Sunday, August 27, 2017

5 Recovery Tools That Work for Me

Before I begin this post, I need to knock very hard on a piece of wood. I haven't had any major injuries in over four years, so this is me officially knocking on wood that I am not jinxing myself by writing about this topic.

I often get asked about how I prevent injuries and how I've managed to avoid them for so long. My last major injury, with "major" being defined as having to miss over a week of training, was in July of 2013. I had a stress reaction in my shin and it sidelined me for about six weeks. Prior to that, my injury history was as follows:
  • December 2011: Strained/pulled calf muscle
  • January 2011: Three tibial stress fractures 
  • August 2009: Peroneal Tendonitis
  • May 2008: Patellar Tendonitis
  • January 2008: Pinched Peroneal nerve
Of course my immune system is a different story, as I have suffered from mono-like viruses twice in the past five years. I also was knocked out by a virus for over 4 weeks in the summer of 2008. But the musculoskeletal system has held up pretty well.

I am not a physical therapist, doctor, or running coach. But over the past four years, I've found the following recovery tools to be helpful in preventing injuries.

1. My Bed
I believe that sleep is the #1 factor in recovering from training runs. Without enough of it (or without high quality sleep) your body doesn't have the opportunity to recover from hard workouts, so you end up feeling fatigued when you do your next workout. And the cumulative effects of this can cause injury. Not coincidentally, I stopped getting injured at the precise time that I had my mental breakthrough in sports psychology. 

Prior to the summer of 2013, I suffered from insomnia. It was difficult for me to sleep straight through the night and my sleep was not restful. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my mind would race with all kinds of random thoughts. So despite my best efforts of falling asleep early and allowing 8+ hours of sleep time, I rarely got a truly restful night of sleep. That all changed once I learned to have a more relaxed mindset. None of the remaining items on this list compare to the importance of sleep, as I believe sleep is the foundation of staying healthy.

2. Massage Therapy
When I'm training for a marathon, I typically get a professional massage once every 2-3 weeks, for 75 minutes at a time. I'll go once a month if my training load is lighter. Yes, this is expensive, but it's cheaper than having to go to physical therapy for an injury and it's also enjoyable. My massage therapist is excellent at helping the muscles relax without inducing pain. So not only do my muscles enjoy it, but it's a great way to wind down from a busy week of running, going to work, and doing lots of other things.

3. Salonpas Patches
Whenever something starts to ache or feels particularly tight, I apply a Salonpas patch. I absolutely LOVE these things. They're basically small rectangular patches that stick to you and stimulate blood flow to the area. I've been using them for about ten years and I truly believe they help in recovery. Greg was skeptical at first and thought that they were just designed to make the area feel good, but I think I've converted him into being a believer as well. I particularly like sleeping with them as I find them to be relaxing. I sometimes wear them to work, even though other people can smell the chemicals in the patches. I have a weak sense of smell so I never smell them on me. 

Over the past six weeks I've been experiencing some tenderness and stiffness in my Achilles tendons. On the nights when I sleep with the patches on, the tendons feel great in the morning. Just saying! They're also great post marathon, and I think I was wearing up to four at a time after Boston last year.

4. Protein Smoothies
After my hard workouts, I typically drink a Naked smoothie boosted with protein. I love these drinks because they don't take any time to make-- I just grab one out of the refrigerator post run. One smoothie has 420 calories and 30 grams of protein so it's an easy way to replenish the calories and give my muscles the protein they need to recover. I've noticed, however, that they are becoming more and more scarce at the grocery store so I wonder if they will soon be discontinued. They have already stopped making the "green" flavor, which is a shame. Another quick post-run snack is cottage cheese, which is protein-packed and also takes no work to prepare. In the mornings, I am all about convenience. 

5. The Foam Roller
No recovery post would be complete without mentioning the foam roller. I primarily use this on my quads, hips and IT bands. I use it regularly so usually it's not painful. However, if I am recovering from a particularly hard race or workout, then I've been known to scream while foam rolling. If I wake up and my muscles feel tight, I will foam roll before running. Usually I foam roll for about 3-4 minutes at a time, which I think is shorter than what most people do. But I don't seem to need any more than that.

In additional to using all of these recovery tools, I also do preventative hip strengthening exercises and calf strengthening exercises. In the past, I have struggled with an achy hip when the mileage increases above 55 miles per week. But doing the hip exercises three times a week has left me pain-free for years now. My left hip is the trouble maker, and it can flare up if I make too many left turns. This is why I run on the track "backwards" or clockwise. 

Training Update
I'll finish off with a quick training update. After the race last Sunday, I made up for the missed long run by running 14 miles easy on Tuesday of this week. My legs felt surprisingly good for having raced a 5K on Sunday, and I was able to pick up the pace a bit during the last three miles. 

Saturday, August 26th
On Wednesday, I ran easy for 60 minutes. On Thursday, I did a hill workout that I had never done before: 3 x 10 minutes of continuous hills at 10K effort. I ran up a hill that was about 40 feet in elevation gain over the course of 75 seconds at 10K effort, and then ran back down the hill at a slightly faster pace to keep the heart rate up. I did this for 10 minutes at a time, with 3-minute recovery jogs in between. Each segment was long enough for almost four full ascents. 

Friday was another easy 60 minutes and Saturday was my first "longer" run of the cycle at 16 miles. Greg and I drove to the W&OD trail and ran together. We were treated with low-humidity and temperatures in the low 60's, so the run felt amazing. The W&OD trail (paved trail) is a hillier route than my normal neighborhood running options, so it was a confidence booster to run strong on it.

Total mileage for the week: 61.4

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is in 10 weeks, and I feel like I have a solid foundation for a strong training cycle.

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I was interviewed for Coach Jenny's podcast while I was on the Great Alaskan Running Cruise. You can listen here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Leesburg 5K: Coming back for more

This morning I ran the Leesburg 5K. Even though I had raced plenty of 5Ks this summer, I was still craving another one. I think I still have some work to do in terms of finding the right pacing strategy for me, and really dialing into 5K race effort. Plus, I knew a lot of my friends would be running the corresponding 20K and I thought it would be fun to cheer for them after I finished.

I'm in the process of transitioning my training from the 5K to the marathon. The Firecracker 5K was my most recent 5K, and after that I took some down time. Then I went on the running cruise, and then I got sick. Now I am building a base for marathon training, which means a slight increase in weekly mileage and a good bit of hill work. I haven't done any marathon-specific workouts yet, and I also haven't done any 5K-specific workouts in over six weeks. I guess you might consider my half marathon at marathon pace in Alaska to be a marathon specific workout, but I still have not begun high-mileage weeks with marathon focused workouts.

Thus, I did not know what to expect in terms of my 5K fitness. I went into the race with a framework of a strategy, but no specific time goal. I was actually more focused on my placement, because I wanted to win =PR= race series points. You win points for placing in the top 10 of your gender, as well as for placing in your age group. I also hadn't run this race in the past, so I had no benchmark. It used to be a 10K, and I ran that in 2009. But I had no recent memory of this race.

Before the Race
As I mentioned above, this race also offers a 20K option. That distance would have been more appropriate for marathon training, but I have sworn off long distance races that I know are going to be hot. It's one thing if a race I'm registered for happens to be unseasonably warm, but I don't choose to knowingly subject myself to the torture of a long distance race in the heat. I've had problems in the past with seeing black spots and feeling confused/dizzy afterwards, so I leave long distance racing to
the cooler months.

The majority of my friends were running the 20K, and Greg was running it as a workout. I advised that he run the first 30 minutes easy, the next 30 minutes medium, and the rest of the race hard.

Greg and I arrived at the race, got our bibs, and headed for the porta potties. At this point, I think most of my friends were already warming up for the 20K, which started 18 minutes earlier than the 5K. Yes, the official start time of the 5K was 7:48. Very precise! I warmed up on my own, and as I was on my way back I saw the 20K runners coming down the road. I cheered for my friends and for Greg, and then went into a nearby coffee shop to go to the bathroom one last time.

It was in the upper 60's, sunny, with about 90% humidity. This was relatively decent weather compared to the very humid weather we've been having lately. On Friday morning, it had been 79 degrees with 98% humidity at 7:30am. All in all, I couldn't complain.

It wasn't long before they were calling the 5K runners to the start line. I scoped out the competition and I knew at least two of the women would beat me. It was hard to tell with the others since I didn't know who they were.

Mile 1
The race started on a downhill that lasted just under 0.1 mile. Of course this brought everyone out way too fast, and I noticed I was running a 6:11 pace early on, so I dialed it back. The rest of the first
Moments after the start
mile was uphill. Since I was more focused on my placement than my finish time, I counted the number of women ahead of me. It seemed like there were about 10 of them, and I was the 11th.

As I powered up the hill I focused on my form and staying relaxed. I didn't want to go out too hard like I did at the Firecracker 5K and have nothing left for the end, so I gave a strong effort without going all out. I wanted to have gas in the tank for the last mile, which I knew would be all downhill. There was no shade and the sun was getting higher in the sky. I felt okay, but not as peppy as I have felt in previous 5Ks. It became clear that I wasn't used to running at this effort level because I simply didn't have the power that I had earlier in the season.

I didn't judge it though, and I focused on picking off the runners who had gone out really fast. By the time I reached the first mile marker, I had passed four of them, which would have made me 7th. My split was 6:52, which was a bit cringe-worthy, considering my 10K PR pace is around 6:43. I also had run the first bit pretty quickly down the hill, which meant I was running up the hill even slower than a 6:52 pace. But once again, I didn't judge it, I just kept on going.

Mile 2
There were lots of twists and turns in mile 2, which I knew to expect from the course map. I had to really focus on where I was going because now there were 20K runners around and I didn't want to miss the 5K turn off because I was following the 20K'ers. There was a split second when I wasn't sure which way to turn, so I said to the volunteer "5K?" and he pointed me in the right direction. I instantly recalled all the blogs I had read where runners made a wrong turn and screwed up their race. But those thoughts passed once I was certain I was following the correct course.

I passed another woman at some point during the first half of this mile, which helped boost my confidence. From the elevation profile, this mile is a net 5 ft decrease in elevation, but it felt mainly up hill, at least in the beginning and all the twists and turns made it even more challenging to dial in a strong and steady pace. My split was 6:49, which still seemed really slow given the effort level I was exerting, but I tried to keep positive by reminding myself that it was faster than the first mile.

Mile 3
Finally! I knew this was a fast downhill mile and parts of it were even shaded! We ran on the W&OD trail (paved trail) and while it was still mostly sunny for that last mile, it felt amazing when the shaded portions came. I began to close the gap with the next woman ahead of me. I decided to really
Running for the finish line
surge when I passed her so that she wouldn't attempt to stick with me. I had lost track of counting the women and was focused on gunning as hard as I could. Finally I felt good and I felt like I was really racing. I just wish I would have been able to go that hard earlier on. When I run downhill, I feel like I am in control of the pace and I can run harder and go faster. This is not the case for running uphill.

The trail portion finished and we were back on the road by the time we got to mile marker 3. My split was 6:25. Yes! Now all that was left was that original hill that we ran down for the first 0.1. It definitely was cruel to put such a hill immediately before finish, but I was really motivated to give it all that I had, and was pleased to run a 6:31 pace up the hill. I crossed the finish line and the announcer called out my name. I was relieved that the race was over.

After the Race
After catching my breath and getting some water, I met up with one of my friends, Kathy, who had run the 5K. Before the race, we had planned to do our cool down together. The results were already posted and I was excited to see that I had won first place in my age group, and was the 5th overall female. This would equate to lots of points for the =PR= race series! My placement made up for what I considered to be a mediocre (for me) finish time of 21:18.

Kathy had also won her age group, so we were both pleased. We cooled down for two miles and then I retrieved my bag and cell phone so I could take photos of the 20K finishers. Unfortunately, the 5K age group awards were being given away at the same time my friends were finishing the 20K. I prioritized cheering for them instead of getting my award. I knew I could always pick it up later. It was really exciting to see them come through looking strong and working hard. Hannah set a 4-minute PR and Greg executed his workout exactly as prescribed.

Once everyone was finished, I retrieved my award, which was a cowbell and a gift certificate to Potomac River Running. And then we waited for the 20K awards to be presented. Finally, it was time for brunch. I indulged by having a latte, lemonade, fries, a chicken sandwich, and ice cream!

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
I have mixed feelings about this race, but my overall sentiment is that I got a solid workout in, earned a nice allotment of race series points (and a cowbell), and had a fun morning with my friends.

I did feel somewhat stale at the beginning and I was surprised that my paces weren't faster during the first two miles. My finish time was 2 seconds slower than the Firecracker 5K, which was a little disappointing. I think I was in better 5K shape for Firecracker, but given the lower humidity in today's race, and the fact that I didn't execute Firecracker well, I thought I'd at least be able to break 21:00. It's hard to say which course is more challenging, as they both have their share of hills. But as I said earlier, I didn't have any experience with this course whereas I had run the Firecracker course many times in the past.

I was encouraged by my speed during the last mile, and I think my stamina is pretty solid right now. I feel prepared to start tackling 60+ mile weeks, which will start in the very near future.

Hannah and I with our age group awards: cowbells!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Marathon Training: Back at it

Things have (somewhat) returned to normal after having returned from the Alaskan running cruise. I spent most of the week dealing with lingering symptoms from the virus I picked up while traveling. I was well enough to run, but I was still coughing quite a bit, and on Thursday morning I woke up with
half of my face swollen. Greg fell victim to the virus on the flight home with a sore throat, and he was knocked out for a few days with the same fatigue and chills that I experienced early on.

It seemed that I had brought the Alaska weather home with me for the first few days back. But then the DC humidity came back with a vengeance midweek. On the one hand, I do want to stay acclimated to the weather because my upcoming races are likely to be hot and humid. On the other hand, its just so much nicer to be running in lower humidity.

Monday: 5.8 miles @ 8:37 average
I was relieved to see that I only had a 50-minute run on the schedule. I woke up with the area under my tongue very red and swollen and the back of my mouth was burning. Energy wise, I felt fine, so I did the run, but I was glad it was relatively short. Afterward, I went to the doctor to make sure my swollen tongue thing wasn't an infection. The doctor said that this wasn't abnormal with the virus I had caught. She told me that this was a 10-day bug (I was on day six), and the cough would likely last for 2-3 weeks. Lovely!

Tuesday: 8 x 75-second hill repeats
I told myself I would attempt this workout and if I felt bad during it, I would cut it off. Thankfully the humidity was still low and the temperature was 66. Definitely manageable. My coach told me to run these at 5K effort, and typically I end up running them closer to 5K pace. On Tuesday, I was very disciplined about running by effort and not pace. In fact, on the first one, I ran what felt like half marathon effort. And then 10K effort on the second one. And then for the final six I was at my 5K effort. I made it through and I actually felt decent, given I was still fighting off the illness. The hill was about 35 feet of elevation gain over 75 seconds, and I used the jog back down as recovery. With warm up and cool down, I logged a total of 6.6 miles.

Wednesday: 7.1 miles @ 8:29 average
Wednesday was the first day I felt good. My throat/mouth no longer hurt and I felt like I had returned to 100% energy. This happened just in time for the heat and humidity to come back. 8:29 is a little bit too zippy for an easy run in warm weather, but I was happy to be feeling energized, so I went with it.

Thursday: 10-mile progression run @ 7:54 average
This run was not pretty. I woke up with the right side of my face swollen and painful. It was as if
someone had removed my wisdom teeth while I slept. I did my run anyway, but I was torn between
pushing hard and not wanting to make myself sick given the state of my mouth/face. I later researched it and it seemed like it was a swollen parotid gland. This was likely caused by having used so many antihistamines and also dehydration- since I had been having severe night sweats all week (another fun symptom).

Anyway, the workout called for 30 minutes easy, 30 minutes medium, 30 minutes hard. I've done this workout about 3-4 times in the past and I've always executed it well. But on Thursday I think I underestimated the humidity so I was not able to complete it. I ran the first 30 minutes at 8:34, and the second 30 minutes at 7:41. This felt like "medium" effort when I started, but as the half hour went on, it started to feel more like hard effort. I began the hard portion and I wasn't able to speed up as much as I typically have in the past. My pace was 7:19 and I cut it off after 19 minutes (when I reached 10 miles) instead of the full 30. Back in January, I had run 11.6 miles at an average pace of 7:42 during this workout. But I guess I can't compare summer weather to winter weather. Humidity is tricky. It doesn't feel that bad when you start out, but it hits you like a ton of bricks later on.

Friday: 7.1 miles @ 8:28 average
Just like Wednesday's easy run, this was perhaps a tad too fast. But the pace felt easy and I was really enjoying it. I think once the miles really start to pack on I will need to be better about slowing these easy runs down. The swelling on the right side of my face had gone down, although it was still tender, so I decided not to go to the doctor again.

Saturday: 14 miles @ 8:32 average
This was a pretty typical long run. Greg and I ran together for the first hour (8:42 pace) but then he decided that he wanted to slow it down a bit, and I wanted to do more of a progression, so we parted
ways. He is about 4 days behind me with the illness, so I totally understand him wanting to keep it really easy. I ran the second hour at a pace of 8:22 and everything felt pretty good. I felt myself getting pretty tired around miles 9-11, but then I pepped up for the last three. Amazing how you can go through "rough patches" in a long run and if you wait it out you can suddenly just feel better. That's important to remember during races too. You can feel awful, and let that get into your head. Or you can feel awful and tell yourself that things will likely turn around if you stick with it.

Sunday: 3.5 miles @ 8:41 average
I polished off the week with a recovery run this morning. The humidity was lower than normal, so this run felt really nice.

Total mileage: 54.1
Based on my upcoming training schedule, I think I will probably stay in the mid 50's throughout the rest of August, and then really start to ramp things up in September. The marathon is on November 4th, so I have 13 more weeks of training ahead of me.