Sometimes you just do things.

“Salvation is always within reach. You can’t reach it by thinking or by figuring it out. Sometimes you just do things.” – Scott Jurek, “Eat and Run”

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I’m not much of a reader. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I love it.  I can’t seem to start a book, read a few pages and put it down to rejoin society. I have to read the entire thing in one sitting. Even if the book is mediocre, I have to know how it’s going to end.  I especially don’t read much during the school year. Things are more chaotic and reading is the first thing that falls to the wayside.  I don’t have a Kindle or any special apps on my iPad because I don’t read often enough. When I read, I still buy books.

I recently placed an order on Amazon and came across Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run. I love to eat, and we all know that I love to run so it inevitably ended up on my doorstep a few days later. I read it like a normal person, by taking breaks and using bookmarks.  It was intriguing because it was written by a seriously bad ass ultra-marathoner who consistently wins races and sets crazy records all over the world. An ultra-marathon is considered anything longer than your standard, run-of-the mill 26.2 mile road race. Most people can’t even fathom the idea of running a marathon, and this guy is just warming up when he hits the 26.2 mile mark. I think his furthest documented race was something like 162 miles. At one time. In one day. I kid you not.

Even more interesting is that he’s 100% vegan. Not something you’d expect from someone who often requires 7,000 calories per day. If you’re running 100 miles at a shot, why go vegan?  Scott studied the relationship between food and performance and began experimenting, which resulted in his vegan diet. He wasn’t always interested in diet, being vegan or even a vegetarian, for that matter. He grew up in Minnesota and ate traditional meat-and-potato meals and didn’t follow a vegan diet until his adult life. He ate whatever he wanted until he realized he could perform better with different types of food fueling his body.

Personally, I don’t hate on any foods. There literally is nothing that I don’t care for and I’m adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. I subscribe to no specific dietary label, though a little over a year ago a friend introduced me to the world of macrobiotics. While I can’t call myself macrobiotic by any means, it seems to make sense and appeal to my lifestyle. I incorporate bits and pieces of macrobiotics into my daily life, but I don’t limit myself with diet restrictions.

One night I’m eating tempeh, tofu, or some kind of vegetarian dish and the next I’m grilling up grass-fed New York strip steaks. I eat fish. I eat dairy (when it agrees with me) and I love cheese. Oh yeah, and if you haven’t noticed by all of the cupcake pictures I regularly post, I have quite the sweet tooth. I love to eat, and I give my body what it wants. I mainly follow a vegetarian diet, but I’m definitely not a vegetarian. Most days, I’m eating lots of fruit, making smoothies, cooking brown rice or some other type of grain, steaming veggies, or sauteing  some sort of soy based meat replacement item. Other days, it’s some form of buffalo chicken whatever for dinner and something stuffed with Nutella for dessert. I love it all, and I eat it all. I chose quality ingredients, and eat unprocessed foods as often as possible. Everything in moderation.

His book encouraged me to incorporate even more variety into my diet. At the end of each chapter, Scott shares some of his recipes. There are roughly two dozen vegan recipes spread throughout the book. As I began reading the ingredients, I recognized and already use many of items. The combination of ingredients he uses is interesting and appealing. I finished the book two weeks ago and I’ve already been pretty busy in my kitchen. Adzuki Bean Chocolate Bars, Cocoa-Chia Pudding, Coco Rizo Coolers, Lime Tempeh with Brown Rice, Indonesian Cabbage Salad and Red Curry Almond Sauce are just a few of the recipes I’ve tried and enjoyed. As I’m writing this, I can smell his Apple Cinnamon Granola baking in my oven and it smells divine.

Putting the food aside, this book is inspirational regardless of your diet and exercise choices. It’s so much more than just his journey into veganism, and tells the story of how he became the unlikely ultramarathoner that he is today. He discusses his difficult relationship with his father and the phrases he grew up hearing during trying times.  Later, these phrases became the mantras that set the tone for his success. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself subconsciously repeating some of those mantras during training runs and races and found comfort in those same words.

I was reading his book as we were driving to Vermont, and I was planning to try to run the Shires of Vermont Marathon. I’d been told that I had femoral stress fracture only three weeks earlier, and I was not cleared to run. But my body felt fine. After only making it a few chapters into his book, I had my mind made up. I was going to run the race, because sometimes you just do things. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was going to be okay. I was aware that I had to take it easy and run with no expectations.  I knew there was a good chance that I might not cross the finish line, but I had to try. Sometimes you just do things. I’m glad I tried, because I finished the race. Slowly, but I was grateful for every step I was able to take, and for the steps I’ve taken since that day. It gave me the confidence I needed to pace a friend at the Buffalo Marathon just one week later. When we signed up months earlier, I promised I’d run with her and I intended to keep that promise. Sometimes you just do things.

I’ve opened his book almost everyday since I finished reading it. Mainly to reference recipes, but sometimes I just like reading excerpts that are particularly inspiring. The book ends by saying, “Life is not a race. Neither is an ultramarathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now.”

If you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book to add to your summer reading list.

The Buffalo Marathon

State #16: New York
The Buffalo Marathon
Sunday, May 16

Expo

The race expo was held in downtown Buffalo at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center and was open for most of the day on Saturday. Runners unable to attend the expo on Saturday had the option of picking up their bib on Sunday morning before the start of the race. The location of the expo is not to be confused with the Buffalo Niagara CONFERENCE Center, which is located in Niagara Falls, NY. We made that mistake and drove all the way to the Canadian border, but it wasn’t a huge deal since we planned to go to the falls anyway.

20130529-130129.jpgJust a quick note about going to Canada if you chose to run this race: It’s an excellent idea to see Niagara Falls from Canada if you have a passport. The views are incredible and it is relatively easy to do. However, the marathon is held on Memorial Day weekend so it would be in your best interest to go as early as possible to avoid the massive traffic at the border. It took us about an hour to get through customs and over the Rainbow Bridge and into Canada. Coming back to the states, however, was relatively simple and extremely fast. I love the falls but I’ve only been there during the winter, so it was incredible to have the opportunity to experience them in the spring.

We ended up going to the expo later in the day, and it was easy to navigate. The convention center is in downtown Buffalo. The event hosts approximately 5,500 runners from 42 states and 7 countries, but the expo was fairly small. There were a handful of vendors including the local running store, Runner’s Roost. The CEP compression sock vendor was set up in the same area as the running store and offered a discount to the marathon runners on their socks, which was a pretty good deal. If you don’t own a pair of CEPs, get on that. I have two pairs and love them for recovery. I’ve worn them running, but I don’t notice much of a difference. The recovery capabilities, however, are fantastic.

20130529-130216.jpgThe shirts are cute but they were handed out in plastic shopping bags, which was a little strange. The timing chips were the older kind that attach to your shoe, but without the plastic ties to hold it on. I was a little concerned with the durability of the chip as I laced my shoelaces through it the night before, but it held up just fine. Besides some informational pamphlets, there wasn’t much in the “swag bag”, which I look forward to. Runners could purchase shirts from previous years at the expo for only a dollar – even the tech shirts, which I thought to be a good deal.

Pasta Dinner

Yes, you read that correctly. I actually attended the organized pre-race pasta dinner – a first for me. As the race grew closer, I noticed the dinner was free with your race registration and seemed like a worthwhile event. The time and location of the dinner was very convenient. It was held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church directly after the expo ended. I attended the 4 pm mass at the church directly before the dinner, which worked out well. It was a decent meal and I highly recommend taking advantage of it if you choose to run this race. Pasta, meatballs (I opted for no meat, but they looked good), tomato sauce donated by a local Italian restaurant (excellent),  salad, bread, cookies, beer and soda. It was a nice, simple spread and it was really cool to break bread with the other runners. I traveled up to Buffalo with my friend Brooke and we met Mark at the dinner so the three of us could catch up before the actual race.

Race Day

It was windy and chilly when we woke up, but we wore tank tops and shorts to the starting line. Since the Boston ordeal, the race directors chose not to offer bag check to the runners. I’ve grown accustomed to utilizing this amenity but we were just fine without it. We chose a nearby parking garage and ditched the car about 40 minutes before the start. On the way to the starting line, there were a handful of port-a-potties along the road. Runners could also enter the convention center and use the restrooms, and there seemed to be an abundance of port-a-potties right on the starting line. I couldn’t tell of the lines were really long or it was just the people gathering to begin the race. Either way, there were plenty of bathrooms at the start.

The race began in downtown Buffalo, right near the convention center. The course winds through the city and out to a more industrial area, passing lots of historical buildings and sites. There was a bus tour offered the day before and it was narrated by a former marathon runner that has a wealth of knowledge about the city of Buffalo. I didn’t opt to take it, but Mark did. He learned so much about the city and it’s history and shared lots of information with us as we ran.

Once you get to the more industrial portion of the course, there’s a steel bridge that the runners had to cross. It was a little weird and freaky to run on but it was a really cool structure to include in the course. The bridge takes you to a long out and back portion of the course and then you return to cross the bridge again. This is all occurring somewhere between miles 7-9 and seems to have the only noteworthy “hill” in the entire race. The course really is quite flat, with a few gradual inclines and declines every so often.

During the first half, the course is a bit congested. There are a few out and back areas where you are forced to run in tight spots. I was pacing a friend but I would assume if you were trying for a PR you would find that it would be difficult to pick up the pace in some of these areas. However, it was just two or three spots that seemed to be problematic and we were able to get right back on track fairly quickly.

The second half runs through several nice parks and residential neighborhoods. There aren’t many spectators but it’s peaceful and pretty. There were ample water stops, especially in the later miles of the course. Two stations offered GU, and there was a group of spectators handing out beer around mile 20. The local hash runners had a beer table set up closer to mile 23ish. I felt as though there could be more porta-a-potties on the actual course, but I always feel that way so I don’t think they were actually lacking in that department. The volunteers were some of the kindest and most enthusiastic volunteers I’ve ever encountered. I realize I wrote that about the Shires of Vermont race, but I mean it. The past two marathons were small town races with first class volunteers, making me want to return and run each of them again.

The finish line is a pretty interesting experience. First of all, you re-enter downtown Buffalo and are greeted with a slight downhill grade. The finish line is around the corner from one of the main downtown traffic circles. It actually has a bit of a Boston finish line feel (just a lot smaller), with the look of the street and the location of the finish. However, around mile 25.8 (or something like that), runners are directed down a little side street for one more out-and-back ordeal. You think you are about to finish the race,  but OH WAIT – let’s go .01 of a mile down this random street and then come back. Seriously? I honestly loved the entire course, the city, and the race itself but that was kind of like, “WTF?”

20130529-130242.jpgThe weather was incredible. The forecast made it seem as though it would be relatively windy, but it was actually pleasant. The sun never stopped shining, but it wasn’t too hot. I was also worried that running by the waterfront (we ran along Lake Erie) would be chilly, but it turned out to be gorgeous. As for how we ran the race, Brooke was looking to run a PR – so anything faster than a 4:22. Since she was training for the race during the winter of her senior year and her track season, it was sometimes challenging to get the weekly mileage in. However, she was more than prepared on race day and ran a very strong race. The smile never left he face the whole time, and she PR’d by four minutes, finishing in 4:18. Way to go! The medals are really cool – it’s a big buffalo nickel. I actually think it might be one of my favorite ones yet.

This was my second marathon in seven days, since I’d run Vermont the week prior. Technically, I was told I wasn’t even supposed to be running either races at all. I’m so thankful that I was able to participate in both events, and that my femur healed enough for me to be able to have the experience. The pace was comfortable, the weather was amazing, the course was incredible, and I was so excited to get to run another marathon with Brooke before she goes off to college. As for the status of my injury, everything seems to be healing nicely and I am hopefully back on track to finish out all of the races I was signed up for. I have two more states to conquer before I can relax and start preparing for my crazy fall races.

Post-Race Party

After the race, runners have the option of staying for a party in the convention center. It was a really nice touch, particularly because it cleared the runners away from the finish line. There was water, soda, pizza, chips, cookies, fruit, beer, yogurt, and probably a ton of other stuff that I missed since I wasn’t totally starving by that point. It usually takes me a few hours, until I start feeling ravenous.

We hung out at the party for awhile, but we chose to head out and visit Anchor Bar before hitting the road. No, not for post race beverages…for buffalo wings! Supposedly, the buffalo wing concept was invented at Anchor Bar. I don’t really subscribe to any dietary label, but lately I’ve been erring more on the side of vegan (ever since reading Scott Jurek’s book – review coming soon!), but I was not about to pass up some authentic wings. It was absolutely worth it. A great end to a wonderful weekend. Next stop, Washington state and Alaska!

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The Shires of Vermont Marathon

State #15: Vermont
The Shires of Vermont Marathon

Sunday, May 19

The Expo
The expo was open on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before the start of the race. It was held at the Bennington Center of the Arts, which is used to showcase local and nationally recognized artists. The race officials and volunteers working at the expo were helpful, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic . I overheard one of the runners ask if it were possible to drive the course, and the race director stopped what he was doing and gave detailed directions. The race shirts were handed out at the finish, so we were just given our bib and a goodie bag upon arrival. The bag was full of lots of great food and discounts to local businesses. I’ve only run a few marathons that handed out the shirts at the finish, one being Utah Valley. It’s funny, because literally everything about this race reminded me of my experience in Utah Valley: from the small field size, to the look and feel of the course, and even the circumstances surrounding me running the race with an injury.

It’s a small town race, and the expo reflected the size of the event. There was one vendor, and the option to purchase shirts from previous years that the race was run. The race directors offered free entry for runners who participated in the Boston Marathon but were unable to cross the finish line. There were about 40 Boston runners that attended, and they had a banner for us to sign (regardless of whether you finished or not). Their compassion for the group of Boston runners was heartfelt and touching.

Race Day

The day certainly had an interesting start. Since we have a family lake house 16 miles from Bennington, the race had somewhat of a local feel for me. I got up at a reasonable time, casually prepared and left the house with no anxiety because I’m familiar with the area. Two of my friends drove up in the middle of the night and met me at the Bennington Center of the Arts, but not before we had to tend to a flat tire they acquired en route to packet pick-up. Bennington is a quaint town so it was relatively easy to find a place to drop their car off and get back to the starting line with time to spare.

The Bennington Center of the Arts was open in the morning for all runners and was the site for packet pickup if you couldn’t make it to the expo the day before. The parking lot had a few porta-johns available, but there were indoor restrooms open for the runners in the art center. There was coffee, water, and Gatorade for the runners as we waited for the race to begin. There was a large SUV with a table set up to check the bags of gear that runners wished to have at the finish line. Bags were tagged with the runner’s bib number and put in the SUV for transport.

I arrived at the start relatively early, and the parking situation was well-managed. The only individuals permitted to park in the art center’s parking lot were the race officials, but there were two parking lots across the street that were ready to accommodate the runners and spectators. There was a shuttle in the morning for runners staying in Manchester that transported them to Bennington. It seemed to run smoothly, I didn’t hear any complaints from the runners that utilized the morning shuttle option and . It was nice because runners could opt to stay in Bennington or Manchester and there was transportation regardless of what you chose.

The start of the race was right outside the building. The race officials held a moment of silence for the victims in Boston before sending us on our way. The course winds through North Bennington, Shaftsbury, Arlington, and Manchester. It’s almost entirely on back roads so you don’t see many of the big tourist attractions in close proximity, like the Bennington Monument or the Old First Church (where Robert Frost is buried) but I would recommend checking the sights out if you have some extra time before or after the race. Bennington is a charming little town and is worth spending a few hours. I haven’t spent much time in Manchester, but I hear that it is also a lovely town to spend an afternoon.

In southern Vermont, many of the roads are unpaved, dirt roads. The majority of the race – over 13 miles – was on gravel. Since I’m fresh off of an injury, this was a plus for me. However, though the course was soft, it was also extremely hilly with long uphill and downhill stretches. Had I not been sidelined for a few weeks prior, this would be a great course to try racing because it is extremely challenging. If you are looking for a flat, easy, PR course this is not it. However, don’t pass this race up. Though the hills present a challenge, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges, rustic farms, historic properties, and quaint locally-owned stores.

The volunteers add to making this race a top-notch event. From the expo to the aid stations straight through to the finish line, everyone is helpful, kind and supportive. There are medical volunteers (some were actually doctors!) that bike along the course and provide aid to the runners. At a water stop, I heard there was a runner that was unable to complete the race and they were sending a vehicle to get them right away. The volunteers informed us that there would be a vehicle on the course in the next few minutes. They were very accommodating to everyone and ready to help and support the runners in any possible way they could.

For being such a small race, the finish line was pretty exciting. The announcer announced as many names as possible as people came running through the finish line. Runners were greeted with their medal and tech shirt, which was really cute. The medals are beautiful – handmade, ceramic and unique with a thick green ribbon.The food spread was amazing, with ice cold chocolate milk, ice cream, yogurt, deli meats to make sandwiches, cookies, granola bars, bagels, donuts, fruit, and so much more. The bags we checked at the start were in an area where you helped yourself and found your stuff. At any larger event, this might be a poor way to handle it but honestly, everyone was so kind and lovely that I had no problem with this.

After loading up on goodies, there was a constant flow of shuttles ready to take runners back to Manchester. They didn’t even have to wait for the shuttles to be full. I had my seat all to myself as I relaxed and stretched out on the bus ride back to Bennington. The driver was so sweet, and offered to take each of us to whatever lot we parked our cars in, even though they were told to take us to the art center.

My only complaint about the whole day was that I was coming off of an injury so I had to take it slower, and I wasn’t even really upset about that. The course is stunning, the volunteers and race directors are amazing, and the race swag is really nice for such a small event. This is a race I would sign up for again next year without thinking twice. As someone attempting the whole 50 state goal, I chose the right race to knock Vermont off of my list.

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I went for a RUN.

Actually, I ran a MARATHON. Yup. That happened.

I’d been keeping an eye on my injury and decided that Thursday, May 9th was THE DAY. I laced up my Newtons, threw on my favorite Lululemon running shorts, and headed to the Saucon Rail Trail. No watch, just an app on my phone to tell me how far I’d run and “Awolnation Radio” playing on Pandora. I was only going for two easy miles to check in with the healing process. The first few strides felt strange and foreign. My legs felt stiff, like they’d forgotten what they were supposed to do. By the time I completed the first mile, I’d found my stride and didn’t want to stop. Fine, another half mile and I swear I’ll turn around. When I hit 1.5 miles, I so badly wanted to keep going. I listened to the little nagging voice of reason in my head and turned around. Three miles was enough for the day. It felt exhilarating, but also like I was breaking the law. Or, like little kid sneaking candy or cookies when my mom wasn’t looking. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be out running.

I monitored my leg over the next two days to see how it would react to the stress of running with my full body weight. I had no pain during the run, or during yoga that night. It still felt normal when I got home and sat down to relax. When I woke up the next morning, I opened my eyes and was afraid to step out of bed and put weight on it for fear I’d be back at square one. I hopped out of bed and felt nothing. Whew.

When last Saturday morning rolled around, I couldn’t help but head to the Bethlehem towpath to try a few more miles. Five, to be exact. I was averaging a good pace and things felt normal and wonderful. I still had that feeling like I was doing something that I wasn’t supposed to be doing. It was humid with a little rain and wind, but I didn’t care. It was perfect.

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I tried again last Sunday, meaning back to back days of running. If I’m planning to run any of my spring marathons, I need to know my body can handle the stress. 7 miles on the towpath. I was definitely fatigued, but it didn’t hurt – not before, during, after, or even the next day. I sucked it up and used the anti-gravity treadmill last Monday but I increased the weight to 70% for the first 6 miles, bumped it up to 75% for the 7th mile and gradually increased it to 80% over the last mile. Last Tuesday afternoon I headed to the Saucon Trail to try a double digit run with some pavement and hills. I ran on the trail but included a 4 mile loop that hits some nasty hills on the surrounding paved roads. 10 miles, decent pace, and I wasn’t even sore the next day.

After work on Thursday, we hopped in the car and drove up to Lake Babcock, located on the border of upstate New York and southern Vermont. Originally, the trip was planned so I could run the Shires of Vermont Marathon on Sunday, May 19th. I still was unsure whether I’d be lining up at the start on Sunday morning. After a comfortable five miler around the lake on Friday and a steady three miler on Saturday, I made my decision. I would run the race. If I had to stop, I would stop.

I wasn’t nervous at the start of the race because I already made the decision that it was okay to stop and I wasn’t going to let myself get injured. If that was the way things were meant to happen, I was at peace with it. I was happy to just have the courage just to show up at the starting line and try. The race began and I was comfortably hanging around an 8:30-9 minute pace, which was faster than I expected to run. Around mile 10, my stomach took a turn for the worse. Those of you who run with me know that I sometime struggle with GI tract issues while running and have an incredibly sensitive stomach. I stopped for the bathroom around mile 10 and ran into my friend, Mike. We ended up sticking together through the remainder of the race.

While it was one of my slowest finishes to date, it was truly a wonderful day. I had the opportunity to run and catch up with an old friend for a good part of the day. Somewhere between miles 16-17 my stomach improved and I was able to motivate the surrounding runners. My legs felt fresh, but I knew I wasn’t cleared by my doctor to run this race and I was fortunate enough to be participating. Instead of racing, I spent the remainder of the marathon motivating and inspiring my friend and the new friends I was making along the way. The course was one of the most scenic and beautiful that I’ve been lucky to experience, and I really had the opportunity to take in every single step of it. We finished in 4:48:41. About an hour and 15 minutes longer than it took me to run Boston about a month ago. I didn’t care.

After the race, I was tired – but not really sore. I took a nap, ate a nice meal and hung out with my family. The next morning, I did a full yoga practice and felt surprisingly normal. No soreness, no stiffness but best of all – no leg pain, strange sensations or twinges. If I would have pushed too hard on Sunday, I easily could have re-injured myself. The sheer amount of hills on the course could have been too much impact if I didn’t just kick back and relax. I just started running again last week, so pushing myself to run too hard would have resulted in feeling like total crap during and after the race.

I finished and I’m already on to the next one. My current goal is to build up my base so I can add the intensity back in and keep steadily knocking states off of my list. The Buffalo Marathon is this Sunday, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to be pacing a friend again, and this is a much flatter course. I’m anticipating a moderately paced day full of lots of fun, and I can’t wait. Stay tuned for a proper course review for the Shires of Vermont Marathon!

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Cross-Training Chronicles: Swim, Bike, Run (well, sort of)

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After the appointment with Rothman and a meeting with my physical therapist, it was confirmed that there was definitely something going on with my femur, but I can actually start running again soon. Thanks to yoga, I have some stellar body awareness which allowed me to catch this little ordeal in the early stages. In the meantime, I’ve been adding lots of cross-training to the chaos that being injured added to my life. Most recently, I hopped on my road bike for a nice long ride with Emily. She’s training for her second half-Ironman, while I’m just dabbling at the thought of participating in the Olympic-distance Steelman Triathlon in August. She had a four hour ride on her schedule for Sunday, so I joined her for the last two hours of it. It was my first ride in over a year.

If you know anything about how I feel about cycling, you’ll know I think riding a bike for two hours sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. I just don’t like it. Of the three endurance sports (swimming, biking, and running), cycling is the most challenging for me. I’m not a fast swimmer, but I can comfortably complete a workout and I enjoy being in the water. When it comes to running, I enjoy pushing myself and completing various types of workouts. As for biking, I feel as though I’m dying the whole entire time. It’s hard. No matter how strong my legs are from running and yoga, they always feel tired right from the start of a ride. My butt hurts for days afterward. If I ride with friends, I’m always struggling to keep up. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. It’s too windy. It’s raining. There’s rain in the forecast. The route is too hilly. Want me to keep listing my complaints? Because that’s just my short list. I’m not one to complain but when it comes to biking, I can go on and on and on.

Since I’m sentenced to cross-training and really miss running with my friends, I agreed to the ride. Maybe it’s because I’ve been cooped up indoors lately, but I was pleasantly surprised that I truly enjoyed the experience. I’ve spent the past few weeks gazing at the beautiful sunny weather behind big glass windows while swimming, aqua-jogging, and running on the anti-gravity treadmill. Getting out on my bike not only meant a good workout with great company, it also meant taking a break from being inside.

We covered about 32 miles in the two hours we rode together. She took me on quaint country roads near her house that I never even knew existed. It was a bit hilly, but not unbearable. It was cool, but not cold. My biggest concern was that I didn’t want her to have to wait for me to catch up if I fell behind.  Emily is an incredible cyclist and quite a bit faster, but since I joined her for the second half of her long ride everything worked out perfectly. As a matter of fact, it confirmed my decision to participate in the Steelman Triathlon this summer.

Our beautiful day was followed up by a rainy week, preventing me from hitting the roads again. I know most dedicated cyclists would still ride, but I’m not quite at that point yet and will wait for sunny weather and clear skies. I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecast and my road bike in the back of my mind as I plan my daily cross-training activities. What I seem to be missing most about running is simply being outdoors and enjoying the spring weather, and our bike ride really gave me a good dose of that. I can’t say I’m actually missing out on the social aspect of running since my running friends haven’t missed a beat and cross-train right along with me.

Though I spent a few hours on my road bike last Sunday, I actually went biking on Saturday using my mountain bike. I’ve really been enjoying being part of the Saturday long run crew, beginning at Sand Island and heading to Billy’s for breakfast after we’ve racked up a respectable amount of miles. There hasn’t actually been a long run since Boston and my injury, so I haven’t had to miss out on any group runs. Until last Saturday. The crew was meeting and everyone was running different distances, so I loaded up my old mountain bike (I’m talking about 15 years old) onto my bike rack and biked the towpath with my friends. I packed snacks, water, and GU for my friends and rode alongside of them as they ran. Of course I’d much rather be running with everyone, but it was still a lot of fun and it gave me a chance to experience the beauty along the towpath in a different way.

As for actually running, I ran 8.25 miles in 60 minutes yesterday on the anti-gravity treadmill at 60% of my body weight. In the last two minutes, I cranked the weight to 75% just to see if I would feel anything – twinges, pain, strange sensations, etc. Nothing. No pain later in the evening, or when I woke up this morning. I’m planning to try two or three easy miles on a trail after work on Thursday to just see how it feels. I didn’t really run much after Boston, so technically my four week sentence would be complete on Monday, but I’m still proceeding cautiously. I’m not planning to go for a 20 mile run this weekend regardless of how things go on Thursday. I’m thankful for the things I’m able to do, so I’m listening to my body and allowing it to call the shots.

Cross-Training Chronicles: Defying Gravity and Beyond

I can’t predict what the next few weeks (or even the next few days) will bring, but I’m still hoping to run most of my spring marathons. I realize how completely crazy this sounds given my current diagnosis.  This is largely dependent on what the doctor says later this morning. I have a second opinion appointment at the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia. Right now, I can do everything except actually go outside for a run. I am, however, cleared to run on an anti-gravity treadmill and aqua jog until my fingers shrivel up like prunes. I can also swim, get on my yoga mat, and ride my bike as much as I’d like. Besides focusing on rehabilitation, my secondary concern is that I won’t be training on any hills going forward unless Rothman clears me to run outdoors. Luckily, I have a solid foundation from the past year of training, and I’m taking my current doctors adviceand embracing cross training keep me strong and fit.

One of my doctor’s recommendations was to use an AlterG machine, which is an anti-gravity treadmill. I’m permitted to use it up to three times per week, with no time limit for each session. For the first two weeks, I’m only permitted to use 50% of my body weight. After that period, I can adjust accordingly. Monday was my first session using the AlterG, and it was an interesting experience. Before stepping on the treadmill I was handed an odd looking pair of shorts, made with neoprene and adorned with what looks like a deflated inner tube around the waist. The shorts have a zipper around the outside of the “inner tube” that attaches to the special treadmill. This allows the chamber around your lower body to inflate and stay airtight to control the air pressure for partial weight-bearing activity. The machine takes a moment to calibrate to your weight and then you set the desired percentage of your body weight that you are comfortable using. Once the weight is set you can adjust the incline and the pace the same way you would on a normal treadmill.

I began at a walking pace, and the first few steps I took felt really strange. I didn’t think I was going to like it and began to think of what I could do in place of the AlterG. The best way to describe how it feels to use a machine like this is to hop onto a regular treadmill, hold on to the side bars, and lift some of your weight off as you run. I began at an easy pace, around an 8:30/mile and increased the incline a little (okay, a lot) to make it more challenging. I realized that I could go much faster and push the pace on this machine with ease, likely because I was carrying so little weight. When I was done, my legs felt similar to how they would feel following a run at a fairly decent pace on a normal treadmill, but not quite as tired or sore.I ran eight miles at around a 7:45 overall pace and felt great. It was much too easy with only 50% of my weight and I was really tempted to add more. The little blue button was so inviting, and I had to cover it with my towel as I ran so I didn’t just hit it “just to see” how it felt.It’s certainly not as effective as going out for a real run, but it’s a useful tool to aid recovery and remind my muscles what the act of running feels like. It will also prevent me from going completely insane until I’m healed.

I’ve been on my bike and in the pool to aqua jog briefly, but the activity I’m enjoying most is swimming. Since I haven’t gotten in the pool for some time, I forgot how much I love it. I’m not a terrible swimmer since I had a brief swimming career from 7-9th grade. I’m not fast, but my muscles seem to remember enough of the form to enable me to use swimming as an effective cross training method for times like these. In the past two years, the only swimming I’ve done was floating around the pool in my backyard. I’ve been swimming twice since I was told not to run and swam about 2500 meters each time (about a mile and a half). It feels great, and it would be even better if I could somehow fit it into my schedule on a more consistant basis.

Since Boston, I’ve been struggling with my yoga practice. I’d been gravitating towards the postures in the primary series, so I’d start with the intention of getting through that each time. I would get on my mat and go through the motions, but I wasn’t present or enjoying my practice. I still don’t know why. After swimming yesterday, I half-heartedly unrolled my yoga mat but decided to give second series a shot instead. It was exactly what I needed and felt fresh, new, and comforting. At the end of my practice, I tacked on a few third series postures. They actually felt pretty good, but I kept that portion of my practice to a minimum to ease my body back into it. Whatever “yoga” block I’m having, I need to work through it by not overwhelming myself with an overwhelming practice.

The events in Boston and being injured are two emotional situations, and I guess the way I needed to process it all was to take a breather before I could move on.I’m not sure why second series felt better than primary series, but I’m going to go with it. Maybe there’s something about that sequence that my body needs to heal itself, both physically and emotionally. To successfully rehabilitate my injury and make progress on my yoga mat, I need to listen to what my body needs each day. Maybe I was overwhelmed with the marathon and the injury, and jumping back into a six day a week practice with advanced postures was adding to the stress. Maybe doing a half-assed version of primary series made me feel like I was “slacking off” and regressing in my practice. Maybe I needed to try second series to reassure myself that I was making the right decision to practice yoga. Whatever it was, I hope I’m in the process of working through it. I’ll keep getting on my mat everyday with the intention of doing what feels best, whether it’s primary series, second series, or just a few sun salutations. My body is healing, and I’m just along for the ride.