Saturday, January 30, 2010

Training: Week 9 report

I just got back from my long run, so I thought I'd do my training report! Here was this week's schedule:
Monday - 50 minute run
Tuesday - 40 minute Wii Fit Plus Yoga (cross-training)
*Wednesday - 50 minute run, plus form drills
Thursday - 60 minute ballet class (cross-training)
Friday - rest
Saturday - 8 mile long run
Sunday - rest

* Wednesday is supposed to be a rest day, with the run being on Thursday and cross-training being on Friday. However, my ballet class is Thursday night, and once my mileage started going up, I just couldn't run AND do ballet class on the same day! LOL So I had to make some adjustments!

The last month or so, I have been struggling with pacing in my training runs. I had naturally started going faster, which was fine back in the fall when I was at a distance plateau. However, I learned early on in running that my body does not tolerate increases in distance AND speed at the same time. If I go too fast while I'm adding mileage, I hurt. It's pretty simple. So my goals for the last 2 weeks have been to train at a nice slow pace. It's not easy, esp. on the couple of days where the weather has been in the 50s! But if I intend to reach the end of this training program without injury, I have to maintain a good pace!

This week, I think I have finally got it under control! I am trying to run between 11:30 and 12:00 miles. That is a pace that keeps me breathing moderately, but that doesn't leave me exhausted or sore. Monday I averaged 11:15, Wednesday 11:40, and today (when it's even MORE crucial to control pacing!) I averaged 11:58!

Today I had a little extra help with my pacing... nasty weather! It was 33 degrees when I left the house, with the windchill at around 24 degrees. I do my long runs at a park with a nature preserve, and there is a 2.2 mile loop around a lake. Here's a picture I took as I was walking back to the head of the trail after completing my 8 miles:

The trail goes around this lake, over the dam you can see way off in the distance, and then goes through the woods, which is a nature preserve. It's really beautiful, and only mildly hilly! But today, at the top of that dam, with the wind whipping around - oh my goodness! It was cold! I was wearing mittens and could still barely feel my fingers, which was tricky when it came time to my refueling during the run! :)

But I did the 8 miles today, and I'm so proud of myself. It was the longest I've ever run! I have 2 more weeks of building up my distance/time, culminating in a 10 mile run. Then I begin a 3 week tapering period to allow for recovery before the race!! It's hard to believe I've finished Week 9 of 14 already!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cross-Training: Biking

I was a little nervous about the concept of "cross-training" when I first looked through the training program. After all, I was new to all this athletic stuff. Running was basically all I did! Well, I take that back... I lift hand weights, do ab work, and played around on the Wii Fit, especially the Yoga.

In another fit of insanity, I decided to bike and swim as my cross-training. Because, in my thinking, I'd be that much closer to a triathlon. Yeah, really. LOL I found a "My First Triathlon" in my area. But that won't be until 2011, so I won't jump ahead too much!

The entire bike story is an incredibly story of God's provision and the blessing of strangers. Here is a pic of my wonderful bike, affectionately called, "Frankenbike":

Saving up for the Princess Half had really taken up all of my spare money, so buying a bike was going to be tricky. I had $125 total, and $25 went to my helmet. When I asked where to find a bike for $100, I was met with lots of discouraging responses. My friend Sadie encouraged me to try a local bike shop for used bikes, and she even located one for me, but when I went there, the owner (a wonderful lady) had nothing to offer me. We talked for an hour or more, though, and she took my name. She said if she came across anything she would call me. But since my training really needed to start immediately, I went to Toys R Us and bought a mountain bike.

I rode it when I got home and it was really hard. And for the next 2 days, I was so sore I could hardly walk. A few weeks later (there was rain on my cross-training day in the weeks in between) I went back out and tried again, with the same results. It was discouraging. It took me nearly as long to ride as it did to run. I was wondering why anyone would want to bike since it was so hard. And I was wondering how I could possible do a triathlon considering how slow I was.

A few days after that discouraging ride, I received a phone call from the owner of the bike shop. She wanted to tell me that she had a bike for me. She had shared my story with her customers, and soon, pieces and parts started being donated. Before long, they had enough to piece together a hybrid road bike for me! When I told her I had already spent all my money on a bike already, she surprised me by telling me it was free. She and her customers wanted to donate a bike to me! I was speechless.

I went to the shop the next day, and she presented me with the "Frankenbike" - that was what she called it since it was pieced together. I fell in love with the name, and with the bike!! She didn't stop there, though... she also gave me a tire pump, a pair of padded bike shorts, and mounted a water bottle on the bike frame for me!! I was humbled. What did I do to deserve this??

I came home and rode my new bike - the difference was absolutely mind-blowing!!! This bike was light and it was fast!! The bike shorts saved my bottom!! She showed me how to shift gears which was incredibly helpful (my mountain bike had gears but I didn't know how to use them so I was just riding around in one gear LOL)!

I just have one day to bike while I'm training, and I can only do it in my hilly neighborhood. But I'm looking forward to taking the bike out to a park trail and getting to really so someplace! That will have to wait until the training is over. I would also like to go on the Ladies' Rides through the bike shop, and a neighbor stopped me one day when I was out riding and asked if I would like to ride with him, too, after my training is complete.

(And as for the swimming part of the cross-training... that, too, will be its own post! LOL)

BTW, if you are looking for a bike in the NE Atlanta/Gwinnett/Forsyth/Hall County area, please leave your email address and I'd be happy to recommend THE BEST bike shop around!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Finding the Penguin

Once I had decided to shoot for the Princess Half Marathon, I did the first thing that I do when I tackle any new project: hit the library for books! Our library had a number of books on marathon training, but when I read them they again seemed to be geared towards hard-core runners. I thought I found success with the one called The Non-Runners Marathon Guide for Women: Get Off Your Button and On With Your Training. However, once I started reading it, the style just turned me off.

I had come across a title called Marathoning For Mortals by John Bingham, and put it on hold. By the time I had read, and been disappointed with, all the other titles, Marathoning for Mortals had come in!

Within the first chapter, I was reaching for my sticky notes to mark passages to copy! This "Penguin" (John Bingham's nickname, given to himself when he saw him own reflection while running and realized he resembled a penguin) was amazing! He was encouraging to those of us who were starting this "athletic" thing as adults. We could go slow? We SHOULD go slow? We could even walk when we need to? (Ok, so that last part was a little challenging to accept, but that's OK! LOL)

I was hooked on the Penguin's style immediately!! I decided that I would use his "Run a Half Marathon" plan for my training! It is a 14 week program so got out my planner and counted backwards from the race. I would need to start on the Monday after Thanksgiving. I was still finishing up the kids' training for their 5K, but luckily the first 2 weeks of the program was about the same level the kids were running at the time.

The plan includes 3 running days: 1 easy run, 1 easy run followed by form drills, and 1 endurance run. The form drills are where you build up your pace for 30 seconds while focusing on keeping proper form and quick footstrike. It's a LOT of fun!

There are also 2 cross-training days. I chose to add biking (which deserves its own post), and my adult beginner ballet class. On the days when I can't bike, I do exercise DVDs. I would also like to add swimming in, but I am having a hard time getting to the pool. My cross-training day happens to fall on our busiest day of the week.

I am currently in week 9 of the program! It's really hard to believe that I'm that far along already! This weekend I will be running my longest run EVER - 8 miles!! The program has been really good so far, though I have noticed over the last 2 weeks that I'm getting more sore! :) But I'm becoming more confident in my abilities to run the entire 13.1 miles! And as I've learned, long-distance running (at least for me) is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

From 5K to... what next?

I was now officially a Couch to 5K graduate. Not only that, I was officially hooked on running, and racing! I immediately looked for my next race, and found one in February! This was a much bigger race, with thousands of runners, and it was a bit unnerving - but I did it, and you'll find the picture of me crossing the finish line at the top of this blog! :)

I found myself needing the comfort of a plan to move me to the next level. At the library, I found a book called The Complete Book of Women's Running. It was a good book, and easy enough to read, though it was hard to relate to stories of women running a "slow time of 8 minute miles" when I was struggling around 12 minute miles!

I began the intermediate running plan, which would take me from running 3 days a week of 30 minutes, to running 4 days per week with one of those days being a longer run building up to an hour. The structure was welcomed by me, and I followed the first part of the plan through the summer of 2009. I also purchased a new set of running shoes for my birthday! Again I went to Dick's Sporting Goods, but this time I spent $70! I also did two more 5Ks: one in March (where it poured rain the entire time and the course was the nastiest hills I'd ever seen!) and one in April (where I ran my PR - personal record).

Before long, it was summer. Summer running. Ugh. Did I mention before that I live in Georgia? LOL Summer running was no fun at ALL. I ended up getting up in the mornings before sunrise and doing my weekday runs in the neighborhood, and my long runs at a nearby park. I vowed to myself each day that I would never again complain about running in the cold weather. At least in the cold, you can add layers. In the heat, it's just hot. And you know it's hot when you are soaked in sweat while walking to the trail to START your run!

I made it halfway through the intermediate training and was running up to an hour which worked out to be a little over 5 miles at my pace! I will never forget the first time I ran 5 miles! It seemed like I had done something completely impossible, and yet, I had actually really done it!

It was during the summer that Jan and I had committed to the Princess Half Marathon in 2010 and I started saving up money for it! My husband and I had begun Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover in early 2008, so we had a strict budget to adhere to. I was going to have to really scrimp to raise enough money for this trip - but it was a goal I was fixed upon!

I had decided to run a 10K race in the fall (once the bulk of the heat would be gone!) - not only to have a new goal, but also to get an official "time" for corral placement in the Princess. It was harder to find a 10K, but Jan found one about 45 minutes away, and even better, it was called the "Fast Pace Race", promising an overall elevation decrease! :) During the fall, I also took on another goal - taking my children through the Couch to 5K program as part of our "PE" for homeschooling, and then having them participate in the Jingle Jog for Autism, the same race I did in 2008 as my first race.

So the fall of 2009 was incredibly full of running! I did two 5Ks and a 10K in October - and managed to bring along my BFF. She had started running in February 2009, and just like me, it was the first time she had ever run before. She did the 5K at the race where I did my first 10K, and she took a picture of me crossing the finish line at my first 10K!

In addition, I was training with the kids, which didn't turn out at all like I had imagined it. Reece had to ride her bike because she couldn't keep up with us. Riley argued and complained the entire time. And Austin didn't like anyone running near him or talking to him when he ran. It was kind of nuts! And to top it all off... my husband had also started the Couch to 5K program, too! It was absolutely contagious!

The Jingle Jog ended up being a huge success! My husband and Austin ran together, and Riley and I ran together. My mom came from out of state to hang out with Reece, and to take pictures! The guys ran faster than I have ever run before, and Riley won a 3rd place medal for her age group! And that was in weather that made the previous year's Jingle Jog for Autism seem like it had taken place during a heat wave!! It was in the low to mid 30s, with a raging wind, and off and on drizzle!

Surprisingly, the first words out of Riley's mouth were, "When can we do another race?!" Yeah, my complainer - the one who had never even made it 3 miles during all the weeks of training - found her drive in the competition of the race! She definitely takes after her dad's side of the family who are all competitive athletes, including my 72 year old mother-in-law!

Unfortunately, I was now 12 weeks out from the Princess, and 2 weeks into my training program, so it was time to focus on me and my own training. And that will be the topic of the next post, and the rest of the posts to come! :)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Getting off the couch... AGAIN!

So there I was... all geared up, ready to run, and I can't even put weight on my right foot. It was horrible. I googled my symptoms but couldn't find anything that matched up, so I just used the RICE method, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

While I waited, I did a lot of reading online about running. I realized quickly that the problem was my shoes, so I made a plan to get new shoes ASAP. Now, I'm one who loves Payless and cheap shoes, but I decided that with my history of bad knees and delicate feet, I needed to invest a little more money. I didn't want to spend TOO much money just in case I gave up, though. I went to Dick's Sporting Goods and tried on a couple of pairs of shoes. I found some shoes on sale for $40 that seemed to feel good. That was more than I had ever spent on a pair of shoes in my entire life! LOL

In the course of my reading, I also learned that I was going to have to keep my feet low to the ground and go very slowly when I started, in order to avoid aggravating my knee. This would serve to be the very best information I would come across in those early months of running!

After a very long 6 weeks, I was finally ready to begin anew. On October 21, 2008, I started Couch to 5K again! During the time I was injured, Austin had had another seizure (while on the medication) so I wasn't comfortable leaving him at home in charge of the girls. I was going to have to get my training in when my husband got home from work. This was going to be tricky because he would get home just as the sun was going down. I'd wait at the door, all stretched and ready to go, and would dash out the driveway as soon as he pulled up! It was also hard because I don't like "cold" weather, which to me was anything below 60 degrees! LOL

I gave myself a goal of running a 5K race in December 2008: the Jingle Jog for Autism. I wouldn't be completely done with the program yet, but I thought this would be a fun goal, even if I had to walk part of the way. And the race was a fundraiser for summer camp programs for children and adults with autism, so it really was a win-win situation! :)

The changes were slow and, at the time, I didn't even really notice they were happening... but I was becoming a runner! When I started, I was running 60 seconds at a time and looking at my stopwatch for the last 30 seconds! Within a few weeks, I was running for 3, and then 5 minutes at a time. It seemed impossible looking at the schedule on paper. 8 minutes. Then that absolutely terrifying 20 minutes of nonstop jogging!

It wasn't always a straight line of progress. I remember the next session after the 20 minute one. I expected it to be easy because it was broken up into two smaller sessions of running. Instead, it was terribly difficult and I felt really exhausted and defeated. But I didn't give up. That alone was changing me from within, regardless of the physical benefits of the exercise. The mental and emotional changes were as powerful. I was even running in the rain!! And in the cold!! Like REALLY cold... 30s and 40s!

And that was a good thing, because the day of my first 5K - the Jingle Jog- was a very cold day. It was around 40 degrees. I was very nervous! And when the gun sounded and everyone took off very fast, leaving me far behind, I had decided that I had probably made a big mistake! LOL

But I didn't give up. I kept going, slowly but surely. And I surprised myself by running the entire time! Here I come! Ok, so it's hard to see my face... but trust me!! I'm VERY excited!!

My husband and kids were there to see me cross the finish line and it was SO cool. My husband made me a delicious steak dinner that night to celebrate!

I officially graduated from the Couch to 5K program on December 28th! All that was left was to figure out where to go from there! :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Getting off the couch... and then getting right back on it!

So now, I've made the decision that I am going to start running. I was at least smart enough to realize that I couldn't just dart out the door and take off. I needed a plan. And I had read on a homeschool message board about a great beginning plan called, "Couch to 5K". I went to the website, looked it over, and decided to begin.

The next morning, I was anxious to get started! I dug some old tennis shoes out of the back of the closet - the ones I had worn to the gym to use the elliptical, and around the house to do exercise DVDs for the last 5 years. A friend had given them to me. (Those of you who are runners can already tell where this is headed, right?) I put on the shorts I wore to the gym and pulled my hair back and I was ready to go.

My mom and dad were still in town, so I borrowed my mom's stopwatch (I never did ask her why she carries a stopwatch around with her! LOL), and headed out the door. Week 1, Day 1 was to warm-up walk for 5 minutes, then alternate 60 seconds of jogging with 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes, then cool-down walk for 5 minutes.

I set the timer and began. I had read on the website to go very slowly, which didn't end up being a problem! I was huffing and puffing, and I looked down at the stopwatch - 30 seconds? Seriously? I've only been jogging for 30 SECONDS??? And when did my neighborhood get so HILLY?

I made it back home at the end of the workout, and my mom immediately asked me if I was OK. My littlest girl, Reece, said, "Mommy, your face is ALL PINK!!!!" with a big grin on her face. I felt like death warmed over! Now, I wasn't overweight and I wasn't really a couch potato. I had been exercising at the gym for 2 years, and before that I did exercise DVDs at home where I "walked" 2-3 miles. I couldn't really figure understand why it was so hard!

I followed the plan (I love having checklists and plans!) and took the next day off. Monday was Labor Day and my husband was off work, so I decided to do day 2. It was the exact same plan as Day 1, and it felt so much harder. By the time I got home, I was very sore. And within 2 hours, I was in so much pain on my right foot, I couldn't even walk.

Yep. The old shoes had done their worst. I had been running exactly 2 days, and I had my first injury. So for anyone who is reading this and just thinking of starting to run, learn from my mistake: get new running shoes BEFORE you attempt any sort of jogging/running program!

This was going to be the first real test for me. You see, in the history of my life, the same theme repeats itself: if something is too hard for me to do perfectly the first time, I don't ever do it again. I tried out for cheerleader once and didn't make it - never tried again. I played softball one season and never touched the ball - never tried again. Perseverence was a hard lesson for me to learn when so many things (academics especially) came so easy to me. I had only recently suceeded in sticking to something that had been very hard, and that was nursing (breastfeeding). I had tried with my older daughter and gave up when it got hard. But with my little one, it was hard and I kept going and met and surpassed my goals. It was a great feeling!

Would I be able to do it this time with something like running? I had never been athletic as a child or as an adult. Would I be able to keep my interest and determination to do this hard, new thing while battling an injury that sidelined me before I even got started?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Once Upon a Time...

Welcome to the new blog! I decided to start it to chronicle my training and my feelings as the date for the Princess Half-Marathon approaches. This way, I can write things out instead of driving my friends and family crazy with non-stop talk about pacing, Sport Beans, and The Penguin. :)

First things first, in case you stumbled here by accident, let me take a minute to introduce myself. I'm Jennifer (aka Niffercoo), almost 38 years old (Yikes!), and I have 3 children. I have educated our children at home since 2002, and I started due to our children's special needs. My son and my younger daughter each have Autism Spectrum Disorder (I also have another daughter who doesn't have special needs). In addition, my son has Epilepsy... which brings me to the beginning of this story!

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, no, it wasn't, but I love saying that! Actually, it was just a dark night. Dark in terms of what was happening in my life at the time. It was Friday, August 29th, 2008 and I had been up since before dawn to take my son down to the children's hospital for an EEG. 2 weeks before he had lost consciousness at the swimming pool, and when he came to he couldn't remember who he was, where we were, and what we had done that day. Paramedics took him via ambulance to the ER, and by the time he arrived, his memory was restored. It was terribly frightening. I took him to our pediatrician a few days later, and she suggested having an EEG to rule out seizures.

Two weeks later, we were taking our sleep-deprived son down to Atlanta for this test. By the time my husband and I had arrived back home with Austin, the EEG had already been read, our pediatrician had been called, and she called us twice and left messages. I, however, already knew something was wrong - even before we left the hospital. There were notations on the EEG screen that popped up during the test which said "Spike" and "Event" and both of the technicians were watching Austin very carefully each time one of these popped up. I was determined to Google as soon as we got home, but didn't have the chance. My baby boy (OK, so he was 12 at the time but he's still my baby) was having seizures and needed to be on heavy-duty medication.

It was later that same evening when my friend Jan sent me an Instant Message. It went something like, "Disney is going to be starting a new race called the Princess Half Marathon - let's run it in 2010 when I'm 40." After I laughed heartily, I reminded Jan that I don't run. I have genetically bad knees. And I don't like to be outside. And... and... I gave her lots of reason why it wouldn't be possible!

I read her IM out loud to my family, including my mom and dad who had come from out of state to watch the girls while my husband and I took care of Austin that day. My dad laughed and said, "Yeah, you can't do that. No way." Hmph. That was all it took.

So it was that comment from my dad, combined with my apparently altered state of mind from having been told that my autistic son was now also having seizures, that led me to determine that I would Run Through the Castle in 2010.