September 29, 2010

Confessions of a Treadmill Junkie

Being away from home for more than a few days is challenging for me, regardless of the reason (business, pleasure or other), especially when the hubby is staying behind. For the last 2 weeks, I have been away from So Cal, as my mother had surgery requiring a 2-night hospital stay and  needed someone to care for her at home after being discharged.  I flew up for 3 days for the surgery and flew back home for 2 days to take care of some personal errands while my sis (who lives close to Mom) stayed with her in the interim. I then drove back to Mom’s in Nor Cal where I subsequently spent the week working full time remotely, caring for her needs, and trying desperately to stay on track with my training schedule for the Santa Barbara International Marathon (race day is 11/6/10). Hence, my lack of posts recently.

As it relates to running, these last couple of weeks have opened my eyes to some things about me and the way I train that I wasn’t consciously aware of previously. Unlike other periods in my life when I was regularly exercising, which may or may not have included short distance running at the time, I made a point to stick to my training schedule and I didn’t miss a day. While I always keep a detailed log with a complete schedule through my next goal race, it was really nice to have it laid out ahead of time – one less thing to worry about while living temporarily away from home for an extended period of time.

When I say I didn’t miss a day, I don’t mean that I was so rigid that I didn’t allow for flexibility, both in time, distance and the actual day of a planned run.  What was most important was getting in at least one LSD (long slow distance) the first weekend (which I asked my brother-in-law to map out for me, and he was nice enough to join me for those 17 miles!), keeping up my weekly mileage and sticking to the type of training I planned for during the week (tempo, mile repeats, easy miles, etc.). The roads are relatively flat in the area so I was sure to not schedule any hill work for this trip.

On a regular basis, I run the majority of my weekday runs on our home treadmill. Hubby and I make the 25 minute drive to the beach path for our weekend runs (usually LSD, but for others too). It has come to my attention over the last couple of months that I feel somewhat guilty about all the TM work I do; like I’m not really running or something because I’m not on the road all the time. I do however run with a 1% grade (higher when I’m doing hill work) at all times so I’m at least somewhat mimicking resistance I’d get running outside. There I go justifying my choice. And I have more.

We live in an extremely hilly suburban area which requires us to drive to flat land any time we don’t want to do hill work. This extends my daily window for training by at least 45 minutes and frankly, I don’t have that extra time during the week. Not to mention, with a history of IT band problems, I can’t afford to risk more pain and down-time if I want to keep moving forward with my racing goals. So that’s Justification #2.

Justification #3 is something I discovered during my treadmill hiatus while at Mom’s – I LOVE my treadmill. Guilty as charged. This admission is probably what I feel most guilty about as a self-professed Treadmill Junkie given the numerous posts I see from other runners who refer to their treadmill runs as a “Dreadmill” day.  I would even go out on a limb to say I actually missed it. This got me thinking what is it that I’m missing? What am I not getting out of all these outside runs that I get from the treadmill? Oh yeah – total and complete control of almost every major element basic to running. I can set the firmness of the belt between Street and Wet Sand. I’m in a climate controlled environment (except on really hot days in the afternoon, but I have 2 fans and the A/C for that!). Although some may argue I’m not controlling my tempo on the TM because the belt is forcing me to maintain a specific pace, I do have complete control over my cadence and my form, as well as the belt speed. On the road, I have to think about maintaining pace while playing around with cadence and form which is sometimes hard for me to keep together until I’m comfortable with the change. I have been working hard on staying aware of my form while working on speed which has shifted some of my focus to my cadence and making sure I’m keeping my stride length short, landing on my midfoot underneath me, in line with my center of gravity, and keeping my hips pulled underneath me. It’s getting easier and I credit some of the TM work for allowing me to focus on specific factors in a controlled environment.

I’m not completely surprised by this revelation – I’m not the only control freak in my family. [Love you guys!]  I didn’t realize how my desire for control was extending into running! The upsides of not having the TM and the controlled environment was an unexpected confidence boost, a reminder to keep finding ways to get out of my comfort zone and that even when a run isn't going as planned due to external forces not under my control, I can still have a great run.

The proof is in the pudding! I didn't forget the lesson I learned in GA about discussing pace with the group you will be running with ahead of time and sticking to it. A couple of my brother-in-law's friends joined us for the first half of our 17-miler, and although they are much faster than me and don't use the Galloway training method, I didn't let my pace speed up or allow my run/walk/run intervals to slide. I wanted to maintain an 11:30 min/mile and we averaged about 11:15.  Close enough!! So thank you guys for hanging back and helping me stick to my plan! I had a great time on a beautiful trail! Iron Horse Trail - Garmin data

Photo taken from East Bay Regional Parks website

On one afternoon, my nephew wanted to join me for the 5K run I had planned for that day. I knew when he walked in the house shoveling the last couple of bites of a huge sandwich into his mouth that he was not going to do well. I gave him 45 minutes to digest, but it didn't make much difference. He got such a bad cramp about a mile onto the trail that he had to walk. Despite this, I made it out to the halfway point, looking back during the walk breaks to make sure he was okay, and then started running back towards where we started. A planned quicker 5K turned into a slower 4.5 mile run because I would only run so far ahead of him before I circled back to where he was so I could keep him in sight. So there I was, running back and forth and back and forth, up and down this dry dirt trail as he slowly walked back to where we started. Was I happy? Not really. Bored? A little. But, I was still out running, my nephew was with me and despite things not going as planned, I didn't fall apart. It just meant I'd run a little shorter distance the next day and pick up the pace. No big deal. Stay flexible and you'll stay relaxed.

I ran 1-mile repeats outside for the very first time and I LOVED it. Talk about feeling in control and getting a confidence boost!! My only intention was to start out around half marathon pace for the first mile and hit negative splits by about 15 seconds/mile for the next 3 miles consecutively. I was pleasantly surprised with the results:  9:09, 8:41, 8:26, and 8:09, with a 1-mile cool down at 10:09. I pushed hard. It was a much needed stress reliever. I also noticed during this run how much I missed my music and how that helped me feel a little more 'at home'. 

I got lost one morning when I was trying to squeeze in a few miles between conference calls. It was the only break I had that morning (I won't run alone before or after the sun comes up) and with temps expected to hit over 90F by the afternoon, I knew this was my only window. My family has lived in this area for many years now. While I am familiar with the streets, I don't know them like the back of my hand. The plan was an out-and-back 3 miler at 10:00 min/mile pace so I would only need to run out 1.5 miles. I chose a to run up one of major streets that had the least number of traffic lights and what I thought would be an obvious "out and back". Well, during the 'out' part, I didn't pay attention as well as I should have because I missed a left turn on the way back. I realized when I was approaching 2.5 miles and I wasn't near Mom's that something had gone awry. I do have some sense of direction so I knew if I took the next left at a major intersection that I'd find the street I was looking for and get my bearings back. But now I'm in a time crunch and without knowing exactly where I was, I was starting to get anxious about getting back in time for the conference call! Time to pick up the pace. The result was a 4.4 mile run at an average 9:23 min/mile pace, with 20 minutes to spare before the call started. Slightly longer and faster than planned which wasn't such a bad thing after all! In fact, it was a lot of fun! Would this have happened on the TM? Maybe. I've been known to tack on an extra mile or 2 and/or push harder than planned if I was really feeling it that day - but it wouldn't have been an adventure. And the adventure of it all made the run even more enjoyable. Did I just admit I liked the unpredictability? Okay, I'll own that.... Yes. By embracing the unexpected, I had a great run despite it not going exactly as planned.

Mom was under doctor's orders to walk as much as she was comfortable with. I got her up 3.3 miles a day within a week of the surgery. I was worried all the extra miles from the walking was going to be too much for me, and I considered the possibility of scaling back on my running schedule. Despite the added 16 miles of walking that week, I was not only able to stay on track, I ran further and faster than planned. And none of it was on the TM.
The big lessons I learned were these:

  1. I can keep running a priority in my life when I'm not home by planning ahead and staying flexible.
  2. Running outside helps me train differently because it gets me out of my TM comfort zone.
  3. Embracing unpredictability increases my enjoyment of a run.

Big 20-miler coming up this weekend. Six Saturdays until my 2nd marathon!!


Greg Strosaker said...

Nice post and some good lessons learned. I wouldn't feel guilty about the treadmill use - there are runners who train only on the treadmill yet still deliver successful marathon performances. I would struggle too if I had to drive so far for flat terrain. Kudos for keeping up your fitness regime while away - you probably needed the time to yourself anyway!

Vera said...

Thanks Greg! Glad to hear I'm not the only one. ;-) And yes, it was nice to get some time for myself!

Gaby H. said...

I love your blogs Vera!!
I am getting antsy about the 10k! LOL I know I can do it now! :)
I hope your mom heals quick :)