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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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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Motivation Vacation

Posted on April 27, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This week has been tough.  I think my motivation took a vacation and I’ve been finding it hard to get out of bed each morning to run.  It seems that the momentum leading into our race last week, plus some unexpected stress (an oxymoron, I think) took its toll on my self-discipline.  Such is life.

To insure that I don’t have another week like this one, I’ve had to remind myself of some of the reasons I really do enjoy getting my butt out of bed and onto the pavement or in to the gym:

  1. Stars.  I love to run before dawn and stare at the stars.  They have been more visible in some places I’ve lived than others, but no matter where I am I inevitably run with my face up.  An added bonus in the summer is fireflies, which are like fallen stars.
  2. Peace.  Another reason I love to run before dawn.  Few cars.  Occasional fellow runners.  The time and space to get my head together.
  3. More food, less guilt.  Not that I’ve ever missed a meal.  Trust me.  I am blessed with a high metabolism (for which my sister hates me) so I eat a lot anyway.  But if I can get a pizza in guilt free, then what the hay?
  4. Bathing suit season.  Need I say more?
  5. I have triceps?  By gum, I do!  I found them just recently hidden somewhere under a layer of skin.  I would hate to lose them again.  It was a long, bloody battle to find them in the first place.

Only five reasons, one for each week day, but there are many more.  On weekends I bike, which means I get to go downhill really fast.  That’s always worth getting up for.

I’d love to hear from the rest of you.  What keeps you motivated when life wants to crash your training party?

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Posted on April 13, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This week I hit two milestones:

1.            I finally reached my sprint goal.  (Yay!)

2.            I officially registered for the June sprint tri.

I’ve been working toward my sprint goal for a good couple of months.  I was so happy when I reached it this week that I almost pulled a George Jetson and flew backwards off the treadmill.  Thank goodness for railings.

Not only was I ecstatic because I actually reached my goal, I was—and am—ecstatic because attaining my goal means I get to set a new one.  A bigger one.  A more challenging one.

Which is why I am doing the sprint tri.  I’ve said that this will be my third tri.  It will actually be my third and a half.  I was so nervous the first time around that my friend and I entered as a two (wo)man team.  The tri was called A Little Sand in Your Shoe, and it was on the beach in Guam.

I had to swim from Tumon Bay out to a sand bar and back, bury a ball in the sand, then run down the beach to tag my teammate. She had to ride her bike through the jungle (one participant got lost—I think I got the good end of the deal), run back down the beach, and dig up the ball I had buried.

Except that I was so caught up in the event that I didn’t mark the location of our ball well enough, and my teammate couldn’t find it.  We came in 2nd place for the 2-man team anyway.  It didn’t matter that there were only two teams.  I was hooked.

As I was thinking about that race this week, I recalled the reason I entered it in the first place.  It was a challenge.  A fun way to see how far I could push myself, see what my body could do.  Only I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to do it alone, and I was fortunate to have a friend in the same boat.  Funny how often we end up hanging out with people who are so like us.

That got me to thinking about the reason I set out to do two sprint tris on my own.  My motivation for them, as it turns out, was not so uplifting.  Each of the two tris were like bookends containing a a heavy life load.  The collapse of a marriage.  Sickness. Death.  I needed something to hold on to, something of my own. I needed to know that I could rely on myself—and I needed to preoccupy my mind and my time.  At this point in life, I was figuring out how to do that without self-destructing.

Turns out that running—competing in tris and half marathons and other races—is good therapy.  It shows you what you’re made of.  It gives you confidence and peace. At least it does for me.

This time, my third full sprint tri, I am back to where I started in Tumon Bay—almost. I set this particular goal not to dull any pain or preoccupy my mind.  I am blessed.  Life is, after all, really good.  I set this goal to challenge myself, and to have fun.  But now I have the confidence to rely on my own abilities, whether I succeed or fail.

I may know who I am, but races always surprise me.  I get to learn more about what I’m made of.  And that’s a goal worth achieving.

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Sink or Swim

Posted on April 6, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

For as long as I can remember, I have been able to swim. I have no memory of not being near water, having grown up on a lake in Michigan and spending long summer days on or in the water until my lips turned blue and my fingers shriveled into prunes.

Even as an adult, I get to water as often as I can. I dive and snorkel and sail and most of the time would really rather be under water than just about anywhere else.  It’s so much more peaceful.

So you’d think that I would look forward to the swim leg of the sprint tri I’m doing in June, especially since it’s in open water.

Not so.

Even though I learned how to swim at practically the same time I learned how to walk, apparently I didn’t learn right.  Correct form?  What’s that? I simply jumped in the water and off I went.

The closest thing to training I ever had was at age 12 in Girl Scout camp.  Not freestyle, but sidestroke. Even now, the counselor’s words help keep my rhythm:   Pick an apple, put it in the basket.  Pick an apple, put it in the basket.  If I could make a pie for every bushel of apples I’ve picked I could have opened my own bakery by now.

Freestyle, however, the stroke most conducive to tri competition, is the worm in my apple.  I have watched countless swimmers glide gracefully through the water and have wondered how they can make it look so easy.  When I try, I’m worn out before I finish a couple of laps.  I feel like a wounded duck flailing around in the pool.

After two sprint triathlons and I won’t say how many years, it finally occurred to me that maybe I should take a lesson.  I did recently figure out, after all, that it’s probably a good thing to ask for help when you need it.

So a few days ago, I took my first swim lesson.  I spent most of the hour kicking myself.  Why on earth hadn’t I done this before?  In just one hour my stroke improved so tremendously that I was actually gliding through the water like a swan. And you know what? It was easy.

I came away from my lesson with a laundry list of things I was doing wrong.  More important, I now know how to correct them.  I can’t wait to get back in the water.  I think I’ll be swimming once again until my lips turn blue and my fingers shrivel into plums.

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