Race Report: Oddessey Half Marathon

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

As my first of 16 weeks into marathon training came to an end, I decided to take my first long run to a race course. My program called for a 13-miler, with the final 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace. Negative-split runs aren’t easy, especially long runs. With other runs out there, and fluid stations every 1-2 miles, I decided a race would be a slightly easier way to focus on this first long run, practice hydrating with cups, and pacing myself amongst a crowd. So I hopped into the Oddessey Half Marathon, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Oddessey Half is a race capped at about 3000 runners. It’s well organized, clearly marked, and there’s a pretty great Beer Garden at the finish line – courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing Company. The course has some pancake-flat miles, and some super extreme hills. It offers a little bit of everything. It also offered soup-like humidity. The predicted thunderstorms for Saturday night that would have swept the humidity away never showed, so when I stepped outside at 5am, it was a sticky,80+ degrees, with humidity over 75%. An additional challenge.

It was a good thing the race started at 7am, as every minute counted – temperature and sun intensified with every mile. While some miles had ample tree coverage and shade, other miles were in full-blown sunshine.

With the extreme humidity, I made an executive decision to adjust my plan and run the 5 marathon-paced miles at the beginning of the run. This turned out to be a smart move. I maintained Marathon Goal Pace for about 8 miles because I was feeling really good, and then allowed my body to slow down a bit. The humidity began to grind at my gears, and so I willingly let pace go. After all, this was supposed to be a long run and not my race.

Running with other runners is always an education. I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete, being patient on the course, and how to run and race smart. I used the athletes around me to push the pace in the humidity for those first 5 miles, and then I willingly allowed runners to drop me and make their own choices while I did my own thing. Instead I focused on my form and efficiency, and spent moments observing other runners out there. I did more passing between miles 4-10 then I expected, including about a half dozen ladies who had gone out fast. As I gained on them, I could tell they were hurting. You can learn so much by a runner’s stride, form, and breathing. You can tell if that person will try to hang onto you or willingly let you go. I passed my final female around mile 9, putting me in 4th position. I never saw another lady out there for the remainder of the race.

Humidity is extremely humbling. Few runners handle it well, and for me it’s usually a matter of time before my body crumbles. Around mile 10, I remember my head feeling hot. I also remember my pace drastically dropping by about 15-25 seconds per mile. My quads began to feel like cement bricks, and my feet began to lose their quick and powerful contact with the ground. Instead I could feel every stride becoming heavy and slow. Dehydration was becoming an issue, and I was ready to be done. That final 5K was a grind, and some of it in full sunshine. The final mile of the Oddessey is a pretty epic climb – you run down it around mile 3, so you know what you have in your future. That hill had no shade. When I finally made the turn off of MLK Drive and to the hill, I was glad to be so close to the finish, but also dreading the abuse my tanked quads would take. I tried to relax, but even as my pace slowed, it was a struggle. My right calf felt as though it was going to cramp a few times, which is rare for me. So I did something I rarely do – I walked part of the hill. Yes, I stopped running and power-walked up part of the hill. I didn’t care if 10 females were about to pass me. I kept telling myself to be smart. This was a training run. I had a track workout on my calendar for 48 hours in the future. I needed to make good choices. So I did a walk/run negotiation, which probably was not expected for 4th Place Female, but there you have it.

The final quarter mile is flat, and I just let my body lead. A runner near me asked to kick with him, and though tempted, I refused and told him to drop the hammer. Again, not my race. Just a run. A run I was VERY happy to be finished with. I crossed the finish line tired, dehydrated, and happy at my pacing and decisions.

I waited at the Beer Garden, drinking a few pints and chatting with runners as we cheered in other finishers. Multiple runners collapsed on the final stretch, needing medical attention. Two were taken away in ambulances. On the course a runner dropped out and needed medical attention near me around mile 5. Watching runners in serious destress made me even happier with my decision to run smart, hydrate often, and respect the weather. Some days we learn lessons the hard way. I’m glad this was I day I didn’t need to.

Race Report: Pocono Marathon

PH-515009996On May 15th I ran my first solo marathon since Boston 2015. My goal was simple: lock in a BQ. While I felt pretty confident I’d complete a 3:15-3:30 marathon, a whole lot can happen in the course of 26.2 miles. Plus, this marathon was a short two weeks since my “A” race for 2016, the Broad Street Run.

I’d never run the Pocono Marathon before, but I signed up for it for a few reasons: the time of year sounded pretty optimal for my qualifier – still cool mornings and with plenty of time for me to recover before tackling training for Berlin Marathon. The course is over 1000 feet net downhill, which also sounded pretty darn appealing. Add the location, less than two hours from NYC, and it was the best fit. It sounded so good that my training partner and fellow Mile High Run Club Coach, Vinnie Miliano decided to join in the fun.

Here are a few things I loved about race weekend:

  • Having the school open and runners hang out there pre-race was awesome. It was unseasonably cold (felt like 30 degrees at the start!), and so having a warm building with tons of public rest rooms was amazing. A huge perk. Can you imagine the difference this would have made in the rain? Game changer.
  • The volunteers were awesome, and there was hydration/restrooms every 2 miles. This is a VERY rural race, and so the little support (no real spectators) made a huge difference. You always knew water and a smiling face was a few miles away.
  • Post-race support. For a race that caps the marathon at 1600 runners, there were bagged sandwiches, muffins, orange slices, chocolate milk, bananas and water.
  • The course. Though the back 10K is TOUGH (like REALLY fucking tough!!!!), I enjoyed the quiet, beautiful course until the back 10K. The 1000 feet downhill gave you some “free” miles, and the ups were often a nice change. I don’t know if I’d call the marathon course “fast,” but the half marathon course has PR written all over it.

Here are a few things I didn’t love about the weekend:

  • On a point-to-point course, there is always transportation (shuttles) to the starting line from the finish line. Apparently this race was the exception to the rule. This meant runners hustled to book cabs from hotels to the starting line. There aren’t a ton of cab companies up in the Poconos, but I got lucky and booked one that we split with a few other runners. I booked a hotel walking distance from the finish line specifically for the reason of ending at the finish. There’s absolutely no way I was going to take a shuttle to the starting line and then drive my car BACK to my hotel after running a very hilly marathon. That was the current arrangement for this race, apparently. No good.
  • Plastic cups on the race course. NOOOOO. The first cup I grabbed slipped out of my hand and spilled cold water all over me. I mentioned it was 30 degrees, right? The second cup didn’t slip, but it’s pretty impossible to fold a plastic cup and drink. Waxed paper cups are the only cups that belong on a race course – easy to grab, easy to fold, and easy to toss – in my humble opinion. This race made hydration a struggle.
  • The course. Again, I LOVED the first 20 miles. And I don’t hate hills. But the inclines were pretty insane for the final 10K, and the road was open to traffic, which made it that much more of a struggle to focus when you weren’t sure where the next car would come from. I’d highly recommend one lane be totally closed and coned off for the runners.

At the end of the day, I ran my second-fastest marathon to date! I finished 5th overall woman, 1st in my AG, in the official time of 3:11:07. I clenched my Boston Qualifier by over 20 minutes. I’m pretty pleased with how my body held up, considering those final hills two weeks after my goal race. I am very hopeful for my goals in Berlin, and going into those goals with some confidence. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice and focus on some rest and recovery.

Would I run Pocono Marathon again? Probably not. But I’d definitely consider the half marathon for a PR course!

Long Run, Dress Rehearsal

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

The long run. Often intimidating. Rarely easy. It’s the keystone to training for a marathon or half marathon. It’s also the run most folks training get wrong. Here are some things you can do to better your long run, your overall training, and the reasons why you should handle your long runs certain ways.

  • Think of your long runs as dress rehearsals for race day. This means you should practice eating dinner and breakfast the way you would before your race. it also means you should plan mid-run fueling as you would for race day. If you decide to “wing it” on race day, you are foolish. You have weekly long runs between now and race day. Use them as practice.
  • Don’t be scared of bombing a long run. If something goes wrong, LEARN from it. Perhaps you will need to cut the run short due to dehydration, chafing, or take a detour or a bathroom break. Or perhaps you need a walking/stretching break. Or you lose your mental focus and cannot get it back. IT’S OKAY. Figure out why these things are happening, and then we can fix them and never make those mistakes again. A bad long run isn’t a bad thing if you can learn from it.
  • Test out your fueling options. Some folks can take any kind of nutrition on the run and feel great. Other’s find almost every endurance fuel out there leads them to racing for the bathroom. There are dozens of fueling options. Find what feels best for you. Do you love caffeine GU? Do you need to avoid caffeine at all cost? Do you love your nutrition in liquid-form like Gatorade? What kind of Gatorade? Again, the long runs are rehearsals.
  • Take your pace easier than race day on your long runs. This is a hard concept for many runners planning for a marathon. The logic is often that you want to run at marathon goal pace so you know you can. Let go of that ideal. In fact, plan to run most long runs at marathon goal pace PLUS :15-45 seconds PER MILE. Why? Well here’s the short answer: to reduce injury risk. Think about it – when you finally run your 26.2 mile journey, it will be after a taper and you will plan to take at least a week off from running post-marathon. So HOW can you expect to run a 20-miler at your marathon pace and be recovered to run your speed workout a few days later? You cannot. Well you can, but your risk of injury is stupid high. Plus, if you are running speed workouts, running a “fast” long run has no real benefit. If you are sticking to a plan that includes speed workout and easy long runs, the combination will have you prepared for marathon day. I swear. I have yet to meet a coach who recommends you run your long runs at your goal race pace.
  • There are a few times when progressive long runs are beneficial. These should be handled with caution and are only ideal for experienced marathoners. Progressive long runs can vary in formula, but always end with finishing the long run faster than you started. Some will end with the runner finishing the final miles at marathon goal pace. Again, only for the experienced marathoner and with the advice of a coach.
  • Long runs are about time on your feet more than pace.
  • Regardless of pace, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours. Reason being, injury risk goes up as the hours pile up. Again, totally understandable that a runner aiming for a 4 hour marathon wants to clock long runs of 4 hours, but hang in there. Instead, cap long runs at 2:30-3 hours and perhaps go for a second run within the weekend, perhaps within 24-36 hours – giving your legs the experience of running on tired legs but with the benefit of some recovery.
  • Long runs also give you the opportunity to practice recovery. Take the opportunity to figure out how you feel, what you need to eat and drink, and how your body reacts to the stress of the long run. Some runners are nauseous for hours post-run, while other runners want to eat everything in sight. Some runners have a hard time stretching, foam rolling and taking care of themselves, others are on it like rock stars. We can always make improvements, so budget time to handle yourself as needed after you clock that big run.
  • The long run is also a rehearsal for what to wear on race day. While seasons may change in the course of your training, try to wear what you may want to race in for some of those final long runs. Weather should be pretty accurate, as should your size and how clothes will fit you. Take note of any problem areas with chafing, and if you simply feel good or bad in what you wear.
  • If the long run is mentally intimidating, break it up into smaller sections. Taking on a 20-miler can seem like the worst thing ever, but 4 5-milers, refueling with GU every 5 miles suddenly doesn’t sound so hard. Remember that some miles will feel better than others, and often those middle miles are the hardest to grind through. Once you see mile 17 of 20, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight.

Lastly, be sure to write down or remember what worked and what didn’t. That information can be priceless. How long did you eat before your run? Were you hydrated enough? How much sleep did you get? What fuel did you use and what was the outcome? Do you love or hate a certain training route? Were there mental roadblocks and what tricks got you past them? These are all clues that can lead you towards a successful marathon.

Endurance Nutrition

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

Post-run pancakes, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, and beer.

During marathon season, many questions come up regarding nutrition. Today I’d like to go over some nutrition tips for marathon season, including basic nutrition, mid-run fueling, and pre-run/post-run nutrition.

It’s no secret that running a marathon is a pretty easy way to lose weight. You simply are burning thousands more calories than the person sitting on the couch. I am frequently asked about how to diet while marathon training. For most runners, this is not a smart idea. Your body and brain are put through a lot of stress during marathon training months, and depriving yourself serious calories can leave you feeling tired. You can also accidentally cut nutrition you need, leaving your body weak and unable to improve for your task at hand – 26.2 miles. Therefore, I suggest eating a sensible and well-balanced diet while training, and any extra body fat will probably disappear due to training, as long as you aren’t suddenly overeating. Instead of going on a diet, think of your body as your machine and yourself as an athlete – because you are. It doesn’t matter how fast you are going to run on race day, you are preparing your body for a marathon. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Foods that give you the fuel and nutrients you need to feel good, energized, and fueled for training. Fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, complex carbs and lots of water should make up most of your diet. Focus on eating well and don’t make anything off-limits.

For your long runs and race day, nutrition can be what makes or breaks your morning. Mid-run fueling can be tricky, as everyone has different sweat-rates, and everyone’s stomach and nutrition needs are different. Personally, if I am running a 3:00-3:30 marathon, I’ll consume 1 GU every 30-40 minutes (usually 4 GU per marathon), and I grab a cup of water every 20 minutes and take a few sips. For me, this is usually enough to get me through a marathon without feeling too zapped, but also not water-logged or sick. If conditions aren’t ideal, I may take more nutrition. I’ve sometimes used GU with caffeine and other times without. Whatever I end up training with most is what I go with on race day. That’s one example. The longer your out there for your race, the more fuel you’ll need. Other runners prefer Gatorade or Blocks over Gu-like products. On your training run, try to practice what you’ll do on race day. Nutrition is recommended for runs lasting about 90 minutes or more. Any runs of less time shouldn’t require mid-race fueling as long as you are hydrated pre-run and refuel after your workout is complete.

  • A word about mid-run nutrition – yes, there are calories in nutrition – about 100 calories per serving. These calories are very much-needed on your long runs, so DO NOT skip them because you are watching your figure. However, if you are using GU for every run you do, even easy 3-5 milers, you may end up gaining weight. Those supplements simply aren’t necessary for short runs and are therefore empty calories.

What you eat before your long run can lend itself to a successful run – or can make you suffer. Just as you should think about your general nutrition fueling your body as an athlete, you need to be aware of what you are consuming pre-long run. You don’t need to go crazy with the carbs (your body can only store so much glycogen, and the rest will simply be wasted), but you DO want to make sure you eat simple carbs. The night before a long run, I may eat pasta, pizza, rice, or potatoes. The morning of my run, I eat a bagel or toast with a little peanut butter, a banana with oatmeal, or pancakes. Just give yourself a few hours between your meal and your run. How much time you’ll need is going to vary per person. It is also very important to be consuming water the day before and the day of your long run. Just as it takes a little time to digest and process carbs into glycogen, it takes our bodies some time to hydrate. Chugging a liter right before your run will not help you.

Post-run, it’s important to get nutrition into your system as quickly as possible. Your body, depleted of nutrition, will go into recovery-mode soon after you finish your run. Therefore, consuming something with carbs and protein and some sugar is great. You will also need to drink some water and perhaps a bottle of Gatorade. Personally, I love a tall glass of chocolate milk, a bottle of Gatorade, and a big glass of water as soon as I’m finished my long run. After that, I’ll eat a meal. Unlike some runners, my stomach is rarely a mess post-run and I always have an appetite. I’ll eat anything from a burger with fries and a beer to a big salad topped with some form of protein. Other times I’ll opt for a big plate of pancakes or a bagel with cream cheese and lox. I go with what I’m craving. If your stomach is sensitive and you don’t have an appetite, at least get water and something like chocolate milk into your system. That’s far better than nothing. Remember, in order for your legs to recover as quickly as possible, you need nutrients to do so.

Again, this is just a starting point. I could dive into the different components of endurance nutrition in a far more detailed and nerdy way, but at least you hopefully have some sort of understanding of why certain choices should and shouldn’t be made. Remember that what works for one runner may not work for the next, and so you should always use your long runs as your “dress rehearsals” for race day. Good luck, and happy running!