Chafing Challenges

corky8

As marathon season is upon us, it’s the perfect time to discuss strategies to make those long runs and race day challenge as comfortable as possible. So, let’s talk about those unpleasant, sometimes unavoidable, casualties of running and racing long.

Let’s get nasty:

Blisters can plague you on marathon day, or on those long runs. There is often an easy fix for these painful buggers: running socks. Toss those cotton socks away. If you are still suffering from blisters after making the switch, keep an eye on your shoes. Are they old? Are they the right size?

Chafing. It can happen to anyone, and often occurs due to clothes rubbing against skin, or skin against skin. You wardrobe choice, body type, running form, sweat rate – there are many different factors. Personally, I chronically battle chafing on my sternum, from my sports bra band. I’ve also had it on my arms, from arm sleeves. Bodyglide can help ward off those painful patches of chafing, but in my experience it isn’t always full-proof. Step into the shower, and you’ll often find yourself shrieking!

Bloody nipples plague some male runners. Ladies, luckily this doesn’t happen to most of us! Bloody nipples are caused by the rubbing of your running shirt (more or less like chafing), leaving the nips extremely painful, and often bleeding. Bodyglide can help. Some guys will actually place band aids over their nips pre-race. As I understand it, the pain and recovery time is similar to chafing.

Have you encountered any other kinds of nasty running-related problems? Have you found a solution? Please share with the class!

Bursting at the Seams

IMG_2412Recently, rumors have flooded news feeds that the Boston Marathon is considering expanding the field by 9000 runners for the April 2014 race. Some people view this news as great, while others don’t want to see the race expand. I have considered in past weeks to blog about the constantly growing fields in marathons. On the heels of this recent Boston Marathon news, it seems like a good time to discuss this topic.

Anyone who knows much about marathoning knows that the Boston Marathon is the only annual marathon that requires time qualifying performances in a previous marathon. It’s also the most famous marathon in the world. Achieving a BQ (Boston Qualifier) is always an honor, sometimes a dream come true, and not possible for many middle-of-the-pack runners. The quest and hard work to achieve a spot in this famous race is something special. Besides qualifying, the only other way into the Boston Marathon is to run and raise money for a charity.

As someone who has run Boston, I can tell you that the experience on race day, having earned a spot that I worked extremely hard for, filled me with extreme pride and emotion. After all, earning something always feels rewarding. If anyone understands that concept, it’s the marathoner. Charity runners work hard – they train AND raise money – no easy task. For the record, IF there are 9000 additional spots, it has not been revealed if those spots will be open to more qualifiers, charity runners, or a combination for the two.

In recent years, many of the big five marathons have been giving more and more spots to charities. In order to accommodate these growing charity spots, race organizers have either reduced the amount of spots for non-charity runners, or added additional spots – causing race numbers to grow at a rapid pace. Charity spots often require a financial commitment of $2500-$5000 per marathon, with a percent going to the charity of choice and a percent (larger than most runners are aware!) going to the race organization. Yes, charities are incredibly profitable for race organizations. Don’t get me wrong, race organizations need to make a profit, and charities can be a great cause – but in future years will there be any spots left for non-charity, non-elite marathoners? The London Marathon is virtually impossible to get a spot in unless you run for a charity. It won’t be long before other organizations follow suit. I wonder if in the future runners will be able to acquire marathon spots without an elite status or a charity?

For many runners, signing up with a charity is a way fulfill a dream of running a marathon they may otherwise never be able to run. For example, the New York City Marathon, despite its massive race field (over 40,000 runners!) is next to impossible to get into through the lottery. Running for a charity may mean the ability to run the NYCM, or the Boston Marathon while never running close to a BQ.

My question: how much bigger can these big city marathons possibly get? Many are already bursting at the seams, barely able to accommodate the number of runners, and stressing the resources of the host cities. When is it enough? In the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon, security will be a huge concern at all of the big city marathons in future years.

It’s a wonderful thing that more people than ever are lacing up and training for marathons. What isn’t wonderful is the sense of entitlement that plagues the running community. After all, we runners take over cities for an entire weekend without much of a thought regarding how we affect the town or city we take over for the race. Perhaps it’s okay for there to be some marathons that aren’t for the “average Joe.” Frankly, I’m an “average Joe,” and shouldn’t be able to qualify for every race. Personally, if I could be qualified to run 90 out of 100 of annual marathons, and that meant we could all have a better experience, and reduce the stress on host cities, the medical and security resources – I’d be totally okay with that. And if I wanted to qualify for those remaining 10 – I’d train my butt off and set that as a goal.

I suppose what I am trying to address in this blog is the growth of the marathon, the stress on the host cities, and where is the future of marathon going? Obviously every race is as different as the course the runners travel from start to finish. Each city and race organization is different. My hope is that marathons stop becoming over-crowded (for safety reasons and for the sheer enjoyment of the runners!), and that the financial incentives for race organizations doesn’t trump the race experience and safety issues.

I hope that unless they come up with some genius plan, the BAA won’t change the number of participants for 2014. The race from Hopkinton to Boston is on a road that realistically isn’t big enough to handle an additional 9000 runners – unless they add a fourth wave, perhaps? Part of the charm of the race is the journey through the Boston suburbs, as locals cheer, hand out water and offer high-fives. This past year, there were still spots open for qualifiers after the registration dates past – meaning that EVERY runner who had planned a qualifying time by the registration date got their spot – and registration stayed open for an additional week! Therefore, is it necessary or smart to change the iconic Boston Marathon in order to accommodate an additional 9000 runners?

I understand how financially enticing an additional 9000 runners could be – especially if those go to charity spots. And I also understand how runners all across the world, speedsters and average-Joe’s alike felt this past year’s tragedy pull at their heartstrings. I get it. But I also hold the Boston Marathon in my heart as a very special race, a race that is somewhat exclusive, and a privilege that is earned. After all, it’s the Boston Marathon.

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.

Know Thy Course

997725_10101358484902303_210800078_oI recently paced my sister in a Half Marathon (her first race ever!), and you experience a race very differently when pacing than you do when racing.

One thing that I noticed: many runners on the course didn’t know the race course! They listened carefully to my advice I was spewing out to my sister, to keep her prepared for what was next. Many, when faced when an unexpected hill, would completely crumble.

Yes, ignorance can sometimes be bliss, but as a runner, ignorance is just plain dumb and poor planning. If you have a goal race, regardless of distance, STUDY that race course!!!!! There are NO EXCUSES for not knowing the course (race websites will have it posted, and you can always look up info), and it is for your benefit. The only time you won’t know the elevation may be on a new race course, though a map and mile markers will still be available to study.

As my sister and I turned the corner around the 12.5 mile mark, and were faced with a long, hard hill (longer than Heartbreak Hill, for example), runners around us stopped, walked, sighed, doubled-over, and gave in to the race course. If they had done their research, they may have still struggled physically, but mentally they would have been prepared.

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!

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.