When to take a day off

Runners and fitness enthusiasts, in general, are overachievers and type-A personalities. After all, these road and trail warriors sign up for races months in advance and stick religiously to a training schedule. Freezing cold? They’ll bundle up. Raining cats and dogs? They’ll embrace the soggy shoes and enjoy skipping through puddles. Gym crowded after work? They’ll come back and 10pm to get  that quality arm day in.

This dedication is what makes these overachiever type-A’s successful at achieving their goals – whatever they may be.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

Medical Tent, after 68 miles of the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Athletes push when they shouldn’t. Myself included.

The downside to this driven, dedicated personality is that often that person doesn’t know when all signs point toward a rest day. Often the scheduled workout on the calendar trumps an achy knee, a head cold, or a sleepless night.

When should we suck it up and power through and when should we take some quality time off? The answer isn’t always simple. There are lots of factors, like how close are you to race day, a fitness competition, etc.

Things you can probably power through: sore muscles (not INJURED, but sore), lack of sleep, less than ideal weather. Being sore is part of the process while getting in shape, so you cannot take time off every time something hurts. Having a “easy” workout the day after a hard one is best. Lack of sleep makes motivation hard, but as soon as you get moving, your body and mind will wake up. Just budget some time to catch up on sleep. The weather on race day is completely unpredictable, so you need to get your body and mind used to the demands different climates offer. Unless there is thunder and lightning, lace up.

Things you should NOT power through: a nagging injury (unless you have seen a Doctor and been given the okay), serious illness (stomach flu, high fever, strep throat, etc.). Unless you have seen a doctor (a SPORTS DOCTOR), you do not know what is wrong with you. Yes, the internet has a ton of information out there, but how can you assume your self-diagnosis is accurate? Once you see a doctor, you will be told whether or not you can continue training or need to take time off. LISTEN to your doctor. If you are ill, you may want to push through. Most often, this is a TERRIBLE idea. Why would you power through a workout with a high fever or stomach flu? What benefit will come from this training? Another way to think of it, what damage could this workout do? You’ll recover best while resting, and powering through a workout today, while ill, may mean having to take off more days in the future.

The tricky area: when you feel a cold coming on, or are on the road to recovery from being sick, or have a strange pain that is new and not too bad, etc. If you choose to train on one of these days, don’t do a hard workout – even if your training plan says otherwise. Switch out that hard tempo run with an easy “recovery” pace run, or don’t move up the weights at the gym if you were planning on doing so. Go into the workout with the acceptance that you may need to bail out of the workout early, and that’s okay.

At the end of the day, you need to remember to be smart. Your training calendar is created assuming everyday you are in optimal health, and working under optimal conditions. Life isn’t always optimal.

Remember, by the time you toe the line for a race, or hit that goal beach vacation, missing a few workouts here or there are not going to hurt your potential on race day. Showing up to the race under the weather, injured, or simply burnt out certainly will.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 3

730052-1094-0025sIMG_2410Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line next to Cipriana was a wonderful, emotional experience. What happened next has changed me forever. Within five minutes of crossing the finish line at 4:05:56, the first bomb went off at 4:09:43. it sounded like a cannon. I felt it in my chest. We watched in horror as smoke engulfed the spectators on our right. My first thought was that something accidently went off – fireworks, a gas tank, some kind of accident. With barely a few seconds for Cip and I to react, the second bomb went off. At that point we knew that the explosions were no accident, and our lives could be in danger.

We hadn’t even made it to receive our medals, mylar sheets, or water bottles when the explosions occurred. We were maybe 50 yards away from the first explosion. Silence and confusion fell, and fear consumed us all. If two bombs had gone off within seconds of each other on Boylston Street, how many more bombs were there? We didn’t know, but we knew we had to get off of Boylston Street, and fast. As we tried to run around tired runners, some of whom seemed too wiped out from the marathon to even realize what had happened behind them, we ran as fast as we could away from the finish line.

A woman near us began to break down. Clearly she had spent every ounce of energy on the marathon, and she started wailing that her husband was standing where the first bomb went off. She kept screaming that she had just seen him there. She half crumbled to the ground, her legs buckling under her, and she was going to try  to get to where she thought her husband was. I told her to stay calm, to come with us, away from the explosions, that she didn’t know anything for sure about her husband, and that we needed to be concerned about our own safety, and not be in the way of first-responders. I don’t know what happened to this woman, since she was hardly responsive.

IMG_20130417_091416_251I will admit, as Cip and I ran away from the terror, for a moment I thought of turning around. Not that I could have helped much, but with being certified in CPR and first aid, I thought maybe I could do something. However, I quickly reminded myself that if people had lost limbs, I didn’t have the medical ability to do anything for them, and I didn’t think it was safe for me to head back.

Luckily, the bus with Cip’s baggage was directly down Boylston Street, so we went there and grabbed her bag. Unlike my bag, hers had a phone in it with battery power. We then retraced our steps by a block to try to exit the blocked of streets. We grabbed my bag, and had turned the corner off of Boylston Street. Around this time, I heard the first sirens. Still not feeling safe, but a bit safer than we had on Boylston Street, we slowed to a walk and tried to come up with the best course of action. Just then, we heard people yelling, and volunteers and staff cameramen came running at us, telling us to run. My thought: what do they know that we don’t know? I kept expecting an explosion to happen any second. Perhaps out of a building, a trash can, or under my feet. I kept telling myself that I might not still be safe. I might be blown to bits.

IMG_2412With Cip’s phone we were able to make a few phone calls. We decided to walk toward her hotel, right near Boston Common, and away from the finish line area. More sirens and helicopters. More people crying and screaming. We got to Cip’s hotel room, where I was able to charge my phone and we could turn on the news.

A few hours later, Chris and I walked back from Cip’s hotel (he walked to find me) back to The Eliot. We walked as far away from Boylston Street as possible, considering our hotel was a short two blacks away from the location of the second explosion. I was in a state of shock, still unable to totally process what had happened. Survival mode had kept me from becoming emotional. Between being emotionally and physically drained, and the request from the Boston PD and FBI for everyone to stay where they are, we stayed in the hotel for the rest of the night.

Monday night I barely slept. my mind was haunted with images, emotions, fears – things I could not shake from my conscious or unconscious. I kept waiting for our hotel room to explode. For something else to happen.

904376_902782584544_2034901455_oTuesday morning was a strange time. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful spring day in Boston. We packed our bags and checked out of the hotel, headed back to Back Bay Station and our Amtrak ride home. Exiting the hotel, there were police and swat teams on every corner, including outside our hotel. Our block was part of a crime scene, and we had to detour around Boylston Street.

Being outside made everything worse. It was all too real. The roped off blocks, the medical tents and finish area abandoned, standing just as it had Monday afternoon. News teams swarmed like vultures, all looking for marathoners to interview. They were set up with their vans, cameras, and lighting equipment by the dozens on every block.

As we walked, I lost it. I could not stop crying. I could not handle being there, and fought off panic attacks a few times. We walked past a young woman, and she handed me a white rose and thanked me for running the Boston Marathon. If I had any control over how I was conducting myself before, this gesture made me lose it entirely. I carried that white rose back with me to NYC, and it is currently in a vase in my kitchen.

I was asked for two interviews by news teams, both of which I declined. I didn’t want to keep reliving what I had experienced. I was already incredibly tired and frustrated from all of the questions everyone was already asking me. I know it was coming from a place of caring or curiosity, but every time I was asked what happened or how I was feeling, I had to revisit that pain. I wanted to yell at everyone to shut up and leave me alone.

155738_10101268085877673_955661079_nI am sure, like the city of Boston, that I will at some point get past what I experienced on Monday. I have overcome PTSD before, though this is my first time personally experiencing a terrorist attack. Everyone has questions, which is natural. Just please, before jumping to any conclusions, consider your resources. The day of the explosions, all kinds of false claims were being made, and many people were buying into them. Right now, the most important thing on everyone’s mind should be the recovery, healing, and grieving regarding the people injured, traumatized or killed.

I keep telling myself that I am incredibly lucky. I am also incredibly thankful that none of my friends, team mates or loved ones were injured. Many people were not so lucky. This is a time for healing and coming together, not for self-promotion or jumping on conspiracy band wagons.

While I won’t be running Boston in 2014 (I’m not running a qualifying race), I will probably be there to cheer on my friends. Come 2015, I hope to be there as a runner, looking to run a hard race. Until then, I am going to go out and run. I am going to run to celebrate life. I am going to run to clear my head. I am going to run because I can, some others are no longer lucky enough to have that gift.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 2

Athlete's Village with Ben in Hopkinton - where it all begins.

Athlete’s Village with Ben in Hopkinton – where it all begins.

 

Athlete's Village, early and before it became crowded.

Athlete’s Village, early and before it became crowded.

Marathon morning arrived as it usually does, before the sun and most people are up. I was extremely stressed and on edge that morning, as my phone apparently didn’t charge during the night, leaving me with less than 5% power. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if I wasn’t relying on my phone to meet up with Cipriana at Athlete’s Village. With 27,000 runners, trying to find someone at the start of the race is difficult to say the least – even when both people have phones.

Luckily, I found Cip at her corral. At a last chance attempt to find her, I waited at the only entrance to Wave 2, Corral 7, where I knew she would be. Relief swept over me when I saw her. I had began to think of back-up plans, but I didn’t like any of the potential senerios. Were we both going to end up running solo? My stress and wasted energy vanished, and we laughed, hugged, and smiled as we synched our watches and walked towards to start.

The sun was shining, there was barely a breeze, and the energy from the other runners and spectators was electric. I told myself to remember this experience. To soak it in. To enjoy it. So much success and heart-break over the last few years had led up to this moment, and I wanted to smile the entire 26.2 miles.

Feeling good and over Heartbreak Hill.

Feeling good and over Heartbreak Hill.

Letting Cip set the pace, we both felt pretty good until mile 15-16. We danced to Gangnam Style, sang along to other songs, and took in the race in the special way you can when you are not actually running for a time. One of the highlights up to this point was the Wellesley girls. The amount of college girls, with clever amusing hand-made signs, giving out kisses and screaming, was something you cannot imagine accurately. Once you experience it, you understand some of the reason why Boston is a unique marathon.

Right before we hit the Newton Hills, Cip suddenly announced that she was thinking about dropping out. I told her that unless she was injured, or have chest pain, she was not dropping out. I told her she did not come to Boston to run 16 miles. I told her it didn’t matter how long it took us, we were doing this together. While I’m pretty sure Cip hated me at this point, I knew she would regret, sometime in the future, her decision to drop out. Cip powered through, and we made it up over the famed Heartbreak Hill, as the Boston College students created a wall of noise for about a full mile.Once we hit the 21 mile mark, the end of the marathon seemed near. Cramping in the quads tested Cip’s ability to push through, but she is an incredibly strong woman and athlete, and she dug deep. We saw a couple of her friends along the course, and she was overwhelmed. My cousins were cheering in Brookline, which energized me and made me feel so supported and loved.

800 meters to go!

800 meters to go!

As we began a walk/run negotiation, I pushed Cip to keep running. Walking wasn’t helping her cramping quad much, and the sooner we got to the finish, the sooner she could rest, stretch, and seek any medical attention.

I began calling out landmarks that we could look for and check off as mini goals: Fenway, the famous CITGO sign, Chris waiting for us at the underpass (right in front of The Eliot hotel, and 800 meters from the finish), the turn onto Hereford Street, Mount Hereford, the turn onto Boylston Street.

Running down Boylston Street, overwhelmed by emotion as we see the famous finish line in front of us.

Running down Boylston Street, overwhelmed by emotion as we see the famous finish line in front of us.

I recall Cip saying somewhere within the last mile that this may be her last marathon, that all she wanted was to stop running. Once we made that turn onto Boylston Street, all of the fatigue, doubt, and pain seemed to melt away. We both burst into tears as soon as we turned onto Boylston Street, the famous finish line in sight, and thousands of happy, yelling spectators carried us those last 600 meters. I remember laughing as I cried. I remember telling myself to enjoy this moment. We had both earned this moment, by working to qualify for this race. I remember patting Cip on the back and telling her that she deserved this, and that I was proud of her. I remember, the minute we crossed the finish line, crying and hugging and being overwhelmed by emotions.

The time on the clock didn’t matter. The journey, taken together, over 26.2 miles seemed something like a dream. I had been haunted for the past year by my Boston 2012 experience, and here I was finally finishing and closing that chapter. I remember thinking “No doubt, I want to race this course to the best of my ability in 2015.” Within those 4 hours and 21 minutes, I had fallen in love with the Boston Marathon all over again.For a few brief minutes, I was able to experience pure joy over my finish of the Boston 2013 Marathon.

Boston Marathon 2013: Part 1

IMG_2414It is with heavy heart, mixed emotions, and some signs of PTSD that I sit down and try to put into words my experience at the Boston Marathon. I am going to write my experiences in three blog entries. After all, many things happened before the bombs went off, and many things have affected me since.

I arrived in Boston on Saturday afternoon via Amtrak, with Chris and Ben. It was a cool spring day, and a bit more cloudy than I had expected. On our way from Back Bay Station to our hotel, we walked past the famed finish line. The entire 600 meters of Boylston Street’s race course was filled with runners, tourists, and Bostonians, taking pictures and taking in the most famous finish line of all marathons. We stopped and took a few photos ourselves.

Church on Boylston Street on Saturday.

Church on Boylston Street on Saturday.

After checking in to The Eliot Hotel (on the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth Avenues, about 800 meters from the finish line), we went to the race expo, grabbed lunch, and settled in to our beautiful hotel. I took to the streets of Boston that night for an easy 5 mile run, passing the famous CITGO sign and the Boston University Campus.

On Sunday we took the T out to Brookline, to meet my cousin, Kristen, for brunch at Zaftig’s Delicatessen. Carb-loading on pancakes and catching up with my cousin was great. After brunch, I met up with Cipriana, my friend and team-mate with whom I would be running the marathon. Cip and I were both coming back form injury, and so just being medically cleared to complete the marathon felt like a huge blessing. While this wasn’t going to be the Boston I had been planning on since last April (I set the goal of a 3:00 marathon), I was thankful to be able to go and run – regardless of the pace.

Finish Line, photo taken on Saturday.

Finish Line, photo taken on Saturday.

Sunday night, Chris and I stuck to my one race tradition: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It doesn’t matter if I am racing a 5K or a 50K, I always have my ice cream. It’s probably silly, but it’s my one race tradition. After ice cream, my friend and fellow running coach, Gary Berard, met us for a few beers. For the record, I only had one beer, and figured that since I wasn’t racing, and was sufficiently hydrated, one beer wasn’t a bad thing.

Around 11pm I hopped into bed. My alarm was set for 5am. I was ready to finally run the race course I had dreamed of for so long. Last year I had come to Boston to run, only a nasty stomach flu and the heat (a terrible combination), caused me to DNF at mile 10.5. That experience had left me broken-hearted, and very much looking forward to Boston 2013.

Ode to Boston

892897_10101263724393123_1303757231_oToday is the 117th Boston Marathon, one of the most famous marathons in the entire world. As this blog is published, your coach is somewhere en route from Hopkinton to Boston, running this famous race course.

The Boston Marathon is a special race for many reasons. Besides it’s history, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a goal for many runners. Besides the Olympic Trials, Boston is the only marathon with a strict qualifying requirement (minus charity entries).

If you have ever run Boston, or spectated, you know that Boston celebrates the race for the entire day, the elite field is the best in the world, and the entire city’s energy is incredible.

Is qualifying for Boston one of your goals? If you want it bad enough, you never know what’s possible.

My bib for the big day!

My bib for the big day!

Mental Meltdown

img_7084-editYou don’t have to be training for a marathon to have one of those days: you have some sort of fitness goal, perhaps even start it – and then everything falls apart. For me, it’s often a run (cause that’s what I do every day). There is something extremely defeating about this mental meltdown, and you can quickly go from feeling okay with calling the workout quits to questioning your entire training plan, goals, and potential. Are there ways to avoid this moment, or at least to cope with it?

Sometimes, we need to push through the rest of the junk from the day and give ourselves that time to sweat out stress. Getting out to run or to lift weights can completely fix a rotten day. Other times, it’s just best to let the run go and to treat yourself to a day off – as long as you don’t beat yourself up over taking said time off!

Have you also been partly through a workout, and to suddenly feel like everything is going to shit? The worst feeling ever. It can be hydration, fatigue, mental focus, a wonky muscle. Whatever the reason, it seriously sucks. Learning to cope with these terrible moments helps prepare you for marathon day. If you aren’t training for a marathon, the benefit to pushing through is simply to give you the satisfaction that you can push through when the going gets tough. Is it worth it? Sometimes.

If you have a day where you cannot push through, learn from it. What were the contributing factors? When I tackle my own marathon training, I hope that all of my long runs go great. That isn’t to say that they always feel awesome or that I am laughing and smiling at mile 22, but that I succeed in my pace goal, not feeling injured, and feeling accomplished. However, experience has taught me to expect a few long training runs to go poorly. Why? Cause I am human. Yes, I have cut 20-milers short in the past. Yes, I have dropped my speed down so much that I question how in the world I can possibly hold my goal pace come race day. And you know what? I have also PRed in seasons where I have had those bonked long runs. I’m sure you have too.

So, if you just are not feeling it out there remember this: you are human, not a machine. There are things you can and should push through. There are other times where calling it quits is the right call. Learn how to determine the difference. Come race day, you will be prepared. Even if your training isn’t perfect. Sometimes a terrible dress rehearsal makes for a fantastic performance.

Destination Race

748275-1006-0043s-600x400Looking for a little race inspiration? Sometimes changing our running or race location helps with motivation for your next goal. Try a destination race. Besides the excitement of a race, you’ll be pumped for vacation!!!!

There are races all over the globe, ranging in every distance from 5K to 150-mile Ultras. Personally, as someone who loves the race experience and loves to travel, destination races are one of my favorite things. Combining travel and running? Yes, please!

Paris, China, Jamaica, Disney – the options are endless.

I would recommend planning your race for the beginning of your vacation for a couple of reasons: You’ll arrive fresh and focused, you won’t be tired from sight-seeing or bloated from beach-side cocktails or endless buffets. Plus, after your race, you’ll feel accomplished and deserving of your vacation!

Feeling inspired? Hop onto a race search database and start exploring!

Charity Running

_MG_8900_finalDoing something good for a charity you care about is great. Training for a charity makes you feel good, and you feel like you are running for a purpose. This helps on those days when your personal motivation may be low. You’ll feel part of a community, and will make some running friends – which is great!

A word of caution: research the charity you are interested in training and fundraising for before you sign up. Some charities use 100% of the fundraising toward that cause, but sadly, many do NOT. If that doesn’t matter to you, don’t pay attention to this blog. 🙂

Personally, I feel far more passionate about fundraising when I know every dollar is going toward that charity’s mission. If you do too, read up on the organization, check reviews, and ask questions. Remember, charity wants your money, and so they may not be completely forthcoming about their numbers.