Running Streaks, and why I hate them

Before you decide to be a “streaker,” pause for a hot second and ask yourself WHY? This time of year, running streaks are very popular. It makes sense. It’s getting colder, its often dark, peak goals are in the past, and runners are looking for motivation or accountability to be active. Toss in social media, and most runners will decide to commit to a streak without a second thought.

Here’s the problem: there are times when you should absolutely, 100% take a complete rest day. In fact, it’s irresponsible and plain stupid to not. Streaks, by definition, mean no rest or off days for said duration. Sure, some streaks only require a mile a day, and others more. Yes, you could go take that mile or 5K super easy. But why, if your body is saying “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO!!!,” do we blindly stick to the streak? I’ve heard of runners plagued by the flu lace up their shoes and drag their carcass on a run because they didn’t want to break their streak. Runners taping up an injured quad to get in their miles. Take a step back with me. Doesn’t that sound absolutely insane?

The whole “no rest days” thing is not something a coach would EVER support. I don’t understand why runners think that it makes them badass or dedicated to train everyday. Again, it makes you stupid. Because REST is when we rebuild from the training. Rest is just (if not more!) important than some of the runs. Rest greatly reduces injury risk. I don’t know if many streakers or “no rest day” folks out there who don’t wind up injured. And you guessed it – they are injured because of their looney training choices.

I see plenty of other reckless goals out there: a marathon a month. A half marathon in every state in a calendar year. The goal of clocking 2000 miles in the year. Can some runners do those things? Absolutely. But should they, or should you? The risk is really high. Wouldn’t it perhaps be more reasonable to plan to run 4 marathons a year, and think long term? For the record, 4 marathons is still a lot for most marathoners. It’s fine to attempt something. We don’t surpass our goals or expectations without risk. But measured risk over reckless risk. Remember that just because somebody else can do something, it doesn’t mean you can. We are all incredibly unique. Focus on yourself, not your running buddy.

In NYC, I deal with a ton of runners who partake the NYRR’s 9+1 program. Essentially, you run 9 races and volunteer at one event in a calendar year, in exchange for a guaranteed spot in the NYC Marathon. I understand the reasons behind the system, but as a coach, I despise the 9+1 concept. I’ve encountered dozens of runners who should not be lacing up for a run anytime soon, dragging their bodies through a required race. The injuries that could have been avoided are compromised because of that damn race on their calendar. It’s a struggle to guide an athlete towards their goals, but to toss in an navigate 9 races in the mix. Sure, some are easy. Others, not so much. The amount of times I have “highly advised” a runner to sit out a 10K or the 18-mile tune-up race for their own benefit, but they “need” to do it for their marathon spot – far more frequent than I care to admit.

It’s important to understand that running can be a life-long journey. It can be a journey with few injuries or burnout. But it can also be a short and tumultuous journey if taken fast and furious. This isn’t to say you should not do the 9+1 or to decide to go for a running streak. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. Is running everyday in December worth potentially having no spring race season? Listen to your body, and be ready to toss the streak if your body tells you to.

Race Report: Saints and Sinners Half Marathon

Flying down the final 5K or so. You can see how low the finish line was!

It’s been a hot second since I’ve released a new blog. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but most of my writing lately has been for other platforms – Daily Burn, Under Armour, Runner’s World, Shape, and a few others. I’ve also been very busy preparing my private roster for their Spring race goals, and working my butt off training for my own race goals too!

Before I share my recent race experiences, I want to brag about my runners. So much hard work, and some incredible PRs outdoors in Winter conditions, at races around the country, and indoors and on the track. I am blown away month after month by the passion for running, the focus and the big goals my runners set and work towards with so much dedication. My runners inspire me to be better and try harder for my own running goals.

I do my best to lead by example as a coach, and have been working hard towards my ambitious Spring goals. While the Boston Marathon (April 17th), is my focus for Spring, I had set a half marathon race on the calendar to assess fitness, practice racing, and to set a new Half PR. I decided to look for a fast race – good weather and mostly downhill. With Boston as the goal marathon, I have been preparing for months for cruising up and down hills, and so a net downhill course sounded like a sure thing for a PR and a great opportunity to test out my legs. After some digging around a research, I settled on the Saints and Sinners Half Marathon, in Las Vegas. The course seemed beautiful and incredibly fast – with a point-to-point, 1200+ foot decent. The course is also a combination of paved bike path and incredibly soft and manicured gravel trails, taking you through the desert, numerous tunnels, and finishing at the base of Lake Mead. I was confident that between my training and the downhills, I had a 2-3 minute PR in me. I haven’t had awesome conditions for the last couple of half marathons I have attempted to race (including my previous PR), so I knew that the odds were really good I could drop my time a bit. And honestly, I knew going into it that I was perhaps at my fittest, fastest and healthiest for this kind of goal than ever.

Despite a few hiccups in Las Vegas, including a broken ankle on our shake out run on the Strip and 3+ hours in urgent care with Chris, and chilly and rainy conditions in the forecast for the entire weekend, I tried to stay calm. In years past, this would have thrown my confidence and quite possibly my race. But I now have become pretty decent at focusing on the task at hand with running, and knew once I got to the starting line I’d be okay. Even when Google maps made an update and sent all the runners to the wrong point for the starting line, I tried to not lose my cool. We parked literally 30 minutes before the gun went off, which in the past would have made me a wreck. While I didn’t love feeling rushed in the rain, I didn’t let it ruin my morning.

At the starting line I took a breath, relaxed and let go of everything around me but the race. The first 3 miles were incredibly fast. I was hitting 6:00 minute miles, which is typically around my 5K race pace. However, it was simply the drop in elevation and the course was doing the work, and so I tried not to freak out by the hot pace. About 10 runners were ahead of me for the first 5 miles, including one female for the first 3 miles. I then passed her and never saw her again. Between miles 4-7 there are some gradual declines and flat portions, so I was able to settle into a pace that seemed more acceptable: 6:15-6:25s. I ran miles 4-8 with a runner from Arizona, and we chatted here and there. He mentioned he had just recovered from brain cancer, and was looking to finish in under 1:30. I told him that his goal seemed incredibly attainable, as we were on our way to the half way mark way ahead of that pace. (Turns out he crushed his goal and finished in 1:22!!!!)

It was raining pretty hard around mile 5. Sharing miles with Josh, from AZ.

Coming through the 10K mark and an aid station, he and I were #8th and #9th. At mile 7 there was our only climb worth mentioning, and I said that now, on this climb and during the second half is where the work happens. I felt strong on the uphill, and the views of the lake, even in the rain, were beautiful. We passed a few men on the course, and began going through the tunnels. Around 8-9 miles in, I slowly pulled away from Josh and began gaining on a few other men. Each one was incredibly nice, and I tossed positive tips and comments their way.

The aid stations and volunteers at the turnaround (a small part of the course was an out-and-back) were the highlight of the race for me. It was at the end of a big tunnel, and the kids at the aid station were so excited to see the first female come through. I couldn’t help but feel like a role model for the young girls watching and volunteering. On the “back” portion, Josh and the few men I recently passed gave thumbs up, words of encouragements and cheers. Glancing at my watch around mile 9-10, I knew a big PR was in my hands if I didn’t do something stupid like roll and ankle, and continued to feel as smooth and strong – it was a little surprising and I kept waiting for the blazing early miles to catch up and compromise my pace or effort – but that never happened. I now knew the win was mine, as the next female was a good 5-8 minutes behind me at this point.

I had to stop at the mile 10 mark to tie my shoe. I couldn’t believe that with a double-knot and tucking the laces under themselves that my right shoe was untying! At first I thought maybe it just felt heavy and loose because of the rain and puddles, but a quick glance down and I could see loose laces! So I stopped, took a deep breath, focused on having my somewhat chilled fingers work, and then get back to running. The final 5K was incredibly fast (thanks, elevation drop!), and I was able to drop pace to 6:05-6:15 minute miles. With 2 miles to go, I was doing the math in my head and it all felt unreal. The thrilling part was that I felt awesome. Really awesome. Form felt smooth, breath felt controlled, and I simply worked with the race course.

Coming through the finish line in 1:21:13 was surreal. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever see that number for a Half Marathon. It’s funny how we all tend to define ourselves and our potentials. It isn’t until we prove our limitations wrong that we see ourselves in a new light. Unlike Berlin Marathon, where I struggled so much for that PR and to keep my body and brain on board, this race felt easy and in control from start to finish. The only bummer: no finish line tape. I find it sad that women don’t get their moment of glory the way men do. I finished 5th overall, and 1st women by 10 minutes. And while there was no real prize other than a water bottle, the PR and strong race experience was all the winnings I wanted.

Now, here’s the thing: there’s absolutely no way I could run a 1:21 Half Marathon on a course with less hills. No two courses are created equal. This course handed me that time. I’m not saying I didn’t work for it, but that time would not translate the same to say NYC Half Marathon. My guess is that same performance would give me more of a 1:24-1:25. But that’s why it’s important to choose your races wisely. What’s your objective? What is your ace? Your weakness? I don’t need crowds and tons of people on the course to run well. Others do. I know how to run hills perhaps better than flat courses. Others don’t. You are different from the next runner. Learn what works for you.

And so this past week as I focused on easy miles (my legs were pretty trashed from the course!), I tried to let my big breakthrough of a 6+ minute PR settle in. I’d like to go back and race this course and/or the Poconos Half in 2018 and aim for 1:19. Both are incredibly fast. And I think I can do better. I am also transitioning all focus towards Boston. I know what I have to do to get the job done. And while aiming to break 3 hours won’t be easy, I am more confident now than ever that there’s the potential for it that this April.

Balancing – a look at how your coach makes it all happen, and how you can too!

img_6834-editEvery once and a while I get a request for a blog topic. Today I am indulging myself to fulfill a recent request. One of my regulars at Mile High Run Club, (very strong athlete and badass lady!), requested I write about what it’s like to coach and pace my own roster, teach full time at the studio, and still get in my own training and goals. While at first I thought this might be an unrelatable but perhaps interesting topic, the more I thought about it the more relatable it seemed. So many of my athletes juggle very long hours at work, private lives that sometimes involve families, the stress and fast-pace pressure of living in NYC, while tackling their own goals. So while my life/career is probably very different from yours, perhaps some tricks and priorities in my life will help you figure out out to better balance your journey with running.

Let me start by saying I am not a professional athlete. I have never been one. So my drive in my own training has never been fueled by a sponsor, collegiate team, pro team, etc. The only pressure or goals I have are those I’ve put on myself. My guess is that’s how most runners operate – self-motivated and training and racing because they love this sport!

To say getting in my training is challenging would be an understatement. Like many folks, my line of work has me on my feet all the time! I am standing, walking or running for anywhere from 4-10 hours per day. This makes “recovery” a tough thing. While there are lots of benefits to not sitting on one’s bum all day, I have to be mindful about wearing supportive shoes as much as possible, and sitting whenever given the opportunity – the train, between classes, whenever I can. If you are a teacher, nurse, doctor, or in the restaurant or film/tv industry, you probably live on your feet too!

Then there’s my hours – fitness industry folks work some of the hardest hours out there. We coach before most people go to work (hello, 4am wakeup!), and after folks are finished with work (I’ve been known many times to get home for dinner around 10pm), and it’s truly a 7-day a week business. It’s a job that can not only take over, but completely control your life. You only get time off when you protect a day and fight to protect it, and even then I am usually responding to emails, texts and calls from my private clients. So sleep, meals and training are a challenge.

The awesome thing about coaching full time is that I am constantly inspired and motivated by the people I am working with almost every hour of every day! My fellow coaches, team mates, clients – I have a ton of inspiration around me! So I rarely have the opportunity to lose focus when I am training. That’s a huge asset.

I was asked how I get my miles, goals and races accomplished – especially when clocking miles paces my own athletes. This is a tough one. Really tough. Despite my best abilities, I’m a human and not a machine – so I need to be careful and can only clock so many miles per day. There have been years where I opted to train and race for ultras, partly because it was of interest, but mostly because it jelled best with all the pacing I had on my plate. Back-to-back 20-mile days are only beneficial for ultra marathoners. However, this year I have really gotten back to some speedier and more ambitious goals for myself, and so I have decided to be more protective of my running time. It means not being everything to everyone. Learning to say no. And thinking of my own health. It’s a balance.

I have learned to always prepare and pack food for the day. I usually have fruit or veggies in my bag, along with some trail mix. I always have a water bottle with me. This minimizes the chance of dehydration or going hours without fuel. I will sometimes try to go to bed really early if I am wiped out – even if it means skipping social events. I write my training down in my calendar with everything else that day and hold it to the same level of importance as work, appointments and errands. I am rarely in shoes that aren’t my Mizunos. My feet are my career. I need them healthy and happy. I also replace my shoes pretty darn frequently. It’s worth it. If a goal race is worth it, I will sometimes sacrifice work opportunities or sleep to get in my time at the gym or park. I never want to be resentful of my work, or feel like I didn’t put in the training necessary for doing my best on race day. Hopefully as you juggle your plate, you can find tricks that work for you.

 

Building Base for a Better Race

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

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

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

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

Spring Fever

img_6789-edit-682x1024It’s been a hot second since my last blog post. I feel like I blinked, and we went from the end of 2015 to Spring 2016. My apologies, fellow runners and devote readers! I promise my posts will be back on track. There have been some big changes here – both personal and professional. If you are a New Yorker, you know that moving is perhaps the worst thing ever. Well, I’m happy to say I have found an amazing apartment, but am now in the downsizing and packing process. I am reminded when stress strikes to take a deep breath and go for a run. I always feel better. So if you are dealing with life stress, remember that 30-60 minutes to go clock some miles will always do your body, brain and happiness some good.

Anyway, enough personal stuff. Let’s get to the fun and the RUNNING!!!! As of May 1st, 2016, Coach Corky is a full-time employee at Mile High Run Club. This means you can find me on the schedule at least 15 classes per week. You can find me at both the NOMAD and NOHO locations, teaching all three classes – Dash 28, High 45, and The Distance.

Hopping into a full time position doesn’t mean Coach Corky Runs, LLC is slowing down at all. In fact, it’s that time of year where my athletes heading to Brooklyn Half Marathon are tapering, and runners with Autumn goals (RnR BK Half, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Philly Marathon) – I’m looking at you – are reaching out for training plans and one-on-one coaching. It is insanely busy in the best way possible! I am truly humbled by the humans I coach.

Aside from the coaching, this little lady has been getting her legs back to the starting line of some races! It’s been a process to regain speed after some serious time spent on Ultra Marathons, but I’ve successfully found my groove and podium again. In fact, in my first three races of 2016, I finished in the top 3. That streak obviously couldn’t last, and didn’t when I toed the line with 30,000+ runners for the Broad Street Run. While I missed my goal for my A race for Spring, I am trying to not beat myself up and take the advice I’d give my runners after a bad race – but that advice is easier to give than receive.

As you ease into your Summer training and Autumn goals, please be mindful of the importance of building base mileage. This is a very important step in training, and one we often gloss over as we are eager to jump into the intense work. Skipping this step can raise risk of injury. Base mileage for 3-6 weeks will lend itself well to your training and race day fitness.

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!

Acting and Racing Parallels

Corky_Fitness-2829finalflatwebDuring my assessment meetings, new clients usually ask how I became a coach and how that journey progressed. It’s no secret that I fell into running “later in life” (not until after college), and that until 2012, I made most of my income and spent most of my time focused on work and training as an actor. While that “career” is on the back burner (I still pick up auditions  and bookings here and there but I would say I am not actively pursuing it or paying my bills with my acting chops), there are a lot of tools, lessons learned, and industry similarities between acting and running/coaching. So today I thought I’d share how some of those skills cross over. You may find that perhaps your jobs, interests and hobbies also cross over a bit – and maybe this blog will even shed some light on that.

  • Runners obviously rely on their bodies to run and race. The skills developed while training for a race are similar to the rehearsals an actor would be in while learning choreography for a musical. While every race is different (weather, terrain, distance, goals), shows will vary in style, the size of the stage, athleticism and skills required, and obviously muscle memory. Like a marathoner out there knocking out 20 milers in preparation for race day, a dancer may spend hours per day learning and perfecting the choreography. With years of wearing the dancer and sometimes choreographer hat, I always think of my long runs as “dress rehearsals” for race day.
  • A bad rehearsal can make for a great opening night – and a bad long run can prepare you for a great race! Bad long runs can be extremely frustrating, but it’s better to iron out any kinks in practice and not on race day, and to learn from mistakes. Actors learn this lesson and don’t let it shake them.
  • Improvisation sometimes happens on the race course. Even an actor who is not improv-trained has had to improvise on stage at some point. When you need to go off script, it is perhaps the most spine-tingling, raw and risky moment you can have on stage. If you are a stage actor, you’ve done it and survived to tell the tale. Though we never want to improvise on race day, run races long enough and it will happen to you. Maybe your Garmin will decide to reset itself in the middle of a marathon, or something in your tummy suddenly feels terrible. Being able to stay mentally cool and improvise your original plan can save your race. Thankfully, us actors usually make really good improvisers in every other aspect of life – including races. I always tell my athletes that if/when something doesn’t go according to plan on race day, DO NOT PANIC.
  • Unlike acting, you usually get when you put into training. Things can certainly go wrong on race day, but there are few factors out of a runner’s control. As an actor, when you walk into a casting, all you can control is how you look that day, feel, and how prepared you are to sing, dance or act. Unfortunately, there are many more factors than talent that go into being cast. Costume size, height, age, how do you physically fit with the other cast members, voice, head shot, do you remind that casting director of an ex-girlfriend, do they happen to hate your wardrobe choice or song choice – being “prepared” only takes you so far. But in running, being prepared is so much of the success.
  • An actor’s body is her instrument. Her voice and body is the vessel in which characters come to life. When injured or ill, the performance or audition suffers. Having attended a music conservatory (one of the best in the country, actually!), vocal health was extremely important. Like that performer, a runner’s body is their instrument. Caring for it and tending to minor and major issues needs to be something the athlete is proactive about. I’d like to think that much of what I learned and was instilled in me as a vocalist and dancer has made me a wiser runner than I’d be without those years of becoming very physically self-aware.
  • Actors and athletes are both judged by appearance. In an audition, you’ll often feel eyes on you in the holding room, as your competition sizes you up. To be fair, we all know that looks are one of the factors in the casting process (as mentioned above). I’ve also found runners and their potential is often judged by how fit they are, or what they are wearing in a race. I’d be the first to admit that if a gal shows up in racing briefs, I expect her to be FAST. Personally, I don’t think I have any business wearing racing briefs – I stick to short racing shorts – as racing briefs, in my opinion, are for the folks out their smoking the competition. Then again, I have been smoked by gals in loose and long running shorts, and have left gals in racing briefs in my dust – so it goes to show that appearance can mean nothing. Sadly though, many runners are frequently told by other folks that “they don’t look like runners.” I hate that. I won’t rant on the topic here (I have a past blog dedicated to the topic), but I will say that runners are frequently judged by appearance.
  • As an actor, tech week is followed by performances. At some point, those performances come to an end. There may sometimes be some relief when a show closes, but there is almost always some sense of loss. A chapter (and paid gig!) has ended, and so the actor is often left saying “okay, no what?!” Runners experience something similar. Unlike the zaniness of tech week, we get a taper – though mentally the taper can feel like a mind fuck. Then race morning arrives, you are ready to rumble and finally put all that hard work on the line. Once you cross the finish line, that race is gone. Whether elated over a huge success or defeated by the race, there is usually that sense of loss and directionless wander.
  • Rejection is a huge part of acting. I’d guess that most actors have to attend 50-100 castings for every booking. That’s a lot of “no’s.” Actors either find a way to develop tough skin and embrace every audition, or they perhaps take it personally or begin to resent the process. There’s a reason why so many actors abuse substances or are in therapy – it’s tough! As a runner, the higher you set your goals, the greater the risk you’ll fail. While I can’t say I love rejection or failure, the rejection from acting has somehow made failure as an athlete easier to swallow. I don’t let it define me. Though it does definitely still sting.
  • Being an actor is quite possibly one of the hardest jobs out there. Not because you need to be a genius, or the greatest gift to mankind, but because so much of your “work” offers no or little reward. You are constantly in training and honing your craft (not cheap!), preparing and attending multiple auditions per day, all while finding a way to afford living in an expensive city, looking your best, and staying marketable. Training for an ambitious race goal, usually while juggling work, family/friends, and probably a half-dozen other things isn’t unlike being an actor. And the more seriously you take it, the more challenging it is. It takes a strong work ethic to be a competitive runners.
  • Sometimes you simply need a break. Acting can be exhausting. Luckily, there are usually “seasons” in the casting world. In theatre, for example, Spring is always really busy. Autumn can be really busy, too. A stage actor may get a little break from the grind in Summer and Winter – which are good times to hop into intensive classes or take a break and travel. Television actors deal with pilot seasons, commercials work in seasons with advertisers, and films shoot year round. Yes, as an actor, you could dabble in all fields and never get a break. The same is true for the runner. A runner may hop from cross-country season to into track, to marathon training or trail running – there is always something you can be training for. However, an “off-season” of some kind is always a good thing. It helps recharge the body, brain and focus. Don’t be scared to take an off-season – even if it’s just a few weeks.
  • Actors get to play all different kinds of roles, which is really fun and exciting. Runners get to train for and race all different kinds of races, varying in distance, terrain and goals. Both acting and running gives me the opportunity to constantly mix things up.

You may find that perhaps your hobbies and career have many similarities to your training, goals, and relationship with running. If you are in a running rut, looking at perhaps how you attack your job or hobbies and perhaps that will help.

10K for Cancer in Cancun

10559813_10152416229363645_4378808899992536179_nThis coach recently took a vacation from NYC, coaching, and America – and spent a week in Cancun. While I won’t bore you with stories of drinking island cocktails on the beach, rowdy dance parties, and foam parties, I somehow found the motivation to hop into a local race while in Cancun, and that’s what this blog is about.

Personally, I love to travel and run. It’s a great way to see new places and get away from your hotel and the “tourist” areas. When we booked a vacation to Cancun, Chris found out that our resort was hosting a 5K/10K race while we were in town, to benefit children in Cancun with cancer. This seemed like the perfect activity, and so we signed up for $20.00 USD the day before – which also covered a medal and a tech shirt. Talk about a deal.

The night before, I cut back on booze consumption and only went to the dance club for a few hours. We were in bed by 11pm and ready to get up at 5:45am, which seemed pretty darn responsible for vacation. The next morning, we walked 1.5 miles to the starting line. It was VERY humid outside – even for Cancun.

The first real difference we noticed about a race in Mexico – no bathrooms. Not a single porta potty along the course or at the start/finish. Perhaps you get what you pay for, and or $20.00 fee meant they skimped on potties? Either way, this was a surprise. Even very small races back home have some sort of facility. Oh well. I had to get creative and pee pre-race, which wasn’t a big deal. It also became quickly clear that this was a race very few tourists were running. The field was almost all locals, which surprised me since the race was hosted by our resort. Therefore, everything was communicated in Spanish. Nothing was ever announced in English, and so we had to listen carefully and give up control. Following the crowds was the only option.

The 5K/10K were on the same course, starting all at once. The 5K split off to finish while the 10K runners ran the course a second time. I was one of the top 3-5 runners during the first loop, and told myself to relax – maybe some of these ladies were running the 5K. After the first mile, humidity hit me like a wall. It was extremely humbling. I’m sure my Ultra training and lack of speed work was a factor, but my sweat rate and core temperature became an issue before very long. It’s a strange feeling to have a wave of heat pour down from your head and through your body. I don’t know how these locals made it look so easy!

Another big difference was the kindness of other runners. Around mile 2, one lady and I kept swapping places and were pulling/pushing each other along. When we got to the first aid station, where water was handed in sealed plastic bags you tear open with your teeth, she grabbed one, took a few sips and then offered it to me. I declined, as I was more in awe of the water bag concept and this runner’s kindness. By the time we got to the 5K split, I dropped her and she finished a few minutes behind me. I ended up taking two bags later in the race – embracing the way runners hydrate in Cancun and giving my body some much-needed water.

To my surprise, the women in front of me were still on the course after the 5K mark and forging ahead. My hope that they were racing the 5K was squashed, and I knew there was no chance I’d catch them. They were out of sight unless we were on an out-and-back portion, and my body was crumbling under the weather conditions and I couldn’t get my legs to move any faster. Again, so humbling.

As I closed in on the finish line, a bike escort brought me in – which confused me for a few minutes. I knew I was either 4th or 5th female, just shy of a cash prize, so the escort was odd. Folks shouted words of encouragement in Spanish, and Chris was there cheering too. He ran the 5K, and thought I was perhaps 3rd female. I told him I was pretty sure there were 3 ladies ahead of me. In what was my slowest and hardest 10K of my life, I was thankful when the finish line was behind me.

A huge table of fruit, coolers of water, bottles of coconut water, and thermos of Powerade waited at the finish line. We waited for the award ceremony, which included honoring the children in the area benefiting from the race. These little cancer patients were so cute, and for a minute it made my suffering for a 10K seem small and silly.

I won 1st in my Age Group, and laughed when the announcer stumbled on my obviously non-Spanish name. As I made my way up to the top of the podium, the two ladies in 2nd and 3rd were incredibly sweet. High fives, hugs and kisses for all. Again, very different from any race I’ve experienced in the US. My prize was a day pass to our resort for two people, which of course we couldn’t use. I gave my prize to a runner as we walked back to our resort. He was extremely thankful, and said he and his girlfriend would love to use it. I was happy my prize didn’t go to waste!

Age Group winners.

Age Group winners.

When we got back to our resort, we were ready for a huge breakfast, drinks and relaxing in the hot sun – and we spent the rest of the day relaxing and maybe drinking too much. It was great to get out of the resort area, meet some locals, and get our legs moving. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – traveling and running are an awesome combination.

Report from the Trenches: Broad Street Run 10-Miler

imagesOn my 5-year anniversary of my first race ever, I headed back to where it all started – the Philadelphia Broad Street Run. This 10-mile race was my first, and I have gone back every year. It’s silly to think that I have only been part of race culture for five short years. Those years have been packed with so many growing pains, knowledge, growth, and a love affair with road racing that won’t quit.

I remember how for years I ran, but never entered a race. I would run 20-30 mile weeks, simply to clear my head, sweat out stress, and feel good. I liked it. I don’t know how fast I’d run, and I have a rough idea on distance, but I was by no means the runner I am today. Like my journey, I am sure many of you have grown as athletes and human beings by leaps and bounds over the last five years. It’s really quite amazing to process that.

While my plan for this year’s Broad Street Run was to train my butt off and work to finally crack the 65 minute mark (my last two Broad Street Runs were 65:XX), this winter’s weather, being sick over and over, and my coaching load shut down that goal. I was slightly disappointed, as I love the opportunity to compete against myself. But pacing runners in races and long runs, and a terrible winter simply meant I had a winter filled with easy distance miles, not track repeats or tempo runs. 

I decided the next best thing was to run the race with someone special. Luckily, I had a ton of special people running the race this year. Miracle of miracles, via lottery, my brother, friend and boyfriend all got spots. Since Alex and Chris (friend and boyfriend) were of similar pace and planned to run together, I decided I would run with my brother. At his first Broad Street Run in 2013, he ran about a 1:22 on barely any training. 

I should mention here and now that while I love my brother, James, dearly; he is one of those people who always excels. He was the kid who wouldn’t study or would do his homework on the bus, and get straight A’s. Plus he was always cast as the lead in school plays, and a talented basketball player – and it all came easily to him. As his older sister who had to work for her good grades and extra curricular activities, I sometimes found this annoying. Now I find it amazing. 

In true James fashion, he once again barely trained for the Broad Street Run. It’s not that he didn’t care or didn’t want to, but it wasn’t a priority. I told him we’d get him a PR of at least a sub-1:20. I knew that even if he were just in the shape he was last year, I could push him enough for that goal. And again, in true James fashion, he blew his current PR out of the water and ran a sub-1:12, on barely any training. 

Race morning was cool, and it looked like rain. Still, we all agreed that cool and rainy was probably better than the 85 degree morning I had on that same course five years earlier. James and I said goodbye to Chris and Alex, and they walked to the green corral. James and I walked towards the starting line, and into the purple corral. It’s amazing to me that the race is now 40,000 runners. One of the things I love about Broad Street is that it truly is a Philadelphian’s race. Most of the runners live in Philly or the suburbs, and it’s often an event friends do together, tailgating for the Phillie’s game is a popular post-race choice. There are some runners who travel into town, but I’d say this race is as Philadelphia as you can get. I like it. 

In the corral, James and I chatted as we tried to stay warm. I told him to not push the first mile, and to wait for the crowds to thin. Wasting time weaving around runners would add distance and expend energy, taking away from the benefit of a flat and fast course. Again, in true James fashion, this guy aced the notion of a negative split. Our first and slowest mile clocked a 7:34, and James told me he would be happy if we averaged 7:30s. Our miles slowly picked up pace as we went. As we passed the Temple University campus and the marching band, a spring in our step took us quickly towards City Hall. You can see City Hall from miles away. I told James that we’d pass City Hall after the 5-mile mark, so we should settle and not burn out until we hit the halfway mark. Our pace still continued to speed up, but because James didn’t look or sound like he was working very hard, I didn’t pull him back very much. 

Around the 7-8 mile mark, James said his legs were beginning to tighten up. Did this slow his pace? Nope. At this point we were running 6:55-7:05 miles. I was simply in awe at how someone who has run maybe a dozen times since January could run 10 miles at this pace without feeling terrible, gasping for air, or getting injured. Who is this kid?!? Our last mile was our fastest, a 6:41. Ironically, I was winded at the end. My allergies made the last few miles hard on my breathing, and so when James took off at the end I was left to watch the tree tattoo on his back a few steps ahead of me. James had crushed his previous PR by over 10 minutes. On barely any training. Ridiculous. 

At the finish, we grabbed refreshments and our medals, and waited for Chris and Alex at the family meeting area. James pointed out the many different gaits and running forms we saw on the course. I laughed, as I totally knew what he was talking about. The more you run, the more you notice things like running form. 

I told James that I wondered what kind of time he could clock if he actually trained. I think he could whoop my butt and run 60-65 minutes – maybe faster. I am in awe. Again, knowing how hard I’ve had to work for certain race times, watching him pull off a time many runners out there that day didn’t have a prayer in achieving, probably while training – its amazing. As his big sister, I am super proud. As a coach, I would very much love the opportunity to coach him one year and see what would happen. However, in true James form, he’s probably too busy with other things (he does work a lot!) and will probably still go back and set a new PR in 2015. 

As for me, I absolutely love pacing someone to a PR. Hopefully next year will be the year I go after that sub-65 minute finish. I know if I work hard, and weather cooperates on race day, its there. I know it is. I just need to make it happen.