Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back on 2011, forward to 2012

Everyone tells you this, but you don't really believe it until you yourself come face to face with your own aging tendons and muscles and bones: It sucks to get old.

I think I have finally come to a place in my life and in my running (or, more to the point, lack thereof) that I must acknowledge my age. I'm 44, and it's time to change a few things. Gone are the days when I can simply head out the door with no real plan and run until I can't run anymore. Day after day, week after week. The thing I have always loved about running is it's simplicity. I have never given any thought to specific training, goal planning, actual workouts. Running for me has always been 85% mental, but mental in sort of a negative capacity. Time to switch off the thinking brain and tune into the wild mind.

This is my brain on everyday life;

this is my brain on 30 miles of beautiful trail.

This year has been a terrible running year. I was sick most of the summer with Lyme's Disease, which recurred in late September for another less intense month long bout. And every time I returned to running I'd injure something. Always soft tissue; always overuse.

I won't go into the heartbreaking recoveries followed by immediate re-injury. How many times will I spend weeks rehabbing, only to go out and run too much too soon before I realize that I'm not eighteen years old, that my 44-year-old body needs time to heal. Currently I am nursing tendinitis in my left foot and in my right knee. I have run about ten miles during the month of December, none of those miles productive, most of them landing me right back at the PT (where, incidentally, I return early Tuesday morning to begin yet another round of foot and knee rehab).

Dear or dear, I sound like a pissy old crank. Like one of those self-absorbed old ladies who pins you to the wall at the deli counter in the grocery store and exhaustively lists all of her aliments and medications while your kids run wild in the bakery aisle. No one wants to hear about it!

So. Onward and upward.

You will be please to hear that I have not been sitting on my keester all these quiet months. I have been swimming. I have re-discovered swimming! There is no competitive swimming program for adults at the pool I belong to, so I have been downloading workouts from the internet and gradually moving up to about 4500 yards a day, all four strokes, maybe four times a week. It feels great to be back in swimming shape, and I look forward to getting to the pool at 5 o'clock in the morning almost as much as I used to look forward to my early morning runs.


I do miss running. Viscerally miss running. Miss being outside. It's starting to feel like something I used to do.

I have also been working out in the weight room and taking the occasional spin class. I sit in the back of the spin class because I can't stand up on the bike, which you usually do for more than half of the class. Standing hurts my knee. So I sit in the back with a couple of other degenerate (degenerating) 40-somethings and we laugh about Advil and injuries and getting on. I like the spinning because it features short bursts of intensity and speed, both of which have been missing in my running workouts for decades.

I'm hoping this will change in 2012. I have two New Year's resolutions this year (which is odd -- I never make New Year's resolutions. Or maybe I've never had to). Number One: run less, run smart, cross train more. Number Two: number two has nothing to do with running. I have started to try to write a story (or something) and I'd like to finish it (or at least make a decent start) in 2012.

I read Rachel Toor's piece in last month's Running Times about training with Bill Pierce, co-author of Run Less, Run Faster. I bought the book and plan to use it when I do return to running. He lays out specific training schedules based on a three-day running week (one track workout, one tempo run, one long run close to race pace), supplemented by three days of cross training and weights. He does not address ultrarunning at all, and one gets the impression that he disapproves. Whatever. My plan is to do the marathon training program starting in February (I'll be running by then, RIGHT?), and tweak the long run, maybe add a few more long runs.

If anyone out there has used his training programs for ultra training, please let me know. I'm wide open to suggestions.

The other thing I have been doing in my free, non-running time is working on getting leaner. I have always carried 5-10 extra pounds (extra from a runner's perspective rather than a normal person's perspective). When I was younger and everything was high and dry these "extra" pounds sat well on my frame. But three pregnancies have irredeemably changed my body shape, and those few pounds were no longer doing anything for me, aesthetically or otherwise. Time to enter the second half of my life a little lighter, a little tighter.

I cherry picked chapters from a couple of books (Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes by Monique Ryan and Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald), tweaked my eating habits a bit, and lost most of the extra flab in a couple of months. In a nutshell, I now eat small meals throughout the day, ideally (but often not actually) timed to most benefit performance and recovery. I never get really hungry, never feel horribly full. My stomach has not felt this good in years. Small meals every few hours! A revelation.

The only race on my docket at this point is the Vermont 100 in July. My husband Brian has agreed to pace me for the last 30 miles, and my running friend Bob says he will crew. So all I have to do is get healthy, stay healthy and train smartly. Here's hoping!!

Happy New Year!