fitness · running

Trying new things: Trail Running

With less travel these days, I decided to take a fresh look at what London, Ontario has to offer. I landed on a city-run trail running program and a basic skill Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class, both of which I’m doing with Anita. Today I’ll take about the trail running.

The trail running program is a Learn to Run Trails (5K) every Wednesday for eight weeks. At $55 you can’t really go wrong even if you’re going to miss one or two of the outings. It’s listed as an outdoor/nature program, and part of the objective is not just to learn to run trails but also to discover and learn about our city’s trails, which are designated as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). In the service of that, the city sends us an info sheet on each week’s trail. It’s a five-page PDF that describes it and talks about the ecosystem and wildlife in the area and what makes it environmentally significant. This week we ran in Kilally, and this is the first page of the info flyer.

Image description: info sheet on Kilally Meadows Environmentally Significant Area. includes a photo of the area and a description of its location and main features.

We had our first day out two Wednesdays ago on the literal hottest day so far this season, where it was in the high 30s C with a humidex of 43 degrees C. If it wasn’t the first night of a new program there is no way I’d have gone running at 6:30 pm that evening.

But at least 25 of us, mostly women, gathered at Westminster Ponds for a 4.5K in a shaded quite technical trail (I think that mostly means lots of roots, mud, winding parts, and ups and downs). Three of the four coaches were there, and they assured us that no one would be left behind or forced to push their pace. There was a coach up front, leading, one in the middle who sort of went back and forth keeping track of people, and one at the rear of the group making sure no one was falling behind.

We started off easy, with lots of pauses and walking (especially walking around the mud). The shade of the trees made it quite a bit cooler, but even so it was a tough running day and I immediately wished I’d brought two waters instead of one. The trail had quite a few muddy bits, and at the first one I realized I’d forgotten to wear my trail running shoes and instead wore my regular shoes for running on pavement. I will not be making that mistake again.

I mostly ran in the middle of the pack, sometimes falling back because I took more frequent walk breaks than some. It was uncomfortably hot and I was feeling it, and we hadn’t settled on any prescribed intervals (like this week’s 3-1s). We did a 2K loop and I was under the mistaken impression that because of the heat and it being day one, that’s all we were going to do. But when we stopped to regroup at the end of it, Terry suggested that we do it again in the other direction “if that was okay with everyone.” He explained how taking a trail in the other direction is almost like doing a new trail. Everyone was so darn agreeable about doing a second loop. Maybe no one wanted to be the naysayer. Granted, 2K is a pretty short run. But OMG.

Many walk breaks later, and quite a few short spurts of “I can make it to that tree” and “I can make it to that bend” and “I can make it up this hill,” and we made it. In all we were out there for just under an hour, which makes it the longest 4.5K I’ve ever done, but also the hottest. And on a trail.

We gathered in the parking area after and the coaches explained that every trail is different, and that in trail running you can’t really compare your times from one trail to another. They’re all different, and you’re bound to run a trail more slowly than the same distance on a paved pathway. Even the same trail can be quite different on a different day or in a different direction. They also challenge us in different ways, using more muscles because whereas in road running you are consistent in the way your foot hits the ground and your stride and so on, in trail running that’s not the case. You need to go over or avoid roots, adjust to different conditions under foot, watch out for tree branches in your face or on the ground, and go around (or through) mud.

This week we did a much easier, flatter trail in Kilally Meadows. It wasn’t quite as shaded but it also was considerably cooler (still about 30 degrees but less humid). We divided into two distinct groups this week — the fast and the slow. I chose the slow group, which the lead coach Joelle called “party pace,” and we did 3-1 intervals (3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), covering about 3.5K in half an hour or so. It didn’t feel nearly as brutal as the previous week, and I was able to keep up with the pace and the intervals without any trouble. I might try the other group some time but I liked being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than feeling like I was pushing the pace just to keep up.

I had some concerns about it being buggy, and especially about ticks, which lots of people are talking about this year. I bought a special “tick key” that removes them without breaking them off. Lyme disease is a risk when you pull out a tick wrong. They burrow and it is easy to break them, releasing the toxin that carries the disease (that’s my lay understanding of it anyway). But the coaches also assured us that if we shower when we get home, we’d probably be fine because they are slow to move and the burrowing takes about 24 hours. That was reassuring. But I did do a quick tick check anyway. And I sprayed myself down with deep woods insect repellent.

Anita and I are out of the habit of taking pictures every time we go out, so I have no photo of either night, so I can’t prove that we were smiling but we were. Trail running is a great way to get out for a run, learn about the city’s trails, and discover new places to run when it’s hot and shade is welcome, or when you just want a change of scenery. I’m excited to discover the other trails in the area, and definitely want to add trail running to my roster of activities.

Have you ever done trail running?

fitness · Guest Post · injury · running · triathalon

On Seeking a Second Opinion (Guest Post)

By Alison Conway

A year ago, I wrote here about an injury and dispiriting MRI results: complex and degenerative tears in both menisci. The specialist sat me down for the bad news: surgeons in my town were not going to be interested in having a look, believing that meniscus surgery puts knees at risk for joint replacement down the road. I had some questions about my injury—it didn’t fit the meniscus tear stories I had read, which included sudden pulls or twists or pops. Nor was I experiencing the usual symptoms related to meniscal injury: knee locking, clicking, giving way. But the images seemed to speak for themselves. The specialist was sorry. There you go.

As he delivered the bad news, I should have remembered that visual data is always context specific and always read through an interpretive lens. I couldn’t find my way to questioning conclusions that the MRI results seemed to underscore, but I was alert to the significance of a remark made along the way, something along the lines of, “You know, you can burn more calories riding a bike than you do running.”  “Hold up,” I thought, “who said anything about calorie burning?” I didn’t run to manage my weight, nor do I talk about exercise in this way. I suddenly saw myself as, I’m guessing, the specialist saw me–a middle-aged woman who jogs to keep her weight down. I became suspicious of his quick assessments and conclusions. My family doctor also had some questions. To his mind, there was no reason not to put me in front of a surgeon rather than discounting the possibility of an intervention out of hand. He agreed that a second opinion was in order.

Fast forward past the usual long wait time and I’m in front of a specialist in another city. The conclusions he draws, looking at the MRI images, are radically different. The degenerative meniscal tears, he says, are pretty run of the mill. I have probably been running with them for years. There is no need for surgery because they aren’t the cause of the injury.  He puts me through a range of tests relating to meniscal function, closely examines my gait and alignment, and then announces, “Patellar tendinopathy.”  My gait, he points out, is slightly knock-kneed, and in the absence of strength training to support proper alignment, the tendon is aggravated by being dragged over the joint the wrong way. I had been sitting on my butt for months at the start of Covid, leaving the house only for easy runs and not much else—certainly not strength training at the gym. The knee trouble began when I ramped up to longer distances the fall of 2020.

These days I’m running again, shorter distances until I have time to undertake strength training with diligence and attention. Will I run a marathon again? I don’t know. But I do know that I was able reclaim running by advocating for myself. I thank the doctors who respected what running means to me.

I recently finished a sprint triathlon, my first in four years.  The run felt like freedom.


Picture:  AC on the podium for an AG win at the Oliver Triathlon, June 2022. 

Alison Conway trains and works on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan People.

fitness · Guest Post · holiday fitness · running

60 Days of Streaking (Guest Post)

By Stephanie Keating

60 days ago, I wanted to shake up my relationship with running, which had fallen into a bit of a rut.

I used to run a great deal, but after my second ultramarathon (which took place in May 2018), I struggled with setting new goals. This was problematic, because I’m highly goal motivated. I didn’t feel I could make improvements on my pace, and wasn’t ready or willing to commit to running distances longer than 50 km. Over the past couple of years, my running went from consistent training for some race or another to doing a lacklustre 5 km a week or so.

To change things up, I decided on something very simple: a run streak of at least one mile (1.6 kilometres) per day for at least 30 days.



I put the idea to some friends, several of whom joined in, either to do the minimum mile or mixing in other sports with the goal of consistent daily commitment and progress. After the first 30 days, I felt like I was getting a lot out of the process, so I decided to continue.

Streaking took a lot of thinking out of the equation for me. I always knew that I would run; the only questions I had to answer were when and how far. A mile does not seem like much on any given day – it’s roughly 10 minutes of activity, which always made that goal feel achievable.

This was particularly important on days when I otherwise would not have run at all due to other life circumstances, and when I found myself in some physically challenging situations. For example, I had a tooth extracted during the 60 day streak. I made sure to run before the extraction, and was pleased to find out I could handle a mile the day after it as well.

I also injured my back over the course of the 60 day streak while doing another activity that I enjoy a great deal: weight lifting. I pulled something while trying to improve my barbell squat, and had a brief worry that my streaking would be cut short as a result. But because I had set a goal, I figured I owed it to myself to try to achieve it. I made sure to slow things right now, and even while injured I managed to get in my mile per day.

Because a mile does not seem like very far, it also would not ever have really felt worth doing on its own on any given day, without the mental commitment. Why bother heading out the door for such a short distance? But getting out the door is exactly what I needed to do on many days. On many occasions, my mile morphed into two, three, or more.

Overall, I would call the experiment a resounding success. I rediscovered the joy I used to feel in running, the catharsis, and the physical benefits. And I got to share the joy in watching my friends meet — and in many cases exceed! — their goals as well.

January 1 was day 60. I did 10 km, which is the farthest I’ve gone in one run throughout the streaking process. Across all 60 days, I covered a total of 179 km, which works out to 3 km a day. And now I feel ready to do more again.

As I figure out what my next goals are, I think I will continue the streak. Depending on what I decide to do next, it may make sense to commit to including full rest days into the mix. But for now, I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of consistent, incremental progress.

A sweaty treadmill selfie early in the run streak.
Some pretty scenery found on one of the outdoor trail runs during the streak.



Bio: Stephanie Keating is a science writer at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her partner, Kevin, and their two cats. She has dabbled in many athletic pursuits, but her favourites remain running, weight lifting, hiking, and cycling.

Stephanie on January 1, after 60 days of run streaking.
cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running · swimming · training · triathalon

A Triathlon and a Half Marathon with Imperfect Training (Guest Post)

by Şerife Tekin

As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.

Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.

Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.

My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival.  Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.

The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.

Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.

Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.

Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.

The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.

My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!

How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?

Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)

Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.

fitness · motivation · running · training

Running Reboot #17

Image description: cat sniffing at running shoes against a dark wood floor.

I started running just before Sam and I launched the blog about nine years ago. I figure over that time I’ve had to reboot my running at least once or twice a year (more so lately), so even though 17 is kind of arbitrary, it’s probably about right. This time I called my former running coach, Linda, to see if she’d be willing to train me again.

We made a plan to meet up and go for a walk and chat, but by the time that happened I had already decided I wasn’t ready to commit to working with a coach again. For one thing, I really don’t have goals other than the goal of getting out the door three times a week. It seems kind of extravagant to work with a trainer if that’s my only goal.

But we met a couple of days ago in the park, on a beautiful afternoon, and had a wonderful catch-up. The pandemic has been long and relentless for everyone, and both of us (and we are not alone in this of course) experienced a shrinking of our social world. So it felt good to connect, and to hear about the changes of late as each of us has emerged into something like what life used to be like. Except where running is concerned. I said, “you probably have never had a time where your running fell to the side.” But she has, and like me she’s trying to get a rhythm going again.

Instead of deciding to work with her as a coach, which was more than either of us really felt like doing, we made a mutual decision to sign up for an online training challenge that starts on November 1 and continues to the end of December, and includes training plans and five virtual 5Ks for $49. I’m not naming the program here because, to my dismay, when I visited the website I noticed that one of the slogans is “gain fitness, not pounds.” Ugh ugh ugh. That almost made me bail, but I’m hoping that the training plans will not have weight “issues” woven into their narrative much, if at all. I hope very much that the messaging of that slogan is anomalous. I guess we’ll see.

I’ve already blogged about how virtual races don’t really grab me. But I do like the idea of having someone lay out a series of training plans for me from November 1 to the end of December, and I can let my motivation be what it is (which is to get myself back into a rhythm with my running).

Leading up to the pandemic I was just coming out of a long injury (my achilles) that took me out of my regular training for about a year. Because that injury, I stopped running with my group. Then, by the time I had built back up to some regular training, the combination of the early days of the pandemic (when we didn’t know a whole lot about COVID and I was still nervous about running close to other people) and my regression during my injury kept me running alone. Running alone means you’re not really accountable to anyone — I confess that it has been harder and harder to get myself out the door. By this summer, I was down to a couple of times a week, and lately I’m lucky if I get out for one run a week. That’s almost worse than not going at all because it’s not enough to develop any kind of conditioning.

Hence my desire and need for this reboot. I like that the main distance for this training challenge is 5K because it seems likely that if I can get a running habit going that fixes on 5K, I am more likely to carve out the time to do it. I will check in about it again in about a month, once I’m three weeks into the challenge. And Linda and I are going to check in with each other from time to time too, each of us reporting to the other how it’s going.

If you have any suggestions for how to lift yourself out of a slump and reboot your running routine, please share!

mindfulness · running

Running in My Head

Some days I run in my body. Some days I run in my head. It’s not a hard and fast separation, of course (body and mind are one). But, depending on the day, body or head dominates my run. The last couple of runs I’ve done have been in my head. My mind is busy writing a script and delivering its lines and it’s not until mid-run, or even post-run, when my mind notices that my body actually had a much better run than my mind was narrating.

Two examples.

On Sunday, I went out feeling unmotivated and more like watching Season 3 of the Danish television show Seaside Hotel. I reluctantly put on my running gear, laced my shoes, plugged into the audio book I’m listening to (Marshall Rosenberg’s Speaking Peace) and took off. The inner voices had a feisty script to deliver. Run a loop. Or not. If you feel like cutting off the top or bottom of the park, that’s fine too (that’s a thing in New York City’s Central Park, where there are clear options to take a mile off the top or bottom of the standard loop). Okay, I know said anything is fine and I meant it, but why not? So, I ran the whole loop, feeling neither super perky nor as draggy as I’d expected. At the 11th hour in my run, I ran past the last possible entrance to The Reservoir loop. That’s a dirt track around the reservoir in the middle of the park. As I ran past, a loud argument started up in my head. Girlfriend, you haven’t run that loop in ages. What’s wrong with you? Why are you being critical? She can run it when she feels like it. When’s that ever going to happen? Stop being so hard on her. She’ll do it when it feels good. And today is not that day. Whereupon, my body suddenly chimed in. Hold on, I do feel like running the reservoir loop. Do you really, or are you just saying that because you feel pressured? No. I don’t think so. Give me a moment. I’m checking in with the legs and feet. Yup. All parts are a go.  I turned around, ran back to the reservoir and did the loop. My body was tired yes, but also in high spirits when I got home. My head was slowly dragged from doubting to cautious pleasure.  

Second example. Yesterday, I woke up with a mild case of the post-Labour Day back-to-school blues, that feeling that everything should be starting fresh and yet it isn’t, those unaccountable blues that can’t just be ascribed to one particular thing. My body was not feeling springy. My spirit had even less loft. But I could see that it was a beautiful day and I couldn’t face a workout that involved a screen and being indoors. Again, I put on my running kit with unwilling resolve. Halfway up the first block from my apartment an argument broke out in my head.

I can’t do this. It’s boring. It’s too long. Oh for goodness’ sake, just get on with it. How about we compromise? Instead of the loop, let’s just run up to the north woods and do repeats on that short, sharp dirt hill. Okay, but I’m going to be slow. That’s fine. It doesn’t even matter. You can’t not get a good workout, no matter what speed you go. Plus, you get to be in the woods and on dirt. Fine. Just get on with it.

I ran. I repeated. I listened to my book. I got home feeling decent, if still bluesy. Then, I had breakfast with my partner and he asked how my run went. I told him what I’d done and he said, “And that didn’t feel good?” His question made me realize that my mind hadn’t caught up to my body yet. Because, yes, my body was happy with the run and my head hadn’t taken the time to note that fact.

Running in my head can be very noisy. Running in my body is quieter. The quiet doesn’t mean faster or stronger, as I used to think. It just means less blab-blab-blab. When I try to fight the blabs by telling them to be quiet, they just get louder. I am learning, ever so slowly, that taking my head and body where they are at and running with whichever one wants to take the lead on any particular day, is more easeful. Letting the voices roll, allowing them to caution, berate, encourage, argue and generally raise a ruckus is more fruitful than trying to quiet them. When I can resist the urge to pile on to their tirades, to spin myself into their vortices of whatever feels hot to them that day, when I can just be present to their narratives, give them a respectful listen as I run, I notice there’s a calming effect on their vociferous need to get as many words in edgewise as possible.

The most important practice when I’m running in my head is to be mindful of checking in with my body, because she may have a different story to tell. I want to listen to her, too. And I don’t want to miss an opportunity to express my gratitude to my body, for all her hard work and all the pleasure she has given me and continues to give me over our many miles together. 

fitness · Guest Post · injury · running

On Being Ground to a Halt (Guest Post)

By Alison Conway

In this month’s lead up to the Olympic Games, various American track athletes have been posting about the injuries that prevented them appearing at the trials (June 18-27) where they might have qualified for a spot on the US Team. The heartbreak is palpable: “I live in an optimistic world,” writes Emily Lipari, “but I have truly struggled to find the good that comes from this one.” Keira D’Amato observes the fickle nature of her ill-timed injury: “The fall of 2020, I was able to push [my] limits and accomplish some incredible personal feats. Unfortunately, this spring season was on the other side of that equation.” These women, and many others, are watching their long-dreamed of chance at Olympic competition recede over the horizon.

“We have tried everything,” Lipari remarks of her knee injury, and I can relate. Last March, I was ready to run the Boston marathon, with 10 km and half-marathon PBs freshly minted in January and February races. We all know what came next. I slogged out a quiet summer of running and looked ahead, along with the rest of the planet, to 2021. But a niggling knee pain in October developed into a full-blown injury by December, and suddenly I was no longer running, at all. I did my rehab exercises and resigned myself to a couple of months off. An MRI showed a complex meniscus tear, probably the work of many years, aggravated by who knows what on a long run. I got on a bike and I jumped in the pool and I waited for recovery to arrive with the spring cherry blossoms.

I have been here before. After several years of running in my teens and early twenties, I developed knee trouble and my physiotherapist suggested that, since I liked swimming well enough, I should just stick to the pool. I don’t remember this moment very clearly, so I couldn’t have minded giving up my runs. Thirty years later, I mind very much. When I started running again at fifty, I thought, “We’ll see.” As the years passed and the knees showed up, week after week, my fears of injury subsided. “Besides,” I thought, “the science is better now. My physio will fix me if I break.” But my physio has tried his very best, and I’m still broken. A few short runs in April resulted in another flare up and pain all over the place. The specialist has advised me that I should start planning an “alternative activity” future—my knees are telling me it’s time to quit, he says.

The fact that my heart, as well as my knee, is broken this time round tells me that running has been doing some heavy lifting for me over the past few years. It found me a new community after a midlife move across the country; it helped me recover from the loss of a parent and a family home; it gave me goals to reach for, a way of moving through my fifties with confidence and strength. Now, I walk the dogs. I swim my laps. I pedal miles along a country road. Sometimes dark clouds block the sun.

It is a small loss in a year of catastrophic losses, but it is a loss just the same. No one likes to see me sad and friends have weighed in with advice and opinions. Everyone, it seems, has a meniscus surgery success story to share. It’s time for a second opinion, they say. Hyaluronic acid, plasma injections! The options seem endless, until they aren’t.

Covid has taught us all that we don’t know a lot of things. Like many others, I struggle with uncertainty and would rather find a story to tell, one that puts me back in charge. Blaming myself for the injury is one way to know something. Tracking down a specialist who will give me the right referral or a different diagnosis is another. For now, though, I’m swimming into an uncertain future, about which, today, I know nothing. And I’m thinking about all the runners who have gone before me and wondering how they felt when they put their trainers away for the last time.

Image description:  Two dogs on an Okanagan trail, with the shadow of someone who would rather be running than walking in the foreground.
 

Alison Conway lives and works on the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples.

habits · rest · running · self care · training

Navigating the Tricky Balance Between Effort and Ease

I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work.  That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.

Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.  

The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.

Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.   

After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”

Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”

Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.

But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?

I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.

A small bird balanced between two flower stalks, holding on with its toes. I love that one of the flowers is blown out and missing its petals and the other still has its petals–that felt right for illustrating the balance between effort and ease. KT on Unsplash

The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.

In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.

Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.

Now the trick is to apply that to my whole life.

cycling · fitness · racing · running · training

Warming up!

Everyone knows that before you make a big effort, you ought to warm up. But do we?

See Warming up for better results: “We all know that we are ‘supposed to’ warm-up. In fact, we probably all learned the importance of a warm-up during PE Class in 3rd grade. Yet, when push comes to shove, warm-up is one of the first things we cut out or cut down when workout time is limited and we’re in a rush. On the contrary, warming up is one aspect of a workout that should never be removed. No matter what your workout is, from intervals to base training, from powerlifting to table tennis, you should always have a warm-up. Warm-ups help to increase body temperature, increase heart rate, increase circulation, and increase blood flow to muscles. All of these physiological adjustments help to prevent injury and help to optimize performance.”

I confess that when I ran, I didn’t really ever warm up. That’s because when I was running 10 km, I felt like 10 km was as far as I could run. I had no extra in the tank for warm-ups. When I ran 5 km, there should have been time to warm up, but I rarely did.

Here’s a little general warm up

Luckily, as far as performance goes, it actually doesn’t make much difference for endurance events. And running, for me, was only ever about endurance.

When cycling, my best warm ups were at the velodrome where you couldn’t warm up on the track. There was too much demand for track time. Instead we warmed up on rollers in the infield. And when I was doing fast group rides outside, I counted my time riding to the start as warm up. Indeed, generally, as both a bike commuter and casual racing cyclist, I was often better warmed up than competitors because I’d ridden to the location of the race.

But when I first started riding and racing on Zwift, I wasn’t much into warming up. I’d just hope on the bike, join the event and start riding. But I discovered through trial and error that I did much better if I’d warmed up. What kind of trial and error? Well, I quit some races after getting dropped and joined others. One night I quit a team time trial (I’d done a bit and it was clearly too fast, too far to stay with the group) and joined an ITT. I won the ITT (in my category) in part because it was short and I was thoroughly warmed up.

I’ve gotten better this year at warming up before big rides and races. I’ve mostly been doing the GPLAMA Ultimate Warm Up.

Ride Report

How about you? Are you a fan of warming up?

eating · food · running

Running Fuel:  Avoiding a sour stomach and what to eat after a run

Feature photo credit: Roman Koester, via Unsplash.

Does running risk upsetting your stomach?  Do you have to treat it tenderly when you get back home to ensure you’re comfortable the rest of the day?  How do you balance your nutritional needs with that overwhelming desire to live off of starchy carbs?

Saturday, I wrote about some of the meals and foods I can enjoy for breakfast that help me feel better during my runs.  Now, I want to address the post-run meal.  I come back from my runs ready to enjoy something, but not ready to eat.  I also want to reset my gut so I can enjoy more fibrous vegetables and satisfying meals with more protein and fats than I have usually put into that day’s breakfast.  Here are the “rules” that seem to work best for me post-run to help me avoid an upset stomach and get me back into my regular eating routines.

Rule one:  Have a recovery beverage asap.  I read somewhere that dehydration can add to that sour stomach feeling, and maybe it’s a factor for me.  So, I make sure to have some water with a little juice or other sugar in it right away.  I might not be ready to eat immediately, but I find having something cold and refreshing immediately following my run really helps me to get back to feeling normal faster. I’ve put two of my favorite ways to rehydrate below.

Rule two:  Keep food easy to digest for the next few hours at least.  Cooked veggies over raw, moderate fat, some low-fat meat is fine for a protein boost. 

Rule three:  Eat when I’m hungry just until satisfied, not until full.  After a run is not a time to stuff myself, which honestly isn’t a habit of mine in any case, but I have been known to keep eating when something is really delicious.  That overfull feeling doesn’t mix well with my post-running stomach.  It’s also not a time for a rich dessert.

If I follow these guidelines, I feel mostly normal and back to my usual eating options by the time for my afternoon snack rolls around.  I keep hoping that someday I won’t need to negotiate so much with my gut before and after a run, but after years of running, I’m beginning to think that this is just how my body works.  I enjoy running enough to keep doing it, at least one day a week anyway.  But if I couldn’t find a way to work with my eating challenges, I’m not sure that would be true.  I’m happy to have found solutions that allow me to integrate running into my weekends and still feel like I’m taking care of myself nutritionally as well.

Homemade Orange Sports Drink

This is my go-to beverage after a run.  I mix it up and either keep it in the fridge ready to enjoy when I return, or if I’m running outside of my neighborhood, keep it in the car to enjoy as soon as I get back to it.

Mix together orange juice concentrate with twice the cold water recommended.

Add a dash of salt.

If you’re a meathead like me, you can put your daily creatine powder in this as well, to check off that box for the day.

Stir or shake together until fully combined.

Ginger-Apple Frothy Recovery Drink

Ginger has natural happy-tummy abilities, reducing nausea and upset stomachs.  This is a great option for days when you’re really struggling to set your stomach right.

In a blender, combine until the texture of a slushie:

Candied ginger

Apple juice (or concentrate plus water)

Ice

Maybe half a frozen banana

Pureed Vegetable Soup

Whenever I get around to lunch, I want to get back to my full serving of vegetables, since I’ve avoided them before my run.  This soup really works for me.

In a large stock pot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and 4 cups chopped carrots, onions, and celery. Frozen is fine.  Don’t bother to chop anything really finely, because you’re going to blend it all up later.

Add another 4-6 cups chopped other vegetables of your choice such as more carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, etc.  I also like to add a red garnet yam for the sweetness.  Again, you can “cheat” and just throw in some frozen veggies, if you want to save time.

Flavor with 4-6 cloves of crushed garlic and 1-2 tbsp fresh ginger root.  If you want curried soup, also add 2 tbsp curry powder, 1 tbsp each cumin and powdered coriander, and some hot pepper (to taste).

Cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is very soft.  This can take an hour or so, but you don’t have to pay attention to it most of that time.  It can burn as it gets close to being done, so check on it every 5-10 minutes or so near the end and give it a good stir.

Add 8 cups of (preferably homemade) vegetable or chicken stock.

Use a stick blender to blend it all together until completely smooth.  Add salt to taste and adjust seasonings.  Allow to simmer a bit to combine flavors.

I freeze this in 1-2 cup servings and pull out one each weekend.  It makes 10-15 servings, depending on how much you eat at a time.  When it’s time for lunch, I add some shredded chicken and a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. I make it a balanced meal with some toast or a muffin on the side.

Do you have dietary “rules” you follow to help you feel good after a run?  Have a favorite post-run food?  I’d love to hear them.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found slowly cooking vegetables on the stove, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Not my soup, but someone’s lovely bright yellow-orange pureed vegetable soup with fresh herbs and pumpkin seeds garnishing the top. Photo credit: Monika Grabkowska, via Unsplash.