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My Training Essentials

This past summer I drastically increased my training load over what I had done in the past, from “you run a lot” to “wow, are you ever NOT training??”, and also quickly realized that increased mileage  and training frequency (and therefore decreased recovery time) means more aches and pains that can easily turn into injuries.  This fall’s marathon training and the subsequent focus on running has forced me to learn the weaknesses of my body, what I can run through and what I can’t, and how to manage the aches and pains before they become injuries that stop me from running altogether.

Although I’m hardly an expert on recovery and injury prevention, there are a few things that have had a huge impact on keeping me on my feet and training – things I really wish I knew about when I started logging those extra miles.  Let me know if I missed any of your favourites! :)

BodyGlide

Pretty much every endurance athlete I know uses BodyGlide on at least something during race day, but I betcha I put it in a weirder spot than most… Get your mind out of the gutter, everyone puts it there! :)

Whenever I run more than about 18km, I have to rub BodyGlide between my toes or I’ll get blisters.  Actually, between my toes is about the only spot I get blisters, and it’s really annoying because changing shoes or socks makes no difference (and before you suggest it, I’m not running in toe socks or FiveFingers).  BodyGlide between the toes is less gross than it sounds, and an absolute lifesaver when training or racing long.

Foam Roller

Foam RollerWhat would I ever do without my trusty blue foam roller? Like everyone else, I bought mine and then ignored it for a couple months until my Achilles started bothering me during runs.  A few days (and complete disappearance of my pain) was all it took, and now I spend about 10 minutes or so with my roller most nights.  Sometimes it’s just a quick roll on whatever’s tight, but I’ve actually spent over 40 minutes of quality time with my roller before when I had time, and was it ever painful wonderful.

I started by looking up some videos on Youtube (this is my favourite), and then modified the techniques as I progressed.  At first I would have screamed in pain if I tried to put my full body weight on the roll, but now I can (most days) roll most major muscle groups without having to support myself too much.

Stretching

So we all know that lots of training means some things get looser – like my pants (yay) –  while other things get tighter – like my abs (yay) and …EVERY MAJOR MUSCLE BELOW MY WAIST.  This usually means I end up getting weird looks for stretching my IT band in the office kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil, or sticking my butt out so I can get a good hamstring stretch when I bend down to pick something up!  Kind of embarrassing…

Anyway, about the time I started making rolling a routine I also started doing a few little stretches afterwards.  Sometimes I do some sun salutations or warrior poses when I get up, but most of the time I get down on the floor before bed, roll out, then spend a few minutes relaxing from the day and stretching out whatever feels tight.  I never thought I would say this, but it’s actually one of my favourite parts of the day now.

Massage Therapy

Finding a great massage therapist is like finding treasure!  A friend of mine recently recommended I visit Sharon, and I was blown away by how well her technique aligns with what I like – and what I like is PAIN!  Really getting into a deep tissue massage can be incredibly painful, but once the bruises heal (yes I actually bruise, and yes I’m actually proud of it), everything feels so much better and I’m able to keep a higher training load without getting injured.  I usually go every couple of months because I’m not made of money, and use my foam roller for maintenance in between torture sessions.

I always joke that RMTs would make the best interrogators, because they know just how to find that spot of exquisite pain and keep working it until you cry for mercy.  It’s pretty much true, except we pay them for the pleasure.  Can anyone deny that we’re crazy?

Epsom Salts Baths

After a massage, a race or a hard workout (or sometimes just because it’s cold out and I had a rough day), there isn’t much that beats an Epsom salts bath.  It’s a very simple but incredibly relaxing treat, especially when paired with candles, wine, and a book of your choice.  Also helps with DOMS, aka the reason you can’t walk properly after a race.

A few times a year I go all out with the relaxation and recovery, and make the trip down to Body Blitz Spa (pictured in the photo) where I can spend a few hours in the sauna, steamroom, dead sea salt and Epsom salts pools, and the cold plunge pool that is both freezing cold and totally worth it.  Ahhhh….

Sports Physician

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If all else fails as it inevitably will at some point, a good sports physician can mean the difference between arguing over a diagnosis and treatment plan with your family doctor (spoiler: it’s always 6 weeks rest and to stop training so much), and having someone whose goal is to get you back up and training for that Ironman as soon as possible. I see Dr. Douglas Stoddard at Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI) in Toronto, and not only is he highly recommended within the athletic community, but consultations with him are also covered by OHIP (Also: SEMI has a referral program, which means you get a massage for every three people you refer. So tell him I sent you).  If you’re looking for a doctor and don’t live near Toronto, try checking the physician directory at the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Specific Nutritional Supplements

The best way to get the proper nutrients is from real food through a healthy, balanced diet, but I’ve also found that supplementing with specific vitamins (B12 and D) has a significant impact on my energy level, sleep quality and mood.  Good quality sleep, and therefore the energy to make it through my workouts, has helped me train better and recover faster, and means I’m not snapping at everyone I see for the rest of the day!  I also take an iron supplement since I am prone to anemia, particularly when I’m running a lot.

Learn from my mistakes: I discovered through trial and error – mostly error – that vitamins B12 and D are energizing and therefore have to be taken in the morning, unless you want to be up all night, so keep that in mind if you decide to take these vitamins.  I’ve got a pretty good system going for me now, and if I notice I’m feeling unusually tired it’s because I’ve missed a few days.

That pretty much covers my recovery and injury prevention inventory.  If you’ve got more suggestions, please leave me a comment so I can try out some of your favourites!

Happy training!

Toronto Waterfront (Half) Marathon 2013

How did I start for the half marathon and end up handing out water at the 16k water station? Funny story…

Today’s race strategy was to run a relatively comfortable 1:45 half marathon, which would not only confirm my goal marathon pacing for Hamilton in two weeks, but would also be an easy 7-minute PB over last year’s finish.  Sounds simple, no?  It should have been, but I’m starting to think that I have a half marathon curse; I’ve never been able to run a half marathon to my fitness level because something always ends up getting in the way.  This year I was nervous that my recent hip issues would flare up, but hopeful because everything was feeling normal for the past few days.

Starting out on the slow side of a 5:00 pace felt so easy, just like I was floating (more…)

How to Become an Athlete

This week I was talking to a coworker who started running with our company club last year, and is running her first 5k in a week and a half at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  She asked how my training is going and I told her I’m feeling really strong, and then asked about her upcoming race.  She was telling me how excited she was, but then laughed a little and self-deprecatingly said, “but 5k is nothing to you, and I’m really slow.”  I understand where she’s coming from because I think we’ve all felt that way at some point, but I spent the next ten minutes telling her that her 5k is a huge achievement and convincing her that it’s not about the distance: she, along with anyone else who runs, walks, swim, cycles or lifts weights, is already ahead of anyone sitting at home on their couch.  You may be the slowest runner out there, but you are still a runner and that’s not nothing.

Although I tend to think of my current fitness level and training load as pretty normal – partly because my training partners are just as or more crazy than I am – people can find it really intimidating to talk about their workouts to someone who they think of as extremely fit. Lots of people think they couldn’t do what I do, simply because they can’t do it now; what many people don’t realize is that I started out in worse shape than most of them.  In high school I couldn’t run a kilometer without walking, and my fastest mile took over 12 minutes – in fact I remember watching the first triathlon at the Sydney Oympics in 2000, and wondering how the heck anyone could run 10km without stopping!

So now that we’re all on the same page as to my starting point, let me take you through what it takes to go from a 12 minute mile to a triathlete!

Gravenhurst swim exit

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon, 2008

The first time I ever ran voluntarily, it was one kilometer with a friend who insisted on dragging me to the gym at 5:30am, three times a week.  I survived that one, and started running one kilometer every time I went to the gym…and then made it two…then three…and worked my way up to 5 kilometers over the course of about two months.

#1: Find a friend who will drag you to your workout on a regular basis, and make it both a consistent routine and a priority.

My first triathlon was held in the spring in Calgary, and I’m not kidding you, it snowed on the bike and my hands were so cold I almost couldn’t brake. But despite such terrible race conditions, I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line and was instantly hooked on racing!  Racing gave me motivation to train harder and smarter, and I could feel myself getting stronger and more competitive with myself.

#2: Create motivation to train and push your limits; it doesn’t have to be racing, but that’s what got me hooked.

In first year university I ran a little, but the changing routine and monotony of running alone meant I gradually stopped running regularly, and didn’t really pick up my fitness again until I joined the University of Waterloo Triathlon Club in third year.  I started racing again soon after, and had regular workouts with other triathletes who not only challenged my competitive spirit, but also gave me training tips and advice.  I started racing faster and longer, which made me willing to work even harder.

#3: Surround yourself with people who are passionate about your sport and can give you motivation and advice.

When I graduated from university, 6 years after finishing my first triathlon, I bought myself a carbon fiber triathlon bike (my beloved Kuota K-factor) with some help from my grandpa and family, and joined the Toronto Triathlon Club.  My training became more consistent and focused, which resulted in an age-group placing and finally moving up to Olympic distance in 2011, then qualifying for the duathlon world championships in 2012.  Many of my friends are dedicated and passionate triathletes who support and push me in my goals, and training is no longer something I have to think about: whether I will go for a run is not a question, the only question is when and how far.

#4: Make it part of your life.

Really, that’s all it takes.  You honestly don’t need to be a high school track star or a natural-born runner like some lucky people; I’m not physiologically any better suited to triathlon than your average human being, I’m just stubborn and a bit obsessive.  Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do right now, but start working on the things you can.

And finally, regardless of how insignificant you think the distance may be, at the end of the day I want to hear about the workout you did on the weekend or the race you’re really excited about.  We’re both passionate about the same thing: pushing the limit of what we thought was possible just a little more each day.  Isn’t that an incredible achievement?

What have you accomplished recently that you couldn’t do before?

Hills, Heat and Anything Difficult

On a weekly basis, my spin class will groan as they hear me enthusiatically proclaim, “guess what? It’s HILL TIME!” – sometimes more than once in a class – followed by, “let’s make this one a REAL challenge!”

While most people hate training in adverse conditions, hills, heat and anything else difficult only increase my enthusiasm, often leaving my workout buddies rather confused; I’ve heard a running buddy mutter under his breath “I knew triathletes were crazy!” when I suggested running our intervals on a hill rather than a flat loop. I never skip a run because of heat – if anything, I’m more likely to head out for a lunchtime run if the temperature is above 35 degrees than if temperatures are cool.

You might be thinking that I’m totally crazy (and you’d probably be right, my dad’s been telling me so for years), but I have a good reason to legitimately enjoy making my workouts a suffer-fest: I’m competitive. Races don’t usually consist of perfectly calm water, a tailwind for the entire bike course and a flat run at 16 degrees with a bit of cloud, so the more I suffer now, the faster I go on race day.

Running in the heat or tackling crazy hill repeats on my bike make me a stronger, faster athlete, and if that’s not enough to make me work for it, I just think of all my competitors who decided to skip their tempo run today because it’s too hot, or those who decided that 3 hill repeats are enough. Those are the ones who will slow down in the last 3km of the run when it’s 35 degrees out and we haven’t seen shade in 20 minutes, or who will see me pass them on the big hill in the middle of the bike portion (you know, the one with the turnaround at the bottom so you can’t keep any of your momentum for the climb back up).

I also get a mental kick on race day when I encounter adverse conditions. The cumulative experience of having finished runs in extreme heat and completed long rides in the middle of a downpour mean that instead of freaking out, I just remember that I’ve done this before and I can do it again. It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it something I can do. If races are 50% mental then that’s a huge advantage right there.

The key to training in adverse conditions is to adjust your expectations and take precautions if necessary.

  • If you’re running in the heat: make sure you hydrate well, wear a hat and sunscreen, and realize that you won’t be able to run as fast as usual; nobody is doing tempo runs at their usual pace when it feels like a sauna. Try to start heat training in the spring so your body can gradually acclimate as temperatures rise.
  • If you’re doing hill repeats: take it easy on the first few because the effort builds up quickly, and judge your effort by heart rate or perceived effort rather than pace or speed.
  • If you’re riding in the rain: leave more space when following (in addition to the safety considerations, you also likely want to avoid getting a faceful of spray off their back tire) and slow down on turns as slick tires combined with oil from the road can get very slippery.

Now, I realize I’m not going to convert everyone to crazy athletes who enjoy hills and run when it’s ridiculously hot outside, but there is a perverted pleasure in doing something difficult and succeeding. Why do you think people do Death Valley ultramarathons or climb mountains? Instead of focusing on how much faster you could be going if only it were cool and flat, take satisfaction from knowing that you are a tough, badass athlete who can handle anything!

 

 

Finding my Mantra

Words can be such a powerful thing.

Anyone who has trained for endurance sports knows that it is just as much a mental as physical challenge, and it seems every endurance athlete has a mantra that keeps them going through the really tough miles. Even shorter distances have their challenges and pushing your body to its limit for even one or two hours requires some serious mental focus, but I never managed to find a saying that would make me want to push myself just a little faster when every muscle is screaming at me to stop; usually I just think about how much I want that new PB or remind myself that it’s going to hurt no matter what, but the faster I run the faster it’s over.

i didn’t count on the power of the heat training run. It’s one of those mental challenges that’s more about refusing to quit than trying to go fast because no one is setting PBs in 40 degree weather anyway, but it’s the type of run that provides a mental clarity that few people ever experience.

I’ve had some words floating around in my head all week, and in mid-heat-training-run delirium they managed to arrange themselves into a cohesive saying that made me keep going:

“Every moment matters. Make it count.”

Moments are the building blocks of our lives. If I can make every moment count for something than I know that whatever I’m doing has purpose and focus, and that I have done everything I can to make it a success.

The best part is that it’s a great reminder for the rest of my life too. Anytime I start feeling frustrated or as if I’m not accomplishing anything, I ask myself if I’m making this moment count. If every moment counts towards something then I’m making progress, and real progress comes not from all the big milestones but from all the little steps that contribute towards transformation and growth.

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I’m always interested to hear what other people use to keep themselves going when it gets really tough. What’s your mantra?