Knowing When to Alter Your Training Plan

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(Source: Pinterest)

I’m almost halfway through training for the Big Sur International Marathon and I am thankful to say (knock on wood) I haven’t had any issues with my training, my long runs, my paces or anything else for that matter. However, I’ve been following the RW Challenge First-Timers marathon training plan and while my long runs have been really great, there was one thing about the plan that scared me to death- three 20-mile long runs.

I know a lot of marathoners and have followed their training on their blogs, on twitter and on Daily Mile, and I never knew one who did three 20-milers for their first marathon. Many of them did two 20-milers and some did only one, but I never saw three. When I looked down at my training plan last week and talked about the impending first 20-miler on group lunch runs, I kept hearing the same advice- don’t do it.

I’ve only been running for a year (not even- my runniversary is March 8!) and while I’ve done two half-marathons, with a PR of 2:02, and countless shorter distance races, I’m not the most experienced runner. I’ve also had some overtraining-related injuries in the past while training for half-marathons and this is the first training cycle I haven’t experienced an IT band flare-up or Runner’s Knee resurgence (again, knock on wood).

While on the whole I think I’m getting a lot stronger, I’ve been handling the mileage well, and I’ve been eating healthy, I didn’t think doing three 20-milers would be the right idea for me. I honestly think I could have handled three 20-milers but the stress of seeing those three long, slow distance runs on my schedule, was more than enough to push me over the edge. Also, I want to make it to the starting line in Carmel healthy and energized, not burnt out and weak.

So, after consulting with some of my co-workers here at Runner’s World, Meghan offered me the best plan. The plan really only change two of my weekend long runs- last weekend went from 20 miles to 15, and a weekend in April changes from 18 to 14. Our Chief Running Officer, Bart Yasso, made the plan for her when she was training for a marathon (she’s done 10!) and I thought it looked like it would work for me.

Looking at my training schedule now, it still resembles the First-Timers plan but with two minor modifications, so now it’s the Hannah McGoldrick plan. Whether your training for a marathon, a half-marathon or your first 5-K, it’s easy to become highly dependent on a plan- I’m 100 percent guilty of this. While I fully support following training plans, it’s more important to listen to what your body is telling you. It doesn’t mean you’re doubting yourself, it means you’re training smart. Plans are never a one-size-fits all so make the changes you need to make to get to the starting line healthy and ready to race.

Big Sur Marathon Training: Week Four

Leave Fears BehindI was a bit nervous about training this week because my work week/schedule was a little hectic. While my workouts didn’t exactly happen in the correct order, I got all of them done and had my highest mileage week ever and ran another distance PR with my 18-mile long run. I’m hoping this upcoming week will be a little better in terms of my schedule but I’m learning to not be so rigid with the training plan, if I have to swap training runs, it’s not the end of the world! Here are my workouts from this past week:

Monday: Cross-training day. I took a 50 minute flow yoga class at the gym at work. Because I ran my long run the day before, I was a bit sore still so I thought doing a yoga class would be a good way to relax and stretch out my muscles. I definitely need to work on my flexibility but I really enjoyed this class. I also did 15 minutes of ab exercises which included planks, crunches and other exercises.

Tuesday: Easy 5-miles in 47:15 at 9:26/mile pace. My legs were definitely still feeling the 16-miler from the weekend before so I took it slow on this run. I also tried out a different route which was a lot hillier than my normal 5-mile lunch run route but it was good to mix it up. I also did about 10 minutes of planks when I got home.

Wednesday: 4.15 miles in 39:00 at 9:23/mile. My legs were still tired and I was just actually tired because I went running before work. I haven’t gotten up to run before work since the summer but it did feel really good to get my run done for the day. Also, I ran with my roommate which was really great because if it weren’t for her it would have been much easier to press the snooze button when my alarm went off!

Thursday: I was supposed to do a 5-mile run with 4x800s at marathon pace but my day at work was so hectic I couldn’t run at lunch. I wanted to run after work but when I got home and ran to the track, it was locked and the lights were off. So, no run. Instead I did a 30-minute power yoga session online and ab exercises. I was pretty bummed I missed my workout but it was out of my control so there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Friday: 5-miles in 44:00 at 8:48/mile pace. Since I was angry with myself for missing my workout the day before, I went balls to the wall with this 5-miler. My average pace was 8:48/mile but my last 3 miles were hovering around 8:20/mile and 8:30/mile which was really good for me, especially during a middle distance run. I felt SO much better after this run!

Saturday: Easy 3 miles in 26:52 at 8:57/mile pace. I switched my long run from Saturday to Sunday because I had to cover the Millrose Games in NYC for Runner’s World on Saturday evening and knew if I ran my long run the same day, I would be absolutely dead. So, I opted for an easy shakeout with my roommate and it went really well!

Sunday: 18 miles in 2:58:00 at 9:52/mile pace. Another distance PR this weekend with my long run! It definitely wasn’t easy though. My legs felt pretty dead from standing at the Millrose Games all day the day before and I didn’t realize how much that would affect me. Also, the wind was incredible during this run (20mph+) and it was VERY cold. But, I powered through it and finished the run strong. I was really proud of myself too because I ran by myself which is definitely not easy, especially towards the end of the run when my mind is trying to give up. Besides my tired legs, I felt pretty good throughout the run. I wish my pace had been a bit faster but the wind was just too much and I had a headwind the entire second half. Overall, good run!

Weekly Mileage Total: 35 miles

See all training recaps here.

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:

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,

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.

Settling in for the Long Run

My run included 2 miles of very peaceful trails along the river.

My run included 2 miles of very peaceful trails along the river.

I ran 14 miles this past Sunday on a chilly, yet very sunny, eastern Pennsylvania morning for Big Sur training. I’ve tackled a 14-mile run only once before- last September- while keeping my cousin and friend Lindsey company on a long run for their first marathon. But last Sunday was the first time I’ve ever tried the distance solo.

I’m actually a big fan of solo long runs. I might not be saying that when it comes time to run 18 or 20 miles but for now, and in past half-marathon training cycles, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I get a lot of thinking done during these runs- about work, my family, friends, this blog, what I’m going to eat post-run and everything in between. I also listen to music and am guilty of singing along out loud during my run. While the time spent during the long run is enjoyable, it can only be made possible by properly preparing yourself mentally beforehand, in my opinion.

So, how I do this? I look at a long run kind of like a long car ride. You know it’s going to last awhile. You also know you need to pace yourself, don’t go too fast to avoid burning out, but don’t go too slow to prolong the time spent traveling longer than necessary. While it’s tempting to look at your speedometer during a long car ride to see how many miles you have left, the same can be said about constantly checking you GPS watch during a long run. It’s like asking, “Are we there yet?”

Instead of the fervent watch-checking and constant song-changing, opt to settle in for the ride. That’s what I tell myself at least, in preparation of a long run. I know it’s going to be long, I know it’s going to take a lot of energy but I know it’s going to be a fun and probably memorable ride so I settle in to my comfortable pace, sit back and enjoy as the miles fly by.

How do you mentally prep for a long run?

{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 – 

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  • 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 

The “Gear” Necessities of Marathon Training

As I enter into week 1 of Big Sur Marathon training, I wanted to ask the Twitter-sphere what are the absolute essentials (gear-wise) for marathon training. Clearly, a water bottle and GPS watch are favorites, but there are others too! – H.M.
  1. Working on a post: What are the “gear” necessities of marathon training? #marathontraining #runchat
  2. @FitHappyGirl water bottle! Garmin, music (for me at least), great socks, COMPRESSION SOCKS/SLEEVES- an absolute must! foam roller!
  3. @FitHappyGirl Handheld water bottle or water belt. GPS watch, all the way. And some way to carry phone in case of emergency.
  4. @FitHappyGirl GPS watch! I don’t carry water but I’m a weird one =) LOL I stick my gels in my sports bra =) I also don’t foam roll. HA
  5. @FitHappyGirl shoes that are worn in but not worn out that you’ve been fitted for. A very light nutrition belt – I have the SIS one
  6. @FitHappyGirl I used the Nathan Fuel series and added bottles as needed. The gel holder works really well, too.…
  7. @FitHappyGirl Nathan water belt and @TPtherapy ultimate six kit. Better than just foam roller IMO!

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!


Running the 2013 Big Sur International Marathon

Big SurI’ve had a mix of emotions going into writing this post- I’m terrified, excited, confident, determined but mostly scared. But, I’m putting it out there and it’s happening, I’m running my first full marathon this spring and it will be the Big Sur International Marathon on April 28.

I know- Big Sur is probably not the best first-timer course; it’s extremely hilly, the conditions vary (a few years ago part of the course was wiped out by a landslide) and it’s just plain hard. But, it’s also a destination race, a race that is on thousands, maybe millions of runners’ bucket lists and I have the opportunity of a lifetime to run it with the Runner’s World Challenge, so that’s what I’m going to do. What’s that annoying saying again? Oh yeah, YOLO (you only live once).

Over the last few weeks leading up to the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend (in which I ran the half and PR’d by 17 minutes, cough, cough) many of my co-workers at Runner’s World have been insisting I run Big Sur.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” they said.

“You may never get this chance again,” they said, trying to guilt-trip me. Thanks, guys.

“You’re running it,” one flat-out said.

My parents think I’m over-doing it and have asked me why I don’t just stick to half-marathons for a while. My dad, a 16-time 26.2 veteran, even said I should wait to run my first marathon. I get it, they are parents, it’s their job to worry.

But in all of this persuading me to run or not run the marathon I realized I’ve only been listening to other people when I should really be listening to myself, to what I want to do. The truth is, my 2013 goal was to run my first marathon, and I just assumed it would be in the fall. But there is no reason I’m not ready now, so I’ve decided, whether people like it or not, I’m running it. What do I have to lose? My goal is to simply finish, no goal time in mind and to enjoy the entire experience.

My friend Lora, who will BQ at the Eugene Marathon on April 28 (same day as Big Sur!), posted an inspiring quote on the interwebs the other day that more or less sealed my decision.

“The truth is, I’m on a mission. And you can support me, or step out of the way, but there’s no standing still. I’m Big Sur-bound.”

Big Sur Medals

Runner’s World Takes on Naming Disney-Themed Gu Flavors

Last weekend, Runner’s World editors traveled to Orlando for the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend with the Runner’s World Challenge. Before the trip, editors decided to name Gu flavors based on Disney movies (#disneyGU) and a trend ensued… – By Hannah McGoldrick, associate multimedia editor
  1. So this game is the GU-fee challenge? RT @RWGearGuy Little Mermalade (orange flavored) @caitlingiddings @cowboyhazel @meghgrace #DisneyGu
  2. @meghgrace you’re on a roll! How about Snow White Chocolate and the 7 grains? #DisneyGU #RWGoofTroop