Monthly Archives: February 2013

Pain in the Ass

Sometimes, running can be a real pain in the ass. Literally.

At some point while training for my last run, the Shiver by the River 10K, I learned a few new things about my body. I think when I mentioned in my opening blog post that my knees felt great, that I jinxed myself, because not long after that a few things got dicey. What did I learn?

First, I am flat-footed and was wearing the wrong running shoes. I was in a pair of Nike Lunarglide Plus‘s. But because of my flat-footed gait, I tend to pronate a bit more than I should with my left foot when in a normal stride. This was causing me to have some mild runner’s knee in my left knee, which I was complaining about a bit in my last post. I discovered this because of another rather unpleasant thing I learned about my body.

The second thing I learned is that I got myself a nice little case of piriformis syndrome. Thus the title of this post; I had a moderately annoying tight pain in the left side of my butt. At first I thought it was just muscular pain from some uphills I did either in a training run or on race day. But when it didn’t go away after a few days, I got a little concerned and sought some medical advice. It turns out that because of my uneven gait when I was running (because of the over-pronation) I caused the piriformis muscle to get irritated, and it inflamed, pinching a portion of my sciatic nerve. Ouch! Thankfully, once I knew what it was, it wasn’t that hard to alleviate. First ice. I sat on some ice packs for about 20 minutes at a time, 3 – 4 times a day. Then heat. The next day I got out the electric blanket, sat on it, and turned it on high to try and help the muscle to relax. There are also a few stretches I found online that are extremely helpful.
Piriformis Stretch 1
Piriformis Stretch 2

It took me the better part of 2 weeks to get it to finally let go and start feeling better. The next thing to do then after resting up was to get a better pair of shoes and try a few easy runs. I took a friend’s advice and took a little drive up to Emmaus (near Allentown, PA) to visit the Finish Line Running Store. Great recommendation! They have a super-knowledgeable staff and were able to see right away what was getting me in trouble. They sent me home with a pair of Asics Gel T-2000‘s. I could feel the difference right away.

I also invested in a pair of knee straps, to give my kneecaps some additional support while I re-train in my new shoes. I went with a Runner’s World Magazine recommendation and got the Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap. The straps feel great, and take the pressure off of my kneecaps extremely well.

So very cautiously, I have returned to some slow, easy training runs. I can certainly feel the difference now with better shoes and being more conscious of staying properly aligned and running with good posture. My right leg is definitely more sore after my runs because it is finally having to share the burden more evenly, which is a very good thing. There are no signs of any returning Piriformis Syndrome, which is also a very good thing. My runner’s knee is still present, but getting better. I have a few races coming up, which I am inclined to do rather than forfeit. If I race one and don’t feel good, I’m going to take a break for a while longer much to my chagrin. But I ran the last two mornings and feel really good, so I’m hoping the trend will continue for my next race this Saturday, the Quakertown Rotary 10-miler. It will be my longest distance to date. I’m being cautiously optimistic, but as of today, it’s still a go in my mind.

Shiver by the River – 3rd Race

I realize I started this blog late in this race series, so the first one I’m going to write about is the third race out of four in the series.

The Shiver by the River series is put on by the Pagoda Pacers Athletic Club (of which I recently became a member) and is held in Jim Dietrich Park in Reading, PA. The course is a 5K loop out of the park and through a surrounding neighborhood. At the end of the first loop, you can choose to go through the chute and finish, or take another lap and run the 10K. The course uphill right out of the gate. In fact, the whole first mile is a decent incline. RunKeeper tracked the first mile as a 354 ft elevation climb.  The series is one race per month during the Winter. This year it was December, January, February, and March. In December, I was only just beginning to train for 10K races, and I barely had enough stamina to finish the 5K. For the January race, I braved the 10K for the first time, and finished in just over 1 hour.

So to the real point of today’s post, the 3rd Shiver race that was held this past Sunday, February 10th, 2013. It was by far the coldest race day so far. It was 27 degrees Fahrenheit at the starting gun. The run started out as the others, a massive traffic-jam of people getting started, but it stretched out pretty quickly over the first mile. Overall, this was my best pace for a race yet. I finished the 5K in a personal record of 27 minutes, and the 10K at 58 minutes. Here’s a snap from my RunKeeper dashboard:

Shiver 3 RunKeeper Stats

My challenges this race were challenges I still am not sure how to overcome. First, is fuel. This race starts at 11am, which is a mighty long time to go without eating anything. I have tried eating a few various things early in the morning on a race day, but I inevitably end up with cramps later in the race if I eat anything. I’ve tried a small bowl of cereal, oatmeal, and for this race, tried a Clif bar at 7am, a full 4 hours before the gun. I started cramping up significantly at about 2 miles into the race. By the time I made the turn for the second half, I was hurting pretty bad. I grabbed a cup of water at the hydration station on the turn, and that seemed to help me for a little bit, but if you examine the graphic above, you can see I had to walk for a few minutes around Mile 4 to finally get it to settle down. If this is something you struggle with, or have a strategy that works for you, I’d love to discuss in the comments. I just feel like I don’t have as much energy for the race if I eat nothing that morning, but eating nothing is the only way I can be sure not to get time-killing (and side-killing) cramps.

I also think I jinxed myself a bit by stating in my initial post that my knees have never felt better. A little over a week ago, there was snow and ice on the ground, so I ditched my normal training runs and went into the basement to use my elliptical machine. I did two workouts (Saturday and Monday) on the elliptical and suddenly I notice that when I’m going downstairs, I can hear and feel a clicking sound in my left knee. I took a run on Wednesday anyway (5 miles) and my knee was painful through pretty much the whole thing. So I’m thinking it’s an early stage Runner’s Knee, so I’m going to have to back off the mileage a bit and let it heal up for a while. I am mildly concerned about my next scheduled run, the Quakertown Rotary Club Run for Youth 10 Mile coming up on Saturday, March 3rd. I’m inclined to run it anyway and just deal with any knee fallout afterwards. I’m hopeful because my knee only was a little sore during the Shiver race on Sunday, and feels just fine today. Regardless, I’m going to back off the training runs for a little bit and focus on some other stuff in the interim, like some weight lifting and core strength exercises. Anyone else have advice for beating Runner’s Knee?

I really like the Shiver series. It’s a really nice venue, the people are extremely friendly and supportive, and you get some home made chicken noodle soup at the end. What’s not to love? The final Shiver race is coming up on Sunday, March 10th.

 

Running in the Dead of Winter

I can’t even count how many times in casual conversation I hear someone say that they can’t run because it got cold outside. Many stopped back in November! Wow. I’ll totally grant that when there is snow and ice on the ground, it is probably best not to risk a run. But here in the Philadelphia area, we’ve had relatively little snow this year, and the running days have been prime until just the past few weeks. I’ve only missed two days outside so far all winter long due to some ice.

Sometimes, I get asked how I can manage to run in the cold. Perfect topic for today! I have actually found the cold weather to be ideal for running as long as you are dressed appropriately. Getting dressed for a cold-weather run is certainly a delicate balance. You need to stay warm and dry, but what you wear needs to breathe which seems counter-intuitive from traditional dressing-for-the-cold methodology. After I get my first mile under my belt, my body is usually cranking out the heat and pumping my blood so well that no matter what the temperature is outside, I am plenty warm and sweating. I find that a run in the cold is nice because I don’t have to worry as much about overheating like I do in the summer time.

It took me a while to settle on the gear that works best for me. Let me start with the gear I use:

Thermals

I settled on the Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm thermals.

Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm thermal shirt

Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm thermal shirt

Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm compression pants

Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm compression pants

I like these thermals a lot, but I have to be careful when I use them because they are really warm. I typically only don these when the temperature outside is below freezing. If it’s above freezing, I get too hot in these. This set does a fantastic job at keeping my skin warm and dry. I sweat a lot when I run, but these thermals get the sweat off my skin so I don’t freeze. The pants are especially nice because they are compression pants, which means they give you a nice, tight hug all over. It’s better for me than wearing a knee brace.

Jacket

I was fine with wearing my thermals and an additional layer of tech shirt and pants over top until early December. That’s when it started to get a lot colder here in the Philadelphia area. So I went shopping for a jacket to wear. I ended up choosing the Brooks Men’s Silver Bullet running jacket. I paid a little extra for it (even though I did get it on Cyber Monday with a nice discount) but I am happy that I spent the extra money because this jacket is fabulous. It is super thin, yet water resistant. It has vents in the back that help regulate my temperature while running. My favorite feature is the aluminum core. Yeah, aluminum. The metal core helps reflect my body heat back at my body and keep me warm, but the vents in the back keep me from roasting. The sleeves have thumb loops so you can hook in and keep your jacket tight under your gloves. It touts having a moisture-proof media pocket inside, but it is unfortunately too small to fit an iPhone in (shame on you, Brooks). And yes, it is electric neon yellow. Drivers would have to be blind not to see you running around in this baby. I love, love, love this jacket.

Brooks Men's Silver Bullet Running Jacket

Brooks Men’s Silver Bullet Running Jacket

Hat

Sticking with the obnoxious yellow theme, I ultimately decided on the Brooks Infiniti Beanie. It is lightweight, keeps my head warm, and matches my jacket.

Brooks Infiniti Beanie

Gloves

I’m honestly not sure what type of gloves I have. I bought them from a vendor at a 5-mile race I was running in December. They are yellow, of course, and are waterproof. They keep my hands very warm, and I often take them off during my runs because my hands get too hot. But they are critical for the pre-race and warm-up phases of my run when my body is still cold.

Advice on running in the cold.

I’m no expert, but I’m a doer. I’m out there running in this stuff. Here are some things that have really worked for me, and some lessons I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Never, ever wear cotton. Cotton absorbs your sweat but does not release it like technical materials will. You’ll be miserable, wet, and cold. Not to mention chafed. Ouch!
  • Don’t wear too much. You can’t assume you’ll feel the cold the same way when you are running as you might just going out to the mailbox. Once you get your engine running, you’ll be plenty warm.
  • When the temperature really gets low, like 10 – 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, it is important not to have ANY exposed skin. Cover everything up with something. Wear a pair of ski goggles if you have them to keep your face and eyes covered. Get a hat that covers your lower face and neck completely. It doesn’t have to be a lot of bulky coverage. Just enough to keep that frigid air off your skin.
  • Don’t risk it if there is ice out there. Nothing will throw your training routine off like a broken leg. If it is icy outside, best to take a day off and do something else to cross-train.
  • Do not judge your ability to finish your run by your comfort level in the first mile. I’ll be straight, the first mile sucks. You’re going to be cold, your nose might run, and that little voice in your head is going to be urging you back inside. Don’t listen to it. After Mile 1, your body is going to heat up just fine, and the rest of your run you’re going to be worried you wore too much.
  • Keep the gear you wear closest to your skin the cleanest. Might sound like a simple thing, but your thermals and other gear you wear against your skin is much less effective if they are dirty. Keep ’em washed.
  • Just get out there and do it. Its too easy to just lay in bed on a cold morning, when gearing up only takes about 10 minutes and you’ll quickly find it isn’t as bad as you think.

If Mr. Desk Jockey here can get out and pound out some miles in the cold, I’m pretty sure you can, too. It really is just a matter of willpower. In my area, there have been TONS of races over the winter. I find racing a great way to keep the training up. In December, I ran a race every single weekend, all month long. And for the most part, we had really decent weather for each one. This coming Sunday, February 10th, 2013, I’ll be running my second 10K of the winter season. My write-up of the race will be my next post. Stay tuned for more!

Got something you’d like to have me write about? Let me know!

 

 

One Year with FitBit

A little over a year ago, I decided to dive into some newer technologies to help me track my fitness goals. I wrote about the experience here. In a quick recap, I chose FitBit over some competitors because it had the most of what I wanted out of the device. I tried it out for a month, posted that update on the blog, then pretty much went dark on the topic publicly.

To mark my 1-year anniversary with my FitBit tracker, I thought it would be fitting to get back on the public stage and talk about what I like, what I don’t. Much has changed in a year.

They don't even sell this model anymore. Wow.

They don’t even sell this model anymore. Wow.

What I like:

  • It has become a part of my daily routine. I don’t have to think about wearing the tracker or checking my stats throughout the day.
  • Over the past year, many of my friends bought a FitBit, too. I like the competition you can have on the different metrics from day to day. I find it motivating.
  • Love, love, love the web-based Dashboard. Easy, clean analytics. Love trending my metrics with a year’s worth of data. Data Nerd Happy!
  • About 6 months ago, I sprung for the FitBit Aria scale. Automatically uploads my weight measurements to my dashboard. Super-awesome. No more hiding bad days or fudging a weigh-in.

What I Don’t Like:

  • I stopped using the little neoprene sleeve to attach the tracker to my wrist while I sleep. Tracking sleep is important, but I found the sleeve a nuisance. 
  • I find I really don’t use the iPhone app at all. Not that it isn’t useful, I just don’t personally have a need for it. I use the web-based dashboard every single day.
  • The tracker doesn’t really stay on my belt very well, so I’ve taken to just keeping it in my front pocket. It is pretty small, but I do notice it in my pocket all the time.

Recently, FitBit announced the Flex which is the tracker inside of a flexible wrist band. I’m curious about it because I think it might be more convenient to wear, but the lack of an altimeter really bugs me. I find the altimeter a must-have.

Does it work?

Well, yes and no. Not a perfect answer I realize. I say Yes because between the FitBit tracker and the Aria scale, I am completely aware of where I am in my fitness goals every single day, or any minute of any day. I know how active I am, how much more active I should be, and how much I weigh with a decent BMI estimate. I say No because if you look at what I weighed a year ago when I first got FitBit (211) and today (202), I really haven’t reached my weight goals as I wanted to. It’s not FitBit’s fault per se. When I chose FitBit, I liked that it was passive and didn’t bug me during the day to get up and move. Perhaps that is something that warrants further research. My goal remains, after 1 year, to get my body weight down to a more comfortable 190 lbs. This is a big part of why I started to run, so I could be more efficient in burning my calories and slim down without starving myself. I’ll go back and say Yes again because I really can’t imagine doing without it. It has become a part of my daily routine, and I count on it being close by to tell me where I am with my goals each day.

Edit: I got a request to see some metrics. Great idea! Here they are:

Year grain metrics from my FitBit Dashboard

Year grain metrics from my FitBit Dashboard