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.

Rock, Roll & Recover

As soon as I crossed the Finish Line after running my fastest marathon on Saturday, the recovery process began.  I know it might sound crazy – was I really thinking about recovery so soon after a race like that? – but it’s true, I was.

yay me!  time to recover.

Because the big picture matters to me.  Because I have done it wrong more times than I have done it right.  And I have learned that it makes a difference.  Nine marathons and countless other races have taught me that what you do in the hours, days and weeks following the marathon is crucially important to how your body and mind will feel down the road.  I wanted to do it right so that I can be running strong again soon.  A rest day here and there is good and mentally I can take it, but if I don’t recover right then I risk being injured and feeling fatigued and flat – enduring much too long without my running – and I can tell you that sounds miserable to me.

Running is my life line – it is my antidepressant and anecdote to feeling happy and strong.  So, as soon as I crossed the Finish Line on Saturday – feeling very happy with my accomplishment and yes, tired – I knew I needed to be smart and make the right choices about how to recover.

Recovery looks a little different for me after every race.  But there are a few things I know I need to do right away that do not change at all.  I go through the steps and listen to my body along the way, making sure to honor what my body is telling me and trying to keep the big picture in mind.

So far, this is what my recovery has looked like after Rock n’ Roll USA:

The first few hours (also known as doing the complete opposite of what I feel like doing!):

  • I crossed the Finish Line and kept moving, despite just wanting to sit down.  I knew if I sat my legs would likely cramp up and get cranky.  So I got my medal and drank some water as I walked around the finish area waiting for my buddy Chris to come across.  As soon as he finished and got his water and medal, we walked over to where there was more food and hydration.
  • Even though my stomach was still unhappy and the last thing I felt like doing was eating or drinking anything of substance, I grabbed a container of the TruMoo chocolate milk they were handing out and drank as much of it as I could.  Dairy is not my friend, but I drank about half the carton anyway.  Usually after my long runs I get myself a soy white mocha latte, but they didn’t have this at the finish line on Saturday (the horror!).  Chocolate milk and yummy sweet lattes serve the same purpose, though – a great combination of carbs and protein plus sugar to deliver the good stuff to your muscles faster. 
at the finish line!
  • Once we made it through the finish area, we headed straight for gear check so we could get our bags.  In my bag I had a few Picky Bars and some nuun.  I immediately ate 2 Picky Bars (though again, I was NOT hungry) and drank a bottle of nuun.  Picky Bars are the perfect thing for my finicky stomach – dairy free, gluten free and comprised of all natural ingredients with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio.  They are just what tired, glycogen-depleted muscles need after a hard workout.  They are also really light and easy for me to get down.  Nuun is also just what I needed to replenish all the electrolytes and fluids I lost while racing.  And it tastes great to me, so that was not a problem to get down.  I continued to drink nuun and water throughout the rest of the day in order to fully hydrate my body, prevent muscle cramps and flush out the build up lactic acid.
i heart nuun
  • After finding my amazing family, changing into dry clothes (which my husband had for me), and celebrating with my sister and other running buddies, it was time to go home.  On the way home we stopped at Chipotle to get my post race meal.  I really really really did not want to eat.  But I knew I had to.  I got my standard veggie burrito loaded with black beans, cheese and rice.  As a vegetarian this is the perfect recovery meal for me – again chock full of carbs and protein.  When we got home I quickly rinsed off in the shower and then ate half of my burrito.  Those things are huge and I couldn’t stomach more than that but I was sure this was good enough for starting the recovery process.
  • Then it was time for torture.  I got in an ice bath.  It was so so so cold, you guys.  I literally screamed as I got in and maybe said some not-so-nice things to Robert who was encouraging me to suck it up and get in.  Once I was in the water and he dumped the massive amounts of freezing cold ice cubes into the tub, he handed me some peanut butter cups to snack on.  He is the best — I am always in the mood for those.  I set the timer on my phone (20 minutes) and then called my sister Megan so I would be distracted while in the tub.  Ice baths are miserable but I believe in them after a hard race.  The cold sends healing blood to your muscles and helps speed up recovery.  I figured I endured more than three and half hours of pushing myself in a race, what’s 20 more minutes of discomfort?  It would be worth it.  Afterwards, I hopped into a nice warm shower and felt so much better.  When I got dressed I put on my compression socks and wore them for the rest of the day and even slept in them that night.
  •  Then later that evening I hopped on my foam roller.  I was amazed at how good I was feeling at this point.  I rolled out my IT bands, hamstrings and quads and then used my Tiger Tail stick on my calves, feet and shins.

The day after the race:

  • I woke up the next morning and was feeling great – no worse than I do after a long run.  This surprised me!  I went to run club and ran 6 miles at an easy and comfortable pace.  It’s important to move your body the day after the race as it helps flush out the lactic acid build up.  If you’re not up to running, then walk or go for an easy bike ride.  No matter how bad you are feeling, try to move. And no matter how good you are feeling, do not push yourself.  Even if your muscles are feeling great they are still tired and will fatigue easily if you do too much too soon.
  • I continued to hydrate with water and nuun, eat healthy foods, wear my compression socks (a clean pair!), rest as much as a mom of three can, and used the foam roller and stick.

The week after the race:

  • So far this week, I have not run at all despite feeling amazing and really itching to get out there.  The only place I have had muscle soreness has been in my lower legs – mainly my calves.  This was to be expected since I wore my more minimal shoes in the race (Kinvara 2).  I am amazed that with all those hills my quads and hamstrings feel so good!  That has been a pleasant surprise.  This week I have been very diligent about foam rolling and using the stick, and tonight I am treating myself to a sports massage!
  • Tomorrow I plan to run for the first time – maybe 4-6 miles at an easy pace.  This weekend I hope to run a long run of 8-10 miles, again at an easy pace.  I will treat it a bit like a reverse taper and keep speed work and tempo runs out of the picture for the remainder of this week and next week, too.

What’s Next??

I’m really excited about my running plans for the spring.  In about 5 weeks I have the GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler and I am hoping to set a new PR at that race.  If I recover right, I know I can do it!  I also have a 5K race in May and a then the ZOOMA Annapolis Half Marathon in June — so I am going to use these next few months to enjoy running, to have a break from the stress of marathon training and race shorter distances.  I plan to start marathon training again in mid June, so these next few months are about recovering, working on my speed and just loving the run.
What does recovery look like for you?  I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what works (and what doesn’t work) for me.  I would love to hear your tips and tricks!

Run Your Heart Out 5k

sister love

I’m pretty sure that yesterday was the coldest day of the year so far.  With temperatures in the 20s and major winds that made it feel like it was in the teens, it was clear that Old Man Winter decided to make an appearance around here and show us what he’s made of.  Brrrrr.

Yesterday was the Run Your Heart Out 5k in Reston.  I signed up for it a while ago, knowing that I had a 22 miler to tackle the day before and that it would be falling on the last day of my highest mileage week ever.  So I really truly wasn’t ever planning on racing it.  When I woke up yesterday morning and felt good, I considered it but quickly talked myself out of it.  It was freezing, icy in spots, crazy windy and hilly.  I really didn’t want to risk getting injured over this race and wanted to just enjoy being there with my sisters and good friends.  Best decision ever.  It was SO much fun!

We arrived at the race about 20 minutes before the gun went off.  This race starts and finishes on the South Lakes High School track (our track) so we ran around the track for about 1.5 miles to warm up.  Only … there really was no “warming up” about it.  We were still freezing cold!  I was all decked out in my pink and red but couldn’t bring myself to take my black jacket off.  Oh well.  So much for being festive.  Meghan Ridgley won that prize – she was adorably Valentine-y in her amazing tutu.  And she won the race, too!   

tutu power!

The start of the race felt like one big party!  Maybe it was just me or it was because we were all so freaking cold, but I felt like everyone was smiling and laughing and just happy to be there.  The weather was so insane and the course was incredibly beautiful.  After running maybe a quarter of a lap around the track we headed into the woods and ran along the paved Reston paths I love so much.  It felt like we were running through a winter wonderland.  The forest was covered in a light dusting of snow and it was serene and just lovely.  These paths are hilly though, with lots of foot bridges that were definitely icy in parts.  I was wearing my Kinvaras and felt unsteady on this terrain in them.  I was SO glad I wasn’t racing.  Jodi and Amy were wearing their trail shoes and on a downhill portion I lost them – I stopped to walk along the grass because I thought I was going to fall.  Not long after that though I met up with Jackie from Lululemon and was really excited to see her.  We ran the rest of the race together and chatted the whole way.  It was a really perfect recovery run and I loved every minute of it.  There was a smile across my face the entire way.  I still haven’t even downloaded my Garmin from the race, or checked on my finish time online.  I was so not concerned with how fast I was moving at all, but I remember looking at my pace at one point and it was somewhere around a 9:30ish pace.  It was perfect.

at the finish

Once we crossed the finish line, the party continued for a little while and we chatted with new friends and old before we felt like we were going to freeze our faces off.  It was so much fun.  I wish all recovery runs could be such a blast!

I will definitely run this race again.  It was my idea of a great celebration of the sport I love with the people I love.  The only thing I would have changed about this race was the weather – I wish it had been just a *little* (ok, maybe a lot) warmer.  I will have to work on that for next year!