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Weird Wednesdays

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I’ve had an unexpected development with my extreme enthusiasm for tough strength training- I keep sitting out my Wednesday morning runs.  I’ve woken up each Wednesday to find that a pretty key area of my body is sore.  Last week, it was my quads from the stationary lunges and an intense spin class the following day.  This week, I have a sore hip flexor, I think from squats because this happened the last time I integrated squats into my routine.  That time, I didn’t pull back on my schedule though and tried to blow through it.  It wasn’t disastrous, but I think it remained sore longer than if I had just let it rest.

So for the last two weeks, I’ve skipped my runs on Wednesday.  In fact, I’ve ended up taking an out-right rest day, save for possibly a dog walk.

In the past, I haven’t liked taking a rest day smack in the middle of the week, when I need the energy surge that my morning exercise provides the most.  And while I was training for my half, I would totally feel guilty if this happened- as if that one run would make or break my training (I knew it wouldn’t, I was just in that mindset).

I was initially annoyed both Wednesdays, but I’m realizing how much I actually appreciate it.  For one thing, the sore areas certainly benefited- they were generally gone or minimized by Thursday so I could dive back into the swing of things without prolonging the discomfort.

More importantly, I’m really enjoying running again, both mentally and physically.  Granted, I haven’t been logging tons of mileage- my planned four miler this morning would have been the longest in a while, but I cut it to 2.5 miles after being up much of the night with a sick pup.

A shortened run is worth it to take care of this little man.

But the quality of my runs are greatly improved.  For about a month before my half marathon and the couple of runs immediately following it, I just was not on my game.  Luckily the race itself was a great run, but for all others I was constantly having some sort of leg ailment, mostly in my glutes, and I was just feeling tired and not thrilled to be on the road.

Ever since I’ve returned from vacation and started returning to my familiar morning paths, I’ve noticed a vast improvement.  My legs were a tad sore initially from using those muscles again, but they quickly fell back into habit.  I haven’t experienced the tightness and soreness, or the accompanying lethargy.  Each run just feels good.  Even this morning, I felt a little sleep deprived and knew I was going almost embarrassingly slow as a result.  But my body felt good- so I felt good, and just went with it.  It’s good to be back in that place.

Sure, I think part of it is that the sun is now up around 6 a.m. and my runs are primarily sunlit- always a helpful motivator.  But I really think my improved running experience stems more from allowing my muscles rest when needed, coupled with working them in other ways through spinning, strengthening and yoga.

Yes, I want to add on more mileage.  But without a major race on the horizon until September at the earliest, I’m going to do it oh-so-slowly in an attempt to maintain the running quality of my excursions now.  I may want to improve my pace, but at this point I’m actually really content with where I am if it means that  I continue to use the big grin emoticon on Daily Mile the vast majority of time.

I want most of my runs to feel this happy!

Right now, quality is far more important to me than any other running indicator.  And if more rest and lower mileage are the means of achieving that, then I’ll take it.

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May Markers

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Given my inspiration to elevate my fitness regime and that we’re starting a new month, I felt it would be a good time to take all that energy and give it direction.  I have some goals for this month that I hope to achieve to keep my motivation, and to increase my body’s strength and endurance. Since April was pretty hectic for me, I didn’t really set any goals, but I feel like now is a good time to remedy that.

One caveat: I’m about to transition to a new job.  That’s partly why the end of March and April were so hectic- in addition to my first half marathon, my spring break and some other stuff, I was interviewing and then getting a security clearance for my new position (it’s with the federal government, nothing super fancy, clearances are pretty routine in this area).  I’m planning to go into this more later, but I’m anticipating longer work days, and definitely a longer commute, which may throw my work-out schedule off for a bit while I figure everything out.

Still, I want to have some goals to gauge potential progress.  I just won’t beat myself up if some of it is a casualty of the new lifestyle.  So, here’s my May Markers:

RunningRebuild my running base.  I want to build my endurance so that I’m regularly running 4-6 mile runs about 3 days a week, and then a longer run on the weekend of 7-8 miles.  Don’t ask me why I’ve settled on these numbers.  I just know I want to move beyond the 3-3.6 miles I’ve been trekking lately.  I also think running these distances regularly will help make training for my next half easier.

Strength Training: Keep mixing it up.  I’ve talked about this a lot the last few days, so I’ll just say that I plan to keep my muscles on their toes by changing my routine every week, and upping the intensity.  There are so many studies that say it’s good to modify your routine, otherwise your muscles adapt and don’t improve anymore. Also, you don’t get bored, which means you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Strength Training: Take core strengthening classes. My core is the one area of my body that I’m struggling to really improve.  I’m upping my planks, and adding new exercises, but I just don’t feel or see it.  I did really feel it in Pilates and at the end of my spin class today with some of the strengthening exercises we did.  I think it’s an area that I just do better when I have someone else telling me what to do and ‘watching’ me, making sure I don’t slack off on it.  I don’t do it purposely, but I do think I sometimes don’t hold proper form.  So I’m going to try to work this in more.

Cross-training:Expand my spinning and yoga class repertoire.Last weekend, I took a Pilates class.  This morning, I had a different spin instructor who incorporated new moves and some strength training in the end.  I’m finally ready (and brave enough) to try a full Vinyasa class.  I had been hunting around for new studios and classes to join in the spirit of keeping things fresh, but have been turned off by the addition fees.  I then realized that I have plenty of variety in the classes I already pay for- I just need to take advantage of them.

Personally: Just keep enjoying life.  It’s been a good last few months.  I’m planning to keep it that way.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Since returning from my Grand Tour of the Southwest 2012, I have been slowly but surely getting back into my routine. I was really eager to do so.  Before I left, I was about two weeks post my first half marathon– although it feels forever ago now- and honestly wasn’t in a great fitness place.  I just didn’t have that super strong desire or motivation.  I don’t think it was necessarily not having a race to train for anymore, although I’m sure that was part of it.  I think I was just in a mini-funk, along with having lots of other activities occupying my time.

My trip really reinvigorated my fitness motivation.  Being out in nature can do that to a girl.   I loved the endorphin rush I got from finishing a strenuous hike- ones that a couple of years ago would have been really difficult.   I just felt so inspired to start training for a race again, to build on my strength training foundation, to expand my yoga horizons, and to try new activities.

So as I refocus on my fitness goals and routine, I have a new mantra: Push myself.

That was partly why I was in such a funk.  My strength training was beyond stale, and I was using my hectic work schedule as a reason not to do it, or to only do quick easy exercises to fit it in.  My runs just weren’t meshing.  My sleep schedule was a bit off, so I was skipping yoga.  The only thing I still got a kick out of was spinning.  A class that is always different and uber challenging, each time.  I needed to push myself.

So after easing back into my routine last week, I’ve really upped the ante this week, especially in the strength training department.  My arms and quads appear to be the beneficiaries- so much so that I was too sore to run this morning and I opted to take a rest day to let my muscles breathe.  But it also feels so good to feel sore again.  It’s good to push myself!  I’ll go into depth about what I’ve been doing and my plan of attack (for now) on this front tomorrow.

My one disappointment is that I have only run twice since getting back.  A combination of freakish weather, several late nights and this week muscle soreness has prevented me from tackling the roads as much as I hope to.  Tomorrow it’s supposed to pour again so I may still have to wait until Friday.  But I do have some ideas in mind for this as well- which may include a Ragnar relay that a co-worker just spoke to me about literally a half hour ago!- and really hope to re-engage my running these next few days.  I feel focused, motivated, and ready to push myself beyond my comfort zone!

I’m so glad to be back!

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is visually stunning- you don’t see anything unique until you get right up to the rim.  Then you are surrounded by thousands of enchanting hoodoos- rock spires formed from erosion.  I think this was my husband’s favorite park, if you can have such a thing, due to all the photo ops. 

It’s a small park, and you really only need a day at the most to see.  We saw it all basically in one afternoon as we undertook our most difficult hike of the trip- the 6-7 mile Figure Eight loop that combined three trails to take you past the most spectactular sites of the canyon.  It was a constant elevation change- ascending the canyon one minute, then descending back to the floor the next.  We unwisely kept predicting after each steep climb that we MUST have reached the top. The last 1/2 mile or so was a steep series of switchbacks past ‘the hoodoo’ of the park, Thor’s Hammer.  My glutes and quads were screaming at this point, so I basically charged up that last portion just to get it over with. 

Thor's Hammer!

It was the coldest place we visited- temps didn’t get out of the 50’s and it was so windy, I got wind burn that haunted me for the remainder of the trip.  It was also the most deserted park, which was great.  Most of the time we felt like we had the run of the park to ourselves.  It was awesome.

Even better was how good I felt the next day (well not my face, the wind burn did a number on it!).  No notable soreness in the legs, despite their fatigue at the end of the previous day.  I chalk this up to my somewhat rigorous and consistent fitness routine, strength training and cardio both.  In another era, I would have been pretty sore, and probably could not have done the hike in under the recommended 3-4 hour time suggestion (go me!).  But I felt great and totally up for it.  The elevation change threw a bit of a wrench into it- Bryce stands at 8,000 feet so initially I would get out of breath a little faster than normal.  But I found that if I stopped for a quick rest, I would get a second wind that would propel me up the steepiest, muddiest climbs the canyon could throw at me.  Once again, I learned to really appreciate the good I do my body every time I exercise, and how much it enables me to enjoy so many other aspects of my life.

After a very cold night- where we wisely abandoned camping plans in favor of a hotel after predictions- of low 20’s, howling winds and snow- we were off to Moab along the historic and unbelievably scenic Highways 12 and 24….

Falling by the Wayside

Once again, another unpredictable week.  And once again, challenges for my fitness regime.

Strength training is the victim this week. I’ve brought my gym bag with me every day this week, fully intending to get some training in at lunch.

And yet… it hasn’t happened.

Monday it was because I was feeling totally drained.  My knee had been a little agitated after my run on Sunday, so I took Tylenol PM Sunday night.  The good news is that the pain has vanished.  The bad news is that the medicine didn’t sit well with me, so I felt really out of it all day.  And hungry! That happens to me sometimes when medicine is messing with my system.  So anyway, I just couldn’t summon the will or discipline.

Tuesday, the weather got the better of me. I love the summer temperatures without the oppressive humidity.  Well, yesterday was a touch humid, but still superior to July or August around these parts.  So I traded in gym time for a nice lunch time walk.  That may have ended in an unplanned visit to Anne Taylor Loft.  I’m pleased to report that my wallet was not damaged in any way…yet…but there are items still calling my name…. At any rate, I don’t feel too bad about that missed session.  I think I can justify it.

Today, I was incredibly busy, for both work and personal reasons.  My husband and I realized that our Spring Break is only a few weeks away and we still don’t have all our lodging.  We were horrified to discover that, contrary to our (ok, my) preconceived notions, there are actually a lot of people who DO want to camp at Zion, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks the first two weeks in April and probably booked long before we did.  Huh.  More surprising- I was able to get a site at the Grand Canyon, which I thought would be the more difficult since it is generally more popular.  Never fear, we worked it out, but it still took a large chunk of the day, in addition to all the mini fires that kept popping up for clients.  My work load has definitely picked up this year, which is great, but makes it harder to sneak away in the middle of the day.

Thank goodness I’m a morning exerciser! I had a tough but fabulous spinning class yesterday that really got my heart rate going. Seriously, eight one minute interval sprints with only 15 second recoveries, followed by several steep hills- at 6 am! This morning I had the best run I’ve had in a while- my legs were tired from spin still, but otherwise felt really good.  A nice easy three, nothing that will wear me out for Saturday, of course.  I’m already signed up for Power Hour Yoga tomorrow morning.  Plus, we’ve been taking family walks in the evenings, since it’s so nice out- a pleasant 1.5 mile jaunt around the Masonic Temple is perfect post-dinner activity. I also did some foam rolling on Monday and tonight.

So it’s not as if I haven’t gotten any exercise- in fact I’m doing quite well.  Strength training is really important, however, so I need to start thinking of ways to make sure I fit it in.  I won’t sweat it too much this week, though. I figure that the extra rest will do my body good for my half.

Tomorrow, I hope to write about my visit to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo to pick up my registration package, as well as some of the things I’m planning to bring with me to the race.  Work is looking pretty busy again though and my sister-in-law will be in town for a visit, so it might be tough but I’ll definitely try.  I’d really love some input into what I should be prepping to have with me for the big day!

Who Needs Sleep?

I need sleep.  I’m not one of those people who does well without it.  I mean, I manage, but I hate how I feel all day.  I love the alertness, calm and energy that comes from being well-rested.  Sleep is my friend, not my enemy as many people seem to view it in our harried society.

Sometimes, though, my body thinks that it doesn’t need sleep.  I’m not sure why.  Sometimes it’s obvious- I’m anxious about something, or the sleeping conditions aren’t right for me.  But often times, I’ll go through a bout of mild insomnia that doesn’t make any sense.  I spent years, actually, having erratic sleeping patterns.  Not outright insomnia, like one of my sisters has, but just irregular sleep.  I did everything that the experts recommend except exercise regularly.  And I must admit- ever since I’ve been a regular fitness fanatic, the episodes have been few and far between.  In fact, it’s one of the biggest motivators to keep exercising at the rate I am- nothing beats a good night sleep!

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I’m having one of my troubling sleep spells and I have no idea why.  It started last week, so I initially chalked it up to the three-day weekend throwing me off.  It’s not like I haven’t slept at all since then, and Sunday was actually a terrific slumber.  This may have something to do with the fact that I also had my longest run ever- a great 11 mile trek through Old Town down the Mount Vernon Trail and back.  It was beautiful weather, and my body felt good.  My legs were hurting at the end, but I walked around a bit after I was done, diligently stretched and foam rolled.  And had a great night sleep.  And my legs are still feeling happy.  So is my body saying that I need to run 11 miles every day in order to sleep well? (Hehe).

But last night, I barely slept, for whatever reason.  I was tired when I went to bed…but just couldn’t get my brain to shut down.  I had tried to reserve a spot for spin class at 6 am, but there was a wait list which surprised me- every other week I’ve just walked in and gotten a bike.  So I was a little apprehensive about the thought of getting up uber early and driving over only to not have a spot.  I also got super hot and kept kicking the covers off.  I also had ‘Born this Way’ stuck in my head- not exactly a ‘relaxation song.’

Finally, sometime around midnight, I turned off my 5:15 am alarm.  I was still getting up at 5:45, our normal time.  But I decided that not only was spin not worth it, my husband deserved a little extra sleep at this point since he has to work late tonight and then is off on work travel tomorrow.  I would feel really bad getting him up early, only to come back sometime shortly after 6 because I couldn’t get into spin. 

Well, my husband woke up with a migraine this morning anyway, so it’s actually good that I ditched the spinning.  I would feel guilty leaving him there to suffer.  So for the second morning in a row, I didn’t work out but instead stretched for about 25 minutes both days, which I think is doing wonders for my legs’ recovery.  I also decided that instead of ANOTHER rest day, which would make me grumpy, I’d try to squeeze in a lunch time Mall run and some strength training. I like to think of it as tough love- my body may be acting out, but it still must fulfill its responsibilities.  I don’t want to fall into a troubling cycle of not working out because I didn’t sleep, and not sleeping because I didn’t work out, which is what I used to do.  Besides, I have a half marathon to still prepare for!

The three-mile jog was great- it was a beautiful ‘winter’ day again and aside from being tired my body once again felt good.  I did not get to do any toning exercises though because I was STARVING when I got back- another pleasant side effect of sleep deprivation, I’ve found.  But at least I got something in.  I’m nervous about the possibility of no cross training this week (I can’t figure out how to fit in another spin class), but I like that I was able to enjoy the weather and I think spacing my weekday runs out, instead of the back to back on Thursday and Friday as I initially planned, will be smarter considering I’m facing my final long run of 12 miles this weekend (woohoo!). 

So, to end this long rant, I’m annoyed because my work-outs haven’t gone exactly as planned in the last week and for not what I deem a ‘good reason’.  However I have been lucky enough to move things around, and given how good my body is feeling otherwise, maybe the alternate schedule is more what my body needs as my half marathon training enters its final phase.  We shall see- hopefully my body gets its act together soon.  It usually does as long as I just let it run its course and maintain an otherwise normal routine for myself.  I’m going to need a well-rested body for my first half! 

Am I totally weird, or does this also happen to others?

A Pleasant Surprise

I woke up tired this morning.  I hadn’t slept well the last two nights.  Not for any reason in particular, I’m just a light sleeper and very sensitive to changes in my sleep patterns, so among other things the three day weekend threw me a bit.  Combine that with the insanely early spin class yesterday, and my body just wasn’t on top of its game.

So, I put on my running clothes, telling myself that 1) You need to get this run in if you want to be ready for your half that you’re starting to ruminate on far too much, 2) You’ll feel more awake all day than if you skip it, and 3) just do four miles instead of five.  I was expecting a lackluster run but would be satisfied knowing that I got in the miles, and that’s always worth it.

I decided to bust out the iPod for the first time in a while, figuring I could use some extra help to push me through.  It was warmer than anticipated when I took the dogs out, so I quickly changed into my lighter baseball hat and pull-over instead of my jacket and fleece beenie. 

(Side note: while I am enjoying a mild winter, it’s making it REALLY difficult to lay out a running outfit the night before. I’ve wasted so much time in the morning coming back in the apartment and changing into different clothes because the weather is never as warm or cold as I think it will be. It defeats the purpose of pre-planning! And as much as the sticky summer running weather here is not my favorite, at least my clothing decisions are minimal. Ok, rant over.)

I was off.  To my great pleasure, the run was pretty great! It felt almost effortless.  Nothing felt stiff, nothing felt sore, and I immediately felt energized.  My iPod seemed to read my mind (for once) and played all my embarrasing Top 40 and club songs that really set the pace. (And somewhere, my husband is cringing at the mention of my running list content. What can I say- Taio Cruz and the Killers CAN co-exsist in the same space.)

I came back with a much better outlook for my day, not fearful that I would be out of it and non-productive at work (I could have been a bit more productive, but that’s beside the point).  I even went through with the planned lower body strength training that I was considering skipping when I initially woke, which also went really well, I ended up adding in extra reps of some exercises. 

Running to the rescue, once again!

It does look like I will be switching up my schedule a bit in the days ahead, however.  I’m not sure if my Friday Mall run will work out if it’s as stormy as Capitol Weather Gang is predicting.  But that’s ok- that’s a non-essential run, I do it because I find my long runs are of better quality when I do a few easy miles the day before, but it’s not super necessary.  I am also considering switching up my long run to Sunday because Saturday may have pretty nasty winds.  I know some people run no matter what weather, and I definitely would if I had no choice.  But if I have the flexibility, I might as well go when I’ll enjoy it.  Hope everyone else also had a great work out today. 

Fitness for the Mind: ” In a marvelous public relations stunt, Roosevelt wrote a letter to another president: he wrote a letter to whoever would be president in 1956, recommending that the 18-month-old son of downed pilot/hero Captain Colin P. Kelly Jr. for appointment to West Point, 15 years hence.” (I think that’s seriously cool.)

– December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World

By: Craig Shirley