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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Rest Day Happiness

Why I am embracing my rest days this summer —

  • Sleeping in past 5:00AM feels luxurious and indulgent.  My kids are early risers – almost always starting their day around 6:00AM.  Before I made early morning running a regular part of my routine, I would be grumpy every day because they wouldn’t let me “sleep in” and were always waking me up before I was ready.  Now that my body is used to rising before 5:00, sleeping until 6:00 feels like a TREAT!  And I love the way they wake me up, they climb in bed next to me with their warm little bodies and curl right up to say hello – I cherish it.  I feel so well rested getting that extra hour of sleep and starting my day with early morning hugs and kisses from my little ones makes me so happy.  I know before long they will be teenagers and I will have to drag them out of bed – so for now I will savor the quiet early mornings we have together.

  • In order to keep myself from feeling antsy for some “me time” halfway through my rest day, I plan a fun outing or activity for us in the morning – something we don’t do every day.  Today we went to an awesome concert (Robbie Schaefer!  If you haven’t heard his music before, you should check it out because he is really fantastic) at an outdoor theater that I love so much (Wolf Trap’s Theater in the Woods).  The stage is nestled in the woods and is just a truly magical place – I went there as a child and have some wonderful memories.  I packed us a picnic lunch and after the concert we stayed and enjoyed lunch together and played in the grass.  We were ALL blissfully wiped out by the time we got home and were ready for some down time.  Now baby Gus is napping and the big kids are watching a movie and we can all have some down time before we having swimming this afternoon and evening!
front and center waiting for the show to start!
me and my sweet monkeys making a memory
with the awesomely talented and truly inspiring Robbie Schaefer!
  • I know without question that rest days are just as important to the success of my training as my hardest workouts are.  This is the time when my muscles have a chance to rebuild and recover and get stronger!  If I do not honor the purpose of my rest days, then my muscles will not be able to make the adaptations necessary for me to improve.  And I won’t be as strong or fresh for the next big workout.  Tomorrow I am planning on a marathon goal pace run and on Saturday I have a 16 miler.  Taking today OFF – not only from running but from any type of structured exercise program – will give me the energy and motivation I need to make those important runs COUNT.  When I start to get antsy or impatient for a good sweat on my rest day, I always try to remember this.  Resting RIGHT matters.  Embrace the day just as you would any key workout!  Soak up the things you love about taking the day off – sleep in, cuddle more, play more with your kids!  I will appreciate it all so much more if I do that.

Today has really been such a great day so far.  Not only have I been having tons of fun with my little people, but this morning the amazing ladies at Run Like a Mother featured me on their web site!  To say that I am a fan of the RLAM community is a massive understatement.  To say that I am EXCITED to be this week’s “Follow this Mother” hardly does justice to how grateful I feel about it!  You can read the article by clicking here.


So, how are you making your rest days COUNT?  Do you plan something extra fun or special for your day off?

Rest Day Thoughts

This morning I set no alarm, yet found myself wide awake just before 5:00 AM.  It took me a few minutes to realize that there was no need to crawl out of bed today.  No need to tiptoe across my room and sneak downstairs to make the baby his milk before heading out the door.  No clothes were laid out for my run.  No buddies were waiting to meet me at sunrise for early morning miles.  Today is my rest day.  The one and only rest day I take each week.  I don’t always love the way I feel on my rest day, but in THAT moment – that moment when I realize I can stay in bed just a little bit longer – it is pure bliss.  I snuggled deeper into my covers and drifted back to sleep.

About an hour later my 5 year old son Will crept in bed next to me.  He had a new chapter book he wanted us to start together.  We cuddled up and read the first two chapters together before his sister and brother woke up.  Abby came in a little while later and remarked that she was so happy I was there.  We hugged and chatted about the day ahead of us.  I looked at the clock – 7:01 AM.  Most week day mornings this is when I am returning from my run, sweat soaked and happy and ready to get everyone going.  It seems that by the time I walk in the door the hustle and bustle is under way and I’ve missed the opportunity to snuggle quietly and have sweet talks with them.  By 7:00AM my big kids are demanding breakfast and craft supplies and they are arguing with one another (nothing drives me crazier than this) and talking back to me and telling me things aren’t fair and losing their tempers…BEFORE I know it.

I knew by 8:00AM today that I was going to struggle a bit without my run.  I BELIEVE in the value of rest days and I am diligent about sticking to my plan of one rest day per week – at least – even if my body isn’t asking for it.  But as the day goes on, it gets to me and I start to feel off balance.  I start to feel antsy for my outlet.

Rest days have so much purpose – they give my sore muscles a chance to recover from the week’s hard workouts first and foremost.  And this week I have had some awesome workouts:

– Fastest 5K yet on Saturday plus warm up and cool down for a total of 5 miles.
– Super strong (and HOT) 14 miler on Sunday, average pace 8:05.  I killed it.
– Easy 7 mile recovery run on Monday, followed by 45 minutes of strength training.
– 10 mile run on Tuesday, followed by an awesome Pilates class.
– Killer track workout on Wednesday (10 x 400s – 1:35, 1:27, 1:34, 1:34, 1:35, 1:32, 1:30, 1:33, 1:32, 1:31) with a warm up and cool down on each end of course.  Followed up with 45 minutes of strength training.

Rest days also make me appreciate my running all that much more.  They make me CRAVE my run.  They make me feel hungry for it.  It’s almost 3:00PM on my rest day and I will tell you this –tomorrow morning’s run can’t come soon enough!

How do you feel on your rest days?  Do you get antsy like me?  Or do you embrace them without any trouble?

a migraine and an unplanned rest day

Migraines.

Even the word makes me cringe.

I’ve suffered from migraine headaches since I was a teenager.  When they hit me the hardest, I am in so much pain that I can’t see straight.  I’m extremely nauseous and unable to keep any foods or fluids down.  My hands are cold and clammy.  I have no energy.  I can hardly move.

Over the years I’ve learned that certain things definitely trigger my headaches, some of them are things I can control and others I can’t.  As much as I love them, I have come to accept the fact that I cannot drink red wine or eat dark chocolate without risking a major migraine episode.  Hydration is a really important thing for every runner, but especially a runner like me who is prone to migraines.  When I am dehydrated I always get a migraine – I have to be extra careful to rehydrate after a long run otherwise the next day I will surely have a headache.

My headaches are also triggered by those lovely things we call hormones.  There is no question that my hormonal cycle and the occurrence of my migraine headaches coincide like clockwork.  Lucky me, right!?  Every time that I was pregnant, my headaches skyrocketed from occurring on a monthly basis to happening so regularly that it was ridiculous.  When I was pregnant with baby Gus, my headaches were so horrible and frequent that my doctor had to prescribe a medication that would dissolve on my tongue (because if I drank anything it would come right back up) just to calm my stomach so that I could then take a pain medication that would stay in my stomach long enough to actually work.  I was violently ill all too frequently, and it was awful.

Since I’ve had a lot of practice with these headaches, I’ve learned to recognize certain telltale signs of when one is on the way.  Anywhere from a whole day to just hours before my headache hits, I will see spots or trails in my vision (called the “aura” before the migraine).  My nose will get extremely itchy and there will be a strange feeling behind the sockets of my eyes.  It is never good when I notice these things.

A few years ago my doctor prescribed a drug called Immitrex, that I can take as soon as I start to notice the aura.  I don’t know why, but the times I took it I never felt that it worked (frustrating, but true).  I was unable to take it when I was pregnant with Gus and am not able to take it while nursing him now either.  For the past several years, my “kill the headache” routine involves the following:

+ As soon as I notice any symptoms at all, or possible symptoms – kick operation hydration into overdrive.  Drink as much water (and nuun) as I possibly can.

+ Take three Advil, and say a prayer that they stay in my stomach (Tylenol never ever ever ever works for me).  I am really funny about taking medication, but when it comes to my headaches it is simply a necessity.

+ Take a hot shower (as hot as I can possibly stand it) and sit on the shower floor with the lights dim or out if it is daytime.  Breathe deeply and relax as much as possible in the shower.  When I am in the shower my headache completely disappears.  It is amazing how therapeutic the water is with managing my pain.  As soon as I turn the water off, the pain shoots right back into full throttle.

+ After my shower, lie down in my bed with an ice pack over my eyes/forehead.  Try to relax and fall asleep.

If this works, I usually wake up feeling much better, but in a haze.  My sister Jodi (who gets similar headaches – it’s in the genes) and I call it the “headache hangover.”  I feel like I am walking around in a fog for hours and sometimes days after a really bad migraine.  Headaches are no fun.

The tricky thing about this routine though is that as a mom of three who stays home with my kids, I am not able to call in sick when one of these headaches strikes.  I have to manage my pain and deal with feeling awful while caring for my three kids.

Today was one of **those** days.

Caring for an 11 month old is not so easy while you have a migraine.  It is especially not easy when this 11 month old has a cold, is getting four new teeth at one time, and refuses to nap.  Yep.  That was my day today.

he sure is cute though

Gus was a very good sport today.  He sat on the shower floor with me as I let the hot water beat down on my head.  It was the first time I had ever tried to bring him in the shower (I was really unsure how that was going to go), but I honestly think it helped him as much as it helped me.  That steamy steamy-ness cleared his clogged nose and when we were done he was relaxed, happy and ready for a nap.

I cuddled with him for a bit and he fell fast asleep in my arms, so I put him in his crib and then laid down for a little nap of my own.  Thankfully when I woke up my head felt much better, better enough anyway.

Needless to say, today was an unplanned rest day.  When the day began I actually put my running clothes on, thinking I would get 8 treadmill miles hammered out during the baby’s morning nap.  That was SO not going to work out for me.

Things like this happen – life happens – and we have to move forward.  Readjust.  Adapt.  Tomorrow night is track night, Thursday and Friday will be easy run days and then Saturday will be my long run.  I just have to move things around since I took today as a rest day.  My body did not need a run today, it needed rest.

What about you — do you get migraines?  If so, how do you deal with them?  How do you feel when life throws you curve balls and you have to take an unplanned rest day?  Do you roll with it and move things around, or just run less mileage for the week?

rest day thoughts

Today is a rest day!  I ran 16 miles over the weekend and haven’t taken a break from running since last Friday, so rest I will.  My legs feel good and honestly I would love a run, but I know the importance of rest days and am going to commit to at least one day of no running each and every week during this training cycle.

My running this week has been extra fun because I’ve been mixing it up with my shoes.  Here is my week so far, in review…

Monday I wore my new Kinvaras on the treadmill at the gym for a bit of speedwork.  I ran a 1 mile warm up and then hung onto a 7:03 pace for 20 minutes, followed by a little less than a mile to cool down.  I loved wearing my Kinvaras on the treadmill.  Total miles Monday: 4.5.

Tuesday I did a 50 minute run on the treadmill at home.  I started with 20 minutes at a comfortable pace (around an 8:40 mile), wearing my Asics Cumulus.  Then I paused the treadmill and hopped off to switch shoes so I could run for 10 minutes in the New Balance 1400 and see how they felt.

i love the way they look, i love the way they feel

It was FUN to wear these shoes!  I had to increase the speed on the treadmill while wearing them, you just can’t put these shoes on without running faster.  I feel like I can fly when they’re on my feet.  I am definitely in love with these shoes.  Though they felt great and I wanted to continue to wear them for the rest of my run, I stopped the treadmill after 10 minutes and took them off to switch back to my Cumulus for the remainder of my run (another 20 minutes).  These shoes have NO heel drop and very little cushioning.  My feet are used to being in shoes with a lot more padding and a heel drop, so if I want to wear the 1400 I need to ease my way into wearing them.  Otherwise there is no question that I will wind up with an injury and a whole bunch of regret.  I totally understand why people do too much too soon in more minimal shoes — they feel great on your feet, you feel so fast running in them – you feel invincible.  But guess what?  We are human.  And we will get injured if we are not smart.  It is science.  So, I am being careful and will be patient, gradually progressing to wearing them for more than a mile or two.  Total miles on Tuesday: 5.8.

Wednesday is track day!  During this training cycle I will be meeting the =PR= Distance Training group at the track every Wednesday night at 6:30PM.  Coach Brian Cunningham knows his stuff and provides wonderful advice, information and encouragement in a very professional yet laid back way.  I totally dig his coaching style.

Coach Brian giving us the rules of the track and the details of our workout

We had a much larger group this week because many people were {sane} last week and did last week’s track workout on the treadmill instead of meeting us in the freezing temperatures and pouring rain.  My good buddies were there though, and it was very exciting to all be together last night.

Paul, Megan and me ready to run around in circles

I decided to wear my Kinvaras on the track again last night.  Very good decision.  I am so happy in these shoes and the track is a great place to wear them!  These shoes have a heel drop, but it is much less than my Cumulus.  And they are way lighter and have less cushioning than the Cumulus.  I am going to work into wearing these more and more as each week progresses.

i love you

Last night’s prescribed workout was “8-10 x 400 at “T” pace, with a 2:00-3:00 “PE shuffle” in between each repeat.  Then cool down for with a few laps at an easy pace.”  Did you catch that?  No?  Me neither at first.  So I will translate for you:

8-10 x 400 = A 400 is 1 lap around the track, also known as 1/4 mile.  Do this 8-10 times.
“T” pace = lactic acid threshold pace … this should be a pace you can manage for about an hour.  About 85-90% effort.  You do not want to go “all out” and give it everything you’ve got, or your pace will inevitably slow and you will also be working the wrong system for the purposes of this workout.  Generally a good rule of thumb here would be about 10-15 seconds slower than your 10k pace.  The reason for this?  This workout is designed to train our muscles to become efficient at running at that lactic acid threshold, so we will be able to maintain our marathon pace for the long haul come race day. 
2:00-3:00 “PE Shuffle” = after every 400 at T pace, we jog ever so slowly (almost a shuffle) for a few minutes before doing another lap hard.

I am not really sure what my 10k pace is, and am still trying to figure out what my T pace should be.  I ran by feel for the first several repeats and each time I looked at my watch I was coming in consistently at a 5:45-5:50 pace per mile average.  This was too fast for this workout and even though I was feeling awesome and strong, I tried to slow it down to closer to a 6:40 pace for the last two repeats, which honestly was still probably too fast for this workout.  I talked with our other coach, Adam Lesser (who I think is completely awesome by the way), about it during my cool down and he had lots of advice for me.  I am going to work on hitting the right paces for all of my workouts.  I will race a 10k or half marathon in the next month or so and that will give me a better idea of where I should be targeting.  All in all including my warm up and cool down, last night I ran a total of 5 miles.

all of us smooshed into one photo

This afternoon I am heading over to lululemon to meet the other ambassadors and hang out with the lovely team of awesome people who work there!  Baby Gus is coming too and we are both very excited.  It seems like a great way to spend my rest day.  And this afternoon I have my daughter’s Daisy Troop meeting and then Robert is going out with friends after work so I will be holding down the fort on my own tonight.

It’s all about balance and rest is a major part of that!  I’m looking forward to the day and to recharging my batteries for more running in the next few days.

When do you take your rest days?  Do you greet them with a smile, or do you sort of dread them?