Thursday, December 23, 2010

6 Weeks; It Takes 6 Weeks

How long does it take to see a difference in fitness upon commencement of regular workouts? 6 weeks. A full 6 weeks. After 6 months of vegetating, it has taken me 6 weeks of struggling, toiling, sweating, pain and agony to get to the point where it's not so hard anymore. I'm not any faster, and I can't go much farther but at least it feels easier.

I ran 8 miles on Sunday, and, for the first time, my long run went well. I felt strong the entire way, maintaining a consistent pace. Also, it's not taking me as long to recover after each workout. I also find that it's easier to get out the door. I'm beginning to look forward to the workouts and have more energy for them. So that's the good news. I still have a long way to go but at least it's getting easier!

I've been struggling for 6 weeks. I've gotten this far; I'm certainly not going to let it go easily again. I had a terrific 4 (slow) mile run this morning and had enough oomph to swim this evening. Yay me! Just in time for the holidays! Of course, I picked a terrific time to get into shape. Argh.

Happy Holidays!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Good Run

Right now, I need some good, confidence-building workouts. It seems like I've been slogging through each and every one over these last 5 weeks. Last night, I may have had a breakthrough.

I came home from work completely exhausted. Granted, I had an interview earlier that day, which are always draining. (It went very well, and I would love this opportunity so I'm keepign my fingers crossed!) I immediately plopped onto the bed, surrounded by dogs, and fell asleep. When Travis woke me up at 6 to be fed with a few gentle woofs (and 50 lbs jumping on my chest), I groggily stumbled downstairs. After feeding myself, the dreaded yet familiar feeling of apathy began to build in my chest. I knew my odds of working out were becoming slimmer and slimmer as the evening elapsed. However, every time I stirred, Travis jumped up, ran towards the door and turned back towards me with begging eyes, tail wagging. He knew it was time for his walk. Shoot. If I'm going to walk them, I may as well run them, I reasoned. "Do you want to go for a run?" At the word, "run", both Travis and Floyd began panting and furiously tail-wagging. Their excitement rubbed off on me, and I used the energy to quickly change into my nighttime running clothes, headlamp and all. As we headed for the door, Floyd jumped up and down whining loudly while Travis did a few 360s and "woofed" a few more times. Talk about great training partners!

The first mile with the boys is always awkward. Unable to contain their excitement, they always sprint down the street for the first 1/4 mile, dragging me behind them. Then, Travis has to stop, sniff, and take care of business. After that, they're good (actually, Floyd keeps an even pace pretty much the entire time--I think it's the herding breed in him).

The miles floated by with the dogs trotting at a steady pace beside me. As a pack, we ran in sync, a unifying flow of energy tying us together. It was a magical moment, sort of a running mediation. It had been months since I've felt that sort of quiet, peaceful mind, which I used to get easily every time I ran. When I sit and try to practice meditation (which I actually am trying to do for a few minutes a day), it takes a lot of effort to quiet my mind. When I run, it just happens. Time stopped, and all I was aware of was the rhythm of my feet and the quiet euphoria that filled me. It felt wonderful. I didn't want to stop. When we reached our usual turn-around, I pushed on, deciding to add an extra mile. Again, this is the first time this has happened since I started training again.

The extra mile was tough, probably because it was mostly uphill. The dogs gently tugged at the leash, urging me not to slow down. With their four legs and low center of gravity, they glanced back at my labored footsteps and heaving gasps for breath questioningly as they easily loped up the hill. I welcomed the assistance they gave me up the hill. At the same time, my lungs were screaming as I allowed them to push my pace. Their speed and endurance always amazes me, especially since I train much more than they do!

At the top of the hill, we turned around and headed back towards home. They weren't sprinting but they definitely picked up the pace. I could have insisted that they slow down. But I secretly enjoyed the push they gave me. Left to my own demise, I would not run that fast. They urged me to quicken my footsteps, and I obeyed, my breath coming comfortably but rapidly. This was a tempo run. The combination of running past my comfort level so soon after dinner forced me to dash into the bushes for an emergency stop only a mile away from home. Ugh. Travis and Floyd, confused yet always obedient, followed me into the bush and waited patiently.

Afterwards, we continued the final mile home. Our pace had dropped off but I was thankful to settle back to my happy space. The final quarter mile had to be traversed on a sketchy section of the road where the bike lane is narrow and there is no sidewalk. Travis instinctively hugged the shoulder but I had to keep yanking Floyd back into the safety of the bike lane as he kept jutting out into the middle of the street. Paying close attention to Floyd, I didn't see a bush up ahead, crowding the bike lane. Travis ran around the bush, accidently colliding with me. I spilled to the ground on my hands and knees. For a split second, panic ensued as I pictured oncoming cars hitting Floyd, who was now sprawled in the middle of the street. The whites of Travis's eyes flashed as I crouched vulnerably on the dark road. I leapt back to my feet, took a second to assess the damage (little to none), and we cautiously trotted the remaining few yards back to the sidewalk. Luckily, no one was harmed, save for a scraped knee and hole in my running tights. However, I will make sure to take the long way home next time to avoid that section.

All in all, I was extraordinarily happy with this run. I realize my primary goal is to be able to enjoy my workouts again. I don't want each one to feel like so much work! I want to use the workouts to relax, rejuvenate, and attain that moving meditative state. That comes with fitness. And it will come...

Travis by the xmas tree.

Another Travis pic.

Regal Floyd posing by the tree.

Getting both dogs together for the camera. Travis is doing his best pouty face to beg for a treat.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Long is This Going to Take?

We've all heard about how quickly you lose fitness once you become sedentary. As a rule of thumb, the old adage says that it takes twice as long as the layoff period to return to your fitness peak. But will it really take 1 year to return to where I was? After these last 4 weeks of slogging through workouts, I beginning to think that maybe it will.

The last issue of Triathlete mag (Dec' 10) gave me some hope. Dr. Jeffrey Sankoff wrote a little blurb on "Memory Muscle" addressing exactly this question. Have I lost everything after my 6 month layoff despite 7 years of previous hard work? Scientists from Norway found that muscles in previously trained mice remained "primed" to return to fitness after a layoff, despite a loss in muscle mass. It seems that muscles do have a memory, and this may help seasoned athletes regain fitness faster than untrained ones after a sedentary period. I can only hope this proves to be true for humans!

So what is detraining and how fast does it happen? Detraining is the loss of fitness due to inactivity, occurring in as little as 2-3 weeks. First, our VO2 max decreases, or to put it simply, cardiovascular fitness. You start huffing and puffing. Then, you lose muscle mass. In addition, your body is less effective at fat-burning and stores less glycogen. It can take up to 6 months to regain fitness after a long layoff. Easy come, easy go.

From what I've read, it's always better to reduce training than stop altogether. This prevents a dramtic reduction in fitness and also allows athletes to bounce back faster. And when returning to training after a layoff, always start slow. Consistency, not intensity speed or distance, is the key.

Links on Detraining:,7120,s6-238-267--13390-0,00.html

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 4: Recovery--Crash and Burn

The 8 (Oops, I mean 11)-Mile Run:
Last week, I finished out my training with a long trail run at Penasquitos Canyon. The weather was deliciously perfect, high 60s to low 70s. I had my Fuel Belt, Cliff Blocks, and GPS in tow. This doesn't seem remarkable but it was the first time I had used this equipment in over 6 months. This realization filled me with some anxiety of what was to come: 8 miles of slow and painful slogging on trails. I headed out in good spirits. My pace was perfect for a long, slow run. The trail was fairly forgiving, mostlly flat and well-worn. My legs are still not used to running but I could coax them into a consistent rhythm with little effort. I reached the 4-mile mark and turned around, feeling good, full of confidence. I chomped away on our Salt Tabs and Cliff Blocks, chasing them with slugs of water. Everything was going according to plan.

Then, I decided to take "the scenic route" back. I headed north to circle around the waterfall. So far, so good. The water trickled and beckoned to us beyond some rocky crags. How I wished we could plunge into the icy waters. Shortly after, I branched left. I was sure both trails returned to the start. A mile later, we began climbing up some very steep, very rocky terrain. I was forced to walk. Huffing and puffing, a sinking feeling plummeted in my gut. In the back of my mind, I knew we were going the wrong way. Stubbornly, I plunged onwards. The trail started heading sharply north and up towards a residential area. I doubled back. I took the next fork in the road, which suddenly began heading west. My truck was east. Ugh. We doubled back again.

Finally, I headed down the east trail again. My only other option was to return the way we had come. Of course, in hindsight, this would have been the smartest but it was over a mile away, and that seemed like an eternity. In the end, a 2 mile addition would have been better than the 3 hellaciously mountainous ones we added on. The rocky hills, I mean, mountains, appeared out of nowhere. Mutely, we climbed up each one and staggered down the next. At the top, I could see the trail we needed to get to in the distance to the south. How on earth were we going to get down? The trail was so rocky at this point that we were walking. My spirits were low, knowing I had screwed up.

At long last, the trail began heading down towards the trail home. I was immensely relieved but I had to get down first. The trail was almost steep enough to warrant crab-walking on my ass. I bent my knees and side-stepped down, avoiding tiny rockslides as I timidly traversed the cliff's side. My quads were trembling and screaming by the time I reached the bottom. I finally reached the trail that would take us back to the truck. I coaxed my tired legs back into a run. I was completely out of water, had run 8 miles (including mountains), and still had 3 to go. The situation was grim. I fell silent and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, stumbling back towards home. I finally reached the truck, completely spent.

Recovery Week:
Although I had promised myself not to just veg all week during my recovery week, it was not to be. Work was crazy busy, and I simply felt exhausted. Nonetheless, I wished I had done more than sit on my butt Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday. By Friday, I could feel the depression creeping back in. I paid for it my slothfullness dearly on my warrior weekend.

Camp Pendleton Bike Ride:
Saturday, we set out for a leisurely ride through Camp Pendleton, one of my favorite local San Diego rides. The ocean, low-traffic roads, mostly flat, and no stops. What else could you ask for? Unfortunately, I felt groggy and sluggish for the entire ride. C'mon! At what point will I start seeing the rewards from my hard work? Afterall, even though I took 5 days off, I did put in 3 solid weeks of hard work. Argh. We had planned on going 40 but I quickly realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. 10 miles in, I knew the smart thing to do would be 30. I slogged away down the road, beating myself up for how slow my progress was. Every little bump in the hill was an immense mountain. I thought this was a flat ride! To add insult to injury, I clearly remembered zooming down the same roads on many rides before, thinking the ride was "easy". Not today. Of course, the false flats and headwinds didn't help. I had no idea what an impact those factor made until the turn-around. Once heading back home, on a gentle descent with a tailwind, we sailed at breakneck speed. I felt amazing! Funny how quickly things can change on the bike. All of a sudden, I noticed the deep blue ocean, the sweet songs of the meadow larks, and the wildflowers starting to peek through in the fields. Everything was just sweeter. We made it back to the truck, and I was relieved we had only done 30. When did 30 become such an effort?

8-Mile (I Mean 7) Trail Run:
The temps soared on Sunday. Knowing it would be in the upper 70s, we headed towards San Elijo Lagoon since it was on the coast. This was a smart decision. Water followed us for the entire trail, which was often shaded and cool. It was delicious. 1/2 mile in, the overwhelming need to pee brought me to a screeching halt. Damn pre-run coffee. I veered off the trail to take care of business. I did my thing, thankful as I really had to go, pulled up my shorts and jumped back onto the trail. At that exact moment, two male runners came up over the trail. Had I been 2 seconds longer, I would have been caught red-handed! I giggled for a few minutes before continuing.

Unfortunately, my legs were shot from the ride the day before. I silently vowed not to ride the day before a long run anymore. Afterall, I'm not training for an Ironman. Why beat myself up needlessly? My pace was agonizingly slow but I forced my legs to keep turning over, ignoring the embarrassing pace on my GPS. At mile 3, we reached the turn-around. I hadn't expected to reach the end of the trail so quickly. My run would be short. No matter, we could always add on at the end. We slogged our way back, trudging over long stretches of deep sand and lumbering up steep steps made of logs. Somehow, I managed to maintain a run (maybe "shuffle" is more accurate) the whole way. The trail glittered with tiny fragments of shells washed up from previous week's high tides.

Greg saw the ocean and took off, clipping away at 8:30 min/miles. The trail was very friendly at this point, packed with a hard sand and sloping gently downhill. I took off in hot pursuit, dancing over boulders and logs. He reached a steep hill and slowed to a walk. Chomping at the bit, I refused to walk, zigging and zagging my way to the top. I plowed through a bunch of confused bird watchers with telescopes at the top, refusing to lose my rhythm, crying, "Coming through!" I didn't mean to be rude but their sense of time was simply elapsing at a slower pace than mine. We reached the road and plowed onward for a final mile. At mile 7, we reached the ocean. Spent, we both agreed 7 was enough (especially on a recovery week!), and we plunged into the icy, cool waters of the ocean. The water rejuvenated our legs and we basked in the surf until our feet had gone numb before slowly trudging back to the car.

After a much-needed nap, I am tired but recovering quickly. Ready for the next training block!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Week 3: Are We There Yet?

Week 3 of working out again has been going very well. I'm getting used to the daily workouts mentally. However, physically, this week, the fatigue is taking its toll. My muscle memory can get me through the workout, albeit at a slower pace, but boy, do I pay for it the next day! I'm trying hard to stay positive. I know this is normal but it sure is humbling. I feel like I have such a long way to go. Will I ever regain my fitness? How long is this going to take? I sound like an impatient child: "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" That's okay. It's all about the journey, right?

After Saturday's run in the rain, Greg and I went out for a hilly 30-mile ride in San Diego. The sun was out but the temps were still brisk after the evening rainfall. With arm warmers, gloves and a vest, I was uncomfortably cold. To make matters worse, we left in the afternoon. As the shadows grew long, the temperatures began to fall. At least we had lots of hills to climb! We toiled up Del Dios Highway. I had been prepared for this one. I was very proud of myself; I kept a consistent pace and didn't try to push it, knowing there would be more hills to follow. Unfortunately, my legs thought otherwise. Shortly after Del Dios, exhaustion set in. I ate, ate, and ate some more, which helped a little. But when you're out of shape, all the Cliff Bloks in the world won't save you. I fell silent for a long stretch, turning my focus inward, allowing my mind to quiet. The hilly ride had turned into a quiet, chilling hell, one I had brought on all by myself. Afterall, I had planned the route. That 30-miler felt like 50. I used to ride 80 miles of hills every weekend. How the hell did I do that? I had no IDEA what fantastic shape I used to be in. Too bad I had to lose it all to appreciate it. I'll keep plugging away at it. Soon, I hope my 50-mile rides feel like 30.

Monday, I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a bus. Accordingly, I took a rest day. Tuesday, I wearily dragged myself out for a sluggish 4-mile run with the dogs, followed by a solid session of weights. Wednesday, miracle of all miracles, I woke up early. Maybe it was the sun shining so brightly through the large east window of my bedroom. Regardless, can I do that more often? Greg and I bundled up in as many biking clothes as we could find and braved the cold for a brisk, 18-mile am bike ride. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I still felt pretty sluggish and was ready to get off at mile 12. I can't believe how tough these bike rides are! Nonetheless, I keep getting back in the saddle; I have faith that they WILL get easier if I keep doing it.

I felt so gung-ho Wednesday evening that I doubled-down with a rad pool session, pumping out 2,000 yards. Unfortunately, it's waaaay too early in my training to be doubling down, let alone with 2,000 yards in the pool when my last swim was 2 weeks ago. Whoops. The swim felt amazing; it's just that I didn't. Especially this morning. I woke up feeling like I'd been run over by a train. Today's Thursday, and, yup, I'm forcing myself to take a rest day.

I'm wondering when my recovery week was. I'm sad to say I'm going to need a recovery week next week, even though this month has been all "Prep" work. But, I have to listen to my body. And it's screaming for recovery. On the other hand, I'm hoping to maintain my workouts during the recovery week at a lower volume (with one extra rest day) so I don't lose my momentum. Maybe by listening to my body, I'll be able to take a recovery week the way it should be taken: a 50% reduction in volume (as opposed to my normal 80% decrease or in other words, veg on the couch all week).