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!

It’s the final countdown (to race weekend!)

img_6550-editUnless you are a stranger to my blog, you probably have heard that my goal-race for 2014 is a few days away. If you are tired of hearing about it, I apologize. It will be over soon. I decided to take a second go at a 24-hour race this year for a few different reasons: to prove to myself that though I failed at this goal two years ago, I am capable of achieving 100 miles within 24 hours. To push myself really hard. To learn from my mistakes two years ago and to train wiser. But perhaps the most important reason: To motivate and inspire my athletes, readers, and folks out there somewhere questioning what they are capable of. After all, I am not an elite athlete, and I am not someone with a long resume of Ultra Marathon experiences. I am an Average Jane, and if I can possibly accomplish this, perhaps it will make you question your own strength and capabilities. That, or it will just confirm your initial thoughts that I am crazy.

The final days leading up to this race are a mixed bag of anxiety and the calm before the storm. I am still coaching and pacing this week, though I have cut back on mileage and intensity, and am doing my best to protect my body while still doing my job as a coach. Thankfully, my athletes have been extremely understanding and supportive.

I have two goals for race weekend: Stay out of the medical tent and finish 100 miles within 24 hours. Neither goal is going to be easy for me. Thankfully, I have a team of supportive friends  and family who will be there at times to pace me, and a boyfriend who is going to be the brains of the operation. I am trusting my support, and applying what I have learned from this race in 2012, and from my scientific approach to training this time around. While weather looks like it will be a challenge, I have accepted that all I can do is adjust to conditions and do my best. After all, I’m the nut who signed up for a 24-hour race in July, in city that’s notorious for it’s hot and humid summers.

When my nerves kick in, I remind myself that as soon as the gun goes off and my legs start moving I will be fine. I know my nerves will settle, and all I can do is put one foot in front of the other. I also know that running and challenging myself makes me happy. I already have a list of “happy thoughts” and people to think of who inspire me or are meaningful to me to help through those tough patches.

As far as training goes, here’s what my mileage has looked like these last few weeks:

May 19-25 – 70 miles

May 26 – June 1 – 80 miles

June 2-8 – 60 miles

June 9-15 – 90 miles

June 16-22 – 100 miles

June 23-29 – 60 miles

June 30 – July 6 – 75 miles

July 7-13 – 60 miles

July 14-20 – 20 miles + RACE

All of the miles have been run at an easy, conversational pace. I haven’t set foot on a track or even done a tempo run in months. Yes, I am sure I am slow as a snail right now, but my methods have seemed to pay off. Very few aches and pains, and no injuries waiting in the wings. Now all I can do is rest, relax and wait for Saturday morning.

 

Bad Bandits

2014bostonAt the 2014 Boston Marathon, history was made. If you haven’t heard, American Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon. He is the first American male to win the iconic marathon since 1983. I should probably mention that is was also a few weeks shy of his 39th birthday. The female race ended with the first three women beating the current course record – with Rita Jeptoo smashing the course record by almost 2 minutes. It was a great day for America and for the sport of marathoning. I know I was a ball of emotions as I watched live coverage of the race on my laptop, screaming for Meb to run faster over the last few miles as his pursuers closed the gap, coffee mug in hand.

In the wake of a beautiful race day, news hit the running community of many accounts of people duplicating race bibs and running the Boston Marathon by cheating. Bandits (runners who unofficially run a marathon, often by hopping in without a race bib), have been part of road race culture for a very long time. The Boston Marathon is famous for its bandits. However, with this being the first Boston Marathon after the 2013 bombings, security was planned to be heightened and bandits were strongly discouraged. Registered runners were not allowed to check bags for post-race, and the entire course to Boston was protected like never before. When stories broke of folks stealing bibs by printing them off of photos runners posted on social media of their official race bibs, the reaction was hardly positive. In an attempt to not get into the self entitlement and selfishness of folks who decide the rules do not apply to them, let me put on my coaching hat for a second….

Do NOT run bandit. If a race has rules, follow them. Simple. If you cannot play by the rules, don’t play.Yes, its totally unfortunate and sucks that if you purchase a race bib and months later cannot run the race that your bib must go to waste and your entrance fee goes up in smoke. Sure, your buddy could use your bib if you can’t, right? But what does it matter who is running if you aren’t going to win? Look, I get it. I’ve been that runner who couldn’t use her race bib because of an injury. I’ve also been offered friend’s race bibs when injury gets in the way of their race. Its tempting to accept it, but so far I have never taken another runner’s bib. It may sound silly that a bib that may cost $70-$250 will go to waste, but once again – rules are rules.

Here are reasons to NOT bandit/steal bibs:

  • Safety. Every bib has an identity attached to it and emergency contact and medical info. If you run bandit and something happens to you, no one will know who to call, or if you are diabetic or are on blood pressure medication. If you steal someone else’s bib and something happens to you, that person’s emergency contact will be contacted. You may say “I’m healthy so who cares?” Okay, fine. Do you know how many “healthy people” DNF because of dehydration, cramping, injury, fainting, cardiac arrest, etc? Don’t assume you won’t be part of that list at some point. I know I have. And if something crazy like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings happens again, none of us can assume we are going to be the lucky ones.
  • Consideration. Rules are rules. If you want to run a race, enter it officially like everybody else. It’s unfair to everyone lined up beside you who PAID good money to run that race. That money goes towards permits to shut down roads, race-day equipment, refreshments on the course, race medals, medical support, and more. You are stealing from everyone around you if you run bandit. If you are simply too poor to run a race (I get it, some of them are VERY expensive!), sign up for a charity and raise money. If you raise the amount of money required by your charity, you won’t need to put a single dollar of your own towards race fees.
  • Fueling. Race organizers plan to support the amount of registered runners. Period. Sure, there is some wiggle room, as they often try to overshoot the numbers to make sure they are over prepared. But if you steal a bib and run bandit, you are a person the race director wasn’t counting. If you think its okay, do you think you are alone? Nope. There are far more self-entitled bandits out there than anyone has taken the time to track down and count. Have you ever run a race where they run out of water or Gatorade? Or race medals or mylar sheets? Guess what, it sucks. If you bandit, your actions may mean a runner behind you won’t have the supplies they paid for and are expecting at the water station. When you are dehydrated and tired, the WORST thing is getting to a station that has run out of supplies. You want to cry. What gives YOU the right to take that from the runner behind you? That runner has probably trained hard for this race, paid their entrance fees, and played by the rules.
  • Ethics. Look, we all have different moral codes. We’re human. But I would like to think that we as a running community can all agree that PEDS, cheating, and running bandit are all wrong. If we don’t hold ourselves to those simple standards, how can we be happy with ourselves? How can we feel that we truly accomplished something great? I don’t think anyone with a moral code who stole bibs, finished the Boston Marathon, and claimed their medal can ever really feel good about that race, can they? Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think the race would have the same meaning to me as qualifying or running for a meaningful charity, and doing it the way the race rules state.

It is my hope that more and more races will allow official bib transfers, which are starting to happen in some popular races. Race directors realize that runners cannot always use their bibs, and official transfers means the original runner can get their money back and the new runner will have their information (including emergency info) on record. However, this isn’t common practice for all races, so read the fine print if you are debating signing up for a race months down the road.

Perhaps because the Boston Marathon is a very special race, requiring its participants to qualify or run for charity, that bandits left an even more sour than normal taste in everyone’s mouth. it’s a race that avid runners spend years trying to qualify for. Its the closest thing many of us will ever see to the magic of the Olympics or the Olympic Trials. It is a race that so many runners put blood, sweat and tears into getting to, that printing out a bib someone else posted online seems so incredibly wrong. Of course its really not more wrong than cheating your way into any other marathon, or is it? I suppose that’s up for debate. Regardless of reason, the bandits in this year’s Boston struck a chord.

*** Now, there are always grey areas and exceptions to rules. Here’s how to handle those areas in a way that protects your safety and doesn’t take (much) away from everyone else out there:

  • If you buy/transfer a bib from someone unofficially, (NOT stealing a photo of a bib off the internet!!!), wear a Road ID in case you need medical or safety help. Remember, the bib will have the official runner’s emergency info attached to it. Also, write on the back of the bib your own info. List any important info and write clearly.
  • If you are unofficially using a bib from a friend/transfer, for God’s sake make sure you are NOT going to win an award (top finish, age group or otherwise), and that you are NOT qualifying the original registered runner for Boston or Olympic Trials.
  • If you are hopping into a race to pace a friend for a few miles, DO NOT take any of the refreshments on the course. It’s common practice for a buddy or a coach to hop in during those tough miles, but taking away from paid participants is wrong. Be sure to hop OUT before getting to the finish line. (Due to security post-Boston 2013, it may be difficult to do this in the major big-city races.)

To me, running and races is about becoming a better person and a better athlete. Putting challenges in front of myself and working hard to rise to said challenge. Cheating is a sour, ugly, awful toxin that poisons this sport. If you couldn’t get a spot in a race for whatever reason, there will always be next year. be a grownup, and play by the rules. I guess if you wondered what my thoughts are on bandit runners, now you know.

Cherry Blossom Trip

View from the Lincoln Memorial.

View from the Lincoln Memorial.

This past weekend I hopped a train down to DC to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. I had made the decision weeks beforehand that I would not be racing, but rather running for fun. Between a cold Winter and months of being sick off and on, my training simply wasn’t in a place to run hard.

Unfortunately, on Thursday I was full-on sick again. My doctor put me back on antibiotics for bronchitis and a sinus infection. Obviously the timing wasn’t awesome, but I was surprised to feel pretty darn decent on Friday and Saturday. I focused on rest, and was optimistic that I could run on Sunday.

On race morning, I woke up after a night of coughing off and on feeling not so awesome. That deep chest cough I had been battling for the last five weeks had magically decided to return. I am still on antibiotics, so I was surprised to suddenly not feel good. I shook it off, and changed into my race gear and ate a bagel.

With Honest Abe

With Honest Abe

I then made a decision I had never made before – I decided not to run. Battling sickness over and over again has put me in the position where I need to make smart choices. I should also mention that at the start of the race, temperature was locked in at a cold 34 degrees. I hadn’t brought Winter running gear, as the weekend forecast when I had packed was calling for mid-40s to 50s for race morning. Running in my non-Winter race gear, while sucking in icy air sounded like a stupid move for someone sick.

While part of me was bummed to miss out on a race I’d not only gotten in through the lottery on the first try, I had qualified for a seeded spot, I was also excited to run through the Nation’s Capital. However, a lesson I have learned, that perhaps is a lesson all runners must learn – its silly and often stupid to risk health for one race. Cherry Blossom will be there in future years. Risking my health for the next few weeks simply wasn’t worth it.

Race wall of porta potties!

Race wall of porta potties!

This is a lesson all of us runners must learn at some point. There will be those races where lacing up and heading to the starting line just isn’t smart. Perhaps its a nagging injury, being under trained, or being sick. It’s in our nature as runners to tough it out, push through discomfort and take that gamble. However, if you run for fun – are you going to have fun while running ill, injured, or under prepared? The answer is “no.” If you are running to better your race time, the odds you’ll achieve that while ill, injured or under prepared are slim – so why tough it out when in the big picture its one race.

If you end up in a position like I did this past weekend, remind yourself that not racing won’t disappoint or let down your friends, family or team mates. You aren’t a wimp or a weakling, you are smart. It’s hard to remember that, especially as toughing it out is often part of running culture.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

As I leave DC and write this blog on the train, I am disappointed that the weekend turned out the way it did. I love this sport, and I love being a part of it. But a few weeks from now I’ll be focused on other goals, and prepping to pace a runner on his 26.2 mile journey at the New Jersey Marathon. I am hoping my decision today will help kick this sickness roller coaster for good. And if it doesn’t, at least I know I am doing the best I can and making choices that are proactive towards getting healthy.

Remember, if you are smart and lucky, you will have years of being healthy and running many miles in your future.

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.

Destination Race

748275-1006-0043s-600x400Looking for a little race inspiration? Sometimes changing our running or race location helps with motivation for your next goal. Try a destination race. Besides the excitement of a race, you’ll be pumped for vacation!!!!

There are races all over the globe, ranging in every distance from 5K to 150-mile Ultras. Personally, as someone who loves the race experience and loves to travel, destination races are one of my favorite things. Combining travel and running? Yes, please!

Paris, China, Jamaica, Disney – the options are endless.

I would recommend planning your race for the beginning of your vacation for a couple of reasons: You’ll arrive fresh and focused, you won’t be tired from sight-seeing or bloated from beach-side cocktails or endless buffets. Plus, after your race, you’ll feel accomplished and deserving of your vacation!

Feeling inspired? Hop onto a race search database and start exploring!