Thursday, April 26, 2012

Foot updates and new shoes

I saw a new physical therapist who specializes in working with runners and he gave me some good feedback. By the time I saw him my foot wasn't hurting that much and he said I was probably at the tail end of recovering from tendinitis. He showed me how to tape my foot to give it some better support. I think it helped, but I haven't had a chance to buy my own Kinesio tape yet. Maybe this weekend. I took a lot of photos of my leg and foot as a reminder of how to do it myself, although I'm still a little worried about getting it right.

As I ease back into regular running I'm supposed to follow a progression of first increasing my mileage, then adding in hills, and finally speed work. I've been sticking to the high school track for all of my runs over the last week since it's a soft, flat surface. Some people probably equate running laps around a track to be about as boring as running on a treadmill, but personally I've never minded the track. Tonight I ran 7 miles with the last 4 or so in the rain. There were puddles starting to build up by the time I finished.

One other thing I talked to the physical therapist about was shoes. I told him that I've been running in stability shoes for about the last four years before switching over to neutral shoes in February. I'd been worried that maybe the change in shoes had an effect on my injury. But he said that the Brooks Defyance are good shoes for me and that I don't need stability or motion control shoes. I was glad to hear that because I didn't really want to retire the Defyance shoes after only 100 miles. He also mentioned that he wouldn't recommend minimalist shoes for me right now, but that I could probably make the switch over sometime down the road.

I asked about using minimalist shoes for just walking and he said that should be fine and a good way to ease into them. That was good to hear because I just bought a new pair of Brooks PureFlow shoes!

With my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World, I thought it would be a good idea to try touring the parks in something other than flip flops. Although it's never really seemed to affect my race performance, I have noticed in the past that my legs feel more fatigued from walking around the parks in non-supportive shoes than they do from running 13.1 miles. So the new shoes are going to serve as cute walking shoes for awhile and then I'll eventually transition them into running shoes.

I had been planning to get the PureFlow in white and purple, but REI doesn't sell that color combination and I wanted to use my 20% member coupon. I've never owned any shoes this bright before, but they're definitely starting to grow on me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Walt Disney World trip planning for races

With two weeks to go, I finished the last piece of planning for my trip to Walt Disney World by buying my park tickets. Now all that's left is figuring out what to pack for hot and humid Florida weather.

I know there are tons of WDW trip planning resources out there, but since I don't have much else to blog about at the moment, I'll share a few of my tips and preferences for traveling to WDW for a destination race. Note that this post doesn't apply to marathon weekend in January. Since 2008 I've been to WDW seven times for races but never for the marathon yet.

At WDW for the inaugural Expedition
Everest Challenge in 2008

The first step for me is always picking my dates. I've taken trips ranging from three to 11 days. In general, I prefer to plan my dates with the race falling in the middle of trip. That gives me enough time to get acclimated to the weather and be there for the first day of packet pick-up. I also like to leave at least a day after the race to eat whatever I want and enjoy the parks without worrying about tiring out my legs or getting back to hotel early enough for a good night's sleep.

The next step is usually the hotel. I've never actually encountered a situation where the hotel I wanted sold out, but I still want to get a reservation secured just in case. Since I always fly to WDW, I prefer to stay "on-property" and use Disney transportation rather than "off-property" where I'd have to rent a car. From my past experiences, there are at least three Disney-owned hotels that have been designated as "host hotels". The reason to stay at a host hotel is because there will be buses to take you to and from the expo and race. If you're not at a host hotel then you're on your own as far as transportation. I was at a non-host hotel once and took a taxi to the race. It wasn't too expensive (maybe $15-$20), but overall I just find it more convenient to be at a host hotel.

All Star Sports is usually a host hotel

There are special rates at the host hotels for race participants, however sometimes you can find better deals that are open to the general public. It all depends on your dates and length of stay. For example, with my upcoming trip if I was to stay only Friday and Saturday night then it would be best to go with the race rate of $95/night versus the $101.60/night that I'd get if booking under the Spring Room Only Offer that Disney was running. However, since I'm staying five nights I can get a better deal of $85.60/night for three of the nights. Doing the math shows that with the race rate it would be $475 ($95 x 5), but with the Spring Room Only Offer it would be $460 ($85.60 x 3 + $101.60 x 2). Sure it's only a $15 difference, but every penny counts.

Getting To and From Orlando
Like I mentioned above, my only experience has been flying into Orlando. I'm not going to get into finding the best airfare since that's not specifically Disney-related. But whether you're flying or driving it's good to think about what time you'll be arriving and leaving because it'll help determine how many days of park tickets to buy.

Most of the time I don't bother to enter the parks on my arrival and departure days. If the timing works out, I may go to the Expo that first day. Otherwise there are plenty of other things to do at WDW outside the parks. Some of my favorites include going to the monorail resort area for dinner at the Polynesian Resort, a viewing of the electrical water pageant, and a walk along the beach; going to the Boardwalk area for breakfast at Kouzzina or lunch at Beaches & Cream; shopping at Downtown Disney; or playing a round of mini golf.

The electrical water pageant from the beach
at the Polynesian Resort.

I guess one other thing I should mention is that when you fly into Orlando and are staying on-property, Disney offers free transportation to and from the airport. It does take a little longer but I like the convenience of not having to get a rental car or arrange transportation through another company.

Park Tickets
Another perk for race participants (and family and friends) is discounted park tickets. The only time I haven't found the discounted park tickets to be the best deal was during my 11 day trip when I went with my family and we took advantage of a special vacation package offer. After registering for the race, the confirmation email includes a code that you'll need to enter the online ticket store. I haven't asked recently, but I think you can purchase the discounted tickets up until something like a week before the race.

One thing to note is that in addition to being non-refundable, the discounted tickets are also non-upgradable. What this means is that you can't make any changes to the tickets after they're purchased so it requires a little more planning. That's why they're usually the last thing I buy. Unlike regular tickets, you have to decide ahead of time exactly how many days you need and whether you want to add on any options for park hopping or visits to the water parks.

When you purchase the tickets there's an extra fee to have them mailed to you in advance. I'm cheap so I always go with the free "will call" option instead. Plus that way I don't have to worry about losing them. In the fine print, it states that you have to go to one of the theme parks to pick up your tickets. But unless this has changed recently, you can also get your tickets from the Customer Service location in Downtown Disney. If you're planning to go to Downtown Disney anyway on your first night, this is a good way to save some time rather than waiting in line the next morning.

Race Registration
I probably should have included this earlier up in the post, but oh well. Even when I've made up my mind to run a race, I still like to hang on to my money as long as possible before registering. If you're like me, then there are a couple dates that you'll want to keep in mind. First, Disney uses a tiered pricing scheme for their key races so you'll probably want to register before the first price increase. Second, if you've already passed the window for the lowest registration fee, or if you're looking at the family fun runs which don't change in price, then make note of the last day you can register and still receive a personalized race bib.

Basically Disney has two types of restaurants - table service and counter service. Table service restaurants (which include buffets) are usually either better quality food or offer a unique experience that goes beyond just the food. If you have your mind set on going to a specific restaurant then you'll need to make a reservation in advance. That's not to say that you can't get into a table service restaurant without a reservation, but there's no guarantee. The good thing is that races are held during non-peak times of year so if you're flexible there should be something available except at the most popular restaurants.

Sushi at Tokyo Dining in Epcot

This time around I haven't made any dining reservations because I didn't feel like doing all the advance planning. Plus it's cheaper to stick with counter service, and there are a lot of good options around WDW, especially at Epcot. A tip that I just learned recently is that at counter service restaurants you can order menu items without sides for a slightly lower price. For example, if the menu shows a sandwich and chips for $10, you can ask for just the sandwich and it'll be something like $8 instead. I'm definitely going to be trying this because most meal combos are too much food for me and I'd rather save room for dessert!

Another good tip, especially for runners since it's important to stay hydrated, is that you can walk up to any location that has fountain drinks and ask for a cup of water. I like this better than carrying a water bottle around all day. Disney is also really good about having a lot of water fountains around the parks so if you do carry a watter bottle it's easy to fill up throughout the day.

Most recent trip to WDW for the
Expedition Everest Challenge in May 2011

So this was just an overview of some of the things I've learned over the past four years. If you're thinking about doing a Disney race or planning a Disney trip and have questions, let me know and I'll do my best to help!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Second thoughts

In my last post I wrote about a good, albeit slow, 3 mile run. Feeling positive from that pain free run, I went back to the track on Tuesday. Unfortunately this time I could feel a slight nagging in my foot. It wasn't painful enough that I couldn't run through it, but I cut the run short and went to the gym instead. I've been cross training like crazy to keep my fitness up so I can justify not altering my diet to match my non-running state.

I found a physical therapist who actually is a runner himself and has more experience working with runners so I have an appointment for tomorrow to get a second opinion. I probably should have sought out someone who specializes in running from the beginning, but it's a difference between a 3 min drive and a 20-ish min drive and it was just more convenient to see someone close to home. Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing what the new physical therapist has to say, but I'm not expecting any kind of miracle cure.

I didn't mention it because I was a bit tired of talking about races, but I skipped a 5-miler last weekend. It was only $12 and I didn't feel like getting up early to make a 40 min drive just to walk so this time I barely debated my decision at all. In the last four years, this was my first DNS. And now that it's happened, I've realized that it's not that big a deal. I might feel differently if the registration had been $112 instead of $12, but still now that I have one DNS I'm starting to not care that much about DNS-ing other races as well.

Next weekend is the 5k that I convinced my boyfriend to sign up for. We were both looking forward to it and with my foot injury we would have actually been able to run it together, since I wouldn't be trying to race it. Then my boyfriend mentioned that there's a car rally the same day and that he wished he had checked the calendar earlier. I'm usually not that into most of his car stuff although I try to be supportive the same way he is of my running. But this rally actually sounds interesting even to me. From what I gather, it's almost like a scavenger hunt of sorts. There are teams of two, a driver and a navigator, and the objective is to follow the directions while keeping an eye out for clues along the way to help answer a set of questions. We both hesitated a bit because we're already registered for the 5k, but ultimately there'll be more opportunities for 5ks later in the year and this particular car rally is only once a year. At least our money is going toward a good cause... a foundation responsible for taking care of the families of fallen officers.

I even questioned myself about whether I should forgo my Disney trip. On the list of reasons to cancel:
  • All the walking around the park could be bad for my foot.
  • Even though the race registration and plane ticket are non-refundable (about $300 total), that's still less than I'll have to pay for hotel, park tickets, and food if I take the trip.
  • I don't know if I want to go when I can't give the race my full effort. 
  • I think I might have a case of Disney burnout. I've been so many times over the last few years that I'm starting to feel like I've seen everything, aside from the things like tours that cost extra.
However, on the other hand:
  • I need a vacation from work and it's just not the same sitting at home for six days versus actually getting on a plane and going somewhere.
  • While I'm not uber-excited about planning the trip (usually by now I know which park I'll go to on which day and have some dining reservations made), I'm kind of looking forward to a more relaxed trip where I'm not worried about trying to fit everything in.
  • I don't want to break my streak of attending every Expedition Everest Challenge so far.
Ultimately I'm not going to cancel the trip, but it says a lot about how my thinking has shifted that I would even consider it. I hope it's a sign of maturity and open-mindedness, and not a cue that races no longer serve as a motivational tool now that I'm willing to skip them.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Slow and steady

My boyfriend and I went out for a run together yesterday. I love being able to say that! I think I might have mentioned in a previous post that he just started running. I convinced him to do a 5k for a cause I knew he'd support but figured he'd probably walk it. Instead he surprised me and got really into it by researching shoes, buying tech clothing, and looking up training plans.

He's still building up his pace and mileage and I needed to take it easy to test how well my foot would hold up so it worked out well to run together. We decided on three miles of laps around the high school track. It was a very slow pace for me, but having someone to talk to made it fun. I'm probably forgetting about something, but I want to say that the last time I ran with someone was January 2010.

I was so happy to be running that even when my boyfriend stopped for walk breaks, I kept jogging along next to him rather than walking. Overall my foot held up really well. There was none of the sharp pain that I felt during my last run a couple Tuesdays ago. In the back of my mind I was worried that I'd make a misstep and come down wrong on my foot and make it even worse, but I seem to have come through unscathed.

For the last couple laps he decided to walk so I finally took off on my own for a bit. I don't think I was going that fast, maybe a 9-9:30 pace, but it felt like I was flying. Being sidelined really makes me appreciate the times when I can run. And the gorgeous sunny day helped lift my mood too. I wish I could bottle that feeling and save it until next winter.

Tonight was yoga class. I've made it to yoga consistently now for the last four Mondays and hope to keep it as a regular part of my schedule. The class at my current gym is pretty basic, at least compared to other classes I've taken, but it's better than nothing.

If we can coordinate our schedules, I might try another couple miles with my boyfriend before hitting the gym for more cross training. I have another physical therapy visit tomorrow, but I'm pretty sure I already know that my physical therapist will tell me to continue taking it easy and build up the miles slowly.

In other news, I've been consuming a lot of new media lately. First I was watching the new ABC show Scandal online and then I discovered another ABC show called Revenge that I like even better. I got hooked and with no long run to worry about, I spent the weekend making my way through all 16 episodes of Revenge so far and I can't wait until the series starts back up in a couple weeks. I also found a new podcast called Go Fork Yourself, hosted by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods and another co-host. Sometimes it's a little annoying to listen to them talking about restaurants that I've never heard of and will likely never visit, but overall I enjoy their banter. What I look for in a podcast is that it feels more like a conversation among friends than a scripted, overly produced show. It's a nice addition to my playlist that's mostly dominated by Disney and running podcasts. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I finally read the first book in the Hunger Games series. I read the second book, Catching Fire, last week in one 3 1/2 hour sitting. It wasn't quite as good as the first but I still enjoyed it even if the cliffhanger ending did leave me angry the rest of the night because I wanted to know what happens next. I was so tempted to go out and buy the third book but I'm waiting for a library copy instead. Depending on when I get it, it might be good reading material for my trip to Orlando in less than a month!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I saw my physical therapist yesterday. I have to admit that I've never been great at anatomy, or any kind of science really. By anatomy I mean knowing which muscles/bones/body parts are which and where they're located and how everything works together. I hope anatomy is the even the right word to use. I'm giving this disclaimer because it seems like I should be better able to understand my physical therapist's diagnosis but I really don't. It's not that I wasn't paying attention, but just that it made sense at the time but now trying to put it into my own words is difficult. She said something about the pain being in the fifth metatarsal area and that it could have been caused by a tight calf muscle throwing off my stride, or that I did something during my trail run that decided not to manifest until a couple days later.

Anyway, I do know the most important part... I can try running again on Saturday, just taking it easy for a few miles and of course stopping if I feel any pain. In the meantime I can do other types of cardio at the gym. I'm also supposed to really focus on stretching, particularly my tight left calf. And I should keep icing too.

It sucks to not be running, especially when I look outside and see the nice weather and when I think about all the races coming up that I need to be training for. But I keep trying to tell myself that it could be worse and it's better to have this happen now then for example right before I'm supposed to head off to Walt Disney World. Plus there's nothing I can do about it right now. It is what it is and I'll just have to wait and take things a step at a time.

Last year was a really good running year for me, but I shouldn't expect every year to be like that. There are going to be ups and downs. I've been in a worse place before and fought through it to emerge an even better runner. (Sorry to be vague, but it's a long story.) I just need to pack my patience and bring back my phrase "does it really matter?" There's no use worrying about how fast I can run a 5k or how quickly I can ramp up my weekend long run mileage again. And it's not the end of the world if I don't do well at Expedition Everest or get a new marathon PR. By reminding myself that ultimately none of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, it helps me stop dwelling on the past and thinking too much about the future.

Along the same lines, there's a quote that I really like that I got from a slightly unusual source... the movie Kung Fu Panda.
Po: Maybe I should just quit and go back to making noodles.
Oogway: Quit, don't quit? Noodles, don't noodles? You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birch Bay Road Race

Before going to sleep Friday night I set my alarm in time to get to the race. At the very least, I was going to go pick up my race shirt. On Saturday morning, I woke up and put on tech clothes and packed a bag as if I was going to race. Then I made the short drive out to Birch Bay.

When I went to pick up my packet, I found out they were out of XS and S shirts. If I had actually been there to race, I would have been pretty upset because it was even printed right there on my packet that I registered for an XS and there was no prior notice that it was going to be first come first served as far as the shirt sizes. But instead my initial reaction was that if I wasn't going to wear the shirt, there was no need to earn it by doing the race. So I turned down the shirt and handed my timing chip over to a volunteer at the help desk.

I started to head back to my car and then realized it was silly to walk away empty handed when I had paid for a shirt with my registration. I went back and found the volunteer I had talked to and asked if I could get a large shirt to give to my boyfriend. He's just started running and I figured he could use a long sleeve tech shirt.

This time I made it all the way back to my car before deciding that since I had already gotten up early to be there, I might as well participate. The rain seemed to be holding off and all the walking back and forth didn't seem to be irritating my foot. When weighing my options on Friday night, I had forgotten there was a 5k distance which was perfect for me to just walk the whole thing. I went back to talk to the volunteer a third time... she must have thought I was such a ditz! But I got switched over successfully.

The 5k course was a nice, almost entirely flat route along the waterfront. I psuedo race walked it and finished in 42:20.

Aside from the shirt issue, it seemed like a good race and I'm looking forward to giving it another shot next year.

After the race I went to the gym and rode the stationary bike for an hour. Usually the bike is a good low impact alternative when I'm sidelined from running, but this time unfortunately my foot was aching a bit when I finished. I don't know if it was the biking or the combination of walking and biking that was too much. I have an appointment with my physical therapist on Tuesday and I'm hoping she'll be able to help me figure out what's wrong. It's really frustrating because I don't know what I did to my foot in the first place, or how to fix it.