Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cholesterol War Has Begun

On the 23rd I went to a new primary care physician to establish myself as a patient.  My old GP was located 20 minutes away and I wanted someone who specialized in women's health more local to me.  Not to mention more flexible office hours.  In fact, they have several locations within the local area and have walk-in sick hours six days a week.  Wonderful!  I scheduled my appointment and looked forward to getting established.

I was called back to the exam room just as I was finishing my new patient paperwork, which was still about five minutes before my appointment.  I was instructed to change into a fabric gown and I sat, waiting for the doctor, for around ten minutes.  When she got there, she asked me questions about my family's health history and went over my new patient forms.  She asked several times throughout if I had any questions or concerns, making sure to listen to what I had to say.  The prime focus, other than establishing myself as a patient, was to determine my blood levels of vitamins to see how I should supplement and find out what my lipid levels were.  A blood panel was ordered, and since I had not eaten yet that morning, I was able to have my blood drawn right there in the office.  That was super convenient because I know how backed up the local lab can get during the day.  I had my blood drawn, and waited for the results.

Four days later I got a call from the office.  It sounded like my LDL was elevated and I asked for a copy of the results so I could pour over them in greater detail.  I had my results from my July 2008 blood work and wanted to see how everything compared.  Generally everything was about the same this time around as in 2008, except for my lipids.

In 2008 I had 174 total cholesterol, 85 triglycerides, 58 HDL, and 99 LDL (3.0 ratio of total/HDL).  This time around I came in at 192 total, 86 triglycerides, 56 HDL, and 119 LDL (3.4 ratio).  The good news?  Based on the American Heart Association's website, my triglycerides are well below 150 mg/dL which is the upper end of the normal range.  The bad news?  Pretty much everything else (bad is relative here because I'm not terribly out of wack, yet).

My total cholesterol is 192 mg/dL; the upper range of desirable is 199 mg/dL, so I'm tickling that number now.  Starting at 200 mg/dL I would be borderline high.  My HDL went down by two points; no good since this is my good cholesterol.  Less than 50 mg/dL is low for women, with 60 mg/dL and above being protective against heart disease.  I'm doing okay right now, but I need to do better.  My LDL at 119 mg/dL is near/above optimal, with optimal at less than 100 mg/dL.  This is where the most improvement needs to be seen.  If I dropped this number by 20 points, I'd be well in the normal total cholesterol range at 172.

So how did I get here?  I don't think I can blame genetics.  My father and brother have both struggled with high cholesterol (and blood pressure), but I have yet to notice any effects (case in point, my 2008 lipid results).  I'm sure that things change as you age, but my brother was having issues years ago, and he's my younger brother.  My body has always "appeared" to have been created from my mother's genes anyway, so I'll keep this card in my back pocket.  Diet?  I would say "no" on this front too.  I'm careful about what I put into my body, so it's probably not this either.  Exercise?  Iffy.  I trained the first half of this year, and have been keeping up with pilates at least once per week, so while lately I haven't been exercising as much as I should, I've still been up and moving around (e.g. working on a patio every weekend for several months).

So what could it be?  My guess is stress.  My job has been challenging for quite some time now, and it has only gotten worse in the recent past (and will continue to do so through about April of next year).  A coworker who recently suffered a near-fatal heart attack learned that the body creates 200 - 300% more cholesterol during stressful events.  If those events are prolonged, the body becomes loaded with cholesterol and catastrophic events such as heart attacks and stroke can occur.

What am I going to do about it?  For one thing, I'm watching my intake of diary and meat products.  I had already cut back in this area, so I'm making sure to be super conscience of which ones I choose.  Second, I need to increase my soluble fiber intake to help clean out the bad cholesterol.  Third, to get my HDL up, I need to increase my intake of fish (steering clear of the large, mercury-soaked versions) and probably take in a modest glass of red wine every day.  And for all fronts, I need to get back to regular exercise.  That's hard to do when work takes up many hours of my day, but it's important from the standpoint of my health.

I have to say that the wind was taken out of my sails when I got my lipid results.  "Me?  Are you sure?"  But, anything can happen to anyone no matter how healthy they appear to be.  I have one year to shape up before I go back for more blood work.  I think I have a goal for 2011 - correct the path that my cholesterol ship is taking!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chiropractic Care - Summary

After my post at the end of July, I continued once-per-week appointments for two weeks, then had one appointment two weeks after, one appointment three weeks after, then to once-per-month maintenance appointments.  At this point I am continuing the maintenance appointments and will do so as regular preventative care.

I am happy with the results (no more daily migraines) although my appointments did not really go as I would had hoped/wanted.  I found Dr. Staley to be presumptuous at times and I did not have the chance to correct/explain things because I didn't have an opportunity to get a word in edgewise.  One appointment moment that sticks out is his assumption about pilates.  He suggested an exercise that is nearly exactly like one that we do during class because he incorrectly assumes that pilates does not engage the core muscles at all or very little which is the complete opposite of what goes on in class.  There is a huge emphasis on working from the core and proper alignment for all exercises.  I didn't have a moment to correct his assumption because he was already on another topic moments later.

Despite this, I am happy with the results.  I learned how to treat my migraines without medication and have had the opportunity to practice the techniques on the few pains I have had since starting treatment.  I know that I am vunerable to migraines if I don't stretch my neck on a regular basis because my migraines initiate from the back of my head which easily tightens from stress and exercise, so hopefully I can help prevent migraine pain from now on by simple stretching.

No Longer MIA, For the Moment

Well, I don't know where to start.  I last posted in July so it has been five months.  I suppose there will be a lot of summarizing, hand waving, and bad rationalization.

Work was supposed to be difficult November through January with the launch of my satellite, but that period of my life has been moved to February through April.  After the Frederick Half I was afraid to plan for any races due to the upcoming schedule, so I didn't.  When the launch was delayed mid-year, I had a small window to find a race and train, but I didn't make the effort so I have continued to skate down the once-a-week workout path.  More like slide, face first, down a rocky path to not-so-great health.  *Insert melodramatic interlude here*

One thing I learned about myself is that I hate the heat.  The hotter the summer, the more miserable I am.  I hate to train in the heat.  Hate hate hate.  And that's not a word I use often.  If I looked good in a bra top and booty shorts, would I not hate the heat so much?  I'll let you know if that ever happens.  I used to hate running; I think I need to work on this heat thing...  Let the therapy begin!

And, I could use some pictures here.  There are a lot of words; no pictures.  I am pretty good about off-loading the race pictures and such from the camera; I just need to put some of them up here.  So, call that a new years resolution.  I should refine it into a more tangible goal with actual numbers so I can track my progress; resolutions without real numbers aren't real resolutions, just pip-dreams.

Now that I have broken the ice, I will close this post and compose a few more before I call it a night.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Killer Dunes 2-Mile Recap

About a month before I was set to head to the Outer Banks, a coworker mentioned a dunes race that he and his brother were signing up for.  I thought nothing of it, but it piqued my curiosity as I was driving to the Outer Banks on the 3rd of July and thought maybe I would be down there for it.  So, I went online and found the Killer Dunes 2-Mile Footrace sponsored by the Outer Banks Running Club.  I asked around my fellow house dwellers to see if anyone else was interested, but I was the only crazy one of the bunch (go figure!).  I waited a little too long and was waitlisted as number 23 and waited to see if I would make it in.  Sure enough, just a few days before the race, I was in and paying my fee.

The race was held Monday, July 5th at 9a.  I arrived at 7:30a after a 45 minute drive from the house and was ready to go.  But, I had to be patient and wait until 9a.  Shortly before the race start I found my coworker and his brother, and before we knew it, we were off.

The race was probably the most fun I've had running in a while (then again, I haven't been running in a while).  The dunes were challenging and made you question your judgment.  I experienced some great camaraderie with someone cheering me on because she and I had already passed each other a few times and she told me to basically "get a move on" and pass her again.  The water station was slow and that was my downfall (I should have carried my own water).

In the end, I'm crazy enough to do it again next year if I'm there.

Top female - 15:07
My time - 25:39 (5/15 in my age group, 153/235 overall)

That's my best AG finish so far and I'm proud of that performance.  I should probably find a few more hills to train on beforehand next year...

Chiropractic Care - Week Eight and Nine

After a week off of treatment, I went back to Dr. Staley for a Monday appointment last week.  He said I was doing great and could cancel my second appointment for the week.  [For those playing at home, that's four weeks of three-per-week and three weeks of three-per-week after being told to expect six weeks of each.]  Now that I'm mostly past the healing phase and into the strengthening phase, I now have active homework as opposed to just "passive" stretching homework.

The first exercise is something familiar to those who do pilates or yoga.  On hands and knees, extend one arm out straight at the same time as you extend the opposing leg out (so left arm/right leg or right arm/left leg).  Since I was too good doing these on the soft (more challenging) surface of the table at the fast pace, Dr. Staley gave me two minutes per day of doing these at the slow pace.  I have been less than stellar about doing these exercises due to a crazy work schedule so I have to work on these more.

This week the healing continues and the homework has increased.  Now working on the vertical plane, I have five levels of an exercise to do this week, progressing to the next level only if I can finish the previous level.

(1) With shoes on, stand tall with my leg out in front either straight or with the knee slightly bent, whatever is most comfortable.  Do this for one minute.  Switch legs and repeat.  Be careful not to watch my feet but look ahead; my feet aren't going anywhere.

(2) With shoes on, stand tall and extend one leg out.  Trace out small letters of the alphabet.  Switch legs and repeat.  Don't forget to look straight ahead.

(3) Repeat the above exercise, but with larger letters.

(4) With shoes off, repeat the small letter exercise.

(5) With shoes off, repeat the large letter exercise.

And if I've completed the five exercises in five days, close my eyes and do exercises (4) and (5).  In all cases, I should start with the vertical exercise then move to the horizontal exercise from last week.  Since work should be light this week, I have no excuse for not doing my exercises.  In fact, I SHOULD have made time last week for my exercises, but what's done is done.

Chiropractic Care - Week Seven

Catching up a little after vacation and two crazy weeks at work...

During the week of July 4th I was at the Outer Banks through Tuesday evening, so I was able to keep to two treatments at the end of the week.  My migraines had yet to return so my healing continues.  I was instructed to keep up with my stretches as assigned before.

Of note was that the office was to be closed the following week so Dr. Staley could take a vacation.  He told me that based on how I did with a week off of treatments, I may be able to drop to once per week.  I signed up for two just in case I needed the second one, but my next time in the office he would evaluate and I could cancel if he didn't think I needed it.  Yay!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Chiropractic Care - Week Five and Six

The past two weeks I've been seeing Dr. Staley twice a week.  My migraines have continued to be kept at bay so I'm thrilled about that.  After some thought, I believe the cause of my everyday migraines was due my run training and a minimal amount of neck stretching after running.  The build up of stress tightened up everything at the back of my head, thus causing essentially constant headaches.  With the chiropractic treatment that I've been receiving, those muscles have become relaxed and the migraines have subsided.

I received more instruction on my neck stretching with the addition of another stretch.  The new stretch is rotational and requires rotation of my chin to one side or the other, trying to get my chin over my shoulder.  With this stretch and my other neck stretches, I'm now to incorporate proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching.  In the case of this stretch, if I rotate to the left, I place my hand on my right cheek, press against my hand using my neck muscles, then release the press and rotate into the stretch a little further.  What most people do when they stretch is called postisometric relaxation (PIR) stretching, and from what I understand, PNF adds another level to my stretching and can be applied to most stretches with little modification.

Dr. Staley continues to be amazed with how quickly my body is healing, but having known how well I have healed in the past, I'm not surprised.  I hope that continues for many years, but I suspect that I'll see a decline in my rate of healing as I change age groups.  But, I'm trying to stay healthy as best I can in my younger years in order to increase the chances of good health later in life.  Here's to good health!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chiropractic Care - Week Four

This week was an interesting week in the chiropractor's office.  On Monday I was identified as a "one of those mid-foot" runners.  Dr. Staley clearly does not agree with mid- and fore-foot running and may have me bring my shoes one day to see how I run.  I'm not terribly interested in doing so because I carefully evaluated my running a while back and found that mid-foot running was much easier on my body than a heel strike style and although I don't often say this - I'm not planning on changing.  So, I hope to simply agree to disagree and move on.

On Tuesday, I finally had another homework assignment and this one I saw coming - neck stretches.  Three times per day at 30 seconds per stretch means 7.5 minutes of time out of my day to improve the flexibility of my neck and surrounding muscles/tendons/ligaments.  I have already noticed a difference in the ROM of the stretches so improvement is being made quickly.  Since the stretches are easy enough to do seated at my desk, I have no excuse not to do them while working, watching TV, right after dinner, etc.

After an extremely long and challenging day at work on Wednesday, I had a twinge of pain on the left side of my head.  I believe it was trigged by 50% stress and 50% dehydration, so I worked on my pressure points to try and relieve the ache and made sure to drink extra water.  I had enough relief that I was generally pain-free during my drive home, but I knew the my migraine was still lingering when I went to bed.  I woke up the next morning, and as expected, the pain was still there.  I grabbed an ice pack and placed it on the back left side of my head and relaxed while I work my points again and drank some water.  About 15 minutes later, the pain was gone for good.  While this migraine didn't depart on its own, I was able to relieve it without medication and that makes me very happy.

And for my last appointment this week (I was expecting this too), Dr. Staley dropped me to two adjustments per week.  His original plan was six weeks of three/week then six weeks of two/week then finally six weeks of one/week, but I am well ahead of schedule so there's no need to keep to that original plan.  My body has always healed quickly so I'm not surprised that given the rough state I was in when I started chiropractic care, that I've already improved more than the doctor's expectations.  Plus, I am willing to make some lifestyle changes including desk position modifications and stretching because I enjoy good health, so that definitely aids the in-office care I receive.

Now that I'm down to two appointments per week, I really need to put together my training plan and get moving.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another Pilates Moment

Monday's Pilates class was the 20th class of the "year".  My first class was December 29th, so technically it's 19 classes this year, but this year started a little early for me.

I felt extremely "connected" during class that day.  I take "connected" to mean balanced and strong as specifically related to the abdominals since that region is a focus of pilates.  All throughout class my abs felt really strong, and I noticed a difference particularly during the forearm planks portion of class.  Typically when doing a forearm plank I shake like an addict going through withdrawal from the moment both my knees are off the floor. This time I wasn't imitating an earthquake nearly so much and was able to do all the escalations making the planks tougher each round.  The first round was simply to hold the plank position.  The second round alternated touching each knee to the mat.  The third, and by far the toughest grouping I have done, was to push up off your elbows on to your hands, then do ten push-ups.  While I didn't touch my nose to the ground during the push-ups, I haven't done a push-up in ages and felt strong doing what I did (about halfway down).

I've noticed my increased strength on the bike already.  My first commuter ride made me feel very strong in my abs and back because I was able to position myself very comfortably on the bike and hold that position easily.  I believe my ab and back strength helped put me in the right position on the saddle and helped stave off too much saddle soreness.

At this point I believe it's time to start going to the equipment classes.  The studio is adding an evening tower class that I'm seriously considering.  I'm starting to get a little bored with the total fitness class, so it will be good for my mind and body to mix things up and challenge myself more.  I love a good challenge!

Chiropractic Care - Week Three

More of the same this week.  Three more adjustments (nine total) and I'm continuing to feel better overall.  I have had only one migraine per week for the past two weeks so that continues to be pleasant, although I had a spot of pain today that has thankfully resolved itself with a little pressure point work and some extra water.  I'm not counting it unless the pain comes back tomorrow.

My neck is feeling limber and I should start neck stretches to continue my progress.  After my ride on Tuesday I'm still a little sore so stretching and some light massage should help.

So that's about it for this week's care.  Not much change this time around, but maintenance of where I am is good too, for now.

2010 BTWD and First Bike Commute

I participated this year in Bike to Work Day on May 21st.  It was a fantastic morning for a ride and this was my first ride of the season.  As last year, I drove to work then rode out to a coworker's house and rode back with him and another coworker, which is an eight mile round trip.  I checked through my BTWD attire and bottles and have found something from each year since 2005, except 2006.  So, it's been four consecutive years of BTWD with five total under my belt.  Yay!

Tuesday was my first bike commuter day and boy was it a great one, which was a bit surprising to me for the amount of success I experienced, but probably not all that surprising when looking at the big picture.

During my eleven mile ride in, I made sure to stand up and get blood flowing back to my saddle-touching parts to help stave off being super saddle sore for my eleven mile ride out later in the day.  I made sure to keep my cadence up to prevent mashing the gears and burning out my legs.  Once at work I didn't feel fatigued during the day, which is a usual symptom of my first commuter ride in.  At the end of the day I hit the trail again and headed for my car.

I was a bit saddle sore for the ride out, but not nearly as bad as I've been in the past.  The ride out is a lot of false flats with a head wind, and this ride was no different (about the wind; the terrain can't be changed).  I have to check my times, but as usual my ride out was a little slower than my ride in.  When I made it to my car I felt like I could have gone at least a few more miles, so I'm feeling great on the bike and am looking forward to putting many more miles on my bike and body.  I was only saddle sore for a day after the ride, which is a good sign that I'll be able to adjust quickly to being back on the bike.  Sweet.

Run Training - Lessons Learned

So before I forget everything I discovered during my run training program execution earlier this season, it's time to list what I learned so I can apply it to my next training plan:

(1) By following the list of training plan rules that I established early on, my training plan fit perfectly.

(2) Taper for one week only.  I tapered for two weeks and lost my mental and physical edge.  Until I get to longer races (e.g. marathon, Half Ironman triathlon), a one week taper should be ample, unless my body tells me otherwise.

(3) Nothing feels better than finishing a run that's on the schedule that you don't really want to do but dragged yourself to anyway against your own will.

(4) Run in the rain, run in the heat, run in the snow and ice - it will make you feel tougher and will help you gain confidence.  Just don't be stupid about training in adverse conditions.

(5) If it's hot outside, then it's extra hot on the mezzanine level of the gym where the treadmills are; run in the gym in the morning during the summer.

So those are the items I have to keep in mind when put together the rest of my training for this year.  Now time to start putting together the aforementioned training plan...

06/13/10 UPDATE:
Forgot a few things:

(6) I yawn the first two miles when I'm relaxed and in the groove.

(7) If things are going well on long runs, I break out in song around mile six or seven.

(8) No beans/gels/etc. the first two miles or else GI distress will follow.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Chiropractic Care - Week Two

I've noticed a change in my migraines, although there are many factors that could be attributed to the change outside of chiropractic care (yep, still skeptical).  The frequency has decreased and I am very grateful for that.  I had previously been experiencing one or two per month, but in the two weeks leading up to my first adjustment, I was having five or six per week.  The past two weeks I'm down to one per week and hopefully that will continue to decrease.  I had an interesting experience with the one migraine last week (an odd statement I must say); it went away on its own.

Never before have I had a migraine go away on its own; usually it will ease up, then come back the next day (and the next day and the next day) until I treat it with medication.  After I left work with a stabbing pain in my head, I experienced an easing of pain during my drive to the chiropractor, then while I was enjoying the heating pad prior to my adjustment, two fingers to where it hurt finished off the pain.  I didn't declare victory until I continued to be migraine free the next day.  I have to chaulk up this change to my adjustments; while a frequency change can be due to other factors, a change in the the "sequence" is likely a change in my body and its response.

I'm also experiencing a change in the flexibility of my neck and surrounding connective tissues.  When I first started my adjustements, I was very stiff and tight from run training.  My first week of adjustments gave me short term relief; this second week is now providing longer term relief that is almost lasting between adjustments.

No additional daily life changes were suggested, and I'm working on applying the "how to improve my desk posture" suggestions provided two weeks ago.  I think about my commuter posture as well since I'm in the car for two hours a day and feel I'm in good shape there, until proven otherwise.

Some additional progress was made last week from my two appointments (I had scheduled three, but Mother Nature had other ideas on how I was going to spend my Thursday evening).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Chiropractic Care - Week One

Back in January, the Frederick Triathlon Club speaker was Dr. Robert Staley of Family Chiropractic Center.  I was under the care of a chiropractor some time ago, but stopped going after my insurance stopped covering that doctor.  I decided to go and listen to Dr. Staley's presentation and evaluate if I thought I should pick up chiropractic care again.

Dr. Staley seemed knowledgeable about working with athletes and seemed to have a total body approach instead of a spine-only focus.  I decided that I would give chiropractic care a shot and scheduled an evaluation appointment.

At the evaluation, Dr. Staley asked about my history and completed a spinal exam.  I mentioned two concussions when I was younger, and two recent rear-end accidents along with occasional migraines which hinted towards the tightness in my neck.  I was given a prescription for x-rays and told to schedule another appointment once I had the films.

Three months later, once the running-centric part of my season was over, I finally scheduled a follow-up appointment and brought in my films.  The films showed a loss of curvature in my cervical spine (in fact, my cervical spine almost curves backwards), the misalignment of my spinous process between vertebrae (the spinous process should be stacked one on top of the other but instead mine are all over the place), and some change in some of the spinal spaces in my cervical spine.  And right on cue, I was also terribly stiff around my neck and shoulders and suffering almost daily migraines.  Ouch.

As of today I have been through four chiropractic adjustments.  I have noticed some temporary relief from my neck and shoulder stiffness and my daily migraines have eased (the weekend and day off today definitely helped).  After my adjustment on Thursday, Dr. Staley recommended how to correct my desk position at work to help ease the stress on my neck.  He's planning on addressing the top several things that I do the most (i.e. sit at a desk, sleep, commute in my car, workout, cook) to help with the care of my spine and body which should improve my long term prognosis of great health.

So far so good.  I'm still a bit skeptical about chiropractic care even though I experienced some results when I was last under care of a chiropractor.  He was using a ProAdjuster and spent no more than 5 minutes with me doing simply the adjustment; no concurrent lifestyle improvements like Dr. Staley is doing.  So, I'm keeping my mind open as I receive treatments.  The three-per-week treatments are certainly cramping my workout style, though.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Frederick Half Marathon Recap

It was 65 degrees F and 85% humidity the morning of the race...at 5:30a...still one hour before the race start.  I knew it was going to be a rough day since this was my hottest run yet.

I awoke at 5:00a and started getting myself ready.  I warmed up some basmati rice and grabbed some water to get things going.  My running clothes went on - white tank top (never run in before that day), Livestrong yellow shorts, pink socks, Saucony shoes, HRM, and Fuel Belt.  I grabbed my new white Under Armour visor and sunglasses as well.  I packed my gu's and bloks and headed to the start at 6:00a.

At 6:15a I had dropped off my bag at bag check, adjusted my gear, and was headed to the start line comfortable and ready to go.  Although headphones were not recommended, I wasn't running for prize money so I opted to keep them with me because that was how I had trained.  I typically kept the volume down when running on the roads anyway so I knew I'd be able to hear any directions from race officials and police officers.

And the gun!  It took me less than two minutes to get to the starting pad which I thought was reasonable given I was lined up for 11:00 pace.  I kept my eyes out for the 5:00 hour marathon pacers as that's about where I wanted to be for the first half of the race.  Unfortunately, for some reason I couldn't get off the tail of the 4:45 hour pacers.  I haven't marked my miles during training runs so I don't know how "bad" of a pacer I am, but my first five miles were 11:01, 10:47, 10:41, 10:45, and 11:17.  I felt all right those first miles but I knew I went out too fast and needed to slow up or else.

At mile 6.5 I knew there was a cheering section waiting for me.  Sure enough my group was there and I was happy to see them, although sad at the same time because I knew I still had half the race to go and was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.  I marked mile seven at 23:08.  What?!?  Then I figured out that I had missed mile six and was looking at a two mile time.  Whew!  Mile eight came in at 12:00 and that's when things started to fall apart.

My toes were burning and it wasn't just my usual blister spots; it was also underneath my big toes (as I found out after the race).  My knees were aching, my hips were sore, and I was carrying A LOT of tension in my neck and upper back that was radiating up to my head.  I decided that the adage "some times you have to go slow to go fast" came into play and I started to walk.  The pain eased in my feet and knees but my hips, particularly my hip flexors, hurt worse to walk.

Through mile twelve I alternated walking and running and turned in times of 13:32, 12:09, 13:07, and 14:22.  The sun popped out of the clouds for a bit during that time and I just wanted to stop, but I decided that I was too close to stop.  At least I was still moving.  Starting into mile thirteen, a face that I knew popped out of the crowd - one of my coworkers had come up to cheer me on with an awesome sign.  I hated for him to see the look on my face because I knew it said "pain", but it turned out that he was sick as a dog and probably didn't notice since his own face was crinkled up in sickness.  It helped egg me on to keep going.

Then I saw another familiar face a short while later, this time on his bike.  One of my local biking buddies had come out and I stopped for a moment to chat and regain my composure.  I was within a half mile of the finish and he gave me the last bit of encouragement I needed to make it to the end.  His signature over-the-top cheering helped get the crowd around him riled and I couldn't help but smile.

I made the final turn and headed up the final hill.  One final zig and I was in the fairgrounds.  The male portion of my cheering contingent quickly came into view as they were walking towards the finish line.  They yelled up to the ladies in front to grab the cameras as I passed by.  I rounded the final turn on the track and had the finish line in sight.  I heard foot steps behind me and decided that I was hitting the finish pad first, and I did.  I stopped the clock at 2:37:24; 13 minutes off my expected completion time.

I finished, albeit a little slower than I had hoped.  I guess I'll have to try again and see if I can run the whole thing next time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hello Saucony, Goodbye Mizuno

When I started training for the half-marathon, I developed some uncomfortable blisters on my big toe and first metatarsal on both feet the first week.  I chaulked those up to being a new runner and after several runs and several lancings, they went away and left a bit of a callus.  Once back from Italy I experienced the same sequence and figured it was just my feet getting back into the swing of things.  All was fine and dandy until I started hitting the longer Sunday runs.

Even though I had no/little discomfort on my short runs, I was noticing a marked amount of pain and discomfort on my longer runs.  I wanted nothing more than to rip off my shoes after those runs, and that was usually the first thing that came off after I got back home.  Looking at my training schedule and thinking about how many miles might be on my shoes, I headed to If The Shoe Fits, a Frederick Triathlon Club sponsor, and asked about getting a new pair of shoes.  I figured this was a good time to start cycling in a new pair before I start my trithlon training.

When I told the shoe guy I was looking for shoes, he asked if I wanted to get another pair of Mizuno (I had them in my hands).  I told him not necessarily because I was experiencing blisters and calluses with my current pair.  He went back and brought out three neutral shoes (my current pair, Mizuno, are neutral) - Asics, Saucony, and Nike.  I brought my OTC orthodics and made sure to slip them in each pair.

I first tried on the Saucony.  I've had Saucony in the past, and this shoe was very comfortable.  It felt lighter than my Mizuno's and I had tons of room in the toe box.  I put it on the "possibility" pile.  I next tried the pair of Nike's.  This was my first time ever trying on Nike and I made this remark to the shoe guy.  He said that about three years ago, Nike "discovered" that not everyone had narrow feet and maybe they should start fitting more of the population with their shoes.  He then said that Mizuno makes their toe box a little smaller than most and that's when the "AH HA" moment happened.  A too-small toe box was likely the cause of my discomfort.  I didn't motice this last season because all my runs were short and I wasn't training as much as I am now.  Ah ha!  I had heel slippage on my left foot in the Nike's that was fixed with the magic lacing technique.  I put them on the "maybe-possible" pile.

The last pair, the Asics, went to the "no" pile after feeling like I was walking on concrete (no cushioning in the midfoot).  In the end, I went back to the Saucony and rounded out my purchase with some new apparel.

I laced up the Saucony as took them for a test run on Tuesday.  They felt great.  I'm getting used to the extra room in the toe box, and want to weigh my two pair of shoes and compare the difference because it feels like there's a difference.  Maybe that's just the "new shoe" effect.  I have to say that the new shoe smell is awesome; nothing is better than the smell of a new, unbroken pair of shoes ready to handle several hundred miles over the next several months.  If I get enough time in them before race day, I'll be lacing them up for the big race.  I'm tired of the blisters, calluses, and foot pain probably caused by a too-small toe box.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ten Miler

Today's ten mile run was a double loop in the shape of a lowercase "d".  Instead of trying to be super creative and find ten different miles to run (and also trying to remember all those turns), I opted down the easy road and used my five mile loop twice.  Before today, I told myself that running past my house would be a mean trick so I vowed never to do that; I was originally planning on using a block just before my house, but in the end I ran past the house for good reason.

This morning was 37 degreesF when I getting ready to gear up and go, and being very familiar with that temperature range due to all my previous chilly runs, I knew exactly how to dress.  In fact, I purchased a light pair of gloves while in Italy that were perfect for running, so I even had gloves this time.  In no time I was ready to go and headed out.

Shortly after mile two, the gloves came off.  Shortly before mile three, my hat came off (I had an ear warmer underneath).  This was the first time I had pulled clothes off while on a run; the gloves were easy, not so with the hat because of the ear warmer, headphones, and ponytail.  I started unzipping my jacket around mile 3.5 and realized that I was a little too warm for my comfort (my HR was elevated).  It was at that point that I decided I needed to run past the house and drop off all the extra clothing.  Now I understood what "rapidly rising temperature" meant in the weather report that morning.  I rearranged the items I would need from my jacket to my fuel belt, unzipped my jacket the rest of the way, and once at the house I dropped it off on the porch and headed back out for another five miles.

The second loop went fine with a little fatigue showing up.  My last long run (eight miles) had been a month prior so I'm lucky I didn't spend any time walking.  I managed a 55:04 split with a 1:51:13 final; a positive set of splits, but I'm happy to have been running the entire time.

It was 49 degreesF when I finished.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Running Sick

For the first time probably ever, I've been training (running) sick.  Just a cold, and not even the usual intensity, but enough to clog my nose and throat and make me somewhat miserable.  Usually I just veg on the couch and use it as an excuse not to train, but with my recent hiatus from training due to my vacation, I can't afford to miss any more runs.

I know you're not supposed to workout with a fever, but other than that it's up to how you feel to determine if you train a particular day.  On Tuesday I was feeling about 70% and had turned the corner (Monday night/Tuesday morning was the peak of my cold).  My scheduled run was four miles.  I asked Kristin what she thought and she recommended 45 minutes outside at whatever pace I could manage, including walking if necessary.  Although I took the latter part of her advice, I chose to stick to the comfort of the treadmill.  In hindsight, the fresh air would have done me better.

I managed 45 minutes with one three-minute (one song) walking session and completed 3.5 miles.  My nose and throat were burning pretty bad at the end and was the reason I didn't try and complete the four miles in the plan.  But, I was moving again and survived my first sick training session.  Next up was five miles on Wednesday.

I felt better when I hit the treadmill on Wednesday, but I had another factor acting against me: GI distress.  Coupling the last throws of a cold and poor diet for the day really did me in.  I walked for one song after the three mile mark, then again for one song at the 4.2 mile mark.  Mentally I thought I was closer to five miles when I checked the treadmill and saw 4.2 miles, so in order to keep my sanity and easy the discomfort I was in, I opted to walk the second time instead of just hitting the STOP button and throwing in the towel on five miles.  I finished out my five miles at 60 minutes and was never so glad to be done.  Again, fresh air probably would have been a better idea, so I need to start prepping my bag with my fuel belt and sunglasses.  Yesterday's run was the best so far this week with no walking and nearly my usual pace, although I had a pretty wicked case of gut cramps that kept popping in during my run.  The air was cooler in the gym since it was more spring-like outside which certainly helped.

So there's another experience in my book: training sick.  I was thinking about completely bailing on my run on Tuesday, but after Kristin reminded me that I can slow day and take it easy, I decided that I had no excuse but to go and run.

Vacation Wrench

When Jeff and I planned our third anniversary vacation, I knew I was going to butt heads with my training plan.  But, I didn't think it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be.

I was given the envious task to pick any place in the world to travel to for about two weeks for our anniversary.  In the end, after much thought and deliberation, my heart chose Italy.  We booked our flights to leave March 17th and return on March 30th.  I figured that with all the walking we were going to be doing, as long as I got in the long Sunday runs, I'd at least mentally be in good shape once we got back.  I picked out hotels that had fitness equipment for those runs because running alone in another country seemed like a great way to get into trouble and lost.

Once in Italy, it was quickly evident that our days were spent waking up in the morning, walking around all day seeing the sites, then crashing at night for six or seven hours until we woke up and did it all over again the next day.  Not quite the vacation personality that I was expecting (I thought I might have an hour or two to myself in the morning before Jeff got up), but I was thrilled that our days were jam packed with site-seeing.  However, this meant no time for working out.

The first Sunday I had a high ankle sprain which may have prevented me from running anyway.  We were walking on plenty of uneven surfaces for the days leading up, so my leg was feeling very tender and I had to watch the shoes I was wearing and how I was walking for fear of aggravating it.  By Tuesday the sprain was gone and I was happy to be feeling better.

The next Sunday I didn't have access to any fitness equipment due to a hotel reservation cancellation date mix-up.  So there went my two long runs.  Then to add insult to injury, the British Airways cabin crew strike cancelled our flight out of Rome so we had to rebook for a Friday return.  That took out two more run days.  And to top it all off, I came home with a cold and didn't run my first Sunday home.  In the end, I lost eleven run days in the heart of my training program.

Instead of throwing in the towel (it crossed my mind for a second, but I'm too tough for that), I chose to replan my training.  I removed a taper week, made the weekend runs increase two miles instead of one, and removed one mile from my Week 9 Run #2 because I was sick.  So, I have a plan again, and hopefully I can finish this one out.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Frederick YMCA Triathlon Clinic

On Sunday, March 7th, I attended a triathlon clinic put together by Brett Jenner, a local triathlete.  He invited Pro Triathlete John Kenny and John's fiance Kate to lead the swim portion of the clinic, followed by local Pro Triathlete and Ironman Herb Spicer for a bike and weights session.  John and Brett lead two groups for a short run session.

I decided that I was going to complete my long (seven mile) run before the clinic just to keep myself on schedule.  I enjoy getting out on the road and back before too many people are up, so I got up to an alarm on Sunday and headed out to get my run in.  I got back to the house, grabbed my bag (packed the night before), and walked down to the YMCA for the 9a clinic start.

The swim session was eye-opening and stroke improving for me.  We started with video-taping of our swim stroke from below, to the side, and in front.  It took some time to get through everyone, so as I got chilly, I put in a couple of laps to warm back up.  I was laned together with Ken Racine who puts on several local races, and we enjoyed chatting throughout the swim session.

With the video taping complete, we started with drills.  The first drill was no arms - all kicking.  Kick six times on one side with your arms by your side, rotating your body so one shoulder is aimed at the floor, then switch sides.  Your head should be positioned as it normally would be and you breath as needed.  Stepping up from there, you extend one arm at entry-level height (just below the water surface), execute the six kicks, then stroke to switch arms and repeat on the other side.  Moving on from there, stroke three times between switching sides.

The next drill was catch-up.  With one arm extended, you leave that arm there until the other one touches it, then complete the stroke, kicking and breathing normally. This is where I had a breakthrough.  Kate and John had seen it in the last drill, and although not the focus of this drill, they told me that my hand was entering the water too close to my head so I was losing out on the propulsion from the front end of the stroke.  With that corrected, I felt the acceleration on the end of my stroke.  Brett even came over and said that he had noticed a huge change from the beginning of the clinic.  I generally felt faster as well.  Woo hoo!

The finger tip drill was by far my favorite.  You swim "normally", except that you drag your finger tips across the top of the water as you extend your arm through the stroke.  This can help cure the windmill effect if you swing your arms around instead of keeping them close to the water.

An additional drill they covered (while everyone relaxed in the whirlpool) was swimming with a fist/ball in your hand.  This teaches you to use your arm cross-section for propulsion, not just your hands.  Focusing on using your arms helps to put them in them in the proper location for catching the water on the front end of the stroke.

We transitioned from the water to the stationary bikes for a Lactate Threshold (LT) test with Herb.  After a 10 minute warm-up spin, we rode for 20 minutes with the quads burning and heart rate monitors keeping track of the numbers.  During the time on the bikes, Herb threw at us interesting information about heart rates and such.  For example, since you really can't increase your maximum heart rate, decreasing your resting heart rate or increasing your lactate threshold heart rate is the way to increase your fitness (or is a result of increased fitness).  A simple diet change (i.e. eating foods with little or no saturated fat) can help thin your blood which means less work on your heart to pump that blood thus lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.

After the ride it was time for a run, for eveyone else.  The run was an LT run and after my seven miles in the morning, I wasn't about to go out again.  They ran a six minute warm-up followed by 18 minutes of LT level followed by six minutes of cool down.  I stayed back and chatted with Herb about training and such; it's the first time I've had some one-on-one time with a professional triathlete and it got me fired up about the season.

Right before lunch, Herb went over a few sport-specific lifting exercises.  Swimming and cycling benefit directly from weight training due to the muscles (or amount of muscles, I don't remember clearly) used during the activity, and weight training for any sport should be specific to the sport and the motion of the muscles during that sport (a "wake-up" call for my usual style of weight training).  You want to lift in a similar position/motion as the sport you are training for because of muscle memory - your muscles learn by practice and will perform the way that they were trained.

After the quick weight training session, we sat down to have lunch and a Q&A with the group.  We closed out the clinic around 2:30p.

Overall I got a lot out of the clinic.  It's my first triathlon clinic and with marked improvement in my swimming and drills to apply, I'm ready to hit the water now.  The details of LT testing on the bike and run were helpful since it's a great way to judge fitness as the season progresses.  Having a chance to talk with Ken and Herb was great as well; the conversations were two-way and I think they even learned something from me.

I can see some improvements to make the clinic even better:
(1) This being one of the few times that I've been to the YMCA, better directions to the entrance would have been helpful.  Additionally, the inside of the YMCA is a bit like a maze, so something to help guide us between session (at least someone waiting to help guide us) would have been nice.
(2) Video after the swim session, if desired.  I would have liked to have seen a tape of my new stroke after the improvements I made.
(3) Handouts!  A list and description of swim drills.  You don't retain much verbal information given to you during an LT bike test, so provide on paper the information that Herb talked about.  A list and description of the weight training exercises.
(4) The run session was a little fluffy.  A description of how to do a run LT test would have been enough for me; I didn't need a demo.  How about some one talk about running styles, shoes, running clothing, etc.  This presentation could be done during lunch.
(5) Better pre-clinic information.  I got an email from Brett at 1a the morning of saying "oh by the way, you can bring your bike and trainer for the bike session".  It was too late for me to prep my bike so I missed out on this option.  Possibly include the menu for lunch.  And speaking of lunch, it was originally scheduled for between the bike and run sessions before Brett realized that that was a bad idea and moved it to after the run session (and the impromptu weight session).  I'm sure we were all starving and would have appreciated eating earlier (see number 4).

I'd definitely go to this clinic again, and to another.  But maybe after some time in the pool improving my stroke.  I need to practice what I learned.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Looking Back

My running training so far this season has been an amazing period of discovery and accomplishment.  It appears that all the mental training I worked on last season carried over, and that the down time between last season and this season allowed it all to sink in and become second nature.  I feel more like a long distance runner than I have ever felt in my life.  Boy is that strange to say.

One particular aspect that I had to work on briefly was to be happy with my run pace.  I'm not fast and it takes time to work on getting faster - time that I'm currently devoting to building endurance.  So at this point, it is what it is and I should be happy with that.  And I am.  In fact, I've actually either picked up the pace a bit, or realized what my true pace is, as I now have to use an 11:30 pace to calculate my estimated completion time for my runs instead of the 12:00 pace that I had been using for a long time.  Sure I'm slow, but there are others who are slower, and given my previous running pace of "not at all", I'm thrilled to be able to that.

On one recent long run, I had a training bonus of rain.  Two of my races last season were run in the rain, and boy did I feel like a wet slow rat when I was finished.  At the end of my long run, I had discovered why - it takes energy to jump over puddles and avoid worms and debris.  It seems like such a little expenditure at first, but keep doing those little leaps for eight miles and it really adds up.  I probably used the energy of a ten mile run in those eight miles.  And something else: it's not if your feet are going to get wet, it's when.  My right foot stayed dry for about two miles; my left foot for a much longer six miles.  But in the end, I had two wet feet, and a smile on my face for making it through the run.  I'm getting tougher still.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Half Marathon Training Program

When it was time to design a training program for a half marathon in May, I took to the internet.  I probably should have turned around and also looked through the books on my shelf, but I didn't, so I'll have to do that when I look for a lifting and triathlon training programs later this season.

When designing a program, I took several things into consideration:
(1) The plan needs to fit MY daily/weekly/goal schedule
(2) Monday needs to be an easy day because I seem to have a problem getting my stuff together for gym training on that day
(3) The plan needs to fit MY schedule
(4) The weekend long run should (will) be outside around home and should be the long run
(5) I have Pilates class Monday evenings and that's not changing (see #2)
(6) I will start with a solid running (and pilates) program and will add in weights after a few weeks

I downloaded six training plans, specifically looking for "beginner" or "just finish" programs.  Three of the programs made me cringe ("you want me to run HOW many miles in week one?"), so I settled on looking more closely at plans by Hal Higdon, About.com, and MarathonRookie.  The first two programs upon looking more closely didn't pass a sanity check.  Hal's program seemed to miss a taper at the end prior to the big race; About.com's program dropped off quite a bit at the end.  I'm no training program guru, but neither of these sounded right for the last few weeks, and overall I wasn't feeling comfortable with how the weekly runs were planned out.  MarathonRookie's ten week program won out.

I added two weeks into the program to bring it up to twelve with a start date of 02/09/10 for a 05/02/10 race, then asked Kristin what she thought.  A few tweaks later and my training plan was born.


My run days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  This takes into account the first five items of my requirements list.  Why list the fact twice that it needs to fit my schedule?  Because it if doesn't I'm setting myself up for failure no matter how hard I try to succeed.  Unfortunately the first week didn't fit Mother Nature's schedule so I lost the first four training runs, but I'm back on schedule.  It's about time I start developing my lifing program and add that in with week three or four.

Friday, February 19, 2010

First Training Run

Wednesday was my first training run for my Frederick Half Marathon training program.  After laying out a gorgeous plan the weather had other ideas so I'm already 1.25 weeks behind in training and I'm stressing a bit.  Not a lot, but I'm out of running fitness (was I ever there?) so the more time on the road the better.

I'm trying out the whole "training after work" thing instead of going in first thing in the morning before work.  I have had a bad habit of making some lame-o excuses for why I can't train after work so I'm trying to toughen myself up.  Running after work means that I need to watch what I eat for lunch and pay close attention to my hydration level during the day.  Even a small level of dehydration can give me a migraine, and that's the third thing I have to watch - if my head is starting to hurt, unless I've been banging it against my desk, it's probably a migraine and I need to treat it immediately.  Running with a migraine, while it doesn't always feel too bad during the run, causes excrutiating pain afterwards to the point that I want to blow my head off with a shotgun (a handgun is not enough in this case).  So no running with a migraine.  Period.

On Wednesday I grabbed leftovers of seafood masala and rice.  I had indigestion for the remainder of the day after eating it so I knew things weren't setting up well for my run.  But I went anyway (feeling a little tougher).  Since I was unsure of the local paved trail snow/ice status I went to the gym and hit up the 'mill.  Around mile 1.5 my lunch paid me a visit.  Thankfully it didn't get much higher than the back of my throat, but I decided that I'd finish out the remaining 2.5 miles walking to prevent another visit (and a big mess in the gym).  Had I been on the trail I probably would have kept running until I finished my run; I have no hang-ups with tossing cookies in front of people and would have gladly done so if it had made my stomach feel better.  And just think of the story I would have to tell!

Down the speed goes, and I decide that if I'm going to walk I'm raising the incline and keeping my heart rate up (a little tougher again).  Around mile 2 the ball of my right foot is starting to feel pain.  After a few steps it fades, but comes back even stronger.  I make it through a few more cycles of pain before I'm limping on the treadmill because I feel like I'm walking on knives and the pain is no longer going away.  STOP.  Go stretch and hit the showers.

My guess is I now have a fourth thing to watch out for on run-after-work days: choice of shoes.  I was wearing a modest heel, but the sole is thin and causes more impact to the balls of my feet (a spot that already seems to be highly sensitive) during the day.  I generally don't wear crazy shoes, but I definitely have ones that create more aches than others so I'll have to consider my shoe choice when picking out my work outfit.

I'm still laughing about how poorly this first run went, so at least I'm still in good spirits.  I just hope that the bad runs don't continue for too long; I need to experience at least some success to keep me motivated.  If I continue having bad luck with afternoon runs I'll have to stick with morning runs and do other training in the afternoons, although I'm hoping to have the option in case I need to be at work in the early morning.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Pilates Breakthrough

Last year I decided that if I wasn't going to do any swim, bike, or run training, I needed to at least be doing pilates or yoga.  I have practiced yoga before and missed the serenity that it provided, but pilates was new to me.  During my recovery from work at the end of December last year, I decided that it was time to find a studio.  I found one that offered both pilates and yoga and signed up for my first pilates class on December 29th.

For anyone that has done pilates before, you'll know what I went through.  Pilates was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century and focuses on strengthening the core muscles.  You can either do a mat series or an equipment series - a reformer is part of the equipment required for the equipment series and many have seen this piece of equipment on TV.  I chose to start with the mat class, but made a step up from the traditional mat class in that this class uses small weights, a resistance band, and the "magic circle" for added intensity (not usually all in the same class).  I was sore a day or two after my first few classes, but not the usual sore; more like a deep inner soreness that felt closer to an ache than pain.  It felt good.

Last week was my sixth class.  I go once a week so that also means I have been doing pilates for six weeks (woo hoo!).  I popped in to a semi-private beginner pilates mat class to make sure my form was good, and to a few yoga classes during the six weeks, but pilates has been my prime class.  I walked away from class last week with a huge smile on my face and couldn't wait to tell Jeff about my class.

The instructor was not our usual instructor but she was great.  Usually we choose our magic circle at the beginning of class, if needed, but this time she handed them out for us.  There are two levels of resistance for the magic circles: the circle with the blue pads are less resistant than the black pads.  She handed me a black pad circle and I smiled to myself since this was the first time using the tougher circle.  I was ready for the challenge and had a great class with it.  I'll probably stick to the black pad circle from now on.

The other "big smile" moment was at the end of class when we were doing triceps extensions.  Standing with small weights in your hands and your arms down by your sides, you lift your straight arms up and back focusing on the triceps muscles.  The instructor said "you should feel this in your triceps".  She then looks at my arms and says "I can see it in your triceps".  A goofy grin took over my face (and did again as I wrote this).  Awesome.

I felt invincible during this class.  My core felt strong and I don't think I can call myself a beginner anymore; it's time to stop doing the beginner modifications and start running with the big dogs.  I'm looking forward to it.  More proof was given to me during the three/four rounds of shoveling this weekend.  I didn't fatigue like I have in the past, and focusing on using my core helped to prevent the usual one or two bad throws of snow that tear up my back.  I'm loving my pilates class and my new-found core strength, and maybe in a few months I'll move up to the equipment classes.

Reflecting on 2009

It's never too late to reflect on your past, so here goes:

2009, you were rough on me.  April through October was spent as Test Director for a five week test.  I lost my summer and the early part my of fall, and I'm still a bit bitter about that.  The bitter is fading, though.  I found some time to train and compete, but it certainly didn't go the way that I had hoped (really though, when does anything ever go as planned?).  December was committed to work, putting in time almost every day in December up until the Saturday before Christmas.  I didn't have time to enjoy the holidays as much as I wanted because I was always working, albeit for 8.5 hours a day instead of 14 hours, so I still had a bit of a life.  But nonetheless, 2009 was all about work and boy did it feel like it.

For 2010 I'll be making an effort to leave work at a reasonable hour (when my eight hours are in, I'm finished for the day).  If it can be done tomorrow, it will be.  I need to take advantage of the slow periods so I have the energy to maintain through the fast periods where long hours will certainly be required.  More commitment to training is a must.  I'd like to make improvements to my appearance and increase my fitness, but I can't do that with a beer in my hand as I channel surf.

And now it's time to move on.  A brand new season awaits!