Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recommendations from an Intermediate Runner

My husband and I were sitting on the couch this morning, talking about running.

This is nothing new; we talk about running a lot. Mostly we talk about how much running we should be doing and how much running we haven't been doing. Our conversations about running have become a bit routine.

Except this morning. Our conversation reminded me why I'm writing this blog. My husband was cruising Reddit, and I was looking at the Trail Runner Magazine updates I get. When Peter clicked on the Reddit Running subheading, it became very clear to us that there are really only two types of people who talk about running: the serious runners I mentioned previously ( who talk about miles per week and nutrition and plans to win their next races. The other type of person seems to be the beginner runner; someone seeking encouragement, advice, or simply looking for an answer to the question "Why does this suck so much?"

Occasionally you will see someone who is not a beginning runner ask advice about a new challenge they are undertaking, such as what type of hydration system might be best for an ultramarathon. The problem with asking this question is the people who answer are the serious runners, who insist that if you don't carry the expensive hydration system they use, you will never finish your race.

Sometimes I want to walk in to the middle of these conversations and scream "NEWS FLASH! Not everyone can afford to spend half a paycheck on a water belt!"

Here is the reality of being a non-serious runner: you work with what you have or can afford.

I don't have a fancy watch with GPS capabilities and a built in heart rate monitoring system. I track my runs with my phone most of the time, and when I'm racing, I have a non-fancy watch that allows me to track my splits, which I never successfully remember to use. I think my husband purchased it at Meijer before my first 50 miler so I would have an idea of how long I had been out in the woods. Also, I've realized I don't really like having things around my wrists or my neck, so a watch is typically right out. If you want a fancy watch, I can't tell you what to wear. I have no idea.

I run with the same water belt I've been running with for the past 3 years, and while it isn't perfect, it gets the job done. If you would like me to recommend my belt: I'm running in a Nathan hydration belt, that has a pocket for keys and a small phone or ID or cash or whatever. I'm starting to run more with a military issue Camelback 1.5 liter hydration backpack, because I need to be able to carry more water on longer runs. Neither of these set ups are perfect. Both were given to me as gifts. If you don't carry one of these set ups, you will probably finish your race if you wear what is comfortable for you, hydrate on your own terms, and train.

I run on the trails I have easy access to. This means I don't always have the ideal terrain for a specific race. Ideally, you would be able to run terrain like your race frequently, with similar footing and elevation changes. When my husband wins the lottery, I will totally roam from place to place to find ideal training locations for different races, but that is because I'm a wanderer at heart, not because I insist it is necessary for training.

I train in old race shirts. Yes, those technical shirts you get from paying $120 to enter a race. Race days I plan to wear running clothes that are a little nicer than my normal running attire. Here is the secret to the majority of my nicer running clothes: I buy them off season and super on sale. Good running clothes are expensive, and I'm sorry, but for an ultramarthon, Old Navy Active Gear really isn't going to hack it. That being said, my favorite sports bra for distance running is probably so old that it doesn't really support my boobs, but my nipples don't chafe in it. Which is HUGE. I think I bought the bra at Target a million and two years ago. My favorite running clothing is made by Stoic. I love their tights, I love their shirts, I love love love Stoic brand. Main reasons: Their shirts and pants actually cover my belly. My long waist makes a lot of running gear too short for my torso. Stoic seems to believe that one should be able to be comfortable when active, and the brand also has a liberal policy as to use of thumb loops on their long sleeve shirts. There is quite simply NOTHING better than thumb loops on long sleeve shirts (Hey Stoic. I'm plugging you to my five readers, how about some free socks over here?).

As for nutrition, I like green smoothies; I think they taste good, and they add a shot of nutrition from raw greens. I also like to eat protein, which includes animal proteins. I think healthy fats are important, and I'm fond of fruit. I also love chocolate, wine, and ice cream. My training schedule isn't what dictates my diet. I go for variety always, with an attempt to make vegetables the base of most meals. The only thing that does change my diet: the current severity of my Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disorder. Right now, it is pretty bad, so I'm going to avoid caffeine, tomatoes, spicy food, chocolate, and alcohol. This is possibly one of the most depressing aspects of my life. I hate not eating spicy food.

I'm not going to win any races. I have placed in the top three of my age/sex group three times in my life. All three times the races were 1) tiny and 2) not terribly competitive. Once I placed simply because there were only three people in my age and sex group. I love these races by the way. There is nothing like getting a trophy, even if it is for third out of three.

Yes, being a non-serious runner means there is a lot of compromise. I can't justify the expense of top of the line gear. There are a few things I refuse to compromise on though.

Shoes: get your stride analyzed, get fit for a shoe, wear orthotics. No matter what, have a shoe that supports your foot in the most beneficial way possible. I decided to try to train into a zero-drop minimalist shoe this year, and it threw my body so out of whack that I ended up with a hamstring injury that made no friggin sense at all, until my physical therapist looked at my stride and said "Wow you are pronating a lot. Maybe you should go back to your stability shoe". Minimalist running shoes are all the rage, and if you can wear a minimal shoe with a neutral support, go for it. I am going to stick with my stability shoes for now.

Socks: I've been throwing out socks like mad crazy this year. Any sock that presents the slightest wear is pitched. I have to be able to run, and if a sock is rubbing my foot in way that creates a blister or a sore, it has to go. I've also realized that technical socks are important. A little extra support for my feet never hurts, and having material that keeps my feet comfortable is essential.

Form is extremely important too. Form is a combination of things. I can't say there is a perfect form for everyone, but there are a few things a runner should always consider. Use your core, use your butt, and don't slouch. I've never seen a really good runner run slouched and scrunched up. Shoulders back and down, core engaged. A lot of running stores offer form classes, and they are often free. 

There you have it: recommendations from a non-serious runner. Do what is comfortable, eat what makes you feel good, and run.

(Oh, and just so you know, I've put in over ten miles this week already, so I think I can say the time off hiking really wasn't as detrimental as I thought it would be)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Does Hiking Count?

I've been on vacation for the last... 6 days? I'm writing this from a lovely porch on Nevis at about 7 am.
We are staying at the Yellow Cabin in Gingerland, which is the Atlantic side of Nevis. This is one of the least populated places I have ever stayed. Our closest neighbors are goats, donkeys, and monkeys.
Don't be jealous. I haven't run a step since arriving (in spite of packing with best intentions), and my body is totally telling  on me. I hope I fit into the pants I need to wear home because it is about 50 degrees colder in Wisconsin.

Nevis is probably not a place I would consider a non-serious runner's paradise; it's amazingly beautiful and friendly, but every where is either directly up hill or straight down. This is typical when you have a dormant volcano as the base for your life. The roads on my side of the island are narrow (about a car and a quarter at most two way points, maybe two lanes if you are driving through a populated area). Side walks are rare too. Add driving on the left and tourists, and I've pretty much decided the roads are not a great idea for me to run on.

What Nevis may be considered is a hiker's paradise. There is every possible terrain to hike, and some of the hikes are very challenging and technical. My husband and I have been hiking around sugar plantation ruins,  beaches (and yes, I consider that hiking), rainforests on the side of Mt. Nevis. We've started off on one hike only to be sucked into another trail that winds alluringly toward the peak.

Between gaining a few vacation pounds and not running, I feel totally derailed in my training. I'm supposed to be working on this goal of a comfortable five miles at a time for December, and here I am, eating like I'm on vacation, and not running.

This begs the question: does hiking count? I hope it does. We will find out when I get home and go out for a run on Monday morning. I'm struggling though. I have a voice in my head that is reminding me constantly that I need to be training, and a brain that can justify another day of not running; I happen to have a husband who is good at this as well. He just informed me that we will be hiking today, and he wants me to have fresh legs for hiking instead of having legs I've run on. He's running this race too. I was hoping he would be more "Let's get a short run in before we hike for 3 hours!" because that seems like training in my head.

Maybe he is right though. Maybe running and then hiking would be too much. Maybe I should not worry, enjoy this vacation, and then come back swinging over the holiday season.

Maybe I should focus on my January goal: seven comfortable miles. I could actually run five miles fairly comfortably before we left, so I really shouldn't be that far off.

At any rate, I'm off to enjoy the last few days on this lovely island with my sweet, stubborn husband. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Serious Running for a Non- Serious Runner: Training Schedule

I am not a serious runner.

I'm calling this Serious Running for a Non-Serious Runner because I'm not serious. I'm rarely serious about anything. If I tell you I'm serious about something, chances are I'm trying to convince you of a tall tale. Don't believe me (also, I usually collapse into giggles with in about 3 seconds of attempting to fabricate something, so I probably won't even get to the "I'm serious" part of it).

There are two types of runners in this world. There are the talented, fast, serious runners who win races, talk about miles per week, and look fabulous in swimming suits. These are the runners who look like they were born to run. 

Then there are the non-serious runners. The people who started running one day and just... kept doing it, but really with no plan, no goal (other than to drop a few pounds), and look like total goofballs when they run. This is me. 

I'm deadly afraid of serious runners. If I mention to a serious runner that I run, they start in on conversations that I don't follow. Fortunately most of them have never attempted an ultramaraton. Most have stopped at the marathon distance, and mentioning training for an ultra typically shuts them up, or they ask something vaguely judgey like "Have you ever run a marathon before?" with a snideish look on their face. I'm scared they will figure me out though. A non-serious runner running an ultramarathon is like... sacrilege or something.
Here is the problem with training for really long distance races: you have to take this seriously. Running a 5k? Sure I can jump out of bed tomorrow and finish it, trained or not. Worst case scenario: I walk for an hour. Running 50 miles: worst case scenario: I can't even imagine. The last time I did this, after the race I suggested to my husband that I might need to go to the Emergency Room, because for the life of me, I could not stand up from the parking lot in downtown Manistee that I was laying in. I would like to avoid this problem after my next race (I was okay, by the way. Thanks for asking).

This necessitates a serious training schedule. 

For non-serious runners like me, a training schedule can be painful. Here is a typical morning for me: 
Me: Good morning self! Time to get up and run!
Self: Gaaarrrrrrgh (My self takes a few minutes to gain coherency first thing in the morning)
Me: But it is time to run!
Self: Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Me: Fine, if we don't run, what do you want to do?
Self: Weight lift, Pilates, HIIT, anything other than slogging around campus in the dark. I hate campus. 
Me: What if we go trail run?
Self: Do you know how far you have to drive to get a trail run in?
Me: Fine. Fine fine fine. Let's just get out of bed and figure it out when we are brushing our teeth.
Self: Fine. By the way, you are gaining weight (My self  likes to throw pot shots in at me)

With a training schedule, my self will have to shut up in the morning. There are no more "I don't want to run this morning" conversations, no more "It's too hot/ cold/ windy/ rainy/ sunny/ apocalyptic outside to run" moments.

My husband and I (since we are actually in the same room on a Sunday morning) just mapped out our training schedule for the North Country Run. There are 257 days until the race. The 16 week plan we mapped out starts in May. It can be found here:

We have 4.5 months to get ourselves in  shape to start the training schedule. This demands we take a careful look at where we are now in terms of running fitness, the types of distance we need to achieve weekly prior to this training schedule, and a careful look at our nutition.

I'm starting to sound like a serious runner. Or at least trying to make a convincing argument of being a serious runner. You guys. I'm so serious right now!!!!

(And this is where I bust out with the giggles)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ultra Marathon, Take 2

Two plus years ago, which was about the last time I posted something on this blog, I completed an Ultramarathon. For the last two years, I have labeled it the "Stupidest Thing I Have Ever Done". I was undertrained, a little injured from trying to train by running other races, and I finished out of sheer will and uncertainty of how I would get back if I dropped out of the race at mile 43 (at my pace, 7 more miles was about 2 hours). I aked multiple friends that if I ever had the inkling that I should sign up for a 50 mile race to please shoot me on sight. Or at least remind me it was a bad idea.

A friend of mine finished the half-marathon at the same race site this year, and her posts made me think about signing up for the half-marathon next year (you have to jump on this early, as the half-marathon sells out very quickly). I was perusing the race website when I found out that the medals for the race finishers in 2015 were actually going to differ in size. Past years, I had always marveled at the idea that a half-marathoner got the same medal as the marathoner as the ultramarathoner. My brain screamed "Do the ultra! You can do the Ultra! You have a year to train! Do it!"

I texted my husband immediately, as he was one of the persons on the "Shoot on Sight" list. I asked my sweet husband if he wanted to do the ultramarathon next August, and he replied with "If you want to, I'm game"(I do not have to mention that this reply does definitely not count as "Shoot on Sight" sort of behavior, so the next time I have a bad idea, I'm not going to ask him to stop me).

Long story short, I squashed the voice of reason and signed us up for an ultramarathon;it is in 258 days. On the day I signed up, it was 363 days away. Funny how quickly 100 days go.

Have I mentioned I haven't been running much in the last year? Yeah. I am working on that, I suppose.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Diana vs. the Ultra aka The Stupidest Thing I've Ever Done Twice aka Serious Running for a Non-Serious Runner.

Ready to to run with me?