Thursday, October 25, 2012

Too much of a good thing...what is "Overtraining"?

I keep getting all these blog ideas very randomly. Maybe it's the excitement of all the changes going on in my life, maybe I'm feeling my way into what I want to become to the fitness world...I don't know. But I keep getting ideas and I'm going to do my best to get them out on this blog when they come to me.

Today I've been thinking a lot about how people do tend to overdo it when it comes to fitness. I've certainly been made myself an overtrained athlete. Back in 2010, after a very emotional training year that involved a lot of healing, I went through a bout of exhaustion. It was incredibly frustrating, so much so that I took the rest of the year off of racing after the Austin Marathon in February. I had developed a decent amount of speed during a previous season, but I overdid it, gained a few pounds, lost about 30 seconds per mile off of my pace for the remainder of that year, and I started to question my entire marathon career. Exhaustion is no joke.

I surround myself with a lot of athletes, and while I don't ever want to judge what another person is doing with their training, I do see things that make me cringe. Not that I'm a perfect example of all things smart, by any means, but I worry about how others are going about training, or just working out in general.

The concept of REST is vitally important. I have a tough training schedule right now. It's the toughest I've ever had, but I also have a huge goal I want to accomplish, so I'm toughing it out. BUT ONLY TO MY ABILITY. I have honed in on when too much of a good thing IS REALLY TOO MUCH. This week Monday called for an 8 mile tempo run. I decided that since I also had a personal training session that day, I would tack on a 90 minute bike ride instead of the run. It would be 2.5 hours of working out for the day. Not a run, but still some excellent time sweating and getting my heart rate up. I knew my body needed crosstraining more than running, so I made it happen. A few weeks ago I was supposed to do an 8 miler mere hours after speedwork. Again, my body wasn't having it, so I took the day off of working out. And I didn't feel guilty at all. If I'm listening to my body I figure I can't go wrong.

One thing I'm definitely discovering is the benefit of resting your muscles after an intense gym session. Overtraining Syndrome will occur when one trains beyond their body's ability to recover. Any kind of resistance training requires sufficient rest and recuperation periods, and sometimes this period can be days. When rest is achieved properly, your body will react positively to the different stages of increased stress you're putting it through. Conversely, if you allow for inadequate recovery periods, training injuries can occur, such as connective tissue injuries. Other harmful side effect of overtraining include "decreased performance, fatigue, altered hormone states, poor sleeping patterns, resproductive disorders, decreased immunity, loss of appetite, and mood disturbances." (NASM Essentials of Personal Training, Fourth Edition)

You know what this also means? You won't hit your fitness goals. If you don't allow complete regeneration to occur, you will plateau or decline. You might have a protein or calorie deficiency, elevated cortisol, excessive muscle tissue breakdown....we can get really scientific about it. But the common denominator is all of this is the lack of REST.

There is a reason why I only run 3 or 4 days per week. My running workouts are intense...all of them. If I don't take care of my body in between workouts I am not going to improve. If I feel entirely too fatigued when I begin a workout and I don't loosen up within a mile or two, I'm not really going to be doing myself any favors by overdoing it. The idea of "more is better" does not always apply. By taking "more" to an extreme level (and that level is different for everyone) we will start to see diminishing returns for our effort.

Do you think this might apply to you? Take a step back and analyze your fitness schedule. Perhaps you need to let a workout or two go during the week, or focus on different muscle groups on different days. Add in crosstraining, or replace a workout with yoga. Take a look at your diet....are the majority of your calories coming from fresh food sources or do you rely on processed food too much? Try to get adequate sleep and if this means sleeping through a workout, maybe your body needs that rest instead. Perhaps this change for a couple weeks will be exactly what you need to jump start your fitness.

I have a 20 mile run on Saturday. I have had 5 hard workouts in the last 3 days. Although my schedule called for a run today, I decided last night's speed session needed more recovery time. My hamstring has also been snapping at me, so I'm giving it a rest to be fully prepared to tackle my 3 hour run on Saturday. I'm listening to my body and doing what's right for it.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I suppose anytime one races, it's a competition. There are placings and rankings and we are compared to the others who ran the race with us. However, I have rarely set out to run a race with the intention to beat other people. I race against myself. Although I will admit the joy of having an age-group medal dangling around my neck after a race is very sweet indeed.

There are so many other competitions out there besides running races. Cycling, weight lifting, Crossfit, swimming....endless different sports. Some emphasize beating other competitors way more than others. Over time, it's actually started to bug me. I am not an elite athlete, I don't want to train like one, and I don't want to be expected to perform like one. And I don't want someone to feel pride because they beat me. Frankly, I'm just tired of hearing about how we must be faster or stronger to be considered worthy.

I am only competing against myself. 

As I was mulling these thoughts, I logged into Facebook and saw this, posted by Livestrong Austin Marathon:

It seemed pretty timely that the first post in my timeline pretty much echoed the thoughts currently in my head.

When I start a race now, I'm thinking not about the runners around me, or how old they might be so I can make sure I beat them in our age group, or if I can pick them off....although I have definitely thought some of this before....instead, I'm thinking about whether or not I can run a smarter, better race than the last time. Can I strategize better? Can I run better splits? Can I squeak out a personal best? Can I learn something new to take into the next race? Can I overcome my obstacles and continue to believe that I am strong enough to perform well?

When I was contemplating where I wanted to take my personal training certification, I thought about whether or not I wanted to be a bootcamp instructor or a one-on-one trainer. When it came right down to it, one-on-one is definitely more my style. I don't ever want anyone to feel like they need to compete with others, or that if they are falling behind the "stronger" athletes around them that they are failing in some way. I think bootcamps can be great motivators, sure, but I'm not so sure that's where my talent is. Perhaps that will change, or I'll find the right kind of group, but for now I only want to worry about people improving upon themselves.

I think we can certainly use others for motivation. I cherish the time with my running groups because they push me to work harder. I may pace off of sometime who is faster than me to see if I can keep up. But I try to never view it as competition.

Although, I will say, if my cute little 13 year old neighbor tries to pick me off in a race, I will try to return the favor...HA!

Friday, October 19, 2012

I found my "why"

I owe today's blog topic inspiration to my friend Dana. She is at a conference and one of the speakers today really got her to think. He was talking about why people continue in their unhealthy lifestyles, with poor eating habits and no exercise, even though we all know better. He said that they do this because they haven't found their "why."

Why should they bother changing those habits? Why should they be healthy? Why is one way better than the other?

Dana found her "why" after her first born child came into this world with gastroschisis. Gastroschisis is a congenital condition characterized by a defect in the abdominal wall. Babies with this condition are born with their abdominal contents on the outside of their body. Baby M is now nearly 11 years old and in excellent health, and I'd like to think that is due in large part to Dana's commitment to keeping her children (she now has 3) as healthy as possible, and modeling a healthy lifestyle for them. She is very careful with the diet of all her children, choosing to minimize any possible complications or inflammation to M's digestive system.

Dana found her "why" on December 14, 2001.

She asked me if I found my "why" when my sister died. It, of course, got me to think and then I knew I needed to write about it.

I remember back in Junior High learning about nutrition in one of my classes and wanting to make some changes in my family's habits. I think that was my first real commitment to taking care of myself. Many of my family members were overweight and I was not, and I didn't ever want to be. I was already very aware of the judgement and harshness of others towards overweight people...I didn't want to fall victim to that.

I had stops and starts to healthy living for the next 20 years. I was fairly active through high school and college, never had any weight problems, made sure I remained active through both pregnancies, gained the normal 25-30 pounds with each, and tried to continue a healthy lifestyle after my second child was born. Some years were better than others but overall I think I developed some pretty good eating and exercise habits.

In 2007, we moved to Texas and I let my exercise habits slide to basically nothing. I knew I was gaining weight. It was only a few pounds, but it was unusual for me. I had everything checked out with the doctor (I have only half of a thyroid due to a tumor in 2006, so I had to be sure it was still functioning properly). Everything was "fine" except my cholesterol. It was borderline high. For the first time in my life, I had created a health problem through lack of fitness. The next day I bought running shoes and went on my first run. Six months later I ran a half marathon and had shaved 33 points off my cholesterol number. This was my biggest commitment to a healthy lifestyle and my "why" moment. 

Why? Because I refused to be unhealthy when I could just as easily prevent it with better choices.

So now we're back at Dana's question....was my "why" moment when Trisha died? I'd already made a commitment, so in a way the answer is no, but it's also a "yes" in a different way.

I made a commitment to not only help myself but to help others.

The absolute biggest regret in my life will always be that I didn't help my sister, that I didn't push her more to change her habits, that I didn't get over my fear of her reaction and just call her out on her choices. No matter how many times someone tells me her death is not my fault and I could not have prevented it, I will always believe I could have done more.

I don't want anyone else to feel this way.

I want everyone I encounter to understand that no matter what, we have a choice to lead a healthy lifestyle, we have a choice to be a good example to our children, we have a choice to make changes in our eating and exercise habits, we have a choice to get to a healthy weight and be strong, we have a choice to not fall victim to age, we have a choice to be our very best every single day.


It doesn't matter to me what your "why" moment is...I just want you to find it. It can be superficial ("I want to look good naked"). It can be sad ("I lost my spouse to Type 2 diabetes complications). It can be anything, as long as you find it.


Because we're worth it. Every single one of us is worth it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

You Just Never Know

One of the perks of being on Team Luke's is that you they will offer free race entries throughout the year. When they offered an entry to run the IBM Uptown Classic on October 7, I jumped at the chance. Greg has run it the last two years and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to checking it out. To run as a member of Team Luke's (the main sponsor) was an added benefit. Unfortunately Greg needed to lead worship at church that morning, so the family could not go with me.

My plan was not to "race" this event, but rather use it as a good training run. I wasn't going to run slow, but around a 9-minute pace would make me happy. The previous day I ran 8 miles with our training group and felt so good during that run that I picked up the pace more than I normally would have. I was pretty tired and definitely underfueled when I went to bed Saturday night. I didn't think the race would be anything to write home about.

I'm not going to lie...getting out of bed Sunday morning was difficult. I felt a bit dehydrated, was hungry and fatigued. But I made a commitment to Team Luke's to run this race, and I needed to represent them well. I couldn't go around complaining about not wanting to be there, although I really could've crawled right back into bed. Greg offered to take a picture of me before I left, but since it wasn't going to be any kind of magical race for me, I declined.

It was a bit difficult to actually get to the race itself. The crew had prematurely blocked off Duval and Burnett Roads, so I couldn't even get to the parking lot I planned to use. Several other cars were clearly confused as well, and I ended following some of them around a barricade to get to the parking garage near the start. It was a little frustrating as I hate starting race morning with irritating setbacks. Luckily I had set out from my house so early that I had plenty of time to kill. After finally parking and getting my stuff together, I headed over to the start area and the vendors. I debated on taking my jacket with me and then just tying it around my waist during the race since the windchill was in the 40s. But I left it in the car...big mistake! I was FREEZING out in the windy cold. It was by far our coldest morning in several months and the wind was brutal. I didn't even think about bringing gloves, so I was starting to feel totally unprepared. Luckily Luke's had given us long sleeve technical shirts, so I was wearing that one rather than the team tank top. After milling around for several minutes and chatting with a friend I had run into, I decided to go back to my car and stay warm until closer to the start.

As I sat in the car, I had serious thoughts of just not running. I really don't understand what my problem was. I had kind of a frustrating week as I was pretty exhausted. You can read about it in my previous blog post. So I wasn't really in a good mental place to run. But again, I remembered that I had made a commitment and part of it was to run to the best of my ability for Luke's Locker. I had to live up to that commitment.

At about 7:40 I headed back over to the start (scheduled for 8:00). I chatted briefly with Gray from Luke's. He asked how I was feeling, and I said I was going to run to the best of my ability for that morning. He liked that, so that made me smile. As I found a good place behind the start line, I ran into another friend, Eddie, who is in Round Rock Fit, and that lifted my spirits a lot as well. It's a weird thing for me to be at a race totally alone, having driven there alone, with no plans to meet up with anything, no plans to run with anyone, and no one waiting at the finish line, so to see friendly faces is always a good thing. Eddie was going to run a much faster race than me, otherwise I probably would have tried to stick with him. I think I told him I would be happy with 2-3 minutes over my 53:33 PR.

The race start was uneventful. I got into a good rhythm right from the start, and even got to run with another Round Rock Fit friend for about a mile. I didn't overdo the pace, but I wasn't running particularly slow, either. As I entered Mile 2, I picked it up to a more difficult pace, but one I thought I could probably hold for a few miles. I knew I could always back off if it got to difficult. It was about this time I realized I had never used my inhaler that morning, but with the cold air I thought it would be okay. The heat and humidity is what tends to irritate my asthma. I was enjoying the course a lot. There were several turns and I wasn't being so good about cutting them close, but I didn't really care all that much.

During Mile 3 I still felt okay, but I honestly thought this wasn't going to be close to a PR day, not that I ever had any real thoughts of trying to PR at all. As I went through the 5K check point, I glanced at my watch and it said 27:44. I had already added on a little bit of extra distance because of my sloppy turns, so I'd definitely be running longer than a 10k. A quick calculation told me that I'd have to run less than 26 minutes to get close to my PR and I just didn't see that my pace could possibly pick up that much.

I stuck to my usual routine of not looking at current pace while I run, but rather just trying to run on feel. I would glance at average pace and was genuinely surprised that it kept dropping pretty significantly as I headed into Miles 4 and 5. When it dropped under my PR pace, I had a brief thought that maybe I really could PR this race. I knew it had to go quite a bit below PR pace, however, because of all the extra distance I had added, and that I'd have to keep increasing my speed. The brief thought faded very quickly when reality set in. It wasn't going to happen and I wasn't going to push myself to make it happen. That's not what this race was about.

I continued to run at a difficult pace, but one I felt I could maintain, never looking to see how fast it was. I was really surprised, however, at how great I felt. The course was awesome, with no crazy hills and what seemed like a lot of downhill. It really was a PR course, if you could cut the corners well or let the elevation work to your benefit. I figured with just a bit over a mile to run I had nothing to lose and wanted to finish strong.

When I had about a half mile to go I actually felt like maybe a 53 minute race was possible. I didn't think I'd have to slow down and I was running very well, right around 8 minute even pace. At the final turn, when I could see the 6 mile marker, I looked at my watch and saw a 51. With 2/10ths of a mile to run, I was going to easily break my PR. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I flew to the finish line, hitting a pace in the low 6 minute range for part of it. And I was certainly smiling.

As I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch, I couldn't believe it said 53:13, a full 20 seconds under my PR.

And I felt awesome. Nothing like my PR pace last November, when I could hardly breathe and thought I was going to throw up afterwards. No, I felt incredible after this race. I had a lot left in me and certainly didn't run as fast as I could have if I had set out to run a personal best during that race.

But I had done it anyway....even with adding a 10th of a mile!

I saw Eddie right away after the race and got a huge hug from him and I'm so glad. To have no one greeting me afterwards would have totally sucked, especially considering I had run so well.

My splits for the race were almost perfect: 9:15, 8:42, 8:33, 8:21, 8:04, 8:09, 2:06 (7:00 pace) for the final 0.3 mile. A 27:44 first 5K, 25:28 second 5K. Official time of 53:12, which made me 25th out of 149 in my age group. I honestly think this was the very best I have ever run.

So I run 8 miles the day before, don't fuel or rehydrate properly, I go to the race alone, it's cold and windy, I feel unprepared, I run alone for the majority of the race, I didn't use my inhaler...and I run better than I think I ever have. Just goes to show that when you have zero expectations, magical things can happen.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My body hates me

I have a nickname for my trainer.


But I say that with affection, because I have no doubt this young'un is going to get me in pretty damn fine shape.

But right now, he's Little Punk and he's making my body angry. I guess it's a good kind of angry, and it will get better. But damn, it's ANGRY.

Friday the 28th was my first training session with Ryan. He knew he had a trainee in pretty good shape to start with so we skipped a lot of the preliminaries and just went right into an awesome training session. I warned him not to do too much damage to my legs since I had 25 total miles to run over the weekend. My legs are actually pretty weak, and too many squats would hurt more than expected. I can run for hours, but strength? Not so much there. I know, I know...I know better!

We went through a circuit of exercises focusing on legs, upper body, core, and quickness. A really awesome circuit and I gotta hand it to Ryan for being very creative and giving me some tough exercises to do. My heart rate was sky high and I was begging for those rest periods to come faster. It honestly made me feel like a sad little out of shape weakling.

Afterwards, Ryan did say he was pretty impressed I made it through the workout as well as I did. It was a tough one intentionally. I think he's going to enjoy kicking my ass.

I felt pretty great all day Friday, but as I went to bed that night I got the first twinge of achiness in my lower body. Uh oh....

Saturday morning I was scheduled to run 7 miles, but because of flooding from the rain at our training venue our group run was cancelled. I decided that I needed to try to shake out some of the soreness that was very quickly settling in and headed to the gym to run a few miles on the treadmill. I intentionally kept it at a very comfortable pace and completed 5 miles in just under 49 minutes. My legs were still pretty stiff, but a little bit better, so I foam rolled for about 15 minutes or so and headed home.

I spent most of the day foam rolling, using the Stick, and resting. I was getting pretty worried about what 18 miles would feel like on sore legs the next day. By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I was VERY worried. But I had no opportunity to reschedule the run. I had to suck it up and hope I loosened up after a few miles.

Sunday morning came....


At this point I realized I shouldn't have any kind of time goal. I just needed to get the 18 miles in. The good news was the temp was reasonable, there was a bit of wind to cool me off, and I would be at Brushy Creek, where I love to run.

As I ticked off each uncomfortable mile, I noticed that I wasn't speeding up like I normally do. It was taking effort to maintain a 9:45-10:00 pace per mile, when I normally would comfortably be cruising at 9:00-9:30 after a few miles. There was absolutely no comfort during this run. Every step hurt. Every single one. My thoughts of running 18 in 2:48? Oh hell no, that was not going to happen. I'd be lucky to break 3 hours.

During mile 7 I wanted to cry. No, really...I just about had the tears flowing. It took every ounce of willpower I had to not call Greg and beg him to come pick me up. But as I crossed the dam I starting feeling a little bit better and relaxed. I cruised for the next few miles trying to block my discomfort and as I got closer to the Y at the end of the trail my mental attitude improved, although it was still painful. I let go off the rest of my expectations and just focused on getting through each mile one at a time.

The good news was that I wasn't feeling WORSE. Usually the fatigue will start to set it after about 2 hours and you can feel a definite difference in your legs. Mine weren't feeling any worse, and actually were probably a bit better at this point, so I held onto that for a few miles.

When I realized at the 15 mile point that I only had 30 minutes left I definitely had an attitude improvement. The sun was coming up, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I was going to get all 18 miles in. They weren't fast miles, there were a few spurts of walking up the inclines, and I may have reveled in the water stops a few moments longer than normal, but all in all, the miles were pretty consistent. When I ran, I ran at a smooth pace. I spent a lot of time focusing on my form, making sure I kept my core strong and didn't further hurt myself by getting sloppy.

Just because they were slower-than-normal miles didn't make them any less important. I completed 18 miles, all on my own and while feeling less than awesome. I can pat myself on my back for that one.

I also showered, ate, and made it to church by 9:45am....with both my kids all by myself. Not too shabby.

I took very good care of myself for the rest of Sunday, rehydrating and refueling, foam rolling, and using my Stick as often as I could. I was hurting pretty bad, but hanging in there. Actually, I think I felt better Sunday night than I did before I even ran.

Monday morning brought with it Personal Training Session #2. Little Punk was actually a bit shocked I was as miserable as I was. He didn't expect that my leg muscles were as weak as they were. But of course he had a plan to get those suckers in shape. I mistakenly assumed there would be no squats on the schedule. WRONG....the majority of the workout was upper body and corework but we did do squats at the end. Surprisingly, they were okay. I was moving pretty well at that point.

The real test came on Tuesday morning, during my Interval workout with Georgetown Triathletes. The workout was going to be a tough one...intervals of 12 min, 10 min, 8 min, 6 min, and 4 min at Threshold pace, which for me would be around 8:20-8:30 pace, inching down to 8:00 pace for the last 2 intervals. The break in between each interval would be only one minute. I knew this would probably be a little ambitious so I decided to try to keep up with Christine, who would most likely run 8:30-9:00 pace. I actually didn't expect to even run the full intervals, but rather cut a minute or two off and increase my rest period.

Surprisingly I felt okay. Slower than normal, but definitely okay. I got through the first interval just fine, then the next interval and was still feeling good. I was right on Christine's heels the whole time and even passed her a couple times. By the time we got to the last interval I was ahead of her and running probably 8:00 pace (my Garmin was broken so I'm not totally sure). My legs felt a bit heavy and tired, but were working well. I didn't feel like it was a big effort to maintain 8:30-8:45 pace.

Wednesday brought with it another personal training session in the morning and then Speed Work at the track Wednesday night. Ryan has me up to 7 min circuits now, which are absolutely killer, but I'm hanging in there. The workout was great. The track work was REALLY great (mile repeats: 7:33, 7:55, and 7:40).

I put the skids on Thursday (today), however. On the schedule was an 8 mile tempo run, which I planned to run at 5:30 in the morning. My goal was a 1.5 mile warm up no faster than 9:45 pace, then a slow progression to sub-9 average pace for 5 miles, then a 1.5 mile cool down at 9:30 pace. I got about 6 houses down and turned my butt back around. That butt was HURTING. Not so much that a mile or two wouldn't have loosened it up, but after the death march of 18 miles on Sunday I just didn't have the heart or desire to suffer through another run. I figured I could hit the gym tonight.

Am I going to go to the gym? I don't think so. My body is saying to rest. I have an 8 mile run on Saturday and a 10k race on Sunday.

Sometimes my body is smarter than my head.