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.

On Marathon Training and Getting (Much) Faster

(source: Pinterest)

(source: Pinterest)

I tend to get a little bit ahead of myself when it comes to goals. For example, when I first started running last March I registered for a goal 5-K race, but when I had to miss it to cover a story for work, I registered for a new race- a 4-miler. What’s one more mile I thought?

After a successful race, in the pouring rain, I decided, on a bit of a whim and a lot of peer-pressure from my cousin, to register for a half-marathon. Couch-to-5K-to-4-mile-to-Half-Maraton, sounds good right? No problem.

Before we even finished training for the half, my cousin begged me to register for a full marathon with her and our friend Lindsey, less than 14 weeks away. While I was heavily considering it, and even wrote a blog post about it, I knew it would be a bad idea- too much too soon. Then, my body decided to pull in the reins by giving me a lovely, painful bout of IT Band Syndrome to remind me I wasn’t Shalane Flanagan and I needed to calm down.

I ran the half and was really happy with my finish. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t the best race, but I finished 13.1 miles. Woah. Then I landed a position as an editor at Runner’s World. If I thought the peer pressure to race from my cousin was bad, the peer pressure at Runner’s World is on a whole other level. But it’s healthy right?

It took my fellow staffers about five minutes to convince me to run my second half-marathon in January with less than a month to train, but I set a PR, by 17 minutes! Coming off of that I was confident and ready to make the distance leap up to a full marathon- the Big Sur International Marathon to be exact.

I’ve been training for the Big Sur for about eight weeks now and I’ve been feeling really good. I’ve been running my highest mileage weeks ever and my longest distances ever- longest run so far ahs been 18 miles. I knew what I was getting myself into with the mileage, and it didn’t surprise me that I’d be able to handle it because the build-up is so gradual. What I didn’t expect to see was an difference in my average paces.

Since I started running my average paces have always hovered around the mid-9-minute mile range. This was fine by me because I wasn’t experienced at racing and since I kept increasing my distances, the goal was always just to finish, not to hit any specific time goal. But now, my mid-week short runs of 3, 4 and 5 miles have been averaging 8-minute per mile paces and sometimes, on the 3 and 4-mile runs, the mid-7-minute per mile paces. This is new. Who do I think I am, being all fast and whatnot?  The more alarming (exciting?) part is this- it doesn’t feel hard.

Basically, I’m starting to get faster and I don’t know what to do about it since I’m currently training for a marathon. I don’t want to take these faster paces out on a long run because that sounds like a recipe for disaster and/or (probably) injury. But, I also don’t want to lose this newfound sense of speed. See my dilemma?

Circling back to how I opened this post, I’m getting ahead of myself, both literally and figuratively. I need to focus on the goal at hand and that is to complete Big Sur, my first marathon. The course is not an easy one but I want to finish feeling good and having enjoyed the experience. I can’t and won’t be able to maintain these faster average paces for a whole 26.2 miles but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to use them after the marathon.

So, I’ve decided this summer, post marathon recovery of course, I’m going to focus on shorter distances. Focusing on shorter distances will help me to get faster and more importantly, teach me how to race. Since I will have hit my goal distance PR with Big Sur (I never plan on doing more than 26.2 miles in one race) I need to get back to basics and learn how to race. This is going to help me not only with shorter distances but with the next marathon I run. While I believe in dreaming big and making goals, I also know getting ahead of myself too much can lead to injury or burnout. I’m going to take the rest of this training day-by-day and if I’m feeling good enough on a short run to run faster, then I will. If not, I’ll see you this summer 7-minute miles!

Do you sometimes get ahead of yourself with running goals? How do you deal with it?

{Friday Faves} Reads, Runs and Raves

  • Paying homage to the not-so-new Harlem Shake dance, Tracktown USA (a.k.a. Eugene, OR) made this video, as choreographed and organized by world record holder in the decathlon, Ashton Eaton – Tracktown USA Harlem Shake via YouTube 
  • Great post by Roisen McGettigan, a professional runner and co-founder of Believe I Am training journals, about the fluidity of running and yoga. – Yoga for Runners- The Yin for the Yang via Believe I Am (blog)
  • By far my favorite post of the week, and quite possibly my favorite post in a long time, was a post by my friend Laura Schwecherl, on her blog, Camping Out in America. She writes about our tendency as bloggers, runners, fitness enthusiasts and just normal people, to compare ourselves to one another and seek perfection, which really is unattainable. It’s a great read, so please check it out. – on comparison via Camping Out In America
  • I learned about a new blog this week (via a tweet by Erica Sara) and needless to say I’m obsessed. What really caught me was their tag line: “The Fitness Site for Badass Women. Be Pretty on Rest Days.” – Spikes and Heels
  • I’ve had a bit of an emotional week and while I know a lot of people don’t like Taylor Swift (I like her) this quote really spoke to me and has helped me not get sidetracked by people from my past. I hope it can help some of you too.
(via Pinterest)

(via Pinterest)

Planking for Runners

DSC_0629No one can argue a strong core isn’t good for your overall health and fitness, but did you know having a strong core is especially good for runners? I have been slacking over the past couple of months with my core exercises but in the past few weeks I’ve really ramped it back up.

In my weekly training recaps I write about doing plank exercises and one reader asked me what are the best planks for runners? Well, truth is there are so many variations of planks and I try to do as many as I can but I’m no expert so I thought I’d reach out to the creator of the #plankaday trend that hit the Twitter-sphere and Interwebs by storm beginning in June 2011. Now, 7,000 plankers strong, what started out as an accountability exercise between Dr. Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and her longtime friend Mike Bauman. The two used the hashtag #plankaday to keep each other consistent and pretty soon their followers caught on.

“Because I am a behavioral scientist with an expertise in health and weight loss, I was fascinated by how Twitter facilitated such engagement in an exercise, so I began to study it scientifically,” Dr. Pagoto said. Her study will be published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health in the near future.

I first caught on to the plank a day craze this past summer. At the time I was more focused on being able to hold a plank for as long as possible (4:02 PR!) but when I stopped being so consistent, I really lost my plank endurance. Turns out however, duration of planking might not be so important for runners. I wanted to find out more about how planking helps runners specifically so Dr. Pagoto referred me to her sister, Julie Mulcahy, MPT, who is a physical therapist and runner.

What benefits will runners see from doing a plank a day?

Runners will see many benefits from adding planks to their strengthening routine. Planks strengthen core muscles, which include the spine, hip, and abdominal muscles. I use the analogy of building a house to teach the importance of a strong core. If you build a strong house with all the finest materials, but build it on a weak foundation, it will not be stable and may come crashing down. Your core is your body’s foundation. With a strong foundation the arms and legs can function from a stable base and can provide more power.

Should runners do different plank variations?

I always recommend variations of exercise for most efficient training. Doing the same static plank day after day will eventually lead to training plateaus. Dynamic planks are the best for runners. During running, the core must stabilize as one foot is on the ground and the other is in the air during the swing phase of running. There are many ways to train your core with planks for this phase of the running pattern. Performing planks with alternating leg lifts or mountain climber planks are two examples. Here is a video where I demonstrate a few variations: http://www.fudiet.com/2011/10/the-joy-of-planking-adding-variation-to-your-plank-life/

Side plank

Side plank

Side plank with raised arm

Side plank with raised arm

Alternating leg planks.

Alternating leg planks.

Spider planks.

Spider planks.

What is the benefit of being able to hold a plank for a long period of time? Do you get the same benefits from holding for less time but doing more planks?

The hold time for planks is very subjective depending on the person. Start with an amount of time that you can successfully hold your form perfectly. You may add multiple sets of planks at this same hold time. Performing multiple sets of shorter duration planks are preferred over one very long duration plank. Anytime you are strengthening your core, quality is preferred over duration and quantity. When you are able to hold a minute, start trying dynamic movements. Remember to include prone  (stomach facing the floor) and side lying positions. Holding very long durations, possibly over 5 minutes, is a test of your ability to tolerate significant discomfort and endurance, however not entirely functional for running. During running the core doesn’t need to generate and maintain such an intense force for durations of that length of time. 
Should runners supplement planks with any other kind of abdominal exercises as well?

For my running clients, I combine other abdominal exercises in various positions that facilitate core stabilization and balance, in addition to planks.  Using weighted medicine balls, tubing and pulleys in standing and semi reclined, pelvic neutral positions can also train core effectively for runners and can be a great complement to planks in an overall core strengthening routine. 

Some people say doing planks hurts their shoulders, is there any way to alleviate this but still reap the benefits of planks?

Another great benefit of planks is that they build upper body strength. However if a shoulder, elbow or wrist problem is present, planking can be difficult. To alleviate wrist pain from the extension and pressure from a plank, place two dumbbells on the floor and hold onto them instead of placing wrist directly on the floor. When planking with bent elbows, place a pad under elbows to alleviate pressure.  For anyone with shoulder pain, attempt planking with hands on floor and elbows straight. This helps distribute some of the force through more of the upper extremities. However, there are occasions when certain upper extremity conditions cannot tolerate the weight bearing required of planks and other types of core strengthening can be recommended. Always consult a health care professional based on your individual case.

To learn more about plank a day, visit Dr. Pagoto’s website, FU Diet.

Only You Can Celebrate Your Running Milestones

Thing about running

Image by Rachel Greenhouse, ilbelfarniente.wordpress.com.

Yesterday, after my long run, I walked up the stairs to my apartment, took off my running shoes, sat down in butterfly pose to stretch out my hips and thought, “Oh my God, I just ran 16 miles.”

In less than a year’s time, I’ve gone from not being able to run a mile, to running a four miler, then jumping up to running two half-marathons and now I’m training for a full marathon.

I still remember the day, back in May, when I ran 6 miles with my cousin along the beach in Maine. It was my first breakthrough with running. The first time I saw “the wall” and just leaped over it like I was jumping over a puddle. We got back to her house that day and celebrated because it was a huge deal for the both of us. During these first few months of running, every little bit further I went was a milestone. It was cause for celebration and reflection on how far I’ve come.

This weekend I hit another milestone by running my longest run ever and logging my highest mileage week ever. When I woke up Sunday morning, I saw my running clothes laid out on the floor with my Gu packets meticulously placed and ready to be ingested and I didn’t feel nervous. I felt excited and anxious about taking on the challenge of running a new distance.

The run went flawlessly but during those two and a half hours on the road I couldn’t help but think back on how much progress I’ve made. With every run, whether it goes well or not, I’m humbled by the results.

I know many runners, much more experienced than I am, who will say they have a long run of “just” 10 miles on a given weekend. I have been guilty of this very same thing saying I “only” have to run 4 miles on a weekday. Well, there are so many runners out there who see 4 miles as challenging and may feel like 10 miles is impossible. I have a good friend who will run a 10-mile race next Sunday and she typically runs 3 to 4 miles during the week. But, on Sunday she texted me, excited to tell me she ran 6.5 miles, her longest run ever. I was so proud of her and how far she has come.

Running is an individual sport and each milestone is relative to each individual runner. What is a huge accomplishment for one person, like hitting a new distance or nailing a new pace, may be routine for another but that doesn’t make each milestone less sweet. I don’t take for granted for a second how far I’ve come already. After my run on Sunday, I realized, although 16 miles is not the longest I’m ever going to run, it’s still a milestone and I will celebrate it as such because it was my own personal accomplishment and no other runner can one-up me on that.

{Friday Faves} Reads, Runs and Raves

  • Although my beloved Patriots are not in the Super Bowl, I’ll still be watching and hopefully munching on one of these treats. – 10 Healthy Superbowl Recipes via Greatist
  • Because I just saw Silver Linings Playbook this week and really, what’s not to love about Bradley Cooper? (But why didn’t any snap a pic?!)- Bradley Cooper’s Abs Terrorize SoulCycle Class via NY Magazine’s The Cut
  • I was featured on Stay Happy Stay Healthy’s blog this week as the Monday Motivator! – {Monday Motivator} Fit Girl Happy Girl on Running via Stay Happy Stay Healthy
  • I thought nothing could top my crazy hill run this week but Oiselle’s Mac {Sarah} one-upped me with this crazy track workout. Basically she’s badass. – Monster via Running Starfish
  • This was one of the best posts I’ve read in awhile brought to us by the one and only Michele Gonzalez, speedster extraordinaire -  Be Your Own Runner via NYC Running Mama
  • And my favorite post-long run yoga pose…

Savasana

{Friday Faves} Reads, Runs and Raves

Phew, it’s Friday everyone! If you’re living in the Northeast (and really the majority of the U.S. right now) you have survived one of the coldest weeks of the winter so far! This has been my first real bought with winter running and I’m proud to say I kicked winter in it’s piriformis and ran outside anyway. Take that, Mr. Frosty. While running these frigid miles, of course I was thinking about what to add to my Friday Faves. Here they are:

  • On Thursday, a bunch of the Runner’s World ladies and myself took a “Gentle Flow” yoga class after work. I read this post by Sally, from Oiselle, and she echoes our sentiments about yoga for runners – Yoga for Dummy (Runners) via Oiselle Blog
  • Dream race alert! Someday I will complete the Empire State Building Run-Up – Stairway to Hell: Racing Up the Empire State Building via Greatist
  • It’s amazing how training for a marathon can alter your entire lifestlye. I’m vowing to cook much more and that begins with buying a crock-pot this weekend. Here are 77 healthy crock-pot dishes- I will attempt to try (most) of them. – 77 Healthy Crock-Pot Recipes via Greatist
  • Post of the week: I really liked this post from Ali on the Run about taking responsibility – Taking Responsibility via Ali on the Run
  • If you’re a runner in Boston and you haven’t heard of the November Project, you need to get your shiz together. This running group takes winter running seriously, as portrayed in their amazing feet (pun totally intended) of completing their 8-miler Ninja Race - 

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 12.21.24 PM

  • A friend asked me this morning what my plans were for the weekend and my response: Well, I’m training for a marathon so I have a lot of running to do… 14 miler you are MINE tomorrow #marathontrainingSlow them down 

Disney Half-Marathon Recovery

This past week I aired on the side of rest to prep for Big Sur Marathon training to begin this week. I wanted to give my body a chance to rest a bit following last weekend’s half-marathon before ramping up my mileage again for marathon training. One of my co-workers, Jen, who runs our Runner’s World Challenge program, tweeted this from the @rwchallenge Twitter account last week:

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 4.46.30 PMI took it as a sign and ran only three times total last week- my lowest mileage week in a long time. But I’m not dwelling on it because my body needed that rest more than I thought. However, I was able to get in one long run which will be good to keep my fitness up.

Monday- 45 minute boot camp class at the Energy Center- this class was really good because I need to get back into strength training more. I used low weights and the instructor gave me some modifications because she knew I ran the half-marathon last Saturday.

Tuesday- 3 miles on the treadmill- I wanted to do an easy few miles to see how my legs were feeling post-half. They felt great when I was actually running but after I was finished they were sore.

Wednesday- Did yoga for recovery- I planned on running but decided not to because my quads were still really stiff from running.

Thursday- 3 miles easy during lunch- This run felt really great. I kept an easy pace, although I didn’t actually track the run with my watch, and just got out to shake out my legs.

Friday- REST- I decided to make an impromptu trip back to Massachusetts this weekend because I thought, once marathon training really gets going, who knows when I’ll be able to get home. So, I spent most of Friday driving.

Saturday- REST- When I’m home, I like to spend as much time with my family as possible and on Saturday, that meant spending the day in Boston with my mom and sister. We did a lot of walking though, so maybe I got some miles in!

Sunday- 10 mile long run- I was determined to get a long run in this weekend and I did today. I ran 10 miles easy and my pace ended up being even slower than easy pace for me because the 20-30mph winds with gusts of 50-60mph made it REALLY difficult to run any faster! I felt really good though, didn’t have to walk at all and the weather was beautiful! Also, it’s my birthday so I was really excited to get some miles in!

Big Sur training officially begins this week and I’m really excited to keep y’all up-to-date! Happy running!

 

Monday Motivation: Draw a Map and Run

It’s been a VERY busy last couple of days with the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend I went to with Runner’s World but it was an amazing weekend. I ran the half-marathon (race recap to come later) and hit a HUGE PR! The race gave me the confidence to go forward with the 2013 run resolution a little sooner than I planned (again, post to follow) but I’m feeling good about it and can’t wait to start. Meanwhile, a little Monday Motivation is always good and I saw this graphic on Pinterest and had to share it. Run strong this week!

draw a map and run

Monday Motivation: There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

This is an important reminder for winter running. While it might feel better to sleep in and snuggle in your bed on a cold Saturday morning, you’ll feel much better when you come home after a nice long run. You can always warm up with a warm cup of hot chocolate for the rest of the day! Happy running this week!

No such thing as bad weather