The Crossfit Connection
It has been said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. With that in mind, I decided to try a new approach to my marathon training this year. Since last year was my first marathon attempt, I concentrated on covering the distance. While I was able to to finish the marathon, I fell short of my time goal: sub five hour marathon. This year I've cut back on my miles and increased my strength through Crossfit. Will this combination help me achieve my goal? I'll get my answer on May 4th. But in the meantime, I'm seeing signs of improvement from last year.
The atmosphere of a Crossfit gym has been a pleasant surprise. It's a 180 degrees from the global gyms I've belonged to in the past. No one will be texting during a workout, or fixing their hair in the mirror. In fact there aren't any mirrors in the gym. And thank goodness for that because I would be afraid to see the faces I make while working out.
Everyone is there to work hard and support each other. When I first started doing the group workouts I was afraid I would make a fool out of myself or would have everyone staring at me like, "What the heck is that girl doing?" My fear was that everyone would see how bad I was struggling. But the truth is that everyone is so involved in their own self misery during a workout that they have no clue what I am doing. That's because Crossfit is scaleable to all abilities. Can't do pull ups? No big deal. Then do jumping pull ups. Haven't had much faith in your handstand since the 3rd grade? Then you can do shoulder presses. There's a modification for every workout. And once you have developed those skills they can be added to the workout of the day.
I've also decided to sign up for the Crossfit games. At first, I was thinking why even bother? But I've been improving over the past two months. Take for example, the clean and jerk movement. On February 10th I did my first benchmark workout named "Grace". It's a timed workout consisting of 30 clean and jerks. At the end of 30 clean and jerks my time was 3 minutes and 7 seconds. I was shocked. The day before Christmas I could only do a clean and jerk with the bar (35 pounds). Now I had just pumped out 55 pounds at nearly 10 reps a minute!
Some days I surprise myself and do something really well that I didn't even know I could do. But if you find something you are really good at, you will also find something you are really bad at. The skills that Crossfit utilitzes leave no stone unturned.
I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding Crossfit. Everyday a new article is published debating it's safety and effectiveness. There is risk with any sport. This winter I have been running on snow and ice and swerving around pot holes like I'm in an obstacle course. I think it's safe to say I've encountered way more risk outside of the gym than in the gym. And with the proper coaching there is no reason you will injure yourself. When my husband and I joined Mt. Lebanon Crossfit we got really lucky. We are really fortunate to have some of the best coaches in the country. This isn't an overstatement. When the 9th place finisher at the Crossfit Games and her coach are the coaches at your gym, you just have to shut up and listen. They know what they are doing.
Is Crossfit effective? I know this is also a hot debate, but I just can't deny results. My clothes are fitting better, my belt notches keep moving and I'm feeling the best I've felt in a while. I'm getting stronger, running faster and hills are no longer slowing me down. I won't know until May 4th if I can run a faster marathon, but I think I'm getting some clues along the way. Improving my overall fitness will do nothing but help my running. I'm excited to see how far I'll go.
Marathon Training: Part 3
February 16th: Week 5 - Teamwork
Teamwork. That is what is getting me through marathon training this year. Since running is an individual sport that may sound strange, but it's been absolutely true. I don't think I could have accomplished long runs in these winter conditions without the help of my group. Whether it's been running in a single file line down a cleared path on the sidewalk, calling out the ice hazards on the run or simply telling each other "good job" as we trot uphill in the snow, we are definitely working as a team to get to our goal of completing the marathon.
The Week 5 run started from Coffee Tree Roasters in Bakery Square. From there we headed along Penn Avenue to South Braddock Avenue. I've ran this portion of South Braddock Avenue before and enjoyed it because it passes a few private schools that have interesting architecture. After passing the schools we made a right onto Forbes Avenue into Frick Park. In the past I've enjoyed running through the park because it's a quiet and scenic part of Pittsburgh. However, this time was a different story. There was snow along the entire length of the sidewalk. When I ran I couldn't push off properly and when I did get my feet to move they hit chunks of ice that had been plowed from the road. It hurt my feet. I resorted to walking. We weren't even two miles into the run and I had serious thoughts of turning around. I even verbalized this thought to my running companion, Laura. I was cold. My legs felt like they were in quick sand and I didn't want to be here.
I looked at my running group in a single file line, trudging up the hill like a small army outfitted in high visibility neon clothing. They were a determined bunch, and I figured I could run with them to the next intersection. Once we made our turn onto Beechwood Boulevard, a plowed bicycle lane appeared. It was a welcomed site. One of the neighbors spotted us and started banging pots and pans in her kitchen; cheering for us and encouraging us onward. I forgot about turning around.
Speaking of encouragement, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the support of Pittsburghers. It's well known that Pittsburgers like to cheer for thier professional sports teams, but they also like to cheer for runners. Seriously, they do! And it's not just in races either. Today was a great show of support from our hometown. The support included a man on Forbes Avenue telling us "great job", to another resident saying with a smile, "Everybody is running today." Pittsburghers will look out for you too; such as the woman on Penn Avenue who told us to be careful because there was ice ahead. "Thank you," we replied. The support really means a lot when you are trying to do something so difficult.
By Mile 10 we hit our last water stop and I was feeling optimistic. Oh yeah, did I mention the Fleet Feet running group has water stops on all our training runs? We do! Thanks to volunteers who wake up early on Sundays and deliver water coolers, cups and garbage bags to various locations on the course. Not only are the water stops important for hydration, but they serve as a good destination point for me mentally. A lot of times I tell myself that I'm just running to the next water stop. It makes the long distances easier to knock down. And once again, it's be made possible because of teamwork.
After the water stop we had less than three miles to complete. Positive thoughts and words of encouragement were passed along to each other as we finished the run. Those thoughts carried us back to Bakery Square. We all arrived safely thanks to our group effort and our group leader. Even though this run was one of the toughest I've ever been on, I think we all felt a sense of accomplishment.
By the end of thirteen miles I was exhausted. My legs were so tired from pushing off in the snow. Speaking of snow, we had just finished our run before it started again. I couldn't wait to get home and out of the cold. I rewarded myself with a latte from Coffee Tree Roasters. Thirteen miles were done and I couldn't think of anything better than a latte, my couch and the Winter Olympics to watch highlights of more teamwork from another great team, the USA.
Marathon Training: Part 2
Ice. Snow. Freezing Temperatures. The weather has been relentless this winter for those training for the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon. And to think that weather today was considered "not bad" compared to other days we've had this winter. For Week 4 we met at LA Fitness in the Southside. I was just happy we were running twelve miles and not increasing our mileage. Our journey started by crossing the Hot Metal Bridge and heading downtown on the trail. Quickly, I realized this run was going to be a challenge when I saw this below my feet.
Ice is nothing to mess around with. This was stressed to us before we headed out on our run. Every time we encountered ice we slowed down to a careful cautious walk.
From downtown, we took the Clemente Bridge to the North Side and caught a glimpse of PNC Park. Seeing the baseball park gives me something to look forward to: Summer. When are coming this year, Summer? Sooner than later, please!
We had a quick water stop in the North Side and then headed to East Ohio Street, which is part of the marathon course. The North Side is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. There is always something new and interesting to see. This trip was no exception. Even though I've run this street many times, I never saw the "Welcome to Deutschtown" mural on this building. There are also nine crests featured on the mural. (Not all are visible in the picture.) The featured crests are a reminder of the towns of origin for the early inhabitants of this historic neighborhood. The mural was dedicated in 2007.
After running through the North Side we ran past the old Heinz manufacturing plant. The plant has since been converted to loft apartments. The outside of the building looks unchanged from the days of a manufacturing plant probably due to being placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 2002. I really enjoy the architecture of this building.
From the Heinz plant we ran along the river to the 31st Street Bridge. The walkway on the bridge was completely covered in ice. Even though this run was not physically demanding, it was becoming a mental challenge.
After crossing the bridge, we ran/walked through the Strip District. Once through the Strip it was back to downtown with mostly cleared sidewalks and then to Uptown and icy sidewalks. Once we reached Uptown the snow started coming down. I was walking again, this time alongside a pedestrian. He looked at me and said in a British accent, "You are all mad." I replied, "I know. What am I doing out here?"
Now I knew the Birmingham Bridge was long, but walking it made it feel even longer. Snow was coming down quickly. I couldn't wait to get off this bridge and back to the Southside and get some coffee.
Once we finally crossed the bridge it was a left turn on to East Carson Street and a few blocks back to LA Fitness. Finally, through the snow I could see the Fleet Feet flag. I love seeing that flag. It's the equivalent of the finish line on our training runs, and for today, just finishing was a accomplishment in itself.
Marathon Training: Part 1
Week 1: January 19th
Training for the Pittsburgh Marathon kicked off on January 19, 2014. This year will be my second full marathon and I decided to join the Fleet Feet training group again. I trained with the group last year, and was excited to see so many people that I trained with last year, return again for this year. The night before training was to begin, I had two thoughts in my head, "I can't believe I'm doing this again," and " I'm excited to be doing this again." Being excited to train with this group was given a hard dose of reality when I awoke Sunday morning.
So, 19 degrees and snow on the ground, wasn't exactly the start to marathon training that I was hoping for, but I've ran in worse. It's hard to believe that only two years ago I was a fair weather runner. It used to be when the temperature dropped below freezing, I would move all my activities, including running, to the indoors. However, when I wanted to run the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, I realized that I needed to toughen up and move the running back outside. Even though running in the snow is difficult, runs consisting of 10-20 miles on the treadmill aren't exactly a picnic either. Fortunately joining a running group ensures others will be pushing me along in these tough conditions.
Having the right gear also makes running in the winter much easier. Here's what I typically wear when the temperatures fall below freezing.
On my legs, I usually wear two pairs of pants. The first layer is Under Armor compression tights (blue waistband). I like these tights because the bottoms extend to the arch of the foot and tuck into the shoe. The second pair of paints are Nike Fleece. These pants provide another layer of warmth and break the wind. On top I'll wear my Under Amor water resistant sweatshirt. This is probably the best article of clothing I have for running. It's lightweight and warm and wicks away the snow. There is also a large front pocket which is great for stashing my running maps and gels. I'll also wear a long sleeved cold gear shirt and another short sleeved shirt layered under my sweatshirt for warmth. Gloves are essential. I also use a Nathan water belt. It has a zip up pocket that I use to carry my cell phone and car key. And last but not least I wear a ski mask to protect my face from the bitter cold air.
From Oakland we ran past the Cathedral of Learning, Heinz Chapel, and then onto Fifth Avenue to downtown. We made a quick trip into the Strip District, the Cultural District and Point State Park. From Point State Park we ran across our first bridge of the route, Fort Pitt Bridge. (Yes, there is a pedestrian bridge on the lower deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge!) After crossing the bridge, we passed Station Square into the South Side. From South Side, we took the Birmingham Bridge to Forbes Avenue. The Birmingham Bridge is my least favorite bridge to run in the city. It's long, and a constant slight uphill from South Side to Uptown.
Next up was the "Oakland Hill" on Forbes Avenue. This is the notorious hill on the marathon course. Last year on the marathon course I ended up having to walk parts of it. I became determined to run the entire hill.
I powered up the hill. I felt strong as I ran up it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could run the entire way up the hill and I did. Running up this hill made my day. I don't know if I will run the entire hill during the marathon, as it is a big energy sucker, but at least I know I can do it now. Ten miles done. It feels good to be back.
Week 2: January 26th
Like most of the country, Pittsburgh has been suffering from the oppressive freezing temperatures courtesy of the polar vortex. With a projected wind chill temperatures below zero degrees and 2-4 inches of snowfall coming on Saturday, our Sunday morning run was cancelled. I was relieved to hear the run was cancelled since I'm also suffering from my first cold of 2014. (I blame you, polar vortex!) The cancellation came on Saturday morning, so I had plenty of time to rethink my weekend and my plan of attack for still getting in a 12 mile run. Treadmill, oh treadmill.
I love my treadmill. I really do. I love it on week nights when it's dark outside. I love it when it's 80% humidity outside and I need to get short run in. I love it when it's football season, and I can run and yell at the Steelers game at the same time. (Talk about a good therapy session). I love it when I incorporate plyometrics with my running. All that said; I hate it for the long run. In fact just the thought of a 12 mile run on the treadmill makes me cringe.
Week 3: February 2nd
For week 3 of training we met at Coffee Tree Roasters in Shadyside. I was eager to run outside again after the last episode of the polar vortex. I was also excited to test my newly purchased gortex shoes. Gortex is a breathable/waterproof fabric. Since it seems that the snow is not leaving us anytime soon and I was tired of having wet feet covered with road salt, I decided to invest in my first pair of Gortex shoes. I'll only wear them when the weather deems it necessary and they will probably last a few years. The weather for this run would put my shoes to the test. Although a warm up to 40 degrees was welcome, rain unfortunately came along with it. This is probably the only time I will ever wish for snow. I really can't stand running in the rain. Especially a cold rain.
We embarked on our 13 mile run from Shadyside to North Craig Street in Oakland. North Craig Street intersects with Bigelow Boulevard. While I've driven this road many times, running on it gives me a new perspective.
In order to cross Bigelow Boulevard and the Bloomfield Bridge we had to use a pedestrian overpass. Pedestrian overpasses seem to be rare in Pittsburgh so I'm always intrigued when I find one. Once we crossed the Bloomfield Bridge we made a quick left onto Liberty Avenue. This is part of the marathon course and I started to remember how I felt last year when running it. I knew I was so close but still felt so far away.
We continued down Liberty to the Strip District, turned around and headed back towards Lawrenceville on Smallman Street. I really can't explain it, but the Strip is my least favorite place to run in Pittsburgh. It's probably the flattest place you can run in Pittsburgh so it should be easy. But since it is flat you can also see far ahead. The Strip is like the equivalent of running in the desert to me. I feel like I'm not getting anywhere.
We continued our run on Penn Avenue up a very long hill to Children's Hospital. After passing the hospital we saw the entrance to the Allegheny Cemetery which displays some awesome architecture.
Our journey on Penn Avenue continued to the Point Breeze neighborhood, which is the location of Frick Mansion also known as "Clayton". The mansion, built in the 1860's, is truly stunning and just a reminder of how much wealth used to reside in Pittsburgh. This is definitely a place I want to visit in the future.
After Point Breeze we ran through Squirrel Hill and finally back to Shadyside. I was thrilled to be back at Coffee Tree Roasters. Unfortunately the rain never let up and I was soaked, except for my feet. (Hooray for Gortex shoes!) I got my large latte and was ready to go home for a nice hot shower. Running with the group today was invaluable. I knew that with the weather conditions I would have never completed, or maybe not even attempted running 13 miles on my own. Even though running is an individual sport, days like this remind me that teamwork can make all the difference in the sport of running.
On the Run with Susie
Over the past two years I've learned much of what I know about running from my friend Susie. She has a great knowledge of the sport including races, nutrition, shoes and apparel. Anytime I have a question about a specific item I ask Susie first. Susie also has a great attitude and constantly encourages everyone she comes in contact with. She's encouraged me to become a better runner and I've seen her encourage complete strangers in a race. Since I admire her uplifting and outgoing spirit so much I decided to ask her a few questions about running.
When did you start running? I officially started running long distance after college. I played field hockey in high school and was forced to run. I hated it.
What is your favorite race? The Montour Trail Half Marathon would be my favorite. It's not a big race and not many people are there to watch and cheer, but I love running on the trail.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.