C25K W4D2, Vibram’s Day 9

April in Vermont is known for being unpredictable.  Monday brought 68º temperatures and beautiful weather.  Flowers have been blooming, trees are full of buds, it’s most definitely been Spring.  Color me surprised when I woke up on Wednesday to a FOOT of heavy wet white death falling from the sky.  I refused to shovel.  I had already purged my car of all winter gear (though, thankfully still had my snow tires on) so I reluctantly cleaned my car off with a picnicking mat; the more seasonably appropriate car gear.  I was then faced with the decision: do I run with my Vibram’s in a foot of snow or do I wimp out and brave the ancient treadmill at work.  I’m such a wimp.

You know, I felt seriously proud of myself a few weeks ago when I ran in the cold and rain and even in light snow.  Yesterday, I was not so brave.  So, I headed down to the “Not Too Athletic Club” (yes, seriously, that’s what it’s called).  I flipped the lights on and tried not to gag at the stench of mildew and lowered expectations.  Then, I headed into the freezing cold women’s room to change as I fought back my hatred for the flickering fluorescent lights.

It’s an odd place, if you haven’t figured that out already.  One can tell that once upon a time it used to be a pretty cool gym.  There’s decent equipment, albeit dust covered, relevant workout posters, and even a squash court.  Unfortunately, the whole place now is a bit deflated, which can literally be said about the squash balls.  Still, I stepped up to the treadmill, after stretching of course, plugged my iPhone into the speakers and took off!

It was an interesting experience.  Just like when I used the treadmill last week at the hotel, this was a very robotic experience.  It’s unrelenting how the damn thing just keeps moving and I have to choose whether to stay on for the ride or chicken out.  I may be a wimp but I was not a chicken.  I was feeling good through the first three-minute run and into the first half of the first five-minute run.  Unfortunately, after that the same exact cramp I had in my right side on the previous run came back and remained for the duration of the workout.  It was a bit easier to cope with this time, but I do think it’s odd that it was in the same exact place and I’m very open to advice about what that could be.

I did still appreciate that it was easy to “get in the zone” on the treadmill.  I was able to really get into a solid stride and that made me feel pumped.  I even daydreamed a bit as I stared ahead at the blank yellow walls.  I can’t say it was an easy run.  I completed it, and I felt good about that, but I was also really exhausted afterwards and that exhaustion carried with me throughout the rest of the afternoon; I don’t think that made me the easiest person to work with.  I stretched longer than usual afterwards but am dismayed to find that both calves are really bothering me today; this has not been the case with my previous runs.

For posterity, I kept the treadmill inclined at +1.5 and my walking pace was between 3-3.5mph while the running pace was around 5mph.  I also focused even more on incorporating my abs so my core was strong, which relieves tension in the lower back.  I was pleased to find that my stride is now happily balanced in the mid-foot to ball-of-the-foot range which is ideal for barefoot running.  Now, if I could only figure out where I went wrong to cause the calf and side-cramping issue.  I will say that if I don’t find this routine easier tomorrow I very well may need to repeat week 4.  This week has been challenging and I’m not sure that I’m ready to move on until I’m comfortable with this pace.  As stubborn as I am, I know that pushing only leads to injury and that could put me out of commission for way too long!

C25K W4D1, Vibram’s Day 8

Yesterday, I began week 4 of C25K.  The program is supposedly gradual.  Last week, in the 30 minutes that I spent on the workout I only ran for nine minutes, in week 4 I was prompted to run SIXTEEN minutes; this did not feel gradual to me!  All right, I know I’m whining a bit, but I was surprised when the nice British woman on my Get Running app went over the durations of the run.  Suddenly, the “short” run duration this week was the same as the “long” duration run last week and it really made a big difference.  I was proud that I was able to get through it without making excuses and stopping, but I did have to fight back some of the ailments that made me shy away from running in the past.

First, I was greeted by the first side-cramp that I’ve had while running since I started the program.  I flashed back to high school, picturing Mr. Shanley, our hilarious ex-monk English and Track and Field coach, telling me to put my arms over my head.  The cramp went away with my arms up but immediately returned when I put my arms down.  This cramp followed me in different dull shades of pain throughout the entire workout.

Next, during the first five-minute run, I started wheezing a little.  I technically have exercise-induced asthma along with some Spring allergies but since adapting to a healthy diet and adding more cardio to my workouts I no longer take medication for the asthma nor do I have noticeable issues with it.  I’ve also outgrown most of the seasonal allergies.  Luckily, the breathing issue subsided by the end of the first five minute run and it did not return, hooray!

The cramp definitely slowed down my stride, but overall, despite my complaining, this was a do-able workout.  Sure, I sweat more than in previous weeks and I breathed heavily, but in a way that’s what it’s all about, right?  Getting my pulse rate up and my body moving!  It also helped that the weather was super-duper gorgeous out.  I ran in shorts and a tank top in the 68º sunny weather and smiled at the ramps and fiddlehead ferns coming up along the river.  The buds on the trees here are finally starting to turn to flowers and the colors are juuuuust starting to pop out.  In another week or two it’s going to be heavenly!

I also got a good chuckle from Toby, my lab.  He was huffing and puffing more than I was!  To be fair, he does like to weight-lift while running by carrying giant sticks and branches in his mouth.  It’s amazing he hasn’t clobbered me yet.  He now knows the word “run”, as when he slows down and I start to catch up with him I say, “Toby, run!” and he starts trotting briskly.  By the end of the session he was barely keeping up with me, tongue lolling lazily out the side of his mouth, and he made an immediate b-line to the Mad River to cool down.

So, it’s the day after, how do I feel?  Pretty damn good!  My legs feel like they had a workout but there’s no discomfort or aches, just a little stiffness that can be stretched out.  My feet feel good, though I’m noticing that since I ran on the treadmill I have a small blister on the medial edge of my right big toe (oddly, in the joint, not on the fleshy part of the toe).  I need to think about that one a bit.  It implies that I’m pushing off from there, which means that I’m everting my foot a little.  Interesting.  I feel another anatomy entry coming on. 😉

Next run is tomorrow.  Forecast is for…snow?!  Well, it is Vermont!

C25K W3D3, Vibram’s Day 7

Wow, that intensive MotherMassage® workshop I took really was intense!  While I found time to run, I had zero time to blog.  Let’s get to it!

I did brave the treadmill at the hotel.  It was an interesting experience.  I am not a gym lover, mostly because I feel trapped in gyms.  It’s all very robotic to me and while I can certainly appreciate the health benefit that gyms provide, I’ve never found one that doesn’t seem dirty and cramped to me.  The hotel’s “gym” (in parenthesis because it was really just a tiny room with two treadmills, two step machines and a stationary bike) was no exception.  I suppose the only benefit was that I was the only one there so I felt much less self-conscious than I do in traditional gym settings.

There were distinct pros and cons of running on a treadmill.  The biggest con was not being outside, obviously, so there was less stimulation and it was less”fun”.  I started off by listening to music in my iPhone and ended up getting sucked into a classic episode of Friends; geez, that feels like an embarrassing admission.  It was also cumbersome switching speeds as I transitioned from speed walking to jogging.  I did take a friend’s advice and used an incline of +1.  My walking pace was around 3.5 and the running pace was between 5-5.3.  Having never used a treadmill for running before I have no clue how these speeds relate to “normal” but I wanted to record them here for posterity.

I will say, it was easier for me to find and maintain my stride on the treadmill.  I felt relaxed and light on my feet.  It was overall very comfortable.  I woke the next day with no noticeable joint or muscle aches and I continued to feel great throughout the weekend.  Hooray!

Today I’ll be heading into week 4 of C25K.  I’m a little nervous, since I did find week 3 to be mildly challenging but I think I’m ready.  I’ll find out soon enough!

C25K W3D2, Vibram’s Day 6

I wish there was a safe way for me to run with my Canon Digital Rebel XT because oh my goodness was it a gorgeous day yesterday!  The Mad River Path was sun-soaked and despite the temperature hanging at 65º, it felt like a summer day while running in direct sunlight.  This made it much easier for me to relax into my body and just enjoy my time outdoors.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream.  Thanks to the mild patellar tendon issue I had experienced earlier in the week, I found myself hyper-sensetive towards my body movements; this definitely goes against the idea of being loose and letting go.  I think it’s only natural to have an overreaction to body discomfort.  Even subconsciously our bodies overcompensate for injuries which often leads to further structural discomfort as our alignment is changed.  As an over-thinker, I found myself in an internal battle trying to will myself to relax while trying to be hyper-aware of my movements.  Needless to say, my stride was a little wonky.

Along with additional quad stretches, I did add in knee supports this time, and am grateful that I did.  Initially, I had purchased this Ace Knee Brace in S/M.  I found it to be a bit bulky, but the overall issue I had with it is that while my calves and knees are well-within a “small” range, my thighs are closer to a “large”; I’ve got chicken legs, what can I say?  This meant that the brace was very tight around my thighs and it kept slipping downwards as a result.  I exchanged those for these adjustable Ace Braces.  They stayed on much better.  I’m open to suggestions here, because one of the issues I have is that my kneecaps don’t track straight up and down; they shift laterally as my knees bend.  That means that my patella does not stay in the patella hole.  I felt no discomfort, but I’m not sure if there may be a better solution for me out there.

This was also my first experience using the Vibram’s in water!  After the run, Toby begged me to let him swim in the river.  Who was I to deny such a request on a gorgeous warm day in Vermont?  While he fetched sticks from the river, I let my toes sink into the pebbles and waded out into the tide.  Ahhhhh, so nice.  It was a great way to cool my body down and I loved the sensation of my toes sifting through pebbles and mud without worrying that I might land on something sharp.  I can’t wait to try swimming in the Vibram’s!

Despite the wonky stride, which left me a little more out of breath than usual and caused me to stare at the running countdown a bit more, I feel pretty darn good today.  Zero patellar tendon pain (yay!).  No foot pain, no ITB discomfort, and my quads feel much looser than they did after my last run.  The only thing I can complain about is mild discomfort in the distal end of my right gastrocnemius/calcaneal tendon.

The calcaneal tendon, which is commonly referred to as “Achilles tendon”, is a common spot of tension in runners.  If you see the image to the left you will notice that the calcaneal tendon is quite large (the tendon of gastrocnemius becomes the calcaneal tendon, despite it being labeled separately) .  While many believe the Achilies tendon is just near the ankle, inflammation of this tendon can be felt much farther up.  My discomfort is about a third of the way up my calf.  I believe the reason for my new-found discomfort there is thanks to trying to baby my knees while running and over thinking my movements.  I’m going to do some self-massage and an Epsom-salt soak and try to ease in to my stride better next time.

I’m heading to Connecticut today for Elaine Stillerman’s MotherMassage® course.  That means my next run will be on the treadmill at the hotel I’m staying at, bleck!  This will be my first time running on a treadmill.  I’m nervous about being bored and also a little concerned about how that might mess with my stride.  Any tips are greatly appreciated.  I’ll let you all know how it goes!

It’s All Connected

I’m always fascinated by muscular anatomy.  Without our skeletal muscles our bones would collapse in a pile on the floor.  The physics behind how muscles and fascia keep our bones upright and functional is astounding.  Once one begins to learn about these connections between muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia it becomes clear that there are really no isolated issues in the body because all of these cells work together to create homeostasis as we know it.  Let me explain.

Today, my knee is sore.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m experiencing some dull pain in my patellar tendon, particularly after my knee has been in a still flexed position.  This is apparently common among runners, especially new runners, especially new runners like me who have pre-existing knee issues.  In the comments of my last post, Emily brought up the great point that much of the issues she had with her patellar tendon were due to tension in her Iliotibial Band (ITB); this is also common among runners.  What Emily is really illustrating here is that while she experienced pain around her knee, the cause of the pain was coming from an area that most likely didn’t feel noticeably painful.  Since the body is so interwoven, it’s important to look at aches and injuries in 360º as opposed to just treating the isolated area.

In Emily’s situation, her ITB was becoming increasingly taught, which can happen for various reasons.  I would speculate that most likely as the muscle tissue grew underneath/around the ITB it would cause the ITB to have decreased blood flow causing ischemia to the tissue which resulted in the taught feeling.  At its distal end, the ITB crosses the knee laterally and connects to the tibia.  A tightening of the ITB could cause a stretching force to be put upon the ligaments medial to the kneecap (patella) as well as compressing the ligaments lateral to the patella.

Looking at the patellar tendon, which is the ligament that arises from the quadraceps femoris and crosses the patella to connect to the tibia, one can see how it might have some competition with the ITB.  If the ITB is pulling laterally on the tibia, while the patellar tendon is also connected to the tibia and is attempting to keep the patella stable it could end up also being yanked a little laterally.  This could also cause complications with how the patella tracks, resulting in inflammation to the patellar tendon as well as the surrounding musculature.  What does that mean?  Ow my knee hurts!!!

In Emily’s case, she wisely chose the RICE solution: rest, ice, compression and elevation.  Once acute pain was gone, she added additional stretches into her routine that help support the ITB and surrounding musculature, along with using a knee brace while she runs.  The stretches most likely help increase blood flow to the tissue surrounding the ITB as well as encouraging the ITB to soften and allow for easier movement.  After all, the ITB is just a big band of fascia and fascia, when warm, gets nice an mooshy and flexible.  However, when cool it can be taught and brittle.  This is one of the main reasons why stretching before and after exercise helps prevent injury.  On the flip side, in some sports (including running) it’s also important not to overdo it in the stretching department as that can effect one’s stride and can even cause injury due to hyper-mobility of the joints.

Phew!  Thanks for being such a great example, Emily!  Now, what was my deal?  Well, I’ve mentioned previously how surprised I’ve been by the lack of tension in my ITB; a trend many barefoot runners seem to benefit from.  However, in my quick palpations of my knee area last night, I neglected to take my own 360º advice.  Sure enough, as soon as I gave myself a little more attention today I noticed exactly what was pulling on my patellar tendon; my quads are tight as hell!  I had made an excuse for myself earlier by assuming my patellar tendon hurt mostly because I do have tracking issues with my patella.  However, I underestimated my own body by thinking the issue was so isolated.

As I mentioned previously, the patellar tendon is the ligament at the distal end of the quadriceps, where they intersect with each other.  By massaging the distal heads of the quadriceps and using the exercise demonstrated below I was able to create a marked change in how my knee felt.  I’m also going to take Emily’s great advice and use a knee brace (though I’ll be honest the one I picked up today is kind of bulky and uncomfortable, so I may get a different one) and also plan to add more quad stretches to my pre-workout routine.  I’m sure I’ll be updating you all with the results!

C25K W3D1, Vibram’s Day 5

I am not Super Woman.  Crap.

Yesterday was my first day back to work from staycation.  I have the privilege of working for a business that’s right on the Mad River Path and we’re encouraged to bring our dogs to work.  Today I took not just Toby, my awesome lab, running with me, but I also brought along his best friend Owen, a Golden Retriever who would much rather be digging rocks up at the river than running.  It was a mild day at about 52ºF and I was quite comfortable while running.  The sky was just letting go of its cloud cover and I spent a good chunk of the run watching the cloud patterns disperse above Sugarbush.

This run was more challenging, but not bad.  In week three, one does two sets of run 1.5 min/walk 1.5 min/run 3 min/walk 3 min.  Three minutes is the longest duration I’ve run so far, but overall run time was only nine minutes, just one minute longer than I had done before.  I was feeling the first-day-back-Monday-blahs so I once again felt heavier in my body than on previous runs.  I tried to let go by focusing on the mountains, the growing foliage along the path and the two dogs who ran on either side of me for a whopping two minutes before tackling each other in the corn field.  For those two minutes I felt like I was in a movie; it was epic.

I felt great after the workout.  No red face, no aches or pains.  However, after sitting at my desk for a few hours, I stood up and realized I had some dull pain in my left patellar tendon.  My knees are still recovering from the week of landscaping, and they’re still covered in bruises.  However, when I palpated my knee it was pretty clear that there was some heat and it was definitely the patellar tendon that was bothering me.  Luckily, there was no swelling.  I stretched a little more and went on with my day.

It’s now the day after.  No foot pain, calf pain or ITB pain.  However, when I first got out of bed I felt the patellar tendon ache again.  It’s loosened up now that I’ve been walking around the house for a bit and showered.  However, my Google-Fu tells me this is classically known as “Runner’s Knee”.  Crap.  Interestingly, I found many sites promoting barefoot running helps this, which is consistent with the research I did before I started running because believe me I am not new to knee pain!

Going forward I need to continue to focus on my form and really be sure I’m not heel-striking.  From the landscaping project my lower back is bugging me and I think the reason I’ve felt “heavier” in the past two runs is that I’m trying to use my hips less and and letting my legs do more work.  I also think I may be more inclined to heel-strike when I’m walking, which definitely could be creating enough force to piss off my knees.  I plan to stretch the patellar tendon more pre and post-run as well as ice it post-run if it’s bothering me.  I’ve also read about the patellar strap, but am unsure if I need that yet.  Luckily, it’s not more than dull pain at the moment, but I really want to catch this early so I don’t injure myself.

Any of you barefoot runners (or others) dealing with patellar tendonitis?  Any tips?

C25K W2D3, Vibram’s Day 4

Wow, I was really blown away by how much the weather effected my run yesterday!  It was the last C25K day of week 2, which is still pretty gentle.  My past two sessions, while slightly more challenging than week 1, were totally do-able; I even had a smile on my face for most of W2D2!  Yesterday, though, had a rough start.

It was an unseasonably cold morning, even for Vermont.  At just barely above freezing, the forecast promised to be a mix of snow, rain and sleet.  Looking out my window while sipping my coffee revealed hail as well which left me wondering if I really wanted to run outside or if I wanted to just go run on a treadmill indoors.  However, I do love my dog quite a bit and knew he would be bummed if I didn’t take him for a little running adventure.  I bundled up and headed back to the Stowe Quiet Path.

My toes were frozen before we even got across the street from the parking lot to the path entrance.  I kept reminding myself that they would warm up during the run.  Between the extra layers and the cold I felt heavier than usual.  I had to consciously fight back the urge to hunch my shoulders, as medial rotation is instinctual in that weather.  I felt practically robotic as I transitioned from the five minute walking warmup into the first ninety-second run.  “Be loose in your body and light on your feet,” I tried to repeat to myself.  I immediately caught myself lazily letting my legs drop, which caused my feet to slap against the earth and made it easier to push off from my toes, a big no-no.

Luckily, in the middle of the second run I caught my stride.  The rain was very light at this point and I found it easier to feel relaxed with each segment.  Toby and I intersected with the Stowe Rec. Path, which we always have to run for a bit until we get back to the second entrance of the Quiet Path.  The Rec. Path is all asphalt and I mentioned previously that I was alternating between running on the grass alongside the path and running on the asphalt so that I didn’t overdo it while my feet are adjusting.  On this run, I stayed on the asphalt the whole time and felt pretty good about it.  I did notice the impact to my body increased slightly, partly because I still wasn’t as light and free as on prior runs, but it was nothing terribly noticeable and it certainly was not painful in the least.

This was the first day since I started wearing the Vibram’s that I did get a bit red-faced following the workout.  My feet, especially my toes, also stayed frozen the entire time.  I didn’t notice it once I got moving, but when I took my Vibram’s off it was clear that my feet were wet, cold and slightly numb.  It was definitely a labored workout, but it wasn’t that terrible; I would do it again.  My labrador was also happy as can be as he managed to get soaking wet in mud puddles and by running through the swollen river.  Happy dog!

I continue to have no noticeable pain the next day.  I did treat myself to a 90-minute Deep Tissue massage following the run (one of the really enjoyably parts of my staycation) and was mildly surprised to feel soreness in my ITB and in the articulating joints on the balls of my foot as well as some soreness in the Achilles Tendon.  Compared to ITB and foot pain that I’ve had in the past from new workouts, this is incredibly mild, but I did want to mention it.

Amazingly, I felt no soreness as the therapist dug into my arches!  I was also surprised to feel no discomfort in my calves even when the therapist really got in there.  I normally have very tight calf muscles, so it was odd that after a week of hard labor landscaping and two weeks of this new running routine my calves feel looser than they usually do.  Now, if only my left hip and forearms could heal from the landscaping debacle!

No more runs until Monday when I’m back at work and on the Mad River Path.  I can’t wait to see how Spring has evolved on the path in the week I’ve been away!