have had in the past few years has in some way involved my weak flute medius it finally sank in that I should probably just do these exercises all the time. Who knows...they may help me avoid some injuries in the future!*

5. Drills and strides. And not just when I feel like it but every time my coach writes them into my workout. These take about 15 minutes and I do them between my warm up and my track and tempo workouts and after my long run. Drills help teach proper form, strengthen muscles and connective tissue and provide a dynamic warm up. Strides help train the neuromuscular system to run faster. Who wouldn't want those benefits?*

In Chapel Hill, even the track is Carolina Blue!
6. Running outside for my workouts. All the time. It dawned on me that skipping workouts on the track in favor of my treadmill just because I found the track daunting was pretty stupid considering my racing this summer centered around 2 track races. So I got my rear to the track and learned how to pace properly so that every workout wasn't a disaster. I also took my LT workouts outside, finding a mostly flat and somewhat shaded route that gave me a controlled environment while still putting me outdoors. I am amazed by how much faster I am able to run these workouts outdoors at the same perceived level of exertion. If nothing else, that fact alone gives me a confidence boost!

7. Finally, I switched up my nutrition. I'm still a huge fan of my LUNA and Clif products and they are heavily featured in my new plan but I have added UCan and an Osmo product into the mix. In the past I used to train on either an empty stomach or on a single LUNA bar. Post-workout I would eat when I got around to it. Sometimes that was right away, sometimes it was hours later. And I actually wondered why I was having a hard time recovering from workouts?!?! I was making the mistake of listening to my hunger cues and, unfortunately, running actually decreases my appetite for a couple of hours. (Not so with swimming!) The change here has been really quite drastic. I now consume a bottle of UCan one hour before any of my hard workouts: track, tempo or long run. If it is going to be extremely hot out I also drink a full bottle of Clif electrolytes with a scoop of Osmo pre-load hydration. I use the same nutritional prep before races, but I also add in a Clif shot espresso gel 15 minutes before the race. The change in my ability to hold my paces has been nothing short of astounding. My energy really just doesn't drop is actually a little freaky. The first time I tried this combo I thought it was a fluke, but week after week during my workouts I found the same results. I honestly still do not fully understand how its all working but its phenomenal to feel so good throughout my hard efforts that I am sticking to it!

As for post-run and race nutrition, I consume another bottle of electrolytes and a LUNA bar as soon as I can after my workouts. This actually stimulates my appetite so I am much better about following up quickly with a healthy meal. Sometimes "healthy" gets swapped out for a BLT or a milkshake, but I do try to keep things balanced.

So there you have it! That's a lot of change, right? The obvious next question is - did it work? Well, in the interest of not making your eyes glaze over too much, you're going to have to wait for that. The second half of this story will be posted later today or check back!

* I want to address why I am not detailing exactly what core work, strength work and drills I do in this post. While I am a NASM-certified personal trainer and a USATF-certified Level 1 coach, I think that this medium, blogging, is a pretty awful place to dispense detailed training advice. I simply don't feel comfortable posting the exercises I am doing here out of concern that someone will read about them or see photos and then perform them incorrectly. It is very important that core, strength and drill movements are performed with correct movement patterns; if not they can cause more harm than good. That said, if you are a local friend reading this and want to talk in person about what I've been doing I am more than happy to meet with you!

No comments:

Post a Comment