Race Recap – Saint George Marathon

With my family at the finish. 

I’ve decided to sit on my experience for a solid 4 weeks before attempting to recap Saint George. There’s been a lot for me to process mentally, and a lot of recovery both physical and mental. In an attempt to share perhaps helpful info for runners signed up for (or interested in signing up for) Saint George Marathon, this blog is focused on the race experience – the course, organization, city, weather, and so on. In another blog I’ll share the personal stuff. If you aren’t aware (spoiler alert), I ran the marathon 6 weeks pregnant and it was 100% not the race I’d hoped it to be.

Saint George, Utah is an incredibly beautiful part of the country. I flew into Las Vegas and then made the 2 hour drive with my family to Saint George. The logistics were pretty easy, and it’s advised to drive into high elevation versus simply flying into it. As a New Yorker, I’m essentially at sea level most of the year. Saint George is at about 2500 ft and the starting line is up around 5000 ft.

I’m all about simplicity and low stress for a goal marathon, and so I booked the Hyatt in Saint George, which literally shared a parking lot with the Convention Center – the home of the race expo. An unexpected bonus: there’s a paved running/bike path and was right outside my hotel door, perfect for that shakeout run. The hotel has an outdoor pool and hot tub, and a tiny gym in case you need space to stretch, foam roll, etc.

The race expo was super easy. For the folks interested, there were the usual vendors marathoners expect. Personally, I usually just want to get in, get my stuff, and get out. Energy can be wasted at expos, it’s not advisable to try new snacks the day before a race, and I find the crowds often overwhelming. With this being my first elite bib, I had to bring my personal water bottles to the expo with me. I dropped my bottles off with volunteers (they’d be placed on the course the next day) and retrieved my bib from a special area. Otherwise it was the standard expo procedure.

For carb loading, there is a pasta dinner hosted at the Expo. However, there’s also a Cracker Barrel across the street, and so I opted for pancakes. Post-marathon we enjoyed steaks at Rib and Chop, and we also indulged our East Coast senses with In ‘n Out Burger a few times.

The day before the marathon, my family and I hopped in the rental car and drove the full race course. It was incredibly helpful to get a visual and to get the elevation profile under my belt. The downhills were generous and steep, but so were some of the climbs. The big reality check was Veyo, mile 7, where you climb for over a mile – at one point there’s a sign about an 8% grade up for vehicles. There was also a notable climb around mile 19 – which reminded me a little of Heartbreak Hill in Boston. Completing the drive left me feeling cautiously optimistic about the next morning. The course played into my strengths, and I was excited to blow my PR out of the water. I’d trained incredibly hard, pretty darn smart, and felt confident that the course and I were a really good match.

Race morning I awoke at 3am. With it being a point-to-point course, all marathoners had to board the buses at the finish line and be bussed up to the starting line. Multiple emails had been sent over the months stressing the boarding time ranged from 3:45am-5:20am – as the buses would be literally driving on the marathon course and needed to be cleared for the 6:45am start. Not one to be late or compromise my goal race, I was on the bus around 4:15am. There were no crowds waiting to board, and it was an incredibly smooth morning. Chris drove me the 3 miles from the hotel to the bus, I hopped on the bus, and off to the starting line I went. The bus ride was about 40 minutes, and I was at the starting line by 5am.

Upon arrival at the starting line, it was raining. The rain in the forecast was predicted to clear by 7:30am. However, this meant standing around in 45 degrees and rain for a few hours. I was a little surprised and disappointed to discover that elites were not given a tent. We were given our own area with our own porta-potties, but we were out in the elements like everyone else. While this was my first elite bib, to the best of my knowledge, elites at most races are given shelter from the elements. Luckily, I was prepared with extra clothes and volunteers handed out Mylar blankets – which are water proof.

The rain continued up until the starting of the marathon, and we passed the hours of waiting hanging out by fire pits, hopping into the porta-potties, and making small talk with each other. As it neared 6:45am, it was announced that the start would be delayed by “10-15 minutes.” I was really surprised, as Saint George Marathon has a reputation and brags about being one of the most organized marathons in the country. I was not thrilled to stand around in cold rain for additional time. The 10-15 minutes eventually turned into 30 minutes – and it was poorly communicated how and when we’d start. The reason for the delay: runners were late to board the last bus. The New Yorker in me was pretty pissed. It was clearly stated that the last bus would leave at 5:20am, and apparently the last one didn’t actually leave until 6:20am – A WHOLE HOUR BEHIND SCHEDULE.

Bib pickup at the Expo

Once we did start, at 7:15am, it was still dark and raining. The road was wet and my shoes splashed through puddles. The sun rose on a fast and mostly downhill 10K. I knew about this potential trap and relaxed and just tried to wake up my legs. At mile 7 you hit Veyo – the first opportunity for spectators and crowd support, and that big monster hill. It’s then a gradual climb until mile 12. Mile 12-19 is practically all downhill. Some parts are steep, others definitely more gradual, and there were a few little climbs in the mix. Mile 16, Snow Canyon, offers the next big spectator opportunity. By this point, the rain had stopped and I could begin to take in the grandeur of the course. Aside from Mile 19, you continue to descend to Saint George. Once in Saint George, its residential and there are a few turns. The road flattens out and you can see the finish line for probably 800-600M before you cross the line.

A few takeaways:

  • Train for hills – up and down. This kind of course can be absolutely relentless. The soreness after a flat marathon is nothing compared to a hilly one.
  • Being elite, a volunteer was ready with my bottle in hand as I’d come through. This was really nice. A volunteer perhaps 200M from the hydration station would radio in my bib number so that the person at the table would be ready for me.
  • The course is really beautiful and fast if you’re ready for it. It’s definitely a negative-split course on a good day.
  • Everyone in Saint George was incredibly nice and supportive. The hydration volunteers yelled how much they loved my bottles (they were by far the best decorated!).
  • Expect temperature at the start to be VERY different than the finish and dress/prepare accordingly.
  • There’s no tree coverage or shade. For me, it was either raining or overcast. But I know in years past, if its a sunny day, runners have baked out there on this race.
  • For the love of God, get to the busses extra early. That extra 30-60 minutes of sleep will not change your race day, but you may delay the race for literally 8,000 people.
  • Having family on the course is always a boost, even on a bad day.
  • Saint George is absolutely a race I’d recommend to marathoners.

Take note that unlike most marathons, Saint George always takes place on a Saturday. I assume this is for religious reasons (Utah is mostly Mormon) so be prepared to adjust travel plans if you are used to Sunday races.

How to be the wisest, strongest and happiest runner possible

Dear Runners, we need to talk. The statistics with runners and injuries is enough to make someone not want to lace up. However, much of the injuries runners encounter are 100% preventable. Sure, there’s a percent of runners who will be injury-prone for reasons they cannot control – one leg slightly longer than the other, a trauma from years ago, overuse from a childhood activity, and poor genetics. But that’s a small percent of runners. YOU are often responsible for those aches and pains. This isn’t about pointing blame, but informing, educating and perhaps preventing injuries in the future by making different choices.

  • Most runners, novice and experienced alike, tend to try to skip some crucial training steps. We can sometimes get away with blowing through or skipping some things, but it’s usually a matter of time before it backfires. You may not feel the consequence until weeks or months later.  Here are some things we can all do to improve our running experience – we’ll feel stronger, faster, fitter, healthier, and be able to make this sport a life-long activity instead of one sidelined with injury.
  • Start slowly and build base mileage. If you are new to running, start SLOWLY. Accept where you are and start there. It takes time to adapt to stress. Marathoners, it’s pretty risky (and stupid) to go from sitting on the couch to being 20-16 weeks out from a marathon. BEFORE the official training begins, you should have anywhere from 4-12 weeks of base mileage under your belt. Many marathoners skip this. Think about it – in marathon training you’ll be doing some speed runs and some long runs – both of which are high stress. If you don’t slowly prepare for the simple stress of 20-30 miles of easy running BEFORE that, you are in for a world of pain. This is why I never want my runners to rush their marathon training. Plan ahead. WAY ahead. It’s always better to do something right.
  • If you feel little aches and pains, don’t ignore them! They are signals that something isn’t happy. Address it asap. If caught early, most little problems can be managed. If ignored, it will most likely turn into a big problem. Going to a doctor or physical therapist shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing or failure. Quite the contrary – it means you are proactive in your training needs.
  • Lots of runners talk, and make it sound “badass” when they’ve pulled their bodies through races injured. Honestly, they aren’t badass. They are idiots. And them “bragging” about this achievement does nothing good for this sport. I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my running career, and I’d be the first to say “Don’t do what I did. It wasn’t worth it.” Part of this macho culture has stemmed from the plethora of races out there and peer pressure. It’s stupid to race every weekend, or back-to-back days. Yes, I’ve done it. Not in years, and there’s good reason. Pick and choose. You’re a human. If you want to be out there and it’s a social activity, volunteer or cheer.
  • Work on your weaknesses and don’t compare yourself to other runners. Some runners can run every weekend and somehow appear to never be injured – but they are not the norm. I’d also wager a guess that at some point will backfire, or they could race better if they raced less. Spend time working on your weaknesses. If you have incredibly tight hamstrings, don’t ignore that! If running causes discomfort in your foot, figure out why. If you are proactive about your body, you’ll reduce injury risk big time. I’ve found many of my athletes (and myself) have benefited greatly from serious strength training.

With my private clients, I try to be like a hawk in terms of keeping an eye on aches and pains. I also stress on day one that I want them telling me the second something doesn’t feel normal. At Mile High Run Club, I see hundreds of runners per week, so obviously I don’t know the individuals on a super personal level. I am asked probably a dozen times per week (so almost once per class) about injuries. Many runners expect me to diagnose them. That’s a tough one. First, I can’t diagnose  I’m not a doctor, and that’s way beyond my realm of expertise. And second, that runner decided to sign up and show up for a tempo run – so that means they think whatever is plaguing them can be run through without consequence. The amount of times I say “rest for a few days and then see a medical professional” is outrageous. I’m also asked pretty frequently by runners for my opinion on them running a race incredibly undertrained or injured. The answer and advice should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. Because running is something “everybody does” or “pushes through.” Or they signed up and can’t stomach the idea of not crossing the starting line. If it wasn’t a priority to train for, or something hurts, the race shouldn’t happen. If you are wanting to run a race and are clearly injured, ask yourself two questions: will I be in pain out there – and – will this race make the injury worse? If the answer is “yes” to either one, don’t lace up. If you don’t know the answer, you need to talk to a medical professional.

Running isn’t bad for us – not our knees, our feet, or heart, etc. But doing literally ANYTHING with poor form, a bad plan, or without balance – that’s bad. Too much cross training, too much lifting, too much water, too many vegetables – it turns the good thing into a bad thing.

Lastly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Your body may need different things than the next runner. Basic training principles apply to all of us, but you are unique. I would recommend you spend your time with fellow runners and coaches who promote and support good habits. It will make it easier to feel less peer pressure. If everyone in your camp is injured, overtrained, or simply burned out, be careful. We are often a reflection of the people we choose to spend our time with. I intentionally choose to prioritize running, racing and socializing with runners who are healthy and have what I’d call a “healthy outlook” on most things running, nutrition and life.

Tips for Handling the Not-so-Good Races

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

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

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

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

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

The Reason for the Off Season

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

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

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

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

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

Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

The only bad runs and races are the ones we don’t learn from. That’s what I told myself around mile 9 of my goal race for the Autumn 2015 season. The race had not gone according to plan one bit, but I did the best I could to put one foot in front of the other as winds howled up and down the Las Vegas Strip. I don’t doubt there are many lessons from Sunday night’s race – both for myself and for you when your race doesn’t go well.

I went into race week nervous (that’s normal for me), but also fairly confident in my ability to achieve my goal: run between 1:25-1:26 at the Las Vegas Half Marathon. I was going into race week totally healthy – no aches, pains or injuries. And while everyone around me seemed to be fighting off colds or stomach bugs, my actions to obsessively avoid getting sick paid off. Weather looked to be excellent for race day – until it didn’t. As I got closer to race day, I began to pay closer attention to the weather, and reality was slowly sinking in: conditions for the race were going to be windy. And not just “oh hey, there’s a breeze” windy, but 20-40MPH winds, windy. The positive about the Vegas course is that it’s extremely flat, and is an out-and-back, so ideally head wind would at some point be tail wind. The negative thing about the course is very wide, open and empty between those huge casinos, leaving you very exposed.

I told myself to take the advice I’d give my runners: find the 1:25 pacer, tuck in behind the group and let them break the wind. If I could even the odds with the weather, I still had a shot at beating the clock. To keep my confidence up, I looked back over training – tempo runs in humid conditions where I’d knocked out 6:20-6:35 minute miles over rolling hills, telling myself I had to trust the work I’d put into this race. As I walked to the starting line from MGM Grand, I refused to let the heavy gusts of wind shake my confidence. I found some space to warmup my legs and settle my mind.

In the first corral, I easily found the 1:25 pacer. As we stood for final instructions and the National Anthem, I locked eyes with the 1:25 on his back, and told myself to never lose focus from that number. Match that pacer stride for stride, and crush that PR. My focus felt strong, and I was ready. The first mile was a beautiful 6:29. Perfect. I positioned myself well, and told myself to relax, stay strong and tall, and settle into my cadence. At around 1.5 miles in, I glanced at my watch because I felt like I was working a little too hard. My watch read 6:12 pace for that mile. To my confusion, the pacer wasn’t settling in and relaxing, but was continuing to push. Refusing to panic, (though I definitely felt a moment or so of it sweep over me), I knew I had two choices: stick with the pacer and allow the crowds to protect me from the wind, or settle back into my honest pace of 6:30s. I decided to run my own race, and the pace group slowly pulled further and further out of reach. I never saw the pacer again. So I had to abandon my plan, and my only real shot of a PR. I continued to push and fight for that PR, but the work I was doing to maintain those paces began to really concern me.

There were blocks where you felt like you were doing all you could to not move backwards, some blocks where a cross wind would push you around, and then tail winds that would suddenly propel you forward. The few dead blocks were heaven, and the rare chance to really breathe and get back to good and efficient form again. When I ran over the 10K mat, I knew I was on pace for a PR. I also knew that unless the winds stopped or were going to be at my back, at some point I was going to tank. I could feel it. I couldn’t get oxygen into my body efficiently with the winds and at some point, I was going to pay the price. Still, I told myself to hang on and keep pushing. Perhaps the winds returning wouldn’t be too bad. Wrong. I rarely curse while racing, but as we made a few quick turns up at the top of the course near Fremont Street and around mile 9-10, I remember vocalizing my exhaustion as the wind knocked me around. It was about that time where I felt my effort sustaining, but the number on the watch going up. I was working so hard, but my cooked legs weren’t full of pep and strong form, and my arms didn’t feel like the strong and powerful support I’d worked so hard to develop and carry me when I fatigue, but rather like limp noodles.

Around 10 miles into the race I crossed the mat in 1 hour and 8 minutes. A quick reality check between the head winds I had the entire final 5K, and how tired I was from battling for 10 miles – I knew then that a PR wasn’t happening. There was no way I could run a 5K in 19 minutes or less in those conditions. I’ll admit I wanted to cry and shout because I was so tired and so pissed off about the weather. I had put so much into this race. But I also told myself to take a quick step back and keep my perspective. If you stay healthy, you get another shot at your goals. One race isn’t the end of the world. Today was not going to be my day. It was also around this time that it began to rain. Cold, windy, and now rain. It was almost comical. It rains in Las Vegas about 21 days PER YEAR. And here I was, 5K from the finish wondering how today had gone the way it had.

Now it’s not like I was the only runner out there suffering. Everyone I passed or passed me was working so incredibly hard. There were no smiles, laughter, or jokes. It was all hard work. I thought about what possible goals the runners around me had set for this race, and how close they were to achieving them. So without really thinking, I switched over to coach mode. If I wasn’t going to PR, my finish time didn’t matter to me. I did my best to be positive and supportive. I figured there was so little positively out there, I’d do my best to add a little.

Upon crossing the finish line, I spotted a runner who had been with the 1:25 pacer with me at the beginning of the race and who had at the time of his surge in pace stepped with him. She finished within a minute or so of me. I walked over to her to say something positive to her for racing in tough conditions. It turns out the 1:25 pacer dropped a 5:55 mile for the second mile of the race – a pace faster than this runner’s 5K race pace. She was pissed. And rightly so. As a pacer it’s your job to run that designated pace. Of course a pacer is human and can make mistakes, but going from a 6:29 to a 5:55 is pretty ridiculous. The quick miles early on had cost her the race. Ironically we both pretty much had the same race time – we just got there differently.

As I walked through the long exit chute, my disappointment began to really creep in. As I wrapped myself in a Mylar blanket, two women came over to me. They had just finished the 10K, and wanted to tell me I looked strong as I finished, and was an inspiration in physique and speed. They were so positive and still smiling – even after running a 10K in the wind for almost 2 hours, that I had no choice but to smile and engage in conversation. Every time I wanted to turn inward and accept my disappointment, something or someone pulled me out. By the time I saw Chris and Kristen waiting for me, my mood was alarmingly happy – they had both expected me to show up looking defeated and in tears, and instead I was smiling.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

So if and when your target race goes poorly, remember two things: it’s okay to be upset and disappointed. If there was a mistake you made, learn from it. If the lesson is to simply roll with the punches with the things you cannot change – that’s a tough but valuable lesson to learn. The second is to hold your head high and walk away from the finish line as happy and proud as you can. Stay healthy, and there will be future races. And for every bad race, there will surely be some great ones.

It’s been a few days since the Half Marathon, and I am floored by how sore I was after that race. Not just my legs, but my arms and abs, too. The number at the finish line may be a far cry from my goal, but there is no doubt about how hard I worked out there. It’s a little humbling how beat up I was for a few days!

Training Specificity

img_6298-editWhen planning your running season, it’s tempting to choose a bunch of varying goals. I love when runners have an array of goals and events. The challenge is often spacing them out in a way that is safe and realistic. Most of us are running for personal glory or fun, not a qualifying time or prize at the finish line. However, it can become quite hard to plan a season when it involves broad goals.

I LOVE when runners come to me with a variety of goals: PRs in the 1 mile and Half Marathon within the year, for example. Are those two VERY different goals? Absolutely! Will they need different kinds of preparation? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Here’s the thing: the better you want to get at one distance, the more you need to structure your training for that goal. Specificity and reason for training become crucial when targeting a goal. But when you have multiple goals, it’s often necessary to slightly release on the gas for that first goal in order to accommodate the other goals. Many times you will be successful at nailing multiple goals if they complement one another.

For example, say you really want to focus on the 5K this year and want to shave down some considerable time. Placing some 10K races or 1-mile races into the calendar can be of benefit to that 5K goal, all while having fun and going out to race. The bonus is that you may find you also PR in the 1-mile and 10K, because the speed training for a 5K will probably benefit those distances, too. But trying to PR a 5K in the same season you want to tackle a 100-miler – now that’s where things get tricky. For one thing, injury risk will usually go up when you start combining very high mileage and speed workouts into every week. Not that it can’t be done, but for many of us these waters are hard to navigate.

The important thing for most runners to keep in mind and think about is how to achieve their goals while staying healthy, and to list which races are the priority that season. If you stay healthy, perhaps some goals need to be held off for the following year. We need to remember to look at the big picture: races will be there. You can be too, if you don’t do something stupid and put yourself on the injured list.

This is often where a coach comes in handy. It also becomes necessary to be honest with yourself. You know how you recover. You also know if your body naturally prefers certain distances or types of training over others. You should use your years of experience to help access and navigate what’s best for you. Take a look at the entire calendar year, and be sure to budget time for rest and recovery before hopping into training for the next goal the minute to cross the finish line.

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.

How to pick a race

There are thousands of races offered every year. Trails, roads, flat, high elevation, themed, large, small, competitive, relaxed – and all over the globe. So many options out there is a wonderful thing, but it also can be overwhelming. I have some tips to help you pick your races.

  • Look at your calendar and be realistic with when would be a good time to race. For example, many runners interested in a marathon need 3-6 months of time to train, depending on their current fitness/weekly mileage, how ambitious their goals are, etc. Also consider the weather at that time of the year.
  • Find a course you want to run. If you have your eye on a flat, fast race, be sure to do some research on prospective races. The last thing you want is to assume that a race will be flat, only to find mid-race that you underestimated what that race director’s idea of “flat and fast course” may be.
  • Race experiences can vary greatly by the size of said race. An intimate marathon with 2,000-7,000 runners is going to be completely different from one with 40,000 runners.
  • Small races are great confidence boosters. You may wind up on the podium for an age award – which is always fun.
  • Consider the start time and location of the race. Logistics on race morning can make or break your race experience.
  • If you are considering a few big goal races, do some research. Runners are often passionate about blogging their experiences. Do a little reading and you may come across some helpful tips about a specific race.
  • When considering a destination race, do a lot of research on that race, the town, where to eat – everything. I also highly recommend you plan a trip so that the race is at the beginning of your vacation. That way you can really enjoy your time after your race, and not have to think about your nutrition or sleep for race morning.
  • In general, don’t plan multiple races within a week or two of each other. The longer the race or the harder you exert yourself in a long race, the more recovery you will need. Just as you would plan your hard workouts and taper, you also need to plan your recovery.
  • When putting together your calendar, you may benefit from planning to run races for different reasons. Perhaps plan to truly race a few, use some as training runs, and plan to run some for fun – perhaps with friends, in a costume, whatever – with the goal simply to have fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. A new distance, getting off the road and onto the track or trails, being part of a relay – mix it up and keep it fresh.
  • Remember that you cannot run every race on your dream list within one year. It’s incredibly risky and usually not possible for a marathoner to run Berlin, Chicago, and NYC -three marathons within 10 weeks, in three cities in different time zones – it’s not in the cards. Sure, you might be able to go complete all three, but not at your best pace and you certainly would be risking injury. Pick and choose. Stay injury-free and you will have years of running all over the globe in your future.

It’s great to be ambitious – just be careful with your ambition and don’t take on too much. Be honest with yourself about your goals, calendar, likes, dislikes, and start piecing together your new year!