Boston Marathon 2018 Recap

As most have heard, the weather on Patriot’s Day was anything but kind. Marathoners are pretty tough people, and Monday demanded our mental strength to carry when our bodies succumbed to the elements. I often preach to my runners that they need to learn to train in most elements because we never know what we’ll be handed by Mother Nature on race day. Monday was a reminder of that. Not surprisingly, the runners I know who preformed best were the Winter Warriors and the Ultra Marathoners.

The biggest takeaways from my 4th Boston finish:

  • Dress and pace for your body. I found protecting my hands with two layers for the first half of the race incredibly helpful. I know that I’m not great at regulating core temperature. I had originally planned to race in shorts, but the forecast continued to change and predict cooler temperatures on Sunday, and so I made a last-minute purchase of tights at the expo and am SO GLAD I did! Shorts may have been a big downfall. I bought the last pair of XS tights at the expo – so the lesson: don’t attend the expo at the very end if you need something for race day. I got super lucky.
  • Athlete’s Village was a muddy mess. My feet were soaked in cold mud for literally 2 hours before the start. I had never imagined the school to be so flooded. I should have brought a throw-away pair of sneakers. And a thousand trash bags. I was ready for the cold, but the wet feet for hours was a bad surprise. The pre-race and post-race was the worst part of the race.
  • It’s incredibly tough to tear open GU with frozen hands. It’s tough to stomach drinking cold water when your body is freezing, it’s impossible to untie/tie a shoe with frozen hands. Going to the bathroom with soaked and frozen tights and frozen hands was also quite challenging. Big shoutout to Kevin. A rock in my sock became an issue, and I paused at mile 19 or so to attempt to take off my shoe. I was pretty unsuccessful. When I saw Kevin and the QDR crew at mile 20, I ran over and asked for help. He helped me solved the rock in the sock problem and I’m so glad he did!
  • The crowds were a little lighter than other years, but when the rain changed to a downpour, they’d cheer even louder. I am so appreciative of the folks who chose to weather the storm. It was a really nasty day to be outside, and the crowd support made the journey a bit less painful.

My calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping due to the cold around mile 14. I did everything I could to prevent cramping from happening, which meant changing my stride, form and pace in the late miles. I knew I was better off adding a minute to each mile than cramping and needing walk and stretching breaks in the elements. At the finish, I could barely lift my legs. My hips were in incredible pain, so cold and tight, and I wasn’t confident I’d make it to my hotel without a wheelchair ride to medical. Marni and the cup of hot cocoa at the finish line were the only reason I didn’t end up in a wheelchair.

The finish line never disappoints. I was emotional early in the race, a few times during, and then totally lost it as I got closed to Hereford Street. All of the hard work, the years of training, the humbling runs, the BQs, the PRs, the countless hours I’ve struggled on the track alone – the final 600M of Boston Marathon make it all worth it. Nothing compares.

I went into Boston for “fun,” and then to “make memories” once I saw the weather was going to be horrendous. Memories were made. Many of the memories weren’t great. Some downright sucked. Others were amazing. The marathon tests us all. There are highs and lows. Some have more lows. But that’s where the lessons are learned. Of the 3 hours, 26 minutes and 22 seconds I was on the course, I’d say 3 hours were pretty painful, uncomfortable or terrible. But I did it. I’m mentally and physically exhausted. I can tell my immune system is a bit compromised. But I’ll be stronger in the future because I didn’t give up. I excited to rest and recover. I know it’s necessary to hit the “pause” button after a race. I’m eager to dive into training for St. George Marathon, but also happy to chill out before I start that journey. There has to be balance. Work hard, recover hard. I haven’t decided if I’ll run Boston in 2019. I want to digest and process.

Boston Marathon – What Weather?

Boston Marathon, 2015.

Boston Marathon. For many runners, it is essentially the magic unicorn of marathon running. For many runners, qualifying is a goal. It takes some of us numerous attempts, years of hard work, and some soul-crushing attempts. But there is nothing like Boston. Once you’ve stamped that qualifier, you are in for one epic ride. There are few things that compare to the feeling of being in your corral in Hopkinton. Being around thousands of other runners who all met a time standard, whether on first attempt or 10th – the energy at the starting line is something unique.

As I sit on my Amtrak ride up to Boston for my 5th attempt from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, preparing for what will be perhaps the worst weather I have yet to trek 26.2 miles through, I am filled with peace. No nerves. No negativity about the weather. If I’d planned to really race my best tomorrow, I’d be a stressed out mess. But each marathon has taught me something new about myself and the sport. With this being my 18th (or 19th?) marathon, I have learned to accept the things I cannot control and to instead focus on the things I can. Bad weather is part of marathons. It’s a big part of Boston Marathon. These less-than-ideal days make the good days that much more rewarding when they happen.

I’ve probably stalked the forecast a good 100 times in the last week. No joke. But I keep reminding myself that no matter how much rain or headwind we have tomorrow, it’s better (and probably safer) than a hot and sunny Patriots Day. No matter the weather, this is Boston Marathon. I’ll be out there in good company with other strong and accomplished marathoners. The best marathoners in the world will be leading the way. The crowds will still be strong, cheering on and celebrating, because it’s Boston.

If you are running tomorrow and freaking out (a natural reaction – especially if it’s your first Boston!) here are a few tips:

  • Don’t fight the wind. Don’t fight the wind. DON’T FIGHT THE WIND. Instead, LISTEN to your body and exertion, and draft behind a group of taller runners whenever possible.
  • Don’t go out too hard. Boston is a pretty fast course. The biggest challenge is the Newton Hills (mile 17-21.) Don’t be scared of the Newton Hills. There are downs to counter the ups. But they are at a tough place in the marathon. The first half of the course is pretty fast, and it’s tempting to go out hard and “bank” time. Try to resist that urge. You risk hitting those hills with quads that are tanked from the downhills.
  • Do stay warm and dry pre-race. Use the tents in Athlete’s Village. Bring layers. Bring plastic bags. You lose energy shivering and try to stay warm. You want your energy for your 26.2 mile journey.
  • Do still hydrate early and often on the race course. Despite cool and wet conditions, you’ll still be sweating and burning up your glycogen storage.
  • Do take in the energy from the spectators. Give high fives, cheer, hoot and holler! It’s BOSTON MARATHON!!!! Make the most of this experience. You’ll make memories no matter what. Choose to make them good ones.
  • If Boston IS your goal race, don’t lose hope that the PR is out of the cards. Yes, the odds are sadly not great. But you know your training. You know what you’ve trained through. You know your strengths and weaknesses. Just go to the starting line at peace with a few backup goals, just in case the wind is too much.

For many of us marathoners, this unicorn is the height of our marathon racing in a few ways. Aside from a few marathons that offer some perks for speedy qualifying standards, most of us are never going to make it to Olympic Trials. Boston is the “reach” goal. It’s special. It’s a race that should be saved for that BQ (my opinion) and then means so damn much once it’s achieved. No matter the weather, tomorrow will be a day. An opportunity. So we’ll get a little wet and run into some gnarly wind for a couple of hours. I can find few better ways to spend a Monday.

Springing into Action

It’s the time of year where many runners who hibernate during the dark and cold Winter months take their first few miles of the year. It’s also the time of the year for Newbies! Perhaps inspiration from a friend or family member, a stress in life is forcing a change, something has sparked the interest in the sport – new runners are testing out their running legs. If you’re new and flirting with the idea of running, or you’re coming back from a serious hiatus, here are some tips and tricks for getting started.

  • Check your shoes. If they are over 6 months old, you’ve used them for walks or time in the gym, or they don’t feel supportive or fresh anymore, get a new pair! Your feet are important. There is no “magic” shoe. Just see what feels right to you. Most decent running shoes will run you about $85-150.00.
  • Start where you are! It can be humbling for the first run ever, or the first run back after some time off. Aim for 20-30 minutes out there. Maybe it can’t all be a run. Maybe it can. No matter what, go at an easy/moderate effort. It’s important to ease into the sport.
  • Avoid cotton socks. Blisters can plague runners, but cotton socks are usually a leading variable. Running socks are a bit more expensive, but worth the investment.
  • Lots of runners want to know their data – how far they went, how fast, elevation, calories burned, heart rate, and so on. If that sounds of interest, I’d recommend investing in a running watch. You can find gadgets between $100-700.00 – depending on how high-tech you want to get. There are also a dozen or two apps you can download on your phone. I find the apps to be less accurate, but it’s a cost effective place to start – especially if you don’t know what your relationship with running will be.
  • Recruit a running buddy to help with accountability and reduce pressure in speed or distance. Focus on simply making running a consistent part of your life for 3-12 weeks. Run with a furry friend, push the stroller, simply build a habit and allow your body to slowly adapt.
  • Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Your journey with running will be uniquely yours. Your paces, body, mental capacity, preference in route and weather – embrace all of it and own it.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations without dismissing your potential. It’s important to accept where we are at that time. For example, signing up for a marathon 18 weeks out from the 1st run of your life or in months is not advisable. But is a marathon 12 months from now? Sure! And can a 5K or 10K be a realistic and attainable goal in 18 weeks? Definitely. The same could be true with setting the goal of running without stopping around Central Park – for example. But can you run to Battery Park from Riverdale? That’s a bigger goal and realistically would take more time. The sky can be the limit, but maybe not by tomorrow.
  • If your schedule is stressful, add your runs to your calendar. Make gym dates to stretch, cross train or weight train. If you know you’ll be most successful at consistency if you run before work, plan to always run in the morning and start your day off right. If you thrive on a lunch time run, lace up and get in that afternoon sunshine. Set yourself up for success. Reduce obstacles.
  • Accept that your running journey can change and adapt. This doesn’t have to be a serious sport. It can be fun, a stress reliever, or whatever it is you want. It can be a lone experience or a social activity. It can be incredibly competitive and driven. Make it yours!

Running by Exertion

Running out of one of the tunnels, Saints and Sinners Half Marathon 2018.

Runners are often caught up in numbers. We measure our runs by distance or time, and often chalk the success of a run or determine our fitness by our paces. While numbers should certainly play a motivating and informative role for many runners, it’s important to listen to our bodies. After all, a 10:00 minute mile may be a sprint for one runner, a tempo pace for another, and a recovery pace for a third. While 10:00 minute miles will always equal 6 miles per hour, what that paceĀ feelsĀ like will vary per person. And that’s incredibly important – especially for newbies or runners coming back from a hiatus or injury.

Despite all the cool techie gadgets, our bodies simply understand exertion or effort. It’s important for us to be able to honestly feel our efforts and listen to our bodies. Most weekly runs, regardless of talent or speed, should be done at an easy/moderate effort. Most miles should feel low stress. That effort will give us all different numbers. That number may also greatly swing one way or another based on weather, altitude, sleep, nutrition, and so on. Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes most runners make is running too much at an effort greater than prescribed. I’d be the first to admit that for years I’d run my recovery runs too fast, and then I’d be wiped out and cooked before I’d even start a speed workout.

Learning to listen to our bodies and understand our efforts takes consistency, time, practice, and self awareness. I recommend runners ditch the music whenever possible, so that they can tune into their body, form, breath rhythm and run without distractions.

It’s also important to remember that our devices can crap out. While GPS watches and apps. can give us useful data; buildings, mountains, tunnels, and simply bad weather can mess with our device. If you are 100% relying on that device, your workout or race could greatly suffer. It sucks when technology fails us, but there should be a calm confidence in knowing your body as a runner.

For my new runners, I try to stress the importance of exertion. For one thing, we are completely shooting in the dark if I tell a new runner to run 10:00 minute miles for their first run. That number could be way off base and inappropriate for them. Instead, go for a run and keep the exertion to comfortable/conversational, or a 4-6 out of 10 exertion and no harder. That device can then later give clues as to the current fitness based on the number on the watch, assuming the exertion was honest, and how to gently progress their training.

To drive this concept home, I’ve known a few coaches in my day who don’t want their athletes looking at their watches during track workouts. Even with a very specific time goal, working incredibly hard, some coaches want their athletes to lock that rhythm and effort into their body. To be huffing and puffing and thinking “yep, this feels like a 10:00 minute mile,” without the watch can almost feel like running blind. While I used to constantly look at my watch, I’ve slowly tried to learn to rely on myself more and my watch less. I still glance at my watch during my track workouts, but now only halfway through that repeat or interval.

When a watch malfunctions on a training run it can be frustrating. When it happens on a race course, it can be the thing that truly throws a runner off their game. If that happens, relax and focus on your exertion. Use mile markers, and try to do the math in your head. If you know the course elevation, you’ll know where you can potentially cruise and where you’ll need to really dig deep.

Just the other weekend at Saints and Sinner’s Half Marathon, my watch went crazy during the second half. The first half of the course is essentially in the desert. No big trees, mountains or buildings, it’s simply open. The first half is also incredibly fast, and so it was a strategy to go out and use the downhills to bank some time for the gravel portion. The second half includes about a dozen tunnels, and you hug part of a mountain. I expected my GPS to get a bit off (the race website gives a head’s up to expect this), but it also happened at the place in the course where you are on gravel, and have a little uphill. Suffice to say, not the easiest place physically or mentally to have focus unravel. Despite the slowing time on my watch, I told myself to keep my head up and keep grinding. I knew the final 2.5 miles would be fast, and I just had to hang tight.

Here’s my splits according to my Garmin:

5:42, 5:52, 5:49, 6:17, 6:02, 6:07, 6:29, 6:39, 6:42, 6:33, 6:22, 6:05, 5:27 (for .92 miles). GPS finish had 12.92 miles, so it was off by almost a quarter mile.

Now, I could have totally lost my head out there during miles 7-10. In fact, a few years ago I probably would have shut down. But being able to focus on my form and exertion, while reminding myself that a PR was going to demand a whole lot of discomfort – I was able to focus on the mile markers and do the math in my head. Knowing my goal was just slightly out of reach was enough for my to keep fighting.

Last year at Boston Marathon, my exertion and watch weren’t matching up. Between the warm weather and being on antibiotics for bronchitis, I stubbornly went out at my goal pace. By mile 14, I knew my exertion was way too high to sustain for the remaining 12 miles. I could feel myself quickly dehydrating, and the effort and pace wasn’t sustainable. On that day I decided to pull back on the pace and not fight myself. If I had married myself to the watch and the plan, the odds are good things would have gotten incredibly ugly out there.

My hope is that whether a newbie or an experienced running veteran, you embrace the concept of exertion. The better you know your body, the wiser an athlete you can be.

Race Recap: Back to Saints and Sinners Half Marathon

This past weekend I stepped up to the starting line of my first of two big goals for 2018. After an amazing experience at Saints and Sinner’s Half Marathon in 2017, my big goal for early 2018 was to return and improve my time. Last year was an experience I could not have predicted in numerous ways – a 6+ minute PR following a day in Urgent Care after Chris broke his ankle on a slick shakeout run in the rain on the Strip – the trip was anything but what I anticipated. It’s safe to say race morning last year surpassed my expectations.

After crossing the finish in 1:21:13 in 2017, I set my sights on a 1:19:59 finish this year. Unlike 2017, I knew I’d be fighting hard for every second this time round. With clear skies and no broken bones on Friday, Saturday morning Chris and I were both ready to run. Going into this race goal, I worked my ass off with the course in mind. Mileage-wise, I ran about what I usually do while marathon training – 45-55 mile weeks – with a good 5-6 hours of lifting heavy in the gym. I’ve accepted I’m not a high mileage athlete, and focused on quality over quantity, rest, nutrition, and strength.

Weather on race day was pretty great. Sunny and cool (though temperature rose about 10 degrees during the race!), no breeze, and clear views of Lake Mead. The only surprising disadvantage to sunny and dry weather: miles 6.5-10.5 is a gravel course. Last year in light rain, the gravel was a bit more compact. This year I felt like I was really working on the gravel miles!

The first 6 miles are incredibly fast. Mile splits: 5:42, 5:52, 5:49, 6:17, 6:02, 6:07. Then you hit the gravel, the longest uphill portion, and run through numerous tunnels, which also tends to throw the GPS a bit. Chris’ watch says he ran 15 miles. Mine says 12.92. Other runners had slight variations on 13.1. This meant that it was incredibly tough to do the math in my head for the final 2.5 miles (off gravel and fast finish), and while I knew a PR was there, I couldn’t figure out how close I’d be to 1:19:59. When I saw the sign marked “1/2 mile to go,” I glanced at my watch and knew that I was going to miss 1:19:59 – but not by much.

Official stats: First female, fourth overall. 1:20:07 chip finish.

Despite the net downhill, I’d be the first to admit that this was work from start to finish. In the first few miles, my stomach felt oddly unsettled. Thankfully it settled down, though sucking down my GU was the last thing I wanted. Then it was the pain train simply because of my goal and how hard I was working. I worked through a whole lot of discomfort. I did my best to take the positive energy from the adorable youth volunteers handing out water at the aid stations, yelling “FIRST GIRL!!!” and the good vibes from dozens of runners on the out and back portion of the course. Mentally, I told myself that discomfort comes with a PR. That there’s so many people wishing me well on the course, back home, via social media – to dig deep and stay strong. Unlike last year, I was alone for the entire race. It’s easy to get in your own head. That’s something I’ve been working on, and will certainly set as a focus for my fall marathon.

The really cool thing about this past weekend – all three top females achieved PRs. Michelle, who finished second, is a fellow New Yorker, and the CEO/founder of Urban Savage Activewear. She signed up for the race because I’d mentioned it to her months ago while we were doing a shoot for her brand. Rebecca, who finished third, heard about the race because of the recap I wrote last year. Small world.

While I was 8 seconds shy of my goal, I am choosing to focus on the positives. I had a PR by over a minute. My left heel, which caused me some issues last year, felt 100% from start to finish, and has given no indication of discomfort in the days post-race. Could I have made up those 8 seconds somewhere? I don’t know. Physically, I’d like to think there was a little more left to give. But mentally, I was exhausted by the finish and doubt I could have given more of myself. Post-race, my legs are quite sore! Far more sore than after Frankfurt Marathon. I’m definitely feeling those hills in my calves, quads and glutes.

This week I plan on giving my body time to really rest and recover. I haven’t decided when I’ll clock an easy run back. Boston is waiting in the wings, but I am not going to let that change my recovery strategy. The lesson I’ve learned the hard way, and one many runners at some point learn – we cannot rush recovery. We are most prone to injury after a hard race. I am intentionally not racing Boston this year. I’ll run it, but the clock isn’t my focus. In fact, I don’t have any solidified race goals now until October. I’ll toss in some races. But it’s impossible to assume we can race well frequently without the big risk of injury or physical/mental burnout.

Perhaps the thing I am most proud of isn’t the new PR, but that I’ve cracked the code with how to coach myself well. There’s a reason most coaches don’t coach themselves. It’s a challenge to wear both hats simultaneously. But I know my body better than anyone’s. And I’ve been able to honestly access my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses. There are days where I stumble. But using Pfitzinger’s book with some slight modifications of my own got the job done this past weekend. I’m stronger, leaner, and faster at 34 years old than ever before. Part of that is dumb luck. Some of it is genetics. Some of it is simply training incredibly well. And of course some of it is race strategy – picking specific races for reasons. Set yourself up for success. There are no guarantees, but you can do things to better your odds.

Big thank you to the race organizers, volunteers, and fellow runners for making this past weekend one for my record books. And like anything, it takes a village. I’m filled with gratitude for the support in my life. Queens Distance Runners team mates, friends, coworkers at Mile High Run Club – so many supportive words along the training journey, not to mention texts, emails, and well wishes sent via social media. Special shoutout goes to Chris. I’m not the easiest person to deal with on race weekend, especially goal races. Over the years he’s learned to just let me be a little intense, and to roll with the punches.

Tips for Beginner Runners

The new year is on the horizon, and you have decided you are going to take up running! Great! Here are some tips to help you ease into a new sport carefully, so that you reduce injury risk, build as a runner, and have fun. Be patient and remember to accept that you can’t be an expert in anything overnight. Enjoy the journey and learn from your experience.

  • Start where you are! Nobody begins as an expert. If day #1 is literally day #1, simply start from today. Keep all running to a 4-5 out of 10 perceived exertion for the first 3-6 weeks to carefully build up strength and adaption to stress. You’ll be improving cardio strength, bone density, stamina and build mitochondria. Most of us start by running way too fast, and our bodies skip a very important step. Even if you can only hold your run for 1 minute – start there. Walk/runs are a normal place for many people to start. Alternating walk/runs for 20-30 minutes per day, 3-4X per week, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll adapt.
  • Consistency is key – just like with anything new. Put your runs on your calendar with meetings and social events. Prioritize and then carve out that time to running. If motivation is necessary, recruit a running buddy for the journey, or listen to a podcast you love while running.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other runners! You don’t know their journey. But you do know yours. It’s new and in it’s infancy. Enjoy this new adventure.
  • Buy actual running shoes. Running can be a low-tech and fairly inexpensive sport, but investing in the right footwear can be a game changer with comfort and injury-prevention. While there’s no magic shoe for everyone, your magic shoe is one that feels like “home,” and supports the demands and needs of your body.
  • Once you’ve built some consistent runs throughout the week for 4-6 weeks, it’s time to start extending the long run and tossing in some speedier efforts. The long run should always be at an easy/comfortable pace, and you’ll build endurance by learning to spend extended time on your feet. Aim to increase long runs by 15-20 minutes, or 2 miles. Enough where it’s a reach, but not so much where it’s a shock to the system. Plan to build the long run for 3 weeks, pull back for one, and then rebuild.
  • Celebrate little victories! We don’t see or feel changes due to a new routine overnight. It takes a little time to adapt and grow. So don’t focus on the instant gratification. Instead, focus on that day or that week, and then own that accomplishment of successfully completing your runs!
  • Be mindful of hydration and nutritional changes. The odds are good you’ll need more water while embarking on a run journey than you did before. Sip water throughout the day, and be sure to hydrate after every run. It’s not necessary to drink throughout a run that lasts under 90 minutes if you go into it well hydrated. Always plan to refuel after your runs with a meal or snack that includes some carbs and protein to help aid recovery.
  • Rest days are important. While obviously you can’t run sporadically and get better, you adapt to the hard work while you rest. So get sleep. Get in 2-3 total rest days per week while starting out, spread throughout the week. It’s tempting to go balls to the wall. While that motivation and drive is great, it can lead to overtraining injuries and burnout – both of which can often be avoided.
  • Mix it up. Take a different route. Run inside and outside. Take a treadmill class (like with me at Mile High Run Club!). Recruit a running buddy. Switch up the time of day you run. You don’t know in the early stages what’s your best groove, so mix it up until you find it.
  • Have fun and set a distant goal! This should be an activity that brings something positive to your life, and enriches you. Not every run will be rainbows and unicorns, but most of the runs should feel physically and mentally good. Perhaps sign up for a 5K or 10K race in a few months and recruit your friends. Race in costume. Set a time goal. This sport is unique to you, so make it yours!

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.

Setting Goals, Assessing Weaknesses, and Moving Forward

Last week I posted about the importance of the off season. Today I want to personally share how I handled my off season, and what lessons I learned about myself as an athlete in my latest marathon cycle, and how I’ll plan to make changes in the future. It’s important to understand that our bodies will adapt and change to anything we toss at it – with time, consistency, and a solid combination of work and recovery. It’s always easier to be the coach than the athlete, and I’ve worn both hats for myself for the last few years. While I know my body and my strengths and weaknesses, it’s not without its challenges.

Frankfurt Marathon Training: In Spring I dealt with my first injury in 5 years. I have a heel spur in my left foot that became irritated, and plantar fasciitis stemmed from that heel. They were essentially one big issue. While I ordered special orthotics, put my foot through electrotherapy (not pleasant nor cheap!), and did everything I could, I was also asked to stop running at full body weight. So with Frankfurt, my goal marathon, waiting in the wings on October 29th, I knew the clock was ticking. I ran the entire month of June at 50-80% of my body weight on the Alter-G at Finish Line PT. The monthly membership there was beyond worth it. I was able to run – which I needed physically and mentally. In July, 15 weeks from marathon day, I was given the green light to run outside. I had 15 weeks to go from base mileage on an Alter-G, to chasing down a PR. There were times my foot still hurt leading up to Frankfurt, but at least I knew how to manage it. With a pretty short window of time, I decided to be conservative with mileage. My highest mileage week was maybe 45 miles. My longest run, 20-milers. I supplemented my training with 5-7 hours of weight training per week.

Frankfurt Marathon Reflections: Moving forward, I’d ideally have had a few more weeks of official training, and some time to build solid base mileage outside. That’s my hope for my fall 2018 goal. Also, if I’m honest about my weaknesses, I fell apart late on the course. The weather was tough, and that made me lose my head game. However, my body was capable of more than I accomplished out there – even in those conditions. Therefore, some longer long runs (21-23-milers), and some more negative-split/progressive long runs are what I’ll need to develop a stronger mental space for those late miles. I’ll also plan to increase weekly mileage a bit for next fall. I know I’m not a high mileage athlete, but I think I can add a bit more and still feel healthy and strong.

The Off Season: I’m incredibly disciplined as an athlete. Despite the fun foods I post on IG (and don’t get me wrong – I love all foods!), I also track everything I consume – the good, the bad – I track it all. I’m also disciplined with my training. I can eat a lot because most of the time I burn a lot. I’m training 2 hours per day, on average. That buys me a lot of extra calories. But during the last 4 weeks, I’ve allowed myself to relax. In fact, while in Mexico for a week’s vacation, I didn’t track a single calorie or activity. For the first time in a VERY long time, I gave myself a guilt-free, no rules, do what you want, vacation. I ordered guacamole with everything. I inhaled corn chips like it was my job. I ordered margaritas and buckets of beer without hesitation. It. Was. Fabulous. The month of November had minimal training (some lifting in the gym and minimal mileage), and I tried to really relax, reflect on my training, my accomplishments and my weaknesses, and how to better train and race in 2018.

Moving Forward: So after a training cycle that, despite the bumps along the way, still lead to a marathon PR, I have reflected, rested, and am ready to get back to work. I have no idea how much weight I’ve gained in the last 4 weeks. I refuse to weigh myself right now. I should be focused purely on the training and adapting. Race weight isn’t the focus at this time. But my mind is ready, and my body feels recovered from the marathon – and that’s what’s most important.

My goal race for early 2018 is the Saint and Sinners Half, in Nevada. I ran it last year, set a 6+ minute PR, and won. This year I am going back and hoping to break 1:20. That’s a blazing 6:05 minute mile average. I could NEVER do that on the average half marathon course. But this one is 1200 ft. net downhill, and I run downhill really well. You better believe I’ll be getting my quads and calves ready. I’ll then run Boston Marathon. No goals in time for that right now. I will simply see where my fitness is after the half. I may offer to pace a friend or team mate. I’m not putting any pressure on Boston. Last year I neglected the recovery necessary after the half, and I think that’s what began to cause my foot issues. I won’t make that mistake again. After Boston, I’ll plan for a little off season, and then gear up for a fall 2018 marathon. Right now I’m seriously considering Saint George Marathon. It’s known for its 2000+ net downhill, and being a beautiful course. Again, downhill races aren’t without their challenges. But I know how to train for that and I think that would be a great course for breaking 3 hours. But for now, my eye is on the Half in February. I have 12 weeks.

Advice for You: Above you can see how I’ve handled and structured my goals. As you look towards 2018, space out your goal races in a realistic manner. We cannot do everything. Give your body TIME. Rushing into something, especially a marathon, can be quite risky. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. What should you focus on this year? Put together an organized plan, hire a coach, or find a running club. A clear plan will reduce injury risk and help with motivation and consistency. Lastly, take and embrace the off season. You will come back better.

 

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.

Race Report: Frankfurt Marathon

First and foremost, I apologize for neglecting my blog for much of 2017. That’s about to change! Second, it has been an incredible year. I am so humbled and proud of the hard work my roster have brought to the table. It’s an honor to do what I do every day.

In June 2017, I was forced to take 4 weeks off from running. With it being my first injury of any kind since 2012, I consider myself lucky. I was allowed to run on an Alter-G at a fraction of my weight while working on recovery and rehab for a heel spur and plantar fasciitis. With my goal marathon on October 29th, the clock was ticking. Once cleared to run outside, I had about 15 weeks until race day. That’s definitely not ideal for building fitness for a marathon PR, but I decided I’d do what I could with the time I had. Despite a few bumps along the way, training went smoothly and I felt my fitness return pretty quickly.

Fast forward 15 weeks, and I was hopping a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I’d picked Frankfurt Marathon for a few reasons. It’s incredibly flat/fast, weather is usually ideal, and it’s well organized. It was also an excuse to go explore a new city! Ironically, the weather wasn’t looking awesome as I was en route to the airport – winds with heavy gusts. I knew I’d have to rethink my strategy for the conditions, but decided not to panic but to accept the weather and make smart choices. I still really wanted that 2:59, but had also accepted that the weather would be a variable I cannot ignore.

Race morning I was relatively calm. I ate a banana and a donut, had some coffee, and headed to the starting line. The temperature was cool. But the wind was picking up here and there. My coral was mostly men. Not surprising, as marathons in Europe are a heavily male dominated sport. I could see the 2:59 pacers, and my plan was to try and tuck in behind them and draft behind them in the wind if and when it would be an issue. The pace group took off a little fast compared to my watch, and I opted to listen to my watch and be perhaps a little conservative than risk going out too hard. I settled into my effort, and the first 10 miles felt incredibly smooth.

The big mistake I made: my watch was in miles, the course was in kilometers. I grabbed a pace bracelet and stupidly got it in miles and not kilometers (hello, jet lag brain!), so I didn’t have a way to verify on the course if my watch was correct or not. It turns out I was a little behind pace, setting me up for a nice little negative split for the second half if the predicted winds would be at my back. A lot can happen in the marathon, and I told myself to relax and be patient. Head wind gusts became a factor around miles 15-17 off and on. Nothing terrible, but also not ideal. Otherwise, everything felt good. My foot felt 100%. My body felt solid. My hydration was solid. I was feeling smooth out there and optimistic. The tail winds predicted never really happened. Instead, air was still for a little while. Then as we neared the city again, head and cross winds began to pick up. With no pace group near me (the 2:59 pacers had slowly disappeared in front of me), I tried to tuck in behind every man possible and draft. I could feel my effort increasing as my paces began to slip.

With a 5K to go, Chris was there yelling at me to push for the 5K. I clearly remember thinking “F*ck!!! A whole 5K?!?” as I did the math and knew breaking 3 hours was definitely not in the cards and now a PR was in jeopardy. In the final 5K, for the first time all morning, I was being knocked sideways by strong gusts of wind. I was exhausted, over it, and trying to simply focus on the finish line. Despite my effort, I could not will myself to lock those 6:50s in my body at that point.

The finish line of Frankfurt Marathon is really spectacular. It finishes inside an arena with thousands of fans screaming. When my watch went off at 26 miles, I knew my watch was off, and that it was going to come down to seconds for a PR. I stopped looking at my watch, and told myself to use every ounce of energy towards the push to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 3:03:21. A 9 second PR from last year’s Berlin Marathon, and good enough for 3rd American Woman. Am I happy with the finish time? No. Absolutely not. I’ve never been so disappointed by a PR in my life. But I know I ran a smart race. I know I trained wisely. I made thousands of smart choices day after day. Looking back, there are things I can definitely do to improve as a marathoner. Weather is the wild card. But I can do more negative split long runs, or longer long runs in the future. I’m eager to learn and make adjustments to improve. In the 18 marathons I’ve finished, I’ve learned something new about myself as a human and a runner. It’s important to accept that we are all unique, and to honestly learn from strengths and weaknesses.

I would absolutely recommend Frankfurt Marathon to anyone looking for a flat and fast marathon. It was a pretty amazing day. And the days following the marathon were really fun. Food and drink is everywhere. If you enjoy baked goods and beer, Germany is for you. Frankfurt is an incredibly friendly city to travelers from all over the globe.

A few tips: I highly recommend spending the money on direct flights while traveling for an international marathon. Between time zones, jet lag, change in altitude, etc – the extra money is worth it. I also recommend booking a hotel that’s in a central location and walking distance to the start/finish line. The hotel location, comfort of the room, and so on are all variables to consider for race weekend. Do what you can to run your best. Stick to bottled water if somewhere new, and prepare race morning food the day before.

I am now taking a little off season. Legs and feet feel decent and were a little sore and tired for a couple days post-race. Even when feeling good, injury risk is high after racing a marathon. I’m allowing my body to fully recover, mentally process what I can work on, and think about my 2018 goals. I am excited for my athletes racing NYC Marathon and Philly Marathon. The marathon journey is always filled with highs and lows. Perhaps what makes the distance so incredible to me is that there are never any guarantees. It’s a race distance that can empower and crush. It just depends on the day.