Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Time-Management Conundrum Revisited

"Put your oxygen mask on first, otherwise you won't be able to help anyone else...." -A Former Professor.

Today I'm talking a little about the challenges of being a busy professional and athlete in training. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is tiring. Ultimately, I am always in a fair degree of control if I choose to exercise it (and so are you!). The vast majority of us have numerous commitments and many have much more than yours truly, but the balancing act is science and art and those who pay the most attention are the most successful. This post is written for me as a permanent 'note to self', but it is also for anyone who strives to give 100% all the time. SPOILER ALERT: Sometimes 80% works better! 

Week before last was challenging. Not in a negative sense per se, but positive stress is still stress for a busy working athlete. Funny thing about these weeks is how I feel 'like I'm being squeezed through a metaphorical tube that makes me more tired the further I travel down it' that I walk away satisfied that I a.) got so much done and perhaps more so b.) I persisted yet again in the face of my own questionable decision-making!

Generally speaking, I like to plan and most of my life revolves around the hourly schedule (hey, its part of working by the appt., after all) and I get stuff done without coming home mentally and physically zapped.  It's when I say 'yes' without fully considering the whole picture: other commitments, training, family and friends. Of course I have good intentions: making person X happy, being a good friend/family member, consultant, boss (ok that sounds weird), and of course, runner. Can't say I don't try extra hard! 

So what made this week so intense? Perhaps it was a collision of my different 'selves'-professional, personal, and athletic; each trying to run through a three-way intersection. There was no damage, but a few close calls and tricky maneuvers involved. Each has it's turn and space on the road, but has to wait it's turn from the others. Bad analogies aside, within a 72 hour span I had seen over a dozen clients, given two presentations, rolled along 18 holes of a golf course, ran 12 miles, dropped my dog off at the kennel, ran more miles, and drove three hours to see my nephew for his 5th Birthday. I'm sure there was a meeting or two that goes in there too somewhere! 

While I was so tired I barely made sense when I got to my sister's house (two workshops scheduled within 18 hours of each other in different communities-ouch!), I did feel accomplished for all I got done in a short time, but was the extra stress and juggling act necessary? Not really. 

Here's where I think I succeeded: 

What I did to work training and recovery in was to move my weekend long run to Wednesday morning. The heat and humidity have been making me a cooked chicken lately so I hit the treadmill for the whole thing before work. Not that bad, actually. In order to get my PT exercises and drills in, which are AS important as the actual miles themselves, I skipped my morning routine of staring at random nothingness on the internet before hitting the more important things. A small change, but changed the complexion of the morning and I walked out the door earlier than usual and warmed up to run already.

To recover from the run and conserve energy for a thirteenish hour day and short night's sleep I took Thursday as my rest day instead of Sunday and moved a Friday workout to Saturday when I could get a full night's rest in. I give myself a pretty good grade for training, it just took being flexible and balancing hard and easy. Training's like a math equation, you can move numbers around and still get the same answer. Boom!

Somehow, and with the help of my wonderful intern, all the work was done and both talks were successful, even if they couldn't have been more different. One was in front of medical staff and community members at a hospital, the other at a cross-country practice. I say it all the time but it's true, my job is dynamic and FUN. 

Adjustments and 'do-differentlies'

While there were moments of fun and accomplishment, It didn't have to be as hectic and rapid-fire. Knowing myself and how I like to focus on as few variables as possible ran into a lot of times I found myself ruminating about how much I had to do and how the heck I was going to fit it in (great strategy, right?!). Some people thrive on multitasking-good for them because I ain't one of them! A starting point would be to simply focus on approaching one task at a time. I relentlessly tell clients this-because it's often the best strategy for managing life's busiest points. Even if you have 100 things to do in a day. You gotta start at one. 

Other things to implement are making sure I take a step back and prioritize. Colleague Brian Cain uses the acronym "W.I.N." which stands for 'what's important now?".  Simply asking oneself "can this be done another time" is a good starting point. If the answer is no, do that thing first. Thinking about EVERYTHING all at once usually keeps you awake, makes you grouchy, and causes intense caffeine cravings. 

Trim Distractions. Facebook, mindless TV, and any other time-wasters can wait-especially in the beginning of your day. Being intentional in what you're doing saves a lot of stress. 

Communicate. Sometimes, you have to lighten the load in the planner and you need to talk to others about it. Usually they understand and it feels great after you do it. 

Be nice to yourself. We don't always have to get everything right and we're often doing better than we think we are. You have to fill yourself up in order to really give to others anyway, whether it is in relationships or in my line of work helping others. 

Perspective. Give it your best and realize life wasn't made to be easy, but you feel like a boss when you tackle your longest days. Just don't forget to rest afterward! 

Cut the comparisons. Others are probably capable of doing and handling more than I can, Good for them. 
Long story short and backed by research, one of the biggest causes of stress in most people is the feeling of having too much to do in too little time-this goes for busy adults and the younger crowd, especially HS and College students. Those of us also working on athletic goals while working have a unique dynamic. I myself am constantly testing (even if not intentional) my limits of what load I can take on and realizing that I have more control than I usually think I do. One thing is for sure, I have no interest in being a one-dimensional individual.

Looking back I'm happy with both the work and training I did, and once I finally stopped moving-really enjoyed the visit with my family. Although at times I felt like I was launched from a cannon, I got it all done. Now I am counting down to a low-key trip to Colorado next week to get re-centered and run the trails of Boulder likely with a recap to follow. 

How about you? What are some strategies you use to help manage your busy life and training? 

Monday, June 22, 2015

XTERRA Gator Bait 5k

Legendary Coach Dr. Joe Vigil once stated along the lines that the most important asset a distance runner can have is "ongoing commitment to improvement". When I heard this at a seminar last year, I really liked it and find it is a refreshing perspective for me to apply to my running.

Yesterday I raced XTERRA Series' Gator Bait 5k at Hunstville State Park;  my second race for the month of June and I must say, the type of race and surface was only a minor differentiating factor. 6/6's Heights 5k and yesterday's race could not have felt any different, and that is because even though they were just separated by 2 weeks or so, I felt like two different runners in each. Even though today's conditions were comparable or even worse than before (think 80 + degrees at the start and humidity you could actually see), I was better prepared and able to meet the demands of the day and I was able to both have some fun in a painful sense and tap into that sense of toughness that I take pride in as an athlete.

Besides having a plan to just run hard and shoot for Top 3, a big reason I had a better experience today vs. earlier on a much easier course is obvious to me but not to the audience because I was hiding and fighting a case of greater troncanteric bursitis in my right hip. No wonder it had been sore and I had limited mobility for the greater part of a month! Of course I raced Heights with it, because I could, but was far from being able to really jump in and get after it-hip health and strength is really important, and it makes running easier and often more enjoyable!

Shortly after that race, I got tired of thinking about my hip and workouts taking much more energy than necessary and I finally went to Dr. Keith Johnson at Sterling Ridge Sports Medicine. Within 15 minutes of my appt, I was able to have a diagnosis of the problem and my very first cortisone shot. Believe it or not it was not nearly as painful or scary as I thought-and I am not a fan of needles.

Please note that while getting an injection can patch you up, the root cause of the issue needs to be addressed as well. I am also getting some PT sessions in because bursa inflammation there is usually related to IT band tightness, which is related to weak hip girdle and core muscles. Two days later I hit up the golf course nearby and was utterly shocked at how fast my turnover and mechanics came back and running 6;30 pace no longer felt like a monumental task.

So several daily exercises and form drills and another chiro session with Athletic Republic's Derrick Raymer later we're back to the current race....

Gear-wise, I am happy to say no shoes came off in this race! I wore my Nike Zoom Wildhorse 2's and they performed fantastically on Huntsville State park's hard packed dirt, roots, and 1000 or so turns on the course. I decided to not wear the Oiselle Singlet and instead sported a Tracktion sports bra and my Distance/"Feather" shorts on the trail because of the oppressive conditions. There was also a 15k this morning as well, seriously, those folks are tough!

The combination of a light trail shoe with a nice little adrenaline surge and my rediscovered mobility made for a probably too-fast first mile that I don't really regret, however. I always like to race the familiar trails at HSP aggressively and today was no different. The 5k and 15k split off approx. a mile down the course which included some obnoxiously long (although not terribly steep) hill. Ugh. Whatever. According to my watch, I hit the turnoff at 6:32....I don't know if it was exactly one mile, but the front group I went with was going awfully fast...whoops:)

This is where it became less of a straight shot and much more challenging. With one girl a few seconds ahead, we headed out on a nature trail with countless turns and throw in some dirt stairs, aka tree roots on an incline and I did my best to just stay focused on staying above the ground and keeping pressure on the leader. I had no idea of pacing at this point and didn't really care. As taxing as the course was in SE Texas summertime, I was enjoying the experience of running pain-free and being back up front-even if the race wasn't a very big one. I did look back a few times to do some "chick checks" to make sure I could maintain the rhythm I was on and there was nobody in sight. Nice! Keep pushing.

The last few minutes of the race the course and my effort caught up to me and breathing was not an easy thing. Fortunately, the finishing stretch came basically out of nowhere after some more hairpin-like turns in the woods and then it was just about two mini-hills and a straight shot to the now-visible finish chute that I was more than happy to see. What I like to do to manage the fatigue is to lock my eyes upon the word 'Finish' as I make the final push. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough to run down the winner, but came in a convincing second overall female and 1st AG.

After it taking me a minute or two to gather myself again, the gassed feeling was met with satisfaction and a little relief that I had ran tough and fairly aggressively for the first time in a while; largely because I was physically capable of doing so. Sport Psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr once wrote that in order to be able to tap into your mental toughness, you need to have a sound body (i.e. no injuries, hydration, fuel, rest, etc.) and I think he is absolutely right.

I ran probably the slowest 20-minute cool down ever and was able to visit with some people I haven't seen in a while before awards. For a small race, there were a few really strong runners out there yesterday! XTERRA and Terra Firma Racing put on a pretty good race. I have done a number of trail events and this one had by far the best marked course of them all-bright arrows were placed at every turn and it was near-impossible to get lost. The race staff was also very friendly and laid-back. Depending on timing and location, I'd be likely to run another race put on by them.

In closing, I feel I ran a good effort and achieved what I went out to do on a well-marked, fairly well-organized race. . I may just have gained a little more confidence from this event as well as well as having some hot, tiring fun running through nature. As the opening quote reads, what I really want from racing is improvement from where I am/was, and I definitely saw some For the rest of the summer, I plan on stepping back on the racing and continuing laying down a solid base for when the Fall and Winter season hits. I am starting to form some longer term goals that will be more fully articulated as the months progress.

I would also like to thank Sterling Ridge Sports Medicine and Dr. Derrick for getting me back physically where I belong and my lovely sponsors Oiselle and Honey Stinger.

Stay the course.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Heights 5k Race Report: "Control What You Can Control"

The athletes I consult with in my practice probably get annoyed with how many times I give them the title statement. But I don't care-because it is one of the most universal truths in sport performance. It's a tenet that we need to regularly practice in order to be successful in sports and in life (and sometimes just make it through the day). Yesterday morning I ran the Heights 5k in one of Houston's classiest and well-preserved neighborhoods that is very runner-friendly. The race itself was an interesting one, to say the least....

I signed up last month knowing what I was getting myself into: the course is fantastic-flat and fast with a slight downhill going out on tree-lined Heights Boulevard. Given the nature of the course and long-running history of the race, it brings out some of the fastest runners in Houston. I also knew it was going to be likely very hot and humid-cue Uncontrollable #1. My main goals were to just get out there in my Oiselle Kit and re-establish some comfort with the race environment and push through some hurt; I think I succeeded on both.

Another thing I think I did well on was not fixate on any outcomes, because I have been having difficulty with the humidity and the fastest I've run in workouts has been tempo pace (which I am developing a good relationship with, but I'll save that for another post!).  This served me very well because if this was a few years ago, I would have had a relative meltdown afterward, and here is why:


I think I did a good job getting fluids in and had my usual bagel with almond butter and sports drink breakfast. For some reason this summer my appetite hasn't been as big as years previous, but I made sure I got some fuel in two hours prior, then some Honey Stinger chews beforehand to stabilize the blood sugars. Then it was a quick gear check and off to the Heights. I had some of the usual pre-race nerves, but they weren't as intense as usual.
Thanks to Oiselle, my uniform game is on point! To the L, you'll see the culprit.

At the race site I met Coach Doug and he was kind enough to run with me for the first mile of my warm up. Silly as it sounds, I really appreciated having him jog alongside me for a bit as we talked shop. Strategy wasn't much of a thing for this one, so I just loosened up in my pre-race two miles. It was a good day too to test out my new pair of Nike Lunaracer flats that I picked up recently.

It was about 20 minutes when the anxiety set in; but it was different. It was more somatic/physical than a head full of doubts and fear (I do this for a living, so I should know what to fill my head with pre-race LOL). One thing that was an aberration-even for me-is how much I was sweating before the race. I am a heavy sweater.

Ok make that I "sweat like a 300 pound offensive lineman who hasn't worked out all summer and did nothing but eat fried chicken and drink grape soda at his first practice". And there is not much I can do about it.

Unfortunately for me, I think nerves exacerbated the 85% humidity sweat-fest well before the race, this had me a little concerned, but I just went with the flow anyway. Grossed out yet??! Anyway I took some quick 4-7-8 breaths to settle my body down and then it was go time.

The start was really fast, but I expected it and simply got on my goal pace of 6:35-just under my current tempo pace that I have been able to hit fairly successfully lately. First mile I was right on the money. Boom-except my legs didn't have much snap in them...ummm.....crap. I was hot before I started afterward and soon after the turnaround I heated up some more. "Just relax, focus down the course...." I told myself and shook it off. I know 5ks are uncomfortable, but this one took the gloves off and smacked me around a bit!

While Houston and its nasty-a$$ humidity were trying to abuse me and my muscular non-runner body self, I felt something happening down around my right ankle.....NO it wasn't an injury, and it started with me feeling something repeatedly hitting my left shin. It was my right shoe coming untied. I worked on staying focused and grinding it out through the sauna-it's good to adapt to little challenges along the way, right? . Then I felt my right shoe start loosening even more and my ankle and heel started sliding out with each foot strike. 

"Great, I feel like death and my shoe is flapping around..." 

At about mile 2.25 I had had enough, I was far from winning the race and that thing was going to fly off, so I made the difficult move and moved off the course to re-position my foot and strap that thing back down. Instead of being upset, I found myself amused by the whole thing as this was definitely a first and its something I couldn't control. Note: if I was in a better position that day or it was closer to the finish, I totally would have taken off with just a left shoe!

Granted I lost anywhere from 20-45 seconds (overheated race brain doesn't tell time very well) I gave it one last push with what I had left. Thankfully, I think I only lost one spot in female positioning even after the shoe incident. I had abandoned any pace plan and was just running with what I had left. I finished in not a personal-worst in a 5k but nothing to brag about 21 and change. Minus the shoe change and the time loss, my average per-mile pacing was in line with my threshold training at a high 6:00 mile average.

I was lightheaded at the finish and downed a bottle of water before cooling down. surprisingly, my legs came back very quickly. In fact, besides not having good turnover in the race (according to Doug but I agree) I don't remember my legs burning at all, it was all lungs that kept my pace governed. I cooled down with Kirsten, another Bayou City Elite runner who was second master in a fast field. It was nice to have a low key "team" feel to this race and I enjoyed meeting her and her company at the start and finish of the race.

Takeaways and Reflections

Besides the shoe incident (_insert Nike joke here_), I did my best with what I had. Maybe it's getting older, but I am slowly changing my mindset as a runner. I care a lot about how I do, but "bad" performances are not defining or indicative of what I can do.

Also, the uncontrollable factors, especially climate, are real. It doesn't mean I'm not a mentally tough athlete. I did some quick research and talked to Doug about how runners with more muscle generate more heat, and also have trouble dissipating it, while I'm not a big girl by any stretch, I have no trouble maintaining muscle mass-basically I'm just a big furnace!. The more I learn from those who know, the less I feel like I'm making excuses. So that means two things for summer racing: slow it down or just don't do it at all. Knowing it's something I can't change is kind of comforting and makes me optimistic for the Fall-Spring season, when my 5k times reflect more accurately where I'm at.

I walked away feeling pretty neutral about the race-I came, I ran, I learned. I ended up 5th in the AG, missing a spot or two with the wardrobe malfunction. Heights is competitive, so finishing up top for 30-34 on a rough day is ok with me.  Being someone notoriously hard on herself, I'm improving in seeing races just for what they are. This one could have sucked a lot more but it didn't.

There are some things I can adjust to and do differently. Coach was able to see my running form and it was confirmed why I was running so flat-my turnover has slowed down considerably and I am landing far on the forefoot. A lot of this may be compensation to a sore hip I've been battling over the past month or so, but time to tune it up again. So re-incorporating drills to re-train the muscles and stepping up the core work is in order. Plyometric training really helped me last year, and I will start a program back up again in upcoming weeks.

Next up is a totally different type of 5k: the Xterra Gator Bait race on 6/21. After this last one, I'm wanting a little payback before probably shutting the summer racing down some and focusing on my #summerofstrength further. I've always felt in control on trails and felt confident with the twists and turns vs. drag-race style racing.

So there are many things that I couldn't influence yesterday, but I walk away motivated to make the best of what I got and my training for this summer.

The Event Itself

It's obvious they have been holding this event for a long time: the race seemed well-organized and had a lot of nice things post-race, including trendy food trucks and coffee and everyone was very friendly. As I mentioned earlier-the course is great, PR-worthy if you have it in you that day. If you are a swag-hound, however, this may not be the race for you-there were no finisher medals or anything, just the pride of pounding the Houston summer street! I will be back again, and it will hurt, but I'm going to drop some next year-with two functional shoes!

Bottom Line

This will be a race I look back on and laugh at from here on. I had a great time and enjoyed the gift of running-everything including the race, the community, the experience of getting stronger by pushing yourself. That's what keeps me in it. Even in community 5ks, we can learn a lot about ourselves, what we're strong in, how to do with/accept what you have as an athlete and how to make the best out of it.

Anyone else race over the weekend? What are some of your best "race-day fails"?

Stay the course.