Sunday, March 15, 2015

How to Dodge a Bullet (or just simply avoid a training catastrophe)

The longer I pursue any kind of run training, the more I realize I will never stop learning. It's a tough pill to swallow sometimes, but is a good thing re. the big picture.

Oh, what a couple weeks it has been: I will begin to say that I am really, really fortunate to be writing about this topic and not something from my "greatest hits" album on this blog..... You know the post where"girl trains, girl runs race, girl is then out for 6-8 weeks and has to start again...." Sigh.

Honestly, if this was again the case and I was a reader of this blog, I'd be pretty tired of myself and begin to question my motivation and sanity. As the writer of this blog, I try to keep it as fresh and positive as possible without losing the honesty I like to convey on these pages. I digress....

So anyway-and hopefully less dramatic- I am on day 6 of a 7-10 day running break that I voluntarily took. Yep, I volunteered to do this. Actually I told my coach I needed it. A total first for yours truly. So why did I elect to do this when it appeared a few weeks ago that things were going so well? A few things, actually.

The first couple weeks of February were some of the best training weeks I've had in a long time. Running was fluid and fun. I felt strong and had no issues hitting intervals and paces. I even exercised restraint when I wanted to just crush an interval , you know, just because. I felt awesome. Then I didn't. Actually, the current state of affairs is different than I've experienced probably ever. After my epic February of running a lot, getting sick (and crazy dehydrated), going skiing days later, and coming back and back into workouts and then traveling more, you get the idea. For me, it was a lot.

I started getting this weird soreness in my quads. At first I shook it off and almost enjoyed the feeling. (you know, breakdown means progress, right?!) But it didn't go away, and it got to the point where runs were not fun anymore. That and I was getting more and more tired. Oh, and standing up from a chair or getting up in the morning felt a little something like this:

Noting like a dumb Jim Carrey movie to get my point across:)

Luckily I heeded my  'check engine' light  This was a critical point in my season: do I push through and risk something more serious or do I be a grown-up and back off. I chose Option B this time. And it really wasn't as hard as I thought. I decided I wasn't going to let my ego get the best of me. I needed to rest-it's part of training after all. Not just a day or two, but several.

After talking to Coach  and carefully researching, I came up with a game plan kind of like this:

- Rest (duh!). I took three days off completely from working out-weights, biking, yoga, everything. It was fortunately easier than I thought. I was tired and also busy at work so I had plenty of distraction. I had a number of nights of low-quality or not enough sleep, so I made a deal with myself to just wake up naturally-not my usual arbitrary 5:00 AM. I am fortunate to be able to go into the office later in the day, so eyelid-watching became my morning workout. Resting takes guts. Sometimes more than actually facing a hard workout or race.

- Hydration. I hit the water and electrolytes hard. In addition to the fluids I increased my potassium intake and took 500 mg of magnesium (a natural muscle relaxer) every day to help loosen the white knuckled fists that had become my legs.

-Anti-inflammatory foods. Caffeine and wine were reduced. (Sorry, I gotta have my coffee in the AM) and avocados, almonds, leafy vegetables, berries, and foods high in Omega-3's were in. Good thing I like salmon, because I ate a heck of a lot of it this week.

-Ice. Cold therapy seems to calm down flaky muscles pretty fast. I read article written by pro triathlete and trainer Ben Greenfield and took a couple pointers and put a more realistic spin on them. I probably have gone through at least 60 pounds of ice in the past few days on my legs. Greenfield recommends immersing yourself in cold water 2 x 20 minutes a day. I came close to that and it wasn't as bad as I thought. Slowly the soreness started fading into the background, at least for daily tasks. Wearing blue blocking sunglasses after 4 PM and taking 90 dollar supplements was something I just wasn't willing to do. Speaking of supplements....

-Adaptogens. Greenfield mentioned using the 90 dollar drink mix in his article. I have heard a lot of whispers on the street when it comes to taking adaptogens to combat training stress. From the overtraining errors I made a few years ago, my endocrine system and HPA axis ( Hypothalamic-Adrenal-Pituitary; just think the ability to bring it in workouts and then recover and manage life) systems have taken a beating.

My endocrine system still seems to not be what used to be-so recovery is still sometimes harder for me and balance is critical.I am getting closer to facing the fact that it may always be touchy and I have to be extra diligent with balance and load.

Training is a stressor in itself, and add everything else in the body is working overtime. In response to a system that clearly needs some help-I decided to experiment with Rhodiola -a supplement that has been shown to help with stress response (i.e. training, life, work, etc.) and hopefully help with the recovery process recommended by Greenfield and other professional sources. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but I do feel a difference three days in, especially in sleep quality. If you can't sleep deeply you can't heal. Oh, and the supplement I picked up was just 17 bucks!

-*Realizing it's 'just running'. Do I really have to prove something? I have to constantly remind myself that this is just something I do, not who I am. I need to continue to find ways to manage my stress and make smart decisions-for my own quality of life but also others around me.

 I get a lot of empowerment from running but in the grand scheme, the world does not stop spinning on its axis because I didn't run for a few days. In fact I don't think the world really notices:)

So sitting here typing this, I hear the bullet whizzing by my head. This could have gotten out of control in a hurry. I won't lie, this was not an easy week and had its mental challenges, but sometimes you have to slow down to speed back up later.

Goals were meant to be adjusted sometimes, and we just have to go with it and carry on. And the learning curve least I don't feel like I have spears in my thighs anymore!

Stay the course.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'Part II of Athletic Republic's S.S.S. Endurance Protocol' and Gait Re-Analysis

This week marks my completion of Athletic Republic's 16-session Strength, Speed, and Stability (S.S.S.) Protocol to be more widely launched by the facility soon. I previously wrote on my initial experiences and progress in an earlier post and the today I will kind of sum up my progress, areas I've improved, and perhaps some other things to still address.

To accompany my rather subjective progress report I went in for a second gait analysis to check in on things and will use some of the images from 'before' and 'after' to see what areas I have improved upon and some where I still need more strengthening and work. That's running, folks-there's always areas where we could tweak and recovery and strengthening I feel is critical and an ongoing process.

I'll start off where I left off from my post in December 2014. I was just shy of 8 sessions in and doing drills I haven't done since high school and probably never done correctly until this point. Let's just say the teenage athlete Adrienne and the adult athlete Adrienne have seemingly never met! I went in basically an injury-prone statistic and in desperate need of shuffling the deck if I wished to continue running. Based on gait analysis #1 and prior knowledge, there were fundamental weaknesses in my hips, core, lower legs, and feet (notably the right).Trainer Josh Scott and Co. had a fun project on their hands for sure.

Flash forward to last week's session, # 15 to be exact. This particular day included single-leg plyometric drills of 8 seconds a piece in designated sequences, 4 sets or step-ups on boxes of 12 and 18 inches (I think) working on leg turnover, posture, and core strength. Strength work included hip cords working on adduction and abduction and throw in some TRX suspension for good measure. Oh, and the runs on the 'mill were backward. Backward and I "PR'd" backpedaling during 12 second spotted segments running at 10.5 MPH. Yeah, that's a 5:43 pace according to my iPhone pace calculator; you know, because my mental math skills are useless!

During the second half one of the biggest things I noticed was the adaptation to all these crazy moves. I used to sweat buckets (okay I still kind of do) jumping around like a nervous idiot on the spring-loaded plyo board but it became easier over the course of 15 sessions. The crazy climbing got faster, and my fast-twitch muscle fibers came around and I was able to hit, even briefly, sub 5:00 pace on 15% incline. Great for the confidence, at least.

That's really cool, but how does that help on the track or road?...

I believe during the midpoint I had been doing heavy plyometric drills and brief hill runs on a treadmill at 15% incline or so but at slower speeds. The back half of the program took the speed up to more hill sprints (spotted either by trainer or harness for safety) and inclusion of some 'bigger' jumping drills that also were brief working on leg turnover and core stability.

Another benefit I feel I received was increased proprioception. When I first started the program I had little to none and a pretty significant guarding response on my right side due to injury history. For those who aren't familiar-'guarding' is a mostly involuntary response of the body to protect and compensate for an injured or in this case-formerly injured area. It is possible to re-train the muscles and brain to fire normally, but takes gradual retraining. I still catch myself wanting to move my weight away from my R side, but it is nothing like it used to be. Translated to running: I can develop a more symmetrical stride, which means more efficiency and less injury.

Now that I can tell where my feet are landing and have more control of my legs, I can tell them better where to go in relation to my body and how fast or slow.

The Subjective:

Since starting the SSS program, here's the objectives of what a former "injury-riddled statistic" has been able to do. For many, this may not be a big deal and routine, but for me this is quite progressive.

  • Physiological Resilience: approx. 5 months of being able to build mileage and intensity in training without much issue. I've had my days and moments, but overall, I am able to do more in my training, more consistently, and with a faster build up. Psychologically, I am less afraid to go out and spin out a workout on the track-stronger body equals a stronger mind over time. 
  • Progress in core and glute strength. As referenced in the shot in my racing shoes but observed in the 'driver's seat', I can maintain my form longer and adjust pacing and cadence without much fuss. And getting compliments on how your gait looks is always nice too!  I guess when you're not on a wildly spinning belt at a crazy incline, everything seems manageable:) 
  • Increased ankle and lower leg strength. I HAD to have this. The plyo board did cause some ankle soreness in the beginning, but I feel along with my home exercises my right foot was able to re-join the party. 
  • Better warm up habits. At the start of each session, I go through a specific dynamic warmup with different drills and ending with ladder work. I liked the ladder so much I went out and purchased one myself. Now before any workout I tend to steal whatever warmup moves we did at the previous session. The best part is they are multidirectional and multiplanar, critical to running health as we can only point our bodies in one direction for so long without having issues.
  • Education and treatment. Knowledge of your body and how to use it properly is power. I will be honest, I did not always feel like a million dollars every week, but that has to do with factors from my training and outside life (like crazy days at the office, sleep quality, or travel), there were some stiff areas and aches. Dr. Derrick Raymer, the sports med specialist on staff, has been fantastic in addressing some of the wear and tear. This is where AR is different from other training facilities in they come from an injury and overtraining prevention model. Critical for me and I know many others. 
    • I was introduced to regular Graston (aka scar-tissue scraping) treatments on my 'bad' ankle and am not noticing a significant difference anymore in mobility. I rarely think about it anymore as there is little residual damage from my previous fractures and tendon issues. And it doesn't hurt AS bad as I anticipated, which is nice. 
  • Speed & Durability. I still have a ways to go to meet my potential there, but I have been able to hit workout paces without much fuss and comparing my 5k time last year and my most recent one is a good 30 seconds faster. The biggest bonus is the ability to not limp around the day after a race like I used to. I was knocking on injury's door after races last year and this year I was running pain free the day after. Highly encouraging. 
  • Increased athleticism and overall mobility. I can simply do more than just run-my body is able to leave the frontal plane of motion, making the act of running somewhat easier. 
Gait Analysis: The Objective

I was not able to get the images from this go-round, but will share some numbers for all you geeks out there. Previously I had a more significant hip drop and over stride on the Right side and those were the biggest factors in the first analysis. Since the Spring, more tests and angles have been included in a typical analysis so there was more data this time. I will be honest, there are still areas that I need improvement on, but where it got interesting is when I put my racing flats on and cranked the treadmill down to a 6:30 pace. According to the data and how I felt, I was much less sloppy-which was very different as I tended to feel much less in control without specific training.

Why? Probably because I've been trained to maintain form at higher intensities, as the program is designed for; at least that's my hypothesis. I did what I was trained to do running faster. Below are some of the angles and what they mean. I by no means have the perfect gait and I have eliminated some variables and focused more on the frames that looked at me running in trainers (Adidas Energy Boost 2) and racers/faster shoes (Adidas Adios Boost).

Foot Inclination Angle @ Contact (i.e. the dreaded heel strike vs midfoot) Ideal is less than 10
Boost at easy pace: L: 13.0 R: 20.8
Adios at faster pace: L: 3.3 R: 3.4

Maximum Knee Flexion Angle @ Mid-Stance 
This I need to work on, meaning bending my knee more while striking the ground is preferred.

Center of Mass Vertical Displacement (goal of 6-8 cm)
Boost easy pace L: 8CM R: 10CM
Adios faster pace L: 7CM R: 7CM
L: Yes R: No
L: Yes R: Yes

Joint Center Alignment @ Mid-Stance
L: Good R: Good
 Load joints evenly (no *valgus/*varus)
L: Yes R: Yes 

Lateral Pelvic Tilt @ Mid-Stance (Hip Drop) - appears to be improved from last testing* Goal:  Women: 5-7o Men: 3-5o
L: 3.4o R: 5.9o
L: Yes R: Yes

The Bigger Picture

After looking at the data again (the objective) and how I feel during and after my workouts (the subjective) I believe that I have benefitted from the endurance protocol. I have actually been able to run hard without falling apart or struggling in later stages and have strung together weeks of track sessions indicates improvement in my mechanics, especially at faster efforts (which if you know me or have read this blog over time, know this is something I have struggled mightily with).

I was surprised with how in my trainers going slower I noticed not much change, but factors such as fatigue (I did the test during a higher volume week for me), shoe selection (the Boost's bouncy sole may affect how I run some), and the fact that I have really zeroed in on my mechanics running fast and not as much while running easy. I can either drive myself crazy with speculating-or I can address things a little at a time and prioritize. I believe there is no perfect stride, so alter what is most important to keeping you injury-free, efficient, and energized.

The report included suggestions that included working on the upper body a little more, and continuing the core and hip exercises I have been incorporating-a training protocol can only go so far and the rest is up to me!

My final analysis is this: I see a clear relationship with how much more training I have been able to do versus previous cycles and the ease I feel while picking up the pace-both are things I needed to be able to race successfully and safely and I knew that working on fundamental things was the way to go. And it had to be pretty radical from what I was used to.

I have and will continue to recommend this program to friends and fellow athletes. It doesn't hurt to have an incline treadmill in a town with minimal hills! It is an investment in time, but I feel it is worth it and the sessions are enjoyable. I found that it fit well with 'down' or lower volume training cycles where the athlete has time to really work on addressing important or weak areas to enter the new season stronger. It would be great in small groups and perfect for college athletes home for the summer, etc.

Those interested in the program can inquire at or look online to see if a location is in your area. I am also happy to address any more details that were not clear in this post.

Thank you, Susan, Derrick, and Josh for all your help in this stage of my comeback-I don't think I'd be doing this well at this stage without AR!

Stay the course.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mid February Training Update

It seems like forever ago since I last posted-If you want to consider three weeks forever! You all may have been glad I haven't posted for all I know! ;)

I have finally found a space in time where I am not working, running, sleeping, or hammering out emails to fill in those interested on the running side of things.

Let's begin with the foundational stuff first: I went back in to the Ironman Sports Medicine Institute here in The Woodlands to have my gait analysis re-run to compare 'before' and 'after' my retooling of my stride and participation in Athletic Republic's protocol. At this time the report and images are still being processed by the biomechanist but from what I can tell, things have improved.

This time I had some filming done at a faster pace wearing my Adios Boost that I use for fast training and racing. These frames yielded some interesting results (but you gotta see next post for all the details!). Before leaving the facility, I had my PT colleague whom I currently credit with finding one of my foundational weaknesses in an atrophied right foot re-check the muscle growth after the gait test and I am pleased to report that MY R FOOT LOOKS NORMAL! After months of towel pulls, walking on my big toes, and doing these weird "digging" exercises with my toes an apparent reason for why I have been able to keep working was confirmed.

This may not be a big deal to most people, but those little oft-ignored muscle groups unknowingly have wreaked some havoc over the past few seasons for me. All the core and dynamic work has made a big difference as well.

So onto the training itself: with a brief  illness interruption and a ski to follow it up, I've been able to get in nearly every workout and mile prescribed by Coach Doug.

Here's what the past couple weeks have looked like, both with total mileage a few shy of 50 per week.


M: AM  7 miles easy  PM: plyo and form work at Athletic Republic. This particular workout I did brief hill runs on the treadmill of 10-20 seconds each at 15% incline: paces ranging from 7:15 all the way down to 4:50 (bear in mind its for a few seconds!)

T: Nixed mile repeats-sick-workout consisted of trying to not pass out walking across room to get more Gatorade. I'm not kidding.

W: 5 miles at 8:15ish pace, still a little off from day before-likely from only eating like 700 calories in previous day,

TH: Modified workout from Tuesday: 7 miles total, main set 8 x 3 min at HM pace (6:44-6:52)/90 sec recovery. Energy levels returned, thank goodness! 30 mins strength training afterward. Epsom salt bath in PM.

F:  7 miles easy on golf course and core work early before getting on plane for Colorado
I almost never take pics while running. But here, I had to make an exception. And gather a little more oxygen!

S: AM 50 minutes at approx. 8500 ft. elevation (Keystone, CO; see above) before day of skiing at Keystone Mountain-for those concerned, I refused to ski any blacks!! Wasn't sure what to expect but surprised at how manageable it actually was.

SU: AM 70 mins at altitude, easy. Did not want run to end, but condo check-out time had other ideas! *One observation I made at altitude is it took me a little longer to warm up and get comfortable with reduce oxygen. After about 25-30 mins, I didn't notice much of a difference, but starting off was considerably slower. I know why there is a 28-day window for adaptation to be able to rip faster paces up there and have a lot of respect for those who train at these heights daily. I won't lie to you all-I did kinda feel like a boss running up in that snowy mountainous stuff! The challenge (and sheer beauty) I found enjoyable.

2/9-2/15 ....back to normalcy/work and recover, repeat.

M: 5 miles easy to shake the travel and mountains out of my legs. Quads took a nice beating on the slopes. Core and stretching afterward, Epsom Salt Bath. PM: Massage by Ray Arroyo.

T: 6 miles easy around Lake Woodlands, a favorite route. Best easy run in weeks. Followed up with 30 mins strength work.

W: 7 miles, with ladder session: 1600 in 6:26, 1200 in 4:49, 800 in 3:06, 2 x 400 in 90 and 88; all with 60 seconds rest in between. Clearly, Doug isn't big on recovery btw intervals! ;) Core work and Epsom salt bath afterward.

TH: Cross training day: 30 mins light strength and mobility work and 45 mins yoga, Graston Treatment by Dr. Derrick Raymer at Athletic Republic.

F: just shy of 7 miles: hybrid of gait analysis at IMSI and 3 mile tempo run at 6:56 avg pace. Another Epsom salt bath and stretch like crazy.

S: 14 miles easy. Goal to over in the 8:30s b/c of tempo run day before, did just that and nothing more. PM core work and another leg soak. This may have tied my highest mileage day of the cycle currently.

SU/Today: 8 miles by HR at the Mitchell Nature Trail. Goal to stay under 152 BPM and came in at 146 running 5 and a half loops of the trail. Boom! Core work at Villa, and then rewarded myself with a nap. Tomorrow it starts all over again!

I have another decent workload this week ending in a 5k this weekend in Gulf Shores, AL. Since my last race, I have began to feel more comfortable with running harder paces again. This past week may have been one of my most productive ones yet-I can see some of the benefits of the steady work, but more importantly I am not feeling like I'm in over my head during workouts or going into them doubting. I think my favorite run this week was the Friday Tempo; I made it a point to relax and let the pace come to me instead of over-running the thing. Strength has been something I've been lacking in my training, and it's nice to begin to see some growth in that area.

I was initially a little concerned about what missing the repeat workout and a weekend LR while skiing in the same week was going to do-then I remembered that Lauren Fleshman quote I wrote about last month, where "perfect training cycles don't exist", so it was up to me to adapt and move on. And take in an epic weekend-which was probably more awesome than my staple trek through The Woodlands on the weekend.

My process goals for the upcoming weeks are most importantly to run the 5k smartly, with some aggression, and less hesitation. I do that, things will take care of themselves. Concerning the big picture-I want to continue this trend of growing and feeling stronger. It's been a while since I've had training weeks where I've felt in a rhythm and in control and I'm liking it.

While of course the training plan and execution is a big part, I think my time investment in recovery is showing dividends as well. But I will tell you I have days where I'd rather skip it~"no harm in one day, right?!", but I know sitting most of the day with clients and some of the stress of being a small business owner makes it risky business and I have to remind myself of the big picture.

What keeps you motivated to keep doing the "right things" in your training? Isn't improvement fun?!

Next up are my results from the analysis and my final thoughts on my training with Athletic Republic's Endurance Protocol.

Stay the course.