Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Feet and Shoes

I have the most disgusting toenails ever! Or, rather, I should say I have the most disgusting TOES ever because not all of them even have toenails. On some of them, the nails fell off and never came back. So. I work with mostly old guys at the V.A. (average age I think 82), so I know something about disgusting toenails. It seems like as you get older 1) your toenails get thick and yellow, like little horns, and 2) you stop giving a crap if anyone sees them. Well, I can say with authority that I am advanced in the area of feet, because both of those things have happened to me already at the tender age of really-really-close-to-36. I'm going to put a picture of my gross toes at the bottom of this post -- so if you have a sensitive stomach, or think there's a chance that you and I might ever intentionally be naked together for some other purpose, for the love of God STOP before you get to the bottom! On that note, if anyone knows what I can do to fix these hideous things, please tell me. But don't tell me to go get a pedicure. There's not enough nail for them to fix and I don't want to scare the poor nail tech with these things unnecessarily.

Moving along! Everyone knows how excited I was about the Hokas. Hokas seemed to be the answer to my problem with wimpy feet on the trail. They have a ridiculously padded midsole that promises to cushion wimpy feet like mine from big, mean, pointy rocks and other stuff on the trail. They are prohibitively expensive -- $175 -- but I finally sucked it up and bought them because I had to know if I was ever going to find trail running anything more than pure and total misery or if I should just put the idea of another 50-mile race out of my head completely. I had to go all the way to Phoenix to get them since no one carries them locally, When I tried them on, they felt all wrong. My feet slipped and slid around in them, which jammed my toes into the toebox painfully. And this was just running outside the store! We went down a half a size and this worked better, although they still didn't feel great. Let me amend that -- the cushioning part DID feel great, just as advertised. I decided I had to have these shoes and would get used to the toe thing or wear thicker socks or just tape my stupid toes together or maybe cut them off or something.

My first couple of runs with them -- 4 and 6 miles -- were disastrous. My toes did slide around just as much as they had in the store, even with a half size smaller. The tips of my toes were all red and shiny and ready to blister. After the first run I was ready to return them, but as soon as I walked in the door Dylan stepped on them with muddy feet from his brand-new separation anxiety drooling and they looked used. I decided to keep going with them since it was either that or accept the fact that I had just thrown $170 in the garbage. Besides, aside from the toe slippage problem I did like them -- a lot. They had traction like no other shoe I'd ever had, letting me run down even the nastiest slopes where the trail was nothing but rocks, and they cushioned my feet from all impact, making the trail feel like the road. (And making the road feel like hell, incidentally. On the road they feel like giant, awkward boats strapped to my feet, and I just can't get my footstrike right.)

On that third run, magic happened! The toe problem just disappeared. I can't explain it. Maybe the super-expensive shoe material just melded to the shape of my foot? Who knows. Who cares! I ran 10 miles on the Starr Pass trails with one of my fastest times ever. Then, that weekend, I really put them to the test with 18 miles on the Bear Canyon Loop with a Phoneline return. I also managed one of my best times on that route, with no problems except that the side of my right pinkie toe rubbed up against the side of the shoe in the last 5 miles when my feet swelled up a little. But that can be easily fixed with a little bit of tape next time, or, who knows, maybe it won't happen next time. (Next time will be Mt. Wrightson next weekend.)

The pictures below are from the Hoka website and are of the exact shoe I got, so you can see how geeky-looking it is (and so we can all enjoy the sight of that ripped leg -- yeah, I had to get men's shoes;  actually I think the salesguy told me the Hokas were all unisex, but according to the website they're not -- who knows).


Having taken a chance on the Hokas and liked them, I decided to do the same with some new road shoes, Newtons. I have always been favorably disposed towards Newtons because of their extremely flamboyant colors -- neon blues, greens, oranges, etc. I looked them up online and found that they were designed with minimal heel-toe drop -- which as I understand it means that, as opposed to regular running shoes, the heel is not significantly higher than the toe, which is supposed to promote forefoot striking. I trained myself to be a forefoot striker when training for my BQ Marathon, but I have gotten so sloppy with it following a year of trail running that I was really excited about the possibility of anything that would help me improve. So I tried on a pair and loved them immediately, after a couple steps on the treadmill.

Here's why I love them: they have a little springy padding right in the forefoot, but nowhere else. If you forefoot strike, and land on that padding, it feels like a little boost straight up into the air. I swear I hear the sound "booooiiiing" in my head with every footstep. If you DON'T forefoot strike, though, it is extremely uncomfortable, like the whole sole of your foot is getting whacked with a board with a big bump in the middle. So if you can't be honest and stay on your forefeet while running, get some Newtons and they will do it for you. The only downside: if you haven't been forefoot striking, as I haven't (consistently), your calf muscles will have something to say about it. After 9 miles between my house and the Cinco course, where I foolishly attempted to keep up with people I used to be able to keep up with but can't anymore, my calf muscles were in such agony I had to walk the mile and a half home, and even walking it was painful. But that's just a matter of toughening them up. My body's not the boss of me!

I'm done here, except for the promised picture of my toes... scroll down, but, please, only if you really want to.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

P90X -- A New and Different Kind of Torture

I was bored with everything and wanted to do something new, so I figured I would try a program that includes some strength training, which I've never done in my life. I've always had a desire to see myself ripped, like an Amazon, like I could kill you with my bare hands if I wanted to. Never had the desire to go spend time in the gym to get that way, though. Enter P90X! It doesn't require any equipment except a pull-up bar and either weights or bands, and it's all on DVDs, so I can do it at home in my spare time. Ha ha ha, if I actually counted on being able to do things "in my spare time" I would never get anything done. I get things done only because I schedule them. As proof, I can say that I've been reading the same book for A MONTH! Me, who used to read a book a day! And that's even with having an intern to do all my work for me at work! (I can't read at work; I am far too busy catching up on lost sleep.) I get up at 3:30 every morning and do my P90X then.

P90X is a 3-phase, 90-day program. I'm just starting Week Three. For the first three weeks, the schedule is like this: Monday, Chest and Back (i.e., weights, push-ups, and pull-ups). Tuesday, Plyometrics (jumping exercises -- cardio). Wednesday, Shoulders and Arms.  Thursday, Yoga. Friday, Legs and Back (more weights, more pull-ups). Saturday, Kenpo (a martial arts workout -- more cardio). Sunday, either a rest day or an hour of stretching. (Guess which one I do? We don't need no stinkin' rest days!) The workouts range from 52 minutes (the Monday one) to the abominable hour and a half of yoga. Oh, and on Monday-Wednesday-Friday you are also supposed to do the Ab Ripper workout, which I like because it's only 15 minutes and MAN does it work the abs. I have awesome abs already but I truly believe this workout three times a week will bring them to six-pack status.

P90X also comes with a 3-phase diet plan, which I don't really follow, at least not the first phase, which is called the Fat Shredder phase. It calls for 7 servings of protein a day and only 1 of carbs. It's designed for people who are only doing P90X and aren't doing an extra couple hours of cardio every day in addition to P90X like I am. I did try to follow it at first but was running out of energy on my runs and rides, so added in some more carbs and felt better. (One small bone to pick with the diet -- in calculating your calorie needs for the day, they estimate that you burn 640 extra calories per day with the exercises in the program. I call BS! Maybe in the cardio workouts, if you do them at the insane pace they do them on the DVDs, you might POSSIBLY burn 640 calories. But the yoga, and the weights? No freaking way does an hour of that burn the same calories I'd burn in an hour-long run. So I just don't count P90X as burning any calories at all when I'm tracking calories in-calories out during the day.)

I confess that I HATED the first week of P90X. I couldn't keep up with the people on the videos on any of the exercises. I couldn't even do one pull-up, and couldn't do hardly any push-ups either. It made me so sore that I couldn't swim at all -- not that I like swimming, but my body likes it so much I feel guilty not doing it. I also had problems with things like walking around normally, shampooing my hair, turning the steering wheel in the car, and shaking up my can of V8. Tony Horton, the creator of P90X (who to me looks just like a Ken doll with muscles), has all these annoying sayings that get lodged in my brain: "Keep pushing PLAY." "Do your best and forget the rest." "Bring it!" I decided I would just follow along as best I could and see what happened. Lo and behold, there is a learning curve with P90X. Who would've thought? The second week has been so much better. I can do a few pull-ups at a time, which is like a 300% improvement over the first week. I swear I can even see little changes in my body, like when I flex my arms this awesome vein pops out all the way from my shoulder to my wrist. (Mom would call it sinew and say I look scrawny, but actually, Mom, I lost 10 pounds pretty quick and then completely stopped losing weight, which I can't figure out at all because I still have a pretty good calorie deficit 99% of the time. I'm 149 now which is a totally reasonable weight but I want to be 140!)

I still have some trouble with the cardio workouts, mostly due to my lack of coordination. This is especially noticeable in Kenpo. They have exercises with names like "Jab-Cross-Hook-Uppercut" that you're supposed to repeat 25 times, faster than you can even say the name of the exercise. There is fancy footwork that goes along with the arm movements too. I find that I can do them IF I go very slowly and memorize one motion at a time. If I try to go any faster I find myself just staring in bewilderment at the screen, facing the wrong direction or moving forward when I should be going backward, things like that. I don't worry about it too much though because 1) I know I will get better if I just "keep pressing PLAY" (damn you, Tony Horton, for your cheeseball sayings; now I know how my mobility students feel when I cheerfully repeat, "It's better to be patient than to be a patient!" and "When in doubt, wait it out!"), and 2) even if I never get coordinated enough to do them right, I do so much cardio on my own, at least a couple hours every single day, that I don't have to worry about not burning enough calories.

Two more things I must discuss: the yoga, and the stretch DVD. Yoga is TERRIBLE. I hate yoga. So boring, so monotonous, such a clear demonstration of my lack of flexibility. Really, MUST they get those people in the videos who are as flexible as Gumby and can fold themselves up into human pretzels just to make the rest of us look bad? And do they really expect me to let my mind float free for 90 stinking minutes? Heck, I can't make it through 30 minutes without having to let Frieda out to pee. Ugh, I will stick with it but it would be really nice if one day I could make it through without hating every second of it. (And if one day I could actually touch my heels to the floor in Downward Dog like I'm supposed to be able to.)

X-Stretch, on the other hand, is amazing, like a gift from God if I believed in God. It's a full hour of stretches that I can actually do. When I'm done with it I feel like a rag doll. Even my brain moves slower. It is impossible to feel rushed or stressed after X-Stretch. If I ever go back to WOG I will have some really awesome stretches to show everyone.

So! Two weeks down, ten more to go. And at the end of it, I will be an Amazon able to kill you with my bare hands. Something like that, anyway.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Two Trail Runs in a Row That I Didn't Hate Doing

I can hardly believe it myself, but there it is. On Friday night, Tom and Joe P. set up this really great sunset/night run at Dove Mountain in the Tortolitas. I almost didn't go because it was such a long drive and I was worried about my sick puppy and I was afraid to set foot on a trail even though I really, really wanted to go. In the end I went anyway. Frieda was just sleeping anyway and didn't need me to watch her do that.

I want to say I don't like Dove Mountain because it is so exclusive and snotty and... perfect, but I can't say that. Instead, as I drove up there and entered into the perfect little Dove Mountain bubble, I was jealous. Of the people that live there. Surrounded by all these beautiful mountains and desert peace and quiet; smooth, wide, eminently bikeable streets; a choice between paved, off-road running paths and some pretty challenging trails; a view-to-die-for of the city down below, the residents of Dove Mountain are some of the luckiest people in Pima County in my opinion.

The run started out heading up a wash, and then became a real Tucson trail pretty quick -- steep, rocky, and difficult. I was gasping for breath right away. But I only had to "run" (i.e., hike fast) for about a mile and a half before we got to a spot where Tom had stashed some liquid refreshments earlier. Everyone settled down to watch the sunset. I was fidgety and impatient because I was worried about Frieda and because I had stupidly left my head lamp at home and knew that when it got dark I was going to be relying on my iPhone flashlight (and I had also stupidly forgotten to charge my iPhone so it only had 60% battery). I wasn't drinking any beer anyway -- didn't want the calories and didn't want it to make me sick on the remaining six miles of the run. So I took off again and so did Steve. We left the other six people there drinking and watching the sunset.

We had another few miles of climbing before we topped out. We were going pretty slow because both me and Steve are lazy and walk everything that has the slightest bit of incline. The sunset light and the temperature were both perfect for running. I swear, Tucson in the springtime is like Paradise. The start of the descent was some of the nicest, most runnable trail I've been on in a long time. It finally got dark enough that Steve turned on his head lamp and I stayed right behind him and managed to stay on my feet by using his light.

We stopped to wait for the others once it was full dark. I used my iPhone to look up a website with recordings of rattlesnakes rattling, and planned to hide next to the trail and press Play as the runners were coming down the hill. But they didn't come. We waited and waited in the dark. The temperature was still perfect. I had an inexplicable desire to be smoking a joint. It's been at least ten years since I did that or even thought about it, so I have no idea what brought it on. Finally I couldn't stand waiting anymore and decided to leave. Steve wanted to wait for the others so I left him there and took off using my iPhone flashlight.

It was actually plenty bright, though it was sort of a pain to hold at the right angle. At first I had some boulder scrambling to do, but then the trail dumped me out into a wash again. I was happy because now I could pick up the pace. But then the trail signs pointed out of the wash and got me back to boulders again. This went on for quite a while before I was returned to the wash. The whole time, my iPhone was flashing warnings about the state of my battery -- 20% left, then 15%, then 10%. I could see the Ritz-Carlton up on the right and could hear the sound of music coming from it. I had thought that the trail was only 8 miles total but my Garmin was up to 8.8, then 8.9, and still no trailhead. Then suddenly my phone shut off -- no more battery. In the moonlight it looked like the trail branched off into lots of different trails. I hadn't been paying attention to what it looked like when we started, so I didn't even know what to be looking for. Finally I cut straight across the wash and bushwhacked up into the Ritz-Carlton parking lot, hoping I wouldn't step on a rattler without my light. I didn't. From there I saw our cars parked about 50 feet away. I didn't wait for the others to get back; I was too anxious to get back to Frieda so I just took off.

The next day I started my project of biking from my house to and up Mt. Lemmon. I plan to add five miles a week until I get to the top. I only got to Babad Do'ag this time (a 45-mile round trip from home, building off the 40 miles I did last week), but I actually felt pretty good riding, and was going at (for me) a good pace. I figured it was a bad idea to do a long ride the day before I did the Ventana loop, but I really had to do it both to burn calories and to get my mind off Frieda being so sick.

When I RSVP'd about the Ventana loop, I had told the run director, Dave, that I didn't know how far I would go but I knew it wouldn't be the whole distance. When I got there this morning, though, I felt like doing the whole thing. It was a loop that linked together two trails I'd never managed to complete -- Esperero, leaving from the Sabino Canyon tram road, and Ventana Canyon, which I had turned back on twice, once because of not enough water in August and once because of an out-of-shape hiking companion. I sort of did want to finish them. So I decided to try it and see what happened. Also, Steve was doing it too and I knew we were about the same pace so I would have someone to run with. And, it was a gorgeous, perfect day weatherwise, cool but not cold in the morning and predicted to be warm in the afternoon.

Esperero is a steep, rocky trail (and includes one brutal section about 3 or 4 miles in called Cardiac Gap, for obvious reasons, and several equally brutal sections later with no names). It climbs, climbs, climbs. There are some runnable sections and even some downhill sections, but it is mostly a long, slow haul up to the top. I was alone for almost the entire thing, although I could always see Renee not far ahead and Steve not far behind. At the top, after climbing something like 4500' in 9 miles, I waited for Steve because the trail seemed to disappear and I had no idea where it was supposed to go. I was worried because I thought I remembered Dave saying something like, "There's really nowhere you can get lost; well, there is ONE place, if you look down and see Oro Valley you might have taken a wrong turn." I had been looking down at Oro Valley for a while but apparently I wasn't in the wrong place because when Steve showed up a few minutes later he pointed out the trail. I realized I had missed it because I expected it to keep going up but actually it went down. 

Ventana Canyon is named for this rock formation called The Window that I have always wanted to see up close but never have. There is supposedly a path leading to it off this trail but Steve was far in front of me at this point and I didn't know where it was so I literally passed right by it and didn't get to see it. I am a little bummed out about this, because now I will have to go all the way back up there again. NOTE: I did see one little path leading off the main trail, so I took it but it cliffed out about 20 feet later and I found myself standing on the edge of a sheer drop of thousands of feet that turned my legs to jelly and sent my heart leaping up into my throat. I got out of there as quick as I could and returned to the gnarly descent, which had my least-favorite features of massive step-downs covered with loose scree. In my dead running shoes with practically no tread, this was no small undertaking. I wished for my Hokas which now I will probably not be able to buy because Frieda's vet care is costing me approximately one mortgage payment per day.

Once we started heading down the Ventana Canyon Trail, I was happy to see that most of it was runnable. And a lot of it was delightful, too. It was shady and in very good shape compared to how it's looked the other two times I ran it. Oh, there was still plenty of underbrush and thorny stuff growing across the trail as you can see from the picture of my leg I put on FB, but it was nothing like it used to be. I remember in the past getting hopelessly lost pushing through waist-high weeds looking for the trail after it disappeared, and nearly stepping on a rattlesnake in the process. There was nothing like that today.

The last few miles weren't shady at all. They were totally exposed and it was warm. I don't know how warm it actually got today, probably around 90. I like the heat though so I was comfortable. I'm sorry, Steve; you were right about the hot, rocky part being two miles not one mile. My bad! When I got to the trailhead parking lot at Mile 16, Dave was there with a cooler full of good stuff. I had just finished all my water and Nuun so took a Mountain Dew and a bottle of cold water. I had the option of getting a ride back to Sabino with Dave but decided to run the three miles on the road instead because, amazingly, I still felt good. That shocked me -- when is the last time I've felt good on the last three miles of any trail run? I don't remember. I managed to actually run the last three miles too, which made me feel even better.

So this is now two trail runs that have felt good. Oh, and also my feet haven't hurt on either one. I am pretty sure this is mental, not physical, and is due either to the nice weather, or the absence of pressure since I bailed on the 50-mile race. It's also possible that there's a physical cause, either the 10 lbs that I've lost or else the fact that I'm not running much and my legs are fresh. Either way, I'm happy about it!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Brilliant Insight -- I Don't HAVE to Do This Race!

I have spent yet another otherwise-excellent weekend dreading the Sunday trail run and force-talking myself into committing to do it. This morning as I was lying in bed, listening to the alarm and thinking how much I don't want to run a trail this morning, I realized something: I don't HAVE to do this 50-mile race! At all! The logical afterthought was: I'm not going to do it, then! Immediately followed by a tidal wave of relief that made me realize how much I've been stressing over this for the last few weeks.

Here's the main mistake I made: I assumed that all I had to do was maintain readiness for a 50-mile race over a period of another couple of months, but I underestimated how much covering 50 miles -- even at the excruciatingly slow pace I did it -- would take out of me, physically but especially mentally. I didn't enjoy my training leading up to it -- I hate running that high mileage! -- and I acquired such negative feelings toward trail running while doing that training that those feelings are now entrenched in my psyche and I don't know what the cure is other than giving myself a break from trails for a while. It's a horrible feeling to be out there and be unable to make myself pick up my feet or stop telling myself how miserable I am.

After the OP-50, I took two weeks off of training and didn't do one single thing other than my daily abs workout and one 30-mile bike ride for that entire two weeks. I gained about five pounds, which put me at my heaviest weight in years -- 159! -- and apparently lost a lot of conditioning too, because no matter what workout I do now I feel fat, sluggish, and slow. On top of that, I got the new puppy, and puppies take so much time. I leave her alone in her crate so much during the week that I feel unbearably guilty for leaving her alone in her crate for 7 or 8 hours on the weekend days too. The older dogs are back in obedience class once a week, plus their daily training time, and all of those things, plus the other mental things I already mentioned, leave me pretty much uninterested in training for another 50.

That doesn't mean I'm not interested in working out. I am actually eager to go back to tri training. Now that it's warm again, the pool and the bike are a lot more appealing. I've never thought that running by itself put me in the best shape I could be in. I've always been at the top of my fitness game when I was swimming and biking in addition to minimal (35 miles or less per week) running. Just as I always knew it would, that high running mileage from OP-50 training left me sore and tired, not to mention cranky, all the time.  In the last 2 weeks, when I've gotten back to tri training, I've had more energy and been in a much better mood. (Except for the days when I force myself to run trails, when I feel lousy.)

I am tired of being fat, so I'm going to lose weight. I went back to counting every single calorie that goes into my mouth and every single calorie I burn. I'm using the same formula I used when I got skinny before my Boston qualifying marathon -- eat less than 1000 net calories per day; burn at least 1000 calories per day. So, for example, if I burn 1000 calories on a 10-mile run, then I can eat 2000 calories total. If I burn 2000 calories, I can eat 3000, et cetera. I am trying to watch the amount of processed sugar I eat, but if I burn enough calories, I'm going to go ahead and have that donut and not feel bad about it. Technology has made this whole process a lot less painful than it was last time! I have this great iPhone app called My Fitness Pal. It has a gigantic database of nutrition information, so long gone are the days when I had to keep my notebook and write all the information in it myself. (I still have to write in some things myself -- for example, the other day I bought a naughty-shaped sucker from Fascinations and that wasn't in the database, so I had to enter it myself -- 98 calories -- but nearly everything else is in there, even GU!) Of course it's not exactly right -- a tablespoon of peanut butter to me is the maximum amount of peanut butter that can cling to the surface of a tablespoon, and I don't list any of the walking I do on the job, which can be a couple miles a day -- but I am satisfied with ballpark. I know that 1000 calories a day is more restrictive than I need to be, but that leaves me room to fudge on things like piling a tablespoon higher with peanut butter than I should. So far, after 2 weeks of sticking to this formula religiously, I'm down to 151, which is 8 lbs in 2 weeks and, I know, I know, an unhealthy rate of weight loss so I may just skip that 11-mile run I had planned for tonight. You know, just to make sure I don't lose too much weight.

I also think I want to try P90X, just out of curiosity, to do something different and see how ripped I can get to look. I would love to see my 6-pack; wouldn't that be awesome? And I can do that workout at home, so I don't have to drive anywhere or leave the dogs alone. It's 90 days; I can get through 90 days of anything, surely. I figure I can do that workout and still get in enough training for Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak is still 4 1/2 months away, and, unlike the 50-mile race, I am extremely excited about Pikes Peak and really want to better my last year's time. I think with enough cross-training, weight loss, treadmill workouts to simulate the grade, and just enough trail running to stay agile when boulder- and root-hopping, that should be totally doable.

One more sign that this was the right choice (besides the obvious one -- the huge wave of relief that came over me when I decided not to do this race this morning) is that I checked the race website and found to my shock that this race actually... refunds your money if you withdraw. I don't know that I've ever heard of such a thing. I emailed the race director just to thank her for being so awesome, and she emailed me back and said that she didn't start spending money until May 1 so there was no reason not to give refunds. Ah, how simple! Now find me another race that does that, seriously.