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!

When Did You Become a Runner?

For many of us, there was a defining moment, experience, or year when we became “runners.” This isn’t to say that there is a rule in my book as to what makes someone a runner or not, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with speed, races, or how seriously you take running as a sport or hobby. To me, someone becomes a “runner” when it becomes a fluid part of their life and routine. It becomes part of their day and who they are just like brushing one’s teeth, reading a book, or something else you do without thinking much about. It’s part of you and your day or week.

Sometimes that transition to “runner” is so natural, you can’t remember what your life was like before it. Other times it’s a huge change. Last week I went back to Southwest Michigan for the first time in eight years, to a small town where I worked for 4 months at a theatre. I didn’t realize it until I went back, but that location and time in my life was when I’d say I became a “runner.” I ran before Michigan, but I don’t think I was a runner. For one thing, before Michigan, I ran out of fear of gaining weight. Being an actor can mess with your head and view on body image. And while I liked running, I wouldn’t say I did it consistently. When I ran I enjoyed it and felt great after, but it was still more of a chore and something I did out of insecurity than anything else.

In Michigan, running became a part of almost every day. It began out of the usual place – don’t gain weight while working a stressful job. But from there, it quickly became my favorite part of my day. While most everyone else went out to party at night or slept in for as long as possible, my alarm went off every morning at 7:45am, I’d toss on my running clothes, and be out the door for a run by 8am. I’d get home around 9am, quickly eat a small breakfast, shower, and arrive the theatre by 10am – where I’d usually work until midnight or 1am. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was, and I always ran an out-and-back, turning around about 30 minutes into the run. Some days I’d make it farther than others. I usually carried my iPod (an archaic model by today’s standards), and let my mind wander as I sweat out my stress and felt strong. And while it took me years after my time in Michigan to enter a race, this was when I became a runner.

If you don’t consider yourself a runner yet, but someone who sometimes runs, you may find that changes over time – perhaps undetected under your nose. Until going back to Michigan, I don’t think I could have pinpointed what I became a “runner.” Or perhaps it will be a defining day, experience, or decision. If you consider yourself a runner, when do you think that happened? It’s fun to travel down memory lane, and reexamine when that shift happened. And if you are not a runner, well…never say never! Happy running!

Frigid Weather? Tips for Training

conditions1Winter training can be tough. It’s dark, cold, and icy. Some Winters are easier than others. Last Winter was a real doozy, and this Winter is shaping up to be pretty darn challenging too. As a coach, I am constantly checking the forecast. I keep hoping I’ll see a week where we break out of the single digits or teens for the low, but week after week my hopes are crushed. I keep thinking we need to have a “warm spell” here sometime soon where we stay above freezing or at least around freezing for a week. No luck. And add the wind chill to some days, and it’s enough to feel completely defeated.

Runners, I hear you. At times I’ll say “suck it up.” After all, I didn’t force any of you to sign up for a Spring Marathon, or to set training goals during the Winter. If you want it, you need to work for it. However, I also can totally sympathize. When it is truly painful to be out there day after day, it’s easy to lose focus. Especially if you are battling icy conditions and constantly moving your training to accommodate the most recent storm.

So what can you do? I have a few tips that may help you power through the next few weeks. And hopefully at some point we’ll get a break.

  • You cannot change the weather, so don’t fight it. If you can move your training around bad weather, do so. If you cannot, get creative.
  • Running in extreme cold, snow and ice can actually be fun – as long as you are safe and keep your time out there to a minimum. In ice or snow, wear YakTrax and/or be careful. Abandon any pace goals and simply enjoy your run. In extreme cold, be mindful of how long you are out there and if body parts go numb or become painful.
  • Take your training inside. Perhaps you can swap out a run for a cross training day, or run intervals on a treadmill.
  • Avoid routes that are not cleared. In Winter conditions, some side walks, roads and running paths are commonly cleared, while others are last priority.
  • Be aware of wind chill, and stay away from large bodies of water or exposed routes. Protected routes from the wind will be warmer than routes out in the open or along rivers.
  • If you schedule allows it, run at the warmest time of the day. Even if it’s bitter cold, some sunshine can lighten your spirits and make it easier to see any ice ahead.
  • Refuel with something warm. I’m a fan of hot chocolate, or hot tea with a snack. Drinking cold water will only make you feel colder.
  • Avoid cotton at all cost. I’m am totally a fan of being a runner on a budget, but running in cotton during Winter is a major n0-no.
  • Get out of wet running gear and into something warm and dry or a hot shower ASAP.
  • Make your cold miles more enjoyable by running with a buddy or listening to music. You probably know other dedicated Winter warriors.
  • Don’t panic if your training gets slightly sidelined. If you need to swap in a rest day or cross training day for your “easy” runs, it’s not a huge deal. Focus on accomplishing your “quality runs” and consider that a success.
  • Remind yourself that at some point, weather will improve. Take it a day or a week at a time. Try not to despair because April seems so far away.
  • The odds are that other runners are struggling too. You are not alone. But the ones with big goals are digging deep and getting their miles done – one way or another. When you line up next to them for your race, they will have the edge. Either accept your modified training, or dig deep and be that person on the starting line with the edge.

Resolution Road

img_6959-editI cannot believe how neglected my blog has been the last few months. I am changing that, starting NOW. For some reason it became less of a priority, which isn’t like me. Even when I am super busy, I alway make time for my blog. No excuses. I’m back at it.

It’s the time of the year when everyone is extremely busy with holiday parties, gift shopping and wrapping, baking, end of year work responsibilities, kids home from school for Winter Break, travel to see family – this time of the year is often one filled with love, laughter, and a whole lot of things on the calendar. It’s also the time of year many folks start thinking about the new year, and the new hopes, dreams and goals they see with it. And that’s where I come in.

I am a firm believer that we can all turn over a new leaf, set new goals, and choose to change habits TODAY. We don’t need a fresh month or new year to finally make ourselves do something, but that seems to be the trend. As you probably know, New Years brings with it more fitness, weight loss and physical goals and resolutions than anything else. Sure, there are people who set career goals, finance goals, travel goals, etc – but fitness is the overwhelming winner of resolutions.

It never fails that the first few weeks of the new year my email and my phone will be filled with inquiries from new people with big goals. I love those emails and calls. I am excited to meet new people, hear about their goals, and discuss how I can help them. It’s part of what I love about what I do – helping people achieve something for themselves that betters them and their quality of life. The excitement, motivation and energy each person brings with their call or email is something I wish I could bottle and save for them. It’s infectious. And yes, out of all the messages, calls, meetings and even a few weeks into training, a certain percent of those hopeful, motivated New Years Resolution clients fall of the face of the earth. The motivation and focus slip once they realize how much effort it takes to train or eat the way they need to, or they become impatient when the scale doesn’t show a magical number within the first week, and so on. The excuses start rolling in, and I know it’s a matter of time before they are off the Resolution Ride, and they will move off my roster. Look at the gym on January 1-5 compared to February 1-5 and you’ll see just how few people stuck with their plan for a month. One month. Thirty-one days, people.

I don’t think any less of the people who can’t commit to their training goals than the ones that do. I get it. It’s hard. It’s also really frustrating to continue that cycle of training/dieting and falling off the wagon. I want to hug and shake and give a pep-talk to the people who fall off. I know that progress takes time, and it takes WEEKS to form new habits, and a lot of work, focus and persistence to make the changes often necessary to achieve goals so momentous that they are saved for the New Year.

I know how hard change can be, but the hardest part is starting. I know I can help people who are willing and capable to make their health and goals a priority. I know anyone can make the changes they desire – but it takes a hell of a lot of willpower, support, knowledge and the acceptance that not every day will be easy for feel good. If say you don’t have time, I will call you out. Bull shit. You have no idea what I’ve made myself accomplish with VERY little time. You have no idea how many clients have succeeded with their goals while juggling an incredibly busy, stressful schedule. Yes, change often involves struggle and some setbacks, but again I will call you out. A setback or struggle doesn’t ruin all the progress or make you a weak person or a failure. It makes you human, silly. And if you find a trainer or gym hard to afford, I suggest you check out how much you are spending to eat out, have drinks with friends, and on medical bills. If you cut back on eating and drinking out, that’s money and calories saved. We almost always eat a better diet when preparing our own food. Cocktails with your girlfriends or with the guys at the bar add up pretty quickly. And if you get yourself healthier, in theory you’ll be spending less money on doctors appointments and medications.

So if you are looking to 2015 with fitness-related goals, be prepared to work hard and to also be in it for the long run. Look towards April, and what goals will be accomplished by then, not January 15th. A ton of progress can happen within four months, but very little will show for it the first two weeks. But the only way to get to April and those goals is to stick with the plan every day between January 1st and April 1st. I wish everyone with high hopes and big goals all the success in the world. There is no better gift to yourself than health, self-confidence and strength. And if you need help, there are tons of great trainers, gyms and programs out there in every city. The road to progress can be hard, but it is never impossible.

Winter Woes and Ultra Training

Back on February 14th, I signed up for the Back on My Feet Ultra Marathon. It was my intention to post weekly vlogs, updating on progress, covering tips for training, thoughts, failures and successes. Sadly, I have yet to take out the video camera. While I am hoping to share some video documentation along the way, I figured I should at least sit down and update you on what has been going on thus far. it is my intention to sit down with the camera soon, I promise.

Boy do I wish I were running here right now! St. Thomas, and I ran on this beach back in August.

Boy do I wish I were running here right now! St. Thomas, and I ran on this beach back in August.

The last month has been insane. Weather has been anything but kind this Winter. While I have been out there day after day with my athletes, running beside them, I have had little motivation to go out on days I am not coaching and clock additional miles. Some of my decisions were safety-related, as the amount of snow, slush and ice on the streets and sidewalks of NYC has been awful many times, and black ice is a nasty beast. I will also confess that I have felt slightly “down” and uninspired to work hard on my own goals.

Another difficulty has been my pacing load. I love my runners, and I am happy to be out there running next to them – even when it’s 5 degrees. I am so proud of my warriors who have hit the streets, day after day in this awful weather. The struggle for me has been that all of the miles tend to bundle within 4 days per week – which obviously is tiring, but also potentially dangerous. I need to make sure I avoid injury, and cramming 50-60 miles within 4 days is a lot for me right now. Therefore, I tend to take the remaining days of the week to rest, because I feel beat up. I need to be more assertive, and move around my coaching to protect myself.

Lastly, my health has been an issue. The last two weeks I have been fighting a terrible chest cold that just won’t quit. It has made it difficult to pace, as my chest often feels tight and I begin to feel light-headed and my legs feel heavy. I am currently finishing a round of antibiotics, and was prescribed an inhaler and nasal spray to help me get over this bug. Not only have I barely run the last two weeks, but I didn’t want to put myself on camera for a vlog while congested, coughing, and blowing my nose. Blah.

I am not worried about my training, because I know I have lots of time between now and July. Right now my focus is on my runners and their goals, and getting healthy. I am excited about daylight savings time, as that should now help a bit with motivation.

I suppose a lesson I have learned and can share with the class is this: the terrible Winter has been grinding at my gears too. You are not alone if you feel unmotivated, frustrated, and simply annoyed with this weather. I feel it too. I am pissed that every single track in NYC has been snow-covered for MONTHS, and that the bridle path in Central Park has also been a slick, snow-covered mess for so much of the Winter season. But I tell myself that this too shall pass, and to relax and just do the best I can until Spring arrives – whenever that will happen.

Staying Motivated

img_8482aweb-320x444Its the time of year where many people find themselves in a rut. Perhaps Winter has been grinding on you with arctic blasts, or you’ve lost the momentum you charged into 2014 with back on New Years Eve. Fear not, I have a few suggestions and tips that can get you out of your rut and having fun!

Consider signing up last-minute for a local race. Hopping into an event with no expectations but to have fun and see what happens mixes up our routines. You may surprise yourself with your fitness level, and cross the line with a PR! You may also find the company of a couple hundred fellow runners reignites your reasons for running. With weather being unpredictable, signing up last-minute also means you can pick and choose your race with the forecast in mind. If nothing else, a short race is a great speed workout.

Perhaps you don’t want to participate in an event as an athlete but still want to be involved. Volunteering always feels good, and you’ll be greeted and thanked by the warriors on the course. As a volunteer, you’ll see every runner go by – from the speedy leaders to the back of the packers and everyone in between. If seeing folks of all shapes and sizes out there pushing themselves to the best of their abilities doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.

I love grocery shopping. I find that if my nutrition habits start slipping, heading to the store and stocking up on healthy options makes me excited to cook and eat yummy things! Looking for new recipes and trying them out is always fun.

Arrange a social event with athletic and fit friends. The social event doesn’t have to be athletic at all. Being around positive, supportive and active people can motivate you to get back to your routine. If fitness and/or training comes up in conversation, reach out and ask for support. Having a running buddy or fellow gym-goer makes the commitment one thousand times easier! I promise that your friends have all gone through training ruts at some point themselves. They won’t view you as weak, but simply as human.

If you have a goal race or fitness goal on your calendar but feel unmotivated to train, force yourself to figure out why. Denial is common, but doesn’t fix anything. Get real. Perhaps this isn’t the time to be committing to a race and you should bag the idea until a later date. Perhaps your diet goals were simply too ambitious but can be tweaked to guarantee success in the big picture. Maybe you need to reconfigure your schedule to make time for training. Sometimes watching a running movie or going to a race website is enough to get your training mojo back. Whatever you do, take an active approach to figuring out why you are in a slump.

We all fall off the wagon now and then. As long as we get back up, we are back in the game.

Staying Focused

©DARIO_ACOSTA_PHOTOGRAPHY-22It’s easy to get excited about new fitness goals. However, for most people that enthusiasm dies somewhere down the road. The gym after New Years is packed for 4-6 weeks, and then many resolution exercisers give up, get bored, lose focus, get injured, or face frustration.

Are you one of those people? If you are, you are not alone. Like we say in the marathon community, the marathon is mostly mental. Regardless of your physical goals, your mental focus is going to be trained along with your body.

What will work for you? Sadly, there is no one way we all tick. For me, signing up for races, and setting goals for those races keeps me on track. I know that if I want a chance at my goals in the future, I am going to have to put in the hard work. I also keep running photos of myself enjoying a race, fighting through fatigue, and other visual reminders around my apartment. Writing down my workouts as I complete them on a calendar I made with recent race photos also helps. I am reminded of how much I love my sport, even on those days when I’d rather not train.

Find positive things you can use to motivate yourself. Tell friends and family about your goals, and they can hold you accountable. Find a gym or training buddy. Rely on your coach – after all, part of your coach’s job is to keep you focused and on track.

When sitting on the sofa counts as training

img_6502-editLet’s face it, in order to achieve your race or fitness goals, you will have to put in the work. There is no magic way to cheat the system.

The good news is that when you have rest days, take them as rest days! Often, runners get into the routine of their training, and at some point it feels very strange to have days that are for rest. Force yourself to take them when scheduled. Remember, rest and recovery are part of training. That time off helps your body heal so that you are ready for the next workout.

When you have a rest day, sit on the couch guilt-free! Enjoy your day. If you find you must get some activity into your day, take a short and leisure walk.

Remember, the last thing you want to do is wind up mentally or physically burned out and overtrained. Take those schedules days off.