Two miles is a long way.

Two miles is a long way to walk when those two miles were supposed to be the end of your run.

The walk of shame. The trudge of defeat. The half-hour of beating yourself up. I should be running. I should be running. This is stupid. I should be running. I’m so weak. I should be running.

Two miles is a long time for such thinking to fester. If you’re not careful, it builds up and you implode – even if you’re walking for the right reasons. Which, today, I was.

I didn’t head out until almost 11 a.m. – mistake number one. It was already 82 and 80 percent humidity. Mistake number two was not drinking enough beforehand (or even after my ride yesterday), so not only was I out in peak heat and humidity, I was verging on dehydrated. I wasn’t running far – the plan was just eight miles – but around mile six, totally slick with sweat, I stopped to cool down for a moment and noticed that some soreness in my left shin that had threatened while I was running stubbornly remained. I tested it a little and decided that despite the long, hot, sad, two-mile trudge that would await me, I would walk back rather than run. It really sucks to walk even part of what’s supposed to be a run (really tough hills aside), but I wasn’t going to risk injury for what would undoubtedly be two mediocre last miles on just a normal, too-hot training run.

As I walked back, I felt extremely guilty. I felt like I was quitting just because it was hot. Logic hid from the onslaught of negativity, tucked away in the dark corners of my mind, but peeping out a little to watch the show: “Hey, you’re walking because your shin is bothering you. You’re being smart. Stop this,” it timidly whispered, but was shouted down by my internal tantrum. I should be running. I’m weak. I should be running. It’s not fair. I should be running.

I made it back fine – no further shin exacerbation – but mentally I was spent. Having a run cut short like that is a blow to confidence in your running and in your body, and also on your mood. I spent the rest of the day basically sulking, even though I’d calculated that my times for the six miles I was able to run were okay, considering the weather (and, despite although I wasn’t exactly sore from my ride yesterday, my quads were definitely feeling a little heavier than usual). I let one run – not even the whole run – get the best of my whole day. Lame. (Pun intended.)

A side note: I’ve worn my new PureGrits a couple times now. While they feel okay, they’re taking a while to get broken into. I feel like I’m running on hollow, inflexible planks. I don’t think my form has changed, but every footfall sounds like a heavy thud despite the fact that I’m doing the same old midfoot strike I have been for a couple years now. Hopefully that goes away soon.

Righto, I’m going to try to sleep off this day. Hopefully a ride or a swim in the morning will be good. Probably ride, since I burned my arm rather badly on a skillet over the weekend and it’s still a bit raw and… peel-y. I suspect swimming in public pools with semi-open wounds is frowned upon.

– bec


Ponderings on protein

When I started lifting back in January, I also started paying better attention to my diet. The friend who introduced me to lifting asked if I was getting enough protein; I replied that I didn’t know – didn’t know how much I was eating on a regular basis or how much I should be eating. So I started keeping track of my food. I started using the myfitnesspal app to keep track of macros (carb/protein/fat percentages) as well as tracking calories in general to make sure I wasn’t over (or under!) eating.

A side note here: the summer when I got into ultras and was training for the 50M, I started using MFP, but it quickly went from “keeping an eye on things” to obsessing about calories. It was not a healthy time. It never got down to dangerous levels, but it was ruining my positivity and stressing me out. I recall my goal was something like 1400 calories – probably around 1000 fewer than I should have been eating, given the mileage I was doing. Thankfully, that period lasted only a few months. Once I got back from a family vacation and talked to one of my friends about how much calories and food were stressing me out, I stopped using the app and very quickly began feeling better. (As it turns out, eating is good for you! Who knew.) So when my friend suggested I use an app like MFP to track things, I was a little cautious, but I had already had the experience of misusing the app and felt reasonably confident that I could handle it and stay in control, so I went ahead with it. End sidenote.

As it turned out, I wasn’t really getting enough protein – probably about 40-50 grams. I don’t blame veganism on that – plenty of vegans get plenty of protein, myself currently included. Protein intake just wasn’t on my radar, especially since I’d had a pretty low-key winter for exercise. Since I’ve started tracking macros, I typically aim for about 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat*. This translates to anywhere from 120 to 160+ grams of protein per day, depending on my activity level. Of course, I don’t hit these marks exactly, every day, but it’s a good guideline that helps me figure out what to eat.

Like a lot of runners, carbs were my best friend. Pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. I never thought to change how I was eating, since I didn’t feel particularly bad about carbs. I still don’t. Carbs are wonderful. (I don’t get how people can try to go “no carb.” It’s in fruit. It’s in veggies. What are these people eating? And unless you have celiac disease or in some other way really are sensitive to gluten, just hush up about how terrible bread is for you. People have been eating it since the dawn of mankind. It can’t be that bad. I was stunned when I heard the woman for whom I babysit utter the phrase, “All grains are just bad.” Just – no. Nope. Wrong. Rice is a staple in, like, every country. And the bread/dawn-of-mankind statement applies here too. But this is the same family whose 8-year-old child, upon opening the baking powder can whilst making cookies with me, looked up and asked, “Is this liner BPA-free? An eight year old. Ok, I’m done.)

However, since I’ve upped my protein, I’ve noticed a number of changes. Protein is typically more filling than carbs, so I usually feel full for longer after eating. I have more sustained energy throughout the day. The most noticeable difference, though, has been my recovery time. It’s basically zero. It takes a lot to make me sore, but I’m almost never really sore the next day. Granted, I’ve only recently started running much again, but after my long runs I’ve been totally fine. Same with lifting: even if I have a hard workout, there’s not much attrition the next day.

It’s kind of odd, actually. Over the years, I’ve gotten so used to feeling beat-up the day after a long run. It’s told me that I worked hard (and that I needed to rest). Pain is an assumed part of distance running, and it kind of feels like cheating the system. I’m sure it will be back once I really get into the swing of things, but I suspect it will be less than before.

I try to get as much protein naturally as I can – beans and such – and I end up eating a lot of soy products. I’d like to cut down on that, actually. I gave in and, feeling like a bro, ordered a 4-lb. bag of soy protein powder (Honeyville Farms). I had my first protein shake. I got used to the taste. I discovered new ways to incorporate the stuff into other, tastier things (my favorite is vegan protein pudding). And no, protein powder does not equal InstaHulk (although I have put on some muscle mass from lifting plus increasing protein). Now that I’m shifting my focus more towards running and away from lifting, I’m going to continue eating lots of protein. It’s been good to me.

– bec

*A note on macro percentages: everyone feels best and performs best at different breakdowns. Mine is somewhere around 40/30/30, but everyone is different. Take some time and experiment to see what’s most optimal for you; make sure to take notes on how you’re feeling and performing while you’re doing this so you can notice changes and correlations over time.

Vegan Protein Pudding
It’s easy. It’s tasty. It’s full of protein. Just put this stuff in a food processor and try to not eat the whole batch – or do.

1 block silken tofu
4 scoops (1 cup) protein powder, soy/hemp/otherwise
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup or sweetener of choice
1.5C soy milk (use chocolate for extra chocolate, though it has more sugar)
You can also mix in peanut butter, that’s pretty good and adds a little fat.
Top with raspberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, whatever.

You can also do a quick, one-bowl version: 2 scoops protein powder, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, about 1 cup soy milk, and some sweetener. You can just mix that up in the bowl. Since it doesn’t include the tofu, you may need a little extra milk to get the desired consistency.

…so it turns out, biking isn’t so terrible when you bring water with you.

Last night, I had made plans to swim with a friend for the first time in many months. I was actually pretty excited about it since it was supposed to rain all day and, I must admit, I just kind of feel like swimming. I’m making an effort to cross-train more, so swimming is going to be a must in my future. And I started Chrissie Wellington’s memoire (I plan to finish it tonight), so thinking about tris and reading her story has me all amped up about swimming.

But lo and behold, I woke up at the crack of 9:15 and it was sunny and not too warm. I could feel a gentle breeze wafting through my open windows and I knew I wouldn’t be spending my exercise time indoors. (Luckily, my friend had ended up staying up late and was not feeling up to a 10-am swim, so no harm no foul there.) I added some air to my tires, strapped on my helmet because I’m an adult now, glanced at the time and headed out.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d go; I knew I wanted to be out for at least 90 mins, probably two hours (which is what it ended up being). I just didn’t know how far that would take me. I was feeling good, and I spent the first several miles debating about whether or not to bike all the way back to my parents’ place. I’ve done that ride only once, but attempted it one other time. I had started out fully intending to bike back, but after my planned “quick break” at home turned into a few hours of hanging around, I knew I wasn’t going to bike back. I got my dad to drive me back, I think. So today, although I was feeling great (and had capri-length spandex on to avoid at least some chafing), I was honest with myself. I knew that if I went home, my motivation to bike 25 miles back to town would plummet and I’d bum a ride and end up with a subpar biking day.

An hour into my ride, the road I was on, Huron River Drive, turned into a dirt road. I could have continued left or right on pavement, but I didn’t want to put myself in one of those “I’m feeling good now, so I’ll keep going! It can’t be that bad!” situations where I go out too far, then struggle with the return trip. I hopped out of the saddle for a quick stretch (and to confirm on my phone that my parents’ place was farther than I thought it would be, so I should not carry on to there), then turned around. The ride back, as it always does, seemed to go faster. I think this is mainly because on the way out, I was keeping loose track of how long it had been and deciding how far out I’d go. The way back was simple: just go back the way you came, and you’ll get there when you get there. And for the love of god, actually try on the hills.

Which I did. As with running, sometimes I fail to realize that a hill is happening to me until I’m a third of the way up, then I just settle into a trudge rather than try to power up the hill. I tell myself, “You aren’t going to get better at hills by not working on them. So work up this one.” The thing is, I really, really dislike biking uphill. At this stage, it’s at least in part because I’m not in uphill biking shape at all (short of the anatomical fact that I have quads). But there’s just something tedious and frustrating about it: you’re pedaling and pedaling, gears whirring and your legs burning, and you’re barely moving. (Reiterating here: out of shape.) With running, even if you’re moving slowly uphill, it feels like less work to be moving slowly. To me, moving slowly uphill on a bike is pure torture because it feels so damn inefficient, putting in a bunch of work and seeing little movement.

But today, for the most part, I did decently on the hills. The very last one, on a bridge just before town, had me swearing like a sailor, but for the most part I just did it. It definitely helped that unlike my last ride, I brought water. I wore my Nathan pack. I don’t know why people mess around with bottles on bikes; unclipping the slurpy bit and drinking hands-free seems like a much more obvious and convenient way to go. Maybe they don’t like the back sweat from the pack. Maybe it’s the weight (though you could just not fill it the whole way). At any rate, it made my ride much more enjoyable and probably better quality. I rode into Kerrytown, sweaty and absolutely ravenous. I bought a bagel and two plums and scarfed them outside the shop, which I found a little odd. Usually after running far, I’m not hungry for hours, but even a few miles before I finished, I knew I would be really, really hungry when I stopped. I could already feel it.

I got home, ate more things, read more of Chrissie’s book (which is fantastic, I definitely recommend it even if you’re not into tris), then climbed for a little under three hours. So it’s just shy of 9 p.m. and I am ready for bed. (My legs aren’t tired, though; next week I think I will attempt the 50 miles to and from home.)

Moral of the story: biking is actually pretty okay. Which means I definitely need to invest in some good (read: padded!) biking shorts.

Peace love and a number of sports, all of which one can derive pleasure from,

PS. I intended to take some pictures, but I was maintaining a semi-decent pace (about 15mph) and didn’t feel like stopping. It was green and blue and pretty, along the Huron River most of the way. It also rained at one point, but it was still very sunny. A perfect combination.

My “rut” produced results. (Turns out, rest is good. Crazy, right?)

I planned on running out on the Potowanami trail this morning. It’s a good half-hour drive from here, so I set about eight alarms knowing that it would take a lot to get me up between 7:30 and 8:15, which is when I’d planned on leaving. And it did take a lot – but it wasn’t the alarms that roused me. It was my cats scratching and meowing at the door.

At 6:45 a.m.

After a grumbly fifteen minutes, I decided I was up for the day and got ready for the run. I filled up my Nathan pack and applied BodyGlide. I laced up and headed out. On the drive there, which takes you through a winding green tunnel this time of year, I listened to some of my favorite songs and got really psyched about the run. The last time I ran this loop was March 7, 2013 and, according to my log, the trails were frozen and terrible but I had a decent run (no time recorded). I pulled into the parking lot as I have dozens and dozens of times over the last eight years and stepped out. The sun was shining, it was barely 60 degrees, and there was a nice breeze. Absolutely perfect. So with a happy spring in my step and pack straps secure, I finally pressed start on my watch and set off.

The 13-mile loop (which I think is closer to 12, but maybe not) has three sections in my mind. The first bit, I don’t know how many miles, is somewhat hillier than the rest and serves as a good wake-up, adjustment phase. You have to get right to it, but at the same time the hills are all very runnable. It’s just a lot of up and down. It has a very nice flow to it – the whole trail does, it’s also (primarily?) a mountain bike trail – and it keeps you alert, keeps your stride short and quipped and your feet nimble. You fly up and down, over roots and rocks, feet barely skimming the surface as you round turn after turn. You cross a few bridges but don’t pause yet, you’ll break the rhythm. This part takes a little over an hour and is the longest section.

Then you hike up the first hill that sucks to run up – long, unshaded, and covered in deep sand. At the top, as it evens out, the shrubbery forms a nice light green tunnel. The trail fades back to soft dirt, mostly free of roots, and after a few minutes you are lulled into that wonderful trancelike state of smooth, fast, easy trail running. These miles really fly by. I haven’t looked at the elevation profile, but I would guess that it’s a little downhill on average. There’s some variation, of course, but by and large you speed quietly through the woods; the only thoughts that float through your head are things like, “I’m flying over this trail. This is great. This is a great run. I could run forever. Of course I’ll do a 100.” During this time today, I kept flashing back to various runs and races that I’ve done on this trail – here’s where I dropped my glove, here’s where that woman was pooping during my first 50k,  here’s where my dad fell and bruised a rib… (He’s not so keen on trail running now.) And further back: here’s where I fell during cross country and scarred my knee. Here’s where I caught back up with the team. That sort of thing. Odd how when I try to summon memories of high school, I often come up blank, but then I remember very specific moments (almost all running) very vividly.

Anyway, this magical middle section floats by, and suddenly I’m back in what I’ve deemed “familiar territory.” I call the last few miles “familiar” because I often don’t remember specific parts of the middle section, since I’m pretty lost in my own heads. The only other hill that I usually powerhike is right in the last two or three miles, and it’s a doozy. And it’s rocky and long and long and did I mention long? So that usually yanks me out of my stupor pretty quickly – and harshly. But from then on, it’s a nice coast and I know I only have a couple miles left so I can crank pretty hard. You cross the last two lopsided old bridges, crest a small hill, and burst out of the forest, startling small families who were peacefully enjoying a morning at the lake – picnics and kids and such – until this runner came charging through, sprinting to a finish line that wasn’t actually there, then doing handstands and splashing about in the lake.

I stood in the warm lake, hands on my hips, sun on my face and back, a gentle breeze blowing, and looked around at the green and the blue and the trails and thought, “This is where I belong. Not lifting in a stuffy gym, but here, outside, for hours and hours.” I’ll still lift, especially squats for my legs and hips, but my focus is definitely going to shift back to running.

So: this was a great run. One of the best I’ve had in a very long time. My shins are a little tender, but I don’t think it’s anything rest and ice and some more rest won’t heal. I think it was so great because of two things: how easy I’ve taken the last two weeks (my “rut”) and my sheer joy and enthusiasm for running. I just love it so damn much. Very few things in the world make me happier than running. I felt strong the whole time, worked up the hills instead of trudging, and only stopped once to take a few quick photos and to stretch my calves. (The horse flies were definitely an incentive to keep moving.) At the end, I still felt strong and fresh, like I could easily throw down another 13. Now, writing this 11 hours later, my legs aren’t sore or tired at all. Maybe it’s from the rest, maybe it’s from the protein I’ve been eating over the last couple months, but I feel superbly excellent. My motivation has definitely returned.

So, about that marathon next month… we’ll see. I’m definitely going to try at least 18, maybe 20, within the next two weeks. If that goes well, I’m going to tentatively say the race is GO. But I will always defer to the state of my shins.

Love running always,

PS. In case you were wondering, here are some songs I listened to on the way to and from my run.
Crystal Colorado – Alpha Rev
Highways – Alpha Rev
Today is Mine – Jerry Reed
On top of the world – Imagine dragon
Carry on – Fun
Get there from here – William Elliot Whitmore
Let’s do something impossible – W.E.W.
Country roads, take me home – John Denver

PPS. Here are some pictures from today.

Who says running isn’t sexy? Look at those compression sleeves and flips!

On the heels of my last post…

I saved this interview with Tony Krupicka to watch earlier today. I watched it. It applies directly to the little rut I’ve been in the last two weeks or so. It’s only about 3 minutes of unused footage from In the High Country which, if you haven’t seen it, you must. He talks about complacency and how boring and unsatisfying it is – exactly my thoughts. Being comfortable all the time is unsatisfying. Not challenging yourself even a little and making the best of every day, giving every day purpose, is unsatisfying. Not only that, but it’s a waste of precious time. This isn’t to say that some down time is bad – it’s necessary for both mental and physical reasons – but too much of a good thing is bad. (Especially if it leads to you getting fat, sad, and out of shape!)

So anyway. Enjoy your evenings, everyone! I’m going to be productive until bedtime then wake up and RRRRUUUUUUUUNNNNNNN.

– bec


Thoughts on motivation

I ran that 15-miler a few weekends ago, my shins threatened to feel sore, I took a few days off, and my motivation went down the drain. Which is odd because (a) I love running and (b) that run went pretty well. But I’ve only run 5 times in the two weeks it’s been since then (early July), and they’ve all been short. This has led me to examine my own motivation and think about why it might be low.

A big part of it is a simple time conflict, feeling pressured at the end of the semester. I have only two weeks of calc and chem left (physics is already over, thankfully!), so it’s crunch time. There’s also my conflict of running vs. lifting. I can’t go 100% at both, which is frustrating and confusing. And there’s the simple matter of getting up early enough to run without it being disgusting, which has been a problem because I’ve been staying up late doing homework and being productive.

But at the back of my mind, one word threatens. Dare I even say it? Laziness. Running far takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work, and sometimes I worry I’m lulling myself into an easier, albeit far less satisfying, lifestyle of complacency. I don’t really think that’s the case – at least, not 100%, because I still do get out and run or lift or climb pretty much every day. (That’s another activity to throw in the mix of competition – climbing. Once I’m less broke, I’m going to start going to Planet Rock at least once a week, hopefully twice, so that will probably replace lifting those days.) But it’s haunting me a little. But I guess since it’s haunting me, it’s not real?

(A bit later…) I took a break to go to class and do other things. In that period – maybe or maybe not during calc – I read Dakota Jones’ Hardrock recap and that sure got my motivation back in a surge. Hopefully that motivation will be there in the morning so I can actually get up, drive to the Poto, and run 13 on trails for the first time in ages. I think it will. But just in case, I’ll set about 20 alarms to get me up and out of bed and on the trail.

– bec

PS. With all this in mind, but first and foremost my shins, I’m doubting that I’ll make the marathon mark by this time next month. The longest I’ve done was 15 – only 11 more miles, right? But all joking aside, mainly I want to come back to distance as quickly as possible without getting injured again. If that means taking a $70 hit and missing a great race, then so be it. I’d rather take my time and come back in December with more miles under my belt and a shot at a better time anyway. Because really… why mess around with marathons when there’s a 50k in December?  🙂

PPS. I’m trying to cross-train more. Or rather, I need to start trying to cross-train more. As I mentioned in a previous post, once I get some appropriate-length spandex/biking shorts, that won’t be an issue. But diving back into swimming might mean rough seas ahead (holy swimming metaphors, batman!). Luckily, I have several friends who swim/do tris and want me to swim/do tris, so I will have company. And really, it’s not so bad once you’re in the water… except for the lack of oxygen… And I should really start doing yoga again, just to get some hip flexibility back – along with the sunshine-blissed-out mental state it gives me.