Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crazy Train(ing)

This past training week has been fun. That's right, fun. Even though I'm still on the low end of the upswing of things, the unorthodox approach coach and I have been using has been enjoyable and still pretty challenging (I know, I know....wait til I actually get in shape!;)). Since a few of you have asked for some more specifics of things, I though now would be a good time to share. I am prepared to even give...wait for it....some numbers!!

So what has training looked like in the past couple weeks. First, a slow and gradual return to running on land; astro turf to be more specific and I moved to the cinder pathway at a local park the other day. I have been really careful listening to everything happening in the bottom right hand corner and slowly am playing with different surfaces, except concrete because I'm allergic to it. Ok not really but it's a fun excuse. 

Besides circling a soccer complex on padded and very fake grass, I've been on a steady rotation of Alter-G treadmill running at Sterling Ridge Sports Medicine in The Woodlands, pool running, weight training and recently started doing stability and plyometric work at Athletic Republic, which is right down the road from my office. All of those, plus throw in some spin bike every now and then and a yoga class. It's busy, but my running form feels like it used to and am becoming less afraid as I chip away at the mental task of both trusting the training and learning to trust my body. This of course is a constant work in progress, but that's what makes it interesting. 

Since I have covered the soft surface stuff many times and also the pool running (NOT to be confused with aqua jogging!), I will share my experience on the Alter-G treadmill today. For those not familiar, picture a regular treadmill with a plastic tent-like thing around the base and belt. The tent-like thing houses a zipped-in athlete at the waist (using triathlon-like shorts that attach) and suspends by creating more or less air pressure to lift or lower while you run. You can use 20 percent to basically all of your body weight. I have mostly been running at 75-85% currently. I basically show up to the facility, get the shorts on, zip in, and wait a minute or so for calibration of the machine. The rest I am in control of (or more like Doug has control of! LOL). 
The best thing about this sweet machine to me is that I can run at paces dictated by my VO2 Max versus my compromised parts. My first session consisted of an 8-mile run with one minute intervals at a 6:10-6:15 pace. Been a while since I've seen numbers like those! Of course it's not using all of my mass, however, my cardiovascular system and running-specific muscles (i.e. fast-twitch especially) get a particular training stimulus at much lower risk. Gotta say that it is awesome to go hammer out some solid paces without worrying about spontaneous combustion. Well, I don't really worry about that per se, but you get the idea. 

After the maiden session on the Alt-G, I have put in a 20 minute tempo run at 6:45-7 min pace and today was a nice pseudo hammer-fest with a fartlek of 2 min, 1 min, and 30 seconds at slightly lower than 10k pace (like 5:35-5:50- eek!). Minus the impact of the road, and using just north of 80% body weight, this was both challenging and fun. Disclaimer: paces may or may not translate currently to on land, however, through all the high-intensity, low-impact training, I have reconnected with my odd enjoyment and satisfaction of putting a little hurt on every now and again. With a focused and quiet mind, its encouraging to see that I still have some speed-even though I have a ways to go.

The best part of this past week is that I have been able to see the "engine" inside is still well-intact. With the copious stability and supplementary work, this is turning into a fun science project. Or perhaps this is how I should have been approaching things all along..... 

So here we go on a fall of just training and strengthening, with a 5k race in January. I love to set a goal and put together all the pieces and right now am enjoying not having to rush into a race. I've always enjoyed the process of getting back into form. 

Below is a pic of a mounted camera on the Alter G that shows a multi-angle picture of footstrike patterns along with the short video of me warming up for my first workout (cheesy, I know, and I think the PT there meant to take a still photo). Thanks goes out to Sterling Ridge SM and Athletic Republic for helping make this "old" lady fast again! So there you have it-some of the crazy facets of a new training system! 

Mid-stride  on Tuesday.
Also, research from the Alter-G company can be found here giving the rationale for progressive loading in training. I find it fascinating. 

Stay the course. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some Recent Things I've Learned: Part ???

It's amazing what happens whenever we peel back the emotion from a situation and actually flip it around and examine its every angle. This approach is good for all aspects of life, and (at least for me) works quite well for run training. Not sure what I mean, then keep reading....

Myself and so many fellow endurance athletes view training and goals in a pretty fixed way-at least I do-and have trouble in having enough faith to make a change, whether it be a different goal, different distance, totally different training approach, etc. I know my goals have shaped the way I saw myself; if I met them, then my value went up, but after falling short for reasons either beyond my control or because of things I didn't know at the time, it has been a challenge to still view my 'athletic self' the same way. When this happens, then it may be time to make a change.

Change is scary. Change requires adjustment. Change requires faith and trust. When it's all said and done, change can be really freaking freeing. I have blogged recently about several changes and lessons I've picked up over the past few months: new coach, new (and beloved) sponsors, and new technology and testing to find out what my body may be capable of if things work out.

Another tough lesson I've encountered lately is that my body is not ready to take on full marathon training.  After literally YEARS of disappointment and guesswork and getting hopes up and watching them crash down, I have been able to get sound medical advice and suggestions on how to proceed. This after an MRI showing abnormal fluid in my foot shortly after atrophy causally observed in that same foot from a PT colleague (who I may owe my running career to when it's said and done!). I am no sports med. professional, but if you have no natural support in your foot and you increase your mileage and try to run hard, bad things will happen.

That is until you address what's going on. Address that and accept that I am the type of runner who just can't jump in with others and pound 10 miles on the sidewalk without thinking about it. According to the doc-"my training is going to be somewhat inconvenient" and I was advised professionally on what surfaces to run on. Additionally, Coach Doug and I talked it over and re-worked the goals and training approach. Joe Vigil's statement of "there is no place for emotion in training and competing" is definitely relevant here as it can impair seeing what's really best for us.

While it was hard to let go (at least temporarily) of my BQ pursuit at first because of-you guessed it-emotional attachment, I was surprised with how easy it was to totally shift gears and focus. Instead of spending all morning running and the rest of the day trying to recover from the beating that is marathon training, (fellow Oiselle runner/personal role model, Lauren Fleshman attests to this as well), perhaps I should take a shorter-distance focus for a while, in both racing and training. I'm not sure what my land mileage will add up to, but I know there will be considerable cross-training to supplement and keep my seemingly-oversized cardio system somewhat happy and not causing me to blow out another ankle while I re-shape it!

Which leads to a new lesson I've learned: HARD, consistent, so monotonous you want to scratch your eyes out but are too tired pool running (ok it's not that bad!) translates really well to the real thing. Being an amphibious athlete lately, I've taken the legs back to land and so far have been freaked out with good my stride feels. All the balance and stability has also helped, I'm sure-but that wind-sucking, super-sore, slow feeling from last return is not here this time. This makes it a lot easier to cope with the idea that I won't be putting in really big miles. Besides, if I can get away with it....

As for a change in racing goals, I will admit a moment (or several hours) where I really hit that dark place and felt really sorry for myself. I *may* have sulked in my office and said to myself that I maybe should see a sport psychologist. Then I looked around and felt awkward. Whoops. This one was hard though, and I decided that something had to give and I had nothing to prove, but plenty of passion to burn for this sport.

So I learned for myself, vs. with a client because it's different-that letting go of a goal is very hard, but sometimes necessary because you have to meet yourself with where you are at. So here and now, step one is get a good regime going that is inclusive and high-quality, get that speed back that I know I still have while being creative and working on having two good feet again. Sounds realistic, sounds a little scary, but exciting at the same time. I want to get my toughness back and that feeling of freedom vs. racing afraid again. That and kick some serious ass, but one step at a time!

AT least in this small part of my life, I have had to give up some control to gain control back. My apologies for dragging this whole story out again and again, but hopefully those who may be needing to mix things up after hitting a wall can take something from it. Oh, and I get to finally use an Alter-G here soon! There likely will be a story to go with it. I am so fortunate to have access to so many good individuals and resources to be able to continue this absurd pastime of mine. But it is part of who I am, and as we evolve in other areas of life-we can evolve as athletes as well.

Stay the course. Even if you have to change it sometimes.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Making Sense of Sponsorship

For this post I thought I would address a question I am frequently asked by other athletes and their coaches/loved ones: how to go about gaining sponsorship. While I am by no means a marketing expert-I am not even a professional athlete- however, I have been fortunate over the past 5 years or so of being supported by several companies and have learned quite a bit along the way. Although the process is different for the true elite athletes out there, I hope to unpack a little on how this process often unfolds and what an aspiring sponsorship candidate can do to increase their chances of gaining support for their training and racing.

I began running for a local running store in Houston beginning in the Fall of 2009 which was followed by a large running shoe brand shortly afterward. Shortly after that, I added a nutrition sponsor to the fold. Being in my mid-20s and fresh out of graduate school at the time, running shoes and gear was a stretch to purchase and I found this quite helpful. After my specific program was cut last year, I was a "free agent" and honestly enjoyed being able to wear what I wanted and probably bought way too many pairs of shoes. Honestly, I was beginning to feel pressure to perform, stay healthy, and stay visible out in the community in order to keep my spot on the team. It wore on me some not having any new PR's. On the positive side of this experience, I made lasting friendships and got to do and see some amazing things.

In retrospect, with no fault on behalf of the company, I had the hardest time finding the right shoe that would accommodate my diamond-shaped feet and allow for my natural stride without "fighting" the materials. It was probably a blessing to be let go after the initial sting and ego hit after being dropped.  I could now find out what I really liked and what worked for me. The same goes with nutrition sponsorship. For the for the fall and spring of this year, I didn't think I wanted to be bound to the rules that come with running for a corporation.

I was starting to spend a lot on nutrition and had gravitated toward Honey Stinger; there was nothing in the ingredients that I could not pronounce and well, the stuff tasted really good! After inquiring and submitting my credentials, I squeaked in with them as the window closed for the year.

That changed after doing some homework and changing my "brand" (to put it very loosely as there are many more deserving athletes to do this) from just a racer to more of a community member of the sport/sport scientist with some racing thrown in. Obviously, not just any company would work and this is where Oiselle came into the fold. They have an amateur division developed for women driven both on and off the race course and have day jobs like me!

Oiselle actually wasn't a sudden thing as I had been communicating with the team manager and updating on races and projects for a few months before being accepted into the Volee (French for 'flyer') program this summer. So far, this is the happiest I've ever been with a sponsored running team. They have very nice gear, but their message is even better in empowering female athletes of all levels to push their limits. I also get to interact with teammates online and have the opportunity to connect with them in person at various times of the year-very much a 'team feel'.

Long-winded explanation aside, here are some things I have found that make one a worthy candidate for representing a company (or companies, as is the new trend a la Kara Goucher, Nick Symmonds, and others) :

1. Believe in what you wear/eat/post on twitter, etc. Myself and likely others have taken the first thing that comes along simply to have sponsored athlete status. Know what you're looking for and getting yourself into. It's pretty hard to pitch something that you don't really like or does not work as well as something else. If  it doesn't end up working out, might as well discuss with the program coordinator and move on-this is something I wish I would have done in the past. For example, my last nutrition sponsor had a LOT of artificial ingredients and colors, and I had trouble mentioning what I used in the company of my nutritionist and chiropractic colleagues. I think this is the most important part of having a lasting relationship with the companies you represent.  

2. Maintain a resume of your goals, past and current performances, and of course PR's. Along with those, be sure and list other activities in the athletic community. They aren't necessarily looking for you to volunteer at every race you're not running in or race every weekend, however, a well-rounded background is helpful. A good question to frame this around is "why would I be a good representative of this brand (or store, or club,...) "?  Most importantly-be honest, but don't sell yourself short or over think your qualifications. I never ran a step in a collegiate runner, however, don't feel that different from those that did as far as opportunity at the non-pro level goes.

3. Social media and blogging. Like the Brad Paisley song, I often feel like "I'm so much cooler online". But...there is no quicker way to get a message out. And for those who like to brag a little, this is great for that too! Talk about what you like and use every now and then on social media; but you don't have to be a cheese ball (yeah, just don't...). A good time to do this is around big workouts/personal accomplishments or races.

4. Deadlines and qualifications. Do your homework on what the company is looking for in an athlete representative and when and where to apply. If you can't find any links, simply emailing customer service for info on who to talk to often works. Note that some programs require faster times, more races, more community work than others and the length of sponsorship may differ.  Also know who the contact person is. A little internet research may be required, but it is fairly simple when you learn where to look. Away from the computer screen, ask others who have gone through the app. process what they found useful or important. Lastly, know the rules-"cheating" on your company is never a good idea!

Lastly, if for some reason you do not get an immediate response or spot, don't get discouraged. Continue to keep working and putting yourself out there!

There you have it: Sponsorship 101 by Adrienne. Something I once thought was unobtainable really can be just as simple as building relationships among the running community. So ask questions, train hard, be consistent and a good citizen of endurance sport! More questions? Feel free to ask.

Stay the course.