5 Tips for Summer Training

We’re in the dog days of Summer. While these days are perfect for sitting on a beach, favorite beer in hand, they make Summer training challenging. With so many marathon-bound runners this time of year, today’s blog is offering 5 tips for Summer Training.

  1. Be vigilant about hydration all day – not just when running. It takes some time for our bodies to process the things we drink, so only drinking right before you head out the door for a run is setting yourself up for failure. I recommend keeping a Nalgene bottle at your desk, and forcing yourself to drink and refill that bottle at least TWICE within a day. It may sound like a lot, but this is really only 64 oz. of water – the MINIMUM recommended for daily intake – not even factoring in your demands as a runner.

  2. If you can train at cooler times of the day, that can be hugely beneficial. Get up and out before the sun, or wait to start your training until 7-8pm – when the sun and temperatures begin to dip. If you must train in full sun, stick to routes with some shade.

  3. Gage your runs by effort instead of pace. Your body will begin to work in overdrive to keep core temperatures at a happy 98.6 degrees. The longer you are outside and running, or the harder you are running, the harder your body is working to regulate the heat. Therefore, don’t get caught up so much in the numbers. If you do, you may find yourself frustrated, burnt out, and perhaps pushing to the point where you will feel ill. Do the work now and when temperatures cool in a few months, your paces will drop. Be kind to your body and remember that heat and Summer training presents challenges we cannot beat.

  4. Refuel with cool post-run nutrition. Cold chocolate milk, Gatorade, yogurt, ice water, juice – this will help bring down core temperature while giving you some of the nutrients your body needs quickly. Avoid hot foods and beverages immediately after an intense Summer run.

  5. Know the signs for heat illness and heat stroke, and check in with yourself during your run to make sure you are okay. Sometimes these things can spring up quickly. I know I’ve gone from feeling awesome to suddenly feeling clammy, light-headed, or nauseous. If you begin to feel ill, bail on your run, find somewhere cool to sit or lay down, and hydrate.

Summer training can make you incredibly strong for a race in Autumn. Just be aware of how to help your body and brain make the most of the conditions. Safety first. Always.

When Did You Become a Runner?

For many of us, there was a defining moment, experience, or year when we became “runners.” This isn’t to say that there is a rule in my book as to what makes someone a runner or not, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with speed, races, or how seriously you take running as a sport or hobby. To me, someone becomes a “runner” when it becomes a fluid part of their life and routine. It becomes part of their day and who they are just like brushing one’s teeth, reading a book, or something else you do without thinking much about. It’s part of you and your day or week.

Sometimes that transition to “runner” is so natural, you can’t remember what your life was like before it. Other times it’s a huge change. Last week I went back to Southwest Michigan for the first time in eight years, to a small town where I worked for 4 months at a theatre. I didn’t realize it until I went back, but that location and time in my life was when I’d say I became a “runner.” I ran before Michigan, but I don’t think I was a runner. For one thing, before Michigan, I ran out of fear of gaining weight. Being an actor can mess with your head and view on body image. And while I liked running, I wouldn’t say I did it consistently. When I ran I enjoyed it and felt great after, but it was still more of a chore and something I did out of insecurity than anything else.

In Michigan, running became a part of almost every day. It began out of the usual place – don’t gain weight while working a stressful job. But from there, it quickly became my favorite part of my day. While most everyone else went out to party at night or slept in for as long as possible, my alarm went off every morning at 7:45am, I’d toss on my running clothes, and be out the door for a run by 8am. I’d get home around 9am, quickly eat a small breakfast, shower, and arrive the theatre by 10am – where I’d usually work until midnight or 1am. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was, and I always ran an out-and-back, turning around about 30 minutes into the run. Some days I’d make it farther than others. I usually carried my iPod (an archaic model by today’s standards), and let my mind wander as I sweat out my stress and felt strong. And while it took me years after my time in Michigan to enter a race, this was when I became a runner.

If you don’t consider yourself a runner yet, but someone who sometimes runs, you may find that changes over time – perhaps undetected under your nose. Until going back to Michigan, I don’t think I could have pinpointed what I became a “runner.” Or perhaps it will be a defining day, experience, or decision. If you consider yourself a runner, when do you think that happened? It’s fun to travel down memory lane, and reexamine when that shift happened. And if you are not a runner, well…never say never! Happy running!

The Aches and Pains of Training (and how to handle them)

Training for a sport or event always brings with it aches and pains. However, some aches and pains are part of the training process, while others should not be. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge pain and what to do about it. I am not a doctor, but I do have experience as an athlete and a coach in navigating these training waters, and want to bestow some tips for how to minimize pains, and also how to react to the different kinds you may encounter in training.

If you are training for something that is a challenge for you, there will be days and weeks of feeling sore, tired, perhaps with that “heavy leg” feel, or general muscle fatigue often associated with weight training, running or walking on challenging inclines, or moving really fast. These “growing pains” are not just saved for elite athletes or marathoners. Training for your very first 5K, trying to really run hard and race a 5K to the best of your ability, running your first trail race, blazing through a 400M race – if you are pushing yourself hard, whatever that means for you, you will certainly feel it.

Aches and pains can be challenging for runners to handle. For example, I know plenty of folks who will train through anything. They could have a fractured foot, and they will still be out there hammering out speed on the track. Others will refuse to take rest days and expect they can work through anything. Is this the best thing for a runner? Absolutely not. Then there are the runners who, the minute something feels uncomfortable, whine and refuse to navigate that uncomfortable feeling that is part of training. That runner will have a very hard time on race day when the going gets tough, because they refuse to adapt to the fatigue and uncomfortable feeling that usually comes with racing or completing a distance. There is, however, a happy medium between these two extremes. That runner is the one who will be most successful. It takes time, practice, and self-awareness to become that runner.

Here are a few tips that can help you push towards your goals while also being safe:

  • Take recovery and active recovery days when sore. You cannot expect to go from 0-60 successfully. Your body needs time to be stressed and adapt. This cannot happen over night.
  • Sore and achy muscles often feel better when stretched, foam rolled and iced. I often find that things loosen up if I go for an easy run or walk as active recovery. It may sound strange, but gentle exercise the day after a long or hard effort can speed up the recovery process.
  • If something feels tender at the beginning of a run but feels better the longer you run, you can carefully continue your workout. If things don’t feel better or begin to feel worse, call your run quits.
  • We all have a different history before tackling goals. Be aware of your body history and your potential strengths and weaknesses. We all have them. For example, I know my left IT band gets tight and hip flexibility can be an issue for me, so I am very much aware of my hips when I run – especially long runs and speed runs. I also do strength training to support and strengthen that specific weakness. Another runner may have other issues.
  • There are some “injuries” many runners find they can train through (carefully!) and others they simply cannot. A break, fracture, tear, dislocation, tendonitis – those are all things that will and should sideline a runner from training. Some chronic “injuries” like runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome – can be carefully trained through – though you can expect some additional rest days, PT, and additional care. Always discuss your aches and pains with a doctor or physical therapist before self-diagnosing.
  • There are very few injuries where rest, ice, compression and elevation are bad ideas. So when in doubt, follow those steps.
  • It’s easy to panic the minute something feels unusual. Try not to have a meltdown, and remember that a few days off from training isn’t the end of the world. If it turns out your pain is something serious and your future goals need to be paused, do your best to follow medical advice and focus on being the best patient possible. Many athletes are horrible patients, and don’t help themselves get healthy ASAP. If you have a bone issue, talk to your doctor about your diet, and how you can best kick your bone density up and fuel your healing process. If you can still train without impact, be proactive about training in different ways – which will certainly help your sanity without hurting your recovery.
  • Have a network of doctors, physical therapists and perhaps trainers (running coach and/or personal trainer) who can guide you and be your support system. Only work with folks you really trust. Having that “team” behind you will certainly give you what you need to safely achieve your goals.

Training is hard. It’s not for the weak – physically or mentally. It will bring with it aches, pains, achievements and milestones. Hard work pays off. Just make sure you are honest with your body, goals, and how you plan to safely get there. Best of luck for an awesome season! – Corky

Marathon Training Tips

Marathon training season is in full swing. Goals for Autumn races are becoming clear, and if you have a marathon on your calendar between the months of September to November, you are probably carefully calculating your training carefully. Whether this is your first marathon or your tenth, there are a few tips that can help your training go well, setting you up for an excellent race day.

  • Build base mileage before gunning it for speed. Skipping base mileage will increase your risk of injury – like shin splints. While building base mileage, all kinds of physical and psychological developments happen. Skipping this step can hurt your overall training.
  • After base mileage, add speed carefully – once or twice per week – no more.
  • Keep your long runs at a pace SLOWER than marathon goal pace. It’s a common rookie error to take your long runs at goal race pace.
  • Rest days are just as important as your training days. Don’t feel guilty about them, and please use them. Rest doesn’t equal cross training or strength training. Rest means REST.
  • Be sure you take some recovery weeks. You are not a robot, you are a human. You need recovery weeks in order to push harder in the future.
  • Training will have its highs and lows. Don’t let a bad workout or week define your training. Don’t let an amazing week get to your head. Instead, note the consistent swing of training. If week after week keeps going amazingly, you may be ready to increase your training or race goals. If things consistently go poorly, perhaps you need to reevaluate your goals or the way you want to get there.
  • A lot can happen in the weeks between now and your race. Keep your expectations for race day, goals, and strategy fluid. Nothing should be set in stone 20-16 weeks out from the big day.
  • Summer training can present some training challenges, especially with the long run. Have confidence that weather will cooperate on race day (the odds are it won’t be summer conditions!) and that the hard work you put in, tough though it may feel, will pay off.
  • Practice fueling as you would on race day in your long runs. Leave nothing up to chance.
  • Remember that training for a marathon is hard. There’s a reason why most folks never lace up for 26.2 miles. The training is a journey, and race day is the celebration of your hard work. Enjoy the journey. It will change you.

Answering NYC’s Questions

With teaching group classes, I always welcome questions during and after class. I thought it may be helpful to highlight some questions that have popped up frequently, and answer them as I have in person. After all, if folks I have coached in person have brought up the following questions numerous times, the odds are some of you may also have the same questions. Let’s get cracking!

What are the best kind of running shoes?

Despite what shoe manufacturers will tell you, there is no one shoe that is the perfect shoe for all runners. If a sales person tells you that their brand or style is perfect for you, run for the hills. Your feet, body weight, stride, weekly miles, terrain, experience, injury history – all are factors when finding the right shoe for you and your running career. I would, however, recommend you keep the following brands in mind when shopping: Mizuno, Brooks, and Asics. These brands are popular with mid-long distance runners, and are the brands of choice at most races. That doesn’t mean those brands are right for you. A shoe should feel like an extension of your foot. If it doesn’t, it’s not right. If you are in the right shoe, insoles and orthotics shouldn’t be necessary.

Are there workouts I can do to trim and tone my thighs?

You cannot target one body area for weight loss and body fat. If you want more definition, you need to lose body fat percentage in general. Zoning in, targeting, etc – that’s not how our bodies work. You can tone up by weight training and losing body fat – that combination will give you visual results. However, based on your genetics, you may never have thin or toned thighs – for example. Your thighs may be the last place you’ll lose body fat, and the dedication to lose that final bit may be extremely challenging. Instead, I would highly recommend folks looking to tone up focus of safely losing some body fat, and instead focus on weight training, and a healthy amount of cardio.

I have pain in my shins. What do I do?

Shin splints often occur when an athletes takes on too much too soon – going from little or zero mileage to running every day, running intense workouts too frequently, or running in old shoes. To help ease shin pain, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles, ice, and perhaps take some anti-inflammatory. Cutting back on mileage and intensity and focusing on some rest days will also help. If the pain continues, see a sports doctor or physical therapist. I am not a doctor, FYI.

I have been training really hard. How come I am not seeing an improvement in my speed?

Improvements in fitness sometimes take time, and very rarely can you expect to see or feel huge improvements in a few days or a week. In fact, you should expect to put in hard work for a few weeks or months before improvements appear by leaps and bounds. Remember that rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work, so if you are someone who rarely takes a day off or skimps on sleep, you may be getting in the way of your own success. Adding some additional rest and active recovery days may help your paces improve.

Is there a way to run on the treadmill that targets my butt?

If you are trying to target a muscle group like your glutes, hills can help. However, you also need to make sure you are activating your glutes and hamstrings. Many runners are quad runners, meaning we overuse our quads and don’t take advantage of the power our glutes and hamstrings offer us. If you are trying to gain strength, shape or size, you need to weight train that area. Running alone will not offer glute definition.

How do I know what my goal race paces or efforts should be?

This is sometimes hard to navigate. When setting your goals for the coming year, I encourage you to be ambitious but also realistic. For example, if your current Half Marathon best is 2:00, aiming for a 1:25 in your next Half Marathon is probably too ambitious. However, aiming for a 1:50 or 1:40 may be ambitious but also reasonable with hard work. If you achieve that goal, then work down to the 1:25. If you have taken a lot of time off from training, or are tackling a new distance, go by effort. This is especially true when training in heat or humidity. As you improve, your paces should hopefully drop towards your goal paces – though you may need to curve your expectations as you go further into training.

When trying to improve, should I focus on more miles or quality miles?

If you are just beginning your running journey, focus on slowly increasing your miles and keep the paces easy. Don’t go out and run hard, but instead focus on comfortable, conversational miles. Once you build the quantity up to a good number, you can then focus on quality – speed, hills, long runs, etc. If you are a runner who is already clocking consistent miles, focus on quality instead of quantity while training for a goal. Do the least amount of running necessary to achieve your goals – this may still mean 60 mile weeks while marathon training for your ambitious goal – but you also may be tempted to push to 70 mile weeks because you have heard more miles are better – but more miles means injury risk and chances for burnout increase.

Do you have questions for me? They can be anything running, nutrition, health or fitness related. If so, shoot me a comment, a message on twitter or FB, or in class next time.

How to Handle a Disappointing Goal Race

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Broad Street Run 2015, around mile 6. Thanks, Alex, for capturing me when I was really feeling awful but trying to power through.

This past weekend, in what was meant to be my goal race for the Spring season, I not only missed my target finish by 4 minutes, but most of the race was a struggle. It wasn’t that I was ill-prepared – because I wasn’t. But getting sick with a head/chest cold meant my goals were simply no longer in the cards. Oxygen is vital while running (obviously!), and especially necessary when racing. Naturally I was disappointed, and also not feeling well. Not the best of combinations. But I told myself that while I couldn’t control being sick on race day, I could control my attitude. I’m sure I am not the first runner to have a bad goal race – in fact I know I’m not – and thought this could be a misfortune that could turn into a coaching lesson. After all, I am trying to look on the bright side.

If a goal race isn’t going to go the way you had hoped, there are a few things you can do. Here are some common scenarios and tips:

  • Accept the things you cannot change. Modify your plan, goals, and expectations. Being in denial isn’t helpful, and just delays your disappointment.
  • Perhaps poor weather is in the forecast. Adjust your wardrobe for it. Hot sun will mean you’ll need to fuel more frequently than perhaps anticipated. Rain means you may want to wear waterproof gear, or few layers. Wind means you will possibly need to adjust your paces. Nobody wins in a race against headwinds. You will simply need to modify your pacing and finish time expectations. Don’t believe me? Ask the folks who tried to fight the wind in the 2014 NYC Marathon.
  • A stressful week or weekend leading into your goal race can cause issues. The odds are you have put race pressure on yourself, and if you are experiencing “taper tantrum,” you may naturally be more on edge. Remember to relax. Look at the big picture, and don’t make mountains out of mole hills.
  • Bad health and minor injury are unfortunately unavoidable. For example, I had no control over the chest/head cold that plagued me this week and hit me hardest over race weekend. If you have a minor injury, all you can do is attempt to keep it happy. If health appears to compromise your goals, you need to accept that and modify your expectations and strategy. If IT Band issues plague you on race weekend, be prepared to pause and stretch on race morning. Also be prepared to change your pace and gait if you are tight or in pain.
  • If you are late to the starting line, don’t panic. You may miss your corral, or be in a rush to get into the porta potty line or bag check – but loosing your cool will only lead to a frazzled race. Instead, remember you can always drop back to a different corral. Not ideal, but if you settle into those first few miles, the odds are your race pace won’t be compromised at all in the big picture. Stay stressed and abandon all reason, and you are asking for the wheels to come off.

It can be really sad, frustrating, and upsetting to miss the mark on a goal race. But remember, as long as you are safe and smart on race day, your racing career is far from over. Instead, I urge you to go out there and enjoy the morning as much as possible – even if that means running through a heat wave, or blowing snot and coughing up gunk in your lungs at an epic rate. Every race is a journey, and we cross that finish line slightly different from when we crossed the starting line. Enjoy the journey between those two points. You’ll have your day to capture that goal – it simply just may not be today.

Boston Marathon 2015

273565_191803974_XLargeThe Boston Marathon has been part of my marathon journey since my first marathon. Working towards a BQ (Boston Qualifier) gave my training a specific goal. Achieving that goal, and anticipating Boston was a magical experience. Three Boston Marathons later, and my journey seems somehow complete for that chapter. Before I get to that, let’s talk about the Boston Marathon for a minute.

In my opinion, the Boston Marathon is the most famous, historical, and prestigious marathon in the world. I’m sure there are prettier marathon courses out there, harder ones, easier ones – but Boston is special. Unless you opt to run for a charity, every single runner on the course earns their way to the starting line by achieving a qualifying time. I like that. I’m someone who likes to work hard, and would never run Boston without earning my spot. Just my opinion. This is because that starting line and 26.2 mile journey cannot be nearly as sweet for someone who fundraised as someone who may have put blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice into achieving that qualifier. For many of us, its as close to an Olympic Qualifier, or Olympic Trials experience. I wouldn’t want to buy my way into that either.

Besides being earned, the course is amazing. There are a few quiet miles through Boston farm towns and suburbs, but they are short-lived and broken up by the most passionate fans and towns I have ever witnessed. In Monday’s rain, the crowds only screamed louder. You can hear the Wellesley girls (famous for giving out kisses to runners) a mile or so away. The energy is electric. The locals set up tents, fire pits, and parties in their front yards – often handing out orange slices, candy, tissues, water, and all the enthusiasm they have. By the time you get to the Newton Hills, you are charged and ready for the hills that await  you. Turning the corner in Newton at the fire station, and seeing one of the first big climbs, you cannot help but feel confident and strong as Bostonians scream for you. From Brookline to the finish line on Boylston Street, the energy simply carries you.

If you have never run Boston, and have it on your list of goals, I highly recommend you do what you can to qualify. The reward for partaking in Patriot’s Day is one that cannot be accurately described. It’s an honor to share the journey with so many talented runners from around the world.

273565_191450725_XLargeThe 2015 race took place in less than ideal weather. Off and on rain (sometimes a heavy pouring rain!) and 20 MPH winds at times meant respecting the weather and not fighting it. The rain held off for me until I got to Natick, so I was a good 6-8 miles into the race before the weather got nasty. Overall, I have to say the weather wasn’t bad. Had I been trying to race, I’m sure I would have felt it. Based on the slow elite times, it obviously was a factor. The worst part was losing feeling in my hands and arms, making opening my final GU a real challenge. But in the big picture, a pretty minor inconvenience.

I have had a hard time processing this past Monday. I almost bailed on the race all together. I didn’t know if I was truly ready to come back and face the course and the city for the first time since 2013. I won’t rehash the details, but you can read my blogs about that here, here and here. Ironically, though qualifying for Boston has never been full of misses and heartbreak (I’m lucky in that department!), my experiences in Boston had never been good. In 2012, the year it was over 80 degrees at the start, I was battling a stomach bug that forced me to DNF at my 11. It was a truly terrible day, and I was so heartbroken and sad. I had never pulled out of a race before, and Boston seemed like the worst of all races to do so. In 2013, I was coming back from an injury and wasn’t sure I’d be clear to go and run – I had abandoned the original goal of really racing and trying to PR. On what was a beautiful day, and an incredible journey with my friend Cipriana, that was all erased at the finish line. So this year, the third attempt at Boston, I was more or less waiting for something to go wrong. Maybe third year was the charm? Anyway, when the weather looked sour, I figured if that was the worst of it, I’d take it. I can run in wind and rain. I wasn’t aiming to PR or really race, and I train through any and all conditions.

Race weekend was tough. Anxiety made me snappy, tense, and probably hard to deal with. We avoided crowds, Boylston Street and pretty much everything. Aside from the race expo, which we got in and out as quickly as possible, we laid low. I turned off my phone by 7pm on Sunday night, and was in bed. I wasn’t exactly sleeping, but I was resting. This may be one of the first marathons where I was calm and not at all stressed about the course, race morning, goals – I am usually a bit of a basket case. Having no race goals and knowing the course meant I let it all go. It was really strange. The most I have ever slept before a marathon, for sure. Race morning, as soon as I left the hotel and started the walk towards Boston Commons for the bus, Boston PD were out with bomb sniffing dogs at 6am. I almost threw up, but somehow told myself not to panic. Thankfully, a lovely couple (Christina and Quint) came up beside me and started chatting as we walked. Having their company from that moment until we hopped into our corrals hours later was a mind-saver. Truly.273565_192126062_XLarge

At the starting line, I was briefly overcome by emotion. Not because of PTSD or bad memories, but the reality that here I was, on the iconic starting line in Hopkinton. My plan for the day was to run a comfortable pace, and to settle and not burn out on the hills. Being a coach has made me a smarter athlete. I never lost my head or abandoned my plan. The quiet, the crowds, the rain, the wind, and calm – I took it all in. I looked forward to each town in front of me, and enjoyed the town I was in. I gave high-fives, pumped my fist when someone shouted “Go #5893!!!!,” took my GU like clockwork every 5 miles, and enjoyed the journey. While many runners around me dreaded the iconic hills between miles 16-21, I was excited to see them and climb them. I’m not going to say I was never tired out there, because 20 miles into a marathon nobody feels fresh – regardless of the pace. I recall my glutes and hips felt a little tight and tired, and I told myself “smooth and easy,” over and over each mile. Reminding myself to check my form meant I never took heavy steps – always silent or very quiet.

Getting to the top of HeartBreak is always fun – all of the Boston College kids and the fast downhill give you a surge. Plus it’s only 5 miles to the finish. This is where I started passing runners by the dozens. I found my even splits meant I passed many runners on the hills who had gone out too fast, but then the final 5 miles all I did was fish in runners who struggled. It’s a GREAT feeling to pass everyone towards the end of a race. Though I only looked at my watch periodically to make sure I wasn’t going too fast, I ran 1:38:57 for the first half, and a slightly positive split for a finish time of 3:20:23.

Chris was standing at the overpass he was at in 2013, wearing a poncho and trying to snap photos in the rain. Once I saw him, it was a block until the right turn on Hereford Street, and the quick left onto Boylston Street. On Hereford, I gathered myself for what was ahead. I remember briefly closing my eyes and closing out the world. I told myself this was it, the epic stretch was before me, and this time it was mine to celebrate without anything bad. I had made it to Boston, all I had left was Boyslton Street. Running down Boylston Street is something I cannot put into words. The energy is unfathomable. It’s all around you. I laughed, I cried, I opened up my stride to finish strong. I remember giving a second of reflection as I passed the National Flags, having witnessed them destroyed two years ago.

Once at the finish, I turned around and forced myself to look back. No bombs. No fear. Just cheering and runners coming in behind me. The rain and wind, though noticeable, was such a minor thing in the big picture. My frozen hands and arms had a hard time holding the water bottle handed to me, and a volunteer put my medal around my neck and helped me with my mylar poncho. My legs were so cold I couldn’t tell where my shorts stopped and my legs began. As I exited Boystlon Street and walked back to my hotel, I’m sure I looked like a mess. A drenched, crying, laughing, poncho-wearing runner looking at her splits and eagerly walking the mile or so back to a hot shower.

Some interesting facts/choices made that day:

  • Pre-race, I consumed 1 banana at the hotel, and then 1 banana and 1 bagel, and 1 bottle of water in Athlete’s Village.
  • No blisters, chafing or discomfort commonly associated with long distance running occurred during this marathon – which is pretty surprising considering the wet conditions.
  • I used old running socks as mittens for my hands, and kept them on for the first 5 miles. They worked great.
  • Wearing a hat with a cap is hugely helpful when racing in rainy or sunny conditions. The rain was rarely in my face and vision was never compromised.
  • Usually one to race in sunglasses, I opted to leave them at the hotel. This worked out well, considering the humidity level and rain. Though my face did feel a little naked without them.
  • After much debate, I opted to dress minimally for a chilly race – sports bra, shorts, knee high compression socks, and arm sleeves – which I discarded around 10 miles in. The minimal clothes meant minimal fabric weighed down by cold rain. The only downside: my arms/hands lost all feeling by the end of the race, thanks to the wind and rain.
  • I used 4 GUs, taking them religiously every 5 miles. I stored them in my sports bra, my arm sleeves, and later held the final two in my hand after discarding the arm sleeves and looking to avoid chafing.
  • I brought my iPod with me (incase nerves became a big issue), but never used it and had the headphones tucked into my sports bra the entire 26.2 miles.
  • I never took any Gatorade, only water from hydration stations.
  • Breaking up the course by town is a nice way to look at 26.2 miles. Boston is the perfect course for this strategy, as it’s pretty much a straight shot to Boston. No hairpin turns or out-and-backs.
  • Once crossing the finish line, I kept moving. I paused for my medal and mylar sheet, but otherwise walked an additional 20 minutes or so. Resisting the temptation to stop and sit post-race can be hugely beneficial for recovery.
  • I consumed a bottle of water, a burrito, chips and guacamole, and a chocolate shake within 60-90 minutes after walking back to the hotel. Fueling post-race is important, and I waited a little longer than the ideally recommended 30-minutes post-race. I was too cold and frozen to manage eating en route to the hotel. And it was pouring.273565_191542107_XLarge

Three Patriot’s Days running Boston, and the third was certainly the best. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I’m okay with that. I have a qualifier now for 2016, but I don’t want to rush anything. Plus I don’t know what my goals are right now with the marathon. I’d love to come back and really race some day. I’d also love to crack 3 hours. Though I don’t know if Boston will be the place for that. For now, I am just relieved to have made it to today, with a positive story about the Boston Marathon. I will never forget 2013, as hard as I may try. And that’s okay, it’s unfortunately part of my history. But now I also have a newer history in Boston, that is so much sweeter.

Run a Race!

10358729_796133213815647_6984393093090976025_nI am a big fan or runners hopping into races during their training for a big goal. While the races need to be carefully timed and chosen, they are a fun way to mix up training, assess current fitness, and practice race morning routines. For many of my athletes, we’ll sue a short race in place of a speed workout. If you are itching to sign up for some races, and are wondering how to choose and how to structure your season, I am sharing a few tips with you below:

  • Choose a distance that benefits your goal race. For example, a speedy 5K can be a great workout for a runner heading to a 10K-Half Marathon race. A 5K may not be a huge asset to a marathoner unless some additional mileage is added to the day. Then again, if you are a marathoner who struggles with committing to speed workouts on your own, a 5K may be your excuse to get in speed. A half marathon, when scheduled appropriately, can be the perfect quality long run for someone in the throes of marathon training. I would race a Half Marathon no closer to a marathon than 3-4 weeks out.
  • Pick a course you like, or that offers benefit to your big goals. For example, a fast and flat 10K may be the perfect fitness assessment and speed workout for someone targeting a flat Half Marathon. A hilly Half Marathon would be perfect for preparing for a hilly marathon, like NYC Marathon.
  • Be sure to adjust your schedule that week for your race, especially if you are swapping a short and speedy race for a long run. For example, I hopped into a 5K this past Sunday as a speed workout. I usually do a speed run twice per week – Monday and Thursday, so this week I am not running speed work again until Thursday, and won’t be running long since this is a taper week for Boston. But Boston isn’t my goal race, so I am only giving myself a mini taper and focusing on the speed workouts, in preparation for my goal race a few weeks away.
  • Set goals that make sense. It’s a little unrealistic to set the goal of crushing every race – especially the ones you are using as a workout or assessment. Set a goal that makes sense and supports your big goal. For example, you may set the goal or even pacing, and learning to not be pulled by folks around you. This weekend, I set the goal of a negative-split 5K. This forced me to settle into the very hilly first mile and then shave away time in mile 2 and 3. Maybe practice fueling on your feet, using new gear, running without music – the goal doesn’t have to be time related.
  • Have fun. If this isn’t your goal race, there is no reason to take it too seriously. Yes, training races can be painful, hard, and sometimes terrible. But learn something from it, have a laugh and move on. Save that intensity and focus for the big goals. If running and racing isn’t fun, most of us shouldn’t be doing it.
  • If you live in a city like NYC, most races attract thousands of runners. Even little 4-milers in Central Park can draw 7000 runners. It’s really nice change to go hop into a small race sponsored by a small organization. You will have far less runners (easily the low hundreds, and sometimes less than 100 runners!), and you may have the opportunity to be a hot-shot and place in your age group or overall. Those little boosts of confidence can go a long way.

With Spring weather here, there will be races hosted all over the place every weekend between now and October. Enjoy them! And if you are traveling, do a little research and hop into the local race. It’s a great way to enjoy a new place, and get in some quality miles.

Body Image in Athletics

img_6222-editPeople come in all shapes and sizes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s often an odd transition viewing yourself as an athlete, but I ask all my clients to do so. When you slightly change your perspective of yourself, you’ll view your nutrition choices, sleep, training, priorities, and life differently. I find this shift is extremely important for folks who struggle with nutrition/weight and with time-management and sleep. Instead of viewing food as “good” or “bad,” you start to think about your training, and what choices will properly aid you in pre-run fuel, post-run recovery, or general nutrition. Suddenly you won’t feel “bad” about a food choice, because your perspective of you as a human being will be different. The same is true with sleep – you’ll suddenly be aware of how it’s an important component of training – and that if you want to train harder and improve, you’ll need to get more Zzz’s.

I remember when I personally went through the shift, and how I finally felt settled and had an “identity” as far as food goes. I’ve been pretty open about my relationship with food and body image in the past, and I know I am not the only person who has struggled with it. But running and training for challenging race goals gave my body a purpose, a hunger for achievement, and I became excited and dedicated to doing what it took to morph my body for those goals. I too referred to myself as “not a real runner” for a long time – dismissing my involvement in this sport because I wasn’t professional, fast, or taking it seriously.

Over the last 5 years, my body has changed a lot. There have been years where I was curvier, years where I was rail-thin and friends voiced concerns, and years where I have been muscular with relatively low body fat. My size has swung from 6-0 and everywhere in between, and changes depending on what I am training for, how hard I am training, and honestly how I am feeling. There are some months where all I want to do is eat, and I need to pull myself up off the couch and into the gym or the park. There are other months where I feel so motivated and energized, I forget to eat and am struggling to take in enough calories. As you can imagine, this changes my body. And though I hate to admit it, it changes how I feel about myself.

What’s interesting is how I am perceived – often by strangers, casting directors, acquaintances, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I must always look “athletic,” because the topic usually comes up in conversation. I have had casting directors and the like ask if I am a gymnast, yogi, dancer, Pilates instructor, CrossFit activist – the list goes on. Ironically, few guess “runner.” Perhaps, to be fair, this is because runners come in all shapes and sizes. But to hear “Really? You don’t look like a runner -” it somehow feels like a stab in the gut. I usually am quick defend myself, saying I am not a sprinter (so I am not rocking large powerful muscles and very low body fat), and I am also not an elite middle or long distance runner – folks who are often associated with looking unhealthy, waif-like, and gaunt. Here’s the thing: while I am indeed a runner, I am not a professional athlete. Folks expect to see the stereotype on magazines, winning marathons or track events – not the folks who are “better than average” but also are not training full-time.

I assume if I struggle with being judged, and often have to defend my body and my choices, that other folks out there do too. Unfortunately, females are judged based on how they look before they can even open their mouths. And while I shouldn’t assume this is only a female thing, being female myself, I can only speak for the ladies.

To the folks who judge – I say go watch a race. You will see all body types cross that finish line – 5K through Marathon. You will see the elite runners you expect us all to resemble, you will also see body types doing amazing things that will honestly catch you by surprise. Don’t judge, be inspired. After all, they are the ones training and clocking miles while you sit there on your ass and point a finger.

And while some folks are probably not aware that making assumptions or judgements about a person’s body and sport can be hurtful, we should all remember to think before we speak. It’s the same with fat shaming, or assuming someone’s life is easy because they look like our idea of a “model.” You have no idea how hard someone might work for their sport, or to maintain a healthy weight. You also probably don’t know how hard that person has worked to achieve where they are today.

Being an athlete is hard. It’s a huge time commitment, which makes it a big part of your identity – whether you realize it or not. Wear that identity with pride. Train for your sport and your body will reflect your hard work, and hopefully give you the result you want. There is no perfect body or size. What’s perfect for you is what will help you achieve your goals and feel your best. If I was told gaining 10lbs. would make me faster and set crazy PRs, I’d be the first in line to pack on those additional pounds – assuming it wouldn’t hurt my health, of course. Sadly, that’s not true. Your body is your tool in this world, and we are only given one. What we do with it is our choice.

Recently when given the whole “Really? You’re a runner?!” response, I carefully explain that indeed I am – and that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and their bodies will usually be different depending on the distance and pace one runs. I figure if I cannot stop that awkward comment from arising, perhaps I can educate the person asking and they’ll think twice before assuming something about body types in the future. And for the record, I have never taken one yoga, Pilates, CrossFit or gymnastics classes – so all of those guesses are WRONG. Go figure, right? And while I used to be a dancer, it has been a few years since I have been in class. Again, proof that many snap judgements are totally off-base. I am ever going to look like Shalane Flanagan? Nope. Am I ever going to be as fast as Shalane Flanagan? Nope. And that’s OKAY!!!!!

I hope if you are struggling with your own relationship with food, body image, weight, or role in your sport that you are kind to yourself. Don’t let a stranger’s uneducated opinion sway how you feel. And if you are looking to become lighter and leaner, remember that there is no quick fix – it’s a process. You don’t owe anyone anything. But you do owe it to yourself to be happy in your skin.

Training Specificity

img_6298-editWhen planning your running season, it’s tempting to choose a bunch of varying goals. I love when runners have an array of goals and events. The challenge is often spacing them out in a way that is safe and realistic. Most of us are running for personal glory or fun, not a qualifying time or prize at the finish line. However, it can become quite hard to plan a season when it involves broad goals.

I LOVE when runners come to me with a variety of goals: PRs in the 1 mile and Half Marathon within the year, for example. Are those two VERY different goals? Absolutely! Will they need different kinds of preparation? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Here’s the thing: the better you want to get at one distance, the more you need to structure your training for that goal. Specificity and reason for training become crucial when targeting a goal. But when you have multiple goals, it’s often necessary to slightly release on the gas for that first goal in order to accommodate the other goals. Many times you will be successful at nailing multiple goals if they complement one another.

For example, say you really want to focus on the 5K this year and want to shave down some considerable time. Placing some 10K races or 1-mile races into the calendar can be of benefit to that 5K goal, all while having fun and going out to race. The bonus is that you may find you also PR in the 1-mile and 10K, because the speed training for a 5K will probably benefit those distances, too. But trying to PR a 5K in the same season you want to tackle a 100-miler – now that’s where things get tricky. For one thing, injury risk will usually go up when you start combining very high mileage and speed workouts into every week. Not that it can’t be done, but for many of us these waters are hard to navigate.

The important thing for most runners to keep in mind and think about is how to achieve their goals while staying healthy, and to list which races are the priority that season. If you stay healthy, perhaps some goals need to be held off for the following year. We need to remember to look at the big picture: races will be there. You can be too, if you don’t do something stupid and put yourself on the injured list.

This is often where a coach comes in handy. It also becomes necessary to be honest with yourself. You know how you recover. You also know if your body naturally prefers certain distances or types of training over others. You should use your years of experience to help access and navigate what’s best for you. Take a look at the entire calendar year, and be sure to budget time for rest and recovery before hopping into training for the next goal the minute to cross the finish line.