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.

Race Recap: Berlin Marathon

 

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Early in the race. Feeling relaxed.

Berlin Marathon had been on my radar since I was notified I’d been selected via lottery back in December 2015. With a reputation for being the fastest marathon in the world, I knew if I went to Berlin, I’d go to race – not to simply run. This would mean training to race my first marathon since 2013. So over 10 months ago the goal was set: race Berlin 2016, aim to break 3 hours, or set a new PR.

The road to Berlin wasn’t easy. Some days or weeks would click into place. Others were a struggle, and filled with doubt. I questioned my decision to coach myself on more than one occasion. There’s a reason why many coaches hire someone else to coach them – it’s hard to be the student and the teacher. I questioned my potential. Was my 3:05:27 back in Philly 2013 as good as it gets? But doubts never lead to anything good. And I knew my training was smart. So I’d try to shake those doubts and focus on the good and great workouts. Just like bad weeks of training come and go, so do good ones. Neither one defines us. I am thankful to be surrounded by some incredibly supportive people. Friends, coworkers, team mates, family – people who understand or at least respect the grind. My roster of private athletes have cheered me on. And so when the going would get tough, I’d remember to lead by example and continue to grind away. By the time I got to Germany, I knew all I could do was trust my hard work and preparation, and have confidence in that.

I had never been to Berlin before. It’s a really beautiful city. I was oddly calm about marathon morning (I’m usually a basket case), and was actually capable of enjoying the city for a solid 36 hours before race day. The day before the race was spent walking at least 4 miles around the city, and a 3-mile shakeout run that evening. I ate pasta with a German beer, laid out my running gear, and that was it. Was I nervous? Sure. But I was also calm. I accepted that it was going to be 3 hours of work, and that I was ready.

The weather race morning was perfect. Cool and sunny, with no breeze. The marathon gods were good to us. As I stood in my corral, and the announcers counted down to the started, I began to cry. I was overcome with the power of the moment. The amazing park. The
40,000+ other athletes. The opportunity before me. I quickly collected myself, and within a few minutes I was across the starting line.

The course is fast. And there’s a blue tangent line on the course. I decided I’d stick to that line as though it were glue. This was the first marathon I’d ever run with no mile markers (only kilometers), and I was one of few athletes around me who’s watch would go off at the miles. I told myself to stay relaxed and efficient. I hydrated early and often. Around the 20K I saw Vinnie, and that was like a kick of energy. In an unfamiliar city, a familiar face was priceless. Around 17 miles into the race, I felt amazing. Pacing was good. I felt that a sub-3 was going to require a kickass final 10K, but a PR was mine to lose.

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Eye is on that clock.

Then around 19-21 miles in, a few things happened. One, I began to cramp. Not runner cramps, but lady cramps. The kick in the uterus feeling, on my right side. In the beginning it was relatively dull, but as the miles went on that changed. I was incredibly mad at myself, as I had planned to take ibuprofen that morning (I’d had cramps off and on for a few days), but that morning had felt good and I opted to go it without precautionary meds. And then the nausea and gag reflex to GU began to happen. It was a burp that turned into a “Oh no, I just kinda threw up in my mouth” moment, and this was before I needed to take my final GU around 20 miles. I forced that final GU down, but it wanted to come back up. The final 5 miles were a painful negotiation. I debated stopping for a break and to try and regroup. I debated walking off if Vinnie were at the next turn. My body was struggling and my brain wasn’t giving me the ability to simply pick up the pace.

I told myself to do what I could. If I lost my PR, it wasn’t the end of the world. Just do your best. Just finish this. And so I continued. Paces slipped. I walked through a hydration station in the 23rd mile, hoping that brief pause in running would help the cramps. It made it worse. And so back to running I went. My eye on the clock, I took it one mile at a time. I saw Vinnie around 24 miles, and I mumbled something about this really hurting as I pointed to my side. He ran beside me for half a block, yelling encouraging things, to which I told him to shut up and stop lying. And so I continued.

The final 600M of the Berlin Marathon is spectacular. I think. I don’t really remember. The final stretch was lined with people. I focused on the clock. You can see the finish line a long ways before you get there. Glancing at my watch, I knew a PR was in the cards, but by how much – I wasn’t sure. Just finish this. Just get there. Just get this done. That’s all I could think about. Crossing the finish line I felt relieved, tired, emotional, and still in pain. The nausea was thankfully replaced with hunger by the time I got back to the hotel. And I took ibuprofen immediately to kick said cramps to the curb.

The rest of the day was filled with walking around, beer and food. I am in shock (and a little mad) at how good my legs felt after that marathon. There was so much more left in them to give. But they couldn’t have their day. My disappointment didn’t last long. How can it? I did the best I could that morning. And yes, I walked away with a PR. That PR, that much closer to 2:59:59 – it makes me that much more hungry for it and that much more confident it’s in me.

Here are the official stats:

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Finish time: 3:03:30 (average pace: 6:58s)

100th female (11th American)

Splits:

Mile 1: 6:50, Mile 2: 6:51, Mile 3: 6:56, Mile 4 :6:58, Mile 5 : 6:51, Mile 6 :6:57, Mile 7: 6:49, Mile 8: 6:52, Mile 9: 6:53, Mile 10: 6:48, Mile 11: 6:51, Mile 12: 6:52, Mile 13: 6:49, Mile 14: 6:53, Mile 15: 6:54, Mile 16: 6:54, Mile 17: 6:57, Mile 18: 6:59, Mile 19: 6:55, Mile 20: 6:57, Mile 21: 7:07, Mile 22: 7:02, Mile 23: 7:13, Mile 24: 7:30, Mile 25: 7:12, Mile 26: 7:17, .34 miles: 2:13.

A few tips for future Berlin Marathoners:

  • Stay at Hotel Adlon Kempinski. It’s worth the money. Not only is the hotel gorgeous, quiet and comfortable, but it’s literally at the Brandenburg Gate – a very short walk to the start/finish lines and on the marathon course.
  • Make morning preparations the night before. It turned out the hotel had some food/coffee for marathoners in the lobby, but no coffee shops open before 8am (some 10am) on Sundays. I bought a bagel and coffee from Dunkin Donuts the night before.
  • The expo was a mess. So go to it patient, and ready to get in/get out. I couldn’t have really shopped for anything if I had wanted to.
  • Be sure to plan to use your own fuel. The drink and fuel choices (which included Red Bull) on the course were new to me. I stuck to water the the 4 GUs I brought.
  • When planning your trip, account for jet lag. It’s not every day I run a marathon at 3am. Do everything you can to get on schedule before race morning.
  • Go for your shakeout runs in the Tiergarten. That park is the most stunning thing ever. 535044_236930700_xlarge

Race Report: Pocono Marathon

PH-515009996On May 15th I ran my first solo marathon since Boston 2015. My goal was simple: lock in a BQ. While I felt pretty confident I’d complete a 3:15-3:30 marathon, a whole lot can happen in the course of 26.2 miles. Plus, this marathon was a short two weeks since my “A” race for 2016, the Broad Street Run.

I’d never run the Pocono Marathon before, but I signed up for it for a few reasons: the time of year sounded pretty optimal for my qualifier – still cool mornings and with plenty of time for me to recover before tackling training for Berlin Marathon. The course is over 1000 feet net downhill, which also sounded pretty darn appealing. Add the location, less than two hours from NYC, and it was the best fit. It sounded so good that my training partner and fellow Mile High Run Club Coach, Vinnie Miliano decided to join in the fun.

Here are a few things I loved about race weekend:

  • Having the school open and runners hang out there pre-race was awesome. It was unseasonably cold (felt like 30 degrees at the start!), and so having a warm building with tons of public rest rooms was amazing. A huge perk. Can you imagine the difference this would have made in the rain? Game changer.
  • The volunteers were awesome, and there was hydration/restrooms every 2 miles. This is a VERY rural race, and so the little support (no real spectators) made a huge difference. You always knew water and a smiling face was a few miles away.
  • Post-race support. For a race that caps the marathon at 1600 runners, there were bagged sandwiches, muffins, orange slices, chocolate milk, bananas and water.
  • The course. Though the back 10K is TOUGH (like REALLY fucking tough!!!!), I enjoyed the quiet, beautiful course until the back 10K. The 1000 feet downhill gave you some “free” miles, and the ups were often a nice change. I don’t know if I’d call the marathon course “fast,” but the half marathon course has PR written all over it.

Here are a few things I didn’t love about the weekend:

  • On a point-to-point course, there is always transportation (shuttles) to the starting line from the finish line. Apparently this race was the exception to the rule. This meant runners hustled to book cabs from hotels to the starting line. There aren’t a ton of cab companies up in the Poconos, but I got lucky and booked one that we split with a few other runners. I booked a hotel walking distance from the finish line specifically for the reason of ending at the finish. There’s absolutely no way I was going to take a shuttle to the starting line and then drive my car BACK to my hotel after running a very hilly marathon. That was the current arrangement for this race, apparently. No good.
  • Plastic cups on the race course. NOOOOO. The first cup I grabbed slipped out of my hand and spilled cold water all over me. I mentioned it was 30 degrees, right? The second cup didn’t slip, but it’s pretty impossible to fold a plastic cup and drink. Waxed paper cups are the only cups that belong on a race course – easy to grab, easy to fold, and easy to toss – in my humble opinion. This race made hydration a struggle.
  • The course. Again, I LOVED the first 20 miles. And I don’t hate hills. But the inclines were pretty insane for the final 10K, and the road was open to traffic, which made it that much more of a struggle to focus when you weren’t sure where the next car would come from. I’d highly recommend one lane be totally closed and coned off for the runners.

At the end of the day, I ran my second-fastest marathon to date! I finished 5th overall woman, 1st in my AG, in the official time of 3:11:07. I clenched my Boston Qualifier by over 20 minutes. I’m pretty pleased with how my body held up, considering those final hills two weeks after my goal race. I am very hopeful for my goals in Berlin, and going into those goals with some confidence. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice and focus on some rest and recovery.

Would I run Pocono Marathon again? Probably not. But I’d definitely consider the half marathon for a PR course!

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!

Marathon Preparation – what to do now

img_7073Marathon season is in full swing. Whether you are preparing for your first marathon, your one-hundredth marathon, or a goal personal best, there are a few things you should start to practice and plan NOW so that race day goes smoothly!

  • Finalize accommodations. Race weekend can become stressful. You will naturally be a bit anxious or excited. Having your plans for the weekend – including where you are going to eat, stay and how you will get to/from the race ironed out now will equal minimal chance for added stress on race weekend.
  • Practice in what you’ll wear. Everything from your shoes to your hat – wear your “race outfit” for a few long runs. This will minimize the risk of blisters, chafing, overheating, or simply annoying or uncomfortable race-day issues. If you plan to buy new shoes for your marathon, buy them and break them in on a few long runs in the weeks leading up to the big day.
  • Practice how you will fuel on race day. Everything from what you’ll eat the night before and morning of to how often you will refuel with water or GU on the course. Leaving nutrition to chance is a good way to guarantee you’ll take a tour of the porta-potties mid-race.
  • Start looking at your race course and elevation. Make note of landmarks, turns, water stations, and other useful points on the course. You don’t want to feel “lost” on race day. Know the course, and you’ll be prepared for success.
  • Set a few race-day goals. It’s impossible to predict what will happen with 26.2 miles of running, and setting one ambitious best-case scenario goal may set you up for a whole lot of heart ache. A few goals means you may have fall-back goals you can still achieve if the star’s don’t align.
  • Look at your training paces and come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses. Runners who know themselves often have a better chance of handling the tough moments and getting back on track. Revisiting your training should also give you some confidence. The proof is in the numbers, and so try not to doubt your training while you taper.
  • If you are going to have friends/family cheering on the race course, discuss ahead of time exactly where they will be. It takes a lot of energy to search a crowded block while trying to stick to your paces. Knowing they will be on the northwest corner of Chestnut Street, wearing blue and holding a sign is a million times easier than looking for someone “at the intersection of Chestnut Street.”
  • Make clear and definitive plans for what to do and how to get home, to the hotel, or to find family post-race. Be realistic and give yourself extra time. Marathoners move notoriously slow post-race.

No matter how your race weekend goes, try to have some fun and relax. There is always something positive to take away and learn from every race. If things don’t go your way, at least you know you were prepared. That should narrow the possibilities for making the same mistake twice – and hopefully you’ll have a kick ass race and will cross the finish line with a smile from ear to ear, feeling awesome.

10K for Cancer in Cancun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age Group winners.

Age Group winners.

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

Running California

On a run in Novato, CA.

On a run in Novato, CA.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about being a runner is the opportunity to see places on my feet when I travel. I have always found it interesting to be able to see new places on my feet, often experiencing places I wouldn’t if it weren’t for my running shoes.

I was recently in California for 10 days, and my legs and running shoes took me all over the Golden State. San Diego Mission Bay, Downtown San Diego, Venice beach, LA, Oakland, Golden Gate Park and Novato – sunrise, mid-day heat, and sunset. Beach-front, trails, cities, and suburbs – my legs took me all over. Just under 80 miles of running during my California trip, and never a dull moment.

The trails in Golden Gate Park and the path along the Pacific in Santa Monica/Venice Beach was probably my favorite – though its hard to choose. The trails in Golden Gate Park offer a nice soft surface, breathtaking views with every few steps, and the challenge of steep inclines and declines – though they never lasted too long. If I thought I had any real business as a trail runner, San Francisco would be at the top of my list for places to live and train. In Santa Monica and Venice, the smell of the Pacific, the sunshine kissing my shoulder blades, and the wind in my face on a mostly flat beach run brought back memories, as I trained for my first Ultra along that same beach a few years ago. In some way, it felt like home. 

On a run at the San Diego Marina.

On a run at the San Diego Marina.

Perhaps the most meaningful runs were the ones I had some company during. In San Diego Mission Bay, I ran with my cousin and her boyfriend, and they took me around beautiful paths along the water. Chatting while we ran, the miles clicked by on their last pre-marathon long run. In LA, I took my sister on a run where I ran almost daily (when not beach running), and the smell of flowers flooded our runs with such amazing smells. For some reason my sense of smell seems to be heightened when I run, especially on the west coast.

If you are traveling in the near future and interested in running while away, do some research on where to best run. Figure out safety, water and fueling, routes and mileage, and go have fun. I brought a camera with me on some of my runs. Make sure you pack your running gear. Even if you usually run with music, I suggest you leave your music at home. Go experience a new place with all of your senses. Also, unfamiliar routes may mean navigating traffic and crowds, which isn’t safe when you can’t hear. 

IMG_3263I should note that while in Oakland, I mapped a route and headed out from my hotel for a potential 10-15 miler. It became obvious within the first mile that the neighborhood was not nice. In fact, I was very much on edge the entire run. I’m sure not knowing my surroundings contributed to feeling uneasy, but it was also simply not a nice place. I cut the run short at 5 miles, and clocked an additional 5 miles later that day in Novato, CA. Safety should always be your first priority when out for a run – especially if you are alone and in a new place.

California is an amazing place to run. The varying options for where to train was extremely refreshing. While I love Central Park, and enjoy the Westside Highway, clocking those same routes day after day can make a high-mileage runner feel a little uninspired. I absolutely want to go back and run more in California. I am also very much intrigued to get out of my comfort zone and out of NYC to run. There are parks and trails outside of Manhattan, and I am excited to go on a few adventures and get in my Ultra training miles all over the NYC-area. I suppose the lesson I learned while out west was this: running is and can be what we make of it. It can make a trip to a new place and experience you never expected. You get to see things not on  your tourist list, or where your friends or family would necessarily take you. And that is very cool.

Destination Race

748275-1006-0043s-600x400Looking for a little race inspiration? Sometimes changing our running or race location helps with motivation for your next goal. Try a destination race. Besides the excitement of a race, you’ll be pumped for vacation!!!!

There are races all over the globe, ranging in every distance from 5K to 150-mile Ultras. Personally, as someone who loves the race experience and loves to travel, destination races are one of my favorite things. Combining travel and running? Yes, please!

Paris, China, Jamaica, Disney – the options are endless.

I would recommend planning your race for the beginning of your vacation for a couple of reasons: You’ll arrive fresh and focused, you won’t be tired from sight-seeing or bloated from beach-side cocktails or endless buffets. Plus, after your race, you’ll feel accomplished and deserving of your vacation!

Feeling inspired? Hop onto a race search database and start exploring!