Walking tall

August 24th, 2009 by anjasmith

Long time, no post. I know, I know.  My foray with injury and my six week hiatus from running was a fairly low point for me. I did get way more comfortable on the bike than I have been in the past.  I am not going to do a century anytime soon, but, I do feel like I could do the bike portion of a sprint tri.  Now if only I could feel that good about my swimming!

But, now I am back at it and training for a new marathon!  I am doing the Rocket City marathon in Alabama in December. I am in week three of training and so far, so good.  Because I am easing back into running from my injury I am doing a walk/run program and gradually increasing my ratio each week.  Like I said, so far, so good.  Other than the fact that I feel more fit, worry about my weight less and have a compelling reason to get up in the morning, there are so many reasons why I love running.  But I have noticed one thing that really sticks out: Confidence.

You see, before running I have never in my life been able to call myself an athlete.  I am clumsy and usually overweight.  And while I may still be a little chubby, I can say with confidence that I am a marathon runner.  It is a title I have earned and that no one can take away. And no matter how long it takes me, or how well my jeans fit this week, I am a marathon runner.  That something that the majority of the population hasn’t accomplished. It is something that, even if you have no desire to do, you can respect.  And that respect gives me a confidence that I haven’t known previously.

In theory, I like the idea of living free of labels. But in actuality, I thrive on them.  I am strongly opinionated in my politics, my beliefs, and once I decide on a label, such as “runner”, I throw myself it with an amount of gusto that can be borderline obsessive.  I therefore want recognition for these benchmarks of life that I work so hard to sort out for myself.  And running is just one more label that I can confidently put on and wear with a grin.  I stand up straighter, I am more likely to speak up and stand out, more likely to express myself and try something new.

Will I ever win a race? Probably not.  But the fact that I try (soon to tri!) and I finish is enough for me to hold my head a little bit higher.

A long six weeks

June 22nd, 2009 by anjasmith

I realize that I have been silent for a while on this blog and I apologize (since I know all you faithful readers sit home at night bidding your time until a new blog is posted (eye roll)).  I have been playing a bit of a waiting game.  It is about time for me to be gearing up for training for my December marathon.  However, my recent runs (which have been less than stellar) have been more than usually painful.  I knew, after a good year of pretending otherwise, that it was time to visit a doctor.

Dr. Scott (heck yes his name is Dr. Scott!) very patiently explained to me how big of a dummy I was for running on painful shins for a year and showed me the x-ray where my bone has been trying to heal itself over and over again and is now bowed out … stress fractures.  Ugh. They most likely happened during my training for San Francisco last year.  My first reaction was to say: Tell me what I CAN do.  So, for the first three weeks: swimming only.  Then, I can add bike for three more weeks.  Then, back to the doctor, where we will create a plan for me to start running again and build into marathon training.  It will be tough, but I think I can still make it for the December marathon.

PLEASE DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE I DID! There are a LOT of theories out there about shin pain.  Some will tell you to run through it, some will say two weeks off with ice, elevate, ibuprofen, wrap it, icy/hot, stretch it … bottom line is: don’t be stubborn.  If after you try all of that and it still hurts … go to the doctor.  If you have decent insurance it should just be a normal co-pay, they take a few pictures of your bones and you lay out a plan of action.

So, for the next several weeks, this is going to be a cross training blog!  I have to face the fact that cross training is going to be a big part of my life.  I am a HORRIBLE swimmer.  But, that is something I will definitely be working on and I hope to bring you along for the ride.  Maybe my adventure into other sports will awaken a new passion.  I have been wanting to train for a triathlon and I can’t do that if I can’t learn to swim and bike better than I do now.

My first swim was on Friday.  Twenty minutes in the pool, thirteen of which I felt like I was drowning.  I get very tired, very quickly.  Partly because I am out of shape and partly because I know I am horribly inefficient in the water.  See, as a runner, I only have to focus on one motion at a time.  Swimming is like rubbing your belly and patting  your head.  You have to focus on the arms and the legs at the same time.  I am assuming that eventually at least one of those things comes naturally enough that I won’t have to constantly remind myself to keep kicking or to shark fin my elbow or to cup my hands or to roll or to … breathe.  And preferably not choke on pool water while doing it.  I swallowed a lot of water that day.  Which is vile.  But alas, I will soldier on because one thing is for sure: if I was stubborn enough to ignore stress fractures for a year, I am stubborn enough to learn to swim.

Hills go both ways

June 5th, 2009 by anjasmith

I just got back from vacationing in Northern Georgia with my family. I am trying to get back into the running habit and build my mileage back up (we all slack now and then!) so I didn’t want to not run on vacation.

The problem is, we were vacationing in the mountains. And I am so not talking Aspen here … it wasn’t that commercialized. I mean we were on a dirt road that went to the side of the top of a very long windy mountain. Sure, the view was fantastic, but I didn’t notice that so much as I am trying to run up a 14% grade on a dirt and gravel road.

It was ROUGH. But, then, I have never really run on flat ground. I wasn’t a runner when we lived in Florida. And South Carolina and here in East Tennessee we are definitely familiar with hills. The only full marathon I have done was in San Francisco for goodness sake. But, these weren’t hills, they were MOUNTAINS.

I definitely didn’t set any new distance or time records but the hill workouts were great for my quads and gluts! And, I remembered how much I love to run down steep hills. You feel like a kid again. I love to just let go and let gravity do the work. If I am on a long run, I will often use this opportunity to loosen up my joints and run in silly patterns or shake out my upper body.

Next time you are stuck on a horrid uphill and you think there is no way you are going to make it to the top, just remind yourself: For every uphill there is a downhill! You can get there!

Running hills also has other benefits. After all, to race well on hills you have to train on them! They also help burn more calories and build more strength.

Some of the best advice I have gotten on running hills is this: run into the hill, not up it. And also to keep your EFFORT the same, not to focus on your tempo.

Here is a link to a great article on famous hills in U.S. races if you want a challenge! http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244–12853-0,00.html

Bring on the sun

May 28th, 2009 by anjasmith

HAVE YOU BEEN OUTSIDE TODAY?!?

It’s getting hot out there!  And it is only May!!!!  I keep thinking about how I really need to get out while it is all muggy and gross and run because that is the best way to condition myself for the summer.  It is coming folks, there is no stopping it.  And if you are like me and you enjoy outdoor running, the heat is something you have to get used to.

There are special considerations that you need to take when it is hot and muggy to prepare your body (for the pain! … j/k).

1. Drink water.                    Now drink more water.

2. Drink more water.                                       Keep going.

3.  Eat light!  Salads, fresh veggies, etc.  I like grilling meat, to keep the grease away but often I will throw some nuts and beans into my salad to help me get some of that protein in without eating a hunk of meat.  And don’t forget fish!  There are lots of ways to eat healthy and not feel sluggish from heavy eating.

4. While you are running, drink water!  Any time you exercise for more than an hour (regardless of weather) you need to be refueling … with solids and liquids, but in the extreme heat and humidity you should be refueling with liquids after about 30 minutes.  So either stash water bottles along your running route or wear a fuel belt, etc.  There are lots of ways to handle this, you just have to think ahead.

5. If you are running for an hour or more, you might want to consider throwing an athletic drink (gatorade, powerade, whateverade you want) into the mix.  Electrolytes get lost when you are sweating that hard.  If you start cooling off some and you can feel salt on your skin, you definitely need to replenish with an electrolyte drink.

6. Run early morning or after the sun goes down to avoid the extreme heat.

Feel free to comment if I am forgetting anything.  I am sure that I am.  Bottom line is please be safe and make sure that you are taking care of your body.  I was reading some fitness boards earlier (I am needing some inspiration and I find that reading about fitness and running really makes me want to get my butt in gear!) and this poor girl wrote in about how she is exercising for an hour and a half every day and eating 500 calories and can’t understand why she isn’t losing weight.  HOLY SMOKES! Her body is starving, that’s why she isn’t losing weight!  It makes me sad when people aren’t informed … I can’t understand how anyone with internet access could be so ignorant.  There is no excuse people.  If you have a question, feel free to ask it in the comments and I will try to address it in the blog.  If not … GOOGLE IT.  That is my favorite phrase.  You can find the answer to just about everything if you google it.  There is no excuse for not knowing how to lose weight or get in shape safely and effectively.

Enjoy the sun!

Top ten reasons why I like to run outside

May 14th, 2009 by anjasmith

There is a time and a place for treadmills, I will admit.  But outdoor running is what made me fall in love with the sport so of course I want everyone else to try it too.  It is a completely different experience than in a gym and when people tell me they hate running, I ask them if they run inside or outside.  It is such a simple thing but it intimidates a lot of people.  So, of course, I am here to convert you. But, instead of me writing a long boring post about the morning dew and cool air I thought I would make a top ten list.  Because lists are fun!

10. The morning dew and cool air on an early run :D

9.  The scenery CHANGES.

8. When you have to give yourself a pep talk to make it up a hill, there are less people around to notice that you are talking to yourself. (come on, it can’t be just me!)

7.  You get a lot of aggression out yelling at stupid drivers who don’t want to share the road.

6. You get to work on your tan.  Granted it is a funky tan line …

5.  You can’t help but think about how you are going to find a dead body in the bushes one day.  Because it is always the early morning runners that find dead bodies in the bushes.

4. Fresh air does amazing things for your lungs. We don’t spend enough time outside.

3. You don’t have to waste gas driving to the gym, just step out of your front door!

2.If you pay attention, you see a lot of cool/random stuff.  I.E. The severed My Little Pony head around mile 2 this morning.

1. Once you get far from home you can’t just quit.  You have to finish!

Are shoes important?

May 12th, 2009 by anjasmith

Yes. They are your single most important piece of gear.

That could be the end of this post, but, that wouldn’t say much for my blogging skills.  So, I will actually give you reasons and a personal anecdote.  I have been having a hard time getting up in the mornings here lately which means that my runs have been taking place on the Greenway after work.  I usually just stuff whatever running clothes are handy into a bag in the mornings before I rush out the door.  In my disorganized state, I tend to grab whichever pair of running shoes are closest as well. Yesterday, I grabbed my least favorite pair and I felt it every step of the run.  Shoes have always been sticky for me.  I am cheap, so dropping upwards of 100 bux or more on running shoes is painful for me each and every time.  Therefore, I always try to cheat.  I really wish I would quit that.

Currently, I have three pairs of ‘running shoes’ in circulation.  I have a pair of green brooks that I was fitted for at a running store, a pair of white new balance that I picked up at Dick’s on sale and a pair of yellow Nike’s that were in the discount bin at Marshall’s … hey, they fit … sorta.  Let me just say that the difference between the shoes that I was actually fitted for and the shoes that I picked out for myself is astronomical.

The basics of shoe fitting are this: Most people tend to over or under pronate which means you roll your foot out or in when you run.  In a perfect world where everyone had perfect feet, your heel to toe strike would fall evenly down the center of your foot, in a straight line.

The reality of shoe fitting is this: GO TO A RUNNING STORE AND GET FIT FOR SHOES BY A PROFESSIONAL.  The difference in your injury and pain level in your feet and legs will be very noticable.  If you are super concerned about getting a good deal then you don’t have to actually BUY the shoes there (although it would be nice if you did, most running stores are locally owned and you should support them as they generally do great things for the community) but they do know what they are talking about.  And going to a big box sporting goods store is not a solution.  The kids that work there get a few days training, sure, but they are generally not runners or walkers and haven’t been trained in the specifics of the sport.  Bottom line is that the folks who work at running stores live and breathe the sport.  They read about new technologies and exactly what they do for your feet, they attend seminars and training camps.  And a running store will often have special machines to test your foot out and see where your weight falls. Take advantage of their hard work and obsession.

As for me, I am going to shelve my new balance and Nike’s.  At least for running*.  They will make great cross training shoes.  My legs and feet deserve better than to get stuffed into any old shoe.  Besides, it makes me feel better, run faster and go longer when I am comfortable.

* One more note: When you do get that just right pair of running shoes that you has been fitted for you … don’t use them for anything other than running.  Don’t walk around town, go to the gym or, heaven forbid, ride your bike in them.  All of those activities wear down the shoe in a different way than running and break down the sole faster.  Make your expensive shoes last!

That once familiar feeling

May 5th, 2009 by anjasmith

A common topic amongst my runner friends and I is how often we are frustrated by our bodies.  I don’t mean in a poor body image kind of way, I mean by our own inefficiencies.  My problem is usually that my upper body and my lower body have a hard time syncing.  Either my lungs and heart feel great, I won’t be winded and feel that I can run forever but my legs feel heavy and tired, or the other way around.

This morning, I had one of those great runs where everything meshed together.  Had time not been of a concern, I feel like I could have run and run and run.  I don’t know what the magic elixir is that made it all work today, but I hope to repeat it.

I have to remember that even though I have been doing this for a few years, I am still relatively young in my running career.  I have only trained for one marathon (soon to be two!) and I take some things for granted.  One thing that I know I take for granted is the kind of shape I was in for the marathon.  I feel like I have stayed active … granted I am not pulling 16 mile runs on the weekend … so, what I am saying is that I am realizing that there is a natural ebb and flow to fitness levels.  You can’t always be in marathon shape.  But keeping up a base fitness is important, because you don’t want to start at square one.

So, that base.  How do you keep it?  How does that work?  I did some research and found out.  Runner’s World makes an excellent point when they say that building a base is often overlooked because it actually comes before training.  It seems to consist of two or three days a week of speed, hill or fartlek workouts that push you to no more than 95%.  And then a long run once a week.  That sounds familiar … what … does .. that … remind … me .. oh. wait. Training.  Sounds just like training.  So, I guess the difference is that you aren’t increasing mileage and you aren’t pushing to your hardest.  I will say this for it, at least we aren’t re-inventing the wheel here.

So, I am going to build a strong base.  That is my current goal.  For the next three weeks I am going to be as consistent in my fitness and workouts as I can.  I am going to continue doing weights 3 times a week.  I am going to run 4 days a week (3 interval workouts and a longer run).  And I am going to do a spin class each week.  I am going to get into the kind of shape that is conducive to building mileage.  That way, I can start my marathon training off on the right foot.  Here we go …

If you want to read a more eloquently and expertly written article about building a base check out these links …

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267–12431-1-1-2,00.html

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244–11174-0,00.html

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244–12330-0,00.html

Food = Fuel

May 1st, 2009 by anjasmith

I have spent many a long runs chatting with my friends about what we are going to eat afterward.  Food is like the runners greatest reward.  When you run an 18 mile run, you don’t feel guilty for eating anything and everything you want for the rest of the day.  But that is a slippery slope.  Particularly if you have weight management problems, like I do.  So today I want to discuss some food issues.

The title of this post is food = fuel because I think that most of the population of America doesn’t think this way.  We think of food as a luxury or as a treat.  We look forward to meals and often make them the focus of our social interactions.  I think that some of that culture needs to change (and don’t get me wrong, I am often guilty as well).  I think that, particularly when you are in training, you need to think a great deal about what you are putting into your body and how your body is going to react to it.

Atkins and other low carb dieting has made us a nation of carb haters.  First of all, let me just get this off my chest, you should never cut out a food group*.  Food groups are there for a reason and if you have an aversion to one of those groups, such as carbs, you need to consider the vitamins and minerals that your body would normally receive from those groups and compensate in some other way.   If you are cutting out carbs, you need to consider that your bodies energy stores are going to be lower.  (Not to mention that if you are filling that void with cheese and meat then you might be ripe for a heart attack down the road.  Don’t get me started!)

Our body gets glucose from carbs.  Glucose is easily broken down by our body and is what gives us bursts of energy. This is why many runners eat a bagel with peanut butter before a run.  The bagel provides the glucose while the protein and fat from the peanut butter help sustain our blood sugar and keep us feeling full.  It doesn’t have to be a bagel with peanut butter, but, eating 30-45 minutes before you run and eating something with a good ratio of carbs to protein is a great idea.

I am very serious about my food.  I do eat a lot of treats,  and yes, I really enjoy baking.  But my meals are very balanced and are as close to the earth as I can afford to eat.  I don’t believe in packaged foods full of sodium and preservatives.  I make everything from scratch that I can.  I also realize that my passion for cooking isn’t something that most people share and that convenience is king.

I have an experiment that even the laziest of eaters can do.  For about a week, THINK about the food you are eating before you eat it.  Break down the ingredients and consider what they are doing for or against you.  You may think you are being healthy getting the salad, but sit and think about it.  Is there cheese?  Croutons?  Creamy dressing?  That salad is lying to you.  Try to fuel your body instead of feed it and you will notice a difference in the choices you make.

This is just the tip of the iceburg on this subject, but, I think it gives a general overview on my feelings about the subject.  Feel free to share with me your eating philosophy and any tips about how you stick with that.

* Before you protest and leave me nasty notes let me clear something up.  1. Meat is not a food group.  Proteins are.  I am not saying you have to eat meat.  2. I realize that some people have medical issues such as diabetes that limit their bodies ability to handle some food groups, including carbs.  However, even diabetics can not completely cut sugars out of their diets.  They do, however, have to more careful about what sugars and how much of them they eat.  Which, we should all be more careful of, by the way.

A lesson in pride

April 27th, 2009 by anjasmith

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem was, but my half marathon Saturday DID NOT GO WELL.  It could have been any or all of the reasons I am listing here:

1. Didn’t eat dinner the night before.  2. Didn’t train for 90 degree weather.  3. Didn’t sleep the night before.  4.  Ran another half three weeks before.  5. Hadn’t properly trained for the first one, let alone the second of these half marathons.  6. It is stupid to enter races that don’t show elevation maps because they are probably trying to trick you.

Let me just cut to the chase and save you the suspense … I dropped out at mile 6.  That has to be one of the most embarrassing statements I have ever uttered or typed.  I am not a quitter.

But, as embarrassing as it is for me to admit that I quit a race (and as interesting an anecdote as the whole story is),  I also stand by my decision.  The day of, in addition to feeling pretty badly most of the day, I was really hard on myself emotionally.  Everyone around me kept saying that they were proud of me for listening to my body but I just kept wondering if I could have pushed harder.  But honestly, I couldn’t.  I felt like I was going to pass out.  I was no where near prepared and I was only in mile six.

All of which lead me to this conclusion.  I WILL NEVER NOT TRAIN FOR A  RACE AGAIN.  You can hold me to that, and please do!  It’s not that I didn’t want to train, but shin splints and a busy schedule kept me from getting long runs in.  Which is when I should have decided that there are other races out there and not run.  I should have been patient. But of course, we all think we are invincible (especially us twenty somethings).  And after all, I had completed one just weeks before with little training and all that I had sacrificed was a good time.  But, that was my problem.  Along with the other five.

Train properly.  There are plenty of free resources on the web for creating customized training logs.  Follow them.  It is like a part time job, training for a marathon.  But in order to avert injury or risk to general health you have to follow the schedule.  Long runs on a regular basis and properly building stamina are the only ways to succeed and there is just no way around that.  Lesson learned.  I beg you to take my word for it.

So, as I set my sights ahead to a fall race, I have twenty weeks until the Greenville Spinx marathon on October 21st of this year.  I need to find a training schedule and follow it.  I will keep you updated on my progress.  This will be my first time training for a full by myself, without a support system of running buddies to pull those long hours with me.  But, I know I have it in me.  I have done it before and I miss the feeling of running for several hours and not feeling the pain.  Being in that kind of shape is thrilling and I can’t wait to be there again.

* I have to post-edit this entry and thank Scott for pointing out that the Greenville Spinxfest full marathon has been canceled this year.  After hearing about some of last years experiences, I don’t think I am missing out on much.  I am looking at new marathons to run.  Don’t worry, I am setting a new goal and so should you!*

I don’t jog. I run.

April 22nd, 2009 by anjasmith

Most runners cringe at the word jog.  I bring this up because there was a comment (by a comedic writer) about all those silly “joggers” in Boston the other day.  Of course, this was the cause of much outrage in the running community. The blogs and boards lit up with talk about how much we HATE THAT WORD.

I would say anyone who runs in races, expecting to win or not, is a runner.  If you train for a distance event, you are a runner.  I am sure there are tons who would disagree with that loose description.  But my point is that it isn’t about a certain speed or distance.

I tried googling “what is a runner” and mostly got a lot of drug trafficking references, which was a little disconcerting.  And a few “You might be a runner if’s … ” that were mildly funny.  But the overall consensus seems to be that it is more a state of mind than anything else.  Once you decide you are a runner, it becomes part of your identity.  To say “I am a runner” is a label and the way non-runners perceive you is an interesting thing.

As far as I am aware, I am one of two runners in my workplace.  We are seen as the “healthy folks” and are therefore assumed to not eat unhealthy food (I keep telling them I run SO I CAN eat bad food!) and to be fast (if I am asked if I won a race one more time … ).  While running does keep you in shape, I am certainly not the elite athlete that most people picture in their heads when they picture a runner.  In fact, I look nothing like a runner should.  I am a very tall, broad shouldered woman, I am not “skinny”.  But none the less, I am a runner! And I am proud of that.  John Bingham of Runnersworld.com says this: “I AM A RUNNER because I know what effort feels like, and I embrace it. I know when I’m pushing the limits of my comfort and why I’m doing it. I know that heavy breathing and an accelerated heart rate–things I once avoided–are necessary if I want to be a better runner.”

Below are the dictionary.com definitions for run and jog.  And it looks like my personal definition of “perceived level of exertion” is pretty close to accurate.  And although my pace may be slow compared to Usein Bolt’s … for me it is NOT leisurely.

RUN –verb (used without object): to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step all or both feet are off the ground.

JOG –verb (used without object): to run at a leisurely, slow pace, esp. as an outdoor exercise

I guess the take away from this is: even if you don’t look like a runner or always feel like you think a runner should, you may still be a runner.  And by embracing the label you may just turn yourself into a healthier person.  Because a runner doesn’t groan about putting in mileage, doesn’t mind getting out of bed before dark and can eat bagels without guilt. It make take a while for the mindset to completely sink in … but you can get there.  You just have to think like a runner instead of a jogger!