I hate treadmills… and perceived level of exertion

Running with a baby jogger really raises your perceived level of exertion

That’s me and Superbaby after the Turkey Trot here in Charlotte.  We beat out all the moms and their skinny babies in the baby jogger division, finishing an 8k in 36 minutes.  Some guy with triplets almost beat me though, so I guess I’m the pathetic one.  I wanted to hurl afterwards.  Needless to say, my perceived level of exertion was really high that day.  I ran 22 miles two days later and it felt like a cakewalk compared to the Turkey Trot.  If by cakewalk, you mean a walk that takes over 3 hours and enables you to eat several pieces of cake afterward because of the high caloric burn from the walk.

Perceived level of exertion is an interesting, fluctuating concept.  On Saturday, Erin and I ran about 4 miles before Power Hour.  Power Hour is a psychotic bootcamp-type class.  That is where we met, and where we met Griff.  One of my dear friends teaches Power Hour and she is a beast.  She has two kids but her body resembles that of someone who belongs on the cover of Shape magazine.  It’s just not fair. Anyway, Erin and I took off on that chilly morning setting out to run a leisurely 8:30/mile pace as a warmup for Power Hour.  We were huffing and puffing at mile two, barely holding 8:30.  We managed to eek out an 8:26 pace for the entire jog, but I definitely thought I would blackout 65 minutes later when we finished Power Hour.  My perceived level of exertion was very high on Saturday.  The next day, I did an easy two mile warmup then 10 miles at about an 8:20 pace.  It was tough, but actually a little easier than my run with Erin the prior day.  I know what you’re thinking: “That makes absolutely no sense.  You really need to get your Garmin checked.”  But that’s just how our wonderful human bodies work.

Tonight, as planned, I ran 6 miles then finished off with 10×10 sec hill sprints.  The pace for tonight’s run was supposed to be between a jog and a run.  My perceived level of exertion should have been around a 5 or 6, so that I could hold a conversation.  I think that’s what the PLE conversion is.  I figured that would put me around an 8:40.  Wrong.  I look down at my watch after mile 1- 8:09.  After mile 2- 8:07.  You get the picture.  Each mile was progressively a bit faster but I did not intend it to go that way.  Well, except when some girl got on the track and was trying to race me.  She wasn’t really racing me but that’s how I “perceived it,” pun intended, so I had to pick up the pace a bit.  But I didn’t sacrifice my goal, which was to keep my heart rate pretty low and my comfort level high.  My splits were 8:09, 8:07, 8:06, 8:04, 8:00, and 7:46.  As you can see, the girl racing me came in on my last mile.  Then I hopped on the treadmill, my single greatest non-human nemesis, for my hill sprints.  Don’t judge me; everyone has a human and non-human nemesis.  Or so I tell myself.  The treadmill is my nemesis for several reasons.  One: it is unforgiving and does not make my shin splints happy. Two: It takes a while to get up to the speed I want to run, which frustrates me because I don’t like seeing my elapsed time so high when my initial mileage is so low.  I dislike the inaccuracy.  Three: “they” say that treadmills help do the work for you, so you need to raise the incline and run faster than you regular pace to actually be running your regular pace.  This boggles the mind.  And most importantly: My perceived level of exertion is always ridiculously high on the treadmill.  I was just strolling along on my 6 mile run at what is the equivalent of about a 7.5 mph pace on the treadmill.  When I first started jogging on the treadmill, a 7.0 mph pace felt like I was running for my life like Michael Vick being chased down the street by some angry pitt bulls seeking vengeance.  And I only ran at that pace for about a minute before hiking up the incline to begin my hill sprints.  I ran my sprints at a 9.0 incline at a 9 mph pace.  Only 10 seconds each, with 20 seconds rest between each sprint. That may not sound like much, but it was the longest 100 seconds of my life.  Man, that workout better help, or I am going to be really mad.  It combined two things I despise- the treadmill and hills.

After my workout, my shins were screaming from the very brief time I spent on my nemesis (the non-human one).  I knew this would happen, and luckily it has not been happening as frequently because I have been avoiding the treadmill like the plague and trying to run more on the dirt-packed outdoor track at the YMCA.  I also credit my shin splint recovery to ice massage and Body Helix calf universal sleeves.  I am a huge proponent of compression.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I think I read somewhere about how compression is really good during your workout but most importantly, after your workout to aid in recovery.  It’s science.  When running outdoors in the winter, I use CW-X Pro Women’s tights in both the full length and 3/4 length. When it’s a bit warmer, or when I am running indoors, I often wear Zoot Active Compression socks.  Sure, I look like one of the Harlem Globetrotters or a woman headed to an adult rec league soccer game, but I feel good.  I have only been wearing BodyHelix for about a week.  I primarily wear the sleeve on my right leg, which is the one with the shin splints, after my run.  It feels amazing and I really believe it is aiding in the recovery process.  The next day, I have no pain whatsoever.  Tonight, I wore my BodyHelix for about 30 minutes after my run and now my leg feels great.  On Sunday, I wore it for an hour after my long run and same thing- no soreness.  BodyHelix makes a bunch of other compression sleeves for the knee, hamstring, and other body parts, so if/when I develop other problems, as is inevitable given my history, I will scoop up some more sleeves.  My IT band has flared up again too, but that’s one of the downsides of running in one direction on the indoor track.  I wonder how long it would take someone to approach me if I decided to randomly switch directions halfway through my run.  I am a pretty imposing figure out there in my pink shoes and knee-high socks, so I could probably get away with it.  If not, I will just continue to use my trusty foam roller.

I will focus a bit more on gear in a future post.  I could spend hours writing and talking about gear. Just ask Erin, or SuperDad, who found Amazon or RunningWarehouse packages on our doorstep for about 5 weeks straight before my last marathon.  In addition to my amazing natural ability to be a middle-of-the-pack runner, I credit my insightful gear purchases towards aiding my better running these last few months.  I hope that this training plan will help too.

Tomorrow, I am planning on doing one of my most hated workouts.  It’s a 2 mile warmup, then a ladder of 1 min, 2 min, 3, min, 2 min, 1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 2 min, 1 min at 5k pace.  Finish up with a 2 mile cool down.  I estimate my 5k pace to be about 6:40/mile, solely based on my half marathon goal pace of 7:25.  I don’t really have a clue of my 5k time because I haven’t run a real sanctioned, organized 5k, complete with endorphins, in about 15 years.  Last week when I did this workout, I vowed I would never run a 5k again.  I am not equipped to run at that pace for longer than a minute.  But I somehow toughed it out, and hope that tomorrow is not as painful as last week.

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A little background about this adventure in awesomeness…

So, I decided to document my training plan for my next race in the hopes of a) sticking to the plan/holding myself accountable and b) helping others like me who want to get better at running but are too overwhelmed or lazy to read a book or join a running group. I am not really sure if this plan will work but I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. Well actually, I think I am extremely intelligent, as do all Duke graduates. Anyway, I am familiar with the basic tenets behind training for aerobic sports, so I figure the stuff I am doing should benefit me somehow. Plus, I know a guy training for an Ironman and his running workouts, which come from legit coaches, look a lot like mine. I swear, I didn’t steal them from him/them!

My basic running/athletic profile is better placed in this first post than the “About Me” section, because no one really cares about that section and my background is important to understanding why I felt compelled to blog about a 30-year-old mom who had the light bulb idea of actually devising a plan for becoming a faster runner. So here goes…

I ran a half dozen half marathons and a few less marathons from the age of 24-28, with PR’s of 1:36 and 3:37 respectively. Frankly though, there was nothing respectable about the way I trained for most of those “races” or dragged my lifeless carcass across the finish line. Although I was all too familiar with the term “negative split” from my days as a college swimmer and even crazier club swimmer in middle and high school, that term never played into my post collegiate running “strategy,” if you will. That 3:37 I mentioned above… well let’s just say, I went out in 1:40, so you can do the math. Brutal.

But getting back to the point of this blog. I wanted to stay active during my pregnancy so that I could indulge in… you got it, biscuits. Sure I could have used the “I’m eating for two” excuse but let’s face it- everyone knows you are eating for an 8 oz guava that doesn’t need those 800 calorie Bojangles biscuits. So I kept running. Yep, I was that crazy woman running (waddling) 3 miles around the track while 38 weeks pregnant. Shortly after giving birth, although I liked the idea of a tiny creature helping me burn calories eight times a day, I knew I would not have the energy to do anything other than have my body mold itself to the couch of I continued on with my diet of trail mix and virgin Egg Nog left over from the holidays. I did not have the time or will to drive to Bojangles. So I started easing my way back into jogging, then in August, started running with my friends Griff and Erin. I strong-armed them into signing up for their first marathons. We all had the goal of breaking 4 hours. Griff begrudgingly met us at 8am every Saturday (seriously though Griff, that’s really late in runner time) and we worked our way up to a 20 and 22 miler. I sprinkled in a very painful and hilly half marathon a month before the marathon, and finished in 1:42.59, nothing to scoff at when you were super pregnant at that time a year earlier.

When race day came, I felt better prepared than I had felt for any race in my life. I went out in a 1:53 and came back in 1:52- my first running negative split. Hallelujah! I crossed the finish line with a lot of blisters but no overwhelming urge to barf. A definite first time experience, or lack thereof. And thus, I was bit by the running bug again. I set my sights on running another marathon in just 14 weeks, and a half in about 10 weeks. I wanted to break 1:37 in the half for a PR and to gain automatic entry into to 2012 NYC Marathon. I don’t have the patience to deal with their lottery system, and I have called in far too many favors for charity runs in the past. I also wanted to qualify for Boston again (under 3:40) in March at the Shamrock Marathon. Oh silly girl, you really thought your body could handle a marathon, billing almost 180 hours, Christmas, New Years, SuperBaby’s first birthday, and running 50 miles a week? Wrong.

My training plan was derailed due to IT band problems almost as soon as I started. I have had to reevaluate and now, the plan is to do a half on March 20 in Wilmington (read: flat course). I still want to break 1:37 and think I can, provided I stick to the last six weeks of this plan.

Last week was a recovery week where I did 30 miles total with a 10 mile effort at goal race pace plus 10% to cap off the week. I also did some half marathon pace shorter runs and hill work, which you will see is a foundation of my plan. I have read that hill work is really all the strength work a runner (well, obviously not a sprinter) needs, as it really targets all the running-specific muscles. This prevents injury, and I think the hill work, along with my foam roller, Asian icy hot patches, compression gear, and massages (yesssss) have helped me recover from the IT band and subsequent shin splints beautifully.

This week, which has started off with a nasty stomach bug that has derailed my work goals and first workout of the week, is targeted for 36-38 miles. Instead of my 6 miles recovery followed by 10×10 second hill sprints, I could only muster 3 walk/jog miles with our dog pack. So tomorrow I will do the 6 miles plus sprints, and just count today as an of day. You will see that I take one to two rest days per week. Sometimes a rest day consists of a 3-4 mile jog, sometimes it is no activity at all. I just listen to my body, but not too much, because it’s usually begging for a nap, hot bath, and at least three chicken biscuits a week!