Saturday, January 28, 2012

Staying Fit While On Vacation

I've just returned from an incredible vacation to Cancun, Mexico. My husband and I stayed at Excellence Playa Mujeres, a five-star, all-inclusive resort. It was incredible. We chose it because it was the highest rated all-inclusive resort we could find on Trip Advisor, at a destination with a direct flight option. Having a direct flight was very important to us in our decision-making process because otherwise, you spend the entire day travelling and the risk of delays doubles.

Unfortunately, our direct flight on the way home was cancelled just a few weeks after we booked the trip last August and there was nothing we could do about it. More on that later.

The vacation was so relaxing and fun and much-needed in my case. I'm a very high-stress, type-A person who cannot relax at home. Even if I am doing something relaxing, like watching a movie, I am not truly relaxed because I know there are other things I could be doing, like housework or laundry. Or my mind wanders to what's coming up at work or what my running schedule will be. But when I am on vacation, it's impossible for me to do anything except for relax and have fun, so I am able to truly kick back.

Our patio was to the left of this pool.
For me, exercising is a stress relief and I truly enjoy it. I was able to do plenty of that on vacation, while still taking a "recovery" week with no speed work or long run.

For anyone who swims, you know how frustrating it can be to have to share a lane, or to be in that ultra-humid indoor pool environment. I was in a swimmer's paradise at this resort. We had a "swim up suite" which meant that when we walked out onto our patio, the pool was right there. The resort had many different pools and this one was the most secluded, so I had the entire thing to myself. (Plus, the water was cold at this pool so people didn't want to get in for too long if at all.) It was probably about 5-10 yards longer than a typical indoor pool and the water felt so much fresher than what they use at Cub Run Rec Center, where I usually go.

On Sunday, I swam 26 laps while my husband ran on the treadmill. I can't emphasize enough how awesome this was. Beautiful weather (high 70's) the pool to myself, and fresh-feeling water.

Getting ready to swim. Wish I had thought to bring a cap!

I was also happy to have a pool that was a little longer than what I was used to. But then I realized-- hey-- there are other pools here that are even longer. In fact, there's one pool that you can swim non-stop in because it flows around 6 of the resort buildings, making a large circle. My husband and I walked around that pool one night and I wondered if I would be able to swim it without stopping. I had no idea how long I could swim without stopping because I am used to having to turn around at the wall. I only stop for a few seconds, but it's enough of a break to get a longer breath.

If you look back near the hammock, that little blurb in the water is me-- just to give you an idea of scale. (Click on the photo to maximize). And this is just a small part of the "course". I knew I wouldn't be able to swim freestyle the entire way, so I told myself I could alternate with breast stroke if I felt tired, but I wanted to minimize that and swim as much freestyle as possible. Check out the video!

The one thing this video taught me was that when I breathe to my left, I lift my head up before putting it back in the water. I don't do this on the right side. Ironically, before I learned to breathe on both sides, I used only my left. I had to force myself to learn to use the right side. I knew the proper way to do it, so I did. However, I didn't realize that the "natural" feeling side was incorrect. Something to work on. 

I successfully swam the entire thing non-stop and it took me about 8 minutes. And then I did it again!

This place had the best fitness center I have ever seen at a resort. The treadmills were new, with built-in fans, and you could run for longer than the typical 60-minutes. They had a fridge full of bottled water which was part of the all-inclusive, as well as cold wet washcloths. Given how much I overheat on a treadmill, this was much appreciated. Despite all of these things, I still had a difficult time on the treadmill, and didn't attempt any kind of speedwork. It wasn't possible to run outside because it wasn't safe to leave the resort. The advertised "jogging trail" was just a path through the resort that wasn't at all long and also slippery. (My husband broke his toe by slipping on the pavement. . . ) Here are my workouts. 
  • Saturday: 8-mile run on the treadmill
  • Sunday: 26 laps of the pool (about 1500 yards)
  • Monday: 7.5-mile run on the treadmill + swimming in winding pool. 
  • Tuesday: 6.5-mile run on the treadmill  + swimming in the winding pool
  • Wednesday: Swimming
Core Work
I didn't forget about my planks!

At this resort, it was easy to eat healthy because they made the healthy food so delicious and had plenty of healthy options. Don't get me wrong, I had my fair share of the self-serve soft-serve ice cream and tropical drinks, but most of my meals were on the healthy side and very yummy. The breakfast buffet had a smoothie bar and you could get a smoothie made out of almost anything-- including cactus. Although I think a cactus smoothie is an oxymoron. They had an entire section of health foods, including this chilled oatmeal that you could top with fresh berries. Yummy! They also had 24-hour room service, but we only did that once because we liked having a larger selection.

Grouper at the French Restaurant "Chez Isabelle"

Smoothie Bar
There was also a large selection of sushi-grade fish to choose from at breakfast. I had salmon almost every day!

Relaxation, Romance, and a Little Chess
The weather was perfect every day. We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach or at the pool. I usually never have time to read, so I really enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged. The book is 1,000+ pages and I'm now almost done with it! If you've read it, please don't comment on how it ends. 

Here are a few more photos:
Greg and me at a Tapas Bar

They had beds on the beach!
Showing off my core work!

They also had some rather large chess sets in the lobby, which Greg and I took advantage of in the evenings:

What move should I make!?

One of the nicest things about this resort was the room we stayed in. As I said earlier, it was a "swim up suite" but it also featured its own hot tub and the most luxurious shower I have ever been in. The mini bar was stocked with a great selection of beverages, all part of the all-inclusive. Take a peak!

We left the resort on Wednesday at noon to catch a 3:00 flight to Houston, that would connect us to Dulles. Because of the Houston layover, we wouldn't be getting into Washington Dulles until just after 10:00, which annoyed us because the flight was supposed to be direct, but it wasn't the end of the world.

But then there was a ton of rain in Houston, so our flight there was delayed by over three hours. We got to spend 5+ hours in the Cancun airport, one of which was spent in the line of people checking in and figuring out what they would do about their connections.

We didn't arrive into Houston until about 9:00pm, and our connecting flight was long gone. And since there had been so many weather delays, most of the airport hotels were booked solid. I literally called about 10 different hotels, all of which were booked. We finally found a Howard Johnson that had two rooms left. Our room was non-smoking, but the place smelled like smoke anyway. Particularly the bathroom-- I couldn't stand it in there long enough to take a shower. What a contrast from our resort! I didn't sleep well at all because I was uncomfortable and the was a trucking station right outside of the hotel which was loud.

The next morning, we went to the airport and our 12:00 flight was delayed for about an hour-- no explanation given. The loudest, most obnoxious child ever sat right in front of us, and there was no way to sleep. I did fall asleep briefly, but then she was banking on the side of the plane where my head was resting, so that was the end of that. We finally arrived back into Dulles, had a baggage delay, and then got a cab home.

If the original direct flight hadn't been cancelled, we wouldn't have had to deal with Houston weather. But I guess we're lucky we made it out of town without a snow storm or anything.

Aside from it taking us over 24 hours to get home (and costing us an extra vacation day), the trip was wonderful! I can't say I really feel relaxed due to the stress of the journey home, but I enjoyed being at the resort while it lasted!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Brrrr. Cold Weather Running Tips (And Update!)

I know we've been spoiled in the Washington DC metro area with seasonably warmer than usual temperatures for most days and very little snow. While some folks love the fluffy white stuff, I hate it. I run in the dark before work, so I am not able to spot icy patches and I am not able to see the ground I am running on. Yeah, I know, I could get a head lamp. But I don't.

Thankfully, the weather hasn't yet caused me to take it to the treadmill, but I fully intend on using a combination of pool running/treadmill/elliptical if I think it's too icy to run outside. I think that too much treadmill running was the culprit behind my stress fractures last winter, so I wouldn't attempt to replace all my mileage with treadmill mileage.

As for the cold, there has only been one morning that was brutal, with a temperature of around 13 degrees. Otherwise, the temperatures have been in the mid 20's at their worst, with the wind chill often knocking them down into the teens.

Brooks Wanganui Cabrio Mittens
The biggest challenge in cold runs is my hands. Last January, I posted about the Little Hotties hand warmers I put in my gloves. However, they don't work well in traditional gloves. And the lack of air when put in mittens actually makes my hands hot and sweaty. So how do you best use these little nuggets of warmth?

The hotties need to be on your fingers, so my friend Cristina turned me on to the hybrid glove/mitten, which allows you to put the hotties in the mitten part, while still having access to your fingers if need be. I bought a pair of Brooks Wanganui Cabrio Mittens which are made of a heavier/fleecier material than other hybrids. They have been working great, but the only drawback is they come in either small/medium or medium/large, unisex. The small/medium size is too big for me, but I make it work anyway buy stuffing my sleeves into the base of the glove.

Another benefit of these gloves is that unlike regular mittens, you have quick access to your fingers for taking gels.

When it's really cold out, I end up using two pairs of hotties (4 total) one for the fronts of my fingers and the other for the backs. The lone thumb ends up getting cold, so I have to periodically insert it into the mitten area so it can share in the warmth.

As you may be able to deduct from reading this post, I have, in fact, been running again. I'm finally over my cold and my calf has been behaving. Here's a recap of my workouts since I last posted.

Sunday, Jan. 8: 13-mile run on the C&O Canal Towpath with my husband and my CAR teammates. Slow start, fast finish, average 8:48.

Monday, January 9: 4 miles of pool running + 500m swim. A fairly short swim for me, but I was feeling really worn down due to the lingering cold. I was really dragging the rest of the day

Tuesday, January 10: 6 miles, easy

Wednesday, January 11: 8 miles total, including 2 x 2 miles at tempo pace, followed by 1 mile at tempo pace. 5:00 recoveries. The first set of 2 was (7:30, 7:10) and the next set was (7:17, 7:06) and the final mile was (6:56). That first mile was the hardest. I think it's just really hard to get going in the cold. Even though the second set was faster than the first, it felt easier because I was warmed up. I did do a warmup before I started, but 1.5 miles at an easy pace just doesn't cut it when it's sub-freezing.

Thursday, January 12: Rest! (except for core work)

Friday, January 13: 6.5 miles total, including 5 x 800m on the track, with 400m recoveries. I was pleased with my paces. If I were going to do any more than five of them, I would have slowed my pace a bit.

Saturday, January 14: Another rest day!

Sunday, January 15: 16-mile run with my husband (well, he actually did 18 and we parted ways at mile 12). Cold and windy with a "real feel" of 16 degrees. Slow start, fast finish. Average 8:49. This run felt great at the end and I felt as if I could have gone farther/faster, but I didn't want to push it.

These workouts were out of sync with what the rest of my team is doing. They are doing hills instead of intervals, but considering this is my first week being "back" and probably the last week they are doing hills, I didn't think doing just one hill workout over the course of a training cycle would help me, so I got a head start on the intervals. We typically do intervals on Tuesday and Tempo on a Friday, but I reversed them because I wanted to prioritize the tempo run over the intervals. I didn't want the intervals to wear me out to the extent that I couldn't execute a good tempo.

So the week wasn't in line with the schedule I'm trying to be on (that of my teammates) but it worked for me.

I'm definitely more optimistic today than I was when I last posted. However, I know that there will be more obstacles to come in my training. I have a vacation coming up, followed by two business trips in February. I'm planning to do just two 20-milers instead of my usual three, but I keep reminding myself that my best marathon ever was run with just one 20-miler under my belt.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Slow to Start

My running life: slow.
My working life: fast.

I started a new job this week, which is why I haven't had time to read and comment on as many blog posts as I would have liked. I think this is going to be the norm for me (at least initially) because there aren't enough hours in the day to run, work, sleep, spend time with my husband, and also read the 30+ blogs I am subscribed to.

The new job is wonderfully busy. They've taken the phrase "throw you right in" to a new level and I spent my entire first week in back-to-back meetings. Of course I also have a ton of projects I'm working on, which require extra hours because the work day is spent in meetings. I love interacting with other people and sharing ideas, so I'm excited about this high level of collaboration-- it's just an adjustment from what I am accustomed to. The job will also require a fair amount of travel (maybe once per month) because of various events and visiting other office locations for meetings.

My running has not been going well, and I'm far behind where I would like to be in my training for the Shamrock Marathon in March.

First half of December: Recovering from Overtraining
I've identified the cause of my poor performance at the Memphis Half Marathon as over training. I took five days off after the race, but I still felt like I had zero energy for every run I attempted two weeks post race. I wasn't "sick" in the traditional sense, but my energy level was extremely low, my heart rate was elevated, and for the first time in years, I simply didn't care about what my training log said. I had originally dismissed the overtraining idea because my mileage had been relatively low in November. However, I did 3 races within the course of one month, plus some long runs and intense speed workouts. According to what I read, overtraining can occur if you don't give yourself enough rest in between hard efforts, and I think that was the culprit for me.

Apparently, overtraining takes about 2-3 weeks to recover from, and even longer in more severe cases. I remember trying to run in the second week of December and actually having to stop a few times because I just felt like it was so hard to move. I tried to run seven miles one day and I stopped when the Garmin said 6.9 (something I never do) because my house was in sight and I just wanted to not be running anymore.

Second half of December: Calf Strain
When I finally got some energy back, I did a short tempo run in a hilly area and messed up my calf (which had been feeling "off" but not injured). I spent the next two weeks in the pool and and the elliptical, running 1-2 miles here and there because my sports chiro told me I needed to put some stress on the muscle.

New Year's Eve: 5K Attempt
This race wasn't even worthy of a report in my blog, but I'll do a brief recap here. As you may be able to guess from the previous two paragraphs, I was out of shape for this race. Not for lack of trying, but these were the circumstances I was dealing with.

I primarily wanted to do this race because I've done New Years Eve races for the past three years and I think it's a good tradition. I convinced my husband to sign up for the accompanying 10K so I figured I would run the 5, and then cheer him in.

The calf issue was about 90% fixed (I could still "feel it" even though it didn't hurt), so I was fully prepared to DNF if something felt off during the run. I was perfectly fine with pulling off the course or walking if I felt any bit of pain. I just really wanted to give this race a shot. Half of me thought it was extremely stupid to be racing given the risk of re-injuring my calf, but the other half me thought the calf was okay and stubbornly wanted to race.

5K Finish
The good news is I finished the race with no calf pain. The bad news is, I was slow. I wasn't really trying to put out race effort due to my lack of training. I think I landed somewhere slightly harder that tempo effort but regardless, the dang thing felt hard. 23:18 for my slowest 5K in over two years. Nearly two minutes slower than what I ran just one month prior.

I didn't look at my Garmin at all during this race so I shot out too fast on the first mile, which was almost entirely uphill (7:09 pace). This pace would have been reasonable if I had been in better shape and racing it all-out, but I wasn't in good shape at all. If I had let myself look at the Garmin, I would have slowed down to a tempo effort of 7:30 on an uphill. After that first mile, the rest of the race was a struggle. I simply wanted to hang onto that effort level and get a good workout in, fully knowing that I was slowing down.

My husband felt similarly beat up by the race and opted to turn off at the 5K point instead of doing the full 10. Not a great performance from either of us, but we were happy to have participated and put out a good effort.

I did win 3rd in my Age Group, but someone else went home with my award because my D-Tag didn't register. My husband's didn't either, so I think it's because we registered on-site and our paperwork didn't get entered into the system. Regardless, my time was recorded in the "backup data" so I am listed as third place in the official online results, I just didn't get the recognition at the race. I don't care all that much because this was such a bad race for me, but the thought of an age group award did help pull me through during that last mile.

First week of January: Common Cold
On my first day of work, I noticed that quite a few people were coughing. Sure enough, I had a full-on cold by Wednesday night. Sore throat, stuffy nose, sinus pressure. It's not good to do speedwork when you're sick because it's a strain on the immune system, so I have been keeping the runs slow and easy.

I'm also out of shape, which is another reason for the slowness.

Being sick with the common cold confirms my self-diagnosis of over training. I ran 7 miles yesterday, which felt way more energized than the 7 I ran in mid-December. Overtraining: you feel like you can't run and you want to stop. You may actually find yourself stopping and walking. Common Cold: you have less energy, but the run feels decent with no urge to stop.

Looking Ahead
I feel mentally ready to get back into marathon training (It's only 10 weeks away and I haven't even done a long run yet!!!!!) But my body has had other ideas. I still think I have enough time to train and run a good race, but more obstacles are yet to come. I have a 6-day vacation at the end of January, some work travel in February, and there will probably be snow/ice which will force me onto a treadmill or into the pool.

I'm hoping to do my first official long run tomorrow with my team. Wish me luck!