Freedom from Injury: Strength, Efficiency and Recovery

Over the past year I’ve been privately coaching a wide range of athletes – everyone from those just starting to run for the first time, to those seeking to improve race times or get ready for a competitive cross country season.

Through all if it, I’ve been asked a lot about running form. It seems to me that many people harbor the belief that there is “one perfect running form” and all other forms will lead to injury.

While I am in no way the ultimate expert on the topic, I have learned a lot through my own experience with injuries, which has involved working with some of the top doctors and therapists to understand how the body moves with regards to running, and using this understanding to both rehab and prevent different injuries. I have also communicated many of these learnings to teammates, friends and clients, often with a great deal of success.
I would like to share my experience and observation:

1. Injuries happen because of a lack of strength.
2. There is no perfect running form.
3. There is no such thing are running injury free without body maintenance.

Point #1: Strength:
Running involves you to essentially jump from one step to the next. Each time you jump, your body must transfer stored energy into forward motion. This results in propulsion. Then you must land, single-leggedly upon impact. This requires your body to stabilize, and then continue to transfer the momentum forward.

While core work is a key aspect of training, I find that glute strength is just as important. The glutes are your motor. Proper glute engagement creates hip extension and propulsion forward. It also stabilizes the pelvis and prevents inward rotation of the femur. When glutes don’t fire properly, there is an overemphasis on the lower leg muscles creating propulsion and stability….this can lead to overuse injuries in those small muscles that shouldn’t have to do such a big job. Inactive glutes also compromise the knees (physics lesson: the knee is the fulcrum point in the hip-to-foot lever that is your leg). Tight and painful IT bands are often a result of inactive and overly tight (see point #3) glutes.

single leg squat

Single Leg Squat

Exercises to include:
– Single Leg Squats: if your knee insists on falling in, it’s usually because your glutes aren’t firing.

– Runner’s Touch:
This is a great example shown by a PT clinic I used to work with in Portland:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-SoCqdR1x8

Clams
Side plank with leg lifts

Point #2: Running Form vs. Running Efficiently
If you are truly interested in learning “the ultimate perfect running form” do yourself a favor and look up as many scientific papers on the topic, assess the methods used in the experiments and compare the conclusions. I personally have found that it’s pretty inconclusive. And, like many impacts on the human body – it’s completely individual (although if you’re looking for a great overview on this topic, this is an excellent book written by the man who made my orthotics: http://www.humanlocomotion.org/)

What I’ve found to be more effective than worrying about running like a Kenyan is focusing on running efficiently. Go sprint up a hill. It forces you to move your mass as efficiently as possible. You have to use your arms. You have to take smaller, quicker steps and you have to drive your feet downwards in order to maximize the energy that is returned back to you. Run up a short, steep hill (15-30 sec interval) and notice what has to change in order for you to run faster. Take note and apply to flat land acceleration. Also keep in mind that going out for an easy jog is completely different than trying to race a mile as fast as possible. An easy jog doesn’t require moving as efficiently as possible, but when you start running at different paces, especially faster paces, you notice how efficiency affects your ability to run fast. If you’re only going to jog a few days per week you probably don’t need to worry too much about running form – I would emphasize focusing on increasing your ability to do single leg squats, lunges and balance work instead.

Point #3: Maintenance
You wouldn’t expect a car to run perfectly forever without any maintenance. Yet I still

Sit on a lacrosse or tennis ball. Hold pressure on a trigger point. Your butt will spaz out and then you will feel tension release after 20-30 sec.

Sit on a lacrosse or tennis ball. Hold pressure on a trigger point. Your butt will spaz out and then you will feel tension release after 20-30 sec.

get asked all the time by clients how they can achieve a perfect running form that will allow them to forever run injury free. Guess what: you can’t. The body breaks down. If you are pushing it to the point of fatigue on a regular basis then it will break down. It will get tight in places. Fascia will get bound up and impede muscles from working effectively. The best way to prevent this: getting regular body treatment. Massage, ART, Graston are examples of treatment I get on a regular basis. I also do a lot of self-treatment: trigger point therapy, Active Isolated Stretching, Yoga (although to be 100%

Trigger point therapy on the calves.

Trigger point therapy on the calves.

honest, I hate yoga terribly – I have a 30 minute stretching focused yoga video that I do – I get in and I get out…it’s ok, you can judge me if you want, although it’s not very zen to judge.) Injuries are inevitable to some degree if you’re pushing yourself, but they can be limited and many can be avoidable with being consistent in body treatment.

Recovery is just as important as body treatment. A fatigued body needs to recover before it can perform. Going hard every single day is only setting yourself up for injury and burnout. Take easy days where you run without looking at the watch in between hard efforts. I personally like to take 2-3 days easy before pushing myself again.

If you take only one thing away from this post, take this:
You will only perform to the level at which you are recovered.

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Cheating Boyfriends: A Story of Overtraining

When I was a freshman in college my boyfriend cheated on me.
I found out because a random girl at a party off-handedly mentioned to a group of people (myself included) that she had hooked up with him.
To be fair, the girl did not know I was his girlfriend and was mortified after she found out.
But the point is, when faced with this information, I didn’t want to believe it.
My brain found all sorts of reasons why it could’ve been a mix up.
I didn’t want to confront my boyfriend in case it was actually true, so instead I placed unnecessary relevance on stupid, irrelevant things to validate the success of our relationship.
All to refute a truth I was too scared to face.

Well this is exactly what it’s like to be overtrained (in my experience).
Last summer I did not take enough time off after a big year and a very busy spring racing season.
On top of that, I came back too quickly to workouts and races, competing in the Tufts 10k only 6 weeks after my break, and only 3 weeks after beginning regular workouts.

not easy

Let’s back up.
While I came face to face with the fact that my boyfriend had cheated on me when this girl mentioned it, it wasn’t like it totally came out of nowhere.
There were signs, you know…and I had suspected something…but what does that mean
Well, I had a feeling
A feeling isn’t evidence, it’s just insecurity. It’s easier to keep on truckin’ until you really have to face it (or when some random girl tells you…)
Oh to be 19 again…

The week following Tufts left me exhausted with a fuzzy-headed cloudiness.
My solution was to sleep more.
One week after the race I attempted a workout that ended disastrously.
It wasn’t simply being off-pace, or fatigued…
It was a deep-in-my-gut, alarming sense that something was wrong…but what?
It was the same feeling when I suspected my college boyfriend of cheating on me –
That pit-of-your-stomach sense that betrays all your mind’s reasoning for why things are fine.
I dismissed the notion as “I’m not quite recovered from Tufts.”
After all, it was just a feeling.

And just like I did when I was 19, I sought validation in meaningless signs:
How my legs felt in my morning shakeout (note: they ALWAYS feel bad on morning shakeouts),
Whether or not I was heavier or lighter that week, and of course, how I performed in my workouts.
My relationship with running became very rocky. We fought all the time.

The fall went up and down:
One week of good training, two weeks of terrible workouts.
One week of good spirits and positive thoughts, two weeks of down-and-out, emotionally numb, can’t get out of bed-ness.
All literature on overtraining discusses that mood is a big indicator, yet it’s the one thing I couldn’t come clean on…
I mean, how do you own up to the fact that you’re depressed all the time when you’re… depressed all the time?

dandylion
Then came Club Nationals in December. It nearly ended me.
I showed up to the first practice of indoor track after only three weeks of easy running (post club nationals), but with a body that felt like it had taken 3 months off.
My first workout was devastatingly slow.
I couldn’t grasp where the last year’s fitness had gone, or why my body couldn’t respond to training normally, or why it was so hard for me to get out of bed in the morning.
Overtraining would just make too much sense, you know…
I confronted Running about his cheating and said,
“How could you do this to me – you told me you loved me!?”

Running and I had a big “come to Jesus talk”…we re-committed ourselves to each other.
Running vowed never to cheat again.
So I slowly brought myself back, with two steps forward, one step back
It was insanely hard to stay positive, but I wrote little mantras all over my apartment and tried to brainwash myself into being happy.
Running continued to cheat and I continued to keep taking him back…
You know all those, “embrace the process” sayings?
Well, I eventually said, “F@*k this process.”
It sucked. My running sucked.  My workouts were slow and I felt like shit all the time.
This is the part where you now hate the person you once loved because the relationship has gotten so unhealthy…

At the beginning of the spring track season, just when things were starting to look up Running peaced out. He broke up with me (can you believe it?!?)…
I got tripped up in a race, which resulted in a bad medial ankle sprain.
After weeks without improvement an MRI showed a stress reaction in my navicular.
Running moved in with that girl he was hooking up with.
It’s hard to say how much of this stress reaction was already there and how much was caused by the way I landed after being tripped…
I have no idea how long Running and this chic have been hooking up.
It really doesn’t matter.

At first I was devastated…
I mean, how could Running leave me, especially since I’m so awesome that I’m depressed and angry all the time…?
But in the end, it was a huge relief.

I took 3 weeks off exercise completely – more than I’ve ever taken off since I graduated high school (we won’t talk about how long ago that was).
During the first week I went on vacation and let my body truly rest.
I checked out from work, I slept as much as I wanted (which turned out to be 10-12 hours per night) and I laid on the beach and I ate whatever I wanted.

I was amazed how refreshed and energetic I felt after just two weeks.
I was happy and positive. I was even energetic.
And most importantly, I began to enjoy life in ways I hadn’t before.

I learned exactly what I learned when I was 19:
It really had nothing to do with running.
Success and happiness rests on listening to my body and staying true to my needs.
Boyfriends do not replace taking care of yourself.
Life is bigger than boyfriends. It is bigger than running.
And it’s too short to be spent unhappy.

 

Sometimes sudden endings can be devastating. But they are always opportunities –
And a chance to change perspective.
I am excited for a fresh start and a clean slate.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying riding the awesome Elliptigo bike that has been loaned to our team, and have been biking and swimming.
This fall will be a building season during which I will integrate my newfound appreciation for gradual progression.

For the first time in a long time, I am eager to unfold what lies ahead.

On Owning It

One year ago I had a great job working at a sports company
I was learning some great skills and had a nice safety net of benefits and retirement.
But I was restless. I felt like a caged animal inside a cubicle.
And I hated that 9 hours per day were held hostage by those three walls.

And the truth,
Though I was ashamed to admit it, was that I wanted to run –
Not just fit in 30 minutes at lunch break, or make it to Tuesday night practices, or hone my shower/dress/eat techniques so I could get as many miles in before work as possible…

ships

No.
I wanted to make my running a central part of my life… The way Pro’s do.
…Except I’m not a Pro….

Don’t get me wrong – I’m good –
I competed at USA Nationals in both indoor and outdoor track…
But I wasn’t, you know, good good.
And runners are used to comparing themselves within hundredths of a second to other people…
This kind of microscopic inspection shows many varying levels of “goodness”, some more acceptable than others.
The fact is I’m not good enough to have a full contract that will support my running.
In fact, I will likely never have any contract.
I will always have to support myself in some way.

Was something I loved was doomed to be written off as merely a “hobby”?
Many people would say yes.
Many people have forever shelved their running because of that answer.
But how would that help me fulfill my potential?

The problem was that if I believed a contract was a prerequisite for pursuing what I loved
Then I would forever be trying to want less out of my running.
I would forever be filling my days with something I’m not passionate about
I would forever be pining for a different life.
I just don’t know how to live that way.

So I quit my job.

Sometimes you just gotta jump.

I had a grad school application filled out for an MFA program.
I got a High School Cross Country coaching job.
I got denied to the MFA program.
Cross Country ended and I picked up some freelance copywriting and online marketing work.
I nearly went broke (like completely broke where I would be moving back to Washington State to live with mom & dad broke) at the end of last year.
Then I got a great part time, remote job working for a boutique advertising company.
And I started nannying a bit to fill in the holes.
I did more coaching.
I landed on my feet.

There have been many ups and downs in the last year.
The lows are filled with those “not good enough”, “never get there”, and “don’t deserve this” thoughts…
Fears threatened to lock me back in a cubicle.
Running has been challenging for many reasons. My body hasn’t responded the way I wanted.
And life has been less about sweet PRs and more about overcoming the fears that keep me from achieving what I yearn for.

This process you can’t write about until you’ve come through the thick of it
(Hence the 9 month hiatus from blogging)…
But the freedom of owning my entire day, from waking to sleeping is too powerful for me to give up this journey.

Last year I started out on a mission to find more time to train.
But doing so required I answer the question,
“What do I really want out of my life?”

Well the truth is I want nothing more from my life than the freedom to pursue what I love.
I don’t need more PRs to earn this privilege (though I will always want more PRs)
And I don’t need the title of “Pro” to give me permission.

This is my life.
And in my life I choose to run.

hero

Ode to the Journey (OTTJ)

Well, there’s been some post-race blues the last couple weeks. It took me absolutely forever (and a day) to recover from Tufts 10k….clue #1 I’m a middle distance runner (guess I’ll be sticking to those 3ks!). As the old adage goes…what doesn’t kill you makes you….um, mentally insane! The week after tufts was laden with heavy legs, fatigue and an insane amount of sleeping. I was in a terrible mood, ran terrible runs and did a lot of moping. Things hit rock bottom when I attempted a workout 5 days later…I use the word attempted because I found myself unable to run 30 sec. slower than tempo pace for 5min…hard on the ego, that one. Things started to come around the next week and have continued to get better. In the meantime I’ve done some thinking (always a dangerous thing for this one…) about how much of my success has come from consistently putting the work in and having faith that your body knows how to adapt and respond. Long term consistency is the real road to success with running…it’s not glamorous, and sometimes it’s downright miserable. But I love it nonetheless.

Start at Tufts 10k

Start at Tufts 10k

I got called out on twitter the other day to “un-closet” my poetry (which is more like shoved in random shelves & boxes throughout a closet…). So I made a sort-of poem of my general musings/self pep talk…Main Theme: embrace the journey.

 

There is as much fighting with your dreams as there is fighting for your dreams,
As much let down as there is elation.
And rational people will tell you it’s not worth it….
…fortunately, I’m not too rational.

I say embrace it; choose it.
The uncertainty of imbalance, the discord of defeat:
Welcome it.
The bruising of getting back up again and the heaviness of continuing on:
Give power to it.
Own the journey; fight for it –
Not for the fluffy “believe in your dreams” mantra superficially thrown around,
But for the ugly, burdensome drudgery of waking up at dawn to get your miles in,
Of going to bed before the party’s over,
Of ordering a steak and salad when everyone else is ordering pizza,
Of wanting something you have yet to accomplish,
And putting in the work for something you have yet to see.

I say be grateful for that chip-on-the-shoulder, something –to-prove
That gets you out of bed in the morning.
Let it move you.

I say own the journey.
Because success is not an arrival.
Nor is it a final stop on a long-awaited trek.
It is what comes from fighting for that yearning –
That barely audible whispering…the anticipation of the sun
As it rises over the river mid-run,
The antsy-ness in your legs, itching to see out how fast you can run a mile.
And that aching…
The part of you that glimpses what might be possible…
With a little training, with a little speed work, with a little opportunity …
Possibility is hope.

Regardless of how long it takes,
Regardless of how many times you get knocked down,
Regardless of how unkempt the process is…
Own the journey.

Wherever you are, whatever shape you’re in, at whatever point in your life
Doing what you love is a privilege
You are the journey.
Own it.

Great poster reiterating this from Believe I Am

Great poster reiterating this from Believe I Am

PS I wrote a similar post on “The Journey” in a letter to Seth Godin. If you like this topic, you can check it out here. (plus it features a sweet picture of me walking through the Austrian Alps…!)

An Exercise for Racing

For me, racing is a skill that develops as my season progresses.
Developing a routine for the day before and day of helps me to take comfort in executing a set plan, stay relaxed, and not over-thinking the upcoming situation.

But the first couple races of the season are always a little spastic.
I’m not yet used to simply executing, so I over think things:
I brood about what paces I should run,
I endlessly go over what I should aim for, who I should run with…
And I look for evidence of my capability in every meaningless corner –
How my strides feel, how my easy run feels, whether I feel heavy or light when I wake up. These things drain energy away from the actual race execution and are not constructive.

So I have a little ritual that I do in the days leading up to a race to help me re-focus and relax. The first races of the season are at a time when fitness is still building, so I don’t really know exactly where my fitness is at, or how I’ll feel, or what it all means.
And this makes me feel insecure, out of control, nervous and anxious.
The below exercise helps me combat these feelings.
It helps ground me and regain my confidence in spite of uncertainty.

I make four different lists:

  1. I Know____________: Even though it’s early in the season, there is a lot I’ve done to prepare for this race. Listing what I know to be true helps me feel relaxed.
  2. I Trust.____________: Trust (to me) has to do with believing that something is there even if I’m unsure or don’t have a lot of evidence for it (i.e. haven’t done a ton of workouts at a certain pace). I can’t control all the circumstances and I can’t guarantee what will happen tomorrow, but I can trust my body and my mind and my will. Making a list of what I trust helps me feel more secure.
  3. I Promise__________: I don’t really know what pace I should shoot for and I’m not sure how I will feel tomorrow. Making a list of promises allows me to focus on internal signals and free myself from the clock. It gives me a measure of success I know I can achieve and this helps me feel confident.
  4. I am Grateful for____________: I always end my lists with gratitude. Regardless what happens on race day, just being there is a success. I have so much to be grateful for and reminding myself of these things allows me to take a step back and remember that there’s a bigger picture than a single race or a single season. Gratitude helps me stay grounded. It helps me feel lucky.

So here it is. Tomorrow is Tufts 10k.
It will be my first 10k since 2009, and I would argue, my first 10k that I’ve really taken seriously. I’m only a month into my season, but I still want the most out of this.
I’m really freaking nervous and I’m doing this exercise entirely out of necessity.

 I Know…

  1. I know my teammates support me and want me to succeed.
  2. I know my friends and family love me and want the best for me.
  3. I know my fitness is one step ahead of where it was at this point last year.
  4. I know my workouts so far have prepared me for a 10k.
  5. I know I love running and racing and that this race supports my pursuit of what I love.

 I Trust….

  1. I trust that my body knows how to race; that it will not forget the years and years of steps forward (big and small) that have gotten me to where I am.
  2. I trust that I am strong & tough.
  3. I trust I will fight when it’s time to fight.
  4. I trust that I have what it takes to compete.
  5. I trust that this experience will make me a better runner.

I Promise…

  1. I promise that I will give all of myself tomorrow.
  2. I promise that I will push my pace in between miles 3-4.
  3. I promise I will hammer the last mile regardless of what pace I’ve been running, regardless of what place I’m in and regardless of what it all means.
  4. I promise that I will have faith in my coach’s plan, in the workouts I’ve executed and in my body’s ability to rise to the occasion.
  5. I promise I will enjoy using my body for the purpose it was made for.
  6. I promise that regardless of how I finish or what time I run I will use this race as an opportunity to learn and become a better athlete.
  7. I promise that I will not view this performance as an indication of my full potential, but will be grateful for a step forward in the direction of my goals.
  8. I promise I will have fun and enjoy the moment.

I am Grateful for…

  1. I am grateful for teammates to warm up with, laugh with and joke with before a big race.
  2. I am grateful for consistent training and fitness leading into this race.
  3. I am grateful for health.
  4. I am grateful for the opportunity to have a big race in the city where I live, that I don’t have to travel for.
  5. I am grateful for paid entry fees, free race kits and an elite packet (thanks NBB!)
  6. I am grateful for these legs (and feet) that have carried me through so many miles.
  7. I am grateful for an unwavering joy for the action of running that has allowed me to progress as an athlete and enjoy the process.
  8. I am grateful for this moment, this opportunity and an occasion to try something new.

What about you? How do you handle the uncertainty or pressure that comes with racing? What helps you feel relaxed and confident going into a big race?

On Being an Advocate for your Body.

Ironically, workouts and races are often the easy part of being a good athlete.
Those elements are almost celebratory.
Much of what I do on a day in, day out basis is setting myself up to do those two things well.

We all know the endless list of recovery:
Proper fueling and replenishing nutrition
Proper hydration
Proper sleep
Proper bodywork – foam rolling, massage, chiropractic, stretching, yoga, etc.

And we know the equally endless list of preparation:
More hydration
More sleep
More good nutrition
Bla bla bla…

But much of my ability to accomplish even optimal recovery & preparation is an entirely different skill set: Advocation.

In order to achieve your potential as an athlete you have to set yourself up to do so.
And this means in all those sneaky little situations that you don’t think about because they’re not the obvious prep work, or gut it out interval work, or recover well stretching work…

Achieving your potential means advocating for yourself as an athlete.

Scenario 1:
My mother is always super excited to see me when I come home and she always means well, but sometimes that apple pie is not what I need for my upcoming race.
Likewise, endless family get togethers don’t always help me get prepared for a competition.
When I’m home for the holidays or just home for a visit, it can be hard to get my workouts in and it can be hard to feel recovered and energetic about running.

Scenario 2:
My (non-running) friends don’t know if I have to get a long run in before meeting them out. It’s my job as an athlete to make sure I get quality food after my run so I’m not starving for hours on end while we all decide where to eat.
And, quite frankly, I’m saving my friends from the “other Joanna” that comes out when I’m super hungry…she can be scary.

Scenario 3:
If I had a stressful work situation and came home all bent out of shape, it’s my job as an athlete not to hammer on my run because I’m angry – my body still needs its recovery run days. It’s my job to make sure it gets what it needs and save the hard efforts for the hard days.

This is not to say that as an athlete you become a rigid, no-fun, locked up, hermit of yourself.
I believe a happy athlete is the best athlete.
But this IS to say that if I’m asking my body to perform at a high level on a regular basis, then it’s my responsibility to make sure it is set up to do so.

Solution a:
This means moving some workouts around when I go home so I can enjoy doing family outings. Maybe it means changing some workouts to being effort based rather than trying to hit aggressive times for track workouts.
And usually, it means asking my poor mother not to make me that apple pie if I’ll be competing soon (I seriously have no self control around her pie…and she never makes only one pie…).

Solution b:
It might also mean asking my friends to be patient with me while I stop and get a snack every hour while we are out shopping all day…

Solution c:
It might mean getting a run in before work if I know the day’s going to be crazy.

Solution d:
It might mean taking myself out of potentially stressful situations where possible.

It might mean asking for help.
Or it might mean going to Yoga instead of going for a run after a confrontational situation (nothing like those flight or fight adrenaline rushes to turn your easy run into a tempo run…)

It always means doing what I need to do for a run – regardless of what other people are doing, regardless of what I wish I could do, regardless of what other people think I should do.

If I’m meeting a group for a run and they start picking up the pace, but I’m feeling beat up from the workout I did 2 days ago, I’ll run slow and tell them I’ll meet them at the end.
There’s no point in sucking in your next workout because you pushed too hard on an easy day (because you felt pressured to)…

No great performance happens from one run or one week of training. And it certainly doesn’t happen from an easy run.
It happens from long-term consistency.
It happens from consistently building on your hard days and recovering on your easy days and giving all of yourself on race day.

Your main job as an athlete is not only to perform better. It is to protect your ability to do so.
Being an athlete means being your body’s advocate. 

EnergyBits Saves My Morning (grumpiness)

I am not a morning person.
This is not a confession.
It’s a fact.

Anyone who knows me well has witnessed the grumpy, somewhat-uncoordinated, rather irritable human specimen that masquerades as Joanna pre-10am.

And yes, I realize this goes against all those “awesomely successful and hardworking-get ‘er done-early bird gets the worm” sayings that somehow cause you to believe this world is run by morning people…well, guess what:
I hate mornings.

Early AM Workout Location

Early AM Workout Location

There is, however, one morning per week that I am willing to wake up before 9am. And that is to meet my fantastic teammates for a Saturday AM workout on a trail somewhere outside Boston. Generally these workouts are higher volume, threshold workouts including (but not limited to) tempo runs, mile repeats, progression runs and all variations of lactate threshold work. As my body absolutely abhors functioning at the (godforsaken) hour of 7am, I usually find it rather hard to eat something substantial before this workout. I’m not hungry before 9-9:30am and forcing calories typically leaves me nauseous, so I’ve gotten in the habit of eating a banana & double fisting coffee & Gatorade en route to the workout location (this is not proper fueling, FYI – don’t follow my example). Getting the workout started isn’t too bad, but halfway through I’ll start to get fairly hungry and by the end of the cooldown I’m downright shaky and lightheaded.

So there’s this company called Energy Bits. They have these weird green tablets that smell like the beach at low tide on a hot day. Kind of like dried seaweed…they’re made of 100% algae, which is super high in protein, omega 3 fatty acids & minerals.

When I opened the package they sent me to try I had this flashback to my childhood. My

Puget Sound Amazing-ness

Puget Sound Amazing-ness

family has a beach cabin out on the Puget Sound (I’m originally from Washington State…Puget Sound is an inlet for those not familiar with west coast geography…). Our beach cabin neighbors were a sushi making family that would harvest their own seaweed from the bay in front of their house. My 7-year-old self thought this was gross, because the seaweed was all slimy and would get wrapped around my legs when I tried to run away from those oversized spider crabs (seriously, those things exist). But one day the mother of the sushi making family explained to me how seaweed is actually a really healthy vegetable full of vitamins & minerals that other (land) plants don’t have and I should try eating them. So I tried it. Raw. Straight out of the bay. It tasted like rotting salt water.

I wouldn’t recommend eating seaweed raw out of the ocean.
Seriously this is a true story.

Luckily, Energy Bits comes in tablet form. They recommend swallowing those tablets with water. I also would recommend swallowing those tablets with water because they taste remarkably similar to seaweed (the dried and pressed kind you get around your sushi rolls). Unless you’re into that, it would be a lot of seaweed flavor.

energy bitys

This is all to say, that I was dubious about this mysterious power of EnergyBits. I picked a Saturday morning workout to give them a try due to my pre-workout eating struggles. I took one full recommended serving with water about 30 minutes before the workout.

My workout was fairly high volume for me, but mostly lactate threshold work:
3000m@tempo pace (6:00/mile-ish pace = 11:10), 3min rest
2000m@cruise pace (5:45/mile-ish pace = 7:10), 3 min rest
2-3x1000m@10k pace (5:35/mile pace = 3:25-3:30) w/ 90 sec rest

In spite of being fairly tired and grumpy (as per pre-9am-normalcy), I hit my times effortlessly and felt strong. I didn’t get hungry, and didn’t feel shaky or tired towards the end. I had a steady stream of energy throughout the entire workout and finished my cooldown feeling energetic. This is generally rare for me, unless I’m super organized and able to get in a solid meal pre-workout.

I do think that a proper meal 2-3 hours before a hard workout is the most ideal scenario. But, I think EnergyBits would be a great compliment to a pre-workout meal and, in the event that you’re in a rush/overslept/not a morning person and are planning to empty-stomach that workout, – EnergyBits offer a great, real-food alternative to running hungry & shaky.

Even TS Eliot tried EnergyBits...

Even TS Eliot tried EnergyBits…

Bottom line: EnergyBits allow me to sleep in & procrastinate getting out of bed even later than I already do! I haven’t tried them as a post-workout recovery, but for an early morning pre-workout snack, they worked like a champ!

What are your experiences? Do you struggle eating before early morning workouts? How do you deal?

Enter your comments below and Wednesday night at 8:30pm EST I’ll do a random.com drawing. The lucky winner will get to try EnergyBits for themselves, compliments of the folks in the EB Boston office!

On Patience.

Patience has never been my strong suit.
I’m a “get things done” kinda person.
Sitting and waiting?
I’m terrible at that….unless it’s something I don’t care about, in which case I just resort to sleeping.

This part of my season is perhaps my most trying (second to being injured…if there is any form of wood near you, you should be knocking on it right now…plywood works in a pinch, too.).

After taking some time off running to recover from a rather strenuous track season, this time of year is about building.
It’s about laying the foundation for what’s to come. It involves lots of easy mileage, single leg squats and core work.
It’s about re-creating that rhythm again and getting the body strong for the work that will come later (i.e. squats, lunges, pushups & planks).
There are no glamorous interval workouts….not even glamorous weight workouts.

There is only endless building.

And oddly enough, taking time off is just as hard on the body as training.
During time off (even if only 2 weeks) your body sort of un-learns all the things that made it fast: like gait efficiency, strength, coordination (not that I ever had ample amounts of this to begin with) and mental tenacity.
So getting back into the swing of things is often rather bumpy for me.
Little things like to pop up – my calves get chronically tight, running feels kinda weird, my breathing is all over the place, my IT bands flare up.
For as much (read: not that much) running that I am currently doing, I do equally as much foam rolling, ball sitting and stretching just to be able to get out the door for a less than awesome run the next day.

After a year of building and racing those 2 weeks off allow the body to heal and recover – an important part of allowing the body to improve in the future.
But part of this healing, at least for my body type, is gaining weight.
Speed work and racing keep the body light and lean. And as soon as I back off on that I immediately gain 5 pounds.
And it’s annoying.

Rationally I know this is an important part of training and recovering. These 5 pounds will add a little extra “cushion” (no pun intended) for when I build my mileage and start high volume training later this fall. It will keep me from getting injured and allow me to build strength.

But being in my body on a day in/day out basis means I feel every extra jiggle. I feel that my jeans are a little tighter.

It’s so.freaking.annoying.
Did I mention it was annoying…?

So what do I do to get through this annoying extra-5 pound-wait till training gets cool-time period?
I pout (a second talent of mine…)
And I grumble every time I put on my skinny jeans.

But I get out the door every day for my runs just like normal.
And (most of the time) by the end of the run I’ve forgotten about it.

I’ve learned
That the more I can re-create my “normal” rythym the more I feel like I’m doing something. Even if it means going for a run at the same time every day, making sure to lift every Thurs & Sat, making sure to do my core routing every Mon, Wed & Fri.

Piece by piece, rebuilding the schedule gives me purpose.
Having purpose keeps me motivated.
Staying motivated makes waiting for fitness less like “a watched pot never boils…

I refocus:
An emphasis on quality foods & less junk food.
An emphasis on extra hydration, extra sleep, extra injury prevention exercises

I redirect
Those thoughts that are whining about how I suck, how heavy I feel and depressing this time period is: they still come, but I don’t pay them any mind.
Instead, I (try to) focus on how grateful I am to be healthy and running (when not that long ago I was in the pool with an injury).

And I dream.
I imagine what it’ll be like achieving those things I’ve been hoping and yearning for.
I imagine how fearlessly I’ll race when I get my fitness back.
I get excited. And I get a little antsy.

And this entire process repeats itself multiple times over the season.
But I embrace it 🙂

noise

My trip to Europe concluded a fairly long season that included USA Nationals appearances in Indoor Track and Outdoor Track. I was mentally and physically exhausted from travel and racing. Starting July 22, I began my break of 2 weeks without running. I take some amount of time off every year,and normally I’m squirming with my inability to run, but this year I actually enjoyed not running and being lazy. I went to a couple Restorative Yoga classes (where I was reminded how inflexible I am), but I tried to use this time to do things that I normally don’t have a chance to do when training and racing. I went to dinner with friends, tried new things like Stand-Up Paddleboarding (so fun!),  got out of the city and was generally super lazy.

foss

View from the cabin…not too bad.

This year, after my two weeks off I spent two weeks at Foss Running Camp – a high school cross country camp in New Hampshire with lots of trail running, beach volleyball and lake swimming. The kids here were exposed to lots of information on running in college, injury prevention, “going pro” and training advice while getting excited for their upcoming XC seasons. It was a great way for me to get back to training while sharing my knowledge and experience in the sport with these up and coming athletes. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy watching belly flop contests?!?

I had the Lexington High School Girls’ XC Team in my cabin the first week. These girls are talented runners and reminded me in so many ways the best part of running: Having Fun (and the #2: Packing Good Snacks)! Week #2 I had a mixture of girls from Plymouth North H.S. and King Philipps H.S. These girls forced me up and out the door every morning for a 6:45am run and most of them came back for a second run in the afternoon. These kids were all impressive!

Lexington H.S. XC Team

Lexington H.S. XC Team

Bronze medalThe highlight of my stint at Foss was a visit from Lynn Jennings – 9xUSA Cross Champion, 3xWorld Cross Champ & Olympic Bronze medalist in the 10k. Not only did she give an amazing speech , but she passed around her bronze medal – it’s pretty heavy!

 

Foss Running Camp allowed me to get back into the swing of training again (albeit super hilly training!) and get excited for the upcoming XC season. I’ll spend the next 4 weeks continuing to build mileage and start getting ready for some good racing in November & December…Bring on the Mud!