Trying to avoid the winter blahs

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It’s been a very long time since I have taken a moment for a little self-reflection. While this blog evolved over time to share my running journey — especially last year’s marathon — I have also used it more recently to share some of my writing and stories about others. But for those wondering what the heck April has been up to (is she even still running?), here it is.

Yes! Still running, just not as much, and for the first time in a long time, without any immediate goals. It’s actually quite liberating!

Instead of focusing on mileage or training plans, I have been trying to mix up my exercise with more cross training, yoga and strength training. Trying to become a less injury-prone runner for when I sign up for that next big race. While I didn’t suffer any injuries during the previous two half-marathons, my IT band was under duress during the marathon, and I certainly don’t want to go through that again.

I don’t think I ever shared my New Year’s goals on this blog, but they were to do yoga once a week, do strength 1-2x a week and read one book a month. So far I am more or less on track. Even if I don’t get to yoga or a strength class, YouTube to the rescue.

Our membership at the Saint John Y has certainly helped. It’s also been a blessing to keep Silas occupied (in child-minding) while I exercise after work. So far we have only attempted to do that one day a week, but it’s been awesome to get back into spinning!! I also try to go to Group Power (like Body Pump at Goodlife) on Saturday mornings, and on Sunday, Silas and I go to the early years open swim. It’s a beautiful facility and so perfect for this point in our lives.

"The Y? Can we go to the Y?" #startthemyoung #ymca #swimming #toddlerlife

A post shared by April Cunningham (@aprilacunningham) on

As far as running, my goal has been to aim for three runs a week. At first I was hoping for two short and one long, but realistically, they’ve all been short, “easy” runs. On the treadmill. I feel as though that, combined with the other stuff we’re doing is pretty reasonable. This week Silas and I even got out for a stroller run. Holy, it was tough! I’ve been used to #netflixandtreadmill!

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At this point my biggest challenge has been to stay motivated to eat healthily. Craving carbs and sugar, hard. Even fast food (ugh, I know). I always joke that I hope all my running and exercise cancel out my bad eating habits, but I know that only goes so far.

So as the mountains of snow slowly melt outside, I hope to stock my fridge with healthy snacks and get inspired with fresh, family-friendly recipes to carry us into the spring. No more blizzards, please.

Happy trails, everyone. Run on!

The link between gratitude and performance

“You have 50,000 thoughts per day, and 80 per cent of those are negative…. We’re conditioned to see the glass half-empty.” – Scott Welle, sports psychologist

When I run, I usually feel uplifted, stronger and happier. That general feeling of wellbeing is one of the main reasons why I run. It’s what gets me out the door.

But until recently, I haven’t given too much thought to the power of positive thinking and its link to performance – both mental and physical. When I was marathon training with a niggling IT band injury, I superstitiously started to think that every second weekend I would have a “bad” run, and sure enough, it became true. My negative thoughts became reality.

When I turn up the good tunes, and positive podcasts and practise positive self-talk, I inevitably have a “good run.” Of course they can’t all be good – there’s heat, there’s discomfort, laziness and sometimes pain. But how do you push through when the going gets tough? Eventually it becomes mind over matter, and you need something to get you to the finish line.

Listening to the Runners Connect podcast on a recent run, I was really inspired to hear about growing evidence that links high performance with the simple act of feeling grateful.

According to author, marathoner and sports psychologist Scott Welle, who works with professional athletes from the NBA to the MLB, studies show high performers almost always have the highest amount of gratitude.

Welle told podcast host and elite marathoner Tina Muir that 50 per cent of our happiness comes from genetics and 10 per cent comes from our surrounding environment. The rest is based on “intentional activities.”

He says being grateful can help your health, your sleep and performance – both personally and professionally.

Welle suggests writing down two or three specific things you are grateful for every morning.

 

“You will look at life differently, and you will attack it with a different level of positivity and contribution than I think move people do when we live in a mindset of lack versus a mindset of abundance,” he told Muir.

When I’m out for a peaceful long run, and the endorphins are flowing, my mind is often bubbling with happy thoughts. I love my little family, I love living on the East Coast, and I’m so proud of this life I have built with my husband. I’m so grateful we are all healthy and have everything we need. Then, I think about something that was ticking me off a few hours ago, and it seems so inconsequential. What a waste of energy.

Who is up for a gratitude challenge? For 30 days, write in your journal every morning, two or three very specific things that make life good. And let the positive vibes flow.

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I’m grateful for the warm sunshine on a beach just a short drive from my home, and the sound of my son throwing rocks into the waves as the tide rolls in.

 

St. Andrews 5-miler

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April & Janie

It was warm and sunny for the 38th annual St. Andrews Father’s Day 5-Mile Road Race. And three weeks after my first marathon, I came out with my slowest 5-miler, ever.

I’m not shattered by this result – it was 21 C and the sun was pretty hot after the 10 a.m start. I feel like I pushed it as hard as I could, and I really haven’t been training for speed. But when I went back and checked my stats… damn… even slower than my first race ever!

Today’s finish time was 49:38, or 9:56 minutes per mile, placing 11/18 in my age group. My personal best is 42:30 from the Hampton 5-Miler in 2013.

Some background

OK so I know I really didn’t prepare myself well for this run, so I kind of got what I deserved. First of all, Mark, Silas and I went to St. Martins, a beautiful seaside community, for the day on Saturday. We hiked, played on the beach and ate junk food. When we got home, my husband and I stayed up late watching a movie.

I hit snooze this morning, then crawled out of bed and tried to get our butts out the door within 45 minutes. A challenge for sure. None of us were really feeling it. Not a great way to start Father’s Day.

After about an hour on the road, we got to the run with literally a minute to spare before registration closed. I jumped out of the car while my husband parked.

My plan was to run with Silas in our new stroller. But… we forgot it. So this meant I was running on my own. I knew I wouldn’t be fast, and the stroller was going to be my safety net. So I mentally prepared to tackle this hilly run on my own, and without music.

The run

The course itself is truly beautiful, wrapping around the harbour at Passamaquoddy Bay, through the downtown, through wooded areas and past the historic Algonquin Resort. The two-ish miles are flat, followed by a couple of challenging miles. The last mile is mostly downhill, except for one monster of a hill near the end.

This was my second time running the race, and our third time coming. Mark raced it two years ago when I was nine months pregnant. It’s small and fun with lots of door prizes! A couple of our friend ran the race too, which always makes it fun.

We finished off the morning with a tasty lunch at The Gables, and Silas was obsessed with the lobster out front!

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This run was humbling and was a reminder that just because I ran a marathon doesn’t necessarily make the shorter distances any easier. Also, hitting snooze is never a good idea.

 

My first trip to the physiotherapist

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Good news from the physiotherapist today: keep running!

As suspected, my knee pain is a result of the IT band (which runs from the hip just below the knee), which has been aggravated by a number of factors, including increased mileage and just being a mom. Turns out carrying a 30+ pound child on your hip can cause an imbalance.

And it’s all linked to my relatively weak core, glute and hip muscles. That was easy to see (especially on my affected right side) when the PT pushed against my thigh while I pushed up while lying on my side. At the end of a longer run, my hips, alignment and posture likely collapse. So I need to get stronger while running, my PT suggests. If I stop running of course it will stop hurting, but it won’t solve the problem.

I’m so, so happy to hear that all of this is manageable to continue training.

“Let pain be your guide, but don’t let it stop you,” he said. Basically, if I can muster through pain of a long run – or the marathon – it won’t do any long-term damage. And if I continue to get stronger and manage inflammation leading up to the race, I should be fine. He said he can’t promise the next few weeks to be pain free, but there is no reason to stop.

He helped me stretch, massaged the area and showed me a couple of strengthening exercises to try at home – the bridge and the clamshell – and how to do them effectively. He also gave me acupuncture, which was a first! The tiny needles didn’t bother me one bit, in fact, they actually provided relief.

So tonight I tried a slow, easy three kilometres. My IT band felt tight and there was a bit of pain around the knee, but it was low on the pain scale. The PT suggested I try a little longer run on Thursday, then continue with training from there.

I have also realized my shoes have more than 500 kilometres on them, so I’m hoping to ease into a new pair soon.

On a side note, turns on foam rolling isn’t necessarily the best option, putting too much abuse on an already strained and stretched muscle. Adding gentle pressure to a rolling pin might be just as effective, without the squish factor.

This random article seems to sum up a lot of what my physiotherapist told me, including this point: “Get your glutes firing again and maintain mindfulness of their proper use while working out.”

 

Should you run if you’re coughing?

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Silas and I both have a cough.

I think I’ve Googled some version of this question about 800 times.

“Should you run if you’re sick or coughing?”

Most runners will tell you a general rule of thumb is to avoid running if you feel symptoms below your neck. So if you’re congested in your sinuses, it’s fine. If your chest is wheezing or your body aches, take a break.

Well I have been hacking up a lung for a week now and I’m tired of waiting. I’m antsy. I feel lazy. And I’ve probably gained five pounds.

So this morning I hopped (or, lumbered) onto the treadmill to see how two miles felt.

It was hard. My legs felt heavy and my throat was dry. Within seconds I was coughing so much my stomach muscles hurt. But I sipped water and kept going.

I know I’m not alone here. How do other runners handle this situation? I physically feel fine but the remnants of an ugly cold are lingering and I can’t seem to shake this cough.

It’s hard to run while coughing. But I want to run and I’m worried about falling behind on my training.

Three years ago, I totally ignored a chest cough, continued to run vigorously and ended up with bronchitis. I’d like to think I’m past the point of this turning into an infection, but I don’t want to risk it either.

Some medical experts suggest “no running for three days,” according to Runner’s World. Running and exercise can stress a sinus infection, leading to pneumonia, even without the presence of a fever. Another study has shown that running with a head cold doesn’t compromise performance. In fact, it maintains fitness and psychological well-being.

For now, my plan is to gradually get back to where I was in my training.

Last week’s plan of a 3, 4 and 5-mile weekday runs followed by a 12-mile long run flew out the window. All I got in was a 4 km run.

And this week is looking no better. However, after running two miles today, my plan is to run 3 miles tomorrow, followed by 4 miles on Friday, rest Saturday then long run on Sunday. Although my plan calls for 15 miles (unprecedented!) I’m *hoping* to eek out 12 miles.

What do you think? Advice welcome.

A little hiatus

My last long run feels like forever ago, but it was glorious.

It took place on a cloudy, Friday afternoon. I got off early from work and hit the pavement while my little man was still napping.

I ran along the harbour and through the south end of my pretty city.

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I took it easy, but my pace was actually right around what I think my goal marathon pace will be at 6:30 min/km. There were many hills and I tried not to let them slow me down.

By the end of the 15.5 km run, I felt tired, but good. I made myself a protein powder smoothie and felt relieved at getting the long run out of the way before the weekend even arrived.

Now, just a few days later, I’m in the thick of a cold. I went for a short 4 km run on Tuesday just to test out my lungs, but I felt a little wheezy so I decided not to push it. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way before about running when there is any sign of congestion in the chest, and the results are not good. Who needs bronchitis when you’re marathon training? Not me.

So for now, I’m sitting a few runs out and I’m not sweating it one bit.

What my old shoes say about me

My last pair of running shoes starting wearing out along the pinky toes about two weeks before the PEI half-marathon.

It was too close to the race to even think about breaking in a new pair of shoes. A friend half-joked that I might use duct tape to keep my feet from busting out. (I also couldn’t help but think of the Kenyan runner who won the Berlin marathon with his insoles flapping out the back).

Well I got through the half-marathon with no major issues. In fact, I almost made new personal best. But my shoes, which made it through one running season of moderate mileage, including two half-marathons, were toast.

They were good shoes: the Saucony Triumph. But when I took a look at my shoes from the previous season, also by Saucony, I saw the same wear in exactly the same location. The fabric was nearly torn along the pinky toes.

I went to see Alex Coffin at his shoe store on Saint John’s west side, and he suggested it could be that I’ve been landing on the outer edge of my foot. I’ve always tried to land on my toes, so not to pound on my heels and prevent injury. But landing on the pinky toes is no better. I realized that’s probably what I was doing. Then I looked at my PEI finish line photo.

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It’s easy to see I’d been favouring the outer edge of my foot.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been doing it. I don’t get much hip or knee pain but if I am ever going to progress beyond half-marathons, this is something I need to correct.

So I left the store with a new brand- always a little daunting when you’ve been wearing the same shoes for years.

I got a pair of bright, pink Brooks, which have amazing support. But, new shoes or not, I still need to work on my landing technique.

Alex says it’s purely mental. I tried it during my last run, focusing on my big toe. I felt kind of awkward, but I’m hoping that before long, the correct form becomes second nature. And I get a few more miles out of these pretty new shoes.

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