While writing my last post, about my plans to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon in ten days (omg!), I knew that I wanted to say a lot more than I’d included in the post, but I didn’t because it was already getting hella long as is. I mean, you all already indulge me plenty with my tendency to blah blah blah on for 1,000+ words at a time, so I don’t really want to abuse that privilege. So instead, I decided to write another post in which I talk about all of the shit I’m doing to get ready for the Albany Marathon – specifically all the shit that doesn’t involve putting on pair of running shoes and putting one foot after the other for several miles. (I’ll talk about the running stuff later, when I do my Hansons vs. Run Less, Run Faster post.)
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve gotten quite a bit faster in the past year or so. Part of it is due to training, and part of it is because I spent the summer running with my team, which has some crazy-fast people on it. All of those running magazines and blogs were right! Running with faster people made me faster. It’s, like, a law of science or something.
So when I realized I was developing the ability to run faster and for longer periods of time, I started making changes elsewhere in my life to keep this going for as long as possible and with as few injuries as possible. There are a bunch of things I do differently but they can all be sorted into four main categories: prehab/strength work, biomechanics, nutrition and psychology.
For the past two years I’ve had what Maggie at MagMileRunner calls an “emo knee,” which is where your knee wears cardigans and listens to the Promise Ring while crying softly into a cup of herbal tea. (KIDDING.) Really, it’s when your knee has a bunch of issues that don’t seem to have any real cause or resolution; it’s just being whiny for no reason. My emo knee sometimes felt like my IT band was throbbing, sometimes like I had runner’s knee, and sometimes it felt like the inside of the knee was being wonky. Plus that knee is super crunchy, like someone stomped on a bag of potato chips every time I bent it. It didn’t hurt all the time, and actually it mostly hurt whenever I just walked around or when I did strength-training that involved bending my left knee. Luckily it only occasionally bothered me while running, but it was enough that it worried me.
I tried everything I could think of to deal with it. I coated it with topical NSAIDs and Biofreeze and iced it down. I tried resting it. I tried strength work to build the quad, but squats and lunges just made it hurt worse than anything. I did those weird sideways duck walks with resistance bands around my ankles and I foam-rolled the shit out of everything. I got my triathlon bike re-fitted, this time with a Retul fitting. And finally, I went to my sports medicine doctor, who set me up with an X-ray that found absolutely no structural problems at all.
But interestingly enough my bike fitter/team coach AND my doctor made the same observation independently of one another, which was that my left leg was about an inch longer than my right one. At about the same time I was reading about hip strength, and I wondered if there was a connection, so I decided to start doing MYRTLs. The first time I did it, I felt like a complete dumbass, but then the following day I went for a run, and for the first time in years, I never felt even so much as a solitary twinge in my left knee. The first time! So I kept it up and sure enough, the knee pain went away. And then, because I am the smartest person in the universe, once the pain went away, I stopped doing the one thing that helped it, and wouldn’t you know – the pain came back. (See? Smartest person in the universe.)
I kept up my strength training the best I could, even though I no longer could do lunges, squats or step-ups comfortably. But I’ll tell you what I could still do! DEADLIFTS. At least once a week, I did deadlifts at the gym, both with the barbell and unilaterally with a kettlebell. I never really went heavy with these lifts, mainly because I’m an endurance athlete, not a powerlifter, but I tried to go heavy enough to build some strength and endurance. I also worked my upper body pretty hard, doing lots of push-ups and exercises that simulated pull-ups, like inverted bodyweight rows. I can do chin-ups but still can’t do pull-ups to save my life. (Here’s hoping I’m never actually in a situation where a pull-up will be necessary to save my life, because I might actually die.)
One of the weird little side-blessings of life with an emo knee is that I ended up changing the way I run a bit to avoid aggravating it. I found that if I landed really hard on that leg, my knee would bark at me, so as to avoid a barking emo knee (how’s that for some imagery?) I made an effort to land a lot lighter on my feet when I ran. Basically, I tried to limit how much up-and-down force I was putting on that knee. But all that energy had to go somewhere, and I found the “somewhere” that energy went was forward propulsion.
So now instead of bouncing up and down a lot when I run, I mostly just lope forward. I am tall with legs that occupy two-thirds of my body’s real estate, and changing my stride so things are more forward-oriented takes advantage of the way my body is built. I still try to keep my leg turnover high so I don’t heel-strike like crazy, but I feel more like I’m gliding and less like I’m plodding, if that makes sense.
I also try to keep myself more upright instead of slouching when I run, so I can keep my airways flowing and my kinetic chain firing away like a champ, and I try to keep my feet and arms moving in parallel tracks instead of crossing in front of me. It’s a lot to keep in mind, so when I’m running, I do regular check-ins with my body. How is my breathing, how is my posture, are my feet turning over, etc. Not only does it keep my form from falling to shit, but it’s a really nice way to practice mindfulness while out for a run.
I actually got the best compliment late last year when I was out with my team doing a speed session one Monday night. I started talking to a lady on the team, and when I introduced myself, she said she recognized me by my blonde ponytail and my “beautiful stride.” I could have kissed her, I was so damn pleased.
This one is such a touchy one. If you ask anyone who knows me who isn’t an endurance athlete, they’d all be like, “Oh, she’s so thin! She doesn’t need to watch what she eats! She’s going to run like eighteen miles when she goes home from work! Give her ALL THE CUPCAKES. No, seriously, JAM THEM DOWN HER THROAT.” So I don’t talk about this much unless I’m with other endurance athletes, because they tend to get it.
Here it is: I’ve started watching what I eat. I don’t mean that I’m trying to restrict myself to 1200 calories a day or some such silliness. God no, nothing like that. Rather, I’ve tried to improve the quality of the food I eat. I read Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight (and have been using his Racing Weight Cookbook – both are affiliate links, btw) and while I’m not following the plan exactly, I do follow a lot of the guidelines in both books. Mostly it means that I’ve tried to eat more plant-based food, to eat less food that comes in boxes or bags, and to be aware of how much sugar I’m eating. I’m not super-strict about it, mind you, and I am definitely not cutting out any food groups. I’m just trying to be more mindful of things. (Here’s some more reading about Racing Weight from Tracy at Fit is a Feminist Issue. I know Sam has written about it as well but I can’t seem to find that post. Sam, if you read this, comment with your post!)
Part of my change in diet is because I would like to try to drop a few pounds of body fat, mainly so I can get a bit faster. Of course, I know it’s easy to fall down a slippery slope of thinking, where you’re just like, “If I could just get down to 17 pounds, I could run a 5K in two minutes!” and then before you know it, you’re eating nothing but Quest bars melted on top of kabocha that’s coated in chia seeds or something equally horrifying. (Seriously, running/healthy living bloggers, I see what a lot of y’all are eating, and it is revolting. For the love of god, please stop posting photos of it on the internet.)
So instead of restricting calories and thus setting myself up for a trip to Stress Fracture-ville Pop. me or maybe a voyage to the land of Female Athlete Triad, I just decided to try to improve the quality of my diet and continue eating according to my body’s signals and then just seeing how that all shakes out. Because this is the thing about caloric restriction – when you are an endurance athlete in training, your problem is likely to be that you aren’t eating enough. If you don’t eat enough, your body can’t recover well and you are likely to develop injuries.
Plus, if I don’t have something – even if it’s a hard-boiled egg or bread with peanut butter – in my stomach, I can’t put in a good workout. Fasted cardio, you and I are never, ever, ever, ever getting together.
And then the other part is that I find I just feel a lot better when I eat like this. I looooove cheeseburgers and fries, like an insane amount, but that gut bomb feeling is not something I can deal with on a regular basis. I save those kinds of meals for certain times, like maybe when I know I don’t have a big workout in the morning or conversely, if I had a big workout earlier in the day. And I still stress-eat sometimes, like those cups of Ramen noodles for thirty-three cents. I love those things so much, even though I know they’re basically dehydrated cardboard and sodium in a foam cup, but I can’t deny that they make me feel like a big piece of salt-encrusted poo afterwards. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m getting older and my body is giving me less leeway on these things, just like it is with regards to alcohol. I can drink beer and wine just fine but liquor makes my head feel like one of those watermelons Gallagher smashes with a mallet. (Oh my god, there’s the proof that I’m getting old. I just used Gallagher as a pop culture reference. Just go ahead and wheel me into my retirement community in the Villages already.)
tl;dr – I’m making a point to eat less crap and I feel more energetic and stronger because of it.
This is the big one. This is worth a post all of its own. In fact, because this post is already tipping the 2,000-word mark, I think I will leave it for another post to come in the next couple of days, because holy shit, do I have a lot to say on this subject. So yeah, stay tuned for another post on the topic.