Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Round and Round She Goes

Today was my first day of running on the track at the university. I wasn't sure whether it was open to the public, so I just casually walked in, and figured it was okay since no one threw me out. My workout was plain, timed 30 minutes of running with a bit of something different: periodic bursts of speed. On each lap, as I came to the straight section on the west side, I would run faster and switch from a mid-foot strike to a fore-foot strike. Basically imagining that I was some type of lithe African antelope.

I realized that the track was, indeed, open to public use when I found myself surrounded by a bunch of folks in Sole Runners t-shirts. There were about 40 of them, having a training session. I had to dodge them on occasion, because they were all over the place! Plus, a number of them were using special watch/running metronome gadgets on their wrists. They produce a beeping noise which I found rather annoying, because I thought at first my iPod was acting up on me.

Today's run soundtrack: Faraualla

Getting a massage tomorrow. I'm interested to see just what my legs feel like these days, and whether I work well with this new therapist.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Upper Body Monday

Do you ever have lingering pain in your upper back? Lower neck? Feels like it could be right between the shoulder blades? It was the most common problem people had when I was doing my clinic shifts at massage therapy school. Basically, it all stems from the fact that we have a front and a back. Everything we do is directed towards the front: where our face is, where our hands can grasp. Of course, the problem is exacerbated by the one thing that the average person has done much, much more of over the past 15 years: work on a computer.

When you're working on something before you for a long period of time, seated, with your arms resting, your body will start to hunch forward. Your head will drop, your shoulders will curve around to the front, and may even end up somewhere around your ears. This is because the pectoralis major, a huge (and sexy!) muscle on the front of your chest [see above], is balanced by the rhomboids major and minor, two small (still sexy!) muscles in the back [see below]. Of course there are many more muscles involved in the stability and motion of your upper body, but these are the two major culprits.
See the difference in size? As the pectorals pull the shoulders around forward, the rhomboids are straining to pull them back. The pain you feel could be an overstretched rhomboid, simply unable to keep up with the load. What's a body to do? Two things: 1) strengthen the rhomboids and 2) stretch the pectorals. [Hmm...obviously I need to spend more time scoping out the articles at livestrong.com. Looks like the could have some good stuff there.] Stretch your pectorals every day!

As for my workouts, since all my focus has been on the lower body (running, biking) lately, it's definitely time for me to become more well-rounded (in more ways that one! Hah!) So this evening I did some upper-body exercises with free weights, sometimes resting on my stability ball both for a core strengthening bonus and to have enough free space around my body for certain exercises. Of course, I did a sequence of shoulder squeezes for my rhomboids, and took a minute when I was finished to stretch my pectorals. :)

Food has been an issue for me lately. I'm in one of those phases where I just don't care about cooking, so I haven't been making fabulous food for myself. Still, my focus is on finding vegetables wherever I can. I still love 'em, I just don't feel like chopping & cooking them. I'm hoping I'll get out of this funk soon and get back up on the super-healthy eating wagon.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I must, I must!

Decided to mix things up a little today, in more ways than one. Scheduled myself to run 30 minutes, so I looked up a new route, and found one at a large local park: two different loops, a little over 3 miles total distance on roads and bike paths (of course I went off-road), surrounded by green spaces and a large pond. The park was local enough that I decided to turn this into a biathlon, and ride the bike there.

Total: 7 miles biking (in two blocks of 3.5 miles before and after), 3 miles running.

I'll definitely be doing this combo again. Biking there was pretty safe, as it was mostly residential streets and bike lanes all the way. Plus, if I want more distance on the bike I can either do a loop or two around the park or go up and down the canal a bit. The run also lends itself well to increasing distance because of the ability to mix and match pathways through the park. There are also a few restrooms, just in case. The only con is that I could not find any drinking fountains, so next time I'll have to bring some water.

There was an added bonus on this run. Maybe it was some endorphins kicking in around mile 2.5, but I think it was seeing the ducks and herons around the pond that made the last bit of the run very pleasant and remarkably easy. The first mile was totally harder than the last mile. I'm always happier when there's waterfowl around.

I have some sad news to report, relating to the post title. I think my bust has officially shrunk! I used to be able to basically fill up a B cup, but I discovered while bra shopping yesterday that I'm most definitely an A. Le sigh. The problem is that my rib cage is fairly big around, so my ideal bra size is 36A. Who even sells that size? All the 36's I see start at B. Thank goodness for the interwebs. On the bright side, though, I can wear all the kickin' halters and tiny strappy tops I want.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rolling with the Homies

At one point during work yesterday, I read this post from No Meat Athlete, which discusses the use of a foam roller as a therapeutic aid. For more information, here's a longer article on using foam rollers. I'd seen them before, even laid on one a couple times as a balance challenge during pilates classes last year. However, I thought it was a very interesting bit of synchronicity that I read the article in the morning and then went to yoga in the afternoon. What did we do at yoga class? Foam roller therapy.

Man, it was painful, but that semi-good sort of painful, wherein I, at least, tend to smile and laugh through the pain. Along the lines of, "Man, I didn't know it could hurt like this, ha ha ha." What I did find useful, however, was that I could control how much pressure I was applying by using my arms and legs to take some of the weight off the area being rolled. There are also similar exercises that can be done with a tennis ball, to affect smaller areas, something very useful when dealing with hard-to-reach muscle groups. Considering that I haven't yet found a massage therapist who will do what I need on my glutes and hamstrings, a way to massage them on my own with my own body weight could be a very good thing.

One thing made me pause while thinking about this therapy. In massage therapy school, we always learned that deep strokes should always go towards the heart. The veins in the legs are equipped with valves to aid venous return against gravity. I was told that doing any deep massage downwards on the legs could potentially damage these tissue structures, especially if there was an underlying weakness. Since, on a roller, you're using effectively the same pressure back and forth, can this cause problems on the downstroke? Or is the force spread over a large enough area that it doesn't affect the veins? If I get a roller and start using it, should I try to limit the amount of pressure when I'm moving that way against the roller? That would certainly be the easiest way to have my cake and eat it, too.

Speaking of which, I ate some chocolate cake yesterday. It was delicious.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stacked Frogs for the Win!

Thursday has become my long-distance running day. My unofficial coach echoes what I've read in my books: do a long run only one day a week. Last Thursday I broke 4 miles, today I added one lap to that. So my total was:

4 1/3 Miles (or 13 laps).

The last lap wasn't especially peppy, but I tried to up my pace just a little, to prove that I could. Upon returning home, and after stretching, I took a dose of my own medicine and let my feet and ankles rest in some ice water, put an ice pack on the back of my left knee, plus did some extra calf stretches. Nothing hurt during the run, but I could feel the sole of my right foot, and both my calves, working a little extra hard.

Here's a tip that I read once, and has been reiterated by what little research I've done on yoga: lie on your back with your legs up in the air for 10 minutes every evening. It was allegedly done by members of some posh ballet company. (Is there really a way to have unposh ballet?) Reversing gravity on your legs enables passive fluid drainage (both blood and lymph) to prevent swelling and give your veins a break. It's an easy habit to maintain; I like to read before I go to bed, so while I'm kicking back with my book, I just happen to kick my feet up the wall.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goal Attained!

Woo hoo! First ever four mile run! Went over to the park with a friend and did 12 laps (1/3 mile each--you do the math), with an added pace boost on the last one, plus sprinting (such as it was) to the finish. There were a couple of stops for hydration (summer has finally arrived in Southern California), and I didn't time the run at all. However, no matter how long it actually took, I am totally jazzed to have run 4 miles at one go. Next up: 5 miles!

Really, I am just amazed to have come this far. To start off this year, never having run more than a mile at a stretch before in my life, and realizing that I have the stamina and strength to run, and the ability to train up to longer and longer distances, is just a wonderful feeling. It really shows in my other physical endeavors as well. It used to be that I could only bike 3-4 miles before my legs would want to give up and my lungs would be working overtime. Now I can go 8 miles without really thinking about it. My low back pain is essentially nonexistent. I'm thinking about training for a triathlon and a marathon. I have never in my life felt like I belonged in the athletic community, and now I know that all I have to do is put my mind to it and start on that journey of a thousand steps.

Pretend it's this past Tuesday

This is what I got to do this past Tuesday evening:
Sit comfortably in the shade at the park, listening to fantastic band music. The first half was all marches (some classical, some modern) and the second half was more jazz/big band/vocal music. For me, the best part about it was the feeling of quintessential, small-town America: all the neighborhood families gathered in the park to enjoy a picnic and live music. There were babies and old folks alike, out on chairs and blankets, loving the summer.

I had to pack a hasty picnic for myself. I wanted something light and summery, but still nutritious fuel after my 3.5 mile run.

A nice big hunk of watermelon (working on my third whole melon so far this summer) and an open-face egg salad sandwich on a whole-wheat english muffin. Here's how I make my egg salad: finely chop one stalk celery and one hard-boiled egg. Transfer to a bowl and add enough of your favorite mustard so that it binds together. That's it! Of course you can add salt and other seasonings as needed, or some type of mayonnaise-like substance, but I don't have any of the latter in my fridge, so I go with the three simple ingredients. The lady next to me commented that it looked like "girl food"; that is, the simple, light fare that her husband just wouldn't eat. Too bad for him--it was all I wanted for my picnic!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hurry up and wait

Or hurry up and rest, rather. That was my experience this afternoon: the laser-focused absolute drive to finish work in time to get to four o'clock yoga class. A last-minute analysis had me working down to the wire, and five minutes overtime. It doesn't sound like much, but that five minutes combined with Friday afternoon LA traffic can mean the difference between making it and being fatally late for class.

At 3:18, I jump into my car. There's a long traffic light at Frampton: I change out of my jeans and into my yoga pants. A medium-long light at Sepulveda: I braid my hair. A stupidly, mind-boggingly, we should have gone twice already, I actually park my car and hit the pedestrian crossing button just to give the light another incentiv
e to turn green for me: I put in my contacts. Take no prisoners on the freeway, use the super secret ninja route along the side. Make it to yoga with three minutes to spare.

Unroll my mat on an open piece of floor, then I lay myself down and try to unwind the frantic physical tension of the previous two hours.

Had a really good class--I'm glad I was able to attend. My hamstrings are still very sore from all the downward-facing dogs we did on Wednesday afternoon, so thankfully we did nothing of the sort today. A lot more focus on the hip and the front of the leg, with some starter handstands thrown in. Here's a question to all you long-term yoga practitioners: does it ever get easier to have one's head in an inverted position? When my head is upside-down for too long and all the blood rushes to it, it gets incredibly painful. My head actually limits my ability to be in certain positions more than my muscles ever do. I'm hoping that my body will adjust and be more accepting.

In the past week, two people have touted the merits of chocolate milk as a post-workout recovery drink. Today I'm pretending that a glass of soymilk and a few tiny chocolate chip cookies will have the same effect. That highly season-appropriate mug? The first thing I could reach, one-handed, in the cupboard. I'm really loving my post-yoga hair right now.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Good sand and bad sand

Today was a day of bad sand. There I was, fresh from my massage and chiropractic adjustment, in my new pair of black shorts, ready for a nice long run on the beach. The beach was fairly unrunnable. (Yes, I know that's not a word.) While I understand the phases of the moon and the gravitational pull between the moon and the ocean, I've never learned about tides. I'd have to say that, this afternoon, the tide was...high...because the water was higher up on the sand than usual. However, whether it was coming in or heading out is beyond my expertise. All I know is that the water had created little hills of sand, so the seashore was fluted like a pie crust.

And covered in piles of seaweed. Piles.

And also covered in fruit. Seriously, I don't know how the fruit gets onto the beach at Belmont Shore. I saw apples, oranges, mangoes, and three or four watermelon halves.

So I managed to do 40 minutes: dodging piles of kelp; running barefoot over tiny, jagged shells; slogging my way through deep, dry sand. Not the most pleasant run, but really any day I get to go running on the beach gets a smiley face in my book.