Running in the Time of Corona: (kind of) Injured and (kind of) Thriving
I am grateful for all the obstacles, setbacks, injuries, and disappointments I have encountered in my life; particularly those from the past few years.
Isn't that an odd thing to say?
In the past week I have been reflecting a lot on stress, and it all started with one of my athletes. I was texting back and forth with her last week during what was a particularly stressful week for both of us, and she mentioned that I handle stress better than anyone she knows.
That statement caught me so off-guard.
My ability to handle stress has changed dramatically over the past 3 - 5 years. I can say with basically 100% certainty no one would have chosen me as a model for stress handling when I was in grad school. In fact, Dave came verrryyyyyy close to breaking up with me precisely for just how bad I was at handling stress.
How did I get here?
I think the two greatest influences in my life have been bad luck and my ability to reflect.
In my life, particularly in the past 3 years, I have been through many stressful things there were no user's manuals on how to navigate. Simply surviving situations that few people, if any, could truly sympathize with created coping mechanisms that I could draw upon and say, "this isn't so bad" or "I've been here before" or even just know that I struggled before and survived.
one of the most stressful things I have ever dealt with
When you are able to reflect upon the things you have done and share them with others, your coping mechanisms are reinforced. It turns out my ability to be completely vulnerable with others has some value.
I am STILL injured
Stressful thing on top of a stressful thing: Almost 3 months past the Trials I am still (kind of) injured. The most annoying thing about my "injuries" is that they are very rarely actual injuries. In this case I am experiencing pain in my right hamstring that is referring from my right glute med, which is caused by hips that won't stay in alignment, which is caused by an extremely tight left oblique. 4 weeks ago I began going to PT again and while my symptoms have improved, I am not yet able to resume full training. Currently I'm running ~30 miles per week. I recently worked up to being able to tolerate 3 days of running in a row.
I am pleasantly surprised that I am somehow gaining fitness at only 30% of my normal training load. Of course, gaining fitness is a relative term. However, I am seeing improvement each week, versus where I was after 3 weeks off, in terms of pace I can sustain during runs, resting heart rate, and muscle mass. It's pretty fascinating, really!
Today I did my first "workout" since February: 5 x 3:00 uptempo, 2:00 easy. Uptempo was as fast as I could go without feeling anything sharp in my hamstring or without my form breaking down. This roughly equated to what felt like marathon effort. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I made it 3.6 miles in 24:00 (I had a defined stopping point hence the odd distance/time), which equated to 6:40 average. I wasn't wearing a GPS so I can't say how fast I was going during the uptempo portions, but I am notorious for taking my recovery realllllll sloowwwwwww so I'm pretty happy that my effort was likely much faster than I anticipated. Which leads me to my next topic.....
I retract a previous statement I made about data
Last summer I wrote a fairly popular blog post about not using any data in my training. I wish to recant and update what I have to say on the topic.
I have used data very successfully in my training, and I have also used it obsessively and in an unhealthy manner. Last summer my statements were made for two reasons: the pendulum naturally swung in the other direction after burnout from being too obsessive, as well as the deep down fear of knowing that I wasn't where I wanted to be, fitness wise.
I was in an environment, both of my own doing and due to those around me, that wasn't conducive to accepting data as facts instead of judgments. To have data that was not where it should be equated with failure, plain and simple. I have a happy medium now.
I track my weight again, which I use primarily to track inflammation levels. With my current injury status + the fact there aren't any races, I have been much more flexible with taking days off from training. One of the main benefits I have found is in taking a day off when my inflammation levels are high. This is definitely something I will use moving forward.
I track my pace on easy days again. I track my heart rate. I track my sleep quality + duration. With this data I can create hypotheses and put together experiments, which is incredibly fun for me.
An experiment I have going right now is how caffeine affects my running and sleep. I am currently on a 4-day rotation of coffee, green tea, black tea, and herbal tea. I am tracking to see how my runs feel based on what I drink, as well as how I sleep. Preliminary data: I have my best training runs after black tea; coffee makes me very thirsty; I am sleeping better than ever. In the past I have struggled with deep sleep. Now I am not only getting more than the recommended amount each night but my restoration levels in the morning (per FitBit premium) are better than ever. Of course I can't say caffeine is the only reason I am sleeping better, but I am definitely keeping an eye on this trend.
Since purchasing a smart scale I am also seeing interesting trends in my body. Since March when I started running again I gave gained weight. However, my water and fat levels have stayed the same. What changed was my muscle mass. I have always suspected that I build muscle easily. I have also suspected this may be to blame for some of my injury issues. I believe that I have to be very careful with lifting because if done improperly I build imbalanced muscles easily I have been working with my PT to correct my form and not at all to my surprise I do many lifts incorrectly. It's hard to say which is the chicken and which is the egg, but again, something I want to keep an eye on.
I am also back to tracking my calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients with cronometer.com. It's incredible how easy it is to NOT eat enough if I'm not paying attention. Tracking my calories is not favorite activity, but I have noticed some trends that make it worthwhile:
if I have a calorie deficit >300 cal I tend to have inflammation the next day. The greater the deficit the more water weight I tend to gain.
it is very easy for me to eat A LOT of protein (>130 grams) and A LOT of fat (>100 grams) and not enough carbohydrates (<200 grams)
On days I have a calorie surplus I tend to lose the most water weight
Per my inflammation levels, I am still sensitive to soy (womp womp)
I have a new routine and I freaking love it
I'm going to recant another statement I made in the last year, which is that I was done with doing the little things because they made running not fun. (little things = foam rolling, core, meditation, etc.). Folks, if I start saying things about being done with data and being done with the little things, PLEASE remind me that I am burned TF out. Hindsight is obviously 20/20 but my lack of desire to do the job well if I'm going to do the job should have been a huge indication I was just going through the motions.
In the past the problem hasn't necessarily been that I didn't want to do the little things, moreso that I am a procrastinator of the little things. So, maybe I DO get that run done in the morning. Well, wouldn't it be better to lift in the afternoon and get in two workouts today? It's easy to do core while making dinner, right? Except now I'm too hungry to do core and you really shouldn't exercise if you're starving, correct? I can foam roll before bed. But, now I've stayed up too late and sleep is more important than rolling, surely.
As I was making my honest reflections going into this new training cycle, I realized I had to be more intentional. There is no excuse for not doing the things that will make me a better runner. period.
But how do you reconcile needing to do things while being someone who hates having every minute of her day scheduled, has ultimate flexibility in her scheduling (I have the BEST boss ;) ) and is generally anti-establishment? I think I have finally found something that works for me:
My day has two parts: before 1 PM and after 1 PM. Before 1 PM is strictly for me. I have my morning routine time, I go for my run (or walk if it's a day off), then I do core/PT exercises or lifting followed by a stretching routine and foam rolling, and finish with 5:00 of legs up the wall meditation. My current favorite show is North Woods Law and my core/lifting + stretching/rolling takes exactly the amount of time to watch one episode. I legitimately look forward to this routine every day.
if I spend more time with my kettlebell I develop abs; who knew?
I stopped trying to be someone else
Not only was The Last Dance a freaking cultural phenomenon, it helped me see myself better. Dave and I laughed at all the instances where Michael Jordan made up stories about his opponents to motivate himself because that is always something that I have done. I was also that teammate that wanted to win. There were times it was welcome, but probably more times that it was not (i.e. the majority of college). The thing is: I never understood that people around me weren't hyper focused on winning and had no desire to try and run professionally after college. I didn't understand why winning and running PRs wasn't as important to them as it was to me. In my head, I would make speeches that would help everyone see what I saw....in reality I was very much outcast for this desire.
In the past year or two I have tried to tone it down and look at running as a race against myself. The truth is that running against myself doesn't motivate me. I think something that I have always really excelled at is being able to turn the competitiveness on and off. Yes, I might have a story about you in my head where you said something really shitty about me and I found out and it motivates me to want to work harder than you....but that has never kept me from genuinely wanting to be your friend and liking you off the roads.
I think my departure from this has partly been as a defense mechanism and partly from external pressure. As a defense mechanism because I haven't been at full strength for a while and it's hard to continually lose when you are hyper-competitive. From external pressure because we (rightfully) make a point to say that women shouldn't be competing against women in life, and I had a hard time seeing that there was actually nothing inherently wrong with me just because I used winning as motivation to work hard.
The truth is that nothing makes me want to work harder, get stronger, strengthen my mental game than losing. and that's okay.
As we navigate the new normal and I reflect on stress and how bizarre life has been the past few months, I think about my dogs. There are two ways to approach life. We can approach it the way we do with Lucy, who is 18 years old, has kidney disease, has heart disease, is on anti-seizure meds, and is just plain old. We brought her home 3 years ago for hospice care. We KNOW her time with us is going to be short. We don't go out of our way to control what we can't inevitably control (i.e. when she started having seizures and they suggested she might have a brain tumor we didn't do invasive tests or schedule an MRI, which were both options). We look at every day with her as a gift and approach her many health problems with a good dose of humor.
Or we can go about life the way we do with Sadie. She is our baby, the dog we have had for the majority of the time we have been together. Every new white hair on her muzzle makes us sad because it represents the inevitability she will not always be around. I have a lot of anxiety about something happening to her that cuts her life shorter than it should be. I tend to worry more about her than I do about Lucy. We have to consult with a vet once elective pet surgeries can happen again about having a lipoma removed that has been steadily growing over the past few years. Sometimes I let that worry cloud the time we have together instead of reminding me to enjoy each day.
Obviously the approach we have with Lucy is probably the better way to go about life, but it's hard not to worry and stress. I like having both of them to balance us out.
At the end of the day I'm training (or at least trying to train) for when races can happen again. I don't know when that will be. I have a few virtual races lined up for fun and to keep me focused. More than anything I'm looking forward to approaching these next 4 years - whatever they may look like - with better balance and a greater understanding that I can't control what happens but I can thrive at going with the flow along the way.