Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Things That I Find Awesome: ChiRunning, Running with Friends, and High Incline Treadmills

3.16.2013 - At the Tri-Mania NYC ChiRunning Workshop!   From left to right: Me, Rob,  our instructor Vincent Vaccaro (http://tritekcamps.com/index.php), Karen Braswell, and Jim Coniglio.

Things that were awesome since my last post:

(1) Attending the ChiRunning workshop through Tri-Mania NYC and RunKino.  

ChiRunning is by no means a magic bullet, but I am a huge fan.  If you are interested in learning about my ChiRunning experience, scroll to the bottom of this post.

(2) Running in the Palisades with friends.  

3.9.2013: Running in the Palisades.  The photo is blurry because the lens had my sweat on it.  From left to right, Alex, Garth, Lesley, and Scott.

Although our initial plans were to run part of the Bear Mountain 50 mile course at Harriman State Park, Mother Nature decided to dump 15 inches of snow on the trails.  Since most of us wanted to spend our morning running and not fwomping around in the snow, we figured the Palisades would be a better bet.  And it was!  There was still snow, which made things interesting and pretty, but it wasn't so bad that we couldn't get a decent run in.  We started at the Palisades Interstate Park police station and ran the Long Path, the Shore Trail, as well as the trails that connected the two.  As I ran, I ate spam and drank Gatorade and it was glorious.  At some point, my neuroma began acting up, but since my feet were numb because of the snow, I barely felt it.

3.9.2013: Making our way down to the bottom of the cliffs.  You can see Lesley far below  - she  made the descents seem easy!

3.9.2013: Heading back up to the Long Path.

3.9.2013: Doing a mini hill repeat.

(3) Discovering that funny looking treadmill that no one uses in my gym is a super incline treadmill.  

Guess who has been doing climbs at >20% inclines the past week?  That being said, I am feeling a bit sheepish about the fact that I did not check out the treadmill until now, especially since I had an entire conversation with Garth about them a few weeks ago.  Oh well.  I still have 102 days left until Western States!  Plenty of opportunities to climb!

This treadmill can go up to 50%!  So neat!

(4) Running in the snow in Central Park.  

I despise and fear the cold, but I love running in the snow.  A two or three minute walk outside when it is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit turns me into a sad puddle, but I am totally cool with running in below freezing weather.  This is completely silly, I know.  :(

3.16.2013.  Running alongside the Central Park Reservoir.

3.16.2013 - Running in Central Park in the snow.

Things that were not awesome:

(1) The second cortisone shot for the Morton's Neuroma on my right foot is not working as well as I would like.  I received my second shot last Wednesday and things seemed great for a couple of days, but when I went out for a longish run in Central Park, I experienced flares of excruciating pain after an hour or so.  Each time it happened, I stopped and stretched my foot a bit and was able to run a few more miles before the neuroma flared up again.  While I think I can do this for at least fifty miles, I am not sure if this method will work for 100.  Guess we'll see what happens at Umstead 100 in a few weeks.  As for now, I am going to keep on eating the serrapeptase, going to physical therapy, and wearing boring shoes (supportive flats).  I still have one more cortisone shot left, but at this point, I am not expecting much.  I think I am going to move on to alcohol shot treatment next.

(2) I seem to be developing a Morton's Neuroma in my left foot.  As long as I am in sneakers or high heels, my foot feels completely normal.  But as soon as I go barefoot, I experience the familiar MN symptoms.  I still have not decided what I am going to do about this.  

My ChiRunning Ramble:

A couple of years ago, I purchased the book, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running.  I read the first few chapters and found the ideas interesting enough that I attempted to put them into practice, but I never felt that I fully grasped the material.  Since I never experienced common running-related injuries, such as knee issues and shin splints, I was fine with this.  However, ever since my Morton's Neuroma reared its ugly head a few months back, I have become much more interested in seeking out ways to run as efficiently and painlessly as possible. 

As luck would have it, a high school and running buddy of mine, Hideki Kinoshita, was giving away one free registration to a ChiRunning workshop through his website and facebook page, RunKino.  All I had to do was to explain why I wanted to learn ChiRunning and be fortunate enough for Kino to select my entry.  After I won, I also registered my boyfriend for the class.  Rob is still relatively new at running and even though he is progressing quickly, he is still experiencing all the hurt that I somehow managed to skip when I began my running journey.  Since I still do not know how I managed that, (And to be perfectly frank, even if I did, I am terrible at teaching people I love how to do things.) I figured introducing Rob to a real coach would be best.  Also, I felt kind of bad taking a free class and wanted to pay for something, somehow.

Interestingly enough, I never attended a running workshop until now.  In fact, the last time I attended a sport-related class was years ago, when I was on the swim team in college.  And I wouldn't even count that because I was so completely mentally checked out - I went to practices and dutifully completed all the assigned workouts, but I was never instructed on improving my swim technique, nutrition, or . . . pretty much anything.  The main reason why I was on the swim team was because I found swimming meditative.  One time I was feeling so zen in the water, I did not realize that the pool that I was swimming in lost half its water until I tried doing a flip turn and I hit my head.  Oops.  In my defense, I was doing back stroke - so it's not like I could see the bottom of the pool until it was too late.

Anyway.  Back to ChiRunning.  My formal introduction to ChiRunning took place at the Tri-Mania NYC Expo this past Saturday.  Our class featured instructor Vincent Vaccaro, a certified ChiRunning and ChiWalking coach.  He has a website for his companyTri Tek, which provides more information on Vincent's extensive athletic background and his schedule of workshops.  Apparently, his training is geared towards triathletes, but ChiRunning is completely relevant to ultrarunners as well.  ChiRunning is all about maximizing your form to minimize fatigue.  And since triathlons and ultramarathons are both endurance sports that guarantee exhaustion, minimizing fatigue is a good thing.  

Vincent was a fantastic instructor.  He was clearly knowledgeable about his subject and very comfortable with teaching.  He had us engaged right away and I felt every minute of the workshop was time well-spent.  Vincent also had an assistant, Dave, whose last name I never learned, but he was great, too, especially towards the end when we did our running exercises.  The two hours flew, but I picked up a lot more in his workshop than I did by reading the ChiRunning book and articles and watching the Youtube videos.  That being said, I plan on rereading the ChiRunning book, because I think I will appreciate it more now that I have seen the techniques in action.  

Vincent started off his class by introducing the basic tenet of ChiRunning: Posture, posture, posture.  Which makes sense - when we are standing straight, our joints are all aligned and our skeleton is supporting our weight.  The best thing to do when we run is to make sure we maintain this alignment so that our skeleton continues to do the supporting.  Instead, we often make the mistake of slumping over or slightly bending at the waist when we are fatigued, which requires our leg and core muscles to support more body weight than they should.  If we focus on keeping good posture, we decrease the amount of work our muscles have to do, making us more efficient.  To keep our posture in alignment, we need to make sure we land our feet directly underneath or slightly behind the body, in line with our hips and shoulders.  To help with this, Vincent had us imagine three dots: one on our shoulder, hip, and foot.  He suggested that when Rob and I run together, we should check each other's alignment by making sure those dots are in a relatively straight line.  

Another essential tenet of ChiRunning is the idea of letting gravity work for us, instead of against us.  By adding a slight lean when we run, our bodies naturally fall forward and we end up using gravity to push us forward instead of our leg muscles.  The trick is to lean from the ankles, and not the waist.  We initially practiced this by standing about a sneaker's length away from the wall and while keeping our backs straight (Remember, posture!), we leaned forward until we practically fell into the wall.  Once we learned what it felt like to lean with our ankles, we did a few exercises where we experienced what it was like to lean in different amounts.  It was interesting - in leaning forward, my feet automatically had to land directly underneath me.  

Vincent also had us focus on cadence by having us run with a metronome.  Running cadence is the same thing as your foot turnover rate, or how many steps you take per minute.  When you take fewer steps per minute, your body is suspended in the air for a greater amount of time, causing a greater force to be applied when your feet hit the ground.  Since most running injuries are impact-related, this is kind of a big deal.  The most efficient stride/min is at least 180 strides per minute.  Although I have already downloaded a bunch of metronome apps on my iPhone since Saturday to practice my running cadence, I decided that it would be way more fun to run to music, so with a quick google search, I found a great dailymile thread discussing music that averages 180 beats per minute.  Rob, being awesome, is already compiling a playlist for me ;).

An important lesson that I took to heart was that I just don't move my arms enough when I run.  Instead of using my arms to propel my body forward, I keep them relatively stationary.  While I knew this on a theoretical level, I did not realize how bad my arm form was until Vincent had us perform a simple exercise where another runner stood behind me and placed her hands where my elbows should hit as I ran in place.  As I swung my arms the way I was supposed to, it felt really, really strange.  My main issue is that I constantly tense my shoulders, which doesn't allow me to swing my arms as easily as I should as I run.  Even as I type this, I feel the tell-tale twinges in the middle of my back, letting me know that my shoulders are unhappy.  I think I am going to start posting signs all over my office and house to remind me to relax.

In case you couldn't already tell, I am already a ChiRunning convert.  I can go on and on about all the things that Vincent taught in his introductory class, but if you are interested in learning more about ChiRunning, there are way better articles out there that you can find easily via Google.  I would also recommend purchasing the ChiRunning book, but I think the best thing would be to actually attend a workshop in your area.  Introductory ChiRunning classes are really not that expensive, especially if you consider the potential savings of hundreds of dollars and time spent at the doctor's by preventing injury from occurring in the first place.  

ChiRunning isn't a magic bullet.  I know that I have a ways to go before I even scratch the surface on becoming a more efficient runner, but as I plan on running ultras for a while, I look forward to the process.  Thanks so much again Vincent at Tri Tek and RunKino for giving me this great opportunity in starting my ChiRunning journey.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

So! Excited! To just go out and ruuuuuun.

Peanut Leap Cascade at Palisades Interstate Park. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Workout Types(s): Trails and strength training (a.k.a. lifting heavy garbage bags)
Miles: 9+
Where: Palisades Interstate Park
Notes: Good times.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Workout Types(s): Road running
Miles: 8+
Where: Central Park
Notes: My Morton's Neuroma hit by mile 6 and it was unpleasant, but I was pleased because it normally starts by mile 4 when I train on roads.

Training notes:

Alrighty, I am back in business and am re-entering Training Beast Mode.  As of this weekend, I am officially done with the winter ills and am so (!) excited(!) to go out and just ruuuuun.  


My run on Saturday morning was glorious.  Besides crashing a couple of times (I was a bit overeager in hurtling down a hill), I felt really in tune in my body and managed to find this wonderful rhythm with my legs and feet that made me feel like I could run forever.

If you want an intense workout, going up and down these cliffs is a seriously good time.

Trail connecting the Shore Trail to the Long Path.

Sadly, I had to cut my training short as I had plans to volunteer with a local trail organization doing post-Hurricane Sandy clean up.  One of the requirements for Western States 100, Vermont 100, and Wasatch 100 is to volunteer at least eight hours either at an ultramarathon or with a trail volunteer group.  Eight hours is a pretty small time commitment, but I think the race directors' objective is to encourage ultrarunners who have never volunteered before to start because once you do, it is really difficult not to want to volunteer again.  When you volunteer at a race, you really appreciate the work involved in making sure the race is a success; when you do volunteer trail work, you realize how much effort is necessary in maintaining the paths we love.  Also, it's fun!  I always meet the most interesting people and I always learn something new, running and/or general life-wise.

Getting instructions from Palisades Interstate Park trail supervisor Christina Fehre.

This past weekend, I was fortunate to volunteer with an AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team who came all the way from Ohio to help out with post-Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  We worked with Palisades Interstate Park trail supervisor Christina Fehre to help clean up the debris washed up along the Shore Trail.

Garbage ready to be shipped out.

And there was quite a lot of it.  I personally collected two large garbage bags completely filled with mostly plastic bottles of all types.  Other items collected were tires, barrels, styrofoam, insulation, plastic bags . . . it made me sad to see so much trash along the trail, but I was really glad something was being done about it. 

Lugging along a garbage bag along this rock scramble was entertaining.

We found some makeshift swings.  We weren't sure if they were sturdy, but they looked so inviting! 

We were scheduled to work for only four hours on Saturday, but there will be future volunteer trips as the weather gets nicer.  Next weekend I am supposed to volunteer with the Bearclaw group at Longpond Ironworks State Park, but since I want to do some major mileage this week, my plans are still tentative.


Sunday's run was uneventful.  I ran the Central Park loop and reservoir loop and saw a few folks along the way, including Rick Thiounn and his fiancee, Lauren Healy as well as Stephen England, another Western States-bound runner.  My Morton's neuroma on my right foot started to act up by mile 6, but it wasn't nearly as excruciating as before and so I was able to finish my run.  I think my regimen of acupuncture/serrapeptase/physical therapy/change in footwear is working.  That being said, I am still visiting a podiatrist later today because it never hurts to get another opinion. 

Alrighty, so this week should be a blast.  Lots of climbing, lots of running, and lots of strength training.  I can't wait!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Worst training days ever or how Febapple Frozen Fifty totally did not happen.

Febapple Frozen Fifty: (going clockwise, from top left) (a) Chris Reynolds, Caitlin Weaver, and Chris Jaworksi wait for the 50K start; (b) Yoshiko Jo, Elaine Acosta (who would have won first female 50K if she just showed up on time!) and me; (c) Stephen England and me; (d) Scott Martin, after his first loop.

February 12 to February 28, 2013

I am not going to sugar coat it - just had my worst training days ever.  Even worse than when I badly sprained my ankle a few years back, because at least I forced myself to swim and run in the water for a couple of hours every day.  Actually, as awful as that month was, I think I came out a stronger runner because I discovered something that was worse than running on a treadmill - I learned the true meaning of boredom by running laps in a teeny tiny pool with only a lifeguard for company.    

So what happened?  I got a cold over President's Day weekend.  Normally a cold isn't a big deal, but this cold spawned into a worse cold, which spawned into a mega cold.  The spawnage of the mega cold was completely my fault because when my cold started, I simply did not take care of myself.  My attitude was that since I had already experienced a flu/coldapocalpyse back in December, the chances of it happening again seemed slim.  Also, I had the Febapple Frozen 50 with the New Jersey Trail Series folks coming up that weekend, and I just did not want to think about DNS'ing (Did Not Start) my first race ever.  

However, as the week continued, I got sicker and sicker and finally, I pulled the plug a couple of days before the race.  I felt absolutely terrible about doing this because my sorority sister Caitlin was flying up from North Carolina to run it with me.  Caitlin is doing her first 100 miler at Umstead in April and we thought this would be a great training run.  Thankfully, Caitlin was totally a good sport after I told her that I would not be able to run with her.  It just did not seem like a smart idea to go out and run thirty miles in the cold rain when I could barely keep it together at work.  As much I love to run, I won't think too hard about missing a training session or two.  When I miss a day of work because of illness, I agonize over it for days.  Therefore my rule is that if I am even considering not going to work, I should not train. 

So last Friday night, I picked Caitlin up at the airport.  Caitlin was in pretty good form, despite her flight being delayed for hours.  I was still a coughing mess, but I felt hopeful with the idea that if I just didn't overexert myself, I would totally be fine by Monday.  And by not overexerting myself, I still planned on dropping off Caitlin at the race, doing some heat training at the gym, and then going to a gala benefit later in the evening.  

Caitlin, before her first trail ultramarathon!

It was a surreal experience to go to a race and well, not race.  Believe me, I was mildly tempted to go out and do a lap "just to see how I felt."  It was a good thing that I didn't, because when I finally headed back to my car, I started my cough/vomit, indicating that my body was done with being outside.   However, I was really happy to see some friends that morning: Joe and Chris Reynolds, Jess Kennedy, Chris Jaworksi, Elaine Acosta, Stephen England, Yoshiko Jo, Joe Delconte, Scott Martin, Kristin Pedersen, Alanna Garrison-Kast, and of course Rick and Jennifer McNulty, the race directors. 

Elaine is awesome.  She started an hour later than the rest of the 50K'ers, but lapped most of 'em :). 

I tried hitting the gym after dropping off Caitlin, but I was feeling feverish and fatigued, so my workout was extremely short-lived.   I managed to pull myself together and pick up Caitlin, who finished the 20 mile course, but probably ran close to a marathon because she got lost and did some bonus mileage.  I then drugged myself with Vitamin Robitussin and then headed off to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Gala with Rob.  

And paid for it all this week.  I pretty much spent this week in a fever/cold/exhausted state. When I wasn't working, I tried to sleep and when I tried to sleep, I couldn't, because I kept on coughing/vomiting.

Gosh, this post is depressing.

Anyway, on the bright side, I am totally, totally, totally better now.  I am not going to do anything stupid this weekend and I look forward to going back to my regularly scheduled workouts.  While I am mildly freaking about the loss of training time and the nearness of Western States (as my friend Jose San Gabriel reminded me yesterday, only seventeen weeks to go!), I am just going to have to force myself to be awesome every single day until then.  So what does that mean?

(1) No more being sick.  If I even have a hint of anything, I am going to baby that sucker.  Also, I am now on a Vitamin C/Zinc daily regimen.  
(2) MUST SLEEP MORE.  No more reading books and watching Portlandia/Colbert Report until 1 a.m. because it's so awesome.  Rob, this is your job.  If I get whiny, point to this blog entry.

If you have suggestions on not getting sick, please let me know.  I really cannot waste any more time with being ill.  Whether this is feasible, I do not know, but if you are person who generally does not get sick, I really want to know your secret :).