Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Build a Stronger Back

This is the first in a series of posts on steps I am taking to improve my running.

During long runs, and particularly during long races when I wear a hydration pack, I often experience low back pain. And the next day my lower back will sometimes be the sorest part of my body. I'm going to attempt to eliminate this pain by working on two things:

1. Improving posture
When I sit on the couch to watch TV or read a book, I slouch comfortably in the corner, often finding I've slid so low that only my head is still upright. When I drive, I catch myself hunching over the wheel. When I walk, I've begun to realize my shoulders droop. So posture is obviously a problem for me. Improving my core strength will help some in this area, but when it comes down to it, I can really only fix my posture by working on maintaining good posture.

2. Building strength
I don't do strength workouts--or really, anything but run--nearly as often as I should. And I have absolutely no excuse: my husband has spent the last several months filling our garage with enough equipment that we could open a gym and charge membership fees. That's only a slight exaggeration. My lack of weight-lifting is an enjoyment issue: I love to run, and it's not particularly difficult for me. Strength training is hard, and not nearly as fun. I can't do a pull-up without jumping, and even then I can only do one. My solution, which is to not strength-train very often, is a non-solution. If I don't do it, it's never going to get easier. And if it could help my running, I should be doing it!
My goal is to add at least three strength workouts a week, making sure to include plenty of abdominal and back exercises. I'll be doing all the exercises on the nifty chart below, as well as planks, push-ups, superman, and working on my pull-ups.
photo credit: West End Chiropractic and Wellness Blog

I hope that the back pain issue will be a quick fix with these efforts, and I'll find out soon. I have some long training runs coming up in preparation for Jemez Mountain 50k on May 25!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Prickly Pear 50k

I signed up for the Prickly Pear at the beginning of February, just before the registration fee increased. I was so looking forward to it: lower elevation, some moisture in the air, and a flat course.

And then I got sick. With the El Paso Crud...a severe allergy to the ultra-dry air and constant dust storms. This lasted about three weeks, limiting my ability to run. Every time I ran in remotely windy, chilly, dry, or dusty conditions, I would spend hours afterward coughing. The longest run I completed during these weeks was six miles, and sometimes I went several days in a row without running.

Because of this, I wasn't as prepared for the Prickly Pear as I had hoped to be, not by a long shot. If I hadn't already paid, I would likely have elected not to run. But spending money on an entry fee has a way of motivating one to compete in less-than-ideal circumstances, and I figured I had something of an endurance base I could rely on to finish, even though it might not be fun. So I drove to McAllister Park in a dark drizzle early Saturday morning.

Running in the rain was, at first, an exciting prospect--El Paso hasn't seen more than a few drops in months. What I didn't realize was the park's dirt trails, so nice for running and biking in dry weather, turn into the stickiest sort of mud when wet.

The race was wonderfully organized. 50k runners started at 7:00 and would make three loops of a 10.33-mile course. Ten milers started an hour and a half later. My first loop took nearly two hours, so the ten mile runners had thinned out and were mostly well ahead by the time I started my second loop.

I wore my hydration pack, but the aid stations were so frequent and well-stocked that I really didn't need it. Located near miles 2, 5, 7, and 10, the stations boasted bowls of candy, chips, gels, and best of all: awesome volunteers. I always say thanks to the volunteers, but these were so awesome that I feel like a simple thanks was not enough. Whether it's being handed a cup of Gatorade by a really enthusiastic kid, or being applauded and encouraged just when I need it most, aid station volunteers are invaluable, and I am incredibly grateful for their efforts. I'm also inspired to volunteer myself someday--I never have and I think it would be a fun way to give back!

The light rain continued through the entire first loop; I spent most of it with three inches of mud on my shoes and had to stop to tighten my laces so I didn't lose them. Aside from the mud, I really enjoyed the rain and the cool, humid air.

On the second loop, the rain stopped and the mud began to dry. By this point, I wasn't feeling great and was wondering if I should drop out before the third loop. I struggled with this nearly the entire ten miles, alternating between wanting to finish and dropping out. The idea of having a DNF didn't appeal to me at all--I was sure I would hate myself later for quitting--but the thought of pushing through ten more miles was nearly as unappealing.  For better or worse, pride won out, and I slogged through the third and final loop, walking more in the last miles than I care to admit. I made it to the finish in 6:38:18, exhausted but otherwise fine.

My awesome parents were waiting for me at the finish line. I am so grateful for their support! My mom took pictures, and my dad brought me drinks and checked the results, even though I was sure I couldn't have placed in my age group. But it turns out...I did! (Results can be found here). I won the women's 1-29 age group and received a huge beer mug. It's super heavy, so I can get in some bicep curls while drinking! All the women ahead of me, who I was sure were in my age group, were aged 30-39--the top eight women in that category finished before me! As my dad reminded me, ultrarunners get better with age, and the best are often in their thirties and forties. I hope this means I have some faster times to look forward to!
A bad phone shot of my mug

This 50k didn't go as well as I had hoped, for several reasons. But rather than focusing on what went wrong, I'm going to put a positive spin on things and write a series of posts about what I can work on to improve my running.