Archive for May, 2012

At the Core of the IT Band

Posted on May 25, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I remember the first time I saw the Ice Capades.  This was in Dorothy Hamill’s day, and she was my idol.  I wanted to be a princess on ice, just like her, twirling and gliding, hair bobbing in the breeze.  I even had her haircut.  She was my star.

Until intermission.  Which was also the first time I saw a Zamboni.

While my brothers and sisters flocked to the snack stand to load up on cotton candy and Cokes, I sat mesmerized watching what appeared to be magic—a giant bulldozer-like machine gliding over the ice, smoothing over the cuts and scrapes left behind by sharp blades.   It was a thing of beauty, and suddenly my highest ambition in life was not to be a figure skater but to drive the Zamboni.

Making order out of chaos. What greater serenity could there be?  I have since found the same satisfaction I experienced watching the Zamboni in ironing and mowing the lawn.  There is something supremely peaceful in smoothing over creases, evening out irregularity.  Finding balance, perhaps.  Symmetry.

So you’d think I would find the same satisfaction in my foam roller as it smooths over the bubble-wrap tendon that has become my IT band.  Alas.  It is not so.

My IT band tightens pretty regularly, throwing off my body mechanics when I run.  It took me nearly 6 months of incredible marathon-training-stopping pain to figure out what my IT band actually does.  I experienced hip pain so devastating that for a while I could barely walk. (Did this keep me from limping out to the road every morning anyway to see if I could run?  Of course not.  Someone smack me in the head.)  All the research I did on running injuries related the IT band to knee pain, not hip pain, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I finally saw a doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist (the best, I might add, in San Antonio).  She solved the problem.  Sure, my IT band was a mess, she concluded, but that would be relatively easy to straighten out.  Simply foam roll regularly and see a massage therapist as often as I could stand it.  Easy enough.  I bought a foam roller and started massage therapy (lucky for me I found the best massage therapist, I would also add, in San Antonio).

However, the crux of the problem, my physical therapist pointed out, is not my IT band. My IT band transforming into bubble wrap is the symptom, not the cause. The real problem is at the core.  Literally.

A strong core is the basis of all good form, no matter what sport you participate in, including running.  Most runners I know, particularly women, seem to think that all they have to do is run to keep up the muscles that help them run.  In reality, you need strength training to help with speed and endurance.  But even strength training alone—if it doesn’t include core work—won’t get you very far.

My ongoing task has been to strengthen my stabilizers. It’s one I haven’t been very diligent about maintaining.  I seem to go at it in bits and spurts, a few weeks on, a few weeks off.  What reminds me to get back to core strengthening is both my foam roller and my massage therapist.  When a date with either of them forces words from my mouth that would make my mother blush, I know I’ve been neglecting my core.

What kinds of core exercises do you do to maintain stability?

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The Art of Swimming, or how Ben Franklin helps me train

Posted on May 18, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Any time I think of Ben Franklin—and yes, oddly, I think of him a lot—it’s never as a swimmer.  Yet there I was in the pool this week working on my stroke when who should I think of but Franklin.

Franklin has been one of my heroes, I suppose you could say, since I first read his Autobiography in high school.  (I know. I was an odd kid.) What appealed to me about Franklin then appealed to me throughout college and well into now.  Franklin was all about self-improvement.  He was a planner, a list-maker, an organizer of days and details, who believed that hard work, patience, and discipline lead to progress.

He went so far as to devise a character development project—The Art of Virtue—in the hope of attaining “moral perfection.”  To this end, he listed 13 virtues or qualities of character he felt most important, with an explanation or precept beneath each one.  He made a chart listing the 13 virtues down the side and the 7 days of the week across the top.  Each week, he focused on one virtue.

He carried his chart with him everywhere he went, and each time he failed to live up to that week’s precept, he’d make a mark on the chart.  The fewer the marks on the chart, the closer he came to meeting his idea of moral perfection.  The next week, he’d focus on the next virtue, and then the next, until he worked his way through all 13.  Then he’d start over again.

He kept his chart for 50 years.  He never quite reached moral perfection (I highly doubt he ever thought he would), but he became a better man by marking himself through life.

So why was I thinking about moral perfection while swimming this week?  I wasn’t.  I was thinking about my elbows.  Was I lifting them high enough out of the water?  Were they coming up in the shape of a pyramid?  Or maybe a chicken wing wrapped tightly to the body strapped on a rotisserie, turning maybe 75°, but not quite all the way around, just enough to twist my body up and around to take a deep breath of air?  (I know.  I am an odd adult too.  Sometimes I get hungry while I swim.  Usually, I think of oranges.  This time, it was rotisserie chicken.)

My elbows.  That was my focus, just for this week.  Last week it was my kick.  Next week it will be something else.  Each time I get in the pool I try to practice proper form, but I realized this week that I focus on only one thing.  Enter Franklin.

I won’t go so far as to make a list of 13 swimming components I need to improve, but I have one in my mind.  In all other endeavors I have undertaken that involve self-improvement, I have made a plan—created a list, kept a calendar, somehow marked my progress and lack thereof. I have done this, in part, to keep from being overwhelmed.  A project is always easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

Triathlon training is easier to undertake if I break it down into smaller parts.

I don’t have to master the art of swimming in just one week.  Not even in one month.  There are too many components to take into account, at least for me.  But if I focus on just one thing at a time—just one week at a time—I will at least get better.  And all I ask for is improvement.

So thank you, Ben, for once again reminding me that improvement comes in small measures, over the course of time.

I said that before this week, I had never thought about Franklin as a swimmer. Heck, I never thought of him as athletic at all.  Come to find out, he not only taught himself how to swim in a time when almost no one went swimming, but he invented fins.  He is, in fact, the only founding father to be in the Swimming Hall of Fame.  I wonder what his training log looked like.

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In Medias Res

Posted on May 11, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This post is longer than usual for me, in large part because it’s a complicated subject for me. I suspect it is for others too.  Goals.  Not goal setting, which many of us do, but goal revising, which many of us stop short of doing and choose instead to call our missed goals failures.

I have set my share of goals, most of them fitness-related, especially in the past decade.  (Note:  When you start talking about your life in terms of decades, you know you’re getting old.)  Sure, I have set work-related goals. For the most part, they’ve been called deadlines.  To my way of thinking, that’s not quite the same thing as setting goals.

Many people use New Year’s resolutions as their goal-setting strategy.  But the idea of making resolutions has always bugged me—why pressure myself to set goals during this monumental goal-setting time once a year?  And if January passed and I hadn’t resolved to do much of anything, I was off the hook for another year, drifting about on the Nonplan Plan, which is what I did for a year or two. Maybe three. Which is, perhaps, why New Year’s resolutions bugged me.

I know a bit about goal setting and time management.  I’ve taught the principles and the actions and I know what I’m supposed to do:  Set big (challenging), specific, measurable goals with realistic deadlines, long and short.  Write them down.  Read them regularly.  But other than fitness-related training goals with the requisite plan tacked on my refrigerator, I hadn’t written down any goals.  Instead, I kept them in my head. Picked a vague date.  Figured I’d make it. Or not.

So this past January, I tried something new.  I made two lists, one of priorities and the other of short- and long-term goals, and taped them to my bathroom mirror.  They were the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every night.  And since I work from home, I saw them a number of times in between.

I listed my priorities first.  My goals wouldn’t mean much unless I knew what larger picture I was trying to paint.  Additionally, no matter what I have planned on any given day or week, life happens.  The time or effort I have to put toward my goals often conflict, and I have to choose.  Reminding myself of my priorities makes it easier to know what choice to make.  At least in theory.

My priorities, listed in order of importance, looked like this:

  • God
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Writing
  • Work

My logic went something like this:  Life is not about me, it’s about serving others (God).  In order to serve others to the best of my ability, I need to take care of myself (Health).  The things in life that mean the most to me—the things I serve—are not things, they’re people (Relationships).  The abilities, skills, and passions I have to serve others with are gifts, and gifts are meant to be opened, not kept under wraps.  I am blessed with the gift of writing—what can I do with my writing to help others see (Writing)?  I am blessed with the ability to run—how can I extend my life-altering passion to others (Work)?

Under each priority, I jotted down a few phrases about what the priority means to me.  Under God, for example, one of the things I wrote is to keep my light on a table, not under a bushel.  Under Health I wrote only one thing:  You know what to do.  Just do it.  (Clearly, I have set the most goals in my life around this priority.)

Next, I wrote out some goals:  8 for the month of January—specifically under the priorities I knew I would struggle with most; five 3-month goals (end of March); three 6-month goals (end of June); and two one-year goals (end of December).  I intentionally set fewer long-term goals, as I knew that 6 and 12 months were too far out to set very specific goals, and I would need to revise accordingly.

Revise accordingly.  This is where I am now.

I achieved 7 of my 8 January goals.  By the end of March, I achieved only 2 of 5.  I am on track to achieve maybe 1 of my 3 June goals and maybe 1 of my 2 December goals. I took the papers off my mirror at the end of April.  Not because I failed.  But because I choose to succeed.

I fail now only if I choose to do nothing.  I succeed if I revise.

Revision, as it turns out, can be pretty tricky.  It’s a lot like what Ernest Hemingway said about writing:  “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Revision means not only reevaluating your goals, but why you set those goals in the first place.  The goals that I haven’t met, for instance, can be lumped into two categories:  those that depend on others to achieve and those that have to do with writing.  Once I can see a pattern emerge—two categories—I can figure out how to revise.

Goals that depend on others to achieve, as it turns out, are not really goals.  At least not my own personal goals.  Unless I checked with those “others” to see if their goals align with mine.  If I haven’t, then I’ve set unrealistic and probably immeasurable goals.  Every single goal I missed in this category has to do with work.

I feel so passionate about the mission of my organization and I see very clearly in my mind where I believe we need to head.  My vision, however, doesn’t match my past few months’ experience.  Does this mean that I should ditch the organization and our goals because we’re not where I wanted to be?

Hardly.  Rather, I can use life experience to reshape not only our goals, but my goals.  I can learn what to measure, understand what’s realistic, and check with others first.  Then I can set new goals, making sure to set goals that are “mine,” not “ours.”  There is most certainly a place for “our” goals, but that place is not necessarily on my bathroom mirror.

The other category of goals I didn’t meet has to do with writing, which is pretty high on my list of priorities. It’s the first of things I “do” after things I “am.”  In other words, it’s action rather than character.  Sort of.  Because I am, and have always been, a writer, whether I have been a paid writer (sometimes) or not (most of the time).  Writing, writers know, is part of one’s essence.

If a priority is that high on my list and I fail to meet most of the goals associated with it, then, as painful as it might be to even suggest it, maybe my priority is not really a priority.  My boyfriend reminded me of this indirectly just the other day.  I can’t very well get my book published if I’m not sending it out to agents.  And I can’t get a novel published if I haven’t yet finished writing it.

So why haven’t I been doing the things I know I need to do—that I really want to do?  In part, it’s because of competing commitments and accountability.  If there are X hours in a day and I have set aside a block of them to write but a work issue arises that needs to be addressed immediately, there goes writing time.  Two goals—two priorities—competing for the same block of time.  Which one wins?

Technically, it should be the higher priority on my list.  In this case, writing.  Practically, what wins is the priority that serves the most people, most immediately:  Work.  At work, I am accountable to over 100 girls, 30 coaches, 5 sites, and whoever reaches out for information.  In writing, I am accountable to only me.

And it’s this thing called accountability that often causes the bleeding and makes us feel as if we’ve failed when the deadline for a goal has passed with the goal unattained.  We are, in the end, always accountable to ourselves.  Goals are, after all, ours.  We set them.

Who says we can’t revise them?

Revision is part of progress.  How do I know where I’m going if I don’t know where I am or where I’ve been?  I need to set my goals. Measure and monitor them.  And when life happens, as it inevitably does—and thank God it does—revise accordingly.

I wish I could say I have done this already and that I have solved my dilemma of competing commitments. But I have not. I am in medias res, and in the middle of things is not such a bad place to be.  I will figure it out.  And if I’m wrong, I’ll revise.

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Back in the Saddle

Posted on May 4, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I’m back in the saddle again.  And I’m not talking Gene Autry, I’m talking Aerosmith.   It’s been a great week of running, biking, swimming, strength training.  Oh yeah, and all the other stuff that seems to get in the way of training.

Guess I really did need a week off.   I heard from several people after last week’s post who said that I probably needed to listen to my body, take time off, and give it the rest it needed.

Now, I know my body is a lot smarter than I am, and I know I should listen to it.  I try to.  But my mind always seems to get in the way.  I sometimes picture my mind to be like Death in Family Guy, pointing its sickle at me every time I hit my snooze button or shut off the alarm and pull the covers over my head.  Sometimes I wish it too would twist its ankle and get laid up for a week or two.

But I am my own worst enemy and my own worst critic.  You see, my mind has a plan, a course of action I should follow.  A vision of what will be.  And so I set an expectation for myself, a standard I should meet, and then I work really hard to get there.  But some days don’t allow for my plan.  Some days I am reminded that there are forces larger than me that have a bigger (and better) plan in mind.

Not that I’m a control freak.  I am generally very laid back.  But when it comes to meeting my expectations of myself I am relentless.  On the days my body tells me to shut off the alarm and go back to sleep, for instance, my mind wakes right up and starts a long conversation about dedication and work ethic. Which spirals into a monologue about character and integrity.  Before I know it, I’m staring at the ceiling wide awake, feeling bad.  Relentless.

So I am developing a new plan of action:  learn to rest my mind along with my body.   And, more important, when it comes to beating myself up, stay off my high horse.  It’s more enjoyable in the saddle.

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