Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ragnar Packing List

I'm starting to get excited for the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay coming up in around a month on May 9 and 10. I've been doing as much running as I can while balancing recovering my calf so that I can be ready to run my legs. 

The Ragnar Relay is a two-day race. Teams of twelve take turns running legs over the course of the 48 or so hours of the relay. Everyone take three legs and has time off after each leg. I'll be running legs of 5 miles - 5 miles - 3 miles. I'm happy with these distances as they are in my ability but still will prove a challenge. Running 13 miles in a couple of days is no joke. 

Because of the structure of Ragnar, packing is key. I have to plan the clothing I'll be wearing, the food I'll be eating, the toiletries I'll need, and the supplies for sleeping. I want to be able to recover as much as possible between when I run and have comfortable clothing to relax in. At the same time, I need to bring all my running gear and safety supplies. I'll also need to make sure that I am eating the right food to fuel my running and recovery, something that I think will be quite difficult considering I'll be running my legs at around 5:00 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 1:00 a.m.

I've put together a packing list that I hope helps keep me organized. If you'd like to use the list, here's a version I've posted on Google Drive.

Ragnar Packing List
Item Quantity Notes
Running Clothing
Shorts/Capris 1 (day leg)
Tights 2 (night legs)
Tech T-shirt (short sleeves) 1 (day leg)
Tech T-shirt (long sleeves) 2 (night legs)
Sports Bra 3
Running socks 3
Running Sneakers 1
Hat, gloves, jacket/raincoat 1 (optional)
Compression socks 1 (optional)
Headband 4
Relaxing Clothing
Pajamas 1
Underwear 5
Bra 3
Extra socks 4
Flip flops 1
Yoga pants 1
Jeans 1
T-shirts 2
Fleece/sweatshirt 2
Running Accessories
Headlamp 1 (2 per van)
Reflective Vest 1 (6 per van)
Blinking light 1 2 (per van)
GPS watch 1
Headphones 1
iPhone 1
Water bottle 1
Massage ball 1
Personal Items
License 1
Debit card and $40 cash 1
Cell charger 1
Car charger 1
Sleeping bag 1
Pillow 1
Ear plugs 1
Sleeping mask 1
Hygiene Items
Deodorant 1
Toothbrush, floss, and paste 1
Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner 1
Styling product 1
Chapstick 1
Vaseline / Body Glide 1
Lotion 1
Ibuprofen 2 (doses)
Medicine for indigestion 2 (doses)
Hand sanitizer 1
Towel, washcloth 1
Action Wipes 15
Sun block 1
Van Items
Ragnar Bible 1
Leg maps 1
Team contact information 1
Garbage bags 1
Ziplock bags (large) 6
Paper towels 2 (rolls)
Flashlight 2
Tissues 1 (box)
Food and Beverage
Kind Bars / Larabars 5
Peanut butter 5 (packets)
Whole grain bread 1
GU (with caffeine) 3
Mixed nuts 1 (container)
Jerky 1
Dried Fruit flats 1 (box)

Of course this list is fit to my personal preferences. You might want to bring other food and beverage items. For example, if it's going to be hot when you race (or if you just like it) you might want to bring an electrolyte mix.

Also, I did not include all of the van items that I'm sure we'll need. Again, for example, I'm sure we'll want to bring a cooler to store drinks and food plus items for decoration. This list just indicates the items that I personally want to contribute to the van for the entire group to use.

Fingers crossed that I can get some good training in before May 9 and have a great Ragnar experience!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Lately, I've been trying to focus on recovering right and sorting out the issue with my calf. My left calf has been giving me issues now, on and off, for around six months. Not good. After not being able to train as hard as I've wanted the last month and having to take it easy at the Ron Hebert 8 Miler, I decided it was time for serious action.

I put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone knew about a good person to go to for sports massage in the area. I got a reply from my aerobics teacher and Beachbody coach, Rosalie. I couldn't have gotten feedback from a better person. Rosalie is an RN in addition to being certified for aerobics and many other areas of fitness. (She has many letters after her name, which indicate a great deal of expertise related to fitness and the human body.)

Based on this expertise, I gave a call to Heather at Integrated Therapeutics. I had visited a few massage places' websites before getting Heather's name. Lots of the websites had lots of information about restfulness and moving your body into a place of health. There were a lot of feelings. I have a lot of respect for people who feel this way and respond to this type of treatment; however, I also know myself and know that an emotional approach will not work for me. I want facts. Cold. Hard. Facts. I wanted to go to someone who would say, "This is what you need to do to get better," and lay out a strict set of exercises and rules. I also wanted to go to someone who was an active person, who understood my drive to exercise hard and regularly.

When I called Integrated Therapeutics, I felt good about my choice. I told Heather that my calf was bothering me. "You must be a runner," she said. Excellent. Like her website indicated, she was an active person and knew what I wanted. Integrated Therapeutics worked specifically with athletes and promised an experience that focused on deep tissue massage, active stretching, and trigger point therapy. I had never gone for a massage before, but I thought this was what I needed.

The visit to Integrated Therapeutics was definitely worth while. This was not a relaxing massage experience. My legs and feet were worked over and it was painful at times. We did trigger point and deep tissue on my calves. We did some stretching of the hips, which are always tight. We did some deep tissue massage on the IT band, which felt, surprisingly okay.

I was worried that the issue with my calf might be something serious, however, both Rosalie and Heather said that the pain was just from my calves being overly tight.

After my forty or so minutes on the massage table, I got dressed, and Heather showed me some stretches for the calf and soleus. These stretches would try to address the pain I was having from tightness. I had been doing calf stretches that Rosalie recommended, where I was putting my foot at and angle against the wall and, while standing, lean towards the wall. Heather had me do a stretch where I isolated the soleus. I had to sit with my foot flexed against the wall and lean towards my foot with the opposite arm. As I get more flexible I'm supposed to lift my bottom off the ground using my other leg to support. This will put my foot at an angle and more intensely stretch the calf.

I also got to see some new ways to use the foam roller. Instead or rolling on the roller, which Heather said can cause the muscles to clench in pain instead of release, I am supposed to use the roller for trigger point therapy. I balance myself on the roller, adjust to where I am having pain and let my leg sit there until the pain lessens a bit. I can then move the roller slightly to the next point where I am tight and do the same thing.

I have been stretching and foam rolling daily but with mixed results. I felt better earlier last week right after the massage, but had a terrible run yesterday with a lot of calf pain. I talked with Rosalie more who gave me a pain that she she said is "guaranteed" to fix my problem.

The Plan
1. Take three days off from exercise of any type.

2. Every day do the following exercise on the foam roller. Position the calf on the roller. You will be working the calf in segments from the top down to the bottom. With the roller positioned, have someone (in my case, my husband, Seth) apply pressure on your leg as it rests on the roller. With pressure applied point and flex your toes, circle your ankle side to side in both directions, move your ankle left and right, and flex your toes and then snap them forward. I'm supposed to do all these moves with the roller at each point along my calf (except one shouldn't do the snapping move at the bottom of the calf by the ankle because it's bad for the achilles.) In addition, after the work with the roller, I'm supposed to stretch my calf against the wall while standing for a minute on each side.

I began work on The Plan today. I've decided to take my three days off from exercise on Saturday - Monday of this week/next. Honestly, this is going to be the hardest part. I can't imagine not exercising for three days in a row. But I see Rosalie's point -- I've tried other things and I need to try rest.

I also had Seth help me with the foam roller piece today. I am very very tight and the foam roller work was quite painful. It was surprising how much it hurt. I'm supposed to be able to do the calf stretch with the wall and bend my knee. I can barely do this. When I can get to that point, I'll know I'm getting better.

I have the big Ragnar Relay coming up in just under a month on May 9 and 10. I want to be able to really run without pain by that point, so I am dedicating myself to recovery at this point in my training cycle. Of course, I want to be ramping up my training now, so this is very frustrating. However, I'm really at the point where I can't even do a flat and basic four mile run without having to stop and try to get my calves uncramped. This really isn't ideal. I love to run, but it's gotten to be something I am not enjoying because of the discomfort every time I got out. I hope that by really focusing on recovery, stretching, and massaging my muscles, I can get back to 100%.

I want to resume hard training. I was loving doing my tempo runs, intervals, hill repeats, and long runs earlier this winter. I have the rest of the SMAC race series through the summer and fall and hope that I am able to sort out my calf issues so that I can train to race my best. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and planning to work hard. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ron Hebert 8 Miler

The Sugarloaf Mount Athletic Club, my local running club, kicked off their 2014 race series today with the 8 mile Ron Rebert Race

One of the thing I've been most excited about since joining SMAC was the 14 great races that made up the race series. When Ron Hebert's race was announced, I signed up right away. I took training seriously and planned three quality runs a week: one with hills, one tempo run, and one long run. 

Last fall and into the early winter, I had had a bothersome calf injury that I got during a race in November. I kept running on it, and didn't let it heal properly,and it became a long-term bother. However, in January and February, after the holidays, I got serious about strengthening my calf so that I could do some more intensive workouts. Things were going great. I was doing hill repeats, which was making the calf feel stronger. I was doing 9:40/mile tempo runs. I in general run a 10:00/mile, and felt like I was getting faster and better on hills -- I was getting excited for kill it at the Ron Hebert 8 Miler. 

Then in mid-March, while doing a particularly strenuous set of hill repeats, I felt a sharp twinge in my left calf. I ignored it and finished the workout. Bad move. I had re-injured my calf. However, that weekend, I was feeling a bit better. I did a flat 8 miler. This proved more of a mistake because after that run, the calf felt much work.

Knowing that Ron Hebert is a hilly race and that hills bothered my injured calf the most, I took some easy weeks. I kept running three times a week but did flat 10:00/miles mostly on the treadmill. I did a couple of flat long runs at around 7 miles, which felt okay. The week before the race I had hoped to do a slightly hilly run outside. Tackling some hills felt bad. This time I was smart. I cut my planned 7 mile run to 5 miles, took some walk breaks, and just got myself home. During the week before the Ron Hebert race, I did some super resting only doing one more run and otherwise doing non-impact cardio. I also consulted with my aerobics instructor, who is also an RN. Based on her recommendations, I did calf stretches twice a day, holding each stretch for a minute, which is way more than I normally would have. I also did extensive work with my foam roller and massage ball (or as I like to call it the ball-o'pain).

I also adjusted my expectoration regarding the race. Knowing the the Ron Hebert race was challenging with 200 feet of elevation gain in the first half and then continued rolling hills, I had been hoping for a finish of 1:20, meaning I'd run consistently 10:00/mile even on hills. The hill training I was doing was in preparation for that goal. However, my new goal was different: finish the race and don't get hurt! 

I had the second SMAC race planned for the end of April and, most importantly, the Ragnar Relay planned for the second weekend in May during which I will be running three legs during a 48 hour period. The legs are 5-5-3 miles and flat, but I need to be in good shape for that since my legs will get tired. 

I decided to make the following plan for the Ron Hebert race with all these things in mind:
  1. Do run walk intervals if I noticed any pain. I chose 4:1 run to walk intervals like I did for my first half marathon. This would help take the stress off my legs.
  2. Walk hills as needed!
Sure I wanted to run the race fast; but more importantly, I wanted to stay safe. Whatever time I got would be fine. 

With all this in mind, I woke up on Sunday morning ready for the run. I was a little nervous because I knew I was likely under trained and overly enthusiastic. I hoped I could keep to my plan and finish the race without pain. 

Fortunately, it was a lovely day for a race. The weather was clear and sunny if a bit cool with a light breeze and temperatures in the lower 40s. Still, I knew the temperature would climb over the course of the race, and I would be fine. I tend towards being chilly, so I wore a long sleeved tech shirt, running tights, and a hat. People at the race were dressed anywhere from something similar to what I had on to just shorts and a t-shirt. It all depended on how they felt about running in the 40s. I found my outfit to be perfect for me. 

The race started at the JFK Middle School in Florence/Northampton. I arrived around 20 minutes before the race start. The race was a small one, and I was pre-registered, so I didn't see getting there very early. This was also the first race I had gone to by myself. Seth was traveling for work and in Anaheim. Again, fortunately, my couple-friends, Maddy and Dave, would be at the race. Maddy was volunteering and Dave, a fellow SMAC member and most excellent runner, would be racing. Maddy also took some awesome pictures, which are included in those posted on this blog -- thanks, Maddy!

After getting to the school, I easily found convenient parking and wondered over to the far side of the school for check-in, which was taking place in the cafeteria. There I met up with Maddy and Dave, took a quick bathroom trip (small race = no lines = awesome!), and then headed out to drop off my hoodie in the car before the race. I had also brought a water bottle to run with but decided to leave that in the car too deciding they would definitely have water on the course and with the day being cool I wouldn't get too thirsty. They had water at miles 2, 4, and 6, so this worked perfectly. 

I then joined everyone, as we lined up along the road in front of the school to start. Ron Hebert himself made some brief announcements. It was pretty exciting to receive a send-off from the man who the race is named for. I had eaten brunch with Ron at the SMAC kick-off back in January, and was pleased to see him again -- he seems like such a cool guy!

And we were off! We started by heading down the street towards Look Park and along route 9. For the first mile or so there weren't any huge hills. I started off kind of fast at 9:30/mile and tried very hard to make myself go slower after noticing my pace about a half mile in. I was thinking I would do my run segments at maybe a minute and a half slower than that, and wanted to remind myself of my goal to stay safe.

As we finished mile one, still running along busy route 9, we encountered the first hill of the course and the most major one. I'm listing the route and elevation chart from my GPS below. (Note: My GPS dropped out at mile 6.21 and didn't come back until the very end of the route, so the last bit of the route that is all in red is inaccurate.) Looking at the GPS information, you can see the first hill in blue fairly clearly. I'm also including, below, the course information linked to from the SMAC website, which I feel is more accurate.

The first and biggest hill was actually well placed. It was far enough into the run that I was warmed up but not so far that I was hugely tired. I was feeling good and had not taken any walk breaks yet. I decided to run up as much of the hill as I could still remembering that I had about three more miles of uphill running, at various grades, to do until there was any downhill. I tackled the hill at a very moderate pace, having finally settled into my target pace of around 10:40/mile - 11:00/mile. I had my breathing under good control. That's the funny thing I had noticed about having an injury -- you feel like you can go faster but your legs say no. My cardio was still great. I had done a lot of hill training and my lungs and heart remembered it. About 3/4 of the way up the hill my calf started cramping at a level that I deemed enough to want to lay-off. I took a walk break. 

This walk break did not help as much as I would have liked. I decided that the continuous running would likely be too much for my body, so I set myself up for doing some interval. I would run for 4 minutes and then walk for 1 minute, just like I had planned. 

After tackling the largest hill of the race, we crossed from Florence into Williamsburg. Here, the course continued to slope up but at a more gentle grade. My calf started to recover with help from the run/walk method. At this point, I also crossed paths with an awesome runner who was wearing a pink fur trimmed sash -- it was her birthday! I excitedly wished her happy birthday and told her it was my husband's birthday as well. This nice conversation lifted my mood and kept me going as we gradually continued our uphill run. 

I reached the 5K mark. I was three miles in and feeling fine; my calf has stopped acting up as much and was a dull ache, which I deemed "okay" from past experience. At this point, the course took a right turn and brought us through a more rural residential area. I was happy to leave busy route 9. Here, and throughout the course, the runners were spread thinly in the back of the pack where I was. My two main companions were "birthday lady" and "green t-shirt lady", I woman who had been run/walking just like me. It was nice to have people around, even if it was just a couple. 

The hilly course continued through the more rural and residential areas. My feet, unaccustomed to road running after a winter spent inside on the treadmill due to the Polar Vortex, where fairly displeased and had a pins and needles feeling (like being "asleep") from the pounding on the less forgiving asphalt. Still I kept on it. I was running slowly, taking my intervals for walking, and just trying to enjoy the nice weather and some time outside. 

My mind was busy though, thinking, "I wish I could go faster. I wish I wasn't so slow. I want to do better." I was a bit discouraged at this point. I was going slowly and I know it. When I meet other runners who aren't as fast, I always think that they are great. After all, someone who is slow has to run for way longer to complete the same distance as someone who is faster and spending all the time on your feet isn't easy. Unfortunately, even though I know that someone who runs a 5K in 25:00 and someone who runs it in 30:00 are both going the say distance and working hard, I always feel ashamed for being slow. I knew I had to go slow today, but still it made me feel discouraged and down on myself. I knew I really need to go at the pace I was going, but my mind was telling my body that it wasn't good enough. I had to turn my thinking around. 

Soon thereafter, I hit mile 4. I only had four miles to go and the hilliest miles were behind me. I also had the opportunity to get some water and take a GU. The encouragement of the man at the water station and the break to take the GU helped me to re-evaluate my thinking and re-focus. I tackled a small hill after the four mile mark feeling better. I was going to do this!

My positive thinking was rewarded. Finally some sections of downhill running. I absolutely adore running downhill. I know some runners don't like it because of the pounding on the quads, but downhill running is where someone as small as I am has an advantage. There isn't that much of me to be pounding. I felt like I was flying. I ran with minimal stopping for the next almost two miles through a lovely set of pseudo-rural Willamsburg. The sun was shinning, I was enjoying my music, and having a great time allowing myself to cruise along. My calf felt fine, the odd feeling in my feet had subsided. Things were going great! I flashed a big grin at the photographer stations around the 5.5 mile mark. This race was awesome.

A little bit after the 6.5 mile mark, the race again turned into a flat course with rolling hills. I climbed a slight rise and was starting to feel tired. My legs were getting heavy. My GPS watch had lost connection at 6.21 miles. I wasn't quite sure how long I had to go, and it was demotivating. I was still taking walk breaks, and at this point it was a good thing because I'd lost some of my umph. 

I hit the seven mile sign and could see the cross street where JFK Middle School would be. Only one mile to go! I had done most of my training runs at the 7 mile mark, so this last mile was going to be a tricky one. I took a quick walk break after the 7 mile sign and told myself I would run the last mile as best I could without stopping. The rest of the course was flat; I could do this!

I turned onto Bridge Street and could see the school. Soon I was approaching it. "Come on! Come on!" I told myself. I knew that I had to do a lap of the building before I could cross the finish line. What mental torture. Lots of runners had finished and were milling around. They saw my tired face and shouted words of encouragement, which I greatly needed. People were looking. I couldn't stop moving. Behind the school, exhausted, I almost slowed to a walk. "What are you doing?" I shouted inside, "You have one a couple minutes of running left." I roused myself and ran, quickly turning around the side of the building and making it to the front. The finish line was in sight and this time I could cross it and stop running. I hoofed it!

Finished! I had made it. I had run a challenging course. I had done it with a slight injury. I had stayed smart and kept my pace slow and not let my ego get in the way. I was tired, but feeling happy. My watch said my time was 1:30:23. It was around ten minutes more than I had hoped for, but under the circumstanced I was satisfied.

I did a quick stretch. My calf was feeling okay. My feet were achy, as they were used to the treadmill and I wasn't quite road-ready. After collecting myself, I went to retrieve the race give-away, socks with the SMAC name and logo.

I hung out for a little bit after the race, chatting with people and meeting some of the SMAC members. I had noticed that SMAC was a bit light on social media and wanted to see if they'd be interested in doing more if I volunteered to help. I thought it would be great to get them on Twitter and have the Facebook page be more active so that runners have an easier time meeting up for training runs or sharing pictures from the races. I have an email out to one of the board members I talked with, at her request, and she's going to connect me with people who are doing social media and web now to see if they'd like me to get involved. I think this would be a fun way to get even more involved with the club and use some of the technical skills I have. 

Today certainly wasn't my best race ever, but I feel good that I got out and ran. I made a plan and stuck to it. I'm going to see a spots massage person tomorrow and hoping to get help sorting my calf out. I want to be able to return to doing more substantial training soon. By Ragnar, I want to be close to 100%.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

P90X3: Decelerator Review

Yesterday I started block 3 on the classic calendar with the workout Decelerator. Decelerator is the last new workout on the P90X3 classic calendar. Once I tried it, it was clear why they had saved it for last -- this is a tricky one.

Decelerator alternates between upper and lower body movements. The lower body movements are not as challenging as the upper body movements, it my opinion. The workout incorporates all of the elements you've worked on in P90X3 so far -- strength, cardio/plyo, and balance/flexibility.

You don't use weights in Decelerator, but there are enough moves on the pull-up bar and push-ups to get in a really great upper body workout. There are even some advanced plyo push-up moves. All in all, this workout is not for beginners. If you're exercising for the first time with P90X3, then Decelerator is going to be a toughie. There are ways to modify, but, like with the rest of P90X3, they are somewhat limited. (Overall, I feel the modifications in P90X3 are not as robust as in Focus T25. This makes T25 a much better workout program for someone starting out in my opinion.)

Here is the moves list for Decelerator. The descriptions immediately follow the move names and my comments, where I have them, are in parenthesis. The workout started with the standard warm-up of jogging, jacks, twists, shoulder circles, chest stretch, knee pulls, pigeon pulls, and quad pulls.
  • Bounding Squats: Standing on your leg, jump forward 45-degrees to your other foot and hold. Then jump 45-degrees forward again to the other leg. Reverse the movement and switch sides. Do 30 seconds on each side. (This was a fairly easy move and like a lot of the plyo and balance combo moves in the P90X3 program overall. Tony occasionally has you hold your position for a while, so you'll want to be secure on your standing leg.)
  • Crane Cracker Push-up: In plank, do a push-up, bring one knee to the top of the same tricep. Extend you other leg out to the side and balance. Switch sides on each push-up. (So this is basically the hardest thing ever. The modification is leaving one leg down instead of bringing it out to the side to balance. You are down in the push-up position when you bring your knee to balance on your tricep in a way that's reminiscent of Crane in yoga -- hence the name of this move. I can seriously not do Crane in yoga and similarly was unable to get my leg up high enough to really balance it on the tricep here. I had to keep one leg on the floor for sure!)
  • Good God Squat: In a squat with heels off the floor and arms overhead, lean over with your torso until it's almost parallel to the ground. Maintaining this position, do squats while keeping the heels off the floor. (This move wasn't as bad as it sounds. It did work the calves and quads, but was totally manageable. Balancing on the toes was a little challenging, but, again, not too bad. It's easy to make this move less challenging by not pitching your torso over quite as far.)
  • Elevator Pull-ups: Perform pull-ups stopping at the cued height -- high, middle, lower. (This is the same idea as the Elevator Push-ups from some of the other workouts, but, in this case, it's done on the pull-up bar. Obviously much harder. Fortunately, "bottom floor" is just hanging from the bar, so you do get a rest. With all the workouts that use the pull-up bar, I keep a chair close in case I need to have a bit of assistance. Beachbody also advertises a pull-up assist band -- same difference as the chair, I think.)
  • 2-Pop Hop: From a squat position, jump up and land on one leg keeping the other off the ground. Slowly lower the foot that's in the air and lower down into a squat again. Jump and land on the other leg. Alternate side to side. (This move is fun and not overly difficult. My calves have been a trouble area, so I had to be a bit careful landing on just one leg because it seemed to both my calf a little bit. But this move is fun -- I liked getting up as high as I could and landing as softly as possible on one leg.)
  • Crawly Plyo Push-up: In low plank, bring your right knee to the right elbow. Explode off the ground switching your knee and elbow from right to left in the air. Alternate side to side. (Yikes! This never gets easier. Plyo push-ups are always a huge challenge. I was able to do the jumps but certainly got very tired at the end and fell behind the cues a little. You can also do this as a push-up with a knee to tricep without the jump if you want to modify.)
  • Holmsen Screamer Hold: In a lunge with your right food back, jump off your left foot, driving your right knee into the air and then return back to the same lunge. Do half a minute on each side.
  • Chin Pulls: Do a chin-up. At the top of the move, pull your knees into your chest. Lower and repeat. (I think add the knee pull at the top of the chin-up doesn't actually add too much additional difficulty -- doing any sort of chin-up or pull-up is hard enough. I actually feel like I got a little bit of momentum at the top of the move, which kind of helped with the chin-up.)
  • Joel Jump Freeze: Standing on your right leg, jump forward to your left keeping the right foot lifted and reaching your right hand to the outside of your left foot. Jump back to your right foot, keeping the left foot elevated this time and touching the left hand to the outside of the right foot. Repeat back and forth for thirty seconds on each side. (This move has been all over the place from Agility X onward. Not too hard in my opinion though some balance is required because Tony cues each move and will often have you freeze on one leg for a while.)
  • Starfish Push-up: Do a push-up, then open into a side-arm balance with the top leg lifted so you make a starfish shape. Rotate back into plank, do a push-up and then rotate to the other side for another side arm balance. Switch sides after each push-up. (This move was so much fun! I loved balancing in Starfish pose on each side. It was challenging to keep my leg up, but you didn't have to hold the move long. As a bonus, this move is super cool looking. If your friends are watching you workout, they will be impressed.)
  • Duper 2: Standing on one leg with the other extended out to the side, do a squat on the standing leg. Tap the floor with the opposite hand. Straighten up bringing the floating leg into your torso. Repeat on each side for half a minute. (Another move from other P90X3 workouts.)
  • Vaulter Pull-ups: Hold the bar with one palm towards you and the other facing away. Do pull-ups. After half a minute, switch your grip. (Again, a repeat move, which I believe we first saw in The Challenge. It's still a challenge for me.)
  • Elevator Tiptoe Squat: With toes turned out and legs wide, come up onto the balls of your feet. Bend your knees lowering on cue to lower, mid, and top of the move. At the top of the move don't have your legs fully straight, but instead keep your knees still slightly bended. (This is basically done in plie position. Mid range certainly seems the toughest in my opinion. This works the inter thighs and calves well. It's still not one of hardest moves though.)
  • Superman/Bow: Lying on the floor on your stomach, lift your legs and arms into Superman. On cue, reach back and grab both ankles with your hands lifting into Bow. (Basic moves, but be sure to keep your abs engaged so you're not putting stress on the lower back.)
  • Spinning Plyo Squat Lunges: In a squat, jump back into a lunge, jump back into squat, and then jump into a lunge on the other leg. Jump back into squat and then jump 180-degrees. Begin the sequence again with the lunges. (Fun! I love plyo moves. The 180-degree turn was the best part. This definitely worked the quads -- after a minute they were getting pretty tired.)
  • Big Brother Burpees: From standing, jump back into plank and do a push-up, bringing your right knee to the right arm. Then rotate out into a right-sided T-stand/side arm balance. Go back into plank, jump your feet in and stand up, do a tuck jump and then go back down into plank. Repeat the sequence on the left. Alternate sides for a minute. (I loved this move as well. We didn't have to go too fast, so these weren't the most challenging burpees in terms of cardio, but this was a complex combination move that had you turning each way and definitely made you use your strength and forced you to stabilize.)
Decelerator had a mix of more basic and move complex moves. I think we see more complicated compound moves in here than in any of the other workouts. This is definitely fun and keeps you engaged. Because of the difficulty of some of the moves, it makes sense that this is the last workout you add into P90X3. I liked getting to try new exercises that I had never done before. Variety is fun!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stride Box Review

Recently, I subscribed to Stride Box, a monthly subscription box for runners. For $15 per month, you get a box that includes nutrition for athletes (like gels and nutrition bars) and products for runners (like a headlamp or lipbalm).

The nutrition bit is similar to Kona Kase, the monthly subscription box I used to subscribe to that contained food-stuffs for people who are very active. I loved Kona Kase, but after a year of the service, I was starting to get repeat items. To me the job of the subscription boxes is trying new things, so I decided to cancel Kona Kase and explore Stride Box.

I was very excited to check out what Stride Box had to offer this month. Here's a picture of what's inside.

I think the box included a nice variety. As with other monthly subscription boxes, Stride Box had a card listing all the items packed in the box. One interesting thing was that they listed the value of each item. Unlike Kona Kase, I didn't see any discount codes listed on the insert, but perhaps you have to go online for that.

Here's what was in the box.

I'm pretty excited about the value of this box, which seems excellent. I haven't tried any of the products yet, but have a few I'm very excited to experiment with. I love a good recovery drink, so I'm looking forward to trying the Fluid. I got to try the GU recovery drink when I was using Kona Kase and found it made a difference after doing an OCR, so hopefully this will be similarly good. (Because finding the GU locally has been hard.) I'm also excited to try the bonus salted caramel GU. I've heard many people speak very favorably about it, so it will be fun to try a new flavor of GU. Also, you can't go wrong with anti-chafing cream for your long runs. I use a anti-chafing stick all the time but could try this too since it has bonus moisturizing. 

There are a couple of products I'm less likely to use. For example, I'm not a huge user of electrolyte add-ins for my fluids. Maybe I should. I do sweat, but not so much that I feel I need extra electrolytes or that I've had my performance hampered by this sort of thing. I only occasionally use electrolyte brews during the hottest days of summer. I'll stash these for then. (I also have some bonus electrolyte mixes saved from Kona Kase.) I'm also not sure that I'll use the lace lockers. I'm sure they work well, but they are super dorky looking. While I don't mind this per say, I also don't feel that my shoes coming undone is something I worry about a ton. I've only had it happen in a race once (the Gives a Hoot 5K in Northampton). I'm not fast enough that having to stop to tie my shoes will matter in most races. Plus, I usually run for fun instead of to PR. 

All in all, I'm pretty excited about the Stride Box. The value seems great, the products are interesting, and it's always fun to get mail. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you're a runner or into endurance fitness. (Kona Kase is good too.)

My Stride Box actually came in the mail at a funny time. For those of you who have been following my blog, you know I've been training for the race series that the running club I'm in is doing this year. The series kicks off on April 6 with an 8 miler. I've been training hard three days a week with a speed session, a tempo run, and a long run. I cross train on the other days, in general doing another cardio and a couple of strength training days. I also try to do a day of stretching/yoga (which I admit I totally dislike.) Things had been going very well up until last Wednesday. 

Back in November, while doing the Cider Donut 10K in Amherst, I injured my left calf while running up one of the hills on the course. Over the last three plus months I've been working hard to rehab my calf. I've done foam rolling, compression socks, yoga/dynamic stretching, and strengthening moves, such as calf raises. Once my calf was starting to feel better in early January, I started adding hill repeats into my workouts to strengthen the calf even more. 

This seemed to be going great! I was getting much stronger on hills, which was a good thing since lots of the races in the race series have hills. I was also feeling more confident about my running since I could tackle a hilly course. 

Last Wednesday, on a day with unpleasant weather, I was doing some hill repeats on the treadmill at the gym. Because of the polar vortex, I've been on the treadmill a lot this winter. While I don't prefer it for hills, it does give you some flexibility with steepness and length for your hills. Since I'd been doing well with my calf, I decided to tackle a few longer and trickier hills. After the first long hill I knew something was wrong -- my calf was hurting oddly. With determination, if not smarts, I still finished my workout tackling the rest of my hills. I foam rolled and later in the day felt okay. 

So on Saturday I decided to go for an eight mile long run to prepare for the 8 mile race in early April. Things went only okay. I felt sluggish and my legs felt heavy. When I finished the run it was clear that my left calf was again in a world of hurt. I had obviously done more "damage" on Wednesday's run than I thought.

Obviously this is a huge bummer. I had to take some days off from training especially since my upper hamstring started to hurt in addition to my calf -- probably because I was negatively adjusting my stride during my eight mile run without noticing because of my calf. Yesterday, I was able to do a three mile slow run (for me 10:30/mile) and felt okay. My calf seems fine today as well. 

I think I might just need to take it easier with the hills/speed training for a while. This is kind of a bummer since I was hoping to really race well in the 8 miler on April 6. However being healthy is more important than being fast since I'm registered for the first two races in the race series on April 6 (8 milers) and 26 (10K). Being able to participate is key. The 8 miler is going to be a little bit hilly, so I'm going to have to make sure to stay safe. Hopefully I'll be able to do a bit of leg work before then and feel stronger. 

I also have a fun run that I'm doing this Sunday with my dad and stepmom. In honor of my dad and my birthday's we're doing the Max's O'Hartford 5K.The race looks flat, fast, and fun. It will be a great time with family. I am glad that I was able to do that slow run yesterday. I was worried at first when everything happened last week that I wouldn't even be able to participate in the 5K. Now I know that I can -- I'll just have to go slow. 

Hopefully I'll be back to my formerly slightly less slow running speed and can get back into "serious" training. For now, the focus is on getting my calf and hamstring back up to snuff and completing the races I have scheduled. I'll be happy to participate and have a good time. That's more my focus than PRs anyway.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Race Series

Someday soon, I may begin to feel like a "real runner." About a week and a half ago, I registered for the race series that my running club, Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, is putting on.

The race series consists of 14 different races, starting in April and going through November. The distances range from 5Ks (3.1 miles) to a half marathon (13.1 miles), at the end of the series in November. You get points for the races you complete in the series. Points are awarded based on a combination of miles-run for each race, time it took to complete the race, and your time compared to the winning time. You can get bonus points for volunteering and for being a "series finisher". In order to be considered a "series finisher" you have to complete at least eight of the 14 races in the series.

I definitely plan to take part in as many of these races as possible! The races are all local and the registration fees are very affordable. I'm starting graduate school at Simmon's Graduate School of Library and Information Science this fall, so I know that I won't have a lot of extra funds or a lot of time to travel around to races. For this reason, racing locally is ideal.

Racing in the SMAC race series will also help me with my goal of getting to meet more local runners. When I attended the SMAC annual meeting earlier this winter they highlighted the race series as the best way to get involved with the club.

I'm very excited to participate in the race series because I think it will keep me focused on improving my running this year. Knowing that I have the race series coming I've been very dedicated about my training through the winter, running three very strategic runs a week: one speed session (often hill repeats), one tempo run, and one long run.

The first run takes place on April 6 and is the Ron Hebert 8 Miler. It looks like the course might be a little hilly -- many of the SMAC race series courses seem challenging in the way. I think I'm going to be glad I've been doing my weekly hill repeats. I'm feeling good about the making the distance; I did a seven mile run today and it went fine. Now I just have to put together the training I've done on hills with the distance runs I've done in order to have success on race day. I want to have the first race be really successful and am even considering going over and running the course later in March as time allows.

It certainly looks to be a challenging one, but I feel like I'm working hard and will try to do my best. I still have over a month to keep working on my running and hopefully get in some more outdoor runs if the weather ever turns reasonable in temperature.

Other than the SMAC series my two big running experiences of the year will be the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay, which I'm doing in May and the Hogsback Half Marathon in September.

The Ragnar Relay is a 200 mile relay run, which I am doing with a team of twelve people I've met online. I'll be running three five mile legs over the two-day relay. This will definitely be a unique experience -- lots of running, little sleep, and meeting new people.

Hogsback, of course, I have done before. It was my first half marathon. I love the course and hope to go there in September and have a great race! Other than for the SMAC series, Hogsback is what all my training is for!

Other than that, I'm keeping myself free other other commitments. After all, the SMAC series offers so many races that I'm not even sure I'll have time with school to do all of them. They all look amazing through -- here's the list from the SMAC website.

I'll keep you updated on my progress with my training and with my races. I can say for now that I am getting stronger on hills and that I'm doing longer sections at tempo (up to 2.5 miles) on my tempo runs. This is making my long runs feel easier because they are done at a slower pace. I was able to finish my seven miler with a very fast finish today and even did a mile at the end at tempo. This makes me feel good because in the past I would have been very tired at the end and not able to give it any more. I'm hoping this good training comes into play on race day!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

P90X3: MMX Review

This morning, I got to try out the last new workout for the first three weeks of block two on the P90X3 classic calendar, MMX.

I was very skeptical of MMX going in since I remembered the Kenpo X review from the original P90X, which I found to be less than stellar. I was pleasantly surprised -- MMX was awesome! It was a very advanced kickboxing / mixed martial arts workout that has you moving fast. A word of caution, there isn't much explanation in the MMX workout and the moves are complex and come quickly. A familiarity with this style of workout is definitely necessary for this reason.

Also, you will stumble and fumble the first time through the workout. There isn't any explanation or preview before you jump into the moves, so you'll be struggling to keep up at first. It might make sense to watch this DVD before you try it for the first time, especially if you're new to kickboxing. After you get used to the moves, you'll be glad to not have to wait for explanations. The workout is only 30 minutes, so I'm glad that it moves fast.

Finally, you can take the moves at any speed you want. I was doing this workout for the first time today, so I took the moves a bit slower in some cases to really focus on form and learn moves that were new to me. I can speed it up next time.

I've done a lot of kickboxing-style workouts, including Les Mills Combat and TurboFire. Many of the moves in P90X3's MMX workout were familiar, but there were some new moves as well. I'm listing out a few of the moves / terms that other might not be familiar with. Then I'll go ahead and list out the moves list for the MMX workout. Here are some of the moves that I found new and exciting.
  • Superman Punch: Hop forward on your leading foot as you do a cross punch
  • 4-Punch Scramble: Run back with jabs going forward left-right-left-right
  • Sprawl: Half-burpee with wide legs
  • Crescent Kick: Kick you leg up and around you body in an arc back into fighter stance
  • Gladiator: Jump kick into a downward punch
  • Sprawl/Scramble: While down in a sprawl, scramble the feet 180-degrees before standing up (This move requires a lot of space, which was a bit problematic for me. Do you best.)

Now that I've listed out some of the less common moves, here is the complete moves list for the workout. The workout began with the most comprehensive warm-up I've seen in P90X3 so far. The warm-up lasted a full five minutes and consisted of some basic cardio moves (jogging, jumping jacks) and a lot of leg stretches. We then moved into the main workout. During the MMX workout, each move was done once on the right lead for thirty seconds and then again on the left lead for thirty seconds. There were short thirty second breaks after each set of four moves.
  • High Low Jab / Cross
  • Hook / Uppercut / Front Knee
  • Triple Jab / Cross / Back Knee
  • Hook Elbow / Down Elbow
  • Jab / Over the Top Elbow / Crescent Kick
  • Superman Punch / 4-Punch Scramble / Sprawl
  • Lead Uppercut / Hook Elbow / Snap Kick
  • Sprawl / Power Knees / Hook and Upper Elbow (The Power Knees were done while down in the Sprawl. While in plank, you brought the knee up the the chest and back twice on the same side before standing up.)
  • Upper Back Elbow / Hook Elbow / Back Kick
  • Jab / Cross / Sprawl / Hook / Uppercut / Sprawl
  • Push Kick / Snap Kick
  • Hook / Uppercut / Hook / Uppercut / Sprawl
  • Front Leg Check / Front Snap Kick / Superman Punch
  • Jab / Cross / Sprawl / Scramble (Here the Scramble was done while on the floor in the Sprawl.)
  • Jab / Cross / Hook Elbow / Over the Top Elbow
  • Gladiator / Sprawl / Jab / Cross / Hook / Uppercut

As you can see, the combinations for the MMX workout were complex and seemed to get even more complex in the second half of the workout. The sequences with the Sprawls were especially challenging because they were so fast -- you had to get down to the ground and back up with speed! This really got me breathing and my heart was going. This was definitely the best cardio workout by far of any of the P90X3 workouts I've done.

This workout was definitely a blast! I was mentally engaged the entire time, focusing on getting the moves and form down and on going as quickly as possible. I love kickboxing -- it's one of my favorite types of workout. I'm pretty demanding about what I consider to be a good kickboxing-style workout, but P90X3 MMX is definitely one of them. I love the pacing, variety of moves, and integration of new moves that I've never seen before. This workout is definitely not for beginners, and I would worry that because of the lack of tutorial a newbie might get hurt. If you haven't done kickboxing before, taking this workout way slower than the participants on the DVD when you do it. They are very very fast -- I struggled to keep up with them -- and if you don't know how to do kickboxing, you can definitely risk injury. Focus instead of watching what everyone is doing in the workout and learning proper form.

This is an upper body focused workout. I actually think my only complaint is that I wish they had included more kicking in the workout. The Sprawls do work your legs though. Getting up and down a lot definitely means your getting your leg work in, so I'm guessing that's why MMX is kick-light. The sequences with the Sprawls are definitely the hardest ones, so I wouldn't want to get rid of those for any reason.

I loved the MMX workout and can't wait until I get to do it again next week. Great cardio in thirty minutes!