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!

The Aches and Pains of Training (and how to handle them)

Training for a sport or event always brings with it aches and pains. However, some aches and pains are part of the training process, while others should not be. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge pain and what to do about it. I am not a doctor, but I do have experience as an athlete and a coach in navigating these training waters, and want to bestow some tips for how to minimize pains, and also how to react to the different kinds you may encounter in training.

If you are training for something that is a challenge for you, there will be days and weeks of feeling sore, tired, perhaps with that “heavy leg” feel, or general muscle fatigue often associated with weight training, running or walking on challenging inclines, or moving really fast. These “growing pains” are not just saved for elite athletes or marathoners. Training for your very first 5K, trying to really run hard and race a 5K to the best of your ability, running your first trail race, blazing through a 400M race – if you are pushing yourself hard, whatever that means for you, you will certainly feel it.

Aches and pains can be challenging for runners to handle. For example, I know plenty of folks who will train through anything. They could have a fractured foot, and they will still be out there hammering out speed on the track. Others will refuse to take rest days and expect they can work through anything. Is this the best thing for a runner? Absolutely not. Then there are the runners who, the minute something feels uncomfortable, whine and refuse to navigate that uncomfortable feeling that is part of training. That runner will have a very hard time on race day when the going gets tough, because they refuse to adapt to the fatigue and uncomfortable feeling that usually comes with racing or completing a distance. There is, however, a happy medium between these two extremes. That runner is the one who will be most successful. It takes time, practice, and self-awareness to become that runner.

Here are a few tips that can help you push towards your goals while also being safe:

  • Take recovery and active recovery days when sore. You cannot expect to go from 0-60 successfully. Your body needs time to be stressed and adapt. This cannot happen over night.
  • Sore and achy muscles often feel better when stretched, foam rolled and iced. I often find that things loosen up if I go for an easy run or walk as active recovery. It may sound strange, but gentle exercise the day after a long or hard effort can speed up the recovery process.
  • If something feels tender at the beginning of a run but feels better the longer you run, you can carefully continue your workout. If things don’t feel better or begin to feel worse, call your run quits.
  • We all have a different history before tackling goals. Be aware of your body history and your potential strengths and weaknesses. We all have them. For example, I know my left IT band gets tight and hip flexibility can be an issue for me, so I am very much aware of my hips when I run – especially long runs and speed runs. I also do strength training to support and strengthen that specific weakness. Another runner may have other issues.
  • There are some “injuries” many runners find they can train through (carefully!) and others they simply cannot. A break, fracture, tear, dislocation, tendonitis – those are all things that will and should sideline a runner from training. Some chronic “injuries” like runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome – can be carefully trained through – though you can expect some additional rest days, PT, and additional care. Always discuss your aches and pains with a doctor or physical therapist before self-diagnosing.
  • There are very few injuries where rest, ice, compression and elevation are bad ideas. So when in doubt, follow those steps.
  • It’s easy to panic the minute something feels unusual. Try not to have a meltdown, and remember that a few days off from training isn’t the end of the world. If it turns out your pain is something serious and your future goals need to be paused, do your best to follow medical advice and focus on being the best patient possible. Many athletes are horrible patients, and don’t help themselves get healthy ASAP. If you have a bone issue, talk to your doctor about your diet, and how you can best kick your bone density up and fuel your healing process. If you can still train without impact, be proactive about training in different ways – which will certainly help your sanity without hurting your recovery.
  • Have a network of doctors, physical therapists and perhaps trainers (running coach and/or personal trainer) who can guide you and be your support system. Only work with folks you really trust. Having that “team” behind you will certainly give you what you need to safely achieve your goals.

Training is hard. It’s not for the weak – physically or mentally. It will bring with it aches, pains, achievements and milestones. Hard work pays off. Just make sure you are honest with your body, goals, and how you plan to safely get there. Best of luck for an awesome season! – Corky

Vacations and Training

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun - where I didn't run once!

Representing MHRC on the beach in Canucun – where I didn’t run once!

It’s the time of year when many folks head out-of-town on vacation. Summer vacations kinda rock, though they can pose a challenge if you are in the middle of training for a race or fitness goal. Today’s blog is all about travel and training – and how to strategize to make training happen while away, and when also to also embrace vacation and let training slide.

When in the middle of training, I suggest planning a vacation that complements training instead of complicating it. For example, a week in Cancun in June is going to guarantee very hot and humid conditions, and is also the kind of vacation that promotes consumption of alcoholic island beverages all day – not drinking water or being active. A vacation somewhere with cooler conditions over the summer or a place that promotes being active will perhaps be a better fit for training. However, a week in Cancun with no races in the near future can be a beautiful thing!

When on vacation and attempting to stick to a rigorous training plan, here are some tips:

  • Run or train early in the day, that way it’s out-of-the-way and your training won’t be derailed by drinking, eating, or sightseeing.
  • Research running routes and get familiar with the area. Ask the hotel staff for recommendations if you need help.
  • Look into hotels with gyms. Many resorts focus on other amenities and skip the gym, or have a bare bones option. If training is important to you, don’t assume your hotel will have a gym you can rely on.
  • Pack GU, water bottles, and any other fuel you may need. Chances are you won’t be able to purchase or stash fuel along your route, so be prepared to bring what you need before you head out-of-town.
  • Accept that your training may be sub-par while on vacation, and focus on maintaining fitness – not building fitness. The odds are that you won’t be running repeats on a track or clocking a 20-miler while on a cruise, for example.
  • Plan for your vacation week to be a “recovery week” in training. Doing so will mean your mileage and intensity will purposely be less – which will fit vacation-mode beautifully.
  • Look into local races or running groups. Both are great motivation, good for accountability, and ideal for running in a new place.

Back in 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise for a week in August. My goal marathon, scheduled for that November, was a big goal for me. I embraced the idea that my vacation would be a recovery week – and placed my long runs at either end of the vacation so that it was a none-issue while on a boat. However, I was the idiot in the gym most days, and also the one running mile repeats on the beach in St. Thomas at 10am. With a good 12 weeks of training after my vacation, I PR’d my marathon time by 10 minutes.

If you are not currently training for a specific race goal, I highly recommend embracing some time off. It can be extremely liberating to take a vacation from reality – training included. I recently took a full 10 days off from all training while on vacation. I really loved time away from training – more time off from running than I’ve taken in over a year! Even after a 24-hour Ultra Marathon last July, I was back to running in under a week. While it felt odd to not make running part of my daily routine, it was great. I also came back home rested and really excited to get back to running and big goals.

Don’t worry about losing fitness during a vacation. Taking a week or so off from training may actually be a really good thing. Many of us are extremely dedicated to our weekly mileage, and forget that some recovery is necessary for our bodies to recover, build stronger and avoid injury. A vacation may be just what you need!

5 Tips for Running Etiquette and Safety

DSC_0154It’s the time of the year where runners are slowly coming out of hibernation, and folks perhaps new to running are joining the mix. Welcome – I think we are a pretty awesome group of people. In hopes to keep everyone happy and safe, I am outlining some guidelines for being a courteous and safe runner. After all, you may be sharing the road or track with lots of other runners, pedestrians or cars. Let’s all do our part to have a great season outside.

  1. When running on the road, always run against traffic – the opposite of what cyclists do. This way you can see oncoming cars. This is especially important if you are running on a road without a sidewalk or much of a shoulder. Be sure to also wear bright colors or reflective gear. You want folks driving to see you. While running/car accidents are fairly rare, they do happen and often end in critical injury or fatality.

  2. Share your space. Go run with your friends, but be aware that running 2-4 people across on a path is rude and inconsiderate to other runners. Share the road and be aware of how much space you are taking up – especially if you live and train in a city or a shared space with tourists and cyclists.

  3. Before spitting or blowing a snot rocket (gross but part of running!), LOOK to make sure you aren’t going to assault someone with your bodily fluids. This may seem like a no-brainer in a race, but be aware on training runs too.

  4. Use proper track etiquette. Always run counterclockwise, warmup/cool down in the outer lanes and save lane 1 and lane 2 for speed work. Be aware of your space and listen for runners coming up behind you. You should only use your running shoes on the track – no bikes, strollers, scooters, Rollerblade and wagons. (Yes, I’ve seen all of those before.)

  5. When on a bike/run path, stay to your far right side. This is both for your safety and consideration for cyclists. Stay right, pass on the left. If you need to pass a slower runner/walker, always check to make sure a cyclist or runner isn’t coming up behind you.

Many new runners feel intimidated to go out and join the fun, or are tempted to never try a new route. Relax, be safe and courteous, and go have some adventures. One of the best things about running is it can take you to new neighborhoods, paths, views and experiences. Go explore!

Training Specificity

img_6298-editWhen planning your running season, it’s tempting to choose a bunch of varying goals. I love when runners have an array of goals and events. The challenge is often spacing them out in a way that is safe and realistic. Most of us are running for personal glory or fun, not a qualifying time or prize at the finish line. However, it can become quite hard to plan a season when it involves broad goals.

I LOVE when runners come to me with a variety of goals: PRs in the 1 mile and Half Marathon within the year, for example. Are those two VERY different goals? Absolutely! Will they need different kinds of preparation? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Here’s the thing: the better you want to get at one distance, the more you need to structure your training for that goal. Specificity and reason for training become crucial when targeting a goal. But when you have multiple goals, it’s often necessary to slightly release on the gas for that first goal in order to accommodate the other goals. Many times you will be successful at nailing multiple goals if they complement one another.

For example, say you really want to focus on the 5K this year and want to shave down some considerable time. Placing some 10K races or 1-mile races into the calendar can be of benefit to that 5K goal, all while having fun and going out to race. The bonus is that you may find you also PR in the 1-mile and 10K, because the speed training for a 5K will probably benefit those distances, too. But trying to PR a 5K in the same season you want to tackle a 100-miler – now that’s where things get tricky. For one thing, injury risk will usually go up when you start combining very high mileage and speed workouts into every week. Not that it can’t be done, but for many of us these waters are hard to navigate.

The important thing for most runners to keep in mind and think about is how to achieve their goals while staying healthy, and to list which races are the priority that season. If you stay healthy, perhaps some goals need to be held off for the following year. We need to remember to look at the big picture: races will be there. You can be too, if you don’t do something stupid and put yourself on the injured list.

This is often where a coach comes in handy. It also becomes necessary to be honest with yourself. You know how you recover. You also know if your body naturally prefers certain distances or types of training over others. You should use your years of experience to help access and navigate what’s best for you. Take a look at the entire calendar year, and be sure to budget time for rest and recovery before hopping into training for the next goal the minute to cross the finish line.

Train with Purpose

If you have a race goal, it’s important to train with purpose. It’s common for many runners new to racing or the marathon to train for their event by simply running miles. They run at whatever speed they feel like, without any structure, direction or purpose other than “miles.” This was the way I trained for my first marathon, and it’s a very common course of action. Many runners don’t have the knowledge or understanding of why you should run easy most days, and target specific speeds and challenges on a few carefully chosen days per week. Without a purpose, athletic goals and the ability to achieve those goals will often prove unsuccessful.

Every run you do within your 16-20 weeks leading up to your marathon has a purpose. If you don’t understand the purpose, you need to ask what it is. There’s a reason for every run. If there isn’t a reason, don’t do it. Smart runners make successful runners. Ask, do research, or question your training plan. Sometimes I search for cookie-cutter marathon plans floating around out there on the internet, out of curiosity. I often find plans that cover the bases, but don’t offer any explanation as to why the workouts, weeks, rest days, quality days, etc. are structured the way they are. If I were a new marathoner looking for a plan, I’d be blindly following what I’d find – which is what I did my first time around. I remember I ran every run at more or less the same pace. The plan outlined mileage, but other than that, it was a blank canvas. So I ran the same pace, whether is was a 5-miler or a 22-miler. If you’d asked me the purpose of that day’s run, my answer would probably have been “mileage.” That answer really isn’t good enough.

This is where resources become a huge help. Books, blogs, articles, and coaches can help you understand why today’s workout is structured a specific way (an easy 5-miler to act as active recovery between two days of speed workouts, for example), and educate you as to how that workout will build you towards your race-day goal. Running miles for the sake of miles is rarely the right purpose – perhaps Ultra marathon runners are the exception, or when building base mileage. However, even when building base mileage, there is a specific way to build and reasons behind it.

Be aware that training without purpose will often lead to injury. Running at the same pace every day, taking on too much too soon, excluding rest days, running speed days back-to-back – the risk for injury increases, which none of us want.

Frigid Weather? Tips for Training

conditions1Winter training can be tough. It’s dark, cold, and icy. Some Winters are easier than others. Last Winter was a real doozy, and this Winter is shaping up to be pretty darn challenging too. As a coach, I am constantly checking the forecast. I keep hoping I’ll see a week where we break out of the single digits or teens for the low, but week after week my hopes are crushed. I keep thinking we need to have a “warm spell” here sometime soon where we stay above freezing or at least around freezing for a week. No luck. And add the wind chill to some days, and it’s enough to feel completely defeated.

Runners, I hear you. At times I’ll say “suck it up.” After all, I didn’t force any of you to sign up for a Spring Marathon, or to set training goals during the Winter. If you want it, you need to work for it. However, I also can totally sympathize. When it is truly painful to be out there day after day, it’s easy to lose focus. Especially if you are battling icy conditions and constantly moving your training to accommodate the most recent storm.

So what can you do? I have a few tips that may help you power through the next few weeks. And hopefully at some point we’ll get a break.

  • You cannot change the weather, so don’t fight it. If you can move your training around bad weather, do so. If you cannot, get creative.
  • Running in extreme cold, snow and ice can actually be fun – as long as you are safe and keep your time out there to a minimum. In ice or snow, wear YakTrax and/or be careful. Abandon any pace goals and simply enjoy your run. In extreme cold, be mindful of how long you are out there and if body parts go numb or become painful.
  • Take your training inside. Perhaps you can swap out a run for a cross training day, or run intervals on a treadmill.
  • Avoid routes that are not cleared. In Winter conditions, some side walks, roads and running paths are commonly cleared, while others are last priority.
  • Be aware of wind chill, and stay away from large bodies of water or exposed routes. Protected routes from the wind will be warmer than routes out in the open or along rivers.
  • If you schedule allows it, run at the warmest time of the day. Even if it’s bitter cold, some sunshine can lighten your spirits and make it easier to see any ice ahead.
  • Refuel with something warm. I’m a fan of hot chocolate, or hot tea with a snack. Drinking cold water will only make you feel colder.
  • Avoid cotton at all cost. I’m am totally a fan of being a runner on a budget, but running in cotton during Winter is a major n0-no.
  • Get out of wet running gear and into something warm and dry or a hot shower ASAP.
  • Make your cold miles more enjoyable by running with a buddy or listening to music. You probably know other dedicated Winter warriors.
  • Don’t panic if your training gets slightly sidelined. If you need to swap in a rest day or cross training day for your “easy” runs, it’s not a huge deal. Focus on accomplishing your “quality runs” and consider that a success.
  • Remind yourself that at some point, weather will improve. Take it a day or a week at a time. Try not to despair because April seems so far away.
  • The odds are that other runners are struggling too. You are not alone. But the ones with big goals are digging deep and getting their miles done – one way or another. When you line up next to them for your race, they will have the edge. Either accept your modified training, or dig deep and be that person on the starting line with the edge.

The Balance Beam

img_6690-editI am asked all the time by my clients, family and friends how I balance my coaching obligations and my own training. My response is always the same: it’s a challenge and a balancing act. In fact, I have had to change my own personal goals this year to accommodate my coaching – which has been fine. It’s my choice. My own experiences with balancing work and running made me think of my clients and everyone I know balancing their careers and everything else in their lives.

Balancing training for a goal like a marathon is all about choices. I suppose it’s like anything in life. There are some folks who will prioritize a specific running goal above almost all else, while others barely train and hope for the best. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’re smart enough to know you can’t cheat your way through marathon training, but also have other priorities and the marathon doesn’t make the top of the list. Running is something many of us do, and we are indeed runners. However that’s usually not the only thing we are or identify with.

So how does one balance goals if priorities swing one way or another?  Perhaps some years personal running goals need to take the back burner while something else moves to the front. Or perhaps the type of running goal you have changes – maybe you want to try an indoor track season or an Ultra – both completely different sports from the marathon. If I had all the answers, I’d be bestowing that wisdom upon you right now. Instead, I’ll admit I struggle to keep my balance sometimes. The silver lining is that when my own goals need to take the back burner, it’s usually because I am helping others achieve their goals – which is a pretty awesome job.

If you find yourself struggling to keep balance, figure out why. Perhaps you have been training for marathon after marathon, signing up and training for the next the minute the current goal is history. It’s natural to burn out, both physically and mentally. I’ve been there, and hard as it may be, sometimes a break is the best thing. The thing to keep in mind is that the marathon will always be there, whether you come back to it in one year, five years or fifteen years. Yes, your body may react differently to training if you wait fifteen years, or it may be extremely frustrating to build back fitness you know you had a year ago, but our bodies and minds are pretty darn amazing, and will indeed bounce back.

Personally, I am struggling with that right now. This past year I took off from pretty much all of the training I had done the last few years. No track work, tempo runs, hill repeats – none of what I had been doing to make me “fast.” (My fast is turtle pace compared to some and probably speedy compared to others, so I think it deserves quotations.) Instead, I focused on Ultra Marathon training, which made sense with my coaching schedule. It was incredibly easy to tally up high-mileage weeks, all done at an easy pace. Ask me to run a 6-minute mile, and I would be left dry-heaving on the side of the road. My body had changed, thanks to what I’d asked it to do. Yes, I’d run 15 miles per day, 6-7 days per week and feel great. But could I race a 5K with any dignity? Nope. But that kind of training fit my schedule best. It was the easiest choice – which I realize as I say that sounds pretty insane. Like me, you may find yourself training the way that best fits your current life – be it work, family, etc. The hard part is then trying to change that.

How does someone go from running easy 90-100 mile weeks to suddenly asking their body to run “hard” again? It’s incredibly humbling to be huffing and puffing to run at your marathon goal pace from a year ago. But again, our bodies change based on the training demands. Can I get my body to run 7:05s for 26.2 miles again? Absolutely. Would it take a lot of work and patience? Sure. But it can be a goal if I decide to work for it.

I suppose I have two points to this blog:

  • As long as you give yourself the time and the proper training, you can change your running goals and absolutely succeed at the goals you have carved out for yourselves. Try something new. Aim for that PR, that BQ, that OQ. The worst that happens is you fail. And so what? It’s not like you are losing a cash prize if you don’t achieve your race-day goals, right?
  • The second is that I am excited as an athlete to switch focuses and see what I can do with shorter distances. It will be a challenge to balance coaching miles and training miles, but it’s all about choices and priorities. It may mean I need to be creative with my quality workouts and my rest days. But just like anyone with a job and other things in their lives, it’s all a balancing act. I’m never going to be training full-time, so just like you, I need to be both focus and ambitious but also flexible.

If you have tips for how you manage your training, race goals and life – please leave a comment. I know I could use any tips – and I am sure I am not the only one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19-25 – 70 miles

May 26 – June 1 – 80 miles

June 2-8 – 60 miles

June 9-15 – 90 miles

June 16-22 – 100 miles

June 23-29 – 60 miles

June 30 – July 6 – 75 miles

July 7-13 – 60 miles

July 14-20 – 20 miles + RACE

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

 

Ultra Training Update and Summer Training Tips

With special guest Chris, we discuss my training 6 weeks out from race day and our plan for a successful race weekend. Tips on hydration, heat, sweat rate, and other difficulties summer training and racing – and how your bathroom scale can be a handy training tool. Thanks for your support as I continue on this journey! July 19-20th will be here before we know it. Happy running!