2017 Training Week One – March 20-26: The Miami Vice Solution

For the last five-plus years my race calendar and training schedules have been in place several months (lie: years) in advance. Everything pointed towards The Goal, which was qualifying for Boston (BQ), and my races pretty much followed this schedule:

February – Surf City Half Marathon
April – Hollywood Half Marathon
May – Mountains2Beach Marathon
September – Ventura Marathon
November – Santa Clarita Half Marathon (if I wasn’t too beat up by then)

Basically, two half marathons as a ramp-up to back-to-back marathons, and then a cool-down/end-of-the-year half before I’d go on vacation. Well, this past November, I unexpectedly qualified for Boston. Yes, it was not on the plan. The plan was to run it as an assessment marathon to see where I was, run my two tune-up halfs, and then go for Boston in May at M2B. Qualifying for Boston was AMAZING (yes, all caps!)…and it also through off my entire racing schedule for the first half of 2017. Quality problems, I know.

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After talking to Trainer, I decided to run track for the first half of the year. The plan was to enter some meets and “race” (read: survive) the 800m and 1500m events. Cool. Sounds like a Plan. Well, my BQ marathon happened on November 12th, and while I planned on taking a solid 2-3 week break, I hardly anticipated the 2-3 month break that inevitably occurred. Between an almost three-week European vacation, suffering a freak injury on my way to starting track season, rehabbing from that injury, and then finding out I had missed the open track meets and only the invite-only meets were left, I found myself in the last week of February still without a plan other than to “stay healthy” for Boston. In 2018.

This ambiguous, semi-Letsky Gosky attitude did not sit well with me. I am someone who has a five-year plan ALWAYS. I have goals upon goals and in several different areas, so this was unchartered territory for me…which, it turns out, is exactly where I was supposed to be.

Podcasts are your friend when you do as much aqua jogging as I do (because old). One of the more standout ones was a coach for high performers, who discussed the basic tenets of a workshop he offers on The Champions Blueprint. One of the steps in the blueprint occurs after one achieves a goal, and that is a period of adaptation and pause. Adapting to my new status meant realizing the identity I’d had for five years – “Someone trying to BQ” was different now. I wasn’t prepared for this new self! So that took some getting used to as I realized that my 2017 race calendar would need adjustment. Then came the pause. A time to rest and recover and then choose my next goal. Perhaps this is where I rushed things, as sitting still can be so jarring for me. At any rate, my freak injury somewhat forced The Pause, which apparently was going to happen with my consent or without. Ha.

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As my rehab progressed, and I finally got strong enough to run again, the next goal slowly came into sight…And it wore pastel t-shirts and suits. Yes, I’m talking about that landmark ‘80s television show Miami Vice! In addition to bringing back Don Johnson’s career, it also gave us the bravado of Philip Michael Thomas, who played his partner, Ricardo Tubbs. Thomas coined the acronym “EGOT”: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, in reference to his plans for winning all four.* And that’s when my goal hit me: I would EGOT the All-American standards for all four road distances! I have already hit the USATF All-American standards for both the half marathon and full marathon distances, and this May and June I will try to do the same for the 5K and 10K distances. You guys, I haven’t run a 10K in over five years. The pain of going that fast is making me weep inside as I type.

But I’m totally excited by this goal! I will have to train hard for it, but it should keep me healthy. Yay. So here we go…USATF Masters EGOT plan is under way. If only I could figure out an acronym for these acronyms.

Total Mileage for Week: 25
Long Run: 8 miles
Outdoor Workout: Hill sprints and 200s

*It should be noted that Thomas has not, as of yet, been nominated for any of these awards.

Finding Something in Nothing

As a masters athlete, it is all about recovery. I eat a vegan diet, take ice baths, bathe in Epsom salts, use compression boots, wear compression socks, stretch, and foam roll so I can keep training at a high level. Anything that can help keep this body going is something I take great interest in, so when two people raved about Just Float, I immediately looked into it. Just Float offers float therapy, meaning for one hour you float on water in complete darkness and silence. Definitely piqued my interest, but the deciding factor was that these referrals came from people who implemented the float therapy for different reasons: one is an aging cross-fitting beast who uses it for physical recovery purposes, and the other is someone with a stressful job and personal life and utilizes it for relaxation and stress management. Since my husband and I have divergent interests, imagine my excitement at finding something that both an astral projector/deep meditator and an athlete would enjoy. The idea sounded intriguing and a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The facility is clean and quiet, but certainly not luxurious, so if you’re looking for a spa experience this is not the place. If anything, there is a space age quality to it, and considering what you are about to do, the vibe is appropriate. After watching a short video on what to expect, you’re brought into your own private room that has a changing area, shower, and tank. It is definitely well set-up.

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Private room is sparse but tidy.

My mindset going into this was one of skepticism. How would I “just float” on water? Also, I thought for sure that having no light or sound would freak me out and keep me tense and awake. But whatever, you can’t beat $40 to try something out. Upon entering the tank, you press two buttons, one turns on the music and the other dims the light; both will fade and turn off in a few minutes, but it is an effective way to acclimate you to the deprivation of both. Just Float also recommends moving around in the tank to get used to the feel of floating. In short, they’ve thought of your concerns beforehand.

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Looks very Star Trekkian.

The experience was indescribable. Husband and I tried to articulate it to each other afterwards but fumbled with adequate words. Surprisingly, I was almost immediately able to relax in the pool and, just like anesthesia, one minute it seemed like I was counting backwards from 10, and the next I was waking up. It was the deepest sleep I’d had in…I don’t know, actually. It was profound.

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Close-up of flotation tank.

The only drawback is you only have 10 minutes to shower the salt off you and change before having to leave your room, so the staff can prepare the space for the next appointment. However, they do have a lounge where you can drink water or tea and just chill for a while (there are also coloring books if you’re so inclined). So there’s definitely time to decompress before you enter into the real world again.

Afterwards I was left with a craving to do it again, and yes, we bought two more sessions. As for the physical benefits, it did not solve the lower back issues I’d been experiencing, but I noticed that my back warmed up quicker on my next two runs. I do know it was an overall deep relaxation for my body, and I slept wonderfully that night. For an athlete, this probably works best as an all-over relaxation technique rather than a spot-specific recovery method.

Whether you’re a person who enjoys deep meditative states, an athlete, or someone having problems with stress, anxiety, or depression, I would highly suggest trying water therapy. There is something for everyone in this state of nothingness.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Listening to podcasts has been an effective way to get through a pool running session. If you’ve never pool run, imagine the lack of scenery and fresh air of treadmill running combined with the absence of a runner’s high, and you get the idea of the unique mental challenge that agua jogging presents. One podcast I’ve enjoyed listening to is “High Performance Mindset” hosted by Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, especially one recent episode in which she interviewed Dr. Mustafa Sarkar about his concept of resilience. Dr. Sarkar has done extensive research in this field and worked with many elite athletes, and it’s his position that resilience is not the ability to bounce back from a setback; rather, it is a proactive — rather than reactive — skill. More specifically, Dr. Sarkar’s work posits that resilience is the ability to use personal qualities to withstand stress and to maintain functioning under pressure, thus, there is no setback to come back from. This definition of resilience resonated strongly with me as tomorrow I finally return to running after being sidelined almost five weeks due to a freak injury.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After reaching my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon last November, Trainer and I had decided to concentrate on running track and shorter distances for the first half of 2017. This was partly for a change of pace, but most importantly, in Trainer’s view, to stay healthy since I wouldn’t be running Boston until 2018. I was mostly on board with this plan, but like a true distance runner addict, I struggled to not run more than the prescribed max of 3-miles per run. I soon found myself defying Trainer’s instructions, and at our Friday morning session on December 30, I finally stated that I would not be running less and that the idea of staying healthy was not a good enough goal since it felt like a participation medal…

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Pre-run. So confident. Little did I know what await me.

Approximately 8 hours later, I found myself face down on Sunset Boulevard with my left knee in agonizing pain. On what was supposed to be a fun 6-mile run, I had tripped on a wire left out on the sidewalk and landed squarely on my left knee cap. However, having fallen before a few times, I dusted myself off and ran four more miles to finish my mileage. Because runner.

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Not so confident anymore.

Although the pain was worse than my other falls, it wasn’t until the following Monday that I felt the need to have it checked out. I went to the ER, and one hour, one X-ray, and one set of crutches later, I hobbled out with the news that the X-ray indicated an avulsion fracture, meaning a fraction of the bone had been torn away from the patella. Yikes. It was at about this time that I would have given anything for that participation medal of good health.

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This diagnosis meant no running or even any cardio involving my legs for six weeks. In my twenty years of running, this was unchartered territory. Through any injury, I was able to at least do spinning or elliptical or the above-mentioned pool running to maintain cardiovascular conditioning and some muscle tone. Now, instead of going full-press into track season and running dreaded 600s, I found myself on crutches with six long weeks stretching ahead. And this is where Dr. Sarkar’s definition of resilience came into play.

One of my strongest character traits is being proactive. This quality manifests itself in my having put in place a solid foundation and structure through which I have navigated not only this and other physical tests, but also general life situations. Naturally, as in this case, I was not pleased with this occurrence. Of course there were moments of fear, doubt, and anger; however, through years of experience, and trial and error, I defaulted to a system that works.

The first building block is a spiritual practice. For almost twenty-five years, I’ve spent almost every morning with some quiet time. I usually spend a half hour in prayer, contemplation, reading, and writing, and this practice gets my head (mostly) straight and sets the intention for the day. It is not a guarantee that I’m not going to have hard times, but like any muscle, working this spiritual muscle provides a solid baseline, so that when difficult times do come down, I am in a better position to handle them. I am certain that the mostly positive mindset I maintained was the result of my faith and the purposeful attention I paid it.

Second, I have good people in place. Listen, as smart as I like to think I am, I only have so much headspace and expertise, so I outsource when necessary. For example, I have an awesome CPA, who advises me on what to do with my investments; OK, full disclosure, he is also my husband. Ha. And, in this case, I was aggressive in seeking the right people for my knee. I went to the best orthopedic doctors in Los Angeles, which meant that I could accept their diagnosis and prescription with full confidence, and thereby not have to waste time getting a second opinion.

Further, I had the right person to get me through the next six weeks. Not only did Trainer have expertise in rehabbing knee injuries, he had already instilled a system of prehab that I knew would hold some of my conditioning and possibly even accelerate my recovery. In emphasizing prehab in our sessions, we had been proactive so that in situations like these, we would not lose too much ground. Trainer and I hardly missed a beat in our training. I didn’t take any days off. When I couldn’t use my legs, he improvised, and I did my upper body work while sitting on an exercise ball. We did more core. Like a lot more core. Too much core. No really, I was over it.

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Too many planks.
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No wheels; no problem.

Ultimately, the MRI results determined that there was no fracture (the floating piece may have been an old injury), and that instead my issue was a strained quad tendon. Although I no longer needed crutches, I still could not resume running until three more weeks, which would bring the total to five. However, just as Dr. Sarkar proposed, resiliency does not have to imply a marked setback. Below are some photos of the type of work I’ve been able to do while injured; except for not being able to run track or road running, I am functioning at a high level despite my knee not being at 100%.

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And tomorrow morning I will run for the first time in five weeks. Trainer says if this active running “hiatus” works, then we’ll do this every year*, further adding to the veracity of Dr. Sarkar’s argument. I mean, can it really be a comeback if a five-week running break is built into the training plan? Regardless, it is comforting to know that despite not having my running legs under me, the learning curve will be much shorter due to the solid foundation and training structure that I had put into place prior to this injury, and now instead of trying to catch up, I can look forward. In fact, my new training journal arrived today to commemorate this new chapter. Here’s to picking up where I left off.

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Hope everyone has a great running week!

*He is just kidding. I hope. There is no way I’m doing this. Just saying.

Ventura Marathon: Training Cycle Review

As is tradition at Run Mary Run, it’s time for the training cycle review. (OK, I know twice is hardly tradition and that last time the “tradition” was to do it before the race…fuck tradition.) Below is the self-assessed report card of my training for the Ventura Marathon: The Slow, The Fast, and Vegas.

Total Miles Run in 11 weeks: 459! I averaged over 41 miles per week – even with having a calf strain one week and taper another. Hurrah! Me.Strong.Ish.

Me have strong calf.
Me have strong calf.

I attempted to make some changes to my training since Mountains2Beach in May:

  1.  Change my tempo pace from 9:20-9:30 to the 9:10 range.
  2.  Change my MP pace from 9:55 to 9:40.
  3.  Add in one more 20-mile (22) run, for a total of two.
  4.  Increase my highest mileage week from 48 to 52 miles.
  5.  Run the race course.

Must we review how these good intentions panned out? Ugh, fine.

Tempo Runs. These mostly went well. There were only five tempo runs on the schedule, and I was able to complete four of them at the faster pace (except for a couple outlier zone-out miles). The one 10-mile tempo run that did not meet goal pace was done at former tempo pace, so not too bad.

MP Pace. Boo. Easily my greatest disappointment in this training cycle. I was terribly inconsistent in the amount of MP miles I did during my long runs, and there were three weeks when I did zero of my long run miles at marathon pace. In addition, I tapped out at 13 MP miles in my last training cycle, but only reached 10 in this one. At least during the few long runs in which I did some MP miles, the pace was around the faster 9:40 pace. Super disappointed in myself.

The additional 22-mile long run and the increase in weekly mileage were done easily and without negative consequences. Phew. And being able to run the course that saw me first injure my IT band was a relief mentally. I was worried that there may be a weird slant to the pavement, but even if there is, my knees were able to handle it, and this dress rehearsal took that little weight off my mind.

Ventura Pier.
Ventura Pier.

Here’s how I did in the other categories on the big training pie chart.

Cross-Training. Meh. I deluded myself into thinking that I would do more this time, but chalk it up to the Long Hot Lazy Summer, but my cross-training remained a solid C+. Now I did make a valiant attempt at upping my cross-training by getting a trainer, and, well, see Week 7 and how that turned out. So basically there were some leg exercises, a sprinkling of Pilates, and a lot of thinking about cross-training.

Diet. Ha! Two words: Vegas Buffet. Another two words: Birthday Celebrations. Not only was it my birthday, but also a couple others, and that was a lot of dining out. I think the healthiest thing I ate at one dinner was a fried blue cheese olive (it’s a vegetable, right? a good fat?). So of course I can’t blame all my poor nutritional choices on these special events, but it didn’t help. I ended up…oh, the shame…gaining two pounds for this marathon. Another disappointment.

All of the desserts. Mine!
All of the desserts. Mine!

And there were a couple unexpected happenings this training cycle.

Low Point. This freak upper body injury I got with a week and a half to go until the marathon! What an odd thing to happen. The exact low point was on the Thursday, ten days before the marathon, when I lay in bed surrounded in cake crumbs and greasy chips, binge-watching Snapped and wondering how I’d be able to run something that I had trained eleven weeks for when I was in so much pain. Super down, super bloated.

Things I Missed. Running with people. I was a solo runner until this year, but one of my 2015 goals was to be open to running with people. I ran with four new people at various times during Mountains2Beach training cycle, and while they’re weren’t regular running buddies, it was an unexpectedly fun experience to share a few of my weekend runs with people I’d otherwise not have gotten to know better. I also missed running the marathon with a pace group to keep up my spirits and take my mind off, well, the fact that I was running a marathon. I’m still bent towards running alone, but running with people was better than I thought it was going to be. Spoken like a true borderline misanthrope.

Worst Revelation. Do not get $20 massages! Do not pay $$$$ for Beyonce Vegan food!

Best Revelation. Doing track work won’t necessarily injure me. I can do track! Yay!

I hoped the KT tape would work, but nope. Looked cute with the pink headband tho.
I hoped the KT tape would work, but nope. Looked cute with the pink headband tho.

Overall, I hate to say I’m disappointed in myself, because I made it through a second training cycle and consecutive marathons without a running injury, and that’s pretty cool, especially at my age and with my recent injury history. And I get that it can be difficult getting motivated in the summer, but I really hoped to have a better training cycle and kill it at Ventura. I just never seemed to get in the groove with my running, cross-training, or diet. However, my body – minus my left chest and forearm – felt strong and the marathon distance seemed to take less of a toll during and after the Ventura Marathon. I’m hoping that completing these training cycles and staying injury-free will build upon each other, and that I can continue to see improvement even as I stare down 50. In lieu of a letter grade, let’s give the Ventura training cycle an encouraging note of “Needs improvement.” So lame, so not-Asian.

Anyway, I’m off to continue recovering. Thanks for reading the weekly updates, friends!

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