The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 6: I don’t need sleep

I don’t know how, where or when, but at some point we as a culture have decided that sleep is a luxury. That if you don’t sleep much, you are badass, stronger or work harder than the person in the office next to you or on the race course. Somehow sleep has a stigma that’s bad. Sleeping makes us lazy. We should be working more. Doing more. Socializing more. Sleep should be last priority.

Well, that’s wrong. Really, really wrong. Sleep is incredibly important and necessary for humans for many different reasons. It’s good for us. We are usually healthier, happier, stronger, and better at pretty much everything when rested. We should prioritize sleep with eating good food, hydrating, and exercise. Statistically, people who don’t sleep much or well are heavier, less focused, and less happy. Some jobs require long hours, or perhaps you have small children who wake up early. There are certainly many challenges for navigating how to prioritize sleep. But you may find you are more productive at work or have more energy or patience as a parent if you get some quality zzz’s. You will probably also consume less calories (usually snacks) if you get in 7-9 hours of sleep. Still making excuses for why your 4-5 hours per night is enough? Here’s a study from Harvard Med that should hopefully convince you to at least try to prioritize sleep a bit more.

I often stress for my athletes the important of rest days. The adaption to the training happens when we rest and recover, not while we are actually training. Skipping out on rest can have consequences, or simply prevent you from maxing out all the benefits of your training. Sleep is the best form of rest/recovery. If a runner has to choose between sleep and a run, I will sometimes suggest they opt for sleep. It’s usually better to train less but have better quality workouts than to be dragging your tired butt through too much. Here’s a helpful article on sleep, running, and general health.

At the end of the day, everything is about balance. Just try to remember that sleep, food, hydration and exercise are necessary for a happy and healthy life.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 5: No pain, no gain

It’s been ingrained in gym culture, sports, and perhaps our common conception of exercise: it’s supposed to hurt. Perhaps this is why so many people hate to exercise or run. While yes, there is definitely discomfort that can come and should come with training, that is very different from injury pain. The lines between the two seem to often blur, and that’s not a good thing. So today let’s clarify what sensations should be associated with exercise and which ones should not – and how to recognize the difference and make good decisions when those pains arise.

When ramping up training, or jumping into something new, it’s important to build the work load carefully and consistently. Not doing so will increase both injury risk and general discomfort. For runners, for example, this is why building base mileage is necessary before tackling intense runs. Or why going from absolutely no exercise to 3-hour gym sessions will practically destroy many of us. And rightly so. You are shocking your body!

Discomfort can come in a few different forms – pain while in the act of training – running hard on a track isn’t comfortable, or pushing out that final rep of chest presses – but that’s not injury pain. That’s the discomfort our body will adapt and grow from. The heavy leg feeling towards the end of a long run can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially when pushing the time on your feet. But again, this is the kind of stress our bodies need to experience to learn to run longer. A day or two after training, it can be normal to feel soreness, tightness, or weakness. While there are things we can do to help alleviate that discomfort (hydration, rest, compression gear, stretching, foam rolling, light exercise, ice baths), that discomfort is simply part of athletic gains. This discomfort isn’t an injury. It’s simply your body going through the process of learning and adapting. The good news is that the more of a habit your training becomes, and the stronger and more adaptable your body and brain, the harder you’ll need to work to feel discomfort. This isn’t to say that you’ll feel amazing and agile at mile 23 of the marathon, but it will mean mile 14 won’t hurt the way it maybe did 4 months ago.

Injury pain is very different from discomfort. While there’s a stigma that badass athletes train, race and compete through injury, that’s a really bad way of handling yourself, your attitude about your body, and your goals. There are always exceptions to the rules. For example, many NHL players are expected to play through broken bones during the playoffs. And I’ve known many a runner opt to still run a marathon with tendonitis. Are those decisions smart? No. Worth it for that person or team in the situation? That’s a personal decision. But we need to be careful and remember than training through an injury doesn’t make us a dedicated, badass warrior. It makes us idiots, with usually big consequences down the road.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between discomfort and injury. Remember that unless you are actually a doctor, looking things up online or talking to your lifting or running buddies is not the smart course of action. See a medical professional. A diagnosis, especially early on, can make a game-changer. Some injuries like runners knee, ITB, shin splints – can be managed and not totally derail training or racing, But a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, a muscle tear – these are things we should rarely train through. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with so that you can make smart choices. If you can’t see a doctor right away, take a few additional rest days and see if that helps. If it does, carefully ease back into your activity and see how it feels. If it doesn’t help, you definitely need a medical opinion before training again.

An overwhelming number of runners say they battle injuries as part of their sport. I find that sad, and a statistic that doesn’t need to be so high. Smarter training, self awareness, and remembering that each and every runner is different and you need to learn and listen to your body, can help you not be part of such an overwhelming statistic. Look, I get it. I have said yes to races, runs with friends or team mates, and pacing opportunities with my clients when for my own body and training, it wasn’t a smart idea. Sometimes the risks don’t have huge consequences and we get lucky. But other times we pay the price.

Just remember that pain is a signal our bodies give our brain that something is stressed or hurting. Signals should never be ignored. We only have one body. Do your best to keep it healthy and happy.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 4: Eating fat will make you fat

Depending on your age and generation, you have quite possibly heard quite a few conflicting theories on food, nutrition and fat. Does eating fat make you fat? No. In fact, you need fat in your diet. Obviously you shouldn’t eat only fat, but that’s true for every macronutrient. Fo a long time, fat has had a bad name. Think about how many packages at the grocery store proudly advertise “fat free.”

It’s not fat that makes us fat. It’s calories. And to be fair, fat has more calories per gram than protein, carbohydrates, alcohol, and so on. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while carbs and protein have 4. So you while you can consume more carbs/protein at a lower total calorie count, it’s not the fat that is a factor in weight gain – it’s simply the calories. In fact, some studies suggest that people on a reduced-fat diet are prone to consuming more sugars and starches, which can cause weight gain, diabetes, and other health concerns. And while a high-fat diet can also be an issue, moderation is usually best. But if you are a healthy person, you should make it a point to get in some fat – eggs, salmon, peanut butter, olive oil, avocados, most nuts, dairy, meat – all can be good sources.

Cutting all fat can be incredibly harmful, and it’s not uncommon for someone looking to lose weight to cut as much fat from their diet as possible. Be careful. Your brain needs fat to function properly. And our bodies rely on it for dozens of things – like energy, absorption of certain vitamins, and feeling full longer – as fat can take a while to digest. Now this isn’t me suggesting you only eat foods that are deep fried. Not all fats are created equal. If you are looking to lose weight or have more energy, avoid fried foods and look for good sources of fat. Stay away from white/simple starches and stick to whole grains. Load up on fresh or steamed veggies and fruits, and lean meats. Moderation really is the best way to keep your body, brain and mood satisfied, fueled, and energized.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 3: There’s a perfect running shoe

I am asked all the time for my advice on the perfect running shoe. It’s one of the most common questions my private clients and runners at the studio ask me about. Sadly, the answer isn’t so easy. There is no perfect running shoe for everyone. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the perfect running shoe for you, because there probably is. But it will be a completely different shoe from the next runner.

It can be overwhelming to shop for a new running shoe. Especially if you aren’t happy with your current shoe, or your current model is being discontinued or remodeled. Once you find the right shoe, it’s like magic. Nothing should hurt, and the shoe should almost feel like an extension of your leg or foot.

There are dozens of running shoe brands out there. You can probably name at least a couple off the top of your head. Now, each brand has there own line of shoes – models varying in support, weight, shape, terrain, for runners who pronate, runners who supinate, and runners with a neutral landing. Some runners are incredibly light on their feet, while others are quite heavy. Some land front or mid-foot, while many heel strike. There are also trends in shoes – from the minimalistic trend (hello, Vibrams and Nike Free) to the maximus trend (hello, HOKA ONE ONE) – and each brand usually embraces those trends and markets towards them. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

So how do you find your perfect pair? Bring your old running shoes with you when shopping for a new pair. The wear and tear can give some clues regarding your form and needs. A gait analysis can’t hurt, if you are completely confused. However, I find many of us run “differently” when on a treadmill vs. outside, or when we know we are being analyzed and video taped, instead of what we naturally do while out on our own, especially as we fatigue and form/stride can be compromised. Speak up about aches, pains, and injuries. These can also be helpful clues. And finally, listen to your body. The shoes should feel good. Maybe even great. If they don’t, they aren’t right. Maybe not the right brand, or simply not the right style – and that will be true in all brands across the board.

Lastly, please change your shoes frequently. Shoes can wear out quickly, especially if you land heavy on your feet, carry extra weight, or use your running shoes to walk and stand. It’s far cheaper and easier to replace shoes than to deal with doctors and physical therapist appointments. And remember, you are shopping for function – NOT fashion.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 2: Running is bad for your knees

If you are a runner, you’ve probably been asked this a thousand times: Isn’t running bad for your knees?

And if you’re not a runner, perhaps that’s your belief or assumption. In general, the answer is no, running is not bad for your knees. That’s an old wives tale. In fact, I’d argue that it’s in fact good for your knees. However, we are all different. And so is running good for your knees? That depends. Here’s a NY Times article discussing why runners don’t tend to get arthritis in their knees.

Any highly repetitive activity can have consequences. Overuse is a common issue for many athletes – be it a basketball player jumping, a tennis player and their elbows, or a dancer and their hips. Doing something repetitive day after day, year after year can cause problems. However, when supplemented with other activities, done wisely, and with good genetics, running can keep humans active, agile, strong, and enjoying a sport they love way into their golden years. While I’d argue running isn’t bad for many of us, I’d also argue that many runners don’t supplement their running wisely or train in a smart manner.

Statistically, many runners overtrain or train with little purpose or guidance. Many runners also don’t respect their body’s need to recover and rest – be it rest days during the week, or taking some significant time off after completing a big goal race, like a marathon. In fact, I’d argue most runners are pretty stupid when it comes to their training choices. I’d be the first to admit I’ve made those mistakes and learned the hard way. Sometimes runners simply don’t know any better, or they have FOMO and cannot force themselves to take time off. I’d also argue that most runners don’t strength train or cross train enough. So a flawed training schedule or plan can lead to angry knees, hips, shins, feet, tendons – the list goes on. So if a non-runner asks the average runner about their injuries or knees, they may hear their opinion on knees and running validated.

It’s important to understand that body weight, shoes, form, and running surfaces can also be factors in how happy your joints are with your weekly miles. I’ve found many of my runners with a history in martial arts and track and field events like long jump tend to have issues with running and keeping their knees happy.

If you still aren’t buying the whole “running is good for my knees” concept, here are five expert opinions. For many of us, the benefits far outweigh the possible damage or consequences of running. Just remember that you only have one body, and you should run, train and race with the big picture in mind – active decades to come – not just your races on the calendar this year.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 1: Spot Reduction

For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, I am releasing a blog debunking and discussing 12 commonly believed myths that are fitness, health, and running related. Day 1 features the topic that gave me the idea, thanks to the behavior of some folks in my gym. So here we go.

Spot reduction. It was a big fad for a long time. Apparently many folks still buy into it. Essentially, many people think you can focus on and target specific body parts for fat loss. While we can certainly target certain muscle groups for strength and muscle gain, fat loss doesn’t work that way. So while a thousand crunches may make your core muscles stronger, you will not specifically lose fat in your core or see those muscles unless you lower your body fat percentage.

When thinking of body fat, picture your body as one big organism. You can lose body fat from your overall body, and in that process see and feel reduction in the spots desired, but you cannot control where you’ll lose your body fat first. If you are looking to drop fat, you need to reassess your nutrition and exercise habits. It’s also a good idea to look at your genetics. We are genetically made differently. If your family members tend to carry their weight in their upper body, the odds are you may too, or that it will be the hardest place for you to lose it. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But it may take a whole lot of discipline in both training and nutrition then say losing fat and seeing definition elsewhere.

If you are looking to drop body fat, a combination of weight training, cardio, and a good nutrition plan will help you achieve your goals. Just try not to focus on your “target area,” or you’ll lose your mind and wind up frustrated. Remember your genetics. For example, I will never have a super tiny waist. Part of that is bone structure, the other part is that I can easily gain weight in the love handle region. But on the flip side, genetically I will probably never have heavy legs. Know your body. Embrace it’s strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses or imperfections. And stop spending time doing a thousand crunches or buying miracle gimmicks. There are literally a hundred better ways to improve your body in the gym than crunches. If you are interested in some additional reading, here’s a good option.

Post-Marathon Advice

corky_fitness-2642finalwsharpeningflatwebSo you just ran your goal race for the season, and are riding a high and eagerly filling your calendar for next year. First, congrats! It’s an exciting feeling to finish your goal race – especially a marathon. It’s also common to set new goals, get excited for the future, and get back out on the road to get back to work!

Relax. Rest. Recover. Most marathoners jump back into running or running hard way too soon after their goal marathon. I understand the excitement. And many runners get nervous they will lose the fitness they spend literally months building. The idea of taking a few weeks off sounds unacceptable. There’s a fun half marathon in a week or two. There’s that Turkey Trot – I can’t possibly miss it!!!! Yes. You. Can. You need to remember a few things after crossing that finish line. The choices you make in the few days/weeks following that goal race can have huge implications on your future as a runner. I know, you may feel decent. But that doesn’t mean your body is actually recovered. In fact, injury risk is extremely high after a goal marathon, and immune systems usually drop briefly. This is your prime opportunity to get sick. Or injured. And you may not feel injured until a few months from now.

It’s a blessing but also a curse to have so many races hosted every weekend. The feeling of missing out, skipping an opportunity, not running with friends – I get it. But it usually isn’t worth going and putting your body through stress when it isn’t ready. The consequences could mean being forced to stop running for a few months or even a few years. And don’t underestimate mental burnout. Your brain needs some time to rest, reset and be on board to train for your new and exciting goals.

Maybe now you are on board with the recovery for a few weeks, but not happy about it. Okay, here are a few tips and things you can do to enjoy this time while losing minimal fitness and staying active in the running community:

  • Volunteer or go cheer at upcoming races in your area.
  • Ease into some easy cross training a week or two after your marathon.
  • If you dealt with injuries during training, address them now. See a doctor or physical therapist. Address weakness, tightness, and habits. We all have them.
  • Revamp your nutrition and cut back a bit on all those carbs and focus on fruits, veggies, lean proteins – try new recipes and have some fun in the kitchen!
  • Maybe try yoga, pilates, and a weight training routine during your recovery.
  • Catch up on sleep, your social life and any projects that were on the back-burner while marathon training.
  • Throw a party to celebrate your achievement! You may inspire a few friends to run the next year.
  • When the dust settles, write about your race experience. What worked well, what was tough or a mistake, and be honest. Your running journey will adapt over time. Learn from each race.
  • When you ease back into running, do it with no pressure or expectations of time. leave the watch at home and go by effort and simply enjoy the miles.
  • Trust that your body will bounce back and loss in fitness will be minimal, while injury risk will be extremely low and your body and brain will be ready to dive back into working hard.

Congrats again on your recent achievements! Now recover. As I say to my athletes, the rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work. Now is the time to really embrace that process. I want you clocking happy, healthy, and strong miles for years to come.

Running Injuries, Goals and the Gym

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot's of time in the gym. Pretty good PR - 3:03:30.

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot’s of time in the gym. Pretty good PR – 3:03:30.

It’s that fun time of year when there are literally dozens of races every weekend – from small 5Ks and 10Ks to some very large half marathons and marathons. The running community is filled with taper nerves, stories of recent race experiences, and reflections and goals for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a running coach and to watch the weeks and months of careful planning and training begin to pay off with some really incredible race finishes, personal records, and lessons learned.

I find that the journey can vary quite a bit per person. We are all different, and we adapt to training, goals and work load differently. I couldn’t help but notice while I was out for an 8-miler today how many runners I passed with medical tape, braces or bands on their body. It made me a little sad, angry, ad motivated to blog about it. In the non-running community, most people still assume running is bad for our knees. In fact, I cannot count the amount of times an acquaintance or total stranger says something negative about running and joints when they hear I run and coach runners. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This isn’t to say that repetitive wear and tear doesn’t have consequences – cyclists, swimmers, dancers, tennis players – each sport has it’s own chronic injuries due to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints used repetitively. However, when done the right way, we actually usually stay far healthier and active when we use our body instead of sitting on our butts. Can running mess up knees? Sure. That will vary per athlete, their genetics, history, form, training practices, and overall strength. I come from the philosophy where most injuries are preventable, and most runners you see taped up simply didn’t train well. Usually they took on too much too soon (mileage or stress), or are incredibly imbalanced and could benefit from some serious strength training, cross training, stretching – or all of the above. Most injuries are preventable. Some obviously are not, and require immediate medical attention, and the diagnosis and advice should not be ignored.

Here’s the funny thing – most injured runners will willingly admit how much they are in pain, or how much their potential has been compromised, but yet they won’t take the necessary time off to rehab and recover. As a coach, I cannot help someone who isn’t willing to take the help. That may be the toughest part of my job. Knowing what needs to happen, but having an athlete unable to accept the work load, recovery, etc – to get there.

And so after witnessing all of those taped up runners today, I thought about myself and my running. I haven’t been injured (thankfully!) since 2012. I was forced to take 8 weeks off from running back then, and it was the worst two months ever. I swore to myself I would do what I could to avoid the injured list in the future. And so I finally began to take my own coaching advice. I also began to really listen and learn from my body. Dare I say, I began to train smart. Even when clocking 100-mile weeks while Ultra Marathon training in 2014, I quickly learned I needed to eliminate all speed work and simply focus on mileage. And when I shifted back to shorter and speedier goals, I cut mileage way down, and spent just as much time weight training as I did running.

In fact, that’s what struck me today. While training in 2016, my mileage was lower than most years in the past, ranging from 35-60 miles per week – including when marathon training. I’d cap my runs to 5X per week – no more, and 2 total rest days. I also spent a ton of time lifting heavy in the gym – upper and lower body – 2-3X per week for each. And for me, that combination lead to two of my three fastest marathons ever, within a 6-month span, and minimal aches and pains and no injuries.

And not only did the above combination work for me, I made myself be incredibly smart and conservative when hopping into any other races. Did I miss out on some incredible race opportunities this year in NYC? Absolutely. Did I have regrets or FOMO? Sure. And peer pressure is a bitch. But somehow I stuck to my guns, and my goals were clear. And so I didn’t add anything potentially harmful to the big goals.

Not every runner can spend hours in a gym. Or many simply don’t want to or refuse to prioritize their time. I get it. If you are very busy and love to run, you want to spend your free hour running – not in the weight room or on an elliptical. You want to be outside in the open air. I can totally relate. However, if you start to think about the longevity of your running career, and the specificity of your goals, you may start to view your training and choices a little differently.

So when you hit your off season, whenever that might be, I encourage you to take a hard look at your running and training history, and how your body has responded. Are you healthy? What hurts and why? Were your time goals achieved? How do you mentally feel? Listen, learn, and adapt.

Race Recap: Berlin Marathon

 

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Berlin Marathon had been on my radar since I was notified I’d been selected via lottery back in December 2015. With a reputation for being the fastest marathon in the world, I knew if I went to Berlin, I’d go to race – not to simply run. This would mean training to race my first marathon since 2013. So over 10 months ago the goal was set: race Berlin 2016, aim to break 3 hours, or set a new PR.

The road to Berlin wasn’t easy. Some days or weeks would click into place. Others were a struggle, and filled with doubt. I questioned my decision to coach myself on more than one occasion. There’s a reason why many coaches hire someone else to coach them – it’s hard to be the student and the teacher. I questioned my potential. Was my 3:05:27 back in Philly 2013 as good as it gets? But doubts never lead to anything good. And I knew my training was smart. So I’d try to shake those doubts and focus on the good and great workouts. Just like bad weeks of training come and go, so do good ones. Neither one defines us. I am thankful to be surrounded by some incredibly supportive people. Friends, coworkers, team mates, family – people who understand or at least respect the grind. My roster of private athletes have cheered me on. And so when the going would get tough, I’d remember to lead by example and continue to grind away. By the time I got to Germany, I knew all I could do was trust my hard work and preparation, and have confidence in that.

I had never been to Berlin before. It’s a really beautiful city. I was oddly calm about marathon morning (I’m usually a basket case), and was actually capable of enjoying the city for a solid 36 hours before race day. The day before the race was spent walking at least 4 miles around the city, and a 3-mile shakeout run that evening. I ate pasta with a German beer, laid out my running gear, and that was it. Was I nervous? Sure. But I was also calm. I accepted that it was going to be 3 hours of work, and that I was ready.

The weather race morning was perfect. Cool and sunny, with no breeze. The marathon gods were good to us. As I stood in my corral, and the announcers counted down to the started, I began to cry. I was overcome with the power of the moment. The amazing park. The
40,000+ other athletes. The opportunity before me. I quickly collected myself, and within a few minutes I was across the starting line.

The course is fast. And there’s a blue tangent line on the course. I decided I’d stick to that line as though it were glue. This was the first marathon I’d ever run with no mile markers (only kilometers), and I was one of few athletes around me who’s watch would go off at the miles. I told myself to stay relaxed and efficient. I hydrated early and often. Around the 20K I saw Vinnie, and that was like a kick of energy. In an unfamiliar city, a familiar face was priceless. Around 17 miles into the race, I felt amazing. Pacing was good. I felt that a sub-3 was going to require a kickass final 10K, but a PR was mine to lose.

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Eye is on that clock.

Then around 19-21 miles in, a few things happened. One, I began to cramp. Not runner cramps, but lady cramps. The kick in the uterus feeling, on my right side. In the beginning it was relatively dull, but as the miles went on that changed. I was incredibly mad at myself, as I had planned to take ibuprofen that morning (I’d had cramps off and on for a few days), but that morning had felt good and I opted to go it without precautionary meds. And then the nausea and gag reflex to GU began to happen. It was a burp that turned into a “Oh no, I just kinda threw up in my mouth” moment, and this was before I needed to take my final GU around 20 miles. I forced that final GU down, but it wanted to come back up. The final 5 miles were a painful negotiation. I debated stopping for a break and to try and regroup. I debated walking off if Vinnie were at the next turn. My body was struggling and my brain wasn’t giving me the ability to simply pick up the pace.

I told myself to do what I could. If I lost my PR, it wasn’t the end of the world. Just do your best. Just finish this. And so I continued. Paces slipped. I walked through a hydration station in the 23rd mile, hoping that brief pause in running would help the cramps. It made it worse. And so back to running I went. My eye on the clock, I took it one mile at a time. I saw Vinnie around 24 miles, and I mumbled something about this really hurting as I pointed to my side. He ran beside me for half a block, yelling encouraging things, to which I told him to shut up and stop lying. And so I continued.

The final 600M of the Berlin Marathon is spectacular. I think. I don’t really remember. The final stretch was lined with people. I focused on the clock. You can see the finish line a long ways before you get there. Glancing at my watch, I knew a PR was in the cards, but by how much – I wasn’t sure. Just finish this. Just get there. Just get this done. That’s all I could think about. Crossing the finish line I felt relieved, tired, emotional, and still in pain. The nausea was thankfully replaced with hunger by the time I got back to the hotel. And I took ibuprofen immediately to kick said cramps to the curb.

The rest of the day was filled with walking around, beer and food. I am in shock (and a little mad) at how good my legs felt after that marathon. There was so much more left in them to give. But they couldn’t have their day. My disappointment didn’t last long. How can it? I did the best I could that morning. And yes, I walked away with a PR. That PR, that much closer to 2:59:59 – it makes me that much more hungry for it and that much more confident it’s in me.

Here are the official stats:

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Finish time: 3:03:30 (average pace: 6:58s)

100th female (11th American)

Splits:

Mile 1: 6:50, Mile 2: 6:51, Mile 3: 6:56, Mile 4 :6:58, Mile 5 : 6:51, Mile 6 :6:57, Mile 7: 6:49, Mile 8: 6:52, Mile 9: 6:53, Mile 10: 6:48, Mile 11: 6:51, Mile 12: 6:52, Mile 13: 6:49, Mile 14: 6:53, Mile 15: 6:54, Mile 16: 6:54, Mile 17: 6:57, Mile 18: 6:59, Mile 19: 6:55, Mile 20: 6:57, Mile 21: 7:07, Mile 22: 7:02, Mile 23: 7:13, Mile 24: 7:30, Mile 25: 7:12, Mile 26: 7:17, .34 miles: 2:13.

A few tips for future Berlin Marathoners:

  • Stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski. It’s worth the money. Not only is the hotel gorgeous, quiet and comfortable, but it’s literally at the Brandenburg Gate – a very short walk to the start/finish lines and on the marathon course.
  • Make morning preparations the night before. It turned out the hotel had some food/coffee for marathoners in the lobby, but no coffee shops open before 8am (some 10am) on Sundays. I bought a bagel and coffee from Dunkin Donuts the night before.
  • The expo was a mess. So go to it patient, and ready to get in/get out. I couldn’t have really shopped for anything if I had wanted to.
  • Be sure to plan to use your own fuel. The drink and fuel choices (which included Red Bull) on the course were new to me. I stuck to water the the 4 GUs I brought.
  • When planning your trip, account for jet lag. It’s not every day I run a marathon at 3am. Do everything you can to get on schedule before race morning.
  • Go for your shakeout runs in the Tiergarten. That park is the most stunning thing ever. 535044_236930700_xlarge

Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.