Setting Goals, Assessing Weaknesses, and Moving Forward

Last week I posted about the importance of the off season. Today I want to personally share how I handled my off season, and what lessons I learned about myself as an athlete in my latest marathon cycle, and how I’ll plan to make changes in the future. It’s important to understand that our bodies will adapt and change to anything we toss at it – with time, consistency, and a solid combination of work and recovery. It’s always easier to be the coach than the athlete, and I’ve worn both hats for myself for the last few years. While I know my body and my strengths and weaknesses, it’s not without its challenges.

Frankfurt Marathon Training: In Spring I dealt with my first injury in 5 years. I have a heel spur in my left foot that became irritated, and plantar fasciitis stemmed from that heel. They were essentially one big issue. While I ordered special orthotics, put my foot through electrotherapy (not pleasant nor cheap!), and did everything I could, I was also asked to stop running at full body weight. So with Frankfurt, my goal marathon, waiting in the wings on October 29th, I knew the clock was ticking. I ran the entire month of June at 50-80% of my body weight on the Alter-G at Finish Line PT. The monthly membership there was beyond worth it. I was able to run – which I needed physically and mentally. In July, 15 weeks from marathon day, I was given the green light to run outside. I had 15 weeks to go from base mileage on an Alter-G, to chasing down a PR. There were times my foot still hurt leading up to Frankfurt, but at least I knew how to manage it. With a pretty short window of time, I decided to be conservative with mileage. My highest mileage week was maybe 45 miles. My longest run, 20-milers. I supplemented my training with 5-7 hours of weight training per week.

Frankfurt Marathon Reflections: Moving forward, I’d ideally have had a few more weeks of official training, and some time to build solid base mileage outside. That’s my hope for my fall 2018 goal. Also, if I’m honest about my weaknesses, I fell apart late on the course. The weather was tough, and that made me lose my head game. However, my body was capable of more than I accomplished out there – even in those conditions. Therefore, some longer long runs (21-23-milers), and some more negative-split/progressive long runs are what I’ll need to develop a stronger mental space for those late miles. I’ll also plan to increase weekly mileage a bit for next fall. I know I’m not a high mileage athlete, but I think I can add a bit more and still feel healthy and strong.

The Off Season: I’m incredibly disciplined as an athlete. Despite the fun foods I post on IG (and don’t get me wrong – I love all foods!), I also track everything I consume – the good, the bad – I track it all. I’m also disciplined with my training. I can eat a lot because most of the time I burn a lot. I’m training 2 hours per day, on average. That buys me a lot of extra calories. But during the last 4 weeks, I’ve allowed myself to relax. In fact, while in Mexico for a week’s vacation, I didn’t track a single calorie or activity. For the first time in a VERY long time, I gave myself a guilt-free, no rules, do what you want, vacation. I ordered guacamole with everything. I inhaled corn chips like it was my job. I ordered margaritas and buckets of beer without hesitation. It. Was. Fabulous. The month of November had minimal training (some lifting in the gym and minimal mileage), and I tried to really relax, reflect on my training, my accomplishments and my weaknesses, and how to better train and race in 2018.

Moving Forward: So after a training cycle that, despite the bumps along the way, still lead to a marathon PR, I have reflected, rested, and am ready to get back to work. I have no idea how much weight I’ve gained in the last 4 weeks. I refuse to weigh myself right now. I should be focused purely on the training and adapting. Race weight isn’t the focus at this time. But my mind is ready, and my body feels recovered from the marathon – and that’s what’s most important.

My goal race for early 2018 is the Saint and Sinners Half, in Nevada. I ran it last year, set a 6+ minute PR, and won. This year I am going back and hoping to break 1:20. That’s a blazing 6:05 minute mile average. I could NEVER do that on the average half marathon course. But this one is 1200 ft. net downhill, and I run downhill really well. You better believe I’ll be getting my quads and calves ready. I’ll then run Boston Marathon. No goals in time for that right now. I will simply see where my fitness is after the half. I may offer to pace a friend or team mate. I’m not putting any pressure on Boston. Last year I neglected the recovery necessary after the half, and I think that’s what began to cause my foot issues. I won’t make that mistake again. After Boston, I’ll plan for a little off season, and then gear up for a fall 2018 marathon. Right now I’m seriously considering Saint George Marathon. It’s known for its 2000+ net downhill, and being a beautiful course. Again, downhill races aren’t without their challenges. But I know how to train for that and I think that would be a great course for breaking 3 hours. But for now, my eye is on the Half in February. I have 12 weeks.

Advice for You: Above you can see how I’ve handled and structured my goals. As you look towards 2018, space out your goal races in a realistic manner. We cannot do everything. Give your body TIME. Rushing into something, especially a marathon, can be quite risky. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. What should you focus on this year? Put together an organized plan, hire a coach, or find a running club. A clear plan will reduce injury risk and help with motivation and consistency. Lastly, take and embrace the off season. You will come back better.

 

The Reason for the Off Season

The off season. Most runners are really bad at this. It’s incredibly tempting to cross that goal finish line fired up and ready to dive into the next goal. Even if legs feel great within a day or two of that goal race, it’s important to relax and PAUSE. I completely understand that post-marathon high. I clearly remember days after my first marathon, signing up for two spring marathons with all the enthusiasm in the world. We feel invincible, fired up and inspired. PAUSE. Injury risk is incredibly high within the days/weeks following that goal marathon. Even if you FEEL good, trust that there are things that are broken down and rebuilding. Remember that just like the hard work and the taper, a reverse taper is necessary. The best marathoners in the world take an off season. None of us are the exception. How long or dramatic of an off season an athlete needs will vary. But when in doubt, be conservative.

During your off season, use that post-run high to push you towards recovering and rehabbing any aches and pains. Spend the time to lay out your goals for the following 12 months in a realistic way. Honestly look back over your strengths, weaknesses, and what should perhaps be the focus of your future training. We all have natural talents that translate to running. We also will all have natural weaknesses. The more you know yourself, the better you can train in the future.

Looking towards 2018, I’d advise a few tips for planning:

  • Be aware of any travel you have planned. Out of town weddings, vacations where training may be compromised, etc – honestly factor those things into your calendar for next year. For example, I try to plan vacations where training conditions aren’t completely compromised during marathon training. Certain climates and locations are more or less supportive of training. Can you have gym access? Factor that in now. Or plan that vacation to the islands or with day trips for AFTER that goal race and during your off season.
  • Make sure you budget some recovery into your calendar. Runners want to do everything, and this can be dangerous. Do NOT plan races in back-to-back weekends. Pick and choose. Otherwise injury risk and burnout will at some point occur.
  • Choose races you WANT to do! The options are overwhelming. Think about you and why you want to run a specific race. Is it a fast course? Ideal weather? Scenic? Bucket list destination race? Friends and family want you to do it with them? Do what’s important to YOU, but be realistic. For example, as great as NYC Marathon is, it’s rarely that PR course. So if you want to knock your marathon time down or fight for that BQ, there are FAR better options out there. But if you love that course, then compare previous accomplishments to that course and that course alone.

When you slowly exit your off season (coach is doing that this week after 3 weeks completely off from running – okay, I went for 2 very easy 4-milers in that time), build back carefully. For example, don’t dive into a track workout on your first run back. Ease into things with a week (or weeks!) of easy-effort running. Then you can begin to think about adding intensity. Your body won’t lose everything during the off season. It will bounce back quicker than you think. But stay patient and conservative. Think big picture. And finally, while easing back into those miles, focus on FUN! Embrace a little structure-free running.

Race Report: Frankfurt Marathon

First and foremost, I apologize for neglecting my blog for much of 2017. That’s about to change! Second, it has been an incredible year. I am so humbled and proud of the hard work my roster have brought to the table. It’s an honor to do what I do every day.

In June 2017, I was forced to take 4 weeks off from running. With it being my first injury of any kind since 2012, I consider myself lucky. I was allowed to run on an Alter-G at a fraction of my weight while working on recovery and rehab for a heel spur and plantar fasciitis. With my goal marathon on October 29th, the clock was ticking. Once cleared to run outside, I had about 15 weeks until race day. That’s definitely not ideal for building fitness for a marathon PR, but I decided I’d do what I could with the time I had. Despite a few bumps along the way, training went smoothly and I felt my fitness return pretty quickly.

Fast forward 15 weeks, and I was hopping a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I’d picked Frankfurt Marathon for a few reasons. It’s incredibly flat/fast, weather is usually ideal, and it’s well organized. It was also an excuse to go explore a new city! Ironically, the weather wasn’t looking awesome as I was en route to the airport – winds with heavy gusts. I knew I’d have to rethink my strategy for the conditions, but decided not to panic but to accept the weather and make smart choices. I still really wanted that 2:59, but had also accepted that the weather would be a variable I cannot ignore.

Race morning I was relatively calm. I ate a banana and a donut, had some coffee, and headed to the starting line. The temperature was cool. But the wind was picking up here and there. My coral was mostly men. Not surprising, as marathons in Europe are a heavily male dominated sport. I could see the 2:59 pacers, and my plan was to try and tuck in behind them and draft behind them in the wind if and when it would be an issue. The pace group took off a little fast compared to my watch, and I opted to listen to my watch and be perhaps a little conservative than risk going out too hard. I settled into my effort, and the first 10 miles felt incredibly smooth.

The big mistake I made: my watch was in miles, the course was in kilometers. I grabbed a pace bracelet and stupidly got it in miles and not kilometers (hello, jet lag brain!), so I didn’t have a way to verify on the course if my watch was correct or not. It turns out I was a little behind pace, setting me up for a nice little negative split for the second half if the predicted winds would be at my back. A lot can happen in the marathon, and I told myself to relax and be patient. Head wind gusts became a factor around miles 15-17 off and on. Nothing terrible, but also not ideal. Otherwise, everything felt good. My foot felt 100%. My body felt solid. My hydration was solid. I was feeling smooth out there and optimistic. The tail winds predicted never really happened. Instead, air was still for a little while. Then as we neared the city again, head and cross winds began to pick up. With no pace group near me (the 2:59 pacers had slowly disappeared in front of me), I tried to tuck in behind every man possible and draft. I could feel my effort increasing as my paces began to slip.

With a 5K to go, Chris was there yelling at me to push for the 5K. I clearly remember thinking “F*ck!!! A whole 5K?!?” as I did the math and knew breaking 3 hours was definitely not in the cards and now a PR was in jeopardy. In the final 5K, for the first time all morning, I was being knocked sideways by strong gusts of wind. I was exhausted, over it, and trying to simply focus on the finish line. Despite my effort, I could not will myself to lock those 6:50s in my body at that point.

The finish line of Frankfurt Marathon is really spectacular. It finishes inside an arena with thousands of fans screaming. When my watch went off at 26 miles, I knew my watch was off, and that it was going to come down to seconds for a PR. I stopped looking at my watch, and told myself to use every ounce of energy towards the push to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 3:03:21. A 9 second PR from last year’s Berlin Marathon, and good enough for 3rd American Woman. Am I happy with the finish time? No. Absolutely not. I’ve never been so disappointed by a PR in my life. But I know I ran a smart race. I know I trained wisely. I made thousands of smart choices day after day. Looking back, there are things I can definitely do to improve as a marathoner. Weather is the wild card. But I can do more negative split long runs, or longer long runs in the future. I’m eager to learn and make adjustments to improve. In the 18 marathons I’ve finished, I’ve learned something new about myself as a human and a runner. It’s important to accept that we are all unique, and to honestly learn from strengths and weaknesses.

I would absolutely recommend Frankfurt Marathon to anyone looking for a flat and fast marathon. It was a pretty amazing day. And the days following the marathon were really fun. Food and drink is everywhere. If you enjoy baked goods and beer, Germany is for you. Frankfurt is an incredibly friendly city to travelers from all over the globe.

A few tips: I highly recommend spending the money on direct flights while traveling for an international marathon. Between time zones, jet lag, change in altitude, etc – the extra money is worth it. I also recommend booking a hotel that’s in a central location and walking distance to the start/finish line. The hotel location, comfort of the room, and so on are all variables to consider for race weekend. Do what you can to run your best. Stick to bottled water if somewhere new, and prepare race morning food the day before.

I am now taking a little off season. Legs and feet feel decent and were a little sore and tired for a couple days post-race. Even when feeling good, injury risk is high after racing a marathon. I’m allowing my body to fully recover, mentally process what I can work on, and think about my 2018 goals. I am excited for my athletes racing NYC Marathon and Philly Marathon. The marathon journey is always filled with highs and lows. Perhaps what makes the distance so incredible to me is that there are never any guarantees. It’s a race distance that can empower and crush. It just depends on the day.

How to Successfully Train and Race Injury-free

Running is often a sport or activity associated with injuries. And for good reason – the percent of runners in physical therapy, on the injured list, or running through pain is alarmingly high. While doing anything repetitive and strenuous isn’t without injury risk, I’d argue that many injuries can be prevented. It’s always my first priority to keep my runners healthy, as an injured runner simply can’t achieve their goals. I’d also say that I am asked more about injuries than anything else with my runners at Mile High Run Club, and I see literally hundreds of runners each week. Preventing injury can be tough because it takes self control, a clear plan, and a good sense of your own body and what signals to listen to.

Too much too soon and overtraining are the big contributors to injuries and aches and pains that can be avoided. For many of us, too much too soon is a big one. In an ideal world, while building mileage after an off season, injury-related hiatus, or picking up running for the first time, you need to ease your body into the demands of running. Our brains often adapt faster than legs or lungs, and so there is often a tendency to go from 0-60. Runners should build base mileage for 3-6 weeks before adding the stress of speed or long runs. Honestly, many of us build minimal base mileage. Sometimes because we are simply super enthusiastic to be running, or a race was tossed onto the calendar with perhaps not enough time to sufficiently build base, train intensely, taper and race. The first thing we typically toss is the base mileage.

Try to keep in mind that physical adaptions take time. Our cells and fibers are stressed and broken down during activity, and then adapt, grow and improve. Without building mitochondria, improving bone density, lung capacity, and introducing the basic stress of base mileage (easy running), injury risk goes way up because our bodies aren’t ready to handle high mileage, speed workout, and long runs. The adaptions from stress don’t occur when we are running, but instead when we are resting. So skipping rest days in the name of progress is actually counter productive. So if you are coming back into running at virtually no miles, build carefully and with purpose. Everyone will be different, but you may simply start by running 4 30-minute runs throughout the week, mostly nonconsecutive days. On those rest days, be sure to hydrate, sleep, and maybe focus on foam rolling and stretching. Where we all start is going to vary based on experience, fitness, and if injury was the cause of the running hiatus. But easing into running should simply be that and nothing more.

The last time I was injured (November 2012), I was forced to take 8 weeks off entirely from running, and then cleared to ease back into the swing of things very carefully – with no speed runs until at least 1 month of easy base-mileage building. I remember how excited I was to be cleared to run. But I also remember how incredibly humbling an easy 30-minute run felt. When I was cleared to get back to speed runs, I was incredibly slow and I was working very hard for numbers that used to represent my easy runs. It can very frustrating. There can be the temptation to then go a little crazy and hit training hard every day. But perspective and a clear plan can help us keep our heads about us.

Overtraining can also lead to injuries. I tend to see these injuries in a few different types of runners: extremely competitive and talented athletes running 70-125 miles per week, and those who perhaps are running 30-60 mile weeks, but also do a ton of other activities – crossfit, fitness or dance classes, or runners who simply take their “recovery run” days too fast, actually not giving their body the runs that should feel super easy. Now, this also isn’t me saying runners should only run. In fact, I’m a coach who is a firm believer in supplemental and supportive training. But the training should complement your training schedule and not compromise it. We are all different. For example, I have found personally that minimal mileage but time lifting heavy in the gym has kept me feeling stronger and more efficient as a runner than ever, and I have luckily not been injured since 2012. Other runners may find weekly yoga helps their tight hamstrings, or that boxing helps their core and upper body strength.

At the end of the day, there should be purpose behind training days and days off. Know the purpose. If there really isn’t one, why are you doing it? Sometimes “because I want to,” or “for fun” is a totally fine reason. Just be honest about where you are in your running journey and how to protect your health. If you are injured, there go all those goals and races.

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.

Running Injuries, Goals and the Gym

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot's of time in the gym. Pretty good PR - 3:03:30.

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot’s of time in the gym. Pretty good PR – 3:03:30.

It’s that fun time of year when there are literally dozens of races every weekend – from small 5Ks and 10Ks to some very large half marathons and marathons. The running community is filled with taper nerves, stories of recent race experiences, and reflections and goals for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a running coach and to watch the weeks and months of careful planning and training begin to pay off with some really incredible race finishes, personal records, and lessons learned.

I find that the journey can vary quite a bit per person. We are all different, and we adapt to training, goals and work load differently. I couldn’t help but notice while I was out for an 8-miler today how many runners I passed with medical tape, braces or bands on their body. It made me a little sad, angry, ad motivated to blog about it. In the non-running community, most people still assume running is bad for our knees. In fact, I cannot count the amount of times an acquaintance or total stranger says something negative about running and joints when they hear I run and coach runners. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This isn’t to say that repetitive wear and tear doesn’t have consequences – cyclists, swimmers, dancers, tennis players – each sport has it’s own chronic injuries due to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints used repetitively. However, when done the right way, we actually usually stay far healthier and active when we use our body instead of sitting on our butts. Can running mess up knees? Sure. That will vary per athlete, their genetics, history, form, training practices, and overall strength. I come from the philosophy where most injuries are preventable, and most runners you see taped up simply didn’t train well. Usually they took on too much too soon (mileage or stress), or are incredibly imbalanced and could benefit from some serious strength training, cross training, stretching – or all of the above. Most injuries are preventable. Some obviously are not, and require immediate medical attention, and the diagnosis and advice should not be ignored.

Here’s the funny thing – most injured runners will willingly admit how much they are in pain, or how much their potential has been compromised, but yet they won’t take the necessary time off to rehab and recover. As a coach, I cannot help someone who isn’t willing to take the help. That may be the toughest part of my job. Knowing what needs to happen, but having an athlete unable to accept the work load, recovery, etc – to get there.

And so after witnessing all of those taped up runners today, I thought about myself and my running. I haven’t been injured (thankfully!) since 2012. I was forced to take 8 weeks off from running back then, and it was the worst two months ever. I swore to myself I would do what I could to avoid the injured list in the future. And so I finally began to take my own coaching advice. I also began to really listen and learn from my body. Dare I say, I began to train smart. Even when clocking 100-mile weeks while Ultra Marathon training in 2014, I quickly learned I needed to eliminate all speed work and simply focus on mileage. And when I shifted back to shorter and speedier goals, I cut mileage way down, and spent just as much time weight training as I did running.

In fact, that’s what struck me today. While training in 2016, my mileage was lower than most years in the past, ranging from 35-60 miles per week – including when marathon training. I’d cap my runs to 5X per week – no more, and 2 total rest days. I also spent a ton of time lifting heavy in the gym – upper and lower body – 2-3X per week for each. And for me, that combination lead to two of my three fastest marathons ever, within a 6-month span, and minimal aches and pains and no injuries.

And not only did the above combination work for me, I made myself be incredibly smart and conservative when hopping into any other races. Did I miss out on some incredible race opportunities this year in NYC? Absolutely. Did I have regrets or FOMO? Sure. And peer pressure is a bitch. But somehow I stuck to my guns, and my goals were clear. And so I didn’t add anything potentially harmful to the big goals.

Not every runner can spend hours in a gym. Or many simply don’t want to or refuse to prioritize their time. I get it. If you are very busy and love to run, you want to spend your free hour running – not in the weight room or on an elliptical. You want to be outside in the open air. I can totally relate. However, if you start to think about the longevity of your running career, and the specificity of your goals, you may start to view your training and choices a little differently.

So when you hit your off season, whenever that might be, I encourage you to take a hard look at your running and training history, and how your body has responded. Are you healthy? What hurts and why? Were your time goals achieved? How do you mentally feel? Listen, learn, and adapt.

Race Recap: Berlin Marathon

 

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Berlin Marathon had been on my radar since I was notified I’d been selected via lottery back in December 2015. With a reputation for being the fastest marathon in the world, I knew if I went to Berlin, I’d go to race – not to simply run. This would mean training to race my first marathon since 2013. So over 10 months ago the goal was set: race Berlin 2016, aim to break 3 hours, or set a new PR.

The road to Berlin wasn’t easy. Some days or weeks would click into place. Others were a struggle, and filled with doubt. I questioned my decision to coach myself on more than one occasion. There’s a reason why many coaches hire someone else to coach them – it’s hard to be the student and the teacher. I questioned my potential. Was my 3:05:27 back in Philly 2013 as good as it gets? But doubts never lead to anything good. And I knew my training was smart. So I’d try to shake those doubts and focus on the good and great workouts. Just like bad weeks of training come and go, so do good ones. Neither one defines us. I am thankful to be surrounded by some incredibly supportive people. Friends, coworkers, team mates, family – people who understand or at least respect the grind. My roster of private athletes have cheered me on. And so when the going would get tough, I’d remember to lead by example and continue to grind away. By the time I got to Germany, I knew all I could do was trust my hard work and preparation, and have confidence in that.

I had never been to Berlin before. It’s a really beautiful city. I was oddly calm about marathon morning (I’m usually a basket case), and was actually capable of enjoying the city for a solid 36 hours before race day. The day before the race was spent walking at least 4 miles around the city, and a 3-mile shakeout run that evening. I ate pasta with a German beer, laid out my running gear, and that was it. Was I nervous? Sure. But I was also calm. I accepted that it was going to be 3 hours of work, and that I was ready.

The weather race morning was perfect. Cool and sunny, with no breeze. The marathon gods were good to us. As I stood in my corral, and the announcers counted down to the started, I began to cry. I was overcome with the power of the moment. The amazing park. The
40,000+ other athletes. The opportunity before me. I quickly collected myself, and within a few minutes I was across the starting line.

The course is fast. And there’s a blue tangent line on the course. I decided I’d stick to that line as though it were glue. This was the first marathon I’d ever run with no mile markers (only kilometers), and I was one of few athletes around me who’s watch would go off at the miles. I told myself to stay relaxed and efficient. I hydrated early and often. Around the 20K I saw Vinnie, and that was like a kick of energy. In an unfamiliar city, a familiar face was priceless. Around 17 miles into the race, I felt amazing. Pacing was good. I felt that a sub-3 was going to require a kickass final 10K, but a PR was mine to lose.

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Eye is on that clock.

Then around 19-21 miles in, a few things happened. One, I began to cramp. Not runner cramps, but lady cramps. The kick in the uterus feeling, on my right side. In the beginning it was relatively dull, but as the miles went on that changed. I was incredibly mad at myself, as I had planned to take ibuprofen that morning (I’d had cramps off and on for a few days), but that morning had felt good and I opted to go it without precautionary meds. And then the nausea and gag reflex to GU began to happen. It was a burp that turned into a “Oh no, I just kinda threw up in my mouth” moment, and this was before I needed to take my final GU around 20 miles. I forced that final GU down, but it wanted to come back up. The final 5 miles were a painful negotiation. I debated stopping for a break and to try and regroup. I debated walking off if Vinnie were at the next turn. My body was struggling and my brain wasn’t giving me the ability to simply pick up the pace.

I told myself to do what I could. If I lost my PR, it wasn’t the end of the world. Just do your best. Just finish this. And so I continued. Paces slipped. I walked through a hydration station in the 23rd mile, hoping that brief pause in running would help the cramps. It made it worse. And so back to running I went. My eye on the clock, I took it one mile at a time. I saw Vinnie around 24 miles, and I mumbled something about this really hurting as I pointed to my side. He ran beside me for half a block, yelling encouraging things, to which I told him to shut up and stop lying. And so I continued.

The final 600M of the Berlin Marathon is spectacular. I think. I don’t really remember. The final stretch was lined with people. I focused on the clock. You can see the finish line a long ways before you get there. Glancing at my watch, I knew a PR was in the cards, but by how much – I wasn’t sure. Just finish this. Just get there. Just get this done. That’s all I could think about. Crossing the finish line I felt relieved, tired, emotional, and still in pain. The nausea was thankfully replaced with hunger by the time I got back to the hotel. And I took ibuprofen immediately to kick said cramps to the curb.

The rest of the day was filled with walking around, beer and food. I am in shock (and a little mad) at how good my legs felt after that marathon. There was so much more left in them to give. But they couldn’t have their day. My disappointment didn’t last long. How can it? I did the best I could that morning. And yes, I walked away with a PR. That PR, that much closer to 2:59:59 – it makes me that much more hungry for it and that much more confident it’s in me.

Here are the official stats:

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Finish time: 3:03:30 (average pace: 6:58s)

100th female (11th American)

Splits:

Mile 1: 6:50, Mile 2: 6:51, Mile 3: 6:56, Mile 4 :6:58, Mile 5 : 6:51, Mile 6 :6:57, Mile 7: 6:49, Mile 8: 6:52, Mile 9: 6:53, Mile 10: 6:48, Mile 11: 6:51, Mile 12: 6:52, Mile 13: 6:49, Mile 14: 6:53, Mile 15: 6:54, Mile 16: 6:54, Mile 17: 6:57, Mile 18: 6:59, Mile 19: 6:55, Mile 20: 6:57, Mile 21: 7:07, Mile 22: 7:02, Mile 23: 7:13, Mile 24: 7:30, Mile 25: 7:12, Mile 26: 7:17, .34 miles: 2:13.

A few tips for future Berlin Marathoners:

  • Stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski. It’s worth the money. Not only is the hotel gorgeous, quiet and comfortable, but it’s literally at the Brandenburg Gate – a very short walk to the start/finish lines and on the marathon course.
  • Make morning preparations the night before. It turned out the hotel had some food/coffee for marathoners in the lobby, but no coffee shops open before 8am (some 10am) on Sundays. I bought a bagel and coffee from Dunkin Donuts the night before.
  • The expo was a mess. So go to it patient, and ready to get in/get out. I couldn’t have really shopped for anything if I had wanted to.
  • Be sure to plan to use your own fuel. The drink and fuel choices (which included Red Bull) on the course were new to me. I stuck to water the the 4 GUs I brought.
  • When planning your trip, account for jet lag. It’s not every day I run a marathon at 3am. Do everything you can to get on schedule before race morning.
  • Go for your shakeout runs in the Tiergarten. That park is the most stunning thing ever. 535044_236930700_xlarge

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.

Solemates – Finding and using a running buddy

We all run for different reasons. We also all have different running preferences. Some folks run on a treadmill at the gym while watching tv. Others run the same loop in their neighborhood day after day, never interested to mix it up. Some folks run with music or listen to podcasts. Some runners love the quiet and solitude of going it alone and having some peace and quiet from their busy lives. Some runners only run in groups, and cannot be motivated to run alone. Other folks have that one running buddy who keeps them accountable morning after morning, year after year. Some of us mix it up and believe variety is the spice of life. No two runners are the same.

Today I want to talk about a running buddy. If you are in a running rut – be it speed or motivation – a partner in crime may be exactly what you need.

Here are some tips and reasons to seek out a solemate:

  • Accountability. It’s not easy to get up before the sun and get in your training – especially in the rain, heat or cold. But knowing someone is getting up and planning to meet you, you will be a hundred times less likely to hit that snooze button.
  • Safety. Depending where you live, where you run, and the time of day you are training, it may be really valuable to have a buddy out there with you. Two runners in reflective gear are easier to see than one.
  • Easy run days are often taken too quickly. Having a running buddy you can continuously chat with means you’ll always be at that “conversational pace.” It’s easier said than done to hold back on effort if you are feeling good.
  • Fueling on long runs can be tricky. Having a buddy there means two brains will be thinking about fueling and how frequently to reach for that GU or pause for a water fountain. A buddy can also keep those negative thoughts from creeping in when the going gets tough. No one feels like a million bucks 18 miles into a long run, but you can keep each other motivated with positive reenforcement.
  • Just like running easy, pushing the pace on speed days is always easier with a buddy. Work together to push the pace. In a race, you have that forward motion from everyone around you. Training with that same support can go a long way. If your buddy is faster than you, you can also learn many lessons in pacing yourself. For example, you’ll learn not to go out as fast as your buddy or you’ll be in trouble down the line – a lesson many runners learn in a race. Or you can use that faster friend as motivation while hitting paces you’d otherwise struggle with solo.

If and when you and your running buddy need something different in a training buddy, be honest. Perhaps you will need to reshuffle schedules – your easy day may actually be their tough day – for example. Or perhaps paces and abilities, schedules or goals will change and you’ll need to gracefully find new running partners. The good news is that with running becoming so popular, the odds are you can both find what you need. Buddy up, and have an awesome season!

5 Tips for Summer Training

We’re in the dog days of Summer. While these days are perfect for sitting on a beach, favorite beer in hand, they make Summer training challenging. With so many marathon-bound runners this time of year, today’s blog is offering 5 tips for Summer Training.

  1. Be vigilant about hydration all day – not just when running. It takes some time for our bodies to process the things we drink, so only drinking right before you head out the door for a run is setting yourself up for failure. I recommend keeping a Nalgene bottle at your desk, and forcing yourself to drink and refill that bottle at least TWICE within a day. It may sound like a lot, but this is really only 64 oz. of water – the MINIMUM recommended for daily intake – not even factoring in your demands as a runner.

  2. If you can train at cooler times of the day, that can be hugely beneficial. Get up and out before the sun, or wait to start your training until 7-8pm – when the sun and temperatures begin to dip. If you must train in full sun, stick to routes with some shade.

  3. Gage your runs by effort instead of pace. Your body will begin to work in overdrive to keep core temperatures at a happy 98.6 degrees. The longer you are outside and running, or the harder you are running, the harder your body is working to regulate the heat. Therefore, don’t get caught up so much in the numbers. If you do, you may find yourself frustrated, burnt out, and perhaps pushing to the point where you will feel ill. Do the work now and when temperatures cool in a few months, your paces will drop. Be kind to your body and remember that heat and Summer training presents challenges we cannot beat.

  4. Refuel with cool post-run nutrition. Cold chocolate milk, Gatorade, yogurt, ice water, juice – this will help bring down core temperature while giving you some of the nutrients your body needs quickly. Avoid hot foods and beverages immediately after an intense Summer run.

  5. Know the signs for heat illness and heat stroke, and check in with yourself during your run to make sure you are okay. Sometimes these things can spring up quickly. I know I’ve gone from feeling awesome to suddenly feeling clammy, light-headed, or nauseous. If you begin to feel ill, bail on your run, find somewhere cool to sit or lay down, and hydrate.

Summer training can make you incredibly strong for a race in Autumn. Just be aware of how to help your body and brain make the most of the conditions. Safety first. Always.