Halfway There

When I ran cross country as a freshman in high school, I was completely clueless about racing. In junior high, I’d just go out and run and I was always on of the Top 10 girls at the meet. Always.

That's about the sum of it.

That’s about the sum of it.

So why would I need strategy?

Oh. Because high school cross country was serious business. Not only was it all about “CONFERENCE, REGIONALS, SECTIONALS, STATE!” but scholarships that might lead to pro bids or even the Olympics, were on the line for some athletes.

Clearly, I was more concerned with my bangs (and other sports) than with my racing strategy.

Clearly, I was more concerned with my bangs (and other sports) than with my racing strategy.

Not for me. Never for me. But I did happen to run on the same team as some pretty fast girls who still kick butt.

Anyway, my coach that year taught me how to really run a race. He always stood at the halfway mark (1.5 miles–my, how times have changed!) and shout at us to SURGE! PUSH! KICK IT IN! for about 100 meters.

Why? What the heck, Coach Mustache, I’m only halfway there! Ahhhh, there was a method to his madness.

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Halfway there is not THERE. You are not near the finish. You are not even close. Halfway there is mental.

No matter the distance, halfway into a race is when the real race starts. It’s the point in the race that you either start to make a move or it all falls apart. You either choose to refocus or get bogged down in having so. much. farther. to go.

You either surge or you bonk.

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Things to do halfway into a race:

  • Start focusing more on your form.
  • Surge for a little bit and then find your pace again.
  • Make a mental note of what the rest of your miles should look like and commit to getting there.
  • Zone out the noise and hone in on your race.
  • Work harder.

The second half of anything is always harder.

The second half of a marathon beats the crap out of you. The second half of grad school is irritating and tedious. Halfway through training means you haven’t even hit your longest runs of the cycle. The second half of pregnancy is heavier and even more (really?) exhausting…something to look forward to. The second half of a 5K makes you want to vomit.

Closing in on the Vomit Threshold in my last 5K. Woof.

Closing in on the Vomit Threshold in my last 5K. Woof.

But here’s the thing, once you push past that halfway point, every step you take gets you closer to the finish line. Cliché though it might be, it’s the truth. So don’t give up. Work harder. Surge. Push.

Suck it up. You’re halfway there.

Now go out and run.

What tricks do you use to stay focused and on target at the halfway point of a race–or life? Impart your wisdom on me! I’m halfway through EVERYTHING right now!

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How To Love a Good Run In the Rain

Confession: I have not always loved running in the rain. In junior high and high school cross country, it meant slogging through seemingly endless miles of mud and yuck soaked to the bone in my cotton uniform to a finish line that looked like a brown Slip ‘n Slide only to ride home on a bus with a bunch of sweaty, dirty, smelly, filthy runners. Yuck.

Bless the Obi-wans for coming out to those cross country races and standing in the rain to watch me trudge past them. It could not have been fun for them, either.

Today is SO different. I love the rain. I ran one of my favorite 21 mile training runs in the rain all over Manhattan a couple of years ago. The park is quieter, the runners are nicer and there’s something more peaceful about a run in the rain than in any other weather. The other piece of the puzzle is my beloved gear. Thank heavens for lululemon!! I mean, good clothes really make running in inclimate weather not only possible, but enjoyable.

But it’s not always roses and puppies out there. You have to be in the right mind-set and prepare yourself for a few key situations when heading out for a run in the rain. Here is a sure-fire way to have a great run in the rain, in my experience.

#1. Leave your watch/Garmin/iPod at home. The rain (and likely, the wind) will probably slow you down a little. Plus, it’s better to keep your focus on the road/trail when it’s slick and only made more slippery by fallen leaves. Unplug and enjoy the scenery.

#2. Dress for success. Wear fitted, moisture-wicking clothing and a hat or a visor. Loose stuff will whack against your skin and get heavier with every mile, especially if it’s not a good tech fiber. Here’s what I wore today:

         

Turbo TankSpeedy Run Hat, Run: For Your Life Crops & the very fabulous (and now unavailable) Run: Essential Jacket. Rain usually means a sweaty, humid run for me so I don’t like to layer it up too much under my jacket. The hat is so key for me because nothing spoils a run like problems with my contact lenses.  Also, braids for the win!

#3. Plan on getting wet. Sounds silly, right? But, if you need to be back at your desk 5 minutes after your run and you have nowhere to shower and towel off, you probably want to save your run for a time when you can. This goes for your shoes, too. Probably not a day for a double-down in the gym after your soggy, beautiful run because they will look like this:

 

Sopping. Soggy. Wet. Dirty. Basically unwearable. Dry overnight.

#4. Treat it like a fun run. Don’t try and do a massive amount of speed work or some crazy mileage on a rainy day. Go out, do your best, get ‘er done and all that, but keep it light and don’t expect too much. Dodging umbrellas on 5th Avenue always slows me down, but if I plan for it, it’s not nearly as aggravating.

#5. Just do it, already! Commit. Don’t complain. Don’t procrastinate. Get out there and run. Running in the rain is akin to reliving childhood moments so enjoy it!

Now go out and run!

Getting Motivated And Staying Motivated

For most of us, exercising is a way to stay in shape. Vanity, pride and fear keep us going to the gym, hitting the road and trying that new workout that promises to burn 800 calories an hour (really?). I would argue that mere physical condition isn’t enough to keep runners going. In fact, if getting “in shape” is the reason people start running, it is almost never the reason that they keep running.

We runners are a different breed. Whether you are a 5K runner, a marathoner or an ultra-marathoner, you are a runner and you are different. We do grueling workouts under extreme weather conditions. We build our days, our diets and our social lives around our runs. We travel the world to race the same distance over and over again. We wake up early to pound the pavement or the treadmill.

Our sport is your sport’s punishment.

And we do it willingly.

And happily.

And we’ll do it again tomorrow.

But why do we run? Like I said, the first answer out of most people is “to stay in shape.” I get that. Me, too. But when we dig deeper, it is something else, isn’t it?

For me, it’s a challenge to do something I’ve done for 21 years and see if I can do it better and better every day. I run to prove to myself I can get faster, go farther if I dedicate myself to it. I run against only one person: me.

This is not unusual for most runners. The pros try to beat one another, sure, but we amateurs are out there running against only one person: ourselves. We are our own motivation to keep going day after day.

So how do you stay motivated when the only competition you have is the person in the mirror every morning?

#1. Run with people who are faster than you. I remember the exact moment when I was 14 and I passed the #3 girl on our varsity cross-country team. I had worked hard all season to get into shape and was always 6th or 7th (read: last on our team) but in this race and the ones after it, I was 4th and 3rd. I will never forget how those 6 women pushed me in our workouts to work hard and never give up.

#2. Find a race. Your marathon might be over, but that doesn’t mean your racing season has to be! You’re in probably the best shape of your life when you toe the line at a race you’ve trained 4-6 months to run, why leave it at the finish line? Find a 5k or a 10k to really race in a month or so and start tailoring your workouts to a shorter distance. It will allow you to recover from your long training runs, but keep you from diving headfirst into a training slump.

#3. Run for a charity. I’ve said it over and over again: running for someone or something else is far more fulfilling than just running for yourself. Believe me on this one and go out for a charity you hold near and dear to your heart.

#4. Set goals. I want to run a 7-minute mile. I want to run a sub-4 hour marathon. I want to beat my best 5k time. I want to run a mile without stopping. Set your goal. Map out a plan. Take the first steps out the door. Do it.

You can do anything you want to, you just have to be brave enough to TRY.

Motivation is not always an easy thing to find and it’s even harder to maintain. But if you are proactive about it, you can keep your motivation levels high throughout your training season and have some fun while you’re at it. Besides, if it isn’t fun anymore, why the hell would you still be doing it?

Now go out and run!

Whether you’re a runner or an athlete of a different kind, what keeps you going??

Hills Can Be Your Friend

Hills. I hate ’em. We used to have to run the local ski hill in junior high and high school cross country. Admittedly, it was in Chicago so our “ski hill” was a true skier’s bunny hill. BUT STILL. It sucked.

My least favorite, but most rewarding hill, is the climb to the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon. It finishes at Arlington Cemetery in front of the statue of the soldiers at Iwo Jima. It’s an up hill finish line and it is torture. But, it’s the end so it’s kind of awesome. Still, not my favorite way to finish a race.

Reasons I don’t like hills:

-They make my quads burn

-I can’t stride out

-They seem endless

-I sometimes want to vomit when I reach the top, but it’s almost never the end.

I sound like a great, big whiner right now. Pathetic, I know. But don’t be fooled by my whining, I still do my hills. Actually, when the race has some rolling hills, I do far better than if it’s completely flat the entire way. You do, too, you just don’t know why.

Hills do our bodies good. It allows our hamstrings to take a break and our quadriceps to take over as the main muscle group of our stride. This switching back and forth keeps our legs fresh because one muscle group isn’t being beaten up for the entirety of our run. This is more valuable than you think.

The Brooklyn Half-Marathon used to start at Coney Island and go north for 8 miles up Coney Island Avenue into Prospect Park. This meant that the first 8 miles of the race were completely flat. Great, right? Wrong. It wears out the hamstrings and your body gets overtired from running on the same surface for such a long time.

I remember very vividly hitting the park, which has some hills but nothing like the Presidio (that place was terrifying!), and being able to go faster. I tapped into my bored quadriceps for energy and gave my hammys a break. I left a lot of people in my dust because I focused on the previously second-tier muscles of my quadriceps and decided that they were ready, willing and able to take over as the motor of my running. I also had the very lovely reward of also going down the hills which I climbed. This is both tremendously mentally rewarding and physically rewarding.

A little thought about fact is also that running up hills takes away a tremendous amount of pounding on your joints. Because you’re pushing the weight of your body uphill, the force on your joints is lessened (well done, first semester physics teacher). The benefits of less hammering on your body is obvious. Suffice to say that this is a good thing. A good thing for racing and a good thing for your weekly workouts.

So next time you’re looking at a race and marveling about how flat and fast it is, remember that a flat road isn’t always your best friend. Try a race with some rolling hills. You might surprise yourself and enjoy the benefits of going both up AND down.

Now go out and run!!!

The Long Run

It’s a major part of every distance runner’s workout repetoire. The Long Run. Hours and hours of pounding the pavement in the hopes that every moment spent will lead to an amazing performance at the next race.

It’s tough. It’s boring. It’s a time suck. But it’s gotta get done.

People who know me well do not invite me out on Friday nights. They know that Saturday is my “Long Run Day” and that, by default, makes Friday night an early night in for me. I come home, put my pj’s on, eat some dinner and call it a night. Some people can go out and drink and get up and run. I am not one of those people. Maybe I’m getting too old.

At least I’m not too old for my long run.

Long runs aren’t races. Heck, they’re not even supposed to be all that hard except for the running-for-hours-and-hours part. You go out, you run and run and run and run and you’re tired when you get back, but when done properly in your training schedule and at the correct pace, you could have gone farther.

Example: me. I run my long runs around 8:15-8:30 usually. I run my marathons (recent ones) at about 8:00-8:10. If I find myself running sub-8:00 minute miles at the beginning of a long run, I immediately slow down. Not that it couldn’t just be that I am getting wicked fast, but I’d rather be wicked fast at the end than dying at the end of a run. If I am running sub-8:00 in the last quarter of my miles on a long run, more power to me and watch me fly! The idea is that my pace is such that I could have kept going. This is the key to long runs.

If you finish a 16 mile run and you know you could have kept going (even if it’s an absolutely-have-to kind of situation), you have prepared yourself mentally and physically for the next jump in distance: 18-20 miles. When you run 22 miles and realize at the end that you could have kept going, you are ready for the 26.2 on marathon day. And THAT is a great feeling.

This applies for all distances. I remember vividly my first 5-mile run freshman year of high school. I was amazed that I ran five miles without stopping and thought, “Hey, my two mile race doesn’t seem so bad now.” It was a great feeling.

So, yes, it’s a lot of time and energy spent on a Saturday morning when I’d really rather be sleeping in or watching a bad movie on the couch with JB. But it’s marathon season and it’s gotta be done. I’ll live and I will thank myself later for doing it.

You will, too.

Now go out and run!