Monday, January 31, 2011

A Confidence-Boosting Run

Sometimes when you're training for a race you just need one run that goes really well to boost your confidence.

For me that run happened on Saturday, a run that I was in fact dreading.

I woke up torn about whether to run outside on the black ice or suck it up and do 10 miles on the treadmill and risk aggrevating my hip and knee.

I decided to try outside but after almost slipping before even leaving the parking lot, I figured the treadmill was a safer bet.

Surprisingly, once I was on the treadmill, it's like my legs and my mind were on cruise control. I was moving right along like it was nothing. Time was passing; I wasn't feeling completely tortured spending that much time on the treadmill.

For the most part, my hip and knee cooperated. In the last 10 minutes of the run, I felt some nagging pain in my right knee, but it went away once I stopped and stretched.

I stepped off the treadmill feeling accomplished and more excited for the New Orleans half marathon than I've been in a long time. Now that my legs are finally cooperating, I'm ready to race and I'm confident things will go well.

Sometimes it just takes one run to get everything back on track.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What's Your Favorite Strength Training DVD?

One of the best Living Social deals I ever bought was a two-month gym membership for $20. At a price like that, during the cold winter months, how could I have passed that deal up?

Gym(Source)

I started my membership two weeks after the Philadelphia Marathon when I was really craving some cross training after several months of hard running training and my great deal ended this week.

I'm really sad that my two-month stint at the gym is wrapping up. I enjoyed many of the classes I was taking, especially my Monday and Wednesday night strength training classes.

I even considered becoming a regular member when my deal was over, but the $50 per month price tag for a gym that didn't have a pool seemed a bit high in comparison to other places.

I asked about any sort of special memberships for people who just wanted to take classes, but apparently they don't offer anything like that.

So for now, I'm back to being gym-less.

Since I've really enjoyed the strength training I've been doing, I plan to keep that up. I have a few Jillian Michael's DVDs that I can use and I might invest in a few other strength training DVD options.

I'm also looking into joining a different gym with cheaper memberships and a pool. I'm very, very tentatively kicking around the idea of a late spring triathlon, which means I'd need a place to swim. (And a bike to borrow, but that's a different story.)

So what are your favorite strength training DVDs? I'm looking for good recommendations to spice up my routine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Training Plan B

I'm lucky to work at an organization that offers the option to telework when weather is crappy and commuting would just be not safe.

Snow outside my window after latest storm
No sign of the sidewalk anywhere

On days like today, teleworking is our office's Plan B.

Runners need a Plan B too, especially if we're training during winter months. Scott over at iRunner Blog did a great post yesterday on how to build a Plan B into your training.

Last night I was busy crafting my own Plan B so I could still get my training run in despite the snow. I borrowed a lot of tips from Scott.

1. Swapped an outside run for a treadmill run. With snow and ice coating the sidewalks, there wasn't a question in my mind that I needed to use the treadmill at my community's fitness center.

2. Instead of focusing on mileage on the treadmill, I focused on total time of the workout. I banged out 35 minutes did some stretching and walked home for part two of the workout.

3. Since there was no way I could drive to the gym in the terrible weather, I popped in Jillian Michael's No More Trouble Zones to get my strength training for the day. It wasn't quite as fun as my awesome circuit training class at the gym, but it was still a kick-butt workout.

My plan B workout wasn't as awesome as what my original training plan called for, but it worked just fine. Having that flexibility built into your schedule is key if you living in a place where the winter weather could really throw a wrench into a training plan.

What's your Plan B when the weather gets in the way of your workouts?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Barefoot Running Chronicles: First Run in Vibram FiveFingers

I've been intrigued by the barefoot running movement for a while, but wasn't really sure if I was ready to give it a try. I mean after all, I've been running in the same shoes my entire running career.

But when the people at Vibram offered to send me a pair of their FiveFinger shoes so I could try them and share my experiences with you, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

For a girl who has spent her entire running career wearing Mizuno Wave Inspires, experimenting with barefoot running shoes is going to be interesting. To make it even more fun, I plan to record everything along the way to share it with you.

So without further ado, I bring you the first video blog in the Barefoot Running Chronicles: My First Run in Vibram FiveFingers.




Let me know what you think about the video: Love it, hate it, think I look like a huge dork. I had fun making it, but I'm really curious about what you guys think.

And let me know if you have anything specific you'd like me to address in future videos. I'm learning as I go and want to share as much as I can with you.

Any barefoot runners out there that have any tips for me?

Standard FTC rules apply: Vibram FiveFingers sent me these shoes to test and review, all opinions expressed are mine own.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Celebrating Small Achievements

Last night for the first time since I started regularly strength training back in December I was able to jump to 10 lb. dumbbells and crank out a ton of bicep curls and rows.

dumbbells_adjusted(Source)

My arms were sore and shaking in the process, but I left that class feeling strong and accomplished!

What are the small achievements you're celebrating today?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fitness Metrics Part Two

In Part One of the Fitness Metrics series, we looked at all the different data you can collect about your workouts, including running pace, weight, body fat percentage and more.

Lots of good stuff.

In order to make sense of all that data coming in, you need a reliable way to track it. Depending on your personal preference there are tons of different options available to help you log everything. Here are a few that I'm experimenting with.



Daily Mile:

Lots of fitness bloggers swear by Daily Mile to track their fitness metrics and it seems to be really popular, so I decided to open an account to check it out. So far I've only logged one workout, but I really like the big, bold graphics Daily Mile provides you to give feedback on your workouts and the mileage you've run. I also like that you can customize the form when you log a workout to include information about the weather, your perceived level of exertion and more. Those are all major factors that play into the success of a workout and it's important to track them. In the past, I've never been good at sticking with a tracking system like this, so I'm curious to see if I'll be able to get into the habit.

Garmin Connect:

I love Garmin Connect because it's so easy. Any time you download information from your Garmin device, you can upload it to the Connect site, which will give you instant feedback on your pace, the total distance you've run over time and more. I like that you can pull reports with all sorts of information and export them to an Excel spreadsheet for further number crunching. The obvious drawback here is that you can only track workouts where you've worn your Garmin. So if you take a BodyPump class or decide to run without your Garmin one day, the system can't track that.

Spreadsheets:

Spreadsheets are one of my favorites ways of tracking fitness metrics, and Google Docs is by far my favorite spreadsheet program because you can access your spreadsheets on any computer anywhere. You can input any data you want into a spreadsheet whether it be weight, body fat, the number of hours of sleep you get each night, etc and have the program generate all sorts of charts and graphs that show trends over time. Spreadsheets are a great visual kick in the pants because the charts and graphs make it very easy to see trends over time.

Paper Log:

If tracking your fitness metrics on the computer isn't your thing, you can always use a simple paper log. There are tons of different varieties available at bookstores, and Runner's World sends on each year if you have s subscription to the magazine. I've never used my paper log before, but I'm going to try the Runner's World one this year to see if I have better luck sticking with a paper log or a computerized method. On paper you have the flexibility to jot down whatever metrics you want to keep track of. The major drawback though is that you can't generate any sort of chart or visualize display of that data over time.



At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what tool you pick to do your tracking. The most important thing is that you select something that you can stick with and that fits into your lifestyle. A fancy system won't do you any good if you're not actually using it to capture and track your fitness metrics. Pick something that works for you and begin logging that data.

Coming next in the Fitness Metrics series, we'll take a look at what to do with all this data we've been collecting and logging. We'll look at ways to analyze it and how you can use it to improve your fitness and your training.

How do you currently track your workouts? Are you a paper or computer tracking person?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Low Cost Ways to Mix Up Your Fitness Routine

Winter can really put a damper on even the best workout efforts, especially if you live in a cold area.

The Long Straight Road(Source)

The chilly temperatures and the short days just make you want to curl up on your sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. And while that may be a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, if you do it every day all winter long, come spring race season, you're going to have a big fitness hill to climb to get back in your best shape.

So how can you battle the winter blues and maintain a strong fitness base?

Try something new!

Winter is a great time to cut back on your running mileage and mix things up with some cross-training.

Here are some ideas for mixing it up:

Check out a new class at a gym:
A lot of gyms offer a free trial period usually lasting a couple days up to an entire week. Take advantage of the free pass to try some different classes. Experiment with spin or yoga or kickboxing. Step outside your fitness norm and try a class you never would have done before.

Try an outdoor sport:
If you're stuck with a few months of cold weather you may as well make the most of it. Hit the slopes and try snowboarding or skiing or grab some friends and head to the ice skating rink. Or for a cheaper alternative, grab a sled and find a hill. If you're worried about lack of coordination or getting hurt from falling, stick to something safer and build a snowman with your kids or shovel the snow. You'll get the benefits of being outside in the fresh air and you'll be moving. It's a win-win.

Pop in a new DVD:
Workout DVDs are a really low-cost way to mix up your routine. You can find tons of different options on Amazon, but you can also check what's available for rent at your local library. If you find a couple that sound interesting give them a try. I'm a big fan of strength training DVDs mainly because I've yet to find a cardio-based DVD that gave me a decent workout.

Check the Groupon and Living Social deals for your city:
These two group buying sites offer tons of relatively cheap fitness opportunities. In the D.C. area I've seen the opportunity to try boot camp classes, Bikram yoga, a two-month gym membership, salsa dancing and tons more. If you're looking for a way to mix up your routine this is a really easy way to do it. It's low-cost and doesn't require any sort of long term commitment to a certain gym or a certain activity.

How do you keep your routine fresh in the winter?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

No Race Calendar

We're already half way through January and I still haven't put together a race calendar. After the New Orleans half in February, my schedule is commitment free.

This is strange for me
. Usually by mid-December I know exactly which races I want to run the following year. I have them planned out, I'm registered for the spring ones and I'm dreaming of putting together training plans.

But this year, I'm just not feeling it.

Yes, I want to race, but there just aren't any races that are capturing my attention and begging me to sign up like in previous years.

In addition, I've really been enjoying my enhanced focus on cross-training and just taking things one day at a time. While this doesn't bode well for a great race in New Orleans, it's just what I've needed mentally and physically lately.

So for once, I'm not sure what my plan is.


Maybe I'll wait until March, when we're through the worst of winter and reassess the race situation then. I'm hoping the nicer weather and longer days will rekindle my burning desire to be racing all the time.

In the meantime, I'm still keeping my eye out for fun races that might catch my interest. If you know of any good ones, feel free to share.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Makes You Feel Accomplished?

Do you ever have those days where mentally you are challenged all day long -- you tackle big projects at work, come home and work on other mentally challenging projects -- but still go to bed feeling like your day wasn't complete?

That was me yesterday.

Because of an ice storm I was cooped up in the house all day. During the day, I cranked on a bunch of my big work projects. I was super productive and got a lot done.

When I was done with work, I tackled a lot of blog projects, redesigned my Twitter, participated in an awesome #fitblog chat, read a book on productivity and eventually went to sleep.

I accomplished a lot.

But during the day I probably left my desk for a total of an hour tops. In an entire day! That's terrible! And I had zero physical activity, unless you count walking up and down the steps to get from my bedroom to the kitchen for food.

Instead of being proud of everything I accomplished during the day, I went to bed feeling lazy for not carving out some time for movement.

Days like yesterday serve as a reminder that no matter what I accomplish, it's my workouts that leave me feeling most satisfied at the end of the day. Getting things done is important, but not more important than my health and wellness.

Today, I'm going to make time for movement.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fitness Metrics Part One

In my day job, one of the things I do on a monthly basis is track metrics on our organization's blog and social media profiles. Each month I crunch and analyze the numbers and use the feedback to help guide the future of the programs and make decisions going forward.

I carry some of the data crunching nerdiness over into my workouts too. I truly believe the only way to determine if something is worthwhile is to test it, track the metrics, analyze everything at the end, and use that information to guide decisions going forward.

Fitness Metrics is a short series I'm launching to explain how you can approach your workouts with an analytic mindset. In Part One, we'll discuss some of the different kinds of data you can collect and tools to help you get a whole picture of your fitness program.



Speed and Distance of Runs:

Garmin Forerunner: There's no doubt in my mind that the feedback from a Garmin is invaluable for runners. Not only will Garmin time your entire work out, but it will generate your individual mile splits and let you pre-program in speed workouts. I monitor my overall time and my individual splits to look for decreases in time. After added dedicated speedwork to my training my plan this summer, I saw steady decreases in both my overall and mile times. (The save-money option here is a cheap sports watch. I used one for years that recorded the overall time of my workout, it didn't give me mile splits, but if my overall time decreased it was still a success.)

MapMyRun.com: For those people without a Garmin to tell them how far they run, MapMyRun is a great tool. You can map out routes and get the mileage. If you have an account, the site will let you save your run, enter your overall time and generate an average pace per mile for you. Over time you can look back and see if your average pace is decreasing.

Weight:

A good scale is vital to keep track of small fluctuations in weight. Even if you're not trying to lose weight, you'll want to monitor it just to make sure you're staying on track with your training and nutrition. Eat Smart sent me their scale to test, and I have to say I was pretty happy with it compared to my old scale. It measures weight to the 10th and doesn't give a funky reading depending how I step on the scale. My old scale gave me a different number if I stepped with my left foot first than if I stepped on with my right foot. Plus the numbers on the Eat Smart scale are big and easy to read first thing in the morning. The only downside to the scale is that it doesn't measure body fat percentage.

Body Fat:

I use a scale that measures bioelectrical impedance. Now while this is far from the most accurate way to measure body fat, it's one of the most affordable. Many bathroom scale models offer this option, including my old scale. I don't pay much attention to the number because I know it's not very accurate. (Bioelectrical impedance will give you very different numbers depending on your level of hydration). What I pay attention to is the trend. Now that I'm strength training more, I should be seeing my body fat number slowly decrease. This is how I plan to measure if my strength training program is working.

Size:

Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned tape measure for some great feedback on if your fitness program is working. If the scale's not budging weight wise and you aren't tracking your body fat percentage, a tape measure can give you a great idea if you're adding muscle and losing fat. Once a month, measure your biceps, thighs, hips and waist. Your biceps will get bigger as your build muscle where as your abs (and therefore your waist) will get narrower.

Nutrition:

There are tons of tools that let you track what you eat, including apps for smartphones, SparkPeople and a paper-and-pencil food journal. I don't recommend writing down everything you put in your mouth over the course of the day, but I would pay attention to trends. You probably eat similar types of food for your main meals and snacks. What's worth noting are any abnormalities. Did you eat a massive dinner the night before a key workout? How did that make you feel the next day? That's the kind of information you want to write down.

Sleep:

Are you getting seven to eight hours a night? You don't really need a fancy tool to track this, it's just something that's an important part of your overall health and fitness picture. The more sleep deprived you are, the less energy you'll be able to put into your workouts, making them less effective. If this is an area you really struggle with, start tracking how many hours of sleep you get each night in a basic spreadsheet and look at the trend over the course of a month. How might nights are you getting high quality sleep?



These are just some of the easiest and most basic fitness metrics to collect. Having this data will give you a good picture of your current health and fitness and provide you with great information in how you can tweak your plan for improvements going forward.

Stay tuned for Fitness Metrics Part Two, where we'll discuss easy ways to track all this data so it's not overwhelming.

What fitness metrics do you track?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Two Different Shoes

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend.

When you have a closet full of old running shoes that are all the same style, you should pay very close attentions to which shoes you grab and stuff into your duffel bag.

Or else you may end up in the same predicament I did this weekend.

Two different shoes

On the left is my current running shoe (with Road ID and all). On the right is a sneaker from two or three pairs ago.

They're both Mizuno Wave Inspires and they have a very similar color pattern, however, their padding level is not at all the same.

I learned that the hard way on my run this weekend. My feet were not happy with me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Safety First

I had a nice post all planned out on runners as number crunchers, and the tools available for us to help track, record and monitor our training. But I'm bumping that post to next week and instead I'm offering a brief PSA.

A coworker of mine was mugged today getting off the Metro station and walking to work. Some creep grabbed her on the arm and tried to steal her purse. She punched him in the face and ran away.

Needless to say I'm a bit shaken.

So this is just a reminder to everyone, whether you're out running by yourself, walking to your car in a deserted parking lot, or getting off public transportation, please be careful. Be aware of your surroundings, have your cell phone/keys handy, be on alert.

Now that I'm working in a more shady part of town, I guess it's time I invest in some pepper spray.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Hunger Monster is Back

It never ceases to amaze me how just two weeks of moderate training sends my hunger into overdrive. Lately I have been a hungry, hungry hippo.

"You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Hungry!"(Source)

Case in point. My supervisor brought brownies to the office on Tuesday as a treat. We broke them out around 2:45 p.m. after our meeting and I was so ravenous I devoured three. Yes...three brownies. And I was still hungry.

This was after I'd eaten a filling breakfast and lunch.

Lately I've been getting hungry for breakfast at least an hour earlier than usual and when the mid-afternoon snack attack hits, it hits hard.

I was about ready to gnaw my arm off yesterday afternoon, so I dug into my office snack drawer and broke out a packet of peanut butter sandwich crackers. Today I was more on the ball and packed a big lunch, in addition to a Greek yogurt for my afternoon snack.

It's taking me a little bit of time to adjust my food intake to match my increased mileage and twice weekly strength training sessions. I've been making an extra effort to get more protein and more calories in general, but these hunger attacks are signs that I don't have the right formula quite yet. I'm confident I'll get it all hammered out soon though.

Now if you'll pardon me, I must go eat breakfast before my stomach starts eating itself.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow

This is what DC looked like this morning when I woke up:

(Note that this isn't actually DC, it's NYC, I didn't have my camera with me this morning, but you get the idea)

Just enough snow to be annoying and kill any chances for a morning run, but not enough to actually shut anything down or get me a two-hour delay at work. Yes the government has those.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the Mend

I cried the entire time I was running my five miles yesterday, but not because my knee was bothering me. It was just so cold and windy that my eyes wouldn't stop watering.

Despite the biting wind and my tears freezing to my cheeks, my five miles went quite well. My knee was stiff in the beginning, but it loosened up incredibly well and didn't bother me once the entire rest of the run.

Occasionally, I could feel my form getting a little out of whack on big downhills, but nothing too serious.

As I was running, I noticed my pace was naturally creeping down to pre-IT band issue speeds. I certainly wasn't as speedy as last summer when I was training for the Philly half, but it was nice to see paces below 10 minutes per mile.

The lesson I need to remember here is that foam rolling, stretching and strength training help keep my IT band issues at bay. If I want to be able to run healthy, I need to stay more dedicated to them.

Fingers crossed that I'm on the mend!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Fun Treadmill Mind Game

It's funny how just the other day I talked about how I avoid the treadmill at all costs, and then over the weekend, the D.C. area gets hit with just enough snow to make the sidewalks too slippery for me to run on and I'm forced into the gym to do my long run on the treadmill.

New Year's Resolution: 36/365(Source)

Running on the treadmill is boring, there's no doubt about that, and nothing is worse than doing a long run on the treadmill.

Since I was looking at an hour and 20 minutes on the treadmill, I came up with a mind game to keep me entertained.

I wanted to share it because I know a lot of other runners are forced to use treadmills in the winter and maybe a trick like this will help the time fly faster for you too.

Jess' Treadmill Mind Game:

Before you get on the treadmill, visualize a route you want to run. I recommend selecting a route that you very commonly run outdoors, something that you are extremely familiar with.
Then get on the treadmill and start running.
As you watch the time on the treadmill tick by, adjust the incline to mimic the hills on your actual outside route. So if in the first minute of your outside route, you have a flat path, hike the incline to 1 and run along until you hit your first uphill. If at five minutes you run up a steep hill in your outside route, mimic that incline on the treadmill.
Do this for the entire length of your run.

This works for two reasons.

First, you re-create outside conditions to the best of your ability. In the outside world, hills aren't pre-programmed to come one right after another like they are on the treadmill setting. Outside some are big, some are small. You have long, slow climbs and steep, short climbs. By manually adjusting the incline to mimic an outside route, you challenge yourself by mixing it up.

Second, this plan forces you to constantly think about what's coming next in your outside route so you can program the treadmill according. Paying attention to that takes your mind off the monotony of running in place. If you're picturing your outside route, visualizing the hills and the scenery outside, it makes your treadmill run that much more bearable.

Running on the treadmill won't ever live up to a run outside, but this little mind game can help you get through those runs when you don't have any choice but to use the treadmill.

What mind games do you use to make treadmill running more bearable?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Cast a Vote to Help Organic Farmers

This past year, as part of my Cooking Challenge, I started paying much more attention to where my food was coming from.

I spent all summer shopping at the farmer's market, not only because the food tasted better, but because I wanted my money supporting local farmers who used sustainable and organic practices when growing their produce.

Recently Stonyfield Farm, known for its organic diary products, reached out to me to let me know about a contest they were running to support organic farmers.

As part of the Grant a Farmer's Wish Campaign, Stonyfield will be donating $31,000 to organic farmers, and we can help decide who gets the money.

You can watch the farmer's proposal videos and cast your vote on Stonyfield's Facebook page. The first place winner will receive $10,000, 2nd and 3rd will receive $7,500 and 4th to 6th will receive $2,000.

As an incentive for voting, Stonyfield is offering coupons for their products to everyone who casts a vote.

So check it out and help support organic farmers and the food they grow.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Not Afraid of the Dark

When you're a little girl, you're afraid of the dark because of imaginary monsters that live in your closet and go bump in the night. When you're a grown-up girl, you're afraid of the dark because you're very aware of all the bad things that can happen at night.

Night Time

When I moved back to the DC-area after my first job, I was terrified to run around my new house in the dark. I was worried I'd either get hit by a car crossing a busy intersection, trip over the uneven sidewalk and get hurt or get attacked by some shady character.

Fear of being attacked was my biggest concern. I live not far from the park where they found Chandra Levy. Stuff like that makes me worry.

After moving, my fear of the dark was crippling. So much so in the beginning that I didn't run at all. I eventually discovered the treadmills in my community's fitness center and did most of my running indoors.

But after a year and a half of dealing with treadmill runs and having crappy races because of it, I decided enough was enough.

I missed my morning runs and I was sick of letting my fear of boogey men determine when I could run.

Mentally, a few things helped me deal with the fear.

A while back, Jess wrote a great post about not letting our fears cripple us. More recently I read a line in Women's Running Magazine that said something like "Don't be scared, be aware." The gist of the article was that you don't have to be terrified of running in the dark, you just need to be aware of your surroundings and take basic safety precautions.

So here's what I did:
  • I wore my reflective vest so cars could see me.
  • I left my iPod at home.
  • I carried my cellphone.
  • I wore my RoadID.
  • I ran on sidewalks with streetlights.
  • I trusted that I would be OK.

None of those things would protect me if someone decided to attack me, but I was done letting that fear rule my life and have such a negative impact on my running.

Since that first run, I've done countless morning runs in the dark. I trained for Philly, Baltimore and Philly again all in the dark.

Sure there are times I'm still a little jumpy, but mostly I've come to enjoy the solitude of my morning runs in the dark. It's very peaceful to be the only person out enjoying the city before everyone else is awake.

It took me a long, long time to get there, but I think it's safe to say, I'm not scared of the dark anymore.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Running On Your Lunch Break

One of the things I struggle most with in the winter is the lack of day light hours for running. I'm in the office at 7 a.m. and leave at 4:30 p.m. It's dark in the morning when I wake up and by the time I get home from work.

That leaves me two basic options, running in the dark or running on the treadmill.

Since I hate the treadmill, I try to avoid it at all costs.

I don't mind running in the dark, in fact, I have a whole post coming up on overcoming my fear of running in the dark, but sometimes I just really miss the sunshine.

Not only does my lack of exposure to sunshine make it hard to run, it also gives me a case of the winter blues.

To combat that, my coworker and I have been experimenting with lunch-time runs. Our new office has a nicely paved rail trail a block from the building. We both bring running clothes to the office, change in the bathrooms and then go out for an easy 30- to 40-minute run.

Running over lunch has some great advantages:

  • I get to see the sun.
  • It gets me out of the office and away from my desk, clearing my head.
  • I feel refreshed and more alert to tackle my afternoon to-do list when I get back.
  • Running with my coworker is just plain fun.


The one big drawback -- lack of showers -- isn't a huge issue in the winter since it's cold and we don't really sweat much on such a short run. We can clean up just fine by slicking on some deodorant and splashing some water on our faces. Sure, I have to wear my hair in a ponytail the rest of the afternoon, but I rock my ponytail a lot anyway.

If it's something you can fit in your schedule I highly encourage you to give the lunch time run a try. It's nice to get the blood flowing and get away from your desk.

Have you ever tried running on your lunch break? Does your office provide showers to make it easy for you to freshen up after a mid-day workout?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Motivation to Start Running After Time Off

Coming back to running after time off is hard. Your endurance is sapped, your speed is lacking and your runs can just be plain frustrating.

A coworker asked me to share my tips for getting back into running after some time off. She used to run, but now affectionately refers to herself as a "frustrated, ancient runner."

The longest I've been away from running was the three months I was in physical therapy for my knee and IT band problems. Coming back after that was hard.

It was discouraging to think I had to start from scratch, and that just a few months ago, I could run five miles easily. After my time off, I could barely run two without stopping.

After battling frustrating run after frustrating run, eventually I was able to build my endurance back to where it had been and my speed quickly followed.

Whether you've taken a few months off because of an injury or whether you've taken a few years off because life got in the way, you can jump back into running fairly easily. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Don't worry about speed, just lace up your shoes and go. You might feel like you're slower than ever before, but just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You have to start somewhere. Letting the fear of being slow prevent you from even trying isn't getting you anywhere closer to your goal.

2. Set mini-distance goals. Start with the goal of running a mile. Go slow, take walk breaks if you need. Once you can handle a mile, start building on top of that. Work up to 1.5, and then two and then three. Don't rush to get to those mileage goals or else you could end up with an injury, just take them one at a time using them to motivate you to keep working hard.

3. Don't compare your new running self to your former running self. Sure, three years ago maybe you could whip out 7-minute miles without a problem, and now you struggle to maintain 10-minute miles. If you keep saying things like "Back then I could..." you will only end up frustrated and more likely to give up running again. Give yourself a fresh slate and try not to look back. Celebrate your new achievements instead.

4. Register for a race a few months down the road. This was a huge motivating factor for me when I came out of physical therapy. Some coworkers convinced me to sign up for a five-miler with them. At the time that distance seemed impossible, but I kept chipping away at it and had a great race. Pick a race three or four months down the road. That will give you enough time to get comfortable with running again, but will be a tight enough deadline that you will be motivated to start running and not push it off. There are tons of 5Ks and 10Ks in the spring that you could set your sights on.

Your runs might be challenging in the beginning, but at the end, you will feel great and will have so much extra energy that you'll want to keep coming back to running.

What are your best tips for runners trying to get back into the game?

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Brief History of My IT Band Problems

For the past several years, I've struggled with extremely tight IT bands that lead to really painful runner's knee.

The first time I ever had problems with my IT Band was about two and a half years ago. I was training for the Baltimore 10 Miler and experienced such sharp pain in my left knee during runs and in that days that followed, that I decided to visit an orthopedic doctor who recommended physical therapy. I ended up on forced rest from running for three months and three times per week physical therapy to work on muscle imbalance and loosening my IT bands.

It was in that round of physical therapy that I learned how to tape my knee to help counteract the effects of a tight IT band.

I spent the new six months rebuilding my running base, focusing on shorter distances, and taping my knee on every run. I made a come back to distance running at the National Half Marathon in D.C. and for the next year or so had no knee or IT Band problems whatsoever. I was able to stop taping my knee and could run with no problem.

I thought I was past IT Band problems, but last winter I had a minor flare up. After one too many treadmill runs, I started experiencing minor pain in my right hip and knee.

This time I decided to invest in a foam roller to help help my IT band loose. A combination of foam rolling and running outside with better form cleared up the problem. I was able to train and race all spring, summer and fall with no problem.

That brings us to the marathon, where I started to experience the knee pain in my right knee. After the race, I rested, foam rolled, cross-trained and did just about everything necessary to help get my IT band back to fighting form. It was going well. I could still feel stiffness in my knee, but nothing some stretching and foam rolling wouldn't cure. I thought I was in the clear.

But last week I had such a painful four mile run that I had to stop and limp my way back home. I'm sure all the people out and about thought something was really wrong with me. I earned a lot of sympathetic looks. That was Wednesday and I haven't run once since then. Instead I've spent my time foam rolling, massaging my IT band, and slathering on Icy Hot.

I'm going to test things out today on a short three miler with my coworker at lunch. I'm extremely nervous, not only for this run, but for my ability to train for the New Orleans Half Marathon. The race is only six weeks away and if I can't run four miles, how am I going to run 13.1?

If today's run goes well, I will continue to train for this half marathon carefully. If it doesn't go well, I'll do a test run later this week with my knee taped to see if that provides any relief.

If you know of something beyond massage, foam rolling and stretching that might help with my IT Bands, I'm all ears.