Post-Marathon Advice

corky_fitness-2642finalwsharpeningflatwebSo you just ran your goal race for the season, and are riding a high and eagerly filling your calendar for next year. First, congrats! It’s an exciting feeling to finish your goal race – especially a marathon. It’s also common to set new goals, get excited for the future, and get back out on the road to get back to work!

Relax. Rest. Recover. Most marathoners jump back into running or running hard way too soon after their goal marathon. I understand the excitement. And many runners get nervous they will lose the fitness they spend literally months building. The idea of taking a few weeks off sounds unacceptable. There’s a fun half marathon in a week or two. There’s that Turkey Trot – I can’t possibly miss it!!!! Yes. You. Can. You need to remember a few things after crossing that finish line. The choices you make in the few days/weeks following that goal race can have huge implications on your future as a runner. I know, you may feel decent. But that doesn’t mean your body is actually recovered. In fact, injury risk is extremely high after a goal marathon, and immune systems usually drop briefly. This is your prime opportunity to get sick. Or injured. And you may not feel injured until a few months from now.

It’s a blessing but also a curse to have so many races hosted every weekend. The feeling of missing out, skipping an opportunity, not running with friends – I get it. But it usually isn’t worth going and putting your body through stress when it isn’t ready. The consequences could mean being forced to stop running for a few months or even a few years. And don’t underestimate mental burnout. Your brain needs some time to rest, reset and be on board to train for your new and exciting goals.

Maybe now you are on board with the recovery for a few weeks, but not happy about it. Okay, here are a few tips and things you can do to enjoy this time while losing minimal fitness and staying active in the running community:

  • Volunteer or go cheer at upcoming races in your area.
  • Ease into some easy cross training a week or two after your marathon.
  • If you dealt with injuries during training, address them now. See a doctor or physical therapist. Address weakness, tightness, and habits. We all have them.
  • Revamp your nutrition and cut back a bit on all those carbs and focus on fruits, veggies, lean proteins – try new recipes and have some fun in the kitchen!
  • Maybe try yoga, pilates, and a weight training routine during your recovery.
  • Catch up on sleep, your social life and any projects that were on the back-burner while marathon training.
  • Throw a party to celebrate your achievement! You may inspire a few friends to run the next year.
  • When the dust settles, write about your race experience. What worked well, what was tough or a mistake, and be honest. Your running journey will adapt over time. Learn from each race.
  • When you ease back into running, do it with no pressure or expectations of time. leave the watch at home and go by effort and simply enjoy the miles.
  • Trust that your body will bounce back and loss in fitness will be minimal, while injury risk will be extremely low and your body and brain will be ready to dive back into working hard.

Congrats again on your recent achievements! Now recover. As I say to my athletes, the rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work. Now is the time to really embrace that process. I want you clocking happy, healthy, and strong miles for years to come.

Spring Fever

img_6789-edit-682x1024It’s been a hot second since my last blog post. I feel like I blinked, and we went from the end of 2015 to Spring 2016. My apologies, fellow runners and devote readers! I promise my posts will be back on track. There have been some big changes here – both personal and professional. If you are a New Yorker, you know that moving is perhaps the worst thing ever. Well, I’m happy to say I have found an amazing apartment, but am now in the downsizing and packing process. I am reminded when stress strikes to take a deep breath and go for a run. I always feel better. So if you are dealing with life stress, remember that 30-60 minutes to go clock some miles will always do your body, brain and happiness some good.

Anyway, enough personal stuff. Let’s get to the fun and the RUNNING!!!! As of May 1st, 2016, Coach Corky is a full-time employee at Mile High Run Club. This means you can find me on the schedule at least 15 classes per week. You can find me at both the NOMAD and NOHO locations, teaching all three classes – Dash 28, High 45, and The Distance.

Hopping into a full time position doesn’t mean Coach Corky Runs, LLC is slowing down at all. In fact, it’s that time of year where my athletes heading to Brooklyn Half Marathon are tapering, and runners with Autumn goals (RnR BK Half, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Philly Marathon) – I’m looking at you – are reaching out for training plans and one-on-one coaching. It is insanely busy in the best way possible! I am truly humbled by the humans I coach.

Aside from the coaching, this little lady has been getting her legs back to the starting line of some races! It’s been a process to regain speed after some serious time spent on Ultra Marathons, but I’ve successfully found my groove and podium again. In fact, in my first three races of 2016, I finished in the top 3. That streak obviously couldn’t last, and didn’t when I toed the line with 30,000+ runners for the Broad Street Run. While I missed my goal for my A race for Spring, I am trying to not beat myself up and take the advice I’d give my runners after a bad race – but that advice is easier to give than receive.

As you ease into your Summer training and Autumn goals, please be mindful of the importance of building base mileage. This is a very important step in training, and one we often gloss over as we are eager to jump into the intense work. Skipping this step can raise risk of injury. Base mileage for 3-6 weeks will lend itself well to your training and race day fitness.

Practice Makes Perfect

I am asked all the time if it is a challenge to coach others and still train for my own goals. Yes, it is. It’s very hard, and every decision I make affects my own training. Some weeks I am 100% selfless, and cancel my own training to run beside my athletes. Other times I try my best to find a balance, but even then it’s pretty tough. Would I change my job in order to protect my own aspirations? Nope. Not a chance. Being a coach is truly the best. And let’s face it, it’s not like I am sacrificing the potential to make it to the Olympic Trials.

However, I have recently had to luxury and good fortune to hop into a few races. Again, it’s rare that my weekend mileage isn’t determined by coaching or pacing. It has been a really nice treat to be back at the starting line. The two races I recently ran were used as practice as I work towards my own goal race, the RnR Vegas Half Marathon on November 15th. Going through the motion of race morning is fantastic practice.

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Post-race with some of my City Harvest Charity Team runners.

The first race of Autumn was the NYCRuns Squirrel Stampede 10K on September 26th. I am terrible at 10K races, and usually avoid them like the plague. But I had organized for some of my charity runners to run the race as practice for NYC Marathon, and figured I should run the race too. Turns out I won the race, breaking the tape for the first time in my life. Ever. I’ve won races before, but they never put the tape back out for 1st Female. That was really fun! I also won $100.00 – not enough to go pro! Ha! And I ran 6:36 minute miles, which was pretty much my goal for that day – lock in my hopeful goal race for RnR Half. The cherry on top of that day was cheering in and high-fiving friends, private clients and my charity runners as they finished. I was more excited for them than what I’d achieved. Turns out I ran a 10K PR that day, which is easy to do when you rarely run 10Ks! I’ve still run a 10K faster – in the middle of a 10 Miler. Funny how that works.

The second race was the Brooklyn Greenway Half Marathon on October 18th, My goals for this race were a little different and I had two goals: 1) run 6:50-7:00 minute miles – no faster! and 2) don’t abandon goal #1, especially if and when the lead females take off. I am happy to say I ran an average of 6:49s (so close to 6:50s!), and even when I was dropped from 2nd female to 4th female, I held back and never once pulled ahead or tried to break those runners. While the competitor in me was a little bummed to finish 4th female and 1st in my AG, I was also thrilled that I stuck to my plan. My weakness has often been going out too fast, and the last few years I have really tried to break that habit and when I’ve succeeded, it’s usually a great race.

Both races were pretty small, and I was alone on the course and barely able to see the runner ahead of me at times. Mentally, I find that tough. I also find it tough to run without music while folks fly by with their ear buds in, breathing heavily. But I tell myself in those situations that the mental focus it requires to stay calm and grind away at the course will be helpful, and hopefully in a large race I won’t need to mentally work quite so hard. However, in a large race there are other challenges. Racing is fun, and I want to find a way to get back to using races for some quality runs and fitness tests more frequently in the next year.

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

On deck, I am clocking 26.2 miles at the NYC Marathon with one of my clients. Then two weeks later, it’s RnR Vegas Half. That’s the big goal race. I know in order to achieve my goal time, I will need to be aggressive but smart. There will be some risk, and it may backfire. However, I am willing to gamble. I am willing to go out hard (not sprinting) and see what I can do. Worst case is I don’t achieve my goal time but learn something from my mistakes. Best case – I walk away with a cool new PR and a satisfying sense of achievement. No matter what, I will show up to do my best, leave it all out on the course, and try to walk away from the finish line with a smile on my face. This sport can really hurt and humble you, but I refuse to lose sight of my love for it.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answering NYC’s Questions

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

What are the best kind of running shoes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Runner and the Gym

img_6834-editIf you are avid runner, there’s a good chance that all you do is run – little or no time is spent stretching, weight training, or cross training. And let’s face it – when you are short on time, it’s common to only get done what feels necessary – for many of us that means those miles towards race training. The old school thought was that runners simply needed to run in order to improve. Some coaches and runners still practice that method, but many of us are fans of runners doing other things too. In this blog I am going to give you the rundown on why I as a coach and athlete am a fan in runners weight training, stretching and cross training. I am going to ask you to be open-minded and to remember that no two bodies are the same.

  • In order to improve as a runner, you must run. There is no real substitute for running, and so you will spend most of your training time pounding the pavement.
  • Runners often develop extremely strong bodies, but rarely balanced. This imbalance is often what leads to injury.
  • Running tends to tighten the human body’s hips, muscles, and sometimes compromises range of motion. Even if you don’t notice your range of motion changing, a tight hip may slightly change your stride, causing potential pain or problems anywhere in the body from your hip to your toes. We are rarely designed to be 100% even on both sides, and very few of us are ambidextrous. We usually favor one side of our bodies. When doing something extremely repetitive like running, those imperfections often come out.
  • Our arms counter our legs as we run, and can be a huge source of power and strength on the race course. Totally ignoring your upper body means your arms won’t be as strong as they could be, or in balance with our heavy, strong legs. Weight training and strengthening your body from the waist and up will give you the strength and power you’ll need for PRs.
  • Our arms and legs swing from our core. Ignoring your core (front and back) means you won’t have a strong anchor. With a strong core, your entire body will feel like a harmonious running machine. You’ll be less likely to sink into your hips, collapse your shoulders, and fall apart on the race course.
  • Weight training should work in harmony with your training. Lift heavy, 2-3 times per week, ideally on your hard run days, a few hours after your hard run. Be sure to refuel with a protein-dense snack after your workout.
  • Weight training your legs will give you power, and ideally balance your body. That forward motion with running doesn’t tax or legs evenly. Becoming strong all the way around will prevent injuries due to imbalance in strength.
  • Cross training is a great way to get in some active recovery. Swap in some time cross training (swim, bike, row, stair climb, elliptical) for an easy run day. Some time away from the pavement, while flushing out your legs is a great way to prevent minor aches and pains from getting worse.
  • Every runner is different. Some runners can simply go out and run, and never experience pain, injuries or weakness. Many of us, however, benefit from not only running, but instead focusing on total body strength and wellness.

Think of the big picture – not just this season. In a prefect world, you want to stay injury-free for decades of running.

How to Handle a Disappointing Goal Race

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Marathon 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting facts/choices made that day:

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

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

Run a Race!

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

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

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