It’s been a busy week for The Plus Runner. Sunday, I picked up the Olympic Training schedule for the Chicago Triathlon. Monday was a “rest day”. Tuesday, I walked with the Weight Watchers girls (our last meeting before the 5k this weekend!) and met my other friends for a swim. Wednesday, I went to my first yoga class at the Chicago Park District and did my 45 minute bike ride on the lakefront. Thursday, I met my training group to do some running drills and run for 40 minutes in Lincoln Park.
Today, I’m tired.
I could blame it on the working out. Or the fact that I stayed up last night watching the premiere of “Royal Pains” when I got home from my run…um, and, watching Casino Royale…again (I cannot get enough of Daniel Craig, I know, I’m sick.)
But the reality is that my body is telling me it’s not quite used to working out every day. And that’ s okay.
It’s one of the hardest things to do when you begin a new program – to be patient, and recognize what your body is trying to tell you. As someone who carries extra pounds, and is not always consistent about exercising, I forget that though I consider myself an athlete, sometimes my body has the final say. And when I was a beginning runner, I had a hard time understanding what my body was telling me. I wasn’t used to pushing my body, and I thought every ache and pain was “normal”; I also thought that if I wasn’t breathing hard on every run, I wasn’t doing enough, or doing it right. That’s the thing with being overweight, and sometimes out of shape – you’re out of practice for listening to what your body is telling you.
So what should you listen for? What is your body trying to tell you?
First, let’s just say I’m not a medical professional. That said, my body “talks” to me in one of five different ways: through aches or pains, by being tired thirsty, and by being out of breath.
Aches and Pains
For me (and again, I’m not a medical professional), a dull ache is my body’s way of saying “hey, you worked me hard yesterday, and I’m just taking a moment to recover. Get a drink and come back later.” I get them in my hamstrings after a good speed run, or my calves when I’ve done hills. My neck will be sore the next few weeks as I start spending more time on a bike, holding it at an angle it’s not used to being at. And my butt will be none-too-pleased with the increased time in the saddle.
When that ache is something sharper, more painful – something that has the ability to make me grimace, or limp, or cry like a girl, then I pay special attention. Right now, I’m dealing with a bit of plantar fascitis, a fairly common running injury. I first checked it out with my running coach, then a trainer, and finally, last week, after a few months of it recurring, talked to my friend who happens to be a podiatrist. She diagnosed it in seconds, and now I’m pouting, but doing the stretches, ice, and anti-inflammatory regimen that I need to do to recover. And last night, after talking it over with my friends, I added two new strengthening exercises to my daily routine.
The important part about this is that when you’re a new runner or walker, you’ve got to pay attention to those signals – or they have the potential to turn into chronic issues. So if you’re lucky enough to be training with a group, don’t be afraid to ask your coach, or check with your doctor.
Hydration and Sleep
What else does your body say? Mine generally focuses on two things: hydration, and sleep. Today, it’s saying this. “Hi, remember me? You’ve only been taking me for a spin 3 days a week lately. And it’s been nice. But this whole 5 day thing is going to require some recovery time. So can we PLEASE try to get 8 hours of sleep this week?”
You laugh, but sleep is one of the most important things I do to let my body recover. It’s hard when you’re working full-time (I’m not, but I haven’t always been jobless) or when you have kids waking you up at the crack of dawn (I don’t but I sympathize.) But by getting an extra hour of sleep a night, I’m more ready to tackle the next workout.
As for hydration, it’s another big issue (no pun intended) for the Big Girls and Guys. The way I understand it, the more body fat you posssess, the more water it takes to keep you hydrated. And when you’re dehydrated, your heart has to work harder to pump the right amount of oxygen through your bloodstream. So the immediate impact of being dehydrated is that your heart, which is already working overtime, is now doing double duty trying to keep you in O2. To combat this, I’m cutting back on how much Diet Coke I drink a day (the caffeine is a natural dehydrator, so I’m down to a mere 32 ounces…which is still horrific, I know) and increasing the water intake (up to at least 100 ounces, which is not even enough for a person of my size). This also keeps me from feeling tired (the number one sign that you’re dehydrated) and keeps the cravings at bay.
Taking It Easy
One other approach that will help me stick with my program is to really carefully monitor my effort level. What does that mean? Well, if I can’t talk while I’m running, I slow down. I don’t have a heart rate monitor currently (and many of you may not, either). But to train for an endurance event, especially when you’re overweight, your long, slow runs on the weekend should be just that – long, and slow. And I’m not talking long and slow by the standards of the 12 minute miler ahead of you - nope, these are YOUR standards. For me, that means really, really, really slow. But I tuck the ego away and just get er done.
Last night, I was heading out for the run with the tri group. As I started, I knew I was going too fast, so I slowed down. Then I met a new friend, who was just a little faster than me. And I really, really wanted to talk to her, and to keep up with her, but she was just too fast for me. So we ran together for about 10 minutes, then walked, and then I told her to go ahead. As soon as she was gone, I slowed down, my heart rate slowed down, I got back into a rhythm, and I felt great finishing.
So don’t be afraid to run alone when you’re getting started – or to tell someone to go ahead, or that they’re too fast for you. Getting started is sometimes about being really, really humble – so that, in 12 or 16 weeks, you can cross the finish line with your arms held high, all “I’m a rock star” with a blazing smile. (Well, technically I don’t raise the arms anymore, as the underarms have a tendency to frighten small children. I just smile and wave like Princess Diana.)
So that’s my advice for this week. Listen to your body. It can take you amazing places, but only if you take care of it. Take your time. Slow down. Get some sleep. Be patient with yourself. And most of all, enjoy the ride.
See you on the path….