The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 10: Lifting heavy will make women bulk

While some people are super passionate about cleanses or the newest fitness trend, today’s myth is near and dear to my heart. But I won’t lead with my opinions. I’ll do my best to lead purely with research, science and facts – and to perhaps toss in my own experience as a woman, a personal trainer and an athlete.

For whatever reason, many women believe lifting heavy will make them bulk up. In my Mile High Run Club Dash28 class, I always stress that you should be lifting the heaviest weight possible, as long as you can manage it with good form. And guess what – there’s always a decent percent of women who reach for the 2lb. kettle bell – and then use it for squats! Honestly, if you are going to take the baby weight for those large power muscles, just do a bodyweight squat. To make gains in fitness, you need to stress your body. Lifting a 2lb. weight for a thousand reps will never make you look any different. And while you may be a little stronger, you make big gains in strength and appearance when you lift heavy.

And as Medical Daily explains, lifting heavy increases metabolic rate (you’ll burn more calories), and so fat loss is pretty much inevitable as long as you aren’t consuming additional calories. You’ll be stronger and leaner, and other benefits include increased mobility, preventing muscle loss, fixing posture, and alleviating back pain. And if are still worried about bulking up, relax. It’s incredibly difficult for most women to do. For one thing, our testosterone level isn’t high enough to increase mass. And unless you are consuming excess calories, you have nothing to worry about.

And aside from the sleek muscles you can be sporting, there are lots of health reasons to lift heavy – especially as you age. Bone and joints will have a better shot of staying happy and healthy, your agility, balance, and energy will thank you. You’ll also probably carry less body fat, which as an aging female can be tough to manage. Establishing a weight training routine now, no matter your age or fitness level, is the right step. Here are some good points and tips for getting started.

Personally, I have found lifting heavy to transform my body in a bunch of ways. I am more defined and have lost fat. I am stronger. I am a far more efficient and faster runner – especially on hills or late in a race. And honestly, I feel better in my skin. Muscles and strength makes me feel more confident and sexy. A thousand years ago when I was lifting light (and weight a good 10lbs less than now), I was skinny but I wasn’t nearly the confident woman or athlete I am now. And most importantly to me, I was more injury-prone back then. My injury risk has gone way down with my improvements in strength and power.

It’s important to focus on quality in the gym. Don’t rush your workout and give rest/recovery between sets. Focus on full range of motion. Be sure you are using good form and make adjustments to the machine for your body. Hydrate throughout the day, and get in some protein after your gym session. A shake, greek yogurt, lean meat, a banana with peanut butter – whatever is appealing to you. As a rule of thumb, you will usually feel the progress before you see it. Focus on consistency. Your body will change. Sadly most of us get frustrating and give up before our bodies begin to really show the progress. Keep at it.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 9: Your body will fall apart at 30 years old

Unless you find the fountain of youth, aging is pretty much inevitable. I say “pretty much” because we all age differently. Some of that is due to genetics. And some is due to lifestyle. I remember when I was in my 20s, I was told by 30-something year olds that once I hit 30, everything would go to shit. I’d feel different, and staying in shape would be tough. I never understood why a number would matter so much. Why not 29? Or 34? Why was 30 this magical age where we go from youthful, calorie burning, fit and hangover-free kiddos to old, tired, fat, hangover-fighting people, remembering better days? Having now spent a few years in the “over 30” category, I am now warned and cautioned relatively frequently that my days of being fit, improving as a runner, and eating pizzas and pints of ice cream will catch up with me any day now. So today’s blog is about that magic number, and what’s true and not so true about the “over 30” theory.

Genetics are something we cannot control. If you can look into the physical, mental and emotional aging of your siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents and so on – there are some clues for what you may be able to expect. Some traits, diseases, weaknesses and so on are genetic. Others are brought on by other factors. So your mother isn’t necessarily a clear example of what you will look like, feel like, and be capable of when you are her age. Though you can expect some similarities. Hormone levels play a huge role in how we age – from mood, energy level and sex drive to muscle density, bone density, and so on. Men and women naturally experience a dip in hormones at some point in their life. The dip or change in hormones, combined with perhaps less activity can naturally lead to weight gain, fatigue, and change in mood.

The cool thing is that while we can’t control our genetics, we are pretty darn in control about our choices we make in our lives. Our happiness, quality of life, stress level, sleep, hydration, activity, nutrition choices – all greatly factor into how we age. And while there are certainly things that cannot be helped, like work deadlines or sick children, choosing to eat well and exercise regularly can help many of us age in a slightly more graceful manner. Here’s some helpful info on exercise and being active, food and lifestyle adjustments you can try to make.

Now, if you are an athlete, your body may at some point need extra recovery time and there will be a time those personal records tend to stop happening. But lifting heavy can greatly help our bodies age, and runners can certainly achieve very impressive things after 30, 40, 50, or 60. I’ve had athletes in their 50s and 60s achieve things many folks in their 20s can only dream of doing. And personally, I am faster at almost every race distance in my 30s than I was in my 20s. And I am definitely in better shape. Other runners will peak in their early 20s, but those are usually folks who were running and competing in high school, and quite possibly now feel the consequences of pushing a body still growing and developing.

While we cannot fight Father Time, there are things we can do to stay as active, energetic and strong as possible. So remember the next time you don’t feel like going to the gym or eating a big bowl of greens, that doing things that are good for you are always worth it. This article from Harvard Medical School breaks down how we age when exercising versus not. It’s a good reminder that some changes as we age we cannot really feel, but those changes are important.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 8: Cleanses are good for you

The cleanse/juicing/toxin myth is a topic that fuels some strong opinions and emotions. Why this topic fuels such passion (and bad research and advice) has surprised me over the years. It certainly is a topic many talk shows (hello, Dr. Oz) spend lots of time promoting. And while “rebooting” your nutrition for a day or a week usually isn’t a bad thing, there’s little evidence there’s any good to come from extreme measures.

We’ve all been there – we get to a breaking point where nutrition has spiraled out of control. It can be as simple as realizing you’ve consumed french fries every day for the last week or month, or have been seriously skimping on your fruit and veggie consumption. Or maybe you have gotten into a habit of skipping breakfast but feasting on the office baked goods midmorning, and you want to break that cycle. Often we want to do something epic, something to shake things up and to make the change seem “real.” Perhaps that’s why extreme measures like cleanses are so popular.

To understand the whole theory behind cleanses, you need to understand toxins. Most cleanses are advertised and credited with flushing our bodies of toxins. Toxins sound bad, right? Like, ewe. So without doing any research, you’d probably be on board and eager to “cleanse” yourself. But here’s the thing, if you spend 5 minutes actually reading something medically and scientifically backed up, you’ll quickly understand why the whole cleanse/toxin thing is complete BS and simply a great way for the health industry to make a fortune. The toxins that naturally exist in our bodies are processed by our liver and colon. And they do a pretty awesome job. In fact, unless you have an extreme medical condition, or were somehow poisoned, our bodies are equipped to handle and process everything in an extremely effective manner. So the whole idea of fasting or a cleanse of some sort is silly. Still wanting to read more on toxins? Here’s a good read.

Now if you are still interesting in juicing or fasting, and understand that there’s no guaranteed benefits, keep in mind that these extreme measures are not sustainable. And while you will drop weight (you’ll lose the weight of food in your stomach, for one thing), you may also end up losing muscle mass and no fat. So the number on the scale will go down, but is that the end game? Here’s an interesting view on juicing, fasting and some recent research.

So if you now understand toxins, fasting and cleanses, and want to overhaul your habits or nutritional choices, try to eliminate processed foods for a week. You’ll reset your relationship with food, and be very aware of the choices you are making. You will also never risk being deficient in your macro’s – so your blood sugar and energy levels won’t be all over the place, and you shouldn’t feel starved.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 7: Runners shouldn’t lift

It’s a common belief that weight training, especially with heavy weights, will make us bulk up. If you’re a runner, that probably sounds like bad news. After all, runners want to be as light and lean as possible, and additional weight makes running more challenging. This belief is completely false. In fact, runners should embrace the weight room in their gym. You may find your form and stride to improve, and injury risk to go down. But even if you’re on board with the concept, it can be hard to figure out how and when to include weight training to your running schedule, especially if you are diving into something intense and time consuming like marathon training. Today I’ll debunk the weight training/runner myth, and also give some tips as to how to include weight training into your running schedule.

Training specificity is important for improving. So if you are training to improve as a runner, you need to be running! However, it can be very helpful to incorporate yoga, cross training and weight training into your routine to support your running goals. So while much of your time should be spent running, most of us would benefit from not just running. For one thing, injury risk can go up as mileage or intensity increases. And while running can certainly make us strong, it’s not enough to strengthen our upper body, core, and even lower body in a way that will make use our best. We need more. The good news is that a little time in the gym lifting heavy can go a long way. For runners, strength training is a key component in boosting performance – both for speedsters and endurance junkies. Adding the strength and power you get from weight lifting will help you run faster. It will also help maintain good running form, even when fatigued. If you run longer distances, it is important to have good form when fatigued because this will help prevent injuries, and help with efficiency in those late miles. Short distance and long distance runners alike can benefit from strength training.

If time and energy are limited, aim for 2-3 gym sessions per week. Stack them on days you are already working hard – track, tempo, long run days – for example. If you can get in a 30-60 minute routine, working head-to-toe, focusing on lifting heavy and good form, you will see and feel improvements in your running. If you don’t have access to gym equipment, or are short on time, this article may be very helpful. There are some basic things you can do at home and with your own body weight. Something is far better than nothing! When at the gym, try aiming for moves that incorporate multiple muscle groups can be really helpful. You’ll get more out of your training, won’t need as many exercises, and when you run, you are using tons of muscles at a time, so isolating one muscle per exercise isn’t as helpful for a runner. Use the heaviest weight you can for 3 sets of 8-12, with good form. If you can handle more than that, you need to increase the weight. Be sure to have a protein-dense snack or meal after your weight training session.

Breaking down 5 Myths About Strength Training and Running, Coach Jeff offers some good advice and insight. Hopefully you are now on board and eager to add some serious weight training to your training calendar. You can anticipate some big payoff – few injuries, better and more efficient form, and faster times!

 

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 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.

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.

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.

Race Report: Oddessey Half Marathon

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

As my first of 16 weeks into marathon training came to an end, I decided to take my first long run to a race course. My program called for a 13-miler, with the final 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace. Negative-split runs aren’t easy, especially long runs. With other runs out there, and fluid stations every 1-2 miles, I decided a race would be a slightly easier way to focus on this first long run, practice hydrating with cups, and pacing myself amongst a crowd. So I hopped into the Oddessey Half Marathon, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Oddessey Half is a race capped at about 3000 runners. It’s well organized, clearly marked, and there’s a pretty great Beer Garden at the finish line – courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing Company. The course has some pancake-flat miles, and some super extreme hills. It offers a little bit of everything. It also offered soup-like humidity. The predicted thunderstorms for Saturday night that would have swept the humidity away never showed, so when I stepped outside at 5am, it was a sticky,80+ degrees, with humidity over 75%. An additional challenge.

It was a good thing the race started at 7am, as every minute counted – temperature and sun intensified with every mile. While some miles had ample tree coverage and shade, other miles were in full-blown sunshine.

With the extreme humidity, I made an executive decision to adjust my plan and run the 5 marathon-paced miles at the beginning of the run. This turned out to be a smart move. I maintained Marathon Goal Pace for about 8 miles because I was feeling really good, and then allowed my body to slow down a bit. The humidity began to grind at my gears, and so I willingly let pace go. After all, this was supposed to be a long run and not my race.

Running with other runners is always an education. I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete, being patient on the course, and how to run and race smart. I used the athletes around me to push the pace in the humidity for those first 5 miles, and then I willingly allowed runners to drop me and make their own choices while I did my own thing. Instead I focused on my form and efficiency, and spent moments observing other runners out there. I did more passing between miles 4-10 then I expected, including about a half dozen ladies who had gone out fast. As I gained on them, I could tell they were hurting. You can learn so much by a runner’s stride, form, and breathing. You can tell if that person will try to hang onto you or willingly let you go. I passed my final female around mile 9, putting me in 4th position. I never saw another lady out there for the remainder of the race.

Humidity is extremely humbling. Few runners handle it well, and for me it’s usually a matter of time before my body crumbles. Around mile 10, I remember my head feeling hot. I also remember my pace drastically dropping by about 15-25 seconds per mile. My quads began to feel like cement bricks, and my feet began to lose their quick and powerful contact with the ground. Instead I could feel every stride becoming heavy and slow. Dehydration was becoming an issue, and I was ready to be done. That final 5K was a grind, and some of it in full sunshine. The final mile of the Oddessey is a pretty epic climb – you run down it around mile 3, so you know what you have in your future. That hill had no shade. When I finally made the turn off of MLK Drive and to the hill, I was glad to be so close to the finish, but also dreading the abuse my tanked quads would take. I tried to relax, but even as my pace slowed, it was a struggle. My right calf felt as though it was going to cramp a few times, which is rare for me. So I did something I rarely do – I walked part of the hill. Yes, I stopped running and power-walked up part of the hill. I didn’t care if 10 females were about to pass me. I kept telling myself to be smart. This was a training run. I had a track workout on my calendar for 48 hours in the future. I needed to make good choices. So I did a walk/run negotiation, which probably was not expected for 4th Place Female, but there you have it.

The final quarter mile is flat, and I just let my body lead. A runner near me asked to kick with him, and though tempted, I refused and told him to drop the hammer. Again, not my race. Just a run. A run I was VERY happy to be finished with. I crossed the finish line tired, dehydrated, and happy at my pacing and decisions.

I waited at the Beer Garden, drinking a few pints and chatting with runners as we cheered in other finishers. Multiple runners collapsed on the final stretch, needing medical attention. Two were taken away in ambulances. On the course a runner dropped out and needed medical attention near me around mile 5. Watching runners in serious destress made me even happier with my decision to run smart, hydrate often, and respect the weather. Some days we learn lessons the hard way. I’m glad this was I day I didn’t need to.

Balancing – a look at how your coach makes it all happen, and how you can too!

img_6834-editEvery once and a while I get a request for a blog topic. Today I am indulging myself to fulfill a recent request. One of my regulars at Mile High Run Club, (very strong athlete and badass lady!), requested I write about what it’s like to coach and pace my own roster, teach full time at the studio, and still get in my own training and goals. While at first I thought this might be an unrelatable but perhaps interesting topic, the more I thought about it the more relatable it seemed. So many of my athletes juggle very long hours at work, private lives that sometimes involve families, the stress and fast-pace pressure of living in NYC, while tackling their own goals. So while my life/career is probably very different from yours, perhaps some tricks and priorities in my life will help you figure out out to better balance your journey with running.

Let me start by saying I am not a professional athlete. I have never been one. So my drive in my own training has never been fueled by a sponsor, collegiate team, pro team, etc. The only pressure or goals I have are those I’ve put on myself. My guess is that’s how most runners operate – self-motivated and training and racing because they love this sport!

To say getting in my training is challenging would be an understatement. Like many folks, my line of work has me on my feet all the time! I am standing, walking or running for anywhere from 4-10 hours per day. This makes “recovery” a tough thing. While there are lots of benefits to not sitting on one’s bum all day, I have to be mindful about wearing supportive shoes as much as possible, and sitting whenever given the opportunity – the train, between classes, whenever I can. If you are a teacher, nurse, doctor, or in the restaurant or film/tv industry, you probably live on your feet too!

Then there’s my hours – fitness industry folks work some of the hardest hours out there. We coach before most people go to work (hello, 4am wakeup!), and after folks are finished with work (I’ve been known many times to get home for dinner around 10pm), and it’s truly a 7-day a week business. It’s a job that can not only take over, but completely control your life. You only get time off when you protect a day and fight to protect it, and even then I am usually responding to emails, texts and calls from my private clients. So sleep, meals and training are a challenge.

The awesome thing about coaching full time is that I am constantly inspired and motivated by the people I am working with almost every hour of every day! My fellow coaches, team mates, clients – I have a ton of inspiration around me! So I rarely have the opportunity to lose focus when I am training. That’s a huge asset.

I was asked how I get my miles, goals and races accomplished – especially when clocking miles paces my own athletes. This is a tough one. Really tough. Despite my best abilities, I’m a human and not a machine – so I need to be careful and can only clock so many miles per day. There have been years where I opted to train and race for ultras, partly because it was of interest, but mostly because it jelled best with all the pacing I had on my plate. Back-to-back 20-mile days are only beneficial for ultra marathoners. However, this year I have really gotten back to some speedier and more ambitious goals for myself, and so I have decided to be more protective of my running time. It means not being everything to everyone. Learning to say no. And thinking of my own health. It’s a balance.

I have learned to always prepare and pack food for the day. I usually have fruit or veggies in my bag, along with some trail mix. I always have a water bottle with me. This minimizes the chance of dehydration or going hours without fuel. I will sometimes try to go to bed really early if I am wiped out – even if it means skipping social events. I write my training down in my calendar with everything else that day and hold it to the same level of importance as work, appointments and errands. I am rarely in shoes that aren’t my Mizunos. My feet are my career. I need them healthy and happy. I also replace my shoes pretty darn frequently. It’s worth it. If a goal race is worth it, I will sometimes sacrifice work opportunities or sleep to get in my time at the gym or park. I never want to be resentful of my work, or feel like I didn’t put in the training necessary for doing my best on race day. Hopefully as you juggle your plate, you can find tricks that work for you.