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.

Heating Up

DSC_0350A few tips and reminders regarding running in the heat:

It take a few weeks for your body to acclimate to heat/humidity, so be patient and sweat it out.

Be prepared for your effort to produce a slower time than it would have in cooler weather. Don’t obsess over the number on your Garmin.

Gage your workouts on effort, instead of the numbers for a few weeks. You know what your 5K effort or Half Marathon effort feels like. Get your eyes off the watch.

Hydrate well before your run. Like I have mentioned before, you need to hydrate days/hours before a long or tough effort. Running in the heat is tough, especially for long runs or speed work. Drink often before your run.

Take hydration breaks during your run, but only small sips. Gulping water will leave you with a sloshing, unhappy tummy. If you go into the run hydrated, a few sips can keep you satisfied until your post-run refueling.

Refueling with gatorade or a beverage option with electrolytes will help you recover quickly. Bananas can also help ward off muscle cramps, thanks to potassium.

Wear light colored clothes, and be prepared to potentially chafe more as you sweat more.

Sun glasses and a visor can help protect your eyes and face from sunburn, harmful rays, and swarms of bugs.

Plan your runs around the weather, when possible. Summer storms often pop up quickly, and the heat index can be a helpful tool when trying to avoid sweltering temperatures. If you can get out there in the morning or evening, your body will thank you.

Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These can spring up quickly, and when least expected. Look out for other runners, as you may end up helping someone who becomes sick.

Embrace the heat and sweat. There’s no avoiding it, so learn to love it.

Stretch It Out

I was recently requested by a friend of mine who is new to running to write a blog about stretching. Since I am here to help, I am happy to write a blog that will hopefully help and clarify your stretching needs and questions.

Runners often lose flexibility. This is because the activity doesn’t require a huge range of motion, and as your muscles, ligaments and tendons adapt and strengthen for running, they shorten and tighten. Interestingly enough, being super flexible can actually be problematic for runners, since loose and flexible body parts can lead to injury. Think about it, there isn’t the tightness/strength that tightness provides. Being too tight isn’t good either, as rang of motion can become limited and can lead to injuries too.

The happy medium? Stretch, but don’t go overboard. Forcing flexibility is never good, and is especially bad for runners. I have clients to swear by incorporating pilates and yoga into their weekly training – which is awesome. However, if you are in a yoga class five days a week AND running, you may need to be careful.

For those of us who are not avid yogis or dancers, here’s my advice for maintaining flexibility and keeping those legs mobile.

Always warm up before your run. If your run is easy, the run itself is enough of a warmup. If you are doing speed work, get those legs moving slowly for 5-10 minutes first. You do NOT need to stretch pre-workout. Some coaches/trainers believe stretching pre-workout is actually dangerous. Just food for thought.

Post-workout, cool down with a jog if you were running hard. Again, if you were running easy miles, a cool down is not necessary. Get in the habit of stretching as soon as you finish your run, as muscles will cool and tighten quickly.

Target stretching these major muscle groups: quads, hamstrings, IT band and calf muscles/Achilles. If you need advice as to HOW to stretch, I suggest looking online, or I can answer that for you.

Don’t over-stretch. It shouldn’t be excruciatingly painful. Hold stretches for about 30 seconds, and do not forget to breathe!

While stretching, this is a good time to get some protein into your body. Refueling ASAP will help those muscles recover quickly, and can help ward off soreness. I’m a fan of chocolate milk or Greek yogurt. (See my previous post on Refueling!)

**** If you find you have pain in one spot (one hip, for example), you may need to pay attention to your running form, and potentially see a PT. Sore pain, which occurs after working hard and building muscle is a very different kind of pain compared to a tight IT band, hip pain, etc.

Coping with Burnout

Models: Pipko and Jasmina, Assisted by Jesse Rosenthal and Andrea HeapBurnout often comes from setting goal upon goal – and before you know it months (maybe years!) have gone by, and at some point you just don’t want to run. This is normal. Especially if you often train for the same distance, or the same annual races, and have little physical or mental change.

Take comfort in knowing that what you are going through is totally normal. Also tell yourself that maybe some time off from running will help. Whether you take a few days, weeks, or months, this time off is important. if you try to power through for the next six months, things often get worse. Taking the break NOW means you will come back mentally and physically recharged and refocused, and unless you stop all exercise, your fitness will not suffer much.

Find something else that you enjoy to do with your time. Yoga. Beach Volleyball. Swimming. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be active. Arts and crafts. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Just do something that mentally excites and interests you.

If you loved running before, you’ll love it again. And if you are worried about that hopeful PR on the horizon, relax. Autumn Marathon warriors still have plenty of time to take a break, and still build base mileage before the hard work begins. Remember, your training plan does not have to fit into the cookie cutter 16, 18, or 20 week sizes, though they certainly are popular. Adjust for what you need in order to get to the starting line mentally and physically ready to race. Perhaps a break from running is just what you need.

Them Feet

My babies.

My babies.

Let’s face it, runners rely on their feet for a lot. I remember once having nice, pedicured, lovely feet. Ah, those were the days.

It’s been years since I’ve rocked a french pedicure, or one that laster very long. These days I wear shoes for comfort and support, not for cuteness. The amount of sexy heels I have that spend most of their time in my closet instead of on my feet is probably a sin to most girls. But runners know: your feet are necessary to do what we do. We try to be “kind” to them, but at the end of the day we beat the crap out of them.

There are a few things we can do to protect and pamper those pavement-pounding puppies. First, let’s prioritize our shoes. Buying shoes because they are cute or on sale is a bad idea. Your poor feet don’t care what color or price the shoes you lace up is, but they do care about aches and pains. Buy shoes that are correct for your feet. Just because one brand works for your friend doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. Your feet are unique to you.

Keep track of your mileage, so you have a rough idea of when you should be replacing shoes. Most good shoes (not racing flats, btw), last 400-500 miles. Personally, I’m a fan of having 2-4 pairs of running shoes in rotation at all times, so that my body never “settles” and forms habits based on one shoe style.

When traveling and remaining stationary, compression socks may help your feet and ankles. My ankles and feet swell on long car rides and flights, thanks to very low blood pressure.

Ladies, avoid those cute shoes that have zero arch support. If you have plantar issues, it may be due to the shoes you are wearing when not running. High heels don’t do your feet or calf muscles any favors either.

Soaking your tootsies in warm water and/or Epsom salts can also help.

Keep your toe nails short. If they get too long, they can actually cut into your toes on long runs.

And, for God’s sake, do NOT run in cotton socks. Blisters are painful, and can cause infection. If you run under 30 minutes at a time, you might get away with cotton socks. Try cotton socks on a 15 miler in summer, and you will be in trouble. Am I clear on my view of cotton socks? Good.

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.

Bouncing Back

Liz Corkum 322Most runners and athletes will experience injury. Statistically, over 50% of runners deal with injuries every year. Injuries are hard to deal with, perhaps harder mentally than physically. Most runners don’t want to take time off, and will find pretty much any excuse to continue training. Coming back from time off is tough, but often time off is the answer.

Personally, I can relate to struggles with injuries. Taking time off mentally is hard. I find myself in fear of how much fitness I’ll lose, how hard it will be to come back, and often questioning whether I can be as strong as I was before the injury.

Once getting the green light to train again, the journey back is slow. What used to feel incredibly easy is suddenly extremely difficult. Have faith, it will get better. The key is to be patient with the process, and to remember that your body and mind need time to adapt after time off.

If you are like me, you will find the process of coming back extremely frustrating. However, when I feel angry, I remind myself that without the hard work, I can’t magically get back to peak performance. So, if you are also struggling to get back into peak performance, remind yourself to be patient, work hard, but also rebuild your training wisely.

Lying Machine

_MG_9072_finalIf you have been watching your calories, sweating hard at the gym, and left scratching your head because of little improvements, here’s something to consider: the machines at the gyms are lying.

Cardio equipment make us feel good as we see how many calories we have burned as we sweat away and watch tv at the gym. Here’s the problem: cardio equipment doesn’t give you an accurate count of calories burned. If you are taking the number on the machine as your factual calories burned, I have bad news.

When hopping on cardio equipment, you can enter your age and weight on the machine. Here’s the problem: there are a lot of factors that machine ISN’T asking you. Your sex, hight, body fat, fitness level – those are factors that the machine doesn’t consider. Even the heart rate monitor can be wrong.

Don’t lose faith. You can find tools to more accurately calculate your cardio burn. Remember, knowledge is power. If you don’t know your numbers, you may be consuming more calories than desired. Still confused? Contact your coach or personal trainer.


img_6627-editsmallEvery person I know is reaching to be better. A better human being, better at their job, better at their hobbies, better at their sport. This desire to work to the next level and reach to a new achievement is something that drives us.

As someone reaching towards a fitness goal, the goals often change and grow as soon as the previous goal was achieved. Searching for excellence in ourselves makes us want to work harder, and test our personal best.

Whether your goal is to run a 2:30 marathon or to climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air, you need to be realistic about your goals (within reason), so that you don’t injure yourself. However, in order to achieve our best, we often need to push outside of our comfort zone.

Everyone’s goals will be different, and everyone has different naturally abilities and potential. Try to focus on you, and your potential, instead of comparing yourself to the girl at the office, the man at the starting line, or Olympians. You are competing and comparing yourself against yourself from the past. Don’t let anyone else intimidate you or talk you out of your potential and your dreams.

I encourage you to set big goals for yourself, and to find safe, exciting ways to potentially achieve those goals. Life is short, so why not start on that bucket list event or goal now? You are stronger than you think you are. Let’s get you there.

Staying Focused

©DARIO_ACOSTA_PHOTOGRAPHY-22It’s easy to get excited about new fitness goals. However, for most people that enthusiasm dies somewhere down the road. The gym after New Years is packed for 4-6 weeks, and then many resolution exercisers give up, get bored, lose focus, get injured, or face frustration.

Are you one of those people? If you are, you are not alone. Like we say in the marathon community, the marathon is mostly mental. Regardless of your physical goals, your mental focus is going to be trained along with your body.

What will work for you? Sadly, there is no one way we all tick. For me, signing up for races, and setting goals for those races keeps me on track. I know that if I want a chance at my goals in the future, I am going to have to put in the hard work. I also keep running photos of myself enjoying a race, fighting through fatigue, and other visual reminders around my apartment. Writing down my workouts as I complete them on a calendar I made with recent race photos also helps. I am reminded of how much I love my sport, even on those days when I’d rather not train.

Find positive things you can use to motivate yourself. Tell friends and family about your goals, and they can hold you accountable. Find a gym or training buddy. Rely on your coach – after all, part of your coach’s job is to keep you focused and on track.