August 20: Running on the National Mall

Moving, especially for a new job, is exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I have not worked out consistently since May. I finally felt comfortable enough after 5 weeks to venture out for a run around my neighborhood. In my part of town, people don’t really exercise outdoors (and likely not at all). I committed to running for 20 minutes, which I knew was about all I could manage having not run in months and having not worked out in 2.5 weeks (I mistakenly thought the mile I walk each day was doing something for me cardiovascularly). To compound my issue, almost all of my run was uphill! So yeah, for two days I was walking quite gingerly.

My cousin, whom I live with, invited me to go running with his friends after work. I am not an after work exerciser, but I couldn’t resist the lure of running on the Mall. When my cousin said he planned to run from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, which turns out to be about 4.6 miles, I said I would do 2. We missed the rain, so the weather was perfect for running and the sand paths were well-packed and a great running surface. Since my cousin is preparing for the FBI fitness test, he had a different purpose for running, i.e., speed. He charted the course for me and said we’d meet at the WWII Memorial. Off he went. I knew better than to keep up with him, but I was trying to keep my eye on him until I oriented myself with just where I was on the Mall.

I was done by the time I reached the WWII Memorial. I prayed for red lights so I could have a reprieve as I waited to cross the street. I kept wondering how I could be so out of shape. I mean, I just ran hills two days before! A mile shouldn’t wear me out like that. I told my cousin that I was walking back to the car, and he told me no. I was given as much time as I needed to recover, and we started back toward the car.

The thing about running is you can spend lots of time with your thoughts (I think it’s unsafe to run outdoors with earphones on, so I don’t listen to music.). As my body began to rack with great discomfort, I couldn’t help but be reminded that I felt about as bad as I did running across the finish line of my first race, which was a 10K. I wanted to stop running, but I drew on my experience at the Flying Pig and willed myself to the end. The other thing I realized was that I was running a lot more than 2 miles. The most important lesson I learned running last night was that if I am going to continue to run with my cousin in the evenings, I have to do better about fueling my body. Cookies and a PB&J sandwich were such bad choices! I’m embarrassed to even type it, but it’s the truth.

I managed to make it back to the Capitol where my cousin was waiting. I was so nauseous when I should have been feeling awesome. Fortunately, the scenery more than made up for my ill-planned run. I mean, why not enjoy the time spent working out? And what better than taking in the sights of our Nation’s capital!?!? It was a relief and a beautiful sight seeing the U.S. Capitol lit up at against the dusk sky as I made my final push down the Mall. For just a moment, I forgot about my discomfort and savored the moment. It’s going to be really pretty to run in the Fall, and I’m looking forward to it. I plan to be on the Mall every Monday I am able to run. I’m in the process of setting goals, but the end goal is to run from the Capitol to the Jefferson Memorial, which I estimate is about 6 miles round trip. The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite monument. It’s so serene by the Tidal Basin because very few people take the time to walk the extra distance. Framed by cherry blossoms, it’s so beautiful. But before I get my personal 10K on, I have to manage running from the Capitol to the WWII Memorial and back. As it turns out, the distance round trip is about 4 miles, and I ran it in 33 minutes, which includes the time I was stopped at lights. So while my poor running-day diet was highly problematic, the fact that I was averaging sub-10 minute pace for that distance was more likely my issue. It is refreshing, however, to know that with proper conditioning, I should be able to put up some personal bests in future races!
I guess walking one mile a day during the work week has been helping a sista out *smile*


November 9: The Tabata Method

I was blog hopping a few weeks ago when I came across You As A Machine: Daily Body Maintenance. The blog is such a great resource for high intensity interval training. I spent some time on the website learning about proper body alignment, how to pay more attention to my body, and basic anatomy and physiology. What I was most intrigued about on You As A Machine was the Tabata method, the most intense 4 minute workout you will likely experience. The Cliff notes about the Tabata method is that it was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues in Japan. The workout consists of 7-8 30 second intervals where 10 seconds is spent “resting” and 20 seconds is spent doing a cardiovascular or strength move at high intensity for 20 seconds. Total time for Tabatas is 4 minutes! Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

I did a cursory internet search about Tabatas to learn more about this form of exercise. One blog I visited proclaimed that Tabatas are the “greatest fat burning workout“.  Someone responsible for content at was thoughtful enough to find the abstract for a scientific paper in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, which is on PubMed here. The abstract is a bunch of science-y jargon, but in short, the volume of oxygen of an individual intakes in a given time increased significantly after 6 weeks of Tabata training. (The VO2 max increase was 14% for elite athletes in the Tabata et al. study). I don’t have access to the paper but I assume that the only physical activity participants engaged in during the 6 week period was 4 minutes of high intensity exercise.

Besides being a quick workout (4 minutes remember!), as an interval workout, the post-workout effects of Tabatas are reportedly greater than for low-intensity, endurance cardiovascular workouts. Dave, at Not Your Average Fitness Tips asserted that fatty acids are released more quickly into the blood stream than with lower intensity endurance cardiovascular workouts. I’m not a biochemist or an exercise physiologist, so I cannot speak to the veracity of what chemicals are released during exercise. But if we accept that a biochemical process that occurs during cardio workouts happens faster with high intensity training than with low intensity training, it is easy to see the benefit of achieving the same effect in less time.

Okie, so enough background. What are Tabatas actually like. I have done them three times now, on alternate days. It was easy to psyche myself up on Day 1 because well, it’s four minutes. I spend more time doing my hair in the mornings. Since it was my first time, I took the advice on You As A Machine to alternate cardio exercises for each interval. I chose jump squats for Intervals 1 & 5, high knees with arm swings for Intervals 2 & 6, speed skaters for Intervals 3 & 7, and alternating jabs for Intervals 4 & 8. I strategically chose to do exercises that incorporated arms, core, and legs. I also opted to not move from standing to floor exercises in large part because of my blood pressure.

I used the stopwatch feature on my Android phone to keep time. I started with a 3 minute warm up to loosen my muscles since I worked out first thing in the morning. After the first 10 second rest period, I exploded into jump squats. I was conscientious about maintaining proper form (squatting into my heels, landing gently) while being as quick as possible. Breathing is another key focus. Thank goodness for Pilates because I controlled my breathing very well during the high intensity segments. After the first interval, I was super confident. By the 4th interval, I kept telling myself “It’s only 20 seconds”, “You’re halfway finished”, “BREATHE!” During the second set of exercises, that 10 second rest period became more and more negligible. After 4 minutes, I walked around and guzzled water for about 2 minutes while my heart rate lowered. My legs felt like I had run 3 or 4 miles. It was unbelievable that such a short workout could produce such a dramatic physiological effect. I followed my workout with 10 minutes of Pilates abs, stretched really well, and went about my day.

On Day 2 and Day 3, it was much more difficult to convince myself of doing Tabatas because I was no longer ignorant lol. Psychologically, it is somewhat refreshing — if I can even use that term — to know that in four minutes it will be all over. And I don’t mean so sound like it’s a chore to workout at my highest possible level of capacity. The high from the intensity of the workout and knowing that I finished and gave 110% for every 20 second interval is tremendously motivating. I workout in front of a full length mirror so I can watch my form. I give myself pep talks to jump higher or to lift my knees higher.

On Day 3, I took Dave’s advice and spent 20 minutes doing steady state cardio to maximize the effects of Tabata workouts. It was an unseasonably mild morning, so I went running. I’m not sure if the lingering effects of Sunday’s step and sculpt group fitness class or the effects of that morning’s Tabatas made it the longest 20 minute run ever. Cardio wise, I felt fine. My lungs and hearts were enjoying the run. My legs, however, felt differently about the situation lol. I made it home and enjoyed 20 minutes of stretching.

Tomorrow will be Day 4 of Tabatas. I really enjoy them and look forward to alternating two exercises instead of four. In terms of the physical effects, my heart rate recovers a little faster each time, my lower belly pooch is half the size it was a week ago, and I lost an inch from my natural waist. I feel much more energetic. It is tempting to do Tabatas every day, but this is not advisable. The amount of stress placed on the body is tremendous, and repeated stress like that can lead to injuries. So on days I do Tabatas, if I attend group fitness it’s for a low impact workout. I am ever more mindful of stretching as well. I’ll stick with the Tabata Method until Winter break when I will have more time for endurance workouts, which also has a place in a well rounded fitness program.


June 24: Pre-training for Rock ‘N Roll Half-Marathon

I’ve not been trying as many new things lately. I guess work took over my life these last few weeks. But I have been staying on my fitness grind. I am a Pilates convert; it’s a great complement to a running routine. I missed my weight training classes this week due to my workload, so I will have to make time to hit the weights in the gym this weekend. I will be doing more outdoor pursuits next week while I am at a conference in Davidson, NC. Kayaking and 3-hole golf are on my to-do-list, particularly because I’ve never tried them before!

Anywhoo, my running routine is going quite well. I changed the time breakdown on Thursday intervals from 5w(alk)-3r(un) to 3w-5r. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference since I run three other days of the week; I had to call it quits after 5 intervals instead of the usual 6 I ran before the switch. I guess the problem isn’t really a problem: I had a hard time recovering because my heart rate would drop quite quickly so that I found myself jogging slowly during the recovery periods.

I’m doing well with my speed work, too. I especially like that I can be finished with my workout in 20 minutes if I run 4 X 400 m with a recovery jog in between each sprint. I recently read that tempo work (i.e., running at a “comfortably hard” pace) is better for distance races whereas speed work is better for short distances. Since I am running a 5K in September, I thought it prudent to work on speed until then. I have been adding a tempo pace to my long runs, though; I try to push myself to run a 10 min/mi for at least two miles. For the half-marathon, I should build up to 4-6 miles if my memory serves me correctly.

Speaking of long runs, I increased my time to 96 minutes this morning. I completed 9.2 miles in that time, which is pleasantly surprising. I started my run just wanting to maintain an 11 min/mi since 96 minutes is a long time. After two miles, my runner’s high started to kick in. I was running no slower than a 10:30 min/mi the last 6 miles of my run. I had a steady, smooth pace until the final mile. My hamstring felt like it was about to start cramping which caused the hip to give me some discomfort. Or maybe it was the other way; I never took physiology, so I haven’t a clue.

It’s nothing like finishing a long run with some good quality stretching. Since I began pre-training for the race, my hamstrings have become incredibly flexible. It used to take some work to do a forward fold and place my palms on the ground. But now I can do it with no problem. I also do pretty well with a seated forward bend. My flexibility in general is improving with more running and my weekly Pilates class, which is great because I need all the help I can get with my compartment syndrome — that didn’t act up today!

I will be on the lookout to try lots of new things next week so that I can have plenty to write about. It’s only so much running people can take *smile*

June 14: Heart rate training revisted

I am a convert! Heart rate training is where it’s at to improve stamina and endurance for long distance running. I averaged a 12:07 min/mi at 80% MHR during my 40 minute weekly run this morning. On May 18, I ran a 13:52 min/mi and stayed in the 70-80% sports zone for 90% of the time; today, I stayed in the sports zone for 98% of the time *smile*.

Saturday I introduced speed work into my routine. I sprinted 4 X 400 m while slowly jogging a recovery 400 m lap. My fastest lap was the 3rd sprint, which I completed in 1:57. The weekend before, I actually sprinted 400 m in 1:45 but I also felt like I was going to faint afterwards, so I’ll build up to that lol! Sunday, I ran 7.67 miles, averaging a 10:27 min/mi. I had to stop a few times within the first two miles to beat my calves into submission. The compartmental syndrome has really flared up lately; I need to buy a pair of compression socks and pray that minimizes the discomfort. Otherwise, I will most certainly have to walk part of the half-marathon. My feet become so numb that I have to watch my stride to make sure my feet land properly; they have a tendency to roll inward already, so when the numbness kicks in, the pronation becomes even worse.

Since my morning run was sub-12:12, I have accomplished one goal I set two weeks ago. Now I just have to build my long runs up to 96 minutes, which I will in two weeks. I planned my running schedule through August 28, after which I officially begin training for the half-marathon. By August 28, I plan to be running 13 miles on long run days and be down to a 10:00 min/mi for 80% MHR days. How exciting!


June 5: Pre-training for Rock ‘N Roll half-marathon in Vegas revisted

Well, I successfully completed my first three weeks of pre-training for the 13.1 in a few months. I have seen improvements in my endurance and stamina thanks in part to heart rate training. The concrete and asphalt were doing a number on my feet and joints, so I mostly run on an indoor  track or an outdoor high school track these days. It’s not as fun running in circles as it is taking on the varied terrain of my old running routes, but I have zero interest in injuring myself.

For June, I am still only running four days a week. To switch things up, I am running 40 minutes at 80% MHR on Tuesdays and running six-8 minute intervals on Thursdays. Saturdays I am introducing speed work into my routine. Sundays I am running for time while keeping effort below 85% MHR. So instead of 2 days of heart rate training, I am doing 3 days this month. When I run at 80-85% effort, I feel like I can just keep running. I want to be able to run as much of the 13.1 miles as I possibly can, and slowly building up aerobic endurance is the key. Currently, I am running slower than my 10K pace, but even at an 11 minute mile, I can complete a half marathon in 2.5 hours. I’m confident that come December, I’ll be running at least a 10 minute mile at 80-85% effort.

Since I am increasing the time of my runs on Sundays, I have been particularly attentive to hydration. I stop for a few seconds every 2 miles to rehydrate. I notice an immediate improvement in my heart rate; at a constant pace, my heart rate stays lower just the first mile after a water break compared to the last 0.5 mile prior to the next water break. Fortunately the fact that it is hot and humid here in SW Ohio encourages me to drink much more water than I had been during the cooler months.

By the end of these next four weeks, my two running goals are to finish a Tuesday run sub-12:12 (which would be a full minute off my June 1 time) and to finish a Sunday run sub-11:00 for 90 minutes (which would be 20s per mile faster for 27 minutes longer than my June 5 time). I like to switch things up, so the key for me is to just be consistent as much as possible particularly with three conferences in four weeks. So, we’ll see how I’m running in four weeks!


May 23: Pre-training for Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon Revisted

What a weekend! In hindsight, I probably did a bit too much so I have given myself a rest day today. On Saturday, my goal was to run 4.5 miles at a 10:15 – 11:30 minute/mile pace and see how my heart rate responded. I included a second zone in the program to run 1 mile at a slightly faster pace if I still had any energy left. Well, after 4.5 miles I felt good, so I ran the mile. After 5.5 miles, I still felt good and pushed myself to run 10 kilometers! I actually beat my 10K race pace and averaged 10:30 minutes per mile *smile* My average heart rate was 176 bpm or 92% of my maximum heart rate; I want it at least 10% lower.

Initially, it was challenging to maintain a steady pace. Even though I gave myself plenty of buffer room, I found myself running faster than 10:15 minute/mile quite often. After a couple of miles, I settled in to the pace, though. After running my own 10K, I ate breakfast and headed to step and sculpt. I enjoy the class too much to miss it. Surprisingly, I still had plenty of energy for my second workout of the day.

Then Sunday morning, I was up bright and early to begin hydrating. After Saturday’s run, I lost 1.4 pounds due to loss of water. I had a slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, sliced banana, honey and cinnamon for a pre-run snack. After 30 minutes, I laced up and hit the pavement toward the high school track to run 4 X 800m intervals at 9:30 – 10:45 minute/mile pace. Since I am new at training with a heart rate monitor, I like to give myself some leeway in sticking to a pace. After each 800m interval, I walked for 0.2 miles (the watch wouldn’t let me program 0.25 miles). In mentally preparing for the interval training, I wanted to jog in between each interval. I found that I needed real recovery time, so I walked. Maybe next week, I will be able to slow my running pace and not walk during the recovery period.

Late Sunday, I noticed my lower back was rather sore. I wasn’t sure if all the physical activity was the cause or if I overextended my back doing supermans in step and sculpt. I stretched throughout the day and feel much better this morning. I’m usually pretty vigilant about proper form during exercising, but I must be even more mindful in the future. I have a long road ahead in training for this half-marathon. I am not interested in being sidelined with a preventable injury.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I am back to training based on heart rate rather than pace. My goal is to develop enough patience so that I can do three or four days in June using heart rate training. As I practically sprinted around the track, I felts as though I was betraying the process of heart rate training even though learning to maintain a pace for an extended distance is an important part of training for any race. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly; I’m just taking heart rate training one run at a time!

Recap for 1st five days of pre-training:

  1. Wednesday: Ran 38 minutes. Average pace: 13:52 min/mi. Average HR: 144 bpm (75% MHR)
  2. Thursday: 45 minutes in total body tone group fitness class; 15 minutes May 2011 SHAPE abs workout
  3. Friday: 60 minutes in group fitness Pilates; 51 minutes ballet conditioning DVD
  4. Saturday: Ran 66 minutes. Average pace: 10:30 min/mi. Average HR: 176 bpm (92% MHR); 60 minutes step and sculpt group fitness
  5. Sunday: Ran 33 minutes: 4 X 800m intervals, walked 320 m recovery. Average pace per run-walk interval: 11:57 min/mi. Average HR. 166 bpm (86% MHR); May 2011 SHAPE abs workout

I am going to give the long, easy runs on Saturdays another shot next weekend. But I had the most insatiable appetite after running and attending step class. I did well and ate healthy carbohydrates, protein and fats. I really, really, really wanted some ice cream though! If my appetite goes haywire again, then I will just move my long run to Friday mornings and do ballet on Saturday.

May 18: Pre-training for the Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon in Vegas

After posting on Facebook how excited I was to start training for races using my new Polar RS300X heart rate monitor, a friend from college invited me to join her and run the Rock ‘N Roll half marathon in Las Vegas during our birthday weekend. At first, I thought I would just go and cheer her on but I think it will be fun to challenge myself and run 13.1 miles. Besides, the trip will be a bundle of firsts: first time to Nevada (and by extension first time to Vegas); first half marathon; and first birthday trip. And I’m sure those three things are just the tip of the iceberg!

SoOoo, with exactly 28 weeks until my birthday, I thought I would make it official that I am pre-training for the half marathon. I have to wait until the end of the month when registration re-opens, so I’m hopeful that there are still spaces available. Why am I pre-training? Well, for one, the training program I am going to use is based on six weeks not six months. Second, I need to slowly build my distance up so that I can comfortably run at least 8 miles. I haven’t logged in more than 3 miles on a given run since my 10K a few weeks ago. And finally, I want to be able to maintain a 10 minute mile for the entire race, which is about 30s per mile faster than my 10K pace.

I’m really amped about running a half marathon, which is quite bizarre seeing as a few weeks ago 10K races were my only desires. I am going to take this training and reduce it to 3 week segments because 6 months just seems so daunting. I can stick with a plan for 21-days.

For the next 18 days, I will run four days a week slowly increasing total distance from 12 miles a week to 15 miles; cross-train two days a week (e.g., step and sculpt, spinning, bollywood); attend at least one yoga class and one Pilates class; and tone my entire body twice a week. I learned the hard way during my 10K training that I really need to incorporate flexibility training if I intend to run, so I will make that a priority this go-round.

To stay on track, I made a detailed schedule of what I plan to do each day. If I have to think about it, then chances are I will flake out on myself. I keep a copy of my calendar at work and on the refrigerator at home. I hope that by June 4, I can average a pace faster than 13:52 minute/mile while averaging 75% of my maximum heart rate, which is how well I did on this morning’s run.

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