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Work It, Girl

Two months have passed since my husband lost his job. One month has passed since I started working as a substitute aide in special education classrooms. I’ve gotten a special education in the past four weeks for sure! I’ve worked at five schools and taught in classrooms ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade. I’ve taught a roomful of 30+ kids in general education and worked one-on-one with kids with Down Syndrome, autism, and ADHD. I’ve worked an average of 20 hours per week and maintained a workout schedule of 8-10 hours per week on top of that.

There are 11 weeks to go in the training schedule before Boston! Training is going well although I cannot say I am enjoying it as much now that I am having to squeeze it in around a very fluid work schedule. I might plan an 8-mile tempo run for Friday morning and then get a call at 7:15 a.m. asking me to substitute from 8:30-2:30. So how do I fit it all in? Here are five tips I’ve developed over the last four weeks.

1. Consider two-a-days. I’ve split an 8-mile run into four miles outside with my teenage daughter in the morning before work followed by four miles on the treadmill in the afternoon before dinner. It wasn’t fun but it was oh-so-satisfying to get the full mileage in for the day.

2. Be flexible. I don’t mean work on touching your toes, I mean be willing to move a cross-training day from Tuesday to Friday as need be. Or if it’s forecast to rain on Sunday (take that, California drought!), move that long workout to Saturday instead of Sunday.

Gorgeous, rain-free day for 23 miles on the ElliptiGO on the San Gabriel River Trail.

Gorgeous, rain-free Saturday for 23 miles on the ElliptiGO on the San Gabriel River Trail.

3. Be forgiving. If you can’t get the full mileage in for the day, it’s a little tempting to write the day off entirely. But it’s way better to run 5.6 miles instead of 7 than to run 0 miles. I know it stinks to run 5.6 miles and be disappointed (hello – 5.6 miles is dang far), but it will feel a lot better to put those miles in and cross off the day than to leave that blank space on the training log.

4. Remember why you are training. Yes, I am training for a big goal race (Boston) but I am in this one for fun and for the experience. I actually enjoy the training and the satisfaction of checking off my workouts more than I enjoy a big goal race. So when I’ve had a hard day at work (think: kid running out of classroom, biting himself, crying, or refusing to communicate with me) I remind myself how much better I will feel if I get out on the road and zen out on a run.

5. Shake things up. I’ve been running for nearly five years now! I started in March 2011 when I was training for my first sprint triathlon as I approached age 40. It’s wonderful to look back on all the milestones — the first times I hit each new distance or ran a new race. But honestly? I am burned out on a lot of my local running routes! So after a hard day at work today, I came home at lunchtime and asked my husband to help me map out a new route for my 8-mile tempo run. And we chose a hilly trail/road route, and I chose to be flexible (see #2 above) and switch out 8 road miles at 8:00 pace for 8 trail/road miles with lots of elevation gain at 10:00 pace.

Just one of the hills on my 8-mile trail/road run today.>

Just one of the hills on my 8-mile trail/road run today.

The miles flew by as I was distracted by views of the ocean on one side:

That little bright line is the Pacific Ocean between Long Beach and Catalina Island

That little bright line is the Pacific Ocean between Long Beach and Catalina Island.

and the cacti near me on the other side and the snow on the mountains in the distance:

Not a bad winter day.

Not a bad winter day.

Do you have any advice for fitting workouts in around a work schedule?

Taming the Tempo Run

I love to hate the tempo run. Once a week I face my fear and get out for a mid-distance, steady, hard run of seven or eight miles. On a tempo run, you don’t get the rest intervals of a speed workout, and you don’t get the easy pace of a long run. It’s the workout that in my mind best simulates the effort required in half marathon and marathon races.

The reward for facing my fear and taming the tempo run is the tremendous sense of accomplishment when I finish! Today’s run was no exception. By all accounts it shouldn’t have been that great a run. This was the first week I’d gone back to work after 13 years as a stay-at-home mom to three girls. I worked 21.5 hours at three schools with nine teachers and aides, and 45 children with special needs. I was supposed to do the tempo run Friday morning, but frankly I went to bed at 9:15 on Thursday night and needed all the sleep I could get to face six hours at the junior high and elementary school the next day. By the time my day working and shuttling my own kids ended at 8:30 p.m., there was no way I was getting on my treadmill for eight miles. So I pushed it to Saturday morning, set my alarm for 6 a.m., got my teenager to her prospective high school for honors math and English testing at 7:15 a.m., and hit the high school track by 7:30. I knocked out the eight-mile run in 63 minutes, keeping a solid tempo run pace under 8:00 per mile after a warm-up mile at 8:34:

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The splits from the MapMyRun iPhone app.

So what are the tricks to taming the tempo run?

  1. Consider taking a rest day or cross-training day before a tempo run. Okay, I know a lot of people run five or more days a week, which doesn’t leave a lot of slots for rest days. But if you want to hit your tempo run with confidence, it’s best to do it on fresh legs. I usually cross-train on Thursdays before the tempo run on Friday. This week I took a rest day on Friday (and felt lousy mentally for it — I get so much satisfaction from crossing the workouts off my schedule), but that allowed me to really hit the track hard on Saturday.
  2. Choose a course that doesn’t have many (if any) stops. I like to do a tempo run on the track (“Tracks! They’re not just for speed workouts!”) because I don’t have to worry about stopping at stoplights or dodging cars on the road. I put on a podcast or audiobook to entertain me on the loops around the track, I get into a “zen” zone of maintaining that steady pace, and my body practically goes on autopilot. But if I can’t hit the track, I choose a dedicated bike/running path or a straight out-and-back in a neighborhood without stoplights.
  3. The warm up is key. Don’t try to go out at tempo pace. Spend the first mile easing into that tempo run pace.
  4. Carry your water or sports drink with you. Again, it’s not truly a steady effort run if you stop and start at stoplights or for water breaks. The only exception to that in my opinion is if you want to practice stopping for water at the aid stations for a race. The track is a perfect place to do this. You can set up your own makeshift aid station on a bench or the bleachers next to the track and practice running four laps (a mile) and stopping to grab a cup of water. Then either walk while you drink or practice drinking on the run, whatever you plan to do during the race. It took me a while to get the hang of it. One tip I appreciated was to speed up just before you hit the aid station so you bank a few seconds ahead of time. Then you can walk through the aid station, get a drink without spilling all over yourself, and catch your breath before picking back up to race pace again. That’s easier in my mind than hitting the aid station at race pace, walking, and having to make up lost time by speeding up faster than race pace after you start running again.

Do you incorporate tempo runs into your training? What’s your best advice for taming a tempo run?

I find it a little funny that my first long run of ’16 was 16 miles! I didn’t plan it that way; in fact I thought I was supposed to run 14 and I was dismayed to see that 16 when I double-checked my Boston training schedule. It’s week five of training, 15 weeks to go. The run went well. I took it easy at a 10:00 pace and listened to podcasts by Another Mother Runner and Runners Connect. I just finished listening to a great audiobook for runners: My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan. CNN correspondent Tom Foreman narrates his own book and makes it entertaining and informative about coming back to running at an older age, running with your children, and dipping your feet in the ultra marathon waters. I have contemplated running my first ultra as the next big goal but it doesn’t sound like it’s for me, especially after I just burned out on a plan that called for running four to five times per week. I’ll stick to three times a week, thank you very much. I would like to get into trail running, however.

Looking Back at 2015

Here are the highlights for me for 2015 — a wide range of things that made me feel proud. I’ve put links to posts I wrote if you’d like to read more about any particular item.

  • Qualified for Boston 2016 in a PR time of 3:36:58 at the Phoenix Marathon in February
  • Used my own compost to grow a great summer harvest of tomatoes, basil, and hot peppers
  • Helped create a team of 53 members for the iCureMelanoma 5K to raise $5,418 for melanoma research
  • Volunteered each week at my girls’ school, working both in the classrooms and in the school library
  • Crossed off a bucket list item when my girls and I volunteered at the Girls on the Go Los Angeles Half Marathon in Bonelli Park
  • Proofread a friend’s memoir of her experience growing up under the oppression of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
  • Set a PR in the 5K of 22:19 at the Downtown Anaheim 5K in June
  • Harvested over 200 pounds of lemons with my teenager and donated them to a local food bank
  • Qualified for Boston 2017 by a 15 minute, 52 second margin at the REVEL Canyon City Marathon in November
  • Performed with my middle daughter in six shows of The Nutcracker in December
  • Reached out to ElliptiGO and overcame my nervousness about trying something new, and was handsomely rewarded with finding a new workout I absolutely love!
  • Got a job for the first time in 13 years (aside from writing/blogging), working in the school district as a substitute assistant in the special education classrooms
  • Wrote up a training plan for my husband and teenager to train for their first half marathons next June, the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon

Looking Forward to 2016

I am eager to see what 2016 has in store for me! My first day on the new job is tomorrow, working 12-3 in the special education classroom at my girls’ school! The next race on my calendar is the Boston Marathon in April — my first time running that race and my 7th marathon overall.

Boston jacket

My sweet friends insisted that I take a photo in my prized new Boston jacket that Mike gave me for Christmas!

The only other race on my calendar is the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon in June. If the budget allows (i.e., I get enough work substituting in the district and my husband gets a new job), I hope to try my first big trail race (a half marathon, a full, or maybe even a 50K in spite of what I said about ultras not being for me — the Chino Hills Trail Run Series 50K is so close by and the timing would be perfect in November).

What are you proud of from 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

 

 

 

Newest Race on My Calendar

The newest race on my calendar is one of California’s oldest races — the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon, which was first held in 1955.

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The race takes place on Saturday, June 4, 2016. That’s over five months away, so why have I already registered? Well, a few reasons. (1) Registration is (relatively) cheap right now — just $50 plus the online registration fee. (2) I am a planner. I like crossing it off my to do list and not having to remind myself all the time to register before the race sells out (the horror!) And (3) — this is the big one — I also registered my husband and my oldest daughter for the race! For each of them it will be their first half marathon. I feel if you are going to take on the 13.1 race distance, it’s very motivating to commit to the race, not just wait and see how the training goes. Having that race on the horizon holds you accountable and makes it more likely that you will get out the door and complete the training miles.

We’ve already started training together — not so much following a half marathon training plan but a training plan I put together to get them building up to running enough miles each week that they are ready to start the 8-week training plan in April.

So far the farthest my daughter has ever run/walked in one workout is 5.5 miles. Come to think of it though, she has run a 5K (PR of 24:11) and then gone right back out on the course to run it again about half an hour later — so you might count that as a 6.2-mile run. That was last May though, and now she’s working up to running about 11-12 miles per week and slowly building from there over the next five months. By June my daughter will be 14 years old and my husband will be 45. I’m proud of them both for taking on this half marathon challenge!

Have you run a half marathon? I’ve run five half marathons over the last four years.

When was your first half marathon and what was it? My first half marathon was the OC Half in May 2012.

What’s your favorite half marathon course? I loved the REVEL Canyon City Half Marathon in 2014 and the Fontana Days Run Half Marathon has a very similar course — a beautiful run down a mountain through a national forest.

 

Let’s start with the ugly. I sustained a non-running running injury — a foolish slip in the bathtub that sprained my left big toe and affected my ability to run. If you don’t want to see my ugly foot, start scrolling now.

Foot with sprained toe

As a rule, I don’t run through pain that affects my gait in any way, because I know that just causes more problems in other areas of the body. This sprain hurt when I ran but didn’t change my gait and didn’t affect my ability to take on this bad boy:

Hill for hill repeat

Why do hills always look so tiny in pictures and so massive when you’re running up them? I did this hill workout on Wednesday:

1 mile warm up
6 hill repeats (1/3 of a mile up, 1/3 mile down (my favorite))
0.4 mile cool down (usually I’d run a full mile but I had to get home to my kiddos)

I have been struggling to get in my running over the last couple of weeks. It’s hard to get motivated to go out the door when it’s 4 p.m., 40-something degrees out, and starting to get dark. Yesterday I was supposed to do a 7-mile tempo run and I came up with every excuse not to do it until I finally just forced myself out the door. I only ran 5.6 miles before I had to take my youngest daughter to gymnastics, but 5.6 miles is greater than 0 miles (I was a math minor in college, can you tell?) and I was super proud of myself for getting those miles in. I ran the first half (the uphill portion) at an 8:55 pace and the second half (the downhill return portion) at a 7:49 pace. Normally I’d choose a flat stretch for a tempo run but when you live in “the Heights” you take what you get when you run out your door.

And finally, two pieces of good news. About five minutes after I posted this post about how my husband lost his job, I got a call offering me a job as a substitute instructional assistant, helping out the main teachers in special education classrooms in the district. The hours are perfect and allow me to drop off and pick up my girls from school. If I cannot work one day, I can specify that I am not available that day. Supposedly there is enough work to work every day if I want, but we’ll see when the job starts after the holidays.

And Santa heard my wish for an ElliptiGO! My parents gave me one for an early Christmas present! Mike and I drove back out to Hermosa Cyclery on Thursday and picked up my Green Machine, an ElliptiGO 8C!

Normally I would wear a helmet but we just took the ElliptiGO for a quick spin on the Strand at Hermosa Beach to make sure it was assembled correctly.

Normally I would wear a helmet but we just took the ElliptiGO for a quick spin on the Strand at Hermosa Beach to make sure it was assembled correctly.

I love it! It’s super quiet and smooth and frankly right now I would rather ride than go for a run. (Does that make me less of a runner? Or just a girl who loves her new Christmas toy?)

Have you ever sustained a non-running running injury? Do you like hill repeats? What gift is on your wish list?

Running through Life

Two weeks ago, my husband lost his job. It came as a complete shock to us. We certainly never expected anything like this would ever happen, much less just three weeks before Christmas. But life kept on trucking, no matter that we’d been thrown for a loop. In fact, it was very surreal. All of these wonderful things were happening in our lives. My middle daughter turned 11 on December 11 (her “golden” birthday!) and we celebrated with a cake she designed herself. Those are Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups:

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Mike and I performed in six shows of the Nutcracker ballet, playing the parents of our “party boy” and Chinese dancer. It was such a joy to be a part of the production and to watch our golden girl thrive on the performances. She will soon go en pointe in ballet, and gets to play one of the lead roles in the summer production of Alice in Wonderland!

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It was fun to trade my typical running clothes for this gorgeous Victorian gown for a while!

My oldest daughter is applying to a special program in high school next year, and was recently selected to lead a flute ensemble in 8th grade band. And my youngest daughter is ready to begin competing in swimming and has nearly mastered the splits in gymnastics! We are so, so lucky in many ways. Thank goodness we had set aside a “rainy day” fund just in case, and have family members who are willing to help us through this difficult time. Life goes on as normal for the girls, and that’s the best that I could hope for right now.

I had just started training for the Boston Marathon — literally two days into the 20-week plan — when we learned that Mike lost his job. Suddenly marathon training seemed trivial and inconsequential. Why should I take time each day to exercise when I have more pressing things to do? But I quickly realized that it was more important than ever that I keep on exercising, for my mental health as well as my physical health. And it was important that I drag my husband along too! We love to spend time together and it feels like an odd sort of luxury that he is home and can go out for a four mile hill run with me on a random Tuesday morning. So I’ve kept up with the plan, no matter how much I haven’t wanted to head out the door. I always feel a million times better when I get back from a run than before I went out. And last Sunday was no exception. I had a 12 mile long run on the training calendar. It was a cold morning (by SoCal standards — low 50s maybe?) and the whole household was still asleep, but I forced myself to hit the road and I was so glad I did. I haven’t had such a strong run in a long time. You might recall that in my training for REVEL Canyon City, I was running 4-5 times a week and pretty much ran myself into the ground. Every run felt like a slog. Now I’m back on a plan of three runs per week plus two sessions of cross-training (bike, ElliptiGO, or Insanity workouts) and two strength training sessions. The runs are harder — a hill or speed workout, a tempo run and a long run — but because my legs are fresh for them, I feel strong and powerful! I’m back to the joy of running, and so grateful for that, now more than ever.

And guess what’s the best news of all! Santa heard my wish and I’m getting an ElliptiGO for Christmas! My parents have always been extremely supportive of me and my training, and they knew how much it would mean to me to have an ElliptiGO for those cross-training sessions. I can hardly wait to head out to Hermosa Cyclery again this week to pick out my very own Green Machine (yes, I’ve already chosen the color and named the ElliptiGO).

So please be sure to count your blessings, set aside a rainy day fund, and send some good thoughts Mike’s way in his search for a new job.

I first saw the ElliptiGO elliptical bicycle when world champion runner Mary Decker Slaney was riding one before the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in 2014. I was too tired and shy to go up to her at the finish line expo after the race (note to self: “Hi! It’s so nice to meet you! What do you have here?” would have done very nicely). Anyway, I had been dying to try an ElliptiGO ever since. Recently my curiosity boiled over when I listened to this Runners Connect podcast with Darren Brown, a 3-time All-American, sub-4:00 miler, and marketing manager for ElliptiGO.

So I reached out to the nice people at ElliptiGO and they hooked me up with Hermosa Cyclery in Hermosa Beach, California. Located just steps from a spectacular beachside bike path, Hermosa Cyclery offers ElliptiGOs for sale or rental.

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Gorgeous day to ride an ElliptiGO 8S along Hermosa Beach!

I rode the ElliptiGO 8S (similar to the new model 11R, which retails for $3,499) and you can rent one from Hermosa Cyclery starting at just $20 an hour. My husband Mike tried out the ElliptiGO 3C (retail price $1,999). The verdict? We absolutely loved them! I cannot remember the last time I’ve had so much fun working out.

After a one-minute demonstration of how to ride the elliptical bike, my husband and I hopped on ours and went! It took no time at all for us to master riding the ElliptiGO. Getting started is easy — just step on one pedal and you’re off!

Shifting gears is exceptionally smooth (more smooth than a road bike, which my mechanical engineer husband says is due to the internal geared hub) and braking is the same as a road bike. I had no trouble balancing; in fact the ride felt very stable.

The first day we headed south on the beach path and rode for over 45 minutes total down to the end of the path and back. I could have sworn we were only out for 30 minutes at the most. It felt like we were sightseeing from an 8-foot tall vantage point. I could easily bike and enjoy the view along the way. The funny thing is, we were the main attraction along the path! Pedestrians, runners and road cyclists all stared at us, smiled, and even cheered! I got thumbs-up and clapping as we rode.

The next morning Mike and I headed north on the path. The Strand is also known as the Martin Braude Bike Path and it runs 22 miles and connects with other bike paths. We rode from 14th Street in Hermosa Beach up to Marina del Rey. There is a small section of stairs, and I impressed the guys behind me by lifting the lightweight bike and carrying it up the stairs on my own. There are also some slight hills on this section, and we powered right up them (and enjoyed coasting down them)!

With stops for water along the way, we ended up riding for two hours at about a 10 mph pace (cruising and enjoying the sights — we could have gone significantly faster if we pushed it). The ElliptiGO offers an excellent aerobic and strength training workout. By the end of two hours, I felt it in my outer quads, glutes, and a little in my lower back. On Sunday my marathon training plan for Boston called for a 10-mile long run, and the ElliptiGO ride more than satisfied the equivalent of that run.

The ElliptiGO makes for the ideal cross-training for runners because it offers a low-impact workout that closely mimics the motion of running. Standing upright eliminates the strain on your neck and back that you might feel tucking in for a long road bicycle ride, and saves your rear end from saddle soreness! Plus you get the joy of exercising outside rather than being stuck inside the gym.

I want to thank Hermosa Cyclery for the opportunity to test the ElliptiGO bikes. I’m telling Santa I want an ElliptiGO for Christmas, and if I don’t get one, I will definitely rent one for another fabulous workout on the beach path!

(I was not compensated for my honest review of the ElliptiGO and Hermosa Cyclery.)

Have you ever ridden an ElliptiGO? Are you interested in trying one out?

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