Training Tuesdays: An Apology to My Badly Neglected Upper Body

When forced to avoid any substantial lower body exercises, one’s only option is to challenge the upper body. I have spent the last few days exercising in the only way I can: a lot of seated or highly controlled upper body workouts, along with a smidgen of core work involving positions that allow my SI to remain stable and supported. If you’re imagining something akin to sit and be fit, you’re on the right track.

In the process, I have quickly discovered that I have badly neglected my upper body strength over the years, often intentionally. It seemed a relatively pointless investment of time. Running and hiking don’t really require that I have arms of steel so, aside from a few push ups and tricep dips for good measure, I’ve let this part of my training fall by the wayside.  Now that I’ve come to terms with my feeble upper body strength, I feel compelled to apologize to my upper body.

arms Fairly accurate visual of my face when engaging my arms. Don’t let the picture fool you. In real life that barbell would be holding about 10lbs of total weight. 

Dear Upper Body,

I am sorry that I have neglected you so terribly. It occurred to me, as I was struggling to complete some exercises with measly 8 lb weights, that I have clearly left you out of my training mix. And I did it on purpose. You’re the forgotten half of my body. You see, even in your weakened and neglected state, I can still fully function in life whereas weak legs would get in the way of all my extracurricular activities. Is it fair? No. But like my dad used to tell me, life’s not fair.

Wow, upper body, I’m now also realizing that this is a terrible apology so far! Let me start over.

I am truly sorry because, as it turns out, some of your muscles are actually important to help stabilize my SI. Like, who knew that strengthening my lats might help? They’re so…geographically far from my SI. I guess what I’m really apologizing for is my ignorance. I forget sometimes that the human body is a complex system and that everything is connected to everything else. It’s such a simple fact that I don’t know how I lost sight of it.

But here’s my promise to you. I’m going to start working with a personal trainer. And, while I know she’ll be a little bit more focused on strengthening my lower half, I’m going to make sure that she puts some time into you as well. I will not let you suffer the shame of struggling with 8 lb weights. It is not cool to have the lower body strength of a 20 year old and the upper body strength of a 75 year old. I’m sorry I’ve put you in that position. I’ll fix that.

Here’s to ripped arms and strong lats and building myself back up to 15-20 lb weights. We can get back to your glory days, upper body, and we will.

Sincerest apologies,

Me.

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Monday Musings: Refusing to Accept the “Inevitable”

I am surrounded by people telling me my injury will take a long time to heal, that it will take me maybe months to get back to running or even back to hiking on trails, that I need to be patient and take my time to heal. I understand that there is an element to truth to that. I fully recognize, for instance, that at this moment in time I am not physically able to run or hike. My body is telling me with sharp, stabbing pain.

On the flipside, I absolutely refuse to believe that I’ll actually be out of commission for months.  I’m fairly certain that most people around me think I’m wrong, think I’m being needlessly stubborn, think that I’m bound to rush back to activities only to re-injure myself.  What they fail to realize is that, while stubborn, I’m also the idealist.

I actually believe that I can will myself back to faster recovery. It’s my own version of the “if you build it, they will come” school of thought. Okay, let’s take a step back because I realize that likely sounds crazy.  I don’t mean that I’ll just think about getting better, but never take action, and somehow see massively accelerated improvements. That would be lunacy.

What I’m talking about is maintaining the firm belief that faster recovery is possible and letting that belief fuel my actions in a way that gets me to infinitely faster recovery. It’s sort of the fake it til you make it idea–but on hyper speed. My belief: I will be back on the trails in May. They may not be the steepest or the longest trails, and I don’t imagine myself running on them, but I will hike in May. To do that, I’m going to have to train smart and slow. I’m going to have to discount a lot of voices telling me not to. I’m going to have to balance professional medical advice with listening to my own body. I will not let this SI issue defeat me or ruin my summer hiking plans.

This week’s step towards making my belief a reality: integrate some form of lower body activity (strength training or non-impact cardio) & meet with personal trainer.

Some might say the road to recovery is long and, while I think some injuries warrant this, I also think we discount the huge role that our mental state plays in recovery. So I’m going to buck the trend and prove everyone else wrong (which, as an added benefit, is one of my favourite things to do). I got this.

TWIR #7

I am starting to question even calling this a training week in review since training was actually non-existent.  However, I am nothing if not a follower of traditions, and so here we go.

Saturday
Activity: Hike
Relevant Stats: 3km, 854 m elevation gain, 57 minutes
Observations:
This was my first annual outing on the BCMC trail (for non-Vancouverites, this is a trail that runs parallel to our famous Grouse Grind, also known as “nature’s staircase”). I hate the BCMC almost as much as the Grouse Grind, but at least it is less crowded and still has a bit of a trail feel vs. manicured-staircase-in-nature feel. Also, it is a good workout. I was five minutes off my time from last year. Even worse, I started to feel my SI tightening about half way up but, once you’re that far, it’s just as easy to keep going up. In hindsight, this hike turned out to be a very poor choice.

Sunday
Activity: Walk
Relevant Stats: 11km at a snail’s pace. I’m not joking it literally took over an hour to walk three km.
Observations:
By Saturday night it was abundantly clear that I would not be running or hiking or doing any form of workout on Sunday. We opted for a walk, and quite possibly the slowest walk of my life. We were passed by old people. More than once. I am never sure whether it’s good to walk when injured. Sitting all day makes it hurt. Walking makes it hurt. It is a cruel catch 22. All I know is that it felt okay in the moment but terrible by the end of the day.

Monday
Activity: Walk
Relevant Stats: 30 minutes, snail pace
Observations:
I literally could barely stand on Monday morning. Walking seemed impossible. I booked an emergency physiotherapy session but knew there was no workout happening. It was bad. The day in general was bad.

Tuesday
Activity: None
Relevant Stats: Wine consumption: 1 glass, Cocktail Consumption: 1, SI Belts Employed: One
Observations:
I cannot even talk about my physiotherapy appointment though I’m sure once I wrap my head around it you can expect a post. Based on physio, drinks were in order. I also dusted off my SI belt, which hasn’t seen the light of day in five years, and it was quickly dubbed the “sexy time interference belt.” Yep, it was that kind of day.

Wednesday
Activity: None
Relevant Stats: Out of bed in under 10 minutes! Win!
Observations:
Day four of sedentary living. If I were at least seeing progress I would have felt okay about it, but the pain had barely decreased and it had me more discouraged than I’ve been in years. If I’d have had wine at home, I would have taken a face-first dive into it. My coping mechanisms are questionable at best.

Thursday
Activity: None
Relevant Stats: 6.5 km of slow-ass walking!!!
Observations:
Thursday was mildly exciting because my pace elevated from that of an 90 year old woman to that of an 80 year old woman. Also, we were able to try some active release therapy for the first time in days. Although still not walking normally, improvements (of the painfully slow variety) were happening.

Friday
Activity: primarily coffee drinking
Relevant Stats: Successfully non-painful entrance/exit from shower. Major fait accompli!
Observations:
My wrist is inexplicably in tremendous pain, as if it is sprained when there is no possible way that it could be (as in, I’ve done nothing that would realistically have caused an injury). My only conclusion is that my body is falling apart. On the plus side, I was able to partially bend at the waist today and put on pants and socks without severe pain.

Needless to say, it has been a discouraging and difficult week. I have never taken this many days off with absolutely no form of exercise. Usually I’m at least able to do something. It is a tough pill to swallow that it could be several more days before I’m even able to engage in the most basic of exercise. And so, here is what I think of this week (plus I absolutely adore that I found this. It makes zero sense to me, and so I love it):

INJURIES SUCK

Throwback Thursday: My Brief & Injury-Filled Experiment with Minimalist Shoes

I don’t actually know if minimalist shoes are still all the rage but, back when I lived in Banff and read Runner’s World magazine on the reg, they were all anyone was talking about. Supposedly, these magical, cushion-less shoes would transform me into a runner of yore (i.e. pre-shoes). Finally I would end my heel-striking ways and teach my feet to hit the ground the way nature intended.  My running form and efficiency would exceed my wildest expectations.  I would develop proper foot strength. Lazy feet be gone! Doesn’t that just sound like a dream?

I got in on the craze with these snazzy numbers:

the devil

Sure they look flash but they are really the devil incarnate.

Oh sure, I read all that mumbo jumbo about slow transitions into minimalist shoes.  I get that I was supposed to start by running a km in them and then gradually increase distance. I knew I could try running on grass or dirt first to ease the initial impact.  But I was young and impatient and cocky, and so my reaction to all of this was twofold:

  1. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  2. Those rules apply to the old. I am young and strong and my body defies your rules of slow transitions.

And so, I did what any headstrong and foolish runner would do and went for a 10k run right out of the gates (or shoebox, so to speak). Well, my ankles were pretty sore after that and I noticed that many of my leg muscles felt more tired than usual. Although I could have seen these as early warning signs of too deep and fast a plunge into the world of minimalist running, instead I opted to completely ignore them.

I went out for another run, probably in the area of 14 or 15 km.  That is when my SI decided to say enough is enough.  It hadn’t bothered me in a while, but there it was sending sharp pains across my tailbone and lower back and clearly making my choice for me. I had to stop.

You would think this would be enough for me to heed the warnings about slow transitions and yet you would be wrong.  Instead, I kept on launching into long runs like it was nothing. I went through two more rounds of this cycle–long run, SI or ankle injury, physio, healing, run again–before finally throwing in the towel and accepting that, with my host of conditions, maybe good old-fashioned cushioned running shoes weren’t so bad after all. I have never been one of the trendy kids so it should have come as no surprise that this trend wasn’t a fit for me either.

I still have those Saucony’s tucked in my desk drawer at work, partly as a reminder of my youthful folly but also because, having worn them only a handful of times, they still work in a pinch as a damn fine spinning shoe.

Mid Week Puzzler: Running Camps are a Thing?

I am a runner. At times I actually enjoy running.  I have grown to appreciate the feeling of wonder that comes from seeing progress. I have even felt the pride that comes from crossing the finish line after a physically and mentally gruelling race.

Despite all of this, I would never, ever, in a million years  contemplate attending an adult running camp.  In fact, until this week, I did not know that such a thing existed.  Whenever I am shocked by the discovery of something I find to be bizarre and unnecessary, I feel compelled to do a brief and cursory internet search for information that supports my belief that said bizarre/unnecessary thing is, in fact, both bizarre and unnecessary.

Google quickly confirmed that adult running camps do, in fact, exist.  Not only that, but the sheer number of search results shows that they are popular enough to warrant things like “top 10” lists to help me assess where I should direct my dollars.  I am intrigued enough to click, read and search for evidence to support my already burgeoning confirmation bias.

The following is a comprehensive list of evidence to support my belief that running camps are bizarre and/or unnecessary:

1.These camps are clearly confused about what they are.  They like to hide under romanticized guises of being “vacations” or “getaways”. Hey, I like running and have even been known to go for a run while on vacation, but let’s not kid ourselves, a running camp is not the same thing as a vacation or getaway.

2.Running is a free activity. Free. So, so free.  You can run whenever you like, wherever you like.  These people are paying, and very handsomely I might add, to do something you could do at home for free. And let me just say, if you really wanted coaching, I think you could find a running coach who provides 1:1 instruction for far less than some of these camps.  I did, however, briefly contemplate starting my own “running vacation” camp to cash in on this craze.

3.They all describe picturesque scenery as if it will somehow transform your running and make running less, well, hard.  I have lived in the Rockies.  I now live in Vancouver, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in North America. For all the scenery both have to offer, running is still difficult. Looking at pretty things while running is not going to do a damn thing to raise your game.

4.Selling features seem to include running in groups (!!!!) and I think we all remember how I feel about running in herds, and assorted camp activities outside of your running time.  I am left only to imagine the horror of campfire singalongs, dance lessons, and talent shows.  It probably doesn’t help that my sole points of reference for camp activities consist of what I’ve seen in Dirty Dancing and Camp Cucamonga.

5.Some include shared bunk lodging. I feel that, as adults, we’ve earned the right not to share rooms with strangers.  If it were me attending, I’d be letting everyone know they could find me in a room at the nearest Westin.  Particularly if I’m going to be forced to run in herds all day, I’m going to need private space to decompress sans sweaty compadres.  And don’t even get me started on the risk of being paired with the dreaded heavy snorer.

6.They all promise that you’ll leave with a renewed passion for running.  Like most things in life, I’m tempted to believe that spending a whole week doing just one thing will actually make you hate it. There’s a reason there’s an expression about having too much of a good thing (think chocolate or ice cream).  You know what gives you a renewed passion for running? I say it’s an injury that forces you to stop running long enough that you actually start to miss it, not that I’m projecting here.

This evidence clearly suggests that running camps are, in fact, bizarre and unnecessary.  However, if you own and/or operate one and would like me to experience it for myself in efforts to sway my harsh judgments, please leave a comment. I am nothing if not open-minded.

Training Tuesdays: Finding your Training Purpose

Over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m not so good at setting and following through with small goals.  More often than not, I flake out on them or replace them with other goals, seemingly on a whim.  I am better with higher level goals, ones that are a little nebulous but that allow me to set and sometimes abandon smaller, related goals along the way.  In other words, I need more of a purpose-driven approach to my goal-setting.

My running goals are no different. I get into a zone where I’m all “I’m going to run a half marathon” or “yeah, this is the year for a marathon” or “hell, let’s try an ultra next”.  To me, these are all “small t” training goals.  I don’t mean the events themselves or the work required to get there is small.  By “small t” training goals,  I mean these goals have little meaning to me in and of themselves.  They are events.  They come and they go. They are important only because they represent or contribute to something much bigger.

What they represent are steps toward my “Big T” training goals.  What’s a “Big T” training goal, you might ask? These are the larger goals that inspire me to set “small t” training goals to pave the way.  And, even if I don’t follow through with all those smaller goals, that “Big T” training goal is still there and it matters enough to me to keep me working towards it in some way, shape or form.  It is my training purpose.

Let’s consider the difference in a running context.  My current small t goal is to run an ultra.  It’s a lot of work and it’s incredibly ambitious for me as a runner.  But it’s not my purpose.  My Big T goal, the one that my ultra goal contributes to and aligns with, is to continue to push the boundaries of what I think is physically possible for me.  This Big T training goal is the same one that caused me to set the following small t training goals over the last decade: running a half marathon, my first 40+ km day hike, and my first mountain marathon.

I am a firm believer that “Big T” training goals will drive better training results than only employing “small t” training goals.  The reasons for this are threefold (as an added bonus, using terms like “threefold” makes them sound extra worthy of your attention):

      1. Most of us are inspired not by task completion but rather by working towards something larger and more meaningful. It’s the same reason companies have visions.  For instance, I work for a technology company. I think technology is cool and all, but I’m not inspired by our actual product.  What I am inspired by is what that platform stands for, which is all about creating possibilities. I don’t think it’s any different for our lives outside of work, including our training.  Chances are there is something larger than an event or our workouts that is driving us to keep doing what we’re doing.  I believe if you identify your larger training purpose you will work even harder to pursue your smaller goals–and find more satisfaction in reaching them.

2. Big T goals are aspirational and ongoing.  If we set nothing but event-related or situational goals we can create a bit of a checklist mentality for ourselves. And what happens when the event is over? When you finish that half marathon or get that PR, you may find yourself rudderless without a larger purpose to keep you going.   Big T training goals are continuously aspirational so they provide the impetus to set smaller goals that keep you on your path.

3. If I fail to complete a small t training goal, my Big T training goal ensures that there’s still something else for me to work towards. For me, if all my eggs are in one basket (i.e. I’m just focused on a singular, small goal) and my basket breaks (I can’t complete that goal), I’m more likely to get discouraged to the point of inaction (personal resilience is clearly not my strong suit).  Or, if an injury strikes (ahem, like right now), it can feel hopeless.  But my Big T training goal keeps me moving.  If I don’t run my ultra, there’s other ways I can push myself beyond what I currently think possible.

So if you haven’t yet defined what drives you to keep training, whether it’s running or any other athletic endeavour, you may want to ask yourself what is your Big T training goal? What gets you up in the morning and what keeps you setting smaller goals along the way? What is the common thread or connection between all of your smaller training goals? What keeps you going when times are tough? In giving thought to some of these questions, you just mind find a whole new level of connection and commitment to your training.

Monday Musings: On Making Tough Calls

Please allow me to introduce myself.  I am:

stubborn

The stubborn idealist is a dangerous personality type. It combines a sometimes delusional belief that anything is possible (the idealist side) with a steadfast refusal to adjust or let go of your idea, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that your approach isn’t working (the stubborn side). Let’s not confuse this with being a persevering and tenacious dreamer.  The key difference is that the tenacious dreamer learns from mistakes and adjusts his or her course, whereas the stubborn idealist  will not let things go or change course, even when it is clearly the most rational course of action. 

My idealism and stubbornness are waging a battle right now.  On the idealist side, I want to believe that it’s possible for me to run an ultra. Moreover, I actually think it’s possible for anyone to run an ultra (presuming they want to make it happen…it is my blog name after all). On the stubborn side, I keep trying to build up running distance and to incorporate trail running only to find myself in the worst pattern of injury recurrence that I’ve experienced in five years.

This morning, after a weekend of debilitating pain, it took me a full ten minutes to get out of bed, and this wasn’t in a because-I-hit-the-snooze-button kind of way. Unfortunately, it was because I couldn’t actually get my body to sit or stand up without excruciating pain, no matter how I tried to make it happen (and trust me, some of the attempts probably looked pretty comical). Even an emergency physio treatment has provided little comfort or improvement to my pain and mobility.

Despite this, in my mind I am still focused on getting back to training. I’m focused on forcing myself to rest so I can properly heal (unlike last week when I continued to work out despite warnings).  I’m thinking about where I can hike this weekend and how I can start to exponentially increase my distance. In short, I’m being the consummate stubborn-idealist.  By doing so, I am failing to listen to my body and consider the very real possibility that I might have to make some tough choices in the near future. I may have to decide that running an ultra is not in my best interest–not because I can’t do it, but because it’s not worth the wear and tear on my body.

Let’s look at the facts:  I have not experienced recurring SI issues since I last trail ran.  That means I have gone roughly five years running moderately (i.e. 10-12 km at a time at most), hiking extensively, and generally staying very fit and active.  I have done this without any major body issues.  As soon as I’ve reintegrated even the most modest of distance gains (i.e. an extra 5 km/run) or any trail running whatsoever, my injuries have come back with a vengeance.

I’m not ready to make a decision yet. I want to get through this next cycle of healing, I want to focus on slowly and thoughtfully building up my distance, and I want to start working with a personal training to balance out my strength. I believe these things will make a difference (stubborn idealism rears its head again!).  What I also know, however, is that if these approaches don’t work and I continue to face painful recurring injuries, I will be forced into a very tough decision that will test my stubborn idealist ways.

To ultra or not to ultra…that will be my question, and I am not looking forward to having to seriously contemplate it.