Category: Running

How Not to Train for a Half Marathon

*Especially if it’s your first one in a very long time.

I’m running a half marathon tomorrow. Not only will this be my first (non-pregnant) race since November 2012 (yikes!), but it will also be the longest distance I’ve run in a year. Considering the previous statement, you would think that I’d have spent a long time diligently training; slowly building up my base to ensure that I am completely prepared for this exciting reentry into the world of racing.

I had every intention of doing this. Or rather, I intended to build up as slowly as a person can over the course of 10 weeks after 6 weeks of limited activity while recovering from a c-section. In hindsight, my April half marathon goal may have been a tad ambitious – not because 10 weeks isn’t enough time to train for a half but…when you’re starting from zero and find yourself with significantly less free time and slightly different priorities well… let’s just say my intentions never actually made their way into the action stage.

Remember when I posted this plan and said that I would use it as a guide for my training? Well, I took the “guide” part pretty literally. I did okay for a little while and then a cold, a heel injury, the return to work and a stomach flu all sort of derailed my plans. So you know, I may have skipped a run (or 10) and just sort of hobbled my way through training as best as I could.

In the spirit of full disclosure and transparency, I present to you my actual Postpartum Half Marathon Training Plan.

Don’t try this at home, kids. Results not guaranteed.

postpartum half marathon plan

There were a bunch of walks and some limited strength training in here too, but you get the idea. In sum: this is not the way you should train for a half (clearly). And you can see where I realized I better get myself in gear and step it up. Would I recommend cramming your long runs into the last two weeks of training before a big race? Nope. But hey, I’m still standing. And since I didn’t die on my 11 mile run last weekend and was actually able to maintain a fairly steady pace the entire time, I’m obviously super prepared for the race tomorrow. Let’s just hope a little race day adrenaline and the addition of a cute little cheerleader on the sidelines is enough to get me through those final miles.

Amelia standing

Assuming I survive*, I promise to be back soon to update you with all the gory details.

*Despite how the above post might sound, I’m actually really excited about the race tomorrow. Okay, so I’m also incredibly stressed. What was I thinking, signing up for a Saturday race 2 hours away from my house after only my second full week back in the office (a week that has been incredibly draining, I might add)?! But mostly excited. I can’t say I have no goals for the race, because obviously I would like to finish, and I’d love if I could somehow do it between 2:00 and 2:10. But I’m not stressing about the pace at all. The plan is to go out there, take it easy, and rediscover the joy (and pain!) of racing again. In some ways I feel like I am starting from scratch – I knew how to race before I got pregnant, knew to dial it back a bit in races during pregnancy, but I’m not so sure how to race now…in this awkward, out of shape postpartum state. If nothing else, it should be an interesting experience. And a good baseline to see where all that time off and a few weeks of minimal training has gotten me.

Adventures in Treadmill Running…

…with a baby and a dog

The scene: Tuesday afternoon. Another freezing, windy, snowy day in Vermont.

The cast: One stir-crazy mom who has been on sole baby duty for almost 2 full days, a relatively happy though sometimes inexplicably fussy 2-month old, and a slightly neurotic, somewhat attention-starved pup.

The decision: to schlep this motley crew down to the basement so that mom can get in a few miles on the treadmill.

I’ve talked about my old, slightly broken and very worn treadmill before. It’s something I used to avoid running on at all costs — it shakes, there’s a rut in the center of the belt, and it just feels way harder than running outside. But after the winter we’ve been having, that treadmill and I are becoming the best of friends. Because even a barely functioning treadmill is better than nothing.

treadmill.jpgObviously this gym set up needs some work

But I’ve been hesitant to bring Amelia down there with me when I run because it’s in the partially finished, cooler, storage half of the basement. Plus I had no idea how she’d do. So I usually just plan my runs around Evan’s work schedule, passing the baby off when he gets home and getting in a few miles and a shower before she needs to eat again. I don’t run every day and I’m not working, so it’s pretty easy to be flexible right now.

Until yesterday. We were on Day 2 of Evan leaving the house before 7:00am and coming home after 9:00pm. The weather has been absolutely frigid and snowing…so cold that I don’t really feel comfortable bringing a two-month old outside for a run (maybe it wouldn’t have been bad…I don’t know. I’m new to this). I suppose I could have gotten up early to run before Evan left, but I’m just not dedicated enough to a) cut into my unpredictable sleep and b) get up even earlier so that I could pump first.

So the treadmill was my only option. I gathered up my supplies: the bouncer, a blanket, a frog wubbanub, and some brightly colored toys to keep Amelia happy and an edible bone to give the dog something else to do besides bug the baby. I set everyone up, got my shoes on, and stepped on the machine, nervous about how long Little A would last. She’s not the biggest fan of her bouncer, preferring to sit in the swing or even lie on her play gym. Usually her tolerance for the seat is only about 15-20 minutes. But I figured that was better than nothing. I’d run however far she’d let me and that would be good enough.

the set upMy company for the run

Turns out I was worried about the wrong child all along.

(In case you’re wondering why the dog had to come down with me, well…you’ve probably never had a boxer. He tends to have low impulse control on the best days, but since Amelia’s arrival he’s been getting himself into trouble more often. My poor, needy, slightly misplaced older child. I figured we’d all be better off if he was down where I could watch him. Plus, he usually hangs out with me while I’m on the treadmill anyway…content to just lie there and watch.)

The second he got his bone, Koli started sprinting around the basement, tossing the bone up in the air and having the cutest solo game of fetch I’ve ever seen. I started to run, patting myself on the back for being so resourceful. Why didn’t I think to do this earlier?

…until 30 seconds later when the dog began crying because he had gotten his bone stuck under the treadmill. I got off, retrieved the treat, told him to “go!” and started my run again.

And again I was interrupted by the dog’s cries. This time because no one was playing with him (poor, tortured creature). When his whining failed to give him what he wanted, he gave up on the bone and searched for other ways to pass the time. Checking on the baby, trying to play with her toys, getting into the cat litter, sniffing around in half open boxes — all of these activities were apparently way more interesting than chewing on a silly little bone. He’d take periodic breaks to run around the basement, searching for a place to hide the treat so that he could dig to “find” it. Apparently the treadmill looked like a prime location, despite the fact that he was too scared to actually get the bone once it was trapped under the moving belt.

I spent the entire run saying, “Koli no! Koli – go on!” “Go lay down!” “Koli!!”

Meanwhile, Amelia just sat calmly in her seat, transfixed by the sound of the treadmill and the sight of my moving feet. She sat there wide-eyed the entire time, like it was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen. That girl is going to grow up to be a runner, mark my words.

Amelia_bouncerAfter the run — she kicked off her blanket, pushed away her toys and spit out the wubbanub. But still happy as a clam.

Finally, 2.5 miles into the run Koli wore himself out. He sat down on the mat and stared sadly at the bone, defeated.

I picked up the pace for a final half mile and stopped the belt the second the numbers ticked to 3.0. Better not push it. We schlepped back upstairs where my happy baby hung out with me while I stretched. And poor Koli, after surviving a full 26 minutes staring at it, could finally eat his bone. Apparently the basement is no place to consume such a delicacy.

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Lesson learned: Apparently Amelia likes the treadmill. But next time I’ll leave the dog to his own devices upstairs.

And for our next adventure, we’ll be taking a 2-month old on an airplane. We may be crazy, but we need to escape the cold somehow. Plus my younger sister is running her first ever half marathon (!) and I need to be there. Pregnant Lauren secretly hoped she’d be able to run that half with her sister, but rational postpartum Lauren is content to just cheer.

Anyway, when I get back I’ll be sure to blog my expert tips about traveling with a 2-month old. Because you know, doing something one time makes you a pro. So stay tuned!*

 

*Obviously that final part is sarcasm. In reality, I need all the tips about traveling with a baby that I can get (Have you done it before? Tell me about it!)! We have nonstop flights both ways and we’re hoping she just sleeps the whole time. If not, I apologize in advance to our fellow passengers.

The Not-Training Training Plan

After a few warm days that teased of spring, winter has returned to Vermont. It’s freezing, the one million feet of snow still on the ground has turned into ice, and more snow is in the forecast for 4 out of the next 5 days. It’s that time of year when I start questioning the life decisions that somehow brought me to this frozen tundra of a state. Thankfully Evan, Amelia and I will soon be escaping the frigid temperatures for a much-needed warm getaway. My little snow baby isn’t going to know what to do with herself when she feels the sun for the first time. But more about that later.

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Instead, let’s talk about training! (it’s been awhile) Or rather, “not-training.” Over that past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed heading out for a short run whenever I felt like it. It’s been nice to ease my way back into this sport. As much as I missed the regularity of training plans and races in my life over this past year, I find that I’m really enjoying this in-between stage — the not pregnant, but not training phase. Just taking my comeback one slow step at a time.

However, there’s a little race that I signed up for in mid-April that’s fast approaching. As tired as I am of this winter weather, I can’t believe it’s already the end of February. Spring (and my return to work) is right around the corner. Which means it’s time to get my butt in gear.

The half marathon I’m planning to run will be a little over a year to the day that I found out I was pregnant with Amelia. I’m not training to race this half. In fact, I don’t even expect to get up to 13 miles before race day. Instead, I’m looking at it as a milestone. To signify the end of one cycle (pregnancy/recovery) and the beginning of the next. This half marathon will be the the start of my training. A goal to keep me motivated during this tough re-entrance into running and a baseline to see where I’m at before fall marathon training begins.

I’m so excited to bring this phase of life full circle. I loved running while pregnant, have really soaked up my recovery time and am looking forward to the future. There’s a fire burning deep in my heart that I haven’t felt in a long time. I want to get strong, I want to work hard. Any trace of burnout I’ve felt over the past couple of years has completely disappeared. I’m ready to get back out there again. I know it’ll take time, but the funny thing about it is that makes me more excited, not less. I want to be fast again — someday. But more than that, I’m looking forward to the work. To feel that familiar ache in my muscles after a long run, the gotta-puke-burning-lungs sensation during a hard workout, and the mental pain as I fight those demons that tell me I need to quit. In short, absence really has made my heart grow fonder. It’s been so long since I’ve pushed myself that I’m actually looking forward to the pain.

Now, of course that’s easy for me to say as I sit here on the couch with a baby sleeping on my chest. And despite my excitement to work hard again, I’m still not at the place where I’ll choose a run over time with Amelia…and I’m certainly not wishing I was out running long on a cold winter morning instead of in bed snuggling a baby. I am soaking up every single minute that I can with her. But I’m slowly getting glimmers of my old “runner” self back, and I love that too. When I do get the opportunity to run, I’ve tried to enjoy every single moment, even the sucky “why am I so tired after 4 miles??” ones.

DSC 0801

Anyway, that’s a lot of rambling to say: I’m excited about training and want to slowly build up my base, but I’m not considering myself to be “in training” yet. However, since I do have a half marathon coming up in the very near future, I need to make sure I’m actually able to run for over an hour and a half without dying. Enter the “Not-Training Training Plan.”

postpartum half marathon training plan

The sole goal here is to build up my base. To slowly work on my endurance and practice running long. My last double-digit run was over the summer when I was 20 weeks pregnant….almost 30 weeks ago. I would like to get my body back to the place where I can handle double-digit runs before I start actually training (i.e. working on speed, etc). But I want to be smart about it. I’ve been running for 3 weeks and have only gone on a handful of short, easy runs in that time. Chances are I’m being a little more conservative than I need to be. But my injury-prone body has been through some pretty dramatic changes over the past year. So I’d rather be safe than sorry.

The training plan I posted above is meant to serve as an outline only. Weeks 1-3 reflect my actual runs. The rest are runs I hope to complete. It should be noted that I don’t really plan to follow this schedule exactly as it is written — I already didn’t complete the run I had scheduled for yesterday. But I need a guideline to make sure I can actually handle the distance on race day. Like I said before, it’s probably more conservative than I need to be. I’m keeping my overall mileage low and building up as slowly as I can within the time frame. If I feel good one day/week, I’ll run more; if I don’t feel up to it, I’ll do less. This is all uncharted territory for me.

In the meantime, I need to figure out how to transfer this sleeping baby off my lap so I can run to the bathroom. My day is just chock-full of excitement! Hopefully I can squeeze a few miles in later too.

 

The State of Things

This comeback is going to be one of stops and starts. After a semi-successful first week, I took quite a few days off before I attempted another run. First because we had visitors, and then because I got sick. But over the last two days (yeah, I know, only 2…not quite on a roll yet), I’ve been so excited to get in a few miles. So I suppose we can’t quite call it a comeback yet…but it’ll get there.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been too chicken to brave the frigid cold and have resorted to running on our old, slightly broken treadmill. You know the winter weather is bad when a noisy, shaky treadmill with a permanent rut down the middle of the belt is preferable to a run outdoors.

That being said, I think I need to get out for a mile or two today. We have well over 2 feet of snow…I kinda sorta think it would be fun to schlep through it.

Photo  9We’re watching my sister’s dog this week. He is not impressed.

Despite the fact that I’m 20 pounds lighter (and sans baby), my running stride still closely resembles my pregnancy shuffle. So on my last two treadmill runs, I tried working in a few quick sections of high knees, just to practice lifting my feet off the ground. I’m sure it’ll come back eventually. Okay…not really sure. But I hope.

In my pre-baby life, I could run a marathon at a 7:30 pace. Now 8:30 feels like sprinting.

I used to have abs. Now I have a big smooshy hole in the middle where they should be (just keeping it real <– I love Lauren Fleshman). It’s a lovely condition called diastisis recti that can happen as a result of carrying a big baby…and if the muscles don’t come back together on their own, I may need physical therapy. So that’s fun.

Because of the extra “gush,” you’d think I’d be super motivated to do core and strength work. Not so much. I know how important it is to work on strength and I know that I REALLY need to start prioritizing it, but I’m struggling. The ridiculous part about it is that it’s not like I’m even spending that much time working out right now. I run for 30 minutes — I think I can spare a few more to do a little core work while the baby is napping. Or while we’re watching the Olympics at night.

Turns out that running with almost 30 extra pounds can really wear down your shoes. I finally ran in a new pair yesterday and the difference was amazing.

saucony mirage 4.JPGThe new Saucony Mirage 4s…the key to my comeback

You know what else was amazing about yesterday? I finally felt good on a run! (It must’ve been the shoes.) Everything came together and I felt like myself again…only slower. And just for fun, I held a sub-8:00 pace for the last 200m (look at me fly!)! I haven’t seen that pace since…well, early pregnancy. It hurt so good.

After almost a year of not being able to push myself on runs, it feels weird to work hard again. There’s a part of my brain that fights against it and automatically holds me back. But once I get past that, it feels so good to push…in the most painful of ways.

I joined Strava. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I figured I needed some sort of platform to track my training and keep myself motivated during this comeback. I used Daily Mile a couple of years ago and eventually got sick of it. I’m not sure if Strava will be different but I’m willing to give it a try. So if you want to follow me or secretly stalk my training, here you go. It’s pretty inspiring stuff. (speaking of which: I feel like I did in those early Facebook days. How do I find people? Is it weird to request to follow this person?? Why does this seem so awkward?).

You’ve probably heard a lot of women say that they credit their quick recovery to an active pregnancy. Heck, I probably even said something along those lines to support why I was going to keep running as long as possible. But you want to know the honest truth? I really have no idea if my “active pregnancy” has done a darn thing. I mean, sure, I can suppose that running would feel even harder right now if I hadn’t exercised while I was pregnant. And so I assume that an active pregnancy has helped in the recovery process. But the reality is I’ve never done all this before. I have nothing to compare it to. And after my c-section I wasn’t exactly sprinting out the door anyway. The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that exercising through my pregnancy helped keep me sane and feeling good. And it sure did help grow a big healthy baby.

Photo  7Who is growing WAY too fast!

And while we’re on the topic of babies…I love this kid more than I ever thought possible. And most of the time, I love being able to spend the day with her. But I have to admit that there are days when I go just a little stir-crazy. After yet another snowstorm or the one millionth sub-zero day in a row, I start to feel just a little trapped. I don’t really want to wish time away, but man am I excited for spring.

neverending snow

That being said, I don’t even want to talk about how fast my maternity leave is going by. I’ll be back at work before I know it. And I can’t really say I’m looking forward to it…

Getting Out the Door is the Easy Part

“The first step is the hardest.”

“The hardest part is getting out the door.”

It’s confession time on this freezing Friday morning: I secretly hate those sayings. Well, I suppose it’s not a secret anymore. But in my opinion that silly idiom is right up there with “you never regret a run/workout!” (umm…I can assure you that I have).

Now before you write me off as a big old grump, let me just say that I understand the meaning behind the phrase. I know it can be really hard to work up the motivation to start when you’re out of shape, or leave the warmth of your house for that long run/tempo workout/hill repeats when you’d much rather stay in bed. But not only does that phrase sort of devalue the hard work many runners put into their training, it’s simply not true. When you’re getting back into shape, especially after a long time off, getting out the door is the easy part. Sticking with it — after the high of that first run wears off and you’re stuck with the realization of how much work you have ahead of you — that’s the hard part. That’s the part that makes it easy to just say screw it. I’d rather just stick to my couch.

Since being cleared for exercise last Friday evening, I’ve run three times (as excited as I am to be running again, I’m really easing back into it in order to avoid injury). And each run has gotten progressively harder.

This is going to sound totally contrived, but I swear to you — my first run back was magical. Last Saturday, after 10 weeks of absolutely no running (my longest break in recent memory), I bundled up against the cold and sprinted out the door. And while the video Evan took (without my knowledge) of me starting out shows an out-of-shape woman tentatively making her way down the street at a pace that barely resembled running, in my head I was flying. Light as a feather. All those things that I had worried about for so long — that my incision would hurt, that my insides would feel like they were falling out, that my legs would’ve somehow forgotten what to do — turned out to be unfounded. Everything fell into place and I was unstoppable.

Until I hit the mile mark, anyway. And my lungs suddenly realized that they weren’t participating in the most fun activity ever. But you know, still…I was running. Pandora was killing it with the music that morning and I was in a cloud of all the emotions – excitement that my legs still worked, joy in being able to move quickly again, and some unexpected sadness about this being my first run without Amelia in almost a year. I had imagined that run so many times in my head. Despite the cold, my heaving lungs, and the fact that a 9:00 pace practically felt like sprinting, the run was everything I thought it would be. I finished on top of the world.

First post-baby runIf you don’t take a picture of your Garmin after your run, did it really happen?

I spent the next day skiing and it was the same — a little weirdness in getting used to my new body but so much happiness to just be out there. I was back, baby!!

IMG 5358

And then I tried running again. And it turns out I’m actually going to have to work hard to get back into shape. Who would’ve thought?

My legs have surprisingly been okay. My stride is different and I know it will take awhile for everything to function seamlessly again, but all that extra load bearing during pregnancy seems to have served them well. My lungs, on the other hand, are struggling. A lack of aerobic activity + cold air isn’t exactly the best combination. I spent my last 2 runs battling major side stitches. Yesterday I had cramps on both sides the second I started running. I almost bailed on my 3 mile run they were so bad. Let me tell you — nothing makes you feel quite so out of shape as major cramps on what should be a short, easy run. As I slipped around on the snow that afternoon, I thought about how easy it would be to just give up. And how humbling this challenge to keep moving forward will be, knowing that running doesn’t feel the way it used to…and won’t for awhile.

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The only thing that keeps me going at this point is knowing what it’s like on the other side. I’ve been out of shape before. Maybe not this badly, but I have experience working my way back from scratch. I know it’s going to suck for awhile. That it might take months of slogging through easy runs that feel difficult. But one day, suddenly, everything is bound to click. My stride will feel natural, my lungs will get on board, and running will be fun again.

Right now, it’s just work. Harder than it should be, different than I remembered. I have a new understanding and appreciation for why many people don’t stick with running for very long. Why new runners look at you like you’re crazy when you talk about how fun running can be. Or describe the joy of an “effortless” 10 mile run. It doesn’t seem possible. Even now, having experienced all those things, I have a hard time imagining ever feeling that way on a run again.

But I just need to be patient. And you know…I suppose it’s only fair to say that my life as a runner has made me a little crazy. Because even as I struggle through my runs now, I finish each one filled with hope. And the more I think about running, the more excited I become to get out the door and try again. Yeah, my hopes are dashed a little bit when I actually start moving and realize just how hard it’s going to be, but it’s not enough to erase the delusion completely. The delusion that I’m going to go out there and suddenly feel the way I used to is what keeps me going

Anyway, I probably could’ve summed up this rambling post in three sentences: I’m running again (yay!). It kind of sucks because I’m really out of shape (boo). But I expected that, so for now I just have to keep dragging myself out the door day after day, hoping that it’ll eventually get better.

And if it doesn’t, well, at least I’m able to run. For now that fact alone is enough.

Okay so that was five sentences. Can I just keep blaming the sleep deprivation for everything?

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