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Archive for the ‘No Excuses’ Category

I got back into running when my daughters were ages 3, 6 and 9. At that time, it made the most sense for me to run in the morning, either before my husband left for work or right after I dropped the kids off at pre-school and elementary school. Now that my kids are 10, 13 and 16 though, I have realized that I’ve transitioned into being an evening runner! I make the most of the hours they are in school by getting things done at home, because after 3 p.m. it’s a rush of driving kids to various activities, cooking dinner, and helping with homework until I drop into bed around 10 p.m. So how and why do I get in those evening runs? I have learned that the best way to spend an hour while a child is at gymnastics, ballet or tennis lessons is to get in a workout! I can tell you where the park with a quarter-mile dirt track is next to the gymnastics center, how to sneak onto the high school campus near the ballet studio to run on the rubberized track, or where to run through the neighborhood near the tennis center to get to the half-mile paved path! It’s not easy to run in the late afternoon or evening, but I have learned some tips to make the most of it.

  1. Slow down and lower your expectations. This is one of the hardest things to do. I’m a type-A runner who generally likes to keep an eye on my pace and on my mileage. But I’m also a morning person. By 4 p.m. my get-up-and-go has all but gone. So I do what I can, and I don’t push the pace if I’m not feeling it that day. That’s especially true in the heat of a Southern California afternoon, when I have to pay particular attention to staying hydrated and not overheating. Three to four slow(er) miles is better than no miles at all, and in fact I give myself bonus points for completing a tough run. Those late-day and hotter-temperature runs might not be building speed, but they are building mental toughness and preparing you for less-than-ideal race day conditions.
  2. Throw in hill work, fartleks or quarter-mile repeats. For days when you find yourself with a little more energy or your training plan calls for some speed work, there are a few good ways to do that in the afternoon or evening. Hill work is speed work in disguise, so head to the nearest hill. On your way up you don’t have to pick up the pace to get in some of the same benefits of faster-paced run, and on the way down you get to practice your leg turnover when it’s easier to run faster down the hill! Fartleks also work well — even after a long day you can run a little faster to the next stop sign or the next turn on your route. And I use the motivation of the time crunch (“Only 40 minutes to get a run in before the 45-minute lesson is over, I’d better run faster!”) to run as fast as I can for some quarter-mile repeats with quarter-mile rest intervals in between.
  3. Stay safe. This should go without saying, but it does bear repeating. For those afternoon and evening runs, it’s particularly important to wear brightly colored and reflective clothing and, if it’s really getting dark out there, run with knuckle or shoe lights, a flashlight, or the light on your phone. And if you’re running in a new area, make sure you have a map and keep your wits about you. No headphones in the ears, and no wandering off the beaten path. Tell someone where you’re going and when you will be back. Take advantage of places where people tend to congregate in the evenings — I often feel the most safe at the track where kids are practicing for after-school sports under the stadium lights, or at the park where people gather on a Friday night for a family barbecue.
  4. Enjoy new routes if possible. If you’re planning an evening run after work, try getting in a run by your workplace before heading home, or map out a loop that starts out from the day care center where you will pick up your kids. After years of running the same loops around my neighborhood, I’m enjoying the opportunity to explore new running routes in areas I wouldn’t typically drive to for a run. If I’m a 20-minute drive from my house for my daughter’s music lesson, it’s an opportunity to explore four miles of new terrain! If I’m an hour drive from my house for my other daughter’s ballet audition, you can bet I’m going to run on the nearby river path I scouted out on my computer before I left home!
  5. Appreciate the perks of night runs! One of my favorite runs ever was the night leg I did for the Napa Valley Ragnar when I ran past the cemetery at 3 in the morning! It was so peaceful and quiet and so different from my usual running experience. And check out this view from a recent after-dinner run:

    Southern California sunset

    I love the silhouettes of the trees against a gorgeous Southern California sunset!

6. Bring a change of clothes and a snack. If your evening run does not end at your doorstep, consider packing a clean change of clothes. I don’t know about you but I cannot stand being in sweaty running clothes for a second longer than I have to. And I like to refuel within half an hour of running so if I won’t be home within that time, I bring along a nutritious snack.

7. Plan your post-workout routine to help you wind down before bed. An evening run can rev you up and keep you from falling asleep at night. If you can, plan to get in your run a least an hour or two before bedtime. I confess I’ve gotten in workouts from 8-9 p.m., which is cutting it a little close to bedtime for me. In those instances, I make sure to relax with a cup of tea and a hot shower, if not a hot bath. Those nighttime rituals, combined with the satisfaction of getting in my workout for the day, help me prepare for a good night’s sleep and enough recovery before the next day.

Are you a morning runner, evening runner, or both? Any tips or tales to share?

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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. Trade a bike ride out for an Insanity DVD. Count yard work as your strength training for the day.

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?

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When we last left our intrepid marathon trainee the Fit Fun Mom, she despaired over a lackluster 13-mile long run. Thank goodness the cutback week called for fewer miles and let her recover from a nagging head cold. We now join our fearless runner, who’s high after a successful speed workout and will now stop talking about herself in the third person. 🙂

It’s week eight of M2B marathon training. Nearly halfway done! Thank goodness Monday’s speed workout got knocked out of the park. Quarter-mile repeats are my new best friends!

Decoding the Speed Workout

The workout on my Run Less, Run Faster plan called for:

“10-20 min warmup    2 x (6 x 400 in 1:42)  (90 sec RI)   (2min30 RI bt sets)  10 min cooldown”

That’s a 10-20 minute warmup run, which I usually do at a 10-minute pace (6 miles per hour). I like to do speed workouts on the treadmill because it allows me to target a pace and know I’m hitting it consistently. I should increase the incline to adjust for the fact that I’m running on the treadmill but speed work is so new to me that I’m happy just to hit the pace at a 0% incline.

“2 x (6 x 400 in 1:42)” translates to two sets of six quarter-mile repeats at an average pace of 6:50, or 8.77 miles per hour. To help myself keep track of the repeats, I did one quarter-mile at 8.8 miles per hour, then did the next at 8.7 mph, then back up to 8.8 and so on.

The “90 sec RI” calls for 90 seconds of rest interval in between each quarter-mile repeat. For each ninety seconds of rest I walked at 3.5 miles per hour.

“2min30 RI bt sets” is a 2-minute 30-second rest interval in between the two sets of six quarter-mile repeats. Heavenly rest.

After six more quarter-mile repeats, I ended with a little rest after the last repeat, and a final mile at six miles per hour for the 10-minute cooldown. By the time I finished I had done 6.5 miles in 1:08. Not exactly speedy overall (or even speedy repeats for the most speedy of you readers out there), but a darn good speed workout for me. I think the fastest I’ve ever run is 9 miles per hour and so to do 12 400-meter repeats at 8.7/8.8 mph is huge! So satisfying. By the end, the sweat was literally flying. I’d swing my elbows to will my legs to keep up and the drops of sweat would fly off the ends of my elbows onto the gym windows (Sorry, people. I did wipe down the treadmill afterward but I left the windows alone).

The Benefits of Speed Workouts

Run Less, Run Faster explains the benefits of speed workouts as the following:

    • Improve maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max)
    • Increase running economy
    • Improve speed
    • Bust boredom (okay fine, that’s my own addition).

What’s VO2 max?

VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as “milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight.”

(About.com Sports Medicine). The higher your VO2 max, the more energy you can produce.

What’s “running economy“?

Running economy is how efficiently your body uses oxygen. Some people argue that running economy is a better predictor of performance than VO2 max, and it’s also something that you have more control over than VO2 max, which is significantly controlled by genetics. (Runner’s World: “Efficient, See? Improve Your Running Economy and Go Longer and Stronger at Any Pace.”)

Do you do speed workouts? What’s your favorite? Do you do track repeats or hit the treadmill to gauge your speed?

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I refuse to pretend that marathon training is fun right now. In general I love it and am much happier when I’m checking off the workouts on a training plan. Right now though? I have a cold. It’s an “above the neck” cold, not a chest cold, and I’m thankful for the ability to continue working out. At the same time, I get discouraged when I cannot meet the pace goal for a particular run. My 8-mile tempo run that should have included six straight miles at 8:14 (7.3 mph) became five one-mile repeats with a 400-meter rest interval in between. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of that workout. That eight miles wins a personal award for “longest run on a treadmill to date.” It wasn’t easy for me to do the mile repeats, and I am glad I pushed through and did them and at the same time, didn’t push so hard that I made myself even more sick.

My 13-mile long run that ideally should have been at an 8:50 pace was done at a jog. I don’t even want to calculate the actual pace. All I know is that overall my total time was 15 minutes slower than the 13.1 Mile Virtual Run for Sherry I did five weeks ago. And it was the first run where I felt worse, mentally and physically, than I did before the start of the run. One of the things I love most about running is the sense of accomplishment that I feel afterward, and that just wasn’t there this weekend. I did it, but it wasn’t pretty.

I don’t mean to be a downer. I simply feel some bizarre sort of obligation to be honest about the fact that marathon training is not all sunshine and roses. It’s challenging. It’s a huge commitment. It’s tiring. Yet, those are the very reasons that it’s inspiring. It’s thrilling. It’s rewarding.

Squeezing in the Training around the Rest of Life

Because my pace was off on the 13-mile run, I was literally running late. I ran in the door, toweled off the sweat (no time to shower, sorry folks!), threw on the clean clothes my husband laid out for me, and ran back out to the driveway where Mike had the car running and the younger kids waiting to drive to the junior high to watch my fifth grader compete in the Academic Excellence Day math competition.

Math Word Problem:

If Angela completes her 13-mile run at X:YZ pace,
how long will it take her to run 26.2 miles on May 26?

Bonus question: Will she PR or BQ?

Answer: I wish I knew!

For the mathematics competition, the teachers matched my daughter with four other fifth graders from local schools, and they competed against six other teams of five. After a round of 10 questions plus a bonus word problem, my daughter’s team earned third place! I reveled in getting to watch her learn to assert herself among her teammates and perform under pressure. We asked her what she learned from the experience, and we told her we were proud of her for participating in the competition. But the surprising thing that made me proud? When my 8-year-old said that the thing she learned from the competition was that “crossing your fingers really works!” She’d sat quietly throughout the whole competition, and then crossed her fingers at the end in the hopes that her older sister would win a medal! Love that girl!

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For many years, my New Year’s resolution was to exercise at least four days a week (now it’s six). I kept track on a paper calendar (you remember paper calendars from the BG and BBB days — Before Google and Before BlackBerry?) I’d cross off each day that I exercised for at least 20 minutes, although the goal was 30 or more. If I only exercised three days one week, that was okay, because I could shoot for five the next. There was no throwing up of hands, oh well, I didn’t make it four days this week, I couldn’t keep my New Year’s resolution again this year. I was kind to myself (and as a certified perfectionist, I’m not often kind to myself. Like right now I’m berating myself: why do you use so many parentheticals in your writing? (That is not a good thing)).

Anyway, if you are struggling to keep up with your New Year’s resolutions, or have already thrown in the towel, I want you to be kind to yourself and rededicate yourself to your resolutions. Do you want to know my trick for doing that? It’s super easy and effective.

Talk to yourself like you would talk to a good friend.

Would you say to a good friend, “I can’t believe you didn’t exercise today!” or “You’re only down two pounds instead of four. You might as well give up because you’re never going to meet your goal.” Of course not! But for some reason, we are harder on ourselves than we are on our friends. Why?? We deserve to be treated with the same kindness.

For example, if you were training for a race and you missed a week of training for whatever reason, you might beat yourself up mentally over it. You might even be worried you could not meet the race distance and should give up on the race. If a friend missed a week of training, you would not say a single negative thing. You would give her a supportive pep talk. “I know it’s hard when you get off track for a week, but you can do it! Don’t give up now! I am proud of you!” You’d help her figure out how to adjust her workouts to resume her training plan.

Don’t give in to your own stinkin’ thinkin’ (that’s a Crazy Sexy Cancermovie reference) (and there’s another parenthetical, but I choose to forgive myself for that). Treat yourself with kindness. Treat yourself as you would treat others.

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Last Saturday night my husband and I planned our day for Sunday. We’d have a quiet morning as a family at home, Mike would take one of the girls to go play tennis at 11, then we’d all go for a family bike ride after lunch, and finally just Mike and I would go out for a long bike ride at 3:30 when Grandma came over to babysit. It sounded like a great plan, and it was, right up until 1:30 p.m. on Sunday when we found out that Grandma couldn’t come over until after dark, effectively tanking the bike ride plan. We tried to find another babysitter on short notice but even the girl across the street couldn’t make it! On to plan B: bike at the gym? But by the time we learned the long bike ride would not work, the gym was closed. Why does the gym close early on a Sunday?! (“Because of God.” Name that movie! It’s one of my all-time favorites.) Plan C: swim at the outdoor community pool? The lap swim hours at the pool were over. It seemed like our plan to get in a workout, any kind of workout, was doomed.

When 5 p.m. rolled around and Grandma arrived, I was not much in the mood to exercise anymore. I’m a morning workout kind of gal, and I’m also a planner, and gosh darn it someone threw a monkey wrench in plans A, B, and C. Can I just say then, that I’m super proud of the fact that we got in a workout after all? Mike and I suited up in our warmest running clothes (including my new Costco jacket), hats and headlamps (also from Costco — 3 for $9.99 — but I can’t exactly recommend them because the first one we took out of the packaging broke when we tried to put batteries in and you know, actually use it).

All the stylish kids wear their headlamps over their hats and their fuel belts under their jackets for the best bulky look.

All the stylish kids wear their headlamps over their hats and their fuel belts under their jackets for the best bulky look.

I don’t know if you can tell but I was positively shivering when that photo was taken. I was eager to get running so I could generate some body heat! Soon enough we were off into the darkness and it felt great to be out there. I get so bored running the same route over and over again but running that same route in the dark was all new and fun! It didn’t hurt that I had a charming running partner too. We run well together. He secretly gloats over the fact that he’s faster than I am and I secretly gloat over the fact that I can run 17 more miles than the longest run he’s ever done. (Can you tell we’ve been married for 18 years? Together for 24? Yes, we were high school sweethearts! We know each other so well by now.)

We ran four hilly miles and were rewarded with this view out to the Pacific Ocean:

Sunset over Orange County

Best of all we snuck back inside the house after the run, took a quick shower, and got right back out again for dinner, just the two of us. It turned out to be a great date night, including the unplanned night run!

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As I mentioned yesterday, the nagging injuries in my left shin and right groin had put me in a bit of a funk. Show me a runner who deals with injury well and I’ll call her a liar. I aspire to handle injury with grace, but as my husband can attest, that remains a mere aspiration. In fact, half the reason I started this blog was to have someone else (a community of someone elses, in addition to my patient husband) to talk to about running and injuries. Along with running my mouth off (ha ha), I’ve put in place a Happiness Plan. I told myself, “Quick, think about the things that make you happy. Make a list! Put it into action!”

1. Exercise six days a week. Five workouts of running, swimming or cycling, and at least two of weight training. One full day of rest and one day with only strength training. [Note that I have stuck with this plan for the last week, running 20 miles, biking for 50 minutes, and doing several strength training workouts].

2. Get outside for half an hour daily or more. This is a must for me. I am a terrible homebody and my natural tendency is to stay inside, preferably curled up in bed with a good book. At the same time, I recognize that I am happiest when I am out of doors, and if I make the effort to get outside, I’m richly rewarded.

A gorgeous winter (?!) day in Southern California. This was my view on my 50-minute bike ride through the park on Sunday.

A gorgeous winter (?!) day in Southern California. This was my view on my 50-minute bike ride through the park on Sunday.

3. Keep a “to do” list. Each day do the one thing that’s bugging me most (often the very thing I least want to do). Then knock out as many of the others as possible.

4. Keep up with the laundry (that includes putting the clean clothes away!) With five people in the family, including three little girls who love to play dress-up and a few athletes who often go through two sets of clothes and a sweaty towel a day, that adds up to a lot of laundry. If I do two loads a day, I can keep on top of it. A clean house = peaceful mind.

5. Focus on nutrition. Two fruits and seven vegetables per day. Ten 8-ounce glasses of water or other liquids (and that does not include alcohol!) That might sound like a lot of water (and I do know it’s possible to over-hydrate) but I can tell you that it is so dry here in Southern California that I often get headaches if I do not drink enough water. Add on turning on the furnace in winter and it is super dry here even with the rain we’ve been getting lately.

And if you think eating your veggies is a strange part of a Happiness Plan, check out this article from three days ago that confirms that eating more veggies and fruit can make you happier.

The more vegetables you eat, the happier and more satisfied with life you are. In fact, in one survey, eating seven to eight portions of vegetables was more strongly associated with happiness and overall well-being than employment status. On the whole, the paper concluded that well-being peaks at seven daily servings of fruits and vegetables, but the surveys also showed that people who ate just five servings a day (the amount that the USDA recommends) were as happy–or very nearly so–as people who ate higher amounts.

Love it, but I don’t need a study to tell me that I feel better when I eat better. (Note that the study cannot confirm whether happy people eat their veggies or eating veggies makes people happy. I’m not sure it makes a difference to me — I want to be a happy vegetable eater either way!)

On the whole, my Happiness Plan seems pretty basic and straightforward. I would argue though that it takes living with intention to stay on track with the Happiness Plan, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Do you have a Happiness Plan? What are the must-do items on your list? In addition to the five things on my list above, I’d add the one thing I take for granted: spending time with family. The happiest times of day for me are the times I spend snuggling my youngest in the morning before school, or reading to the girls at night.

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