Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sleep trumps EVERYTHING

Yep, it really does. This last week has been a crazy one. I've been putting in the hours on my clinical, training, and working a few nights this week. I needed to take Sunday off for a foot/ankle course I signed up for in the city so I had to be sure I was caught up at work. This meant my long run would be Saturday morning. I made sure I didn't stay too late at work Friday night.

When the alarm went off Saturday morning, I got up, went to the bathroom, and climbed back into bed with a less then convincing "yeah, I'm gonna run today" to the Wingman. As soon as the words left my lips, I was asleep. Yep, I was taking a nap after waking up. Getting up to use the bathroom is very strenuous work. I slept in a little and realized that a morning run was not going to happen. Instead I drove into work with the Wingman and worked feverishly all day long. I was stressing all day about getting my long run in. I had one eye on the clock and the other eye on the pile of work. It became a race against the sunset.

Around 3p I knew I was not going to run that day. I also knew that I had to get up early Sunday to drive into the city and spend all day there. A Sunday run was not going to happen. I thought about Monday and how I could squeeze it in. My clinical hours Monday are 9a-8p. I would have to get up early again to run. The thought made me shudder. I was craving waking up without an alarm clock. I wanted some "me" time (me meaning me and the Wingman and my long run).

I made the executive decision to skip the class. I knew if I went the feeling of being rundown was going to get worse. And when you are rundown, it's easy to get sick. I am in contact with many people throughout the day and the potential to catch something is pretty high so I need to be in the best shape I can be. So with that, I turned to the Wingman and told him I was going to stay home Sunday. He was supportive of my decision and completely understood. As soon as I announced my decision it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could feel the stress just melt away.

I finished out the day at work and we came home and had dinner. After dinner, we loaded a DVD into the player and relaxed on the couch together. I guess it was around 11p when I finally went to bed (which is late for me). I put my head down, shut my eyes and fell asleep.........until 8:30a this morning. I felt so well rested after waking up when my body wanted to wake up. I lounged around until 1p (thank you 3 part episode of Law & Order) and finally changed my clothes for my long run. I told the Wingman of my route and was on my way. I pieced together two of my favorite routes to make up one long route. It paid off big time.

I went out easy and truly enjoyed every mile of the run. Even late in the run when I felt myself slowing down because of the wind, I was still happy to be out there. I thought about the race and how I would finish. I could see myself in my mind's eye crossing the finish line looking strong. When the run today was over I looked at my overall time and thought back to my goals. It's going to be a big push to make it.  I am close to making it, but I need to really nail my last long run. From there it's all about the taper. The hay will be in the barn and I need to make sure I don't set it ablaze!!

And tonight, I will head to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get a good jump on my recovery from the long run today.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Back from my hiatus

"Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me,
What a long, strange trip it's been"

I have been off the radar for ~1 week. It's been a bit of a roller coaster for me. I'm truly enjoying my experience on this affiliation, but I also had to deal with going to Michael's wake. I have to say it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. On Tuesday I made the long drive to Jersey after work to pay my respects and say a final goodbye. The whole drive there I was OK, but once I walked into the room and saw his parents it was hard to hold it together. I stayed for a few hours and spoke with various members of my family. Then I had the long drive home as I had to work the next day.

With all this going on, I also had SI joint issues with my back that prevented me from running. It was weird to diagnose it. It started when I did my 3 mile running test. After the run I stretched out and then got in the car to drive. When I got out of the car, my hamstring was sore right up near my butt. I tried stretching it and working it out. It felt a little better, but it was still sore. I ran the 4 miler race with it and that didn't help. Not only did I feel the soreness, but my hip was tight too. A few days after the 4 miler I ran again. Still tight, but I was able to run. After that, I had to shut it down. I knew I had to ease up on it to help it heal. All along I was thinking hamstring, and then I turned the Wingman into my personal PT. I knew what tests I wanted to do, but I couldn't do them to myself. I guided him through them and realized I was having SI joint issues. By using the foam roller I was able to work it out and feel better after a few days but I knew I needed more time off. 

I finally felt good enough to run this morning before work. I had a 12 miler on the schedule but I knew that was a longshot. I hadn't run in a week and my previous long run was ~2 weeks ago. I woke up early and got dressed to run. It was a bit nippy out so I was dressed in layers so I could peel them off as I went along. I fired up the iPod and a great song came on to set a good starting pace:

"Well the first days are the hardest days,
don't you worry anymore
When life looks like easy street
There is danger at your door"

And the opening lyrics were never truer. It was more like the first steps are the hardest steps, but once I got going it was OK. I didn't focus on what pace I was running, I just wanted to get some fitness back. I felt like a slug at first but then I was able to pick it up for a while. Around mile 6 the fatigue was setting in. I planned a 10 mile loop and if I had enough in the tank I would tack on 2 more miles. But alas, 2 more was not meant to be. I knew if I pushed it I would be in trouble. So I called it a day at 10 miles. 

I still have 2 more weeks of long running to build it up so I am not worried. I would have preferred a few more longer runs, but this is the hand I am have to deal with. The real test was how my SI joint would hold up after my run today. I stretched out and stood for a while before I got in the car for work. The car ride and sitting all day at work flared it up a bit, but tonight it's feeling pretty good. I am optimistic for the next few weeks and plan on rockin' my half marathon next month. It's on the Rutgers campus and that's where Michael went to school. I know for that race Michael will be with me when I run so I need to bring my A game, no slacking off!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stepping out

This week I had a bike power test scheduled. It is designed to give data to help me set training zones as I head into the spring and begin some serious bike training. I read the workout over and over again and kept thinking "No problem, I can nail it." But as I got closer to actually doing the test, it's another story. The whole workout would last an hour, but the two key intervals that count at a 5 minute super hard effort and then another 20 minute effort that's not quite as hard as the 5 minute.

I brought my iPod down stairs and some water to get me through. I loaded a Tour de France DVD and picked the time trial to watch. I figured if I was watching other cyclists do a hard effort, it would help me. Once my warmup was complete, I reset the powermeter, put on some fast music, put my head down and pedaled furiously. My 5 minutes had just begun. I was surprised at my cadence. I was spinning faster than I thought I could. Every few moments I would look down to see how much time I had left. The sweat began to pour off my face. I was grunting the last minute of the effort. I could see my heart rate was pinned way up for cycling. I haven't seen a number that high on the bike in quite some time. The last 30 seconds I just focused on maintaining my pedal turnover.

I greeted the last 10 seconds like a New Year's Eve countdown. I might have even counted out loud, I don't really remember as it was a blur. I stopped the computer and made sure I saved the data. Now was the cool down and preparation for the 20 minutes. 

The 20 minutes was harder than the 5 minutes. Even though my effort was "lower," it was still super hard. I kept thinking "20 minutes isn't so bad." But as I looked down at the computer, 3 minutes elapsed. Holy crap, 17 more minutes. Sweat was coming off my head like it was coming out of a faucet. I knew I just had to make sure my power numbers stayed up. It was a hard effort and took everything I had to hang on. I looked down again and was only halfway there. It was at this point I thought "Why the hell am I doing this?" 

The answer came quickly. I need to push myself if I want to get better. I spent a good deal of time in the offseason working on my running and getting out of my comfort zone and it has paid off big time. My times are dropping and now it's time to focus on the bike. I don't want to maintain the status quo. I am tired of being stagnant. It's time to push the envelope and get to the next level on the bike.

All that thinking took about 2 minutes. I still had 8 to go. Oh brother, the legs are burning now. I turned up the volume on the music, dropped my head and dug deep. Gotta keep the numbers up. My legs were turning over the pedals fast and furious. 

The final countdown was a welcome sight. I was grunting and spitting like crazy. My head was dripping everywhere. 10.......come on, hang on......9........pedal, circles......8.........keep working......7......only on 7?.........6..........almost there.........5......maybe I can stop the computer now..............4.........don't cheat, you can do it............3.......someone kill me please.........2.....seriously, end this........1..............DONE!!!!!! Next thought was "I never want to do that again."

I saved the data and then completed the rest of the workout. The hard work was done and I was way out of my comfort zone. First step on the road to improvement.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remembering Michael

Michael and his little cousin Nico

Early this morning we lost an amazing young man. My cousin Michael was battling Leukemia for the 2nd time in his young life. Some of you may remember I did a fund raiser for him back in October to raise money for his treatments. In January he received a bone marrow transplant and spent a month in the hospital. He was able to go home, but was battling infections and was in and out of the hospital over the last month. He went back in Monday evening and passed away early this morning. He was only 20 years old. He and I had a deal that when he was better we would run a race together. While that is not physically possible now, I will always have him in my heart when I run. 

He was a student at Rutgers University and managed a 4.0 GPA last semester while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. My half marathon next month is at Rutgers University. I had hoped to visit with him but unfortunately that is not possible now. But I know Michael will be running along with me in spirit and carrying me through the race.

I was reading through his facebook messages that his friends have been leaving for him. They talk about his great smile, how nice he was, what a great friend and how at ease he made people feel.  He touched many lives and hopefully we can all carry his amazing spirit forward.

                                                                    Photo by A. Palino

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's an old Sicilian message.....

It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes

For almost two weeks now we've had a small mouse in the kitchen. We've tried various traps and techniques with no success. The mouse would eat the food off the traps without setting it off. Last night was the final straw. I was in the bedroom getting ready for bed when I saw something dart out and go under the chest of drawers. My heart started beating fast as I hopped up onto the bed (yes, I know, how brave of me). My excuse was I wanted a good vantage point to see if he came out from a different spot. Yeah, that's it. 

When Wingman came into the bedroom, he saw me standing and staring. I told him where Luca was and we barricaded him under the chest while Wingman went to get the traps. I stayed on the bed as a lookout. Wingman did a fine job setting up the area with traps. 

Around midnight Luca came out to eat and Wingman was awoken by the sound of the trap going off. I, unfortunately, slept through it. Never heard the trap go off. When I woke up this morning I saw that the trap went off and Luca was now "sleeping with the fishes."

I told Wingman we should put him in some newspaper and leave it in the garage as a message to his other friends. But for now, I can rest easy knowing our tormentor has been caught.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Opening up a can......

This morning was my 2nd year running the Little Cow Harbor 4 Miler. Wingman and I ran it last year and we liked it so much we made a point of going back this year to do it again. The race director and organizers do such a great job putting the whole race together. The course is challenging, the race shirt is a nice long sleeve shirt, great goodie bag, outstanding volunteers, and of course a great post race spread. But before you can celebrate your race, you have to get through the course.

Thursday I had my 3 mile run test and while I put up great numbers for it, I knew I could not run them today. Thursday was a nice flat run. Also, after my run I had some gnawing hamstring issues. Right where the hamstring starts at the base of your butt hurt every time I took too big of a step. I walked gingerly Thursday night and all day Friday. When race morning came along, I agonized over which pair of running shoes to wear - lightweights or regular trainers. I wore the lightweights for Thursday's run (hadn't worn them since January) and I wondered if they would be any good for this race. About ten minutes to the start I went with the lightweights. I did an easy warmup so my hip/hamstring would loosen up. At the start line I felt confident that it would hold up.

This race doesn't have any major hills to it but it is a rolling course. When the siren went off, so did I. I knew a PR would be difficult to achieve on this course so I gave it no more thought. The first half mile is mostly gently rolling downhill. I didn't try to weave in and out of the crowd. I knew in enough time that I would get some space. And once we came upon the first incline, things opened up. I just kept my focus and stayed relaxed. Nice and easy up the hill. I vaguely remember some parts of the course from last year so I knew a flat section was coming up. But too bad mother nature had different plans. On the flat was a nice headwind. For real. I saw the one mile marker ahead and I checked the garmin for my 1st mile pace. I was surprised at how fast I came through that mile. I knew I would slow down a little but it was all about hanging on.

By now I was feeling pretty loose and ready to open up some more. But we came upon another rolling section. At this point I had to try and just hold my pace instead of dropping it down. The wind and the hills was not making it easy. By the time I got to mile 2, my pace had slowed. I remembered just before mile 3 we'd have a nice downhill leading into a flat section to make up the time. I didn't worry about it and noticed that I was starting to pick people off. Hmm, this is totally new to me. Usually I get picked off in races. At this point it was a game. I would find someone and try to reel them in.

As I came upon the downhill section around mile 2.8, I saw a young girl that looked like she ran track. With my tunnel vision laser focus, I picked it up a little and made my pass. Hasta la vista baby.

I was running like a woman possessed. The thoughts of getting a negative split in this race filled me head. It wouldn't be too hard to do thinking back to what I ran the 2nd mile in. When the 3rd mile came up, I saw the times had come back down again. That 2nd mile was just a bad memory. 

Next up was some guy running in a red shirt. It caught my eye like a bull to a matador's cape. He was a little up the road, but I dropped my speed some more and reeled him in. I made my pass and now it was a matter of not letting him pass me. Suddenly this sickening feeling came over me. The last quarter mile is uphill. No way I could keep up this pace going up that hill. Also, fatigue was setting in. When the start of the last hill came, I almost came to a complete stop. I was moving so slowly that I thought I was going backwards. What makes it worse is there are two quick turns to break up your momentum - a left then a right. When the right turn came up into the parking lot of the school, all I wanted to do was lie down in the grass. I have no idea why, but that's what I felt like doing. But I HTFU'd and made it to the finish line in one piece. I looked at my time and noted it was 4 minutes faster than last year. Not too shabby an improvement. The course measured out a little over miles (~4.1) so the pace listed for me on the results (4.0 miles) was actually slower than what my watch showed. 

I did a quick cool down and waited for the Wingman to finish. After he crossed the line, we hit the food lines. There was a ton of fruit, cookies, rolls, and awesome chicken & rice soup. I treated myself to a chocolate chip cookie and a honkin' bowl of soup that had chunks of chicken in it. I think Wingman even had a second bowl. We checked our race times and I saw that I finished 6th out of 41. Not a bad way to run my first race since I've aged up to a new division. I'm like the spring chicken in the division.

We went into the gym where the raffle had been picked during the race. They have a poster up with race bib numbers listed next to prizes. Turns out I also won a $50 gift card to Eastbay Sports. As Charlie Sheen would say "WINNING!!!" I did a bit of stretching to work out the hamstring and then we headed home.

Though I did not get a PR today (wasn't trying for one) I am pleased with my race. I faltered a little at the end, but I felt solid throughout. I had two hard runs in 3 days and I put up great numbers for both runs. Especially this one being a hilly run. I'm not much of a hill runner but I hung in there and gave it all that I had. I am eager to see what the next few weeks of long running will bring. Running fast over a short distance is OK, I want to excel over some longer distances. The half marathon in April will be my first real test of it. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You can't stop me....

You can only hope to contain me.

This morning I woke up without the aid of an alarm clock. I could hear the wind kicking up a bit outside and quickly juggled my day around. After checking with the weather websites, the wind would die down later in the day and the temps would warm up slightly. So I made the easy decision to wait it out. I sat down with the Wingman and we had a leisurely breakfast together. He went off to work and I changed and went down to the basement to ride.

I didn't have a ride scheduled for today, but I still had some lingering hamstring soreness. I knew if I warmed it up I could stretch a little and feel better. I have a longer ride planned tomorrow so I kept it short and sweet today. 

As the day went on, the winds slowed down. I changed into running clothes and headed out for an 'easy' 6 miles. I knew I had to hold back today and stick to the plan. I had the best of intentions of running as slow as the plan dictated. I even glanced down at my watch early in the run and saw I was in the right speed zone. Too bad I was running uphill. Once I was running flat again, all bets were off. I certainly had a lot more speed in the tank and was holding back, it's just hard to hold back much more.

I planned 3 miles out and back. I knew I had it planned that the wind would be in my face for the first 3 and at my back for the run home. I made it to the turnaround and saw my pace. I was running ~15-30 seconds too fast per mile. And that was into the wind. Coming home I had a tail wind to assist me. And the music on my iPod was no help either in my pacing:

When this song came on, it was full steam ahead. The only thing that slowed me down was a fallen flag. There are flags hung along the roadway and the heavy winds knocked one down so I stopped to pick it up and roll it back on the pole. Someone will come along and hang the bracket back up, but for now at least the flag is not on the ground. I collected my karma points and continued my run.

Before I knew it I was back in my development and cruising home. Another 1/2 mile and I am at the door. I got inside and stretched my legs out. The hamstring definitely was acting up early in the run, but before I was at 2 miles it quieted down and let me extend my knee more easily. I iced it for a few minutes and hopped into the shower.

I am into such a groove this week. My mind is clear and I'm sleeping well. All good things needed to perform well. All I have to do is tackle cleaning the kitchen, organize my magazines that I have all over the place, go through my clothes, and brush up on my ortho skills. Hmmm, so much for the week off.