Several people in my Saturday morning long run group are starting to gear up for the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October. I’m still pretty sure I never want to run a marathon but I do enjoy doing a bit higher mileage to a point. Two weeks ago, four of us gathered bright and early for a hilly and hot 13 mile run. I already had a mile and a half under my belt by the time I met up with my running buddies which made that run a total of 14.5 miles for me, the longest run of 2012. While I was really happy to get into some longer long runs, I wasn’t very smart running wise that week. I had added a mile or two to my usual Tuesday and Thursday tempo runs, and therefore ended the week having run a little over 47 miles. Due to a little vacation the previous week, I had only run 27 miles and my highest mileage week prior to that was 43 miles. Needless to say my legs weren’t quite ready for that 47 mile week. Despite taking an ice bath and massaging my legs after the long run, I still went through the next day feeling more sluggish than usual and my legs felt like someone had tied 15 pound weights to my quads.
In hopes of putting some pep into my step, both literally and figuratively, I pored through my cookbooks in search of a comforting and protein filled Sunday dinner. Although I thought I had settled on the most perfect to roast chicken several years ago and would never want to make roast chicken any other way, I couldn’t stop coming back to Andrew Carmellini’s Marinated Chicken Alla Griglia in Urban Italian. I really liked the idea of marinating the chicken in a roasted garlic puree, various herbs, and a dash of dried red pepper flakes for some added kick. And despite the amount of time needed to marinate the chicken, the recipe didn’t really seem too complicated or time-consuming. For sides I took Andrew Carmellini up on his suggestion and served the chicken with Zucchini Bagna Calda and Potatoes Girarrosto-Style.
When everything came together, I had one of the best meals I have made in quite a while. After marinating for only five hours, the chicken was juicy and flavorful. The skin was crisp and I really loved the mix of garlic and herbs with a bit of tang from the rice vinegar and spice from the red pepper flakes. I may have found a new favorite roast chicken.
Four days a week, I hit the gym after work to do some light strength training and stretching. Tuesdays and Thursdays I focus on my lower body while Mondays and Tuesdays are a bit easier with just some general strength work. The one constant is finishing each gym session with some serious core work.
Last week, I saw this video of a great core exercise done by two lady marathoners who will be representing the U.S. in the Summer Olympics in London (starts on Friday!) The series of movements while planking on a swiss ball doesn’t seem too complicated or hard but I tried it and it was tough! Some days I need a break midway through all the moves, but if I’m lucky, on good days I can do it straight through and even come back for an encore. Although this simple exercise hurts so good, I’m glad to be able to incorporate it into my core routine. Check it out!
When I started my return to running in January after three months off to deal with the Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease, I marked the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler as my comeback race. The Cherry Blossom Ten Miler has a special place in my heart: it was my first race ever, it is the first race I run every year, and I have run in each of the previous six Cherry Blossom Ten Milers. There was never really a chance that I would not make it seven years in a row. My goal was to get to the starting line as healthy and fit as I could get in three months time. At least, that was my goal when I set out on the comeback trail. By the end of March my heart really wanted that PR even though my head knew I was nowhere near the shape I needed to be in to run 7:25 splits.
I don’t know how I let myself think it would be possible to run sub 1:14 after three months completely off of running while dealing with a serious illness, only having been running for three months, and only about six weeks of those three months included actual workouts. Looking back at my running logs and e-mails sent to friends, the training leading up to the race was way too inconsistent. I found it difficult to recover between workouts/hard runs, I could never string together a solid two weeks of running, and about every other week I would have to take an extra rest day due to fatigue. Still, I kept pushing myself to get back into shape and hit splits that my body wasn’t fully capable of handling, hoping I could will myself into shape. A week and a half before the race, I became completely demoralized after struggling through a short tempo run and a strength training routine that left me exhausted. I wondered how I could run 7:25 miles for ten miles if I couldn’t even run 7:30 miles for five miles. Part of me didn’t even want to do the race anymore.
This past Saturday, my long run group had planned to do one of my favorite long runs. The run has a little bit of something for everyone: a short time on the bike bath, three miles of trails through Glover-Archibald Park, some street running, down through the zoo, a killer hill at mile nine, and a downhill finish. Unfortunately, it rained quite a bit on Friday and Glover-Archibald turned into a mud pit. No one wanted to do a mud run so one of the guys in the group suggested running up Foxhall, a street nearly parallel to Glover-Archibald, which would be the same distance, minus the mud. Although the elevation change would have been the same regardless, skipping the fun of trail running meant a steady 360 foot climb over three miles which was pretty hellish especially since my strength is definitely lacking these days.
Back at Filter for our usual post-run caffeination session, we talked about the run and agreed that running up Foxhall was pretty painful. This conversation led to us talking about how each of us handle hills on our every day runs. Some, like the person who suggested running up Foxhall, are masochistic and enjoy the challenge of hills. Others see hills as a necessary evil and incorporate hill repeats into their workouts once or twice a month. I am firmly in the camp that has a complete dislike for hills and avoid them as much as possible. While my weekday running routes generally include running up Capitol Hill, I view this as a necessity and otherwise try to keep my running routes flat and painless. Running is often painful enough, why make it even harder?
To make up for any lack of leg strength due to my aversion to running up hills, I do some serious lower body strength training twice a week, usually in tandem with hard runs such as a tempo run or interval session. This routine includes a variety of lunges, squats and dead lifts that leave me pretty sore the following day. Still, it does not make up for the lack of hill running. Therefore, in addition to the measly 50 foot climb up Capitol Hill on a select few weekday runs and whatever hills are involved in the Saturday morning long runs, I am going to incorporate hill repeats into my workouts at least every other week. Using this handy how-to from Running Times I am going to start with some short hill repeats. Hopefully within a month, I will be able to confidently run up rather than avoid hills with the benefit of a smoother, faster stride.
The one thing I have found to be surprisingly difficult about this comeback attempt is that my body doesn’t recover from workouts as quickly as it did before. It kind of makes sense since I’m not as fit as I was over the summer, but I’m not running anywhere near as fast as pre-KFD and my strength training routine is no where near as hard as it was so it is very frustrating that I cannot recover as quickly as I’d like.
To speed along my recovery, I have been really concentrating on stretching properly after each workout and using a foam roller or stick to massage any soreness in my legs. Additionally, I’ve been eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains in an attempt to fuel and refuel correctly. Most importantly I’ve been sleeping for an extra hour or so each night in order to give my body more time to recover.
Last September, I got super sick. I tried to push through the initial fatigue and random symptoms for a few weeks but by mid-October I was getting sicker by the week without a diagnosis or an end in sight. I had been running and training injury and mostly interruption free for a year and a half and was reluctant to stop but realized I had to focus on getting better so shut myself down. I thought I would only have to sit out for a week or two but by mid-November without getting much better and with my lymph nodes still super swollen, doctors decided I needed a lymph node biopsy. Finally, I was diagnosed with Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease, which is super rare and completely bizarre, but overall not the worse disease to have been diagnosed with.
I was cleared to start running again in early January and for the last month, I have been slowly working my way back into some semblance of shape. Working my way back into shape is a lot like going on a long run. Both a long run and regaining fitness are going to take patience, grit, determination, a little sacrifice and some good pals, but the end will be rewarding and coffee-filled. The journey itself can be great too but also filled with doubt, frustration, and more than a few setbacks.
For me, the immediate goal is running the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler on April 1. It is highly unlikely I will set a personal best that day, but I am going to work my butt of trying to make it happen because one can never predict what kind of race day magic will happen. I just need to get to the starting line as fit as I can get myself and, most importantly, healthy.