Monthly Archives: July 2011

Me vs. the Foam Roller

I have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller. I hate how painful it is when I use it but love the results it provides my muscles when they are sore and tight. When I first began running long distances I kept coming across articles about foam rollers but had never tried one before. I am a horrible (and lazy) stretcher which leads to tight hamstrings and knots all over the place in my muscles. Once I learned about what the foam roller can do, I decided I should get one and try it out.

Who knew this foam cylinder could cause so much pain?

The idea behind the foam roller is to literally roll out your tight muscles and knots. It’s important to get these out because if they are neglected they can cause pain, stiffness, and long-term injuries.

Running Times has a great article that explains how to use the foam roller. Basically, you use your own body weight to apply pressure to your knots (or trigger points) to release them. It’s like a really painful massage that feels great once it’s all over. According to Running Times, you should:

  1. Roll back and forth across the painful or stiff area for 60 seconds.
  2. Spend extra time directly over the knot or trigger point itself. (Trust me, you will KNOW where the knots are located. You can feel them.)
  3. Roll an injured area two to three times a day. To prevent injuries, two to three times a week is recommended (I don’t do it that often, even though I should!)
  4. Avoid rolling over bony areas.
  5. Always stretch the area after foam rolling.

I broke out the foam roller tonight while watching Big Brother and asked Kevin to document the process… it wasn’t pretty!

I started with the hamstrings… my hamstrings are sooo tight. I can’t even straighten my leg all the way to stretch it most of the time.

Lifting up one leg will increase the pressure.

Then it was time to roll out the quads.

Ouch 😦

The IT band was next. This. Is. The. Worst!!!

The IT (Iliotibial) Band is made up of tough fibers that run along the outside of the thigh. I never would have known that I had so many knots in it without using the foam roller. You can truly feel the big knots inside when you roll across them.

It is so painful, especially when you stop right on the knot to apply pressure and release it.

But it’s really important to roll out your IT bands (both sides!) because if you don’t those knots can lead to ITBS (IT band syndrome) and knee injuries.

Calves are next. I skip the shins because they are too bony and it hurts a lot. I know some people roll out their shins, though.

Then I attempted to roll out my back but Kevin kept making me laugh 🙂

Whew… glad that’s over!

It truly does make a huge difference though. I know that tomorrow when I run my muscles and legs will feel so much better. Worth it!

Here’s the weekly rundown:

  • Monday: 5 mile run (47:26 / 9:29 pace) + Body Pump (1 hour)
  • Tuesday: 7 mile tempo run- 1 mile warm up, 5 miles @ 7:58 average pace, 1 mile cool down (Splits were 7:57, 7:56, 7:56, 8:01, 8:00)
  • Wednesday: Spin class (1 hour) + Body Pump (1 hour)
  • Thursday: 6 mile run (57:05 / 9:30 pace)
  • Friday: Body Pump (1 hour)
  • Saturday: 11 mile run (1:46:05  / 9:38 pace) – this doesn’t count our many walking breaks! Here’s a recap if you missed it.
  • Sunday: Rest

Can’t believe tomorrow is August 1st! Wow!

The Rollercoaster of Running

I started this blog to document my life and adventures in running – the good, the bad, the highs, and the lows. Today we hit a serious LOW point that reminded me how running and training is such a rollercoaster. One day you can be on top of the world, feeling amazing and confident and strong- and the next you can have a terrible run that makes you question why you even run in the first place.

Our training has been going pretty great so far. We did our first 20 miler a couple weeks ago and rocked it. However, the summer heat and humidity has really been affecting us lately. For the most part, we had been managing it well and pushing through – taking walking breaks when we need it and adjusting our pace. That’s just necessary in the summertime and we thought we were doing a good job handing it.

Until today.

We had our second (of 3) 20 mile run on our training plan this morning. We went through our usual routine the night before – we ate dinner early, mapped out our route and prepared our Camelbaks and energy gels. We were in bed by 9:30 with a 4:30 am wake up call. We wanted to get out early because we knew it was going to be hot and humid.

I don’t think I ever really fell asleep that night. I couldn’t get comfortable and I kept looking at the clock and the hours ticked by until my alarm went off. I don’t know why I had such a hard time sleeping. I think subconsciously I was nervous for our big 20 miler and worried about the heat getting us. We got up, ate our usual pre-long run food and started getting ready to go. We were running by 5:30.

After only 1 mile I could tell this was going to be a really hard long run. Mentally I just couldn’t get into my normal running mindset and I couldn’t focus. I really believe that 80% of running is mental, so I was struggling a lot because of that. Physically, my body felt like it was drowning in humidity and sweat, I was tired, and it was hard to breathe in the thick air. Every step just felt harder than usual and it kept getting worse and worse. I felt the urge to stop and walk after mile 2 but I kept pushing until mile 4. I asked Kevin if we could stop and walk and he happily agreed. We walked slowly, chugging from our Camelbaks, huffing and puffing and dripping sweat. I asked Kevin if he was having a hard time like I was, and he said he was. We agreed to keep running and take walking breaks every 4 miles. We thought we could handle it better if the run was broken up like that.

WRONG! Only one mile later at mile 5 my body was begging to stop again. I felt weak and the heat was really affecting me. Kevin and I looked at each other and we both saw that we were struggling, so we stopped again. We talked for a minute and decided that we just couldn’t do 20 today. Instead we shortened our route in a way that would make it about 11 miles total.

Now, in the past, this kind of thing has happened a few times before while training for other marathons. I have had to adjust some of my long runs due to weather, how I was feeling that day, and other factors that were out of my control. Normally when this happens I am devastated, disappointed, and angry with myself. And I usually end up crying like a baby. I am guilty of pushing myself too hard sometimes and trying to follow my training plans to a T, no matter what. When I am not able to, I tend to be really hard on myself and feel like a failure. It’s a huge blow to my confidence and it makes me doubt my training.

But I didn’t feel that way today. Once we made the decision to modify our long run I immediately felt 100 times better and it felt like the pressure had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time I didn’t feel guilty and like I was ‘failing’ my training. I knew that this is what Adaptive Running is all about- listening to your body and adjusting your plans when unexpected things come up. I realized that the fact that we had to shorten our run wasn’t a reflection of how ‘weak’ I was but a reflection of how we are trying to train smart this time around and protect our bodies. Kevin brought up a good point, that we COULD push ourselves to run those 20 miles, but it would be too painful physically and mentally and wouldn’t do us any good. It would only make us hate running and put negative thoughts in our heads about the marathon we have coming up.

Something clicked inside my head – Yes, it was supposed to be 20 miles. Yes, it was an important run. But it’s only ONE run. It’s not the end of the world. I will be okay. I will finish the marathon. And there’s always tomorrow.

This may sound silly to all of you but it’s a big deal for me and a big change in my attitude. I’m really proud of myself for staying positive when things went wrong, since I have a tendency to do the opposite.

The next 6 miles of our run were ANYTHING but easy. We stopped to walk after each mile, literally. But we got through it. We can home, we stretched, ate, and moved on with our lives. So it was supposed to be 20 miles… so what. We did 11 instead and I’m proud of each one of those tough miles!

We had a great day afterwards. We took a nap, hung out with family at a local state park and rode Jetskis, went to Wegmans (my love!), and made a delicious dinner. I am currently drinking some (much needed) wine and about to get ready to celebrate my friend’s birthday.

Life is good, whether or not I was able to run 20 miles today.

🙂

50 States Challenge

After I ran my first marathon and realized that I had to have more, I quickly decided that my goal would be to run a marathon in all 50 states. I knew this would be a huge challenge, but I liked the idea of traveling and seeing the country while running marathons at the same time. Also, marathon entry fees are so expensive that I want to run as many different ones as I can, rather than always run the same race.

I began my journey in November 2008 and as of today I have run 6 marathons in 6 different states. I created this map on Google Maps to show where I have run marathons so far, and what’s up next on my race schedule.

My Marathon Map
(zoom out to view the entire United States)

Blue Pins = Completed
Pink Pins = Upcoming

I also have my own Marathon Map hanging up in our “sports room.” This is our extra bedroom that we’ve converted into a hang-out room with a futon and a TV, where Kevin likes to play his games and watch sports. It’s also where we keep all our race bibs, medals, and football stuff on display (Steelers for Kevin, Penn State & Eagles for me). I saw this canvas map of the United States at Target and I knew it would be perfect in this room. I have been marking the states with numbered stickers. They are kind of hard to see in this picture, but if you look closely you can see little red dots. There’s also one little green dot on there – that’s Kevin’s first marathon in Tennessee!

Recaps of all of these marathons can be found on my Running page or under the 50 Marathons in 50 States tag.

I can’t wait to add more states to my maps!

Spin, Spin, Spin

On Wednesday mornings I go to cycle (a.k.a spin) class at my gym with my favorite instructor. Her 8:30 AM class is usually packed and today was no different. All the bikes were taken except one! I’ve been going to spin for a few months now so I’m finally starting to feel like I know what I’m doing. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily gotten easier – the class is always super challenging and that’s why I love it!

I got to class early today and I brought my old little camera in my gym bag, so I decided to take a few pictures and explain the basics of spinning. I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best!

This is the cycle room at my gym. There are 18 spin bikes inside. The instructor is on the bike in the right corner, where she has access to her iPod and the stereo system.

The room is lined with black lights. Some instructors turn the lights off during class so that only the black lights are glowing. It’s actually really cool, but my instructor prefers to keep the lights on so that she can check our form during class. It’s really important to have good form or you could get injured.

There’s a “Rules of the Road” sign on the wall that details safety information, proper form, etiquette, and other tips. This was very helpful for me during my first few classes when I was still learning the ropes!

Next up – the bikes! My gym uses these Spinner Pro bikes. I know there are different types of spin bikes but this is the only kind I have ever used.

When I get to class the first thing I do is set up my bike. It is important to adjust the seat height so that it lines up with your hip when you’re standing next to it. This should make it so when you sit on the bike, your legs are slightly bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke. The instructor helped me learn how to adjust my bike when I went to my first class. It’s also important to make sure that your arms have a slight bend in them when you are holding the handlebars. If they don’t (if they are bending too much or locked at the elbows) the handlebars may need to be adjusted as well. Mine are usually okay.

I sweat like a beast during spin class so I need two towels. I lay one over the handlebars so that they don’t get slippery when I sweat all over them. I lay the other one folded on top so that I can wipe my face (and arms, and neck, and everything else that sweats) during class.

Some people wear special cycle shoes that have clips on the bottom so they can ‘clip in’ to the pedals. It is supposed to make your pedaling easier and more efficient. I don’t have cycle shoes yet – regular sneakers work fine for now.

This is a little part of the bike but I think it’s the most important – the resistance knob. It is underneath the handlebars and controls how hard or easy your cycling feels.

My instructor teaches on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being the easiest possible resistance and 10 being the hardest and most difficult. A ‘flat road’ is considered to be a resistance of about 4 or 5 and a heavy hill is an 8 or 9. We hardly ever go above an 8.5 in class – trust me, that’s enough to make you work hard! She gives cues when it’s time to turn your knob up and when to turn it down, usually increasing or decreasing by a half or full turn each time (turning it left makes it easier, turning it right makes it harder)- but only you are in control of your own resistance. One full turn will bring you up or down one number on the scale, from a 7 to 8 for example. One half turn will bring you up or down a half number, from a 7 to 7.5 or vice versa.

During the one hour class, you warm up for about 5 minutes then start the hard work. There are three basic positions numbered 1, 2, and 3.

[Source]

Fit Sugar explains the three positions well. Basically, positions 1 and 2 are used when you are sitting down on the bike (or “in the saddle”). Positions 2 and 3 can be used when your instructor tells you to get “out of the saddle”, meaning you’re standing up and cycling. In position 2 out of the saddle your standing upright with your body right above your legs. In position 3 you are leaning forward with your butt hovering right over the seat.

The instructor will cue you when to switch positions and get in/out of the saddle depending on the routine and music he or she has planned. Good instructors (like mine) time these changes in position with upbeat, motivating music, and changes in resistance to make it challenging. In a spin class you will experience long climbs and hills, surges (short intervals of heavy resistance followed by recovery), sprints (going as fast as you can), and combinations where you switch back and forth from positions 1, 2, and 3. The class ends with a cool down and a stretch.

An hour later after a lot of hard work and sweat, I usually look like this:

This picture doesn’t even capture how I am literally covered in sweat, EVERYWHERE! When I clean my bike at the end of class it’s also covered, and so are my towels and the mat that’s underneath it. It’s actually pretty gross. But it makes me feel amazing the rest of the day, and I have really seen an improvement in my running since I started cross-training with spinning.

Today in my class there were men and women from my age (twenties) all the way into their sixties and seventies! I know this for a fact because they were very proud of themselves and sharing their ages with everyone. These men and women are there every week and go to more spin classes than I do. So if they can do it, you can too! I used to be so afraid of spin, but I’m so glad I tried it and made it a part of my routine.

This has been my experience with spin and I still have a lot to learn! Feel free to add to what I’ve already said about this awesome form of exercise, or correct me if I said anything wrong.

Try it! You may surprise yourself and love it like I did 🙂

A Few Recent Good Eats!

Just a quick post to share a few good eats I have enjoyed recently! 

Homemade Calzone. Whole wheat pizza dough stuffed with pesto, artichokes, red onions, bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, and Daiya (vegan cheese). Marinara sauce for dipping on the side. So delicious and great for eating the night before a long run!

Snobby Joes. This recipe is from the cookbook Veganomicon, but you can see it online here as well. It is basically Sloppy Joes made with lentils instead of meat and tastes exactly the same (seriously!) I put it inside an Arnold’s Sandwich Thin and had extra on the side, along with some baked sweet potato fries and sauteed collard greens (with hot sauce, of course).

Bean and Corn Tortilla Lasagna with Avocado. This is from Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan. I know that I already talked about this recipe once before but IT. IS. SO. GOOD. I don’t care if you eat meat or not, if you like Mexican food you will LOVE this, I promise! Served with roasted asparagus.

Cereal with Fresh Fruit. I’m on a cold cereal kick lately. I mix my usual four (Kashi Go Lean Crunch, Cinnamon Life, Kashi Heart to Heart, and Peanut Butter Puffins) and put some combo of fruit on it – bananas, blueberries, raspberries and/or strawberries.

FRUIT! Bananas, peaches, mangoes… in addition to the summer berries. I love it all!

Random Huge Salads. I’ve also been loving big cold salads at lunch time. This one had baby spinach, red onion, broccoli, tomato, celery, chickpeas and Annie’s Goddess Dressing (the best dressing!) I usually just throw whatever veggies we have in the fridge on top of some spinach and it ends up being very yummy 🙂 Peach on the side!

Veggie Enchiladas. As I’ve said before, we love our Mexican food over here. This dinner was grilled veggie enchiladas with vegetarian refried beans and guacamole. I put most of it inside the tortilla and extras on the side. The veggies [bell peppers, red onion, zucchini, squash] were marinated in an amazing sauce before grilling. The recipe is from The Vegan Table.

Stir Fry with Mmm Sauce. Kevin and I have been loving this Mmm Sauce recipe for a while now. I made a batch of it a few days ago and today for lunch I put it on top of a bunch of leftover veggies that I sauteed, including carrots, broccoli, squash, zucchini, and baby spinach. I put the veggies over some brown rice, added some cashews on top and then some Mmm Sauce. SO delicious! And it looks beautiful on our new place settings that we received as a wedding gift!

I love food! I will post more delicious eats next week 🙂 Have a good Monday!