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. 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.
  • 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!
  • 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!). 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 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.

How to Successfully Train and Race Injury-free

Running is often a sport or activity associated with injuries. And for good reason – the percent of runners in physical therapy, on the injured list, or running through pain is alarmingly high. While doing anything repetitive and strenuous isn’t without injury risk, I’d argue that many injuries can be prevented. It’s always my first priority to keep my runners healthy, as an injured runner simply can’t achieve their goals. I’d also say that I am asked more about injuries than anything else with my runners at Mile High Run Club, and I see literally hundreds of runners each week. Preventing injury can be tough because it takes self control, a clear plan, and a good sense of your own body and what signals to listen to.

Too much too soon and overtraining are the big contributors to injuries and aches and pains that can be avoided. For many of us, too much too soon is a big one. In an ideal world, while building mileage after an off season, injury-related hiatus, or picking up running for the first time, you need to ease your body into the demands of running. Our brains often adapt faster than legs or lungs, and so there is often a tendency to go from 0-60. Runners should build base mileage for 3-6 weeks before adding the stress of speed or long runs. Honestly, many of us build minimal base mileage. Sometimes because we are simply super enthusiastic to be running, or a race was tossed onto the calendar with perhaps not enough time to sufficiently build base, train intensely, taper and race. The first thing we typically toss is the base mileage.

Try to keep in mind that physical adaptions take time. Our cells and fibers are stressed and broken down during activity, and then adapt, grow and improve. Without building mitochondria, improving bone density, lung capacity, and introducing the basic stress of base mileage (easy running), injury risk goes way up because our bodies aren’t ready to handle high mileage, speed workout, and long runs. The adaptions from stress don’t occur when we are running, but instead when we are resting. So skipping rest days in the name of progress is actually counter productive. So if you are coming back into running at virtually no miles, build carefully and with purpose. Everyone will be different, but you may simply start by running 4 30-minute runs throughout the week, mostly nonconsecutive days. On those rest days, be sure to hydrate, sleep, and maybe focus on foam rolling and stretching. Where we all start is going to vary based on experience, fitness, and if injury was the cause of the running hiatus. But easing into running should simply be that and nothing more.

The last time I was injured (November 2012), I was forced to take 8 weeks off entirely from running, and then cleared to ease back into the swing of things very carefully – with no speed runs until at least 1 month of easy base-mileage building. I remember how excited I was to be cleared to run. But I also remember how incredibly humbling an easy 30-minute run felt. When I was cleared to get back to speed runs, I was incredibly slow and I was working very hard for numbers that used to represent my easy runs. It can very frustrating. There can be the temptation to then go a little crazy and hit training hard every day. But perspective and a clear plan can help us keep our heads about us.

Overtraining can also lead to injuries. I tend to see these injuries in a few different types of runners: extremely competitive and talented athletes running 70-125 miles per week, and those who perhaps are running 30-60 mile weeks, but also do a ton of other activities – crossfit, fitness or dance classes, or runners who simply take their “recovery run” days too fast, actually not giving their body the runs that should feel super easy. Now, this also isn’t me saying runners should only run. In fact, I’m a coach who is a firm believer in supplemental and supportive training. But the training should complement your training schedule and not compromise it. We are all different. For example, I have found personally that minimal mileage but time lifting heavy in the gym has kept me feeling stronger and more efficient as a runner than ever, and I have luckily not been injured since 2012. Other runners may find weekly yoga helps their tight hamstrings, or that boxing helps their core and upper body strength.

At the end of the day, there should be purpose behind training days and days off. Know the purpose. If there really isn’t one, why are you doing it? Sometimes “because I want to,” or “for fun” is a totally fine reason. Just be honest about where you are in your running journey and how to protect your health. If you are injured, there go all those goals and races.

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.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 5: No pain, no gain

It’s been ingrained in gym culture, sports, and perhaps our common conception of exercise: it’s supposed to hurt. Perhaps this is why so many people hate to exercise or run. While yes, there is definitely discomfort that can come and should come with training, that is very different from injury pain. The lines between the two seem to often blur, and that’s not a good thing. So today let’s clarify what sensations should be associated with exercise and which ones should not – and how to recognize the difference and make good decisions when those pains arise.

When ramping up training, or jumping into something new, it’s important to build the work load carefully and consistently. Not doing so will increase both injury risk and general discomfort. For runners, for example, this is why building base mileage is necessary before tackling intense runs. Or why going from absolutely no exercise to 3-hour gym sessions will practically destroy many of us. And rightly so. You are shocking your body!

Discomfort can come in a few different forms – pain while in the act of training – running hard on a track isn’t comfortable, or pushing out that final rep of chest presses – but that’s not injury pain. That’s the discomfort our body will adapt and grow from. The heavy leg feeling towards the end of a long run can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially when pushing the time on your feet. But again, this is the kind of stress our bodies need to experience to learn to run longer. A day or two after training, it can be normal to feel soreness, tightness, or weakness. While there are things we can do to help alleviate that discomfort (hydration, rest, compression gear, stretching, foam rolling, light exercise, ice baths), that discomfort is simply part of athletic gains. This discomfort isn’t an injury. It’s simply your body going through the process of learning and adapting. The good news is that the more of a habit your training becomes, and the stronger and more adaptable your body and brain, the harder you’ll need to work to feel discomfort. This isn’t to say that you’ll feel amazing and agile at mile 23 of the marathon, but it will mean mile 14 won’t hurt the way it maybe did 4 months ago.

Injury pain is very different from discomfort. While there’s a stigma that badass athletes train, race and compete through injury, that’s a really bad way of handling yourself, your attitude about your body, and your goals. There are always exceptions to the rules. For example, many NHL players are expected to play through broken bones during the playoffs. And I’ve known many a runner opt to still run a marathon with tendonitis. Are those decisions smart? No. Worth it for that person or team in the situation? That’s a personal decision. But we need to be careful and remember than training through an injury doesn’t make us a dedicated, badass warrior. It makes us idiots, with usually big consequences down the road.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between discomfort and injury. Remember that unless you are actually a doctor, looking things up online or talking to your lifting or running buddies is not the smart course of action. See a medical professional. A diagnosis, especially early on, can make a game-changer. Some injuries like runners knee, ITB, shin splints – can be managed and not totally derail training or racing, But a torn rotator cuff, tendonitis, a muscle tear – these are things we should rarely train through. It’s important to know what you’re dealing with so that you can make smart choices. If you can’t see a doctor right away, take a few additional rest days and see if that helps. If it does, carefully ease back into your activity and see how it feels. If it doesn’t help, you definitely need a medical opinion before training again.

An overwhelming number of runners say they battle injuries as part of their sport. I find that sad, and a statistic that doesn’t need to be so high. Smarter training, self awareness, and remembering that each and every runner is different and you need to learn and listen to your body, can help you not be part of such an overwhelming statistic. Look, I get it. I have said yes to races, runs with friends or team mates, and pacing opportunities with my clients when for my own body and training, it wasn’t a smart idea. Sometimes the risks don’t have huge consequences and we get lucky. But other times we pay the price.

Just remember that pain is a signal our bodies give our brain that something is stressed or hurting. Signals should never be ignored. We only have one body. Do your best to keep it healthy and happy.

The Twelve Myths of Fitness – Day 2: Running is bad for your knees

If you are a runner, you’ve probably been asked this a thousand times: Isn’t running bad for your knees?

And if you’re not a runner, perhaps that’s your belief or assumption. In general, the answer is no, running is not bad for your knees. That’s an old wives tale. In fact, I’d argue that it’s in fact good for your knees. However, we are all different. And so is running good for your knees? That depends. Here’s a NY Times article discussing why runners don’t tend to get arthritis in their knees.

Any highly repetitive activity can have consequences. Overuse is a common issue for many athletes – be it a basketball player jumping, a tennis player and their elbows, or a dancer and their hips. Doing something repetitive day after day, year after year can cause problems. However, when supplemented with other activities, done wisely, and with good genetics, running can keep humans active, agile, strong, and enjoying a sport they love way into their golden years. While I’d argue running isn’t bad for many of us, I’d also argue that many runners don’t supplement their running wisely or train in a smart manner.

Statistically, many runners overtrain or train with little purpose or guidance. Many runners also don’t respect their body’s need to recover and rest – be it rest days during the week, or taking some significant time off after completing a big goal race, like a marathon. In fact, I’d argue most runners are pretty stupid when it comes to their training choices. I’d be the first to admit I’ve made those mistakes and learned the hard way. Sometimes runners simply don’t know any better, or they have FOMO and cannot force themselves to take time off. I’d also argue that most runners don’t strength train or cross train enough. So a flawed training schedule or plan can lead to angry knees, hips, shins, feet, tendons – the list goes on. So if a non-runner asks the average runner about their injuries or knees, they may hear their opinion on knees and running validated.

It’s important to understand that body weight, shoes, form, and running surfaces can also be factors in how happy your joints are with your weekly miles. I’ve found many of my runners with a history in martial arts and track and field events like long jump tend to have issues with running and keeping their knees happy.

If you still aren’t buying the whole “running is good for my knees” concept, here are five expert opinions. For many of us, the benefits far outweigh the possible damage or consequences of running. Just remember that you only have one body, and you should run, train and race with the big picture in mind – active decades to come – not just your races on the calendar this year.