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Walking as valuable exercise

December 30, 2013 Leave a comment

There are a lot of articles that speak to the value of walking as exercise. I never disbelieved them, but I never would have spoken to a friend about walking as an important part of my exercise routine. I think my experience this summer has changed my mind.

Prior to July 2012, I walked or biked round trip 3 miles every work day. I recorded this in my exercise journals, but didn’t think much about it from a race training perspective except that I was happy that I was doing “more” than might be required. From July 2012 to June 2013, my walking miles per week declined but did not disappear entirely. June 2013 to now? I am embarrassed to say almost no walking.

In early August, I was fed up with how out of shape I still felt. I decided to ramp up for a week to combat the out-of-shape feeling. Over the course of 6 days I did two lifting sessions, played Ultimate, ran for multiple hours, and biked a few hours. On both day 7 and day 8 I had Ultimate games. On day 7, I felt tired but happy that I  had been putting in the effort. I was hopeful that I would overcome my out-of-shape hump and emerge triumphant and back-in-shape. I took extra time to warm up and stretch, but in the final 10 mins of the game I pulled my hamstring area. Oy! I was out of the Ultimate business for the last (and most important) games of the season.

I now see that I was over-training. In the middle of that week, I kind-of knew I was over-training, but I let my frustration at taking only small incremental steps in my fitness get in the way of reality.

Looking back at my year, I think the drop in walking miles was intimately connected with being so out of shape. And when I wanted to get fit fast, I should’ve added a lot of walking back in to get the fitness benefit without all the impacts.

So if you find yourself in my position, frustrated at lack of fitness and having only incremental steps of positive change, please take my advice and use walking to supplement the harder workouts. Fitness is not gained only in the high impact sessions; it can be maintained by walking an easy 3 miles a day (and yes, 3 miles of walking is easy in exercise terms, but it’s much harder in terms of having time).

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Re-cap of the Philadelphia Half Martahon and Other Musings

December 8, 2013 Leave a comment

I finished the Philadelphia Half Marathon in 2:35. I was amazed at how easy it was to finish the race despite my terrible training record this fall. Obviously a big part about running a race easily is the pace; I was setting an easy pace on purpose. But still, the ability to go 13.1 miles was really satisfying.

One thing about races is that they automatically make you focus on your running, and a lack of focus was my big problem this fall. It was reassuring to read in the New York Times this October that when you study hard, exercise feels harder. October was the most stressful time for me this fall, full of intense work on presentations and intense studying for my qualifying exam. No wonder I felt terrible every time I went out for a run!

Another thing about races is that there are so many people who show up with essentially no running history. So compared to them, you realize that your training could’ve been much much worse.

It’s just nice to have another race under the belt. And I love the mentality of running races in general. It’s meditative.

From this point forward I hope to be able to prioritize running and exercise. I want to go back to the gym; my muscles miss lifting! This year, multiple circumstances altered my typical race schedule (i.e. the Caesar Rodney Half, the Broad Street Run, and the Niagara Ultra). I am definitely planning to up the number of races I do in the spring/early summer. I may not make the Niagara Ultra or the Broad Street, but I am super excited to be able to run the Caesar Rodney Half again. The hills in that race are amazing!

Driving causes me pain

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I think sitting and driving can cause as many pains as exercise itself. This past year I have had shoulder, chest, back and hip pain that I can only associate with driving a significant amount and sitting more than I used to. How is this pain different than that associated with exercise? Well it seemed to be relieved by exercise!

My non-exercise induced pains led me to ponder how people’s perception of pain may influence their decisions to exercise. I think that people’s perception of pain from exercise being too much to bear could deter them from exercise. I know I have days when I think running will be really hard because of muscle soreness. Yet I also have the experience to know that soreness can be relieved by exercise. Even with my experience, finding motivation to run despite the soreness can be hard.

I have been an exerciser pretty much all of my memorable life; I do not find muscle soreness foreign or distressing. I would like to encourage other people to try exercising despite muscle soreness (but do not run or exercise over acute pain!) and see if you don’t feel a ton better than you expected. I want to assure you that the pain is almost never as bad as you think!

And with that, I think I need to go for a run myself. I am still in the weeds in terms of running enough miles for my November marathon.

DNF and me

I DNF’d* the Niagara Ultra on June 23rd =(

The day started off cool, but quickly got hotter than I realized (because there was little humidity). I was worried about over-hydrating which caused me to drink too little.

One sign of my deteriorated state was feeling severe emotions. I don’t know how else to describe it; during my run and subsequent walk my thoughts about stopping made me want to cry. In a regular emotional state I would probably be upset but the physical feeling of being about to cry wouldn’t happen. It was starting to feel how I felt on my last loop of the 20 in 24 in 2011–I crashed during that loop and had a fever when I stopped running.

The decision to stop was the right one.

I ran 30k (18.6 miles) in 4 hours and 10 minutes. The last 4k I was mostly walking. While sitting at the aid station waiting in the shade for a ride back to the start a few people came through. One lady asked if I was taking a break; I said yes; I didn’t want to even put the thought of stopping in her head. But as they went through moving slowly, I questioned my decision. Then I estimated that I would be out there for three more hours and reconfirmed my desire to stop.

I guess it’s a mixed blessing to have a DNF occur to me. I feel like I learned a lot. I’ve read about other people’s experiences with a DNF and believed them, but couldn’t quite relate their experience to myself. Part of me thought I would always just keep walking. But a wise ultrarunner described his DNF experience saying that it was a race he wasn’t racing so he stopped. I understand that better now. When I contemplated continuing on for at least three more hours, my immediate reaction was NO EFFING WAY! Why would I want to keep going for three hours when I already feel like I lost the race?

Plus I thought that I would do more damage to my body than finishing would be worth. Not training enough was definitely a big problem, so while I was running I kept thinking  of training runs to do in the next few days. My logic was: I need to start training better immediately. If I continue running, I will be too sore to train for a week. Being too beat up to train is counter to my desire to start training more. If I stop, I will be able to train this week.

The distance I ran (18.6 miles) is certainly not a distance to sneeze at. It sucks to have DNF’d but I have learned multiple things from this experience. Hopefully the main takeaway is how much I love arriving at a race knowing I trained properly.

(I did manage to going running a few times in the week after the race)

*DNF means Did Not Finish

Finding Motivation

Last year when I ran the 20in24 I was in shape for sure. I was running many miles per week, I was lifting regularly, I was playing Ultimate every week. Then I feel like I just stopped. I thought I was taking a training break, but it spiraled into months of not training, taking me to now.

I guess I haven’t dropped the ball completely. Since the 20in24 I ran 5 official races. I do exercise regularly; mostly walking but I have been going to the gym at least once a week and running at least once a week over the winter. I think I’ve averaged 6-7 hours of exercise a week since the marathon in November, and that is apparently a lot compared to the rest of America.

But I feel disappointed in myself.

know how to train. I just stopped taking myself seriously.

Being in shape and eating right are things we have to remind ourselves every day that we want them. It’s just so easy to forget how good that workout will make you feel when you’ve worked a 10 hour day, or commuted 2 hours round-trip in the car. It’s easy to put off the morning run and say the evening will be good for working out, only to realize you have to cook and do laundry and by the time you remember you were going to go running, you are in your pajamas in bed.

So how do we combat this?

How can we remind ourselves of what we are capable?

Three things I do to help are to play team sports, run races, and track my workouts (and sometimes my eating).

What happened to me this winter is that I didn’t have time to do my regular Ultimate league and I stopped writing down my daily and weekly progress for exercise. With only racing to motivate me, I seriously fell off the wagon.

So it’s a lesson; using only one of the three solutions is not enough for me.

I’ve started tracking my progress again. And I have a 31 mile race coming up (which is much further than the other races I’ve run since the Philadelphia Marathon). I’m on the upswing! But I’m not there yet.

Categories: motivation, training

An argument for rest

When you work your muscles hard, you are literally weaker the next day.

About a month ago I took an aerobics class to combat the winter doldrums. It was fun, challenging and I was  sore for at least 3 days. The next day, with my walk stiff from the sore muscles, I rolled my left ankle on an uneven section of pavement (fortunately nothing serious). I am sure that you also have pushed yourself in a race or workout session to the point of muscles soreness the next day. Are you familiar with what could be called the “down-the-stair-wince”? You step down and your leg locks a bit and your knee feels slightly over-extended? You walk carefully and aim to hold a railing, but the knee lock still happens. It doesn’t hurt exactly, but it feels wrong. You brace yourself against it, but… *wince* there goes the knee!

In the beginning of my career as an exerciser, I was surprised that going down the stairs was worse than going up when I was sore. Now I know that walking down slope or down stairs is harder. There was an article that of course I can’t find that talked about Boston marathon times not being eligible for a world record because of the downhill drop (alternate article) but how ironically running downhills is hard and one year the leading woman could not go one after running the downhills hard because her hamstrings froze up (alternate article). Aha, that’s why going down the stairs causes me more dread than going up the stairs when I am sore!

Don’t get me wrong, I like when my muscles feel sore. But people need to be aware that you really shouldn’t do two extreme workouts in a row. And as my experience proves, you even need to be careful when you walk on the sidewalk! Weak muscles can not support your joints as well as when they are rested and recovered. You are more likely to overextend your legs or roll an ankle after a hard workout or race. Do not ignore rest days in an exercise schedule.

Categories: recovery, training

What is a normal amount of exercise?

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I have been sitting on this post for a while in order to clarify my argument. I still do not feel like I have teased out all I want to say, but I wanted to publish something.

After reading the New York Times article “The Fat Trap” I started reading the blog Refuse to Regain. One author of Refuse to Regain wrote in a post “… the data shows that successful study maintainers are exercising a lot (on average, about 1 hour daily)”. To me that wording implies that exercising an hour a day is abnormal. I completely disagree.

Please note: I am assuming that the 1 hour daily average mentioned in Refuse to Regain is mostly at a moderate rate not an intense rate because the National Weight Control Registry says that the most frequently mentioned activity people added to their lives is walking. And thus, I can compare my activity level below to that statement.

I recorded the amount of exercise I did in detail from March to June in 2011 including all walking longer than 10 minutes, running and other higher impact aerobic activities, lifting and stretching. For thirteen weeks I did between 13 and 26 hours of exercise and one week I did 7 hours. I was training for a 24 hour race so that was the motivation to aim for that much exercise. But even now when I am not in training for anything specific I probably average more than 7 hours a week of activity, with about 5 hours of walking.

choosemyplate.gov  says “Adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a moderate level OR 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level.” Do we as a society really think that 2.5 hours a week is enough??

What I know is that a normal level of activity for me is much higher than 2.5 hours of exercise a week, and the doctor’s tests indicate that I am healthy.