Thursday, October 30, 2008

Working hard should feel... .hard

I remember reading an article on this topic awhile ago in a copy of Runners World, but I couldn't remember enough specific details about it to find the story on the magazine's website.

Anyway, the idea is that the human body has a lot of self-protection mechanisms to keep it from hurting itself, but we can override this message through the power of positive thinking. For example, you are doing track repeats and during the last repeat you're feeling out of breath and nauseous. Are you (probably) really about to have a heart attack or die from lack of oxygen? No. But your body doesn't even want to approach that point so it starts screaming for you to back down.

So then how do people work out through all that unpleasantness? How do great athletes manage to suffer through all that pain day in and day out to become great? The answer isn't that they eventually become so talented running fast is a breeze and they just don't feel pain anymore, but instead they've learned to think about that pain in a different way. They remind themselves that the discomfort is what they are striving for. It's not an indication of a crappy workout but rather a great one where they are pushing themselves. They tell themselves that feeling a little sick at the end of a 5k means they raced hard and that tired is exactly how you want to feel at the end of a marathon.

I like to try to remember this whenever I'm faced with a difficult situation- especially if it's an "in the moment" decision whether to stick with something difficult or to give into the temptation to quit right then.

If you're dieting and someone brings in a huge tub of your favorite goodie, it's going to be hard to resist eating it. But if you tell yourself, "Well, dieting is supposed to be hard," it seems to make resisting easier. You're empathizing with yourself but not giving in.

Another time I use this is when I'm doing a tempo run or repeats. Sometimes feeling physically bad is kind of scary, but if you tell yourself that the workout is supposed to be tough (earn your rest!) and you're supposed to be tired/winded then all of a sudden the tone of the workout goes from bad (physical pain and doubt) to good (pride over sticking with something difficult).

6mi run
2 sets of stairs
Walk to work

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Working hard and resting easy

This point seems to be coming up again and again for me in different situations, and I hope I'm starting to internalize it.

Before, back in my undergrad days when I first caught the exercise bug, I thought working out meant getting on the elliptical for an hour a day, day in and day out. It didn't matter what what time of day it was, whether it was convenient or not, whether I was sick or tired, or anything- I had to get on that elliptical and do random level 18 every single day. Although I wasn't particularly concerned with being a better athlete in those days, it probably didn't do much for my fitness after the first few months, and it definitely didn't do anything for my disposition. I had stagnant exercise syndrome (SES).

Everyone *knows* that the best way to improve fitness/athletic ability is with variety and a combination of intensity and rest. But old ideas and habits can be hard to break. When I got into running, I started running for an hour every day- same speed, same route, day in and day out. I was starting to get interested in getting faster, but I wasn't. So I did more of the same. Running for an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour and a half- same speed, same route, day in and day out. Did this help? No.

So I tried weight training. I added 3 hard days of lifting each week on top of a fairly large volume of running (and some stressful life stuff including a very long commute). But I quickly became frustrated with my total lack of progress. In fact, I was getting weaker each week rather than stronger or even maintaining!

I was committing both of the classic workout sins. In the first case, I had absolutely no variety in my runs. No speed, no tempo work, no long runs. Everything was exactly the same. In the second case, I was not balancing work with recovery. I was simply trying to do too much, and instead of backing off, I thought the cure was to do even more.

I admit that both of those devils still live on my shoulder to a lesser extent even today. It's easy for me to talk myself into ditching a tough run for an easy one and it's easy for me to think that- in terms of working out- more is always better.

But now I'm in rehab for SES, and here are four treatments I've learned:

1. Diversifying your training- Rather than running every day, I run three days per week, go to spinning two days a week and swim once or twice. I know there is a danger of adding too much here, but I have a personal cap of one cardio session a day to keep me from overtraining. This program also lets me "get excited" about each workout because it's not the same thing I did the day before.

2. Train with a group- Right now I'm doing spinning with the triathlon club two days a week. I've already met some nice people to chat with, which makes the 5:30 wake up call a little easier on those days, and the workouts are always challenging. And the best part is that I don't have to challenge myself. I let someone else do it for me.

3. Earn your rest- This is the best mantra I know to help ward off SES. If your rest is too easy, don't make your rest harder, make your workouts harder. If you don't truly rest, you won't be able to workout harder the next time, and you get into the vicious SES cycle. I've even taken to saying this to myself while doing a difficult tempo run or interval, but it also applies to diet as well. In the No S diet, Reinhard Engles advises readers to work hard on N days and "earn" weekend S days to recharge for the hard work of N days. If you let the line between N days and S days become mushy, you end up exactly where you were before the diet.

4. Remember that you won't improve if you are unwilling to be uncomfortable- Even though the working is kind of awkward, the idea is right on. This is something I want to reflect on more tomorrow, but I feel deserves a mention in this section because SES is all about staying in your comfort zone. You don't leave that comfort zone by doing hard workouts our challenging your notions about how much rest you "need" or "deserve".

2 sets of stairs
Walk home from work
Home strength program

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Long Run, Ice Cream, The Baconator, and Yin Yoga

Yesterday I did my first long run in 2 weeks. It was fairly boring because we had a home football game, and the crowds kept me from running pretty much anywhere besides the Lakeshore Path. Which is pretty- but less the 4th time than the 1st. Anyway, I finished 12 miles in 1:50:48 (9:12 min/mile average pace). I slowed down a bit at the end- I think part of it was due to boredom- but I didn't run any miles with an average pace slower than 9:15, so I was pretty happy with that. I need to start doing some real speed training this week rather than the easy fartlek stuff I've been doing so far. I'll probably also try to extend the length of my treadmill tempo run by 1/4 mile. I'd like to try to bring it up to 3mi by the end of Nov. and then start working on adding speed. I think a 3mi tempo run once a week through the winter will have me in a good place for marathon training to start in Jan.

D and I went to The Chocolate Shoppe for ice cream last night. I had a double scoup with Chocolate Galaxy and Caramel Apple Pie, and D tried Yippee Skippee and Heaps of Love (I think). We were sitting, eating our pint-sized bowls of ice cream, when a commercial for the Wendy's Baconator came on the radio. I said, "Ewww. Who would eat that? It's so unhealth... Oh, wait, what am I saying?" As if a giant bowl of ice cream was somehow any healthier than a giant bacon burger. I guess how you view the "badness" of a food depends a lot on how much you enjoy it.

I did find a new, healthier love yesterday in Yin Yoga. Inner Fire Yoga, a local yoga studio, held an open house yesterday so people in the community could try classes for free. D tried a Bikram's class, which he said was "hot" and "hard", and I tried Yin Yoga . I absolutely loved my class. We only did about 10 poses total- none of which were strength oriented- for about 5 minutes apiece. Holding each pose for a long time allows you to really feel where you are holding tension, and allows gravity to slowly relax and lengthen your muscles. When we first started star pose (seated, knees out to the side, feet together) my head was probably 8 inches above my feet. But I gradually felt my back and hips and neck relax, and by the end of the pose, the full weight of my head was on my feet. I enjoyed it because it eliminated all the elements of yoga I generally find frustrating (basically not being able to do the poses at all), but because the stretching was really intense, I still felt like I was doing something. I could actually feel different muscles "let go" of tension and relax. Even today I feel much less sore after my long run and my hips and back feel more relaxed than normal. D and I decided to do their special offer of unlimited classes for 2 weeks for $10, but afterward I would like to try to find a CD or something so I can keep up with it. The stretching and meditative relaxation are totally addictive.

Workout- Saturday
12mi run in 1:50:49, Yin Yoga

Workout- Sunday
Swim lesson???

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Bad Pioneer

The other day I was thinking that I would have made a very bad pioneer...

This first occurred to me when I was doing the dishes after letting them pile up for at least a day or so. I thought, "Man, I thought doing the dishes was annoying when all I had to do was stick them in a machine and turn it on. I wish we had a dishwasher in the apartment." All things considered, doing the dishes isn't that bad but 1. It's a chore. It's annoying and 2. It's absolutely impossible to get them clean the way a dishwasher can. Even the clean ones. The ones I really scrub are still kind of dirty when I put them away. But then I thought, "Dang. What if we only had a couple dishes so I actually had to wash them after every meal, and what if I had to take them down to the river so I had access to water (or had to scrape and reuse them dirty if there wasn't water)? That would really stink. And 100 years ago I probably would have had to do just that- or at least go out and pump the water and wash them in some kind of tub or something.

I think playing the mind game "What would I have had to do to accomplish this if I were a pioneer?" is great for giving silly complaints some perspective (not that I won't still be full of silly complaints).

Another one happened last night. I met D for dinner on campus and then went back home to veg while I waited to pick him up after his exam. On the way home on the bus I kept thinking about how good it would be to have some of that cookie dough in the fridge. And when I got home, I changed into my pajamas and ate some cookie dough. Not too much. Not all of it or enough of it to get a stomach ache like I might have done in the past, but the point is that I broke my diet on a complete whim. I enjoyed it while I ate it, but then I thought to myself, "What would Laura Engles Wilder have done in this situation?" Did she eat cookie dough in the covered wagon crossing South Dakota in a blizzard? Heck no. She was probably happy to have some very non-sweet non-chocolaty bread once a day. Even in 2008 there are many people who don't have enough food to eat. Cookie dough is not even an option to consider.

So hopefully I can keep that in mind if I have another cookie dough emergency the rest of this week. Can I seriously not make it without eating something sweet or eating after dinner until Saturday? It's kind of pathetic if I can't. Last week and the week before (which is not marked on the Habitcal- it was a trial run week) I had 2 failures each. Let's see if I can make yesterday the only failure for this week. I only have 3 days- including today- before I can junk food all I want on Saturday.


Today's workout:
60 min spinning
At home strength workout- lower body
2 rounds of stairs

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Homecoming 5k

So after being sick, and taking time off, and going out of town, and taking more time off, this week I've finally started to feel better and actually prepared for a race. I did a couple fartlek runs, 2 spinning classes, one pump and tone class, yoga, and an easy 8 mi run yesterday. I'd planned to do a couple other races in the last two weeks, but feeling generally crappy kept me from actually registering and running for them.

Anyway, since I've been feeling better, I got it together to run the UW Homecoming 5k. I thought that no matter what I'd definitely PR because my 5k PR is pretty slow compared to my 1/2 marathon time. But it didn't happen. I blame the course because I finished the race with someone who ran the same 1/2 marathon in about the same time as me and because I felt like I really pushed myself through the race. I was passing people all the way until I had some bad (skip the next few words if you're squeemish) dry heaves, and a few guys ran by me in the end. The course started out going straight up a large hill and was fairly hilly the rest of the way. Had we just gone along the Lakeshore path I think that level of effort would have landed me a sub 25min definitely- maybe even close to 24min. As it was, I finished at about 25:40. I was pretty unhappy with the time and the almost puking, but the more I think about it, the more I think I should be happy with my effort, and not worry about the time.

It is going to result in me changing my race plans a bit, though. I was originally going to run a Turkey Trot 5 miler on Nov 1, but I'm switching to do the 5k to chase that elusive sub-25min (maybe even sub 24-min) time. And if it doesn't work in this next race then I'll try again at the Burbee Derby on Thanksgiving. If I'm happy with my 5k time in the next race, I'll do the Burbee Derby 10k.