Monday, November 21, 2011
Yesterday afternoon I ran 4.23 miles. It was a slow run for me, at a 7:30 pace per mile. For the last half of the run, my calves felt heavy; but I kept lifting them anyway, to get my 30 minutes of exercise in and to make my 10K steps on a Sunday that featured a lot of sitting in the morning and early afternoon. And the heavy legs weren't particularly surprising the day after I'd done a personal longest run of 6.3 miles. Just have to be sure I do my stretches well and take Monday off from running.
After my run, I realized that I was enjoying my stretches. That's odd. I've always hated stretching.
I started hating stretches in phys ed in the public schools, where I couldn't do the stretches (or much of anything else) the way the instructors demonstrated. But it was easier to accept that I would always be the slowest, weakest, clumsiest kid in the class than to accept that I needed to do those stretches that hurt and didn't seem to have any of the benefits that were described.
A few decades later, I started lifting weights. At the age of 49, I was willing to believe in the benefit of stretching. That belief was brought into sharp focus the day after I did my first dumbbell squats - two sets of 15, with a 15 pound dumbbell in each hand. Easy stuff. I'd been a good walker forever, my legs can handle this. Except I didn't remember how to do a quad stretch. The next day, I could tell I should have stretched.
So I looked up stretches in a booklet of dumbbell exercises that I'd picked up. It was fairly typical of the pro-stretching literature I've seen. It advocated doing quite a few stretches daily. I forget whether it was a system of hold for 60 seconds once, or hold for 10 seconds three times; what I remember is that I counted how much total hold time there was on the stretches.
If I had done the entire stretching program as described, it would have been 69 minutes of stretches, plus however much time it took to change positions between stretching. That's an unacceptable level of overhead for my daily exercise program.
That's the real problem I've always had with the advocates of stretching. They get really, really enthusiastic about how good this, that, and the other stretch is; and when they're done, they've advocated more than an hour of stretching to follow a 20 minute exercise session.
Since I couldn't find any expert advice that wasn't obviously designed for people who are paid to maintain fitness as part of their day job, I had to figure this out on my own. I got to where I found an acceptable minimum of stretches for after weight lifting to avoid injury. Most came out of that booklet, including my very favorite stretch for the lower back. (Unlike most other stretches, that one actually felt good the first time I tried it.) Over time, I dropped a couple stretches and picked up a few different stretches for the target muscles.
When I took up running, stretching after running became vital. By now I know I need to stretch quads, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and soleus. It was a surprise that my favorite lower back stretch was also useful after running. It was not a surprise that my calves needed more attention in stretching after running than they did in stretching after strength training.
And then there was the huge surprise yesterday, that I was actually enjoying the stretches. Who would have thought that? It's as unlikely as my learning to enjoy salad (need to pick up some more tomorrow), or to record what I eat, or to become a runner in the first place.
This could have happened a lot faster if I'd found a fitness guru or article that would explain how to get by on a minimum of stretching. That would have got me working on stretches a lot better than the typical articles advocating a gazillion different hamstring stretches. (Did I mention I never met a hamstring stretch I liked? Except the one I'm doing now has grown on me.)
A few days ago, I read an article on SP advocating stretching after exercise. Most of it was standard stuff, the same stuff I've heard for decades. The part that jumped out at me was that it urged the reader to take five minutes to stretch.
Five minutes doesn't cut it. I've put considerable effort into identifying the minimum amount of stretching I can get away with, and five minutes isn't even on the list of answers for the multiple choice test. Stretching after a run takes me 12 to 15 minutes normally. I can rush and fit the stretching into 10 minutes, but I'll probably regret it later. I can't get it down to 5 even if I only count the hold time for the stretches.
But then, I've never come close to spending 69 minutes stretching in one day, either. I suppose the SP article was trying to undersell the commitment, to get new exercisers to stretch. Maybe it will work.
Or maybe not. I don't need to stretch after I walk. I doubt most other people need to stretch after walking, either. Claiming that you should stretch generically after any cardio, while counting walking as cardio, would seem to undercut the message. I can walk for an hour and a half, and don't need to stretch. Run 20 minutes, and I darn well better stretch. Lift weights, I need to stretch - but not as badly as I need to after running.
So where are the articles intelligently discussing the varying stretching needs after different types of exercise? I haven't seen any. I guess the fitness gurus aren't ready to stretch their minds far enough to figure out what is truly necessary for a minimal time commitment.
That's kind of a shame. It leaves us non-professionals to figure this stuff out on our own. If you're like me, you figure out when you need to stretch by not doing so when you should have.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Last Saturday, I set out to run a bit longer than I had before. I ran for 45 minutes, and came in a little bit short of running 10K. That gave me confidence that I actually could run a full 10K without slowing to a walk. So on Monday, when my brand new Paypal account became active, I signed up for the Race with Grace 10K on Thanksgiving Day. (For the non-US readers, that's next Thursday.)
Today was my long training run for the 10K. I mapped out a route that is 6.3 miles, or just a bit longer than a 10K. I figured if I still felt like running near the end of that route, I could always add distance. Didn't get quite as good a jump on the time as last Saturday, but still got a respectably early start at 6:46 AM. Temperature was 41° F (5° C), with a noticeable wind from the south and west. By the time I finished, the morning sun had shown its face. I didn't notice the sunrise; I think that happened while I was westbound.
Last Saturday, I deliberately ran slower early in the run because I didn't know whether I could run the whole way. Today, I just went out and ran. It made a bit of a difference to the pace. Final result, 6.3 miles in 45:51, for an average pace of 7:17. I got splits at the first four miles of 7:10 or so (landmark not totally accurate), 14:20, 21:24, and 28:40. I didn't have a good landmark for mile 5 or 6, but I know I slowed down some in the middle of mile 4, and remained slow for all of mile 5. That was the part that was uphill into the cold wind. At least it wasn't both ways, as in the classic walk to school.
Overall, that looks like an average pace of 7:10 for the first four miles, and 7:28 for the last 2.3 miles. No extra distance got added to the route. I was ready to quit running some distance before I got to my driveway, but I managed to keep going the full route.
Implications for the 10K on Thanksgiving: I should be able to keep running for the entire distance. It should be possible to meet my goal of running the 10K in under 46 minutes.
The plan now is, a shorter run tomorrow, possibly with a little hill work. Monday off. Lunch hour run on Tuesday, take shorter route and don't push. Wednesday off. Race Thursday.
Things that might hurt my time in the real race: Worse weather, which won't be known till race day. Unfamiliar course, which might be harder than where I've trained. Possible large turnout resulting in slow time to start and in an initial traffic jam. Running too hard early keeping up with better runners and then flaming out and having to walk a lot. Not being as good running on one day's rest as I was today running on two days' rest.
Things that might make my time better in the real race: Better weather, which won't be known till race day. Course easier than I've trained. Competitive aspect getting me to run faster, but not so much faster that I flame out.
It should be fun. I've seen the posted times from last year's Thanksgiving Day Race with Grace 10K. If the same people show up, I should not be in competition for an age group medal. But I'll be happy to run all the way, and be as fast as I was in training.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Not much went on today on the fitness and diet front. It's a non-running day, and my 38 minute lunch walk didn't feel like I was really working. Then I mapped it out, and it came to a 13:37 pace per minute, walking. Not that long ago, any walk faster than 15:00 per mile felt like a workout. I'll count this one for fitness minutes.
On the diet front, I put a snack in at mid-afternoon. I was still hungry at dinnertime, but it was a more reasonable hunger than the past few days. I'll pick this strategy back up on Monday, for work days. One more small step toward figuring out maintenance.
Tomorrow morning I plan to try to run a bit further than 10K, as my last long training run before the 10K on Thanksgiving. It will also be the first time I've ever run a full 10K; but there is little doubt that I can do it. I ran almost 10K last Saturday, and I'm well enough rested. The forecast is for about 36° F at run time; I've run at this temperature before, so what to wear is no mystery.
And now I run into the flip side of getting up early to run; I need to get to be early enough to be well rested in the morning. Since my body is telling me it's bedtime before 9:30 tonight, I think that will work out well.
Good night, and Spark on!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
This morning the scale said 166.6, which happens to be a new 25+ year low weight for me. Now, my scale is only really accurate to a fifth of a pound; the next tick up or down from here would be 166.8 or 166.4, respectively. But still . . . that's a pound lighter than yesterday, and two pounds lighter than a week ago.
Minor difficulty: I'm in maintenance, not in weight loss mode. While it's okay for the weight to drift down as I try to find what weight would be most healthy, this looks like the pace I was losing when I was trying to lose weight. Only now my range is 600 calories higher, and I'm eating them.
What to do? For today, I ate toward the high end of the expanded range. I trust that this, plus normal fluctuation, should produce a higher weight tomorrow. Longer term, where does that calorie range need to be? Logically, it should move up and down as I get more or less exercise; but I don't have a good means to measure how much exercise is worth how many calories. (If I did, I wouldn't still be losing 2 pounds in a week!)
The mantra has always been, feel good. Run longer, stay strong. Don't be hungry. Do all that, and don't worry about the weight still coming off. Hmm. Today I might have been hungrier than I should be in the afternoon. I need to do something to address that, like pack a 200 to 300 calorie snack to eat in mid-afternoon at work. Breakfast, morning snack, and lunch seem to be covered adequately already; but I still have a lot of calories left for dinner and evening.
Either that, or I have to cut back on the running. I'd rather not do that; I'm having too much fun running to like the idea of cutting that back. And it's already time limited on weekdays, due to runs being on my lunch break. And I want to keep my long run this Saturday, which should be the last long run before the 10K I committed to on Thanksgiving.
So I guess I need to figure out the food aspect. Maybe I need to eat more, but first let's see if I can distribute the calories differently across the day on work days.
Monday, November 14, 2011
I took this afternoon off work to donate blood. In theory, I could donate on company time when the blood drive comes around to my workplace. In theory, I could donate on Saturdays, when I don't have to work anyway. In practice, I sometimes want to go lie down for 20 minutes an hour after donating. That would be a problem at work. In practice, the Saturday schedule at the donation center is frustrating and erratic. So I take a half day off every 8 weeks, and it works out well.
This time, things are a little different. I'd forgotten that the last two donations, I'd taken a full day so I could exercise in the morning. So I hustled home at noon, got a 5K walk in (42 minutes, a 13:30 pace per mile), quick shower, and grab lunch. Ended up 5 minutes late for my appointment, but the Red Cross is very forgiving about that.
Bearing in mind that I'm a runner now, I tried to make myself nervous to pump the pulse when the nurse took it. Well, that kind of worked. I got it up to 46, from my usual deskbound pulse of 42. The next question was, "Are you a runner or a swimmer?" Yes, I'm a runner. The nurse called for a supervisor to override the program and let me donate.
Blood pressure was 90 over 60. I asked how low it had to go to preclude blood donation, and was told 80 over 40 can't donate. But I could, and it went quite routinely. I even had one of the fudge cookie thingies in the canteen, in addition to some raisins. This works because I have a very generous calorie range in maintenance.
So it looks like becoming a runner isn't going to prevent me from donating blood 6 times a year. I'm happy with this. Given a conflict between my health and blood donation, I'd go for my own health; but it's much nicer to not have the conflict.
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