Tips for Handling the Not-so-Good Races

Races that go well and exceed every expectation make running feel so incredibly liberating. They are satisfying, empowering and simply fun. It’s these races that usually motivate us to keep signing up and racing.

But what about the races that don’t go well? The ones that fail to meet expectations? Sometimes they are a fluke. Other times they are an indicator of other things. It’s important to listen to the signals, watch patterns, learn and adapt.

Here are some tips for handling and dissecting a race that fails to meet expectations, and ways to adjust on the race course:

  • If the race is a goal, be sure to taper that week. Catch up on sleep and try to rest legs so they feel fresh for race day. If a taper or rest isn’t possible, know that performance may be compromised in a big way.
  • Weather is a variable we cannot control. Some runners love cold weather. Others do remarkably well in humidity. Be honest with your strengths and weaknesses. It’s wise to choose goal races at times where weather is to your favor.
  • Be realistic about physical capabilities and mental ones. Some days, our bodies are simply not ready. Other days, and these are the hardest to accept, our body is capable but our minds aren’t – or they give up.
  • It’s common for many runners to go out too hard early in a race. This will almost always backfire. If you know that’s your tendency, try to BREAK THAT HABIT. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect the results to change.
  • When out on the course, and you can tell it won’t be your day, learn to not toss the race. If the A goal or objective isn’t in the cards, find a B goal. For example, yesterday I ran the Ted Corbitt 15K in Central Park. For various reasons, it was not a good day for me. So I decided to set the goal of holding onto Marathon Goal Pace – which humbled me as holding onto 6:50s didn’t feel as easy as I thought it would! But being 6 weeks out post-Frankfurt Marathon, and only 2 speed workouts in that time, I have lost some speed fitness. That’s okay! I had to accept what I had, and then work within those perameters. I didn’t love that, but I had to accept it and work with who I was in that moment.
  • Be honest about your goals, and how tangible they are. This is a tough one. It’s easy to dream big and find that goal time. But how likely is that goal for you? And when? That’s the tough part – honestly assessing potential, the training, the head space and the course. It’s okay to try something and fail! It’s okay to say “okay, I’m not there yet.”
  • On that note, be honest about whether you were truly ready for that goal that day. Our bodies are constantly changing and growing. Just because your running buddy is ready for a breakthrough race, that doesn’t mean you are. Don’t compare yourselves to others. Instead, celebrate those successes your friends or team mates have! Their success doesn’t make you a failure. You are your only competition when thinking about improving.

The good news is that the bad races make the good ones that much sweeter. Truly. Someone who always succeeds begins to forget just how special and amazing it feels. Struggling is normal. It makes you human. But if there are patterns, don’t ignore them – the good and the bad. The good: you’ve been doing something right for yourself in preparation and on the course. The bad: something, or many things, need to change.

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.

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

Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.

Tips on what can make/break a runner

This week’s blog is about the best and the worst. As an athlete and a coach I have experienced and witnessed countless smart and poor choices in both training and racing. We often learn from expert advice or from our own experience, and so in hopes this blog helps you avoid bad choices and make many good ones, here are some of my favorite good/bad decisions a runner can make.

The Good:

  • Track your training. If you use a GPS device, this is quite easy. Track the miles, effort, and pace. This information is incredibly valuable. Many runners I know have data from the last 5-10 years!
  • If you are seriously training for a goal race, you need to keep a watchful eye on the forecast. Adjust training days or expectations for weather. There’s absolutely no excuse for missing a long run because it rained on Saturday. Plan to move your long run to Sunday or get creative.
  • Train with purpose. This sometimes means running or training LESS. If you don’t know the reason for your training that day, you should question why you are doing it.
  • Treat yourself like an athlete. This means eating, sleeping, and drinking like one. Set yourself up for success.
  • Be cautious. If something feels injured, DO NOT continue to run through it. Overtraining and injuries can usually be avoided. You are not brave, tough, or dedicated if you train through injuries. You are stupid.
  • Show up early to races. My athletes who achieve their race day goals usually get there early, and give themselves ample time to warmup, relax, hydrate, and prepare in every way necessary. Showing up frazzled and last-minute is usually the recipe for disaster. Respect your goals.
  • Learn how to fuel your body. Our bodies are pretty smart, and usually give us clue, cues and advice as to what works and what doesn’t. Like your training, make note of your fueling needs, schedule, etc.
  • Communicate with your coach! Though your coach can’t be a mindreader or do the work for you, they are there to support you. It’s impossible to be supportive when the coach doesn’t know how to help you. If you don’t have a coach, rely on your team or running buddies for support. The running community can be extremely knowledgable and supportive!

The Bad:

  • Skipping the taper or recovery. Elite athletes know to respect these important steps to training, so why are any of us the exception to this step? Respecting the taper doesn’t mean pausing all training, either. I’ve had plenty a runner “not run” during the taper, which is almost as bad as blowing through the taper at high speed. Training cycles exist for a reason. If you don’t understand them, do some research or ask a coach.
  • I have never heard a runner say “I shouldn’t have listened to my coach,” but I hear “I should have listened to my coach” all the time. If you hired a coach, there’s probably good reason for it. Trust that person you are paying good money to guide you!
  • Eating something new the night before or morning of a race or long run. This rarely ends well.
  • Trying new socks, shoes, or a new outfit for a marathon. Your long runs are dress rehearsals for everything – including wardrobe. Trying something new risks blisters, chafing, bloody nipples, and general discomfort – none of which are supportive of a successful race.
  • Winging it on race day. While plans don’t always pan out, having no plan at all is like dancing with the devil. Study the race course, and have a plan on pacing, fueling, and how you are mentally breaking up the race distance.
  • Giving up before you begin. It’s impossible to have a good run or race if you doom it before you start. Yes, speed workouts, long runs and races usually hurt. But dooming yourself sets you up for failure.
  • Just as one good race or workout doesn’t define you as an athlete or human being, neither does one bad one. The athletes who learn to really care about their goals but also keep a healthy perspective are usually the ones who succeed and enjoy running for life.

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!