Sunday, February 2, 2014

Summary for January 2014

January has been pretty amazing!  I started running using a programme, and it's been really good for me.  It's allowed me to start running regularly again, without being susceptible to my feelings - none of that "ooh I don't feel like it...I'll go tomorrow" stuff.  It is more a case of "3 miles easy today", when do I go?!

It's been so good for me, and my body remembers. I have fallen back into running with relative ease.  Relative, because I struggled a bit to find a pace. During the first week I just ran, with the goal of establishing a routine, but it got a bit boring running slowly, and at the same pace.  I can understand if one is totally new to running, it's important to strengthen bones and joints.  However, I have been running for more than 20 years. Admittedly, not always very consistently, but it's never left me.  So, I did need to shake things up a little, and slowly started picking up the pace. It's hard work, but it's exciting and invigorating, and gives me a sense of accomplishment when I've done.  After each run, I sometimes pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming, that I actually did go out and just do that thing.

January has also been the month where the proof has been in the eating of the pudding.  Something unexpected and not very nice happened at work.  I had a choice, and I made it quickly. Suck it up and get on with my life.  It was outside of my control, so why bother getting upset.  Bit I can control my running.  So I put in my shoes and went out for a 5 mile run.  During the run I did not think about work, but about how I could run faster! The next challenge was a health one.  I was in the middle of a run when my phone rang.  it was the hospital ordering me back immediately for some additional tests. I finished the run, and then went put on both days over the weekend. Monday at 7am I had the tests, and got the results immediately, and all is well.  I went out at lunchtime for 3 miles.  I feel happy that I am NOT allowing these things to influence my life so much.  

Finally, I did a sweet 5K January 11, 2014.  i finished the Hot Chocolate Run with a time of  34:51@ an 11:14 pace.  Not great, but ok to establish a baseline. I am really going to enjoy watching those minutes fall back down.  Yes, minutes, not seconds...and when I set my mind to something, I never ever give up.  There was no medal, but everyone got a cup of hot chocolate with some marshmallows - very yummy indeed. I also received a very nice hoodie when I picked up my race packet.  Next race is on February 9, 2014 - a 5K in Chinatown to welcome in the Year of the Horse.  Since it's going to be very hilly indeed, it's not really a 'race' for me, but as always, I will give it my best shot. Happy February, and Welcome Year of the Horse! Oh, and I ran a total of 59 miles....
Arriving in Golden Gate Park at 6:30am for a 7:30 start on a freezing morning.
Yummy hot choccie reward
Finally dawn


Sunday, January 19, 2014

First week done!

I have completed week 1 of Hal Higdon's novice 2 half marathon training programme. It's a simple programme, nothing fancy - no hills, no track, no speed work. The goal is not just to complete the race, but set a PR.  the novice 1 programme is geared toward just finishing. 

However, I don't see how it is going to be possible to run a PR without any hill or speed training, because a PR implies that you run faster than in your previous half.  And we all know that you have to run track if you are hoping to pick up the pace a bit.  Still, I chose this programme rather than the intermediate one (which does include those other components), because I have no mileage basis. I have nothing to build on - nada, niente, de rien.  

So this week included 4 days of running.  The distances were not very long, but I guess with base miles, the key is consistency.  Some days were easier than others, but I mixed it up a bit and run up a very big hill on one of the runs.  That was quite tiring, as I just don't have the legs yet for this, but no worries, I will continue, and I know I'm a going to be running up hills quite effortlessly one of these days  - not unlike the past,when I used to sprint up hills, and get past everyone.  So even though its slow going (my pace that is), there is nothing for it, but to suck it up and continue running.  I think I should change the name of my blog to "Just Suck It Up And Run"! 

Secondly, since my last post on "sucking it up", quite a few things have happened, which I have refused to allow to side track me. I as rear-ended, then the dealership scratched my car after a routine service (ok small, first world problems thus far), and then some potentially upsetting news last week. I say potentially, because I don't know yet, but why worry about things one can't control? The only thing  I can control is my decision to go out and run.  And anyway, I'll deal with whatever bridge I have to cross when I get there.  But in the meantime, why waste a day worrying?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What I learnt doing Crossfit....

1. Suck it up.
2. Always finish a workout - no matter how long it takes.
3. Because you can't do a specific exercise today, doesn't mean you won't be able to do it in the future.
4. Be patient with yourself.
5. Even if you can't see the point of all this training, persevere, it has great value.
6. Never, ever, ever compare yourself to anyone else.
7. Don't give up.
8. Suck it up some more.

Let me illustrate with a few examples:

1.  Sometimes when I started the class, after 5 minutes, I felt like I was done and ready to leave. Sometimes my head was just not in the workout and it felt like a tough day at the office - especially since the WOD was still coming up. But I've leaned to take a deep breath and just concentrate on getting through it. Quite often I've been amazed at what I've managed to achieve in that class, by sheer dint of will.....

2.  It's not easy being unfit, neither is it easy being the last to finish the workout.  But I found I could block that out, and get the job done. And I also found that I was not always the last to finish. Like running, you are in competition with yourself, but sometimes it's tough when all the times are written down on the board, and yours is the slowest. But I learned to control those feelings and thoughts, and that is a major victory for me.

3. I started doing overhead presses with a 15 lb bar.  When I first started, it was hard to even lift that overhead.  Today I can do 10 overhead presses in rapid succession with a weight of 55 lbs.  This took time, and sometimes I had to go back to the bare 35lb bar if my shoulder was bothering me. The point is, just because you can't do something today, does not mean you won't be able to in the future.

4.  As with everything, I want to see 'progress', and often expected to see big changes from one workout to the next.  Clearly it does not function like that.  It's step after little baby step.  To do knees-to-elbows, I needed to step onto a box to reach the bars, and could only hold on for 5 seconds at a time.  When you are doing a timed workout, those are valuable seconds wasted.  I don't know how it happened, but one day I was able to jump up and grab hold of the bars - without the box.  I was also able to hang on for 10 reps.  Slowly, I got up to 4 sets of 10.....naturally there were bad days mixed in too.  Developing this skill took time, and lots of patience, a lesson that will serve me well with running.

5.  Back-to-back half marathons with no running training (see previous blog posts). The crossfit naysayers are often critical of crossfit "because you are not training for anything". This is true.  However, I have also run half marathons with all the requisite running training, and found myself limping at mile 8, with so much ITB pain.  Now, although I had not done any running training, I did not have that problem, thanks to my strong back, glutes and thigh muscles, from all that lifting and squatting.....

6.  See #2. Initially I had a lot of that going on.  I went through periods of depression (or something like that), of asking myself whether crossfit was really for me, of wanting to be 10 years younger (at least!), of feeling like Sisyphus. But crossfit focuses on developing 10 key strengths, and as the workouts progressed, I was stronger in some skills than others - just like everyone else - and suddenly, it's more of a level playing field.  But the point is, I learnt to compete with myself, and only myself.

7.  The only reason I did not leave crossfit was because I had paid one year in advance - and it was not cheap.  I had committed to trying it for a year, and I was going to see it through. I did need a 2 week break after 6 months, but I went back. Even though money may have been the driver, if I had given up (and that temptation was ever present), I would have missed out on one of the most positive fitness experiences. 

8.  Crossfit = sucking it up big time.  Ok., when you are doing a 20 mile long run, you develop a mental fortitude to run through snow, rain, howling winds.  It's a bit different when you are doing a set of exercises that you are terrible at, and don't enjoy.  It's demoralising not being able to do a proper squat press, and it's hard to find the motivation (many times) to continue doing something you don't like. This will serve me well with running, so watch this spot!

As you can see, with one of our benchmark workouts, Helen, I posted a respectable 12:51. I was not the first, but neither was I the last (last group of names near bottom of board). As I write about crossfit, I am still going back and forth on whether to continue with this in 2014, and feeling torn....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Crossfit and Me or What I did in 2013

I cannot finish 2013 without a post on crossfit, because this was the year I started crossfit, in a desperate attempt to get fit again.  Over the holidays last December, I accepted the fact that running maybe once a week was not cutting the mustard, and that the joy of running was not scheduled for a return anytime soon.  I had struggled to acknowledge that for 2 years, possibly because running had been such a big part of my life previously. It governed what I ate, what time I went to bed, in short everything. Not running anymore left me with a void and lack of motivation, both of which seemed difficult to address. 

I started crossfit on January 1, 2013 with "Murph", or rather a variation thereof.  Having always loved doing circuits, this was enjoyable, and it was an easy decision to sign up for the Foundations Course.  Prior to starting cross fit, all athletes must do the introductory skill and conditioning 4-week training course.  I found it challenging, especially as there were 2 other rather fit, and extremely fit guys on the course with me.  Right from the get go I had to decide what I was aiming for with this course, as we were all at very different levels.  But it was also interesting to see strengths and weaknesses: cross fit is premised upon the idea that there are 10 areas of fitness we all have to work on:
  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility - the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Power - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  6. Speed - The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  7. Coordination - The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  8. Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance - The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy - The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.
These are the key skills any runner or triathlete needs.  Furthermore, all this training is HIIT (high intensity interval training), and it's very hard to see the point of all this training because you are not training for anything.  I had numerous conversations with my coach about HIIT.  Apart from explaining the obvious - that you train at a high level of intensity, have a short recovery period and go again - and that this allows your body to get used to training at a high level and recovering quickly, it was very hard for me to understand the 'value' of what this meant.  After all, I was doing cross fit and no other activity.  However, the 'value' of all this HIIT training became immediately apparent when I was able to run back to back half marathons without any training, and without any injury or pain.  I was totally blown away - never in all my years of running was I ever able to do such a thing.  But this runners have been doing HIIT since forever - after all, what is fartlek, if not HIIT?

I won't lie and say that cross fit was all fun and games and that I enjoyed every second of it.  I found it tough - both physically and mentally.  Physically, because I was in such poor shape, and also it's tough being in a class with people who are pretty fit (and much younger!).  Mentally, because I enjoy the solitude of running, and do not function well in a group environment.  Having said that, the coaches I worked with are wonderful, and run excellent classes.  They were kind and patient with me, and my conditioning really improved.  My team mates are also friendly, sociable people - and therein lies the rub.  Much has been written about cross fit being a cult, and cross fitters socializing together etc etc.  Well, some do, some don't - but you can if you would like to.  And they are a great bunch to hang out with.  I did not need that, though this needs some clarification:  runners are different from cross fitters in that they generally eat everything but in moderation.  Cross fit eating is paleo - eating like one's paleolithic ancestors.

In all honesty, I have never adhered to any eating regimens having always been as thin as a rake.  I realize that now I can't eat any old thing, and just looking at cupcake makes me put on 10 pounds.  However, paleo was never going to be something I embraced.  I need to sort out my eating but what worked for me is the Mediterranean diet - I was probably not as fit when I lived in Europe, but I was the healthiest I have ever been, and weighed 119 pounds when we moved here  years ago. On the down side, I certainly could not do any pull ups, let alone deadlift 150 lbs (at the last attempt).  So this was another aspect of cross fit that I really struggled with as well.  Paleo or nothing.  But I will be the first to admit that perhaps I did not understand it well enough to make an informed decision.  Based on what I know works for my body, paleo did not seem like the option for me.

Many were the times that I wanted to give up, and questioned whether this was really for me.  I had signed up for cross fit 3 times per week, and sometimes found going 'hard' all the time just overwhelming.  The first time I ever cried was quite recently, and that was the day I wanted to walk out.  We had a double workout: so cross fit starts with 2 rounds of a warmup that in our class usually includes 20 burpees at the end.  This is followed by a strength training portion, and finally the WOD - Workout of the Day.  An example might be a timed workout, like the one below: 

One hundred double unders (or 300 singles if you can't do DUs), 50 hand stand holds, 40 toes to bar, 30 shoulder to overhead presses with rx at 65lbs for women (I do 55) and 90 ft front rack walking lungs (which I think means with the barbell racked and stacked against your chest).  For time means all out effort.  Alternatively you could have the same workout for 5, 8, or 10 rounds which means that you will do that set of exercises 10 times - however long it takes.  

At a certain point we started doing double workouts: 

I won't go through it all, but as you can see we do 40 burpees in the first round plus all the other stuff. The day I felt like walking out, and was actually crying was the day we had a whole lot of other stuff, plus 120 burpees. But it was also a turning point - in what universe had I ever done 120 bupees?  And I certainly could not have finished them without the support of my team.  So cross fit is good like that.  It pushes you beyond your boundaries and far beyond what you imagine you are capable of.  I would go as far as saying that it trains both body and mind.  

For every positive there is a flip side negative and vice versa.  With cross fit it is no different.  It is addictive, and I have been thinking of trying something else for this very reason.  It is unlike anything else I have experienced to date, and I am going back and forth each day as to whether I should leave next year or not.  I don't like the feeling of being addicted to something.  But if it's good for you, how can it be bad, right?  However, it also takes a lot to stay in that environment, especially if your natural default is not a group.  It also takes a lot to identify your goals and why you are doing cross fit and stick to those.  I had no particular goals this year, I was just in a desperate situation.  Still, I did start developing those over the last 3 months of the year, and even then, I found it hard to keep those in mind when I was struggling to do 30 burpees.  

The jury is still out, but I am considering other options, as I would like to focus a lot more on my running next year.  If anyone else has tried or is doing cross fit, I would love to know what your take is…..