Week 05, Month 02: A Change Of Focus

Well, Month 01 came and went. I’m glad I started keeping this log of my work, because time just seems to fly by. I think this is part of my problem with keeping up consistency — I feel like I’ve only been doing this for a little while, and a whole month has gone by: 4 weeks of workouts that should be having effects by now.

For Month #02, I’m setting some different goals.

My weekly mileage is up to a good range for right now (~14 mi/week); the long race (7.5 mi) isn’t until the end of September. So for right now I want to keep the weekly mileage mostly the same, and up intensity by starting to add intervals, speedwork, hills. I intend to do speedwork on Tuesdays for about 5 miles (1mi warmup, 3mi workout, 1mi cooldown), a 75-90 min long slow run on Fridays (which will land me 6-8 miles depending on my speed and overall feeling), and the remainder on Sundays. If I’m feeling good, Sunday will be a different kind of speedwork (example: I may do intervals Sunday and a tempo run Tuesday) and if not, it’ll be a recovery run. If I’m feeling particularly sore I’ll replace Sunday with 30 min on the elliptical.

The focus for this month can’t be completely weight based because I’m still running so much (and I need to be), but I do want to focus more on picking back up my compound lift workouts and Bodyrock. My real goal is to start getting actually out of bed at 6 so that I can do a 12min Bodyrock before work every morning, but I’m very concerned about being able to stick with it because I’m an insomniac who hates mornings. Either way, I’d like to hit the weight room at least twice a week. Wed/Thurs and Sat/Sun, whichever works, but going back to the NROL4W plan and sticking with it consistently.

I can’t decide what to do with my diet. With weightlifting I shouldn’t be cutting to many cals, so I may aim for only ~250/day below my maintenance level. But then again I did better than that last month and didn’t lose a whole lot so what the hey. Maybe I shouldn’t worry as much about cals — new goal could be, get >140g of protein every day? If I’m under I’m under, and if not, oh well? I’ll think about this one.

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Let’s Talk About Running… With Asthma

I’ve been trying to give some general advice for runners looking to get better and faster and train more efficiently, but before I get into any more details, there’s some additional information I want to share specifically for runners with asthma. Running with asthma is its own kind of difficult – because running wasn’t hard enough on its own, right – and I’ve learned a lot as an asthmatic runner in terms of how to keep training plans flexible because of this health disability. (I have a number of health problems, but asthma plays directly into running.)

About This Asthmatic Runner
I suffer from exercise-induced asthma (EIA). This means the very act of high-intensity exercise triggers my lungs into an asthmatic shutdown. What does it feel like to me? I start out by wheezing, and my breath gets very shallow. It feels like, no matter how hard I am hauling air into my lungs, I only get a small trickle that goes through. If I try to “push through it”, I eventually get to the point where it feels like I am gasping and panting as hard as I can and getting little to no air into my system. At that point, it feels like my lungs are full of tiny pins and every breath feels like it’s being poked by itty bitty knives. Once I recover, I’ll cough for probably the next 2-4 hours.

I’ve had plenty of EIA attacks triggered by running – especially sprints, intervals, and high intensity workouts – but I’ve also had it trigger in HIIT weight/aerobic/exercise classes my gym offers, and during BodyRock’s HIIT workouts: it isn’t just running.

My running stats are here, if you’re checking my street cred. I consider myself a decently average, overall middle of the road amateur runner. Even with asthma.

What It Means To Be an Asthmatic Runner
There are a couple things you need to train your brain to understand and be aware of, so that your expectations are reasonable and safe. The general running advice you find online will work for you – with certain modifications.

  1. Running’s going to be hard for you. You’re doing something your body doesn’t want to do – something your body so emphatically doesn’t want to do that it’s shutting down your lungs to try to stop you. This doesn’t mean you can’t run, but it does mean that some days are going to be bad. Some days are going to hurt.
  2. Running’s going to be harder for you than for other people. If you’re a competitive person, this is something you’re going to have tocome to terms with. If you like to train with friends, feelings of “how are they getting so much faster and I’m moving so slowly” or “how can they do that pace for a tempo run?” can show up. Running really should be only about you vs the clock, but with asthma, it’s even more so. People who don’t have asthma are going to find running easier than you do. You need to prepare your mind to let that go.
  3. You’re adding another variable to your performance. Runners who race already are concerned about race day variables: weather, course, sleep the night before, general mood, injuries, mental headspace… you’ve now added “lung condition”, or “asthma triggers”, to your set of stars that have to align perfectly for a race to go well. Sometimes, you’ll be feeling amazing, and then that asthma attack will just come (seemingly) out of nowhere and ruin a perfectly good run – or a perfect race. It’s hard to not be disappointed, but it’s just going to happen.
  4. You need to be flexible, self-aware, and honest. You need to be flexible enough with your training that missing a day, or having to rearrange a weekly schedule around days that are hot/cold/high pollen, won’t mess with your mental state. You need to be self-aware, so that you can learn the line between “pushing through a hard workout” and “this is going to lead to an attack”. You need to be honest with yourself when you’re approaching that line, and always err on the side of safety.
  5. Get a preventative inhaler. I have ProAir, and if I take it 20 min before I run, I can reduce the asthma effects I have on the run maybe 80%? It isn’t a perfect fix, but before the inhaler I was at the point where every run would end in gasping and tears. Even through the inhaler, I can trigger my EIA by going too hard or by weather conditions (cold, heat, pollen, etc), but it definitely helps. I also bring it on the runs with me, so in case it triggers on mile 5, I know I can make it home before the vampires come out.

How To Train As An Asthmatic Runner
The concepts I posted about developing a training plan (part 1 | part 2 | part 3) are all still valid. However, you can make your life a lot easier by making certain choices when designing that plan – since there are a lot of options – to keep your training as pain-free as possible.

  • Prioritize the long slow run, and learn to do it. The LSR is already the keystone of any running plan; when you’re asthmatic, it’s your holy grail. Regularly running longer (slower, more mileage) is the way you’re going to build endurance, muscle, and running capacity without triggering your asthma. And you need to learn to do it right, which means, doing it so slow you feel like you’re slacking. Because here’s the thing: if you have an asthma attack on mile 7 or 8 because you’re tired and your exertion level is rising, you’re running too fast. Learn to run long and slow, learn to prioritize it, and do it. More long slow miles will build the base you need to race.
  • Choose your speedwork carefully. As I’ve said before in these LTA posts, I can’t do short sprinting intervals because they trigger my asthma. So I make sure to design speedwork that I know I can perform – tempo runs, and medium to long intervals. If I do put in any short sprints, I make sure that there aren’t many, and that they’re part of an overall workout plan that’s modifiable if my lungs are having a bad day: a course or setup where I have the option to turn to longer slower intervals if needed.
  • Be careful running outside. It isn’t just speed that triggers asthma: it’s exertion. Hills can set this off, even gradual ones. Sprinting to cross a road at a red light can set this off.  And when you’re running in a neighborhood and you’re 4 miles out and you have an asthma attack, you still have 4mi to get back home. Be smart and be prepared. Choose your courses wisely: hill training is still good for you, but be aware of how it’s going to affect your exertion level.
  • Make room in your plan for flexibility. Let’s say you go out on your long run, but your asthma hits 2mi into it. Can you turn that day’s run into an easy recovery 3 mile jog, and do your long run another day? Or, let’s say you got 5mi into a 9mi LSR. Can you do the remaining 4mi the next day? the day after? Maybe your tempo run botched. Can you turn it into a short easy run and do some speedwork in your next run? You get the picture here: just because a run went badly doesn’t mean your training plan is defunct. Stay flexible and just keep trying to get those long slow miles in.
  • Crosstrain. If running is really triggering your asthma – maybe you’re out of practice; maybe it’s allergy season; maybe it’s just too cold – you can add some crosstraining into your plan to help grow your overall fitness level in a way that’s easier on your lungs. I find that elliptical – while it definitely isn’t running – is probably the closest, better than bike or stairmaster. Instead of a 3 mi easy run, for example, do 30-40 minutes of a good effort on the elliptical. (Good effort is key: running is harder than elliptical, so you aren’t going to gain anything by coasting on the machine for 20 min.) You do still have to run to get better at running; use crosstraining as a supplement, not a replacement. But it will still challenge your cardiovascular system and help you build fitness.

The most important thing to remember when running with asthma is to listen to your body. Sometimes you don’t really know what the message is; it takes time to learn the language. Put in careful practice, and you’ll learn to work with your lungs, rather than against them.

Let’s Talk About Things That Aren’t Running: NROL4W and BodyRock

I’ve been doing a lot of posts on running lately, but running isn’t all that I do – and if you want to be efficiently healthy, honestly, running isn’t necessarily your best choice. So I want to launch a second series of LTA posts, this time addressing stuff that isn’t running. It’s more related to weight training, cross training, and an intersection of the two.

This is just an introductory post and only involves these two programs that, right now, I’m making a part of my routine – I have many more thoughts on these kind of things and how they relate to efficiently honing your workouts, which will be coming soon.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women (NROL4W)

NFOL4W is a lifting program. It’s more than a program, I guess – it’s an entire book. The book itself is dedicated to a much bigger-lifestyle-type program that hits every area from diet to mindset to weight room. If you’re new to the fields of health, weight training, weight loss exercise programs, “dieting” and the like, it may be worth picking up. However, if you’ve done a little research on these kinds of things (or if you’re here), I can kind of sum up about half the chapters for you.

  • Eat more good stuff, eat even more protein, and eat less junk.
  • Lift heavy weights with your whole body.

The book’s main selling point is to convince women to lift heavy. There are some companion “unisex” programs, but since for whatever reason many women are still terrified by weights, by “bulking up”, by dumbbells, this book was designed specifically to sell women on heavy weightlifting. I do have to say that it’s interesting from a feminist perspective to be told “YOU can totes lift like a dude!! It will make you HOTTTT” — you think, do I like this message? or do I want to punch this author in the face? But this is about the program, not the book.

The program itself focuses on compound lifts. The beginning routines are built around squats and deadlifts – two of the most important and most effective compound lifts out there – and add in other things like lunges, shoulder press, pushups, ab work, seated row: stuff that generally hits more muscle groups. The program’s theory is that by building muscle (which involves the important steps of weight lifting and eating more, high quality food) we can design our bodies to burn more fat (since muscle burns more efficiently) which, generally, improves the look of one’s bod.

As a very brief summary, the program’s advantages are:

  • A good target: building muscle is in fact a good, efficient, effective way to eliminate fat and “look better”
  • A good plan: compound lifts are a great, effective, efficient way to build said muscle and get stronger
  • Focus on nutrition: many times when people are working out, if they don’t clean up their diet, they won’t see results as clearly – aka wasting time, aka inefficiency. This program emphasized a clean(er) diet and increased protein intake

and the disadvantages are:

  • The program requires equipment: namely access to a weight room. The compound lifts use dumbbells, barbells, a squat rack — you not only need access, but the knowledge on how to use it without hurting yourself.
  • The program does provide directions for the lifts, but it isn’t a trainer, so there is the chance for injury. Good form is required and must be learned to progress.
  • Weight training programs – although they can be more effective in the long run depending on your goals – may not provide results quickly initially, which can make them hard to stick with.
  • The general lack of cardio in the program – cardio burns calories, which is somewhat detrimental when you’re trying to build muscle – means runners can’t train for races, for example.

Overall, I do like NROL4W. I do find that as a runner and as a chronically injured person, I can’t stick to it as well as I’d like. But I think the program is sound, and I think if nothing else, it’s good knowledge to have in the bank.

BodyRock

BodyRock is a website which supplies a series of high intensity interval-style mainly bodyweight type workouts. That’s a lot to take in, so let me split it out: each workout provides you with a set of exercises. The exercises are usually based on bodyweight – using little to no equipment, and even when there’s equipment involved, there are almost always modifications one can make at home – and are usually very high intensity, meaning they’ll get your heart rate up quick. Exercises are done in intervals of 50/10, meaning perform the exercise for 50 seconds and then rest for 10. Usually exercises are presented in sets of 4 done 3x or sets of 6 done 2x, so each BodyRock workout is 12 minutes long. (of course, some are longer, some are shorter – the program has lots of options.)

The website has resources for diet and nutrition, but I haven’t explored those yet – I’ve done enough research thanks – so I can’t really speak to that side.

Because most workouts are only 12 minutes, BodyRock is built on a slogan of “no excuses” — everyone has 12 minutes in their day they could use to get their heart rate up and smoke some calories. The workouts aren’t a joke, either – the combinations of moves is quite challenging, and if there’s a move you’ve done for a while, there are modifications shown so that you can keep challenging yourself. I wear my heart rate monitor while I do these, and I find that in those 12 min I burn between 120-160 calories. For a day I would have otherwise done nothing, that’s a good addition.

In brief, the advantages are:

  • Accessibility: not only are workouts short, but there are almost always modifications for people who don’t have equipment — or people who might have injuries. And the program is available online for free.
  • A good concept: combining high intensity intervals with bodyweight work is an efficient way to burn some calories and improve cardiovascular health while also strengthening the body. You get dual benefits.
  • Good execution: the bodyweight exercises focus on full-body moves and will help balance, flexibility, and core strength as well as overall health/strength.
  • Variety: workouts are different every day and there are tons on the website, some with different themes (yoga, strength, weight training, etc).

And the disadvantages:

  • 12 minutes at a time may not be enough to see drastic results or changes, unless you also clean up your diet and maybe add other workouts.
  • With only 12 minutes, you are neither building large amounts of cardio endurance nor building significant muscle (like you would running or lifting heavy). Since you’re getting a small amount of both, you’re getting significant gains in neither.
  • Form is important, and if you don’t commit to the exercises and to making them hard, you won’t see results. It’s easy to cheat.

Overall, I love BodyRock, but that’s because it has filled a distinct hole I had in my workout regimen. I’ve always loved yoga and many of the exercises seem rooted in yoga poses (to me at least) so I feel like the overall full-body workout is more useful than “bicep curlzzzz again”. Personally I use BodyRock as part of an overall workout plan. I’m not sure using it by itself would produce the kinds of results I want.

And there’s an overview. I have plenty more to talk about, but if you have questions or anything specific to ask, please let me know.

Let’s Talk About Running: Speedwork Workouts and Ways To Jazz Up Your Plan

My first LTA post talked about the parts of a training plan, and my second LTA post talked about how to put the parts together. What I want to talk about in this third one will be shorter, I promise: I want to talk about a couple fun run workouts you can do once you start getting up there in mileage, to keep your runs more interesting and add variety. Remember, if you keep running the same thing, you’re going to keep running the same thing. Changing it up is what makes you better.

Most of these variations involve some kinds of speedwork, so you’re really going to want to save this for a day your legs need that extra push — an actual speedwork day in your schedule, a week you aren’t also upping your long run, a recovery run where you feel great and want a little extra push. Or, maybe you’ve reached a weekly mileage you’re happy with – your body’s used to the long runs – and you need to step it up in intensity another way. (Please don’t overwork your workouts — injuries and burnout are so prevalent, and so easy to do. Make sure you’re listening to your body overall.) Or maybe you have to run on a treadmill because it’s really freaking hot where you live (…) and you need to make that run interesting.

Here are some of the things I like to throw into my runs …!

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Week 03 Summary

Week 03 was tricky. I feel like I didn’t do as much as I should have, even though I got all my runs in and they went really, really well.

  • mon: rest
  • tues: 4.8 miles of Speedwork
  • wed: weights, upper body and abs
  • thurs: rest
  • fri: rest
  • sat: 75 min / 6.3 mile LSR
  • sun: rest

Total Week #03 mileage: 11.1, although it will be a bloc of 14.1 after tomorrow (I’m moving today’s easy run to tomorrow because I had to bump the LSR to Saturday; it just depends on when you start your bookkeeping.)
(week 02: 12.5 mi)

Days weightlifting: 1 day only

And in terms of eating, because health isn’t all about working out:

  • Weekly calorie balance: 2469 calories under maintenance for the week, ~350/day below maintenance target
  • Macronutrients: 42/25/32 carb/fat/protein (week 02: 42/27/31 week 01: 45/27/28) (goal: 45/20/35)

So, week 3 in review.

My neck/shoulder condition has been a clincher this week. I only felt comfortable doing one day of weights and I probably shouldn’t have even done that. The runs were good, although the tabulating is off because I had to bump everything down by one day. This week’s actual mileage will be 14.1. Either way running feels a lot better, so I’m pleased with that.

My macronutrient balance is slowly moving in the direction I want, towards more protein and less carb and fat. It’s hard though. It looks like I’m already at a “balance” point that works for me, since it hasn’t changed very much in three weeks. If I really want to change it up more it’s going to take some effort.

I’ve been under on calories – significantly – for 3 weeks running, actually 4 or more (although my bookkeeping wasn’t quite as anal until I started this blog). According to the math I should have dropped 3 pounds over the last 4 weeks. During week 04 when I’m resting I’ll “weigh in” every morning so that I can take an average over the days and see whether my weight is trending as it should. 3 pounds is not really significant though; I can gain or lose 3 pounds just by drinking coffee and taking a trip to the bathroom. Nevertheless, I should be able to see something.

For week 04:

Week 04 marks a rest week. This is important. I also have a personal trip this weekend (see how I did that?) so I won’t have time for as much anyway.

  • I won’t be lifting weights or doing BodyRock at all, in the hopes that my neck/shoulder bit will recover.
  • Weekly mileage will be 9-10 miles, in increments no longer than 4 miles, as best as I can fit them in. They’ll all be slow.
  • won’t be tracking calories over my weekend.

I have some posts lined up this week to keep things interesting while I’m resting. 🙂

Week 03: schedule change up and Worrying Important Thoughts

Two things to talk about today.

First: I ended up having to go to work today. Today’s supposed to be my day off. But a meeting was scheduled for the afternoon, there was no warning and no other time to re-schedule it, and I didn’t really have a choice. So instead of spending the morning painting in the basement and the afternoon relaxing and doing my long run, I spent the morning painting and the afternoon at work. It was a bad meeting with bad news: a really stressful discussion that left me feeling super angry and upset, very personally frustrated and stressed, and also overall exhausted.

It was already late in the day, I was upset, and I’d completely thrown off my eating schedule: so I decided to skip my LSR. Instead, I’ll get up and do 75 minutes of running tomorrow morning. There’s a birthday party tomorrow night, so I could probably use the extra calorie burn tomorrow (I know it’s all the same; just saying mentally).

So. That sucks. But one of the biggest things standing in the way of consistency for workouts with my is my job, and it always has been. Some days work just robs me of the will to do anything that isn’t “watch stupid shows on TV” or “play PS3”. That’s my life. I need to learn to deal with it. Not necessarily by forcing myself to run – by doing an honest survey of my state and deciding at to do instead.

(today’s answer was a double gin and tonic.)

The second thing on my mind is just as bad.

So I have some sort of pinched nerve / muscle strain in my neck/shoulder area. I’ve had it for three or four years now, but it has always been intermittent: it shows up, starts to hurt, I put a hot pad on it and treat it really well, and it goes away. Maybe a couple days at the most. If I don’t start babying it – hot pad, ice, Advil – it gets to the point where it quite literally feels like someone is jabbing a red hot knitting needle directly into the space between my neck and shoulders. I can’t even turn my neck (therefore can’t drive a car, cant get to work). It always eventually goes away – usually the stiff sharp pain only lasts a day.

I’ve currently been fighting the pain for about four weeks now.

It hasn’t gone away.

I can still function, so I’ve been – not ignoring it, but sidelining it. I’ve been using my hot pad almost daily; I get neck rubs from friends whenever I can; I even went out and bought a new $60 pillow for extra support to try to help it. But it isn’t going away. In fact, it’s gradually getting worse. It’s driving me to the point of constant stress and almost tears. I can’t sleep. I can barely sit comfortably.

About, say, 5 weeks ago, I started seriously adding heavy weight lifting and Body Rock to my workout regime. Both of which are heavily upper body related.

I don’t believe it took me this long to put it together. I think somehow in my head I was thinking, working out will make it stronger! I’ll get better! or some kind of similar logic. Like, strengthening the muscles around it would obviously help put back into place whatever is so fucked up, help settle whatever the problem is, help balance out the obvious imbalance.

Maybe I’m fucking causing it.

Because it has never stuck around this long without any relief. Ever. In five years. And while I’ve done upper body workouts before, sure, this is my first time in a really long time consistently lifting hard, doing compound weight lifts like squats, deadlifts, etc, and combining it with pushups and planks and all that. And of course now it’s all that I can think of.

So. As of right now I’m taking a week off of weights and BodyRock. Next week is a rest week in my running training plan, so I’m going to make it a rest week overall: no lifting, no body weight exercises, nothing but easy runs.

It might do nothing; in which case, obviously, I need to go to a doctor. But it might get better. In which case I should probably also go see a doctor, but at least I will know.

It’s a big derailment, but I’m trying to be okay with it. I have to do it: the pain is getting to the point of unbearable. If I watch my diet and continue to run, I shouldn’t set myself back too much.

Week 03: Weds, Thurs

Yesterday I wasn’t feeling so great: allergies. I did get to the weight room, but I didn’t tack on anything that would have required exertion (like elliptical or BodyRock).

I stuck to solid lifts: pushups / seated row (90lb), alternating sets of 10 reps x 3 times, then shoulder press (30lb) / lat pull down (90lb), alternating sets of 10 reps x 3 times. I did the ab chair of doom in between.

Today’s a rest day. Which is good; I’m supposed to do a 75 min run tomorrow, and not only am I helping a friend paint in the morning but now I have to come in to work in the afternoon. Ugh.