Panic! on the pavement

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Oh my god, I just realized it’s September 7th, which means that yesterday marked the one-month countdown to my first half marathon. This realization sort of makes me want to barf.

Okay, not really. My mindset right now (I think) is pretty healthy about 85% of the time. Actually, 85% is the statistic I use for everything, so it’s probably not valid. Anyway, I do feel pretty good for the most part. As my training has progressed, I’ve realized that I essentially stopped “training” a few weeks ago, and now I just run to run. That is, I stopped allowing the 13.1 to loom in the back of my mind as this Big Scary Thing during all of my runs. So I lost that source of motivation, but honestly I think it’s for the better.

Not really training means that I will mentally approach this race as I would any other 13.1-mile run–for better or worse. I’m hoping this attitude will alleviate some of the race day anxiety that I experienced during the 10k I did about a month ago and this 5k I did with a running group at work (then, I was so nervous that all that extra adrenaline pushed me to run what was likely the fastest mile of my life, but then it fizzled out halfway through the 5k).

But it also means that I will have few qualms about taking it easy, which means I’ll never really know how fast I’m capable of running the thing. It’s sort of a trade-off–without pushing myself, I won’t be testing my true limits; yet I’ll also be less likely to burn out in mile 8–but it’s a trade-off that aligns more closely with my primary race goal, which is simply to finish. I can “push it” later.

Presently, my systems are still all configuring. There have been numerous obstacles and learning experiences so far and I don’t doubt that I will encounter new ones as I continue trying to become a runner.

  1. First it was my knees, and I solved that with some handy dandy knee stretches and targeted strength training.
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  2. Then it was my breathing, and I finally sucked it up and admitted to myself that my breathing woes were not likely to be just be down to fitness. After a visit from the doctor, I came home with a exercise-induced asthma diagnosis and an albuterol inhaler, and I miraculously stopped hating every step of my runs. I owe the majority of my aerobic improvement (but also some jitteriness) to that little red albuterol wonder. Being able to breathe like a normal person was–sorry to make you throw up in your mouth a little bit–an awakening. The first run was a little like “Holy shit, is this what normal people breathe like?! I am the CHAMPION!”
  3. My ankles also started acting up, so I had to add some ankle stretches.
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  4. My toenails were falling off (sorry for the inevitable visual). And also my feet were getting so sweaty during my runs that by mile 4 I was forming blisters (again, sorry). I ignored both issues for a long time because I suspected the culprit was my running shoes, which as I’ve said before, I love more than any other shoes I’ve ever owned (aside from the aforementioned ruby slippers of 1989). But sometimes, love just ain’t enough, and I went out for a new slightly larger pair. I ended up getting these bad boys on sale (for $35, whaaaaat) in a half size up from my usual as well as a few pairs of socks. They’re trail running shoes, like my last pair, and they have more ventilation and zero drop (the angle between the heel height and the mid-foot). They are so light, it literally feels like I’m not wearing shoes. Literally.
  5. The new woe is the shins. The shins….What can you do? I must triumph!

But! All is not kampf! I went on this week’s distance run with The Boyfriend yesterday, which ended up being 8.5 miles of trail running instead of the requisite 10 because we were pressed for time, and we were able to converse the whole time–something that would not have been possible two months ago. I owe it all to you, albuterol!

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**All cartoons in this post are from Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half Blog.” She is a comical genius. I can only borrow.

Mythbust: Should you run when you’re sick?

This is the first of the Mythbust series!

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Myth: You shouldn’t run when you’re sick.

Experts’ advice: It’s okay to run with a head cold, but not with a chest cold or fever.

My advice: Follow the experts’ advice–if you absolutely have to run.

Last week, despite numerous precautions–including boycotting my pathogen-infected boyfriend–I got sick. In the past, I’ve been pretty lucky to bounce back to relative health within a day or two, and this cold was no exception.

However, being well enough to go to work and function like a human being is not the same as being well enough to run. Now that I am actually training for this race that’s looming in a mere 29 days, though, I freak out about missing too many runs. So I took to the Interwebs to see what the experts say about running while you’re sick.

Turns out, most of the hardcore runners and running-themed websites say it’s okay–as long as your symptoms are above the neck, such as nasal congestion, sore throat, or sneezing. Some people even feel better after running. This advice does not extend to fevers, which according to my extensive medical knowledge from watching marathons of “House” while unemployed, is your body trying to fight the damn thing off. Let it.

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Running when you’re sick also risks the minor cold turning into something worse, which is pretty much what happened to me. I allowed myself 2 rest days and then embarked on a “short” 3-mile run. I kind of wanted to die. It wasn’t the discomfort of the eternally runny nose or stuffy head, but rather just a general run-down malaise that made me want to take a nap right there on the trail. I kept at it, though, even doing a somewhat simplified, run/walk version of that week’s distance run, and the run-down feeling didn’t really go away. Then I did another stupid thing and flew across the country in a plane cesspool of plague while my immune system was still rebounding. By the time the next running day rolled around, I had a new running buddy: chest mucus. The cold had moved down into my chest, as colds are wont to do near the end–I’m sure you’re all familiar with the dreaded lingering cough of horrible–and the rattle in my chest as I did my first run with the Boyfriend’s mom, who I’d just met, aggravated my already asthmatic lungs. Ugh.

Dr. Roommate (or rather, my college roommate who is in the process of becoming a doctor) had this to say to my woe-is-me text message plea for advice:

“Sit in a hot shower. Sleep with your head under blankets. Wear [a] scarf over [your] face when [you’re] outside. Basically, keep [your] head/chest warm and moist. DO NOT RUN.”

I mostly followed these tips, in addition to accidentally swallowing a ton of saltwater from the Atlantic (which is saltier than the Pacific–fun fact), and The Cough is finally gone. Just in time for a 10-mile distance day.

The most important lesson I learned during this debacle is that, in the long run, it won’t make a huge difference to race day if you take a little time off to rebuild your energy stores and get well. Quality miles are still more important than how many you’re running. But use that time off wisely: hydrate, hydrate, stretch, and did I mention hydrate?

When to Commit to, Modify, or Abandon Your Running Plan

I’ll admit it, I have a problem with commitment. Mostly commitment to one hair color, but commitment nonetheless.

Sometimes we don’t know what the right thing for us is until we start doing something. Once we give that something a go, we can shape it and bend it to our needs or aspirations. I used to think just starting was the hardest step of all, but now I’ve realized that knowing when to walk away from something that isn’t working anymore is the hardest.

I talk, of course, of relationships running plans. Plans are great, for the most part. Professionals or experts put together an idiot-proof (ahem, Ronnie-proof) series of training days broken down by weeks. Each training day specifies a distance and perhaps a recommendation for pace. Some tell you when you can add in cross-training or strength training and others leave those options up to you.

But plans can get you into trouble. Remember that unless the plan states explicitly what kind of runner it’s targeting, it might be assuming that you’re starting at a different level than you are actually on.

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For example, to train for my half marathon, I set a goal to run the whole thing in under two hours, which is, if you want to go through the math (I won’t), something like a 9:15/mi pace. I went onto my handy dandy RunKeeper app and selected the sub-2:00 16-week half marathon training plan, having run a few 5k by that point. The plan featured five running days, two of which were distance days, and two rest days. I started the plan at the beginning, even though that would have me finishing the plan about a month after the first half I’d signed up for (I’m considering a second half marathon one month after that, right at the 16-week mark, because I’m crazy). Despite my starting at the very beginning, the plan escalated very quickly. By the end of the second week, I was meant to be running 8 miles in one go already, when the most at the point I’d ever run was about 6, as we established earlier.

I made it through three solid weeks before my shins began to protest. I’m still not sure if it was the distance or the frequency that did it, but it’s pretty much the worst injury I can imagine having as a beginning runner. The only cure for shin splints–besides not getting them, which is NOT a treatment, so telling me how to prevent them doesn’t help me, thanks–is rest. And when you have only 30 DAYS and the most you’ve ever run in your entire life is a 9.13-mile run/walk, rest due to injury is not possible.**

Anyway, I figured I’d probably have to make a change because there’s a difference between challenging yourself and killing yourself. Sometimes it’s a minor, almost indistinguishable difference, but a difference nonetheless.

I started looking around at other running plans. I can only imagine that the guilt I felt as I compared my plan to others on the Interwebs is something akin to the kind that should accompany infidelity (although I really wouldn’t know). In a way, I felt like I was being unfaithful to my running plan, that I should just do whatever I had to do to make it work, even if it was sucking out my lifeforce. Because that’s love. Or commitment. Or something.

Eventually even my masochistic side realized that my running plan was unsustainable. I started borrowing from other plans, reducing some of the distances on “easy” days to add in strength training where possible and committing to cross-training days with biking, hiking, major beach walking, and other aerobic activities. My plan really had to become my own, because I am not like any other runner out there (barf).

Another drawback of following a cookie cutter plan is that you might think you absolutely have to follow it to the letter, no matter what, and if you miss one distance day, the whole thing just goes out the window. I’d often get really annoyed with myself for missing a day or not scheduling enough time to complete my target distance. To an extent, this still happens, but after reading a million runners’ blogs with the advice “quality, not quantity” it has finally started to sink in. And that goes along with what I can’t stop saying: you know you’re making progress when you can run a long distance and still be able to walk the next day. From that you can infer that the quality of the runs is improving!

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For the most part, it doesn’t matter how far or fast you go, but how you feel, and some days will definitely be better than others. Now, with my hodge podge of a running plan, which now includes yoga and strength- and cross-training in addition to running, I find I can fit in 20-25 miles a week, and that suits my schedule and my shins (mostly).

It was a difficult lesson to learn but now I understand that plans are guidelines. So when you’re considering committing to, modifying, or abandon your running plan, the most important factor to consider whether it is realistic for achieving your goals and won’t leave you injured!

**Shameless plug: another treatment for shin splints besides the whole R.I.C.E. thing is to take ani-inflammatories like ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is great for the occasionally headache or menstrual cramp (right, fellas?) but if you run 4-5 days a week, you can’t be poppin’ ’em like they’re candy. So I take BioAstin, which is actually something my mom pushed on me. It’s not advertised as an anti-inflammatory per se, but supposedly its antioxidant super-strength “promotes joint and tendon health” and won’t damage your stomach and give you ulcers.