Building Base for a Better Race

Models: Pipko and Jasmina, Assisted by Jesse Rosenthal and Andrea HeapIt’s the time of year when runners signing up and tackling Autumn half marathons and marathons are thinking about their training and goals. It’s an exciting time. The impossible could become possible. Minds and bodies are fresh. You are likely pumped and ready to dive into training!

There are a few important things to consider before you get to “official” training – the 16-20 weeks pre-race.

  • For 3-6 weeks, carefully and methodically build base mileage. The miles should be taken at a comfortable, conversational pace. There are no “long runs” yet, and you are not clocking speedy track workouts or hill repeats. That will come with time. Base mileage is necessary for priming and preparing the body for the demands and stress of those intense workouts. Skipping base mileage will raise injury risk.
  • If you are planning to lose any weight between now and your Autumn race, tackle those pesky pounds now – not while in the trenches of training. While it could be tempting to try to drop weight when mileage is high and peaked, that’s also when your body will need and use every calorie you consume. Skimping on calories and nutrition during hard training can raise injury risk, lower your immune system, and leave your training feeling slow and sluggish.
  • If you are looking to add strength training, cross training, or any other forms of physical activities to aid your race goals, get that started during base mileage. That way you aren’t tossing the new stress of weight training and track workouts to your body at the same time.
  • Get a physical. It’s optimal to check your health and lab work at this time. This way if you feel ill during training, you know what you started with and have a comparison.
  • Take a vacation. You’ll go into training rested. it’s a challenge to train well while on a vacation. Try to also eliminate any huge stresses you foresee occurring during training.

Remember that while big goals are awesome and hugely motivating, it’s risky to put all your eggs in one basket. Be sure to have an A, B, and C goal for that big day. That way if things unravel, you can keep your focus on the course. It’s never too early to think about those goals, how attainable they may be, and how you’ll get there!

Pacing in the NYC Marathon

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

One of the greatest joys of my job is watching my athletes succeed. I get to watch them from the first day of training all the way through to their goals, witnessing the transformation that the months of hard work, dedication, and drive always deliver. On Sunday, November 2nd, between private clients, the City Harvest Charity Team, and runners who have been sweating it out at Mile High Run Club, I had over 100 runners stepping up to the starting line of the NYC Marathon. Many times, my work is done come race morning. I am left to frantically track my runners via numerous laptops and phones, or on the course cheering as my runners pass by. This year my work was a little different – I had the responsibility of pacing one of my private clients for her 26.2 mile journey.

As one might imagine, pacing a runner to their goals is a huge responsibility. It is also an honor. And it’s a completely different game to pace a pace group – simply locking in and holding a pace. When with one runner, you are with them through good and bad, needing to make modifications, judgement calls, and offer a ton of emotional support. Sometimes you need to talk them through the wall, force them to a medical tent, give them a shoulder to literally lean on, take walking breaks, try to make them laugh and think of happy thoughts, share their tears of pain and frustration. It’s always a journey of highs and lows, and you hope the highs outweigh the lows.

On Sunday, I had the job of pacing a first-time marathoner. She is only be 20 years old. I don’t know about you, but I know very few 20-year olds who run marathons. She also earned her way into the marathon via NYRR’s 9+1. She also happens to have a cognitive disability. She is incredible, and trained incredibly hard to get to Sunday’s starting line.

When I arrived at her door, I was greeted with the biggest hug and lots of excitement. Imagine a child on Christmas morning or at Disney World, and that’s perhaps close to the enthusiasm Shira had for race morning. I wish every runner was as excited to run 26.2 miles as this young lady!

Unfortunately, the day faced us with some really tough challenges: a delay on the Staten Island Ferry, a HUGE delay with the shuttle from the ferry to Athlete’s Village – so much so that we barely had time to get to our corral before it closed. Because of the delays, we both missed our opportunities to grab bagels, or even find the special tent we had been granted access to. Our very long and delayed trip to the starting line was overwhelming, and that caused the wheels to come off during the race. However, some fantastic support out there from Shira’s parents, relatives, teachers and friends were exactly what we needed to continue moving forward. At times we ran. At times we walked. We stopped for bananas twice, because Shira was starving. We stopped at a medical tent so that a medic could massage Shira’s tight quad. We stopped when we saw her family, so that she could facetime with her sister who was in Israel on Sunday. Through highs and lows, the miles ticked by.

What struck me the most was the support of the other runners out there. They were so supportive of her, often cheering her on, echoing my encouraging words, and giving her high-fives. While the crowded course for the first few miles was very overwhelming (I do not recommend someone with special needs to be in the last wave – it was too much for her), the runners around us were sometimes what got her through to the next mile.

Despite the difficulties, the minute we crossed the finish line after 5 hours and 38 minutes of being on our feet, Shira was elated. She was so proud of herself – and rightly so! Her strength is an inspiration to me and everyone who knows her.

Here are a few of my observations from the 2015 NYC Marathon:

  • In wave 4 (cannot speak for the other waves), many runners stop with their phones and selfie sticks for photos along the course – especially within the first mile as we go up and over the bridge. This was not only extremely frustrating, but also dangerous. In my humble opinion, cell phones have negatively impacted the race experience. Make memories and let the race photographers handle the photos.
  • Runners with special needs should not take the ferry – our morning included: a subway, a shuttle (subway had construction), a ferry, a shuttle, a walk. That’s a LOT of logistics/stress to handle. That wasn’t fair for Shira.
  • The race starts with cannons. If you were at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 and happened to forget that NYC marathon begins with cannons, you might jump out of your skin. You can guess how hard it was for me to keep my cool when that happened. I almost threw up.
  • There were hardly any porta-potty lines in our corral. That was pretty amazing.
  • Bagels/refreshments were nowhere near our village/corral. This was pretty awful.
  • The volunteers along the course were supportive and energetic.
  • At the finish line, we had a wrist band and permission to exit where the elite runners and Achilles athletes exit at west 72nd street. The NYRR staff would not allow us to exit, which was unfortunate considering all the extra work we had put into making Shira’s day as comfortable as possible – which had included months of correspondence with the folks at NYRR.
  • New Yorker’s are the nicest, most considerate people on marathon day. Suddenly everyone is supportive, smiling, and ready to help a runner any way possible. I wish that humanity would carry through the rest of the year.

Kathrine Switzer once was quoted saying “If you ever lose sight in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” I agree. You see people at their most raw. You see blood, sweat and tears, and the will to push forward. You see human beings at their best and their worst – sometimes all at the same moment. If you ever feel dull and have the desire to feel “alive,” train and run a marathon.

After I left Shira’s apartment and headed towards an after party with my charity team, I was slowly able to start the process of checking results for all my other runners. My phone was flooded with emails, texts, missed calls, instagram photos, twitter updates – all from my athletes. It was amazing. The marathon is bigger than any one person, and perhaps that’s part of what makes it so epic.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

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!

The Aches and Pains of Training (and how to handle them)

Training for a sport or event always brings with it aches and pains. However, some aches and pains are part of the training process, while others should not be. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge pain and what to do about it. I am not a doctor, but I do have experience as an athlete and a coach in navigating these training waters, and want to bestow some tips for how to minimize pains, and also how to react to the different kinds you may encounter in training.

If you are training for something that is a challenge for you, there will be days and weeks of feeling sore, tired, perhaps with that “heavy leg” feel, or general muscle fatigue often associated with weight training, running or walking on challenging inclines, or moving really fast. These “growing pains” are not just saved for elite athletes or marathoners. Training for your very first 5K, trying to really run hard and race a 5K to the best of your ability, running your first trail race, blazing through a 400M race – if you are pushing yourself hard, whatever that means for you, you will certainly feel it.

Aches and pains can be challenging for runners to handle. For example, I know plenty of folks who will train through anything. They could have a fractured foot, and they will still be out there hammering out speed on the track. Others will refuse to take rest days and expect they can work through anything. Is this the best thing for a runner? Absolutely not. Then there are the runners who, the minute something feels uncomfortable, whine and refuse to navigate that uncomfortable feeling that is part of training. That runner will have a very hard time on race day when the going gets tough, because they refuse to adapt to the fatigue and uncomfortable feeling that usually comes with racing or completing a distance. There is, however, a happy medium between these two extremes. That runner is the one who will be most successful. It takes time, practice, and self-awareness to become that runner.

Here are a few tips that can help you push towards your goals while also being safe:

  • Take recovery and active recovery days when sore. You cannot expect to go from 0-60 successfully. Your body needs time to be stressed and adapt. This cannot happen over night.
  • Sore and achy muscles often feel better when stretched, foam rolled and iced. I often find that things loosen up if I go for an easy run or walk as active recovery. It may sound strange, but gentle exercise the day after a long or hard effort can speed up the recovery process.
  • If something feels tender at the beginning of a run but feels better the longer you run, you can carefully continue your workout. If things don’t feel better or begin to feel worse, call your run quits.
  • We all have a different history before tackling goals. Be aware of your body history and your potential strengths and weaknesses. We all have them. For example, I know my left IT band gets tight and hip flexibility can be an issue for me, so I am very much aware of my hips when I run – especially long runs and speed runs. I also do strength training to support and strengthen that specific weakness. Another runner may have other issues.
  • There are some “injuries” many runners find they can train through (carefully!) and others they simply cannot. A break, fracture, tear, dislocation, tendonitis – those are all things that will and should sideline a runner from training. Some chronic “injuries” like runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome – can be carefully trained through – though you can expect some additional rest days, PT, and additional care. Always discuss your aches and pains with a doctor or physical therapist before self-diagnosing.
  • There are very few injuries where rest, ice, compression and elevation are bad ideas. So when in doubt, follow those steps.
  • It’s easy to panic the minute something feels unusual. Try not to have a meltdown, and remember that a few days off from training isn’t the end of the world. If it turns out your pain is something serious and your future goals need to be paused, do your best to follow medical advice and focus on being the best patient possible. Many athletes are horrible patients, and don’t help themselves get healthy ASAP. If you have a bone issue, talk to your doctor about your diet, and how you can best kick your bone density up and fuel your healing process. If you can still train without impact, be proactive about training in different ways – which will certainly help your sanity without hurting your recovery.
  • Have a network of doctors, physical therapists and perhaps trainers (running coach and/or personal trainer) who can guide you and be your support system. Only work with folks you really trust. Having that “team” behind you will certainly give you what you need to safely achieve your goals.

Training is hard. It’s not for the weak – physically or mentally. It will bring with it aches, pains, achievements and milestones. Hard work pays off. Just make sure you are honest with your body, goals, and how you plan to safely get there. Best of luck for an awesome season! – Corky

Marathon Training Tips

Marathon training season is in full swing. Goals for Autumn races are becoming clear, and if you have a marathon on your calendar between the months of September to November, you are probably carefully calculating your training carefully. Whether this is your first marathon or your tenth, there are a few tips that can help your training go well, setting you up for an excellent race day.

  • Build base mileage before gunning it for speed. Skipping base mileage will increase your risk of injury – like shin splints. While building base mileage, all kinds of physical and psychological developments happen. Skipping this step can hurt your overall training.
  • After base mileage, add speed carefully – once or twice per week – no more.
  • Keep your long runs at a pace SLOWER than marathon goal pace. It’s a common rookie error to take your long runs at goal race pace.
  • Rest days are just as important as your training days. Don’t feel guilty about them, and please use them. Rest doesn’t equal cross training or strength training. Rest means REST.
  • Be sure you take some recovery weeks. You are not a robot, you are a human. You need recovery weeks in order to push harder in the future.
  • Training will have its highs and lows. Don’t let a bad workout or week define your training. Don’t let an amazing week get to your head. Instead, note the consistent swing of training. If week after week keeps going amazingly, you may be ready to increase your training or race goals. If things consistently go poorly, perhaps you need to reevaluate your goals or the way you want to get there.
  • A lot can happen in the weeks between now and your race. Keep your expectations for race day, goals, and strategy fluid. Nothing should be set in stone 20-16 weeks out from the big day.
  • Summer training can present some training challenges, especially with the long run. Have confidence that weather will cooperate on race day (the odds are it won’t be summer conditions!) and that the hard work you put in, tough though it may feel, will pay off.
  • Practice fueling as you would on race day in your long runs. Leave nothing up to chance.
  • Remember that training for a marathon is hard. There’s a reason why most folks never lace up for 26.2 miles. The training is a journey, and race day is the celebration of your hard work. Enjoy the journey. It will change you.

How to Handle a Disappointing Goal Race

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Broad Street Run 2015, around mile 6. Thanks, Alex, for capturing me when I was really feeling awful but trying to power through.

This past weekend, in what was meant to be my goal race for the Spring season, I not only missed my target finish by 4 minutes, but most of the race was a struggle. It wasn’t that I was ill-prepared – because I wasn’t. But getting sick with a head/chest cold meant my goals were simply no longer in the cards. Oxygen is vital while running (obviously!), and especially necessary when racing. Naturally I was disappointed, and also not feeling well. Not the best of combinations. But I told myself that while I couldn’t control being sick on race day, I could control my attitude. I’m sure I am not the first runner to have a bad goal race – in fact I know I’m not – and thought this could be a misfortune that could turn into a coaching lesson. After all, I am trying to look on the bright side.

If a goal race isn’t going to go the way you had hoped, there are a few things you can do. Here are some common scenarios and tips:

  • Accept the things you cannot change. Modify your plan, goals, and expectations. Being in denial isn’t helpful, and just delays your disappointment.
  • Perhaps poor weather is in the forecast. Adjust your wardrobe for it. Hot sun will mean you’ll need to fuel more frequently than perhaps anticipated. Rain means you may want to wear waterproof gear, or few layers. Wind means you will possibly need to adjust your paces. Nobody wins in a race against headwinds. You will simply need to modify your pacing and finish time expectations. Don’t believe me? Ask the folks who tried to fight the wind in the 2014 NYC Marathon.
  • A stressful week or weekend leading into your goal race can cause issues. The odds are you have put race pressure on yourself, and if you are experiencing “taper tantrum,” you may naturally be more on edge. Remember to relax. Look at the big picture, and don’t make mountains out of mole hills.
  • Bad health and minor injury are unfortunately unavoidable. For example, I had no control over the chest/head cold that plagued me this week and hit me hardest over race weekend. If you have a minor injury, all you can do is attempt to keep it happy. If health appears to compromise your goals, you need to accept that and modify your expectations and strategy. If IT Band issues plague you on race weekend, be prepared to pause and stretch on race morning. Also be prepared to change your pace and gait if you are tight or in pain.
  • If you are late to the starting line, don’t panic. You may miss your corral, or be in a rush to get into the porta potty line or bag check – but loosing your cool will only lead to a frazzled race. Instead, remember you can always drop back to a different corral. Not ideal, but if you settle into those first few miles, the odds are your race pace won’t be compromised at all in the big picture. Stay stressed and abandon all reason, and you are asking for the wheels to come off.

It can be really sad, frustrating, and upsetting to miss the mark on a goal race. But remember, as long as you are safe and smart on race day, your racing career is far from over. Instead, I urge you to go out there and enjoy the morning as much as possible – even if that means running through a heat wave, or blowing snot and coughing up gunk in your lungs at an epic rate. Every race is a journey, and we cross that finish line slightly different from when we crossed the starting line. Enjoy the journey between those two points. You’ll have your day to capture that goal – it simply just may not be today.

Boston Marathon 2015

273565_191803974_XLargeThe Boston Marathon has been part of my marathon journey since my first marathon. Working towards a BQ (Boston Qualifier) gave my training a specific goal. Achieving that goal, and anticipating Boston was a magical experience. Three Boston Marathons later, and my journey seems somehow complete for that chapter. Before I get to that, let’s talk about the Boston Marathon for a minute.

In my opinion, the Boston Marathon is the most famous, historical, and prestigious marathon in the world. I’m sure there are prettier marathon courses out there, harder ones, easier ones – but Boston is special. Unless you opt to run for a charity, every single runner on the course earns their way to the starting line by achieving a qualifying time. I like that. I’m someone who likes to work hard, and would never run Boston without earning my spot. Just my opinion. This is because that starting line and 26.2 mile journey cannot be nearly as sweet for someone who fundraised as someone who may have put blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice into achieving that qualifier. For many of us, its as close to an Olympic Qualifier, or Olympic Trials experience. I wouldn’t want to buy my way into that either.

Besides being earned, the course is amazing. There are a few quiet miles through Boston farm towns and suburbs, but they are short-lived and broken up by the most passionate fans and towns I have ever witnessed. In Monday’s rain, the crowds only screamed louder. You can hear the Wellesley girls (famous for giving out kisses to runners) a mile or so away. The energy is electric. The locals set up tents, fire pits, and parties in their front yards – often handing out orange slices, candy, tissues, water, and all the enthusiasm they have. By the time you get to the Newton Hills, you are charged and ready for the hills that await  you. Turning the corner in Newton at the fire station, and seeing one of the first big climbs, you cannot help but feel confident and strong as Bostonians scream for you. From Brookline to the finish line on Boylston Street, the energy simply carries you.

If you have never run Boston, and have it on your list of goals, I highly recommend you do what you can to qualify. The reward for partaking in Patriot’s Day is one that cannot be accurately described. It’s an honor to share the journey with so many talented runners from around the world.

273565_191450725_XLargeThe 2015 race took place in less than ideal weather. Off and on rain (sometimes a heavy pouring rain!) and 20 MPH winds at times meant respecting the weather and not fighting it. The rain held off for me until I got to Natick, so I was a good 6-8 miles into the race before the weather got nasty. Overall, I have to say the weather wasn’t bad. Had I been trying to race, I’m sure I would have felt it. Based on the slow elite times, it obviously was a factor. The worst part was losing feeling in my hands and arms, making opening my final GU a real challenge. But in the big picture, a pretty minor inconvenience.

I have had a hard time processing this past Monday. I almost bailed on the race all together. I didn’t know if I was truly ready to come back and face the course and the city for the first time since 2013. I won’t rehash the details, but you can read my blogs about that here, here and here. Ironically, though qualifying for Boston has never been full of misses and heartbreak (I’m lucky in that department!), my experiences in Boston had never been good. In 2012, the year it was over 80 degrees at the start, I was battling a stomach bug that forced me to DNF at my 11. It was a truly terrible day, and I was so heartbroken and sad. I had never pulled out of a race before, and Boston seemed like the worst of all races to do so. In 2013, I was coming back from an injury and wasn’t sure I’d be clear to go and run – I had abandoned the original goal of really racing and trying to PR. On what was a beautiful day, and an incredible journey with my friend Cipriana, that was all erased at the finish line. So this year, the third attempt at Boston, I was more or less waiting for something to go wrong. Maybe third year was the charm? Anyway, when the weather looked sour, I figured if that was the worst of it, I’d take it. I can run in wind and rain. I wasn’t aiming to PR or really race, and I train through any and all conditions.

Race weekend was tough. Anxiety made me snappy, tense, and probably hard to deal with. We avoided crowds, Boylston Street and pretty much everything. Aside from the race expo, which we got in and out as quickly as possible, we laid low. I turned off my phone by 7pm on Sunday night, and was in bed. I wasn’t exactly sleeping, but I was resting. This may be one of the first marathons where I was calm and not at all stressed about the course, race morning, goals – I am usually a bit of a basket case. Having no race goals and knowing the course meant I let it all go. It was really strange. The most I have ever slept before a marathon, for sure. Race morning, as soon as I left the hotel and started the walk towards Boston Commons for the bus, Boston PD were out with bomb sniffing dogs at 6am. I almost threw up, but somehow told myself not to panic. Thankfully, a lovely couple (Christina and Quint) came up beside me and started chatting as we walked. Having their company from that moment until we hopped into our corrals hours later was a mind-saver. Truly.273565_192126062_XLarge

At the starting line, I was briefly overcome by emotion. Not because of PTSD or bad memories, but the reality that here I was, on the iconic starting line in Hopkinton. My plan for the day was to run a comfortable pace, and to settle and not burn out on the hills. Being a coach has made me a smarter athlete. I never lost my head or abandoned my plan. The quiet, the crowds, the rain, the wind, and calm – I took it all in. I looked forward to each town in front of me, and enjoyed the town I was in. I gave high-fives, pumped my fist when someone shouted “Go #5893!!!!,” took my GU like clockwork every 5 miles, and enjoyed the journey. While many runners around me dreaded the iconic hills between miles 16-21, I was excited to see them and climb them. I’m not going to say I was never tired out there, because 20 miles into a marathon nobody feels fresh – regardless of the pace. I recall my glutes and hips felt a little tight and tired, and I told myself “smooth and easy,” over and over each mile. Reminding myself to check my form meant I never took heavy steps – always silent or very quiet.

Getting to the top of HeartBreak is always fun – all of the Boston College kids and the fast downhill give you a surge. Plus it’s only 5 miles to the finish. This is where I started passing runners by the dozens. I found my even splits meant I passed many runners on the hills who had gone out too fast, but then the final 5 miles all I did was fish in runners who struggled. It’s a GREAT feeling to pass everyone towards the end of a race. Though I only looked at my watch periodically to make sure I wasn’t going too fast, I ran 1:38:57 for the first half, and a slightly positive split for a finish time of 3:20:23.

Chris was standing at the overpass he was at in 2013, wearing a poncho and trying to snap photos in the rain. Once I saw him, it was a block until the right turn on Hereford Street, and the quick left onto Boylston Street. On Hereford, I gathered myself for what was ahead. I remember briefly closing my eyes and closing out the world. I told myself this was it, the epic stretch was before me, and this time it was mine to celebrate without anything bad. I had made it to Boston, all I had left was Boyslton Street. Running down Boylston Street is something I cannot put into words. The energy is unfathomable. It’s all around you. I laughed, I cried, I opened up my stride to finish strong. I remember giving a second of reflection as I passed the National Flags, having witnessed them destroyed two years ago.

Once at the finish, I turned around and forced myself to look back. No bombs. No fear. Just cheering and runners coming in behind me. The rain and wind, though noticeable, was such a minor thing in the big picture. My frozen hands and arms had a hard time holding the water bottle handed to me, and a volunteer put my medal around my neck and helped me with my mylar poncho. My legs were so cold I couldn’t tell where my shorts stopped and my legs began. As I exited Boystlon Street and walked back to my hotel, I’m sure I looked like a mess. A drenched, crying, laughing, poncho-wearing runner looking at her splits and eagerly walking the mile or so back to a hot shower.

Some interesting facts/choices made that day:

  • Pre-race, I consumed 1 banana at the hotel, and then 1 banana and 1 bagel, and 1 bottle of water in Athlete’s Village.
  • No blisters, chafing or discomfort commonly associated with long distance running occurred during this marathon – which is pretty surprising considering the wet conditions.
  • I used old running socks as mittens for my hands, and kept them on for the first 5 miles. They worked great.
  • Wearing a hat with a cap is hugely helpful when racing in rainy or sunny conditions. The rain was rarely in my face and vision was never compromised.
  • Usually one to race in sunglasses, I opted to leave them at the hotel. This worked out well, considering the humidity level and rain. Though my face did feel a little naked without them.
  • After much debate, I opted to dress minimally for a chilly race – sports bra, shorts, knee high compression socks, and arm sleeves – which I discarded around 10 miles in. The minimal clothes meant minimal fabric weighed down by cold rain. The only downside: my arms/hands lost all feeling by the end of the race, thanks to the wind and rain.
  • I used 4 GUs, taking them religiously every 5 miles. I stored them in my sports bra, my arm sleeves, and later held the final two in my hand after discarding the arm sleeves and looking to avoid chafing.
  • I brought my iPod with me (incase nerves became a big issue), but never used it and had the headphones tucked into my sports bra the entire 26.2 miles.
  • I never took any Gatorade, only water from hydration stations.
  • Breaking up the course by town is a nice way to look at 26.2 miles. Boston is the perfect course for this strategy, as it’s pretty much a straight shot to Boston. No hairpin turns or out-and-backs.
  • Once crossing the finish line, I kept moving. I paused for my medal and mylar sheet, but otherwise walked an additional 20 minutes or so. Resisting the temptation to stop and sit post-race can be hugely beneficial for recovery.
  • I consumed a bottle of water, a burrito, chips and guacamole, and a chocolate shake within 60-90 minutes after walking back to the hotel. Fueling post-race is important, and I waited a little longer than the ideally recommended 30-minutes post-race. I was too cold and frozen to manage eating en route to the hotel. And it was pouring.273565_191542107_XLarge

Three Patriot’s Days running Boston, and the third was certainly the best. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I’m okay with that. I have a qualifier now for 2016, but I don’t want to rush anything. Plus I don’t know what my goals are right now with the marathon. I’d love to come back and really race some day. I’d also love to crack 3 hours. Though I don’t know if Boston will be the place for that. For now, I am just relieved to have made it to today, with a positive story about the Boston Marathon. I will never forget 2013, as hard as I may try. And that’s okay, it’s unfortunately part of my history. But now I also have a newer history in Boston, that is so much sweeter.

Women in Running – Celebrate the Pioneers

corky9It was recently International Women’s Day, and it made me think of women who have made strides in the running and athletic worlds. (That pun was intended, ha!) Looking back, we don’t have to go many decades in the past to see so much change. A mere 31 years ago, women were allowed to run the marathon in the Olympics for the first time ever. Humor me, I was born in 1984, so I will always assume that first Olympics was “recent.”

Kathrine Switzer, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Grete Waitz – these women cemented women’s place in long distance running. Even when the odds were stacked against them, these running pioneers not only stood up for themselves, they also set athletic records while doing so.

Today, most long distances races are made up of more female participants than male. That’s pretty incredible. In 31 short years, we have gone from our first opportunity at the marathon in the Olympics, to dominating long distance races in the United States. That’s girl power. We still have a little ways to go around the globe, but every year women in other countries are slowly picking up endurance sports.

On the flip side, the coaching business is still very male dominant. There are a handful of full-time, kick ass female coaches in NYC. But a quick Google search will show mostly male coaches out there. Cities may vary, as does demand. Perhaps many runners gravitate towards a male authority figure – are the taken more seriously? Viewed as more accomplished? I don’t know. Ironically, many studies show that females have the upper hand at endurance events. What we may lack in physical ability (men have larger hearts and lungs – an asset in endurance sports, along with hip angle), women may have the mental edge.

Who will be the next generation of female pioneers? We will have to wait and see. My hope is that someday we won’t need female pioneers – they will be out of a job because we will all be treated the same – men and women as equals.

Train with Purpose

If you have a race goal, it’s important to train with purpose. It’s common for many runners new to racing or the marathon to train for their event by simply running miles. They run at whatever speed they feel like, without any structure, direction or purpose other than “miles.” This was the way I trained for my first marathon, and it’s a very common course of action. Many runners don’t have the knowledge or understanding of why you should run easy most days, and target specific speeds and challenges on a few carefully chosen days per week. Without a purpose, athletic goals and the ability to achieve those goals will often prove unsuccessful.

Every run you do within your 16-20 weeks leading up to your marathon has a purpose. If you don’t understand the purpose, you need to ask what it is. There’s a reason for every run. If there isn’t a reason, don’t do it. Smart runners make successful runners. Ask, do research, or question your training plan. Sometimes I search for cookie-cutter marathon plans floating around out there on the internet, out of curiosity. I often find plans that cover the bases, but don’t offer any explanation as to why the workouts, weeks, rest days, quality days, etc. are structured the way they are. If I were a new marathoner looking for a plan, I’d be blindly following what I’d find – which is what I did my first time around. I remember I ran every run at more or less the same pace. The plan outlined mileage, but other than that, it was a blank canvas. So I ran the same pace, whether is was a 5-miler or a 22-miler. If you’d asked me the purpose of that day’s run, my answer would probably have been “mileage.” That answer really isn’t good enough.

This is where resources become a huge help. Books, blogs, articles, and coaches can help you understand why today’s workout is structured a specific way (an easy 5-miler to act as active recovery between two days of speed workouts, for example), and educate you as to how that workout will build you towards your race-day goal. Running miles for the sake of miles is rarely the right purpose – perhaps Ultra marathon runners are the exception, or when building base mileage. However, even when building base mileage, there is a specific way to build and reasons behind it.

Be aware that training without purpose will often lead to injury. Running at the same pace every day, taking on too much too soon, excluding rest days, running speed days back-to-back – the risk for injury increases, which none of us want.

Long Run, Dress Rehearsal

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

Over 30 miles into an Ultra Marathon in July 2012.

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

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

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