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.

Back on My Feet: Road to 100

After my 68 miles and out of the medical tent, with Chris.

After my 68 miles and out of the medical tent, with Chris.

After a whole lot of thought and consideration, this coach has decided to attempt a second go at the Back On My Feet 24-Hour Ultra. There are a bunch of reasons why I am taking a second go at it, and why I’ve decided this is the right year to do it.

Here’s a little back-story, in case you have no idea what I’m taking about: In July 2012, I attempted the 24-hour Ultra with the goal of achieving 100 miles. Yes, that’s pretty darn insane. Yes, it requires a lot of training. And yes, even under the best conditions, 100 miles is a LONG day at the office. If you’d like more details about my first experience with the Back On My Feet race, here is the blog I wrote about that. The abridged version is this: I made it 68 miles and was pulled off the course by the medical team and not allowed to continue do to extreme dehydration and compromised kidney function. With 10 hours left of the race, and currently the 3rd place female, I was not allowed to continue. Yes, this was for my own good and yes I was physically very beat up. It was a long day and I learned a lot about myself mentally, physically, and what I did right and what I could have done better to have achieved my goal.

For a while I swore I would never go back. First off, I’m not a crazy person and so I can totally relate to what you are thinking. Why the hell would you put yourself through something like that – on a humid July weekend, no less? The answer is simple: to prove to myself I can. As a person, I thrive on challenge and when someone tells me I’m not capable of something or not good enough, it lights this fire in my gut and this drive to prove them wrong. As a coach, I want to do it to prove to every single person who reads my blog or coach that if I can do this, you can achieve your goals. I am just a human being. I’m not a super human. I want to be a living example that with enough training, determination, and a smart plan – you can do anything. Friends and family who witnessed what happened back in 2012 will no doubt have their concerns. I have concerns too. However, I learned a whole lot about what I need to do different, and am confident I can set out to do what I failed to achieve in 2012.

A few things I have learned:

– I sweat a LOT when I run in summer. Like, a whole lot. Even though I remember dumping bottles of water, gatorade, mango smoothies and salt pills into my system in 2012, it was NOT ENOUGH. This time around, I need hydration to be my priority over everything else.

– I cannot run the race like a race. It sounds silly, but I didn’t pace myself mentally for an Ultra. I was still thinking like a competitor out there, and barely took any breaks. Stopping to dump in calories, stretch and take note of any danger signs could have really helped me. I also need to ignore the announcer who would announce which “place” I was in every time I ran through base camp. For the entire 14 hours out there, I was the 2nd or 3rd place female. That messed with my head.

– When you try your best, that has to be enough. Yes, I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to my goal, but I achieved more that race day than ever before.

– I need to reduce the amount of “goals” for this year. In 2012, not only did I set my 100-mile goal, but I also set the goal of PRs in the 5K, 10-Miler, Half Marathon, and Marathon. I achieved all but the 100-miler and the Marathon, where I injured halfway through and was forced to take 8 weeks off from running. Avoiding injury is my greatest priority.

– I need to limit my amount of speed work in the months leading up to race day, when mileage will be at its highest.

– Having pacers and support was extremely helpful the first time around, and I certainly would not have gotten as far or have had so much fun without them. Asking for support again needs to happen.

– If I want to see the sun rise on the second morning, I need to be smart on race day and adjust plans for the weather and my body.

I had originally thought this idea of redemption would fit into my life in a few years – perhaps 2015 or 2016. However, with all of the easy miles I now clock as a coach pacing my runners, I feel like my training for the Ultra is already halfway there. So, why not take it a step farther and have this be the year? Yes, training for an Ultra is time-consuming. Its also hard on the body. I also remember spending so much time when I wasn’t running focusing on refueling. Pouring water, electrolytes and calories into my depleted body was almost a full time job. But I don’t know what my life will be life in a few years. Perhaps I’ll be running tons of Ultras by then (I doubt that!), or maybe I won’t be living on the east coast, or I’ll have a family, or I’ll be too focused on my clients, or on speed work. I just don’t know, so I figure if I can keep myself healthy, then this is the year.

Part of me is super excited for a second go at this race. What I am most excited about was the sense of support and love from my support team, pacers, and friends and family near and far. The experience made running bigger than one person. My goal in 2012 turned out to be an impossible feat, but the determination and fight to try came from my support team as much as from me. While I don’t see my future years of running to include many Ultras (perhaps how you may feel about marathons!), crossing the finish line of this race is something I need to do.

Post-Ultra swollen feet, days later.

Post-Ultra swollen feet, days later.

Taper Tantrum

Philly Marathon 2011, and my current marathon PR of 3:15:46. Time to step it up and crush it.

Philly Marathon 2011, and my current marathon PR of 3:15:46. Time to step it up and crush it.

With less than a week to go before my goal race, I am deep into tapering. For those of you who don’t know what tapering is, it’s the few weeks leading up to a marathon where mileage and intensity is cut down in order to give the athlete time to rest, recover, heal, focus, and be ready to hit the pavement hard on race day. While tapering can sound delightful while in the middle of marathon training, actually doing it is rough. As an athlete, I despise it.

Realizing that perhaps many of you have dealt with tapering, I decided I would share my own experience this time round – in case it helps you. The truth is that tapering never gets easier.

If you are like me, you handle stress one of two ways: eating and exercising. Well, since my mileage has gone down, and I am no longer allowed to strength train until after the marathon, all of that pre-race stress goes into eating. My dreams have also been flooded with race-day visions. My mind is going wild.

During your taper, it s a good time to go back over previous races, how paces fluctuated, how training went up until that last big race, how you handled race day, etc. It’s also a good time to reaffirm your goals. I always advise my athletes to have three goals for a marathon: the goal that is the reach (everything may need to go perfectly to achieve it), the goal that seems tangible as long as they keep their focus and don’t do anything stupid, and the goal that is the totally achievable unless something goes terribly wrong. After all, it is easy to lose your head out there if things fall apart or don’t go according to plan. Having different goals gives you the opportunity to salvage the day and refocus quickly.

Here are my three goals:

The safety net goal: BQ. Unless I get injured out there, my training indicates that a sub-3:35 will be easy to achieve.

The possible with hard work goal: PR, ideally with a sub-3:10 (7:13 minute miles)

The reach: As close to 3:05 as possible. (7:03-7:05 minute miles)

My original hope for Philly was the 3:05 area and faster, but my training and mental game simply don’t show any sign that I’m there. That’s okay, and I’ve abandoned that goal. It can be saved for another time.

That’s not to say I am cutting my expectations short. My top two goals are ambitious, and I need to play it smart.

The positives: I am healthy. No plantar issues (that’s rare for me!), and no posterior tibial tendon issues, like I had last year. Last year I also battled the norovirus for a week, three weeks before Harrisburg Marathon. Plus, I know the Philly race course like the back of my hand. Knowledge is power. And it looks like I may have some crowd support from friends and family. These are all good things.

The one thing I may do this year is run with music. I generally prefer not to, but since Boston, I have had a hard time keeping my head in the game on long runs without it. Negative thoughts kick in, and I need to avoid that from happening on those quiet miles on Kelly Drive. It doesn’t look like I’ll have any pacers hop in, so I am going to be alone with my own thoughts – which I know is my weakness right now.

I am excited for Philly. I am ready to race again, healthy, and ready to leave it all out on the course. I am not going to Philly to have fun. I am going back to my home town to leave my blood, sweat and tears on the course, and to do my best.

Until then, I’ll keep eating my nerves. Mmm. Carbs.


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

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

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

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

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