I guess it was time to take a break

February started with a bang. Actually, it started with rain, winds, ice, and snow. The snow wasn’t fun snow. It was the snow that has the texture of sugar, abrasive and hellacious. It’s the snow that you loathe if you’re a Nordic skier looking for the perfect wax. In Missouri, I have learned, the winters can be cruel. Not that I don’t know what winters are like. I have lived in the mountains, I’ve lived in the Yoop, I’ve seen- I’ve experienced- winters. But I’ve never experienced a real Missouri winter before. At first, I thought everyone was so full of sh*t. Really? A “midwest” winter? I mean, I grew up on Lake Erie, I went swimming in Lake Superior in December… and you’re telling me its cold and nasty in MO? Pshahhh….

But I bit my tongue. I nodded and grinned when people would say such things. And then, hell froze over. Literally…

Winters in Missouri are like a bipolar boyfriend who has never sought treatment. One day, it’s 60F and sunny. The next? It’s 30 and raining. Then the rain is freezing to the ground, the temperature keeps dropping, the winds keep picking up… and your car ends up with an inch-thick sheet of ice on it. Forget driving. Unless your car is equipped with ice skates, you ain’t going anywhere.  And on the first of February, this is exactly what happened. It started with some rain, some wind, and the temperatures dropped. The next day, the entire town was covered in ice, schools were canceled, the city of St Louis shut down, and everyone was in panic mode. Granted, I didn’t think we needed to buy out the toilet paper and bottled water at Schnucks (that might have been going a little far), but closing schools seemed entirely reasonable.

Luckily, I got to experience the entire week of lackluster road clearing and icy sidewalks before heading south. By the time the weekend came around, the temperatures were already rising and the roads were clear. I didn’t care, I was excited to leave if just for a week.

So. Where did I go? Here’s a hint:

What do tropical rainforests, deep-fried everything, and really awesome people have in common? …

Give up?

Each can be found in Puerto Rico.

I have never been to the Caribbean before this past week, and luckily the weather was tame and… gorgeous. I usually hate hot, humid places. But it wasn’t too hot. There was always a nice breeze from the Trade Winds, and the scenery was phenomenal.

The people were incredibly friendly, especially our driver George. But that’s the Puerto Rican way, I think. How can you not be happy if all you do is stuff outside?

Luckily, I wasn’t completely engulfed by the Puerto Rican lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, I ate fried food (fried plantains came with everything…) and I laid in the sun a little too long, leaving my skin the color of lobster. But I did get in a few decent runs. I did some “swimming”- that included diving under and over waves, and body surfed. I hiked in El Yunque National Forest, and I even did some kayaking (granted, it was an eco-tour to see the bioluminescent bay… but I count it nonetheless).

I made it back to Missouri this morning, and I think I brought the nice weather back with me. I really can’t complain – as soon as I got back to my apartment, I grabbed my bike and headed out for a few hours in 60 degree and sunny weather. I feel refreshed, I feel ready to tackle work again, and I am feeling more motivated to train and get back into a schedule. I am also motivated to eat well again, get back into the routine of preparing healthy meals that don’t involve greasy plantains… although I have to admit- the Mofongo was quite delicious.


Greater than 14,000 meters

I love the track. I love the controlled environment, the splits, the mindless repetition. I love the feel of smooth surface beneath my feet, the quickness of my cadence, the level ground. I love the bold white finish line and counting down the turns. I am in my element out there.

But for some reason, this season, I’ve been avoiding it. I’ve gone out there a few times, like when 5×600 repeats were on my schedule, but when it came to doing anything longer, I resorted to the trails. Maybe it was because my standby training partner is in her element on the trails. I’m easily convinced to change, especially if it means I have someone to chase after. And its not like change is a bad thing. Running on trails is lower impact and more neurologically challenging than running in circles over and over.

But this week, I knew I needed to find my interval nirvana. And I had a craving for something big, something that would take a lot of determination to get through. I modified my training plan from 5x600s to 10km worth of repeats. Add in the rest intervals, and my total distance racked up to over 14,000meters. 14,300 to be exact. While not the most epic or difficult set of repeats known to (wo)man, it was the biggest set I’ve done all season. And I was reveling in it.

I invited a few friends, and we met at a newly redesigned high school track. Up here, where the tracks get plowed by snow removal trucks starting in March, there is no such thing as a rubberized track. Just a smooth, crackless, even asphalt oval. And I think its absolutely beautiful.

We settled into our 10K paces for the first part of the main set, 5x800s. I was a little fast on the first two, but pulled back on the reins to avoid disaster later. We caught up with each other on the rest interval between (easy jog 400) before taking off as soon as we crossed the start line again. The 800s flew by. I almost wished I had made the workout 10x everything… maybe next time.

The 400s made my mind focus, but I couldn’t keep track of how many we’d done. Run a 400, jog a 200, run a 400, jog a 200, and it took me a while to grasp that odds were on the start line, evens were starting at the 200m mark. But I was focusing in my form, how my feet felt when they hit the ground. Where my knees were, where my hands were. I was focusing on my breathing, and I was focusing on holding back. Don’t chase the boys, I thought, just run your paces.

Louisa spectating after her long run

Regrouping was the best part. The guys would walk until I caught up, and we’d jog until the start line, and then we’d funnel into a line as we took off. It didn’t need guiding, everyone knew what we needed to be doing.

I’d finish the same distance behind the boys each time, comfortable with my pace and trying hard not to kick it in on the windless home stretch. The back stretch was windy, though, and I started sticking with Jesse on the first turn to be protected from the wind.

The 200s breezed by. Run a 200, jog a 100. Less rest, and unintentionally faster paced. I upped the anty, worrying less about my 10K time and focusing more on my ability to stay in control of my form, fast on my feet, and light. My legs wanted to burn it up, but I held back until the last five.

Two and a half hrs and two bottles of Kola/BananaNuun, and I was headed home. That was faster than I thought it would be. I was expecting 3 hours, pain, crying, maybe puking, definitely whining. I heard none of that. I didn’t dole out any of it. It was a piece of cake (ok, maybe not exactly), and my legs weren’t even trashed afterward. I was actually itching for more.

I didn’t do more, of course. I simply went home and made a protein shake. Seven more days of quality. Intensity. Recovery.  Then it’s time to taper for Rev3 Cedar Point.

Don’t forget: It’s what you do after the run that counts (too)

When I ran in college, I was a (shockingly) a little less regimented with my recovery than I am now. Maybe it was because I was young and spry. Maybe it had more to do with my love of dancing and party-natured roommates (and my love of college-type beverages). Or, perhaps, it had more to do with the fact that I raced 5Ks, not marathons. Whatever the case may be, I have changed my post-workout and post-race mentality quite a bit since I was 20. I guess when your body starts to protest, you kinda have to listen.

This week was the biggest mileage week I’ve had for running since … I’m not sure when. Might have been last summer, when I was training for Ironman Wisconsin, or it might have even happened before that. I honestly can’t recall (mostly because I trained by hours for IMWI). Anyway, I threw in close to 70miles this week (68, actually), without any two-a-days for running and with two days sans-run (because I didn’t run every day this week, that may have actually helped my recovery).

I am feeling pretty darn good. Today’s 21mile run pushed 30sec/mile negative splits even before the halfway point. The route we picked included a 550ft climb in two of the first three miles (up Quincy hill). The drastic up-and-down’s of the Keweenaw will keep a runner honest, and even though I caught my Garmin reading 7:15s in some instances for longer stretches, our fastest mile was just around 8minutes.

Quincy Hill is a "hufta" at the beginning of a long run.

Midway through the week, after taking a rest day form the Hills from Hell (which we have done two weeks in a row, now… I’ll be sure to tell ya’ll about those at a later date), I was having a weird tightness in my adductor. So I spent some quality time with my massage baller this week, as well as pampering my legs with some Chomper Body’s muscle butter. It’s got a similar feel of like IcyHot, only not nearly as stinky and not as intense. Perhaps the key to good muscle butters is their ability to promote circulation, and getting the blood in there to get the lactic acid out. Chomper’s are also all-natural, which gives their products an extra bonus in my book. The muscle butter feels like cool breaths of someone blowing ice on your legs. A little goes a long way (I usually dip my fingertip in the jar and it’s enough to cover both my inner thighs). I’ve also tried the Warming Up Cream by Sportique, which is quite nice, although I do not recommend it to be used after shaving!

As far as real good recovery goes, nothing beats the real thing: 1hour sessions with my trigger point massage therapist, Mel. Probably because she doesn’t relent even when I am “eeeking” and “ouching”, and even crying. But when I can’t get in to see her, and for general maintenance, I’ve picked up a good habit in using Trigger Point Therapy’s products.

What exactly do I do with the massage baller? Well, usually I use it on my shoulder when it gets sore from swimming to relieve some of the tightness near my supraspinatus (the muscle on the top part of my shoulder blade, for you non-anatomy driven folk). I became a believe in their product after it allowed me to regain full range of motion at the IMWI expo (two days before the race, I could barely raise my arm above my head). But as of late, though, I’ve been using it to relieve some pains-in-the-rear. I sit on the ball, close to where the tightness is (and with clean clothes on, of course), and rotate my leg in small circles with my knee either bent or straight, depending on how much pain I can handle. I “search” for the hot-spot, the location that is really tight on my glutes that needs some relieving. Sometimes, I will just lift myself up with my hands and roll the ball on the lateral side of my butt muscles. Hurts so good. I don’t show it as well, but the goal of this is to tilt my hips toward the ball to target my piriformis.

The Grid is also pretty neat for treating tightness of the IT band

I use the footballer to alleviate any tightness in my calves. Funny thing about biomechanics: pains in the feet and calves can be translated upward, into the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It’s best to nip any tightness before it gets out of control. My favorite trick is to put the footballer slightly superior to my ankle. Then, I rest my non-massage-foot on the top of my massage-foot’s shin, and press juuuust a little. I rotate my massage-foot in circles, sometimes lifting my butt and moving myself a little forward to move the footballer up my calf. This has helped keep me from getting super sore later in the day after an intense run (I use TPTherapy either right after a run or after I have a snack and shower). I sometimes give it a go right before bed, too.

Practically everyone talks about what they eat while they are training, and what they put in their bodies before a big workout or race. Race day breakfast? Meal the night before? We know that we need to have these things dialed because otherwise our race/big-workout-day GI system will be all out of whack. But nutrition is really important and often overlooked part of proper recovery after training. Getting in easily-absorbed nutrients to replenish the system and help your body recover from the stresses you just put it through is key if you want to get stronger. I make sure to get in two-scoops of Ultragen after each big/hard run (today’s 21 miler was one of those). I also try to get some food in my system within the first hour, too. Today, I enjoyed a peanut butter and chocolate scone from the SillyYak Bakery (out of Madison, Wisconsin). Baberaham’s mom sent us a box heaping full of delicious- and gluten free!- treats to stock our freezer with. What better timing?! I am really excited. We got a pumpkin pecan coffee cake, and Baberaham doesn’t like coffee cake… so I am one lucky girl (here’s hoping I don’t try to eat the entire thing before the weekend’s over). Additionally, for the rest of the day, and tomorrow (a recovery, easy-training day) I will make a strong effort to stay hydrated, replenish lost electrolytes, and not eat crappy foods. Oddly enough, minus the coffee cake, I don’t really crave ‘crappy’ foods (french fries, candy bars, etc) after a hard workout or race. Usually, I would just kill for a Keweenaw Co-Op salad with pumpkin seeds and goat cheese…

It’s important to keep moving after a hard workout or race, too. Just because you crossed the finish line doesn’t mean your done. Walk around a bit, flush out the legs. If you are going to sit, prop up your feet (and take a nap!). Although not proven in clinical studies, runners can experience deep-vein thrombosis, which is why it’s not a great idea to do a race and hop right into the car for a long drive (or get on a plane right away). Compression socks help circulation, and might give your legs a happy-feeling after a hard workout anyway. I am not too geeked on spending $60 on a pair of socks, though, so I go with the ol’ geriatric-style socks from Walmart (yes, they are beige, but who really cares? $20 beats $60 any day).

Speaking of which, time to go walk around downtown on this absolutely sunny, beautiful day. Happy training!

Make ’em say mmm…

Here are a few of the things I’ve been enjoying as of late.

Baberaham brought me some Taza Mexican chocolate for Valentine’s Day. It is so crumbly and delicious. I have considered making hot chocolate with it, but I am enjoying eating it too much …

I am loving the Chomper Body muscle butter. I just threw on a dab of it on my legs, right after the run/shower combo. It feels amazing. At first, it just felt moisturizing, like a really good lotion. And then, the tingles came. Not tingles so strong as say, Icy Hot or the like. More like someone with a mouthful of ice-cubes was blowing softly on my skin. Very nice. More to come later on that, as well as their Booty Balm, embrocation (Crank) and body glide (Silke).

And I also am pretty geeked about Sportique’s line of products. I tossed a bottle of their Massage Oil in my purse and took it with me Wednesday to my massage therapy appointment with Mel. She was excited to use it, and it smelled really nice (a sweet blend of apricot and citrus). She liked using it, and it didn’t leave me feeling greasy or in need of a shower. It also felt like it got in deep into my skin, warming me up. I like!

I suppose its time to go work on loosening my quads with my Quadballer. Maybe a little massage oil will help get the knots out… Speaking of which- its time to do some before-bed trigger point and hit the sack! Nighty night!