Making the most of the off season – a talk with Dr. Aleck Wong

‘Tis the season! This phrase is heard ringing throughout our lives day-in and day-out this time of year. And while everyone is bustling about with the busy-ness of juggling life and preparing for the holidays, runners and endurance athletes are also typically finding themselves in the midst of another kind of season – the off season. I think of it more as a “reboot season” – unplugging for a bit and starting back up again after sufficient rest. It’s a crucial time for a runner, truly. A rich opportunity to let go of the rigors of training and racing in order to reap the benefits of and learn from the prior cycle or to address issues that have lingered from it. It’s a time to recharge our batteries on all levels – physical, mental and emotional.

This season can be welcomed and embraced by any level of runner, but it also oftentimes leaves us feeling a little bit lost and anxious to get back to the rhythms of training and racing. I have been wondering lately – what is the BEST way to approach this in-between time, to prime our bodies and minds for goals we have ahead of us?

How do we make the most of our time off from training? As a coach and an athlete myself, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about this. But I wanted to ask someone whose expertise and opinions I have always valued, to get a little more insight into it and to pass that wisdom along to you.

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Believe I Am – Beyond Running

One of my favorite things about the Believe I Am journal is that it encourages me to look closely at my WHOLE self – to see the sum of all of my parts and to seek balance amongst my body, my mind and my soul.  It calls me to set goals in areas of my life beyond running (if I want), and to look closely at what is in my heart.  It gives me a platform to work on anything at all, really.

At first when I saw the “Goals” page I was just very focused on what that meant for my running.  It is a running journal, after all.  I want to be faster, stronger, tougher.  But when I looked more closely at it, I found myself getting emotional and this made perfect sense to me – my running is connected to all aspects of my life, and my reasons for doing it go way beyond just a time on the clock or even staying physically in good shape.

Running opens me up to myself, it shows me who I really am.  And I will admit, I don’t always feel awesome about myself and the job I am doing in life.  There are so many things that I want to improve on to be a better me.  This is not to say that I am not nice to myself or just so critical of or down on myself all the time –  I believe it’s important to be open to change and to want to change, but to do so in a way that is full of self love, self acceptance and forgiveness.

hello, self

I am a work in progress, and I honestly believe that I always will be – I hope I always will be.  I hope I feel this way for all of my life.  I don’t want to ever get stiff or stagnant or cold or stuck – in a physical sense, in an emotional sense, or in a spiritual sense.  Youth for me is about so much more than age.  It is a state of mind, a peaceful heart, an OPEN heart.  A joyful heart.  I want to be forever learning and growing and changing, yet to have my roots firmly planted and to know who I am.  To always be real with myself.

This journal opened my eyes to some things … I am not facing my real self – my whole self – as much as I want to be.  I am not pouring myself as passionately into all the things I care about, as I am into some of the things I care about.  Maybe it’s because life can be so overwhelming.  With three little kids and a husband, a busy household to manage, my own solitary pursuits and passions and those of the ones I love – there is just a lot going on.  Whatever the reason, I have a lot of stuff to work on that really matters to me.  I talk a big game about dreams and going after them in so many areas of my life – career and running, especially – so why not take that same attitude towards other areas of my life that are equally – and if not more – important to me!?!

If I want to live my life to the very fullest I have got to look closely at what matters to me, to recognize where I need to change and to do my best each and every day – one day at a time – to make choices that will lead me in the direction of my dreams.  With passion and intention and with self awareness.

And this doesn’t just mean running dreams.

like my pants are on fire

One day at a time, one step at a time, I am trying to focus on the things that are most important to me: trying to be a better mother, a more loving and present wife, a good friend and sister.  Balancing my own individual and personal needs and desires (which include running and taking care of myself) with those of the ones I love.

I love my Believe I Am journal because it is so much more than just a training log.  It is a workbook of sorts, a place where I can spill my thoughts and come face to face with what matters most to me, figure out WHY it is important to me and chart a course towards achieving and maybe even surpassing my dreams.  In ALL areas of my life.  With running, with my family, with my career and my passions, with my mental and emotional and physical health.

The goal setting page of this journal is where a lot of this began to happen for me.  We are given three “flowers” to set and work through our goals on.  The center of the flower is the goal, the petals are the steps you need to take to achieve them and the leaves are the reasons for your goals.

I set three goals for myself:

Believe I Am: A STRONG RUNNER
Believe I Am: A GOOD WIFE & MOTHER
Believe I Am: WORTH IT

This simple exercise opened me up to much of what is in my heart.  It is helping me to be so much more self aware, to see so clearly what is important to me and why.  It is very honestly helping me to set a path towards being the best version of myself and to believing in myself.

There is no end to this journey, and that is part of what makes life so beautiful.  Opportunities exist all around us to seek more joy and love and passion in our lives.  It is my hope that I will live a long, long time and that I will forever be grateful for where I am, yet forever growing.

Do you set goals for yourself outside of running and chart your course towards achieving them?  Have you ever used a Believe I Am journal before? 

Believe I Am Training Journal – Sisters in Sport

Writing things down, and I mean really writing them down – like on paper with a pen, pencil or marker – is the way I keep myself organized.  I do have an iPhone and a computer and I use them (constantly, probably too much to be honest), but the real recording is done the old fashioned way for me – pen and ink and sweet, beautiful, awesome paper. There is just something about putting things in ink that makes me feel good.

When it comes to keeping track of my training schedule, I make a spreadsheet for myself and color code the runs when they are done.  It is always changing so having a soft copy of it is key for me.  But the information that is captured there is really just the numbers, and there is SO much more to every run than “just the numbers.”  There is a bigger picture that needs to be seen – there are more details beneath the numbers – and a spreadsheet with miles and paces just doesn’t cut it for me.

I was so excited when I discovered the Believe I Am training journal at the beginning of 2011.  I have used mine since January to set my goals and keep track of my progress.  I love looking through it and seeing how I was feeling, what I was thinking, what paces I was running and so much more … it really has helped me in so many ways.  I love it.

Recently I was given the amazing opportunity to be a part of a fun group of female bloggers (“Sisters in Sport”) to try out the newly updated version of this awesome training journal!  While most of it is the same as the original, there are some REALLY great updates to it that make a journal that I already loved even that much more amazing.  I started using my new one at the beginning of October to track my progress towards MCM (which is less than 2 weeks away now!) and beyond, in the year ahead.

day by day

October is looking to be the biggest month of my running in all of my life.  I set my goals for the month – to “stay injury free, balanced and happy, to ROCK MCM, and to keep smiling”.  I want to keep all of these things in mind each time I lace up my shoes for a run.  I run because I love it, because it makes me feel good inside and out, and because it helps me to be the best version of myself I can possibly be.

This journal is amazing for me – I love that it is a place I can “ink” my runs and record whatever I feel is important about each one.  I love adding up my mileage and seeing how far I have come this year.  Most importantly though, I love seeing what was in my heart, what was inspiring me or troubling me, what was speaking to me.

I am setting goals for myself in this journal – goals that go far beyond just running and setting PRs – I am setting intentions and claiming dreams here.  And I am not just saying WHAT I want to do, but I am looking deeper into my heart to discover WHY and HOW I want to get there.

goal setting

This journal is truly a gift for me.  In such a short time it has helped me find a new perspective.  It has helped me seek things inside my heart – through running – that I never imagined I would or could find.  It has inspired me to BELIEVE in myself in a whole new way.  I am so grateful to have it, and I look forward to using it each and every day.

the only thing stopping me…is me

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to be facing some fears, setting some intentions and putting my heart out on the line to accomplish something that terrifies me yet is something I truly believe I am capable of doing.  But the fact is that after Marine Corps Marathon, I will not cease to dream or strive to be the best me I can be.  I will continue to move forward, to dream and to enjoy the journey along the way.  I am excited to continue to use my Believe I Am journal to keep track of my progress and what is going on inside my heart.  And as part of the “Sisters in Sport” project, I will be checking back with monthly posts to share with you guys how I use the journal to help me with my training and my goals.

How do you keep track of your training and your goals?  Have you ever used the Believe I Am training journal?

three weeks

I think it’s safe to say that I have recovered from MCM.  These next three weeks are about enjoying easy runs, not tracking my mileage like a maniac, concentrating on Pilates and strength training and gearing myself up for my next training cycle as I prepare for Marathon Number 9 – Rock n Roll USA.  Let me tell you, it is going to be a biggie!

Before I dive into my next training cycle (which begins on December 4th) I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the really great aspects of my MCM training:

  • PRs ~ I set new PRs with every single race that I ran!  This is just so awesome to me.  I did a few 5ks (improving my PR in that distance by more than 2 minutes), a 10k (a 3 minute PR), a half marathon and two marathons.  My Half Marathon PR was a 13 minute PR and my marathon PRs combined left me with more than a 54 minute PR.  My heart is proud and grateful.  The only limits I have are those that I place upon myself!! 
Crossing the finish line at the VA Beach RnR Half Marathon. New PR of 1:43:02
  • Speed Work ~ For the first time ever, I incorporated regular speed work into my training.  It paid off in major ways and I enjoyed it more than I can describe, but more than that those early mornings spent running around in circles were some of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced as a runner.  I miss it.
  • Being Coached ~ Another first in my running career: I was coached!  I participated in the =PR= Distance Training Program and I really believe I could not have made a better decision.  If you ask me, Coach Caitlyn is the bee’s knees.  She is smart, she really cares about each and every person she coaches – celebrating all of our accomplishments, advising us when we were unsure of ourselves, picking us up when we felt down or were struggling with injury – she is a natural at the coaching thing and I was grateful and honored to be coached by her.  When I joined the group in June I remember telling her that I would PR this year.  I told her on that balmy June morning that I would get a solid 25 minute PR in the marathon come October (I was shooting for 4:10 at the time) and I could tell she thought my goal was a lofty one especially as a nursing mother of three, but she believed in me anyway.  As training progressed and my body was responding so well she encouraged me to dream bigger, but to still be smart.  Coming away from this training with a 3:41:56 marathon time – close to an hour faster than my prior PR – is just summed up with one word ~ incredible.  I know I did the work but I truly believe that the support and encouragement of Coach Caitlyn and Coach Adam and also all of my “teammates” in the group – was just as important to my success as the hard work I put in to get there.  I cannot imagine training without these guys.  They are my posse, my friends, my people.  I am so proud and thankful for each one of them and cannot wait to run together again.
  • Strong Core ~ I was very dedicated to strength training and Pilates throughout my training cycle. I can’t tell you how important this was for my running as well as for my mothering!  Strengthening my core, especially after having a baby, has been seriously hard work.  After hurting my back in the spring I swore I would make Pilates and strength training a regular part of my life’s routine whether or not I am training for a race.  How you move is extremely important in life whether you are a runner or not.  A healthy spine is imperative to living an active happy life!  I don’t sweat it out in a Pilates class – that is not what Pilates is about.  Pilates is about how we function in life.  How we carry and care for our bodies.  I want to live a long and active life and Pilates will ensure that I feel good in my body for a long long time.  It is something I will make time to do each and every day.  I believe the quality of my life depends on it.

Focusing on a strong core at Reston Pilates

I’m taking these next three weeks to focus on rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.  To enjoy the freedom of not having a training plan to follow and to get myself ready and excited for what’s ahead.  I have big dreams for my next training cycle and I want to enter into it ready and confident as I step up to the plate.  This does not mean no running and it certainly does not mean no sweating.  The goal for the next three weeks is to sweat, strengthen my core and have fun.  I’m also going to spend some time thinking about my goals for 2012 and how I’m going to accomplish them.  It’s no secret that I want that sub-3:40 marathon and a BQ in the bag, but believe it or not I have other goals in mind besides that.  I’ve got a lot of dreaming and scheming to take care of over these next three weeks.  Just thinking about it makes me excited.

So how about you?  What do you do in the breaks between marathon training cycles?  Are you thinking about your dreams and goals for 2012?

weekend miles & setting a goal

Yesterday morning my sister Jodi and I completed an 11 mile run at a 9:37 average pace.  This was a whole minute-per-mile faster than last weekend’s long run of 12.75 miles (I averaged around a 10:30 pace for that run).  The route was different – there were definitely more hills last weekend – but still, a whole minute faster?  This leaves me wondering about consistency and how much I should/could push myself on my runs.  Especially my shorter runs during the week.  When I run long I don’t worry too much about my pace (especially since having my baby 3 months ago).  I make sure I’m comfortable and steady and just sort of GO.  For my shorter runs though, especially as I am trying to regain my fitness and strength, I think I need to be pushing myself and increasing my speed.  Perhaps it is time for a little speed play?

Today I needed to run…I felt like I had to shake some things off.  I ran 3.5 miles and averaged a 9:19 pace.  It was so nice to sweat it out.

Total mileage for the week was 26.5. Getting closer to my goal of 30 miles per week by June 1st.  Woot!

Speaking of goals…

I am still a good 10 pounds heavier than I was before I got pregnant last spring and I cannot fit into my pants yet.  I’m getting a little tired of wearing yoga pants all.the.time.  My baby will be 12 weeks old this week and I think it is time to get serious about losing these extra LBs.  I eat a pretty healthy diet and honestly love healthy fruits and veggies.  I have been a vegetarian for a loooong time and have eaten a mostly vegan diet for the past 3 years.  My problem is SUGAR.  And portion sizes (whoa, man can I eat A LOT).  This doesn’t usually bother me too much except that I have weight to lose and it is really getting to me.  Summer is around the corner and I want to (A) feel good in my own clothes, possibly a bathing suit! and (B) run faster.  I need to lose this weight.  I think this blog can help me be accountable, so I am going to chart my progress here and tell you how it is going.

Starting RIGHT THIS MINUTE I am going to do the following:

  1. take processed sugars out of my diet.  When I have a sweet tooth, I’m reaching for a piece of fruit (or 10 if that is what it takes!).  
  2. reduce my consumption of gluten. For a long time I have believed that it messes with me – mainly my digestive system and my brain.  I love other grains like rice and quinoa so I think this will not be too hard, especially since a lot of foods with processed sugars also have gluten in them.
  3. watch my portion sizes and think twice before I have a second helping…Am I hungry for more, really? … I need to be more self aware when I am eating.
  4. make sure to drink at least 8 full glasses of water a day.
I’m going to take it one day at a time, but am setting a goal to be able to stick with this at least through the month of May.  My hope is that with these changes in my diet and my mileage increasing, I’m setting myself up for success.  I owe it to myself to stick with this…