What Should My 5K Goal Be?

Photo from Shalane Flanagan's Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

Photo from Shalane Flanagan’s Back the Track 5K where I ran another 23:02.

The other day I went on a lunch run. I didn’t have an agenda. I thought I’d go out for a 5-ish-mile easy run.

During the first mile I settled in to an 8:30/mile pace. Lately, this has been my natural “easy” pace. (In truth, it’s probably a little faster than I should be running on easy days but it feels comfortable.) The route I decided to run was an out-and-back and was rather uneventful until mile four clicked off and I looked down at my watch and saw 7:57/mile.

I don’t typically run 7:xx/mile during an easy run and I most definitely don’t run it comfortably. At least that’s been the case until this lunch run. I felt totally comfortable and didn’t notice a change in effort or breathing. Then my fifth mile clicked off and my watch read 7:47.

So what’s the deal?

About a month ago I posted about how I wanted to focus on speed for the winter. I decided to hone in on training for 5Ks because I think it’s a manageable goal, especially once the weather gets really bad. To work on this I’ve been incorporating more speed work into my training week. I’ve been running at least one tempo and one interval run each week and now I’m starting to see the impact.

My only problem is I have no idea how to actually “train” for a fast 5K. Sure, when I started running I did a couch-to-5K program. I ran my first 5K in 28:07 in September of 2012 but then I immediately began climbing the race distance ladder instead of working on speed.

I had never really raced a 5K until a month ago when I decided to test my fitness to see where I should start. I ran a 23:02, a nearly 2-minute PR since my previous 5K. After that I decided my first goal should be to break 23:00 but then my next goal should be… I don’t know?

If I’m running high 7:xx/mile pace at the end of an easy run, I don’t know what a more realistic 5K goal should be. Maybe a 21:xx? All I know is I like this newfound speed and I like the challenge running fast presents to me. Sure running long is fun too but right now, at the risk of sounding super corny, I’ve got the need for speed.

I’m welcome to any suggestions about what you might think would be a good 5K time goal. Share your thoughts in the comments! :)

Running Through a Winter Wonderland

Snowy Run2Sometimes, there’s nothing more peaceful than a winter run in the snow. Last weekend my boyfriend and I went up to Jacobsburg State Park, a reservation with miles of trails – technical and easy – just north of the Lehigh Valley. We knew it might be risky because a snowstorm was coming into the region but when we got there, the snow falling lightly around us, we couldn’t wait to head out on the trails.

We hadn’t really planned our route too much ahead of time. We looked at a map and thought we’d try out one of the longer routes, even though it went through some of the hunting land. I think we made it about a tenth of a mile onto the trail before spotting our first hunter, who luckily spotted us as well, and told us it would be best for us to run on the non-hunting land. We took his word for it, turned around and headed for the shorter loops.

The trail we picked had about a mile of some pretty technical, narrow paths. We took it very slow, due to the difficulty and the snow, but I think I had a smile on my face the entire time.

As we kept climbing up the trail, I was careful to keep my eyes on the path in front of me, instead of the pretty snow falling around us. But the second I took my eyes off I felt my legs come out from under me and I was on the ground. I had hit a patch of ice on the downhill but recovered almost gracefully. I had thought I’d be fine running on the trail because I was wearing my new trail shoes but turns out you can’t be saved from snow covered ice sometimes. I brushed off the snow that had covered my legs and we kept running along.

We only did just over 4 miles on the trails before the snow really started coming down and we decided we should head home. This was the first time I had run trails in the snow and I learned a lot. Some of the tips I gathered are:

  1. Check the hunting laws in the area- We checked before we left, and knew it was the last day of rifle season, but thought we’d be fine to run through anyway. When conditions are a little dicey though, be on the safe side and run in non-hunting areas. Here’s a great article from Runner’s World about how to run safely through hunting season.
  2. Wear trail shoes- Although I did wipe out once, I probably would have fallen a lot more had it not been for my trail shoes. I have a pair of Nike Zoom Kigers that I wear not only on trails but on snowy/icy roads. Trail shoes are a great alternative to Yaktrax for winter running.

    Nike Zoom Kiger

    Nike Zoom Kiger

  3. Keep you strides short- Running on trails is different than running on the road. You’ll want to keep your stride shorter to avoid falling.
  4. Watch where you’re going- It’s fun to look around but when the trail gets technical keep your eyes on the path you’re running on to avoid any roots or dips you might miss.
  5. Don’t worry about pace- On some of the technical parts of the trail we went as slow as 11:00/mile but that’s because we were climbing and dodging trees. Trail running in the snow will also feel a lot harder so focus more on effort than pace.
  6. Have fun!- Running through snowy woods is peaceful and exciting. It’s an adventure. You’ll feel like a kid again so enjoy it!

Do you have any other tips for running on trails in the winter? Share them below!


Funning in the snow!

Funning in the snow!

Lately my training routine has consisted of a little something I like to call “funning.” Yup, that’s fun + running = funning.

After almost an entire year of seemingly non-stop training for my first two marathons (Big Sur and Marine Corps), which included a 26-minute PR, I was ready to take a break immediately after crossing the finish line. While some marathoners cross the finish line already scheming their next race, I thought to myself, nah, I’m good… for now.

As I posted a few weeks ago, my focus post-Marine Corps has been on getting faster – #operationgetspeedy. Part of getting faster (for me, at least) is letting myself shy away from a rigid training plan. I need to start to become familiar with my comfort zone and the feeling of jumping right out of it. Going to intervals on a Wednesday just because I feel like it. Running up the side of a mountain in Bethlehem and then doing a long run the next day. Running some miles with my speedy boyfriend. Taking it slow sometimes because I feel like it. While all of this might not seem fun to your average person, I’ve been having a blast.

The only race I have on my schedule in the near future is the Disney World Half Marathon in January. Originally my goal was to shoot for under 2 hours, my previous half PR but following a recent training run where I averaged 8:20/mile or faster, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

Type-A Hannah would typically take this, make a structured training plan, and shoot for a new goal of something ridiculous like a 1:45. But I’m tired of all that and I just want to run whatever I want to run. Moreover, I want to just have fun.

So I’m just going to keep running whatever I want to run whenever I want to run it and see what happens at Disney. Disney will be a test and I’ll re-evaluate my half marathon goals for the Spring to see what a reasonable time goal would be. Until then, I’m just going to keep on funning along.

Happy running, all!

A Blissful Run Was What I Needed

My view of the harbor for most of my run. (Source: visitmaine.net)

My view of the harbor for most of my run. (Source: visitmaine.net)

Last Friday I went for a 6-mile run. My plan told me to go at an easy pace (10:40/mile) but lately my easy paces have been sub-9:00/mile. I decided to set out and do what I could to enjoy the run.

I was on vacation with my family in southern Maine, a place we’ve gone every summer since I can remember. Before I became a runner in March 2012, I cherished walking along the beach, through the harbor, up by the lighthouse, and around a secluded island connected to the harbor by what us locals call “the Wiggly Bridge.”

Walking to all of these locations in a single walk would take light-years but now, by running, I can string together all of my favorite routes in Maine to weave a perfect run, which is exactly what I did last Friday.

I left my family’s beach house before they woke up and headed toward the harbor. There’s a pretty tough half-mile-long hill before getting to the harbor but I climbed it knowing the view I was going to get at the top would be worth it. And it so was. The harbor was beautiful and the park that sits overlooking the inlet is even better.

I then ran down the back end of the hill to a gravel path that runs along the docks for about a mile. All of the fishermen had already left port but some boats, the beautiful sailboats, were left anchored.

I came across one other runner on the path and some very friendly dogs before I came to the Wiggly Bridge. The suspension bridge is awkward enough to walk on because its rot iron rusted supports literally wiggle, causing the whole bridge to shake. But with almost no one around me, except a man fishing off the coast, I loved how much noise my pounding feet made as I crossed the bridge.

Photo of the Wiggly Bridge from last winter.

Photo of the Wiggly Bridge from last winter.

I was looking forward to the other side of the bridge because it would be a mile of trails through this tiny island. I’m slow on trails because I’m extra vigilant about my footing but this gave me an opportunity to truly appreciate where I was running. The quiet. The smell of the ocean. The absolute bliss.

By the time I made it around the small island and back to the gravel harbor path, more people were out walking and running. I’ve never seen so many happy people on my run. Everyone said good morning and gave the runner’s wave. After I came out the other end of the trail I decided to run down by the beach and take a break. I wasn’t tired, I just wanted to look out on the water for a while. Coincidentally, I came across another runner, an Ironman actually, who had decided to do the exact same thing. People were just getting to the beach but it felt like the town was beginning to wake up.

I ran up to the park again and had about a mile and a half left. This had been one of the most enjoyable runs I’d gone on in a long time. I felt no pressure for pace, I didn’t bring any music, I didn’t even have my phone. It was just me, the road, and the quiet.

With my run almost over, I was looking forward to getting home and heading to the beach for the day with my family. But I couldn’t believe how great I felt. As I rounded to corner to head back to our house, I stopped my Garmin (OK, I wasn’t completely running “naked”) and checked my splits.

So much for 10:40/mile pace:

Mile 1: 8:57/mile

Mile 2: 8:44/mile

Mile 3: 9:16/mile (I told you I was slow on trails!)

Mile 4: 9:01/mile

Mile 5: 8:29/mile

Mile 6: 8:14/mile

With the exception of the trail mile, I was completely shocked at my paces. I didn’t feel like I was working that hard, and I certainly wasn’t exhausted, but my paces were some of my fastest paces for a 6-mile training run ever.

I don’t know if it was the ocean air, the quiet, or just running in some of my favorite places but I needed this run. I had been feeling very tired lately and run down from training but this run reinvigorated me. It brought me back to the reason I love running. It was sheer bliss.

A Tale of Two Races

Pain face vs. Strong face

Pain face vs. Strong face

A couple weeks ago I ran my anniversary race at the York Beach Four on the Fourth, a 4-miler. This was my very first race ever so I knew I had to go back this year and run it again.

Since it was the week before my marathon training for Marine Corps would begin, I decided not to race it but rather to have fun. I would be running it with two of my cousins, my friend, and my uncle so I just wanted to enjoy it with them. Well, that lasted all of an hour and a half because when I got to the starting line I knew I wanted to run, and run hard.

The Race

I ran the Four on the Fourth last year in 37:16, an average pace of 9:19/mile, not too bad for a newbie runner. This year I knew I wanted to set a PR but I had a secret goal of beating my cousin. She’s been my running buddy since I started but she’s always been faster than me. I’ve finally caught up to her pace so I thought I’d make a go of it.

On race day, it was already 80 degrees when we got to the starting line with 76 percent humidity. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so I knew the final 2 miles, which run along the ocean, of the race would be tough because we’d have direct sunlight.

When I turned onto the shore road the thought of DNFing crossed my mind more than once. I swear I had a stream of curse words flowing through my mind the entire time. I couldn’t cool my head down at all. People had sprinklers set up along the road but every time I ran through the icy cold water, I felt my muscle seize up. During the quarter-mile, my mom saw me said she thought I was going to pass out, which I nearly did at the finish. I had to get out of my head and focus on the goal- the finish line.

I ended up beating my cousin, by more than a minute, and setting a 2-minute PR, so all the pain of racing in the heat was worth it. Right?

4 on the Fourth

Post-race happy faces, kind of.

The Run

A week later I ran the Lehigh Valley Summer Series 5K, a free race series in one of the local parks. I wanted to run this but since it was during the first week of MCM training I knew it would be smartest to take it easy. The conditions were less than ideal for a race, 86 degrees and super humid, so that also made the decision to just run for fun easier.

I set out running with Erica (of Erica Sara Designs, check out her stuff, it’s amazing) and was feeling pretty good. My legs felt fresh and although it was extremely hot and at the time I was just thinking about the finish line and the huge pile of watermelon waiting, I really enjoyed running the 5K.

The Point?

I didn’t set a 5K PR and I didn’t cry about it. I had fun. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun at the Four on the Fourth. That was a different kind of masochistic fun. At the same time, it probably wasn’t smart to run that hard during the heat, especially when I didn’t come close to my fastest 4-mile time (done on a training run).

What I’m saying is you don’t have to PR or beat a friend or have the best race of your life to have fun at a race. Not every race is going to a PR but that doesn’t mean you didn’t learn something from it. Sometimes too, when you take the pressure off you’ll run even better. No one can complain about setting a new PR (except maybe your legs for putting them through hell) but sometimes running a race just for fun can reaffirm your reason to run.

Have you ever run a race just for fun? 

It Was Love at First 400m

Lehigh TrackI ran in my new racing flats for the first time this week and it was love. On Wednesday, I went to the Lehigh University track to tackle some 400 repeats. It was a hot, humid evening with storms looming in the distance but the minute I put on my Fastwitches I knew it was going to be a good night.

Megan came with me and our plan was to do 6-8 400m repeats, depending on how we felt. I’m still very new at speed workouts and my pacing tends to be all over the place. For 400m I usually do anywhere from 1:44-2:00- much too wide of a range. Megan told me to try to hit 1:50 even for all of the repeats.

After a 1.25-mile warm up we stretched and got to work. The first 400m I went out a little fast- 1:37. I chalked this up to excitement and trying to chase Megan and just told myself to calm down and take the next one super easy.

Well, the next three were 1:44, 1:43, 1:43. I was feeling good but usually this is the beginning of a gradual slowing down for the rest of my speed workout. We rested a bit, I took a swig of Nuun-infused ice water and we got back to it. Except now, Megan told me to try to maintain the speed I had been doing and hit the final four 400s at 1:44/1:45.

I hit the next three all at 1:40 flat. We were about to do our eighth and final 400m and Megan gave me a challenge- sub-1:40. I was still feeling great and after all, it was the last one so you might as well go balls to the wall because then you’re done.

That’s exactly what I did and ran a 1:34- three seconds faster than my first 400m repeat. Needless to say, I was absolutely pumped and praising my new racing flats for all of their hard work.

We cooled down and did some hurdle walkovers and called it a night. This was my first run in the new Saucony Fastwitch 6 racing flats and I thought there was a noticeable difference. My feet and legs felt light, I was able to maintain a faster turnover, and they seemed to grip the track better than any of my other running shoes. I know it’s still early on in their running shoe life and I’ll have to try them on different surfaces and different runs but so far so god with the Fastwitch 6s. It was love at that first 400m.

Workout summary:

1.3 mile warmup at 8:40/mile pace
(1) 1:37
(2) 1:44
(3) 1:43.2
(4) 1:43.6
(5) 1:40.2
(6) 1:40.4
(7) 1:40.8
(8) 1:34.7 (!!!)

400m cool down

When Should You Get a Running Coach?

(source: Pinterest)

(source: Pinterest)

I’ve been mulling over the idea of getting a running coach for a few weeks now. I’ve seen progress in my running over the past year but I know that’s due in part to my inexperience- every race is a PR or close to it. So I thought I’d ask, to improve, should I get a coach?
  1. To get a running coach or not get a running coach, that is the question. Thoughts?
  2. Tons of people were pro-coach…
  3. @FitHappyGirl get one! I love having one and have improved tremendously. Ex 2:03 half from oct 12 to 1:49 this April
  4. Some people said it depends on your goals and finding the right coach (but were mainly pro-coach)…
  5. @FitHappyGirl So important to find one who’s the right fit, philosophically and personality-wise. Otherwise you lose a lot of benefits, imo.
  6. @FitHappyGirl But great to have someone monitor your performance, give advice, and adjust personalized training as you progress!
  7. @FitHappyGirl Absolutely, but a running coach should help you as much with what not to do as pushing the envelope at the right time.
  8. @FitHappyGirl If you haven’t met your goals on your own, try a coach. Make sure he/she works FOR YOU. Then take a leap.
  9. @FitHappyGirl If you have the right coach you’ll love running even more!
  10. @FitHappyGirl i hired @SpeedySasquatch for speed work! so mainly on my own but needed guidance for certain aspect! #justathought
  11. Then there was this…
  12. And you can count on Jason to be the odd man out (just kidding!)…

Luckily I work at Runner’s World so I have plenty of resources here but it might be good to have an objective person (who I don’t work with every day) as a coach instead. I’m nervous it might be too closing to the start of MCM training to get a coach now but maybe not. I’m also wondering about in-person coaching vs. online. I know plenty of people have had success with online coaching but the main reason I want a coach is to have someone push me, especially when I tend to sell myself short. I’m going to keep doing some research into it and see what I come up with.

Tell me, have you hired a running coach? Was it in-person or online and did you see improvements?

Progress in Running Means Relentless Forward Motion

Big Sur - MarathonFotoLet’s talk about progress for a little bit. Progress, by definition means a forward or onward movement. Add the word relentless before that definition and you get progress in running- relentless forward or onward movement.

I’ve been relentlessly moving forward with my running for a little over a year now and have hit some major milestones, no pun intended (ok, just kidding, pun intended). Within a year’s time I:

-       Learned to run through a couch-to-5K program

-       Ran my first race at the Four on the Fourth 4-miler in Maine

-       Two months later ran my first half-marathon

-       Four months after that I set a 17-minute PR at my second half-marathon

-       Four months after that second half, I ran my first full marathon

Ok, so I’ve become a tad bit addicted to distance running. I went from couch-to-5K-to-half-marathon-to-marathon, in a year. But is that really progress?

I’m a firm believer that anyone can become a runner. I don’t care if you’re overweight, a couch potato, or just a stubborn person like I used to be who would always say, “I hate running.” Everyone has the potential to become a runner. But can everyone make progress and become a good runner? A fast runner? An elite? I don’t know.

I think progress takes a lot of time, hard work, dedication, and above all else patience. In the year that I’ve been running, I’ve seen progress in my paces and average finishing times.

5K- two races exactly 5 months apart (00:41/mile difference)

  • Oktoberfest 5K on October 14, 2012- 27:34 which is 8:52/mile pace
  • B.A.A. Boston Marathon 5K on April 14, 2013- 25:23 which is 8:11/mile pace

4 mile run- comparing my first race (a 4-miler) with a training run during Big Sur training

  • Four on the Fourth 4-miler on July 4, 2012- 37:16
  • 4 mile training run on March 19, 2013- 33:58

Half-marathon- two races roughly four months apart (1:21/mile difference)

  • Smuttynose Rockfest Half-Marathon on September 30, 2012- 2:18:09 which is 10:32/mile pace
  • Disney Half-Marathon on January 12, 2013- 2:02:22 which is 9:11/mile pace

But I’ll be the first to admit I lack patience. I want results now. So since I completed my first marathon at Big Sur in April, I’ve been focusing on making strides with my progress (again, pun intended, sorry I can’t help it). I’ve taken to doing interval workouts every Wednesday to work on my speed. I’ve committed myself to strength training by doing circuit workouts, lifting, and really focusing on my core. I’ve also tried to maintain a 22-25 average weekly mileage, although I’m in between training cycles. I’ve continued to run five days a week.

All of this will help me to continue my relentless forward movement, a.k.a progress. But will it all work the way I’m hoping it will? Who knows. What am I even hoping to achieve? I still don’t know that either. All I know is I want running faster for longer to feel easier. I know everyone wants that but I’ve seen my progress over the past year and I’m just hoping it’ll continue.

What I do know is that it is possible to get better. I look at some of my fellow running bloggers like Ashley who ran her first marathon at a finishing time very similar to mine and is now, just a few years later, chasing down a BQ (Boston qualifying time). I look to Lora, who ran her first marathon in 2011 and has continued to PR since, despite battling through a stress fracture. Both of these runners, and countless others, inspire me and make me truly believe progress in running is possible. It may be tough but the relentless forward motion will pay off. I just need to stop being so impatient.

How do you measure progress? Let me know in the comments below!

6 Tips for Running Through Humidity

HumidRunI went for an easy 5-mile run yesterday morning before work. I woke up at 6 a.m. threw on my running clothes I laid out the night before. Put my hair in a bun. Threw on my Nuun visor and headed out the door.

My apartment felt cool but with the first step out the door I was smacked in the face by a wall of damp moisture. Well, good morning to you too, humidity.

Humidity and I are not friends and we haven’t been for a long time. Before I was a runner, I hated humidity because it caused my hair to have a mind of its own and become curly beyond belief. Now that I’m a runner, well, every humid run feels like I’m breathing under water. Not to mention my allergies are also terrible this time of year, so there’s that.

Any runner will tell you there’s nothing you can do about the weather, that’s why we’re out there in the dead of winter running through snowstorms and getting our sweat on in the summer under the hot sun. We put up with the weather because we don’t really have any other option. (The treadmill is NOT an option- for me, at least.)

So, yesterday, as I turned the corner onto my street to end my 5-miler I thought, how the hell can I deal with this for the rest of the summer and not completely fail on all of my runs? Luckily I know some pretty weather-savvy runners and was able to get some tips. Here are the best ones:

  1. Slow down, speedy! – Just like you slow your pace in the winter when it’s snowing or icy out, slowing down in the summer when it’s extremely hot will help you finish your run strong. Remember how much faster you were in the spring after a winter of slow running? Same thing will happen in the fall. So, pull in the reins and be OK with taking it slow.
  2. Hydrate (and drink tons of Nuun!) – Hydration is key to running in the humidity. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, not only before and after your run but throughout the entire day. You can hydrate with water but also try to add in a sports drink or electrolyte-enhanced water (like Nuun) because since you’ll be sweating a ton, you need to replace the sodium in your body to absorb water.
  3. Run early or later – I personally prefer to run before work as opposed to after but by getting out the door in the morning or evening, you’re avoiding the warmest part of the day. I love going on lunch runs but on really hot days, feeling overheated just isn’t worth it to me. So, on those days, I’ll opt to go run before work.
  4. Do not wear cotton, I repeat, do not wear cotton – Humidity and heat make you sweat so try to wear moisture wicking clothes on your run to avoid chafing and overheating. I go by the as-little-clothes-as-possible-without-being-naked rule on hot runs so I have a lot of spandex and sports bras in the near future.
  5. Wear a visor or cap – I don’t know if this will really help but it seems to keep a little heat off of my head. I wear a visor on most of my runs to protect my skin and keep the sun out of my eyes but it can help to keep my face cool. One person even suggested soaking a run cap in cold water before heading out the door to lower body temps.
  6. Don’t worry! – I know I was upset looking at my splits from this morning’s 5-miler. I was slow and it felt hard. But I know I shouldn’t worry about it because with every change in seasons there’s a period of adjustment (unless you live in a season-less place like California, which, if so, I am envious). The body is an amazing thing and it will adjust and adapt to the change in temps. So don’t fret over lost fitness, the fitness is still there, it just needs to make some changes.

This is just a rough list and I’m still learning so please, please give me your suggestions! Have any tips for running in the humidity? Leave them in the comments section below or tweet at me at @FitHappyGirl.

The Runner’s Thank You

Running is a giftIn honor of National Etiquette Week I thought I’d share with you a little tradition we have at Runner’s World. In case you weren’t aware, we are very lucky to be able to go out for lunch runs every day. Almost everyone on staff leaves their respective desks at about 10 minutes of noon to head down to the locker rooms. Some choose to run solo, others run in one of two groups- the fast runners and the regular runners. We go on long runs, do speed workouts, tempos, trail runs, hill repeats, and especially, easy runs. Whatever the run, we do it and when everyone is back and showered you’ll hear two words before heading back to your desk, “thank you.”

One of my coworkers, Mark Remy, has written about the runner’s thank you on his blog on our website before. Being a relatively new runner myself, I’d never experienced the runner’s thank you before starting here at Runner’s World. This could be because before working here the majority of my runs were solo miles but when I would run with others, especially when we ran long runs or speed workouts, I think thank you was the farthest thing from my running buddy’s mind.

But when you break it down, being able to run is a privilege, a gift, and something to be extremely thankful for. I do like to run alone a lot of the time but there’s nothing more special than running with a supportive group. There are days when it’s tough to get out the door. Days when I think, Instead of doing that 7-mile lunch run, how about I break it up and run twice.  Days when I ask myself, am I really feeling lunchtime intervals today? But then I walk into that locker room and my coworkers are all game for whatever is on the run menu. I feed off of that kind of enthusiasm.

Even on days when I go for a run alone, once I’m back in the locker room I’m always asked how my run went and I ask my coworkers as well. Runners like to support each other. Think about how many times you’ve been out for a run, see another runner, and just give them a wave. It’s comforting. It’s supportive. It’s what makes the running community so special.

So this weekend, whether you go running with a group, a friend, solo, or pass by another runner, be sure to acknowledge the gift that is running and just say, “Thank you.”