Monthly Archives: March 2013

Week 12: workouts

This past week was full of ups and downs: I missed two lifting workouts, but had multiple breakthrough runs during the week.  Looking back, I don’t know why I skipped lifting on Wednesday and Friday.  Maybe I was stressed about work and wanted to put in an extra hour and a half, or maybe the workout just didn’t seem worth the time.  I’ve been unhappy lately with the quality of the lifting workouts.  Frankly, they’re just not challenging or engaging enough.  I’ll change things up a bit this next week and see how I feel.

My running workouts, however, were fantastic.  Fantastic for me, that is – which, really, is what it’s all about.  Each running workout was a first in it’s own way.

Tuesday – my first trail run

Tuesday afternoon was beautiful.  The sun was shining and the temperature was in the low sixties.  Adam was kind enough to join me for my run, which made it all the more enjoyable.  My usual Tuesday distance is 5k, so I asked Adam if he knew of any 5k trails that head north so we could start the run uphill.  What I meant by “trail” was, of course, some sidewalk path along the streets.  We live in Baltimore, after all.  He did and as we started off he said something like “I hope it isn’t too muddy.”  Wait a second… I didn’t actually mean a trail.  I wasn’t really opposed to the idea – I thought it was pretty cool – but I had no idea there would be a trail nearby.  Lo and behold we found a little off-road path that is apparently used by the cross country team during their training.  I ran a slow 5k (33 min) compared to what I run on the road, but that’s to be expected with roots and rocks to negotiate.  During part of the run I felt like I was really flying – and it felt great.  I’m definitely adding this “trail” to my list of favorite runs with Adam.

Thursday – a new 5k PR

On Thursday I was really stressed about work, and I knew I needed to blow off some steam.  The weather was still not cooperating (read: it was cold) so I went to the gym to run on a treadmill.  I jogged 8 minutes for my warm up, then started running at 6.5 mph.  At 1.5 miles, I upped it to 6.6 mph.  At 2 miles, up to 6.7 mp.  At 2.5 miles, up to 6.8 mph.  At 2.8 miles, up to 7.0 mph.  With only 0.1 miles to go, I was up around 7.8 mph.

Final time: 28 minutes – a new PR.

I felt really awkward and uncomfortable for almost all of the run.  It wasn’t until the last half mile that my stride felt good and strong.  Maybe it was the stress.  Or maybe it was the slower speeds.  I’m still learning what works best for me.

Sunday – a new distance PR

On Sunday I decided to face a fear I’ve had for a long time: the fear of group runs.  Emotions can trigger my asthma, and I tend to get stressed out when I can’t keep up with someone, so group runs with strangers naturally present a problem.  Adam promised to run my speed no matter what others were doing, so I agreed to go with him.  We drove down to Boston Street Running for the 8am run, and discovered we were the only ones who came out that cold morning.  We spent some time chatting with the owners before embarking on a run around the harbor.

The past two weeks I’ve been thrilled to run five miles at a steady pace, so the plan was to attempt five or maybe even six miles.  The weather was cool, but I was comfortable in my running tights, UnderArmour shirt, fleece, hat and gloves.  After a quarter mile we were running along the water, enjoying the view.  I felt good and after a couple miles I noticed my heart rate was sitting below 160 bpm.  When I ran in the past, I’d be at 175+ bpm a half mile into my run, so the low reading was a surprise.  Then I realized I was also keeping up a conversation.  I felt good.  I felt relaxed.  I decided to take all the time I needed to enjoy that run.  Plus, there was so much to see – a nice change from my runs around campus.  I decided to keep an easy pace (heart rate below 165 bpm) and see how long I could last.

Long story short – I just didn’t feel like stopping.  Before I knew it we passed through Fells Point and around the Inner Harbor, past the UnderArmour building, and all the way to the gates of Fort McHenry.


We were over six miles away from the shop (and the car) by the time we turned around.  My right hip joint had started to bother me, so I took a few minutes to stretch it out.  Mentally, muscularly, and cardiovascularly I felt strong.  And even though I had a very small breakfast, my energy levels were high.  It was an incredible feeling.

On the way back I had more trouble with my hip and my knee.  I know now it was my IT band that was causing me pain – the stabilizing muscles around my hips just weren’t strong enough to support me on such a long run.  It’s something I’ll have to focus on in the future.

We didn’t make it all the way back to the shop before I decided to give my legs a break, but at that point Adam and I had run 10.75 miles!  The farthest I have ever run in my life before that day was five miles – I more than doubled my distance PR.  In total it took us about an hour and fifty minutes.  My fastest 10k of that run was 1:03 and my fastest 10 miles was 1:41.  Not too shabby.

The run that morning far exceeded my expectations.  It was an adventure.  And I felt so well for the rest of the day – I felt so healthy.  I felt great.


It’s all about the calves

calves2As you may already know, runners tend to be pretty picky about their footwear.  Adam, in particular, insists on wearing what some would consider “minimalist” shoes.  For those who don’t know, the purpose of minimalist shoes is basically the following:

to protect your feet from sharp/rough ground while allowing natural movement as much as possible. 

Essentially, you’d want to run barefoot except for pesky things like sharp rocks, broken glass, etc.  Forget about cushioning and “motion control”.  Now, there’s still a lot of debate about this topic among runners (and others), but I don’t want to get into that too much in this post.

Proponents of minimalist footwear argue that it leads to fewer injuries, but only if you adapt slowly.  If you’ve been wearing heavily cushioned shoes for the past several years, then the muscles in your feet and calves aren’t prepared to carry you as fast as you’ve been running.  My approach: follow Caballo Blanco’s advice (taken from Born to Run by Chris McDougall), “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast.”  Don’t pound the pavement – keep it light.

So, I’ve been working to build up those forgotten muscles that laid dormant when I ran in my Nike Luna shoes (with their thick cushioned heels).  I’ve moved to the Skora Forms which are beautiful shoes, but my calves have been doing a lot more work than they did in my other shoes.  When you look at the design of our feet and legs it make sense that the calves should play an important role – a role they don’t play when a runner lands heel-first. So now I’m playing catch up and building up my neglected calf muscles. Oh, and I’m stretching them well to prevent tightness/injury elsewhere. In my transition to minimalist running, it’s all about the calves.

Week 11: workouts

I’m happy to report that I had another great workout week!  It was much the same as last week, so I won’t go into too many of the details.


I started off the morning with a 15 minute warm up on the stationary bike at the gym – nothing too hard, just enough to get my heart rate up.  After the usual lifting workout (biceps, chest, shoulders, back, and triceps) I did 1/4 of Adam’s abdominal workout.


The plan was to do intervals with Adam, possibly at the track.  Unfortunately I had terrible stomach pains when I woke up and I felt very nauseated.  I still wanted to go the the gym and get a workout in – perhaps a bike workout which is low-impact – but Adam convinced me to stay home.  In the end I’m glad I did.  It was cool and rainy in the morning, but by the afternoon it was sunny and in the sixties.  I was feeling better by 5pm, so I went for a jog around a nearby park.  The total distance was 3.6 miles with some (what I consider) big hills.  I believe my pace was around 9:45 min/mile which I was happy about.  It was also my first outdoor run with my new ‘minimalist’ shoes (from Skora, which I’ll write more about later).


Back to the gym for another lifting workout and abs, of course.


This time I was feeling good and made it to the gym for intervals with Adam.  It was still too cold for the outdoor track so we were back on the treadmills.  The gym has been busy lately and this time there were no available treadmills for the warm up, so we used the small 1/10 mile indoor track.  It was fine for me, but Adam was having trouble keeping his speed up with all the turns.  After the 8 minute warm up jog, we did drills.  By this time the treadmills had cleared out for out intervals, 5:20 fast and 2:20 slow (3.5 mph walking):

  • 6.8 mph  (8:50 min/mile)
  • 7.0 mph  (8:35 min/mile)
  • 7.2 mph  (8:20 min/mile)
  • 7.4 mph  (8:06 min/mile)

These are the same times I ran a couple weeks ago, but they still felt like the right pace for me.  I believe the total mileage for the intervals was close to 5k and only slightly slower than my slow/easy 5k runs, which goes to show – slow and steady is much easier than a fast/slow mixture over the same distance.


On Friday I started out my workout with the lifting and abs workouts, but I wanted more so I ended the workout with a 25 minute bike.  It was only going to be a 15 minute bike, but I was in the middle of reading an article and didn’t want to stop reading to get off the bike, clean it, etc.


My workout last Saturday was a “breakthrough workout” – I went further and faster than I knew I could – so I was uncertain how to approach the workout this past Saturday.  Could I repeat what I did last week?  Did I need to?  I decided to do 35 minutes on the bike then run for at least 3.1 miles (5k).  If I felt like running more then I would, but if that was all I could handle then I wouldn’t be upset.

Well, unlike last week I had a decent 35 minute bike workout.  So, I probably wasn’t going to be able to do 5 miles again…  Well, guess what?  I did.  I ran 5 miles in 46 minutes.  Woo!  It definitely wasn’t easy, but it was do-able.  If I keep this up who knows what I’ll be able to do six months from now!

Week 10: workouts

Compared to last week, this week was great.  I went to the gym every day except Sunday (which is my rest day) and I enjoyed each workout.  I’m really beginning to love running.  Let me say that again:

I’m really beginning to love running.

My running adventure began one year ago this month, but I wasn’t consistent enough to maintain my running fitness so every time I got back into running I was essentially starting from scratch.  Not running for two or three weeks is enough to put me back to the beginning.  This meant that each new start was painful and not enjoyable at all.  By the time I found my groove I would inevitably get caught up with “real life” (a term I’m beginning to despise in this context) and stop running again.  Not anymore.

Consistency is key.

That’s the inspiration for my running these days.  I keep it balanced by alternating running with cycling and strength training, but I make sure to get in at least three run workouts a week.  Here’s how it all stacked up this week:


On Monday I started out the morning with a new abdominal workout – the same one Adam does every morning, but with 1/4 as many repetitions.  To be honest, when I first heard the workout I laughed a little.  Ten reps at a time?  Surely I could handle more than that…. Wrong.  I’ll stick with ten for now and work my way up.  Like running, consistency is key here.

After embarrassing myself with the ab workout, I spent the rest of my time in the gym with strength training.  On and off for the last couple years I’ve been following this “HIML” four week workout which was recommended to me by a friend.  I liked the variety of exercises, but I didn’t like the long wait times between sets (which invariably happens when you’re using the same muscle over and over again).  I prefer now to keep my heart rate up and spend less time overall in the weight room.  This time around I’m opting for more variety each day.  I do one exercise for each of the following muscle groups: chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps.  Each of the 3-4 sets has 10-20 reps depending on how I feel, and I move directly from one set to the next (switching muscle groups each time – so I do one set for each muscle group before moving on to the second set).  I also make sure to keep the weight light enough to maintain proper form.  It can be easy to be intimidated in the weight room and feel like I’m not trying hard enough.  Each day I choose a different exercise for each muscle group.  For example, this week (MWF) I did the following for chest: dumbbell bench press, dumbbell flye, and inclined dumbbell press.  Also, any time a muscle group is really sore, I skip it (e.g. my shoulders on Friday – they were killing me).


This week was Adam’s rest week so he was out on the bike while I was at the gym Tuesday morning.  I like to do intervals with him, so I decided to stick with 5k‘s for this week and pick up the intervals again next week.  Here’s how it went:

  • 0.75 miles @ 5.5 mph (10:55 min/mile) for a warm up
  • 3.1 miles @ 6.2 mph (9:40 min/mile)
  • 0.15 miles cool down walk

Overall, the run felt solid.  Afterwards I made another attempt at my new ab workout.  I did much better the second time, perhaps because I warmed my abdominal muscles up during my run.  I’ve said this before, but I’m still surprised how a proper warm up can actually help muscles perform better.


Wednesday was another strength training day (following what I described for Monday), but I started out the morning with a 10 min bike to warm up.  I took some time after the bike to lightly stretch out my tight calves.  I’ve recently transitioned to new shoes without a cushioned heel and am focusing on landing midfoot, so my calves are doing more work than they used to do.  I’ve also read that failure to properly stretch your calves can lead to soreness and pain in other parts of the body, too, since they play a large part in determining your stride.

After the warm up bike and light stretching, I spent about forty-five minutes in the weight room for my strength training and ab workouts.


It was back to the gym for another 5k on Thursday.  I like to treat workouts over the week the same way I tread interval sets – I like to get progressively faster each time.  Since I ran the 5k at 6.2 mph on Tuesday, I bumped it up to 6.3 mph on Thursday.  Here’s what I did:

  • 0.75 mile @ 5.5 mph (10:55 min/mile) for warm up – 8:10 minutes
  • 3.1 miles @ 6.3 mph (9:30 min/mile) – 29:30 minutes
  • 0.35 mile walk for cool down – 7 minutes

I have a GPS + heart rate monitor watch I use to keep track of my workouts.  I do my best to only glance at the watch once or twice during the workout (I prefer to base the intensity on how I feel) but it’s nice to look back at the data after a workout.  Here’s what my heart rate looked like during this workout: (time in minutes vs beats per minute)



Back to the weight room for more strength training, but this time the bike warm up was 15 minutes.  Not much else to say.  It felt good.


Saturday was incredible.  The plan was to do another brick workout (bike + run) in the gym.  I started out on the recumbent bike with its “hill program”.  Unfortunately what this meant was one minute “on” followed by one minute “off” (which was not what I was looking for).  I couldn’t seem to get the hard parts to be hard enough while still feeling good.  At the end of thirty minutes I had failed to get a good bike workout in, but I did have a good warm up.  I hopped on the treadmill with the intention of running two miles at a pace faster than my 5k pace – I decided on 6.5 mph (9:15 min/mile).

Nearing the two mile mark I was feeling really good – just getting the hang of things – so I decided to go for a full 5k.  That 3.1 mile goal soon turned into four miles, then five.  That’s rightfive miles!  And those five miles only took me 46:10 minutes.  Part of me wanted to keep going for more, but I didn’t want to endanger my long-term goals by pushing too hard too soon.  For the first time in a long time I felt comfortable running.  I found my stride, kept my breathing steady, and let my mind wander.  At one point I remember thinking that I almost felt like I was walking – my body knew what to do and just did it.  It was certainly more taxing than resting, but it felt manageable.  It felt great.  Here’s the data:


So how was I able to run five miles faster than I ran 3.1 earlier in the week?  I’m sure it was a combination of factors:

  • My nice long warm up (aka my 30 minute failed attempt at a bike workout)
  • It was later in the day – closer to 9am than 7am
  • I had eaten earlier in the day – usually I workout before breakfast
  • I found music to distract me – in this case it was Weezer’s Raditude album

This week I’ve experimented with music while running on the treadmill.  I refuse to listen to music when I’m running outside since I rely on my hearing to keep track of cars, bikes, etc, but it definitely helped take my mind off the running for a bit.  It’s something I’ll play around with more in the future.

So that was my week – overall a success.  And I’m loving it – see you next week!

Week 9: workouts

This past week I managed to get in a few good workouts, but I let my stress about work get the better of me.  My advisor was in town for three days (he’s been on sabbatical since August) and during that time we had several events planned with some new collaborators from universities across the country.  The events themselves were not stressful – just seminars and some low-key meetings – but it took time away from my usual workday.  I have a deadline at the end of the month and I need every hour I can get between now and then.  Instead of waking up and allowing myself the couple hours I needed to go to the gym, I convinced myself that time would be better spent in front of a computer battling writers block.  In reality, I probably would have been better served by taking the time to exercise.

On Tuesday, I did make it to the gym for a run.  Of course, this is in large part thanks to Adam – it really is easier to stay honest when you have someone there beside you.  It’s still cold here in Baltimore and I wasn’t in the mood to tough it out on the track, so we opted for the treadmills in the gym.  Instead of joining Adam for intervals I decided to run 5k – it was my first run in the new shoes and I didn’t want to aggravate whatever caused my arch pain last week.  I included a half-mile warmup as part of the 5k distance, then kept a steady 6 mph (10:00 min/mile) pace for the rest.  My legs felt good and I felt no pain in my foot during or after that run.  After stretching I quickly ran home to get ready for an early meeting at work.

On Wednesday, I really should have gone back to the gym but I convinced myself I could use a gym break in the afternoon instead… wishful thinking.  One thing led to another and before I knew it the clock said 8pm – time to go home.

JHUgym-claireI fared better on Thursday (again, thanks to Adam) with some running intervals.  I decided to try running without socks and was lucky to get away without any blisters.  I’m still not sure how I feel about going sockless, but I’ll give it another shot.  Compared to Tuesday, I felt tired and I knew Adam was feeling the same way.  We kept each other going and did the following interval set (after warmups, of course):  5:20 fast and 2:20 slow (3.5 mph walking)

  • 6.8 mph  (8:50 min/mile)
  • 7.0 mph  (8:35 min/mile)
  • 7.2 mph  (8:20 min/mile)
  • 7.4 mph  (8:06 min/mile)

Compared to last week where I felt like I could have pushed harder, this workout was spot on.  My breathing felt good and I found my stride.  At the end I was proud of what I had done – such an awesome feeling.  I even took a photo to remember the occasion!  It’s good to keep in mind our little successes.

Friday was another disappointing day, but Saturday morning I did make it to the gym for a date with the recumbent bike.  My right calf was painfully sore from the run on Thursday, so I felt it could use time on the bike followed by some good stretching/massaging.  It’s still sore when I first start moving around after sitting still, but after a few minutes I don’t feel it anymore.

20130302_214818On a semi-related note, Adam discovered an awesome new running shoe store in Baltimore: Boston Street Running.  He dropped by this afternoon and spent some time talking with the owners.  When he got home he couldn’t stop talking about them – he wrote about it on his own blog here.  They’re enthusiastic about minimalist running without being pretentious and they’re quickly becoming a part of the local community – you’ve got to love the Baltimore pride.  And the best part?  Check out my cool new shirt!