Race Report: Oddessey Half Marathon

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

Around mile 10.5, coming over Falls Bridge.

As my first of 16 weeks into marathon training came to an end, I decided to take my first long run to a race course. My program called for a 13-miler, with the final 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace. Negative-split runs aren’t easy, especially long runs. With other runs out there, and fluid stations every 1-2 miles, I decided a race would be a slightly easier way to focus on this first long run, practice hydrating with cups, and pacing myself amongst a crowd. So I hopped into the Oddessey Half Marathon, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.

The Oddessey Half is a race capped at about 3000 runners. It’s well organized, clearly marked, and there’s a pretty great Beer Garden at the finish line – courtesy of Sly Fox Brewing Company. The course has some pancake-flat miles, and some super extreme hills. It offers a little bit of everything. It also offered soup-like humidity. The predicted thunderstorms for Saturday night that would have swept the humidity away never showed, so when I stepped outside at 5am, it was a sticky,80+ degrees, with humidity over 75%. An additional challenge.

It was a good thing the race started at 7am, as every minute counted – temperature and sun intensified with every mile. While some miles had ample tree coverage and shade, other miles were in full-blown sunshine.

With the extreme humidity, I made an executive decision to adjust my plan and run the 5 marathon-paced miles at the beginning of the run. This turned out to be a smart move. I maintained Marathon Goal Pace for about 8 miles because I was feeling really good, and then allowed my body to slow down a bit. The humidity began to grind at my gears, and so I willingly let pace go. After all, this was supposed to be a long run and not my race.

Running with other runners is always an education. I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete, being patient on the course, and how to run and race smart. I used the athletes around me to push the pace in the humidity for those first 5 miles, and then I willingly allowed runners to drop me and make their own choices while I did my own thing. Instead I focused on my form and efficiency, and spent moments observing other runners out there. I did more passing between miles 4-10 then I expected, including about a half dozen ladies who had gone out fast. As I gained on them, I could tell they were hurting. You can learn so much by a runner’s stride, form, and breathing. You can tell if that person will try to hang onto you or willingly let you go. I passed my final female around mile 9, putting me in 4th position. I never saw another lady out there for the remainder of the race.

Humidity is extremely humbling. Few runners handle it well, and for me it’s usually a matter of time before my body crumbles. Around mile 10, I remember my head feeling hot. I also remember my pace drastically dropping by about 15-25 seconds per mile. My quads began to feel like cement bricks, and my feet began to lose their quick and powerful contact with the ground. Instead I could feel every stride becoming heavy and slow. Dehydration was becoming an issue, and I was ready to be done. That final 5K was a grind, and some of it in full sunshine. The final mile of the Oddessey is a pretty epic climb – you run down it around mile 3, so you know what you have in your future. That hill had no shade. When I finally made the turn off of MLK Drive and to the hill, I was glad to be so close to the finish, but also dreading the abuse my tanked quads would take. I tried to relax, but even as my pace slowed, it was a struggle. My right calf felt as though it was going to cramp a few times, which is rare for me. So I did something I rarely do – I walked part of the hill. Yes, I stopped running and power-walked up part of the hill. I didn’t care if 10 females were about to pass me. I kept telling myself to be smart. This was a training run. I had a track workout on my calendar for 48 hours in the future. I needed to make good choices. So I did a walk/run negotiation, which probably was not expected for 4th Place Female, but there you have it.

The final quarter mile is flat, and I just let my body lead. A runner near me asked to kick with him, and though tempted, I refused and told him to drop the hammer. Again, not my race. Just a run. A run I was VERY happy to be finished with. I crossed the finish line tired, dehydrated, and happy at my pacing and decisions.

I waited at the Beer Garden, drinking a few pints and chatting with runners as we cheered in other finishers. Multiple runners collapsed on the final stretch, needing medical attention. Two were taken away in ambulances. On the course a runner dropped out and needed medical attention near me around mile 5. Watching runners in serious destress made me even happier with my decision to run smart, hydrate often, and respect the weather. Some days we learn lessons the hard way. I’m glad this was I day I didn’t need to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tips on what can make/break a runner

This week’s blog is about the best and the worst. As an athlete and a coach I have experienced and witnessed countless smart and poor choices in both training and racing. We often learn from expert advice or from our own experience, and so in hopes this blog helps you avoid bad choices and make many good ones, here are some of my favorite good/bad decisions a runner can make.

The Good:

  • Track your training. If you use a GPS device, this is quite easy. Track the miles, effort, and pace. This information is incredibly valuable. Many runners I know have data from the last 5-10 years!
  • If you are seriously training for a goal race, you need to keep a watchful eye on the forecast. Adjust training days or expectations for weather. There’s absolutely no excuse for missing a long run because it rained on Saturday. Plan to move your long run to Sunday or get creative.
  • Train with purpose. This sometimes means running or training LESS. If you don’t know the reason for your training that day, you should question why you are doing it.
  • Treat yourself like an athlete. This means eating, sleeping, and drinking like one. Set yourself up for success.
  • Be cautious. If something feels injured, DO NOT continue to run through it. Overtraining and injuries can usually be avoided. You are not brave, tough, or dedicated if you train through injuries. You are stupid.
  • Show up early to races. My athletes who achieve their race day goals usually get there early, and give themselves ample time to warmup, relax, hydrate, and prepare in every way necessary. Showing up frazzled and last-minute is usually the recipe for disaster. Respect your goals.
  • Learn how to fuel your body. Our bodies are pretty smart, and usually give us clue, cues and advice as to what works and what doesn’t. Like your training, make note of your fueling needs, schedule, etc.
  • Communicate with your coach! Though your coach can’t be a mindreader or do the work for you, they are there to support you. It’s impossible to be supportive when the coach doesn’t know how to help you. If you don’t have a coach, rely on your team or running buddies for support. The running community can be extremely knowledgable and supportive!

The Bad:

  • Skipping the taper or recovery. Elite athletes know to respect these important steps to training, so why are any of us the exception to this step? Respecting the taper doesn’t mean pausing all training, either. I’ve had plenty a runner “not run” during the taper, which is almost as bad as blowing through the taper at high speed. Training cycles exist for a reason. If you don’t understand them, do some research or ask a coach.
  • I have never heard a runner say “I shouldn’t have listened to my coach,” but I hear “I should have listened to my coach” all the time. If you hired a coach, there’s probably good reason for it. Trust that person you are paying good money to guide you!
  • Eating something new the night before or morning of a race or long run. This rarely ends well.
  • Trying new socks, shoes, or a new outfit for a marathon. Your long runs are dress rehearsals for everything – including wardrobe. Trying something new risks blisters, chafing, bloody nipples, and general discomfort – none of which are supportive of a successful race.
  • Winging it on race day. While plans don’t always pan out, having no plan at all is like dancing with the devil. Study the race course, and have a plan on pacing, fueling, and how you are mentally breaking up the race distance.
  • Giving up before you begin. It’s impossible to have a good run or race if you doom it before you start. Yes, speed workouts, long runs and races usually hurt. But dooming yourself sets you up for failure.
  • Just as one good race or workout doesn’t define you as an athlete or human being, neither does one bad one. The athletes who learn to really care about their goals but also keep a healthy perspective are usually the ones who succeed and enjoy running for life.

Building Base for a Better Race

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

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

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

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

Spring Fever

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

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

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

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

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

Las Vegas Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

With my cousin, Kristen, after the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

My expression here sums up my feeling on the race.

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

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

Practice Makes Perfect

I am asked all the time if it is a challenge to coach others and still train for my own goals. Yes, it is. It’s very hard, and every decision I make affects my own training. Some weeks I am 100% selfless, and cancel my own training to run beside my athletes. Other times I try my best to find a balance, but even then it’s pretty tough. Would I change my job in order to protect my own aspirations? Nope. Not a chance. Being a coach is truly the best. And let’s face it, it’s not like I am sacrificing the potential to make it to the Olympic Trials.

However, I have recently had to luxury and good fortune to hop into a few races. Again, it’s rare that my weekend mileage isn’t determined by coaching or pacing. It has been a really nice treat to be back at the starting line. The two races I recently ran were used as practice as I work towards my own goal race, the RnR Vegas Half Marathon on November 15th. Going through the motion of race morning is fantastic practice.

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Post-race with some of my City Harvest Charity Team runners.

The first race of Autumn was the NYCRuns Squirrel Stampede 10K on September 26th. I am terrible at 10K races, and usually avoid them like the plague. But I had organized for some of my charity runners to run the race as practice for NYC Marathon, and figured I should run the race too. Turns out I won the race, breaking the tape for the first time in my life. Ever. I’ve won races before, but they never put the tape back out for 1st Female. That was really fun! I also won $100.00 – not enough to go pro! Ha! And I ran 6:36 minute miles, which was pretty much my goal for that day – lock in my hopeful goal race for RnR Half. The cherry on top of that day was cheering in and high-fiving friends, private clients and my charity runners as they finished. I was more excited for them than what I’d achieved. Turns out I ran a 10K PR that day, which is easy to do when you rarely run 10Ks! I’ve still run a 10K faster – in the middle of a 10 Miler. Funny how that works.

The second race was the Brooklyn Greenway Half Marathon on October 18th, My goals for this race were a little different and I had two goals: 1) run 6:50-7:00 minute miles – no faster! and 2) don’t abandon goal #1, especially if and when the lead females take off. I am happy to say I ran an average of 6:49s (so close to 6:50s!), and even when I was dropped from 2nd female to 4th female, I held back and never once pulled ahead or tried to break those runners. While the competitor in me was a little bummed to finish 4th female and 1st in my AG, I was also thrilled that I stuck to my plan. My weakness has often been going out too fast, and the last few years I have really tried to break that habit and when I’ve succeeded, it’s usually a great race.

Both races were pretty small, and I was alone on the course and barely able to see the runner ahead of me at times. Mentally, I find that tough. I also find it tough to run without music while folks fly by with their ear buds in, breathing heavily. But I tell myself in those situations that the mental focus it requires to stay calm and grind away at the course will be helpful, and hopefully in a large race I won’t need to mentally work quite so hard. However, in a large race there are other challenges. Racing is fun, and I want to find a way to get back to using races for some quality runs and fitness tests more frequently in the next year.

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

Winning the Squirrel Stampede 10K

On deck, I am clocking 26.2 miles at the NYC Marathon with one of my clients. Then two weeks later, it’s RnR Vegas Half. That’s the big goal race. I know in order to achieve my goal time, I will need to be aggressive but smart. There will be some risk, and it may backfire. However, I am willing to gamble. I am willing to go out hard (not sprinting) and see what I can do. Worst case is I don’t achieve my goal time but learn something from my mistakes. Best case – I walk away with a cool new PR and a satisfying sense of achievement. No matter what, I will show up to do my best, leave it all out on the course, and try to walk away from the finish line with a smile on my face. This sport can really hurt and humble you, but I refuse to lose sight of my love for it.

Unplug Your Potential!

Corky_Fitness-2642finalwsharpeningflatwebMany of us runners train and race with technology. Be it a GPS watch, an app on a phone, music, many of us are hitting buttons of some kind out there on the run. I am going to encourage you to leave technology at home every once in a while – or to have a running buddy or coach keep an eye on pace.

Most of us assume we know our potential, and have some idea of what number we should see on a watch for that specific workout. However, I have found time and again that when I am with a runner who doesn’t know their time but is running 100% based on effort, they are capable of pushing the pace faster than they thought. Obviously if someone is blowing their paces out of the water, especially early into a run, I am going to tell them to relax and settle a bit. But towards the end of a run, when I usually want my runners working hardest, it’s amazing what can happen when that athlete is unplugged. Being unplugged, especially from music, means you can really listen to your body and the signals it may give you.

It can take some time to get comfortable running unplugged. Try it, and see what you can gain. I challenge you to try. I’ll admit that I rarely run unplugged. My GPS watch feels like it’s part of me on every run. The handful of times I’ve had to race without my watch (I HATE waiting for the gun to go off with my naked left wrist!), I have almost always set a new personal record. Even on a hot summer morning for a Half Marathon, I set a PR. I promise you that if I’d had my watch, I would have been listening to my watch for pacing in such extreme conditions, than to let it go and go 100% by feel.

So mix up your routine, leave your devices at home or hand the pacing over to a running buddy – and see what you’ve got!

 

Learn Lessons from Bad Races

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With being “unattached” for this race, it was the perfect opportunity to wear Danielle Sepulveres’ “Don’t Be A Bridesmaid” sports bra.

Today’s blog is all about mistakes, and learning from them. I happen to believe and preach to my athletes that there is no such thing as a bad run or race, as long as we learn from it. Yes, we all will experience runs and races we’d define as terrible. Chin up, they happen. But if you learn something – be it pacing, mental focus, what to wear, eat, whatever – those lessons prepare you for better runs and races in the future. Sadly, those lessons are rarely fun and usually are often the clearest on bad runs and races. Funny how the good races don’t teach us half the lessons as the bad ones.

This weekend, Corky had a bad race. Yes, I could get pissed, embarrassed, and admit to myself how bummed I am. Cause I am bummed. I knew on a good day, that fast mile down Fifth Avenue was mine to screw up – I am stronger and mentally more focused now than I have been in a long time – but  we are also sometimes our own demise. Perhaps being a coach has forced me to really grow up and take every experience in stride, maybe I’m simply older and wiser and have learned to not sweat the small stuff. Either way, I am choosing to take this disappointing race as an example of what you should not do, and what you should do.

On Friday evening, I felt a little tickle in my throat. You know that feeling, the “Oh no, here comes a cold” feeling. I was en route to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway (hello, Taye Diggs!), and so I powered through the night. I crashed out as soon as I got home, hopeful that catching up on sleep would help. Unfortunately, Saturday I awoke feeling worse. Even 11 hours of sleep couldn’t knock this bug out. I didn’t feel terrible, just a little ill. I coached, worked on training plans, and did my best to power through the day. By 7 pm, I felt pretty terrible. At that time I made a bad decision. I ordered Chinese food (hot and sour soup sounded like a good idea), made some tea, and took NyQuil – thinking I’d be fine with a race over 13 hours away. Wrong.

Lesson learned: DO NOT take NyQuil the night before a race – ever. Yes, I slept like a baby. I also felt almost drunk when my alarm went off at 7:30am. I ate a banana and drank some water, hoping that would help. No luck. When we left our apartment for the race at 8:15am, I told myself to relax – I had almost another whole hour to feel normal before my heat in the Fifth Ave Mile. No better. I jogged the mile up to the starting line, pausing to chat with a few familiar faces. You know how sometimes you are feeling a bit tipsy at a party and you do your best to cover it up? Yeah, that’s how I felt. My head was in a fog and my body felt completely disconnected from my head.

At the starting line, I had enough sense to get up towards the front. I tried to tell myself to focus, put on those race blinders, and run really hard for one mile. One mile – that’s all I needed to will my body to do! It sounded so simple. When the gun went off, I knew I was in trouble. Those first few steps felt like I was running through cement. My legs almost hurt, they felt so heavy – and not in the track workout legs-on-fire hurt – this is was odd and foreign. My mouth felt like cotton from the first breath, even though I had just sipped water prior to the start. Looking back, I hardly remember that mile. I do remember feeling absolutely no control over my body, no mental will to push, and total separation between body and foggy brain. My drive to run hard – couldn’t find it. Though I know I worked out there, I don’t recall my lungs working hard or my legs burning from speed. When I crossed the finish line in my slowest mile ever (5:47), I didn’t even feel disappointment. I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel.

If you are sick for a race, that’s a tough place to be in. My advice is to be VERY cautious when thinking about medicating. Our bodies can be extremely sensitive. When sick, you also need to change your race day goals, which is really hard. Did I know a PR was out of the cards this morning – yes, I felt it. But did I secretly hold onto hope I could magically pull through? Yes, I sure did. This isn’t because I am delusional or an optimist with blinders – but it’s because I know in order to achieve your goals, you need to believe you can. Plus with strength training this past 6 months my lower body, I knew I was stepping up to the line with some additional power. But I should have changed my goals the minute I woke up this morning. And I should never have taken NyQuil.

So if you are sick the weekend of a race, there are a few things you can do:

  • Get sleep
  • Stay hydrated
  • Modify race goals
  • Be honest with your expectations and potential on race day
  • Remind yourself that just getting out there when sick can be a victory

And there are some things you should not do:

  • Expect a PR or refuse to modify goals
  • Take medication without being sure how it will affect you and your performance
  • Consume alcohol or anything that could dehydrate you
  • Beat yourself up if your goals are not attainable

And remember, if you stay healthy you will have many more races in the future. A bad race here or there does not define you as a person or an athlete, so learn from your mistakes and move on. As for me, I’ll never take medication the night before a race ever again.

Solemates – Finding and using a running buddy

We all run for different reasons. We also all have different running preferences. Some folks run on a treadmill at the gym while watching tv. Others run the same loop in their neighborhood day after day, never interested to mix it up. Some folks run with music or listen to podcasts. Some runners love the quiet and solitude of going it alone and having some peace and quiet from their busy lives. Some runners only run in groups, and cannot be motivated to run alone. Other folks have that one running buddy who keeps them accountable morning after morning, year after year. Some of us mix it up and believe variety is the spice of life. No two runners are the same.

Today I want to talk about a running buddy. If you are in a running rut – be it speed or motivation – a partner in crime may be exactly what you need.

Here are some tips and reasons to seek out a solemate:

  • Accountability. It’s not easy to get up before the sun and get in your training – especially in the rain, heat or cold. But knowing someone is getting up and planning to meet you, you will be a hundred times less likely to hit that snooze button.
  • Safety. Depending where you live, where you run, and the time of day you are training, it may be really valuable to have a buddy out there with you. Two runners in reflective gear are easier to see than one.
  • Easy run days are often taken too quickly. Having a running buddy you can continuously chat with means you’ll always be at that “conversational pace.” It’s easier said than done to hold back on effort if you are feeling good.
  • Fueling on long runs can be tricky. Having a buddy there means two brains will be thinking about fueling and how frequently to reach for that GU or pause for a water fountain. A buddy can also keep those negative thoughts from creeping in when the going gets tough. No one feels like a million bucks 18 miles into a long run, but you can keep each other motivated with positive reenforcement.
  • Just like running easy, pushing the pace on speed days is always easier with a buddy. Work together to push the pace. In a race, you have that forward motion from everyone around you. Training with that same support can go a long way. If your buddy is faster than you, you can also learn many lessons in pacing yourself. For example, you’ll learn not to go out as fast as your buddy or you’ll be in trouble down the line – a lesson many runners learn in a race. Or you can use that faster friend as motivation while hitting paces you’d otherwise struggle with solo.

If and when you and your running buddy need something different in a training buddy, be honest. Perhaps you will need to reshuffle schedules – your easy day may actually be their tough day – for example. Or perhaps paces and abilities, schedules or goals will change and you’ll need to gracefully find new running partners. The good news is that with running becoming so popular, the odds are you can both find what you need. Buddy up, and have an awesome season!