Pilates for Runners

For several years after having my two oldest children, I was plagued by chronic lower back pain and SI joint dysfunction that would come and go (and sometimes completely stop me in my tracks) and hips that always felt out of whack. Maybe it was from carrying my kids around on my left hip all the time (while simultaneously doing everyday tasks like making meals, carrying laundry or groceries, talking on the phone, emptying the dishwasher, etc.)… Maybe it was just from bad postural habits that took their toll over time.

Whatever the cause, it wasn’t good and it wasn’t heading me in the direction I wanted to be headed in.

I wasn’t mindful at all about how I moved and I didn’t have the self awareness – or the perspective – that I do now.

It was during one of my particularly tough back spasms that my sister Jodi (an awesome runner, coach, Pilates guru and owner of my favorite studio, Reston Pilates) encouraged me to try Pilates. It had helped her tremendously after her back surgery (so much so that despite doctors telling her she would likely never run again, she has since run multiple marathons and ultras!) and she believed it would help me, too. She began to teach me and it didn’t take long for me to begin to realize the amazing benefits. Not long after that I began pursuing a teaching education in Pilates so that I could help others heal and live pain free through this wonderful movement system.

Pilates literally changed my life. It helped me connect with and develop an inner strength that had in fact always been there. I became intentional with how I moved my body and with how I stood, cultivating better habits and healthier movement patterns. With a dedication to regular Pilates and mindful movement, I discovered that I am so much stronger than I ever thought possible. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

the sweet spot

The other day Maddie and I went for our first run together since crossing the finish line in Boston last week.  It was easy and light and neither one of us could have cared any less about how fast or how far we were going.  Really.  We talked about nothing and everything all at once … jibber-jabbering on and on … sharing our stories about Boston, catching up on all that is happening in our personal lives, and dreaming about the future — in running and in life.  I could have run with her all day.  Could have chatted with her for miles and miles and miles more.

And it makes me so happy because I know we will do that.  We have miles and miles ahead of us to share and reflect and dream.  To just run and do what we love.

Side-by-side, step-for-step, breath-for-breath.   We are in it together.

When we are in the midst of serious training, we are focused so much of the time.  This winter we were both as dedicated as we could possibly be – we trained indoors when it was too icy or freezing out.  We showed up for one another and pushed one another when I am certain we both could have been persuasive and given ourselves permission to turn hard runs into easy runs or run fewer miles than planned or just not run at all.  We dialed ourselves into some pretty intense and totally confidence-boosting workouts.

It was hard.  And it was awesome.

high five after completing our last long run for Boston!

After our run on Monday we talked about the plans for the rest of the week.  We were both all smiles, so happy, so chill.  We said this part of our running lives is like a “sweet spot”  – if we let it be.  It’s so necessary to have this time between training cycles – time to recover, recharge and reset.  We aren’t worried about the pace or the mileage, but we are still moving.  We feel so grateful for how far we’ve come and for the races we just ran and are excited about the dreams we have ahead of us, the mountains we want to climb.  Right now though, we get to enjoy this sweet spot, this time to reflect and dream and plan and run for the pure joy it brings us.

I was thinking about it after we finished our run, because I can sometimes get really grouchy when I’m in both the taper and recovery phases of my training.  I BELIEVE in them and I stick to them and I certainly honor them, but I don’t always EMBRACE them or savor them for how sweet I think they are truly meant to be.  My taper for Boston was peppered with a lot of moments of anxiety because I didn’t know what was going on with my knee bruise or how fast it would heal.  That uncertainly on top of the normal taper-crazies just made me feel all kinds of nutty.  I had to very consciously choose a positive attitude, over and over again on a daily basis, to trust it would all be okay — however it was meant to be.

And now that I’m on the other side of that (and by the way, miraculously my knee did not bug me ONCE during the race and has been pretty much as good as new ever since!), I am reminded of how the perspective I choose is – and really always has been – up to me.  It is my choice.

So today I am choosing to enjoy rather than to endure this time in my running.  The next month or so is a sweet spot to be in for sure.  Full of post-race bliss and ripe with possibility.

stepping back

Every now in then, in running and in life, it’s good to take a step back.  Not really just “good” actually — essential.  To reflect.  To heal.  Te refill your cup, so to speak.  To gain strength for the next steps forward.  I am always amazed and uplifted by how much my connection to running parallels how I feel about life.  Growth is a process and it involves moments where you either feel like you’re set back unwillingly (injuries or wounds or losses or illnesses, or things just not going the way you planned or hoped they would goshdarnit!), or you purposely take a step back to slow things down so that you can keep moving forward with passion and joy and presence.

As far as my running goes, I really try to take those purposeful steps back so that I can keep moving forward, even when I am feeling really good.  Sometimes these step backs are as simple as a recovery run or a rest day, or a whole week where I step away from my strength training routine, or a week or even a couple of months (between training cycles usually) where I reduce the intensity and/or volume of my miles and just run for fun and the sheer joy of it.

During a marathon training cycle I always take at least one rest day a week – off from all forms of exercise – and every 3-4 weeks I reduce my mileage and the intensity of my running so that I can recover on a bigger scale and stay strong for the training cycle.  I call these weeks my “step back weeks” and really try to not only embrace the additional rest from a physical perspective but also to reflect internally on how things are going, where my head is and where my heart is.  It’s a way to avoid injury as well as mental burnout.  When things are going extremely well in my training like they are now I sometimes have teeny moments where I consider NOT taking them because my body, mind and heart feel so good, but I know better and choose to stick to my own rules and trust that even when I’m feeling good these steps back and short periods of rest have a lot of purpose and will keep me healthy and strong and more energized for the road ahead.  I would much rather take a step back when I am feeling good than have to take one because I ran my body into the ground, after all!

This week is my first step back week in the last month.  Typically I build my mileage for three weeks, and then I step back for one week before building it back again.  The last three weeks were intense and awesome!  I ran three consecutive weeks of sky-high (for me) mileage (81 miles, 84 miles and then 90 miles) with 2 hard days (one quality track workout and one long run per week), one rest day and then easy/recovery running in between making those numbers add up – honoring the purpose of each and every run.  My body has been handling the mileage and the workload very well.  Last week my 90 mile week was topped off with my fastest long run ever – 21 miles at a 7:23 average – run with negative splits and feeling so strong the whole way through.  I came off that week with a major gratitude-filled “WOW” feeling.  I have spent the last few days since that run just hanging on to that feeling and trusting in the purpose of this step back week.

So what does a step back week look like for me?  This week has been mostly easy running with reduced mileage (I am taking my mileage back down to 70 miles this week) and today I went out for a run and threw in some tempo paced miles rather than doing a hard track workout this week.  My long run this weekend will be back down to 16 miles and I am still taking just one rest day this week.  I can tell that my body is appreciating the rest and I feel excited for the next build in my cycle so I know that my mind and spirit are benefiting from this break, too.  My race is still two months away so there is a lot of work to be done down the road and I want to feel fresh and strong and healthy for it!

Do you take step back weeks in your training cycles?  What do they look like for you?

between recovery & training

There were almost 7 weeks between the Boston Marathon and the North Face 50 Miler.

It was important to me to recover properly from Boston for lots of reasons, one of them of course being that I wanted to be in shape – physically and mentally – to run my 50 mile race and remain injury free and NOT burned out.  I ran a strong but conservative race in Boston, executing it exactly as I hoped I would and really having such an amazing experience there.  Up until I crossed the finish line of Boston, I was so focused on that race and didn’t want to put any thoughts of 50 miles in my head until that goal was accomplished.

Boston Finisher!

I took the first two weeks after Boston very, very mellow – not running at all for the first 8 days.  A soul-cleansing and heart-opening trip to the mountains of Whistler, Canada for the lululemon Ambassador Summit (an experience which I really really REALLY need to write about – it impacted me so deeply) came exactly one week after Boston and really gave me such a renewed perspective and fresh outlook on so many things in my life, including my approach to running.

first run after Boston – a trail run in Whistler!

When I got home, it was time to shift my focus to 50 miles.  I felt recovered from my marathon.  My body was healed and I was itching to run fast and hard, but I knew the priority needed to be on maintaining my fitness and on teaching myself to control my pace (as in RUN SLOWER) so that I could accomplish my goal of running 50 miles without getting injured.

I love setting goals and going HARD after them, but the BIG PICTURE is always the most important thing to me.

Running is a huge part of who I am – it makes me feel healthy and strong and alive and connected to myself.  It gives me energy and strength and opens me up to my joy and to all of my life’s possibilities.  If I run myself into the ground, pushing as hard as I can all the time, it will defeat the whole purpose of me doing it in the first place.  I need to be in tune with my body and to learn when it’s okay to push and when it’s just plain foolish.

Training for 50 miles after my fastest ever marathon, even when I ran it conservatively, was NOT the time to push my pace.

Every day when I went out to run while training for the 50 miler, I had to remind myself to switch gears.  My running buddies helped me with this A LOT, ever so politely telling me to put on the brakes and slow it down when I would get carried away with myself and lost in the moment (this may or may not have happened frequently, especially in the beginning).  The trails have a way of doing that to me – the beauty around me takes me in and I just sort of forget I am even working.  Trail running feels almost like a different sport to me.

so much beauty

At times I felt so antsy, missing and even yearning for that feeling of depleting myself to fill myself back up again … and I often caught myself feeling anxious to be on the other side of my 50 mile race because I was so ready to train hard again, so excited about the fall marathon training season.  But I knew I needed to reign those feelings in because I didn’t want to squander the moment I was in, and because I knew that the time would come when the time would come.  And if I was smart, I would be SO much more than ready when it rolled around.  Setting myself up for good things.

So here I am, almost 3 weeks since my first ultra and about a month to go before it’s time to start training for my fall marathon (Richmond).  Somewhere between recovery and training.  It isn’t a bad place to be, this in-between place.  It’s a pretty sweet spot, actually.  Most days, I run easy and chat with my friends as the miles fly by and I enjoy catching up with them and savoring the simple act of moving and feeling alive, doing something I love so much.  Other days, I choose to push myself and run some faster miles.  I love those days because I have really really missed them and they remind me of what I am made of deep inside.  I haven’t yet done any official speed workouts, no real tempos or track intervals, but I can feel the speed returning to my legs and my determination and heart swelling up inside of me.  Nothing is really structured at all and it’s a liberating and hopeful feeling.

For these next few weeks I will stay in this in-between place, running because it is what I do and it is who I am.