Performance Running Transition Program – Day 1

I’d briefly mentioned that I was going to start a new and different training plan to carry me through the winter and prepare me for next year.  They’re  the plans outlined in Eric Ortner’s book The Cool Impossible.

The first part of the plan is the “Performance Running Transition Program.”  It lasts for four weeks and is designed to help you to improve your running form – to a more natural, correct form – and to transition to zero-drop shoes, which make that good, natural form, well, more natural.  Let’s take a tangent on zero-drop shoes.

I was surprised to learn that even some of my most seasoned running friends didn’t really understand what zero-drop shoes are.  Here’s the gist:  the “traditional” running shoe has more padding in the heel than the forefoot.  So if the shoe has 8 mm more cushion in the heel than in the toe, the shoe has an 8 mm “drop.”  (To me, that’s counter intuitive.  I’d call that an 8 mm “lift,” but what the hell do it know?)  The idea is that more cushion in the heel helps to prevent injuries caused by heel striking.  The counter argument for these types of shoes is that the addition padding in the heel makes it difficult not to heel strike, and is therefore, unnatural and more likely to lead to injury.

“Minimalist” shoes, like Vibram Five Finger, are zero-drop shoes, but zero-drop shoes aren’t necessarily minimalist.  Zero-drop models can have cushioning in the soles.  The difference is simply that the padding is even from heel to toe – the entire sole of your foot is the same distance from the ground.  After reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, as well as The Cool Impossible (whose author coached Christopher McDougall), I decided that I wanted to try to improve my form to a more natural stride, and therefore needed zero-drop shoes.  However, I didn’t want to go the minimalist route, so – after doing some research – I invested in a cute pair of Altras.  Here they are:

Altra The Intuition 1.5

Altra The Intuition 1.5

As you can probably see, they’re not only different in that the cushioning in the soles is even from toe to heel.  They also have a wider, more square toe box (making my over-sized feet look even more like little blocks!).   Instead of narrowing at the toes – and pushing your toes together – these shoes allow for more movement of the forefoot within the shoe.  This also allows for a more natural movement in the foot by allowing the forefoot and toes a wider range of motion to balance the feet while running.

The idea is that the design of these shoes allows for your feet to move more naturally – the way your body was designed to work.  The catch is that, even thought this is ideal in the long-run (pun intended, I guess), you can’t just slap these shoes on and go.  If you’re used to running in a traditional shoe, zero-drop shoes will change your stride and cause you to use different muscles than you’re used to.  Therefore, you have to transition to them gradually.  (The Altra website has a page with some guidelines for doing so – here.  They also include helpful videos on proper running form.)

The Cool Impossible transition program goes something like this:  Four weeks of 3-4 runs per week, building up to 30 minutes of running for each session.  In addition, it includes a series of exercises to strengthen the feet, as well as a series of drills to encourage good running form in five areas:

  • Forefoot strike
  • Let stance
  • Knee drive
  • Takeoff
  • Arm carry

Monday morning, I laced up my Altras for the first time (after doing my slant board exercises and form drills barefoot) for the very first time.  As each of the four areas includes several form drills, I decided I’d focus on one of the first four for each of my four runs each week.  (And I’d address the “arm carry” area throughout.)

First of all, I have to mention that I over slept and almost put the whole thing off for another day.  After quite a series of spirited debates with myself about whether or not I had enough time, I got up at the last possible minute, slapped on my running gear, grabbed my shoes and socks, and headed to the basement to start with my barefoot, slant board exercises.   The slant board exercises mostly involve trying to stand still (i.e., balance), so it’s surprising how much sweating goes on during this rather still activity.  It’s harder than it looks and you feel it from feet through your core.  Without going into all the details, I’ll just add that the one thing I find to be unique to this program is that it begins by focusing on strengthening your feet.   (I’m not going into the specifics of how the slant board exercises are executed right now because I addressed that activity a while ago in this post right here.)  When you really think about it, it’s somewhat surprising that most training programs, as well as recommended cross training regimens for runners, don’t address the feet, which are more than a little bit essential for running.

Anyway!  After my slant board balance and slant board movement sequences, I performed the form drills for encouraging forefoot striking, which are jumping and running (barefoot!) in place.  These drills encourage forefoot striking because it’s virtually impossible to heel strike when you jump or run in place.  Did I mention that I got up late?  Yes, yes did.  Therefore, my barefoot jumping/running in place session for lasted for all of about 90 seconds before I needed to get my neato new shoes on and hit the pavement.

Since I knew I needed to get used to the shoes slowly, I decided I’d run a single mile today in the Altras.  I knew this was going to suck because the first mile always sucks.  And when your first mile is your only mile, obviously the whole run is going to suck.  At least it doesn’t last long, I guess.

When I set out, I was surprised at how good the shoes felt.  I could definitely tell the difference, but I expected it to be less comfortable than it was.  I’d mentioned that you begin to use different muscles when you transition to zero-drop shoes, so I’m not surprised that I can feel today’s short run in my calves, which had to work harder than they are used to because of the change in stride.  I’m waiting to see how sore I feel before I decide how far to go in them on Wednesday.  I may stick to a single mile again, or I may try 1.5 to 2 miles on Wednesday, depending upon how I feel.

I’m excited to finally be starting this training plan!  Now I just have to get myself motivated to get back to strength training on non-running days.  Wish me luck!


UPG Homecoming Weekend 5K

Um….  Huh…. I’m not sure where to begin on this one, as I was expecting to have a fun race recap to write.  And that’s not so much how it went down.

For the half three weeks ago, everything came together perfectly for a great race.  This 5K was the antithesis of that experience.

Where the half marathon had nice, cool running conditions, this Saturday offered 70 degrees with humidity that kept the sweat rolling down my head All. Damn. Day.

In the half, I never had a moment where I wanted to quit.  During the two, hilly laps around the Pitt at Greensburg campus, I wanted to quit virtually every second – of which there were 1,805.  That is, way, way too many seconds.  (I was truly “this” close to running to my car and heading home after the first lap.)

I didn’t walk during 13.1 miles; I walked several times over 3.1 itty-bitty miles.

After the half, my bothersome hamstring quit hurting, but the hills on this course reawakened that sore spot.

I was mentally solid as a rock during half a marathon, but I was a hot, f-bomb-dropping mess for five kilometers.

And by as far as I beat my time goal for the half, I missed my goal for this 5K.

Last year, I ran this same race in 27:13 – one of my best times, which earned me second place in my age group.  This year, I knew I wouldn’t run that fast again, given I’d been doing mostly slower, flat runs in preparation for the half.  Add to that being sick for most of the three weeks between the half and this 5K, and I really didn’t have high expectations for myself.  But I still thought I’d run it in, say, 28 or 28 and a half minutes.  I mean, I ran thirteen miles three weeks ago.  I figured my race mantra would be, “It’s only three miles!”  I certainly thought I’d finish in less than half an hour…. 

My official time was 30:05.  In the last 100 yards or so, as I watched the clock tick up to 30 minutes, many, many bad words were said.  Loudly.  I haven’t taken more than 30 minutes to complete a 5K in a year and a half.  I was not happy.  Here are the things that worked against me – some within my control and others not so much.

  • I was ill for two solid weeks after the half.  I only completed five runs between the half and this race.  And I did but one of the three hill repeat workouts I’d planned.
  • I had two beers (I’d planned on just one) at an event my Rotary chapter hosted Friday night.
  • Then I ate junky food from Sheetz after said event.
  • And then I stayed up way too late.
  • Oh, and I got my period on Friday, which is the worst possible timing.  (TMI?  I’m pretty sure my husband is the only boy who reads this.  If any other boys are reading, feeling that you didn’t need that piece of information….  Well, I was going to apologize, but no.   Too bad!  Just be glad it’s not something you have to deal with if you race.  Or if you don’t.)

Two beers is hardly a lot of beers, but that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I felt really parched during the race, even though I drank most of the water I was carrying, and I continued to be really thirsty throughout the day.  At any rate, I bet I could have raced at least 14 seconds faster if I could have eliminated even just one of those factors working against me on Saturday morning.  Why 14 seconds?

Well, even though I ran almost three minutes slower than last year, I came home with this third place, age group medal.

Medals were a little nicer this year - My 2nd from last year is there on the left.

Medals were a little nicer this year – My 2nd from last year is there on the left.

Guess how much faster the first place finisher ran.  That’s right: she finished just 13 seconds before me.  The second place woman in the 40-49 year-old age group finished a mere ten seconds ahead of me.    The three of us finished right in a row.
One very cool thing about this race was the second place gal approached me after the race, before official times were up, and before we knew we’d placed.  She told me ‘thanks’ for pushing her during the race, as we’d both passed one another a couple of times on the course.  It was nice to be acknowledged by another runner, even though she finished ahead of me.  And she and I became race friends over a conversation about the race course, the humidity, and half marathon training.  (She’s running her first on October 19th.)  By the time results were posted, we knew each other enough to celebrate together.
Despite it being a terrible race for me, the overall experience was a good one.  First of all, racing when you have the opportunity still beats staying home in bed, even if you have a lousy race.  Also, it was nice to bring home a medal, even if it felt like – in the words of Crash Davis – “a kind of dubious honor.”  In the end, I’m more annoyed about the five seconds over 30 minutes than I am about the fact that I missed winning my age group by 14 seconds.  I’ve never won my age group, so that would have been cool.  But I hope that if I ever do place first in my group, that it happens when I have a time I’m proud of, too.
Now, I need to chalk it up to illness, bad weather, and other unfortunate, non-permanent factors, and just get to work on my next set of goals.  Running form drills and training start Wednesday!

September Rundown

Well, September was exciting because it included the big ol’ half marathon on the 14th.  But my stats look so lame compared to August.  For one, last month,  we were in high gear with our training, then we were tapering the first two weeks of September.  So instead of August’s weeks of five miles-five miles,-long run (of up to 11 miles) each week, it was three miles-three miles-long run of just eight (or was it seven?).

Then, the week after the half I ran but a single mile because I came down with the cold from hell.  There was no long run that week at all, and I’ve only done one run longer than three since the half marathon.  I suppose this is all well and good given that you should rest after a big, long race, and because I have no control of the fact that I became ill the week after.  But it’s still kind of bumming me out to look at these statistics and see that I ran almost twice as many miles in August as I did in September.

It’s also scaring me a bit to realize that to hit my goal of 609 miles for the year, I have to run 14.25 miles a week for the rest of the year.  Julie and I have a goal to start routinely completing long runs each week of 8-10 miles (mostly 8s), so that means, I would only have to run an additional six miles each week.  Sounds totally doable except for the fact that my four-week transitional running plan (that starts on Monday) is going to have me doing shorter runs during the week, at least initially.  Even so, this goal seems to be within my reach for 2013.

Well, that covered my (one) highlight and my lowlights for the month, but I’ll just throw in this awesome picture of Amy, Julie and me from after the half.  Note that Julie is wearing her age-group award!  (Whereas, I’m just holding the remnants of my PB&J.)


September 2013 Stats:

Miles Run:  46.77
Time Running: 8:43:10
Average Pace: 11:11

Other Activities:  None.  (Need to do something about this!)

Races:  My “big” Greensburg Half Marathon!  With a PR time of 2:16:01

YTD Stats:

Miles Run:  416.95
Time Running: 76:36:39
Average Pace: 11:02

** Breakdown
Jan = 23.53 miles
Feb = 43.92
Mar = 36.79
Apr = 8.39
May = 46.39
June = 62.08
July 50.12
Aug = 81.62
Sept = 46.77

Miles to hit 2013 goal: 192.05

Strong Finish:

Ugh!  All I have for a “strong finish” for the month is that I managed a five-mile “run” (there was a good bit of walking) with Julie on Saturday, September 29th.  It wasn’t the best run, but at least I rebounded from my illness enough to get a “longer” run in, after the half, and before the month was out.

Here’s hoping for a spectacular October!

Runner’s High, Runner’s Low

I was flying high for days after the half marathon.  It was so surreal, I kept looking at the pictures because I was still having trouble comprehending that I actually beat my goal.  So it stayed really exciting for quite a while afterward, but then the weirdness set in.

First, although I loved the race overall, there were some disappointments.  Originally, the race directors intended to include finisher medals for those of us participating in the half, but apparently they eliminated that perk about a month before the race “for financial reasons.”  This is not the end of the world, but if I’d have known this, I might have picked a different half to run this fall.  After I missed the Pittsburgh half because of my foot injury, this became my “big” race, and I was really looking forward to adding a finisher medal to my modest display.  As a result, the first weird, post-race thing that overcame me was my desire to sign up for a second, nearby, fall half marathon so that I could have a medal to hang on my wall.  I obsessed about that for a day and then talked myself down.

I could totally run another half in, say, early November (there’s one in a neighboring county – for only $26.20), but I decided to be sensible and stick to the training plans I’d laid out for myself.  Plans I intend to begin next week.  That is, I decided it was silly to train for a second one just to get a medal instead of focusing on the long-term goals I’d already planned for myself.  As it happens, I’m going to participate in a race in early December that will include a medal, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The next “weird” thing that happened was that I got a cold.  A bad cold.  I didn’t intend to take a whole week off after the half, but by that Wednesday, I was coughing up my lungs, so running was out of the question.  Not running, in general, kind of makes me depressed, anyway.  So not running after coming off such a big “win” in my half sucked twice as much.  Two weeks later, I’m still not 100% healthy, but I’ve managed to get some runs in even though I still I feel like hell.  It’s disappointing to feel like I was running long distances with relative ease to feeling like three little miles might kill me.  I have a 5K this Saturday, and I’m really not looking forward to it now.  I expect it’s going to be extremely painful to race 3.1 miles and/or my time is going to be severely disappointing.  All I can do is show up on Saturday as ready as I can be and give it a go.  I’m going to have to mentally prep myself so that I don’t slip further into runner’s low if I do end up performing poorly.

So the exciting things that are going to get me back on that runner’s high are:

1) Next week, I’m beginning what’s going to be about a six-month training period based on the recommendations in The Cool Impossible by Eric Orton (info on the book and author HERE).  Eric Orton is the coach who helped Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, complete a 50-mile race with the Tarahumara Indians.  I’ll spend four weeks doing exercises to strengthen my feet and legs plus drills to improve my form, coupled with 3-4 short runs a week.  After that, I’ll complete some test runs to determine my ideal pace and heart rate zones, which will then dictate how I execute my runs over the following five months.  I’m excited about it, but nervous about the work.  It’s not that I expect that the training will be that much more physically strenuous than what I’m used to, but this training technique is going to require me to run alone during the week.  That means, I have to get myself up and moving with no one to meet me early in the morning.  I’m not as good at this as I used to be, so I’m going to have to double down on my discipline.  I intend to comment on how it’s going here on my blog.

2) My friend Jessica talked me into running 10K at the first A Christmas Story Run!  It’s the 30th anniversary of A Christmas Story, and the race takes place around the setting from the movie.  The race includes “A stellar Leg Lamp themed long sleeved shirt,” free admission to A Christmas Story House & Museum on race day, AND the “It’s a Major Award” Leg Lamp medal!

It must be Italian!

It must be Italian!  (Illegally scraped image from race website….)

This promised to be oodles of fun because I get to spend a lot of time with Jessica that day.  For one, we’re planning to run together.  But we’re also planning to drive into Cleveland that morning, because I’m too broke right now to pay for a hotel room.  (And Jessica is kind enough to go along with this hare-brained plan.)

Plus – hello, finisher medal!  And a super-cool one at that.

Now I just need to get through Saturday’s 5K without collapsing on the course or harming myself over my time.  Wish me luck that I can finish at a not-embarrassing pace!