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.

Accessing you mental toughness

635204708462443579It’s interesting to see and hear what my clients succeed and struggle with, and how that relates to my own struggles as an athlete. One thing a few athletes voiced struggling with in 2014 was mental toughness, which is a topic many of us know all too well. I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with it, and think I may have some ideas, tips and experiences that may help you and your running goals – especially in the marathon.

We are all incredibly strong. Sure, we have varying degrees of the tough stuff, but very few people are truly weak. However many people perceive themselves that way. The good news is that we can always change how we handle those hard moments and our perception. In running, clocking long miles like a marathon tend to really test our mental toughness. Mentally, I think anyone can get through a 5K. I can talk myself into doing anything painful or taxing for 15-25 minutes. Mentally, I’ve got that. That doesn’t mean I won’t hurt, fight towards the finish line and feel mentally spent at the end – because all of those things will definitely happen. But mentally I can always get myself around a 5K. A marathon is a whole different game. And here’s where we get personal:

I am going to assume that every poor soul taking the time to read my blog as experienced some form of hardship in their lives – maybe many. I’m talking the dark, ugly, painful shit. Divorce, loss of a loved one, being bullied, fighting substance abuse, physical setbacks, being mentally or physically abused, experiencing a horrific trauma and suffering from PTSD, rising above prejudices, or simply being told your entire life that you were weak. If you haven’t experienced any of that, you are extremely lucky and should probably start buying lottery tickets. For the rest of us, we have all had to cope with that crap at some point or another, most likely multiple times. Hopefully you have all processed these things in a healthy way. If you haven’t, talk to someone. Anyway, I’m not a therapist, but I do know the power of rising above bad experiences. If you are planning to run or race a marathon, or a distance that is new and/or terrifying to you, use those bad experiences. Why? Because you have forged your way through them and are here today and ready to run. That takes guts. And a hell of a strong brain. That strength is your ace in the marathon.

Personally, I’ll freely admit my triggers. For my first marathon, I used the determination to prove to myself and every girl who bullied me in high school that I was a strong fighter, and a Boston Qualifier. I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to prove to myself I could survive an ugly divorce, a sexual assault, and a suicide attempt. I wanted to prove to the world that I was no longer weak, unstable, unhappy, or capable of crumbling when shit got hard. And so I trained hard. I trained with fire in my heart and blinders on my eyes. I trained through plantar pain, long work hours, and rain storms. When I’d reach mile 16-20 of my long runs, I’d fight through to mile 22-23. No, I was not training to be a pro or win awards, but I knew my goal was there if I worked hard for it. When I crossed that first marathon finish line, I wanted to shout up to the clouds all kinds of happy profanities. Not because I had surpassed my time goal, but because I had proved to myself that the weak, uncomfortable, insecure me was gone. Gone forever.

Now I realize that I had a list of really shitty things to propel that first marathon (blessing in disguise?), but use what you have. Dig deep, and find that strength. If you dealt with a messy breakup, had to balls to walk out of a bad relationship, use the strength that action took. If you were ill and needed surgery and pushed through the recovery and rehab, use that. Whatever you have surpassed, overcome, walked away from, fought head on – access that. Don’t be scared of it. Use your demons, and suddenly a marathon doesn’t seem so daunting. I mean yes, you still have to do the work and it’s a LONG ways, but I think you get it.

So if you experienced a long distance race that fizzled thanks to your mental state, go back to the drawing board on those long runs. Truthfully, even the most conditioned athlete can fall apart in the marathon if they lose their head. I’ve seen ladies who finish 7 hour marathons, putting one foot in front of the other slow and steady, refusing to quit. I’ve also seen ladies who aim to run a 2:45 marathon, lose their heads and throw in the towel. What we have going on in our brains has nothing to do with our physical strength, though we are at our best when our brains and bodies are both trained for race day – whatever that means for you.

You are stronger than you realize. All you have to do is accept that and dig deep to that place of strength. It takes practice to access it, so hop to it.

The Balance Beam

img_6690-editI am asked all the time by my clients, family and friends how I balance my coaching obligations and my own training. My response is always the same: it’s a challenge and a balancing act. In fact, I have had to change my own personal goals this year to accommodate my coaching – which has been fine. It’s my choice. My own experiences with balancing work and running made me think of my clients and everyone I know balancing their careers and everything else in their lives.

Balancing training for a goal like a marathon is all about choices. I suppose it’s like anything in life. There are some folks who will prioritize a specific running goal above almost all else, while others barely train and hope for the best. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re smart enough to know you can’t cheat your way through marathon training, but also have other priorities and the marathon doesn’t make the top of the list. Running is something many of us do, and we are indeed runners. However that’s usually not the only thing we are or identify with.

So how does one balance goals if priorities swing one way or another?  Perhaps some years personal running goals need to take the back burner while something else moves to the front. Or perhaps the type of running goal you have changes – maybe you want to try an indoor track season or an Ultra – both completely different sports from the marathon. If I had all the answers, I’d be bestowing that wisdom upon you right now. Instead, I’ll admit I struggle to keep my balance sometimes. The silver lining is that when my own goals need to take the back burner, it’s usually because I am helping others achieve their goals – which is a pretty awesome job.

If you find yourself struggling to keep balance, figure out why. Perhaps you have been training for marathon after marathon, signing up and training for the next the minute the current goal is history. It’s natural to burn out, both physically and mentally. I’ve been there, and hard as it may be, sometimes a break is the best thing. The thing to keep in mind is that the marathon will always be there, whether you come back to it in one year, five years or fifteen years. Yes, your body may react differently to training if you wait fifteen years, or it may be extremely frustrating to build back fitness you know you had a year ago, but our bodies and minds are pretty darn amazing, and will indeed bounce back.

Personally, I am struggling with that right now. This past year I took off from pretty much all of the training I had done the last few years. No track work, tempo runs, hill repeats – none of what I had been doing to make me “fast.” (My fast is turtle pace compared to some and probably speedy compared to others, so I think it deserves quotations.) Instead, I focused on Ultra Marathon training, which made sense with my coaching schedule. It was incredibly easy to tally up high-mileage weeks, all done at an easy pace. Ask me to run a 6-minute mile, and I would be left dry-heaving on the side of the road. My body had changed, thanks to what I’d asked it to do. Yes, I’d run 15 miles per day, 6-7 days per week and feel great. But could I race a 5K with any dignity? Nope. But that kind of training fit my schedule best. It was the easiest choice – which I realize as I say that sounds pretty insane. Like me, you may find yourself training the way that best fits your current life – be it work, family, etc. The hard part is then trying to change that.

How does someone go from running easy 90-100 mile weeks to suddenly asking their body to run “hard” again? It’s incredibly humbling to be huffing and puffing to run at your marathon goal pace from a year ago. But again, our bodies change based on the training demands. Can I get my body to run 7:05s for 26.2 miles again? Absolutely. Would it take a lot of work and patience? Sure. But it can be a goal if I decide to work for it.

I suppose I have two points to this blog:

  • As long as you give yourself the time and the proper training, you can change your running goals and absolutely succeed at the goals you have carved out for yourselves. Try something new. Aim for that PR, that BQ, that OQ. The worst that happens is you fail. And so what? It’s not like you are losing a cash prize if you don’t achieve your race-day goals, right?
  • The second is that I am excited as an athlete to switch focuses and see what I can do with shorter distances. It will be a challenge to balance coaching miles and training miles, but it’s all about choices and priorities. It may mean I need to be creative with my quality workouts and my rest days. But just like anyone with a job and other things in their lives, it’s all a balancing act. I’m never going to be training full-time, so just like you, I need to be both focus and ambitious but also flexible.

If you have tips for how you manage your training, race goals and life – please leave a comment. I know I could use any tips – and I am sure I am not the only one!

Post-Marathon Blues

img_6945Post-marathon time is often a time of riding the high of your accomplishment, reflecting on what went wrong and what went right, resting those tired legs, and perhaps deciding to retire from said marathon distance or perusing for future races. You may also find yourself feeling a little lost without all those training miles, and perhaps still eating all those yummy carbs. It’s natural after your 26.2 mile journey to go through a few weeks of transition.

Despite your enthusiasm to get back out and running, allow your legs to rest. Even though you may feel decent, many little micro tears in your muscles are healing. Your body and brain will thank you for the break. A few weeks of rest or easy cross training is the best thing you can do for your legs.

Spend this time going over your marathon experience. There are lessons that can be learned from every marathon. I find the greatest lessons come from the marathons that disappoint than those that go according to plan. Mistakes are the greatest learning lessons, as long as you LEARN from them. Perhaps you didn’t take the proper taper, or you wore something new on race day and it backfired, you made poor fueling choices, or you abandoned your plan and took the early miles too fast – those are all common mistakes, and mistakes that shouldn’t be made twice.

The “off-season” can be a great time to work on your weaknesses. Strength training, rebooting your nutrition, shedding a few pounds, rehabbing a nagging injury, trying a new sport or hobby – don’t view this part of training as a bad thing, it’s the chance to improve.

If you are eager to sign up for a new race, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to recover and build some base mileage before hopping back into intense training. Being too eager can increase injury risk. Your body and brain both need to be on board – not just your brain. When searching for a race, think about what you loved about your recent one and what perhaps you wish it had. With all the race options these days, you are bound to find the perfect fit. When searching for your next race, think about your goals and how to find the perfect complement to your needs, goals and race-day dreams.

Marathon Preparation – what to do now

img_7073Marathon season is in full swing. Whether you are preparing for your first marathon, your one-hundredth marathon, or a goal personal best, there are a few things you should start to practice and plan NOW so that race day goes smoothly!

  • Finalize accommodations. Race weekend can become stressful. You will naturally be a bit anxious or excited. Having your plans for the weekend – including where you are going to eat, stay and how you will get to/from the race ironed out now will equal minimal chance for added stress on race weekend.
  • Practice in what you’ll wear. Everything from your shoes to your hat – wear your “race outfit” for a few long runs. This will minimize the risk of blisters, chafing, overheating, or simply annoying or uncomfortable race-day issues. If you plan to buy new shoes for your marathon, buy them and break them in on a few long runs in the weeks leading up to the big day.
  • Practice how you will fuel on race day. Everything from what you’ll eat the night before and morning of to how often you will refuel with water or GU on the course. Leaving nutrition to chance is a good way to guarantee you’ll take a tour of the porta-potties mid-race.
  • Start looking at your race course and elevation. Make note of landmarks, turns, water stations, and other useful points on the course. You don’t want to feel “lost” on race day. Know the course, and you’ll be prepared for success.
  • Set a few race-day goals. It’s impossible to predict what will happen with 26.2 miles of running, and setting one ambitious best-case scenario goal may set you up for a whole lot of heart ache. A few goals means you may have fall-back goals you can still achieve if the star’s don’t align.
  • Look at your training paces and come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses. Runners who know themselves often have a better chance of handling the tough moments and getting back on track. Revisiting your training should also give you some confidence. The proof is in the numbers, and so try not to doubt your training while you taper.
  • If you are going to have friends/family cheering on the race course, discuss ahead of time exactly where they will be. It takes a lot of energy to search a crowded block while trying to stick to your paces. Knowing they will be on the northwest corner of Chestnut Street, wearing blue and holding a sign is a million times easier than looking for someone “at the intersection of Chestnut Street.”
  • Make clear and definitive plans for what to do and how to get home, to the hotel, or to find family post-race. Be realistic and give yourself extra time. Marathoners move notoriously slow post-race.

No matter how your race weekend goes, try to have some fun and relax. There is always something positive to take away and learn from every race. If things don’t go your way, at least you know you were prepared. That should narrow the possibilities for making the same mistake twice – and hopefully you’ll have a kick ass race and will cross the finish line with a smile from ear to ear, feeling awesome.