Run First, Train Later

I’m home on a Saturday night for two reasons. First, JD and I have a long run planned on a trail in the mountains, which means that 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning is ‘Go!’ time. Second, I’m exhausted and would not be much fun if I were out with friends.

The day started at 9:00 a.m. with apartment hunting, first weaving the streets of Cheeseman Park and Capitol Hill north and south by bike, then by car after my roommate’s bike literally started to fall apart. Luckily, that didn’t stop us. In fact, we found a few prospects right after the said incident. We may have a new place by tomorrow night. Fingers crossed!

11:30 a.m. Back at our apartment. 11:50 a.m. Off to lunch with another running gal pal, followed by shopping for some running shades.

3:00 p.m. Home for about five minutes, then off to do some shopping for new work clothes, new running shorts and tank tops, and picture frames. Home by 7:55 p.m., four shopping bags set on the floor in the living room, heavy breath sighed.

Potentially a new apartment, sunglasses, three shirts and a skirt for work, two new running tank tops. Check, check! It’s already been a solid 11-hour day, and I’m getting a bit tired. . . And, I still have to run.

8:19 p.m. I hit the start/stop button on my Garmin and head south on Logan toward 16th Avenue.

Luckily, I only had an easy three miles on the agenda. Three quick miles, no problem. And it wasn’t. But, it was more tiring than I expected. Go as slow as you want, this is an ‘easy’ three, plus you’ve got 18 coming up – including incline – tomorrow. Aaaaaand so slow – much more slowly than I expected – I went. Aaaaaand about midway through my run, I had an uneasy realization.

I ran late in the day – an easy five miles that time – the night before I fell on the trail. Please, please, PLEASE, history, don’t repeat yourself!

NOOOOOOO not again! Please!

NOOOOOOO not again!

I am such a stickler for never missing a workout, maybe too much. Did that five mile run two weeks and one night ago contribute to my fall the following morning? Should I not have run that five miles twelve hours before a tough trail run? More importantly, should I have run those easy three miles earlier tonight?

Life can get busy, even busy enough to sometimes get in the way of training. Where should runners draw the line to let a training run or two go? When should nearly literally running around all day count towards the day’s training run? Are you extra dedicated if you’re sure to fit every training run in no matter how busy life gets, or are you just a tad nuts to train after running all day?

11:26 p.m. Posting this blog entry, turning off the T.V. and lights, and trying to turn such thoughts off while turning in.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

An imperfect TEN!!!

TEN days. My initial prognosis was two weeks. But, earlier tonight, I RAN my first trail run since the fall – the physical fall, mind you – ten days ago. Let me, first of all, take a minute to recognize how lucky I am to be able to say that. Second, I would like to say that the past ten days have felt like two months.

Hold on, gotta take the heated pack off and put the ice back on. Nope, despite a GREAT night on the trail, not done rehabbin’ just yet. Gimme a sec. . .

OK, back. A hem!

Still, I think this whole debacle has been a good thing for me to experience; and I’m not the only one. Ryan told me so this morning as I was warming up for our workout, today including “impact training” to test my knee’s capabilities at this point in the healing process. Needless to say, it PASSED the test, just in time for ‘Trail Run Tuesday’, tonight in the form of eight miles at Apex Park:


Maybe it was the fact that I had only gotten four hours of sleep last night – first icing, then alternating between icing and heating, has been eating up about an hour and a half of every evening since that fateful day – or maybe it was because I was already feeling good about the day following my workout and Ryan’s official ‘thumbs up’ to hit the trails. Whatever it was, it worked.

Unlike my trail run at Herman Gulch last Saturday, my fall and boo boo were the last things on my mind. I knew that I might still have to hike the downhill sections, or at least take them pretty easy, but I also knew that I had to get through plenty of incline before I could even begin to think about how to hack the potential joint impact compliments of the trail decline.

I stubbed my left toe on a rock. Twice. The same incident on Saturday stopped me in my tracks and nearly had me in tears. What went through my head today? You’re dragging your feet. Pick them up. And, just as quickly as one could think such fleeting thoughts, these left me.

I carried on through the ‘Enchanted Forest’ – yes, that’s the actual name of the trail – then on to Hardscrabble, Grubstake Loop, Pick N’ Sledge. None of it felt as hard or hurt as badly as I remembered that last time we had met, which was, incidentally, four days before my fall.

Then came Argos Trail, all downhill, some of it pretty technical - a.k.a. lots of jagged rocks smack in the middle of the trail, some of it unavoidable as you head back down the mountain, that can make running a little tricky - and two more stubbed toes, this time the right foot - which you’ll recall was the same toe I stubbed about a half second before what felt like an award winning ‘WTF’ face plant – one leaving me airborne.

So much as a routine and insignificant slip on a few loose pebbles on Saturday made me gasp out loud and fling my arms in the air to regain my balance. What went through my head today? Ooh, careful! Almost there, just stay focused. And, just as quickly as one could think such fleeting thoughts, these left me.

I finished just shy of exactly four minutes faster than my previous meeting with Apex two weeks earlier - at which time I had two fully functioning knees – grateful that I had listened to Ryan’s rehab advice despite its induced frustration, very nearly back to my old running self, and ready to get back to business. August 18th, here I come. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

A Different Kind of Fall

Yesterday, after about an hour-long knee rehab jaunt with Ryan, he gave me some hopeful news. He said my knee looked good, and that I could run twice next week! I was still disappointed that he didn’t think me recovered enough to run yesterday, but I did get him to grudgingly agree that I could do a little running uphill on our trail run this morning so long as I hiked/walked back down.

And, I was quite excited today when my knee felt perfectly fine on the run up Herman Gulch Trailhead. Well, that parts that I was actually able to run, I should say. Between roots sticking out of the ground, mud, even snow – yes, snow in June, only in Colorado! - and feeling tired and out of breath, I didn’t do as much running as I had hoped.

Quite the opposite: I fell. . .again. Not like last week, not literally. I was feeling out of shape and tired on my way up the trail and encountered yet another patch of snow and mud, ordinarily no big deal.

This time, though, my first reaction to it was hesitation. Hesitation stemming from fear that I’d fall on the trail again, fear that the hesitation would affect my training, fear that I will barely eek my way through the marathon on August 18th and fall metaphorical miles – and several minutes – short of my goal. In that moment, I fell metaphorically, felt an agonizing pang of defeat.

It didn’t help that Herman Gulch is a TOUGH trail run, complete with lots of tangled tree roots sticking out of the ground; rock step ups and loose rock; a start at about 10,000 feet of elevation; and, today, small streams running across the trail, mud, and snow. All of these would have been quite enough to handle one week after a decent fall. I didn’t need a mild case of PTSD on top of it.

I finally did make it to the top and was very surprised to see that I had caught the boys at the lake before they headed back down to Jones Pass:

Was so happy to see these boys!

Was so happy to see these boys!

That did make me feel better, as I wasn’t expecting to catch them at any point.

The rest of the run was sprinkled with hesitation – again – at spots along the run, telling myself I would come back, small slips on loose rock spurring a startled gasp of self-doubt, feeling grateful for having the best trail running buddies ever, and feelings of absolute awe at even more beautiful views:

Who can be upset with scenery like this?!

Who can feel upset with a front row seat to scenery like this?!

It’s only been a week; I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at my feelings of hesitation along the trail. I can be the most patient person in the world when I think it’s warranted – when trying to teach my niece or nephews something new, when explaining something to someone for the first time – but not when I feel like the clock is ticking, like I’m losing valuable training miles, and like I’m being held back against my will.

The healing process is going to take much more out of me – physically and mentally – than I thought. Still, I am determined not to let this knee thing get me down. I will be back in full force – and SOON – mark my words!

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.


Typically, I am back at training on Mondays after Sundays off. Well, this past Monday, I still walked down stairs funny and very slowly while I was at it. I likened myself to a short, brunette Lurch in dress shoes grunting during my descent from my apartment complex to my car, Bolder Boulder lunch bag, full Nalgene bottle, and notebook in hand.

Maybe he had a knee injury too?

Maybe he had a knee injury too?

So I took Monday off.

I had a workout scheduled Tuesday morning with my great friend and personal trainer du jour Ryan – who, by the way, graced the pages of the Denver Post after a reporter attended a fitness class he taught at DU a few Saturdays ago – and I was curious as to what his assessment would be.

After a quick examination of my knee, he put me on a stationary bike and got me pedaling. As per his instructions, I pedaled for two minutes at a time, increasing the tension by one increment each time for about 8 minutes. “How does it feel?” “Good. I can feel it, but it doesn’t make me want to stop.” A few more questions and a mini lesson in the body’s recovery response to trauma, Ryan gave me his recommendation.

I didn’t like it.

I – a self-proclaimed nerd in running shoes – was given strict instructions not to run for TWO WHOLE WEEKS.

Um. . . WHAT THE?!

That’s like bringing a chubby kid to Hersheypark and telling him he can’t eat any candy. Like a teacher not calling on the little girl in the front row nearly jumping out of her seat as she waves her hand in the air to answer a question, the answer to which no one else in class knows. I didn’t like it, not one bit.

I’d rather try to find meaning in a Pauly Shore movie (Movie reference, anyone? Hmm?).

Did I mention that I didn’t like it?

After knowing Ryan for 4 1/2 years, it was the first time I’ve ever wanted to argue with him. Two weeks? I CAN’T do that! I start speed work this week – I CAN’T miss any speed work!

As much as I didn’t like the sound of that, he may be the only person on the planet to whom I would listen. In the time I’ve worked out with him, I’ve developed the strength to do things I never would have guessed possible. When I tweaked my (other) knee a few years ago, I followed his exact instructions to a tee and regained full use of my knee. Ryan’s never steered me wrong before, and I knew that he never would.

Ugh, fine! Hurry up, little knee. You’ve got two weeks!

And so, my knee rehab began. Last night, instead of hill repeats at Mt. Falcon Park, I hiked up and down the first mile of the Turkey Trot Trail while JD ran up and down our regular route. In the time he climbed about 1,900 vertical feet in eight miles, I managed to get in 1,486 of elevation gain in five miles, to break a sweat, and to feel a little burn. Huh. OK. Not too shabby for not a step run!

And, tomorrow, I’ve got a pool workout planned to mimic my speed work. In fact, I was quite pleased to find an article in the July 2013 issue of Runner’s World Magazine that validated exactly what I was planning to do. According to Jeff Galloway, runners can mimic a speed workout by shortening the stride, quickening the turnover, moving legs faster, and keeping the duration of effort and recovery the same.

Here’s what I came up with:

Hill Repeat Workout

Pool Workout

Two-mile warm up Run in pool for 18 minutes (equivalent to two 9-minute miles)
Run uphill for one minute 3-4 times, jogging back down between Run faster in pool for one minute 3-4 times, slowing pace between
Run uphill for two minutes 3-4 times, jogging back down halfway then   sprinting down between Run faster in pool for two minutes 3-4 times, slowing pace for one   minute then quickening pace between
Run uphill for one minute 3-4 times, jogging back down between Run faster in pool for one minute 3-4 times, slowing pace between
Two-mile cool down Run in pool for 18 minutes (equivalent to two 9-minute miles)

I’m on the mend and looking forward to my next run. And maybe, juuuuust maybe, I can convince Ryan that two weeks is too long when I get to the gym for our next workout on Friday morning. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Well, That Smarts

Saturday marked my third and final trail run for the week - a 16 miler – at Elk Meadow Park in beautiful Evergreen, Colorado. I was happy to get back up to the serenity and breathtaking view from Bergen Peak, to test out my new hydration vest, and to cross my final training run off my list for the week.

At the same time, I was a bit nervous – I knew Elk Meadow starts at a higher elevation than our more common trail runs; and I knew it was a tough climb to the view, even when I was in great shape last year. I was a bit nervous, and I was right. I had no idea at the time what the next few hours would bring.

The first two miles were tough but all right. I wasn’t ascending as fast as I would have liked, but I remembered that the really steep parts were yet to come. The next mile’s when it hit. I remembered it being steep, but I didn’t remember it being so technical. I had to stop – stop my watch, heard and felt my heart beating in my head – and hoped no one caught me on the trail to witness it.

Around mile 3, the thought of last rites whooshed in, paused, then fled out of this Catholic girl’s head. Score: Elk Meadow Park, 1; Melissa, 0.

Thankfully, I had also forgotten about the next few stretches of trail that leveled out and actually allowed me an opportunity to run. I finally made it to the top to meet DJ and my view:

JD & I, smiling bigger at the break in the run than the view

JD & I, smiling bigger at the break in the run than the view – at least I was

JD assured me that I was only eight minutes behind me, and I’m hoping that he was telling the truth rather than just saying so to make me feel better about my near gasping for air when I finally found him at the peak. A few pictures and breathe caught, we were headed back down the trail.

I think of the steep parts of a trail run – typically in the beginning for nearly all of our training runs – as the work. The run back down is just fun. Three or four miles downhill are one thing, but 13.1 miles down hill are completely another. I was going to have to adjust my mental approach to training on the trails to prepare for the second half of the Pikes Peak Marathon.

I was surprised at how steep the climb up had been as I chose each step down carefully while running as fast as my hesitant brain would allow me to at that moment on the way down. I tripped once and turned my right ankle pretty good. Ouch! Shake it off. That was close!

And then, my thoughts wandered. . . I am loving this new hydration vest! Maybe I’ll write a mini review for it in a blog post about essential trail running gear. Or, maybe. . .

And then it happened. I tripped again. Think it was my right toe that stubbed something along the trail, but I’m not entirely sure. I flew forward, arms extended ahead of me, hit the ground, slid for a second or two. It was my first – and dear lord, please, let it be my last - all-out ‘Superman’ face plant into the dirt.

The first thing I noticed was my right index finger - split open a bit just under the nail. My fingertip now blended in nearly perfectly with my flashy red fingernail polish. I reached over to my left wrist, stopped my watch – I knew I would be there a minute or two before actually getting up - slowly leaned on my left side, pushed myself up off the ground to a seated position, and scooted over to the edge of the trail to assess the damage.

My legs were both scraped up, left quad donning a few scratches that could later help to estimate of the distance I had indeed slid, right knee hurting pretty good and wearing three scrapes of combined blood and trail in the dead center of my knee cap.


As I waited for the deep sting in my knee and ‘Oh crap, just how bad is it?‘ to subside, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I reflected on a brief conversation JD and I had with the polite stranger at Bergen Peak who offered to take the picture of us above. She had seen a biker fall on her way up the trail that day, and she said he seemed embarrassed.

Had someone seen me fall, there would have been absolutely, undoubtedly, ZERO embarrassment on my part. That was, one hundred percent, an unmistakably honest, hard-earned, trail-eating biff.

Second, I thought of a previous blog post of mine when I fancied myself some sort of superhero. This fiasco brings a whoooooole new meaning to the idea of ‘Supermanning’ it.

Score: Elk Meadow Park, 2; Melissa, 0.

Armed with my bum knee, a layer of trail dust plastered all over my previously black running shorts, and the determination to reach my 16-mile quota for the day, I trudged on down the remainder of Too Long Trail more slowly than before. Needless to say, I was hurting for a while; and my knee ached for the remainder of my run.

I finished the loop of wide trails leading me back to the parking lot and managed to talk myself into two more short out-and-backs to finish at mile 15. That was more than enough after what the day had brought. JD was waiting to document my survival:

All in a day's work

All in a day’s work

My day off on Sunday did me a world of good, and so will a continued regimen of ice, knee elevation, and hydrogen peroxide for the next few days. You may have won this battle, Elk Meadow Park, but the war is not over yet. In the mean time, I wish you happier trails.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Keeping the ‘Big Picture’ in Mind

It’s Friday morning. I’ve run 27 miles this week and still have another 21 ahead - including a long run on a trail, yes, with incline and hence lots of climbing - to keep on track with my marathon training plan.

After a combined elevation gain of 3,850 feet on the trails so far this week, my feet looked like this:

No, those aren't tan lines. . .

No, those aren’t tan lines. . .

So, I decided that as a reward for all of their hard work (and in preparation for my cousin’s wedding this weekend – I’ll be seeing two guys on which I had MAJOR crushes on in middle and high school and might want to make them want to eat their hearts out for juuuuuust a split second!), my poor, tired little tootsies had earned a pedicure on my mid-week day off:

Forget cute little penguins. These are the true definition of happy feet!

Forget cute little penguins. These are the true definition of happy feet!

Before the pretty nail polish, the heated water jets in the pedicure chair felt sooooooo gooooood on my feet. I made it a point to sit uncomfortably in the chair so that I could aim the jets at each foot’s arch – Not quite my typical lacrosse ball therapy, but it still made me say “AAAAWWWW!”

That was my first ‘rest’ day this week, and it was followed by another one yesterday. No, I didn’t take the day off. I ran. In fact, sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about how nice a run would feel at that moment, which, yesterday, struck me on my drive home from work. I ran, BUT I ran nice and easy and took in some of the sights and sounds of beautiful Cheeseman Park.

And, when I wanted to pick up the pace, I refrained, honestly not because I wanted to, but because my legs told me to. As much as my head tells me to ‘Go, go, GOOOOOO!’ I will most definitely go with the higher power, in this case, my body. If it gives out on me, I’m toast – and so is my marathon in August.

I am by no means a running expert, but I can confidently say that I’ve run enough to know my limits – when I can push them, and especially when I can’t. I started my run last night thinking I’d add another 1.25 miles – an extra lap in Cheeseman Park – to the routine. About a mile in, though, my legs rewrote my agenda for me. And guess what? I LISTENED!!!

At the end of the day, the important thing is to remember why you’re training in the first place. Keep the ‘big picture’ in mind. I didn’t grapple with my decision to cut my run back a bit last night. Had I thought any more on it, though, it would have been a no brainer: Run a little extra on tired legs on Thursday knowing that you have a tough trail run coming up on Saturday. Um, NO!

Putting more effort into a tough trail run will certainly serve me better climbing Pikes Peak in August than would putting more effort into an extra lap through a relatively flat park. Big picture, peeps!

Hmm, I wonder what my legs have on the agenda for my 5 miler tonight. . .

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

And I’m BACK!

So, I know that not every race can be a PR or even a good race. I know that; but accepting that is a whole different story, especially when it comes to marathon training. I can get so competitive and so focused that I will think that anything but a victory every time will set me back, which, although I know is not the case, weighs heavy on my mind.

Well, my fine and fair readers, I am happy to report that I was able to shake this bump in the road! To quote an ex-boyfriend’s Facebook status update a day after I posted a picture of me and my new beau at the time - now also an ex, but who’s counting? – “I’m over it.” Unlike that poor, lost boy, though, I mean it. Just for the record, he ‘unfriended’ me the next day. Mmm hmm!

And despite the time that’s elapsed since my last blog post, I felt much better about my perceived failure within a day or two. First and foremost, I owe my acceptance to one word, a single, magical syllable that can mean a 180-degree difference in mentality between fighting the urge to snap at anyone who tries to make you feel better and actually hearing your own voice of reason repeating their exact words: SLEEP.

After catching up on a lil’ sheep countin’, I was thinking more clearly and much more logically; and I just felt better about my race in general. That alone was enough to tell me just how physically and psychologically tapped I was on race morning.

Then, I started doing a little digging and discovered that, had I run just as fast as I did last year, I still would have placed exactly the same in my age group. The facts of the matter are that (1) more women in my age group registered for Jodi’s Race this year and (2) some of those that did were faster than me on race day. And that’s that.

In fact, the first four female finishers in my age group landed spots in the list of the first five overall female finishers. To place in my age group, I would have had to run more than two minutes faster. No matter how well I’d been running up to that point, that just wasn’t gonna happen. Or, at least, not this year. There’s always next year. . .

And, at the end of the day, our joint mission was accomplished. Continuing the trend since it began four years ago, Jodi’s Race was a HUGE success! Race directors set a goal of reaching 2,500 participants and raising $100,000 to help women in Colorado and to raise ovarian cancer awareness. The final figures include 2,521 runners and walkers and fundraising over $116,000 for the cause.

And, of course, I’m always ecstatic to spend some time with my like-minded winged-feet friends!

Team Nana Flora 2013

Team Nana Flora 2013

And finally, as if helping women in Colorado affected by ovarian cancer, spending a day with my running buddies, and not only realizing but accepting the fact that I am human and can only do so much wasn’t enough, I had an even better trail run and ran about 30 seconds faster per mile than expected at the Snug this past week.

I know I’ve said it before, and I may very well say it again: 2013′s gonna be a great year.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some

As of yesterday, I’ve officially been back in Colorado for nine days. Since returning, I’ve tacked my first Snug run and my first trail run. More importantly, I’m happy with my performances for both, especially since both kicked my arse last year. Two tests down, one to go.

Yesterday morning included test #3: the 4th annual Jodi’s Race for Awareness, a GREAT race set in Denver’s gorgeous City Park for a GREAT cause – raising ovarian cancer awareness. Last year, I almost beat my race goal by a full minute and placed well in my age group. This year, of course, I wanted to defend my title and to PR. This race, I thought to myself, will be the true test of how I’m doing so far this year.

Well. . .let’s hope not. I had such high hopes of posing with the other medalists on Team Nana Flora after the race. Big. Fat. FAIL. Twenty-one seconds slower than last year, six places back in my age group, five places back overall. Enter disgruntled sigh here.

I felt pretty good, felt rested. I ate what I would normally eat the morning of a race. I had enough water. What happened?

Well, I was really tired during my run at the Snug on Thursday. Maybe that first trail run back on Wednesday took more out of me than I thought. My first week of work was crazy. Maybe getting to bed early the past few nights still wasn’t enough rest. Excuses!

Enter disgruntled sigh here.

Luckily, I was able to put my disappointment away long enough to cheer on our team medalists and everyone who supported the cause in City Park that day. And, of course, to celebrate!

Post-race brunch!

Post-race brunch!

My mini mental vacation was short lived, though. Just walking to my car to leave brunch, my mind started wandering again. What did I do wrong? This had better not become a pattern for the summer. I won’t let it!

Enter disgruntled sigh here.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., conducts child development research and works to improve the lives of young children at the University of Denver and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.