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

11205146_10153338298619048_3594191690928431113_n

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.

Body Image in Athletics

img_6222-editPeople come in all shapes and sizes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s often an odd transition viewing yourself as an athlete, but I ask all my clients to do so. When you slightly change your perspective of yourself, you’ll view your nutrition choices, sleep, training, priorities, and life differently. I find this shift is extremely important for folks who struggle with nutrition/weight and with time-management and sleep. Instead of viewing food as “good” or “bad,” you start to think about your training, and what choices will properly aid you in pre-run fuel, post-run recovery, or general nutrition. Suddenly you won’t feel “bad” about a food choice, because your perspective of you as a human being will be different. The same is true with sleep – you’ll suddenly be aware of how it’s an important component of training – and that if you want to train harder and improve, you’ll need to get more Zzz’s.

I remember when I personally went through the shift, and how I finally felt settled and had an “identity” as far as food goes. I’ve been pretty open about my relationship with food and body image in the past, and I know I am not the only person who has struggled with it. But running and training for challenging race goals gave my body a purpose, a hunger for achievement, and I became excited and dedicated to doing what it took to morph my body for those goals. I too referred to myself as “not a real runner” for a long time – dismissing my involvement in this sport because I wasn’t professional, fast, or taking it seriously.

Over the last 5 years, my body has changed a lot. There have been years where I was curvier, years where I was rail-thin and friends voiced concerns, and years where I have been muscular with relatively low body fat. My size has swung from 6-0 and everywhere in between, and changes depending on what I am training for, how hard I am training, and honestly how I am feeling. There are some months where all I want to do is eat, and I need to pull myself up off the couch and into the gym or the park. There are other months where I feel so motivated and energized, I forget to eat and am struggling to take in enough calories. As you can imagine, this changes my body. And though I hate to admit it, it changes how I feel about myself.

What’s interesting is how I am perceived – often by strangers, casting directors, acquaintances, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I must always look “athletic,” because the topic usually comes up in conversation. I have had casting directors and the like ask if I am a gymnast, yogi, dancer, Pilates instructor, CrossFit activist – the list goes on. Ironically, few guess “runner.” Perhaps, to be fair, this is because runners come in all shapes and sizes. But to hear “Really? You don’t look like a runner -” it somehow feels like a stab in the gut. I usually am quick defend myself, saying I am not a sprinter (so I am not rocking large powerful muscles and very low body fat), and I am also not an elite middle or long distance runner – folks who are often associated with looking unhealthy, waif-like, and gaunt. Here’s the thing: while I am indeed a runner, I am not a professional athlete. Folks expect to see the stereotype on magazines, winning marathons or track events – not the folks who are “better than average” but also are not training full-time.

I assume if I struggle with being judged, and often have to defend my body and my choices, that other folks out there do too. Unfortunately, females are judged based on how they look before they can even open their mouths. And while I shouldn’t assume this is only a female thing, being female myself, I can only speak for the ladies.

To the folks who judge – I say go watch a race. You will see all body types cross that finish line – 5K through Marathon. You will see the elite runners you expect us all to resemble, you will also see body types doing amazing things that will honestly catch you by surprise. Don’t judge, be inspired. After all, they are the ones training and clocking miles while you sit there on your ass and point a finger.

And while some folks are probably not aware that making assumptions or judgements about a person’s body and sport can be hurtful, we should all remember to think before we speak. It’s the same with fat shaming, or assuming someone’s life is easy because they look like our idea of a “model.” You have no idea how hard someone might work for their sport, or to maintain a healthy weight. You also probably don’t know how hard that person has worked to achieve where they are today.

Being an athlete is hard. It’s a huge time commitment, which makes it a big part of your identity – whether you realize it or not. Wear that identity with pride. Train for your sport and your body will reflect your hard work, and hopefully give you the result you want. There is no perfect body or size. What’s perfect for you is what will help you achieve your goals and feel your best. If I was told gaining 10lbs. would make me faster and set crazy PRs, I’d be the first in line to pack on those additional pounds – assuming it wouldn’t hurt my health, of course. Sadly, that’s not true. Your body is your tool in this world, and we are only given one. What we do with it is our choice.

Recently when given the whole “Really? You’re a runner?!” response, I carefully explain that indeed I am – and that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and their bodies will usually be different depending on the distance and pace one runs. I figure if I cannot stop that awkward comment from arising, perhaps I can educate the person asking and they’ll think twice before assuming something about body types in the future. And for the record, I have never taken one yoga, Pilates, CrossFit or gymnastics classes – so all of those guesses are WRONG. Go figure, right? And while I used to be a dancer, it has been a few years since I have been in class. Again, proof that many snap judgements are totally off-base. I am ever going to look like Shalane Flanagan? Nope. Am I ever going to be as fast as Shalane Flanagan? Nope. And that’s OKAY!!!!!

I hope if you are struggling with your own relationship with food, body image, weight, or role in your sport that you are kind to yourself. Don’t let a stranger’s uneducated opinion sway how you feel. And if you are looking to become lighter and leaner, remember that there is no quick fix – it’s a process. You don’t owe anyone anything. But you do owe it to yourself to be happy in your skin.

Training Specificity

img_6298-editWhen planning your running season, it’s tempting to choose a bunch of varying goals. I love when runners have an array of goals and events. The challenge is often spacing them out in a way that is safe and realistic. Most of us are running for personal glory or fun, not a qualifying time or prize at the finish line. However, it can become quite hard to plan a season when it involves broad goals.

I LOVE when runners come to me with a variety of goals: PRs in the 1 mile and Half Marathon within the year, for example. Are those two VERY different goals? Absolutely! Will they need different kinds of preparation? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Here’s the thing: the better you want to get at one distance, the more you need to structure your training for that goal. Specificity and reason for training become crucial when targeting a goal. But when you have multiple goals, it’s often necessary to slightly release on the gas for that first goal in order to accommodate the other goals. Many times you will be successful at nailing multiple goals if they complement one another.

For example, say you really want to focus on the 5K this year and want to shave down some considerable time. Placing some 10K races or 1-mile races into the calendar can be of benefit to that 5K goal, all while having fun and going out to race. The bonus is that you may find you also PR in the 1-mile and 10K, because the speed training for a 5K will probably benefit those distances, too. But trying to PR a 5K in the same season you want to tackle a 100-miler – now that’s where things get tricky. For one thing, injury risk will usually go up when you start combining very high mileage and speed workouts into every week. Not that it can’t be done, but for many of us these waters are hard to navigate.

The important thing for most runners to keep in mind and think about is how to achieve their goals while staying healthy, and to list which races are the priority that season. If you stay healthy, perhaps some goals need to be held off for the following year. We need to remember to look at the big picture: races will be there. You can be too, if you don’t do something stupid and put yourself on the injured list.

This is often where a coach comes in handy. It also becomes necessary to be honest with yourself. You know how you recover. You also know if your body naturally prefers certain distances or types of training over others. You should use your years of experience to help access and navigate what’s best for you. Take a look at the entire calendar year, and be sure to budget time for rest and recovery before hopping into training for the next goal the minute to cross the finish line.

5 Things You Should Expect from Your Coach and Your Coach Should Expect from You

img_6834-editWhen considering hiring a running coach, there are a few thing you should expect of that coach, and a few things your coach will expect from you. To help you on your running journey, I am outlining 5 things you should expect from your coach, and 5 things your coach should expect from you. Every coach is different, but I think for your running season to be a success, it’s a good idea to understand what you are getting into and what you should expect from your coach.

5 Things You Should Expect from Your Coach:

  1. A clear training plan. This plan should be built for you and your schedule, goals, time, etc. The plan should be easy to understand and follow. If there are terms and paces you do not understand, your coach should be educating you along the way. There should be a purpose for every run, and you should know what that purpose is – time on your feet, active recovery, threshold pace, etc.

  2. Support. Your coach is there to support you and hold you accountable. Your coach should be pushing you towards your goals, with workouts and recovery that fit your needs. Your coach should be someone you can confide in, be honest with, and trust. The kind of support you are looking for and will receive is important. Some runners want a very authoritative figure, while others want to be coddled a little, and want a coach they can view as a “pal.” Be honest about what you need and want, and who can fill that role as a coach.

  3. Credentials. You should expect your coach to know their shit. Basic credentials are a given – including certifications, personal experiences in racing, and a resume of work. Your coach should always be striving to learn more, maintain their credentials, and in an ideal world, be adding news ones to their list. If your coach doesn’t know anything about tapering, strength training, or perhaps hydration – you need to look elsewhere. After all, you are trusting this professional with your body, time and money. You wouldn’t go to a doctor who didn’t understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, right?

  4. Motivation. Your coach should be someone who can pick you up when you are feeling down. After a bad workout, a nagging ache or pain, a lack of motivation – your coach should be your cheerleader, voice of reason, and positive resource. There will be times a coach needs to have “the talk” about race day goals that aren’t in the cards (injury issues, sub par training), and those conversations truly suck. But your coach will also be the person who will push you to reach for a higher goal, remind you of all the hard work you’ve put in, and be the voice of reason when we doubt ourselves. It’s fascinating how one or two bad workouts will lead a runner on a downward spiral, questioning everything, while months of fantastic training leaves many runners feeling okay, but never really celebrating their milestones. Your coach will always be on your team.

  5. Success. Success can come in different shapes and sizes, and perhaps your big goal when sitting down with your coach on Day 1 won’t happen that first year. Or perhaps your goal will change – which is totally fine! Success may be: running pain-free, accomplishing a new race distance, lowering your previous personal record, qualifying for a race like Boston Marathon, learning to love to run, fixing running form or nutrition habits, losing weight, enjoying a new hobby – these are all different goals. Time goals are the hardest to achieve, because in order for that goal to happen, the athlete will need to feel 100% on race day, and run a smart and strategic race. The role of the coach will be to keep the athlete as injury-free, well-balanced, and fresh for race day. The coach will also be expected to discuss race day strategies, pacing, fueling, and how to adjust if things don’t go according to plan. The minute that gun goes off, the race is entirely in the hands of the athlete, not the coach. If a goal falls short, the coach and athlete should figure out why, learn from it, and figure out the next step.

5 Things Your Coach Should Expect from You:

  1. Communication. When a coach sends out training, they will only know how it went, how it felt, etc. if you the athlete communicates this. When a coach gets little or no response, they will assume one of two things: training is going so well that the athlete is too busy to send a quick email, or: training isn’t happening or is going poorly, and the athlete is ashamed to tell you. As you may guess the more common reason is the second.

  2. Respect. You hired your coach because this is their filed of expertise, and the presumably know more about it than you.You need to respect your coach’s reasons, training, advice, etc. If and when you question the plan, advice, etc. – ask your coach for clarifications. Making an executive decision to change or simply not do something will often sabotage the plan and end goal. An open dialogue goes a long way. A reasonable coach will be happy to explain, discuss and clarify their reasons, and usually be open to alternatives if they make sense.

  3. Hard work. Your coach expects you’ll do the training. After all, you came to them for help and goals. You cannot cheat your way through marathon training. I’ve tried it. No good. And I’ve had clients do it, and it makes for a VERY long day out there on the course, and unnecessary aches and pains. While you can cheat your way through training for shorter distances, your performance probably won’t be what you set out to achieve. Without the work, progress won’t happen. There are times when training won’t happen – sickness, schedule, injury, lack of motivation – and these are normal obstacles. Your coach can help you navigate around them, modify for time off, etc. Ditching your training in secret will leave you feeling bad and unprepared for race day, and your coach will be frustrated.

  4. Reliability. Your coach expects your work to happen. When hiring a coach for one-on-one time, your coach is etching out a block of time in their schedule for you. A bad night’s sleep, sick, poor choices (eating too late or out the night before with friends), the weather – these are the most common reasons a runner will cancel or ask to change their session. Asking your coach to change your time, hold multiple slots, or cancel last-minute isn’t considerate. For your coach, this is a business. You wouldn’t call a restaurant and ask them to hold three varying reservations when you only intend to use one, correct? That restaurant will lose money operating that way, and so will your running coach. Just because you don’t want to run in the rain or your schedule changed last-minute, doesn’t mean your coach’s other clients would be happy to take that time – rain, sickness or otherwise. Every coach will have different policies on scheduling, and every coach will have different flexibility, but just be considerate of their time.

  5. Feedback. After a race, hard workout, etc – feedback is necessary for moving forward. Some runners will find they absolutely love and/or hate certain workouts. With that communicated, the coach can swap in/out workouts the runner likes and responds to. The same is true with a race – go back to the drawing board and see what adjustments can be made. No two humans are alike, and the same is true for runners. Most coaches love this challenge and really put a lot of time and effort into fine-tuning each athlete’s needs. However, the relationship between coach/runner is a two-way street, and so open communication and feedback is the core of a successful season.

Frigid Weather? Tips for Training

conditions1Winter training can be tough. It’s dark, cold, and icy. Some Winters are easier than others. Last Winter was a real doozy, and this Winter is shaping up to be pretty darn challenging too. As a coach, I am constantly checking the forecast. I keep hoping I’ll see a week where we break out of the single digits or teens for the low, but week after week my hopes are crushed. I keep thinking we need to have a “warm spell” here sometime soon where we stay above freezing or at least around freezing for a week. No luck. And add the wind chill to some days, and it’s enough to feel completely defeated.

Runners, I hear you. At times I’ll say “suck it up.” After all, I didn’t force any of you to sign up for a Spring Marathon, or to set training goals during the Winter. If you want it, you need to work for it. However, I also can totally sympathize. When it is truly painful to be out there day after day, it’s easy to lose focus. Especially if you are battling icy conditions and constantly moving your training to accommodate the most recent storm.

So what can you do? I have a few tips that may help you power through the next few weeks. And hopefully at some point we’ll get a break.

  • You cannot change the weather, so don’t fight it. If you can move your training around bad weather, do so. If you cannot, get creative.
  • Running in extreme cold, snow and ice can actually be fun – as long as you are safe and keep your time out there to a minimum. In ice or snow, wear YakTrax and/or be careful. Abandon any pace goals and simply enjoy your run. In extreme cold, be mindful of how long you are out there and if body parts go numb or become painful.
  • Take your training inside. Perhaps you can swap out a run for a cross training day, or run intervals on a treadmill.
  • Avoid routes that are not cleared. In Winter conditions, some side walks, roads and running paths are commonly cleared, while others are last priority.
  • Be aware of wind chill, and stay away from large bodies of water or exposed routes. Protected routes from the wind will be warmer than routes out in the open or along rivers.
  • If you schedule allows it, run at the warmest time of the day. Even if it’s bitter cold, some sunshine can lighten your spirits and make it easier to see any ice ahead.
  • Refuel with something warm. I’m a fan of hot chocolate, or hot tea with a snack. Drinking cold water will only make you feel colder.
  • Avoid cotton at all cost. I’m am totally a fan of being a runner on a budget, but running in cotton during Winter is a major n0-no.
  • Get out of wet running gear and into something warm and dry or a hot shower ASAP.
  • Make your cold miles more enjoyable by running with a buddy or listening to music. You probably know other dedicated Winter warriors.
  • Don’t panic if your training gets slightly sidelined. If you need to swap in a rest day or cross training day for your “easy” runs, it’s not a huge deal. Focus on accomplishing your “quality runs” and consider that a success.
  • Remind yourself that at some point, weather will improve. Take it a day or a week at a time. Try not to despair because April seems so far away.
  • The odds are that other runners are struggling too. You are not alone. But the ones with big goals are digging deep and getting their miles done – one way or another. When you line up next to them for your race, they will have the edge. Either accept your modified training, or dig deep and be that person on the starting line with the edge.

Self-esteem and Expectations

80878c12b0a0c28265093158861948c8This week I’d like to talk about body image. While many of my clients are driven by race-day goals, PRs, and breaking through their athletic barriers, I have some clients who are also driven by toning up, feeling confident in their skin, and sometimes simply dropping pounds – ranging from 10lbs. to 50lbs. While I absolutely love helping my clients with their goals, sometimes my heart breaks for those who they compare themselves to or how bad they feel about themselves. Having a client want to lose 15lbs. by next week is like having a new runner expect they can race a 5K tomorrow – it’s unrealistic. Not to say those goals aren’t achievable, they may absolutely be, but tomorrow. Change takes time.

I am a firm believer that everyone deserves to feel good in their own skin – and is capable of achieving that. For some of us, it takes longer than others. One thing that often sabotages folks is their expectations. And who can blame them – we are bombarded by “standards” every single day. Thanks to Hollywood’s standards, our concept of beauty, aging, and fitness are completely unrealistic. Courteney Cox, Marisa Tomei, Sandra Bullock, Demi Moore – do these look like 50-year-old women in your life? Nope. Not unless you live in Miami or LA. Yet that’s a standard thrown upon us and one we assume upon ourselves. We are dooming ourselves to fail.

Personally, my self-esteem finally changed when I stopped reading tabloid magazines and watching Hollywood-related news. I couldn’t let go of the images I’d see, and the “secret diet” of some star. Or watching celebrity after celebrity in interviews or on the red carpet credit their genetics and a healthy lifestyle for their appearance. I call bullshit. They should be thanking the folks truly responsible for their appearance: their personal trainers, nutritionists and chefs, makeup and hair stylists, dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons. I don’t doubt some have good genetics, but good genetics alone aren’t responsible for most of what we see – or are told we should try to attain.

So if you are struggling with your goals and your self-esteem, please be kind to yourself. We cannot change Hollywood standards, but we can change our expectations of ourselves. Compare yourself to you, and no one else. Mark your progress by you and your starting point, no one else’s. Once you let go of all that pressure, success is that much closer.

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.