Sunday, November 21, 2010

Going Dark For a While

Speedy Running Friends, I've realized that my stumbling efforts to progress beyond 7 miles are not making very scintillating reading.

What's more, I'm pretty frantic right now trying to get my head around all the various aspects of starting a new business, so both the training and the blogging about it are taking a bit of a back seat.

In my defense, this blog was only really supposed to be a 7-month intrepid tale of a first-time marathoner. However, knees and life sort of got in the way (funny, that), and 16 months later, I admit that the most I'll ever manage may be 26 miles in one week. So, this blog is going dark for a while as I trot around our neighborhood slowly, regularly and without news-worthy speed or drama.

Rest assured, I haven't quite given up on my marathon yet, and I'm taking Asha's recommendation of reading Chi Running seriously, to see if that brings me some benefit. In any case, I'm sufficiently hooked on running to want to keep doing it and I'm greatly consoled that my favorite race route, across the Golden Gate Bridge, is a very manageable 12k. My worst-case scenario is still one of the most beautiful runs in the world and I'm grateful to have two legs, no matter how wonky, to carry me.

Naturally, if I do run stagger through the Napa Marathon, you'll be hearing about it. Otherwise, if you happen to pass me on the much shorter route from Sausalito to San Francisco, I hope you'll give me a friendly wave.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Need a Hedgehog Ramp

This might be my most cryptic blog title every - my apologies. Allow me to elaborate.

In the UK, especially in rural areas, like the part of Scotland where I spent some of my childhood, we have things called cattle grids. These are deep pits with a sort of rack laid across them, placed at strategic points where cars and pedestrians are allowed through, but livestock should not venture . Basically, their hooves can't negotiate the slats and so savvy sheep and cows stay on the correct side. (As a child, there was a memorable moment where I fell down between these slats with my tiny feet, but that's another story.)

Anyway, these ingenious devices pose a terrible hazard to hedgehogs, who seem to fall in there quite often and then can't get out. I assume that means a slow and sad death for these creatures. Happily, many caring cattle grid owners are now installing ramps to allow our prickly friends to climb out of their predicament.

Right now, there is more than a touch of hedgehog-in-the-hole about me. My running was already getting less attention than it deserved - excuses like dark mornings and a (useful, important) hunt for a new career were creeping in. Then I added getting really, really tired.... house guests.... obligatory extra shifts at work... and finally, a stinking cold. I don't believe I've done any exercise for 2 weeks; my nutritional intake is currently appalling and all I want to do is knock back another flu remedy and snuggle in bed.

I'm totally in the cattle grid and could really use a ramp round about now. Tomorrow, I'm planning a short run (or a run-walk, if necessary) and I need to start chowing on some serious fruit and veg, rather than Halloween candy.

Have you any suggestions for easy, nutritious, comfort food? This hapless hedgehog thanks you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rude Awakenings

OK, I need your help.

What tips do you have for stumbling out of bed in the darkness for early morning running, rather than turning the alarm clock off and grabbing another half hour of sneaky snooze time?

I prefer to do my shorter runs around 6AM, because then the rest of the day's distractions can't get in the way. Also, it just seems more efficient to shower only once :)

However, I doubt anyone in the northern hemisphere has missed the fact that the days are getting distinctly shorter. And I'm really struggling to lug myself out from under the duvet, which means a few runs are not happening, or I lose a chunk of time from the other end of the day - also not good.

I did think about getting one of those alarm clock lamps which gradually get brighter before it's time to wake up, but Beloved Husband was concerned that this habit, once learned, would wake me up at 4AM in summer, too. It would be nice if I could find a method for getting me out of bed (and out the door in the darkness), without disturbing his last few minutes of sleep too much.

Any suggestions? When and how do you fit in your winter-time runs?

Image thanks: Upcast Magazine

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Years Resolutions (Yes, in September)

Suffice to say, reading a post about how half-hearted I've been recently in my running efforts will be boring for you. Heck, it's pretty boring for me to read my own repeated excuses. So let's not go there. If you care about my floundering efforts to juggle priorities, you can get more of that here.

Instead, let's focus on the future. This time of year feels even more like New Year to me than January, probably because of the new crispness in the air and all the back-to-school marketing in the media. Oh yes, and because I work at a university where 1600 newbies just arrived :)

I'm older and wiser than I was this time last year, because I recognize a marathon may not actually be within my grasp, and because I now see that signing both myself and my husband up (without asking him) was a tad foolish. However, there's no point crying over spilled milk.

Here's the plan:
  • I have just under 6 months to train, to get from 6 miles to 26. Should be perfectly do-able, and if I can manage 20 in training, I'll gamble on the rest.
  • Knee-strengthening exercises have now been promoted to the importance of "don't go to bed until they're done".
  • My goal is simply to complete the course on feet, hands, or elbows, in under 6 hours (the cut-off time). Speed is now irrelevant!
  • I will run 3 times per week and do a strength workout twice. Turning the alarm clock off is no longer an option, no matter how dark it is outside.
Last weekend, hubby and I ran together for the first time in ages (he's battling knee pain too) and it was great to be back trotting beside my soul mate. We were also rewarded by spotting a seal lounging around on a rock, which is a rare thing in our neighborhood.

I'm taking that as a good omen, and a timely reminder of the pleasures of running.

Quick housekeeping note: Struggling to be Speedy is the younger and more reclusive cousin of Struggling to be Stylish. If you're kind enough to be visiting from a home decor, crafts, design or organizing site, then you might feel more at home over there.

Image thanks: Edgewater Technology

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Housekeeping Notes

Housekeeping, part 1:

If you're kind enough to be visiting from a home decor, crafts, design or organizing site, then you might feel more at home with my other blog, Struggling to be Stylish. On the other hand, if you enjoy the mutterings of a reluctant runner, be my guest and read on.

Last weekend's 8 miles passed pleasantly and without pain, so I guess this marathon is not a totally dead duck yet. I do still need to get myself out the door for this weekend's effort, but that's a small detail I'm ignoring as I sit here in comfort with laptop and mug of tea, watching Sunday afternoon tick away :)

My head is still spinning regarding a number of strands of my life, of which serious running training is just one. I'm grateful to Shelley, who last week wisely commented: "I can only focus on a few things at a time, myself... The older I get the more I realise it's no longer time vs. money, but time vs money vs energy." Well said, Shelley.

Housekeeping, part 2:
So, on the assumption I'm not ready to give up completely just yet, I've found a few draft posts from this time last year when I first started blogging about my (planned) path from 6-miler to marathon queen. For completeness, I'm going to post these during the next few days and back-date them, so if any out-of-sync ramblings appear in your blog reader or RSS feed, my apologies, and I hope you can filter them out.

Meanwhile, when I've found the answer to my knees, my career, and a paint color for my home office, I'll be back.

Photo via: AverageBro

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

I've not exactly been neglecting my training, but I haven't been totally diligent about it, either. The past few weekends have seen me working hard on some house DIY projects, and my typical Saturday habit of run~eat~sleep is not a big help in getting a bedroom finished. And while I've been doing a few knee exercises here and there, I find I'm surprisingly forgetful in sticking to the "every other day" rule.

So it's not surprising that I'm plodding on a bit of a plateau, and, with no particular progress to report, a blog posting has not come easily to mind.

Today, however, in the middle of my regular lunchtime fitness class, I found myself firmly at the back of a very mixed pack and wondering what the heck I was thinking in signing up for a marathon? I'm feeling sluggish and all my workout gear is tight. My soul mate and running buddy has switched to biking and swimming to relieve his own cantankerous knees. Recently, my "long" runs have been just 7 miles. I need to pull another 19 out of somewhere and I honestly don't know if I have it in me. Would it be so terrible just to give up quietly and settle for running in 10k events?

How do you decide when a goal is just not within your reach? Do you keep plugging away, or give up gracefully?

Image thanks:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Physio Guilt

Last weekend I was aiming to do about 9 miles, but only got as far as 7 when my nemesis-knee told me enough was enough. I could, therefore, write a post full of wailing disappointment, but the gruesome truth is I haven't been doing my physio exercises nearly enough, so I feel like I have only myself to blame.

You may wonder, if running is so enjoyable (it certainly is) and if doing just one full marathon in my life is so important to me (ditto), why have I been so negligent at spending just 10 minutes waving my leg around, a few times per week? Probably, I need my head looked at, as well as my knee, but we won't go there right now.

Perhaps I should add a gadget to the side of this blog so you can all nag me if I don't keep up with my exercises. Or is anyone else, apart from Asha, registered with DailyMile? I could log my knee-lifts there, if you promise to keep me honest.

How do you keep track of, and encourage yourself to stick to, the goals you set?

Cartoon thanks: Cerebral Vortex

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Runner or Jogger?

I confess this is not an original thought of mine, but has been bouncing around in my head since I was re-reading a rather old issue of Runner's World. I'm sorry that I didn't note the issue date, and I can't find it online, but there is a similar piece here.

The question is, how fast do you have to be, to call yourself a Runner rather than a Jogger? For someone like me who never seems to do any great distance faster than 10-minute-mile pace, and in which every single candid "race" photo makes me look like I'm out for a somewhat sweaty walk, the topic is extremely pertinent.

The columnist's answer surprised and comforted me, and I'm hereby adopting the viewpoint that running is about attitude, rather than speed...
  • If you're out to accomplish something, you're probably a runner.
  • If you're seeking to improve in some way (no matter what your starting point), you're a runner.
  • If you haul yourself out of a cozy bed before daylight, because it's important you don't miss a session (even if that session is 3 miles which take you 33 minutes), you're certainly a runner.
  • If you sulk when you get injured and get antsy not lacing up your shoes for a week, then you're most definitely a runner.
So to all those runners who take 5 hours for their first marathon, I salute you. Even if I take 5 hours 55, I'm still calling myself a runner.

What do you think? Does speed matter, or is it all a state of mind?

Image thanks: Mike Lockett

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wacky Races

If your running and racing routine is feeling a little boring, there are a myriad of ways in which you can perk things up.

Naturally, your regular training could take place at a different time, different place, different speed or in different company. You can take a tour of your hometown on a jogging tour (thanks, Asha, for the San Diego Jogging Tours info - here is a San Francisco offering, too.) Road runners might try switching to trails for a whole new nature kick.

But there are also weird and wonderful race options available if you want to mix things up a bit. Here are just a few which have caught my eye:

Burro Racing
You and a donkey (burro) complete a course together. The burro may not carry the human, but the human is allowed to carry the burro. The legendary Bart Yasso's hilarious account of his 10km burro race (in which the burro clearly thought it was only a 5k, as he ran like the wind for that distance and then stopped dead) had me in stitches.

Run and Juggle
Yep, some people are co-ordinated enough to race while juggling. Joggling (that's what it's called) world championships are held annually, and believe it or not, the record marathon time for a joggler is a stunning 2 hours 50.

Do It Blindfold
Think you trust your running partner? How about blindfolding yourself and letting them guide you around a course? The Vision 5K takes place each year in Boston and is also a chance for visually impaired runners to test their ability. This event appeals to me to to test the teamwork in our marriage and to show some support for my Mum who recently hit challenging 'speed bumps' with her own eyesight.

And if you're still looking for ways of making things more interesting, why not check out Muddy Buddy, Skirt Chasing, or the wine-soaked Marathon du Medoc?

Photo thanks: Western Pack Burro Association, International Jugglers Association, Vision 5K.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Re-thinking of Goals

My goodness, how can half the year be gone already? As I trotted a very modest 7 miles on Saturday (only just over a quarter-marathon, how tame!) I was thinking how this year has not quite gone to plan.

My goals for 2010 included:
  • running my first marathon...
  • ....alongside my husband
  • and completing a half marathon in under 2 hours.
Oh dear. Best laid plans and all that. Instead, I'm now praying hard that I'll be healthy enough to run a single once-this-lifetime marathon next year, and I've kicked any ideas of speed out the window, in favor of good, solid knees. One day, sure, I'd like to break 2 hours for the half, but until I get 26.2 under my belt, I'll settle quite happily for a slow jog, if that's what it takes to get round.

As for Beloved Husband (my trusty wing-man), his knees are also giving him grief and he's not running at all at the moment. We're both hopeful that with some care and rest, he'll bounce back, but I have to be prepared for the possibility that I'll be running entirely on my own for the next few hundred miles. (That'll teach me to sign us both up for things without checking with him first!)

So, not exactly a stellar year in terms of fitness goals. But the strange thing is, I'm OK with it. Every time I go out and manage more than 3 or 4 miles without pain, I'm grateful to be able to run at all. And I firmly believe that if I build up really gradually, there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to do a 26 mile course within the 6-hour limit. Everything else can simply wait.

How are your 2010 fitness goals going?

Photo thanks: Sanja Gjenero

Friday, June 25, 2010

Solstice, or thereabouts

I have previously enthused about these few precious weeks when my 5:30 alarm is met with daylight, which not only makes staggering out of bed easier, but means my pre-work run has the appeal of being able to see where I'm trotting and even the possibility of some interesting wildlife sightings.

I do realize that those living in Seattle, Stirling or Stavanger will find this most amusing, but here in San Francisco, "long" summer days are rationed. Sure, we enjoy mild, friendly weather for much of the year, but you guys have the last laugh with your extended summer mornings and evenings.

My pathetic sluggishness of the past few weeks means many light mornings have already slipped by me, so I am determined to make the most of what's remaining. Somewhat to my dismay, we are already past the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

It's very likely you'll recognize this photo as Stonehenge, Wiltshire, in the UK. Much debate surrounds precisely when Stonehenge was built, by whom, and how, but the rising of the sun on the summer solstice was clearly of extreme importance in the precise placement of these enormous stones which measure up to 24 feet tall and weigh 50 (English) tons.

If these sun-lovers could achieve something of this scale and accuracy with the resources available to them around 4000 years ago, then the least I can do is hop willingly out of bed for a gentle dawn run.

Stonehenge photo thanks: Konrad Mostert

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Well, this is embarrassing...

For my own benefit as much as yours, I thought I should do a post to clarify, Yes, I am still here, just struggling a bit.

I've been feeling utterly crummy for three weeks. Nothing in the least bit serious, just a stupid cold that I haven't quite been able to shift. But I felt too guilty to take more than one day off work, and so have been using up my energy just on the daily ins-and-outs of existence. I probably should have spent the last couple of weekends on the sofa, but joining several thousand San Franciscans to watch the USA play England at soccer, plus the unending quest to prettify my home, have just been too tempting.

Three weeks, of course, isn't the end of the world, but before those, there were 16 lazy vacation days, and I wasn't anywhere near wonderful shape before that.

My runs, therefore, have been short and sluggish. This morning's 5 miles were a photo-finish between me and the neighborhood snails. My weight is creeping slowly but undeniably upward (well, brownies are good for morale when you're under the weather, right?).

But this can't go on. I'm a fit, healthy person, not a 10% overweight reluctant exerciser who gets sick at the drop of a hat. If any of you know of a magic pill marked Energy, I'd love to hear about it. I need to get my groove back, and quick!

Photo thanks: Miroslav Sárička

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Slip Sliding Away

Isn't it funny how something as trivial as a common cold can make you feel so utterly wretched?

Having run just 13 miles in the last 2 weeks, eaten badly, slept poorly, crossed 8 time zones and then come back again, I really shouldn't be surprised at feeling under the weather.

Image found here

I'm trying not to be too paranoid about my fitness level slipping slowly but surely from pretty good to average to poor. To be honest, I spent the latter part of last year feeling somewhat smug: I had achieved a PR half marathon, was running 3-4 times a week, doing weight training twice and yoga once. Right now I'm not sure I could jog a mile and I'm feeling extremely guilty at not having done one single knee exercise while I was in England.

The plan: be kind to myself while I kick this cold, and then get firmly back on track. After all, it's only 9 months to marathon day! As we say in England - Crikey.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Things will be quieter than usual around here for the next couple of weeks as I'm heading to Cambridge, England for some much-needed family catch-up time, not to mention a spot of rhubarb crumble.

The countryside around Cambridge is mostly pancake flat, and therefore great for running. One of my favorite routes is this unusual trail just outside the city:

Photo: Andrew Mac

Photo: Sustrans

Why the stripes? This section of path marks the 10,000th mile of the National Cycle Network and was opened in 2005 by Sir John Sulston, who won a Nobel prize for his work on the Human Genome Project...
"The artwork along this section of the route celebrates the role of the nearby Sanger Institute in decoding the vital human gene BRCA2. A series of stripes in four colours representing the 10,257 genetic letters, or bases, of the gene BRCA2 have been laid on the path using thermoplastic strips heat welded onto the tarmac."
Photo: Andrew Mac

Pretty cool, huh? And it'll be nice to have a medical concept that is not knee-related in mind, as I use this measured mile to knock a few seconds off my previous times.

All being well, I'll see you back in blog land in early June.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Link Between Running and Rhubarb

Not surprisingly, my reduced running activity during the last few months has had an unfriendly effect on my waistline and the scales are nudging higher than I would like. And even though I'm not going anywhere on vacation where a bikini will be required, news that my mother is lovingly planning to feed me rhubarb crumble next week is enough to make me rein in my eating a little, in anticipation.

(For US readers, an English crumble is not dissimilar to a cobbler; the photo I've "borrowed" is a tasty-looking recipe by Britain's beloved Delia Smith).

Normally, when I visit the UK, I ramp up my running a bit, to offset all the tea-cakes, scones, sausage rolls and other dietary necessities which must be enjoyed to make the most of the travel experience. However, this time around I'm not sure whether I'll be able to burn quite so many calories and I need to watch out that my longest-lasting souvenir is not around my tum.

Moreover, according to this slightly depressing Knee Pain Guide from Sutter Health, every extra pound of weight adds four pounds of pressure to your kneecap. And that's just walking - don't even think about climbing the stairs.

...But I'll try not to let that trouble me, as I get stuck into dreamy, creamy crumble and custard in the comforting surroundings of the family dinner table.

How about you: would you rather eat dessert, even if you have to run a few extra miles as payback?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Forget about the Christmas song: I am officially declaring the next 8 weeks the best possible time of the year for runners. Why? Well, in the northern hemisphere at least, we are now enjoying fantastic amounts of one of the world's most precious resources: daylight.

Today I was up at 5:30 and out of the house to run well before 6. The day was waking up with a soft but clear grey light. The breeze was cool, the wildlife was plentiful but unperturbed by me trotting past. My three miles were slow but painless; I was energized rather than tired.

Does it get any better than that?

On the small chance you are reading this blog and have never tried running, I urge you to seize these long days and get out there. For those of us who love to jog, trot or sprint, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Photo thanks: Craig Goodwin

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Physiotherapy Class

My first brush with physiotherapy was a little on the strange side, but the jury is happily still out.

Kaiser Permanente, my health provider this year (not sure how long that will last) bundled all their knee-challenged clients into a group and dealt with six of us en masse through an introductory educational/exercise class. I was pretty skeptical as to how all these people of different shapes, sizes and diagnoses could benefit from a blanket approach, but since the gist of the message seemed to be Strengthen Your Quads, and that's spot on for what I've read about Runner's Knee, then I don't mind playing nicely for a month or two and seeing what happens.

Photo thanks: Kings College London

I now have 3 fairly challenging exercises (including sitting on the wall and single-leg bridge, if you're interested) to repeat 20-40 times, every other day. Icing afterwards is mandatory, even if my knee doesn't feel inflamed. The plan is, this should yield some improvement in 2-3 months. What the heck, I can give that a shot, especially since I'm allowed to sneak in some short runs, as long as I stop when it starts to hurt.

Probably the best part of the class was the rather selfish satisfaction in seeing that, of the six of us, my "condition" is by far the least severe. I'm extremely lucky that, so far at least, my recalcitrant knee is not interrupting daily life. I can get up, down, or sideways without difficulty, and, within reason, I can still take a nice long walk without anxiety. I take great comfort that, being in vaguely reasonable shape to begin with, a single dodgy joint is not enough to bring everything to a grinding halt. And unless I get over-enthusiastic and trot too far, I'm free of the pain which my classmates were clearly enduring. That knowledge, if nothing else, should provide the motivation to stick to my exercise schedule.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Hey friends, I wanted to let you know that I'm hosting a giveaway over at my other blog. A US or Canadian resident will win $75 to spend at CSN stores.

Since you are kind enough to follow me here, just show up over there, mention that you're a 'Speedy' friend in your comment and I'll be pleased to enter you. For the remarkably gracious amongst you who follow both blogs, you're entitled to 2 entries, for sure.

Photo thanks: Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Joy of Blisters

I'm never particularly enthused by blog postings which start with an apology for the owner's absence. So let's just say skiing - knee - apathy - couch potato and you'll get the general idea.

When I first started Struggling to be Speedy, I anticipated a slow but stoic success story as I built my way from an 8-mile jog to a 26-mile epic. Much like any country that's ever declared war, I thought the whole thing would be over within 6 months and I could return, victorious, to a normal life. Instead, my naïve marathon plans became pathetically derailed at mile 18 and I've been struggling to maintain healthy lifestyle habits within my new limitations.

I never really 'marketed' this blog as I simply thought it would be fun to have a diary of my first and only marathon adventure. Frankly, I was surprised and more than a tad flattered that anyone at all would follow along with me. Hence, I owe you an update.

After 5 months of googling, pondering and expecting to wake up one day with a healthy knee, I finally went to the doctor last week. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, she didn't really know much about it (I had already figured out that ice and Advil might be good allies). However, she did refer me to physiotherapy, so I am enormously hopeful that someone there will be able to prescribe the correct exercises to get me back into training.

Meanwhile, figuring I might at least give them something to work with, I did a 5 mile trot yesterday without serious pain - or at least, not in my knee. The massive blister on my left foot definitely comes under the category of too much information, but suffice to say, I was delighted that my most serious affliction was from such an unsinister cause. It's a strange sport indeed where you find yourself thrilled just because it hurts somewhere new...

Image thanks: Cafe Press

Friday, April 9, 2010

Feeling Grouchy

I have mentioned before that I'm lucky enough to work for an employer who puts emphasis on health and well-being.

This week's offering, which I attended, was a Nutrition Workshop. More on that later. For now, suffice to say that before we got into the foodie merits of couscous versus quinoa, there was plenty of more general, upbeat encouragement to take care of ourselves, including inevitable exhortations to exercise.

Hah! I'm slightly ashamed to admit that kind of message is making me grumpy right now. Frankly, I was sitting there with my arms folded, thinking "Well, sure, I'd be happy to go out and run 30 miles a week if it wasn't for this pathetic knee."

But of course, "I would if I could" is not actually the same as exercising.

Clearly I need to break out of my grump and find a routine with other forms of fitness which are effective and enjoyable. I do go regularly to a lunchtime Body Sculpt class, but even stationary lunges and squats are starting to bug my knee. Cycling is sort of OK, but I never work up to the kind of (an)aerobic levels that I was getting with running. Last weekend, I did manage 11 gentle miles on two wheels, although I suspect eating a cooked breakfast at the half-way point was not the smartest dietary tactic!

Anyway, enough whinging. We can all point to people who manage to exercise despite perceived barriers, including one who is missing a whole leg, never mind a funny knee. It's time for me to hit the road/pedals/oars and join them.

Image found at:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Catch Us If You Can

Depending on your point of view, you might think this race series is a whole lot of fun, or in very bad taste. Memorably named the Skirt Chaser, it's a 5km dash where women start 3 minutes ahead of men. The first athlete across the line, regardless of gender, wins the prize money.

Me, I think it sounds like a great caper, regardless of whether you're being chased by someone special, a friend you have challenged, or are perhaps interested in meeting someone new on the course or at the party afterward.

Interestingly, looking at previous race results, it does appear that a woman usually wins, but only just. I'm pretty sure Beloved Husband would be able to catch me, but the question is, where? Knowing he's hot on my heels might just help me get more of a wiggle on than usual. It's a long time since I entered a 5km event, but with a pathetic knee in tow, that might just be my new race distance.

The next Skirt Chaser event seems to be in Atlanta in May, but I'm hopeful it will return to San Francisco this November. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can vote to bring it to your city too.

Photo thanks: Convert to Skirt

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Fork in the Road?

I had been feeling guilty at not doing a bit more running in the last couple of weeks, mainly due to our weekend away skiing which always leaves me scrambling the following week to keep body and soul together. And this weekend I decided to bump staining our TV cabinet right to the top of my list, meaning that running fell off the bottom.

So this morning when I lugged myself out of bed at 0-dark-hundred, I expected to find it hard work and slow going. What I didn't expect, after a measly three miles, was serious knee pain. Considering I hadn't run for nearly two weeks, and certainly didn't do anything dramatic to my knees while skiing slowly down Northstar's blue routes, I was surprised and alarmed to discover that 30 minutes was my limit.

It's exactly four months since I first became conscious of my right knee being a problem while running. Since then I've gone really easy on it, have bought it special gear, and even, for a short while, started drinking a pretty purple liquid. But it seems to have become worse, not better. I'm wondering now if a marathon is a totally crazy aim, and even whether I'll ever do another half. I may have to get over my British-ness* and go in search of medical advice.
*We don't really like to see a Doctor until something turns green and drops off - that's pretty much how our health care system holds together :)

Meantime, once again I need to re-assess my fitness goals and seek alternative ways of staying vaguely in shape - or at least finding something to stop the pounds piling on. The good news is that spring is here, and Beloved Husband has been muttering about all kinds of wheeled and water-born outings. I may yet have to re-title this blog Crazy Sports I Tried, to Keep My Hubby Happy.

Photo via: the Reputation Doctor

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knees on the Piste

If you come here regularly, you'd be forgiven for thinking I've stopped running.

Happily, this is not so - I'm just struggling a little to describe each and every run in an exciting new way for you - hardly surprising, as 3 miles on local sidewalks before it gets light is hardly the stuff that Olympic dreams are made of. In addition, I'm feeling the pressure in other areas of my life, so a blow-by-blow account of every trot around the block is not viable right now. I am, however, logging updates at Daily Mile which is a tool you might like to check out, if you're not already recording your workouts anywhere else.

I started this blog pretty much as a running diary and while I'm delighted to have a small band of followers and commenters, I won't be at all offended if you float off in favor of more inspirational fitness blogs.

Still here? Oh, OK, I guess I'll update you then. The last couple of weeks have consisted of some basic, short runs; usually I get to about 5 or 6 miles before having a discussion with my knee about whether it's happy and whether I'm imagining any discomfort. It has every right to be grumpy, since not one but two skiing weekends are in the plan for March, and I've always found parallel turns (or any type of turn, for that matter) to be pretty punishing on the patellas.

I took it very easy on our recent trip to Northstar and frankly I'm not sure how much skiing I'll be doing next time we go. Beloved Husband, meanwhile, whose knees are not much better than mine right now, seems to be enjoying bruising his ribs on his inevitable snowboarding falls and is probably doing his joints lasting damage as he gets the hang of carve turns.

This snow-shaped craziness can be solely attributed to our impetuous purchase of cheap-rate season tickets last Fall, back in those innocent days before I realized my body could and would let me down regarding sporting pursuits. It's probably the last time I'll commit to any physical activity months in advance, and could make for a very depressing posting if I allowed myself to dwell on that thought.

So instead, I'm going to keep on trotting (hey, I'm already doing quarter marathons, right?) and will be doing some serious research into the medicinal merits of waffles and hot chocolate at 8,000 feet.

Photo thanks: Marmit

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good Luck in Napa!

Just a quick shout-out for everyone heading for Napa this weekend, and I wish you the very best of luck, along with some cool, dry weather :)

This was the race I was supposed to be doing before my knee went nuts. To shorten the story that's even longer than the marathon, I'm registered for March 2011 so will be following in your footsteps then.

Meanwhile, warmest wishes for a safe and enjoyable race to Asha, Sheila, Brad, Jon, Chris, and about 2300 others!

Photo thanks: Indagare

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

First Real Soaking

This morning I reached a significant moment in my marathon training: it was the first time since starting all this nonsense(!) that I've had to haul myself out of bed in the dark in the pouring rain. And I do mean pouring.

I've been incredibly lucky up until now - living in California obviously helps, and I was resting my dodgy knee during some particularly smelly weather in January. But for much of last night I was dimly aware that my cheap will-this-thing-really-repel-water? jacket purchased at Target was about to get a serious road test.

In case you care, the jacket is my new best friend, but its owner has a thing or two to learn about running in the rain.

Notes to self, composed during the three wettest miles of my life:
  • Don't wear cheap running pants made of jersey, because your thighs will be soaking within the first half mile. That will creep down your legs and give your fragile right knee an excellent excuse to get cold and grumpy.
  • Your new headlamp is great but doesn't show puddles at all well. Or in some places, at all.
  • When avoiding said puddles by leaping off the path, try to make sure there are no low-hanging tree branches in the way.
  • ...I'm sure there was a fourth point, but the smack on the head from the afore-mentioned branch has made me temporarily forget it. I need to be more careful, else I might still be lying out there enjoying a more intimate acquaintance with the puddle I was dodging.
My pace, of course, was terrible, as I was trying to keep the GPS watch dry and was too busy cursing puddles and seeking alternate routes to pay any attention to speed. Ironically, as a result, I actually quite enjoyed the running part, but only because I knew I was just minutes away from a hot shower.

What tips and tricks do you have for running in the rain? Do you have wet-weather gear would you hate to be without?

Photo thanks: Super Coloring

Monday, March 1, 2010

Twinges & Irony

He probably won't thank me for sharing this with you, but since we're a small and select group of friends here, I will confide in you that I had to run on my own on Saturday....
because Beloved Husband was resting...
a painful knee.

The good news is, it's his left one, so between us, we still have a working set. But nonetheless, I'm shaking my head at the irony that I'm back out there trotting with some level of comfort, and my trusty wingman now gets twinges. Thank goodness we are not running 26.2 miles this Sunday as we'd be a collective bag of bones by the end of it!

I switched my day around and ran in the late afternoon rather than early morning. The forecast was rainy, but instead I was blessed with beautiful Bay Area sunshine. As a result, I was wearing too much and found it a huge effort to hold a 9.5 minute pace for 7 miles. But the important thing is, I held it, and that may just be the fastest I've ever covered that distance.

I had finished the run and was walking the last few yards home when I became aware of a nasty, nasty pain in the arch of my left foot. It wore off after a few hours but I have some fresh hypochondriac Googling to do, to find out what novel problem this might be. I've never experienced anything like it and am hoping it's solely (no pun intended) attributable to my not-broken-in-fully new shoes. As long as it doesn't cost me another $160 in remedial kit, I don't mind too much :)

Photo thanks: Cheeriotown Photography

Monday, February 22, 2010

Feeling Sleepy

I don't have a whole lot new to report, except,
  • I'm back out running short distances (3-6 miles) and plan to build up again very gradually.
  • I'm pleasantly surprised that I can still do anything after such a long break, although holding a 9:30 pace is hard and if left to my own devices I've been drifting over 10:30.
  • The knee has been OK; naturally I'm aware of it and it doesn't quite feel 100% right, but definitely has not been giving actual pain.
However, I've been shocked at how tired I'm feeling and am praying it's just my body getting used to running again.

I'm feeling a little bit cheated because conventional wisdom states that exercise gives you more energy, rather than leaving you feeling wrung out like a wet rag at the end of the day. And clearly, 29 minutes of running should not exactly be a Herculean effort.

One of my 2010 goals is to run a half marathon in under 2 hours: at the moment that's looking like a large hill to climb.

How about you - do you find exercise gives you more energy, or does it leave you yearning for a nap?

Cartoon found here, original source unknown, sorry.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Gear, New Hope

I didn't want to sing from the rooftops too soon, but I've now been out 3 times post-knee-rest-period and I'm comforted that it does look as though I'll be able to run at least short distances again. Even if the much hoped-for marathon is not within reach, I will be able to do 5k Turkey Trots with my head held high :)

My knee was not exactly quiet as a lamb, but it didn't hurt, either. I guess I'm just much more aware of it and every time I leap from sidewalk to road surface, I'm wondering if it's going to scream at me. We probably just need to work our way back to trusting each other again (ooh, deep).

To give my joints the best possible chance of success, I went to see the nice folk at Fleet Feet in Menlo Park. After some very low-tech staring at my knee caps, I came home $140 poorer, with a new pair of hold-me-stable shoes and some fancy insoles. Yes, of course I'm skeptical, but sooner or later you just have to let go and trust someone.

Hence, I'm breaking in new shoes as well as testing out my doddery knee, so there are a couple of variables at work.

My other new piece of kit was a birthday gift: a runner's headlamp. When I first saw other people wearing these, I pretty much thought, how geeky, until I tried running around our neighborhood at 6AM. I'm not too worried about perverts, but tree roots and uneven sidewalks strike fear into my heart. I tripped while running a couple of years ago and believe me, in your thirties, these things really hurt. So I'm now happily able to trot at a decent pace and not fall over any dozing raccoons, squirrels or Canada Geese. Which was the unfortunate fate of this runner:

Better safe (and geeky) than sorry, methinks.

Photo thanks: REI, Failblog

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Thanks so much, everyone, for the good wishes during my period of knee-rest. I started this blog really as a personal record of my (anticipated) marathon "glory" (hah!) and am very touched to have a small but loyal crew checking in on me.

I've appointed tomorrow as my day to try a gentle 3-mile run and see what happens. That will have been a 40 day break from running (wow, went fast!). With luck, my knee will be fine and I'll simply puff and pant my way around the local sidewalks at some embarrassingly slow, but pain-free, pace.

Meanwhile, I wanted to give a quick mention to Geoff Turner. I was being somewhat flippant when I said here that there's always someone with a worse injury than you. Little did I know, Geoff is an amputee who lost his leg in a car accident in 1991. Yesterday, he ran the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in San Francisco in 2 hours, 2 minutes. That's a full 6 minutes faster than my best time so far. Geoff, I salute you, you inspire me, and I hope to have the honor of finishing a race behind you some day.

Photo thanks: San Francisco Examiner

Monday, February 1, 2010

Getting itchy feet

Well, my house has never been cleaner and my piano has never been played more than in these last few weeks that I've been able to run :)

That is the positive part about being 'injured' - I have gained at least 4 hours per week, not to mention more energy on a Saturday afternoon through not hauling myself out of bed for a 15+ mile run in the morning.

However, even with these benefits, I can hardly wait to run again. So I've been amusing myself by looking for events I might be able to enter if my fitness level allows. If you're in California, will you be considering any of these?
  • March 21, Across the Bay (12km)
    I've done this race twice before and it's a wonderful route from Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge and along the waterfront into San Francisco. But frankly, I only want to do it this year if I can give my previous time a good kicking, and I'm not sure I can get fit enough in 5 weeks (even if my knee behaves).

  • April 11, Santa Cruz (half marathon)
    This looks wonderfully scenic but I've heard it's hilly!

  • July 11, Los Gatos (half marathon)

  • July 25, San Francisco (half or full marathon)
    This is how it all started - Beloved Husband did this last year and frankly, made it look a bit too easy. Muggins here promptly signed up for Napa, and you know the rest. :)
    I won't be fit for 26 miles by this date, but I quite fancy the second half of the course. Last year, this race was timed so that in theory Beloved Husband could do the full 26 miles and I could join for the second half. That's a nice option to keep in mind if you and a friend have different running abilities.

  • October 3, San Jose Rock 'n' Roll (half marathon)
    We did this for the first time last year - it's a nice route and well-organized race, but this year I have a somewhat stretching goal of getting 2:08 down to 1:something.

  • October 3, Sacramento (marathon)

  • October 10, Wine Country (marathon)

  • October 31, Silicon Valley (half or full marathon)

  • November 7, San Francsico (half marathon)
    If I fail to beat 2 hours in October, I might still be chasing it on this date.

  • December 5, Sacramento (marathon)
    Realistically speaking, I really do hope to be in fit shape for a marathon by this time.
Photo thanks: Emerald Across the Bay, San Jose Rock 'n' Roll half marathon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Running Injuries Seminar

I've already mentioned that my employer is happily very focused on health and fitness. Not to give too much away, we have a scenic environment and a young community, and we're lucky that the culture supports and even encourages us to head out to a fitness class, swim, or walk at lunchtime, rather than staying chained to our desks.

New offerings from our health program for 2010 include some track sessions and seminars aimed at runners. By happy coincidence, a lunchtime talk on Running Injuries was offered this week. I, of course, toddled along and felt I had 'found my tribe' when I entered the roomful of 20-40-something women all wearing business casual with running shoes.

This was the first time a seminar like this had been offered and it was not without a few teething troubles. The subject area is clearly huge and almost everyone in the room had their own injury or concern to talk about ;)
Another problem with current science is that things like stretching, and even whether or not we should even wear running shoes, have become controversial.

However, I did pick up a few interesting nuggets from the physiotherapist, including the distinction between a stretch when the muscle is lengthened versus shortened. (Sorry, too complex to repeat here with any confidence that I won't be feeding you garbage!). He also had an engaging way of referring to the following mistakes as things that give him job security:
  • Not investing in the right shoes (as he said, either spend your cash on your shoes, or the co-payments to seek treatment from him)
  • Running every day (but do cross-train, instead)
  • Tackling hills too soon
These sound so simple, but to be honest my shoes are probably past their prime and since my knee trouble could well be due to over/under pronation, I really should get my feet assessed. And I was certainly guilty of trying to run more than 3-4 times per week: it's interesting that most marathon training plans have us out there 5-6 times, whereas my hubby ran a perfectly successful and pretty pain-free first marathon on just 3 (quality) sessions.

So, no rocket science here, but some useful reminders nonetheless. After all, with several times your bodyweight landing a couple of thousand times per mile, running is no picnic and our bodies deserve a bit of respect.

Photo thanks: Milen Yakimov

Monday, January 25, 2010

Good News from Napa

Today I owe a big thank you to the kind folks at the Napa Valley Marathon who have deferred the race registrations for both my husband and me until 2011. Hopefully now, with 13 months to get ready, I'll be able to sweet-talk my knee into playing nicely and joining in the party spirit. I did feel pretty guilty as hubby was out for a 24 mile run (in the rain) when the email came through to confirm our deferrals. Happily he doesn't seem to be holding a grudge but I suspect his distances will ease off a bit now that we know he doesn't have to run.

I'm now about half way through my self-imposed running break and am eagerly awaiting the day when I can start trotting gently again. It feels like a good moment to reflect on what this episode has taught me:
  • Don't sign up for an event until you're fairly sure you have the necessary fitness level.
  • Especially don't sign your husband up without asking him :)
  • Keep a running diary (whether old-tech or hi-tech) and pay attention to any niggling pains.
  • There's a good reason they tell you not to increase your distance more than about 10% per week.
  • It's probably better to slightly under-train than slightly over-train. Or, as Asha wisely commented here, sometimes getting to the start line is the hardest part.
  • There's always someone out there with a more severe injury than you.
  • Sometimes, all the work in the world just isn't destined to give results.
The good news about this running break is that I've noticed I have heaps of energy on Saturdays and have been packing a lot more into the weekend compared to my previous run-eat-nap routine. I'm pleased that a few household projects have finally seen some progress - but that's a whole other blog!

Photo thanks: Samuel Ducroquet

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Birthday Lunges

OK, you know it's time to seek medical pschyological help when you decide a good use of your birthday lunch-hour is to show up to a Body Sculpt class. Not only was it my birthday, but the weather was foul and my quads were still in agony from Tuesday's session, so I had three perfectly adequate excuses to give it a miss.

Any sane person would have gone for a big lunch with friends, or for a spot of light shopping, or even just to claim their free drink at Starbucks. Not me - I dutifully joined in with more of the same lunges which almost defeated me earlier in the week, with a liberal sprinkling of push-ups and upper body torture thrown in for good measure.

And you know what? I actually feel a bit younger than I did when I woke up this morning. Which is a good thing, as I plan on doing some serious dietary damage this evening. :)

Photo thanks: Michael Lorenzo

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Health Screening Surprises

I'm lucky enough to work for an employer which appears to take staff health and well-being very seriously. So much so, they have just launched a program whereby if we show up for a free screening and jump through some other healthy hoops, they will give us a very small bonus in our pay checks.

Well, there's nothing I like better than free money, even if I'll be lucky to take home an extra $25 after Uncle Sam grabs his share. So I dutifully presented myself this morning, sans breakfast, to be assessed for BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure and some other bits and pieces.

Goodness, how very revealing. At 129 pounds and 5 foot 3 inches, my Body Mass Index is clearly fine and I could probably gain at least 10 pounds before anyone would raise their eyebrows. However, the dastardly fat calipers disagreed and were audacious enough to pronounce me "borderline overweight". The cheek of it! Either taking thigh measurements through my clothes introduces a significant margin of error, or I need to get my flabby stomach under control. Either way, it's no wonder many women suffer from poor body image if they spend 5 hours a week exercising yet still get this kind of pronouncement from their health care provider.

At this point I should mention my other scores were pretty good, so last Fall's 391 miles of running have clearly benefited me somewhat. The only exception to the happy data was my reading for HDL ("good") cholesterol which was woefully low. I was somewhat naughty and let the nurse get part way through her lecture on the importance of exercise before I informed her that I had been in training for a marathon until 12 days ago. At that point she decided genetic factors might be playing a part. I told her that when I've run 26 miles, if my HDL level is still low, then we can talk. Until then, just give me a healthy knee and I'll exercise until the cows come home.

I guess what bothers me about screenings like this are, they tend to catch the 'low hanging fruit' of people who are fairly active anyway. Folks who are really overweight or totally out of shape, are unlikely to submit willingly to the caliper test, especially in their own workplace. And the old rhetoric about the need for regular exercise tends to fall on deaf ears amongst those of us who honestly feel we're going above and beyond.

But there's always room for improvement, right? Next time I cross a finish line, I'd like to be carrying just a little less flab around my middle. As an added incentive, I'm posting the shameful evidence here as a public reminder that Runner's Tum is not yet a recognized sports injury.

Photo thanks: Sanja Gjenero, Mark Nelson.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Waiting and Resting

I realize this blog has gone rather quiet, but I'm basically lurking and waiting for my self-imposed knee-resting period to pass. I picked a rather arbitrary 6 weeks, so around Valentine's Day I plan to start trotting gently again and hope my knee shows renewed enthusiasm.

This weekend was the first in ages where I did nothing more active than go for a walk. It seemed very strange not to be stumbling out of bed to put some kind of fitness gear on. I guess I should make the most of it as I'm sure the day will come when I'm doing 20 miles in the rain and longing for the sofa :)

Photo thanks: Benjamin Earwicker

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Humility Ball

Today was a little bit tough as Beloved Husband went out for a long run in the California sunshine, without me. Fair enough, really - even if I manage to negotiate a deferral of my March marathon entry, he may still be on the hook to jog 26 miles through wine country.

I consoled myself by playing with one of my Christmas gifts, a GoFit Stability Ball. At least, I think that's what they call it; in reality, humility ball would be more accurate as there's nothing like rolling around on the floor with a bouncy purple thing for half an hour to remind you what terrible shape your abs are in.

My twice-weekly Body Sculpt class restarts on Tuesday and I'm hoping that by making a token effort today, I'll be in slightly less agony on Wednesday morning. But if not, never mind - what else is January for?

Photo thanks: GoFit

Friday, January 1, 2010

391 Miles Later

Today I made the sad but not totally unexpected decision that I won't be able to do the Napa Valley Marathon in March.

At least, not March 2010 :)

We were aiming for a Long Slow Distance run of about 15 miles. However, by mile 4, my knee started whispering to me gently. For the next few miles it was a co-operative but grumpy ally and by about mile 9 I had to admit that today's distance was not feasible, at least, not without severe pain and possibly lasting damage. Working backwards from race day, this means there's no way I can expect to build enough stamina to take a reasonable shot at the full marathon.

I'm extremely disappointed, but since these knee problems started several weeks ago, I've had time to get used to the possibility that the race in March might not happen.

Since deciding to enter the marathon at the end of last July, I have covered 391 miles of training. That's about the length of Arizona, or the distance from London to Edinburgh. I'm trying to be proud of that accomplishment and not think too much about the shoulda-woulda-coulda's.

As a child, schoolwork came easily to me and I honestly can't remember a time in my life when I have worked hard for something and not been rewarded with results, so this is a whole new lesson for me. I'm also facing up to the concept that, at the ripe old age of 37, I may not always be able to rely on my body doing what I ask it to. And finally, as Beloved Husband notes, I like to be in control and in this instance, I really have no say in the matter.

But I'm thinking of this as down but not out. My goal now is to rest my knee until it's fully better, and then pick up running again. I want to do a half marathon in under 2 hours and I will gradually add longer and longer runs to weekend outings. Once I can crack my nemesis distance of 18 miles, I'll be looking around for a marathon to enter. Who knows, Napa 2011 may work just fine.

Photo thanks: Colin Cochrane
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