Conversation with Myself

So I got my tubes tied. I’d been told I would be able to “resume normal activities” within a day. In true medical disaster fashion I was in bed for days with a painful anesthesia reaction, but I knew I probably couldn’t resume “normal” activities that soon anyway, because these days my normal is most people’s haaayyuuuull no.

8 days post op the annoying tugging feeling with every step was finally subsiding and I decided to go for a walk. Which… included some running. Even though I’d debated being ready for a walk. Cause Type A.

Me that day, wondering WTF is wrong with me…


The next morning was chilly. Almost cold.  I squeed the squee of a thumbholes addict and rushed to put on my shiny new cool weather running outfit.  The one I had to buy because apparently, running is a thing I do now.


Thumbholes cause spontaneous jazz hands!
(Weight loss to date: 107)

I knew I should be taking it easy but… Mother Nature. She called to me.  I was bursting to run. BURST. ING.

Which, to be honest, is not an emotion with which I am familiar. I’m in it for the cute outfits. And the thumbholes. And I was still taking it easy, right? Riiiiight.

This was the conversation the crazy people who live in my head had that lovely morning:

Newly Minted Runner Chick: ZOMG!! Perfect fall day! We need to ruuuuuuuun! Come on guys let’s go let’s go let’s goooooo!

Post Op Chick: Are we sure about this?

Pragmatic Chick: Let’s go slow and see what happens.

NMRC: This feels GREAT!!

Pragmatic Chick: I don’t think we should do more than 2 miles. We already decided not to race that 10K next month, no reason to push.

Triathlete Chick & NMRC & Type A Chick: ONLY 2 MILES???

Pragmatic Chick: What say you, body?

Body: I’m up for 3.


GPS Lady: total distance, 3 miles

Body: I, um… kinda sorta totally don’t want to stop. On account of this is awesome.


Pragmatic Chick: Uh, guys…

Frowny Face Ortho Doc: Didn’t I JUST lecture you about being an over achiever?

NMRC: Don’t listen to him, we ROCK. We can run forever. We could do that 10K right now if we wanted to!!

GPS Lady: total distance, 4 miles


Body: She has a point.

Pragmatic Chick: OFFS

Frowny Face Ortho Doc: *throws up hands and stomps away*


Pragmatic Chick: This is your regular workout distance and you’re only 9 days post op. Howz about you get your head out of your ass now?

Thus ended the workout that subtly tipped the scales of my identify from “one who reluctantly runs to calorically finance my martini habit” to “runner.”


Running is Not Strength Training

I started seeing Denise Smith at Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy in August. I had a lingering hip injury and the overwhelming desire to not make things worse. Denise has been working with me to correct my running form. A month and a half in and the changes in my form have eliminated the pain and improved my performance. Read about my first and second appointments here and here.

In my last post I wrote, “I don’t enjoy strength training. I knew it was necessary, so I did it.” This was unintentional foreshadowing.  At the start of my September 26th appointment at Smith PT & RA, I repeated this to Denise.  As it turns out, the focus of my third appointment was strength training for runners.

That strength training is important is often repeated by running friends. It’s the conventional wisdom, often followed by, “I really need to start doing something.” Like a lot of my running friends, it’s easy to go out for a run because I like running. Strength training requires mental discipline.

The first thing Denise said was Running is not strength training. Running is endurance. Strength training is using resistance to build muscle.

Denise explained why runners need strengthening. Here’s what I understanding:

  • When you run, you’re lifting 2 to 3 times your body weight with each step. Your body needs the strength to do this over and over again. (For sprinters, it’s up to 5 times their body weight).
  • Prevent injury. During strength training you can focus on individual muscle groups. Plus it improves ligaments and tendons, which you need as your muscles tire during a workout.
  • You can run longer and faster. Strength helps with endurance and speed.


“So,” I asked Denise, “What muscles do I need to focus on?”

“What muscles do you use to run?”


In the gym, Denise talked about how we use our whole body to run. She had me jump on to a step, telling me to think about what muscles I was using. I jumped. I could feel the muscles in my legs, or course, but I also felt my abs contracted and my arms swing. And I could feel my shoulders and back assisting.

Next Denise asked me to jump only using my leg muscles. I tried. My jump was weak. I wasn’t even close to landing on the step. We repeated the exercise, jumping with one foot – similar to a running stride.  I could feel all the muscles working as jumped on the step.  I couldn’t get lift when trying to use only my legs.

What did I need to strengthen? Everything I use to run. Denise said she’d show me multiple exercises for each muscle group. Then I could pick my favorites or mix it up. She started at the floor.

Feet. During a run, a job of the feet is to land and balance at each stride. Especially since I’m planning on more trail running this winter, I should be working on balance. Plus, exercise should mimic running form as much as possible. We went through some agility work. My favorite was using the balance trainer ball. I took a stride onto the ball with one foot and tried to hold my balance.

Calves. We did single leg heel raises. I need to do these slowly. Slow, slow, slow heel raise. This mimics the calf movement during the stride before the foot comes off the ground.


Quads and hamstrings. Denise showed me a lot of different exercise for the quads and hamstrings. Again we focused on mimicking running form, which meant single leg exercises. Single leg squats, similar to my last appointment, only this time I added a weight bar.


And I knew lunges were coming. Walking lunges are my least favorite exercise. So Denise showed me an alternative – the elevated lunge.  It’s hard, but I enjoyed it.


Hips and butt. We reviewed the exercises from my prior appointment. See them here. Then we went over all the variations of hip dips.


Core. My favorite core strengthener was the flutter kicks. Denise had me modified them to more closely mimic the running form. I brought my knee up as I fluttered my legs up and down.


Shoulders. Denise had me do some of the agility exercises I had been doing since my first appointment while holding weights above my shoulders. Then Denise had me doing pushups. Attempting pushups might be a better description. Once again we discussed how my body moves while running. My arms are never in the same position. So we tried staggered arm push up.


My assignment: do strength training 2 – 3 times per week. I don’t need to get all the muscle groups in each session, but I should get them all each week.


How It’s Going

Two weeks after meeting with Denise I realized that I hadn’t done any strength training. So I sat down, reviewed my notes and wrote out a routine based on what Denise had showed me. I stuck with the routine about twice a week until the holidays started. Around Thanksgiving, all of my exercise routines got a bit shaky.

January 9th I start my training plan for the Ice Age 50k. This is going to be a challenge for me. I can run 15 miles, but have never pushed beyond that. In addition to my running plan, I’m including twice weekly strength training. I’ll keep you updated with how it goes.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Overstride

I had my first appointment with Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy on August 15th. Because of a running injury early this year, I started working with Denise Smith to improve my running form.  Read about my first visit and the following weeks here.

August 29th I headed back to Crystal Lake for my second visit.  The second appointment started in a similar way to the first: Denise and I sat down and talked about my running and how the last several weeks had gone.  If you read my first post, you’ll remember that two weeks after my first appointment with Smith PT & RA, I ran the 11.5 mile Fort to Base race. For the first time in months, I had no hip pain after a longer run. However, during the race I had an uncomfortable tightness in the front of my left calf.  This was new, not something I had encountered before I started working on my running form.

When I told Denise about the tightness, she reminded me that in the videos she made during my first appointment, my left ankle had moved in an unusual manner.

The next step – analyzing my running form again. Denise filmed me running, first from the side as I ran past her so we could compare to the prior visit. This view allows Denise to see how my foot falls in relation to my body.

Then she filmed me from the front (running towards her) and from the back (running away).

I love when Denise puts my video on the big screen in her office. I feel like a star athlete in one of the sport documentaries that my husband loves. Denise will pause my video at different points then uses an app to draw in angles showing my form and the correct form. Or lines showing how the impact of my foot is flowing through my body.

I didn’t expect my form to be perfect after only two weeks, but I was excited to see the comparison to the prior visit.


Analyzing the appointment one video versus the appointment two video, Denise pointed out three things.

  • Impact position: my foot is landing under me instead of in front of me. (When your foot lands in front of your body, it works like a brake slowing your run down.)
  • Angle of leg at impact: in the first video, my leg is rather straight at each impact – which allowed the force of the impact to travel up my leg into my hip. In the second video, the bend in my leg cushions the impact without hurting my hip or knee.
  • Shoulders: my shoulders are relaxed in the second video. Better form makes for less tension in my body overall.

With the comparison I could see why I’d been having hip pain, then in the second video why I didn’t have any at the Fort to Base race.

The video from the front and rear were also illuminating.

My left foot was crossing over the midline of my run. My right foot was landing in a straight line, but my left foot was crossing over and landing in front of my right foot. Also, my left hip was dropping.

I had hurt my left hip and Denise explained that now my right hip is stronger and is pulling more than my left hip. My ankle is tight, then let go to flop as I stepped.

Next steps: strengthen the hips.

Because one hip was stronger than the other, Denise gave me exercises to be worked on one side than the other.

My assignment, keep up the hip dips and two to three times a week add in:



Denise gave me one other assignment for the next few weeks – shorter runs with the metronome. Run with the beat at the upper point of my stride instead of at impact. This should keep my left ankle and calf relaxed through the whole stride, instead of tight with a sudden release.


The Following Weeks

I did not love the strength training exercises for my hips. I don’t enjoy strength training. I know it’s necessary, so I did it. As the weeks passed, I did notice that my left foot seems to be more naturally landing in a straight stride. Progress is a great motivator to continue the strength training.

I’m really enjoying the metronome running. I like the feeling of running when I focus on the upward motion of the stride instead of the impact.  I’m running faster, too. on my shorter runs, I had been running around a 10 minute/mile pace. On one five mile run I started at a 10:04 minute pace. I had negative splits. 9:40. 9:19. 9:07. I pushed myself on the last mile for an 8:44 minute mile.

So far, I’m very impressed how my running has changed.

My Visit to the Running Academy — momsRUNthistown (Lake and McHenry County, IL)

This spring I hurt myself running. There wasn’t a specific incident – I’d noticed some escalating pain in my hip after running, but I pushed through and went out day after day. I kept running until mile 9 of a much anticipated half marathon. After mile 9 I hobbled. Post race, the pain was bad enough […]

via My Visit to the Running Academy — momsRUNthistown (Lake and McHenry County, IL)

My Visit to the Running Academy

This spring I hurt myself running. There wasn’t a specific incident – I’d noticed some escalating pain in my hip after running, but I pushed through and went out day after day. I kept running until mile 9 of a much anticipated half marathon. After mile 9 I hobbled. Post race, the pain was bad enough that I had to take six weeks off of running. When I started running again, I found that shortening my stride helped minimize the hip pain, but I’d still have pain after a long run.

I started running a little over 3 years ago. One day I’d laced up some shoes and headed out the door. Like Forrest Gump, I just kept running without really thinking about it. The period after the hip injury was the first time I ever thought about my running form, or considered that how I was running could cause injuries.

So August 15th I went to Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy for a running assessment. Several friends had recommended Denise Smith after seeing her about their own running. All had said that she helped them with running pain, plus they had become stronger runners.  I went to my meeting a little nervous, a lot excited, and not entirely sure what to expect.

Step one: A friendly chat.

Denise ushered me into her office and sat down with me. She told me a bit about her background – she has her masters in physical therapy, 18 years of experience, and a series of running technique certifications. When she talked about running technique, I felt like I could see the passion that drove her to open her own business. My interpretation: runners tend to focus on speed and distance, but there is a natural running form that can be learned through coaching, drills, and practice. With the right form a runner puts less stress on her body, is less likely to injure herself, and will more efficiently use her motion.

Then I talked about me. Denise asked a bunch of questions about my running background, how often I run, cross training, strength training, etc. Lastly, what were my goals in meeting with her? My main goal was simply that I don’t want to injure myself again. Taking time off of running sucked, plus there was that pain. More than anything else, I wanted to focus on injury prevention. I’d also love to be faster (who wouldn’t?). And I don’t strength train. I want to, but don’t know where to start.

Step two: The running assessment.

We went outside and Denise videoed me running at different speeds. Back inside Denise went over the video with me. She pointed out how my foot was landing in front of me acting as a brake for my momentum. It should be landing under me. I was dropping my foot early during my stride. Plus my ankle was doing a weird flopping thing (my words not hers). She drew lines and angles to help me understand. She switched to videos of good running form, then back to mine. This might sound demoralizing, but it was actually exciting to see how I could improve.



The funny thing is that this is actually an improvement over how I used to run – remember I shortened my strides after I hurt my hip. Check out this picture from a race in March.



Look at those long strides



Step three: Drills.

We went back outside and one by one we went through a series of drills. First we did a side to side pendulum. It was easy – I swung my foot out and let it land under me, bouncing from foot to foot. First in place, then slowly moving forward, then transitioning to running. Bounce, bounce, bounce, forward, then run, and back again. We went through 11 different drills each of them training my feet to land under my body. Each drill in place, then moving forward, then running. Next we did the drills to a metronome – 180 beats per minute.

The drills were easy. The running part didn’t really feel any different from my normal running.

But it looked different. Denise recorded my running after the drills. Back inside she put it on the screen next to my earlier run. Not perfect, but better.



Step four: Homework.

Drills. I should do the drills before my runs to train my body that my foot falls under my body. There were eleven different drills, but I should do the ones I like. I could also do the drills midrun if I notice my foot landing in front of me.

Hip dips. A cross between a plank and a pushup. I need to do 30/day for 30 days to strengthen my hips.

Metronome. Use a metronome while running. I should eventually be at 180bpm, but I should start lower with what was comfortable for me.


What did I think of the first meeting?

Denise was awesome. She’s friendly, knowledgeable, and has tons for experience. The way she broke down technique and running was easy to understand. While we watched the initial video of myself and she described what was happening, I could see how by landing my foot in front of my body I was causing myself to brake. With lines and angles, it was clear the differences between the best form and what I was doing. Plus she helped train the Russian Olympic triathletes.  I felt like I was in good hands.

The drills are easy enough that I’m not worried about getting them wrong when I do them at home. We’ll see how they work out.


Two weeks in

Denise encouraged me to call or e-mail her if I had any questions. I haven’t since I haven’t really had any questions. I go back to see her tomorrow and I’m interested to see if/how my running has changed.

The drills: I like the drills. I stuck with my four favorite – the side to side pendulum, the front to back pendulum, skipping, and running backwards. Occasionally I’d throw in the karaoke. I’d run through the drills a couple times before running, but I really liked doing them on their own. I’d do them one after another. On one long, hilly run, I tried to do the pendulum at the 6 mile mark, but my brain went blank on how to do it. I’ll have to work on this.

Hip dips: I did 30 hip dips per day for the first week, then completely forgot about them until I came back to write my update. Whoops.  I guess 30 days in a row starts today.

Metronome: I love the metronome when I’m doing the drills. I had trouble when I was running with other people. I talk and end up completely ignoring it. Maybe I’m still running in time? Hopefully.

Running: I ran Fort 2 Base today. At the beginning of the race, my feet seemed to be landing under me with little effort. The farther along I got, the more I had to remind myself and think about my form. “Relax your shoulders. Feet underneath.”  My calves felt tight during the middle of the race. This is new – not something I experience before. I’m not sure if it comes from the new form. I’ll ask Denise about it tomorrow. After the race I had zero hip pain. Recently after a longer run, I would have a little pain that’s usually gone the next day. Could it be this easy? Two weeks of drills and I’m all better? Probably not – but I’m looking forward to see what’s next.

Acres of Hope

I’ve never blogged anything before and haven’t written in a diary for years and years.  Blogging is like that, kinda, right?  With the exception that anyone and everyone can read it.  Well, I was awarded a bib to the Acres of Hope Farm/Trail Run at Stade’s Farm in return for a blog post.  So here goes… [forewarning: Writing is not my thing and my thoughts run around like a squirrel in my head sometimes.]

This is my first time attending this race and a 5k was just what I needed.  My mileage is not up to where I want it to be due to life and stress getting in the way.  Stade’s Farm was easy to get to, nice and close to home, lots of parking.  The weather was pleasant considering it was July 30th.  When I arrived, I picked up my packet and they already had the pancake breakfast up and going along with the raffle prizes out.  Lots of happy, helpful volunteers around to help.  I bought a few raffle tickets to help raise funds for the McHenry Honor Guard.

I saw a few familiar faces in the field of 117 runners.  The race was small which is nice, you can really get the feel of community at small races like this.  There was a one mile run, a 10k and then the 5k which started last.  The race was actually on the farm, in the fields.  There were some slight inclines and at times it felt a little tough to this girl who hasn’t run much lately.  No worries there was enough distraction to take away from that.  Back in the day I used to always get passed by mom’s with strollers, well at this race, I was getting passed by people and their dogs.  I was hoping that my huffing and puffing wasn’t as loud as the panting that was coming up behind me.  Other distractions included the actual crops we were running amongst: hay, raspberries, strawberries, apples, green beans, snap peas and probably some others.  That was kind cool.


I finished the race in a respectable time for me 33:33; maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I felt.  Post-race was very nice as well, all participants received a medal which was super cute.  It was a running corn cob that had a bottle opener on it and magnets on the back so it can live on your fridge.  I love the Butter headband.


I’m partial to the running corn cob, I used to work at Dekalb Genetics when I was in college.  If the corn had wings- that would be even better!


I was trying to be good food-wise so I only had one pancake from the pancake breakfast and it was damn good!  Even as I drove out of the parking lot, I kept thinking I needed to turn around and have some more.

They had awards to the top 5 overall finishers for men and women.  Our own Jen Long won 4th place overall for the women!  Congratulations!  She won a $15 gift card to Subway.


Now some of the best parts of my day happened after the race; but due to the race.

Prior to this race, I’d had a few bad weeks at work.  Prior to that, I’d had several rough months due to my Dad going through some health issues.  All of this has contributed to the lack of regular running in my life.  I hadn’t been sleeping at all in the week or so just before the race.  I normally have issues sleeping but the exhaustion mixed with work stress was really bad.

All of this, just to kind of give you an idea of where I was mentally, emotionally and physically.

Driving home from the race (wishing I had gotten just one more pancake) I was thinking about how good it felt to race.  I say race because in a race I push myself a little harder than I do on the treadmill or running on the local path.  While pushing yourself is a great thing to do mentally and emotionally, it also had a nice physical affect for me.  In the car, on the way home- all the cells in my body felt like they were singing and dancing.

My body and my mind felt awesome!  I felt like Tracy again!  It had been a long long time since I felt like that.

This great feeling of finding myself again, even if for one short day makes me appreciate life.  It sounds dumb and hokey but this is what I have and what I thought about that day (this must be the part of the blog that is like a diary…do I want to let you read my diary?); it kind of makes me think about the lot I’ve been given in life (regarding job and lack of sleep- two things that don’t make me happy and that interfere with me really enjoying all the other good things in my life as much).  I don’t get to sleep well very often, I’m crabby and irritable often and I’m stuck at a job where I’m not very happy at all.  Feeling great this day made me think that without all that crap…there is no way I would ever appreciate and cherish the absolute joy and energy as much as I did this day.

Running did that.  Running is the best. (why don’t I do it more often?)


Side note- I thought about trying to come up with something clever and cute with the name of the race/my out come but decided to let it go.

~Tracy Wasilewski

Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon

The Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon is not just a running race, it’s a destination lifestyle experience…The race starts and finishes at bucolic Doukenie Winery, the perfect venue for hosting the post-race Wine & Music Festival… This scenic, tree-laden course runs north of the winery on historic byways, passing vineyards, farms, ranches and estates along the way.  Come experience the race of a lifetime as we welcome you to Virginia and DC’s Wine Country!

I could picture it all in my head – racing over gently rolling hills, mist rising off the vineyards, then returning to a picturesque winery where I’d relax and sip wine. It sounded like the perfect destination for a trip with my running group. And away we went. Twenty-two women rolled out of Chicago in high spirits on June 2nd to make the 11 hour drive.

It was the ducks that first gave me pause and made me think that maybe my vision of the race was a little over romanticized. At the expo, I grabbed my mossy green shirt out of my race bag and stopped. On the back of my wine themed half marathon t-shirt were big, yellow cartoon ducks. I didn’t get it. Another runner, as confused as I was, asked at the Destination Races table, “What’s with the ducks?”  She was told that we’d understand when we got to the winery. That “it’s overrun with ducks.”


What the duck?

Before I go any farther, I want to make it clear that I enjoyed this race. I won’t drive 11+ hours to run it a second time, but I had fun. If you’re local I’d recommend it, but there are a few things you should know.

Getting there is half the battle.

The winery is a ways off of the main thoroughfare and once you leave the highway the roads back up. It was miles and miles of stop and go traffic that rivaled Chicago rush hour. Only half of the distance was on the back roads, but this was also 90% of our drive time. We thought we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the start, but were wrong. We finally parked at 6:50am for a race that started at 7:00am. But at 7:00am there were so many people still arriving that the start was delayed for about 10 minutes. Thanks to the race organizer’s flexibility it worked out fine for us, but save yourself the stress and leave an hour earlier than you think you need to.

When the Going Gets Tough

Per the website: “The course is run on paved roads with the exception of Axline Rd and Picnic Woods Rd, but good portion of the course is on hard-packed dirt and gravel.” The paved roads are fine. There are some cracks, but overall it’s not too bad. The “exception” Axline Rd and Picnic Woods Rd are rough. Each step is half packed dirt, half scattered rocks so there’s no even surface to land your foot. This jumbled surface is approximately 3 miles in the middle of the course. By the time I got through these 3 miles and back on the normal road, the skin between my toes was blistered. I’d suggest trail shoes if you have them.


It doesn’t look that bad. It is.

The Highs and the Lows

Do you know what they call people from Illinois? Flat landers. It’s not that we don’t have hills, there are plenty of hilly places to run near me. But I have to make the choice to go to run hills, if I don’t plan it – my run is going to be pretty flat. I was expecting the course to be all steep hills with tough climbs. Instead it was nearly all slow, gradual climbs and descents. I found it easier than I expected.



The Backdrop

The country the course travels through is lovely. I could expound on it, but I’ll save a thousand words and let these pictures say it for me.


And Then the Wine

Included with the half is a pretty standard after party. There’s music with food and drink for purchase. I can’t tell you much about it because I paid the extra $25 for the separate wine tasting after party. After the race, you show your ID and trade the $25 ticket for a wrist band and wine glass, then head over to wine tasting where you can chat with other runners while sampling different vintages. Sounds great, right?



Jess and Geri enjoying the tasting

There were not nearly enough people checking IDs/handing out wristbands and wine glasses. I waited for about 20 minutes before I made it through the line. Once in the wine tasting area, I’d estimate there were 8-10 wineries represented. At first it was fun: waiting in line, chatting up strangers, tasting something new, then back in line. More people finished the run. The lines kept getting longer. When some members of our group bought pitchers of ice cold sangria, I quit the tasting and sat with them on the grass drinking. After the morning run, the sweet, cold drink hit the spot better than the wine. If you do this run, I’d suggest skipping the wine tasting, buying a glass or two of wine, and enjoying the free party. Do a wine tasting on a different day.


Some of our group


I love that the race medal doubled as a coaster



As I said at the beginning, I liked this race. I had fun. With the exception of the dirt/gravel road, I really enjoyed the course. But I still don’t get the ducks.


“Overrun with ducks” might be overselling the ducks


–Kathy Zolli