Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

The only bad runs and races are the ones we don’t learn from. That’s what I told myself around mile 9 of my goal race for the Autumn 2015 season. The race had not gone according to plan one bit, but I did the best I could to put one foot in front of the other as winds howled up and down the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t doubt there are many lessons from Sunday night’s race – both for myself and for you when your race doesn’t go well.

I went into race week nervous (that’s normal for me), but also fairly confident in my ability to achieve my goal: run between 1:25-1:26 at the Las Vegas Half Marathon. I was going into race week totally healthy – no aches, pains or injuries. And while everyone around me seemed to be fighting off colds or stomach bugs, my actions to obsessively avoid getting sick paid off. Weather looked to be excellent for race day – until it didn’t. As I got closer to race day, I began to pay closer attention to the weather, and reality was slowly sinking in: conditions for the race were going to be windy. And not just “oh hey, there’s a breeze” windy, but 20-40MPH winds, windy. The positive about the Vegas course is that it’s extremely flat, and is an out-and-back, so ideally head wind would at some point be tail wind. The negative thing about the course is very wide, open and empty between those huge casinos, leaving you very exposed.

I told myself to take the advice I’d give my runners: find the 1:25 pacer, tuck in behind the group and let them break the wind. If I could even the odds with the weather, I still had a shot at beating the clock. To keep my confidence up, I looked back over training – tempo runs in humid conditions where I’d knocked out 6:20-6:35 minute miles over rolling hills, telling myself I had to trust the work I’d put into this race. As I walked to the starting line from MGM Grand, I refused to let the heavy gusts of wind shake my confidence. I found some space to warmup my legs and settle my mind.

In the first corral, I easily found the 1:25 pacer. As we stood for final instructions and the National Anthem, I locked eyes with the 1:25 on his back, and told myself to never lose focus from that number. Match that pacer stride for stride, and crush that PR. My focus felt strong, and I was ready. The first mile was a beautiful 6:29. Perfect. I positioned myself well, and told myself to relax, stay strong and tall, and settle into my cadence. At around 1.5 miles in, I glanced at my watch because I felt like I was working a little too hard. My watch read 6:12 pace for that mile. To my confusion, the pacer wasn’t settling in and relaxing, but was continuing to push. Refusing to panic, (though I definitely felt a moment or so of it sweep over me), I knew I had two choices: stick with the pacer and allow the crowds to protect me from the wind, or settle back into my honest pace of 6:30s. I decided to run my own race, and the pace group slowly pulled further and further out of reach. I never saw the pacer again. So I had to abandon my plan, and my only real shot of a PR. I continued to push and fight for that PR, but the work I was doing to maintain those paces began to really concern me.

There were blocks where you felt like you were doing all you could to not move backwards, some blocks where a cross wind would push you around, and then tail winds that would suddenly propel you forward. The few dead blocks were heaven, and the rare chance to really breathe and get back to good and efficient form again. When I ran over the 10K mat, I knew I was on pace for a PR. I also knew that unless the winds stopped or were going to be at my back, at some point I was going to tank. I could feel it. I couldn’t get oxygen into my body efficiently with the winds and at some point, I was going to pay the price. Still, I told myself to hang on and keep pushing. Perhaps the winds returning wouldn’t be too bad. Wrong. I rarely curse while racing, but as we made a few quick turns up at the top of the course near Fremont Street and around mile 9-10, I remember vocalizing my exhaustion as the wind knocked me around. It was about that time where I felt my effort sustaining, but the number on the watch going up. I was working so hard, but my cooked legs weren’t full of pep and strong form, and my arms didn’t feel like the strong and powerful support I’d worked so hard to develop and carry me when I fatigue, but rather like limp noodles.

Around 10 miles into the race I crossed the mat in 1 hour and 8 minutes. A quick reality check between the head winds I had the entire final 5K, and how tired I was from battling for 10 miles – I knew then that a PR wasn’t happening. There was no way I could run a 5K in 19 minutes or less in those conditions. I’ll admit I wanted to cry and shout because I was so tired and so pissed off about the weather. I had put so much into this race. But I also told myself to take a quick step back and keep my perspective. If you stay healthy, you get another shot at your goals. One race isn’t the end of the world. Today was not going to be my day. It was also around this time that it began to rain. Cold, windy, and now rain. It was almost comical. It rains in Las Vegas about 21 days PER YEAR. And here I was, 5K from the finish wondering how today had gone the way it had.

Now it’s not like I was the only runner out there suffering. Everyone I passed or passed me was working so incredibly hard. There were no smiles, laughter, or jokes. It was all hard work. I thought about what possible goals the runners around me had set for this race, and how close they were to achieving them. So without really thinking, I switched over to coach mode. If I wasn’t going to PR, my finish time didn’t matter to me. I did my best to be positive and supportive. I figured there was so little positively out there, I’d do my best to add a little.

Upon crossing the finish line, I spotted a runner who had been with the 1:25 pacer with me at the beginning of the race and who had at the time of his surge in pace stepped with him. She finished within a minute or so of me. I walked over to her to say something positive to her for racing in tough conditions. It turns out the 1:25 pacer dropped a 5:55 mile for the second mile of the race – a pace faster than this runner’s 5K race pace. She was pissed. And rightly so. As a pacer it’s your job to run that designated pace. Of course a pacer is human and can make mistakes, but going from a 6:29 to a 5:55 is pretty ridiculous. The quick miles early on had cost her the race. Ironically we both pretty much had the same race time – we just got there differently.

As I walked through the long exit chute, my disappointment began to really creep in. As I wrapped myself in a Mylar blanket, two women came over to me. They had just finished the 10K, and wanted to tell me I looked strong as I finished, and was an inspiration in physique and speed. They were so positive and still smiling – even after running a 10K in the wind for almost 2 hours, that I had no choice but to smile and engage in conversation. Every time I wanted to turn inward and accept my disappointment, something or someone pulled me out. By the time I saw Chris and Kristen waiting for me, my mood was alarmingly happy – they had both expected me to show up looking defeated and in tears, and instead I was smiling.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

So if and when your target race goes poorly, remember two things: it’s okay to be upset and disappointed. If there was a mistake you made, learn from it. If the lesson is to simply roll with the punches with the things you cannot change – that’s a tough but valuable lesson to learn. The second is to hold your head high and walk away from the finish line as happy and proud as you can. Stay healthy, and there will be future races. And for every bad race, there will surely be some great ones.

It’s been a few days since the Half Marathon, and I am floored by how sore I was after that race. Not just my legs, but my arms and abs, too. The number at the finish line may be a far cry from my goal, but there is no doubt about how hard I worked out there. It’s a little humbling how beat up I was for a few days!

Acting and Racing Parallels

Corky_Fitness-2829finalflatwebDuring my assessment meetings, new clients usually ask how I became a coach and how that journey progressed. It’s no secret that I fell into running “later in life” (not until after college), and that until 2012, I made most of my income and spent most of my time focused on work and training as an actor. While that “career” is on the back burner (I still pick up auditions  and bookings here and there but I would say I am not actively pursuing it or paying my bills with my acting chops), there are a lot of tools, lessons learned, and industry similarities between acting and running/coaching. So today I thought I’d share how some of those skills cross over. You may find that perhaps your jobs, interests and hobbies also cross over a bit – and maybe this blog will even shed some light on that.

  • Runners obviously rely on their bodies to run and race. The skills developed while training for a race are similar to the rehearsals an actor would be in while learning choreography for a musical. While every race is different (weather, terrain, distance, goals), shows will vary in style, the size of the stage, athleticism and skills required, and obviously muscle memory. Like a marathoner out there knocking out 20 milers in preparation for race day, a dancer may spend hours per day learning and perfecting the choreography. With years of wearing the dancer and sometimes choreographer hat, I always think of my long runs as “dress rehearsals” for race day.
  • A bad rehearsal can make for a great opening night – and a bad long run can prepare you for a great race! Bad long runs can be extremely frustrating, but it’s better to iron out any kinks in practice and not on race day, and to learn from mistakes. Actors learn this lesson and don’t let it shake them.
  • Improvisation sometimes happens on the race course. Even an actor who is not improv-trained has had to improvise on stage at some point. When you need to go off script, it is perhaps the most spine-tingling, raw and risky moment you can have on stage. If you are a stage actor, you’ve done it and survived to tell the tale. Though we never want to improvise on race day, run races long enough and it will happen to you. Maybe your Garmin will decide to reset itself in the middle of a marathon, or something in your tummy suddenly feels terrible. Being able to stay mentally cool and improvise your original plan can save your race. Thankfully, us actors usually make really good improvisers in every other aspect of life – including races. I always tell my athletes that if/when something doesn’t go according to plan on race day, DO NOT PANIC.
  • Unlike acting, you usually get when you put into training. Things can certainly go wrong on race day, but there are few factors out of a runner’s control. As an actor, when you walk into a casting, all you can control is how you look that day, feel, and how prepared you are to sing, dance or act. Unfortunately, there are many more factors than talent that go into being cast. Costume size, height, age, how do you physically fit with the other cast members, voice, head shot, do you remind that casting director of an ex-girlfriend, do they happen to hate your wardrobe choice or song choice – being “prepared” only takes you so far. But in running, being prepared is so much of the success.
  • An actor’s body is her instrument. Her voice and body is the vessel in which characters come to life. When injured or ill, the performance or audition suffers. Having attended a music conservatory (one of the best in the country, actually!), vocal health was extremely important. Like that performer, a runner’s body is their instrument. Caring for it and tending to minor and major issues needs to be something the athlete is proactive about. I’d like to think that much of what I learned and was instilled in me as a vocalist and dancer has made me a wiser runner than I’d be without those years of becoming very physically self-aware.
  • Actors and athletes are both judged by appearance. In an audition, you’ll often feel eyes on you in the holding room, as your competition sizes you up. To be fair, we all know that looks are one of the factors in the casting process (as mentioned above). I’ve also found runners and their potential is often judged by how fit they are, or what they are wearing in a race. I’d be the first to admit that if a gal shows up in racing briefs, I expect her to be FAST. Personally, I don’t think I have any business wearing racing briefs – I stick to short racing shorts – as racing briefs, in my opinion, are for the folks out their smoking the competition. Then again, I have been smoked by gals in loose and long running shorts, and have left gals in racing briefs in my dust – so it goes to show that appearance can mean nothing. Sadly though, many runners are frequently told by other folks that “they don’t look like runners.” I hate that. I won’t rant on the topic here (I have a past blog dedicated to the topic), but I will say that runners are frequently judged by appearance.
  • As an actor, tech week is followed by performances. At some point, those performances come to an end. There may sometimes be some relief when a show closes, but there is almost always some sense of loss. A chapter (and paid gig!) has ended, and so the actor is often left saying “okay, no what?!” Runners experience something similar. Unlike the zaniness of tech week, we get a taper – though mentally the taper can feel like a mind fuck. Then race morning arrives, you are ready to rumble and finally put all that hard work on the line. Once you cross the finish line, that race is gone. Whether elated over a huge success or defeated by the race, there is usually that sense of loss and directionless wander.
  • Rejection is a huge part of acting. I’d guess that most actors have to attend 50-100 castings for every booking. That’s a lot of “no’s.” Actors either find a way to develop tough skin and embrace every audition, or they perhaps take it personally or begin to resent the process. There’s a reason why so many actors abuse substances or are in therapy – it’s tough! As a runner, the higher you set your goals, the greater the risk you’ll fail. While I can’t say I love rejection or failure, the rejection from acting has somehow made failure as an athlete easier to swallow. I don’t let it define me. Though it does definitely still sting.
  • Being an actor is quite possibly one of the hardest jobs out there. Not because you need to be a genius, or the greatest gift to mankind, but because so much of your “work” offers no or little reward. You are constantly in training and honing your craft (not cheap!), preparing and attending multiple auditions per day, all while finding a way to afford living in an expensive city, looking your best, and staying marketable. Training for an ambitious race goal, usually while juggling work, family/friends, and probably a half-dozen other things isn’t unlike being an actor. And the more seriously you take it, the more challenging it is. It takes a strong work ethic to be a competitive runners.
  • Sometimes you simply need a break. Acting can be exhausting. Luckily, there are usually “seasons” in the casting world. In theatre, for example, Spring is always really busy. Autumn can be really busy, too. A stage actor may get a little break from the grind in Summer and Winter – which are good times to hop into intensive classes or take a break and travel. Television actors deal with pilot seasons, commercials work in seasons with advertisers, and films shoot year round. Yes, as an actor, you could dabble in all fields and never get a break. The same is true for the runner. A runner may hop from cross-country season to into track, to marathon training or trail running – there is always something you can be training for. However, an “off-season” of some kind is always a good thing. It helps recharge the body, brain and focus. Don’t be scared to take an off-season – even if it’s just a few weeks.
  • Actors get to play all different kinds of roles, which is really fun and exciting. Runners get to train for and race all different kinds of races, varying in distance, terrain and goals. Both acting and running gives me the opportunity to constantly mix things up.

You may find that perhaps your hobbies and career have many similarities to your training, goals, and relationship with running. If you are in a running rut, looking at perhaps how you attack your job or hobbies and perhaps that will help.

Ultra Update

The weeks and months leading up to a big race are sometimes the most exciting months you can experience. It’s like waiting for potential college acceptance letters to arrive in the mail, or the anticipation of a birthday party or Christmas for a child. However, unlike those exciting events, the weeks leading up to a goal race include lots of training, hard work, and focus. There is no sitting back and waiting for the big day. Instead, you are actively pursuing your goals.

Two years ago, when I was training for the Back on My Feet 20 in 24, fear of the unknown drove me to train. Having never attempted a 24-hour race before, the unknown can light a fire of fear under one’s ass. You expect race day to hurt, to be hard, and to be something you are hopefully prepared for – thanks to your training. This time around, I know my weaknesses in this kind of race. Perhaps I should be even more scared this time around because now I know how badly I can fall apart, but I am strangely confident in what needs to be done between now and July 19th. I know I need to put in a lot of work, and instead of fearing the pain and fatigue, I welcome it. I welcome the challenge of staying focused and of playing with hydration and fueling. Instead of being driven by fear, and I am driven by redemption.

Two years ago I was training like a reckless runner. Slamming my legs on the track once per week, powering through tempo runs once per week, clocking 50-mile weekends, and peaking at 80+ mile weeks. My body was stressed too hard too frequently. Aches and pains became an issue, especially in my left ankle. I would ice it or rest it for a day, and then take it for a spin on the track. For my body, it was simply too much. This time around, I am not on the track and am not running many tempo runs. My fastest miles have been on par with my slowest at the Philly Marathon. I have realized and learned from my own experiences that if I want my mileage to comfortably hit 80-100 mile weeks, I simply cannot be running any of those miles hard. The lesson here is that if we learn from our mistakes, those mistakes are worth making.

While I still have eight weeks before the big day to make progress, there’s obviously the chance that between now and then some aches and pains could creep back in. However, as of the day this blog goes up, I feel pretty darn good. No ankle pain, no heel pain, and the IT band that sometimes acts up seems to loosen and relax a few miles into my runs. It has taken me a long time, but I am finally looking at the challenge of an Ultra like an Ultra runner – not a mid-distance or marathon runner. I am hoping that mental shift and change in training is what will make the difference.

I encourage you to try new race distances and new challenges, but to also realize that every distance and challenge presents its own unique problems, requirements, and adaptions in your physical and mental training. This can be exciting, fun and fresh. It also requires some caution, trial and error.

Marathon Mind-Games

elizabeth_corkum-5810web-320x444If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know that the journey is a mind game. While it’s a given that your body will scream for you to stop – no matter how great your months of training went – your head is what will make you or break you on race day.

Personally, I’ve had marathons in my past that rank as “best day ever,” and I’ve also had a few that count towards “worst day ever.” While for me the “worst day ever” has unfortunately always involved an injury or illness, it’s also always a mental struggle. Do I push through and just finish? Do I DNF? What’s smart? At the end of the day, the decision when injured is never easy.

On the “best day ever,’ marathon, the journey is still something of a mind game. Honestly, it’s the hardest mental test I can think – perhaps second to Ultra Marathons. Ultra Marathons are a completely different mind-game.

Here’s an example of a “good” race day:

Mile 3 – I feel awesome. I can go on forever!

Mile 6 – Man, I have 20 MORE MILES?

Mile 10 – My legs feel tired, but I CAN DO THIS!!!

Mile 13 – I’m only half way there?!?

Mile 15 – Come on, trust your training. This is LIVING!!! Remember, you love this!

Mile 17 – This sucks. Why did I think a marathon was a good idea? This is AWFUL. What other bad life choices have I made?!?

Mile 20 – Jesus Christ, how can I keep this pace for another 10k?

Mile 22 – Focus and get this shit done. You are stronger than this.

Mile 24 – Oh hey, this isn’t so bad! Man, I cannot wait to enjoy a nice cold beer as soon as this is done!

Mile 25 – Dear God, everything hurts and everything is tired. I just want to lay down and sleep.

Mile 26 – Total euphoria. THIS IS IT!!!! Focus is back in my eyes, as are sometimes tears. Push through and finish strong! This is the best moment ever!!!!!

Folks, in my experience, that’s often how a good day goes.

A bad marathon looks too scary to document. If you’ve been there, you know.

The good news is that if you train properly, the mental strength you’ve wielded and mastered on your long runs prepare you for your race morning mental challenge.

It’s funny, you always expect to feel physically spent after a marathon. You anticipate walking like a broken person, having limited range of motion, dealing with chafing and blisters, and having to rehydrate like a camel. The biggest shock to me, every time, is how mentally drained I am after the marathon. Your brain feels like mush, even when euphoric after succeeding at said goal. It reminds me of how I felt after taking the SATs or GREs. My brain feels completely drained.

So, if you are nervous about your looming marathon, you should be. It means you care. It also means you respect the marathon, and that you realize that a whole lot can happen within 26.2 miles. Take heart, your training is preparing you. And yes, on race day you will struggle to keep focused and to keep your brain in a positive place. But keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I promise you it won’t take long until your head shifts into a different space.

…For the love of it

DSC_0154I recently had a few clients voice that they always want to love running. That the minute running is something they start to resent, or even hate, it’s time to pump the brakes on their training. It’s often during this time in marathon training – about 10-8 weeks away from race day – where mentally it’s easy to start to burn out and lose focus. Let’s face it, pounding the pavement day after day for months can cause the most passionate running enthusiast craving a break.

My advice for my clients: try to find the fun in your training. Sometimes there are days where you just are not feeling it. When that happens, elect to ditch a day of “junk miles” here or there. The big mistake is ditching out on those long runs or tempo runs. Unless your livelihood depends on winning races, remember that you run because you WANT TO. Because you LOVE IT. If you suddenly don’t want to or don’t love it, maybe you need a break. BUT, if you are 8-10 weeks out from a goal race, try to take a step back and to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Tapering is in the near future, so focus on a week at a time, and your goal for race day.

After your race, take some time off. This is necessary for your body to heal, but it’s also necessary for your mind. The amount of focus, energy, and mental grit to push through a marathon is extremely taxing. Be kind to yourself.

If you don’t feel like getting back to running, find something else you love to do. Or only run and race 5Ks for a few months. Or add cross training.

It’s completely normal at some point to hit that point where you want to bail on a run or two, or to cancel race plans. Do what is right for you. Remember, you are human. No one is going to judge you, or be disappointed in you. Doing what’s best for your happiness is always what’s most important. If that means going for a run, do with with a smile on your face and a spring to your step.


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.