Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bilateral breathing.....for Runners?

So every once in awhile I come across a piece of information or an article in a magazine about training that really resonates with me. Last year I read Scott Jurek's book and decided I needed to clean up my diet and became what I would call an 80% Vegan.  I still enjoyed my post long run steaks and ate whatever when I went out with friends and family.  I think it did make an impact on my season last year and allowed me to get down to a relatively lean race weight for a change.

Anyway, this post isn't about diet, but rather another article I read this week in Runner's World that got me thinking about a part of running that I usually don't pay much attention to and that is breathing.  Most runs I tend to go out and just run because I enjoy it and I just let my mind wander and before I know it the day's prescribed mileage is up and I'm done.  For races and speedwork days I loosely monitor my breathing as a way to tell how hard I'm going.  Unless it's a 5k I shouldn't be out of breath.  If I'm doing speedwork and I'm hitting my paces and my breathing is under control then all is well.

The article, which can be found here, put the act of breathing in a whole new light for me.  There is evidence out there that suggest the greatest impact stress occurs when you exhale at the same time of a foot strike.  The argument was made that many runners will tend to exhale when the same foot strikes (ie always on the right foot strike or left foot strike) and that puts an unbalanced amount of stress on the body which can in turn lead to injury.

I thought about that for a bit and realized that every injury I've sustained while running has a occurred on my right side. Hip bursitis, Achilles tendon, and now the peroneal tendon. Coincidence? I don't know.  Maybe I just have one leg that's shorter than the other one.  That's possible too.  Anyway the article went on to explain a method for breathing in which you exhale on opposite foot strikes, with the easiest pattern to be a 3 step inhale, 2 step exhale so that way you're alternating exhalations on the left and right.  I figured I would go ahead and try and employ this next time out to see what it felt like.  There was really nothing to lose.  It's not likely that I would injure myself trying a new breathing method.  More likely that I would be annoyed with counting steps and doing something that didn't feel natural that I would give it up within a few miles.

So Thursday I gave it a shot.  It was a little weird because like I said it's not something I normally think about.  I found out that the 3:2 pattern was too short for an easy run and made me feel like I was forcing my breaths.  A 5:2 pattern was much more doable at my pace.  The only weird thing I noticed was a tended to look to the right or left depending on which foot strike I was exhaling too.  It reminded me of that scene in the Wayne's World movie where they're doing the five second countdown and Wayne and Garth kept nodding their heads and mouthing the countdown.

I've spent a couple more runs since then practicing on and off.  I did my weekly long run this morning (13 miles!) and would focus on it for a bit and then let my mind wander.  A few times I checked myself and found I was starting to subconsciously keep the new pattern up.  A few more times out and maybe it will be ingrained a little better and not feel so forced.  Like I said I think the switch is pretty low risk. Maybe it won't help with injuries, but if it does then bonus.  If anything, it can't hurt to be a little more conscious of how I'm breathing out there when I'm running.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Eeny, meeny, miny, marathon

Well it's that time of the year again where I start thinking about what my "A" race for the year is going to be.  For the second year in row it's going to be a marathon and my sole intent is to take another shot at qualifying for Boston since things didn't quite come all the way together for me at Chicago last year.

There's no shortage of options out there so that's a good thing, but there's a lot of little things to take into consideration.  Course type, location, time of year, etc., etc.  Chicago was a lot of fun last year.  It's a great city to visit and the course was exceptionally flat and speedy, but I'm thinking I don't need to do another mega-marathon again this year.  Don't get me wrong, the big races can be a lot of fun with all the crowd support and entertainment, but sometimes it's nice just to run and not be knocking elbows with the person next to you.

The single biggest draw for me right now is a flat, fast course.  It's not that I don't like hills or am afraid of them, but when qualifying is based purely on time I might as well maximize my chances and pick a course that I'm more likely to post a fast time on.  If at some point down the road I want to take on some gnarly hilly race to get some sort of masochistic pleasure out of the challenge I will do so.  For now I just want to be fast.

Then question then remains, when do I want to be fast? Or maybe when can I be fast?  The choice of fall marathons run from September to November with plenty of options in those months.  I have to realistically look at where my training and mileage is at.  I still consider myself to be easing back into training after an injury, but I did manage to put away 31 miles this last week. At the start of an 18 week training plan I would like to be up to 55 miles a week so I still have a ways to go to get built back up.  With a race heavy April the build will be slower as I'll have to allow for recovery as needed from the hard efforts.  So I'm likely looking at the end of May to be back up to snuff and that would again put me on schedule for an early October marathon at the earliest.  I was looking at some tantalizing September options though that, if I don't hit my goal time, would allow me to still try a November marathon too.  Part of me doesn't want to have that "out" but still tempting nonetheless.

The last part of the equation is just where the heck do I go to do this at? I like to travel and a race is a good excuse head somewhere new.  Just how far though? Do I stay within driving distance so my favorite sherpas (mom and dad) can come along or do I hop a flight with my running shoes to find a new place to run? The nice thing about running races is that I don't have to haul a bike along. What a pain that is. Just toss some shoes in a suitcase and I'm good to go!

Like I said the good news is that there are plenty of options out there and whatever I decide I'm sure I can find something that fits all of my criteria.  I enjoy browsing race websites, looking at course maps and reading reviews for an entire evenings at a time.  So I'll spend a few more weeks doing that to further narrow things down and hopefully come up with a plan for this fall. Now if only I could dedicate this much time to job hunting....    

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Resurrection.....2013 Edition

Well it's that time of year again where I start to getting excited about the impending race season and say, "Hey, maybe I should start updating the old blog again so others can share in the enthusiasm."  I'm not sure why the inspiration suddenly hit me.  Especially considering ma nature has decided to dump a bunch of snow on us again today. I just looked out my window and I'm not gonna lie, it's disgusting. Seriously, it had just pretty much all melted again and thoughts of spring had me wondering just how soon I could start stashing my tights and hats and gloves and stuff. Of course it could be that I had just completed my first 10 mile run in 3 months in the rain and sleet this morning and every successful run since the latest injury leaves me slightly euphoric and optimistic that the 2013 campaign can still turn into a good one.

So after coming up just 3 minutes short of qualifying for Boston at the Chicago Marathon last October I still have a major goal to focus on this year.  I really want that sub-3:05 time (heck, who am I kidding. I want that sub-3:00 time), which is what another run focused year will propel me toward. To reach that goal I'll have to make sure I follow a sub-set of goals such as stay injury free and no drinking and biking. When Chicago wrapped, I knew that my training plan had been solid and the collarbone setback and cost me a lot.  I wanted to rest up, keep my mileage manageable the last couple months of the year, and get ready to train for a spring marathon come January.

Now I'm notorious for end of the season injuries.  For some reason my body gets angry with me if I don't take adequate time off after my last marathon or Ironman of the year.  The last few years I've dealt with hip bursitis, an achilles injury, and some nasty shin splints. I was really hoping this year would be different.  I took two whole weeks off from any activity post Chicago, which is extremely hard for me to do.  After that I did all easy pace runs and was only logging 20 mile weeks (as opposed to the 70+ leading up to Chicago) for a few weeks.  After that I added about 4 miles a week, which seemed reasonable considering what I had been doing for the past year.  By mid December I was in the mid 40s for weekly mileage and feeling good about starting serious training come the new year.

Unfortunately my foot had different plans.  I had just finished up a routine easy 5 miler and noticed upon walking around later that night that my ankle hurt a little bit.  I just figured I had twisted it at some point during the run.  I tend to space out from time to time so it's not entirely implausible that I veered off the path and twisted it on some uneven ground or tripped on a stick or a crack in the trail or small animal darting in front of me or a dog not being watched by it's owner.  I waited a couple days for it to feel better and ran again but ended up with a sharp pain under the bony point on the outside of the ankle.  I rested some more which was extremely hard for me to do at this point.  The ankle felt fine walking and biking and lifting and going up and down the stairs at work, why couldn't I run? The especially frustrating part was that occasionally I would have a good run or two in a row without pain and then it would show up again the next time out.  It was taunting me and I wasn't a fan.

So shortly after Christmas I decided two full weeks of rest were in order.  Combing through resources on the internet, my armchair diagnosis was that it was a peroneal tendon injury and unless it was badly torn (I'm pretty sure I would have noticed that) the treatment was pretty much rest along with some specific stretches and strengthening exercises. I figured two weeks off would be sufficient to recover.  It wasn't.  I ended up heading into the doctor to get an official diagnosis, but because my symptoms weren't acute at the time the podiatrist could only speculate the it was the peroneal tendon (Ha! I was right). He did give me the most undoctorly advice I'd ever gotten: Go run until it hurts again and then come back in. Really? Did a doctor just tell me to go hurt myself?

The "Go hurt yourself" run never came to fruition though. Not because I didn't want to go do it.  I was desperate for some answers and a treatment plan that would get me back in the game. Instead I ended up getting sick.  And not just my typical feeling bad for a day or two and then recovering type sicknesses.  This was a full fledged multi-week sickness, the likes of which I don't think I've ever experienced.  I usually pride myself on my superior immune system, but it let me down this time for sure.  I was out of commission for 3 weeks, not on my deathbed type sick, but feeling bad enough that after suffering through a day of work all I wanted to was curl up on the couch and sleep.

The sickness may have been a blessing in disguise though.  When it finally passed I cautiously started running again.  The runs were short and slow, but more importantly pain free.  I've been able to string several weeks of pain free running together and even reached a few milestones that don't seem like much, but have left me optimistic: I've been able to run on consecutive days a few times and just today I completed my first 10 miler since December (Actually a 9.75 miler, but I'm rounding up so there :P). Today felt especially badass because of the cold, wind, rain, and sleet I had to deal with.  I was alone on the trail and singing and enjoying myself, but by the end I was still wet and cold.  When I got home I prepared a new concoction: Recovery hot cocoa. Hot cocoa with an extra scoop of chocolate protein powder and it sure did the trick of warming me up.


Now if only the weather would warm up too.  I've got races to get ready for!