Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How soon is now?

This is one of my favorite songs ever.

In my clubbing days, it would come on, and my friends and I would migrate onto the dance floor to glide and swirl to the rhythms.  The track had a timelessness, and I'd lose myself in it.  No urgency, just a moment preserved, shimmering like the chords of the track.

Running's not like that, alas.


I've been injured before, and come back, though this winter was definitely my longest time off ever.  When discussing how to emotionally handle taking time off due to injury, most people focus on how to preserve one's sanity and mental balance at the time of the injury, or during cross-training.   In my opinion, those are the easy times.   Getting injured is like having a bandaid ripped off of your running dreams.   It hurts, but pain and denial are quickly replaced by acceptance and determination.

Cross-training and rehabilitation require diligence, but are balanced by the constant affirmation you get from others, the sympathy (especially if you get to wear an aircast), and fantasies of the progress you'll make once on the road again.

The initial return to running is scary in some ways.  But it's also freeing in others.  You're running, but without expectations and with gratitude and in the moment, appreciative of each step.  Quite possibly the closest you'll ever get to twirling on the dance floor.   The first workout is like that as well.  You step onto the track, uncertain of what to expect.  When you have no expectations, then it's easy to exceed them.  For the first week or two.


And then, if you're like me, your expectations make a leap.  From appreciation for what you have, to frustration with what you lack.  There's a logical, continuous progression when coming back; times will drop over the weeks of training, and gradually approach (and hopefully eventually surpass) where you were before.   And yet, we type A personalities tend to be all-or-nothing types, and so if it's not nothing (no running) than it surely must be all (same fitness pre-injury).

A big training mistake for any runner is running workouts at a level above your present fitness.  It works the wrong physiological systems, and it places additional stress on your body without any additional benefit.  At no time is this mistake easier to make than when coming back. 

You remember your pre-injury fitness and corresponding race paces, but fudge over the effort levels.  The thought process is: "well, if this is the time I raced  when I did those workouts, then if I can do those workouts now, then I can race those times...."   And so you sprint towards the paces you feel entitled to, through a minefield of injury and overtraining.


So now I'm in the danger zone -- the hardest part of the recovery for any formerly injured runner.  I'm not only "TRYING to run," but "TRYING to run smart."   I comprehend the need to run workouts within myself ("start slow, finish fast," "don't be afraid to adjust," "train, don't strain"), but when I succeed at this, I still feel that I've failed.   Every split that doesn't hit or surpass an impractical standard becomes an insult.   Did I maybe not work hard enough in the pool?  Am I maybe not tough enough anymore

I have discovered that part of the key to this issue is re-aiming my perfectionist nature.  I can't eliminate that personality quirk, but I can play mental games like setting pace ceilings on workouts (first mile or interval must be no faster than "#.##"), and then trying to hit those on the nose.  It's working to some extent (especially if I make sure to verbally commit to it beforehand, so I can't back out -- which I'm sure will rapidly annoy those I run with).  But there's still the wondering -- isn't this supposed to hurt more? You remind yourself that you're returning from an injury, but then... maybe I'm just a slacker.

The progress is there.  But you don't want the journey. You want the destination.  And so you keep asking:

When you say it's gonna happen "now"
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long...

Morrissey and Johnny Marr, "How Soon is Now?Performed by The Smiths on Meat is Murder, 1985.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Training log - Week ending 3/27/11

This week was 40 miles of “real running” and 75 “miles” pool running -- training log is here.

Still working on keeping stuff slower -- my rule for the tempos right now is to do the first mile no faster than 7:00, and slower is fine. For some reason, this makes the tempo HARDER from a perceived effort standpoint -- I can't quite explain it, but running a slightly slower pace seems to stress a different system that's a lot weaker (and needs to be strengthened). Oddly enough, this gives me confidence to keep running them slower -- clearly it's hitting something.

Of course, I had every intent of keeping the brakes on on Tuesday as well, but failed to do so. This ended up being a major issue, as I was having breathing issues -- for some reason, when I get in trouble or start to strain, my natural instinct is to pick the speed up. In this case, it resulted in me crashing.

Need to keep things slower. I may shoot for at least starting whatever next week's workout is at 5K-10K pace (or even tempo pace, if it's a longer interval), and then upping from there.

As I noted, my breathing has been a problem this week. As always, the symptoms are almost EXACTLY like asthma (feel like I'm breathing through a straw). However, the pulmonary department at GW University has tested my lungs thoroughly, and told me it's not. Rather, it's broncho-spasms (like to what happens with asthma) that are triggered by irritation to my esophagus, generally from acid reflux, though high pollen seems to do it as well (apparently asthma is brocho-spasms triggered by something else). High pollen on Tuesday made me feel horrible, while low pollen counts on Wednesday and Sunday had me feeling fantastic (Friday was somewhere in the middle).

I have an inhaler, which helps the immediate issue (calms down the broncho-spasm), but also irritates my esophagus, perpetuating the acid reflux problem over time. The plan right now is go back to using the inhaler for races -- hopefully such limited use won't cause me too much issue.


Monday: In the morning, "5 miles" – 50 minutes easy pool-running (got kicked out due to lightning, so used the balance of the time to do an extended foam roller/stretching session). "7 more miles" of easy pool-running (70 minutes) in the evening.

Tuesday: In the morning, 6.5 miles on the track. Did a 1.75 mile warm-up plus drills and strides, then a track workout. For some reason, my breathing was a real issue this morning. My lungs weren't clogged, but I felt like they simply weren't working well at extracting oxygen. I had a bad feeling about the workout when I was gasping during my strides, but you never know until you try, so I gave the workout a shot, figuring I could just go slower.

That was the plan, anyway. The prescribed workout was 2x(1600, 800, 800) with half-distance recoveries. I was shooting to do the first mile between 6:20-26, then the two 800m repeats in about 3:03 each, and then push a bit harder from there. Actual workout: 6:15, 3:01, 3:04, and then 3:14 as coach shut me down halfway through the second mile. Again I went out too hard, and paid the price. The 6:15 didn't feel all that hard, but by the second 800m repeat I could tell I was in real trouble. I didn't protest too much when he pulled me, though I was frustrated with both my mental discipline and my stupid lungs. Weird thing is that the heart rate monitor indicates that my heart rate never got out of tempo range even though I was struggling. This wasn't a fitness issue, but an air delivery issue.

Annoyed. Did a few more easy laps on the track, then hit the pool for "6.5 miles" of pool-running/pondering my sins. In the evening, a weights session with a personal trainer, followed by "4.5 miles" of easy pool-running (45 minutes).

Wednesday: In the morning, 11.5 miles outside at easy pace (8:46), followed by "2 miles” of easy pool-running (20 minutes, just to shake stuff out), and then some leg strengthwork. "8 miles" of easy pool-running in the afternoon.

Thursday: In the morning, strength-training and then "11.5 miles" – 1:55 hours easy pool-running. In the evening, "3 miles" of easy pool-running (30 minutes)

Friday: In the morning, 8 miles on the track, including a 2 mile warm-up, strides and drills, and then a 4 mile tempo at 6:57 pace (7:12/6:52/6:53/6:48 for 27:45) followed by a 2 mile cool-down and then "6.5 miles" of easy pool running (1:05 hours). Pilates class in the afternoon, plus some quick leg strengthwork.

Saturday: "12 miles" of easy pool-running (2 hours) in the morning, plus a mile of land-running (running along the course watching the National Half). Light strength-training in the afternoon.

Sunday: 13 miles outside on the Mount Vernon trail. Did a half-mile very easy, then a break for a team photo shoot, and then 5.5 miles out at about 8:00 pace, followed by 6 miles back at what the Garmin says was 7:05 pace (but probably closer to 7:10), and then an easy mile cool-down. The entire run felt very good (I note the pollen count of 2). Followed with "9 miles" of easy pool-running (1:30 hours). Also a yoga class at night.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pillow talk

It all started with the sciatica about 10 years ago.   And my reading that a pillow between the legs when sleeping could alleviate the symptoms.  Tried it, it worked great, and I've thus been sleeping with a pillow between my legs ever since.

And there was also the Raynauds and circulation issues -- most notably the way my body temperature drops miserably low in the evenings.   I found a bit of happiness in a heated mattress pad and electric blanket, even in the summer.

Then, this past year I started having more and more issues with my lower legs -- specifically calf tightness, plantar fascitis, achilles tendonitis, posterior tibial tendonitis.  The prescription for all of these is the same -- nocturnal use of the Strassburg Sock or other night splint variant.  I tried it, it helped, and so I've been sleeping in splints each night.

Are you keeping track?  That's a pillow between the legs, plus a heating pad, plus night splints.


Last summer, I was diagnosed with inflammation of my esophagus resulting in asthma-like symptoms when running.  One of the recommendations was to prop my torso up with 2-3 pillows.  This one worked as well, so I added it into the mix.

So, we're up to 4.  Leg pillow, heating pad, night splints, torso propped up.

Of course, there's been other things on occasion.  The pillow I propped my leg up with when I broke my foot, to reduce swelling and promote healing.  The wearing of compression socks to ease sore calves.  Yet another pillow I stuffed under my side at my waist to address back pain last fall.

Yes, at one point I had pillows under my upper torso, back, and foot, as well as between my knees -- it got to the point of pointlessness -- if everything's elevated, then nothing's elevated.


And then, there's the cat.

Little Mina was adopted from the local rescue about 11 years ago, and has decided that I'm mom.  She's pretty much inseparable from me when I'm home, and this includes in bed at night.   She likes to a) curl up on top of the pillow against my head, and b) knead the back of my neck with her claws.  For at least 10 minutes at a time.  There's no stopping this second action.  I've pushed her away again and again; no good.  Lock her out of the room, and she cries all night long.  So, there's really only one answer.

I sleep with a towel or blanket wrapped around my head, so that she can knead that.

Yup, that's 5.  Leg pillow, heated bed, night splint, torso propped up, and head towel.  Takes me a while to prep for bed.  Good thing I'm a deep and sound sleeper, huh?


But dammit, I'm not a princess.   I have NEVER in my life worn an eye mask.

Though now that I think about it, I do kinda want an altitude tent...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On the Belt

One of the biggest debates in pool-running (and we debate a lot -- what else can you do with all that time in the water?) is whether an aqua-jogging belt is useful or not, and how relevant the belt is to the effort expended.  It's almost the equivalent of the barefoot running debate.

My conclusion, after thinking about this way too much, is "it depends."

[I'm referring to my thoughts about the belt and pool-running.  I have strong thoughts about barefoot running as well, but will keep those to myself for now, save the observation that I think barefoot is the best choice when running in the pool]


Not all pool-runners are alike.  You can broadly split us into the categories of "sinker" or "floater," with many pool-runners occupying a place somewhere in the middle between the two extremes.  I have a few friends who are floaters, bobbing effortlessly in the water sans belt.  On the other hand, I am a sinker, who quickly falls below the surface even with my belt on if I stop "running" and attempt to float.   It's a bit extreme, to the point where I have to hang onto the side of the pool if I'm going to adjust my hair, etc, since my chin sinks below the water as soon as my effort level drops.   Those disclosures stating that the belt is "not a life saving device"? Written for those like me (lawyers who sink).
It's comforting to know that I would have been found innocent had I been accused of witchcraft in historic times, but the badge of innocence is apparently a puffy belt around the abdomen.

My observation is that whether one sinks or floats seems NOT to be correlated to one's body shape or one's running ability (or to one's relative innocence on the stage of life).  The one common factor that I have noted among those who pool-run successfully without the belt is a competitive swimming background -- it's nearly universal to those who can pool-run belt-free. Perhaps this is due to a greater comfort level in the water, or an intuitive understanding of how to move efficiently.  Or maybe those who are more buoyant in the water naturally gravitate towards swimming.

Of course, my comment above begs the question: what does it mean to "pool-run successfully"?   IMHO, it's being able to preserve your land-running fitness while pool-running.  And so, the key question then becomes: does the belt help or hurt when trying to preserve running fitness?

The answer, again (IMHO) is "it depends."


I've come to the conclusion that, for most people, pool-running without a belt is a sufficient but not necessary condition for a good workout.   It's sufficient, in that beltless pool-running forces one to maintain a certain minimum level of effort in the pool, rather than drift off as can be so easy at times.   But it's not essential -- a bit of continual mental prompting can result in the same effort level.

And on the extreme, true floaters may have to continually spur themselves to keep the effort up, even without the belt.

However, there is a big caveat for those of us who are true sinkers.  In my case, attempting to pool-run without the belt is simultaneously comical and futile.  I am completely unable to maintain my head above water at any effort level without losing my pool-running form and swapping to the doggie-paddle.    At this point, I'm not really pool-running anymore.  I'm using my arms way too much and also hunching my shoulders -- both are bad running habits that I also indulge in on land, and I'm loathe to reinforce them in the water.   The heart rate may be up, but the activity is no longer as running-specific.

So, I choose to wear the belt.  On easy days I am continually mentally prompting myself to keep the effort upbeat; on harder days the belt frees me from concerns about sinking, so I can push the workout to a high intensity while still taking care to mimic running form closely (and I can practice holding a very high effort while keeping my shoulders relaxed, which is a good habit to bring back onto land).


As I overthink this more, I'm thinking that there really is an acid test for whether one should run with a belt, and it's not all that much different from the sink-or-swim test applied to witches of yore.

Go into the pool with a belt on.  Go absolutely motionless, and see if you sink, and how far.

If you quickly sink completely below the surface, as I do, then my sympathies -- you're a sinker.   My humble suggestion is that you wear the belt for all your pool-runs, both easy/recovery runs and hard efforts, so you can focus on form and effort without being distracted by drowning concerns.

If, on the other hand, you can maintain your chin above water with no or minimal effort while wearing a belt, then the temptation is stronger to slack off when wearing the belt -- it may make sense to go without the belt for some or all of your runs, so as to keep up the effort.  But, make sure you're not mistaking doggie-paddling for pool-running -- a friend who is a good runner, a former swimmer, and a beltless aquajogger has noted that doggie-paddling is the error she most often sees in those who try to run without the belt.

And if you're one of those special ones who floats motionless without the belt, then congratulations -- you'll never have to fight with others over the pile of belts at one corner of the pool deck.   But do remember that your natural flotation means that you have to be every bit as vigilant about not slacking off as the rest of us, even though you're beltless.

If you're a floater, go ahead and gloat a bit. You unquestionably look cooler than I, and many will presume that you're getting a better workout.   But several months of pool-running with the belt have demonstrated to me that I can keep my fitness up with the belt, so I'm not that competitive about the belt anymore (though still a bit jealous).  And, the belt gives me a place for my waterproof iPod, so there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Training log - Week ending 3/20/11

This week was 35 miles of “real running” and 80 “miles” pool running -- training log is here.

I felt very off for much of this week, which I attribute to a combination of post-race fatigue, allergies, and what I'll euphemistically call "female issues" (TMI, but need to be noted in the log because they REALLY knocked me for a loop this week, more than they normally do). So, intentionally toned down Tuesday's pool interval workout to what felt like 10K effort. By Friday's tempo, I was feeling almost OK. Even so, I opted to keep the tempo slower anyway, as I plan to do for the next few weeks.

Thing is, I know that a) my past training history indicates that I respond best to longer, slower tempos; b) I have been having issues with going out too fast in all my workouts and races; and c) I've fallen into the mental trap of trying to run each tempo faster than the previous -- not good. I have a bad habit with getting into a cycle where I redline my workouts instead of running them within myself. When I do this, I see great improvement for a few weeks, and then I burn out, or get sick, or get injured.

So, I'm breaking the cycle now, by giving myself a target time for the first mile of each tempo, and by deliberately keeping the effort below my anaerobic threshold, even if that means that some weeks I'm slower than others. Likewise with the longer progression run, where I'm trying to keep the pace to marathon pace or slower. As for interval workouts, I'll aim to run them controlled, with hopefully a slight cut-down in the pace for each repetition (though I reserve the right to redline the last one if I feel good).


Monday: In the morning, "12 miles" – 2 hours easy pool-running. Massage plus "2.5 more miles" of easy pool-running (25 minutes) in the evening.

Tuesday: In the morning, 4 miles easy outside on the track (8:48 pace) plus drills and strides, followed by "8.5 miles" of pool-running, including a "track workout" of 10x3:00 hard, 1:00 easy. Since I was feeling a bit off, I opted to keep the pool intervals at an easier effort than they normally would have been.

In the evening, a weights session with a personal trainer, followed by "3 miles" of easy pool-running (30 minutes).

Wednesday: In the morning, 10 miles outside at easy pace (8:42), followed by "7.5 miles” of easy pool-running (1:15 hours). Yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, strength-training and then "12 miles" – 2 hours easy pool-running.

Friday: In the morning, 6.5 miles on the track, including a 2 mile warm-up, strides and drills, and then a 4.5 mile tempo at 6:49 pace, followed by "7.5 miles" of easy pool running (1:15 hours). Pilates class in the afternoon, plus some quick leg strengthwork.

Saturday: "13.5 miles" of easy pool-running (2:15 hours) in the morning. Light strength-training in the afternoon.

Sunday: 14 miles outside, done as a progression run (towpath+Rock Creek). Prescription was: first 1/3rd at marathon pace+1:30; second 1/3rd at marathon pace+0:45, and final 1/3 at marathon pace. 7:15 seemed like an appropriate MP for my running buddy and I, so we shot for 4 miles at 8:45, 4 miles at 8:00, and 4 miles at 7:15. Actual workout was 4 miles at 8:33, 4 miles at 7:40, and 5 miles at 7:12 (Gustavo dropped off at 12 miles, so I did an extra mile at pace and then cooled down to get to 14). So, we either ran the first 2/3rds too fast, or alternately we should have planned to run the final third at closer to 7:00 pace. Overall it felt like a good run -- I managed to keep the run solidly aerobic, without getting too close to my lactate threshold.

Followed with "13.5 miles" of easy pool-running (2:15 hours).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I can stop anytime I want...

[written as the St. Patricks Day drunken revelers loudly carouse outside my front door]

My boyfriend/sig other/better half/love-o-my-life is a smoker.   Many people (especially running friends) are surprised by our relationship and the apparent contrast.  How, they ask me, can someone as "healthy" as me, date a smoker?

My answer is that I don't consider my running and supporting fitness activity a healthy endeavor; rather it's a compulsion that I indulge in on a daily basis.  I allow him his addictions without judgment or nagging, just as he allows me mine.

It's at this point that the conversation usually dies, sometimes with a nervous laugh if the others are fellow runners.  After all, everyone knows that runners are paragons of virtue and health, right?

I disagree.   It's not health, it's fitness, and there's a difference.


There's no doubt in my mind that in some ways I am less healthy now than I have been at other, more sedentary times in my life.  Sure, I can run decently fast for a decent period of time and lift decently heavy stuff.  My resting heart rate's in the basement, and my body fat's supposedly as low as I should let it get. So I'm fit.  But with that fitness comes physical therapy bills, podiatrist bills, orthopedist bills.  And the head cold I get every time I taper for a race, and the rundown feeling I associate with peak training weeks, and the bad cough I get after every hard workout.
And it's not something that we do because it's good for us; it's something that we do because it fulfills a need within us, even when it's not in our best interest.  Someone who smokes will huddle outside in all matter of foul weather for a cigarette; I find it hard to criticize the smoker when I'm running track workouts in 20 degree weather or a hard cold rain.  At least the smoker is out there for less time.


It's interesting to lurk on different runner blogs and fora, and read the comments.  I could post something like:

"felt really sick and my left shin hurts like a bitch and there was a lightning storm outside, but I got that run done and hit my 90 miles for the week" 

and my runner friends would respond:

"way to stay strong and tough it out"

"good week"

"wow for running in the storm!  So dedicated!"

We're hooked, and we enable each other.  We meet in groups to feed our addictions, anxious at first, and then calmer and more sociable as the endorphins flow like candy.

For competitive runners, coaches aren't so much drill sergeants as substance abuse counselors.  While the majority of the population may hire personal trainers or go to fitness classes to be pushed, we (generally after periods of injured-related frustration) hire coaches to talk us out of suspect training decisions, to tell us that we're running too fast.  To keep us from literally working ourselves past the point of health.


I have a group of friends/teammates that I meet regularly for pool-running sessions.  About a week ago, one of us didn't show.  She later explained that she had decided that she needed a day off, and noted in passing that sometimes it was much harder to ease back than to push.

We all knew exactly what she meant.  Didn't stop the rest of us, though.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pool-running for the non-injured - pluses and minuses

So, with my first race this past weekend, I consider myself to have graduated from "recovering injured runner" to "out of practice/trying to improve runner."

*knock on wood*

I'm still doing a lot of pool-running, though.  Whereas before I trained off of fairly high mileage (70-90 MPW), now I'm only at 30 miles per week on land, with the balance of my mileage in the water.  And I never would have believed it before, but it seems to be working.

I have noted many benefits to using pool-running as a cross-training for the non-injured runner.  So, what the heck, why not list them here (along with some minuses).

  • Post-race recovery. The biggest benefit that I've noted has been in my recovery from workouts.  It's really amazing, but an easy pool-run of at least 30 minutes seems to work better for post-workout/race recovery than anything else I've ever tried (including massage, ice bath, shake-out run, or any of the above together).   I think it's due to the combination of a) the coolness of the water; b) the pressure of the water forcing circulation; and c) the gentle active stretching that comes from moving your legs through their full range of motion in the water.
    It's really uncanny.  I've found that it works well for weight-training as well -- I can do a heavy weight-training session, and eliminate almost all muscle soreness by hopping in the pool within a few hours post-weights.  And easy pool-running sessions immediately after a track workout mean fresh legs the next morning.  It's absolutely amazing, and I don't say that often.
  • Recovery "runs".   One of the tried and true tenets of competitive running is to keep your hard days hard, and your easy days easy.  Put another way, your workouts are your prime focus, and everything else is recovery from those.  Extra mileage helps, but only if it doesn't detract from your workouts.
    Thing is, when running those extra miles, it's hard to keep them slow enough to truly recover.  Sometimes it's ego -- you don't want to log actually running as slow as your body needs; other times it's that you're in a hurry, and trying to fit in x number of miles and still finish in time to prep for a conference call.
    Pool-running makes it very easy to keep your easy days easy.  There's no pace to log, so you feel more free to lower the intensity to what feels right.  And since you do pool-running by time rather than distance, there's really no way to hurry it up, and so no urge to push the pace.
    Though I can honestly say I've always tried to keep my easy days easy, it's a lot easier to do so when subbing pool-running for land.
  • Injury avoidance.  Obviously, subbing pool-running for recovery runs reduces your chances of aggravating a nascent injury incurred during your previous workout.  But, there's another, more subtle benefit.  The more you pool-run and begin to trust that it works, the more willing you become to hop into the pool at the first sign of injury, rather than toughing out runs so that you don't get behind in your training.  And that's very good for reducing the risk of setbacks.
  • Increased volume.  Due to the lack of impact, you can also sustain a much higher workload in the pool than you can on land.  This is crucial for people like me, who a) benefit from a high volume of low intensity work, but b) don't seem to be able to handle the impact associated with that volume.  If I could build up to and handle 100MPW without injury, I think that would be best for me.  But I don't believe I can (based on past experience) and the pool-running works wonderfully as a second best option.
  • Appreciation of what you have.  Once you've spent a ton of time stuck in the pool, every run outside seems like a gift, not a chore.   I've never found it so easy to step out of the door in 20 degree weather or harsh winds.  Track workouts are treats, especially since pool-running workouts, if done correctly, hurt worse and for longer than anything you do on land.
    And, you really can't justify skipping a run due to rain when your alternative is pool-running.  You're going to be just as soaked either way!
  • Non-running benefits.  Get a waterproof iPod or similar, and the hours of pool-running give you an opportunity to catch up on your favorite podcasts (I choose not to run outside with an iPod due to safety concerns, so I can't use long solo runs this way).  
    Benefit #2 is the substantial reduction in shoe expenses that accompanies the reduction in land mileage (though this may be countered by the need to purchase new bathing suits, plus pool fees).  
    There's also a cosmetic benefit.  I've suffered from bad acne nearly my entire life, and this is the first time that my facial skin has been consistently, beautifully clear.  The fact that I no longer need my Retin-A is huge (and a cost saving that more than offsets any new bathing suit).
There are, of course, a few minuses.
  • Tedium.  Yes, you're running more or less in place.  Yes, you're seeing the same walls for hours.  There are a few ways to address this though, and it also gets easier the more you do it.
  • Lack of mental toughness.  While pool-running workouts do hurt MORE than land-running workouts, they also hurt in a slightly different way.  Your lungs burn more on land even with the lowered effort, and the legs hurt differently.  Your first tempo or track workout or race will be an unaccustomed shock, and you need to be prepared for that.
  • Lack of physical toughness.  Running is a high-impact sport, and there's no getting around that.   Pool-running does nothing to prepare your bones and tendons for handling impact, and the difference is miserably clear when you first return to land-running.  As a corollary, pool-running clearly does very little to encourage bone-strengthening, since it is non-impact -- this is a concern to those of us with bone density issues.
    I also can tell my lack of land-mileage at the end of tempos and races -- when I fatigue, my legs lose their strength and my form disintegrates much quicker than before, when I held a much higher mileage.  I suspect that long progressive runs are key to addressing this.
  • Pacing.   Quite simply, my ability to accurate gauge my pace when running (which I used to be so proud of) has gone to heck.  I attribute this to several things:
    • When you're running in place, your inner GPS atrophies. You never have the opportunity to practice pacing when pool-running, and so you lose your feel for how effort translates to distance travelled. 
    • Using pool-running for your recovery means that your legs are deceptively fresh for your running days.  In past days my legs were continually tired from high mileage, and thus functioned as a natural regulator.  Now, my legs feel bouncy and zippy, and continually tempt me.
    • As mentioned above, pool-running workouts are done at a much harder effort than land, in order to get the same benefit.  When one first returns to track workouts, it's very hard to remember to tone back the effort level appropriately.  Thus, you go out too hard, trying to hit a level of effort that is no longer necessary.
On the whole, I have to say that the benefits outweigh the minuses, which can be compensated for.  It's a huge tool to use in one's training, and I view my discovery of the benefits of pool-running for a competitive runner to have been part of the silver-lining to my broken foot.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Training log - Week ending 3/13/11

This week was 29 miles of “real running” and 72 “miles” pool running -- training log is here.

Good week overall, but capped off by a meh race (report is here). Oh well. I take the lessons I've learned from it, and move on. After sulking a bit first.


Monday: "12 miles" – 2 hours easy pool-running.

Tuesday: In the morning, my first track intervals workout back. 2 miles easy warm-up; drills and strides; and then 6x800m with 400m jogging recovery – splits were 2:59, 3:00, 3:01, 3:00, 3:02, and 3:01. So right where I wanted them, with the exception of the first (ooops). Felt darn good to be out there, even if my form was breaking down at the end (definitely, 6 was the right number, no more). Followed with "7 miles" of easy pool-running (70 minutes).

In the evening, a weights session with a personal trainer, followed by fancy corporate dinner thing.

Wednesday: In the morning, "14 miles” of easy pool-running (2:20 hours). Yoga class at night.

Thursday: In the morning, 9 miles easy outside (8:33 pace), followed by strength-training and then "5.5 miles" easy pool-running (55 minutes). In the evening, "4.5 more miles" of easy pool-running – 45 minutes.

Friday: In the morning, 5.5 easy miles (8:45 pace) (met up with a group at the conference I attended for a "networking run"), followed by some strides, as well as "12 miles" of easy pool running (2 hours). Pilates class in the afternoon.

Saturday: "7.5 miles" of easy pool-running (1:15 hours).

Sunday: 3 mile warm-up, then 8K race in 33:55 (6:49 pace). Later "9.5" very easy miles pool-running (1:35 hours).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The obligatory pool-running tracklist post

[well, not really]

From time to time, people post lists of "great running songs", "good tempo songs", etc.  I've always been reluctant to do so, as I think music is very individual.

Assemblage 23's "I am the Rain" spoke to me deeply in the early days of my injury/pool-running saga, as I processed my frustrations with myself and my failed training.  But I'm guessing this track doesn't mean much to my pool-running buddies, or to anyone glancing at this blog.  And likewise, when others post tracklists to their blogs, most times it's meaningless to me -- just words on a page, not the compilation of feelings and emotions that they are to the original poster.

Music is very personal and individual.  What motivates me is noise to you.

That being said, there are a few tracks that come up on my iPod's shuffle function from time to time while pool-running that seem worthy of note.

  • The track that makes you certain your iPod is mocking you: Pretty much any track that references water, rain, oceans, drowning, etc... -- you never realize how many of them there are until you're pool running with your iPod on shuffle.   Rotersand's "By The Waters" does send me for a loop ("meet you by the waters/ To dance beneath the waves...")
  • Most surreally appropriate track: Pink Floyd - "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2" (best played while the high school kids walk to the end of the diving board and jump, one by one).
  • Most discordant track when using a pool in Arlington, VA: NWA - "Straight Outta Compton"
  • The track that the artist never envisioned you pool-running to, but probably wouldn't care: The Sex Pistols - "Anarchy in the UK"
  • The track that the artist never envisioned you pool-running to, and probably would be highly mortified: The Cruxshadows - "Marilyn My Bitterness"
  • The track that works remarkably well for pool-running: Dirty Vegas - "Days Go By"
  • The track that does NOT work at all for pool-running: Nine Inch Nails - "The Perfect Drug" (29/8 time signature and sections with a BPM of 269)
  • The track that you think at first will work for pool-running, but really REALLY doesn't: Moby - "Thousand"
  • The track that you probably don't want to start mouthing the lyrics to: Lords of Acid - "I Must Increase My Bust" (or anything by LOA)
  • The track that inspires you to push onward: The Shamen - "Move Any Mountain"
  • The track that you skip to, simply because it's so long that you should be done with your pool-run before it ends: Underworld - "Born Slippy (long)" (or anything by Rush)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Training log - Week ending 3/06/11

This week was 31 miles of “real running” and 81 “miles” pool running -- training log is here.

I decided to test running back to back days this week, by doing 2 very slow gentle miles on the track on Tuesday, and then my regular easy run on Wednesday (up until now, I've always been taking at least one day off between runs). No achiness; so far so good. I don't think that I'll be running every day for a long time, if ever, but I'm thinking I can probably start shifting to 4 days a week outside/ 3 pool-running only.

A lot of fatigue this week, but the workouts themselves felt good. I'm thinking the fatigue is not because of my running workload, but other things (took a major certification exam on Tuesday that I had been studying for since December; and had dental work done on Wednesday). So, made a point to rest more and keep the easy days really easy (including stepping out of my yoga class early in order to get more sleep).

The tempo on Friday was a confidence booster. 5 weeks ago, I did my first tempo as 2 miles in 13:19. On Friday, I did the same, but as the second half of a 4 mile tempo (preceded by 2 miles in 13:33). So, I'm thinking this shows some advancement. The long run on Sunday felt even better – apparently I did 7 miles at 7 minute mile pace (I don't trust the Garmin per se, but the splits I took using mile markers back this up). I just need to NOT get greedy now.


Monday: "12 miles" – 2 hours easy pool-running.

Tuesday: In the morning, 2 miles of easy running outside on the track (8:40 pace), followed by “13 miles” of pool-running, including a “track 800s workout” of 10x3:00 at hard effort, with 1:00 recovery, followed by full recovery, and then 10 more sharp hard intervals of 1:30 very hard; 1:00 recovery.

In the evening, a weights session with a personal trainer, followed by 40 minutes easy pool-running for “4 more miles”.

Wednesday: In the morning, 9 miles easy outside (8:33 pace), followed by “6 miles” of easy pool-running (1 hour). Abbreviated yoga class at night (was feeling pretty beat, so did the intro and then stepped out)

Thursday: Light strength-training followed by "12 miles" easy pool-running (2 hours). In the evening, "3 more miles" of easy pool-running – 30 minutes.

Friday: In the morning, 6 miles at the track, including 2 mile warm-up, and then a 4 mile tempo (averaged 6:43; splits were 6:49/6:44/6:40/6:38). I made the effort to start slow, and it really paid off. My stomach cramped at the 2.5 mile mark (as it has been every hard run), but I managed to work through it. Followed up with "8 miles" easy pool-running – 1:20 hours in the pool. Pilates class in the afternoon.

Saturday: In the morning, "12.5 miles" easy pool-running (2:05 hours); upper body strength-training in the afternoon.

Sunday: Started with a long run of 14 miles outside, averaging 7:45 pace, split as: 7 miles out at 8:30 pace, (5 minute water break), and then 7 miles back averaging 6:58 pace. I don't find the Garmin pace reading totally reliable, but I did use mile markers to take splits for the last 2 miles of the run, and averaged 6:50 for those, so maybe the 6:58 isn't too off. Followed with "10.5 miles" easy pool-running – 1:45 hours in the pool.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Supplemental Maintenance for pool-running, part 2 (above the knee)

As I mentioned in part 1, I've found that my pool-running has increased the strength of some muscles (hip flexors especially), but that my calves and feet, as well as my posterior chain -- erector spinae-glutes-hamstrings -- weakened while I was in the pool, due to the reduced resistance. 

I've done a whole slew of exercises focused on remedying this.  In the last post I focused on feet and calves; here I'll detail what I've found most effective and time-efficient for the muscles above the knee, as well as a few additional general exercises.

Glutes and Posterior Chain:
  • Reverse planks -- These target the erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings.   Basically, you lie on your back, legs straight in front of you, then prop yourself up on your elbows, with your lower arms parallel to your torso.  Then fire the glutes (don't forget to engage your abs) and lift your rear off of the ground, so that you have a straight line from shoulder to heel, with your only points of contact with the ground being the back of your heels and your lower arms (including elbows).   Here's what it should look like (I hate "fit sugar", but the graphic is a good one).
    Once you're in this position, you can either hold it for a set period of time, or do leg lifts, per the graphic linked above.  When I was first out of the aircast, I worked my way up to holding it for 2 intervals of 50 seconds each.   Right now, I consider myself to be more in "maintenance," so I limit myself to holding this position and doing 5 leg lifts with each leg each morning.
  • Hamstring ball curls -- Lie on your back like you were going to do reverse planks, but with your feet on an exercise ball (I like to mix up different sizes, as each works slightly different muscles).   Then fire your glutes, and lift your rear off the floor.  The next step is to use your hamstrings to roll the ball in towards your rear, and back out (the abs will get a decent workout stabilizing).  This is a good demonstration video (I do try to keep my pelvis higher than she does). I usually perform 1-3 sets of 20; I do skip this one the evening before a hard running workout.
  • Stool dips -- These are a great exercise that target the glutes and quads, but also get the feet and lower legs.  I place a balance pad on a 12 inch plyo box.  I then balance on top of the box/pad on one leg, with the other leg held straight and extended in front of the box.  Then, I bend the knee on my standing leg and perform a controlled single leg squat until the heel on the other leg gently touches the ground, then rise back up. 
    It's sort of like a pistol except a) I'm on top of the balance pad (making it harder) and b) my extended leg is pointed downwards and the range of motion less (making it easier).  10 on each side; 2-3 times a week at a minimum.
  • Sliders -- another glute exercise.  Find a wall with a smooth surface.  Then remove your shoes (keep your socks on), and lie down on your side facing away from the wall, with both your hips and shoulders about a fist-width's away from the wall, and your legs straight and stacked on top of each other.
    Take the heel of your top leg, and press back into the wall firmly (focus on firing your glute).  Now slide your top foot up and down the wall by lifting and lowering the top leg, firing the glute the entire time to push your heel agaist the wall and give resistance.  When I was in the aircast, I was religious about this one.  Now?  I should do this one every day; I usually only get to it 2-3 days a week. 
  • Headstand leg lift -- I picked this one up when I was playing Capoeira a few years back.  This gets your lower back, and also your glutes and abs.  To do this one, get into headstand position, then lower your feet to the floor, keeping your legs straight, and raise them back into full headstand.   Better explanation here.  It's a similar exercise to back extensions, but targets the back and abs more and the glutes less, doesn't require access to a gym, and is much more fun.  I do these at least once a week.
A few other things:
  • Balance on ball -- This is a fun one.   Find an exercise ball (bigger is better here, and an under-inflated ball will make this significantly harder).  Then balance on top of the ball on your knees while swinging light weights with your hands in a motion that simulates running. 
    This isn't so much a strengthening exercise as a balance and coordination exercise.  Thus you want to keep the weights fairly light: just heavy enough that they disrupt your balance slightly when you swing them, and you have to focus to avoid falling.
    It may sound intimidating at first, but it's really not that hard.  I would start learning this one by simply getting comfortable balancing on hands and knees on top of an exercise ball.  Then progress to balancing on your knees only, and then to balancing on your knees while swinging your arms.  Then add in light weights.
    I like this one because it forces the glutes and abs to work together to stabilize you in the same way they do when running -- I did this every day as soon as I came out of the aircast, and I think it helped with my return to running.
    I do this one at least twice a week (3-5 sets of 20 arm swings).  You can actually integrate this into a solid routine with the following sequence: a) balance on balls and swing weights; b) put the weights down and walk your upper body out, so that you're now in plank position with your feet on the ball; c) do a set of push ups; d) walk your body back in.
  • Stretching -- As Katie noted in a comment to my previous post, the hip flexors get VERY tight when pool-running; and Beth noted something similar with regard to calves/feet. Yup, IMHO it is essential to stretch both hip flexors and calves on a daily basis if you're pool-running a ton.  And getting some professional massage work done to release those muscles ain't a bad idea either.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Supplemental maintenance for pool running (part 1)

OK, I'm sold on the pool-running as a way of preserving basic fitness.  However, it's not the exact same as running, and I've found that there are certain areas that need to be supplemented.  More specifically, pool-running differs from land-running in two ways:

1) your feet push off against less resistance than they would on land (water only, as opposed to a firm surface)

2) your knees lift against more resistance than they would on land (lifting against water, not just air).

As a result, I've found that my hip flexors have gotten greatly strengthened by pool-running, with the happy consequence that my running form's improved -- I'm no longer the shuffler I once was.  However, I've also developed weaknesses in other areas, due to the reduced resistance. 

I've been doing a ton of different exercises to address this.  I'm outlining them in two posts, in case they're helpful to anyone else. 

First, I'll focus on my feet and calves, since those got practically no work in the water.

Foot and Lower Leg Strength Exercises:
  • Towel curls to strengthen feet -- lay a towel on the floor, and then attempt to "scrunch" it up with your toes..  You need a flat smooth surface for this -- wall to wall carpet won't work.  I do this for 2 minutes each morning with each foot in my kitchen while waiting for my oatmeal to cook - multi-tasking FTW.
  • Rocks -- this is another foot-strengthener -- I have a collection of pebbles in a jar, and I dump them out, then pick them up one by one with my toes. I do this 2-3 times a week.
  • Funny Walk -- This strengthens both the calves and shins (especially the anterior tibialis).  I walk around on my toes for a set period of time, then on my heels for a set period of time (started at 15 seconds for each, and worked my way up to 45 seconds).  I did this daily when I first got the aircast off - I've gradually backed off, and now do 1-2 times a week.
  • Ankle Eversion/Inversion with theraband (those latex stretchy bands) -- tie a loop in one end of a theraband, then tie the other end to something.  Now, stick your foot into the loop, so that the band is around the foot roughly half-way between toes and heel.  Move far enough back that there is tension in the band, then slowly first "invert" your foot against resistance (move the inside of your foot more to the inside) for a set of reps, then "evert" your foot (move the outside of your foot more to the outside).  I do 20 reps each of inversion and eversion on each foot, for 80 reps total, on a daily basis. (here's another article explaining).   These work the anterior tibialis and the posterior tibialis.
  • Windmills -- I like this one a lot, because it strengthens your feet and lower legs, but also works your glutes, quads, and core.  To do it, you need two small traffic cones.  Basically, you balance on the left foot (right held up) while holding a cone in each hand. Steps are:
    • Perform a single leg squat while rotating your torso to the right, reaching across with the right hand to place a cone on the floor at "10 o'clock".  
    • Return to standing (still single leg).  
    • Perform a single leg squat while rotating your torso to the left, reaching across with the left hand to place a cone on the floor at "2 o'clock".
    • Return to standing (still single leg).
    • Repeat the squat/rotate right to pick up the first cone; then repeat a second time to pick up the left.
    • That's one repeat.  I do 5 on one leg (so a total of 20 single leg squats), then 5 on the other, nearly every day.
  • Calf raises -- find a ledge.  Balance on one foot on the edge, so the heel hangs down, then lift and lower in controlled fashion.  I shoot for several sets of 10 on each leg, alternating sets between straight-legged (to target the gastrocnemius) and slightly bent knees (to target the soleus).  I do these every other day; on the intervening days, I do eccentric calf dips instead (raise with both legs, then controlled slow lowering with one leg).