Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Month: January 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Lifetime Indoor Tri

Sunday, I found myself up at 3:30am.

While the reason for the ridiculous time was actually allergies, it wasn’t too far off from my 5am alarm for the Lifetime Indoor Tri.  While it was fairly inconvenient timing – I really should have spent the weekend logging more saddle time and also getting prepped for camping next weekend – I love this stupid little race and I couldn’t say no when Zliten gave me the puppy dog eyes to sign up.

Funny thing – on the way into work Monday, he was like, “wow, I didn’t realize how much this would disrupt our week”, and then, thankfully, “I see what you were saying…” because, yeah, I did complain about it.  However, even given the alternative, I’m still glad I did it.  It’s a great opportunity to start chipping away at the bottom of the well of the pain cave to make it deeper for the races that actually matter later in the year.

I did more of the things right than I did last week.  I ate a full sunbutter and honey sandwich, I had a few caffeinated beans and my earl grey tea (hot).  I also woke up in enough time (barely) to use the restroom enough so my stomach was clear before the race (grumble grumble maybe I do need to set my alarm earlier grumble grumble).  I went into the race feeling probably just the right amount of pressure – I wanted to do well and I knew I had a chance to podium, but it wasn’t like… the most important thing in the world.

Swim:

I slipped into the water and found a song that didn’t suck on my swimp3 player and was actually longer than the 10 minutes I was going to swim, and the countdown started… 3, 2, 1, and I pushed off the wall.

I am a steady pace swimmer, I’m not one to sprint out of the gate, and I saw my husband, who was sharing a lane with me, pull ahead.  I knew we had different swim styles, and the last thing I wanted to do was race him head to head getting in each other’s way, so I actually dropped back a little and drafted off him for the first half.  He started to slow, so I passed him and offered up my feet to draft on – I think he hung on for a while but by the end I was approximately half a lap ahead of him (though since he made it halfway we both got credit for our 19 lengths).

19 lengths (475m) in 10 mins (5/17 open women)

Exactly the same as last year.  Considering how different this pace is from my normal swim at Pure’s pool (which is admittedly a little short), I think their pool is a little bit longer than 25m.  Though, I’ll never know.  Last year I was definitely in better swim shape at this point, so I will take it.  Could I have pushed harder and maybe eeked out another half or full lap?  Probably, but I always see my swim as my warmup, and honestly, anything I gain by pushing really really hard and redlining on this leg generally counts against either my transition or bike.  So, I don’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t plan to work on my swim, or work on efforts in practice that would be considered finding my edge… but that’s not where I need to be in racing.  In non-drafting triathlon, there’s not a huge advantage to coming out of the water in the first pack so I’ll continue to swim uncomfortably comfortable and save the puke-worthy efforts for later in the race.

Bike:

Having 10 minutes to transition always seems like such a luxury until you actually have to manage it.  I finished at the far end of the pool so making my way back took probably a minute.  Then, I put on my bibs and jersey and grabbed a bag I had put together with all the rest of the crap I needed (good job, past me, that was helpful), and got to the cycle studio quickly.  However, I didn’t do a great job at making sure it was all packed efficiently (bad job, past me) and after fumbling with my stuff I was on the bike and pedaling just in time.

This level of effort always surprises me this early in the year.  I’ve not prepared specifically for a sustained 30 minutes of pain – I’ve been either riding easy to recover during half marathon training or doing shorter (1-4 minute) intervals.  I had a number I wanted to see (170-180 watts), though I had a coin flip in my head whether that was the right one, and I knew the effort would sort itself out eventually.  Watts don’t lie when pitted against level of effort.

Ten minutes in, I wanted the watts to lie to me a little.  I was holding in the low 160s, which was not *terrible* considering I don’t those bike’s sensors calibrations from a hole in the ground, and the effort felt like “kill me noawwww” but not “I’m dead”.  I did take 15-20 seconds every few minutes near the end to get out of the saddle and jog, dropping my watts a little, but I had to do something to break up the seemingly never ending UNCOMFORT.

Just like tempo runs, FTP testing/long intervals are my least favorite bikes.  Which means I need to do more of them.  The best way for me to force myself to do more of them is to go to cycle class and schedule them in the program and also maybe do some TT bike racing if I can find such a thing that fits in with the sprint-triathalon-a-palooza I plan to do this spring.

10.1 miles in 30 minutes (20.2 mph) (3/17 open women)

Considering that I was all bike all the time at this point last year, and in the last few months my cycling has been sporadic and highly recreational, I’ll take the .2 mph in reduction from last year.  Things are looking good for when I actually start digging into getting fit for a short and painful sprint triathlon bike split this spring.

Here’s the painful part, I crunched the numbers and if I would have pushed harder (10.4 like I did last year), I would have ended up 3rd overall.  It’s a great confirmation that it’s. all. about. the. bike.

Run:

Again, five minutes to walk next door and find a treadmill sounds luxurious, but I decided to change out of my jersey (on the gym floor, I am the opposite of modest) and futz with my shoes a bit and music and then OMG all of a sudden it was 3, 2, 1… GO!

I was super excited to crush this 20 minute run because I had been training for this – all the intervals I’ve run in the last six weeks may not have necessarily paid off for the half marathon, but surely it would help me here, right?  I had wide eyed dreams of holding some 8 minute mile pace because I actually have some experience at that this year.

However, I forgot about the whole “off the really hard bike” part of triathlon.  It’s been a while.  My goal was to start with low-9 minute miles and see how quickly I could get into the 8s.  My legs had other plans and felt incredibly noodle-y off the bike and that was a hard NO out of the gate.

Luckily, 10 minutes/mile felt fairly relaxed, so I got my bearings there and quickly found the oomph to press the UP button on the treadmill speed a few times until it felt ROUGH around 6.3.  I stuck with it.  My heart rate wasn’t pegged yet (it was high 160s, low 170s, I know I have a little more before I hit my ceiling), but my legs just felt like lead and it was taking all my concentration to keep them turning over fast enough to stay on the treadmill.

I spent more time than I wanted to in those mid-9 minute miles because I barely felt like I was hanging on, but then I found something else with about 5 minutes to go and picked up the pace.  I finished strong and improved on last year.

2.13 miles in 20 minutes (9:20/mile) (7/17 open women)

While this is confirmation that my run still needs work and is still my lowest ranking in the disciplines, it’s getting better.

I’m really happy with my speedwork allowing me to dig deep and not surrender here. A scant .05 more in 20 minutes seems like an incremental gain, but I will take it.  I think what I’m more proud of is the process.  I felt the uncomfortable part of the run where I wasn’t sure I could hang on AND I DID.

I need to do that and feel that feeling a million more times over the course of this year and realize that I’ve got more in there than I realize, I just have to get messy and tap into the uncomfortable place, and frankly, blow the hell up a few times to find the line.  Not quit because my brain says it’s hard.  Not quit because a stupid injury is nagging at me (though obvs. I need to take care of these things).  No, I need to find the point of being crumpled up on the side of the road dry heaving and barely able to stand.  Only then can I *really* know where the line is.  For the last few years I’ve been working on finding the endurance line which is actually really effing far given a reasonable pace and proper training.  Now I’ve got the need for speed.

2018 is going to be the year of HANGING THE F%#K ON.  I’ve been whining about my speed for years, but I haven’t been willing to do anything about it.  Why?  Because that work isn’t sexy and it’s really brutal.  It’s thrilling to go through the process of doing your first Ironman.  Century bike rides!  Twenty mile runs!  You look accomplished as f#&k on the instagrams.

The kind of work I’ll be doing this year will look totally weak in comparison.  Taking 20 seconds of a 5k PR, hell, finding my 5k PR again from many years ago, these things don’t smack of the heroic.  But, they are the horses that I’m choosing to chase down this year in the pursuit of race podiums.  The end result is sexy.  But the work to get there totally isn’t.  Gotta keep my eyes on the prize though!

Overall – I ended up 6/17 in the open women’s division.  If I was 2 years older, I would have ended up 3rd in masters and if I would have pushed harder on the bike…. yeah.  A little disappointed at the result but not at the process so I’ll move on and take it as fuel for the fire to train harder for the races that really matter in the spring.

Next up in the crazy winter race-a-palooza, the ill-advised six hour bike race.  I can’t lie, I would love to see a podium here (but certainly don’t expect it) and depending on who and what (aka – my brain and legs) shows up, could either be a hilarious notion or a distinct possibility.

3M Half Marathon – Rebellious Appendages

This race.  I love it, but it doesn’t love me back.

Packet pickup in Austin involves Police escorts on mighty steeds.

The cycle usually goes something like this – early in the year, I sign up for this race.  I think “next year, I’m totally going for a PR.  The course is perfect, it’s January so the weather can’t totally suck, and I’ll actually train for this one.   For reals.”

This time, I had even designated it as a goal race and made plans to train.  For really reals.  And then I was dealing with minor but nagging injuries with my left heel, ankle, and knee, so I cut into the beginning of this cycle to rest.  I let it heal, but apparently didn’t solve the actual problem, so the pain came back once I started running again.  It was never to the point where I couldn’t run 2-3 days later, but the carefree happy fun run love I’ve experienced in previous winters is so not there this year.  I’ve spent the entire last five weeks playing the “is my left leg going to let me run when I need to train?” game.

The answer, fourteen times, has been yes, since I started training December 18th, but it was always a question and added stress.  After feeling like a rockstar crushing my speedwork on Monday, my knee/ankle started to hurt an hour later and took much longer to feel better than normal.  I skipped last Wednesday’s planned run entirely and my foot never quite recovered, even staying off it for the rest of the week.  Three guesses how moody I was about that last week….

Saturday, we had family over for lunch and cards.  It was a wonderful day (and since we didn’t have long workouts in the morning, it was a very CONVENIENT day to host as well), but I did play it fast and loose with my pre-race nutrition by eating a lot more fatty meat and fiber than usual, as well as much more dessert than I should have because I am weak, it was in the house, and I couldn’t keep my grubby mitts off it. (cue ominous undertones)  Lesson learned.  Back to my tried and true pre-race meals and I need to be STRONG and skip dessert even if it’s around.

While I haven’t slept the BEST this week, I actually got pretty great pre-race sleep, almost 8 hours, which is kind of incredible.  I fell asleep putting myself through my race day plan repeatedly, which helps me wake up focused and motivated.  We both popped out of bed around 5:30 feeling fairly awake and refreshed.  I got a 10 minute bike warmup, ate, used the potty, and we left when we meant to and got to the race with plenty of time to spare.  Maybe today would be my day after all!

This one killed it with a 2:08 – just about a minute shy of his PR.

We hit the giant porta potty line, and then did some dynamic warmups and I went for a tiny jog to make sure my feet were working.  We found Brian and tried to get in at the 2:05 pacer, but everything was all blocked off, so we had to start in the back instead.  Around that time, I started thinking I could use the bathroom again, but the potty lines were still incredibly long, so I was hoping it was just the normal pre-race jitters instead of something more sinister.

I warned Zliten and Brian that I wanted to keep up with them, but I wouldn’t be talking at that pace, so I hid in my headphones while they chatted away.  The first few miles were rather uneventful, besides the lady I had to scream “OH MY GOD DON’T DO THAT!!!” toward, who was stopped in the middle of the road with 7000 other runners dodging around her taking a fucking selfie.  I almost ran her over.  JUST NO.  I told Zliten I felt bad about it because it just kind of slipped out, but he thought she needed to be educated as well. #sorrynotsorry

The pace felt just on the side of uncomfortable, but doable.  For now.  As my goal was to PR or blow up trying, I tried to keep my mile splits as close to 9:30s as possible, and succeeded through mile 6.  So far, so good, minus some wicked underarm chafing and a blister forming on my left pinkie toe (hello 70 degrees and 100% humidity…).

About halfway is when things started to fall apart.  The situation in my left shoe quickly went HIGHLY blisterific (I have no idea why – that didn’t happen in training).  This was altering my gate, which was making my heel and knee absolutely crank-tastic.  There’s a level of pain I’m willing to put up with to PR a half marathon, and between mile 6 and 7, it surpassed it.  I’m willing to dig deep mentally and work through being tired and normal muscular aches and pains but when my entire left leg starts to protest in a way that starts to feel like I’m doing damage, I knew I needed to cut my losses.  I slowed down about 30 seconds per mile and it felt better.  So I hung there for a bit.

I made sure to stick to the fastest pace I could, because at that point, I did have a little wiggle room.  If I needed to take an extra minute on miles 7 and 8 and I could speed back up after, I still had a shot.  However, the final blow landed during mile 9 when my gut started to revolt.  I was not entirely sure which end was going to win the privilege of introducing something from my body to the outside world, but either way, it was not going to be pretty.  Walking, I felt reasonably fine, running felt terrible.  I covered mile 9 in 11:17, running until I felt too terrible and then walking to recover.

I finally hit the porta potty (cue the angel’s chorus) at mile 10’s water stop for about five minutes.  While I couldn’t resolve the chafing, or my left leg’s utter rebellion, I felt like a new woman after that stop. Hooray!  I grabbed a nuun and was about to take off and saw Matt!

I felt bad because it meant he wasn’t having a great day himself, but it was nice to have a buddy to run/walk some 12 minute miles with.  I knew my PR was super busted at this point, and I didn’t care about my finish time one way or another.  Finally, Matt was tired of my company and shoved me ahead and told me to run to the finish, which I did, because finally, I could end this ordeal and rest my heel and drink some beer.

Note the outfit, which was soaked in sweat and salt by the end.  WHEN IS IT EVER 70 DEGREES AND HUMID ON A JANUARY MORNING???? #%%*^@!

Finish Time: 2:30:02.  Not my worst, but definitely not my best.

I was less bummed than I thought I’d be, for what months ago was going to be my goal race.

Even with the regular training, it’s now clear to me that I didn’t respect the distance.  I know the way I nail races, and it’s not on five weeks of training that flirts with over half the distance a few times.  It’s always nice to show up and give it a shot, which I did, but it’s not surprising that I wasn’t able to hold pace and fell apart.  I am a volume kid, if my body can tolerate it.  I train for a marathon, I take three weeks off, and then PR a 10 mile race.  While the speedwork is necessary for me to get my legs to turn over, the other component is miles, and 5 weeks of 15-20 per week or so just wasn’t enough base, which again, shocks no one.

Here’s where there is light at the end of the tunnel – I think I finally have the solution for the knee and foot issues.  Two weeks ago, my chiropractor suggested an insole that I’m currently wearing in my daily shoes.  And they actually feel pretty amazing!  She did NOT recommend trying to get myself used to wearing them for a two hour race in that short of a time period, so I haven’t been running with them. Now that my volume is significantly reduced, I’ll be breaking them in and hopefully within the next month, my pain will be a thing of the past and I can be set up for a healthy tri season.  My next crack at the distance is off the bike in Cozumel, and honestly, that’s the one for the pesos (figuratively – I R NOT PRO).

Next up in our whirlwind winter race tour: lifetime indoor tri on Sunday.  I’m looking forward to the “go so hard you almost hurl” pace a bit more than I should be, and also (possibly unreasonably) hoping for high placement in the ranks and notching another fake-podium this year if all my appendages cooperate.

The legs, the lungs, the head, and the heart.

On Saturday, I had an eight mile run on the plan.

Eight miles for me is not extraordinary.  It’s a weekday run during marathon or half ironman or ironman training.  It’s something that is 90% of the year totally within my comfort zone, as it is right now.  It’s one of those runs that’s not long enough to really be daunting, but definitely not short.

However, five of those miles were planned at half marathon pace.

For someone who’s spent the majority of the last few years running anything over a short handful of miles at a pace in which I could carry on a full conversation and probably also juggle, that was intimidating.  My original plan with this training block was to do a lot of these, but when it decreased from 10-12 to 5 weeks, I barely got comfortable running anything with two digits at significantly slower than race pace.   However, I had been diligently (at least, for the last four weeks) doing my speedwork, and that had gone from hilariously bad to actually being able to hit the paces I should most of the time.

I needed to know where I stand eight days out from the race.  I knew this was a run I needed to do.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t procrastinate the eff out of it.  I mean, Saturday mornings without alarms are precious things, and I’ll enjoy them while the cold lasts, but I woke up and read for a long time and then dithered around the house until my husband got annoyed enough with me he started warming up on the bike, convinced I was just going to sit on the couch all day.

I didn’t even though it was tempting.  I got my warmup in on the bike, and we decided to hit the gym instead of running outside because my eyes were already itchy from just existing.  Over an hour outside sounded like a death wish.  The air filters at the gym are AWESOME, and I knew that it would be the best thing overall for my health and well being.

3M 2017 – 2:13:40.  

I started up the treadmill, and the first two miles seemed to go on forever.  I was straight up dreading these five miles.  Anything below 10 minute miles scares me nowadays.  I can hold it sometimes, but recently, it’s a toss up how long.  I’m decent at running slow forever, I’m decent at running pretty fast (for me) for short stints, but approximately 45-48 minutes just outside my comfort zone?  Ick.  Worst.  Give me a 20 mile long slow run instead.

1.98.  Sighhhh.  1.99.  Eeek, ok, let’s get this over with.  2.0.  I clicked the button to increase the speed from 5.5 to 6.3 on the treadmill.

I went through the five stages of grief within the first half mile.

Denial.  “Hey, this isn’t so bad, I just feel like my feet are turning over a little faster than normal.”

Anger.  “F#%k, never mind, this s#&t feels pretty f@%$*#g terrible.  What horrible coach put this on my schedule?  I hate this!” (keep in mind that coach = me)

Bargaining: “Ok, well, 6.3 pace isn’t soooooo bad.  If I get too thrashed later in the workout, I should be able to come back and hold this 9:30/mile pace alright and still *technically* complete the workout at the minimum acceptable standards.”

Depression: “Oh. em. gee.  I’m at 0.3 miles into my 5.  This is going to take sooooo long.  I’m never going to make it.” *cues the dramatics*

Acceptance: “Right.  I’m a half mile in now.  Just nine more of that same distance to go.” (maybe a little bit of bargaining still, but I was in…)

3M 2016.  2:11:02

By the end of the first mile, I realized this was doable.  Slightly uncomfortable?  Sure.  But my legs were turning over and my lungs were holding out.  I had calmed my brain into submission to accept that this is where we are suffering right now.  And my heart felt the importance of this run.  I tend to lack the confidence to really hold my foot to the gas pedal when things feel tough because I’m scared I’ll crash (even though I have plenty of reserves).  I have been building confidence by holding pace for quarter miles and half miles and miles, and now it was time to prove to myself that I could string miles of that pace together, enough to approach half the race distance.

The second mile, as each subsequent mile, started with a little adrenaline rush as I hit the UP arrow on the treadmill (was this going to be too much, would this send me over the edge?).  Then, around a quarter to halfway in, it got tedious (ackkk, isn’t this mile over yet?).  Then, around  three quarters in, I felt confident (I have survived, I got this), and then it started all over again when the mile ticked over to SOMETHING POINT ZERO.

Every mile, I checked in with my legs, my lungs, my head, and my heart.  My legs started the run feeling great and had moments where they felt heavy, but it definitely wasn’t a slog at any point and if I focused on my form it felt better.  My lungs felt taxed by the end but not maxed out, well within the place where they could keep this up for longer.  My brain had many moments of wavering motivation and focus, commercials on spotify were an absolute TRAVESTY to me while grinding out the last mile, but once I realized that the first two components of my body were actually doing just fine, I told it to shut up and deal.  I think one thing that helped was tapping into my heart near the end.  My heart would REALLY like to prove to everyone (though mostly myself, ’cause I can’t imagine anyone else gives a shit about my 13.1 PR) that I have a better half marathon than 2:08 in me.

The last quarter mile, I found myself tired but not crushed, so I “sprinted towards the finish” envisioning the last part of the race and the finish and I was about at my half mile repeat pace by the end of it.  I needed a few moments to catch my breath once the mile ticked over, but the cooldown mile followed the same formula – mentally tough (you mean, I didn’t *actually* just finish the race and I get my bagel and beer now?), but my legs and lungs felt so good I sped up the pace to about 10-10:30 min/mile (since I knew I got an extra 10 minute bike cooldown anyway).

3M 2014 – 2:10:02

I find myself going into race week feeling a little anxious about the preparations (or lack thereof) I’ve made, but more confident than I was a week ago.  The little training I have been able to complete has been pretty specifically tailored to THIS race, and I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.  3M has been a stepping stone to a marathon, a longer triathlon, or just weeks after coming out of hibernation or a project as a pacer.

As an aspiring coach, I do a heck of a lot of reading about training and bodies and how to structure the former so the latter performs well.  What’s hilarious is there are perfectly valid theories that are mutually exclusive.  Maffetone would tell me I’m a flipping idiot for doing any training above 143 beats per minute.  Almost ever.  Bill Pierce and Scott Muir would wholeheartedly concur with my training program (in fact, I’ve based my weekly schedules loosely on their wisdom).  I think the difference is the quick fix vs the long game.  The 3-day a week but serious business technique will eek some fitness out of you fairly quickly without a huge time commitment.  MAF is the long game where in six months, you’ll have a huge transformation, but it’s going to suck in the meantime.

I realize I’m playing the quick fix card here.  I know to realize my true fitness, I need a lot of base building first, but I’m choosing to sharpen the stick I have instead of hunting for a new one.

Chasing whatever magic I found that morning over 7 years ago with my 2:08:08 at Rock and Roll San Antonio.

Sunday, I need to bring out my best version of SAPPHYRA the barbarian warrior racing badass to conquer the course.  I need her strong and capable legs.  I need her large, hearty, and conditioned lungs.  I need her head, the one that stays cool in the heat of battle.  But most of all, I need her heart, the one that fights until the end, the one that doesn’t give up when she’s tired, but when she’s done.

She’s ready to line up with that 2:05 pacer and find a new PR, even if this cycle has been imperfect and even if my longest runs were 10 and 11 a few weeks ago and even if the idea of low 9 minute/mile pace for two hours scares the bejeezus out of me and even if even if even if…

I’m ready to go for that PR or fizzle out trying.  If I don’t hit sub-2:08, it doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s 2:10 or 2:15 or worse.  After 22 of these things, it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s my third or fifth or twentieth best result.  I want it to be FIRST.  So, I might as well go for it with all the fight I have in my legs, lungs, head and heart.

Winter Solstice Bike Adventure

On December 21st, 12 days into my 24 day winter break, I set my alarm for 7:30 am.

Normally, this would be sacrilege.  The initial reason for it was my bi-annual dentist appointment at 8am and I had to be up and out and not underfoot for our cleaning service at 9am anyway.  However, instead of looking at it as a drag, I figured it was a good opportunity to embark on a bike adventure.

The day started a little rough because I had a few too many beverages and stayed up too late the night before (it’s vacation!), and forgot my backpack (with my ID, credit card, etc) at home.  Not a big deal for the dentist appointment, which went quickly, smoothly, and was over with before 9am and paid up by insurance.  It was only kind of a big deal because I needed it for the rest of the day’s adventures and going back home meant I had to descend the half of Steck-o-slavakia I had already climbed and resummit it.

When I got home, I *almost* thought about just calling it.  The last three days I had spent at home, doing chores, writing my book, working through my To Do list, and I wasn’t even close to complete.  A whole extra day of progress, I thought, that would be incredibly valuable.  Then I realized that was bullshit.  This was my day.  I had been looking forward to this adventure for months.  The weather was AMAZING.  I was just being lazy.  So I grabbed my backpack and took off again.

I had an engagement after work in which I either had to meet Zliten at work at 6pm on my bike, or drive there in my car.  We all know I’m anti-car.  I’d rather bike the 11+ miles unless it was sleeting if I had the option.  So, I had and endpoint and about eight hours to kill with a few destinations:

  • All great bike adventures start, end, or have an interlude with Rudy’s chopped beef breakfast tacos.
  • It was going to be 75 degrees that day.  I would be passing within a mile of the gym.  A swim HAD to happen.
  • Lunch’s destination was Jinya, at the Domain, which seemed like a great place to kill time as well.

Other than that, the town was my oyster.  I had my biggest backpack, the basket on my cruiser bike, a sunny day, enough layers to keep me as warm or cool as needed.  As I cruised down Jollyville with my stomach rumbling (I was approaching three hours awake, over 10 miles ridden, and zero food), I knew the first stop would be Rudy’s.

I pulled into the parking lot and practiced the ritual of the day.  Helmet off, in the basket.  Grab lock and wind it around my bike’s frame (not that anyone was looking to steal my 10 year old rusty Schwinn, my helmet with the headset is worth more than it is, but it would suck to be stuck about town without it).  Make sure to secure key somewhere I wouldn’t lose it.  Garmin off my bike and in my pocket or backpack.  Unzip phone from carrying case.  Switch out sunglasses for glasses.  It felt awkward at first because it’s been a while since I played cruiser bikes, but it became routine after a few stops.

The spicy, meaty, carby taco went down within a minute or so.  I splurged and sipped on a coke (I figured I could use the caffeine) while I tinkered with my phone, updating Zliten with my whereabouts, and surfing instagram.  While I didn’t want to spend all day on this bench, it was a breath of fresh air that I could.  After the conclusion of a very busy work year, a vacation that was FREAKING AMAZING but very active trying to cram in as much water time as possible, and three days of chores and productivity, it was refreshing to take fifteen minutes, just wasting my own time, with nothing, no one, and nowhere specific waiting on me.

My next planned stop was the gym, but I realized that I was also halfway to Cornucopia, one of our holiday traditions, so I set sail north instead of crossing under the freeway.  On the way, I realized that we needed to pick up an Academy gift card, and I figured I’d pop in and take care of that.  An hour later, I emerged with a new pair of swimsuit bottoms, a black hoodie, some new shirts, yoga pants, and said gift card – after trying on a metric butt-load of coats I was hoping would look better than the one I had on (and none did, even if they were cute on the hanger… wah…).

On the way to Cornucopia, I noticed a new indian and BBQ restaurant.  I made a note to check it out later (and that was interesting when we did, but that’s another story), but I had lunch plans already and was full speed ahead to the ‘corn.  I intended on getting maybe 2-3 small bags of different flavors, but I went in hungry and tasted all of them about three times, ending up with six after narrowing it down.  I ate a LOT of popcorn over Christmas break.  Me: I want to try to maintain my weight loss over the holidays.  Also me: *buys approximately 100 cups of popcorn*.  Ah well.

At this point, my backpack is fully stuffed and part of my basket is taken as well.  I have to be careful about acquiring anything else large for the rest of the day.  My trunk, it has the junk.

I headed back down south and hit the gym right around 1pm, which was perfect, because all the lunch swimmers were out of the water and I had a lovely pool almost completely to myself.  I’ll admit, on one taco and some popcorn, 90 minutes biking, five hours sleep, an a *wee* hangover from the night before, I was not 100% impressed with my performance, but considering the circumstances, 1k in a little over 19 minutes swim time was just fine.  When I changed back into my clothes, I couldn’t bear to put my jeans back on and was thankful that I had purchased a new pair of yoga-ish capri pants from Academy.

Finally, it was lunch time.  I finally had the opportunity to take the new pedestrian bridge from the quarry to the Domain, and I made it to the holy grail of ramen, Jinya.  Again, I was very glad I was “behind schedule” (I figured I’d be there closer to 12:30-1) because they were still busy and I snagged a seat at the bar.  I was waited on by the spitting image of one of my friends – she had the same look, personality, and even vocal tone.  I had a nice, leisurely lunch, revisiting a favorite meal of mine.  Honestly, if I had a top ten of all time, the spicy umami pork miso ramen would likely be somewhere on there.

I was amazed with how my day had shrank so quickly from “how am I going to fill eight whole hours” to “oh my gosh, I need to leave here in about TWO hours and I could easily amuse myself for another eight”.  It was the ultimate day of freedom.  I am generally a solitary person, and I would have loved my partner in crime if he wasn’t stuck at work (I was doing my best to take him along with me via texts and pictures), but I was having a great day just hanging out with myself.  I was the opposite of lonely.  I was out and about, enjoying someone’s company I don’t often get to spend a whole day with (the last time was Ironman Texas, in a sense).

I popped my head into Bird’s Barbershop, since I had a free haircut coupon, but they were paaaaacked, so I figured that long hair is just fine for colder weather and I’d deal with my mop later.  I was on a mission to find some of the last gifts on my list, ones that I didn’t just want to order on Amazon.  I happened into a new store called Limbo, and found some very beautiful, extremely appropriate, if a little pricey, earrings.  I spent the next hour popping into a million different other stores and found nothing else that even came close, so I went back to Limbo (the first store I visited…) and had the pleasure of purchasing the earrings from the lady who made them and owned the store.  It was definitely worth the extra $$ to avoid the cheap, mass produced crap and get the perfect gifts.

The Domain, that day, had began it’s transformation from work to play for me.  While my old work building loomed in the distance, and I remembered some of the times I walked out of that building to take a walk on those same streets to clear my head, sometimes during the roughest periods not *entirely* sure I could make myself go back, six months of distance definitely helped (and things have been MUCH better since then for me).  I don’t miss the traffic, the rude people, the middle-aged pillheads, and that finding lunch under 10$ a plate is laughable, but as an entertainment destination, it’s a lot of fun.

After I got the gifts worked out, I did a little looking for myself and actually had some restraint, and settled on some peppermint gelato as a snack and fuel for the next bike leg.  I figured I was 7-8 miles away from new work, but I miscalculated and I was almost 11 – plus it was getting windy (and I was heading into it) and daylight was not on my side.  Along with that, I had been on my feet or pedals pretty much all day, so I was not making great time.  This was the first time all day since Steck-o-slavakia that felt like work and took me a little over an hour to roll into the parking lot, when I anticipated maybe 40-45 minutes.  Since it was the shortest day of the year, I was pushing it for the last 15 minutes and it was flat out DARK for the last five.  And, I left my lights at home.  Oops.

I snuck in one more gift shopping stop in our area and met up with Zliten as he left work.  Unfortunately, I forgot to stop my garmin so I don’t have an exact mileage or time, but I think it was about 28 miles in about 2 hours and 45 minutes, both of which are a PR on my cruiser bike.

So far, the last two years, I’ve had a bike adventure day on the winter solstice.  I think it’s a fun tradition, bucking the motivation just to stay inside, curled up in bed with a blanket.  For months, I’ve watched the sun dip lower in the sky earlier and earlier, and this is the day I’m out playing bikes celebrating the fact that IT JUST GETS BETTER FROM HERE!!!

I wonder where I’ll ride on December 21st, 2018?

Finding my stride

So, I got a good deal on THIS BOOK and devoured it on vacation.

Actual proof on my flight to Bonaire.  Yeah, this is my idea of fun people.  Shut up.

Then, I had to re-read it and take notes at home because the absolute worst place to read a book about form and drills is on a long plane flight where you can’t move at all.

I’ve been talking about improving my running form for years now, and I’ve done very little about it.  After being schooled on what to do by Jonathan Beverly, and spending a few weeks trying it, I’ve come to some conclusions:

First, being conscious about a small handful of things while I run really helps my stride.  I was overwhelmed previously – I didn’t know what was wrong, and I didn’t know what to do to fix it.  Now, I have a handful of cues I can think of while running that instantly perk me up and make me more efficient.

Second, dynamic warmups/drills are not just wastes of time.  Honestly, I’ve been iffy on the first mile drills – they’re inconvenient when I’m running on the treadmill and they can irritate my cranky ankle/foot, but the dynamic warmup is AWESOME and has helped me pinpoint some spots where I need more flexibility and strength.

Finally, there are tons of things you can do in your spare time without much interruption to your daily schedule to improve your strength, flexibility, and posture.  You just have to make them habits.  That’s the hard part and from the last few weeks, I’ve found that doing them in stages is helping.

So, consider this both a book review and also an action plan, but definitely not a “how to fix your running stride” guide because I’m three weeks in and I’m still VERY new at this.  Let me summarize what steps I’m taking going forward to help my running stride transform from a tight-hipped Frankenstein to a lithe gazelle this year!

Hopefully spending more time HERE will help.

Pre-running program:

  • Find my balance posture (get my hips stacked properly – weight off heels and on your midfoot, can see tops of shoelaces).  If you’re not normally in the right alignment, this feels a little weird and takes some adjustment to get into but feels awesome when you do.
  • Contract my transvers abdominal muscle (TVA) to activate 5-10 times
  • Lunge matrix (front, front w/twist, side, 5/7 o’clock, backwards).  Here’s a video showing what to do.  I’m actually glad I found this because there were two I wasn’t doing correctly (twist, 5/7 o’clock) and one I forgot (back).
  • Leg swings 10x each leg (just as it sounds, stand in a doorway holding the frame and swing your legs from front to back).  This makes it pretty apparent if you have tight hips or not (I do).

Things I would like to include in the future:

  • 10xeach side single leg squat with quad stretch
  • Forward lunge with leg drive
  • Wall push offs x5 each side

However, I want to get to the point where the first four things are completely ingrained in me before I pile on more.

As run starts I do some drills within the first mile to loosen my stride up – at least, when I have been doing it.  Once I resolve the cranky ankle issue (orthodics, apparently…. whomp whomp), I plan to be strict on this:

  • High knee running (make sure you’re stretching your hip flexor not contracting it)
  • Skips – just like when you were kids (focus on tall posture and downward drive of leg)
  • Butt kicks
  • Caricoa
  • Backwards running

Now, you’ve warmed up with a dynamic warmup and you’ve done drills.  You’re done, right?  Nope.  Fixing your stride will take a conscious effort for months until it feels natural, so I’ve been working on keeping these few cues in my head and trading off focuses every mile so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

  • Push your arms back (if you can see your hands during the full running stroke, they’re too far forward). Every stride they should graze your waistband or at least dissapear from your field of view.
  • Run tall. Head up over shoulders, look to horizon, chin back, chest up, shoulders back, hips aligned.  This sounds SO EASY but it’s the thing I have to remind myself of most often as I like to look down just in front of my feet, and that tanks the rest of my posture.
  • If you feel fatigued, change up your cadence.  Sometimes that’s all you need to shake yourself out of it.  I find doing a mile of higher cadence early in the workout usually naturally improves my cadence the rest of the run without thinking about it.
  • Run quiet/soft (this usually helps me increase my cadence).
  • When you feel slouchy/saggy – do the hallelujah drill (arms up, opening chest, then circle back down).  It puts you in a better posture.  You don’t have to SAY Hallelujah! though (but you do you).
  • One thing that helps me a lot is concentrate on driving my stride with my hips (which helps me work on hip extension).  This wasn’t in this particular book but something I was working on last year.
  • Run some strides every run (quick as possible while staying relaxed, shut down as soon as you get to top speed, about 10 sec).  I have been… iffy on this.  I was doing them at the end of each run if the run itself didn’t have speedwork and then I kind of tapered off…

Whew, that’s a lot!

That’s not the only piece of the puzzle, though.  We spend a handful of hours per week running, and then those of us with desk jobs spend the rest of the week ruining that work hunched over, sitting, and can even wreck it depending on how we sleep.  How do you counteract that?  More stretching and strength work.

Stretching/rolling program (the goal is to get through these all 3x week):

  • 3-5 min hip stretch each side (foot up on chair or counter)
  • Shoulder mobility test (5x each side)
  • 2 minutes tennis ball on shoulders (lying on your back)
  • 3-5 min foam roller chest stretch
  • 5-10 min forearm roller lat stretch
  • 3 min doorway lat stretch
  • Foam roller lat release (shoulder to mid-chest each side)
  • Shoulder passthroughs with stick x15-30
  • Towel pull/sideways pull with foot – essentially put a book on a towel and use only your toes to bring the book to you (two towel lengths)

I won’t lie – this is a lot all at once and the 3-10 minute price tag on some things means I haven’t been following this yet.  However, I am working on establishing at least A stretching and rolling routine DAILY and once that’s a habit, I’ll work on upping the times and doing more of these specifically.  I’ll also talk about these more once I’m doing them.

Then, there are some things you can do on the daily without really impacting your life that can help.

Every day at work sitting at my desk (starting this week):

  • TVA contractions (like in the warmup) x10
  • Foot splays x30 (spread your toes out as much as you can)
  • Foot yoga (big toe up, other 4 up) x30
  • Short foot (contract arch without using toes) hold for 6 sec, 5-10 times

Here are some things I would like to work up to:

  • Ankle resistance (basically pushing against your ankle – up/down, forward/back left/right) hold for 10 sec, repeat 5 times
  • Arm swings (open the chest, hold 2 sec) x10
  • Single leg balance with eyes closed (30 sec each side)

Stuff to help posture on the daily:

  • Balance on one foot while brushing teeth/putting on shoes and socks
  • Pull shoulders back and raise your head high whenever you see a certain color or walk through a doorway
  • Anytime you’re standing and waiting for something, rotate hips and focus your weight on your feet (not heels) – just like in the warmup.
  • Squat when you’d usually bend

The last IG proof of stretching and rolling is back in March 2017.  While that’s not completely factual, I definitely did fall off after IM peak training.

The last key is strength.  Most of us, if we have imbalances, are quad dominant, and have glutes that don’t fire properly because they’re weaker and our bodies are incredibly good about benching inefficient muscles and subbing in ones that are stronger – even if it’s at the cost of form and efficiency.   While the key with your hips is generally flexibility, with the glutes, you have to first make sure they’re actually firing at all.  I find that the cue “drive with your hips” sets my glutes active, but you might need something else but once you get it, you can feel your glutest contract and if you haven’t been doing it properly in the past, your glutes will tell you after the run :).

So, the other key is to make buns of steel.  Here are some exercises to make you sure get buns, hun.

  • Bridge/marching bridge
  • Air squats (with good form – with the chair of death to check it, hold pvc pip on your back and make sure it stays on), once this is comfortable jump squats, single leg squats
  • Donkey kicks (advanced – from plank position)
  • Clamshells
  • Side leg lift (against a wall to ensure form)

In my Oiselle Dozen, I’m getting the essence of THREE of these.  However, I know I need to start squatting next month with heavy things, so adding some air squats to work on form first won’t be the worst idea in the world.

Once you’ve got the technique, he suggests that you strength train to develop POWER.  Some examples are:

  • Ladder drills
  • Micro hops
  • Quick feet drills

I am not there yet but this will hopefully be a spring thing for me.

We disagree on core – he says that planks done properly are all you need.  I think you need to work different muscles and change up the exercises so they don’t get stale.  But, if you’re doing nothing and only have time for a few minutes to work your abs per week, that’s probably the best and safest thing you could do.

I’m going to include some other notes below from the book.  I don’t have much other comment on them besides they were things that stood out as something I wanted to consider for 2018 (when planning training/purchasing new shoes).

Right now, the Hokas feel like the least amount of shoe I need for longer distances but we’ll see about that later this year…

Changing it up:

  • Vary run types/surfaces as much as possible. Don’t do the same loop at the same pace over and over. Jump over obstacles. Chase faster people.  Play running sometimes.  Wear different shoes, not the same ones every day.
  • Consider some barefoot work. Start with easy strides on grass (or the treadmill).

Some notes on shoes:

  • Run in the least shoe possible
  • What feels right is right
  • Fit matters more than features
  • Vary your shoes
  • Make sure to replace and wear comfortable daily shoes (also consider getting a lower heel/toe drop casual shoe to see if they work better for running)

He recommends a sequence for days you’re time crunched (do this 5-8 times per leg), but honestly, the lunge matrix is working for me right now, so I’ll just leave this here as a possibility for later:

  • stand tall
  • lunge with hands over head (hip flexor)
  • bring hands down, arm crosses over leg, drive right hip forward
  • track start position, stretch heel, calf, hamstring
  • stand up, drive back leg up to high knee position
  • pull to chest, stretch glute
  • kick leg back out, touch ground with opposite hand
  • stand up straight and repeat on other leg

I’m doubtful I’ll see much improvement during 3M from any of this, but hopefully by the spring, I’ll be a little stronger, a little more flexible, a little lighter on my feet, and a little faster.

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