I’m a runner now?

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I enjoy pointing at my bib.
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First-ever race: 2 miles!

Long ago in prehistoric times (that is, May), my boyfriend and I were talking about running and the point at which you know you’ve become a real runner.

He told me that when running seems like your preferred method of mobility, then you know you’re a runner. At the time, I didn’t really understand what he met. I was still in the phase of beginning to run where everything hurt, my only contributions to running conversations were breathy grunts, and no Springsteen songs applied to me whatsoever.

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Hanging loose…

I knew I’d reached some milestone when I overheard my boyfriend telling my family how objectively impressed he’d been with my performance during our most recent run. It had been about a month since we’d last run together, and we decided to kill ourselves with a nice, long 8-mile trail run around a very scenic lake. What had been mostly grunts on my part the month before had become an actual conversation. At the time it didn’t seem like much but impressing my boyfriend at all with my running was a feat in and of itself. (Some context: the Boyfriend sounds like an asshole but is actually a natural runner who is not only very, very encouraging but also a good resource for running knowledge, whereas I am a magnet for injury and brokenness.)

Then the other day, when we were walking through the IKEA parking lot of all places, a month after running the half marathon and having only completed a few test-jogs to assess my shin status, it struck me: the urge to run. I wanted to get to the IKEA entrance; walking wasn’t fast enough. I started feeling this urge everywhere. At work, walking leisurely from the printer back to my office was taking too long. Picking up packages in other buildings seemed to warrant a nice jog. Without even really meaning for it to happen, running became my preferred mode of transport. When I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it.

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New running buddies!
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Fitness Face-off!

Perhaps I was just missing it, having taken a break from regular running to rid myself once and for all from shin splints, or perhaps it has finally hit just how great running has been for my life.

And it has been great–really, really great! Allow me to elaborate.

 

  1. Running gets me out of the house. I run past pretty things during pretty sunrises and pretty nature-y places.
  2. Running has helped me discover common ground with a ton of people. I’ve resumed friendships with people I’d lost touch with or with whom I hadn’t had much in common, I’ve made conversation with new acquaintances, and I’ve strengthened existing friendships–all because of running.
  3. I’ve found some awesome running partners–even if we don’t actually running together.
  4. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my boyfriend have been during runs–once I could actually hold up my end!
  5. Running has helped me think of food in a healthier way–as fuel. I still eat how I want but I’m careful to get the right kind and an adequate amount of energy to fuel my run. (What I eat after the run is sometimes another story…)

I can’t run forever and I can’t run fast but I can run. I’ve never been a runner because I could never surrender all of the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to become one. I’m not there yet, but thanks to so many friends and my family, I’m one minimus stride closer.

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Color Run!

 

I’m only half crazy — tips for surviving your first half marathon

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I did it! I finished my first half marathon!

And there was much rejoicing. I learned a lot from this half, not only during the race but afterward–when I researched why everything that went wrong during the race went wrong.

But before we get into what was not so great about the race, let’s talk about what went well:

  1. Shins. Surprisingly, my shins were not a problem during the race and for about two days after. I have no explanation, other than that perhaps my self-prescribed two-week rest might have actually had a positive effect!
  2. Lungs. No asthma attacks or overexertion. I didn’t even really feel tired–although that might have been because I slowed way the hell down for the last 5 or so miles. Honestly, despite all of the discomfort, the race felt like it went by in kind of a blur!
  3. Muscles. Aside from the joint stiffness and some calf tightness, I wasn’t too sore on race day or the few days following.
  4. The groove. For the first half of the race, equivalent to the 10k I had done about two months earlier, I had a nice groove going. I wish I could’ve kept it up, but I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about what-might-have-beens. It really is an accomplishment simply that I crossed the finish line. High school me would be shockedproud.

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    When you gotta go, you gotta go.

And here’s what went wrong:

  1. I cut my arrival pretty close to race time, giving me a limited chance to beat down the line of other racers to use the restroom before the start. I very unpatriotically pooped during the national anthem.
  2. As I had expected, I started to feel kind of low after about 6 miles, so I busted out the gels. Having tried them once about halfway through my 10-mile training run, I thought it was a pretty simple process–pop in one or two and let the energy flow. However, something funny happens to your stomach when you run. As your body exerts itself, the blood from your core is diverted to your muscles, which can make it pretty tricky for your body to digest stuff, especially a shit ton of simple sugars. You’re also supposed to take your gels with water, but I, being the awesometastic planner that I am, took two at mile 6 with nothing and another two at mile 8ish with Gatorade–a BIG no-no. Correspondingly, my stomach sort of freaked out and slammed me with what I can safely say was the worst nausea I’ve ever felt, a close second being the morning I defended my thesis. I’m talking, like, keep-absolutely-still-its-vision-is-based-on-movement* kind of nausea, which can make running a race just a tad unpleasant. It probably didn’t help that I’d popped two ibuprofen in a last-ditch effort to not have to race with shin splints.

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    The Blister.
  3. About five days before the race I did a short 2-mile run as fast as I could. I wore my new running shoes without socks, which, as it had the first time I’d done that about a month before, created a mild water blister. While gross, it wasn’t much of a problem come race day. However, come mile 9, The Blister returned, and I only learned after the race that it had actually morphed Godzilla-like into a nasty blood blister the size of a half dollar. Needless to say, it might’ve affected my gait, which led to some substantial inflammation in my hip and knee joints. ALL THE JOINTS. I felt myself slowing waaaaay down around then, but I got it back a bit near the end and finished (I think) somewhere around a 10:00/mi pace.
  4. Stitches! Why? Why do they haunt me? Actually in this case, I think it was gait-related due to The Blister of evil.

Ruminating over all of the things that went right and wrong, I came up with this list of things to keep in mind while preparing for your first half marathon:

  • While you’re training, have a goal in mind: Know what kind of runner you are and what you want from running. A lot of running advice seems to be geared more toward more experienced runners who are actually racing. Casual or recreational runners like myself are not overly concerned with performance–it’s enough for us to simply finish the race or beat an achievable time. My goal was to finish at 2:15, which corresponds to a rough pace of 10:15/mi. I chose this pace after doing a couple of 5+ mi runs because it seemed like something I could sustain for 13.1 miles without totally killing myself. Training for more than a few months would have probably increased the speed a bit just by virtue of getting into better aerobic shape. But goal #1 was to finish! (Goal #2 was to not throw up, no joke.)
  • The start: It’s going to be appealing to sprint at the start, and passing people up is kind of an endorphin rush, but be careful. A lot of runners advise you to hold back at the start and focus on the pacing that you trained for. I think this is more true for runners who are focused on performance, but it’s still an important thing to consider, not just on race day but when you’re training. For example, when I was training, I aimed for building distance and was not in good enough shape to distinguish between a “race pace” and an “easy run” pace. I ran the pace that I thought I could sustain for whatever distance I was aiming for, which translated into running faster during short distances. I carried this approach into race day, letting the adrenaline give me an extra kick instead of consciously trying to hold back. Just trying to pass people kept my pace up for the first half of the race. Once I started catching up to people going my same pace, I still felt pretty comfortable. Even though I was pushing myself harder than I had during training, I realized I could handle it aerobically and muscularly (but digestively and blisterly are another story). I don’t know that I would have realized this potential if I had forced myself to go slow and steady in the beginning. As for the risk of burning out, I think it was minimal for me, as I was still running a pace I felt like I could sustain. In the future when my running priorities are different and I can actually focus on pacing, I might be stricter about the starting pace.
  • Find the balance between pushing yourself and avoiding injury: The hardest thing to remember going into this was this was my race. I was doing it for me, not for anyone else, because I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I think for the most part, I was successful at staying positive. I had two warring thoughts to motivate me. The first was that all I had to do was finish the race, and I didn’t need to beat myself up about crossing the finish line in two minutes or fulfilling some grand but unrealistic expectations about my performance. The second was that I’d trained for months and that this might be the only half marathon I ever get to do, so I should still go for it. I think I managed to find the line between these approaches and pushed myself just hard enough. I have no regrets for this race in terms of performance, though perhaps later races will involve more mental “pushing.”

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    This is a proof because I’m too cheap to $30 on a digital picture.
  • The wall: Before this race, I had only run 8 miles continuously, and that had been about a month and a half before race day. I honestly think that beyond mile 8, when I’d been running for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, I started to approach my own personal wall, past which I’d never had to push my body before. That was the distance when things starting falling apart and when nausea and stitches seemed to be my only companions. As corny as it sounds, I credit my boyfriend for getting me through the last five miles. Being the awesometastic nerd that he is, he plotted out points on the course where he thought he might be able to meet up with me and constructed an algorithm to predict, based on my pace, when to hit each point. Looking forward to running past him for the high five kept up my drive.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Training runs are about more than just acclimating your body to distance running. They’re also about practicing what you’ll need to do during the race itself, whether that is following a hydration strategy or mentally keeping yourself going. The mistake that I had made going into this race was not thinking through a hydration or energy-replenishment strategy. At all. I thought I could just do the whole “listen to my body” thing and drink when I was thirsty, have a shot block gel thing when I felt drained, poop in a Porta Potty if the urge struck me. I think this might have been more effective if I had practiced different strategies during my long distance runs before the race and picked one that works for me. For example, being pretty tall I burn more calories earlier–do I need to pop a gel at 45 minutes into the race instead of 60 minutes? What if it takes more than the requisite 15 minutes to kick in? Here and here are some tips to structuring your energy and electrolyte intake to avoid nausea (that I found after the race, of course). This is definitely a concept that deserves its own post once I figure out my own strategy.

Here are my race results according to the race website:

And according to my RunKeeper:

  • Total Distance Run: 13.58 mi
  • Time to Run 13.1 mi: 2:15:08 (Pace 10:18/mi)

For my next half marathon in April, I have many plans:

  1. Stick to having one speed or interval day a week in my running routine to try to get my pace up.
  2. Take a few weeks off to rest my shins and then gradually reintroduce running into my life again
  3. Plan out my hydration and energy replenishment strategies better and practice them.
  4. If necessary, find an energy booster that doesn’t make me feel like death. I’ve heard about algae tablets???
  5. Crosstrain when I cannot run! NO excuses for skipping my long runs!

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    I only look half crazy here…

I’ve learned so much during this entire process of preparing to run the longest distance of my life–so far. Now on to the next running adventure!

*Two solid “Jurassic Park” references. You’re welcome.

**The discrepancy between paces is due to the distance recorded versus the distance actually run. The chip is calculating when the runner crossed the 5k “finish line” but the race organizers measure the course based on the shortest possible distance. Inevitably, every runner will pick up a little extra distance here and there, for example, when take a turn too wide. Their time stays the same but their chip will record a shorter distance than their personal GPS, so by the virtue of fractions (pace = time/distance), a shorter distance (i.e. smaller denominator) gives a longer/slower pace. That’s why my GPS (RunKeeper) shows a faster pace than the chip recorded.

 

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.

The Blerch

Last guy is all HOLLAAAAA!

The Oatmeal’s “The Blerch” made it onto NPR!  Check it out here!

In additional to The Blerch, the NPR piece discusses this painting, which was recently found on the underside of a rock in Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe. The figure that struck its discoverer, Bernd Heinrich, the most was the one on the farthest right.

You ever run a race and cross the finish line with a triumphant “HELL YES!” and perhaps a sweaty chest bump or two? That, Bernd thinks–I’m paraphrasing, but I totally agree with him–is what the dude on the right is doing. I love it. Humans: channeling the triumph of the hunt (or maybe just finishing a 5k) for thousands of years!

Update on 9/4/13: Matt, of the Oatmeal, did an interview with Mark Remy of Remy’s World (from Runner’s World) and while I respectfully will agree to disagree with Matt about barefoot running, I still love him.

If you missed the Oatmeal’s six-part web comic The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, you should remedy that, like, now.

101 (And Then Some) Running Tips for Beginners

I’ve only been torturing myself running for about four months and I’m not quite a marathoner or Olympic athlete yet, but during these four months, I’ve learned more about my physical, mental, and—dare I say it?—emotional self than during all of grad school or even that whole seven months I spent unemployed on my couch, inferring the days of the week by which channel was showing the “House” marathon.

I think I’m finally ready to talk out of my ass and share my sage words of running wisdom. Actually, I read this awesome article in Women’s Health Magazine where “Runner’s World” folks offer up expert advice for runners lacing up their trainers for the first time, and I thought that they missed a couple of things.

So, since this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I’ll share my hard-won advice first and then let the real experts step in.

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(Semi-relevant side note: in senior year of high school, I was the drum major of my marching band (Marching Mustangs, represent, whaaaaaat) and part of my responsibilities included leading the warm-up run and the stretching (guess which one I hated less). At 17, I wasn’t the most politically correct individual (not much has changed), so the word “tar-tar” was part of my vocabulary (okay, that has changed—now I just say “lame” since, you know, that doesn’t have any other meaning…) and I’m not proud of it. Anyway, possibly the only time anything I’ve ever said or done has become a trend, “tar-tar” caught on, and even the instructors were known to have said from time to time, or at every rehearsal, “Don’t be a tar-tar. Do the run-run with the Ron-Ron.”  That’s it, that’s the story. I just wanted an excuse to tell it.)

Without further ado, here are the Ron-Ron’s run-running tips:

1)  Fight the Blerch: The dude who writes The Oatmeal recently did a ridiculously amazing treatise on why he runs. Part of what induces him to run is fighting the Blerch, his inner voice that “represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference.” My Blerch is mostly an asshole rather than a saboteur sitting on my shoulder and encouraging to help myself to another slice of cheesecake. We all have a Blerch. Find yours and punch it in the face. Simple enough, right?

2)  Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how trivial: This blog makes no secret of the fact that running and I aren’t BFFs yet. It’s not just a matter of not really enjoying it as much as I feel like I should be by now, but also that I am simply not very good at it. Now I know that running is not one of those things for which you can expect immediate results, and when I’m feeling particularly sluggish or lame, I think back on where I was just a few months ago. What was appallingly difficult then is now mostly tolerable; if I am still slow, it’s not because I physically can’t go faster. So now I choose to rejoice over everything. You just ran the longest distance ever in your whole life? Go, you! You improved your average pace by 3 seconds? Hell yes! You ran without stopping? Mazel tov! My running app is also pretty cool for informing me of various accomplishments. Since it tracks like 17 million different things and my runs are slowly building, I’m bound to break some kind of elevation/duration/pace/distance record every now and then. The app even emails me a congratulatory trophy! Apparently trophies are important within my mental rewards system. I’m a sucker.

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3)  Obey the urge: Say you’ve just started your run. You’ve got your cutest running capris and bedazzled sweatband on (fellas, amirite?), or your new Victoria’s Secret push-up sports bra, and you’re pounding the pavement when it happens. The urge. To poop. Okay, I’m pretty much letting the cat out of the bag here, but everyone poops–even the ladies. I know this because during my freshman orientation in college, the upperclassmen read and acted out portions of the book Everyone Poops.  This is a real thing, and it can be really embarrassing/inconvenient if it sneaks up on you, especially when you’re on longer, ahem, runs. So just do it, even if you don’t think you need to. Okay, I’ll stop mothering you now.

4)  Why Are You Hitting Yourself: You may have to remind yourself daily why you’re out there doing what you’re doing. Runs are long and rest days seem to go by in a blink of an eye, but you’ll be less likely to lose perspective if you set and stick to reasonable long- and short-term goals that are both quantitative and qualitative.

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I hate fitspiration quotes but I am putting one anyway.

5) Stop comparing yourself to others: I am 100% guilty of this in all aspects of my life. That kind of shit goes way deep, too deep for a mere blog such as this to deconstruct. Running for me is something that requires a lot of mental and emotional effort, to push myself to keep going or to keep going faster. I’m not the type of person who is motivated by vengeance–if I was, this blog probably wouldn’t exist because I’d never be running on empty, mwahaha! I used to tell myself that I’m just competitive with other people, and I am, but only to a point. I don’t put in 100% to “beat” anyone, because if I did and they still beat me, then what? Instead, if I am beaten, usually based on some arbitrarily defined scale of win/lose that I made up, I just use it as fuel to make myself feel like crap. I’m trying to get away from that practice. Rather, I remind myself daily that everyone is different and that to get results some people are more willing or able to make sacrifices to their time or lifestyle than others. It’s silly to expect the same results as someone who exercises more regularly or has a healthier diet (i.e. eats less shit) or ran crosscountry in high school and thinks their 6:00/mi running pace is slow or is an Olympic athlete–but I still do it. Like I’ve said before, it’s important to have goals, but make sure they’re realistic and don’t let them get away from you.

6) Run through the stitches: I get side stitches in pretty much the same place every single run. It sort of goes without saying that they really, really suck. Theories for the cause and treatment of side stitches abound but I think of them sort of the same way I think of hiccups: they’re annoying but if you ignore them and breathe normally, they’ll go away. But ignoring pain is sort of difficult, especially when the very act of breathing hurts. Some sources suggest that you slow down until the pain lessens, but as appealing as that is, my stitches go away and then come back with renewed vigor when I resume my normal pace. Others say to try leaning into the stitch, but all that does to me is give me a stitch on the other side and temporarily hate the person who made the suggestion (sorry, boyfriend). Still others say that you should change your breathing rhythm to exhale when your left foot hits the ground. It sucks, but the only thing that has worked for me is to just run through them.

7) Stop and Smell the Roses: I know it wrecks my pace (as calculated by my app) but sometimes I just want to take a freaking picture. Look!

West Cliff
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Tahoe
NASA Run
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8)  Vary your runs: You can get stuck in a running rut just like anything else. When I start getting a little too comfortable with my route, I try a couple of things:

  • Find a new route: Ask around or use the Interwebs. There are a lot of running spots out there. Just don’t forget to consider things like whether you’ll be running into the sun, if there are annoying headwinds, personal safety, and hydration (especially for longer runs).
  • Look for different route types: I really like out-and-backs more than loops because I like knowing exactly when my halfway point is.
  • Try some intervals: Run the same route you usually do but sprint to the end of the corner and then resume your normal pace. I’ve actually tried skipping as a warm up and I really don’t care if people think I’m weird.
  • Run during a different time of day.
  • Run the opposite direction (for loops).
  • Listen to a different playlist or no music at all. Every now and then I run without music so that I can listen to sound of my gait and make sure I’m not lumbering around like an elephant (no offense to elephants).
    phoebegif

9) Don’t Be Afraid to Look Stupid: Despite the myriad stretches and strength-training exercises I do all the freaking time, I may be getting shin splits. I’m not sure if it’s the distance or the frequency of my old running plan, but it huuuurts. In reading up on the Interwebs about shin splint prevention, I read about heel-walking, where you walk on your heels with your toes in the air, keeping your legs straight and basically waddlng like a penguin. I did it for a half-mile during my last run and even though I am sure I looked ridiculous, it did seem to help work my shin muscles a bit. More on shin splints here.

10) Follow a Plan: If like me you’d rather leave the construction of workouts in the capable hands of the experts, track down an appropriate training plan. Look into what assumptions each plan makes about your running background; a lot of plans assume that you can run 2-3 miles without stopping right off the bat, which might be beyond your starting ability (it pretty much was for me). Probably the most important fitness tip is to listen to your body (#16 below!), which means that it’s possible that a cookie cutter running plan will not “work” for you and you might need to modify it. I think this concept deserves a post to itself. For example, the first half marathon running plan I tried had me running increasing distances five days a week, up to 9 miles at the beginning of the third week. My knees and shins just couldn’t hack it. I switched to a different plan specifically for novices, which is a good plan for me because it only requires 4 days of running and one cross-training day a week and slowly escalates the distance up to race day, but is not so good because the first time I’ll be running 13.1 miles is on race day. I might still modify one running day to incorporate intervals. The point is, find and follow a plan if you like, but make it your own!

ugly feet
Fact: these are my actual feet. I’ve already almost lost one toenail! Overshare!

11) Your Feet Are Going to Look Ugly: Running will make your feet fall apart. You’re going to get blisters and calluses and scrapes. Just accept it.

12) Pacing: I have my RunKeeper app set up to tell me my duration, distance, and pace every 0.5 miles. I’m terrible at pacing myself. My comfy pace is about 09:45/mi, which means that I can have a conversation without hyperventilating and my muscles aren’t on fire. But when it comes to days when I want to push it, I really struggle to find that new pace and stick with it. The app is sort of an inescapable nag, and sometimes when I’m halfway through a mile and my pace is pronounced to be like 46 minutes/mile, I don’t see the point of continuing. But I do it anyway, because I can’t stand the not knowing.

That’s all I got for now. And now to the experts! I saw the article “EXPERT ADVICE BEGINNERS RUNNING TIPS: 101 Greatest Running Tips from Runner’s World” originally on Pinterest. It has since been repinned from my “Run for it” board 303 times when this blog went to press, if that gives any indication of how people love article titles with numbers—like this one or “4 Reasons Why ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ Is the Most Loathsome Fitness Expression Ever” (coming soon on this blog, I just decided)–UPDATE: Jezebel beat me to it!

I didn’t put all 101 tips here but cherry-picked the ones that I thought resonated with me and my current running sitch the most. I’ll weigh in on a couple of my choices as well. Read the full article here.

 4 Wear good running shoes “Spend at least $60. A good pair of running shoes should last you 400 to 500 miles and is one of the most critical purchases you will make.” -John Hanc, author of The Essential Runner

*As I’ve said before, I have these and I love them. I’ve put at least 200 miles on them so far and they’re still going strong. They’re breathable and washable, which cuts down on my natural foot stink (my boyfriend is a lucky man).

5 Think big (and wide) “Buy all shoes, both street and running, slightly longer and wider than your bigger foot. Also, avoid pointed shoes. You’ll save yourself needless foot pain.” -Ted Corbitt, ultrarunner and 1952 Olympic marathoner

* I’ve already noticed a need for a bigger shoe. When you really start putting on the miles, your feet may swell or you may form calluses/blisters, which could affect the overall fit of your shoe. I’ve already seriously messed up–but thankfully didn’t lose–two toenails because of fit (I think). I’m probably going to get my same pair a half size up pretty soon.

7 Listen to the rumbling “If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.” -Joan Samuelson, 1984 Olympic marathon champion

* Feed the need. I’ve discovered that I simply can’t do fasted runs. I really need something in my belly, even if that something is an energy bar I ate an hour or two before. Usually what I do is eat one as I am driving home from work, which takes about 1.5 hours, and then I’m ready to go run when I get home. The rest of the day, I eat when I want to eat and (mostly) what I want to eat. The only real dietary rules I follow involve ensuring that I get carbs before I work out and protein after.  Even the protein I don’t consider to be essential because I am not very focused on muscle building at the moment. I think it’s very easy to get fixated on Calories and carb ratios and grams of fat. To keep some perspective, I have to remind myself that above all, food is fuel. Calories are a measure of energy.

10 Make time for a quickie “If 15 minutes is all the time I have, I still run. Fifteen minutes of running is better than not running at all.” -Dr. Duncan Macdonald, former U.S. record holder at 5000 (set when he was in medical school)

* Just plain good advice amiriiiite?

13 Warm up, then stretch “Try some light jogging or walking before you stretch, or stretch after you run. Stretching ‘cold’ muscles can cause more harm than good.” -Runner’s World editors

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* At the advice of a friend and fellow runner (shout out to Shannon!), I’ve incorporated a stretch about 2 miles into my longer (5+ mi) runs. My “warm-up” is actually part of my run. I force myself to take it easy for the first half mile or so while I let my body work out all its kinks and then kick it up. At the end of the run I do a series of stretches (Shannon recommends the pigeon yoga pose) shown here.

14 Stay “liquid”… “Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate! In cold weather and warm. We use water to sweat, lubricate joints, tendons, and ligaments, and to carry blood efficiently to major organs. I work all day at hydrating.” -Dr. Alex Ratelle, former masters running great

* I am really terrible at remembering to do this on my own.  The two strategies I’ve seen work best are 1) keeping a gallon container with graduated markings indicating the time horizon by which you need to drink the water and 2) setting an alarm to drink/finish/chug a glass of water. 

16 Listen up! “You must listen to your body. Run through annoyance, but not through pain.” -Dr. George Sheehan

* This has been an issue for me. I’ll come up with any reason to stop, even if I am not tired. I am like a drug addict. “I’m cool, man, just let me walk for a second. I can start running again anytime I want, and I’ll be even faster if you let me walk off this stitch.”

17 Create your own running creed “My whole teaching in one sentence is: “Run slowly, run daily, drink moderately, and don’t eat like a pig.” -Dr. Ernst van Aaken, renowned German coach

*Mine is: “If I can snowboard with a broken arm, I can run through this!” It needs a little work.

19 Take what you can get “So-called ‘junk miles’-those slow miles done on easy days or during warmups-do count. They burn calories as effectively as fast miles; it just takes longer. Regardless of pace, each mile you run burns about 100 calories.” -Hal Higdon, runner/writer/coach

*This is the dude who came up with the training plan I am following.

26 Build with care “If you put down a good solid foundation, you can then build one room after another and pretty soon you have a house. After your base mileage, add hills, pace work, speedwork, and finally race strategy.” -Rod Dixon, New Zealand Olympian and 1983 New York City Marathon champ

30 Go steady “Day to day consistency is more important than big mileage. Then you’re never shot the next day.” -John Campbell, former masters running star from New Zealand

32 Stay above bored “A 40-minute run punctuated with a half-dozen 30-second pace pickups (not all-out sprints) can really jazz up an otherwise boring training run.” -Amby Burfoot, Runner’s World editor and 1968 Boston Marathon champ

*This, along with #26, has been an interesting challenge to resolve. Do you work on distance and then improve pace? Or do you improve your pace with shorter distances first? Right now I am just focused on adding distance and I’m not worried about pace during the long runs. I add in an interval day every week to keep things interesting and improve speed and endurance.

44 Rest assured “Back off at the first sign of injury. Three to 5 days off is better than missing a month or two. Take regular rest days.”-Pattisue Plumer, two-time U.S. Olympian

*Along with #30, this goes along with my number #1 running rule, which is to straddle the line between challenge and overtraining. You don’t want to spend a running day with your ice-packed legs propped up on a couch or wobbling around like a cowboy. Taking a rest is not weakness–it’s storing up strength to come back even faster, stronger, and–above all–wiser!

45 Divide and conquer “Pick one thing each year that you need to improve, and work on that. It might be improving your diet, getting more sleep, or increasing your mileage. You can’t work on everything at once.”-Bob Kennedy

*It’s important to remember that we are not machines. My focus for this year is building distance and endurance. I still try to improve my diet and get more sleep, but that’s all to achieve the primary goal.

49 Up the ante “Move into a hill session gradually, running the first few repeats moderately and increasing the effort as you go along.” -Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion

*I have only does hills a few times, but they killed me in a good way!

58 Just “Q” it “Quality counts, if you want to stay fast. Don’t do all your workouts in the comfort zone.” -Ken Sparks, Ph.D., top masters marathoner

*I must hammer this into my skull.

62 Get over it “If you have a bad workout or run a bad race, allow yourself exactly 1 hour to stew about it-then move on.” -Steve Scott, coach and U.S. record holder in the mile

 *Ugh, good to know. Then maybe posts like this wouldn’t need to be written.

63 Be patient “Expect to put in 6 to 10 successful track workouts before you begin to see some payoff in your races.” -Marc Bloom, runner/writer/coach

*Along with not comparing myself to others, I really need to just be patient. Results don’t come overnight and sometimes they manifest in unexpected ways–like how I can handle longer distances without getting sore, even though I still sort of feel like dying.

71 Stay on pace “It’s better to run too slow at the start than too fast and get into oxygen debt, which is what 99.9 percent of runners do. You have to learn pace.” -Bill Bowerman, renowned University of Oregon coach

85 Don’t be in a rush “Thanks to the race-day adrenaline rush, any pace will feel easier than normal. So make a conscious effort to hold back in the early miles.” -Lorraine Moller

*The challenge here will probably involve overcoming the pre-race jitters and beginning adrenaline surge as you weave through other runners.

73 Snap out of it “Occasionally pick up speed-for 2 minutes, tops-then settle back into your former pace. Sometimes this is all you need to snap out of a mental and physical funk. Pick a downhill stretch if you can, and really lengthen your stride.” -Mark Plaatjes

*My boyfriend suggests actually picking up the pace at the crests of hills–that’s when you can really pass other runners.

78 Be vigilant “During the hard training phase, never be afraid to take a day off. If your legs are feeling unduly stiff and sore, rest. If you’re at all sluggish, rest. Whenever you’re in doubt, rest.” -Bruce Fordyce, nine-time Comrades Marathon champion from South Africa

*I love this philosophy!

79 Pamper your muscles “When I’m training for a marathon, I soak in a hot tub every day, and get a weekly massage.” -Anne Marie Lauck, two-time Olympian

*I could probably get behind this.

83 Wait for the weights “If you strength train, shelve your routine about a month before your marathon, to help you feel fresh on the big day.” -Steve Spence, 1991 World Championships Marathon bronze medalist

*I’ve already cut back on a lot of my strength training, opting for resistance bands and bodyweight over weight machines, but this was really due to time constraints rather than energy conservation.

84 Hone in on the range “Rather than going into a marathon with just one goal-such as finishing in a very specific time-develop a range of goals so that you increase your chances of success.” -Jerry Lynch, Ph.D., marathoner and author of The Total Runner

*My primary goal is to finish my half marathon. I would love to do it without walking, but that the walk/run is a perfectly acceptable approach for a first half marathon, or so I’ve been told. My time goal is to do it in less than 2 hours, which equates to somewhere about a 9:15/mi pace, but as my comfy pace is about a minute slower than that, it’s something I’ll have to work up to.

92 Be a copy cat “Visualizing perfect running form will help you stay relaxed. Visualize before the race. Then, once you’re in the race, pick out someone who’s looking good and running relaxed. This will help you do the same.” -Gayle Barron, 1978 Boston Marathon champion

*Oh man, I thought I was crazy for doing this! I tend to visually imagine myself throughout the entire running process: lacing up my shoes, picking my playlist, warming up, and going through the motions of good form. It’s as much to get me into the mindset of going for a run as for getting the run right.

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96 Train with someone… “It may seem odd to hear a coach say this, but I think a really great training partner is more important than a coach.” -Joan Nesbit, coach and world-class runner

*I’ve heard this from every single runner I’ve polled about what motivates them to keep training. I guess I’m lucky I’ve got this guy.

99 Find a reason why “We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit. We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.” -John “The Penguin” Bingham

*Soooo many references to this post.

100 Feel the magic… “For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.” -Lorraine Moller

*I think she’s talking about drugs the Runner’s High.

101…But do what you must do “If one can stick to training throughout many long years, then willpower is no longer a problem. It’s raining? That doesn’t matter. I’m tired? That’s beside the point. It’s simply that I have to.” -Emil Zatopek

*Mind over matter!

Running Woes: Why My Boyfriend Deserves a Medal

mwF2ieH

Running has brought out my Dark side the way nothing else so far in my life has.

People extol the virtues of the meditative aspect of running, but the only thing I can fixate my mind on–besides whatever cramp/stitch/flyaway hair/headwind/insect is irritating at that particular moment–is the three-way conversation the demons in my head are having about what a fuck up I am. It goes a little like this:

Demon #1: Oh, are you tired? Do you want to stop already? You know why, right? It’s because you’re a total screw up. You’ve been running for, what, three months, and you can still barely make a mile without wanting to stop? That’s pathetic. This is probably why you suck at everything you’ve ever tried. You should just give up now because you’re never going to be as good as you want to be, just like everything else. Oh my god, your pace is so slow! What is the point of even trying? You are such a loser.

It actually gets a lot worse than that, but for the purposes of maintain a little credibility as a mildly sane person, I will refrain from elaborating further. When I feel like crying, the second demon chimes in:

Demon #2: Really? Stop being so fucking melodramatic and just run. Jesus Christ.

And then from nowhere:

Demon #3: Ugh, you can’t even mentally berate yourself properly. Eye roll.

So with that half-drill-sergeant-half-bitchy-girl-taunt soundtrack running (no double meaning intended), it’s a little hard to distract myself with thinking soothing thoughts of furniture arrangements or how pretty the sunset is or whatever the fuck people think about when they run. I have actually broken down and cried. This is some deep-seated shit gurgling up to the surface. WHERE IS MY RUNNER’S HIGH ALREADY, GOD DAMN IT!?

runner's high vomit

Ahem.

My boyfriend, who sometimes runs with me, has encountered my crazy more than once. Poor guy. He probably thought he was dating this cool, confident girl and instead she is wrestling some pretty gnarly emotional problemas du inadequacie that only seem to come out when under physical stress. I think he’s learned at this point that a good distraction is, I kid you not, to argue with me about hypothetical rocket trajectories, politics, and other scientific principles. So even though sometimes he pisses me off, he is still awesome and deserves a medal for dealing with an occasionally weepy and negative running partner.

Allow me to attempt to address the question “What’s the point of even trying?” then. I have never been a runner. Running has always physically defeated me, even when I was 15 and “in shape.” So now I would like very much to punch running the face and force it into submission. It’s not even really that. I don’t want to make running my bitch. I want it to be a life companion. I want to enjoy a nice jog in the evening. I want to take a run to work out problems of the day or write blog posts in my head about things other than how fucked up my psyche is.  And you know, sometimes that happens. It’s rare, but sometimes I am happy being right there on the beaten path listening to my own footsteps.

It’s not even about being the best anymore (if it ever was). It’s about doing my best. (Barf. I know.)

So here are some positive things about my running so far:

  • My knees don’t hurt anymore!
  • My feet are falling apart but I mostly wear close-toed shoes anyway!
  • In April, I ran 6 miles and then could barely move the next day. A few days ago, I ran 7 miles in about the same time and wasn’t sore at all! Progress!
  • Sometimes I can have conversations with the boyfriend (like about rockets) and my responses are longer than monosyllabic grunts!
  • Today I tripped and skinned my knee and the heels of my hands and I kept going for the rest of the activity!
  • I’m contacting all the people in my life who I know to have completed or are in the process of training for a half or full marathon to get advice for how they keep going. I have something in common with people that I didn’t have before!
  • I have caught myself using “short” and “three miles” in the same sentence!
  • Sometimes I don’t want to run, but I do it anyway, and 98% of the time, I’m glad I did.
  • I enjoy nodding at fellow runners as we pass one another, especially other lady runners (that sounds mildly creepy). You go Glen Coco!
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I anticipate that the biggest challenge will be to remember all of these things when I am actually out there on the run. Otherwise, all of that positive reinforcement goes out the window and the second I want to stop, no reason to keep going seems important enough. I just don’t give a fuck.

Maybe I need some kind of mantra. I sort of found one in “If I can snowboard with a fractured arm, I can run a half marathon!” but it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Also, I didn’t know it was fractured, and that might have made a difference.

I of course am welcoming suggestions for a running mantra and for medal designs for the Boyfriend of the Millennium.

Alliteration: Alleviate Ankle Ailments

Her feet are nicer than mine...
Her feet are nicer than mine…

Hey, remember that time I totally wrote this post all about how I got rid of my knee pain during running and came off like a total expert and know-it-all?

Well I did something silly. I signed up for a half marathon. In October. That’s like two minutes from now–and the most I’ve ever run in my entire life in one go was 10 km. Now like any good American, I am practically allergic to the metric system, but somehow during a booze-soaked college physics career (not really) I was able to absorb the equivalency of 1610 meters = 1 mile. Now, by doing some simple math, we can find out what fraction of a half marathon I’ve run:

[  1 mile             | 1000 meters | 10 km   ]

[  1610 meters |        1 km         |   1          ]                  / 13.1 miles

= 6.2 miles / 13.1 miles

= .47

= 47%

Sorry, I bet you thought there’d be no math on this blog.

As you see, I need to step up the training a bit. So I’ve been running not only more often than usual, but also longer duration and distances. As in the beginning, new and increased stresses on the body produce–you guessed it–joint pain. This time, however, it’s my dainty lady ankles.

That was my really long-winded way of saying that I found some cool ankle-strengthening exercises to add to my routine. The great thing about these is that minimal equipment is required–no bosu ball, just resistance bands!

 

 

Four ways that I fixed my runner’s knee

Sketch-of-a-Knee

Okay, to start off, you probably have to actually be a runner to claim to have runner’s knee. A few months ago, if we go with the definition of runner as “one who runs,” I was not a runner. I was an avid walker, especially from my car to my intended destination. I was really good at that. But not so much the running.

That’s why when I did get off my desk chair/couch/driver’s seat to run a bit, I was pretty quick to aggravate some older injuries from the bygone days of 8th grade track and 10th grade marching band (it was an intense marching season). Sore muscles I can handle, but aching joints? No thank you. Every step hurt and I was worried to run too much in case I got shin splits or literally ran my legs off my body. I was hoping that the pain would lessen with more time on the path, but sometimes hope is an asshole.

All of the following tips are intended to help treat or relieve the pain of runner’s knee, but it would be ideal to avoid sustaining running injuries to begin with. Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the common causes of knee pain from running:

  • Your form sucks
  • You’re wearing the wrong shoes
  • You’re doing too much too soon

So. Running form. I could and probably should write an entire post devoted to running form. Instead, LOOK AT THIS PICTURE!

form

Note: there are two opinions (at least) about foot strike (i.e., what part of your foot hits the ground first). The first school of thought favors the heel strike with the foot rolling down from heel to toe. This is the form I was taught in P.E., which might actually be why I hate it so, so much.

My favorite style is the “minimus” approach, illustrated in the picture at right. This natural style of running, which is meant to emulate running barefoot, favors a mid-foot strike, followed by a push-off with your toes. Although my calves were sore after every single run for the first few months, the shorter strides and minimal impact of the “minimus” gait tricks me into feeling like a nimble and lithe gazelle–unlike the more traditional heel-strike form that has me plodding along like a three-legged donkey.

shoe

OMG shoes. Running is a relatively equipment-free sport BUT it’s worth it to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Going along with my minimus style, I bought myself some kick-ass minimus shoes. These trail running shoes are the product of a partnership between New Balance and Vibram (of the FiveFingers Vibrams) and I love them almost more than I have ever loved a pair of shoes–except the ruby slippers I got for Christmas in 1989.

I like them because they’re light and flexible and they breathe, which means 1) no socks required and 2) only minimally smelly feet. Oh my god, is that what the minimus is referring to?!

I think it’s important to mention that you should really listen to your body. There’s running through discomfort and there’s being reckless. My absolute, prime, super-double-plus-good number 1 fitness rule is: try to straddle the line between challenging yourself and being able to do the same thing the next day. This is obviously just my opinion, but if your workout has you hobbling around in pain and soreness the next day, you’re essentially out of commission until you can squat over the toilet again without wanting to die. You’re not accomplishing much. Challenge yourself but don’t incapacitate yourself! This rule is more of a guideline than anything, and rest days are important. Also, I don’t literally mean that you do the same workout the next day, just that you’re able to do something.

When I first started running, I knew my knees and lungs could keep going, but knee pain would gradually become hip pain as the miles piled on, and I wanted to be able to run the next day, so I backed off. Unlike my brief spurts of running interest in the past, I’ve kept up with it this time, and I’m convinced that, counterintuitively, self-restraint is a big reason why.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Here are four things I did to alleviate my misery and suffering, in no particular order. The Scientific Method dictates that I should have isolated each of these approaches to determine which indeed was effective, but then this post would be 75% shorter and where’s the fun in that?

And without further ado, this is how I got rid of my runner’s knee:

1. My former roommate, a physical therapist, informed me that the underlying cause of knee pain in a lot of young women and adolescents is down to our old friend, puberty. Apparently as we gals become young ladies, our changing bodies succeed in screwing us over in multiple ways, one of them being that our hips get wider in preparation for pushing out some babies. Wider hips can throw our legs out of alignment, which puts added strain on our lady knees. Fun times.

But there’s a solution! Bring those hips back from the Dark side with some awesome hip stretches.  More limber hip flexors can help bring your body back into alignment, relieving ailments associated with runner’s knee, shin splits, and IT band syndrome–the Evil Running Injury Trifecta. Add these to your day, even if you’re not running, but especially after you run. Your knees won’t magically become strong like steel overnight, but strengthening your hips and glutes will be a benefit in the long run. Here’s a video if you’re exercise diagram challenged like myself.

knee

2. In the same vein as stretching out your hips, you can also build up the stabilizing muscles around your knees. This, I think, more than anything else, has helped banish my knee pain.

Get yourself one of theeeese bosu balls:

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And do some lungessquats, or even arm work like shoulder presses (like the dude below) or lateral raises. (You’ve probably had the whole “knees over ankles” thing hammered into your skull your whole life, but like the flight attendants who demonstrate how to bu

ckle a seatbelt, let me just say that anytime you do an exercise or stretch where you bend your knees (like a lunge or squat), look down at your feet and make sure that your knees aren’t sticking out past your ankles. If they are, try opening your stance a bit to avoid hyperextension. See the handy graphic.)

lunge

The easier bosu option is to stand on the round part; the more challenging option is to stand on the flat part.

hard_bosu
easy_bosu

As you complete your exercises, you are constantly using entire muscles groups, including those around your knees, to stabilize the bosu ball’s wobble. I love and hate the bosu ball because my muscles involuntarily twitch the entire time, making me look like this awesome piece of contemporary art that I’ll probably get sued over for copyright infringement or something:

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Check out these other torturous bosu ball exercises!

3. Another cause of joint pain is inflammation. Basically, there’s a fluid-filled sac inside the knee joint that absorbs the shock of your foot impacting the ground and protects the knee’s soft tissue from coming into contact with the bone. When you first start pounding the pavement, the repetitive motion creates friction between the sac and the bone, causing inflammation and swelling and horrible. Gross. Who’s hungry!?

There are a lot of general OTC and drugstore anti-inflammatories out there, but beware of their addictive powersssss!

My favorite non-addictive supplement is the amazing serrapeptase. It is like magic. And also, take two once a day after your workout. It’s a bit like ibuprofen in that you’re meant to just keep it in your system, rather than taking it on an as needed basis, but doesn’t have ibuprofen’s negative side effects.

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4.  I also tried these brace things for a while, but I didn’t really notice any change… Maybe they’ll work better for you, or maybe I didn’t use them long enough. Essentially, you’re meant to strap them below your kneecap so that it provides support to the knee, sort of like a brace.

 

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So I hope those four tips were helpful. If you can think of any other preventive measures or remedies, feel free to share. Remember that I am not a doctor and knee pain is nothing to bat an eye about. If you suspect that stretching, anti-inflammatories, or avoiding overtraining  will not help your old man/lady knees, see a specialist!