Friday, September 25, 2009

Born to Run

"A hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen"

Thought provoking – Entertaining – Motivating – A must read for runners and non-runners alike!

Once I started reading this book I could not put it down. It has been a while since I have sacrificed night time TV watching for a book, but this one became an addiction. I devoured it in two days and was raving about it non-stop afterwards.

I must admit that after reading the first few chapters I was questioning whether this was a fictional book. I am not that familiar with the ins and outs and personalities within US running circles. This coupled with high tales of the Tarahumaran Indians and a reclusive gringo gone grunge in the deadly Copper Canyons going by the name of Caballo Blanco just threw me for a six. As I eased into the story however I realized that what the author Christopher McDougall was doing was representing every character and their story. If something didn't make sense, it wasn't meant to as there more was to come and loose ends would be tied when they needed to be. He did an outstanding job of not only weaving a magnificent tale but also intertwining tidbits and findings about running science, history and anthropology.

For the reader each character comes alive and you empathize and sympathize with them during their part of the journey. You also begin to question everything that you think you know about running that has been fed to you by the big brand names. Do I need stabilizing shoes to minimize injury or does the shoe in fact cause the injuries? Will running over twenty miles kill my joints or will it set me free?

This book has also been the catalyst for a miracle… my husband has started to run and has been enjoying it. Now, he hasn't read the book (yet) but he has spent a few hours on and off with me discussing a lot of the pertinent issues and findings brought up in the book. I think the enthusiasm and excitement I displayed along with the gleam in my eye as I shared this tale convinced him (or at least tweaked his curiosity) that there was some sense behind running.

This book has inspired me to believe that I was in fact born to run. Oh – and that I want a pair of Vibram Five Fingers (or the like) for Christmas (please Santa).

Changing gears

This week is going to signal the end of my first training phase – 0 to 10 miles in four and a half months (one of those was taken off for injury). I have improved my times consistently over the longer distances from 13 minute miles down to 10 minutes. To date I have basically been following the training guidelines of our running club coach and president – long runs on Saturdays increasing the distance by a mile every two weeks, and running three shorter runs during the week. The program is not much different than those that can be found in the non-runner training books (I have two). So, with some additional reading of various books, magazines and websites I have found a suitable training program to train for the Chevron Houston half marathon being run in January.

Half marathon I hear you say? Yes – it is part of the plan (fingers crossed) to pre-qualify by time for the New York marathon. That is the plan, the goal, but with a disclaimer. The disclaimer reads something like this: if I don't prequalify on time I won't be disappointed. I am more than happy to run for one of the many outstanding charity organization that are out there. In fact, even if I do prequalify I am still thinking I may ask to represent one of those organizations. But, we will see. I think that decision will be made post Houston half marathon.

The new program. It is more intensive, aggressive and a lot smarter. To date I have been running between 18 to 23 miles per week over my four running days. This program incorporates speed work and tempo runs dictating set times and distances. The program is 14 weeks long and will aim to bring me down from a 10 min mile to a consistent 7.58 minute mile over the 13.1 mile half marathon distance. Total weekly distance times won't change that dramatically, as I said previously this program is going to focus on aggressive training with lots of speed work. Cross training will still consist of weight sessions and I am going to add swimming. To assist in recovery I am hoping to include either a weekly or bi-monthly massage to help minimize any injuries.

This is very exciting!! As per usual I will post the weekly schedules on the site and write up post-workout comments in my Daily Mile training log. The program change will take effect from 11 October after a quick trip to Australia and the 10 mile for Texas race. I am totally psyched!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An ice bath to (not) remember…

Over the last week several people that I either know or correspond with have been using an ice bath to aid with their recovery. Ice baths can be an effective way to offset any damage done during a long run by constricting blood vessels and decreasing cellular activity thus resulting in the reduction of tissue breakdown and swelling. Some studies have suggested that there is no difference between having an ice bath or having a bath in tepid water. I bring this up because when it comes voluntarily subjecting parts of my body to frigid water or ice … well, I just can do it. Not voluntary anyway!! It is … just … too … cold!!

The recent raves about ice baths have had me cringing and turning up my nose. Then I remembered something, I have been subjected to something similar to an ice bath before and it was SO not fun.

Eight or so years ago I was living and studying in Paris when a French aid organization offered me a job in Afghanistan. I hadn't been in Kabul for more than a week when I unknowingly consumed some contaminated water. I was on a trip to Charikar, a small town north of Kabul with a colleague. He provided me with bottled water. It looked like bottled water, tasted like bottled water; my colleague even confirmed that it was safe to drink. Well, it turned out that the so called bottled water was contaminated and it wasn't long before the nasty side affects reared their ugly head.

I spent the morning multi-tasking: viewing the attractions of Charikar whilst throwing up – all while managing to keep my headscarf from falling off. Even though I felt like crap we decided to return to Kabul during daylight when it was safe to drive on the road. I spent the entire trip throwing up out the rear window. The Afghan driver must have felt bad for me as he offered me his water and the few squares of toilet paper that he had to clean myself up between bouts of vomit. We made it back to Kabul prior to lunch, which was a lucky thing for me. I was dropped off to my Guest House (residence) where I transitioned from vomiting to simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea. The fluids were leaving my body quicker than I could replace them.

There was a room in my Guest House that resembled a lounge room, however instead of chairs and sofas it was filled with deep purple floor cushions. I had crawled from the bathroom into this room and was sprawled across some cushions when my French colleagues started arriving for lunch. I was still conscious, but barely and called to one of the fellows and told him that if I was still lying there in this state after they finished lunch to take me to a hospital. It was probably lucky I did that as they more than likely would have carried on about their business after lunch not really paying any attention to an Australian chick passed out on the cushions.

Lunch finished and by that stage I was barely conscious. A group of my French colleagues bundled me into a local taxi along with one of the trusted Afghan security guards – armed with a VHF radio , no French and limited English – and headed to a hospital. I don't remember much of this other than being carried into a building lined with hard stainless steel tables and a turban wearing male making his way towards us. Then there was a bit of a ruckus between my colleagues and the Afghan hospital staff. Next thing I realize is that I am again being bundled into a local taxi. I passed out and came to as one of the girls I worked with was arguing with a French ISAF soldier. We had driven to the outskirts of Kabul to the location where the ISAF soldiers were camped. She was trying to get me access to the French military hospital claiming a life or death situation.

Lucky for me it must have been a slow day as for whatever reason they allowed us in. I remember gaining consciousness again finding myself on a field hospital table under a large light surrounded by medical staff in a scene reminiscent of the M.A.S.H TV series. I can't recall how many saline I.V. bags they pumped into me, but it was three or more. Throughout this process I was in and out of consciousness and the next thing I remember was being stripped down to my underwear and placed on a stretcher of ice and wrapped in something similar to a plastic tarpaulin sheet. It was cold and it shocked my system. I remember crying and begging them to get me out. They could have given me some drugs or maybe I passed out again, I can't remember. The next time I woke I was dressed in military pajamas on a hospital stretcher bed.

So that was my ice bath (of sorts). Being subjected to lie on ice and be wrapped in ice. I am glad that I lost consciousness again because the memories I do have of it were not pleasant. It must have done the trick though in reducing my temperature and offsetting any cellular damage. Last weekend after my 9 mile run the plantar fasciitis on my left foot raised its ugly head. I tried to placate it by sticking it in an ice bucket. Do you think I could put my foot in that bucket? Nope! I would plunge it in and pull it immediately out squealing, much to the delight of my two kids. So, my hat is off to all of those runners out there who finish up their training sessions and races with an ice bath. For me – although the benefits would be great - it is … just … too … cold!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Training Schedule

Monday 21 September - Rest

Tuesday 22 September - 4 miles

Wednesday 23 September - cross training - body pump / yoga

Thursday 24 September - 4 miles

Friday 25 September - Rest

Saturday 26 September - 10 miles

Sunday 27 September - Rest

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the beginning I attempted a trail run…

I recently entered a competition for a pair of Saucony ProGrid Xodus Trail-Running Shoes. The task was to share your favorite trail running story. Here is the article I submitted below – fingers crossed!!!


I am sure that these are go-fast shoes! They certainly look it! I could have used these go-fast shoes on my first trail run.

I have only competed in one 5km Trail Run, and should qualify that with a 'so far'. This particular Trail Run was part of a family fun day organized by the YMCA and they also had a 3km walk for those not able or not wanting to run. I signed my husband and kids up for the walk. My youngest at the time was about 18 months old, so he was carried in one of those trekking back carriers.

This race was held at the beginning of summer, and although it was an early start the Texas weather did not disappoint and made sure it was amply hot and humid. Although it had been 10 years since I had done any sort of running I was feeling slyly confident – I used to run 5km comfortably circa 22 minutes. Adding a bit of fudge for not running in a decade would mean that I could finish around the 25 minute mark, right?

The 5km race was to start before the 3km walkers. As the runners were called up to the starting line the air sparked with that electric vibe that you find with most races - oozing excitement, nervousness and impatience. The gun sounded and we were off!! The trail was through horse paddocks and forested areas. There were slow inclines, sharp bends, and twists and turns that could put you in a pond or a mud puddle. It didn't take long for me to realize my unfit state. At first I thought it was because I went out to fast, then it was the inclines, then… it was just me not running in a decade!

Now, the 3km walk kicked off not long after the 5km start with my husband (with baby on back) and my 6 year old son. Their course deviated in parts from the 5km track. Half way through my run I remember seeing my 6 year old running and jumping a puddle on a trail over. I mustered all my energy and called out to him. He waved, smiled and continued along his path. By this time I was totally spent! Instead of getting all worked up and feeling humiliated about it I decided to put one foot in front of the other and concentrate on finishing.

That 5km Trail Run was definitely the longest run of my life, or so it felt. I was certain I was going to collapse as I passed the finish line! As I crossed over I was greeted with cheers from my husband and kids who had somehow managed to finish their walk before I finished my run!!! "Yay Mom – you are a champion!"

This is the race that kicked off my now running passion. I will get up early on a Saturday morning and complete my long prior to returning to a sleeping house. Once the house wakes we breakfast and head out to a local trail (chosen from my 60 hikes within 60 miles of Houston book) and walk, run and be one with nature. I am looking forward to competing in this event next year! And, I plan on running it "Super Fast" (to quote my 6 year old)!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Learning to listen

This week has been a strange week for me. Over the long weekend I ran 13.4 mi in two different runs and was pretty happy with the times. I have been progressively improving my pace times from a 12 min mile a few months back to averaging 10 min miles of late. After these runs I have felt pretty good too. Recovery has been good with no twinges, pains or evidence of any injuries.

On Tuesday morning I was scheduled to run 4 miles but for whatever reason I just didn't feel up to it. Now, I've had these sorts of days before and it is just a matter of getting out the door and then the legs do the rest. But there was something else there. My body was telling me that it wasn't ready to go for a run, it wasn't up to it. Instead of forcing it out the door I decided to listen and take a day off. The same thing happened on Wednesday and once again I listened and took the day off. Yesterday I was feeling good after the rest and decided to go for a run. I hadn't decided how far or long I would run for, but ended up doing 5 miles at a 9.12 min mile pace.

There have been a few colds and coughs going around recently. Something to do with school going back, change of weather - something like that? I have had a few headaches and yesterday I got a cold sore on my lip – something that normally happens when I am run down. So even though I couldn't pin point what was feeling off earlier in the week I am now glad that I listened to my body and took some time off!

I think our bodies are capable of sending us messages or signals informing us if we are doing too much. In June I ignored those signals and paid for it with some overuse injuries that had me out of action for a month. I had to start back pretty much from scratch and was extremely demoralized. Learning to listen was what that experience taught me and it is something that I plan to continue.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Training Schedule

Monday 07 September - 6 miles

Tuesday 08 September - 4 miles

Wednesday 09 September - cross training - body pump / yoga

Thursday 10 September - 5 miles

Friday 11 September - Rest

Saturday 12 September - 9 miles

Sunday 13 September - Rest

Memories of running barefoot

I read a blog post recently by a runner from Austin, Texas about 'barefoot running' in the Vibram Five Fingers ( ). I was intrigued and wanted to leave a response but wasn't sure what to say. I haven't seen a pair of Vibram Five Fingers up close and personal, just a few photos here and there on the web. The first time I saw a photo of them was a few months back when a fellow on twitter tweeted his excitement that they had arrived and attached a photo. They are strange looking to say the least!

But, there appears to be a growing trend of runners raving about the benefits of barefoot running – breaking your feet out of the chains (or laces) that are holding them captive in the average stabilizing running sneaker. From what I have read, their design aims to mimic the bare foot and incorporates contours of the arch and foot. It also is meant to strengthen the leg and foot and adds to improvements of balance and agility through the five separate fingers for your toes. Go figure?

Anyway, last week I met a lady from Australia who has recently moved to Texas and for whatever reason being barefoot came up in the conversation. Her comment was that her children didn't believe her when she said that we used to go barefoot to school. I remember looking at her strangely and thinking back to my school experiences and couldn't recollect ever going to school without shoes. I didn't think of it again until I read this blog post. It must have nagged at my subconscious because last night I woke up as though the lights had been turned on and remembered that four years of my high school track days were raced barefoot! And, when we were in primary school we would take our shoes off and spend most of the day barefoot. And not only that – I have vivid memories of running on the bitumen road barefoot – I loved the way my feet would tingle afterwards! I grew up in a small town on a beach – most of my life was spent barefoot!!

Wow! I trained and competed in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m races barefoot. High jump, long jump and hurdles – yep, barefoot. I also competed in some of the cross country events barefoot. The teachers at school used to laugh at me and say I was a young Zola Budd in the making. With all the hype around at the time of people wearing specialized running shoes and the like my preference was to go barefoot. I remember that I did try to run with shoes on occasion, but it just didn't feel right. Most of my training was either on the long open stretches of beach or on the grassed oval, so it didn't really matter. It was in my second last year at school I was competing at the State Championships for the 3000m in an age group up from mine and it all went a bit awry. First of all the track had some sort of rubbery track surfacing that caused blisters to form on my feet – this was nothing new, I could run on bitumen. But more importantly, most of the other runners were wearing spiked track running shoes and one competitor 'spiked' my heel during the race. After this I was resolved to go and buy a pair of addidas running shoes and a pair of my own track spikes for future competitions. But, it never felt right!

All of my fastest times were barefoot. After I left school I joined the Army – so I never ran barefoot again. My feet served 11 years of solitary confinement in khaki boots. They tried to commit suicide on occasions, normally after a 15 km run or a two day route march. It got so bad that on more occasion than not, the skin would try to escape by peeling off with the socks. It has taken me until now to realize that they were protesting about being confined and held in place by leather and laces.

Twenty-five years have passed since people used to laugh at me running barefoot, and I find it now intriguing that someone has designed these shoes to allow you to run 'barefoot'. I look forward to reading more and learning more as to how people are enjoying the experience. For now, I am content with walking a few hundred yards on the hot concrete road daily to collect my mail barefoot… I just love that burning sensation on the bottom of my feet, I find it therapeutic …..